[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Part one of two

Episode Thirteen: Duplex

by hold_that_thought
Real Bad News by Aimee Mann
(Spike)
Shadowman by K's Choice
(Buffy)

Author's Note: Big, big thanks to: cousinjean, for bringing me in, trusting me with this, guiding and insta-betaing, and being an amazing friend; fenwic, who made big with the hand-holding, table-making, and Yoda-ing; fiona, for being a hard act to follow, and always being available for oddball questions; adjrun, for being my gal; sunbrae for the insanely fast betas; and, of course, little_bit, Nongenius, and Soda, for always being supportive and abetting my evil schemes.


*
“Duck!”

Oz crouched down just in time to narrowly avoid an airborne vampire ricocheting off Spike’s boot and into the wall a few feet away. The dust of the three already-staked vamps lingered in the air of the abandoned warehouse, and Oz suppressed a cough as he grabbed another stake from his back pocket and took out Spike’s flying friend before he could recover from, well, slamming into a wall.

“Hey Spike, you need help with--”

He turned just in time to see Spike tackle the last vampire by the waist, pin it to the ground, and give its head a few good bangs against the concrete floor before driving the stake home.

“Guess not.”

Spike stood up and brushed himself off. “Well, now.” He surveyed the empty warehouse with a satisfied grin. “I’d say we did a fairly good--”

The rotting front door flying off its hinges cut Spike off mid-sentence as two figures bustled inside. Oz picked up the small axe from where he’d dropped it and prepared for more vampires.

“Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker! We’re here to clean y’all out,” the tall black man shouted, smiling at Spike and Oz.

“Gunn, I hardly think that’s...Oz?”

Oz squinted into the shadows. “Wesley? Wow. Last I saw you was graduation, right?”

Wesley nodded.

“Yeah,” Oz continued, “Giles told us that you got hit in the first wave and--”

“Erm, right, I remember,” Wesley said as Gunn smirked. “Well, it’s good to...what exactly are you doing here? This was supposed to be a vampire nest. We’d been tracking the gang for a week.”

Oz could swear Wesley sounded slightly petulant.

“’S all taken care of,” Spike finally spoke up. “There were only five. Me and Oz cleaned them up.”

“Hey guys, the perimeter’s clear.” Angel stopped halfway in the door and gaped at the two Sunnydale men. “Spike? Oz? What are you two doing in LA? In a vampire nest?”

“That’s the Spike?” Gunn hissed to Wesley.

“That’s him,” Wesley whispered back.

“Hair ain’t as bad as Angel said it was.”

Wesley shook his head. “No, but consider the source. Still, it is rather...vibrant.”

Spike crossed his arms. “Don’t need special vampire hearing to overhear stuff being said five feet away.”

“Oh, um, sorry.” Wesley fiddled with his crossbow. “So what are you doing here, anyway?”

“Got time for a long story?” Oz asked.

“Where’s Buffy?” Angel brushed past Wesley and Gunn and strode over to Spike. “Is she okay?”

Letting out a long hiss of air, Spike shut his eyes and let his arms go slack by his side. “Like Oz said, long story.”

“We’ve got all the time in the world,” Angel replied, fists clenching and unclenching.

Gunn tapped Angel on the shoulder. “Actually, we got that big nasty coming, remember? We should get back to the hotel.”

“Gunn’s right. Why don’t Oz and Spike accompany us back to the Hyperion? They can fill us in there.”

Spike remained completely still, so Angel cleared his throat. “Well?”

“Yeh.” Spike finally opened his eyes and stared at Angel. Through Angel. “Yeh, we’ll fill you in.”

“Great! You guys grab your weapons and we’ll meet you out front.” Gunn motioned for them to follow.

“We’re good.” Indicating to his stake and axe, Oz smiled. “We travel light.”

“You two took out an entire nest of vamps with only a few stakes and axes?” Wesley gaped at them.

Oz shrugged. “They’re good stakes. Oak.”

“I see.” Wesley tucked the crossbow under his arm, next to his sword, and started walking toward the door. “Best get going then. And Gunn, please tell me you did not actually quote Die Hard earlier.”

