Rachel rolled her shoulders to rebalance the weight of her pack as she walked down the busy London street. Coming to London wasn't really her first choice of action but when it comes to the mystical, old is good, and America just isn't old enough to have built up much of a mystical tradition, so she had to go looking abroad to find what she needed. Well, there was the various Indian tribes and their traditions but the European settlers had done a rather thorough job of eradicating those and what was left was a pale shadow of what had been and not of great interest or utility to her. There were just far too many charlatans claiming to be Indian mystics for it to be worthwhile looking for a real one.
So a couple of recommendations from Giles later and she's starting her trip in merry olde England. Merry! Ha! London was just like any other city she'd ever had the misfortune to visit: polluted, expensive as all hell, and so full of assholes that she could barely move for all the morons shoving her around so they could get where they were going a few seconds earlier till she'd started to deliberately exude an aura of 'next person to piss me off loses limbs'.
And the river - it was so polluted that she was surprised that Godzilla didn't crawl out of it and start trashing the city.
The ever-present mist and air of despair that seemed to permeate the place wasn't exactly pleasant either and it wasn't doing much for her disposition. The whole place seemed to stink of the Dark Side almost as badly as the hellmouth. She really doubted that London was always like that so she had to wonder what was causing it. Was it natural? Demonic? Magical? Well, if she stayed in the country long, she was bound to run into whatever was causing it sooner or later. Her luck just ran that way. It was bloody cold too.
Anyway once she'd gotten past that it wasn't so bad. It would have been better if there were more Giles-like people and less assholes, but it could have been worse, she supposed. At least no-one had tried to grope her on the underground. That would have driven to do something drastic and the chances are that the person responsible would have been very lucky if they'd been able to use their hand again this side of the millennium. It certainly would not have been conductive to enhancing her calm and tranquillity anyway,
The hotel looked to be nice enough anyway, she thought. It was a little outside London, off the flight paths, and set in its own grounds. For the price she'd been quoted when booking her room, it was pretty damn amazing, she thought, but then she didn't have much experience with staying in hotels. Inside the hotel, it was decorated in a modern style, not like those old-fashioned places you see in TV shows. Pretty nice actually. Clean, well-lit, and comfortable looking, what more could you want? Well apart from the people in it to not look like they were two steps from slitting their wrists.
She didn't even have to queue for more than a minute or two to get to the counter.
"Reservation for one under the name Giles," said Rachel, handing her slightly battered looking credit card over after a moment's rummaging through her pocket..
"Just one moment," said the receptionist before tapping away at the computer for a moment and then disappearing into the small office behind the desk. Rachel took the time to give the people in the lobby an evaluating look. They all looked and felt human but she supposed that was no guarantee with some of the more powerful demons around who could possibly fool her senses. And she had been warned that there was something bad and possibly demonic going on in Britain at the moment. Whatever it was there'd been some strange things spotted - like the damned mist - and quite a few corpses had turned up.
"Here you go," said the receptionist. "Your keys, your credit card, and a brochure with all the information you'll need. Bedding and towels will be delivered sometime later this afternoon."
"Thank you," said Rachel, stuffing the keys and card into her coat pocket with one hand while quickly leafing through the brochure with the other.
"Have a nice stay," said the receptionist giving her a rather strained and weak looking smile before moving on to the next person in the queue.
Rachel gave the receptionist a nod of thanks - not that she saw it - and immediately headed for her room. As much endurance as she had from all her training, she wanted this pack off her back and she wanted it off now. And then a shower looked good. When that was done maybe she'd go sight-seeing for the rest of the day. The serious stuff could wait till tomorrow.
Rachel jerked awake in the middle of the night as a series of disturbances in the Force washed over her. Something Dark was afoot nearby, her finely-tuned senses told her. Well it was either the sense or the agonised screaming and the sounds of battle that gave it away. Not even one night in England and she'd ran into the cause of the troubles already. Bloody typical. Xander's luck was bad enough in these things but when you stuck Revan's luck on top of it you had cataclysmically bad luck it seemed. Pausing only to shrug the black robes on and don Revan's mask along with her black boots - she did not need her face showing up on crimestoppers - she drew her lightsabre and headed on out to see what was going on.
The group of women fleeing down the corridor her room was on took one look at her robed and masked figure and promptly turned around and ran back the other way. Yup, her luck was in full force tonight, she decided as she broke into a quick jog and followed after the women. They didn't get far before one of them was blasted back into a wall with a flash of red light as she rounded a corner and promptly started to scream as if the devil himself was working her over. The sheer malice behind the spell made Rachel feel ill even as the Sith Lord part of her perked up in curiosity at the new trick it could learn.
