Disclaimers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy & Fox. And all of the lines you recognize from BtVS, also, of course, belong to Joss, et al. Numb3rs belongs to CBS. NOT ME!
AN: Many thanks to
NeverTooOld for beta-reading this chapter! (And for asking a question I thought no one would ever ask - What do the numbers I use as scene-breaks stand for? Any guesses?)

Well, we're almost to the end now! YAY! I'll talk more about that at the end, but for now: Enjoy! ^_^


First Meeting

Part I in Mathematics & Magic

By Jess S

Chapter 8: Farewells


One of Many Graveyards, Sunnydale, California – September 3, 1996

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Willow sighed heavily, moving carefully as she tried to stretch out the strained muscles in her back and felt several areas that she knew would bear nasty bruises by morning. Just one of the many things her attempts at slaying vampires over this past summer with her friends had quickly taught her. It also made her feel guilty. Because no matter how fast Buffy healed, she still got hurt, usually going after much bigger and badder things then the fledgling-vamps they'd been chasing this summer. But she still got hurt, she bruised and bled... After a moment she shook her head and glanced at the other two Scoobies. "Do you think Buffy knows school's starting tomorrow?" *1*

"Tomorrow. Right. Big day."

Willow nodded, giving her boyfriend a warm smile. "I'm gonna be busy a lot, but only till three o'clock, and that's when you usually get up!" She pointed out, trying to focus on the positive and frowning a bit when it seemed to make him uncomfortable.

"I can't wait to see Cordelia," Xander told them excitedly, then frowned. "I can't believe I can't wait to see Cordelia."

"I wonder what our first homework assignment's gonna be." At the look her best friend gave her, she rolled her eyes. "Hey! You're excited over Cordelia, okay? We've all got issues."

"I guess we should pack it in," Oz suggested after another moment's silence.

"Yeah," Xander agreed and Willow nodded, all three moving quickly around the graveyard to collect the various weapons and supplies they'd dropped while attempting to stake the newly-vamped Andy Hoelich.

Willow smiled as they made their way out of the graveyard, looking up at the clear night's sky for a second before glancing at the other two again. "Wouldn't it be great if Buffy just showed up tomorrow? Like nothing happened?"

Xander shook his head, a forlorn expression momentarily fixing itself on his face. "She can't just show up, Willow. She got kicked out."

"Well, yeah, I know." Willow shrugged, still uncomfortable with all of the details surrounding Buffy's disappearance some months before. "B-But, all the charges were dropped. So the school has to let her back in." She finished nervously, "Don't they?"

"Maybe," Oz agreed, gently wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

"Well, if Flutie was still around, I'd agree," Xander replied, grimacing when both looked at him, and shrugging. "But we've got Snyder now, remember?"

"Yeah, I just wish." Willow sighed again, shaking her head before leaning it against her boyfriend's shoulder. "I wish we knew where she was..."


Eppes' House, Pasadena, California – September 4, 1996

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Charlie suppressed a frown as he looked over Annie's shoulder at the paper she was working on, shaking his head slightly, a tired frown fixed on his face.

"Am I even close?"

"Um," Charlie winced, reaching hesitantly around the blonde to point at a specific point on the page. "Why did you do that?"

"What?" Annie looked at what he was pointing at. "Oh, divide by nine?"

"Yeah."

"Well I want to know what "x" is, not what "9x" is, don't I?"

"Well, yes, but what about the other side of the equation?"

"What about it?"

"You really can't ignore it."

"Why not?"

Charlie grimaced. "Because. It equals," he shook his head. "Both sides have to remain equal, Annie. Otherwise it doesn't work. You can't do something to one side of the equation, and not do the exact same thing to the other. When you forget that, you end up doing weird, illogical things like, like... that," he waved his hand at her paper, grimacing again when she turned to pout at him. "Pouting won't change anything, Annie."

"Charlie you said you'd actually help me understand this. I'm not a genius, remember? I didn't instinctively know how to do this when I was two." Then she raised an eyebrow at him. "And if you do go into teaching full time, you're gonna have to put up with a lot of students like me."

The mathematician brought a hand up to rub his forehead. "Yeah, well, no. Teaching at college-level to math majors won't – but that's not the point. I'm trying to help you, Annie. I'm just having trouble seeing why you're having so much trouble."

"I just don't know the rules, Charlie," The blonde looked away, shrugging slightly. "I don't understand why there are so many of them and—"

"So you learn them one at a time, Annie." The mathematician sighed again, more than a little unhappy at the confused expression that was still set on her pretty face.

"But I'm not good at math. I'm hopeless!"

Charlie shook his head, his frown deepening. "Don't be ridiculous. You use math all the time. Everybody does."

"Huh?"

"How do you tell time? Handle money?" the mathematician asked her, shaking his head before snapping his fingers as another example occurred to him. "And you use it in your Slaying too. To analyze patterns and predict behavior. I've seen you do it! Why did we go to the clubs we did on your patrol last night?"

"Because that's where most of the fledglings I grilled last week were taken from to be vamped."

"So?"

"So that was probably where the Sire would be, and he was."

"Right, exactly, you determined probability using logic. That's math, too." The mathematician insisted, "And you do it when you're trying to pick vampires and demons out of crowds, too. You analyze behavior and compare it to what you recognize as human and not. I know you can sense them too, but you have to use logic to actually find them in a crowd, don't you? You don't do it with numbers and equations, but you do use logic. And that's really what math is. Not just formulas and equations, but – actually thinking. It's using your mind to—"

"Solve the mysteries of the universe?"

"Yes!" Charlie grinned at her, before the dry tone she'd used registered. "Well, eventually. Right now it's just about you getting a good score on your SATs. Here, let's start at the beginning again." He grabbed her pencil from her unresisting hand and flipped the paper she'd been using over, carefully rewriting the equation she was working on at the top of the page before giving her pencil back to her. "Okay, now try again. And remember, everything you do to one side you have to do to the other." He waited a moment before speaking again. "You want to get the x variable on one side of the equation, and a number on the other."

