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"The whole thing stinks!" Buffy Sommers leaned back in her chair, propping
her feet against the table edge. "I don't need a baby-sitter."

"Apparently Principal Snyder thinks so," Xander said sarcastically from across the room. "It's a good thing he doesn't really knows what's going on, isn't  it? It's bad enough with him just thinking you're a teen-age delinquent.
Imagine if he knew you toast vampires and other icky things in your off

"I don't have any off hours," Buffy wailed. "It's bad enough that I had to
take all those make-up tests, then get that reccommendation, keep my grades up, train with Mister Bookworm Perfectionist, spend nights patrolling for things that go bump in the night, but now I have a baby-sitter two afternoons  a week."

"It might not be that bad," Willow offered. "We'll stick with you. She can't
be as bad if we're in a group. Like, you couldn't get cornered by her wanting
to help you in your troubled teen-aged years. Such as they are, you know."

"Gee, thanks, Will. I feel so much better."

"You're welcome," she chirped, Buffy's sarcasm not lost on her for a moment, but she went on tapping at the computer.

The door to Giles' office opened, and he wandered out, deep in a book, as
usual. He looked up and saw them clustered around the table, and closed the book. "What's wrong now?"

Buffy smiled tightly. "Principal Snyder has added another item on the
Conditions-to-Letting -Buffy-Back-in-School list. I'm getting a Big Sister."

Giles raised his eyebrows. "I wasn't aware you had any sisters, Buffy."

Buffy groaned and let her chair fall foward. She buried her face in her

"It's a program for troubled teens," Willow piped up.

"Yeah," Cordelia said. "You know, for kids with gang problems, or druggies.
The last shot for them before becoming hopeless."

"You're a wonderful help, too, Cordelia," Buffy said from between her fingers.

"You see, they match the kid up with a mentor, who's supposed to guide and
help them, kinda like a big sister or brother," Willow finished smoothly, as
if Cordelia hadn't broken in.

Buffy peeked out. "I even asked if I could pick the mentor. I figured, what
better a mentor than a librarian. It's nice and boring and stuffy and all

"Er... thank you for the vote in confidence....I think. However, I don't
really get the impression that Principal Snyder approves of me much more than he does of you."

"What does the line 'and the less time you spend with certain English
Librarians the better' mean to you?" Buffy mimicked the principal's sneering
voice with credible accuracy. Giles looked like he was storing the comment in the back of his mind, not that he really needed another reason to dislike the principal.

"So," Buffy continued, in her own voice, "I get a baby-sitter twice a week.
She ran her fingers moodily over a crack in the table surface. "I even called
Mom at lunch, to see if she'd stick up for me, now that she knows I'm the
Slayer and all. I figured she could get me out of this."

"And I take it that it didn't work?" Giles asked.

Buffy scowled. "She thought it was a terrific idea, because then I would be
spending less time slaying." She shook her head. "Y'know, in some ways, it's easier with her knowing. Less secrets to keep, less sneaking around to do. But now she just worries more. She still can't believe I can't just give this
up and let someone else do it." She shot Giles a side-long glance that he
couldn't quite translate. "I kinda get the feeling she's not crazy about you
right now, either."

"Yes, well..." Giles stopped before he said anything else along that line. He
knew Joyce Sommers blamed him for putting her daughter in so much danger, but he didn't want to contribute any further to the current uncomfortable relationship between mother and daughter. Buffy had enough problems as it was. "So when does all this start?"

"Today," Buffy chirped with false enthusiasm. "Get the feeling that this was
planned and they decided to spring it on me at the last minute?"

"Do you want us to come with you and protect you?" Willow asked, peeking out from behind the computer.

"Nah," Buffy said, shoving books into her knapsack. "That's all right."

"Oh, good," Willow said, relieved. "I mean... not good in an ignoring-you
sort of way, but good in a way that I'm researching some new spells, and..."
She broke off, quickly; she was never sure how Giles would react to her
magical studies. But the librarian merely said midly, "Willow, I've told you
that you shouldn't be fooling around in that area."

"I want to be ready to help," Willow protested, in a tone that hinted she had
a list of reasons rehearsed, but she was grateful when someone knocked on the  open doors to the library. She stored the list away for another time and deftly brought up a blank window on the computer screen to cover the 'Net sources she had been brousing through. Not that anyone at idle glance would realize just why she was researching occult sites, but she always thought it  was better to be safe. She peeked around the computer.

Giles had gone into automatic-librarian-mode. "Can I help you?"

The woman came in and paused hesitantly at the circulation desk. I'm looking for Buffy Sommers, and I was told she'd probably be here."

