Buffy came out of her trance, stretching legs that were slightly stiff from unexpectedly remaining so long in one position. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been in meditation mode, but it had definitely been more time than she’d planned on when they started. Willow had reckoned it wouldn’t take long to get to the bottom of whatever was on her mind.
Willow’s theory had been if Buffy felt like it wasn’t a Slayer dream, it made sense to check her aura and mind for traces of magic. She hadn’t expected to actually find anything, but it looked like she had. Xander had thrown up his hands and announced he was going to get the good coffee- and strong tea for whenever Giles arrived.
“What’s the verdict, Wills?” she asked cheerfully. Her cheer dimmed when she saw the look of concern on Willow’s face.
“Buffy, this is definitely not new.”
“What exactly is ‘this’?” Buffy asked quietly, reaching for the calm center she’d worked hard to achieve over the years. She’d been hoping to hear everything was ok and she was just overreacting.
“I’m not sure,” Willow said, chewing her lip distractedly. “I think it’s a huge memory modification spell. As big as when Dawn was created. Maybe bigger.”
“Then why didn’t I see any traces of it when I did the spell back when I was all suspicious about Dawn when she first was sent to me?” Buffy asked, trying for reasonable. “That showed that Dawn had been overlaid on my previous memories pretty clearly.”
“It’s older than when Dawn was created,” Willow replied. “I think it dates back to your childhood, definitely before you were Called. I’m not sure what it’s covering, but if there was nothing around you that fell under the original spell, tirer la couveture couldn’t show you what it was covering. Even if it did, the traces would probably have been so faint you would have missed them. You were looking for signs that something was wrong recently, and you found them. You were focused on the sudden Dawn issue, not… whatever this is.”
“What is it covering up, Will?” Buffy asked quietly.
Willow looked at her, wide eyed.
“I don’t know, Buffy. It could be anything. Whatever it is, I don’t think the spell was intended to last this long- the fact that it has means whoever cast it was good. You’ve somehow become aware of it for the first time, so it’s finally starting to fail. In fact, I’m pretty sure the closet door you keep trying to open in your dream means you’ve been fighting subconsciously to break the spell. Whatever it’s hiding, you want to remember on some level. Considering you’ve been basically battering at it with the power of the Slayer the past few nights, it’s taken a real beating, so I doubt it can last much longer. But it’s held for over fifteen years, possibly even longer- I can’t begin to guess what it conceals.”
“I don’t get it,” Buffy whispered. “Who would be doing spells on me that long ago, before I was called? The Council didn’t even know I was a Potential. They missed me- I wasn’t in their records. Merrick had a hard time finding me, even once they knew someone had been called in southern California.”
Willow frowned before answering.
“The Council might not have been aware of you, but someone must have been. I can’t think why else a magic user would go out of their way to modify your memory like this. I mean, it’s definitely not random. This took time and effort and careful casting- if they’d messed it up such a large memory overwrite, you could have been left without any memory or personality. Complete blank slate, worse even than the time I messed up that spell and accidentally wiped all of us at the Magic Box. It’s not the kind of thing anyone who has the power to pull it off would do as a prank.”
She chewed her lip thoughtfully.
“How did you become aware of it, anyway? As potent as it seems to be, I’m surprised you noticed at all, unless you stumbled across something directly related to whatever the spell is hiding.”
Now it was Buffy’s turn to frown.
“I don’t think I did, Will. I told you about that dream- my other mother insisted I needed to get the closet door open. She’s the one who knew about it, not me. As far as I know, it came out of nowhere.”
Willow wrinkled her nose. She decided it wasn’t the time to say so, but she found it interesting that Buffy referred to the mystery woman as her other mother.
“You’re sure she’s not a stand in for you? Some sort of alter ego?”
Buffy shook he head decisively.
“Definitely not. She’s my mother, but she’s not Mom-she looked nothing like Mom.”
“You’re right, it’s all confusing. And probably the only way it will make sense is to find out what’s hidden under this spell. But the only way to do that is to end the spell entirely and see what your real memories are. They’re still there, underneath. In fact, I think you probably have a few true memories that were too strong to cover- they just got rewritten to make them fit with whatever false memories you were given.”
“The Kindestod…” Buffy murmured.
She would stake her life on that memory being real. Something like that was huge for a little kid, which is what she had been back then- too huge to forget. And also too important to stay buried once she became the Slayer.
