“Empty Places,” by Drew Z. Greenberg
Sunnydale is emptying out as fast as humanly—and demonly—possible. Buffy’s strolling through the traffic-jammed streets, watching the exodus. The extent of the fear is underlined when she runs into, of all unpeople, Clem. He’s fleeing, too. He tries to express confidence in the Slayer’s ability to save the town, if not the world from the First. Sadly, he’s less than convincing.
It’s different this time, he says. But, you know. Good luck and all!
Then he zooms away.
Willow meanwhile, is using magic to convince a handsome young cop that Giles, who is disguised as a respectable and kinda hip middle aged Englishman, that the two of them are with Interpol and, therefore, worthy of inheriting a big file of info that might just relate to Caleb. Other police officers drag a new arrest past them—he’s screaming “From beneath you, it devours!”
This is now a pummelling offence, it turns out. Even the police are getting feisty, what with all that bad energy leaking up from the Hellmouth. And hey, since they’ve got their Bad Cop on anyway, why not recapture Faith, with extreme prejudice? It’s the best idea to ever strike Sunnydale’s remaining finest.
Over at the hospital, Buffy’s telling Xander his empty eye socket will be bruised when the bandages come off. He’s been there all week and is clearly feeling vulnerable. It doesn’t help either his mood or Willow’s when Buffy opts to take the police file back home so the others can work on it. They had hoped she’d hang around for original Scooby bonding and card games.
(Hey, Buffy, have it both ways! Install a fax at your house and send the pages to the gang! You’re gonna need these guys on your side soon.)
When she’s gone, Xander tries joking about his exciting new disability, but Willow breaks down crying. Somehow, despite everything that’s happened to them, they’d got the idea that they were untouchable. Now that they know better, they’re both clearly falling apart.
There’s a lot of that going around. Back at the house, Anya is briefing the Slayettes on the expected battle to come with legions of noseless vampirekind. She has learned they can be staked, apparently, as long as they’re fighting someone strong enough to drive the stake in question through a chest as strong as steel. (Wouldn’t it splinter?)
Rona points out that they are all far more interested in Caleb, what with his having trounced them so thoroughly last week. Amanda agrees that he’s unbeatable. Anya, attempting to rally, tells them they can’t ignore one threat just because another has arisen. True to form, she also mentions Xander’s injury and their recent break-up sex.
Squick! Kennedy skips out on class and goes upstairs to share chips with Faith. She’s also afraid of Caleb, not surprisingly. The two of them are lamenting their lack of info on him when Buffy comes home with… information! It’s files on vandalism at churches which, it is hoped, will offer them a tactical advantage.
As Buffy hands out research assignments, Dawn makes a couple attempts to connect with her, particularly the “do you even care about Xander’s injury?” part of her. Faith sends the kid packing. Kennedy makes a smart remark about how Caleb eats slayers for breakfast, and Buffy can’t deal. Instead, she heads off to the abandoned high school to pick up her remaining work things.
What could she have at work that she still needs? Oh! It’s her picture of herself, Xander, and Willow. Fair enough. She gets a nanosecond to grieve a little over Xander’s skewered eyeball, but guess who finds her at her desk in tears?
I rather wish the answer was Robin, or Angel, or possibly the nice ghost of Joyce, or even the First dressed as Glory. But no, it’s Nathan Fillion and his terrible haircut. He’s menacing, and it’s sort of cool to see how scary Buffy clearly finds him.
After awhile this turns to actually fighting, and he gives her another object lesson in Hey, Slayer, I can beat the snot out of you! But it apparently isn’t time to kill Buffy yet, because he tosses her through her office window and ambles off while she’s unconscious.
Back at the house, Dawn and Giles are looking at a promising church incident while Andrew witters on tiresomely about pizza. The photos for the church case include a familiar image. It’s Caleb’s ring. Giles sends Spike to do some investigating, and makes him take Andrew along for the ride. This if nothing else keeps Giles and Faith from having to exert their willpower in the not killing Andrew department.
Talk turns to the completely declining morale. Dawn suggests keeping the Slayettes occupied. Keeping busy, getting busy. Faith thinks, Hey, I still haven’t gotten laid! She sends out a general psychic booty call which causes Sunnydale’s remaining young men to flock to the Bronze. Everyone but Giles goes dancing.
Buffy comes home to an empty house and learns of Giles’s decision to send Spike off to the church to investigate. She is still mad about his recent attempt to kill Blondie Bear, and so things are already tense by the time he’s forced to admit that Faith and the gang went off to party without her.
What else is going on? Over at the evil vineyard, Caleb is gloating with the First over having primed Buffy to walk the gang back into the slaughterhouse. At the Bronze, Faith is trying to keep the Slayettes from getting hammered. Even so, she’s having a good time. They all are!
Then the cops show up to, as it turns out, assassinate her. It’s like they think they’re the Watcher’s Council or something.