Bringing her lightsabre into use, she deflected multiple spell attacks as slid around the corner, and then hurled the spell-casters away with a powerful wave of telekinetic energy that they obviously hadn't seen coming. With that done she had time to take a look at the attackers. Black robes, white masks . . . it wasn't hard to see why the women had fled from her when they saw her. She looked like one of these scum on steroids.
"Who are you?" asked one of them in an oily voice as he adjusted his mask and pointed a fairly small and delicate looking piece of wood at her. A piece of wood? Huh?
She brought her sabre into a classic aggressive posture with it pointing at the black-robed assholes. "I am your death if you do not cease this attack immediately."
"AVADA KEDAVRA!" cried a shorter asshole stood off to the left of the one who was doing the talking. Judging by the way he collapsed to the ground like a puppet that'd had its strings cut when she deflected it back into his face, the green flashes were ones to avoid.
"You would be well advised to not attack the servants of the Dark Lord," snarled the one to the right of the one with the oily voice.
Rachel snorted. "Arrogant, much? There's only one real Dark Lord at a time and they aren't on this backwater mudball of a planet, I can tell you."
"How dare you mock the Dark Lord," screeched the female voice of a newcomer. "CRUCIO!"
Rachel casually sidestepped the curse at the last moment. "You'll have to do better than that," she taunted. Another curse, another dodge. "I've seen old grannies move faster than that! Your Lord will be most disappointed," she said, spitting out the world 'Lord' with as much disrespect and scorn as she could manage.
The newcomer seemed to vibrate in rage for just a moment and then with a soft pop she disappeared into thin air. "Okay, that's new," muttered Rachel, and then her danger sense flared, causing her to dodge just in time as a flash of purple light cleaved through the space she had just vacated with an almost palpable aura of malice powering it. "Okay, that sucks."
And then they were all doing it, popping in and out of existence and launching off attacks while they were there. They weren't threatening her over-much really but she couldn't even think about counter-attacking without resorting to her Dark powers and that was just not acceptable. So she was pinned down at least temporarily till one of them slipped up. Bloody typical, it was. The one time she could use some backup and she was utterly alone.
Another flash of light but it wasn't aimed at her. She spared a moment to glance over her shoulder to see what was going on and saw a dark-haired boy and a red-headed girl charging into the fray, their sticks flashing as they launched their own spells. The dark-haired boy was particularly furious in his spell-casting and soon had two of the assholes pinned down in a duel. More of the assholes were joining the battle but with two actual spell-casters backing her up, they stood no chance against Rachel and soon retreated, all disappearing into thin air at the same time with a loud crack of displaced air.
"I can see this is going to be an interesting stay," muttered Rachel as she deactivated her lightsabre.
"Are you really a Jedi?" asked the dark-haired boy in a rather quiet tone of voice.
"No such thing as Jedi," said Rachel shortly.
"And I thought there were was no such thing as wizards till one showed up at my house and told me I was one," he countered.
"I'm wearing black robes and a mask," said Rachel. "And I'm using a red lightsabre. How could anyone who's seen Star Wars see that and think 'Jedi'?"
"I haven't seen Star Wars," snapped the boy. "All I know is that people with swords like that are Jedi."
"Calm down, Harry," said the girl. "We need to get moving before the Aurors arrive."
"Aurors?" asked Rachel. What the hell are Aurors?"
"Dark Wizard catchers," said the boy, Harry. "They work for the Ministry of Magic."
"And this is a bad thing?"
"They'll arrest anyone these days," he said. "Anything to have something to point at and say 'we're doing a good job really'."
"Great. Time for me to go then," said Rachel, turning around to go back to her room and gather her belongings.
"Wait up," said Harry, almost jogging to keep up with her rapid strides.
"Come with us," he said. "We have a portkey - we can have you out of here in a couple of seconds."
"I have to retrieve my belongings at least," said Rachel.
"Okay. Meet us in room 89 and make it fast," said Harry with a hint of urgency in his voice and body language. "We'll have to leave without you if you take too long."
Normally Rachel would have told him to bugger off - no questions about that - but a quick exit by magical means sounded like a damn good idea if the place was going to be swarmed by pissed off wizards who'd shoot first and ask questions later if at all. You don't survive long by taking that sort of enemy on without a damn good reason and 'because they're useless' just isn't good enough.
"What a pleasant home you have," said Rachel when they touched down in what had to be the single most disgustingly filthy excuse for a house she had ever set foot in.
"No-one lived in it but an insane house-elf for years," said Harry, "and it's not like we've had time to really clean it."
"Mum's tried but nothing seems to work," said the girl, Ginny. "The house doesn't seem to want to be clean."
Oh great. It's either a magical house or she'd gone on the lam with a bunch of crazy people. Could it get any worse?
"Oi, Harry, Ginny, any reason why you've brought what looks like the Queen of the Death Eaters back with you?" asked a young woman with pink hair, leaning on the door frame and giving Rachel a very strange look.
