DL 2.3

Aug. 13th, 2005 01:52 am
[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Episode Three: Declaration

by alkibiadhs
Teenager In Love by Dion and the Belmonts
(At the dance)

Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm
(After the dance)

Shoutouts to Cousinjean and Adjrun, who were excellent and patient beta-readers, particularly given the liberties I took in writing this chapter, and for setting things up for me so nicely in their own chapters.


*
Buffy sat by the phone in the kitchen, wearing her pajamas. She massaged her forehead. It was not anger, precisely. Nor was she exactly sad, or even worried. She was just very, very concerned, and she had no idea what to do about it. She had a very strong sense that moving would exacerbate the problem, so instead she continued to sit, and might have stayed in that position for some time, except that the doorbell rang.

Please let it be Spike, she thought as she rose, but of course it couldn't be. Or if it was, he'd be a smoking pile of ash by the time she opened the door at this hour. And that would go the whole nine yards towards ruining my day, wouldn't it? And where does that expression come from?

As it turned out, it was neither Spike nor his remains, but Willow, wearing a pink sweater with a picture of a rabbit on it and old jeans. She looked as though she hadn't slept for a couple of days.

Great, Buffy thought, feeling guilty about it. When it rains, it pours.

"Um, hi," Willow said. "Can I come in?"

Buffy smiled convincingly. "Sure."

"So I...I guess you guys were all stuck in the magic shop for awhile," Willow said, coming in and taking a seat on the couch. Buffy sat next to her.

"Pretty much," Buffy told her. "It was okay, though. Kind of like a sleepover, except with Giles there." She grimaced. "Which sounds creepy."

"I'm sorry," Willow said. "I even knocked you into a wall. It was just stupid."

Buffy shook her head. "I shouldn't have let you find out about me and Spike that way."

Her friend winced. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

"I was going to, but everything happened so fast, and after what happened to Tara, I just didn't want to shake you up anymore until I thought you could take it."

Willow smiled. "Guess you told me a little early."

"Or a little late, maybe."

"I'm sorry," they both said at once, and smiled at each other in surprise. Buffy's faded first.

"But Will, I came over to talk and you slammed the door in my face."

"Did I?"

"Well yeah, you sounded like a phone message or something. 'I'm sorry, I'm unavailable for conversation right now, thank you for stopping to chat.'"

Willow laughed.

"What?" Buffy asked.

"I wasn't mad at you. Well, I was, kind of, still, but that's not why you got kicked out. See, I've been working with this new meditation, and it's kind of intense, so I set up a message system."

"Like magic voice mail? Can you do that?"

"Actually, I wasn't sure. But I guess I can, 'cause it got you all worked up." Willow paused for a moment, considering. "Although it does sound like I'd probably better change the message."

"So," Buffy said.

"So," Willow replied. "You and Spike, huh?"

Buffy smiled. "Yeah."

"And you're sure you're not, like, possessed or anything?"

"Willow!"

"I mean, it's a little crazy."

"It's incredibly crazy. I mean, he's a professional thief. He showed up yesterday in this gorgeous suit..."

"Spike was wearing a suit?"

"Yes," Buffy replied, with obvious pleasure.

"Mmm," Willow agreed.

"Willow! Make up your mind, already!"

The young witch folded her arms. "I love the person," she declared, grinning.

"The point is, he stole the money to buy it. He had to. I mean, where is somebody who can't be out in the sunlight going to get money legally?"

"Okay, I admit that's a problem, Buffy, but I was thinking more along the lines of 'Why are you dating another vampire?'"

Buffy shook her head. "Well...yeah, it's a little nuts, but...they're not all the same, you know." She paused, and flashed a wicked smile. "Besides, with Spike..."

"Okay, this is where you give me more information than I want," Willow said, cutting her off. "Buffy, are you okay? I mean, not with me. Just...when I opened the door, you looked kind of down."

Buffy nodded. "I'm on probation."

"What?"

