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On patrol, Weatherly Park was usually dark and quiet, the perfect place for a beastie in munch mode to lurk, a grand area to patrol and send that same beastie on a quick ride back to Hell. Now, however, it might as well have been high noon -- the place was filled with portable lights, noise, and people, and all of them were running on this bizarre sort of contained energy that was half panic, half shocked numbness. Police officers moved from squad car to squad car and then to the waiting coroner's van, talking into static-filled radios and stringing crime tape while a police photographer recorded the terrible deed from all angles.
Buffy couldn't believe it. She was accustomed to seeing vamps, even vamp children; while she'd never gotten used to it, she had reached a point where she could deal -- she knew the cause and the culprit that brought about the birth of a baby bloodsucker, and she knew, too, that she was not only releasing the child's physical form from demonic entrapment but saving others at the same time.
The boy was maybe eight years old, the girl possibly six. Brother and sister, without a doubt -- had there not been that obvious age difference, they looked so much alike they might have been Teutonic twins. The shining blond hair hinted at a Scandinavian or German heritage, but the police would verify that later, when the parents were given the terrible news that their children would never return. She hoped they'd be able to forget the sight of the small bodies with the deathly pale skin and blue-tinged lips, that they'd be able to remember how they'd been in life rather than in death.
The officer she'dbeen talking to made a final notation on his clipboard, then nodded at her and angled away. Buffy hugged herself for a moment, then made her way to her mother's side. Joyce didn't even move when Buffy walked up, just stood there, staring into space. "They said we can go home now," Buffy said softly.
For a moment Joyce said nothing, then her eyes met Buffy's. "They were little kids," she said in a small voice. "Did you see them? So...tiny."
Joyce's expression was devastated. "Who would do something like this? I never -- " She choked a little and hung her head, fighting back tears.
"I'm so sorry you had to see this," Buffy said. She touched her mother's arm. "But it's going to be okay."
Joyce only looked at her. "How?"
"I'll find whatever did this," Buffy said without hesitation.
Still, it was obvious her mother wasn't comforted. "I guess. It's just that you can't..." She paused, then drew in a breath. "You can't make it right." Her shoulders began to shake.
Buffy put her arms out and pulled her mother into a tight hug. "It's okay," she said as soothingly as she could. "I'll take care of everything. I promise, Mom. Just try to calm down."
"Don't tell me to calm down!"
On the library stairs above her, Rupert Giles recoiled and stepped back. "I only meant -- "
"They were kids, Giles." Buffy was so angry she felt her fists clench. "Little kids. You don't know what it was like to see them there. My mom -- she can't even talk."
Her Watcher stood there, waiting. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I just want to help."
She took a breath to continue her tirade, then realized how useless that was. Her shoulders slumped a bit. "I know."
Giles came the rest of the way down the stairs, and she followed him over to the library table. "Do we know anything about how? It wasn't the vampire -- "
Buffy shook her head, stopping the rest of his question. "There were no marks." She started to say something else as Giles lifted his cup of tea, then her eyes widened. "Wait -- I mean, there was a mark. A symbol." There was an old-looking piece of paper in front of her, and she snatched a marker from the counter and reached for it.
"Ooh -- " For balancing a cup of tea in one hand, Giles moved pretty quickly as he slid the paper out of range before the tip of her drawing pen could touch down. "Uh...twelfth-century papal encyclical," he explained as he offered her a notepad instead. "Try this."
Buffy barely registered his words, so intent was she on remembering what she'd seen and getting it down properly. "It was on their hands," she told him as she worked. "The cops are keeping it quiet, but I got a good look at it." After a few moments, she shoved the notepad back to the librarian and pointed at the symbol she'd drawn, a triangle cut through its upper half by a horizontal line with a downward curve at each end.
"Find the thing that uses this symbol, and point me at it."
Giles studied it. "Hmmmm."
Buffy frowned at him when he didn't continue. "Hmmm what? Giles, speak."
"What? Oh, sorry." Her Watcher tilted his head as he considered her drawing. "It's just...I wonder if we're looking for a thing at all. The use of a symbol on a victim like this suggests a ritual murder, an occult sacrifice by a group."