"So," Buffy frowned thoughtfully before pointing at one variable. "If I want to do that, I have to subtract by '9x' or '11x,' right?"

"Right. Either one would work, but remember, you don't want to make this harder for yourself than you have to."

"What'd you mean?"

"What do you think is easier to work with, positive or negative numbers?"

"Positive would probably be happier, right?"

Charlie blinked at her for a moment before rolling his eyes at the teasing smirk that graced her face. "Yes, I guess you can think of it that way, if you want to. So which one do you want to subtract by, then?"

"If I take the 11x out, I end up with minus 2x, but if I take 9x out, I end up with positive 2x, so 9x, right?"

"Right, so what does your equation look like now?"

"Um," Buffy frowned down at the page before carefully writing the equation out. "Four equals 11x minus ten minus 9x?"

"Good. But you don't need to list 11x minus 9x separately."

"So four equals 2x minus ten? Then I add ten to both sides to get fourteen equals 2x, which means x is 7!"

Charlie smiled at her sudden enthusiasm as the correct answer occurred to her. "Good job. Now—"

"Now you take a break." Both looked up in surprise to see a smiling Margaret Eppes walking in through the doorway to the kitchen with grocery bags in hand. "Could you two give me a hand with these? Then we can head out for lunch?"

"Sure, Maggie," Annie replied, rising exuberantly and dashing outside.

Charlie followed her as quickly as he could. He almost ran into her on her way up the steps, and saw that she'd already closed the trunk, "That everything?"

"Yup," the Slayer replied from somewhere behind several big bags.

Rolling his eyes, Charlie quickly grabbed as many of the bags as he could carry, shaking his head as he whispered, "What happened to my parents not finding out that you're a super hero?"

"Huh?" Annie looked at him, before noticing how much he was struggling with the bags she'd easily balanced on her arms. "Oh... oops?"

"All—Oh my," Mrs. Eppes hurried over to them and quickly grabbed a bag from each of them, laughing all the while. "We could have each made another trip, you know."

"Now what's the fun in that?" Annie asked as she hurriedly set her many bags down behind his Mom's back, before turning to her and all but skipping the short distance between them. "Ooh! Guess what!"

Charlie rolled his eyes as his mother immediately replied, "What?" with an equally exuberant grin on her face.

"Charlie got a phone call this morning."

"Oh? Who—" Mrs. Eppes frowned slightly for a moment, before her face cleared in realization and she beamed at him. "From CalSci, Charlie?"

"Yeah," he confirmed, his back to them and hiding his own excited grin as he unpacked several bags before bunching all the bags up together to throw them in the recycling bin.

"Well? What'd they say?"

Charlie looked down slightly before looking back up with a smile. "They want me to start teaching in the spring." He replied, barely finishing before his mother's arms closed tightly around him.

"That's wonderful, sweetheart!" Her familiar, but always welcome praise came effortlessly as she leaned in to place a kiss on his brow, before stepping back toward the phone. "Here, let me call your father and we'll meet him for lunch downtown."

"Mom, Dad's working."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous. He can take the afternoon off for a special occasion. We need to celebrate!" She frowned, stopping halfway through dialing the phone number before hanging up and grinning sheepishly. "I suppose we should finish putting the groceries away first, shouldn't we?"

"Don't worry about it, Maggie," Annie quickly reassured her, ignoring the look Charlie was sending her and focusing her smile on his mother. "I'll take care of it."

"Thank you, dear."

Charlie shook his head as he watched his mother leave and then hastily moved back to helping Annie put things away, now that all the bags were unpacked. "You know, there was a reason I wanted to wait till dinner time to tell them."

"Oh, don't worry about it," Annie shook her head at him, reaching up slightly to tap his chin with a smile. "Your Dad could use the break. He's been working hard lately. I'm still not sure why you aren't sure about taking the job. You seemed so excited about it earlier in the summer."

"I was. I am." Charlie told her quickly, before sighing and shaking his head. "I'm just not sure I'm ready. I mean, I still want to get another doctorate—"

"Why?"

"—and besides," the youngest Eppes continued, ignoring her incredulous interruption. "Unless I'm teaching only freshman, I'm going to be younger than most of my students!"

"So? No one can spend five minutes with you without realizing your more than qualified to teach math, Charlie," she forced Charlie to stop by suddenly catching him in a hug. "I mean, you got me through a lesson, didn't you?"

Charlie raised an eyebrow at her. "Yeah. It took us nearly two hours to work through a page of simple algebra problems, Annie."

"So it took you two hours to get into my head. None of the teachers I had before this could manage that in a whole school year, and we started that stuff before I was first Called." She smiled up at him reassuringly. "You'll be fine. No, more than fine actually. You'll be great!"


High School Library, Sunnydale, California – September 4, 1996

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"Thank you, Smith. Yes, thank you, thank you." Rupert Giles nodded in something akin to – but not quite – satisfaction as he hung up his telephone, then quickly grabbed his already packed bag off his chair, his coat off the hook on the door and then stepped out into the library itself to smile at the familiar faces gathered at the table there, trying to ignore the small signs of recent abuse on their bodies from a summer full of many nights of trying to keep the Slayer's schedule without Her gifts and abilities. "I have a lead." He told them, setting his bag on the table to put his coat on. "A friend in Oakland has a sketchy report of a young girl fending off a group of vampires about a week ago. And there's a plane out in about an hour."

"And what makes this lead different from the last nine leads?"

Giles frowned at Xander's question and sighed, shrugging slightly as he replied. "Well, I believe there's a meal on this flight."

The younger man shook his head. "Look, I don't mean to poop the party here, it's just, you get your hopes all up and then its just a big fat raspberry and I feel bad."

He opened his mouth to reply, but stopped when young Willow cut in instead. "But it's good that you're looking. You shouldn't give up."

"Oh, yeah. Definitely." Xander immediately echoed, sounding almost surprised by the thought that the idea of giving up might occur to anyone.

