“You finally brought me someone real.” Lothos grinned at Giles as he stepped out of the shadows of the amusement park. The vampire nuzzled Buffy's neck gently. “But is she ready?”
“Actually she's quite a pain in the ass.” Giles shook his head despairingly as he walked towards Buffy, who stared at him in shock.
“Giles?” she whispered. “No, it's not you. This isn't right. It wasn't you.”
“That's too bad. I had such high hopes.” Lothos sighed and turned towards Buffy. “Close your eyes.” He lowered his face and scraped his fangs along her neck.
“No!” Giles rushed forward, stake raised high. Lothos thrust Buffy away, grabbed Giles, and spun him around, shoving the stake into his heart.
“Giles!” Buffy screamed. She grabbed him as he fell and slowly lowered him to the ground. She rocked his body gently as she began to cry.
“You do everything wrong,” he whispered with his dying breath.
“Thanks for checking in,” Xander said as he escorted Carrie to the door. “It's reassuring to have you, you know, do medical stuff and all. Arranging for that IV, checking her vitals, chem seven, stat, whatever.” He smiled weakly. “Sorry. Too much ER.”
Carrie glanced up the steps as she stood at the door. “I still think she should be in a hospital where we could really do something. I'm not comfortable with this at all.”
“I know, Carrie, and thank you for trusting us on this.” He looked at her sincerely. “Thank you for trusting me on this. It means a lot.” He opened the door for her. “Really, this is nothing a regular hospital can help with and at least here, we know she'll be safe.” He gestured at the two men patrolling the lawn. They wore modified reinforced combat suits with intricate glyphs woven into the cloth, and carried compact machine pistols. Stakes of wood and silver, vials of potions, and candles were attached to their webbed utility belts, next to flashlights and assorted ammunition. “These COWboys aren't fooling around. Percy sent his real A-Team.”
“Invisibility spells hiding commandos searching for evil sorcerers.” She stepped across the threshold of the door and shook her head as the commandos disappeared. As she moved back into the house, they reappeared. Turning to Xander she rested her head against his shoulder. “It's a strange world you live in, Xander Harris.”
He buried his face in her hair and held her tightly. “Yeah, it is. But it got a lot better when I found you.”
The Vampyr book thudded down in front of Buffy and she stared at it angrily. “That’s not what I'm looking for.”
“Are you sure?” asked Giles.
He looked puzzled and ducked under the counter. Buffy turned to leave and found the First Slayer blocking her path. “Death is your gift,” she hissed, her painted face pushing in close to Buffy's.
“Yes, I know, and I've given it several times,” she answered, backing up cautiously. “In fact, I've gotten it a couple of times… and returned it, thank you. Isn't that enough for you? What else do you want from me?”
“You fought them.”
“Who? I've fought a lot of 'thems.'“
“The Shadowmen. The ones who poisoned me. The ones who led to him.” She pointed behind Buffy.
Buffy turned and looked at Giles. He leaned casually against the counter and shrugged. “What can I say? A Slayer slays, and…” His face morphed slowly into Travers and then to Wesley and into Merrick and finally became the face of a dark tribal African man. Giles' pale green eyes stared out at her from the African face. “A Watcher watches.”
“Giles, I’m sorry, but it’s Percy on the phone.” Dawn stood there holding out the cordless to him. She looked at her sister on the bed. “Is she going to be okay when she wakes up?”
“Everything will be fine, Dawn. Maybe Percy has the answers we need now.” He reached for the receiver.
“It’s my fault you know,” Dawn whispered, her shoulders sagging.
Giles froze, the telephone halfway to his lips. “What do you mean?”
“Ethan’s after me. I brought him here.” She looked up, eyes glistening. “It’s like with Glory. She came after me and Buffy died. It’s happening all over again.”
“Oh lord, Dawn, no.” Giles reached out and pulled her into a tight hug. “No, dear god, no.” He stroked the back of her head and closed his eyes. They held each for a long moment until finally Giles took a deep breath and pushed her back slightly. He placed the phone on top of the dresser beside them and then took her face in his hands. “Dawn, look at me. This is not your fault. Ethan isn’t here because of you. He’s here because of what I did to him.”
“ Willow told me he wants my energy.”
“He wants my life.” He looked over his shoulder at Buffy's still form lying on the bed. He spoke again with cold anger. “But he can’t have it.”
Dawn buried her face into his chest again. “Please don’t let Buffy die.”