"Social Services called this morning to tell me I'm on probation as Dawn's legal guardian. They'd prefer she live with her father. I told them she'd prefer to live here, and that I didn't see how it was any of their business. And then they started asking all these questions..."

"Like?"

"Like what do I do for a living? Am I a student? Do I have medical insurance? Does Dawn have insurance?" Buffy paused, looking and feeling lost. "I don't know what to tell them. I have a full-time job as the Slayer already, even if there haven't been any vampires for awhile. You know how it is, they'll be back eventually. I don't have time for a real job, and even if I did, I'd just get fired."

"Buffy..."

"No, really, I mean, look, Sunnydale was the only school I managed not to get kicked out of. And that's only because both of the principals got eaten before they could do anything about it. And high schools will take a lot more unexplained absences and lateness than your average workplace."

"Buffy, that's not true. I mean...Snyder didn't get eaten until graduation, right?"

"He tried to have me arrested."

"Well, okay, yeah, but you can't just give up like this."

Buffy sighed. "I know. And I'm not giving up. I just don't know what to do."

"Well I do."

"Yeah?" Buffy asked.

"We need to get you out of here. Get some lunch or something."

"I don't know if..."

"Nope," Willow told her, standing up and puffing out her chest. "Tiny Jewish Commander's orders. You will come out with me and have fun. I owe it to you for locking you up all day."

Buffy smiled and saluted. "You know what? You're right. Let me go change."

Willow watched her friend go upstairs, pleased with herself. As she waited, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and noticed with no particular alarm that a bright green light shone from behind her eyes.

***

"The problem, Harris, is that most of you mortals haven't the first sodding clue how to deal with vampires."

"What are you talking about? Holy water, sunlight, wooden stake through the chest..."

The vampire shook his head, effortlessly blocking an attack from the newly-appointed Watcher. "No, now you're talking about how to kill vampires. You know that. But look, if I was to say to you 'how do you deal with humans', you wouldn't say, 'oh, disease, weapons, bare hands, a good conk on the head, just about anything, really'."

"And thank you for making me feel so much more...oof!" Xander toppled over as one of Spike's punches got past his guard.

"You okay?"

"Fine."

"Anyway, my point is, the average mortal sees a vamp in game face the first time and freezes stone cold. It just mucks up their grip on reality."

"I remember," Xander told him. He hadn't frozen the first time he'd seen a vampire, but it had been a near thing.

"A smarter person will run away, but that's not going to get them anywhere but six feet under, right? Vampires don't run out of breath."

"Could I just state for the record how much this conversation isn't making me like you?"

"Hey, I'm standing right here, boy. You want to do something about it, give it a go."

Xander did. A flurry of attacks later, he was on the ground again.

"And then there's people like you," Spike told him. "You know the drill with vampires. And you're very brave."

"Thank you."

"But often, bloody stupid."

"What are you..." Xander hit the floor again. "What are you implying?"

"I'm not implying a sodding thing. I'm telling you that you fight vampires as though they were big tough humans, and we're not."

"Hey, I'll have you know I've done my share of slaying."

"And I'll bet most of them you either had outnumbered, or they were newly risen, or they were idiots. Look, I'm not saying you're not capable, but you have to acknowledge what you're dealing with." Xander came at him again, and this time the vampire allowed every punch to land. Spike staggered backwards under Xander's assault for a moment, then grabbed both of his arms and hoisted him into the air, helpless. "Some vampires...yeah, they're not expecting a fight, they figure you're just a human, and you surprise 'em with a stake. But there are plenty more out there like I was, or like Angelus. To them, you're just a snack."

"Could you put me down, please?"

"Fine," Spike told him, and did so. "Now listen. You bein' a Watcher makes you a target, even more than you already are, just being the friend of a Slayer and living on a sodding hellmouth. Now Rupert in there, he doesn't show it, but he's probably one of the most dangerous mortals you could meet. He's no Slayer, but if he was after me, I'd be worried. Now, he's going to teach you a lot of stuff in books about demons and cults and whatnot, and someday it might save your life. In the meantime," Spike finished, "I'm going to teach you how to be dangerous."