"One of those pathetic weaklings?" sneered Rachel, not that anyone could see her sneer. "Hardly."
"She helped us fight them," said Harry, shrugging his shoulders.
"Pretty impressive too," added Ginny.
"Wait a second," asked the woman. "You ran into Death Eaters? This was supposed to be a quick look around and then back to base job!"
"Does anything work out that easily when Harry's involved?" asked Ginny.
"Suppose not," replied the woman before looking at Rachel again. "So who are you then?"
"You can call me Revan," said Rachel. No way was she giving up her real name to one of this lot, not till she knew them better. "So what the bloody hell is going on here? I was staying in London for one night before moving on and I ended up in the middle of a pitched bloody battle between a bunch of lunatic assholes and these two. And what's with the sticks?"
And with that she began coaxing the story out of the wizards and witches here. All about the Dark Lord and the Boy-Who-Lived and how those stupid sticks are honest-to-God magic wands. It was fascinating stuff really. Not exactly useful really but worth knowing in case she ever needed the information in the future. Knowledge is power. Of course they wanted reciprocation.
"So what's your story then?" asked Harry. "You're obviously not a witch but you still managed to beat the snot out of those Death Eaters."
Rachel tilted her head thoughtfully and looked at Harry for a moment, considering what she could safely tell him. The kid was an honest one, she could tell that much. He wouldn't use the information against her. Wouldn't even think of anything like that, most likely. And he would keep the other two from doing anything like that. So with a small nod she reached up with her gloved hands and pulled the mask off.
"I am Rachel Giles," she said. "Once I was Alexander Harris of Sunnydale, California, but a passing Chaos Mage's spell changed me. I was possessed by the spirit of a computer game character called Darth Revan - a Sith Lord similar to those shown in the Star Wars films - and ended up being merged with that spirit."
And as proof she drew her lightsabre and ignited it. A lazy sweep through the air later, she deactivated the blade and returned it to its position in a forearm holster.
"I take it back," said Tonks. "Queen of the Death Eaters? You've topped that, Harry. This is absolutely insane. What's your next trick? Going to invite Voldemort around for tea?"
"It can't be that bad!" said Harry looking somewhat puzzled.
"It would be if I was actually an active Sith," said Rachel. "Worse probably. But I'm not."
"And how do we know you're telling the truth?" asked Ginny, her hand on the hilt of her wand.
"Because you're still alive and unharmed," drawled Rachel. "I would have killed two of you and been busily interrogating the other by now if I was a Sith."
"Oh and that makes me feel so much safer," said Tonks.
"Your lack of faith disturbs me."
For a moment Rachel wondered if she'd pushed the woman too far as she watched the woman stiffen up as if preparing for a fight to the death but the tension soon eased out of her posture.
"You're just taking the piss now."
"Yup," said Rachel with a shrug. "it was just too tempting."
"So where are you from?" asked Harry, blatantly trying to change the subject.
"Born and bred in Sunnydale, California," said Rachel. "This is the first time I've been out of the country to be honest."
"A Sith Lord from the hellmouth," said Tonks, completely deadpan. "It just gets better and better."
"You don't sound American," said Harry.
"Side-effect of the possession," said Rachel. "Jedi tend to sound like Brits for some reason and it carried over. You should hear what I sound like when I'm stressed. Pure upper-class English."
"Weird. So why are you in England then?"
Rachel's face closed down at that question. "That's a little . . . personal. Suffice to say that I've had some difficulties controlling my powers and am searching for a solution before something bad happens."
Well, something fatal anyway. Bad's probably covered under throttling one of your best friends after yanking her arm out of its socket.
"We have a pretty big library in the house," said Harry. "You might be able to find something that'll help in there. Will you be staying in England long?"
"I doubt it," said Rachel. "I have at least three more stops planned after this one and none of them are even in Europe."
"Damn," said Ginny. "We could have used your help against Voldemort."
"I have my own wannabe Dark Lord to deal with," said Rachel dismissively. "And he has someone else pulling strings behind the scenes who might be even more dangerous."
"I'm never letting you out of this house without an adult escort ever again, Harry," muttered Tonks. Everyone ignored her.
"Well feel free to have a look around the library," said Harry with a yawn. "I'm going to be off to bed," he decided. "I won't get anything done today if I don't get some more sleep."
Ginny followed a few minutes after Harry went to bed and Tonks seemed about as comfortable in Rachel's presence as an antelope in a field full of lions so Rachel soon disappeared into the library and began quickly leafing through books on the mental aspects of magic. Most of it was completely useless. Using this particular brand of magic was only superficially similar to using the Force and many of the books covered things she'd never need to know. And while there were hints of deeper magic and control they were never documented. It seemed that the great wizards, the ones who would know how to help her, weren't big on sharing what made them a cut above the average wand-waving yobbo. The text on occlumency looked like it might help though.
