Buffy Graves looked over at the assembled crew in her back yard. She had been married in this yard and now amidst the swing set, barbeque and patio furniture, things that Buffy had never really expected to ever own, her friends and family were once more gathered to celebrate another event of significance.
Richard, Faith’s little boy, not so little anymore, was graduating from high school. This was the first time in years that the whole Scooby gang was together in one location for any length of time. Buffy suspected that chaos was going on at the Watcher’s Council because so many of the decision makers were currently eating ice cream cones in her backyard.
Richard’s sister, Nikki, was scooping out the frozen desert, while Bianca, Buffy’s first born, was doling out sprinkles. The two girls were only a year apart in their ages but it seemed like they were years apart; Nikki had a wisdom about her that Bianca didn’t have. Maybe it came from being an orphan or maybe it was just Nikki’s way. Bianca had just sneaked through grade nine and was about to find herself enrolled in summer school, her father’s idea.
Spike was evil. It came with the vampire package. Spike, at that moment, was locked away in the house, waiting for the sun to go down, and keeping his youngest child occupied.
Rowan Tara Graves was four years old and the spitting image of her aunt Dawn. The littlest Graves was going to kindergarten in the fall and was very excited about being a big girl. Ten years younger than her sister, she kept not only Spike and Buffy young, but was probably another reason for Nikki being so mature for her age, and for Bianca’s inclination to stay a child.
Willow, now an important member of the Bath coven, was reclining on Buffy’s patio lounger talking to Dawn, a glass of root beer in her hand. Willow and Oz had come together, bringing their children, TJ, and Dan with them. They weren’t married, and they certainly weren’t monogamous, but whatever arrangement they had seemed to work for them.
Tara Jennifer, or TJ as everyone called her, was in no way like her namesake. She was a tomboy through and through. She was thirteen and Bianca had turned her nose up at the boyish antics the moment she had seen her cousin. Dan was nine and was playing some sort of action figure game with Dawn’s boys and Andrew’s son.
Dawn and Xander Harris, both watchers, and their two sons, Jesse and Will had arrived with massive gifts and even more massive hugs. Buffy had been over to see Jesse and Will’s births, but slaying had kept her in Cleveland. Buffy missed her sister.
Despite numerous protests, bribery and pleading, Andrew Wells was still the watcher assigned to Cleveland. Years of whining had done little to endear Andrew to the Slayer. He was part of them now, despite how much they wanted to wring his neck every once in a while. He’d actually moved out of the attic and was living across town with a very nice woman, who had actually accepted his proposal of marriage. Andrew and Maggie were frequent guests at Buffy and Spike’s house and Jon, their son, was almost as whiney as Andrew.
Giles and Anya had come, too, bringing with them their two hellions, Eddie and Kristina (spelt with a K) . Though Anya was still a full fledged demon, neither Eddie or Kristina (spelt with a K) showed any outward signs of having demon heritage. And it wasn’t like Anya hid the fact that she was a demon. She was forever teleporting back and forth for some watcher related crisis, or the occasional vengeance wish. Just as long as her husband didn’t find out about it. There were some down sides to being married to the head watcher.
The head watcher in question stepped up beside his slayer and offered her a glass of iced tea. Buffy took it without hesitation and leaned into Giles’ shoulder a moment, silently expressing her love for the man she’d thought of as a father her entire adult life. He was getting older, the grey around his temples had spread and he was now very much the distinguished older gentleman.
And he didn’t seem the slightest bit worried that his wife still looked twenty two years old. Of course, anyone that knew the couple really well knew that Anya had over a thousand years on her husband.
“I didn’t come just for Richard’s graduation, Buffy,” said Giles taking a sip from his own glass of ice tea. “There is some watcher’s business that needs to be taken care of while I’m here.”
Buffy turned and looked at the head watcher with a start. “Are you taking Andrew to England? Please tell me you are taking Andrew to England,” Buffy pleaded. This had been the constant request the Slayer had made of her watcher each time they spoke.
“No, I’m not. I can’t stand him either, and I have more pull than you do,” he gloated, not for the first time.
A growl rumbled from Buffy’s throat before she recovered. “What then?”
“This isn’t the most appropriate time,” he admitted. “When the children are asleep perhaps?”
“And the teenagers have gone out with their friends?” asked Buffy, ever the wise mother. “You’re a big tease, you know that Giles?”
“Occasionally my wife tells me that,” he replied.
“Eww, bad mental images!” cringed Buffy acting like she was seventeen again. Of course, she didn’t look much older than that.
“And they say that it’s Anya that has the dirty mind,” Giles commented.
“I can’t help it, I’m married to Mr. Innuendo,” Buffy retorted.
