Davros's Fanfiction

Knights Of The Hellmouth

Chapter One

Xander was not a happy bunny. He'd had it all worked out. He didn't have a whole lot of money to spend on a Halloween costume but he did have some old army fatigues he'd picked up at a second hand store for a very low price and combine that with a nice, cheap toy gun and voila! One Halloween costume at bargain basement prices. Easy. Wonderful. Cheap. And then all his plans had been foiled when some little blond haired brat had got to the last toy gun just a few moments before he'd bravely battled his way through the crowds of ravening kids all fighting over the cool costumes.

It was times like this that he really, really hated children.

So now he was reduced to rummaging through the costume racks looking for something that didn't look utterly retarded or like it belonged on one of those anime characters that no-one was quite sure if they were male of female. Bloody kids. So he went through. Ghost, demon, sailor scout, Alucard - too expensive but it would have been a kick-ass costume, Seras Victoria, female Ranma, stereotypical Dracula - no thanks, what looked vaguely like the sort of clothes that Angel wore . . . were there any decent costumes he could afford here?

And then he saw something that made him pause. The black and red robes with weird designs didn't really catch his eye that much, nor did the intimidating looking mask, but the lightsabre certainly did.

"I wonder what this is a costume of," mused Xander. "Not that it matters - I doubt I can afford it."

"I believe it's a villain from some sort of computer game," said an English sounding voice from a few inches behind and to his left, making Xander almost need a change of underwear. "And I'm sure we could work something out. I'm rather committed to getting people the right costumes and I'm sure this would be perfect for you."

"You really shouldn't sneak up on people like that in this town," gasped Xander. "And there really is no way I could afford a costume this nice."

"Come now, it's obviously not worth the current price if it's still on the rack so late in the day. I'll just take whatever you can afford for it," said the man.

Xander blinked. "Not that I'm complaining but how can you possibly be making any money like that?"

"I'm not in this game for the money," he said in reply to that. "I'm more interested in making my customers happy. That's all the reward I need."

Yeah, right. And if he believed that he'd be buying a nice statue in New York from the next street dealer he ran into. Still, he wasn't going to complain. This was way better than his original plan for a costume.

Xander squinted as he waited for someone to answer the door to Buffy's house. This mask was about as practical as wearing spandex in a fight, he couldn't see a damn thing out of it no matter how cool it looked once he'd put it on. Thankfully he didn't have to wait long for someone to answer the door and when they did, he had to admit that Buffy did look damn good in that old-fashioned dress she'd picked out as her costume.

"Lord Darth Revan here for . . . Buffy! Lady of Buffdom, Duchess of Buffonia, I am in awe! I completely renounce spandex!"

"Is that you Xander?" asked Buffy - slightly thrown off by the concealing and slightly intimidating looking costume, who continued to speak after Xander nodded in confirmation. "That's a pretty impressive costume you've got yourself even if I have no idea what it is but wait till you see . . . "

"Boo," said a Willow that was dressed in her traditional ghost costume. God only knows what Buffy had tried to get her to wear in an effort to draw Willow out, as if Willow wasn't fine the way she was!

". . . Willow," said a visibly disappointed Buffy.

"That's a mighty fine boo you got there, Willow," said Xander.

"What's that costume, Xander?" asked his oldest friend as she walked down the stairs, carefully watching her footing so she didn't tread on her costume and go flying.

"According to the leaflet it's a Sith Lord from a computer game that's coming out soon," he said. "Pretty vague on the details aside from that, didn't even say if they were male or female, or who they were before they went Dark. Just said that Revan was once a great Jedi who'd saved the Republic from invaders before disappearing and returning a Sith with a huge fleet and attacking the Republic."

"Cool," said Willow. "It looks good, nice and intimidating."

After a quick conversation with Buffy's mother and some photos being taken, they were off to enjoy Halloween.

Xander tore the mask off his face as the spell ended and gasped for air as he tried to make sense of what had just happened in the few short hours that his body had been under the control of one of the greatest Sith the galaxy had ever seen. To say Revan had been displeased at suddenly finding herself on a primitive backwater of a planet - by her standards anyway - would be the understatement of the eon. It didn't help that the last thing she remembered was Malak's betrayal and the feeling of death claiming her. If Willow had been corporeal when she'd told Revan what she thought was going on they'd be scraping her off the walls. As it was Revan had blasted her with enough Force power that Willow had been forced to make a break for it or risk having her ghost-form destroyed.

The only good thing about it all was that Xander's hatred of the demons had carried over to Revan. Actually it seemed to be many times greater for Revan. She'd taken one look at the first demonic vampire she'd ran into and promptly been utterly disgusted by the sheer unnaturalness of it all and went on a vampire massacre that would probably still be legend in demonic communities when the sun burnt out and humanity became extinct.

On a down side, Deadboy had shown some survival instincts and stayed well clear of that one. Spike had managed avoid death by the narrowest of margins too, running for his life and taking cover in the sewers as Revan sliced through his minions like a hot knife through butter. Lightsabres definitely had pointy sticks beaten hands down as vampire killing tools.

And then to top it all she'd ran into Alucard! After they'd fought each other to a standstill - and Xander would still be having nightmares about that battle on his deathbed - they'd decided to team up and teach the demon community a lesson in true dark power before getting their hands on Ethan Rayne and claiming their pound of flesh as punishment for toying with them with his chaos magic.

Not that Xander had any sympathy for someone stupid enough to summon such powerful and amoral creatures with magic. You might as well walk around Sunnydale at night with a banner saying, "free meal here," for all the survival instincts that showed! Honestly, even the biggest moron knew that Sith Lords were not people to be messed with. Ever. And Alucard wasn't exactly someone to play around with either though Ethan probably had no idea on that front, Hellsing was kinda cult after all. Either way, he wouldn't be troubling anyone ever again with the way he was missing both hands and feet, suffering from severe electrical burns, and was impaled on a rather large wooden spike in the middle of the high street. And that didn't take into account the mental tortures Revan had visited upon the man before tiring of him.

Considering that his stupid idea of fun would have likely gotten Buffy in her noble-woman guise killed if Revan hadn't sent the vampires running for cover, Xander felt approximately no sympathy for the idiot man-child, but it really hadn't been any thing to watch as his body had tortured someone to the verge of insanity again and again before finally leaving him for dead.

But all of this paled next to the rather large physical changes Xander had suffered thanks to Revan not really wanting to leave once she'd discovered that she was a fictional character. Even the most powerful of Sith could not match the power of a God - even a minor one like Janus - but she'd managed to hold on long enough to make some rather major changes in Xander.

Like the two on his chest. Those were rather major from the way he felt. His body felt . . . weird in general really. And the lack of a familiar weight between his legs wasn't promising either. If he wasn't completely in shock, he'd probably be screaming his head off about now in sheer panic. That was if he was even a he anymore. Complete panic was looking like a real good option about now in all honesty.

"G-man, you gotta fix me," said Xander as he charged into the library. It came out rather more high-pitched sounding than Xander was even vaguely comfortable with.

"Do I know you, young lady?" said a rather puzzled looking Giles without a hint of recognition on his face as he looked up from the rather thick looking old fashioned book he'd been reading before Xander had interrupted him.

"Do you know me?" said Xander, almost screaming by this point as his emotions reached boiling point. "I'm Xander! Or at least I was . . . "

"Good Lord! What on Earth has happened to you, Xander? I've never seen anything like this before," said Giles.

"Um, don't you know what happened tonight? You know, people turning into their Halloween costumes? I'd have thought it would have been kinda hard to miss with all the battles going on . . . "

"I . . . I had no idea. I'd felt something strange but I didn't think it was anything like that," said Giles, beginning to rub away at his glasses with a cloth. "How did it happen? Is anyone injured?"

"It was some British guy called Ethan Rayne working some chaos mojo," said a distracted looking Xander. At the enraged and rather lethal look that flashed over Giles features he elaborated - that look would have been downright intimidating to him before he'd seen what he'd seen tonight. "Not that you need to ever worry about that guy showing up again. He's either dead or very close to it and wishing he was already there by now."

Giles blinked and pinched the bridge of his nose. "What happened to him?"

"Uh . . . let's just say that pissing off a Sith Lord and a True Nosferatu was not the cleverest thing he's ever done. But that isn't important! Giles, I want my testicles back! I don't wanna be female! I liked being, you know, Xander-shaped."

"I'm sorry, Xander, but this goes far beyond my realm of expertise. If Ethan was calling upon a Chaos God as he usually did for such things, I really don't think you'll be able to find a way to change back without having some other horrible effect placed upon you."

"He used Janus. Wonderful. Goodbye masculinity and hello to sitting down to pee," said Xander with an edge of hysteria to his voice as he collapsed into a chair near Giles. "This officially sucks. And here's me feeling emasculated before just because Buffy stopped some stupid jock from beating me up."

Giles coughed. "Well, look on the bright side, Xander. You have at least been transformed into a rather fetching young woman who will no doubt be quite a beauty in years to come."

"Deep joy."

A loud thud from behind them made Xander leap out of his seat with the combat reflexes that Revan's possession had ingrained in him. What he saw made him gawk more than a little. It was Willow. A very hot looking Willow dressed in clothes that she would never wear normally, not in a million years. Not that it mattered anymore if he thought Willow or any other female was attractive. With those wonderfully happy thoughts running through his head, he slumped into a chair and pouted as Giles propped Willow up in a chair and they waited for her to come around. It only took a couple of minutes before he felt her start to stir.

"Giles, I had this really weird dream were I came into the library and Xander was here but he was female . . . and it wasn't a dream was it? Oh, Xander, what happened?" said Willow at a hundred miles an hour blending it all into one breath somehow before jumping out of her seat and giving Xander a bone-crushing hug. He couldn't reply till she let go and sat back down in her chair.

"Halloween happened. That sodding bastard Ethan Rayne and his spell has made me completely change gender. And now I'm starting to sound English when I speak. It just keeps getting better! What's next? Lightning shooting out of my hands? The only way this could be any worse would be if I'd dressed up as a vampire!"

"Oh, Xander, I'm so sorry," said Willow," but we'll all try and help you get used to this."

"Of course," said Giles. "If there's anything I can do, you just need to ask."

Xander leaned forward on the table and dropped his head into his hands. "What am I going to do? I can't go home like this! My parents would never in a million years believe that I'm their son and it's bad enough dealing with them when I'm male. Force only knows what my Dad would be like now! My entire life is gone!"

Giles coughed politely to catch Xander's attention before speaking, "if you're comfortable with it, you could stay in my spare room, Xander. And I'm sure I'll be able to arrange a new identity for you. If the council won't help you, then I know some people in England who'll be able to help. It also seems likely that if the spell has transformed you so thoroughly that you'll have been left with some skills that will help you make a new life for yourself."

"I'll help too," said Willow. "I'll help you with getting used to uh female stuff and I'm sure Buffy will too."

Xander looked up, his eyes full of gratitude even though there was a part of him that was snorting in disgust at showing such weakness in front of others and needing such aid, "thank you, Giles, Willow. You're life-savers."

Before they could talk further the library doors burst open and the wonder duo of Deadboy and Buffy came charging in. Buffy immediately began to speak to Giles without looking at anyone else in the room but Angel saw Xander and immediately paled and backed away a step. "Giles, we need to talk! There are rumours all over the place about some mad hunters that have been tearing demons and vampires apart all night. And what they did to that shop owner was disgusting! What do we do?"

Xander spoke before Giles could say anything. "Nothing, Buffy. Those hunters were just people who'd been transformed by Ethan's spell and they're gone now. No more Sith Lords or Nosferatu running around Sunnydale."

"And who are you?" demanded a distrustful Buffy. "I've never seen you around before."

Xander stood up. "Recognise the costume? I'm just your Xander-shaped friend, except I'm not so Xander-shaped anymore, or male shaped for that matter."

"It was you," said Angel quietly as Buffy assimilated the fact that her best male friend was now not so male. "You were the one ripping through the vampires and demons like they were made of tissue paper with that guy in the red coat."

"It was Revan, yes. And if you saw us, I'm surprised you're still alive. Neither Revan or Alucard would have let you escape with your hide intact if they could help it, soul or no soul."

Buffy blinked and then changed direction abruptly. "So it was you who killed that shop guy?"

"The whole impaling thing was Alucard - his speciality, supposedly. Revan roughed him up a bit but Alucard finished the job. Neither I nor the person who was Alucard's host were in control, remember that. And Rayne did cause everything that happened in this town tonight."

Giles interjected at that point. "Buffy, there's nothing to be gained from pursuing this. Xander is no more responsible for what happened than he was last year with the Hyena. He's as much a victim in this as everyone else." After a moment more he spoke again. Alucard. Dracula inverted . . . Xander, just who was roaming the town last night?"

"Alucard and Dracula are the same person in the Hellsing manga. Dracula was somehow captured and bound to the Hellsing family at the turn of the century. At that point they renamed him and used him as a weapon against the undead enemies who threatened the British Empire. He's extremely powerful and could probably break the bindings and escape but for some reason he doesn't. He's not like our vampires, there's no demon involved and he's orders of magnitude stronger. He could kick the Master around like a football and probably would just for existing and not being True Nosferatu."

"My word," said Giles. "It's a good thing he wasn't inclined to picking up where he left off as Dracula."

"So can we fix Xander?" said Buffy, interrupting what she probably saw as a very boring conversation.

"I don't believe so, Buffy," said Giles. "I'll have to do some research into the matter but it does seem somewhat unlikely."

Buffy slumped into a nearby chair. "This is all my fault. I should have known something bad would happen if I let other people get involved with the slaying."

Xander snorted. "Utter nonsense. This had nothing to do with slaying and everything to do with an idiot mage playing games with peoples lives. Your presence in my life had absolutely nothing to do with my choice of costume and I would have worn a costume for Halloween with or without you in my life."

"Yeah," said Willow with full resolve-face. "This isn't your fault, Buffy."

"Well said, the pair of you," said Giles. "No-one could possibly blame you for this, Buffy, so there's no reason for you to feel any guilt."

"Okay, okay, I get the picture, but what are we going to do?" said Buffy. "I think people are going to notice. Even Sunnydale blindness won't hide this"

"For now, Xander will be staying with me and I will arrange some way for him to continue his life in his new guise if it becomes necessary."

Chapter Two

In the light of day, the situation was exactly the same as it had been last night and Xander felt something give inside him as he realised that. There'd been a part - no matter how small - of him that had expected to go to sleep last night and wake up back in his ratty bed at home to the sounds of his parents snoring with everything the way it had been before. In short, he'd expected it all to be one long nightmare he'd had.

He'd be so lucky.

The best part had to be the memories though. Oh the joys of having your own personal Sith Lord in your head. He now knew oh so many ways to break a prisoner's will and get them to confess anything and everything they knew. The memories of the torture, maiming, killing, conquering, and other assorted Sithly activities were going to be nighmare fodder for months, he knew.

Showering that morning proved to be an educational experience. He had to admit that if he saw a woman in the street with a body like this he'd think she was hot. He'd kept what seemed to be all of his height at a guess but the proportions had changed to become more feminine, so he now had one of the longest pairs of legs he'd ever seen. He appeared to have lost a lot of weight too - he certainly felt a lot lighter - but thankfully he still appeared to have enough muscle tone that he wouldn't be one of those weakling girls who needed a man to do their lifting for them. That would have driven him nuts. Weaker, yes, but not a complete weakling.

He refused to think about the breasts or genitals. That was just too disturbing. It's suffice to say that their size and shape were proportional to his height and new gender and that was about all he could think about it without freaking.

If he hadn't been convinced before, looking in the bathroom mirror would have certainly done that. There was very little Xander left in those features. Probably a good thing considering that he didn't exactly look feminine before but it was still more than a touch weird to look in the mirror and see a face that was more video-game character than Xander. His hair was still relatively short but well within normal female bounds to his untrained eye - doubtlessly Buffy and Cordelia would find it appalling. His eyes were unchanged but the high cheek boned, aristocratic set to his facial features looked about as much like a female member of the Harris clan as the average bulldog. Actually the bulldog was probably closer considering how butt-ugly some of his relatives were.

He couldn't hold back a smirk at that thought. Now there was a thumb in the eye to his foul family if there'd ever been one.

It was when he pulled on his clothes from the night before that he realised the problem. The shirt was like a tent on him and it had been one of his closer fitting shirts before! Shoulders far too broad, general size far too large - it was no good to him, he could fit two of his new self in it! The trousers were if anything worse. Waist too wide, hips too narrow, legs too wide, legs too damn short - they were the worst fitting trousers he'd ever worn and that was saying something. At least the boxers were still comfortable. Right now the only vaguely suitable clothing he had was Revan's robe and mask which he didn't want to wear on general principles. Damn thing was way creepy looking to him now.

He sighed. So undignified to be seen in such ill-fitting clothes! And then he snorted. Where the Hell had that thought come from? Xander Harris and dignified were not concepts that meshed. They were not concepts that he ever wanted to mesh. Being dignified would take all of the joy out of life. Amongst other horrible things it would mean no more gulping back twinkies in one bite!

With a shake of his head he turned and left the bathroom.

"How are you this morning, Xander?" asked Giles, looking up from the newspaper he was reading.

"I've been better, Giles," said Xander dryly. "But I'm dealing."

"I have to say you're dealing with this much better than I would have expected. Most men would be screaming bloody murder," said Giles. "I know I would be."

"I think some of Revan's personality was left behind. That's probably helping - it goes without saying that she was somewhat better equipped to dealing with being female than I am," said Xander while making himself a bowl of cereal for breakfast. "Actually we should look into that. If Buffy's got that useless noble-woman hanging around in her head we might have a problem."

"You raise a good point. That will have to be added to the list of things I need to look into. It's almost a shame that Ethan's dead, he could have been most helpful after some persuasion," said Giles.

"Hmm. I extracted quite a lot of information from Ethan's mind last night. If you give me a pen and some paper, I'll provide all the details of the ritual he used down to the daubings on his face," said Xander.

"That . . . that would be exceedingly helpful, Xander. It also raises another question I feel I must ask you: How are you dealing with the actions your body took while it was under the control of the spell?"

Xander shrugged. "I'm fine. Other than Ethan, I just killed a whole lot of demon scum. And Ethan really did deserve what he got. Just look in that newspaper you've got. I bet you there was a whole lot of death and destruction last night and it was all the fault of that childish fool. The fact that he died at the hands of his own creation is nothing more than poetic justice as far as I'm concerned. At least with Eyghon it was only a threat to those foolish enough to partake in your group's little games."

Giles went very, very pale as Xander spoke. "You . . . you know about Eyghon?"

Xander rolled his eyes. "Giles, I know pretty much everything on down to what size clothes the man wore. He had all the willpower and mental strength of the average chipmunk. Actually know some pretty interesting stuff now if I was ever inclined to play with dark magic. That little ritual combined with a superman costume would make our job so much easier," speculated Xander idly. "Or just imagine what Buffy could do after a Batman possession."

"Xander! Those sort of forces are not things to be played with lightly. There are consequences to using chaos magic!"

"I know, Giles," said Xander with a lop-sided grin on his face. "I was just playing with you. That sort of stuff is way too close to the Dark Side of the Force for my tastes."

Giles rolled his eyes. "Americans! I have work to do but I believe that Buffy and Willow will be stopping by after school to take you shopping."

Xander grimaced at the thought of that. Clothes shopping! Nightmare!

"Yes, indeed," said Giles at Xander's expression. "You have my complete sympathy. As an aside, do you have any money?"

Xander waved his hand dismissively. "I have a fair amount put aside. This seems as good a reason as any to spend it." The idea of a road trip didn't really appeal as much as it had done before anyway. Seeing the country was a whole lot less interesting looking when you've seen the sights an entire galaxy has to offer.

"Well, if you need any help you know who to ask."

"I appreciate it, Giles. I really do."

Xander whiled away the rest of the morning by browsing through several of the books Giles had on demonology. When he stopped to think about it at dinnertime it was a source of wonder to him that he'd never been interested in learning about this stuff before. Revan was the sort of person who would consider reading through an entire library an excellent use of time and that thirst for knowledge had been passed down into him after the possession.

If he'd stopped to think about that, he would perhaps have worried about how strong Revan's influence was on him, but Xander had never been one to overthink a situation and no amount of possessions would alter that aspect of his personality. He took things at face value and dealt with them as such. For example, he hated vampires and Angel was a vampire, so he hated him. No need to think on it further than that in his mind.

But by lunchtime he was getting a bit antsy. New thirst for knowledge or not, Xander was not the sort of person who could spend an entire day sitting on his backside reading. He wanted to be up and about doing stuff. He needed to be up and about doing stuff. It was part of the reason he did so poorly in school. Casting his mind about for something to do, he came upon sneaking into his parents home and retrieving some of his belongings. He'd never been wealthy in terms of material possessions but there were some things he would want to keep: his comic book collection for one.

With that decided he had to come up with a plan for entering his room unseen. That was easy enough. Climb up the tree in the back garden, shimmy onto the porch roof, and open the unlocked bedroom window. Easy. The lack of a functioning lock on his window had been a godsend when he was a kid, making it easy to escape to Willow's when things got really bad, and it was going to come in handy again now. God bless lazy, uncaring parents. Or something. Good thing that nearly all the normal crooks in this town get eaten before they can do anything, he supposed.

Now he had a plan on getting in, he needed a plan for getting his stuff out. Getting out boxes of belongings while climbing would have been highly difficult before but his muscle mass had been significantly lowered when his body took on a female form. Thumbing through his new, and highly useful memories, he remembered that females generally had something in the area of a third less muscle mass than men. Not of the good in this town but there nothing he could do about it. So he needed an accomplice. Willow would be no good for a spot of breaking and entering and Giles would be way too stuffy for it now that he'd dropped his Ripper persona. That left Buffy. She'd be good for it. It's not like she would really have to do anything - just grab the boxes and get them safely to the ground - and it wasn't really illegal to steal his own stuff.

That settled, he just needed to get to school and track down Buffy. Not difficult but he'd probably be best off minimising encounters with other people just in case and he needed encounters with Cordelia and her sheep like he needed a hole in the head right now.

It proved to be rather easy to find Buffy and avoid encountering other people, even with his now far too large shoes flapping around like they belonged on a clown. Slipping from shadow to shadow and avoiding passers by seemed to be ingrained skills in him now and the few people that walked by a bit too close for comfort seemed to miss his presence entirely even if his heart was beating its way out of his chest at the time. All he'd had to was wait for Willow and the boy he didn't recognise - who he got a very strange vibe off - to leave for classes and he'd pulled Buffy into the corner he was skulking in.

It proved to be more difficult to persuade Buffy to join him than anything else.

"Nuh-uh. No way. Being expelled for burning down a gym was bad enough, I am not breaking into a house," she'd said with her arms folded across her chest.

"Please? Come on, it won't be that bad. It's not really stealing if it's my stuff we're taking, is it?"

"Somehow I don't the police or my mom would see it your way. No."

He gave her the best puppy dog eyes he could manage. With his new female face they were utterly devastating. "Please? For me?"

"This is so not a good idea."

"I'll buy you coffee and doughnuts. I'll even let you pick out my new shoes tonight."

"Deal. But if we get caught this is all your fault."

"You won't regret this, Buffy, I promise."

"I cannot believe that he believed that story you fed him," said Buffy looking like she was about ready to collapse as they dumped the boxes of his stuff in his room at Giles'.

Xander shrugged. "Sunnydale police, about as good at what they do as Redshirts. Never thought it would come in useful for me but I'm not complaining. No normal police officer would have believed that I'd just forgotten my keys when we had boxes full of stuff in our arms."

"Right. Well forgive me if I never, ever go along with one of your mad plans ever again, Xander."

"Well, you're no fun at all."

"Right. I've got to be getting back to class. No more quality police-dodging time for me."

"I'll see you after school then."

Never again. Never, ever again. Xander was never, ever going to enter a clothes shop with Buffy Summers ever again if he could humanly prevent it. Nothing in Revan's memories had prepared him for the sheer obsession the former cheerleader had for clothes and shoes and accessories and everything else that goes with. He sure as Hell hadn't acquired such an appetite for clothes and the shopping for them when he managed to swap genders.

He'd found the entire experience to be utterly baffling. The obsession Buffy had with creating matching outfits with the right shoes and handbags had left him completely stymied. Shoes were shoes in his mind, it wasn't like anyone would ever actually look at your feet, was it? He could testify himself that the last thing on a male's mind when they saw a woman was what sort of shoes they were wearing. Handbags too. Well at least he'd managed to talk her into only picking out shoes with reasonable heels. High heels would have resulted in him humiliating himself for certain and they looked damn uncomfortable anyway.

The clothes themselves did not appeal either. He'd managed to stop the worst of them from being bought - he loved the short skirts on Buffy but on himself, no chance - but the idea of wearing skirts and dresses did not fill him with joy. Everything about his posture and body language would have to change or he'd be flashing the world. He couldn't even rely on Revan's memories and instincts with that because she'd always worn robes of some description and been as utterly uncomfortable in this sort of clothing as he felt. He really did long for the days when he could wear jeans and a shirt and be done with it.

And that led him up to now where he was stood in front of a mirror in a knee-length skirt and blouse combination that was far more feminine than he was comfortable with. Too damn tight and restricting too. Buffy assured him he looked wonderful and Willow was giving him a supportive smile whenever he looked her way but he'd be damned if he felt right in this getup. The underwear was bloody uncomfortable too. He missed his boxers.

"Buffy, I do not like this at all," he pleaded. "Why can't I wear something less . . . feminine? You know, trousers?"

"Xander, you're a girl now. Feminine is no longer bad," replied Buffy absent-mindedly. "Now how about some lipstick? What do you think, Willow?"

"NO!" said Xander forcefully. "No. No. No. No way in Hell. That's a step too far, Buffy. I'm still a male inside. Lipstick is going too far. You'll get that stuff on me over my cold, dead body."

"You're no fun," she pouted. "You'd look stunning."

"I don't want to look stunning. Don't you get it? This is all wrong. I know you think I'm like one of the girls already but this is way wrong. Way, way wrong. Come on, Willow, back me up already. Xander is male. That is the way things are supposed to be. Not this."

"He's right, Buffy, and you're beginning to really scare him. Her. Is it her now? I'm not sure. He sure looks like a her to me now but Xander and being a her don't really go together."

"That's why we need to give him a new name," said Buffy immediately but before she could say more Xander cut her off.

"I can't be called Xander anymore but I've already sorted a new name out with Giles. I'm going to be posing as his niece and my name will be Rachel Giles."

And thank God for that. Imagine what someone called Buffy could come up with for names?

"That's great, Xan - Rachel," said Willow. "It'll help you get used to being a girl if you get used to answering to a girl's name."

"Doesn't having all those memories help you get used to being a girl, Xander?" asked Buffy with an expression of honest confusion on her face. "My memories have got me passing French so why don't yours help you?"

"Revan doesn't remember anything other than being a Jedi or a Sith. The Jedi are a monastic order and the Sith aren't really interested in things like attracting a boyfriend. She never, ever wore anything other than robes. For a Jedi the only difference between being a male or female is in the cut of the robes and which dormitory you get assigned to as a youngling. So no they don't really help. "

"Well, we'll have to teach you all about it then," said Buffy brightly.

Xander groaned.

Xander had never felt so awkward as he did now playing pool in the Bronze. Every time he leaned over the table he felt like every eye in the place was on him. He'd have been utterly horrified if he'd realised that he wasn't far off the truth. Hot new girl bending over? Score! Teenage males are after all utterly predictable creatures when it comes to such things. She was new and she was attractive and she was in a position that showed her, ahem, assets off, so she attracted a ridiculous amount of attention.

"Rachel, you might want to find something else to do," whispered Willow in his ear. "You're attracting a lot of attention."

At that point Xander almost leapt away from the table. "That's it I'm going home!" he said. "I give up."

And if Willow hadn't grabbed his arm and Buffy hadn't shown up at that exact moment he would have. This was about as much fun as having a lightsabre shoved through his gut by your best friend.

"Ford! You made it," said Buffy happily.

"Wasn't hard to find," replied Ford.

"Buffy, Ford was just telling us about the ninth grade beauty contest, and the, uh, swimsuit competition," said Willow as she kept a firm but discreet grip on Xander's arm.

"Oh, my God, Ford, stop that! The more people you tell, the more people I have to kill," said Buffy, half embarrassed, half joking.

"You can't touch me, Summers. I know all your darkest secrets."

"Wanna make a bet on that?" quipped Xander instinctively. Ah it was good to know that the quips were still there ready to be used and hadn't been leeched out by Revan's boringness.

"I'm gonna go get a drink. Ford, try not to talk."

As Buffy wandered over to the bar, Xander took a moment to look at Ford. He looked normal enough, but there was something about him, something indescribable, that set his teeth on edge. He frowned slightly but then dismissed it as unimportant. "Wilow, why don't you play Ford now?"

Xander slumped down in the nearest chair and cast an eagle eye over the club. Most people were paying him no heed. A few boys were stealing glances - yuck - but mostly he was being ignored. One thing that puzzled him was the strange, speculative look that Cordelia was shooting him. He didn't think she knew anything so why was she looked over at him? She wasn't going to try and recruit him into her little gang was she? He had to forcibly restrain the shudder that he threatened to break out in at that thought.

He saw Buffy talking to Angel at the bar and managed to fire off a comment about Angel being her special friend but his heart wasn't in it. It just didn't feel right anymore. How could he still be attracted to Buffy and slightly jealous of Angel now? It was even more pointless than before. Buffy was no lesbian and in all honesty there was no way to know if he was in this body so soon. When he got comfortable as he was, would he find himself attracted to males? Would he really start thinking of himself as a she?

The only conclusion he could come to was that this truly, more than anything sucked ass. Most people get maimed or killed or turned on the Hellmouth, but not him. Oh no. He got turned into a freaking girl. He just had to find something unique to happen to himself, didn't he?

Xander went through the rest of the night on auto-pilot and paid no attention to the world around him as he walked home. His mind was so firmly focused on the mess he was in that he almost didn't notice the vampire that jumped out in front of him till it was too late. As it was the vampire's punch clipped him on the side and staggered him backwards. Before he could move to retaliate it attacked again, hitting him with a punch that sent him crashing to the floor.

The two attacks left Xander dazed but he knew without a shadow of the doubt that if he went down and stayed down, he was dead. With a supreme effort of will he turned the fall into a roll and sprang back up onto his feet and wiped the blood away from his eyes with the back of his hand. It was times like this he really missed having access to the Force and being able to just blast these things with enough lightning to reduce them to a pile of ash on the floor.

The vampire immediately rushed at Xander with all its supernatural speed and began to attack in earnest, throwing a furious series of lefts and rights that Xander could in no way block or avoid, at least not entirely. Within the minute, Xander was on the floor bleeding from a split lip as well as the cut he'd already had just above his eye, and he was battered to a point where it took all of his strength to hold on to his consciousness.

It was at this point that something else took over. Instinct, perhaps. He could never tell. Whatever it was, Xander was on auto-pilot now. He rolled to the side and sprang to his feet before the vampire could descend upon him and begin to feed. And then he attacked. He lashed out with a low kick to the vampire's left thigh that would have deadened the muscles there if it wasn't already dead before following with up with a roundhouse kick that snapped the creature's head to the side before landing a hard punch to the gut that knocked the creature off-balance and down onto his backside.

Xander then sidestepped towards the nearest tree and snapped a branch off to use as a stake. The now enraged vampire charged at him and a quick thrust dusted it. He stood there for a few minutes as his breathing returned to normal before what had just happened hit him. "Holy shit," he said. "How the Hell did I do that?"

"GILES!" he yelled as soon as he'd let himself back into the apartment. "GILES!"

"What on Earth are you making that infernal racket for?" said an unamused looking Giles from where he was sat on the other side of the room. "I'm sat all of ten metres away from you, for Heaven's sake! And what happened to your face!"

"Giles, I just got jumped by a vampire. It had me dead to rights, no way out, and then I just . . . I don't know. It was like something else took over, and I kicked its ass. Hard."

"Oh. Oh my. Combine this with the other things that you have told me and it looks as if your possessing spirit is even stronger in you than we believed."

Xander slumped down into the chair. "No surprise there. I have breasts. Kindof a good clue that somethings up."

"Indeed. I'm afraid that all indications are that this spell effect will be . . . permanent."

"Yeah, I'd guessed that. It sure doesn't feel temporary. I am thoroughly emasculated. Suppose it's time to give up and start thinking of myself as a she, as Rachel."

"I am sorry, Xander. If it's any consolation I believe you are dealing with this rather well."

"Please, call me Rachel."

She groaned as the alarm woke her up the next day. Back to school. Yay. She would have preferred to skip it, but Giles had insisted. Should have expected it from a librarian really.

"If you don't get up soon you won't have time for breakfast," came the rather amused sounding voice of Giles as Rachel struggled to work her way to wakefulness.

"Ugh. He's enjoying this far too much," muttered Rachel as she crawled out of bed and began to pull together clothes for the day ahead.

"Rachel Giles, niece of Rupert, sophomore. Formerly of England. Welcome to Sunnydale High. Your records seem innocent enough, too innocent if you ask me, but I'll be keeping an eye on you. Keep yourself in line and out of trouble and we'll both be happy. Turn out to be like the other brats here and there'll be consequences. This isn't a school for troublemakers. I expect your uncle will have told you what's expected of you."

