Marie woke up the next morning, back stiff from lying on the floor and more than a little bruised from her fall. Her body felt drained, as if she had not slept. Marie blamed it on the floor, not wanting to confront the nightmares. Her hands clenched involuntarily, as she remembered that terrifying instant when the water had closed around her …..
“Why are you on the floor?”
Marie jerked around to see Joyce standing in the doorway, a concerned expression on her face. “Did you fall? I knew that couch was too narrow for you to sleep on.”
Marie stood quickly and faced the older woman. “I just woke up and misjudged the distance to the floor, that’s all.”
“Are you okay?” Joyce asked, noting the dark circles under Marie’s eyes and the stiffness as she walked.
“I’m fine, Mo – Mrs. Summers.” Marie winced, realizing how she had just addressed her hostess. She hadn’t been in close contact with a victim’s family since Cody; hadn’t had to face that instinctive desire to *know* them. It gave her a strange feeling of duality – the Buffy echo saw her mother; Marie saw her hostess. She didn’t like it. It was mildly disturbing.
Joyce examined her a moment, then decided not to press. The poor thing probably had had a stressful enough time already. There was no real reason yet to ask for more than Marie was willing to give.
“Okay then. Would you like some breakfast? How about a nice omelet? My girls always tell me I make the best,” she offered.
Marie smiled timidly. “I don’t want you to go out of your way…..”
“I was already fixing some for Dawn and me. Bacon and cheese.”
“In that case, thank you.”
“While I do that, why don’t you run up and get yourself ready for the day?” Joyce winked conspiratorially. “We’ve got that tiny window between Dawn and Buffy going right now; seize the moment while you can.”
“Sounds like a good idea. I won’t take very long.” Marie gave a nod then hurried upstairs. Joyce waited for her to go before proceeding to the kitchen, where she and Dawn were going to have omelets, too, whether Dawn liked it or not.
Later that morning, Joyce watched Buffy (who had only gotten up after serious prodding, then proceeded to take an hour long shower before finally declaring herself ready) and Marie head out to the Magic Box to see if Giles had found out anything more about Marie’s condition.
Though Marie had never struck her as an outgoing individual, Joyce felt that she had been even more subdued this morning. In the few weeks she had known her, Marie had grown slightly more confident, occasionally making demands and doing things like using the last cup of milk instead of letting Dawn have it. But today she had acted more like pre-Summers house Marie by not fighting with Dawn over the last bit of butter in the tub (Though Marie had muttered something like, “But Dawn always gets it!” before hastily pushing the tub over and eating her toast dry).
But that hadn’t worried Joyce as much as the strange trance Marie had gone in while washing the dishes in the sink, as she stood there mesmerized by the running water. Joyce knew that Marie’s powers had a very personal effect on her; she could only hope that Giles would be able to give the girl some form of relief.
Marie followed Buffy into the Magic Box, her dark, lank hair (still wet from a five-minute shower) obscuring her face. Inside the shop, Anya was already standing behind the counter, eagerly waiting for potential customers to pounce on. She let out a cry of disappointment upon seeing the decidedly anti-capitalist (meaning, they weren’t here to buy) Buffy and Marie enter the shop.
“Giles, they’re he-re! You can stop pacing back there!” Anya shouted in the general direction of the shop’s back. To Buffy and Marie, she said, “Please move to the back of the shop so real customers can browse.” After thinking a moment, she added, “Actually, please feel free to browse. Shoppers will see you through the windows and feel inclined to join you, and possibly make purchases.”
Giles, coming from his back room office, heard Anya’s last remark. “Anya, do you ever think of anything besides earning money?” Anya opened her mouth to reply. Realizing the likely answer, Giles held up a hand forestalling further talk, “Please consider that question rhetorical.”
Anya closed her mouth. Then put on her very large and insincere ‘customer’ smile as a middle aged woman wandered into the shop.
Relieved that Anya was now distracted, Giles waved Buffy and Marie over. “I’m pleased to say I’ve found some information that I believe will help Marie out a bit. Buffy, would you mind - ?”
Buffy nodded, understanding Giles’ drift. “I think I feel a punching bag session coming on. Don’t let him bore you too much, Marie!” Buffy waved over her shoulder as she headed to the training room.
With Buffy gone, Giles turned to Marie and gestured for her to follow him into his office. “After studying the data you provided, I was able to come up with a few theories as to where your powers come from, and also some possibilities that might lead to controlling them.”
Marie perked up at the last part. Control over her powers was something she longed for with every inch of her being. She eagerly sat down in the beat up old chair across from his desk, noting the books and papers scattered over it. Did the answers she sought lie in them?
After similarly situating himself, Giles began to speak.
“At first I thought that you may be suffering from a long-term aftereffect of some sort of spell, perhaps one cast on you without your knowledge. Willow and Tara assured me that was not the case. There is also the possibility that your abilities stem from a distant demonic heritage.”
He noticed Marie’s sudden look of apprehension at that. Giles moved quickly to reassure her.
“If that is true, you shouldn’t worry about it. A rather large percent of the population has some demonic ancestry; interbreeding happens. Occasionally a trait will resurface after a couple of generations.
However, there is a third, and I believe more likely, answer. Marie, have you ever considered the possibility you are what in current terms is called a mutant?”
