Disclaimers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy & Fox. Numb3rs belongs to Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci…I think. (NOT me!)
AN:
Hi everyone! Sorry for the hideous wait on this chapter. I just had a lot of problems to work through while writing it. And I'd like to thank my beta reader, NeverTooOld, for not only beta-reading, but also for trying to help me get over my writers block with this chapter. Many, many thanks! ^_^

Anyway, this time around I'm going to recommend Inner Peace by 1st endeavor, a NUMB3RS fic on that's full of plenty of drama, angst, a nice quick-pace and plenty of heart-warming moments to balance out the drama and angst. And it's finished. As always, I'm sad to see a great fic finished because that means they're isn't more to come. But that doesn't diminish it at all, and who knows; there could be a sequel! :-D

Warnings: None that I know of—but if you see anything I should be warning anyone about herein, please let me know.

Now without further ado, enjoy the chapter! ^_^


A Call Away

Part II in Mathematics & Magic

By Jess S

Chapter 12: Frienemies – Part III


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Lily's House, Pasadena, California – Friday, October 25, 1996

Lily winced as she watched Charlie's head jerk to the side and back again, seeming to move his whole body with the painful-looking motion, but not seeming to draw his attention at all.

Maybe if you projected yourself beyond a certain distance from your physical body, you ceased to feel it? She knew from the two times she'd actually managed to make it to astral form on her own—without the spell that the coven had only let her use once in a very controlled setting—that she certainly hadn't noticed anything her body was feeling.

But, then again, she'd been floating right over her body, which had just been sitting there with half a dozen elder witches watching over her. A few of them adept enough at mage-sight to actually see her astral form.

Lily, herself, couldn't see magic in its raw form. Couldn't really move in astral form. Couldn't even make it to astral form when she was even half as stressed as she was now. She'd been trying to meditate for nearly an hour, but every time she thought she might be close to achieving that inner calm, Charlie would cry out or jerk around again and her concentration would be completely broken.

She really was afraid he might hurt himself, moving around like he was.

And she was terrified at just how long he'd been gone already.

When she'd used the spell to achieve the initial separation it'd worked. But she'd been back in her body no more then ten minutes after she'd left it.

Charlie had just passed an hour.

She knew the point of the spell was to protect the astral form, while helping the seeker find what they were looking for. And unlike her, Charlie had really been looking for something really important, and something a good distance away. Lily had merely wanted to achieve astral projection, to see what it felt like in that form. So that was all the spell had helped her with. Charlie had wanted to know what was happening in Sunnydale. With Buffy, whom he was empathetically bound to. And who lived right on top of the Hellmouth.

All of which could obviously effect the outcome of the spell.

A spell that she wasn't entirely sure Charlie had actually finished. Her Latin sucked, despite her mentors' best efforts to improve upon her education and Lily's own efforts in what little spare time she had to learn the ancient, but powerful language.

Still, she was pretty sure Charlie hadn't even gotten to the final verse of the spell, which would be bad. Since the final verse was the one that was supposed to help guide him home after he'd found what he was seeking.

Lily winced as Charlie seemed to jerk upward, as if little strings were pulling him up by his head, only to drop him a second later. He'd started doing that just a few minutes ago. In fact, he'd started moving a lot more in the last few minutes then he had initially.

She glanced at the phone on the side table nearest the door to the entryway, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth nervously as she tried to summon the courage to call for help.

The person she'd normally associate the idea of calling for help with was Buffy, and even if the Slayer could help with this, it could be a distraction she really couldn't afford at this point in time.

Which meant Lily had to call one of the older witches. All of whom were going to be more than a little cross with her for helping Charlie try this without a truly experienced mentor supervising.

"Gah!"

Lily jumped at the pained noise Charlie had made, and the next thing she knew she was standing next to the side table, the phone already in her hand. She sighed, and then reached down and quickly hit in the number she knew best for magical maladies, hesitantly setting the phone against her right ear as she finished dialing.

*RING* *RING*

'Please pick up,' the blonde fretted, really not wanting to call anyone else with this.

*RING* *RI—*

"Lincroft Manor, Deborah speaking," the older witch didn't sound 'tired,' per say, but her words were a little more drawn out then normal. So maybe fatigue just slowed the brilliant brunette down a little more than anything else. "Hello?"

Lily cringed as she realized she really should say something, then quickly started talking, "Hi, Miss Lincroft, it's Lily. Lily O'Connor."

"Good evening, Lily."

"I'm sorry for calling so late—"

"Don't be, little sister. Is everything alright?"

"Ye—No," Lily stopped, wincing again as Charlie emitted another pained yelp.

"Gah!"

"Little sister?"

"I—" Lily cut herself off with a nervous sigh, before closing her eyes as she tried to focus on just asking the older witch for help. "I think Charlie might be in trouble."

"Dr. Eppes?" Deborah paused, and then continued, her still supremely calm voice inspiring a little bit of envy in the panicking Lily. "What happened?"

"I ta-taught him the astral projection spell. The one that's in the beginner's guide?"

The pause was probably only momentary, not even a second, but it was noticeable enough to make the already panicking witch-in-training fidget.

"Why?"

"He thought Buffy needed his help, and that was the quickest way to figure out how he might be able to help her." Lily spoke quickly again, pausing only briefly to take a quick breath before hurrying on, anxious to have everything out in the open. "But he's been gone for more than an hour and—"

"Where?"

"Wh—I-I don't know. With Buffy, I guess."

"No. Where is his body now? Where are you?"

"O-Oh. We're in the living room. At my house."

"We'll be arriving shortly."

*CLICK*

Lily blinked again, not at all sure how she felt about being hung up on as she placed her own phone back in its cradle.

On one hand, help was on the way. On the other...well. At least help was on the way.

She shook her head as she looked over towards Charlie again, wincing as she watched him jerk upwards again. Not as far as the first two times, but just as rapidly.

And then he did it again, with almost no time in between the motions.

Lily shook her head again, glancing towards her front door.

Hopefully they'd be here soon...


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A Moving Vehicle, Sunnydale, California – Friday, October 25, 1996

Charlie's vision—however he was actually 'seeing', as it wasn't through his eyes—momentarily blacked out under the repeated onslaught of far too much sensory information. When he appeared, it took him a very long moment to realize he was staring at the backseat of a car that was moving rapidly over the road. After several too-long seconds of struggling, he finally forced his sight up and looked out through the rear-window to see a familiar, horribly cheery sign falling into the distance that read:

WELCOME

TO

SUNNYDALE

Enjoy Your Stay!

The familiarity of the sign that he knew Annie despised didn't reassure him much, especially as he could feel that he was, somehow, still moving. Obviously, he was stuck in the moving car, and therefore not stationary, but he couldn't for the life of him understand why. It took several more seconds of contemplation before he noticed he could, in fact, hear two women in the front conversing.

"I don't know vhat you are so vorried about." One woman—who's accent Charlie couldn't place, though he recognized that it wasn't American—said, exasperation clear in her almost squeaky-high voice. "The vatcher bought your story and never reported your presence. Vhether he vakes up any time soon or not, ve're already out of the city! Ve'll be long gone before the Council thinks to look for us."

'Uh oh,' Charlie realized, missing the ability to shake his head as he did so. 'Obviously these are the people responsible for hurting Dr. Giles.'

"The Council, perhaps," this woman had a very distinct English accent, and her tone made her sound much colder than the other woman. "But the Slayers might choose to pursue us on their own."

'She was right about that. They must have the glove around here somewhere.'

"I don't care if there are two of them now—though I do vonder how the hell that could've happened—Slayers don't think for themselves. Vith their vatcher out of commission they'll be completely lost."

The Englishwoman snorted, "I used to think that way, too. But you haven't met Summers. And Lehane follows her lead."

"Look, I know that handling the Slayers and vatcher vas your assignment, but you're really vorrying far too much—"

Charlie almost wasn't surprised when Sineya suddenly appeared right next to him, the fact that he could see the buildings of Sunnydale disappearing into the distance through her glaring eyes not making the glare any less formidable.

"Need go back body NOW!"

"I know!" Charlie replied, her repeated demand easier to appreciate now that he knew clearly had no control over his astral movements. "But I don't know how! And where the hell is the glove?"

That same jerking sensation that signaled the beginning of too-rapid movement came again. But instead of suddenly going somewhere else, his gaze was just yanked downward, and he found himself looking at a cloth bag that contained something wrapped up numerous times.

"Need go back body NOW!"

Wrapped up just like Annie had mentioned Giles' wanting the glove to be...

And it was already outside of Sunnydale.

"We need to stop the car!" Charlie insisted, his gaze still mostly locked on the glove. But he could see Sineya in his peripheral vision. Not that he was entirely sure on how he could have peripheral vision in this state, but he could still, just barely, see her.

She was glaring steadily at him, but then she was sliding around him and he heard the woman with the high-pitched voice suddenly shriek. Right before the car swerved out of the road followed by a resounding crash.

...Apparently Sineya, at least, could also affect people that were still in their bodies.


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Outside Giles' Apartment, Sunnydale, California – Friday, October 25, 1996

Buffy grimaced, but decided to just ignore her friends' questions for the time being. That was the kind of thing a Slayer could justifiably get away with in a crisis, after all. "Cordy," she snapped, effectively garnering the brunette's attention. "You drive Will, Xander and Oz to the library, alright?"

It was a testament to just how much an injured Giles affected all of them that Queen-C didn't hesitate or express any derisiveness at Buffy's request at all. Just nodded as she replied with a simple, "Yeah, sure."

"Will," Buffy nodded to the redhead, gesturing towards Giles' apartment. "I didn't see the books Giles had out before, or the red urn in—"

"They're not there," Willow confirmed worriedly. "I looked already."

"Right. Well, we're gonna need that living-flame stuff, so you have to figure out how to make it. Giles keeps most of his magic stuff locked up in his office at school. The spare keys are in the Rose Code book that's under the counter."

Willow blinked, and Buffy could clearly sense her brilliant friend's hurt at being excluded as she complained, "I didn't know Giles had spare keys."

"Will, watcher-man doesn't want you messing around with magic stuff, remember?" Xander spoke up before Buffy could. "Why would he give you the key to where he locks it up?"

"Plus, he doesn't have to worry about you breaking the door," Buffy pointed out, grinning as she successfully summoned a small smile.

"Why would you break into Giles office?" the redhead asked.

Buffy shrugged, "Don't really care about the office. But I've had to break into the weapons cage a few times. Guess Giles got sick of replacing the lock a few months back, since that's when he told me where the spares were." She shrugged again, then turned towards Xander and Oz. "You guys need to help Willow, but look in the weapons cage first. Faith and I actually found three of those urn things. The other two should be in there somewhere."

Xander immediately nodded, "Got it, Buff." Then he followed Willow and Cordelia over to his girlfriend's car, which was parked just behind the ambulance.

Oz, on the other hand, seemed uncertain about something. Uncertain enough that he felt distinctly out of character to her empathetic senses. Oh, Oz felt plenty more than his quiet, super-calm mannerisms often indicated, but uncertainty wasn't an emotion she was used to sensing from him. So she wasn't at all surprised when he hung back.

"What is it, Oz?"

He met her eyes squarely as he answered, his brief reply just audible enough for the slayer to hear. "Post was here. Real recently."

Buffy blinked, even less used to her quiet friend bringing up something his wolf-senses were telling him. But then she nodded, recognizing the importance of the offered information. "So either the bad guys took her—"

"There's only one other scent here I can't place, Buffy. Another woman." The werewolf told her, and she could sense the same smoldering outrage she herself was feeling building up inside the quiet man.

"Thanks for letting me know," Buffy nodded again, and received a nod in return.

"How do we find you?"

The elder Slayer winced at the very obvious flaw in her plan, but quickly worked around it, the improvisations flying out of her mouth as they came to her. "Faith and I'll look for the glove. We'll check-in in an hour if we can't find it. If we find it before that, we'll try to stall the baddies or get the glove back." She shook her head again. "Hopefully they're holed up somewhere nearby, but—"

"Annie!"

Buffy jumped as Charlie's shout reverberated through her brain, then she spun around to find him, nailing his barely-visible form with a glare as she saw his transparent chest sitting right on—or maybe in—the ground. "Charlie! What are you—"

"It's in a car! Leaving town! Sineya made it crash, but—"

"Wha—" Buffy blinked, but then she cut herself off, shaking her head as she remembered why he shouldn't be here at all. "Never mind, you shouldn't—"

"The glove is—"

And, again, he was gone.

Just as Sineya appeared a few feet away. And Buffy could only stare as the ancient spirit released a shriek of frustration before, also, vanishing again.

"Buffy?" Oz asked, as much worry as he ever expressed clear in his tone and even clearer to her mind, though she might be confusing it with some of her own.

The Slayer closed her eyes for a second as the tactically-brilliant, often carefully hidden portion of her brain put the pieces together to puzzle out what was going on. Then she opened her eyes to answer Oz. "Change of plans. The glove's leaving town by car. The car crashed, so Faith and I'll try to catch it. You guys need to get the living flame to the road out of town ASAP. OK?"

Charlie's description, and therefore her own, were thankfully enough since there was actually only one road out of town. It quickly branched off in several different directions, connecting the town to various highways. But if you were leaving town by road, that was the way you had to go. The only other ways you could go would be by plane, boat or train. And Charlie had clearly said it was a car leaving town that had crashed.

Oz nodded, saying, "Take care," then he hurried over to Cordelia's waiting car, slipping into the back seat next to Willow as the ambulance pulled away, lights flashing.

Buffy spared the departing emergency vehicle on anxious glance, but then shook her head before moving quickly over towards her sister Slayer. Giles would want them to get the glove back, after all. And whether he survived or not, she wasn't going to let their latest enemy get away. Especially since this enemy had hurt her Watcher.

Faith was staring at her hands; probably had been since Buffy's attention had gone off of her a few minutes before, since the younger teen hadn't said anything since then.

"Faith," Buffy spoke gently, mindful of the extreme emotions rolling around in her friend's head.

Still, the brunette jumped. But she got a hold of herself and looked towards Buffy a moment later. Though it was only then that Buffy saw what the younger girl had been staring at. Faith's hands were covered in blood. Giles' blood.

Buffy swallowed, but forced herself to continue after giving the other girl's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "We gotta go."

"Giles?" Faith asked softly.

"He'll be OK." Buffy forced a gentle smile, "But we've gotta get the bad guys now. You OK?"

Faith glanced down at her hands, before suddenly reaching into her pocket to pull out a little plastic package. She opened it, grabbing a sanitizing cloth to start rapidly wiping her hands with it.

Buffy could tell that's what it was, even before she saw how effectively it was cleaning the blood off her friend's innocent hands, because she could smell the lemony, stinging scent of the sanitizer. Though it wasn't as bad as that stuff usually smelled to the Slayer, which was probably why Faith had bought it.

A moment later, Faith was tucking the dirtied cloth back in her pocket with now clean hands as she looked up at Buffy again, "Five by five, B. Where to?"


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High School Library, Sunnydale, California – Friday, October 25, 1996

Charlie really wanted to grimace as he appeared in the library again. Especially since this time his neck was sticking out of the ground. 'This can't be good.'

A noise from behind the nearby counter just barely caught his attention, but the familiar, quiet voices definitely demanded notice.

"Owe! Can't we at least turn the lamp on the counter on?" Willow's quiet complaint sounded really, really distant.

"No." Xander's retort didn't sound any closer, even though Charlie knew they were behind the counter. "Not with Snyder out there."

"I can't believe that troll's actually here now." Cordelia complained.

"Well, he's gotta get his kicks patrolling when Mr. Walters isn't here to yank him back, doesn't he?"

"I guess," Cordelia agreed with her boyfriend's assessment. "But you'd think he'd know no one would come to school after dark in Sunnydale."

"Hey, I'm not gonna complain." Xander replied, "Not when it ups the chances of Snyder gettin' eaten by the night's bumpers. 'Though I don't actually think I'm that lucky."

"But really, we're the only ones that'd be here late at night, and that's only when we have to. So who does he think he's gonna catch?"

Xander obviously thought about whether he should really answer his girlfriend's question or not, but after a moment decided to anyway. "Cordy, I really don't think he'd mind catching us. At all."

"Oh... Well, that su—"

"Found it," Oz spoke up suddenly, making all three of his corporeal companions jump. And making Charlie wonder what 'it' was, since he couldn't see over the counter they were crouched down behind, even if the lights had been on.

"You found the Rosetta* Codex?" Willow asked, sounding relieved. (1)

Charlie thought he heard the faint sound of metal clicking together, and then Oz replied. "Yeah, got the keys."

"I thought Buffy said it was in the 'Rose Code book'?" Xander asked, clearly confused.

"She meant the Rosetta Codex," Willow answered. "It's the reference Giles uses the most for translating ancient language. Named after the Rosetta Stone that—"

"OK, OK, history later, Will," Xander interrupted, "We're kinda on a deadline, remember?"

Charlie couldn't help but be relieved as the small group of shadowy figures came into his very narrow range of sight, despite the fact that they couldn't see him.

He watched as the one he thought was Oz reached deftly for the nearby office door handle, slipping a key into the lock. And unlike Charlie, who almost never picked the right key out of an unfamiliar set on the first try, Oz apparently did, because he had the door open a second later.

Charlie also couldn't help but be relieved by the fact that Annie's friends were obviously just as used to deciphering her as he was.

He knew that most of the time when Annie was messing up names and whatnot, she was over-doing it to make light of a situation. That was how she made one of her weaknesses a strength. She didn't try to hide it, and instead used it to make others feel better. As was clearly demonstrated here.

His empathy was nowhere near as powerful as he'd gotten used to it being—and it was overwhelmed by the nearby presence of the Hellmouth that he seemed to be slowly sinking towards—but he could still sense a little, and he could definitely hear the reduction in the stress the younger teens were feeling as Willow started babbling about something unrelated to the evil they were currently fighting and Xander—with the ease of long practice—cut in with a friendly reminder.

Something linked to the Rosetta Stone would obviously have some kind of tie to ancient translations. But history wasn't something Annie was really interested in, and she'd probably never heard of Rashid*, Egypt—the place the stone had been found, and named after (Rosetta was actually its anglicized name)—so 'Rosetta' wasn't something she'd be guaranteed to remember unless the book was one she saw frequently. She just didn't care enough about names to bother. But 'Rose Code book' was clearly close enough for her friends—or at least Willow and Oz—to figure out she'd been referring to Giles' Rosetta Codex. (2)

As getting into Dr. Giles' office was obviously important for some reason or another, Charlie was also relieved when they got in. But less relieved when they turned one of the smaller desk lamps on and started looking around inside. They were making an effort to be quiet, lest their malicious principal wandered by, but it made it nearly impossible for him to know what was going on.

Luckily, they apparently needed something out of the weapons cage, too. Since Xander and Oz came out with flashlights and went in there a few moments later while Willow and Cordelia kept looking around in the office. At least he could see more in the cage. Though he could really only see what their flashlights hit, but it was much more interesting to watch then an otherwise empty, dark room.

He would've jumped in surprise when Sineya suddenly appeared right in front of him, but again it was something he wasn't able to do in astral form, so he didn't. He also didn't wince when it took her only a second to spot him.

Her incorporeal 'eyes' hovered several feet above his own as she glared down at him. "Back. To. Body. NOW!"

Her clearly annunciated words surprised him a little, even though it was the same message she'd been repeating all night.

'Well, at least her grammar's getting better,' Charlie noted, and was reminded of his inability to wince again as her glare somehow sharpened. Obviously she could still hear his thoughts.

"Back—"

"I know, Sineya! I know!" Charlie cut in, wanting to shake his head as he did so. "But I want to see what happens first—and I don't know how to get back anyway."

"Back body now!"

Charlie felt more than a little bad as he deliberately ignored the agitated ancient as he turned his attention to Willow and Cordelia when they came out of the office.

The redhead was carrying one of Giles' tomes while the cheerleader had several small bags in her arms. "Did you find it?" Willow whispered urgently.

"I barely remember what it looked like, Wills," Xander replied, remorse clear in his voice. "And Giles' has got a lot of stuff in here. How are we supposed to find it in the dar—"

"Back body now!"

"Found it." Oz interrupted, rising with two small objects in either hand after clicking his flashlight off and setting it down on a nearby shelf.

"Great, come on," Willow waved them after her, and then hurried back into Giles office, the other three right behind her.

"Back body now!"

"How?" Charlie demanded, once again annoyed at not being able to see what was going on and unable to even bow to his spirit-friend's demand.

"Back body now!"

"Sin—" Charlie stopped abruptly as a flash of light came out of Giles office. After a moment it dimmed, and then started flickering like a really bright flame. "OK. That was weird. Hey!"

While he'd been trying to see what was going on in the office, Sineya had crouched down beside him and stuck her arm down through his head. It'd felt weird enough when she was sticking her hand into his chest. Sticking it through where his brain should be to apparently try to reach his heart, since that was where she seemed to be tugging, felt decidedly worse.

"Sineya, what're you doing?"

"Need back body now!" Sineya grunted as she started to rise, only to stop and stumble as she apparently wasn't able to pull him up with her."Up!"

"How?" Charlie snapped, only to be distracted again as another flash of light—just like before—came from the librarian's office.

A moment later, the foursome he'd been watching came out again. Willow and Oz were both carrying the objects Oz had found—which were apparently urns—that had small, but strangely bright all-red flames flickering out of them.

"I really don't get what's so special about these things," Cordelia gestured to the urns Willow and Oz were carrying. "I mean, so they're burning really smelly sand, and thankfully not making really smelly smoke. So what?"

"That's just the catalyst for Living Flame," Willow told her. "And the urns are the, the—um—the conduit, I guess. Living Flame's really dangerous, you know. So you need something to contro—"

All four jumped as the clock on the wall struck midnight and began to declare the start of the new day.

"Damn, I hadn't realized it was this late," Xander shook his head. "How long have we been here?"

"Not long," Oz replied.

Cordelia agreed, "Yeah it was, like, after eleven when we left Giles' place, anyway."

"We'd better get these to Buffy," Oz murmured, and the other three all nodded in agreement.

A moment later—after Xander had checked to make sure the coast was clear—they'd left and the library was once again void of any kind of physical presence.

"Go back body now!" Sineya insisted again, grunting as she again started trying to pull him up with renewed effort, but apparently to no avail.

Charlie didn't really think that was worth replying to. He'd already told her he didn't know how and asked if she did. Several times, in fact.

But it was only now—as the clock finally stopped declaring the new day—that the reason for her insistence finally, fully dawned on him.

Because now his chin had started to sink into the floor, and the only thing he could clearly feel was the ominous presence of the Hellmouth immediately below him. Even Sineya's distress had started to feel a bit distant, and the strange tugging motion she was attempting seemed to become weaker each time, despite the fact that she was clearly continuing to try her hardest.

It was clear to him now that he'd been sinking slowly over the course of the whole night. But worse it was also clear that he was sinking faster, steadily down into the ground.

Towards the Hellmouth.

Which could only be a bad thing.

"Need back body now!"

"How? I can't control my movements!" He didn't want to yell back at her, but he was starting to panic himself and her demands and the continually weakening, ineffective jerking motion she kept trying to pull him up with didn't make him feel better at all.

"Go to body now!" Sineya insisted, her entire incorporeal form seeming to strain as she leaned back, her arms stretching out as she tried to pull him up.

"But—" Charlie stopped in confusion as the Hellmouth's terrifying presence seemed to fade a bit, just as a bright light appeared high above his head.

His spiritual sight rose towards it of its own volition, and it was several moments before he realized the rest of his astral form was also rising towards the great, clear light.

