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Sep. 3rd, 2015 @ 06:05 pm Never Look Back: Chapter Thirty-One
 
Chapter Thirty-One: What Beside Remains

SUNDAY, JUNE 9, 2002, 5:41 AM (GMT)
ENGLAND

-Kennedy-

"Kennedy?" A concerned voice called from somewhere nearby. "Where are you?"

It was a little while past dawn; Kennedy had been curled in the dining room window seat in her pajamas for nearly an hour, staring out as the world lightened on a new day.

"I'm in here!" she called back, lifting her chin from her knees to glance toward the door.

Thera Smythe was several years older than Kennedy, though not quite old enough to be her mother; more like a youngish aunt. She'd always been strict about Kennedy's lessons, especially when her parents were around, but otherwise friendly and even indulgent in a stiff British kind of way. Kennedy hadn't realized just how good she'd had it, though, until she'd hung out with forty-plus other Potentials for several days and met some of their Watchers. She'd always assumed that becoming the Slayer would be treated with just as much reverence by the people in charge of her as by the lucky girl herself; she was still trying to adjust to the reality that neither thing was actually true.

Somehow, during all those years she'd spent daydreaming about the perks of her destiny, she'd managed to avoid thinking about what a Slayer's responsibilities would cost. Meeting her foresisters had given Kennedy pause for thought, and not just because of the reason they'd been there.

Thera was totally put together even at that hour: sensible shoes, dark slacks, a well-tailored blouse under a lightweight jacket, and long auburn hair done up in a bun. Kennedy didn't think she'd ever seen the woman without makeup, either: always neutral colors, perfectly applied even before her first cup of tea. She didn't look like someone who'd found out her boss had gone off the deep end, barely escaped a collapsing building with her life, drove for hours in the dark in a caravan of other surviving Watchers and Potentials, and didn't even get to bed until after two in the morning. Kennedy had tried to sleep, but only lasted a couple of hours until a surge of restless energy had driven her back out of bed. She guessed that was part of being the Slayer, but she had no idea what Thera's excuse was.

Thera clucked her tongue, then approached, offering a steaming mug. "I hope you got some sleep. We've a long day ahead of us. I've taken the liberty of laying out one of your smarter ensembles; hopefully there'll be no call to exercise your new status so soon, but I think we'd best establish our tone carefully from the start in light of yesterday's events. Ms. Chalmers is capable, but there'll be no predicting how the remainder of the Board may react to what's happened."

Kennedy took the mug, warming her hands around it as she stared down into its sweet, milky depths. Thera always remembered just how she liked her coffee; she'd always tried to be respectful of all of Kennedy's preferences, in fact. Something that had surprised her at first, given the Council's very conservative public face... until it had occurred to her that a lesbian Potential or Slayer was less likely to become a pregnant Potential or Slayer. One less life-or-death concern for her Watcher to worry about.

And that was cynical of her, she knew. But she didn't think Thera would be so sanguine about what Kennedy had decided that morning.

"I slept enough," she shrugged. "But I don't want to talk to the Board. I want to go back."

Thera's brow wrinkled, but she didn't pretend not to understand. "And you will, in a few days' time. After the Council has had a chance to regroup, and selected a team to speak with Mr. Giles' people regarding the relocated Hellmouth. There are questions that must be asked."

Kennedy shook her head. Even if Mr. Travers and the other Watchers directly involved in everything that went down had all been taken out of the picture, the very fact that there'd been more of them than just the big QT said a lot to her. As did the fact that his little project-- which as far as she could tell had been gathering up all the Potential Slayers so he could brainwash the next actual one, meaning her, to his preferences-- had apparently not been approved by the Watchers' Council at large. But they still hadn't stopped him. Or even investigated what he was up to. Even her own Watcher-- Kennedy hadn't seen her at all between their arrival and the house falling in. And it didn't make it any better to think that she might have been kept from Kennedy rather than just going along.