Marie shrugged. “Sometimes, I guess. Mutants have powers like me, right? Only, the ones in the papers, their powers never hurt them too. Just other people. Not to mention, everyone says mutants are bad news. Some call them demons, others say they are monsters that are going to supplant humanity. Not exactly a group I wanted to mark myself a member of, you know?”
Giles listened to her, then said, “First of all, I want to assure you that mutants are not demons. Secondly, mutants are not new. Only the term is. While their numbers have been on the rise in recent years, there have been children born with unusual abilities for a long, long time.”
“No. Buffy is the Slayer; she is Chosen. Her powers were granted to her when she was fifteen from a distinctly mystical source. Mutants’ abilities are completely innate, and primarily non-mystical. The Watcher’s Council has records of natural telepaths, seers, and pyrokinetics going back at least a thousand years, if not more.”
“Why do you think I’m a mutant?”
Giles took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“A variety of reasons. First of all because of the fact you discovered your power at the age of fifteen, the height of puberty. According to my information, that’s when most mutants’ powers emerge. Based on that and other information, I believe I can quite confidently say you are a mutant.”
Marie sat in her chair quietly, adjusting to this new piece of information. I am a mutant, she thought, I am a member of the so-called homo superior. I belong to the same group that makes headlines and is a serious, riot causing issue. At least I know I’m not alone in this.
She opened her mouth to ask a question. Hesitantly, she said, “Thank you for telling me exactly where I am in the scheme of things. But, but you said something about teaching me control?”
“Yes, but before I go into that, there is a simple test I want to try, to determine the extent of your powers.”
Marie stared at him suspiciously. “What kind of test?”
“Nothing painful. Merely a spell of seeing,” he assured her before picking up several items from a box beside his desk. “You’ll have to take off your gloves for this, though.”
“Well,” Giles handed her an orb, just this side of too big to fit in the palm of her hand, “this has to have direct contact with you to work. The spell works like this – I hold the partner orb in my hand while you focus on your abilities while holding yours. The orbs will analyze the information and give it to me to interpret.”
Marie gingerly took the orb from him, being careful not to drop it. It was cool to the touch and chilled her fingers slightly. “What are these?”
“A matched set of Analian orbs, attuned for the specific purpose of determining psychic abilities in a person. We sell a less exact version out in the shop; they’re popular among dabblers in magic. Now hold it just like that. Focus your mind on your power. On what happens when you use it,” Giles instructed.
Marie closed her eyes and brought to mind everything she associated with her cursed gift, hoping this strange magic would show her what she needed to do.
On the receiving end, Giles jerked a little from a momentary battery of images and sensations. It subsided within seconds as the magic kicked in and began to sift through the data, sending only pieces deemed important, cleaned of any emotional taint. Something for which Giles was thankful, as he saw what Marie could do.
At first, there were images of her victims. All of them reacted in the same way to her powers, skin growing tight, breath coming fast, and eyes staring blankly. Next he saw her erratic behavior following each incident, watching from her eyes as she frantically groped for understanding. Giles was concerned to note that the longer she had had her powers, the longer it took for the absorbed person to fade. Finally, he sensed her attempts to control herself. He saw long nights trying to feel this power, and turn it off, only to never find the right switch.
Abruptly, Giles returned to the present. Across his desk, he watched Marie wake up from a similar trance. She looked at him a little embarrassed, yet still expectant. She wanted answers.
Giles didn’t want to give the ones he thought he had found. As disturbing as he found it, that her power literally sucked the life out of a person she already knew. But he did not want to tell her that he believed that her powers were only going to increase. That he doubted she would ever find the off switch.
Marie studied Giles’ expression intently, her little Buffy voice saying he had his but face on. Whatever news he had was not likely to be good. Marie slumped a little in her chair.
Giles carefully set his orb back into its box before confronting Marie. “The Analian orbs were most helpful,” he began.
“What did you learn?”
Giles began to clean his glasses. Marie grew even more worried. “Mind you, I am not an expert in interpreting the information these things give. The orbs are only a conduit, showing what the magic they contain and the user believes to be important.”
“If it’s bad, I can deal. I’ve never had a chance to know where I stand until now,” urged Marie.
“The only form of help I can suggest is meditation and other types of mental control,” Giles said bluntly, already regretting the harshness of his words. “I do not believe you will ever be able to physically control your abilities.”
Marie sat in silence, head bowed. She hadn’t really gotten her hopes up, she told herself, ignoring the tears gathering in her eyes. All those nights of trying should have told her it was a lost cause. She stood to leave.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Giles. I appreciate the effort you made on my behalf.” Marie started to hand him back his precious orb (don’t be bitter, Marie, at least he tried). Giles reached out to take it back, then quickly drew his hand away and asked her to put it back in the box. Marie stared down at her bared hands, obeyed him, then slipped her gloves back on, heart heavy. She was going to spend the rest of her life with that little barrier between her and the rest of the world.
“If you don’t mind, Mr. Giles, I think I’ll wait outside your shop for Buffy to finish her session.”
“Are you sure, Marie? We could start studying meditation today – ”
“That’s all right, sir. Thank you for offering.” Back stiff and formal, Marie turned to leave.
“If it’s worth anything, I may be wrong.”
“I know you’re not,” Marie said over her shoulder, “and that’s the worst thing of all.”