Sweat beaded on Rachel's brow as she attempted to draw upon the Light Side of the Force to levitate the book on the table in front of her. It had been a week now since the incident with the vampires and she'd yet to have any real success at drawing upon anything other than the Dark Side, which came to her as easily as breathing. It was . . . difficult to draw upon the Jedi teachings. They were there in her mind but the instinctual grasp she had upon the Sith teachings that had been left behind was simply not there.
Whenever she stopped to think about it, it disturbed her. She was about two steps removed from being the perfect Sith Lord and she was living on top of a dimensional rift that spewed out more dark energy than the Star Forge ever had on a daily basis. It was imperative that she mastered herself and her abilities as soon as possible but it just wasn't working. She just couldn't reach the serene state of mind that a newly minted Jedi trainee needed to draw upon their powers.
Perhaps it was time to call upon Giles for aid in this. As much as she hated to disturb him when he was so obviously worried about Buffy and her little disappearing act, it was rapidly becoming the only option she had available to her. He had mastered his own dark side years ago and he'd done it so effectively that he'd gone from being an absolute menace to society who summoned demons for kicks to being the active field watcher - a position of some not inconsiderable prestige.
At least Willow wasn't showing any signs of negative side effects from the use of dark magics. Then again she couldn't do much more than float pencils most of the time so it wasn't like there was any great temptation there for her in the dark arts. How she'd managed to pull off something like a soul curse as her first real spell was beyond Rachel. The girl must have some serious power in her to pull off that spell but even then she didn't have the knowledge or the experience for it. It was a puzzle that she had no answer for and she didn't like that one bit.
With a sigh, she gave up. This wasn't going anywhere useful. She simply couldn't do this at the moment - her head was too full of worldly thoughts to be clear enough to start learning the Jedi ways. It was bloody irritating. Luke never seemed to have this trouble! Or at least not as bad. Then again Luke must have been virtually dripping with raw power to be able to stand up to a Sith Lord with as little training as he'd had.
She blew her hair out of her eyes and went to get a glass of water from the kitchen. There were times she really missed being just a normal teenage boy. Sure. she'd had no real skills to speak of and a lousy educational record, but at least she hadn't had to worry about going all yellowed eyed and veiny and conquering the world or some such insanity. And life had been a whole lot less confusing then. Being a man trapped in a woman's body was not fun by any stretch of the imagination. She still had all the usual hormones but she had bugger all as an outlet. Lesbianism might be real cool in late night cable movies but there was more chance of running into flying pigs than finding a lesbian date in High School.
Then again, there might be a flying pig demon. Maybe she should ask Giles . . .
After all, it wasn't like girls wore signs noting their sexual orientation and it was a fair bet that 90% of them were straight and that making a pass at the wrong girl would result in a whole lot of trouble that she really couldn't be bothered to deal with. As liberal as California generally was in these issues, this was still high-school. And it wouldn't really be right to start a relationship when she was so very ill at ease with her own body and still holding onto the hope that she would someday be Xander-shaped once more.
Anyway, all of that was a minor issue compared to the whole Sith thing and on top of that she had that lunatic Drusilla to worry about. When she'd had time to contemplate what Drusilla had said to her back at the mansion it had opened up whole new vistas of badness. Drusilla was Force-sensitive. A Sith vampire, now that was one thing the world did not need on an epic scale. At least there was no-one to train her and it didn't look like she had any idea how to utilise the more aggressive Force powers even if she did seem to be a master of the mind-trick and have some ability as a Seer.
Bloody vampires. She really was acquiring a distinct urge to exterminate the whole breed.
And to really round things off they now had to defend the hellmouth without a Slayer. As far as sucky things went that was real high on the list. As much as she'd learnt, she still wasn't up to taking on that sort of load even with the others helping. Giles was still recovering from his injuries even if he tried to hide it and the others lacked any real skill in combat no matter how hard they tried. Willow's magic was not up to combat standards, Oz was tiny and lacked combat training when he was in human form, and Cordelia may well be the least effective fighter ever.
In short, they were getting their ass kicked and they were getting it kicked hard. She was going to have to get them organised or someone was going to get themselves killed.
She allowed her mind to wander for a moment as she chugged back the glass of water she'd poured herself and then she made a couple of resolutions. Tomorrow she would speak to Giles about her situation and then she would work on getting the gang organised as a fighting force. The days when they could rely on Buffy to do all the work were now past and they needed to adapt to that.
It was the next morning at breakfast when Rachel decided the time was right to speak to Giles. There wasn't going to be a good time for it these days - not when he was so busy trying to hunt Buffy down - but it had to be done.
"Giles, I think we need to talk," said Rachel in that very upper-class accent that tended to show through in times of emotional stress these days.
"Is something wrong?" asked Giles with an expression of concern on his face.
"I think so, yes. It seems that there was more left behind after Halloween than we bargained for. I can still feel and use the Force," replied Rachel in the same accent.
"Well, I can see why that would be somewhat of a shock for you, but I don't understand why it has you so worried."
"The Dark Side, Giles. I got my powers from a Sith Lord and the last thing we need is Darth Rachel running around on the hellmouth."
Rachel got up from her chair and began to pace around the room like a caged animal. "I can still feel it, Giles. I can still the Dark Side and the power it promises to me. I feel the temptation it offers, I feel the corruption inherent in using it and still it tempts me. It scares me, Giles. It downright bloody terrifies me. Using it comes as easy to me as breathing comes to normal people and back at the mansion . . . I already have the powers of a full Sith Lord, Giles! I've never used it in my life and I was still able to blast a vampire to ashes with Sith lightning, one of the most advanced dark powers."