"Yes, one must try." The Watcher agreed, grabbing the handle of his bag but not picking it up yet, instead taking the moment to look all three of his young charges, his Slayer's friends, over carefully.

Young Oz was certainly better off then the other two. Being a werewolf, he not only healed little more quickly from injuries acquired as a human, he was also considerably stronger than a man his size should be and much, much more accustomed to enduring high levels of pain, due to his transformation and the damage his demon inflicted on itself when caged.

Young Xander was sitting a bit stiffly, and Giles had spotted several bruises on his form at different times over the last few weeks. How much of that was from hunting vampires and how much may have been caused by the boy's father, Giles also didn't know. And thus far, all of his questions into the matter had been skillfully evaded.

Young Willow seemed to be in the best shape of the three, undoubtedly more than a little protected by her often somewhat chivalrous friends. Other than a small cut on her brow and the awkward-way she was sitting – pointing to a strain in her lower back – she looked fine.

"Now, please, you three. For God's sake, do be careful," he implored them, careful to keep his tone mild, "I appreciate your efforts to keep the vampire population down until Buffy returns but, well, if anything should happen to you, or–God forbid–should you be killed, I should take it somewhat amiss."

"You'd be cranky?" Willow asked, with a small smile.

"Entirely." He agreed with a nod and a warm smile, then he glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. "Well, I should be on my way."

"Have a safe flight!" Willow called after him.

Giles smiled outside the door, stopping momentarily to set his case back down as he noticed one shoe was untied. He frowned as he heard Willow continue more quietly.

"You don't think he'll find her?"

"I think he'll find her," Xander replied, his tone a bit resigned, especially when compared to Willow's far more optimistic and hopeful voice. "When she wants to be found."

Giles sighed again and shook his head, unable to deny the logic in the boy's thoughts. But as Willow pointed out, he had to try. After all, what was a Watcher without his Slayer?


A Club in Los Angeles, California – September 4, 1996

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Buffy shook her head, suppressing a grin as she watched Charlie try to make his way through the jostling bodies to their table with some degree of politeness. Despite being only a Wednesday night, the place was packed and good manners didn't really belong among the loud music and flashing lights. She raised an eyebrow as he finally made it over to her and set her soda down on the table in front of her, before reclaiming his seat. "What? I offered to get the drinks, didn't I? Someone had to hold the table!"

Charlie rolled his eyes and took a sip of his soda, probably to avoid replying right away even as Buffy turned her attention away from him for a moment to scan the crowd. "Anything?"

Buffy shook her head again, still looking around. "I'm definitely sensing something, but I don't see any vampires. And I can't narrow down what my Slay-dar is complaining about." She frowned as she turned back to him. "Are you sure all of them were here?"

"From what Lily's informants and the vampire you, um, talked to, said," Charlie nodded, shrugging as he took another sip of his drink. "Yeah. I checked my statistical analysis twice. This should be the place." After a moment, he frowned, his eyes focusing on something behind her.

Buffy turned to see one of said informants approaching their table. It was one of the girl's from Ken's dimension whom Lily had formed a close friendship with already. "Dianne, right?"

"Y-Yes, ma'am." The probably fourteen going on twenty-eight year-old replied. She hadn't been in Ken's dimension as long as some of the others, but since she had been fourteen when she first went missing and was now nearing her late twenties, she was there for more than a decade.

But like all of the others they had spoken with directly so far, Dianne insisted on referring to both of them as superiors. Lily was treated with almost the same amount of respect, but almost certainly not quite as much because she spent so much time with them. To everyone else, Buffy and Charlie were the mysterious heroes that would always be happy to help them, but would then disappear again, until the next demonic dilemma appeared.

"Y-You'll want to get in the back, there," Dianne told them, nodding towards the far back corner of the club. "There's a room back there. A-And most of the people that go in—"

"Don't come back out?" Buffy guessed, and smiled when she received a nod in return. "Thanks for the heads up, Dianne."

"I, um, I'm always happy to help, ma'am. Sir." Dianne nodded to both of them, all but bowing before she quickly hurried away, disappearing into the crowd.

"'Sir?'" Charlie frowned, shaking his head when Buffy looked at him in amusement. "Do I look like a 'sir,' to you?"

Buffy laughed, shaking her head. "I'm hoping they grow out of that, the longer they're free from Ken's hell, but we'll probably have to entertain a few fans even then."

"But she's almost a decade older than me," Charlie murmured, shaking his head in bewilderment.

"Yeah, but about a decade and a half of those years were spent as a slave in hell. You said yourself they'd need help and time to—"

"Gain confidence in themselves, yeah, I know," Charlie nodded, and then shrugged again, "No one's ever call me 'sir' before."

"Well I don't like being a 'ma'am' all that much, either," Buffy told him, before finishing off her soda in one quick gulp and rising from the table, shaking her head when he rose to follow. "No, you wait here. I'll be back."

"But—"

"Charlie it's just a few vamps. I'll be fine. I'll be back by the time you finish your soda."

Charlie glanced down at his still nearly full glass of diet coke and rolled his eyes before looking back up and calling, "Annie?"

"Yeah?" she turned back to him with an eyebrow raised, paying no mind to the glares she was receiving from the people that had to move around her as she did so. Even though they glared, though, it was easy – and interesting – to see that at least subconsciously they all knew better than to bump into her. The more dangerous side of her nature, the Slayer, seeming to register in the subconscious part of their brains.

"Be careful."

The Slayer flashed him a familiar, confident grin. "I always am, sir! Be back in ten or so."

Charlie rolled his eyes again, but as he took another sip of her soda, his eyes continued to follow her across the dance floor and to the back corner, where it took her less than a dozen seconds to negotiate entry with the bouncers by the back door. His eyes remained fixed on that door, watching nervously as the guards started and turned to hurry in, and finally smiling when the Slayer emerged a short while later, looking none the worse for wear.

"She's pretty amazing, isn't she, Sir?"

