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Buffy Novel: Siblings 1/5

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  • leroygibin
    Hi everyone, this is my first fan fiction work, a Buffy novel called Siblings. Though not yet finished, it s already pretty big so I will post it one chapter
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 21, 2007
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      Hi everyone,

      this is my first fan fiction work, a Buffy novel called Siblings.
      Though not yet finished, it's already pretty big so I will post it one
      chapter at a time. I'll try to upload the entire 5 chapter set I have
      completed as one file into the files section later on. The Word
      format takes up 1.2MB so I'll probably have to zip it up. Anyways,
      comments are very welcome, including critisism (as long as it's at
      least somewhat constructive). Thanks in advance for taking your time
      to read this.


      *Siblings*


      *Author: *Leroy Gibin, leroygibin@....


      *Disclaimer*: This work is based on characters owned by Mutant Enemy,
      Inc. They are used without authorization, but in good faith. All
      characters not created by Mutant Enemy belong to me. This work may be
      distributed freely as long as it is without charge, in its entirety and
      unaltered.



      *Please read the following FAQ first*


      *1) What is this?*

      This is a fan fiction novel based on characters and stories created by
      Mutant Enemy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer(BtVS) and Angel television
      series.


      *2) What is it about?*

      The book is mainly about Buffy and Dawn, but most of BtVS characters are
      involved to a varying degree. It starts in January of 2004,
      approximately 8 months after the end of Season 7 of BtVS, and ends in
      the summer of 2004. While it can be considered a "Season 8" based on the
      time frame it is a novel, a few tightly integrated storylines, not a
      dozen or so of somewhat interconnected episodes that ordinarily comprise
      a television series. This work is rated "R" for Violence, Adult
      Language, Adult Content, and Some Sexual Content.


      *3) Plot Summary, tag line?*

      I hate plot summaries. I find them to be either useless or revealing too
      much. I hate tag lines, too, they always sound stupid. If I have to pick
      between the two, I choose the following tag line: "/A horrifying ordeal
      leads Dawn to search for her path, while Buffy and the slayers try to
      stave off another apocalypse./" Hmm.. I was right, it does sound stupid.


      *4) Why is it unfinished?*

      It was never my intention to release a partially done work, however
      circumstances beyond my control have forced me to submit this work to
      the public before it is completed. The thing is that I don't do season
      rewrites. Not that I think Joss & Co are beyond criticism, but it's one
      thing to say "this could have been done better" and another "I could do
      it better". I simply am not willing to make that leap. I have began this
      work when it became clear that there will be no Season 8 of BtVS, no
      Willow spin-off, no Faith spin-off, no Reaper spin-off, no made-for-tv
      movies about the beloved characters. In this environment I've worked on
      my book with clear conscience only to find out in October that Season 8
      of Buffy will indeed make an appearance in comic book form this March.
      As a fan, the news was thrilling, as a writer, very disheartening.
      There's absolutely no way I can finish this work before the first issue
      of the comic comes out. I don't want this novel to be perceived as a
      Season 8 rewrite drawing almost definitely unfavorable comparison to the
      real thing. The chapters I'm releasing now comprise about 40% of the
      novel, which should be enough for a reader to render judgment. Sure,
      100% would have been far better, and while I like to thing that the
      books gets better as it goes along, and later revelations and plot
      twists enhance the understanding and enjoyment of earlier chapters, the
      fact is if you think the first 40% of the book sucked you'll probably
      hate the rest.


      *5) Will it be finished?*

      Absolutely. Finishing this work is the highest priority longer term goal
      I have in my life (is that sad?). Barring my unforeseen and untimely
      death this book will get done.


      *6) When is the next installment?*

      As I have stated earlier, I prefer to release the novel as a whole. One
      of the advantages of a book versus television is the ability to go back
      to earlier chapters and make small correction to allow cool new ideas to
      be employed in the later chapters without creating plot holes. That
      said, the detailed outline of the novel has been completed and since I
      don't have a problem of contract disputes and cast changes I will
      consider releasing each chapter as it's completed if there's sufficient
      interest.


      *7) How does it mesh with Season 5 of Angel?*

      Perfectly, I hope. This brings us to the important and complex question
      of canon. The short answer is that this novel follows BtVS and Angel
      cannon 100%. If, while reading, you feel that this is not the case, feel
      free to start an email argument with me. Before you do that, however,
      please read the separate section at the bottom of my definition of
      "canon". This is a general discussion of what "canon" means on a
      television show with specific examples from Buffy, Angel, and others.


      *8) What about all the virtual Season 8's out there?*

      I wouldn't know. I'm a very impressionable person, obviously, or I would
      be writing original work instead of fanfiction. To make sure I didn't
      "borough" anything from other people's writings I am refraining from
      reading any fanfiction until I finish this novel. There are bound to be
      some similarities somewhere since we're all basing our work on the same
      characters and storylines of BtVS, but any such similarities are
      coincidental.


      *9) How do you want your feedback?*

      In large quantities :) Please send your comments, whether praise, or
      not, to my email address, leroygibin@.... I'll do my best to
      respond to all email; flames will be ignored.


      *10) Anything else?*

      I apologies in advance for any spelling and grammatical errors you're
      likely to encounter. I did my best to weed them out, but I'm likely to
      have missed some. Also, if you know a fanfiction site, or a newsgroup
      where this work will be a good fit, let me know.


      Thank you very much for reading. At least this far :)


