Xander looked around the library, then at Throttle, who was frowning at him.  "What?"

"Willow showed up," he admitted quietly, sitting down.  "She wanted you to look through a few of the books.  A history and a few others."

"I can't read Martian yet," he protested.

"It's a good way to learn," he offered, "and that's what I'm here for.  To be your research helper."  Xander gave him a 'get real' look.  Throttle would be insane within an hour of researching and helping him.  "I can handle it."

"What am I supposed to be researching?"

"Clan histories," he sighed, shrugging a bit.  "She said so.  I don't know why."

"This has to do with the whole 'lost bike' thing and the 'black mouse' thing, right?"

"Yup, think so," he admitted.  Which did suck.  He didn't want to know about these things.  "Of course, if you wanted, you could have Dawn come help.  She wanted Dawn to have the books when you were done with them."


"Because Willow and Rimfire believe she's a rebirth from up there," he admitted patiently.

"Um, hate to tell them this, but the Key was a human magical creation, not a Martian one."

"Actually, we helped make the Key," the Seal said as she appeared next to them, adding another book to the small pile.  "Those same priests and priestesses that came down here to be with the Druids helped make her."

"There's evidence of that artifact further back," Xander protested.

"Ah.  Yeah, well, they kinda used me, when I was still Middle Eastern, to help layer it over another artifact.  The Key needed to be created so they used me to help but they needed a foundation to build on.  Creating that much energy out of nowhere would have killed them all."

"So they used the power of the First Evil and a hellmouth?" Throttle asked.

"No. They stole energy from me to layer with it, to hold it in place.  I wasn't always attached to a hellmouth, Throttle.  I was moved to Sunnydale when it was discovered and colonized by a few dark and chaos sorcerers.  Then the mayor killed most of them and took it over to start his ascension.  I was in London before I was moved to Sunnydale.  Before that, I was in Persia for the most part.  I was part of a holy and ancient temple to hold the First Evil in place and quiescent."  They both nodded at that so she smiled.  "So I was kinda stolen too.  They took some of my power to use and the artifact they layered her over.  By the way, never try to separate them.  It might not kill her, but it would make her energy disruptive.  Fair warning.  She'll probably consider it and that'll make her ache and go disruptive if it's her idea."

"Dawn!" Xander called plaintively.  She came jogging up the ramp from the garag.  "She said you're going to be looking over some stuff on the history of the Key but that you can't even think about separating out the other parts.  Or else it could turn you into a big bomb."

"Okay," she said, looking clueless.  "Why is this an issue?"

"Because the artifact that was used as the base of the Key is going to be called to soon," the Seal told her gently.  "I'm sorry, sweetie, but it might hurt for a few days.  There's another artifact passing through.  I've tried to get Wes and Fred to route it around you but he said it's safer if it moves nearer to the guardians than not."

"So can I leave town for a few days?"

"Sure, as long as it doesn't conflict with school starting," Throttle assured her.  "If so, we'll do what we can about it."  She nodded, sitting down beside him.  "Xander's got to read through some histories of Mars and the like.  I'm here for translation purposes."

"Can't you just *give* us the language?" Dawn whined.  "I suck at Martian."

Xander blushed.  "That's not exactly my problem with it," he admitted dryly. "Then again, I'm not the language guy of the group.  I learned Latin, some Greek, and some of the demon stuff now and then.  I'm still working on basic Martian because it's so different."

The Seal looked at him, then at her.  "I might be able to help Throttle transfer his knowledge of the language over," she admitted.  "It'd be like a memory for you though.  Nothing easier than that, sorry."  She stood up.  Then she looked around. "Vincent would be better for that," she admitted.  "His mind's stronger and it could be very vivid memories.  That would help it some."

"Vinnie?" Dawn yelled.  He jogged in, pausing when he saw who else was in here.  "She thinks we can suck some of the Martian language from your head as really vivid memories."

"Why don't we do the Lingua Mutata?" he asked, looking confused.  "The M'dreth do that now and then with some of the demon languages and the younger priests."

"Because we'd have to sneak you into a temple and the minute they found out who and what Dawn is, she becomes a priestess of her instead," the Seal offered dryly.  "Which Rimfire would hate."

Vinnie looked at her, then at Xander.  "Yeah, but we can do it to him and then we can transfer it from him to her."

"The Martian and the human brain work differently," the Seal reminded him.

"So we'll bring Charley up too," Throttle said with a small shrug.  "Easier?"

"Much," the Seal admitted.  "If it'll take in her and if she agrees."

Dawn got up and walked over to the window, opening it. "Charley?"  She and Modo both looked out the back door of the garage.  "We need to do something about making Xander learn Martian easier along with me.  The easiest way is to go the M'dreth and you and him sucking in the language.   Then I can get it from you."

