Not long after Rachel's replacement leg was installed, Faith awoke, and Joyce then unilaterally decided that they were all going on holiday far away from aliens and demons and all the rest of it. Feeble protests had been promptly mounted and then utterly crushed under the weight of 'The Look' coming from a bona-fide mother. Such was life for the group from Sunnydale. And it hadn't been helped by Buffy and Dawn's adamant agreement that a beach holiday in Hawaii sounded very nice indeed. Ah well, she could get Dawn back for that easily enough. For every spanner Dawn threw in the works, Rachel added another kilometre to the morning runs she's be subjecting her new apprentice to. A fair trade in her opinion though she doubted Dawn would agree.
Thankfully, the flight to Hawaii was relatively short, and they were soon touching down at Lanai Airport. There had been some hassle with metal detectors as they embarked upon the journey - cybernetic limbs trigger the detectors quite thoroughly as Rachel found out - but a quick flash of some medical papers and military ID got her past that very quickly indeed. And so after a quick bus ride from the airport they were checked into the hotel, where Rachel had arranged to share her suite with Dawn.
The first morning, Rachel rose with the sun and quickly dressed in a one piece swim-suit and a pair of shorts after going through her normal morning routine. It was too damned warm for her to be wearing more with the day she had planned anyway, and it was a holiday after all. She paused for a moment to roll her shoulders and loosen her muscles up, and then she quietly opened Dawn's door and walked into her room. She actually looked quite cute did Dawn when she sleeping.
Well, she looked quite cute for the thirty or so more seconds she had before Rachel bellowed in her ear, "COME ON THEN! OUT OF BED!"
Dawn rolled over and actually fell out of her bed at that point. "Wha?" she slurred. "Where's the demon?"
"Demon?" asked Rachel her voice still raised. "You'd be so lucky. You have five minutes to get ready and then your training starts."
"Couldn't it have waited till I'd woken up?"
"Four minutes and forty seconds."
"Alright, alright," said Dawn. "I get the message. Sheesh. Slave-driver much?"
"Just get moving."
Miraculously, Dawn was ready, in a similar outfit to Rachel's, a whole twenty seconds early, her hair still wet from the very brief shower she had been able to award herself in the allotted time.
"Excellent," said Rachel. "A Jedi must not be caught lazing around in bed when trouble is afoot."
Dawn just stared at her through bleary eyes as if she'd sprouted a second head.
"Well, we'll start off easy today," said Rachel. "A brisk jog to the beach will do for a start, and then we'll work on your endurance."
"A brisk jog to the beach!?" whined Dawn. "That's a mile away!"
"Yes, you're right," said Rachel with a thoughtful look on her face. "It's not enough, is it, not for a Jedi? Well, we can make up for that on the beach itself."
"Yes, that'll do the trick," said Rachel with an air of finality as she picked up the basket of supplies she'd set up the previous night. "Come along, Dawn. We don't have all day, you know."
Rachel then turned on her heel and strode out of the room, leaving Dawn straggling in her wake.
Dawn wheezed like an old woman as she collapsed onto the sand in a heap after Rachel finished putting her through the morning run. Rachel just shook her head. She'd only ran the girl a few miles and she was ready to fold. That was going to have to change even if it was entirely unsurprising. Putting that aside, Rachel pulled a bottle of water and dropped it in front of Dawn.
"Drink," she said. "If you get dehydrated, it'll scupper the day's training before it even starts. And get up."
"Do I have to?"
"You'll cramp up something fierce if you don't," said Rachel. "And I'm not giving you time off for stupidity."
"Meanie," said Dawn, sticking her tongue out as she oh so laboriously stumbled back onto her feet. "Are you sure you're not evil?"
"Little of a, little of b," said Rachel. "Now have a drink. We don't have time to waste."
"How the hell are you so not tired?" asked Dawn, just before she took a swig from the water bottle.
"Well, that's the trick," said Rachel. "You'll get there sooner or later."
"Is that supposed to be a helpful hint?" asked Dawn.
"Not really," said Rachel. "If I gave you that trick now, then you wouldn't get the benefit of the physical training."
"Evil. That's what you are."
