"I think we're about ready to put the AI through its paces," said John, disturbing Rachel from the paperwork she'd been doodling on in lieu of actually dealing with it.
"Really?" she asked, a smile lighting up her face. "You got the damn thing to actually work?"
"Well, we won't know for sure till we put it through some real work," said John with a surprised blink. "But the unit tests all read green and it compiles."
"And the DirectX drivers are working?" asked Rachel, standing up.
"Test framework says they are," said John. "It's just a matter of putting it all together and seeing how the test goes. And let me just say that I'd never have thought to use computer games to test a killing machine."
Rachel's expression transformed to a far more familiar smirk. "Hey," she said. "It's about time someone found a real use for that crap."
Personally, Rachel thought it was quite a clever move on her part. Testing something like HK was dangerous as all hell, but if you tested the AI in isolation using DirectX drivers to hook it up to a computer game the risk was removed entirely; just like that there was no more danger of HK going postal and slaughtering half the base. You just needed a beast of a computer to pull it off. And with the funding she was getting these days? Not a problem.
"Oh, I agree," said John. "Just saying that it just takes a special sort of person to link together a real-life robotic killing machine and a kid's game."
"Oh very funny, John," said Rachel. "Tell Denver to get the test machine set up. It's about time he did something useful with his game obsession."
"Will do, boss," said John. "Want me to call the crew together to see the first run?"
"Yes," said Rachel. "They've all done something for this project or will be doing something sooner or later, so let them see the first real signs of it working. Tell me when it's ready to go, will you? I've got paperwork to do."
"Well better you than me," said John.
"Bugger off and do what I tell you, you cheeky git."
It was quite a thing to see a couple-dozen people crowding around a couple of CRT monitors that were smaller than your average wide-screen TV, Rachel thought. To say it looked fairly ridiculous was the understatement of the year, but, hell, who could blame them? A whole lot of them had poured a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this project and even the ones who hadn't were still damn eager to see if it worked. It wasn't every day that you got to see something out of a Hollywood sci-fi movie come to life after all, even working in this lab. So the buzz of eagerness and anticipation around the group was pronounced. They all wanted to see it working.
The buzz just grew as the second display showed the startup messages of the AI scrolling down the screen's now red background. And when the game display, tinted red, popped up, there was a round of cheers. Why the game display was tinted red Rachel wasn't sure in all honesty but if she had to guess it would be a side-effect of not supervising a bunch of sci-fi geeks closely enough. And when the game started with an overlaid HUD that matched The Terminator perfectly she knew she was right.
The game started with the screen showing a long, narrow corridor with various indicators showing that HK had three team members trailing along behind him in a line and a mini-map in the top corner of the screen showing the plan for the mission as defined by Denver when he set the game up for the test. The view moved for just a moment and all watching could see HK's targeting system scanning over the team-mates, who were just standing there like lemons, before the section of the HUD devoted to logging output from the conversational overlays showed its first message: "Statement: my team-members appear to have been lobotomised. Ignoring."
And with that he took off. Whether he followed the mission plan or not was debatable really. He did stop at the area of the map that had been designated as the first target zone but then it was the first area known to have enemies on the map and HK would never walk away from a fight where he'd have the chance to slaughter some meatbags if he could help it. She was pretty sure that blowing the door to hell with a grenade wasn't part of the plan and then cutting down everyone in the room with the biggest gun the game had to offer while cackling madly in text-form sure wasn't it. Especially not when the room held hostages as well as terrorists.
The reactions of the group were funny. Much laughter when he insulted his team-mates, some cheers when he blew the door, and then utter silence when he let rip with his over-sized gun. Rachel . . . wasn't surprised. And she wasn't surprised when he proceeded to slaughter every living creature on the map with incredible efficiency, all the while taunting his enemies over their feeble attempts at resistance. He was HK-47 after all.
"Holy shit," blurted out one of the newbies. "We've built a complete psycho."
"Now, now," said Rachel, sounding more than a little annoyed. "We knew what he was going to be from the start. He just needs some extra restraint programming incorporated and he'll be absolutely perfect for the job he's meant for."
"Restraints?" scoffed another. "For that!? It'd be liked trying to hold an Abrams back with a bit of twine."
Rachel's glare quieted that one quickly. "All he needs is some additional code to prevent him from targeting civilians. With that, he'll be fine."
"Well back to the grindstone then," said John. "Come on, people. Back to work. Show's over."
The crowd dispersed almost immediately after that. The mood was just gone. Ah well, she hadn't really expected a bunch of scientists to appreciate HK.
Paperwork was indeed the worst thing in all of existence as far as Rachel was concerned. The best thing about being a Sith Lord back in the day was that no-one had dared dump this sort of utter nonsense in her lap. Seriously, it was ridiculous. She had a twenty-five man department to run and it generated enough bits of paper that needed to be read and signed off or filled in and processed for a thousand. How many bloody forms did you need for requisitioning a few bits of shiny, new equipment, anyway? Damned bureaucrats and their thrice-damned obsession with proper paperwork. And damn those incompetent twits they'd tried to pawn off on her as a secretary. She was never, ever going to trust anyone else with this stuff after that disaster with the monitors. Five-hundred 21" CRT monitors being delivered had not done much for her disposition or her budget.
Rachel was pulled out of her mental whinging about the evils of paperwork by her cell phone vibrating madly in one of her lab-coat's pockets. She swore loudly as she dug through it trying to find the damn thing - it was excessively small - before she answered.
"Rachel Giles," she said, after prodding the button to take the call.
"Rachel, it's Giles," said the person calling her. "Joyce has got her CAT scan results."
Rachel stiffened in her seat. "And?"
"She has a tumour, Rachel," said Giles, sounding very tired indeed. Rachel felt like she'd been kicked in the guy by a race-horse. This just could not be happening. "Nothing too terrible, I understand, but it's still a tumour on the brain."
"Operable?" asked Rachel, dreading the answer.
"Yes," said Giles, sounding almost as relieved as Rachel felt at hearing that. It was like an invisible weight had been lifted off her shoulders. "They have her booked in for an operation soon."
"In Sunnydale General?" asked Rachel, in a disbelieving tone of voice. "With their normal staff? I don't think so! I'll be in Sunnydale before you know it and I'll sort out something a little better than wasters and incompetents who can't get anything better than a job on the hellmouth."
"Rachel . . . "
"No, Giles," said Rachel. "My work can wait. This is more important. They can work without me holding their hands for a while anyway."