“Probably,” Willow agreed. “I mean, you never mentioned anything about it until you saw it again- and I’m not sure it was even you that brought it up, I think it might have been Joyce who told us about your cousin. It would have made sense for you to mention it sooner to explain why you never went to the hospital, no matter how badly a demon messed you up. It’s like the spell worked around it as best it could, and settled for you repressing it as much as possible. But it couldn’t hide that you’d seen something terrible happen in a hospital, or your instinctive avoidance of hospitals after that.”
“Can you do it, Wills? Take the fake memories off?”
“I can remove the spell if you want to, but even if I don’t, I suspect it will probably dissolve on its own now that you’re fully aware of it- especially if you keep attacking it in your sleep. There’s just no telling how long that will take, or what the effects on your mind will be while it’s fading. And clearly you’re pretty frustrated about it, or you wouldn’t be dreaming about it…”
“We need to talk to Giles first,” Buffy said firmly. “And Dawn, if we can get her on the phone between meetings. This would happen while she’s got the DC problem to deal with. No more spells until we have the rest of the family in on this. I don’t like the idea that someone’s been messing with my head. Even if it was a long time ago. Actually, especially if it was a long time ago. If this is from before Sunnydale, when I was supposed to be normal, it’s probably not covering anything of the good.”---
Gibbs arrived at NCIS early the next morning. He hadn’t gotten much sleep. Cases that involved young women were always a little more difficult for him. Rule 10 existed for a reason, but it was one of the rules he had the most trouble with. He really hoped Ziva was right about the girl not having been assaulted.
He still wasn’t sure what to make of Dawn Summers. Ziva was convinced that the girl wasn’t outright lying about who had attacked her. There’d been a running argument between her and DiNozzo on the drive back – McGee had quietly absconded in the van as soon as all the evidence was loaded and left the bickering pair to ride back with Gibbs. Ziva stubbornly held to her position that Summers knew more than she had said. Gibbs wasn’t as sure as she was, but he trusted Ziva’s instincts. They were usually good.
Ziva had found Summers’ locket- or what was left of it. It had been smashed, likely deliberately from the looks of it. The pieces were down in Abby’s lab. Abby had clucked sympathetically when Ziva told her the story and assured them the photo was salvageable.
“Boss, I left a message on Dawn Summers’ phone,” McGee greeted him. “Requested she call us back to schedule time we can interview her and then have her sit down with the sketch artist. I’m hoping she’ll call back soon, it’s early enough that she shouldn’t be busy yet.”
“It’s a good bet she’s still asleep, McFly,” DiNozzo pointed out.
“Or she may still be awake,” Ziva interjected. “Some people’s reaction to the adrenaline of such a situation leaves them unable to sleep.”
“If she was still awake, she would have answered her phone, Ziva,” DiNozzo pointed out.
“She could have been in the shower!” Ziva retorted.
From the sounds of it, the two of them had already been at it this morning- odds were it was something to do with Summers again.
“McGee, I want to know how Miller got there so quickly last night. He was outside waiting when I got there.”
“Good question, boss,” McGee replied. “That’s actually on my list of questions for Miss Summers. I pulled her cell phone records, and get this- she had no less than eight incoming calls from Colonel Riley Finn during the period when she was being held captive. She called him back as soon as the MPs were on the scene, but-“
“But that’s still not enough time for Miller to grab clothes for Summers, drive down, and be waiting outside when I got there,” Gibbs finished.
“Exactly,” McGee replied. “So I got curious and pulled Finn’s call records. He called Miller after his fourth call to Summers went unanswered.”
“He knew something wasn’t right,” Gibbs said flatly.
“You know, I’m starting to wonder what exactly Dawn Summers is involved in,” DiNozzo said.
“Thank you!” Ziva snapped.
“This is actually where it gets interesting, boss,” McGee said. “Finn continued trying to contact Summers with no success. After his seventh call, Quantico MPs got an anonymous tip that there was suspicious activity at that warehouse. There’s nothing on Finn’s cell phone at the time the call was placed, but I traced the anonymous call. It came from a Pentagon office.”
“Gee, what a coincidence,” Gibbs said drily. “Didn’t Summers say Colonel Finn works at the Pentagon?”
“Bingo,” McGee said. “A few minutes later, Finn calls Miller again. He tries Summers one more time. Finally, Summers calls Finn- according to the timestamp, not long after the MPs had entered the building.”
“Still think she is just an unlucky girl, Tony?” Ziva demanded.
“What do we know about Finn and Miller?” Gibbs asked.
“Both members of a highly classified special ops team- as is Finn’s wife, incidentally. Finn has an office at the Pentagon, but it looks like the team is currently based out of Quantico.”
“It looks like?” Gibbs repeated. “Are they or aren’t they, McGee?”
