the bunny warren v. Faith

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A Long Walk Home

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After 'Older and Far Away,' Spike, Clem and Sophie face a demon. Spoilers up to "As You Were."
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue

It's hard to be afraid of radiation when the coffee shop is twelve blocks away.

Sophie reached into her pocket and pulled out its contents. Among the bubble-wrapped pills (a white pill for her asthma; a pink pill for her allergies, if they got bad; and a blue pill for her allergies, if they REALLY got bad), a laminated card with her name, address and telephone number (so the paramedics would know who to call if she was hurt or sick), and cough drops (in case she came across any cat fur, which could dry out her throat) was a small plastic sleeve containing a quarter and a dime. Exactly enough for a call from a pay telephone in an emergency. After being trapped in a house with a red monster for over a day, Sophie figured that the expenditure was justified.

Of course, to make a pay call, she'd need to find a payphone. The closest payphone Sophie knew of in Buffy's neighborhood was six blocks down Revello, then another six blocks up Hadley Street to the diner at Weston. Quite a long walk in the middle of the night. Sophie's mother didn't approve of young ladies walking alone at night. Of course, she didn't approve of cellular phones, either.

Sophie remembered coming home after her first day at the Doublemeat Palace. In her orientation folder were a number of flyers for employee discounts. Sophie had no illusions of her mother allowing her to use the coupon for AdventureWorld (roller coasters are dangerous for girls who have allergy-induced vertigo) or the certificate for the free horseback riding lesson (the jolting motions can...well, you get the idea). But Sophie had hoped that her mother would allow her to get the free cellular phone. The service was only fourteen dollars a month (which she could easily afford, now that her mother had allowed her to get a job), and Sophie had noticed that other girls who had cellular phones really seemed to enjoy them. When she went to the mall with her mother, she always saw girls walking around, talking and laughing on their phones.

Of course, she hadn't realized, until her mother told her, that those silly girls were doing themselves irreparable harm. Cell phones, her mother informed her, emit dangerous levels of radiation. "It's like sticking your head in a microwave oven," she explained. So Sophie still carried her dime and her quarter their sterile plastic sleeve. Money, as any sensible person knows, should be handled as little as possible to avoid exposure to germs.

Sophie shoved the pills, the card, the cough drops and the money back into her pocket and continued walking down the street. She didn't know what to tell her mother. She was supposed to be home by midnight. Technically, she still could be home by midnight. Not the midnight originally intended, but....

It had been a long time since Sophie had tried to think up a lie to tell her mother. She certainly couldn't say the truth. A red monster? A house that you can't leave? Her mother would never believe it. For that matter, Sophie's belief was starting to fade. Every step Sophie took brought her a step closer to rationalization. She couldn't leave because of...peer pressure. The monster was just a man...with a bad sunburn. Sophie wasn't sure whether she could explain everything because she wasn't afraid anymore, or if she wasn't afraid because she could explain everything. In any event, it was over.

Sophie was about to make the turn onto Hadley Street when she realized that the footsteps she heard were not only her own. She stopped. The footsteps continued. Sophie reached into her other pocket to grab her key chain. A small plastic whistle was attached to the ring. Her hand tightened around her keys as she turned to look at whoever was approaching.

It was difficult to see in the darkness, but what appeared to be a large man in somewhat ragged clothes approached Sophie. When he was about ten feet away, Sophie recognized the...unique ears. Clem stopped. A big smile crossed his face, and he waved.

"Hi," Clem said. "I thought it was you."

"Hi," Sophie said. "Um...I was just walking home."

"Me too," Clem replied. "Some party, huh?"

"Uh, yeah," Sophie agreed.

"You OK?"

"I guess," Sophie said. "It got pretty...."

"Yeah," Clem said. "But, all's well that ends well."

"I suppose," Sophie said.

"Well, I'll let you get home," Clem said. "You're family must be worried sick."

"Oh, yeah," Sophie said. "I should go."

"OK, bye," Clem said, continuing down Revello. He went about a half block, then turned and called to Sophie:

"Nice meeting you."

Clem continued walking down the street.

Sophie watched as Clem walked away. Seeing him again suspended her rationalization. He didn't have a skin condition. The man with the sword didn't have a sunburn. Something kept her in Buffy's house, and it wasn't peer pressure. Sophie realized that she was still very, very afraid.

But, for some reason, she wasn't afraid of Clem.

"Hey," she called out, briskly walking toward Clem. Clem stopped and turned to face Sophie.

"Um, I realize we just met," Sophie continued. "But...um...could you do me a favor?"

"I'd be happy to," Clem said. A big smile crossed his face. It wasn't a figure of speech; doing favors actually made Clem happy.

"Could you walk me up to the coffee shop on Weston Drive?" Sophie asked. "I need to call my mom."

"Oh, sure," Clem said.

"I would have called at Buffy's," she explained. "But when we could get out, I just left. And then I realized I needed to call, but I didn't want to go back in...are you sure it's not out of your way?"

"Oh, it's not that far," Clem said. "I'll just tag along. Make sure nothing happens."

Among scholars of the mystic arts, there is a theory that mystical convergences such as the Hellmouth, in addition to attracting demons and strengthening dark magicks, also generate irony. Subscribers to that theory would not have been surprised when, at the moment Clem finished speaking, a four-foot green lizard sprang from the hedges along the sidewalk and grasped Sophie in a bear hug.

Sophie screamed as she fell to the ground. The lizard demon hissed, its scaled limbs surrounding Sophie's body. Clem grabbed the demon with his massive arms, wresting the demon from Sophie and throwing it into the street. The lizard demon scurried into the night.

Clem watched as the demon escaped from sight. Behind him, he heard Sophie whimper:

"W-w-w-what was...?"

"Some kind of demon," Clem responded as he turned to face Sophie. "Don't worry, he won't...huh?"

As Clem turned, he saw that Sophie's body was surrounded by a red aura. Sophie stared at her hands, then down at her stomach, then her legs. Finally, she asked:

"What happened to me?"

Part I.


"You'll be fine," Clem said, leading Sophie through the graveyard. "Magic always has a fix."

"Can we stop for a minute?" Sophie asked. "Please. I just...I...."

"Oh sure," Clem said. "No one's going to be out here at night. 'Cept vampires, of course. But they won't bother us."

Clem led Sophie over to a crypt. He grabbed the handle, and with a firm but judicious application of his strength, he forced the door open. He walked in, then gestured for Sophie to follow. After a moment of hesitation, Sophie entered the crypt.

Between the moonlight through the windows and the crimson glow emanating from Sophie, the tomb was actually rather well lit. Clem took a seat on the tomb at the center of the crypt. Sophie stood, trying not to tremble.

"What did it do to me?" Sophie asked.

"I dunno," Clem said. "I've never seen one of those before. But you seem OK, and we'll get it fixed. Trust me, just about everything magical that can happen to a human can be undone. That's why people have managed to stay around."

"People," Sophie repeated. "Human. Like me. You say that like...I mean, you're not...you're a...."

"A demon," Clem said. "Yeah, it's OK to say. I don't mind."

"So, you're like that thing that...."

"Well, I wouldn't say that," Clem said, his eyes falling ever so slightly.

"Oh, I didn't mean...I mean...I really don't understand any of this."

"I can see how you'd be confused," Clem said. "It's OK."

"Look, maybe we could just talk about something else for a while," Sophie said.

"Oh, sure," Clem said. Clem thought of subjects that didn't involve demons and unexplained auras. "So, you work with Buffy?"

"Yeah," Sophie said. Her hands instinctively felt the front of her pants leg for the familiar and secure bulges of her pill packets.

"I like the Doublemeat Palace," Clem continued. "The food's good."

"I don't remember seeing you there," Sophie said, immediately realizing how foolish that statement was.

"Oh, sometimes one of the vampires in our poker games will bring food," Clem explained. "Y'know, if all that's there are kittens, eventually you'll start nibbling on your stake."

"Uh, yeah," Sophie said, swallowing hard.

"Oh, sorry," Clem said. "I forgot. People use cats for pets. Trust me, I get it. I had a pet scrivver as a kid. They look like pigs. That's why I never eat bacon."

"A scrivver?" Sophie asked. "What's that?"

"They're like pigs," Clem said. "Only longer. And they have webbed feet, like ducks. So they waddle." Clem shifted his shoulders back and forth in a waddling motion to illustrate. Sophie smiled. Clem smiled back.

"Anyway," Clem continued, "I get the kitten thing. But I like the Doublemeat Medley. It's tasty."

"I guess," Sophie said. "I mean, I don't know. I never had one."

Clem's eyes widened. "You work there, right? Don't they give you lunch for free?"

"I have the kitchen make me a salad out of the lettuce toppings," Sophie explained. "I can't have dairy products. The Medley has cheese. And the bread is enriched. I can only have whole wheat bread."

"Are you sick?"

"Well, no," Sophie said. It was her turn to drop her eyes. "I mean, I'm not sick-sick. I have allergies. They get bad if I have dairy. I can't drink milk. Or eat foods made with milk. Or pets. I mean, I can't have pets, not eat...well, you know."

"Gee, that's too bad," Clem said. "Pets are great. So, what happens if you have dairy?"

"I...I get...a reaction," Sophie explained, or at least tried to explain. "I haven't had dairy in so long, I really don't remember exactly what the reaction is like."

"So how do you know you're allergic?"

"I had tests when I was a kid," Sophie said. "They scratched my skin with a bunch of needles."

Clem winced and shuddered.

"I had a reaction to dairy," Sophie continued. "So I couldn't have milk. Or ice cream. My doctor thought sherbert would be OK. But then I had it one day, and I got a headache, so my mom said I couldn't have it anymore."

"Don't people normally get headaches when they eat something cold?"

"That's what my doctor said." Sophie replied. "But my mom said he was a quack, and he didn't know what he was talking about."

"Was that the same doctor who said you were allergic to milk?"

"Yeah."

"Well," Clem said. "If he's a quack, how can you know if...um...well, anyway, it's good that your mom cares enough to take such good care of you."

"Yeah," Sophie sighed. "Lucky me."

"Anyway," Clem said, sliding off the tomb, "we should get going. Spike's crypt is nearby. He'll know what to do."

"Spike from the party?" Sophie asked.

"Yeah," Clem said. "He's always helping Buffy and her friends remove a curse or stop a demon."

"Buffy stops demons?"

"Well, she is the Sla...oh, sorry. I think that's supposed to be a secret."

"Buffy never said anything about...."

"Oh, boy, Spike's gonna kill me," Clem mumbled. "If he finds out I told you...."

"Oh, I won't tell him," Sophie said. "It'll be our secret. Well, not our secret. It's Buffy's secret. But the fact that Buffy's secret isn't a secret, that'll be our secret."

"Cool," Clem said. "Thanks."

Clem squinted as he noticed that the glow around Sophie had started to grow brighter. Sophie's jaw trembled. She had noticed as well.

"Anyway," Clem said, "we'd better go."

Clem and Sophie exited the crypt and continued down the path through the cemetery.


Part II


Clem knocked on the door of Spike's crypt.

"Who's there?" Spike's voice asked from behind the door.

"It's me, Spike," Clem called.

"Alright, hang on," Spike said. After a moment, Spike cracked the door open and asked:

"What?"

"Hey, Spike," Clem said. "You remember Sophie, right?"

Sophie waved.

"Oh, yeah," Spike said. "From the party. Hey. Look, mate, this isn't a good time for...is she glowing?"

"Yeah," Clem said. "That's why we're here. We got jumped by a demon while we were walking home."

"We?" Spike repeated, a wicked grin spreading across his face. "Why, Clem, you devil!"

"I was walking her to a telephone," Clem said. "So she could call her mother."

"So this demon lit her up?" Spike asked.

"Yeah."

"Well, look, I'd love to help, but I'm kind of in the middle of this thing that...."

"Oh, come on Spike," Clem said. "Look, you owe me three kittens from last week's game. Help out and we'll call it even."

Spike rolled his eyes, then opened the door completely. Clem and Sophie entered, and saw a man in a leather jacket and dark glasses.

"What's this, Spike?" the man asked.

"Friends," Spike said.

"I don't like it," the man replied. "I'm here to talk...."

"And you've talked," Spike interrupted. "And I've listened. We're done. Just get the cash. I'll take care of the merchandise."

"Fine," the man said, walking past Sophie and Clem toward the door. "Just remember, Spike. I've got plenty of guys on the payroll, and they all have a pulse. Don't even think about pulling a fast one."

The man exited Spike's crypt, shutting the door behind him.

"Poof," Spike muttered as he threw his cigarette to the floor and turned to Clem. "So, what's up with the bird?"

Sophie silently hoped that there wouldn't be any talking bird creatures, and then realized that Spike must have been using British slang.

"Lizard demon," Clem explained. "About so high. Moved quick. It jumped her and ran off. Must've left something on her."

"Greenish?" Spike asked. "Little stubby tail? Flabby elbows?"

"That's it," Clem said.

"Ugh, Eftena demon," Spike said. "Nasty buggers. Normally they'd have nibbled her to the bone. They must be mating."

"Mating?" Sophie gasped.

"Yeah," Spike said. "They're sort of like scorpions. They don't actually shag. They just mark a person, then the lady Eftena gets the scent, eats the host, and three weeks later pops out a little baby Eftena."

"I'm...I'm...pregnant?" Sophie asked.

"In a manner of speaking," Spike said. "Actually, you're more like a surrogate mother."

"We've got to get rid of that mark," Clem said. "Whatever magic it is, it could hurt her if it stays on her long enough."

"Oh, don't worry," Spike said. "The lady Eftena will be around to eat her long before that."

"This isn't happening!" Sophie exclaimed. "I can't be pregnant! I've never even kissed a boy!"

After a moment of feeling Spike and Clem's gaze, Sophie said:

"Alright, I shared too much, didn't I?"

"I'd say quite the opposite, luv," Spike replied.

"Spike," Clem said. "Can we just focus on...?"

"It'll fix itself," Spike said. "The glow lasts about three hours. After that, the lights dim, the lady Eftena loses the scent, and she's a spinster for another season."

"So all we have to do is hide until the glow goes away?" Clem asked.

"No, we have to bugger off before the Eftena finds her," Spike said. "If we keep moving, we should be able to shake her long enough. We'll hit the tunnels. One go round the town and glow should fade on its own."

"Sounds like a plan," Clem said.

"Right," Spike said. "You. Sophie, right? Head downstairs. Clem and I'll be down after we've got some weapons together. That's it," Spike continued, as Sophie approached the ladder apprehensively. "That's it, down you go. Just be a minute."

After Sophie disappeared from sight, Spike walked over to a corner of the crypt and grabbed a small battle axe and handful of stakes.

"Here," Spike said, handing two stakes to Clem. "If we're going to be in the tunnels, we'd better be prepared for vamps, just in case. Look, mate, if the going gets tough, stick close. No offense, Clem, but you were always more of a lover than a fighter."

Clem pursed his lips and nodded in approval.

"Speaking of which," Spike said, pulling a cigarette from his coat pocket. "How about you, eh? Get her in girl clothes and she wouldn't be half bad. You know what they say about the first taste out of the bottle."

Clem let out a disgusted sigh and walked toward the ladder. Spike lit his cigarette and followed.


Part III


"This way," Spike said, gesturing for Sophie and Clem to follow him down a stretch of the sewer. "Stay tight. Bad time to be down here. Of course, not a good time to be anywhere in Sunnydale right now."

"Why?" Sophie asked.

"Kaagora's Solstice," Spike replied.

"Oh, yeah," Clem said. "I forgot."

"What's Kaagora's Solstice?" Sophie inquired.

"Mating season for demons," Spike explained. "Kaagora was a demon fertility goddess. Once every ninety odd years the stars line up and whatnot, and demons get all horned out, especially in places like Sunnydale. The Hellmouth's like a bleeding Barry White album. Demons come from all over to snog, spawn, lay eggs...."

Spike's voice trailed off, then he stopped and turned to face Sophie.

"Hey, you work with Buffy, don't you?" he asked.

"Um, yeah," Sophie admitted.

"In that takeaway shop," Spike half-asked Sophie, half-said aloud to himself. Spike continued walking. Sophie and Clem followed. Spike slowed his pace enough so that Sophie walked beside him.

"Listen, luv," Spike said. "That shop you work in, it's got one of those big freezer jobs, right?"

"Um, yeah," Sophie said. "It's about the size of a big closet. Bigger, actually."

"Let's suppose," Spike continued, "hypothetically, of course, that there was this bloke, right? And he had about a dozen or so...oh, let's say they were...bowling balls. And he wanted to keep them on ice overnight. That deep freeze of yours would do nicely, wouldn't it?"

"Why would he want to do that?" Sophie asked.

"Just indulge me," Spike said. "It's...er...a riddle."

"A riddle?"

"Oh, I like riddles," Clem said. "I think I've heard this one."

"No, you haven't," Spike said.

"No, no, wait," Clem said. "This is the one where he has to take the bowling balls across a river in a canoe, but he can only take three at a time. So he...."

"There's no canoe," Spike said, a hint of annoyance in his voice. "And no river. And I think the girl was talking. Ladies first."

"Um, I dunno," Sophie said. "You really can't get into the freezer at night. They have one of those motion detectors. They're afraid someone would get stuck inside. You know, like in that episode of 'The Brady Bunch?'"

"Oh, yeah," Clem said. "The one where Bobby and Oliver thought that Alice's boyfriend was a spy! I loved that one. What was his name...the guy...Alice's boyfriend...?"

"Sam!" Sophie exclaimed.

"Yeah," Clem said. "Sam the butcher."

"Yeah, right," Spike said. "Now, let's suppose...."

"Did you see the one with the trampoline?" Sophie asked.

"When Bobby was afraid of heights," Clem said. "But then his pet bird...."

"Excuse me!" Spike shouted. "I believe we were discussing my frozen bowling balls!"

"Oh," Sophie said. "Um...well, I don't really see how you could use the freezer at night. They're pretty careful."

"And this sensor doodad," Spike said. "Pretty much standard equipment?"

"Well, a girl at the Doublemeat said that they had one at her old job," Sophie said. "She used to work at the BeefyBarn. You know, the place with the big talking hamburger thing at the drive thru?"

"Eeesh," Clem said. "That guy creeps me out."

"Well," Spike muttered. "It was worth a shot."

"If you want," Sophie said, "I could check if...."

"Nah," Spike said. "Skip it. Just a thought. No big. It's just one night. Shouldn't be a problem anyway. They'll keep."

Sophie looked at Clem. Clem shrugged.

"Hold up," Spike said, stopping in his tracks. "Hear that? Something's down that tunnel. Wait here."

Spike snuck around the corner into the darkness.

"Um, your friend Spike is...interesting," Sophie whispered.

"Yeah," Clem said. "He can be...well, he's a vampire, you know? He can't help it. But sometimes he's nice."

"Really?"

"Oh, yeah," Clem said. "You know, he'll stake you a kitten if you're a little short, or hang and watch a movie."

"No, I mean, he's a vampire?"

"Gee, I'm just not very good at keeping secrets tonight, am I?"

"It's all just so much to absorb."

"By the way," Clem said. "Sorry about some of the things he said. Again, vampire."

"What do you mean?"

"You know," Clem explained. "When he implied that we were...you know."

"Oh, I know he didn't mean it," Sophie said.

"Oh, he meant it," Clem said. "He's not known for tact when it comes to that sort of thing."

"No, I mean, he was just kidding you," Sophie said. "He really didn't believe that you were...with me. I mean, c'mon. I'm not the kind of girl that guys go after."

"Who told you that?"

"Nobody told me," Sophie said. "I mean...I know I'm not...well, who wants a girl who can't even eat a cheeseburger?"

"That's just silly," Clem said. "I'll bet lots of guys have asked you out."

"No," Sophie said. "Well, there's this one...his name's Paul. He works at the Doublemeat. He asked me to go to a concert once."

"Did you go?"

"No," Sophie admitted. "Um...my mom thought that all the smoke would irritate my asthma. And I would have been out late. And...I know he really didn't like me. He was just trying to...you know."

"Sophie," Clem said. "I'm sure he liked you very much. Unless he's stupid, he'd have to. Now, is he stupid?"

"Well...no."

"There you go," Clem said.

"Um, hey," Spike said, turning the corner.

"Spike," Clem said. "Did you find what was causing the noise?"

"Well, you might say it found me," Spike replied, just before he was thrown forward onto the damp, stone floor of the sewer. Two men in dark clothes turned the corner behind Spike. Each held odd-shaped rifles in their hands.

"Hey," Clem said. "What's going on here? Who are...?"

One of the men raised his rifle. A blue streak of lightning burst forth from the barrel, knocking Clem to the ground. Sophie shrieked as she ran to Clem's side. The two men walked over to Sophie. One pointed his rifle at her chest, while the other pulled a metal box from his jacket pocket and looked down at the screen.

"Is she human?" the first man asked.

"Yeah," his companion replied, pulling a pair of handcuffs from another pocket with his free hand. "And that glow? It's the mark. The Eftena got her."

Sophie could only stare helplessly as the man handcuffed her behind her back.


Part IV.


"Uhhh," Clem muttered as he regained consciousness.

"Shhh," Spike whispered. Clem awoke to realize that his hands were shackled behind his back. Across from him, Spike and Sophie sat, also with their hands bound behind their backs.

Clem sat up. He saw Spike's eyes dart subtly down the tunnel. Clem glanced down the tunnel and saw the two men standing about thirty yards ahead. Although the two men were whispering, the echoing effect of the concrete walls, combined with Clem's keen hearing, allowed him to eavesdrop on the conversation.

"That was stupid, Richards," one of the men said. "You wasted a perfectly good taser blast on the wrinkly one. We've got to save the juice."

"He's the size of a humvee," Richards replied. "Besides, Clarke, it's not my fault we can't keep a decent charge on these things."

"I had to jury rig a car battery just to get any charge at all," Clarke said. "You get the army to pay the bills again, and I'll get us a full charge."

"This sucks," Richards said. "Back when we were in the...."

"Well, we're not in," Clarke interjected. "So it's this, or sit on your ass and watch Letterman. What's it gonna be, soldier?"

"Whatever," Richards sighed. "Look, I still don't see why we didn't kill the demons."

"They were with the girl," Clarke argued. "I wanna know why."

"Who cares? They're demons."

"I care," Clarke said. "Two demons guarding a human. There's gotta be a reason."

"Maybe they were delivering her to the Eftena," Richards theorized.

"Jeez, you're dense," Clarke said. "Didn't you pay attention during Species Training? Eftena are barely sentient. They don't even have a language. How would they make a deal with verbal Sub-Ts?"

"So what do we do? Put them in jars with holes in the lids?"

"First we get the Eftena," Clarke said. "Then we park the two of them in the basement until after the solstice. After we clean up, we get them to talk."

"What about the girl?"

"The female Sub-T will be along soon enough," Clarke said. "If the girl makes it, we let her go. Who's she gonna tell that's gonna believe her?"

"She saw our faces," Richards argued.

"We'll deal with that when it comes," Clarke said. "Right now, we have to set up a perimeter. Spread out."

"Spread out?" Richards repeated. "What are you talking about? There's only two of us. How can we...?"

"I said spread out, corporal!" Clarke shouted, storming off down a side tunnel. Richards shook his head, then went down another branch of the sewers.

"So that's their game," Spike muttered.

"Who are they?" Sophie asked.

"They look familiar," Clem observed.

"Remember them army wankers?" Spike asked. "Couple years back?"

"The Initiative?" Clem asked. "I thought they were gone?"

"They are," Spike said. "Guess some gits don't know when to pack it in."

"What's the Initiative?" Sophie asked.

"They were these government demon hunters," Clem explained. "They rounded up demons for experiments. They left town after it got out of hand. I guess these guys stayed behind to keep at it on their own."

"Yeah, well, I'd love to stick around and find out what happens to the few, the proud, and the bloody stupid," Spike said, wriggling behind his back. "But I think I'm leaning on a wire something or other, and...."

Sophie and Clem heard the sound of metal scraping against metal, and then a slight click. Spike pulled his now free hands around and massaged his sore wrists. He then walked over to Clem and began picking the locks on Clem's shackles.

"Where'd you learn to do that?" Clem asked.

"A little something I picked up while I was with Dru," Spike said, trying to get a good angle on the keyhole of Clem's shackles. "She liked to play. Of course, she also liked to wander off after and sing with crickets, so...there!"

Clem tossed aside the shackles as Spike began to work on Sophie's handcuffs.

"We've got to get outta here," Clem said. "Those army guys are bad news."

"So they're not like Buffy?" Sophie asked. "They don't only go after bad demons?"

"Well, that's how they started out," Clem replied. "But near the end they got out of hand."

"And these morons seem to be right out of their bleeding heads," Spike continued, as he freed Sophie from the handcuffs and tossed them to the ground. He then looked down at them, shrugged, grabbed the handcuffs, and put them in his jacket pocket. "Never hurts to have a spare set," Spike muttered to himself.

"We'd better get out of here," Clem said.

"Right," Spike said, lifting Sophie to her feet.

"Do you think they'll get the Eftena?" Sophie asked.

"Probably," Clem said. "From what they were saying, they're going to be hunting during the whole Solstice. They probably know that the demon activity is going to be up during the month, so any demon that's in town for the spawning period is a target."

"Wait a minute," Spike said. "That could be trouble."

"We'll just lay low," Clem said. "They won't bother us. They'll just go after the demons who are reproducing."

"No," Spike said. "I mean...if these guys are out shooting anything that...er...um...we should take these guys out."

"What?" Sophie asked.

"Stay out of this, luv," Spike said. "Look, Clem, these Initiative guys, they were never any good for any of us."

"Fine," Clem said. "Let's tell Buffy. She took care of them last time."

"She's talking to the Little Bit," Spike said. "She won't just sod off to go after these two."

"So she waits a couple of days," Clem said. "So what? They've been hunting demons for a couple of years. What's another day or two?"

"We're in the middle of the Solstice," Spike said. "They might get...I mean, they might tag a demon that...anyway, you heard them, they're on the warpath in a big way."

"Maybe," Clem said. "But we could still...."

"Look, Clem," Spike said. "They were ready to use your lady friend here as bait, right? Who else would they be willing to hurt if they got the chance?"

"Well...."

"The one guy was ready to kill her," Spike said. "If they're ready to do that, what else would they do?"

"Um...I suppose...."

"Right," Spike said. "Now, I can't raise a hand to these guys without setting of the stupid chip in my head, so here's the plan...."


Part V.


"Alright," Spike said. "You two sit here with your hands behind your backs. When they're coming, we move."

"Gotcha," Clem said, sitting on the ground opposite Sophie.

"Clem," Sophie said.

"Yeah?"

"I don't know if I can do this."

"It'll be OK," Clem said. "Just stick close."

"Clem, I'm scared," Sophie said, a hint of tears in her voice.

"Look, luv," Spike said. "I put my neck on the line for you, so now it's payback time. I watched your back, now it's your turn to do this for me."

"Do what for you?" Sophie asked. "You're determined to get these soldiers out of the way. Why? You wanted to run from the Eftena, but now you want to fight. What are you really after? There's something you're not telling us."

"Sophie," Clem said. "Spike's right. These are bad men. I promise nothing will happen to you. I promise."

Footsteps sounded through the tunnels before Sophie could respond. Clem put his hands behind his back. Clem and Spike both looked at Sophie. She bit her bottom lip, then thrust her arms behind her back, and nodded.

"It's got to be somewhere," Clarke said, walking down the corridor.

"Maybe it lost the scent down here," Richards said. "Maybe...hey!"

Clarke and Richards looked down the tunnel and saw Spike grasping Sophie by the shoulders, his face buried in the nape of her neck.

"He's lose!" Clarke shouted, raising his rifle.

"Stop, you idiot!" Richards said. "You'll get both of them. The girl's no use as bait if she's dead."

Richards and Clarke ran down the tunnel. When they got to Spike, Clarke grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him off of Sophie.

As Richards raised his rifle to shoot Spike, Clem sprang, knocking both of the soldiers to the ground. Unfortunately, Clarke's reactions were faster than Clem had thought, and Clarke fired his rifle. The blue arc caught Clem in the shoulder, and sent him reeling.

Clarke started after Clem, but Sophie stretched out her leg and tripped him. As he fell, Clark reached out to brace his fall and dropped his taser. Meanwhile, Richards started swinging at Spike with the stock of his rifle.

"Damn," Spike muttered. He dodged the blows from Richards, but the chip prevented him from taking any offensive action.

The chaos of the battle came to a sudden halt as everyone heard a loud hiss echo through the tunnel. On the ground, Clarke grabbed a flashlight from one of his cargo pockets and shone it down the tunnel. A four-foot lizard was making a hasty charge toward them.

"It's the Eftena!" Clarke shouted. He rose to his knees and grabbed for his weapon, but the lizard, instinctively sensing Clarke's aggression, jumped on him and sank its teeth into his neck. The Eftena dropped Clarke's lifeless body to the ground, and turned its attention to Sophie. She screamed as the reptile's eyes gazed down on her.

Clem saw the Eftena approach Sophie, pushed himself up on his good arm, and launched himself at the lizard creature wrestling it to the ground. Richards raised his rifle, ready to take out the two demons with one shot.

"Clem!" Spike shouted. "Switch!"

Clem looked up, then released the Eftena and lumbered toward Richards. Spike then ran to the Eftena, and kicked it across the jaw as it attempted to get to its feet. He grasped the Eftena's head, and snapped its neck with one twist.

As Spike turned to check out the rest of the action, Clem was knocked backward by a blow to the chest from the butt of Richard's rifle, propelling Clem into Spike. The pair hit the concrete, and Richards stood above them, pointing his rifle at both of them.

"Now," Richards said, "I'll finish the job. We shoulda killed the two of you when...ugh!"

Richards dropped to the ground, twitching and writhing in pain. Clem and Spike looked up, and saw Sophie standing behind Richards. Steam was rising from the barrel of Clarke's rifle. Sophie was pointing it at Richards' head.

Richards turned over, groaning in pain. He froze as he saw Sophie standing above him.

"Your friend's dead," Sophie hissed. "And you're not looking too good either. I'd suggest you go home. And if I ever hear that you're messing around with demons again, I'll finish you off myself. Now beat it."

Richards scrambled to his feet and ran down the tunnel into the darkness.

Sophie dropped the rifle to the ground and began trembling. Clem got up and walked to her side.

"Oh my god," Sophie muttered. "I shot...and the lizard was...and he...and I...and I said...and...."

"You did fine," Clem said, placing his hand on her shoulder.

"Do you think he believed me?" Sophie asked.

"Hell, I was ready to bugger off myself," Spike said, rising to his feet.

"You did real good," Clem said. "I don't think we'll see any more of him."

"Yeah," Spike said, grabbing a cigarette from his coat. "No soldier boys around for the rest of the Solstice. Heh. Worked out just fine."

"I don't believe I did that," Sophie said.

"Well, you did," Clem said. "And I don't think the Slayer could have done any...hey, Sophie! You're not glowing!"

Sophie looked at her hands and arms, and saw that, in fact, the glow had gone away.

"You're cured," Clem observed.

"Yeah," Sophie said. "I think I am."


Epilogue


"Are you sure you want to keep that thing?"

"Yeah," Sophie said, glancing down at the rifle she cradled in her arms as she walked. "I dunno, Clem. I guess it's kind of a souvenir. Or maybe just to make sure I remember things right. I don't want to start forgetting the way I did after Buffy's party. It's important that I know that all this really happened."

"Suit yourself," Clem said. "Just be careful. Those things can be dangerous."

"I can handle it," Sophie said.

"So is this it?" Clem asked. "You said it was number seven-oh-nine."

"Oh, yeah," Sophie said, a hint of disappointment in her voice. "This is my house."

"Well, I said I'd get you home," Clem said. "Sorry it took so long."

"Are you kidding?" Sophie said. "You were great. And...well...it was scary, but...it was kinda...well, fun."

"Well, I should...."

"Hey, Clem," Sophie said. "Would you like to come in? I mean, my folks have cable. We could watch some TV. Maybe throw a movie in the VCR. I could pop some popcorn, and...."

Clem swallowed hard. His head dropped. Sophie noticed that his large ears flapped as he sighed. Over the course of the night, Sophie had forgotten that Clem was...what he was. But Clem hadn't. Demons who like Nick-at-Nite never forget that they are different.

"You should get some sleep," Clem finally said. "It's been a long night. I know you don't stay out late very often. But, you know, you should. You should start going to parties more. But maybe not with Buffy. You should start making friends with normal people. I mean...people your own age. Maybe that guy Paul. He sounds really nice. I bet he'll ask you out again. Yep, I'll bet he will. And if he doesn't, maybe you should ask him. Guys like that. They really do."

"I guess," Sophie said, unsure of what else she could say.

"I'd better get home," Clem said. "You have a good night."

Clem turned and began walking down the street.

"Clem!" Sophie shouted.

Clem turned.

"Thank you," she said. "Really. Thanks. For everything. Maybe, someday...."

"Goodbye, Sophie," Clem said. He waived, and then continued walking, until eventually he was out of sight.

Sophie stood in front of her house. Clem was right. She had to find a place in her own world, and Clem was a very sweet, very kind creature that was not part of that world.

Sophie walked up to the front door of her house, got out her keys, unlocked the door, and walked in. Her mother, wearing a pink terrycloth robe, was sitting in the living room to the left of the foyer.

"Sophie!" her mother exclaimed, rising to her feet. "Where have you been? Your father and I have been worried sick!"

"I'm fine," Sophie muttered.

"Don't hand me that, young lady!" her mother shouted. "Do you know how long I've been waiting for you? I've already called the police! What have you been up to? What have...and what is that thing you're carrying?"

"It's a taser rifle," Sophie calmly explained. "It was created by the military to subdue monsters."

"What?!? Sophie, are you on something? It's that girl from work, isn't it? She's got you taking drugs! You're obviously imagining some...."

Sophie interrupted her mother by leveling the rifle, aiming it to her left, and firing at a lamp across the room. With a sharp sizzle, and then a loud bang, the porcelain shattered as the blue electricity struck it. Sophie's mother gasped, then turned wordlessly to face her daughter.

"I said I'm fine," Sophie said. "There's nothing wrong with me. Nothing. But I am tired. I'm going to bed. Goodnight, mother."

Her mother watched as Sophie quietly turned and began climbing the stairs to her room. On her way down the hall, Sophie decided that she would get the twenty-five dollar plan with her new cell phone. She might not use all four hundred of the anytime minutes, but Sophie was feeling extravagant.


THE END


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A Pregnant Pause

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Graham returns to Sunnydale and gives Xander startling news: he's pregnant! And the father is Spike! A humble attempt at writing the first non-slash, non-AU, non-gender-reversal, non-curse, non-spell, Spike-gets-Xander-pregnant fic. Takes place approximately two weeks after the events in the "Restless" episode of BtVS.
Rating: R, for language and suggestive situations.
Spoilers: Some general spoilers up through Season 5.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. Music lyrics quoted are the property of whoever owns the publishing rights (Paul Anka, I'd assume, and certainly not me). The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

NARRATIVE REPORT

TO BE COMPLETED BY FIELD AGENTS NO MORE THAN THIRTY (30) DAYS AFTER INITIAL DEBRIEFING

TOP SECRET, CLASSIFICATION A-5

NO UNAUTHORIZED DISTRIBUTION

AGENT'S NAME: Miller, Graham

AGENT'S DESIGNATION: Agent

AGENT'S CURRENT STATION: Sunnydale, California (reassignment pending)

DATE: 6/06/00

ASSIGNMENT CLEARANCE NO.: D2G144269

AGENTS ARE REMINDED THAT NO FACTS, CONVERSATIONS, OR OTHER INFORMATION, WHETHER CONSIDERED BY THE AGENT TO BE MATERIAL OR IMMATERIAL, SHALL BE OMITTED FROM THIS REPORT.

AGENT'S NARRATIVE REPORT:

6/2/00, 23:30, PST.

I didn't want this assignment. If I'd had my choice, I would have never returned to Sunnydale. Unfortunately, if you're one of the few surviving members of a failed covert operation, you don't have a lot of choices. I had one chance to earn back my spurs. I took it.

I was standing in front of the frat house with my duffle bag over my shoulder. Goodman pulled up at exactly eleven-thirty p.m. He was right on time, just like you'd expect from a military man. He reached over and opened the passenger door. I jumped in, and he drove down the street.

"Miller, right?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said. "You're Goodman?"

"That's me," Goodman replied. "We can be at the safe house in five minutes."

"Don't go straight there," I instructed. "Some of the other guys might see us. I'm supposed to be on my way to the airport."

"Oh, yeah," Goodman said. "Sorry. I'll head up to Franklin, then loop back around. I guess most of the others opted to get out, after the whole Initiative fiasco."

"Yep," I said.

"I've heard a lot about you," Goodman said. "Impressive stuff. I'm glad you picked me to work on this one. I'm just sorry I didn't get through training in time to get in on the Initiative project."

Yeah, I thought. Poor guy.

"I read your outline for this mission," Goodman continued. "Interesting. Kind of...well...when I first read the mission objective, I thought this was going to be a simple snatch and grab. I'm surprised that Major Ellis authorized so much civilian contact. If we just drugged the kid, we could do the surgery and he'd never know what happened. I mean, it's like something out of a bad spy novel or...um, sorry."

"Turn here," I told Goodman. "Head for the safe house."

"Gotcha," Goodman said, turning onto Franklin Street. "It's just that...you know...we're a military operation. They taught us in training that the simplest approaches usually are the most effective. Maintain covert status. Quick execution. By the book."

"Did they also teach you not to question a senior agent?" I asked.

"Uh, yeah. I mean, yes, sir."

"That's better," I said. I was in no mood to explain myself to an agent who was only two weeks out of training.

"Will Agent Finn be participating in this mission?" Goodman asked.

"Riley Finn is no longer on board," I said.

"I guess that's why they gave this assignment to you," Goodman said. "I mean, you were the one who got closest to...."

"Goodman?"

"Yeah?"

"This isn't a business for people who like to talk."

"Um, yeah. Sorry."

"We're here," I said, as Goodman pulled up to the curb in front of the safe house. He cut the engine, and we both walked up to the front door. I stooped down and placed my open palm on the black glass flower pot by the door. A dim glow indicated that the scanner was working. After it had verified my hand print, the front door swung open, and Goodman and I entered the house. Agent Marks and two others were waiting in the hallway.

"Graham," Marks said. "Good to see you. This is Agent Brown and Agent Henderson."

Brown I'd expected. I'd handpicked all of the agents for this mission. Henderson I didn't expect.

"What about Ramsey?" I asked.

"He's still on the mend," Marks replied. "The Brass sent Henderson to fill in."

I shook Brown's hand, then shook Henderson's.

"How's the shoulder?" I asked Marks.

"Not too bad," he replied. "They got out the quills from that Ixcartha demon that clawed me on the way out of the Initiative. The doctors say I should get back a full range of motion in a couple of months. I'm just glad I got out at all."

"Do we have them?" I asked.

"They're in the basement," Marks confirmed.

"Is everything ready?"

"Pretty much. The basement's all set up, Doctor Saunders is here, and the pre-mission report is on your desk upstairs."

"Good," I said. "Come up with me. Goodman, take Brown and Henderson downstairs and keep an eye on things."

"Yes, sir," Goodman said. He walked with Brown and Henderson toward a door behind the stairs. Marks walked up the stairs with me.

"How much does Henderson know?" I asked.

"Not much," Marks replied. "He just transferred from the Sub-T research department over at the FBI. I figured you'd want to brief him."

"Not really," I said. "This mission's need to know."

"Fair enough," Marks said, as we got to a door at the top of the stairs. "Your office is set up in here. Well, it's your office until Ellis shows up. The file's on the desk."

"Good," I said, walking in. "I'll go over it. You go downstairs and keep an eye on the others. They're a little green, so you may have to hold their hands."

"Got it," Marks said. He left the office. I shut the door behind him, sat behind the desk, and started in on the file.

A quick review of the file showed that everything had been prepared as I'd asked. Henderson's dossier was included. He'd been deep cover for about two years in the Occult Intelligence branch of the FBI, researching demon cultures. He'd actually spent six months in Sunnydale, documenting Sub-T migration patterns. They'd pulled him out of the field after his partner got vamped in a raid on a nest in Frisco. I would have preferred Ramsey, but I couldn't really complain about having someone on the team who'd just come off a bad mission.

There was one other thing I wasn't happy about. A safe house is supposed to have secured rooms. Whoever had arranged for this house hadn't checked the soundproofing. The floor vents for the heating system were old, and sound carried through them from room to room. I knew this because I could hear the conversation from the basement.

"So that's him?" a voice asked. I recognized the voice as Brown's.

"Yep," Marks' voice replied.

"He doesn't talk much," Brown observed.

"He talked even less when he wasn't in charge," Marks replied.

"I wish he wouldn't talk at all," Goodman said. "He's got an attitude problem. All I did was say that this operation seemed a little out there, and he starts all in on...."

"Goodman," Marks interjected, "when you've seen half of what we've seen, you'll be entitled to pass judgment on our plans, and our attitudes. Things got ugly. Real ugly. We buried a lot of good agents, and it was mostly because we thought we could just waltz into Sunnydale and take control. We were wrong. I'm not sure I would have signed off on Graham's plan, but that's not my call, and it's a better plan than anything Professor Walsh ever came up with. So why don't you just keep your thoughts to yourself?"

"Is anyone going to tell me what this plan is?" Henderson asked.

"You haven't been briefed?" Goodman asked. "Oh, boy, you're not gonna believe this. Major Ellis authorizes us to come in here and grab...."

"Enough, Goodman," Marks said. "We've all been told what we need to know. You'll find out soon enough, Henderson."

I actually thought about going downstairs and dishing out a little attitude adjustment. I decided against it. Maybe they were right. And right or wrong, I just wanted this mission over with. I locked the file in the top drawer of the desk, and made my way downstairs.

As I descended the stairway to the basement, I saw the agents seated on the chairs that had been set up against the wall. A guy in a white coat (who I recognized as Dr. Saunders from his dossier) stood by the operating tables and equipment. In the center of the room, two men lay unconscious, each with their hands bound behind their backs.

"Approve of the setup?" Marks asked.

"Not really," I said. "But it'll have to do. They give you any trouble?"

"Brown did most of the hard part," Marks said. "I pretty much watched and let him take care of the physical end. My shoulder wouldn't let me do much else."

"Well?" I asked Brown.

"Neither one was a big problem," Brown replied. "The kid went down as soon as the chloroform hit. The other one struggled a little, but he really couldn't retaliate with that chip in his head. When Hostile 17 tried to take a swing at me, he...."

"Brown," I said.

"Yes, sir?"

"Hostiles One through Sixteen are no longer in custody. He's called Spike."

"Oh, yeah," Brown said. "Well, when Spike tried to hit me, the chip kicked in. He was on the ground holding his head when I finally got the chloroform on him. After that, he was out like a light."

"Alright, wake the kid," I instructed. Dr. Saunders grabbed a packet of smelling salts off of one of the instrument trays, walked over, stooped beside the sleeping pair, and waived the packet around until a coughing sound filled the basement.

"Hello, Xander," I said.

Xander blinked, gasped, and fell back into unconsciousness.

"This make take awhile," Dr. Saunders said, reaching into his lab coat to grab a hypodermic.


6/3/00, 01:14, PST


"Ugh, my head," Xander said, struggling to sit up. Spike sat beside him. His vampire strength must have allowed the effects of the chloroform to wear off more quickly.

"Where am I?" Xander asked no one in particular.

"In a basement with the army wankers," Spike replied.

"Spike?" Xander asked. "What are you doing here?"

"Same as you, I suspect," Spike surmised.

"Not exactly," I said.

"Graham?" Xander asked.

"It's me," I said. "Look, we need to talk."

"Yeah, do that," Spike said. "Meanwhile, what say you let me go before I rip yer head off?"

"Spike, we put that chip in you," I said. "Don't insult my intelligence with empty threats. Now, do you two want to know what's going on?"

Spike glared at me, but remained silent. Xander looked at me with a combination of fear and curiosity in his eyes.

"Look, Xander," I said. "No one's sorry than I am about what happened in the Initiative. As soon as things are squared away, I'm out of here for good. But we found out about one of Professor Walsh's experiments that needs...containing. It involves you."

"Me?" Xander said. "How?"

"Professor Walsh was interested in human/demon hybrids," I explained. "She took samples from the demons she captured, including your friend Spike."

"He's NOT my friend," Xander protested.

"Bloody well right I'm not," Spike agreed.

"In any event," I said, "she took tissue samples. Hair, fingernail clippings, and...fluids."

"Fluids," Xander repeated. "Like blood?"

"Well, no," I said. "Blood wouldn't really tell us anything. I mean, it's not his blood in him. No, these samples were a little more...intimate."

"Intimate?" Spike asked. "What do you...hey, you don't mean...?"

"We have...technicians," I explained, "who specialize in collecting...well, samples."

"So while Spike was knocked out and getting that chip in his head," Xander deduced, "you were also getting a sample of his...."

"You bastards!" Spike screamed.

The vamp broke the plastic restraints on his hands. He lunged for me, but the chip kicked in before he could get within a foot of me. He collapsed to the ground in pain.

"Aw, poor Spike," Xander said, a giddy smile crossing his face. "Don't worry, I'm sure the nice soldiers will give you your sample back. If you're a good boy, you might get a free army thermos out of the deal."

"We can't give it back," I said. "Professor Walsh used it."

"Used it?" Xander asked, turning his attention back to me. "For what?"

"Perhaps Dr. Saunders could explain better," I said. Sanders came forward with a manila file in his hands.

"The point of Professor Walsh's experiment was to see if the DNA of a vampire could create a human/vampire crossbreed," Saunders explained. "DNA strands from the hair and skin were grafted to the single-celled organisms that were placed within the...sample...and then were fertilized with a human ovum. The fertilized egg was then stored for implantation until a suitable human host could be found."

"I still don't see what this has to do with me," Xander protested.

"According to Professor Walsh's notes," Saunders continued, "there was some concern that if a female subject was used to carry the fetus, the natural defense of the woman's reproductive system would cause a miscarriage. She theorized that the experiment would stand a better chance of success if the embryo were implanted in the abdominal cavity of a male subject."

"So she wanted to use a man," Xander said. "How do I fit into...wait a minute. You're not saying that....that...."

"She also wanted to use a subject with natural resistence to the side effects of dark magic," Saunders said, flipping through pages of the file. "According to her dossier on the Slayer's circle of friends, you grew up in Sunnydale, and actually attended high school on top of a Hellmouth. Continual exposure to a center of mystical convergence made you an ideal subject for...."

"You son of a...!" Xander said, trying to lunge at Saunders. Since he didn't have a vampire's strength, the plastic restraints kept his hands behind his back, and the imbalance kept him from getting to his feet. He fell backwards.

"Hold on just a bloody, buggery minute!" Spike shouted. "Are you saying my...stuff...is in his tummy?"

"Well, in a manner of speaking," Dr. Saunders chimed in. "Since the DNA was spliced directly into the ovum, it's purely your DNA. However, it's been grafted to living tissue. We could learn a great deal from the development of...."

"You impregnated me with Spike's baby?!?" Xander exclaimed.

"Not us," I said. "Professor Walsh. If the brass knew what she was up to, they would have never...."

"Spike," Xander said. "Are you sure you can't kill these guys?"

"Not with this chip," Spike replied. "Tell you what. We'll team up. You kill them, and I'll drink the blood out of them."

"I can't get my hands...how is that teaming up!?" Xander exclaimed.

"Well, it's all I can do," Spike said.

"This is all your fault, Spike!" Xander shouted.

"My fault? How the hell is it my fault?"

"You promised to stay out of Sunnydale!" Xander accused. "If you'd stayed out of town like you promised, none of this would have happened!"

"If I'd stayed out of Sunnydale, you would have died in the bloody bunker, you twit!"

"We wouldn't have been in that bunker if you hadn't lured us there!"

"You wanted in!"

"You were trying to kill us!"

"And I would have, if that git Adam hadn't bollixed it up!"

"Will the two of you please listen," I said. I'd be collecting Social Security in Sunnydale if I waited for those two to stop shouting at each other.

"I don't buy a word of this," Xander said. "It's...it's...ridiculous. There's no way."

"Doctor," I said, turning to Sanders.

"Mr...Harris, is it?" Sanders said, getting out a chart and a pen. "Yes, Harris. Mr. Harris, about four months ago...specifically around January twenty-eighth, did you notice any generalized abdominal pains?"

"No," Xander denied. "I didn't...well, I did have sore abs for a couple of days. I worked a construction job at the end of January. I was saving for Anya's Valentine's present."

"Actually, the discomfort was from the injection of the embryo into your abdomen by a pair of technicians while you were sleeping...I believe...yes, in your parents' basement," Saunders said, his finger tracing lines on a page from the file.

"That's crazy," Xander said. "It was just from exertion. I was sore all over."

"So...you experienced general muscle and joint stiffness concurrent with, or shortly after the abdominal pains?" Saunders asked.

"Well, I suppose," Xander admitted.

Sanders and I exchanged knowing glances.

"How about weight gain?" Saunders continued. "Have you noticed any weight gain over the past three to six weeks? Somewhere between five and fifteen pounds?"

"Not...really," Xander stammered. "I mean, I may have gained a little. But that's because they opened this donut shop down on Main Street. The apple cinnamon turnovers are really good. I have them every morning."

"So," Saunders said, pausing to take a pen out of his pocket and take notes in his file, "would you describe your appetite for these pastries as a...craving?"

"Well, I guess that's one way of...oh, my God."

Xander's face dropped into his hands.

"Well," Spike said, "you always did remind me of a wet nurse. More because of the whining and pansy-ass screaming, but...."

"Spike!" Xander shouted. "One more word out of you and...!"

"Hormones," Spike said, turning to the doctor. "Maybe you could have one of the soldier boys rub his feet?"

It took both Brown and Henderson to hold Xander down before he could take a lunge at Spike. The plastic ties on the kid's wrists were rated for 350 pounds of tensile strength, but as mad as he was, I wasn't sure it would be enough.

"Alright, you two," I said. "We've talked about the problem. Doctor, the solution."

"We've expanded on some of the technology developed by Dr. Walsh," Saunders said. "This," he said, walking over to a tank against the back wall of the room, "is a containment unit. With the proper mix of plasma and liquid protein, it will allow the demon to gestate to term."