The door opened. "Are you two done...oh!" Anya looked worried. "Spike! Xander's all bruised! What are you doing in here?"

"It's okay, honey," Xander assured her. "Spike's just not always the easiest sparring partner."

"But Xander..," she protested, indicating the bruises.

"Anya, really, it's all right. It feels worse than it looks."

Spike chuckled.

"Besides," Xander pointed out, "Since it turns out I'm going to be Faith's Watcher, if she ever gets out of prison, I'd better get used to bruises."

"I don't think you should have to be her Watcher at all," Anya told him. "You've had sex with her. That should disqualify you."

"Excuse me, you what?" Spike asked.

"It was a weird day," Xander replied. "And by the way, honey, don't you think her trying to kill me and all of our friends is a slightly bigger problem?"

"No," Anya told him, after a moment of consideration.

"Still," Giles put in, entering the training room, "it is an unusual twist on the Slayer-Watcher relationship. I can't say I entirely approve."

"It makes sense," Xander said. "I'm never going to be the kind of researcher they've got over in England. I'm much more useful in the field."

"Don't think being in the field is going to keep you out of books, Xander," Giles told him. "Which reminds me, we're starting you on Latin today."

"It's not that bad," Spike told him, noticing Xander's grimace.

"You speak Latin?" Xander asked.

"Well, you know, a little," the vampire replied. "I had it in school when I was a boy." He paused. "Well, truth be told, I've forgotten a lot of it, but Dalton could read it, and he was the most useless bloody idiot who ever worked for me."

"Dalton?" Giles asked.

"Yeah, you know, the little guy with the glasses. Helped Dru and me build the Judge?"

Xander and Giles shared a look.

"What?" Spike protested. "You see me trying to resurrect any more invincible demons?"

"Well then," Giles told him. "Consider my confidence restored."

"Shall we to the Latin then, sensei?" Xander asked.

"Careful," Giles told him. "I will start calling you 'grasshopper' if you force me into it."

Xander smiled. "Giles, then."

The two of them went back into the magic shop, and Anya followed, leaving Spike by himself.

They still didn't trust him. It shouldn't have bothered him--after all, he was a vampire, and he'd given them plenty of reasons not to--but it did. It wasn't exactly that they believed he was plotting against them, but rather that they continued to think he might. Buffy trusted him, and that was something. In fact, that was a wonderful thing. But Spike wasn't sure their relationship could survive constant suspicion, and more than that, he was getting tired of it. Something would have to change.

***

His name was Doug Meritt, and Dawn really liked him. He had very nice eyes, sort of blue-grey, and light brown hair. He wore glasses, which she thought made him look smart, and he had a dimple which made him look just a little bit goofy when he smiled, but Dawn liked that smile. He'd worn it a lot around her today, and she liked that even more.

At the moment, he was scraping the inside of his cheek with a toothpick.

"Okay, so what are we supposed to do?" she asked.

"It says put it on this slide with a drop of dye...do you have the dropper?"

"Yeah." Dawn put a little bit of the iodine onto the slide and put the cover over it. She handed it back to Doug.

"Okay, into the microscope," Doug told the slide, and set it up. "Do you want to look first?"

"Okay." She looked.

"What do you see?" he asked.

"Looks like the picture of a cell in the book," she told him. "Only fuzzier."

"Sounds fascinating."

"Deeply." She looked up at him. He was smiling at her again. She fought back a giggle.

"So, um, High School," he said.

"Yeah," she replied.

"Treating you okay?" he asked.

"Pretty much. Kirstie continues to be pretty much the bane of my entire existence."

"I wouldn't worry about her."

Dawn looked at him with the knowing wisdom of a 15-year old girl. "You're a guy. You don't have to worry about her."

"Well, okay, yeah, but I just meant, you know, eventually her ego will cause her head to explode. Just you wait."