"You . . . you've used the Dark Side?"
"Yes! You were unconscious at the time, I think. I was already so angry with that bastard Angelus and then those vampires came in to kill us and I just . . . I lost it completely."
Rachel could feel her emotions rapidly spinning out of control at this point. It was only the years of experience she had at concealing her fear and pain that stopped her from doing the very stereotypical female thing and bursting into tears.
Giles was doing his usual time-of-stress thing at that point: frantic cleaning of glasses and muttering of 'Good Lord' and 'oh dear'. Rachel took the few minutes respite she had to calm down and by the time Giles was ready to respond she once again had herself under some modicum of control and was sat back in her chair. Giles certainly wasn't going to appreciate her falling apart at the seams right now and she wouldn't appreciate falling apart, so she was damned if she was going to lose control. Losing control just seemed like a bad idea all-round right now anyway.
"I . . . I don't know what to say, Rachel. I have some experience with the black arts but I have no idea if that's relevant."
Rachel slumped slightly in her chair. "The Dark Side is like the black arts but a thousand times more addictive and corrupting. Using it, you tap into the fundamental essence of all that is dark and evil in the universe and bend it to your will. The feeling of power you get is incredible."
Giles blinked and took a moment to collect his thoughts before replying. "And what do you think you should do about this?" he asked gently. "I'm afraid that this is rather outside my experience."
"I need to master myself and my powers. If I had a teacher . . . but that's not going to happen, is it? There aren't any Jedi Masters around to train me. They don't even exist!" she said bitterly. "I'll have to teach myself as best I can. I have the memories, most of them anyway, but I'm having trouble with getting started."
"Most memories? And what are you having trouble with?"
"The more recent the memory was for Revan the easier it is to recall. I know a lot of the more advanced stuff but the basics elude me completely. I know that I need to learn to learn to clear my mind of thoughts and free myself of my emotions . . . in short I need to learn how to meditate, but I don't know how. And putting it like that I feel really stupid because I could just read a book on meditation."
"It's understandable that you're not thinking straight right now. This must have came as quite a shock to you and with everything else that's been happening . . . "
"Yeah, I know. Doesn't make me feel any less stupid though," said Rachel with a frown. "If I can't manage this then how will I cope with the rest?"
"I have every confidence in you, Rachel. You've coped exceedingly well with everything that has came your way since Halloween and I have no reason to believe this well be any different."
"I hope you're right."
"I am. Now let's get started on teaching you how to meditate."
Rachel felt a swell of gratitude well up within in her as they began to work and gave Giles a huge smile. Having an adult figure in her life who would support and help her was still somewhat of a novelty but it was definitely a novelty she could get used to. The work itself was slow going. Learning to achieve the state of mind needed to begin learning the Jedi way was something that always took time but progress was definite and by the time they had to stop she thought she was beginning to feel something, beginning to get a grasp on something.
There can be only one, thought Rachel randomly, remembering one of her favourite films, as she ran through some of the katas she'd picked up from her possession memories with a rapier she'd loaned from the library weapons cage. Honestly she didn't half feel stupid sometimes swinging the sword around at thin air like this. Especially when she was practising in the library. It was utterly beyond her how no-one ever seemed to notice the weirdness that surrounded this place. Repressing vampires she could almost understand but teenage girls playing with swords and assorted medieval weaponry? Bizarre.
And surely anywhere else in the country there would have been a few eyebrows raised about a group of teenage school-girls hanging around with a middle-aged librarian.
Ah, well, it wasn't for her to understand the stupidity of Sunnydale residents, she thought, as she slowed down her movements and eventually finished with her kata. She automatically placed the sword back in the cage and sat down at the table that occupied much of the centre of the library as she contemplated ways to improve the groups efficiency. Communications was obvious and easily solved with the cheap walkie talkies she'd bought but the rest was going to take training, and that was going to be difficult. Giles really didn't have the time for it with trying to hunt down Buffy and would they listen to her? Was she even up to training others?
Probably not on both counts. And she needed to focus on her own training not on others.
Force this was a nightmare. A group of four teenagers fighting vampires and only one of them had any real combat training and that was more memories of someone else's combat training than anything else! Okay, so they weren't going to be going kung-fu on any vampires anytime soon, so they had to improvise. What ranged weapons worked against vampires? Crossbows? No. Too slow to reload and the aim required was far too precise for people without a great deal of experience with the weapon.
They needed something that would be reliable, easy to use, and wouldn't require precise aim. There were no standard weapons that could accomplish that. So that left her with improvised weapons. What worked against vampires? Wooden stakes, useless at range. Decapitation, also useless at range. Sunlight, maybe a spell? Probably not. She wasn't anywhere near confident enough in her own abilities to use magic in combat and Willow was still a neophyte too despite the soul curse. Holy water? Not on its own but with a delivery mechanism . . . water pistols. Of course. A super-soaker loaded with holy water would be lethal to vampires. Simple, effective, and altogether too logical: probably why the watchers never came up with it.
Well that would give them a fighting chance. If Willow and Cordelia pinned the vampires down with a holy water crossfire, she could work with Oz to get the damn things staked or decapitated. Easy enough as long as they were able to stick together and work as a team.
Now it was just a matter of getting the others on board and preparing the equipment.