Giles held her tightly and kissed the crown of her head. “She’ll be fine, Dawn. We’ll figure this out. Now please give me a minute to talk to Percy.”
Dawn sniffled and nodded. “Okay, but you’ll fill us in, right? As in right away?”
“Immediately,” Giles promised. He waited until she had left the bedroom and then picked up the receiver and held it to his ear. “Thanks for waiting. I gather you heard that? Well, it's been difficult for all of us. Now, tell me you found something.
Buffy watched as Willow's hair faded to white. The scythe glowed and suddenly the room was suddenly filled with hundreds of young women and girls ranging in age from early adolescence to late teens. They wore the clothing of many countries and many centuries and as one, they turned to stare accusingly at Buffy. Speaking in unison, they intoned, “You. You did this. You killed us. Death was your gift to us.”
“No... no, I, I…” Buffy stuttered and backed away.
The women followed, slowly surrounding her. The rumblings grew in volume. “You Chose us. What right did you have to Choose for us?”
Buffy clapped her hands over her ears. “I'm sorry! I didn't mean to, I mean I had to, it was the only way!”
“Killer.” They moved in closer, fingers pointed accusingly at her. “The Slayer is just a killer.”
More voices chanted from behind her. “You made us killers.” Buffy whirled around to see Amanda staring at her accusingly. Eve stepped up on her left side and Kennedy to her right.
“And you killed us.”
Giles kissed Buffy’s forehead and smiled down at her. “I’ll be just a moment, Buffy. I promise it’s going to be okay.” He walked into the hall and found everyone waiting for him.
“What did Percy say?” Willow asked nervously.
“Let’s go sit downstairs for a moment, and I’ll explain.” Giles led them away from the bedroom and down the steps to the living room. He stood in the open doorway and as they found seats, he reached up for his glasses and began to clean them.
“Glasses cleaning, Giles? This can’t be good.” Xander spoke lightly, but his voice cracked at the end.
“What? I’m sorry,” Giles said, quickly replacing his glasses and putting away the handkerchief. “I didn’t mean to worry you.” He straightened. “Percy says the seers think they know what Ethan did, although we have no idea how the pillock discovered the spell in the first place. It has always been a closely guarded Council secret and frankly, I would have thought all references to it would have been destroyed along with the old Council.”
“A Council secret?” Willow’s voice rose. “Are you saying that this is something they did deliberately to Slayers?” She spoke bitterly. “Is Travers going to haunt us forever?”
“The spell had a useful function, Willow,” he snapped and then sighed as he saw her wince. “Sorry,” he said softly as he took a deep breath. “As with most magic, the spell itself is neutral. The purpose and results depend on the intent of its wielder.”
“So what did the Council do with this spell?” Willow asked softly.
“Slayer Selection Shock Syndrome isn’t new to the Council. There have been times in the past when a newly activated Slayer simply couldn’t handle the stress of the situation. I think you know that sometimes the Council took, well, rather extreme steps in those cases.” He looked at each of them.
“You mean they killed them ,” Dawn said bitterly as his eyes came to rest on her.
“Unfortunately, yes. They did.” Giles nodded. “And in some cases it was necessary.” He raised his hand at their protests. “Debate with me on that later. The point is, depending on the circumstance, they sometimes attempted to, well, salvage the Slayer. The Council would attempt to temporarily drain her of her powers while her Watcher,” Giles paused, “while her Watcher would work to resolve her issues, bonding with her, helping her to accept her destiny.” He looked up the steps and then turned back to his waiting friends.
“What does this have to do with what Ethan did?” Xander demanded.
“As we saw, Ethan drained her of her physical powers.” He raised a hand to forestall the questions he saw on their faces. “No, I still don’t know if she’ll ever get them back. The Council had little enough understanding of how Slayers were selected and how their powers worked before Willow’s spell, and now we understand nothing. We don’t know if there will be new Slayers in the same numbers when we lose this generation. We don’t know if new ones will appear as young girls somehow... I don’t know how to put it... perhaps as they ‘click,’ into place from Potential to Slayer. We don’t know if Buffy can pull these general energies to ‘click’ herself back into full power, or if we’ll have to try to transfer them from Ethan, or… “ Giles started to pace, Damn it! We don’t really know a bloody thing. She could be like this forever.”
He stopped at the mantle and stared up at the red scythe hanging on the wall. He reached up and slid a finger slowly down the blade’s edge and then turned. “We don’t know anything because the spell was never designed to transfer powers to another person. It was supposed to simply drain them briefly during the…,” he waved his hand helplessly, “…the therapy, I guess you have to call it. So the bottom line is that I haven't a sodding clue about what will become of her powers.”