Xander calmed down enough to focus on Dr. Saunders.

"These electro-dynamic impulse units," Saunders continued, gesturing toward a series of wires running from a computer terminal onto the tank, "will allow us to both simulate a living metabolism within the tank, and monitor the development of the creature. All we need to do is remove the demon from your abdominal cavity and transfer it to the gestating chamber. We can prepare you for surgery in about two hours. The procedure will be done by morning. After that, you'll be off your feet for about a day. With our laser surgical techniques, you'll experience no ill effects beyond what you'd feel after a simple appendectomy. Less, actually, if there are no complications. There's no danger to you whatsoever."

Xander paused, then asked:

"No danger?"

"None," Saunders replied.

"And after that, I'm fine?"

"Perfectly fine," Saunders said.

Xander drew a breath, and then said:

"Alright. Whatever. I just want this over."

"Doctor, if you would get started," I said. "Spike, we need to take some tissue samples."

"We unfortunately don't have any of Dr. Walsh's original specimens," Saunders said. "We need some samples of your DNA to calibrate the fluid composition to make it compatible with the creature's cellular makeup."

"Wait a minute," Spike said. "I don't care what you idiots want to do for Xander and science and all that rot, but there's no chance in Hell I'm letting you take another dose of my...."

"No, no," Saunders said. "Nothing like that. Just hair and nail clippings, for the DNA."

"How do we know you're not going to kill us once we're unconscious?" Xander asked.

"You were unconscious when we brought you here," I said. "We could have killed you already."

"He's got a point," Spike said.

"I take it you'll cooperate, then?"

"Fine," Spike said. "Anything so I don't have to hear this ponce whine all night."

"Spike," Xander said, "when this is over I swear I'm gonna...."

"We're in agreement then," I said, not wanting to give Xander and Spike another opportunity to argue again. "Brown, you and Goodman get them set on the tables. Henderson, get upstairs and watch the door. Holler if their friends don't come looking for them. Doctor, upstairs. We need final clearance from HQ."

Brown and Goodman led Spike and Xander over to the tables. Saunders, Marks, Henderson and I walked up the stairs out of the basement. We left Henderson at the front door to keep watch. When we got to the office up at the top of the stairs, I closed the door behind us.

"How long to get Harris prepped?" I asked Saunders.

"About two hours," he answered, "if we follow standard surgical protocols to screen for infection and adverse reaction to anesthetics. Of course, this is a field operation, so I can cut a few corners and...."

"Don't," I interrupted. "I don't want any risk of complications."

Marks and Saunders exchanged worried glances.

"Any problem with that?" I asked, a deliberate hint of annoyance in my voice.

"You're in charge," Saunders said. He turned and walked out of the office, closing the door behind him. I could hear his footsteps go down the outside stairs, and then down into the basement.

"You sure you want to do it this way?" Marks asked.

"Yes," I said, walking past Marks and taking a seat at the desk. Desks convey authority. At least, I hoped this one would.

"We could have snatched the kid," Marks continued. "Had him in surgery and dumped him back in his basement, and no one would have...."

"And when he woke up?" I retorted. "He'd know he was gassed, he'd know he had surgery, and he'd tell his friends."

"So what? They'd never know...."

"The Hell they wouldn't," I said. "We underestimated this town once, and in the end I had to hose some of my best friends off my boots. So did you. This time, we use our brains."

"You're not going soft, are you, Graham? You seem a little too worried about hurting this civilian."

"I'm not a murderer. And even if I were, this whole mission is for nothing if the kid dies in a toxic seizure from the anesthetic."

"We could have done without the vampire," Marks said. "He wasn't necessary."

I made a mental note to include Marks if we ever had to do a tough interrogation. Switching subjects is a tried and true way of shaking someone's nerves. Fortunately, I knew that, too.

"The vampire is necessary," I replied. "The kid's going to want to tell someone eventually. Now, he doesn't have to. Someone knows, and they'll both keep their mouths shut."

"If we'd just taken the kid...."

"No civilian casualties."

"That didn't seem to be a big priority for the brass."

"It's my priority. And I've just about had it with insubordination."

"You might want to check your priorities, Graham," Marks said, turning to leave. He opened the door. "No one's going to want to give you a command in the hot spots if you can't get your hands dirty in Sunnydale."

After Marks was gone, I tried to focus on the reports on my desk. I should have been thrilled. I'd made a tough assignment about ten times tougher, but so far it was going according to plan. It would have to. Marks was right. This was my shot. The tragedy of Professor Walsh's spectacular failure wouldn't stay fresh in the Pentagon's memory forever. If my own attempt at a kinder, gentler espionage was going to get me my job back, there was no room for error.


6/3/00, 02:53, PST


I was about halfway through typing my interim mission report when I heard a crash down in the basement. I grabbed my Beretta and a stake out of my duffel bag and ran down the stairs. By the time I got to the basement, whatever had happened was over. Marks was rubbing his shoulder, Henderson was getting up from the floor, Saunders was hiding behind one of the tables, and Brown and Goodman were looking out of a broken window along the ceiling of the basement.

"What the Hell happened?" I screamed.

"Vampires," Spike said. I turned. He was standing in the corner, pulling a cigarette out of his jacket.

"No smoking," I said. "Marks, where's...?"

"They took him," Marks replied. "Four of them. They came out of nowhere."

"How did they get in?" Goodman asked. "No one invited them."

"Nobody lives here," Henderson explained. "They only need an invitation to get into an actual home."

"They came in through the window," Brown said, turning toward me. "They were fast, and they knew what they wanted."

"Did they kill the kid?" I asked.

"No, he was alive," Marks said.

"Probably worshiping him as we speak," Spike said.

I turned to the vampire. "You know them?"

"Not personally," Spike said. "But I know who they are."

"Spill."

"Alright," Spike said. He lit his lighter and held it to the cigarette in his mouth. It didn't take a genius to realize that it was an open act of defiance. The vamp had something in mind.

"More than happy to lend a hand, mate," he said, exhaling the smoke from his cigarette. "We'll have a nice, long talk about the vamps who snatched your little guinea pig...after the doc here does a little favor for me."

"What do you want, Spike?" I didn't have time for niceties. Ellis was going to arrive in about an hour.

"You take this chip out of my head," Spike said, "and I tell you what I know about the vamps."

They teach you a lot of negotiating tricks in training. I wasn't going to use any of them.

"Goodman," I said. "Break a leg off one of the chairs and stake him."

"Wait a minute," Spike protested. "If you want...."

"I don't want anything that bad," I interrupted. "Vamps get the kid, worst case scenario is there's another demon on the street, and another dead civilian in Sunnydale. That's nothing new. You, on the other hand, are a different story. We let you live because we thought you were harmless. Your little proposition shows you're still a threat. Goodman, I'm waiting."

Goodman walked over to one of the chairs against the wall.

"Alright, alright," Spike said. "Bloody hell, you can't blame a bloke for trying."

"Yes, I can," I said. "I think that was the point. Now, who were they?"

"There's this vampire sect," Spike sighed. "They've been around a few odd centuries. One of the vamps who snatched Xander said something about praising Ul-Thar. He was some kind of a prophet. Wrote a bunch of rot about a vamp having a baby that would do all kinds of nasty stuff to humanity. Just about any vamp who's been around long enough runs into them."

"Great," Marks said. "Just what we need. We delay our withdrawal from Sunnydale for a day to take care of business, and we run into a messianic vampire cult."

"We've got to find the kid," I muttered.

"We should wait for Ellis," Henderson said. "He may want to just scrub this one. It's getting out of hand."

"We're not leaving," I stated.

"That should be Ellis's call," Henderson said. "This isn't within...."

"How did they know?"

Everyone stared at me.

"What do you mean, Graham?" Marks asked.

"They knew the mission," I said. "And where to find us. How did they know all that?"

"Maybe the vamp," Henderson replied. "You heard him. He want's the chip out. Maybe he contacted these guys so he could...."

"He hasn't been alone since he got here," I said. "But you have, Henderson."

"What?!"

"Demon cultures, that was your specialty with the Feds, right? And you were in Sunnydale on assignment last year. Plus, you're the only one who's been alone since we got here."

"That's crap," Henderson spat. "Don't try and pin something on me because your stupid plan went haywire! I didn't...."

"Your partner died," I continued. "You wouldn't blame the government for that, would you? Maybe you took the transfer to the military to make a little money? Or get a little payback? Or both?"

"If that makes anyone a suspect, it's you, Miller," Henderson shot back.

"Yeah, well, it wasn't me," I said. "We issued everyone a cell phone as a part of their civilian cover. We generally don't advertise that all calls are traced and recorded. When we get your calls analyzed, what are we going to hear, Henderson?"

Henderson didn't have an answer for that.

"Look," I said. "We're not the FBI. We don't even exist on any records. We don't send traitors to jail. They just disappear. You don't really think that McNamara died down in the Initiative, do you?"

Actually, he did, but a good bluff can work wonders.

Henderson sighed. "Look, they said they weren't going to hurt the kid. They just...."

"Where are they?" I asked.

"They said they'd meet up with me after I could sneak away. They offered money. But that's not what this was about. My partner...."

"Where. Are. They."

"A warehouse on 18th and Hauser," Henderson admitted.

"Take him upstairs," I told Brown. "Goodman, get the vamp tied to a chair until this mess is over."

Brown pulled a .45 out of his belt and gestured for Henderson to walk upstairs. Goodman grabbed a plastic tie out of one of his pockets and walked over to Spike.

"Good detective work," Marks whispered as he walked over to me. "You were right. It had to be Henderson. He was the only one who thought...."

"It could have been anybody," I said. "Any one of us could have contacted the vamps and made a deal for some quick cash."

Marks frowned. "They how did you know...?"

"I didn't," I said. "But he was the only one I didn't pick for this mission. If it was anyone but Henderson, it would have put me in hot water, and I figured my luck had to change eventually."

"So now what?"

"You sit tight," I instructed. "Wait for Ellis. I'll go get the kid."

"Alone? Are you nuts? I can keep an eye on Henderson and the vamp. You can bring Goodman and Brown for backup."

"If we mount up everyone," I said, "and Ellis gets here before we get the kid back, it'll look like a disaster. I go alone and bring him back, it looks like a minor setback."

"I'm going with you," Marks said.

"With that shoulder?"

"Ellis will figure it was a really minor setback," Marks replied. "How bad could it have been if I go along?"

I didn't have time to argue. And he was right. Four on one against a vampire gang made for steep odds, and if I got myself killed, the whole operation went up in smoke.


6/3/00, 03:42 a.m. PST


Marks and I got to the warehouse as quickly as we could. We both grabbed taser rifles out of the back of the SUV and circled around the perimeter. There was a service entrance near the back. A lone vamp guarded the door.

We crouched behind a stack of crates and waited for the vamp to turn away. Marks took aim and landed a taser blast on the vamps arm. I jumped out as quickly as I could. The vamp was still shaking on the ground when I shoved a stake into his heart. Fortunately, he was dust before he could scream.

Marks and I crept to either side of the door. I looked in through a small window. The coast was clear. I opened the door as quietly as I could and snuck in. Marks followed behind me.

We made our way through the stacks of crates toward the sounds of voices. When we got close enough, I saw Xander tied to a chair in the middle of a trio of vamps.

"So let me get this straight," Xander said to one of the vamps. "I'm kinda like...Jesus?"

"Well, if you insist on using a Christian metaphor," the vamp replied, "you're more like the Virgin Mary."

"Well," Xander said, "I hate to disappoint you, but...."

"You don't have to be a...oh, forget it," the vamp said. "All you need to know is that you carry the One prophesied to lead our glorious race to victory over the humans."

"So...I have this baby, and you let me go?"

"Actually, you have the baby and we nourish it with your flesh."

"I wouldn't count on that," I said. Marks and I walked out with our rifles pointed at the vamps. The Initiative must have really made an impression on the lower beasts of Sunnydale, because the vamps looked at the tasers and immediately stepped back.

"You!" the vamp shouted. "You dare defile this sacred event!"

"You got that right," Marks said, walking over to Xander, and cutting him loose with his combat knife.

"You will pay for your interference," the vamps threatened. "Nothing you can do can stop the coming of the miracle child! As Ul-Thar wrote, so shall it be!"

"Listen," I said. "If the miracle child was going to be carried by a man, wouldn't you think Ul-Thar would have mentioned it?"

"Well...we're looking into that."

"Yeah, well, let us know how that goes," Marks said, helping Xander to his feet with one hand and pointing his taser with the other.

"You're not leaving, humans."

"It's three on three," I said. "And we've got weapons."

Footsteps emerged from behind the crates. I counted eight vampires surrounding us, plus the three standing before us. That made it three on one, and one for good measure.

"We've been recruiting," the head vampire said, a twisted smile crossing his face.

I shot a quick glance at Marks and Xander. The kid looked like he was going to be sick. Marks kept up a good front, but we both knew that we couldn't fight our way out.

At that moment, the lights in the warehouse suddenly went dim. I fired my taser at the lead vamp. Marks took out one as soon as I'd fired. I didn't know what happened to the lights, but I wasn't going to wait to find out.

The vamps started advancing. We got a few of them with the taser fire. Three slipped through, and we started grappling with them hand-to-hand. I'll give the kid credit; he'd been knocked out twice in the same night, but he held his own.

I concentrated on trying to throw the vamp I'd grabbed off to the side, figuring that another would be close behind him. Finally, the vamp overwhelmed me with his strength and wrestled me to the ground. He was on top of me, trying to get in biting distance. I was struggling to keep his fangs from my neck when I felt him disintegrate in my hands. As he disappeared, I saw that a shadowy figure stood above him.

I heard the quick footsteps of scattering vampires headed for the exits. Apparently the confusion convinced them to make a hasty retreat. Marks must have taken a shot at one of them as they ran, because I heard the crackle of the taser, and a blue light illuminated the air for a moment. That moment of visibility was all I needed to identify the shadow that had saved my life.

"Hey, Riley," I said. I reached out a hand toward him. Riley didn't move. After a moment, I figured my tacit request for assistance was being rejected, so I lifted myself to my feet.

"Graham," Riley said grimly, shoving his stake into his belt.

"Finn?" Marks asked. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm patrolling, the way us civilian citizens of Sunnydale are apt to do," Riley replied. "Xander, are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"The question is," Riley continued, "what are you doing here?"

I didn't answer.

"I guess that story about transferring to UC Davis was just a lie?" Riley asked.

"No," I said. "It was my cover. You know the drill."

"I should have known," Riley muttered.

"Look, Riley...."

"No, you look, Graham," Riley interrupted. "I thought we were friends."

"We are," I said. "This is business. It was your business, too. Remember?"

"Yeah, and what a great business it was," Riley retorted. "What's Xander doing here?"

I had to think fast. I didn't like lying to Riley, but I wasn't in a position that gave me a choice.

"I've seen the kid in action," I finally said. "He handles himself alright. We're always looking for good people. I asked him to meet us here and made him an offer. He turned us down. Something about a girlfriend. I guess there's a lot of that going around."

Riley looked into my eyes, trying to find a hint of deception. Apparently he came up empty, because he called out:

"Is that true, Xander?"

And there we were. The true test of the mission. These weren't the circumstances I'd hoped for, but it was as good a trial as any. The whole mission was pointless if Xander blabbed about it to his friends.

"Um, yeah," Xander said. "Graham called and said he wanted to talk. When I found out what he wanted, I told him to take off. We were about to break it up when the vamps showed. Guess it was kind of a lucky break for me, huh? Being with a bunch of commandos when the vamps attacked?"

"Yeah, real lucky," Riley said.

So, given the choice between admitting to his friends that he'd been impregnated by a vampire, or keeping his mouth shut, Xander picked the latter. Hey, who wouldn't?

"Look," I said. "We're not here to cause any trouble. We're just...."

"Up to the same old games," Riley completed. "I don't believe you, Graham. After what happened to Forrest, after what happened to everybody, and you signed on to go at it again."

"The brass is gonna fight demons with or without us," I shot back. "Quitting doesn't solve anything. I'm trying to make a difference."

"So am I," Riley said. "I just don't have to lie to my friends to do it."

"Really? So where's your girlfriend?"

"She's none of your business!"

"Riley, you try and beat this town by yourself, and it'll take you down."

"I'm not by myself."

"It sure looks like you are. I know you, Riley. You're never gonna be happy as the Slayer's sidekick. That girl's not enough reason for you to...."

"Graham," Riley said. "I want you to stay away. Stay away from my town. Stay away from my friends. And stay away from me. Sunnydale's off limits to anyone on the Pentagon payroll. I see you in my town again, there's gonna be trouble."

"It's not your town," I shouted, as Riley turned and walked toward the exit. "It's cursed! It got Forrest and it'll get you, too! There's nothing here for us but bad luck!"

Riley didn't even pause as he walked out the door.

I must've been standing there for longer than I thought, because Marks came up behind me and asked:

"You OK?"

I didn't answer.

"Hey, kid," Marks called to Xander. "Go wait for us in the truck. We'll be out in a minute."

"Sure," Xander said. As he got to the door, Xander called back:

"Hey, Graham. Thanks for not telling Riley about...well, you know. I appreciate that."

I didn't answer him, either.

"Look," Marks said, once Xander had left. "We're done here. We get the kid into surgery, we take off, and we never have to come back to this town again. After awhile...."

"I'll be back," I said.

"What? Why?"

"You remember what they taught us in tactics training, Marks? Rule Number One? The first, last and only rule that matters?"

"Yeah," Marks said. "Leave no one behind."

"Let's get the kid back to the safe house," I said.

"Graham," Marks said. "That rule, it...it doesn't apply here. Riley's not one of us anymore."

"Let's go," I said.

We drove back to the safe house in silence.


6/3/00, 04:39 a.m, PST


Goodman was upstairs watching Henderson as Xander waited downstairs for the surgery to start. Brown was down there, too, keeping an eye on Spike. I was standing at the front door with Marks. We were both waiting for Ellis to arrive. He was due any minute.

"Well, I guess all's well that ends well," I said.

"We'll see when Ellis arrives," Marks replied. "I doubt he's going to like the way you handled this one."

"He could have shut us down," I said. "I emailed him the mission report."

"Yeah, and he probably didn't read it until he got on the transport plane. He's not going to like trusting the security of this operation to the discretion of a couple of civilians, especially when one of them's a vamp."

"They won't talk," I said. "The warehouse proved that."

"For the moment," Marks said. "But how do you know that, once the shock wears off, one of them won't...?"

Marks was interrupted by the sounds of a scuffle in the basement. We both ran down the stairs. The last thing I needed was something else to go wrong.

As we got down there, both Brown and Saunders were trying to restrain Xander, as Spike stood a few feet away smoking a cigarette.

"What the hell is going on now?" I shouted.

"Make him shut up!" Xander exclaimed. "I swear, if he doesn't shut up, I'll...."

"Pipe down," I instructed. I turned to the vampire. "What started this?"

"Nothing," Spike said, trying his best to look innocent. "I don't know what got into him. I was just sitting here, right? Minding my own business. Then this git starts in again with the whole 'this is all your fault' rubbish. I wasn't much in a mood to listen to him, so I let my mind wander. I started singing a little tune to myself...."

"Spike!" Xander shouted. "Don't you dare!"

"Just started crooning the first song that popped into my head," Spike continued, obviously trying not to smile.

"I'll kill you, Spike!" Xander screamed.

Spike took a deep breath (since vampires don't breath, it was obviously for dramatic effect), and then sang:

"YOU'RE HAVIN' MY BABY!"

Maybe we should have tried to recruit the kid. Xander actually managed to escape the two-armed hold Marks had him in, and get his hands around Spike's neck.

"Spike!" Xander yelled as I tried to pull him away from the vampire. "I'll wring your neck, you...."

"What...a beautiful...ack...way," Spike gasped, in as close to a tune as he could make with Xander's hands squeezing his throat, "to say...agh...how much...ugh...you love meeeeeeeeeee!"

I finally managed to pry Xander off of Spike, and I stood between the two of them.

"That's enough," I said.

"Not my fault the poof can't take a joke," Spike said.

"Oh, I'm a poof, am I?" Xander shot back. "I'm not the one who wound up making a donation to the Initiative bodily fluid bank."

"Shut up," Spike said. The jovial tone was gone from his voice.

"Hey, Graham," Xander continued. "You remember those technicians you talked about? The one's that gathered the samples? I don't remember there being a whole lot of WOMEN working for the Initiative, so...."

"I said shut it!" Spike roared.

"You know," Xander said, rubbing his chin in a mock-musing fashion, "I wonder if he was completely unconscious. I mean, he DOES paint his fingernails."

Spike lunged at Xander. This was getting old. Xander gasped in surprise. Spike cringed and retreated as the chip sent pain through his cranium.

"Listen, you," Spike said to Xander. "You tell anyone about this, and, chip be damned, I'll break your bloody neck!"

"You tell anyone about this and I'll shove a whole damn tree in your chest!" Xander shouted back.

"If either one of you tell anyone about this I'll have you both declared security risks and I'll assassinate you myself!" I yelled.

That got their attention.

"Saunders," I said, "get the kid on the operating table. Spike, get the hell out of here. We're done with you."

"Fine," Spike said, ascending the stairs. He paused for a moment, apparently thinking of making a parting wise crack at Xander. He caught the look in my eyes, thought better of it, and left.

It took a few minutes to get Xander into a operating gown and reclined on the operating table. Dr. Saunders was holding an anesthesia mask, ready to put it over Xander's face, when Xander said:

"Graham?"

"Yeah, what?" I said, tying a surgical mask over my face.

"Um...if it's a girl, could you name it Faith? And if it's a boy, maybe name it Jesse? Of course, if it's evil, you can name it whatever. I mean, I guess Spike would be the one to ask...wait a minute. Why should I care if...?"

"Xander," I said.

"Yeah?"

"Suck gas."

"Oh, O.K.,"

Saunders placed the mask over Xander's face, and for the next thirty minutes, the basement was blissfully and uncharacteristically quiet.


6/3/00, 05:11 a.m., PST


Ellis showed up as Dr. Saunders was sewing up the incision in Xander's stomach. Marks was standing beside me as I watched. Ellis walked over, and I handed him a surgical mask.

"Status?" Ellis asked, as he tied the mask behind his head.

"On schedule, sir," I replied.

"Doctor?"

"We're just stitching up the incision now," Saunders said. "So far, there are no complications. We made scar just big enough to give the impression that a tissue mass was removed from the abdominal cavity."

"And now?"

"We implant those into the patient's scalp," Saunders said, gesturing to a mass of short brown threads on a surgical tray.

"Hmmm," Ellis said, picking up one of the strands. "I heard these fiber optic cameras were the size of a human hair, but I didn't realize they actually were this small."

"Not only the same size," Saunders said. "But also the same texture and color. Specifically, the same color as the subject's hair. I'll implant about forty of them at various points on his head. We'll be able to get multiple images, depending on the vantage point we want to observe."

"How long will they hold up?" Ellis asked. "I mean, what about when the kid gets a haircut?"

"There are multiple segmented lenses along the strands," Saunders explained. "Cutting will have no effect on them."

"And the audio?"

"We'll implant an audio chip directly onto the eardrum," Saunders said. "We'll hear what he hears. Literally."

"We can bounce the signal off the satellite we're leasing from The Weather Channel," I added. "Anything world-threatening happens on the Hellmouth, and we've got live audio and video, and get a team here in twelve hours."

"Assuming no one finds out about the implants," Ellis said. "Now, Miller, I'm only going to ask this once, and you'd better convince me the first time. Are you SURE that the subject actually believes we impregnated him with a vampire's baby?"

Rather than argue the point, I went over to one of the computer terminals by the operating table, punched up the surveillance footage, and stood back so Ellis could get a good view of the action. It was all there. The fighting. The vampire's little karaoke act. The mutual threats of death. Everything.

"They bought every word," I said. "And neither one of them will talk."

Ellis scowled. "And you're telling me that these are two of the civilians that keep Sunnydale safe from Armageddon, while we got run out of town?"

"They're not exactly the brains of the team, sir."

"I'd hope not," Ellis replied. "Doctor, what are the chances that the implants will take."

"We'll give the kid a prescription for a month's worth of antibiotics to prevent secondary infection," Saunders said. "And we'll give him a number to call if he experiences any side effects. If there's an infection, or if his body rejects the implants, we'll be able to respond."

"Let's say we couldn't do that," Ellis said. "Let's say, hypothetically, if we'd just grabbed him, put in the implants, and dumped him. What then?"

"Well, it's impossible to know for certain," Saunders said.

"Approximate," Ellis commanded.

"We would have injected him with the strongest antibiotics we had," Saunders explained. "But without a regimen of antibiotics over the next four weeks, I'd say he would have stood a one in three chance of secondary infection. If he went to a doctor, they might have been able to treat it. Of course, if he assumed it was just a flu or something, well...it would have been more...problematic. And, of course, if his body rejected the implants, a civilian doctor would have had no idea how to...."

"Did you disclose these possibilities to anyone prior to this operation?" Ellis asked.

"Well...it was in my report."

"And you sent that report to...?"

"Well, Agent Miller received a copy. He requested an evaluation prior to...."

"Thank you, doctor," Ellis interrupted. "Miller, my office."

I followed Ellis upstairs to the office. He sat behind the desk as I stood before him.

"Miller," Ellis barked. "This was not the mission I authorized. Explain."

"You heard the doc, major," I said. "One in three chance of secondary infection. The way I see it, my plan increased the success probability of this mission by thirty percent."

"And you expect me to believe that your decisions in this matter were purely based on that factor?"

"No, sir," I replied. "My decisions were further motivated...actually, sir, they were almost exclusively motivated by my concern for the safety of the subject."

"Commendable," Ellis said. "If we were in the Peace Corps. We're not. This line of work isn't for men who can't handle tough calls."

"Agreed, sir," I said. "It isn't. Professor Walsh couldn't handle tough calls. I can. My way. I'm one of only a few living men on the payroll who actually has Sub-T combat time. I'm an asset. I want to be an asset. But I'm not a murderer."

Ellis took a moment to consider that.

"Fine," Ellis said. "But from now on, consider yourself on a short leash, Miller."

"Does that mean I'm back in? For keeps?"

"Until you screw up, yes," Ellis said. "And Miller, you won't get more than one screw up. Think about that the next time you put together one of these elaborate schemes. There are a few idealists over at the Pentagon that are actually rooting for you, Miller. But none of them are betting on you."

Ellis waited for me to answer. I didn't.

"You're dismissed, Miller," he finally said. I didn't have to be told twice.

I walked downstairs to watch the rest of the surgery. Ellis was right. It would take a lot more than one good mission to get me to a point where I could call the shots full time. But I'd get my chance.

END REPORT

REPORT ADDENDUM

9/29/00

I got back from a field mission in Oregon this morning. We'd spent about two days out there on a Search and Rescue op. A couple of fleshy tree demons had kidnaped a vacationing chapter of the Sierra Club (which even they had to admit was ironic). I came back with orders from Ellis to schedule a physical. Lately I've been strong. Too strong. Even the trees thought it was weird. Before we killed them, of course.

I was on the phone setting an appointment with the staff nurse when our office clerk handed me this file, with a memo from the Brass asking for an evaluation.

In summary, after the implants in Xander's scalp and eardrum started sending regular signals, the surveillance duties were transferred to our Remote Observation Division. Our Internal Affairs department caught wind of a rumored security leak a couple of weeks ago, and investigated. During a search of the footlocker issued to Pvt. Nicholas Banks, IA investigators discovered a plain brown paper bag, containing a VHS videocassette and a handwritten note reading: "Banks, you've GOT to see this! The chick's name is Anya. She fucks like a minx!"

Since the extent of the security leak is not know at this time, this agent concurs with the position of the IA department, and of security division. Specifically, I agree that the monitoring of transmissions from Xander Harris should cease, and all further surveillance on the Hellmouth should be executed through standard means (wiretapping, satellite photos, etc.). Means which, I'd point out, are what I recommended from the beginning.

Sunnydale. No two ways around it, the town's just bad luck.

END ADDENDUM

END REPORT


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An Attack on the Heart

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Graham files a report from his first assignment after the Initiative was disbanded.
Rating: PG-13.
Tone: Way too serious.
Quality: Eh, so-so.
Feedback: Please. (Mikelesq[at]aol.com)
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction, and is expounded from "A New Man." Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

NARRATIVE REPORT
TO BE COMPLETED BY FIELD AGENTS NO MORE THAN THIRTY (30) DAYS AFTER INITIAL DEBRIEFING
TOP SECRET, CLASSIFICATION A-4
NO UNAUTHORIZED DISTRIBUTION

AGENT'S NAME: Miller, Graham
AGENT'S DESIGNATION: Agent
AGENT'S CURRENT STATION: Patrick A.F.B.
DATE: 10/14/00
ASSIGNMENT CLEARANCE NO.: D3H28119

AGENTS ARE REMINDED THAT NO FACTS, CONVERSATIONS, OR OTHER INFORMATION, WHETHER CONSIDERED BY THE AGENT TO BE MATERIAL OR IMMATERIAL, SHALL BE OMITTED FROM THIS REPORT.

AGENT'S NARRATIVE REPORT:

October 9, 2000

I was resting at the hospital just after the operation, sipping apple juice, watching Judge Judy, and working on the newspaper crossword. At that point Colonel Lynette entered my room. I was about to get up, when he said:

"No need to come to attention, son. Not after what you've been through. As you were."

I reclined back in the bed, but I put down the apple juice. It's difficult to look like an elite government operative in front of your superior officer when you're sipping on a bendy straw.

"You look good, son," the Colonel continued. "The doctors here fix you up alright?"

"Yes, sir."

"Surgery can be rough. Do you still have any pain?"

"A little, sir."

"That's to be expected. Think you'll be up and around any time soon?"

"Anytime ordered, sir."

Colonel Lynette smiled, and said:

"You don't talk much, do you, son?"

"No, sir."

"Good. That's an asset in this line of work." At this point Colonel Lynette sat at the edge of my bed. "Son, I hope you know that everyone deeply regrets what you've had to go through. If we'd know that Professor Walsh was experimenting with drugs on the agents, we would have certainly...well, we would not have tolerated it."

"No harm, no foul, sir," I said. "The doctors fixed me up. I'm ready for my next assignment whenever ordered."

Actually, I was itching for my next assignment, and hoping that there would be one. With the Initiative project shut down, for all I knew I'd end up peeling potatoes on an aircraft carrier. I wasn't ready to live a mundane life. Not yet.

"Well, I have your next assignment, Miller," the Colonel said, handing me a manila folder. "You see, there were quite a few agents who chose to return to the private sector after the Initiative project was...well, determined to be an...incomplete success. We've been able to contact almost all of them and get them into surgery. Unfortunately, some of them have been difficult to locate. As you know, it is imperative that effects of the...treatments...performed by Dr. Walsh be addressed expeditiously. These boys could die if they don't get into surgery quickly."

"I understand, sir," I said, flipping through the folder. "Agent Mason. I remember him. He came from Kansas. He used to swap farm stories with Agent Finn."

The Colonel smiled. "I deeply regret that you had to go through that, too, son."

"You and me both, sir. I figured Mason would have gone home." "He didn't. We don't know where he went. We've got the FBI checking...unofficially, of course...for any traces of him. The report should be here in a few hours. You were selected to make contact with Agent...I mean, Mr. Mason, since you knew him. He probably doesn't understand the physical side effects of the treatments. He may also be somewhat reluctant to trust us. You are expected to reestablish contact with him, and persuade him, by any necessary means, to have the operation. A medical team can be at any hospital facility you designate within an hour of receiving word from you."

"I understand, sir."

"Also," the Colonel said, "you will be given a medical kit to take into the field with you."

"Sir," I said, "I really don't have any medical training, other than basic first aid. What good would that be?"

"It's not for treatment," the Colonel said. "Agent, we sincerely regret what happened to you boys. And we truly wish to fix the problem so that you can all be healthy and go on to do...well, whatever it is you want to do. But there is also a security issue that needs to be addressed. The chemicals Dr. Walsh used are rather...unique. It would be very embarrassing if some local coroner became suspicious, should he perform an autopsy on a twenty two year old boy who for some reason died of a heart attack, and discover that it was not a natural occurrence. It is imperative that nothing regarding the Initiative's operations becomes known by unauthorized persons."

At this point, the Colonel pulled a small leather case out of his jacket pocket. He unzipped it, and pulled out a hypodermic needle.

"This," Colonel Lynette said, gesturing with the needle, "is a compound of amphetamines. If injected into the body of a person, after death, the toxicology report on that person will show the presence of several narcotic drugs that would seem to have been in the system a long time. It will also mask the presence of the hormones and steroids used by Dr. Walsh. The death will apparently be from a drug overdose. I'm sure you can see why this is preferable to allowing a possible security breach, should you locate Agent Mason and he cannot have the surgery in time."

"I understand, sir," I said. I kept flipping through the papers. Included was a list of the agents who hadn't reported for surgery. All of them. One name jumped out at me. "Sir, I notice that Agent Finn also hasn't been treated. Perhaps...." "Mr. Finn will be contacted by another agent," Colonel Lynette said. "His location has been determined. He hasn't left Sunnydale. It just seems that he's been busy over the summer, and hasn't had the chance to respond to our letters or return our phone calls. I hear he has a girlfriend who keeps him busy. In any event, your assignment is Agent Mason."

"Yes, sir."

I exchanged a few pleasantries with the Colonel, and he left me to study the file on Agent Mason.


October 10, 2000


My flight landed in Los Angeles at around ten in the morning. They were sending us on commercial flights, in order to keep a low profile. However, I was told that a medical team would be flown in by military jet upon my request, and could be at any location I designated within an hour.

Once I checked into the motel, I unlocked my briefcase, and looked through the skip-trace report that had come from the Bureau. Mason had been paying for a motel room in L.A. with a credit card, every week for the past month. He was paying his credit card bill with money orders, all purchased in L.A.. I was staying at the same motel. A little seedy, but I'd stayed in worse.

I locked the briefcase, slid it under the bed, and attached it to the bedframe with a pair of handcuffs. Not the most secure way of storing classified documents, but this mission was a little too basic to start setting up trip wires. I left the room, walked down the hallway, and knocked on Mason's door.

Mason opened the door. He was wearing a pair of faded jeans and a white t-shirt, and he looked as though he hadn't shaved since basic training. He said:

"Hey, Graham! Long time! I didn't expect to see you again. How ya doing?"

"Fine."

"I haven't seen you since we left Sunnydale," he said. "Where ya been keeping yourself?"

"Around."

"Still monopolizing every conversation, I see," Mason said. "Come on in."

I entered the room. The bed wasn't made, and a couple of empty pizza boxes were on top of the dresser. Mason had turned into a civilian one hundred percent.

"If I'd known one of my old superiors was going to be stopping by," Mason said, "I would have made hospital corners. So what you been up to since we all got fired?"

"I didn't," I said. "I'm still in. We need to talk."

"O.K., talk."

"Those drugs Walsh gave us. They don't work their way out of our system. The effects are permanent, and progressive."

"You kidding? You mean those meds are still swimming around in our blood?"

"Yes," I said. "Have you had any chest pains?"

"Well...a little," Mason said, putting his right hand to his heart and rubbing his chest. "I thought it was just too much fast food. I can't afford much else. That decommission bonus the government gave us didn't last long."

"It's not pepperoni. It's your heart. If you're like the rest of us, your heart rate is probably about 130 beats per minute, and that's when you're relatively inactive. Push it and it'll shoot up to 160. It'll kill you, if you don't get an operation."

"Operation?"

"We've got a team standing by," I explained. "We can have it done this afternoon. You'll be at a hundred percent in about two days. It's simple, but it's got to be done."

"Uh, what do I have to...?"

"Nothing. No strings. You're out. You can stay out. We just don't want you to die."

"Uh, O.K., when do we go?"

"Right now. We should be in time, but it's got to get done right away."

I stood up, got my cell phone out of my pocket, and as I walked toward the door, I pressed the speed dial number for the medical team, and said:

"Code Green. Set up the operation for...."

At that point, I felt really dizzy. In the first second I thought that I was having some after effects from the surgery. In the next second I noticed that the pain came from the back of my head, not my heart. By the third second, I was on the floor, out cold.


October 11, 2000


Whatever Mason hit me with must have been pretty heavy, because I felt like I'd been out forever. I checked my watch. It was 3 a.m.

I looked around, I wasn't in the motel anymore. It looked like an office. Then I saw her.

Well, I really didn't see her, or much of anything else. Everything was still blurry. But through the blur, I saw her eyes. I couldn't make out any colors, but there was something about those eyes. They seemed warm, but penetrating, and just a little unsettling. I'd only seen eyes like that on one other woman. I called out:

"Professor Walsh?"

"No," a voice behind the eyes said. I closed my eyes and shook my head back and forth. When I opened my eyes, the world had regained its focus. I saw the face behind the eyes, and the body attached to the face.

She was beautiful. Classically beautiful. At any time, in any place, she would have been considered beautiful. Dark hair. Nice figure. And those eyes....

"I'm Lilah," she said. "Your friend Mason brought you here. He thought we should talk."

"Sorry about the conk on the head, pal," I heard Mason's voice say. I looked to my right. Mason was sitting on a couch.

"I'm sorry, too," I said. Then I turned to the woman. "Who are you?"

"A friend," Lilah said. "At least, I want to be your friend. I'm a lawyer. I work for a law firm, Wolfram & Hart. My firm specializes in finding special people, and protecting them. Helping them find uses for their gifts. I'm told you're quite gifted."

"Thanks."

"We've been helping your friend. We want to help you. Your experiences are certainly unique. No one would believe half of what you've been through. But we believe you. We understand."

"O.K."

Lilah turned to Mason, and said:

"You're right. He's a real chatterbox."

"Told ya," Mason responded.

Lilah turned back toward me. "You see, we know that you've had drugs given to you. You were used. Hurt. It's not fair that you were used that way. You deserve to take advantage of the problems that have been forced on you, and make the best of them."

"I see," I said. "How?"

"Mr. Mason has been kind enough to allow us to take blood samples. We've learned a lot about what was done to him. We have clients who find that information very useful. They're hoping that they can develop medicines from what they've learned. Maybe a cure for muscular dystrophy, arthritis, diabetes, and a lot of other problems. You could help a lot of people if you cooperate with us."

I started sitting up off the floor, and tried to discretely check my pockets. Nothing. Then I looked at the corner of the desk on the other side of the room. Everything I carried was sitting there, along with my briefcase. Fortunately, it looked as though they hadn't broken the lock.

"Look," I said, "I have a job."

"Oh, yes," Lilah said, "the government. The same government that used you as a human guinea pig. Don't you feel that your loyalty to them is somewhat...misplaced?"

"You've used Mason as a lab rat," I responded. "Is that any better?"

"It's not like that," Mason said. "We don't owe the government anything, after what they did to us. Anyway, these lawyers, they're good people. They just took blood once. Then they pay you great money, and all you have to do is...."

"Mr. Mason, please," Lilah said. She was visibly irritated. Mason was sharing too much, too fast.

"Now I get it," I said. "First you get some of our blood, to see if you can make more of those super steroids. Then we go on the payroll. What kind of jobs do you give people with super strength? Nothing legal, I'd bet."

I turned to Mason, and said:

"Look, if they know what these drugs do, then they know that they're lethal. You're dying. If you don't get help, you'll die, and these guys don't care. They're using you until you drop dead."

Mason stared at me, then his head dropped.

"I see you're not quite as receptive to our offer as I'd hoped," Lilah said. "Unfortunately, it was a one time offer." She glanced up over my shoulder. I looked behind my back. Two guards in rent-a-cop uniforms were standing behind me.

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask these gentlemen to show you out," Lilah said.

"Out of the building," I asked, "or out of this world?"

Lilah smiled. "I'm sorry we couldn't make an arrangement."

The two guards picked me up by the shoulders.

I didn't see Mason coming. Fortunately, the guards didn't either. Mason punched one of the guards across the jaw. He went flying. Apparently the strength Mason got from Walsh's drugs was still kicking. I elbowed the other guard in the stomach, and tossed him across my shoulder. I didn't have super strength, but my commando training still comes in handy.

Lilah made a dash for the phone. I jumped toward her, and pushed her to the ground. I looked on the desk and picked up the leather pouch Colonel Lynette had given me. I opened it. There were three hypodermics. I got one. Mason was pummeling one of the guards. The other had gotten to his feet, and was rushing toward me. He took a swing at me, which I dodged pretty easily. I shoved the needle of the hypodermic into his hand, and pushed the plunger.

The guard immediately started to shake. The equivalent of a three month speed habit rushed through his body in about three seconds. When he stopped shaking, he dropped to the ground, quite dead.

I grabbed Lilah's arm, yanked her up from the ground, and got her in a bear hug from behind with one arm. With my free hand, I grabbed another needle and held it to her neck.

"Alright," I shouted, "that's enough!"

Mason and the guard turned to look at me. Lilah shook in my arms.

"Now," I said, "if you don't want your boss here to become a senior partner in Hell, I'd let us go."

The guard took a step back. Mason ran toward my side.

"Grab my stuff," I told him. He gathered my things off the desk, and put them in his pockets. He also got my briefcase.

"Now we're leaving," I said. I pushed Lilah across the room and out the door, with Mason close behind. The three of us got in the elevator. I was still holding the needle to her neck.

When the elevator reached the ground floor, the three of us exited. We walked out toward the lobby. There were about a half dozen guards waiting there, but they didn't want to be the reason Lilah wound up dead any more than the first guard.

We walked toward the exit. I was using Lilah as a shield between us and the guards. When we got to the door, I said in Lilah's ear:

"Nice meeting you."

I pushed her toward the center of the lobby, and Mason and I ran out into the streets. Shots rang out over our heads, but we were too far away by the time the guards reacted for any of the rounds to connect.

Mason and I ran about ten more blocks, zipping in and out of alleys before we stopped. We were both panting out of exertion and excitement.

"That...was," Mason said between breaths, "that was...just...like...the old days."

"Yeah," I said. "Without the fangs."

"I...guess...I handled...this...pretty bad...."

"Don't worry," I said. "We'll get you fixed up, and the government will be too embarrassed to...hey, are you...?"

Mason was leaning over, his hands on his knees. He was breathing very heavy. Then, he stopped breathing heavy, and fell over. Then he stopped breathing altogether.

I ran to Mason's side and knelt next to him. I checked his pulse. Nothing.

I swallowed hard. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Then I reached in his jacket, got all of my stuff out of his pockets, and picked up my briefcase. I looked down at my hand. I still held the hypodermic that I had held to Lilah's neck. I stuck the needle in Mason's arm, and filled him with the speed. Then I walked back toward a main road to find a taxi. I didn't know if the Wolfram & Hart goons were still chasing me, and quite frankly at that moment I didn't care. As it turned out, I'd lost them, and I caught a cab to the airport.


October 14, 2000


I was working on my final report back at the office I had been given, when the mail clerk dropped a bundle of correspondence in my In Box. Mostly memos and other garbage, but on top was a article from a Kansas newspaper that the Research Department had clipped and routed to me. It was Mason's obituary.

It was all there in the newspaper, exactly as the government had wanted. Cause of death: drug overdose, possibly brought on by a dishonorable discharge from the Marines under undisclosed circumstances. He was survived by his mother and two sisters.

I rubbed my temples with my fingers. Mason had gone bad, but a lot of people would have, and he had come through in the end. Plus, he never asked to be a lab rat with a time bomb in his chest. He didn't get into the Initiative to become a criminal. He'd wanted to serve his country. And now his family thought that he'd died a junkie in the street.

I turned to my computer terminal. I used my access code to pull up the names of all the agents who hadn't had the surgery yet. Only one name came up: Riley Finn.

I walked over to Colonel Lynette's office.

"Come in," Colonel Lynette said.

"Sir," I said, saluting and standing at attention.

"At ease," he said. "Good job with Mason. Not the result we wanted, but under the circumstances, you handled it perfectly. You've got a big future here, Miller."

"Sir," I said. "I request permission to be assigned to Agent Finn's case."

"Denied," the Colonel responded. "That's been assigned to another agent."

"And he still hasn't brought him in," I said. "Riley's obviously resisting. He'll listen to me."

"I'm sure he'll come around without your intervention, Agent Miller."

"Sir," I said, "You said I have a big future here. I don't have any future here if you don't let me go after Riley. I'll quit."

The Colonel scowled. "I don't respond well to threats, Agent Miller."

"I've stated my position, sir," I said. "Either under orders, or as a civilian, I'm going after Riley."

Colonel Lynette closed his eyes, opened them again, and said:

"Alright, go. I'll make the arrangements. I'll call in our agent and his backup, and you can go."

"Sir," I said. "I request that both agents remain in Sunnydale, and operate under my command."

"Why?"

"Agent Finn is getting that operation." I said. "I'll either persuade him, or force him. But he's getting that operation."

"Very well," Colonel Lynette said. "His file will be on your desk in an hour. Pack your gear."

"Sir," I said. I saluted, and when the Colonel had returned my salute, I went back to my desk.

As of the date of this report, this agent has closed his file on Agent Mason. Information regarding the possible illegal activities of Wolfram & Hart has been reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Upon receipt of Agent Finn's file, this Agent will proceed to Sunnydale and contact Agent Finn. And there's no way in Hell the Finn family is going to read about their son's overdose in the obits.

END REPORT


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Burn, Baby, Burn

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Anya retains Angel Investigations to help her obtain the Urn of Osiris. Set between Seasons 5 and 6 of BtVS and Seasons 2 and 3 of AtS.
Author's Note: This fic is based on a challenged issued by Estepheia. The challenge was as follows:
* Cordelia and Anya meet again (either in Sunnydale or L.A.) and this time they get on like a house on fire (No slash, just friendship, please). Make it funny.
* Please mention at least 3 of the following:
- Xander kissing Willow
- The Internet
- Shopping
- Trivial Pursuit
- Sushi
- Harry Potter

Rating: PG-13.
Spoilers: General through Season 6.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

Prologue

"Wow! You should rent this place out for weddings!"

Cordelia walked around the front desk of the hotel lobby and stood before the young woman who had walked through the front doors.

"Anya?" Cordelia asked.

"Seriously," Anya continued. "This atrium is perfect for a ceremony! I..that is, the bride...could walk down the stairway to the wedding march. The band could be over by the elevators. That counter would be perfect for the gifts. It's a little small though, but I guess...hey, is that a garden outside!?"

"Anya," Cordelia repeated. "What are you...?"

"Oh, that would be perfect for an outdoor ceremony," Anya mused, gazing out the open rear doors, and then looking up at the vaulted ceilings. "And if it rains, you can move the ceremony inside, so you haven't wasted the rental fee, no matter what happens. Of course, you wouldn't necessarily charge that much. Especially if the bride and her betrothed happen to be fellow crusaders in the battle against evil and injustice and monsters that want to suck the world into Hell dimensions with no regard for the matrimonial plans of...."

"Anya!" Cordelia shouted.

Anya turned her attention to Cordelia.

"Hypothetically speaking, of course," Anya said.

"O.K.," Cordelia said. "First, hi. Second, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, yes," Anya said. "Sorry. I got caught up the absolutely wonderful layout of your...well, anyway, I'm here to retain your services."

"Anya," Cordelia asked, "you're not evil again, are you?"

"Of course not," Anya gasped. "Why would I go back to being evil?"

"It just happens to us," Cordelia replied. "A lot."

"Anya?"

Wesley walked out to the lobby, with Gunn close behind.

"Oh, hello," Anya called out. "You're that fired Watcher, right? I remember you from the Ascension. Although, you do look a little less stuffy."

"Looks can be deceiving," Gunn interjected.

"Ahem, yes," Wesley said. "Ah, Anya, is there something we can...?"

"Yes," Anya said. "I'm here to retain the services of Angel Investigations. Perhaps I should talk to...."

"He's not here," Wesley said. "He required a...sabbatical...after, well...."

"Oh, yes," Anya said. "Of course. Well, I suppose you people could handle this for me. At a reduced rate, of course."

"Of course," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes. "Look, Anya, if it's important...."

"Oh, it's nothing," Anya said. "I ordered an item for the Magic Box. That's my store. Well, it's Giles' store, for now. He says he's leaving. Yep, he just keeps saying it, and saying it, and I can hear him saying it, because he still keeps hanging around like a...."

"Anya," Cordelia interrupted. "We charge by the hour."

"Oh, well, then, it's a magic urn," Anya said. "It's Egyptian. It's being delivered by freighter, on a dock over at the L.A. pier tonight. I need someone to secure safe transport of the urn from the docks to my hotel, and then over to the train station."

"Is there anything...dangerous about this urn?" Wesley asked.

"Oh, no, no, no," Anya assured. "Nothing like that. Just an ordinary magic urn. Not really magic. More like...well...charmed. Yes, charmed. That's a much better word. Nothing dangerous or dark. Certainly nothing that challenges our very notions of...well, you get the idea. Just...charmed. But it was being shipped overseas, and the seller wouldn't send it Federal Express. It's pretty valuable, so we don't want to trust it to a messenger service."

"Yes," Wesley said. "I'm sure we can provide whatever assistance you require. Cordelia can take you to Angel's office and work out the details of our retainer. Gunn and I will prepare our weapons for an escort."

"Perfect," Anya said.

"It's back here," Cordelia said, shooting a sidelong glance at Wesley. Anya and Cordelia walked across the lobby and into Angel's office.

"Hmm," Gunn said, after Cordelia and Anya were out of earshot. "I think the lady doth protest too much."

"Yes," Wesley agreed. "I think it would be prudent if I contacted...doth?"

"What?" Gunn said. "You're gonna give me a complex if you get that look every time a brother quotes the Bard."

"You did that on purpose," Wesley muttered.

"Yeah," Gunn smirked.

"I'll contact Giles," Wesley said.

Part I.

"O.K., let me just find a blank retainer agreement," Cordelia said, shuffling through the papers on the desk. "Sorry about the mess. Wes has been using the office for research while Angel's out of town."

"Oh, I figured as much," Anya said. "I noticed the rare tomes, the yellowed parchments, the...um...is that a Harry Potter book?"

"Oh, yeah," Cordelia replied. "Wesley has this theory. Rowlings. Dark magic. Mass hypnosis. Bestseller list. It's been a slow summer."