"I . . . it would be appreciated, Rachel," said Giles. "I have no doubt of that. But can you really afford to leave your work like that?"
"Yes," said Rachel. "And even if I couldn't, I still would. No way I'm leaving Mrs. Summers to the Sunnydale version of a hospital. Not happening, Giles."
"Well," said Giles, "I won't argue with that because I feel much the same way about the quality of Sunnydale's public services. I just hope you know what you're doing."
"Of course I do," said Rachel. "I'm making sure that someone I care about doesn't end up dead because some half-arsed doctor botched the surgery. Everything else is just irrelevant to the issue."
"I can't disagree with you," said Giles. "I suppose I should leave you to it now so you can make arrangements."
"Probably a good idea," said Rachel. "I'll see you soon."
"I'm going on leave," announced Rachel the moment she marched into Commander Miller's office. "Effective immediately."
"You . . what!?" asked Commander Miller, looking absolutely gob-smacked.
"I'm going on leave," said Rachel firmly. "My friend's mother has a brain tumour and I'm needed back home."
"You can't just-"
"I can and I am," said Rachel. "I never had a mother worth a damn and there's no way I'm letting the only mother in the whole group worthy of the title die because some backwater doctor messed up an operation."
Miller leaned back in his chair and began to massage his temples with the fingers of one of his hands. "Anyone else and I'd have you in the stockade for this," he said. "You can't just come in here and start issuing demands."
"But I'm not anyone else," said Rachel. "And I'm going."
"Dammit, Giles," said Miller. "You just love giving me headaches don't you?"
"You're the one who press-ganged me," said Rachel tartly. "And you can't possibly expect me to sit on my hands while someone I care about goes off and dies."
"Look, you can't just go wandering off on a whim," said Miller. "I understand you wanting to be there - I would too - but this is a military operation and that means you have to go through proper channels if you want leave."
"Those would be the same proper channels that had you threatening me with all sorts of dire implications trying to force me to join up," said Rachel with a most sarcastic edge to her voice. "I think I'll treat the 'proper channels' with as much respect as you did back then. How does that sound?"
"What I said then still stands, you know," he said, his face absolutely serious. "I can make life very difficult for you if you get out of line."
"And you still don't understand, do you?" said Rachel, all humour quickly leaving her. "I'm here because I want to be here. There's not a power on Earth that can force me to do anything. And if you tried to force me . . . well, your life expectancy would be very short indeed."
"Your bluster is entertaining," said Miller. "But we both know that you're no worse than the aliens and we deal with those well enough."
Rachel narrowed her eyes at the commander. "You truly do not understand the forces that you are playing with, do you, commander?" she asked, her voice becoming progressively colder as she spoke. "I am not some pleasantly bland background character you never noticed in the films. I was and always will be Lord Darth Revan, and once an entire galaxy cowered in fear at the mere mention of my name. These aliens? They are nothing, insignificant little specks. My empire would have crushed them like bugs.
"And the power of the Ethereals? It is insignificant compared to the power of the Force," she finished, allowing her power to leak out and fill the room with her sheer presence, something she had always kept under tight wraps before.
Miller, to his credit, did not flinch, did not cower, though to one with her nature his growing fear was an almost tangible thing that she almost felt she could reach out and taste. The wolf in her rose up and howled in glee at seeing this pretender realise his true place in the hierarchy. She was the alpha, not him, and it was past time that he was forced to face that fact.
"Now do you understand, commander?" she said, her voice low and dangerous, full of violent implications. "Your threats against me are entirely laughable. I am here because I wish to be, not because you forced my hand. Now, I am going on leave. I will return when the situation has been resolved. You try anything, and . . . well . . . you'll see what it means to trouble the Dark Lord."
"You . . . " said Miller, his voice shaky. "Dammit. At least take a bodyguard with you. You're too important to just run off on your own without protection."
"Really, commander," said Rachel with a raised eyebrow. "Do I look like I need protecting?"
"Anyone can get lucky," said Miller. "Or unlucky. Take a guard with you and it won't matter."
"There's no such thing as luck, commander," said Rachel. "There is only the Force. But I suppose I can make this small concession now. I will take . . . Harry Potter. Yes. He will do."
And with that she turned on her heel and marched out. As she left, she heard Miller swear violently under his breath. Hopefully he would learn his lesson because she wasn't inclined to go over this twice. Next time she wouldn't go so easy on him.
It didn't take long to find Potter. His presence stood out like a lighthouse up on the cliffs amongst all these mundane folk. He was in one of the designated common rooms with some other soldiers that she assumed were his team-mates. Some leered at her as she strode in but she ignored those fools entirely.
"Potter, come with me," she demanded as soon as she had him in sight and paying attention to her presence.
One of the soldiers let loose a long, low whistle at that. Rachel immediately sent a glare his way that could blister paint. He was silent from that point on.
"Come," she ordered. "I have no time to waste."
"Alright then," he said, looking somewhat baffled and more than a little irritated. "Don't get your knickers in a twist. I'm coming."
Rachel's glare at that was almost a physical thing. Harry seemed to get the message and quickly said his goodbyes to the soldiers he had been talking to. Inside the minute they were out of the common area.
"Your abilities are still intact, I assume?" asked Rachel bluntly.
Harry blinked. "Yeah," he said. "Why?"
"I need you to teleport me to Sunnydale," she said. "I believe you can do that if I remember correctly."
"Now steady on," said Harry. "I don't know how to make portkeys and I can't just leave the base just to apparate you around."
"Oh but you can," said Rachel. "I need to go somewhere and the base commander decided that I need a bodyguard. You're it."
"This is stupid," said Harry after a moment's thought. "You can take care of yourself and the last thing this place needs is soldiers disappearing on bullshit bodyguard duties."
"Oh I quite agree," said Rachel. "But the situation is what it is and we have to deal with it. Now can you teleport me to Sunnydale?"
"I could but it's easier to apparate to a maintained apparation point over that sort of distance," said Harry. "It uses a lot less magical energy. There's one in the wizarding community in Los Angeles. How's that?"
"Adequate," said Rachel. "Let's go."
"Don't you think we should at least change our clothes first?" asked Harry. "Showing up in the middle of the day in lab-coat and fatigues will attract a bit more attention that we'll want to be dealing with."
Rachel had to agree with that, though she was loathe to waste any more time than absolutely necessary in this situation.
"Also, it would probably be a good idea to take a few changes of clothing with us if we're going to be there more than a day or two," said Harry. "And finally, I think the local government would have something to say about it if I started using my abilities here."