      *Canon on a Television Series (feel free to skip this if not interested)*

      Once in a while a television series comes along that creates more than
      memorable characters and stories, but a new world, a new reality, so
      vivid and captivating that it is embraced by the fans with seriousness
      usually reserved for the reality around us. Star Trek is the most famous
      example. Bufferverse is another. In these cases continuity and
      compliance acquire a whole different level of importance. A given
      storyline cannot ignore or contradict earlier storylines. The definition
      of the word "canon" is "a set of laws". In case of a television series
      it is a set of facts about characters and events that are considered
      true and must be obied by in future storylines. As the series continue,
      its canon expands. The question is then what facts fall under canon? The
      short answer is "everything that happens on the series is canon". The
      key word here is "happens". What does "happens" mean on a television
      series? We are all familiar with the concept of a plot twist. We watch
      an episode, or a series of episodes thinking that certain things are
      happening, but later a revelation is made and we realize that something
      completely different was happening. The revelation didn't change the
      earlier episode. It's still there, exactly as it was. What happened,
      happened. What changed was our perception of what has happened. The
      later episode didn't break the canon set earlier, it re-interpreted the
      events. Events are canon, but interpretation is not. How do we separate
      the two? I like to apply a "court witness" test. Those of us who have
      seen Law&Order or re-runs of Matlock (though they would never admit even
      in aforementioned court) know that first hand accounts are admissible,
      but hearsay is not. What we see on screen is canon, but what we are told
      happened off screen is not. Let's say Spike comes over and tells Buffy
      he just ripped the head off some demon. He might be telling the truth.
      He might also be bragging. It could even be that it was some ass-faced
      demon and Spike ripped off a part different than what he was thinking,
      an honest mistake. The act of him saying the words would be canon, the
      act of him ripping off the head is not. Characters lie. Characters make
      mistakes. Even oracles and prophecies are not irrefutable as witnessed
      in the whole "father will kill the son" fiasco. Even supposedly
      established facts of the show can be flipped on their head with a
      reasonable explanation, as it was with the "arrival of Jasmine" expose
      by Skip. Interestingly, Angel writers seem much more open to drastic
      reinterpretations, while BtVS tends to be fairly straightforward. Of
      course, as with any tool, one must know the limits of good taste with
      reinterpretations. I'm pretty sure that on a dare I can create a
      construct where Buffy is an amnesiac alien from planet Zorg, Dawn is an
      agent of MiB assigned to watch her, and Anya is actually 7of9 sent back
      in time to protect the Earth from a new breed of Borg known as Bringers.
      Changing the inherent nature and motivation of the main cast is a big
      no. No declaring parts of the show "dream sequences" or "alternate
      realities", that's a cheap way out. Other than that, I see no taboos. I
      love logic games and a good reinterpretation thrills me. In fact, one of
      the motivators for writing my novel were all those glaring plot holes in
      Season 7. Their presence is understandable, the fate of the show was
      unclear, there were possibilities of spin-offs. As behind the scenes
      circumstances changed, new plot lines were created, old ones abandoned
      and season turned out to be pretty messy. Or so it would seem. What if
      that's not case? What if all those plot holes are not plot holes at all,
      but rather openings from which the storylines for future
      seasons/shows/tv-movies were to be weaved? Assuming that's the case I
      decided to give my best shot of figuring out what these might be. Here
      it is.




      *Chapter 1: Frantic*


      Cipriani was unusually empty even for this time of day, but Alberto
      Tartaglia proffered it this way. While he enjoyed the city life in
      general, he never liked the hassle and bustle in his immediate vicinity.
      He preferred to take his time to enjoy his food such as the wonderful
      scallops in front of him and to observe an occasional patron of the
      establishment, such as the pretty young blond apparently heading his way.

      "Alberto Tartaglia?," asked the young woman with a distinct American
      accent.

      "What can I do for such a beautiful senorita?" smiled Tartaglia. The
      answer came in the form of a knockout punch to the face of his
      bodyguard, Roberto. The unconscious man's body slumped under the table.
      If Tartaglia was planning on voicing any surprise or protest to this
      sudden attack he could only do so to the indifferent scallops on his
      plate where his face was being pressed into by this rather ill-mannered
      individual.

      "My name is Buffy Summers. " he heard the girl speak. "Your people took
      my sister. I want her back right now, or I will permanently merge your
      head with the tableware." The unintelligible noise from the plate
      prompted Buffy to lift Tartaglia's head a few inches off the plate. "You
      were saying?"

      "There must be some mistake," Tartaglia had a hard time catching his
      breath. The sauce was running down his face and getting into his mouth
      and nostrils. "My people didn't kidnap anybody." Immediately his head
      was bashed into the plate again, this time with a much greater force.

      "I know for a fact that the men that have taken her work for the Vizzini
      family. I know for a fact that you are their Captain here, in Rome,
      which means they work for you. And I know for a fact that if I change
      the angle of your head like this, I'll drive you nose cartilage straight
      into your brain on the next hit."

      "Please, " Along with the sauce Tartaglia was now spitting out blood
      pouring into his mouth from the broken nose and a bitten tongue.
      "Please. Those were not my men."

      "You did not just say that," Buffy's hand tightened the grip on her
      captive's hair and pulled back slightly as if preparing for a hit.

      "No! Please!" cried the mobster. "I'll explain. The Don, he sent his own
      men here. For a special assignment. He didn't say what."

      "Where are they?"

      "I don't.." Tartaglia did not get to finish as Buffy threw him backwards
      into the wall. She threw over the table with her left hand and punched
      Roberto, who was starting to come to, in the head with the right.
      Stepping over his hulking mass, she lifted up Tartaglia by the throat
      until his feet were no longer touching the ground and slammed him
      against the wall.

      "Whatever you're on," hissed Tartaglia, "I think we can make big money
      off of it."

      "You think this is a joke?"

      Tartaglia tried to smile, but the menacing intensity in the eyes of the
      Slayer sent shivers down his spine.

      "No. I think you're a very determined young woman, but I don't know
      anything else." For a few moments Buffy stared at the man, trying to
      decide if he was telling the truth. Suddenly she let go. Tartaglia
      collapsed to the floor, coughing and wheezing. Buffy reached into his
      inner pocket and pulled out his cell phone. She then grabbed Tartaglia's
      head and stuffed the phone into his mouth.

      "Make the calls and find out where they've taken my sister. I'll find
      you in a couple hours. Chao."


      Buffy's life in Rome didn't start out too badly. The plane landed
      slightly ahead of schedule. The apartment picked out by Giles was
      unexpectedly nice. As any other big city, Rome was rife with vampiric
      and demonic activity, but just as she expected, the newly activated
      slayers were more than eager to take over. Led by Stefka, one of the few
      Watcher educated Potentials that was not massacred by the First last
      year, they quickly covered both patrol and extermination duties. The
      only time Buffy needed to use her strength was to open olive jars for
      her sister. Dawn would pop them like peanuts in front of the TV and
      occasionally swear at the bumbling AC Roma players. The entire scene
      looked so out of place that it would invariably draw taunts from her
      older sister, not unlike the one that began their conversation less than
      a month ago.

      "I'm happy you're becoming more Italiany, Dawn. But did you have to turn
      into a guy?"

      Dawn momentarily turned her head to greet her and quickly turned her
      attention back to the screen.

      "You just don't get it, Buffy, /futbol/, by its very nature is a
      quintessential girl sport."

