Chapter 4: A Balancing Act
Okay, I've got to say that this is not good. Someone's been trying to track us down, someone connected with the military and --to make matters worse-- whoever it is, is good... perhaps maybe even a little too good. In other words, whoever it is, he or she is so good that I'm not entirely sure they are using nothing but human means... and coming from the military that can only spell trouble, though luckily chances are it doesn't really spell so much trouble that a little spell can't fix it.
The problem is that I'm not sure what I should do next. Even though handling this particular situation wouldn't really be all that difficult, the fact remains that I'm not sure whether or not I should take that chance because doing that would cause me to have to tip my own hand and right now I'm not sure that's a risk we can afford to take.
The truth is that even though I know there is a military connection here, up until now the ones tracking us down haven't made any openly hostile moves and in a really weird way that's the problem, that's what's causing me to hesitate. If they had made any hostile moves at all sorting this one out would be so much easier. The thing is that while under normal circumstances I would favor a wait and see approach to the whole thing, these are not 'normal circumstances' and that's what's making me so nervous.
Right now we are vulnerable, very, very vulnerable and that means we have to be extra careful... now if only I could figure out what the smart way to be careful here is supposed to be. The way things stand I could easily force a confrontation but I'm all too aware that I can't do that without revealing that I am on to them... and --if they are as good as they seem to be-- that is bound to raise way too many questions.
Right now we are more than a little exposed and we all know it. We are currently responsible for the well-being of a couple of dozen girls and we just lost everything we had when Sunnydale turned into a giant sinkhole a couple of months ago. That means we are trying to collect and support the newly activated slayers on a nonexistent budget while Giles struggles to sort out the mess that is the Council and tries to get control of its assets. And, as if that weren't enough, we are also sitting on top of a baby hellmouth that we have to baby-sit. I guess the good news is that, compared to Sunnydale, Cleveland barely registers as a blip on the creep-o-meter.
As for me, I have other things to worry about, like trying to come to terms with the latest curvaceous curve the powers threw my way, though at least this time around that curve was something good... very good.
I still remember the shock we got when Tara turned up on our doorstep one morning, a few days after Sunnydale's demise... and the chaos that followed. Even though at the time I already suspected that she had somehow managed to survive Warren's attack, I hadn't dared mention that theory to any of the others so she ended up finding herself uncomfortably close to the business end of half a dozen stakes... not that that was particularly surprising considering our history. Luckily she's not holding that incident against us, in fact she was more than willing to laugh the whole thing off... and maybe she was right about that. I mean, come to think of it, the whole situation was kind of funny... either that or we have a really twisted sense of humor.
The thing is that at first we weren't sure whether she was a vampire (though the fact that she was standing there in broad daylight seemed to indicate she wasn't, not to mentioned the fact that she had been shot, not drained or turned) or if maybe the First had come back (though the fact that she was hugging me with everything she had meant that she most definitely wasn't non-corporeal). Of course, I have to say that even after all these years of fighting things that go bump in the night --and in spite of the fact that I think I have about as many non-human friends as I do human ones-- the whole concept of Immortals is still going to take some getting used to.
I still remember how only a couple of years ago I was certain that Tara and I were meant to grow old together --or rather not grow old together, considering what life expectancy in Sunnydale really was-- then I was forced to come to terms with the notion that Tara was gone and now, now I just don't know what to make out of any of this. Tara is still human but at the same time she is not, she's something else... and that means that chances are someday she will lose me. I know it sounds kind of self-important but I really wish I could spare her the hell I went through when she was gone.
'Gone', now that's a pretty euphemism. She was dead and buried, or at least so I thought. In fact shortly after she came back --once I'd had the time to think about what had happened-- I got mad, really, really mad. The way I saw it, I had been grieving for a year while she had been living elsewhere, she had allowed me to think she was dead and that hurt... a lot. I felt betrayed until she explained to me that her mentor had deliberately kept her from me... and then she told me the reasons why she had been kept away in the first place. That Tara now carries a sword is something I'm still trying to come to terms with; that Warren's life was the price we had to pay to save the world is something I seriously doubt I'll ever be able to accept.
Still amidst all this chaos the good news --as if Tara's return weren't enough-- is that now I am finally free to use my powers to their full extent without fear, without feeling the lure of the dark magic that once filled me and that has opened up a whole world of possibilities for me... though I do know better than to rely too heavily on my magic.
The fact is that one of the things I discovered upon Tara's return is that I had kind of confused two separate problems: my addiction to magic and my loss of control over my own powers. I guess in a way it was an easy enough mistake to make, especially seeing how both problems were intimately intertwined, but the fact is that they were always two very different issues.
