Part 38: You Think You Know?


"This does not make any sense," Giles muttered as he paged through volume after volume of obscure texts that surrounded him on all sides. There were clues in all of them, tiny pieces of an impossibly large puzzle that he had to put together and fast, otherwise the entire world might pay the price. If only it weren't so damn much to read.

"Face it, Ripper," Ethan said from where he was sprawled beside Giles, "you will never make sense of all this in time. I mean, come on, you didn't even manage to figure out that one little prophecy regarding your own Slayer's death. It was because of you that the Master killed her, you know? If only you had read the prophecy correctly ..."

Giles shook his head. No, he had to figure this out, he had to figure it all out. The answers were here, he knew it.

There were so many books, though. So many books.


"Need a ten," Xander muttered, looking at the cards in his hand. "A two's not enough, need a ten."

The battle went on outside, but he could not rise to join it. He needed a ten, otherwise the straight was incomplete and worth nothing, nothing at all. One wrong card, one weak link, it would bring the whole thing tumbling down.


Holland Manners looked at his watch, feeling incredibly bored. These rituals just dragged on and on forever. At least Lindsey had finally gotten to the Latin part and things were starting to happen. The four vampires chained to the box began to growl as they felt the magic in the air around them. A wind began to pick up.

"It's about time," a voice from the entrance muttered. Holland looked at the tall woman, who was busily inspecting her nails. They were coated with blue and gold blood. "I was starting to think I would have to do everything around here."

Proper etiquette would have required him and everyone else present to bow before the senior partner, but Holland figured that she would not want the ritual interrupted for that. He signaled to Lindsey to continue.


Willow's eyes were darting back and forth between the two pairs in her hand. The jacks with Oz' face were looking at her pleadingly, seeming to encompass a promise that the one whose likeness they wore would be back soon, if only she would stay true to him. The queens, though, the ones who wore Tara's face, only sneered at that notion, reminding her of the strange yet exciting feeling she always got when Tara was close.

She had to decide, she realized. The fifth card, blank as it was, seemed to mock her. Decide who to latch on to. You need someone to define yourself by. A Slayer to be a sidekick to. A boyfriend to be a girlfriend to. A witch to be ... something to.

Decide, the card mocked her. Decide.


"Can't you drive any faster?" Wesley inquired impatiently, at the same time trying to get his clunker of a cell phone to start working.

"Angel's car wasn't built for speed," Doyle responded. A cramp was developing in his right leg from keeping the pedal to the metal for so long. Still the old convertible Angel had loaned them for their trip to Los Angeles refused to go any faster than before.

Wesley barely heard his companion's voice, his thoughts too busy with what had happened. The Oracles were dead. Someone had killed the messengers of the Powers That Be. He did not even want to speculate what might have happened had he and Doyle been there. Whatever was capable of killing these beings would probably have made short work of the two men.

He has hesitant to draw conclusions with so little information to go by, but he could think of only one thing this meant. The opening shot in the war had been fired, the first casualties had occurred.

This was the beginning. The beginning of the end.


Buffy and Angel were running as fast as their legs would carry them, the sand beneath their feet slowing them down. They could hear the sounds of their pursuers directly behind them, could almost feel them breathing down their necks.

The Slayer and the Huntsman were pursuing them, frothing at the mouths, their eyes blazing with unearthly power. These two were not worthy of the power they had received as the entities' earthly hosts. They had dared to contaminate the purity of the light with the presence of mere mortals, had allowed others to touch the divine.

This could not be allowed. The punishment for this had to be death.

"There is nowhere to run," Angel huffed as they ran. "This desert goes on forever."

Something was wrong with this picture, Buffy knew. How come they were in the desert? How was it possible that they were being chased by the Huntsman and the Slayer? Angel was the Huntsman. She was the Slayer. She was missing something here, but she could not quite grasp the thought. It eluded her far more effectively than they managed with their pursuers.


"Why are you doing this to yourself, Ripper?" Ethan asked. "Haven't you done enough for this sorry world, mate? You gave the best years of your life to the good fight. Don't you think it's time to let someone else take over?"

"There is no time," Giles muttered without taking his eyes away from the books. "It's coming too quickly. We need to be ready."

"There will always be something. Avert one apocalypse, the next will come along. Kill one demon, there are a thousand others. And you know what? Even if there wasn't a single demon in this world, it would still be a mess. Humans do a good job to mess it up all by themselves. Look at me! No one forced me to start worshipping Chaos, Ripper. It's just the way the human animal works."

"We are more than animals," Giles growled, now glaring at Ethan. "Yes, there are evil men out there, Ethan, I know that better than anyone. But there is good as well, in all men."

