Cleveland
Malandanza - 10/3/2003

Chapter One:

The Council of Slayers

From the personal journal of Andrew Wells:

"I was at the historic accord between the Slayers and the remnants of the Council of Watchers. Neither side trusted the other - the Slayers viewed the Council through the not-so-rosy lens of the Manipulated and Oppressed, while the Council saw the upstart Slayers as Pretenders, usurping the Council's Rightful Powers. Truly, the outcome looked bleak. But each side brought something to the table that the other wanted. The Council of Watchers had at its disposal wealth - painstakingly accumulated over the centuries and squirreled away in all manner of off-shore banks of Dubious Reputation; Buffy Summers brought with her an Army of Slayers, but without the wherewithal to maintain it. Eventually, through the sheer force of her personality, Buffy forged a New Council from the ashes and bits of blown up masonry of the old, a Council where the Slayers had a voice.

"And one of the first orders of business of the New Council of Watchers was to acquire a prestigious, but financially unsound, boarding school in Connecticut, where young Slayers might be trained in relative secrecy, lured by scholarships rather than kidnappings or other traditional forms of skullduggery. A central location where the relative paucity of Watchers need not be an issue."

"Hey!" A hand clamped down on the blond girl's shoulder and spun her around, pulling her away form the lanky, athletic boy she had been kissing. "What have I told you two about Public Displays of Affection?"

The boy had the decency to look embarrassed by the intrusion, but the girl rolled her eyes and clung to her boyfriend. "We were just kissing. What's the big deal? Think we're gonna corrupt the virgins just by making out in the hall?" she asked, a little too loudly. The other students began to take an interest in the disruption. "But hey, no problem. We'll just find some place private."

"My office."

"Well, that's private. C'mon Dave," she said, patting her accomplice's chest.

"No. Not you, David. Go to class. Now." The boy looked relieved.

"Sorry, Principal Summers," he murmured as he quickly left his publicly affectionate girlfriend to her fate.

"Lynn? Why aren't you moving?" the principal demanded.

The girl paused a moment then began a leisurely stroll down the hall towards the offices. Then principal swung her gaze to the watching students. "The rest of you, too - go. Anyone still in the hall when the bell rings has detention."

The drama over, the crowd of uniformed boys and girls began to quietly disperse.

"Wow. Principal Buffy laying down the law. I think I just had a Synder flashback."

"Xander!" the principal exclaimed excitedly as she spun to face him. She bounded closer to him, then stopped, folded her arms across her chest and said in a much lower voice, "I'd hug you, but that would send the wrong message. I wasn't expecting you until tonight."

"I got the impression you wanted a pre-council confab, so I came early." The bell rang and the last students slipped quickly into their classrooms, with final, furtive glances in the principal's direction. "Although I gotta tell you, even after all these years I'm not used to being a watcher. I always feel like I should be wearing tweed and glasses."

"Or a monocle, in your case," Buffy replied as she began walking down the hall, Xander following her automatically.

"The eye jokes never stop being funny."

"C'mon, you set yourself up for that one," she said, "But I know what you mean. It's weird being part of the conspiracy instead of the conspired against. Ooo! - just a sec." She popped open a nearby classroom's door and stuck her head inside. "David," she called out as all heads turned toward her, the boy wearing a startled expression on his face, "Saturday detention. Seven o'clock." He slumped in his seat. "And bring a lunch." She shut the door and resumed walking down the hall.

"Harsh," said Xander. "What're you going to do to the girl?"

"Nothing," Buffy replied.

"I'm sensing a double standard," he said. "Slayer?"

Buffy nodded. "I punish her as Principal Buffy and I punish her as Watcher Buffy - nothing works. So, I'm trying a new approach - I'm punishing the students she gets into trouble with her." They had arrived at the office. Buffy opened the door and stepped inside. The blonde girl was waiting on the couch, flipping through a magazine. An earnest young man sat behind the receptionist's desk and looked up as Buffy and Xander entered the room.

"I told Miss Morton to wait for you," he volunteered.

"Go to class," Buffy told the girl curtly. "Hold my calls," she said to the man. Buffy and Xander stepped through the inner door to the Principal's office. The girl was up and grumbling, but indistinctly. She shut the door a little too hard as she left. Xander chose the Principal's chair, swiveling in it slightly and propping his feet up on Buffy's desk, as Buffy closed the door, turned to face him, then, after a slight pause, chose a chair for herself. "Comfy?" she asked in a tone that only barely concealed her irritation.

"The seat of power," he intoned. He swung forward, feet back on the ground. "So. What's up?"

"The girls. We've collected them in one place so they don't have to feel like a freak the way I did. We've got the watchers teaching and helping them train. The older slayers do the slaying for them. They don't fight their first vampire until after they graduate, and even then they get a choice. And what do they do? Always causing trouble. They think being a slayer is enough to let them get away with anything."

"Sounds familiar."

"It was different for me, Xander," Buffy said angrily as she rose to her feet and began pacing. "I never forgot - was never allowed to forget - that slaying was a burden. I was responsible. I worked, I slayed, I tried. I flogged and punished myself when I screwed up - and no one ever had to be protected from me. These girls... they're... they're the bullies, the jocks, and the popular clique all rolled into one. They're like Larry and Cordelia at the same time."

"But, thankfully, they don't look like Larry and dress like Cordelia."

"Ug! Thanks for sharing," she said with a grimace. "Now I'm going to have that picture stuck in my head for the rest of the day."

"You're serious?" Xander asked. Buffy nodded. "What can we do about it?"

Buffy plopped back into her chair and said glumly, "I don't know."

From the personal journal of Andrew Wells:

"The new council is shrouded in secrecy: only the eight members know what really goes on behind those closed doors, but one thing is certain - there are wheels within wheels. Indeed, even in those smaller wheels, there are still more even smaller wheels. Like one of those Russian dolls. Only with wheels.

"The make-up of the New Council is straightforward - five Watchers, two Slayers, and a representative of the Devonshire Coven. New Watchers must be approved by the Council, while the Slayers have their spots based on seniority and the Coven chooses its ambassadress as it pleases. One might think that there would be nothing to conspire about since the Watchers have a clear majority and one might further think that this majority would make the New Council pretty much like the old, with Slayers having a nominal voice, but no real power over the Council's decisions. One would be wrong.

"As a friend and former fighting companion of the members of Buffy's Inner Circle, the so-called Scoobies, and as a Watcher in Training, I often hear snippets of both sides of the debates that rage in the Council meetings. The one thing that both factions agree upon is that the Balance of Power lies with Buffy. Two of the five Watchers on the Council are Rupert Giles and Alexander (Xander) Harris, Buffy's companions from her Scooby days. Another of her Sunnydale allies, Willow Rosenberg, is the representative of the Coven. Faith and Buffy occupy the Slayer spots, so Buffy effectively controls five of the eight votes. Furthermore, as the eldest Slayer is also the leader of the Council, she has the ability to break ties and control the agenda. Finally, her lack of knowledge of parliamentary procedure combined with her indomitable personality give her a de facto veto power - all of which make the old Watchers a minority voice in their own Council.

"And yet, the Watchers would likely have been content to wait for the passing of the generation when natural deaths would have returned the Council to their control had Buffy not dropped a bombshell - with the proclamation that former slayers might join the Council as Watchers at any time, without the years of formal training and apprenticeship. Suddenly the Watchers were faced with the very real prospect, should the Council seats be filled by ex-Slayers, of seeing their power diminish over time, and finding themselves relegated to Tools of the Matriarchy in a Slayer dominated Council."

The council meeting was well under way when Willow faded into view, appearing in the seat to Buffy's left. Harold Gibson, the watcher in charge of council finances, who sat opposite Buffy, paused his report as all eyes turned toward Willow. Willow's hair had gone permanently white. Her eyes, at times, seemed to cloud over, most often before an oracular proclamation. On these occasions, even her closest friends could barely recognize her, so radical a departure from her usual personality she would seem. But, usually, she was Willow.

"You'd think someone who can teleport could make it here on time," Faith remarked dryly.

"Time is a mortal invention," Willow replied.

"Well," Faith replied, "you're a mortal..."

"But I spend my time communing with the immortal realms," Willow explained airily. "It's hard to adjust."

"Let's get back to the meeting," Buffy suggested. "Gibson?"

"Ah, yes, sorry. These manifestations are always a bit, uh, disconcerting. Where was I?" he said, fumbling with his notes. "Here we are, yes, the school." He adjusted his glasses and carefully studied the figures before him before glancing back up at the assemblage. "It is, of course, a matter of record that I opposed the purchase of the boarding school as a foolish extravagance. The school was hemorrhaging money when we first took possession, but now, a scant five years later, I'm pleased to announce that school is 'in the black'. Between increased alumni donations, spurred by the winning women's Tennis and La Crosse teams, and certain economies, such as having watchers, once they adjusted to the idea of working - I'm afraid some had come to regard their positions as sinecures - perform double duties as teachers, we have reached the point where, rather than subsidizing the school to provide the slayers with an education, the education of the slayers is being subsidized by the school." He paused triumphantly, blissfully unaware that none of his fellow councilmen shared his enthusiasm for high finance.