“Hey, not my fault! Fred has a crush on Bruce Willis. We’ve been going through all his movies lately. Be glad I didn’t quote Hudson Hawk.”

Oz started to follow, but turned back in time to see Angel glowering at Spike and, more importantly, Spike glowering back, instead of the blank look he’d sported lately. Maybe the hunting trip will help Spike after all.

***

Giles had always meant to return to England, at least briefly. Revisit the motherland, look up old friends. But, as it turned out, the only thing that could drag him away from his home in Sunnydale was Buffy. Her life on the line. Otherwise, he always brushed aside any inclinations towards vacation, too afraid the children would need him while he was away.

After all, the last time he’d gone to England, Willow and Anya had unleashed a troll that managed to cause an impressive amount of damage to the Magic Box and the Bronze. Not to mention the fact that Anya had somehow managed to nearly strip his car’s brake pads in pursuit of said troll.

Giles smiled at the memory as he reached for another book in one of the Council’s secluded libraries. It was hard to believe Anya had been gone for nearly a year now. If he closed his eyes, he could still picture her happily ringing up sales in the Magic Box, or coming in loaded down with shopping bags after a trip to the mall with Buffy.... His smile faded, and Giles resumed going through books with renewed vigor. He’d lost too many people throughout the years. They all had. Buffy would not be the newest casualty in the war against evil. Giles would see to it.

He’d made it through two volumes of the Lecurda Pandect and was halfway through Pietri’s Guide to Possession and Transformation when there was a soft knock on the door. Willow poked her head in and smiled.

“Hey, I brought you some tea. Thought you could use a break.”

“Thank you,” he said, gratefully taking the cup from her and gesturing to the empty chair.

She flopped down and picked up the nearest book. “Guess I don’t have to ask how it’s going.”

Giles sighed and closed his eyes. “The Council has never been forthcoming, but this borders on ridiculous. I cannot honestly believe that they have no manpower whatsoever to spare. I’m sure there are some more accommodating Council members, but it’s hard to tell who they are, let alone get them away from Travers. And it’s not as if the answer will simply fall into my lap.”

“Yeah.” Willow lowered her voice. “But I may be onto something. There’s a restricted area of the library. It’s actually cloaked. Totally invisible if you’re just looking around. But if you say fateor aloud, this whole new section opens up right next to the Mahkash Wars section.”

“And how exactly did you discover this?”

“Oh, totally by accident. I came across a couple blank books, and I thought they might be enchanted to look blank. See, there’s this really nifty spell I used to use when I was keeping a diary...anyway, I think they were just unused Watcher’s journals. But Giles, this restricted section....” Willow shook her head. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff they have in there. Some of them are too dangerous to even open without some magical protection. I recognized a few of the books Niamh told me about when I was here before....”

As if on cue, the library door creaked open and Niamh swept in.

“Oh, hello Rupert, Willow,” she smiled. “Any progress?”

“Nothin’ yet,” Willow said, standing up. “I’m gonna go call Xander, see how he and Faith are holding up in Sunnydale. It’s, what, 9 a.m. there?” Niamh and Giles nodded. “Good. He’s less likely to chew me out as long as it’s after 7.” She waved to Giles and left.

Giles turned to Niamh. “Were you looking for something in particular?”

“No, just came to see how you were getting along.” She pushed her hair out of her eyes and scanned the table, littered with discarded books and scribbled notes. “I do regret that we’ve not been able to help you more. I trust you heard of the situations in Tanzania and Hong Kong?”

“Yes, Quentin mentioned them.” Giles sat back and watched her. He did not yet have a good read on whether she was one of the Watchers who might go behind Quentin’s back and assist them in helping Buffy. “But we’ve actually made some unexpected progress.”

Niamh blinked. “Oh?”

“Yes, Willow told me about the cloaked section of the library. There are some powerful tomes in there. One of them might contain information we’re missing.”

Niamh pursed her lips. “Rupert, you know Quentin wouldn’t like you skulking about the restricted section. However,” she looked around, then leaned in close, “you could, perhaps, try Mudge’s Codex. I’ve never read it myself, but I’ve seen Quentin twitter whenever anyone mentions it in front of him. Just be careful, there are some...volatile books in that section.”

