“It can't be time to get up,” Dawn mumbled groggily, glancing out of one eye at her alarm clock. “Wonder if Mark's up already.” She struggled to sit up but fell back to her pillow. She tried again, and a textbook tumbled off the bed, followed by another, then another until the last one crashed to the floor. They rose slowly in the air and were piled neatly on the side of the bed. The covers were pulled off the bed and waved in the air.
“I’m trying, Hedwig. It’s just… I’m just so tired and my head is pounding. Maybe I’m coming down with something. Or… or…” Dawn’s eyes went wide. “Oh god, it’s him.” She rolled to the edge of the bed, breathing hard. She slid her body around, moving her feet off the bed, and forced herself to stand up.
“Hedwig, Ethan’s back. I have to warn the others.” She took a step, swaying off balance. She steadied herself with a hand to her desk, grinning triumphantly. "I can do this," she said to the air then let out a long breath and crashed unconscious to the floor.
Willow opened the bag of coffee and inhaled the aroma. Just as she reached for the filter basket, it sailed across the kitchen, colliding with the oven and falling to the floor with a clatter.
She looked around, startled. Seeing no one, she shrugged and bent down to retrieve the basket, only to have it knocked out of her reach again by an unseen force. It slid through the open door and out into the hallway, stopping at the base of the stairs. Willow straightened up, scanning the empty room suspiciously. “Fergus?”
As if in response, the basket went airborne, skipping up a few stairs.
“Hedwig? Is that you?” Willow called out. A loud thump sounded in the reply, and the basket was sent upward, colliding with a loud thud.
“Dawn? Is there something wrong with Dawn?” The basket bounced again.
Willow dropped the coffee bag and ran up the steps. She skidded to a halt at Buffy's bedroom door and pounded loudly. "Buffy! Giles! I think something's wrong with Dawn!" She rattled the door knob, but it wouldn't open. She pounded once again and turned towards the attic steps. "God, I hope they heard me." She raised her voice again as she started up the stairs. "Xander! Get up!"
Giles pulled his mouth from Buffy's breast with a muffled curse. Taking a deep breath, he reached again for his glasses. "If this is a false alarm, I'm going to kill her."
Buffy rolled out of bed, face flushed. "Slayers first!" She grabbed her sweatshirt and pulled it over her head. "But she sounded serious."
Giles reached for his shirt. "Once we finish with Ethan, I'm going to take you away some place where there will be no interruptions and ravish you for a week."
She finished pulling on her pants, leaned over and kissed him quickly. "Only a week?" She grinned down at him. "I'll go check on things. You follow as soon as you can get some pants on over that."
Xander paced anxiously through the kitchen door to the main hall, listening impatiently as the phone rang at the other end of the line. He watched as a dark figure of a Council soldier moved past the front window and swiveled on his heels in time to see a mirror image of the man pacing past the back doors beyond the dining room.
“Carrie, it's Xander. Hate to bother you on a Sunday morning, but we’re at Code Red here. Dawn needs you. She's had another episode.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Don’t be. I’m on my way.”
When Xander heard the click of the disconnected line, he quickly hit another number on his cell again. After a few short rings, a familiar British voice answered. “Good morning, Xander.”
“See you got the caller ID thing going.”
“Indeed. How are you, Mr. Harris?”
“No time for chit chat, Mr. P. Something's happened to Dawn. We think Ethan’s up to his old tricks.”
“Is she safe? Are you safe?” His voice was grave.
“For now, but Dawn's really sick. She's in and out of it…”
“Security isn’t compromised, is it? Militia’s still in position?”
“All armed and accounted for. But clearly Ethan's making his move.”
“I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
“It’s not that I don’t appreciate a visit for tea and biscuits, but that's not good enough. We need serious reinforcements. Like call in the Secret Service, Navy Seals, Green Berets, James Bond… get whoever you can and get their butts here now!”
“Let’s not overreact, Mr. Harris. We anticipated Rayne would take things to the next level…”
“Listen to me. Dawn is in pain. I don’t care how prepared you think we are…”
Xander stopped by the sound of a sudden commotion outside. The drumming of heavy boots and raised voices drew Xander to the front door. He cautiously pulled it open to discover the head of the Council of Watchers.