Dawn laughed.

"Hey..." he began, trailing off.

"Hey is for horses," Dawn told him. "Sometimes for cows."

"The, um, Bronze is having this teen-only thing tonight. Do you wanna meet me there?"

Do. Not. Blush. Dawn bit her lip in an effort to succeed at this which resulted in her not responding to the question.

"Dawn?" he asked.

"Oh! Um, yeah, that sounds fun."

The bell rang.

"Listen," she continued, "if I don't show up, it's not me...stuff's really complicated at home right now. But I'll be there if I can!"

"Okay," he told her. "See you there, then." He was smiling again. There really was something charming about that goofy dimple. Dawn watched as he picked up his backpack and left for his next class.

***

"A date?" Buffy asked, sounding somewhere between gleeful and terrified.

"I'm just meeting him. Look, it's nothing, okay?"

"Your pulse is running a bit fast, nibblet," Spike said. "I'm not sure you've got much credibility on the casual front."

"Buffy," Dawn said, "would you please ask your bloodsucking boyfriend to stop taking my heart rate? It's creepy. Besides, I am casual. I am very casual."

Buffy watched as Dawn casually dropped something and went to her knees, hurriedly trying to pick it up.

"Is that my lip-liner?"

"No."

"It is! You're wearing makeup! You're wearing my makeup!"

"Duh! I'm going to the Bronze!"

"So it is a date, then," Spike said.

"Shut up, Spike," Dawn told him.

"Anyway, I'm not sure this is a good idea..."

"Buffy!"

"I mean, it's not really safe at night in this town."

Spike cocked his head at that. "Love, other than me, how many vampires have you seen since Dracula?"

"Well none, but...but there could be! And...and boys! Boys can be very bad."

Spike smirked at her, and she reddened slightly.

"I can handle boys, Buffy."

Buffy looked at her sister carefully. Dawn sighed.

"I mean, I can take care of myself. And it's Doug. He's really, really nice, and there'll be lots of people there. C'mon."

"Okay, okay, but I'm picking you up at ten, and let me fix your makeup, all right?"

"What's wrong with my makeup?"

"First of all, it's mine, and second of all, you need a couple of pointers on..."

"Love?" Spike interjected.

"What?"

"I um, I actually came tonight to tell you that I'm going to be away for a bit. I have some things to do, and I...well, I'd do it during the day, but I've got this allergy to being on fire."

"'Some things?'" Buffy asked him. "Why so mysterious?"

"It's sort of a surprise. You'll see. I just didn't want to worry you."

"Well, okay, I guess. When are you coming back?"

"Soon as I'm done," he told her. "It shouldn't be long. Maybe a day or two."

Buffy approached him, wearing a feigned pout. "Hurry?" she asked.

Spike smiled. "Is there something in particular you need me for?"

Instead of responding, Buffy wrapped her arms around his waist and kissed him hard. Spike responded with equal passion until Dawn's protests finally got their attention.

"You guys are ridiculous," the younger girl told the pair of them.

Spike's expression widened into a full-on grin. "Good luck on your date, sweet pea. Don't do anything I wouldn't." With that, he headed for the door.

Buffy looked at her departing boyfriend and then back at her sister. "Don't do anything he would do, either," she said. "Now come on, we've got work to do."

***

Things were going well.

When he'd asked, Doug had been terrified that Dawn would say no. For all her protestations about the popular crowd, Dawn was definitely one of the beautiful ones. And he was...well...not, exactly. It wasn't that Doug thought he was ugly, but he wasn't an athlete, wasn't particularly popular, and as such, he fit into an awkward niche of not-quite-nerds that had him nervous about being out of his league.

The trouble was, he hadn't been able to help himself. Dawn was special. She had a depth and maturity that he found fascinating and a little intimidating. He always found himself smiling in her company, and he liked that. So he had been both amazed and thrilled when she'd agreed to see him tonight.

In order to communicate all of this, he was talking to her about movies.