She shook her hair out, stood up, winked at Giles, and strolled out of the room. He watched her leave, then started to tidy up the table. She really was a lovely girl. For the first time in what felt like forever, Giles felt something akin to hope.

***

Gunn bumped open the front door of the Hyperion with his hip and nodded for Spike and Oz to follow him inside.

“You can dump your weapons over there by the cabinet.”

“But please try to keep them separate from ours,” Wesley added.

“Right, because chaos would reign if their stakes got mixed up with ours,” Gunn joked.

“There’s nothing wrong with maintaining a sense of order,” Wesley started, but Gunn rolled his eyes and walked away before he could launch into the importance of weapon organization. Again.

Angel was the last one in. He shrugged off his coat and walked over to Cordelia, who was perched atop the couch, flipping through a Variety.

“Hey Cordy, did anyone call while we were out?”

“Nope, no calls,” she said, continuing to flip.

“Not even my contact at the morgue?” Wesley asked.

Cordelia looked at him. “That falls under ‘no calls,’ doesn’t it?” She looked toward the door, where Oz and Spike were standing around looking uncomfortable. “Oh, hey Oz, Spike.” Back to her magazine.

“You don’t seem surprised,” Angel said. “It’s not like we get Sunnydale people dropping in all the time.”

“Well, of course I’m not surprised. Dawn told me they were in town.”

“You talked to Dawn?” Angel stared at Cordelia. “When?”

“When we hung out earlier,” Cordelia said.

Gunn made a mental note to ask Wesley who all these people were later on. With any luck, he wouldn’t use another diagram to explain it, like he had when Spike and Buffy had last come to town.

Angel shook his head in disbelief. “So Dawn’s in town, too? Cordelia, were you ever going to mention this to us?”

“Uh huh.” She turned another page. “Remember when I was trying to tell you something earlier, right before Wesley started muttering about portents and vampire nests and hurried you guys out the door?”

“Oh, right.” Angel sighed, then turned to Oz. “There’s a bathroom up the stairs to the right if you want to wash up.”

“Thanks.” Oz nodded and left.

Turning to Spike, Angel gestured toward the office. “And you and I are going to have that talk now.”

Spike looked about ready to clock Angel. Which, admittedly, could be funny. But before either vampire could move, a loud shriek split the silence in the room, then Fred clattered down the steps, clutching some huge book to her chest.

Gunn ran to the bottom of the steps, deftly catching her right before she tripped. “Baby, what’s the matter?”

She smiled gratefully at him and then wriggled out of his arms and ran to Wesley. Because of course I can’t help her with the brain stuff.

“Oh, thank god you’re here! I just finished translating the Locyal Codex. Remember the section that we couldn’t figure out?”

Cordelia stood up and went over to her. “Fred, take a breath, sit down, tell us what’s going on.”

“There’s no time!” Fred waved Cordelia away and shoved the book in Wesley’s face. “See, it was real tricky going here,” she pointed to the bottom corner of a page, “but then I realized this section is in a different demon language than the rest of the codex, a Latinate-based demon language. Which makes no sense because why are demon languages being derived from human languages? And of course, I haven’t studied Latin since college, and it wasn’t like I kept up in Pylea--”

“I hate to interrupt,” Angel said, “but what did the passage say?”

“Oh, right. Sorry. Anyway, the Sretnoc we’ve been tracking, turns out we don’t have to track it at all. All you need is a special talisman and the demon will come right to you.”

“So what’s the problem?” Angel asked.

“The problem is that the talisman is here! Cordy, where did you get your necklace?”

“What, this thing?” She unhooked the green disc from around her neck and handed it to Wesley. “I found it on the counter this morning.”

Wesley turned it over in his hands. “Yes, this was in that box we picked up from the morgue, the possessions found on the Sretnoc’s last victim.”

“Eew!” Cordelia made gagging sounds and started pawing at her neck. “You guys have to start labeling things better!”

Gunn turned to Angel. “What do we do? Get rid of it?”

Angel shook his head. “We can’t risk the Sretnoc being attracted to it and hurting someone else. Wesley, did you finish the spell to kill the demon?”