"I cannot believe that you have me walking around in public wearing this," bitched a distinctly displeased looking Cordelia. She really hadn't liked having a large, plastic, and very colourful tank of water strapped to her back and she wasn't shy about letting that be known.
"For God's sake, Cordelia, what do you want? Blood?"
"I want to not have to wear this abomination."
"A normal water pistol wouldn't hold enough water and you know it!"
"Then we could carry more than one."
"And what happens when one of the pistols runs empty in the middle of a battle? That's valuable seconds wasted on pulling out the next weapon that could get us all killed."
"And what happens when these run out?"
"If we run into enough vampires that two hundred ounces of holy water isn't enough, then we're pretty much dead anyway."
"Cheerful," said Oz, deadpan.
"True," replied Rachel. "Anyway keep quiet. We'll never catch anything making this much noise."
Amazingly enough they did fall quiet at that and Rachel was left with enough peace to try and extend her senses through the Force and sense any nearby vampires. She managed to force her emotions to the back of her mind and gain a somewhat slippery grasp upon her powers but the background noise of the hellmouth was all she could pick up. The never-ending waves of powerful dark energy it was constantly releasing just swamped everything.
It didn't take all that long for a vampire to try its luck with them. Three attractive young girls with someone the size of Oz as the only male in the group? Must have looked like a buffet to him. Anyway. The screams of the vampire as the two jets of holy water struck it in the chest were music to Rachel's ears and a moment later the agonised screams were cut short as her blade cleaved through the monster's neck.
"It worked," said Oz, brief as ever.
"Yeah," said Rachel. "Not exactly good on the stealth front when they start screaming though. Might be best to save the guns for when we run into a group or get into trouble."
"Can I go home yet and take this thing off yet?" whined Cordelia.
"It's not like anyone will remember seeing you like that, Cordelia," said Willow.
"She's right, Cordy. You walking around with us with a water barrel strapped to your back? That's going to come under the 'it's weird so I'll suppress it' thing people around here do," said Rachel. "No-one would ever believe that they saw you in anything less than perfect fashion any more than they'd believe they'd just seen a vampire."
"Damn right," sniffed Cordelia.
The summer passed as you'd expect really. Rachel's time was mostly split between studying and mastering her powers as well as she could. Her Force powers came along slowly but surely for the most part. She was advancing much more quickly than the usual Jedi who spent years and years in training before they were allowed to slip the leash but it was still going to be a long and difficult process that would take her years to fully complete. Having the memories was, she found, not the same as having ran through the training herself no matter how much it helped having the memories to know when something she was trying to master was mastered. It was more like having a teacher in her head than having the abilities.
She also made sure to pay regular visits to Mrs. Summers and make sure she was OK. Now that she'd had the whole 'the world is older than you know' thing dumped on her, she had no need to pretend to be anything other than what she was: Xander Harris in a female body. That first conversation had been more than a little strange really.
Rachel had only been at the door for a few seconds when it was opened by a slightly frazzled looking Mrs. Summers. "Buffy?" she'd said immediately before she realised who it was. "Oh. hello, Rachel."
Rachel smiled. "hello, Mrs. Summers. I was in the area so thought I'd stop by and see how you were with everything that's happened."
"I . . . I'm as well as can be expected till Buffy comes home. Come in. How are you? I was told that that vampire tortured you?"
Rachel shrugged and waited till they were in the living room before replying. "I'm fine. A little sore but nothing lasting. Giles got it much worse than me, he had information they needed. I was just there as a last resort to try and get Giles to talk by hurting me. Not a bad idea really but we both knew that we had to die before giving Angelus the information he needed. Better us dead than everyone dead."
Mrs. Summers looked a bit taken aback by that and sat down hard before replying. "I can't believe I'm hearing a teenager talking like that. And Giles? I thought you were a Giles?"
Rachel shrugged. "You get used to it after a while. And the whole Giles thing? It's a cover story. Rachel Giles doesn't exist."
Mrs. Summers blinked. "So who are you? Another Slayer?"
Rachel shot Mrs. Summers a grim smile before replying. "Not quite but I'm something almost as strange. Do you remember anything strange happening on Halloween?"
Mrs. Summers brow furrowed as she thought for a moment. "Yes. There was a lot of trouble that night. Vandals wasn't it?"
"The magical equivalent, I suppose. A costume shop owner, Ethan Rayne, was actually a Chaos Mage and he cast a spell that night to turn everyone who bought costumes from him into their costumes with predictably destructive results. Most people turned back at the end of the night. I didn't, not completely, and ended up trapped in a female body. G-man was kind enough to provide me with somewhere to stay and an identity I could use while I'm stuck like this."
"G-man? Xander, is that you?"
That got a genuine lop-sided, Xander-smile from Rachel, the first in quite a while. "Got it in one, Mrs. Summers. You're only the second person that didn't already know to guess."
"That . . . man turned you into a girl?"
"When I get my hands on him . . . " Mrs. Summers seemed to be working up a serious head of steam now, like a lioness whose cubs had been threatened.
"Live by the sword, die by the sword. The character who took over my body was not a nice person by any stretch of the imagination and she did not appreciate someone like Ethan Rayne pulling a stunt like that. She wasn't the only one either. In the end, he found out why they called him Vlad the Impaler back in the day, but not before he'd suffered some serious pain."