"10 Things I Hate About You," Dawn told him. "Or possibly Cruel Intentions."

"So I'm not sure what the pattern is, then. Is it that you like movies with hot guys, or that you like adaptations of older stories?"

"Oh, I think it's definitely about the story retelling," Dawn assured him. "I mean, who checks out guys in movies?"

"Certainly not you."

"Of course not. Although Heath Ledger is God."

They laughed together. It was good.

"So wait a minute," Dawn said. "10 Things was a Taming of the Shrew adaptation, but I thought Cruel Intentions was its own thing."

"Nope," he told her. "Remake of Dangerous Liaisons with Glenn Close and John Malkovich. And that was based on Les Enfants Terrible, by...eh. I can't remember."

"John Malkovich," Dawn replied, "does not stack up."

"Not that you check people out."

"Of course not."

"So if you're, um, done with your coke...do you wanna dance?"

Dawn hopped out of her seat like it was on fire and pulled on his hand. "Sure."

The band was something he had never heard of. They were kind of saccharine for his taste, but they were playing music you could dance to, and that was all that mattered. Doug had spent a good hour before he'd left home dancing in front of a mirror to make sure he didn't look like a complete fool, and he had come to the conclusion that he was just competent enough. Dawn, he saw immediately, had no problems at all. She was even prettier when she danced, he decided.

Then the music slowed down.

It was a nerve-wracking moment. Doug wasn't sure if he should go to sit down or move to slow-dance with her, and he stood there unsteadily, rocking back and forth, until Dawn put one of his hands on her hip, and smiled at him again, and they began to dance.

Really, he thought, it's more like a hug while walking in circles. I wonder if she wants me to kiss her?

That last thought, which seemed to have come from nowhere, caused him to miss a beat and scramble to avoid stepping on Dawn.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah, I..."

"Dawn?"

There was somebody standing behind him. He let go of Dawn, reluctantly, and turned around.

"Buffy? Aren't you early?"

The girl talking to Dawn (It must be her sister, he thought) smiled ruefully. "Sorry, she said. "Right on time."

"Well, okay. Doug, this is Buffy. She's my sister. Buffy, Doug."

Doug smiled at her. "Nice to meet you," he said, extending his hand. Good genes, he decided.

She shook his hand briefly. "Likewise." Then she turned back to Dawn. "All right, come on."

Dawn shrugged at him as if to say You see? You see what I have to put up with? and he nodded at her, hoping it came off knowing.

"Bye Doug!" she said.

"See you in school," he told her. Then she turned and, with her sister, made her way out. Doug went back to the bar and ordered another coke.

He was drinking it, feeling a joy to be alive that was aided very slightly by caffeine, when he heard the first scream.

***

"So?" Dawn asked her sister, once they'd gotten in the car. "How was patrol? Kill anything?"

"Nah," Buffy replied. "Couple of trees looked kind of shifty, but I think that was just the wind."

"It must be a lot easier driving from graveyard to graveyard."

"Kind of, but, you know, there's nothing there. I started to feel like a ghoul. And I miss Spike."

"He said he's only going away for a couple days."

"It's too many. Also, any business he doesn't tell me about is probably illegal."

"It isn't as if he hurts anybody."

"I don't know that, do I? I mean, I don't even know who he's getting the money from, or what they needed it for. It's not like we could afford to get robbed right now. I don't even have a job."

"I know. That sucks," Dawn told her sister. "And you know what sucks even more? The Watcher's Council."

"What are you talking about?" Buffy asked.

"They're paying Giles. They're paying Xander now. And they're not giving you squat. You're the one doing all the work."

Buffy was silent for a long time, surprised. It had honestly never occurred to her with quite such force that she ought to be getting paid, and how much not getting paid disrupted her life. Now that it had, and now that Xander was in fact making a career in the Watchers' employ, she found that she was angry. Potentially very angry. She would have to talk to Giles about it.

"I think you may be right," she finally said. "So how was your date?"