"Must be nice," Anya said. "Things have been just crazy, what with the vampires and demons. We're trying to do everything that Buffy used to do."

"Must be tough," Cordelia said.

"Very," Anya admitted.

"Well, let's just get this started. Cash, I'd assume?"

"Oh, yes," Anya said. "Unless travelers checks would be more convenient?"

"Eh, we're easy," Cordelia said. "We're just happy to get paid at all."

Anya's eyes widened. "You mean, you...work...for...free?"

"Eh, if they're hopeless and broke," Cordelia said. "Or if it's a world saving sort of thing."

"It doesn't seem it would be very profitable."

"Oh, it's not. But, you know. Mission. Duty. The whole nine."

"I suppose," Anya said, even though she didn't suppose. "Cordelia, are you comfortable with this arrangement? Taking the case from me, I mean."

"Oh, don't worry," Cordelia said. "If I was picky about working for ex-demons who'd tried to kill me, well, do the math."

"Oh, it's not that," Anya said. "It's just that you used to be Xander's girlfriend, and I'm Xander's girlfriend now, and we have sex quite often, or at least he' thinks it's quite often, even though I'd prefer...."

"Anya," Cordelia interrupted. "First, please stop. Second, I'm fine with it. It's ancient history."

"Oh, good," Anya said. "I thought it would be. Xander told me that he never had sex with you."

"He was kind enough to tell a lot of other people, wasn't he? I mean, it's not like everybody would see that ad I took out in the Sunnydale Times."

"Xander said you were probably still mad at him," Anya said. "He said I shouldn't mention anything. Of course, he's always telling me I shouldn't talk about things that...."

"It's fine," Cordy repeated. "Look, I was mad at Xander. I mean, he did cheat on me with Willow, what with the kissing her and sneaking behind my back and humiliating me and I know I wasn't always easy to be around but I really tried and it wasn't easy for me to...."

Cordelia looked up at the blank look on Anya's face.

"Um, anyway," Cordy muttered. "I'm over that."

"You know," Anya said. "I was perfectly willing to deliver vengeance for you when I first came to Sunnydale."

"Eh, whatever," Cordelia shrugged. "It was more fun doing it on my own."

Anya frowned. "How did you do that?"

"Oh, it was easy," Cordy said. "I just took every opportunity to put him down, make him feel worthless, the usual."

"Oh," Anya said. "I once turned a man into a turkey."

"That's nothing," Cordy shot back. "When Xander was around, I flirted with Wesley."

"That Wesley?" Anya gasped, gesturing toward the lobby.

"Yep."

"Diabolical," Anya sighed.

"Well, I had a lot of practice," Cordelia said. "I was pretty good at tormenting people. I'd pretty much make life hell for anybody who broke my own code. You know, if they wore last year's shoes, or asked me on a date without their own car, or sat at my lunch table, or next to my lunch table, et cetera."

"I remember this one guy," Anya chimed in. "He'd forgotten his wife's birthday for like the twelfth time, so I made his ears fold inside his head."

"Yeah, that sort of thing," Cordy said. "I just figured that anyone who didn't meet my standards pretty much had it coming. Of course, that was the Old Cordelia. Now, the New Cordelia gets to fight an eternal battle against evil for a migrant worker's wage, and has visions that make her head feel like it's in an orange juicer."

"I get that," Anya said. "I'm mortal. I break bones and age."

"There you go."

"Cordelia," Anya whispered, leaning forward. "Do you ever...miss it?"

"Oh, God," Cordy exclaimed. "Every day! It was soooo much easier. And it was fun. But, everyone has to grow up eventually."

"It took me a thousand years," Anya said.

"Anya?"

"Yes?"

"Where are you staying?"

"I got a motel room," Anya said. "It's a little far out of the city. I went on priceline.com, and I got a good rate bidding on the room, but the closest I could get was in the Valley, which still saved me...."

"Bah, the Internet," Cordy scoffed. "That takes all the fun out of shopping. I tell you what. You stay with me tonight while the guys are getting the urn. We'll order in. There's a great sushi place in my neighborhood that delivers. We'll make it a girls' night."

"Oh, that sounds lovely," Anya said.

"I'll just let the boys know," Cordelia said, standing and walking around the desk to the lobby.

"Wes," Cordy said as she got to the front desk. "You don't need Anya to pick up this urn, do you?"

"I don't imagine so," Wes said.

"We can handle it," Gunn agreed.

"Fine," Cordelia said. "Anya's gonna stay with me tonight. Just bring the urn back to the office, and we'll pick it up in the morning."

"Actually," Wesley said, "I'll probably bring it back to my flat. I want to examine it before I surrender possession of it to her."

"Why?" Cordy asked.

"Cordy, didn't Anya appear somewhat...evasive...to you?"

"She's an ex-demon," Cordelia retorted. "Of course she comes across a little weird. Remember the guy with his name on the letterhead? Hel-lo! Demon plus former equals strange. Look, just call Giles. It's his store. He'll tell you that...."

"I've already telephoned Giles."

"And what did he say?"

"He didn't, actually," Wesley explained. "I spoke with Willow. She confirmed Anya's story. The urn is harmless. It's rumored to have at best minor healing qualities. It was purchased for a rather large sum of money on behalf of a collector of rare artifacts."

"There you go."

"She also insisted that Giles was unavailable," Wesley continued. "She came across as rather evasive as well."

"Oh, please," Cordelia said. "Willow doesn't lie."

Wes and Gunn exchanged knowing glances.

"What? Oh, come on! That was ages ago, and besides, this is...hey! You told him!?" Cordelia exclaimed, slapping Wesley on the arm.

"Hey, I just asked who she was," Gunn said, raising his open palms defensively.

"She's an ex-vengeance demon," Cordelia hissed. "She's a thousand years old. She runs a retail store that sells potions and spells. And somehow you felt the need to add that we met her after I caught Willow kissing my boyfriend!?"

"If we could please focus on the matter at hand," Wesley declared. "Cordelia, if Anya is going to be with you tonight, please at least try to find out if she has some ulterior motive for seeking this urn. Gunn and I will take delivery of the urn tonight."

"Fine," Cordy sighed. "I'll keep my ears open."

"Good," Wesley said. "I'll secure a few smaller weapons for Gunn and myself. We should be prepared for any contingency."

"Should anyone stay with Fred?"

"She should be fine," Wesley said.

Wesley walked over to the weapons cabinet.

"So," Gunn asked, "this Willow, is she hot?"

"She's gay, Gunn," Cordelia shot back.

"A demon showed up after a gay woman stole your boyfriend?"

"Shut up, Gunn."

"Damn," Gunn said, shaking his head. "Remind me to drop in on your ten year reunion. Your high school makes the south side look like Leave It To Beaver."

Cordelia stormed off in a huff.

Part II.

"You expect anything?" Gunn asked.

"Perhaps," Wesley replied, looking across the docks toward a freighter anchored across the harbor. The two of them walked toward the ship. Gunn kept a hand inside his jacket, ready to draw his stake if there was any trouble.

"It's just a hunch," Wesley continued. "And I generally don't trust demons."

"Right there with you," Gunn agreed. "I thought you worked with these guys, though? You and Cordy?"

"Cordelia and I did," Wesley explained. "Anya did not. It's my understanding from Giles that Anya became involved with them after she started dating Xander. Normally I'd trust everyone's judgment, but...."

"Yeah," Gunn said. "From what you told me, those guys in Sunnydale were pretty tight. I guess they wouldn't let anyone in who wasn't straight up."

"Um...yes. We're here."

Gunn and Wesley walked to the end of the gangplank. A group of sailors stood at the top. Two of them picked up a crate, and walked down.

"You from the Magic Box?" one of the sailors asked as they dropped the crate.

"Yes," Wesley said. "Do you have it?"

"You got the cash?"

Wesley pulled a manilla envelope out of his jacket, and tossed it to the sailor. The sailor caught the envelope, opened it, thumbed through the cash, and them took a chisel out of his back pocket and pried the lid off the crate.

Wesley and Gunn crouched down beside the crate. Wesley stuck his hands into the packing hay, and moved it aside until an image became visible.

"What?" Gunn exclaimed. "Why would the ancient Egyptians make an urn with a bunch of lame-ass white boys on it?"

"That's the lunch box," the sailor explained. "The urn's underneath."

Wesley and Gunn exchanged puzzled looks before Wesley reached down farther into the hay and pulled out a small clay urn.

"Are we good?" the sailor asked.

"Quite," Wesley said.

Wordlessly, the two sailors walked up the gangplank. Wesley returned the urn to the crate and closed the lid. Gunn and Wesley each lifted a side of the crate and walked back toward the car.

"You recognize it?" Gunn asked.

"No," Wesley admitted. "But I'm somewhat disturbed by the imagery."

"You and me both," Gunn replied. "All those boy bands make me wanna...."

"I meant the images on the urn. Some of the symbols suggest a connection to an ancient cult that worshiped Osiris, god of the Underworld."

"So? Maybe the urn guys had it bad for this Osiris dude. Hey, maybe it's like the lunch box?"

"I highly doubt it," Wesley explained. "It does appear to have markings indicating an actual magical quality, and no spell caster who could successfully enchant an object would casually include a visage of a dark deity such as Osiris. They wouldn't dare."

"Well, it must be pretty important," Gunn said, as he and Wesley arrived at the car and hoisted the crate to the backseat. "What with a bunch of vamps after it."

"What?"

"Look behind us."

Wesley turned and saw a group of at least a dozen vampires running toward them.

"Think they're Backstreet Boys fans?" Gunn asked.

"I doubt it," Wesley said, as they climbed into the car and sped away.

Part III.

"So, Anya, what's it gonna be?" Cordelia asked. "I'm waiting."

"Are you sure you want to hear it?" Anya shot back. "You might not like it."

"I'll live," Cordy replied. "I think you're stalling."

"It's a big question."

"As big as they get."

"You seem pretty confident," Anya said.

"I've been in tough spots before," Cordelia stated.

"This isn't a tough spot," Anya warned. "This is it."

"Try me," Cordelia said, leaning forward. "You see, Anya, you've been pretty cool and casual so far, but I can sense we've finally come to a question you're not ready for. Well, I've got all night, and you can hedge and procrastinate forever, but sooner or later, you're going to have to give me an answer. So what's it gonna be?"

Anya bit her bottom lip, and then said:

"Alright, you asked for it. It's...the Battle of Waterloo!"

"Ugh!" Cordelia exclaimed, tossing the question card on the playing board in frustration. "I should have known better than to play Trivial Pursuit with a thousand year-old demon! You were probably at the Battle of Waterloo."

"And with all my pie pieces," Anya giggled, "and a correct answer in the center, I win! And, actually, I wasn't at Waterloo. With the French Revolution and the powdered wig types getting their heads chopped off, the whole 'Dangerous Liaisons' thing was pretty much over. The real action in the vengeance game was in the Far East."

"Hmm. Go figure. Want any more of the futo-maki?"

"No thanks," Anya said. "I'm still finishing my California Roll. Is there any more of the wasabi?"

"Oh, I think I left it in the kitchen," Cordy said. "Dennis?"

A moment later a small plastic cup came floating down the hall and into Cordelia's hand.

"Thanks," Cordy said. handing over the cup full of the condiment. "Have all you want. I'm not a big fan."

"Oh, I love it," Anya said, scooping a dab of the wasabi with a chopstick. "But Xander gets mad when I use too much."

"He doesn't like the flavor?"

"No, he says it makes oral sex painful."

"Well," Cordelia replied. "I guess you can't go back to that restaurant again."

"Oh, we'd ordered in," Anya said. "If we'd been at a restaurant, Xander would never have agreed to...oh, I get it. You were extending my statement into an inappropriate context in order to be humorous."

"Well, I was trying to, anyway," Cordelia said. "You know, Anya, if you don't mind my asking, why Xander?"

"He's really sweet," Anya replied. "And he's funny. And he makes me feel special. And I know he'll never cheat on me."

Cordelia scowled. "How do you know that?"

"Because he cheated on you, and it made him feel awful. I guess I should thank you. I know that sounds weird."

"Nah, I get it," Cordy said. "You know, this is fun. Heck, I haven't had a girlfriend spend the night since...well, there was Harmony. Of course, vampire, so...."

"This was a lot more fun than the motel," Anya agreed. "I got stuck with the bill, but I would have to have paid that anyway. Besides, I'm still ahead after I got a real deal on those shoes I bought last week on E-Bay."

"Do you really buy all that stuff on the internet?"

"Oh, yes. You can save a lot of money."

"Yes, but, shoes," Cordy said. "You don't just buy shoes. You pursue shoes. There's the browsing, and the trying on, and the thrill of walking back and forth in front of a full length mirror. You can't get that from a web site. We have got to hit Rodeo Drive before you leave."

"I really don't know if I can," Anya said. "I mean, I'd love to, but I really have to get back. We really need the urn."

"You mean, your buyer really needs it, right?"

"Oh, um, of course. Yes. Our buyer. Impatient guy, him."

"Anya, look," Cordy said. "You're basically an honest person. You're direct, and blunt, and a lousy liar. So what's the deal with the urn?"

"I...I can't tell you," Anya said. "It's nothing bad. And it's not just me. Xander and Willow and I just need it."

"And Giles? Does he need it?"

"Oh, god! You haven't...?"

"No, we haven't," Cordy interrupted. "Not yet. But if I don't tell Wesley something, he will."

"Alright," Anya said. "Just...can we keep this between you and me?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on what you tell me. If I hear something that Wesley shouldn't, I'll keep it to myself."

"Why should I trust you?"

"Because I'm a lousy liar, too."

"Yeah, I get that," Anya said. "Alright, look. It's called the Urn of Osiris. Willow says that it can raise the dead."

"Oh my god," Cordelia exclaimed. "Well, I still don't see...wait a minute. You're not thinking of...?"

"Cordelia, it's been terrible," Anya said. "The Hellmouth keeps drawing demons faster and faster. We're using a robot to keep Buffy's death a secret, but sooner or later things are going to get worse than we can handle."

"Anya, do you have any idea what you're doing? Raising the dead?"

"I know," Anya admitted. "But Willow said it's possible."

"It's more than possible," Cordelia said. "We've seen it. Problem is, you never know what you're getting. Last time we saw a dead blonde come back from the afterlife, things got bad. I mean, really bad. Plus, let's not forget zombies and vampires and all the other creepy crawlies that can happen when...."

"What if it was Angel?" Anya asked. "Or Wesley, or that other guy? Are you saying that you wouldn't take a chance?"

"I live with a ghost," Cordelia said. "And the guy who gave me these visions? Not around anymore. There are a lot of people I cared about that I'd love to bring back, but I'm not crazy enough to mess with magic that powerful to do it."

"It's not crazy," Anya argued. "And we don't have a lot of choices. Faith's in jail, where she belongs. The world needs a Slayer, and right now bringing Buffy back is our only option. There may be consequences. We know that, and we'll have to live with whatever happens. But there are consequences to keeping things the way they are, and we have to live with that, too. Giles is leaving. Angel's got enough on his hands here. That leaves Xander and Willow and me and Tara to watch the Hellmouth, and I think that gives us the right to make the tough choices."

Before Cordelia could answer, Gunn and Wesley burst through the door.

"Heads up!" Gunn shouted. "We got about a dozen pissed off vampires on our tail, and they don't look like they're gonna take no for an answer."

"Did you get the urn?" Anya asked.

"Yes, we did," Wesley answered, reaching into his jacket and pulling out the Urn of Osiris. "And I don't think they're after us. They're after this. After we've dealt with them, we need to talk."

"Dennis!" Cordelia shouted.

The coffee table flew into the air, scattering the Trivial Pursuit game onto the floor. The table came to a rest at the front door, blocking the entrance.

"No need," Gunn said. "Without an invite, they're not coming in."

"They had a van," Wesley said. "They followed us the entire way. We remembered you were here with Anya, so it seemed to be the best place to make a stand."

"You keep weapons here, right?" Gunn asked.

"Oh, great," Cordelia muttered. "Talk about bad timing."

"What?" Gunn replied. "You send out your stakes to get cleaned?"

"No," Cordelia struggled to say. "I'm mean...bad...time...for...ughh!"

Cordelia collapsed to the ground as the vision overcame her. A cushion sprang from the couch and landed underneath her as she dropped, breaking her fall.

"Nice moves, D-man," Gunn said as he ran to Cordelia's side. Cordelia convulsed in pain as Gunn watched. Wesley stood at the window, turning his attention between Cordelia and the van that pulled up to the curb outside.

"Damn," Cordelia exclaimed as struggled to sit up.

"What did you see?" Gunn asked.

"They dropped off a couple of the vamps before they got here," Cordelia answered, massaging her temples. "They're sneaking around to the back of the building."

"What good will that do?" Anya asked. "They can't get in that way, either."

"They're carrying bottles of liquor," Cordy explained. "And matches. They're going to burn us out."

"Great," Gunn said.

"Anya," Wesley said, walking away from the window. "These vampires are going to a lot of trouble to get this urn. We don't have time for games. Now, I want an honest answer. What do they want with this urn?"

"I can't tell you," Anya said.

"It raises the dead," Cordelia stated. "She told me everything."

Anya shot an angry look at Cordelia.

"You found the Urn of Osiris?" Wesley said incredulously.

"Wait a minute," Gunn said to Wesley. "You saw an urn with a picture of Osiris on it, and you've heard of an Urn of Osiris, and you're just making the connection now?"

"It doesn't exist," Wesley said. "Or at least, it isn't supposed to exist. What were you planning to do with it, Anya?"

"It's Giles," Cordelia continued. "He's been looking for it through his magic shop's suppliers. He's got this idea that he could bring Buffy back. The gang found it first. They're going to hide it so he can't get his hands on it. They've tried reasoning with him, but he won't listen."

"Cordelia," Wesley said. "Are you sure...?"

"Look, Wes, I know it's hard to believe," Cordelia said. "But think about it. Why did you go to Sunnydale in the first place? Because Giles couldn't put Buffy through that crucia-whatsis. I love Giles, but he's got a real blind spot when it comes to Buffy. Any other circumstance, I'd say Giles is Mister Level Head. But he'd do something stupid if it would stand any chance of bringing Buffy back."

"Look, guys," Gunn interjected. "As interesting as this conversation is, we've got to deal with the smoke I just started smelling."

Wesley sniffed the air as Anya helped Cordelia to her feet.

"We need a plan," Cordelia said.

"I have one," Wesley said, walking over to the window.

"Gentlemen!" Wes shouted. "I believe you are looking for this?"

Wesley stretched out his arm, holding the urn out the window.

"Give us the urn if you wish to live!" one of the vamps shouted. "Save a few years on your pitiful lives! We shall have the Urn, and the Master will rise again!"

"Oh, god," Cordelia said, holding a hand to her mouth.

"The Master?" Gunn repeated. "What the...?"

"Vampire," Wesley called over his shoulder. "Very old."

"And very scary," Cordy chimed in. "And very dead. Well, at least, for now."

"And he's staying that way," Wesley concluded. He turned back toward the window.

"A good plan to smoke us out!" Wesley shouted to the vamps. "However, this Urn, while very powerful, is also clay! I'd suggest you think twice about trying to burn us out! Defile the Urn, and the Master will never rise!"

Wesley observed the vamps talking amongst themselves.

"Cordelia," Wesley called. "Do you have a fire extinguisher?"

"Dennis!" Cordy shouted.

The small red tank flew from the kitchen into Wesley's hands. Wesley tossed the fire extinguisher out of the window onto the grass outside.

"Nice going, Wes," Gunn said as he walked to Wesley's side. "That would have helped if it started to get hot in here."

"I know that," Wesley said. "And so do they. This way, they know we're not bluffing."

Gunn and Wesley watched as the smell of smoke got stronger. Seconds seemed to last an eternity. Then one of the vamps ran to the lawn and grabbed the fire extinguisher. He ran out of sight. In a moment the sound of the foam spraying from the nozzle could be heard from the back of the building.

"We want that Urn!" the lead vamp shouted.

"We're willing to talk terms," Wesley said. "You and three of your companions can come to the front door."

Four of the vampires began moving from the street to the front of the building, while the rest stayed behind.

"They're coming," Wesley said. "We'll have to deal with them here. Gunn, watch the window. Cordelia, in your vision, how many vampires were at the back of the building?"

"Two," Cordy answered.

"I counted ten outside," Wesley said. "And one of them ran to the back of the building. We'll need to divide and conquer. Dennis, do you think you can handle four vampires?"

A chair in the living room lifted slightly from the ground, and then dropped with a single thud.

"That's a yes," Cordelia explained. "Once is yes, two is no. It's better than having the words appear in blood on the wall."

"Good," Wesley said. "Dennis, the table."

The coffee table floated away from the door and came to a rest in the living room.

"Alright," Wesley continued, "we'll invite four of the vampires into the apartment. The three from the back will undoubtedly be waiting to ambush us if we try to escape. We'll trap four in here, Gunn and I will take care of the three lying in wait, and by the time the others arrive from the front, you can get Anya and the Urn out toward the back of the building."

A knock sounded at the door. Wesley handed the Urn to Cordelia. Gunn went to open the door, but Wesley held up a cautioning hand, and then gestured toward the window. Gunn held his position, and watched the five vampires outside to make sure they did not come running prematurely.

Wesley walked over to the door and opened it, being careful to step backward as he did.

"Well?" The lead vampire asked as his three companions looked on.

"We have it," Wesley said. "What assurances do we have that we will be allowed to leave?"

"You won't be allowed to leave if we don't get it," the vamp said.

"Well, then we appear to be at a stalemate," Wesley said.

"Not really," the vamp said. "We can always start that fire again. We may not get the Urn, but if we're not going to get it anyway...." The vampire shrugged.

"You're a fool," Wesley said. "The Urn will never work on a vampire. The Master will never rise again."

"He will, human," the vamp growled. "The Master will walk the earth, and all will bow before him. We will draw your blood like sap, and the screams of your children will fill the night sky!"

"Oh, yeah," Cordelia said. "You sure talk big on that side of the door. Why don't you and your three friends come in here and...um, oops."

"Thank you," the vampire said, as he and his companions stepped through the doorway. "That's a mistake you'll not live to regret. We'll kill you all, and feast on your flesh."

"Well, you'll have a hard time killing all of us," Cordy retorted. "I mean, with the exception of you vamp types, you can only die once. Speaking of which, DENNIS! NOW!"

The sound of cracking wood filled the apartment as the legs of the coffee table snapped off, and began flying through the air toward the vampires. The vamps dodged and swatted at the stakes as Gunn drew his own stake and ran toward the doorway. He darted outside, and a vamp lunged at him. Wesley buried a stake in the vampires back, which freed Gunn to shove his stake into a second vampire as it tried to attack Wesley. The third landed a punch across Gunn's chin, but that left him vulnerable as Wesley stabbed him between the shoulder blades.

"Cordelia, run!" Wesley shouted, as he and Gunn position themselves between the front door and the expected onslaught of vampires from the street. Cordy took Anya's hand, and ran outside with the Urn in her free hand.

Epilogue

Cordelia stopped as they got to the alley behind her apartment.

"Will they be alright?" Anya asked.

"Eh, Dennis will finish off the ones inside," Cordelia replied. "Wes and Gunn should be able to handle five vamps on their own, especially since they can move in and out of the apartment for cover. Besides, most vamps aren't exactly brave. Once they figure out their leader is dead and the odds have evened up, not to mention that there's a ghost, they'll probably just take off."

"I thought you said you weren't a good liar?"

"No, but I'm a hell of an actress. I really had that vamp...oh, you mean with Wes."

"Yeah," Anya said. "Thanks for that."

"Speaking of which," Cordelia said, walking over to one of the window sills in the alley. She grabbed one of the flower pots sitting on the ledge, turned it upside down and shook it until the plant and the soil had fallen completely out, and then dropped it on the pavement. She slammed the heel of her shoe against the broken shards until nothing remained but a fine clay powder.

"When the guys get back," Cordelia said, "that was the Urn. We smashed it in case the vamps caught up with us."

"Thanks for that, too."

"Anya," Cordelia said. "I hope you know what you're doing."

"I hope so, too. Do you think Wes will try to talk to Giles."

"I'll talk him out of it. Tell him Giles had to grieve for Buffy in his own way, no sense stirring up trouble among the ranks, blah, blah, blah."

"What about Angel?"

"Him?" Cordelia gasped. "No way. You pull this off, great. But there's no way I'm getting his hopes up. Trust me, you don't want to see what Angel gets like when one of his exes gets on his mind. Anyway, we'll hide the Urn over in those bushes. Once the guys are gone, we'll get it back."

"I am sorry about lying to you."

"I know," Cordy said. "Look, Anya, I'm not saying I agree with what you're doing, but you're right. It's your call. Besides, I'm a pretty good judge of character, and I'm guessing you wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't the best way to go."

"Cordelia," Anya said. "Have you ever been a bridesmaid?"

"Huh?"

Anya reached into the front pocket of her pants and pulled out a small black box. She opened it, and showed the ring inside to Cordelia.

"Xander gave this to me just before Buffy died," Anya explained. "We haven't told anyone. Things have just been too weird. But, when we get married, I'd like you to be my bridesmaid."

"Oh, Anya, that's sweet," Cordelia sighed. "But...I don't think it's a good idea. I mean, I'm over the whole thing with Xander, and I'm sure he's over it, too. But it may get a little awkward anyway. The last thing you want on your wedding day is for things to get all dramatic."

"True," Anya agreed.

"Anyway, let's hide that urn and see how the guys are doing," Cordelia said, walking toward a thicket of bushes by the side of the building.

"O.K.," Anya said.

After they'd hidden the Urn of Osiris, Anya and Cordelia walked through the alley back toward the apartment. By Cordelia's calculations, there would be just enough time before Anya's morning train to clean the apartment, and squeeze in a Trivial Pursuit rematch.

THE END


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Candy in the Freezer

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Giles' alter ego 'Ripper' makes an unexpected return.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The song "So Young" is by the Coors, who own the publishing rights, from their album, "Talk on Corners."

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Prologue


Anya tiptoed up the stairs, and quietly turned the knob on the door. Xander would kill her if he knew that she was sneaking up from the basement to his parents' kitchen, but she didn't have time to go to the store.

Anya opened the door and peeked down both ends of the hallway. The coast was clear. She walked down the hall toward the kitchen and looked at the list in her hand. Flour...eggs...sugar...walnuts...every item on her list had a checkmark next to it, with one exception:

Chocolate.

Anya opened the refrigerator. There was an empty gallon of milk, several tupperware containers, but no chocolate. In fact, not much of anything. Xander was right when he said that his mother wasn't much of a cook. Of course, it was difficult to know anything about Xander's family based upon the brief and infrequent comments he made about them.

Closing the refrigerator door, Anya turned her attention to the freezer. She opened the freezer door, pushed aside several of the frozen pot pie boxes, and in the back she saw a rectangular bar of...something. She picked up the bar, wiped away the frost, and read:

"Milk chocolate. Support your High School Marching Band!"

Perfect. She closed the freezer door and turned to walk away. She jumped back as she saw a stocky man in a bowling shirt standing behind her. He held a beer can in one hand, and a TV Guide in the other. Anya regained her composure, and said:

"You must be Xander's father. I'm Anya."

Xander's father looked Anya over from head to toe, and then said:

"You must be the girlfriend. Hmmm. I wonder how that loser son of mine got a girl so pretty?"

Anya, unfazed, said:

"It's his sexual prowess. He's godlike in bed. Nice meeting you."

Xander's father, who was normally more than willing to offer a retort to any complement paid to his son, stood stunned as Anya walked down the hall and back into the basement.


Part I.


"Now mix the flour with the spatula," Joyce instructed, "and make sure that it mixes evenly with the eggs."

Anya complied, as Buffy stood in corner of the kitchen, watching her mother and Anya at work.

"Thank you for doing this, Mrs. Summers," Anya said. "You're the only person I know that can cook."

"Hey," Buffy chimed in, "I didn't hear you complaining when I made Thanksgiving dinner."

"Xander said your feelings would be hurt if I mentioned how dry the turkey was," Anya responded. "I decided to offer pleasant premeditated complements rather than offend you with a frank evaluation of the meal."

"Thanks for that," Buffy said. Joyce shot a perplexed glance at Buffy, who responded by rolling her eyes.

"Well," Joyce said, trying to change the subject, "I think it's wonderful that you're both interested in cooking. It's a lost art."

"A bit of a sexist art," Buffy replied.

"Nonsense," Joyce said, nibbling on a handful of walnuts. "It's a good way of expressing yourself."

"And for keeping a man," Anya said. "I was listening to a radio talk show, with this woman who talks to other women about how to keep men...."

"And you were thinking: 'Oh, how I wish I could still deliver vengeance for them,'" Buffy interjected.

"Well, of course," Anya said, "but since I can't anymore, I figured I should pay attention. Anyway, the woman said that cooking is a good way to keep a man interested. She said: 'The way to make a man hard is through his stomach.'"

Joyce held a hand up to her mouth to prevent her sudden gasp from sending the walnuts in her mouth flying across the room. After a pause, Buffy said:

"'Heart,' Anya. It's 'heart.' 'The way to a man's heart is through his stomach.'"

Anya considered this, and asked:

"Are you sure? I mean, were you listening to the show, too?"

"It's an old saying," Buffy said. "Trust me. It's 'heart.'"

"Oh," Anya said, looking down at the mixture of flour and eggs, wondering if she'd been wasting her time. "But it has the same general meaning, doesn't it?"

"In a roundabout way, yes," Buffy said.

"Um, OK, let's pour the mix into the pan," Joyce said, once she was sure that she could speak without spraying the room with chewed walnuts. "That's it," Joyce said as Anya poured, "use the spatula to get the whole mix in."

"OK," Anya replied, "now what?"

"Well, we've preheated the oven," Joyce said, opening the oven door, "so we put it in, and then wait twenty minutes before taking it out. Then you pour on the melted chocolate, sprinkle on the walnuts, and let the whole thing cool."

Anya put on a potholder, slid the pan into the oven, and closed the door. She asked:

"So I should start melting the chocolate now?"

"Well, we've got the saucepan on the burner," Joyce said, "so yes. Just be sure to turn the heat from medium down to low after the chocolate is all melted, so it doesn't burn."

"Thanks," Anya said, going into her grocery bag.

"Um, Anya," Buffy said, "I've got to talk to my mom for a few minutes. We'll just go out into the living room...."

"Fine," Anya said, "I've got this under control."

Buffy and Joyce left the kitchen just as Anya found the chocolate bar in her grocery bag. She unwrapped the candy and broke the chocolate bar into several pieces. She then dropped the pieces into the saucepan, threw the wrapper into the garbage can under the sink, and picked up a spoon so she would be ready to stir.

"Sorry about Anya, Mom," Buffy said as they entered the living room. "She asked if we could do this, and I...."

"Don't apologize," Joyce interrupted. "I like it when I get to meet your friends."

"Yeah, but I know Anya can be a bit much."

"Oh, I understand," Joyce said. "I made some pretty unusual friends when I was in college."

"Mom, Anya's a demon who delivered vengeance on unfaithful men who lost her powers and got trapped in human form."

"Well, OK, maybe not that unusual. So I guess she's looking to find some more...conventional ways of dealing with people."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "Giles invited us to the coffee house to watch him sing. Afterwards, we're going back to his place for dessert. Anya wanted to bring something."

Buffy was happy that Giles felt comfortable enough to invite them to watch his performance. She remembered the dream in which she was attacked by the First Slayer, and she couldn't find her friends. It was good that they were getting closer.

Buffy then remembered her mother's role in the dream. Trapped in the wall. Waiting for Buffy to break through. Buffy had walked away.

"Mom," Buffy said, "why don't you come?"

"Oh, Buffy, I don't think so."

"C'mon. It'll be fun."

"I don't know if Rup...I mean, if Mr. Giles would feel...comfortable."v "Oh," Buffy said. "Mom, I'm sure he's over that by now. I mean, when the two of you...well, when you...anyway, that was a long time ago. And you were under the influence of the magic band candy. It caused you both to become adolescents again. I don't think he'd be wigged out if you...."

"Buffy," Joyce said. She tried choose her next words carefully, but then just said:

"Buffy, I'd be 'wigged out.' It would just be strange. It's one thing when Mr. Giles has news about something you're working on. But just to be social...."

"Oh, mom. It's no big deal. It happens, and usually people don't have magic candy to blame it on. Look, if you come, I promise that we won't walk past any police cars, so you and Giles won't feel tempted to have sex on the hood."

"Buffy! Please!"

"Well, OK. But if you change your mind, just come."

Buffy tried to hide her disappointment. Both Giles and her mother seemed lonely, and Giles was already like a father to Buffy. After the initial shock of finding out about her mother and Giles, she'd always hoped....well, apparently it just wasn't going to happen.


Part II.


"We are chasing the moon
Just running wild and free."

Giles strummed his guitar, and took a breath. He continued singing:

"We are following through
Every dream, and every need."

The song was a little modern and a bit upbeat compared to what he usually sang, and the arrangement was a little difficult to convert to an acoustic song. But Giles was making a conscious attempt to get away from the depressing classic rock that he normally sang.

"And it really doesn't matter
that we don't eat
And it really doesn't matter
that we don't sleep
No, it really doesn't matter, it really
doesn't matter at all."

Now came the part that Giles felt a little silly singing at his age:

"Cause we were so young then,
we are so young, so young now
And when tomorrow comes,
we'll just do it all again."

He used the bridge as an opportunity to look out across the crowd. Some of the regulars, who were into the depressing classic rock, and came to the coffee house to get their depressing classic fix, seemed a little perturbed. Well, Giles thought, let them succeed in averting yet another demon apocalypse, and see if they wouldn't feel a little perky. Most of the other people seemed to be responding positively. In the back he saw Buffy, Xander, Anya, Willow and Tara. They were smiling.

Giles smiled back. He was glad he'd invited them.


Part III.


"Well, that was fun," Xander said, sitting on Giles' couch.

"Thank you all for coming," Giles said. "I'll get the coffee on." He went to the coffee maker, and flipped the ON switch. He'd already filled the filter and the water.

"And I'll get dessert," Anya said, walking toward Giles' refrigerator. "I made a cake."

"She did," Buffy said. "I'm a witness."

At that moment, Tara and Willow walked through Giles front door.

"Buffy," Willow said. "Just as we were leaving the coffee shop, we heard some people talking. The police have been to Sunnydale High. Something about some vandals in the old library."

"It's probably nothing," Tara said. "I mean, they didn't mention anything unusual, but...."

"I guess I'm on it," Buffy said. "Willow, check the internet. See if you can find out if there's been anything unusual going on around the old school in the last few days."

"My laptop's back at the dorm," Willow replied. "Tara and I will head back."

Tara and Willow left as quickly as they had come.

"Xander," Buffy continued. "Go over to the frat house. I heard Graham got back yesterday. Make sure that whatever's poking around the high school isn't any of the Initiative guys gathering up supernatural stuff before the government shuts them down."

"Too bad Riley's not back yet," Xander responded.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "They kept him a little longer for the debriefing, since he was the highest ranking surviving officer. But Graham should know if anything's up from the Initiative end."

"C'mon, honey," Xander called to Anya. "There's work to do."

"But no one's tried my cake," Anya protested.

"Sweetheart," Xander explained, "between tasty dessert items and checking on possible Hellbeast uprisings, dessert comes in second. A close second, but second nonetheless."

Anya stomped her foot, then followed Xander out the door.

"I'd better get going, too," Buffy said to Giles, who stood alone by the kitchen.

"Do you need weapons?"

"I have Mr. Pointy," Buffy said. "There's no reason to start breaking out the heavy artillery yet. It could be nothing."

"Very well," Giles said. "I'll begin to research...."

"We don't know anything yet," Buffy interjected. "But I'll call as soon as I've found out something. Who knows? It could just be some kids hanging out or something."

Buffy grabbed her jacket and ran out the door.

Well, Giles thought to himself. Alone at last. Alone again.

Giles tried not to feel too left out. After all, they'd been down this road before. If the battle against Adam had proven anything, it was that Buffy still needed all of her friends, including her former Watcher.

Still, those moments when Buffy truly needed him seemed to be fewer and farther between as time went on. He'd picked up the guitar again to try to fill some of the empty hours. It hadn't.

Giles paced a bit around his living room. He could begin to check his books for prophecies about the Hellmouth. Or at least get some of his materials on the Hellmouth organized. He had some laundry to do....

He wandered toward the kitchen. The coffee was ready. He normally preferred tea, but he'd made coffee because he'd thought it was what the others would prefer. He poured himself a cup of coffee, and as he walked past the refrigerator, he opened the door. Anya's cake sat on the top shelf.

"Well, Rupert," he said to himself, taking the cake out of the refrigerator, "nothing to do but wait."


Part IV.


Buffy walked down the hallway of the charred ruins of the school toward what had once been the library of Sunnydale High. Yellow police tape marked off the area. She looked at one of the few remaining walls, and saw, written in white chalk:

MITAR CZANTA RITANI QINDA PORODAE

Buffy took a pencil from her purse and wrote the phrase on the back of a piece of paper. She put the paper and pencil back in her purse, and then heard footsteps coming from the distance.

She walked toward the sound, pulling Mr. Pointy from her purse. She paused, and looked up toward the ceiling. Enough moonlight came into the building to light up the hallway. She saw a moving darkness crawl across the roof. While vampires had no reflections, fortunately, they did cast shadows.

Buffy turned around just in time to see a vampire lunging toward her. She gave the vamp a high kick to the face, and sent him sprawling backwards.

The vamp jumped to his feet. He stood facing Buffy, and said:

"It is pointless to fight! Narlach will destroy you!"

"Well," Buffy said, "I guess you're right. I surrender. Bite me, drain me, send me to my doom."

The vampire's eyes widened. It wasn't the reaction he was expecting. Buffy then exclaimed:

"I'm being sarcastic! Duh!"

The vamp growled, and threw a punch at Buffy. A quick move to the side allowed Buffy to dodge the blow. She kneed the vamp in the stomach, and as he doubled over, Buffy plunged the stake into his back. The vamp let out a final howl as he turned to dust.

Buffy dropped Mr. Pointy back into her purse and walked toward the exit.


Part V.


"Could you repeat that last word?"

"Porodae," Buffy said into the speaker of the payphone. "Look it up, and see what...."

"Oh, I know the language," Giles said through the telephone. "It's an ancient Persian dialect. Some vampires have adopted it as a second language, sort of as a code. The rough translation is: new plan, meet at the tomb of Qindar."

"And where do I find that?"

"It's at the cemetery. Qindar was a sorcerer who lived in Sunnydale in the early 1930s. I've researched him extensively. His real name was Leon Pondell. He's buried in one of the larger mausoleums. You shouldn't have any trouble finding it."

"So why do you think they're meeting there? Do you think this Quidar guy had some sort of magic...?"

"Oh, no," Giles said. "He wasn't very powerful. It's probably just an alternate meeting place. The Hellmouth opening was the primary place, and when this Narlach chap found the school blown up, he picked Qindar's tomb."

"OK," Buffy said, "Look up this Narlach guy, and see...."

"Oh, I know about him, too," Giles said. "He's a vampire, and a kind of a merchant. He goes around from town to town, selling minor magic items to vampires. Kind of like a door to door salesman for the undead. Not too bad of a git. Lord, this cake is wonderful!"

"Excuse me?"

"This cake! Anya's cake. It's marvelous! You see, most people put the walnuts in the mix. Anya put them on top, with the chocolate."

"Yeah, right," Buffy said. "It's my mom's recipe. Anyway, I'll go check out this tomb...."

"Yes, yes. Do go. They'll be a few vampires there. Just kill them all. Good opportunity, really. Did you say this was Joyce's recipe?"

"Giles, are you OK?"

"Oh, yes. Quite well."

"Are you listening to the radio?"

"No, it's an album," Giles responded. "One of my old vinyls, actually. Clapton, bootleg, before he sold out and started doing mushy ballads for the bloody cinema."

"Um, look," Buffy said, "I'll call you after I've checked out this tomb."

"Righto," Giles responded, and hung up.

Buffy hung up the receiver. Giles was acting strange, and the worst part of it was, it seemed oddly familiar. She made a mental note to check up on him as soon as she finished slaying all the vamps at the undead flea market that had sprung up at the cemetery.

Giles walked away from his telephone and took a drag off his cigarette. It was a bit stale. He then reminded himself that he was lucky to have found half a pack in his old jacket pocket. He hadn't smoked since Olivia had gone back to England. Too bad about that. He was feeling a little randy.

Then he remembered. Joyce. She was quite the bird.

Giles looked down at the empty plate on his table that had once held Anya's cake.

And, Giles thought, licking a spot of chocolate off his index finger, she apparently can cook, too.


Part VI.


Joyce shut off the television, and walked upstairs toward her bedroom. She looked down at her watch. Eleven-thirty. She'd missed Giles' performance at the coffee shop. She'd fought herself over whether or not to go. It's over by now, Joyce thought to herself. The decision's made.

Joyce entered her room, and began to unbutton her blouse.

"I could give you a hand with that, luv."

Joyce gasped. She turned toward the voice, and saw Giles sitting on the sill of her open window.

"Rupert," Joyce said, "you startled me."

Giles hopped through the window into the room. He wore faded jeans and a leather jacket, and held a cigarette in his left hand.

"Sorry to give you a jump, luv," Giles said, taking a drag off his cigarette. "Thought I'd pop by, see if you want to have a night out."

Joyce felt a mix of apprehension and curiosity.

"Rupert, are you alright?"

"Never better," Giles responded. He walked over to Joyce, threw an arm around her, and pulled her body against his.

"Rupert, what are you doing?!?"

"Something I've been putting off," Giles replied, and then pressed his lips to hers.

Joyce was too startled at first to protest. Then, a familiar pleasure began to arise. She began to return the kiss, and then remembered why the pleasure felt familiar.

"Rupert," Joyce said, pulling away, "what's happened to you?"

"Nothing you can't fix," Giles said, as he leaned forward to kiss her again.

"Wait," Joyce said, pushing Giles away and taking two steps back. "Rup...Mr. Giles, if we did go out tonight, what would you want to do?"

"Oh, I don't know," Giles responded. "Maybe catch a band. Have a couple drinks. Then, maybe, go back to my place, put on a couple of albums, and...."

"Oh, Christ! Not again! Listen, Rupert, wait right here. I've got to make a phone call."


Part VII.


Buffy crept toward the door of the mausoleum. The door was cracked open. She knelt by the door, and listened. She heard:

"My friends," a voice said, "I have been providing you with quality merchandise for centuries. However, this particular item I have acquired surpasses the most valuable merchandise that I have ever had to offer."

"Yeah, right," a voice chimed in sarcastically.

"I've heard that before," another voice said. "That talisman you sold me forty years ago was a piece of junk."

"Yeah," a voice said. "And you sold me a potion which was supposed to keep me from needing blood for six months. Hell, it just made me hungrier."

"My friends," said the original speaker (who Buffy deduced was Narlach), "I understand your skepticism. I too, have been a victim of false representations. However, this item is the genuine article. I give you...the Bracelet of Amara!"

Buffy heard the vampires gasp (an unusual reaction for creatures with no breath). Buffy let a tiny gasp out herself. Amara. As in the Ring of Amara. The ring that made vampires unkillable. Apparently this Amara guy had created an entire ensemble.

"As you know," Narlach continued, "Hollywood has usually portrayed vampires as shapeshifters who can turn into wolves, bats, and clouds of mist."

The vamp crowd chuckled. Buffy, hoping that the vamps were too engrossed in Narlach's sales pitch to notice anything else, pushed the door to the mausoleum open another inch so she could peek inside. She saw Narlach (an tall vampire with a goatee, wearing a grey tuxedo) standing at the back of the room, and at least twenty vampires gathered to listen to him. Too many vamps to take on at once.

"Now," Narlach said, "we have always assumed that shapeshifting was simply a combination of superstition and cinematic embellishment. Not so! Myths about vampire changelings are rooted in the magic spells of Amara, who created this Bracelet, which gives any vampire who wears it the ability to change form. Behold!"

Narlach held his arm in the air, and pulled down his sleeve, revealing a silver band around his wrist. He closed his eyes, and began to melt into a glowing blob. As the blob melted toward the floor, it began to take the shape of a dog. The glow faded into a dark brown, and when it was gone, a wolf was standing in the center of the room. The vamps stared at the wolf, which then began to glow again, and Narlach returned to his original form. He said:

"Can you image the power of this marvelous device. As a bat, you can fly to any location. As a wolf, you can blend into the woods. As a mist cloud, you can enter any building, without regard to locked doors. Also, I understand that Sunnydale has a bit of a Slayer problem. How can she stab a cloud of mist? How can she follow a flying bat? With this bracelet, the world is at your fingertips. And it can be yours, for a price. I will be here until one hour prior to the rising of the sun. The vampire among you who can bring the greatest amount of cash can have this bracelet. You have five hours, gentlemen. Let the games begin!"

The vampires were stirring as Buffy crept away. She'd need help.


Part VIII.


"Thanks for coming guys," Buffy said to the assembled Scoobies in Giles' living room. "Does anyone know where Giles is?" Fortunately Buffy had a key to Giles' front door.

"Your mom called," Willow responded. "She said Giles was at your house. She said you should call her."

"First things first," Buffy said. "The cops at the old high school, they weren't chasing away vandals."

"Well," Xander interrupted, "I found Graham. He and a bunch of the other Initiative guys are packing up their stuff from the frat house. Graham says there's no possibility that it's any of the Initiative guys poking around. They're all under orders to disband, and go their merry way. I dunno. Graham seemed a little reluctant to talk."

"There's a first," Willow said.

"It's not that," Xander said. "I asked him what he was planning to do, like whether he was going to stay in college, or move away from Sunnydale, and he really didn't answer. I have a feeling he's not done with the spy guy stuff. Maybe...."

"It's not the Initiative," Buffy said. "There's a vamp in town who's peddling a bracelet made by the same sorcerer who made that ring Spike was after. The bracelet allows a vampire to change shape. You know, like, into a bat."

"Great," Xander said. "We finally figure we've got the rules down, and some vampire comes along who can do other stuff."

"We've got two problems," Buffy continued. "First is getting that bracelet. It's going to be tough. If this guy can shapeshift, he's going to be tough to kill. And we can't let any other vampire get hold of it either."

"So we go and we stake him," Willow said.

"No," Buffy replied. "I go and stake him. I need everyone else out on the town. About twenty vamps are scrambling around town trying to get as much money as they can in about four hours. That means that there's going to be a lot of vampire attacks tonight all over Sunnydale, and I can't fight all of them and get to Narlach. Xander, get on the phone with Graham. See if any of the Initiative guys still have their weapons, and tell them we need them to help us with one more job."

"That's the least they can do," Xander said, "after we saved them all from Adam."

"Willow," Buffy continued, "find Spike. He's always on the lookout for a chance to fight something that won't set off that chip in his head. Then start researching. We need to find out about this bracelet, and how we can fight it. Dammit, what's Giles doing at my mom's?"

"Call her," Xander suggested. "Then I'll call Graham."

Buffy walked over to the telephone, and dialed her mother's number. Buffy heard her mother say:

"Hello? Buffy? Is that you?"

"It's me. Let me talk to Giles."

"I don't think that's a good idea, honey," Joyce replied. "He's...not himself."

"What?"

"You remember the band candy?"

"Yes?"

"Well, he's had a relapse."

Buffy's eyes widened. She asked:

"You two aren't...I mean, you haven't...?"

"Of course not! I'm fine," Joyce said. "It's Rupert who's got the problem."

"How do you know it's come back?"

"He came over here smoking cigarettes, wearing a leather jacket, and at least five times in the last twenty minutes, he's asked me if I wanted to have a 'shag.' God, I didn't know British people really used that word."

"Are you alright?"

"Well, I'm keeping him busy. I've got him listening to the radio. It took me fifteen minutes to find a station that played music he didn't dismiss as 'poofter crap.' Buffy, we have to do something."

"Keep him there," Buffy said. "I'll be over as soon as I can."

Buffy hung up the phone. She turned to the Scoobies and said:

"Ripper's back."

"I take it you mean 'young Giles,' and not 'Jack the,'" Xander said.

"Apparently whatever happened to him with Ethan's adolescence spell has come back," Buffy said. "I've got to get over there."

"Maybe it's like a flashback," Willow opined. "Like the hippies used to get years after they dropped acid."

"I don't think so," Buffy said. "It hasn't affected anybody else. The whole town was running around like Menudo fans last time."

"Well, something must have caused it," Tara said. "Maybe this Narlach guy cast a spell on Mr. Giles to keep you off track. Or some other...Buffy?"

Buffy was staring down at the table in Giles' hallway, oblivious to Tara's words. Next to the telephone was a plate with nothing but crumbs.

"Anya," Buffy said, still looking at the plate. "Is this the plate you brought the cake on?"

"Looks like it," Anya responded.

"Where did you get the ingredients for the cake?"

"At the grocery store, of course."

"Even the chocolate?"

"No," Anya said. "The chocolate I got from Xander's freezer. I forgot to get it at the store."

"Oops," Xander said, dropping his face into his hands.

Tara and Anya were oblivious to the significance of the chocolate, but Willow and Buffy glared at Xander like parents looking at a child who had just glued the cat to the couch. Willow exclaimed:

"Xander! Why did you save the Band Candy!?!"

"I didn't mean to," Xander explained. "When we first got it, I threw a few bars in the freezer so it would keep. After the...problem...I though I'd gotten all of them and thrown them away. I must have missed one."

"Well, that's just great," Buffy said. "You have a cluttered fridge and now I have a teenage Watcher at my house hitting on my mom! I've got to get over there."

Willow asked:

"What about Narlach?"

"One problem at a time," Buffy said. "You guys keep the vamps from tearing the town apart. I'll take care of Narlach after I get Giles squared away."


Part IX.


Joyce watched as Giles lay on the couch listening to the radio, smoking a cigarette. Damn, Joyce thought, it's going to take me forever to air this place out.

"Um," Joyce said, "would you like some coffee?"

"That's not really what I want," Giles said, sitting up.

"Look," Joyce said. "Last time we were both under the influence of the Band Candy. I'm not now. It isn't going to happen again."

"Band Candy? Has that bugger Ethan been at it again?"

