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"So lemme guess -- you aren't really a Big Sister, are you?" Buffy asked intelligently.  

They were back at the library -- the usual retreat when things wigged out.  

"Actually," Sarah said, sitting on top of one of the study tables, trying to do something to tie back her hair, "I am registered with them.  One of our computer geeks pushed buttons and, voila, I'm a Big Sister."  She gave up on the hair and let it spill back down around her face.  "Next question:  did I get assigned to you by the luck of the draw?  No.  That was a bunch of button pushing, too."

"Don't let Willow hear you use the words 'computer geek'," Buffy said automatically.  "But why me?"

Sarah spread her hands out in front of her as if the answer should be obvious.  "Because you're the Slayer."

Dead silence in the library.  Buffy and Giles looked at each other with the same now what? expression.  Sarah glanced from one to the other.  "C'mon people, it's not exactly the world's best kept secret.  People around the world know about Watchers and Slayers.  Simply the number of the ones in training keep it from being completely hush-hush."  She smiled.  "It's just not public knowledge."

"Then how do you know about it?" Giles asked, disapprovingly.

Sarah shrugged.  "Not everything on the Internet is public knowledge.  You just have to dig deeply enough.  So I'm told, anyway.  I know just enough about computers to get my files eaten.  We heard about the Slayer, and the Hellmouth, and we decided to send a scouting mission."  Her smile sharpened into a grin.  "Me."

Giles took off his glasses and ran his hand through his hair.  "And who's 'we'?"

Sarah looked at him, then again at Buffy.  "Are you really that isolated here?" she asked in amazement.  "You don't really think your Scooby Gang is the only group fighting these things, do you?"

"Yes.  I mean, well... no, of course not."  Giles glared at the nearest computer, as if he could unload all the blame on it.  

"You fight vampires?" Buffy asked.  "Well, actually, of course you do, stupid question, I saw you tonight."

Sarah studied her fingernails, then abruptly shoved both her hands deep into her jacket pockets.  "Actually, I had heard about vampires, but I had never seen one before tonight.  No..."  and she suddenly smirked, sat up straighter, and went on in a mockingly impressive voice.  "I am the representative of a gathering, an army if you will, against the Growing Number of Demons."  Her posture relaxed again.  "But we'll take on anything generally evil, nasty, and other-worldly."

"You seem to be taking this with a great amount of humor," Giles said, with more than a little disgruntlement.

Sarah's face darkened.  "Oh, no," she said softly.  "Never think that."

And it was that expression that convinced Buffy.  She saw it in the mirror too often.  It spoke of pain, darkness, and grief... and horror at seeing sights and creatures and of doing things that no one should ever have to see or go through.  Only someone familiar with that horror could ever look that haunted.

Only someone like herself.

Giles recognized it too.  He crossed his arms, trying to gain some control back.  "And why haven't we heard of you?  After all, we aren't unfamiliar with computers and that net thing --"  Buffy choked down a laugh and had a straight face by the time he focused his glare on her.  "Why haven't we come across you in any of our research?"

"You may have and just didn't realize it."  Sarah gestured helplessly at the computer.  "I don't even try to understand it, but most of our communications resemble a role-play chat room.  If anyone stumbles on it -- which, by the way, is not easy to do -- it just looks like a bunch of pretend stuff.  The e-mail communications are all coded and encrypted.  We're also fairly new.  There has always been a Slayer, through all time.  Our troops have only been around a few years.  Means there's a lot more data on you, then there'll be on us for many years to come."  She waved around the room.  "Say the 'Net is as big as this room."  She held up her hands about a foot apart.  "This is what's out there about the Slayer."  She held up her thumb and forefinger about half an inch apart and squinted at them.  "And that's us," she said in a tiny voice.  She dropped her hand.  "Law of 'Net averages says that as hard as it is to find info on the Slayer, it would be almost impossible to find out about us, simply because of our relative new-ness."  She gave another half-grin.  "Actually, we like it that way, about as much as you like the secrecy around you.  We don't exactly advertise."