"Well good. He deserved it," said Mrs. Summers with a look of grim satisfaction on her face. Rachel made a mental note at that: do not mess with Mrs. Summers. "Vlad the Impaler? Is that Dracula?"
"Yeah. It was the version from a Japanese cartoon so probably not quite the same as the one you're thinking of, but still not someone to cross if you can help it. Kinda glad he changed back when I think about it because he would be way more destructive than any of the real vampires we've had to deal with if he felt like causing trouble."
"Is there a real Dracula?" asked Mrs. Summers in a very quiet tone of voice.
"I'm not sure. I think so. Probably. Giles would probably know."
"Oh," she said weakly. This whole Slayer thing was really getting to her, Rachel could tell.
"I'm sorry. This is all a bit much too quickly, isn't it?"
"A bit!? How do you deal with all this? It's like every nightmare I've ever had has been made real and is trying to kill my daughter."
Rachel shrugged. "I've gotten used to it over the last couple of years. I figure things can't get any worse than when Jesse got turned into a vampire and I ended up staking him anyway."
"I don't think you ever met him. He was one of my best friends but he got killed pretty soon after you moved here. First day Buffy was at Sunnydale High, actually. Vamps grabbed him and Willow at The Bronze and in the end only Willow escaped."
"Yeah. That's life on the hellmouth, I suppose. It's bad but it would have been a lot worse if Buffy hadn't been there to stop them that night and the next. I know you're going to worry about Buffy but once you've seen her fight . . . it's the vampires that should be scared, not her or you. She's really, really good. I looked it up in some of Giles' books and Buffy's way ahead of pretty much every slayer in the last five hundred years already and she's still going strong. The other Slayer, Kendra, wasn't a patch on Buffy."
"That's good, I suppose. But I just want her away from all of this. It shouldn't be up to teenagers to fight these things. Adults are supposed to protect the children, not the other way around."
"I know. I agree, even, but that's just not the way it works. No-one even knows why it's this way anymore but the Slayer is always a teenage girl. It's stupid and it's wrong but there's nothing anyone can do about. Once a Slayer, always a Slayer. There's no going back.
Thing is, Buffy's got an advantage over pretty much every Slayer ever: She has friends watching her back and fighting with her. Slayers are meant to fight alone and die alone, but I'll be damned if I stand by and watch as one of my friends dies."
"And that's very comforting coming from a normal teenager fighting supernatural monsters."
Rachel shook her head and with a quick clearing of her mind and flick of her wrist she summoned the newspaper from the coffee table to her hand. "I'm not exactly normal anymore."
It had taken a bit more explanation and talking, and several more conversations slowly introducing her to the supernatural world, but eventually Mrs. Summers had calmed down a little. She'd never, ever like the fact that Buffy was a Slayer - what mother would? - but she was a little more accepting than she had been. There were still some serious bad vibes coming from her when Giles was around but things were better at least.
Another thing Rachel did over the holidays, something that was neither exciting or relevant to the fight, was to draw up the designs for a very,very basic power cell from her Revan memories and then promptly patented and licensed it out. By Star Wars standards, it was pathetic - the sort of thing put together by teenagers playing with electronics for the first time - but here? Here it was a revolution incorporating several tricks that simply weren't known to be possible yet. What did this lead to? Cash. Lots of cash. In the long term at least. Companies were going to spend a lot of time testing the design before they started making products that made use of it. But hey, it was freedom in the long run. And she had some projects in mind that would need plentiful cash to work through.
"En guard!" said Giles.
Rachel held her rapier in the two-handed, side-on offensive position that Revan had always favoured. She knew other forms and stances, many of them in fact, but this was the style that she favoured, the one that came naturally to her. The fact that it was brutally effective when mastered was just a plus. Giles was holding himself and his blade in a standard defensive stance. Rachel took a deep breath, quickly centring herself, and then she lashed out with her blade.
The initial attack was a cautious slash, aimed at the chest area of Giles, which was easily parried. She didn't give him time to counter as she advanced thrusting the point of her rapier towards the centre of his chest, a move which he countered with a quick step to the side before riposting with a series of quick, probing slashes that she parried each time.
Tiring of the defensive posture, she quickly dropped to the ground and moved to sweep-kick Giles's feet out from under him, a move that he only dodged at the last moment with a quick retreat that left the older man slightly off-balance. Rachel was quick to exploit this seeming weakness with a lunging slash aimed at his left arm that was parried at the last moment but was done so high on Giles's blade and much further inside his defences than he would have liked.
Rachel was pushing this advantage immediately with a quick reversal of direction and a slashing attack aimed at his right arm this time that was avoided through quick footwork on Giles's part. She'd been surprised by how quick he was on his feet the first time they'd sparred but not this time. She instinctively advanced again, her blade catching the light and seeming to almost glow as it arced towards his neck in a blow that was easily parried.
Giles immediately riposted with a thrusting strike that forced Rachel to twist away in an acrobatic move that highlighted just how much agility she'd gained though her training. Still, it was only barely enough and Giles was advancing and using his physical power to keep her off balance with slashing attacks that jarred her arm with each parry. For a middle-aged man in less than perfect condition he was incredibly strong and fast, she thought. A worthy sparring partner for certain.
Ducking under one slash that had been aimed high at her head she jabbed her rapier forward aiming square at Giles's mid-section. He managed to parry but the parry was very high on his blade and he was off-balance as she advanced striking fast and hard repeatedly, varying both the location and form of attack with each strike he blocked. Slashes aimed at all parts of his body, thrusts aimed square at his face and chest .- he blocked many but she was deep in concentration now and tapping into the Force to gain guidance.