Rachel sighed deeply. "You're right," she said. "I need to calm down and think instead of reacting. And there's a fair chance we'll be there at least a week or so till the situation is resolved."
"What is the situation?" asked Harry, before hastily adding. "If you don't mind me asking that is."
"Buffy's mom has a brain tumour," said Rachel. "And I'm not letting Sunnydale quacks get their hands on her if I can help it."
And then something clicked in her mind. Harry was a wizard and wizards might well have some sort of magic that could help Mrs. Summers.
"Could you help her?" asked Rachel. "With your magic, I mean."
"Is this really something we should be talking about here?" asked Harry, looking around quickly to see if anyone was listening. A bit late really but there you go.
"No-one can hear us," said Rachel, waving aside Harry's concerns impatiently. "Now can your people help her?"
"I'm not sure," said Harry. "Healing was never my speciality and normal people don't react well to having some magic used on them. I could ask Her-" he stopped himself there. "No, she's not available, but there will be a wizarding hospital in Los Angeles. If we ask the right people, they should be able to give us an answer."
"We'll do that then," said Rachel. "I'll meet you in the base car-park in fifteen minutes."
"I thought you were bringing some extra clothes with you?" asked Rachel when Harry arrived in the car park wearing a long-sleeved shirt button-up shirt and trousers and utterly free of baggage, unlike Rachel who had her old pack slung over her back.
"Shrinking charm," said Harry by way of explanation with a short shrug of his shoulders. Useful sounding bit of magic that. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be," said Rachel.
"Right," said Harry, waving his wand over his head before looking at Rachel again. "Just a little notice-me-not charm to keep us from attracting attention," he explained before offering her his left arm. "I advise you to hold on tight. Apparation is not pleasant the first time and I have no idea what it will feel like for someone who doesn't have a magical core. Please, do try not to vomit on me."
Rachel took his arm and then a moment later she felt a surge of that strange magic she hadn't felt since London and then everything went very strange indeed. She could feel the magic of the spell pressing in on her from all sides, trying to tear her from Harry and cast her into oblivion, and it took all her reserves of will not to lash out with all her power to stop it. Every piece of her body felt like it was being compressed by giant hands of raw power and it was possibly the single least pleasant thing she had experienced in her whole life outside of Malak's betrayal and the wounds that been inflicted upon her then. It wasn't so much the pain of it as much as it just felt horribly wrong.
And then it was over. She pulled herself away from Harry and took in several deep breathes to steady herself before she felt ready to speak.
"Next time, I'll take the plane," she said. "That was much worse than the portkey."
"Oh I quite agree," said Harry, eyeing her strangely. "The only reason I ever apparate is because I don't know how to make my own portkeys."
"Oh?" asked Rachel. "Why not? You seem a capable wizard to me."
"It's illegal," explained Harry. "Restricted magic. Can't just have people running around turning things into portkeys, after all. It would be absolute chaos. And the ministry isn't inclined to let me in on secrets these days if it ever was."
"Ah," said Rachel before turning away from Harry to scope out where they'd ended up. It turned out to be a fairly ordinary looking pub. An English pub. In America. Not so ordinary then really. A few patrons eyed the pair of them but they quickly looked away for some reason. Rachel had thought that she'd reigned in her aura but whatever. She didn't really care if she intimidated a few barflies. "Shall we be getting on our way then?"
"Hmm, if I remember right . . . " said Harry. "Yes, this way. Follow me."
Nothing she'd seen in the past quite prepared Rachel for the sheer eccentricity of the wizarding world. She'd seen some strange things in the past but nothing that compared to a portly middle-aged man stumbling into the hospital with his severed arms floating along in front of him while his wife scolded him for drunk apparating. It was just . . . mind-blowingly strange. And then when she tore her eyes away from that she saw a mournful looking teenager with tentacles growing out of his ears being scolded by his mother for teasing his little sister. She just shook her head. Too strange.
"Wands, please," said the bored-looking receptionist when they reached the entry desk.
"What?" asked Harry, looking deeply unimpressed. "Why do you expect me to give up my wand?"
"Had some trouble with dark wizards recently," said the receptionist. "Hand 'em over or leave. Your choice."
Harry looked about ready to incinerate the receptionist with the heat of his stare. "If my wands are not returned to me in perfect condition then there will be hell to pay," he hissed in a tone of voice that was only just barely human. Rachel arced an eyebrow. This was not a side of him she'd seen before. He lowered his wand down onto the table but before the receptionist could say anything he pulled another, longer wand from somewhere and put that down too.
The receptionist gulped and took a deep, steadying breath before she picked the wands up and put them through a weird looking magical gizmo that spat out two pieces of paper. "Holly, eleven inches, phoenix feather, in use for nine years," she said. "That right?"
"Correct," said Harry tersely.
"Well, here's your receipt then," she said. And then, "hmm. Yew, thirteen-and-a-half inches, phoenix feather, in use for . . . sixty-two years. Some sort of family heirloom, huh?"
"Something like that," snapped Harry.
"Okay, okay; no need to get in a strop," she said. "Here's your receipt. And what about you, lady? Where's your wand."
"Don't have one," said Rachel easily.
The receptionist rolled her eyes and pulled out another magical gizmo that she promptly pointed at Rachel. "Huh, and so you don't," she said. "What's a muggle doing here then?"
"That's really none of your business," said Harry. "Now can we see a healer?"
"Well," she said. "Depends. We're a bit busy, you see, so it might take a while."
"I don't have time for this," snapped Rachel. "You will allow us to see a healer. Now."
"I will allow you to see a healer now," said the receptionist in an utterly blank tone of voice. "Please take a seat. I will call your names in just a moment. What are your names anyway?"
"Rachel Giles," said Rachel. "You don't need to know his name."
"I don't need to know his name," intoned the receptionist. "Please take a seat."
And then she wandered off somewhere. Presumably to find a healer.
"Nice trick," said Harry appreciatively. "That sort of thing's rather more noticeable with a wand."
They found some seats and then they waited in silence. A minute or two later, Rachel's name was called and off they went.
The healer's office was a rather small, cramped room. The table and bookcases took up almost all of the room and with the chairs added there was barely enough room to enter and sit down. The healer himself was rather young-looking, around Rachel's age she thought, and looked to desperately need a good night's sleep; the bags under his eyes were a thing of legend.