Ethan gave him a snort. "You don't really believe that, mate. Do you think there is good in me, for example?"

Giles frowned. Something was off with this picture. Ethan worshipped Chaos, yes, but he did not think of himself as evil, did he? Why would Ethan try and keep him from saving the world? Ethan was not a demon that thrived on destruction. If the world came to an end it would mean his death as well.

Something was wrong here, but he could not quite put his finger on it.


Xander and self-doubt were old friends, and not just since most of his friends had developed superpowers and started saving the world on a regular basis. He had lost count of the number of times he had wondered whether the world would even notice his absence were he to die now. He hid his doubts behind jokes and wisecracks, but they were always there.

A two pretending to be a ten.

He shook his head as things kept pounding down on him. Not good enough for college. Not good enough for Buffy. Not even good enough for Cordelia. Good enough for donut runs, yes, maybe for handing over a stake when the Slayer lost hers, but that was it. Hiding in the basement because not even his parents could stand the sight of him. Going from job to job without any sort of direction in his life. If he died today the world would still survive tomorrow.

"No," he screamed, throwing the cards away. "I don't think like this!"

Loser! Weakling! Nothing but a hindrance to those with power. Can't even compete with a walking corpse.

"That's not me!" Xander rose to his feet. "That's not me!"


Willow flinched when Xander jumped to his feet, the cards tumbling from her hands. Something had shifted, the haze around her mind seemed ... lighter. The cards were face-down on the floor, no longer staring up at her with the faces of the people she loved. Loved? Did she love Tara? A woman? It did not matter. Or it did, but not in this matter.

"I don't need this," she told herself. "I am more than that."

Just a sidekick. Nothing but the Slayer's pet. Would have faded away like Marcy if not for Buffy. Can't even make sense of your own emotions without using magic. Flinging yourself at a woman because no man wants to be around you. Not Xander, not Oz, no one.

"I'm Willow," Willow muttered, shaking her head. "I don't need anyone else to tell me who to be. I'm Willow!"


"This is all gibberish," Giles said, rising to his feet. The pages were staring back at him and he realized that he had not been looking at ancient runes, but rather nonsensical doodles a kindergarten class might have made up. All around him the books were begging him to be read, pleading for him to make sense of their content, each promising to hold vital clues to the salvation of the world.

He shook his head. No, this was not the way. He had spent so many years with his nose in the books, trusting in them to tell him everything about life, about the crusade, about himself. It had taken a young American teenager to show him that books were not everything. The heroism of an innocent girl, shaking with fright yet still willing to sacrifice herself for an uncaring world, had shown him that there was more to life than the latest prophecy.

"I will figure it out," he told Ethan, or whoever that was. "I will make sense of it. And we will save the world."

Ethan shrugged and vanished, as did the books around him.


Neither of them was able to say how long they had been running, but suddenly their pursuers were no longer behind them. Instead they were now standing right in front of them and where they had resembled vicious predators but a moment before they now looked nothing like that.

The chase was over and their former pursuers now faced them in the form of radiant light.

"I don't understand," Buffy whispered, looking at the female shape in front of her with an expression of rapture on her face.

"It's wicked simple, B," a voice told her.

Both Buffy and Angel turned away from their radiant counterparts and looked at the newcomer. She was still dressed the way they remembered her, tight leather pants, barely decent tube tops. The only difference was the fact that all her clothes were now a brilliant white.

"Faith?" Buffy asked, not certain of anything anymore. Something very strange was happening to them, that much was for certain.

"You caused a bit of a ruckus, I fear," yet another voice said. Angel gasped when he saw Jackson King walking towards them, also dressed in white.

Buffy opened and closed her mouth, but no words came out.

"You did a major bad, people," Faith informed them, smiling. "But it's all better now. You get to walk away with just a little scolding."

Without warning the two radiant figures of the Slayer and the Huntsman stepped toward them. Buffy and Angel gasped as the light entered their bodies, slipping inside like water down a drain. The haze around their thoughts lifted at the same moment. It did not answer any of their questions, though. What was going on here?

Jackson King chuckled upon seeing the confusion on their face. "Strange how these things work. They don't really mind someone going insane with the power of light roaring in their heads, but they get rather brassed off when you allow outsiders to tap into the same power. Strange priorities, but I guess that's part of the whole 'mysterious ways' thing."

"We are dreaming," Angel suddenly realized. "None of this is real."

"Oh, it's very real," Faith corrected. "Real enough that both of you would have bit the big one if things hadn't worked out."

"Things?" Buffy asked. "Was this some sort of test? Did they test us? And who is 'they', anyway?"