Why the hell would Kennedy want to give the people who created and maintained that kind of malignant environment a vote in any of her choices? The only reason Kennedy was a Slayer at all was because they'd kidnapped and killed the last one. Kennedy might not have known Faith Lehane existed before Vi had mentioned her, but she'd asked Thera a few careful questions on the drive down to London, and between the way Faith had been treated and the way the Watchers in general talked about Buffy Summers? Kennedy could see the pattern, and didn't intend to let them weave her into it.

"No. Not in a few days. Today," she replied. "They've got plenty of witnesses; they can question the other Potentials about what happened. And if they need someone to talk to Mr. Giles, you can do it. I heard you talking to him last night. You were willing to admit the Council was wrong about something; do you really think anyone else your bosses might pick would do that? Or would they be mad at him for, what, coming to my rescue? 'Cause it wasn't just Faith they saved; it was all of us."

Thera's frown darkened as she studied Kennedy's expression. "I understand why you might not be eager to return to Headquarters just now; I'm not looking forward to it myself," she replied. "But regardless of my opinion of the Council's policies... I also had a cousin and several friends that didn't make it out of the manor alive last night. Good people, who didn't deserve to die because they were misled by someone they respected. Mr. Giles may have a point; but ultimately, I appreciate his method of expressing it little better than I did Travers' overt fanaticism."

Kennedy's eyes widened. Yeah, now that she thought about it, she'd heard Richard Wyndam-Pryce call one of the weedy little Watchers following him around Smythe. It hadn't registered at the time. She was kind of glad it hadn't, actually.

Thera hadn't been there in the basement when everything went to hell. She still didn't know. And Kennedy felt even more stressed for having to be the one to tell her.

She wiped a shaky hand over her mouth. "Did you know, they tried to put us all to sleep when they did the test to see if one of us was the Slayer? I had that hypnosis-proof stake you gave me, though, so I didn't go under when the rest did. I heard the way they talked about us when they thought we couldn't hear, and the way they treated Ms. Chalmers. I was still awake when Faith came to rescue us, instead of escaping like any sane person would have, and when her boyfriend broke in to save her. I was there, Thera. And because I got up to help them-- the Watchers guarding us tried to kill me, too."

Kennedy had had the same training she assumed any Potential Slayer got about respecting human life. But after seeing other girls-- just girls, still fighting their way free of the spell that had held them down-- fall next to her, she'd been too angry to hold back her punches. Most of the Potentials had been unarmed, and very few of them trained enough to be an offensive threat against a man with a gun. She didn't feel even a little bit guilty about what she'd done to the Watcher that shot Eve. Queasy, maybe. Remorseful? Hell, no.

"I don't know who all they were; I don't even clearly remember all their faces. I just remember wanting not to die. And not wanting the other girls to die, either. So I did what I had to. Would you say the same thing if it turned out I was the one who killed your cousin?" She swallowed and wrapped her arms more tightly around her knees, turning back to the window.

She heard Thera's breath catch on a gasp; and then a careful hand settled on her shoulder. "Kennedy...."

Kennedy shrugged it off. "I know you know what they did to Faith. And the only reason any of us made it out of there at all is because her people came to get her-- and some of us still didn't. So if it's all the same to you, I trust them to teach me how to survive as a Slayer a hell of a lot more than I do the Council right now."

The hand withdrew, followed by the sound of a mournful, indrawn breath. "I don't even know what to say. None of this should ever have happened."

"You're telling me," Kennedy snorted. Then she finally turned back, looking up at her Watcher again. Thera's eyes were shimmering with unshed tears, and her expression was conflicted.

"You said last night that you'd never have set me up for what they did, if you'd known," Kennedy continued. "And I'm not blind. I grew up around people with power. Even if all the Watchers that actively supported Travers went down last night? The Slayer is still the only purpose the Council's got. How long do you think it'll take the rest to start thinking maybe it wouldn't be so bad to follow in his footsteps, if I throw them over like Faith and Buffy did? I don't really want to go off on my own. But it's like you said-- I think I'd better establish the right tone from the start. I'll work with you, but I'm not gonna be their puppet."

