And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers.
Buffy was never the one who thought about children working in factories in China or the plight of women in Afghanistan. Buffy didn't use words like "plight" in conversation. That was Willow's job, or part of it: Willow was the Scooby social conscience, and she performed that duty well, year after year, until she didn't anymore.
These days, it's all Buffy can think about. Whether it was worth it, to save the world. Whether it's better this way, all those girls finding their power.
All those girls.
The first time seemed a fluke, the second understandable. At a hundred, Buffy stopped keeping track. Willow and Giles wrote down the names, detailed the slaughter. They sent in clean-up teams of Slayers stable enough to function, their Watchers barely out of puberty, gleaned from the families of the disaffected. Another thing that Willow and Giles do now, another word Buffy thought she'd never use, even in her head.
Looking up the word kept her occupied on another airplane, to a city she hadn't bothered to remember the name of. Once she landed, there were other things to think about.
Piecemeal they this acre first, then that; Glean on, and gather up the whole estate.
The cities were worse than the rural… somethings. Incidents. Out in the sticks, there were just fewer people to kill. Once Buffy had gotten past the whole Children of the Corn vibe, the remote villages and farms were nearly a vacation. But in the cities, millions packed side by side; clichés in a barrel, in high-rise tin cans.
The very worst were cities in which she could understand the language. There was no barrier in Vancouver or London or Sydney, no way to avoid seeing herself in every female face.
The Watcher in New York met her at the site, not the airport. The Slayer didn't need an escort anymore; she just went where the smell of blood led her.
The building was nice, very New Yorky. Red and brick, with glossy black shutters on each window, three neat rows. Skinny trees grew out of the sidewalk, fragile behind iron bars. Inside, the field.
This fruit now ripening late my hand would glean
The Watcher sat on the front steps, smoking. He'd propped the door behind him with the usual briefcase. Buffy was pretty sure Giles issued them to each new Watcher as a sort of not-so-private joke. No matter the reason for it, though, they made Watchers easy to pick out of a crowd. They were also handy for propping things open.
This one was older, and male. Buffy asked for women, if at all possible, but sometimes it wasn't. At least he was alive and not actively throwing up, and he didn't smell like he'd crapped himself. That had happened, a couple of times. She'd told Willow to quit sending young guys, that they had continence problems, but Willow hadn't laughed. Nobody laughed at her jokes much, anymore, even though they sounded funny in her head. Buffy was beginning to suspect the incidents were getting to her.
She waved a "stay" at the Watcher, even though he didn't even pretend to try to stand up and greet her. Closer up, he wasn't as old as he'd first appeared, he was just gray and hunched around the hand holding his cigarette. His eyes focused on her, a good sign that he hadn't gone into shock. She stepped around him and through the door, kicked the briefcase away to let the lock click shut behind her.
To glean the broken ears after the man That the main harvest reaps.
The entryway was clean, tiles gleaming dully under the soft, old-fashioned lights, but she could smell it. Bodies bleeding, bladders emptying, bowels loosening. It made a little song, a Christmassy carol: LA-la-LA-la, LA-la-LA-lala, LA-la-LA-lalaaaaa. The needle over the elevator pointed to three, just like a horror movie. Like a horror movie, they used the same tricks over and over.
One flight up, she started finding parts. Dismemberment was popular and comfortingly familiar. She could tell how close she was by what parts and how many. Here and there, actual bodies lay, mostly female, collateral damage, really. Some of them were even alive. She'd have to remember to mention that to the Watcher, on her way out. In the meantime, she stepped over them.
Up and up, always they went up, as if height meant safety. This building had a roof garden, and Buffy abruptly remembered why she liked the New York trips. It was nice. She wandered among the potted tomatoes and cedar benches, following fingers and testicles, an ear. Buffy picked that one up; it was furry, large and furled. It had been ripped off, not cut, and a clump of short, faded brown hair hung from a flap of skin.
The girl didn't look up from her task as Buffy sat down. The man was long dead and not really recognizable as male, but Buffy'd seen a lot of these, and they were usually guys. Plus, all the genitalia had been male. That was pretty reliable, as clues went.
The new slayer's mania had been exhausted inside. Out here, she was just finishing the ritual. The girl was using a knife for the disemboweling, so the ear must have been an esthetic decision. Buffy scratched at her nose and wished for a moment that she smoked.
"Hey," she said, an hour or so later. The girl looked up, predictably startled, and Buffy shot her, three times. Three was safest, not enough to kill her, but enough to knock even a fully charged slayer out. Also, that was as many darts as the thing would hold.
She was good at this. The darts made a small, even triangle on the girl's chest, and she had barely started to stand before the combination of drugs and spells knocked her out. Buffy walked over, and poked at the fragile, gory figure with a cautious boot. When she didn’t move, Buffy rolled her onto her side, hog-tied her quickly with Willow's 'special' zipcuffs, and dragged her to a clear spot on the roof patio.
A baggie of gray powder dumped over the once and maybe future slayer, a muttered "Beam me up, Scottie" and Buffy was done. On her way down, she reminded herself, once again, to tell Willow that they were going to have to come up with something else to activate the teleportation spell, no matter how happy it made Xander. Xander didn't have to say it.
She passed the Watcher, still smoking on the steps, and stopped for a moment, brow wrinkling. There was something she was supposed to tell him… Oh, well, she'd remember eventually, if it was important.
And they glean the vintage of the wicked.
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