Buffy spent much of the following morning talking with Max about the spell Winston and Willow had worked on to make less all-encompassing.
“They think they’ve tweaked it enough that it won’t activate anybody not physically or mentally able to be a slayer. No more crazy slayers…..” She shuddered before responding to Max’s questioning look. “A potential in our time who’d already been having slayer dreams. She was in an institution because she’d been permanently traumatized when she was younger. Then, when the dreams started, she got worse, of course, because now the memories of what happened to her were full of slayer memories of monsters. And some time after she got her powers, she was able to break out of the hospital. Fortunately, we already knew about her, and we managed to pick her up before she could hurt too many people. It wasn’t her fault. She thought they were all monsters. Now she stays drugged most of the time so she won’t hurt herself or anyone else.” Buffy shook her head. “I’m sure she’s not the only potential out there with mental problems, just the first one we learned about.”
“What about girls who don’t have the desire for violence they need?” Max asked gently. “Or, does that come with the whole slayer package?”
“It kinda does,” Buffy admitted. “But I don’t think everybody gets it. Some girls just aren’t brave enough, or, as Spike would say, bloodthirsty enough, to make good slayers. I’d kinda like to be able to weed them out too, but if we can’t do it with the spell, I’ll have to come up with a way to figure out who they are before we start training them. I’ve already seen too many girls get hurt just because they don’t have the same violent streak most of us have.” She sighed. “One of the potentials we have right now doesn’t seem very inclined to want to get any powers. And she was raised by a watcher, so she should be all hot to be Chosen.”
“That may be more difficult than simply weeding out those who are unqualified to be good slayers. Chances are, left to normal circumstances, those girls would never be called anyway.”
“Probably not. I mean if they were, they wouldn’t last a day, probably. Some vamp or demon would kill them as soon as they realized what they were. But the girls who just aren’t suited for a slayer’s life don’t last long either. They just don’t have the confidence or courage to face what they have to face every night. I really don’t want to be asking girls like that to go out and get killed. There’s got to be a way to let them do something else.”
“Perhaps, if they don’t accept the role when it’s offered, those powers will fade and they can go about their normal lives? I’m not sure we can incorporate that into the spell to activate everyone, but Willow and I may be able to come up with a counter spell to offer any activated slayers who would rather be doing something else. The population of your slayer army would be a bit smaller, but perhaps all the more powerful for not having any weak links.”
“That’s brilliant, Max! I love that idea. Not as many slayers, but all of them capable, focused, and willing. I like it!”
“I believe Winston and Willow are planning to drop by later today to discuss what they have so far to see if I can add anything. As they think the main spell seems to be ready to use, I’ll suggest the counter spell to them, and perhaps assist Willow in constructing it.”
“That would be awesome,” Buffy said, relaxing the tension she didn’t even realize she’d been holding in her shoulders as she discussed the spell with Max. She smiled at him. “You know, Willow was almost afraid to come over. She thinks you don’t like her.”
“She’s come a very long way,” Max said diplomatically. “And Sara seems quite taken with her. Helping to renew the Guardian line may turn out to be just the thing to give Willow something to do with all the power she has.”
Buffy nodded. “I think Willow is really interested in it. I hope it works out for her.”
When Buffy got to the Magic Box, she was surprised to find Giles frowning at a bottle of Scotch and holding a half-full tumbler.
“Kinda early, isn’t it?”
“It’s already evening in London,” he replied, taking a big gulp.
“There was an attack on the Council today. Fortunately, most of the records are fine, as they’d been moved to a safe part of the building after our insistence on it. However, the explosion destroyed the nearly-empty Library and the offices in that area. They were able to contain the damage and the fire to that wing of the building, but of course now there are concerns about where else bombs may have been planted.”
“In our time, it was only one bomb. But it pretty much destroyed most of the main Council building. And the Council.”
“There were casualties today,” Giles said. “They’re still searching for bodies.”
“Oh…” Buffy said softly. “So we haven’t saved anybody….” She bit her lip. “Maybe we needed to tell them….?”
Giles shook his head. “All things considered, we did what we could. Travers actually thanked me the other day for putting them on the alert. It’s possible the extra security measures meant that the bomb could not be placed any closer to the main facility, and that has saved many lives. The Library is located in its own wing of the Council complex, and is the most accessible to the outside. And possibly least carefully watched now that so much has been moved to the more secure area. Perhaps the lack of steady visitors made it easier to slip in and out without being observed. Who knows?”
“Does Wes know about it?”
“Yes. He’s on his way here to assist us in assessing the damage and help us determine what to do next. He’s already spoken to his contact in Security and will probably have more information for us by the time he arrives.”
“So, we didn’t handle all the First’s minions,” Buffy said with a sigh. “And now there are Turok-hans coming out every night.”
