Summers House – Bedroom – Moments Later
Xander darted into the main bedroom, immediately followed by Buffy, who slammed the door shut and quickly scanned the room. She raced to one corner of the room, where she lifted a large, ornate chair, carried it to the doorway and wedged it under the doorknob.
“You really think that’ll hold them?” Xander asked.
“Nope,” Buffy replied bluntly. “But it’ll at least hold them long enough for us to regroup.”
“‘Buff? ‘at you?” Dawn’s muffled voice drifted out from under the double bed.
Buffy frowned. “Dawn?”
“We’re hiding here, find your own place,” Skye’s voice sounded out alongside Dawn’s.
“We’re not hiding,” Buffy explained. “They know we’re here.” As if to confirm her statement, a loud thud sounded through the door
Skye’s head appeared near the head of the bed on one side. “Well, that’s just great. You know, if you wanted me dead, you could’ve just thrown me out of the house and staked me. I wouldn’t leave any unsightly ashes on your dad’s carpet that way.”
“I don’t want you dead. I didn’t even know you were here,” Buffy insisted. She shrugged. “Besides, if I wanted you dead, I’ve got a whole army of slayers who can use you for target practice.” She stopped, looking at the pair quizzically for a moment. “Wait a minute, why aren’t you guys all…weird?” She gestured at Xander and herself. “We weren’t here when…whatever this was happened, but you guys must’ve been right in the middle of it.”
“She needs a living host.” The four spun at the sound of a foreign woman’s voice.
“I was kinda wondering if she was gonna show up,” Buffy commented under her breath as she looked at the woman in front of her. She almost seemed to be drifting, rather than standing before them. Her features were clearly discernible, but translucent. The beautifully colored wall could be clearly seen through her, as though she were constructed of foggy, colored glass.
“Who is it, Buffy?” Dawn asked, her voice shaking slightly.
“Ursula van Gelder, I presume?” Buffy said.
The vision’s head bobbed forward slowly in response. “My sister needed living hosts.” She nodded at Skye. “You are dead,” she said matter-of-factly, before she turned to face Dawn, “and you…”
“Um, alive,” Dawn interrupted, indicating herself. “Very alive,” she emphasized. “About as alive as you can get,” she added, her voice becoming slightly frantic. “As in, never-gonna-die-alive.”
“The fact that you will never die is exactly why you are not truly living,” Ursula told her simply. “Believe me, I’ve spent much time over the years around the living and the dead. You’re not among the living.”
“But I’m not dead!” Dawn insisted.
Ursula shrugged sympathetically. “What makes you believe that those are the only two options?” she asked.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that if you wanted to hurt us, you’d’ve done it already, Xander said. Another loud thud came from the door. “Your sister, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have that problem.”
“Harming people has always been easy for Helene,” Ursula replied sadly.
“I get the feeling there’s a story here,” Buffy said.
“I was the victim of a murder-suicide,” Ursula told her. “My…sister,” she hesitated at the word, as if uncertain whether the term were appropriately assigned, “couldn’t bear to see me leave, and said she’d sooner see me dead than married.” She shrugged. “I suppose she meant it.”
“So…she killed you just because you got engaged?” Dawn asked. She turned to look at Buffy. “Can I just say how glad I am that we don’t have that kind of relationship?”
Buffy shrugged. “I couldn’t kill you anyway.”
Dawn’s eyes widened slightly. “You mean wouldn’t, right?”
Buffy flashed a smile at her, then turned her attention back to Ursula. “So, Christmas visits weren’t going to be enough for your big sis?”
“No. My sister and I have an…uncommon bond. I had all the magical talent, but Helene could siphon off my abilities. Without me, she was powerless,” Ursula explained. “So I stayed because I was afraid.”
The door shook again with another impact and opened a fraction of an inch.
“That changed when I met Daniel.” A small, sad smile turned the corners of Ursula’s lips upwards. “Suddenly all the things I was afraid of didn’t seem so horrible anymore. I told Helene I was moving out.”
“I guess she didn’t take it well,” Buffy said wryly.
Ursula nodded. “She did not take it well at all. She went so far as to try to call him a demon. She even tried to transform him into one. But the real problem was her. She couldn’t deal with the fact that she couldn’t find or keep a man.”
Immediately, all eyes in the room turned to bore into Buffy. Buffy coughed uncomfortably, pretending to ignore their stares. “So, how do we kill her?”
