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Balance of Powers

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Tragedy of Dawn Summers". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Five years after the Groom Lake massacre, Buffy must deal with the trauma of becoming a cyborg, allies begin to gather, and the Sith advance their plans...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Star Wars > Dawn-CenteredDarthTenebrusFR181346,5770196,8751 May 123 Sep 14No

Prologue - A Year Ago

The Tragedy of Dawn Summers

Book Two: Balance of Powers


Disclaimer - will not be displayed in subsequent chapters: This is a work of fan fiction, and not for profit of any material nature. Any resemblance to existing persons, places, or organizations is purely coincidental and not intended. Any content that seems plagiaristic is not intended to be such and is necessary for the spirit of the story, and sources will be cited when possible.

No ownership of content in this story is claimed by the author, and is purely the property of George Lucas/Lucasarts and Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy and others as relevant to the work herein (to be cited when possible). No copyright infringement is intended.

Thanks for not suing me, gentlemen.


A/N -- Trying hard to add to this, RL keeps getting in the way, and my Muse ain't exactly forthcoming so far, have to beat him with a stick to get him to cooperate ROFL. Knightmare, Gideon, draconis, looking to hear from you guys here, so don't be strangers...

Washington, D.C., Capitol Building, classified hearing

The Senate Armed Services Committee was attempting to restore order. A private military contractor had requested a closed-door meeting with certain members of that particular body to propose an alternative to deploying human troops to trouble spots around the world. Once the meeting was convened, the contractor, a woman named Willow Rosenberg, had shown them documents of a classified DARPA project which combined the efforts of the Department of Defense and a little known, but well-funded biotechnology firm headed by her. The results were the scene now playing out in the Capitol building.

Senator Tom Grayson, a Republican and Chairman of the Committee, was outraged by the proposal. "Let me get this straight, Ms. Rosenberg. You want the United States government to start using these, these abominations in place of paid volunteer soldiers who took an oath to defend this country and her interests?! Who took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States?! Is this what you want for our country?"

"Yes, Senator, that is what I want," said the black-haired woman seated before the Committee. "You call my clones abominations. But what is more abominable than war itself? I assure you, Senators, members of the committee, my soldiers are more effective as a fighting force than the human troops currently deployed in the Middle East and elsewhere. I can offer evidence of that in the operational reports from units I have already had deployed in several localized conflicts."

Before she could get another word out, the shouting match started among the committee members. Senator Jane West, a Democrat from Georgia, began speaking in a loud voice about "unauthorized operations," while the several Republicans started touting their piece about "men being made to go in harm's way without being asked first." It had become quite chaotic; never before had such a sensitive subject been discussed in the Capitol, let alone its consequences. It went on for about five minutes, each member of the Committee trying to convince the others simultaneously to go with their take on the proposal, until finally Senator Grayson slammed his gavel down repeatedly and shouting louder than any voice in the chamber.

"This chamber will come to order now! I am declaring a ten minute recess!" As people began filing out of the hearing room, Grayson suddenly spoke. "Except for you, Ms. Rosenberg. Will you come see me in my private office, please?"

Taken aback by this sudden personal interest by the Senator, Rosenberg turned and looked him in the eyes. Her expression evinced confusion and a touch of fear. As a whole, the United States Congress was not to be trifled with by one person or another. But when certain members of Congress, say a Representative or a Senator, with a long and distinguished career in politics asked a person to visit their private office for business, that person did not refuse. To do so was to invite scorn and possible negative consequences on that person's behalf. Such was the case with Ms. Rosenberg.

"As you wish, Senator," she said. As people began to file out of the chamber, she went the other way, toward a door installed just aside the bench where the Committee sat and discussed their business. After passing inside she followed Grayson and his aide down a short corridor where each Committee member had their private offices for discussing matters of defense and defense-related matters. The last office in the corridor was reserved for the Head of the Committee, and it was into that office that Rosenberg went.

"May I offer you something? A drink, perhaps, Ms. Rosenberg? You'll find the wet bar is well stocked, with the finest vintage," said Grayson upon entering behind her. He offered her a seat next to the low table in the center of the office.

"Nothing but the finest for a career Senator, hmm? No thank you, sir, my tastes tend not to lean toward alcohol. If you have something like a ginger ale or root beer, perhaps?" responded Rosenberg, with a patiently expectant expression.