“’Fraid so. Only a couple at a time so far, but they keep cropping up. I think we’re going to have to find a way to shut them all in the hellmouth. Without, I hope, pulling the whole town down to do it. And the damn Bringers are everywhere. I’m going to get the girls up to speed on how to behead them and let them get to work.”
“Without their powers?”
“Don’t know yet. The spell is almost ready, and it’s got the changes I asked for. I think most of the girls we have now are ready and willing to get to work with or without their powers. They’re getting tired of hiding behind Sara’s wards.”
“You haven’t told them?”
“No. I’m still trying to decide what to do. But if the First is making more big moves….”
“Travers will be livid.”
“Travers can suck it up. Feel free to tell him I’m the only reason he didn’t get blown to bits, and he can help or he can be replaced.”
“I’m sure that will go over well,” Giles said, taking another drink.
“It is what it is.”
“Quite.” Giles looked around. “What is Spike doing today?”
“He’s just doing some experimenting,” she said vaguely. “I’ll tell him what’s going on.”
“You tried, baby. Wasn’t your fault my killer and his maker had magical assistance.”
Robin rolled his eyes at the apparition in front of him.
“I’m tired of being played by you. Either have the guts to be seen as yourself, or get lost.”
Nikki Wood morphed into a succession of forms, some human, some not, ending with Robin’s mother’s watcher. He flinched and shut his eyes briefly, knowing what that meant about the man who’d raised him.
“Trust me,” the First said, morphing into Caleb as he’d looked when he was powered up, black eyes and sneer in place. “You don’t want to see the real me.”
“Why don’t you leave me alone” Robin sighed. “I’m not going to kill for you. Give it up.”
“Not even if I can deliver your mother’s murderer to you? Without the Slayer around to save him?”
Robin tried to remind himself that he was being manipulated, but it was an offer he found hard to ignore.
“How can you do that?”
“Leave it to me… just be sure to keep a stake with you all the time.”
When Wes arrived, it turned out he had even more information to share. With the potentials still not in on the secret of Buffy and Spike’s background, the adults all gathered in the Magic Box training room again. They tried to limit the discussion to small talk until Sara could arrive and join them.
Sara had left the girls with firm instructions not to leave the premises, or even get near the edge of the property. A reminder about the Turok-han Spike had dusted within a few feet of the boundary was all it took to get the would-be slayers agreeing to remain indoors where they would be safe. Even Kennedy restricted her complaining to muttering about how they’d be safer if Buffy’d left the scythe for them to use. Most of the girls rolled their eyes at her, but Sara narrowed hers to an intimidating glare. She held Kennedy’s eyes until the cocky potential looked away.
“If that’s settled, enjoy your evening. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
She left, using her own well-protected car to get to join the others.
When they were all settled on mats and chairs around the training room, Wes spoke first.
“It’s both a little better, and a little worse than we thought,” he began. “Winston’s friend in Security is every bit as smart and savvy as we’ve been told. Which means he is becoming quite persistent about knowing what else I know and how I know it. To the point that he is planning to talk to his superior and to Travers.” He paused. “As soon as Travers is able to communicate again.”
He gazed around at the confused expressions. “The truly bad news is that the property damage and casualties, while still nowhere near the complete destruction that occurred in your time, were still quite great. Parts of the main building remain shut off until all the structural damage has been assessed. And the Head of the Council was one of those injured in the blast. He will live, and is, of course, receiving the best of care, but it will be a few days before he will be able to resume any sort of duty.
“Which gives us just a couple of days to decide what we want to do,” Winston said with his usual quiet confidence.
“Indeed. At this point, Travers is well aware that the Coven’s “seer” cannot be produced to speak with him, and that his Security staff has been operating on information for which they can’t vouch. He has, however, already made the connection between Sunnydale, Buffy and me. I expect he will be insisting upon explanations immediately.”
“Of course he will,” Giles muttered, not quite to himself.
“Well, crap!” Buffy said with a sigh. “I was hoping we could avoid telling whatever’s left of the Council anything about us until after we shut things down here.”
“Unless that happens within the next few days….”
“Yeah, I get it. If we can’t get it done, we’ll have visitors here demanding answers.” Buffy sighed again and looked around the room. “Okay, here’s the deal. Willow and Winston, be prepared with that spell. If we need it, I want it to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Giles and Wes, see what you can do to calm everybody down over there in Merry-old, and have them tell Travers you’ll meet with him when he’s all better.” She gazed at Sara. “You and I need to talk about slayers and their future. Willow should probably be part of that conversation too.”
“And what role do I have?” Wes asked with frown. “Surely you’ll need all the help you can get?”
“I guess that’s up to you,” Buffy said. “If I activate the girls, I’m really hoping I can avoid using anyone who doesn’t have special powers of some sort in the actual battle. Obviously, if that doesn’t happen, then I will need you and Giles to organize and help the potentials to protect our backs. They’ll need someone to tell them what to do and how and when to do it. We may need that anyway, now that I think about it….” She shook her head. “I guess all that old watcher training is going to get put to use.”