“I do not know,” Ursula replied. “If her earthly vessel here were destroyed, she would not be able to remain.”
“Nuh-uh,” Buffy shook her head. “I’ve heard this one before. We’re not killing Willow. So what’s Plan B?”
“Then you will have to find another way,” Ursula said simply. “I do not know what that is. But I will do anything I can to help you. I would do anything to be free of this place.”
“Okay, for the moment, we need to get out of this house,” Buffy replied. “If I understand you, she shouldn’t have any power over us outside, right?”
Buffy chewed on her lower lip for a moment, an expression of fierce concentration on her face. “Okay, we get you guys out of here,” she began. “Find a way out of the house and go get the car. After that, we’ll call Andrew or Giles to find out what we can do to stop this.”
“What about you?” Xander asked.
“I’ll keep Cruella De Vil, Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum busy,” Buffy told him.
Xander frowned. “I think that may be a mixed metaphor,” he told her.
“I’m not sure it’s a metaphor,” Buffy pointed out.
“Wasn’t it your turn to pay attention that day in English class?” Xander asked.
“What sick jackass entrusted the fate of humanity to you?” Skye asked incredulously.
Buffy turned slowly toward her. “You’re not even human anymore. You don’t get to have an opinion.”
“Girls?” Xander said. “Evil house filled with evil do-ers. Action now, quips later, okay?”
“Fine,” Buffy replied. “I’ll try to distract them while you get out.”
Hallway – Moments Later
The door swung open and Buffy darted into the hallway. She ducked as Helene threw a punch at the side of her head, then caught the older woman’s arm. She used the momentum to force Helene face-first against the wall, pressing her left forearm against the back of the long-dead witch’s neck.
“Move!” she yelled, as the former occupants of the bedroom filed past her.
Guest Bedroom – Moments Later
Buffy ducked into the darkened room and slammed the door shut behind her. She dove over the large bed, dropping to the floor on the opposite side and disappearing.
She crouched on the balls of her feet, her fingertips resting lightly on the ground for balance. She closed her eyes, trying to slow her breathing from the hard, gasping breaths she was taking.
She froze at the quiet creaking of the door opening. Her body tensed, ready to explode over the bed if necessary.
“Buffy?” Hank’s voice called from the doorway. “Are you in here, Sweetie?”
Buffy blinked a few times, her breathing steady, but her body seemed to relax slightly.
“Buffy?” Hank called again. “I need your help.”
Slowly, Buffy’s head peeked over the edge of the bed. Hank’s frame was neatly silhouetted in the doorway.
“Dad?” Buffy said, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Oh, thank God,” Hank rushed forward, wrapping the younger woman in his arms. For a moment, Buffy tensed in his grip, then slowly relaxed, resting her head on his shoulder. “Buffy, I have something I need to tell you,” he said softly.
“Dad, this really isn’t the…”
“Just let me finish,” Hank interrupted gently. “I have been so wrong for so long, and it’s time for me to do something about that.”
“Dad, you don’t have to…” Buffy started, trying not to meet his eyes.
“No,” Hank gently turned her head to look into her eyes. “I deprived you of a father, and myself of a priceless experience. I could’ve been a father to you, rather than a punch line to a joke you told every Thanksgiving when I wasn’t there.”
Unnoticed by both adults standing in the room, Xander came around the corner, then promptly backed out of view, remaining within earshot.
“I suppose leaving became too easy for me. I left your mother, and I left you and Dawn. I forced you to struggle, fatherless and motherless, when your mother died. And I want to change that,” Hank said. “And I want you to know how proud I am of you. You had to raise your sister on your own after your mother passed away, and she’s an amazing young woman. A far better woman than I have a right to call my daughter, at any rate.”
Buffy’s eyebrows drew upwards, and her lower lip began to quiver slightly. “Dad, you know, you would be really proud of your other daughter, too,” she said, her voice shaking slightly. “I mean, she’s headstrong, and stubborn, but she’s smart, and she’s passionate. There’s a lot of you in her…well, what I remember of you, anyway.”
Hank gently held both of her hands in his own. “I want to be a father to you again,” he told her. “To both of you,” he emphasized.
“What a load of crap,” the two turned to face Xander, startled.
“Xander,” Buffy hissed. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be escaping.”
“I saw him follow you,” Xander said. “You think I don’t see what’s going on?”