      "In America, maybe."

      "No, that's not what I mean," Dawn popped another two olives. "What's
      the first thing people notice about soccer?"

      "Nobody ever scores?" Buffy put on her slippers and went into the kitchen.

      "Precisely! Low scoring," Dawn continued a little louder. "Basketball,
      that's a guy's sport. It's expected that a basket will be made every
      thirty seconds or so, so all you get is a few high fives and move on.
      Soccer, on the other hand, is very unpredictable. You can go twenty,
      thirty, or even forty minutes before you achieve the big Gooooooal. But
      when you do, there's a really big celebration that lasts a minute or
      two. Of course, sometimes despite all the work being put in you get no
      Goooal at all, which while frustrating, is, unfortunately, a fact of
      life," Dawn turned to her sister who just exited the kitchen with two
      glasses of lemonade and a mildly horrified expression on her face. "What?"

      "Nothing. These are exactly the kind of things I want coming out of my
      little sister's mouth. Why couldn't it have been a Catholic school? I
      had the brochures," Buffy handed one of the glasses to Dawn and sat on
      the couch beside her. "And why is there still soccer in the middle of
      winter?"

      "It's middle of summer, actually. Roma's doing a bunch friendlies in
      Brazil and Argentina," said Dawn taking a sip from the glass. "How did
      you orientation at the university go?"

      "Great," said Buffy pretending to watch the little striped figures
      moving chaotically on the screen. "There are a lot of interesting things
      to consider. "

      Dawn turned her head and stared intently at her sister who was still
      futilely pretending to watch TV.

      "And what did the Chosen One choose?"

      "I'm still weighing my options," replied Buffy in a slow, absent tone.

      "Did you even go?" Dawn's voice started to hit the high notes as it
      always did when she became angry or overly frustrated.

      "Of course I went. See all that pretty glossy paper?" Buffy pointed to
      the stack on the coffee table.

      "They have those at the door."

      "I went."

      "The full three hours?"

      Buffy didn't respond.

      "You promised me you'd go!" Dawn's frustration was really gushing now.
      Buffy put down her glass and got off the couch before facing her sister.
      Dawn has grown a full three inches taller than her, and while Buffy had
      no issues telling off an eight foot demon, the height advantage of her
      younger sibling made her uncomfortable.

      "And I did. But in case you didn't notice, I already have a little job
      called the Chairman of the Slayers' Council."

      "So you were at the clubhouse the rest of the day?"

      "That's right. Taking care of official slayer business," Buffy watched
      as Dawn stood up as well, took another sip of her glass and with that
      all knowing look she has so often seen on their mother's face said,

      "You do know that I'm going with Stefka to the movies tonight?"

      "You have to stop that, Dawn. You don't get to tell me what to do."

      "Then who? If not me, who? Mom's dead. Dad's in... in locations unknown,
      and Giles is in England. It just us, Buffy. Me and you. So it's up to me
      to take care of you."

      "Take care of me? I'm your older sister, Dawn, and you're taking care of
      me?" Buffy pronounced dramatically with a badly faked Italian accent.
      Dawn grimaced as though she accidentally drank unsweetened grapefruit
      juice.

      "That is quite possibly the most horrible Godfather imitation I ever
      heard. Please tell me that you're not doing this in front of other
      people."

      "No, just pets. Yesterday at the park I saw two dogs going at it and I
      told them that I hope their first child will be a masculine child,"
      smiled Buffy, quite pleased that she was able to lighten the mood so
      successfully.

      "You know, Buffy," Dawn grew serious again, "I just worry sometimes."

      "Well, don't. So I didn't do much today, but my night is going to be
      pretty busy."

      "Oh?"

      "Yeah. And I'm going to start by getting a broom from the kitchen closet."

      "You're going to clean? That's your big plan?"

      "No, I'm going to use it to chase you away from the TV and into your
      room to study for that Trigonometry final."

      "Sounds like fun."

      "Loads of it. And I get to do it every night for the next four weeks."

      "Actually, it's three."

      "Then we better not waste anymore broom chasing time," said Buffy and
      pretend lunged at her sister.


      They took her then. Coming out of the Mathematics building. They grabbed
      her and shoved her into a van. Her backpack tore, spilling its contents
      onto the side of the road. Samira tried to chase down the car, but all
      she could bring back to Buffy were pencils, two lined notebooks, and a
      copy of Trigonometria Avanzata. The ransom call came just an hour later.
      It would have been so much easier if they just asked for money. The
      leads were numerous, but the time was short. With less than two hours
      left in her six hour deadline, Buffy headed from Cipriani to the
      clubhouse where under the pretentious name of International Women's
      Youth League the Slayer school conducted its training. Buffy found Dino
      Parreli in the study staring into space, opened books covering the desk
      in front of him. The elderly Watcher has joined the Rome office less
      than two months ago. Slaughtered along with their charges by the First's
      disciples, their headquarters in London blown to smithereens, the
      Watchers became a scarce commodity with less than a dozen active members
      around the globe. Giles has ran himself rugged trying to entice his
      ex-colleagues back from retirement and the private sector to help
      educate the hundreds of newly activated slayers. The seventy-eight year
      old Parreli was one of a few that agreed to give the organization a
      second spin. He was a right fit for Rome, where he could concentrate on
      teaching theory and leave the practical weapons training to Buffy.

      "Well?" Buffy shouted impatiently from the doorway. Parreli slowly
      turned his head and stared at her for a moment, then took off the
      reading glasses and looked again at the Slayer who was now standing next
      to him.

      "Anything?"

      "I found no record of the Scythe being used in dark rituals. In fact,
      when miss Rosenberg used it to turn all Potentials into slayers, it was
      the first recorded non-battle use of the weapon. However, it is one of
      the most powerful artifacts on record, so I am sure it has varied
      applications."

      "If I knew what the Vizzinis want with the Scythe, then I could trade it
      for Dawn and get it back before they do whatever it is they want to do
      with it. I cannot just give them this weapon and hope for the best!"

      "I'm sorry I can't be of more assistance. If it helps, I am confident
      that miss Rosenberg's spell is irreversible, even with the Scythe. The
      slayers she activated will have their powers for life," Parrelli was
      speaking in a low, tired voice, trying in vain to maintain eye contact
      with Buffy who was kept pacing around his desk. Suddenly she stopped.

      "Good. Let me know if you find anything else," and she walked out the
      room. Parreli sighed and put the reading glasses back on. Europe's
      oldest and most prestigious occult organization is being run by a young
      American girl with no manners. Things have certainly changed.


