Summary: Buffy dreams, and must confront Angel and settle old accounts. Twelfth story in the "Slayer Central" series.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .

Rating: PG-13, for themes

Time Frame: About a week after the events in "Out Of The Blue," and following the post- "Chosen" events described in "Slayer Central" and the following stories in the series. (spoilers)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me ( to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


Part I

Xander leaned back, narrowly avoiding the left jab coming at his jaw, and countered with a right to Robert's stomach. Robert quickly backpedaled and performed a straight forward kick, which Xander blocked.

They had been sparring for half an hour, and both men were sweating freely. They were both wearing T-shirts and shorts, and Xander's recent weight loss and increase in muscle mass from the extra training he had been doing were quite visible. He was pleased with the progress he had made since his injury, but at that moment he was becoming irritated. He threw three lefts in a row: two connected, and one narrowly missed as Robert backpedaled again without retaliating. Xander's eyes narrowed. * All right, if you're going to play it that way *

Xander attacked furiously, unleashing a barrage of left jabs that had Robert stumbling backwards, and leaving his left side completely unguarded. Robert tried to counter with his own lefts, but Xander blocked the blows effortlessly with his right, which he was not punching with at all. Robert felt himself being forced back near a wall, and he visibly gathered himself before throwing a single right uppercut. Xander could not see the punch coming--it was coming out of his blind spot--and his guard was still down. The punch hit him straight on the jaw and knocked him flat. Robert stared and then stepped forward, wondering if he'd need to summon medical help. Xander sat up, shook his head to clear the cobwebs out, then focused his single eye on the younger man and snapped, "Well, it's about damned time!"

Robert looked at him and blinked. "Huh?"

"I was wondering if you were ever going to remember you have a right hand," Xander replied. The younger man flushed, and Xander pressed on, "Or maybe all of that fancy martial arts training you got sang the praises of fighting with one hand tied behind your back? I was backing you up with nothing but lefts--and I've seen Helen fight: she wasn't trained by someone who fought like you just were. Maybe I should call her in here to see what she thinks of your performance."

Robert looked embarrassed. "Xander, look. I--"

"Was taking it easy on the one-eyed guy? Yeah, I kind of figured that out." Xander sighed and inclined his head at a nearby bench. They went over and sat down, and Xander looked over at Robert--who still looked embarrassed. The older man sighed and commented, "Robert--you're a damned good fighter: I'd put you in Robin's class, and he's been training since he was five years old. I'd bet on you against Giles unless it was with swords or other Watcher-type weapons. Personally, I think you'd be a good sparring partner for the Slayers--if they would stop hitting on you long enough to *hit* you--"

"Very funny--glass houses, Xander." Robert gave Xander a dirty look.

"All right, moving on, then," replied Xander, smiling ruefully. He shook his head and continued, "I'm not growing a new eye any time soon, Robert. The only field mission I've been on since May is the one that Helen asked me to go on, and that wasn't because my fighting skills are back up to par. Buffy is not going to let me go out regularly until she's convinced I'm up to par--and she's got a few dozen Slayers to back that order up if I decide to tell her to take a hike. I need you to train me to the point where I can defend myself against things that are bigger, stronger, and faster than I am--and that means throwing rights until I can defend myself against them almost as well as if my left eye was still there. I'm going to get hit--a lot. I can live with that. If you can't, let me know and I'll call Dawn-- she isn't as good as you are, but she'll do what I want."

Xander wondered at the brief flare of anger in Robert's eyes, but dismissed it as a reaction to his challenge. The younger man shook his head in annoyance, and said simply, "I'm sorry Xander--you're right. Let's get back to it." Robert stood and walked back to the center of the mat, and Xander followed him, just as Dawn walked into the room. Robert nodded to her, and Xander waved. Dawn pointedly ignored Robert and smiled at Xander before sitting down at the edge of the room and starting to stretch.

Xander smiled and looked back at Robert, noting that he looked rather more intense than before. He called out, "Ready?"

The only response was a feral smile, and Xander advanced, guarding with his left against the rights he expected to be thrown. He saw a blur of five or six punches, and he was down, noting absently that none of the blows had come from out of his line of vision. He saw Dawn start to move, and he shook his head at her and smiled to reassure her that he was OK: she glared over Xander's shoulder and returned to her stretching.

