Though Faith kept prodding Buffy for information on their walk to the school, Buffy remained tightlipped and kept nodding toward Dawn who was walking more than twenty paces ahead of them.
"She has slayer hearing, as we well found out earlier. Let's just wait until we get to the library and then I can send her off to run laps or something so that we can have some privacy," Buffy explained. When Faith wiggled her eyebrows suggestively, Buffy rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Not for that. God, don't you ever tire out?"
"Nope," Faith said, smiling. She skipped around until she was in front of Buffy and began walking backwards so that she was facing her. "And like you said – I didn't really get my turn."
"Then you'll have to take a raincheck," Buffy replied easily. "I had a dream or an epiphany; something. I need to talk to Willow about the spell that she did to make sure I'm not going crazy, but I'm pretty sure Dawn's my magically created sister and that she's here to help us."
"Huh," Faith said thoughtfully, shifting around so that she was walking beside Buffy again. She dug her hands down deep in her pockets and kicked a rock along that was on the sidewalk. "Well that's a barrel choc full of crazy."
"Pretty much," Buffy agreed. "Once we talk to the gang and confirm my suspicions, we should be able to make some kind of a plan. We're gonna have to start training Dawn properly."
"But smackin' her down was kinda fun."
They stayed comfortably quiet for a few minutes until the school was in view. That was when Buffy felt an elbow nudge her side and looked over to see Faith grinning at her.
"Don't think for a sec that I'm gonna let you forget about that raincheck though," the brunette said and winked.
Buffy chuckled quietly and tried to elbow her back but Faith dodged it and skittered around, ending up a few steps in front of her. She waited there for Buffy to catch up and together they began walking once again, taking in the unusually quiet campus.
They looked ahead and watched as Dawn climbed up the front steps of the school and followed shortly after her, making their way through the empty halls and into the library where she was already waiting for them with the others. Even Angel was there, much to Buffy's surprise. He'd worked very hard on making himself scarce ever since they'd broken up and soon he'd been gone for good, off to LA to start a new life for himself.
She didn't really have time to delve into deep thoughts about it all now but she instantly noticed how the simple thought of it didn't sting her anymore. When she met Angel's gaze, her heart didn't do that funny little extra-beaty thing and her stomach didn't get butterflies either. At first she wondered if the lack of feelyness had to do with the spell that the witches cast, but as she looked over at Faith who casually took a seat on one of the wooden chairs next to Dawn and kicked her feet up on the table, she knew that it had nothing to do with magic.
It was all Faith, and that very thought was unsettling enough to make her start wringing her hands as they waited for Giles to join them.
He entered the main part of the library a few moments later, a mug of hot tea steaming away in his hand. Slowly sipping from it, he looked more tired than he had in a long time. Apocalypses tended to do that to people though. Buffy grimaced internally when she realized she had to tell him that the Mayor wasn't even the worst part of the deal. Sure they had a decent amount of time to work out the details of her dream and the blonde god that was destined to end the world, but still . . . it was just another load of stress to add to their already heaping pile.
"Okay, so obviously we all know by now about the spell that Willow did last night," Buffy began.
"You mean the oodles and oodles of trippy fog that put the country at Defcon: One?" Xander asked jokingly. "I vaguely remember it and thinking that mom had started the house on fire again."
"I don't know about the spell but it's pretty obvious that Buffy likes to keep me in the dark about everything involving me," Dawn said, crossing her arms over her chest and looking defiantly up at Buffy.
While Buffy's first response was to lash out, she took a deep breath and steeled herself. She had to remember that Dawn was her sister – even if technically she was only three days old – and that they needed her. Dawn had never been asked to play a role in this, but now Buffy had to ask her to willingly do just that. She couldn't just ask her to leave the room while the grown-ups talked about it.
She needed to be a part of this. She already was, whether she liked it or not.
"Not anymore I don't," Buffy said quietly, meeting Dawn's defiant glare. She then looked around the group and took another deep breath, trying to find the right way to explain it all. "Dawn is my sister."
"Like I've been telling you all along, doofus," Dawn replied dismissively.
Both Willow and Giles looked at one another and then back up to Buffy, confusion written across their faces.
"But Buff," Willow began, "the spell I did . . ."
"I know," Buffy cut her off. "And before I get even further into this, I need to ask you a question about it. Faith was all red and everyone else was all yellow, but what does green mean?"
Willow looked to Giles and he sat forward. His interest even further piqued and he decided to answer her question though it had been directed at Willow.
"Green is creation magic. It would indicate that something has been made, usually using earth magics with no intent of harm."
"Then that pretty much confirms everything," Buffy said, nodding to herself. "The spell Willow did was right; you've all been affected by a memory spell."