While he was moving away from the horrible Hellmouth, he wasn't sure going towards the light was what he really wanted to do. Not when people who survived near-death experiences often spoke of seeing a light. He'd always reasoned that it was just their subconscious awareness of the world around them just before they woke up, or maybe the electrical impulses of their brain crashing together as they struggled to keep the body going. But it was definitely something people said, so did he really want to go towards the light?

"Go back body now!" Sineya broke him out of his thoughts, and he was startled—though he couldn't, of course, move to show it in any way—to see a smile had appeared on her face, expressing clear relief as she pushed him towards the light.

It wasn't like Charlie really had a choice, since he couldn't control his astral form at all. But her reassurance and obvious relief did make him feel a bit better just before he seemed to enter the light and could see nothing beyond the great, blinding whiteness.

Then everything went dark.


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Near the edge of Sunnydale, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Buffy knew they probably should've taken Cordy's car in pursuit of the dangerous magical artifact and the people that'd taken it from her Watcher with brutal force.

She also knew that she hadn't really considered it because of the feeling crashing through and colliding within her psyche as she'd watched the pushy but diligent paramedics prepare Giles for transport to Sunnydale's hospital. One friend in the hospital was one too many, as far as she was concerned. If she could've gotten away with sending Faith to the library, too, she probably would have. But she knew that'd be pushing it. And it wouldn't help her sister Slayer overcome the emotional roadblock she'd stumbled upon tonight.

Still, Sunnydale wasn't a big town. It was actually a very small town with an unusually large range of attractions, a peculiarly big population and a totally bizarre number of churches and graveyards.

And the Slayers could run faster than most cars could move safely through the town, since the narrow roads and numerous turns didn't bother them and they could take any number of short-cuts to reach the road out of Sunnydale.

So it wasn't long before they reached the town's horrible sign. The design suited the town's cheerful name, but that only made the garishly bright thing all the more awful when one considered how many people died here on a regular basis from far from natural causes. Buffy wanted to tear the thing down every time she saw it. But, once again, she had to focus on something more important.

Which, according to Charlie, was the car less than half a mile down the road, half of its front end wrapped around a tree.

"B' that's—"

"I see her," Buffy cut in, grimacing as Post looked back at them from the passengers' side of the car.

An angry scowl overtook the Englishwoman's face. As that face was already covered in blood trailing unevenly down from the cut in her forehead, it was a rather ugly sight. But that didn't make her disappearing into the back of the car a moment later a good thing.

"Looks like—what'd you call her? Mary Poppins?—hasn't been too honest with us," Buffy commented even as she bowed her head to put on a little more speed.

She heard Faith snort from just behind her, though her pounding on the pavement had also become a bit more rapid. "'Magine that."

Though both Slayers could sense dark magic radiating off their target, neither gave much thought to it as they closed the distance. After all, if the glove was in there they knew that thing felt evil. And Post, herself, didn't have the most innocent aura.

But, as a result, they were more than a little surprised when less than a few feet from the car they crashed into an invisible wall of power that immediately threw them off their feet and back through the air they'd just run through. The pulse of power that blew them back was like a punch in the gut, which drove all the air out of their lungs in one great gasp. Which was why neither Slayer made much noise as they flew back through the air, though a second, breathless noise of surprise escaped them as they landed on their asses, Buffy missing landing on top of Faith by little more than an inch.

"Ow." Faith complained a second later, grunting as she forced herself to her feet. The shocked girl that'd run away from Giles' apartment building to chase down his assailants with her had seemingly been overcome sometime during the run over here, leaving a pissed-off Slayer in her place. "Spell of some kind?"

Buffy nodded while she dusted off her backside with quick, precise hands as she glared at the car, not liking that the dark magic she could sense from it seemed to be getting stronger. "Some kind of force-field, I guess." She winced as the dark magic she could sense growing in the car abruptly became significantly stronger, and dark clouds suddenly formed over their heads.

"Hmph," Faith grunted again, "That doesn't look good." Then she shook her head, "But why didn't the force-field stop the crash?"

Buffy raised an eyebrow, before leaning down to pick up a small pebble off the ground. Without a word, she chucked it at the car. After passing unhindered through whatever they'd run into, it hit just above the rear license plate and bounced back, leaving an obvious knick in the paint. "Must just be 'sposed to keep us out."

"Huh, ex-Watcher shielding their car against Slayers seems kinda suspicious, doesn't it?"

Buffy nodded, "Not that she looked all that happy to see us, anyw—" She stopped, snapping her full attention back to the car as the driver's door swung open and another woman stumbled out.

Ignoring the blood that was also dripping down her face, the thirty-something woman with black hair turned towards the back of the car, a frantic look on her face as she started yelling, presumably at Post, "No! Imbecile! You cannot—"

"Tauo freim!"* was shouted from inside the car, just before a burst of lightning smashed out of it, blasting the door off and into the other woman with enough force to send both flying across the road. (3)

Both slid several feet after their crash landing, but the woman didn't move or make a sound. And as she wasn't sensing anything from the woman after that first burst of surprised/angry pain, Buffy was pretty sure the unknown woman was dead.

"Shit!" Faith expressed both of their emotions quite eloquently as she put sudden realization into words. "She put it on. She actually put the damn glove on!"

Buffy nodded, but didn't reply as Post's voice sounded inside the car again.

"Tauo freim!"

Both Slayers flung themselves away in opposite directions as another burst of lightning crashed through the rear windshield.


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Lily's House, Pasadena, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Charlie groaned, and then almost jumped as he felt the sound roll slowly up from his diaphragm, through his throat and out of his mouth.

As it was, he was instantly glad he hadn't made the rapid movement of surprise, since every part of his body seemed to be complaining already.

Except for his feet, which he couldn't feel at all, so they were probably asleep.

The pins and needles feeling in his ankles could mean they had been asleep, or maybe he'd caught them right before their 'eyes' had had the chance to close.

His calves felt tense, but not particularly pained; so they were also easily ignored.

His knees also felt tense, but so much so that he didn't want to risk moving them; sure that terrible pain would be the only result.

His thighs were suffering from the needles and pins' assault, too, and were also starting to cramp up. Which would've worried him much more if several other body parts weren't demanding his attention.

Exactly how he might've managed to bruise his butt while sitting on Lily's meditation rug was a mystery, but that's what it felt like: one big, unforgiving bruise that would allow no movement of any kind without considerable, painful protest.

His back was screaming. A still properly aligned mob of twenty-four vertebrae* and invertebral discs* all shrieking to be heard over the others. Resulting in a long, wailing line of incomprehensible agony where his back was supposed to be. (4)

His shoulders and arms felt like he'd just pulled himself up a mountain without any help from his lower body or any other aid. And that analogy only worked if he'd swum several miles ahead of time, also without his legs.

His neck was almost the worst. As it claimed he'd been jerking it every which way: up and down, back and forth, all while gasping for air and screaming for help as he swam and climbed countless miles.

His face had certainly felt the screams; along with every other expression it could've been contorted into in between.

But his head. His head just wanted to die. Even as someone well used to completely incapacitating migraines, the level of miserable, nausea-inducing agony ringing through his head was a record of pointed pain he'd never imagined possible.

"Charlie?"

His name was called very, very softly. But he almost cried out in pain as it pounded through his ears before ricocheting around inside his horribly hurting head. The only thing that stayed his exclamation of pain was the part of him that'd been well-trained by far too many migraines. The part of him that knew noise and light were evil in any form when the faintest rays of light stabbed into his eyes and even his own breathing was much, much too loud for his poor ears and the even poorer head they were attached to.

But even the veteran migrainer couldn't suppress the gasp that forced its way out as his eyesight—inside his closed eyes—was suddenly filled with light. Light that didn't hurt at all. Even the gasp was only followed by a momentary jolt of pain, as it was quickly overcome by the wave of wonderful warmth that encompassed his whole body as the light filled his vision.

An all too short moment later the light faded, and the complete relief it'd brought with it.

"Dr. Eppes?"

This time the voice wasn't accompanied by overwhelming pain, so he was able to recognize it. Though he'd recognized the first enough to know that this one wasn't the same person.

"Dr. Eppes, you should be able to open your eyes now." Madam Ward's calm voice came a second time, and very strong but very, very slender fingers started massaging the back of his neck.

Charlie moaned as the massaging hand withdrew several moments later.

The old witch chuckled in response, a warm sound that reminded him of the warm light that'd engulfed him a moment before. "Open your eyes, young man."

No matter how much he didn't want to, in the relatively short time he'd known her, he'd decided Madam Agatha Ward was not someone to be disobeyed. So Charlie opened his eyes.

The first thing he saw was Madam Ward herself, her normally white hair somehow looking even whiter and brighter than normal. In fact, the tiny old lady's entire body seemed bright. But not lit up like the crystals that Lily had set up earlier, which were still shining. No, she was suffused with a warm glow that made her look decades younger and drew your eyes to her. Her own crystal blue eyes, however, normally bright: were now shining.

"Welcome back, young one," the witch murmured, her voice still kindly, softy and warm. "Lily, he'll be needing that tea now."

Charlie was surprised, but didn't protest as a small porcelain cup was pressed against his dry lips. Instead he obediently opened his mouth as it was tipped back to pour a steaming but not-too-hot liquid into his very dry mouth. He almost grimaced as the strange, overly-sweet flavor registered, but instead moaned in relief as it flowed down his parched throat, aided by a hand that was gently coaxing his throat to swallow repeatedly. Which was a good thing, as he hadn't thought to swallow himself.

It was only as the empty cup was withdrawn that he noticed the four others in the room. Lily, who'd given him the extremely sweet tea and was eyeing him with no small amount or relief. Constance Westwood and Deborah Lincroft were sitting on either side of him, just behind the crystals Lily had placed there. Constance was by herself, behind the western crystal, the glowing blue crystal in front of her casting a blue hue over her whole form, making her skin look like it was a very pale blue and her red hair looked purple. The Lincroft siblings were sitting next to each other, with the yellow crystal between them, casting the same yellow shadow over their forms but not seeming to affect their dark hair and eyes. All three of the older mages were glowing softly, but nowhere near as much as Madam Ward was. And though the white streaks in the Lincroft siblings' dark hair were the most obvious, Constance's head also sported them.

"That infusion won't help for long, child," Madam Ward's voice called his attention back to her still subtly shining form. Though the green crystal was between Charlie and her, and glowing just as vividly as the blue one in front of Constance, the white light that seemed to be shining from inside the oldest witch's body easily outshone the pale green glimmer that might otherwise make her skin and hair both look green. "And our spell will be even more fleeting."

"But you said it'd help hold him in place—"

Madam Ward cut into Lily's panicked protest easily, somehow doing so without raising her voice at all. "That spell will stay in affect for several days, my daughter. But the first spell, cast to help ease him back into his body is already fading." She raised her fragile-looking hand to forestall any further protests. "Dr. Eppes must rest. We will talk more in the morning."

Apparently Lily, too, didn't dare disobey the old witch. Because she immediately bowed her head in silent acquiesce.

"I apologize in advance, child. This shall feel rather odd."

Charlie didn't get a chance to ask what 'this' was, as he suddenly found himself rising into the air, wincing as his blood rushed down his inside legs and into the very tips of his toes as he was pulled up by an unseen force.

He belatedly realized that it was the old witch's magic as she gestured gently towards Lily's nearby couch and he slowly floated over to it. He half-expected to be dropped there, but instead his feet rose into the air and his head fell back until he was floating horizontally over the couch. Even then, instead of dropping him the few inches in between him and the couch, the power moved around him. It pulled his blood into his hands as it made its way through his arms and out all the way to his fingertips. Then it rushed through the muscles of his back and shoulders, gently warming them.

She was right; it was a decidedly odd feeling to have something outside of your own control stretch your body out, no matter how gently it was done. The fact that she also seemed to be able to control his blood flow—without doing anything he could feel to his heart—made it all the stranger.

Finally she lowered—not dropped—him gently down on the comfortable couch's cushions.

"Sleep now, child. All will be well."

This time Charlie thought of nothing as his eyelids dropped down and he again saw nothing.


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The edge of town, Sunnydale, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Buffy winced as another tree exploded just a few feet away from her, having fallen victim to Post's maniacal use of the Glove of Myhnegon.

That was the fifth tree the Englishwoman had utterly destroyed while trying to hit the Slayers, who had to be very, very quick on their feet to avoid getting fried.

"Any ideas?" she called to her sister Slayer, personally unable to think of a way to get the glove from Post while the crazy woman was hiding behind the force field and trying to kill them. "'Cause I don't think she plans to come out until we're dead."

"Tauo freim!"

"Fresh out!" Faith shouted back, just before she was forced to leap further away as one of Post's bolts smashed into the ground she'd been standing on a second before.

One thing Buffy didn't understand about this was how exactly Post was attacking them with lightning. She was pretty sure that magic could only do so much with nature, and didn't lightning hit high points—like treetops or building-roofs? Or metal, which should bring all of her bolts right back towards the totaled car she was leaning against? (5)

"Tauo freim!"

But, then again, Buffy realized as she dodged out of the way of another bolt, one of the first spells Willow had mastered was one that allowed her to move light-weight objects with her mind, in complete defiance of gravity, which was a force of nature. So maybe nature and magic didn't always go hand-in-hand.

Still, the lightning Post was shooting at them was really, really fast. So getting anywhere close to the madwoman was more than a little dangerous.

"Tauo freim!"

Buffy didn't bother trying to dodge this time, since she and Faith were now far enough apart that Post had to pick which one of them she was going to aim for, and she'd picked Faith for that one.

"Tauo freim!"

But this one was headed for Buffy, so she quickly dodged to the side and backwards again, rolling away from the targeted area.

Thankfully, Post didn't seem to actually have conscious control of the lightning bolts. She couldn't make the lightning change its course once she'd sent it somewhere. She could only decide where—as in what place—it was going to strike, and that was that. Otherwise, Buffy and Faith would've been dead a good long while ago.

Although the alternating thing was kind of funny, especially since it was so stupid on the Englishwoman's part. Predictable was never something you wanted to be in a fight. Acknowledgement of that simple fact had kept Buffy alive for a while now.

"Tauo freim!"

Spotting a fairly large rock rolling away from the spot Post had destroyed a second before, Buffy immediately went with the idea that popped into her head at the sight and quickly picked it up. It wasn't that heavy—not to a Slayer—but she still needed two hands to balance its slightly awkward bulk. Not that that mattered as she brought it back over her head and then chucked it at Post just as the woman looked back at her.

"Tauo freim!"

Buffy was already picking up another one, even as Post managed to blast the first out of the air. She let that one fly, too, and was glad when she saw Faith had caught onto the idea and was starting to hail Post with debris too.

After all, they already knew that the force field around the car couldn't stop flying rocks and hadn't stopped the car from crashing into a tree. So this was the easiest way to put Post on the defensive for a little while.

"Tauo freim!"

And just in the nick of time Buffy realized, as she threw another two rocks in rapid succession towards the ex-Watcher, and saw Cordelia's car speed around the last corner out of Sunnydale, which was not too far down the road.

Because Post saw them too, or at least, she saw the car coming towards them. But as long as she needed to use the glove defensively, to blast the rocks out of the air because—dodging, or even ducking were apparently things the power-crazy nut-job didn't do, so—she couldn't shoot at the new car.

"Tauo freim!"

Still, Buffy was more than a little happy when she saw the car pull of the side of the road a little ways down, its occupants obviously deciding that getting closer to the chaotic scene on Sunnydale's outskirts in a big, metal machine while Post was throwing around lightening couldn't be a good idea. She nodded again in approval as she distantly heard the Scoobies pile out of the car just after it was effectively out of sight. She suppressed a smirk as she threw another rock at Post, certain that they at least had brought the special-fire with them.

"Tauo freim!"

'But,' Buffy couldn't help but wonder even as she chucked yet another large rock, 'how are we supposed to get the glove away from Post and into the fire?'


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The edge of town, Sunnydale, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Willow couldn't stop the surprised 'eep!' that jumped out of her throat as a bolt of lightning leapt away from the arm a familiar figure was pointing at Buffy, only to crash into something midair and explode instead. The comforting arm Oz had wrapped around her kept her from panicking further as her ever-calm boyfriend spoke up.

"Maybe we shouldn't drive much closer."

"Yeah, good idea," Xander immediately agreed from the front, turning to his girlfriend. "Cordy, pull off here."

"Where?"

"Here!"

"There's no pla—"

"Into the grass! Before we get to the trees!"

"OK! OK! Geesh!" Queen-C was shaking her head, though Willow was pretty sure she was just as wigged out as the rest of them. And she was probably more upset at the lightning-thing then her normally mild-mannered, goofy boyfriend raising his voice at her. "No need to get all grouchy."

Xander ignored her, instead turning back to the other Scoobies with a suitably worried expression fixed on his face. "OK, now what?"

Willow grimaced, "We've gotta get the Living Flame to Buffy—"

Oz cut her off, "You two should stay here. Willow and I'll try to get one urn to Buffy or Faith."

"While we keep the second one in reserve," Xander nodded in understanding. "Gotchya," then he winced. "Can't say I like the idea of either of you not being able to make it to Buff, or of staying behind—"

"I'm fine with staying here," Cordelia threw her comment in. "Really."

Her boyfriend ignored her, nodding to them instead. "But it makes sense." He winced as another loud explosion slammed into their ears from far too close to the car. "Break a leg—except, don't. Please."

"Not acting here, but thanks." Willow shook her head as she slid out of the backseat, one of the two dangerous urns—that they probably shouldn't have been driving around with in the car—carefully balanced between her hands. Which were starting to shake, so she was more than a little relieved when her boyfriend appeared beside her and relieved her of the volatile burden. "Thanks."

Oz just nodded, as really was his way, and started heading towards the dangerous scene that was not too far away.

Willow followed, but not before she saw Xander coming behind her. She frowned at him, "Xand—"

"Cordy's got the other urn locked in the car with her. I'm just gonna watch, to make sure we don't need to bring it out."

Willow winced, "OK, but remember—"

"I'm the back-up. I know."

"You got it?"

Oz was the only one that didn't jump when Faith suddenly appeared amongst them, sweating much more then they were used to seeing either Slayer sweat, and with what looked like soot and dirt coating her clothes and all over her skin and hair. He just nodded, holding the urn towards her.

The brunette nodded back, before grabbing the urn herself. "Thanks. I'll get this to B." She started to turn, but then stopped, obviously rethinking her earlier statement. "You guys probably shouldn't get too close. Poppins is goin' beserker over there," she jerked her head towards the small smattering of trees that was the only thing that really blocked them from Post's sight. "She's mostly focused on us right now, and we should probably keep it that way."

The Scoobies nodded, not liking being excluded, but also well aware of the fact that they didn't have the supernatural abilities that were really needed to go head on with the supernatural. When the moon was full, Oz might be a threat to Post, but out of wolf-form he was only a little stronger and faster than he otherwise should be, though his senses were significantly better too.


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The edge of town, Sunnydale, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Buffy darted quickly down and around the hillside, only-just out of Post's sight as she hurried to reach the other Slayer's position, coming to a very abrupt stop after a running leap. "That the Living Flame?"

"Yup," Faith confirmed, nodding to the red urn she was carefully holding between both her hands. The urn itself wasn't even the size of one of her fists, but the ruby flames that were flickering out of it merited the caution. "They actually brought two."

"Tauo freim!"

Buffy blinked, and then shook her head, ducking down a bit as debris from a lightning strike not too far from them shot over their heads. "What?"

"They brought both of the two urns, just in case."

"Is the other one lit?"

"Uh, yeah, I think so—Yeah. I could see the light from the flame in the car. Cordy was guarding it."

Buffy shook her head again, more than a little incredulous. "Giles is gonna rip all four of 'em new ones when he gets out. Or worse, he'll lecture. For hours."

"Tauo freim!"

"Why?" Faith blinked, even as both ducked debris yet again.

"They shouldn't have even lit it before bringing it here, given how hard the stuff is supposed to be to control. Bringing it by car was bad en—" Buffy stopped, frowning as a wave of really warm amusement washed over her. She looked at Faith, but was sure that the younger Slayer was angry at Post, worried about everything going on and confused about what she was saying. Not amused. "What...?"

"B?"

"I sensed—" Buffy shook her head again as she kept looking around, "something."

"Tauo freim!"

"What? Like a vamp?" Faith looked around quickly, and then shook her head as they both ducked another shower of debris. "I'm not sensin' anything, B. And I think most vamps and demons 'd steer clear of Miss Lightning-Happy."

"No, not a vamp. Or a demon." Buffy shook her head once again, "It was something dif—"

"Tauo freim!"

An even louder blast from far too close to them drew her out of her stupor.

Buffy shook her head again, and nodded to their left, which was the direction away from both the town and their friends. "Let's go." She cut across the same ground on swift feet, Faith barely a step behind her all the way to the considerably sturdier incline Buffy had chosen to hide behind. Once there, she stopped to rest for only a moment before pulling herself up a bit to peek over the top of the mini-cliff.

Post was still looking towards their previous hiding place as she sent another bolt of lightning at it. "Tauo freim!"

"We need to get that thing off her," Buffy muttered as she dropped down again.

Fortunately the crazy Englishwoman could still only control the direction the lighting left the glove in, not where it went after the fact. So telephone poles, trees, bushes and road signs were bearing the brunt of her wrath for now. Thus both the Slayers and the Scoobies were safe for the moment.

"Not as much as we need ta stop her, B!" Faith shook her head again, then jerked it towards the town, her hands still kept very steady with the Living Flame flickering up between them in little, bright bursts. "She could kill or maim any one of us real easy. And anyone that's stupid enough to drive out of or into town 'll probably be fried, too."

"I kn—"

"She almost killed Giles!" Faith bit her lip, her eyes shooting a glare in Post's general direction as she continued. "She's no better than Kakistos! Or Lothos!"

"Tauo freim!"

This time the lightning impacted closer to them again. Apparently they'd been heard, despite the distance and loud noise and madness that should be working in their favor.

Buffy stared at the brunette for a second, then her mouth settled into a firm line as she reached out and gently grabbed the girl's arm forcing her back around to face her as she replied. "She is better, Faith. Kakistos and Lothos were vampires. Really nasty ones." She shook her head again. "And, yes. Post is nasty, too. But she's a nasty human. We don't hurt humans unless we have no other choice. And we do not kill them."

"What choice? She—"

"There are few rules the Slayer really has to stick to, Faith. And none that feel more important deep down in my heart." Buffy pulled on Faith's arm again, jerking her down a little with the motion. "Stop. Breathe. Think. I know you've gotta feel it too."

A small wave of relief rushed through Buffy as she both saw and felt Faith comply.

No matter how angry or how justifiable Faith's outrage was, the younger Slayer could still control herself. She could control the ferocious will and drive of the Slayer, if she tried.

Buffy sighed as Faith opened her eyes a moment later, both seeing and feeling the uncertainty that was now mingling with the fear and fury that'd been the only thing's in that dark gaze a moment before. "We can't be responsible for human crimes, too, Faith. We've got more than enough responsibilities without that." She shook her head again, "And we're not dictators. We're champions."

Faith nodded slowly, "Protectors."

"Tauo freim!"

Both Slayers ducked again, even as Buffy nodded back.

"Not punishers. We—" Buffy stopped as another rush of amusement hit her, much more poignantly from Faith's direction again. She turned her head sharply to try and locate the source, only to fall backwards in surprise—her eyes wide—as she saw the flames that had been flickering before were now several feet high and steady, seeming to flow into pretty images and shapes above and around the urn. "What the—"

"Whoa!" Faith fell back, too, her hands flying away from the urn on reflex, as some of the flames had been flowing through the air less then an inch away from her skin.