Xander turned--a mildly painful experience--and looked up at Robert, who looked a bit apologetic, though his eyes still glinted. Robert leaned down and extended his hand to Xander, who accepted the assistance and got to his feet. * Maybe it was a bad idea to piss him off * He shook his head to clear it and squared off against Robert again. * Hope that Buffy's having a more peaceful morning than I am *

* * * * *

*One nice thing about the really weird dreams--it's pretty obvious that they are dreams. Kind of nice, given the stuff in my life that's actually real *

Buffy walked through the maze slowly, feeling the gravel crunch under her boots as she looked for a way out. The path she was on was wide enough for two to walk abreast, and was bounded by what looked like either a sheer drop-off into a chasm with no visible bottom, or stone walls that bore a strong resemblance to the sewer tunnels she remembered so well from Sunnydale. Along the sides of the path were tombstones, crypts, and other landmarks that she was also familiar with from her time on the Hellmouth. * Buffy Summers--this is YOUR LIFE! * She glanced at the tombstones and saw that the names and dates were in English, though the names were unfamiliar. She frowned and kept walking.

The scenery remained more or less the same, but Buffy noticed that the graveyard d├ęcor was an odd mix--even within a small area there were obvious mixes in architectural and artistic styles. * It's like someone threw a dozen cemeteries in a blender and poured the mixture out *

Abruptly, a vampire darted out and attacked her without finesse. She pulled a stake and dusted it without breaking stride--she saw what looked like a tunnel opening going into a hillside. She entered it, leaving the cloud of dust behind her.

The tunnel was lit with torchlight, and Buffy stayed alert--she was passing a substantial number of alcoves where a demon could be concealed until almost the last second. Nothing seemed inclined to attack, and she moved on. Occasionally, the tunnel would bend left or right--it was on the third right bend that she began to hear the humming. It sounded like a female voice, but Buffy couldn't make out the tune. She shook her head in annoyance and continued.

The tunnel continued to bend, and seemed to gradually slope upward as the humming got louder, but no clearer. Buffy had no way of telling how much time had passed, though she was not tiring.

Abruptly, the tunnel bent around and up and Buffy emerged into a large room with a domed ceiling--it was well lit by torches and lanterns. Buffy saw a circle of human figures standing on the other side of the room, with a solitary figure standing in their midst. She stepped forward, and heard a sound behind her. She turned to see heavy steel doors slamming closed behind her--she was trapped. The humming stopped, and a very familiar voice called out, "She's come to the party--now we can all laugh and play."

Buffy felt a burst of hatred. "If you wanted a piece of me, Dru--you could have just mailed an invitation." She stalked forward and snarled, "Don't think that a bunch of minion vamps are going to stop me from seriously dusting your ass."

Drusilla turned and met her gaze--the eight figures around her remained turned to the center. The insane vampire giggled and called out, "Minions? Is that any way for a good mummy to speak of her family?" The octet around Dru turned to face Buffy, and the Slayer gasped in absolute horror.

They were Slayers--young women who had all come to the Hyperion within the past two months, and who had just started their training. Buffy froze, and found she could not move as all eight assumed their vampiric masks and slowly walked towards Buffy. Drusilla smiled coldly and whispered, "Welcome to your new home--with all of the comforts that family can provide."

Buffy screamed, and her eyes snapped open just before her throat was going to be torn out.

Buffy lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling for several seconds until she was able to shake off the horror of what she had seen enough to quickly get out of bed, pull on clothes, and run for the door. She had to tell the others about--

Buffy pulled the door open, and Helen was standing there in a bathrobe, hair askew and makeup visibly absent. The older Slayer stared at her new friend, who sighed in irritation and commented, "Buffy--I really like you, but sharing your dreams deeply sucks."

Buffy smiled sympathetically. "Don't I know it. OK, we might as well take the time to look presentable, since you've managed to let me know that it wasn't just the partying last night in the lounge that had me seeing weird stuff. We'll meet in Angel's office downstairs in two hours." Helen nodded and left, and Buffy snarled in anger at the world throwing her another curveball before calling Giles to set up the meeting, then retreating to a hot bath.

* * * * *

"This is deeply disturbing news--I had hoped that after the incident a couple of years ago that Drusilla would have decided that this area was not hospitable to her." Giles frowned and shook his head before continuing, "Angel--has there been any sign of her in Los Angeles since your last encounter?"