"That's dangerous," Modo told her.

"Not really," the Seal called.   She smiled as she heard the transporter go off.  "Dawnie, go ahead over there and chat with her," she ordered calmly.  She looked at her, then nodded and headed over through the back way.  The Seal waved a hand and the window closed itself.  "Visitors.  Vincent, your cousin Wrench is here."

"Wrench?"  He went down the stairs, finding his cousin, who was an off-white mouse and had shaved even his fur on his head so he was very bald, standing there.  "Hi.  Welcome to Earth.  Big family problems?" he suggested.

"I came to see the priestess and you," he admitted, smirking at him.  "You might as well tell her I know who she is.  It doesn't matter to me who and what Dawn was reborn from."

"Can I shoot him?" Rimfire called from up the hall.  "If he's threatening Dawnie, I get him, right?"

"Sure," Vinnie called, looking at him. "She's not home at the moment."  Rimfire joined them, giving him an odd look.  "She went to talk to Charley."

"Oh, good."  He looked at the obvious priest.  "Hey."

"Rimfire," he said, smirking at him.  "I knew of your father."

"More than I had."

"I know it hurts, child."

Rimfire raised an eyebrow, then shook his head.  "Not really."  He shrugged. "What's going on?"

"The Seal said that Xander had to study some Martian history and stuff," Vinnie told him.  "The rebirth stuff."


"I don't know," Vinnie admitted.  "She's up in the library if you wanted to ask."  Rimfire headed that way at a trot.  "Come on up.  Xander's up there with me."  He walked him up the stairs, finding Dawn coming back.  "Ah!"  She 'eeped' and disappeared.

"The Key," he said, blinking a few times.  "All right."

Vinnie glared at him.  "She's human now."

"I could see that.  Interesting.  She's the priestess?"  He nodded.  "Very interesting.  I'm not telling anyone, Vincent.  She's too precious to us."  He followed him up the stairs.  "Miss Summers, I won't tell anyone," he called.  "I'd not betray the Seal that way.  She might never let me sleep again."

"I do now?" the Seal quipped, smirking at him.  "You prayed to the be the Highest."

"Smoking holy herbs?" Xander asked.  Throttle kicked him and Vincent snickered, turning around to laugh.

"Only during times that I'm required to talk to the Goddess or the spirits," he offered back.  "You?"  Wrench smiled at him.  "Then again, it looks like you don't need that sort of looseness.  Where are those books?"

"Second cabinet," Xander said, pointing.  "They're a bit crumbly so I haven't touched them recently."  He looked and gasped.  Xander looked at them and sighed.  "They're normal again."

"Yeah, Dawn redid the preservation spell a few days back," Vinnie reminded him.  The priest brought over the books and put them between them.  "We know.  We're working on it."

"Wonderful.  You need more work, Vincent, your aura has flares."

"Just like your butt when you got too close to the grill the other night," Xander joked.  Vinnie snickered and punched him on the arm.  Throttle just moaned and shook his head.  "It did."

"It did," he agreed. "I'm lucky I didn't singe my tail."  He sat down across from Xander.  "So, what's up and the real reason you're both down here?"

"I came to look at Xander's bike," Wrench told him.  "Plus to pass on a few diaries to our new priestess and her claimed mate."  He pulled them out of his robes and handed them to Rimfire, watching as he took them.  "I have two others but they may not be held by any other than a female."

"Dawn?" he called.  "He already knows."  She came back, looking careful and curious.  Wrench handed over those diaries and she nodded gently.  "I've got the others," Rimfire told her.

"Okay.  What's up?"

"Those may only be held by women," Wrench told her.  "By the way, I knew.  A few of us know in abstract means, but not totally.  We're dealing with willful ignorance basically," he offered. "That was a good paper on the tie between us and the Druids.  I did get a copy and it was well written and interesting to read.  Also mostly factual."  She gaped and he smirked.  "It was our order who came. The Goddess said there are lost children and some came down here to talk and learn from them.  It was quite a share of information."  She nodded slowly. "In the diaries are some older knowledge about those things.  Purely priestess work since you seem interested.  Do not let them out of your containment.  They are precious."  She nodded at that.  "Thank you."  He smiled at Rimfire and called a book over, looking at it, then at the young man.  "This was your father's path," he noted, holding it up for him to see it.  Rimfire swallowed.  "Originally. Then he moved paths to have more power to help with the war.  You and Primer both show skills but there's no priests left of this version.  There are of the Sunlight temple but they're happy people who only want it to know things."

"So they're Ravenclaws?" Dawn asked dryly.