Both Slayers could only watch in horror as the urn dropped towards the ground, living flame enveloping it.


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The edge of town, Sunnydale, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Faith knew her eyes had to be wicked wide as she tried to scramble away from the rolling, coiling, ruby-red flames as the urn that controlled them hit the ground, shattering on impact and sending the flames out in a massive wave of surprisingly heat-less light. Not that she expected either she or Buffy would be able to escape the uncontrollable living flame with the vessel that controlled it in useless shards.

But the start of an inferno didn't come.

The explosion of light that signaled the urn's destruction wasn't followed by the wave of an unstoppable firestorm.

Instead, the bizarrely rolling flames were still forming shapes and images in the air, with what sounded like a baby's laughter echoing out of it.

Faith looked over at Buffy, but the older Slayer looked just as bewildered as she herself was. "Is it... laughing?"

"Ye-Yeah," Buffy nodded slowly, her eyes as wide as Faith's own as she pushed herself off the floor, quickly dusting off her backside before she continued. "I think it is." She stared at the flames for a second, which seemed to still be laughing at them. Though now it sounded more like giggling that all-out laughter. "Hello? Can...Can you understand us?"

The giggling suddenly stopped, and the flames just as suddenly swirled towards Buffy, wrapping around her before flaring up again.

"Buffy!" Faith cried out, raising one hand before she remembered that reaching into the flames to pull her friend out probably wouldn't solve anything.

"It's alright!" the elder's voice came from inside the flames, which were now so bright that Faith could hardly bear to look at them. "I'm fine. It's not hurting me."

"It's not?" Faith stared at the flames, despite the tears that were dropping defensively from her eyes in response to the over-bright light.

"No, it…" Buffy paused, clear wonder in her voice. "It's happy."

The brunette blinked at that, and couldn't keep the surprised skepticism out of her voice. "The fire's happy?"

"Yeah, it's amazing. I've never felt anything like it."

"Fel—never mind." Faith shook her head sharply, sensing that this might be heading into the secret that Buffy and Charlie didn't seem to want anyone else to know about yet. The secret Faith herself wasn't entirely sure of, though she'd observed and heard a heck of a lot to make guesses with. "Can it let you go?"

Immediately the flames rolled back into thin cords again, which reached out to wrap around Faith, too. Seeing Buffy was smiling, completely relaxed in the fire's grasp, Faith forced herself to follow suit as the long cord of warm—but surprisingly not at all hot or burn-inducing—fire wrapped around them. She started when it flared up, but it just as suddenly calmed.

Both Slayers then watched as the ruby-red flames dropped down to the ground by their feet, curling around the remains of the shattered vivus urn, which immediately began to glow like red-hot coals. And a moment later were no longer there.

In its place, the flames had taken the shape of a tiny feline body. A kitten, with what looked like a collar made of the same material as the urn, blinking up at them with bright-golden eyes.

"Meow?"

Both Slayers blinked, staring at the kitten-shaped flames that were now only glimmering softly, the body it'd chosen no larger then one of their fists. Just like a newborn kitten.

After a long moment of silence Faith just had to ask, "If you can take on any shape you want, why a cat?"

"Hisssss!" The kitten spat in response, making Faith take an instinctive step back.

"Faith," Buffy cut in, very obviously amused. "Don't make the fire-kitty mad." Then she turned her attention down to said 'fire-kitty', smiling down at it and continuing before Faith could respond. "You want to help us?"

"Meow meow!" The kitten nodded.

"Well now I'm rather disappointed."

Both Slayers started again, and then looked up sharply.

Post was no longer hiding behind the force field around her car. Instead she was sneering down at them, the ruinous glove pointed at them as she shook her head. "Three watchers between the two of you? Merrick. Dormer. Giles. And yet all it takes to distract you in the heat of combat is a stray animal? Pitiful." Post shook her head. "Do give my regards to all three in whatever after-life awaits you all. Tau—"

"Hisssss!"

Both Slayers stepped back again, their eyes wide as the fire-kitten exploded outward, the flames shooting up towards Post.

"Gaaaahhh!"

Post's agonized scream made both Slayers wince as her arm—or more specifically the glove on it—caught fire, instantly burning red-hot. In barely a second it became so hot it turned the vivid-blue that can sometimes be seen at the heart of a flame.

Then the ex-Watcher collapsed, falling out of their line of sight, though she kept shrieking in agony.

Faith glanced at Buffy, only to see that she'd already started scrambling up the rock face, where they could still hear Post's screams coming from and see the bright glimmer of the ferocious fire.


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FBI Headquarters, Los Angeles, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Don blinked as a blurred reflection appeared on his computer screen, and raised an eyebrow as he glanced back to find his partner shaking his head at him. "I thought you were going clubbing?"

Cooper sighed as he spun his own chair around to drop down next to Don. "I was. But the idea of you working on a Saturday night wouldn't leave me alone." He paused, glancing very obviously at the clock in the corner of Don's screen, before shaking his head again. "And working past midnight on a weekend is a just a little nuts. The higher-ups find out about this, an' there's gonna be some more frowns comin' your way. And more mind-numbing busy-work for both of us."

"I haven't called anyone," Don shook his head. "And I'm not logging these hours. We're off the clock today and tomorrow, anyway. Well, yesterday and today. So it won't affect my performance."

"Obsession isn't a healthy thing."

"I'm not looking into Charlie's assault or Sunnydale. Not really."

"No." Coop agreed, but his eyebrows were raised as he looked over the younger agent's shoulder again, "You're just researching a college professor who teaches part-time at Sunnydale University, and spends the rest of her time working with either the NSA or the military on who-knows-what." He shook his head, "That might be frowned on, too, you know."

"Walsh didn't tell me she was teaching in Sunnydale. Not that she is. Yet." Don jerked his head at the news article he'd found, "That's just an article saying that she's going to be teaching a couple of classes there, starting during the next fall semester. Apparently she's pretty big news in her field."

"Really? Now that's really surprising."

Don rolled his eyes at the sarcasm that was dripping from his partner's voice. "Apparently she brought a lot of big backers with her, too. 'Cause as soon as she agreed to teach there, Sunnydale University got some massive federal funding they weren't even asking for and most of the campus is being done-over. They're even adding a bunch of buildings on. And they're going to be done in time for the summer semester."

"Everybody's crazy these days," Coop pointed out, and continued despite the exasperated look Don sent his way. "The blackmail that some shrinks have has gotta be amazing."

Don shook his head, deciding to ignore him and push on, "Do you want to know the really weird thing about all this, or do you just want to keep mocking my work?"

"I'm not mocking your work; I'm mocking your unhealthy obsession. There's a difference," then the older agent cocked his head to the side in thought, before asking, "There's really something so weird in all of this that it stands out above all the rest of it?"

"The University is glad to have Dr. Walsh and even gladder for the increased federal funding and the construction. Sunnydale's mayor, on the other hand, has been fighting Walsh's patrons' every step of the way."

"Huh. OK, that is a little weird too." Coop shook his head, "What is he, one of those really old-fashioned, keep everything the way it always has been kind of guys?"

"That's what he's spouting in opposition to all the improvements," Don paused to spin his chair back around to face the computer, clicking on a few of the minimized boxes to bring up some of the other news articles he'd found. "But I looked him up a bit, too. And he's been all about reform and advancement for his entire career." He frowned as he looked over some of the dates on the news articles. "Which looks like a really long time. Since he was the Mayor twenty years ago."

"That is weird." Coop agreed, before grabbing his shoulder to spin him back around, away from the computer. "But researching Sunnydale's mayor does count as researching Sunnydale. The town the higher-ups don't want us looking at."

Don rolled his eyes, "You don't think it's weird that the same guy," he forced his way back around to point at a slightly blurry picture of Mayor Richard Wilkins, who barely looked forty in the fairly recent photo, "That guy, has been the Mayor of Sunnydale for more than twenty years?"

"I said I thought it was weird, didn't I?" Coop forced him to turn around again. "I just don't want ta be doing paperwork twenty-four-seven for the next few years of my career. And if you want to go anywhere, you don't either."

Don sighed, looking away for a moment, before nodding. "OK," he turned back around just in time to see Coop x-out of all of the news articles that focused on the Mayor, then frowned as he didn't close the one focusing on Dr. Walsh herself. "Coop?"

"Walsh isn't really a shrink anymore, is she? Says here she's been teaching at a bunch of different places since she published a couple of books." The slightly older agent smirked, shaking his head as he closed the final article. "Maybe something you should talk to your genius-kid-brother about, huh? Since he's goin' into teachin'?"

Don grimaced, and then glared. "You're really not helping, Coop."


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The edge of town, Sunnydale, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Buffy all-but flew over the edge of the cliff when she finally reached the top. Though it'd taken her, and Faith behind her, barely a few seconds, by the time they were there the fire had already done its job.

Post was lying there on the ground, her eyes closed in unconsciousness but her face contorted in agony. The glove was gone, and Post's arm with it.

And the so-called 'fire kitty' was now strutting towards the two Slayers, its head held high with its tail flickering back and forth over its sashaying rear.

"Whoa," Faith stopped beside her, and Buffy could sense the brunette was just as surprised as she was. "OK. No making the fire-kitty mad." Buffy glanced at her just in time to catch her sharp nod, "Check."

"Meow meow meow!" the kitten nodded, it's golden eyes closed and mouth set in an expression that Buffy couldn't label as anything other than a smile, especially not with the warm contentment and satisfaction rolling off the fiery feline. Then it cocked its red head to the side as its golden eyes opened a moment before it crouched down a bit and suddenly leapt at Faith.

"Whoa!" Faith almost made the mistake of stepping backwards off the cliff in surprise, but caught herself at the last second. She just barely caught the little creature at the same time with one arm, which it immediately settled its back-paws on, it's front paws settling just above her chest as it stretched up towards her face to lick her chin with a tiny tongue. Faith giggled—actually giggled—smiling widely as she pushed the feline back down into the crook of her arm, before running a few gentle fingers over its tiny head. "Wow, B, you gotta feel this. Her fur's wicked soft!"

Buffy smiled slightly as she reached out a hand and gently started scratching the side of the fire-kitty's head. Like Faith had said, the creature's now dull-red strands of 'fur' were as smooth as silk, and softer than the super-soft baby blanket her mom had sent to one of her cousins a year before when the rarely-seen relative had had a baby. She shared a smile with her sister-Slayer as a quiet, whirring purr rolled out of the little creature's chest.

"Buffy! Faith!"

Both Slayers turned towards Xander's voice, to see three of the four Scoobies running towards them. Willow, Oz and Xander came to a stop a moment later, the first and last staring down at Post's still form, which Oz only spared a glanced before looking up and raising an eyebrow at the fire-kitty.

"What happened?" Willow asked, shaking her head as she kept staring down at Post, her skin turning a little green as her eyes remained glued on the charred stump just off of the older woman's shoulder. "We heard a horrible scream, an—"

"New friend?" Oz cut his girlfriend off, making both of the slightly green Scoobies jerk their heads up to see what he was talking about.

Immediately the slightly-green look left Willow's face as she smiled brightly and moved towards them, holding her hand out in front of the 'cat' near it's head. "Ooh it's a kitty!" she exclaimed, only to frown a moment later when the 'fire kitten' just looked at her. "What's wrong, kitty? I won't hurt you! Can't you smell I'm a nice person like most—"

"Uh, Willow," Xander cut her off, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I think it's a demon-cat."

Willow's hand dropped down to her side as she glanced back at her best friend since kindergarten, her eyes wide. "Wh-Wha—?"

"She's not a demon!" Faith interrupted, frowning at Xander as the fire-kitty stopped purring to look over at Xander, its golden eyes not quite as bright as before. When all three Scoobies looked at her, the younger Slayer shifted uncomfortably, holding one hand up to shield the little cat from their gaze as she looked at Buffy. "She's not, right? She doesn't feel—"

"Evil. No, she doesn't." Buffy nodded, and then sighed softly as she met her friends' bewildered gazes. "Actually, she's the Living Flame you guys brought us."

"Wha—" Willow stopped as Buffy shook her head.

The oldest Slayer gestured towards Post. "We should probably get her to a hospital. We can talk about this later." She knelt down beside Post, easily sliding her arms under the older woman's shoulders and knees, and then standing with just as much ease. Even at somewhere over a hundred-fifty pounds, the weight was nothing to a Slayer. "Come on," she started walking in the direction she knew Cordelia had parked.

"Umm, Buffy?" Xander's hesitant voice stopped her.

Buffy sighed, before turning back to raise an eyebrow at him. "Yeah?"

"How're we supposed to get her there? I mean, Cordelia's the only one of us that can drive, and I don't think she'll be willing to drive Miss TNT."

Buffy blinked again, "TNT?"

"Tweed-N-Thunderbolts," the tallest brunette clarified, grinning as everyone stared at him, though Faith would probably be grinning too if Xander hadn't insulted the fire-kitty a few seconds earlier. "What? It fits! She was even making all sorts of stuff blow up a few minutes ago!"

Buffy rolled her eyes, and shook her head. "The glove's gone, she doesn't have any powers like that now and she's not gonna wake up anytime soon anyway. Now let's—" she stopped abruptly as another problem occurred to her, biting her lip as she thought about it. Then she sighed again, "Oz? Could you do me a favor?" she waited for the slight tilt of his head that meant acknowledgement before continuing. "Post had a partner she blasted away from the car 'bout a half-hour ago." She jerked her head in the direction away from town. "Somewhere over there. Can you go check to see if we need to get her to the hospital, too?"

"Sure," Oz nodded, quickly moving off in said direction.

"We'll be over by Cordelia's car," Buffy called after him, before nodding to the others again. "Let's go."

It only took a few moments to reach the open road, to see Cordelia's car coming towards them.

Buffy shook her head in mild amusement, but nodded her thanks when the other girl stopped just a few feet away, waiting for Willow to open the back door of the car before moving to carefully place Post in side. She thought for a second about trying to restrain her, but one look at the miniscule remains of the woman's arm nixed that idea. She glanced back at the others after she closed the car door. "I'll ride to the hospital with them. You think you guy's will be OK?" she asked, raising an eyebrow as she finished.

"We'll be fine, B," Faith assured her immediately, "Whoa—Hey!" She cried out in surprise as the little kitten that'd been settled, snug and secure in her arms suddenly pushed off her chest, to land just a few feet from the car.

A few feet that the little creature quickly bounded over, before slipping in between Buffy's legs to jump into the car, where Cordelia also gave a surprised exclamation.

"What the—!" The nervous girl glanced out at them, confusion clear on her face. "Where'd that thing come from?"

Buffy sighed, shrugging as she watched the wide golden eyes of the little creature close in an expression of clear contentment after it'd curled up inside the other vivus urn, apparently settling into the other living flame for a nap. "She was the other living flame. Now she's a cat, I guess." Then she glanced down the road again, watching as Oz jogged back to them.

The werewolf shook his head.

Buffy sighed. She hadn't really expected the woman to have survived Post's attack, but it would've been nice. "Alright. I'll see you guys at the hospital."

"You're not gonna actually check her in, are you?" Faith was frowning, clear concern radiating off her as she asked, "Won't that just make trouble for us?"

Buffy shook her head again. "No. I've brought some people into the ER before. Never had any trouble," she shrugged. "A few funny looks at first, yeah. But I've saved most of the doctors and nurses once or twice, so they don't give me much trouble." She waited for Faith's relieved nod, before turning to walk around the car frowning as something else caught her attention.

Post's lightning had downed trees and telephone polls; set both bushes and trees aflame and left craters and debris all over the place. But Sunnydale's welcome sign was still standing. Brightly colored enough to be considered gaudy, the stupid sign somehow sat just inside Post's range of destruction, completely untouched.

"Buffy?" Willow asked hesitantly, forcing the Slayer out of her irritated musings. "Shouldn't you guys be going?"

The blonde felt her lips twist up a little bit in irritation, but she forced herself to look away from the evil sign. Towards her friends, who were watching her worriedly. "Hey Faith?"

"Yeah B?" Faith was curious, but also a little amused, obviously having figured out what the older slayer was irritated by.

"What's your opinion on destruction of public property?"

"What? Like graffiti?" Faith gave a short laugh, shaking her head. Then she shrugged. "It's illegal, but I've done it a couple a times. Why?"

Buffy shook her head, pointing towards the evil sign. "I really hate that sign."

"Buffy!" Willow burst out, her eyes wide. Though Buffy was a little surprised to sense that the redhead was concealing very real amusement under the expected outrage. Oz, of course, was physically unreadable, but like Xander, Cordelia and Faith, he was just as amused. "You can't do anything to Sunnydale's sign! It's—"

"Really ugly." Buffy interrupted, shaking her head. "And evil."

"It's just a sign!" Willow protested, shaking her head. Her amusement really was very well hidden, though the outrage wasn't completely fake either. "And it's the town's—"

"It makes it look like Sunnydale's a nice, safe, sunny place and it's not!"

"I'm with the Buffster on this, Will," Xander spoke up before Willow could reply, shaking his head. "It's evil."

His girlfriend backed him up, having rolled down her car window some time before. "I'm inclined to agree. That shade of yellow is so passé. What?" she shook her head when everyone looked at her. "It is!"

Faith laughed again, "We'll handle it, B."

Willow sighed, but didn't protest again. "And I'll make sure someone finds, um, Jane Doe's body soon, I guess." It was something the redhead had done several times before, though Buffy had never asked how. She'd just report people she'd failed to protect and the police generally found the body the next day. Since the Sunnydale PD weren't remotely their friends, Buffy was pretty sure Willow didn't report it, and suspected their was some kind of hacking involved. But again, she'd never asked, just gotten used to it being something the crafty redhead could take care of for them.

Buffy nodded, "Thanks." Then she hopped right over the car's hood, landing easily on the other side, and immediately opened the car door and slid into the passenger's seat, accepting the other active vivus urn from Cordelia before the brunette took the car out of park, turned it around and headed back into Sunnydale.

The slayer glared at the sign on the way by.

Hopefully that problem would be fixed soon too.


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Lily's House, Pasadena, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Charlie winced as his elderly savior and now discipliner drew her lecture to a close. When a ping of slightly amused impatience hit him through the silence that followed, he licked his lips before replying. "I am sincerely sorry for my actions, Madam. I didn't mean to inconvenience any—"

"Inconvenience?" Ward cut him off, shaking her head in poignant irritation. "Don't be a fool, boy! Our coming to your rescue wasn't the problem. It was you so carelessly putting yourself in need of being rescued!"

Charlie looked down, slowly moving one very sore arm and shoulder to bring his hand up to his forehead to try and rub the persistent ache that'd been there since he'd woken up. "An—Buffy was in trouble." He licked his dry lips again, and letting his hand drop back down to his side, before continuing, "I wanted to help."

"We understand that, Charlie," Constance spoke up before Ward could, her voice soothingly gentle in contrast to the irate old lady's quiet temper. Though the worry that was rushing off of her was no less then everyone else was feeling in the room, either. "But surely you know Buffy would never want you to endanger yourself in such a way."

"I'm sure the Slayer wouldn't want him to endanger himself at all," Richard commented, his tone supremely mild, before taking a sip of his tea.

"No, I'm sure she wouldn't," Charlie agreed with a sigh, only just stopping himself from shaking his head in exasperation as he continued. "But I can't sit back and do nothing when she needs help!" He winced as his own too-loud words rumbled through his still sore brain.

"Charlie," Deborah spoke up this time, her dark eyes intent as she caught his gaze. "We're not saying that you shouldn't help where you can. But you have to recognize your own limits." She raised a hand to forestall his protest when he opened his mouth, shaking his head even as her eyes never left his own. "Having never consciously exercised your astral form before, without the bond you share with the Slayer you would've been able to do nothing. You weren't able to move your form of your own free will, were you?"

"I…" Charlie blinked, frowning slightly at her observation. "I could direct my sight," after a few seconds under the eyes of all four powerful mages, he wilted. "A little." He licked his lips again. "A-And I think I was kind of controlling where I went."

"Oh?" Deborah raised an eyebrow at him.

Charlie nodded slightly, wincing as his head protested yet again, but continuing anyway. "I-I think that whenever I concentrated on something my, um, my astral form moved to it. Kind of."

"That's not quite how it works," Madam Ward spoke up again. She sighed when Charlie looked hesitantly over towards her, shaking her head slightly. "First and foremost, your astral form obeys the whims of your subconscious mind. So yes, whenever you desired something deep down, if your subconscious picked up on it, it could have sought to fulfill that desire. Particularly with the separation spell working to help your conscious and subconscious mind connect."

"That's how dream-walking and some forms of foresight work," Constance interjected, continuing after she took another sip of her tea. "For the most part, at least. While your conscious mind sleeps, after it is suitably rested itself, your unconscious mind is free to wander. Sometimes even outside of your body."

Deborah continued, "Deliberate astral projection and chemically induced dream-walking are obviously not quite the same thing, but they're generally bound by the same rules." She shook her head, as she watched him carefully raise his own mug of tea up to his mouth to take a slow sip, "It's not something you should've tried at all, but even more so with your mind so ill-at-ease and fatigued."

Charlie sighed as he set his mug back down. "Why does my head, my neck, my back—my whole body, actually—hurt so much?"

"You were thrashing around a lot," Lily spoke up, her voice barely audible from where she'd curled up on the opposite end of the couch from him. "For at least an hour. You only stopped after Madam Ward cast a spell on you when they first got here."

"I blocked the connection between your conscious mind and your body for a short time," Madam Ward explained when Charlie looked at her. At his surprised look, she shook her head. "Another very real danger of astral projection is the considerable amount of damage you can do to your physical body without being aware of it. Until you can distinctly recognize and directly command your astral form—a level of control that some people never reach—your physical body will respond to most of the commands you try to give your astral form without success."

"And you used up a lot of energy," Constance interjected. At the slightly confused look Charlie shot her, she smiled, shaking her head again mildly. "How big do you think Sunnydale is, Charlie?"

Charlie, of course, had no trouble remembering the exact area of the town. He'd researched it only a few weeks ago to see if Oz could have killed the boy that was brutally murdered the night Xander fell asleep while watching over Oz's werewolf form. "The town-proper is a little more than twenty-five-point-five-seven square-kilometers or fifteen-point-eight-nine square-miles*. Why?" (6)

"And it's more then a hundred miles away from here, isn't it?"

Charlie nodded slowly, "About one-hundred-thirty-two miles, yes. Why?"

"Hundreds of miles, and practically instantaneous motion." Constance shook her head. "Did you really think that would be possible without the use of some kind of energy? Energy at your body's disposal? And since you don't really know how to draw power from the Earth on your own, your body had to make due with what it had."

Charlie blinked again, frowning slightly. "I… No, I guess I really didn't think of that."

"Magic always has a price, child," Madam Ward spoke up again, now sounding more tired then angry. "Always. And it is not a toy."

"In ancient times, magic was trusted as a reliable means of explaining the world, much as science is now," Richard spoke up again, his voice impressively impartial. "Today, it is often contrasted against both religion and science, and thereby frequently devalued."

Charlie frowned in confusion, "Why is that? If magic was so prevalent for so long, as most myths seem to indicate, why did it fall out of favor?"

"It's not for everybody. Not everyone can do it." Richard shook his head. "It may take years of study and a certain degree of aptitude for one to become a scientist of any kind, but really anyone can understand the basics."