“Buffy, my family defines dysfunction, remember?” Xander pointed out. “Trust me, I know how manipulative, dysfunctional families work. Even evil, magic-y ones.”
“But he’s not…”
“Buffy, trust me,” Xander said firmly.
Buffy looked up into her father’s eyes as he looked lovingly back into hers. Her features hardened and her eyes narrowed.
“Dammit,” Hank muttered. “You just had to go ruin everything, didn’t you?” He swung around to face Buffy, his fist swinging in a wide arc to connect with her right cheek.
With a sharp intake of breath, Buffy reacted instinctively, ducking under the punch and responding with a strike of her own to his soft midsection. He curled around the punch, and his breath blasted out with a loud whuff. He stumbled backwards, trying to force his lungs to operate properly.
“Okay, maybe now you and I can have a nice, rational…” Hank interrupted her with two strikes aimed at her jaw, which she deflected and stepped away from. “Guess not,” she said.
Living Room – Moments Later
Buffy stumbled backwards into the room, followed by Hank, who stalked towards her, fists balled up. She lifted her hand to the corner of her lips, where a tiny trickle of blood appeared. “Not bad,” she said.
“Buffy?” Dawn’s voice piped up from the lower landing.
“For Pete’s sake, guys, get out of the house already!” Buffy yelled.
Dawn looked up to see her father and sister attempting to beat each other senseless. “What’s going on?” she asked, confused.
Buffy looked down at her sister, then over at her father. Finally, she looked back at Dawn. “Therapy,” she said simply as she stopped a punch aimed at her face, then stepped close to her father, driving her elbow into his midsection.
Helene appeared behind Dawn. Her arm snaked around the brunette’s throat, and she choked her. “I won’t have a little tramp like you tearing apart this family,” Helene told her.
“Get off of her you little –” Skye rushed forward to assist her girlfriend, but was halted by an almost haphazard swat to the underside of her chin. Helene struck her with the apparent effort one would reserve for swatting a fly, but the force behind the strike was phenomenal. Skye achieved lift-off, her feet and arms pinwheeling as she flew towards the large floor-length window at the far side of the living room.
Yard – Same Time
The large front window shattered as Skye’s body was ejected through it. She fell to the sunlit yard in front of the house, and rolled over and over, finally rolling to a stop on the sidewalk that ran by the front yard.
Living Room – Same Time
“At least one of ’em’s out now,” Buffy said to no one in particular.
Dawn’s right elbow slammed backwards, catching Helene in her midsection. The woman didn’t release her, not completely, but her grip on the younger woman loosened enough that Dawn could drive the back of her head backwards into the bridge of Helene’s nose. Helene stumbled away from her as Dawn ran to the shattered window.
Simultaneously, Buffy delivered a generous kick to Hank’s midsection and followed it with a punch across his jaw. The larger man fell sideways to the ground; not unconscious, but certainly unable to continue the fight. “Dawn, go help her!” she yelled, running after her sister.
“Buffy!” Dawn shrieked in alarm.
“What?” Buffy looked back just in time to see Helene’s fist collide with her nose. Buffy stumbled, dropping to one knee. A thin trickle of blood oozed from her left nostril. She blinked a couple of times and shook her head sharply. “Thank you,” she told Helene, “you have no idea how much I needed that.”
Buffy blocked another strike with her right forearm, then hooked her right knee behind Helene’s. With a quick snap of her hip, she deposited the woman on the ground.
“All I want is for my family to stay together,” Helene yelled. “I just want a family.” Her face remained fixed with that nauseating, pasted-on smile.
“Again, more crap, and you know it,” Xander yelled.
For the briefest of moments, the smile on Helene’s face slipped away, then promptly reappeared. “What?” she asked.
“This isn’t about family, it’s about control,” he snapped. “And trust me, I know all about control. I almost married a demon who, in her own way, was a total control freak. My family defined manipulation and obfuscation,” he continued.
“I knew it was your turn to pay attention that day in English class,” Buffy piped up.
“And guess what? I come here, and it’s my family all over again. A little more evil, a little more black-magic-y, but it’s the same family, and you know something? I’m sick of it,” Xander told her.
Ursula appeared next to him. “Wow,” she whispered softly. “I’ve never seen anybody stand up to her before. That was so…”
“Charming? Romantic?” Xander prompted.
“Sexy,” Ursula told him.