Rachel had left the house she'd been teleported to a couple of hours after finding the text on occlumency. It had proven to be an interesting read and she'd committed large chunks of the book to memory but it wasn't going to be anything more than a temporary solution, a bandage over the wound. The techniques detailed dealt with suppressing emotions completely as they surfaced, preventing the use of magic that latched onto those strong emotions and used them as entry vectors into the mind. Interesting stuff and a useful temporary fix, but not healthy or effective in the long-term. Force only knows how bad things would get once the dam broke if she relied on them too much.
Anyway, with that little side-trip out of the way, she'd made her way to the train station and started on the next leg of her little journey. Cue one two hour train journey from London to Westbury as she made her way to a coven that Giles knew of and had arranged for her to visit. She spent most of the journey in a light sleep to make up for the rest she'd lost when those black-cloaked morons had attacks the hotel. The train wasn't particularly busy and she didn't get any dangerous vibes from anyone else on it so she felt perfectly safe doing so. Really the only thing that could have dissuaded her would have been that teenage boy who kept staring at her chest but an acidic glare had left him staring resolutely out of the train window from that time on. The lechery was weak in that one.
The town itself seemed a fairly pleasant, sleepy place. She could see why a coven of Wiccan witches would hang out here. There would be no disturbances from the less, ah, pleasant aspects of modern living in a place like this and it greatly resembled the sort of places that the Jedi Order had built their little enclaves back in the day. It felt almost like the opposite of Sunnydale, in short, a nexus of peace and harmony rather than death and destruction.
It didn't take long for the taxi to arrive and she was off to the coven. The taxi driver seemed to feel a need to make conversation but he gave up pretty quickly in the face of Rachel's utter disinterest in making small talk. She just wasn't in the mood for making nice with someone she didn't know and would probably meet again, not when she could be using the time to mentally go over the new techniques she'd picked up from the occlumency book.
Rachel was jerked out of her thoughts as the taxi ground to a halt with a jerk in front of a large , elegant-looking building. She'd arrived. It was quite impressive, really, set in its own grounds and far enough away from the town that you really would have some peace and quiet to get on with your meditations without disturbance. And to her supernatural senses . . . well, the place was beautiful. It was almost like coming home to the Jedi Temple after a long mission. Almost. It wasn't quite old enough for the sense of peace and tranquillity to have sank in as thoroughly as it had at the temple but the feeling was definitely there.
With a nod of thanks to the driver, and a quick handover of cash, Rachel exited the taxi and shouldered her pack once more. She was met at the house's door by a stern-looking middle-aged lady possessed of greying red hair and a rather piercing gaze. Didn't even need to knock.
"Rachel Giles?" she asked briskly. She waited for my nod to the affirmative and then continued to speak. "Welcome to the coven. I am Miss. Moran, a senior witch here."
"Um, hi," said Rachel. "You were expecting me?"
She'd known they knew she was coming but to have someone waiting at the door for her was a bit much.
"Of course," said Miss. Moran, as if it was a completely stupid question. "Now come along. Miss. Harkness wishes to meet with you before you settle in here."
Rachel hadn't felt so off-balance in a long time and she didn't like it one bit. There wasn't a whole lot she could do about it though so she obediently fell into line and followed along as Miss. Moran trotted off at a rather quick pace for a shorter woman. The interior of the building was rather relaxed in its design and the colour scheme just radiated a feeling of safe warmth. She tried to commit the layout of the corridors to memory as she went but they were moving too quickly for that to work as well as she would like. Soon enough they'd reached a rather plain looking oak door with no distinguishing marks that Rachel could see.
Miss. Moran sharply rapped on the door with her knuckles and then disappeared off down a nearby corridor without a word. Such a cheerful woman. A moment later a voice drifted out from behind the door telling Rachel to come in. So Rachel did. The room she entered was impressively big - almost as large as the library in Sunnydale High. The main features of the room were a large oak desk that was covered in old books and scrolls and the huge bay windows behind the desk and the person sitting at it. As Rachel got closer to the table the woman looked up from the scroll she was reading and gestured for Rachel to take a seat, which she did. The woman appeared to be in her mid-thirties and was entirely average looking . . . but her eyes held wisdom and she exuded an aura of magical power that felt entirely pure.
"Hello, Miss. Giles," she said warmly, " and welcome to the coven."
"Hi," replied Rachel.
"Rupert has told me some most interesting things about you, Rachel," said Miss. Harkness. "I've been looking forward to meeting you."
"That's . . . nice," said Rachel. "Do you think you can help me?"
"I don't see why not," replied Miss. Harkness firmly. "We've been helping people with dark magic addictions for a long time. You appear to be far more in control of yourself than many of those who have sought aid here in the past."
"It's not magic though. I have no problems with the magic I use."