"Before we start on whatever brought you here," said the healer. "I'm kinda curious as to what the hell you did to the receptionist. I thought Imperius at first but there are no signs of any actual magic on her."
"You know," said Harry, "no-one's going to admit to using an unforgivable just because you asked."
"You used an unforgivable?" asked the healer, with a raised eyebrow.
"I never said that," said Harry. "But you obviously think we did. Quite how we'd do that without a wand to share between us is beyond me in all honesty but there you go."
"True, true," said the healer. "But then there are some rather interesting rumours going around about you and your power, Mr. Potter. I really don't know what to expect from you."
Harry's back stiffened. "So you recognise who I am," he said. "I thought my charms were better than that."
"I have a talent for seeing and sensing magic," said the healer. "It's why I became a healer. Glamour charms don't fool me for long no matter how good they are, not even the subtle ones that you used."
"Then we might just have a problem," said Harry, his hand twitching as if he wanted to go for a wand that wasn't there.
"Oh no, you misunderstand," said the healer. "There's no hostility here. We haven't been on good terms with the British Ministry of Magic, oh, ever really. I expect that's why you came here."
"This is interesting and all," interrupted Rachel. "But it's not why we're here. Someone I care about has a medical problem and I want to know if you can help."
"Then why aren't they here?" asked the healer, his eyes suddenly sharp and full of questions.
"She's a muggle," said Rachel. "And I don't want to say anything till I know for sure that you magical types can help."
"Hmm," said the healer leaning back in his chair. "A wise decision most likely. A lot of muggle diseases don't affect wizards so we've never came up with a treatment for them."
"How about brain tumours?" asked Rachel, though any hope she'd felt was beginning to rapidly drain away after hearing that. "Can you treat them?"
The healer shook his head. "I'm sorry but a wizard's magic stops tumours from ever forming," he said with a frown. "The best I could do would be to dose her with potions to alleviate the symptoms but any qualified wizard who'd studied potions could do that. If I remember right, calming draughts and pain-relieving potions are covered on all major potions courses."
"They are," said Harry. "At least all the ones I know of. So there's nothing you can do?"
"I'm afraid not," said the healer. "It's probably best that I don't try either. Tumours are tricky things, or so I hear, and it's best to leave them to the experts."
"Well thanks anyway," said Rachel. "And it wasn't an unforgivable or even magic used on the receptionist. It was more like hypnotism than anything you'd understand."
"So nothing harmful then," he said. "Good. Well, if you need any more advice, feel free to drop by as long as you don't do that again. Just ask for Healer Tobin at the desk."
"Okay," said Rachel. And with that she left with Harry.
"So what's this about a glamour charm?" asked Rachel as they left the hospital, passing a woman with explosive, literally explosive, flatulence as they went.
"It's only a glamour by strict technicality," said Harry. "It's more of a someone-else's-problem charm than anything. I'm surprised you recognised me with it to be honest."
Rachel rolled her eyes. "I'm not that easy to fool," she said. "Hell, I didn't even notice it."
"Odd," he said. "But then you're not exactly normal, are you? I doubt the spell was designed to affect someone with powers that don't exist outside of a film."
"Probably not," said Rachel. "I'm kinda curious as to why the all-conquering wizarding hero would need to hide under a glamour though."
Harry's expression took a dark turn at that. "I'm no hero," he snapped. "And it's none of your damn business."
"Oh I think it is," said Rachel. "If aurors are going to start popping up on some sort of quest to arrest you, then that's a problem for me and for X-COM."
Harry turned a burning gaze onto her. "They wouldn't dare," he hissed before he took on a more reasonable expression. "And I've took steps to prevent any wizards locating me through magical means. I learned from the best on that front. Short of my marching into the ministry and waging open war on the fools, I am safe."
"Just like that glamour charm kept you safe, hmm?" asked Rachel.
"It's different," said Harry.
"Really?" asked Rachel dryly. "Well, we'll see. I hope you're right."
It was almost dark by the time Rachel felt the influence of the hellmouth wash over her once again. By the time the bus they were on had entered Sunnydale proper, it was well after dark.
"Keep your eyes peeled," said Rachel as she left the bus station with Harry. "This place can be a little rough after dark."
"I've been here before, Rachel," said Harry. "I'm not a rookie."
"Never hurts to be careful", replied Rachel flippantly.
"And this is coming from you?"
In the end, they only ran into a couple of vampires on their way to Giles's place and as you'd expect those vampires didn't have a particularly long life-expectancy once contact was made. They must have been damn desperate to try and take on Rachel in the first place; either that or they were new to the town; but with Harry backing her up as well? It was suicide by demon-hunter. But then no-one had ever accused the average vampire of being too intelligent.
Giles was quick to answer the door when Rachel reached the apartment, though it took him a moment of goggling to think to usher them in. The look on his face was incredibly amusing to Rachel. She didn't think she'd ever seen Giles look so pole-axed, not even when Xander had been turned into Rachel back in the day.
"How the bloody hell did you get here so quickly?" asked Giles after they'd come in and he'd closed the door. "I was sure that your magic wasn't up to teleportation just yet."
"It isn't," said Rachel, while dumping her pack in a corner of the room and sitting down in a nearby chair. "But his is."
"And of course you press-ganged him into bringing you here," said Giles. "I do hope this hasn't put you out too much, Mr. . . . ?"
"Potter," said Harry. "Harry Potter. And orders are orders. Us soldier types just do what we're told when we're told to do it."
"She ordered you to bring her here?" asked Giles with a raised eyebrow. "Rachel . . . "
"They weren't too keen on letting me go," said Rachel with a shrug of her shoulders. "In the end, I got away, but they decided that I had to take a bodyguard with me. When I remembered Harry and his abilities . . . well, it all came together."
"Well I suppose I can't fault you for that," said Giles. "So what sort of magic do your practice, Harry? Wiccan?"
"Uh, wanded," said Harry. "I didn't even know there were other kinds of magic till I ran into Rachel in London a while back."
"Wanded," said Giles, the genial expression frozen on his face frozen in a horrible parody of what it had been. "Rachel, I thought I told you to stay away from that kind, not bring them around for tea!"
"My kind?" snapped Harry. "What the bloody fucking hell do you mean by that?"
It was like a car crash or something of that ilk. It was just so horrible that you couldn't help but watch.
"Don't try and sit there and tell me you don't know what goes on when your lot gets a bee in their bonnet about secrecy," said Giles, his voice low and controlled. "I've seen the after-effects when your thrice-damned aurors get too enthusiastic with their memory spells or decide that there's no salvaging the situation without killing."