“Okay, not exactly what I expected to hear from a Twenties aristocrat,” Xander pointed out.
“I’ve been marooned in a bedroom for eighty years,” Ursula told him with a shrug. “I’ve seen and heard things you couldn’t possibly imagine.”
Xander looked at her, stunned.
“What? I’m dead, that doesn’t mean I don’t still have needs,” she said.
With a yell of rage, Helene advanced on the two of them.
“Nuh-uh,” Buffy said, stepping into her path. “We’re not finished yet.” She attacked Helene, trying to drive her backwards.
Xander’s gaze followed the lines of the room he was standing in. “Wait a minute.” He walked to a wall, gently tapping on it in various places while putting his ear next to it to listen to the sound it produced. He smiled slightly and drew back to deliver a hard kick to the wall in front of him. His foot punched through the wall. He pulled it free and reached in with his hands to tear the wall paneling free from its anchors.
Dawn, realizing what he had planned, ran forward to help with his assault on the wall.
House – Same Time
Skye tried to open the door but it was locked. Using her vampire strength, she put her shoulder to the door and it finally gave way, but as she tried to enter the house, she was mystically stopped.
“What the hell?” she complained.
Living Room – Same Time
Helene’s eyes widened and she extended an arm towards the gaping hole Xander had produced. At the same time, she extended her other arm toward the hole Skye’s body had smashed in the window. Both holes slowly began to close, leaving no trace that they had ever been damaged.
Xander and Dawn continued their assault on the wall in front of them.
“This is my house,” Helene hissed at Skye, who stood on the porch, unable to enter. “And you’re not invited here!”
Buffy took advantage of Helene’s momentary distraction to attack her. A hard uppercut connected under the long-dead witch’s jaw, and, for the first time, actually seemed to hurt the woman.
None of the three let up on their assaults. Dawn and Xander ripped away large sections of the wall, which seemed to mend themselves as quickly as they were torn away. Meanwhile, Buffy pounded the woman in front of her mercilessly. The blows landed hard, and Helene dropped to one knee in front of her, visibly weakened. Her features seemed to morph between those of Willow and those of Helene.
“Get…out…of…my…body!” Willow’s visage broke through, strain thick in her voice. Her features abruptly reverted to Helene’s.
Buffy stepped forward to strike her again and quickly released the blow against the face, which was now Willow’s.
“Ouch!” Willow yelled, claiming control just as Buffy’s fist landed.
Buffy winced. “Sorry,” she said softly.
“Get back, Buffy,” Willow yelled, “I can handle this!”
“Willow, what can I do to…”
“I can handle this!” Willow’s fists balled up, and a globe of intense, white light seemed to expand from her. “You got her on the ropes. I’ll finish it,” she yelled, tensely.
Buffy’s eyes widened. She backed away from the advancing wave of light coming towards her, then, as if making a decision, she turned and ran, diving behind the chesterfield on the far side of the room.
The blast wave slammed the couch she was hiding behind into her, crushing her between the couch and the wall. Dawn and Xander were thrown through the wall they had been attacking.
From outside, Skye watched as every window shattered and blasted outwards, then the very walls themselves seemed to bow out, and were ripped free of their supports. Wood and bright light poured from the building, and the vampire raised her arms to shield her heart from any stray debris. When it subsided, the house still stood, barely held up by the flimsiest of supports.
Willow sat kneeling in the middle of the living room. The black dress Helene had been wearing hung off her otherwise naked body in strips. Her hands were strategically placed, preserving her modesty.
“Told ya,” she said softly, and then looked around. Not seeing anyone she asked, “Buffy?”
With a loud grunt, Buffy heaved the couch off of herself and stood, brushing dust and plaster off of her body.
“What the hell was that?” Jessica’s voice called from the kitchen.
“Air conditioning, Willow-style,” Buffy told her.
“Sheesh, Willow, couldn’t you have tried something with a little less…” Xander’s quip died on his lips as he stepped into the room and could see his friend’s state of undress. His mouth remained open as his eyes remained fixed on her. Dawn quickly lifted her hand to cover his eyes, but, notably, did not look away herself.
Buffy shook her head, taking her eyes away from her friend’s body. “Um, Xander, could you find Willow something to wear? She seems to have come down with a case of, uh, nakedness.”