"I don't really know," Joyce replied. "But whatever it is, it's temporary, I'm sure."

"Bloody shame," Giles said. "Of course, there's no reason we can't enjoy this while it lasts. C'mon, Joyce! Let me be your stevedore!"

Joyce's eyes widened. "Who told you...I mean...how did you know I thought...?"

"Buffy told me," Giles explained. "She could read minds for awhile, remember?"

"You talked about that?"

"It couldn't be helped. She had to prove that it was really her when she switched bodies with Faith."

"Great," Joyce sighed. "Just great."

"So what? So I know you had a good time? I had a good time. Let's have another good time. What's the big deal?"

"The big deal is that I'm not a sixteen year-old this time," Joyce said. "I'm mature enough to understand what's going on. I'm mature enough to know that it would be a mistake. And I'm mature enough to still be mad as Hell at you."

Giles recoiled. "You're still angry at me because I was Buffy's Watcher?"

"Of course I am," Joyce said. "She lied to me, her whole life was a lie she told me, and you helped. We were growing farther and farther apart. We're still not close. And you let it happen. You made sure it happened!"

"Well," Giles said, "for what it's worth, she doesn't have much use for me lately, either."

"Oh, don't be silly. The things you two have shared...."

"She gestated in your bloody womb, and you grew apart! You think it's been easy for me? Watching her grow up to the point where she's outgrown me? We're not so different, Joyce."

"I'm her mother! I have a right to my relationship with my daughter! You don't have a right to your relationship with Buffy. And you sure as Hell didn't have any right to get in the way of my relationship with her!"

Giles considered this, stood up, and said:

"Well, then, I guess that I don't have any right to be here, either. I'll be off, then."

"Wait," Joyce said. "Buffy's on her way over here...."

"I'll let you two have some quality time, then," Giles said. "I wouldn't want to interfere with your right to quality time with your damn daughter!"

"She's coming to help you," Joyce said. "Whatever's happened to you, it will fix, just like it did last time, and then it will be like it never happened. You'll see that...."

"I'll see nothing," Giles interrupted. "Do you really think that I just came over here on a lark? That I never thought about us until an hour ago? I've wanted to call you a million times since our night together. Tonight was just the first time I had the nerve."

Joyce didn't know how to respond.

Fortunately, she didn't have to. The front door burst open, and Buffy ran into the room, a crossbow in her right hand.

"Giles," Buffy said. "Listen, that cake Anya brought. It had some of the Band Candy on it. Xander had some left at his house that he forgot to throw out, and Anya didn't know that...."

Joyce's jaw dropped. She said:

"Xander kept some of the Band Candy? What is he, an idiot?"

"Apparently," Buffy said. "Look, Giles...."

"It doesn't matter," Giles said. "It wore off by itself the last time. It will do so again. I'm getting out of here."

"Giles, wait," Buffy said. "I need your help."

"Not bloody likely," Giles said.

"It's Narlach," Buffy explained. "He's got some bracelet that was made by Amara, that guy who made the ring. It allows vampires to change into bats and wolves."

"Bollocks," Giles said.

"Judging by your tone," Buffy said, "I assume that 'bollocks' is a negative comment."

"There's no Bracelet that does any such thing," Giles responded. "Amara didn't research shapeshifting magics. Myths about shapeshifting vampires have an entirely different origin. Gypsy magic and Bram Stoker, mostly."

"Well, some vamp is down at the cemetery, and I saw him change into a wolf. So, bollocks to you!"

Giles laughed. "Bollocks to me, eh? Well, let's go see this vampire, shall we?"

"Giles," Buffy said, "I'm not taking you anywhere."

"Oh, really? Then how are you going to fight this vampire when he turns into a bat and flies away? I'm the only one who knows anything about Amara, shapeshifting, or anything else to do with this mess."

Buffy considered this, sighed, and said:

"Alright, you can come. But do exactly what I say."


Part X.


Buffy and Giles moved through the shadows of the cemetery toward the mausoleum. Buffy still held the crossbow. Buffy whispered to Giles:

"Stay close."

"I will," Giles whispered back.

"And be careful," Buffy added.

"I will," Giles agreed.

"And don't have sex with my mother in this condition."

"Alright," Giles said sarcastically. "When I have sex with your mother, what condition would you like me to be in?"

Buffy turned to face Giles, and without any sarcasm, said:

"Just be you."

Buffy turned toward the mausoleum and kept walking. Giles absorbed Buffy's last comment, and then followed.

Buffy and Giles came to the door of the mausoleum. It was half open. They observed Narlach take a pocket watch out of his vest, check the time, and then put the watch back in his pocket. He took the silver band off his wrist, and threw it onto the marble slab of the tomb.

Narlach then stooped to lift a large box onto the slab. As he lifted, he lost his grip on the box, and it fell to the ground and opened. The sound of clanging metal echoed in the mausoleum as several silver bracelets, all identical to the bracelet Narlach had been wearing, fell across the floor.

Buffy and Giles exchanged glances. Buffy kicked the door entirely open and walked in, Giles close behind her. She faced Narlach, and said:

"So it was all a scam?"

Narlach looked up at Buffy. "You must be the Slayer. I wondered if I'd run into you. Yes, I'm afraid that I am pulling one over on the undead of Sunnydale."

"I saw you change," Buffy said. "How?"

"A simple potion. Not terribly sophisticated magic, actually. Gypsy herbs and a few quick incantations. Unfortunately the ingredients of the potion are rather expensive, and the ability to change into a wolf only lasts about ten minutes. Hardly useful magic for a warrior. For a salesman, however, it can be a rather persuasive tool."

"So you did your little show," Buffy said, "and every vamp who comes back is going to get one of your fake magic bracelets?"

"Exactly," Narlach said. "The shapeshifting potion cost me about a thousand dollars. After I sell the 'magic' bracelets to about twenty vampires for all the money they can grab in a night, I expect a profit margin of roughly fifty thousand."

"That won't do much for your reputation as a merchant," Buffy said.

"Well, I didn't have much of a reputation to begin with. Besides, I'm ready to retire."

"Retire? You don't age!"

"Not physically," Narlach explained. "But everyone gets tired. Look, the vampires who get my bracelets will only be getting useless junk. They will be of no threat to you. Why don't you just let me go through with my little business venture?"

"You started a vampire rampage," Buffy replied, leveling the crossbow at Narlach. "And anyway, you're a vamp yourself. Inherently evil. I'm the Slayer. I'll lose my Union Card if I let you go." She pulled the trigger on the crossbow. The bolt found it's mark, and Narlach disintegrated.

"Come on," Buffy said, walking around to the back of the mausoleum and crouching behind the marble tomb. "We'll use the tomb for cover. The vampires that the gang doesn't dust will be coming back one by one. We'll slay them as they come in."

Giles walked around to the back of the tomb with Buffy, crouched down, and said:

"I told you the bracelet was bollocks."


Epilogue


Joyce opened her front door. Giles stood in the doorway. He was wearing a faded grey sweatshirt that Ripper wouldn't have worn on a bet. Joyce could tell that the effects of the previous night's Band Candy had worn off.

"I just came by to apologize," Giles said. "My behavior last evening was simply...."

"Don't apologize," Joyce said. "It was the candy."

"Not entirely," Giles said. "We both know that. I said things...well, that I cannot unsay. It's of course better that we not speak of them. I just wanted you to know that I will understand if you prefer not to associate with me further."

"Oh, Rupert, no," Joyce replied. "Look, for what it's worth, I said some horrible things last night, and I wasn't under the influence of any magic."

"You said nothing that was not perfectly justified," Giles said. "I understand your anger. Now that Buffy has become more independent, I understand what it's like to lose a relationship you once had with a young person who used to look up to you. I interfered with your relationship with Buffy in a way I cannot repair. I followed centuries of tradition, tradition that I now know is both unfair and unnecessary. You have every right to hate me."

"I don't hate you," Joyce said. "Look, I said what I said last night to dampen your...advances. And I won't lie to you, I meant a lot of what I said. But those aren't my only feelings for you. You may have led a secret life with Buffy, but you also guided her through it. You kept her safe. From what Buffy tells me, Watchers are supposed to treat Slayers like expendable weapons. I know you didn't think of her that way. You lost your job because you didn't think of her that way, and she's alive today because you cared enough to look out for her. Also, you were like a father to her. You still are. Most single mothers have to be both father and mother to their daughters. It's a good thing you were there to be the father, because I wasn't much of either."

"Nonsense," Giles replied. "You have no idea how much Buffy values her relationship with you. You're the one person who has always wanted nothing but her safety."

"Rupert," Joyce said. "There's something else. You have no reason to be embarrassed because you've thought about us, since the night we were...together. I've thought about it, too. I've wanted to pick up the phone and call you. I never worked up the courage. I guess we both have some unresolved feelings about that night that we keep hidden away."

"Like Band Candy in the back of the icebox," Giles said.

Joyce laughed. "Yes. Way in the back."

"Look, Joyce," Giles said. "I know that you have mixed feelings about me. They may never resolve. But if you do come to a resolution, please, call me."

Giles turned and walked to his car.

Don't leave, Joyce thought. Stay. Persuade me. Argue with me. Win me over.

But Giles got in his car and drove away. Joyce closed the door.

Joyce stood in the hallway, frustrated and confused. Why, she thought, did things always have to be so complicated?

The doorbell rang. Joyce's heart leapt. He'd returned! She opened the door.

Anya stood on the porch, and said:

"Um, hello, Mrs. Summers. Look, I know that things went a little haywire last time, but if I promise to get all of the ingredients from the store, can you teach me to make lemon squares?"

THE END


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Dear Angel

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: At the end of Season 4, Faith writes a letter to Angel from prison.
Rating: PG-13.
Tone: Way too serious.
Quality: Eh, so-so.
Feedback: Please
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction, and is expounded from "Primeval." Distribute if you like.

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Part I.


Dear Angel:

I haven't written a letter, in, like, forever, so sorry if it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I think I wrote a letter to Santa once, but I didn't get anything, so it kind of turned me off the whole correspondence thing.

Anyway, this is important, and I can't get to a phone, so I figured this was the only way to get hold of you.

Yesterday I had a little disagreement with one of the girls. She thought that I cut in front of her in the chow line. Which I didn't. Like I'd be in a hurry to get a plate full of the crap they dish out here. Anyway, she swung a tray at me while my back was turned. Hit me in the back of the head pretty hard. I took her down pretty easy, but I ended up with a good bump on the noggin. They sent me to the infirmary. They also took away my phone privileges for fighting. That's why I'm making with the pen and paper.

Anyway, I went to sleep in the infirmary. Most of the prisoners in the infirmary are there because they got hurt in fights, so the guards keep a pretty tight watch, which is kind of good. It means you can sleep without worrying. So I was sleeping pretty soundly last night, until I started dreaming.

Look, I don't know if Buffy ever told you, but when you're a Slayer, you get pretty intense dreams. Don't get me wrong, you get the garden variety, I-slept-through-the-final-exam-and-wound-up-at-the-pep-rally-naked dreams. But you also get other dreams. You can tell the difference. They're intense. You can feel it. They mean something.

So I was making with the REM, when the dream started. It started off fairly normal. I was alone in the prison gym, shadow boxing. Doing a couple of high kicks, staying limber. Then I heard a voice behind me:

"Are you winning?"

I turned around. There was a girl standing there. Blonde, kind of pretty in her own way. She was wearing a big, frumpy sweater and one of those skirts that goes all the way to the floor. I asked:

"Who are you?"

"You don't know me. Are you winning?"

"I guess," I said. "I mean, there's no one to fight. I'm alone."

"Those fights are the most dangerous of all," she said. "You're the one enemy that you can't escape."

"I'm not running anymore," I said. "I'm staying right here."

"You're fighting your own nature," she said. "It will pursue you. It will always be at your back, behind every wall, down every road. Tonight will be difficult."

"Tonight I am safe," I said. "Nothing can find me here."

"If you cannot be found, you are lost. You will understand."

The girl turned and walked out the door that leads to the courtyard. I said out loud:

"Why am I talking like a subtitled Italian film?"

Which I was, which totally pissed me off. I mean, I hate that foreign crap. Everyone going around all snotty and intellectual. I walked to the door myself, and went out to the courtyard.

Only I didn't walk into the courtyard. I looked around. I was in a motel room. Actually, it was the motel room I stayed at while I lived in Sunnydale. I turned toward the door to the gym. It wasn't there.

Now, you would think that I would freak. I didn't. All I could think was that there was a TV. I could watch TV. Any show I wanted. No guard taking a vote on what we would watch. No getting outvoted and having to sit through a bunch of UPN sitcoms. Anything I wanted, I could watch. I turned on the TV, and started flipping through the channels. There was nothing but static.

"Any luck?"

I turned to face the voice. Xander stood before me.

Now, did I ask what he was doing there? What I was doing there? You'd think that would have been the logical line of inquiry. But, no, I asked:

"Why can't I get a picture?"

It seemed like a good question to ask at the time.

"You have to know what you want to see," Xander replied. "Do you?"

"I want comedy, and drama, and thoughtful blends of the two, like 'M.A.S.H.' Only without the laugh track. I hate laugh tracks. And foreign films."

"All fiction," Xander said. He approached me, put an arm around me, and kissed me, hard. He was so warm. I could feel his pulse through his lips. Then he pulled away. Behind him, something moved. A mass of black, tangled fur scurried in the bathroom.

"Too bad, Faith," Xander said, reaching for the TV dial. "There's no fiction on tonight."

He turned the dial. I turned to look at the screen. The snow was gone. The reception was perfectly clear. There was a girl on TV. With dark hair. Dark eyes. No clothes.

It was me.

I was holding someone. Someone blonde. Someone muscular. I cried out:

"Oh, God!"

I couldn't see his face, but I knew it was B's boyfriend that was in my arms.

I could hear Xander's voice behind me say:

"Another broken heart because of you. How many more hearts will you break? How many hearts, Faith?"

The guy in the TV lifted his head. Only the face wasn't his. It was another blonde. It was Buffy. She asked:

"How many hearts?"

Then I felt something in my hand, as though I'd been holding it forever but had never sensed it until that moment. I looked down at my hand. It was a stake, dripping with blood. I looked at the screen again. This time it was the mayor's assistant, his face pale with death. He asked:

"How many hearts?"

I turned away, gasping for breath. Then I saw Xander. He stood before me, only now he had a wound in his chest, a gaping hole, crimson and deep. Yet he stood there, alive, and asked:

"How many hearts?"

I ran out of the room, my face in my hands. I was sobbing, screaming:

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

I got a grip, then looked around. I should have been outside. I wasn't.

I was in the library. The Sunnydale school library. I thought it had blown up because of what the mayor did. Well, what we did.

"Here!"

I turned toward the voice. Giles was sitting at the table, pointing out something in a book to Wesley.

God, Wesley looked horrible. His face was bleeding and bruised. His left arm hung limp at his side. Wesley asked Giles:

"What have you found?"

"It's all here," Giles responded. "Basic psychology. The human spirit is forever in conflict between the basic drives and appetites, the sense of self, and the sense of duty."

"Of course," Wesley said. "The drives and sense of self overwhelmed any moral inclinations. She simply lacked the fortitude to fight them."

"Obviously a weak person," Giles said. "She was simply horrible."

I took a couple of steps toward them. Giles looked up.

"Oh," Giles said. "There she is now."

"Giles," I said. "Look, something's happening. I don't understand...."

"Oh, don't worry," Giles said. "We have it all figured out. It took some research. Many hours, actually. However, we've found the answer."

The furry whatever was back. It moved through one of the aisles between the bookshelves. I tried to get a good look, but Giles interrupted me:

"It seems that the problem is...well, it's you. You're just no good."

"Giles," I said. "Something's after me."

"Try to do it," Wesley said to Giles.

Giles pulled a chain out from his tweed waistcoat. He dangled the chain in his hand. There was nothing at the other end. I asked:

"Where's the watch?"

"You see," Wesley said. "Impossible."

"To think all the hours we wasted," Giles said, "trying to find an answer. Trying to find a way. Pointless. All the minds that tried to formulate a solution...How many minds?"

I looked up from the chain to Giles' face. He was bleeding. Something had cut him across his forehead. Blood streamed down, like rain down a window pane. His face showed no pain when he asked me:

"How many minds, Faith?"

I ran out of the double doors of the library. Like a dope, I expected to be in the school hallway.

I wasn't. I was in a house. A nice house, actually. Curtains in the windows. Rugs on the floor. The smell of something baking from a kitchen. It looked familiar, but it couldn't be where I thought it was. The place I knew was never that nice.

"This is my house," I said out loud. "When I was a kid, I lived here. What happened to it?"

"You left."

Another voice. From behind. Doesn't anybody start out with "hello" anymore?

I turned around. It was Willow.

"It's so clean," I continued. "It's nice. Warm. It was nothing like this."

"You left, Faith," Willow said. "It was always you that was the problem. All the time you blamed everyone. You blamed this place. How it was always cold. How it was always loud. How it never was as good as the homes of your friends. Well, what few friends you actually had. But, see, you left, and it's all better now."

"No," I said. "It wasn't like that. You have no idea what it was like."

"Oh," Willow said, "poor Faith. Still blaming everybody but yourself. Look how wonderful this place is. You hit the streets, and this place became beautiful. Every place is beautiful when you're on the street. Running. Hunting. It's what you were born to do."

"I don't believe that! You're lying! You're...you're not even Willow!"

"Oh, really? And what makes you say that?"

"Willow was never like this," I said. "You...you're cruel."

"I wasn't until I met you, Faith," Willow said. "You taught me how to be cruel. You taught everybody how to be cruel. Me. Xander. Buffy. We never wanted anyone dead the way we want you dead. You brought a darkness among us. It poisoned our spirits. That happens every time you stop running. You try to find light in others, but you only bring darkness into their spirits. How many poisoned spirits are enough, Faith?"

Willow's face began to wrinkle, sag, and turn a dead, drab green. She said:

"How many spirits?"

At that point, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the shaggy shuffler again. It headed out the front door of the house. I ran after it, screaming:

"Stand and face me, damn you!"

As I got out the front door, do you think I was on the porch? On the sidewalk? On the front lawn?

Nope. Of course not. I was where you'd expect to be when you walk out of the front door of a house. I was in a graveyard.

Among the headstones, Buffy stood before me.

"B," I said. "Something's here. It's after me."

"Good," Buffy said, her arms folded across her chest.

"You don't understand," I said. "Something here isn't right."

"You got that straight," Buffy said.

The earth began to move. I don't mean that sexually. I mean the earth really started to shake. I looked around. Vampires were rising out of the graves. All of the graves.

"B," I said. "We've got to fight these! They're everywhere!"

"I know," Buffy said. "So why don't you go everywhere, and stop once you get to nowhere?"

The vampires were finished rising, but they didn't attack. They just stood, silent, watching me.

Buffy looked at me, walked toward me, and held her palms up in the air.

"I suppose you want me to use these," she said, waiving her hands back and forth. "How many times am I going to have to use these because of you? How many others are going to have to fight and die before you find out what you are?"

She got within a foot of me, and clocked me right in the jaw. I fell straight to the ground.

Buffy was on top of me, slamming my face with lefts and rights. She started yelling:

"How many hands, Faith? How many hands?"

I finally managed to grab one of her arms, and throw her off of me. I got up, and just started running. I could hear her following behind me, still shouting:

"How many hands? How many hands?"

I ran toward a mausoleum. I pushed the door open, ran in, and shut the door behind me.

So, guess what was behind Door Number One? A crypt? A new car?

Try a desert. All wide open. Not a roadrunner or coyote in sight. Nothing around but sand and rocks. That is, until she came. Again.

It was the blonde who showed up in the gym at the start of my dream. Only now she was dressed different. She was wearing some kind of a sarong or something. Like one those alien princesses on 'Star Trek' (the old show, not the new one with the bald guy). It suited her.

"Look," I said. "I want some answers."

At that point, I saw my bushy friend again. Only this time, there was a body attached to the hair. She had mud stripes painted on her. Definitely not 'Star Trek.' More like 'Quest for Fire.' She looked at me, circled me. I watched her, and said:

"Maybe I should be asking you."

"I will speak for her," the girl said. "She does not speak. She fights. She hunts. She kills. Like you. She was the first."

I then saw that the primal girl held something in her hand. A stake.

"The first," I said. "The First Slayer."

"She is angry," the girl said. "She has come for you. Both of you."

"Buffy," I said.

"You have angered her," the girl said. "You have both violated all that she has given you."

Great. Not only did I have to face the wrath of Buffy and the judicial system of California, I also had primal forces ready to dole out punishment.

"I know that I have done horrible things," I said. "But I am trying to do what is right now."

"You live as an animal," the girl continued, as though I had said nothing. "A caged animal. You are not to be caged. You are not tame. This is not your destiny."

Of all the things I've done, this is what bothered her? That I turned myself in? Took a break from killing vampires to try to make up for the people I'd hurt? I was beginning to understand.

"I am not an animal, tame or wild," I said. Then I started talking some really freaky, deep stuff. "I choose the cage, not the cave. I will emerge from the cage a woman, not a beast. I will live among people. I will find peace."

"No," the First Slayer grunted at me. "No...peace. Just...death."

At this point, a bald guy walked up beside me. He opened his coat. Inside his coat, hanging from hooks, there were...and I know this sounds weird, but I swear...there were cheese slices. You know, like, Kraft?

"Oh, screw it," I said. "Prison is better than this bullshit. I'm waking up."

At this point, the First Slayer took a swing at me. I blocked it pretty easily, and gave her a good kick in the chest. She flew backwards.

Then I woke up. I sat up and looked around. I was back in the infirmary.

"Go back to sleep," the guard said. I laid back. But I didn't sleep. Not that night.

Anyway, that's the dream. Whatever cavegirl was, I know I beat her. But, from what the blonde said, it wasn't just after me. It's after Buffy, too. And I know that, whatever it was, it could have killed me in my dream, and I would have been dead. All-the-way dead.

I know you and Buffy had a pretty bad falling out because of me, and she sure doesn't want any good deeds from me. But someone has to warn her. I want to help. I know that sounds crazy, after all I've done to hurt everybody, but I really do want to help. Try calling Giles. Tell him what happened, and see if he can warn Buffy about what's coming.

Please, hurry. It may already be too late.

Sincerely,
Faith

Part II.


Dear Faith:

I got your letter. Sorry I can't come to you in person, but something big is going down. It seems that our old friends Wolfram & Hart are summoning some kind of demon, and I can't get away.

Buffy and I have made our peace, but I don't know if she would be ready for a warning from you, so I called Giles about your dream. You were right. That thing did go after Buffy. In fact, it went after Giles, Xander and Willow, too. They had their dreams the same night you had yours. Don't worry. They're all fine.

According to Giles, the four of them did some kind of spell to defeat a demon they were fighting, and the spell involved calling on the spirit of the First Slayer. The spirit was angered at Buffy for taking allies in her fight against evil, and attacked them as a way of trying to teach Buffy a lesson about what it means to be the Chosen One (emphasis on "One"). As you may remember, Buffy was never very good at her lessons, so she emerged unscathed. Apparently once the First Slayer's spirit was awakened and could enter Buffy's dreams, she was able to get into your dreams as well.

Faith, I know that for this to happen, when so many other changes are happening to you, is frightening and confusing. But try thinking of it this way:

The First Slayer went after Buffy because she was too civilized, too human. It could have ignored you, but it didn't. It came after you, too. The qualities of compassion and empathy that Buffy demonstrates are in you. You've put aside the killing, the hunting, the rush of the battle, in order to find yourself. This offended the primal, animal spirit of the First Slayer. That's why you were attacked. It attacked you because you are on the right path. The path back to humanity. The path to redemption.

We'll talk about this more later. I'll visit you as soon as I can. I promise. In the meantime, try to stay out of trouble.

Very truly yours,
Angel

THE END


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Dry Run

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Just what WAS Spike doing while everyone was comforting Buffy and Dawn when Joyce died? Takes place during "The Body" episode of BtVS, and just prior to "Reprise" episode of AtS.
Note: I had a REALLY hard time trying to keep continuity with the past/present episodes (i.e. who would know what about whom, etc.). If anyone notices any glaring mistakes, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know.
Rating: PG-13
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue


"You lost, sweetheart?"

The girl nodded in response to Chuck's question. It seemed like the natural question to ask. Chuck had been standing at the bus stop, waiting to catch the crosstown express. The girl had walked up, presumably to do the same. Then she'd tapped him on the shoulder. He'd waited for a question, but the girl remained silent. She still hadn't said anything. Chuck asked:

"So...what are you looking for?"

The girl just stood there. Chuck looked at her mouth, anticipating a verbal response. When there was none, he looked at the rest of her. Short. Blonde. Cute shape. Looked a little like that girl...what's her name...the one from the movie he'd seen last week with his wife.

After the silence became awkward, Chuck asked:

"Hey, can't you talk?"

The girl shook her head from side to side.

"Can't, eh? What the matter, don't speak English?"

The girl again shook her head.

"So, what is it? Cat got your tongue?"

And again, she shook her head.

"Look," Chuck said, becoming exasperated, "this is getting us nowhere." He pulled a pen and one of his business cards from his shirt pocket. He handed them to the girl, and asked:

"Can you write?"

The girl took the pen and card, and shook her head up and down enthusiastically.

"Good," Chuck said. "Just write down what you're looking for, and I'll see if I can point you in the right direction."

The girl began writing. Christ, Chuck thought to himself, it's bad enough we get all these tourists in Los Angeles, now they're mute and can't even ask for directions.

The girl handed the card back to Chuck. He looked down at it, and saw one word:

"ANGEL"

"Um...OK," Chuck said, unsure of how to respond. "I don't know where you're talking about, but there's a gas station about two blocks up the street. If you ask them, they'll probably let you look at a phone book."

The girl smiled. Wide. A great, big, kid-finds-a-bike-under-the-Christmas-tree smile. Then she turned and began briskly walking up the street.

"Hey," Chuck shouted. "My pen!"


Part I.


"What do you mean, she's gone?!?"

"N-n-now, Spike, let's talk this over," Warren stammered. "It's no big deal. Sh-sh-she just wandered off, is all."

"You seem to have a recurring problem with that, you stupid git," Spike growled. "Get my robot back."

"I-I-I can't," Warren said. "She just took off. I don't know how to find her."

"How can she be out and about? You told me she wasn't done yet. If you've been holding out on me...."

Spike morphed into his vamp face to accentuate the threat. Of course, with the chip in his head, that was all he could do, but Warren didn't know that.

"Spike, listen," Warren said. "She's not done. Not even close. She can't even talk yet. And her face isn't finished. I've got her nose on back order from a custom doll maker in Taiwan, and her ears just arrived FedEx. She'd be earless and noseless if I hadn't put some spare parts on her just to check the circuits. Right now she looks more like Cameron Diaz than Buffy."

"Well, not altogether bad," Spike commented, "but not what I asked for."

"I know, I know. She'll be ready in a couple of weeks. A new nose, new ears, a little sculpting on the cheekbones and you'll never know the difference between her and the real Buffy."

"Assuming we get her back. How the Hell did she sod off?"

"I don't get it," Warren said. "I was programing her data banks while I was waiting for the parts. There must have been a glitch."

"What kind of glitch?"

"I don't know," Warren said. "I mean, I was programing her just like you told me to. Putting in all the background information, the fighting moves...."

"The special...?"

"Oh, yeah," Warren said. "Well, I hadn't gotten to that part. I was saving that for last. You have to program the basics first. Walking. Opening doors."

"Well, you'd obviously finished with all that."

"Yeah," Warren said. "It was a lot easier this time around. I already had most of the basic code written from when I made April. All I had left to do was to program individual reactions to outside stimuli."

"What do you mean?"

"You know," Warren explained. "Programming the robot to act like Buffy. If she sees a vampire, she slays. If she sees someone she knows, she says 'hi.' If she sees you...well, that's the part I was programing when the phone rang. The alterations."

"What alterations?"

"You know the ones," Warren explained. "Changing her attitudes toward you and that other vampire."

"Angel?"

"Yeah," Warren said. "I started with him. I'd inputted all the information that you'd given me about him, and I was going to make the changes. Then the phone rang. Some guy wanting me to switch to MCI. I explained to him that my parents...."

"So let me get this straight," Spike interrupted. "You had just finished telling the robot how Buffy...the REAL Buffy...would react to Angel?"

"Right."

"Which, based on what I told you, meant that she would love Angel madly?"

"Exactly," Warren said. "Then it's a matter of going back and changing the reactions."

"In other words, you were about to change her programing to make her despise Angel and love me, but before you could do that, you got up, answered the telephone, and when you came back, the robot was gone?"

"That's just what happened."

"So, the last time you saw the bleeding robot it was still crazy about Angel?"

"Well, I suppose."

"Warren," Spike asked, "didn't you program your last robot to love you?"

"Yeah."

"And what happened when she discovered you were suddenly gone?"

"She went after me," Warren replied. "That's how I ended up...oh. Oh. Um, oops?"

"You bloody idiot!"

"Sp-sp-spike, please! Don't kill me!"

If only I could, Spike thought. "How do I get her back?"

"We just need to find her," Warren responded. "I learned my lesson last time."

Warren reached down to the coffee table and picked up what looked like a television remote control.

"I swiped this from the TV in my parents' room," Warren explained. "If you press the 'stop' button, the robot...well...stops. You'll have to get within twenty yards of her, though."

"Great," Spike said. "Looks like I'm going to L.A."


Part II.


Wesley gave the wheels an experimental push, and he moved forward in his wheelchair about a foot. He was still getting used to the movements of the chair. All of his doctors, not to mention Gunn and Cordelia, had told him to take it easy. Work will be there when you're ready, they said. Of course, it might not be there. The rent on the offices, as low as it was, came due in two weeks. The phone bill was already behind. And unless they pulled in a fee soon, Cordelia would have to live on whatever she could make doing the odd TV commercial, Gunn would be living on the streets again, and Wesley...well, he didn't know what he would do.

They needed to get paid, and they currently had one paying client: Francine Sharp. She would be in the next day. Wesley wheeled over to his coffee table and picked up his book of incantations. The deoculation spell was simple, and Wesley knew that he should really get some sleep. However, he decided to review the incantation one more time. There could be no error.

In the middle of his review Wesley heard a gentle knock on the door. He awkwardly pivoted the chair and wheeled toward the front door. He was about six inches from the door when he realized that he couldn't open the door with his chair blocking the way. He remembered the instructions the physical therapist gave him: if a door opens toward you, back up to it, turn the knob, and while you're holding the knob, give your right wheel a slight push, then go forward, letting the momentum of the door do the rest.

Wesley considered this, but impatience got the better of him. He undid the deadbolt, wheeled backward about five feet, and shouted:

"Come in!"

The door opened, and Spike walked into the apartment.

"Thanks for the invite, mate," Spike said. "I was all set to make up some rot about being the plumber, but you saved me the trouble."

Wesley instinctively jerked his wheelchair backward. "You're a vampire!"

Damn, Wesley thought. All the training I've had, all the training I've done, and I invite someone in without seeing them first.

"That's right," Spike answered, walking toward the fridge. He opened the door, and took out a beer.

"Really," Spike said. "Budweiser? You couldn't have a sixer of Bass? And you call yourself English." Spike cracked open the beer and took a sip.

"I've assimilated," Wesley said. "I know you. I've seen pictures. You're Spike, aren't you?"

"Live and in person," Spike replied. "Well, in person. You're Wesley, right? That Watcher that got sacked?"

"Yes," Wesley said. "I mean, no. I mean...what are you doing here?"

"The gang back at Sunnydale mentioned that you'd hooked up with my old poofter grandsire," Spike explained. "A few jokes were made at your expense. They don't think much of you."

"I'm sure they hold you in the highest regard," Wesley said. "I repeat, what are you doing here?"

"I'm looking for someone," Spike said. "I went looking for Angel, but the last place he lived apparently burned down. Your name was in the phone book. I remembered that you were his assistant, and I figured you could point me in the right direction."

"Hmm...let's see," Wesley said. "Direction...ah, yes, if you want to find Angel, I'd suggest you go...and stuff yourself."

"Now listen, mate," Spike said, morphing into his vamp face. "I'm going to ask you nicely one more time, and if you don't tell me what I want to know, you'll be quite sorry. Do you know how I got my name? Driving railroad spikes into blokes' heads who made me cranky."

"Quite ironic, then," Wesley responded. "Driving metal objects into your victims' skulls, and now a small bit of metal in your own skull keeps you from harming people."

Spike's face returned to normal form. "How did you know that?"

"I've been in close contact with Giles since Darla returned," Wesley replied. "Have you heard that your sire has been resurrected?"

"Great-grandsire, actually," Spike corrected. "And yes, I've heard. Dru mentioned it."

"Ah, Drusilla," Wesley said. "Yes, she's been around here, too. It's been quite the reunion since Darla returned. When Drusilla came back, I naturally became curious about the fourth member of Darla's little family circle. I contacted Giles to check on your whereabouts. He assured me that you were in Sunnydale. And of no concern, given that chip in your head."

"Just bloody wonderful," Spike said. "Bad news travels fast, doesn't it?"

"Now, Spike," Wesley said. "I would suggest you leave. I'm not altogether sure why our counterparts in Sunnydale haven't done away with you, but, rest assured, I have no qualms about doing so myself. And with that chip in your head you cannot stop me."

"Look," Spike said. "I really do need to see Angel. My contacts in L.A....well, last time it didn't work out so well. I need someone local to give me a hand."

"And of course Angel would be more than happy to help," Wesley said sarcastically. "After all, you've only brutally tortured him, what, twice?"

"Well, the last time I hired someone to do it for me," Spike said. "But, listen, I've changed. Giles must have told you. I'm on the straight and narrow. I fight the good fight for the forces of truth and light and justice and all that."

"Actually," Wesley said, "Giles told me that you do errands for them in order to make money and satisfy your bloodlust. Of late you've acquired the added motivation of a disturbed attraction to Buffy."

"It's disturbed no one more than me," Spike said. "Alright, I'm no ang...er, I mean, I'm no goody-two-shoes. But I am here for a good reason. When I tell Angel why I'm here, he'll want to help."

"I doubt it," Wesley said. "While any changes you've supposedly undergone are suspect, Angel's recent transformation is beyond dispute. He's become obsessed. Deranged. Driven. The nobility of any cause you supposedly are championing will not distract him."

"Angel's gone all loony, eh? Dru mentioned that. She said Darla was getting under his skin. Not surprising. He always had a soft spot for that snotty tart."

"Then we're agreed," Wesley said. "Now you can leave."

"Well, what about you? You should be able to give an out-of-towner a hand?"

"And why would I do that?"

"Well, it's not like I tortured YOU," Spike said. "We've never met."

"And thank God for that," Wesley responded. "Whatever you're up to, I want no part of it."

"Look, just hear me out," Spike said. He took a deep breath (for dramatic effect, of course), and said:

"These government blokes. The one's that gave me this chip. Well, they're still at it. They supposedly shut down, but I just found out they're building robots. Machines that look like people. They're strong, and look just like us. I had cornered one, but she gave me the slip. The last I heard she was coming to L.A. If I can find her, I can prove the government's still up to its old tricks."

Spike waited to see if his bluff would work. Wesley asked:

"And why would you care?"

Spike grinned in spite of himself. Wesley had bitten the bait.

"Well," Spike said, "I figure if I can deliver this robot to the Slayer, maybe I can score some points with her. You know, get into her good graces?"

"And why should I care?"

"Do you think the government's planting robots among us for no reason? It's a massive conspiracy. Surely Giles told you what a bad lot these guys are. You'd be helping to expose them. We both get something we want, and we can all sleep tight when it's done."

"As you can see," Wesley said, "I'm not in a condition to help anyone."

"Yeah," Spike said. "I noticed. I've been in a wheelchair myself, mate. It's a drag. But listen, I don't need you to do anything physical. I just need someone to get me around. I don't know where to start looking for the thing. I can handle the physical stuff. That robot won't set off the chip. I just need someone to help me get started."

"Look, Spike," Wesley said, "Even if I accept your motives as genuine, I still see no reason why...."

"I can pay you," Spike said.

Wesley's ears tingled, then he caught himself.

"Spike," Wesley said, "money isn't the issue."

"You do this for a living, right? What's wrong with getting compensated. Consider me a client. I'll pay cash. Up front. I've got about three hundred quid saved."

Wesley considered this. If Spike was telling the truth, this machine should be found, caught, and revealed. If Spike was lying...well, someone should keep an eye on Spike anyway, just to find out what he's really up to.

And of course, there was the money.

"Alright," Wesley said. "Do you have a car?"


Part III.


"It's called Caritas," Wesley explained as Spike wheeled him into the club. "The proprietor of this establishment is an empath. He can read the auras of his patrons as they sing."

"Wait a moment," Spike said. "Are you telling me I'll have to sing? In front of people?"

"It's the only way," Wesley said, as they arrived at a table. "How else can we find this robot?"

"You're the detective," Spike protested. "Detect. Sleuth. Snoop around. Get the word on the street."

"Spike, we have no picture of this girl, no name, no idea what she's doing here, and no indication that she would do anything criminal. How exactly do you propose we even tell people what to look for? Ask if they've seen a thin, blonde, attractive woman? This is Los Angeles. The robot may already have signed with the William Morris Agency."

"There's got to be another way," Spike said. "There's no way I'm getting up in front of everyone and...."

"Oh, don't be such a ninny," Wesley said. "Even vampires must have a poetic side."

Spike's eyes widened. He shouted:

"What the bloody Hell is that supposed to mean?!?"

Wesley recoiled. "Nothing. What's got into you?"

"Nothing," Spike replied. "Nothing at all. It's just..."

"Spike," Wesley interrupted. "There's no other way. If you want to find this robot, this is our only option."

"Wonderful," Spike said, trying to waive down a waitress. He'd need a drink.


Part IV.


The robot looked down at the sheet she had torn out of the yellow pages. Her microprocessors had nearly overloaded trying to figure out the meaning of the shape drawn on it. However, the words were clear:

"Angel Investigations."

She checked the address on the paper, and cross checked it against the road atlas software in her hard memory. She was in the right spot.

However, the charred mass of rubble in front of her did not make sense. There was no way Angel could live in such a place.

Her logic programing cross referenced the data she had accumulated:

-ANGEL

-VAMPIRE
- FIRE
-DIE

Her main processor formulated a course of action:

-RESCUE

The robot began to climb into the ruins.


Part V.


"Thank you, thank you very much!"

Spike gave the audience a half hearted wave, then returned to his seat next to Wesley. Spike asked:

"So...er, how was that?"

"Well," Wesley said, searching for the proper words. "I've never heard anyone sing 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco' quite like that before."

"It's the only bloody song they had that I knew," Spike protested. "I checked that stupid book twice. No Sex Pistols, no Ramones, nothing."

"We're getting in a new sampler disc next week," the Host said as he walked up to the table. "Along with two cases of newts' eyes and a box of those little umbrellas for the mai tais."

"Spike," Wesley said, "this is the Host of Caritas, the empath I told you about."

"Hey," Spike said, rising from his chair. "Name's Spike. Wes here told me you...."

"Oh, my," the Host exclaimed, his eyes widening as he looked at Spike.

Spike's face dropped. "What is it? What do you see?"

"That jacket," the Host exclaimed. "What is it with vamps and jackets? Angelcakes has one just like that. Man, the undead have an eye for accessories. Makes me just want to go out and put a bullseye on my neck."

"Look," Spike said. "I need...."

"I know, puddin, I know," the Host said. "Wes, be a lambchop and have a drink while me and my new fashion hero have a heart to heart."

The Host put an arm around Spike and led him away from the table. When the Host stopped, Spike turned to face him and said:

"I'm looking for a robot. About five footish. Blonde."

"You're looking for more than that," the Host replied.

"Yeah."

"And you haven't been exactly...oh, let's say 'forthcoming' with Wesleykins about it?"

"I know," Spike said. "But listen...."

"Listen," the Host repeated. "Look, Spike, I've already listened. To the first punk version of 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco' I've ever heard, and hopefully the last. Trust me, I've listened enough. Now it's your turn."

Spike pursed his lips, then nodded. The Host continued:

"Look, Spike, what I do here is to set beings on their path. This path you're on, it may be right, it may be wrong, but that's a decision you have to make. The question is, are you ready to make that decision? Or are you just going on, and hoping everything will somehow work out?"

"I don't claim to have it all figured," Spike said. "It's just...I've never...."

The Host paused, and then asked:

"If I could tell you that what you're doing, with this robot, will actually get you closer to what you want than anything else that you could do, but that it's also going to cause you a lot of pain, would you just drop it, crawl into a bottle of Jack Daniels, and find some other hairbrained scheme? Or would you go on?"

"I'd go on," Spike said. "Nothing could be worse than what I've...."

"Oh, yes it could, my cardio-challenged friend," the Host interrupted. "It can get a lot worse. And it will. And when I say it's going to cause you pain, I'm not talking about boo-hoo, Bambi's-mother-got-shot, Kate-and-Leo-floating-in-the-ocean pain. I'm talking Straw-Dogs-dental-work pain. And when it's all over, even if you get a taste of what you're after, you can still lose it all. I mean, you can watch it all fall down to earth right in front of you. Are you ready for that?"

Spike set his jaw, and said:

"Yes. All of it."

The Host smirked. "Well, if you say so. Look, this robot, it's looking for Angel. You were looking for Angel. You're going to cross paths."

"I couldn't find Angel," Spike said. "Too much has changed since the last time I was here."

"Does she know anything you don't?"

"No," Spike said. "Everything she knows about Angel comes from what I told that little geek with his microchips and...Angel's old office! That's where she'll go, isn't it?"

"And the Vampire goes on to the bonus round."

"Thanks, mate," Spike said, and hurried back to Wesley.


Part VI.


"Why would this robot be looking for Angel?"

Spike kept his eyes on the road as he pondered a way to answer Wesley's question. Then he turned to look at Wesley in the passenger seat and said:

"Well, it knows I'm after it. Probably figured I'd check in with Angel, so it went to eliminate any help I might get."

"How does this robot know so much about you?"

"Well, er, you know. The blokes who put that chip in my head also made the robot. So they probably know enough about me to figure my next move."

"I suppose that makes sense," Wesley said. "Look, Spike, if I find out you've been lying to me...."

"I'm not. You'll see. We'll get to your old digs, and they'll be a robot there. If not, you can go on your way."

"Take this next left," Wesley instructed. Spike turned.

"Anyway," Spike said, "once I get my...I mean, get the robot, I'll leave this bloody town and it won't be your problem."

"I don't know what it is you're trying to accomplish, Spike," Wesley said. "I didn't know Buffy long, but cannot see her becoming enamored of you simply because you bring her some robot."

"Well, I've got to try," Spike said. "I mean, you know how it is. There must have been some woman you've wanted bad enough to do anything for."

"But it's not real," Wesley protested. "I mean, I had my own little flirtation with Cordelia. But it was only all-consuming because I couldn't have her. Once we came to our senses we realized it was absurd."

"Oh, I suppose you've got it all figured out," Spike said. "Well, tell me, if that's true, why are you out here with me, eh? Why isn't some bird playing nursemaid to your boo-boo tummy?"

"I'll have you know I'm involved with a lovely young woman," Wesley said. "The only reason she wasn't with me was because I told her to go home. She wanted to stay with me, but I insisted that it was unnecessary."

Of course, Wesley thought to himself, it was a little too easy to persuade her. Virginia was relieved when the doctor told Wesley that he was well enough to go home, but she seemed slightly more relieved when Wesley told her that she needn't go home with him.

"In my experience, mate," Spike said, "women do what they want whether you ask, tell, insist, or demand. Your honey may not...."

"Spike, shut up," Wesley said. "We're here."

Spike pulled up to the curb across from the ashen remains of Angel Investigations' former office.

Spike asked:

"Do you see her?"

"No," Wesley replied. "She may not...wait, did you hear that?"

"I did," Spike said. "It sounded like it came from inside the building."

Spike leapt from the car. He told Wesley:

"Stay here. I'll go see if this robot's wandering about inside."

"Spike, be careful," Wesley said, and then immediately wondered why he'd said it. He started to realize why the Scoobies hadn't killed Spike. Knowing that he couldn't harm humans made it seem almost sadistic to wish Spike any harm.

"Will do, mate," Spike said.

Spike turned and ran toward the building. As he ran he put his left hand in his jacket pocket, checking to be sure that the remote control Warren had given him was still there. It was.

Spike climbed through the rubble, and found the stairway down to the basement. Spike heard the sounds of a struggle coming from below. The steps creaked as he descended, but fortunately they were still strong enough (barely) to bear his weight.

As Spike reached the bottom of the stairs, he saw a tiny blond girl (damn, Spike thought, she does look like Cameron Diaz) engaged in a fight with two vampires. Several corpses were strewn about the basement floor. The two vamps had apparently been using the abandoned building as a nest.

Spike lunged for the vampire on the robot's left, tackling it to the ground.

"Hey," the vamp exclaimed, "cut it out! That's the Slayer!"

"I know," Spike said, headbutting the vamp.

The vamp lifted its knees to its chest and pushed Spike away. Spike staggered backward a bit, then regained his composure. The vamp lunged for him. Spike caught the vamp by the forearms, and threw him against a pile of burned beams. Spike wondered to himself whether there was enough living wood at the core of those beams to be effective against a vampire.

As the vamp landed against the beams, one of them pierced his back and came protruding out of his chest. A look of horror swept across his face just before he turned to dust.

Enough wood after all, Spike thought, before turning his attention to the other vamp, who had just landed a blow across the robot's face. Realizing he was outnumbered, the vamp made a break for the stairs. The robot followed and tackled the vamp just as it reached the top of the stairs.

"Hey," Spike shouted. "Watch it."

The warning came too late, however, as the force of the robot and the vamp landing on the stairs caused them to collapse. The robot grabbed the ledge, hanging on with one hand, and clutching a stake in the other. The vampire fell to the ground. As the vamp struggled to his feet, Spike grabbed a piece of wood from the floor and buried it in the vamp's chest. It disintegrated.

"Hang on," Spike shouted. He dropped the wood from his hand and made a running leap toward the ledge. He sprang into the air, and caught the ledge with both hands.

"Hang on, luv," Spike said. "I'll boost myself up and...hey!"

The robot made several awkward attempts to stake Spike with her free hand while holding the ledge with the other.

"Stop that," Spike protested. "I'm trying to save you."

Damn Warren and his stupid programing, Spike thought. Spike released his hands from the ledge and fell to the ground, twisting his ankle as he landed. He looked up at the robot. There was no way he could know whether the robot was strong enough to survive the fall.

As he looked up, he felt ash falling on his face and heard the few remaining support beams overhead start to creak. All the commotion was making the already unstable structure even more unstable. There was no time to hesitate.

Spike positioned himself under the robot, then removed the remote control from his pocket and pressed the STOP button. The robot went limp and began to fall. Spike reached out his arms to catch her, but the robot body was dead weight, and fell right on top of Spike. He buckled under the weight, crashing to the ground with the robot on top of him. He looked up just in time to see wooden support beams from the ceiling of the basement come crashing down.

"Bloody Hell," Spike muttered, as he braced for the impact.


Epilogue


"What happened to you?"

"A bit of an accident," Spike replied to Wesley's question. He limped toward the car, his clothes covered in black ash, and every inch of his body sore. The robot was slung over his shoulder. He opened the back door of the car and tossed the robot onto the back seat. Wires protruded randomly from the places where the falling beams had punctured the robot's body.

"My God," Wesley said. "That robot...it looks remarkably like...."

"Now wait a minute," Spike interrupted. "I know what you're going to say, and I can explain."

"Why would the government make a robot that looks like Cameron Diaz?"

"Uh, well," Spike said. "That's, uh, what I was going to explain. They were planning to, um, infiltrate the movies. Yeah. Replace all these celebrities with robot doubles, get all their millions of dollars, finance their experiments, and a bunch of other evil stuff."

"Diabolical," Wesley said. "Well, I can see you weren't lying." "What can I say, mate," Spike replied. "I've turned a new leaf. Anyway, I'll just drop you at your flat, then make my way back home."

And bring my robot with me, Spike thought. He almost wished he had time to stop at Caritas and give the Host a good thrashing. Green bugger and his stupid predictions: he'd gotten his robot back; it had "crashed to earth," literally; and, yes, Spike had gotten a little banged up. But nothing as bad as the Host had suggested.

"I wish I could say I wish you well, Spike," Wesley said. "But I doubt that bringing this robot back is going to make Buffy think well of you. Of course, I'll be interested to hear about how it turns out the next time I talk to Giles."

Damn, Spike thought. He'd forgotten. If Wesley opened his big mouth....

"Yeah," Spike said. "You do that. Oh, and I'll let Buffy know that Angel's in a bad way. I'm sure she'd be more than willing to pop by and give him a pep talk."

"Um, Spike," Wesley said. "I don't know that telling Buffy about Angel would be a good idea. Cordelia and I discussed that when Angel's problems began. While I'm sure Buffy would mean well, she's never been a...stabilizing...factor in Angel's life. Another lost love from the past could only make Angel's current dilemma even more confusing."

"Well, I've got to tell them something, mate," Spike said. "I mean, I've spent all this time in Los Angeles. When I tell them I came to L.A. to get the robot, they're bound to ask...."

"Don't tell them," Wesley said. "Tell them you got it back on your own. Tell them the robot went to San Diego or Tarzana. Tell them anything. Just leave us out of it."

"Well, alright," Spike agreed. "But you've got to keep this hush-hush. With the government involved, we'll probably keep the robot thing close to the vest, so you can't mention that you know anything about it, or the jig is up."

"Agreed," Wesley said. "No mention of the robot from me. I won't even tell Cordelia."

"Perfect," Spike said. "I'm glad to help."

More than glad, Spike thought, as he hopped behind the wheel, started the engine, and wondered to himself whether Warren had received the new nose yet.

THE END


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Falling Star

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: A client of Angel's seeks eternal youth in Sunnydale; takes place just prior to "New Moon Rising" episode of BtVS (Season 4) and "Five by Five" episode of AtS
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction, and is expounded from "Eternity" episode of AtS. Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

Prologue


Normally the only film crews that set up in Sunnydale came from local news stations reporting on unexplained murders. The movie production was a welcome change of pace.