Thera's jaw worked, and then she nodded, then wiped hastily at her eyes. "Fair enough," she said. "I withdraw my objection. I'll prepare breakfast while you dress. Lydia said Mr. Giles planned to send a sizeable portion of his group back to America today to deal with obligations that couldn't be delayed, but he and Mr. Rayne and two of their associates were to remain behind to maintain a guard on the Hellmouth. Mr. Rayne is a chaos mage, and ordinarily... well, regardless, he was also raised in a Watcher home, and may be better equipped to answer some of your questions."

Kennedy wasn't even gonna ask how that came about; the idea of rebelling in a resource-rich household by using that resource in ways your parents wouldn't approve of was not exactly an unfamiliar scenario in her economic bracket. Neither was growing up determined to Uphold the Family Name, though. As upset as she was... she really didn't blame Thera for her initial reaction.

She unfolded from her seat as Thera started to walk away, and snagged the other woman in a quick hug. "Thank you," she said, thickly. "I am sorry about your cousin, you know, I just... anyway, thank you."

Then she brushed away tears of her own and left the room, darting up the stairs to armor herself to face the day.



A sturdy English breakfast, a few sternly voiced phone calls, and the drive back up to the new Hellmouth consumed the rest of the morning. It was nearly noon when they turned left at the foot of the hill sloping up to the new ruins and pulled up to the dower house at the back of the property.

There were no other vehicles visible in the garage or the parking area next to the house; the place seemed utterly still and quiet, and when she peeked in through the windows the rooms were all dark. "They must've already gone to take the others to the airport."

"No doubt the younger pair did," Thera replied, glancing back in the direction of the larger, collapsed building. "But I doubt Mr. Giles would have been willing to leave the Hellmouth unguarded; daylight is little deterrent to supernatural activity so far from major population centers. Very few species, vampires aside, are completely allergic to the sun's rays."

"Great, so I'm going to be a target twenty-four seven out here," Kennedy sighed, then stretched and got her bag out of the trunk. "More opportunities to learn, I guess."

The manor's lawns were regularly cut, though not much cared for otherwise in the last few years, from what Kennedy had gathered during the few days she'd stayed there; the occasional patch of mowed-over weeds marred the wide green sweep of the grounds, especially around the overgrown gardens that had bracketed the manor. It had probably helped divert attention from the property, if Travers usually socialized with people like Kennedy's family. Her stepmother would have gasped in horror, then ordered it all dug up and relandscaped before she'd ever have let herself be associated with a place like this.

The extensive, empty lawns would make it easier to see bad guys coming, though, in the event that something else did happen. Kennedy glanced thoughtfully in the windows again, then left her bag on the doorstep and turned her feet up the graveled drive. She slipped a stake in one pocket and a knife in the other just in case, though hopefully she wouldn't need them just yet.

She hadn't properly met either Mr. Giles or his friend the night before, though she'd heard them arrive like everybody else in that basement. She had been introduced to Buffy Summers, though; the legendary blonde Slayer and her little sister had been the ones closest to Kennedy when the ceiling had started coming down and they'd had to evacuate. She'd taken Kennedy's hand after Kennedy had blurted some horrifically embarrassing greeting and given her a very intent look; then she'd told her that Rule #1 was not to die, and that if she kept that in mind, she might make it long enough to learn the rest. Kennedy didn't know what to expect from the man who'd taught Buffy that; she might have just learned the hard way that being the Slayer wasn't the shiny prize she'd dreamed of, but there was still enough pride in her to want to be one of the names people said in the same breath as Buffy Summers, or Nikki Wood, or Sineya.

"It looks even worse in daylight," Thera murmured as they crested the rise of the hill, approaching the toppled fountain at the center of the drive.

The graveled space around the fountain was even more torn up and littered with dust and debris than it had been the night before, scuffed by dozens of pairs of fleeing feet. A lone crystal prism separated from some massive chandelier bounced off Kennedy's unwary boot as she picked her way past it. Shafts of colored light bounced gaily off splintered wood and shattered brick as it spun through the air, dragging her eye from point to point across the vast landbound wreck of the house.