"That might be the case, but if we're the ones affected by a memory spell, why are you and Faith the ones who don't remember the Dawnster?" Xander asked.
Buffy looked over to Dawn and held her gaze.
"Because up until three days ago, Dawn didn't exist."
Silence fell over the room until Dawn stood in a huff, her chair clattering to the floor as it tipped over behind her.
"Liar," she said through her clenched teeth. "Why are you being so horrible to me when I've done nothing to you?"
"I'm not lying," Buffy explained, shaking her head sadly. She really had been horrible to Dawn, that was true, but how was she supposed to know? "I had a dream last night . . ."
"Was that before or after Faith rocked your pathetic little world?" Dawn asked.
Buffy's eyes went wide and she opened her mouth to speak but the damage was already done. Xander, Willow, Oz and Giles - and yes, even Angel – were looking back at her with wide eyes and Xander was actually making some kind of noise in the back of his throat that made Buffy's cheeks burn bright. She looked down at Faith who was glaring at Dawn and looking like she was about ready to pounce. Knowing that she had to stop things before they evolved into some kind of all-girl wrestling match, she quickly replied.
"Before, not that it has anything to do with this conversation. And for the record, it has nothing to do with anyone here but Faith and I, and I hope everyone can respect that." Getting no argument from anyone, she cleared her throat and continued. "As I was saying, the seers from the council – the ones that sent me the vision of Faith's death – they contacted me through my dream. There was a lot of information to process and I'm still piecing it together, but the gist of it is that the seers – three witches serving a way harsh sentence for meddling with destiny – meddled again. They created the new slayer from me. Dawn. Then they did a spell to make everyone remember her so that she would fit right into everyday life and no one would know any difference."
"And we don't remember her cos we were wearing the bracelets and were hidden from magic," Faith said rather than asked, staring down at the bracelet on her wrist as her fingers mindlessly played with it.
"That's what I'm guessing," Buffy agreed.
Dawn stormed away from the table they were all gathered around but didn't go far, choosing instead to stand near the book check-out counter. There was no doubt that she looked angry but underneath that, it was easy to see that she was hurt. Tears shone in her eyes but didn't fall; she was too angry to cry at that point.
She wasn't taking the news well; she'd obviously been affected by the same spell that made her believe that she really did fit in.
"But what reason would they have for . . . creating a person?" Giles asked, looking apologetically at Dawn as he said it. Dawn simply huffed and looked away from him.
"Because creating her as the new slayer was the only way the council would let both Faith and I live. The seers can't directly interfere with destiny but the slayer can, and having three of us active is the only way we can save the world, apparently."
Faith furrowed her brow at that and she shook her head, looking doubtful.
"B, the guy might be bad news but I spent some time with the mayor, as stupid an idea as that was. He ain't on a trip for world domination, he just wants to wreak some havoc, make some people bow at his . . . well, snakes don't have feet but ya get the picture."
"I know," Buffy replied. "But you're right – he is bad news. Maybe not world-ending news, but bad news regardless. If we beat him, we pass the first test."
"I'm afraid to ask what the second test might be," Giles said.
"And I'm afraid to explain it," Buffy replied. "It involves a god who wants to open a portal to her world, which unfortunately means the end of ours. Honestly, it's all really crazy and I don't understand it at all, but we have something like two years to prepare ourselves. I vote that we put that whole deal on hold for now until we take out the mayor because we only have two days to figure out what to do with him and we need to learn how to work together by then."
"I for one think we already work together pretty well," Willow chimed in, trying to lighten the mood in the suddenly quiet room.
"We do, Wills, but I didn't mean us." She looked back at Dawn who seemed to be paying closer attention now and indicated the space between them and Faith. "I mean us. Only together can we beat Mayor Wilkins. If we can pull this off, maybe we'll have a shot at eventually saving the world."
"Well I vote that we stop talking about the big scary world-destroying god for now because just the very thought of it is making my bladder tremble with fright, and that story won't end up happy for anyone here," Xander said. "Buffster? What's the plan?"
Buffy bent down and picked up Dawn's overturned chair, then sat down on it with a loud sigh.
"That's a good question. The answer, unfortunately, isn't as good. The mayor's invincible until graduation, right? So whatever we're going to do has to happen then. There are going to be lots of innocent people around, which means that lots of innocent people are probably going to get hurt, or worse."
"Perhaps Principal Snyder will be willing to postpone the ceremony," Giles offered.
"And I'll suggest that to him tomorrow at rehearsal," Buffy replied. "We all can, but he already thinks we're a bunch of PCP-addicted miscreants and no way will he postpone his summer vacation without solid proof."
"Want me to smack him around for ya?" Faith asked, her eyes gleaming with mischief.
Buffy couldn't help but chuckle at that. In fact, Xander and Willow did too but they quickly quieted down and pretended to be invisible when they saw the look that passed between Buffy and Faith.