"It's close enough," she said. "I've seen the films and the basic difference between dark magic and light magic appears to be the same as the difference between the Dark and Light sides of the Force."
Rachel nodded. "That's mostly true, I suppose, but there are some crucial differences."
"Magic is mostly internal. The Force isn't," said Rachel. "The difference between a Jedi or a Sith and a normal person is that a Force Sensitive can feel the energy of the Force and manipulate it."
"Interesting but I think you're missing the forest for the trees," said Miss. Harkness. "Your problems are similar enough in nature that the same sort of methods we use for dark magic addicts should work for you too. Some of the details will be different but we can adjust for those as necessary."
"If you say so," said Rachel doubtfully. Well, if it didn't work out, she could always go elsewhere and try other options out. She still had those places in China and Japan to check out after all.
"I do," said Miss. Harkness firmly. "Now I want to talk to you about the events that led to you coming here."
"The whole thing?" asked Rachel.
"Hmm, yes. That would be a good idea," said Miss. Harkness with a nod. "But there's no need to go into any great detail about things that happened years ago."
"Well, it all started with a chaos mage . . . " she said and then proceeded to tell her the whole story, from a brief outline of the events of that Halloween, through her powers awakening during the Acathla incident, and up to the point of leaving Sunnydale. It took the best part of two hours to relate it all, especially with all the questions that were asked about the training process Rachel had been through, and by the end Rachel was quite thoroughly fed up with the whole thing.
"Interesting," said Miss. Harkness. "Somewhat more detailed than what Rupert told me, but the stories match."
"You already knew?"
"Of course but I wanted to hear it from your point of view."
Rachel just ground her teeth together as she forced down the urge to throttle someone.
"Have you actually stopped to think about what happened, Miss. Giles?" asked Miss. Harkness. "You almost killed one of your closest friends and you don't seem to care very much."
"I didn't want to fight her," protested Rachel. "She forced me into that."
"That is a secondary issue," said Miss. Harkness. "But for the record, how did she force you?"
"She got between me and Angelus," snarled Rachel. "She harboured him, healed him, and then finally protected him when he was discovered. How many does he have to kill before she realises that he needs to be disposed of?"
"You might be right about the vampire," said Miss. Harkness with a slight nod, "but why didn't you try to resolve the situation peacefully? Bring the rest of the group into it and talk the situation out, maybe?"
"And leave a known enemy at my back? I think not."
"Hmm," said Miss. Harkness, who gave Rachel a long, evaluating look before continuing. "Your anger still controls you on this issue, doesn't it? Well, we can deal with that."
It was all Rachel could do not to growl at the woman but she forced it down. She came here to see if they could help her and she would listen to them if nothing else. There was also the fact that the woman might well have a point. She couldn't exactly claim to be entirely objective here.
Miss. Harkness drummed her fingers against the table for a few moments in thought before she spoke again. "Do you keep a diary?"
"No," said Rachel. "I've never felt the need to do so."
"Teenage boys rarely do in my experience. You should start keeping one," said Miss. Harkness. "It'll help you organise your thoughts and feelings, something that's going to be very important." At Rachel's nod to the affirmative she started to speak again. "Now, I'm curious - how much knowledge of magic do you actually have?"
"Bits and pieces," said Rachel. "Some Wiccan, quite a bit of Gypsy, and I used to know quite a bit of Chaos Magic thanks to my possessed self, but I let that go. It wasn't really my knowledge and I didn't want to know it."
"Could you do that with your knowledge of the Dark Side?"
"I wish it was that easy," said Rachel. "I could reject the Chaos Magic because it was someone else's knowledge that I pulled out of their mind. That's not quite the case with the Dark Side. That really is mine."
The conversation dwindled off into a lengthy discussion of which areas Rachel was familiar with and how much she actually knew. It wasn't that much, it turned out. She had mostly concentrated on the Force since her powers had awakened during the Acathla incident and had neglected her magical education somewhat. It had always been Willow's thing more than hers anyway. Eventually the conversation came to a natural end and she was given the key to a bedroom and sent on her way.
"I think we should talk about your lycanthropy now, Rachel," said Miss. Harkness abruptly in the middle of another conversation several weeks later, a few days before the next full moon.
"Yes. We need to make arrangements to restrain me," said Rachel. "I don't want to risk hurting anyone."
"Not quite. We already have a secure room for when people with such problems stay here," said Miss. Harkness. "I'm talking about how your lycanthropy affects your emotional state."
"That's only really a problem just before the full moon," said Rachel. "I haven't noticed any problems during the rest of the month."
"I think you underestimate the influence that the wolf has on you, Rachel," said Miss. Harkness. "It is stronger as the moon comes closer but it will still be there at other times even if you don't recognise its influence."
"So what do you suggest?"
"I have several texts on lycanthropy. I would advise reading them and meditating on the problem at hand."