"Wonderful. Buffy, he even can dance! And he asked."

"The ones who can dance are very often the good ones."

"He's great. I want to see him again."

"Did you kiss him?"

"No."

"Did you?"

"No!"

"You can tell me."

"Buffy, I did not kiss him," Dawn told her, exasperated. She smiled up at Buffy as the car stopped in their driveway and added "But I might. You know, eventually."

They walked up to the porch together. "You have to tell me." Buffy grinned at her sister, holding the door for her to go inside the house.

"I will, I promise. Jeez...." Dawn ran upstairs and headed for the shower.

Buffy shook her head, smiling, grabbed a couple of fresh stakes, and headed back out on patrol.

***

She didn't get back until just past midnight. The second she entered the house, the phone rang. She jumped over the couch and picked up.

"Buffy..."

"Giles? Hey, I've been meaning to ask you something..."

"Buffy turn on the television. It's important."

She did. Giles stayed on the line but remained silent as she listened to an anchorwoman explain the reason for his call.

"....say the attack happened sometime between ten and eleven, with witnesses at the scene claiming the incident began at about ten thirty. Again, for those of you just tuning in, we're here at the Bronze in Sunnydale, where at least eighty high school students and several staff members have been killed or wounded in one of the most disturbing incidents since the destruction of the town's original high school three years ago. Police have yet to release a statement, but Doug Merrit, a high school freshman and so far the only person to leave the building since police cordoned off the area, had this to say:"

Doug's face appeared on the screen. Blood soaked his shirt and he was crying as he spoke. "They were...God, they...they killed everyone. All of them. They weren't even real."

A voice from off camera spoke "Are you claiming to be the only survivor?"

"I don't...God...go away. GO AWAY!" His voice became a screech as he finished speaking. Buffy clicked the television off, sickened.

"Vampires," she said.

"Indeed."

"We need everyone. Call them. Have them meet me at the Bronze in half an hour."

"Buffy, I realize this is important, but..."

"My sister was there tonight. She could have been killed, or...or.."

"Dawn was at the Bronze?" Giles asked, suddenly devoid of calm.

"No, I got her home. She's fine. But Giles, get everyone."

"We're not going to be able to investigate. Buffy, there are police surrounding the entire scene."

"I don't know. Maybe Willow can help. We have to do something."

"I'll do what I can. I'll see you there."

"Goodbye," she said, and hung up.

***

Buffy, Giles, Xander, Anya, and Willow were all at the Bronze by one in the morning.

As Giles had pointed out earlier, police were everywhere.

"I don't think they're going to let us in," Anya said.

"We can't afford to wait, though," Willow told her. "Whatever happened in there, happened for a reason. There could be something really big happening."

"I don't think this counts as small potatoes, Will," Xander said.

"No, she could well be right," Giles pointed out. "Vampires do not often commit such messy acts of violence without a reason. If there is some dark magic at work here, we need to know what it is as soon as possible."

"I was right here," Buffy said. She sounded almost awestruck. "I was a hundred feet away from where I'm standing right now, Giles. If I'd stayed, I could have stopped this."

"Or been killed," Anya said. "I mean, this happened pretty fast. There must have been a lot of them."

"I could've tried."

"Buffy," Xander reassured her, "they could have just been watching the place until they knew you weren't there. Or they could have memorized your patrol patterns. Or it could just be pure unholy luck. You can't be everywhere."

"People are dead because I couldn't protect them," said the Slayer. "Nothing you can say is going to make that better. So let's just find out what did this."

"I think I know a way," Willow spoke up.

"Can you make us invisible?" Xander asked.

"Not without making us all blind. Also, when the spell ends, we might explode."

"Oh. So, um, what's your idea?"

"See those guys leaving the building?"

"Yeah?"

"They're probably the forensics team. They know the most about what's inside."

"I really don't think they'd just tell us," Anya said.

"No," Willow agreed, "they wouldn't." With that, she marched up to one of the departing officers and grabbed his arm, hard.