"No problem there, I have just the thing here too." He reached down and took a bottle of dark liquid from the built in cooler, then withdrew a bottle opener shaped like a Remington ACR with a fixed bayonet. He carefully placed the edge of the bottle cap between the muzzle of the rifle and the blade before prying it off, then passing the bottle to a grateful Ms. Rosenberg.

"So, how do we spin this with the rest of the Committee?" the Senator continued, all traces of righteous indignation suddenly gone. "I have to take something out of this litttle clandestine soiree to show them, otherwise it's all going to amount to nothing more than a pile of meaningless drivel." You'd better have something good to show me, was the part he left out.

"You know," said Rosenberg distractedly, "this is some damn fine root beer. It's not every day anymore that one can find a particularly vintage IBC. The current formula lacks a certain somewhat natural flavoring. Sassafras extract is hard to come by but you seem to be holding it down rather nicely." As she spoke she was examining the glass bottle in her hand, turning it this way and that. And there was no longer any trace of the fear she evinced in the hearing room. Instead a cold, smug confidence had replaced it as the dominant emotion.

Grayson, for his part, took the slight against him with the ubiquitous grain of salt. This was not a woman to be trifled with for many reasons, the least of which being that she had practically fronted the cash from her technology research firm's windfall of profits for his reelection campaign. She hadn't told him how her company had gotten the money, and he wasn't about to ask, either. There'd been one too many curious rumors concerning rivals who became just a bit too inquisitive. They tended to disappear mysteriously, with not a trace remaining of their existence, and their assets suddenly absorbed into Bio Research Solutions' inventory. The law couldn't go after them, either, due to Ms. Rosenberg having hired a hotshot lawyer straight from Wolfram and Hart to run her legal department almost as soon as the company was founded. The moment a loophole was found, that particular department, headed by one Lilah Morgan, moved aggressively to exploit it. And where there wasn't a loophole, there were...circumstances.

Unexplainable circumstances. Like the kind that couldn't be proven because all the relevant officials had been either bought, threatened or simply vanished. Their replacements tended to be much more amenable to BRS's little quirks and eccentricities. They could be more patient with Ms. Rosenberg's and Ms. Morgan's activities, could look the other way more.

But Senator Grayson was not one to turn a blind eye to what went on around him. And even his patience had limits.

"Ms. Rosenberg," he said at length, "I called you in here to discuss other ways to deploy your clones without this getting out in the public eye, not to consume my vintage root beer. Now please, do spill your--"

"Your fellow Committee members are at this time receiving phone calls from my legal people. If they don't back me up alongside you their families may find themselves short a member by the end of the day. And I don't refer to you Senators and Representatives, by the way. And let's not mention your little obsession with a certain vampire hooker in Houston. Oh she'd pass for human easily enough, but what would your wife think, hmmm? Not to mention the American people. If that were ever to get out..." The cold gleam in her eyes suggested that she was more than capable of carrying out those threats.

And suddenly Grayson wondered who had dialed down the thermostat, because it felt so much colder in his office now than it did a minute ago. He was going to have words with whoever was in charge of maintenance today, that was certain.

He looked at the woman seated at the table across from him now with a newfound respect, and more than a healthy dose of fear. Just who was this woman?

He had to get back control of this thing. He was a Senator for the United States, Damn it! He did not answer to any person who thought they had more influence than the next guy. He pushed away a vast measure of the terror he had begun to feel in her presence and set his features into a grim mask.

"Ms. Rosenberg," he said, "we have to figure out a way to deploy them in the world so that we can gradually begin a total troop withdrawal. That's what we both want, right? It's what America wants. No more blood spilled on foreign shores for causes that are not our own, that's just stupid."

"It is," replied Rosenberg. "We start with a small demonstration in a hot zone somewhere. We use the new transport craft that run on my patented biofuel to get them to the insertion point, then turn them loose. They follow the mission parameters downloaded directly into their brains and they prosecute their targets with extreme prejudice. As no Americans will be in the way over there I expect our own people will breathe a sigh of relief. Who wants to lose his or her only child, their own flesh and blood, hmm? We will get our troops home and break our dependency on fossil fuels. A bold stroke, Senator. And as people get wind of what's going on out there and get a glimpse of my Adams in action, they will begin to see how clones will save American lives and how utterly foolish we have all been in our reckless pursuit of petroleum. It's the lifeblood of the Earth, and we have a chance now to clean up our act. This will be done, Senator, or I can assure you," and here the room suddenly got a lot colder, "the first to suffer the consequences of our ignorance and shortsightedness will not be leaving this building the same way they came in."