The watcher to his left broke in indignantly, "Yes, yes, it's all very well to tell us of how economically we can train a slayer, but consider the other resources devoted to their care. We have a tenth of the watchers we used to taking on a multitude of increasing responsibilities - and I don't mean just monitoring all these new slayers. Watchers who used to spend their time finding potential slayers or researching prophecies are now teaching," he could barely get the words out, "American History! To a group of High School children!"

"But it's become so much easier to find the slayers, Bernard," Willow interjected. "Before the Awakening, finding a potential was like looking for a sputtering candle, flickering in the wind on a moonless night in a forest full of fireflies. Now, it's like looking for a raging conflagration."

"And what do we have to show for our profligacy?" he continued, ignoring the interruption, "A slayer who serves two years then 'retires'. Retires! From her calling!"

"I don't know why we have to have this debate at every meeting," Buffy said, "We have two active slayers - that's twice as many as you used to. We have the four most recently retired slayers on reserve status - so when emergencies come up, now we're up to six times as many slayers. Plus, you have me and Faith, so eight slayers. And still you complain."

"Eight! When we might have four times that number! Think of the good that could be done," he implored. "An army of slayers, working for a common goal. So much more could be accomplished if you would only use the resources at hand."

"These girls are not 'resources' to be 'used'," she replied angrily. "Being chosen is no longer a death warrant." The rest of the council remained quiet during these debates - it would end as it always did.

"We ought to be working to eradicate evil, not merely to contain it."

"We tried that in Cleveland. Didn't work. Want to know why the forces of evil don't take over the world? They're too busy fighting with each other. When we go all John Wayne on them, they suddenly become cooperative and the fight gets ten times as hard. We aren't about winning," she said emphatically, "we're about balance. And it's not healthy for the girls to be fighting constantly."

"There is a core of darkness in every slayer," Willow added, her voice drifting into the singsong lilt that signaled contact with other realms. "Too much death and destruction brings them precipitously to brink of self-annihilation."

"Like I said: not healthy."

"I take it you mean to prevent a vote on the issue," Bernard replied heatedly.

"We've voted I-don't-know-how-many times already. This 'issue' is over." She turned her attention back to Gibson. "What's our current biggest expense?" she asked sweetly.

"Well," Gibson replied gamely, "that would have to be the education of the young watchers. The English schools are somewhat more expensive than our own."

"How do our academics compare with Merry Old England's?"

"For secondary education, you mean? Certainly, the standards at Saint Athanasius are high. Our Latin program, in particular, has become recognized nationally and has, indeed, an almost European reputation."

"So there's no reason we can't educate the boys right here, along with the girls?"

"I object to your characterization of the Watchers, Miss Summers," Bernard broke in angrily. "We are not a boys' club. We have both young men and women training to take their places on the council."

"Unless you, Gibson, Samuels, Giles, or Xander is really a woman, it looks like a boys' club from where I'm sitting."

"There is also the matter of tradition - something for which you seem to have little regard..."

"You mean like the Cruciamentum? Where you traditionally offered up a slayer for ritual sacrifice?"

"That is a completely separate matter," he replied coldly. "You've made your views on that rite of passage quite clear.

"I'm not particularly found of that tradition, myself," Giles offered.

"Let's not muddy the waters with extraneous issues," he returned condescendingly. Buffy glowered at him, but did not offer further debate. Encouraged, he continued, "And, lastly, there is the matter of familiarity. It is imperative that the watchers and slayers be kept separate, particularly during their formative years."

"He's got a point, B," Faith said. "Can you picture yourself taking orders from someone you used to pick on in high school?"

"I didn't pick on anyone, Faith. And you never took orders."

"Plus, I kinda dig the Masterpiece Theater accents. Giles woulda been a lot less sexy if he sounded like Xander. Not that you're not sexy, Xand," she said, patting him affectionately on the thigh. "You've got that wicked eye-patch working for you."

Buffy sighed. "Perhaps those of us without English schoolmaster and pirate fetishes could get back to the meeting," she said with slightly more than a hint of exasperation.

"Faith does highlight a potential problem," Samuels, the third of the old watchers, said timidly. "Too much familiarity between watcher and slayer can only complicate relations. There have been instances of watcher-slayer liaisons in the past, however much the Council discouraged it, and they never end well. The watcher loses his objectivity..."

Buffy cut him off peremptorily, "Okay, watchers educated in England. And eww. Let's move on. New business?"

"Well," Willow offered, "we found a new slayer. In Cleveland."

From the personal journal of Andrew Wells:

"Cleveland. The very name sends shivers down the spines of young Slayers and turns the most loquacious of the old Slayers taciturn. I was in Cleveland at the end, in the capacity of translator. None of the Watchers had been able to master the seventeen dialects of the Kr'teshi demon clans, located in the vast limestone caverns beneath the Ohio city, so I went with Buffy as she sought to end the war between the Demons and Slayers.

"It had begun simply enough, when six Slayers, all veterans of the Sunnydale Campaign, under the command of Kennedy, arrived in Cleveland to combat the local Vampyre infestation. Under Kennedy's leadership, the Slayers shattered the power of the Vampyre Families. Many scattered, but a few fought, banding together in storm sewers and tunnels. But however much they may live in the World of Darkness, Vampyres are tethered to the World of Light. They must return to the upper world to feed - and the Slayers were waiting. Kennedy led daring forays against the remaining Vampyres, hunting and exterminating them wherever she found them. The Vampyres retreated deeper, through the perpetually flooded tunnels into the territory of the Kr'teshi demons. And the Slayers followed.

"Not that the Kr'teshi were allies of the Vampyres - far from it. These fiercely territorial demons don't much care for other sentient species, or, indeed, their own. Each clan spends most of its time fighting other Kr'teshi clans, in an ever-shifting web of alliances and betrayal. But the Slayers didn't stop to consider local demon mores - they slaughtered the first Kr'teshi they came across, members of the sullen Ygdrash clan.

"There were reprisals, of course. The Ygdrashi raided Cleveland that night, massacring a dozen people in a public park, then vanished back into the sewers. The Slayers launched a counter-reprisal and struck back at the Kr'teshi, but not, as it turned out, at the Ygdrashi; instead, they blundered into the Grardon Clan and caused a further escalation of the hostilities. In a few weeks, the entire nation had set aside their Ancient Feuds and were at war with the Slayers. Kennedy sent for reinforcements and the number of Slayers in Cleveland doubled. The Slayers were winning handily, until the unthinkable happened.

"A scouting party of three Slayers vanished.

"Kennedy came under fire later for not immediately telling the Council what had happened. Instead, she organized rescue missions to try to recover the vanished Slayers. It was not until three weeks later that they found a missing Slayer. Blinded and mutilated almost beyond recognition, she bore a message from the demons - a box, which, upon inspection, contained the perfectly embalmed heads of the other two scouts. The raids then took on another character - the conflict became a total war - with no quarter asked or given. All demons, not just the Kr'teshi, became targets as community after community vanished forever in the face of the Wrath of the Slayers. After the initial shock, the demons regrouped and retaliated. The Slayers were pushed back, losing three more of their number.

"By now, it was impossible to hide the situation in Cleveland. The tabloids were full of incidents and, occasionally more reputable news outlets carried highly edited versions of the carnage. Buffy and Faith arrived and Buffy assumed command. Under her leadership, and with the support of her allies, a massive Demon offensive was crushed utterly. The more belligerent members of the Council insisted that she follow up her victory, driving the demons out once and for all, but Buffy refused. Instead, she headed into the tunnels to make peace, accompanied by Willow, Faith and me. Many of the Demon clans were broken and dispirited, so readily agreed to her terms. A handful remained intransigent, so a Slayer presence remained in the city for several more months until these final warriors accepted the futility of their position. The Slayers spent an additional three months tracking down Vampyre covens in the outlying areas, where surviving Vampyres had rebuilt their families after the diaspora.

"With the Cleveland incident finally at a close, Buffy announced a revolutionary restructuring of the Slayer hierarchy: there would now be only two active Slayers. All the Slayers who had taken part in the Cleveland action were unceremoniously retired and Buffy elevated two recent graduates from Saint Athanasius Preparatory Academy to Active Slayer status."

Dawn and Andrew waited anxiously outside the council chambers, Andrew seated in a chair, drumming his fingers on the arms, while Dawn paced. At twenty-one, Dawn was now a beautiful young woman without much of a hint of the spastic teenager she had been. Andrew hadn't changed much, although he was sporting a pair of round-lensed glasses to correct a barely detectable vision problem, and looked much more studious in consequence.

"What's taking them so long?" Dawn asked.

"Well," Andrew replied, "according to Xander the first twenty minutes of every meeting is spent with Buffy and Bernard fighting each other."

"Buffy says they don't fight - they have differing opinions and discuss them in a fair and impartial forum." After an awkward pause, Dawn continued, "Buffy lives in an alternate reality sometimes." Andrew nodded sagely.

Andrew leaned forward. "Did Buffy say what the council wanted with us?"

"Not a word," Dawn grumbled. "Well, lots of words, but all of them evasive, irrelevant, or ambiguous. It's got to be important, though. She wouldn't have insisted that I fly back from England otherwise. I'm going to miss an important test in my Celtic folklore class if I can't get a flight back tonight. Which'll kill my GPA." Dawn sat down resignedly. "I just wish they wouldn't make us wait. I've read that torturers always keep their victims waiting to heighten their anxiety."