Angel's expression had been blank during Buffy's description of her dream, and Buffy watched him as he considered Giles' question--she knew how upsetting the subject of Dru was to him. Angel sighed and commented, "She parted company with Darla after I immolated them--Darla stayed around but Dru didn't. The files on her in the W&H system noted the incident in Sunnydale with the train murders and the two deaths at the Bronze, but nothing concrete after that--some rumored sightings in South America, but nothing certain. The Senior Partners still have a 'kill on sight' order out on her--replacing thirteen lawyers and paying off the families of the dead ones in accordance with their contracts was rather expensive for them. Unless they're playing games with us--always a possibility--I don't think Dru's tied in with them." Angel shook his head sadly and commented, "I just wish I had been a bit better as a pyromaniac."

"You set them on fire by torching a garage around them, Angel--I'd have to say that certainly deserved an 'A' for effort." Helen's voice was sympathetic, and Angel looked at her and smiled slightly to acknowledge the attempt at comfort. Helen smiled back and added, "But we still have an insane psychic vampire to deal with--who may be targeting Slayers for the purposes of building an army. Any great ideas on how to stop her?"

Wesley frowned, then looked down at the tome he was carrying and intoned, "Libram of Sacred Madness--English translation." He laid the book down on the desk and opened it: words and pictures appeared, and Wesley leafed forward for a few hundred pages until he reached a particular entry. He read for a few seconds, and turned the page again before holding the book up for Buffy and Helen to see. A symbol resembling an eye with tentacles coming from its edges was on the page, and Wesley asked simply, "Did either of you see this symbol anywhere in the dream?"

Buffy shook her head, but Helen frowned and nodded as she replied, "My point of view was from above Buffy and to the side. I saw Drusilla's group from above--when it moved towards Buffy, I could see that Dru was standing in the middle of a symbol traced on the floor. It looked exactly like the one in the book."

Wesley nodded and looked at Giles grimly. "Then it is as I feared--Buffy's dream indicates that Drusilla has discovered the secret of the Ritual of Sundering, and that she intends to use it to capture and turn Slayers without interference."

Giles paled. "Wesley--that ritual has been lost for centuries: it may well have only been a myth to start with. How can you be sure--?"

"Rupert--the signs are there, and the person who identified the symbol was the least trained of anyone in this room. She would have no reason to even imagine its existence or purpose unless one of us told her." Wesley sighed, and noted Giles nodding reluctantly as he added, "We must stop her, or the consequences will be unthinkable."

"OK--translation time for the rest of us, Watcher guys." Buffy had glanced around the room and noticed that Angel and Willow looked as clueless as Helen, and she sure as hell didn't know what was going on. "Wesley--you've got the big book. Let's have some backstory."

Wesley nodded and began, "Back when demons were the predominant form of life on this planet, there were those among them who worshipped madness itself as divine. They knew that there was great power in madness, though it came with obvious drawbacks. After the demons had gone, humans discovered some of the abandoned rituals and texts and adapted them for their own use. Some of the rituals were appallingly powerful; fortunately, the combination of great magical power and extreme insanity is very rare indeed--the combination tends to be rapidly fatal to whoever possesses them both."

"Which is where Dru comes in, no doubt." Buffy's voice was cold, though shaky around the edges.

"Dru was a powerful seer before Angelus ever met her," Angel commented, visibly uncomfortable but also determined to say what needed to be said. "From what I learned later from Cordelia, that power tends to kill humans who have it rather early on--which is why she accepted the change into half- demon: it was the only way to keep her alive and keep the visions as well. Angelus drove Dru mad before he turned her--both actions may well have increased her powers, though her insanity makes it difficult for her to communicate her visions to others. Spike was always better at figuring out- -" Angel paused, and looked away with a guilty expression on his face.

"Well, he had a hundred years with her to work out the routine. . .and we don't have him here to help." Buffy commented gently, then turned back to Wesley and said, "OK--so Dru has mucho loco mojo and has found a nifty ritual she can use it for: what does it do?"

"It enables her to create a shadow reality parallel to our own, and to link it to various physical locations with certain common characteristics." Wesley's voice was calm, but all present could see he was deeply concerned as he swallowed hard and continued, "Once the link is complete, she can use it to cause occupants of those locations to slip through into her shadow world, where they cannot escape until she wills it or she is killed. From what you saw in your dream, Buffy, I would guess that she has--or is about to--use the ritual to link with a number of cemeteries, probably in this general area, since this is where the Slayers are gathering. She intends to wait for a Slayer to enter one of them, then she will isolate that Slayer and kill her, before repeating the procedure ad infinitum. Eventually, she will emerge with an army that will be nearly impossible to stop."

"How many graveyards could she cover--her power can't be all *that* great, can it?" Willow asked, looking pale and a bit sick to her stomach.