Buffy glowered. "Are you the Big Sister?"

The woman grinned and nodded. Buffy couldn't guess her age, but it was at
least ten years older than herself. She had a mane of burnished red hair that
fell in front of bright green eyes. She was dressed in black, wearing a
leather jacket, and, like a student, she carried a knapsack lightly over one
shoulder. "That's me. I'm Sarah Cullen." Her voice was low-pitched, not
soft, but deep in timbre, almost hoarse. "From the thrilled look on your
face, you must be Buffy."

"You don't look the type," Cordelia said in her usual lightly thoughtless way.
She cocked her head and looked at the woman consideringly. "Shouldn't you be dressed in a business suit, or wearing something with cute happy warm-fuzzy sayings on it?"

"Don't mind her," Xander said quickly. "She just forgot to take her
Considerate Pills this morning. If she forgets her medication..."

Cordelia smacked at his shoulder, and Xander ducked smoothly out of the way before her hand connected.

The woman smirked. "Well, I'm not one for warm-fuzzies, and I'm not a
business person, and I've never met the sterotypes." She thought a moment.

"At least, not in a long time," she conceeded, in what was obviously some kind of private joke that they weren't supposed to understand.

There was an uncomfortable silence, then Giles, ever the proper one, stepped forward to make introductions. Buffy was surprised when the woman shook hands with each of them, as an equal, not an adult prepared to lecture the rebellous youths. Then she scowled down at the table, because she really didn't want to like this intruder in her life.

The woman raked her hair out of her eyes. It was redder than Willow's,
burnished and gleaming in the afternoon sun streaming down from the skylight. "Actually, I was also told all of you would probably be here, too. That
you're practically inseperable and I was probably going to inherit the group,
rather than the individual. She smiled softly at Giles. "You must be the
English Librarian I heard about."

The capitol letters he heard around the words gave him the hint. "You've been talking to Principal Snyder, I assume."

She grinned. "No. People like that you don't talk with. They talk at you."
She swung her knapsack on the desk and took out a folder a couple of inches thick. "He had a lot to say." She hefted the folder, then tossed it to the desk. "I think he's enjoyed putting that file together. Horrid little toad,
isn't he?"

Damn, Buffy thought wistfully. I may end up liking her after all.

Giles smiled a little, as if in spite of himself. "Miss Cullen, you might be
understating that a mite."

"Just Sarah, please. I'm not into all that formality stuff." She
deliberately left the folder on the desk and zipped up her knapsack. "And,
unfortunately, Buffy, since I'm sure you have better things to do than pander
to a reptile's twisted sense of righteous vengence, I need to drag you away
for a while. I'll try not to make it too painful."

You don't know what pain is, Buffy mused, but she finished shoving her books into her bag, where they would stay until tomorrow, yet another night's
homework undone. The days were getting shorter, too, with the season. It
meant that the patrolling sessions started earlier and went longer, too, just
like night. She sighed heavily, then waved half-heartedly to the rest of the
Slayerettes as she followed her new Big Sister out of the library.
The folder was left untouched on the circulation desk, until Giles tucked it
away in a pile later, as eager to deliberately forget it as the woman...
Sarah... seemed to be.


Buffy walked through the hallway in uncomfortable silence, waiting for Sarah
to say something. Anything. When she couldn't take it any longer, she
lengthened her stride just slightly to put herself even with the older woman.
"Not that I usually agree with Cordelia," she said lightly. "But she is
right. You don't look like someone who'd be a Big Sister. Or act like one."
She eyed the black jeans and leather jacket. "I'm surprised Principal Snyder
even agreed to you."

"Reptile," Sarah said again with a snort. "He never even wanted me to say
anything past 'Yes, I'll take her off your hands for you.'" Then she grinned.
"Well, I was dressed a little differently, too. And I didn't exactly say what
I was thinking, either, or I would have been bounced right out his office and
on my merry way. 'Sides, I don't think you need any more lecturing in your
life, do you?"

"No," Buffy said warily. This was not what she expected. "So... what are we
doing here?"

Sarah stopped just outside the school. The last of the sunlight was pooling
in front of the doors, and she stood in it, eyes closed, and leaned back into
the warmth. After a moment, she sighed and opened her eyes. She winced at the light, then fished around in her pockets until she came up with a pair of sunglasses and put them on. They were mirrored; Buffy couldn't see the
woman's eyes any longer, and it made her a little nervous. Years of Slayer
paranoia kicked in, making her fidget, wondering if she should be worried.
Anything could happen in Sunnydale. Her shoulders felt tight in the ever-
present feeling of apprehension.

"What do you think we should do?" Sarah asked her.