Grayson at length managed to get control of that mind-numbing dread that had been steadily creeping up in him since he took Rosenberg into his office. What was it with her and fear? She dressed sensibly, had a sweet figure, and displayed an air of confidence beyond anything he had ever seen, but under all that there was a certain.....ya nye znayu shto.....that felt really, really cold when she walked past. Didn't matter, though. He had to nip this in the proverbial bud and quickly before this unholy bitch could capitalize on his fear.

"Ms. Rosenberg," he said, "Do you know what the Initiative is?"

"Can't say as I have, Senator. What does that have to do with this?"

"I was head of the investigative committee that inquired as to what happened with it. They were a distant branch of DOD that specialized in certain......unknown types of lifeforms and other such creatures. We found the place trashed from top to bottom. But that wasn't what was bothering us. We had found signs of explosives damages in one area indicating a big fight went down. We pulled the surveillance footage and saw one of your Adam troopers with a chain gun fighting one girl, one girl who was mopping the floor with him. Now you tell me that isn't one of yours and I'll sell you some oceanfront property in Utah. Well?"

"He was the original concept model designed and built by a Doctor Margaret Walsh, who was in command of the Initiative until the prototype Adam killed her. I took the designs, tweaked them a bit, altered his DNA so that he would be loyal to me and those whom I select to command in my place. These new Adams won't turn on us, I can guarantee you that."

"Well, Ms. Rosenberg," said Grayson at length, "I recommended after the FUBAR there that the Initiative base be shut down. You'd better pray that that unholy bastard of yours doesn't screw things up, or else you'll find out what ten years or more is like at Leavenworth."

"Idle threats don't amuse me much, Senator, and in time you'll understand just how much."

********

"This hearing will come to order. Be seated."

Rosenberg sat in her proffered chair before the reconvened Committee, studying each ashen face as she locked eyes with them. None of them attempted to return her gaze, preferring instead to occupy themselves with the files in their respective hands and shuffling papers about in some semblance of...well, whatever they chose to do so they could avoid those eyes of hers. The lone exception was Senator Grayson, who glared at her in impotent rage. He knew he could do nothing to her, and her returned gaze spoke volumes to him. She knew he was aware of his inability to take her to task as yet, and inwardly she reveled in it. Blackmail was such fun, she mused.

Grayson could barely keep his voice steady as he read the decision of the Committee.

"Ms. Rosenberg, it has been decided that the Congress will appropriate the clone soldiers you have created and begin to phase out deployment of American troops in combat roles across the planet. Bear in mind, ma'am, that this does not constitute a total troop recall. Our servicemembers will remain on station at their respective bases in an advisory and support capacity, and the bulk of the combat forces will consist of your own clone troops. This will ensure that US servicemembers will have a chance to serve their country whilst keeping them out of harm's way to a greater extent than before. This is a dangerous precedent we're setting, and while I hope that we can all keep our heads about this, we have to acknowledge the slippery slope before us. Because we just put our foot on it.

Rosenberg did her best to evince calm, neutral acceptance, but inwardly she was jumping for joy and smiling from ear to ear. It wasn't the total victory in Congress that she was looking for, but it was certainly a huge step forward.

She almost missed what Grayson was still saying. "...the Committee has also decided that Willow Rosenberg will retain operational command of her clone units in regards to intelligence gathering, supply and deployment, but they will fall under the command of US forces stationed in the relevant operational theatre..."

Mmmmm, even better, she thought, This is shaping up to be another Order 66. They'll never know what hit them... She could see it now...

Human troops as the public face of the US military presence.

Human troops coordinating clone offensives across the planet.

Human troops coming under fire from clone troops under their command by a secret preprogrammed order from their true master.

Clone troops revealing themselves across the globe upon the declaration of the Empire's founding.

The vision went away in time for the Senate Armed Services Committee to declare the hearing adjourned. Rosenberg...or rather, Darth Hera...watched as the committee members filed out of the chamber rather hurriedly. A great change was ahead for the United States, and for the world as a whole. As the Senators and their aides filed out, each one turned their gaze to the woman they recognized as Willow Rosenberg, and shuddered visibly before they quickly turned away and passed through the doors to their respective offices. They had work to do now.

And so did Darth Hera.