In the end Giles was defeated when a clumsy parry to an incredibly fast slash aimed at his waist left him open for a strike that would have skewered him through the heart had the blades not been covered with rubber to prevent serious injury from being done.
"Well done. You are improving rapidly though I still see flaws in your technique at times," said Giles, sweating heavily.
"Yeah. Still need to tame my aggressive instincts at times," replied Rachel.
"Indeed. And you need to watch yourself when on the offensive, you tend to become sloppy when victory seems to be in sight. Overall, I think you have little more to learn from me, Rachel."
"You might be right," she admitted. "I have a lot more knowledge in my head to integrate into my style but I'm not sure how much anyone can help with that. Your help has been most appreciated though and has helped bring on my skills greatly I feel."
"I think that'll do for the night," said Rachel. "We've cleared the vampires set to rise and I doubt we'll find anymore hunting now."
"About time," said Cordelia. "How long were you going to keep us out here?"
"I'm so very sorry for taking up your valuable time with the unimportant task of saving peoples' lives, Cordy," said Rachel with a roll of her eyes.
"Well good! You should be! You did this all summer when I was away with my parents and you were fine so I don't see why I need to be here."
And on that pleasant note they split up to head off to their respective homes. Normally they'd head for the Bronze after patrolling but Rachel had kept them out much later than usual that night thanks to the gut feeling she had that something was going to happen. It had proven to be no worse than a usual night but still the feeling persisted that something was going to happen.
As she walked home she tried to reach out with her senses and see if she was missing something. It was all she could do not to hiss in annoyance as she got the same sense of something important happening soon but nothing more specific. She really couldn't wait for her abilities to become a little more honed because there really is nothing more irritating than vague warnings. It was almost as bad as having cryptic-guy Angel around again.
She had to suppress a shudder at that thought. Thinking of Angel brought up some seriously bad memories after what happened that day.
Rachel almost broke her stride as she spotted a flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye, a flash of long blonde hair. She slowly moved her hand to the hilt of her rapier as she continued to maintain an easy walking pace. No way was she going to be vampire fodder, not in this life. A step, another step, and then she whirled around blade flashing, aimed for a decapitation strike.
And a fraction of a second later she stayed her arm. "Buffy?"
"That's me," she said looking slightly nervous. "Since when were you all Highlander and stuff?"
Rachel couldn't help but smile. "I figure that pointy sticks went out with cavemen. If I'm going to have to use primitive weapons then I'm at least going to reach the iron age."
"Right. Where're the others? You're not patrolling on your own are you?"
"We're done for the night. The others will probably be home by now."
"Come on. You should come with me; see Giles."
"You know, maybe it's too late. Maybe I should come back tomorrow," said a very nervous looking Buffy who seemed to be about five seconds from starting to hop from foot to foot in her agitation.
Rachel rolled her eyes. "He always waits up for me to get back from patrol, Buffy. Bit of a mother hen really but I'm not complaining," she said as she finally found the door key in her pocket and opened the door.
"What if he's mad?"
Rachel strolled in followed by Buffy lagging a few steps behind her. "Giles!" she yelled. "We've got a visitor." And then she looked at Buffy and spoke softly before Giles showed up, "he's not."
"Yes?" he said as he poked his head around from where he was making a pot of tea in the kitchen. "Buffy?"
"Yup, G-man. It's the Buffmeister in the flesh," said Rachel as she plonked herself down in the nearest chair and sighed in relief at taking the weight off her feet. Tramping around town for hours on end looking for vampires really wasn't fun.
"Thank you, Rachel," said Giles primly. He turned to look at Buffy and smiled at her. "Welcome home, Buffy."
Thanks, Giles," said Buffy with a small smile as she sat down next to Rachel.
"So when did you get back into town?" asked Giles as he also sat down.
" I got in a few hours ago, but I wanted to go see my mom first."
"Yes. Yes, of course. How, how did you find her?"
"Well, I pretty much remembered the address."
"Ah, eh, I mean, uh . . ." At that point the kettle began to whistle. "How are things between you?" he managed to force out before he noticed the whistling of the kettle and scurried off to deal with that.
"If you're interested, the murder charges have been dropped. Your mom . . . not the best person to get on the wrong side of, the police found out. They didn't dare keep the whole 'Buffy is an evil murderer' thing going after she was finished with them."
"Good. That was such a drag."
"Yeah, I can see how being a fugitive would be less than fun."
"Definitely. So anything new in the world of Rachel?"
"Yeah, some stuff's been going on. Mostly boils down to me being more dangerous to the bad guys than I used to be."
?gStuff from Halloween?"
Rachel gave her a wan smile. "Yeah. Halloween stuff."
"You don't sound all that happy about it," said a frowning Buffy. "What's up?"
"Do you remember what I dressed up as for Halloween, Buffy?"
"A Sith . . . Oh."
"Yeah, oh. Kinda not wanting to go all yellow-eyed and pale here."
"You'd never go dark, Rachel. The only time you've ever done anything remotely dark was when you were possessed."
"Tell that to the vampires back at the mansion. I fried them but good and you won't find a Jedi tossing around that sort of power."
That stopped the conversation dead for a while. The idea of her not-quite-Xander-shaped friend being even vaguely dark seemed to throw Buffy off-balance and Rachel's thoughts had taken a depressing turn with that twist of conversation and her desire to talk had waned.