"That I am," said Rachel. Then she spent a long moment eyeing Dawn's figure. "Hmm. Well, you're never going to be an Amazon," she said when was finished with her evaluation. "We'll have to concentrate on building your speed and agility up."
"You're going to be taller than your sister," said Rachel. "But you're still not going to be big. How are you at gymnastics?"
"Uh, I'm OK," said Dawn. "Why?"
"It's not a bad way to build your agility and flexibility," said Rachel. "Needs pretty good upper-body strength too."
"So you're going to train me to be a gymnast?" asked Dawn with a most dubious expression on her face.
"No," said Rachel. "Competitive gymnastics is all about aesthetics. That is entirely irrelevant here. Now, can you do a handstand?"
"Um, sort of."
"Well, go on then," said Rachel. "Let's see it."
"I kinda need a wall to push off," said Dawn sheepishly.
Rachel rolled her eyes. "Wait a minute then," she said. And then with a sharp upwards motion of her hands she summoned a huge chunk of sand upwards out of the beach and then began to shape it with her mind. A few moments later there was a roughly rectangular chunk of sand sticking up out of the beach.
"Guh?" said Dawn.
"Telekinesis," explained Rachel. "You'll be able to do that yourself eventually."
Now that got Dawn's full, undivided attention. "Really?" she asked. "Cool!"
"Yes, really," said Rachel. "Now get on with it."
Dawn stared at the wall of sand for a moment before taking on a determined expression and in one quick motion planting her hands on the floor and kicking upwards into a shaky handstand using the wall for balance.
"Hmm," said Rachel. "Tuck your head in further and spread your fingers. That should give you better control."
Dawn did so, and her handstand was immediately much less shaky.
"Not bad, I suppose," said Rachel. "For a first attempt. Keep those fingers facing forwards. And you might want to think about pointing those toes upwards. It might give you an easier time of keeping your spine straight."
Dawn just grunted and followed her instructions.
"Excellent," said Rachel. "And now that's quite enough of using that wall for balance, I think."
Rachel allowed Dawn a moment to prepare herself and then she dispelled the wall, allowing the sand to return to its natural place. Dawn wobbled for a moment but managed to steady herself into a slightly wobbly but mostly right handstand.
"Now hold that," said Rachel. Dawn grunted in the affirmative so Rachel continued. "Did you understand the Jedi Code?"
"No!" said Dawn. "Emotion, yet peace. What the hell does that mean? And I thought it was supposed to be 'there is no emotion; there is peace' or something like that."
"The code in the book I gave you is the original," said Rachel. "The code you've seen in the adverts for the new film was a reaction to Exar Kun falling to the Dark Side and the damage he did as the Dark Lord. A somewhat excessive and self-defeating reaction at that. I was one of the first products of the new philosophy along with Malak, and look how that turned out."
"So you're not going to teach me to be like the film Jedi?"
"I do not teach failure," said Rachel. "The Jedi that followed that philosophy were exterminated. I assume that you have no desire to share that fate."
"No thanks," said Dawn, her arms trembling slightly as her concentration slipped while she spoke. "So what does it mean then, 'emotion, yet peace'?"
"You can no more stop feeling then you can stop being human," said Rachel. "You cannot change your fundamental nature. But a Jedi does not allow their emotions to rule them. We cannot. That path leads to disaster."
"So we're allowed to feel but not to, you know, act on what we feel?"
"Of course we can act on our feelings," said Rachel. "We just can't allow them to dominate us. Moderation is the key. Feel free to love your family and friends, but you cannot allow that to rule you. A great many Jedi have lost control and turned to the Dark Side when someone they love is hurt or killed. What would you do if someone killed your mother?"
"I'd get angry, I suppose."
"You'd want revenge wouldn't you?" asked Rachel. "Perfectly natural after all; they killed your mother, so they deserve it, don't they?"
"Well, yeah, I suppose."
"That's where the problems come," said Rachel. "You can't go off in a rage looking for vengeance. You have to be able to put your emotions aside when it becomes necessary."
"But I've seen you doing things when you're angry."
"I'm not the best example to follow," said Rachel. "I am Darth Revan after all. Or at least I was. Anyway, I'm not one to emulate."
Rachel eyes Dawn's trembling limbs. It wouldn't be long now.