"At first, probably not that many: five, maybe ten at most." Giles replied, glancing over Wesley's shoulder and nodding as the text apparently confirmed his conclusions. "But we may have difficulty avoiding the ones she has enchanted, even if we locate them, and she may well keep some of her capacity in reserve for tactical reasons--meaning that we wouldn't even have the drastic option of abandoning Southern California to thwart her attempts to acquire a Slayer. She is trapped in the shadow reality unless she wants to abandon the spell, but she can reach out to cemeteries all over the world. And once she has a Slayer--"

"She'll have a serious power source from the Slayer blood--she might even keep the first one alive long enough to feed on her for weeks, just for the boost." Angel whispered. "If she does it right, it might reach the point where every cemetery on this Earth is a Slayer-trap for her. We have to find her, while we still know that she doesn't have any Slayers."

"OK--I'm guessing that you have a way of identifying the area where her reality overlaps ours?" Wesley and Giles nodded, and Buffy commented, "Good--now how can we get in there, if she doesn't decide to let us in?"

Wesley turned a few pages, and read a few moments before replying, "Here's a spell--it can only be used by a blood relative of the spell caster--from the same or an earlier generation--for purposes of entering the area, along with one other person."

Buffy thinks for a moment, and turns to Angel. "Let's see--The Master's dead, Darla's dead. . .any more of yours out there, Angel?"

Angel flinched, then thought for a moment: "No--I killed all of the ones in Sunnydale before I left. Penn was the last of mine from before I was turned except for Dru. Looks like I'm elected for this job." He looked at Buffy and suggested quietly, "Maybe I should go in with Faith, Buffy-- you're too close to this."

Buffy snorted. "*I'm* too close to this? Angel, she's *tortured* you and you still feel guilty about trying to kill her. I've got absolutely no problems with dusting her crazy ass--you just keep the minions off of me long enough to do it. Plus, I've managed to throw off the Master's mind control mojo--Faith might get caught by it the way the Master got me the first time, or how Dru got Kendra. This confrontation is about five and a half years too late--and I'm through waiting for it." She turned to Wesley and Giles and said simply, "Find us an entry point, and show Angel the spell. I'm going to get supplies and get ready--we go tonight." She got up and left the office without another word.

Buffy was already on her way up the main staircase when she heard the voice call from behind her: "Buffy!" She turned and saw Willow standing there with deep concern on her face. The redhead locked eyes with her and said simply, "Buffy--she's really dangerous. I don't want to lose you and Angel because you went in there angry and not thinking straight. I'm still pissed off about Kendra too, but you can't let it distract you."

Buffy looked at her best friend, and her eyes moistened as she whispered, "I know, Will--but this needs to be done, and this debt needs to be settled." She smiled and added, "I can use your help, though--just because I can only take Angel in with me doesn't mean you can't give us an edge." She inclined her head at the stairs. "C'mon--we'll talk while I pack."

* * * * *

Angel stood in front of the crypt entrance, visibly uncomfortable as he held a red crystal in his hand and looked down into the darkness. Buffy stood next to him, her jaw set and a stake in her hand. She looked up at Angel and asked simply, "Are you ready?"

Angel nodded, looked straight ahead, and called out, "By the blood that flows in both of our veins, I demand entry to that which has been sundered!" He threw the crystal to the ground, where it shattered in an impressive display of violet flame. Angel grasped Buffy's free hand and led her across the threshold--and both of them were blinded by a bright flash of light. When their vision cleared, they found themselves in a landscape that Buffy recognized immediately--a simple beaten path with a deep chasm on the right and scattered objects from cemeteries on the right. She swallowed hard and whispered, "Instant nightmare--just add two suckers and bring to a boil."

Angel squeezed her hand. "We're not suckers--we caught her before she could catch any Slayers, and the divination showed that she's only managed to cover a few cemeteries with the Sundering ritual." He released her hand and pulled out a stake. Buffy saw the determination on his face, but she could also hear the pain in his voice as he concluded, "Let's go get her and finish this."

Buffy nodded and they walked along, watching the right side for lurking vampires. None approached, and after a few moments they saw the opening of a tunnel in the side of a hill ahead of them. Buffy frowned and noted, "I had to walk longer to reach that last time--and the cemetery scenery is less varied than the version in my dream."

"You dreamed of a time when she had already turned eight Slayers--she might have had control of thousands of cemeteries by that time. For now, her options are limited." Angel commented, re-gripping his stake and continuing to watch the path ahead.

Buffy raised an eyebrow at Angel's terse tone, but she returned to watching the path ahead. They were about to step into the tunnel when she abruptly stopped and asked bluntly, "Angel, what's wrong?"