"Yes, sir," said Rachel crisply. She didn't have the energy or the inclination to deal with the troll this early in the morning. She really didn't. Keeping up an English sounding accent was taking enough of her very limited reserves of morning energy.

"Pick up your timetable from the receptionist," said Snyder before turning away from her and putting her file back in the cabinet. At this clear dismissal she turned and marched out of the office. It was nice to see that Snyder hated everyone equally and not just everyone associated with Buffy Summers.

After picking up her new timetable - which surprisingly enough was exactly the same as his old one - she met up with the aforementioned Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg and headed to class with her.

Willow had been on edge all day so it was no surprise to Rachel that she was pulled aside at the end of the day. It did come as somewhat of a surprise that she'd managed to keep a secret from Buffy - Willow was the worst liar on the face of the Earth, easily - and even more surprising that Angel had been Willow's room. That was mildly disturbing actually. Soul or not he was still a vampire and inviting a vampire into your home is a dangerous thing to do, especially when you have no chance of subduing them. She didn't bother to say anything though. Willow's a romantic and she bought whole-heartedly into the tortured soul bullshit that was Angel so it would have accomplished nothing other than to cause friction between them.

The information about Ford, though, made the Angel thing look pretty minor by comparison. Buffy believed in Ford - she trusted him completely - and there was no way she'd believe he was up to no good unless they rubbed her nose in it and probably not even then until they were neck deep in trouble. If only she had HK-47 at her disposal. This boy would cease to be a problem very quickly if she did. Killing him herself was too much of a gamble, too much chance of being caught, and without Force powers it would be even more risky.

So that was why she found herself at this pathetic club full of vampire wannabes who were completely devoid of any redeeming features or worth as human beings as far as she could tell. They'd all been reading too many bullshit fantasy novels if they truly believed that vampires were the angsty, non-evil creatures they seemed to believe they were. Had none of them read any of the real vampire literature from before the time when perverse modern attitudes had corrupted the mythology? Lonely ones indeed! They were only lonely because they tended to kill everyone around them!

" So many people have that misconception. But they who walk with the night are not interested in harming anyone. They are creatures above us. Exalted!"

"I think being around so many stupid people is having an averse effect on my IQ," she said imperiously.

"You're a fool," said Angel bluntly while looking the blonde girl directly in the eye.

"You don't have to be so confrontational about it. Other viewpoints than yours may be valid, you know," said the girl before flouncing away in a huff.

"Pathetic," said Rachel. "What's next? People who watch Star Wars and think that the Sith are poor, misunderstood creatures who aren't really evil? These people need to read some real vampire literature not the rubbish that gets pumped out nowadays."

"For once I completely agree with you," said Angel.

"Now nobody's gonna talk to us," said Willow with a frown.

"A truly devastating loss, I'm sure," said Rachel.

"I've seen enough. I've seen this type before. I mean, they're children making up bedtime stories of friendly vampires to comfort themselves in the dark," replied Angel.

"Is that so bad? I mean, the dark can get pretty dark. Sometimes you need a story," said Willow.

"These people don't know anything about vampires. What they are, how they live, how they dress..."

One of the idiots walked past in the exact same outfit as Angel. Rachel could not hold back the laughter that welled up inside her at that and Angel had the decency to look sheepish.

"I think we have enough now to prove that Ford, supposed bestest bud of the Slayer, isn't what he wants to make us think he is," said Rachel. "I vote we run him out of town immediately."

"Somethings up with him but I think we should give him a chance to explain," said Willow. "He's known Buffy a long time he's at least earned that."

Rachel rolled her eyes. Typical, soft-hearted Willow. She was too nice for her own good sometimes.

Buffy did not look happy when she ran into Rachel and Willow the next day. Her resentment was strong enough that it was practically tangible but it was only to be expected. She would not want to believe that Ford would betray her and so she resented those who found the evidence of the betrayal. To her credit she did not show and the resentment soon faded to be replaced by a slow-burning anger that would serve her well if the situation turned nasty.

The school day mostly passed without event till Rachel's free period after lunch. She was heading for the library when a surprisingly strong female hand grabbed her arm and yanked her into a nearby closet. Even more surprising was that it was Cordelia doing the dragging.

"What on Earth are you playing at?" demanded Rachel immediately.

"I wanted to know what the Hell you were playing at, geek. I never had you down as a cross-dresser. An idiot, yes, but not that."

"Charmed, I'm sure. Now I'll just be leaving."

"Don't you turn your back on me, Xander Harris! You will tell me what's going on and you will tell me right this minute!"

"So what makes you think I'm this 'Xander Harris' then?" drawled Rachel. "Last I checked I didn't look much like a guy."

"Oh give me a break. Xander Harris disappears and his friends don't seem even vaguely freaked? If you were really missing, Rosenberg would be unbearable. And slotting straight back into your little group gave it away completely. Give me some credit."

Rachel had to smile at that. "You're smarter than you let on. You are correct: I am Alexander Harris or at least I was before Halloween. I think you can probably guess what happened."

"Freaky magic turned you into a girl? I almost feel sorry for you."

"My heart is warmed by your concern," snapped Rachel. "Now if you'll excuse me I have things to do."

Rachel didn't even notice the slightly hurt look on Cordelia's face as she stomped away. Old habits were, after all, hard to break, and there are few habits older than the instinct to snipe at each other for those two.

Rachel did not like Buffy's plan for dealing with the Ford situation. Actually calling it a plan was being generous in her mind. The only way the trap could be more obvious would be if there was a giant, blinking neon sign above the door saying, "TRAP HERE!" But Giles insisted that Buffy knew what she was doing - which did not comfort her one bit when she remembered Buffy's brilliant plan for dealing with The Master - and Willow and Angel seemed inclined to go along with it too so she was well and truly outvoted.

The old Xander style plan of following her into battle with a stake in hand didn't appeal much either. Buffy might be stupid enough to wander into a trap this obvious but she most certainly was not and she didn't fancy her chances of making a great deal of difference against the great mob of vampires that would show if they thought they had a shot at the slayer.

So that was why she found herself waiting with the others near the vampire wannabe club as they waited to see if Buffy was going to get out of this mess with her hide still intact. For all that she blundered into horrendous situations, Rachel had her money on Buffy surviving. She'd taken out a hell of a lot of vampires in the past and from what she'd seen only a Master level vamp would really have a chance against a Buffy that was fighting all out and even then it was even odds at best. She did have a feeling that there were an awful lot of vamps in there though.

And then the doors to the club swang open and a mass of very scared looking idiots came tumbling out, running for their miserable lives. It was all she could do not to laugh. Now they knew the truth of vampirism. No more nonsense about the good for nothing demonic scum being exalted coming from them, she imagined. The way they were running like the devil himself was on their tail certainly suggested that they wouldn't be seeking out vampires again any time soon anyway.

Then Buffy came out and slammed the massive door shut. They immediately set to joining her and she turned to face them as they approached. "You guys are just in time," she said.

"Are there vampires?" asked Willow.

"They're contained. They'll get out eventually, though. We should probably go. We can come back when they're gone."

"I vote we torch the building," said Rachel. "That way we'll kill off a whole mess of vampires with very little risk to ourselves."

"They're sealed in the basement and it used to be a bomb shelter. A fire won't reach them and they won't be affected by the smoke. It would be pointless," responded Buffy immediately. "And I don't fancy having to dodge any more police thanks to your mad plans."

Rachel shrugged innocently as Giles and Willow turned fearsome glares on her. "Just a thought."

"Why would you want to come back?" asked Angel.

"For the body," said Buffy with a little-girl-lost look in her eyes that made Rachel's heart ache to see. Her romantic feelings for Buffy had been on the wane for a while now but she still hated to see her hurt just like she got caveman protective of Willow if anyone bugged her.

When they returned to the apartment that night after spending some time attempting to comfort Buffy, Giles had a thoughtful look on his face. "So how are you dealing with your situation now, Rachel?"

"Still getting used to being Rachel. I've managed to start thinking of myself as Rachel rather than Xander but I still feel weird at times. This body just feels . . . wrong somehow. And I haven't really had time to run into problems yet."

"That's excellent. If you have need of anything, just ask, though you may be better talking to Willow or Buffy when it comes to feminine issues. Perhaps Ms. Calender if you need an adult to talk to."

"I'll keep that in mind, Giles."

Chapter Three

The months after Halloween were certainly eventful if nothing else for Rachel and the rest of the gang. The Halloween possession seemed to quickly become a dim and distant memory for the others but for her the effects were pronounced and long-lasted even when you looked beyond the obvious issues of penis removal and addition of breasts and a vagina, which was still taking some getting used to for her to say the least. God only knows what would have happened if she hadn't had Ms. Calender to go to for help on that issue because Giles sure as Hell wasn't any use and Mrs. Summers would require explaining the whole Hellmouth and Slayer thing which would have likely induced a colossal amount of freaking out and recriminations for all involved.

And Willow had an alarming tendency to go bright red and bolt whenever she tried to ask her any questions. Definite shyness issues there and possible issues with having a non Xander-shaped Xander asking those things. Asking Buffy was definitely out. Talking to your former crush about feminine hygiene issues was just a bridge too far as far as Rachel was concerned. And Cordelia got way too much pleasure from embarrassing her to be any use.

The personality changes were the thing troubled her the most. Before she'd been a goof-off, more interested in having fun with her friends than anything else. Now she was like Willow or something, always itching to be learning something new that would help her in the fight. And the way she talked had changed completely. She sounded English! Now that was actually kind-of helpful with her posing as a Giles but it was still way creepy when she thought about it.

At least the combat skills were useful even if they did come and go seemingly as they pleased. Giles' training was certainly helping but it seemed to be much less effective at drawing out the instinctive skills than it should be. Perhaps something to do with the forms Giles knew being so very different to the ones practiced by Revan?

Looking back in the future she'd have it down as a toss-up as to which was more disturbing and wrong: the fact that Giles had once summoned demons and took part on orgies or the fact that Buffy slept with a freaking corpse. So Deadboy was animated and had a soul. Big deal. He was still a bloody corpse and still had a body temperature equal to the room temperature. There was a name for people who did things like that and that name was necrophiliac. Not that he'd ever say such a thing to Buffy. She was already distressed enough from the whole Angelus thing.

Oh and wasn't it fun to have Angelus roaming around killing things and tormenting the gang? Between the invulnerable apocalypse causing demons and stalking of Buffy and her friends, the fun just never stopped in the land of the Hellmouth. The Judge had been a right bastard to deal with but the Revan memories came in dead handy and the demon had proved to be less than a match for a home-made thermal detonator. Okay, a big chunk of the mall hadn't been a match for that either but the demon was nice and dead, so all was good right? You can't make an omelette without smashing a few eggs after all.

Not that the others had agreed. Oh well. Can't have everything. They came around eventually, just like they had for Ms. Calendar. The now very dead Ms. Calender. She still wasn't sure exactly why everyone had gone off on Ms. Calendar - it wasn't her fault that the curse had been broken, she hadn't even known it was possible - but it had happened and by the time the group had reconciled it had almost been too late. Good thing the group had reconciled or Giles really would be inconsolable over her death. Bad enough that she had been murdered but for her to have been murdered when they were on the outs . . . that would have been awful.

She really did miss Ms. Calendar. Having reliable, trustworthy adults to go to for advice and support was one Hell of a novelty for Rachel and losing one that she'd come to really trust and care for like that was a big blow. The rage that she'd felt when she'd came home to find it full of police dealing with the murder . . . it wasn't something she was going to forget anytime soon. It had been so all consuming that for a minute she'd seriously been ready to pull on her robes and mask and go killing. And the grief that had followed when the anger had dissipated had not been of the good either.

But that was past now and she had to put that grief and anger aside so that she could get on with the fight. Ms. Calendar was not the first or last person she would lose to the vampires and other demons in the world and wallowing in grief would do her no good at all. If she could get past Jesse then she could get past Ms. Calendar.

Of course, Ms. Calendar's murder and the battle with The Judge weren't the only things that had happened on the Hellmouth since she'd been given an involuntary sex-change and Fordham had came around to call. The afore-mentioned summoning of demons by Giles had came back to bite them all on the arse not long after Halloween and the demon - Eyghon - had stirred up some real trouble for a little while before Willow had hit on the rather brilliant idea of having it try and take over Angel and putting Angelus to good use for a change. As Buffy had said, winner and still champion. Might have been better if Angelus had lost and they'd dusted him considering what happened later, though.

After that came the assassins and the ever-popular and utterly disgusting bug man that dissolved into a swarm of maggots when you tried to kill him. That truly had been fun for all the family. The best part had to be getting locked into a basement with Cordelia. Words cannot express just how much fun there was to be had being locked into a closed space with Cordelia. By the time they'd lost patience and made a break for it, it seemed like they were either going to throttle each other or start having sex on the floor, and judging by the lack of necessary equipment on her part nowadays . . . Well, they'd eventually killed that particular creature with the help of a tube of glue of all things. And as a bonus they'd put Spike out of commission for a while - they'd thought he was dead at the time but he'd came back eventually - and Deadboy got his arse thoroughly kicked which was always good for a laugh.

Then came creepy robot guy, or Ted as he called himself. She'd felt in her gut that there was something off with that guy the moment she'd met him, but she'd been a trusting fool and eaten his drugged food which subdued her nicely. Bastard. If he had been able to feel pain, she'd have made him suffer untold agonies for that stunt. At least Buffy'd had the presence of mind to avoid his cooking even if it was more because she didn't like the idea of her mom dating than anything else. It was certainly the last she would make the mistake of eating food cooked by someone she didn't trust.

The whole thing with the creepy mind-controlling eggs was an episode she'd rather forget. She'd almost gotten into that herself but she'd woken up in time to stop the creature from taking control of her and been able to help Buffy deal with that thrice damned bezoar thing. That was an episode best forgotten as far as she was concerned. Too damn disturbing all around.

After the eggs came The Judge and with The Judge came Angel's transformation from creepy stalker guy to psycho stalker guy and the outing of Ms. Calender as Janna Kalderash, a Romany from the clan that cursed Angelus. Thinking about it, Rachel didn't really understand the curse. Not only was it punishing the human for the actions of the demon that killed him, but it was so easily broken as to be almost worthless if used on someone less likely to go off sulking for the rest of time like Angel. Anyway, that had almost broken the group. Buffy was devastated, Ms. Calendar ostracised, and the rest caught in the middle.

In the end, the gang had came out on top but it had been close. God only knows what would have happened if she hadn't had Revan's technical expertise to build an explosive that would annihilate The Judge before he zapped humanity. The bloody thing certainly wasn't going down to normal Slayer type attacks. Anyway, they'd won out that day, but Angelus had escaped a Buffy that was unwilling to kill the thing that was wearing the face of the one she loved. A shame, definitely, but not surprising. Buffy had always let her heart rule her head and this was just an other example of that.

Another item of note from that time was the addition of Oz to the gang. Something that became rather important a little after when he was turned into a werewolf. That hadn't exactly been fun but it was more of a normal scooby gang issue than invulnerable super-demons that can wipe out massive groups from a distance or souled vampires that suddenly don't have a soul. There'd been definite entertainment to be had when Buffy twisted that idiot hunter's gun into a U-shape though.

The events that followed from there were definitely not of the good. They were in fact depressing and large on the scary side. The fact that Angelus had been able to enter Willow's house at will was something that sent a real chill down Rachel's spine. Buffy could defend herself and hers if Angelus came calling but Willow would be toast. The little bits of magic she'd started to learn wouldn't help one bit against a normal vampire never mind one like Angelus.

And then Ms. Calender had been killed and left for Giles to find in his bed. That had been a dark time.

After that came the wonderful little episode where Buffy's stubborn nature landed her in hospital when she tried to take on Angelus while being dead on her feet thanks to illness and the pants-wettingly terrifying moment of facing down Angelus alone and unarmed in the middle of a hospital corridor. That was a moment that Rachel had paused to savour many times since. As terrifying as it had been, she been eyeball to eyeball with one of the most feared vampires in the world and he had been the one to back off.

She'd been sat in a chair outside Buffy's room, half asleep, when she'd heard the whistling. Looking up, she'd seen Angelus strolling towards her, not a care in the world, cocksure as ever, with a bunch of flowers. Blinking the sleep out of her eyes she'd been out of her chair in a flash and standing in Angelus's path.

"Visiting hours are over," she'd said.

"Well, I'm pretty much family," replied Angelus as he loomed over.

"Since when have stalkers been considered family?" snapped Rachel in reply. "I must have missed that memo."

Angelus leaned into Rachel as he spoke, "If I decide to walk into Buffy's room, do you think for one microsecond that you could stop me?"

"Maybe not. Maybe the security guard over there couldn't. Or those cops. Or the orderlies. Or the other people here who would step in if they saw you attacking a woman. I'm kinda curious to find out. You game?" said Rachel maintaining a perfect poker face and speaking in an icy, disdainful tone of voice.

That gave the demon pause. "Buffy's white knight. You still love her even though you've been turned into a freak of nature. She didn't give you a second glance even before, do you really think she'll even consider you now, freak?"

That got Rachel's temper up and, though she didn't realise it, her eyes seemed to flash yellow for a moment and she exuded a sense of absolute malice that even the worst demon would struggle to match before she forced the rage down and replied in an absolutely arctic tone of voice. "You're going to die, maggot, and I'm going to enjoy watching it. I'm going to enjoy every last second of watching you dissolve into dust."

Angelus almost visibly flinched at that. If she hadn't been so damn angry at the time, she'd have questioned just why a master vampire as feared as Angelus was even among his own kind would be intimidated by a teenage girl. In the end he slapped the bunch of flowers against her chest and snarled a perfunctory response before stalking off.

Yeah, that had been real fun for all the family. It had been eminently satisfying to face the bastard down though. Anyway, after that she'd helped Buffy deal with a particularly vile demon that preyed on ill children and was invisible to others and hence almost impossible to fight. It had been an absolutely insane scheme on Buffy's part to essentially poison herself so she could see and fight the demon but it had worked. A shame that Buffy didn't have particularly well developed mystical senses or she might not have needed to poison herself but she seemed to get by well enough using nothing more than quick thinking and ingenuity.

The episode with the ghosts and the group's attempt to vanquish them through magic was something best forgotten as far as she was concerned. Being chased by a monstrous swarm of bees was something that would feature in her nightmares for a long time to come.

And the fish-men. Those were truly unpleasant and even being around the infected swim-team members had made her stomach churn. A shame that they'd been unable to save many of them but you can't save everyone all of the time.

Anyway, that all paled in importance compared to the situation Rachel found herself in now. She'd been happily sat in the library reading a magic text when Buffy and Willow came charging in and Buffy loudly announced that they could give Angel his soul back all the while clutching at a piece of paper.

"What are you saying?" asked a befuddled looking Giles immediately.

"The curse," said Buffy while handing the piece of paper over to Giles. "This is it."

"Looks like Ms. Calendar was trying to replicate the original curse to restore Angel's soul," chipped in Willow.

Giles was just staring at the printout looking utterly gob-smacked. "She said it couldn't be done . . . "

"Well she tried anyway and it looks like it might have worked," replied Buffy looking like the weight of the world had been lifted off of her shoulders.

"And he killed her before she could tell us," said Rachel absently. "That demon has some serious luck on his side."

"Um, well, this, um . . . certainly points the way,but . . . the ritual itself requires a greater knowledge of the black arts than I, I, I can claim," said Giles, looking as if he was still having difficulty with processing everything.

"Well, I've been going through her files and, and researching the black arts, for fun, or educational fun, and I may be able to work this," said Willow grabbing Rachel's attention immediately.

"Are you insane?" she snapped. "The black arts? Before you've even got a basic mastery of normal magic? You're just asking for trouble!"

Willow looked hurt and slightly angry but Giles spoke up before she could reply. "Rachel has a point, even if she could have been more tactful about making it. You could open a door that you could not easily close using these magics."

"I don't want you putting yourself in any danger, Will," said Buffy, "not even for this."

"And I don't want danger. Big 'no' to danger, but I may be the best person to do this," said Willow.

"Don't we know any other witches who could do it? Or, even better, a way to restore Angel's soul that isn't a black arts curse?" asked Rachel. "Because I'm really not liking the idea of your first big spell being something like this. We're bordering on necromancy here."

"I'm afraid that I don't have any contacts that could perform this spell, not ones that are close enough to get here in time to perform it before Acathla is opened," said Giles. "And I have to say that I share your concerns about the nature of this curse but magics of this kind are incredibly rare and I know of no other ways to restore Angel's soul."

"I can do this, guys. I know I can," said Willow looking very determined.

"I'm not even sure that you should," said Rachel. "Way I see it, this curse punishes the man for the actions of the demon and as much as I really don't like Deadboy he doesn't deserve that."

"He'll be fine," said Buffy. "He was okay with being what he was before he lost his soul again."

Yeah, right. But it wasn't like she'd ever had a real conversation with Deadboy so she couldn't really argue. "And what about the way the curse can be broken so easily? All it takes is one moment where he loses his self-control and bam psycho stalker is back in action."

"Now he knows about it he'll be careful and avoid triggering the clause," said Buffy. "He lasted a hundred years and he didn't even know the curse could be broken, so he'll be good."

Rachel sighed. She'd known she had very little chance of winning this argument from the start and it was pretty obviously hopeless now. "Fine. I'd just like to note that I really, really don't like this before you go off and get curse happy."

"Noted," said a much more cheerful looking Buffy before she bustled off once more with Willow. Rachel just shook her head and went back to her book.

At the end of the school day the gang congregated in the school library. The main topics of discussion being Angelus's oh so charming methods of getting in touch - and don't vampires have any instincts for self-preservation? Sure Angelus would have killed the minion if she'd told him to get lost but it wasn't like she couldn't have just made a run for it! - and the soul curse that was going to be performed soon. Also, Kendra was back. Her watcher had detected a dark power rising and sent her trundling off to fight it. What the man was doing himself was anyone's guess as far as Rachel could tell. Kendra had definitely been last in line when they were handing out watchers.

"She said more would die. I have to go," said Buffy to Giles up on the mezzanine.

And Buffy was about to walk into a blatant trap for about the hundredth time since Rachel had met her. Some things never change.

"Den I should go wit you," replied Kendra immediately.

Buffy turned her head to look at Kendra. "No. I need you here just in case." She walked down the stairs. It seemed that she remember the debacle with The Anointed One and The Master's bones, so she did learn eventually. "I can take care of myself. And look, as long as Angel's fighting me, then he can't do this end-of-the-world ritual thingy, and that's a good." She'd reached the table at the centre of the library now. "Will, what do you think?"

Willow quickly glanced over her research. "I just wanna cross-check . . ."

"We don't have time. If this is gonna work, it has to work now."

"Okay then. I need maybe half an hour once this is all set up."

"Which means you only have to hold Angel off. Don't let him close on you," said Giles as he pulled a book from the shelves. "If the curse succeeds, you'll . . . you'll know."

Giles then tossed the book down to Rachel who quickly checked the title before handing it to Willow.

"Why don't you just wait here to find out if it worked, see if he phones you?" said Cordelia. An eminently sensible and practical suggestion to Rachel's mind.

"I can't risk him killing any more people," said Buffy. "I'd better go."

"Be careful," said Rachel as Buffy walked towards the library doors. "This has trap written all over it."

Buffy stopped and looked back. "I will," she said. Kendra walked over to her and started to have a quiet conversation with Buffy as Rachel turned away and back to Willow and the research.

Rachel was watching as Cordelia swirled incense around when a chill ran up and down her spine causing her to shudder violently. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. Her eyes darted around the library as she tried to find the source of her feeling of wrongness when she saw it. A vampire. He was coming out of the stacks and Rachel had a very bad feeling that there was more to come.

"VAMPIRES!" she bellowed as she instinctively dropped into a defensive position ready for the battle. Before anyone could do anything the front doors burst open and two more vampires came barrelling in only to be intercepted by Kendra. As Rachel dodged a clumsy blow from the first vampire she saw another entering through the stacks out of the corner of her eye. Shit, this wasn't looking good at all.

"Get out! Go!" yelled Giles before the newcomer leapt over the mezzanine rail and attacked him. At that point Rachel stopped having time to see what others were doing and was forced to fully engage in the fight to defend herself from her attacker.

The vampire was attacking like a man possessed, coming at her so fast that she barely had time to defend herself from the attacks never-mind retaliate. Left, right, left, right - her arms felt like they were going to drop off from the pain of the impacts as she took the blows on her forearms. This guy didn't have any particular skill in combat but he was damn fast and strong and she just wasn't. She swayed backwards to evade an uppercut that would have took her out of the fight in one go and threw a weak punch with her left hand that the vampire ignored completely before kneeing her in the gut and throwing her back into the stack which promptly fell over and crashed to the ground with a loud thud.

She looked up from her slightly hunched over position at the vampire and saw him coming at her with a cocky, shit-eating grin on his face. She could almost hear the thoughts of an easy meal running through his head and a black rage welled up from deep inside her. Suddenly her strength was back and she just knew what she had to do. The vampire threw a hard but wild right hook at her head but she was already moving, faster than she had any right to be, and unleashed a series of punches that knocked the vampire back against the mezzanine rail.

She needed a weapon. She really needed a weapon. Suddenly there was a short sword in her hand and a moment later the vampire was dust in the air. The rage dissipated and she looked around to see a panicked looking Cordelia and managed to bark out a quickly followed order to run before a crushing weight slammed into the back of her head and the world went dark.

"Kitten was all full of yummy darkness, she was," Rachel heard Drusilla sing as she came to. "The stars talk to her, they do, and she knows how to talk back to them."

Rachel quickly blinked the disorientation away. This did not sound or look good. She looked up from the chair she was tied to and saw all three of the vampires that had caused so much trouble this year: Drusilla, Spike, and Angelus. With them were several exceedingly dull looking minion vampires.

"And that's why you brought her back here?" questioned the highly-annoyed looking Angelus with his fists clenched. "She's no use to us! Kill her!"

"Hey, hey, hey," said Spike from his wheelchair as Drusilla made a low keening noise in the back of her throat. "She could be useful if the librarian keeps being stubborn. Might as well keep her around till then."

Angelus visibly calmed at that. "You might be right. I suppose you have your uses after all, rollerboy."

"More than I can say for you, Deadboy," snapped Rachel. "You always were a useless bloody coward and nothing's changed now you've stopped -"

A vicious slap from Angelus that rocked Rachel back and nearly toppled the chair silenced her. "Be quiet, woman," he said as Spike quietly sniggered beside him.

Rachel licked the blood from her split lip before she said anything. "I'm going to make it hurt for that, Deadboy. I'm going to make it hurt a lot, just you wait."

Angelus smirked. "You're in no position to be making threats, lass," he said before he turned around and swept out of the room. Poser.

"Might want to be quiet if you want to get out of here in one piece," said Spike before he swang around and rolled away. Something strange was going on there.

"Like that's going to happen," mumbled Rachel under her breath.

"We'll have so much fun we will," said Drusilla, swaying slightly. "I'll teach you all I know of the stars, my dark kitten, and together we'll have so much fun." Then she left too leaving behind a couple of minions to guard the exit and make sure she didn't try anything. As if. She was trussed up like a Christmas turkey and while she'd picked up some really useful skills recently, doing a Houdini was not one of them.

As her head cleared and she began to think clearly, a slowly but ever increasing rage began to simmer within her. These things had attacked her, attacked her friends, they'd taken her prisoner, they were obviously torturing Giles for information, and it seemed that she was next on the to-torture list if Giles didn't give up whatever they were after. Bloody bastards. She'd show them. No-one messed with her or hers if they wanted to live. No-one!

After what seemed like an eternity of utter boredom to her but probably wasn't all that long Spike rolled in accompanied by the minions. "You're up, luv," he said as the minions cut her free and hauled her to her feet. "Seems that the old man isn't planning on giving up whatever it is he knows."

The rage just kept growing as they dragged her out of the room. These things were going to suffer for a long, long time before they died if she had any say in it. The existence of such unnatural creatures was intolerable enough but for them to actually lay hands on her? To torture her? Their suffering would be legendary.

When they reached their destination, Rachel was dumped onto another wooden chair and again tied in place. As that happened she saw the state of Giles, who was on the other side of the room, and she audibly growled.

"Is the little freak-girl angry?" taunted Angelus bending over and leaning into her face so they were eye to eye. "What are you going to do about it?"

Rachel didn't even blink and maintained eye contact. "You might not be scared of me, demon, but the Slayer will be coming for you and she isn't going to hold back anymore when she sees this. You're all dust, you just don't know it yet, vermin."

She was about to elaborate on just how pathetic and weak Angelus really was when she was shut up by another slap to the face that twisted her head around.

"I'm going to enjoy this," said Angelus with a look of demonic glee on his face as he cracked his knuckles.

Rachel drew in a pained breath around what felt like a cracked rib or two and continued to stare Angelus in the eye. She absently noted in a corner of her mind that her body felt like one giant bruise but in the grip of an absolutely towering rage she felt absolutely none of it. In fact, the many ways she was going to make this creature suffer when she got loose were dominating her mind more than anything.

Angelus's body language just radiated frustration but it didn't seem that he was going to stop anytime soon either. Right now he'd gone back to working on Giles on the other side of the room and Rachel was using the time to take a breather and evaluate the situation in a bit more depth than she'd been able to before. It did indeed look grim. Not only was she tied to the chair and stuck in a room with Angelus but Spike was hanging around looking rather bored and there was several minions hanging around outside the door just waiting for someone to try and make a break for it.

In short, she didn't see a way out of here. And then someone shoved a filthy rag in her mouth so she couldn't speak. He was going to be nailed to a holy-water soaked cross and left to face the sunrise.

"You know, I can stop the pain. You've been very brave . . . " said Angelus as he put his hand on Giles's shoulder, "but it's over. You've given enough. Now let me make it stop," said Angelus as he walked around Giles.

"Please!" begged Giles.

Oh Hell!

Angelus kneeled in front of him. "Just tell me what I need to know."

"In order . . . to be worthy . . . "

"Yeah?" asked Angelus in a whisper.

"You must perform the ritual . . . in a tutu."

Rachel couldn't help but burst out into a cackling, almost Hyena-like laugh at that, muffled as it was. The last thing she saw before the world went dark again was Angelus's infuriated expression and his first hurtling towards her head.

Rachel came around to the sounds of fighting in the main hall of the mansion. She blinked and looked around. The three main threats were gone and Giles was still in once piece . . . barely.

Then she realised that she was on the floor and no longer tied to the chair. Angelus must have broken the bindings in his rage. She couldn't help but sneer. Such incompetence! She nimbly made her way to her feet and stretched to work out the kinks in her muscles that she'd acquired from being trapped in that chair and beaten. Her body was sore as all Hell but she would survive. She looked over at Giles and her rage spiked through the ceiling. He was a bloody mess. They'd pay for this. Oh yes, they would pay.

As her anger grew and grew two vampires came barrelling into the room. The expression on their faces spoke of confidence bordering on arrogance in their ability to deal with the two mere humans in this room. She sneered again. They'd learn. The first one, one she recognised as being the vampire who'd gagged her with that filthy, disgusting rag, moved towards her languidly, no urgency at all in his step even though it sounded like Buffy was on a real rampage outside. Rachel acted on instincts that she didn't even know she had and raised her hands, spreading her fingers wide. Then she harnessed the power of the rage and hatred she was feeling and massive, jagged bolts of lightning arced out of her fingers into the vampire blasting him back out of the room screaming in agony as his dead flesh was burnt to a crisp.

The other vampire charged at her but with a wave of her hand she sent him hurtling across the room and bounced him off the wall with a wet thudding sound. Before the vampire could attack again she made a twisting motion with her hands and tore the bloodsucker's head clean off with a particularly brutal application of her telekinetic powers.

She smiled a bitter, twisted smile. The raw, unadulterated power running through her veins quickly wiped away the pain of her injuries leaving behind only a lust for vengeance and destruction. These pathetic creatures would know their place now. These vermin would soon learn the price of attacking a Sith Lord. And then her train of thought quickly derailed. A Sith!? She quickly shook her head - what the Hell? What was she thinking? She was no Sith!

She shook her head. These was no time for this. She walked over to Giles and shook him awake. "Come on, Giles. We really need to get out of here before more bloodsuckers come calling."


No, Rachel. Come on, Giles. We need to move now. Can you walk?"

"You're not real . . . It's a trick. They get into my head and make me see things, things that I want."

"Why would they make you see me, Giles?"

"I . . . Good point. Let's go."

Rachel grunted as she helped lever Giles out of the chair and started to drag him out of the building. Bloody Hell but he was heavy! As they left she noticed one Hell of a lot of dust laying around. Buffy was definitely giving these bastards what they deserved. Thank God. It was about time she got over the whole Angel/Angelus thing and started giving these . . . things what they deserved.

As they left the mansion Rachel began to feel an overwhelming sense of impending doom and abruptly stopped.

"What . . . what's wrong?" asked Giles weakly.

"I'm not sure. Something's not right but I'm not sure what," replied Rachel with a frown on her face.

And then she felt the most awful thing she'd felt in her whole life. It felt like reality itself was being torn to shreds and replaced with something new and foul . . . and it hurt. Her head felt it was going to explode and she managed to gasp out one word before she collapsed. "Acathla."

When she woke up she was in a hospital bed and she felt pretty damn grotty. "Ouch," she muttered as she looked around the room.