Buffy and Willow stopped briefly among the crowd of bystanders watching the film shoot. In front of the crowd, a man stood behind a camera mounted on a small crane. Massive lights sat behind him, illuminating the night. Another man stood behind him, and yelled:

"Action!"

Two men emerged from the entrance to the Science Building. The cameraman followed them with the camera. The two men walked past the camera without speaking, and the director shouted:

"Cut!"

The cameraman, the director, the two actors, and several other people in the production crew then gathered to discuss the next shot.

"Well," Buffy said sarcastically, "that was exciting."

"Movies aren't like plays," Willow responded. "They don't shoot in order of the plot. There's a bunch of little individual shots which are cut together to make the story."

"Seems pretty boring to me," Buffy said. "I can't believe everybody's making such a big deal over some stupid movie coming to campus to shoot a couple of scenes."

"Hey," Willow said. "How do you know it's stupid?"

"Well, what's it about?"

"It's a horror movie."

"I repeat," Buffy said, "Stupid movie."

"Well, I guess everybody's hoping to see some of the actors," Willow said. "Rebecca Lowell is supposed to be in this one."

"Who?"

"You know, the actress," Willow explained. "She was Raven, from 'On Your Own.' It was on television forever."

"She's a TV actress," Buffy said. "What's she doing in a movie?"

"Well, the show was canceled last year," Willow said. "She's probably trying to make the leap from TV to the big screen by doing this horror movie."

"Yeah, right," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. "Like that's ever happened."

Buffy and Willow continued walking toward the doom. On their way, they passed several trailers that had been set up for the actors. Inside one of the trailers, Rebecca Lowell was mixing martinis for herself and a guest.

"Now," Rebecca said, handing her guest a martini, " Let's get down to business, Mr...?"

"Willy," the man replied. "You can just call me Willy, Ms. Lowell. Have I mentioned what an honor it is to meet you. I've met a lot of people in my day...."

"And a lot of nonpeople," Rebecca replied, taking a seat on a chair opposite Willy. "That's why you're here."

"Yeah, well. It sure is exciting. Meeting a star, and all. I mean, being on a real movie set! Wow! And I'm sure it's going to be a great movie. Just great...."

"It's going to be awful," Rebecca interrupted. "The plot is stale. The script is garbage. The budget is nonexistent. I only have twenty-six lines. I'm working for scale. And I'm hoping that this alleged movie will be released straight to video so I will suffer as little embarrassment as possible."

"Gee, Ms. Lowell," Willy said. "If you hate the movie so much, if you don't mind my asking, why are you doing it?"

"Well, if you ask my agent," Rebecca said, taking a sip from her martini, "I'm doing it for a little exposure, to make some easy cash, and to keep my name circulated among producers. But the reason I chose to do this movie is because it's being shot in Sunnydale. I'm trying to find someone. Someone you know. I've had my people researching some of the local goings on among the...how shall I put it? Among the...underground...residents of Sunnydale. My people think that they're doing research for my part. You know, so I can get into character. Well, they've given me most of the information I need. They've given me a name, but not a place where I can find who I'm looking for."

"Gee, Ms. Lowell," Willy said, "I don't know that many people...."

"You know this one," Rebecca said. "He was a patron of your little drinking establishment. He likes his drinks straight up, O Negative."

Rebecca placed her martini glass on the coffee table between her and Willy, leaned forward and said:

"His name is Spike."


Part I.


Spike adjusted the antenna of his television. The wires on the antenna were becoming worn. Eventually, he'd need to steal a new one.

"Hey, Spike?"

Spike turned toward the voice that came from the mausoleum door and took a half step backward to be sure that none of the sunlight hit him. Spike said:

"Willy? How many times have I told you not to deliver blood during 'Passions.' They've lost the amulet again, and if I miss one minute...."

"Uh, Spike, sorry to bother you," Willy explained. "But, you see, there's this woman..."

"That would be me," Rebecca said, walking past Willy into the mausoleum. She reached into her purse, pulled out an envelope, and handed it to Willy. "This should cover your fee, Willy. Well done."

"Thanks, Ms. Lowell," Willy said, taking the envelope. He opened it, and flipped through the cash. "See ya, Spike. I'll bring by the blood tomorrow. After 'Passions.' I promise."

Willy walked out of the mausoleum into the daylight.

"Why that little rat," Spike said.

"Don't be angry," Rebecca said. "I'm not here to hurt you. In fact, I believe that I can help you. Provided, of course, you're willing to help me."

"I'm not the bloody Red Cross, luv," Spike said.

"I don't need that kind of help," Rebecca responded. "I need help of a less conventional nature."

Spike pulled a cigarette from his pocket. "What do you want?"

Rebecca asked:

"How old are you?"

"A hundred twenty odd. Why?"

"I have a problem," Rebecca answered. "An aging problem. I'm getting older. I could get my skin pulled taught by a surgeon. Chemical peels. Liposuction. But I'd prefer a more...lasting solution."

Spike lit his cigarette and took a drag. "What did you have in mind?"

"Make me a vampire," Rebecca replied. "You get blood, and I get eternal youth."

"Interesting," Spike said. "But you're a rather skinny bird. Not much more than a couple of pints I could get out of you. Hardly seems worth my wile."

"I'm rich," Rebecca responded. "Money is not an issue."

Spike considered this. "Why me?"

"The last time I tried this," Rebecca responded, "the vampire I selected proved to be untrustworthy. He tried to kill me. It's my understanding that you can't harm people. I don't have to worry that you'll double cross me."

"Well, you seem to have this all thought out," Spike said. "There's one problem. If I'm the only vampire that you can trust, then I'm the only vampire that you can deal with. That gives me what you call a monopoly. That means that the price is going to be steep, luv."

"How about getting that chip out of your head?"

Spike raised his eyebrows. "How do you plan on doing that?"

"I told you," Rebecca said. "I'm rich. The plastic surgeon who was going to take a couple of millimeters off of my chin would also be willing to take a couple of circuits out of your frontal lobe."

Spike considered this. He said:

"Fine. Get this chip out of my head, and I'll vamp you up."

"No deal," Rebecca said. "I can only trust you while you have that chip. I'll give you cash up front. Fifty thousand. After you make me a vampire, I'll have the surgeon remove the chip."

"You have the cash?"

"I can get it in twenty-four hours."

"Alright, deal," Spike said, throwing his cigarette butt to the ground, and smashing it with his foot. "But, understand, luv, after I do it, you won't be human anymore."

"I know that," Rebecca said. "I know that I'll have to live with restrictions. I know that I'll have to do...unseemly things to stay alive. I'm willing to do all of that."

"That's not what I mean," Spike said, stepping forward to face Rebecca. His face was less than an inch from Rebecca's, and he said:

"What I mean is, once you're a vampire, this chip in my head that keeps me from hurting people won't keep me from hurting you. Try to pull one over on me, and I'll beat you like a bloody pinata."

"Understood," Rebecca said. "I'll meet you here tomorrow. Same time."

"Make it tomorrow night," Spike said.

"'Passions'?"

Spike smiled. "This time next week I plan to be on a rampage. I'd better get in my telly time while I can."


Part II.


"Look who got a mention in 'Variety' yesterday," Cordelia said, handing the paper to Angel.

"Hmm, Rebecca got a movie," Angel said, skimming the headline. "That's good."

"If she's working," Wesley chimed in, "she's not getting in trouble."

"She may be doing both," Cordelia said. "Check out where they're shooting on location."

Angel read the body of the article. "Sunnydale," Angel said. "They're making the movie in Sunnydale."

"Figures," Cordelia said. "I spend my whole life in Sunnydale, a star just waiting to shine, and the only nightlife they had involved vampires. Then I go to LA where all the producers are supposed to be, and Sunnydale goes Hollywood."

"The irony does make one question one's belief in a benevolent God," Wesley said sarcastically.

Cordelia stuck her tongue out at Wesley, and then said to Angel:

"So, do you think she's up to something?"

"I doubt it," Angel said. "I'd think that her last attempt to toy with the supernatural would have scared her enough. It's probably just a coincidence."

"You're right," Cordelia agreed. "I mean, after your little Rick James imitation, she's probably on the straight and narrow."

The telephone rang, and Cordelia walked out to the receptionist desk to answer it.

"Angel," Wesley said. "I know that, despite the...problems you had with Ms. Lowell, you still feel a certain...affection for her."

"She got in over her head," Angel said. "It doesn't mean she's a bad person. Anyone can make a questionable choice. Trust me. I know."

"You're probably right," Wesley said. "But, with Ms. Lowell spending time on the Hellmouth, is it really wise to assume that she has abandoned her interest in becoming a vampire? Some precautionary measures...."

"Rebecca's in Sunnydale," Angel said. "Buffy's made it abundantly clear to me that we're to stay off each other's turf. It's not my problem."

"It will be," Wesley said, "if Ms. Lowell comes back to Los Angeles and she's developed a taste for blood."

Angel considered this, then said:

"Alright, call Giles. Tell him about our history with Rebecca. If he feels it's worth checking out, that's between Buffy and Giles."

"Right," Wesley responded. "I'll simply tell him that Ms. Lowell was at one time interested in becoming a vampire, and he should take whatever steps he feels prudent under the circumstances."

"Tell him whatever you think he needs to know," Angel said.

"And I'll leave out what I do not feel that he needs to know," Wesley replied. "Don't worry, Angel. There's no need for anyone to know that Angelus made an appearance."

"Thanks, Wes. But tell him everything. The last thing I need is for a detail to get left out, and for it to prove important to Buffy. I've gotten into enough hot water for picking and choosing what I feel she needs to know. Don't worry. I can deal with it."

"As you wish," Wesley said, picking up the telephone.


Part III.


"She wants to be a vampire? Sick!"

"It's not unprecedented, Buffy," Giles said. "After all, your friend did come to Sunnydale...."

"Ford wanted to be a vampire because he was dying," Buffy exclaimed. "He was desperate, and confused! This actress is just vain! She want's to be a killer, and I have no intention of letting her get away with it!"

"I apologize," Giles said. "I didn't mean...."

"Skip it," Buffy said. "Look, are we sure that this actress is here to become a vampire?"

"Wesley was a little vague," Giles said. Better not to tell Buffy all the details. "He said that her last attempt at becoming undead was somewhat traumatic. However, it's probably worth checking on anyway."

"So what do we do? Check the papers and see if someone posted a classified ad for part time vampire help?"

"Well," Giles said. "I did get a call from one of the producers of the film, asking if I'd be a script consultant. Apparently my library on the occult is one of the better collections in California."

Buffy's eyes widened. "You got a call to work on a movie and you turned it down?"

"Buffy, the knowledge I gained becoming a Watcher can be rather dangerous in the wrong hands. One doesn't share that knowledge with persons who are not capable of dealing with it responsibly."

"Noble," Buffy said, "in weird way. Look, did Wesley say...?"

"Angel is fine," Giles interjected.

"He could have called himself," Buffy said.

"I thought the purpose of your last trip to Los Angeles was to make it clear that any personal interferences by Angel would be regarded as...well...interferences."

"I wouldn't mind if he picked up the phone to warn me about trouble," Buffy said. "When he throws in a little stalking in the shadows, then I mind."

"And I'm sure you communicated that in a clear, unemotional tone in your last conversation with Angel?"

"Back off, Giles."

"Buffy," Giles said, "whatever personal problems come and go between you and Angel, the fact is that you're allies in the same fight whether you like it or not. You're going to have to find some way to communicate with each other that doesn't always involve high drama."

"I said back off."

"Very well," Giles said. "I will contact the producer who called and tell him that I have become available as a consultant. Perhaps you should start checking whether there have been any vampires who have taken an interest in the movie?"

"I know where to start," Buffy said. "I'll call when I know something." Buffy threw her purse over her shoulder, and left.

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Every attempt he made lately to guide Buffy was met with resistence and resentment. Not unusual, he thought. Buffy was in college. It was normal for a young person at university to assert their independence. However, he was starting to wonder if the gap that had grown between Buffy and himself wasn't widening beyond his ability to bridge.

Giles remembered his advice to Buffy:

You're going to have to find some way to communicate with each other that doesn't always involve high drama.

Physician, Giles thought, heal thyself.


Part VI.


Willy dropped a couple of glasses into the sink. He put a couple of drops of Palmolive in the water. He always used Palmolive. Nothing was better at getting blood off glass.

"Hey, Willy."

He looked up. The Slayer stood before him. He checked the room. His customers were visibly tense. He said:

"Hey, howya doin'? Can I get you something?"

"Information," Buffy replied.

"Well, I don't really know anything."

"I haven't told you what I want to know yet."

"Yeah, well, I'm sure whatever you want to know, I don't know."

"We gonna have to do this the hard way?"

"Look," Willy said, "just ask. If I can help, fine, but I'm sure I can't."

"I need to know if there's anything weird going on with that movie they're shooting at Sunnydale U."

"I haven't been anywhere near that movie shoot."

Odd, Buffy thought. She'd asked whether he knew anything, not whether he'd been there. It seemed like a good time to try a bluff.

"Willy," Buffy said. "I'm a student at the university. I saw you there."

"Well, I may have been there. But I didn't talk to nobody."

"Look," Buffy said, seeing if she could take the bluff further. "I'll pay you. But no more than a hundred. I know that's all you got when you were over there."

"She paid me two hundred!"

"She," Buffy said. "I'm guessing that was Rebecca Lowell. So she talked to you. What did she want?"

Willy swallowed. He'd really screwed up.

"Look," Willy said. "Maybe we can cut a deal. She paid two hundred."

"She can't snap your neck like a popsicle stick," Buffy said. "I can. Spill it."

"Alright," Willy said. "She was just asking about the local history. Research for her movie part. That's all."

"So she wasn't looking for vampires?"

"Nope. No vampires. She didn't say nothing about vampires."

"You're lying," Buffy said. "I know she's here looking for vamps."

"Alright, she asked if there were vamps here, I told her there were. What's the big deal?"

"She didn't pay you two hundred for that. C'mon, Willy. Are you going to tell me what I want to know, or do I start breaking things. Your arm, for starters."

"Look, if I tell you who she was looking for, I'm going to lose good business."

Buffy scowled. "She's looking for a particular vampire?"

"Cut it out! I can't tell you!"

"Look, Willy," Buffy said. "This woman's playing a dangerous game. If she's trying to deal with a vampire like you'd deal with a normal person, she's going to get hurt."

"Heh, not likely. Not this vamp."

Buffy considered this. A vampire that wasn't a threat. She only knew of one vampire who fit that description. She asked:

"It's Spike, isn't it? She was looking for Spike."

"I said I can't tell you!"

"Thanks, Willy," Buffy said.

Buffy walked out of the bar. Willy shouted:

"I didn't tell you nothing!"


Part V.


"Rebecca, this is Rupert Giles."

Oliver gestured toward Giles. Rebecca extended her right hand and said:

"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Giles."

"Please, Ms. Lowell," Giles said, shaking her hand. "Call me Rupert."

"Call me Rebecca," she responded. "I'm so glad you've decided to join the team. Of course, I should tell you, I've completed my research for this part."

"I doubt you have been given a complete history of the area," Giles said. "After all, this is a horror movie. I doubt anyone told you of all the local legends of Sunnydale."

"I'm told that there are a lot of superstitions associated with Sunnydale," Rebecca said. "I don't really need to know all of them. Just enough to make the my performance seem authentic."

"Oh, but so much of the local history is fascinating," Giles said. "Native American myths. Cults that have been associated with Sunnydale. And, of course, the vampires."

Rebecca sat up. "Vampires? Really! How gothic."

"Not really," Giles said. "Even most of the European vampires who made it to Sunnydale assimilated rather quickly."

"You speak of them as though they were real, Mr. Giles," Rebecca said. "Surely your not suggesting...."

"Oh, of course not," Giles said. "It's just that if you research these myths enough, you tend to think of them as real."

"Oliver," Rebecca said, turning to face her agent, "could you excuse us for a moment. I need to speak to Mr. Giles privately."

Oliver was visibly concerned. However, he complied. "I'll be right outside," he said, and exited the trailer.

"So," Rebecca said. "You're familiar with the local myths?"

"Quite familiar," Giles said.

"And did you happen to get this knowledge by being the Observer of the Slayer?"

Giles paused, and then said:

"Watcher is the correct term. I can see you've done your homework."

"Well, Cordelia talked about Sunnydale a lot while I was pumping her for history on Angel," Rebecca replied. "She mentioned that he had a girlfriend who was a vampire slayer, and that an older librarian acted as the girl's mentor. The rest I researched on my own. I've come to Sunnydale prepared, Mr. Giles, although I didn't think I would arouse any attention by being here."

"Your fame precedes you, Ms. Lowell," Giles said. "Angel saw a newspaper story on your movie, and alerted us to your...interests. As a precaution. He didn't think that you still desired to go forward with your scheme. Based upon what you've told me regarding your preparations for your visit, I can see that we were wise to be cautious."

"Mr. Giles," Rebecca said. "I'm not here to hurt anybody. I simply wish to retain my youth at a point in my career when I simply cannot afford to continue the aging process."

"The inability to go into the daylight would seem to be a rather severe career impediment as well."

"I work mostly in television," Rebecca explained. "All of the shooting is indoors. If they want me to shoot outside, I'll tell them I have a rare skin condition that keeps me from being able to go out in the sun. I'll talk about it in People Magazine. Hell, I may even set up a charity for it. Fund raisers are great publicity. A harmless lie."

"Your appetite for blood won't be harmless," Giles said.

"I'll feed on animal blood, like Angel. Secretly, of course. I don't want PETA to send Bob Barker after me."

"If you become a vampire, you'll hardly care about Bob Barker," Giles said. "Or about feeding on humans."

"Why not? Angel managed to curb his blood lust."

"He's cursed," Giles said.

Rebecca blinked.

"That's what makes him what he is," Giles continued. "Gypsies cursed him with a soul. You didn't know that, did you?"

"I...I knew he was different, but....."

"Ms. Lowell, you are dealing with forces you cannot possibly comprehend. Allow me to hit a few of the major points for you. When a person becomes a vampire, they die. The soul, that which makes us who we are, perishes just as if the person had been killed conventionally. A demon possesses the body. It has the pleasure of retaining the memories of the victim, but that comes from the mind, not the soul. If you become a vampire, you will be dead. Pure and simple. Your body will become the tool of a hellbeast which is incapable of any human emotion. It will use your body to kill so that it can feed. And you will be as much to blame as the monster, because it was your choice that made it possible. That is why Angel's humanity is a curse. His soul was reunited with his body, and now he has to live with the responsibility for what he did while he was a vampire."

Rebecca absorbed this.

"Ms. Lowell," Giles said, "I hope you now realize that it is madness to continue down this path."

"I'm already closer to madness than I ever thought possible," Rebecca replied. "Being an actress is all I know. I can barely remember any time in my life when I was anything else. Success in my career was the only definition of happiness that I ever had. And now I've lost that, and I have no idea who I am. You can't possibly know what that's like."

"I know a lot more about that than you'd think," Giles said. "And I know that, whatever your motives, your means are unjustified."

"And what are you going to do about it?"

"Stop you, if possible. If you do manage to go through with it, the monster you become will be destroyed."

"Very well, Mr. Giles," Rebecca said. "Consider war declared. I don't believe that we will be needing your consulting services on this film. Please show yourself out."


Part VI.


"You warned her?!?"

Buffy paced the floor of Giles' living room.

"Buffy, whatever she wishes to become," Giles responded, "the fact is that as of now she is still human. I wasn't trying to warn her. I was trying to dissuade her. What did you want me to do, chop her head off?"

"That would have saved me some trouble," Buffy said.

"Buffy, she's a person. If there's a chance she can be reasoned with, we have to take that chance."

"And what about the people she'll kill if she goes through with it? What kind of chance do they deserve?"

"We can't give up on someone just because they have nefarious intentions," Giles said. "Killing a human is simply not an option."

"Don't you dare! Don't you dare throw that at me! Faith killed that guy! I didn't!"

"Buffy, please! Calm down. I was not in any way referring to that incident. I agree that Ms. Lowell must be stopped. I simply tried to do it as humanely as possible."

"Great," Buffy said. "Just great. So I have to put my neck on the line, the lives of innocent people are risked, all so we can be humane. Giles, this woman is a ticking bomb!"

"The same might be said for Angel."

Buffy's jaw trembled. She shouted:

"You know that's different! He's different! He's trying to do good!"

"He wasn't trying to do good when he attacked Ms. Lowell!"

Buffy's face dropped. "What are you talking about?"

"That nasty experience with Ms. Lowell's first attempt to become a vampire," Giles continued. "She put a drug in Angel's drink. A tranquilizer. It gave him momentary bliss. Which gave Ms. Lowell a momentary encounter with Angelus."

"And you didn't tell me that?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," Giles said sarcastically. "I should have told you that Ms. Lowell tried to seduce Angel in a drugged state so she could become a vampire. I should have told you that she brought out of him the most dangerous enemy you have ever faced. That would have allowed you to keep your objectivity. You've been doing a marvelous job maintaining your objectivity so far!"

"You should have told me! I'm not a child anymore!"

"Then stop acting like one! We're in the business of saving people, not delivering cowboy justice!"

Giles and Buffy averted each other's eyes. The anger had built to the point where both of them realized that it could go to far. Every second that passed seemed like a lifetime. Finally, Buffy said:

"She slept with him."

"No," Giles replied. "The effect of the drug was the sole cause of Angel's...relapse. And it was temporary. He's fine. But it could still happen again. People could get hurt. Human suffering is not always caused by demonic forces. It can just as easily be caused by free will. Angel has that potential for evil. Ms. Lowell has it. We all have it. But were not evil. She's not evil. She's making a rash choice. She's wrong, but that doesn't mean she can't be talked into seeing the error of her ways before she makes a choice that she cannot unmake."

"Fine," Buffy said. "You tried to talk her out of it. You didn't. Now she knows we're on to her. But she doesn't know that we know about Spike."

"It may be time to take care of Spike once and for all," Giles said. "As much as I hate to have you attack a creature that cannot fight, he certainly cannot be reformed. He has on occasion proven useful, and he seemed harmless. However, under the present circumstances, I cannot see any alternative other than...."

A knock at the door interrupted Giles. Buffy and Giles exchanged glances. They weren't expecting any visitors.

Giles walked to the door and opened it. Spike stood in the doorway.

"I need your help," Spike said. "Some crazy bird want's me to make her a vampire."


Part VII.


"So, Spike," Giles said. "Explain to me why you didn't agree to Ms. Lowell's plan."

"I did agree," Spike said. "Anyway, I pretended to agree. But there's no way I'm going through with it."

"I see, Spike," Buffy said. "And that would be because...?"

"Because I'm not a moron," Spike said. "Do you think I want some quack who gives tummy tucks and boob jobs to Rodeo Drive housewives messing around in my skull? I've never even heard of any vampire getting brain surgery. I'm going to get this chip out, but whoever does it is going to bloody well know what they're doing! No way I'm ending up in a wheelchair again."

Giles turned to Buffy and said:

"It seems like a plausible explanation."

"Fine," Buffy said, still looking at Spike. "So you don't want to make a deal with Rebecca Lowell. Why come to us?"

"Because if I don't do it," Spike explained, "some other vamp will, and I don't want to be on the receiving end of some vamps anger if I tell her to sod off. As soon as she becomes a vamp, she'll come after me. That's what I'd do. If it was just her, I wouldn't care. I can take care of some tenderfoot vampire any day. But this lady's rich. If she becomes a vampire, she's going to use that money to put together quite a little entourage around her, and that could be trouble."

"And you thought we'd pay you if you agreed to help us," Giles added.

"I think a hundred should take care of it," Spike said. "Small price to pay for keeping a vamp off the streets."

"No deal," Buffy said. "We're doing you as much of a favor as you're doing us."

"Oh, come on," Spike said. "Fifty? That barely keeps me in blood for a week."

Giles and Buffy exchanged glances. Buffy shrugged.

"Alright," Giles said. "Fifty. But you have help us deal with Ms. Lowell."

"I can't kill her," Spike responded. "Damned chip. But you shouldn't need my help with that."

"That's not an option," Giles said. "We have to find some other way of handling Ms. Lowell."

"Oh, please," Spike sighed. "You humans and your bloody morals. You never have the nerve to go through with any of the unpleasant necessities of life."

"Spike," Giles said, "I am quite proud of the fact that I am not as brutal as you would...."

"Giles, wait," Buffy interrupted. "I think Spike has come up with a solution."

"Yeah," Spike said. "Kill the bitch, and be done with it."

"That's not what I was talking about," Buffy said. "I had something else in mind."


Part VIII.


"Where are you going?"

Oliver stood by the door of Rebecca's trailer while she tied a scarf around her neck.

"I'm meeting someone," Rebecca replied.

"I don't like this," Oliver said. "I'm your agent. If you're meeting someone, I should go."

"It's not that kind of a meeting," Rebecca said.

"Rebecca, are you on something? Is it heroin?"

"Oh, Oliver," Rebecca said. "Don't be silly."

"I'm not being silly. You never tell me anything you're doing. Mysterious papers you won't let me see. Meetings with people you don't tell me about. I have a right to be informed about...."

"You have the right to do what you're told," Rebecca interjected. "And you have no right to lecture me about trust. You had a fake stalker after me, and you didn't tell me. You don't have the right to insist on anything anymore. You have the right to take your ten percent and keep your mouth shut. I'm leaving."

Rebecca walked out of her trailer. Oliver could only watch her go.


Part IX.


Rebecca pushed open the door of the mausoleum. She called out:

"Hello?"

"Come on in, luv," Spike called from the back of the mausoleum.

Rebecca entered and closed the door behind her.

Buffy and Giles watched Rebecca enter the tomb from behind a tree. As the door closed, Giles said:

"And now we wait."

"I hope this works," Buffy said.

"So do I," Giles said. "I hate to pay Spike fifty dollars for nothing."

"I hate to think of what we might have to do if this doesn't work," Buffy added.

Inside the mausoleum, Rebecca walked toward the back of the room. Spike was sitting on the floor with a cat on his lap. Rebecca asked:

"Pet?"

"Snack," Spike responded. "I can't always wait for Willy's deliveries. Do you have the money?"

"Here," Rebecca said, throwing a large envelope toward Spike. He picked it up off the floor, looked inside, then dropped the cat to the ground and said:

"Alright. Take off the scarf."

Rebecca swallowed, pulled the scarf off her neck, and allowed it to drop to the ground. She asked:

"Will this hurt?"

"Only until you're dead," Spike responded as he stood up. "Let's get to it."

Spike walked up to Rebecca. His face morphed into it's vamp form. Rebecca gasped. Spike looked into her eyes, then bent his head toward her neck. Rebecca closed her eyes and held her breath.

"Arrrghh!"

Rebecca recoiled as Spike screamed in agony. He was bending down and grasping the sides of his head. Rebecca asked:

"What's wrong?"

"Damn chip," Spike said, standing upright. "I thought that if I had your permission, and if I wasn't going to drain all of you, it wouldn't kick in. Apparently this bloody chip cares more about your health than you do."

"Dammit," Rebecca exclaimed. "That's just great. Look, if you can't deliver, I'll just take my money back, and...."

"No, wait," Spike said. "I've got an idea."

Spike turned to the back of the mausoleum, saw the cat on the ground, picked it up, and said to Rebecca:

"It's the swapping of blood that's important. Normally, I'd drink you, and you'd drink me. Well, we'll just use Tabby here as a kind of a go-between."

Spike sank his teeth into the cat. Rebecca squirmed almost as much as the cat as Spike drained the animal. Spike lifted his head. Blood dripped from the corners of his mouth. The cat was twitching slightly.

"Alright," Spike said, handing the cat to Rebecca. "Tuck in."

Rebecca raised her hands. She gulped as she felt the warm feline body laying in her hands. She asked:

"Isn't there some other way?"

"Oh, come on," Spike said. "If you're squeamish about a cat, how are you going to like it when you've got a set of fangs and you have to chew on a human neck? Look, it's easy. You just open wide, bite down, and suck on it. You know, kind of like the way you suck a lemon after a tequila shot."

Rebecca paused, and then opened her mouth. She trembled as she lifted the cat to her mouth.

"Remember," Spike said. "You've got to get through the skin to hit a vein, so really dig into it. If you don't hit bone, you're not there."

Rebecca winced. She dropped the cat. One hand went to her stomach, the other went to her mouth. She bent over, and screamed:

"Damn Bob Barker!"

She turned and ran for the door.

From outside, Buffy and Giles saw Rebecca running from the mausoleum, sobbing.

"There," Giles said. "She couldn't do it. She's an absolute wreck. I actually feel sorry for her."

Buffy replied:

"I feel sorrier for the cat."


Epilogue


Giles pulled his car up to the curb in front of Buffy's dorm.

"Well," Giles said, "that went well."

"For now," Buffy replied. "She may try again."

"It's always possible that a person can choose evil over good," Giles said. "But I doubt Ms. Lowell will make another attempt. She stopped, and this time it wasn't because she was scared of being harmed. It was because she was scared of what she would become."

"I guess," Buffy said. "I suppose it's been tough for her."

"We always think that people who are rich are also happy," Giles said. "It's easy to forget that the higher one soars, the greater the fear of falling."

"I guess Spike's performance was convincing," Buffy said.

"It must have been," Giles responded. "I wish I could have seen it."

"Giles," Buffy said. "There's something I need to know. About how a person becomes a vampire."

"Well, Buffy," Giles said. "It's pretty basic. You know the process. The vampire drinks from the victim. The victim drinks the blood of the vampire...."

"I know that," Buffy interrupted. "But does the victim have a choice? I mean, do they know what they're doing? Can they choose not to drink the blood, not to become a monster, to just die?"

Giles paused. The Council had told him that the Slayer might ask this question eventually, and he should be prepared with a lie. Giles decided that Buffy deserved to know the truth.

"No one knows," Giles said. "There is a theory that the victim goes into a sort of hypnotic trance, and drinks the blood on command. But there's no way to be sure. It is just as probable that the victim, facing death, chooses to grasp whatever semblance of life that's offered, despite the consequences. Since vampires usually don't talk about it, and are generally untrustworthy in any event, there's no reliable source. Angel is the only vampire known to have ever regained a soul. I would suppose that he's the only person who could really say with any credibility how it happens."

"I know," Buffy said. "But I could never bring myself to ask him."

"One can certainly sympathize with the victim," Giles said, "if in fact it is a choice. At the moment of death one can make desperate decisions."

"But that doesn't make it right," Buffy said. "I've seen so many people, including my friends, become vampires. It's easy to kill the demon inside them. But outside, they look the same. They talk the same. When I kill them, they...scream...the same. It's always been easier to pretend that there was no part of the person left in the vampire, that the person's gone and it's not their fault that their body is being used for evil. But if it's a choice, then that's not really true, is it?"

"I don't have an answer," Giles said. "You're already past the point where I can answer every question you have."

"Sometimes I get angry," Buffy continued. "Not at the vampires, but at the people they were. All the death, all the pain that's caused. Professor Walsh said in psych class that it's natural to be angry at a person when they die, even though it isn't their fault."

"Well, she would have known," Giles said. "She was responsible for enough death to be an expert."

Buffy smiled. She opened the passenger door of Giles car and got out. She closed the door, and said:

"See ya, Giles. Thanks for the help."

Giles watched to make sure Buffy got safely into the dorm, and drove away.

Back at the mausoleum, Spike counted out the money from Rebecca's envelope. It was all there. Fifty thousand dollars. And there was no way in Hell she'd ever dare come back for it.

"Well," Spike said aloud, "it looks like Spike isn't going to have to nibble on any kitties for awhile."

THE END


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Genesis I - The Tree of Knowledge

Author: Mikelesq
Rating: PG-13
Concept: The curse that restored Angelus' soul has an unexpected consequence- thaumogenesis. The gypsies find themselves hunted by the demon they created, and only Angel can save them. But will he want to? Part One of a trilogy.
Spoilers: General through Season 6 of BtVS and Season 3 of AtS
Feedback: Please. E-mail Mikelesq[at]aol.com
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil."

Genesis, Chapter 3, verse 22

----------

Spike: The thing about magic? There's always consequences. Always.

'After Life,' BtVS, Season 6, episode 3

----------------------------------------------------------

Prologue


"It is certain?"

"Yes, Uncle," Stevan replied. "Kisha was peddling charms in the street. She is certain that the man she saw..."

"It is not a man," Borka interrupted.

"Yes, Uncle," the boy sheepishly replied. "She saw...the monster. He...it took a young woman into the darkness of an alley. It emerged moments later, weeping. The woman followed shortly. She was unharmed. It cannot feed."

"It can feed," Borka corrected, turning to look into the orange light of the fire that illuminated the gypsy camp. "It cannot feed without pain. It will find a way to sustain itself. It must."

"I'd be happy to know how," a voice called out.

Borka and Stevan turned. Angelus stood before them.


Part I.


"The Beast!" Stevan shouted, reaching for the work knife he kept on his belt.

Other men began to gather, each carrying the tools of their crafts that could, if needed, be used as weapons. The married women gathered their families into the wagons. The unmarried women followed, although some observed the stranger longer than others.

"Take no action," Borka said, lifting a cautioning hand into the air. "Let it approach."

Angelus, weak with hunger, stumbled forward.

"You did this to me," the vampire growled. "Undo it."

"There is no undoing that which has been done," Borka replied. "You will come to know that, vampire."

"I will kill every man, woman and child in this camp if you do not undo what you have done," Angelus said, taking a step forward.

"Then come!" Stevan threatened, raising his knife. "You were no match for us when...."

"Enough," Borka said. He turned to Angelus. "You will kill us if we do not do as you demand? You may begin with me."

Borka walked toward Angelus. His eyes never left the vampire's gaze.

Angelus panted, his heavy breath an unforgotten reflex of the days when his body instinctively associated a need for air with the desire for life. The fullness of his lungs did not satisfy Angelus now, physically or psychologically. His face grimaced as he turned his head from Borka's gaze.

"As I suspected," Borka finally said. "Your threats are empty, vampire. Your appetite and your stomach cannot find peace with each other. Oh, this is a delicious irony."

"What would you have of me?" Angelus begged. "If you wish me to die...."

"Not to die," Borka said. "To suffer. Stevan, bring me one of the rabbits."

Stevan only gazed in confusion for a moment; among his people, one did not question an elder. He quickly ran to one of the wagons, and soon emerged with a trembling rabbit. He ran to his uncle and handed over the small animal.

"Lovely creatures," Borka said, stroking the creature's fur. When the animal had stopped shaking, Borka grabbed its head in his free hand, and twisted. The gypsies heard a soft crack through the whisper of the forest wind.

"Here," Borka said, tossing the dead rabbit to Angelus, who caught it in his hands. "Drink. Feed. It is but an animal, and I was the one who did the killing. Regain your strength. You will find ways to live, vampire. And every day you live will be a day of torment. You will live many lifetimes, and our revenge will pain you long after we cannot."

Borka turned to his kinsmen and said:

"This thing will trouble us no more. We, however, will trouble it through the ages. We must leave now. If it can find us, its companions surely will."

The men moved toward the wagons. Stevan glanced over his shoulder as he walked; his youthful energy made him eager for the opportunity to take a less complicated revenge against the beast that had killed his cousin.

Angelus felt the warmth of the rabbit's body. It would sustain him. However, he was not sure that he wanted the life it offered. These men...these humans...he could not kill them. Humans had faced him, Angelus, who had delivered ugly death throughout Europe for a century...and yet these roaming peasants lived.

Hunger overcame pride as Angelus sank his teeth into the creature's flesh, sucking the blood from it. He could feel the strength slowly returning. Such a small creature could sustain him for a day, perhaps less. Angelus began to mentally calculate how many such creatures he would need to have at hand if he were to use them for food. He had killed an animal breeder in Naples many years prior. Angelus remembered walking among the cages, each holding a single mink, while he and Darla waited for the ship that would take them to Athens.

Animals, Angelus thought. An eternity as an animal breeder. After fighting his whole life to escape the suffocating routine of his youth, to end up a farmer....

Angelus sank to his knees.

A woman's scream echoed through the night. Angelus looked up, and saw that the gypsies had all gathered around their campfire. A large man held a small, limp body in his arms.

Angelus, for reasons he did not comprehend, ran to the fire to see the cause of the commotion. As he drew nearer, he could see that the body was that of a young girl, much younger than the girl he'd....

The gypsies turned to face the approaching vampire. Stevan, a look of rage and horror on his face, pointed to Angelus and screamed:

"You!"


Part II.


"Stevan, stop," Borka said, placing a restraining hand against his nephew's chest.

"It did this!" Stevan exclaimed. "As it did before! It...it...."

"I didn't do this," Angelus muttered.

"And I suppose you didn't kill my cousin?" Stevan spat. "And you didn't kill Kolya as she...?"

"Enough," Borka said. "The child has not bled. A vampire did not do this."

"Then what?" an older man asked. "The child is scratched. Her bones broken. Just as we found Kolya before we began our journey."

"There is something in the forest," Borka concluded.

"And the other?" Angelus asked.

"You will not speak of this!" Stevan shouted.

"This forest is twenty miles from where you were," Angelus continued. "You crossed two rivers and five miles of grasslands to arrive here. Whatever's killing you, it's following you."

"It is the others," Stevan stated. "The vampire has companions. They hunt us."

"There are no bite marks," Borka said.

"Where was she found?" Angelus asked.

"I told you...!" Stevan screamed.

"Hold your tongue, Stevan," Borka instructed. "This monster may prove useful." Borka turned to Angelus. "The body was found to the north, not more than a mile from here."

"It's not Darla," Angelus stated. "Your fire can be seen for miles. If Darla were close enough to kill the girl, she'd be here now. Darla won't play games with you. She likes games in the parlor, but not in the forest. She'll kill you if she finds you, but not this way."

"And the others?" Borka asked.

"They will do as Darla commands," Angelus replied. "At least for awhile. And none of them will kill without feeding. They'll want you to know it's their handiwork."

"It is correct," Borka said. "Vanya, take us to where the child was found."

The men began to move to the north end of the clearing. Stevan turned when he noticed Angelus was following.

"This does not concern you, vampire," Stevan growled. "Be on your way."

"I thought you blamed me for this?" Angelus replied. "If I did it, you'd better kill me, or keep me at hand. And you've made it very clear that killing's too good for the likes of me."

"Why do you wish to come?" Stevan asked. "What possible interest can you have in this?"

Angelus did not answer. He had no answer to give.

"Come, vampire," Borka said.

"Uncle," Stevan protested.

"I did not ask your counsel, nephew," Borka said, turning toward the north. The gypsies followed, with Angelus close behind.


Part III.


"Uh, this village is filthy," Darla mumbled, rubbing a lace handkerchief across the lip of the clay cup in her hand. She took a sip, and winced as the bitter taste of the cheap wine stung the back of her throat.

"I can hear the crickets under the tables," Drusilla sighed. "They rub their legs like fiddles, but no one wants to dance."

The peasants seated around the tavern turned and stared.

"Drusilla," Darla whispered. "If you sit quietly, you can hear the spiders waltzing to the music."

"Really?" Dru said, a giddy smile crossing her face.

"Yes, you can...ugh, of course not, you fool!" Darla snapped. "Damn, how does Angelus tolerate your prattling!"

"I checked the place out," Spike said, as he strutted up to the table and sat next to Dru. "This is the only tavern in the village that rents out rooms."

"I find that hard to believe," Darla muttered.

"No, really," Spike replied. "I asked this bloke at the livery, and he said...."

"That was sarcasm, you imbecile," Darla said. "I can't believe I might actually have to journey all the way to China with the pair of you."

"You might thank me," Spike said.

"I might put garlic in my soup," Darla replied. "But I wouldn't wager on it. What did you find out?"

"What I hear," Spike whispered, "two days ago this Romani shows up, all by herself. Calls herself Kisha. She's got a bag with trinkets. Sells the lot, real cheap, to a tinker in the town square. Pays for a room here. Round noon this girl meets a gypsy in this tavern. They talk, and she sods off with him. Doesn't even run upstairs to grab her things. "

"They must be meeting her people soon," Darla said. "That means they're close."

"I still don't see why we didn't just kill her back in Borsa," Spike said.

"All of her people left," Darla said. "She stayed behind to watch Angelus. If we didn't follow her, we wouldn't be able to find the rest of them."

"Will Daddy join us in the East?" Drusilla asked. "I don't want to be an orphan. Orphans eat cold gruel, and no one tells them stories at bedtime."

"Never worry," Spike said, throwing an arm around Dru. "I'll make sure my girl sleeps sound every night."

Drusilla giggled.

"That's touching," Darla said, rolling her eyes. "But do let's try to keep our attention to the matter at hand. We need to find those gypsies if we're to get Angelus back as he was."

"I dunno," Spike said. "What do we need Angelus for? I've done a fair job at taking care of everything. You birds stick with me, and we'll do just fine."

"Spike," Darla responded. "Listen to me. Just because a jackass pulls a cart from the front, that doesn't mean it's leading the journey. Angelus is the leader. You are the jackass. Until we bring him back to us, you'll do what I tell you. And nothing else."

Spike's jaw tensed. "You listen, lady. No woman tells me what to do. The only reason I'm along on this fool's errand is that it gets me closer to China. I've got a little appointment with a girl that I hear's...."

"Ooooooohhhh!"

Spike and Darla stopped as Drusilla's wail filled the tavern. The peasants stared at the trembling woman.

"Drink your swill!" Spike shouted to the patrons.

"Is it a vision?" Darla asked in a hushed tone.

"Dru," Spike whispered. "Tell me what you see."

"The gypsies have a wooden baby," Drusilla whimpered. "It cries and claws and wants to play."

Darla turned to Spike. "Are you comprehending any of this?"

"Angelus is the one who understands her," Spike answered. "Me, lately I can get every third word. I hope to work up to half by the time we get to China."

"The gypsies have a wooden baby," Drusilla repeated. "Daddy wants to give it a spanking. But the baby has great arms, and Daddy hurts as it hugs him."

"Daddy," Darla repeated. "Is Angelus in danger?"

"If Daddy doesn't run, the bad baby will hug him until he isn't my daddy anymore."

Darla looked into Drusilla's eyes. Dru's words were cryptic, but the fear in her face was unmistakable. Darla turned to Spike and ordered:

"Get horses."


Part IV.


"There!" Borka said, pointing to the base of a tree. "There is a piece of cloth on the ground. This is the place."

"Uncle, look," Stevan said, pointing to a high branch of the tree. "There is a piece of Alena's dress in the tree."

"The child must have climbed the tree and fallen," Borka surmised. "That would explain the broken bones. The scratches must have come as she fell."

"She didn't fall," Angelus said.

Borka grasped Stevan's arm, cutting off the protest the boy had surely been prepared to make.

"There's blood in the high branches," Angelus continued. "I can smell it on the wind. And it's not just this tree. Her blood is on the highest branches of that tree, there."

Angelus gestured to a tree across from the first. Borka looked, and saw that another piece of the girl's dress was snagged on the branches of the second tree.

"She cannot have fallen from both trees," Borka said. "What could have...?"

Borka stopped as the ground began to move beneath them. The gypsy men grabbed onto tree trunks to keep their balance. Angelus, whose agility allowed him to maintain his footing, remained standing, looking for the source of the disturbance.

"Uncle, there!" Stevan said, pointing to one of the trees.

A powder blue mist crept toward the base of the tree. The mist then enveloped the tree, disappeared within its trunk, and the branches bowed down and grasped one of the gypsy men. The twigs of the branches crackled as they surrounded the man's body. The gypsies watched in horror as the man screamed. The sound of breaking bone ended the man's screams. The branches then reached for another man, who kicked and struggled to avoid the tree's grasp.

Angel reached out and grabbed the knife from Stevan's belt. Stevan's eyes focused on the blade as he, for the moment, forgot his horror of the attacking tree.

Angelus hurled the knife into the trunk of the tree. The branches of the tree recoiled from the cowering gypsy. The mist returned, surrounding the tree, then seeping back into the ground, and finally fading away.

The gypsy men began to slowly return to their feet, and apprehensively approached the now dormant tree. After a long silence, Borka said:

"It is gone. Stevan, help Rudolph. Vanya, take Mischa's body back to the camp."

"What of the vampire?" Stevan asked.

"This is not the work of the vampire. Rouse Alena from her sleep. She will consult the volumes."

Stevan and another gypsy lifted the injured Rudolph, while two others grabbed the dead man's corpse.

"He saved me," Rudolph gasped, as the two men picked him up. "The monster...it saved...."

"It saved itself," Borka replied. "It did what it needed to do to continue living. Come."

The men began to move toward the camp. Angelus stood in silence. Borka turned, and gestured for the vampire to follow. Angelus walked behind the men toward the camp.

'I could have run,' Angelus thought to himself. 'I did not need to attack that monster to save myself. I was trying to save that man. Why? God, what has happened to me?'


Part V.


Angelus stood at a short distance as the gypsy men gathered around the campfire. An old woman sat on a stool.

"Grandmother," Borka said to the old woman, Alena. "There was a creature in the woods. It attacked us. The same creature must have been responsible for the death of Kolya. It follows us."

"Does a child not follow its father?" Alena replied.

"Father," Borka repeated. "Grandmother, we do not have time for riddles."

"We sired this creature," Alena replied. "We gave it life. I warned you, grandson. The magicks you persuaded me to perform have created the monster that now hunts our people. We violated the gift of knowledge passed down from our ancestors. The herbs that heal, the charms that protect, they are the magicks of light and nature. The curse delivered upon the Beast, that spell was a thing of darkness. Dark spells are not gifts, grandson. They are bargains, and no bargain comes without a price. Kolya and Mischa paid that price. Others will follow."

"We are safe here," Borka said. "The creature is in the trees. We are camped in the plain. It cannot touch us here."

"But Darla can," Angelus replied.

The men turned to face Angelus.

"I found you," Angelus continued. "If I can, she won't have a problem doing the same. And she will come for you. If you cannot move into the forest, you will die here. Your only chance is to kill this creature and move through the forest before Darla comes. She'll bring others. You won't be able to fight all of them."

"The vampire is correct," Alena agreed.

"If you can get past the village on west side of the forest, you'll escape," Angelus said. "There is a hamlet three miles to the east of your camp. Darla and the others will stop there to feed, and at the next village as well. The two vampires with her cannot be among people for long without drawing attention to themselves. Sooner or later they'll get into a bind that'll have them running instead of searching. Keep moving, and you'll survive. Wait, and you wait for death, as certain a death as any that will come from the creature in the trees."

"Approach me, vampire," Alena said.

Angelus took a few tentative steps toward Alena.

"This curse," Alena said. "It is a heavy burden. It would have been more merciful to kill you. Vengeance is a thing of evil. It is cruelty hidden behind a cloak of justice. It does more harm to those who deliver it than it does to the object of the vengeance. Of course, men do not understand such things. This is why the magicks of our people are entrusted to the women. I should not have relented."

"I can kill this monster in the trees," Angelus said. "I've been in a mood for killing. I'll take what I can get."

A slight smile crossed Alena's face. "You wish to help us, vampire?"

"At what price?" Stevan shouted. All eyes turned toward him. For anyone of his age to speak at such a meeting was unheard of. "It came to us to demand we lift the magic, so it could return to its murderous ways."

"Is that what you wish, vampire?" Alena asked.

"It was," Angelus said. "Now...I...I don't know what...."

"This creature is not of flesh," Alena stated. "You cannot feed from it, but it can certainly kill you. You face death. Do you want to die?"

Angelus had no answer.

"You have tasted something, vampire," Alena said. "You seek something. Something you cannot name."

"I can't explain this," Angelus said. "I...I wanted to be what I was. I...I don't want to be that anymore."

"You will," Alena said. "There is clarity in knowing nothing but evil. You will crave that clarity, many times. You have more knowledge of good and evil than most men ever have. And you have eternity to walk with evil at your shoulder. You are taking your first steps down a rough path. Are you prepared, vampire?"

Angelus paused, looked into the forest, then turned to the gypsies and said:

"Someone get me a rabbit."


Part VI.


Angelus walked through the woods carrying the axe the gypsies gave him. He looked down at the parchment the gypsy woman had given him. It was torn from one of the few books she had that was written in English. The old woman said that, since Angelus was not a warlock, any spell he attempted to cast should be in his native language, if it were to stand any chance of success. He read in the moonlight:

'Thickening, a spell to bind a demon created by thaumogenesis.'

Thaumogenesis. Angelus had seen many things during his century of killing and torture, but this was unthinkable. The creation of a demon, as a byproduct of magic...it seemed impossible. Of course, any concept of consequence was foreign to Angelus. At least, it had been.

Angelus' keen hearing caught the sound of footsteps rustling through the forest. He glanced up, saw a branch, and leapt up into the tree. He waited.

A shadow approached on the ground. As it grew closer, Angelus saw that it was a man. He waited until the shadow was directly below his branch, and then leapt down. He grabbed the man by the throat and looked at his face in the moonlight.

"You," Angelus said.

"Release me, demon," Stevan hissed, his fingers clawing at the vampire's hands.

Angelus dropped the man to the ground.

"This is no place for you, boy," Angelus said. "Return to your people."

"I still do not trust you, vampire," Stevan said, rising to his feet and rubbing his sore neck. "I have no intention of letting you out of my sight."

"You're no warrior," Angelus said. "If you get yourself killed out here, your people will blame me."

"They have no love of you now," Stevan replied.

Angelus sighed, and said:

"Fine, but I'm not out here to play governess. Watch yourself, for I won't."

Angelus walked deeper into the woods. Stevan followed.

"Keep your eyes open," Angelus said. "This thing's after you more than me."

"Funny about demons," Stevan said. "They never kill the right people. Ah, but then, you are not a person, are you?"

"You hate me, don't you?" Angelus asked.

"With all that I am."

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Angelus said. "Makes you feel alive. The drive. The pure simplicity. It's like being an animal. No thought. No regret. Just the lust for blood."

"Do not even suggest that I am like you, vampire!"

"Keep your voice down," Angelus said. "And no, you're not like me. You see, Stevan, I would gain no joy in your death."

For the first time in a long time, Stevan had nothing to say.

The two men stopped as the ground began to move. Angelus stood his ground, and Stevan would not allow himself to fall while the vampire remained standing.

"Your mouth may have drawn out our demon," Angelus said.