"If I take the reference right, if you were to breed a Ravenclaw to a Hufflepuff, give the child the Hufflepuff's nature and the intelligence of the Ravenclaw, you get the Temple of Sunlight's priests."

Throttle nodded.  "Definitely.  The last time I rode past one of their temples, they were playing B-52's and 'Mickey'."

Dawn shuddered at that.  "Okay, magical cheerleaders.  Good to know."  She looked at the book, then at Rimfire.  "How far is that off my path?"

"A sidepath.  All these come off the main one, which you chose to walk along," he offered.  "With Rimfire being your chosen mate, you can move to his or he can be more general."

"She's only letting me help by mixing and as a backup when she needs a second," Rimfire noted.  "I don't want more."

Wrench looked at him.  "Wanting and needing are different, Rimfire.  There are others who need those of the blood and power to do things gr....."  He stopped when he saw the baby crawling in.  "Shield him," he said, glaring at his cousin.  "You should know better."

"He is," Xander told him.

"Not to us," Wrench told him.  "Shield him our way as well, Vincent and Dawn.  He'll need it.  In the red journal is our method."  He looked at Rimfire again.  "Consider it this way, kid.  If one of the higher of the darker paths get you, then you're toast.  You've got the power and you've proven you can do minor things.  The same as that kid will."  Vinnie moaned and shook his head.  "He should have an attitude like Rimfire's," Wrench assured him.  "He can learn it for knowledge but the first time he uses it, he'll flare up and you'll have to watch him."  He looked at Rimfire again.  "On those prison worlds were ten or twelve who followed the darker paths.  They came home too."

"Shit," Throttle muttered.  Everyone around him moved back at least a step but Xander.  "Sorry."

"It is not your fault," Wrench told him.  "We wanted the others home and they are.  The bad must come with the good.  Including those who like to hurt others and were using the war to practice.  By the way, tell Enamel his brother does live.  He's one these two should watch out for."  He looked at Xander.  "Enamel's drawn to you but it's not power, young man.  I know what you were."

"Which is?"

"A black mouse," he said with a fond smirk.  "Back in the clan days, what color you were born as was the deciding factor in how you were trained.  The scouts and defenders were always tan.  The hunters were always gray.  The white mice were a late addition to the clans, coming from the clans of the black mice.  They were less powerful, but they were the healers, those who held the power to heal and protect.  The black mice were always those who turned to hear the voices of others.  The scribes, the historians, the bards, the priests.  They were all from the black mice.  You form your own clan," he assured him.  "You, who can and is beloved of powers other than those who originally played chess with you as a pawn.  The healer, one who holds power to work healing magic, if he would ever study again.  You have a protector.  You have two hunters, and you have another priestess, who is guarded fiercely.  You also have a captured mate from another clan," he said with a wink toward Vinnie.  "Sorry I missed the reunion, cousin."

"It happens.  Some of the others did too.  So?  What's this mean?"

"There's a great push to have some of this historical segregation going on again.  The traditionalists are being heard strongly at the moment.  They want us to move back into clans instead of cities.  They think the structure would help us more. Then again, they're almost always teachers. The scribes of yore."  He shrugged.  "So there's ones who would push.  You need to know of these things to protect you all.  The same as you must take back up your education, even if you don't use it.  The time will come some day when you'll have to stop your son."

"Not if he doesn't pick them up."

"Vincent, even if you moved him to an isolated part of Mars, they'll find him.  The same way magic found Willow and Xander, they'll find Victor."

"Power always calls out," Xander said bitterly.  "Is that why they wanted me?"

"Perhaps, but more they saw the uses you had. The soul in you is quite strong," Wrench reminded him.  "You have not broken yet.  They want you back.  Before they protect Victor, they'll have to protect you and Dawn.  Mostly you.  You are a mouse now.  They will try to call out to you.  The Powers who used to play with your life and the new ones.  The new ones don't really want the chess game but it'll be forced."

"I never chose to walk the path," Xander told him.

"Point.  Which is in your favor.  Those who do look over you now know of you and why you do not choose to walk the path.  The Goddess knows each who walk on her path and why," the Seal offered.  "Then again, she also knows those who should and which path and which of her heads they should see.  The fact that the temple you found in Sunnydale was a Temple of Children, well, that's just odd," she offered with a slight grin.  "Then again, you did protect innocents.  And those who weren't."  He winked at Throttle.  "You do that a lot with him.  The point is, you've got to know so you can make your choice.  Some day, it may become necessary to stop Victor as it was Willow.  You'll know the signs first.  You saw them first.  You can make sure he and Rack never become acquainted."  Xander tipped his head at that.  "There's also the reason of Dawn will have children some day and you'll have to be there to mentor their education as well.  Vincent will be there, but his path and their paths are different."