Rachel adopted a different approach this full moon. Instead of resisting the transformation with brute force like she had the first time, she allowed the sensations to wash over her and accepted them as part of herself while still holding on to her humanity. She slipped a few times over the course of the night but managed to switch back to her human form quickly each time. It was a sobering thing to realise that a beast is a part of you but she had no good option but to accept it and control it as best she could. After all, just because you have strong animal instincts doesn't mean you have to act on them.
Several months later, on a sunny spring day, Rachel's meditations were interrupted by the powerful presence of an approaching Miss. Harkness. For a moment she blinked rapidly as her eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight after being closed for so long and then she saw the woman a few hundred metres away walking slowly towards her in a long skirt with her hair up in a practical bun. That was something Rachel still didn't get despite being a woman in body for eighteen months now: the need for long hair. She gracefully moved to a standing position and moved to meet the witch after smoothing her robes down into place.
"Hello, Rachel," she said. "I hope your meditations are proving fruitful."
"The time is coming for me to leave, I think," said Rachel. "Things are coming to a crucial junction in Sunnydale and I need to be there."
"You will do what you must I'm sure," said Miss. Harkness. "You seem to have found the inner peace you were looking for."
"I think so," said Rachel with a nod. "You and your coven have helped me greatly. But that's now why you're here, is it?"
"No," said Miss. Harkness. "I've been doing some research into the magics that are binding you to a female form."
Rachel had to damp down the excitement that welled up in her at that. She'd long since given up on the idea of getting her real body back but to have the possibility dangled in front of her . . . She would be willing to do almost anything to be Xander again. "And you've found something?"
"I think I might have," said Miss. Harkness. "It's not going to be easy though. The coven should be able to break the binding through a ritual but it will be up to you to find a way to switch forms and to make the switch."
A huge smile lit up Rachel's face. A smile that Miss. Harkness returned. "I think I could live with that."
"I thought you would," said Miss. Harkness. "Come. We must prepare for the ritual if you need to leave soon."
Rachel shivered as she sat cross-legged, nude, in the small room waiting for the ritual to be performed. She wasn't actually going to be there for the magic as it was performed - something to do with the amount of magic being channelled and the way it was being channelled, she just didn't have enough knowledge of magic to understand what they'd been talking about in all honesty - but they had pictures of her there as proxies - both an old picture of Xander and a newer picture of Rachel. The entire thing had her on tenterhooks. The possibility of regaining her male form . . . it was something that had been beyond her wildest dreams ever since that night. She'd figured that if Giles was completely clueless then it just wasn't going to happen. And now here she was, so close to it she could almost taste it.
It was all she could do to not be bouncing off the walls like a little kid on Christmas Eve. Without the enhanced control she'd gained over the last few months as she'd slowly purged herself of the dark taint on her soul she definitely would not have been able to do so. She'd never be free of the Dark Side - once the door is opened, it's always open - but she could distance herself from it and rebuild her control over the Light.
A cold shiver ran down her spine and her whole body shuddered as the first tendril of magical energy ran through her. It was beginning. She could feel the first twinges as something began to twist inside her. It was a strange sensation and one she'd struggle to describe if someone asked. Having your internal organs writhe around inside you isn't exactly an everyday event, certainly not without a great deal of bloodshed and/or anaesthetic. It didn't hurt, though she was sure that would come soon enough.
And with that thought, it began to hurt. A lot. It felt like she was being twisted inside out and it was all she could do not to scream her throat raw. She'd never felt anything to horrendous in all her life, not during the wars, not as a Sith, and not when she'd been tortured by Angelus. The world was pain and there was no respite. She tried to empty her mind and endure it dispassionately like a good little Jedi but it was just too much and the pain was everywhere with no escape. Determined not to scream for reasons she could not vocalise, she bit down on her lip and grimaced as that minor pain shot through her and the metallic taste of blood filled her mouth.
The unpleasant taste in her mouth served as an anchor for her to cling to through the storm of never-ending pain that she was enduring and she clung to it for all she was worth. She'd be damned if she let this beat her. Wave after wave of ever-increasing pain battered her, but she held on resolutely and eventually she felt a strange snapping feeling and just for a moment her perspective on the world changed as her height and bulk suddenly increased. This change lasted for only a brief single moment before she snapped back to normal but she recognised what happened: For one brief moment, she had been a he again.
Rachel's entire body trembled as she levered herself from the fetal position she had curled up into and began to slowly, ever so slowly, pull on the Jedi robes she'd been wearing while she stayed here at the coven. Her body was on autopilot and paying absolutely no attention to what was going on though. Her mind was firmly focussed on the fact that she had, however briefly, been male again. Whatever it was that locked her into this form had been destroyed. She could feel the difference. It was like a small weight that she'd never even noticed was there had been removed.
"Did it work?" asked Miss. Harkness. Rachel hadn't even heard the door open.