"You're awake," said Giles from the chair next to her bed.

"I take it from the fact that I'm not suffering eternal torment that Acathla was closed?"

"Acathla was dormant when I checked on it," said Giles. "But I haven't seen Buffy yet and as such I have no idea what happened."

Rachel nodded and then said, "shouldn't you be in a bed too? Even Sunnydale doctors wouldn't just let you go the state you were in."

The grin Giles flashed in reply to that was more than a little vicious. "I had more important things to worry about than what some bloody doctors wanted."

"I suppose you're right. How long till I get out of here?"

"If you're up to it, you can leave whenever you want."

"Let's get out of here then. I want to see how the others are."

To say that Rachel was less than pleased when she found out that Willow had performed the soul curse after just coming out of a coma would be the understatement of the millennium.

The next day dawned bright and altogether too early for Rachel's tastes. The adrenaline she'd been running on before had long since ran out and now she just hurt everywhere. Bloody Deadboy was living on borrowed time if he wasn't already dust as far as she was concerned. She felt a little better after a long, hot shower but it was still a supreme effort on her part to work up the will to go to school. Giles wasn't any better either. Actually she was kinda surprised that he was as mobile as he was. Angelus put much more time into working him over than her. Tough old bugger that he was, he seemed to be moving around well enough.

They met up with Oz and Willow, who was in a wheelchair, along with Cordelia outside the school. Giles was a little unsteady on his feet - not that she was any different - and Willow looked a little pale and worn out, but apart from that they seemed to have came out of the whole thing fairly well.

"Willow, are you sure you should be out of bed?" asked Giles.

"Look who's talking," retorted a smiling Willow.

"Yes," smiled Giles.

"Any word?" asked Cordelia. That was something Rachel was still getting used to. A human Cordelia who actually seemed to care. Amazing!

"You guys haven't seen her either?" asked Rachel, frowning.

"No," said Willow.

"But we know the world didn't end, 'cause" said Oz looking around, "check it out."

Giles took off his glasses and squinted. "Well, I, uh . . . I went back to the mansion. I-it was empty, um . . . and Acathla was, was . . . dormant."

"I think the spell worked," said Willow looking thoughtful. "I felt something go through me."

"Plus the Orb did that cool glow thing," said Cordelia.

"I don't think it worked in time, Willow. Acathla opened and the only way to close it . . . " said Rachel, not one bit sorry that Deadboy was, well, dead. Well, maybe a bit sorry that she didn't get to do it herself.

"Would be to sacrifice Angel," said Giles looking pensive. "Oh dear."

"Well, then, she'd want to be alone, I guess," said Oz.

"Or maybe Angel was saved, and they want to be alone together," said Willow, ever the romantic and optimistic.

"Perhaps," said Giles, but they all knew it was very, very unlikely.

"Well, she's gotta show up sooner or later. We still have school," said Cordelia.

"Yeah," said Willow, looking around as if expecting Buffy to show up any minute now. "She'll be here in a while."

Quite frankly, Buffy turning up or not was the last thing on Rachel's mind right now. Buffy could take care of herself well enough. The thing that kept running through her mind was the image of lightning spewing out of her hands and the feeling of power that had ran through her as she destroyed those vampires as easily as swatting a couple of annoying little insects. She definitely needed to talk to Giles about this, but later. Right now he had enough to worry about with Buffy and dealing with the now dormant Acathla.

Chapter Four

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."

"Might be."

"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?"

"Pretty much."

"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.

"He's dead."


"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."

"That's awful!"

"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."

Chapter Five

Rachel was dozing off in an extremely tedious physics lesson that she knew for a fact to be utter bollocks thanks to her Revan memories that gave her knowledge of a much more complete and accurate study of the science when she felt the disturbance. Something new and powerful had entered Sunnydale. It was new but at the same time familiar in its form and it had a wild, untamed edge to it. Luckily she had developed her senses somewhat over the last few days. She immediately closed her eyes and sank into a light meditative state to try and get more information.

First she took in the presences of those in the room. Most were utterly unremarkable but Willow's presence burned with untapped power and potential. It was quite terrifying really the amount of magical power Willow had. If someone had that much strength in the Force - which she didn't even think was possible - they'd be able to do almost anything! She made a note to talk to Giles because someone with that amount of power needed proper tuition and guidance or seriously bad things would happen. The temptation to abuse her powers would be staggering once she truly learned how to tap them instead of learning random, individual spells from whatever books she could get her hands on.

Then she extended her senses over those present at the school. Some had minor magical potential but nothing of any real interest. No Force sensitives or magically strong at least. A deeper meditation might reveal more if she had the time. The only one outside the classroom but still inside school ground with any real points of interest was Giles. Hmm. He had more magical ability than he let on. He also had an interesting aura stemming from his use of several different types of magic. The aura was mostly light these days but it was still shot through with black streaks from his use of dark magics and grey from his use of chaos magics.

With that done she spread her senses wide and thin over the whole town. When she was fully trained she would be able to analyse the entire town's population at the same level that she could the school but for now she simply flitted around looking to see if she could find something of interest, what had caused the disturbance she had felt. Whatever it was it had to be damn powerful for her to feel it over the interference of the hellmouth. If it was a demon, they were in trouble.

"Miss Giles!" said a screeching voice that jerked her out of her meditation. "If you're so bored that you can afford to go to sleep, then perhaps you can solve the equation I've written on the board?" said the annoyed looking teacher.

She narrowed her eyes and took the equation in. Difficult as all hell by high-school standards but by what Revan knew - and what she now knew with her increased ability to recall those memories with her training? Hardly. She immediately rattled off the answer and closed her eyes again.

"A week's detention!" she cried as she left the classroom with Willow. "Not far, not fair at all!"

"Well you did kinda call her a pompous windbag," said a scandalised looking Willow.

"You heard the lecture she was giving me, right? All because I happened to not be paying attention to a class I could teach myself? Bloody little Hitler she is. You can tell she was hired by Snyder."

"That'll be another week's detention," said a gleeful looking Snyder as he passed her.

Rachel swore. Loudly.

"And another!"

Rachel spent the rest of the morning sulking. Three weeks of detention! Bloody sodding bastard teachers should all be strung up their short and curlies as far as she was concerned. Three weeks! All of that because of some bloody idiot excuse for a teacher who took offence at her not finding her class difficult enough. This was even worse than the masters back at the Jedi Temple who'd constantly lecture her when she finished her work too fast because she wasn't absorbing it properly.

She took a deep, cleansing breath and pushed the annoyance aside as she walked out to the front of the school with Willow and Oz. What's done is done and holding onto it won't help anything. Snapping at her friends certainly wasn't going to accomplish anything.

"I'm giddy," said a smiling Willow.

"Oh, I like you giddy," said Oz. "Always have."

"It's the freedom!" said Willow. "As Seniors, we can go off campus now for lunch. It's no longer cutting. It's legal! Heck, it's expected! Wow, it's, uh, also a big step forward, a Senior moment, one that has to be savored."

Rachel repressed the small smile that appeared on her face at that. Same old Willow.

"You can't just rush into this, you know?"

Rachel glanced over at Oz and with exchanged nods they each grabbed one of Willow's arms and began to pull her across the street.

"Oh!" exclaimed Willow, resisting. "No, I can't!"

"Oh, you can," said Rachel with a smile.

"See, you are," said Oz with his typical lack of expression.

"Oh, but, no! What if they changed the rule without telling? What if they're lying in wait to arrest me a-and, and throw me in detention and mar my unblemished record?"

They'd reached the other side of the street by that point and it was all Rachel could do not to burst out into a fit of laughter. "Breathe, Willow," she said with a fond smile on her face. There was just something right about hanging out with Willow like this.

"Okay," she said. She took a deep breath. "Hmm."

Oz took Willow by the hand and they began to head over to the small park near the school. "This is good! This is... Hey, we're Seniors!" said a much more relaxed Willow. "Hey, I'm walking here," she said with a giggle.

When they spotted Buffy she was in the process of setting out a picnic on a blanket she'd laid out underneath a palm tree. "Ah. Buffy and food," said Rachel. "Almost makes up for this morning. Almost."

Willow giggled but then turned serious abruptly. "Maybe we shouldn't be too couple-y around Buffy," she said.

Rachel pondered that for a moment. "You might be right."

They were up to the tree, just outside of Buffy's view, when Oz spoke. "Okay, prepare to uncouple." A couple more steps. "Uncouple." And just like that they parted. They plodded over to Buffy and plonked themselves down on the blanket - Willow maintaining a careful level of distance from Oz all the while.

"Buffy, banned from campus, but not from our hearts, how are you and what's for lunch?" said Rachel.

"Oh I just threw a few things together," said Buffy.

"Since when were you all Martha Stewart like?" asked Rachel with a grin.

"First of all, Martha Stewart knows jack about hand-cut prosciutto," said Buffy while handing out the drink bottles.

"I don't think she slays either," quipped Rachel.

"Oh, I hear she can but she doesn't like to," replied Oz.

"Second of all, way too much free time on my hands since I got kicked out of school," said Buffy as she opened her bottle and took a drink.

"You're not missing much, believe me," grumped Rachel.

"I sense dirt. Dish."

"She got three weeks of detention," weighed in Oz. "Quite impressive."

"Three weeks? How?"

"I may or may not have called Mrs. Stenhouse a pompous windbag in class and then called her a Little Hitler when in hearing distance of the troll. And then I may or may not have swore rather loudly in response to getting said detentions while still in the presence of the troll."

Buffy giggled. "Oh I wish I'd been there to see that."

"It was definitely worth the price of admission," said Oz.

"Ooo, Scott Hope at eleven o'clock," said Willow, causing Buffy to quickly look in the direction Willow indicated. " He likes you. He wanted to ask you out last year, but you weren't ready then. But I think you're ready now, or at least in the state of pre-readiness to make conversation, or-or to do that thing with your mouth that boys like," babbled Willow.

Rachel had honestly never seen anyone's head snap around quite so quickly as Buffy's did at that and the shocked look on her face was absolutely priceless. Willow realised her slip-up very quickly and then she slipped into full-on Willow babble mode. "Oh! I didn't mean the bad thing with your mouth, I meant that little half-smile thing that you . . . " She stopped herself there and gave Oz a very mild glare. "You're supposed to stop me when I do that," she said.

Oz just smiled and shook his head. "I like it when you do that," he said.

Scott passed them at that point and exchanged greetings with Buffy.

"I think that went very well. Don't you think that went very well?" said Willow.

"Definitely," said Rachel. She left the, "he has a pulse and won't try and kills us all," unsaid - that was a sore point that really didn't need to be poked at no matter how bitter she was about what happened.

The conversation went into inanities about Buffy and dating at that point which Rachel only paid a very small amount of attention to. Buffy's love life really didn't register on her radar anymore as long as there wasn't going to be murder and destruction spawned by it, and she didn't have the inclination or the patience for girly talk about relationships and such. In fact, she could think of little that would be more boring. Except clothes shopping.

Being a girl really did suck sometimes, thought Rachel. Mostly it wasn't all that bad once you got used to the changes but dealing with the walking bags of hormones that called themselves boys really did get old fast. It didn't help help that he'd been morphed into someone who could pass as Revan if that universe was real and Revan had been very, very attractive even if it was in a cold, distant sort of way.

So that was why she found herself lurking in the shadows at the Bronze, hunting for any passing vampires who'd decided to get themselves a high-school aged snack. Lurking in the shadows! It was far too Dead Boy-like for her tastes as a rule but here she was lurking away like a pro.

Life just wasn't fair. It really wasn't.

Anyway the Bronze was pretty much dead. She did wonder just where the Hell everyone was because this was pretty much the only to go in town for people their age unless they had a taste for demon bars. It wasn't like they were going to be doing - and she shuddered at this thought - homework or something. Ah well. Less people hanging around meant easier hunting.

And with that thought she spotted an especially attractive girl that looked to be around the same age as the gang dancing in a rather provocative manner with someone who was so very obviously a vampire that it was a wonder that he hadn't gotten himself staked yet. Honestly, wearing seventies disco clothes and dancing like some crazed disco dancer? Cordelia would probably go into shock if she saw this guy.

Anyway, back to the important thing. The girl was a serious eye catcher. Rachel hadn't caught a good look at her face yet but her body . . . damn. And the way she moved. Sex on legs . . . Definitely. This was not a girl who would ever have trouble getting a date. Actually, rewind a moment. The way she moved, there was something off about that. There was a predatory edge to her movements that she'd missed at first glance. Heh. She was one to complain about teenage hormones.

At the point where the dancer gestured disco-boy outside, Rachel decided it was time to leave the shadows. Judging by the way Buffy and the gang -except Oz, of course - jumped she'd definitely caught them by surprise.

"Vampire," she said pointing at the couple who were just to say leaving the club.

Buffy just glared at her. "You are so going to be wearing a bell if you do that again."

Rachel rolled her eyes. "Heil!"

Buffy would have probably snapped off a retort to that but she obviously realised that the whole vampire thing was a bit more important, as she bit her tongue and left it.

"Stop struggling. This won't hurt a bit," said disco-boy as he leaned into the girl and vamped out.

What followed was one Slayer-sized ass-kicking. The vampire never had a chance really. It didn't manage to land so much as a single blow all the while and the girl managed to maintain a running - albeit one-sided - conversation all the while as she beat the hell out of it right up to the point where she tired of the fight and grabbed the stake out of Buffy's hand and finished the vampire off with a clean shot through the heart.

"Thanks, B. Couldn't have done it without you," said the girl who was apparently called Faith as she handed back the stake before walking past the dumb-founded Buffy and back into the Bronze..

"Safe to say she's not a council-drone like Kendra I suppose," said Rachel.

"Ya think?" snarked Cordelia.

Rachel shook her head and took the high ground of not getting into a slanging match with Cordelia as the group moved back into the Bronze.

Rachel kept a careful eye on Faith as the newcomer related one of her stories to the group that was arranged around her in the club alcove. She definitely put on a good front but she had a nagging feeling that there was more to Faith than what she showed to the world. The rest of the group seemed to be completely enthralled but she knew that Buffy at least saw more than she let on at times and did a decent job of reading people. Faith had moved on to a new story now and Rachel was careful to listen and take it all in.

?The whole summer it was, like, the worst heat wave. So it's about a hundred and eighteen degrees and I'm sleeping without a stitch on," she said as a waitress set a tray of muffins down on the table in front of her.

"And all of a sudden, I hear this screaming from outside. So I go tearing out, stark nude," said Faith, causing Rachel's brain to pretty much short out with pleasant images as her eyes took a distant look, "and this church bus has broke down, and there's these three vamps feasting on half the Baptists in South Boston. So I waste the vamps, and the preacher comes up, and he's hugging me like there's no tomorrow, when all of a sudden, the cops pull up and they arrested us both."

Rachel missed what Buffy said to that but what Faith said next drew her out of her thoughts in a most abrupt manner. "So you bat for the other team, huh?"

"Pretty much," admitted Rachel easily.

"Cool," said Faith, seeming completely unfazed before she grabbed a muffin and started to tear into it with gusto. " God, I could eat a horse. Isn't it crazy how slayin' just always makes you hungry and horny?"

Rachel couldn't help but smirk. "Buffy may have neglected to mention that."

The wide-eyed, uncomfortable look on Buffy's face was yet another classic as far as Rachel was concerned. "Well... Sometimes I-I crave a non-fat yoghurt afterwards."

At that point a look of sudden enlightenment passed over Cordelia's face. I get it!" At that point everyone gave her confused looks. "Not the horny thing. Yuck! But the two Slayer thing. There was one, and then Buffy died for, like, two minutes, so then Kendra was called, and then when she died, Faith was called."

Faith gave her a nod.

"But why were you called here?" asked Willow.

"Well, I wasn't. My Watcher went off to some retreat thing in England, and so I skipped out. I figured this was my chance to meet the infamous Buff and compare notes," said Faith drawing a small smile from Buffy. "So, B, did you really blow the mall up one time to kill a demon?"

Lies. Mostly. A thread of truth covering a lie. Interesting.

"That one was all Rachel's fault," said Buffy. "As if I'd blow up the mall!"

"Home-made explosives are my crime of choice," said Rachel with a mischievous grin. "But they exaggerated the destruction. I blew out all the glass and left a deluxe-sized crater where the demon had been but that was all. Didn't have time to make a real bomb."

"And thank God for that," said Cordelia fervently as Faith laughed.

"So what was the, uh, story about that alligator? You, uh, said something... before," said Rachel.

And that set Faith off again on another story with lots of enthusiastic hand gestures. "Oh, there's this Big Daddy Vampire out of Missouri who used to keep them as pets. So he's got me rasslin' one of 'em, okay? The thing must have been twelve feet (3.7 m) long and I'm . . ."

"So was there any nudity involved here?"

"Well, the alligator was," said Faith with a teasing grin that Rachel couldn't help but respond to in kind. " I tell ya, I never had more trouble than that damn vamp." She turned her head to face Buffy. "So what about you? What was your toughest kill?"

Buffy lowered her head for a moment at that before replying, obviously reliving bad memories. "Um, well, you know," she smiled weakly, "they're all difficult, I

guess." Faith took a bite out of her muffin, obviously waiting for some kind of story. "Uh . . . Oh! Oh, do you guys remember the Three?"

A whole lot of blank looks greeted that statement. The Three? From what Rachel remembered - and it was admittedly a rather foggy memory - the Three had been sent packing pretty quickly when the spineless coward known as Angel had actually done something for a change.

Buffy continued. "That's right, you never met the Three. Well, there was three . . . "

Oz interrupted at that point saving Buffy from the lamest story of all time. "Something occurring. Uh, now, you both kill vamps, and who could blame you, but, I'm, I'm wondering about your position on werewolves."

Willow put her hand on Oz's shoulder. "Oz is a werewolf."

"It's a long story," said Buffy with a grin.

Oz shrugged. "I got bit."

"Apparently not that long," said Buffy.

Faith considered that briefly. "Hey, as long as you don't go scratchin' at

me or humpin' my leg, we're five-by-five, you know?"

"Fair enough," said Oz.

"The vamps, though, they better get their asses to DEFCON ONE, 'cause you and I are gonna have fun, you know, Watcherless and fancy-free," said Faith while smiling and pointing at Buffy.

"Watcherless?" said a puzzled looking Buffy. "Didn't yours go to England, too?"

"Think I'd have noticed if my guardian had disappeared off somewhere," said Rachel.

The introductions went as expected right up to the point where Faith made a comment about Giles being both young and cute.


Anyway, introductions were made, Faith was given the grand tour of the high school and the locations where near-death was experienced by the gang, and everything seemed fine. Well, Buffy's nose seemed to be a little out of joint, but Rachel was beginning to get the impression that Slayers just didn't play together all that well. It was sort of like having two Cordelia's around. And that was in no way a cheery thought at all except in the fantasy sense where people didn't do much talking.

It turned out that a couple of people had gone missing - and that came as oh such a massive surprise, honest - and Giles wanted the Slayers to go and investigate it at some point. It didn't seem all that big a deal but she had a gut feeling that something was up there and she'd long since learned that those gut feelings were the Force warning her of something.

So she volunteered herself to go on patrol with Buffy and Faith that night.

"You sure that's a good idea? I mean, you're not a Slayer or anything," said Faith looking a little puzzled.

Rachel waved Faith's concerns aside. "I'll be fine."

"If you say so," said a very doubtful looking Faith.

And with that it was set: patrol for Rachel that night.

Patrol was slow for most of the night, especially by Sunnydale standards. This was a place where vampire-hunting was normally like playing whack-a-mole at the arcade but for some reason that night was quiet. They were walking down a rather dingy looking alley for about the third or fourth time when Faith spoke up.

"Didn't we, um, do this street already?" asked Faith with a bit of a sarcastic air.

"Funny thing about vamps. They'll hit a street even after you've been there. It's like they have no manners," snarked Buffy in reply.

Faith shrugged. "Mm. You've been doing this the longest."

"I have."

"Yeah. Maybe a bit too long," said Faith.

Buffy's head snapped around to face Faith. "Excuse me? What's that supposed to mean?"

Rachel rolled her eyes. It was always the same. Really it was only a question of whether Slayers just didn't play well together or if it was because Buffy didn't play well with others in general. Either way, two Slayers together always seemed to cause friction.


"You got a problem?" demanded an irate sounding Buffy.

Rachel let loose a piercing whistle attracting both their attention. "Enough already. Christ almighty, we're here to fight vampires not each other. Even Cordelia managed that much."

"That was a low blow," huffed Buffy.

"Yeah but it was accurate," said Rachel. From out of nowhere a chill ran up and down her spine. She immediately drew her rapier and settled into a relaxed but prepared stance. "I think we're about to have company."

"Nice blade," commented Faith as she started to eye up the area looking for any vampires. "What makes you think that vamps are around? I can feel something now but I thought that was a Slayer thing."

"I'll tell you once patrol's done. It's a long story."

"Any idea how many?" asked Buffy, all business now.

"Not a clue. My senses aren't all that attuned yet and vampires are damn good at hiding themselves."

Without a moment of warning all Hell broke loose at that point. Buffy suddenly leapt forward and shoved Faith to the ground out of the way of a vampire that was coming lunging in at her back, and Rachel found herself confronted by a couple of particularly ugly-looking vampires in game-face, one female and one male. The male of the pair attacked straight away lunging at her and was neatly decapitated for its troubles.

Seeing that, the female grabbed a length of piping from the floor with her right arm and came in more cautiously. Rachel decided to take an offensive approach to the fight, making a quick slash aimed at the vampire's right arm, and winced at the sound made when the vampire blocked the blow with the pipe. This was not going to be good for her sword.

"Kakistos will reward me greatly for the death of a Slayer," hissed the vampire before swiping at Rachel's head with the pipe, a move which Rachel easily dodged out of the way of.

"Do I look like a Slayer?" said Rachel. At the vampire's puzzled look she thought for a moment. "Ah. I probably do these days, I suppose. No matter"

And with that she lunged at the vampire with impossible speed and ran it through with her blessed blade, drawing a blood-curdling scream from the vampire. Rachel tried to yank the blade out to finish the vampire off but cursed loudly as she found it to be stuck in the vampire's ribs. She released the blade and the vampire stumbled backwards before collapsing onto her back, still screaming.

Rachel almost felt sorry for the demon. That looked and sounded really, really painful. She smashed a nearby crate and immediately thrust a piece of it into the vampire's heart, abruptly ending its screams. She grabbed her sword and took a quick look around, evaluating the situation. Faith was tenderising a vampire with one serious berserker rage and Buffy . . .

Oh shit.

Rachel immediately leapt over to where Buffy was with force-enhanced muscles and lopped the head off the vampire that had her pinned to the ground.

"Are you okay, Buffy?" asked Rachel as Buffy bounced to her feet. Buffy just ignored her, looking deeply pissed and stalked over to Faith.

"What is wrong with you?" demanded Buffy in a harsh tone of voice.

"What are you talking about?" replied Faith sounding honestly confused.

Rachel watched on as Buffy and Faith had themselves a little tiff over Faith's less than stellar teamwork. The words of argument itself weren't all that important but it was all building towards her impression of Faith and things were beginning to add up to something bad. Faith was definitely on the side of the angels but something was very, very wrong.

"Giles, I think we might have a problem," said Rachel after she let herself back into the apartment.

"And what makes you say that, Rachel," said Giles, looking over his glasses at her from his chair where he was comfortably sat with a cup of tea in one hand and a musty old book in the other.

"Faith. Something's not right with her at all. Her story about her watcher? Smells off to me. I got this gut feeling that she was hiding something and my gut feelings tend to be right these days. That and her fighting style is just off. She pounded one vampire to a pulp, long past the point where she could have staked him, and ignored the others, who almost got Buffy. She's got some serious anger in her."

Giles blinked and placed his book and cup of tea on the arms of his chair before commencing with the polishing of his glasses. "You are correct: This is most alarming. Is there anything else?"

"Kakistos. One of them said that Kakistos would reward her greatly for killing a Slayer."

Giles paled at that. "Good Lord." And then he disappeared off to his book collection and pulled out a book that Rachel recognised as his text on famous vampires and started leafing through it.

"I take it that this Kakistos is bad news then?" said Rachel dryly.

There was a silence that dragged on for several moments before Giles replied. "If you would call a vampire that's older than even the Master, then yes, you could say he was trouble."

"Ah. And he's showing up the same time as Faith . . . I think I can guess what's going on."

It turned out that Buffy agreed with Rachel. Agreed rather strongly in fact. The fact that she didn't seem to like Faith or Faith seemingly filling a very Buffy-like space in people's lives to Buffy didn't come in to it at all, of course. So with that in mind, Rachel accompanied Buffy when she went to talk to Faith because no-one wanted to have to peel one of the slayers off the floor when they were through with their Alpha female posturing. Honestly they were worse than Hyenas.

To say that the hotel that Faith was saying in was 'roach infested would be an insult to cockroaches: even dumb insects would have more taste than to stay somewhere like this if they had a choice. It honestly looked like the place hadn't seen soap and water since it had been built and the noises . . . well it didn't take much imagination to figure out what this place was being used for. Hello, glorified brothel and drug den, aren't you a truly suitable place for a teenage girl to live?

She was definitely having words with someone about this at the first opportunity that came along.

"Room-mates are extra," said the scruffy-looking man who was in the room with Faith as Buffy and Rachel stepped in.

"I'm just visiting," said Buffy immediately.

"Me too," said Rachel. With the, 'I would rather sleep in a ditch', going unsaid.

The guy seemed to give up on whatever he was after at that point and left, leaving them alone in the room. As Buffy shut the door, Faith spoke up. "So what brings you to the poor side of town?"

"The wonderful smell of course," said Rachel immediately. "I've missed the smell of stale booze and vomit so much, you know."

That got glares from both of the Slayers. Score one for the art of making friends and influencing others.

"Cloven guy. Goes by the name of Kakistos," said Buffy once she'd finished drilling holes through Rachel with her eyes. Go Buffy. She'd obviously mastered the arts of subtlety and leading into a conversation gently.

Faith looked utterly gob-smacked for a moment before she wiped the expression off her face. "What do you know about Kakistos?"

?gThat he's here," said Buffy. The fear was radiating off Faith by that point. "We're not happy to see old friends are we? What did he do to you?"

Faith began to stuff her belongings into a bag. "It's what I did to him, alright?"

Score one for Faith. Laying a good hurt on a vampire as old as Kakistos was easier said than done. Buffy'd face two in that bracket and she'd been bloody close to death both times. With the Master she'd actually been dead for a while even.

"And what was that? Faith, you came here for a reason. I can help," said Buffy.

"We can help," interjected Rachel with a small glare at Buffy. "Killing vamps? Kinda our speciality around here."

"You can mind your own business. I'm the one who can handle this," said Faith, sounding distinctly tetchy.

"Yeah. You're a real bad-ass when it comes to packing," said Buffy, getting a distinctly sour look from Faith. "What was that you said about my problem? Gotta deal and move on? Well, we have the 'moving on' part right here. What

about dealing? Is that just something you're gonna dump on me?"

"Can't be any worse than Lothos or The Master," said Rachel. "He's old and he's tough but he can die the same as any other vamp. We can deal with him Faith. Just let us help you."

Ignoring the whole stakes don't work on him thing of course. Buffy looked distinctly surprised at her mentioning Lothos. As if she wasn't going to look up her old watcher's diaries!

"This guy's the worst of the worst," said Faith. "Those two were bad but this guy makes them look like wusses. You haven't seen what this guy does to people. You don't know what he put me through."

"I think I have a pretty good idea. I've seen what Dracula did to someone who pissed him off," said Rachel. That got surprised looks from both of them. Did that philistine Buffy not read Hellsing or something? "We really can help you."

I can take care of myself," said Faith as she made for the door after a moment of indecision. The fear really was strong in this one.

"Like you took care of your watcher?" said Buffy. That stopped Faith dead in her tracks. "He killed her didn't he?"

"They don't have a word for what he did to her," said Faith with some serious fire in her voice.

They were interrupted by a loud knock on the door at that point. Faith sighed in frustration and looked through the peep-hole. "Oh what now?"

"Faith, you run, he runs after you," said Buffy.

"That's where the head-start comes in handy," retorted Faith as she opened the door.

And that's when the manager's corpse fell through the door frame revealing one seriously ugly looking vampire. "Faith," he said, sounding distinctly pleased with himself.

"Some head-start," quipped Rachel.

The ugly bastard roared at that point and grabbed Faith by the throat, which considering the state of what was passing for hands on his body was some achievement. Faith tried to pull him off her but she couldn't manage it and looked like she was panicking so Rachel reached out with the Force and slammed Kakistos into the wall across the hall.

"This is a joke, right?" she said. "What sort of retarded excuse for a vampire thinks it's a good idea to go after two Slayers at once?"

The vampire roared in fury at that and lunged at Faith again only to be thrown back at the wall again and holding him there.

"How does someone so stupid live for so long?" asked Rachel with an air of mock-confusion. "God you're pathetic. Demon trash like you are all the same, little more than animals without the intelligence to realise when you've picked a loosing fight."

Kakistos was thrashing around in an attempt to free himself but Rachel's grip on him was like iron with no yield in it whatsoever. "I'll give you a quick lesson then. Faith and Buffy here are vampire slayers. You are a vampire. Do the math. Two plus two is four and all that."

"I will hang you by your own intestines for this, girl," roared the vampire. "Your suffering will be legendary."

"I'm shaking in my boots," said Rachel dryly. "Who is it that's got who immobilised here again?"

Buffy and Faith were just staring at her in shock. It was quite funny really. "Well is someone going to finish him off or do you expect me to hold him there all night?" she asked.

Faith immediately pulled a stake out of her pants - and how she'd managed to fit it in there was beyond Rachel - and lunged forward to plunge it into Kakistos's chest. It had no effect whatsoever.

"Looks like you'll need a bigger stake, girl," he laughed, the utter moron.

Rachel pulled her sword out of its sheath and tossed it to Faith. "Try that," she said.

It took a couple of goes to get the sword all the way through Kakistos's neck but she managed it and the ugly bastard promptly dissolved into dust.

"Well that wasn't so bad" said Rachel.

"How the FUCK did you do that?" blurted out Faith. "I thought witches had to do all that crap with herbs and stuff before they could do anything."

Rachel smiled. "Whoever said I was using magic?"

Faith blinked. "Huh?"

"I suppose I'd best explain. Buffy you might want to stay for this being that you missed a lot over the summer and we haven't really had time to talk about it yet."

Buffy just nodded dumbly. She'd been told that Rachel was a little more dangerous now but it seemed that it hadn't quite sank in till now.

"So you're a real Jedi? Where's your lightsabre then?" asked Faith, looking like a kid in a sweetshop.

"Sorry to disappoint you but I don't have one," said Rachel. "This world just doesn't have the technology needed and the focussing gem would cost an arm and a leg, literally. We're talking crown jewels of England size here."

"That sucks," said Faith. "A Jedi should have a lightsabre. It's just not right without one."

Rachel smiled, she'd never have taken Faith for a Star Wars geek or a geek of any description really but here she was. "I agree but there's not a lot I can do about it."

"Angel really tortured you?" said Buffy dumbly.

"Yeah. Giles got the worst of it but the bastard seemed to get a real kick out of working me over for some reason. Guess he wasn't too happy about all the times I insulted him when he had a soul," replied Rachel. "Let that be a lesson to you, Faith: insulting vampires with a reputation for being sadists, not always the best idea," she followed up with a wink.

"I'm so sorry, Rachel. If I'd stopped him earlier . . . "

"Yeah, you probably should have dusted him straight off, but no-one's perfect and it can be hard to kill someone who looks like someone you love. I know, remember? I had the whole thing with Jesse back at The Harvest and I still don't know if I'd have done it if someone hadn't knocked him onto my stake," said Rachel. "I knew he was a monster then and my friend was dead, but I still couldn't do it."

"Still . . . "

"Stop beating yourself up, Buffy. What's done is done. You dealt with the bastard in the end and all you can do now is learn from your mistakes. Just because you're a Slayer doesn't mean you have to be perfect."

And with that it was hugs all around in an almost embarrassingly female display of emotion.

The next night Rachel felt an absolutely massive disturbance in the Force, a disturbance the likes of which she had never felt before and could not pinpoint. The energy given off was massive but it was cloaked in some way she could not defeat and she had no idea where the disturbance had taken place or what had happened. Whatever it was, it was big. That sort of energy . . . there couldn't be many things that could produce it. It didn't feel dark or evil but if whatever produced it was capable of concealing itself from her senses to this extent then it could certainly fool her into not realising it was of the Dark Side if it felt like it.

Chapter Six

"So you really used to be a guy?" asked Faith with the beginnings of a teasing grin on her face as they walked through the cemetery.

"Yes, Faith, I used to be a guy," replied Rachel with a sigh.

"So you get a free peep show every time you shower?" said Faith with the teasing grin now in full force.

"I suppose so . . . hey! I resent the implication that I get cheap thrills from seeing myself nude," said Rachel with a complete poker face on.

"Don't you mean resemble?"

"That too, I suppose."

A vampire jumped out from behind a headstone in front of them and was promptly staked by Faith before Rachel had her sword out of its scabbard. "That's five - three to me now, Darth. You getting slow in your old age or something? I thought you Jedi types could feel 'em coming or something anyway."