"Their?" Dawn asked.  "How many did some stoned seer see me pushing out?"

"Four in total," Wrench told her.  "And she was only partially stoned unfortunately."  Rimfire's mouth hung open.  "Better to warn now than warn when they start coming, right?"  She nodded quickly, walking off with the diaries.  He looked at Xander.  "You must know to choose a path.  The fact that you can summon the remote control and have means that the paths will try to pick you otherwise.  That's why we're giving you information.  We need you to make the decision of your own free will.  The same as Victor will have to make his some day and Rimfire will have to make his.  We need you to make yours.  Vincent's still on that same path.  Which bothers me since it's mostly females."

"Which worked in my favor, cousin," Vinnie said bitterly.  "I don't do that stuff anymore."  Wrench just stared at him.  "Unless necessary."

"Then you, and Rimfire, would be quite comfortable on Heldran's pathway."  Vinnie made a face.  "Okay, without the celibacy clause," he admitted.  "'Cause you'd go insane, cousin."  He looked at Xander, then at Rimfire, then at Victor, who was staring at him.  "Hello, cousin."  The baby smiled and babbled at him.  "Good boy.  You stay there.  You will definitely not be one of us."  He looked at Vinnie, then at the bookshelves.  "I see a rainbow book," he noted, looking at him again.  "Perhaps you should read as well?"

"It's dry and boring."

"Not those."  He smirked and winked.  "I made sure you got the shortened version.  The main one is about seven thousand pages and only fits on an altar."  He looked at Xander and yawned a bit.  "You must make an informed decision.  It's like choosing between the Norse, the Greek, and the Druid down here."

"I hated some of each of them," Xander offered.  "I'd prefer the quiet serenity of the woods but I don't get that."

"Very true.  You won't.  Ever," he assured him.  "Even when you retire, you'll still feel a need for activity.  Down here I believe they call that ADHD."  Xander snickered at that.  "Read, make an informed decision."

"That's going to be kinda hard.  I don't really understand Martian yet."

"Really?"  He considered it, then nodded.  "We can fix that for you and Dawn, and Charley should she want it."  Vinnie looked at him.  "I am the Highest of the M'dreth, Cousin.  I can do that."  He looked at Throttle.  "You speak and read it?" he asked.

"Yes.  Modo used to be a novitiate for a year."

"I figured as much."  He looked at the Seal.  "Are you powerful enough to preform it?"  She nodded.  "Here?"

"Sure, babe.  You know I love you, Wrench.  You keep me interested in the outside world."  She looked at Rimfire.  "You're fairly good in it.  We need a full source code.  Who do we know that has one?"

"Carbine was military," Throttle offered.

Xander looked at him.  "Exhaust was a priest and a teacher," he offered quietly.

"How did you know that?" Throttle asked.

"Easy.  We talked.  It was from him that I got the idea to learn Martian."

"Ah, yes, dear Exhaust," Wrench said with a smirk.  "On a totally different and war-like path, but he would do.  Seal?"  She nodded and went to ask him.  "If he should agree, that would be as close to ideal as possible.  Anything more intense you could learn on your own."  Xander nodded at that.  "I don't want to rush you, Xander.  You've got about four years to do your homework, read up, research, all that stuff.  In four years, you'll need it.  You'll know, because you're in that much contact, but it'll be almost four full years before you have to make that decision.  Who you call out to in the middle of the night will determine the path you step on.  Which you can't take back.  This is another of those 'one way' paths.  There's no going backwards."

"I understand.  It was a temple to a protector of children?"

"Yes, it was," he said sadly.  "He was the first to welcome you home and he felt the power.  He felt that the Powers were going to abandon you.  He's the one who held you strong after you had to stop her," he said gently.  "I know you went back there."

"I did.  I walked in and I basically fell down to cry for a few days," Xander admitted. "There was nothing of children in there."

Wrench smirked.  "In the green book is a list, with their major symbols and all that.  What we use for child looks about like your square maze marking."  He kissed him on the ear.  "Peace, cousin.  Though you could be, you are not ours.  You act it very well, but you are not M'dreth.  Just on the same tree."  He nodded at that.  He considered him.  "When the time comes, you'll hear multiple calls.  Go with the one that feels right, even if it's not perfect.  No one said you had to do everything if you're not a priest and if you're not actively practicing.  You can walk the path but not follow in the footsteps in some places."  He looked at Vinnie.  "Just like he chose one that was full of girls."  Throttle snickered at that.  "The family never doubted why he did it, it was to pick up women.  My mother and aunt both knew why he gave it up too, and they warned me to watch out for him now and then.  That he'd need it."  He shrugged and pulled out a chair to sit down.  "I hear the transporter.  We need four candles, any color but blue would be nice.  It's our color," he said happily.  "I'll need a ceremonial bowl of something not silver, and I'll need a circle."