"And not everyone can understand the basics of magic?" Charlie's frown only deepened at that, and he only just managed to not shake his head. He could apparently get away with nodding but shaking his head was something both his head, neck and shoulders heavily discouraged. "That doesn't make any sense. Maybe casting actual spells is something not everyone can do, since it takes a lot of practice, a lot of work. But understanding the basics isn't that hard. It's just logic, mostly."

"Yes," Madam Ward agreed, smiling slightly. "But how many people in this world are really all that logical?" She shook her head when Charlie blinked. "The young Slayer saves people from vampires and demons all the time, and most of them don't remember it after the fact. At least not unless they're forced to. And that's a very common reaction to the supernatural. Though it isn't at all logical."

"Most don't want to know what's out there so very desperately that their own subconscious suppresses the knowledge." Constance continued mildly. "Leaving them only with vague impressions of danger: it's more dangerous outside at night then it is during the day."

"But wouldn't it be far more logical to remember the threat itself, so that one knows what they're afraid of and how to protect oneself from it?" Deborah finished.

Charlie nodded again, still frowning. "Yes, it would." Then he blinked, "But by that logic, the people that are best suited for magic are scientists! Or at least logicians, like me."

"The best suited to understanding it, yes," Madam Ward agreed, before stopping to take another sip of her tea, while Constance continued for her.

"But not everyone who understands magic or—more importantly—how magic works, can actually make it work to their level of understanding."

"Because our brain isn't used to that particular function? Or anything remotely like it, really?" Charlie asked curiously, his frown having slipped into a more thoughtful, pursed-lip look. "That's why I can't astral project, right? My mind isn't used to controlling that form."

"You could say that, I suppose," Madam Ward nodded again. "Though in order for scientists to really be accepted by society they have to define themselves far apart from magic, so there hasn't been all that much scientific research in the area."

The frown returned to the genius's face at the observation. Although the scientist in him had been more than a little blown away, maybe even aghast, when Annie had first introduced him to the supernatural, he was still fairly certain that it was also that side of his personality that hadn't been willing to ignore the details. That hadn't been willing to just forget, that'd needed answers. No matter how horrifying or strange said answers turned out to be.

But really, that was the part of him that he'd previously always assumed made him a good mathematician. A good scientist.

The part of him that simply couldn't see waves swelling up to mighty heights and then crashing down on forgiving shores without also seeing it in the terms of fluid dynamics and mechanics. He couldn't see the waves without contemplating the tremendous exertion of energy that led to the waters constantly moving state.

His brain automatically estimated the speed the waves were moving at, and his 'guesses' were always a lot closer then most other peoples were, save for if he was estimating against someone who'd been reading waves for years and years.

The same part of him that couldn't see a beautiful building without seeing geometric shapes, harmonics, proportions and ratios.

Or light shimmering over the semi-reflective surface of a picturesque pond without immediately calculating the refractive index of the water in that pond. (7)

Honestly he'd never really understood why most people didn't seem interested in such things. Even his family had really only tolerated the endless calculations because Charlie was so enthralled by it. And all three of the Eppes had different limits.

Don could feign interest in math when it helped him finish his homework—maybe these days he'd tolerate it for work in general—and he'd occasionally been honestly interested in Charlie's numerous analyses of baseball and others sports or games. As those analyses could occasionally be a big help on winning games or placing good bets. Not that Don had asked for any help with betting after the time their mom had caught them discussing it. Though Charlie couldn't really blame him, as gambling was one of their mother's few pet peeves and boy had she been pissed to hear them talking about it. Even though they weren't really betting any large amount, or betting on anything dangerous or illegal.

The eldest Eppes male couldn't really follow Charlie into the higher level maths, but had always been willing to at least try. And, again, when Charlie had really focused in on his father's areas of expertise: primarily construction, their father definitely saw the benefits and it'd resulted in some interesting debates.

His mother had, of course, done everything possible to make herself interested in anything and everything Charlie ever wanted to talk about it. Furthermore, she was the one that'd been primarily responsible for Charlie's education. Alan Eppes had certainly been involved with all the discussion and final decisions, but it was Margaret Eppes that'd done all the research, met regularly with all the tutors and later teachers. She was the one that knew at least the basics of what he was learning and when. And she was the one that could generally guess where his mind was going to wander to next. So that was where the reading she did in most of her free time tended to focus.

Occasionally, Charlie managed to surprise her. But she never took offense at it. Just asked him to slow down and explain more of it to her, then she'd later go do a bit more research herself before bringing it up again when she knew enough to actually talk about it.

So his mother was interested in math. But she was interested in it because he was, for his sake. Not because she really wanted to know how every little thing in this world worked. Where the water that dropping down onto their heads had been previously. Or how far away each and every star was.

No, it was when he went off to school that he started to really meet people that were interested in math for math's sake. Interested in physics because it was interesting. It was in books of science that he read the thoughts of people who shared his interests: mathematicians, physicists and scientists.

The idea that these people—his peers—could ignore something just because they didn't like it understandably horrified him.

You didn't ignore a variable if it didn't work with your equation. Your equation was supposed to describe the real world, as determined by the data you gathered to measure it. You couldn't gather reams of data and then pick and choose which pieces of data you wanted and which ones you didn't. You reconfigured the equation to fit the data, not the other way around.

"Charlie? Are you okay?"

Lily's worried voice pulled the troubled scientist out of his thoughts, and he looked around to see that all of the mages were looking at him with varying degrees of concern. Though Madam Ward seemed to have an understanding look fixed on her ancient face.

"I'm sorry," Charlie began, licking his lips as he found they were inexplicably dry again. "I guess my mind wandered," he chuckled softly, careful not to let the sound actually move his aching body, but every muscle still seemed to screech anyway. "You'd think that with all the wandering my mind was doing a few hours ago, it would've learned its lesson, but—"

"It's not quite the same thing," Madam Ward replied, a small smile making her aged face look years younger, the kindness and warmth that was almost always present in her pale blue-gray eyes obvious again as her stern annoyance faded. "And it's understandable."

"Yes," Richard agreed, also smiling warmly. "One would think that at least some scientists would be observant and logical enough to notice the supernatural, but that just doesn't seem to be the truth."

"What about The Balance?" Lily asked curiously, making Charlie frown at her as the capitalized phrase was one that Annie had mentioned several times before in annoyance. An annoyance he, himself, shared as he honestly couldn't make sense of it. "Could that be affecting them? Like it affects most people after they, um, after they come into contact with the supernatural, I guess?"

Richard nodded, taking a sip of his steaming tea—his was still much hotter than the rest of theirs, with the steam still rising steadily off of it, since he never added anything to it—before he replied. "Many believe that that might be the case. After all, it was truly a formal, magically binding agreement between the Powers of both Good and Evil, as it were. In the absence of the formal diplomatic relations that'd kept The War in check for so long before—"

"Diplomatic relations?" Charlie interrupted, unable to let that phrase pass by without an explanation. After all, as ludicrous as it was to think of 'Good' somehow coming to an agreement of sorts with 'Evil,' the idea that demons and humankind had coexisted in a way that was somewhat similar to how most modern nations did now was more than a little mind-boggling.

"Oh yes," Richard nodded again, a small smile indicating he didn't really mind the interruption.

But then again, history seemed to be the man's favorite hobby, so lecturing about it probably wasn't something he'd ever really mind at all. It was something that'd frequently made both Annie and, to a slightly lesser extent, Charlie consider introducing the mage to Dr. Giles.

"For millions of years—as long as our dimension has existed, at least, probably longer—the demonic races gathered once every century to resolve conflicts betwixt themselves. To negotiate various agreements: treaties on trade, land, minor wars and even the War with Humanity, which was certainly one of the major issues they discussed. But the primary focus was the fact that all—even the most belligerent and hostile demonic races—agreed that war amongst themselves was not conductive to their continued existence. Whether they were interested in eradicating humanity from the globe or not." (8)

Charlie licked his too-dry lips again, before replying softly. "I guess that makes sense. Kind of. Though not as much so for the forces of, um, Good to allow, assuming they were all interested in protecting us. Humanity, I mean."

This time Constance continued, "Actually, there are hundreds of demonic species that have no real problem with humanity and don't mind sharing the world with us. Some even preferred the idea of humanity controlling the Earth."

Charlie couldn't help but blink at that, but this time it was Lily who cut in, clear skepticism ringing through her voice.

"Really?"

Constance chuckled before continuing, her soft smile somehow drifting out on her voice as she did so. "Really." She shook her head. "I know neither of you have really studied demonic lore, myths or history. But you do understand that demons essentially ruled the Earth before humanity managed to drive most of the more powerful demons out and eventually came to dominate this dimension as a whole, yes?"

Charlie nodded slightly, very slowly, but wasn't able to stop the wince that rose when his neck complained at the motion via several sharp stabs of pain up his spine. But he ignored them in favor of continuing the discussion. "Yes. I believe the Slayer at that time drove them out?"

Richard laughed, and his smile stretched as he shook his head. His amusement continued to echo through his tone as he replied. "That is how the Watchers Council tells it, yes. Though really that's quite an exaggeration." At the surprised look that Charlie obviously wore, the older man shook his head. "Really, Dr. Eppes. If you think about it, doesn't the idea of one Slayer driving out every greater demon off of every continent and out of every ocean seem a bit far fetched to you?"

Charlie blinked again, his brilliant mind—while still rather sore and tired was still—easily able to run through dozens of scenarios in response to the question. And each one only confirmed the mage's point of view.

The idea that a single individual could have somehow track down and demolished each and ever major demon—many of whom, according to Dr. Giles, had been comparable to dinosaurs in size—was highly implausible. Even if scientists were somehow wrong about how far back in time humanity came into existence, and they'd—and thus the Slayer—had been around when the supercontinent * was still in existence, which was highly unlikely, it'd still be far too much land for one woman to cover. Not to mention that even if the Slayer hadn't needed to worry about crossing bodies of water to hunt down demons on other continents, many could of still easily been lurking in the depths of the Panthalassa * that would've been nearly impossible for a prehistoric woman, no matter how superly-empowered, to reach. (9) (10)

The only way one Slayer could have really managed it was if all the demons had come to her, perhaps in one massive battle. But against such odds one Slayer would've surely failed.

"So it obviously took several different slayers a long time to get rid of all the demons, right?"

"Along with countless demon wars and many more treaties," Richard replied, pausing for a second to finish off his tea before setting his empty mug on a nearby table as he continued. "None made by the Slayers, of course. But really between the demons and between the Powers."


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General Hospital, Sunnydale, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Buffy couldn't suppress a small giggle as she watched Giles and the fire-kitty stare at each other, blue-human-eyes locked with fiery-golden through the thick glasses genetics and probably too much reading forced the watcher to wear. The bright red tail flipped back and forth in lazy satisfaction as the fire-kitty refused to break eye contact with the injured, older man.

Finally, Giles shook his head and broke the staring contest. "Fascinating," he murmured, and Buffy was pleased to sense that while the bright-red-and-golden-eyed creature's appearance had certainly surprised the watcher, he wasn't at all afraid of it. Mainly because Faith had grown very attached to the cute little thing over the few hours they'd been at home last night, mostly to catch a few Zs before returning to check on Giles and Post.

And to make a phone call Buffy wasn't entirely sure was a great one to make, but since Post was an ex-Watcher calling the watchers only made sense. Though why Giles had given her mother the phone number to reach Quentin Traverse—the Council's Head—at, she didn't know.

Still, while Buffy and Joyce found the little fire—but-no-longer-burning—creature adorable, it was Faith that had really taken to the cute little thing. So it was good to know that they wouldn't have to get rid of it, even though Giles hadn't said as much yet.

"I had heard of creatures being born of Living Flame before," the watcher continued, cocking his head to the side before wincing as it protested and carefully shifting it back. "But none of those myths had reliable data for confirmation."

"What is it?" Willow asked hesitantly.

Giles blinked, but obliged the redhead, looking over the little thing's head to answer her. "A fireling is, I believe, the correct term. Living Flame itself is, as the name suggests, alive. In that it does have a certain amount of sentience. But the circumstances for it to take a stable form have never been truly determined and verified."

Buffy cocked her head to the side a little, thinking a moment before she continued. "It was laughing," she told the Englishman, smiling slightly as the little creature they were focused on finally turned away from Giles and leapt into Faith's arms again. "Before we broke the urn. The fire was laughing."

"It was happy," Faith recalled, glancing momentarily at Buffy as she did so, before looking back at Giles.

"Happy?" the Watcher repeated, one eyebrow rising. "How do you mean?"

Faith radiated a little nervousness for a moment, but then the little creature in her arms started purring, and her nervousness seemed to abate as she brought one hand up to scratch behind its ear. "I don't know how, I just knew it was happy when it started acting up. It was making all sorts of shapes in the air when I dropped the urn, and it kept doing that even after the urn was destroyed."

"That's when it started laughing, too," Buffy nodded in agreement, before reaching out to run a gentle hand down the fire-kitty's surprisingly soft, silky back.

"I see," Giles thought about that for a moment, watching as both Slayers smiled down at the fireling, before nodding. "You've grown attached to it—"

"Her," Faith cut in abruptly, and then blushed slightly as she realized what she'd just done, clear surprise quickly taking the place of the embarrassment.

Giles raised an eyebrow again, but nodded ever-so-slightly. "Both of you have grown attached to her in a rather short period of time."

Buffy frowned slightly, but didn't stop petting the purring creature as she replied. "Yeah, I guess." Then she shook her head, "But she did save our lives, you know."

"Without killing Post," Faith agreed, nodding slightly. Only to grimace at the startled looks several of the Scoobies sent her way.

After a moment of silence, Willow spoke up hesitantly, "Killing Post?"

"I thought Slayers didn't kill people," Cordelia complained, frowning as she inched a little away from the two supernaturally-empowered young women. "Just monsters."

"We don't kill humans," Buffy replied, unable to stop her tone from coming out a little short. Then she sighed, looking a little guiltily over towards her Watcher. "But there were a few seconds there where we thought we might have to."

Giles face was impassive for several moments as he watched both of them, undoubtedly reading the guilt in their expressions easily. Then he nodded, "I will not lie. I am quite relieved that it did not come to that, as it understandably could have," he sighed. "But once Post put the glove on, in the Council's eyes, at least, her life was well and truly forfeit. While they might've investigated her death, you would not have been punished for it. Not by them."

Buffy blinked, frowning slightly as she withdrew her hand from petting the fiery feline, "Not by them?"

"Well, I've no doubt your own conscious would trouble each of you after the fact." The Watcher replied, his voice supremely gentle and his eyes kind. "In fact, history has proven that Slayers are rarely able to survive taking a human life." He sighed, "Many believe that it is a curse the Powers-That-Be added onto the Slayer line, to rein it in. But I have always been of the opinion that, however the Slayer is really Called, all are heroes. All have those instincts before their Calling. Compassion. Protectiveness. Selflessness. Whether the Powers deliberately test them beforehand or not, I don't believe they'd ever Call the kind of person that is capable of taking a human life in cold blood. Of course, it undoubtedly helps that you're all very young when you're Called. Still innocent in a way those of us ten or twenty years your senior cannot be."

Buffy blinked again, "You think we're more innocent then most other people?" she shook her head yet again. "But Giles, most people don't go out on patrols—hunting dangerous monsters—almost every night. They don't have to. They can remain ignorant of...of everything. They don't have to kill one big bad of some kind every month, at least."

"No, they don't," Giles agreed mildly, then smiled softly. "But really, most of those people, even if they had this duty and knowledge of the consequences of failure thrust upon them as you have, would not necessarily put the fate of others, of all mankind even, ahead of their own happiness. And most of those that could be forced into protecting humanity for the sheer reason that to not do so means the end of the world, would still be tempted to abuse their powers. It is a rare person indeed that can escape such failings."

Buffy looked away, not entirely sure of what to say in response to that or the warm emotions—affection, compassion and maybe pride—radiating off of the Watcher.

After a moment of silence, Giles spoke up again. "Now you say the fireling came into being after your discussion of this possibility?"

Buffy blinked yet again, but turned her eyes back to her Watcher's quickly, replying even as she shook her head. "No. I mean, I don't think so. The fire definitely started acting weird around then, but—"

"But it didn't turn into a kitten until after I dropped the urn," Faith cut in, wincing as she belatedly recalled the terror that'd rushed through both of them at the sight of the magical device's imminent destruction the night before. Then she frowned in thought, "But you said you sensed something before that, didn't you, B?" she asked, glancing curiously at the older Slayer.

Buffy nodded slowly as everyone's eyes returned to her. "Yeah, I did. Didn't know what it was, but I definitely sensed something while we were talking."

"Still, I rather think that your discussion, as well as the understandably charged atmosphere you brought the living flame into may've very well been the stimulus by which the fireling came into being."

Faith chuckled, shaking her head as she rubbed under the still purring fireling's tiny chin with one gentle finger. "What'd you think? Did you like B's speech last night?"

"What're you going to call her?" Xander asked, one eyebrow raised at the creature the Slayers were all but fawning over. "Fiery?"

"No," Buffy scoffed, but then frowned as she risked a glance at her sister-Slayer. "That's not—"

"Definitely not," Faith agreed quickly, nodding even as she glanced at Giles. "What'd you think, G-man?"

Giles blinked in surprise, but recovered quickly. "Well, I suppose something with ties to mythology would be the most fitting, would it not? Perhaps Izanami?"

Faith grimaced, "What's that?"

"A creator goddess of Japanese myths, the mother of the god of fire; Kagututi."

The two Slayers glanced at each other, and then simultaneously shook their heads.

"What about Bast?" Willow suggested quietly.

"That's an Egyptian god, right?" Buffy asked.

Willow nodded, "Goddess, yeah. Cats were sacred to her, and I think her name meant something about fire, right?" she finished with a glance towards the Watcher, who was smiling softly. (11)

"Yes, Bast was a sun and war goddess, worshipped by much of ancient Egypt, but primarily as the local deity and cat goddess of Bubastis." He paused in thought for a moment, then continued. "I do not know if her name was originally associated with fire, but as she was a goddess of the Sun, she was also known as the Lady of Flame. Originally she was viewed as a fierce protector, often depicted with the head of a lioness. But in later dynasties, she was renamed Bastet and due to Hellenistic—Greek—influences was also labeled a goddess of the Moon." (12)

The Slayers considered that name as well, but Buffy remained quiet as she sensed Faith's rejection of the name before the younger Slayer spoke.

"I don't like it."

Willow blinked at her, "Why not?"

Faith rolled her eyes before jerking her head towards the blonde Slayer, "We've already got a B. Next."

"If you wish to name her after the element she embodies, the Italian name Fiammetta might suffice? 'Fiamma' is 'fire' in Italian." When both Slayers made faces at that name, he rolled his eyes. "Or you could name her after the Roman goddess of the hearth; Vesta." (13)

Buffy raised an eyebrow at the younger Slayer, "I like it."

Faith considered it, then nodded slowly, before glancing down at the 'kitten' both of them were still petting. "What'd you think, kitty? Vesta sound alright to you?"

The kitten's head cocked to the side, its bright golden eyes glancing back and forth between the two Slayers for several long moments, then it nodded. "Meow Meow Meow!"

"Alright," Buffy chuckled, smiling softly. "Vesta it is." Then she stiffened slightly, looking over towards the nearby, closed hospital door. "Better hide, Vesta." She glanced back towards the fire-kitty again, just in time to see Faith slipping into the nearby bathroom, closing the door behind her just as the hospital door opened and a nurse bustled in.

"My, you have many visitors this morning, Dr. Giles, don't you?" the fifty-something woman inquired, smiling gently as she started quickly checking all of the machines around the patient.

Giles grinned warmly in response, "I do, indeed."

Buffy cocked her head ever-so-slightly to the side as her empathetic senses picked up a distinct note of wariness from the nurse. Not fear, really. Just wariness. And respect. Not that she was too surprised by it. Most of the hospital staff knew there was something different about her, and they'd started suspecting something similar of Faith not long ago. How could they not?

The Slayer needed to make a run through the hospital's morgue at least once a week here, sometimes more often. Usually it was because of a soon-to-be vampire that was due to rise again before their corpse's scheduled burial. Sometimes it was something more unusual.

And occasionally vampires or demons would get it into their heads that targeting a hospital for whatever they desired was a fantastic idea. Which involved even more interesting dilemmas. At least vampires weren't as much of a problem as they used to be. Not since Giles had decided to place regular wards around the hospital, making it impossible for active vampires to enter the hospitals halls through the doors or windows. Meaning the only way a vamp could get in was via the morgue while they were still a corpse. Something the Watcher was trying to find a way to fix, but hadn't yet succeeded.

"Yes, well, we always like to see friends and family stopping by," the nurse continued, nodding slightly to herself as she finished up, closing the folder she'd been making notes in and setting it down on a nearby tray before reaching into one of her pockets to pull out a syringe. "Here's the next dose to help with the pain." So saying she injected it into one of the many lines that were connected to Giles' body. "And Dr. Owens will be stopping by some time in the next hour."

"Thank you, Nurse Stevens," Giles replied quietly, watching along with the rest of them as the nurse left, closing the door behind her.

Immediately, the bathroom door opened again, Faith stepping out with Vesta still snugly secure in her arms. The teen was grinning, "Vesta makes one hell of a nightlight," she told them as she gently set the 'kitten' down as it started shifting about. "Never needed to touch the light switch," then she blinked in consideration. "Not that I'd really need to, anyway. Slayer, here. But—"

"We get it, Faith," Buffy replied with a small smile.

Faith nodded in response. "Yeah. So... How long you gonna be holed up in here, G-man?"

"Not too long, I hope. Though I'm sure Dr. Owens will tell me." The Watcher replied, then blinked as the fireling leapt up onto his bed. "Why hello."

Buffy giggled, "I think she likes you, Giles. Vesta this is Giles." She indicated the Englishman the fireling was staring at, and then pointed to the others around the room. "You already know me and Faith. That's Willow and Oz. And that's Xander and Cordelia."

"Meow-meow!"

Everyone chuckled or giggled at the cute little response, but then both Slayers stiffened again, a moment before the others could hear the approaching footsteps in the hall. Before any of them could do anything, however, Vesta had loped off into the bathroom once more, somehow closing the door behind her with her tiny tail as everyone blinked at her. Then their heads jerked towards the door as knock resounded through it.

*KNOCK* *KNOCK*

"Come in," Giles called gently, and the door opened to reveal yet another nurse in the pale pink uniform this hospital favored.

"Good evening, Dr. Giles, Miss Summers, Miss Lehane."

The Watcher was the only one that didn't show any visible reaction to the older nurse's very clear English accent, though Buffy could sense that he was just as surprised as she was.

"Nurse Roberts," Giles returned her nod. "I trust the Council has plans for the recent events?"

The nurse nodded firmly, "A special operations team is in route to collect Mrs. Post and return her to London for her trial. They should be arriving within the next few hours."

"You're a Watcher?" Buffy asked, staring at the thirty-something woman.

"Yes, Miss Summers. The Council felt that keeping a Watcher among the hospital staff here would be best after the events with the Kindestod demon." Roberts then nodded slightly towards Giles again. "Dr. Giles was aware of my presence, and had you ever needed my help he would have called me. As it is, I have merely been insuring that hospital speculation towards your activities has not come too close to the truth, as that could be dangerous for you."

Buffy nodded in understanding, "Thank you." Then she sighed, "What's going to happen to Post? With the trial and everything?"

"If she is found guilty, the Council has access to a number of penitentiaries that are capable of holding the magically inclined. A more powerful witch would be a much greater problem, but Mrs. Post has very little real power on her own. The accomplice that she killed was almost certainly the one that cast the shield you were unable to penetrate." She stiffened suddenly then, glancing down at her wrist where Buffy and Faith could both see the thin bracelet she wore was vibrating. "Hmm, this is unexpected."