Buffy's eyes darkened. "A group of...human beings? Someone with a soul did this?"
"I'm afraid so," Giles told her as he stood and went over to one of the bookcases to scan the titles.
She sat there for a second, not even able to form words as this concept made her feel colder inside than she had in a long time. "Okay," she said at last, then sucked in a lungful of air. "So while you're looking for the meaning of the symbol thingy, maybe you could turn up a loophole in that 'Slayers don't kill people' rule."
Squatting by the bookcase, Giles swiveled and looked at her in alarm before standing and returning to her side. "Buffy, this is a dreadful crime, I know," he said gently. "You have every right to be upset. However, I wonder if you're not letting yourself get a shade more personal because of your mother's involvement."
"Oh, it's completely personal. Giles, find me the people who did this. Please."
Without another word, Buffy turned and strode out of the library, feeling Giles's gaze on her back before he went back to his beloved research books.
Willow Rosenberg stood in the crowded cafeteria with her friend Amy and scanned the tables, looking for an empty one. A few feet away she could hear Xander Harris trying, somewhat desperately, to make conversation with her boyfriend, Oz.
"So," Xander said with strategic brightness. "A burrito."
Oz glanced at him as he dropped the school's version of genuine Mexican grub onto his tray. His expression never changed. "This is a burrito," he agreed.
"Damn straight," Xander said.
Awkward, Willow thought as she watched them head for the cashier. Sooner or later the stiffness fueled by the guilt she and Xander felt would wear off and everyone would get back to normal...wouldn't they? Then again, maybe not -- Cordelia had turned into the Ice Queen toward Xander and the rest of the Slayerettes as well. For her, there were some things you just didn't go back to, and obviously Xander was in that group.
Off to the side, she glimpsed Xander and Oz snag a table, so she and Amy angled that way. "Hi, Oz," she said, and smiled. She glanced at Xander and nodded. "Xander."
There were hi's and heys all the way around, then Xander peered at Amy. "Hey, Amy -- like the new hair." She had recently darkened her normally blond bob to brunet.
Amy smiled as Oz looked to Willow. "I haven't seen you all day. Where've you been?"
She opened her mouth to answer, but Xander cut her off. "Not with me!" he announced. "No, sir. Ask anyone." They all stared at him, and he floundered around a final denial. "Noooo."
More silence, and Willow wished she could think of something cheerful and witty to say, anything to start the conversation over again. Then, thank goodness, Oz sat forward and saved the day.
"So," her boyfriend said. "Buffy's birthday is next week."
Xander's sigh of relief was audible. "Oh -- yeah. Good." He grinned slyly. "I've been pondering gift options -- "
Willow's eyes widened as she glimpsed something behind Xander. "Shhhhh!"
"Oh, come on," Xander griped. "We just got a topic here."
"Hi, Buffy," Willow said purposefully. She smiled widely at her friend.
"Buffy!" Xander said. Surprised, he still recovered admirably, scooting out of his chair and offering it to her. "So, what's up?" He pulled an empty seat over from another table.
Buffy sat, her face somber. "You guys didn't hear?"
Xander frowned slightly. "Hear what?"
"About the murders," Buffy said quietly. There were shadows beneath her eyes, and Willow noticed she was lunch-free. "Somebody killed two little kids."
Willow gasped. "Oh, no!"
Her best friend pressed her lips together. "They were, like, seven or eight years old. My mom found the bodies during patrol last night."
"Oh, my God," Amy said.
"Kids?" Oz asked. Even he looked stunned.
Xander was puzzled. "How is it your mom was there?"
Buffy shook her head in disbelief. "More bad -- she picked last night, of all nights, for a surprise 'bonding' visit."
Willow tried to process this. "God...your mom would actually take the time to do that with you?" When all her friends eyed her instead of answering, she realized her blunder. "Which...really isn't the point of the story, is it?" She pinkened.
Buffy sighed. "No. The point is she's completely wigging."