Giles leaned back against the circulation desk.  The scholar and the researcher was winning out against scandalized Watcher, and he was interested in spite of himself.  "It makes you wonder how many more are out there, fighting like we are."

Sarah shrugged again.  "Well, not quite like you.  You have the Hellmouth to deal with.  We just kinda get the leftover demons.  I think you see some pretty heavy stuff."

And that's why you're here?" Buffy asked.

"More or less.  We really weren't too sure what we'd find."  She shook her head.  "After all, if someone told you a teenage girl was the only thing holding back the tides of evil, ya gotta wonder.  Curiosity got the better of us, and here I am."  She beamed for a second, buffing her fingernails against the leather of her jacket, then dropped back into seriousness.  'Look, I don't know how much help we can be, but that's what I'm here to find out."

Giles' eyebrows went up.  "Wait a minute, you're here to help us?"

Sarah looked confused.  "Well, actually, we're not sure yet.  I think we're offering.  Remember, one girl, tide of darkness?  Sounds like a few more fighters might help even the odds a tad.  We're not a large organization, but... we make due, I guess you could say."

"No one ever offers to help us," Giles said in amazement.  "It's usually the other way around."  His face went tired for a moment, then composed back almost immediately, but Sarah and Buffy both saw it and glanced at each other.  "So why didn't you just come to us more openly?  We've never turned anyone away before.  Even when perhaps we should have," he added in a mutter.

Buffy gritted her teeth.  She knew he didn't just mean Angel.  But if anyone, Giles was the one Angelus had hurt the most.  She at least had her feelings for the vampire as an excuse, a softening zone.  Giles had not, and sometimes Buffy could sense the pain, raw and searing, and knew he was thinking of Jenny.  And that Angelus had killed her.

"So why all the secrecy?" he asked, as if he didn't know what Buffy was thinking.  Maybe he didn't.  She was getting better at hiding it.

Sarah laughed, her low voice catching.  "You ask me about secrecy?  How you manage to pull this off is beyond me.  There's a whole town here, and they never notice anything?"  She waved at Buffy.  "You're just kids.  Now, don't get me wrong, I've seen younger than you fighting in this war, but we have no families, and you guys are also juggling school and parents?"  She gazed at Buffy with admiration.  "I honestly don't know how you're doing it."

"Neither do we, sometimes," Giles confessed.  "We're a little... unorthodox in our methods."

"And a lot lucky," Buffy added.  "We do a lot of making it up as we go along."

"The teenagers have a unique way of looking at things," Giles said thoughtfully.  "Sometimes I don't even understand what they are talking about, but they always manage to come through."

"Mister Generation Gap, here," Buffy said in a conspiratorial whisper to Sarah.

"Yes, well, she's not too far off on that," he said ruefully.  "But really Miss Cullen, you could have come and just asked us."

"Actually it's Mrs.  But please, just Sarah."  She shrugged.  "It'd take me a moment to recognize anything else."  She looked down at her fingers, as they twisted nervously around each other.  "There is another reason for the hesitation."  She looked at them up from under her mane of hair.  "Most of us aren't quite human."

Buffy dismissed that with an airy wave of her hand.  "Oh, that's nothing.  We're used to that."

Sarah gaped at her.  "You are?"  She looked quickly at Giles, who was studying his glasses.  "Actually, that does seem to happen quite often in our little group," he admitted.

"But you kill things that aren't human."

"Not all the time," Buffy said defensively.  "Only things that try to kill us first.  Or take over the world.  Or destroy the world.  We're not too crazy about that either.  But we try not to discriminate."

Sarah chewed at the edge of her lower lip thoughtfully.  "That... might take awhile for me to get used to..." she said slowly.  "We've been careful for so long, because so many things do hunt us."