“Giles,” Dawn spoke up tentatively, “ isn't this just like the Cru-whatever you did before? She recovered from that.”
Giles took off his glasses again and began cleaning them vigorously. “That was a purely physical weakening. The chemicals temporarily suppressed the powers, they didn't remove them. This is a fundamental attack at the mystical level. It goes to the heart of what makes her a Slayer.”
“Is this why she won't wake up?” Dawn asked. “Because she's too weak?”
“No, Dawn, I don't think her physical condition is the problem. It's the second part of the spell that scares me. Ethan drained her powers, but he didn’t complete the other half,” Giles said angrily. “He set her adrift in her own mind, and she’s lost in there. The spell is trying to help her accept her destiny, but she’s without guidance, without support.” He put his glasses back on, sat down and rubbed his head with his hands before looking up at them. Their confused faces stared back at him and he took a deep breath and spoke simply.
“This particular spell is aggressive therapy for newly activated Slayers. Buffy’s been a Slayer for nearly nine years. The spell was designed so that a Watcher could ease the transition and the new Slayer could develop trust in her Watcher. It must be done by both of them.” He looked toward the steps and continued softly, “Buffy is trapped in her mind, and I fear that she’s not only reliving all the horrors of the last nine years, but that she’s doing it alone.”
The Master came silently up behind Buffy and grasped her shoulders. He leaned in to whisper softly in her ear. “You tried. It was noble of you. You heard the prophecy that I was about to break free and you came to stop me. But prophecies are tricky creatures. They don’t tell you everything.” His face slowly morphed into Ethan’s as he purred, “You’re the one that sets me free.”
Giles and Willow finished the soft chanting and with a simultaneous deep breath, slowly opened their eyes.
Willow looked around the bedroom happily. “Was that right? It felt right. It felt good.” She frowned. “I know I shouldn't be happy now, but it's kinda nice to do magic and feel good about it. I knew everything was settling into place. It felt right and I've missed that feeling.”
Giles nodded and got to his feet. “It's okay to feel good. I am very grateful that you are back in control as well.” He reached down to help her up. “I think everything's ready now. I can trigger the spell by myself.”
Willow looked at Buffy lying on the bed and then at the ring of candles placed around the room. “Giles, are you sure you'll be okay? I know this is a Chosen type of spell, but like I said, I'm feeling really good about magic right now, and…”
“Willow,” Giles interrupted, his voice patient but firm. “We've discussed this. You are in control of your magic again, and I am very proud of you. You know this has nothing to do with my trusting you or not trusting you.” He spoke sincerely, but his gaze didn’t waver. “This magic is rooted in what made Buffy who she is and who I am. Having Ethan’s magic mixed into it has already made it volatile enough and Percy says they are starting to see trouble in other Slayers. Promise me, no matter what happens, you’ll not intervene.”
She bit her lip and nodded. “But you both could die…”
“Then we die. You have to let us go,” he insisted. “To interfere could result in something far worse than death for both of us.”
“We can’t lose you, Giles, either of you.” Willow hugged him tightly.
He stroked her back gently. “I don’t intend to fail, Willow. I’m going to bring Buffy out and we’re going to find Ethan and stop him from hurting anyone ever again.” He gave her a final squeeze. “But to do that, I have to know that you are going to let this play out on its own. No intervention, no matter what.”
Willow nodded. “I promise. No intervention. No matter what.”
“Thank you,” he said softly and kissed her forehead. He looked around the room and nodded. “Now, while you finish setting up, I'm going to have a word with Xander and Dawn.”
Buffy opened her eyes to a blinding white light shining down, and it took a moment for her eyes to focus on the familiar and stern face of Maggie Walsh staring thoughtfully down at her. She tried to sit up but couldn't break the leather straps holding her to the cold metal table. Professor Walsh patted her shoulder formally with latex wrapped fingers. “Don't struggle, Buffy. It will only make things worse.”
“What are you doing? What's going on?”
Walsh began arranging a selection of surgical tools; a razor-sharp scalpel, forceps, a mortician's saw. She held up a large needle and tapped it thoughtfully, jostling the pale yellow-brown liquid inside. “Why, we're going to see what makes you tick, Buffy. If we can learn how you work, we'll be able to make an army of Slayers.” Her eyes widened as she stopped working and stared off into space. “Just imagine the possibilities!”