Charlie started slightly, his head snapping around quickly to eye the older man that was standing next to their table, and nodded as he recognized him. "Yes, she is. How are you, Bob?" Looking the man over carefully. Considering he'd just escaped from hell with them a few short weeks before, he looked pretty good. And from what Lily had told him so far, the former-EMT was an invaluable assistant manager for the new shelter and it's young manager.

"Good, good." The older man replied with a nod, "I, uh, I saw Dianne come over here a few minutes ago?"

"Yeah, she told An—uh, Buffy to check out the backroom."

"Good," he nodded approvingly. "I'd hoped she'd get up the nerve to do it."

"What'd you mean?" Buffy asked, slipping back into her seat and taking one of the melting ice-cubes out of her large, empty glass to toss it back in her mouth and suck on it.

"Uh, Dianne, ma'am. She was the first to notice the backroom, so I told her to report it to you when you came here, but she's very shy, so it took her a while to work up the nerve to do so."

Buffy nodded approvingly. "Well, she did it. So have you guys set up a city wide watch now, or what?" she asked, not quite sure of what they'd been planning on doing the last time she saw the whole management group for the shelter.

"Yes, ma'am." Bob confirmed, nodding hesitantly. "We keep our eyes on all of the clubs and big restaurants. Any place people could be snatched from at night. We're also keeping track of the news and, um, we have some groups doing patrols at night, too."

Buffy blinked, frowning slightly. "Patrols?"

"Never in groups smaller than half-a-dozen, ma'am. And all of them have been taking martial arts classes for the last few weeks. And they're well armed."

"With what?"

"Crosses and stakes and water guns with holy water, mostly. We've come across some witches that are willing to work with us, too."

"Really?" Buffy leaned back, looking a bit impressed. "Well, um, good work, then, Bob. Just make sure no one takes stupid risks, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am..." the older man looked between them for a moment before stepping back slightly. "I've gotta get going. I—"

"I'd like to meet this witches, Bob." Charlie interrupted before the older man could leave. "Can you have them set up a meeting with Lily?"

The man blinked but then nodded. "Of course, Sir."

"Good." Buffy nodded and smiled at Charlie's quick thinking. "Thank you. Have a nice night."

"And you also, ma'am."

"Good night, Bob, and thanks."

"Good night, Sir."

Both watched the young man walk away before turning back to each other. Charlie raised an eyebrow. "So I guess should probably be taking martial arts classes of some kind, shouldn't I?"

Buffy looked at him a moment, "I guess it couldn't hurt." She replied with a shrug, "Try Tae Kwon Do or Aikido. They're more formal styles, but seeing how much you like math and logic that'd probably be better for you... though I probably don't need to remind you that the rules you learn there are only good in the classroom and human competitions."

"Vampires and demons could care less, I know," Charlie nodded, smiling slightly as he finished his drink. "So where to now?"

"Well," Buffy rose with a smile. "I was thinking about checking in with Lorne again, but first—" she grabbed his arm and pulled him out of his chair towards the dance floor. "Let's dance!"

"Annie – I don't know how to dance!"

Buffy's bright laugh drew a number of eyes, "You'll learn!"


Summers' House, Sunnydale, California – September 5, 1996

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Joyce Summers sighed as she looked around her empty house again. She'd already cleaned everything she possibly could up. She could try to fix the dishwasher again, but she'd just spent hours on that very endeavor only two days ago, and had had no luck then. Besides, it wasn't like she really needed the thing. Living by herself, she didn't use many dishes except on the one day of the month she hosted the meeting of her book club.

She started as a knock sounded from the front door and spun towards it, all the hopes that always rose when she heard that sound nowadays rising to the front of her mind as she moved through the house to answer it.

She knew it probably wasn't Buffy. It hadn't been Buffy a hundred times or more before now. But it always could be.

As she reached the front door, she paused and took a deep breath before reaching forward to turn the handle and pull the door in towards her. She hoped the acute sense of disappointment she felt wasn't obvious on her face when she saw Mr. Giles standing there. "Uh, hello."

The Englishman nodded, offering her a hesitant smile in his greeting. "Hello, Joyce. Um, may I?"

"Oh, uh, of course! Come on in." She waved him in, wincing as her mind immediately brought up thoughts of what this very man had told her about vampires after Buffy had run away. One of which was to never verbally invite someone in. But then again, it was still the early afternoon on a bright, sunny day.

"Thank you," Giles murmured as he stepped inside, moving into the living room and turning to face her as she closed the front door behind him and followed, wringing her hands nervously. "I've just come back from Oakland. A friend of mine called me with a lead. Stories about a young woman fighting vampires. But, uh, it didn't pan out, I'm afraid."

Joyce nodded, closing her eyes for a moment as she sighed, before opening them again to look at him. "No Buffy?"

"And no vampires," Giles replied, taking off his glasses to clean them and shaking his head. "Bunch of school kids in heavy mascara listening to extremely silly music."

Joyce winced at the image he painted before shaking her head also. "Well, thank you for going. I can hardly," She sighed and waved at the room around them, shaking her head mournfully. "I can hardly leave the house. I'm just afraid she'll call and she'll need my help."

"Buffy is the most capable child I've ever known. She may be confused and unhappy, but I honestly believe she's in no danger."

Joyce nodded again, supposing that if anyone knew what her daughter was truly capable of handling it was this man. And boy, did that thought sting. Someone who'd known Buffy for less than two whole years knowing her better than her own mother, who'd given birth to her more than seventeen years ago. She pushed the thought back and tried to explain her own feelings, hoping that getting them in the open would relieve some of the pain. "I just wish I could talk to her. The last thing we did was fight."

"Joyce, you mustn't blame yourself for her leaving." Giles told her, his voice warm and firm. "So much was happening that night. I really—" he shook his head, "You couldn't possibly understand most of it without living it."

Joyce winced again at the reminder of just how little she knew about her only child's life and that familiar anger came back to the surface. "I don't blame myself," she told him, finally letting that out as she turned her eyes to his, glaring. "I blame you." She continued quickly, ignoring his hurt and bewildered expression. "You've been this huge influence on her. Guiding her. You had this whole relationship with her behind my back! I feel... I feel like you've taken her away from me!"