Gunn sensed another long debate over magic or translations or something equally unexciting, so he slipped away from the gang and over to Spike, who stood transfixed in front of the weapons cabinet, running his hands over the cedar lining.

“Hey, man. Never a dull moment around here, huh? Though the way Angel tells it, it’s actually worse in Sunnydale. That true?”

Spike shrugged. “Can be. But it’s home, so the rest doesn’t seem as important.”

“I hear that.” Gunn looked over to where Fred was gesturing emphatically at Angel and Wesley, who was gesturing emphatically himself and waving the codex around. “So why are you in LA? Is Buffy here too?”

If Spike heard him, he didn’t answer. Instead, he smiled sadly and said, “I was thinking about building a cabinet like this for Buffy.”

“It’s a great design.”

“Yeh. Buffy always said something upright might be easier for grabbing weapons in a hurry. She likes really bad pop music, you know.”

Thrown by the change of subject, Gunn could only say, “Huh?”

“Britney Spears, that stuff. She pretends she hates it, but then I catch her dancing around Dawn’s room to it. Then she sees me and turns the stereo off, pretends Dawn’d left it on. Which is funny, considering Dawn’s left bubblegum pop behind for Linkin Park. So I figure, two things I’m gonna do if... when she comes home again -- besides holding her good and tight until she invariably complains about not being able to breathe -- is buy her some of that godawful pop music she pretends to hate, then ask Harris to help me with the weapons cabinet.”

Gunn would have to be deaf to miss the barely-concealed despair in Spike’s voice. “You sure you’re okay? And what do you mean, when Buffy comes home? Where is she now?”

“Excuse me.” Angel’s hand reached between the men to grab an incredibly long and heavy sword.

“You’re not listening to a word I’m saying,” Wesley complained, trailing behind. “The Sretnoc’s stingers will paralyze a vampire. Permanently. There is no known cure. You cannot fight this thing.”

“I’m listening to you, I’m just choosing to disregard what you’re saying. Letting more people die is not an option here, okay?”

“We’re all with you on that,” Cordelia said, hands raised in surrender. “But you won’t do anyone a lot of good as a vamp statue.”

“What’s going on?” Gunn asked.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Angel’s insisting on being the big fat hero, as usual, even though there’s no way he can kill this thing.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Angel shifted the sword to his other hand and went to grab a large axe from the cabinet. “I’m going out there, I’m gonna track it down, and I’m gonna make sure it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

“I, uh, don’t think you have to worry about tracking it,” Fred said, a second before the front door collapsed, plowed in by a dripping green demon the height of an average NBA player.

“Damn,” Wesley swore, “the supplies for the vanquishing spell are in the office!”

“Fred, Cordy, get upstairs!” Gunn shouted. Cordelia grabbed Fred’s hand, dragging her away. “Wesley, if I distract it can you get your stuff?”

“It’s too risky.” Wesley ducked as the demon shot several quills from its forearm.

Angel grabbed a throwing star and winged it at the demon’s head. It ineffectually bounced off. “Besides, it’s my fight. You two get out of here.”

Here we go again. Same old frigging fight every time there’s danger. “No go, Boss. At least the demon can’t paralyze us.”

Wesley dove behind the couch, one of the quills almost grazing his head. “The poison kills humans instantly.”

“Oh.”

“Angel, distract it and I’ll make a run for it, but be careful.”

“Right.”

Angel put down the box of throwing stars and kicked it over to Gunn, who started chucking them at the Sretnoc, while Wesley plunked the talisman down on the couch and made a break for the office. Just as Angel was about to throw a dagger at its head, Spike brushed past him, already in game face and brandishing a sword.

“Spike, don’t go near it!”

Clunk.

The sword broke in half on the Sretnoc’s thick hide when Spike tried to decapitate it.

“I’m serious! Get the hell away!” Angel shouted.

Spike ignored Angel and deftly sidestepped the demon’s tail while continuing to whale on it with the broken sword.

Gunn couldn’t believe the same guy who had been staring at the weapons cabinet like a zombie a minute ago was now jumping around like a monkey on crack, letting out the occasional howl -- since when do vamps howl? -- as he spun and jabbed.