"I've heard that too. I think there was a documentary on Discovery," Andrew replied. "Or PBS. But maybe they want to commend us for our years of faithful service."

Dawn was skeptical. "What service?" she asked. "You've been librarian at a high school and I've been in college with the other Watchers in Training."

"I've also been helping the slayers with their demon lore. And helping to fill in their gaps about slayer history. And you've excelled at your studies. After you graduated from Saint Athanasius', Haversmythe told me you were his best Latin student he's ever come across; he said that by the end of your senior year you had exceeded his ability to teach."

"Smithy said that? I thought he hated me."

"Oh, he does. He said you were too pert and familiar."

"Sounds like him." She sighed. "I just wish it was over already."

After a moment of quiet reflection, Andrew asked, "You don't think they could be punishing us, do you?"

"For what? I haven't done anything!"

"The ways of the council often seem mysterious and arbitrary."

They sat in silence, lost in contemplation of potential punishments and reviewing past failings, both real and imaginary. A few minutes later the door swung open, and both started at the sudden intrusion into their thoughts.

"We're ready for you," Buffy said.

Andrew and Dawn followed Buffy into the council chamber. For the most part, a sort of guarded silence prevailed. Willow smiled at Dawn, and Andrew waved nervously at the assembled councilmen. Buffy took her seat and swiveled to face Andrew and Dawn, who were still standing, unsure of seating protocol.

"Congratulations," Buffy said. "You're our new watchers." She paused to let the information sink in. "And we have a mission for you. In Cleveland."

End of Chapter One

Chapter Two:

The Newlyweds

From the Watcher's Diary of Andrew Wells:

"At one time, it was commonplace for the Council to send one Watcher, or two if they were married, to instruct a potential Slayer. With the diminished human resources of the Council after the epic battle with the First Evil and its corporeal henchman, Caleb, this practice was discontinued. Instead, Slayers were investigated by the Council, and lured to a prestigious boarding school with scholarships based on their areas of interest or expertise, where they could be trained en masse by the Council, away from the prying eyes of their parents. For the most part, this system worked admirably. However, eventually a problem presented itself. A Slayer's guardian turned down the proffered scholarship.

"The girl in question, fifteen year old Julia Tremont, has no discernible interests or hobbies. She doesn't have any particular academic strengths, being a more or less solid "B" student at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope (OLPH), the parochial school she attends, nor does she take part in curricular or extracurricular sports. She doesn't even seem to belong to a particular clique and spends her time alternately in school, at the city library, or at home. Comments from her teachers vary from the favorable "dreamy" to the less favorable "inattentive". The Council decided on an "Outreach Scholarship," a non-specific endowment ostensibly designed to increase the diversity of Saint Athanasius' by collecting students from all over America, and, indeed, the world. The girl's grandmother, her guardian, refused the offer, preferring to keep her sheltered granddaughter close to home and away from outside influences that might corrupt her.

"I was not privy to other options discussed, but the Council of Watchers decided to deal with the situation by sending a watcher to OLPH. An opening for a Latin teacher presented itself, and Buffy decided (and convinced the Council to go along with her) that Dawn would be the best Watcher for the job. She would go to OLPH as Rupert Giles had gone to Sunnydale, to instruct the Slayer. But there were difficulties. OLPH gave preference to married teachers (and would not hire divorcees) on Morals grounds. To guarantee Dawn's position at the school, she would need a husband. Which is where I came in. And so Dawn Summers, now Dawn Wells according to all the Official Documents, and I prepared to head to Cleveland, to train and educate this latest Slayer."

Dawn trailed behind Buffy as Buffy made a tour of her living room, straightening minor knickknacks and clearing away stray cups and dishes. "I don't know what you're complaining about," she said to Dawn. "You and Andrew get along great together. You usually even stop by to see him first when you're back for a visit."

"Only when you're in a meeting," Dawn protested.

"Even when you fight it's clear you're playing - you already sound like a married couple," Buffy continued, "but happily married."

"But Buffy..." Dawn began plaintively.

"And what's wrong with Dawn Wells? What would you have preferred? Dawn Giles?" Buffy headed for the kitchen.

Dawn paused. "Dawn Harris wouldn't have been too bad..."

Buffy paused in the kitchen doorway and examined her sister critically. "The slayer's already seen Xander - he's scholarship guy. It'd look pretty suspicious if he suddenly turned up as the new Latin teacher's husband. Plus Xander can't do covert to save his life - you could ask him to pretend to be himself and he'd do it so bad you'd think he'd been possessed." Buffy continued into the kitchen and dropped the dishes she'd collected into the sink with a clatter. "Andrew lives for this stuff. He'll do such a good job being Mr. Dawn that even he'll start to believe it."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Dawn muttered as she leaned sulkily against the wall, then asked hopefully, "Couldn't I be a young widow?"

"Everything's settled. If you had any objections, you should've made them at the meeting." Buffy popped open the oven and looked suspiciously at the cooking pizza rolls, prodding the nearest one with a barbecue fork. The doorbell rang. "That'll be Giles," she said as she hurried back into the living room and opened the door. "Or Andrew," she said. "Come in. You're early." He was holding several Ziploc bags filled with cookies.

"I made snacks," he said.

"Chocolate chip?"

"Ghirardelli," Andrew confirmed as he stepped in and Buffy closed the door.

"And that's why you're my favorite brother-in-law," Buffy replied. "Come help me in the kitchen." Dawn was standing by the kitchen doorway, arms folded, glaring at Buffy.

"Good evening, Mrs. Wells," Andrew said as he passed her, which earned him a glare as well.

While Andrew and Buffy busied themselves in the kitchen, Dawn slouched back into the living room. The doorbell rang again. "Got it!" Dawn yelled as she headed to the door. It was Giles, carrying a cardboard box. "More snacks?" she asked expectantly.

"Just paperwork, I'm afraid. Is your sister in?"

"Yup. Martha Stewarting it in the kitchen with Andrew."

Dawn plopped disconsolately down on the couch and Giles joined her. "Married life doesn't seem to be agreeing with you," he observed wryly.

"Et tu, Giles?"

"It's important to remember," he said, adopting a fatherly tone, "that this assignment is not about your own personal desires or petty ambitions." Dawn opened her mouth to protest, but Giles continued in a low voice. "Your primary concern must be the mission. Your success or failure has greater implications than might you realize." He paused for a moment. "I believe Buffy made a serious mistake when she chose you for this job."

Dawn was shocked into speechlessness and tears welled up in her eyes.

"Oh, it's not that I don't think you're capable; I do, and you are," he replied evenly. "It's not that I think there are more qualified candidates for the job; I don't, and there aren't. It's not even a question of experience; you and Andrew each have more real experience than any of the others combined."

"Then what...? Dawn said, trying to keep the quaver from her voice.

"The most qualified candidates are not necessarily the most politic. By making sure that it was you who received the post, Buffy has invested too much of her own reputation in the mission's success. If things go goes badly, she will receive the blame, which will expose her to potential challenges to her authority. Buffy's position is tenuous, at best. Xander dislikes the Council politics, and has hinted on more than one occasion that he'd prefer to retire. I suspect Faith feels the same, and, unless I'm mistaken, Kennedy is next in line for her seat on the Council, and there is certainly no love lost between her and your sister. When Willow isn't channeling a higher being with its own inscrutable designs, she is at the mercy of the Coven, whose desires do not always coincide with either those of Buffy's or the Council's. And yet, Buffy's confrontational style of leadership continues to alienate those she might win over."

"Why choose Andrew, then? Why not a watcher they wanted?"

"That was your sister's reasoning, as well," Giles continued. "I advised her to choose Andrew instead, for a variety of reasons. First, and foremost, is that including a watcher opposed to her, but in a subordinate position, in no way changes the mission from her responsibility to a shared responsibility. If the mission goes well, the credit is shared. If not, Buffy still receives the full blame. With Andrew, the blame for a failed mission remains entirely Buffy's, but so does the acclaim for a successful one. Next, there is the very real possibility that your fellow watcher, likely in his 40's or 50's, would bully you into abdicating your authority - that you would not be sufficiently self-assured to withstand such pressure. I can't imagine you feeling intimidated by Andrew. And, lastly, allowing an enemy in your camp would open you up to all manner of bureaucratic sabotage, as the other watcher pursued an agenda at odds with your own - as near as I can tell, Andrew doesn't have an agenda."

The kitchen doors swung open as Andrew and Buffy emerged in mid-conversation. Buffy carried a pizza pan piled with pizza rolls in one oven-mittened hand, and a ceramic starfish in the other. Andrew carried a platter loaded with cookies. "I didn't even know I had a trivet," Buffy was saying. "I mean, I knew I had this thing," she said, waving the starfish in the air, "but I had no clue what it was. I thought it might be art."

"You'd be surprised how many different shapes trivets come in," Andrew replied. "I once saw Minbari trivets at a B5 convention, but they were seriously overpriced and the artwork was inferior."