Buffy hopped off the table.  "Well, around here," she said decisively, "we do the hunting.  Welcome to the Scooby Gang."

"You will find that, as one of the older members," Giles felt obliged to say, "that things can get a bit strange around here."

"Yeah, but she's used to the monsters and icky stuff," Buffy pointed out.

"I was talking about being around you teenagers," Giles said smoothly.

"Nah, I'm used to that, too," Sarah said, grinning.  "Like, you have no idea..."


By the next morning, of course, they all knew.  They had it down to perfection, spreading  word to each of them in the shortest amount of time possible.  Buffy had called Willow, who told Oz (as they were usually together).  Willow then called Xander, who told Cordelia (as they were usually together, too).   That afternoon, they all met in the library, all coming from different directions, frustrated from a day of classes.  Even at lunch, they had only been able to steal a few minutes to buzz questions, which only brought up more questions that they didn't have time for.  All five of them had rocketed into the library within three minutes after the last bell.

"So, do you believe her?" Willow asked breathlessly.

Buffy tossed her books on the table gleefully.  "Right now, I don't care.  No more school this week.  I love teacher conferences!"  She perched on the edge of the table, and cocked her head thoughtfully at Willow.  "Actually, yes, I think I do believe her.  She has that feeling to her.  Y'know, The 'I spend my life fighting things people only have nightmares about'? That feel."

"You mean the I-must-be-crazy-why-am-I-not-hiding-under-my-bed one?  Real familiar with it," Xander said.  He upended his backpack and shook it.  A flurry of snacks poured out.  He looked it over thoughtfully, picked out a chocolate bar, then looked at the others.  They were all gazing hopefully at him, and he gave under the puppy-dog-eyes faces.  "All right, help yourself.  Just remember this when we're out slaying tonight and I collapse from weakness.  A hungry Xander is not a pleasant one."

"Just when you're hungry?" Cordelia poked through the pile.  "Either you're hungry all the time, or you're way off the mark.  None of this is low-fat.  I can't eat any of this -- I'd blimp out."

"I'll be quite happy to eat your share," Xander assured her.

"Pig.  Oh, no, that's right.  It was a hyena, wasn't it?" Cordelia shot back.

"Maybe we can talk Oz into giving you a nip, and you can see what's it's like," Xander countered smoothly.

Cordelia rolled her eyes.  "As if."

"Hey, don't bring me in on this," Oz said.  "Besides, biting someone else's girlfriend, well, that's a little too personal."

"Hey," Willow protested. "Don't you go biting anyone.   Else."

They all turned and stared at Willow, who blushed, and ducked behind  the computer.

"ANYway," Buffy said, trying to grab ahold of the conversation before it dissolved again.  "It still wouldn't hurt to be careful.  What can you find out, Willow?"

"Already on it."  Willow was typing furiously.  "Just give me a few more minutes.  Anyone know what her license plate number is?  That would be a big help."

Buffy handed her a piece of paper.  "Always vigilant."

"Oh, is that what you call it?" Cordelia started, but Buffy gave her a warning glare.  "What?" Cordelia asked, oblivious.  Buffy closed her eyes and sighed, wondering if this was what Giles felt like most of the time.  Whoa, startin' to think like an adult here.  Better watch it.

"Got it,"  Willow said suddenly.  She grinned smugly.  "I love this sneaky stuff."

"Giles," Buffy called.  "Y'wanna hear this, too, or do you just want to catch the reruns at ten?"

"The what?" Giles asked.  He came out of his office, and saw a book sitting on the circulation desk. "Someone actually brought something back?"

"Which means they actually had to check something out."  Xander nodded wisely.  "I'm impressed."

"Well, it is a library," Cordelia said absently.  

They all gazed at her patiently.  "What?" she asked.

Buffy took a deep breath and shook her head.  "What'd you find, Willow?" she asked brightly.

