She glanced up from her embroidery. "Yes, Matthias?"

"I—that is—" He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable. "I mean—"

She stifled a sigh. No new patients then. "Sit down and speak freely, Matthias."

He sat down in the chair he always took, the one next to the door. He was always uncomfortable in her private domain; she was not only the Healer, but a woman (Matthias had been some sort of monk before he was made) and older than he by a few years. "Healer, having them here—"

"I know you are unhappy with it."

"Is it really necessary?" he blurted. Then, abashed, he looked at the floor. "Forgive the impertinence, Healer."

You can take the vampire out of the monastery, but you can't take the monastery out of the vampire. Matthias had been chosen for the Kaldeish by the vampire who had called her, and it often seemed that Nith had arranged things so that Matthias-the-vampire would automatically accept her as his abbot, to be obeyed without question. While a practical trait—it was difficult to reconcile the loyalty required for a Kaldeish with the innate independence of a vampire—it was also an annoying one. "The imbalance remains," she said softly, turning her attention back to her embroidery. "It must be healed before it creates another rift."

Watchers. They made a Slayer to protect the world...and the world made a Healer, to protect itself from the Slayer. No sense of cause and effect, those silly boys. Well, her mother would have said that was typical of men.

"Yes, Healer, but—" He choked that off, and there was a muttered Germanic phrase that she thought meant Forgive me.

"Matthias, you know you may say whatever you wish to me."

He knew, of course, but he had lived too long with the iron discipline of the monks. "You could have left the Sanctuary. We could have gone there, long before the First acted—"

She shook her head. "The First's plans were too far gone by the time it manifested to the Slayer. Interfering then would have only made it impossible for her to seal the Hellmouth." It should have been evident earlier, much earlier, but there had been such confusion, with Buffy's second death and resurrection, with Faith obeying the laws of mortals rather than the Slayers, with the world wracked by Willow's grieving magics. Not even Matthias had dared breach the Sanctuary's boundaries then, and they had not sensed the First. Not until it was too late. "Besides, it has grown more solid with each passing year. Its true nature is hidden to those who do not look."

"It is still a danger."

"That is its nature." She glanced up. "We need only keep it here long enough, Matthias, and the Sanctuary will do the work for us."

"But— Healer, the boy! His wound could have kept him here weeks, and you—"

"Humans heal differently than vampires. Once started, it would have taken mere days. I saw no need to let him suffer." She gave him a stern look. "They stay, Matthias. They wish to destroy me, and that drive will give us all the time we need."

Matthias was quiet then. "Is that him?" he finally asked, indicating the embroidery frame.

She made herself shrug. "It may be. I have not decided yet." She lied, and they both knew it. The mottled brown fabric—her favorite of the colors he had bought from that vendor—had lain untouched until her audience with her new human guests.

"I thought you were saving the chocolate for a special one."

She set the embroidery in her lap and turned her head to look at him. This time there was nothing of the monk in his gaze; no, this was her Kaldeish, and her friend. "Keep teasing me," she said sharply, "and I'll have all the bloodstocks replaced with pig."

He grinned at the threat. He heard it at least once a month. "Shall I order more, then? Of the fabric, of course."

"If you like," she answered, knowing it was just an excuse for him to collect the rest of the Kaldeish into a huddle around that machine of theirs—a computer, they called it—go shopping for her. They lived for that, as other vampires lived for the kill.

He chuckled, and stood to leave—but stopped in the doorway. "Healer—" he began somberly.

"Say it, Matthias, so you may tell Wilhelm you tried."

He sighed. "We only need the two. Not the witch, not the men and not the other Slayers. Why—"

"Because they will not—none of them—leave it. Not until they have forgotten it." She raised an eyebrow. "Or have you forgotten that the root of our problem is that she wouldn't kill it in the first place, and that they inexplicably went along?"

He winced. "As you say, Healer," he said, and left.

She sighed, and stabbed the needle into the cloth a bit more violently than stitching demanded. "I need not this trouble," she muttered. "Why didn't she just destroy it when she had the chance?"

Buffy lay awake, unable to sleep. Moonlight streamed in through the massive window and illuminated pale, distant figures moving on the lawn, through the gardens. Other patients. Vampires. Her fingers itched to pick up a stake and attack—

But we can't. She sighed. No vamp-dusting for her tonight, and she'd laid down the law to Kennedy and Faith as well.

Faith had taken the lecture with something near drowsiness; she'd been listening, but she was hardly Faith at all. She'd simply started cuddling up to Wood in a non-feral, totally non-Faithy way that had all of them staring, and to spare their sensibilities he'd finally gone off to their room with her. Buffy had watched them leave, worried, remembering that blue spark she'd seen. She'd never really trust Faith, not even a warm'n'fuzzy version—but was the Healer that powerful? Powerful enough to fix Faith's scrambled mind?

All I do is kill stuff. How am I going to go up against that?

Kennedy had made up for it. She was as high on her new Slayer-powers as Faith had ever been, and Willow wasn't having much luck keeping the brat's feet on the ground. All Kennedy wanted was to stake every vamp she saw, and then possibly clean up by burning the castle down around their ears.

God. How did my job ever get this complicated? She sighed. In the other bed, Dawn muttered something in her sleep and rolled over. I hope this woman has security on her hospital. Injured vamps—injured normal vamps—against full-strength Slayers? No chance. It'd be like shooting fish in a barrel.

This line of thought wasn't getting her anywhere, except closer to rousting Kennedy and Faith out of bed and going on a hunt.

But I should remember to ask Giles why anybody would want to shoot fish in a barrel to begin with.

And the Healer still hadn't told her exactly why she'd called them here. Every question had been deflected, by tricks and Healing and other questions.

When I'm ready. I'm ready now! I was ready as soon as she interrupted my phone call to Angel! How much more ready can I be?

Dawn murmured in her sleep again. Buffy sat up. Dawn didn't talk in her sleep. She never had. "Dawn?" she asked softly.

"No," Dawn said, and began fighting the covers.

Buffy crawled over to her bed. "Dawn, wake up," she said, shaking her sister. "It's just a dream—"

Dawn came awake with a yell, sitting up and slamming headfirst into Buffy. That made her scream again, and try to scramble away, but she was caught in the covers.

"Dawn!" Buffy grabbed her before she fell out of the bed. "It's me, Dawnie, it's Buffy—"

Dawn stared at her as if she'd never seen her before. "B-B-Buffy?" she stammered. "But—"

"Sh," Buffy soothed, hugging her. "It was just a dream."

Dawn shook her head. She was shaking, poor thing. "It—it was Glory—only worse, she didn't want to open the gate with me, she just wanted to kill me—"

"You know I'd never let that happen." Dawn nodded miserably. "How's the headache?"

"Still there," Dawn murmured. She was drifting off to sleep again, not even really awake. Her hand was clenched on Buffy's T-shirt, so tightly that Buffy couldn't unpry her fingers, not without using more force than she wanted. Buffy sighed, and rearranged the pillows so that she had one, and pulled the covers up over them both.

It wasn't the magic. Willow had tested for that. It wasn't allergies. Dawn hadn't been exposed to anything that the rest of them hadn't.

And yet.

Bambi hadn't looked at anyone else so coldly. She'd healed Wood and Xander. Done—something—to Faith. Reassured Willow. Given Giles free run of the library. So it wasn't that they were Slayers, or in the company of Slayers.

What the hell could she have against Dawn?