"What?" Faith asked, just barely keeping it calm enough to not sound like a demand.

"It seems Mrs. Post is awake. I confess, I had expected her to remain comatose until she was at least in route to England." Roberts cocked her head to the side, a clearly curious expression on her face as she raised an eyebrow at Giles. "I shall have to fix that, unless you object?"

"N—"

Buffy cut her Watcher off, "Wait. I want to talk to her."

Both Watchers blinked at her.

"What?" Giles sputtered, frowning as he continued. "Why?"

"Yeah, B, why would you wanna talk to that nut again?"

The elder Slayer sighed, shaking her head. "I want to know why she did it." Then she raised an eyebrow at her sister-Slayer. "Don't you?"


381181295019000161591420000156000229523

Lily's House, Pasadena, California – Saturday, October 26, 1996

Charlie leaned back into the couch again, finally giving into his sore body's demands for rest as he considered the new information. After several moments, he glanced up again. "A Slayer couldn't have survived one great big battle with all the demons, so a lot of the demons must have just left, then?"

But this time Richard shook his head. "That's really a much too simple way to put it."

"You must remember, young one," Madam Ward finally spoke up again. "That the Slayer existed for millions of years before humanity had any real tenure on this dimension. Remember that human history, human civilizations, can only be traced back several thousand years into the past. The War was ongoing for millions of years before that, and really still is. But while all of the Slayers that died for humanity certainly played a major role in securing our place in this world, just as the Slayer line holds an integral role in maintaining our dominion now, She still isn't the only force that needs to be considered." The old witch shook her head, looking off into the distance as she continued. "Our best guess is that the demons still in this world now outnumber humanity at least ten to one. Add in all the dimensions that can still open unto our own, and all of the demons in them, and it would be very easy for the demonic forces to truly overwhelm us."

Charlie swallowed slightly, taking a slow breath as he felt Sineya's comforting presence wrap around him to calm his nervousness at the picture the mages were painting. "So why don't they?"

"Because of The Slayer. Because of The Balance. And because of hundreds, maybe even thousands of treaties between different demonic clans and species, governing what each is allowed to do and what each is not allowed to do."

"More than anything else," Deborah finally spoke up, "You can remember that most living beings are very selfish by nature." At the confused looks Charlie and Lily sent her, she smiled. "It's why the treaties exist, you see. And why they work."

"Yes," her brother picked up again easily, also nodding. "More than anything, no matter how strong certain individual demons are, they know they can still be overpowered. Be it by a more powerful demon, maybe a Slayer, or by sheer numbers. And it is ultimately the fear of that: of either losing or winning and then not being able to maintain their victory, that keeps the vast majority of the demonic forces in check."

"Though, honestly, it's kind of amazing that they're all still sticking to the old alliances and whatnot." Deborah continued softly. "Since the Dark Congress * hasn't met in almost eighteen centuries." (14)

Charlie blinked at her in confusion, but it was Lily who voiced that confusion.

"What?"

"The Dark Congress was an immense gathering of demonic ambassadors that took place once every century for thousands of years. It was when all the races of monsters, dark gods and demons gathered to resolve conflicts amongst them."

His sister interrupted again, smiling at the confused expression on both teenagers faces, "Even the most hostile demonic races realized that war among themselves was not conductive to their efforts to reclaim this dimension."

Madam Ward spoke up now, her warm, soft voice somehow reaching all their respectful ears. "There have always been many demonic species that do not mind sharing the world with humanity. Some even prefer the idea of humanity controlling the Earth, as they remember the times when demons dominated the globe. When demons were in prominence, in prehistoric times, they were constantly at war and the more peaceful races were frequently exterminated or subjugated. Thus, the treaty with the powers that so many of them agreed to, keeps them safe, just as it protects humanity."

Deborah spoke up again when Madam Ward stopped, "One of the main topics of every Dark Congress was, of course, the course of demon-kinds future in this dimension. More specifically, what efforts—if any—they would put forth to battle what some demons called 'the plague of humanity' that grew stronger with every passing year."

"I guess that makes sense from the peaceful demons point of view," Lily offered, still clearly confused. "But why wouldn't the more hostile demons just eat the pacifists? Why would they want to debate anything with them?"

"Although violence broke out at several Dark Congresses, and a full scale Demonic War was always a possibility, you must realize that the politics of the demon-world are very intricate, young one," Madam Ward replied, shaking her head. "While the truly pacifistic demons were rare, there were many who simply enjoy the world as it now is."

Charlie's mind went back to how the vampire Spike had chosen to help Annie stop Angel from unleashing hell on earth, simply because he liked this world with all the 'billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs.'

"But the last time it took place was in the second century B.C." Richard picked up the explanation, "And it ended violently, with the conflicts that were supposed to be discussed never resolved while an internecine war drove wedges between the many demonic races that have lingered ever since."

"Why? What happened?" Charlie asked, unable to suppress his curiosity.

"An ancient tale of Romeo and Juliet, you could say," Constance offered with a painfully sad smile. "Two of the most powerful demonic races of the time were the water demons—Undines, Nereids, Sirens, Naiads, and such *—and the desert demons—like the Azazel * and the Exsiccare *, all of which were of decidedly different philosophies. Kandida was a great North African river demon, and was among those who argued in favor of pacifism, since the status quo allowed her kin to enjoy being worshipped by humans, since they could control the waters and either help or torture humans as they pleased. Trajabo, on the other hand, was a desert demon that, along with despising the water demons, wanted to exterminate humanity from the world. Kandida and Trajabo were two of the most respected members of their kind, which allowed them to keep the peace. But then they fell in love, and their union created a storm of fury and hatred." (15) (16) (17)

Deborah continued, her voice quiet and just as pain as she told a story that apparently all witches knew. "The pair represented different races, different philosophies and different regions coming together. And when they did so, they began attempting to persuade all of the ambassadors at the second century Dark Congress that the time had come for an answer to the ultimate question once and for all, a final consensus on the future of the world. But their kin despised one another, only agreeing that the love between Kandida and Trajabo could never be allowed to survive, as either defecting to the ways of the other would be a disaster for their race."

Richard picked it up again, "The lovers were attacked. Kandida was nearly killed, and then magically entombed in the bank of the river Sebu, in Morocco. While Trajabo, also nearly dead, was scattered among the sands of the desert." He shook his head. "The Congress was torn apart as war erupted among the demonic races, clans, tribes and monsters. The old gods, who were dying out anyway, took refuge in different dimensions. And the Dark Congress has never met again since then, though the decisions of the first century were eventually used to stop the wars, bringing a tense peace that has –for the most part—held till this day."

Charlie considered that for several long moments, frowning as he fought the urge to shake his head again. "But why are they still kept apart, then? If the attack against them offended so many, why hasn't anyone ever freed them?"

Madam Ward chuckled, shaking her head at him. "Kandida and Trajabo were greatly respected, and still are to some extent. But they wanted the Dark Congress to make a final decision that most demons were afraid of making. The one decision that had been left unresolved at every Dark Congress before the second century B.C. A quest that all had very intense feelings about, that none were willing to let go of, so all left unanswered, leaving it to be decided at a later date."

"So they've kept them apart all these years—centuries—because they're afraid of answering that question?" Lily asked softly, also frowning.

"Or not being able to. Of being forced to admit that the Dark Congress was a useless effort that would never be able to answer that question. Or of having the Congress torn apart by an open Demonic War once again. Or any number of things, really." Richard shook his head, "Of course, one must keep in mind that we are human beings trying to rationalize the actions of real demons. And not even just the lesser demons that we currently share this dimension with."

Charlie started, and suppressed a wince as his body protested the action, though he didn't stop his face from settling into its earlier frown again despite the pained protest of several facial muscles. "Lesser demons?"

Richard nodded again, "Yes. The stories of great monsters that rivaled dinosaurs in size and boasted numerous terrible powers are very real. But many either left this world or were killed off a long time ago. Well, as closed to 'killed off' as any of those monsters can really get." At the confused look Charlie and Lily shot him, he sighed and elaborated. "Demons don't quite die the way we do. Especially the ancients. Believe it or not, many of the demons that are still around have actually inbred with various mortal animals, some of them even with humans at some point in their evolution."

"That's why not all demons register as entirely evil to the Slayer," Deborah offered quietly, "that's why not all modern demons are soulless monsters. They really are creatures of this world."

Charlie thought about that for several long moments, trying to ignore the confusion Lily was radiating as he focused on his own confused thoughts. After a moment one of the enemies Annie had fought came to mind. "What about The Judge?"

Lily was still entirely confused, but the other witches took his question in stride.

"The Judge is a true demon," Agatha Ward confirmed. "That is why Dr. Giles, and the Council, went to great efforts to scatter his body parts after Miss Summers managed to incapacitate him."

"A lot of the ancient demons, the true demons, were like that," Constance confirmed, a bit of discomfort rolling off her, she clearly didn't like the topic of discussion but was also going to great lengths to control her own emotions, just like all the others.

They did know that Charlie was an empath, so it only made sense. Lily tried, of course, but her elders were much better at it.

"Most of those demons must be gone now, right? The really big, really hostile ones, I mean? Otherwise, Buffy—and all the Slayers that are Called—would be fighting them all the time, wouldn't they?" Charlie shook his head a little and instantly regretted the motion but forced himself to continue talking anyway. "And none of them would have allowed the peaceful—well, not really peaceful. The various Demon races are basically in a demonic Cold War, right? That's why the human race has been able to thrive and advance over the last few millennia?"

Madam Ward nodded, "Precisely."

Richard also nodded, though empathetically Charlie could sense that he didn't quite agree with the statement. "It's not that simple, though. Not really." He shook his head when Madam Ward raised an eyebrow at him, and continued. "Many of the true, greater demons were forced from this dimension, or destroyed. The lesser demons rose against them for many different reasons, but the outcome was that as of roughly five thousand B.C., none of the truly great monsters remained intact and functioning in our dimension. Vampires became the predominant demonic species—though almost any demon you ask will claim vampires aren't real demons. Even the lesser ones that are still around today."

"If you get the chance to ask them and they deign to answer you, of course," Deborah added, shrugging slightly and grinning when her brother shook his head at her.

"And, really, many of those hostile demons would jump at any chance to take this dimension back from humanity." Richard continued, ignoring his sister's comment. "It's why the Council, why everyone that knows the truth about our world and doesn't want to bring about the apocalypse or the end of mankind, doesn't want portals to other dimensions opened."

"But there was a portal to another dimension at Angels' House," Lily pointed out with a frown.

"Yes, there was," Constance nodded again. "But there are thousands of different dimensions for the Powers to worry about. They have to pick their battles, so the lesser dimensions that don't contain massive demonic armies bent on destroying humanity, are occasionally ignored. Though that portal did come to the Slayer's attention. Whether that was specifically to simply draw her focus back to her Calling, or something the Powers were really interested in her handling, is debatable."

"The Powers focus all of their efforts on making sure the truly dangerous demons can't come back," Madam Ward agreed with the younger witch, "but they must also honor The Balance."

Charlie was hit by a surge of frustration so strong, so foreign, that he was honestly surprised when he realized a second later that the frustration was not coming from any of his companions. The frustration was solely his own. "I don't understand that."

"The Balance?" Madam Ward sighed and continued without waiting for a response. "It's a very complicated topic, to be sure. But it does govern everything in our world in some way or another. Both science and magic, humans and demons, are all influenced by it." She shook her head, "Sentient beings, humans especially, have free will and therefore more leeway under its effects than magic and most of the natural world, but we are still under its power at all times."

Charlie shook his head from side to side as another burst of his own frustration hit him, completely ignoring his body's protests at the frenzied motion. "But how is this—this war Annie's fighting in any way balanced? There's supposed to be one Slayer in all the world, right? Against millions of vampires, demons, evil witches and who knows what else? How is that in any way balanced?"

"It's not fair, of course," Madam Ward spoke softly, almost like she was treating him like an angry puppy. Or a crazy person. Though he could sense that she was taking him quite seriously, no matter how much she, too, didn't like this topic. "Even with Miss Lehane fighting alongside her, with the Watchers Council and the many other demon hunters in the world, the odds are always stacked against our world's champions."

"Exactly! It's not—"

She cut him off, her quiet, commanding presence easily grabbing hold of the conversation once more. "And as far as we know, it's always been that way." She sighed. "Personally, I don't believe that The Balance that governs magic, nature and the like is the same as The Balance that supposedly protects our world by keeping the ancient, true demons from returning. There are theories, of course, that the human race's rapid advancements over the last couple of centuries especially play a heavy part in it."

Charlie blinked at that, some of his frustration and pent up anger at the topic fading in the face of a new, confusing fact. "What?"

The old witch chuckled, "I'm sure you know more about the current scientific advances of our times, young man. But just the basics are enough to understand the general concept. Millions of years ago, our ancestors fought with stones *. Then they discovered fire * and eventually they started wearing clothes *. The bow-and-arrow * and agriculture * came into being. The wheel * was invented, along with devices to measure time * and writing systems *. Firearms were around before that. Thousands of years later, Gutenberg invented the printing press *. Only a few centuries after that rapid-communication across long distances became possible. And in only the last two hundred years, humanity has advanced by leaps and bounds that make past advancements laughable; automobiles, flight, space-travel, telephones, computers, nuclear technology along with all of the others sciences." She shook her head. "Do you think the demons have made such advances?" She continued before anyone could respond, raising an eyebrow towards both Charlie and Lily. "I know you thankfully weren't in that hell-dimension for long, but surely you saw the level of technology present there?" (18-24)

Charlie frowned, glancing down as he thought back on it, but Lily replied right away.

"I, uh, I think they were doing some kind of metal work, weren't they?"

Charlie nodded in agreement, his stomach rolling slightly as the memory of the smells—smoke, ash and filth—and sounds—metal clanging, whips cracking and the slaves silence—momentarily resurfaced.

Madam Ward nodded, "They were probably working with iron or steel, depending on how much time the demons were willing to spend among humans to learn from our histories and technologies *. Adaptability is humanity's greatest asset, you see, and it's a trait that few demonic races share." (25)

"You think that that place was some kind of big forge?" Charlie asked, not finding anything too erroneous with the concept except for the fact that he didn't like rationalizing that horrible place in any way.

"It probably was," Richard cut in, nodding his own agreement. "From what we've heard from some of the other survivors, their jailers were brutal taskmasters, but their goal was the finished products. Its why most of the victims of those kinds of places died of old age more than being beaten to death or something of that sort."

"Becky's talked about that a bit," Lily murmured softly, looking at the floor.

"Some of the others have, too," Constance told them, her tone kind. "Many of our sisters and brothers, as you know, have been working at Angels' House as trauma counselors, with quite a bit of success."

"But the important thing to note is how far behind the demons appear to be technologically. On one hand, they simply can't adapt and evolve the way we do. It's not in their nature. Most—if not all—of the technological advances they've made were actually stolen from us." Madam Ward continued. "Even magic; though demons use it when it suits them, most of the spells they use are picked up from books written by humans, or by demons working from human teachings."

When she stopped, Richard spoke up again. "That's mostly because one of the agreements between the Powers That Be is the agreement that no technology more advanced than the crossbow could be wielded against demon-kind. It's probably also why most of humanity doesn't recognize the existence of demons."

"What?" Charlie's frown was considerably deeper now.

"We can't say for certain, of course, but many believe that in order to keep the bargain—of not involving more advanced technology in the war, the Powers That Be cast a spell over this dimensions inhabitants that discourages them from becoming aware of demon-kind. Judging by just how many people stayed to work with Angels' House, it may very well be negated by dimensional travel, but it's almost certainly still in effect all over the world."

"Wait," a horrified look was stretched across Lily's face as she stared at Richard. "You meant that if the demons attacked humanity all at once, like if they decided everything settled at the last Dark Congress is null and void because of the time that's elapsed between the meetings, we couldn't even use modern technology to defend ourselves? Would we even be able to open dealings with the human-friendly demonic allies or—"

"Would nuclear weapons work against demons?" Charlie cut in before Lily could get any more hysterical. "Biological weapons? Chemical weapons? I know that guns don't kill vampires."

Deborah sighed before replying, "I'm quite sure that if demons became anymore obvious in their dealings and whatnot that the militaries of world would respond very quickly. Whether any of the weapons they have at their disposal would work against demons or not, is debatable."

"As both Miss Summers and Miss Lehane can undoubtedly tell you," Madam Ward spoke up again, "brute force is often enough to overcome many of the demons that currently stalk our shadows. But I'm sure Dr. Giles could explain that these demons are weaker than their ancestors. Weaker than the demons that would be coming from other dimensions as soon as they're given half a chance. Can a bomb kill a vampire? Yes, if it manages to burn or decapitate it during the explosion. Any weapon that can exploit a weakness a certain kind of demon has will work against them, but the moment we breach our side of the agreement, we give the other side a chance to counter with a similar act."

"But Buffy used a rocket launcher—"

"The Judge was only able to come into being because of the existence of two Slayers, and even then neither Slayer was really powerful enough to merit such a power counter to their joint existence. Thus Miss Summer's use of a rocket launcher to destroy him went unchallenged, as has the continued existence of two Slayers. Possibly because, as you said earlier, Dr. Eppes, the deck is heavily stacked against the Slayers." The old lady sighed and shook her head. "As for aggression on the part of the demonic races; it is something we all worry about and watch for, of course. But we've never had any part in the negotiations that are held between the Powers and the demons."

Charlie blinked, honestly shocked by the statement. "What? Why?"

Madam Ward chuckled softly, "Knowing how demons in general feel about humans, do you honestly think and of them would be willing to sit down across a table from a human and make any kind of deal in good—or any kind of—faith?"

"But if some demons are friendly—"

"Most of them like humans supposedly being in charge because it basically means no one is in charge. The lesser races don't have to pick between the greater demons for a defender, they can just band together and say they like things the way they are and not have to worry about being oppressed or subjugated by any of the stronger demons that want to conquer this world. As long as they have strength in numbers, which they almost surely still do, they can be happy with what, for them, amounts to anarchy."

"Oh," Charlie winced.

"You know, I really kind of liked the idea that there are actually some demons out there that like us," Lily complained.

Constance laughed, "There are, little one. There are individual demons that get along quite well with individual humans or small groups like ours. But demons in general respect power and they don't think that most humans have enough power to be worthy of any respect. Some respect magic-wielders, at least the ones that are powerful enough to merit wariness and therefore respect, but as a whole you won't find any demonic people that will be willing to admit that they're equal and therefore not superior to humans."

"But if demons started invading—" this time Lily was cut off by Deborah.

"If any demonic dimension actually started a full-scale invasion the agreement of separation would be voided. Just as it would be if we used modern technology to fight the demons that are already here. Which is another reason, as far as we can tell, that most demons haven't really wanted to try it. Modern weapons scare many of them. We don't know what affect many of them will have on various demons, but neither do they."

"We monitor aggressive activities of that sort," Richard explained. "And as far as we can tell that does seem to be a fairly common consensus, though no demons have actually admitted to fearing any man-made items."

"But they could still come back?"

"Yes, there are many hostile demons that would love to take this dimension back from humanity. Those demons have built up and maintained great armies in other dimensions that would be near-impossible to defeat once they enter our world."

"Most of them haven't been able to come back," Constance added, "Because of The Balance—the Powers That Be won't let the demons return, and natural order is on their side until something tips the Balance too much and allows a change to occur."

"Oh," Charlie thought about that for a second before sighing again. "That makes sense, I guess." Then his frown returned as his eyes flew to Lily, "Lily, what do my parents—"

"I called your house last night," Lily cut in, giving him a reassuring smile. "Told your mom you fell asleep on my couch while we were watching a movie and I didn't have the heart to wake you. She came to check on you earlier this morning, and Richard was pretending to sleep in the armchair while the rest of us were making breakfast, so you shouldn't get teased or anything."

"Oh," Charlie forces a grateful smile—though the gratefulness was honest, motion of any kind was still a little hard, "Thanks."

"No problem," Lily smiled back. "They're gonna pick you up at The House when they come to see your class," she hurried on as a bit of panic entered his expression. "Which isn't for another six hours and you did your lesson plan for it over a week ago. We'll be driving into The House once you're able to stand up without collapsing."

Charlie tried to remember what this particular lesson was supposed to be about, but was coming up blank. "I'm not sure I'll be able to—"

"This is the lesson with a lot of computer stuff, remember? So you'll be sitting down most of the time. And Gunn, Alonna and some of the others are already going through your lesson to try and set up the classroom so that you won't have to stand up at all, if possible."

"Constance and Deborah will be attending your lesson, as well," Madam Ward told him gently. "They'll make sure you don't hurt yourself."

"Thank you."

Madam Ward nodded slowly, her expression still very stern. "Hopefully this will serve as a lesson to you. To both of you." She looked between Charlie and Lily. "You must recognize your limits, and you need much more training before you can expect to use magic freely. Understand?"

Both nodded timidly, Charlie barely letting his head move, as his headache seemed to be returning full-force.

"Good." Then she turned to Lily, frowning severely at her. "I'm more disappointed in you, though, little one."

Lily wilted a little under the elder's frown.

"Dr. Eppes has only learned a small smattering of magic and the like, but you have been training regularly with your elder sisters for several weeks now. You should have known better."

"I know, Madam, I'm sorry." Lily's eyes were locked on the floor, her form hunched forward a bit as she offered her apologies, before protesting. "But Charlie was so worried! We had to do something, and he can be really persuasive someti—"

"I am aware of how compelling Dr. Eppes can be, little one. That doesn't change any of the facts."

"Yes, ma'am."

After several more long seconds of silent reproach, Ward's gaze returned to Charlie, and he almost winced in response. She stared at him for several more long seconds, before sighing. "If you want to use magic, Dr. Eppes, you need to learn how to do so properly."

Charlie stared back at her, unsure of why everyone else seemed surprised by that statement. It seemed like an obvious fact to him, but Ward seemed to expect something from him in response.

Was this one of the witch-etiquette things he was supposed to have read about but hadn't because he'd been busy researching the Slayer line, preparing for Cal-Sci, or any number of other things?

Well, if it was, there wasn't much he could do about that now. But he still needed to respond.

"I realize that, Madam," he offered quietly, sure that the short response should be a pretty safe one. He was a little worried as exasperation entered the minds of all his other companions while he could both feel and see amusement in Madam Ward's eyes.

"I have not taken an apprentice in many years," Madam Ward continued, a bit of nostalgia drifting into her tone before she quickly shook it away. "But I think I should like to teach you what I can."

Charlie eyes widened in shock that he knew was partially his own, but also heightened by all the others around him. "You—You want to teach me magic?"

"If you care to learn it. Yes."

"I care!" Charlie replied quickly, wincing as his body protested even the slight, but still too abrupt action of responding quickly. "I mean, I want to. Learn magic. If—"

"Very good then, Charles." Madam Ward nodded to him, smiling softly as she rose from her seat and moved a few steps closer before holding out her hand. "We shall begin your first lesson this Monday evening, then."

Charlie didn't really think about it as he reached out to take her hand, starting to shake it even as she gently clasped their hands together, stopping as she placed her other hand on top of their joined hands.

"You accept me, Agatha Ward, as your teacher, child?"

Charlie stared at her, a little distracted by the excitement building up in the others around him, before he forced himself to reply. "Yes, of—"

"Then I accept you, Charles Eppes, as my apprentice. I shall teach you all I can, and help you all I may, as you take your first steps into the magics of this world."