"If you want an example of a good Jedi, then you should probably look at the films," said Rachel. "Qui-Gon Jinn seemed to have the right idea about things."
"Yeah," said Rachel. "I personally pay more attention to the long-term than he did, but it's a valid choice to be more interested in the moment."
Dawn might have questioned that further but her arms promptly gave out and she tumbled down to the beach in a jumble of limbs.
"Well, that was miserable," said Rachel. "Come on. Up. Get back to it."
Rachel continued to have Dawn perform handstands, now without the supporting wall of sand, for several more hours - all the while questioning her apprentice about the material in the book she'd given her before she went into surgery - till she was quite satisfied with her progress on that front for the day.
"I suppose that'll do for now," said Rachel. "I think a couple hours swimming is called for now. Get to it. And don't even think about going easy. I'll be keeping an eye on you."
"You're not coming with me?" asked Dawn, looking surprised.
"No," said Rachel. "I'm going to meditate. I assume that you can be left alone for a few hours without drowning yourself?"
"Of course," said Dawn indignantly with the sort of wounded pride that only a teenager can manage.
"Well leave your shorts here and get to it then," said Rachel.
Dawn was off like a shot, probably happy to get away from Rachel's somewhat less than merciful training. She'd be so lucky. Rachel just shook her head and assumed a cross-legged seated position as she started to clear her mind of conscious thought and drift into the currents of the Force. She'd had a strange feeling in her gut for days now, a feeling of an approaching storm, and she wanted to know what was going on.
It didn't take long for Rachel to slip away from her physical concerns and move into the Force, and then it was just a matter of finding the right current in the Force and following that to its logical conclusion. Well, maybe not that easy, but it was something that Rachel had always had some proficiency in as Revan though she hadn't made great use of the talent herself since that Halloween. It was as much a side-effect of her bizarrely strong connection to the Force as anything else really.
But this time she found herself frustrated. Something wasn't quite right and the vision she was searching for simply was not coming. And so she plunged deeper into the Force, immersing herself in it even more completely. Something was wrong here and she wanted to know what it was. Obscuring her vision was not something done casually or easily. If it was the Sith, well, that was worrying, for one of them to grow in power so quickly . . . that would be a concern.
Eventually she found the problem, the darkness crawling in at the edges of her connection to the Force and obscuring her vision. Such a technique was a trademark of the Sith but it did not feel like it had been done by a Sith. Odd. Well, either way, it was intolerable. She would not allow for her ability to use the Force to be diminished in such a way. She flexed her mental muscles and lashed out with all her strength at the shackles that were trying to tie her down.
Of course, the darkness would not take this lying down, and Rachel found herself embroiled in a battle of wills. At first it was easy, and the darkness fell back as her power overwhelmed it. But it did not last. The darkness seemed to grow and swell in power as she battled it. Every time she gained an advantage, it seemed to gain more strength from somewhere and her frustration grew. This just wasn't working. No single mind could be this powerful, not when it had been so weak to begin with . . .
And there was the key. It wasn't one mind; it was many minds working in concert in an attempt to defeat her powers. Well, that was useful knowledge. It certainly wasn't the Sith then because they couldn't work in concert like this; their very nature prevented it. Well, multiple minds gave more power but it also gave vulnerabilities. Rachel compressed her presence within the Force to a microscopic size and the darkness receded somewhat believing her defeated. She allowed that status quo to remain for a few moments and then she lashed out with all her power at one single point in the darkness.
The barrier broke.
Rachel saw a world aflame with war. Entire cities burned as the most horrendous of weapons were deployed against them, the streets ran with the blood of the innocent and the guilty alike, and all the while she could feel the cold, uncaring presence of the aliens. She tried to focus in closer, to get some more useful information, but the vision blurred. She couldn't make out the details of who was fighting this war, who had started it, or anything useful at all.
And then the vision ended and Rachel found herself abruptly dumped back on the beach.
"Well, that was a waste of time," she grumbled, as she stood up and stretched to get the blood flowing again. Like she hadn't already known they were at war and it could get bad. "Absolute waste."
Her thoughts were interrupted by a wolf-whistle from behind her. Rachel suan around ready to deliver a cutting retort but was stopped short when she was that the wolf-whistle had come from Faith, who was lounging on a towel in a very skimpy bikini.