"As much as I appreciate the offer, we need to save our smacking around for training. We need to work together, and it's time we start properly training Dawn."
"Oh no you don't," Dawn said, stepping forward and getting closer to Buffy. "I have bruises on top of my bruises. I'm sick of you guys pushing me around for your entertainment."
Faith stood up and pushed her chair in, then started walking toward the mats, indicating for Dawn to follow her.
"Then we teach you how to push back," she said. When she noticed Dawn wasn't following her, she turned and tried to give her a friendly smile. "C'mon, kid. Slayer tip number one: Hitting is fun. Leave the research to the book-folk."
She began walking again and Dawn finally followed after a few seconds, looking to Giles and Willow as she passed. They quietly encouraged her and even Buffy tried to give her an encouraging smile. When she was finally out of immediate earshot, Xander's chair scraped on the floor as he sat forward, trying to get conspiratorially closer.
"So you and Faith?" he asked in a hush voice, unable to hide his huge grin. "Details. For god's sake, woman, give me details!"
Buffy's gaze flicked over to Angel whose expression was completely unreadable – even more so than usual.
"Uh," she began, looking back over to Xander, "all things considered, not really an appropriate topic of conversation. We'll talk about it another time in vague, very blurry detail. But for now I should probably . . ." she hiked her thumb over her shoulder in the general direction of Dawn and Faith and stood up but she didn't get very far.
"You can join them shortly," Giles said. "I believe our first order should be to dictate and transcribe the particulars of your, erm, encounter with the seers, while it's still fresh in your memory. It's important that we record the details for future use."
"Oh. Right. That's probably a good idea."
She sat back down on the chair, albeit a bit reluctantly, and waited for him to begin the questioning. However, they didn't even have a chance to begin as Angel interrupted them before Giles could even flip to a new page of his notebook.
"We should start making an actual plan for Graduation Day," he said. "There's no use in training Dawn if we don't have a plan."
"Hey, consider me Plan Guy," Xander said excitedly, happy to finally be able to chip in. "I've got all kinds of strategy skills thanks to various video games and my stint as a military guru. Give me a basic floor plan of the graduation festivities and I can come up with a basic strategy for the worse case scenario."
"Xander, the mayor is going to turn into a giant snake and try to destroy the town. I'm pretty sure this is the worst case scenario," Buffy said.
"Right, so then we go full monty," he replied.
Furrowing her brow in confusion, Buffy had to ask. "Naked?"
"What? No, armed!" he quickly corrected. "Though if you and Faith wanted to . . ." he caught Buffy's glare and changed his tone, "weapons. We'll need weapons."
"I'm on it," Oz said plainly.
They all turned to him and Xander asked, "You're on it?"
"I'm on it," Oz repeated. "I know a guy who knows a guy." At their questioning looks, he clarified: "Mailman."
Seemingly appeased by his answer, they all settled in to get to work, Buffy looking longingly at the sparring slayers across the library and grimacing when she looked back at the table before her covered in books, papers, maps and other random clutter. Willow and Oz huddled around Xander to help him come up with a game plan while Giles looked at Buffy, eager to begin their discussion of her dream.
Buffy looked up so see Angel step up beside her, looking down at her with unreadable eyes.
"Could I talk to you for a minute?" he asked. When Buffy nodded but didn't move to get up, he added, "In private?"
Buffy looked to Giles who seemed a bit perturbed at yet another interruption but got up and followed Angel to the upper stacks anyhow, catching Faith's gaze just before disappearing between the old wooden shelving. Faith didn't look mad but Buffy felt guilty regardless; she didn't know what she and Faith were to each other but walking off with her ex sure didn't look so good.
He stopped walking a few feet away from the back of the library and turned to face Buffy who was so lost in her thoughts that she walked right into him. His hands immediately found her upper arms, trying to make sure she was okay, but she stepped back out of his embrace in a quick motion making it quite obvious that she was trying to put some distance between them.
When his nostrils slightly flared, she silently cursed herself for not having had the time to have a longer, more thorough shower that morning. Vampire sense of smell was so intrusive into her personal business!
"Before you say anything about that," she began, knowing fully well that Angel knew what she was speaking of, "I'm asking you to please not. It's between Faith and I, and as much as everyone seems to think they're automatically entitled to know my business, they're not. It has nothing to do with graduation which is why we're all here in the first place, so can we please just . . ."
"I wasn't going to say anything, Buffy," Angel said easily. His face was still unreadable and that bothered Buffy to no end but she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "You're right, it's no one's business, especially mine. I gave up the right to meddle in your love life when ours came to an end."
"Well . . ." she began awkwardly, having not expected that, "thank you, I think."