      The old man was not entirely correct. While Buffy was the official head
      of the Slayers' Council, the day-to-day operations were run by her
      ex-Watcher Rupert Giles from the reconstructed London office, and to a
      lesser extent, by Willow Rosenberg from Rio, and while the latter was
      also a young American girl, the red headed witch's manners were
      impeccable. At the moment this quality was coming under a ferocious
      assault as Buffy called her for the sixth time in the last hour and
      twenty seven minutes.

      "I need good news, Will, and I need them now."

      "Actually, I have managed a minor breakthrough."

      "You don't sound too pleased"

      "Well..," the witch's voice indeed sounded rather bleak with a sprinkle
      of fake cheerfulness put on for her friend's sake. "I've determined with
      certainty that Dawny is alive and is somewhere in south-central Italy,
      so that's something."

      "Yeah, that's just this side of nothing. Forget it, just get down here.
      We'll need you for the storm of Vizzini's compound."

      "You think Dawn is there?"

      "Maybe. It's not like you're giving me a better option."

      "I'm really sorry, Buffy. Whoever put up these locator spell barriers
      really knew what they were doing. I'm sure I can break through with a
      little more time."

      "You can continue working on it when you get here. How long will it take
      you?"

      "I'll need half an hour or so to get the supplies together and I'll
      teleport right over."

      "Half an hour then," said Buffy and hung up. For a moment she wondered
      at what point did Willow's teleportation ability begin to be taken for
      granted. Then again if the witch managed to bring her back from the dead
      two years ago, what's so hard about moving people and objects on the
      mortal plane? It certainly helped them save a lot of money on air fare
      in the first few lean months, before Giles was able to reestablish some
      of the financing channels of the defunct Watchers' Council. After her
      spell transforming Potentials into slayers, Willow was widely regarded
      as the most powerful witch in this world which made their current
      predicament all the more alarming. Whoever has kidnapped Dawn wasn't
      trying to get the Scythe for its archaeological value, if they are able,
      at least temporarily, to match strength with Willow. With these thoughts
      running through her head Buffy took a left into in dorm corridor and
      opened the door to Stefka's room.


      Discovered as a Potential Slayer at the tender age of eight, Stefka
      Bulanova spent almost ten years with the Watchers. Watcher educated
      Potentials were the first to fall under the knifes of the First's
      Bringers. Suddenly the opportunity to prepare for their possible destiny
      as the Slayer no longer seemed as attractive as the relative safety in
      anonymity of being undiscovered. Most of those who managed to escape did
      so by fleeing to Buffy's protection in California. Stefka was one of
      only seven that survived without her. Her advanced knowledge of
      demonology and superb fighting skills have quickly propelled her to a
      top position in Rome. As weeks went by Buffy even let Stefka replace her
      as the slayers' regular fighting instructor. They sparred together a few
      times, with Stefka invariably throwing the fight in a way that would
      appear natural to the spectators.

      "You don't think I can beat you on my own?" Buffy asked her after
      another one of their sessions.

      "No, " the lanky girl answered, wiping her face with a towel. "You're
      very strong, your reaction time is excellent, and you have a few nice
      original moves, but you severely lack formal training and your overall
      strategy is absolutely incoherent. At full strength I would defeat you
      on that mat every time."

      "Oh, that's it!" Buffy was indignant. "Get your overeducated ass back in
      the training room and I'll teach you some manners that apparently your
      Watcher didn't cover!"

      "You misunderstand me. The reason I win is because it is not a fair
      fight. You can't use your most powerfully weapon."

      "You think Mr. Pointy has magical powers?"

      "I didn't mean your stake. The reason you're the greatest Slayer who has
      ever lived is because God has given you strength beyond all who came
      before you or since. Strength which you are able to tap to defeat any
      enemy when it matters, no matter its strength or skill. The reason you
      don't win against me is because you know you don't have to. I don't
      stand a chance against you in a real fight. I understand that, and, in
      time everyone else will too. For now it is easier this way, and it's
      right. The outcome they see might be fake, but it is a higher truth. "

      "So lying is good now, huh?" Buffy smiled tentatively, unsure as how she
      was supposed to react to this compliment. "I definitely have to check
      out your church."

      Stefka smiled back and left the locker room without saying another word.
      Buffy wasn't sure if she might have offended her. She didn't have much
      experience interacting with devout religious people. Insane cult
      leaders, shamans, and warlocks, sure, but not the regular church going
      folk. Stefka was more than just church going. While she cut down on the
      Jesus references as more slayers from the Middle East joined the school,
      her speeches, instructions, and examples were decidedly sermon-like,
      full of religious overtones. Her free time was also spent in a similar
      fashion. Aside from regular, twice-a-week, visits to the church, she
      prayed in her room daily for quite lengthy periods of time.


      This day was no exception. As she expected Buffy found Stefka in her
      room, kneeling before the icon of St. Nicholas. This time there were two
      candles in front of it. As she heard Buffy enter, Stefka immediately
      jumped to her feet and turned to face her teacher. She was almost six
      inches taller than Buffy. Her long straw blond hair, tied into a single
      braid, went down her back to the point where the dark brown pants met
      the dark gray shirt.

      "Anything new?" she asked, her large blue eyes transfixed upon the Slayer.

      "I have confirmed that Dawn's abduction order came from the top, which
      makes it more likely we'll have to attack Vizzini's mansion in Modica.
      Andrew has just arrived there. He should start sending you
      reconnaissance photos at any moment."

      "I'll restart the drills as soon as we have the layout of the compound.
      If you want to go over the final make up of the team.."

      "It's alright," Buffy interrupted, "You spent more time training them
      than I have. I trust your judgment."

      Stefka nodded politely.

      "I should speak to them though, shouldn't I? They've been trained to
      handle demons with swords, not thugs with M-16s. I would go by myself,
      but there's just too many exits to cover.."

      Stefka reached out and gave Buffy's hand a tender squeeze.

      "It's Dawn." she said. "Everybody understands. They're all eager to help."

      Had it come from any other person Buffy would not have believed it, but
      she knew Stefka would never lie to her. This strange devotion the girl
      had for her was as comforting right now as it was unnerving just a few
      weeks ago.

      "It's weird", she complained once to Dawn over breakfast. "She makes me
      feel like I'm some sort of a supreme cult leader."