Buffy placed the trivet on the coffee table in front of the couch then set the pan on top of it. "Look!" she exclaimed, "just out of the oven and yet not burning the table!" Andrew set the cookies on the side of the table closest to Dawn and Giles, then hopped across the table and plopped down on the couch beside Giles. Buffy tossed the oven-mitt aside and grabbed a cookie. "Help yourself," she said as she sat down in a chair near Dawn. Giles took a cookie and Dawn reached for one, but changed her direction halfway there and took a pizza roll instead. She bobbled it momentarily, then set it down on the table. "Just out of the oven," Buffy repeated. "Have a cookie." Dawn did as she was bidden.

"Let's get started, shall we?" Giles said. "Andrew, will you hand me my box?"

"What's in the box?" Andrew asked as he complied.

"Pain..." Dawn began. "Uh... or documents."

Giles took a large manila envelope out of the box and handed it to Dawn. "Official documents," he said.

"Fake ID," she said cheerfully as she tore open the envelope. "Would've been cooler a year or two ago."

"Not, strictly speaking, fake," Giles replied. "These are real documents, not clever forgeries. You are, as far as the official world is concerned, Dawn Wells, a 23-year old graduate of Cambridge, with a license to teach Latin in Ohio. You'll find your diploma, birth certificate, and such inside."

Dawn froze as the color fled from her face. "Are you saying I'm really married?"

"In the eyes of the law, and for the next few years, yes," he replied.

"Then we'll get you a good lawyer," Buffy said soothingly.

"And on that note, I'd like you to try these on," Giles continued. He handed Dawn two small boxes and another to Andrew. "To see if they need to be resized. You'll need to get used to wearing them."

Andrew popped his box open. "Huh. Wedding ring," he said. "Should we put them on ourselves or each other?" he asked Dawn.

The color returned suddenly to her face as she averted her gaze, fumbled the boxes open, and took out her rings.

"Sparkly," Buffy remarked.

"Think it'll cut glass?" Dawn asked, momentarily forgetting her embarrassment. The engagement ring was a little small and took some pushing but the wedding ring slipped on easily.

"Doubt it," Buffy replied. "Knowing the council, it's probably just glass. Or paste."

"It's genuine," Giles said.

"Mine's a little big," Andrew said. He was spinning his ring on his finger. "Hey, why do men only get one ring?" he asked. He pulled the ring off and examined it. "No inscription. Do you think there should be an inscription?"

"Something like 'For my Raggedy Andy, love your little Dawnie'?" Buffy suggested.

"How about 'Shut the hell up, Buffy'," Dawn countered.

"Not quite as romantic," Buffy said as she popped a pizza roll in her mouth.

"Those might be better with ranch," Andrew suggested tentatively.

"No ranch," Buffy replied imperiously.

"It's stuck!" Dawn exclaimed as she tugged at that ring.

"Relax, we'll get if off even if we have to amputate."

"You're so not funny," Dawn said, glaring at Buffy, then she gave the ring a final pull to free it. Giles flashed Buffy a cautionary glance.

"Might as well get started," Buffy said, now all business. "Let's talk about slayers and watchers. You're headed on an important mission - it's more than just watching the new slayer. I'm worried about the girls at the Saint Athanasius - I think it might be better to go back to one watcher, one slayer. You guys are the test case. But I want you to keep in mind that the biggest part of you job is Julia Tremont. She comes first. Always. You are there to help her, not the other way around." Dawn looked at Giles, but he betrayed no emotion at Buffy's speech. "Even if her best interests are not the council's best interests. And I don't want you reporting to me anything that happens - use the proper channels. If you call me, it should be personal. I want everything above board. That means keeping the diaries and sending in reports once a month, more often if something important happens."

"In the meantime," Giles added, "we have the rest of the night to discuss watchers and slayers, and you happen to have two of the foremost experts on the subject of watcher/slayer dynamics. Buffy can tell you how you should expect your charge to subvert the tyrannical, procrustean authority you represent."

"And Giles can answer all your questions about how to handle moody, sullen teen-age superheroes."

From the Watcher's Diary of Andrew Wells:

"The next month was busy, as we prepared for our mission. Dawn spent much of her time in school - assisting Gregory Haversmythe in his summer school Latin class. Saint Athanasius is fairly empty during the summer break, most of the slayers and students return home to their families. One slayer, Yvonne DeMark, remained behind, her parents had died in a car accident before she had been called. Dawn and I were permitted to train with her. The Watchers' Council rates its members according to expertise in particular weapons and fighting styles - with Master being highest. Dawn is a Master with the Crossbow and an Expert with several hand to hand weapons, while I am a Master of the Katana (I would also be Master of the Bat'leth, were it not for the prejudice the Council has for weapons of Klingon design). Yvonne presented a challenge: she was surly and lazy. She took her training less than seriously, yet at the same time had an easy confidence in her own abilities. Her natural strength, agility, and reflexes made her a formidable opponent, but it quickly became clear that her skills were lacking. When Dawn or I got the upper hand in hand to hand training, she would often demonstrate a burst of ill temper and actively seek to hurt us - and often succeeded in spite of the padding. One such time, during quarterstaff training, Yvonne left Dawn crumpled over and gasping for breath from a brutal blow to the abdomen after the bout had officially ended. Yvonne then tossed her staff aside and stalked disdainfully out of the training room without a word, a self-satisfied smirk plastered across her face. Hopefully, Julia Tremont will be more amiable.

"For my part, when not training with the slayers, gleaning the old Watchers Diaries for hints on Slayer management, or receiving first hand (and often conflicting) instructions from Buffy and Giles, I work on background information (as per Buffy's instructions) - helping to flesh out all the myriad little details in the lives of Dawn and Andrew Wells. I have tried to incorporate as many of our real experiences as possible, to prevent possible mistakes, but some new material must be included. For example, where did they meet? What brought them together? Do they play Bridge? What does Andrew do for a living?

"The night before we were to set out for Cleveland, Buffy and her friends threw a Bon Voyage party / mock Wedding Reception for Dawn and Me. Buffy and Giles, Faith and Xander, Willow, and Harold Gibson, from the Watchers Council (with a packet of financial advice as his gift for Dawn and me) were in attendance. Harold and I have always gotten along well together, although he does tend to run on if you get him started on actuarial tables or annuities. He is one of the few of the Old Watchers with a genuine respect for Buffy. Most of the presents were things we'd need to have in a household - various appliances, and such. But Faith's gift sent Dawn shrieking from the room. Buffy looked in the box, but didn't show us what was inside. When Dawn returned, Faith asked her to model it, and Dawn blushed. The Mystery Gift remains an intriguing conundrum.

"So Dawn's got a lazy house husband to support," Xander was saying to Andrew. "She goes out, brings home the bacon, while you sit around watching Jerry Springer. What will the neighbors think?" Xander and Faith were sitting on the couch - Faith on Xander's lap with her arm casually thrown around his shoulders - drinking beers. A number of scattered bottles on the coffee table testified to the latest of the hour. To their immediate right, also on the couch, was Andrew, who had been nursing the same beer for most of the evening. To his right, and at the end of the couch, was Harold Gibson, engaged in a private conversation with Giles, in an adjacent chair. Gibson and Giles were drinking scotch and an open bottle sat on the table near them. Opposite Giles was Buffy, comfortably sunk into her chair. Dawn perched on the chair's arm and hopped up periodically to play hostess. Willow absently watched the proceedings from a chair facing the couch.

"My cover story is that I'm a writer," Andrew replied. "I'll be working on my novel all day."

"Uh huh," Faith replied dubiously, "and what if they want to know what you've written?"

"Ghost writer."

"You write ghost stories?" Buffy asked.

"Ghost writers write for other people," Giles explained. "They are paid well for producing autobiographies and the like for people who cannot or will not write for themselves. They are contractually bound to hide their involvement. Clever, really," he said to Andrew. "A potentially lucrative profession, certainly, so you can readily explain the extra income you and Dawn will have."

"How come watchers get so much money anyway?" Buffy asked.

"Why do you think?" asked Faith. "The guys in charge of the money are the ones in charge of their own paychecks."

"Perhaps it has something to do with rewarding an individual for sacrificing the better portion of his life to the pursuit of the greater good," Giles replied.

"I just wonder where the cash was when I was living at that dive in Sunnydale, scrounging money just so I'd have a place to sleep and a little food to keep me going."

"Or when I was trying to make mortgage payments on a Doublemeat Palace paycheck."

"A new watcher makes 15,000, roughly the same as Miss Summer's will make as a new teacher," Gibson put in, warming up to the topic. "Not extravagant, but sufficient for the ascetic lifestyles our occupation encourages. A watcher in charge of a slayer receives a further 5,000 annually, as hazard pay, and if he's expected to maintain the slayer, he receives an additional 3,500 beyond that. Had either you or Faith moved in with Rupert or Wesley Wyndham Price, your expenses would have been paid by your watcher, just as were Kendra's, but at the time, there was no set mechanism to provide for independent slayers. Now, members of the Council get a paid roughly three times the amount that new watchers receive, but originally they were expected to pay their own way as they traveled the world in search of slayers. Some time in the 1700's, 1783, I believe, the Council began to reimburse traveling expenses. If you're looking for further economies, Buffy, you might reinstate the old tradition of paying one's own way. You would have my support - some of our colleagues might be more willing to fly coach, eat at less expensive restaurants, or even travel by bus if the money came from their own pockets instead of the Council expense account."

"Then you'd really have a mutiny on your hands," Faith remarked, as she reached for another beer. The bottles were just out of her grasp, so she appropriated Xander's instead.