Giles took his glasses off again, cleaning them and not looking at her as he replied in an overly mild tone, "I didn't make Buffy who she is."

Joyce stepped back as if struck, frowning at the wording. "And who exactly is she?!"

The Watcher's eyes were steady and a little bit cold as he put his glasses back on and met her glare for glare. "She is the Slayer. Perhaps our world's greatest champion. A hero." then he sighed, his voice softening a bit as he continued. "And she's a child. I had nothing to do with the time of her Calling. If I could bear this immense burden for her, I would gladly do it. But I can't. And nonetheless, I do know." he shook his head again, his eyes now seeming to gaze inward, unseeing or simply ignoring her melting glare. "I do know that she, maybe more than any of the young Potentials I met before her, was far more worthy of the power of the Slayer."

"What—"

"How many other people do you think could have done what she did the night she faced the Master? Or the night she... left?"

Joyce frowned as her mind went back to who exactly this 'Master' was, and she shuddered as she remembered hearing that her daughter's death had all but been guaranteed, and she'd gone anyway. And just a few months ago, she'd needed – in her own words 'to save the world. Again!'

"I know I had no role in her childhood, Joyce. And I can say you certainly did an excellent job in raising her to be a wonderful young woman..."

Joyce looked up as he trailed off, and stepped back again as she saw the weary, yet cold expression on his normally mild and kind face.

"But you will never know your daughter until you know the Slayer. It is an important part of her, of her life and of her very being. A part that she needs you to accept. Because the only way she can escape it," The Watcher shook his head again, "is in death."

Joyce flinched again, a dozen possible scenarios for her heroic daughter's possible demise flashing through her mind at his words while sinking down onto her couch in silence.

"I apologize for disturbing you, Joyce. And I will take my leave. Good day."

Joyce barely noticed his locking the door behind him before closing it on his way out. She didn't know how much time passed before she shook herself out of her daze, as tears started to run down her face yet again this summer. She glanced at the phone and then at the door, willing either one to signal her daughter's return, and after a moment finally closed her eyes and succumbed completely to her tears.

She'd wonder many times already what her daughter's 'Calling' meant for her. For Buffy's life.

It obviously meant she missed many hours of sleep at night when Joyce thought she was upstairs in bed. But it never seemed to bother her all too much...

It probably was the reason she missed many classes on a regular basis.

And why her homework wasn't always done on time.

But it also, according to Mr. Giles, meant that she was responsible for the whole world. And that was a mind-boggling weight of responsibility for her to bear.

As her eyes ran out of tears Joyce struggled to pull herself together.

She'd already made many lists so far. Lists of things she could try doing to help Buffy with her nighttime-activities. But it looked like she was going to add to them, if only to keep her mind on a more positive note in her daughters all-too-conspicuous absence.


Eppes' House, Pasadena, California – September 6, 1996 – early morning

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Buffy trembled, whimpering as she struggled against the sheets of her bed. Sweat dripped down her forehead as her moans grew louder and her struggles more pronounced. Suddenly she found her arms no longer able to move, caught in a firm but surprisingly gentle grasp. Then a familiar voice broke through her panicked haze.

"Annie! Annie, wake up. It's just a dream, Annie!"

Latching onto that voice, she forced her eyes open and had to consciously stop herself from tossing Charlie across the room. Instead she forced herself to relax and take several deep breaths before she met his concerned gaze in the early morning light.

"You okay?" he asked, his voice quiet.

Also mindful of the early hour and his parents hawk-like ears, she replied just as quietly. "Yeah, just a... just a vision, I think."

Charlie frowned as he hesitantly sat down on the side of the bed next to her, glanced at the closed bedroom door and then looked back at her with a small sigh. "A vision?"

"Yeah," Buffy nodded and frowned as she turned her thoughts inward, trying to remember specific scenes of the otherwise blurry, emotion-filled dream. "Remember? They're another benefit – or bane – of Slayerhood."

Charlie didn't reply right away, but she didn't feel like talking right away so she let him think that through. Let his logic and science orientated mind adjust to the idea that some seers and psychics were real. Even knowing that she had told him all this before, she knew it could have easily been overshadowed by thoughts of vampires and demons and the supernatural world as a whole.

"So, you saw the future?"

"Only flashes of it, most of the time," the Slayer replied, shrugging. "Usually just enough that I can make sense of it after I know who the next big-bad is, just in time to stop them. I see faces, places, and symbols. Sometimes I feel things. Emotions from victims, or even from the bad guys... Sometimes I can hear things, but I usually can't remember them afterwards, it's just something that will trigger déjà vu when I see or hear it again later on."

"What did you see this time?"

Buffy shook her head, frowning. "This time was weird."

"Why?" he asked, his tone essentially saying that the thought of seeing the future in any way was weird, so why was this one extra weird?

"'Cause I saw a lot more than I normally see. I mean, I can't remember it all, but I know I saw a whole, um, scene, I guess, play out."

"What happened?"

She didn't reply, so Charlie gently took her hand in his and waited for her to look at him again. When her eyes met his familiar, warm chocolate-brown, patiently waiting for her to continue, she sighed. "It was – what I remember – it's confusing," she told him, shaking her head again.

"Start at the beginning. Start with the first thing you remember."

Buffy nodded, thinking back before she nodded again. "Fear. I remember fear. Like when I met the Master, but grief too. Like when Lothos killed Merrick. I was trapped, I think. I think I was seeing through someone else's thoughts."

"That makes sense, from the sound of it." Charlie agreed, his tone surprisingly free of doubt. "So you were seeing through someone else's eyes? And you felt their fear and grief?"

"Yeah," Buffy nodded again, frowning in concentration. "And a vamp! I could – I mean, she could sense a vamp, a really old one." She glanced at Charlie as she finished and wasn't surprised to see his eyes widen.

"So you were seeing through the eyes of another Slayer?"