"Dawn's been working down in one of the spare rooms," Rimfire offered.  "There's no furniture in there.  We've got a brass bowl down there and all that stuff."

"Wonderful, lead on," he agreed, standing up and pulling Xander with him.  "Willow would be quite proud of Dawn if we let her remember that she's doing magic.  She got a bit panicked about it."

"Yeah, well, sometimes I don't mind but most of the time I do," Xander admitted, nodding at Exhaust and a very old mouse with him.  "Hey."

"Xander," he said, smiling and shaking his hand.  "You're having trouble learning Martian?"

Xander nodded quickly, blushing a bit.  "I'm still working on the basics, the food words."

"This seems too easy," Throttle noted from behind them.

"He'll still have to practice," the old mouse assured him.  "It will be a memory for him, not a true one of his own making.  You must make him use it so it does stay with him always."

Throttle nodded.  "Sure.  Vinnie, Charley?"

"She's content learning it the normal way," Dawn admitted as she joined them.  She looked at the old mouse, then kissed him on the cheek before taking both his hands between hers.  "Welcome, Highest."

"Thank you, young one."  He squinted at her, then at the Highest of the M'dreth.  "Wrench, interesting company you keep."

"This is Dawn Summers.  She did the paper on the link between the M'dreth of old and the Druids down here.  I was bringing her some information on what really happened so she could correct the few assumptions.  She's dating Rimfire."

"She's bonded and chosen of Rimfire," the old priest said dryly, smiling at Dawn.  "Does he thrill you?"  She nodded.  "He treats you well, child?"  She nodded again.  "He backs you up when you need him to?"  She nodded, smiling at him.  "Then I welcome the true bond.  He is what you were looking for.  It is good for Mars and for you both."  He looked at Exhaust.  "Let us do this.  Just these two?"

"We can teach Victor as he ages," Vinnie offered, going to pick up his son.  He showed him to the older priests and they both smiled at him.  "My son, Victor."

"He is very strong," Exhaust said, smiling at him.  "Mentally mostly."

"You mean he's gonna have a brainiac?" Dawn asked.  She smirked at Vinnie.  "Don't worry, we'll make sure your kid plays and not just reads."

"Thanks.  I doubt he'll *only* read.  Even Wrench's brother did more than read."  Wrench snickered and nodded.  "Did he ever mate?"

"Hell no.  Unless a walking book comes to life, he's never going to mate," Wrench said dryly.  "Now breed, he has done that.  He's offered his seed to a few of those traditionalists.  Shall we?"  They nodded and Rimfire led the way to the work room, making all three priests smile.  "Well appointed," Wrench praised Dawn.  "Very well done."


"I knew I put a slate underpinning in here on purpose," Xander said, looking at Dawn. "Go dig a basement and convert it."

"Then I'd get dirty and nasty, Xander."  She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.  "Thanks, Xan."  She went to lay out what they'd need.  She had looked at the spell already.  She had been thinking about asking Modo if he'd contribute with Throttle to help her learn Martian faster.  "So, we'll have deja vu whenever we read Martian?"  The priests all nodded.   "That's cool.  I can deal with that."  She got out of the way, waving a hand.  "My stores are your stores."

"Thank you, Dawn," Wrench said, coming over to help himself to them.  He had done this same thing from the Seal to himself not too long ago.  He still had it memorized, now in three languages.  He bowed before the altar and sent up a silent prayer before starting the chants.  The two priests stepped forward and he touched antennas with them, transferring it into his head while holding the ceremonial bowl.  Then he went to Xander, then Dawn, transferring it to them.  They both shivered and he smiled.  "You should give to them in return."

"They give plenty to all of us," Exhaust said plainly.  "Xander didn't even yell when he found out he had refilled all the cisterns we had already dug."

"How big was that water bill?" Throttle asked from his spot next to the door.

"About three grand," Xander said, looking back at him.  He frowned at Wrench again.  "I don't feel it."  Vinnie said something in Martian and Xander frowned at him.  "Huh?"

Wrench looked at the two priests, then at Dawn.  She shrugged.  "He said it was Miller Time."  She frowned and looked at Xander.  Then she smacked him across the back of the head.  "Did you lower your shields?"  He frowned but nodded.  "Damn it."  She moved closer, staring into his eyes.  Then she touched his temples and closed her eyes, sending what she had into his mind.  "He sucks at languages."  She pulled back and looked at him, then asked how he was in Martian.  Xander replied in kind and stared at her before whooping and hugging everyone.  Dawn looked at the priests.  "Xander's a very unique mind," she said dryly.