"I think so," said Rachel. "It hurt like hell and for a moment I was forced into my male form."
"Excellent!" exclaimed Miss. Harkness with a big smile. "Now you just have to find your own trigger to switch back."
Despite the pain and exhaustion, Rachel returned the smile. "I'm looking forward to it, but it'll have to wait. My passport is for my female form."
"And you're afraid you won't be able to switch back when you transform?" asked Miss. Harkness. "A valid concern."
"More like I won't want to switch back," said Rachel. "This body just isn't me. I've learned to cope, but nothing more."
"I think you might be surprised," said Miss. Harkness. "But I won't argue it with you. How do you feel?"
Rachel grimaced. "Like hell, but I'll live. It's worth it."
"I suppose it would be," said Miss. Harkness. "Will you need help to get back to your room?"
"No, I'll be okay."
Rachel left the coven the day after the ritual and was back in Sunnydale two days after that. Home sweet home. Or not. She'd felt the taint of the Hellmouth all the way from LA after the plane she'd been on had landed and it had grown to an almost overwhelming level by the time she reached Sunnydale. It seemed that there were disadvantages to honing her senses after all. Living in this town was going to be damned unpleasant it seemed, even more so than you'd expect from living in a demon-infested shithole.
She didn't run into anyone she knew as she headed for home and when she got there it was no sign of Giles being there anytime in the last few hours. The place looked like he'd left in a hurry too. A half-drunk cup of tea on the coffee table with an open book next to it kinda hinted in that direction anyway. Must be something up with the hellmouth, she decided. Well the others could deal with it. They'd survived long enough without her that she was sure they could deal with the latest crisis. And she was tired and she couldn't be bothered.
With that in mind she dumped her pack next to the comfy chair before collapsing into it and drifting off to sleep.
Faith. Fear. Pain. Death!
Rachel jerked awake and had her lightsabre in hand and ignited before she'd had time to form a conscious thought. After a moment of wild-eyed searching for the attacker she was sure was there the adrenaline rush faded and she began to actually think. The vision had been about Faith. Faith was in trouble. Big trouble. She closed her eyes and called up the vision again to see what the hell was up. A van full of men, Faith in restraints . . . fast forward to what would happen if she didn't escape - execution by the Watchers. No. No way was she going to let this happen. Rachel's form blurred as she rocketed out of the apartment and hurtled across the town, hopping from rooftop to rooftop, in an attempt to intercept the van carrying Faith.
Soon enough Rachel found herself standing on the edge of a bridge watching a non-descript van coming closer and closer. It was times like this that she kindof missed the old days when jumping off bridges wasn't something she did. Ever. Bleeding hell but this was just insane. Who'd have thought it, though? Plain, old Xander Harris jumping off bridges onto speeding vehicles to rescue the damsel in distress? Well not so much of the damsel in distress and she could probably work her own way free but it was the thought that counted.
The roof of the van buckled where she hit it but thankfully it held. After taking a moment to cement her balance she ignited her lightsabre and in a circular motion she cut a circle in the roof underneath her and fell through into the van below. The looks the men in the van were giving her were absolutely classic.
"What?" asked Rachel as she cut Faith's chains off with her sabre. "You didn't think I was going to let you drag Faith off to execute her, did you?"
"Yo, Darth," said Faith. "Thanks for the assist.
"No problem, Faith."
"This isn't your business, Rachel," said Wesley. "Don't interfere in council business or you'll be hurt."
Rachel just stared at him incredulously. "Right. Because having a Sith Lord gunning for my head is nothing compared to a bunch of tweed-clad tea-drinkers sending their pet assassins after me. Give me a break."
Faith didn't even bother to hide her amusement at that and burst out laughing. The 'pet assassin' who was in the back with them pulled a matte-black pistol from a hip holster but Rachel sliced it in half with a nonchalant flick of her wrist before he could do anything. She could feel the one in the passenger seat preparing to do something and moved her sabre to have the blade hovering by his neck. "Don't bother," said Rachel.
"You can't do this, Rachel," said Wesley. "This is council business."
"Ah, tell it to someone who cares," said Rachel. "I'm not letting you hand Faith over to the council's butchers."
"You owe the council, girl," said the man in the back with Wesley. "I've read your file. Without the council you wouldn't even have a social security number."
Rachel shrugged. "And I'm very grateful, but that doesn't mean I'm going to flush my ethics down the toilet for you. Now stop the damn van and let us off. This is over. You've lost."
"And what are you going to do, little girl? Kill us?"
Rachel cocked her head and just looked at him as if he was a particularly interesting bug she'd found underneath her microscope. "Don't be ridiculous. I'd just take control of your minds and make you stop the van. I doubt you're trained to resist my mental attacks."
The guy just looked at her as if he was daring her to even try and take over his mind. Feh. "Faith, tell him what I did to Post."