"Woohoo! Hazard pay! We're gonna be rich. Do you think we should get a car?" Dawn asked Andrew.

"Something sporty?" he asked in turn.

"Red? Or black?"

"Now, remember," Gibson cautioned, "you'll be in walking distance of the school, so a new car is hardly a necessity. A mistake many young married couples make is to get saddled with unnecessary debt early on."

"Plus neither of you know how to drive," Buffy added.

"I have a Connecticut driver's license that says otherwise," Dawn replied.

"And I learned how to drive from Carmeggedon II: Carpocolypse Now - very realistic interface."

"Great," Buffy replied unenthusiastically, "but you might want to think SUV." Neither Dawn nor Andrew seemed particularly thrilled by the suggestion.

"Well, it's been fun," Faith said abruptly, "but it's time for Xander to take me home."

"Your home or mine?"

"Surprise me," she replied, leaning in for a long kiss. Faith hopped up, pulling Xander up after her. "Great party," she said to Buffy. "Grab the beer," she told Xander.

"I got more at home," he replied. "Hey, Dawn - good luck in Cleveland. And don't worry too much: you're gonna be a great watcher."

"Shouldn't be too hard if we grade on the curve," Faith said impatiently. "You can't be any worse than mine. And, hey - don't get your slayer killed before she's out of high school and you'll make the top ten list of all time greatest watchers."

"I don't know," Buffy said, smiling at Giles, "mine was pretty good."

"Good luck Dawn," Faith said impatiently. "Let's go, Xander."

And they were gone.

"I should be going, too," Willow said. "It's getting late. And Dawnie? You're going to be fine. A watcher with her own slayer! I almost wish I could go with you. I'll see you at the next council meeting, Buffy. You too, Giles - actually, maybe I'll see you back in England. We should see each other more often - maybe set up a weekly lunch date."

"I'd like that," he replied.

"I'll email you."

And Willow faded away.

"So how long have Faith and Xander been dating?" Dawn asked.

"They're not dating, exactly," Buffy replied. "They just get together when Faith feels... lonely."

"Nice euphemism," Dawn replied condescendingly. "But I'm a grown-up. I'm twenty one-"

"Twenty-three," Andrew corrected.

"Twenty-three," Dawn agreed, "Thank you, Andrew. And a married woman," she continued, flashing her wedding ring, "You don't need to hide things from me."

"Sometimes it's not about hiding," Buffy said. "Sometimes is just..." she faltered.

"Sometimes it's about not being vulgar," Giles offered.

"Exactly. Just because you're old enough to drink, smoke, swear, and get into X-rated movies doesn't mean we should sit around drinking malt liquor, smoking cigars, and swearing like sailors while watching porno videos."

"Although it would liven up these parties," Dawn remarked brightly.

"They're lively enough," Buffy said, "with the Faith and Xander Show."

"Well, I should be going," Giles said. "Harold, can I drop you off at your hotel?"

"I wouldn't say no to that," he replied enthusiastically. "If it's not out of your way."

"Not at all," Giles said, with a faint smile, "and it will save you the taxi fare." Giles got to his feet. "I suppose it should go with saying that I have the utmost confidence in you," he said to Dawn. "You have an enormous responsibility ahead of you, but my years with your sister were the most rewarding of my life. Always remember that you can learn as well as teach."

"I share Rupert's sentiments," Gibson said cheerfully as he also prepared to leave. "The trials and tribulations of next few years will define who you will become, but you are starting from a pretty secure foundation. I have no doubts that you will be a credit to the Council."

Buffy got up and walked Gibson and Giles to the door, exchanged some final pleasantries, then turned back. "Andrew, help me clean up, then I'll take you home." He hopped up and began collecting bottles. "You, too, Dawn." Dawn lacked Andrew's alacrity, but she also busied herself helping Buffy put the room back in order.

From the personal journal of Andrew Wells:

"Buffy was rather chatty on the ride home the night. Full of advice and homilies - she does tend to ramble. I think she even took a circuitous route so she'd have extra time to talk. I get the feeling she's lonely these days with the isolation of command and with her old friends all drifting away from her. I don't recall what she said exactly, but she did seem quite earnest and sincere.

"Dawn and I left for Cleveland the next day, traveling by bus rather than plane so our luggage, which contained a variety of weapons necessary for training the new Slayer, would not arouse suspicion. It was a long drive and Dawn got rather testy towards the end. I had brought along a dossier I had made for her to study - containing pertinent details about our faux life together ere this moment. Details she ought to have been willing to commit to memory, even as I had already done. Instead, she quibbled over the contents and spent most of the trip in a state of sullen refusal. Truly, the honeymoon is over.

"We settled in to our house. It's not in a particularly good part of town. Dawn claimed the master bedroom for her own, while I set up my sleeping bag in a room that would become our nerve center - the computer room. A few days later, my futon arrived. Dawn had to head to her job almost immediately (though school would not be in session for another week), for orientation and other administrative details. Twice she walked to school, then she declared that a mile and a half was not walking distance, no matter what Harold might think (truthfully, the distance is more like a kilometer) so we bought an SUV, although we did get it in Inferno Red. The purchase had a sort of soothing effect on Dawn - she became considerably easier to live with in the aftermath."

End of Chapter Two

Chapter Three:

Tigers in Red Weather

Her heart raced as she fled through streets that would have been unfamiliar even had it been daylight. Her pursuers seemed always at her heels, at times so close she could feel their presence - yet they would inexplicably appear ahead of her. She turned down another side street - vaguely, in the back of her mind, she sensed she was being herded.

"Well?"

Dawn affected confusion. "What?"

"The Slayer. What's she like?"

"Oh, the slayer," Dawn said languidly as she settled into the couch. "I don't know. I just met her briefly, in a class full of other students."

"But you must have formed some impression," Andrew continued. "Gleaned some information from her."

"She sucks at Latin." Andrew was momentarily stymied. Dawn continued, "I gave the whole class a Latin test, to see what they remembered from Latin I. She doesn't remember anything. Which is good. Neither does the rest of the class. Which is bad."

"I see," Andrew said, nodding, but it was clear that he did not.

"I'm a Latin teacher..." Another blank expression greeted her. "I have an excuse to meet with her outside of school - tutoring her in Latin."

"Ahh..." Andrew's face lit up with understanding. "But what if she had passed the test?"

"I would have graded her extra hard, and failed her anyway," Dawn replied cheerfully. "What's for dinner?"

"Lasagna."

"Cool."

Blind alley. She only hesitated for an instant, then dashed behind the dumpster. She had momentarily lost her pursuers. She closed her eyes as she tried to control her gasping, to stop her shaking, to calm her frantic heartbeat. Footsteps in the alley. "Where'd she go?" "Damn! I think we lost her." A confusion of voices - loud and bold. She opened her eyes and stifled a scream - across from her, a young woman. Calmly watching her.

"They know where you are," the woman said. "They're just playing. Oh, don't worry, they can't hear me."

Footsteps came closer. "We couldn't've." "Where'd she go? Up the walls?" Laughter.

"The can smell your fear, hear the blood rushing through your veins. Hell, they're so close they can practically taste you. And they're gonna to kill you."

The girl whimpered.

"Wake up sleepyhead," the ingratiating voice called between thumps. She tried to drift back into sleep, but the thumping became incessant. Finally, she dragged herself from the bed, wrapping her sheet around herself as she struggled to the door, which she wrenched open angrily.

"God damn it, Andrew! What the hell do you want?" He was taken aback. He was also dressed up.

"It's just that you need to start getting ready," he said apologetically. "I didn't want you to oversleep..."

"It's SUNDAY!" she returned angrily.

"We'll be late for church..."

"I don't-" she began. She stopped. Dawn Summers didn't attend church services, but Dawn Wells was a good Catholic. Dawn Summers had had to learn the various rituals, prayers, and hymns before leaving Connecticut - although she still sometimes forgot which shoulder to touch first when crossing herself.

She slammed her door in Andrew's face.

Nevertheless, she was driving to church barely 40 minutes later. She maintained an angry silence for the entire trip as she sped through the nearly deserted streets.

"We're making good time," Andrew said cautiously. "Which is good. The reports say that Julia and her grandmother arrive six to ten minutes early and always seat themselves in a pew five rows from the back, on the right." Dawn didn't comment. "We should be able to unobtrusively bump into them. Just make initial contact, let her grandmother know we aren't serial killers or kidnappers. Later we can ease into the subject of tutoring - and then, Julia will be under our thrall!" Dawn favored him with a black look. "Good thrall. We'll let her know her destiny and such, and train her..." He trailed off; they had arrived. "Just remember: no swearing." Dawn got out and slammed her door shut emphatically. Andrew clambered out of the passenger side and joined her. "And try to look like you want to be here - just pretend you're Amish, that's what I'm doing."

Dawn turned to face Andrew to ask him what an Amish person would be doing in a Catholic church, and braced herself for the inevitable, inane, yet somehow plausible, response, but stopped herself before any words came out. Her features softened into a semblance of happiness and she exclaimed excitedly, "Julia! Hey!" Dawn hurried toward Julia and the elderly woman who accompanied her. Andrew trailed along behind. "I didn't realize this was your church."

"Hi Miss Wells," Julia replied timidly.