"What was a waste of time?" asked Mrs. Summers, looking over her sunglasses from her own position lounging on a towel in a much more modest swimsuit.
"Just trying to figure something out," said Rachel smoothly. "Nothing terribly critical, I don't think."
"So you were sat there all that time for nothing important?" asked Mrs. Summers. "I have a hard time believing that."
Rachel shrugged. "Jedi meditate," she said. "It's what we do. Meditation centres us; helps keep us on an even keel. It's rarely all that important."
"Right," said Mrs. Summers. "So how's Dawn doing?"
"Acceptably," said Rachel. "Well, for her first day anyway. She has a long way to go."
After Rachel dispatched Dawn on another marathon run, she was approached by Faith.
"Yo, Darth," she said. "How you doing?"
"I'm quite alright, Faith," said Rachel. "You're the one that got knocked into a coma."
"Tell me about it, said Faith a grimace. "I wake up and my hair's had big chunks shaved out of it. Not funny."
"Never thought of you as vain before, Faith," said Rachel with a somewhat amused smile on her face.
"Hey, I ain't vain," said Faith. "I just like to look good and didn't appreciate looking like some sort of nuthouse escapee."
"I suppose I can appreciate that," said Rachel. "I wouldn't be too happy with something like that myself."
"Course you wouldn't," said Faith. "You're always immaculate. Not a hair out of place and all that. Anyway, why're you walking 'round like that? I thought you'd be switching over straight away."
Rachel's expression took a bleak turn at that. That was not a topic she enjoyed thinking about.
"What?" asked Faith. "What's with the long face?"
"I do not suppose that you understand how my replacement limb works," said Rachel. "I don't suppose it matters really. To sum it up: I can't change anymore. Well, I could, but the consequences of it would not be pleasant and I could well end up a cripple."
"Wait a sec," said Faith. "A cripple? How?"
"The limb is wired into my central nervous system," said Rachel. "If the central nervous system changes while the limb's still attached . . . it wouldn't be pleasant."
"Shit, that sucks," said Faith. "No way around it?"
"Not that I can think of right now," said Rachel. "I don't really trust magic to work with this sort of technology so I'm at a loss. It's certainly not worth running the risk of crippling myself."
"You'll find a way, Darth," said Faith. "So quit it with the moping. Ah, hell with it."
Faith had obviously tired of using words to bolster Rachel's spirits at that point because she grabbed hold of the much taller woman and pulled her into a kiss that just about set the Jedi's blood to boil.
"See," said Faith as she released the rather stunned Rachel. "S'not the end of the world even if you are stuck. But you'll find a way. You always do."
Rachel just nodded somewhat dumbly. She hadn't been expecting that; that much was for sure. Jedi senses really didn't catch everything.
Later on that day, after she felt that Dawn had been ran suitably ragged, Rachel took her apprentice to an abandoned stretch of beach and sat her down in a meditative position. Rachel didn't think she'd ever seen anyone look as relieved as Dawn did when she told her that they were going to stop the physical training for a while.
"Close your eyes," instructed Rachel.
"Okay," said Dawn. "Now what?"
"Concentrate on your breathing," said Rachel. "In, out. In, out. Let the conscious world fade away. In, out. It's not important. In, out. Keep focussing on those breathes."
After a while, Rachel felt the change in Dawn's presence, a slight focussing that heralded the beginning stages of a new trainee consciously establishing their connection with the Force.
"I feel it," said Dawn in a breathless tone of voice. "I feel . . . everything. The rotation of the Earth, the tides, the birds in the sky, the people on the beach . . . I feel it all."
Rachel nodded though Dawn couldn't see her. This was, well, not quite normal, but expected.
"I feel so much," continued Dawn. "Too much. It hurts. It hurts! Make it stop!"
Rachel gathered her strength and reached out to stifle Dawn's fledgling connection to the Force. It took a surprising amount of effort, but then she'd never quite done such a thing before. You can't stifle an experienced Force user in such a way and Revan had never trained someone from scratch.
"That was the Force, Dawn," said Rachel. "You've taken your first steps into a larger world."
"I guessed that, Obi-Wan," said Dawn caustically. "But it hurt. No-one ever told me that it would hurt!"