With a groan, Hank rolled over onto his back, then sat up. His black suit was torn and burned, but intact. He looked around his suddenly well-ventilated living room. His jaw dropped. The attractive, naked redhead kneeling in the middle of his living room barely even seemed to register on his consciousness as he realized that, in spite of the fact that he was seated near the front of the house, he could see clear through to his backyard.
“Who the hell wrecked my house?” he demanded.
Watchers Council – Buffy’s Office – Next Day
“…yeah, Dad,” Buffy said. “It was good to see you, too. Bye.” She slowly hung up the phone with a sad look in her eyes.
“Hank and his wife okay?” Willow asked.
“Yeah. They want to know if the Watchers Council will be paying for the restoration of his house,” Buffy told her.
“Well, not to be the Devil’s Advocate or anything, but we did wreck it,” Willow told her.
“For a second, I almost wanted to believe that he’d changed,” Buffy told her. She shrugged. “For a second, I almost did.”
“Maybe he has. He called you, I mean, besides just asking for help. He checked in, so…that’s a start…maybe?” Willow replied, as if unsure of Buffy’s reaction.
“I told him that maybe sending Dawn an email once in a while would be a better start,” Buffy said with a smile. Her mood suddenly brightened. “You know, I’m sick of my emotionally anorexic dad being farther along than me, relationship-wise. Starting today, I’m going to do something about that,” she added as she stood up.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Moments Later
“Buffy? If you’re thinking about…” Willow trailed off as she watched Buffy stride past her and into the hallway. She ran to catch up.
“What’s with her?” Rowena asked as Willow stepped into the hallway.
“I’ve got a really bad feeling. I’ve got to stop her before she makes a mistake,” Willow said, grabbing her wife’s hand and rushing after her friend.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Moments Later
“Jim!” Buffy yelled.
Jim turned to face her. “Why hello, Buffy. Is there something I can help you with?”
“No.” Buffy shook her head. “I mean, yes,” she corrected herself. “I mean, it’s not Council business, but I was wondering if, you know, sometime, you’d like to go out. For dinner…and possibly a movie too,” she told him.
He looked at her blankly.
“With me,” she added. “On a, you know, date.”
“Um, Buffy, I –” Jim started.
“Oh my god,” Buffy said. “You’re seeing someone. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anyth –”
“Married?” Buffy said uncertainly.
“Well, no, but you’re not –”
Buffy held her hands out in front of her. “Okay, I give. What’s so damned unattractive about me? You can tell me the truth. I want to know, because I really do like you, and as a man I’d value your opinion. I mean, you’re cute, you’re funny, you have far better fashion sense than most of the guys I date, and you can’t remember the industrial revolution,” she ranted.
“How can I put this?” Jim grinned and then affected a lisp. “Your shoes are fabulous,” he told her.
Buffy’s expression brightened. “Thank you,” she said. “I got them at that little store that you told me about on…” Her eyes widened. A sudden look of understanding appeared on her face. Her jaw seemed to be unhinged from the rest of her skull as she stared at him. “Oh,” she said simply, after a long pause.
She turned just in time to see Willow and Rowena appear hand-in-hand at the entrance to the hallway.
“Looks like we’re too late,” Rowena told Willow.
“You knew,” Buffy accused Willow.
“I kinda thought that you did,” Willow defended herself.
She turned to face Dawn, standing near the front desk, her arm around Skye’s slender waist. “Did you?” she demanded.
“Was it some kind of secret?” Dawn asked.
“Wait a second – you didn’t know?” Xander asked.
“Would I have just thrown myself at him like some kind of loose tramp if I did?” Buffy demanded angrily.
“Don’t be upset,” Jim told her. “I’m quite flattered. Really.”
Buffy’s angry expression slacked as she looked over Xander’s shoulder to see Kennedy greeting Kadin and then walking arm-in-arm with her. Her gaze panned over to Willow and Rowena, holding each other’s hands affectionately. Finally, she looked up to see Dawn gently stroking the small of Skye’s back with the tips of her fingers.
She finally looked up into Jim’s eyes and shook her head in frustration. “Oh, for God’s sake!” she yelled.
V.O., Buffy: Is everybody here gay except for me?
V.O., Xander: I’m not.
V.O., Buffy: Oh, give it a rest, Xander!
End of Home Sweet Home
Next on Watchers…
Shannon is assigned to lead the Cleveland team at the first World Slayer Games, but finds herself clashing with the Council’s newest watcher, one Ethan Rayne.