"Mrs." Dawn corrected. "This is my husband, Andrew," she explained, lightly touching his arm and gazing dotingly into his eyes, an expression he returned in kind. Dawn seemed to tear herself from Andrew's gaze and turned back to the woman. "I'm Julia's Latin teacher," she explained as she held out her hand, which the woman accepted gingerly.

"This is my grandmother," Julia said belatedly.

"A pleasure, Madame," Andrew said formally, with a slight inclination of his head.

Andrew and Dawn sat in the back of the church, a few pews back from Julia and her grandmother. Dawn marveled at how well Andrew played his role - he knew all the hymns by heart and sang them joyfully or dolefully, as the occasion demanded. Dawn followed along, familiar with the songs, but still reliant upon the hymnal for the occasional word.

Over the next few weeks, Anita Heissen, Julia's grandmother, became sociable with the young couple, even inviting them to sit next to her. The girl never spoke except in answer to one of her grandmother's questions, but, after the service was over, Anita never tired of telling Dawn and Andrew what a poor student Julia had become, how irresponsible she was, and how thoughtless. Dawn mentioned that she tutored students in Latin for an hour after school, Mondays through Thursdays at OLPH, and Julia quickly became a regular. As the semester progressed, Anita acquainted Dawn and Andrew with Julia's dismal progress reports. She might understand Julia doing poorly in Latin, but English? Why, that was her own language! And yet the lazy girl barely had a 'C' and was likely to slip further. Well, Andrew is a professional writer, Dawn had explained, he might help. There were protests, wasn't Dawn already doing too much? Shouldn't Julia learn on her own, as they had all done? But, ultimately, Julia added another day of tutoring to her increasingly busy academic schedule - this time at the Wells' house, on Fridays. Dawn would take Julia home from school and drop Julia home when she was finished - it was all so easy and convenient.

And Anita Heissen thanked divine Providence for sending her two fine, young people to help her with her impossible granddaughter in her dotage.

"But I can save you," the woman continued.

"I guess she's gone," the voice called. It was so close. "We might as well go home."

"All you have to do is ask..."

"Oh. Wait." The creature stepped into full view - interposing itself between her and the woman. "Here she is."

"P-please..." she said.

Laughter rang out.

"Today's the day," Dawn said nervously. "I'm a little on edge - I couldn't sleep last night."

"Her Day of Destiny," Andrew said. "How do you think she'll react?"

"No idea. She's so hard to read. It's almost like she doesn't have a personality. She just accepts things. Which could be good. A little Stepford Slayer - the Council'll love that. Although I wouldn't mind a little rebellion - we've had all that preparation on how to handle sullen moppets, it'd seem like a waste not to use it."

"Maybe we could encourage her to rebel, then crush her spirits," Andrew said. He caught Dawn's impassive stare and changed the subject, "I just hope she doesn't cry."

Dawn grimaced. "Me too. I've prepared her a little - the Latin she's been translating for the past month and a half has been from old Watcher's Diaries. Really old ones. She should've noticed similarities between the slayers and herself."

"Is there anything I should do while you're gone?"

"I think everything's ready - check the weapons again. But upstairs keep things as normal as possible. I'm thinking pizza and junk food for dinner - something her grandmother would disapprove of."

"Ah, you'll make a rebel of her yet!"

"Maybe," she replied with a glimmer of a smile. "Running late, gotta go - how do I look?"

"Smashing."

Dawn paused with her hand on the doorknob, and turned back to Andrew. "You're so strange."

"You knew that before you married me."

She felt like an observer in her own body. She saw the monster approach with swaggering confidence, she sensed the others - four in all. She knew somehow that they were vampires. She saw herself reaching for a fragment of wood, lying in the alley. And then the exhilaration, the whirl and rush of battle, the destruction.

And she knew she would win.

It was a little after 3:00 when Dawn and Julia entered the house.

"Ah, Julia," Andrew said as he greeted them at the door, "your first day of instruction in - English."

"I told her on the drive over," Dawn said.

"Oh," Andrew said, unable to hide his disappointment.

"Let's get her a drink and a snack, then we'll head to the basement. Have a seat, Julia - anywhere is fine."

Julia looked around tentatively, then, with the faintest of cries, slumped to the floor.

Three were dust, the fourth had fled to the rooftops. She bounded easily up the dumpster, and then to the roof, where she saw the vampire, perhaps fifty feet ahead of her - it broke into a panicked run across the often uneven surface. She followed, with the confident lope of a hunter.

He stumbled as he hit the roof of the next building, losing time. She landed easily, never breaking her stride. Three more building and she had closed the distance - as he sprang for the next rooftop, her hand clasped his jacket and jerked downward. His trajectory was irrevocably altered and he struck the side of the building with a crackling thud, a few feet short of the roof, and plummeted to the ground. She landed atop the building, ran a few paces more, then spun back, dropping as lightly as a cat to his side.

Gone were the bestial features of the vampire, but the creature's face looked far from human with its shattered features oozing gore. It lay prostrate, unable to do more, its bones shattered by the terrible force of the impact.

"Wh-what are you?" it asked.

"Don't you know?" she heard herself reply. She moved over the creature, makeshift stake in hand. "I'm the slayer," she said huskily - and the stake descended with a speed that astonished her.

Her eyes flew open. "Who is that?" she demanded, in a tone more resolute than any they had heard from her previously. Andrew and Dawn exchanged confused glances as Julia raised herself from the couch. They followed her gaze to a photo on the coffee table.

"Oh, that's Buffy. My sister."

"She's a slayer, too," Andrew added.

"I've seen her," Julia said. "I-I think," she added reticently. More shared glances between her watchers. "In my dreams."

"Slayers often have prophetic dreams," Andrew said.

"It felt more like..." Julia hesitated.

"Like what?" Dawn asked encouragingly.

"Like a memory."

"It could be shared memories," Dawn said. "Newly called slayers sometimes get visions of past slayers. Buffy did. You could be experiencing what another slayer saw."

"Those are usually death visions," Andrew said authoritatively. "Buffy's alive so I'm still leaning towards prophecy. What happened in your dream?"

"I-I think she saved me."

Andrew and Dawn could get little more from Julia, so, after a brief time for her recovery while they plied her with snacks and questions, they adjourned to the basement. Julia gave a lackluster performance with her physical training - she possessed strength, certainly, and could cock the heavy crossbows easily, but her accuracy was poor. While sparring with Dawn and Andrew, her technique was nonexistent and her reflexes were off. Thirty minutes later, the three of them were back upstairs, working on her schoolwork. Andrew ordered a pizza as the afternoon wore on, and Julia dutifully ate two pieces. Finally, with the sun just setting, Dawn drove her home.

When Dawn returned, she found Andrew sitting on the couch playing solitaire on her laptop. She plopped down beside him, and sighed heavily, but he seemed too engrossed in the game to notice.

"Well?" she asked insistently.

"Huh?" he didn't look up.

"That was anti-climatic." He shrugged. Dawn slapped the lid of the laptop down. Andrew barely pulled his fingers away in time. She had his attention now. "You weren't even a little disappointed?" she asked.

"I guess," he replied diffidently. "But it was her first time training, so I didn't really expect Jackie Chan."

"She didn't seem the least bit interested in slaying. She had more enthusiasm for her homework, and she didn't have any enthusiasm for that. And what about her dreams? They've got to mean something. Yet she wouldn't tell us the details."

"Dreams are funny things. Sometimes you think you remember every vivid detail, but when you try to tell someone else, it gets all mixed up and confused, and you realize you're left with only vague impressions that make you a little uneasy, although you're not quite sure why."

Dawn nodded. "Giles' diaries have pages of Buffy's weird dreams and his even weirder dream analyses. Not something you'd want to fall into the hands of a psychologist - they'd lock them both away and keep them sedated," Dawn mused. "Well, we have lots of time for Julia to get used to being a slayer. And chances are, she'll never have to kill a vampire. Plenty of slayers at Saint Athanasius will do it."

"Indeed," Andrew agreed. He sensed the conversation was over and cautiously lifted the lid of the laptop.

"I'll write up a report and send it off to the council," She said.

"Okay."

She was killing demons tonight. Fierce, battle-hardened creatures, so much more challenging than the vampires - and so much more thrilling. She knew now that it was all just a dream, part of her slayer heritage, yet when she was dimly aware that when she awoke tomorrow, she would be somewhat unsettled by the mud stains and bloodstains, the torn clothing and lacerations.

She wondered if it was usual for slayer dreams to spill over into reality.

And wondered what would happen if she died in her sleep.

But such concerns were not important, a voice told her. Revel in the present, in the blood cry and the penetrating wound. The life ebbing away from a mortal wound, the terrified flight of the hunted, the rapture of the chase. And she listened, as she always did, and felt her nagging doubts dissolve in the flood of sensation.

The months drifted by and Julia become somewhat more competent by infinitesimal degrees. There were moments when she displayed a flash of ability that astounded her watchers, but they were few and far between. In general, she underwent her training without complaint, but without any real commitment to improvement.

By contrast, her grades at school improved dramatically, and, when the semester grades came out, she ended up on the honor roll for the first time. Often she would use her schoolwork as an excuse to cut her physical training short, and, had Dawn not finally set a minimum period of time for her workouts, would have evaded the slayer training entirely. Better grades meant her grandmother was more willing than ever to have Julia under Dawn's control.