“Boss, this is not only classified, there’s heavy security around it. I’m having more trouble getting at these files than hacking into the CIA. Whatever this team actually does, they really don’t want it getting out.”
Gibbs glanced at McGee’s screen, which was Finn and Miller’s service records, along with what McGee had been able to find on their unit.
“It started out as an Army project called the Initiative,” he read. “But in 2000, they rolled it up and the Corps took it over. Did their best to cover up the unit’s origins, and made sure it was even more heavily classified. Something went wrong.”
“Whatever it was, it caused a serious shakeup. Not only did the Marines take over, close to half the original unit ended up dead,” McGee replied.
“Be nice to see the full file,” Gibbs told him. Taking in the look of suppressed panic on McGee’s face, he amended his statement. “Do what you can, McGee.”
“Where are you going, boss?” DiNozzo asked.
“To visit Colonel Finn. Maybe he’ll fill us in.”
Ziva shook her head as Gibbs got on the elevator.
“If Summers is somebody’s agent, Finn will tell us nothing.”---
When Dawn woke the next morning, there were almost no surprises. As she’d expected, her wrists and ankles were sore, not to mention her neck. Despite sleeping a good five hours, she still felt wrung out. She probably would have slept longer if not for the racket her stupid phone was making.
Grabbing the offending object off the bedside table, she saw she had multiple missed calls and two new voicemails waiting for her. One was definitely from her sister. The other was a DC area code, so probably NCIS. Although, if it was her afternoon meeting trying to cancel, she might have to curse someone...
Graham was as good company as he’d been last time she’d run into him, in Madegascar last year. She couldn’t believe he still had her jeans. He was the only surprise. Or, more accurately, his absence was. She’d expected he’d still be in bed with her.
The door opened, and Graham entered, carrying a breakfast tray.
“I didn’t wake you, did I?” he asked.
Dawn shook her head.
“No, that honor went to my phone and its stupid notion that I should know my sister is freaking out.”
“At least she’s an ocean away for the freakout part. Look, I need to report to Riley. He has to know what went down last night, especially if we’ve got hostiles targeting military personnel. You know as well as I do that NCIS aren’t qualified to handle that. And I want him to hear what’s going on before NCIS start hounding him, assuming they haven’t already. I shouldn’t be gone long, an hour tops. If NCIS want you, they can wait until I get back to escort you.”
Dawn raised an eyebrow. Someone was taking the bodyguard thing seriously.
“I know I don’t need to tell you this,” Graham added. “But don’t open the door to anyone. We don’t have any idea who might be working with those bloodsuckers, and there’s only basic protection on this place, so don’t take any chances. They could have demons working with them who won’t be kept out by lack of invitation.”
Dawn shivered. That had happened before, and was part of why Willow was so thorough in setting up the wards on any new Council house. They’d learned from experience. No one wanted a repeat of Karagita. The only upside to that slice of horror had been that it taught the minis in training better than any lecture ever could that they were not as unbeatable as they felt. The class of ’07 had been way more cautious than their older sisters when they ‘graduated’.
“How are you going to get in?” Dawn asked.
Graham shook his head with a grin.
“It’s my place, remember? I have a key. I’ll lock the door and deadbolt it, just in case. If you hear anyone other than me come in, go out the window and head for the Metro-it’s morning commute time, so there’ll be a crowd to lose yourself in. Oh, and there’s coffee on the tray. Sounds like you need it.”
“I’m not fully functional until I’ve had my morning infusion of caffeine. I don’t get why I couldn’t have inherited the ability to be totally with it on no sleep. It’s not just a Slayer thing, Mom could do it too. Go talk to Riley while I work on waking up.”
Dawn inhaled her coffee while listening to her voicemail.
The first, as expected, was from her sister. Buffy was about as freaked out as Dawn had expected, but there was also something else going on. She didn’t say what, but Dawn could hear it in her voice. Buffy asked her to call as soon as she woke up. Dawn decided that could wait until she listened to the other voicemail.
The second voicemail was from NCIS, an Agent McGee. She didn’t remember him from last night. He was very apologetic about calling so early, but he urgently needed to know if she could come in to answer a few more questions as soon as possible. They wanted to talk to her again before she started forgetting details. Call as soon as possible.
“Everyone wants me to call as soon as possible,” Dawn muttered. “I’m not even officially in town yet and I’m already overbooked.”
Looking at the tray, she saw Graham had been thoughtful enough to add toast and a couple mini cereal boxes to pick from. She vaguely remembered thinking he was emotionless when she’d first encountered him back in Sunnydale. Her teenage self would have had a fit if someone had taken a time machine back and told her she’d end up sleeping with the man, let alone that he’d be so sweet and considerate.