The blue mist appeared, and crept into a tree beside Angelus. The light permeated the tree, which sprang to life. A branch of the tree swung down, knocking both Stevan and Angelus to the ground with one sweep.

"Attack it!" Angelus shouted, rising to his feet and swinging the axe at the descending branches. "I need to read the spell!"

Stevan crouched and watched as a branch knocked the axe from Angelus' hands and surrounded the vampire's torso, lifting him from the ground. Another smaller branch rushed toward Angelus' chest. Angelus caught the branch with both hands, struggling to keep the sharp point from his heart.

"Not as easy as a creature of flesh, is it, vampire?" Stevan said, a slight smile crossing his lips. "How do you like being helpless?"

"I...am...never...HELPLESS!" Angelus roared, as he released one of his hands from the branch and brought it down into the bark. The branch snapped, and the tree released Angelus, who fell to the ground. The tree shuddered, as though in pain.

The mist returned, and crawled across the earth to a smaller tree immediately behind Stevan. The branches of this tree animated, and pinned Stevan to the ground.

Angelus drew the parchment from his coat pocket. As he looked up into the moonlight to see the incantation, he saw Stevan struggling against the branches. With his free hand, Angelus swept up the axe and hurled it toward the trunk of the tree. The tree recoiled, releasing Stevan. The blue mist materialized again. Angelus quickly read:

"Demon life/
Demon Birth/
Not of Heaven,/
Hell or Earth/
Light to fire/
Dust to ground/
Quicken, thicken/
Be now BOUND!"

The mist began to glow brighter, and then exploded into a burst of light. Angelus shielded his eyes against the glare. The tree thrashed, as though disoriented. Angelus took this opportunity to grab Stevan and drag him to a safe distance.

Stevan rose to his feet. "You...you could have left me to...."

"The demon is trapped," Angelus said, in no mood for the boy's observances. "It has been made whole. Of course, with those roots in the ground, it's also been kept still."

Stevan turned to face the tree. The trunk bowed as though blown by a gale force wind, and the branches whipped madly, like a drowning man grasping for anything to hold.

Stevan turned to Angelus, and said:

"Approach it from the left. I will approach from the right with my knife. If we can avoid its grasp, we can...."

"Stevan," Angelus said, drawing a small bottle from the folds of his tunic. A limp rag hung from the neck of the bottle. "Your people may know a lot about revenge, but you have a lot to learn about killing."

Angelus reached into the pocket of his vest, drew a match, lit it, and set the rag afire. He threw the bottle onto the trunk of the tree. The oil in the bottle sparked into a small flame, which slowly grew brighter and brighter.

Angelus recalled a book, written by a Buddhist monk, which questioned whether roses could scream. That monk may have found his answer in the shrill whine that filled the night sky as the fire enveloped the tree. Angelus and Stevan watched until the flames died, and the tree moved no more.


Epilogue


"Where will you go, vampire?"

"I don't know," Angelus replied, as he and Stevan walked toward the fire of the gypsy camp. "My plan was to find Darla at the village beyond the forest. Now...."

After a pause, Stevan said:

"I would be dead were it not for you. I will not pretend that I owe you my life. I do not. No living man could owe a debt to one such as you. However, I will acknowledge that...."

"Quiet," Angelus said, grasping the boy's arm. Angelus stared into the distance, focused on the circled wagons.

"What is it?" Stevan whispered.

"There's something wrong," Angelus replied. "Something has been to the camp."

"I see nothing."

"My eyes are stronger than yours," Angelus said. "Follow me."

Angelus and Stevan slowly approached the camp. As they grew closer, Stevan saw the bodies of his kinsman strewn on the ground. The wagons smoldered from the fires within.

Stevan ran and knelt next to one of the corpses. As Angelus approached, he could see Stevan turning the head of Borka's limp body.

"Uncle!" Stevan gasped, as Angelus saw the bloody gash on the side of the old man's neck.

Angelus looked at the destruction around him. Not one wagon remained standing. Not one person moved. No one had been allowed to live. Angelus closed his eyes and whispered:

"Darla."

Stevan rose. In his hand he held a plank of wood that had been shattered from one of the wagons. He raised the wooden stake into the air.

Stevan stared into the face of the vampire. A fiery hatred burned in his eyes. A moment passed. Even to Angelus, who had walked the earth for over a century, the moment seemed to last a lifetime.

"You think I mean to kill you," Stevan finally said. "You are wrong." He tossed the wooden plank to the ground.

Angelus had no response.

"My uncle told me a great deal about the curse we delivered upon you, vampire," Stevan said, an eerie evenness in his voice. "It will not end. You will never know a moment of peace."

"Stevan, I tried to...."

"My people have cousins who travel to the east," Stevan continued, with no regard for anything Angelus had to say. "I will find them. I will live among them. I will marry, and the woman will bear sons. My sons will follow you, Angelus, and their sons after them. You will roam this earth for a lifetime, and we will never forget."

Stevan turned and walked away into the night.

As Angelus watched Stevan, he thought of Alena's words: the clarity of evil. The meaning was now apparent to Angelus. He'd risked his life to protect these gypsies. He'd succeeded, and they'd died anyway. They may have been dead already when the tree was trying to squeeze the life from his body. Any nobility in the futile gesture was far too ambiguous for Angelus. It was certainly too ambiguous for Stevan. There were only three creatures in the world that wanted any part of Angelus, and that part was not his soul.

Angelus waited until the boy was gone, and then walked toward the west. He might not find Darla at the village, but he would catch up with her in time. As he left the camp, Angelus muttered:

"I'll be damned if I ever help a human again."

At that time, it did not occur to Angelus that he might be damned if he did not.


THE END


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Genesis II - Serpent's Seduction

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Willow's spell to restore Angel's soul results in thaumogenesis, and Giles must make a bargain with dark forces to defeat the demon she created. Set between Seasons 2 and 3 of BtVS. Part Two of a Trilogy.
Rating: PG-13.
Spoilers: Up to 'Enemies' episode, Season 3 of BtVS. General foreshadowing up through Season 6.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

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And the Lord God said unto the woman, "What is this that thou hast done?" And the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat."


Genesis, Chapter 3, verse 13

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Spike: The thing about magic? There's always consequences. Always.

'After Life,' BtVS, Season 6, episode 3

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Prologue

"It's him!"

"You sure?" Willow asked Xander, as he looked out the window of the library.

"Trust me," Xander said, peering through the glass. "If that's not Giles, someone stole his car, and even thieves have standards."

"Is she with him?"

"It's just him," Xander replied. "There's no one else in the car."

"Well...maybe she went home," Willow argued. "Yeah! He found her, he dropped her off at home, what with her mom being at home and all her clothes and...."

"Will," Xander said, turning away from the window, "he's just standing there. It's like he's working up the nerve to come in. No spring in the step. No glimmer in the eye. He's bummed."

Willow's face fell.

"I guess Sacramento was a bust," Xander muttered. "Just like Reno."

"Yeah," Willow said. "I just hoped...this time...."

Footsteps quietly approached the library doors.

"Quick!" Willow exclaimed, then forcing her voice down to a whisper. "He's coming. Look cheerful."

"What?"

"We can't look depressed," Willow explained. "If we act depressed, he'll get depressed."

"He's already depressed," Xander said, approaching Willow.

"He'll get more depressed. Too much depressed leads to giving up. Giving up leads to him not finding Buffy. Not finding Buffy...he'll find her. Just as long as he doesn't give...."

Willow suddenly became silent as Giles walked through the doors.

"Giles!" Willow exclaimed. "Welcome back!"

"Yeah, welcome!" Xander chimed in. "Bring me anything? I mean, any souvenirs. Not anything, like did you bring back Buffy, because, hey! No big if you didn't! 'Cause, you know what they say. You gotta kiss a lot of frogs. Not that Buffy's a frog. And not that you'd kiss her. Because, you know, you're all father figurely and...."

"Xander," Giles dryly interjected. "Please don't feign a positive attitude."

"What?" Xander said. "I can't be happy to see you?"

"Xander, you're taking summer school," Giles replied. "The opportunity to expand your mind and further your knowledge between the months of June and August would leave you in agony, even if I returned with one of those emaciated swimsuit models whose pictures so tastefully decorate the interior of your locker."

"Speaking of which," Xander said, "explain to me again why I'm taking Typing One-Oh-One-More-Quick-Brown-Fox-Jumping-The-Lazy-Dog-And-I'm-Gonna-Die? Especially during what should be my prime veg time?"

"Because we're needed!" Willow enthusiastically said. "I mean, with Snyder not letting students on campus during the summer unless they're taking courses, and with the research books all in the library, and with the library in the school...."

"I'd really wish you'd both take the summer holiday off," Giles said. "I don't like the two of you patrolling. It's too dangerous."

"We're the only ones who can do it until Buffy gets back," Willow argued.

"Sunnydale survived without a Slayer long before Buffy," Giles said.

"We need her," Willow shot back. "And until she's back, Sunnydale needs somebody."

"Giles, she's right," Xander added. "I cruised by Willy's bar while you were gone."

"Oh, wonderful," Giles sighed, dropping his small suitcase on the library table. "I feel much better knowing that you're frequenting drinking establishments before fighting vampires. Perhaps the two of you could start visiting opium dens for Sunday brunch? Then I'd sleep like a baby."

"It was just for information," Xander said. "I gave Willy twenty bucks. He said most of the vamp riffraff took off when Angel went all evil. Word got out that he was looking for a showdown with the Slayer, and nobody wanted to be around for the fallout. That's why Angel was a little short of minions compared to the Master. With Angel and Spike gone, they figure Buffy dusted them. But without any recent Slayer spotting, Willy says the vamps are starting to test the waters."

"I still don't like it," Giles said.

"Not crazy about it myself," Xander said. "Between the life risking and summer homework and the carpal tunnel hazard and...uh, oh. Speaking of which, gotta run."

Xander grabbed his books and started toward the doors.

"See you tonight," Willow called.

"Gotcha," Xander replied on his way out the door.

"Willow...," Giles started.

"Look, I know you're concerned," Willow said. "But we're being safe. Staying in groups. Planning. Keeping our eyes open. Trust me, no one's going to do anything that's even remotely dangerous or...."

"Willow," Giles continued, lifting a book from the table. "Why is my copy of the Aldous Arcanum off the shelf?"

"Oh, um, uh, that," Willow stammered. "Well, I just figured that...you know...seeing as the books get all dusty just sitting up there on those musty old...."

"Aldous studied location spells," Giles accused. "What were you doing?"

"Nothing," Willow retorted. "Nothing. Just reading. And...well...I figured that a locating spell might help you...."

"Willow," Giles said, trying to keep his tone even. "Using magic to locate a person is very much like using a magnet to locate a paper clip. It pulls at the soul. It requires tremendous balance and control to even begin a study of such a discipline without tremendous risk to both the witch and the subject."

"I...I...wasn't going to try it. That is, until I talked with you about...."

"We've talked," Giles said. "And I think we've reached the point where we both agree that you shouldn't investigate such possibilities without consulting me first."

"Um...yeah. There we are."

"Good," Giles said. "Now, I believe you have a class to attend."

"Uh...yeah, I do," Willow mumbled, gathering her books. "I'd hate Advanced Calculus to advance without me. Um, anyway...I should get going."

As she approached the library doors, she heard Giles say:

"Willow?"

"Yes?"

"I'm only concerned for your safety," Giles said. "I-I-I can't bear the thought that something might happen to another...well, you have a class."

Willow continued out of the library.

Damn, Giles thought as he walked over to the shelf to replace the book. He made a mental note to remove the more dangerous tomes and put them in the book cabinet in his office.

As he replaced the book, Giles noticed a powder blue...something...slither across the floor. As Giles focused on the shape, he saw that it was a snake. For a snake to be in the library was odd. For a snake to be blue was unheard of. For a snake to emit a pale flourescent glow was disturbing. Before Giles could react, the snake slithered into the stacks and disappeared.

"Don't bother looking for it, English. There's too many where that came from."

Giles turned to face the unfamiliar voice. A man stood at the library entrance. The man kept his hands in the pockets of his jacket. He wore a dark hat with the rim pushed back, revealing a boyish face.

"Good thing I hung around," the man continued. "The Powers wouldn't be happy if I blew town with an imbalance like this left behind."

"Who are you?" Giles asked.

The man walked up to the library table, took a seat, and said:

"Call me Whistler."


Part I.


"So to make a long story short," Whistler said, "the Powers That Be sent me to get Angel to Sunnydale. I guess they figured that Angel and Buffy would be good for each other."

"Oh, yes, that's worked out wonderfully," Giles sighed. "Of course, the murder and betrayal and near destruction of the world did take a bit of the bloom off the rose."

"No one said it would be perfect," Whistler replied. "Anyway, things have pretty much worked out according to plan."

"According to plan?! Buffy has disappeared! No one knows what happened to Angel! How is that according to plan?"

"All meant to be, English," Whistler said. "But those blue snakes, that's something else. You need to clean that up. Can't have those things running loose."

"Do you know how to find Buffy?" Giles asked.

"No, and that's not what this is about," Whistler answered. "That's gotta work itself out."

"If your lying to me...."

"If I lie to you English, you'll never see it coming. Now, you wanna talk snakes?"

"Fine," Giles said. "What are they?"

"Don't work that way," Whistler explained. "The Powers don't send me somewhere to tell you everything. Just nudge you in the right direction, get you where you need to be when the time comes. Other than that, it's up to you."

"Riddles," Giles sneered. "Lovely. Alright. Nudge me."

"You might want to check out the hospital," Whistler said. "Maybe that room where the witch stayed while she was on the mend."

"She's not a witch," Giles said, walking over to the weapons cabinet, selecting a small dagger, and placing it in the inside pocket of his coat.

"She thinks she is," Whistler shot back. "Maybe she's right. Maybe you oughta think about that."

"Willow's mind is naturally gifted for studies. She's done a few spells. However, to call her a witch is like saying that Xander is a gymnast because he can balance a spoon on the end of his nose."

"She did a spell to restore a vampire's soul," Whistler pointed out. "I'd say she nailed the dismount."

"We have no evidence that her spell was successful."

"Not yet."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm not saying. I'm nudging. Go to the hospital."

Giles walked toward the doors of the library.

"I didn't think you'd be so quick to trust me," Whistler called to Giles.

"I don't trust you," Giles said. "But I think you know more about Buffy than you're admitting, and I'll play whatever game you like if it keeps you around."

"English, no lie, I don't know where she went."

Giles turned and walked out of the library.

"But I know why," Whistler concluded.


Part II.


Giles walked down the hallway toward the hospital room Willow had occupied after the attack by Drusilla and her minions. As he approached the room, he heard concerned voices. He stood in the hallway and listened.

"But there must be some reason, Doctor," a woman's voice said.

"We're checking all of the possibilities," a man's voice responded. "We know that your husband has sustained some kind of an animal bite, but it's difficult to see how that would explain a drop in his body temperature."

"How could he have been bitten? He came in here for a knee replacement. What could have bitten him in a hospital?"

As Giles waited for the doctor's response, he felt a hand tap him on the shoulder. He turned, and saw a woman standing behind him.

"You lost?" she asked.

She was young, perhaps in her mid-twenties. She wore dark slacks and a plain white blouse, with a hospital identification tag pinned to one of the pockets.

"I-I-I...yes," Giles finally responded. "This wouldn't be the cafeteria, would it?"

"Well, given the lack of food and tables, I'd say no," the woman said.

"Ah, yes," Giles said. "Of course not. I suppose I am lost."

"The cafeteria's on the first floor," the woman said. "Right by the gift shop. Follow the yellow lines on the floor."

"Oh, thank you," Giles said, walking over to the elevators.

As the doors closed, Giles pressed the button for the basement. If the creature left the man cold, he surmised, it must require heat. The furnace seemed a logical place to look.

The elevator doors opened, and Giles made his way through the passage ways until he heard the hum of the furnace. He went through the heavy steel door and walked toward the steel structure at the center of the room. All seemed in order, until he saw a blue glow slink into one of the ducts.

Driving the creature out posed a problem. Giles looked about the room, until he saw a wrench sitting on a table against the wall. He grabbed the wrench in his left hand and drew his dagger in his right. He walked over to the furnace, banged on the metal a few times, took a few steps back, and waited.

After a moment, Giles saw a blue snake slither through one of the vents. Giles circled the small snake, and then sank his dagger into its head. The snake writhed for a moment, and then was still. The blue glow faded until it was gone.

"There," Giles said to himself, drawing the dagger from the creature's head. "That was relatively...."

Giles stopped as he saw another snake come out of the vent. And then another. And then another. Giles retreated a few steps as he saw a succession of the creatures emerge from the boiler. The dark room filled with a pale blue glow as Giles retreated backwards toward the exit.

"What are they?"

Giles turned to look behind him and saw the woman he'd met upstairs.

"Get out of here," he warned.

"Not until you tell me what they are," the woman insisted.

Giles looked over his shoulder and saw that the snakes had increased in number, and were advancing.

"Damn," Giles swore. He looked around for something that could be used as a weapon. His dagger wouldn't be much use against the snakes, which at this point appeared to number in the dozens. He saw a fire extinguisher hanging near the door. He grabbed it, and sprayed the white foam at the approaching snakes. They recoiled as Giles pushed the woman back through the door and slammed it shut.

"What the hell was that?" the woman asked.

"The carbon dioxide is cold," Giles explained. "The creatures...that is...well...snakes are cold blooded creatures, so they were naturally repelled by...well, cold."

"Who are you?"

"I'm...uh, yes. I'm from...the zoo. Yes, there have been a number of people who reported sightings of snakes, and we thought that...."

"Don't hand me that! Those snakes glowed in the dark! Just like my kids said!"

Giles blinked. "Your...kids?"

"I'm a counselor in the children's psych ward," the woman explained.

She was going to continue her explanation, but the door behind them vibrated, and a flourescent blue aura emanated from the cracks around the frame.

"I'll explain later," Giles said, grabbing her arm. "We've got to get out of here."


Part III.


"You hear a lot of weird things when you're a child psychologist, especially when you deal with children who have post-traumatic stress disorder. I can usually...oh, thank you," the woman said, taking the cup of tea from Giles.

"Your welcome," Giles said, sitting next to Whistler at the library table. "Please continue, Ms., um...?"

"Shelby. Evelyn Shelby. Anyway, you get the usual nightmares, delusions, and so forth. But it wasn't long after I got to Sunnydale that I realized that some of what the kids describe can't be explained by mere hysterical fantasies. There are too many consistencies. This town's weird, and the strange thing is, a lot of people seem to sense it, but nobody talks about it."

"Well, it's natural," Giles said. "It's a normal reaction for the mind to rationalize what it cannot...."

"Yes, thank you," Evelyn interrupted. "I've read the books, wrote the articles. Look, about six weeks ago my kids started saying that there were snakes in their bed. Blue snakes, and they glowed. I wrote it off to trauma, or at least I did in my reports. But I saw the patterns. Then I hear that a bunch of people on the sixth floor have fang marks on their bodies, and experience a sudden loss in body temperature. Three of them have died so far. The hospital's keeping it under wraps, but I know there's something in there. Today I see you eavesdropping outside one of the rooms, and you hand me some lame story about the cafeteria. I followed you, and I finally got a good eyeful of what's been creeping around."

"Yes, well, you would have done better to have stayed away," Giles said. "These things are dangerous. I appreciate the information, and I assure you that we have the matter completely...."

"You don't seriously think I'm just gonna walk out of here, do you?" Evelyn gasped. "Two of the victims were my kids. I told you what I know. Now you tell me what you know."

"She's right, English," Whistler said. "Fair's fair."

"Stay out of this," Giles instructed. "Listen, Ms. Shelby, these matters require a certain amount of...experience. We couldn't possibly ask you to risk...."

"I'm not asking you to ask," Evelyn said. "Look, sometimes these kids say something, and I don't know what to make of it. Kids are easy to persuade, so I've pretty much just been telling them that the monsters are bad dreams, and that they're not real. And you know what? Some of them aren't. But obviously some of them are, and it's been really hard trying to help these kids when I don't always know the difference. I've read a few books, but I don't know the good ones from the bad. And don't even get me started on the internet. You're the first person I've ever met who actually seems to know anything about this stuff, and I'm not just walking away."

"Again, English," Whistler said. "She's got a point."

"Whistler," Giles said. "Do you know how you said that you're not here to give help? Well, congratulations. You're doing a splendid job of not helping."

"So what are these things?" Evelyn asked.

Giving up on dissuading Evelyn from becoming further involved, Giles said:

"I don't know, really. I've never seen anything like them. There's a mention of heat harvesting demons in Lyndstrom's research...."

Giles got up and walked over to one of the shelves. He grabbed a book, thumbed through the pages, and continued:

"There are references to auras which drain body heat. However, I don't recall Lyndstrom mentioning any corporeal...."

"You won't find these things in there," Whistler interrupted. "In fact, you can look through every book in this place, and you still won't find them."

"And where will I find them? You're games are getting old."

"Look," Whistler said. "Either these things are all over town, or there's a reason they're showing up here and at the hospital. What do those two places have in common?"

"Willow," Giles said. "But why...the spell? The restoration?"

"Gettin' warm, English."

"She must have attracted these creatures somehow," Giles muttered.

"Oooh. Now you're getting cold."

Giles slammed the book down onto the table in frustration.

"That's enough!" Giles shouted. "If you're not going to help, I'd suggest you...!"

Whistler reached over his shoulder and grabbed a thin text from the shelf. He tossed it across the table to Giles.

"Hillerson?" Giles asked as he picked up the book and flipped through the pages. "Hillerson studied the reproductive systems of....oh, my God."

"What?" Evelyn asked.

Giles stared at one of the pages in the book, and then turned to Whistler.

"Thaumogenesis," Giles said. "That's it, isn't it?"

"You got it, English."

"Thermo-what?" Evelyn asked.

"Thaumogenesis," Giles repeated as he skimmed a passage of the book. "I studied the theory during my training. It's basically a side effect of magic. When a spell invokes dark forces, a demon can be created. It's...a kind of...waste product."

"So why is it after people at the hospital?"

"That's where it was created," Giles said. "A girl...a friend...she was in hospital for injuries, and it became necessary to perform a spell. These creatures must have been created by that spell. Some of them must have been drawn here...perhaps because of the Hellmouth...or perhaps they're drawn to Willow. It's difficult to say precisely. The demons that result are new creations. There's a randomness involved. One really doesn't know anything about them other than by trial and error."

"There's got to be more known about them than that," Evelyn argued. "If every magic spell creates one of these things...."

"Not every spell," Giles said. "And not every time. Magic involves a bending of natural rules. Minor magic usually has no perceptible side effect. However, the darker the magic, the more likely that there will be an unintended consequence. Thaumogenesis is a rare occurrence, and only the darkest magics can cause it."

"Sounds like you were messing with something when you should have known better," Evelyn accused.

"Perhaps," Giles said. "But the circumstances were grave. We didn't have many choices. We weren't even sure it would work. In fact, we assumed that it hadn't...."

Giles' face turned white. His expression betrayed his sudden horror.

"What is it?" Evelyn asked.

"Oh, it's...it's nothing," Giles said. "Ms. Shelby, I have some...research...to do. If you would excuse us...."

"I told you...."

"You may return tonight," Giles said. "We should be finished here around ten. At that point we should have a plan formulated. I promise, you will be kept informed."

"I'll be kept involved," Evelyn corrected, rising from her chair. "These kids are my responsibility, and it sounds like these monsters are yours. I'll be back, and we're going to do something about these things before someone else gets hurt. Cut me out, and you'll be sorry. I may not have a lot of answers, but I sure know the questions. I don't think the school board would be happy that their librarian is teaching their students to do witchcraft. Do we understand each other?"

Evelyn waited for a response. When she heard none, she turned and walked out of the library.

"Tough cookie," Whistler observed.

"I suppose," Giles muttered.

"Somethin' eatin' at you, English?" Whistler asked.

"The spell," Giles explained. "At first we thought it might have worked, and that Buffy would return with Angel. When it became apparent that she ran away, we assumed that the spell had failed, and she had been forced to kill him. But thaumogenesis is a price. An unsuccessful spell won't create the demon. It never occurred to us that the spell may have worked and Buffy might have needed to....oh, God, no wonder she couldn't face us."

"I was wondering if you'd figure that out."

Giles sank into a chair.

"Look, English," Whistler said. "I know this isn't a great day for you, but you still gotta take care of these snakes. Maybe you should get your gang together and prepare...."

"I won't involve them in this," Giles said.

"I'd say they're already involved," Whistler replied. "They're a part of this."

"They'll never know that. I have no intention of letting them know any of this."

"You think you're protecting them," Whistler said. "Actually, you're probably trying to protect the witch."

"Stop calling her that."

"Big stuff went down here, English. She should know that. She should know the consequences of...."

"What happened was an accident," Giles said. "Both with Angel and with these creatures."

"Accidents are going to keep happening unless...."

"Listen," Giles interrupted, his tone becoming more and more stern. "You don't know us, and you certainly don't know Willow. There isn't a malicious bone in that girl's body. I am not going to burden her with guilt over the unfortunate results of her good intentions."

"Hey, your call," Whistler said. "After we deal with these snakes, I'm outta here anyway. The Powers are sending me to Mexico, and they got another guy tapped to babysit southern Cal. But sooner or later, the witch is...."

"Enough!"

"Whatever."

Giles began gathering any materials he had related to thaumogenesis as Whistler looked for a magazine.


Part IV.


"According to this," Giles said as he read from one of his texts, "because it's a new species without any evolutionary history, a creature created by thaumogenesis will usually lack something it requires for basic survival. It may merely be the absence of a physical form, or it may need a fundamental element of life, such as salt, or water, or blood."

"Or body heat," Whistler interjected. "That explains why they made for the boiler room of that hospital."

"And why they drain heat from their victims," Giles concluded. "It says here...yes, while the creatures may be temporarily sated by a raw source of the element they require, drawing what they need from living, sentient creatures is more lasting, and brings the creatures closer to a permanent state of being. Unless they can satisfy these needs, eventually they dissipate."

"So they're temporary?"

"Yes, but they can remain on this plane long enough to do considerable harm. We can't wait for them to simply fade away, especially since they may never fade away, if some of them can find enough victims."

"So how do you get rid of them?"

"There doesn't appear to be a great deal of information on dispelling such demons. Apparently any successful exorcism of the demons also reverses the magic which originally created them. The spellcasters who perform such magics are naturally reluctant to see their work undone. Therefore, the research tends to focus on binding the creatures, so they may be destroyed physically."

"So you get these things all together, then start exterminating?"

"Exactly," Giles said. "Unfortunately, that becomes problematic when multiple creatures are created. The author breaks down the incidents of thaumogenesis into two categories. In the first instance, there is a single creature created; it tends to be sentient, and requires some kind of a host to give its ethereal essence a physical body. In the second type, multiple creatures are created, with a sort of hive mind, or group intelligence. They tend to be small, and require something more elemental."

"Since there are a bunch of these little snakes, they seem to fall into that last one."

"It seems safe to assume," Giles said. "There is an occurence of thaumogenesis reported in Kenya approximately fifty years ago. A tribe was attacked by blue carnivorous ants. The tribe summoned a nameless dimensional traveler, whom they referred to as 'The Shaman.' He apparently has the ability to manipulate the spirits of demons, particularly demons that are hybrids, or out of balance in some way. He used a wooden totem created by the tribe, and with it he was able to attract the ants, and then bind them into a physical form which could be killed. He also...oh, dear."

"What?"

"He also demanded that men of the tribe cut off their left ears. Apparently he used the severed appendages to perform the exorcism of an aural fear demon in Singapore."

"Ouch!" Whistler exclaimed, his hand instinctively covering the left side of his head.

"This spirit refuses to perform any service unless a price is paid," Giles read. "It is unclear whether he uses these payments to perform other magics, or if there is some other more...nefarious...motivation."

"Either way," Whistler said, "he doesn't sound like the type you want to mess with."

"Wait," Giles said. "It says here that...yes! The totem was burned as the Shaman performed the ritual. It was consumed in fire, and after the ritual nothing remained but ash. There's a sketch here, based upon the tribesmen's descriptions."

"I don't follow you."

"The totem sounds very similar to the talismans used by sixth century monks to perform exorcisms," Giles said, dashing into his office. "They describe a shape which resembles the Egyptian ahnk. Of course, the Europeans interpreted it as having Christian origins, not knowing...yes!"

Giles emerged from his office with a silver statuette, approximately three inches high and shaped like a crucifix with a loop through the top arm of the cross.

"It's perfect," Giles said, holding the statuette next to the picture in his text. "Fortunately, Watchers are given a budget for acquiring rare artifacts. I found this one at an estate sale. It appears to be in good condition."

"You're not thinking of summoning this Shaman, are you?" Whistler asked.

"That is precisely what I intend to do."

"Humans. Never learn. Look, English, messing with dark magic is what got you into this mess."

"I know what I'm doing."

"Really? And what are you going to do when this Shaman tells you he wants you to start lopping off your pinky toes?"

"I've allowed for that."

"You've got to be kidding me."

"Look," Giles said. "You can either wait here with me while I research other options, or we can get rid of these creatures and you can start your new position fighting the forces of evil and darkness from the beaches of Acapulco. Which would you prefer?"

"Alright," Whistler sighed. "But don't say I didn't warn you."

Giles lifted the book into the air and read:

"Priest of the ether/
Traveler of worlds/
Master of souls/
Tamer of spirits/
I invoke thy power/
I summon thy force/
Hear my command/
Obey my words/
Come forth!"

A swirl of blood-red light appeared at the center of the library. A howling wind knocked Giles to the ground and forced Whistler to grab at the table for support. As the winds died, a man walked through the red mist.

"You have summoned me, Rupert Giles," the man said.

"Uh, yes," Giles said, rising to his feet and picking up his glasses from the floor. After Giles put his glasses back on, he could see that the man was dressed in a dark blue arabic garb, with a turban on his head and a scarf covering his face. From between the narrow slit between the turban and the scarf, Giles could see the man's glowing orange eyes contrasted against his blue skin.

"What do you seek, Rupert Giles?"

"Um...yes...of course. You, I assume, are the Shaman?"

"You may call me that," the man replied. "Again, what do you seek from me?"

"There is a demon," Giles explained. "Many of them, actually. Snake creatures, created by thaumogenesis. We need to bind these creatures, so they may be destroyed."

"You are aware of the totem required to perform this magic?" the Shaman asked.

"Yes," Giles replied. "We have one."

"Then you are equally aware that I will require a payment," the Shaman stated.

"I believe I have something you will find satisfactory," Giles answered.

"I do not allow humans to dictate the terms of bargains, Rupert Giles," the Shaman warned.

"I think you will find my offer fair," Giles said.

After a pause, the Shaman said:

"I will hear your proposal, Rupert Giles."

"This totem," Giles said, lifting the statuette from the table. "It is not carved of wood. It is metal. It will not be consumed by the fires of the magics you invoke. Bind these creatures, and the totem is yours. You will no longer be forced to do business only with those who can fashion the items you require. It will greatly expand your power."

The Shaman considered this, then extended his hand toward Giles. Giles placed the statuette in the Shaman's hand. The Shaman held the statuette before his eyes, then said:

"This is forged of iron. I have never seen such a totem created from a lasting material."

"Neither have I," Giles said. "That's why it seemed a bargain at seventy-five dollars."

"Your terms are acceptable, Rupert Giles," the Shaman stated. "This object is now my property. In return, I shall use it to bring and bind the demons. I will return one half hour before midnight. Prepare yourself, Rupert Giles. I will bind the creature. I will not aid in destroying it."

The body of the Shaman faded until it had disappeared.

"His exits are a hell of a lot more subtle than his entrances," Whistler said. "You sure you want to give a demon like that more power?"

"The totem binds demons," Giles said. "Binding demons is generally a good idea. Besides, I doubt I've given him significantly more power. Those that summon this Shaman are likely to be powerful enough to create their own totems. At worst I may have provided him with a convenience."

"Again, your call."

"Now, we'd best prepare."

"How many times do I have to tell you the rules?" Whistler said, shaking his head. "I don't actually...."

"What will you do and what you will not do seems to be directly related to my willingness to tell you to piss off. Well, I'm telling you now. Either stay and help, or you can tell your Powers to find another man. None of this would have happened if they didn't bring Buffy and Angel together. In fact, there's a lot that would not have happened, including the death of a woman I loved dearly, and a few hours of torture directed at yours truly. So, if The Powers That Be want to see the unsavory consequences of their meddling disposed of, they can either assist or expect no help from me."

Whistler frowned.

"That's big talk," Whistler warned. "You're pretty much daring the higher forces of the universe to put you on their naughty list. Man does that, most often he doesn't live to see another birthday."

Whistler waited for Giles to reply. He didn't.

An impish grin flashed across Whistler's face.

"You got moxie, English," Whistler finally said. "I like guys with moxie. Got an axe?"


Part V.


"Very nice," Whistler said, brushing his thumb against the blade of the axe.

"I've always been partial to that particular piece myself," Giles said, removing a short sword from its scabbard and laying it on his desk. He grabbed a bolt and loaded the crossbow.

"Pretty heavy artillery," Whistler observed.

"We don't know what we'll be facing," Giles replied. "We need to be repaired."

"Is the Shaman ready?"

"He says he's prepared," Giles said. "He's speaking with Ms. Shelby."

"Why? How can she help?"

"I don't think he needs her help," Giles said. "I think they're just making conversation."

"I still don't believe you called her."

"It was hardly my choice. She's an adult. She can make her own choices. If nothing else, an encounter with actual demons may cure her curiosity about the macabre."

"It usually doesn't work that way. But, again, your call."

"We should begin," Giles said, grabbing the sword in one hand and the crossbow in his other. He exited his office. Whistler followed.

As the pair approached the weapons cabinet to gather spare stakes, they heard Evelyn Shelby say:

"So, these demons, they actually do live under kids' beds?"

"They draw energy from the nightmares of children," the Shaman explained.

"Alright, quick question," Evelyn said. "How many eyes do they have?"

"Three," the Shaman replied. "A third eye is on the forehead, slightly off center."

"I knew it!" Evelyn exclaimed. "I mean, a kid says the monster has a horn or a second mouth, and, you know, obvious Freudian delusions. But a third eye? Off to one side? I KNEW those had to be real!"

"Humans," the Shaman stated. "You are very complex creatures. This is why I do not bother with you. Demons have immutable natures. Creating balance in an unbalanced demon is an achievable enterprise. Humans are hopeless."

"Oh, but we're not," Evelyn argued. "There's a lot you can do with a troubled psyche, especially with children. That's why I became a child psychologist. You can really help kids, especially if you get to them early."

"Nonsense," the Shaman shot back. "Humans are constantly changing. They never settle into any set pattern of behavior. Any attempt to balance their natures is at best a temporary solution."

"That's how we survive," Evelyn said. "We adapt. It's our strength. We can be what we need to be. Sure, our problems are endless, but that's only because our possibilities are infinite."

The Shaman considered this. Before he could respond, Giles approached and said:

"We are ready. We should begin."

The Shaman arose, and placed the totem on the table.

"Ms. Shelby," Giles said. "You may observe this from my office."

Evelyn started to protest, but Giles continued:

"You will be able to see everything. However, Whistler and I will not be able to protect you. We expect a rather difficult fight. We have experience dealing with such creatures. You do not. Whatever knowledge you feel you can gain from this will be of no use to your patients if you are dead."

Evelyn considered this, then walked across the floor and into Giles' office. Giles walked over to the door and pulled it shut.

"Ready?" Giles asked Whistler.

Whistler nodded, shifting his axe in his hand.

Giles turned to the Shaman, and nodded.

The Shaman began muttering an Arabic incantation. The totem on the desk began to emit a bright green glow. A low hum filled the air.

Giles' eyes darted around the library. He caught sight of a blue snake slithering toward the table. He lifted the crossbow, fired, and hit the snake, severing it into two pieces. Giles silent congratulated himself on an excellent left-handed shot, and then spied another snake coming from the stacks.

"Whistler!" Giles shouted, gesturing toward the snake with the crossbow.

Whistler ran across the room and hacked into the snake with his axe.

"So far, so good," Whistler stated.

"It's early," Giles replied.

Suddenly, the doors of the library burst open. A sea of snakes slowly moved across the floor. The serpents slithered, one over the other, as they approached the center of the library, saturating the air with blue light.

Giles and Whistler jumped onto the library table. The Shaman remained motionless. The snakes slithered at his feet, but he did not react. His chanting became louder, and the totem on the table grew brighter.

"Keep them back!" Giles shouted, slicing at the snakes with his sword to keep them at bay. He threw his crossbow onto the ground, and the snakes scattered.

"Damn things keep coming!" Whistler yelled, chopping at the snakes as they slithered up the legs of the table.

"Whistler, be careful!" Giles shouted. "You'll...!"

Whistler took a hard swing at one of the snakes. The axe went through the snake, and the blade penetrated deep into the table leg. Giles and Whistler felt the table creek underneath them and sway. They struggled to maintain their balance as the table leg buckled, and then finally gave way. The two men were thrown to the ground, and the totem fell to the floor.

"No!" the Shaman cried. "Not now!"

Giles and Whistler tumbled across the floor, and eventually got to their feet.

"Dammit, man!" Giles said. "That was one of the most foolish, thick-headed...!"

"Hey, I'm a lover, not a fighter," Whistler replied. "Hey, why aren't we dead?"

Giles and Whistler looked down, and saw that the snakes were creeping toward the totem. As they reached the silver statuette, their slender bodies seemed to melt into the metal. The green glow turned a bright blue, and as the last of the snakes entered the totem, the blue glow rose into the air and hovered.

"This doesn't look good," Whistler mumbled.

"What's happening?" Giles asked the Shaman.

"There is no way to know," the Shaman replied. "The ritual must not be interrupted. I cannot tell what will...."

"Mr. Giles?"

Giles turned toward the woman's voice. Evelyn stood just outside the office doorway.

"Ms. Shelby!" Giles shouted. "Get back in before...!"

The blue aura streaked across the room, and struck Evelyn in the chest. The light enveloped her body. She screamed in pain as the blue glow grew into a blinding white light. Giles shielded his eyes against the fierce glare. Finally, a thunderous boom filled the library, and the light faded into an eerie darkness.

In the pale moonlight which seeped through the library windows, Giles spied the desk lamp from the library table laying on the floor. He reached down, turned the switch on the lamp, and lifted the lamp into the air to illuminate the library. Giles, Whistler and the Shaman looked at Evelyn.

At first, all appeared well. Evelyn was standing, apparently unharmed. Then a slithering form seemed to move down her neck. Giles raised his sword, thinking one of the snakes had survived. Then he noticed that the snake-like shape appeared and disappeared quickly. He also noticed that Evelyn's nostrils were...large. Abnormally large.

Giles approached, the lamp still in his hand. He got as close as he could before the power cord was stretched to its limit. Giles stopped as he noticed that Evelyn's skin reflected in the light. Giles thought that some form of explosion had occurred, because scale-like markings covered Evelyn's face and arms. At first, Giles thought that the markings were soot from the blast.

Then, Giles realized that they weren't markings.

"Oh, god," Giles gasped as the sword fell from his hands.

Evelyn looked down at her open hands. Not knowing what had occurred, she focused all of her attention on trying to understand the scaled hands she saw. Reflexively, her tongue shot from her mouth, its pronged ends sending new senses into her mind.

Evelyn screamed, and then collapsed to the floor.


Part VI.


"I-i-is there anything I can...?"

"Oh, I don't know," Evelyn said, an unmistakable bitterness in her voice. "Perhaps some live mice?"

"Ms. Shelby," Giles said, taking a seat next to Evelyn in his office. "There are...things...we can do. We can try to...we can...."

"You don't even know how this happened," Evelyn spat, tracing the scales on her arm with one finger. "You have no idea how to change it."

"I-I-I have seen such transformations," Giles stammered. "Usually, with some research...."

"You're lying," Evelyn said. "If there was a way, you'd be telling me how you were going to do it. I'm stuck like this, aren't I?"

Giles' silence betrayed the truth of Evelyn's statement. She was not possessed. If the change was a glamour or a spell, reversal would be plausible. If her body was occupied by a creature, an exorcism was a relatively simple matter. But this kind of change....

"I work with children," Evelyn said. "I work with SCARED children. What can I do now? Oh, god, what...."

"Ms. Shelby...I...I...I am sorry. If I'd known...."

"You did know," Evelyn said. "You tried to tell me. I'm not...look, could I just have a minute?"

"Of course," Giles said, rising from his chair.

"Did you know that a snake's eyes are different from a human's?" Evelyn asked. "Their tear ducts are inside. They don't cry."

"I didn't know that," Giles said.

"Neither did I," Evelyn sighed, her face dropping into her hands.

After a moment, Giles left the office.

Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes as he walked across the room.

"Rupert Giles?"

Giles put his glasses back on and walked over to the Shaman.

"I...regret what happened to the woman," the Shaman continued. "The incantation was interrupted before it could bind the creature permanently. I should have explained the ritual to you, and warned you of such a possibility. I...apologize."

"It's hardly your fault," Giles said. "This...this was my choice. I am responsible. Look, is there anything you can do for her?"

"Perhaps."

"Can you reverse...?"

"No," the Shaman admitted. "The consciousness of the demons was destroyed in the transference. Evelyn Shelby is Evelyn Shelby. She has changed physically, but her soul is intact. She is what she is. There is no imbalance to correct."

"Then how...?"

"My dimension," the Shaman explained. "It is a dimension of travelers. Those who call it home have no home. No creature is born there. All matter of beings occupy the plane. There is no 'normal.' Evelyn Shelby...may find peace there."

Giles considered this. Demons like Whistler lived among humans. However, he appeared human. There were whole cultures of unusual creatures that existed on the fringes of humanity. However, those demons were born into those cultures. Evelyn, once human, now....

She didn't stand a chance.

"She will not be harmed?" Giles asked.

"No," the Shaman replied. "Violence is forbidden in that dimension. She will be safe."

"What do you wish for me to do?"

"I intend to offer passage to this dimension to Evelyn Shelby," the Shaman said. "She will undoubtedly wish to consult with another human before making a final decision. I wish to know whether you will interfere."

"No," Giles said. "I will not. In fact, if you wish, I will approach her with this option myself. She may be more receptive if she hears it from me."

"Thank you, Rupert Giles."

"I'm the one who should be thanking you," Giles responded. "It is very kind of you to attempt to help. Your reputation for ruthlessness is obviously undeserved. I will be sure to document that for the texts."

"Please do not, Rupert Giles," the Shaman replied. "Fear of consequence is all that keeps lower beings from calling on my power. It would be unwise to encourage men to call on forces that they cannot comprehend."

"Yes," Giles said. "Quite right. I'll approach Ms. Shelby after she's had a moment to compose herself."

The Shaman turned and walked toward the weapons cabinet. Giles walked over to Whistler, who was standing by the window near the stacks.

"Well," Giles said. "I suppose you were right. I had no business summoning the Shaman."

"Oh, I dunno," Whistler said. "The snakes are gone. That's what's important. All in all, when I report back to the Powers, I'm gonna say things turned out...eh, not so bad."

"Not so bad?! How the bloody hell can you say that? Evelyn is horribly disfigured. I've found out that we unwittingly caused the death a creature with a soul. And I'm no closer to finding Buffy than I was this morning. Not so bad my ass!"

"Jeez, English, cool down," Whistler said. "You humans never learn. Look, rough day? Sure. But the thing is, stuff that happens, even the bad stuff, it happens for a reason. You may not know the reason, but that doesn't mean it won't all work out."

"I'll be damned if I'll ever see any good that came out of this," Giles growled, storming off.

Whistler watched Giles walk away, and said under his breath:

"You'll see what I mean."


Epilogue


"Jeez, English. I can't believe you wore a tux."

"It's not a football game," Giles said, adjusting his cummerbund. "I'm not going to apologize for dressing appropriately."

"We're in a gateway dimension," Whistler said. "Most of the demons here aren't even wearing clothes."

"Alright," Giles replied. "If you ever get married, I promise to show up in a loincloth."

"Uh, on second thought, you look good in a monkey suit."

"I thought you'd see it my way. So, how are you getting on in Mexico?"

"Eh, not so bad," Whistler shrugged. "I learned to hablo the lingo. I get to nudge, and work on my tan. How's Sunnydale?"

"Better," Giles said. "Buffy's back. She returned on her own, and immediately dispatched a hoard of zombies. It may take some doing to get her back into school, but if that's the most of our problems, we should be fine. I still haven't had the chance to speak with her about the...circumstances...regarding Angel."

"You might want to let her talk about it. I'm mean, don't force it, you know? Just kinda, well...."

"Nudge?"

"You learn slow, English. But you learn."

Giles and Whistler turned as the Shaman approached.

"Oh, hello," Giles said. "Congratulations!"

"Yeah, Mazel Tov," Whistler chimed in.

"Thank you," the Shaman responded. "Whistler, will you excuse us for a moment? I need to speak to Rupert Giles."

"Oh, yeah, sure," Whistler said. "I'll just check out the munchies. I've always had a taste for Krivoth larvae."

Whistler walked over to a table across the room.

"I hope there's nothing wrong," Giles said.

"No," the Shaman said. "I do need to speak with you, and I find the demon's familiarity to be unnerving."

"I can't argue," Giles said. "Oh, I saw Evelyn outside. She looks beautiful. She's positively glowing."

The Shaman's eyes narrowed.

"There is a witch here from the Or-Teth dimension," the Shaman stated. "I can have her examine Evelyn for...."

"No, no, no! Not glowing literally. It's...a turn of phrase, among my people. It means she looks happy."

"Your people are very strange, Rupert Giles," the Shaman said. "Fortunately, Evelyn and I have managed to co-exist with each other's differences."

"Compromise," Giles said. "The foundation of any good marriage."

"For example, Evelyn agreed that during the ceremony she would hold the traditional severed head of a Q'Inari Mud Dragon. In turn, I have agreed to allow her to throw the head to the guests after the ceremony. Apparently, whoever catches the head will be next."

"Next?" Giles gasped, instinctively putting his hand up to his neck. "I don't think...oh, next! Yes, next to get married, like a bouquet. Yes, it is a custom of our people."

"There is another custom of your people we must discuss, Rupert Giles. At Evelyn's request, a table has been placed at the entrance to the ceremonial chamber."

"Oh, yes. The gift table. It is a custom of our people to give gifts at a wedding."

"It is not the custom of my people," the Shaman said. "You deposited a package on the table. You should not have done this. I owe you a blood debt, Rupert Giles."

Giles blinked. "Er...well...it's only a can opener."

"You brought me together with my beloved," the Shaman continued. "Among my people, to do this puts me in your debt. I cannot rest until this debt is paid."

"Well, I'm sure something will come up. Until then, try to put it out of your mind. Enjoy the day. Or night. What is it when the sky's pink here?"

"Afternoon," the Shaman said. "I must leave now, Rupert Giles. The sacred rites are about to commence. I must meditate in order to achieve the a proper state of mental balance and summon the spirits of my ancestors. Also, I must get my aunt away from the Vurbordian Ale before she makes a scene."

"Right," Giles said. "Best wishes."

The Shaman left. Giles looked for a seat, and silently debated the merits of warning Whistler about the dragon head.

THE END


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Genesis III - Cast Out of the Garden

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After Darla’s resurrection, Giles, Angel and Wesley hunt a demon created by thaumogenesis. Set between Seasons 4 and 5 of BtVS and Seasons 1 and 2 of AtS. Part Three of a trilogy.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Spoilers: General foreshadowing up to Season 5 of BtVS and Season 3 of AtS.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer” characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. Songs quoted and mentioned are the property of whoever owns the publishing rights (which certainly isn’t me).

Read This Fic »

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Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

Genesis, Chapter 3, verse 23

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Spike: The thing about magic? There's always consequences. Always.

'After Life,' BtVS, Season 6, episode 3

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Prologue


“Please remember to water the plants,” Cordelia said, throwing her overnight bag over her shoulder. “Like you, they need regular fluids.”

“No problem,” Angel said.

“And Wesley, please try to keep your books stacked neatly,” Cordy continued. “I do have to live here.”

“Sorry,” Wesley said wryly. “I’d hate for my research on the apocalyptic hellbeast summoned by Wolfram and Hart to clash with your decor.”

“Angel, promise me,” Cordelia said. “While I’m gone? Office. Get one.”

“I’m working on it,” Angel replied.

“Work harder. OK, I’m gone. Dennis? Keep an eye on them.”

In response, the front door of the apartment opened, revealing Giles.

“Oh,” Giles said. “I...I was going to knock. But the door just....”

“Giles!” Cordelia cried. “Hey! You look...um...like hell, actually. What’s with the sweatshirt?”

“Always a pleasure to see you, too, Cordelia,” Giles sighed. “May I come in?”

“Oh, of course you...hey, wait a minute,” Cordelia said. “You’re asking me to invite you in? Did you become a vampire?”

“No, I became well-mannered. When I was four years old,” Giles said, taking a step into the apartment. “Does that satisfy you?”

“Sure,” Cordy said. “It’s just you can’t be too careful.”

“Giles,” Wesley said, arising from his seat at the dining room table. “Good to see you. How was the trip?”

“Not bad, actually,” Giles said. “I rented a splendid motorcar. It’s a convertible. I could get used to it.”

“Giles,” Angel said.

“Angel,” Giles replied.

“Look, guys,” Cordelia said. “I hate to go, but if I miss my bus, there isn’t another one for three hours.”

“You’re leaving?” Giles asked.

“Yeah,” Cordy said. “I’m going to a three-day acting retreat. Normally I’d stay, but my teacher had to pull a lot of strings to get me a spot. There’s usually an eighteen month waiting list to get into this teacher’s workshop. It’s one of the most respected classes on spoken dialogue in LA.”

“Who’s the teacher?”

“He was one of the Darryls on ‘Newhart.’ Anyway, gotta run.”

Cordelia threw an arm around Giles’ neck and squeezed.

“You...hug now?” Giles asked.

“Yes,” Wesley replied. “It’s been an adjustment for all of us.”

“She’s had a couple of close calls,” Angel explained.

“Bad vision,” Cordelia muttered, still embracing Giles.

“Oh, yeah,” Angel added. “She lost control of her visions, and ended up in the....”

“No,” Cordelia interrupted. “Bad...vision...now...aaaaaahhhh!”