"It was a test," Jackson confirmed, "but not for you. Your friends, Buffy. They got a taste of the power and, well, people wanted to see whether or not that was a good thing, you know?"

"As for 'they'," Faith went on, "it's kinda hard to explain, B. I'm afraid I'm still trying to figure things out myself. Still new to this whole being dead thing."

Buffy's face fell, a tear in her eyes. "We killed you," she whispered.

"Chill, B! Not your fault. I got a whole new perspective now. There's a whole lot of stuff they tell you once you're dead. All the big secrets and gossip. It's cool."

"Are the others all right?" Angel asked, looking around. The desert had faded from view, replaced by a familiar room. The Oracle's antechamber had taken shape around them.

"They are fine," Jackson said. "They are ... well, human. Complicated. Certainly flawed. Not as much as others, though."

"What he's trying to say is that the big guys have high standards, but not quite as high as the whole Slayer-Huntsman-Insanity thing when it's in full swing. The Scoobies are fine, Angel, don't worry. They don't get detention for touching the sacred bits."

Angel looked around. The Oracle's were nowhere to be seen, but there was a large bloodstain on the ground.

"What happened here?" he asked Faith and Jackson. "Doyle and Wesley were supposed to ..."

"Bad things are coming, Angel. B. A lot worse than I ever was. And guess what? You guys are elected to stop them from going down. Rotten luck, eh?"

"What will happen, Faith?" Buffy asked. "You said they told you all the secrets. What is going to happen?"

Faith gave an apologetic shrug. "See, that's the downside of being dead. You can't tell the living everything. Not sure why, really, but that's the way it works. The good news is that you have some time left. Not a whole lot, but some."

Buffy remembered another dream, one in which Faith had also had a starring role.

"Counting down from 7-3-0," she muttered. "That's what you told me. A year ago."

"Did I? Well, I guess the Slayer prophetic dream stuff got to me at least once. But yeah, we're still counting. We're a lot further down now, though."

"One more thing," Jackson said, reminding Buffy and Angel of his presence. "Things won't be as clear from now on. The others have struck first and managed to sever the link. Or one of the links, rather. There will be others."

"What British guy here is trying to say," Faith elbowed him in the side, adopting a horribly fake British accent for a moment, "is that he and I will be around. Not all the time, but we get to haunt your dreams now and then. Haunt in a good way, I mean."

They started to fade from view.

"Wait," Buffy yelled. "We have so many questions. What is going to happen? Can't you give us some hints at least?"

"Sorry, B," Faith's voice rang out, seemingly hailing from everywhere at once. "It's almost time for dawn."


Wesley and Doyle stormed into the living room of Giles' apartment, causing five sleeping figures to come awake with a start.

"Good, you are all here," Wesley said, urgency in his voice.

"That was rude," Anya yawned, stretching her arms above her head. "I was dreaming that Xander and I ..."

Thankfully a loud bang from above caused Anya to stop her exposition. The bang sounded remarkably like two bodies tumbling off a bed and hitting the ground.

"That must be Buffy and Angel," Tara remarked, blinking herself awake. "I guess they arrived after we fell asleep."

Giles, Xander, and Willow were staring at each other, barely aware of the two newcomers who had just stormed in. Something had just happened, something more than a simple dream. They remembered hearing a conversation. A conversation involving Buffy and Angel, as well as ... Faith and Jackson King?

"Angel?" Doyle yelled up the stairs. "You and the princess up there, man?"

A moment later the two people in question stumbled down the stairs, looking decidedly sleepy, but at the same time agitated. A brief exchange of looks with Giles, Xander, and Willow was all they needed. It had not been just a dream.

"We got bad news, man," Doyle said, oblivious to the strange state of their friends. "The Oracles, they ..."

"They are dead," Angel said calmly. "Yes, we know."

"What? But how ..."

"Strange dreams," Xander simply stated. "I always wondered how that worked, Buff, and I think I would have preferred to keep on wondering, really."

Buffy shared a brief look with Angel, their hands interlacing without conscious thought.

"We have a lot of work to do," Buffy said, looking at all of her gathered friends and allies. "I think we better get to it right away."


Holland Manners, Lindsey McDonald, and Lilah Morgan stood aside as the senior partner stalked toward the box, the ritual now complete. She leaned on the wooden frame, peering into one of the tiny windows with a big smile on her crimson lips.

"I hope you're worth all the effort, darling. I'd really hate to be disappointed about this."

Inside the box a nude woman cowered in a corner, her eyes darting back and forth with animal fear. Lilah Morgan also approached the box now, determined not to show too much fear in the presence of the senior partner. She peered in one of the other windows, an encouraging smile slipping onto her face with practiced ease.

"We are so glad you are here, Darla."