"So we can tell," the old priest offered with a small grin.  He patted her on the arm.  "Come, Exhaust."

"I'd like to fill up some water bottles if we could," he offered.

Dawn nodded and led them to the bathroom, smiling as they went to pull some bigger containers.  She rinsed out some of their old litter containers, making sure they came out clear, then left them in there as well.  They'd be heavy but they had handles and were easily used.  She skipped back up to the library, sitting down with the history book to study it.  It had to be more interesting than the third time she took US history.

Xander came up a few minutes later with a few sodas and some chocolate, sitting down to take another book to read through.  "You okay?" he asked quietly.

"Good," she said happily.  "No headache.  You?"

He reached over to pinch her.  "Yes.  Thank you though."  He moved onto the next page, frowning a bit.  "It's like I can speak it but not write and barely read it," he complained.

"You've got a man who can do both.  Go take some practice."  Xander nodded, going to get Throttle to help him with all that stuff.  Dawn rolled her eyes.  "Sometimes the practical and the mundane just miss that boy completely," she said dryly, going back to her reading.

"Don't be too hard on him," the Seal said as she reappeared.  "After all, Xander's a...unique guy.  He's the sort that the mundane should miss.  Just because it's not that interesting."  Dawn smirked at her.  "We are worried about you, Dawn.  It can't be your life.  The time of mages ruling the planet and plane have passed."

"I don't want to be that way, but I need it to help protect the city," she said patiently.  "Besides, I barely spend an afternoon a week studying my magic books."

"Eeeeh, point," she admitted.  "But then again, that's how Willow started.  The fact that you've got a lot of power, a lot of willpower, and a strong set of magic books is giving her nightmares.  She's having a few flashbacks now and then when she remembers."

Dawn looked over at her.  "Unlike Willow, I don't have to ask anyone or do anything to get more power.  I've got enough.  I've got more than enough.  I don't need more, I don't need to do things like gypsy curses or sealing hellmouths, I don't need to do things that'll bring back the dead.  That was nearly one of my first spells.  I don't need more power.  She needed and wanted more power.  She wanted to feel the world in her hand, and I've had that a few times.  It only freaked me out with the responsibility."

"I'm glad," she offered with a small smile.  "Thank you, Dawn."  She kissed her on the cheek, then faded out, leaving something else behind.  "Always gotta be a balance."

"Yeah, well, I'm the light to her cloudiness," she said dryly, looking at this new journal.  That one she got up and went to hide it in Vinnie's things.  Just in case.  He came up and found her doing it.  "The Seal left it.  It's the journal of someone who went dark.  Hold that, 'kay?" she said cheerfully, heading back to her reading.  Xander was sitting at the table going over the alphabet and things with Throttle and Modo, and letting out little moans now and then since they were talking in Martian.  "Hopeless," she said, shaking her head.  "Xander, Martian is now mundane," she called.

"No it's not," he yelled back, in Martian.  Then she heard another small moan.

"Don't tell me you were training him that way, Bro," Modo complained.

"It's the only way," Throttle defended.

Dawn snickered, closing the library door part way so she could study in peace.  The phone rang and she summoned it.  "Yuppers, Wes?" she asked.  He spluttered.  "Because I'm doing Martian history, we just did a language spell, and we were warned the Powers want him back suddenly.  Yay," she said dryly, smirking at the book.  "And?"  She listened.  "Nope.  No he's not.  I don't care.  He's not.  Wes, I don't care what the pointy, blue skinned people told you, Xander does not really do magic.  He does an emergency spell now and then, like summoning the remote when his back's out, but nothing more major than that."  She smirked at his insistence.  "Do you really think Xander, the one that everyone rode for nearly three years about flaming a book by reading it aloud, the one who watched Willow as she started her descent into hell, is going to do magic?  You can tell the Powers to bugger off.  Preferably up Giles' ass since he escaped before the spell I started could be finished.  Yay.  Yay!  Wesley, he deserves a weaving.  He really does.  What he did was inexcusable.  We knew it was him.  We knew the nightmare curse was him.  I don't care if they didn't let that demon loose, he didn't even try, he just picked Xander because he's not a lapdog and he's furry.  Bigots like him deserve things like weavings of destruction of lives.  Yeah, well, ya know, you better hope Ethan never wakes up either," she said dryly.