"Yeah, I-I guess so." Buffy nodded slowly, before shaking his head more quickly in confusion. "But Kendra died! So..."

"Kendra died, so a new Slayer would have been Called, right?"

Now Buffy felt her own eyes widen as she nodded again. "Yeah..." she closed her eyes and concentrated on her memories again, unconsciously falling into a light meditative-trance thanks to months of practicing the art, as she sought them out. She winced as a clear image came through, breaking her concentration as one of her hands' flew to her throat. "He was choking her. But she cut across his eyes with a knife."

"So she got away?"

"She got away," Buffy nodded, eyes opening again. "And now she's running. Running to Sunnydale... to..."

"To you?" This time when she looked at Charlie he was frowning deeply. "Are you sure that what you, um, 'saw' really just happened?"

"What'd you mean?"

"I thought you said you had visions of the future."

"I do." Buffy nodded in confirmation, before shrugging. "But I have visions of the past too, things that happened to the Slayers before me. I guess it might make sense that I'd have visions of another Slayer if she needed me. I mean, w-we're not supposed to exist at the same time, but we do, so..."

"So it only makes sense that you'd be connected," Charlie nodded, but his frown didn't fade at all.

"Wh-What's wrong?" Buffy asked, a bit uncertainly. She knew he really wouldn't like hearing about any of this, but she also sensed that something else was bothering him.

The mathematician looked at her for a long moment before sighing, and looking down as he replied. "I, uh, I didn't hear you cry out."

"Wh—?"

"When you started moving about just now, from the night—from the vision? I was already here." He told her, still frowning. "I woke up a few minutes ago, and I felt... I knew that you were afraid, I could," he shook his head. "I could feel it."

Now Buffy's eyes widened and she started at him for a moment before something clicked in her mind and she closed her eyes in realization.

"What?"

"Blood bonds," she told him quietly, sighing as she opened her eyes to meet his confused, but still oh-so curious gaze. "I gave you my blood. A lot of my blood, and I did it willingly. The doctors transferred it, but the Slayer approved it. I felt it when the transfusion was happening. I felt the Slayer accept and approve you."

"So?"

"Giles told me that's why the Council didn't want Slayers donating blood. Ever. Our blood is mystical, and the act of giving blood can be mystically binding. So, uh, we're bound now, I guess."

"Like...siblings? Or cousins?"

Buffy thought about it for a moment, then shook her head, blushing slightly. "No, uh. If anything, it's closer to a mystical marriage bond, I think. At least, that's what it sounded like when Giles talked about it." Seeing his face pale a bit, she shook her head forcefully. "Not that that's important!" she hastened to reassure him. "B-But I think that anyone that can see the bond, like a witch or seer, would think it was a marriage bond."

"Oh." Charlie couldn't help but frown, as he shook his head. "So what does that mean?"

Buffy sighed again. "I think it means that we're kind-of psychically connected now. You'll pick up things from me, like we already know you heal a little faster and have more strength and endurance then you used to. Nothing super-strong, but stronger than before, right?"

"Yeah... So I'll get visions from you too?"

Buffy shook her head again. "Did you actually see any of my vision?"

Charlie thought for a moment, then shook his head also. "No. I just—"

"Felt my reaction to it. The emotions I was feeling, right?" she asked, and continued when he nodded. "So I think that's more of an em—emp—uh—"

"Empathetic?"

"Yeah! An empathetic connection."

"Can you feel me?"

Buffy looked down. "I have always had a bit of empathetic-abilities, since I became the Slayer, I think. But yeah, I can feel a lot more from you then most people... and the Slayer knows you. Like it knows vampires and demons," she shrugged before finishing, "'cept it wants to protect you."

"Oh, um. Cool, I guess."

Buffy looked up, her eye's widening in surprise. "Really? You don't mind?"

Charlie smiled at her, warmly, "Why would I mind? I mean, it'll take a bit getting used to, but it's not like you can read my every thought or anything. It just means we'll be better at communicating then most people, if only because we don't have to open up about our feelings, we already know them, right?"

She realized he was probably paying attention to the self-doubt she was feeling, and trying to ease it. But it helped that now that she knew the bond was there, she knew that his smile and words were completely sincere. He really didn't mind. "I, uh, I guess so."

The genius's smile grew a bit wider then. "And you gotta admit, it can only be good for me, right? To have someone with at least a vague idea of what's going on in my head when I'm—"

"Off in number-land?" Buffy asked with a grin. "Yeah, I guess so... though that's still weird, by the way. Cute and interesting to watch, but," she waved her hands around a bit as she looked for a way to word what she was thinking. "The way you block everything else out when you're focusing on math is a little weird."

Charlie blinked, before favoring her with a smirk. "Well, you know, you kind of do the same thing when you're slaying, don't you?" He continued before she could object, holding up a hand to forestall her. "No, really. You focus all of your attention on, um, on your hunt and everything else fades away, doesn't it?"

Buffy tilted her head slightly to the side as she considered his observation, then nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess it does..." she smiled at him warmly, "I guess we have more in common then we thought, huh?"

"Yeah," Charlie nodded in agreement. "I guess we do." He was quiet for a moment, then he continued, his tone now more serious. "You're going back, aren't you?"

Buffy remained silent in thought, watching as he continued hesitantly.

"You... You don't want to leave the fate of the world on this girl's shoulders."

Buffy closed her eye and nodded. "She's so scared. No, terrified. That was me, once."

"It isn't right."

"No," Buffy agreed with a sigh. "No, it's not." Then she nodded firmly, before opening her eyes to meet his gaze again. "I have to go back."

Charlie nodded, then blinked when he noticed the playful pout that was suddenly settled over her face. "What?"

Buffy sighed, shaking her head as she whined softly in reply, "You'd think I'd at least be a bit better at math now that I'm psychically connected to you!"