Giles gasped as Cordelia’s grip tightened, dragging them both to the floor. Giles tore himself free from Cordelia’s grasp and stood aside as Cordy writhed in pain on the carpet.

“Good Lord,” Giles exclaimed. “Does that happen every time?”

“It varies,” Wesley said, as he and Angel dropped to the floor beside Cordelia. As her vision stopped, she sat up, massaging her temples.

“Cordy,” Angel whispered. “What did you see?”

“Zombie,” Cordy responded as she tried to catch her breath. “A zombie was attacking a woman. At least, I think it was a zombie. It looked like those zombies that showed up at that party for Buffy. But....”

“But what?” Wesley asked.

“It’s weird,” Cordy said. “I think these visions are starting to get more...I could feel something. It’s like I was in its head. I could get feelings off it. The...whatever it was...it wants something. Zombies don’t want anything, do they?”

“No,” Giles chimed in. “Zombies are animated, but not sentient.”

“But it was dead,” Cordelia continued. “Definitely dead. And walking around.”

“Sounds like a vampire,” Angel said.

“No,” Cordelia said, shaking her head. “I don’t know what it is. Actually....”

After a pause, Wesley repeated:

“Actually?”

“Actually,” Cordelia said. “I don’t think IT knows what it is.”


Part I.


“Are you sure it was a good idea for Cordelia to leave?” Wesley asked.

“She’s been looking forward to this workshop for a month,” Angel replied, tossing one of the books aside and reaching for another. “I’m not going to ask her to give that up.”

“If she gets a vision....”

“She’ll call,” Angel said.

“And these visions,” Giles interjected. “They come without warning from...?”

“The Powers That Be,” Angel explained. “It’s what we call them. Doyle, the one who gave her the visions, that’s what he called them. It’s a little vague, but we have to call them something.”

“Quite right,” Giles agreed. “In fact, it sounds strangely....in any event, these visions warn of future crises?”

“Or of events that have already occurred,” Wesley said. “This attack, it may have already happened. In any case, it’s a threat.”

“Any luck with the cemetery?” Angel asked.

“It took awhile,” Wesley said. “But I found the obituary internet site Cordelia uses for research. The name Cordelia saw on the crypt, D’Angelino? There is a cemetery in Los Angeles that has at least twenty-seven members of that family buried there. Apparently their patriarch died in 1937, and the family purchased a number of plots surrounding his crypt.”

“Anything strange about the family?”

“Nothing that shows up in any newspaper accounts,” Wesley answered. “No unexplained deaths. No arrests. No unusual phenomena explained away as coincidence. None of the usual reports one would expect to see regarding a family with any connection to the black arts.”

“So the visions gave us a place,” Angel said. “We can check it out tonight.”

“That may not be necessary,” Wesley said. “According to a news article from yesterday’s newspaper, there was a burglary at the cemetery. A woman was there to visit a relative. She was suspected of...disturbing...one of the bodies.”

“Suspected?”

“According to this,” Wesley continued, “one of the bodies was found on the floor of the crypt. The woman was seen leaving the cemetery in an agitated state. The police sought her for questioning, and discovered her body in an alley nearby. A homeless man was suspected of killing her and taking her purse. Later that afternoon, the homeless man assaulted a passenger at a downtown subway station. The victim was thought to be dead, but later no body was found.”

“Sounds like we have a body hopper,” Angel surmised. “When I first moved to LA, there was a demon that moved from body to body. It fits. Walking dead, sentient. Pretty much what Cordy described.”

“Apparently then we have to pick up the trail,” Wesley concluded.

“Let me see,” Angel said, walking around to look at the computer screen over Wesley’s shoulder. “It can be tough to follow these things. They usually don’t....”

Angel leaned forward to look at the screen.

“What?” Wesley asked.

“The cemetery,” Angel replied. “It’s...the same one.”

“The same as...? You mean, the same one that Wolfram and Hart...?”

“Yes,” Angel confirmed. “We may have found the demon from the box.”

“That would make sense,” Wesley said. “If the trail leads from....”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Angel interrupted. “The demon I killed was dangerous, but nothing worth summoning from another dimension.”

“Perhaps further research will give us a better understanding of this creature,” Wesley said. “I’ll bring the computer to my flat. I have a few volumes there that may help. Also, there are other sources I can check.”

“Perfect,” Angel said. “You need any of these books for research?”

“Just the Shanahan volume,” Wesley said, picking up one of the texts. “Oh, and Giles? You were bringing...?”

“Oh, yes,” Giles said, walking over to his suitcase. He opened one of the outside pockets, and pulled out a book.

“The Swensen journal,” Giles said, handing over the book to Wesley. “You said you required it for...?”

“We’re researching a prophecy,” Wesley explained. “Apparently a law firm summoned a beast from another dimension, and it somehow is involved in...well, it’s complicated. I thought Swensen’s theories on demon invocation could shed some light on what manner of an entity may have been invoked. Thank you for bringing it.”

“Oh, not at all,” Giles said. “I needed to come to Los Angeles for...a personal matter. I would like to assist you, if you feel I can help with this zombie.”

“We can always use backup,” Angel said. “Wes, get back here after sundown, and bring weapons. Whatever this thing is, we should be ready.”

“Of course,” Wesley said, tucking Giles’ book under his arm and heading for the door.

“And Wes?” Angel called out.

“Yes?” Wesley replied, turning from the door.

“Focus on finding the next victim,” Angel said. “If this has something to do with the box, great. But the first priority is stopping this demon, whatever it is.”

“As you wish,” Wesley agreed. He opened the door and left.

“Well,” Giles said. “I never imagined the two of you would be getting on so well.”

“Wes’s alright,” Angel responded, flipping through the pages of another volume. “He’s learned to relax a little.”

“Are you sure?” Giles asked. “I mean...we had problems with him when....”

“He’s alright,” Angel repeated. “He’s become his own man. He needed to get away from the Council and find himself. He has.”

“That’s good to hear,” Giles said. “I...I never thought he was...well, I can certainly understand. I did...well, questionable things at the Council’s behest as well.”

“Hmm.”

“What?”

“It’s nothing,” Angel said, looking up from his book. “It’s just...you’re asking...you’re asking...ME...if someone can be trusted.”

Giles smiled. “I suppose there is an element of irony in that.”

“Speaking of old friends,” Angel said. “Is...?”

“She’s fine,” Giles answered. “Quite well, actually. We’re all quite well.”

“Good,” Angel muttered. “That’s...really...good. So...everyone’s OK? The whole gang? Willow...and Xander...and...?”

“She’s still seeing him.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good. Great, actually. It’s...what I wanted.”

“You, know, Angel,” Giles said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever said this, but I think it took a great deal of maturity for you to make the choice you made.”

“I was just being practical,” Angel said. “And after two hundred plus years, I should be mature.”

“I think it was best for all concerned.”

“I suppose so. I’ve found a mission here. I needed that. It couldn’t all be about her. Anyway, it was best for her. I was standing in her way.”

“I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”

“Look, I’m sure you have better things to do than fill me in on Buffy’s social life,” Angel said. “That’s not why you came to LA. If you’ve got something else....”

“No. I mean, yes, I do, but it’s nothing terribly important. I have a brief meeting this afternoon. I had planned on returning to Sunnydale this evening, but I can stay as long as you require assistance.”

“You sure Buffy will be OK without you?”

“I...that is...I’m running late for my appointment,” Giles said, reaching for his suitcase. “I’ll return before sundown.”


Part II.

“Rupert! Come in!”

“Sir Henry,” Giles said, extending his hand to the elderly gentleman across the desk. “You look well.”

“It’s the sun,” Sir Henry said. “I may teach summer semesters in California every year. Have a seat.”

Giles sat in a chair in front of the desk as Sir Henry reached down into a drawer and grabbed a dull metal disk.

“There you go,” Sir Henry, as he tossed the disk across the desk. “The seal dates back to the Incas. It’s rumored to have binding properties. It may help you with that slime demon you mentioned.”

“Hopefully so,” Giles said, taking the disk and placing it in his jacket pocket. “Thank you. We’ve had a devil of a time trying to draw it out of the sewers. How is Lydia?”

“She’s just had a son,” Sir Henry answered. “I’m actually a great-grandfather. It seems strange. Gives one a feeling of immortality, really. Speaking of the future, have you given any thought to the other matter?”

“Some,” Giles replied. “I’m really not in a position to accept. As a courtesy, I’d be willing to....”

“Rupert,” Sir Henry said, leaning across the desk. “I could have mailed the seal, and as much as a man of my age enjoys visits from former students, I doubt you made the journey simply to see me. You’ve come here as more than a courtesy.”

“I’m afraid it can’t be much more than that,” Giles sighed. “We’ve been over this. I have responsibilities in this country.”

“Oh, Rupert, you are far too talented to be responsible for only one person, or one country for that matter. You were my most gifted student. You possess a unique combination of intelligence, resourcefulness and character. You showed that when you threw off your ties to that insipid Council, albeit ten years after I told you to. You could do great things, Rupert. I wish you’d give my offer more consideration.”

“I may no longer be connected to the Council, but I’m still quite connected to the Slayer. Her work is....”

“Her work is world renown,” Sir Henry interjected. “She has quite the reputation. She’s accomplished more than three typical Slayers, and everyone knows it. And she’s done so largely without the Council’s assistance. Poor Quentin. He’s positively beside himself.”

“Then you understand. I cannot possibly abandon her now.”

“I don’t believe you would be abandoning her. If there is one element of this Slayer’s reputation that shines above all, it is her independence. It is well known that she doesn’t take orders. It’s a new world, Rupert. She’s not a girl. She’s a woman, and an American woman at that. Meanwhile, it has been at least four years since you’ve published anything of note, and you’re sitting in my office in athletic wear.”

Giles’ jaw tensed. “I may not have the usual trappings of scholarly discipline, but I have chosen to measure myself by different standards. We get results.”

“Rupert, perhaps you can fool yourself, but you cannot fool me. I can see it in your face. I can read it in the letters you send. You are not satisfied with your current situation. I can help change that. I’m offering a tenured position. You’ll be a full professor within two years. By the time you’re fifty, you’ll be knighted. And along the way, I am convinced that your research, if done within an academic setting, will do more good through the ages than you can possibly do in one lifetime with this Slayer.”

“I believe you underestimate the importance of our work in Sunnydale,” Giles argued. “And you underestimate my role in that work.”

Giles was interrupted by a gentle knock on the office door. A young woman entered.

“Cynthia,” Sir Henry said. “Rupert Giles, this is Cynthia Smalls. She’s my teaching assistant. She’s currently working on her Master’s degree in occult history.”

“A pleasure,” Giles said.

“The pleasure’s mine,” Cynthia replied. “I read your treatise on Mayan fertility rituals. It was fascinating.”

“Thank you.”

“I have a message,” Cynthia said, holding up a pink memo slip.

“From whom?” Sir Henry asked.

“Actually,” Cynthia explained. “It’s for Mr. Giles. It’s from someone named ‘Buffy.’ I swear, that’s what she said her name was.”

“This could be important,” Giles said, rising from his chair. “I should....”

“No,” Cynthia interrupted. “She said it wasn’t serious. She said to tell you: ‘Got the sewer thing. We slimed him.’ She then insisted that I draw a smiley face.”

“Oh, yes. Thank you.”

“Sounds like the girl managed quite well on her own,” Sir Henry said, and then added, “without the seal, I mean.”

“Yes,” Giles said. “Well, I should be going. I’ve taken up quite enough of your time. It’s always a pleasure to....”

“Rupert,” Sir Henry said as Giles moved toward the door. “I need an answer before the Fall semester begins. Please consider it.”

“It’s always a pleasure to see you,” Giles finished. “And it was a pleasure meeting you, Miss Smalls. Good day.”

Giles maneuvered past Cynthia and out the door.


Part III


"I got nothing on a body hopper," the purple demon at the bar whispered, as a Hytroik demon onstage belted out the lai-la-lais from 'The Boxer.' "Mostly I just run with the scavengers down near the docks. But I know someone who might."

"Who?" Wesley asked, taking a sip of his club soda.

"Toothy guy in the corner," the demon replied. "Goes by the name Merle. It'll cost you."

"Perhaps you could arrange for an introduction?"

"No time," the demon said. "My song's next. Anyway, he's not picky about who he talks to, if you're willing to pay. Hey, if you were trying to figure out how to avoid your next larval cycle, would you sing 'My Funny Valentine' or 'Yellow Brick Road'?"

"Er...well, I suppose...."

"Ah, skip it. I can't do a falsetto anyway. Good luck."

The demon arose from his barstool and walked toward the stage. Wesley took his drink and approached the corner table.

"I believe it's ‘Merle’?" Wesley asked.

"Who wants to know?" Merle shot back, his razor teeth clenched as his eyes darted around the bar.

"I am Wesley Wyndham-Price," Wes responded, throwing one of his business cards on the table and taking a seat. "I was told you could...."

"Yeah, well, someone told you wrong, man," Merle interrupted, throwing the card back at Wesley. "Tell your boss I ain't interested."

"You know Angel?"

"Not up close, and that's the way I plan on keeping it. Everybody's heard of the vampire who thinks he's Dudley Do-Right. Word is he even had The Scourge running out of town scared. I want no part of what you're selling, pal."

"I'm not selling," Wesley said, pulling an envelope out of his jacket pocket. "I'm buying."

Wesley through the envelope on the table. Merle picked up the envelope, and flipped through the twenty dollar bills.

"You got five minutes," Merle said, shoving the envelope into his pocket.

"We seek a demon that can possess the bodies of living creatures," Wesley explained. "It moves from host to host, leaving its victim dead after it passes."

"From what I hear you, got it backwards," Merle said. "The way I heard it, this thing kills first, then hops in the corpse. It's not too picky about what it jumps into, either. Word on the street says it jumped into a R'norto demon for a couple of hours this afternoon."

"Where can we find it?"

"Most of the demons 'round town are looking to not find it. It moves quick."

"Is there any information indicating what kind of a demon it is?"

"Whatever it is, it's new in town. I've heard of hoppers, but nothing like this one."

"Anything else?"

"Keep your eyes open for smoke. I hear this thing turns into blue cloud as it moves from body to body. Gives off a creepy glow. That's all I got."

"Thank you," Wesley said, arising from the table. "If I need to contact you again...?"

"I'll be here," Merle said. "Just bring cash, and keep my name out of anything, especially anything to do with your boss."

Wesley got up, took a few steps toward the exit, and was about to leave when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned, and found himself facing a green, horned demon wearing an electric blue blazer.

"You're new," the demon said. "And human. I guess my clientele is getting broader."

"I was just leaving," Wesley said.

"Find what you were looking for?"

"Not as much as I hoped."

"That's where I come in, lambchop. That's my gig. You got a path, I set you on it."

"You're The Host," Wesley surmised. "You're anagogic."

"Ugh, I hate that word," The Host groaned. "Sounds like I have a compulsive need to arrange my sock drawer. I like to say I'm gifted. I have a gift. The gift of music. Music is about rhythm, emotion, dreams and heartbreaks. You give me the music, I give you the music back, metaphorically."

"Ah...yes. Well, best of luck with that."

“So how about a tune?”

“Me? Sing?”

“Why not? You came here looking for something.”

“I’m afraid....”

“Don’t be,” the Host said, taking a sip from his seabreeze. “Look, normally I don’t do this, but you’re new. You don’t have to go on stage. Just sing a couple of lines from your favorite song.”

Wesley considered this. He still had no idea where to find the demon. He drew a breath, and sang:

“My Funny Valentine,
Sweet, comic Valentine,
You make me smile
in my heart....”

“Well?” Wesley asked.

“Well, for starters I know that ‘My Funny Valentine’ isn’t your favorite song,” the Host replied. “Don’t be embarrassed, puddin’. We all love ‘Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.’ It’s just nobody talks about it.”

“Ahem. Perhaps I should just....”

“Your demon will be in the alley off Seacrest Street at quarter ‘til midnight,” the Host interjected. “Show up later than that, and it’ll be long gone. It’s got a hankerin’ to take a piece out of those lawyers that cooked it up, so it won’t wait around long.”

“I...how did you...?”

“Quarter til,” the Host repeated. “No later.”

“Thank you,” Wesley said, turning toward the exit.

“And Wesley?”

Wes turned to face the Host, who had spoken his name, although Wes didn’t remember saying it.

“Tell your friends they’ve never seen one of these before,” the Host continued. “But it’s nothing they haven’t seen before.”

The Host turned and walked toward the stage before Wesley could ask for an explanation.

Wesley exited the club and walked to a payphone on the street. He grabbed change out of his pocket, dropped two quarters into the slot, dialed Cordelia’s number, and waited two rings before he heard:

“Angel Investigations.”

“Angel,” Wes spoke into the receiver. “It’s me. I’ve checked a few sources.”

“Do we know what it is?”

“Not exactly,” Wesley said. “We know that it will be in an alley on Seacrest Street at exactly quarter to midnight. We have a narrow window of opportunity. I have also confirmed that the demon is connected to Wolfram and Hart. Apparently it intends to attack the firm. I couldn’t find out why.”

“Well, that fits our theory about the box,” Angel said.

“Perhaps, but if the demon is after them, why would them summon it?”

“Maybe they can’t control it. Any word on how to spot it?”

“Not when it has possessed a host body. However, as it travels between bodies, it supposedly takes the form of a luminescent blue mist.”

“Giles is here. We’ll research that angle. The sooner we know what this thing is, the sooner we’ll know how to get rid of it.”

“I’ll be back in about ten minutes,” Wesley said. “Ironic, when you think about it. We’re actually trying to protect Wolfram and Hart.”

“We’re trying to protect the people this demon kills along the way,” Angel said. “Get back here. It’s almost sundown. We don’t have a lot of time.”

Wesley thought about debating the ethics of their current mission, but then just said:

“On my way.”

Wesley hung up the receiver.

Angel hung up his own phone, and reached for one of the volumes on the table.

“Who was that?” Giles asked as he walked into the dining area.

“Wesley,” Angel responded. “He’s got a location on our demon.”

“Good,” Giles said. “Any other information?”

“Something about a blue aura,” Angel said. “I was going to start checking it out.”

“I’ll assist,” Giles said, taking a seat at the table.

“It’s strange,” Angel said. “Why would Wolfram and Hart summon a demon that would turn on them? If there’s one thing that firm’s good at, it’s maintaining control.”

“Magic can be tricky,” Giles replied. “Whenever one starts invoking dark magics, the consequences can be...did you say it was a blue aura?”

“Yeah,” Angel muttered. “It turns blue whenever it moves from....huh.”

“It appeared after a summoning spell,” Giles said, more to himself than to Angel. “It moves from body to body, almost as though it’s....”

“Unbalanced,” Angel completed. “Unfocused. And it’s energy glows....”

“Blue,” Giles gasped.

Giles and Angel turned to face each other, and exclaimed in unison:

“Thaumogenesis!”


Part IV


Wesley walked into Cordelia’s apartment and found Angel and Giles standing over an open book at the dining room table.

“A breakthrough?” Wesley asked.

“Yes,” Giles replied. “The lawyers, they didn’t summon this demon. They created it.”

“Created it?” Wesley repeated. “That’s impossible. Even Wolfram and Hart wouldn’t know how to....”

“They didn’t know,” Angel said. “It was an accident.”

“Wesley,” Giles said. “During training, do you remember Lord Albritton discussing the theory of thaumogenesis?”

“Vaguely,” Wesley replied. “Something about demons that could be created as...as a byproduct of dark magic. He really didn’t say much about it.”

“It’s rare,” Giles said. “But I’ve seen it before.”

“So have I,” Angel added. “Not for a hundred years, though. When did you see it?”

“Well...more recently than that,” Giles said. “The point is, thaumogenesis creates a new species of demon. That’s why the particular traits of this demon are incongruous with any we’ve found in our research.”

“You’ve both seen a demon created by thaumogenesis,” Wesley said. “But this demon is unlike the one’s you’ve faced previously.”

“I think that’s what I said,” Giles replied.

“No, it’s just that...anyway, how do we stop it?”

“The trick is binding it,” Angel said. “These things lack their own corporeal body. If you can trap it in one form, you can kill it.”

“This particular demon seems to need a dead body to give it a temporary host,” Giles said. “While the demons are somewhat random, they tend to follow patterns, depending on the form they take. Because they are new creations, they tend to lack an element they require for continued existence.”

“Like a prototype,” Wesley observed.

“Precisely,” Giles said. “And if you understand the flaws in the creation, it can give you an advantage when trying to defeat it.”

“Here,” Angel said, gesturing toward the open book. “There’s a case of thaumogenesis recorded in Scotland, around 1600. The demon created possessed its victims, and once it was in the body, it began consuming as much meat as it could get its hands on. It turned out it was created with a protein deficiency. The clerics lured it with slaughtered cattle. Huh. That would have been useful to know.”

“And it works both ways,” Giles said. “The demons I faced needed heat. They were attracted to a furnace. They could be repelled by cold, such as the carbon dioxide found in a fire extinguisher.”

“And this demon is attracted to the dead,” Wesley said. “What can we use as bait?”

“Me,” Angel stated.

Giles and Wesley turned toward Angel.

“Giles,” Angel continued. “Remember that demon that came after you and Ethan Rayne? It hopped into me. My inner demons gave it a good beating, and problem solved.”

“Angel, we don’t know that such a plan would work under these circumstances,” Wesley argued. “This creature’s definition of ‘the dead’ may not include vampires. You may not have a metabolism, but you are certainly animated.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Angel said. “The last one, it didn’t jump to me right away either. But we forced it to jump, and I was the closest alternative.”

“We could try a binding spell,” Giles said. “See if we can trap it in the body of whatever victim we happen to find it in. Of course, that may prove problematic, at best. If the host body is already dead, binding it to that host would put us in the unusual position of trying to kill something which is dead to start with. It could wind up virtually immortal.”

“So we go with my plan,” Angel said.

“It would certainly make the demon vulnerable,” Giles said. “If it cannot be killed physically, perhaps engaging it at a spiritual level is the answer. It certainly worked before.”

“There are other options,” Wesley said. “We haven’t explored all of....”

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Angel said. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

“And what if this demon is stronger than the last one?” Wesley argued. “It could destroy your soul and wind up in possession of your body!”

“Then I suggest you bring along a couple of stakes,” Angel said. “Dust is pretty harmless. I mean, don’t inhale for awhile after....”

“This isn’t funny! Giles, reason with him. This plan is foolish.”

“It seems sound to me,” Giles said. “And we are running out of time. You’re the one who said we may not get another chance. What if we cannot formulate another plan before the demon has moved to another location?”

“Then we’ll find it again,” Wesley said, a hint of anger in his voice. “Hell, I’ll sing about the bloody bikini if that’s what it takes.”

Giles and Angel exchanged confused glances.

“The point is that the risk may outweigh the benefit,” Wesley continued. “If we research further....”

“Fine,” Angel said. “We check out other possibilities. But if nothing comes up, we take it on tonight.”

“It seems reasonable, Wesley,” Giles said.

Wesley drew a long breath, then said:

“Very well. I’ll continue my research at my apartment. I’ll need some books from there, and some from here.”

“We meet back here at eleven,” Angel said, as Wesley grabbed an armload of books.

“Agreed,” Wesley replied. “I need the Reynolds book.”

“It’s here,” Giles said, grabbing the book and handing it to Wesley.

“Fine,” Wesley said. “Giles, if you wouldn’t mind, could you take the first three volumes of the Blair compendium and carry them to my motorcycle.”

Giles grabbed the three tomes and followed Wesley out of the apartment.

“There’s a storage compartment under the seat,” Wesley said as they approached his motorcycle.

“Wesley,” Giles said. “Is this form of transportation really practical? I’m only asking because I’ve been looking for....”

“Rupert,” Wesley said. “While I’m gone, I wish you’d consider asking Angel to rethink this course of action.”

“I don’t know why,” Giles said. “Based on what we know of this demon, it would seem....”

“The risk is too high,” Wesley interrupted.

“I’ll grant you that Angel is putting his safety at risk. However, there’s nothing new about that. We all risk our lives every time we....”

“Our lives. Not our souls. You know the delicate balance Angel must maintain, given his, well, condition.”

“I am all too familiar with that, yes.”

“Then you can certainly see that allowing a demon to possess Angel is beyond risky. It’s insane.”

“Wesley, you’re over reacting. I’ve seen Angel under similar circumstances, and there was no ill effect.”

“That time! We’re dealing with unknown forces....”

“...and with no alternative. Wesley, if we discover a better way, we can consider it. But we cannot allow this demon to go on killing people if there’s a chance we can stop it.”

Wesley considered this, then climbed on his motorcycle, and said:

“Fine, I’ll return at eleven.”

“Wesley, it’s not that I don’t recognize the....”

The roar of Wesley’s engine interrupted Giles as Wesley started his motorcycle, and sped away.


Part V


Angel applied the brakes as his car approached the alley. He and Giles got out of the car. Giles carried an axe, while Angel was armed with a broadsword.

“You see any sign of this demon?” Angel asked.

“No,” Giles replied. “Should we wait for Wesley?”

“No time,” Angel said. “He’ll show up as soon as he’s finished checking the street for bystanders. If he gets back in time, great, but we can’t wait for him. Do you have the binding spell?”

“Yes,” Giles said, as the pair walked into the alley.

“You know the drill,” Angel said. “We fight this thing until it’s ready to jump, and if all goes well, it’ll be destroyed once it gets inside me. If it takes control, do the binding spell, and....well, you know.”

“I doubt it will come to that,” Giles said.

“Always the optimist. Look, Giles, don’t hesitate to....ugh!”

Giles took a step back as he saw Angel fall to the ground in the clutches of a grey demon. Giles recognized the demon as a Gydorith. He quickly did a mental rundown of the characteristics of a Gydorith demon. Strong. Very fast. Sharp claws. When he got to the demon’s keen sense of hearing, Giles realized that he was overanalyzing the situation and brought the hilt of his axe down on the demon’s back.

The demon released Angel and sprang to its feet. Giles noticed a gaping wound at the center of its chest. Nothing about the physiology of a Gydorith made it invulnerable to a chest wound, so Giles surmised that they had found the body possessed by the thaumogenesis demon.

Giles sprang backward, narrowly avoiding a slash from the demon’s claw. Giles swung his axe at Gydorith, but the demon grabbed the handle of the axe and tore it from Giles grasp. Giles backed away from the approaching demon.

The demon crouched, ready to spring, but by this time Angel was on his feet, and sliced into the demon’s shoulder before it could attack. The demon retreated into a corner of the alley, clutching the wound on its arm.

“Keep it up,” Angel instructed. “A few more like that and....”

Angel was interrupted by a gust of air and a shimmering light that appeared behind the Gydorith. Angel and Giles took a step back as the light disappeared, leaving a large, man-shaped form behind.

The Gydorith howled as the form reached out its arms and began choking it. In the moonlight, Giles and Angel could see that the new demon had vaguely reptilian features. The two demons fell to the ground, locked in struggle.

“Well,” Giles said. “This is...unexpected.”

“Where did it come from?” Angel asked.

“It appeared to teleport,” Giles said.

“Alright,” Angel said. “I give up. Which one do we kill?”

The sound of cracking bone filled the night as the Gydorith twisted the lizard demon’s head, snapping its neck.

“Well,” Giles said. “That simplified things.”

The Gydorith rose from the ground, its body writhing in pain as a pale blue mist seeped from its skin and crept into the body of the lizard demon. The body of the Gydorith fell to the ground as the lizard demon began to climb to its feet.

“Perhaps not so simple,” Giles sighed, lifting his axe.

“Same plan,” Angel commanded. “We take this thing down and....”

The lizard demon shrieked in pain, its body twisting and trembling. An explosion of blue light sprang from its eyes, and the body of the lizard demon went limp.

Angel approached the lizard demon’s corpse. Angel prodded the body with his sword, but there was no reaction.

Giles and Angel turned as the sound of footsteps echoed through the alley. Wesley ran to the two men.

“I came as soon as I could,” Wesley panted. “There was a group of tourists walking down the street, and it took me awhile to convince them to leave the area. What happened?”

“This...thing,” Giles said, gesturing toward the corpse. “It appeared from nowhere. The thaumogenesis demon possessed it, but something happened. It just...died.”

“Perhaps the demon’s physical makeup was somehow incompatible,” Wesley theorized. “Did the blue mist appear?”

“Into the demon, yes,” Giles replied. “From it, no. It appears to have been destroyed.”

“Well, then,” Wesley said. “It seems that our problems are over.”

“I don’t understand where it came from,” Giles said. “It was just...there.”

“The thaumogenesis demon was created by a summoning,” Wesley said. “Perhaps its presence causes dimensional rifts to open.”

“Possible,” Giles said. “Angel, perhaps we should...Angel?”

Angel stood at the end of the alley and looked at a tall office building across the street. Giles squinted through his glasses, and read the sign at the front of the building:

Wolfram & Hart

“It got close,” Angel muttered. “You think they’ll thank us?”


Epilogue


“Angel’s pulling the car around,” Giles said. “We’ll put the bodies in the trunk and dispose of them.”

“There’s an incinerator we use,” Wesley replied. “We can stop on our way back to Cordelia’s apartment.”

“I’ve had a chance to examine the reptile demon,” Giles said. “I think I recognize it. I believe it’s a ‘Voynok’ demon.”

“Voynok,” Wesley repeated.

“Yes,” Giles said. “Fascinating creatures. They inhabit a hell dimension. Interesting thing about Voynok, they actually have nine lives.”

“How’s that?”

“Exactly as it sounds. They can be killed nine times before their restorative powers expire.”

“Hmmm...interesting.”

“That may be why the thaumogenesis demon was undone. You remember, they’re drawn to what they need, but they’re harmed by the opposite. The demon needed a corpse, it possessed the dead body of the Voynok, and then when the Voynok’s life was restored, the thaumogenesis demon found itself trapped in a living creature, and was destroyed.”

“That would explain it,” Wesley agreed.

“Astounding creatures, the Voynok,” Giles said. “I read a treatise on them a few years back. Outstanding piece of research.”

“You must lend it to me sometime,” Wesley said.

“I don’t think that would be necessary,” Giles said. “After all, you wrote it.”

Wesley drew a breath.

“One of your better studies,” Giles continued. “Especially the analysis on the summoning spells researched by Dr. Reynolds. It was the Reynolds book you took with you when you left the apartment this evening?”

“Giles,” Wesley said. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t....”

“You summoned that thing!” Giles hissed. “Without warning or consulting us, you summoned a demon who’s powers...!”

“...made it ideal for destroying the thaumogenesis demon,” Wesley completed. “And it worked.”

“At what risk? Dammit, man, we’re supposed to destroy demons, not summon them!”

“A calculated risk. No more risk than putting the demon in Angel.”

“The risk was Angel’s to accept!”

“Oh, was it? And all the people Angelus killed? Was it their risk to accept?”

“That’s hardly any excuse to go behind our backs and summon a demon!”

“Listen! If you think I would stand idly by and watch another....”

Wesley’s voice trailed off. He turned his eyes from Giles’ piercing gaze.

“Another what?” Giles asked.

“It’s done,” Wesley said. “Angel will be here any moment to....”

“Another Faith? Is that it?”

“I’m not discussing this.”

“Is that what you’re doing? Watching Angel, making sure he doesn’t...?”

“Giles,” Wesley said grimly, “go back to Sunnydale. This is not your concern.”

“You can’t blame yourself for Faith’s choices.”

“No, I blame Faith for Faith’s choices. Trust me, after several hours of Faith’s violent attentions, I have no difficulty attributing every unsavory element of Faith’s character to Faith herself. Angel is his own man. It’s his path to choose.”

Wesley glanced down at the corpses of the two demons on the ground, and then added:

“But I’ll be damned if he’ll pick the wrong one while I’m here.”

“Wesley,” Giles said. “I understand your concerns, but you cannot take responsibility for someone else’s destiny. If you isolate yourself, and start arbitrarily deciding what’s best for everyone, you’re eventually going to make a decision that you cannot unmake.”

Before Wesley could answer, the headlights of Angel’s car illuminated the alley. The car slowly approached until it was a few feet from the corpses. Angel cut the engine and exited the car.

“I didn’t see any cops,” Angel said, walking to the rear of the car. He opened the trunk.

“Better get these things out of here,” Angel said. “That is, unless you think we should study them, see where the lizard thing came from?”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Wesley said, turning to Giles. “Would you agree?”

Giles drew a breath, softly kicked the corpse of the Gydorith, and said:

“Yes. Nothing to research. Perhaps we should just consider ourselves lucky that everything ended well.”

“Fine,” Angel said. “We’ll start with the scaly one. Someone grab the legs.”

Giles watched as Wesley and Angel lifted the bodies into the trunk. On the way to the incinerator, Angel and Wesley discussed their plans to research the demon summoned by Wolfram and Hart, as Giles stared out the window in silence.


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Half a League Onward

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Halfrek grants a wish that creates a demon even she cannot control, and only Xander can help her stop it. Set approximately four weeks prior to the “Lessons” episode of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Spoilers: General up through Season 7 of BtVS
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer” characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title, and lines quoted, are from the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Lines in Part III are from Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark.”
A/N: Big ‘thank yous’ to Estepheia and Abbylee for their input, and to SpikesKitten for the French transations in the prologue.

Read This Fic »

Prologue


“They’re building it WHERE?!?”

“Buffy, calm down,” Xander said, checking over his shoulder to see if any of the other patrons of the Bronze were staring at Buffy’s outburst. “It’ll be fine.”

“Fine,” Buffy repeated tersely. “Fine. Oh, sure, because it turned out just fine the last time. Are they completely insane?”

“That’s what Janice’s mom said,” Dawn chimed in, taking a sip from her soda.

“How did she know?” Buffy asked.

“She’s lived here forever,” Dawn replied. “She went there when she was my age. Last month, the alumni association started hitting up people for money to cover the costs.”

“Great,” Buffy muttered. “Just wonderful. I’m the Slayer. The Chosen One. I stand alone against the forces of evil and darkness, and I’m the only one who didn’t know that the city was rebuilding the high school.”

“Well, they’ve had a crew out there for six months,” Xander said.

“I thought they were tearing it down for good,” Buffy said. “Knocking down the walls. Razing the foundation. Salting the earth.”

“They didn’t want to raise a fuss,” Xander said. “A lot of people are still sensitive about it, with the whole graduation thing still fresh in everyone’s mind.”

“Perfect,” Buffy sighed. “I guess it’s a good thing I’m not working at the Doublemeat anymore, because it’s back to Hellmouthy duty for Buffy, thanks to those stupid contractors you work for.”

“Alright, look,” Xander said. “I’ll admit that it was my company that said the old site was the only feasible place to build the structure. But we’re not the only ones who wanted this. The teachers at County High threatened to go on strike if something wasn’t done about the overcrowding. Plus, there isn’t enough money in the city budget to buy another piece of land big enough for a high school. There weren’t a whole lot of options.

“Rebuilding a school that’s killed more teenagers than Wes Craven. Great option.”

“Everything will be fine,” Xander argued. “Our company prides itself on safety and workmanship. We have a twenty-nine year history of providing the citizens of Sunnydale with unparalleled service. No building gets our approval without meeting the high standards that have made our company the most respected contractors in California! If we say it’s safe, it’s safe. Period.”

“They gave you a raise, didn’t they?”

“Thirty percent, plus a promotion, but that’s not the point.”

“Great,” Dawn said. “You get a big new car, and I get to risk my life every day to go to school. Not to mention a school where I don’t know anybody. Stupid zoning.”

“What about Janice?” Xander asked.

“She’s going to St. Catherine’s Girls’ School,” Dawn explained. “Her mom said something about how, when she went to school, everyone in her glee club had an ‘accident.’ She said there’s no way her daughter is ever going to Sunnydale High.”

Buffy’s face fell.

“Um, but, she probably was just exaggerating,” Dawn quickly added. “I’m sure it really was an accident. I mean, OK, it’s weird when fourteen kids all wind up decapitated. In their bedrooms. Over a two week period. But that doesn’t mean....”

“Dawn,” Buffy said. “You know that if there was any way I could pay for....”

“I don’t want that,” Dawn interrupted. “We agreed you’ll stop sheltering me. I want to be there if something’s gonna happen that....”

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Xander said. “And I’ll be there for the next year while they’re finishing up the campus, so if anything happens, we’re on it.”

“Look, we can talk about this when we get back,” Buffy said, throwing her purse over her shoulder. She reached into the front pocket, pulled out a ten dollar bill, and threw the money on the table. “Dawn, make sure the waitress gets that, and I’ll pull the car around.”

“Gotcha,” Dawn said, as Buffy stood up and trotted toward the exit.

“You’re getting a late start,” Xander said.

“Yeah,” Dawn agreed. “We won’t get to Dad’s until ten. Buffy made some excuse about needing to do some stuff before we left, but I think she was just trying to get out of having dinner there.”

“You’re dad’s not the best cook in the world?”

“He’s not doing the cooking. The girlfriend is.”

“Ah, so Buffy still isn’t cool with your dad and the whole dating thing?”

“She says she is,” Dawn replied. “But she doesn’t get along with the girlfriend. Well, they get along, but you can tell there’s a whole ‘you’re-boning-my-dad-and-I-hate-you’ vibe.”

“O.K., first, I’m really not ready to hear you talk about ‘boning.’ Second, hasn’t Buffy had time to get used to it?”

“Well, she might be better about it if she wasn’t his secretary.”

“What, Buffy’s suddenly obsessed with workplace decorum?”

“No, it’s just...well, she’s been Dad’s secretary for the last ten years.”

“The same one he went to Europe with? I mean, is that it? Does she blame her for your dad not being around when your mom died?”

“Not exactly,” Dawn said. “I mean, it’s just...well, Dad kept it a secret for awhile.”

“Well, that’s natural. He probably didn’t know how you and Buffy would handle him dating.”

“That’s what I figured,” Dawn said. “But, with the secretiveness, and the fact that they’ve known each other so long, and, well...Dad used to work late a lot, so....”

“So Buffy wonders if maybe things got started before the divorce,” Xander concluded.

“She’s never said anything,” Dawn said. “But mom used to hint that...well...yeah, I guess so.”

“And you think...?”

Dawn shrugged.

“Well, I don’t pretend to be an expert on good parent relationships,” Xander said, “but I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“Yeah. Look, I’ve gotta run.”

“OK, safe trip.”

“Slayer reflexes behind the wheel. We’ll get there. Bye.”

Xander watched as Dawn headed for the exit. He took a sip from his beer, then looked around the club. No one he knew was there. With Buffy and Dawn away, Giles and Willow in England, and Spike hopefully at the bottom of a deep hole filled with holy water, there really wasn’t anyone left in town that he knew.

Then Xander looked toward the stairway leading down from the balcony, and realized that there was one person he had forgotten.

Anya and a young woman descended the stairs. The girl bit her bottom lip, whimpering. Anya had a reassuring hand on the girl’s shoulder.

Xander grabbed his beer and walked around to sit at the bar, choosing a seat that would keep him from being seen as Anya walked by. He didn’t really want a confrontation. ‘Besides,’ he thought, ‘she doesn’t bother me while I’M working.’

Xander waived his empty beer bottle toward the bartender, who nodded in response. Xander absently looked to his left, and saw a man with a thin, dark mustache grasping a glass of red wine. A full ashtray sat in front of him. He wore a tight red and white striped shirt and a...beret?

“Um, interesting look, pal,” Xander said. “Very...um...continental.”

“Je ne peux pas croire qu'elle a fait ceci à moi,” the man muttered into his wine glass, apparently oblivious to Xander’s attempt at conversation. “J'étais seulement infidèle une fois dans huit années de mariage, et ceci arrive?”

“Uh, right,” Xander replied. “Um, are you a tourist? Because, I gotta tell you, Sunnydale isn’t exactly the best place for....”

“Chaque gars commet erreurs,” he continued, his voice rising in frustration. “Maintenant je suis grossier, et je garde oublier de se baigner.”

“Well, I can tell you don’t really want to talk, so I’ll just....”

“Je ne peux pas prendre ceci! Je rentre chez moi, et essayer raser cette moustache stupide!”

The man hopped off the barstool and left.

“Well, I guess it takes all kinds,” Xander said to himself.

“That guy’s been coming in here every night for the past two weeks,” the bartender said, setting a full beer in front of Xander. “First couple of nights he’s in here with some young chick. Then, outta nowhere, he starts in with the Pepe LePew routine.”

“Well, I think he’s taking it a bit far,” Xander said.
“Was it me, or did that guy have the worst body odor in the world?”

From behind him, Xander heard a female voice say:

“He would have smelled a lot worse by now, if it wasn’t for you.”

Xander spun around on his barstool.

“Um...Halfrek, right?” Xander asked.

“Pity,” Hallie continued. “Just a pity. Do you see what she’s been reduced to?”

“She,” Xander repeated. “OK, if you’re telling me that was a woman, I’ll have to agree with you that she’s not in good shape. I mean, I had an aunt who had a facial hair problem, but nothing like....”

“He’s cursed, you idiot,” Hallie snorted. “Anya cursed him. Well, if you want to call it that. Puh-lease. I’ve seen better frogs on Sesame Street.”

“Alright,” Xander said. “So, if I’m following you, Anya hasn’t been exactly been putting the ‘v’ in vengeance. You know what? Good! Hooray for my not-killing-people ex!”

“Typical,” Halfrek said, shaking her head. “Just typical. After what you did, I’d think you’d want her to move on. But noooo! You’re just wrapped up so much in your issues....”

“Wrapped up in the ‘not-wanting-people-dead’ issues? Yeah, I’m funny that way. Look, I’m sorry that I hurt Anya. I’m even more sorry that it drove her back to...whatever the Hell you want to call it. I’m NOT sorry that it hasn’t set in. And you know what? I don’t think it will. I know Anya. She....”

“You knew her three years,” Hallie interjected. “I’ve known her from before Roosevelt was president. Teddy, not Franklin. You can’t imagine how....”

“And I don’t want to. You want to hate me? Fine. Find someone to make a vengeance wish against me. You’ll find plenty of takers. Until you do, let’s just agree that you don’t like me, and I don’t like you. So unless there’s something you want....”

“Of course there’s something I want!” Hallie exclaimed. “Do you think I just walked over here to tell you what a jerk you are?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Well...not this time. I...look, I....”

“Spit it out,” Xander said. “I’ve got to get to work early tomorrow, so I don’t have all night to wait for you to....”

“Dammit! I’m here because...because...I need your help.”


Part I


“Explain to me why I’m doing this again?”

“Because we have a common interest,” Hallie said, sitting in the passenger seat as Xander drove to the site of the old high school. “I need to stop a demon. You want to stop all demons. Therefore....”

“See, that’s what I don’t get,” Xander said, briefly glancing away from the road at Halfrek. “You’re a demon. You summon other demons for vengeance. It’s what you do. You brag about it. If it were socially acceptable, you’d walk around wearing a ‘I-heart-demon-carnage’ tee shirt. So, before I stick my neck out to help you, explain.”

“I...I got a little carried away,” Hallie said. “There was this boy, about six years old, he lived with his mother, his stepfather, and stepbrother. The stepbrother’s about four years older, and he treated the kid just horribly. Beat him up, broke his toys on purpose, just plain mean. The stepfather took the older boy’s side, and the mother just kept her mouth shut.”

“So you, Ms. Child Vengeance Two Thousand Two, decided to step in?”

“Last week I moved into the house next door,” Hallie explained. “This morning I was standing at the fence while the poor soul just cried his eyes out. Finally, he said, ‘I wish my mother could see what a monster my stepbrother is.’ And that was after just one visit. Normally it takes me....”

“My God! What did you do?”

“I turned the little bully into a T’Goro demon. He came home from school, four feet five inches of spikes and scales, and ate daddy’s liver. Mommy got her hand torn off. Clean off.”

“Oh, Jesus!”

“Yeah, everything was going fine. Then, I found out....”

“Wait a minute,” Xander said. “You’re telling me that...ugh, you’re unbelievable.”

“As I was saying,” Hallie continued. “Later, I find out that T’Goro demons have this...thing. They’re drawn to kids. For food. They can sense youthful energy. Last I saw, it was running into the ruins of that high school Anya said she got stuck at. You know, the one on the Hellmouth? I guess the residual adolescent aura, along with the mystic energy, probably drew it in. I deliver vengeance for children. I don’t let them get hurt. I figure I have to stop this thing before it finds any victims. You’re the only other person I know who has any idea how to get around the place, so I figured you’d be the one to help.”

“Why don’t you just reverse the wish? Like you did when you got trapped in the house with us?”

“I can’t. No more than one reversal per year. Those are the rules. Of course, if I wait until Buffy’s next birthday....”

“Halfrek! If we don’t catch that thing...!”

“Why do you think I came to you? For the conversation?”

Xander let out a disgusted sigh.

“Fine,” Xander said. “You want to stop your killing machine from hurting someone, outside of your own warped sense of morality? Whatever. So why me? Anya went to school there, and she’s got demony strength. Why not ask her?”

“I...I...don’t want her to know things went...wrong.”

“Afraid she’ll tell your supervisor?”

“No, it’s just...we’ve always been...competitive.”

“Right,” Xander said. “I guess it’s a ‘murderer’s pride’ sort of thing.”

“It’s just, w-w-well,” Hallie stammered. “She’s always been D’Hoffryn’s pet. She’s one of the oldest demons. She certainly was one of the most brutal, until you came along. I’ve only been at this about a hundred years, and, well, we sort of became rivals. It kind of came to a head back at the turn of the century.”

“What, did you both show up to a party wearing the same bustle?”

“Well, if you must know, we made a bet.”

“What kind of a bet?”

“There was this old guy,” Hallie said. “Back in jolly old England. I was from there, originally, so I kind of claimed it as my turf. We all had our little realms. Except for Anya, of course. Little Miss Vengeance couldn’t be tied down to one continent.”

“So, what? A battle to the death erupted over a buttered scone?”

“This old guy, he was a war hero,” Hallie explained. “Knighted. Decorated. Respected and loved by everyone. And he was dying, so the papers were just gushing with what a great chap he was. Well, as it turns out, he was a louse. His whole family hated him. He cheated on his wife. Beat his kids. The family would be broke after he died, because they’d lose his military pension, and the old bastard had spent all his money on booze and whores.”

“And that’s where you came in?”

“That’s where WE came in,” Hallie corrected. “I heard about the whole thing, and went to a party I’d heard his son was going to. Sweet boy, he’d brought his mother along. Well, I show up, and guess who’s in the corner chatting them up?”

“Anya?”

“Right,” Hallie confirmed. “By the time I get there, she’s got the wife spilling her guts.”

“What!?”

“Figuratively. Anyway, I walk over. Both her and the son are just talking a blue streak. Finally, an aunt says, ‘It must be horrible for you, with everyone saying what a smashing fellow he is. Too bad he can’t lose some of that respectability.’ Well, the mother and the son both say, in unison, ‘I wish!’ Both of them!”

“So, with the wronged wife AND the abused child making the wish, both you and Anya figured you were entitled to the vengeance?”

“Exactly. We got into a huge argument. Finally, D’Hoffryn intervened, and said we should turn it into a game. We would BOTH deliver vengeance, and he would declare the winner, based on the best curse. I was eager to show up Anya, so I agreed. She got all cocky, and said I could go first.”

“So what happened?”

“I turned him into a J’Korta demon,” Hallie said, a smirk of self-satisfaction crossing her face. “They’re all slime and boils. No one could even look at him. The doctors didn’t know what to make of it, so they decided it was some form of syphilis. He was completely disgraced!”

“Sounds...good. I guess.”

“That’s what I thought,” Hallie grunted. “That is, until your ex decided to cheat!”

“How did she cheat?”

“Well, D’Hoffryn said it wasn’t cheating, just...creative.”

“Well?”

“She folded time!” Hallie spat. “She went back to a battle in the Crimean War, when the guy got awarded his first military decoration. She made a silly little alteration to some memo the guy was supposed to deliver to a field officer, and a brigade ended up attacking the wrong guns. They got slaughtered. He had to resign in disgrace. It altered the whole timeline. My curse never even happened!”

“Poor baby.”

“I still don’t see what was so special about Anya’s curse,” Hallie muttered. “The only reason D’Hoffryn declared her the winner was because the battle inspired some stupid poem. ‘Their’s not to make reply/Their’s not to reason why/Their’s but to do and die.’ Bah! It’s not even good grammar! It’s practically a nursery rhyme!”

“Hey, where have I heard...? Wait a minute. Are you...are you saying that Anya caused the Charge of the Light Brigade!?”

“You know the poem?”

“I saw the movie,” Xander admitted.

“Oh, yes,” Hallie sighed. “The movie. Two movies, actually. And pages in every junior high English lit book in the world. Unbelievable.”

“Over two hundred people died for nothing!”

“Rub it in, why don’t you? Anyway, after that, I moped for a couple of months, but then I figured I could learn a few things from Anya. She took me under her wing, and within a decade, we were practically sisters.”

“But the sibling rivalry continues?”

“A little,” Hallie admitted. “That’s why I need you.”

“I don’t believe I’m doing this,” Xander said, pulling up to the curb in front of the high school.

“It looks...different,” Hallie observed as she exited the car.

“It’s under construction,” Xander said, climbing out and slamming the door. “Guess what? The school? Not going to be abandoned come September. If we don’t get this thing, about eight hundred people...excuse me, eight hundred CHILDREN, are going to be demon munchies. And you know what? It will be all your fault. Think about that the next time you work your mojo.”

Hallie scowled. “I didn’t ask you along for a lecture.”

“No you asked me along for help. The lecture...well, that’s just my way of saying YOU SUCK! Now sit tight, I’ve got to get something out of the construction office.”

“What?”

“It’s your lucky day,” Xander growled. “You’re looking at the new contracting supervisor for the science building. I know where all the blueprints are, and I’ve got a key to the cabinet. Maybe if your luck holds out, you can go to sleep tonight knowing that you only ALMOST killed dozens of kids before their first kiss!”

Xander stormed off toward a trailer across the lawn.

Hallie watched as Xander disappeared into the night. She tapped her foot in disgust. What could Anya have seen in such an arrogant, self-righteous boor? So what if...perhaps...the self-righteous boor might have been, well, a little...right.

“He has spirit, for a human.”

Halfrek gasped. She recognized the voice that came from over her shoulder. She turned, and exclaimed:

“D’Hoffryn! Oh, my! You startled me!”