“Wes,” Gunn yelled over his shoulder, “might wanna, you know, hurry up with that spell.”

“It’s almost ready!”

As one of the spines coating the Sretnoc’s legs and arms grazed Spike’s ankle, Gunn held his breath, but the boots seemed to offer enough protection since Spike was still hopping around, jabbing at the demon’s neck. Angel waited for a clear shot before throwing another dagger at its head.

Upending the couch and flinging it across the lobby, the demon screeched and tried to get away from the psycho-assed vampire. Gunn remembered the pistol Wesley kept in a locked drawer under the desk. As soon as he was sure all the demon’s attention was focused on Spike -- which didn’t take long considering he was now a whirling dervish, fists and broken sword blending in a whirl as he just barely dodged the deadly quills -- Gunn made a break for it. The gun was right where he remembered, and there were four rounds left.

His first shot ricocheted off the Sretnoc’s tough abdomen and imbedded itself in the wall just above Gunn’s head.

Right, that’s why we don’t use guns.

“Gunn, something’s wrong with Spike!” Angel shouted over the cacophony. “He never fights quietly.” He ducked a quill. “Always gotta--” Rolled behind the re-located couch. “--say something.” Threw another star. No effect. “Go see if Wes is almost done, ‘cause if we don’t get Spike out of there soon--”

“Ah, got it!” Wesley ran out of the office, waving a burning bundle of sage. He glanced at his notes. “Dämon der dunkelheit, rückkehr wieder zu die dunkelheit, lassen sie licht und die, die bleiben....”

Wesley’s incantation was cut short by a guttural roar from Spike as he pierced the Sretnoc’s throat. The demon lurched backward, and as it slumped down, its arm shot out, one of its spines raking down Spike’s leg. Angel dropped the rest of the daggers and ran over to him.

“Wesley, start going through the books, there has to be--”

“It’s nothing,” Spike shrugged. “See? Didn’t even nick the skin.”

“Well, you’re lucky. What the hell were you thinking?”

“What, a bloke can’t kill a demon now and again?”

“Whoa.”

Gunn, Spike, Angel, and Wesley looked up to the top of the stairs, where Oz stood, flanked by Cordelia and Fred. “I go to wash up for a few minutes and I miss all the fun.”

***

Aton had been impatiently clacking his claws for nearly twenty minutes when Magnus finally returned to his house. If he was surprised to find the demon perched on his bed, his face did not betray it.

The slight shaking in his hands, however, did.

“Aton. This is unexpected.”

Aton dipped his head in agreement. “Yes. I did not anticipate the need to intervene in Council business so soon.”

“Intervene?” Magnus raised an eyebrow.

“You cannot allow Lydia to be privy to the inner workings of your plan.”

“How did you know--”

“You believe I am only near when I make my presence known to you?” Aton chuckled. “I understand you have affection for this girl, but I cannot permit you to bring her into the fold.”

Magnus sniffed. “And how is this your concern?”

Aton appreciated the human’s arrogance, moreso because he saw fit to display it despite the fear that Aton could smell simmering just beneath the surface.

“My reasons are my own.”

“Still,” Magnus said, leaning against the door frame, “I wholeheartedly believe that Lydia would make a fine addition. She’s a clever, loyal girl.”

“Clever, yes. Too much so for her own good. And while she is loyal, I believe you’re mistaken as to where her loyalty lies.”

“She stood by us, going against Rupert Giles.”

Aton waved a claw. “A temporary situation at best. Her fondness for the Watcher, the Slayer, and their friends, will eventually sway her allegiances. No, I must insist you keep her separate from your plans, as they are tied to my own. Lydia would be an unnecessary liability.”

Magnus drew himself up and stared at Aton. “And if I don’t?”

Aton brought his hands together and murmured several words in Latin. When he pulled his hands apart again, they were connected by a glowing silver webbing that crackled with energy. One flick of his wrist and the energy shot into the wall inches from Magnus’s head.

After the dust and plaster settled, Aton rose and faced Magnus, who swallowed.

“You understand?”

Magnus nodded. “Yes. Lydia will remain in the dark.”