"Don't you dare compare me with those fools," hissed Harry, his eyes glinting dangerously.
"And why not?" asked Giles, his posture tense and radiating violent potential. "You're all the bloody same, thinking you're better than people who can't use those stupid bits of wood."
"I just finished fighting a war against the scum that believe that," yelled Harry, his hands twitching. "I would never . . . "
"Oh so you're not of the psychos who want to wipe everyone else out," snorted Giles. "That means you're one of the ones who like to pat us on their head and mutter about how brave and clever we are getting by without magic. So much bloody better!"
"That's it," hissed Harry as he drew his wand. "I don't have to take this."
Rachel immediately tapped her power and threw a stasis field over the pair of them, freezing them in a rather interesting tableau. Harry had his wand most of the way to a spell-casting position and Giles, well, Giles was aiming a rather nasty-looking right hook Harry's way.
"That's quite enough of that, gentlemen," said Rachel. "I can barely breathe for all the testosterone you two are giving off. And I can't believe I just said that. I must be desperately in need of some guy-time. Ah well."
And with that she levitated the pair of them to opposite ends of the room and then for good measure levitated Harry's wands away from him and onto the coffee table.
"Giles, Harry's kind of an outcast amongst wizards, or so I gather, so there's not much point berating him about their ways," said Rachel. "Harry, Giles isn't normally so pig-headed but I gather that he's had some rather unpleasant run-ins with aurors and other wand-users in the past and that seems to have short-circuited his rationality entirely. Please do try to avoid killing each other."
And then she released the stasis field. After a rather comical moment passed with both men trying to regain their balance after being moved across the room mid-movement, both turned their glares onto Rachel who simply arced an eyebrow and looked back impassively.
"I would appreciate it if you didn't do that again, Rachel," said Giles, his tone of voice somewhat icy.
"Would you rather I'd allowed you to continue making a complete fool of yourself then?" asked Rachel mildly. "It really wouldn't have been any trouble. For me anyway."
Before Giles could say anything else, the two wands flew off the coffee table and thudded into Harry's hands. "I didn't appreciate it much either," he said, as he pocketed one of the wands and began to twirl the other between the fingers of his right hand.
"Are you threatening her?" asked Giles, his expression absolutely frigid.
"Enough!" barked Rachel. "This is ridiculous. Giles, I am quite capable of defending myself. And as for you, Harry, don't even think about trying to intimidate me. Now, are you two going to learn to at least tolerate each others presence or am I going to be forced to find a hotel room and spend my time in Sunnydale there?"
"No," said Giles quickly. "There's no need for that, as long as he keeps his damn magic to himself."
This was going to be a fun visit, Rachel could tell.
"Unfortunately, there are no spare beds," said Giles. "Your bodyguard will have to stay elsewhere."
"That's OK," said Harry. "I can sleep anywhere with a quick cushioning charm. There's plenty of floor to go around."
Yup, a real fun visit.
The rest of the night passed in a rather uncomfortable fashion. Giles didn't think it was a good idea to disturb the Summers family so soon, so it was a night stuck in the house listening to a couple of Brits snipe at each other and trying to keep it from being noticeable. Because of course it's really difficult for a Jedi to tell when a couple of people are experiencing regular spikes of negative emotion right in front of them. It was about when she'd been tempted to mind-trick the pair of them to be mute that she'd decided it would be best to beat a retreat.
She woke with the rise of the sun the next day and the first thing she did was change into a he and find the brightest, most obnoxious shirt he could. Why? General principles. He so very rarely got to be Xander that when he did he had to go straight for the big guns and bring out the Hawaiian shirts. That and he didn't really have all that many clothes to wear in male form, and what he did have was left over from when he was younger and somewhat more colour-blind. It was safe to say that if Sarah ever saw him in these clothes - and knew who he was - that he'd be looking at one nightmare of a shopping expedition soon after.
After showering and getting ready for the day at hand, Xander made his way to the living room and found Harry perched on one of the chairs reading a newspaper.
"Do you not sleep?" asked Xander.
"Not much," said Harry. And in a flash Xander found himself staring down the length of Harry's wand. His reflexes were impressive; Xander had to give him that. "Now who are you and why the hell did you come out of Rachel's room? Chop, chop, man, I don't have all day."
"You don't have much of a memory do you?" said Xander. "Ah well it was quite a while ago so I suppose I can forgive you for forgetting. In short, and simple, terms, I am Rachel, you scrawny nitwit."
"Pull the other one," said Harry. "It has bells on. Honestly, I think I'd have noticed by now if Rachel was a man with the way the soldiers drool over her when she's not looking."
Xander's scowl at that was a thing of legend that would have been discussed throughout the ages if anyone had been present to take a picture of it. The Mona Lisa Smile would have had nothing on the Xander Harris Scowl for those who weren't sent fleeing in fear of their lives by the sight of it. But there was no-one there to take the picture and so much wasted time was saved. To shut Harry up before he said anything even more stupid - hard as it was for Xander to imagine it - Xander quickly transformed into Rachel and the back again.
"Are you satisfied now?" asked Xander with a sarcastic edge to his voice. "Or do you need to see more?"
Harry made a somewhat strangled sound in the back of his throat and took several moments before he replied. "The hell?" he managed. Highly eloquent.
Xander rolled his eyes. "Don't you remember me telling you about the whole magical sex-change thing? I found a cure . . . sort of."
"Well I thought you were just nuts or something," sputtered Harry. "People don't just change sex . . . or at least they normally don't."
"It's called chaos magic for a reason, Harry," said Xander. "And I can't believe that you thought I was nuts."
Harry eyed his wand very, very carefully as he put it away.
"Anyway, about these potions," said Xander, changing the subject quickly. "Can you make them here?"
Harry blinked and then frowned. "No," he said. "All my potions equipment is in London still."
"Can you retrieve it safely?"
Harry smirked. "Oh, of course," he said. "There's absolutely nothing they can do to stop me moving around freely unless I do something deeply stupid. I'll need to stop by the apothecary in Los Angeles though; there's no way some of the ingredients I'll need will have lasted this long."
"Well you do that then," said Xander. "I have things to do here."
"Don't need one," said Xander. "Assassins will be after my female form anyway. Don't even think that you're going to be following me around all the time I'm here. It's not happening."
"You're not the one who's gonna get it in the neck if something happens," pointed out Harry. "You know what Miller's like."