“And you seem to be very happy,” noted Giles.
“Ecstatically,” Buffy sighed. “Just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or rather the stork. I’ve still got all those envelopes in my night stand drawer, just waiting for Spike’s little guys to get all mystical.”
There was a thump, and the youngest product of those mystically undead but motile swimmers pressed her nose against the glass of the den and waved.
“Can I come out, Mommy?” Rowan asked sweetly. “Bored now.”
“Do you have on your sunscreen?” Buffy asked the four year old.
Rowan shook her head.
“Then you can’t come out. Your daddy can’t come out with out his sunscreen, and neither can you.”
Rowan frowned and pouted, running back away from the window, and into some sort of trouble, causing Spike to yell ‘oy’ from wherever he was in the house.
“She’s going through a no sunscreen phase,” Buffy explained. “What I’m waiting for is for her to clue in about what Spike’s sunscreen is and come out with SPF blanket.”
“A minor inconvenience when her father is a vampire,” Giles responded.
“I’m still waiting for the major inconvenience to happen. You’d think after fifteen years of being parents, something would have come up that would have been one of those, wish I’d married not a vampire, moments. But nope, not a one. Luckiest woman in the world,” Buffy concluded.
“No kidding,” mentioned Dawn from behind her sister, tugging a defiant Will Harris behind her, his mouth full of dirt. “You let me know when that non aging thing wears off, ‘kay? In the mean time…” Dawn waved her hand at her son and shook her head before heading into the house.
Dawn opened the French doors to the den and out ran Rowan, screaming bloody murder, straight into her Aunt Willow’s arms.
“What happened?” Willow asked the little girl, staring into her blue eyes.
“Sunscreen,” Rowan responded.
Willow made a face for a moment. “You don’t smell like sunscreen. I don’t think you have any on.”
Rowan shook her head and smiled evilly.
“You’d better watch it, little tree,” noted Willow with a gleam in her eye. “Your mommy and daddy are going to be mad. Not worth it over something so little as sunscreen. Wait for something bigger. ‘Kay?”
“Okay, big tree,” Rowan said back, wiggling out of Willow’s arms and back into the house, prim and proper.
“Oh, she’s not dramatic at all,” came Xander’s voice, holding a mug of beer in his hand.
“Just be glad that you didn’t have any Summers girls, whelp!” shouted Spike from inside the house.
“I married one!” Xander shouted back.
“Ya, well I’ve got three, and nine more on the way!”
“You got screwed man!” Xander laughed.
And then Dawn came out of the house and whapped her husband on the head.
Richard had left once the family festivities were over. He left with his brand new graduation gift sports car to meet up with some friends. He only had a few more weeks before he would move to England. When Dawn and Xander flew back with their brood, he was going with them. He’d be attending Oxford in the fall, just one more step to becoming a watcher.
Dawn was just happy to get a babysitter she didn’t have to pay.
Andrew, his wife Maggie, and their son Jon left for their own house around 8 pm.
Bedtime in the Graves household was quite the event with the whole family around. Rowan collapsed in her father’s arms, followed by Will in Dawn’s during Mary Poppins, the only movie the whole crew could agree to.
Bianca had wanted to watch Pirates of the Caribbean, ‘cause that Johnny Depp guy was just so dreamy when he was young.
One by one the children filtered upstairs or down to their respective sleeping quarters, leaving the adults to retire to the living room for tea, coffee, and blood.
“So what is so important that you had to tease me earlier Giles?” asked Buffy when she was sure that Nikki and Bianca, the last ones upstairs to get ready for bed, were safely in their rooms.
“It concerns, Nikki,” Giles stated. “She is fifteen.”
“Yes, you sent her a birthday card…” Buffy responded, clearly not getting what Giles was saying.
Giles looked at his fellow watchers with some trepidation.
“Just say it, Giles,” ordered Dawn, leaning against her husband.
“Slayers are usually called at fifteen…” Giles started again.
“But I’m the slayer, the only slayer, can’t be another slayer till I die. And I don’t die until Ariel…not for a good long time.”
“Oh good grief,” Dawn muttered. “Nikki’s a potential.”
“Very tactful sweetie,” noted Xander.
“Tact shamact,” Dawn responded annoyed. “What Giles is trying to say without upsetting you is that Nikki is a potential and that we want to take her to London to be trained. With a watcher, one on one, for a year or two.”
“Hey, whoa, be kind rewind,” stammered the slayer, standing up from her spot on the couch. “Huh?”
“It’s true, Buffy, she’s a potential, I did the spell myself,” added Willow.