“I can do more than be a watcher,” Wesley said, glancing at Giles. “No offense, Rupert, but I’ve picked up a few tricks since last I was here with you.”
“We’re well aware of your activities since then, Wesley,” Giles said. “I’ll be glad to have you, whatever your role.”
Buffy smiled her agreement, adding, “Spike and I saw you dust a vamp without half trying. You’re good with me.”
“And me?” Spike said, almost twitching in his eagerness to finally do something.
“You and I, and Winston, are going to try to provoke the First into jumping the gun. See if we can get him to make a big move before he really has all the warriors he’s going to need, and hope we can shut him down for good.”
At the skeptical looks, she growled, “Okay, maybe not for good. But we can send him back to hell where he belongs, and close up his front door.”
“What about me, Buffy? Do I play a role, or are those reserved just for official slayer sidekicks?”
“Oh, Xander, nobody’s more official than you are! And you’re not just a sidekick. In our time, you played such an important role in keeping everybody safe and….” She paused, realizing what she’d just said. “I haven’t given you a lot to do this time, have I? It’s just that things are so different…”
“So different that you don’t need me. I get it.” He sat back in his chair, his shoulders slumped, ignoring the way Willow was patting his hand and whispering to him.
Buffy bit her lip, but couldn’t think of anything to say to him just then. Spike walked over and flicked him on the back of his head.
“Have you forgotten your job already? You’re supposed to study this plan from all angles and then tell us what we forgot, or what could go wrong. You were the one who “sees” in our time. The one who keeps everybody else honest by speaking up and saying what we’re doing wrong.”
“Who’s going to listen to me this time?”
“I am, you berk. You’re my friend, and it’s your job to keep me out of trouble.”
“I’m not sure I’m up to that job,” Xander said, rolling his eyes. “But I guess somebody’s got to do it.” He sat up a little straighter. “So, the plan is to provoke the First into attacking? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just catch it by surprise? You know, like attack first?”
Buffy’s eyes got wide. “That’s what we did in our time! We took it to him instead of hunkering down and waiting for all those things to come out of the hellmouth. We were just in time, too. They were already coming up.”
“Who was ‘we’?” Wes asked.
“Oh, it was all hands on deck. Faith and I took the potentials down to the Hellmouth entrance while Willow did the spell to give them all their slayer powers. Everybody else, Giles, Anya, Xander, Dawn, Robin, even Andrew stayed upstairs and kept the Bringers from attacking us from behind.”
“And you kicked its butt?” Xander looked pleased with his assessment.
“Uh, no. I got kinda… stabbed. But it pissed me off, and I got back up. We were holding our own for awhile, I guess, but there were always more of them fighting to get out of the hellmouth to us.”
“So, what made the difference?” He seemed honestly curious, as if he didn’t really understand what he’d been told about Spike.
Buffy smiled over her shoulder, then turned back to Xander. “Spike did. He made the difference. Angel brought us an amulet he’d gotten from W&H. It was meant to be worn by a champion, and Spike was my champion, so he wore it. It used his soul to channel the sunlight and burn up all the Turok-hans.” She shook her head. “Of course, it also burned him to a crisp and collapsed the whole building and then the whole town on top of the hellmouth. All things considered, not something I—”
“So, job well done,” Spike said briskly. “All you need to know now, is we don’t have that amulet, and my wife wouldn’t let me wear it anyway, so we have to do this the hard way. One ugly bugger at a time.”
“No fire?” Wesley asked, glancing at Winston, who cleared his throat, but didn’t respond.
“We do have our own amulet replacer,” Buffy said, smiling at Winston. “I think it’ll be fine.”
“Uh, who were all those other people?” Xander asked. “I know I didn’t hear you say ‘Andrew’!”
“In our time, Andrew got… I dunno… religion or something. He was sorry for everything he did when he was trying to be evil, and he ended up with us, fighting against Bringers over the Hellmouth. And Robin Wood… he wasn’t quite as useful to the First as he’s tried to be this time. He did try to kill Spike, but when that didn’t work out for him, he remembered he was the son of a slayer and he came to fight with us.” She stared around the room. “I’m not expecting that to happen this time, just so you know. So you shouldn’t trust him, even if he says he wants to help. I’d like to think he’ll come around, but we only have a few days, and working on him isn’t a priority.”
“So, the plan is….” Xander waited.
“Give me a day or two to work out all the details, get another look at the hellmouth to see what’s going on there, and we’ll set a day for the attack. We’ll do it in daytime so they can’t be out and running around town yet. In the meantime, everybody needs to be very careful. And don’t forget the First can look like anybody’s who’s been dead, which includes Spike, Angel, and me. Unless you see us together, don’t believe your eyes or ears until you’ve tried to touch one of us.”
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