The newly-born silence was broken by Giles setting down a tray containing a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits on the coffee table in front of them. "Here we are then," he said. "Cheer us up."
Both of the teenagers took a biscuit as Giles poured himself a cup of tea and sat down in his favourite chair. The biscuits were good - Rachel's favourites actually - but she barely noticed as wrapped up in her thoughts as she was. It wasn't till Buffy nudged her with her elbow and asked her what she was doing tomorrow that Rachel started paying attention to the conversation.
"Hmm? Oh I don't have any plans really. Patrol and then The Bronze probably," she said absent-mindedly. "Just the usual, you know? Oh and the joys of school. Can't forget that."
"As for school, Buffy, uh, you know you'll have to talk to Principal Snyder before . . . " said Giles mid-sip of his tea.
"On it. Mom is making an appointment with His Ugliness. I know she can break him," said Buffy with an air of confidence about her.
Giles didn't look half as confident to Rachel and Snyder wasn't exactly known for being reasonable, but she elected not to say anything.
The shopping expedition Rachel was dragged on by Buffy the next day was, as far as she was on concerned, the closest equivalent to hell on the mortal plane of existence. Being turned female had not awoken a dormant shopping enjoyment gene and shopping with a serious shopaholic like Buffy - who would happily try on a dozen different yet near-identical dresses and then decide that none of them were quite right before moving on to the next shop was a serious trial of the patience and equanimity she'd worked so hard to acquire as part of her Jedi training over the summer.
She did however pick a few interesting nuggets of information from the mostly superficial conversation they shared while shopping. Firstly, Buffy hadn't actually strayed all that far from home over the summer: LA was after all only a couple of hours away. Secondly, that she'd came back after dealing with a demonic slaving ring that had been grabbing people, working them to near-death in a hell dimension, and then sending them back out into the real world decades older and completely worn out and broken. Nasty.
Her Force senses, as lacking as they were, picked up a few interesting signals from Buffy too. She was still sad, still grieving, and she was feeling a sense of disconnectedness. Nothing surprising really but certainly interesting.
Rachel found the whole thing disgusting. Oz seemed to find the fact that there was a dead cat in the library that was walking around, breathing, and generally acting like a live animal fascinating, but she just wanted to stay as far away from the damn thing as she possibly could. She was getting some seriously wiggy vibes from the damn thing and it was making her skin crawl. Dead things that moved and acted like the living were not good things to have around. They were abominations, violations of the natural order of life, and whoever did this wasn't going to stop with a mere animal. She hadn't liked things like that before she became Force sensitive, but now they made her feel physically ill.
It was decidedly not good as far as she was concerned.
"I'm trying to find out how and why it rose from the grave. It's not as if I'm going to take it home and offer it a saucer of warm milk," said Giles in answer to someone's comment. She hadn't really been paying attention, too creeped out by the presence of the zombie cat.
"Well, I like it. I think you should call it Patches," said Oz.
"Oz, you are one strange, strange person," said a slightly queasy looking Rachel.
The conversation then moved onto talking about the welcome home dinner that was going to be held for Buffy. Rachel pretty much allowed that conversation wash over her as she centred herself to control the nausea she felt in the presence of a creature like that cat. The others seemed to be favouring a large party and even with both Giles and Rachel objecting they were overruled. Joy. Rachel didn't feel any more enthusiasm for the idea of a large party than she thought Buffy would. Being with a large group of rowdy, noisy teenagers she barely knew was not her idea of fun.
Rachel knew this had been a bad idea and that was only being borne out by the fact that she could see the person that this party was supposed to be for was wondering around looking like a little girl lost. She'd tried to make conversation with her but the massive feeling of impending doom and of there being something seriously off in the house was distracting her way beyond the point where she would be making casual conversation. Eventually Buffy had disappeared off upstairs looking less than happy with life.
Something was going to happen and she'd bet good money that it was related to that damned cat. It had that some feeling of wrongness about it, almost like she got from vampires. The whole undead vibe really didn't feel right in the Force. Rachel detached herself from the shadow she'd been lurking in and decided to have a look around the perimeter of the house, see if anything was going on. Maybe call Giles if she didn't find anything and see if he knew.
The cool night air was a hell of a relief after the overheated atmosphere of the house. So many people, even in a relatively large house, was not fun at all as far as she was concerned. When those people were partying teenagers it rapidly became intolerable. She paused for a moment. This was definitely Revan baggage. She'd never thought this way before. It wasn't a bad thing really but it was definitely a more Giles-like way of thinking.
After a quick recce of the area surrounding the house she hadn't found anything particularly wrong - not even a vampire - but the feeling of impending doom was drawing closer. She went back into the house to phone Giles but quickly dismissed the idea. The volume of the party was far too great for a phone call to be a worthwhile endeavour. It was times like this that she wished that she had mastered the art of telepathy over the summer. Giles might lack the Force sensitivity normally required to use that ability but his magical talent would likely suffice for receiving messages at least.
She took a quick glance around the party to see if anything was happening and saw Buffy, with a bag, heading towards the door, followed by her mother and Willow. A few quick strides and she was stood blocking Buffy's way. "You don't want to do this, Buffy," she said, but Buffy wasn't listening to her and was in fact locked into what appeared to be literally a running argument with her mother.
"You and I are going to have a talk," said an angry looking Mrs. Summers.