      "Really? How strange. I mean, it's not like you have a bunch of young
      girls who left behind their families and possessions to live under you
      hospice in a heavily fortified compound chock full of various weaponry."

      "Oh my god. You right, I'm David Koresh!"

      "Nah " Dawn shook her head, pouring milk into her bowl. "You're not a
      true cult leader until you start having sex with you disciples."

      "Kennedy!" both exclaimed simultaneously and laughed.

      "Her eyes seemed to wonder the last time she was here, didn't they?"

      "I don't think it's anything," Buffy answered, chopping her pancakes
      with a fork. "She and Willow seem pretty solid."

      "Willow is solid. Kennedy.. She seemed kind of restless. And we both
      know there's only one reason a girl like that gets her tongue pierced,
      and it's not a fashion statement."

      "Oh? And what would that reason be?"

      There was a long uncomfortable silence as Dawn kept her eyes fixed on
      her cereal trying to avoid the older sister's stern glare.

      "So, " she finally spoke, still not daring to lift her head. "I wouldn't
      worry too much about Stefka. At least not until she gets a St. Buffy
      icon to go with her St. Nicholas."

      "And that's another thing, what is with her and that icon? What is she's
      praying for all the time, better Christmas presents? Suddenly, a letter
      to the North Pole is no longer good enough? Santa's pet!"

      Dawn responded with undecipherable gurgling sounds as she was choking on
      her cereal.

      "Aaah, " she finally sighed with relief and wiped little droplets of
      milk from under her nose. "That's funny. Actually I looked that up. For
      the Orthodox St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and lost
      children. He has nothing to do with their Christmas. "

      "Good, " said Buffy, still in the same mockingly stern voice. "Because
      my Secret Santa limit is thirty euros, regardless of who I end up with."


      Buffy left the school for the meet with plenty of time to spare. She
      gave the assembled strike team a quick look over, but left most of the
      speechifying to Stefka. The part about the enemy being out to get all of
      the slayers, while possibly true given their desire for the Scythe,
      would have seemed too self serving coming from her. Besides, Buffy
      wanted to run through the possible conversation with the kidnappers a
      few more times in her head. She was confident she could extend the
      deadline by a few hours. The designated phone booth was empty. Buffy
      made a few quick glances up and down the street and seeing nothing out
      of ordinary, walked in. Small confined spaces have always made her
      uncomfortable, even before she had to claw out of her own coffin. At
      least this one was vertical. She checked for dial tone, then for loose
      change. She spent the next few moments trying to read the French version
      of the calling instructions. She knew she was being watched and tried to
      appear as confident and as nonchalant as possible. Suddenly a knock came
      on the booth door. Buffy turned and saw a thirteen year old boy on a
      bicycle.

      "It's busy. Go away!" she shouted through the door. The boy knocked again.

      "There's no way you can be both blind and death," said Buffy opening the
      door. "Beat it before I beat you!"

      "I was told to give this to you," the boy handed her a small wooden box.

      "To me?" Buffy gave him a puzzled look.

      "Yes, a man told me to give this to a blond American woman that will
      come to this phone at ten." Buffy looked suspiciously at the box, then
      the boy.

      "What man?"

      The boy shrugged. "A man. I don't know. Gave me ten euros to give this
      to you. Oh, and a message, too"

      "A message?"

      The boy looked up at the sky for a second, trying to remember. "It went
      like this, 'We thought you could use a three hour extension. If you wish
      to purchase more, let us know, you have credit for another seven.'"

      "Is that all?"

      "That's all," said the boy. "Then he got into a blue fiat and drove away."


      Alberto Tartaglia was pouring himself a glass of wine when he thought he
      heard a commotion outside the room. The kids were supposed to be
      upstairs asleep, and the wife, while prone to throwing dishes and vases,
      wouldn't do it out there with him at home, she always preferred a
      target. He moved towards the study doors just as they were thrown off
      the hinges.

      "I was beginning to wonder what was keeping you," smirked Tartaglia.
      Buffy didn't answer, but menacingly approached the mobster.

      "Hey, hey, " Tartaglia raised his arms in a sign of surrender. "I've
      been a good boy, I got the information you wanted." Buffy stopped, still
      without dropping a word.

      "The name is Adriano Chelli. He is the Capo in Napoli. Vizzini trusts
      him more than his own sons. He got here two days ago with a couple of
      other guys that no one's heard of, " Tartaglia took a long sip from the
      glass and continued. "They got a couple of cars from Consta Moisiu, the
      Albanian mechanic on the south side. Stolen, of course, but with proper
      paperwork and plates. They inquired about discrete residences, too, but
      didn't like what they were offered. I would guess they found something
      elsewhere."

      "What does he look like?" Buffy finally spoke.

      "Chelli? Young guy, late twenties. About meter eighty. Seventy five
      kilos or so. Wears a big golden pinky ring."

      "Tattoos?"

      "Probably, but nothing visible."

      "Cars' descriptions, license plates"

      "Couldn't get them, you'll need to talk to Consta personally." Tartaglia
      picked up a small paper and handed it to the Slayer. "This is the shop's
      address."

      Buffy took the paper and put it in her jeans pocket.

      "This is your life, here," she said. "You better not have lied to me."

      "Break my face once, shame on you. Break my face twice, shame on me,"
      smiled Tartaglia, scratching his bandaged nose. Once Buffy disappeared
      through the now doorless doorway, he took out his cellphone and
      carefully stepped into the corridor.

      "You know the grease monkey you talked with at Moisiu shop?" he spoke to
      the person on the other end as he walked. "This is not getting traced
      back to us, do you understand?" "No, someone is heading there right now.
      Take care of this once she leaves." Tartaglia hung up. That cocksucker
      Chelli thinks he can just stroll onto his turf and stir trouble? Let's
      see him handle this crazy bitch. He stopped at the front door and sighed
      looking at once again unconscious Roberto slumped over the wall with his
      head jammed through the boards. "I really should get more bodyguards."


      The main conference room was reminiscent of scene in a police detective
      movie. The slayers were typing away at computers, answering the phones.
      Samira was the first to see Buffy enter and tugged Stefka on the sleeve
      to get her attention.

      "I have dispatched everyone except for the strike team to sweep the
      city." she said, running up to the Slayer. "The rest are checking all
      the city cameras for the plates you've given us. It's just a matter of
      time."

      "Time we don't have," Buffy answered grimly. "Willow?"