********

"I never truly understood how Darth Hera retained her aspect of evil while we knew her as Willow. She had hidden it so well we never noticed. How surreal that the one of us who started out seeming the most innocent could traumatize our world for so long as she had...

How could I have ever sent her to England to be trained? I should have killed her that very night in the Magic Box..." --Rupert Giles, from the Memoirs of the Watchers' Council



Christchurch, New Zealand, Interim Watchers' Council Headquarters

It was another call from his Slayer. Buffy was having another sensory feedback issue from her prosthetic limbs and it was causing her an inordinate amount of stress. Xander had done what he could by retaining the services of the technicians who gave her back her arms and legs. They agreed to stay on and keep servicing her artificial body until they could work out the bugs in her system that continually plagued her, but she needed more than technicians to maintain her body. Each malfunction of an limb and each mistimed intake of breath from her ventilator was a terrible reminder of what she had become, to the point where she needed someone always at her side to keep her level headed enough to repress the urge to smash everything around her. Her first outburst at finding herself imprisoned in that metal contraption had killed two people. With her Slayer strength increased at least tenfold due to the hydraulic action of her limbs, it took someone clear headed to halt the progress of her outburst and keep it from turning into another violent episode. She needed therapy desperately, and her sessions in the training facility proved it.

Fortunately the Watchers' Council was based in London, not Washington, DC, and so had access to incredible sums of money for Buffy's psychiatric recovery. Giles could hire and retain the best. He spared no expense for his Slayer.

"Lucas is dead," said a voice next to him as he turned a corner. Giles picked up his eyes and noted the presence of a dark-haired young man walking next to him. He took in the features; tall, solidly built, slight slouch to his shoulders, black patch over one eye, dressed like Oxford. Xander Harris, his protege and Deputy Head of the Watchers' Council. He sidled along next to his mentor and continued his update. "Heart attack in his home at Skywalker Ranch. According to the coroner in Marin County, he was having a little powwow with some of his fellow moviemakers, with some others in attendance, when he suddenly had what they referred to as 'sudden and severe breathing problems' then just keeled over. Autopsy results show his larynx had been crushed by a massive constrictive force. And get this -- no fingerprints, no bruising, nothing to indicate physical contact of any kind, let alone a cause for the constriction."

"Tragic, that. Killed by his own creation, no doubt," reflected the Senior Watcher ruefully.

"Yeah, how fucked up is that? There's a memorial scheduled a month from now, and they're going all out to make this the most memorable funeral in history. Star Wars all the way, from Jedi Knights to the 501st Legion and others. No Darth Vader though, due to the cause of death, there would be an outcry from all the Star Wars geeks around the world."

"What a world we live in, Xander, what a world..." sighed Giles.

"Yup, we know who to thank for that, don't we?" replied Xander. "Probably the very bitch who did it, too..." he added with more than a trace of loathing in his voice. His step increased ever so much as well in tune with the darkness in his heart at the thought of Willow and Dawn. Or rather, the ones he used to call Willow and Dawn. Their faces were as strange to him now as if they had come from another planet. His blood had begun to boil at the memory of what he suffered upon hearing of the sacking of the Slayer Command. There had practically been no survivors, and the very few who had managed to escape from that death trap had scattered to the four winds. They had not made any attempt to contact them here in New Zealand in the four years since then, and for good reason. Adam troopers were still operating clandestinely in the local area there, running patrols on a regular basis to intercept and exterminate any elements of the Slayer Command. They had a good setup, alternate troops were on station to intercept communications from any Slayer who tried to return to Groom Lake. No Slayer in her right mind would dare to go back to the place where so many of them were wiped out in a single day.

Xander had sunk into a fitful depression at the time the footage of the massacre was transmitted to his smartphone. It felt like a month had passed for everyone around him, so worried were they that they eventually had hooked him up to an intravenous drip to keep his nutrient and hydration levels at optimum. Solid food and regular beverages were violently refused, and he had refused company and support for several days. His depression eventually was ended when he woke up one day with an intense hatred for the two young women he had once called friends. Where once he had been jovial, flippant and ready with a witty word or two, now he was morose, somber and possessed of an intense brooding. The betrayal of Willow and Dawn and the deaths of the Slayers and the Wiccans had changed him forever.

It was with this attitude that he and Giles walked down to the hospital wing and checked in with the receptionist there, who directed them to Buffy's room. As they approached they could hear a distinctive moaning, metallic, artificial.