Dawn was impatient for improvement. Her reports grew worried and asked for advice on how to proceed. As the winter faded into spring, the Council's reply came back - break the girl's malaise with a trial by fire. Vampires had begun to operate openly again in Cleveland. Deaths that were unmistakably due to supernatural causes, if one knew what to look for, had been reported in the area. The Council ought to look into the matter, but the slayers were busy elsewhere. It would be a matter of extreme convenience if the slayer already present in Cleveland could be made use of. Find a vampire and have the slayer face it. With two experienced demon fighters as watchers, the risk would be minimal. The girl might understand intellectually what a slayer is, but true knowledge came from first hand experience. Not that they should lead an inexperienced slayer into a nest of the creatures - that would be suicide - but one vampire, perhaps newly risen, under controlled circumstances...

And so, some three weeks later, Julia slipped out of her window in the dead of night and joined Andrew and Dawn, waiting in the alley behind her house. Andrew had researched the day's deaths and visited the city morgue to view the suspected body, the body of a transient. It had all the hallmarks of a vampire attack and had been buried in the city graveyard that afternoon. They were not at the graveyard long when the vampire rose - Dawn and Andrew hissed last minute advice to their slayer as the feral creature orientated itself and faced them. It attacked, lunging for Julia, the closest of the three.

And the slayer froze.

Andrew interposed himself at the last minute, with a crucifix, splashed holy water in its face and drove back the monster. Dawn finished it with a crossbow bolt and dutifully reported the incident.

The Council replied quickly, urging Dawn not to despair. A slayer's first encounter with the undead, no matter how well prepared she was, was often far from glorious - Julia's case was not unusual. The important thing was to keep up the slaying, keep patrolling, convert the supernatural into the routine. Some of the greatest slayers had ignominious beginnings, even Faith had fled across the nation to escape the vampire she had failed to kill.

So Saturday became the night for patrols. Julia made half-hearted excuses at first, concerns about her grandmother catching her out at night, but Dawn was adamant. The next three weeks went by uneventfully, but Julia became marginally more interested in her training sessions, particularly with crossbows. She also became more inquisitive, asking questions about reflections, the efficacy of holy water and crosses, and others that neither Andrew nor Dawn could answer entirely to there own satisfaction.

At the next vampire encounter, Julia tried to hang back, but Dawn stepped aside, and pulled Andrew away as well, to allow the vampire to contact the slayer. She defended herself badly, was thrown into a headstone and lost her stake before Dawn intervened.

"Get up and stake him," Dawn said as she held the vampire at bay with a crucifix.

"C-can't I use the crossbow?" Julia asked plaintively. It was enough for the vampire - he turned and ran.

Dawn put a crossbow bolt through his knee. She put her stake in Julia's hand and pulled the timid slayer to her feet. "Kill it," she commanded.

Julia hurried after the crippled creature and did manage to finish it, but not without a struggle. She was in tears, which she tried to stifle, when Dawn and Andrew caught back up to her, and was still sniffling when they dropped her back off near her house and watched her slip past the high, carefully kept hedges into her grandmother's house.

The successful slaying did little to improve Julia's morale. If anything, she seemed more reluctant to patrol than ever.

"We have to face facts," Dawn told Andrew over breakfast. "Our slayer is a coward."

"Hmmm." He was reading the cereal box.

"Andrew!" she said angrily, grabbing the box from him. "Pay attention!"

"Our Slayer is a coward. I was listening," he said defensively.

"What are we going to do about it?"

"I don't know."

"What would the old council have done?" Dawn asked as she slouched back in her chair.

"Oh, probably killed her. That was their answer to most things. I think they killed more Slayers than the vampires ever did."

"That's terrible."

"They only had one slayer. She alone stood against the Forces of Darkness. If she couldn't fight, they had to get someone who could. Or the Forces of Darkness wouldn't have anyone to stand against." Andrew carefully recovered the cereal box and returned to perusing the ingredients.

"It's still terrible."

"The Watchers were terrible old men," Andrew said wisely. "What do you suppose 'niacinamide' is? Sounds like a poison. Or maybe that would be 'nia-cyanide'." But Dawn was lost in thought.

That Friday, Julia's training regimen changed. The bulk of her time was now spent with the crossbow and during the next patrol, Julia carried a sleek, black version with a night sight that Andrew had ordered from a hunting catalogue.

Julia's first kill with the crossbow took four shots. Her slayer strength enabled her to reload quickly, but her hands were unsteady.

"You really shouldn't play with them like that," Andrew said in the aftermath. "It's cruel."

"I-I wasn't- "

"He's kidding. You did a good job," Dawn said encouragingly. "Every shot hit and it'll get easier to get the heart with practice."

It was clear that Julia still preferred uneventful patrols, but they gradually ceased to be a source of overwhelming terror for her.

The spring days passed away and final exams loomed for the high school students. Julia found the disposition of her weekends, with her grandmother's blessing, turned over entirely over to Dawn's discretion. Much of the time was spent in legitimate exam preparations, but the patrolling and training increased as well.

After a late study session, Dawn dropped Julia off at her home and watched Julia disappear into the yard. She was prepared to leave, but something held her back - Anita always waited up for Julia, no matter how late, yet the lights were out. She switched off the ignition and got out, calling out Julia's name first, then cautiously approached the hedge, silently cursing both her overactive imagination and Anita's predilection for horticultural. As she reached the gate, a shape stepped out of her imagination, seized her by the throat, snarled a few incoherent words, then lifted her and tossed her back into her vehicle. And into darkness.

End of Chapter Three

Chapter Four:

Surrender

From the Watcher's Diary of Andrew Wells:

"Dawn's tearful phone call to Buffy stirred up a great deal of trouble back at Saint Athanasius. It seems soon-to-be-ex-watcher Bernard had been keeping Dawn's reports to himself, sending highly edited versions to Buffy. She had no idea the new slayer had been patrolling and was furious. Dawn and I were recalled for a meeting, to give a full account of the death of Anita Heissen and the vanishing of her granddaughter.

"I say 'meeting' but in reality it was a serious of accusations. I had carefully preserved all our communication with the Council, and the evidence was damning in Buffy's eyes. Bernard tried to lie about his part in the affair once he realized how serious the situation was, but with Willow playing polygraph, all his dissimulation, evasions, and equivocations were of no avail. He found himself ejected not just from his seat on the Council, but from Council itself.

"Willow verified that Julia was alive and in Cleveland. From Dawn's description of the demon, I had identified them as Kr'teshi. Giles deemed that if Julia were alive and in Kr'teshi hands, they were keeping her alive for a reason. He postulated that they viewed the active Slayer presence in Cleveland as a violation of the old treaty. Buffy sent us back to wait for news, should the demons contact us, and began to organize a rescue operation.

"By Monday, the Slayers were in Cleveland. They arrived around noon, but Buffy was impatient to begin so we all went to OLPH together to pick up Dawn. The four slayers, Buffy, Faith, Sara, and Jessica, were dressed to kill (although they left their weapons in the rental van) and made quite a stir as they strolled down the school halls to Dawn's classroom."

"I'd thought my days of being embarrassed by my sister in a High School were over," Dawn complained as they sped away from the school parking lot.

"You won't need this job after today," Buffy replied. "And I thought you'd like to come with us to chat with the demons. We can't afford to wait. Demons have notoriously short attention spans."

"Plus you got to make a cool exit," Faith said. "They'll be talking about Mrs. Wells' last day for years." Faith was driving; Buffy was in the back, checking the weapons.

"Why so much cutlery if we're just going to talk?" Andrew asked.

"In case they don't feel like talking to us," Sara observed wryly. She was the older of the other two slayers.

"Jess," Buffy said suddenly, "if there's trouble, I want you to stay with Dawn and Andrew - I don't want them getting killed while we're fighting." Jessica nodded.

From the Watcher's Diary of Andrew Wells:

"We arrived at an entrance to the underworld and set out. Each of the slayers had her own ritual of preparation, her favorite weapons, her favored attire. Sara had a full-length black leather coat she put on before heading down, which Buffy said would get her killed one day, but she smiled and replied that if she was going to die, she wanted to look good when it happened. Buffy said she didn't recall ever seeing an attractive corpse, which rolled into some Angel and Spike jokes from Faith. For four women facing death, they seemed rather jolly.

"The journey to the Underworld brought back memories of the previous trip - for Buffy and Faith too, I think. They were quieter than usual. There is a timeless quality to these aqueducts and ancient caves that digital watches can do little to dispel. An eternity seems to pass while, while in reality the digits advance but little. Like a trip to the Faery World in reverse. We seemed to spend 100 years of exile in the darkness, only to finally return to the surface to discover it is the same day and the sun is just setting - almost as if time has stood still, waiting patiently for us to complete our subterranean Odyssey.

"We eventually approached the edge of Kr'teshi territory and surmised that the Kr'teshi had been feuding again - we passed many of their bodies as we got closer."

The demon ambush was over almost before it began. Three demons against four slayers - two demons were dead and the third badly wounded when Buffy halted the carnage.

"Talk to him, Andrew," she said. "Tell him we'll let him live if he gives us information."