Charlie gasped as warmth built up between their joint hands, seeping into his body as said hands started to glow, but Madam Ward kept speaking.

"So spoken by Agatha Ward."

The light grew brighter, and Charlie felt certain he wouldn't be able to break eye contact with Madam Ward if he wanted to.

"So witnessed by Constance Westwood."

Still the light grew brighter, though it didn't seem to hurt his eyes at all.

"So mote it be," Constance, Richard, Deborah and Lily said in unison.

An even greater wave of warmth flooded his aching body as the bright light faded until only their hands were glowing, and that too faded as the old witch gently released his hand and offered him a kind smile.

"I will see you at my townhouse on Monday at five-thirty, Charles."

Charlie nodded carefully in response, a bit surprised when the motion no longer seemed to hurt quite as much. "Yes, Madam."

"You may address me by my given name, Charles." Madam Ward told him, her voice still more kind than stern, though that changed with her next words. "Get some rest." She offered a nod to the others in the room, before she turned and moved away from them, to the open area of the living room. She turned back towards him, nodded to them all as she said, "Blessed be."

Then she disappeared.

Charlie stared at the place the old lady had been standing in, his eyes wide in astonishment. "She... She—"

"She teleported, yes." Constance told him with a small smile. "Some of the more experienced, more powerful witches are capable of that. They don't abuse it, of course. But Madam Ward was in Boston the last few days, remember? She had to teleport here, and she needs to do a few more things there before she flies back this evening."

"We called her on the way here," Deborah explained just as kindly. "Wayward astral projection can be a bit tricky to resolve, especially with an active Hellmouth nearby, and we didn't want to take any chances with you. So we called her cell phone while we were driving over."

"She got here almost twenty minutes before them. She just appeared in the mudroom," Lily offered, shaking her head in barely hidden amazement. "I knew some of the elders can teleport, but..."

"It is a little shocking to actually see it, yes." Constance agreed, smiling. "Though very few can actually do it like Madam Ward just did. She's done it so many times in the past that she doesn't even need to say the spell anymore. That can happen."

"But you'll be learning about that soon enough, little brother," Deborah cut in with a smile, shaking her head as some of the disbelief she—and all the other elder witches were feeling—leaked into her expression. "You're very lucky, little brother. Madam Ward hasn't deigned to take an apprentice in at least fifty-years—"

"Fifty-seven," Richard cut her off and his sister nodded.

"We'd best be on our way as well." Constance said as she and the other two also rose, "Deborah and I will see you at Angels' House tonight, alright?"

"Yes," Charlie nodded in agreement. "Thank you. Thank you for everything."

Constance nodded, bending down slightly to place a gentle kiss on his brow as she murmured, "Blessed be," and then she moved towards the door as Deborah moved towards him.

Deborah crouched down slightly to give him a hug, also murmuring, "Blessed be," before releasing him and following her sister-witch.

Richard just clamped one hand down on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze as he said his, "Blessed be," and followed his coven members.

Charlie and Lily both watched as the three magic-users gathered the meager belongings they'd brought with them before finally heading out the door. Then they turned back to each other.

Lily cocked her head to the side, but then rose and moved over to him, gently pushing him to lie back on the couch as she pulled the blanket on the back of the couch down to tuck him in again. "Get some rest. I'll wake you up in a few hours, okay?"

"Did Buffy—"

"They're fine. Buffy called me a few hours ago," Lily told him gently. "She's more than a little mad at you, but everything's alright on their end. You can talk to her later tonight. Or tomorrow. You need to rest now."

Charlie finally gave in, knowing she was right. "Thank you."

Lily nodded, giving him a bright smile as she also said, "Blessed be," before moving quickly out of the room.

Charlie frowned after her, "You know, with all of you saying that to me, I kind of feel like I'm missing something."

Lily's only response was a short laugh, followed by, "Go to sleep."


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XpressoPump, Sunnydale, California – Sunday, October 27, 1996

Buffy shook her head slightly, stifling the urge to sigh as she watched Willow fidget on the other side of the table they'd snagged a few minutes before. She didn't like making her friends uncomfortable, but this intervention really was for their own good. Though she probably should have picked a different place to stage it. If it were anyone else she wouldn't think it possible, but even the mere smell of coffee seemed to make Willow a little hyper. Of course, the redhead's obvious case of nerves didn't help, but still...

"Hey Buff, Wills!"

Both glanced up and towards the nearby door, returning the grin that Xander was sending their way as he made his way over to them and dropped down into the closest of the available seats, placing himself directly in between the two of them.

Buffy pushed the drink and muffin she'd bought for him towards him. "De-Caf, Iced Honey Coffee with extra cream and three sugars. And a chocolate, chocolate chip muffin."

"Much appreciated, Buffster." Xander picked up his muffin and took a bite out of the top, chewing the bite over and obviously savoring the taste as he rolled it over on his tongue a few times before swallowing, and then washed it down with a sip of his overly sweet drink. Then he raised an eyebrow at the Slayer, "What's the occasion?"

Buffy let both of her eyebrows shoot up in an expression of wounded innocence, "Can't I just want to hang with my BFF's?" she asked, before taking a sip of her cappuccino as she awaited his response.

"Of course you can!" Willow immediately interjected, before shaking her head slightly as she kept fiddling with the wrapper that'd come off her currently digesting blueberry muffin several minutes before. "But, um, it sounded like you wanted to talk about something?"

Again Buffy had to struggle a little to keep her expression neutral as both her friend's anxiety-levels suddenly spiked. She shrugged and took another sip of her cappuccino. Then she nodded. "I guess you could say this is an intervention of sorts."

The other two teenagers looked at each other, confusion filling their faces even as their emotions remained decidedly more nervous than confused as they turned those expressions back to her.

"What'd you mean, Buffy?" Xander's question came out a bit more demanding than he obviously intended, as he immediately winced and backpedaled. "I mean, it's not like Wills or I have any dangerous habits we need to be broken of. 'Cept maybe helpin' out with the slayer stuff, and it's not like you're gonna talk us out of that now."

"No. This has nothing to do with slaying." Buffy shook her head again, raising a hand to forestall any more comments and effectively stopping both of her friends as they obediently closed their mouths and waited for her to continue. "You two have been acting kinda weird around each other lately, and it's starting to affect how you treat the rest of us."

"What are you talking about?" Willow exclaimed defensively, shaking her head back and forth rapidly as she hurried on, while Xander just paled and started to look as uneasy as he was actually feeling. "We haven't been doing anything weird!"

"Uh-huh," Buffy nodded, letting a clear note of skepticism slip into the sound. Then she sighed, "Look, I know I'm not usually the most socially perceptive person around. It's something I've had to work on since I became the Slayer: balancing my life and my duty with everything else. But I'm not blind." Setting her now empty cup down, she held up a hand and began counting off her observations, tapping a finger with each one. "You two have been walking around, avoiding touching and carefully not looking at each other for at least the last few weeks. 'Cept you occasionally sneak looks that you hope no one notices." She gestured sharply to stop them when both opened their mouths to protest, effectively stopping them again. "You guys are my best friends. I care about both of you, and I care about Oz and Cordy, too. Sooner or later, one or both of them is gonna pick up on whatever is going on between you two. And someone—maybe several some ones—is gonna get hurt. I don't want to see that. So let's just skip the instinctive denials and start fixing the problem." She finished, her tone as firm as she could make it as she kept her gaze locked on both of them.

After several long seconds of silence, both seemed to wilt a little as they sighed and looked down in defeat.

"So?" Buffy raised an eyebrow as she leaned back in her chair, her eyes still locked on both her friends. "What's the what?" When neither one looked up after several more seconds of silence, she shook her head. "My guess, Willow, is that Xander finally noticed you were a girl." She grinned a little as both started and looked up at her. "Am I close?"

Both nodded, nearly identical blushes of embarrassment flooding their faces.

"Y-Yeah, I-I guess," Willow stammered, shooting Xander a quick look before she turned her eyes back to the slayer. "Kind of."

"What happened?"

"We were trying on our outfits for the homecoming a few weeks ago. Willow was worried about dancing. So, we dance." Xander sighed, "And then we, kind of, kissed."

"Kind of?"

Willow shook her head, "No, not kind of. We did kiss."

"I kissed her—"

"It's not like I told you to stop, Xan—"

"Ok, ok," Buffy cut them off before they could really get going. "So you kissed before the homecoming fiasco. Then what?"

"We, uh, might've made-out in the library," Willow admitted.

Buffy nodded, "Anywhere else?"

Xander sighed, "Almost at the Bronze."

"Okay," the slayer nodded again, before sighing. "So are you gonna break up with Oz and Cordy?"

"No!" both cried, shaking their heads from side to side in rapid, jerky motions.

"But?" Buffy asked, even as she struggled to weed through the emotions her empathetic senses were catching coming off of her friends. But the chaotic, continuously changing influx was not easy to read. She was sensing panic, worry and shame now. But underneath all of that was the friendship and love that'd always been there. The lust, anger and hurt she'd been picking up from time to time wasn't there right now.

Willow sighed again. "You know I had a crush on Xander for the longest time, Buffy. I'm with Oz now, but... I think I still have some of the same feelings for Xander." She paused, and then continued in a panicked rush, "But I love Oz! I really, really do!"

Buffy nodded slowly, never having doubted this. It was some of the other emotions that were the problem. "How about you, Xander?"

"Pretty much the same, I guess." Xander admitted with a sigh of his own. "I mean, I've always loved you, Willow. I'd do anything to keep you safe. But..." he shook his head. "Lately, I've been getting, I don't know. Different feelings for you, I guess. Feelings like I feel for Cordy."

Buffy gave the same slow nod in response as both of her friends looked at her in worry. Then she sighed. "You know, I really didn't want Faith and I to be right about this." Not that that was likely, given her empathetic abilities, but she'd still hoped. She shook her head. "You two need to really talk about this. Work it out and decide what's gonna happen next. It's not fair to Cordy or Oz, or either of you, for you to leave it unresolved. It'll come back and bite ya in the ass way too soon." She rose in a smooth, entirely graceful motion and glided over to the nearby counter, setting her empty cup on it, and then tossing her muffin wrapper in the nearest trashcan on her way back to the table. But she didn't take her seat again, instead she put her hands on her hips. "I've gotta get going. But you two need to sit here and talk. You're both old enough and smart enough to figure this out on your own and start treating your significant others—and yourselves—with the respect all of you deserve. So I'll let you get to it."

Then she spun on her heel and moved out of the almost empty café, suppressing the urge to stick around and make sure her friends were actually going to follow her advice. Knowing that she'd done all she could now, and the rest was up to them.

Hopefully they didn't screw it up.

She'd feel much worse yelling at them for this kind of thing that she was going to feel for yelling at Charlie when she and her mom dropped in on him tonight to find out what the hell he'd been doing the night before last.


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Summers' House, Sunnydale, California – Sunday, October 27, 1996

Faith glared down at the worksheet that was currently confounding her. Math had never been one of the few scholastic subjects she enjoyed, but she didn't want to let Math-man down if she could help it, so she struggled on.

Honestly, it'd gotten a lot easier since she became a Slayer, which B admitted to too. Multiple-choice and true or false tests were both bizarrely easy and ridiculously frustrating. If told to pick from two or more answers, somehow a Slayer always knew the right one when it came to 'simple logic,' which according to Math-man, math was. The real problem was that it didn't mean that Faith herself could actually do or understand the math, just that she could pick out the answer if it was in front of her.

B and Math-man thought it was some kind of strategy-aspect of the Slayer that hadn't been overly explored. Faith thought it was annoying.

Though it was pretty cool when she finally managed to figure out how to do something.

The Slayer looked up as the sound of a truck stopping nearby caught her attention; it was right outside. Happy for any distraction the world was willing to give her, she turned to look out the window and saw a Fed-Ex truck parked in front of the house and a twenty-something guy walking up to the front door.

She tossed her pencil down on the coffee table with the workbook she'd been struggling with as she rose to practically skip over to the front door, grinning slightly as she caught sight of Vesta sprawled out in a patch of sunlight on the dining room floor. She reached the door and pulled it open just as the deliveryman had raised his hand to knock. "Can I help you?"

"Good afternoon, ma'am. Delivery for Miss Faith Lehane?"

Faith started slightly, honestly having expected to need to pretend to be Buffy to take the delivery for one of the Summers ladies. That the package could be for her hadn't remotely occurred to her. And it made her a little suspicious, so she frowned at him. "Who's it from?"

The redhead blinked at her, probably surprised by the obvious suspicion in her voice, but he quickly shook his surprise off as he glanced at the package. "Miss Lehane?"

Faith nodded slowly, "Yeah."

"The package is from a Dr. Eppes?"

Faith blinked again. What would Math-man be sending her? "Oh."

The redhead tucked the small package in question under one arm so he could hold the clipboard * and pen he'd also brought with him out to her. "Sign down at the bottom, please." (26)

The Slayer accepted the clipboard, eyes quickly scanning over the paper to see that it did, in fact, claim that it was receipt for a delivery from a Dr. Charles Eppes in Los Angeles to Miss Faith Lehane in Sunnydale. At the bottom there was a line over the word 'Signature', and she quickly scrawled her barely legible signature across it before handing the clipboard back and accepting the package.

"Thank you, Miss Lehane. Have a nice day."

"Thanks," Faith nodded to him, before closing the front door of the Summers' home as the deliveryman turned and quickly made his way down the front steps towards his truck. She looked down at the package; which happened to be the first item she'd ever had delivered to and for her in this manner. When she'd lived in Boston with her first Watcher she'd accepted packages before, but she'd never ordered anything and anything the Council sent for Slayer-related stuff had always been addressed to Dr. Dormer.

But it was her name in the box for the recipient's info, listed right over the address for the Summers' home. Her home.

"Meow?"

Faith jumped slightly, surprised yet again by the Summers' house new guest's soundless approach. You'd think she'd at least have notice the slightly smoky smell that always came off of the still cute little creature, but then again that scent now effectively permeated the house.

"Hey, V," Faith nodded to the fire-kitty. "Looks like we've got a present from math-man." After another second of just staring at the package, she hesitantly slipped one finger under a semi-loose part of the brown packaging and easily peeled it away from the box. With Slayer-strength paper, tape and cardboard were barely noticeable obstacles, and she had the box open in her lap as she sat down on the couch just a second or two later. Directly inside the box, on top of a bunch of packaging, was a small blue envelope with her name slightly off-center in blue ink. She stared at it for another second, before reaching down to pick it up and setting it aside, before digging through the bubble-wrap stuff underneath to find the tiny item hidden inside.

She came up with what was very obviously a cell phone in a bright red protective case and stared at that, too, for several confused seconds before turning her attention back to the little blue envelope and opening it carefully with the cell phone still carefully cradled in one hand.

"Meow Meow?"

Faith shook her head, grinning slightly even as she pulled a small piece of thick paper out of the little envelope, her eyes quickly skimming over the message it bore in the same handwriting that'd written her name on the outside of the envelope.

Dear Faith,

I thought a phone of your own might come in handy, especially given your Calling. It's prepaid through the next year, with all the numbers I thought might be useful programmed into the contacts list. Buffy's phone number and mine are obviously there, as well as Lily's and bunch of the others tied to Angels' House.

If you need help with anything, Slayer-related, school-related, or otherwise, please call one of us. Even if it's just to chat.

Take care of yourself.

Charlie

P.S. You probably don't need to be told, but Buffy's mentioned that Slayer-strength can be very destructive to alarm clocks, so you might want to avoid using that feature.

Faith chuckled, the postscript bringing to mind the upstairs closet, which Mrs. Summers always had stocked with at least half-a-dozen alarm clocks. It was definitely a necessity, since she and B went through at least three a week. They'd tried all sorts of ways to spare the annoyingly necessary devices the trauma of so short an existence, but whether it was on the nightstand next to the bed or across the room, somehow they always managed to destroy the things when they were half-awakened by the annoying sounds the things emitted.

Setting the note down on the table and tossing the box aside after she'd taken out the charging cord Math-Man had sent with it, Faith hesitantly opened her phone up and pressed down on the green key that she knew from watching B with hers would turn the thing on.

She watched the screen as the little device came to life, then started fiddling with the buttons. She blinked in surprise when she found the contact list and saw that Math-Man hadn't been kidding, he'd programmed just about every number she could ever need into the list.

Stopping on the cell number for Charlie Eppes, Faith glanced at the clock, and then shook her head. B had said Math-Man would be giving a class at Angels' House sometime both yesterday afternoon and this afternoon. That was partially why B and Joyce hadn't called ahead when they'd left this afternoon for their quick trip to LA a little while before. They weren't sure when said class was and didn't want to risk interrupting it.

With a sigh, she closed the phone and set it gently down on the coffee table before turning her attention back to her studies. She smiled slightly as Vesta jumped up onto the couch next to her and curled up at her side, even as she tried to focus on her workbook again.

Maybe she'd called Math-Man later for help, but it'd be nice if she could figure it out on her own.


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Eppes' House, Pasadena, California – Sunday, October 27, 1996

Charlie suppressed a groan at his mother's repeated inquiry—she'd been asking after his health all day. "Really, Mom. I'm fine. Just a little tired."

Honestly, more than anything else he was relieved, but also a little bit worried.

His parents had immensely enjoyed their much belated visit to Angels' House yesterday. So much so they'd returned again the following day. They'd been warmly received, of course, and the affectionate pride that'd been radiating off of them the entire time they there had been a little bit overwhelming. Plus, with all of the new people and different things to learn about the house coming at them, they hadn't noticed just how under the weather Charlie still was.

He kind of felt like he was recovering from the flu; achy and tired, with a headache that would probably turn into a migraine some time in the not too distant future.

Whatever Madam Ward had done for him had really worked wonders, and the strange concoction Lily made him choke down before they left for the city in her car had helped too. So much so he'd actually agreed to choke it down again today, too.

When his parents had first committed to coming to visiting Angels' House and sitting in on this particular class, he had considered shifting the class order around a bit, so that he could give them a demonstration that wouldn't be too confusing. He'd surpassed both his parents mathematically before his ninth birthday. As intelligent as they both were, their expertise was not in mathematics and it had clearly shown. But that wasn't why he'd been worried, he was used to that and knew they were used to only understanding one word in ten when he went off into math jargon. But adding computers to the mix had honestly worried him.

His mom was okay with computers; she had to use them at work for various things all the time now. She checked her email regularly and was quite comfortable with the various faculties of Microsoft Office. But that was pretty much where her compatibility with computers ended.

His dad, on the other hand, avoided them like the plague. The company he worked for had younger engineers to work with the new technological implements that were coming out every day. Most of what his dad did he did with paper, a pencil and some tools for measurements and whatnot. He had an email box, but he really only checked it when his wife reminded him to, which was about once every other week.

So the more in-depth aspects of the class he was covering, specifically focusing on working with computers and whatnot, were a bit above their understanding of the 'infernal box' as Dr. Giles had, according to Annie, dubbed it at one point. More because of the generational boundary than anything else. Whereas most of the kids his age had been either brought up with computers or weaned into them by the education system, no one really had them when his parents were growing up. Save for some of the companies that had much less advanced, and considerably larger models for some reason or another. (27)

But, in the end, he was glad he'd decided against moving the schedule around. Primarily because he didn't think it was fair to his students to switch the syllabus up like that. He knew some teachers did it, but he hadn't liked it when it'd happened in classes he'd been in, and he knew many other students didn't like it either. So he'd decided against doing it himself. (28)

And he was very glad he had, especially since it'd given him classes that gave him plenty of opportunities to sit down and remain sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Margaret spoke up again as she slowed down to turn into there driveway. "I invited Larry and Marshall to join us for dinner tonight since Marshall is flying back east today."

'Marshall?' Charlie wondered, frowning in confusion for a second, before realization struck. 'No. Please tell me she didn't!' He looked around, glad to see that the pretentious prig wasn't there yet. "Did you have to invite Penfield, mom?"

The blonde sighed, "Yes, Charlie, I did." Then she shot him a warning look. "And you will behave this evening."

"But Mom—"

"Uh-uh. You're not fifteen any more, Charlie. And you're going to be a teaching classes at a college soon, so you should be able to act like an adult. Even around people you don't like." She sighed as she turned the car off, shaking her head as she turned back to him. "Really, I don't understand why you two can't get along better. You have so much in common."

Charlie opened his mouth to reply, but stopped in surprise as a familiar presence washed over him. He started slightly, and then turned in his seat to look back in the direction they'd just come from, just in time to see Annie's mom's SUV turn onto their road. He blinked, suppressing a wince as Annie's worry and irritation slammed into him. Trying to cover his strange lapse, he turned back around to face his parents, who were now exchanging puzzled looks. "Did you invite Annie, too?"

Margaret blinked, "No, I—" she stopped as she flicked her gaze towards the road to see the same familiar car pulling up behind them, two familiar blondes' inside. "No, I didn't. But this is a nice surprise."

"I hope everything's alright," Alan murmured, shaking his head as he unbuckled his seatbelt and then opened the front passengers side door to slide out of his seat, his wife and son following his example. "An—Buffy, Joyce," he called as he started towards the two women, a warm smile stretched across his face. "This is a nice surprise."

"Good evening, Alan, Margaret, Charlie," Joyce nodded to teach of them as they met in the gap between their cars. "I hope we're not intruding?"

"Of course not," Margaret quickly reassured her, pulling the other mother into a quick hug, shaking her head as she stepped back and then moved to Annie, though her eyes remained on Joyce. "And I know I've told you to call me Maggie, Joyce."

"Of course, I'm sorry," the older Summers' apologized, stopping as she turned slightly towards the street when a taxi stopped in front of the house.

Charlie suppressed a groan as he watched his mentor and rival exit the vehicle, clearly splitting the price of the fare before making their way across the front yard towards the group standing in the driveway. But whatever thought had been developing on the matter suddenly abandoned him as he was hit by a wave of nervousness and growing resentment from his Princeton peer. He flinched back slightly from the onslaught.

"Good evening, Larry, Marshall." Margaret nodded to both, smiling widely.

"Hi," Annie spoke up before Charlie's mom could move to introduce her, smiling widely as she held a hand out towards the physicist. "I'm Annie O'Connor, Charlie's girlfriend. This is my mom, Joyce. You must be Larry Fleinhardt? Charlie's told me a lot abut you."

A part of Charlie was surprised at Joyce's easy acceptance at being introduced under a false name, and he wondered how much of that acceptance came from her knowledge of her daughter's Calling and how much of it was from the spell that'd been placed on the name O'Connor centuries before at Angeles' expense. Though the fact that none of the three parents there had blinked at Annie introducing herself as Charlie's girlfriend was much more surprising.

"Delighted, Miss—"

"Call me Annie," the blonde cut him off.

Larry nodded, smiling widely, "Then please call me Larry. Would you be the young lady that Charles' has been helping build a youth center in the inner city?"

Annie nodded, returning his smile. "That's me." She was still smiling as she shifted back to Charlie's side and slipped her arm through his, reaching down to grab his hand in a gentle grasp even as she sent a pulse of warm affection at him. She never held her hand out to Penfield to shake. "Though Lily and Charlie do most of the work. Have you been to Angels House?"

"I have not yet had the pleasure, I'm afraid," Larry shook his head. "I'm afraid Dr. Penfield and I were caught up in several meetings the last few days." Then he nodded his head towards Penfield, "I'm sure Charles has mentioned Dr. Penfield, as well?"

Annie cocked her head slightly to the side, but before she could say anything Penfield himself spoke up.