"Hmm..."  Willow scanned down a few screens.  "Nothing looks too out of place.  She went to a university in New York.  Music major... no, wait.  Changed to history.  She had was in grad school, but never finished.  She dropped out of sight for about a year.  Ooh, that's so sad.  She was married, but a couple of days later, he was killed."

"Does it say how?" Buffy asked.

"Ummm... nope.  Not much of an obit."  She tapped out a few keys and clicked the mouse a couple of times.  "No autopsy report, either.  Let's see... she dropped out of sight again.  Became kind of a recluse.  Lots of people listed at that address though, but it doesn't look like she was ever much out in public.  Until about two years ago, and even then it was pretty low-key.  Looks like she was traveling across county.  Couple of speeding tickets, one in Montana, one in Arizona.  Her car registration and insurance is still at the address in New York, though."

"Hmm.  Doesn't seem to prove her story very well, does it?"  Giles moved to stand behind Willow, reading over her shoulder.  "Still, that can be a rather helpful little machine, isn't it?"

"Sometimes," Willow said blandly, but her eyes glinted at Buffy.

Oz sat on the table next to the computer, beaming at her.  "You're so cute when you're being computer literate."

"Oh.  Thank you."  Willow glowed.  "You know, you're cute, too, when you--"  She realized everyone in the room was looking at her, and she blushed again.  "Um... anyway, that looks like about it."

"It doesn't really not prove she's telling the truth, either," Buffy pointed out.  

"Yeah, like people really lie a lot about fighting monsters," Xander said.  "Usually they're too busy trying to hide that they ARE fighting monsters."

"Well, yes, that's true, actually," Giles agreed.  "After all, she came to us.  It isn't like we stumbled across her, well, doing --"

"--trying to destroy the world," Xander finished.

"Yeah, but what about the husband dying?" Cordelia said.  "That sounds rather suspicious, doesn't it? I mean, she doesn't even wear a ring.  And how'd he die?"

"Violently," Sarah said from the doorway, and they all jumped guiltily.  "Not that unusual when you're fighting icky monsters, now, is it?  Anything else you want to know about me?"  She came the rest of the way in, put a bag on the table, and leaned over to look at the computer screen.  "Did you think you would find a profile listing demon-killer under occupations?  If we are half as good as I said, don't you think the public cover would be pretty decent?"

"Well..." Willow started.  "After all, you can't be too careful, um.. I mean, you might have been a serial killer or something, and since we're kids, we really shouldn't be around that stuff... not that being around demons and vampires are any better... I mean..."

"You want to be saved on this one, Will?" Xander asked.

"Yes, please," Willow said faintly.

Xander pointed.  "What's in the bag?  I can't help but notice the big Toys R Us.  And since I'm trying to bail Willow, here, I think that is as good a distraction as any."

Sarah patted Willow's shoulder.  "Actually, I would have done the same thing in your place.  Except that I wouldn't, because I don't understand all this computer stuff."  She picked up the bag and began picking at the knot tying it shut.  "I kinda got to thinking last night.  Fighting vampires is a little out of my area of expertise, but I had an idea.  Holy water, works, right?"

"Well, er, yes, rather well, actually," Giles affirmed.

"Ever see the movie The Lost Boys?" Sarah asked.

The teens looked at her blankly.  

"Oh, come on.  It can't be that old, can it?"  Sarah thought for a moment.  "Oh, God, I'm old."

Giles snorted under his breath.

"Anyway," Sarah said quickly, "Buffy says she uses holy water in little vials, but she doesn't get much range with those, right?  Well, I remembered a cute bit from this movie, and --"  She finally just tore the plastic bag open and dumped several Super Soaker water rifles onto the table.  "Range weapons, and a lot easier to replace than crossbows."

"Cool!"  Xander and Oz made a grab for two of them and ran out.

"Oh, dear," Giles murmured.  "Still, I supposed it isn't too bad an idea.  It could rather keep you out of arms reach, as it were."