“Good. And Magnus, I will be watching you. And her. If she gets close to uncovering the truth...I expect you to take care of her. If you don’t, I will, though I suspect your way would be less... aggressive.”

Without waiting for an answer, Aton clicked his claws together and vanished.

***

Faith got to the Magic Box just as Xander hung up the phone.

“Who was that?”

“Willow. Just letting me know that Buffy’s okay.”

“Okay? You mean they found-”

Xander shook his head. “Sorry. I meant she’s sedated and...physically okay.”

“Oh.” She ran her fingers through a small display box of polished obsidian pebbles, watching the store’s fluorescent lights bounce off the shiny surfaces.

Faith hadn’t even noticed Xander coming from behind the counter until she felt his hand on her shoulder.

“Hey. You okay?”

“I guess.” She shrugged, not quite meeting his gaze.

“Faith, look at me.”

Oh great, here it comes. He’s gonna say that everything will be fine, just like he always does.

“Willow and Giles are on the case. If there’s a way to help Buffy, they’ll find it. But....” Xander sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “But this is bad. This is beyond bad, and we have to...look, no matter what, I’ll be there for you, okay? We’ll be there for each other. All of us. It’s what Buffy would want, no matter what.”

Nodding, she said, “I get it.”

“Good. Now, c’mon,” Xander grabbed her and started to pull her towards the table, “I picked up some donuty goodness. I believe it goes without saying that the crullers are mine, but have no fear, I also picked up some eclairs ‘cause I know they’re your favorite. Have some breakfast while I finish counting the newt eyes for inventory, then we can train for a little while, okay?”

“Yeah,” Faith gave him the best smile she could muster. She grabbed a donut and watched him disappear into the storeroom. Eclairs were her favorite. She was surprised Xander remembered; but every bite felt heavy and made her kinda queasy. Still, eating an eclair would give her something to concentrate on. Something besides....

She’d gotten about ten minutes of sleep the night before. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Buffy snarling, or Buffy unconscious after those Council goons tranq’d her. Or, the worst, Buffy strangling Xander with a chain. The last one made Faith go completely numb inside, because she knew how easily, how quickly Buffy could have snapped Xander’s neck.

Faith knew how quickly a life could be snuffed out, how everything could change in a second.

Like, what if someone’d had a crush on Allan Finch but they never got a chance to tell him before Faith fucked up and...whoa.

She put down the rest of the donut and shook her head. “Project much?” she muttered.

This was the best Faith had ever had it. Before Buffy got sick, of course. But here, Faith had a place to stay, a purpose, and people who actually gave a crap whether she lived or died.

And Xander. God, Xander. He’d had every reason to hate her, maybe even more than Buffy. The way Faith had treated him all those years ago...it had been even more personal than the shit she’d done to Buffy, and he’d still agreed to be her Watcher. Forgiven her. More than forgiven her, he’d really been there for her. The way he’d had her back during the Council’s tests...she’d never dreamed that anyone would ever look out for her the way Xander did.

And here she was, thinking about messing all this up because, what, she had feelings for Xander? It didn’t take any of that inner reflection bullshit for Faith to realize what a fuckup she was in the romance department.

Hell, look at Anderson. Faith finally found a guy who wasn’t a total sleaze, who held onto her after they fucked and was interested in hearing what she had to say. A guy who loved her. And what happened? She decided she couldn’t handle it, bolted out of his apartment. After she dodged his calls for two weeks, the phone just stopped ringing. She saw him at the Bronze a couple weeks later, talking to some pretty Asian girl. When he saw Faith, he gave her the sweetest smile and waved.

Anderson had smiled and waved after the shitty way Faith had treated him. If she couldn’t make it work with a great guy like that, what the hell made her think she had any business trying to date anyone?

Xander had been good to her, when she had no reason to expect it. She wasn’t about to throw everything away making a play for a guy who probably didn’t even like....

She wasn’t about to throw everything away just to make an ass of herself. No way, no fucking how.

Xander stuck his head out of the storeroom, startling Faith. “Hey! You ready to start counting? I saved the chameleon tails for you,” he said with a wink.

Faith gulped down the last bit of donut, took a deep breath, and stood up. Don’t fuck this up.