"Very funny, Faith. And vampires kinda just blend into the background in this town thanks to the hellmouth," said Rachel with a small frown.


"Yeah. I might be able to sense them when I get better at the whole Force thing though. Revan could sense them I think."

"That's cool, I guess. Anyway come on, I want to hear about what else happened on Halloween."

"Well I missed most of it. Revan was too busy slaughtering everything even vaguely demonic to pay much attention to Buffy and Willow," said Rachel. "Not a bad thing really but Willow has most of the really good stories from that night, like when Buffy thought a car was a demon and fainted."

"I'll have to talk to Red about that then," decided Faith. "Sounds like one not to be missed."

"Definitely. Nothing quite as funny as superhero Buffy fainting at the sight of a car for humour."

Another vampire jumped out and this time it was neatly decapitated by Rachel's blade a moment before Faith could stake it.

"And that's one for me. Comeback on the cards, perhaps?"

"Doubt it. Place is pretty much dead now. Looks like you're buying next time we go to that ice cream place."

"Should have known better than to get into a slaying competition with a Slayer. I really should," said Rachel with a pout that disappeared very quickly when she realised what she was doing.

"Your loss, my gain," said Faith with a laugh. "Anyway, so what did Revan get up to on Halloween then? You said something about Dracula."

"Well she pretty much just slaughtered vampires while I was gibbering in fear inside my own head for most of the night. Dracula came later on."

"Such a manly man you were," said Faith sarcastically.

"Hey! I resent that slur against my masculinity," said Rachel. Then she blinked. "Not really an issue these days, is it?"

"Not really," said Faith with a laugh. "You look all woman to me, Darth. Ain't no-one gonna be mistaking you for a man."

"Tell me about it. You have no idea how many detentions I've had for putting jocks in their place when they took liberties."

"Probably as many as I got before I dropped out. Now quit stalling and tell me what happened."

"Well after she's killed half the vampires in Sunnydale she ran into a guy in a red trenchcoat and hat: Alucard, or, as he's better known, from before he was captured and magically bound to the Hellsing family, Dracula."

"I'm guessing this isn't the real Dracula then."

"No. He's way more powerful than any vampire in this dimension could ever dream of being and there's no demon involved. Anyway, they fought - and let me just say that I've never been so damn scared in my whole life - destroying pretty much everything around them in the process - they decided to go and deal with whatever had brought them here when they realised that neither of them could win the battle. Alucard had no answer to a lightsabre and Revan had no answer to someone who can regenerate after having their head cut off.

"Anyway, I don't really want to talk about what they did to Ethan Rayne. It wasn't pleasant and he didn't survive. In the end, he found out why they called him Vlad the Impaler and that was that. Then Alucard broke the spell."

"But Revan didn't want to go?"

"She had nothing to go back to. Her last memory was dying after her apprentice betrayed her and shot her in the back."

"Sounds like fun."

Rachel shrugged. "It was nothing more than she deserved really. Anyway she tried to stay but as strong as she was, she was no match for a god. Janus ripped her out of me quickly enough but she changed me. Made me female, made me stronger, made me Force sensitive. Not a bad trade really."

"Yeah, because having your balls chopped off didn't mess with your head at all, did it?" drawled Faith.

Rachel just shrugged. "Could have been worse. There's always a worse around here."

Rachel walked into the library the next night with a thick book and a thermos of rocket fuel masquerading as coffee in her hands to see Willow flicking through a book of some description and Buffy leaning on the wall looking a bit bored. "How's wolf-boy doing?" she asked, more than a little disgruntled at the amount of sleep she was missing out on because of Oz's little problem.

"Don't call him that," said Willow reflexively. "And he's fine."

"Right. What are you reading anyway?" she picked the book out of Willow's hands. "Call of the Wild. Joy. Just what I need to make this night complete, class reading to be horribly over-analysed."

"It'll help keep you awake," said Willow defensively. "And it's a good book really. Very wolfy. Seems to soothe the savage beast."

"That would be the sedatives in the food we give him, Willow."

She was rewarded with a steely look for that crack. Oh well. Willow took her by the arm and guided her over to the desk. "Okay. Now, he's had his 2:00 feeding, and, uh, after sunrise, if he forgets where his clothes are, they're on top of the file cabinet in his cage. I put those towels up for privacy."

"Because I've never seen a penis before," drawled Rachel. "How would I ever deal with seeing such a thing?"

Willow just looked at her and blushed. Rachel rolled her eyes. "Come on, Willow. Remember that I was once Xander-shaped."

"Um, okay," said Willow with lots of nervous gesturing. "Well, it's not for you. It's for me, 'cause I'm still getting used to half a Monty."

"I don't want to know. I really don't."

"I wasn't going to tell you," said Willow with a grin that was positively wicked by her standards. Anyway, he's more manageable tonight and on the third night. Tomorrow night, the total full moon, that's when he's a real wolfer." She reached across the table then. "But in case there's trouble... there won't be, but if . . . " She held up the dart rifle and Rachel deftly picked it out of her hands.

"Sleepy time," she said. "Gotcha."

"Thanks again for doing this. I wouldn't have asked, but I have this test."

"It's not a problem just don't be surprised if I'm a little tetchy from lack of sleep tomorrow."

The next morning Giles came rushing into the library, newspaper in hand, almost scaring the half-asleep Rachel witless and nearly getting himself shortened by a foot or so in the process.

?gGiles, it's not polite to scare the half-asleep girl witless, okay?" growled Rachel.

Giles just ignored her and dropped the newspaper onto the table in front of her. Rachel took one look at it and shook her head. "No. Not Oz. He was here all night with me. No way."

?gAre you totally sure that he couldn't have gotten out?"

?gIf he had, he sure as hell wouldn't have came back, would he? And he woke up in the cage this morning same as every other moon night."

Giles grimaced. He obviously wasn't totally reassured by that. "We need to recheck every possible escape avenue."

?gI'm telling you it's a waste of time. I was here all night," replied Rachel trying to remain calm.

At that point they both noticed Willow and Oz walking into the library and Giles put on a very fake looking calm face. "Right. It's good to see you," he said. "Um. No need to panic."

?gJust a thought: poker, not your game," said Oz.

?gWhat's the deal, Giles?" asked Willow.

"Now, uh, bear in mind, uh, most likely, there, there, there is no deal, but um, if, if, if there was a deal, then it, um, would concern murder... last night. A

male student was, was found i-i-in the woods."

?gWhich student?" asked Oz.

?gJeff Orkin."

?gJeff? He was . . . " Oz looked over at Rachel who remained impassive. "I knew him."

?gI'm afraid he was, he was, um, terribly mauled. Now, uh, much as

I hate to think it, i-i-it could be the handiwork of, of . . . "


"Wolf you, not you you," said a very concerned looking Willow.

"It wasn't you. Not unless you went out, killed him, and came back in the time it took me to take a bathroom break. And there are a million different things in this lovely town that could have mauled him."

"Be that as it may, we must investigate the possibility," said Giles.

Rachel rolled her eyes. "Fine but you're wasting your time.

Giles walked into the cage and a minute later they all heard his voice float out. "The window's open."

Rachel shook her head. "How the bloody hell did that happen? A werewolf wouldn't be able to open a window."

"It must have been open when Oz went into the cage," said an upset sounding Willow.

"It doesn't matter," said Rachel. "There's no way he could have gotten out and done it when I spent most of the night watching him. He wouldn't come back to the cage when he was done would he?"

"It does seem unlikely," said Giles, exiting the cage. "But it's not impossible and we should investigate further.

It was all Rachel could do not to explode in fury. She'd given up how much sleep for this? She knew it wasn't rational and she managed to throttle the anger before it exploded but it took a supreme effort of will to give them a verbal beating.

It wasn't all that long before Buffy entered the library and after a short and oh so very cheerful conversation, Oz stormed off in the closest thing he'd ever manage to a huff when Giles decided that Faith would be watching over him the next night. Rachel found herself being packed off to the morgue with Willow to see if it actually was a werewolf attack.

"Well, isn't this pleasant?" said Rachel laconically as Willow poked and prodded the body with the instruments she'd brought with her. "Nothing quite like breaking into the morgue and playing with the corpses is there?"

Willow handed her the flashlight. "Here. Hold this."

"Yes, boss."

Willow proceeded up investigate the corpse's fingernails while Rachel held the light steady in place where Willow wanted it. As she did so, she idly contemplated the fact that it was probably bad to be so numb to death already at her age. It just couldn't be healthy really. There was nothing she could do about it but it couldn't be good, could it?

Willow was taking samples from under the fingernails now. It was amazing how calm she was really. Willow's normal response to something like this would have been to pass out on the spot, Rachel was sure. "How are you doing this, Wills?" she asked. "That body - pretty barf-worthy."

Willow just ignored her and got on with what she was doing. She placed the body's hand back under the sheet and began to inspect the wounds on its chest. It was pretty impressive really, her professionalism here. "So do you think Oz is in the clear or what?" she asked Willow.

"I'm not sure. I mean, there are a lot of incised wounds, but they could be from anything."

"Well it doesn't look messy enough to be a werewolf attack to me," said Rachel. "And it doesn't look like whatever it was actually ate anything, which doesn't jive with what I know of were-beasts."

Willow started picking at the wounds on the body's chest with tweezers. "I didn't know there were others types of were," she said absently as she worked.

"Werewolves are by far the most common type of were-beast and they're rare enough that Giles didn't even consider the possibility back when we found out what Oz was."

"Oh. Almost done. Lemme just get a few stray hairs from the body. They could be from the attacker."

"Will that be everything then?"

"Yep that's it."

And then Willow promptly fainted, falling back into Rachel's arms. Rachel just rolled her eyes and smiled. Some things really do never change.

School for the next morning proved to be deeply boring. Willow was spending all her time trying to console Oz, and Buffy was spending all her time with Scott and his friends, leaving Rachel to face the horrible pit of boredom that is high school all alone. Fortunately - for her sanity and the health of the irritating creatures that populate Sunnydale High School - she had a free lesson after lunch and had arranged to meet Faith to go dress shopping for homecoming.

Dress shopping. When that's better than what you're doing, you know you're in trouble.

She had been planning on asking the others along but they had been nowhere to be found and she'd left it so late that they'd probably already have their dresses. Actually, knowing Buffy she'd probably had hers picked out for at least six months.

So that was why she was sat in a shop gawking as Faith tried on a series of dresses that would have had her walking bow-legged for the rest of the day if she hadn't had the whole sex-change thing going on. She was sure that Faith was getting some perverse pleasure out of this and to be honest she wasn't exactly complaining.

Okay, seeing Faith in that slinky black number she's got on now . . . definitely no complaining going on here.


"Faith you could make a potato sack look good. That though . . . wow. Just wow."

Faith smirked at her. "I'll go with this one then. Yo, shop dude! I want this one," she hollered. And then she proceeded to flirt outrageously and fluster the poor shop clerk to the point where she got the dress for a fraction for what it should have cost. Quite impressive really.

"Now it's your turn, Darth."

A dozen different dresses later, Faith had selected a red number that seemed a bit on the skimpy side to Rachel. Objectively speaking, it wasn't, but to someone who was still very much of the opinion that jeans and shirt were the one true style of clothing - despite the best efforts of a despairing Buffy - it sure felt it.

When Rachel returned to school with Faith - who had decided to tag along for reasons that Rachel could not comprehend, who would go to school voluntarily? - she found the group sat around in the library. Turned out that the school shrink had been killed by something and it was during the day.

"This creature is especially brutal. I believe the phrase coined by the coroner when describing Mr. Platt was 'pureed'. But he did confirm that Platt was killed shortly before Buffy found him," said Giles, elaborating on what had happened.

"Which means that he was killed during the day," said Faith.

"Yes!" said an elated looking Willow, drawing some rather puzzled looks from the others. "Sorry. I got . . . I've just been . . . it's horrible, horrible."

"So what was it?" asked Rachel. "Some sort of demon? I thought they normally didn't come out in daytime."

"They normally don't, which makes this all the more puzzling. Our task now is to determine what sort of killer we are dealing with. Clearly, we're looking for a depraved, sadistic animal.

"Present," said Oz from behind the group. Willow was out of her seat and by Oz's side in the blink of an eye. " Hey, I may be a cold-blooded jelly doughnut, but my timing is impeccable."

"But you aren't! I-i-it's-it's a kill-in-the-day monster! A hundred percent for sure," said a smiling Willow.

Oz even smiled at that. "Okay," he said.

"Uh, I wish we had time to celebrate properly. However, we have two victims: Jeff Orkin and, uh, now Platt. Uh, maybe there's something they had in common," said Giles.

"Missing organs?" asked Faith.

"Besides that," said an exasperated Giles.

"Debbie," said Oz, causing Giles to turn and look at him questioningly. "Well, victim number one, Jeff. He was in jazz band with us. They used to horse around."

"They were screwing?" asked Faith bluntly getting some less than pleasant looks.

"I don't think so, but he hid her music comp book once."

"And we know that Debbie knew Platt. I mean, she was seeing him and way vocal about not having love for the guy," weighed in Buffy.

"Add this and stir. I just saw Debbie a minute ago sporting a nasty black eye," said Oz.

"That guy - Pete I think his name is - gives me a wiggins too," said Rachel. "No idea what's up there exactly but there's something not quite right, I think." The others gave her a look at that. "Hey, I didn't want to say anything till I knew for sure something was wrong."

"We should find them both immediately," said Giles as he and Buffy grabbed their coats.

"Well, Debbie was in the quad a minute ago," said Oz.

"All right. We'll split up. Um, Faith, you and I team. Willow, stick with Buffy. Rachel you can work alone," said Giles. Willow gave Oz a saddened look as they all filed out.

"And I'll just lock myself in the cage," Rachel heard Oz say as she left too.

Her search proved to be difficult. Pete did have a different feeling to a normal person but not quite different enough for her to get a real lock on, not with the hellmouth obscuring everything. Bloody Dark Side. In the end she decided to just head back to the library and see if the others had managed to find anything because she wasn't getting anywhere.

The sight that greeted her when she entered the library was enough to make her mind just go blank for a moment.

"What the Hell?" she muttered to herself. "Is that moron really trying to punch out a werewolf?" She watched a moment more. "I don't believe it. Does the good guy gig include saving people from their own stupidity? This is real Darwin Award material right here."

Oz bit down into the idiot's arm as Rachel contemplated the idiot's complete lack of any survival instincts and his scream made her wince. That definitely sounded painful. She supposed she should step in and help but who was she to stop an idiot from acting out his desires and becoming werewolf fodder? If he was so eager to die then have at it. Considering that he'd killed at least twice, and killed brutally for no real reason, her sympathy was very, very limited.

The library doors burst open and the gang made a great deal of noise as they all came barging in. Rachel just couldn't drag her eyes away from what was in front of her. It was like when people go past a car-wreck and can't take their eyes off it, so horrible that you just have to watch. She heard Giles tell Buffy to get the dart gun and her affirmative response.

And then. "Pete, watch out," from an unfamiliar female voice before a sharp stabbing pain radiated from her backside. An incredulous look confirmed that she had indeed been shot up the arse with a tranquilliser dart loaded up with enough drugs to put a werewolf down.

"Oh! Sorry! Said Buffy.

"Bloody typical," said Rachel before the world went black around her.

Rachel slowly awoke to one humdinger of a hangover. It was times like this that she really, really missed being male, she thought groggily. At least then she'd have had more body mass to soak this crap up, maybe even had enough time to pull a Jedi trick and at least weaken the sedatives.

"I think she's waking up," she heard Faith say. Was that Faith? She didn't quite have the energy to turn her head and see. Much easier to just stay as she was and stare at the ceiling.

"Ow," she said quietly. "Anyone got an aspirin?"

"That would be an exceedingly bad idea," said a reassuringly familiar English voice. "Not with the drugs already in your system."

"Don't care," said Rachel. "This is like having a hangover without the fun drunken bit before."

"And like a hangover you'll just have to wait it out," said Giles reproachfully. "And I don't think I want to know how you know what a hangover feels like."

"Girl's just been having some fun, Jeeves," said Faith. "Can't hold that against her."

Rachel had built up the will to move her head now thought she still didn't have much feeling in most of her body - though she did feel decidedly off somehow - and the glare Faith was getting from Giles was truly legendary. "Not to interrupt or anything but what happened after I got knocked out?"

Oh that couldn't be good. Anything that had Giles making with the glasses polishing could not be good. "Well after you were knocked out both Oz and the boy, Pete, made a run for it. Faith and Willow went after Oz and tranquillised him while Buffy went after Pete and dealt with him."

"Doesn't sound so bad," said Rachel. "Bad guy's apprehended and all is well again, right?"

"Not quite, I'm afraid. The girl, Debbie, was killed before Buffy could catch Pete and Buffy was unable to take the boy alive."

"Well, that's bad. She was an idiot but she didn't deserve to die. Pete, though . . . he got what he deserved."

"I'm inclined to agree on both accounts. However, there is something else," said Giles. He paused for a moment, visibly gathering himself. Rachel felt the tension coiling in her stomach. Whatever this was, it was bad. "Oz bit someone before he fled the library."

"Oh God. Who?"

Giles just looked at her, his gaze full of sympathy.

"No . . . "

She closed her eyes and slipped into a meditative state. She had to verify this for herself. And she saw it. In her aura, it was there. A writhing mass of primitive instincts and power, slowly growing and merging with the rest of her. For now it seemed to have paused, blocked by the energies left over from the Hyena possession, but she knew instinctively that would not last for long.

And now she knew why Faith and Giles were here and not Buffy or Willow. Buffy was guilt, plain and simple. She would be blaming herself, believing that she should have been able to protect her from this. And Willow . . . Willow wouldn't be able to face her right now. Willow would probably be taking this harder than she was. She'd never been able to deal with it when Willow got hurt and it worked the other way around too - and this was way beyond a busted arm or nose on the playground.

"Christ. I can feel it now. It's merging with what's left over from the Hyena right as we speak."

Giles was almost polishing through his lenses by the time she'd finished speaking.

"That doesn't sound good," said Faith. "From what you told me, the Hyena is major bad mojo."

"It caught me unprepared and defenceless last time. It would not be able to control me again even at full strength. This remnant is nothing. A slightly stronger sense of smell and sharper vision that I didn't even notice till I did some reading up on animal possession is all that it left behind."

"Be that as it may, we need to approach this situation with caution," said a reproachful Giles. "I've never heard of a were merging with a primal, even a weak remnant of a primal, and there's no way to determine how it will end."

"Oh joy," said Rachel weakly. This was all too much. First she got emasculated by some bloody chaos mage and now she was a werewolf? She was only dragged out of her dark thoughts when Giles put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"We will help you through this, Rachel," he said. "Whatever happens, you won't be alone in this."

"Damn right," weighed in Faith. "You're my bud and I ain't letting you go that easy."

"And I know without a shadow of a doubt that you couldn't get rid of Buffy and Willow even if you tried."

Rachel smiled weakly. "Thanks, guys. I think I needed to hear that." She took a deep breath. "Right now though . . . I think I need to be alone. I need to meditate. Yeah, I need to meditate. That'll help."

She levered herself out of the couch, and, despite the large bit that had been taken out of her left thigh, she limped to her bedroom, determinedly maintaining a calm facade all the way. Once she had firmly closed the door behind her, she laid down on her bed and cried silent tears.

The expression of guilt on Oz's face when she met the group in the library the next day was terrible to behold. His usual inexpressiveness was gone today, overwhelmed by the guilt he must have been feeling at what the wolf had done the last night.

"It wasn't your fault, Oz," she said quietly as she limped over and sat down at the table with the rest of the group. "The people to blame for this are dead now."

Oz nodded in acknowledgement but she knew that it would take time to alleviate the guilt he felt no matter what she said. Looking around, the others didn't look a whole lot better. Willow's eyes were full of unshed tears and Buffy had a look of guilt on her face almost equal to that on Oz's. Giles was more restrained but it didn't take a Jedi to realise that he felt some guilt too now that she was thinking straight. Or at least closer to straight than she'd been before. The fact that she could smell the emotions on them was just the icing on the cake.

"It wasn't any of your fault," she said firmly but still quietly. "There was nothing any of you could have done to prevent this. Nothing at all. I made a choice to expose myself to this sort of risk when I decided to follow Buffy down into the sewers when she went for Jesse."

"I should have been able to protect you," said Buffy. "It's my job! What good am I if I can't even protect my friends?"

"I've told you this before, Buffy: you're not perfect and no-one expects you to be able to save everyone. I just happened to be one of the unlucky few who you couldn't save this time. Not your fault."

"She's right, Buffy. There's nothing you could have done," said Giles. "Now we just have to deal with the consequences."

Willow hadn't said a word but the tears that had built up in her eyes when she'd seen Rachel come limping in had started to leak out down her face and her lip was trembling dangerously. Rachel lifted herself out of her chair and rounded the table to near Willow, who was out of her chair and clinging to Rachel in a flash as the tears overwhelmed her and poured out. "It'll be alright, Wills," she whispered in her ear. "It always is in the end."

A lie, but a comforting one. There was no 'alright in the end' with lycanthropy. There was no cure, no end to the condition, short of death, and she was not going to go that route.

Eventually Willow's tears dried up and they separated and went back to their seats. "It's not the end of the world really," said Rachel as she sat back down again. "Oz here's a werewolf and he's OK except for the full moon. Just lock me up somewhere those nights and I'll be fine."

"Well we already have a cage and stuff," said Buffy.

Giles coughed. "That won't work, Buffy," he said with a faint smile.

"Why not?" asked Buffy with a small pout.

"You lock up a male werewolf with a female werewolf and they'll make little werewolves," said Rachel. "I don't think any of us want that. I sure as hell don't want to be popping out puppies anytime soon."

Willow blushed. "Darn tooting!"

"Anyway I'm not sure that cage will hold me," said Rachel. "My wolf is shaping up to be a lot stronger than Oz's and that cage has trouble with him at times."

"What do you mean?" asked Giles.

"I can, for lack of a better word, feel the wolves inside Oz and I. His is pretty strong for one that's only about a year old but mine is strong period. Remember the Hyena pack? I was a lot stronger than the others for some reason and the same thing's happened here. If you want to get technical, I suppose I'm an Alpha Wolf and Oz is a Beta."

"There must be something about your personality that makes these things take more strongly with you," said Giles absently. "I'll have to research it." The others couldn't but grin. Typical Giles! "Anyway, we'll need to look into making arrangements to restrain you for the next full moon. Perhaps a crypt in one of the local cemeteries could be modified."

"Well that sounds like fun," said Rachel in a bitingly sarcastic tone of voice. "More time in cemeteries, goody!"

"How's this going to work with the Jedi thing?" asked Oz.

Now that was something that she hadn't thought of. "I'm not sure. I don't think the wolf will be able to use the Force when it takes over. I hope not anyway. The wolf's all instinct and the Force wouldn't be part of those instincts."

"What do you mean you're an Alpha and Oz is a Beta?" asked Buffy abruptly cutting in.

"Before Rachel makes her first transformation it won't mean anything. Afterwards Oz may feel somewhat subservient towards her. The information available on werewolf pack dynamics is rather limited," said Giles.

"If it's like Hyena, then he'll be very subservient to me unless he wants to challenge me. I don't know if we'll be as much of a slave to it as we were with the Hyena stuff though. Oz is way more in control then any of the Hyena-people were."

"I thought you didn't remember the Hyena possession," said Willow accusingly.

"I lied," said Rachel simply. "I didn't want to remember it and I certainly didn't want to talk about it. Ever."


"How far along is the transformation?" asked Giles.

"The senses are starting to kick in," said Rachel. "Possibly not the best thing to have in a place full of teenagers, I have to say. I wish the healing would hurry up and start. Walking around with a great big bloody chunk bitten out of my thigh is not my idea of fun."

"What's the what with the transformation anyway?" asked Buffy.

"Enhanced senses and healing are the obvious side-effects of becoming a werewolf," said Giles. "She'll also have to deal with the primal instincts of the wolf at all times once her first transformation has been completed. The remnants of the Hyena may make those instincts stronger than they would normally be, I believe."

"It's just one big bundle of joy all round really," said Rachel.

"What I don't get is why Oz went straight for Rachel," said Buffy. "If anyone, I'd have expected him to bite Willow."

"Same reason the Hyena spirit went straight to me, I suppose," said Rachel. "I must make a good animal."

Chapter Seven

The vampire was running as if the devil himself was on his tail and to be fair that wasn't fair off with his current situation. Death was on his tail and he knew he wouldn't survive her. He'd been happily walking along with the rest of his brood looking for a nice meal or two when suddenly all hell had broken loose. His master had been the first down, dissolving into dust when a stake had just smashed through his chest and heart before embedding itself into the wall behind him. They'd been quick to assume a fighting stance then, sure that even the Slayer wouldn't be able to take this many of them, but they hadn't been fighting the Slayer.

It had been her. It was the masked one in those creepy robes who'd terrorised the demons of Sunnydale last Halloween with her glowing sword and sorcery. He'd not been there himself but he'd heard the rumours, the legends, of what had happened. He'd thought they were exaggerated, stories to scare the fledglings into line. He'd been wrong.

She was like a force of nature, unstoppable and destructive. Her sword didn't glow and she didn't use all that much magic, but she still cut through the gang like a hot knife through butter. Eddie had been the first to fall. He'd been a brutal bar-room brawler in life and being turned had just made him even more vicious but she'd cut his head off and dusted him before he could react. John had tried to attack from behind but she'd stabbed him through the gut without even looking and he'd went down screaming, clutching at the wound, before she'd whirled around and took his head off too.

At that point he'd decided that discretion was the better part of valour and ran for the hills. The repeated screaming and sounds of vampires dusting he'd heard as he ran had just made him run faster. He had no idea what this thing was but he sure as hell didn't want to fight it. So he ran and ran and ran till he was sure that nothing could possibly have followed him.

Eventually he stopped, leaning on a nearby headstone, and reflexively took a deep breath that he didn't actually need. He had to be safe now surely. A quick look around later showed nothing, not even with his vampiric senses, and he almost collapsed in relief. Safety! He had no bloody idea what that thing was but he damn well wasn't staying in a town that had two slayers and that! He was jacking a car and getting out of town now.

So engrossed was he with the thoughts of his safety and escaping the town that he didn't notice the black robed figure drop down from the tree he'd just passed, though he noticed well enough when the blade sawed through his neck and reduced him to dust in one agonising moment.

Rachel yanked the mask off as she crept back into her bedroom and quickly stripped the robes off and stuffed them back in the box under her bed. She couldn't really express it to herself why it felt so appropriate to wear them when the urge to hunt grew too strong so how would she explain to Giles why she wore the attire of a Dark Lord when she went out hunting? He wouldn't understand, none of them would, not when she couldn't understand it fully herself.

Just the fact that the urge to hunt was so strong before she'd even had her first transformation was disturbing enough anyway. These instincts weren't supposed to really kick in till after the first transformation and even then not this strongly. Giles had told her so and all the books had agreed. That damned Hyena was getting the last laugh on her, she supposed. Damn thing.

It wasn't just the instinct to hunt either, though that was by far the strongest she'd felt so far. The urge to protect the pack was there and the wolf seemed to have adopted the entire gang as its pack, though Oz had a special place as a fellow wolf it seemed. At least the wolf wasn't dismissing her friends like the Hyena had. The worst though had to be the altogether unwelcome mating urge. She didn't want to produce offspring, period, and she bloody well didn't appreciate the fact that the wolf had decided that Oz was the most suitable mate. Not only did she herself find Oz about as attractive as the prospect of having sex with Angelus but Willow would most definitely not appreciate such desires. So she kept that one to herself. It was rather easier to ignore such an alien instinct than the others anyway.

She sighed and quickly changed into her pyjamas. She really didn't want to think about the other major side-effect of being turned into a werewolf but there it was. Virtual immortality. The healing factor of the wolf would prevent her from ageing just as surely as Wolverine's did in the comics. Oh it was nowhere near as extravagant in the wounds it could heal and the speed it could heal them but she'd already seen it heal small wounds and bruises far faster than they should have healed and it was, from what she'd read, more than sufficient to retard her ageing process enough to make her look eighteen for a very long time to come. Or at least it would if she wasn't proficient in creating illusions, which was something she was going to learn post-haste because spending the rest of her life looking like a teenager would be mighty inconvenient.

"We could work on it tonight," said Willow as Rachel caught up with the gang the next morning.

"Work on what tonight? Something need killing?" asked Rachel.

"Only my carefree spirit," said a woeful sounding Buffy.

"Buffy SAT prep," said Oz.

"Ah, that thing for those of us who actually plan on going to college," said Rachel.

The frown on Willow's face was of truly epic proportions after Rachel said that. "And why aren't you planning on going to college, miss?"

"The world is my oyster, Willow, and I have no intention of wasting my youth away in a place I cannot stand," said Rachel. "Anyway, I already have a pretty complete education from my Revan memories."

"Cool," said Oz.

"So what are you going to do instead of college?" asked Buffy.

"Don't yet. I'm still young, there's no need to decide what I'm going to do with the rest of my life yet," said Rachel. "That's assuming the Watcher's Council doesn't stick its nose in though."

"Why would the council have anything to do with what you end up doing?" asked Willow with a frown. She obviously didn't like the idea of her best friend being bullied into anything by some council of stuffy old Brits.

"I'm a Giles now, legally, and that's a Watcher family," said Rachel. "They also created my identity so they have that to club me into line with if they feel like it. Don't know if they'd want a werewolf as a watcher though."

"That sucks," said Buffy with feeling. Rachel supposed that if anyone could sympathise with the whole destiny thing the watchers had going on it would be her.

Rachel shrugged. "I'll deal if it comes to that. There are worse jobs I suppose."

The conversation continued along similar lines - mainly Buffy bitching about the council really - till they'd reached the hall doors near the cafeteria. "So, Buff, study tonight?" asked Willow.

"Uh, yes on the studying, no on tonight. I'm putting in Mom time. She's been drastic ever since I got back. And Giles is even worse. I'm supervised 24-7," complained Buffy as they turned into the cafeteria. "It's like being in the Real World house, only real."

"How terrible," said Rachel dryly drawing an irritated look from Buffy. Willow just hmmed and looked thoughtful.

As they entered the cafeteria, Rachel noticed Snyder by a table laden down with boxes of chocolate holding a clipboard and suddenly had the sort foreboding feeling that only comes when you know you're going to be volunteered for something you really don't want to do.

"Ooh, candy bars! Lots of 'em!" said Willow.

Snyder held out a box and where she would have taken it quickly before she hung back now and waited to see what happened. Eventually Snyder shoved it into Buffy's arms. "It's band candy," he said. Because, you know, that explained everything.

?gLet's hear it for the band, huh? Very generous," said a slightly confused looking Buffy.

"You will sell it to raise money for the marching band. They need new uniforms."

"Yeah. Those tall, fuzzy hats ain't cheap, huh?" quipped Rachel.

"But they go with everything," added Oz drawing a smile from Willow.

Snyder, the humourless git, just started to shove boxes into all of their arms.

"I'm sure we love the idea of going all Willy Loman, but we're not in the band," said Buffy.

"And if I'd handed you a trombone, that would've been a problem, Summers. It's candy. Sell it."

And with the sparkling piece of charm, Snyder turned to his next victim.

"I think this is where school spirit comes in," said Rachel. "Now if only I could find some."

"Come on, Giles," said Rachel as they finished their tea . "You know you want to buy some of this wonderful, delicious chocolate."

"Really?" asked an amused looking Giles. "And why would I want to do that?"

"Because it would be a nice thing to do? School spirit?"

"School spirit? For Sunnydale High School? Please!" said Giles as he began to clear away the plates.

"I'll do the hoovering for the rest of the month?"

"The easiest of the household tasks? I don't think so," said Giles with a dismissive wave of his hands. "You'll have to do better than that to make me buy the dreck they sell for these events."

"The dishes?"

"Hmm. Better but still not sufficient," said Giles, enjoying this far too much for Rachel's tastes.

Rachel broke out the big guns at that. She unleashed the one thing that all males dread, the puppy-dog eyes and the pleading expression. Force only knows she'd given into it enough times herself back in the day. "Please?"

Giles for a moment looked like he was going to withstand the ultimate weapon of females everywhere but Rachel intensified the attack and after a moment of continued resistance he gave. "Fine," he said before reaching into his wallet and pulling a twenty dollar note out. "Here. Just stop with those damn eyes."

"You won't regret this, Giles," said Rachel gleefully as she made the transaction. "This chocolate's actually quite good, surprisingly enough."

"Well it's nice to know that I haven't been completely ripped off," said Giles wryly. "What are your plans for tonight?"

"I think I'll go patrolling. That should help work off some of the urges the wolf's firing my way," said Rachel.

Giles frowned at that. "You really shouldn't be having these problems with the wolf, not yet anyway," he said. "I'll have to do some research and look into it."

"I'd be very happy if you could find out what's going on but I don't think you're going to, Giles," said Rachel. "I think it's the Hyena causing this and I don't think you'll be able to find much about it. I just have to deal with it as best I can."

"Still, I'd like to try. I don't like the idea of you having to deal with this alone," said Giles in response.

"But I'm not, Giles," said Rachel. "You've been there for me every step of the way and you have no idea how grateful I am for that. I really don't want to think about what this would have been like if I'd had to deal with my parents at the same time."