Xander waved his concerns away. "Miller's not that hard to deal with," he said. "After the things you've seen and done, he's just a paper tiger. You really think he matches up to a Dark Lord?"
"Well, no," said Harry. "But I'm already a fugitive in one world. I don't need to add to the collection."
"You'll be fine," said Xander. "I'm not going to get killed anyway. It'll take more than the pathetic demons that infest this town to pull that off."
Xander waited for Harry to leave and then headed out himself after making sure that it wasn't too early. He figured that Mrs. Summers wouldn't be inclined to go to work after finding out she had a brain tumour the day before but you never knew. He ran into a few kids on the way to school as he walked - some of them even some to recognise him even if none acknowledged him - but the streets were generally quiet, just like he remembered them. It wasn't till after dark, when the monsters came out, that things picked up in this town.
Mrs. Summers answered the door quickly when he knocked and looked like she hadn't slept well at all. Not a great surprise really. She was still quick to usher Xander in after a moment of surprise had passed though.
"Xander, I didn't know you were back in town," she said as they sat down in the living room. "Do the girls know you're back?"
"I only got in last night," said Xander, relaxing back in the chair. "I haven't had time to do much of anything yet."
"Oh," said Mrs. Summers, looking a little stymied. "So how's your job going? Rupert told me that you'd been promoted."
"It's going well," said Xander easily. If she wanted small talk, he could do that. "Apparently, they like my work. And yes, Giles was right; I've been promoted. I'm a Lieutenant Colonel equivalent now."
"Congratulations, Xander," said Mrs. Summers. "You've earned it."
"Thank you," said Xander with a nod. "That means a lot to me."
"Your work seems to be going well, but what about your personal life?" asked Mrs. Summers. "I can't imagine you get to meet many nice girls stuck in a laboratory."
"You'd be surprised," said Xander. "But, Mrs. Summers, I didn't come here to talk about my life."
"Oh," she said faintly. "So you know then? About the tumour?"
Xander inclined his head in a faint nod. "Giles told me about it yesterday," he said. "I got here as quickly as I could manage."
"Xander!" exclaimed Mrs. Summers. "That must have cost you an arm and a leg!"
Xander shook his head. "It would have," he said, "but I managed to get a wizard to transport me here very quickly for free. It just took a little persuasion."
"Well, that's good," said Joyce.
"Now, I want to help you," said Xander. "You've done plenty for me in the past, helped me with the whole girl thing at times even if you didn't realise it, and I want to help you with this problem."
"I didn't do things for you so you'd help me in the future," said Joyce.
"Of course you didn't," said Xander. "If you were that sort of person, I would not be here. I am no-one's fool."
Joyce just gaped. She obviously hadn't been expecting that.
"Now, I think it would be best if I examined you," said Xander. "You don't have to do anything. Just try and stay still; that makes it easier for me."
"You can use your powers to heal me?"
"No, I'm afraid not," said Xander. "My skills are not so comprehensive. But I can get a feel for it and search for possible mystical causes."
And with that Xander closed his eyes and allowed his consciousness to slip fully into the grasp of the Force. It was something he didn't generally do, it made it rather difficult to defend himself when he was so fully immersed and separated from his physical self, but in this situation it was the only option he had; he really wasn't a great healer. Once he was in his trance, he began to read and analyse the energy flows around and through Joyce. It was always quite the sight to see the energy that made up a person and it was no different now. He could see the emotions, the driving forces, that made her what she was: compassion for others, love for her children, her hard-working nature; but then she could see her flaws too: her temper, her rashness, her judgemental nature. It was all Joyce Summers and to take any of it away would be to change her fundamental self.
Then Xander looked past that and focussed on the energy flows through Joyce's cranium, looking for flaws. The lines of energy there were confusing to Xander, there were so many that went in so many different directions, but still he looked and tried to interpret them. Eventually he found what looked like what he was looking for, an angry red line shot through with black wrapped around one small corner of her brain. And around that area there was a faded green glow that had to be magical in nature. But the magic was not malignant; it was not a curse or a hex. If the magic had caused this, it was not deliberate. And there was nothing there to identify who had cast the spell; the energies were just too faded, too old.
With that, Xander slipped out of his trance and re-entered the waking world. He found himself leaned back in the chair with Joyce peering at him, her face creased with worry.
"Xander!" she exclaimed. "You're awake. What on Earth where you playing at? I thought you'd put yourself in a coma!"
Xander shook his head to shake off the grogginess. "I was just in a trance," he explained. "I should have explained it to you, shouldn't I?" he finished sheepishly.
Mrs. Summers looked torn between anger and amusement. In the end, amusement won out. "Yes, I think you should have," she said. "So what did you see?"
"It's a small tumour," said Xander. "At least it looks small to me; I'm no expert. It's maybe the width of your thumb and not all that high."
"Well, that's good, I suppose," said Mrs. Summers, settling back down into her chair.
"Most likely," said Xander.
From there the conversation moved on to talking about the treatment Mrs. Summers was receiving from Sunnydale General and the doctors she'd been treated by and who she was under now. And once that was talked out they moved on to how Dawn was doing at school these days; well in some objects, not so well in others - typical teenager fare when they're not all that interested in school. Eventually lunchtime rolled around and Dawn turned up. Seeing Xander, she went from trying to scam money out of her mother for lunch - more of a teenager's excuse for coming home to see her mother than a real reason - to impersonating a boa constrictor in about ten seconds.
"You didn't tell me you were coming, you lamer," said Dawn, slapping Xander on the arm as she stepped away.
"Only decided to last night," said Xander, rubbing at his now sore arm. "Anyway, you need to start doing better in school. A good Jedi is well-educated. End of story."
"This is coming from Mr. High-School Drop-out?"
"I have my GED, don't I?" asked Xander. "And I have a PhD in physics these days. You need to put the work in unless you want your training to be spent in a classroom with me drilling you on schoolwork instead of the Force."
It was at that point that Xander noticed something very strange about Dawn. He could feel a saturation of energy around and in her, and it wasn't the Force. He allowed his senses out and there it was: that green magic. She was full of it, even more so than she was of the Force. He kept his face placid and let nothing show for the Summers women to see but it worried him. If a small amount of the magic could harm Mrs. Summers then what would this amount do to Dawn?
The conversation meandered with Dawn whining about school and Mrs. Summers deftly keeping the girl in line despite her efforts to wriggle out of having to do well in school. It was quite amusing to watch really. Eventually Dawn had to head back to school, no further forward on either scamming money or wriggling out of having to work hard at school.