“No, I get that. Nikki’s a potential. I’ve known that for years,” Buffy answered. “Why does she need to be taken to London? Why can’t you send a watcher here to train her? Oooh, you can make Andrew her watcher, send me someone else. No wait, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
“You knew that Nikki was a potential?” Xander asked.
“Since when?” Dawn demanded.
“Ariel told me, long before Nikki was even born. I wasn’t trained in England, why does Nikki have to go?” Buffy asked the watchers in the room.
“You didn’t get proper training ‘cause we screwed up,” Xander explained, speaking on behalf of the Watcher’s Council. “When he did find you, it was too late, you’d already been called.”
“So you want me to give up Nikki to become the newer version of Kendra, girl with no last name?” Buffy protested, her voice raising to uncomfortable levels considering there were sleeping children in the house.
“No, that’s not it at all,” Dawn cautioned. “Nikki will be given the choice. She can train here with you, and we’d send a watcher for her. But Buffy, wouldn’t you rather have her trained somewhere not hellmouthy? Somewhere she’d be safe?”
“There you go with that smart thing again,” said Buffy capitulating.
“How long are we talkin’?” asked Spike. “Nikki’s gotta finish her education. She’s not going to be the Slayer, she’s gotta have something to fall back on.”
“A year, year and a half,” stated Xander.
“And she’ll be tutored,” added Dawn. “She won’t miss anything. I swear.”
“Fine,” huffed Buffy. “But you’ve got to convince her to go.”
“Bloody well better do a better job then what happened here,” added Spike.
“I vote Dawn does all the talking,” piped up Willow.
Buffy waited patiently in the kitchen as Dawn talked to Nikki in the living room. She’d done the dishes, wiped down all the surfaces, and was at present thinking about tackling the inside of the fridge if they didn’t hurry it up in there.
The Slayer stared at the fridge and the prophecy that was still there, held in place by a magnet in the shape of a cow, a souvenir from when Ricky went to the Bahamas with his high school band two springs ago.
Blood of light, Blood of dark,
Blood of Blood,
Blood spilt to cover up the evils of blood’s evil,
Undercover of darkness blood is hidden,
Three times blood is split, three times evil rises,
Blood of light, Blood of dark,
Cycle begins anew.
She knew it by heart now. In fact, all of them did. That’s what happened when something was on the fridge door for that long. It even got moved to the new fridge when the last one died.
Buffy still had no clue what it meant. No one did. Except that she was the ‘Blood of Light’ and Spike was ‘Blood of Dark’. But it was this prophecy that held her immortality in check.
“I’m not going,” Nikki’s voice resonated in the kitchen, stirring Buffy’s attention from the prophecy to the fifteen year old.
“I don’t blame you,” Buffy answered back. “That was my first reaction too.”
“How come you didn’t tell me?” Nikki asked. “If you knew.”
Buffy turned to face her adopted daughter. “I didn’t want you to feel limited. This doesn’t change what you are or who you are Nikki,” Buffy continued. “You aren’t the Slayer. And unless this prophecy happens within your lifetime, which I doubt, you won’t ever be the Slayer.”
“Then why do they want to train me?”
“It makes them feel useful. Even with all the rebuilding, and Giles swearing up and down that it’s a new and improved council, with scrubbing action, they are still going to prepare for the worst, and they are still going to want to have fingers in all the pies.”
“Can I be the blueberry flavoured one?”
“You can be the Nikki flavoured one. If you really don’t want to do this, that’s fine, we can stand firm. I am Dawn’s older sister you know, I can stand my ground. Truth is, though, that they want to train you, and the Council, no matter who is running it, tends to do what they want anyway. That’s why Andrew is still here. No one in England can stand him. They’ll send you a watcher to train you here. This is the hellmouth. You could die here.”
“I could die in England.”
“Much less likely. And you’ll have all those watchers, and Willow, and a whole coven protecting you.”
“Yes, but here I’d have you and Da,” countered Nikki.
“And a hellmouth, and countless demons who would want you for your blood.”
“I’ve always had demons after me for my blood. Daughter of a slayer here.”
“You’ve got me there.”
“It would be nice to meet new people. Aunt Dawn said that there were at least four other potentials already in training at council HQ. I’d be the only one who’s actually seen a real demon.”
Buffy nodded her head, a sad smile gracing her features.
“I’m sure you’d be really popular because of it too.”
Nikki walked over, gave Buffy a hug, and then headed back towards the living room. She’d made her choice. Buffy knew how it was. The chosen couldn’t help it. That was why she was still here in Cleveland, still slaying night after night. That was why Faith kept slaying even though she wasn’t a slayer anymore.
It’s what cost Faith and Kennedy their lives.
It’s what was going to cost Nikki hers.