      Before Stefka could answer her, Buffy's phone broke out into a high
      pitched version of "Night on the Bald Mountain".

      "Where the hell are you?" she shouted into the microphone.

      "Milan, I'm boarding a plane right now," the witch sounded tired, almost
      resigned.

      "Milan? Plane?!"

      "Whatever is blocking the locator spell, is messing with my
      teleportation. I've been bouncing all over Europe and North Africa.
      Milan is the closest I've been able to get. I decided it'll be safer to
      just fly from here, then risk ending up in the middle of the Sahara
      again."

      Buffy closed her eyes trying hard to maintain self control.

      "How long?"

      "Including the drive from the airport? Two hours at most. Will that
      work? When is the exchange?"

      Willow didn't get her answer as Buffy was bashing the phone against the
      desk in a fit of frustrated fury. The work and conversation in the room
      stopped as everyone was staring at Buffy with fearful curiosity. Finally
      she stopped and unclenched her fist. What could only be qualified as
      phone dust sipped through her fingers onto the floor.

      "Give me your phone," she turned to Samira.

      "Mine has terrible reception.." she scrambled, "And the battery is low..
      take Kate's."

      "Mine?" the freckled redhead jumped up. "It's even worse. It barely
      functions.. I don't think I even have it with me.."

      "Here," Stefka handed Buffy hers. "What did Willow say?"

      "Her teleportation spell is not working well, she's taking a plane from
      Milan." The words were coming out slowly, mechanically as Buffy was
      looking past Stefka, half lost in her own thoughts.

      "Wait a minute, if Willow can't do teleportation, how are we supposed to
      get to the Vizzini compound?" Buffy walked out of the room without
      answering.

      "So what do we do?" Samira asked Stefka.

      "You and your retarded phone are coming with me. The rest of you, keep
      searching for Dawn!" she shouted running out after Buffy. They caught up
      with her on the basement stairwell. Buffy was jumping over flights,
      reaching the storage area in less than a thirty seconds.

      "Why didn't Willow tell us sooner?" she heard Stefka from behind. "If
      she told us she was having issues, four hours ago, we could have charted
      a plane, shipped our team to Sicily ahead of time."

      "She couldn't," Buffy was fast walking past the armory and into the
      artifact storage, speeding up her pace each time Stefka and Samira tried
      to cover the ten meters separating them. "That's always the trouble with
      our little group. Each of us thinks she can fix her mess without help
      from the others. It almost never works. Just messes up things more. But
      we keep doing it. We all do it." She emerged out of the restricted vault
      with the Scythe in her hands. "That's our nature."

      Stefka put her hand on the Slayer's shoulder as she was about to walk
      past her.

      "You can't do this, Buffy"

      "I have no other option," Buffy headed to the door, but Stefka stepped
      in her way.

      "This was never an option. We'll do all we can to get Dawn back. We'll
      risk our very lives, but giving them the Scythe would endanger the
      entire world."

      "I don't care. I won't have anymore pieces of my sister given to me."

      "Parrelli said the fingers were cut off as soon as she was taken, before
      they even contacted you. She might already be dead." Buffy stepped
      around Stefka without saying a word. The latter put herself between
      Buffy and the door again.

      "What you are doing is wrong, Buffy."

      The Slayer looked at Samira behind her, then looked at her assistant and
      smirked.

      "I remember we had a conversation once. You were saying something about
      you and me, about practice fights versus ones that really matter. Which
      one do you think this will be?" She stepped around Stefka once more.
      This time the tall blond stood still.

      "This can't be good," said Samira as soon as Buffy disappeared in the
      stairwell. "We should call Mr. Giles."

      "No," Stefka answered, her voice a little shaken. "Nothing has changed.
      We still storm Vizzini compound, only now we're looking for the Scythe
      instead of Dawn. We need a plane, vans. Maybe helicopters," She sounded
      more confident with each sentence uttered. "Come on".


      It was close to midnight when Adriano Chelli arrived back at the safe
      house. Naldo stood watch in the doorway. Sat watch to be more accurate
      as he slumped against the door, smoking.

      "Shit!" he exclaimed noticing Chelli. "Is it time already? I haven't
      gotten a turn since dinner!" The capo gave him a puzzled look. "They
      promised me one more turn at least! You tell them they'll be sorry if
      they welsh on me!"

      Chelli grabbed Naldo by the collar and lifted him to his feet.

      "Shut the fuck up, and stand watch properly," he whispered angrily. The
      sheer unprofessionalism of the men assigned to him drove him crazy. None
      of this made much sense, the team, the target, the rough treatment he
      was ordered to give her, but he has learned never to question old man
      Vizzini. If he was given these freaks and charged with obtaining a big
      shiny metal axe, then the big shiny metal axe he shall deliver. Antonio
      stepped inside the dark house and took the creaking stairs into the
      basement. In the sparsely lit room two men were playing cards. The room
      stank of alcohol, smoke, and sweat. The grunting in the far corner
      stopped and the third man approached Chelli, zipping up.

      "Look who's back!" he smiled crookedly and scratched his beard. "What do
      you guys say we let him ahead of the line?"

      "I don't have time for this shit," He could barely contain his disdain.
      If these were his men, he'd whipped them into shape long ago, but as
      they were hand picked by the Don there was no telling what kind of
      connections they had. "We're leaving for the exchange in thirty minutes.
      I want her cleaned up and presentable by that time, you got it?"

      "Sure thing, Capitan," said the dealer. "We promised Naldo, one more
      shot, though. The poor guy has been all by himself up there for hours."

      "Right, " his partner sneered. "Why don't you go get him?"

      "Screw you! You just want to slip one in, while I'm up there, you know
      it's my turn. Why don't you get him, Carlos?"

      The bearded man took a beer bottle from the table and shook his head.

      "I had guard duty the last time, I'm staying here."

      "Oh, for the love of God, I'll get him!" Chelli gladly rushed back
      upstairs. A few more minutes with these assholes and he'd definitely
      shoot every last one of them. When he came out, Naldo was again sitting
      at the bottom of the steps, but with a young gypsy girl next to him.

      "What the fuck are you doing now?"

      "I'm getting my fortune told, " smiled the gangster. "She's really good."

      "I can tell you your fortune, you idiot. In about thirty seconds you'll
      be without your wallet and watch."

      "I'm no thief, Mister" Zemfira smiled coyly at Chelli. The girl looked
      about eleven, her raven black hair pulled back into two braids
      prominently displaying her round gold earrings, far too large for the
      tiny ears they were attached to. She stood up and walked over to him.