He blinked once. “Took you long enough,” he deadpanned.
Percy shook his head good-humoredly and stepped inside followed by a woman with a stern face. “Mr. Harris, allow me to introduce you to Agnes Harkness. She’s…”
“With the coven in Devon.” Xander offered her his hand. “Willow is always talking about you. Nice to finally connect a face with the name, Miss Harkness.”
“Agnes, dear. Call me Agnes," she said crisply. "Now, where is Dawn?”
“Upstairs in her room,” Xander motioned with an arm and led then inside. The CoWboys returned to their posts, closing the front door behind them.
“You wouldn’t, by chance, have some aspirin?” Percy asked, cringing as he rubbed his temple. “Teleportation always gives me a bugger of a headache.”
“Sorry, we're all out. Dawn’s been popping it like candy. Carrie’s on her way, though, and she’s sure to have some good stuff.”
“She won’t be needing it, dear. We’ll nip this thing in the bud in no time,” Agnes said with confidence, her eyes roaming with interest as she followed closely behind the two gentlemen.
“So you think you can stop Ethan?” Xander asked.
“I’m afraid the little bastard is the Council’s responsibility, dear. Mine is only to assist in protecting the girl as well as checking in on our sister coven.”
“No need for concern. We’ve intensified security at the coven house, and have two teams camouflaged under the cloaking spell patrolling the coven grounds.” Percy explained.
“What about the rest of the town? Ethan caused chaos in Sunnydale more than once, and he doesn’t buy into the concept of ‘innocent bystander.’ He might hurt regular people.”
Percy smiled reassuringly. “We’ve implemented certain strategies to locate Rayne and the Slayer. This town is under lock down. Plans are underway. No one and no thing moves in Whispering Pines without our knowing it. Now, where is Rupert?”
“With Willow. They’re trying some circle thingie to play defensive tackle against Ethan’s mystical offense.” At Percy’s confused look, Xander shrugged. “Sorry, apparently I’m possessed by John Madden at the moment.”
"I can be of service in the art of mystical defense. Just consider me a sweeper.” Agnes smiled confidently. “Now, if you would excuse me, gentlemen, I'd like to quickly check the outside wards before I see Rupert and Dawn.”
She nodded graciously as a soldier politely opened the door for her, raising his weapon away with the motion. “Thank you, young man. You know nothing good can come from those bloody awful things…” she gestured to the rifle and lectured on as the door shut behind her.
“She’s got spunk.” Xander grinned.
Percy grimaced. “You don’t know the half of it.”
“I don’t have to tell you that you shouldn’t be out of bed,” Deborah said, her chiding sounding more tired than stern.
“We can hardly lie around in bed all day at a time like this,” Jo answered, defending Elspeth.
The old woman stood at the window looking solemnly out. The yard was filled with several heavily armed Council soldiers pacing back and forth and surveying the surroundings for any movement. One of them finished a cigarette, dropped it to the ground and scrunched it with his heel.
“If Lessa sees…,” Elspeth began then went quiet, lowering her head.
Deborah and Jo looked at each other, then at Elspeth, worry plain on their face.
With a heavy sigh, Elspeth turned around. “But she won’t. I would still prefer that they don’t leave any more marks than is necessary.”
Deborah looked out, too, and nodded. “I’ll talk to them. Perhaps they’ll know if Agnes has arrived.”
She left and Elspeth sat down on the closest chair. Jo joined her, wincing slightly.
“They’re here to protect us,” Jo said, trying to smile.
“I know.” Elspeth had a faraway look for a moment. “But their well-meaning preparations are unnecessary. We won’t need them.”
“We won’t?” Jo asked confused. “Have you seen something more, Elspeth? You mean it’s over?”
“Far from it. But I don’t foresee the battle will be on this ground.”
“So there will be a battle?”
“One can never know for sure.” She didn’t look at Jo.
“Will Ru…” Jo paused. “…Will there be more death?” she asked with a broken voice.
“I’m afraid the heartbreak of loss has yet to be satisfied in all this.” Elspeth got a faraway look again, then turned to Jo. “I can’t see it clearly. But we should all prepare for the worst.”