"I was at Willy's last night after I did a sweep through the cemeteries. I'm not exactly welcome company there but I had a feeling the mayor would need some help to pull off his plan. Turns out I was right. The ceremony – it's going to blot out the sun. He's got vamps signing up to help take out anyone there who might interfere. They'll be hiding in the sewers. Once the sun goes out . . . it's gonna be a free for all, Buffy."
His expression was pained and Buffy could tell that he wasn't mad about anything that had happened between her and Faith; he was concerned.
Angel was scared.
That alone was enough to make Buffy gulp. She brought her fingertips up to her temples and rubbed them gently for a few seconds before taking a deep breath and focusing.
"Okay. The situation sounds dire – and it is – but it's not impossible. If Faith, Dawn and I can keep the mayor distracted, we just need someone to hold off the vamps."
"I'll be there doing whatever you need," Angel replied. "I'm pretty sure I can't hold off a mob of vampires though, Buffy. We're going to need help; an army."
Buffy opened her mouth to speak but stopped, her eyes focusing on some point down the aisle.
An army. They needed an army but they didn't have one, and even if they could call on the actual army to help, they'd probably all be hauled in for psychiatric evaluations. They could get weapons, or at least Oz seemed to think they could. They just needed a big group of people to use them.
Her gaze flicked back to Angel and a small smile crept up on her lips.
"I've got it. The students. We can have them help . . ."
"Buffy, we can't put innocent lives in danger," Angel interrupted but Buffy was quick to cut him off.
"Their lives are already at risk, Angel. The whole town is at risk! If we give them weapons and a chance to fight for their lives, they will. It's not perfect but . . . it could work. It will work! With the vamps distracted, Faith, Dawn and I can focus on the mayor . . ."
". . . who you still don't know how to kill," he finished for her. "Maybe it's time we start thinking about evacuating the town."
"No," she replied, smiling as she shook her head, finding a renewed optimism. "Not yet. I think I have an idea. Come on, we need to talk to Oz and Xander and see just what kind of firepower we're looking at here."
She began to walk down the aisle but Angel called after her, making her stop and face him once again.
"There's something else," he said. He reached into his inner-jacket pocket and pulled out a key, then handed it over to Buffy.
She looked down at it questioningly and then up at Angel with confusion written across her face. God, she hoped this wasn't some kind of symbolic thing. The key to his heart? How lame was that! That was so three months ago.
"It's to my place," he explained and Buffy took a short, surprised breath.
He wasn't actually expecting her to stop by, was he? Shouldn't he be well aware by now that anything bedroom related between them would end horribly? And besides – there was Faith. Her current rep wasn't exactly screaming 'straight'.
"Angel, I don't think," she began, but when she looked up at him she saw that he was confused too. They continued to look at one another, equally bewildered and both wondering why the other looked so confused.
"Willow asked me to get Faith's stuff from her old apartment," Angel explained. "Figured that with me leaving and her suddenly needing a place to stay, it kind of worked out."
"Oh," Buffy replied, frowning one more time before finally managing a smile. "Well, uh, thank you. That's very, uh . . ."
"Did you think I was giving that to you so you could stop by and we could . . .?"
"No!" she quickly answered, her eyes going wide at her sudden loudness. "No. No! A world of no. I was just . . . I haven't had breakfast and I think I'm a little bit dizzy. I should . . . we should . . ." she hiked her thumb over her shoulder and laughed nervously, then held out the key. "Thanks, for this. Faith will appreciate it. I do, too. Not that we'll be appreciating it together! Well, we might actually," she said thoughtfully but jerked slightly when she remembered herself. "Oh god, what's wrong with me?"
"No breakfast," he reminded her, a small grin playing on his lips.
"Right!" she agreed enthusiastically. "So let's uh, get back out there so we can go over the plan and I can get something to eat."
She laughed nervously and tried to turn again but this time Angel's hand on her wrist stopped her. She took a breath and turned to face him and was surprised to find that she was pulled into a gentle yet strong hug. It took her a moment but she eventually relaxed and closed her eyes, breathing in a scent that was distinctly Angel, masculine yet soft. It didn't feel like it used to back when she was in love with him. It didn't make her stomach twist or hear heart flutter.
But it did feel comforting, like she was hugging Xander, and she basked in the calm for just a few moments.
"No matter where I go, I'll always be here when you need me, Buffy. I want you to be happy, and that means you being with someone else. If that's Faith, I'm happy for you. If not, you still have my support. We're not meant to be lovers but I hope we can always be friends," Angel said quietly.
"We can be," she replied, then looked up and gave him a grateful smile, her fingertips gently squeezing his biceps.
With a renewed sense of strength and confidence, she stepped back from his embrace and headed back to join the others in the main part of the library with him following just a few steps behind.
They were going to win this.
All they had to do was figure out how.
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