“Showtime,” by David Fury
Night in oh-so-safe Sunnydale, California. A cute young Potential named Rona gets off the bus. A bunch of Bringers are waiting to meet her, but fortunately Buffy is there too. Soon enough she’s stepping past the bodies to pick her latest recruit/dependant/apprentice off the tarmac, and from there leading her homeward.
Back at the Summers house, Kennedy is trying to lure Willow—who is on the floor in a sleeping bag—into easy cuddling range. Willow isn’t having any, and so instead they talk about the ever-growing number of Slayettes and the looming shortage of bathrooms. This in turn leads to some chatter about Kennedy’s wealthy upbringing, her many childhood homes and their many wings. It doesn’t lead to any kind of suggestion that maybe she should have her parents send a truckload of food and toilet paper, or the deeds to the house across the street. It’s sad, in its way, that Anya isn’t in the room. She’d get them to ante up.
Downstairs, Molly is, almost gleefully, telling some of her peers about how snarky British Annabelle gave in to the fear, and thereby got herself killed when she ran into Noseless the ubervamp. One of said peers is Felicia Day, as Violet (Hi, Felicia Day! It’s nifty to see you). The others are named Chloe and Eve. Should I be learning their names? How long can they possibly last? The girl talk is keeping Xander up; Andrew too. By the time Buffy shows up with Rona, the whole household has pretty much given up on the idea of sleep.
The current order of Slay business is research: an all-out hunt for information on the First and the Turok-Han. Buffy knows they have to get past the latter, see, if they’re going to rescue Spike from the former.
To which, the Slayettes say: Why rescue Spike? They’d also like to know if there’s any further plan in the works, preferably one whose aim is to keep them from being tenderized, minced and devoured.
Giles’s research suggestion is to go consult a guy… wait, no, that’s an Eye, by the name of Beljoxa. Anya for the record is against this plan, which requires a demon to open the vortex. But Buffy says please, because Spike’s running out of time. She doesn’t much care if the Slayettes want to meet him or not. She’s bent on saving him.
In his heart, Spike knows this. He dreams of unchaining himself from the cave wall and escaping under his own steam, but there’s no possibility of that. Usually the workmanship on these bondage set-ups is pretty shoddy, but the First had its minions find a nice solid part of the cave wall to drill those restraints into. It’s there with Spike, of course, usually dressed as Buffy. It really wants to undermine his faith. She tells him that the Slayer will never come past Noseless to retrieve him.
“She will come for me,” Spike insists.
Giles’s plan to consult Beljoxa seems like a good enough place to start, especially as they have no other real options, and soon Anya is trying to sweet-talk a demon named Torg—some guy-creature she had a one-night stand with—into opening the required vortex. She offers Torg sex, which doesn’t work. Then Giles threatens to send Buffy around, next time she’s in a bad mood. Needless to say, Torg opens the portal just to be rid of them.
(In the end, there’s no real problem with asking Beljoxa for information, beyond the humiliation Anya feels at having to suck up to her old compadres in the demon community. He doesn’t ask for a nibble of their bone marrow, or anyone’s firsborn, or even demand cash.)
While they’re gone, Willow fields a call from the coven about another new Potential, and Buffy and Xander have a little heart-to-heart with Andrew. It’s a quiet reading of the Riot Act, basically—they’re telling him to stay with the group and behave so they don’t have to continually bind and babysit him. And making threats is the theme of the day: if he doesn’t keep his head down, Buffy says, he’ll get hobbled. Misery-style hobbled.
Willow hangs up the phone. Hurrah, another Potential! More help! But help with what? Dawn has become the one who asks the obvious questions, the ones all of us are probably asking too: does having ever more scared pre-Slayers around really aid their cause?
There’s nothing for it, though, unless they all want to send the girls to prison so that Faith can defend them from whoever shows up. Instead, they put a bit of hope into the idea that at least some of the Slayettes might learn to fight. The basement has been set up as a danger room, and some of them are even training. Eve and Rona, though, are wondering if there’s any point. None of them has any real vampire-slaying experience, they insist. They’re probably doomed.
Eve dials it up, freaking out the others by speculating about which of them might be activated if Buffy dies (they mention Faith, but they don’t deal with the fact that the Slayer line now descends from her). By the time she shuts up, all the kids are scared and primed to be really uncooperative and useless.
This demoralizing isn’t accidental, because Eve isn’t really there. She’s at the hotel, across town, the place where Willow’s coven has sent BuffXander. She is also, unfortunately, lying in a pool of her own drying blood. Buffy zooms back across town and bursts in on the demoralized Slayettes. Fake Eve taunts them all, and mentions that she’ll be sending Noseless around, so he can have a little quality fun with their entrails, just as soon as the sun goes down.
How’s everyone else making out? Well, Andrew is asking Dawn why there are no boy slayers and wondering how come nobody wants his help fighting the First.
“I’m so alone,” he whines, and Dawn reminds him that he shouldn’t have killed Jonathan. So true!
Over in the vortex, the Eye of Beljoxa is, likewise, a barrel of laughs. It tells Giles and Anya that the First cannot be destroyed. Evil is eternal, see, and has been around for all time. Okeydoke, Giles says, but why is it going after the Slayers now?