"Giles," Buffy said lightly, wrestling one of the guns off of the cardboard backing, "it's a great idea."

Xander dove into the room, rolled, and came up behind the card catalog file case.  He flashed up and shot a spurt of water at Oz, who ducked back out in the hall.

"If Principal Snyder sees those," Giles warned.  

Willow ran to the window.  "Nope!  His car's gone."

"Running target," Xander crowed and nailed Willow from across the room.  She wailed.

"Hey, wait a minute," Oz protested.  "She's unarmed."

"Not for long!"  Willow grabbed the gun from Buffy and ran from the library.  Buffy followed her with another one.  By that time, Xander was up on the second floor, picking pot shots off at Oz, who was diving from behind one piece of furniture after another.  

"Just remember there are books here..." Giles said, in a tone that sounded like he was sure they wouldn't listen to him anyway.  

Buffy ran into the room, firing water randomly everywhere. Xander ducked behind the banister, while Oz tipped a table on its side for cover.

"Expensive books," Giles said faintly, having lost complete control of the situation.

Willow commando-crept through the room while the boys were intent on shooting down Buffy, who was darting through the room, avoiding every water burst with an acrobat here and a flip there.  Willow hid behind another table, and, with a perfect shot, got Xander on the back of the head.

"Honestly, you people are so immature," Cordelia exclaimed.  A stream of water drenched her.

"Ooops, sorry Cordy," Buffy sang.

"Oh, you think you're smart?" Cordelia challenged.  She grabbed the last gun and ran for water.

Xander had run down the stair, escaping Willow's barrage.  Ignoring the odds, he leapt on top of a table and began shooting indiscriminately.  Willow had snuck around and up the stairs and was laying on the floor, shooting sniper bursts from between the railings with deadly accuracy.  

'Impossible to replace books."  Giles gave up.

Cordelia popped through the doors and gleefully shot Xander down.  He yelped.  "What is this,
Gang Up On Xander Night?"

"Who started this?" Willow called evilly.

"You do know what you've done, haven't you?" Giles asked Sarah, who was enjoying the show immensely.

"Sure.  I gave them a bit of an edge."

"That wasn't quite what I meant," Giles said wistfully.  

Five shots of water hit him simultaneously.

"That was," he sighed, and went to find a towel.

They finally called a truce when they all ran out of water, and clattered the guns back in a dripping pile on the plastic bag.  "What are these?"  Willow asked, picking up several small packages.  "Oh, cool!  Water balloons."

"Oh, no," Sarah said quickly.  "Hand grenades."  She grinned smugly.  "That's my own idea."

"We must get our terminology correct," Xander agreed.  He opened one of the bags and held up a water balloon.  "But I'm afraid your water war techniques lack a little training.  Have you ever tried carrying an armload of these?  They aren't exactly durable. We could try carrying them in a knapsack, but I can guarantee you, from many years experience, that we'd reach into the backpack, to triumphantly drive off a vampire, and come up with a scrap of rubber and a very wet knapsack."

"Well, that's where the idea still needs some work," Sarah admitted.  "I still haven't figured out how to fill the balloons beforehand and keep them from popping."

"Oooh, oooh, I have an idea!"  Willow pawed through her book bag and came up with a water bottle.  She snatched the balloon away from Xander, carefully fastened it around the mouth of the bottle, and turned it upside down.  The water gurgled into the balloon.  She grinned at them.  "Water bottles are easy to carry, and they don't pop."

"Willow, you're brilliant," Sarah said.  Willow beamed.  Oz beamed at Willow.

Xander carefully took the balloon from her and tied it closed.  "Cool.  Now we can wait up in trees at the cemetery and lob balloon at them."

Giles walked into the library again and looked at Xander holding the water balloon.  "Now, wait a minute, Xander, I really must protest at this--"

Cordelia came up next to Xander and suddenly grabbed the balloon away and smacked him in the face with it.  "So there," she said, with apparently no explanation.