“And how are things here?” Giles and Willow turned quickly in surprise at the greeting behind them.
“Agnes!” Willow had the older woman wrapped in an enthusiastic hug before she had a chance to set her bag on the floor.
“Willow, my dear, you’re looking well,” she responded. “Staying out of trouble, I hope.” She directed a thoughtful glance to the glyphs, candles and herbs along the floor then raised her eyebrow at Giles. He nodded gently and smiled.
“Oh yeah, trouble free. Dawn's asleep now and as far as I can tell, it's just a normal sleep. Of course, every time I think I have this thing solid, Ethan seems to punch a hole in it. But besides the occasional pulling out of hair, I’m staying vein-less and non-apocalypsy.”
“Willow has things well under control, I assure you, and we’re working through this particular casting together.” Giles smiled gratefully as he stretched out a hand. “Thank you for coming, Agnes. How have you been?”
“Not so fast, Rupert. What about you? Willow isn’t the only one who needs careful supervision in these things." Agnes frowned at him. "Need I remind you of the incident at the coven?”
“I’m never going to live that down, am I?” Giles rolled his eyes and Willow snickered knowingly.
“Now what could dear old Rupert have done to make him so infamous at the Devon Coven, Agnes? Do tell,” Percy prompted as he stepped upwards to enter the already crowded room. Xander stood on the steps and listened in.
"Percy!" Giles held out his hand with a warm smile. "You should be careful or I'll tell them all why you're called 'Pisspot.'"
“Oh, I already know that story, Rupert.” Agnes offered. "As for you and magic, I think it could be a valuable lesson for them to know what’s possible. Perhaps you’d like to tell them?"
“I’d rather not,” Giles grumbled.
“Then permit me.” Agnes smiled.
“Giles set the coven house on fire,” Willow interrupted, giggling the words out.
“I did no such thing. It was merely a…”
“Fiery blaze from which none escaped,” Agnes added.
Giles shook his head in frustration. “Please enlighten them to which coven house you are referring,” he sighed, removing his glasses and pulling out a handkerchief.
“Jessica Withsom, the youngest member of the Devon coven, brought with her a special item when she came to reside with us. A dollhouse which she lovingly referred to as the coven house. While tending to Willow last summer, Rupert somehow managed to set the poor thing on fire. I’m afraid none of the residents made it out. Tiny melted plastic bodies were strewn everywhere. It was a horrific tragedy.”
Willow giggled again.
“Giles! How could you?” Buffy said, coming up to stand on the steps next to Xander. "And hello, Percy."
"Buffy." Percy nodded warmly at her.
“Were you speaking Latin to the books again?” Xander teased Giles.
“It was a slip of the tongue,” he said with a shrug.
“Followed by a spark and then a roaring blaze…”
“Indeed. Can we be a bit more melodramatic, please?" Giles looked at Agnes with mock defensiveness. “It was under control in seconds. I offered to replace it.”
“Only after a few choice expletives,” Willow added.
“Shall we move on? You can mock me to your hearts' content after we've helped Dawn.” He motioned towards the door. “Everyone out who isn’t casting. And Pisspot, I’ll deal with you later,” he threatened.
“Oh, I’ve missed this,” Ethan purred from his cross-legged position near the fire. Sweat dripped down his torso's scarred terrain.
“What, sensei?” Katako struck out at the shadows with practiced strikes then turned to give her companion her full attention. “Your meditation is going well, I hope?”
“This isn’t quite meditation, though it does revitalize me, center me.” Ethan smiled contentedly. “Thanks to her.”
“You speak of the younger one, Dawn?” Katako asked, her eyes filled with curiosity.
“Yes.” Ethan stood and reached for a nearby towel, dabbing off the sweat from his neck and chest.
“You speak of little else. Forgive my impudence, sensei, but you seem quite distracted with this girl… this child. She is in fact blood kin to she who claims to be the Chosen One. She is a collaborator.”
“Don’t confuse relations with loyalty, Katako. Dawn may be of the false Slayer’s bloodline, but she belongs to me.”