"What..." Before he could say more, the man went into what looked like a trance. It lasted only a few seconds, and then Willow released him. He shook himself, appearing not to notice the young witch, and hurried slightly to catch up to his coworkers.

"Now," Willow told her friends, "hold hands."

"O-kay..." Xander took Buffy's and Giles's hands, Buffy took Anya's, and Willow clasped Giles's hand.

Suddenly, they were together, inside the Bronze.

"What the...I thought teleportation spells were bad news?" Xander said.

"We're still on the street," Willow told him. "Our bodies are, anyway. Our minds are in Officer Grant's memory of the Bronze."

"Remarkable," Giles commented. "I didn't know it was even..."

The Watcher was unable to finish as he began to notice the surroundings. The overall architecture of the Bronze had been left intact. Other than a few broken bottles, very little had been disturbed.

Except that there were bodies everywhere. Because Grant had not been able to remember perfectly, their faces were mercifully unclear for the most part, but what was clear was that very few people had survived the attack. Blood was everywhere, so much so that Giles felt sure that if the memory Willow had plucked from the policeman's mind had included scent, he would be feeling ill. As it was, the horror before him was sickening, but he found himself able to cope.

"Giles they...they didn't even drain them all," Buffy said. It was true. Many of the club's patrons seemed to have had their necks broken, or to have been stabbed to death. Only a few had the telltale marks of a vampire attack. This, it appeared, Grant had paid special attention to.

At least some of the police in Sunnydale aren't incompetents, Giles thought. Since the Mayor's death at Buffy's graduation a few years ago, the town government had lost its ties to the supernatural underworld, which had led to some improvement in that area. Nevertheless, it seemed very unlikely that this particular crime would be solved by any conventional authority.

"Um, guys, look at this," Xander said. He was pointing at the wall behind the stage. Above the dead bodies of the musicians, someone had thought to paint the word "Slayer" in blood. Underneath, a small symbol had been inscribed.

"Giles, is that..." Buffy asked.

Xander nodded. "The mark of Aurelius."

***

The first thing she did when they got back to the magic shop was to call Los Angeles.

"Buffy?" Cordelia asked, sounding confused.

"I'm sorry if I woke you..."

"It's fine, two in the morning, normal business hours for us, just got back from killing something really disgusting, have I mentioned how much I love my life?"

"You just killed a demon?"

"Well that is what we do, you know."

"With Angel?"

"Yes, with Angel. It was eight feet tall, Buffy. I wasn't really up to tackling it by myself...OR with Gunn and Wesley, who remind me that they are very brave. Look, do you want to talk to Angel?"

"Sure."

There was a moment of silence.

"Buffy?"

"Angel, who's left? In the Order of Aurelius?"

"The Order? What's this about, Buffy?"

"Somebody just massacred a few dozen high school students and left me the Master's old sign to find. I thought..."

"You thought I'd been turned."

"I...yeah. That's what I thought. Who's left, Angel?"

"I don't know...I mean, Darla and Dru are still around, but I don't know why they'd be in Sunnydale again. The Master had a couple dozen priests who it could be, but I don't know if they're even still alive. And it isn't impossible that somebody else might try to use the symbol to shake you up. In fact, the only mover and shaker left from the Order who I know is in Sunnydale is Spike."

"Okay."

"Buffy, are you all right?"

"No, I'm not. But I will be. Thank you for your help."

"Do you need..."

"Goodbye."

Buffy hung up. She shouldn't have, she knew. There was no reason to be angry with Angel. But she had been so sure, and while she was glad that Angel had not reverted to his evil persona, she was also left with no clue as to who might be responsible for what had happened.

"What did he say?" Xander asked her.

"Not a lot," she replied. "He's not evil, he doesn't know of anyone from the Order of Aurelius that might be in Sunnydale."

"Except Spike," Willow pointed out.

"Right, but obviously..."

"Buffy, where was he tonight?" Giles asked her.

"You're kidding."

Nobody said anything.

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