Buffy grabbed on a reason to dislike her. "What, is this going to be some
shrink-thought here? I think deeply for a moment, then tell you what's wrong
with my life and you magically fix it? Well, maybe not magically," she added
hastily. "I mean, no such thing as magic, right? Just doesn't work that way.
But the psychaitrist stuff, I get enough of that from teachers and guidence

"I imagine you do," Sarah said with a touch of irony. "No, that wasn't what I
meant. What do you want to do? Do you want just to meet to talk, to go do
things that you don't get a chance to do? With all the tutoring you've been
getting, you probably don't get much of a chance away from school."
"I spend more time in the library than anywhere else," Buffy said truthfully.
She just left out the part about training there, not reading. "But look, my
life is really..." she gestured wordlessly, trying to come up with a good

"Complicated?" Sarah supplied.

"Yes," Buffy seized at it. "Look, I know what Principal Snyder would have
told you, but I'm doing much better now. I-- I had a bad break-up with a
boyfriend --" like you wouldn't believe! "--and I had some problems... but I'm
better now. Really. I'm back in school, I've passed my make-up tests, I'm...
I'm in regular tutoring. Things are better. I really don't need this. And
you probably have better things to do. So... what say we just go separate
ways, and we say we did this and get back to our own lives?"
Sarah seemed to be studying the tips of her boots, trying not to smile. "It
doesn't really work that way, Buffy, and I think you know that. But it was a
wonderful try. Very admirable."

"Yeah. So glad you approve," she muttered.

"There's a coffee shop a few blocks up from here, isn't there? C'mon. My
treat. Soda, coffee, whatever is your way of taking caffeine."

Buffy sighed, unable to see any way out of it. "Yeah, sure. Whatever." She
forced a cheerful smile.

"You know," Sarah said as they settled at an outdoor table. Buffy had taken
the offer of caffeine and was working on a large soda. After all, I still
have to patrol tonight. And study. Yeah, right. We know which is getting
ignored on that list of priorities. Sarah had both a cup of coffee and one of
tea. Buffy stared at the two mugs. Sarah shrugged. "I can't drink coffee
anymore. And I miss it." She sighed. "Terribly. So I get a cup to sit
there and smell wonderful, and I drink the tea."

"Why don't you drink decaf?"

"It's the coffee, not the caffiene. Weird medical problem. Don't worry 'bout
it. Anyway, you're not really what I expected either." She slipped off her
sunglasses and peered out from under wild curls of hair at the petite blonde.
"From the way your principal talked, and from that file, he made you out to be a six foot tall terrorist or something. Now, even I could tell he has a
vandetta against teen agers in general and you in particular, but you do have the police record behind you, expulsion, some vague connection with a few murders of some people close to you, terrible grades and attendance record, despite the tutoring and the imput from your teachers saying you're are extremely intelligent, but you don't apply yourself. Now, have I hit most of
the basic cliche's for you?"

Buffy nodded, spreading her hands out in front of her. "Pretty much. Now is
this where you tell me that it's a shame I'm wasting so much potential and
that I should start getting my life together, set up some goals, think about
college, grow up a little?"

"Ooh, there's a few cliche's I missed," she chirped. "Nope, sorry to
disappoint you. I'm not here to lecture. Don't do that stuff, never liked it
when it was aimed towards me, I'm not going to push it back towards you."

"Wow." Buffy was impressed. "An adult that remembers what it was like to be a kid! Most people seem to forget that as soon as they have a kid."

"Ah, that's probably it, then. I don't have kids." Her smile faltered for a
second, and she looked extremely interested in stirring her tea. She tasted
it and made a face. "Blech. Stewed grass clippings. Anyway, if you want
help with all that stuff, college applications, lessons, life plans, sure,
just let me know. But you can get that from any of a dozen people at your
school. What else would you like to do?"

Buffy toyed with a packet of sugar, shoving it around aimlessly. It had been
so long since she had been just... normal, that she couldn't really remember
what she did. She shrugged. "I just haven't had much time lately. I really
don't have much of a life outside of... well, outside of school."

"Not much to do in Sunnydale?"

"Understatement." Well, unless you consider the Hellmouth...

Sarah sat back. "I didn't realize I was so rotten at this."

"It's not that," Buffy felt obligated to protest. "You're being real nice and
all. It's just that my life is just.... complicated," she said again. "How'd
you get stuck with me, anyway?" she rushed on, trying to change the subject.

Sarah thought for a moment. "Similar backgrounds, I guess." Not a chance,
went through Buffy's mind. "I've had a lot of people in my life die, too. I
got into a lot of fights. I guess they thought we were a good pairing."