"I can't believe we were in there just yesterday," Kennedy agreed, trying to picture the building as it had been before the collapse. That was a lot of wood and plaster and glass to pancake in on itself all at once. And somewhere beneath it, a portal to a hell dimension now slumbered; she could almost feel its energy beating against her skin now that she was paying attention, like someone had turned on a giant space heater of evil.

No one was immediately visible from the drive, but she thought she could hear voices carrying from the left side of the house, and turned her path a little more in that direction.

"...not surprised," an older male voice was saying in a wry tone as she approached within hearing range. Mr. Giles, Kennedy thought; though she wouldn't have been able to swear to it. "I did my best to discourage his interest when we ran across one another at the hotel, but if he was the one that arranged for me to be taken in by the authorities...."

"He was, according to Ms. Chase," the other replied. "He returned to leave a message for you, apparently, then vanished into thin air in front of a concierge. Wesley's fair-weather friend, on the other hand, is still with us, more's the pity; he left a panicked message after half the staff at the Rollright facility disappeared in the middle of their emergency meeting last night."

"Separating the sheep from the goats," the first voice snorted. "I wonder where Anya sent them? She wouldn't say; only laughed when I asked and said I would approve."

Kennedy exchanged a round-eyed glance with Thera, freezing in her tracks; had some of the people who hadn't made it out actually survived after all? She knew Mr. Giles and his companions had cast some kind of spell after they'd arrived in the basement, but she'd been too busy fighting to pay much attention until Travers had screamed and vanished right in front of her.

"Somewhere a good deal more secure than the cell where I found you, no doubt," the second voice replied, a curl of teasing warmth under the words. "Pity I had to destroy the handcuffs on the way out."

"Now is not the time, Ethan," the first voice chided in response-- definitely Mr. Giles, then.

"And when will it be?" Mr. Rayne replied, tone souring with dissatisfaction.

"Certainly not when we have an audience," Mr. Giles said dryly; and Kennedy shared another glance with her Watcher. Wow; Kennedy hadn't ever heard that sort of rumor about him. And how'd he figure out they were there?

Never mind; what mattered was that she wasn't making the kind of first impression she'd wanted. Kennedy cleared her throat, then picked her way forward again, rounding the corner of what had once been the house to see a pair of middle-aged guys standing over an exposed, rubble-choked window into the erstwhile basement.

"Ah," Mr. Rayne said, dark eyes glittering as he took them in. "The new Slayer-- and her Watcher. I was under the impression Ms. Chalmers intended to wrap the pair of you up in cotton wool and snug you away to placate the old families."

"Ask me how much I don't care about what the 'old families' think right now," Kennedy rolled her eyes. "Kinda looks like their system's broken, to me."

"And what do you care about, then?" Mr. Giles asked; his tone was mild, but he stared at Kennedy with a sharp, speculative expression, one of his hands half-curled and strangely green-tinted in the morning light. An injury maybe? Or some kind of magic? Kennedy couldn't tell-- not that that really mattered, either.

"I care about actually being the superhero our Watchers told us the Slayer's supposed to be," she said, staring back at him challengingly. "I care about saving people, and kicking ass, and making sure no one ever does what they tried to do to us here, ever again. If that means going back to the Council after you teach me, whatever; but I want to be sure I'm going to survive it, first."

"She cares about doing the right thing, not the easy thing," Mr. Rayne replied, amused; though he was looking at his friend when he said it. "Then you've come to the right place, child."

Mr. Giles turned to Thera. "And you support her in this?"

Thera glanced at Kennedy, then nodded. "She's my Slayer."

Something shifted close by with a loud thunk and a clattering of debris, and Mr. Rayne glanced out over the destruction with an oddly triumphant smile. "So much for the shattered visage," he murmured.

"Then I believe we can come to an arrangement," Mr. Giles spoke past him.

Obscure poetry references and tense negotiations? And she'd thought being the Slayer would be different than her childhood dinner parties.

Kennedy smiled wryly at the thought, then nodded. "Great. Sounds like a plan."


Index | CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO >>
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