      "Let me see your hand, and I'll tell you what's to come. If you don't
      like it, you don't pay."

      "They are waiting for you downstairs," Chelli turned to Naldo. "You have
      ten minutes, no more. I'll stay here."

      As Naldo disappeared inside the house, the girl took Chelli's hand and
      started tracing it with her small, thin fingers.

      "You love line, looks bright, " she said almost singing the words.
      "There's an obstacle there that is about to be removed. The money line
      is even stronger, you're expecting a big windfall very soon."

      "You are quite good, " he smirked. "What else do you see?"

      "Your life line.. interesting..." the girl fell quiet, her head almost
      buried in his palm.

      "What about my life line, gypsy?"

      Zemfira turned her face towards him, the moonlight glistened off her
      long fangs.

      "It looks like it's run its course," the vampire growled.


      Through the dirty ceiling of the phone booth the moon looked brownish
      with a green tint. The square was surprisingly empty. In Rome, tourists
      roamed every street at all hours of the day. Even this out of the way
      place was packed when she came here the first time, but in the past half
      hour Buffy watched the last of the crowd melt away like a root beer
      float. She glanced at the phone again. It was five minutes till they
      call with the drop off place. She had nothing to do, but watch the
      moonlight play in the blade of the Scythe at her feet. A phone ring
      immediately brought Buffy out of her trance. She momentarily grabbed for
      receiver before realizing the ringing was coming from her cell phone.

      "Did you have Alice stake out Tartaglia?" said Stefka as soon as Buffy
      picked up.

      "Yes."

      "She just called"

      "Why did she call you?"

      "Because I activated a new phone with your number. You have mine,
      remember? Somebody has just tried to kill him."

      "What?"

      "Alice saw two armed men dispose of the outside guard and enter the
      apartment. I assume they didn't come to taste the wine. Are we
      protecting Tartaglia or just tailing him?"

      "Strictly surveillance."

      "Alright. I'll have her call the police. I'll let you know if this is
      related to Dawn as soon as I find out anything." Stefka quickly hung up,
      but Buffy stared at the phone for a few moments. "This can't be good,"
      she thought to herself. Even if Tartaglia's assassination was just a
      coincidence she still lost a valuable source of information in case Dawn
      is not returned. She shook her head trying to clear her mind of these
      unpleasant thoughts, but the horrors of the worst case scenario kept
      creeping inside. Again the phone rang, and once more Buffy grabbed for
      the booth receiver instead of her cell phone.

      "What is it now?" she whisper shouted. Somebody was crying on the other
      end.

      "Buffy?"

      "Andrew? This is a bad time. Call Stefka," she said frustrated.

      "I thought I did."

      "Right. She has my number now," she was about to hang up.

      "They are all dead," she heard.

      "Who's dead?"

      "Everyone," the young man whispered. "Everyone at the compound."

      "Vizzini's compound? What happened?"

      "It was all burning and they kept shooting and shooting..," the young
      man's speech became unintelligible again.

      "Andrew, calm down, are you in danger?"

      "No," He suddenly stopped crying, his voice now calm and somber. "They
      left. They killed everyone and left. If they saw me, they didn't care."

      "Who are 'they'?" Buffy was trying hard not to spook Andrew, but anger
      and frustration were sipping into her voice. She was supposed to receive
      the drop off call six minutes ago and deep in her gut a terrifying
      realization was beginning to rise that she will never receive that call.

      "They were jumping out the windows... women... kids.. burning.. and they
      just kept shooting, and shooting, and shooting, and ..." The call
      waiting signal interrupted Andrew's babbling.

      "Just stay put. Stay out of sight," said Buffy. "Somebody will come and
      get you." She switched to the other caller.

      "Buffy," Stefka's voice was worried and unsteady. "I was just looking at
      latest the pictures of the compound.."

      "Andrew just called," Buffy interrupted. "He's in shock. What the hell
      is happening there?"

      "There was an attack. An assault helicopter with support on the ground.
      The building went up in flames. I can't tell if it was the helicopter
      missiles or explosives inside the the compound." There was a pause.
      Buffy could hear the frantic mouse clicking on the other end as Stefka
      was flipping through the pictures on her computer. "The shooters seem to
      cover every exit, " she continued, "I don't think anyone made it out. I
      don't think Dawn was there," she quickly added, "If she ever was there
      they had to move her for the hand off long before. They will probably
      call soon."

      "No, they won't," said Buffy. For a moment, while Stefka spoke, she
      almost fainted, but a second adrenalin wind kicked in allowing her to
      temporarily collect herself. "They most likely have heard of what's
      going on and are either hiding or running from whoever is wiping out the
      family. We have to find them first. Where's Willow?"

      "She's here. Almost. Samira is driving her from the airport."

      "I want her to get the locator spell going. I don't care what she has to
      do. I want people deployed to airports, train stations, and bus
      terminals. Whoever is left I want them canvasing the city. Knock on
      doors if they have to. We have the plates, the color, and make of the
      stupid van! I want it found!!" She eased up a little as she felt the
      cellphone start cracking in her tight grasp. "We have a few more Vizzini
      related contacts besides Tartaglia," Buffy said a little more calmly.
      "I'll take those since they might also be targeted for assassination.
      Check in with me every half hour or in case of anything call worthy,"
      she hang up, gave the silent pay phone one last glance, and walked out
      of the booth.


      The leads were evaporating faster than they appeared. The informants
      Buffy managed to find alive knew nothing about the hits, and the dead
      ones weren't much for talking. It was close to four in the morning when
      she got a call from Stefka. It was only twenty minutes since the last
      and that meant she had something.

      "We found the van," she said. From the depressed tones in Stefka's voice
      it was clear she didn't think of it as good news.

      "Where?"