Patrol had been mostly uneventful that night. A couple of idiot minion level vampires tried to take her on but she'd soon disposed of that trash. In lieu of having a good fight to work off the nervous energy she'd built up, she tried out her new werewolf senses to see if she could pick up anything. Surprisingly enough she did actually pick up a scent that seemed to be a bit off and when she followed it, she found herself at Willies, so it probably was a demon of some description. All in all, it was most unsatisfying, no matter how well her new sense of smell seemed to work.

Giles hadn't been home when she got back for some reason - probably off training Buffy or something - so she'd gone straight to bed after a cold shower and gotten as much sleep as she could.

The next day dawned bright and altogether too early for her tastes but she was up and about and off to school as usual with no fuss. The only strange thing was that Giles wasn't out of bed yet. Very odd but if he'd decided to have a late start to the day and catch up on some sleep she wasn't going to to disturb him. She noticed some people acting slightly strangely and with a slightly off feel to them in the Force as she walked to school and made a note to talk to Giles about it when she next saw him, which would probably be in study hall.

"Where's Giles?" asked Willow when Giles wasn't at study hall.

"I have no idea," replied Rachel, sitting down next to Willow. "Definitely not-Giles-like behaviour going on here."

"Didn't you see him this morning?" asked Willow as she pulled a textbook out of her bag and plopped it down onto the table in front of her.

"No but I figured he was just catching up on some sleep," said Rachel. "Him actually blowing off work is way high on weird-o-meter."

"Way high. Almost as high as when we found out he used to summon demons for fun."

"Higher than when I discovered that he actually watches TV though."

"Giles watches TV? Giles?"

"Oh yeah. He's shallow like us really. He just pretends to be all high and mighty and non-shallow."

"Wow. I think I'm disappointed."

"I settled for amused myself."

The conversation petered out there and Willow began to study the quite frankly intimidatingly over-sized textbook she'd pulled out of her bag. Rachel just couldn't bring herself to care about such things at the moment and took another bite of the bar of chocolate she had left over from her sales. It wasn't long before Ms. Barton came into the room and clapper her hands a few times to get the students' attention.

"Hey! We're all stuck here, okay? So now let's just sit quietly and," she smiled and waved her hand at a book on the teacher's table, "and pretend we're reading something until we're really sure that old Commandant Snyder's gone. Then we're all outta here!" she finished with a wide smile.

"I think I'm in love," said Rachel.

Rachel was confused. Very confused. If it wasn't for the fact that Buffy was dragging her along with all the Slayer strength she could muster, then she'd be looking to do some serious questioning with Giles and Mrs. Summers. Something had been off there. At first glance it had honestly looked like a couple that had been busted when they were trying to keep their relationship secret. There'd been a definite element of panic and getting her and Buffy out of there quick as possible that would suggest that. That was more amusing than anything else really but it didn't stand up. Giles would have no real reason to hide it from her to start with and, secondly, she just a gut feeling that something weird was going on.

Not that her gut feeling really mattered in the face of Buffy actually being allowed to drive by her mother. There was nothing on Earth - or Hell - that was going to get between her and that bloody car.

It was at that point that Rachel remembered just how bad a driver Buffy was and a shiver ran down her spine at the thought of being in a car that this girl was driving. This was the girl who did so badly in driver's ed that they wouldn't even let her take the practical test at the end of the course. Duelling with vampires was less intimidating than the prospect of taking a drive with Buffy as far as Rachel was concerned..

So she begged off and disappeared into the night before Buffy could get the door open and didn't wait for the inevitable protests. Maybe Willow would be daft enough to brave the dangers of Buffy's driving but she sure as hell wasn't. She considered going back home but dismissed the idea quickly. Whatever was going on there didn't appear to be dangerous in any way and she really didn't want to see whatever Giles was going to get up to with Buffy's mom. No thanks. No, she'd head off to the Bronze and see if she could find any entertainment there.

"Bloody hell," whispered Rachel to herself when she entered the Bronze. "Did I take a wrong turn or something?"

It was full of adults. For most clubs, not all that surprising, but the Bronze? The place was terrible even by teenager standards. A roach infested pit that people only went to because there was nowhere else in town would be a fair assessment of the Bronze and why normally sensible adults would be there was beyond Rachel. The only adult she'd seen at the Bronze before was Giles and he was only ever there to fetch Buffy for something.

Prowling around the outskirts of the crowd, staying in the shadows all the time, and took in what was happening, observing the crowds. Between the elephant-sized woman who was grinding against a terrified looking man in a grey suit and seeing Snyder dancing awkwardly and being avoided by pretty much everyone else, she was going to need many years of therapy to deal with this one. What on earth was going on here? The smell was overwhelming.

She closed her eyes and opened her mind to the Force. In an instant she was swamped with the raging emotions that were coursing through everyone in the room. This was not normal. Not even close to it. She had to close her mind to the feelings almost immediately lest they take over her. Even the most rampantly out of control teenagers had more restraint to their feelings than these people had right now. Something was affecting them but what?

As she pondered that she felt two powerful presences enter the Bronze - two pack members at that - and she quickly drifted over to their location, all the while avoiding the crowds of wannabe teenagers that infested the club.

"Hey, this is not normal," said Willow as Rachel came up behind them.

"I'm inclined to agree," said Rachel, causing both Buffy and Willow to jump out of their skins.

Willow span around and slapped Rachel on the arm before saying, "don't do that."

"But it's so much fun!" replied Rachel with a lop-sided grin. That grin quickly disappeared though. "You're right. Something very strange is going on here."

"You think?" asked Buffy sarcastically.

Rachel was about to fire off a response to that when Snyder came bounding up to them. "Hey, Gang!" he said. He threw one arm around Willow's shoulders and moved to do the same to Rachel but the icy glare he received quickly dissuaded him. "This place is fun city , huh?" he followed up with a slightly nervous laugh.

"Principal Snyder?" asked a gob-smacked Buffy.

"Call me Snyder. Just a last name, like . . . Barbarino," said Snyder trying to act cool. He let go of Willow and that point and pumped his arms and fists around roundly. "I'm so stoked."

"It's a demon, Buffy, I'm sure. You know what you have to do," said Rachel. Buffy looked seriously tempted by the idea.

"Hey, did you see Ms. Barton? I think she's wasted," said Snyder. "I'm gonna have to put that in her next performance review 'cause . . . 'cause I'm the principal!" said Snyder with a smile and a laugh. And with that he turned around and disappeared back into the crowd.

"Becoming a werewolf has nothing on what just happened for disturbance potential," said Rachel, utterly agog. "Getting a magical sex change doesn't even top that."

"I don't like this. They could have heart attacks," said Willow.

"Uh, well... ma-maybe there's a doctor here," said Buffy.

An old, flabby man who, horror of horrors, wasn't wearing a shirt jumped up onto the stage as Buffy finished speaking and after pushing Devon aside and yelling, "yeah!" at very high volume he jumped off the stage, obviously expecting the crowd to catch him. They didn't. It looked and sounded rather painful to be honest. Willow and Buffy both cringed at the thudding sound he made when he hit.

"He-he's usually less... topless," said Willow cringing.

Snyder stuck his head between Willow and Buffy at that point - keeping his distance from Rachel - and said, "I got a commendation for being principal. From the Mayor! Shook my hand twice," looking very pleased with himself all the while.

"That's nice," said Buffy, deadpan.

Two attractive - if somewhat older - women walked past them with drinks at that point and Snyder tracked them all the way with his eyes. "Whoa! There are some foxy ladies here tonight!" he said before heading off after them.

"This is the epitome of all things creepy," said Rachel as the three of them quickly headed in the opposite direction.

"What's happening?" asked Willow.

"I don't know, but it's happening to a whole lot of grown-ups," replied Buffy, frowning in thought.

They stopped by the stairs and Willow took a long look around the crowd before speaking. "They're acting like a bunch . . . "

"They're acting like a bunch of us," finished Buffy.

"As hellmouth-y things go, this is definitely the strangest one I've ever seen," said Rachel.

"Even stranger than being turned into a girl?" asked Willow.

"At least that made sense or at least as close to sense as chaos magic ever makes . . . Chaos magic. Ethan. This is just like something he'd do. He's supposed to be dead," she hissed, her eyes full of malice.

"Dark Side. Remember the Dark Side!" said Willow backing off a step as an almost palpable aura of darkness emanated from Rachel. "Don't want to go all his-hush on us," she finished doing a pretty poor impersonation of Vader's breathing.

It took a long moment but Rachel eventually managed to shunt her rage aside. "You're right. There'll be time enough to deal with Ethan later."

"How can you even be sure it's him?" asked Buffy. "He's supposed to be dead."

"This stunt stinks of Ethan Rayne. It's exactly the sort of idiocy he always indulged in. The only questions are if he's doing it for himself or if someone's paid for his services and how the bloody hell he survived so I can make sure he doesn't next time," growled Rachel.

"Calm down, Rachel," said Buffy, looking deeply concerned, her gaze fixed on Rachel's hands.

Rachel looked at where Buffy's gaze was fixed and gawked at the deep imprints she'd left on the metal support pole she'd been gripping. Now that was definitely not something she should have been able to do. "Umm. That might be a good idea, yeah," she said, releasing the pole. Now she was thinking straight she realised that there was no way she should have been able to do that with raw physical strength. She shelved that for later contemplation. It wasn't important right now.

The conversation drifted for a while, speculating as to what the hell was going on - though Rachel already knew what was going on, and Oz joined them with the band between sets. They were interrupted when that worthless waste of skin and bone Snyder stopped by them and noted that Oz had 'great hair'. Honestly it was times like this that Rachel wished she carried a tape recorder because this would make truly wonderful blackmail material.

And then to top things off some old men pushed their way onto the stage and began to horribly mangle some song she'd never heard before.

"And it just gets more upsetting," said Willow.

"No vampire has ever been that scary," said Buffy, transfixed by the sheer horror of it all.

Rachel stood up and stretched, drawing some stares that were soon dissuaded by her glaring at those staring, and said "time to leave and try to fix this, I think."

As they left, Rachel heard Snyder calling for them to wait but she ignored him.

"We should find Giles. He'll know what's going on, right?" said Oz.

"Sure. Except for all we know, he's sweet sixteen again." said Buffy as she pulled on her seatbelt.

"He's with your mom at his place," said Willow.

"I said, wait up!" said Snyder as he jumped into the free seat and slammed the door shut.

"Oh bugger off," grumped Rachel.

"No time. He's coming with us," said Buffy as she slammed the car into gear and pressed down hard on the accelerator, throwing everyone back into their seats.

"Whoa, Summers! You drive like a spaz!" said Snyder.

The car journey was a rather unpleasant experience all told. Buffy's driving skills were in fact just as terrible as Rachel had expected them to be and it didn't help that she was most distracted by the idea of her mom spending time with Ripper. It didn't help that she was in close quarters with that obnoxious troll of a man Snyder. The entire thing culminated in their being rammed by some berk who didn't bother to stop for a red light.

Rachel pushed the car door open and stumbled out, rubbing at her sore neck. She saw the other other driver getting out of his car and it was all she could do not to jump over there and tear that idiot man's throat out. She blinked. Okay, that was a definite Hyena moment right there.

"Sorry! Gotta go!" said the man before running off into the night.

"Get back here, you idiot!" yelled Rachel but he didn't even break his stride. "Typical," she muttered under her breath, folding her arms over her breasts and looking very annoyed.

"Oh, God. Are you guys okay?" asked Buffy.

"Oh I'm wonderful," said Rachel. "Never better."

"Is anybody else all creeped out and trembly?" asked Willow.

"Oh, Buffy . . . Your mom's gonna kill you," said Snyder while rubbing his shoulder.

Rachel joined the rest of the group in ignoring Snyder completely and took a quick look around, taking in her surroundings, seeing several groups of pseudo-adults just standing around. "Some thing's definitely not right here," she said.

"No one's protecting their houses. Everyone's just... wandering." said Buffy.

"And it doesn't look like anyone's taking advantage of it," said Rachel.

"So where are all the vampires?" asked Buffy.

"Someone's pulling the strings," said Rachel. "A new master vampire maybe?"

" Something's happening . . . someplace that's else," said Oz.

"I'd say something big," said Buffy.

"That guy took my candy!" cried Snyder.

And suddenly it all made so much sense.

"The candy. I-it's gotta be the candy! It's cursed," said Buffy, giving the rest of the gang an astonished look before turning to Snyder.

"A curse?! Oh, I've got a curse." said Snyder, the stupid little man.

Oz and Willow said something at that point but Rachel's full attention was on Snyder. Before she could do anything, Buffy jumped at Snyder and shoved him up against her car. "Who's behind it?" she said.

"I don't know. It came through the school board," said Snyder. He shook his head, "if you knew that crowd . . . "

Rachel plunged into his mind with all the power she had, smashing through what feeble defences the man could muster, and he visibly wilted under the assault. "Tell us where it came from."

"There's a factory in the industrial district," said Snyder in a daze, and then he rattled off an address. And then his eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed to the ground in a boneless heap.

"Is he going to be OK?" asked Buffy after Snyder collapsed.

"He'll have a hell of a migraine when he wakes up," said Rachel, her voice betraying her utter lack of caring about it. "Let's go."

"Willow, Oz, you two go find Cordelia and research this, maybe find a solution," said Buffy before getting in the car with Rachel. "We're going direct to the source."

Getting to the source of the candy proved to be a somewhat harrowing experience for all concerned. Buffy's driving was, as always, the stuff of legends, legends about demons and the carnage they inflict anyway, and running into Giles and Mrs. Summers at the factory was more than a little disturbing. The G-man was not supposed to act like a teenager. On a scale of one to ten on the weird-o-meter that got about a thousand. It didn't help that the closer Rachel got to the factory, the more on edge she began to feel. She was beginning to think that she might have been wrong about the whole Ethan thing and that there was something a whole lot worse waiting for them.

Well, whatever it was, it wasn't going to change because she was dragging her feet getting there. Completely ignoring the argument going on between Giles, Mrs. Summers and Buffy, Rachel stalked through the crowd - who, it seemed, decided that discretion truly was the better part if valour after seeing the look on her face - and made quick work of the scum who were handing out the candy before entering the factory.

Rachel knew something bad was coming for sure as soon as she entered the factory and quickly drew the rapier she had been concealing in her long coat. It was times like this that she really missed her lightsabre and HK-47. She was only vaguely away of the rest of the group catching up with her as she cast her senses out to try and find out just what was going on here . . . and then she felt it just as she heard the voice.

"You've gotten sloppy, Revan. I would never have caught you off guard so easily in the past," said the voice. Rachel turned to face it and what she saw almost made her heart stop on the spot. It was Malak. He even had that orange body armour and red cape. The only difference between the way he looked now and the way he'd looked on the day he'd killed her was the newly organic jaw.

"This isn't possible," she said, quietly, shocked beyond belief. "You're not real. Malak is a fictional character."

"Really?" he said, in a mocking tone of voice. "Then where do your powers come from? Your memories? Where do you come from? Don't be so foolish, Revan."

"I'm not Revan," she whispered, but the sound still carried. Everyone else had fallen quiet, watching the confrontation, even the newly regressed teenagers.

"Are you saying that for my benefit or yours? Your appearance, your force presence, the way you hold that pitiful piece of metal, the way you carry yourself . . . it's all Revan."

"I AM NOT REVAN," she screamed. "I am Alexander Harris."

The smile Malak gave her had less warmth than an artic wind. "Oh really? Strange, you look like a woman to me," he said, almost playfully, a parody of the man that Rachel remembered from before the war and the Star Forge. That playfulness abruptly disappeared when he next opened his mouth, "stop deluding yourself. You. Are. Revan."

Rachel eased herself into her favoured duelling stance. Weight resting on her back foot, front foot extended forwards, and blade held by her head and pointed at her opponent. "Be quiet," she hissed.

The look of eagerness and bloodlust that adorned Malak's face at that point was truly terrible to behold. He reached behind him and in smooth motion he pulled a cylindrical object free of his belt and, to Rachel's complete shock, a red blade hissed out of the end of the cylinder at the press of a button.

"If you are so eager to die then I will not deny you," he said, assuming his own more neutral stance.

Rachel began channelling her power into her sword, "I didn't think that sort of technology existed on this planet," she said, trying to buy some time. If she didn't reinforce her sword sufficiently before the fight started, she was going to be just another Sunnydale statistic, and she was not eager to die. "And how did you get here anyway?"

"This planet is technologically primitive but it has some rather interesting magics," he said. "You don't need to know any more than that."

Rachel nodded. "So be it. Everyone, leave. This is not a fight you can help with."

"Now hang on just one sodding minute," said Giles. "I'm not leaving you with this lunatic."

"Don't be an idiot," she hissed. "He'll kill you all in an instant if you try to fight him. RUN."

Not that she'd last much longer; she was nowhere near in control of her powers to a point where she could fight a Dark Lord, but at least the others could get away safely and maybe she could engineer an escape for herself.

Malak just looked too smug for words and she didn't know how much longer he was going to hold off on the fighting. Only his arrogant belief in his own power kept him from attacking now as far as she could tell. "I'll get to them eventually, Revan. Don't worry about that," he said.

"Just go," said Rachel, not taking her eyes off the Sith Lord. "You'll only get in the way here, even you, Buffy. This is not a Slayer's fight."

The sword felt sufficiently reinforced to withstand a lightsabre now, Rachel felt, and she immediately attacked. Hurtling forward at speeds no normal human could match, she launched a lightning fast series of stabbing attacks all aimed at Malak's chest, but he was equal to the challenge and blocked each strike with the raw, physical power that he had always been famous for as the foremost master of the Shien form of lightsabre duelling in the galaxy. The sword looked a little singed but it held, and Rachel funnelled a little more strength into it.

"Run," she yelled, as she desperately fell back, carefully parrying Malak's attacks all the while. Damn but he was fast and she wasn't in good enough shape for this. It didn't help that he had a much more powerful, weightless weapon while she was slinging around a piece of steel that actually had weight and momentum for her to worry about. Thankfully the others seemed to have listened to her now, probably thanks to Willow who would realise just how bad this was from some of the things they'd talked about from Revan's memories.

Calling upon the Force to enhance her abilities once more, Rachel vaulted over Malak's head and launched a series of slashing attacks at his back with all the speed she could muster, but again he was blocking every strike, not even seeming to be in any difficulty at all. It was quite humiliating really, Rachel noted in the very small part of her mind that wasn't totally focussed on the battle. She forced a little more speed out of her straining muscles but it didn't seem to press him any harder. The bastard could at least look like he needed to try!

It wasn't all that long before Malak stopped fighting on the defensive and with a quick but powerful series of strokes he forced Rachel into a desperate retreat. Eventually her defences began to falter, and, after one parry that was slightly too slow, Malak nailed her with a kick to the gut that sent her flying back to bounce off the wall of crates several feet behind her and her weapon skittering out of her grasp.

"This is almost too easy," he gloated. "You've gotten weak, Revan. Where is the power you showed on the Star Forge at our last confrontation?"

Rachel jumped to her feet, wincing slightly at the pain in her abdomen, and summoned her sword back to her grasp. "I have no idea what you're talking about. The last thing I remember is you betraying and killing me," she said, as she assumed the standard Jedi Neutral stance and steeled herself to defend against the inevitable attacks. She could only hope that her friends had listened to her and got the hell out of dodge because this was not going to end well.

Malak's lip twisted in an expression of disdain as what she'd said registered. "So you're not even the real Revan," he said, looking utterly disgusted. Rachel felt the Dark Side begin to grow in strength around him and his eyes seemed to glow with an unholy power. "Pathetic. So much for my vengeance," he sneered, raising his off-hand in a very familiar, fingers spread, pose.

Ah, shit, thought Rachel, just as the lightning began to spew forth. She raised her sword into a warding position and channelled as much power as she could into deflecting the lightning but this was not something she'd been able to practice in the limited training time she'd had and her defences were soon breached without a lightsabre to focus her defence around. It was all she could not to scream herself hoarse as she dropped to one knee, agonising pain flaring up and down her body as the powerful lightning struck.

"And so it ends," said Malak, sounding almost sad, channelling more dark power. "Pathetic really."

This time she screamed. It felt like there was nothing but pain in the world now and she could focus on nothing else to mount a defence. Even the feral instincts of her newly born wolf were thrown out of her mind by the all-encompassing, overwhelming agony that was being inflicted upon her by Malak's attack.

And then it stopped. It took several long moments for her mind to begin to focus again, and several more to shakily lever herself to her feet. What she saw almost made her groan out loud. They hadn't listened. Buffy, Faith, and Giles were circling around Malak armed with various kinds of swords and Willow, Mrs. Summers, and Oz had crossbows drawn on him.

"Yo, tall, pale, and ugly, why don't you try us on for size?" quipped Faith as she assumed a fighting stance.

"Brave of you," he commented evenly, "but it will change nothing. You cannot defeat me."

The worst part was that he was right. Even outnumbering him six to one, the gang could not hope to stop Malak. They had no answer to his powers. The lighting, the telekinesis, the short-term pre-cognition, the ability to drain life from his foes if injured - he was simply beyond them unless there was a miracle. Until she developed her powers sufficiently, Malak was going to be almost unstoppable here on Earth. And unless they had magically enhanced swords, they really were as good as dead.

"We'll see," said Giles evenly. It seemed that something had happened to knock some maturity into him. Either that or she'd been fighting longer than she had realised.

And then the battle was joined. The crossbows were fired first but Malak casually dodged those attacks. Someone who could deflect and dodge blaster bolts was not going to be troubled by relatively slow moving pieces of wood launched from a bow. With that approach proved to be utterly futile, the three swordsmen launched into an attack that would have likely left any other for skewered in three separate places, but Malak parried all the attacks in a blur of motion. Well, at least it looked like they had magic swords of some description because they weren't being sliced clean through.

As they others fought Rachel took stock of her condition. As shaky as she felt, her powers felt mostly intact and accessible. Looking down, though, she saw that her sword was so much twisted metal now. That wasn't going to help. Steeling herself, she reached into the Force and at least tried to use her powers to try and limit Malak's as she could manage. At least she could buy her friends a chance, however small it was.

"Ohmigod, Rachel, we have to get you out of her," screeched Willow, as she just seemed to appear at her side.

Rachel waved her off. "Without me you guys have even less than the zero chance you have now."

"And what are you going to do?" she snapped. "You can barely stand."

"What exactly do you think is stopping Malak from going Darth Vader and snapping all your necks with a thought?" growled Rachel as she watched the battle and began to channel what small portion of her powers she wasn't devoting to limiting Malak towards healing her injuries. She winced as Faith was flung across the room and bounced off a set of shelves but the Slayer was up on her feet and leaping back into the fray with a snarl in a flash. Tough girl.

This wasn't going to hold much longer. Another volley of bolts was launched from the crossbow wielders but Malak just leapt away and lead the battle away, obviously not concerned at all. Arrogant as always. It was the downfall of so many Sith in the end, they get arrogant and then they get dead. And with that thought a plan began to percolate in Rachel's mind. It was going to be a damned miracle if it came off, but she didn't see another way.

Wrapping the Force around herself like a cloak, she slunk away from where she had been observing towards the battle, all the while deadening Malak's senses as best she could. She winced as Giles took an uppercut to his jaw that would leave him seeing stars from hours but she couldn't afford to let any more of her power go towards limiting Malak. The two slayers began to work in tight co-ordination after Giles was knocked out of the fight, carefully approaching from opposite angles so that Malak couldn't focus on one of them, and it helped, but it wasn't going to be enough. Malak's skill, power, and weapon advantage was telling more and more as the battle continued to rage.

Rachel was in close now and watching carefully, waiting for an opportunity. Malak blocked an overhand strike from Buffy and slammed a fist into her gut, staggering her back and knocking her on her backside when she lost her balance, before turning to Faith and parrying aside a stabbing attack before lashing out with a rapid series of slashes that sent her scurrying back on the defensive.

The expression on Faith's face began to border on panic as she realised the trouble she was in. As Malak smashed her broadsword out of her hand, leaving her defenceless, Rachel made move and stabbed her ruined sword deep into Malak's right shoulder. Before he could control himself his hand flexed open and his lightsabre was dropped. In a flash of motion, the situation changed completely. Rachel was now the one with the lightsabre and the confident expression on her face and Malak was the wounded one with what was left of her sword hanging out of his shoulder. "Not so confident now, hmm?" she taunted.

Malak just laughed at her as he yanked the sword free of his shoulder and tossed it aside. "You always were resourceful, Revan. But this is not over."

With that said, Malak let loose a tremendous blast of telekinetic power that slammed everyone back against the walls of the warehouse and then with one mighty leap he smashed through the skylight and made his escape before Rachel could skewer him.

"Well thank God that's over," sighed Rachel as she deactivated that lightsabre.

"This is real, real bad," babbled Willow as they all sat around the library table. "A Sith, a real Sith, here!"

"He's just like any other big bad right?" said Buffy. "He shows up, we kick his ass, we party."

"You're joking right?" asked Rachel while rubbing at her rather sore shoulder and staring mournfully at the twisted piece of metal that had once been her sword. "He can crush your throat in an instant with a thought and you think he's like some random demon? You were lucky today. He'd crush you in a moment if he wasn't playing with you."

"So why didn't he just go all Darth Vader on us then?" asked Faith.

"Because I stopped him," said Rachel, bluntly. "If I wasn't there to limit his powers then you wouldn't stand a chance and even with me there he'd have killed you all eventually if I hadn't stabbed him in the back."

"What sort of powers does this Malak have exactly?" asked Giles.

Rachel's eyes took on a distant look for a moment as she thought it over. "Standard Sith stuff really. Powerful telekinesis, limited pre-cognition, the ability to generate force lightning, the ability to drain life from others to heal himself, some telepathic type powers, and the fact that he's one of the best swordsmen you'll ever find. He also has the enhanced durability that most Force users have but he has it to a ridiculous degree. You won't be able to beat him in a fist fight. Gas won't work too well on him either; he was always good at the breath control stuff. Probably some more stuff I can't remember right now."

By the end of that list, Giles was doing the whole glasses-cleaning, nose-pinching thing he always does when things go wrong as vigorously as Rachel had ever seen.

"The upside is that Malak was never big on strategy or forethought. He's a great warrior but he's a lousy commander unless someone's holding his hand and leading him along. Someone's got to be pulling his strings. Deal with whoever's playing the big bad here and he'll be much easier to deal with. Revan was always the thinker of the pair and I'm guessing that with Revan out of the picture Malak got himself killed within a year or two when he bit off more than he could chew."

"I have a question," said Oz, raising his hand. "How's a guy from a computer game walking around Sunnydale?"

"Same way I got my powers, I suppose," said Rachel, shrugging her shoulders.

"That's a possibility. Perhaps necromancy of some description," said Giles. "Hope for the first because necromancy of that level would take an extremely powerful mage." He paused in thought for a moment. "Or perhaps . . . would Malak come to this dimension willingly?"

"No," said Rachel without even thinking about it. "Why would he? He had an empire all of his own wherever he came from if he wasn't dead and no Sith Lord worth their salt would give up their power like that. Necromancy would make sense. 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away' remember? Malak was around thousands of years before even that time period."

"So we have to find the wicked witch of the west coast and get rid of her?" asked Faith.

"It won't be that easy," said Rachel, her lip turning up at the corner as she thought it through. "Bringing someone back from the dead takes a lot of power on its own but whoever brought Malak back would have had just about nothing to work with to do it: No personal items as a focus, no body to re-animate, no nothing, not even a scrap of skin or a bone. I didn't think that was possible."

"It's not," said Giles. "Not for a normal human mage. This has to be either someone of extreme power, beyond anything documented by the council, or someone who's made a pact with a particularly powerful demon of some description. Considering the amount of power it takes to make a pact with a demon of that level and survive the experience, I'm not sure which is worse."

Yup, they were screwed. They had one long-dead and rather less than sane Sith Lord running around and on top of that they had some sort of uber-mage raising the evil dead from other dimensions for kicks. Yup, that definitely counted as screwed in Rachel's book. At least she had a lightsabre now even if the damn thing had a grip that easily twice the size she'd normally use. And the best part had to be the fact that meeting Malak had brought all those lovely Revan memories right to the fore again. Another fun, fun week of nightmares ahead. Joy.

Stupid Sith. He was so going to get it when she'd trained herself up to a level where she could take him. She did not need this right now, not with the whole getting furry and howling at the moon thing she had coming up soon.

Chapter Eight

Rachel paced up and down the enclosure as she waited for the full moon to complete rising and the transformation that would follow it. In all honesty, she was dreading it. The idea of losing control so thoroughly was terrifying. To become one of the monsters she hunted and fought against . . . It was awful. The only upside to it all was that they knew in advance and had prepared this cage in one of the caves at the edge of town so there really wasn't any way she could get out and hurt someone.

But still. If that fucking moron Debbie wasn't already dead she'd hunt her down and bathe in her blood. It was all that stupid bitch's fault. If she hadn't interfered . . .

"Calm yourself, Rachel," said Giles from his seat on the others side of the bars, cutting through the rage that was building inside Rachel with his calm. "You won't help anything by getting worked up."

Rachel took a deep breath and slipped into a quick calming method she'd learned during her basic training as a Jedi long ago. When she'd finished she leaned the back of her head against the cool metal of the cage and closed her eyes. "You're right, of course," she said. "I just hate this."

"I don't think many werewolves like it, Rachel," said Giles. "You just have to deal with it as best you can."

After a moment of Rachel staying as she was she moved away from the bars and sat on the rough ground in a typical meditative position with her legs crossed and her back ramrod straight. "All these feelings . . . I know they're not really mine but they feel mine if that makes any sense. I feel like I should be preparing for a night's hunting with my pack but the other part of me, the human part, is repulsed by the idea."

"I'd like to help you, Rachel, but this is all as new to me as it is to you," said Giles, sounding very unhappy with himself. "Most werewolves just don't talk about that sort of thing with non-werewolves. Very little information is available on the condition really considering how long people have been afflicted with it."

"And Oz isn't exactly Mr. Talkative under normal circumstances," I said, cracking my neck to try and relieve some of the tension that was building up in my body. "I doubt he's even talked to Willow about this."

"Indeed, not that I blame him," said Giles, sounding vaguely reproachful. "It's not a pleasant to talk about, I imagine."

"I don't blame him either really, Giles. I'd just have liked a bit more warning on this stuff," I said trying not to sound as irritated as I really was with the whole situation. "I didn't think it would be anywhere near as bad as this from seeing what he was like."

Really Rachel felt she was entitled to be less than happy with the whole thing. Even vampires taught the people they turned the basics after they rose. If a soulless demon could manage it then Oz sure as hell should have been able to. And from the way Giles grunted in assent he must have felt something along the same lines even if he wouldn't admit because he was too British and proper or he'd argue it.

The next couple of minutes passed in silence as Rachel slipped into a light meditative state awaiting the transformation - and dreading it all the while - and Giles paged through the book on lycanthropy that he'd just gotten from the Watcher's Council deliver service. Better late than never, she supposed.

"The moon will complete its rise in a minute," said Giles.

"I can feel it."

With that, Rachel slipped into a deeper meditation, seeking the knowledge of just what the moon was doing to her. She quickly located the dark spot in her psyche that was the wolf and she observed. It was quite interesting to watch, in a morbid kind of way, as the spot of primal instinct and hunger grew, overtaking the rest of her piece by piece, slowly turning her into an animal. And then she rebelled against it. She would not just sit by and become a mindless beast. She was a Jedi Knight and she was not an animal. Slipping even deeper into the Force, she began to resist the spread of the beast within her and attempted to repel it from her psyche.

"The moon has risen," she heard distantly, as if Giles was a million miles away.

A bead of sweat appeared on her forehead as she fought the transformation. It was far from easy - the wolf had already gained quite the beachhead - but she's be damned if she gave in without a fight. The bead of sweat grew and multiplied as she waged a titanic internal battle. The wolf was strong and at this time of the cycle it was at its strongest but the power of a Jedi is not one to be underestimated under any circumstances and Rachel's will is powerful indeed. But it was futile. She was not in sufficient control of her powers and the wolf slipped through her defences and spread throughout her system reducing the light to a single small spot where the wolf used to reside in her psyche.

The last thing she would remember in the morning was the pain she experience as her muscles and bones broke and shifted into their new form and the feeling of her body sprouting fur.

"Good morning, Revan."

No. Bad dream. It just had to be. Rachel was in no way ready to confront Malak and just wanted it to all go away and let her wake up in her cage with Giles waiting for her.

"Don't rush to cover yourself, Revan. It's nothing I haven't seen before, after all," he said.

Now there was an image she didn't need at all and she soon scraped up the energy to lever herself up to her feet and stumble over to where she'd stashed her clothes. The entire situation was just so surreal that she didn't even think to wonder why Malak wasn't actually doing anything till after she was dressed and the fatigue had fallen away slightly.

"Your friend here was most brave in your defence, Revan, but you always did inspire loyalty," he said.

Rachel span around to face Malak with fire in her eyes. "If you've hurt him I'll gut you like a fish, you worthless huttspawn."

"You wound me, Revan. Would I damage someone without good reason?" said Malak, putting on a mock-hurt air that had stopped working when they were all of about seven. Or when Revan and Malak had been seven.

"Yes, you would. And stop calling me that. Revan's dead and you probably should be filling a pyre somewhere too," said Rachel wearily.