When Dawn was safely gone, Mrs. Summers turned to Xander. "Does she really have to become a Jedi?" she asked.
"You know who she went as on Halloween," said Xander. "If I don't train her, someone else will, and the results of that would be utterly disastrous."
After seeing Mrs. Summers and Dawn, Xander immediately headed home to see Giles. Something very wrong was going on here with that magic and he damn well wanted to know what it was.
"Giles, what the hell is going on with Dawn?" asked Xander as soon as he was back in the house.
Giles sputtered and coughed up the tea he'd been drinking. "How the hell did you know about that?" he asked. "The magic supposedly altered everyone's memories."
Xander's eyes took on a dangerous glint. "You'd best start explaining yourself," he said. "Because I am not liking what I'm hearing right now."
"Dawn was created by magic," said Giles. "Some monks; it happened a few months ago as far as we can tell, certainly less than a year."
"Giles . . . that . . . I remember her, Giles," said Xander. "I remember shy, little Dawn from back when I was in sophomore year; I remember her getting an Anakin Skywalker costume because I was going as a Star Wars character; I remember her begging me to train her in the Force after I began to master it myself. What sort of spell could corrupt my mind like this? My shields . . . Force, I can't imagine how something could break my defences so totally. I should have at least known something was wrong. And how can Dawn be fake? She . . . she's always been around."
"The spell appears to have simply warped reality entirely," said Giles. "The documentation that exists for Dawn, her birth certificate, her school records, her medical records, cannot possibly have been inserted mere months ago. A spell that powerful . . . even you could not have defended yourself against it."
"Damn," said Xander. "But Dawn isn't real? And you are aware that whatever magic Dawn is linked to is at least partially responsible for Joyce's tumour, correct?"
That got Giles rubbing at his glasses. "We suspected it," he said. "But we couldn't be totally sure. This is . . . they can never know, Xander. It would destroy Dawn."
"If she isn't real, what does it matter?" asked Xander. "Hell, why isn't something being done if she's some sort of simulacrum? There's more to this, isn't there?"
"Oh she's quite real now," said Giles. "I've done some tests when no-one was watching and she's as human as you and I. The only difference between her and a normal person is the magic in her. And yes, there's more to this."
And then Giles laid it all out. Dawn was some sort of mystical key than an extremely powerful evil entity, Glory, was trying to hunt down and use to get home. The key had been energy but the monks who had guarding it had been forced to hide it in a living person when Glory found and killed them.
"Well, this sucks," said Xander. "I don't suppose you know where she's hiding out so I can go deal with her?"
"I'm afraid not," said Giles. "And that wouldn't be a terribly intelligent thing for you to do anyway. This Glory has displayed considerable power and there's no reason to think we've seen anything like her limits as of yet."
"She beat Buffy up?"
"She didn't seem to be in any pain at all when Buffy struck her with all her strength, or so I gather," said Giles.
"Well that's not a good sign," said Xander with a frown. "If it gets too bad, you could always retreat to an X-COM base. If this 'key' is as destructive as demonic things normally are, I could get it cleared."
"They know about demons?" asked Giles, looking mildly perturbed.
"Some do," said Xander. "The soldiers I led here, obviously, and the boss man knows for sure. Don't know about any others but the high-ranking types probably know at least enough to know which places are full of demons and not aliens."
Giles looked quite relieved at that. "Oh good," he said. "I was worried that it had become general knowledge. That would be troublesome."
"I disagree," said Xander. "But that's a matter of taste. You're more traditional about these things than I am. Anyway, what is it with you and wizards anyway? I've never seen you act like that before."
"That is something I do not speak of," said Giles in a very final tone of voice. "It is both extremely personal and extremely painful. I'm sure that you of all people can appreciate that."
And that was that really. He couldn't push Giles on that when he held much of the stuff Revan had pushed into his mind to himself even when talking to his oldest, closest friends.
For what came after that, Xander had to be Rachel. Xander Harris was not taken seriously by the world at large; he was a nobody, a high-school drop-out that had disappeared off the face of the Earth in his teens. Rachel Giles was anything but; she was a wealthy young investor who has a considerable level of name-value amongst those who moved in the right circles. She could plunk down the money, throw around the right names, and people would do what she wanted. The fact that she was also a pretty face - loathe as she was to admit it - would only make things easier.
And so Rachel Giles strode into Sunnydale General wearing a pantsuit and blouse combination looking to find whoever was in charge of Mrs. Summers' treatment and arrange for the very best care that her money and influence could buy. Soon enough she was in the office of a Doctor Isaacs and he didn't look particularly happy to be there.
"We don't discuss details of our patients and their treatment with non-family members, miss," he said. "It's just not done."
"We're like family," said Rachel. "One big, happy, dysfunctional family. But that's not why I'm here. I want to make sure that Mrs. Summers gets the best treatment possible and I have the money to fund that."
"This is highly irregular," said Doctor Isaacs. "Not only that but I have a damn hard time believing that a teenage girl has access to that sort of money."
Rachel just arced an eyebrow at that. "You haven't heard of me then, I take it?" she asked in an even tone of voice. "Well, no matter. I have several patents which are making me considerable sums of money, doctor. Money is truly not an issue here. I am concerned with who could offer the best treatment for Mrs. Summers, nothing more, nothing less."
"I don't have time for this," said the doctor. "This is just ridiculous. Look at you, you're all of what eighteen and you're some sort of patent-wielding hotshot? Give me a break."
Rachel's expression turned frosty at that. "If you do not believe me, then perhaps you will believe this," she said, pulling her military ID card out of a pocket and dropping it onto the table that separated her from the doctor.
The doctor took one look at the card and his face twisted into a rather sardonic smile. "Oh and I'm supposed to believe that you're a," and he paused there to take a look at the ID card, "Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army now as well as a hotshot inventor? This just gets better and better! Get the hell out of my office and stop wasting my time, girl."
"If you would take the time to have a closer look at my ID, then you would see that I am a civilian contractor," hissed Rachel in an icy tone of voice. "And if you are not willing to deal with me then I can just as easily seek aid elsewhere, doctor," she finished, uttering the word doctor as if it was the vilest oath in the galaxy.
"I won't be talked to like this in my own office," barked the doctor, displaying an alarming lack of survival instincts. "Get out! Now!"