***

Magnus found Lydia seated under a copse of trees in the courtyard. Late afternoon sunlight filtered through the branches, so Lydia had her head down, allowing her hair to swing forward and shade her eyes as she annotated the book on her lap. She used to sit exactly the same way when he would take her outside for her Latin lessons. Pity she’d never been called....

The memory made Magnus smile, but only briefly, because memories like that would make the task at hand more difficult. Best to push them aside now.

Lydia looked up as he drew near and smiled at him. “Good afternoon, Magnus.”

“Lydia.” He smiled back. “I see you’re reading the Lehlonal Treatise. I haven’t read that in nearly twenty years, but if I recall correctly, there’s an entire chapter devoted to a young woman named Victoria who was diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia in 1968.”

“Good memory.”

“She was the only Slayer to achieve Crisis and be discovered by the public. Poor dear, her family was beside themselves with grief, and they had no way of understanding what was really happening.”

Lydia turned a page in the book and frowned. “It says here that she was killed in a botched carjacking attempt en route to the sanitarium.”

Magnus nodded. “That was the Council’s work. It was not an easy decision, of course, but we couldn’t wait for her to die a natural death in thirty or forty years. It was necessary for a new Slayer to be activated as soon as possible.”

Lydia paled. “So it’s true? The Council.... Magnus, do you realize what you’re saying?”

Gingerly sitting next to her on the hard ground, Magnus did his best to look comforting. “Lydia, I assure you, if there was a way to cure Victoria -- or Buffy -- we would have done so.”

“Yes, but--”

Magnus brushed some errant hairs off her face. “They were only doing the humane thing. Giving these poor girls a way out of a hellish nightmare.”

Lydia nodded. “I suppose,” she said slowly, turning away from him. “But at least there is another active Slayer, allowing us time to try and help Buffy.”

“Yes, that is...fortunate.”

“I did find something interesting.” Lydia picked up a small notebook and flipped through it. “Hm, where did I...ah, yes, here it is. Noel McGovern, Victoria’s Watcher. I already consulted his journals, and they’re alarmingly incomplete.”

“Well, having a Slayer affected by the Crisis must be trying.”

“Yes, but it actually looked like whole sections had been removed.”

Always was a clever girl. For the first time ever, he found himself wishing she’d been more like the recent potentials, who were all brawn over brains.

Magnus raised his eyebrows. “Removed?”

“Yes, but the good news is that Willow may have a spell that can regenerate the missing pages. It’s a long shot, but they might provide more information. If we can find out what causes this....” She trailed off and looked down.

“You’ve come to care for the Slayer and her friends.”

Lydia nodded. “I tried to remember all our Watcher training, to stay detached, impartial. But Magnus, when you’re working with these people day in and day out, watching them give their all to the cause...the rules change, I suppose.”

Rules change, indeed. His girl was smitten with Rupert Giles, of all people. Magnus would have been blind to have missed it. It seemed almost a shame to put an end to all that. He’d always envisioned Lydia standing with him as he became the new head of the Council. It wouldn’t do for Lydia to destroy all they’d been working for. They’d come too far to take irrational, emotional risks now. Magnus felt vaguely queasy as he considered his next words.

“This talk of removed pages brings to mind something similar I’ve come across recently. You might try Imboden’s Compendium. It’s in the basement library, and it’s the most complete guide to Slayers who’ve suffered the Crisis. It was assembled after several Watcher’s journals disappeared in the 1940s.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant! I wish I’d thought of that sooner!” Lydia gathered her books and stood up, then bent down quickly to kiss Magnus on the cheek. “I honestly don’t know where I would be without you sometimes.”

With a heavy heart, he watched her happily trot back to Council headquarters.

“Well?”

Magnus started at the voice. He turned around to see Myong standing behind him. “It’s done.”

“And you’ve already planted the--”

“Yes, all she has to do is open the book.”

Myong nodded. “I know you have your reservations, but it’s for the best. We can’t have her interfering.”

“I know.”

Magnus waved Myong away and turned his gaze back to Lydia, watching her disappear into the building. I’m sorry it had to happen this way.
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