Spoilers: through the end of Season 3, including major spoilers for Graduation 2, slight for Earshot.

Notes: this refers back to events in most of my previous stories, especially my Watchers' Compound series, Helplessness and Wild Magic, but it should still be understandable even if you haven't read any of those stories. The only things to keep in mind are: 1) in my version of things, prospective Watchers are called Candidates, and they are trained in groups of three by senior Watchers called Handlers; 2) the Council of Watchers is BAD and 3) Giles's dark past was really dark.

Transformations - Prologue

Her name was Maria, and she had died a long way from home, secure in the knowledge that despite all she'd learned, and all she'd done, she still hadn't been good enough. To die in the way she had was, more or less, the final insult, the big old wash-out at the end of her road of life--but that didn't bother her so much, anymore.

The whole thing had reminded her of the way Wile E. Coyote's legs would move, still running in a blurred circle for about ten seconds after the cliff fell away. Ten seconds to realize and fear and plummet.

Maria knew her cartoons--as a kid she'd watched them every morning before school, translating the words into Italian for her grandmother, also named Maria, who would sit on the couch in her long, black, old lady dress. Everything sounded funnier in Italian, and the two of them would laugh and laugh.

During those very same childhood mornings her former teammates from Watcher training: sweet Simon Quartermass, that major jerk Wesley Wyndham-Price, and every single other member of their Candidates class had been nicely dressed in their little suits and ties, sitting on their wooden forms and reciting the words of Julius Caesar in the Roman's original tongue. Maria had started learning Latin in college, attending on an athletic scholarship and working part time as a waitress in her uncle's restaurant to put herself through. She was bright enough, and she'd been accepted to Oxford, but by that time her mom was sick, and the money hadn't been there. The point was, she couldn't catch up to the others, not ever.

Her mom's dad had been English, and after she died, Maria found a book--a journal, really--that changed her life. The world wasn't the way she'd thought. She'd always considered herself tough. She knew martial arts, and could run pretty much like the wind. She hadn't worried about whether she was safe or not, even at night. For weeks after she read the book, though, she was almost too scared to step outside her apartment once the sun went down. Two weeks before she got her Masters in Ancient History from UC Berkeley, she wrote a letter, and just when she'd given up waiting for a reply, when she thought she'd have to take the job as a history teacher in that podunk town called Sunnydale after all, someone came in person from the Council of Watchers.

She'd entered into her apartment after a run, just as sweaty and gross as it was possible to be, and found the woman sitting on the end of her couch, reading The Book. The woman's presence scared and flustered Maria--she was the most poised person Maria had ever met, and very beautiful, the way women were beautiful in those Victorian paintings where the subjects are supposed to be Greek but for some reason have the most luscious red hair. Maria was partial to redheads, always had been.

Maria's own hair was black, thick and wild, like that Gilda Radner character from those old Saturday Night Live shows--what was her name? Yeah, Roseanne Rosannadanna. When they'd moved from Boston to San Francisco, about the time she began high school, kids had started calling her that. Because of the hair, and because her own horrible Boston twang--she had the worst voice of anyone she ever knew, and all the speech lessons in the world hadn't been enough to completely change it--wasn't so much different from the character's exaggerated New Jersey whine.

"Maria Del Ciello?" the Watchers' Council lady said, and her voice, too, was completely beautiful, soft and low-pitched, with the most perfect Masterpiece Theater accent you ever heard in your life. Maria fell in love with her immediately, almost before she knew what she was doing.

"I've studied your records, and I've come to bring you home with me. My name is Moira Bannister-St. Ives, but you may call me Em, if you like."

Thank you, God! Maria though irreverently. She hadn't been able to speak, just nod.

Maria had tried to please Em, so very, very hard. Tried every day, stayed up half the night reading. She could do the physical stuff, no problem, and the emotional stuff, and the anti-torture training--the hardest part of that was seeing how much it hurt her Handler to flip the switch, even though she was getting twice as many volts. Em had talked to her, and tutored her, but it all came down to this--she could grasp the concepts, connect the demon dots, but except for the English and the Italian she'd spoken for as long as she could talk, she couldn't hack the languages. Not even the easy stuff, that Wesley could do in his sleep. Time after time, she'd been told: "You act on that translation, Maria, and your Slayer is dead."

She'd never had a Slayer, and now she never would. The weird thing was, how little different she felt. She didn't feel necessarily evil, though she'd drunk blood and hadn't cared--maybe her victims lived, maybe they died, it wasn't really a big moral issue. She got hungry, and she fed, end of story. The first couple times it felt weird the way her face went wrinkly, and her sire had laughed at her when she cried out in surprise, then kissed her, fangs bumping fangs.

Maria wouldn't mind sharing Em, not at all, but it worried her that for now she'd have to be the brains of this operation--because for all her good qualities, Maria's sire's stairs really didn't go all the way to the attic--and this against people like the Slayer, and Em, and Em's friend Rupert Giles, who Maria knew was a smart man in his own right. Windy Wesley didn't concern her at all. If it wasn't in a reference book, written in Greek, he couldn't handle it, and she'd kinda enjoy hearing him give a few more of his girly little screams before she tore his throat out.

Soon the old men with the plan would be there, and for all their book learning they were pretty damn naive. Didn't they think vampires could lie? Didn't they think the undead could have a hidden agenda, and their own sets of loves and hates? They had no idea, really, what it meant to be a mixture of human and demon, and they never would know, because soon enough they'd be dead. Once Em was brought onto the vampire team, they'd be dead.

Em would hate the thought at first, but after she was turned, she'd get over it, and she'd make a hell of a vampire queen. Her sire wouldn't like it, but Maria had every intention of turning little Buffy too--she was cute as a button and perky as hell, and she just seemed like fun to have around. Plus, there was that issue of Slayer strength.

What her sire would really be mad about, though, was when Maria turned Rupert Giles. Her sire had some major jealousy issues. Admittedly, turning Rupert was taking a chance, because she knew Em liked him, liked him a lot--maybe more than she liked anyone else. It just felt like the kindest thing to do, really--let him be with the women he loved. Besides, there was just something about him, and she'd always enjoyed watching his tapes: he was a planner, he hated the Council, and he could do the magic stuff too.

Maria knew it could get tough, after you were vamped, to stay around, and she fully intended to celebrate the year 3000 if she possibly could. The more smart allies you had on board, the better. Most of the Potterville vampires, her sire's little minions, were nothing but cannon fodder, just about as dumb as soup.

Besides, even in those lousy Council videos, Rupert had the coolest eyes.

She reached out in the dark, that didn't look dark to her anymore and, smiling, took her sire Helena's hand.

In minutes, now, the old men from the Watchers' Council would arrive, and in only a while longer, Helena and Maria would be on their way to California, going to Sunnydale after all.

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