"Gladly," said Rachel, rising to her feet in one smooth motion and pocketing her ID card once more. "I will be speaking with the hospital administrator about your attitude, doctor. Such arrogance does not befit one working in a small-town hospital that is of dubious quality and possessed of an incredible mortality rate amongst its patients."
With that, she turned on her heel and swept out of the office to find the hospital administrator. She would not allow this insignificant little worm of a man to obstruct her path for long.
"I hear you have some complaints to make about Doctor Isaacs?" asked the administrator as he sat down behind his desk. It had taken little time to find her but it had taken some time before he had become available for her to deal with.
"He was unspeakably rude to me when I attempted to deal with him," said Rachel. "I have been left with a rather poor image of this hospital's staff, I'm afraid."
"Hmm," said the administrator. "Well, you have to admit that your story is rather unbelievable at first glance without some prior knowledge of who you are and what you've done."
"I do hope you're not trying to defend him," said Rachel. "His behaviour was incredibly unprofessional and I cannot believe that you would tolerate him acting in such a way to someone who is potentially a paying customer."
"Of course not," said the administrator. "I'm simply trying to place it in context. As it is, you have a full apology for his behaviour and I simply hope that you're not going to hold it against the hospital in general. We strive to give a consistently high level of service here and I wouldn't want you to go away believing anything else."
"Then hopefully you can help me," said Rachel. "I have a friend under the care of this hospital, a Mrs. Joyce Summers, and I wish to ensure that she gets the best care possible. To this end, I am more than willing to pay for specialists to be flown in to perform the necessary operation. Money is not an issue in this case; I will pay whatever is necessary."
"Well, I think we can work with that," said the administrator. "But are you sure about the money? Bringing in doctors from further afield will not be cheap, Ms. Giles, not cheap at all. But you're right in that you'd get a better quality of work that way. I'm not saying our doctors here are bad, but as good as the sort of staff that places like the John Hopkins University has? No, we don't have the budget or the prestige for that, I'm afraid."
"Quite sure," said Rachel. "If you require some sort of confirmation before you'll take my word on that then I'll have my bank manager get in touch with you."
"Oh there's no need for that," said the administrator. "I know who you are well enough, Ms. Giles, and I know you can pay. I have no worries on that front, not from me. You are sure about this then before I start making calls? Once I start that it'll be too late to change your mind."
"As I have already said, I am quite sure," said Rachel. "Now, I would prefer if this was not made public knowledge. Ideally, it would stay between me and you and possibly some of the other doctors. The last thing I want is for the Summers family to feel at all beholden to me. It would just be awkward."
"I quite understand," said the administrator. "Awkward indeed. I'll make sure to keep it under my hat so to speak."
"I appreciate that," said Rachel. "I think that my business here is concluded so I will take my leave."
"I'll be in touch should anything come up," said the administrator.
The next week passed quite slowly and without much in the way of major events. Harry's potions helped ease Joyce's symptoms when she lost coherency. And though they couldn't make her normal entirely, they did make it all a great deal easier on the girls than it otherwise would have been, endearing him to them for all time despite his as-a-rule somewhat surly demeanour. That demeanour and her relationship, somewhat floundering as it was, with Riley was probably about the only thing that stopped Buffy snapping Harry up. Harry and Giles also continued to interact in the most prickly manner you can imagine and Rachel had to do the Jedi equivalent of chucking a bucket of cold water over them a few more times to stop them before they came to blows.
Being home again was a relief. The time since she'd signed on with X-COM had been chronically lacking in fun and spending time with Buffy and Willow, whether it be as Xander or Rachel, was a welcome relief from the never-ending grimness of working for a military organisation that went through soldiers quicker than Cordelia went through clothes.
The only real event of note was the time that rather feeble demon that attempted to kill Mrs. Summers. That creature had been hunted down and destroyed with extreme prejudice in short order. She had not gone to such lengths to preserve Mrs. Summers' life so that some pitiful demon that barely form coherent thoughts could kill her while she was still weak and defenceless - Rachel had no doubt that the demon would have been far too pathetic to defeat a human being in their right mind.
Anyway, the time soon came for Mrs. Summers operation. In they all trundled to wish her well and have the usual tearful stuff with her daughters - not Rachel's thing really - and that was that. Or not.
"Well, I won't be performing the operation," said Doctor Isaacs snottily. "We've got someone else in for that, a real specialist. You must have some real rich friends."
Mrs. Summers was too distracted with the whole thing about her head being cut open in very little time from then to put two and two together, but Giles? Well the look on his face - he got it. And that damn doctor was going to get it for this. She might be super-rich but her word would still carry a lot of weight with a small-town hospital like this. A word in the right ear was all it would take to make sure that this doctor would spend the rest of his career bouncing from shitty small-town hospital to shitty small-town hospital and she was of a mind to give that word after he blew that little secret out of pure spite.
Soon enough Mrs. Summers was drugged insensate and carted away for the operation. And not long after that, Giles had separated Rachel from the group for a little talk on the pretext of fetching snacks.
"I do hope you know what you're doing," he said. "This sort of thing can cause quite a lot of trouble when it comes out, you know."
"I don't think it will in this situation," said Rachel. "And I'm sure I can come up with a reasonable explanation for what I've done. It's not like they don't already know that I've gone out of my way to try and help Mrs. Summers."
"Yes," said Giles. "You are right that it's unlikely to be too great a cause of friction in this case, but I still don't like the idea of hiding it from them. They should at least know what you have done."
"Why?" asked Rachel. "It would just make for awkwardness."
"Do you really think that Joyce won't be able to figure out which one of us had the money to have a specialist flown in?" asked Giles. "Don't be silly."
"Of course she'll be able to figure it out," said Rachel. "But she's a reasonable person and she isn't going to be angry because I helped keep her alive, is she? That really would be silly. No, that won't be a problem."
"She won't be angry that you helped her like this," said Giles. "But she may well be angry that you deceived her."
"Perhaps," admitted Rachel. "But I doubt it. I have deceived no-one. I simply haven't told them all of my secrets."
"A rather tenuous distinction," said Giles.
"Perhaps," said Rachel. "But a valid one, I feel."
Not long after the operation, it was time to return to work. Rachel could detect no signs of further illness in Mrs. Summers' aura and there was no shortage of work for her to deal with. Force only knew what the paperwork mountain had grown to in her absence! And so she returned to Texas. Goodbyes and promises to keep in touch were exchanged and then she was away with Harry. But before she went she reminded Giles of her offer of sanctuary should things get too hot in Sunnydale.