"The Kr'teshi are proud Warrior Demons," Andrew replied. "To them, mercy is a fate worse than death. It demonstrates the utter contempt the victor has for the vanquished."

"Then tell him we'll let him live if he doesn't help us," she responded brusquely. "Just get him to talk."

A long series of snarls and growls followed. Finally, Andrew turned back to the slayers. "He calls us oath breakers. It's interesting," he continued, "the Kr'teshi are one of the most treacherous races of demons known, yet they have seventeen different words for oath breaking. It's really a very nuanced language. He used 'Gr'ktess', which means those who break an oath in order to provoke an enemy into making a reprisal so they can be ambushed and slain. He claims the Slayer destroyed his village when they brought her there as a captive."

"Julia couldn't destroy a village of smurfs," Dawn observed. "It's some kind of trick."

The demon would give no further information. It hurled vile imprecations at the watchers and slayers as they turned to leave.

"You know," Andrew said confidentially to Buffy, "in his culture, leaving him alive is more barbaric than killing him."

"If you're suffering from the pangs of cultural relativism, feel free to go back and kill him," Buffy said carelessly. But Andrew opted to stay with the group.

"What I don't understand," Andrew continued, "is why so many bodies are just lying about. The Kr'teshi are trophy hunters. They shouldn't have left the bodies. Heads are usually preserved, skin is flayed, cured and used for making leather accouterments, fat rendered down into lamp oil, bones carved into intricate warding devices - one kill provides months of artistic enterprise. Years for the experienced craftsmen. In their epics, the hero Kjak aut Hjesh is said to have spent a hundred and twenty seven years carving a bone flute out of a fallen adversary's femur, and another thirteen years perfecting a ballad of the battle, which turned into the very epic about the flute. Heads and arms hacked off and left for the scavengers just isn't their style. Now if they were fierce, matriarchal Drejesh demons, severing the body parts of their enemies would make more sense, although not traditionally limbs and heads - "

"Hey, Andrew. Why don't you shut the hell up," Faith suggested.

From the Watcher's Diary of Andrew Wells:

"When we arrived at the demon village there were no Kr'teshi in sight - other than the ghoulish trophies of fallen foes that adorn the palisades of every Kr'teshi village. We stalked cautiously past abandoned empty huts and caves - and then light flared up ahead, at the village center.

"We moved quickly but warily towards the light. In the traditional Kr'teshi plaza, a throne of bone and sinew had been raised - it's occupant all but invisible in the glare of the lamps. On either side of the pathway, illuminated by Kr'teshi oil lamps and paved with the skins of innumerable demons, stood the vile, black-robed creatures of my worst nightmares that I had hoped had perished with Sunnydale."

"Bringers!" Buffy gasped. "Kill them - kill them all!"

Buffy sprang up the path towards the throne, unimpeded by the Harbingers. Faith cut down the closest one on the left while Sara slashed through one to the right. Dawn and Jessica fired their crossbows, quickly dropping two more - Jessica reloaded quickly and fired again, but Dawn dropped her aim and looked uncertainly at Andrew. Faith and Sara killed the next in line and Faith continued forward to slay a third, bringing her within a few feet of Buffy. Buffy had gained the throne and had her sword pointing at its occupant. Throughout the action the Harbingers had never stirred. Three remained alive, those closest to the throne.

"Finish them," Buffy commanded, never looking back.

"But Buffy," Sara objected, "They aren't fighting back."

Faith decapitated another Harbinger, the crossed the path to finish the last two as the rest of the group watched aghast. Dawn broke in a quick run and dashed up the path. "Julia," she said in a horrified whisper as the girl on the throne came into view. Sara followed, Jessica and Andrew advanced cautiously.

"It's the First," Buffy said.

"The First Evil," Andrew echoed.

"The First Slayer," the creature said, a faint, sardonic smile visible in the flickering light. For the first time Buffy's hand wavered - almost instantly, she was disarmed. The First was up, moving with blinding speed with Buffy's sword now in her own hand, and Buffy was sent spinning to the ground some thirty feet away. Faith had moved quickly, but not quickly enough. The First seemed to anticipate her moves and she joined Buffy, unarmed and disoriented. A crossbow bolt went singing through the air, but the First knocked it aside and thrust her sword forward, catching Sara in the shoulder. Sara backed up quickly, gasping with pain, as the First spun back and settled easily back on to her throne. Buffy was up again, and the First tossed her sword back to her, still dripping with slayer blood. Buffy caught it easily and approached, less confidently.

"Really, Buffy," the first said in mock disappointment, "what were you planning on doing? Killing me? We both know the prophecy - when one dies..."

"What do you mean?" she demanded.

"Millennia ago, the first watchers bound me to the First Slayer," the First said. "Back when they had more power than knowledge. They hoped to keep me sleeping, dormant, and have their Slayer use my power. But with first the kill, I stirred from my slumber, and whispered dreams of blood in the slayer's ear. With each subsequent kill, I became stronger, and my whispers grew more distinct. The Slayer was letting me in, giving me access to the world from which the Shadowmen had banished me. Eventually, I became the slayer." She paused. Her voice became almost sexually charged as she continued, "I was worshipped as a goddess. The primitives sacrificed their first born sons to me and erected a temple of bone in my honor." She sighed wistfully. "Nothing lasts forever in your ephemeral world - for barely century I was able to keep the body alive and young, and then I sunk back into my torpor to await the next awakening. But the Watchers had learned - they found the next slayer and guarded her, kept her secluded, controlled her, they found drugs to weaken her - and slit her throat like an animal when they suspected she was listening to me.

"Thus it has been for hundreds of years. I've gotten so close to surface - only to be driven back again. But never back into the total darkness. You keep me here - every kill binds me more closely to this world."

"You still love to hear yourself talk," Buffy noted. Behind her, Andrew was helping Sara with her wound. Jessica had her crossbow trained on the First and Faith stood at Buffy's side. The First took no notice of the interruption.

"All those years, then you came along," The First continued. "You gave me hope - two slayers, the first crack in the chains the Shadowmen forged. Two chances to break free - I had such hopes for you, Faith." Faith looked uneasy. "You were my favorite - so much closer to what a real slayer is than Buffy ever was. But ultimately a disappointment. The fracture was enough - I searched for the scythe, the key to my chains, brought it to you, goaded you into using it by manufacturing an apocalypse. And now - so many possibilities stretch out before me. Never again shall I be compelled to lurk, helpless, watching - I am free!"

"Are you sure about that?" Buffy asked with an air of quiet menace.

The First smiled faintly. "Do you imagine you can kill me? And even if you could," she continued, "would you? Give me this one child, and the rest are safe - free from my influence until she dies. Better to hope for a long life. You kill her and I'll take another. Do you want to spend your life hunting slayers?"

Buffy was shaken. "If it's so easy, why did it take you so long? Why didn't you just grab a slayer the day we killed Sunnydale?"

The First leaned back and sighed, "I require," she said with a twist of a smile playing ironically at her lips, "an invitation. So many slayers so close to the brink, an embarrassment of choice - but, Julia - such a weak creature. She surrendered without a struggle. There was no challenge." She rose from the throne and stepped toward Buffy, drawing herself up to her full height. "Well, Buffy, make your choice. Will you be the angel of death to the generation of slayers you have created, or will you let me, for the greater good, have this one, sad, pitiful creature to use as I please?"

Buffy cast aside her sword and looked the First full in the face. "Take me instead," she said.

A smile broke on the First's face. "I thought you'd never ask," the she murmured.

From the Personal Journal of Andrew Wells:

"Faith carried Julia for the trip out. Jessica helped Sara and I helped Dawn - who was uninjured, but nonetheless greatly distraught by the outcome. When we returned to Saint Athanasius, we found the Council forever altered during our absence. Fully a third of the Watchers had defected with Bernard, including one other Council member, as had a few of the old slayers, chief among them, Kennedy. Ironically, had she waited, she would have had Buffy's spot on the Council; instead, it went to Rona. Giles had kept any of the young Slayers from being taken, and Harold Gibson successfully safeguarded all access to the Watcher treasury, so beyond a few Watchers and handful of damaged Slayers, this new Council will lack many resources to draw upon.

"Faith moved forcefully and immediately. With Giles' help she quickly picked replacements from the faithful Old Guard for the Council of Watchers, reassuring them that their loyalty had not gone unnoticed. Faith even became principal for two weeks before she passed it on to Xander.

"It was strange to not have Buffy around. She has been a constant in our lives for so long. Dawn moved into her house, but has kept it like a shrine, living in the guest room. She's teaching Latin at Saint Athanasius now, when she's not working on how to bring her sister back. Willow has expressed doubts that they can succeed without reversing the Awakening, although even then, she admits that the currently empowered Slayers would remain so, and be at risk until a generation has passed.

"Julia is a curiosity. She's a student here at Saint Athanasius now. She remembers the things she did as the First. She is terrifying to behold when training - none of the other girls can come close to her skill. She is also very much aware of Buffy's sacrifice. The black memories and the consciousness of guilt combine to make her less accessible than ever. She seems to find solace alternately at the usually empty altar of the now ceremonial school church, and in the training grounds. I sometimes find myself wondering about her fate - wondering what the Old Men of the Council would have done with her - and am reminded that the Old Men still hold important Seats of Power in the present Council."

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