"You still don't understand, do you?" said Malak, and he was actually chuckling as he said it, which freaked Rachel out no end. Malak stopped chuckling long before they found the Star Forge. "You might not have been born Revan but you are Revan now even if you don't want to admit it."

"You're delusional," said Rachel flatly. "I am Alexander Harris and when I find a way to get my manhood back I'll be taking that identity up again."

Malak just shook his head like a disappointed teacher. "You haven't even analysed your own aura, have you?"

Rachel just glared at him. If looks could kill . . . "Fine. I'll do it just to shut you up, you delusional, old, washed-up Sith."

"Now there's the Revan I know and love."

Rachel just closed her eyes and went to the task of analysing the distinctive swirls of energy that make up the closest analogue to the concept of the soul that the Jedi have. A moment later her eyes shot open. "This isn't possible."

Malak sighed and rolled his eyes. "How do you think you suddenly gained the ability to tap into the Force? Why do you think you switched gender? The spell didn't affect anyone else in that way, did it?"

"But I'm still me! I didn't turn into a Sith Lord."

"Oh you're still you, you're just more than you ever could have been before. You should be grateful really. You were just another primitive living on a backwater mudball who would have lived a meaningless life and died a meaningless death. Now . . . now, you have greatness within your grasp. You have a piece of the Dark Lord living within you. Many would kill for what you have been given."

"And you're telling me this out of the goodness of your heart, right?"

"I want to kill Revan not some idiot child only two steps removed the primates that spawned her species," said Malak with a maniacal glint in his eyes.

Oh joy, thought Rachel. He's insane. Not just twisted by the Dark Side, outright insane. Brilliant. She should have seen it before. He'd stand there and acknowledge that he wasn't really Revan and then turn around and call her Revan. Insane. Completely.

"Why do you want Revan dead so much?"

"She killed me."

Right. That settled it. She was going to buy a copy of the Knights of the Old Republic game and she was going to find out just what the hell happened after Malak blew her ship up because that was just bizarre. How can a dead person kill you? Well, barring growing forehead ridges and fangs, of course. This entire situation was just a gigantic mess as it was but having Malak stand there and tell her seriously that she'd killed him even though she knew for a fact that she was a corpse at the time was just one step too far for her.

"I think I'll leave you to your friend now, Revan," said Malak, breaking her out of her thoughts. "I must say that I didn't know your tastes ran to men so much older than you. That's a new addition, I think."

Rachel glared a hole in Malak's back as he swept out. Bastard. He always had known how to get under her skin and it wasn't reassuring to know that he still could. Oh well. With a quick burst of power she unlocked the cage's gate and was at Giles's side in a moment. He didn't look badly hurt - just a little roughed up and bruised - but you could never be too careful when Malak was involved. He'd turned into a real psycho when he went Sith. Sith are never exactly sweetness and light but Malak had been exceptionally brutal and bloodthirsty, to the point of wastefulness in fact.

She placed her fingers on Giles temples and took a quick reading of his health through her connection to the Force. Hmm. He'd been thoroughly beaten but there didn't seem to be any major damage. Just a lot of bruising really. Sure, he'd be sore for a few days, but there'd be no lasting effects. Surprisingly considerate for Malak. With that in mind she quickly jump started his systems with an infusion of Force energy and he promptly work up with a pained groan.

"Easy, Giles," she said. "You've had a busy day and you haven't even made it to work yet."

"That . . . Malak's here!" he started to struggle to his feet but Rachel's restraining hand stopped that.

"He's gone, Giles. Just wanted to talk to me apparently," she said. "I don't think he's quite sane."

"I think that's a given. Sane people don't do the things he's done. And raising people from the grave always has consequences," he said. "Now help me up. I'm not laying around in a cave all day just because someone gave me a beating."

"Your choice but you should be good to go in a couple of minutes either way," replied Rachel. "There's no real damage, just a lot of bruising."

"And I can feel every one of them. Help me up."

So she did, and his only reaction was a restrained hiss of pain as his joints protested the requirement to move after being tossed around so much. After taking a moment to steady himself he seemed fine. Not a weak man, Giles, no matter the impression he gives at first glance.

"So what did the lunatic want with you?" he asked.

"Not much really. Just talking about how I got my powers and how there really is a piece of Revan in me," replied Rachel. "Nothing we didn't know before to be honest, it was just putting the pieces together and realising there's more left behind than I realised."

"Hmm," said Giles, looking distinctly tempted to start rubbing his glasses even though they were quite thoroughly broken. "It might still be worth going over what he said to see if there was anything useful to us in there."

Rachel just shrugged her shoulders. Fine by her. She repeated everything from the conversation right down to Malak's mannerisms and accent. Probably quite disturbing for Giles to hear a powerful male voice being thrown from his 'niece' but whatever.

"So he really was raised from the dead," said Giles, taking to himself more than anything. "This does not bode well."

"Means we have an enemy powerful enough to raise the dead," said Rachel. "Not something to be sniffed at really. Can't be any worse than Angelus with his obscure demons though. You can't really top sucking the world into hell. Or at least I hope not."

"No, you're right. That's a hard act to outdo," said Giles. "I can't think of any demons worse than Acathla or The Judge that we're likely to run into. The demons with powers greater than those two aren't capable of entering this dimension as a rule."

"Well, I'll take what I can get," said Rachel with a shrug of her shoulders. "I'll be able to handle Malak with a bit more training and necromancers die just as easy as any other human."

Rachel was performing a one-hand handstand in the library while slow circling a dozen pencils around her feet in a sort of sloppy halo when she felt the two Slayers approaching the library with a normal human in tow.

"We got incoming, Giles. Two Slayers and a normal," she said, all the while maintaining her position and keeping the pencils floating.

"I'll deal with them. You just concentrate on your training," said Giles reproachfully.

"Yes, mein fuhrer" muttered Rachel under her breath.

A minute later they came bursting through the library doors in a whirlwind of frustrated emotions that almost made Rachel lose her focus.

" I'm telling you, I don't need a new Watcher. No offense, lady," said Faith. It had to be Faith really. "I just have this problem with authority figures. They end up kind of dead."

"Duly noted, and, fortunately, it's not up to you," said a snooty female voice.

"That just had to be a Watcher," said Rachel. "She has the whole I'm English and better than you thing down pat. Just like how Giles acts when he's meeting someone new or wants to piss someone off."

"Yeah. Rachel, meet my supposed new Watcher, Gwen Post. And she's nowhere near as cool as the G-man."

"Charmed, I'm sure," quipped Rachel, as Giles muttered something about ungrateful children. At least that's what it sounded like to Rachel, it was kinda hard to tell.

"And what are you doing, young lady?" asked the snooty voice.


"Training for what exactly?"

"None of your bloody business, that's what," said Rachel. "The council knows about me right, Giles?"

"Yes, they do. They demanded to know what exactly had happened when I got in touch with them to arrange your new identity last year and I've had to keep them up to date with developments since as part of the agreement we made with them."

"Well, if they ain't seen fit to tell you, then you obviously aren't trustworthy enough to know, Ms. Post," said Rachel. "Sorry." Not sorry at all really but it was only polite to say it, she supposed.

She made a dismissive sound in the back of her throat as if it didn't really matter and Rachel heard her footsteps move around the lower area of the library for a little while before she spoke again. "Mr. Giles, where do you keep the rest of your books?"

That was going to rate a glasses-polishing.

"I-I'm sorry. The rest?" said Giles. Well it definitely sounded like he was going to from the tone of his voice.

Rachel toned out the conversation and focussed her senses on Ms. Post. Hmm. Ambition, lots of ambition leaking out. Bordering on lusting for power if not there already actually. She'd met Sith that were less ambitious. And deceit. Major deceit. Have to look into that. Definitely not a good thing. Her scent matched what her Force senses were telling her too. This woman was not good news. Rachel tuned back into the conversation going on around her.

"I have been sent by the council for a very important reason. Faith needs a Watcher. I am to act in that capacity and report back."

"Aren't you feeling lucky, Faith? I know I would be," quipped Rachel.

"Oh yeah. Feel the joy."

"The council wishes me to report on the entire situation here, including you," said little Ms. Snooty. Rachel assumed she was talking to Giles. Rachel decided that it was time to change things up a little and pushed off the ground with her right arm and landed using her left arm to keep the one-hand handstand going, all the while keeping all but two of the pencils afloat.

"Pretty impressive, Darth," drawled Faith.

"I do try."

"Mm! Academic probation's not so funny today, huh, Giles?" said Buffy.

"The fact is, there is talk in the council that you have become a bit too . . . " said Post, taking a breath before she completed the sentence, "American."

"Me?" said the gobsmacked Giles

"Him?" said the even more gobsmacked Buffy.

Rachel had to work hard to repress the laughter that welled up inside her at that. She even dropped a couple of the pencils.

"A demon named Lagos is coming here to the Hellmouth," said Post. "Mr. Giles, an illustration of Lagos, if you please."

"Wait a minute," said Rachel. "Shouldn't you have some sort of proof of identity or something?"

Rachel had gained a lot from her possession by Revan and one of those things was an appreciation of operational security and how this just wasn't feeling right at all. The Council might not exactly be up to the standards of a real military force but they were better than this.

"Well, I have some documents, but they won't arrive for several days yet, not till I have my most of my possessions shipped through to the flat I'm planning on renting."

"That's not acceptable," said Rachel flatly. "For all we know you could be some sort of spy working for one of the local villains."

"That's not your decision to make, child," said the new Watcher in a rather cold tone of voice.

Post's tone of voice and air of authority would have probably intimidated the old Xander slightly but someone who was used to dealing with Sith . . . it was a laughable attempt. Rachel just flipped onto her feet and gave the arrogant woman the coldest glare she could muster, a glare that could have frozen a volcano if it had substance. "I am no child, woman, and you would do well to remember that," she said in a frosty tone of voice that sounded every bit as much upper-class English as Post's, the tone of voice used by Revan when she was pissed.

Post looked like she was about to let loose another scathing retort when Giles intervened. "Now, what you say is quite true, Rachel, and I will expect to see those documents within the week, but the Posts are an old Watcher family. My father went to the academy with several of them. Her story makes sense."

"The best lies make sense till you have proof otherwise. This woman is trouble, Giles. I can sense it. She lusts for power and stinks of deceit."

And with that Rachel turned on her heel and left. She had no patience for this sort of foolishness. Giles should know better than to be so trusting just because someone has the right name. Absolute nonsense.

Rachel ghosted through the cemetery the next night with most of her mind still focussed on how pissed she was at pretty much everyone for being stupid enough to just accept this new Watcher. But what did she know? She'd only been in command of armies and fleets fighting a galaxy-wide war and been winning. She wouldn't know a damned thing about things operational security, she was just a child, after all. Stupid Giles, stupid Slayers, stupid Watchers. Stupid humanity in general. When a Jedi tells you that someone is trouble you bloody well listen, you don't dismiss it.

Well at least they knew all about this demon glove thing now. That was why she was hunting through graveyards looking for Buffy. Ah the joys of working with the Slayer, nothing quite like spending the might hours creeping through a graveyard. Normally she'd find a few vampires to take frustrations out on - Jedi calm be damned - but she didn't have the time right now. Artefacts of ultimate demonic power take priority over vampire bashing, unfortunately.

With that thought firmly in mind Rachel stepped up her search. If only it wasn't for the Hellmouth she'd be able to find Buffy easily enough with her senses but no she had to live in the one place on Earth that rendered them near useless at anything other than point blank range. Bloody demons and bloody portals to their home dimension. It was times like this she wished she had HK-47 around. He'd love living here. Just send him after the demons and he'd be happy for the rest of eternity. And the carnage would be wonderful. He'd soon send those creatures scurrying for safety in their home dimensions.

She was jarred out of her fantasies of HK slaughtering every demon in a hundred mile radius when she heard a nose off to her left inside the crypt she was passing. She immediately wrapped the Force around her like a cloak to obscure her presence and took cover behind a nearby grave. She had the distinct feeling that something important was about to happen and she didn't want to miss it. Maybe something about that Watcher or the demon glove of doom they were looking for.

And then Angelus walked out of the crypt! Angelus! It was a gift from the gods. Now what should she start with: the mental or the physical tortures. Choices, choices. What's a girl to do? She was almost giddy with anticipation. Automatically, she dropped the hilt of her lightsabre down from the forearm holster she normally kept it in and held it in a relaxed ready position, unignited. She was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't even notice the rag-wrapped package he was carrying.

He took a quick glance around the cemetery and then began to cautiously move away from the crypt in the direction of the mansion he owned. Rachel followed a good distance behind. The creature was good, she had to give him that, he didn't make it easy to follow him and nearly caught her once, but she was just better. Vampires have supernatural senses but nothing like what a Jedi can have if they make proper use of their powers. Eventually they reached the mansion and Rachel settled into a shadowy alcove near the atrium to observe Angelus.

To say she was surprised when Buffy showed up would be the understatement of the year and the rage that began to burn inside her when Buffy seemed to be unconcerned with Angelus's being there was considerable. When Buffy kissed the monster . . . It just seemed to explode. Every fibre of her being was filled with an overwhelming rage and hatred of what she saw in front of her. How dare she! How dare this idiot child give aid and comfort to the monster that killed Ms. Calender, that tortured Giles, that tortured her. The lightsabre seemed to hiss into life of its own accord as Rachel stepped out of the alcove. Some small part of her protested that this was wrong, of the Dark Side, but it was drowned out by the dark emotions that came to the fore.

"Angelus," hissed Rachel in the most rage-filled tone of voice you ever will hear.

She took great pleasure in the way the monster's eyes widened when he saw her with a lightsabre and the way his throat moved as he swallowed his nerves. "That's new," he said, in a surprisingly even tone of voice.

Buffy stepped in front of Angelus. "I won't let you hurt him," she cried.

"You mistake me for someone who cares what you think," stated Rachel evenly before hurling Buffy aside and bouncing her off the wall with a flick of her wrist.

Angelus growled and charged at Rachel in a rage, demonic face revealed, but found himself gagging in pain before he could even think to react as a red blade protruded from his back.

"You didn't think you could defeat me did you, Angelus?" asked Rachel as she kicked Angelus backwards, knocking him off-balance and to the ground. "Don't try that again."

"Why not?" he gasped, clutching at the neatly cauterised hole in his chest. "If my minions could take you . . . "

He was cut off by Rachel's foot slamming into his ribs so hard that he was lifted off the ground and thrown back several inches.

"Reminding me of then is not the best way to ensure your survival," she said impassively.

"Like you're going to let me leave here alive."

"Hmm. Maybe alive but certainly not in one piece. But the release of death will be a long time coming for you, I think."

"You're no better than me."

Rachel's smile was something terrible to behold. "Perhaps."

Before she could do anything a heavy weight slammed into her side and she was knocked rolling away across the floor, her lightsabre skittering away from her grasp. Instinctively she threw the weight off as she rolled onto her back and then used the momentum to bounce back onto her feet.

"I told you I wouldn't let you hurt him," said Buffy as she leapt back onto her feet and went into a combat stance. "Just stop this, Rachel. I don't want to have to hurt you."

Rachel's laughter was utterly devoid of any real humour. "Not a worry, Buffy. Not a worry."

"How about now?" asked Angel, standing shakily with the lightsabre held in an old-fashioned fencing stance.

"If you actually knew how to use that I might feel threatened."

"Doesn't seem to hard to me. Pointy end goes in the enemy. Easy."

Rachel just stared at him as if he was the biggest idiot on the face of the Earth. "It's your funeral."

She had to admit, they worked well together. If she was a normal opponent she'd never be able to defend herself from them both at the same time if they attacked with the way they moved to attack from such disparate angles. Of course, she wasn't a normal opponent, and they were reluctant to attack her. Fools. Moving so fast that she would have left after-images for anyone watching who wasn't mystically enhanced she lashed out at Buffy with a kick that would have snapped a normal person's sternum like a twig and lifted her clean off her feet.

Angelus's attacks were fairly well executed for an obvious amateur but she easily danced around them with the intoxicating power of the Dark Side filling her. No mere vampire would defeat a Sith Lord. Tiring of this dance, she lashed out with a palm strike to the chest that knocked the vampire off balance and then knocked him to the ground with a leg-sweep before kicking the lightsabre away. She didn't really need it anyway, not for this.

While Angelus recovered his balance, Buffy attacked in a remarkable display of the recuperative powers of the Slayer. Her attacks were crisp and fluid, her form without flaw, but her training had always concentrated entirely upon the hard martial arts that allowed her to deliver as much damage as possible as quickly as possible and her opponents were almost always fools who relied upon brute force. Rachel was able to deflect most of her attacks without harm and the few that landed she was able to twist in such a way that they did very little real damage. After a few moments of this Rachel caught Buffy's arm as she attempted a powerful straight punch and with a quick twist yanked it out of its socket before tossing Buffy aside.

"I tire of this," said Rachel. "I have no interest in you, Buffy, my quarrel is with the vampire. Leave now and I will allow you to go without further harm."

Buffy was already back on her feet. Impressive. She really didn't know when to give in, when she was completely out-matched. "I'm going nowhere," she said grimly, while popping her shoulder back into its socket.

"Very well," said Rachel. "You leave me with little choice."

"Yeah, well, some of aren't psychos who turn on their friends at a moment's notice, you know," spat Buffy in voice full of venom.

"Your life is forfeit," finished Rachel as if she was telling someone the time of day. And with that she raised her and clenched her fist in a very recognisable gesture as Buffy began to gag and struggle to draw air.

"You have to stop this," said Angelus, tugging at Rachel's shirt sleeve. "You're killing her!"

"That is the point," said Rachel, her eyes glowing a sickly yellow.

"You don't want to do this, Rachel," said Angelus, looking very serious. "Buffy's your friend. You don't want to kill her, not really."

Rachel snarled at him after a moment's thought and hurled him across the room. "You're right. I want to kill you."

"Not quite what I was aiming for," said Angelus, "but it'll do."

And then Angelus stopped talking and started screaming as the lightning started. Revan had always had a special affinity for this particular aspect of the Dark Side and that had passed over to Rachel. She wasn't using the devastating powerful version she'd used to burn a vampire down to ashes during the mess with Acathla but it still had enough power behind it to kill a normal human in short order. Just enough to draw it out and make sure it would take a long time to be fatal to a vampire in other words.

In a remarkable display of willpower Angelus managed to force his way to his knees using the wall he'd been blasted against as leverage but Rachel just upped the power behind the lightning another step and he went back down. She held this attack for a few more seconds before pausing.

"So how do you like being on the receiving end, Angelus? Should I go find a chainsaw?"

"I'd rather you didn't. I'd never get the blood out of the carpets."

Rachel just shrugged and launched a low-powered volley of lightning at him as she contemplated other methods of inflicting pain. Lighting while effective does tend to be somewhat overused. It detracts from the effect when you throw it around too much. Hmm. Perhaps an endless cycle of his worst nightmares. That's always a good one to use when you want to break someone's will. Certainly amusing if nothing else.

While she made up her mind she fired off another volley of lightning absent-mindedly just to keep him in a great deal of pain. And at that point she felt a horrible burning pain in her chest and looked down to see a the end of a red lightsabre blade poking out of her chest far too close to her heart for comfort. Black spots danced in front of her eyes as she stumbled forwards a step and fell to her knees.

Her breath was coming short now as one lung was utterly useless. No! She would not die like this! Reaching deep into her hatred and rage she called upon one of the most terrible of the powers within the Dark Side and activated the 'Death Field' draining life from everything around her till her wound was healed in a storm of purple energy. With that done her energy faded and the world went black around her.

"You didn't see her, Giles. She was completely out of control." That sounded like Buffy. Damn but her head hurt.

"Oh and I wonder why, B? Could it be because you've been protecting Mr. Mass Murderer?" That sounded like Faith.

What . . . and then it all came rushing back to her. Complete loss of control and massive use of the Dark Side, getting drunk on the power like so many new Sith, and attacking Buffy - nearly killing her - only to be stopped when Buffy stabbed her through the chest from behind while she was completely focussed on Angelus to the exclusion of all else. Such a rookie mistake to make.

"Ugh. You know, Buffy, I wouldn't have attacked you if you'd just stayed out of the way," said Rachel haltingly.

"And that's supposed to be a good reason? You nearly killed us!"

"I lost control," said Rachel simply. "But that doesn't explain why you were protecting that creature."

"That creature has a soul! That's Angel, not Angelus. And you have him to thank for your still being alive."

Rachel swung her feet off the couch and stood on unsteady legs. "I have my powers to thank for being alive, you mean. I would have died from that gaping hole you left in my chest otherwise."

"What was I supposed to do? Just let you kill him?" yelled an irate Buffy.

"YOU SHOULD HAVE KILLED HIM YOURSELF WHEN YOU FOUND OUT WHAT HE WAS," yelled Rachel with an impressive level of volume. "The only good vampire is one that's filling a hoover."

Before Buffy could retort Giles stepped in between the two irate females. "You both need to step back and calm down," he said.

"Calm down? She's been protecting a known enemy - one who came within minutes of destroying the world - and you tell me to calm down?"

"He's not Angelus!"

"Till the next time, you mean," said Rachel bitterly. "I saw you shoving your tongue down his throat, you stupid girl.

That had Giles polishing away at his glasses. "That puts a decidedly different complexion on things," he muttered while sitting down in a nearby chair.

"What? She saw me with Angel, and she went nuts. How does that make any difference?"

"Because it shows that you haven't learned a damn thing from what happened last year," retorted Rachel. "How many people will have to die this time?"

"At least I won't be the one doing the killing," snapped Buffy. "You think I don't remember you telling Angel, 'that's the point,' when he told you that you were killing me. Or you telling me that my life was forfeit?"

"You shouldn't have stuck your bloody nose in if you don't want to get hurt," said Rachel, utterly pissed and far beyond any sort of caring. "You were the one who decided that it would be a good idea to turn it into some sort of pissing match."

"I'm not going to let you hurt Angel."

"You couldn't stop me."

"I managed to stop you this time, didn't I?"

"More luck than skill. It won't happen again."

"That's enough," snapped Giles. "Save your aggression for the demons, Buffy, and you, Rachel, are supposed to be a Jedi. You're supposed to be better than this sort of bickering and loss of control."

"A Jedi? Have you all gone completely insane?"

Rachel span around and with a burst of power she not so gently knocked Post on her backside without actually touching her. "If you are at all attached to your life it would be best for you to not draw my attention."

"Mr. Giles, this is intolerable-"

"No, no, you don't get to talk now," said Rachel, circling Post like a predator circling a particularly juicy piece of prey. "No, I want some answers from you. Why are you here?" she asked, the power in her voice so great that the people in the room felt like they could almost touch it.

" The glove of Myhnegon," she said, in a trance, completely subdued by Rachel's power.

"And what do you want with this . . . glove?"

"I want its power."

"Hmm. The Council has no idea you're here, do they?"

"None at all."

"Bitch!" cried an extremely angry looking Faith. "So what are we going to do with her?"

"I say we tie to her to a tree in the cemetery with a free-food sign taped to her chest," said Rachel.

The others gave her some very strange looks at that. As if they weren't thinking the same damn thing.

"I'll have to get on touch with the Council," said Giles. "But there's no way we can hold her till they arrive here."

"So break her legs. She won't get far then," said Faith, still looking deeply pissed off. She definitely did not appreciate being lied to.

Giles looked seriously tempted for a moment but in the end, "no. We will not lower ourselves to her level."

Considering that the woman was currently sprawled out on the floor looking like a village idiot high on mind-bending drugs, that was something Rachel could go along with.

"So what? We're just going to let the bitch go?" asked Faith.

"We don't have a choice in the matter," said Giles. "We are not common hoodlums and the council will soon catch up with her should she try to flee."

"This is foolish. Leaving an enemy is your back is tantamount to suicide," said Rachel flatly. "We need to take steps to keep her from being a danger to our operations until the Council takes her."

"Are you going to kill her too?" asked Buffy snidely.

Rachel turned an arctic-cold gaze onto Buffy. "Perhaps."

"I can't deal with this," said Buffy, throwing up her hands. "She's gone completely round the twist."

And with that she stormed out of the apartment in a right huff. Could she be anymore stereotypically teenage?

"I don't think so," sighed Giles. Oops, she hadn't meant to say that out loud. "But that does not even come close to excusing your own behaviour, Rachel. I can understand attacking Angel - I would have probably done so myself - but Buffy?"

"I think this is my cue to leave," said Faith. "See you all later."

"Yeah, Faith. Later," said Rachel as the door closed behind her. "It's not like I was really trying to kill her Giles. I hit her with disabling blows twice to try and get her out of the fight but she just wouldn't butt out and disabling a Slayer is easier said than done."

"Listen to yourself, Rachel. Since when do you attack first and ask questions later like this? Buffy is supposed to be your friend. If nothing else, she is your ally."

"Some ally! It was bad enough last time, we don't need another run-through this particular mess," snarled Rachel. "You didn't see them, Giles. It was like she'd completely forgotten everything that happened before."

"And you of course listened to their explanations?"

"You're joking, right?"

"You completely lost control when you saw Angel, didn't you?" said Giles. "You need to get a grip, Rachel. This is dangerous. If you start using the Dark Side on the hellmouth . . . the consequences could be dire."

Rachel took a deep, steadying breath. "I know, Giles. I know. I've been a very naughty little girl. I shouldn't have lost control. Believe me, I know," she said. "I can feel it now, you know. The call of the Dark Side. I can even feel the hellmouth offering me power." She shook her head. "It's almost as bad as the Star Forge and I'm nowhere near as sensitive to it as I was then."

And that sent Giles into glasses-rubbing mode. "That isn't good at all," he said. "But I really don't have the first idea how to help you. I never was a Star Wars fan really and I doubt that help much with the reality anyway."

"There's nothing you can do," said Rachel. "I just have to deal with it. It's not like it's ever going to go away with me being who I am."

"Yes, well, if you can think of any way that I can help then you only need to ask," said Giles. He cast an eye over to Post who was staring at the light reflecting off the television as if the meaning of life could be discerned from it. "Is she going to recover from this?"

"As soon as I release her. She's getting rather panicky right now, I can tell you. She doesn't like not being in control."

"I don't think anyone would like being caged inside their own mind like that."

"True, I suppose."

"Doesn't it strain you to hold her like this?"

"Not really. Her mind is remarkably weak and lacking in the discipline required to fight this sort of invasion," said Rachel, her voice contemptuous. "For someone who likes to play with demonic artefacts and the dark arts she's rather weak."

"The weak are second only to the powerful in how much they are tempted by that sort of thing," said Giles. "Now I think you should release her before any permanent damage is done."

"As you wish," said Rachel, and with a nod of her head Post was freed.

Post immediately scrambled backwards, away from Rachel and towards the door, shaking in terror. "You . . . you're a monster! Stay away from me!"

"Who was the one hunting down demonic artefacts again?" sneered Rachel. "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, lady."

"I think you should just leave, Ms. Post," said Giles with a sort of vicious glee. "There's nothing for you here now."

Obviously the stuffy old Brit doesn't appreciate some newcomer pulling the 'more Brit than thou' act. Anyway, Post seemed to think this was a real good idea and scrambled for the door, making good her escape while she still could. Honestly the utter terror she radiated would have been amusing if it wasn't so disturbing. Not that there wasn't a part of Rachel that didn't enjoy knowing she'd spooked someone so badly, and that disturbed her more than anything. She could almost accept coming close to killing people in battle - even when those people were allies and the battle unneeded - but torture like that? That was something else altogether. She felt something give inside her as she watched the grown woman scurry away from her and flee like a wounded animal.

"I really need to do something about this, don't I?" she asked Giles, sounding much younger than she had since before Halloween.

"I'm sure an apology . . . "

"No. I went too far but Buffy can't expect to pull something like that and get away with it," said Rachel. "I mean about the Dark Side."

"Well, it would probably be advisable," said Giles in a carefully measured tone of voice. "I do not like the idea of you becoming a Sith Lord."

"You and me both, G-man," said Rachel. "You and me both. What I wouldn't give for a holocron or a Jedi Master about now."

"Well, you just have to find a substitute, then," said Giles.

"And where am I going to find a Jedi Master on this planet?" asked Rachel in the most bitingly sarcastic tone of voice she could muster.

"You already have the knowledge, do you not?" asked Giles. "It's just a matter of applying it."

"I have the knowledge of a Jedi who became a Sith Lord before she was twenty-five years old," said Rachel. "Not exactly the greatest indicator of a great Jedi."

"I know it all ended," said Giles, "but wasn't Revan the greatest of her generation before she turned?"

"Yeah for all of the the three years she spent as a Knight," grumped Rachel. "Why couldn't I have dressed up as Luke Skywalker or someone like that?"

"Complaining won't get you anywhere," chided Giles. "You have to work with the situation as it is."

Rachel rubbed at her eyes, suddenly feeling very tired. "Well, what do you suggest then?"

"A training trip," said Giles simply. "Take some time away from the hellmouth and spend some time centring yourself."

"And you think that will work?!" asked Rachel with a look of utter disbelief on her face.

Giles shrugged. "It can't hurt, can it? Some time away from the hellmouth will do you a world of good, I think, and you'll never get anywhere if you're being constantly distracted by demons and vampires and the other nonsense that goes on here."

"Hmm. It might work. I have some places I wanted to visit that might hold potential cures for my gender problem," said Rachel thoughtfully. "But Snyder would never go for it."

"Leave Snyder to me," said Giles with a positively feral grin. "He won't be an issue. You're not legally an American citizen anyway in this form so he has much less control over you than he has over the girls."

Rachel thought about if for a couple of minutes weighing it up in her mind. A training trip might be able to help her - or at least remove her from disruptive influences for a while - but did she want to just leave? Remembering the looks Buffy had been giving her just now and the way Willow hadn't even showed up - couldn't face her, perhaps? - it was perhaps less of a sacrifice than it could be. And she had a nice, fat bank balance these days courtesy of the patents she'd released from her new-found knowledge of ridiculously advanced technology so she could afford to do pretty much whatever the hell she wanted. She didn't even really need high school these days - the GED was one exam away after all.

And she didn't really want to risk killing any of her friends in a Dark Side induced killing rage again. But that went without saying really.

"I think I'll do it, Giles," she said. "If nothing else it'll be a vacation from this crap."

Chapter Nine

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."

"Such as?"

"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."

Chapter Ten

As the end credits rolled down the computer monitor, Rachel spoke, "that may well be the single most cheesy, unrealistic ending to anything ever."

"I thought it was nice and uplifting," said Willow. "Lots of warm fuzzy feelings."

Rachel snorted. "Come on, Wills. Vandar wouldn't have finished saying my name before people started trying to kill me. Or fled in abject terror. One of the two. Probably the second when I think about it."

"You're too cynical for your own good," said Willow. "Revan had just saved the galaxy and defeated the big bad Sith Lord. That has to be worth a get out of jail free card."

"And who was that Sith Lord's master, Wills?" asked Rachel. "I don't think you realise just how scared people were of me, and for good reason. I was not a good person to know back then. It's like having Darth Vader survive the last film. He'd have lived about as long as it took for the lynch mobs to find him."

"Cynical!" said Willow.

"Realistic is more like it," said Rachel. "Wonder what the Dark Side ending's like . . . Can't be any worse."

Willow just blew a raspberry at her. "Well, I liked it. And I especially liked the romance!"

Rachel's brows furrowed at that. "Feh. You try to be nice to the paranoid old git and suddenly he's madly in love with you. Typical."

"Well, I thought it was sweet."

"You would," said Rachel.

"It was you that kept the romance sub-plot going, you know."

"And it was you that nagged me into doing it!"

Willow just blew another raspberry at her.

"Real mature, Wills. Real mature," said Rachel with a small grin.

"I try," said Willow. "I've had fun, but I wish the others had played through the game with us."

Rachel shrugged her shoulders. "If it was a two hour movie they'd have stuck around, but a twenty-five hour game? And it's not like Buffy, Faith, Giles, or Oz are exactly interested in this sort of thing. I'm sure they'd be interested in a summary of things but the full thing is just too much."

They slipped into silence for a while after that, and Rachel noticed that the credits had finished, leaving the game back at the main menu, complete with the 3D model of Malak staring out at her.

"You know, they really did gyp Malak in that game," said Rachel. "He did not do that stupid villain laugh. Ever. And he wasn't an idiot or a coward, not like they made him seem. I've seen Malak take on dozens of Mandalorians at a time without flinching and he cut through Jedi like a hot knife through butter after he turned."

"Why do you care?" asked Willow, looking genuinely confused. "He's tried to kill you how many times now?"

Rachel suddenly felt very cold and instinctively wrapped her arms around herself. "He was my friend once, Willow. We were as close as any two people can be, closer than family, closer than lovers even. What he is now . . . it's my fault. He was always more of a follower than a leader and when I went down the dark path he followed, and I twisted him into becoming my apprentice."

Willow just looked like she didn't have a clue what to say.

"I really, really don't want to kill him Willow," said Rachel. "He's not beyond redemption, not really, but I don't think he'll listen to me of all people, and it wouldn't be right for me to leave my mess for someone else to clean up." After a moment of silence, she waved her hand in the general direction of the computer, "and that Revan? She didn't even realise what Malak meant to her when she killed him. Probably didn't even think twice about it. Damn Jedi Council, that's their fault. Couldn't heal her mind, my arse. It's just too damn convenient that she just so happens to remember the bits they need her to remember and nothing else."