"Mom, please . . . "
"You know what? I don't care. I don't care what your friends think of me, or you for that matter, because you put me through the wringer, Buffy. I mean it. And I've had schnapps. Do you have any idea what it's been like?"
Mrs. Summers obviously wasn't in the mood to be taking prisoners tonight.
"Mom, this isn't the time . . . "
Oz and Cordelia had appeared in the vicinity now. This one was shaping up to be nasty.
"You can't imagine months of not knowing. Not knowing whether you're lying dead in a ditch somewhere or, I don't know, living it up . . . "
"But you told me! You're the one who said I should go. You said if I leave this house, don't come back. You found out who I really was, and you couldn't deal. Don't you remember?"
Oh yeah. This was going to be one knock-down, drag-out emotional battle. And it was going to happen in the middle of a crowded house full of teenagers who barely knew them beyond names and face. Wonderful! The dirty laundry was going to be out for all to see tonight.
"Buffy, you didn't give me time. You just dumped this thing on me and you expected me to get it. Well, guess what? Mom's not perfect, okay? I handled it badly. But that doesn't give you the right to punish me by running away!"
"Punish you? I didn't do this to punish you!"
Okay now was the time for some of that Revan-inherited charisma to shine through and help her defuse the situation.
"Well, you did. You should've seen what you put her through."
Or not, she supposed.
"Great. Thanks. Anybody else want to weigh in here?" she looked around wildly and saw Jonathon. "How about you by the dip?"
Rachel had to restrain herself from bursting out in laughter at the look on Jonathon's face. "No thanks. I'm good," he said before quickly vacating the area. Smart lad.
"You know, if we must air all our dirty laundry, could we do it in, you know, private?" said Rachel looking around as everyone seemed to turn to watch and listen in to the argument. Oh bloody hell. Where was a vampire attack when you needed one?
"No," said Joyce. "I've had enough of being fobbed off with excuses and half-truths. I want to know what was going on."
"Okay! Okay. I screwed up. I know this. But you have no idea! You have, you have no idea what happened to me or what I was feeling!"
"Actually, I kinda do thanks to Halloween. And I doubt you're the only one who had a relationship end with betrayal. You should have tried to talk to someone."
"And you think that some memories that never even happened make you qualified to comment on what happened with Angel? Don't make me laugh. There was nothing you could have done. I had to deal with this on my own."
"And have you? Dealt with it, I mean. It doesn't look that way to me. You're obviously still grieving and now you have to deal with the fallout of running away too. And don't play down the memories I have. They're real to me if nothing else and they hurt like hell."
Force only knows what the gawkers were making of some of this. It must have sounded like pure insanity to anyone who didn't know of the mystical world.
" As if I even could've gone to you, Xander. You made your feelings about Angel and I perfectly clear."
Oh great. Now everyone's going to think she's insane. Xander disappeared months ago now. As far as most of the town goes, he's probably dead at the hands of gang members on PCP.
"Yeah, I thought the guy was scum. But I'm not the only one here you could have talked to. Your mom? Willow? They'd have been more than willing to talk to you and help you through this. Better that than wallowing in guilt somewhere in LA."
" Time out, Rachel. Put yourself in Buffy's shoes for just a minute. Okay? I'm Buffy, freak of nature, right? Naturally I pick a freak for a boyfriend, and then he turns into Mr. Killing Spree, which is pretty much my fault . . . "
Rachel just rolled her eyes and let the argument between Buffy and Cordelia wash over her as she centred herself. Emotional reactions were getting her nowhere here and that feeling of impending doom? It didn't feel so much impending as actually here now. And there was a distinct flavour of undead monster to the feeling.
"Something's coming," she said interrupting the others. "Something undead."
"What?" said Buffy. "How do you know?"
A zombie chose that moment to come crashing through the window. A moment later more followed and started attacking the party guests. "Shit. And here's me without my sword," grumbled Rachel as she blasted the zombie that came at her back out of the window with a flick of her wrist. "Wish I had my lightsabre. Or HK. HK would love this."
She winced as she saw one guest go down with a broken neck as the crowd panicked and began to alternately fight the zombies and run for safety.
"We are definitely going to be talking when this is over," said Buffy as she send a Zombie crashing back out of the window herself with a roundhouse kick.
Rachel pulled the dagger that she'd been hiding in an ankle holster free and quickly used it to decapitate a zombie that was facing away from her and looking to munch on some poor girl. "Oh yeah. Disembodied head rolling around snapping at people's ankles. That's my nightmares for the next couple of months right there."
"Rachel, kitchen," called out Buffy from the other side of the room.
"I got your back," replied Rachel, quickly following Buffy and being followed by Cordelia in turn.
"Back to back, Cordy," yelled Rachel. "Aim for the joints, even a zombie can't do much if you smash its kneecaps."
And with that they began to fight in tandem. The first zombie that came at her was quickly decapitated with a powerful swing of her dagger but a second was on top of her and knocked the blade out of her hand before she could react. A quick one-two punch to the zombie's chest knocked it back far enough and bought her enough time to slam a vicious low kick into one of its knees and then knock it to the ground with a right hook to the temple.
Another zombie slammed into her side and tackled to the ground but she was already rolling with the impact and getting back to her feet. A quick look around the kitchen and she decided that a retreat was in order. The zombie whose knee she'd taken out was getting back up, the one who'd tackled her was already on his feet, and Cordelia wasn't going to hold out long against the one she was fighting. "We can't win this, Cordy. Fall back and regroup with Buffy."