"Oh, Darth here turned her into a drooling retard," said Faith. "She was spilling out her darkest secrets like it was nothing."
Rachel felt the fear rise in the man as Faith talked and knew that he was vulnerable to persuasion now. Threading her words with a subtle use of the Force she said, "just stop the van and let us off. There's no need for unpleasantness here."
"There's no need for unpleasantness here," he replied in a monotone. "Stop the van."
"What? You can't-"
"Go to sleep, Wesley," said Rachel, her voice ringing with power. Wesley went to sleep. Immediately.
The men in the passenger and driver seats of the van didn't look too happy about the whole situation but there was a sense of resigned acceptance about them. They knew they couldn't win this one and they weren't eager to pick a losing fight if they could help it. Smart men. Rachel wasn't eager to have to hurt or kill them either.
"What a mess," said Rachel after the group had explained what had happened to her after she'd turned up at the library with Faith. And after she'd pried herself free of Willow. "So this guy jumped into the middle of a pitched battle and got killed accidentally?"
"Yeah. That's about it, Darth," said Faith. Buffy nodded too.
Rachel shrugged. "Then it's more his own fault than anything else then. No-one can possibly blame you for this."
"I don't think the council will share that opinion, Rachel," said Giles. "They have rather strict rules about such things."
"Yeah, I know," said Rachel. "But so what? Since when have a bunch of Brits had the right to enforce their stupid laws on American citizens on American soil? They show up causing trouble and we'll kick their ass. Easy."
"The teams used by the council are former SAS and SBS, Rachel," said Giles. "It won't be easy at all to deal with them."
"They start shooting and even Sunnydale PD will have to act, Giles," said Rachel. "And if they keep it to melee combat we have all the advantages here. Two Slayers and a Jedi tops former special forces in hand-to-hand any day of the week. This isn't the nineteenth century or some third-world country. They won't dare do anything that'll attract too much attention."
"I hope you're right, Rachel," said Giles. "I really do."
"I am, Giles," said Rachel with a confident grin. "Don't sweat it."
"Very well," said Giles. "Now how did you fare in your training? I was under the impression that you planned to visit several locations but you seem to not have gotten any further than the coven in England."
Rachel sobered up quickly at that turn of the conversation. "They had everything I needed , Giles. I'm stable now and ready to deal with Malak when the time comes."
"Does that mean you won't try to kill Angel?" asked Buffy.
"He steps one foot out of line and I will destroy him utterly," said Rachel, forcing down the wolf's desire to hunt down Angel and tear him limb from limb at the mention of his name. "But as much as I think that keeping him around is utter foolishness I won't go after him now."
Buffy seemed satisfied with that and nodded in acceptance. The whole thing seemed less than adequate to Rachel considering that they'd nearly killed each other but Buffy seemed satisfied with that so she left it as it stood.
"So your lycanthropy was the base cause of your overreaction towards Angel's return to life?" asked Giles.
"No, not quite," said Rachel. "It just strengthened a hostility that was already there. I would have attacked him either way, to be honest, but the wolf just made things worse. You don't attack an alpha's pack and get away with it."
"Fascinating," said Giles. "Absolutely fascinating. I had no idea that lycanthropy extended so far into the victim's psyche. Oz never hinted at anything like this."
"Oz denies his wolf completely. It'll blow up in his face sooner or later," said Rachel. "Nothing good can come from suppressing part of yourself like that."
Giles frowned. "I don't like the sounds of that one bit."
"You shouldn't," said Rachel. "But at as long as we keep an eye on things it shouldn't be too hard to deal with. I thought you'd be more interesting in those stick-waving wierdos I met."
"They are known to the council," said Giles stiffly. "We have always held the knowledge close to our chests but we know of them. Steer clear of them, Rachel. They care nothing for the likes of us or our lives. If their government discovers your knowledge of your existence then they may well have you killed if you resist memory alteration."
"The ones I met didn't seem all that bad," said Rachel. "I can't imagine them doing anything like that!"
"A minority. Many of them do not even see normal people as being truly human," said Giles in a distinctly bitter tone of voice. "Avoid them, Rachel. They are dangerous."
"You sound like you've had experience with them," said Rachel. "And I'm not exactly defenceless. It took half a dozen of them to fight me to a stalemate."
"Yes, I've had experience," said Giles. "And they don't fight fair as a rule. The ones you fought don't sound overly bright or imaginative but you'll find that others of that kind are considerably more dangerous when they need to be. What could you do if they blew the street up in the middle of the night while you slept? They're quite capable of such acts."
Rachel was somewhat dubious but she knew better than to ignore advice from someone like Giles. Well, she did in this life anyway. Revan had made a career out of ignoring advice like that. "Okay, Giles. If you feel that strongly about it, I'll steer clear."