“It is not my place to question, sensei. I only wish to protect us from those who would try to go against us. But my fear lies within trusting such a being. You’ve said it yourself: she isn’t flesh of this earth.”
“Indeed, she’s much more.”
“But why do we require her presence now when we’ve never needed it in the past?”
Ethan paused and examined Katako’s face for a moment then tossed the sweat-dampened towel aside and stepped up to her. “I understand and forgive your curiosity, Katako. But you must trust me in this. Dawn holds the key to what will heal me. And while she appears to be the enemy, she is in fact sympathetic to our cause, being held hostage under the influence of those very collaborators who wish to stop us. I need her, as I need you.” He reached up and tenderly cupped the young Slayer's cheek. “Your station is to protect while hers is to heal. You want that, don’t you? For me to return to my former self?”
“Of course, sensei. Only wish I could provide you with what you need to get well.”
“And you will, my dear, in your own way.” Ethan smiled thankfully at her. “Now go. It’s time for you to practice your exercises. You’ll need to be at your best when I call on you. Preparation must be made for Dawn’s arrival and I have much to do.”
“That should work nicely. Thank you, Collins.” Percy slapped his cell phone shut.
“About time! For a minute there, I thought we were going to have that thing surgically removed from your ear.” Buffy finished the sandwiches and began collecting cups from the cabinets.
“Christmas, hands free headset, mark him down for one,” Xander grinned as he took a seat opposite of where the Watcher stood.
“There’s much to be done beyond commanding a small army, Buffy.”
“Okay, Mister Sergeant Major General, sir,” she smiled, pushing a plate of sandwiches towards the men. "Here, have some late lunch and fill me in.”
“Your alibis for instance. Haven’t you wondered why Rupert hasn’t been fired for absenteeism or Willow failed for missed classes?”
Buffy shrugged. “No. I guess we’ve had other things on our mind.”
“As well you shouldn’t wonder. Such menial tasks should be left in more knowledgeable and, might I add, well-connected hands.”
“So toot your own horn here, Perce. What you got going for us?” Xander asked through a mouthful of ham.
“Well, I arranged for an extended leave of absence for both Rupert and Willow from the University. If all fares well with detaining Rayne and young Katako, they should be able to return with no questions asked.” Percy finally took a seat at the kitchen table, selecting a sandwich as Buffy poured the hot water for his tea.
“Way to work the influence,” Xander responded, “Color me impressed.”
Buffy set the teacup on the table before Percy and handed Xander his cup of cocoa. He smiled gratefully.
“Thank you, Buffy.” Percy shifted his focus to Xander. “I’ve also called in a favor from an ocular surgeon at County Medical. Her group will lend credence to the falsified reports of your anticipated follow-up procedure for your eye replacement.”
“You make it all sound so easy.” Buffy smiled and took the seat beside him, sipping carefully at her hot tea.
“Networking is what I excel at, Miss Summers.”
“With a minor in humility,” Xander amended. "Buffy, do we have some chips?"
“Remind me why I put up with you?” Percy grumbled.
Xander put down his sandwich and crossed his arms. “Because if we survive this latest catastrophe, I’ve promised to build you a hand carved, solid Cherry executive desk with Maple inlays, gold-tooled brown leather top; five regular drawers and two deep ones designed for files; a drop-center keyboard drawer, wrist rest, pencil tray; and three pull-out writing surfaces and an inset tea cup holder." He sighed in satisfaction, and picked up his cocoa again. "Complete with central locking system for all drawers as the super duper sprinkles on top.”
Percy’s eyes glazed over. “Ah yes, now I remember.”
“Office furniture porn,” Buffy snickered as Percy leaned back in his chair, a hint of an embarrassed smile crossing his lips. “Barbecue or French Onion?” Buffy asked, turning to Xander and displaying two bags of chips.
“Barbecue me,” he responded.
“Don’t tempt me!” she tossed him the chosen bag.
Percy chuckled and reached for his tea. “Picking up where we left off, Dawn’s absence from school needs little explanation thanks to Miss Whedon’s assistance and expertise. So that only leaves you, Buffy.”