Angel looked at her and raised an eyebrow. "Buffy--do I really need to explain to you why I might be a bit tense right now? Between dealing with Dru and worrying about you facing her again? I know we've been apart a lot in the past few years, but I think you know me well enough to understand what I'm feeling right now."

Buffy shook her head. "It's more than that. You've been uncomfortable ever since it became obvious that we were going to have to do this together, and I think it's more than just the fact that I'm in danger and that Dru's involved. If something else is bothering you, I want to know it before we go in there and fight for our lives."

Angel blinked and hesitated for a moment before moving to the side of the path and sitting on a headstone. Buffy sat nearby and waited. Angel looked over at her and said simply, "I've been worried about you for a while now."

Buffy laughed involuntarily. "I've been in constant mortal danger for the entire time you knew me up to May--excluding the time when I was actually *dead*, of course--and you're worried about me *now*? You seriously need to get some perspective, Angel."

Angel shook his head. "That's just it, Buffy--there's less reason for you to be worried about life in general these days: you've got a lot of responsibilities, but you've also got a lot more help than you've ever had-- and your biggest headaches are pretty much gone for the time being. You're spending a lot of time alone, isolated from your friends--and your social life is pretty much limited to walking down the hall to the Hyperion Lounge- -"

Buffy snickered. "You're lecturing me about being anti-social? The King of the Brood? Glass houses, Angel."

Angel sighed and replied, "Buffy--do you really think I want your life to be anything like mine? Barring some rather miraculous developments, a good amount of misery is built into my existence. I want you to be happy, and I had hoped that these changes would help you and the others in that direction. Xander and Willow seems to be doing OK, and even Dawn seems to be landing on her feet. Giles is really sinking his teeth into the new system--given the stunt he pulled off against the senior partners, I'd say he's doing better than he ever has. But you're isolating yourself more and more. . .I know you needed time to do the whole cookie dough thing, but cookie dough goes bad if you leave it out for too long--"

"Stop--there will be no more convoluted metaphors created about my love life tonight, thank you very much." Buffy interjected, then scowled at Angel as she asked quietly, "Is this about us, Angel? Are you saying you want to give it another try?"

Angel shook his head. "The same problems are still there, Buffy--and with the memories of Angelus' latest visit pretty fresh in my mind, I'm really not inclined to take any chances." Buffy's expression softened, and Angel looked away as he added, "Buffy--the last time we talked about this, you were about to go stop another apocalypse. As bad as things are at this moment, I've got a lot more hope for your future than I had then--I think it's time for you to commit to living your life without me in it. It's for the best."

Angel tensed--remembering all too well how a similar statement he had made four years before had caused Buffy to become livid with him--and was surprised when Buffy sighed and asked quietly, "Angel--is this about you being in love with Cordelia?" Angel turned, surprised, and Buffy shook her head and commented, "I've been living and working with your closest friends for six months, Angel--did you think I wouldn't catch a hint that you might have feelings for her?" Buffy moved up next to Angel and squeezed his shoulder, whispering gently, "My god, Angel--did you think that I'd hate you for moving on? I certainly did enough times over the years."

Angel shook his head and said, "Buffy--I just don't know *how* I feel. I still love you, and I'm sure I always will, but the thing with Cordelia snuck up on me, and things got crazy and she was gone, and then she was back but she really wasn't. . .and now she's a half-demon in a coma, Buffy. She could die tomorrow, or she could stay that way for fifty years and wake up looking just like she does now and good for another five centuries-- no one knows. All I know is that until she dies, or we have an opportunity to talk--I can't be fair to a relationship with you or anyone else." Angel blinked, and a tear came free as he said simply, "Buffy--you're going to have to decide if you want to accept being alone or if you want to try to find someone who deserves to spend their life with someone as wonderful as you. . .but I'm not going to be the thing stopping you from making that choice any more. If that makes you angry with me, I'm sorry--but I'm convinced it's the right thing to do."

Buffy sighed and shook her head in annoyance. "You know--you're a pain in the ass when you're being noble." Angel smiled slightly, and Buffy held out her hand to him as she whispered, "All right, *friend*. Let's go get the crazy vampire, and we'll worry about my pathetic social life afterwards."

Angel accepted the assistance, and they held on for a moment after he was on his feet: both were smiling wistfully, and their eyes glittered. Buffy chuckled and inclined her head at the tunnel, and they entered without further discussion.

. . .to be continued.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired