: So I'm off to Tahoe, today, to do job-related things, and don't know exactly when I'll get back. I'll post this up, early, and then hopefully be able to post something late tomorrow night, but I apologize in advance if I don't have time to do so.
In terms of good news, I'm starting to notice that every time I post up my worries about future stories in my author's notes, it seems to spark inspiration in my head. I've now got a much better idea of what to write, next, and I've got possibly the world's coolest monster ever.
(Poor Torchwood Four. We'll find you some day!)--000--
"They've been happening all across the globe," Giles confirmed, back at the Slayer Institution. "Hit and run raids on little towns that are practically defenseless."
"I know," said Dawn. Her hands clenching into fists, as she recalled the memory. "I've seen it. The TBVs go in, ransack the town, burn it to the ground, and leave no one alive."
"Well, no one that fights back," Jack countered.
Everyone stared at him.
"Gillsborough," Jack said. "It's a small town in the English countryside. There were rumors of a ghost sighting. I showed up to take some readings. That's when the vampires attacked."
"So you saw it all go down," Faith said.
"The vampires are only killing the people that fight back," said Jack. "Everyone else, they gather together. Something about 'Farms'."
Everyone looked at everyone else.
"And 'Farms' mean…?" Dawn started.
"Exactly what we all think it means," Buffy cut in. She turned back to Jack. "Okay. Good news for us. If there are 'Farms', there are going to be survivors. People we can rescue."
"Ah, well, actually," Giles said, "it's not… precisely that simple." He reached into his suitcase, and brought out a large stack of books and papers and notes. "You see," he continued, grabbing a set of notes and flipping through it, "there's this artifact called the Likstofalter of Waikon, which I've been researching for some time, now, and it seems to operate as some sort of terribly powerful cloaking device, allowing entire patches of land to be completely hidden to human…"
"It's a perception filter," Jack cut in. "A really powerful one. Insanely powerful. From Torchwood Four. They stole it way back at the beginning of this whole mess, and they've been using it to hide things. The Farms. Their secret base. Torchwood Four. And themselves."
"So no Slayers or scanners or technology would pick them up as vamps," Buffy said. "Got it."
"I believe it is using this Likstofalter of Waiken that these… TBVs…. infiltrated the Coven," said Giles. "And UNIT. And… perhaps even Torchwood."
"No, they had another way in to Torchwood," Jack said. "Torchwood is how they got the perception filter in the first place. But they've infiltrated everywhere else — and, with the perception filter hiding them, no one ever picked up that they were vampires until it was too late." He paused. Then looked around himself. "Actually, I'm surprised they haven't infiltrated this place, yet."
Buffy and Faith looked at one another. Remembering the graffiti.
Jack caught the look. "Please don't tell me they have," he said.
"No," both Buffy and Faith said, at the same time.
Willow hesitated. "If they have… we'd have no idea. Right?" She turned to Giles. "At the Coven. How'd they do it, there?"
"As far as I could see, they'd gotten to one of the members," said Giles. "Sired them. No one else knew, not even myself. Then, one day, I turned up, and discovered everyone dead."
"Everyone… except you
," Willow realized.
Giles blinked. Then pulled off his glasses, and began wiping them with his handkerchief. "Yes, well, I was… a trifle late for that particular meeting." He glanced over at Buffy. "I suppose I can thank your friend Jackie Tyler for that."
Buffy frowned. "Wait, what were you
doing with the Tylers?"
"Looking for you
, of course," Giles replied. "It seemed the natural place to find you. And I didn't realize you'd already left England a few days prior." He gave a small sigh. "Your Tyler friends are… very spirited, aren't they?"
Buffy noticed the severely rattled look on Giles' face, and guessed what had happened. "Jackie thought you were my dad, huh?"
And probably invited him in for tea, and wouldn't stop talking at him. Which, in Giles' mind, would mean he couldn't leave without being rude, and Giles wasn't usually rude to the non-demonic variety of people.
"Something like that," said Giles. He glanced over at Jack. "Then, of course, the moment I managed to escape — sorry, excuse myself from the pleasure of Mrs. Tyler's company, I ran into this gentleman, over here."
Willow edged a little closer to Buffy, poking her arm. Buffy ignored the gesture. She knew what Willow was worried about. What Willow was trying to point out to Buffy. But Buffy had been aware of the possibility herself for some time, now.
"Who was it?" Willow asked Giles, when it was obvious that Buffy wasn't paying attention to her hints. "I mean, the person who infiltrated the Coven? Do you know?"
Giles said nothing for a few long moments. Unable to look at Willow. "There was one body missing," he said, "when I found the others." His eyes lingered on the floor. Then, in a whisper, "Althenea."
Willow's eyes grew wide, her hands shaking a little at the news.
"Althenea," Buffy repeated. She recognized the name. The seer who'd helped them, back during their battle against the First. The one who'd given them the names of the Potential Slayers, so that they could rescue them from the Bringers.
"I suppose they thought Althenea might be able to see through their deception," Giles muttered.
Willow got up from her seat, a little shaky. "I… just… give me a minute," she said, as she left the room.
Xander hesitated. "I'd better make sure she's okay," he said, running out the door to follow Willow.
Buffy glanced around. And found that, at some point in the chaos, Jack and Dawn had slipped out. And… Dawn and Jack…
One more thing that Buffy really, really didn't have time to deal with.
"I'm sorry about that," Giles told Buffy. "I know Willow was good friends with the members of the Coven. I knew finding out would hurt her. But… it had to be said." He put his glasses back on, and stood up to leave.
Buffy caught his arm. "Giles," she said.
He turned, and she caught his eyes with her own. And looked at him. Stared deep into his eyes, just the way she had when he'd been transformed into a Fyarl Demon. Just… searching. Feeling.
She let go.
"I just wanted to make sure," she told him.
"You're serious?" Jack asked.
Dawn shifted from foot to foot. "I didn't know who to tell," she said. "I mean, everyone's a suspect. But then Buffy said that you couldn't be vampirized, and as long as I know you're not one of the bad guys…" Dawn shrugged.
Jack nodded. Dawn could almost see the thoughts racing through his head, as he digested her information. "Since when?"
"Last month, we had this graffiti incident," said Dawn. "Which caused this place to become, like, complete panic central. Whoever it is — they've been around since then." She glanced back at the way they'd come. "That's how I knew it wasn't Giles."
Jack put his hands into his pockets. "Any suspects?"
"It's not Buffy," said Dawn. "It just… can't be. I'm sure."
Dawn paused a moment. "She… she… I mean, she just… she wouldn't have brought you here, if it was her!" she insisted. "Right? And she wouldn't be so preoccupied with rescuing the Doctor."
Jack studied Dawn, carefully. "You still haven't told her, yet, though."
Dawn fidgeted. "That's… different."
"Well, Buffy…" Dawn stopped. Then glanced around herself, and continued, in a low voice. "Ever since Spike died, it's been like… part of her died, too. She's been taking these risks that are… you know. Stupid. Like she's trying to get herself killed. When we found Arlene, Buffy went out and nearly…" Dawn stopped. Then shook her head. "She's my sister. I get what she's doing. First she lost Spike, and now, with the Doctor in trouble…." She sighed. "I just don't know how much I can tell her if I want to make sure she stays safe."
A cough from their right. And Dawn felt her face burning, as she looked over, and knew exactly who she'd see.
"You know," said Buffy, "I thought you two were going to be all with the smoochies. Not all with the conspiracy theories."
"I was going to find a way to tell you," said Dawn. "Just… not now. You know."
Buffy leaned against the wall. "I'm the Slayer, Dawn," she said. "I have to know these things. It's my job."
Dawn turned on her sister. "No, you're not!" she said. "You're a
Slayer, now. There are tons
of other people that could do your job! You just won't let them!"
Buffy raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.
Dawn stepped forwards. "Why don't you just… move to England or something?" she yelled. "You don't want to be here! You don't have to be here! So just… go!" Dawn threw a pile of papers and files at Buffy. "Find the Doctor! And get lost!"
And stormed off.
Jack looked between Buffy and the retreating Dawn.
Buffy sighed. "Kid sister," she explained.
"Kid or not, she's still right," said Jack. "Everything she's told me makes sense. You've been harboring a spy, here, for the last month. At least."
Buffy seemed vaguely amused. "A spy that hasn't done anything, yet? Yeah. Thanks. I think I can take care of the Evil Mr. Graffiti Artist by myself."
"How do you know the spy hasn't done anything?" asked Jack. "What if this spy's been messing around with your defenses behind your back, or…?"
"Our defenses?" asked Buffy. "Our major defense against vampires is that sign, out in front, that says, 'Private Property, Keep Out.' And that's probably not going to work against TBVs. Aside from our Slayers, we don't have any defenses. We're completely defenseless!"
Jack frowned. "Well, there's got to be some reason they haven't wiped you out, yet," he said. "Dawn's right. The Slayer Institution is their biggest threat, and the fact that they've basically left you alone is… suspicious."
"Maybe the TBVs are still vampire enough that someone has to invite them into a house before they can enter it," said Buffy. Even though that was a stupid thing to say, because these particular vampires hadn't had an issue with that for the last month. "Or maybe…"
Then realized. That none of the Slayers had gone missing, since the graffiti incident. That there had been no actions, no attacks, no assault upon the school since she'd visited Angel. That the vampires had caused a panic, softened the school up, geared up for a major fight, and then… nothing. No attack.
And that made no sense.
"Oh," said Buffy. She stumbled backwards, her world spinning, a little, but caught herself before she could fall. "Oh."
Jack regarded her, an inquiry in his eyes.
"The Slayer Institution," she said. "We're not
a threat. We're… their backup plan."
"How so?" asked Jack.
"Because the TBVs know I'm trying to find the Doctor," said Buffy. "They know I want to get him out. And they know…" Buffy paused. "…what we've got."
Buffy gestured for Jack to follow her, and led him. Through the corridors, down a flight of stairs, and into the basement. She opened the door to a nearby store-room.
"This," Buffy announced.
Jack stopped in his tracks, the moment he saw the TARDIS.
"Oh," he said. Then looked back at Buffy. "If the Doctor ever escaped. They knew he'd come here. For the TARDIS."
"And then their spy could spring the trap," said Buffy. "Catch him, again. Bring him back." She frowned. "Thing is… why did the TBVs wait for me to transport the TARDIS? I mean, they could have taken the TARDIS themselves. Brought it somewhere else — somewhere that wasn't
right in the middle of a Slayer Institution. Somewhere they could spring their Doctor-catching trap more easily."
Jack gave a little shrug. "You know what they say about Time Lords and Vampires," he said.
Buffy looked at Jack. Then at the TARDIS. Then back at Jack. Her eyes lighting up, as she remembered — the vampiric fear of the TARDIS key. How Time Lord technology and vampires didn't seem to mesh.
"They can't touch the TARDIS," Buffy realized.
And now Buffy was thinking furiously. Because… whoever the spy was… would know that Buffy would want to rescue the Doctor. Would know that the Doctor would arrive. Would want to get the Doctor alone with him.
And would stay as far away from the TARDIS as possible.
Buffy felt her hands shaking. As she realized exactly who the spy was.