"Because that'll be one sorry mother fucker when I get done.  And then, when I'm done, then the bros get him before Xander takes control.  So you might as well send him back this way.  I don't care if he's repented, found God and Jesus up his asshole, and that he's presently doing them in the back of a Honda Civic, he's being punished.  He tried to kill Xander.  He killed the child I was carrying.  He let that evil loose on the world and didn't tell anyone.  He can nibble my tail and that's our final verdict.  If you don't like it, whine."  She hung up, then calmed herself before going back to her reading.  She had her plans in place for them, all she needed was to finish it and then integrate it with Xander's plans for revenge.  Then they'd see who deserved what.  After all, a weaving of destruction could only be put onto those who were unjust or those who had wronged the caster.  It had stuck on Ethan.  It had started to stick on Giles but he had felt it and escaped before it could be finished.  When she found him, she'd finish it and it'd stick.  She knew it would.  And then the bros could have their fun while his life went to hell around him, leaving the final bits for Xander.  She looked over as Vinnie came in.  "You know I started on Ethan and Giles' punishments, right?" she asked dryly.

He nodded.  "I figured you had.  I figured you created a base to let us build from."

"Well, yeah," she said smugly, smirking at him.  "The only thing is, I've got to find Giles again.  He managed to slip out right before I was done.  If I had cast the circle around him wider, it would have stuck."

"What are you doing?"

She got up to get the book, flipping to the spell and handing it to him.  "That."  She sat down to get back to her history lesson.  Martian history was so much less boring.  She liked ancient history and this was a lot like that.

Vinnie looked at the spell, then at her.  "You can do that with Rimfire?"

She looked at him.  "I can do that alone and did do it alone.  Rimfire can get his fists in when we've captured them again.  Once I've laid the spells, you guys get them, and then Xander finishes it."  He looked stunned.  "I'm not the nicest bitch on the block all the time, Vinnie, and he was like a father figure to us.  It'd be like you selling Victor into slavery and him getting you back."

"No wonder they worry about you!" he said warmly.  "That's for three people!"

"Three *normal* people," she corrected, holding up a finger.  "Which I'm not.  The same as the Seal and Willow worry about me because they think I'm gonna go bad?  Not a reason to.  I have enough power at my fingertips to undo whatever she does.  All I needed was his picture, some hair, and a location.  I've got the picture and the hair, now all I need is a location.  It's all set, all I have to do is restart it and it'll go on its own while I sleep like I'm drugged.  So if I'm up late sometime soon, it'll be because of that.  Just let me sleep for a few more hours and I'll be fine," she said with a smirk.  She looked at the books.  "You guys really used to ride around in clans? Like the tribes in the Arab deserts?"

"Yeah," he agreed, pushing that to the back of his mind for a later thought, sitting down across from her.  "We used to be smaller clans, then some of the clans settled down to raise families in protected valleys.  That started out a long period of strife because they were fighting to get more green space, and then people started to move away from there to form cities, where they could be together even if their clans were warring.  Cities on Mars pretty much started out as a lover's hiding place."

"Places you could pull a Romeo and Juliet without the death at the end?" she suggested.  He smirked and nodded.  "Okay, getting that point.  Down here they mostly started to facilitate trade."

"No, ours were usually a few localized farms that held some lovers who were upsetting their clans and they took in more when they wanted to run away.  The priests hated them so they always ranted and raved against them but kids love who they love.  It's odd, most of them didn't allow single people to live there at first."

"Wow."  She tipped her head a bit to the side.  "Then how did you find someone from another clan?"

"Oh, you saw them during raids.  You were captured by one," Throttle said from the doorway.  "You saw them during formal trade times.  You were sent to one and then your family was disgraced so the rest of the village came to hunt you down and kill you.  Little things like that.  You did what to Giles?"

"I did what to Ethan.  I was working on doing what to Giles and he managed to escape right before it took hold."

"Not what I meant and you know it, Dawnie," he said firmly.

She grinned at him.  "I did a weaving of destruction.  Vinnie's got the book."  Vinnie held it out.  She smirked at him.  "I'm really not using it like she did.  You guys can chill about that part," she offered.  "Most of the time, I only have to do protective things.  Wards on the house, shields at the school, healing a cut when someone tried to stab Rimfire last week."  She shrugged.  "Every now and then I do have to do something that stretches me and they feel odd, but I do have the power.  I could have gotten a great number of witches to help but I didn't need it."

Throttle looked at her.  "That sounds like bragging."

"Well, a touch of smugness, but I also know my limits and I have a base of ethics, unlike some people," she noted dryly, smirking at him.  "I'm much more powerful than Ethan ever dreamed of being.  If I had the training, I could probably take both of them in a duel together against me.  Not an issue.  Plain and simple truth.  Doesn't mean I need ta do it.  Doesn't mean I want ta do it, I just know I can do it.  And it's probably a reason why I can if I have to.  So while I have the power, I'm still using it for good."