"For most people it doesn't," said Rachel. "You have a far deeper connection to the Force than most can ever dream of having, Dawn, and the human mind can only process so much information at once."
"Oh wonderful," said Dawn. "So being a Jedi is going to hurt?"
"Oh no," said Rachel with a laugh. "You're not the first to have this problem, there's always one or two a generation that have it. It just means you're going to have to move a little quicker in your training that most would and learn to filter the inputs, so to speak, earlier than most would."
"Did you have it?"
"Oh yes," said Rachel. "I had it. So did Malak. Don't worry; it won't be too long before you can touch the Force at will without worries of pain."
"Of course," said Rachel. "I use the Force well enough, don't I? You know what? I think we'll start on those filters right now. No time like the present after all."
Teaching Dawn how to filter the information she received from the Force took the rest of the day. It was not an easy process, not for a neophyte at Dawn's level, but Dawn was not dull-witted and seemed to have the basics of the idea down by the time the sun fell.
That night when Rachel entered her bedroom in the hotel suite she found herself faced by the rather familiar but still very pleasant sight of a stark naked Faith.
"Yo, Darth," she said. "I got an itch that needs scratching. Problem?"
"Not at all," said Rachel, kicking the door closed and quickly erecting multiple silencing and privacy spells around the room. "Not at all."
Rachel didn't have the time, energy, or inclination to spare a thought for her missing male body that night, or for the other nights that Faith would spend with her that holiday.
It was several days later as Rachel watched Dawn huff her way through her currently assigned exercise - running the length of the beach while carrying a backpack full of rocks - that Mrs. Summers approached Rachel.
"I thought I signed my daughter up to be a Jedi, not a Navy SEAL," said Mrs. Summers looking somewhat town between amusement and anger.
Rachel tapped her chin in thought. "Well . . . Navy SEALs would be less educated than a Jedi normally," she said finally.
Mrs. Summers just gaped at her.
"Well, think of it this way," said Rachel. "She'll be able to run away from trouble really fast when I'm through with her."
Mrs. Summers still hadn't stopped gaping.
"It's necessary," said Rachel, taking on a more serious expression. "She's going into a dangerous profession, and I'm going to give Dawn every edge that I can. Physical fitness is damn useful, even for a Jedi. Healthy body, healthy mind - the principle applies to us just as much as normal people."
"But does the training have to be so . . . extreme?"
"Oh yes," said Rachel. "Once this holiday's over my time with Dawn will be much more limited. I need to get her into shape before she has schooling to deal with and I have my work interfering."
"It just seems so harsh," said Mrs. Summers. "She's only fifteen."
"It's a harsh world," said Rachel. "The Sith won't care that she's fifteen. Glory certainly didn't. Youth just makes her more malleable, more vulnerable to their twisted teachings."
"Can't you protect her from them?"
"To an extent," said Rachel with a small frown on her face. "I will protect Dawn with my life if necessary, but there's only one of me and I have many responsibilities these days. And the Sith are a cunning foe."
"That is not what I wanted to hear."
"Oh I wouldn't worry too much if I were you," said Rachel. "The Sith are highly unlikely to dare draw my attention at this stage. It'll be years before that'll seem like a good idea to them."
"Well, you might want to let mini-B off this one before she has a heart attack or something," said Faith. "She ain't looking too good out there."
"She's fine," said Rachel dismissively. "Just a little winded and sore from the weight. I'll send her off swimming when she's done with this and she'll be fine for the next exercise."
"Better her than me," muttered Buffy from her position sprawled out on a sun-lounger.
As the days passed, Dawn got stronger and stronger, and Rachel kept upping the requirements of the exercises she set. It was quite remarkable how quickly Dawn's physical condition improved but then she was unconsciously using the Force to extend her physical abilities by then so she could keep going long past the point when a normal person would drop down unable to continue, and she grew in strength much quicker for that.
And so Rachel found herself whittling out some wooden practice swords in her free-time as she left Dawn to a rather torturous series of flips and twists on a set of uneven bars she had conjured from the sand. It was time to begin on the area of training that everyone associated with Jedi - sword-fighting, though there wouldn't be lightsabres involved just yet.