Of course, her teenage self would also have had a fit if informed just how rough the dating scene was for Slayers and junior Watchers- fighting the good fight tended to be hell on your personal life.
Once she had eaten and dressed- jeans again, she definitely had to get Graham to take her to her hotel room before they went to NCIS- she picked up the phone.
She called NCIS first, as she expected that to be the shorter call. It was only 8:00, but since McGee had left the message at 7, she was fairly sure it wouldn’t be too early to reach him.
“Agent McGee? I got your message. I have an afternoon meeting, but I’m free until then. I’m not really clear on DC geography yet, but I think I can make it over there in the 9 to 9:30ish timeframe. No, Major Miller will make sure I get there. He knows the area. Do I need to tell security I’m there to meet you? Ok. Yes, see you then.”
Dawn frowned. She had no idea where the Navy Yard was, but she was fairly sure Graham would. Her hotel was 10 minutes away, so as long as Graham got back soon, that should give them time to get her there, let her change, and still be on time.
She dialled Buffy next.
She could tell from the tinny sound when her sister answered that she had been put on speaker phone.
“Buffy? What gives?” she asked.
“Hey Dawn. You’re catching the tail end of the ‘what’s the what now’ meeting,” came Xander’s voice.
“Who all is in on this?” Dawn asked. “And why did no one warn me? I feel left out without donuts.”
“Hi, Dawn! How are you feeling this morning?” Buffy asked. “Faith told us about your night.”
“I’ll live,” Dawn said drily. “Though I have to say, I’ve had better nights out.”
“Poor Dawnie,” Willow said. “We have to stop sending you travelling on Tuesdays. From now on, we only let you fly on Wednesdays. That gives you almost a whole week before you have to deal with Tuesday.”
“I’m touched, Will,” Dawn replied. “I’m also in full agreement. Ok, so that’s Buffy, Xander, Willow, and I’m guessing Giles is there too?”
“Slightly worse for the wear, but yes, I’m here,” Giles said.
Dawn snickered. It must have been a serious party- she couldn’t remember Giles ever being hungover before. It was hard to picture, especially since she knew he’d been with his stuffy, proper London friends.
“And me,” she heard Faith add.
“Sounds like a war council to me,” Dawn groaned. “What’s the sitch?”
“That’s what we’re trying to determine, actually,” Giles said. “As you may know, Buffy has had some unusual dreams lately. They bothered her, but she seemed sure they were not Slayer dreams, so she tried not to attach undue significance to them. But when the dreams kept returning to the same theme, she brought her concerns to Willow.”
“That jammed closet?” Dawn asked.
“Exactly,” Willow said, taking up where Giles had left off. “Once Buffy told me what was going on, I evaluated her mind, and found traces of a memory modification spell.”
“We expect that, though, right?” Dawn asked. “The monks did that when they made me.”
“Not this spell, they didn’t,” Willow replied. “This is just as big, but older. And what we were discussing is what it could possibly be covering. And whether or not to try to lift it.”
“Will says it’s likely the spell will start to break up on its own now that I’m aware of it,” Buffy explained. “But she’s not sure if there will be weirdness while it’s happening.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to get it over with?” Dawn asked. “Like ripping off a band-aid? And given the Buffy factor, this could be one nasty band-aid.”
“That’s what I said,” Xander replied. “But minus the Buffy factor part, cause I didn’t want her to hit me.”
Dawn snickered at her sister’s protest in the background.
“If there’s possible weirdness,” Xander continued, “then I vote get it over with while things are mostly calm. Waiting and hoping that apocalypse season won’t start early this year is never a good plan.”
“Yeah, except that things may not be so calm right now,” Dawn told him. “You heard about my adventure last night, right? Well, all the vamps involved were military. Combat trained. I don’t know what they’re planning, but I’d feel a lot happier having Slayers here, stat. Experienced Slayers. Not to mention, I’d like to move into the Council house as soon as possible. Vamps don’t need invitations to walk into a hotel.”
“Or even enter a room,” Buffy agreed darkly. “Stay at Graham’s or Riley’s until we get there and the new house is online. Wills?”
“We can be there tomorrow afternoon,” Willow said immediately. “We’ve already missed the westbound flights from Heathrow today, but we can catch the first flight out tomorrow and be there early afternoon your time.”
“Unless you think it’s an emergency,” Buffy cut in. Dawn suppressed a smile at Buffy the full-on overprotective big sister. “In which case, Wills can magic us over right now.”