"Actually, it wouldn't surprise me if he hadn't." The slightly older scientist offered a clearly nervous grin at the pretty blonde. "We had many classes together, of course, but Princeton's rigorous program didn't leave too much free time for socializing. Especially for those that wanted to complete both the undergraduate and graduate programs in record time."

The backhanded flattery made Charlie blink in bewilderment, especially since he was still sensing a strange combination of negative emotions from his rival. Resentment and irritation strangely mixed with nervousness and a bit of lust.

Obviously, the first two were directed towards Charlie and the last was probably for the Slayer, but the third confused Charlie. The nervous could, also, be for Annie's presence, of course, but it was much stronger than Charlie thought it should be if that were the case.

His empathetic abilities were, of course, dulled quite a bit by Annie's presence; as they focused primarily on her, but the most distinct emotional reading he was getting from the older mathematician was still definitely nervousness.

But after a moment of thought he attributed that to a combination of meeting new people and Annie's presence; she was a very pretty girl, after all, and were it not for the unusual circumstances of their meeting Charlie, himself, probably never would have been comfortable approaching her, either. The high school prom queen and cheerleader captain—both of which most people would believe Annie could definitely be—girls like her didn't usually show much interest in nerds and geeks, even geniuses. The thought, combined with Penfield's own nerves, made Charlie shuffle a little uncomfortably. Despite the considerable plus their empathetic bond gave them, he sometimes still had trouble believing that this beautiful, heroic young woman would have any reason to be interested in him at all. Too many of the girl's he'd met in high school and college were only interested in getting his help with their homework, though in high school many had also used him as a way to meet his brother.

"That makes sense, I guess," Annie nodded, still smiling and her grip on Charlie's hand still solid. But as another wave of resentment and lust came off of Penfield, she released Charlie's hand and instead slipped her arm up and around his waist, leaning into his side as he wrapped an his arm around her slender shoulders, trying to not act surprised.

Disbelief now made its way into Penfield's emotional state, even as his resentment rose. Surprisingly, his facial expression was perfectly neutral.

"Well," Margaret drew their eyes, "I'd better head inside and check on our supper. I hope everyone likes Tzimmes?" (29)


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Joyce Summers' Car, California – Sunday, October 27, 1996

Joyce had of course kept most of her attention on driving home since they'd left the Eppes' house. Though they would have loved to accept the Eppes' invitation to spend the night and spend more time there, Buffy had missed far too much school recently, so it wasn't really an option.

Buffy hadn't been overly talkative since they left. Joyce would've thought she might be asleep, but she knew that sleep was one thing Buffy needed very little of since she became The Slayer. And that this time of night, when she and Faith normally patrolled Sunnydale's dark streets, was when she was at her most alert. And undoubtedly feeling very trapped in the car.

So maybe it wouldn't be too bad of her to bring up the subject she'd been excitedly, curiously thinking over since they left. Even if it embarrassed her daughter. "You really couldn't resist, could you?"

Buffy's answer was immediate, she didn't need to ask what her mother was talking about. But then again, her daughter introducing herself as Charlie's girlfriend—even if it was just to antagonize Charlie's rival—was surely something she knew had to interest her mother. "No, no I couldn't.

Joyce was quiet for several long seconds, but then her excited curiosity got the better of her again, "So are you two going to be dating now?"

"Would I mind if we were?" Buffy finally glanced at her mother, shaking her head slightly. "No."

"But?" Joyce frowned slightly, keeping her eyes on the road. Hoping the lack of obvious scrutiny would help her daughter open up more.

"Well, he'll be a teacher; teaching at a college soon. Probably not the college I'm going to be going to, but I'll still be a college student in L.A. It might—"

"That's only because he's such a gifted young man, honey. You can't hold that against him. Especially since he's barely a year older than you. And he's such a sweet, interesting person, too. I like him."

She could hear the smile in Buffy's voice, "I'm glad." Then the teen sighed. "I don't hold it against him. I'm really excited for him: he's so happy to be going into teaching soon. It's the only job he's ever really wanted and he's even at the college he wanted originally."

Knowing it was there again, Joyce added, "But?"

"I don't want to make it hard for him. I mean, he's already worried about the fact that the only students he'll be older than are the freshmen. I don't want to do anything that might make the faculty or his students give him a harder time."

Joyce chuckled, "That's good of you, Buffy. But I don't think you and Charlie dating would hurt him in any way. Sure, it might make some guys jealous of Charlie, but most men like that. I doubt Charlie's the exception."

"I guess—" she stopped abruptly and started digging through her coat pocket. It was only when she pulled out her cell phone that Joyce realized it'd been vibrating. The subtler signs of her daughter's supernatural abilities sometimes threw her off more than the big things. "Faith? Are you alr—" Buffy paused for a second, and her worry gave way to curiosity after whatever Faith had said registered. "Yeah, we're on our way back now. We should be in town soon. When did you get a cell?" She paused again for Faith, and then released a disgruntled sigh. "Charlie sent you one?" She shook her head. "No, I'm not mad at you. Just a little annoyed with him. If he's not careful I might start to think he's trying to buy me or something." She shook her head again, laughing softly, "No, not really, I guess."

Joyce shook her head too, smiling as she glanced at the mile marker they were passing. They'd be home soon.


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General Hospital, Sunnydale, California – Monday, October 28, 1996

Buffy sighed, shaking her head slightly as she watched the Englishwoman stubbornly sulk, head turned away from her three visitors and radiating hostile emotions that Buffy was having a lot of trouble understanding as she watched Post glare at the wall.

"The Council's recovery team will be arriving shortly," Giles told his countrywoman after several long moments of silence.

"I know," Post replied, her tone short. Emotionally, her hostile output remained almost the same, tinged only a little bit with hopelessness and some fear. But both emotions vanished quickly under the much more ferocious jealousy and rage the woman was keeping bottled up inside.

Buffy shook her head, "Can't you at least tell us why? I mean, you're human. And you used to be a Watcher, so you must've known—"

"Do you know what I was before I was a Watcher?" Post cut her off, finally turning to face her audience.

Buffy shook her head slowly. "No. I don't."

"Me neither," Faith interjected, a bit of curiosity pulsing off her but not showing up in her voice or in any visible outlet. She still had to arms crossed over her chest, a forcibly neutral expression locked on her face.

"Dr. Giles?"

Giles sighed. "Your ancestral family has not been with the Council for quite as many generations as mine, Mrs. Post. Though your late husbands has. Still, I would think it a safe assumption to assume you'd been raised to eventually become a Watcher, just like I was. The Council doesn't let go of family very easily."

"No, they don't." Post agreed, her tone deadened. "But I wasn't raised to be a Watcher. That was my fallback career."

Buffy sensed Giles' surprised realization before he voiced it.

"You were a Potential."

Post nodded.

"A what?" Buffy and Faith asked at the same time.

"A, um, a candidate for the next Slayer, you could say," Giles told them, his glasses once again slipping off his face and finding their way into the handkerchief he'd pulled from his pocket with the ease of long practice.

Post scoffed, "A candidate? You make is sound so commonplace, Dr. Giles. Like my life wasn't tied to that one kismet and nothing else in my world should matter. Like I wan't raised to believe I was destined for the greatest of destinies, only to be told after years of training and tests and nightmares that I obviously wasn't good enough!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Waitaminute." Buffy held her hands up slightly to stop the older blonde's tirade. "You mean you wanted to be a Slayer?"

"My father, Thomas Lloyd, died when I was three while on patrol with his Slayer, Justine Eaton, in Australia. My mother wasn't from a Watcher family, but she believed in the cause completely. Even though the Council didn't identify me as a Potential Slayer until shortly after my seventh birthday, mother had been preparing me for the destiny for years. She was so sure I was going to be one of the greatest Slayers that'd ever lived." The middle-aged woman shook her head. "She died when I was eight, the same year Nikki Wood was called in the United States. To her dying day, mother was always so certain I'd become the best Slayer ever."

After several seconds of silence, Faith spoke up, sounding a lot more detached from the discussion than she actually was. "So you dedicated your life to something that wasn't possible?"

Post sneered, her jealousy spiking as she continued. "Wood didn't die until shortly after my seventeenth birthday. Even after she'd gotten herself preggers during her second year as the Slayer. She somehow managed to conceal her pregnancy and continue to perform her duties."

"Gee," Faith immediately sneered back, "don't sound so happy about it. Such a tragedy, a Slayer managing to both do her job well and have a life at the same time."

Buffy reached back slightly to catch one of Faith's hands, giving it a gentle squeeze while shaking her head, silently signaling for her sister slayer's silence.

"You can't understand," Post shook her head again, a bit of dejection slipping into her voice. "How could you? Either of you. You were Chosen." She continued quickly, her words coming more and more rapidly as she did so. "I could've been Called. If not for Wood. But even with her, I was seventeen when she died. Just barely young enough. I should've been—"

"But you weren't Called," Giles cut her off, shaking his head sadly. Though he still had a great deal of irritation and anger towards this woman, he was starting to feel a bit sympathetic, which Buffy couldn't understand at all and she could sense that Faith couldn't either. "Lana Pajari was. And you were too old by the time she died."

Post looked away, scowling. "Yes."

A heavy silence hung around them for several long moments, before Giles decided to break it. "Given your history with dark magic, the Council shan't let you off this time."

"I don't expect them to."

"They might be persuaded to at least let you live, should you have anything worthwhile to offer?"

Buffy and Faith both shot their watcher shocked looks. The Council was going to kill Post? Buffy wanted to protest that idea, but held her tongue, shooting Faith a look to keep her quiet as well.

Post laughed darkly. "I have nothing to offer them. Save information that they undoubtedly already know more than not. They already know about The Fallen. They just don't really care."

Faith spoke before Buffy could, one eyebrow raised, "The Fallen?"

"Women like Michaela and I, who were raised as potentials and then all but abandoned when we weren't Chosen. Most, like me, became Watchers but quickly grew bitter and left the Watchers to seek better fortunes. To empower ourselves outside of the Council's influence."

"Can't say I'm a major fan of the Council, really," Buffy offered, shrugging when her Watcher looked at her. "What? You're great, Giles. But everyone else seems pretty useless to me. I mean, it's not like they've ever been much help when you've called for it. They don't even really help with research, from what I can see. Anytime a big bad comes around we assemble the Scoobies. We don't call Tweed-land."

Post chuckled darkly, and she was sneering as she spoke. "Are you actually attempting to sympathize with me, Miss Summers? I don't need your pity."

"Maybe not," Buffy shrugged, sighing a bit sadly. "But that doesn't mean it's wrong for me, for us, to recognize something that's clearly wrong." She shook her head. "How else is it gonna get changed?"

One golden and somehow entirely English eyebrow rose, "Changed? You think you can convince the Council to change a regimen and mindset that has worked for centuries?" She shook her head. "Though I'd love to see you try, child, I'm quite sure you are over estimating your abilities. And your value."

"Mrs. Post—" Giles tried to object, but Post cut him off.

"Really, Dr. Giles, you'd do well to make these children recognize the boundaries they cannot break. Before they do something the Council is unwilling to forgive. After all," the older woman shook her head again. "If it comes down to it, it wouldn't be the first time the Council has executed a Slayer for 'the greater good' or some such rationale. And it certainly will not be the last."

"Execu—"

Buffy cut Faith off, hissing under her breath at a volume that only the other Slayer could hear. "Not now, Faith." Then she continued more loudly. "I've faced assassins before. And I've worked with the Council's best men."

"That doesn't make you invulnerable, girl. Though the Council may have some difficulty bringing you down, that doesn't mean it's impossible. And it certainly doesn't mean they won't try if you force them to."

A knock at the door startled everyone in the room, and the twenty-something, blond man that opened it immediately found himself the focus of four different pairs of eyes.

The blond nodded to Giles, then in Buffy and Faith's direction. "Dr. Giles, Miss Summers, Miss Lehane. Gregory Shaw, from England. I'm here to handle Mrs. Post's transfer."

"Of course, Mr. Shaw. I've been expecting you." Giles nodded to the younger man, shooting the two slayers quick looks to keep them quiet. "But first, may I see some identification?"

Buffy wasn't about to say anything though, she was too confused. Because Post had felt so relieved when this man from the Council walked in. Given that Giles said the Council might very well kill her it seemed like a very odd reaction...

"Of course," the younger man agreed, reaching into an inside coat pocket to pull out his wallet, flipping it open to show Giles a weird looking drivers license. Probably a British license. It had the man's picture there, though, and the name Shaw, Gregory, clearly printed, so it served its purpose.

"Very good," Giles nodded to the young man, and then raised an eyebrow slightly. "I trust you have back-up? Even with one arm, Mrs. Post is a fairly powerful magic-user."

"Thanks for the compliment, Dr. Giles," Post spoke up before Shaw could reply. "But I'm weaker than a kitten right now. So little Shaw here may need help carrying me out, but not because I'm gonna put up a fight."

"Perhaps," Shaw nodded to Post's protest first, before answering Giles question. "But yes, I do have a team on hand to help, of course. The Council is very diligent about... matters such as these."

"Of course," Giles nodded again, before moving towards the door. "We'll be on our way then. Safe journey to you both. Ladies?"

"A moment," Shaw spoke up again, raising a hand slightly as Faith started to follow Giles out. "May I say it is, of course, an honor to meet you both?"

Buffy and Faith both nodded, then Faith moved towards the door Giles was holding ajar for them again, stepping through it before him.

Buffy met Giles eyes for a second, "Go on, Giles. I'll be out in a minute."

Her Watcher frowned at her, but complied, closing the door behind him.

Buffy immediately turned her eyes back to 'Mr. Shaw' who was watching her curiously. "Who are you?"

He blinked at her, "I beg your pardon, Miss Summers. Dr. Gi—"

"An ID and knowing our names might be enough to fool my Watcher, Mister-Whatever-Your-Name-Really-Is, but not me. Post, here, was way to relieved to see you for you to actually be the Council guy that's supposed to be picking her up. So who are you?"

'Shaw' glanced at Post, who was staring at Buffy, her eyes wide.

"How did you—"

Buffy cut Post off, "I was good at reading people before I became the Slayer. Now I'm very good at it." She raised an eyebrow at the man. "Well? Are you with The Fallen, too?"

'Shaw' immediately turned a frown towards Post. "You told them—"

"The Council already knows about us St—Gregory. There's little harm in the Slayers knowing, too."

The blond shook his head, turning pleading hazel eyes to the Slayer. "I'm sure Gwen is sorry for what she did, Miss Summers. But surely you don't think she deserves to die for it?"

"She tried to kill me. And Faith." Buffy protested, though her heart wasn't really in it. Not when she could sense the fear that was now radiating off of the two people in front of her. "She hurt Giles. And she killed the other woman that was—"

"Michaela was a spy," Post spat, adding when whatever-his-name-was looked at her, "For the Order of Anarchia *. I'm sure the only reason she hadn't killed me already was because I'd convinced her that the Slayers might come after us, and she didn't know if she could take them by herself. That's why I wanted you to meet us at the border. Make it harder for her to try and kill me and take the glove for herself, and her friends." (28)

The guy nodded, "I see." Then he sighed and looked over at Buffy again, his eyes pleading. "Please, Miss Summers. We do not have the time to explain. If the Council finds me here, they'll kill both of us without a second thought."

"But Post—"

"I'm sure you've been told she's to receive a fair trial," the guy nodded. "But she won't. Fair would imply that she'd be judged by those with an open mind. But that certainly won't be the case. She's already been judged, all they've to do now is schedule her execution." He shook his head, "We're at war, for lack of a better word, because we want change. We don't like the way the Council works, the rules Watchers are supposed to live by. And the Council can't accept the idea of change."

"The Fallen aren't just ex-potentials," Post murmured. "It's basically all ex-Watchers who've turned against the Council. They think of us as traitors, and they hate us much more than any demons or vampires."

Buffy nodded slowly, then she moved over to the clipboard that had all of Post's information on it, picking it up and quickly scribbling her email out across a blank corner, before tearing off that corner piece off and setting the clipboard back where she'd gotten this. She held the small paper out to Post, "That's my email. I wanna hear from you. Soon. Call yourself Poppins."

Post stared at her for a long second, before finally accepting the small piece of paper, nodding slowly. "As soon as I'm able, I promise."

Sensing she was sincere, Buffy nodded and then spun on her heel and hurried out of the room. It took her barely a few minutes to reach the lobby, where Giles was waiting for her.

"Is something the matter, Buffy?" He asked, the concern he was feeling also audible.

The Slayer shook her head, "No, everything's fine." She glanced around. "Where's Faith?"

Giles nodded his head towards the nearby clock. "It's almost sundown. She thought she might start the first patrol a bit early this evening."

Buffy nodded, "Yeah, she'd mentioned that." She rolled her shoulders a bit, before asking, "Did she say where she's gonna start?"

"Rosefield Cemetery."

"K," Buffy nodded, turning towards the door. "I'm gonna see if I can catch her. We'll check in with ya later, Giles."

"Buffy, are you sure—"

"I'm fine, Giles. I just wanna catch up with Faith now, OK? See ya later." Without waiting for a reply, Buffy moved off at a brisk walk.

For some reason she was quite sure she wanted to get out of the hospital before the real Council guys showed up. And it wasn't just because she didn't want to spend any more time in a hospital than she had to. She wasn't sure what it was. It wasn't that she'd be in danger here, or she'd never have left Giles behind.

As it turns out, she was right on time. Because when she pushed open the main door to leave the building, she saw a blond guy that looked about the same age as the not-Shaw, all dressed up in the Council's beloved tweed, with several men all in black behind him. One of the men in black was Alistair Collins.

The tweed-guy barely glanced at her, though he clearly recognized her in that glance, and literally turned his nose up at her, making her blink. Collins and the other men in black, on the other hand, all nodded to her respectfully as they moved past her and into the hospital.

Buffy almost stopped, thinking of trying to slow them down to give Post and whatever-his-name-was more time to escape. But she couldn't think of any way to do that that wasn't entirely obvious, and knew that it wasn't the kind of attention she wanted to bring on herself and her friends at the moment.

So she kept walking across the lot, sending a silent wish for Post and her rescuer to get away and for Giles to escape this unscathed.

Then, once she'd reached the woodsy area on the side, she started to run, headed for Rosefield Cemetery in the southeastern corner of town.


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FBI Headquarters, Los Angeles, California – Tuesday, October 29, 1996

Don shook his head as he followed his partner into the bar he'd picked out. "I still don't get why you want ta come here, Coop. I mean, I thought you wanted to work?"

"I do," the older agent confirmed as he swung an arm around Don's shoulders. "But I know I'm not gonna get much use outta you until you've had a chance ta unwind. So that's what we're doin' tonight. Unwindin'."

Don groaned and rolled his eyes, "Coop, getting me drunk is not gonna make me forget that my little brother is in some kind of trouble."

"Probably not," Coop agreed, nodding serenely. "But there's nothing you can do about that, is there? Not unless you wanna loose your job or try to wrestle it out of your brother; which we probably cou—"

"We're not interrogating my brother," Don cut him off, shaking his head. Privately adding, 'Not yet, at least.' He didn't know exactly what Charlie was involved in, that was the problem. And if he went at him head on and found out that his gut was wrong, there was no telling how much damage he could do to the already hurting and distant relationship he had with his genius-kid brother.

"Suit yourself. Offers always open though." Coop said, pushing him into a barstool as he finished. "As long as you don't do anything to get us stuck on desk work under pounds of papers again anytime soon."

"Roger that," Don agreed, shaking his head. He nodded as the bartender stopped in front of him. "Budweiser, unopened can, thanks."

"Same," Coop nodded and nodded again as the bartender handed him and then Don their unopened beers. He raised an eyebrow after the bartender had moved away form them. "Feelin' a bit paranoid, are we?"

Don sighed, shaking his head even as he opened the beer and threw his head back to have gravity help him take a long gulp from the can before sitting upright again as he swallowed. "Can you really blame me?" He shrugged, "I've never thought of myself as a conspiracy nut. I mean, it's not like I went looking for this thing, but as far as I can tell someone way up the food chain doesn't want me looking after my little brother."

"And you can't stand that," Cooper nodded, taking a sip from his own beer before continuing. "Though, to be fair, it's not your brother's mugging the higher ups were throwing a hissy-fit over."

"I know," Don sighed again. "It was Sunnydale. But it just doesn't make sense!"

"I know, I know," Coop cut in before the younger agent could really get into it again. "But what can you do about it, huh? Nothing." He held up a hand to forestall protests as he took another sip of beer, then continued after he swallowed. "I'm not saying you should forget that your little bro might be in trouble, Don. I'm just sayin' that you're not gonna be much help to him if you lose your job trying to uncover something that might not affect him at all."

Don sighed, nodding slowly. "I know, I know. I do. I just," he shook his head as he took another sip of his beer also. "I can't just let it go, Coop."

"Then don't. Don't let it go." The older agent advised, smilingly a little at the slightly shocked look his words earned him before he continued. "Put it on hold. For a couple a months, maybe a year or two."

"But—"

"As far as you can figure is Charlie in any danger right now?"

"Well, no, but—"

"But nothing. Mightn't your investigation bring more scrutiny onto you, and your family, your brother included, than is really safe for the kid?"

"Oh, so now you're a conspiracy nut, too?"

"I just call 'em like I see 'em." Coop threw back his head to finish off his beer in a few more gulps, drawing in a somewhat satisfied breath as he sat up again. He held his empty can up, waving it around a little until he had the bartender's attention. "'Nother Bud."

Don waited until the bartender had come, left two new beers and gone, finishing off his own beer as he waited and reaching down to open the second as he replied. "You know, there was this one time, a few years ago—Charlie and I weren't in high school yet. I think he was in fourth grade and they were talking about moving him up again while I was in junior high. Anyway, my Mom wanted me to keep an eye on Charlie all the time. Make sure he got home and everything. She even made me take Charlie to baseball practice with me."

"That must've gone over well," Coop commented, his tone dry with sarcasm.

"Yeah, like oil and water," Don snorted, before continuing. "Anyway, mosta the time it wasn't too bad. I mean, he usually just sat in the bleachers working in his notebooks. The team and I mostly just pretended he wasn't there."

"But that wasn't always the case."

"No," Don nodded. "Sometimes, Charlie really wanted to be involved, I guess. You know, do whatever big brother's doing. So he'd try to help. He'd start analyzing us. Our plays, our stances, anything and everything he could think of. And he could think of a lot. Then he'd try to explain his findings." He shook his head. "Made most of us jocks feel like complete idiots. Even the coach, who was a college grad and everything, didn't have a clue what he was talking about for the most part." He cocked his head to the side a bit. "Though, looking back on it, coach did try to listen to him. Even tried some of the changes Charlie suggested."

"Did you?"

Don snorted again, "Not if I could help it. No, I always thought that Charlie was trying to make me feel stupid. And succeeding, most of the time. Still, I was used to that. So most of the time I just ignored him, or told him to go back to the bleachers a few times. I usually didn't have to repeat myself more than two or three times before he hung his head and shuffled back over there. But this one time," he shook his head. "I'd had a really crappy day. Had a nasty cold, left my homework at home for two classes, bombed a pop quiz in Algebra and embarrassed the hell out of myself in Spanish when we had these presentations that I'd completely forgotten about." He sighed. "Then I had baseball practice."

"Where Charlie was in a helpful mood again."

Don nodded, sighing. "He can be so happy sometimes, when he's talking about his math. And—now he's not as bad, I guess he figured out in college that he was a lot smarter than most people, but—he used to really think that math was easy for everyone. Like we all should understand whatever the hell he was talking about, and he was usually hurt when we didn't get one word in twenty when he was describing whatever it was." He threw back his head a bit, draining at least a third of the beer before sitting up again and setting the can on the bar. "So, anyway, Charlie wanted to be helpful. So he did all of his analysis stuff. Then he came over when we were on a water break and started going on about how I wasn't standing right when I was batting. My center of gravity wasn't positioned right, or something like that." He shook his head. "I completely blew up at him. Just started shouting my head off at him, about him trying to make me feel like an idiot, and—you get the picture."