The reply is that the mystical forces surrounding the Chosen line have changed. Oh! And the Slayer was the one who changed them.
There’s a more pressing problem at hand right now, though: the anticipated arrival of Noseless at Buffy’s front door. Nobody has found a handy Turok-Han weakness to exploit—he doesn’t dissolve in water, he isn’t allergic to bee stings, his heel is as tough as the rest of his body, he’s had his measles shots and he’s fine with the music of Slim Whitman. Plan B is to get Willow to do a barrier spell to protect the house. The heartily frightened Slayettes want to know if that’ll work. The not very reassuring answer is: “Who knows?”
As the newbies continue to freak out, Willow sets up a psychic chat room for herself, Buffy and Xander. The three of them make a plan, but we don’t hear it. On the upside, neither do any dead, illusory people who may or may not be hanging around listening.
It’s all coming together just in time. Fake Eve sends Noseless off to kill everyone at the Summers house. The girls all get weapons. Kennedy, as the Potential who has been in training for the longest, gets a crossbow. Andrew wants a weapon too, so Buffy gives him holy water.
There’s just enough time for a quick scene capturing Willow’s fear of having to do the barrier spell, and showing as Kennedy tries to bolster her confidence.
Then Bringers surround the house. Noseless arrives. Willow throws up a barrier. It’s not going to hold, though, so Buffy tells the kids to run. They fight their way past a handful of Bringers and flee, with everyone’s favorite pug-faced ubervamp in hot pursuit.
Giles and Anya are missing all of this; they’re just stepping back into the real world. They discuss what they learned: Buffy’s resurrection is what’s changed the rules of the game. Or, really, their entire universe. This means, Anya realizes, that she, WillTara and Xander are to blame for the First’s arrival.
“The world would have been better off,” she says, “If Buffy had just stayed dead.”
It’s an interesting point of divergence, actually. Willow probably couldn’t have become a world-destroying force if she hadn’t used those dark, Slayer-raising magics. But the surviving Scoobies would, I bet, have intervened in Warren, Jonathan and Andrew’s silly schemes. So… Tara might still have died. Willow got rampage-y on Glory when Tara got brain-zapped, so it’s possible Warren would have still found himself skinless and dead in the forest.
Since it was Xander that stopped Dark Willow, and not Buffy, some things might have unfolded just as they did in the canonical S6.
With no back-from-the-dead Buffy to trigger a major update and bug fix to the universe’s operating system, meanwhile, what we’d be left with in terms of story options for S7 might have been Willow’s struggle to stay good as she assumed a Buffy-like role as Acting Guardian of the Hellmouth.
But all of that is just me tossing out AU ideas for fun. What actually happens is Buffy and the others lead the Slayettes to a construction site. Noseless runs in gladly; he made out well in last week’s work-site fight, even when she dropped a palette of steel pipes on his head. Besides, all the yummy Potentials are here, so where else would he want to be?
It’s a staged showdown, though. Buffy appears and tells him she’s the thing that monsters have nightmares about. The horrified Slayettes watch as she tackles the monster.
As her big sister lets the Turok-Han bat her around the site for awhile, Dawn realizes this didn’t just come together accidentally. We then get a flashback to the psychic conversation between Willow, Xander and Buffy. She wanted the Potentials to see her kill Noseless with her bare hands. Somewhat more selfishly, she wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t bring what’s left of her mother’s house crashing down expensively on all their heads.
It’s a play to restore their belief in her, is my point.
The fight doesn’t start well. It looks for awhile like Noseless is going to pummel her to death. Turok-Hans are strong and nimble, after all. As vamps go, he’s not even especially stupid. But Buffy rallies, as she always does, and eventually garrottes him with a string of barbed wire.
It’s important here for Buffy to overpower this vampire physically, without drawing on Xander’s wrecking ball, Willow’s magical powers, or even her own bag of tricks. The message to the Slayettes is, essentially: he’s tough, but he’s not that tough.
This is something that wouldn’t have worked on Glory, who dished it out much as Noseless does but, on the taking it side of things was conveniently invulnerable. He’s a vampire; he’s the thing Buffy was actually built to kill. She kills him.
(This episode also lowers our respect for the Bringers, as agents of evil, to about Andrew’s level. Basically, they’re useless except when they’re fighting single unarmed scared little girls.)
Buffy wraps up her fight with a speech to the Potentials, telling them their side is going to win. Then they all walk away, leaving Poor Dead Eve looking angry behind them. Buffy heads for the cave, where Spike tells her she’s a bloody figment, until she cuts him down, puts an arm around him, and hauls him off to her teen-infested house.
The use of telepathy in this episode is deeply interesting. Buffy is the one who initiates the conversation, with an unspoken, “Willow, can you hear me?” Presumably she knows that Willow can hear her. Does that mean she hears everything, all the time? Could she hear them from England? Either way, this little bit of misdirection demonstrates how fully Willow, Xander and Buffy have come to trust each other. Despite everything they’ve been through, they’ve recovered to a great—even inspiring—degree.
Next: Living up to your Full Potential
A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)