When Dawn was finished with the uneven bars, Rachel tossed her a sword and rose to her feet.
"Today we will begin on the basics of lightsabre combat," announced Rachel. "We shall start with Form I, Shii-Cho."
"Without a lightsabre?" asked Dawn, looking somewhat perplexed.
"The principles are the same," said Rachel. "And it's a good idea for you to be familiar with physical weapons and not just lightsabres at this point in time. Swords are much easier to acquire."
"Right," said Dawn.
"Shii-Cho is the oldest and most basic form of lightsabre combat practiced," said Rachel. "It arose from ancient sword-fighting techniques practiced before the invention of the lightsabre and all other forms of lightsabre combat derive from it. In Earth terms, it is somewhat similar to kendo, though somewhat less rigid and formalised for sporting purposes.
"There are six target zones in Shii-Cho. The head, both arms, body, and both legs," said Rachel. "The form consists of parries and attacks that are designed to defend and attack these target zones as well as the training drills called velocities, or katas as they are known on Earth."
"Why are they called velocities?"
"I seriously have no idea," said Rachel. "But it's not really important. We'll start by working on your stance. The standard stance for lightsabre combat is the basic neutral stance. You hold your weapon at your waist so that it's pointed just above the head of your opponent - no, a little lower than that, the glow of a lightsabre blade would obscure your vision if you held it like that - and on your dominant side, so to the right for you. Also draw your dominant foot back - not that far back, Dawn - and, yes, that's it. Hold that. Remember that."
"Yes, like that," said Rachel. "Hold that. Memorise it. There are other stances but that one will never let you down."
Rachel then spent the next three hours running Dawn through the basic attacks and parries of the Shii-Cho form as well as some of the training drills that would allow her to master the moves. She was a quick study but somewhat over-eager and quick to leap before she had quite got the moves down. Nothing terribly out-of-line for a beginner really.
When Rachel was satisfied with Dawn's progress for the day with the sword, she moved on to hand-to-hand combat, using the Echani forms that she'd learned from Yusanis during the Mandalorian Wars. Of course, hand-to-hand combat attracted the attention of the two Slayers that had been up to that point quite content lounging around on the beach. Their involvement did not please Rachel. Suffice to say that Buffy and Faith bouncing around doing martial arts in their bikinis attracted far more attention from the others using the beach than Rachel was comfortable dealing with.
It was several days later, as Rachel was sparring with Dawn using the wooden swords and restricting herself to the Shii-Cho form, that she felt an all too familiar presence approaching and stiffened up. Dawn attempted to take advantage of the distraction but Rachel absent-mindedly batted her aside and turned to face the approaching presence.
"Hey," said Oz. Before he could say anything else, Rachel knocked him out cold with a beauty of a right hook that caught him flush on the point of his jaw. It would have done Muhammad Ali proud that punch.
"That was a bit harsh, wasn't it?" grumbled Dawn, picking herself up from where she had landed.
"He deserved it," said Rachel.
"I'm not talking about him," whined Dawn. "I'm talking about me. You didn't have to whack me around like that."
"Quite your whinging," said Rachel. "Or I'll have you run a marathon with Buffy sitting on your back."
"Yes, master," said Dawn quickly.
"I think that'll have to be all for today," said Rachel. "Go spend some time in the hotel's Jacuzzi or something because I'm going to work you hard tomorrow to make up for this interruption."
Dawn was gone before Rachel had even finished speaking. Rachel waited for her to reach a sufficient distance and then reached out with the nose and slapped Oz awake.
"Ouch," said Oz from his position sprawled out on the sand. "Was that really called for?"
"What do you want?" asked Rachel, her voice flat.
"Demons want to talk to you," said Oz. "Want to make peace."
Rachel actually laughed at that. "You're joking, right?" she asked. "Why on Earth would demons expect me to give a damn? And why would they want peace in the first place?"
"They're scared," said Oz simply. "They don't want to die."
"And?" asked Rachel.
"Not all demons are big on the evil," said Oz. "They just want to be left alone."
"I'm not seeing how this is my problem," said Rachel, though the part of her that was a good little Jedi experienced a twinge of conscience when she said that. "And what brought this on anyway?"