Buffy. She was still having trouble with one of the prosthetic techs, and was assaulting him with a steady stream of invective ranging from his skill to his parentage, Giles and Xander saw as they entered her recovery room. Xander winced as she fired off a fresh salvo of profanity.

"Hey," he said at length, "he has to complete the procedure, not just survive it, Buff."

"Would you tell this ignorant fuck to quit making my leg buzz before I donate his head to the local rugby team? Is he so much of a loser that he has to cop a fucking feel on a cyborg?"

This latest made both Watchers take a step back, just in time for her to bite back another groan of pain from the poorly functioning neural interface in her thigh.

As soon as it ended Giles stepped forward again to regard his Slayer with a rather great degree of sympathy. "Are you all right, Buffy?" he said.

"Depends. Can you help me grow my old arms and legs back? And while you're at it, Giles, could you perhaps call the local organ bank and see if they have a set of performance lungs, and if they ask for a down payment?"

This got a sudden chuckle from both Xander and Giles. "Your sense of humor's returned, Buffy," Giles replied. "That's good, the psychiatrist said you should find reasons to laugh, it's supposed to help you deal with the trauma of what you went through."

"Buzzkill, Giles, total buzzkill," said Xander with a rueful shake of the head.

"Xander, you can be so thick sometimes," said Giles. "Given what's happened to her do you honestly think that trying to avoid the subject is going to help anything?"

"She gets enough reminding just by wearing that cybernetic suit, by looking at the world and seeing everything differently, Giles. What good's it going to do mentioning it?" Xander countered.

"This isn't the same as sending Angel through that portal into a Hell dimension, or being killed by the Master and then revived minutes later. Those were the sort of things that happened to her on a semiregular basis, this is a life-changing event. It's going to be there with her every day for the rest of her life. Talking about it can only help, Xander, do you get that? Use your brain, man, you're a Watcher for God's sake!"

Xander paused with his mouth open, quite like a codfish, for a moment before he closed it and shook his head. "Ah, shit," he muttered. "That's right, I got carried away. We're so used to shit like this it doesn't even faze us, Giles. I thought it was just one more apocalypse to deal with, another day at the office. Sorry Buff," he said, turning to her.

A nod of her masked, helmeted head acknowledged her acceptance, and the voice from her vocoder -- he'd been taking to calling it that since it so much resembled the device from Star Wars lore -- had a hint of warmth as she spoke. "'Salright, Xander. Giles is right, we have to talk about it cuz it's not going away, not ever. Hmm, pain's gone again. Think I can get off this damn table now." She set her hands down beside her hips and pushed off, allowing her to slide off the work table onto her feet. She then flexed her fingers, then her elbows, and finally each joint in her body that could move, before pronouncing herself repaired.

"Let's go to my office, Buffy. You'd probably find it more comfortable to talk there than in a sterile hospital room, I'll check you out of here myself." Buffy nodded at his offer of comfort and followed him and Xander out.

They felt the weight of years as they walked. Four years before this, they were witnesses to the most horrific slaughter the supernatural world had ever witnessed. Five years prior to that incident, one of their best friends and staunchest allies since Sunnydale, Willow Rosenberg, had offerred to train Buffy's sister Dawn in the magickal arts, the premise behind that being a massive Hellmouth, larger and more powerful than even Sunnydale's, had been detected here in New Zealand. Its energy output was reputed to be such that those it caught and drew into itself were spewed forth as monstrous entities, with barely a fragment of the goodness they once held dear remaining to them. Willow had convinced Dawn that she could potentially become more powerful than even Willow, owing to her status as the Key, the potential of which remained unknown.

Someone, Willow had said, would have to go into the Hellmouth and shut it down from within, then bug out before it collapsed entirely on itself. Problem was, anyone who went in came out as a new "Big Bad", their term for a powerful and influential enemy. Willow needed someone more powerful than her to rein her in if the same were to happen to her, possibly to subdue her until her good self could be restored, or if necessary, destroyed. Dawn had adamantly refused to accept the training by virtue of her refusal to end even one human life, up until the point where Willow had reminded her that they were fighting a war against the supernatural world.

Five years later the lie was revealed as Willow once again tested Dawn's resolve. When she once again refused, Willow suddenly turned on their resident Watcher in the field, Andrew Wells. Buffy charged Willow only to meet with a blast of dark power from none other than her own sister.