When they realized Joyce Summers was standing behind Buffy, their jerks of surprise were so perfectly timed they could have been choreographed. "Uh, everyone," Buffy managed. She stood, clearly nervous. "You know, because of...what happened."
Mrs. Summers nodded listlessly. "Oh, it's so awful. I had bad dreams about it all night."
The haunted expression on the older woman's face made Willow exchange glances with her friends. "Hi, Mrs. Summers," Willow said, hoping to derail her train of thought. Xander and Oz put in their mumbled one-word greetings while Amy echoed Willow.
"Hello, everybody," Joyce said, but her heart obviously wasn't in it. She turned to her daughter. "Buffy, have you talked with Mr. Giles yet about who could have done it?"
Buffy looked uncomfortable. "Uh, yeah. He thinks it might be something ritual...occult. He's still looking. In the meantime, we're going to add to my patrols. You know, keep an eye out -- "
"Occult?" Joyce was clearly appalled. "Like witches?"
Amy's mouth fell open, and she twitched at the same time as Willow's milk suddenly backed up in her throat and made her choke and start coughing. After a second or two, she pulled it together. "Sorry," she got out. "Phlegm -- too much dairy."
Joyce's gaze stopped on her briefly. "Oh, I know you kids think that stuff is cool. Buffy told me you dabble -- "
"Absolutely," Willow agreed, trying to sound happy-go-lucky. "That's me. I'm a dabbler."
"But anybody who could do this isn't cool," Joyce continued. Her breathing was getting shorter and faster with every word. "Anybody who could do this has to be a monster. It -- "
"You know what?" Buffy interrupted. She put a hand on her mom's arm as she glanced back at her friends. "Could you guys excuse us for a little bit?"
Willow and the others nodded as Buffy pulled her mom toward the cafeteria exit. Mrs. Summers blinked, then gave them all a little wave. "Nice to see you, kids," she said absently, then let Buffy steer her away.
"What a burn," Xander commented as they watched the two leave. "Buff's mom was just starting to accept the Slayer thing. Now she's going to be double-freaked."
Willow exchanged a meaningful glance with Amy. "Makes me glad my mother doesn't know about my extracurricular activities." She paused for a second as Oz raised an eyebrow. "Or...my curricular activities," she amended a little dolefully. "Or, you know, the fact of my activeness in general..."
Buffy followed her mother into the hallway outside the cafeteria, hoping the bustle of students would insulate them from anyone having a tendency to pay too close attention to their conversation. Before she could say anything -- like point out that talking about murders and monsters in the cafeteria was way low on the desirable list -- Joyce slowed to where they could walk side by side. "Are your friends going to help with the investigation, too?"
Buffy hesitated, trying to figure out how best to word this. "Mom, I really think -- " She glanced around, deciding that the busy hallway wasn't any better than the busy cafeteria. Way too many prying ears. "Maybe this isn't the best place to talk about this."
Joyce's eyebrows lifted, then she actually had the grace to look self-conscious for her daughter. "Are you embarrassed to be hanging out with your mother? I didn't hug you."
Buffy tried again. "No, it's just...this hall is about school." She shrugged. "And you're about home. Mix them, my world dissolves."
"I know. You have no mother, you hatched full-grown out of a giant egg." Joyce managed the tiniest of smiles, but it faded instantly. "It's just...I keep thinking about who could have done such a thing. I want to help."
Well, Buffy could certainly understand that -- the memory of those children still haunted her, too. "Oh. Well, Giles can always use -- "
"I called everybody I know in town," Joyce told her, perking up. "I told them about the dead children. They're all just as upset as I am."
For a moment Buffy was speechless. "You...called everybody you know?"
"And they called all their friends," Joyce told her proudly. "And guess what? We're setting up a vigil for tonight at City Hall -- the Mayor is even going to be there. Now we'll get some action."
Action? Oh boy. "Uh-huh," Buffy said slowly. "That's...great. Uh, but, you know what? A lot of times, when we're working on something like this, we like to keep the number of people who know about it kind of...small."
"Oh," Joyce said. Obviously this had never occurred to her. "Right. Well, I'm sure there won't be all that many people."
Copyright © 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.