Willow just looked at Rachel with wide eyes and took several moments before replying in a very quiet tone of voice. "So what are you going to do?"

"I will do my duty for the greater good," said Rachel, with a hint of bitterness. "I have no other choice. It's not like there's anyone else out there who can deal with him, and it's me he's fixated on."

"But . . . "

"It's not like it's anything I haven't done before, Wills," said Rachel. "Remember Jesse? Same situation, same end result."

"Jesse was a vampire," said Willow, looking deeply pained by the memories. "There wasn't anything we could have done for him, not then."

"I know," said Rachel. "Believe me, I know. I just hate that Jesse got cut down just like that when a monster like Angelus gets second and third chances. What's next? Spike showing up with a soul looking for redemption?"

Willow's eyes crossed for a moment before she burst out laughing. "I can't even begin to imagine that."

"Yeah, well I expect anyone who knew Angelus back in the day would say the same thing," said Rachel.

"You're not going to forgive Angel anytime soon, are you?"

"An apology would be a start, you know?" said Rachel. "Guy looks like a kicked puppy more often than not but would it kill him to actually say, 'I'm sorry'? It's pathetic. He likes playing the tortured soul but he doesn't do diddly to make up for the things he did wrong - just sits around in the dark moping."

"But he . . . he helps Buffy! He helped us that time those demons opened the hellmouth," said Willow. "So he does do stuff to make up for what he did."

Rachel waved her off. "Yeah, yeah. He helps out every so often but do you see him out on a normal night hunting vampires? No. He only fights when Buffy might be in danger and the rest of the time he just mopes. It's not like he has anything better to do, is it? He's a bloody vampire."

The patrol that night proved to be a bit of a bust. In all honesty, pickings were getting to be a bit thin on the ground with two Slayers and a Jedi roaming around the hellmouth. Apart from the semi-regular newcomers and speciality demons that stirred up trouble, there just wasn't a huge amount to do a lot of the time. Normal vampires seemed to have taken the hint and moved on or learned to keep their activities quiet enough that they weren't spotted and dealt with.

The current situation was probably inevitable, really. You can only kill so many idiots trying to pick up a meal at the local nightclub before the rest start to realise that it might not be the best of ideas to hunt there anymore and fan out, and once they've fanned out it becomes bloody hard to catch them in a town like Sunnydale. Place was like a bloody rat warren or something. And a few bouts of chucking molotov cocktails at the abandoned buildings they used as nests ensured their holing up in the bloody sewers from then on. And she wasn't stupid enough to go hunting down there without a damn good reason.

With that in mind, she almost - almost - thought she was being a little hard on Deadboy. It wasn't like there was much for him to do anyway, and he was the weakest of the supernatural fighters on the team these days. But then there was always one or two who'd slip through the net that might have been caught if he patrolled regularly, and if anyone should know how to catch vampires it was another vampire. There were times she wondered if he'd be better off somewhere else away from Buffy. Maybe then he'd get on with things instead of spending all his time pining after something he could never really have.

She felt something in the air as she entered the school library to report to Giles before heading home. Something was happening, something important. The fact that Buffy and Faith were there with Giles and all three looked antsy was a dead giveaway in itself really.

"What's going on, guys?" asked Rachel. "Oh, and for what it's worth, patrol was a bust. Caught a couple of stupid newbies but that's it. They seem to be avoiding me these days."

"Yo, Darth," said Faith. "We've just had some weird demon try to sell us some books about something called Ascension."

"That sounds important," said Rachel. "How much was it asking?"

"Five thousand," said Buffy. "Like we have five thousand to spare."

Rachel's response was immediate. "I could cover it, but it damn well better be worth it."

Buffy just gaped. "Where'd you get that much money from?"

Rachel smirked. "Have you seen those new laptop PCs with dozen hour battery lives?" At Willow's nod she continued. "The battery technology came from me and what I picked up from Halloween. I'm not short of money. The companies are virtually begging me to let them use the stuff I come up with these days."

They were all gaping at her now and she just rolled her eyes. "Come on. I told you what I was doing. Don't any of you listen?"

Giles was rubbing away at his glasses by the time Rachel finished speaking, "I didn't realise that you had been quite so successful," he said.

Rachel shrugged her shoulders. "You didn't ask," she said. "And the real money won't start coming in till summer when the royalty cheques for the last six months are due."

"Huh," said Faith. "Well, that settles that. We gonna buy these books, then?"

"Yeah," said Rachel. "But if they turn out to be a con I'm not going to be pleased. Bank's gonna be a pain in the ass too. They won't like me drawing out five grand in cash just like that."

Rachel was sat in the library tweaking her lightsabre when Buffy and Faith came stumbling in looking much the worse for wear, having to support each other to stay upright, the next night.

"Oh good Lord," said Giles. "What happened?"

"It was fuckin' insane," said Faith as both Slayers collapsed into nearby chairs, and promptly winced in union. "These weird robot things attacked us when we met the demon. Was like someone from the sci-fi channel."

Rachel's attention was quite suddenly entirely on the Slayers as they made their report. This . . . this was bad.

"We only just made it out of there, Giles," said Buffy. "Those things were tough."

"Still beat them, though," said Faith. "No stupid machine's gonna beat a Slayer."

"What sort of weapons were they equipped with?" asked Rachel. "Staffs? Swords? Guns?"

"They had these weird staff things," said Faith. "Stung like a bitch when they hit us."

"Yeah," said Buffy. "They made this weird buzzing noise too."

"Sounds like Malak built some duelling droids and sent them after you," said Rachel. "Those staffs should have knocked you out cold if they were working properly, though. Slayer constitution?"

"It seems likely," said Giles. "Slayers are much more resistant to that sort of attack than a normal human."

"Well thank fuck for that," said Faith. "Those hits hurt enough for me, thanks."

"I don't suppose either of you thought to collect the weapons for analysis?" asked Wesley. Honestly, Rachel was surprised he'd said anything. He'd been thoroughly cowed since the whole mess with Faith.

"Uh . . . " said Faith. "No?"

"Bit too busy trying to stay upright to grab any goodies," said Buffy. "It was all busted up anyway."

"Did you get the books?" asked Rachel.

"Well, you see . . . " said Buffy. "It's kinda like, um, well, the demon ran off with the money, and by the time the fight was finished . . . "

"Someone pinched the books," finished Faith.

Rachel proceeded to treat the occupants of the library to a litany of paint-strippingly horrendous obscenities from every language she had every learned, which, with Revan's memories, was a hell of a lot, finishing with a graphic description of just what the book thief could do with his haul and the near-impossible physical contortions he could make while doing so. By the time she was finished, Giles looked faintly impressed, Wesley's skin had taken on a distinctly green hue, and Willow just looked puzzled. Faith and Buffy just had completely blank expressions on their faces.

"I didn't know that it was possible to do that," said Willow. "And wow. Impressed."

"Only if you're very, very flexible," said Rachel. "And that's so not the point."

"And what is the point, then?" asked Giles dryly.

"The fact that we're utterly screwed, perhaps?" asked Rachel. "Our best, maybe only, chance of finding out just what the hell Wilkins is up to is in the hands of the enemy, and Malak's deploying combat units that we're just not equipped to face. Yeah, this is looking great, isn't it?"

"Well, can't you whip up something to help us out with the robots?" asked Faith. "You know, ray guns, or something?"

"Do you have any idea how much it would cost or how difficult it would be to do something like that?" asked Rachel. "I just don't have the resources to pull off something like that. Home-made explosives are about my limit right now."

"What about the staff weapons?" asked Willow. "They don't sound like they'd be too difficult."

"Wouldn't be very useful either," said Rachel. "You can't stun a droid and most demons have hides too thick for them to work on them either. These staffs are just over-sized, futuristic tazers, you know."

"I think that for now we should just keep our eyes open and see if any other opportunities arise like this demon's offer," said Wesley.

"Yes," said Giles. "That does seem the best course of action. It might be a good idea to check out the local demon bar to see if Willy knows anything also."

Rachel slowly traced the paths of energy flowing through her body as she sought out a way to trigger the transformation back into Xander. Most of her concentration was on the groin and heart chakra points - which encompassed sexuality and identity amongst others, less relevant to the issue, things. The other chakra points showed some interesting things - the brow chakra was positively blinding, for example - but it was more idle curiosity than anything useful that made her look at those.

The way the energy knotted up at the groin and heart chakra points certainly didn't look to be natural. It looked a lot more forced than the other points, even the ones that had been artificially strengthened by her connection to the Force. She reached out with her senses and took a closer look, definitely not natural. Those points had a real feel of chaos magic to them. They positively reeked of it now that she was looking for it and it wasn't a particularly pleasant odour.

With that discovered, she devoted her concentration to understanding the energy patterns that were circulating around those points. Hmm. The heart chakra was quite blocked but the groin chakra was so bunged up that barely a trickle of the energy there was actually moving. Very odd, but it explained a few things, like why her sex drive had dropped to almost nil overnight that halloween. It disturbed her quite a bit to discover that such an important part of her personality could have been so thoroughly disrupted without her even realising it. She'd thought it was normal - after all, the girls at school didn't seem half as hormonal as the boys. Not something she really wanted to think about.

Concentrating her energies, she took hold of one of the immobilised strands of energy and gave it a light tug. At first nothing happened and then slowly the energy at that point sped up. It was barely noticeable but it was definitely happening. Encouraged by this, Rachel began to tug at the other strands to loosen them, and the flow of energy through that chakra point began to approach normal levels. But this did not come without a cost. Manipulating her own chakra points in this way was tremendously difficult and she could feel her grasp on the Force slipping as the exhaustion began to slip in. Soon enough she lost her grasp and slipped out of her deep meditative state, but not before that chakra point was working at normal speeds.

But she was not male.

She levered herself onto shaky legs and looked around the room. Hmm, she did feel different, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Ah, well, she could work with the heart chakra next time and see what happened.

"Are you quite alright, Rachel?" asked Giles.

She turned to look at him, and there was definitely something different, but she still couldn't put her finger on it. "I'm fine, Giles. Just a little tired and in need of a shower, I think," she said as she brushed the sweat away from her eyes. "I feel like I've ran a marathon."

"You look it too," said Giles, looking vaguely uncomfortable. "I don't think I've ever seen you in such a state."

Rachel sniffed at the air and wrinkled her nose. "Hmm, time for a shower, for certain. Maybe I'll get it next time."

She discovered the cause of Giles' discomfort when she looked in the bathroom mirror and saw that her shirt was soaked through with sweat and altogether too close to transparency for comfort. For a prim and proper guy like Giles - well, when he wasn't channelling Ripper - that would definitely be a cause for discomfort. It was times like this that she really wished that her robes were appropriate clothing to wear, but she'd attract far too much attention walking around in such outlandish clothing.

Patrol the next night proved to be as tedious as all recent patrols had been. If there wasn't a hellmouth, patrol would be a hell of a lot more effective, but with all that background noise swamping her senses and rendering them almost entirely useless at anything more than visual range. She was almost as supernaturally blind as Buffy in this town, and that was not a good thing. Buffy could fight as well as any Slayer that had ever been Called but she'd been well and truly gypped on the supernatural senses front.

With there being so very little for her to do and with the moon so far aware and not pressing her to hunt the abominations, she decided to call it an early night and head to the Bronze and see if anyone was hanging around there for her to spend some time with. She hadn't been to the Bronze in ages - there was always something more important that had needed doing, or she just plain hadn't felt like it - and she figured that it would make for a nice change from the never-ending meditations and the following abortive attempts to trigger the change to her male form.

As she approached the club she began to get an icy feeling of wrongness deep in her gut and sped up her walking pace. The idea of visiting the club was beginning to look like it hadn't just came from a personal whim. As she neared the teenage hangout, the feeling or urgency continued to grow till it felt like she had a family of snakes writhing around in her guts, which was not a pleasant experience. As the feeling of urgency grew, she broke into a jog. When she saw the battered door of the club hanging off its hinges, she broke into a sprint.

Her heart skipped a beat when she saw what was in the club. Two chunky but still recognisably humanoid combat units with blaster rifles levelled at Willow, who looked like a deer trapped in the headlights of an oncoming truck, and half a dozen or so vampires spread out across the club, also armed with blaster rifles, two of the vampires were moving towards Oz on the stage. This was not a good thing. Rachel immediately wrapped the Force around her like a cloak and slipped into the shadows. She needed time, time to plan.

"Dead or alive, you're coming with us," said one of the droids in the typical nasally tone that comes from using really cheaply made vocoders.

"I don't think so," said Rachel in a carefully measured tone of voice. Hell with planning, this thing was threatening Willow.

The club immediately erupted into a hailstorm of blaster fire and the screams of the terrified patrons as they dived for cover. All the blaster fire was aimed at Rachel, and she was a whirlwind of motion as she swept her blade through the air and deflected each attack while step by step approaching the combat droids. They backed off from her, all the while maintaining a steady stream of blaster fire but they couldn't manage the volume needed to hold her down and within moments the two droids fell to the ground in neatly bisected halves.

The Force sang through Rachel now and her lightsabre was a blur as the blaster fire from the blaster-equipped vampires was deflected up into the roof of the club. She opened herself completely to the Force in battle for the first time since she'd been changed and she almost laughed out-loud at the joy she felt from it. Now this, this was the way things were meant to be, the way she was meant to be. She could see the vampires moves, their plans, formulate as the vampires came up with them, she could see the possibilities for where the next attacks would come from and where they would be aimed if those probabilities held. It was nothing else she'd ever experienced, even Revan's memories had not prepared her for this.

The meagre efforts of the vampires didn't even slow her down as she cut through them like a hot knife through butter. From her completely opening herself to the Force to the end, it couldn't have been more than thirty seconds.

"Intense," said Oz as he eyed the absolute destruction, just before Willow latched onto him for dear life and speaking became pretty damn close to impossible for him.

"Gather the weapons," ordered Rachel as she eyed the scene. There didn't seem to be anyone fatally injured and she hadn't felt anyone pass on and become one with the Force, but some of them were going to have nasty burns. "We cannot allow them to fall into the possession of the general public."

At that point Willow latched onto Rachel and began to babble at a pace so fast that even she with all experience of Willow-babble could not even come close to understanding it.

"Work now, breakdown later, Willow," said Rachel gently as she disengaged from the highly disturbed Willow. It seemed that pointing a gun at her got straight by all the mental strength she'd built up over the years and Rachel had a strong urge to find the personal responsible for this and tear their heart out.

As Rachel picked her way across the wreckage to where the remains of the droids laid, she took in the people at the club. Most had a distinct glass-eyed look to them, going into shock it seemed, but some looked far too alert for her tastes. She did not need to be dealing with the sort of attention this would gather right now.

"Forget this," said Rachel, lacing her words with persuasive power. "This is not something you want to be involved in."

That seemed to take care of the awkward ones and with that Rachel telekinetically hefted the droid wreckage into the air and departed, followed by a pair of weighed-down scoobies carrying enough firepower to make the US military jealous. Rachel just felt cold right down to the marrow of her bones. It was a miracle that someone hadn't been killed by Malak's little game. The time to end this charade was coming, she felt, and she really wasn't looking forward to it.

"Good Lord," said Giles, as they entered the library with their haul. "What on Earth happened?"

"Malak is stepping things up," said Rachel grimly. "He's equipping Wilkins' men with Star Wars level weaponry and building Star Wars level battle droids to top things off."

"We already found out about the droids last night, didn't we?" said Giles as Willow collapsed into a chair and Oz moved to comfort her.

"Duelling droids are one thing, these things . . . they're something else," said Rachel. "There's very little on Earth that could stop them short of heavy artillery. And vampires with blasters? That's all kinds of badness. What the hell will Buffy or Faith be able to do against something that's shooting at them?"

"Run like hell," said Faith, as she walked up behind Rachel looking distinctly displeased. "What the fuck is going on here, Jeeves, Darth? I didn't sign up to be an extra in the latest sci-fi flick, you know."

"This has to stop," said Rachel grimly. "I don't like it, but it's time to deal with Malak. And before we get to that, where's Buffy? If she's out there now . . . she could be in trouble."

"She's still too banged up from those things last night," said Faith. "She took a bad hit for me and it'll be a couple of days before she's back in the groove."

"Faith, I'd appreciate it if you could get in touch with her and warn her about what's going," said Rachel. "These droids don't need an invitation to enter her home and attack her."


"One of us has to stay here in case they attack, and I have the best chance of stopping them," said Rachel. "You should be able to get to Buffy's house and back unmolested with your skills."

"Fair enough," said Faith. "Hope you appreciate this, Darth."

And then Faith left.

"These weapons should help, at least," said Giles, while inspecting one of the blaster rifles.

"And how many of us can actually shoot?" asked Rachel. "It's not something I ever learned how to do."

"The use of firearms is part of Watcher training," said Giles, "so Wesley and I will be able to use these weapons at least. Buffy and Faith should be able to learn how to use them without too much difficulty too."

"Buffy can't stand guns, Giles," said Willow, coming out of her shock. "I doubt you'll get her to use them."

"Well she'll bloody well just have to get over it," said Giles. "I have no desire to see her get herself killed because she refuses to use the only weapons we have that will be effective against these enemies."

"Willow, I know you're pretty shook up, but I need you to do something for me," said Rachel. Oz glared at Rachel briefly when he heard what she said, but he soon looked away when she returned his glare. Ah, the privileges of being Alpha.

"What do you need?" asked Willow.

"I need to know where Malak is staying, and, if possible, the blueprints of wherever he is," said Rachel.

"You're going to attack him?" asked Giles.

"Attack implies that I am the aggressor," said Rachel. "I am not. I am simply acting in defence of the people Malak has threatened with this insanity. Deploying Star Wars level weapons on his planet . . . it's just unspeakably stupid. It'll draw an insane amount of attention unless he's stopped and stopped soon. Even the Sunnydale effect won't stop the government from coming in if they think they can get bigger guns out of it."

"This protection is going to take a while to break," said Willow. "It's a pretty good setup they've got on their computers."

At that moment Faith re-entered the library, "yo," she said. "B's been warned off going out."

"That was quick," remarked Rachel.

"There's this new-fangled invention, you might have heard of it, it's called 'the telephone'," drawled Faith looking altogether too pleased with herself for Rachel's tastes.

"Smartass," said Rachel. "I'm going to go get ready for this. I shouldn't be too long."

As Rachel dug through her wardrobe to find her Jedi robes, she found something else entirely: her Sith robes. For a moment she was tempted. Malak wanted to pick a fight with Revan? Well, she could give him Revan, alright. She could shove Revan down his throat till he suffocated on her. But she shook it off. She wasn't that person, not really, and certainly not these days. The red-bladed lightsabre was bad enough. She put the robes back on their hanger and went back to finding the Jedi robes. Dammit, she wore them so infrequently that she could never find them when she needed them.

Eventually she found them and after going through the rigmarole of putting them on - they were surprisingly difficult to don for such simple clothing - she began to fill the numerous pockets and folds with the various toys she'd constructed since Halloween. Thermal detonators, gas grenades, sonic grenades, shaped charges, all sorts of fun things - all in the robes and ready for her to use tonight.

"Shit, that's one big hideout," said Faith. Rachel had to agree. Malak had always been prone to excess and this was no different from his normal. Living in a mansion . . . sheesh.

"The sewer opens up right here in this room at the back of the mansion," said Giles. "That might be a good place to enter."

"No," said Rachel. "He'll be expecting that. And I don't want to have to deal with the inevitable vampires and demons I'll run into if I try that way. It'll be too damned noisy. I want to at least get into the building before I start blowing shit up."

"So what do you suggest?" asked Giles.

Rachel pointed at a location on the blueprint, "the mansion runs by a major road here. It shouldn't be too hard to plant a shaped charge there and get in that way."

"A shaped charge?" asked Giles. "You have access to that sort of thing?"

"Yup," said Rachel. "Built them myself."

"And what do you plan after you gain entrance?"

"That depends on what sort of defences Malak has," said Rachel. "I doubt he can build anything I can't deal with and he never was imaginative in the use of whatever he had available to him."

"You? What about the rest of us?" asked Faith.

"This isn't your fight," said Rachel sharply. "This is just another bout of Sith Vs. Jedi, and I'd rather you all stayed out of it as much as possible."

Faith snorted, "yeah, right. I'd say we lost that option when they started shooting at us with ray guns."

Rachel sighed. "Can you use the blaster rifles? Otherwise, you might as well not bother. Your normal weapons will be useless here."

"I can use any weapon," said Faith confidently. "It's just like a gun, right?"

"Pretty much," said Rachel. "Point at the enemy and pull the trigger. Recoil is minimal unless these are really shoddy blasters."

"Cool," said Faith, with that little kid with a new toy expression that all Slayers get when they get their mitts on a nice, new weapon.

"I'm in too," said Willow, resolve face firmly in place. "No way I'm letting you run off on your own for this."

"I'm there," said Oz.

"It would be rather cowardly of me if I did not also attend the battle," said Wesley, who'd turned up sometime while she was off getting her equipment.

"I'm coming, too," said Angel, stepping out of the shadows.

Rachel eyed the tall vampire with distaste written all over her face. "Buffy needs protection. That's your task."

Angel blinked, "but-"

"I have no use for soldiers I cannot trust," said Rachel coldly. "Go. Protect Buffy to the best of your abilities and know that any injury inflicted upon her will be visited upon you tenfold when I discover it."

And with that Angel signed, and left. No-one spoke in his defence. Rachel eyed those that remained and unconsciously shifted her body language and tone of voice to that of the commander who'd led entire fleets into battle time and time again. "Fine. But you will obey my orders. If I tell you to fall back, you fall back. If I tell you to retreat, you will retreat. If I tell you to retreat but stay behind myself, then you'll damn well retreat and leave me. There will be no room for argument or dissension on the field of battle."

"So why are we following your orders?" asked Faith, looking less than impressed with the idea of, well, following anyone's orders but her own, really.

"Because I was the Supreme Commander of the Republic Navy and ran a war the likes of which this world has never seen," said Rachel in a voice that was as cold as Arctic wind. "Because I know what I'm doing and none of you do."

Faith didn't exactly look happy with the idea but she acknowledged it with a grudging nod and none of the others seemed prepared to speak up after that.

"I will take point," said Rachel. "That way most enemy fire will be deflected before it becomes a threat. Giles and Wesley will be primary backup. They're the best shots. Faith will cover the rear. Oz and Willow, you will secure the transport and cover our escape when we're ready. Any questions?"

"Transport?" asked Oz.

"Your van," clarified Rachel. "It's either that or Giles' car. Any more questions? No? Well get your weapons and get moving."

The wall exploded inwards with a dull booming sound and Rachel immediately leapt through the new hole as an alarm started to blare, her lightsabre flashing into life as she moved into a defensive position, but there was no defensive fire as the others followed her into the building.

"Which way?" asked Giles, his eyes continually moving as he scanned the area.

Rachel closed her eyes and read the patterns of the Force for just a moment before opening her eyes again and taking off down the corridor to the left of their entry position. As the group approached the next turn in the corridor Rachel barked, "suppression fire, now!" as felt a group of vampires moving to intercept them.

Giles and Wesley immediately started filling the area with sustained blaster fire as Rachel reached into her robes and pulled out one of her sonic grenades. She quickly twisted the activation knob and bounced it round the corner towards the cowering vampires. "Cover your ears," she yelled as she folded the Force over her own ears for protection, a moment before the grenade exploded with a horrendous screeching sound and the vampires started screaming. When she rounded the corner a moment later she was treated to a rather pathetic sight: four vampires rolling around on the floor, clutching their ears and screaming in agony. It was but a moment's work to put them out of their misery.

"Follow," ordered Rachel, and they were off again.

There was no more interference till they reached a T-junction in the corridor they were following. With options of left or right, it was typical that luck that it was the narrow door in the middle of the junction that they needed to enter and that Rachel could sense numerous hostiles on the other side of it. She held up a hand and signalled the group following her to come to a halt. The way that Giles and Wesley were breathing hard from keeping up with the pace she was setting would have been quite amusing under other circumstances.

"What's up?" asked Faith.

"Multiple hostiles setup for ambush on the other side of that door," said Rachel as she groped around in her robes for the other shaped charge she'd brought with her.

"What are you planning?" asked Giles.

"Boom boom," said Rachel. Dammit she'd only brought the one shaped charge. Ah, well, time for a less precise explosive. She pulled a thermal detonator out of her robes. "Might want to take cover," she said as she dialled in the fuse time. As the others scrambled to take cover behind an uprooted heavy table that just so happened to be at the other end of the corridor, she set the fuse for thirty seconds and switched the detonator to active before moving to take cover herself.

Suffice to say, it made a big bang. The explosion was absolutely deafening, even with her hands over her ears, and there wasn't a whole lot of wall, or corridor, left after the bomb went off. Rachel immediately re-ignited her lightsabre and then charged the enemy position. The droids on the other side of the wreckage weren't like those that had been sent after Willow or the ones that had Buffy and Faith had fought - they were cheaply made and boxy in construction, designed to pack maximum firepower for minimum cost. The crossfire was absolutely withering and Rachel's reflexes were pushed to their limits as she defended herself from the sustained attack.

While Rachel was completely pinned down and incapable of even using her telekinetic powers to retaliate, the others were not so hard pressed, and soon the antechamber was the site of a pitched firefight with a stressed Jedi Knight right in the middle deflecting enough blaster fire to pin down your average platoon. Times like this, she really missed HK-47, that psychotic droid would have been right in his element in such a battle. Eventually the fire from the droids thinned out and she was able to begin fighting back, and the droids were soon dealt with at that point.

"Well, that was fun," she muttered. She eyed the stairs and took a quick reading of the energy patterns around the staircase. "This is it. Malak's at the top of those stairs with a small army of droids."

"Oh . . . joy," said a very bedraggled looking Wesley.

"You can help with the droids," said Rachel, "but once it's down to Malak you will leave. No questions asked. That is my fight."

"You sure, Darth?" asked Faith. "Sounds like a big ask to me, taking down that guy on your own."

"It is my destiny," said Rachel shortly. "I could duck the fight now but eventually it will come down to me and Malak whether I like it or not. The Force will not allow me to dodge this responsibility."

"Right," said Faith, obviously not impressed with 'destiny'.

"Keep your heads down," said Rachel. "This is going to be a warzone and none of you are trained soldiers. Take what shots you can, but your prime objective is to survive. Let me deal with enemy."

With that said, Rachel took a deep breath and centred herself, allowing the power of the Force to fully flow through and empower her. Then, with two mighty bounds, she scaled the stairs and was in the midst of a small army of droids, vampires, demons, and other assorted nasties, all equipped with Star Wars level weapons of various kinds. She'd cut down three vampires before the enemy forces could react, and then all hell broke loose. The volume of blaster fire was absolutely staggering and the only thing standing Rachel and death was her incredibly agility and Force powers as she dodged from place to place, never staying still long enough for them to draw a bead on her.

With her stick and move tactics firmly in mind, Rachel became a blur of frantic motion as she leapt from place to place, slicing a limb here and there, telekinetically throwing occasionally, and constantly whittling down the enemy forces. Even the droids equipped with heavy repeater cannons or duelling equipment proved inadequate to the task of stopping her and with the fire support of the rest of the group backing her - sporadic as it was with them having to dodge return fire - they were completely overwhelmed. In this state, she was the Force incarnate, and mere blasters would not stop her.

"You have regained your strength," said Malak in a strong, clear voice that carried all the way from where he was stood on a raised platform at the end of the gargantuan laboratory cum observatory.

Rachel deactivated her lightsabre and went into a loose, non-committal stance. "Like you didn't already know that, Malak."

"I had to test you, Revan," he said. "I had to know for sure that you were strong enough for this to be worthwhile."

"And to do that you had to send battle droids into a club full of kids?"

"Needs must."

Rachel shook her head. "You never were good with subtlety," she said before turning to her allies. "Leave us. This is between me and Malak now."

"Are you sure, Rachel?" asked Giles. "I'd be happy to stay and help you," he said, glaring at Malak all the while.

"No, Giles," said Rachel. "This is Jedi business. Take the van and go. I'll meet you all at the usual place when it's over."

"Run along, old man," sneered Malak, "before I destroy you."

Giles started to move forward but Rachel placed a calming hand on his chest and shook her head, "not a good idea, Giles. Just go."

The others made some noises of protest but they soon left, leaving Rachel alone with Malak.

"Once again destiny has brought us together," said Malak as the last of the group filed out. "Once more we will do battle to determine who truly is the strongest of us."

"It doesn't have to be like that Malak," said Rachel. "It's not too late for you."

"Why do you persist in these ridiculous attempts to redeem someone who does not want redemption?" asked Malak. "You tried this at the Star Forge, too, and it failed. Why waste the energy?"

"Because I have no desire to kill you," said Rachel. "And unlike that Revan, I actually remember you. I remember growing up with you, going to war with you, and falling to the Dark Side with you."

"And you remember being betrayed by me," said Malak flatly.

"Yes," admitted Rachel. "But that is the way of the Sith. It would be rather hypocritical of me to hold it against you after some of the things I did, wouldn't it? Malak, please, I don't want to do this."

Just for a moment Malak wavered and some of the yellow seemed to fade out of his eyes. For one glorious moment, Rachel thought it might have worked. But then Rachel felt the darkness within Malak swell and grow as he wrapped it around himself like a suit of armour and his eyes glowed a brighter yellow than ever. The darkness he exuded now was so thick that Rachel almost felt she could reach out and touch it with her fingers.

"I am the Dark Lord of the Sith," said Malak. "And I answer to no-one!"

With that, the darkness swelled even higher and Rachel had but a moment's warning as she hastily ignited her lightsabre and blocked the thick torrents of lightning that spewed forth from Malak's fingertips.

"Damn it, Malak!" she yelled.

Malak didn't say another word. He just leapt from the platform and glided down to Rachel's level. This was it. Her old friend ignited his sabre, and, with an arrogant flourish, assumed a standard neutral forward stance. Rachel responded by igniting her sabre and lowering into a standard low guard position. She wouldn't bother with the normal tricks here. No overly-aggressive stance for intimidation value and no attempts to disguise which form she used. Malak already knew everything there was to know about her fighting style. She was a Makashi master, though she knew at least the basics of all the forms.

Of course, this knowledge also extended to Malak's form. He was a Shien master, possibly one of the greatest masters of that form who've ever lived. The fighting style he used was all about power, both physical and supernatural. Few could match it. Between his freakish physical strength and outstanding connection to the Force, he was a formidable foe. Add to that the fact that many wrote him off as a lumbering brute of no great skill, and he was rarely troubled in battle. She knew better than that though. He was deceptively quick and a wonderful tactician. It was strategy that let him down. He had never quite grasped the idea that you sometimes had to cede a battle to win the war. Too idealistic as a Jedi and too impatient as a Sith. It had been that idealism that the war had broken him of, and that had made his fall so very, very hard when it came.

Unsurprisingly it was Malak who attacked first, using powerful strikes in an attempt to overpower Rachel quickly. Not a bad strategy really, she thought, as she parried the strikes aside. He was massive and physically overpowering, and she, well, wasn't. All she could do was play the angles and try to knock the attacks away from her body without getting her blade smashed out of her hands, which would be real bad way to end the day as far as she was concerned.

Malak launched a powerful series of overhand strikes aimed at cleaving Rachel's head in two and her body shuddered with each attack she parried. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, she gathered the Force in her legs and leapt away from Malak to give herself some room to breathe. Malak rushed at her to maintain the attack but Rachel met him with the quick, precise strikes that characterised her style of duelling and kept Malak from being capable of overwhelming her.

It was almost like a dance as they moved around the cavernous chamber, the only sounds being those of their deep, even breathing and the crackling sounds of their lightsabres repeatedly connecting with each other. Malak hadn't let his form slip at all, it seemed, and it was taking a hell of a lot out of Rachel to keep him at bay. Fighting Malak was like fighting a force of nature and about the only consolation was that she knew it was just as difficult for him to fight her as it was for her to fight him, just in different ways.

Rachel danced inside Malak's reach and with a series of precise strikes she drove him back against a wall. A look of panic flashed through his eyes for just a moment, and then the darkness flooded in again. He snarled with rage, like a cornered animal, and then he attacked with everything he had and Rachel found herself on the back foot again as Malak bombed forward hammering away at her defences with all the subtlety of a nuclear bomb, and about the same amount of power.

Rachel fell back before the assault, letting Malak's power wash over and through her rather than trying to resist it with brute force. The look on his face was . . . it was animalistic, contorted with rage and hate, and even a little fear, she thought. Was this what she had looked like the few times she had tapped into the Dark Side since Halloween? Like some sort of rabid animal? It certainly wasn't an appealing thought to her, not at all.

The attack was ferocious and each and every blow she parried felt like a train smashing into her arms. Realising that she could not sustain this effort, she looked for a way out, analysing Malak's movements. Ah there it was. Rachel blocked an overhand strike aimed at her head and quick as lightning she dropped to the ground and swept Malak off his feet with a sweep kick to the ankles. She moved to deliver the killing blow but she hesitated just for a second and that was enough for the Dark Lord to deflect the blow and roll away.