“I don’t think it’s an emergency,” Dawn reassured them. “Riley and Graham have offered me whatever backup I want until the cavalry arrives, and I honestly wasn’t expecting you would be able to move so fast. I figured we’d probably have to hold the fort until the end of the week at least. And before you ask, Graham’s taking guarding me as seriously as you ever did, Buffy, so no worries there.”
She ignored Faith’s muttered, “I bet he is.”
“Oh, and just to add to everyone’s collective headache, Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking into last night’s festivities. Graham says they’re persistent. We may have to pull strings to shut them down, but for now I think it’s ok to wait and hope their investigation goes nowhere all on its own. I’m trying for helpful, but not too helpful. So let’s play by the rules for now. You guys travel the normal way. I’ll stay at Graham’s again tonight.”
“I’m sure that won’t bother him at all,” Xander remarked.
“You sleeping with him again, D?” Faith enquired. Dawn could practically hear the grin.
“Faith, you just made Giles clean his glasses.”
“Damn, the audio pickup is that good?”
“If we could return to the issue at hand?” Giles asked at his most repressively British.
“Right. Dawn says she’s got things in DC under control until tomorrow,” Buffy said, taking control before anyone else could get sidetracked by her sister’s sex life, which still usually fell under the category of Things Buffy Does Not Want To Think About. “She’ll do her Sumerian thing this afternoon, stay in this evening, and we will not
discuss her evening entertainment. Meanwhile, Will, let’s go ahead and break this spell.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Dawn said. “Anything else?”
“You in a hurry, Dawnie?” Willow asked.
“I have to be at NCIS to answer more questions in half an hour, and Graham should be back to escort me any minute,” Dawn replied.
“Gotcha. Call in tonight, ok, Dawn?” Buffy said. “And be careful.”
“Always am,” Dawn said. “You be careful too.”
“When are we not careful?” Faith grinned.
“Do you really expect me to answer that?” Dawn asked wryly.---
Buffy looked around the room as Dawn hung up.
“Ok, what does unblocking my memory entail, Will?”
“Not much,” Willow replied. “I just need to grab a few things from stores. It’s not quite like flipping a switch, and how much you notice immediately will depend on how different the spell made things, but you should have your entire memory back within a day or two.”
Willow gave her a reassuring smile, and then headed to the storeroom to collect what she needed, leaving Buffy, Giles, Xander, and Faith.
“So, B, what do we think we’re expecting?” Faith asked, more to break the rising tension than anything else. Now that it was actually going to happen, Buffy looked more nervous than when they’d just been discussing a theoretical.
“No idea. We’re basically leaping off a cliff here and hoping there aren’t really big rocks at the bottom.”
“B, it’s you. There’s always really big rocks at the bottom. On good days, they’re just really big rocks.”
“And on not so good days?” Xander asked.
“Really big rocks with teeth that try to eat us.”
“Good to see everyone has a firm grasp of the situation,” Giles sighed. “Though I do wonder...”
Willow bounced back in, carrying a small dish of yellow powder.
“Ok,” she chirped. “Here we go.”
Glancing around, she saw that everyone looked jittery.
“Don’t worry, Buffy. You’ll still remember everything. You’ll just remember everything… else.”
“Well, I’m certainly glad she clarified that,” Xander said. “You mean she’ll still know who she is and who we all are, right, Will?”
“Right. Buffy will still be Buffy. What I’m doing won’t alter any of her memories formed since the spell. But she’ll be Buffy who can access whatever memories this spell is suppressing… as long as that’s what you really want. You don’t have to do this,” she finished, looking worried. “We can just leave things are they are.”
Buffy thought for a moment. It could be that the spell was covering up something she wouldn’t want to know. But it could also be covering something important. She might not ever know without Willow’s help, or she might eventually find out anyway, but with a lot more confusion and possibly a side order of crazy along the way.
And that damned closet that had been bugging her… she was pretty sure if she broke the spell, she would be able to open the door. Her other mother seemed to think it was important. Buffy couldn’t say why, but she trusted the woman, even though she knew she wasn’t Joyce Summers.
“This is what I want, Wills. I don’t like knowing someone’s tampered with my memories, and I really don’t like not knowing what my memory should be.”
“Let’s do this,” Buffy said. Before I lose my nerve.
Willow sprinkled the powder in a circle around Buffy, murmured a few words, and then looked up.
“Will, how much longer?” Buffy asked impatiently.
“That was it,” Willow replied.
Buffy wrinkled her nose.
“I don’t feel any different. I thought it would be”
“Do you remember anything different?” Xander asked.
Buffy frowned, concentrating. She sat back down.
“I don’t think so- wait.”