The Bronze, Sunnydale, California – September 7, 1996

0

Xander shook his head as he glared up at the stage, a part of him hoping that if he glared long enough the band would get the hint and play something a little less depressing. Another part of him thought the music fit his mood perfectly. Fit Sunnydale, perfectly right now, actually. Without the Slayer, they were all well and truly both lost and trapped. Glancing at his best friend, he frowned when he saw the far-off, slightly sad look fixed on her face. "Boy," he shook his head, raising his voice slightly to get her attention. "I'm real glad we showed up for 'Depressing Night,' aren't you?"

Willow shrugged, "I wonder what she's doing right now."

Xander's eyebrow twitched and he shook his head forcefully. "Oh, I know what she's doing. Gabbing to all of her friends about her passionate affair with Pedro the cabana boy. And laughing about me, but thinking how she still might have feelings for me!" He heard Willow cough, and looked over to see one of her eyebrow's raised, making his mind finally catch up with his mouth. "Oh. It's possible you were talking about Buffy."

Willow nodded, smiling slightly in amusement. "It is possible. The Bronze just never seems the same without her." She looked up with a smile as her boyfriend arrived with her soda, accepting it with a nod of thanks.

"Yeah, and the slaying isn't getting any easier, either," Xander agreed, also accepting his soda with a nod.

"Oh, I don't know," Oz offered as he sat down next to Willow, his own drink still in hand. Xander kind of wondered how the werewolf had managed three large sodas without spilling any, but he didn't really care. "I think we're kinda getting a rhythm down."

Xander snorted and shook his head when both looked at him. "We're losing at least half the vamps."

"Yeah, but, rhythmically."

Willow sighed, "We just need to work on our timing, I think."

Xander shook his head, a flash of red in the corner of his eye making him turn and smirk. "No, I know what we need."

"A Vampire Slayer?" Oz asked with a clear smirk in his voice also.

Xander shrugged as he rose to go over to his ex-girlfriend, "Next best thing," he replied, nodding towards the teenage girl. "Bait." He didn't wait for Willow or Oz to reply, just made his way over to Cordelia as quickly as he could, hoping to catch her attention before any of the other guys that had noticed her entrance asked her to dance.

Maybe he hadn't been good enough for Buffy or Cordelia. But he had a job to do, here and now, and he couldn't let his feelings of self-doubt interfere with that. No matter how good she looked tonight.

"Hey Cordy!" he called, the part of him that had cowered under her ridicule for years before Buffy came to Sunnydale cringing as she turn to sneer at him. But the part of him that had pulled him through Jesse's death and drawn him down into the sewers to save Buffy's life wouldn't back down. "Whoa, whoa, I don't have time for Queen-C, right now," he told her, continuing before she could find her voice again, waving over to the corner Oz and Willow were saving their seats in. "We need to talk to you. It's about... it's about Buffy's job."


Eppes' House, Pasadena, California – September 8, 1996

0

Charlie sighed as he watched Annie move around her room with a frantic energy that he was sure would tire anyone of lesser stamina out in mere moments. From what he could tell from her emotions, which he'd become increasingly better at reading since their bond had been discovered the day before, her mental state was no less harried. If anything, it was more so. "Annie," he called gently, crossing through the open doorway and catching one of her arms and then the other to gently pull her into a hug. "Annie, calm down." He smiled slightly as he felt her release a great sigh and lean her head against his shoulder. "Everything's going to be all right."

"B-But what if my Mom really didn't want me to come home? W-what if Giles is m-mad? Or—"

"Shhh," Charlie soothed, gently rubbing a hand in circles on her upper back. "She's your Mom, of course she wants you to come home." He reassured her, hoping that he was right and that the lovely woman Annie had told him about, the woman who'd raised her, really couldn't ever be as heartless as her nearly hysterical daughter now feared. "And Giles is your Watcher, it's part of his job to take care of you and help you cope with your duties, right?"

"I-I guess."

"You do want to go back, don't you?"

"No." Annie replied immediately, then shrugged. "Well, kinda, I guess. I have to go back, but..."

"Actually doing so is hard?" Charlie guessed, knowing there was more to it then that but wanting to give her something to focus on.

"Y-Yeah." Annie shook her head, "If I hadn't already told your parents that I was leaving today and where I was going, and they hadn't made such a big deal about that going away party yesterday."

Charlie chuckled, "They did go a little overboard, didn't they?"

"Yeah..." Annie smiled softly, obviously thinking back on it. "But it was fun. Did I thank them?"

"Several times, actually." Charlie told her, then cut her off before she say what he knew would follow. "And you already thanked me for the laptop and my parents for the extra phone cards." He grinned as he watched her sparkling green eyes roll.

"Are you sure those things don't expire?"

"Very sure. We checked twice at the store, and called the company itself, remember?" Charlie raised an eyebrow at her. "And there's already two years on your phone itself. As long as you don't loose the other cards, or the phone, you'll have no excuse to not keep in touch for at least the next five years." *2*

Annie rolled her eyes again, then frowned. "Aren't those awful expensive?"

Charlie shrugged, then shook his head. "Not from the long-term perspective. It was much cheaper to buy the cards that cover a whole year than the ones that were half the price but only covered three months. Or the ones that were twenty dollars, but only covered sixty minutes. Those were much more expensive." Then he raised an eyebrow at her. "And don't think that loosing them will give you an excuse to fall out of touch. If you do that, I'll just send you more cards until you feel guilty enough to call me." He grinned when she rolled her eyes again. "And that's to say nothing of email."

Now Annie sighed. "I'm not good with computers. And how much did that cost anyway?"

"Oh, a bit." Charlie conceded, with a shrug. "But I've done quite a bit of consulting for the company in the last few years, so I got an employee discount," then he winced. "They actually wanted to give it to me for free, but that didn't seem right. Getting two of them before they're even available for the general public seemed to be more then enough." As he saw Annie was actually thinking through what he said, he quickly continued, hoping she wouldn't put too much thought into it now that he'd already set everything up for her. "And your friend, Willow is good with computer, isn't she?" he pointed out—for the fifth time since she'd opened their most expensive gift to her the day before. "And now you have your own laptop, which is already set up for you and comes with a number of books and programs on the computer itself to help you learn." *3*

Annie rolled her eyes again, then winced as something he'd mentioned the day before occurred to her. "You didn't actually set up a thing for weekly reports on slaying, did you?"