Malak rolled onto his feet with cat-like grace and stood opposite from Rachel with his lightsabre held in front of him defensively. He looked like he wanted to taunt her but couldn't think of anything to say. They stood staring at each other across their sabres for a long, quiet moment before they both lunged forward as if by some unheard signal and started trading blows furiously, their blades little more than blurs as they both tapped deeply into the side of the Force that they called their own.

For Rachel, it was like staring into the heart of darkness itself. Malak was like a black hole in the Force with the way he was drawing on the Dark Side in this battle and he seemed to be growing more and more bleak as the battle drew on. Discarding those thoughts from her mind, she simply concentrating on the furious blows that they were exchanging. The way they were fighting, one simple mistake would result in some sort of injury at least, and something had to give because not even they could keep this up.

Eventually something gave. One of them misjudged a parry by a hair and a lightsabre sliced through and left a long, angry looking burn down their chest. Rachel staggered back clutching at the wound as the pain blazed through her, bringing stinging tears to her eyes. The smell of burnt flesh was strong in the air.

"Is this the best you can do, Revan?" taunted Malak. "Perhaps you are not as strong as I believed you to be."

Rachel, with a herculean effort, shoved the pain aside. She'd pay for it later, but she had to be alert right now. "I'm strong enough for this, Malak."

Malak smiled at her but there was no warmth in it at all. It was the smile of a predator eyeing up its next meal. And then he attacked, a furious blur of rage and hatred, as he attempted to finish Rachel off. She backed off, parrying and dodging frantically, wincing with every blow she countered as the burnt flesh on her chest pulled to and fro. Her mobility had been limited and she knew it. Gathering the Force around her, she backflipped away from Malak and his furious assault.

Malak immediately moved to chase after her and continue his assault, but Rachel was having none of it. Gesturing with her off hand, she lifted a large chunk that had been carved out of a combat droid and telekinetically hurled it at Malak. He leapt over it easily enough, but before he could glide back down onto the ground Rachel followed it up with another chunk of battle droid that smashed into him and hurled him across the room where he slammed into the floor with a loud thud.

"Perhaps you are the one lacking in power, Malak," taunted Rachel as he leapt back onto his feet, snarling in rage.

Malak's response was simple: enough Force lightning to power the state of California for a couple of months. Rachel was barely able to get her lightsabre into the way in time and it was all she could do to deflect the lightning, which was arcing around the room in insane patterns as Malak put all of the darkness he could muster behind it. Such was the force behind the assault that Rachel was forced to back off several paces. The sheer darkness behind the attack was like nothing she'd ever had pitted against her before, not even when she'd slaughtered the Sith Lords who'd carved up the Empire and took their place.

Eventually the attack tapered off and Rachel lowered her lightsabre. Something just didn't ring true here for Rachel. Malak was damned powerful, but not like that. That was the level that the great Sith Lords of history would have managed! It just didn't make any sense to her. Well, Malak at least seemed slightly drained by the assault, and Rachel took the time to centre herself and call upon the healing powers of the Force to try and make her wound more tolerable. She felt the puckered skin on her chest begin to smooth out and the pain began to ease off, but then she saw Malak charging, lightsabre swinging, and she had to let go of the power used for healing and resume battle.

Impossibly, Malak seemed to have grown even stronger. There seemed to be no limit on the amount of dark power he could summon and Rachel found herself hard-pressed to match his attacks with counters. Her mind worked furiously as she fought desperately to keep her body in one piece. Only her great skill and agility kept her from losing limbs at several points during the attack and she was being chased around the site of the battle like some sort of animal.

It just didn't make sense! She'd always been more powerful than Malak, and the computer game that documented the events after the betrayal didn't show anything to contradict that at all. Right now it felt like she'd gone back in time and picked a fight with someone like Exar Kun or gone forward and picked a fight with Palpatine. She was holding her own and making it bloody difficult for her opponent, but she was running out of options. This power had to be coming from somewhere. She knew that Sith would grow more powerful from areas of great darkness . . . the hellmouth, it had to be. Oh, wonderful. She was fighting a Sith Lord that was drawing on the power of Hell itself. Could it get any worse? Maybe an army of Dark Jedi to back him up? A few Star Destroyers? A Death Star?

Rachel rolled away and began to bombard Malak with chunks of debris to keep him at a distance. He'd never been the best at multi-tasking so it would keep him off her for a while even with his new-found powers. With that done she folded the Force over her eyes and focussed on the patterns of energy that surrounded Malak. Good God but he reeked of power at the moment. Even on the Star Forge or Korriban, hell, even Malachor V she hadn't been able to boost her power to that sort of level. She focussed deeper, looking for the links. Ah, there they were. Thick tendrils of power flowing into him, heading off in the direction of the school library. Perfect.

Well, there was more than one way to skin a cat. Malak had her beaten on raw power on this battlefield, but she still had a few tricks up her sleeve. She reached into the part of her self that was her presence in the Force and began to fold it over herself, diminishing her presence within the Force. It was a trick she'd picked up from her first master back when she was still a part of the Jedi order, and it was pretty effective. What a Sith or a Jedi could not sense, they could not fight, or at least not as effectively.

Rachel used a fierce telekinetic bombardment to distract Malak and then she seemed to dissolve into the shadows. That was her little addition to the tricks she'd picked up. Her master could disguise her presence, but she could physically conceal herself in the shadows, any shadows. It was something she'd pieced together from the Trayus Academy's library, one of the few things from there that she could use without fear of turning herself into some sort of freakish monster.

"You can't hide forever, Revan," said Malak, as she scanned the chamber, searching for Rachel.

"We'll see," said Rachel, using the Force to throw her voice over to the opposite side of the chamber where it echoed loudly.

Malak immediately span around to face that direction and lashed out with a deadly torrent of lightning that scorched the wall it struck badly. Rachel immediately sprang out from her hiding place and lashed out with a swipe of her lightsabre that would have eviscerated Malak had he not reacted with superhuman speed and twisted away from the attack. As it was, even with his incredibly reaction, he still received a blow that slashed open his armour and left a deep burn across his gut.

"Very clever, Revan," he gasped. "But you are not strong enough to defeat me here."

And with that Malak impossibly straightened up and resumed his offensive against a Rachel who was too caught by surprise to re-engage her disguising of her Force presence. Malak rained the blows in at a furious pace and Rachel soon found herself retreating before the powerful attacks. Eventually she caught one of Malak's attacks with a high block and before she could move to counter-attack, Malak slammed a kick into her gut that sent her rolling back across the floor, barely keeping her grip on her weapon, before she came to a halt, slamming into a pile of droid debris.

"It is futile to resist, Revan," gloated Malak as he stalked the winded Rachel. "Even if you were to defeat me, I have taken steps to ensure that you will never again know peace."

"Never been big on peaceful living, really," said Rachel. "And it's not like your plans ever works out anyway."

Rachel re-ignited her lightsabre and launched a series of probing strikes at Malak's defences, aiming for around the stomach area in an effort to take advantage of the wound she had inflicted. Malak proved up to the task of defending himself against the attacks but she forced him into a retreat several times as her strikes came too close for his comfort. Seeing this, Rachel stepped up the pace of her attacks and soon had Malak in a full-fledged retreat across the chamber as she pressed her advantage.

Feinting low and then striking high, Rachel came with an inch of bisecting Malak as he struggled to defend against the attack. As it was their sabres locked and spat angry red sparks everywhere as both combatants briefly struggled against each other.

"So you do have some strength left in you after all, Revan," said Malak, "but in the end it will not matter."

And with that he threw Rachel back with pure brute strength and began hacking away at Rachel with all the subtlety of a planetary bombardment. Rachel found herself unable to answer there attacks and once again fell back. For the first time in the battle she felt true fear rising up inside her. He was overpowering her completely and she was running dry on tricks that he didn't already know she could do. She could feel the Dark Side stirring within her, offering her the power she would need . . . and it was tempting.

She could feel the Dark Side whispering in her ear, promising her the power to defeat this treacherous upstart, to make her strong enough to defeat all her enemies, to make her so strong that she could rule this primitive planet for all time and re-establish a Sith Empire that would spread its rule across the entire galaxy. It was the same temptation that she had felt during the Mandalorian Wars, the same temptation she had eventually given into and the pull was strong.

On autopilot she ducked underneath a swipe aimed at her neck, and rolled away to put some room between herself and the Sith Lord. Moving to put a large amount of debris between herself and Malak, she reached into herself and tried to purge herself of these dark thoughts.

"I can feel your fear, Revan," said Malak. "And it is a sweet taste indeed. Do you realise your folly now? Do you realise the weakness of the Jedi way?"

Rachel didn't reply. She just kept her distance and sought to obtain the calm she needed, searching for that place she had inside herself where all emotion faded away to nothing and only the Force and its guidance remained. It was there but it was just outside of her grasp.

"There is no emotion; there is peace," said Rachel, as much to herself as to Malak.

"Jedi platitudes," spat Malak. "We both know that they hold little truth. Perhaps I should enlighten you as to the true nature of the Force before I destroy you once and for all."

It was closer now . . . almost there.

"You were defeated in the end, Malak, and by a Jedi no less," said Rachel.

Malak snarled and launched himself over the debris and into a furious series of attacks aimed at battering Rachel into submission through raw strength. But with the rage came sloppiness in the form, and Rachel was able to hold her ground against the assault, parrying each blow with precision born from years of experience and hard training as Revan and then herself.

"Is this the best you can do, Malak?" she taunted. "I've had better challenges from Korriban students."

The place within herself - she was almost there now. Malak growled at her and doubled the pace of the attacks, but still she held firm, giving no ground even against the maelstrom of dark power that was being unleashed against her, keeping an icy calm all the while.

"I must have been a true failure as a teacher if this is the best you can do, Malak," taunted Rachel. "I am ashamed to say you were my apprentice."

Malak roared in rage and charged, all subtlety gone from his mind, replaced by a bezerker rage born out of the Dark Side. And there she had it. Perfect clarity. She saw exactly what she had to do. She stepped aside, just one pace, to avoid Malak's charge and then before he could react she thrust her sabre backwards - straight through Malak's heart, leaving the tip of the blade protruding from his chest. And then the perfect clarity was gone, replaced by just Rachel and the mortally wounded Sith Lord behind her.

"It didn't have to end like this Malak," she said, her voice thick with regret, as he collapsed to his knees, clutching at the wound.

"It . . . it is the way of the Sith," said Malak. "You were my master."

"Nothing compelled you to follow that path, Malak," said Rachel. "You could have turned away from it."

"It does not matter," said Malak, coughing up blood as his body failed. "You . . . you have defeated me, but . . . this is not the end."

"Of course . . . " said Rachel, trailing off, as a sudden flash of intuition ran through her. "Oh please tell me you didn't."

Malak laughed, though that quickly trailed off into pained coughing. "Of course I did," he said. "My holocrons will ensure that the Sith are eternal, that you will never again know peace for the rest of your wretched life."

"I'll just have to destroy them then," said Rachel, "before they fall into the hands of those who could use them."

"I have . . . I have taken steps to ensure that you will never find them," said Malak. "Not before they are . . . used."

"You have condemned an entire planet out of spite," said an utterly disgusted Rachel. "I did not believe that you could sink so low."

"I am Sith," said Malak, as if that explained everything. Perhaps it did. And with that Darth Malak, Dark Lord of the Sith, breathed his last.

It was several long moments before Rachel's mind started working again. When it did, she immediately planned out her next moves: retrieve the books, retrieve Malak's lightsabre, set a thermal detonator to destroy the wretched place and everything in it, and then take Malak's corpse to give him a proper send-off. She encountered no problems executing the plan, and the explosion of the building was truly quite spectacular. Malak must have had some seriously flammable products in there.

The air was thick with the smell of burning flesh as Malak's funeral pyre went up in flames. It was not a particularly pleasant tradition to dispose of bodies in this manner, but it was the Jedi way, and she would observe the proper rites. As twisted as he had became, Malak had once been one of the greatest Jedi in the galaxy, and he had been a war hero the likes of which are rarely seen outside of fantasy. He deserved a proper funeral, even if she personally found the tradition to be quite revolting.

Strangely enough she had found it difficult to find any grief in herself for him. As much as she hadn't wanted to kill him, he had not done much to endear himself to her in recent time, and spitefully letting loose the Sith Order onto a primitive planet that was in no way equipped to deal with them was just evil. She realised that she hadn't exactly been the best of friends to him, either, since they'd started their slide into darkness during the wars and everything had gone to hell, but it still sat poorly with her that he had done such terrible things for no good reason.

Eventually she found that while she could not mourn the monster that he had become, she could mourn the man he had been, and the boy she had known when they trained as Jedi together. It had been Revan and Malak together against the galaxy for a long time before things had went to hell and you just can't forget that sort of closeness. She could mourn the loss of that, the way it had been corrupted into hatred and eventually violent confrontation. Yes, there was a deep sadness there for what had happened to that relationship.

As the funeral pyre dwindled away to nothing, her mind drifted to what Malak had said as he died. Sith holocrons. How in the name of the Force was she supposed to deal with that? Admittedly, her lycanthropy would extend her lifespan considerably, but she was not truly immortal, and she would become one with the Force eventually. If Malak had been intelligent about it he probably created several holocrons, and they were probably distributed widely, and enchanted to seek out those who would make use of them. She'd never be able to be sure that the Sith were completely defeated.

With that in mind, passing on what she knew, passing on the way of the Jedi, took on a whole new level of importance. It was something that had been at the back of her mind for a long time now, but now . . . now, it had to be at the front. The Jedi Order would have to be re-created to combat the threat of the Sith, and with that the world was condemned to be the centre of a war that would never truly come to an end. And, oh God no, she would have to be a Jedi Master, a Council member, hell, the leader of the council She could almost hear Vrook spinning in his grave now. Hell, he was probably attaining orbital velocity at the mere thought of such a thing. If she ever actually did it, he'd probably reach hyperspeed.

It was inevitable though. She could feel it in her bones. She would create a new order and she would lead it. That . . . that was not something she looked forward to. The last thing she needed was to have people looking to her for guidance. The last thing prospective Jedi needed was to have her as their shining example of Jediness too. She'd been planning on spending the rest of her life fighting demons and tinkering with machines, and maybe passing on what she knew when she got too old to be running around with a lightsabre. That was more than enough excitement for her tastes, but now she had bloody Sith to deal with of all things.

At least it would be a good few years before she actually had to worry about them. There was no way they'd show up any sooner than that. The Dark Side was easier to master, but now that easy.

Chapter Eleven

"Are you quite sure that you're going to be up to this, Rachel?" asked Giles. "It's only been a few days . . . "

"Giles, a few burns doesn't make me an invalid," snapped Rachel. "Stop it with the over-protective caveman act, will you? I'm just about healed anyway."

"You looked like you'd been hit by a lorry when you came back from dealing with that man," said Giles. "I don't think it's terribly out of line to expect you to actually rest after such an experience."

Rachel waved his concerns away. "I wasn't that badly hurt, Giles, just tired. It'll take more than a single Sith to keep me down for long, believe me."

Giles looked highly sceptical. To be fair, she probably hadn't looked so hot when she stumbled back to the library after disposing of Malak's corpse. That slash down her front had been pretty nasty looking and she'd had a few other minor nicks and scrapes that she hadn't even noticed till someone had mentioned them to her - and then they'd stung like all hell. It certainly hadn't been the best day of her life, that's for sure.

"Look, I'll be alright, Giles," said Rachel in a softer tone of voice. "I got hurt, yeah, but it wasn't that bad, and it wasn't any worse than I've had in the past. I'm a Jedi, Giles, and sometimes we get hurt. That's just the way things are, same as it is for Slayers."

"That doesn't mean I have to like it," said Giles.

"I don't expect you to," said Rachel with a small smile. "That just wouldn't be you. Now go to work. The last thing we need is for you to get into trouble there too."

"Yes, well . . . I suppose you're right," said Giles. "Just you be careful."

"Aren't I always?"

Giles just stared at her and Rachel shrugged her shoulders. It was hardly her fault that trouble seemed to seek her out. "Hmm. Well, don't forget the meeting at the library to discuss the information you retrieved."

"I won't," said Rachel. "Now go, you old mother-hen, you."

And after a bit more umming and ahhing, Giles finally left and went to work. Rachel found herself torn between irritation and amusement. Here she was, former Lord of the Sith and Jedi Knight, being mollycoddled by a middle-aged librarian because of a few fairly minor wounds. It was truly ridiculous. Malak would have roared with laughter if he was around . . . Malak. For a moment she felt a pang of grief but it quickly passed. Malak hadn't really been her friend in a long time.

She winced as she lowered herself into the classic meditation posture. She'd neglected to warm down after her duel with Malak and her muscles were giving her hell for it. Ah well. She closed her eyes and slipped into the warm currents of the Force, allowing it to wash over her and soothe away her aches. With that done she moved her focus deep within herself, observing the lines of energy within her own body.

Her energy was moving freely throughout her body now, with the groin chakra unblocked, but there was still a strange concentration of energy around the heart chakra. She'd thought it was blocked like the groin chakra last time, but now that she looked closer she saw that it wasn't blocked at all, it was filtering the energy that moved through it, changing it in some way. Perhaps if she could tweak that . . .

She reached out with her sense and for several moments observed the way the energy flowed through then filtering power. Hmm. Yes, it was twisting the energy slightly, it was almost unnoticeable but close observation showed the ever so slight modification of the energies flowing through that point. She focussed in closer on the energy streaming through that point . . . that was it! Masculine energy in, feminine energy out.

She reached into the bundle of energy that was altering her energy flows and tweaked it. It took a few attempts to find the right spot but then she felt a change ripple over her. It was a damn strange feeling as some parts grew and other parts shrank, but it passed quickly. And then Xander Harris sat there in overly tight Jedi robes. He couldn't help but smile. Damn but it was good to get back into his own body. Strangely not as good as he'd anticipated but still there was a sense of relief.

He moved to get up and immediately winced. Bloody hell but female underwear did not work for a male body, not one bit. Instinctively he reached back to his heart chakra and massaged the energy back into its previous form, and then transformed back into Rachel. Much more comfortable. Now to find some clothes and give the group a little surprise when she showed up to the meeting. She still had some jeans and shirts leftover from before Hallloween if she remembered right.

It hadn't been difficult to sneak into the library. If you can cloud a Sith Lord's senses to the point where you are near invisible to them, then eluding normal people are a walk in the park. Eluding people who blind themselves to anything even slightly out of the ordinary like the Sunnydale crowd . . . well, that's even easier. The old proverb held true, 'there's none as blind as those who will not see'. They had a very similar proverb in the Star Wars universe and it was something her first master had impressed upon her at every opportunity. Which was slightly odd when he thought about it as she had allowed her own physical sight to atrophy in favour of seeing through the Force.

He waited just outside the library till everyone was there and no-one was facing the door before he entered, till they were thoroughly engrossed in conversation about the contents of the books he'd retrieved from Malak.

"Hey, G-man," said Xander, carefully inflecting his voice to exactly match his old speech patterns. "What's the what?"

The look on their faces - classic. They were all just gaping at him as if he'd sprouted a tail and started calling himself Jabba. Xander mentally patted himself on a job well done as he strolled around to an empty chair and plonked himself down in it.

"What?" he asked. "You'd think you'd never seen me before."

"I haven't," said Wesley dryly.

"Point to the stuffy brit," said Xander. "We got anything useful from those books, then?"

"He's gonna turn himself into a giant demon and eat us all, or something," said Faith. "And not bad, Darth."

"How big is 'giant'?" asked Xander. "Ten metres tall?"

Giles coughed. "More like sixty by the sounds of things," he said. "And the most likely candidate for him given what we know is a giant snake."

"Well, shit," said Xander with feeling. "I don't think a stake's gonna cut it this time."

"What about those ray-guns?" asked Buffy. "And are you really back to being Xander-shaped?"

Xander shrugged his shoulders. "Blasters might work. Depends on how well-armoured the demon is and how much magic he'll have protecting him," he said. "And, yeah, I'm back to being Xander-shaped, but I can be Rachel-shaped when I want to be."

"That's great, Xander!" said Willow, coming out of her shocked stupor. "I mean you have to be really happy to get your body back."

"Yeah, I am," said Xander. "But I'm kinda more worried about becoming a snake-snack than anything right now."

"The books are somewhat less detailed when it comes to how to actually kill the ascended demon, unfortunately," said Giles. "And the only other reference I've found to ascension was rather . . . grim."

"I vote for pretty explosions," said Buffy.

Xander sat back and thought about if for a moment. "Well, thermal detonators are always an option, I suppose," he said.

"I am loathe to make use of weaponry that powerful," said Giles. "The collateral damage would be staggering."

"Less than the collateral damage from having a giant snake eating the town," said Xander. "That would make for a real bad day."

"I think Darth has a point," said Faith. "Blowing a few buildings up won't be anything near as bad as some monster out of a Godzilla movie getting loose."

"What about this thing in the newspaper with the murdered professor?" asked Buffy. "There's something weird about that."

"I-" said Giles, before he was cut off by Xander going rigid.

"Something dark approaches," he said. "Something very, very dark."

A moment later, a pleasant looking middle-aged man in an expensive looking suit walked in through the library doors, Mayor Wilkins. It took more than a moment for Xander to reconcile the overwhelming sense of evil coming from the man with his non-descript appearance. It was just bizarre. The Mayor took a book from the pile on the table and flipped through it before stopping approximately halfway through.

"The beast will walk upon the earth and darkness will follow. The several races of man will be as one in their terror and destruction," he said, quoting from the book. "Aw, that's kind of sweet. Different races coming together."

"You never get even a little tired of hearing yourself speak, do you?" asked Buffy, looking distinctly narked.

The mayor chuckled and then looked at Giles, "that's one spunky girl you've raised," he said, almost as if he was one parent talking to another. "I'm gonna eat her."

In one smooth motion, Giles grabbed a fencing sword from the library table and slammed it into the mayor's chest. The mayor staggered back a few steps from the force of it, but seemed otherwise unaffected. He opened his mouth to say something but was cut off by a blast of telekinetic force that threw him across the library and bounced him off a wall.

"You'll find that that's something easier said than done, demon," said Xander, rising to his feet and adopting a loose stance. "I already killed your pet Dark Lord. I figure that you're next."

The mayor was quickly back onto his feet, seemingly unaffected by a blow that should have shattered his spine. "Well, now. Such violent outbursts, and around children, too," he said. "Such a poor example you set, Mr. Giles."

"See demon, kill demon," said Faith. "Seems like a pretty good example to me."

The mayor ignored her, his attention now firmly on Xander as he pulled the sword free from his chest and wiped it down with a hankerchief. "You . . . you're such a disappointment," he said. "You had such potential after what happened that Halloween, and you've thrown it all away to be a do-gooder. Such a terrible shame. You've even discarded the body, I see."

"As if running some backwater little town like Sunnydale would be enough to tempt someone like me," snorted Xander. "Be serious."

The mayor just shook his head and sighed. "Ah the impetuousity and arrogance of youth," he said. "You might have been the big fish in your dimension, but here . . . well, your friend was easy enough to control."

Xander's lip curled up at corner as he fought down the rage but he didn't say anything more, he just let his cold glare speak for him. It was all he could do not to tear the man apart and fry his remains with force lightning. The bastard might not be killable but he could still make him feel pain.

"Get out," said Buffy, looking supremely pissed off.

"I smell fear. That's smart. Some of your deaths will be quick, if that's worth anything. Well, see you all at graduation," said the mayor. "You don't want to miss my commencement address. It's going to be one heck of a speech."

And with that he turned on his heel and strolled out of the library as if he didn't have a care in the world. Bastard. As the library doors closed, Xander spoke, "he dies. He dies painfully."

"Woah there, Darth," said Faith. "Dark Side, much?"

Xander closed his eyes and with a supreme effort of will allowed his emotions to flow out of him and into the Force. "You are right, Faith," he said. "I just don't like the idea of my friends being used against me like that."

"Buffy, Faith, I think it would be wise for you to investigate this professor's home," said Giles, looking at the newspaper. "There's just something not quite right about him being murdered so close to the ascension."

"So the demon was killed by a volcano?" asked Xander, as he walked through the cemetery with Faith.

"Yeah," said Faith. "Some wicked big eruption from what Jeeves said."

"Well, I suppose it's a start," said Xander, as they exited the cemetery. "At least it proves that it can be killed."

"Yeah," said Faith. "Quiet night, huh?"

"I guess the vampires are all resting," said Xander. "Getting ready for the big party tomorrow, I suppose."

"Huh," said Faith. "A monster straight out of Godzilla on one side and a vampire army on the other. Sounds like fun."

Xander shrugged. "If you're gonna die, it might as well be a good fight, and this is going to be one hell of a fight." he said.

"Yeah," said Faith. "We'll go down swinging if nothing else."

"Damn right," said Xander. "And I've got something set up so that even in the mayor wins, he won't survive much longer."


"Thermal detonators scale up nicely," he said. "And they're pretty easy to make. I've buried a twenty megaton bomb in a park near the school. There won't be much left of Sunnydale but a smoking crater."

"Shit, Darth," she said. "That'll kill everyone in Sunnydale!"

"If we lose, they're dead anyway," said Xander. "At least this way their deaths will mean something."

"That's cold, Darth," said Faith. "Real cold."

"Nothing I haven't done before," said Xander. "And really, it's necessary. We can't let something like that loose on the world. The damage it could cause before the military mobilised to stop it . . . it would be catastrophic, and it could theoretically open the hellmouth too."


"Well, if it opened the hellmouth it would go from being the big fish to being a big fish," said Xander. "It might not want to share its territory. Some demons are like animals when it comes to stuff like that."

"Makes sense, I suppose."

They both fell silent at that and Xander continued to absent-mindedly follow Faith through the streets of Sunnydale. Faith was right, really, it was cold to plan to use a weapon of mass destruction like he was, but it was necessary. Really, it was. Still, he had a real queasy feeling in his gut whenever he thought about it. Sacrificing a hundred thousand people to save millions more was treading close to very familiar and very bad territory that he'd visited as Revan.

Xander blinked. He recognised this part of town. Why were they going to Faith's hotel? He asked her as much, "Faith, uh, why are we going to your hotel?"

"Look, Darth," said Faith, "if I'm gonna die tomorrow fighting some giant demon, then I'm damn well gonna enjoy myself the night before. Get it?"

"Uh, yeah," said Xander, he face slack with surprise. "I think."

Faith just laughed. "Ah, you'll get it soon enough."

Xander staggered home several hours later and collapsed into his bed before promptly falling into a very deep sleep. He could run a marathon without much difficulty with his training and the Force as his ally, but Faith had outdone that quite handily.

"So am I crazy?" asked Buffy.

"Nah," drawled Xander. "It's actually one of your better plans, I think. Better than my doomsday device blowing Sunnydale to atoms plan anyway."

"What?" asked Buffy, looking utterly baffled. "No, scratch that. I don't think I want to know."

"Definitely not, B," said Faith. "Believe me. It's the stuff of nightmares."

"Right, well," said Buffy, looking deeply nonplussed, "do you think you can do it, Xander?"

"I can give you all the bombs you'll ever need give time," said Xander. "But I'm no demolitions expert. You'll need someone to plant them in such a way that they don't level half of Sunnydale."

"Ah," said Wesley, "I may be able to help there. The use of explosives was covered in one of the courses I took at the academy."

"Great," said Buffy. "But that's not all. Xander, I'm going to need you to get the students ready for battle too. I figure you're best qualified for that with the whole Halloween thing."

Xander nodded. "I can do that, but I'll be cutting things fine with making the bombs and sorting out a battle strategy. I'll need help."

"That's where Angel comes in," said Buffy. "It's the best you're going to get."

"Wonderful," said Xander flatly. He looked at Angel, "you so much as look at me funny and I'll make the rest of your very short life deeply miserable."

Angel just nodded.

Buffy didn't look overly impressed but she just ignored it. "Now we need some sort of weakness . . . something we can exploit to lure him into the trap.

"Xander," said Willow. "He's really messed up the mayor's plans with the books and the Sith thing."

"It'll have to do. Now . . . "

Xander ended up sat at the back of the audience in the section for guests and other non-students. He was also in his 'Rachel' form. Too many questions would be asked for him to be Xander just now in public. So she was sat there in loose clothing concealing all the weaponry she was carrying, and she was bored out of her skull listening to some idiot with a soul darker than midnight rambling on about Sunnydale and school and all sorts of stupid nonsense.

He got to a part about graduation before the eclipse stage of the ascension kicked in and he started convulsing in pain on stage. Rachel was on her feet immediately and barking out orders, "flame units, ready! Blaster units, ready!" she called out. The parents were looking at her as if she was a complete lunatic but immediately the front two rows of the audience were on their feet and drawing a variety of very nasty looking weapons.

"Melee units, draw weapons and to assigned positions!" she called out as the mayor's skin started to ripple as his body contorted, and the rest of the student population was on their feet and drawing a variety of wicked looking medieval weaponry. The parents looked about ready to break and run at this point, and Rachel couldn't blame them, but there was nothing that could be done for them. Snyder was yelling something or other at her but she paid no heed.

The mayor's body convulsed one last time and then it exploded outwards as the final physical transformation took place. Rachel's eyes were firmly fixed on the mayor as he transformed but she could feel a small army of vampires showing up to trap them in with the new-born demon.

"Blaster units, aim!" she cried out, and the units immediately aimed their weapons. "FIRE!"

A volley of red blaster bolts streamed out from the second row of students and slapped against the demon's skin. The damage was limited - a few burn marks, was all - but from the way he reared back, it was accomplishing the real goal of keeping him from feeding. And then the snake lashed out with impossible speed and devoured Snyder. Ah, well. Acceptable loss. He was probably in on it anyway.

She saw the mayor begin to coil, ready for a strike at the students. "Flame units, suppression fire!" she called, and the front row immediately opened up with their home-made flamethrowers, keeping the gigantic demon at bay. It probably wouldn't hold him for long - those home-made flamers were pretty lacking in both power and fuel - but it would have to do.

"Blaster units, continuous fire!" she barked and the air was suddenly thick with the smell of ozone as blaster fire ripped through the air. The repeated impacts did a pretty good job of driving the mayor back and away from his food sources, keeping him from reaching his full power and having powers beyond the physical.

By the time she'd reached the front of the audience, the blaster fire was beginning to slow down as the jury-rigged power cells ran dry. She hadn't had time to properly recharge them so they couldn't output anything like their proper levels of power. As the fire tapered off to nothing, she ignited her lightsabre and with a flick of her wrist she hurled it into the air and dealt a glancing blow to the snake-demon's head before summoning it back into her grip. The snake shot her an absolutely venomous glare and hissed at her.

"Hey, moron," she yelled. "You want me? Come get me!"

And with that, she was off, running with Force enhanced speed through the corridors of Sunnydale High School as the mayor smashed through the doorways behind her. This had seemed like a much better idea when they'd just been talking about it. She skidded round a corner and vaulted over a bannister, only two steps ahead of the mayor, before slamming through the doors leading into the library. She didn't so much as break her stride as she continued running and jumped out through the library window. A moment after she jumped out of the window, the building behind her exploded and the sheer force of it knocked her flying through the air before she made a rather solid impact with the concrete floor.

"That was fun," she gasped as she levered herself back up onto her feet.

As Rachel limped around to the front of the school, and to join up with the rest of the group, she saw Wesley being loaded up into an ambulance, whinging all the while about the pain. Quite amusing really. The group had gathered on a small field over the road from the school and they all looked healthy if somewhat the worse for wear.

"Everyone made it then?" asked Rachel as she approached them.

"Everyone seems to have made it out of the battle in once piece," said Giles, "though we're not sure about Angel."

"Can you use your mojo to see if he's still alive?" asked Buffy with a hopeful expression on her face.

"Detect a single vampire on the hellmouth?" asked Rachel incredulously. "I don't think so."

Buffy grimaced and went back to scanning the crowds, searching for Angel, moving off quickly a moment later. Rachel just shrugged.

"Are you all right?" asked Giles. "That was quite an explosion."

"I'm a little sore," admitted Rachel. "But nothing too bad."

"Well, that's the most fun you can have without having any fun," said a disgruntled looking Cordelia, surprising Rachel who hadn't seen her approaching.

"How about the part where we kicked some demon ass?" asked Willow as Oz stroked her hair. "I didn't hate that."

"That part fucking kicked ass," said Faith. "Take that, demon. Teach ya to mess with us."

"Hear, hear," said Rachel.

"You guys want to take off?" asked Buffy, coming back to the group. "I think we've done pretty much all we can."

Cordelia nodded. "I'm for it."

"Are you OK?" asked Willow, looking at the worn looking Buffy. Rachel supposed that the fight must have been tougher than she'd expected.

"Yeah. I'm okay. - I could use a little sleep though."

There was a general chorus of agreement at that. It had not been the easiest of years even compared to the normal Sunnydale fare.

"If someone could just wake me when it's time to go to college, that'd be great," said Buffy, sitting on the bench next to Willow.

"Guys take a moment to deal with this: - we survived." said Oz.

"It was a hell of a battle," said Buffy.

"Not the battle," said Oz, who got a few incredulous looks at that point, "high school."

They, as a group, turned to look at the school, except for Faith who just shook her head, and for a moment there was quiet.

"We're taking a moment," said Oz, and the group turned and looked at each for a little while, Willow and Buffy got up from the bench. "OK, we're done."

Oz put an arm around Willow as they walked off close together. "Why do demons even come here any more? I mean, don't they know . . . " said Willow.

The End