And apparently one was not needed.  Xander went for more balloons, but Sarah had already snatched them away and handed them to Giles.  "Perhaps you should put these someplace safe," she said.

"Yes, I think perhaps I should."  Giles took them gingerly and went to put them with the rest of the weapons.  Willow gathered the guns and followed him.

Cordelia gazed around the slightly damp library.  "Well, at least we got some practice in, which is more than I can say for our usual battles."

"How's your supply of holy water, Giles?" Buffy asked.

"Actually, I was planning on going to the City tomorrow to pick up some more, and some other items I need."  The librarian came back out of the cage, ushering Willow in front of him.  He locked the cage shut after them.  "Willow what time do you want to leave?"

"Late morning?" Willow asked.  She grinned smugly at Buffy.  "I'm going witch shopping."

"You're buying witches?" Xander asked.  "Don't we have enough problems?"

"No, silly."  She smiled affectionately.  "I need to get some supplies.  You know, for basic spells."

Xander looked at Giles in concern.  "I thought you didn't approve of her messing around with this stuff."

"I don't," Giles said, slightly offended.  "I told her not to play around.  It's too dangerous.  But when have any of you ever listened to me?"

"He's got you, there," Buffy admitted.

"I would far rather that Willow have some supervision and training in these arts, than have her experimenting on her own."  Giles frowned at her.  "Because you would experiment, wouldn't you?"

"Oh, of course," she agreed cheerfully.

Sarah looked a little confused.  "Okay, I'm lost."

"I'm a witch," Willow said proudly, then wilted under Giles' stern eye.  "Well, a novice witch.  Kind of.  In a training sort of way."

"Technopagen?" Sarah asked.  Willow nodded happily.  "Are you going anywhere where there might be herbs?  The unusual kind?"

"Most certainly," Giles said.  "Do you have magical training?"

Sarah shook her head.  "No, I don't have the aptitude for it.  I leave that for the experts.  But I mix my own tea, and it takes some of the harder to find herbs."  She gestured rather aimlessly.  "I damaged my vocal chords a long time ago.  The tea helps.  If I can tag along, I'll drive."

'Oh, we can take my car," Giles assured her.

Buffy leaned forward.  "Take my advice, Sarah.  Take your car," she said in a conspiratorial tone.

"Buffy, for the last time, I really wish you would stop making fun of my car."

"Wait a minute!"  Cordelia broke in.  "You're going to the City.  Shopping?"

Willow and Buffy looked at each other skeptically.  "You want to come."

"What do you think?"  Cordelia shook her head.  "I mean, not with you guys, in some dark, dank store where they sell animal body parts and crystal balls.  We can separate and meet later."

"Animal body parts?" Willow asked, looking at Giles in dismay.

"Well, not actually out on display, but..."

"Never mind," she said quickly.  "I'm not ready to know that yet.  Buffy, you want to come?"

Buffy shrugged.  "Sure.  I'm in.  It's either that, or I stay home, avoiding another one of Mom's can't-you-resign lectures."

"Then we've outnumbered my car," Sarah said.  "Mine doesn't have much of a back seat."

"Oh, please.  We'll take mine," Cordelia said.

Buffy looked at her in surprise.  "Cordelia... that's actually thoughtful.  Are you feeling okay?"

Cordelia looked down at her.  "Give me a break, Buffy.  I won't be seen dead in Giles' wreck, and I'm not going to ride squished in the back seat, with my clothes getting wrinkled.  So that's settled.  We'll meet here at ten.  It'll be fun," she said in a brightly false way.  "Girls' Day Out.  Except for you, Giles, of course."

"It's so nice for you to remember me, Cordelia," Giles in a smooth tone that belied the glare.

"Well, of course," she said.  "Someone has to carry the packages.  What?  Why do you keep giving me those looks?"

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