They fell back into the living room with the others but the situation didn't look any better there. This was not looking good at all. They tried to barricade the entrances to the room but it just wasn't working. It wasn't long before Buffy signalled for them to retreat upstairs where they grabbed the unconscious Pat and dragged her into the bedroom with them.
As she tried to hold the door closed with Buffy she heard Willow and Joyce talking quietly behind them.
"She's . . . " said Willow.
"Oh, God! Pat! She's dead!" said Mrs. Summers.
And things just keep getting better. With that cheerful thought Rachel found herself thudding into the opposite wall as the zombie slammed into the door with a level of force that would likely smash the door to pieces given time. She shook her head clear and went back to the door to try and hold it closed, joined this time by Willow and Mrs. Summers.
"What do we do if they get in?" asked a fearful looking Mrs. Summers.
"I guess we die," grunted Rachel as she held the door closed.
And with that the zombies overpowered them and the door burst open sending them scattering across the room. In these close quarters the zombie strength was overwhelming and she was batted across the room and into a wall like she was a small child.
Rachel shook off the grogginess from the blow as quickly as she could manage - which with the Force flowing through her was quite quickly - and she saw it. Pat was moving. Joyce moved to hug her but she was thrown aside and then the zombie grabbed a mask from the floor and put it on. With that everything changed. The zombie woman suddenly went from being a run of the mill undead to being something very different. She was like a zombie cubed now, much more powerful.
And to prove that things had indeed gone to hell, the other zombies in the room immediately fell to their knees and started bowing to the pat-zombie.
"You know something? When the scary monsters get scared, things are looking bad," said Rachel to Mrs. Summers who had fallen near her.
Willow was staring into the zombie's eyes, seemingly transfixed by its gaze. "I live, you die," it said. Buffy was between it and Willow in a flash but she was immediately hypnotised too and the zombie swatted her aside sending her crashing into a nearby wall before going back to Willow.
"Oh, I don't think so," growled Rachel before clenching her fist and hoisting the zombie into the air in a grip that would have crushed a normal human. Then she made a jerking motion with her arm and hurled the zombie through the wall and out into the street. Buffy immediately dived through the Pat-shaped hole and after it. Rachel scrambled to the hole and watched as they fought.
Normally Rachel would have jumped down there and joined in the battle herself. Today though she thought it best that she left it to Buffy alone. A simple zombie, even one with hypnotic powers, should be well within Buffy's powers to defeat and she really needed to work off some of the stress and what better way to do that for a Slayer than kicking some undead ass?
And with that thought in mind she turned her attention to fending off the more mundane zombies. The battle was fast and furious for a minute or so and then they all disappeared spontaneously. The threads of power holding them together had been cut and they just vanished.
"Well, that was convenient," said Rachel. "No having to clean up piles of dead bodies for us!"
Mrs. Summers' reaction was predictable. With the threat neutralised she was up on her feet and going after Buffy immediately. Rachel picked her way out of the wreckage that was Mrs. Summers' bedroom and gingerly made her way down the stairs and into the living room herself. Only they could have a party that ended up as an all out battle to the death with rampaging zombies. Sometimes this fighting the force of evil gig really sucked.
She arrived in the kitchen to see Buffy hugging her mom, Oz and Willow holding hands, and things generally looking right. She nodded at a much happier looking Buffy. "Nice moves, Buff."
"You too, Rachel. And we so need to talk about that."
"Tomorrow. Not really feeling up to it right now."
It was during a free period spent in the library the next day that they had that particular conversation.
"So what, you're a Jedi now?" asked Buffy.
"Couldn't we have this conversation somewhere a little more private?"
Buffy waved her hands dismissively. "Pfft. As if anyone other than us ever comes in here. Spill. Now."
"Being awfully demanding, aren't you, Buffy?" said Rachel with a small grin on her face.
She just narrowed her eyes in response. "Spill. Or I'll get Willow to break out the resolve-face."
Rachel laughed. "Fine then. What do you want to know?"
"What's with the whole Darth Vader act and throwing people around without even touching them?"
"Revan left behind a lot of stuff when the spell was broken. The last thing she remembered before the spell was dying, and the thought of death does not appeal to a Sith Lord. There's nothing good waiting for them in the afterlife, and they know it, so they do their damn best to stay alive as long as they can no matter what. She tried to fight the spell as it was lifted. A Sith Lord might not be strong enough to actually defeat the power of a God, but she managed a partial success. My sex change was the first big sign of that."
"So what? You're a Jedi now?"
"Not quite. By the standards of the Jedi Order I'm not even close to completing my training. A Padawan Learner at most. I'm not even sure if I have that level of control yet."
"You seemed pretty strong last night when you were throwing those zombies around."
Rachel made a non-committal noise in the back of her throat. "A useful trick that I made sure to master early on, nothing more. I have mastered some aspects but others . . . not so much. It will be years before I have full control over my powers and living on the hellmouth doesn't help."
"Well, what can you do then?"
"Most of the obvious things you see in the films I can do to some extent. The less flashy stuff . . . it needs work. If I was better at the less flashy stuff then last night would never have happened. I'd have known that the mask was dangerous and I would have destroyed it before we started playing live action Resident Evil. I'm getting better though."
"Well that's good I suppose. You're sure this isn't going to hurt you or anything?"
For a moment she was back at the mansion, basking in the power the Dark Side granted her, and then she replied, "no. It's not learning to control this stuff that would hurt me."