"Punishment isn't that good," he pointed out bitterly.

"Justice isn't that bad," she countered.  "He fucked us over.  He was our father figure."

"Not saying he doesn't deserve this and more," Throttle assured her, "but we wanted to help."

"Oh, honey, this is only the base.  Once I find him again, then you guys can go get him.  Then Xander gets him after you."  He looked stunned.  "This would be like Vinnie selling Vic into slavery and Vic getting him back for it.  Giles was like my father.  He was about the only sane parent Xander knew outside of Buffy's mom.  He fucked us over," she said firmly. "He deserves worse, but I'm keeping it in the family."

"Did you have Rimfire help you?"

"I had Rimfire sitting outside my casting circle and watching over me to make sure I wasn't eaten or anything," she assured him.  "No participation needed for this problem.  He said he wanted to hit him, and I like that idea.   I'd like ringside seats when he does hit him.  Full out gorefest hopefully."  She smiled sweetly.  "But then again, sometimes you just need to see someone hit in the mouth over and over again until they finally beg for mercy."

"This dark streak of yours," Vinnie started.

"Came from my father," she said dryly.  "He was just kinda like that.  That's why he's off boinking a secretary that's my age."  She smirked at him.  "When mom died, he didn't even answer our calls or letters.  But that was okay because I had Tara, Giles, and Xander."

"I get it, but you're still freaking us out," Vinnie assured her.

She grinned.  "It's a girl's prerogative to do that now and then, dear.  What else would we do with our scheming and plans?  It's not like we have to ambush you guys that often to get what we want.  Speaking of, did you remember to get Charley something for your anniversary tomorrow or did you still need help with that?"

"Crap," Vinnie moaned, shaking his head.  "Please."

"Sure.  Your bike or mine?"

"Both," Vinnie told her, getting up.  "Come on."

She nodded, going with him, only pausing to kiss Throttle on the cheek.  "I'm still a very good girl and Rimfire makes sure of it," she said quietly.  "That's part of having someone who balances me out."  He nodded, letting it go with that.  He knew very well that Xander wouldn't care about the spell and would probably cheer her on as a first act.  He'd just have to be a bit more vigilant about what she and Rimfire were doing, and what Vinnie and Xander did now and then too.


Dawn walked back into the garage wearing her new top and Charley gave her the once- over.  "I spilled soda on myself.  Totally my fault," she offered with a small grin.  "Cute guy with muscles and long blond hair, looked like a hunk of bubblegum, but fairly dumb sounding.  Sounded like a squeaky balloon so I snickered and dripped."

"You don't have to explain that stuff to me," she pointed out.  "I was giving you the once- over for a different reason.  Where were you?"

"Helping someone pick out a present."  She kissed her on the cheek.  "You should like it, but if not, blame me," she whispered, heading off.  "I helped him decide between three things."

"Sure," she said, shaking her head.  Vinnie rode in a few minutes later and she looked at him.  "Huh?"

"I needed her to help me decide between which three things I was getting you for our anniversary," he offered with a shy boy grin.

"Our...anniversary's next month," she said, looking confused.

He smirked and shook his head.  "No it's not.  The first time you let me cuddle you is tomorrow and our first time together is the next night."  He got off his bike and walked closer, holding out the small box.  "For you.  I love you even though you don't remember the little moments."  He kissed her gently and walked off.

She opened the box, staring inside.  It was a pretty diamond heart shaped pendant.  She sniffled, then went to pounce him, kissing him as hard as she could.  "I love you too."

He smiled and brushed her hair away from her face.  "We've got dinner coming tomorrow and I will skin whoever bothers us," he promised her.  "Wear that for me?"  She smiled and nodded.  "Good girl."  He stole another kiss.  "Come on, we could use a movie night.  Xander's still probably going over the small words in Martian."  He walked her up to the lounge area, settling into the couch with her.  Throttle and Xander were kissing and Modo was blatantly reading a magazine.  "Movie?" Vinnie asked him.

"Movie's good," Modo agreed, handing one over from the stack.  "Spaceballs?"

"Spaceballs," Vinnie agreed, getting up to put it in.  "Movie!" he yelled loud enough to wake up Rimfire and hopefully break those two apart.

Rimfire came up the stairs and paused to look at the couple.  "If it's not on the tv I thought it was theater," he said dryly.

"It is.  We're watching a normal movie anyway," Vinnie assured him, grabbing a sheet from the closet and tossing it over them.  He fed his fish then sat down to cuddle with Charley.  She was still holding his present so he took it and put it around her neck, making her smile at him.  He got another kiss for that and they watched the opening credits come up.  This was his sort of downtime.

The End

To Part 54

To Index