Yes, my magic addiction was my fault but my little trip through the dark side of the force wasn't just about that... and --note to self-- making references to Star Wars when talking to yourself is a clear sign that you've been spending way too much time with Andrew.
The thing is that the whole sorry story of my magic troubles is something that neither Tara nor I ever knew how to deal with... in fact we got it all wrong. Yes, it is true that I was addicted to magic --and that's the problem the coven helped me overcome-- but in a way it was Tara's original decision to leave me when that addiction first became apparent that turned it into something darker. I'm not blaming her, I know in the end it was my addiction and therefore it was my fault, but the fact is that from the moment we met she became my anchor and when she left me I found myself adrift... at least until we could work out our differences.
Well, at least that's the way it was supposed to have gone.
We were going to work out our differences but then Warren... and that's also what almost sealed the world's fate. When Tara died I lost both my anchor and my desire to control my addiction and that's what brought me so close to destroying the world: the fact that when I lost Tara I lost my center.
When Warren shot her, two parts of a whole were parted and that left me unbalanced. That's what pushed me over the edge in the first place. It wasn't just that I was addicted to magic --though I was-- that was just the last straw. The real source of the problem, the one the coven couldn't help me overcome, was something far more primal than that. In the end it was a simple matter of yin without yang, but now that Tara is back that balance has finally been restored.
Of course, the fact that the balance has been restored doesn't really mean my life is all rainbows and puppies, I have plenty of things I have to worry about, things that won't just go away because Tara is back or because I've finally managed to control my magic. In fact we have a whole list of things we have to deal with somehow and the list is kind of daunting. I mean, just thinking about it is enough to give me a major headache. Right now some of our top concerns are:
-Having to deal with dozens of baby slayers who don't have the first clue when it comes to controlling their own strength and who keep breaking everything they touch... and I do mean everything.
-We are broke and that means we can't afford to replace the stuff the baby slayers keep breaking.
-We have a baby hellmouth to baby-sit.
-We are trying to recreate a now defunct Council that is supposed to be the first, last and only line of defense against the forces of darkness.
-We are broke and lack the means to rebuild said Council, at least until we can get control of the old Council's assets.
-In order to gain control of the old Council's assets we would need at least one lawyer, lawyers cost money but given that we are flat out broke we don't have any money to begin with and that means we can't hire a lawyer or get control of the old Council's assets (sometimes I really do miss Anya).
-Did I mention that we are broke?
-The fact that Sunnydale turned into a giant sinkhole leaving us essentially homeless and with nothing to our name other than the clothes on our backs, literally... and those clothes were not really in the best of shapes to begin with, not after our confrontation with the First.
-My formerly dead lover has just come back into my life (and the fact that that doesn't even sound particularly weird definitely says something about my life).
That list is not exhaustive, not by a long shot, that list is just off the top of my head... and on top of all that, we must now also add unwanted military attention to the mix. Can I say that the timing of this latest twist sucks? Of course, come to think of it, I doubt there would have been a good time for something like this to come up so I guess we are just going to have to deal.
I know it was probably too much for us to hope that after what happened with the Initiative no one would look into us in the aftermath of Sunnydale's destruction --after all I'm pretty sure that the government has some rather colorful files on us-- but still, a lucky break would have been welcome here. We really are in no shape to take down the Initiative Take Two... of course, maybe having to take down the Initiative Take Two would give the baby slayers something to break --something we wouldn't have to replace-- and that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, now that I think about it, that idea has potential.
Well, I guess the only thing that's left for me to do is to turn the tables on whoever happens to be trying to track us down, to do some snooping on our would-be snoopers, to figure out exactly what it is that we are up against this time around and hope that we will land on our feet.
I know that as far as plans go this is not one of the best and brightest but right now we are too vulnerable and we really can't afford any military shaped surprises. The first part of my plan is going to be the easiest one, tracking our trackers down geographically. They may be bouncing around a number of servers and satellites --trying to cover their tracks-- but the fact remains that, even if backtracking their steps is kind of tedious, that's the part that's bound to be out in the open because there's no way it can be done entirely over secure networks or without leaving a trail... it's the narrowing down after I've pinpointed them that's going to be trickier.
I set out to work on that and it is as I complete that first step of the process, after I find my starting point that I realize that there's something that doesn't quite add up here. I know now where the surprise is likely to be coming from in the first place, the problem is that that point doesn't make much sense at all. I've managed to trace the search back to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the truth is that that's not something I would have expected.
The Initiative was Army related, Colorado Springs would seem to suggest that this time around the Air Force is involved somehow and that in turn does represent an unexpected twist.
Author's notes: Okay if you are wondering what Tara is doing here, this story takes place in the same universe as Cassie so you may want to read that one (you can find it in the Buffy section).