This gives Faith license to thump on a gang of lawmen, which normally we’d frown on. A fifth officer tries to keep the Slayettes trapped in the Bronze. This is ultimately rather invigorating for the girls, as it happens. They bust out of the alley and spring to Faith’s rescue. Morale effectively improved!
But not for long. Buffy shows up and is horrified. Whaling on cops? Under-aged drinking? They argue, and Faith points out that a tiny little outbreak of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer is nothing compared to what happened last week. This strikes a major nerve, and Buffy smacks her.
Out on the road, Spike is on his motorcycle and Andrew is wearing Dawn’s helmet. Andrew is still on the food, food, food topic. They do agree to agree about the onion blossoms the Bronze used to serve. Mmm, onion blossoms. Spike even knows how, in theory, to cook one.
Robin shows up at the house and finds Faith smoking on the porch. They debrief about Faith’s clash with Buffy, and she gives herself snaps for not fighting back. The two of them read each other a little—oh, there’s chemistry there for sure!—and then Xander comes home.
The Slayettes throw him a surprise party that consists of everyone turning out to greet him in the living room. Then, just when things are getting really celebratory, Buffy announces that they’re going back into the wine cellar.
On that chilling note we realize that Spike and Andrew have, finally, reached their destination. There’s what looks like a Bringer on the scene, and Spike is obliged to save Andrew from him. But the guy still has his eyes, not to mention one of Caleb’s burn scars. What they’ve actually found is a scared and traumatized monk, the last survivor of the order.
Monkman claims Caleb can’t be stopped. He tells them the monks took him in and he rewarded them by promptly searching their monastery, where he found a secret passage they hadn’t even known was there. These are not the key-making monks of season five, obviously. They don’t even know how to keep a lid on their secret passage, which—like many a hidden room in the Buffyverse—comes complete with a portentous inscription.
The inscription’s rough translation was Slayers Rule, First Minions Drool, and it maddened Caleb so that he simply had to murder all the other monks.
Why does Buffy want to go back to the vineyard, you may ask? She has realized that if the school and the seal of Danthazar were so darned important, Caleb would have all his evil forces there, guarding it. Instead, he’s at the vineyard.
This might be somewhat underwhelming logic, since Caleb told her flat-out he had something of hers and would be very pleased if she would drop in with all her forces at the vineyard for a Merlot tasting and some light slaughter. Come on down to my winery, any time you please!
Still, Faith objects to the idea of trying the same plan twice. It’s not a bad point. Giles and Robin pile on. The topic of Spike arises, and then everyone’s full of mutinous vigor. Even Willow is worried about Buffy’s judgment.
Carp, carp, carp. Buffy eventually lays down the law. “Too bad, I’m the boss of us, let’s go!”
The gang replies: “Did you see that we just beat up a handful of cops, oh Authority Figure Wannabe?”
Even Xander, who is usually a rock, who was all for whatever she thought was best last week, is having a perfectly comprehensible crisis of faith.
“Empty Places” offers us the last of the official BtVS pile-ons. There have been a few horribly painful Scooby fights in the past, and their general dynamic has, like this one, pitted Buffy against the group. Even so, the unity here is notable. Though she’s been doing as much as she possibly can to prepare for the coming Apocalypse, our Slayer has also been steadily alienating everyone. Robin and Giles just want to kill Spike. Xandillow are in shock over his injury. The Slayettes are encumbered with a high level of terror and cluelessness.
Of all of them, Faith’s the one who comes closest to being supportive.
There are so many interesting dimensions to this mutiny. In the past, Giles might have stood beside Buffy out of a sense of Watcherly duty, and then criticized her privately afterward. But now he’s in serious disagreement with her over the handling of Spike.
What’s more, he has come to recognize that Willow and Xander aren’t necessarily kids to be overruled anymore. They too have grown; they’ve earned more say in world-saving decisions. The original Scoobies definitely have every right to balk, and balk hard.
The Slayettes, though? Robin? Anya? Well, their lives are on the line.
It’s only natural that Buffy, as the outnumbered one, is the one who gets angriest, and behaves almost childishly. She’s been doing so much. She’s exhausted and hurt. And while the others may have many valid points about her plan, she is certainly entitled to feel unappreciated and cranky when they won’t just buy into her leadership.
(Spike, of course, will point this out on her behalf next time.)
The Slayettes think maybe Faith should be in charge. Even as Faith objects to this clearly mad idea, Dawn kicks Buffy out of the Summers house. We all have to agree on something, she says, and it’s that you need to go.
Dawn is kinder than the rest, but the message is still You Came, You Saw, now Get the Eff Out.
Buffy flees to the porch, and Faith runs after her. She says, truthfully enough, that she was not trying to stage a coup. Buffy just tells her the girls are in her hands now. Then she heads out, crying, into the night.
Next: Imagine how things might have gone if Kendra had lived!
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, in early March!)