“I called in a few favors of my own,” Buffy said and Percy’s brows lifted, surprised. “Giles called in sick for me after Ethan kidnapped me and when I woke up, I asked for a vacation to 'recover.' No problem.”
“Nope. Lyle and Daisy didn’t mind. Things are kinda slow and ever since Lessa…” Buffy paused with a sympathetic glance to Xander. He only stared blankly into his cocoa. “Since she died, Brad’s been asking for overtime. They’re covered.”
“Well then. That works out quite well for us. It seems we have the veil firmly in place. The operation can resume.”
“If you guys don’t mind, I think I’ll just check in on Dawn. See how the defensive casting is going and if anyone else is hungry.” Buffy grabbed a plate of sandwiches and motioned towards the hallway. "Xander, when Carrie gets back from the store, ask her to come up and check on Dawn again, please. Mystical defenses are good, but I'd like a physical check too."
“Thank you again for the tea, Buffy.”
“Least I can do.” Buffy shrugged helplessly. As her footsteps moved up the stairs, Percy set his cup to the table and leaned in towards Xander. “I take it Buffy is still suffering the aftereffects of Ethan’s spell?”
Xander nodded and sipped his cocoa. “She’s getting a little stir crazy being under house arrest. Seems unfair since she’s not the criminal in this.”
“We do what we must. Still, I know it must be infuriating to be reduced from Slayer to…”
Percy shook his head. “Buffy is quite special, regardless of her Slayer calling. I can certainly see why Rupert loves her as he does.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but when you mentioned Ethan earlier to Buffy, you said ‘detaining.’ ‘If all fares well with detaining‘ is what you said,” Xander repeated.
“I did.” Percy raised his cup to his lips.
Xander put his cup down and stared at Percy. “I don’t mean to keep telling you your business. But I hope for damn sure you mean detaining as in detaining him six feet under ‘cause there is no way in hell I’m letting him get off with a snazzy new wardrobe and three square meals a day. Even with Brutus, the soft touch cellmate, that's not right.”
“While I appreciate your position, Xander…”
“I don’t think you do. That bastard murdered one of my best friends, along with some not-so-close but still nice people and practically raped Dawn. He tried to kill Buffy and Giles and he deserves a death of the particularly painful variety. Preferably with sharp, pointy ended sticks and swords and bats and stinging bugs…”
“Xander, I’m well aware of what Rayne’s done since he escaped from the American authorities. He’s done far more damage than you or even Rupert is privy to. I assure you he will not escape justice.”
“Look, no courtroom drama is action enough in this case, Percy.”
“The situation won’t be left in the hands of the American judicial system or military this time.”
“So what are you saying?” Xander asked in frustration.
Percy sipped his tea, staring at the Council files spread out on the table in front of him. Finally he raised his head to look Xander in the eye. “Ethan is a rabid dog that needs to be downed. I will do whatever is necessary to guarantee he will never hurt anyone ever again.”
Xander studied his face for a moment before nodding. “Sounds good to me. Animal control is my new specialty. Whatever you need, I’m your man.”
“She looks better already.” Agnes smiled, pleased, as she brushed Dawn’s hair from her face. “Her color's returning, breathing is slowing and heartbeat's steady. I think we’ve won this round, Rupert.”
“I better get started on the wards. Ethan’s power is growing. I can feel it. There’s no resting yet.” Willow moved to the door.
“Good thinking,” Giles agreed. “Ask Percy for a report on the search. I’ll be down in a moment.”
Willow nodded and started down the steps.
Agnes looked at Giles. “How is Buffy? Any change in her condition?”
“She’s regaining her strength, already beating me in basic hand-to-hand. But it’s progressing slowly. I know it worries her, though she tries to hide it.”
“Using magic in such a way, this isn’t a man, Rupert.” Agnes said soberly. “He’s a beast that’s breaking all natural laws.”
Giles looked somberly at Dawn as he nodded then turned slowly toward the steps. “I need to go downstairs. Would you mind terribly…?”
“I’ll stay with Dawn, though I’m sure she’d appreciate a face she recognizes when she wakes up.”
“Someone will be along shortly. Thank you, Agnes.”
“You’re quite welcome, Rupert.”