"What'd you fight about?"

"Oh, things that I felt were important. Sometimes they were, sometimes I only thought they were. Sometimes, they were just things I couldn't avoid. And I dropped out of school. College, not high school, but... life happens, doesn't it?" she finished dryly.

Buffy glanced away from her and back down to the packet of sugar that she had stopped pushing around and was beginning to fold over and over. "Yeah. I guess it does."

"Ah, well." Sarah drained her tea cup in one last swallow and wistfully
pushed the coffee aside. "Go. Be free for the rest of the afternoon. I'll
see you day after tomorrow."

Buffy looked up at her suspiciously. "You mean... that's it?"

"For today," she said pleasantly. "Take care of yourself." She pushed away
from the table and strode away, joining the rest of the moving crowd on the
sidewalk. Buffy caught sight of her red hair again at the corner, then it


"I guess it really wasn't that bad," Buffy said later that night to Willow.
They were sitting on the concrete fencing surrounding the cemetary. "She
seems nice and all that. If I didn't have all this Slayer stuff to worry
'bout, it might be kinda fun to hang with her. She's at least in this
century, which is more than I can say for Giles most times."

Willow swung her feet, bouncing her heels off the concrete. "Well, maybe it
won't be for long. Like, maybe if you just act normal for a few meetings,
she'll give glowing reports of you, and Principal Snyder will give up."

They looked at each other. "Naaah," they both chorused.

Buffy idly played with the wooden stake she was holding, tossing it up in the
air and flipping it before neatly catching it. "It's just that... I have so
little free time as it is. Mom's going to start flipping even more, soon, if
she doesn't see more of me than behind bruises and bandages." The stake flew higher, each flip more elaborate than the last. Buffy idly mused upon taking up juggling, then decided she really had to get more sleep if her mind was wandering that much.

A hand snatched the stake out of mid-air at the peak of a flip. Buffy nearly
teleported out of her skin, before she recognized Oz perched up on the fence. Apparently, he had walked up to them along the top of the fence line while they were talking. /I'm really out of it, if I didn't hear him./ But her
vampie radar hadn't gone off, so maybe her mind had just tuned him out.
Still, there are other things than vamps out here, and I wasn't paying
attention. Giles would have a field day with the lectures.

Willow was beaming at her boyfriend. The two were such a perfect couple, that Buffy would have been annoyed at their cloying sweetness, if Willow hadn't been her best friend. She was really happy for Willow, and Oz was the most laid-back and gentle boys she had ever met, even if he was a werewolf. It was just that she was so tired and lonely all the time, and it was hard seeing Oz and Willow, or for that matter Xander and Cordelia, happy together. She couldn't help letting it make her depression worse. She rubbed at her eyes, and her gaze was drawn to her hand where the ring Angel had given her no longer was. Her hand looked so empty without it. She felt so empty without him. Her world had ended, but the world kept going around her, forcing her along with it. She almost hoped she would find a vamp tonight, just so she could forget everything but the fight, just for a few seconds of adreneline rush, of relief from the pain.

Oz dropped a kiss on the top of Willow's head and handed the stake back to Buffy. "Everything looks quiet tonight," he said. "If you can handle things,
I think I'll walk Willow home."

"Yeah, I should get home on time at least one night this week," Willow sighed.

"Go on," Buffy said. "I may just call it early for the night." She peered
around at the gloom of headstones and statues, hoping she'd see something that would keep her out a little longer. Going home was worse than staying out; worrying had become a twenty-four hour a day job for her mother, and it was so hard to look at her and see the pain and panic in her eyes. It was better to stay out and kill something, some sort of retribution for the hurt the Hellmouth put everyone around her through.

Oz jumped down from the fence, then reached up to swing Willow down. She nestled against him, and he draped his arm comfortingly around her shoulders.

Then again, would they have even met, if it wasn't for the Hellmouth. Or
Xander and Cordy. The Hellmouth Romance Service, brought to you by Vampires Are Us and Dating Demons.

She really had to get more sleep.

Willow gave a little wave at Buffy, Oz gave a little salute, their gestures
almost matching in their body language and cuteness, then they walked away, their heads close together as they murmured in that language that they shared and only they could understand. Buffy blew her breath out in a sad sigh, then hopped off the fence and walked in the other direction, dragging the stake against the fence just to hear the sound of it crattering against the concrete.

"Here vampies, vampies, vampies," she called out softly. "Any demons around? Nasty icky things just waiting to be slayed?"

Nothing jumped out at her. "Just like those monsters," she grumbled. "Never
around when you want them." She let out another long sigh and reluctantly
turned towards home

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