      "Just outside the city. Firefighters were called in for a fire due to
      explosion. I had Kate check it out. They found what once was a van in
      what used to be a garage. The plates were half melted, but we've got a
      partial match. She talked to the neighbors and they said there were men
      periodically standing at the front door. The descriptions match our
      kidnappers. The firefighters found some body pieces, but they don't yet
      know how many people, or if there were any female remains..." The rest
      of the conversation was a blur. She thought she told Stefka to keep the
      search going, but she wasn't sure. Just as she wasn't sure how long she
      has been wondering the streets afterwards. It was still very dark, but
      the air smelled of the coming sun. Buffy waited for it with dread. In
      the light of the new day the events of this one will seem so much more
      real, so final. As the first sign of the reality reared its ugly head,
      Buffy started to feel the advent of physical exhaustion. She hasn't
      eaten or even sat down in over sixteen hours. She plunked herself in a
      chair on the sidewalk and looked around. She might not have paid
      attention to the streets she was walking, but her subconscious has
      guided her to within a few blocks of her apartment. The table and chairs
      on the sidewalk belonged to Dino's Pizzeria, the owner must have
      forgotten to bring them inside for the night. Buffy slowly traced the
      table pattern with her hand. It must have been the same table she sat at
      two days ago...


      "I knew I'd find you here with your coffee".

      Buffy looked up, squinting at the bright sun. Her sister was standing
      over her, backpack on one shoulder.

      "No you didn't, " she said pushing out one of the chairs with her foot.
      "This is your favorite pizza place. I never been here for coffee before
      in my life."

      "Not true, " Dawn said, setting down her things. "According to Plato you
      always come here."

      "It's Wednesday. Fourth period was Classical philosophy. I keep blocking
      it out," Buffy mumbled into her cup.

      "Plato says that all creation is derived from heavenly templates which
      are perfect forms of each thing," continued Dawn paying no attention to
      Buffy's words. "A perfect horse, a perfect Slayer, a perfect coffee
      shop. And all the coffee shops are nothing more than imperfect shadows
      of the actual thing. So, wherever you go, you're always wasting your
      mornings and afternoons in the same coffee place."

      "Interesting," Buffy took another sip. "Only wouldn't I then be wasting
      this morning in a crooked version of The Pizza Place, instead of The
      Coffee Shop?"

      "Not if you're only drinking coffee," Dawn responded, a little unsure.

      "I see. So if you were eating your usual sausage and mushroom you'd be
      in a different place than I am?"

      "I guess. Yes."

      "Excellent!" Buffy smiled. "Then hurry up and order."

      Dawn shook her head in a mock disapproval.

      "What is this fascination with solitude you have acquired? You know I
      could be a little more tolerant of you spending your days caffeinating
      yourself into a frenzy if you at least didn't do it alone. I'm sure this
      city has plenty of lazy slobs that would be glad to share some Half&Half
      with you."

      "I'm not letting you set me up again, " sighed Buffy watching their
      conversation take the usual turn.

      "Okay, Mario was kind of a disaster, but Antonio was good for a few
      laughs, wasn't he?" said Dawn just as the waiter put the pizza plate in
      front of her. Buffy watched as the girl took ravenously to the meat,
      dough, and cheese concoction in front of her. The arrival of food gave
      Buffy an opportunity to change the unpleasant subject, but her ingrained
      sarcasm took the better of her.

      "Maybe you'll be better at picking boyfriends for me, once you get one
      yourself," she said.

      "You are totally right," Dawn responded with a full mouth. "My personal
      life is so pathetic. I mean my seventeenth birthday came and went and I
      still haven't slept with a vampire."

      Buffy couldn't help chuckling. She loved Dawn's comebacks, almost as an
      art form, even when they came at her expense.

      "Speaking of the handsome and supernatural, " continued the younger
      Summers, "How about a certain someone who keeps sending you flowers,
      candy, and an occasional demon head?"

      "I'm not going out with the Immortal," came a quick reply.

      "Why not? He is smart. He is charming. He's beyond gorgeous. And I am
      eighty percent confident he is not evil."

      "Well, if it's eighty percent.."

      "I'm not saying, 'marry him'. Have coffee. God knows you doing plenty of
      that already." Dawn took another slice of pizza and proceeded to chew it
      thoughtfully. For a while their conversation gave way to the chatter of
      traffic.

      "You know I've been reading up on retirement depression," Dawn began
      again.

      "Is that the perfect heavenly Depression reflected through the prism of
      old age?" said Buffy as the waiter refilled her cup.

      "Ha-ha. Very funny. It's actually very pertinent."

      "Clearly. Except for the retired and depressed part. If you're done
      spiking that fanta..."

      "Oh? Let's examine your case shall we?" said Dawn handing her sister
      back the sugar bowl.

      "God, I miss California schools where kids don't actually learn
      anything," sighed Buffy.

      "You've been the Slayer since you were fifteen," Dawn continued.
      "Protecting the world from demons, vampires, corduroy pants, and other
      forces of evil. You had a destiny. You were the Chosen ONE."

      Buffy rolled her eyes. She knew exactly where her sister was going.

      "Sure, a little later Faith came, but Miss-Knife-Wielding-Psycho only
      emphasized the importance of your chosiness..."

      "'Chosiness?'"

      "'Chosination'? 'Chosinosity'? The point is that now, thanks to Willow,
      there are more slayers than you can shake a stick at, and for the first
      time in eight years you are free to do whatever it is you want to do.
      But you don't know what it is, so you sulk. It's classic," Dawn leaned
      back in the chair and bit off a huge chunk of pizza as though rewarding
      herself for a well made point.

      "I know very well what I want to do," Buffy answered methodically
      blending sugar into her coffee. "It's called chilling continental style.
      You sit in a cafe on a sidewalk, sip really good coffee from a really
      tiny cup, and stare at the passers by. All I need is to take up smoking
      and I'll be all set."

      Dawn shook her head. "It's all an act," she said trying no to spray the
      food she was chewing. "You don't really like it."

      "No, I love it."

      "Please! Life without duties and responsibilities thy name is not Buffy."

      For a moment Buffy looked intently at the young woman in front of her.
      Her long, flowing brown hair accented the long swan-like neck and the
      large gray eyes stared back lovingly and playfully. "She turned out
      prettier than I am," Buffy thought without a hint of jealousy.

      "I still have responsibilities," she said out loud. "I have to keep an
      eye on you. And the way you go for that last slice of pizza, you're more
      ferocious than any hell hound. Plus there's something quite evil about
      you eating two thousand calories a meal without gaining an ounce..."


      The cell phone rang. Always guarded against frittering her time away on
      frivolities, Stefka never configured her phone. The persistent, annoying
      factory ring slowly brought Buffy back to reality. She collected
      herself, wiping away the tears, and took the call just as it was about
      to go to voice mail.

      "I found her!" Willow's voice was trembling. "The spell, it worked.
      She's alive, she's at your apartment! Buffy? Buffy?!" Buffy didn't hear
      her anymore, she was running.
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