"I think having just about every Wolfram and Hart office in the world suddenly go boom might have something to do with it," said Oz. "Kinda makes people sit up and pay attention."
"I suppose it would," said Rachel. "But why send you?"
"I'm a werewolf," said Oz.
"And they thought this would endear you to me?" asked Rachel.
"No-one else to send that you wouldn't just kill," said Oz. "And we were friends."
"I suppose so," said Rachel. "So what do these non-evil demons want from me?"
"They want to talk to you," said Oz. "There's a club in LA, Caritas, ran by a demon. Faith'll know it. Anyway, he's a pretty good guy and he's speaking for the neutral and good demons on this."
"And you're sure this isn't an ambush of some sort?" asked Rachel. "Not some stupid attempt to get rid of me?"
"Caritas has anti-violence wards," said Oz. "No fighting allowed."
"I suppose it can't hurt to listen," said Rachel. "I haven't been on enough insane missions recently anyway."
"Cool," said Oz. "I'll tell him you'll show up sometime."
"You do that," said Rachel, turning away to make her own way back to the hotel.
"Is Willow here?" asked Oz before Rachel could leave, his voice unmistakably hopeful by Oz's standards.
"No, she isn't," said Rachel turning around to face Oz once more. "Right now isn't a good time for you to show up in Willow's life, Oz. She's got issues to deal with, and you showing up won't help. All that unresolved stuff would just get in the way. If you care about her, truly care about her, then you'll at least leave it for a few months till she's in a state to deal with you."
"Right," said Oz, shoving his hands into his pockets and affecting an air of not being bothered. "Well, I suppose I'll see you later then."
"The others might want to see you, you know," said Rachel.
"Doubt it," said Oz. "I have places I have to be anyway."
And then he was gone. Rachel made no attempt to stop him.
"You are joking," said Giles. "Right?"
Given the looks Rachel was receiving, it seemed that everyone else in the group agreed with Gile's assessment of what she had told them.
"I sensed no deception from Oz," said Rachel. "And his aura bore no signs of training in the abilities required to deceive my senses; it was as unfocussed as any normal person's aura."
"He could have been deceived himself," pointed out Giles. "While he is an intelligent young man, he is not infallible."
"Good demons," said Faith. "Since when?"
Rachel shrugged. "I have no idea," she said. "I suppose there must be some or they'd all just be out killing and not hanging around in demon bars for their food. I think it's worth checking out."
"You what?" said Mrs. Summers. "This has 'trap' written all over it."
Rachel shrugged. "Sometimes the best way to deal with a trap is to spring it and see what happens," she said.
"You're insane," announced Buffy. "Seriously, you are. For all you know, there could be an army of demons there waiting for you."
"Buffy's right," said Giles. "It's far too likely that there'll be some sort of trap there waiting for you and the trap they'd use for you at this stage would be horrendous."
"You're forgetting something," said Rachel. "The Force is strong with me. I'd kinda notice a trap that big before it was sprung and be able to take steps."
"I think you have too much faith in your abilities," said Mrs. Summers. "Why risk your life like this?"
"Because it is my duty," said Rachel. "And I'll take HK with me anyway; maybe even get a detachment of X-COM troops with me as well. I won't be unprepared."
"Well I'm coming with you too," said Faith. "I know 'bout the place and it's supposed to be peaceful, but I ain't trusting that with your life."
"Me too," said Buffy. "Two Slayers and a Jedi . . . they won't want to face that."
"You . . . you can't be serious," sputtered Mrs. Summers. "You're going to risk your lives on the small chance that this isn't a trap?"
"Oh I'll minimise the risk," said Rachel. "I'll go in with enough force in backup that they'll rue the day they ever crossed me if they tried anything, but I don't think this is a trap . . . it just doesn't feel like one, it feels genuine."
Mrs. Summers could not be convinced of the correctness of Rachel's decision but this was not something Rachel would be swayed on. She would go. And she would listen.
The rest of the holiday proceeded relatively uneventfully by the standards of someone who was raised in Sunnydale. There were no demon attacks, no random dark witches stirring up trouble, and no bizarre events with random interactions of mystical energies and human belief. So it was quiet. Of course, for Dawn, a demon attack would have been most welcome, because Rachel ran her ragged and gave her almost no respite.