“But there's already an army of Slayers! You don't have to do this.”
“Oh, those Slayers are just a myth, Buffy.” Riley laughed from the other side of her, and Buffy whipped her head around to stare at him. “You're just a myth, you know. And when we're done proving it to you, you'll be a normal girl, just like you always wanted.”
Giles entered the living room to see Dawn and Xander on the couch. Dawn was curled up into a small ball, leaning against Xander. They both looked up as he entered.
“It’s time,” he said. “Dawn do you want to go spend a minute with your sister before we begin? Remember, you can’t come in after I start the spell and I don’t know how long it’s going to take.”
Dawn nodded and stood up slowly. As she went past Giles, she stopped and gave him a quick hug. “Bring her back please, Giles. And come back with her.”
“I will, Dawn, it will be fine.” Giles gestured at the stairs. “Go on, I’ll be along in a minute.”
He turned back as Xander stood and walked over to him. Both men waited until Dawn went up the steps before speaking. Finally Xander spoke. “Is there something you’re not telling us?”
“No.” Xander stared at him. Giles sighed. “Well, I may have slightly over-emphasized the odds of this actually working.”
“And what are the real odds?” Xander said seriously.
“Normally, not so good,” Giles answered. “But as this is Buffy, I’m prepared to bet the bank.”
“It’s not just the bank, though. You’re betting your life, aren’t you?”
“It won’t be the first time I’ve placed that bet with Buffy.” He smiled sadly. “And I am confident it won’t be the last either.” He paused and blinked, looking at the two contrastingly colored eyes staring back at him. “Xander, I need you to do something for me. You need to keep Willow and Dawn out of the room.”
“I understand,” Xander assured the older man.
“I'm sorry to put this on you, but if Willow interferes with her magic, she could throw everything even further out of balance, and I won’t be able to recover. The danger now is that the combination of Ethan’s magic and the spell already being so far along, Buffy and I won’t be able to connect with each other. If Willow tries to help, it will become impossible.”
Xander hesitated, then nodded, his face showing his concern.
“As for Dawn, I don’t know what’s happening with her own magical energies, but Ethan has tainted them as well. I can’t have her near us while the spell is active.”
“I’ll keep them both away.”
Giles placed his hand on Xander’s shoulder. “Thank you.” He turned towards the steps and then looked back. “As I said, I don’t know how long this will take. It may be a few hours, it may be a day. Buffy has cried out several times, and she may again, or I may do so. No matter what's spoken, let us be. We will come out on our own, or…”
“Just make sure you do come out, okay? I’m not ready to go without my daily dose of British sarcasm.”
Giles smiled tightly and nodded before he started up the stairs.
“I'm the Slayer, Mom. Deal.”
“Have you ever tried not being the Slayer, dear?” Joyce sounded puzzled and confused.
“It doesn't work that way, Mom. I wish it did. But I'm not ever 'not' the Slayer.” Buffy sat on to the couch and curled back into her mother's arms.
“It's because you were lacking a strong father figure, isn't it?” Joyce sighed. “I'm sorry.”
“That's what I said!” Maggie Walsh shouted out from the kitchen.
“Shut up!” Joyce and Buffy yelled together and then turned back to each other.
Joyce cupped Buffy's cheek and looked down at her. “It's okay, dear. I taught you all you need to know about life and Mr. Giles will teach you everything you need to know about being a Slayer.” She started to fade slowly away. “You'll be fine.” She disappeared and Buffy was left staring at the empty couch as Joyce's voice echoed in the room. “We'll both be here for you always and you'll never be alone.”
“There's no I in Team!” yelled Walsh. “And Slayers are a myth!” She poked her head out of the kitchen, her face smudged with flour, and looked at Buffy accusingly. “Do you know how to bake? I can't seem to get Adam to mix up properly.”
“Shut up, Maggie,” Buffy said almost absently as she stood and walked up the stairs.
Giles finished removing the IV needle before gently moving Buffy to the far side of the bed and climbing onto it next to her. He lifted her enough to slip his arm under her shoulders, then tucked her head under his chin as he gathered her in more closely. Shifting just enough to drop a kiss on the top of her head, he whispered, “You won't be alone in there very much longer, Buffy. Hold on.”
Looking at the candles positioned carefully around the room, he took a deep breath and spoke in a clear, confident voice. “Mens et cor aperta sint. Merge animas nostras. Fiat lux!”
The candles flared to light and Giles threw his head back, body arching. He screamed once, a short cry, and then slumped motionless on the bed.