"How am I supposed to help you with Slaying if I don't know what's going on?"

"You don't have—"

"I want to." He told her firmly, shaking his head. "And as one of the few members of the human race with enough common sense to accept the fact that we're constantly in danger, I have every right to." He told her, and held her gaze until she looked away with a sigh again.

"I guess."

After a moment of silence, Charlie raised an eyebrow at her. "Or would you rather I moved to Sunnydale to help out in person? There's one major university and a few colleges there that—"

"No!" Annie protested immediately, her eyes snapping back to his. "No. You should stay here an-and take care of your Mom and Dad. And work at CalSci," she told him, adding when she sensed a twinge of discomfort from their still fairly new empathetic bond. "Which you will be great at and should not worry about. You managed to teach me algebra, didn't you?"

Charlie sighed, rolling his eyes. "Why do you bring that up every time I bring up being uncomfortable about my new job?"

"'Cause," Annie replied with a shrug. "If you could get math to make sense in my head, you really shouldn't have any problem with a bunch of geeks, now should you?"

"I guess not," Charlie agreed with a shrug, deciding to ignore the way she teasingly disparaged her scholastic abilities since he could now sense and knew that she really was teasing herself just as much as she was teasing him. "But I'll also be teaching the College Algebra class for Freshmen, who won't be all Math Majors."

"But you'll still have power over them!" Annie pointed out brightly, and smirked when Charlie shot her a slightly wary look.

"Oh?"

"You can flunk 'em if they don't pay attention to you and assign pop quizzes and extra homework until they decide that paying attention when you lecture is much better for their grade and their sanity!"

Charlie stared at her for a moment, then shook his head, "That's not—"

"Annie? Charlie?" They heard his mother's voice call from downstairs. "Are you two almost ready?"

Both started, and then with a sigh, Annie slipped out of his arms and carefully closed her suitcase, which had actually been completely packed over an hour ago. Then reached for the backpack Charlie had made her get to start school with, which now held her laptop in the back compartment, her phone in a small front pocket along with the phone-cards they'd bought for her, and notebooks and pencils in the middle compartment.

"Be right down, Maggie!" Annie called back as she slipped her backpack on and picked up her suitcase, before turning to Charlie, rolling her eyes when he took the suitcase out of her hand. "Well," she sighed, "I guess it's time."


Revello Drive, Sunnydale, California – September 8, 1996

0

Buffy sighed as she stepped back from Margaret Eppes, smiling softly as the older woman placed a gentle kiss on her brow before releasing her. Then she turned to Charlie, who also smiled as he stepped forward to hug her. She returned his embrace as tightly as she dared, careful not to let her Slayer-strength hurt him as she hid her face in the crook of his shoulder for several long moments before finally letting go and stepping back.

"You ready?" Charlie asked, his voice barely louder than a whisper but somehow full of warmth, encouragement and a little bit of sadness, which may have been more of what she was sensing for their still barely explored bond.

Buffy bit her lip as she looked at the house her mother had bought almost two years before, sitting innocently in the familiar yard halfway down the street. After several seconds of silence, she finally nodded. "...As I'll ever be, I guess." She leaned down to pick up her suitcase, shaking her head when Charlie moved forward to help. "I got it." She told him, shrugging as easily rose with the heavy suitcase in her grasp and the lighter backpack on her pack. "I-I have to do this by myself."

Charlie frowned slightly for a moment, but then his face cleared and he nodded, while his mother smiled at her from a few feet away. "I understand. Stay in touch, remember?"

"I will," Buffy nodded, looking down for a moment and taking a deep breath before she looked up to continue. First, she looked at Mrs. Eppes. "Thank you, Maggie." She murmured, waiting till she received a smile and a nod in return before looking at Charlie again. "Thank you."

Charlie nodded. "Take care of yourself, Annie. And remember, I—we're just a phone call or an email away, okay?"

Buffy smiled again, nodding. Then she forced herself to turn away and make her way down the street to her house, struggling to keep from looking back the whole way. All too soon she had passed the driveway her Mom's SUV was sitting in and made her way up the walkway and then up the steps to the door. There, she carefully set her suitcase down and took her backpack off, setting both to the side of the door before forcing herself to face it. Then she took a deep breath, raised her hand, and knocked firmly on the hard surface.

She took a step back as she heard her Mom approaching to answer, looking down slightly as she struggled to hold tears back. She looked up as the door opened, to meet her Mom's surprised – but thankfully not angry – eyes.

Buffy suddenly found her Mom's arms around her and leaned forward, finally letting tears fall as she rested her head on the older blonde's shoulder.


End of Chapter 8: Farewells.


AN: Well, how was that? I was going to make this chapter the last & the epilogue, but it was getting a bit long, so I decided to break it up instead. I hope everyone liked it. After this, we just have the epilogue to go, and then this part of the series is over, but don't worry, there are several more stories to follow after this! :-D

*1* - I know I borrowed a LOT of lines from "Annie" in this chapter, but I was trying to fit the fic back in with the canon. And you gotta, admit this episode had a LOT of great lines!

*2* - I know nothing about phone cards, etc. And I'm not sure if cell phones were rare in the late 90s. they are, please ignore the historical inconsistency and just enjoy the story...

*3* - On the laptop that Charlie gave Buffy... Yes, I know I set the story in 1996 and the laptop would be ridiculously expensive no matter how much our favorite genius is paid by the big companies he occasionally consults for, and that the laptop would probably be too big to fit in her backpack... But Charlie got new models, because he was consulting for the companies that made them. With that in mind, I'm just asking you to PLEASE stretch your imagination and ignore that inconsistency. PLEASE? *pouts* This is fan 'fiction' you know, "FICTION" being the key word? And imagination being a very important concept to said writing style?

Feedback is, as always, immensely appreciated.

Bye for now! ^_^

Jess S


NEXT:

Epilogue: The First Call.