"He hang his head and head back to the bleachers?"

Don shook his head, "I don't know; I didn't look. Just threw my water bottle down and stormed back to practice." He took another sip of his beer. "Twenty minutes later, one of my teammates asked me where Charlie was. Looked over in the bleachers, and Charlie wasn't there." He shook his head. "Charlie was about seven then, and every time we hear about a kid getting snatched, my mind goes back to that day. When I was supposed to look out for him, but chose not to."

"Where'd he go?" Coop asked, his tone hesitantly curious. "I mean, I assume he wasn't kidnapped. I think I'd of heard about somethin' like that by now."

"No, he wasn't kidnapped. The twerp decided to go home, since his being at my baseball practice bothered me so much. Never mind that mom'd rip me a new one for sending him home by himself when neither she or my dad would be there, either. Since they both got out of work around the same time baseball practice let out." He finished off his second can of beer, rolling his shoulders a bit as he swallowed the last gulp, the bitter sensation on the back of his tongue disappearing almost instantly. "Anyway, I flipped out and ran right out of practice. Coach was pissed. Though he let it go pretty quickly after my mom let him have it for not keeping an eye on Charlie. Apparently he was s'posed to."

"Somethin' else happened though, right? Otherwise you wouldn't feel so guilty about it."

"Yeah, well," Don shook his head. "I ran outta practice towards the house, hopin' to catch up with him. If I'd caught 'im near the school I probably woulda dragged his ass back to the field. But he wasn't, and the closer I got to home the more worried I got."

"Worried he wouldn't be there?"

"I guess, somewhat. But I was also worried about him walking home all by himself." Don accepted a third can of beer from the bartender with a nod of thanks, quickly popping it open and taking a sip before continuing. "There was this kid that was a few years younger than me. A few years older than Charlie. Our house was in walking distance of the school, though it was a long walk. This kid was a bully, and he hated Charlie. Would make fun of him and stuff whenever they ran into each other. Had been doing it for years. Sometimes he'd push him around a little, too. But never more than that. Not when I was there."

"Not when you were there, huh?" Coop nodded, taking a sip from his third beer can. "So I take it the little bully caught littler Charlie out by himself?"

Don sighed, nodding. "Charlie's never admitted it. He was in the upstairs bathroom when I got home, trying to get his lip to stop bleeding." He shook his head, "The little bastard had worked him over pretty good, too. Black eye, busted lip, bruises all over. Did somethin' to his leg, too, 'cause Charlie limped for a couple a weeks."

"But he never admitted who beat him up?" Coop asked, clearly surprised by that idea. "Not even when your mom and dad got home?"

"Not even for them," Don shook his head. "The only thing he ever said about it was that night, after mom and dad had yelled at me for it. He came into my room and said he was sorry he got me in trouble, that mom and dad should've yelled at him for not staying at the field, not at me." He sighed, "But he never admitted that it was Wilson who'd worked him over."

"Wilson?" Coop repeated, blink in surprise. "Wait, Tommie Wilson? The first case we took out here in California? Parole violation, armed robbery and all that? That Wilson?"

"Yeah, Tommie Wilson." Don shrugged, "I told the director that I used to go to school with the con, but he decided it didn't matter. So we kept the case."

"Huh," Coop breathed, shaking his head again as he took another long sip of his beer. "Surprised you didn't take a swing at him when we brought him in. You had ta know I woulda backed you up by then."

Don chuckled, "Thought about it. But didn't feel like starting my way down that slippery slope just yet. And it's not like he even remembered me."

"With all the heroin he'd shot into himself over the years? And the amount that was in his system when we found him? I doubt he'd of recognized his own mother, if she cared to see him, that is."

"Yeah," Don chuckled again, finishing off the third can of beer. But he shook his head when the bartender came his way with another beer. "Water, bottled, please." He shook his head again when his partner glared at him. "We're back to hunting fugitives, remember? Do you really want to start a hunt hung-over tomorrow?"

"'Spose not," Cooper agreed, and then raised an eyebrow at him. "So am I still gonna be hearing about Sunnydale whenever my eyes are open?"

Don was quiet for a long moment again, and then he sighed. "No, I guess not. You're right. I can't help Charlie by losing my job." He unscrewed the top to the Dasani the bartender had brought him and threw his head back like he had earlier, quickly gulping about half of the bottle down before coming up for air. "I'm not letting it go though."

"Wasn't expecting you to. Said as much, didn't I?"

Don nodded, "I'm not letting it go. But I'll let it rest... for now."


End of Frienemies – Part III.


Notes From Within The Chapter:

(1) 'Rosetta Codex' is a reference to the Rosetta Stone. If you don't know what that is without looking it up, you should probably study ancient history at least a little bit. But for a quick explanation of it: The Rosetta Stone is a stone slab that helped linguists decipher Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. It has a message carves on it three times, once in Demotic Egyptian script, once in Egyptian hieroglyphics and once in classical Greek. It's been on display at The British Museum since 1802. (And I can't BELIEVE I didn't go there when I was in London! _ I went to the Louvre, in Paris, but didn't go to the British Museum. *kicks self*) (URL: wiki/Rosetta_Stone)

(2) Rashid, Egypt is where French soldiers found the Rosetta Stone in 1799. "Rosetta" is an anglicized version of the name Rashid—according to Wikipedia. I looked up both as names, and Rashid is a male Arabic name meaning 'Rightly Guard' while Rosetta is a diminutive of Rosa, meaning 'Rose.' So I'm not sure how they got one from the other, but... (URL: wiki/Rosetta_Stone)

(3) "Tauo freim!" means "Be free!" in Gaelic, according to the script of BTVS.S3.E7 'Revelations.' Personally, I find the idea of some maniac running around yelling "Be free!" to shoot lightning as people hilarious, but maybe that's just me. And that's what Joss used, so I just stuck with it.

(4) Twenty-four Vertebrae and Invertebral Discs - When it came to the information on the human anatomy, I was really pretty lazy. Mostly just thought back to the biology class I took back in high school and checked a few quick things on Wikipedia. (URL: wiki/Intervertebral_disc)

(5) When Buffy was thinking about the lightning: I was specifically thinking about 'ground-to-cloud lightning.' Which "is a lightning discharge between the ground and a cumulonimbus cloud initiated by an upward-moving leader stroke. It is much rarer than cloud-to-ground lightning." This thought was mostly just something I threw in because it'd irritated me while watching the episode, especially since one of my cousins adamantly insists that lightning always moves from the ground into the sky. Since this wasn't really that important, I mostly just used Wikipedia to research this, but the article seemed to be pretty thorough. And according to that article, my cousin is wrong and there's actually a LOT of different kinds of lightning. And while the most frequently occurring is intra-cloud lightning, cloud-to-ground lightning is "…the best known and second most common type of lightning…[probably because] it poses the greatest threat to life and property since it strikes the ground. Cloud-to-ground lightning is a lightning discharge between a cumulonimbus cloud and the ground. It is initiated by a leader stroke moving down from the cloud." This research also made me decide that Buffy and Faith really had to keep their distance from Post and the glove, since the atmospheric electrical discharge of lightning "can travel at speeds of" up to 130,000 miles per hour, or "60,000 [meters per second], and can reach temperatures approaching" 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit or "30,000 [degrees Celsius], hot enough to fuse silica sand into class channels known as fulgurites..." I already knew about the glass-forming thing from a movie, but the actual temperature and speeds surprised me. Thus, even though Slayers can move very, very fast I thought faster than lightning would be pushing it. Though I actually couldn't find a good range for just how fast they'd have to be to dodge bullets, Joss has them doing it in the Season 8 comic, so they'll probably be able to here, too. Though I may stick to the needing a build up of adrenaline to perform such feet's, we'll have to wait and see. (URL: wiki/Lightning)

(6) Size of Sunnydale (25.57 square kilometers or 15.89 square miles) – According to Wikipedia, the population in Sunnydale at this point in the canon was around 38,500 (URL: wiki/Sunnydale).

I couldn't find an actual area for the made-up town, so I made one up myself.

I looked at the sizes of towns in California for a little bit, but couldn't find one that had a population around 40,000, just a lot of counties that did. However, Sunnydale was never labeled a Californian county, just a small town. Therefore, I figured for the population to fit without it feeling like a city, the town itself had to be fairly spread-out. I figured a rounded number would look odd, since Charlie would have no trouble remembering decimals. So 15.89 square-miles sounded good. If anyone knows an actual size, I'd love to hear it.

(7) Refractive index – "Refraction is the change in direction of a wave" (light/sound/water) "due to a change in its speed... Refraction of light is the most commonly observed phenomenon, but any type of wave can refract when it interacts with a medium, for example when sound waves pass from one medium into another or when water moves into water of a different depth. Refraction is described by Snell's law..."

"The Refractive index...of a medium is a measure of how much the speed of light (or other waves such as sound waves) is reduced inside the medium. For example, typical soda-lime glass has a refractive index close to 1.5, which means that in glass, light travels at 1/1.5 = 2/3 the speed of light in a vacuum. Two common properties of glass and other transparent materials are directly related to their refractive index. First, light rays change direction when they cross the interface from air to the material, an effect that is used in lenses. Second, light reflects partially from surfaces that have a refractive index different from that of their surroundings."

But, basically, this was just might attempt to actually get Charlie thinking about some of the math he's supposed to always be thinking about. I ended up using this, but I'm not entirely sure I liked what I ended up with.

Oh! If you have any ideas of different kinds of things Charlie might think about, study, teach, etc., please feel free to mention it! I NEED that kind of stuff to keep Charlie in character. (URL: wiki/Refractive_index)

(8) How long has humanity been here?

Definitely an interesting topic. I, personally, believe in evolution. That we did evolve from chimps, which I think MOST people accept, though I have met some who don't accept the idea. At all. So if you're one of those people, I really don't mean to offend you. All of my fan fics are based on what I believe, what I know and what I can research, but I don't really want to offend anyone in the process. So if I somehow have, I apologize.

"The term "human" in the context of human evolution refers to" Homo sapiens, "but studies of human evolution usually include other hominids, such as the Australopithecines. The genus Homo had diverged from the Australopithecines… about 2.3 to 2.4 million years ago in Africa. Scientists have estimated that humans branched off from their common ancestor with chimpanzees—the only other living hominids—about 5 to 7 million years ago." So we're VERY distant cousins, which I think is understandably the part a lot of people have trouble accepting even before you try and work religions into the mix. "Several species of Homo evolved and are now extinct… Archaic Homo sapiens evolved between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago…"

Why is this at all relevant for my fan fic? Well, you'll be seeing more dates, eras and whatnot like that in the future, as Charlie starts researching the Slayer line and The Balance more and more.

Essentially, I'm saying humanity appeared in this world overrun with demons and eventually started to be strong enough to fight back with magic and the like. But nothing really happened until the Slayer was created—with Sineya.

So how long ago was that? At the moment I'm thinking about 250,000 years. But I opened to other ideas as well.

(9) The Supercontinent = Pangaea, which existed about 250 million years ago, when all of the continents were one big content. Due to continental drifting (from the tectonic plates that are ever moving because they sit on top of heavily compressed liquid), the continents later (and still are) drifting apart, but scientists do believe that there was a point in time when they were all one. If nothing else, the Wikipedia article is worth checking out because of the animation-thing they've got for it. It's kind of neat to watch. But, again, maybe that's just me. :-P (URL: wiki/Pangaea)

(10) The Panthalass = The Super-Ocean, or the Earth's oceans when all of the continents were together, with the waters of the world around them.

(URL: wiki/Panthalassa)

(11-13) are some of the possible names for the fire-kitty. Most of which I already listed the prudent background information for within the dialogue of the chapter itself. If you want to know more, feel free to follow the links or Google the names yourself.

(11) Bast – (URL: name/bast)

(12) Bastet – (URL: wiki/Bastet_(mythology))

(13) Vesta – (URL: name/vesta)

(14) The Dark Congress – Those of you that took my advice and read Dark Congress by Christopher Golden before now undoubtedly recognize the ideas I've taken from it. Honestly, I wasn't originally planning on mentioning it this early in the series; it was actually a storyline I was going to get into in between the end of Buffy/Angel and the start of NUMB3RS. Since there's almost a decade between the two, I need a few ideas for what to do with everyone in the interim. I mean, Mrs. Eppes' had only just recently died at the start of NUMB3RS Season 1, so even that is only within the year or two before I start going into the NUMB3RS series.

Nonetheless, Dark Congress jumped up at me when I was writing the scene about The Balance/etc., and it seemed to fit too well for me to drop it. Though I won't be staying entirely true to it, I'll really just be borrowing ideas and probably a few characters (such as Kandida, since she was a pretty interesting one, even though we barely saw her in the book). But other than that, the book isn't really a determining factor for anything I'm writing. It's just something related to Buffy that I'm getting ideas from.

(15) I went looking for "water demons" and "desert demons" and, for the most part, came up empty. The following, however, are some of the "water demons" I found in Judy Allen's Fantasy Encyclopedia:

(A & B) Undines & Nereids – Water Elementals "…rarely seen, although they may sometimes become visible drifting in the spray from waterfalls or the mist that rises from the surface of the water at dawn or dusk." (p31)

(C) Sirens – "The Sirens had the bodies and feet of birds, but they had the faces and upper bodies of beautiful women. They lived on a small, barren island off southern Italy. They were famous for the beauty of their singing voices, which offered knowledge of the past and future to all who heard them. Despite this, they were deadly. Mariners, lured to the island by their singing, found the Sirens surrounded by the bones and corpses of their earlier victims and knew that they were trapped…" (p72)

(D) Naiads – Sea Nymphs – "daughters of Nereus, the wise old man of the sea" ... they live in the Mediterranean Sea "and, unlike the Sirens... they are helpful to those who sail across it. The nymphs who live in the wide oceans are called Oceanids, while the Naiads are the spirits of running water, from springs and streams to great rivers." (p32-33)

(16) Azazel – Seriously the only 'desert demon' I could find any kind of mention of… and I DID look. "Azathoth is a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories of H.P. Lovecraf and other authors… Mythos editor Robert M. Price argues that Lovecraft could have combined the biblical names Anathoth (Jeremiah's home town) and Azazel (a desert demon to which the scapegoat was sacrificed—mentioned by Lovecraft in "The Dunwich Horror")." (URL: wiki/Azathoth)

(17) Exsiccare – Latin for "dry out." I honestly couldn't find stories of 'desert demons' other than Lovecraft's Azathoth and I wanted more than one in there, so I made one up.

(18-21 & 24) – are all from the same URL, which is to the Wikipedia article on the History of Technology. (URL: wiki/History_of_technology)

(18) Stone Tools – Apparently our distant ancestors started using stone tools of varying kinds millions of years ago. They used stones as scrapers to butcher dead animals about 2.5 million years ago. They crafted things like hand-axes as early as 1.6 million years ago. Though our branch of Homo—or Homo sapiens sapiens—only came into being about 200,000 years ago and were still relying mostly on stone tools 100,000 years ago. On the other hand, there's evidence that the 'creation' and manipulation of fire was used 1.5 million years ago.

(19) Clothes – The idea of wearing things like clothes, primarily as protection from the elements, is only about 100,00 years old. *blink**blink* Pretty scary, when you consider that that probably only means things like loin-clothes.

(20) The bow & arrow was used as far back as the ninth century BCE, which is about 11,000 years ago.

(21) Agriculture – Our ancestors started growing their food in about 8,000 BCE—or about 10,000 years ago. They were merely hunters and gatherers before that. Though they did, apparently, domesticate animals as early as 15,000 BCE.

(22) Firearms:

Gunpowder was used by the Chinese military forces there for things like rockets as far back as the mid-eighth century. It was probably discovered by an alchemist. (URL: wiki/History_of_gunpowder)

The predecessor for actual firearms was the fire-lance, which was a tube filled with gunpowder and attached tot eh end of a spear to be used as a flamethrower of sorts. This was used in China in the mid-10th century.

The oldest surviving gun was made of bronze and made in 1288. Smaller, portable hand-held canons were introduced in Europe in the late 1400s.

Automatic guns like we see today apparently weren't at all practical until smokeless power was invented in the late 1800s, because the "black powder caused too much fouling of the mechanism to allow automatics or self-loaders to be reliable."

(URL: wiki/History_of_firearms)

(23) The Printing Press:

Woodblock printing was widely used throughout East Asia, and originated in China as a method for printing on textiles, then later on paper. The earliest surviving example from China was dated as before 220 AD, and went to Egypt in the 4th century.

The first printing press was invented in China in 593 AD, and the first printed newspaper was available in Beijing in 713 AD. It used woodblock printing.

"Block printing first came to Christian Europe as a method for printing on cloth, where it was common by 1300... These prints were produced in very large numbers from about 1425 onwards."

"Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg introduced what is regarded as an independent invention of moveable type in Europe…along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and a hand mould. Gutenberg was the first to create his type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin and antimony—the same components still used today... The high quality and relatively low price for the Gutenberg Bible (1455) established the superiority of moveable type, and printing presses rapidly spread across Europe, leading up to the Renaissance… Today, practically all moveable type printing ultimately derives from Gutenberg's moveable type printing, which is often regarded as the most important invention of the second millennium."

(URL: wiki/Printing)

(24) I know I skipped one, but I couldn't find it in the chapter to change the numbering and am not sure what I drew from this particular URL. Something more about human evolution and technology, I'm sure. Still, I thought I'd leave the link so you could check it out, if you want to.

(URL: wiki/History_of_technology#19th_century)

(25) Blacksmiths – A blacksmith is someone "who creates objects from iron or steel by forging them into metal" with "tools to hammer, bend, and cut. Blacksmiths produce things like wrought iron gates, grills, railings, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, tools, agricultural implements, decorative and religious items, cooking utensils, horseshoes and weapons." I thought it was fairly obvious that the people stuck in the 'worker-bee Hell' as I've heard others refer to it, were being forced to work with metal. So I did some research into it. If you'd like into more yourself, Wikipedia's article is pretty thorough. (URL: wiki/Blacksmith)

(26) I'm not sure if Fed-Ex delivers on Sundays or not, but I don't think they do. Is this the sort of thing that the PTB might manipulate? Maybe. Assuming they want to keep Faith kind of on the straight and narrow, which I do.

And did they use the electronic-signature things in 1996, or clipboards? I thought it was probably clipboards.

(27) Honestly, I don't know if the statement on computers and the generation gap makes sense. I know that I grew up with a computer at home and lessons to use them at school, but Charlie, going by his birth date for this story, is almost ten years older than me. So he'd be of my brother's generation, not mine. And my brother didn't have a computer growing up. Plus, the comment about only some companies having computers and those being huge and whatnot? That's either from my parents' generation or my dad's dad.

My paternal grandfather was born in 1901. He was a cost accountant (or something like that) for General Electric, and he retired exactly fifty years ago. When he did so, his entire branch of the company was cut and replaced by a gigantic computer, which was supposedly the first computer General Electric ever had.

In the late 1960s, my dad went to college and signed up for a computer course. When he went into the first class, he was handed a box of punch cards to put into a computer that was at least the size of our kitchen and living room combined. The computer was run with those punch cards. That's all my dad can tell me about that particular computer, since he's a total technophobe. He was then, too, he dropped the class right after he left the classroom on that first day. And he still hardly ever uses the computer, had to be harassed into actually keeping his cell phone charged, on and with him after my mom got it for him, and whether or not he'll actually use the I-Pod I set up for him to use in his car (though that's still a work in progress, I still have to add a couple hundred CDs to his library: it takes forever, since I-Tunes doesn't recognize most of them and I have to actually write in the titles/soundtrack and whatnot for most of the CDs, but he seems to like it. He's my main basis for Alan's aversion to computers, though it is canonical since we've seen him struggling with them on the show. I put a bit of my dad into Giles, too, for the same reason, but again that's canonical.

Anyway, I'm not sure how factual/accurate the segment on computers/generations/etc. was in this chapter, so I just wanted to let you know where I was getting it from. I hope it didn't throw anyone too much.

(28)Charlie's 'personal' opinion on teachers changing up the syllabus is more my own than his. Actually, basing it specifically on what we've seen in NUMB3RS, such as in Season 1, Episode # when Charlie complained about a student saying he was disorganized and he talked too fast, and Larry saying that was actually an accurate observation (or something like that), Charlie probably follows a fairly loose syllabus, and changes it around from time to time. Especially since he started working with the FBI, with cases intruding on his scheduling and occasionally involving his students in analyses and whatnot. Honestly, I never really minded if a teacher was a bit disorganized; I'd be a hypocrite if I said it did, since I generally am not organized; my computer and work I did/do on it being an unusual exception since I spend time occasionally going through it to make sure it stays over-organized. The teacher's I really didn't like were the ones that would give you a syllabus at the start of class, and then randomly decide every other week to hand out a new syllabus that sometimes looked nothing like the original... And this is pretty much just a rant, but I thought some people might pick up on Charlie's lack of organization making this an out-of-character comment, and thought I'd throw this in. Hope it helped.

(29)Tzimmes – What Margaret Eppes had prepared for dinner when Buffy, Joyce, Larry and Penfield were there for dinner. It's a kind of sweet stew that's usually orange in color and includes carrots, sweet potatoes and/or prunes and possibly some fruit like pineapple. The chef on the site I found also adds beef and white potatoes to it for Thanksgiving, too. Personally, the only thing I don't like the idea of is the prunes, other than that it sounds good, but I've never actually tried it. If you can recommend—and maybe even describe—any Jewish dishes that the Eppes might eat, I'd really appreciate it. I know in NUMB3RS that the Eppes weren't majorly into religion, and that Alan said he hadn't enter a synagogue since his wife's death—but Margaret's alive here, so I'm assuming they might have practiced a bit more then. Though maybe they only go for weddings and stuff like that, these are still recipes they'd probably know, right?

(30)Anarchia – the word is Greek, means "without ruler" and is a reference I'm making to anarchism. In other words, the group that the woman Post killed was a spy for is a group of anarchists that call themselves the Order of Anarchia.

"Anarchism is a political philosophy encompassing theories and attitudes which consider the state, as compulsory government, to be unnecessary, harmful, and/or undesirable, and favor the absence of state (anarchy)... Specific anarchists may have different criteria for what constitutes anarchism, and they often disagree with each other on what these criteria are. According to The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, "there is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance. (URL: wiki/History_of_anarchism)


AN: Well, there's the end of Frienemies! Finally! ^_^

Again, sorry it took me so long to get this out. My original goal was for Thanksgiving, months ago, but I just couldn't get the last few scenes of the chapter to come together for that. Then I was aiming for Christmas and New Years, but it still didn't work. I really do feel bad for making you guys wait so long. :-(

Getting the scenes together was hard, partially because of a writers block but also because my muses seem to be headed into different genres at the moment. So between the new fic ideas that they're concentrating and my types to write my own, original novel, I wasn't making much progress with this.

Nonetheless, I really do enjoy this crossover and have no intention of dropping the series. Especially since I already have some of the following stories written. I seriously just have to get up to them and then I'll be able to post much more regularly. _

Anyway, thanks to everyone for your patience, and again, sorry for the wait.

Hopefully Chapter 13 won't be as hard for me. *sigh*

Bye for now! ^_^

Jess S


NEXT: Epilogue.