The past five years of training Dawn had been a ruse to fool the Slayer Command and the Watchers' Council. Dawn had been trained, sure. She had been trained in the Dark Arts. And Willow had been her teacher and Master. That fact did not reveal itself, however, until Dawn was sent back with Andrew to their headquarters complex in Groom Lake, Nevada, Andrew having suffered a psychotic break and Dawn turned uncooperative and hostile. While they confused and troubled the Slayers in their headquarters, Willow had managed to acquire the means and equipment to produce an army of clone soldiers based upon a template of one of their late enemies, then sent them around the world to find, fix, and eliminate every group of Slayers operating in the field. Soon after that Willow sent a telepathic signal to Dawn telling her to unleash herself on them.

As Slayers and witches died in the field, Dawn systematically murdered every Potential and Initiate back home. It was their own Order 66. Their moment of utter horror.

No one left alive since that day could not recall it without feeling a terrible chill in their blood -- and in their souls.

Entering the new (and still temporary) office of the Head of the Watchers' Council did nothing to improve their spirits. As each took their proffered seats within, each expression seemed incomplete without the fabled thousand yard stare common to combat veterans, especially those who had ever in their lives tasted defeat. It was an ailment no balm could sooth. Not easily, at any rate.

Before he could open his mouth to begin, Buffy broke in. "You know, I've been training with my lightsaber and my suit's systems for four years now, but I've yet to go out into the world and start Slaying again. And yes, I know the risks of going out there with the Sith and their clones sniffing for us, but I'm ready. I know I am. Why?"

Giles removed his glasses then and locked his gaze straight into the eyelenses of his beloved Slayer's mask. For her, this signified what he was going to say was very serious indeed, and that not listening intently would be most unwise.

"Buffy, there's a simple answer for that. You might think you're ready, but I'm not so sure you are yet. True, you've trained with your lightsaber, and it has practically become your soul now. And you move around much better in your suit and with your prosthetics after four years than we imagined you could. You're much more comfortable with who and what you are now, but despite all that, none of us, you especially, are ready to admit you could go out there without drawing attention to yourself, not to mention the fact that nobody knows whether or not you wouldn't just go after the Sith themselves in a quest for vengeance."

These words gave Buffy pause, and though that black metal mask she wore could not betray it, the slight quickening of her breathing through the chest-mounted ventilator did. But Giles wasn't finished. He went on.

"Buffy, you go after them now and you're taking the short, quick road to a long, slow, and quite agonizing death. We can't go to war until we have an army, so that means you have to wait, and you have to remain here a little longer. You go out there now and you tip our hand, and we lose the element of surprise. Besides, the Sith use their knowledge of the Dark Arts in such a way that they resemble the Dark Side of the Force. You need knowledge of the Arts yourself to fight against that. That's actually the good news."

"Good how?" inflected the armored warrior through her vocoder.

"Xander?"

"Buffy, we feel it's time to move you into the second stage of your training," said the Deputy Watcher. "Four years of swordsmanship and physical therapy, followed by retraining your body to become used to the powered prosthetics, then combat training have proved their worth with you. You're stronger than ever before, and your mind and your heart are showing signs of becoming more disciplined, less likely to wilt in the face of your anger. You can put aside your feelings more easily now since you were attacked by the Sith and left for dead." (This he said carefully since mention of her sister would dredge up memories that were too painful to deal with.)

"Yeah..."

"See, if I had said that six months ago or earlier you would have had a bad episode. You're still not quite there yet, like you were before the suit, but you've still come quite a distance since then. You can handle your feelings a little better. You're going to need that now when you start learning the magicks."

"And this, I take it, is stage two?" queried Bufffy.

"Absolutely."

It made sense now to her. Buffy couldn't cover her tracks very well in the new environment. The world was changing for the worse since the Sith were becoming more active. Attrition in the underworld community was a bullhorn announcing the Slayer's presence practically. People would notice, and then the Sith would notice. Only magickal safeguards could prevent against such intelligence from being captured and exploited to eliminate the Slayers once and for all.

Buffy could not leave yet.

"Alright, Giles. I'm in. Looks like Xander gets himself a Jedi after all. Let's do this."

"Thank you, Buffy," said the Watcher. "I had hoped you'd see reason here. Don't worry, I'm not Willow. I won't lead you into darkness, you can be sure of that."

And as though a fan had been turned on the tension dissipated from the room and left a feeling of hope for the first time in nearly four years. A slight smile could be noticed on everyone who didn't wear a mask just to stay alive. It was good.
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