“I do that,” D’Hoffryn replied. “It’s what I’m good at.”

“Oh, of course you are. Silly me! I just meant that....”

“Halfrek,” D’Hoffryn interrupted. “I do not have time for games. Are you certain the human will assist you?”

“Oh, yes! He bought every word, the idiot. I’ve been doing this for a century. Like I’d really summon a demon that kills children.”

“You’ll wish you had,” D’Hoffryn warned. “You summoned a demon that is drawn to mystical convergences. If this demon uncovers the....”

“It won’t. I swear. I had no idea that....”

“You may want to reconsider undoing your wish, Halfrek.”

“You’d...you’d...waive the punishment?”

“Oh, no! Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve already reversed one wish this year, Halfrek. Silly girl, getting stuck in your own entrapment spell. No, I’m afraid the rules are the rules. Your last reversal resulted in a six month restriction on teleportation. A slap on the wrist. This time, I’m afraid I’d have to make an example of you.”

Halfrek swallowed.

“Only one is dead,” Hallie said, trying to keep the panic from her voice. “And I wouldn’t even be bringing him back. Just changing the monster back to a boy. Surely that...that wouldn’t....”

“Oh, I wouldn’t kill you,” D’Hoffryn said, waiving a dismissive hand. “No, no, no. Torture, perhaps. Loss of a limb might be in order. I might even take your amulet, and let you age until you rot. But nothing as drastic as killing.”

Halfrek shuddered in spite of herself.

“However,” D’Hoffryn continued, “whatever I might do would certainly be preferable to what would befall you if...it...is disturbed. This demon you summoned will seek it out. Uncover it. Darker force are coming, Halfrek. All of humanity will suffer. And when humanity is done suffering, there will still be more suffering for those who offend what is coming. Halfrek, I cannot protect you. There is no protection.”

“If you could just tell me....”

“I have no intention of speaking of...it. I will be quite happy if it comes and never knows of me.”

“You’re...scared?”

“As you should be, Halfrek. Stop this demon. Either with the help of this human, or with your own powers, stop it.”

At that, D’Hoffryn disappeared into mist.

Hallie’s hand went to her mouth as she forced herself to stop trembling, knowing that Xander would return soon.


Part II


“Take these,” Xander said, handing Halfrek a flashlight and a small radio as they walked into the building, then reaching down to pick up the axe he had taken from the equipment shed. “The radio has a range of two miles, so we can stay in contact if we need to split up.”

“With a monster here?” Hallie exclaimed. “Why would we split up?”

“I know. Dumb move. But somehow, it always seems to happen.”

Xander turned on the flashlight, and passed the beam over the walls. Half of the hallway was charred and rotting. Farther down, new drywall reflected in the light. Xander gestured for Halfrek to follow.

“Stick close,” Xander said.

“Excuse me,” Halfrek replied. “I’m the one with super strength and near immortality, Mister Man. Maybe you should stick close to me.”

“And maybe I should stick close to my apartment if your demon powers are enough to take this thing?”

“Whatever,” Hallie snorted.

“Let’s see,” Xander said, pulling a piece of paper from his jacket pocket and unfolding it. “According to this, they’re still working on the area that used to be the library. The floor’s all torn up, so we should probably head for the basement.”

“Why?”

“If the demon’s drawn to the Hellmouth, that’s the closest it can get with everything the way it is now.”

Xander looked up, got his bearings, and pointed toward a doorway. The black embers that used to be the door were scattered on the ground. Xander used his flashlight to check out the stairway, which looked structurally sound. He descended the stairs, with Hallie close behind.

“Alright,” Xander said, shining his light around the basement. “That way used to be the boiler. The other end was used for storage. According to the map, they both loop around to the book depository. That would be as close as you could get to the Hellmouth. We’ll go this way.”

“You’re the expert,” Hallie said. The two of them proceeded into the darkness of the basement.

“Watch out for crispy snake innards,” Xander said. “They’re everywhere.”

“This place is filthy,” Hallie complained. “And the smell is terrible.”

“Yeah, well, gettin’ blowed up will do that. It is creepy, though. This place makes my skin tingle. I can’t wait to get out of here.”

“Don’t you dare even think of leaving me here!”

“I said I’d do this, and I’ll do it!”

“Well, you’re not wearing a tuxedo, and we’re nowhere near an altar, so maybe you’ll come through.”

“Don’t start,” Xander warned.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to make you feel guilty about the horrible, unforgivable thing you did.”

“You know, I’ve just about had it,” Xander said, coming to a halt and shining his flashlight at Hallie. “I’m here to clean up your mess, so the last thing I need is for you to get on my case. If I wanted that, I’d visit my parents.”

“Really?” Hallie said.

“Oh, yeah,” Xander muttered. “That’s all I hear from them, what with the bar bill and the hall rental and how it all went to waste. God, they’re the last ones who...look, just drop it.”

“The last ones who what?” Hallie asked.

“Look, if you must know, if it wasn’t for my parents, none of it would have happened. God, everything was going great. Yeah, a demon guy came along who had an evil plan, but that’s to be expected. But for one day my folks could have put a cork in the endless yelling and fighting and....”

Xander’s voice trailed off.

“I guess it wasn’t just the stress of the wedding day, was it?” Hallie asked. “I mean, they always disagreed? When you were growing up?”

“Disagreed isn’t the word. He-Man and Skeletor disagreed. My folks really went at it.”

“It must have been hard, living in that house when you were young? I mean, do you think that made it difficult for you to have relationships?”

“Maybe. I mean, I know it sounds like a cop out, but...yeah, I guess.”

“That’s a shame,” Hallie sighed. “Isn’t it too bad that they can’t see the destructive effects of their behavior?”

“I doubt they’re going to change after all these years.”

“Yes, but still,” Hallie continued. “Don’t you sometimes want to...oh, I don’t know, maybe see something happen that...?”

“Wait a minute,” Xander said, glaring at Hallie. “What are you doing?”

“Doing? Why, nothing! I was just thinking that....”

“You’re trying to get me to make a wish, aren’t you?!”

“No! Don’t be silly. Of course not. Unless, of course, there was something....”

“Oh, for the love of Pete! I came down here to help you!”

“I know! I figured that...well, since you were doing me a favor....”

“Hallie, getting me to make a wish that turns my parents into ants or cheese or whatever, that isn’t doing me a favor!”

“Don’t get angry at me. I don’t do anything unless someone wishes for it.”

“That’s not the point,” Xander argued. “You go too far.”

“You know what I think? I think you feel guilty about what you did to Anya, and you’re just not comfortable with the idea that there are consequences to stupidity.”

“That has nothing to do with turning ten year olds into demons because they’re not perfect!”

“Oh, there’s a wonderful way of putting it,” Hallie said, rolling her eyes. “The excuse of the millennium. ‘Oh, I’m not bad! Sure, I cause pain and suffering and I have a grand old time doing it, but I’m not bad! I mean, I’m not peeerrrfect, but I’m not baaaad!’ What a load. You screwed up, Xander. You really hurt Anya, and you should pay for it. And if it wasn’t for that stupid rule that says vengeance demons can’t grant each other’s wishes, I’d have done it myself. Now, some people screwed up with you, and I’m perfectly willing to grant your wish. It’s justice, pure and simple. You may not have the stomach for real justice, but the fact is the world’s a better place for it.”

Xander clenched his teeth, the simmering anger inside him ready to reach the boiling point. Finally, he said:

“Fine, you want to grant me a wish? Correct an injustice? Here you go: Larry.”

“Larry?”

“Yeah, a guy I went to school with. Back in grade school he’d beat me up for my lunch money. Thing is, I brown bagged it. By the time we got to high school, Larry had shifted his focus, and concentrated on women. Leering, grabbing, the whole nine. He was a real piece of work. A vengeance demon’s dream.”

“So, what?” Hallie asked. “You want me to turn him into something? Or make him...?”

“You can’t. He’s dead. You see, as it turned out, Larry was just like the rest of us. He was scared and confused and trying to figure out who he was. Sure, he made mistakes, and along the way he hurt some people. But when the time came, he was one of the people who made a stand against the monster that attacked the school, and he gave his life to give the rest of us a chance.”

Halfrek absorbed this.

“So, now, I have a wish,” Xander said. “He was my friend, and I feel wronged. It was wrong that Larry had to die, so I wish that Larry was alive. There. Bring him back.”

Hallie bit her bottom lip, searching for a response.

“C’mon, I’m waiting,” Xander said. “I said the magic words. Where is he?”

“I...I can’t. It doesn’t work that way. It’s...it’s not....”

“It’s not vengeance, right? Funny, you keep saying that you make the world better, but at the end of the day, you can’t make things BETTER unless it involves pain and death and destruction! Sorry, but I’m not interested!”

Hallie stood silently, as Xander drew a deep breath.

“God,” Xander muttered. “I hate this place.”

“Look, Xander....”

“Shut up! You know what? I think this is the perfect time for the stupid decision to split up. You head down that hallway, I’ll go this way. The hallways meet up at the other side. We’ll cover more ground. Radio if you see anything.”

Xander turned and started to walk away.

“Are you crazy?” Hallie gasped. “There’s a monster down here.”

“More than one,” Xander shot back. “Look, just get veiny if you see anything.”

Xander continued walking down the hallway.


Part III


“Unbelievable,” Halfrek muttered as she proceeded through the dark hallway. “I should have known better than to....”

Halfrek stopped as she heard a voice down a passage to the right. A voice that was not Xander’s.

“Erect and sublime,” the soft voice almost sang, “for one moment of time.”

The voice sounded oddly familiar, and Halfrek’s curiosity made her forget the dangers of the demon she sought. She turned the corner, and saw him: ragged, unkempt and pacing to and fro, hands on each side of his head. She gasped, then called out:

“William?”

Spike turned, and his eyes widened in panic upon seeing Halfrek. He howled, falling to the ground and scrambling backwards until he ran into a wall.

“William,” Halfrek repeated as she approached him. “What...what are you...?”

Spike giggled, softly at first, then louder, until his laugh echoed through the basement. Then, he was suddenly silent. He glared at Hallie, his eyes filled with recognition and realization and horror, and said:

“For the Snark WAS a Boojum, you see.”

Hallie saw the man on the floor, and saw that it was a man. He was a vampire; the cold aura around him was unmistakable. But...underneath...IT was there. Hallie had seen a lot in her century as a demon. She’d even heard rumors about an Irish vampire who’d...changed. But this simply wasn’t possible. She would have seen it before. He certainly didn’t have it at Anyanka’s wedding. But, now....

“Oh, my...William?” Hallie said, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. “What...how did...?”

“Last line,” Spike muttered. “The very last. It’s an agony. An agony in eight fits. Last line of the agony. That brings you back. Back to the beginning. Right back. I should have know you’d turn up.”

“William, I....”

“Back to the beginning,” Spike said again. “Well, you were the beginning, weren’t you, Cecily?”

“William, I’m not Cecily anymore. I mean, so much has happened to us. After all, I couldn’t very well go around calling myself ‘Cecily,’ could I? Not very intimidating. And speaking of intimidating names, I hear that you’ve adopted a nom de guerre of your own. Who would have thought that...?”

Halfrek stopped as she she felt Spike’s gaze upon her.

“I’m sorry,” Hallie said. “I was babbling. Sometimes I just talk and talk and half the time I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t know why I do that.”

“Join the club,” Spike said wryly.

“Anyway,” Halfrek said, “a lot of things have changed.”

Spike momentary lucidity disappeared as he erupted into laughter. Cecily stared in confusion.

“Changed,” Spike gasped, trying to stifle his laughter. “Yes, changed and changed back again. Of course, that last part was my doing. No complaining. Got what I wanted. No accident or curse for me. No fangs, no gypsies, no scalpels. No, sir. I went after it. Went to the ends of the earth. I sought it with thimbles, I sought it with care; I pursued it with forks and hope. Hope, oh yes. Hope most of all.”

“Wil...Spike, what are you doing down here?”

“You, of all people? Of course, you’ve forgotten. Words are like biscuits to Cecily. Consume them, digest them, but never keep them precious. Not like silly William with his pens and inks and parchment, all with his pretty words and rhymes and bleeding heart staining the furniture and GET OFF MY CHAIR WITH YOUR BLOOD! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT COST?!?”

“Stop it!”

“Now I’m beneath,” Spike whispered, his face contorting as tears escaped his eyes. “Beneath you. Beneath her. Beneath everyone.”

Hallie absorbed the image of Spike huddled against the wall, his pale, thin limbs wrapped around his sleek frame. He was so different. She remembered the stammering poet, shyly sitting in the corner of the parlor, always uncomfortable in the society of the idle rich. It had been quite a shock to see him a hundred years later, confident and animal and dangerous among the fools gathered at the Slayer’s home. Now he seemed even more changed. The sensitive poet and the savage vampire were both before her, but they had bled into each other and made something...different.

“William,” Halfrek said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but you really shouldn’t be here. Things are coming. It would probably be a good idea if you....”

“Oh, yes, coming,” Spike grumbled. “Coming straight away. And you’d best be unpacking the things that you need, to rig yourselves out for the fight. Best get unpacking.”

“William, I....”

“I said get unpacking! Off with you, now!”

Halfrek stood, unsure of how to respond. She’d had a hundred years of clarity, a century of always knowing her role, always being sure of her purpose. Now, for the first time in a very long time, Halfrek had no idea what to do. He was a vampire, and could easily help her, if properly manipulated. He was a tortured soul, who might very well deserve vengeance upon whomever or whatever had done this to him. He was a vicious killer, and might deserve vengeance delivered upon him. A number of possibilities lay before her, but Halfrek could not focus on any of them.

“Look,” Spike whimpered. “Just go. Please. It’s too much. Just go.”

Halfrek took a step backward, had a last look at the man she once knew, then turned and walked away.


Part IV


“Women,” Xander muttered. “Demon women. Just once I’d like to meet a woman who can’t bend steel or grant wishes or rotate her head behind her back. I hate this town.”

Xander stopped, rested the axe against the wall, and pulled out the map in his now free hand. He tilted the paper into the beam of light, and then looked up at the forked passageway before him.

“Stupid blueprints,” Xander said. “This isn’t on here. These must be old. I’ve told them a million times to make sure they get the most up-to-date prints from the assayer’s office before they....”

Xander dropped the map and the flashlight as the sound of movement down the left fork of the passageway echoed through the darkness. He almost tripped as he lunged to grab the axe. He quickly snatched up the map, shoved it back into his pocket, picked up the flashlight, and tightened his grip on the axe in his other hand as he walked toward the noise.

Xander found himself at the entrance to an open area with crates piled atop each other. A shadow moved in the distance. Xander raised his axe, then remembered that Hallie had described the demon as under five feet tall.

The shadow was the size of a grown man.

Xander sighed, contemplated the foolishness of shining his flashlight into the shadow to be sure that he wasn’t hacking into the WRONG lurking creature hiding on the Hellmouth, and then slowly pointed the beam toward the end of the room.

The shadow lifted an arm up to its eyes as the light hit its face. Xander squinted, then called out:

“Ben?”

“Xander, right?”

“Yeah,” Xander said. “What are you...hey! What are you doing here?! If you’re....”

“Relax,” Ben said, holding his open palms defensively in the air. “Glory’s dormant. She hasn’t been out in, like, forever.”

“Yeah, well she better not come out,” Xander warned. “Buffy told us all about it. After a good, solid, near-death ass kicking, she made it perfectly clear that if you or Glory ever show their face in Sunnydale....”

“Which is why I’m hiding down here,” Ben explained. “I’m just passing through town. I don’t want a confrontation, and this seemed like a good place to hide out. I’ll be gone once a friend of mine sends me some cash Western Union, then I’m gone for good.”

“Ben, if you’re lying....”

“Look, you think I wanted to come back here? I was all set up in a hospital in Frisco. Doing the rounds, getting in my shifts. I didn’t want to leave.”

“So why did you?”

“A guy came into the ER with two punctures on his neck,” Ben explained. “He was DOA. After my shift was over, I went down to the morgue and staked him. My good deed for the day. But Frisco isn’t like Sunnydale. The body’s missing, and I’m the last person to go into the morgue, so they start checking me out. That’s when they discovered that I’d faked all my records. When they found out who I really was, and talked to my old bosses about my days absent and unusual behavior, they sent me packing. So much for my second chance.”

“And now?”

“I’m headed down to Mexico,” Ben replied. “There’s a couple of villages where they don’t ask a lot of questions, as long as you know what you’re doing, and you’re willing to take a couple of chickens as a doctor’s fee. Heh, I guess I’m not going to my med school reunion in a Mercedes after all.”

“Yeah, well, this isn’t the best place to hide,” Xander said. “They’re doing construction here, so you’ll get spotted. If I were you, I’d get out of town. Now.”

“The money will ready to pick up in the morning,” Ben said. “After that, I’m gone for good.”

“You’d better be,” Xander warned. “If Buffy found out....”

“I’m gone,” Ben repeated.

“Whatever,” Xander said, starting to leave.

“Hey, Xander?”

“What?” Xander replied, turning to face Ben.

“Look, Buffy cut me a huge break,” Ben said. “Since I can’t see her without her killing me, I’ll never get to return the favor, so I figure this’ll be the closest chance I’ll get.”

“To do what?”

“To help,” Ben said. “Look, I lived my whole life stuck between two worlds. Trying to fit into the human world, forced to live in the demon world, and I figured something out.”

“What?”

“It can’t be done. Once I get down to Mexico, I’m finished. No more of the demon stuff. Someone breaks a bone, I’ll set it. Someone has the sniffles, I’ll tell them to drink orange juice. Anything weird or creepy, I’m looking the other way. You have to make a choice. I’m making it. You should, too.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Yes, it is! You think I like what I’ve become? You think I like the choices I had to make? Well, it’s inevitable if you try to work in a world where you don’t belong. You try to move between the demon world and the human world, you’ll get hurt, and you’ll hurt everyone around you.”

Xander started to respond, but he was interrupted by a voice coming from his pocket.

“Xander!” Hallie’s voice cried out. “It’s here!”

Xander dropped the flashlight and fished in his pocket until he found the radio.

“I’m coming,” Xander shouted into the radio. “Where are you?”

“I...I’m not sure, but it’s....”

Hallie’s voice was interrupted by a blast of static.

“Look,” Xander said, turning to Ben. “I gotta go. There’s a thing...with a...look, I just gotta go.”

“Good luck, man,” Ben said.

Xander turned to run, but then, stopped, and said:

“Hey, Ben. Thanks. I mean, you shouldn’t have tried to kill Dawn, or suck the world into Hell to save your own skin, but, hey, almost everyone I’ve known has been evil at one point or another, and...well, thanks. I know what you’re saying, and some days I’d agree with you, but the fact is, this is my life. I can’t stop. I’m needed.”

“If you say so,” Ben said.

“Yeah, well, gotta run,” Xander said. “Take care.”

Xander turned and dashed into the passageways.

“Oh, I will,” Ben said, as his body melted, then settled into a new shape.

“I’ll take care of everything,” Jesse voice said, from the body that now resembled Xander’s lost friend. “All in due time.”


Part V


Xander ran around a corner, and saw Hallie wrestling on the floor underneath...something. Hallie’s description had been accurate: it was about four feet tall, and green scales covered its short body. Razor talons protruded from its long, bony fingers. Hallie had its wrists in a tight grip, holding the talons back from the deep purple veins that now covered her face.

Xander lifted his axe and brought it down on the demon’s back. While the blade only penetrated about a quarter inch into the thick scales, the demon howled in pain. Hallie managed to work her knees up to the creature’s chest, and used her legs to hurl the demon across the room.

“Looks like I arrived just in time,” Xander said, raising his axe.

“Watch out,” Hallie gasped. “It’s strong. I mean, really strong.”

“Yeah, I figured,” Xander said, moving toward the creature.

Suddenly, the creature leapt into the air, and kicked Xander in the chest with both feet. Xander fell backwards against the wall. Hallie swung a fist, connecting with the creature’s jaw. The demon shook off the blow, and slashed at her with one of its claws. Hallie jumped back, but before she could react, the demon lifted a wooden crate and threw it at her. The impact knocked her into a pile of crates, which came crashing down on her.

Xander forced himself to rise in spite of the pain that shot through his body. The axe was nowhere to be seen, and the demon was about to pounce on Halfrek. Xander launched himself at the creature, wrestling it to the ground. It took but a moment for the demon to roll Xander on his back. Xander clasped the demon’s arms, trying to keep its talons and teeth from striking distance, but the creature’s strength was far beyond Xander’s.

Hallie struggled to get out from under the fallen debris. Given time, she could easily free herself, but Xander didn’t have much time. She watched as Xander struggled in vain against the demon’s strength, but it was clear that he had only moments.

Hallie was no stranger to death. She’d delivered her share, and seen more. Of course, Anya would be upset, at first. Despite her failed attempts at vengeance and claimed indifference, she obviously still felt some...affection...for the foolish young idiot.

And then, quite to Halfrek’s surprise, she thought of another young idiot, and felt a sudden...affection.

Xander could feel the muscles in his arms tremble under the unbearable strain of the creature’s strength. The serpentine eyes of the demon narrowed, as it made a sudden lunge downward, ready to bury it’s teeth into Xander’s face. Xander closed his eyes as he prepared for the pain, and exclaimed:

“Aaaaggghhhh!!! Agh! Ow! Ouch! Owey! Hey, that stings!”

Xander opened his eyes, and saw that the creature in his grasp now bore a striking resemblance to a ten year-old boy.

“Let go of me, you jerk!” the child exclaimed, writhing in defiance.

“OK, OK, settle down,” Xander said, rising to his feet and lifting the boy with him. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Everything’s OK. The danger is over, and you’re as safe as...OW!”

Xander held his shin where the boy had kicked him.

“I’m telling my dad!” the boy yelled as he ran out of the room.

“Yeah, you do that,” Xander said, pounding his foot to try to diminish the pain. He turned, and saw Halfrek pulling herself from the debris.

“You changed him back,” Xander observed.

“Yeah,” Hallie said, unsure of what else to say. She’d never saved anyone from violence. She’d caused quite a bit of violence, but never prevented it. It was her understanding from the movies that there would be hugging and thanking and Xander might actually try to kiss her or some other nonsense. She quickly prepared a mental speech spurring Xander’s advances. Still, she wondered what it would be like. Vengeance demons seldom get gratitude, and Hallie was curious about the experience. Besides, he did have rather large arms.

“You said you couldn’t,” Xander accused.

Hallie recoiled.

“You said you couldn’t reverse the wish,” Xander continued, his voice rising. “Remember? The whole reason I put my neck on the line was because you couldn’t fix this yourself. You’ve been playing me all along.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Hallie spat. “Of course I haven’t!”

Of course, she had...up to a point.

“Well, it didn’t reverse itself,” Xander argued. “So why didn’t you just fix it before I found myself under a demon?”

“I...I...look, it’s complicated.”

“I almost killed a kid! I thought it wasn’t a kid anymore, but if it was fixable, that’s not really true, is it?”

“Look, I saved you!”

“You saved yourself! You knew that once the demon was done with me, it would go after you, and that you couldn’t free yourself from the wreckage in time to stand a chance!”

“That’s not true!”

“Oh, really? They why didn’t you reverse the wish before?”

“Because...because...fine. You know what? Fine! You’re right! I saved my own skin! I’m a demon, and the evil demon saved her own skin! Happy!?”

Xander shook his head in disgust and took a few steps down the corridor. He then stopped, turned, and said:

“You know, Hallie? One of these days, one of your vengeance schemes is gonna go up in flames, and I really hope I’m there to see it when it happens.”

Xander turned and proceeded into the darkness.


Epilogue


Hallie walked toward the curb in front of the high school. Xander’s car was gone. Of course, Halfrek could teleport at will, but still, the least he could have done was waited.

“You failed, Halfrek.”

Hallie did not need to turn around to know that the voice behind her was D’Hoffryn’s.

“I know,” she replied. She lacked the energy for a more eloquent response.

“Should we discuss punishment now, or would you prefer to sleep on it?”

“Oh, let’s get it over with,” Hallie sighed, turning to face him.

“It’s a pity,” D’Hoffryn said. “Your intentions were certainly in the right place.”

“Look, just take an arm already! I’ve had it! I’ve ruined my dress, my feet hurt, I’ve been insulted by obnoxious mortals and done nothing about it! Whatever it takes to make this day end, just do it!”

D’Hoffryn smiled. “Not many speak to me in that tone and live to tell of it.”

“I’m...I’m sorry. I just....”

“I’ve been trying to think of a way to put a positive spin on this little fiasco,” D’Hoffryn said. “I think I may have found a solution. As a punishment, I will give you a task. Succeed, and all is forgiven.”

Hallie’s eyes widened. Her breathing quickened in excitement at the thought of a possible reprieve. She stammered:

“Y-y-y-yes. I’ll do it. Anything. What do you want me to do?”

“Anyanka,” D’Hoffryn replied.

“Anya? What about her?”

“I’m not altogether pleased with her progress,” D’Hoffryn explained. “In her day she was my finest vengeance demon. Now, she’s making Frenchmen. I didn’t return her powers so that she could improve Sunnydale’s cultural diversity. I want her back, as she was.”

“But how do I...?”

“Talk to her. Reason with her. Bring her back into the fold. I want the blood to flow in her wake as it did before. If I see an improvement in Anyanka’s performance, you and I can start over with a blank slate.”

Hallie’s eyes drifted toward the school. Her lip trembled slightly.

“Halfrek?”

“Oh, yes,” Halfrek quickly replied. “Of course. Not a problem. Heck, I’ll be glad to have the old Anyanka back myself. We’ll all be...I mean, of course I’ll do it! Consider it done. Anya will be back to embowling and disfiguring by Thanksgiving.”

“Halfrek,” D’Hoffryn said gravely, taking a step toward her. “Do not fail me. I need Anyanka as she was. I certainly do not need her as she has been, especially now. Consider your fate tied to hers. If she disappoints me, YOU disappoint me. Are we quite clear?”

“Yes, clear as day.”

“Good,” D’Hoffryn said. “I think you’ll find that my solution is best for all concerned.”

“Yes,” Hallie said, as D’Hoffryn faded into mist.

When D’Hoffryn had disappeared completely, Hallie’s eyes returned to the school, and she whispered:

“Our’s not to reason why.”


THE END


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Have You Been to the Zoo?

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Riley gets a three day r-and-r break and runs into more than he bargained for. Takes place after "Into the Woods" episode of BtVS and "Epiphany" episode of AtS.
Rating: PG-13
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue


"Want another one, lady?"

"No, thanks," the woman told the bartender. She gulped down the rest of her drink and began reaching for her purse.

"Um, excuse me," a voice called out from behind her. She turned around on her barstool.

He was young, maybe twenty-five. Athletic. His face was sunburnt, and his boyish face was grinning at her.

"I couldn't help noticing that you had finished your drink," he continued. "Can I buy you another one?"

"Thanks, but no," she replied. "I was just leaving."

"Oh," he sighed. "That's a relief."

She scowled.

"I mean, not that I wouldn't want to buy you a drink," he continued. "I mean, I don't want to. Not that any guy would mind buying you a drink. I'm sure lots of guys would like to walk up to you and buy you a drink. I mean, not that you're the kind of woman who lets strange men buy you drinks. Not that there would be anything wrong with you if you let a guy buy you a drink. And not that I'm strange. It's just...."

"Whoa, tiger," the woman interrupted. "I'm not going to mace you. Relax. It's no big deal."

"I'm sorry," he continued. "It's just, it's been awhile since I've done this. And, quite frankly, I was never very good at it to begin with. I haven't dated since I broke up with my girlfriend. I wouldn't have come over here, except my friend put me up to it."

The woman looked over to a table across the room. Another man, about the same age, only with dark hair, looked back and smiled.

"Your friend seems to be a good audience," she said.

"Yeah," he replied. "He's got the idea that I have to get my last girlfriend out of my system. We're both in San Diego for a few days. We're...um...dentists...in town for a convention...and he said this was a good opportunity to...um...you know...."

"Score?"

"Yeah," he said. "Sorry about that."

"Don't sweat it," she replied. "I'm here on vacation myself. Well, not exactly vacation. Technically you have to have a job to be on vacation. I'm just here to clear my head, try to figure out my next career move and...well, lots of things."

"Oh, so you're not from here? San Diego's nice. Have you been to the zoo?"

"Not yet," she said. "I've been meaning to do some of the touristy stuff, but most nights I just come down from my room to the hotel bar."

"Well, we're staying here, too," he said. "Maybe I'll see you around."

She raised her eyebrows.

"I mean, as fellow travelers," he quickly added. "No more awkward passes. I promise."

"That's too bad," she said, rising from her barstool, and pushing her blond hair back behind her ear. "It was entertaining, and just a little flattering. Yeah, maybe we'll run into each other."

"Swell," he said, extending his hand. "It was nice meeting you. By the way, my name's Riley. Riley Finn."

Swell? Oh, God, she thought, this guy really does need to get laid. She grabbed her purse with one hand, shook Riley's hand with the other, and said:

"I'm Kate. Kate Lockley. See you around."


Part I.


"So, did you get her number?"

"Don't need it," Riley told Graham as he returned to the table. "She's staying at the hotel."

"What room?"

"I don't know," Riley said. "I didn't ask."

Graham stirred his drink with his straw. "Then how can you call her?"

"I'm not going to call her," Riley said. "She's in the hotel. I may run into her. If I don't, I don't. If I do, great. She's O.K. to talk to. She's a nice person."

"Nice," Graham repeated sarcastically. "Just what every soldier on a three-day pass wants to do. Meet a 'nice' girl."

Riley asked:

"Since when are you so interested in my sex life?"

"Since you got Buffy on the brain," Graham replied. "I know you're not happy."

"Graham, I spent the last three weeks running around the jungle, shooting swamp demons with taser guns, eating meals out of plastic bags, wiping my butt with palm fronds and getting eaten alive by mosquitos. And you're surprised that I'm not high on life?"

"It's not the mosquitos that are eating you now," Graham said. "And that blond you just blew off...."

"Kate. Her name's Kate."

"Whatever her name is, she was just what the doctor ordered."

"I'm going through the normal mental process that comes with the end of an extended relationship," Riley said. "Emotionally, the adjustment period requires...."

"Don't hand me that psych major crap," Graham interjected. "You need a piece."

Ah, Graham, Riley thought, always one to get to the point.

"Graham, I don't see you out there trying to pick up women."

"I would be," Graham retorted, "if my roommate had found another place to sleep tonight."

"Always looking out for me."

"Look, Riley," Graham said, pushing away his empty glass, "you made a choice. If you could go back, would you?"

"I guess not," Riley admitted.

"Then move on."

"Alright, already," Riley said. "Look, let's get out of here. I need to crash."

"I knew it was a mistake to send you over to a blonde," Graham said.

The two rose from their seats and headed out of the bar toward the lobby elevators. On the way, Riley asked:

"Wait a minute, did you hear that?"

"What?"

"It sounded like glass breaking," Riley replied. "It came from the kitchen behind the bar."

"I'd assume they have glass things in a kitchen," Graham said.

"I'm going to go check it out."

"Riley, take it easy. Glasses break."

"I didn't say you had to come," Riley said, headed back toward the bar. Graham rolled his eyes and followed Riley. The two circled behind the bar and went through the swinging door back to the kitchen. They walked past the steel center table toward the sink. Graham stopped, grabbed Riley by the shoulder with one hand, and gestured toward the floor with the other, saying:

"Look. A broken glass. Someone knocked it over."

Riley looked at the glass shards on the floor and then asked:

"Oh, yeah? Who? Why isn't there anyone here that would have knocked it over? Why isn't there anyone here period?"

Graham's muscles tensed and his eyes began scanning the kitchen. He didn't have an answer. He hated not having answers.

"Look," Graham said, pointing toward the exit door. It was open.

Riley started walking toward the exit. He heard Graham snap his fingers behind him. Riley turned and looked. Graham had a butcher knife in one hand, and was picking up a meat cleaver with the other. He handed the cleaver to Riley, and the two proceeded through the exit.

They exited through the door. Amber streetlights illuminated the back alley. Two men were shuffling toward a van parked at the end of the alley. One held the legs of a body, the other held the arms.

"Hey," Riley called. "I think this is a no-loading zone."

The two men turned, and as they faced Riley and Graham it became apparent that they were not men. Their yellow eyes glowed in the streetlights, and their faces were twisted and fierce.

Vampires.

"Take off," one of the vamps ordered. "This is none of your business."

Graham responded by throwing the butcher knife into the vamp's chest. The vampire dropped the body and fell backward, shrieking in pain. The other vamp dropped his end of the body and lunged toward Graham. Riley swung the cleaver and caught the vamp in the neck. Graham gave the vamp a kick to the chest, sending him flying backwards.

A screech of tires filled the night air as the driver of the van sped off, apparently more cautious than loyal. The first vamp got to his feet and started toward Riley and Graham.

"I got him," Graham said. "Finish off the other one."

As the vampire approached, Graham stepped forward to face him. The vamp swung both arms down at Graham, who blocked them with his wrists as he heard the sound of the other vamp imploding into dust as Riley used the cleaver to finish the decapitation. Graham crouched, and kicked the remaining vampire's legs out from under him, causing him to topple to the ground.

"Graham," Riley shouted. "Head's up!"

Graham turned to look at Riley, and saw that Riley had torn a plank of wood from a crate. Riley tossed the plank to Graham, who caught it in one hand, gave the vamp a backhanded blow to the face with the other, and then buried the plank in the vampire's chest. The vamp howled, and then disintegrated.

"Graham," Riley said, "look here."

Riley had gone to the body and was kneeling beside it. Graham joined him. Riley turned the corpse's head with two fingers, revealing a long gash along the body's neck.

"Nasty," Graham observed.

"Look along the line of the wound," Riley instructed. "See how, in the middle, you can make out bite marks. Those vamps tried to make this look like murder."

"It was, technically," Graham observed. "But that's not a vamp's usual M.O."

"And check out the guy's mouth," Riley continued. Small drops of blood stained the corners of the body's mouth.

"They turned this guy," Graham concluded. "Something's up."

"We'd better call the police," Riley said. "You wait here and I'll go...."

"We can't do that," Graham said. "H.Q. would go nuts if we got in the papers."

"So what do we do?"

Graham glanced around the alley to be sure that they were unobserved. He then walked over to the pile of dust left by the vampire he'd slayed, picked up the knife, and began wiping the handles of the knife and the cleaver with a handkerchief.

"I'll dump these in the sewer," Graham said.

"Hang on," Riley protested. "We've got to get this guy to a morgue."

"Why?"

"So we can stake him when he rises," Riley said.

"Not our problem."

"Of course it's our problem," Riley argued. "This is what we do!"

"This is what we do south of the border," Graham replied. "Here, no orders, no action. You're not with your Scabby Gang anymore."

"That's Scooby Gang," Riley corrected, "and were supposed to kill demons."

"Clandestinely," Graham said. "Stateside, it's low profile."

"Graham, putting aside the issue of whether it's moral to let this thing get loose on the public, what about just natural curiosity? You said yourself this looks strange. Let's find out what it's about."

"Riley, you start breaking and entering in civilian territory, and the brass is going to freak."

"I didn't say you had to come."

Graham sighed, then said:

"Alright, call it into the cops. Anonymously. I'll call H.Q."


Part II.


"I ask you to take a body from the fourth floor to the back alley," Zherlon said, "and you can't even do that?"

"It wasn't my fault," Hank protested. "I waited with the van. Larry and Mel ran into some guys outside."

"And the body?"

"The cops picked it up about ten minutes ago," Hank replied. "It's been taken to the morgue. Which is what we wanted, right?"

"Not after finding it here, you imbecile," Zherlon screamed. "This very profitable, very comfortable operation we have at this hotel requires, first and foremost, that the hotel cannot be connected to it."

"I think this place is played out," Mickey said, sitting behind a desk at a computer screen. "Let's move on."

"Oh, yes, let's just move on," Zherlon repeated. "And exactly where do you suggest we go?"

"This is pointless," Hank said. "Let's just find out who was in the alley, and take care of them."

"That would be much easier if you could identify whoever that was," Zherlon said. "Unfortunately, you ran like a scared little rabbit without seeing anyone."

"Something was going down," Hank protested. "If I'd gotten caught with the hotel van in that alley, we'd definitely be screwed."

"I think I've got a lead," Mickey said, gesturing toward his computer screen. "I did an internet search on all the guests we currently have registered. Look at this."

Zherlon walked behind Mickey's shoulder, looked at the computer screen, and read aloud:

"According to Detective Kate Lockley, last night's homicide was the apparent result of a robbery gone wrong."

"Homicide," Hank observed. "She's a cop."

"Not only that," Mickey said. "She's mentioned in the papers a lot. The last article I found on her was two weeks ago. Small article in the local news section of the L.A. Times. Apparently she was thrown off the force. The official reason was exhaustion, and stress due to her father's death. However, an unnamed source in the department was quoted as saying she had developed an unhealthy interest in macabre cases."

"Sounds like she knew too much," Zherlon observed. "Is there anyone else staying here who looks suspicious?"

"Nope," Mickey replied. "We have about three hundred people currently staying here. I ran everyone on the guest registry. There's a traffic cop and his wife on vacation from Houston, but the only thing that pops up on him is his wedding announcement three years ago. Everyone else comes back clean. Businessmen, tourists, and so on. No one other than this cop looks like the good samaritan type, let alone the type that could take out Larry and Mel."

"Unless it's someone undercover," Hank protested. "The local cops, or maybe one of those insurance guys. They'd have identities set up we couldn't trace."

"They'd also have been banging down our doors by now," Zherlon said. "This ex-cop looks like the one. Take care of her."

"I hope you're right," Hank replied.

"If I'm right, our problem is solved," Zherlon said. "If I'm wrong, our problem is no more difficult than it is now, and you get a snack. Mickey and I will finish our arrangements with Mr. Withers. You take care of the cop. Tonight."


Part III.


"A table, ma'am?"

"Yes, please," Kate replied to the host.

"How many this evening?"

"Just one," Kate said. "I'm dining alone."

"Or two," Riley said, walking up behind Kate. "That is, if you don't mind some company."

"Oh, hi," Kate said. "Um, sure. Two."

"Follow me," the host said. He led Kate and Riley to a table. They sat down.

"I hope that wasn't too presumptuous," Riley said.

"No," Kate said. "I could use the company. So, how's the vacation going? Have you made it to the zoo yet?"

"Not yet," Riley said. "I worked in a zoo, of sorts, one summer during college. It wasn't the best job I've ever had. I'm in no hurry to see any more caged beasts."

"I know what you mean," Kate said. "Most of the beasts I've seen in cages aren't anything to look at."

"What are you, a vet?"

"No, a cop. At least, I was."

"Ah, the career move you mentioned," Riley said. "Yeah, I can see why iron bars wouldn't exactly give you the warm and fuzzies. So, why did you quit?"

"I didn't," Kate corrected. "I was fired."

"Sorry," Riley apologized. "I didn't mean to bring up a sore subject."

"It's O.K.," Kate said. "I'm fine with it. I wasn't, but I am now."

"So, didn't you catch enough bad guys?"

"Actually, just the opposite," Kate said. "Things just got kind of weird."

A waiter came up, took their order, then left. Riley used the break in the conversation to change the subject.

"Anyway, I'm glad I ran into you. My friend wasn't available for dinner."

"Emergency bicuspid?"

"What?"

"Dental emergency. You're dentists, right?"

"No," Riley said. "I mean, yes, we are. Dentists. But that wasn't it. He just needed to get some...information...from our office."

"So what are your plans tonight?"

"Graham and I are going to hit the town," Riley said. "Hit a couple of clubs."

"Sounds nice," Kate said.

Damn, Riley thought, that was a stupid cover story. The next logical move would be to invite her along. Of course, he couldn't tell her that they actually were going to break into the local morgue to stake a rising vampire.

"Um, I'd ask you along," Riley said. "But...um...actually, we're going to...um, hit some...gentlemen's clubs."

"Ah, strippers," Kate said. "You two really are in town for a convention."

Great, Riley thought. From one bad cover story to the next.

"It was Graham's idea," Riley said. "He goes for that sort of thing. I don't...I mean, not that I don't like...I mean...."

"Relax," Kate said. "I believe you. You don't come across as the type who goes around sticking dollar bills in girls' g-strings."

"I don't?"

"You had a hard enough time trying to buy me a drink," Kate explained. "I'd hate to see how you would have handled yourself if I'd been naked."

Riley blinked.

"Alright," Kate said. "That came out completely wrong. I meant to say that you seemed like a nice guy."

"I am a nice guy."

"Yeah," Kate said, looking into his eyes. "I believe you are."

The waiter brought their dinners. They began eating. Alright, Riley thought to himself, I've got two strikes against me when it comes to picking topics of conversations. This was it. He asked:

"So, do you have any family in San Diego?"

That seemed harmless enough.

"Both of my parents are dead," Kate said. "My father was killed last year."

And, Riley thought, that's strike three.

"Sorry," Riley said. "I didn't mean to...."

"You've got to learn to stop apologizing," Kate said. "It's O.K."

"Anyway," Riley said. "Um, Graham and I ship out the day after tomorrow."

"Ship out," Kate repeated. "What are you, navy dentists?"

"Um, no," Riley said. "I...uh...I was in ROTC in college. I guess some of the lingo stuck. What I meant to say is, um, maybe tomorrow you and I could take in some of the sights."

Kate took her first real look at Riley. He DID seem nice. A little young, but nice. And she hadn't seen him brood once.

"I'd like that," Kate said. "I really would."

"Great," Riley said. "I tell you what. I'm in Room Five Twenty Six. Why don't you call me, and we can...."

"Riley," Graham said, walking up to the table. "I just got hold of...oh, hi."

"Hello," Kate said.

"Um, Riley," Graham continued, "we have that...thing...to do tonight. We should get going."

"You don't need to mince words," Kate said. "Riley told me all about your nefarious plans for the evening."

"He did?"

"Don't worry," Kate said. "I haven't lost any respect for you. Boys will be boys."

"Um...well...."

"Actually," Kate said, "My roommate in college paid her way through school that way."

Graham shot a puzzled look toward Riley.

"Don't look so surprised," Kate said. "They're people too you know."

"They are?"

"Oh, sure," Kate said. "I even had a couple of them on the payroll as informants when I was a cop. Once you get to know them, most of them turn out to be pretty nice people. That is, if you can get past how they support themselves."

"Uh, Riley," Graham said, "I don't think...."

"Oh, Graham," Riley said, throwing a ten dollar bill on the table, and doing his best to keep from laughing. "Don't worry about Kate. She's cool. I really do have to get going, Kate. The ten should cover the bill and the tip."

"If it's not, I'll let you know," Kate said. "Tomorrow. When I call you."

"Great," Riley said. "I'll look forward to it. Bye."

Riley and Graham walked out of the restaurant to the lobby. Once they had gotten out of earshot of the restaurant, Riley burst out laughing.

Graham asked:

"What's so funny? And how could you tell her....?"

"I didn't," Riley said. "I told her we were going out to strip clubs."

Graham replayed the conversation in his mind, then asked:

"So why didn't you say anything?"

"And miss that? Are you kidding? I can't wait to tell the guys in the unit."

"I should have left you in Sunnydale," Graham said. "Anyway, I got our orders."

"And?"

"Intelligence got me the access codes for the County Morgue. We break in, wait for the John Doe to open his eyes, then stake him."

"And then?"

"And then we drop it."

"I still say there's something up here," Riley said. "We should check it out."

"I had to twist some arms for clearance to take it this far. H.Q. figures this is a low level domestic vampire problem. And they're right."

"You really believe that?"

"Yep. Nothing worth blowing our cover."

"So why did you go to bat to get us clearance?"

"Because if I didn't," Graham said, "you'd go and stake this vamp anyway."

"So?"

"You'd probably get caught. You'd get in trouble, and since I got you back on the team, it would make me look bad."

"There you go again," Riley said. "Always looking out for me."

"Sundown's in a couple hours," Graham said. "We recon the morgue in daylight, then go back."

"So let's suit up," Riley said. The pair headed toward the elevators.

Back at the restaurant, Kate had just paid the bill for dinner when Zherlon came up to the table. He wore a regimental striped tie and a blazer with the hotel's name on the pocket. He asked:

"Are you Kate Lockley?"

"Yes."

"Ms. Lockley, I'm sorry," Zherlon said. "I'm the night security manager. Apparently your car had a bit of an accident in the parking garage. One of the other guests was pulling out and put a small dent in your back bumper."

"Wonderful," Kate said.

"I'd like you to take a look at the damage so we can fill out a report. I assure you the hotel will pay for the cost of any repairs."

"Let me just get back my change," Kate said. "I'll leave the tip for the waiter, then meet you down there."

"Very good, ma'am," he said. "I'll meet you in the garage in fifteen minutes. I have to check on the locks on the pool entrance door, so if I'm a few minutes late, just wait for me."

"That's fine."

"Thank you, ma'am," Zherlon said, and walked out of the restaurant.


Part IV.


"So how far's the morgue?"

"About fifteen minutes," Graham replied. He and Riley walked down an aisle of cars, each carrying a gym bag of equipment in their hands. "You sure we parked on this level?"

"I don't believe this," Riley said. "We can track demons through an endless rainforest, but we can't find our car in a three level garage."

A scream echoed through the garage.

"Now THAT I heard," Graham said.

Graham and Riley ran toward the sound. As they turned a corner, they saw Kate kick a man in the knee, sending him to the ground. Riley screamed:

"Kate!"

Kate heard her name, and looked toward Riley. During this split second of distraction, Hank leapt to his feet and tackled Kate to the ground.

Riley ran up to Hank, who had pinned Kate, and swung his bag down onto Hank's head. Hank rolled off of Kate as the bag burst open, it's contents scattering across the ground. Graham ran up and kicked Hank in the ribs. To the surprise of both Graham and Riley, Hank rose unharmed, and for the first time Riley and Graham realized that he had fangs. In their moment of surprise, Hank grabbed each by the neck and lifted them off the ground.

"This'll teach you to mind your own business," Hank growled.

"This'll teach you to keep your teeth to yourself," Kate said. Hank looked over his shoulder just in time to see Kate bury a wooden stake between his shoulder blades. Riley and Graham fell to the ground as Hank turned to dust.

"Jesus Christ," Kate exclaimed. "I can't even go on vacation without running into these things?"

"Kate," Riley said, rubbing his sore neck, "thanks. How did you know...?"

"I'm a cop," Kate said. "I ran into vampires all the time. Going after these things was what got me fired. The real question is, how did you know?"

"Um," Riley said, "we...didn't. We were just...."

"Don't hand me that," Kate said. "The stake I used on that vamp fell out of your bag. Since when is a sharp wooden stick used as a dental appliance? Who are you?"

Riley and Graham exchanged glances.

"Fine," Kate said. "I'll just call the police, and you can explain to them why you were carrying concealed weapons."

"Wait a minute," Riley said. "We can explain."

"Well?"

"The explanation is," Riley said, "that we can't explain."

"What kind of an explanation is that?"

"We can't explain, because it's classified."

"Perfect," Graham said.

"Perfect," Kate echoed. "I leave Los Angeles just to get away from demons, and I end up hooking up with undercover ghostbusters."

"Hey," Graham protested, "we saved your butt!"

"My butt was just fine until you showed up," Kate retorted. "If you two hadn't distracted me, I would have...."

"What's important is that you're O.K.," Riley said, rising to his feet. He extended his hand to Graham, who clasped it, and Riley pulled him up. "No harm, no foul."

Kate asked:

"So what are you two up to?"

"Nothing," Riley said. "We just happened to be in the garage....."

"....with bags full of weapons," Kate continued, "on your way to the local hot spots? Do I look stupid?. You two were armed to the teeth. I repeat, what's up?"

"Riley," Graham warned.

"I think we can trust her," Riley said.

"Of course you can trust me," Kate said. "I already know who you are and what your generally after. What I am I going to do, tell the world that you're really government demon hunters? If anyone would believe that, I would have had something to tell the review board, instead of sitting there like an idiot while they fired me!"

"Well," Riley said, "she has a point."

"Great," Graham said, sarcastically. "Tell her. After all, the last time you told a cute blonde about your work it didn't cause problems."

Riley decided to ignore Graham's barb, and said:

"Look, Kate, we're on the trail of a group of vampires. We killed two last night. They were moving a body in the alley behind the hotel. The throat had been cut to make it look like murder, but it was obvious they'd fed off him. And they'd turned him. We're going to the morgue tonight to stake the new vamp as it rises."

"That's weird," Kate said. "Why would they make it look like murder? That's not a normal pattern for vampires."

"That's what I said," Riley exclaimed. "There's obviously something...."

"The point is," Graham interjected, "we stake the vamp. Period. We can't get involved more than that."

"Oh, that's just great," Kate said. "The government knows what's happening out there, but it won't do anything. Street cops who catch on get thrown off the force. And any innocent people who happen to be walking the street can just die. Perfect. You two make me sick."

The silence in the garage was palpable. Finally, Riley said:

"Look, Kate, we have our orders."

"Well, I don't," Kate said. "I don't take orders anymore. I'm going to find out what's going on. It's an hour and a half until sundown. That's gives me an hour to research. Do you two want to help or not?"

Kate turned on her heel and walked toward the garage elevator.

Riley shrugged, Graham sighed, and the two followed Kate.


Part V.


"Kate! Good to talk to you!"

"Good to talk to you, too, Vince," Kate said into the receiver of the telephone. Graham and Riley sat on her bed as she talked on the phone in her hotel room. Each held an earpiece from their surveillance kit to their ears so they could hear the conversation. "It's been a long time."

"Too long," Vince said. "I haven't seen you since I transferred to the San Diego P.D."

"How are the kids?"

"Great," Vince said. "Their mother's dropping them off next weekend. We're going to see some of the sights. How about you? Have you been to our zoo yet?"

"Not yet," Kate replied. "Listen, Vince, I need a favor. I need you to check on a homicide for me."

"Um, Kate," Vince said. "I talked to Kendrick. He told me about...well, he told me your not on the force anymore. Look, I understand. Hell, after my divorce, I needed to get out of L.A., too.

I wish you'd called me after your dad died. I could have made some phone calls down here and...." "Look, Vince," Kate interrupted. "What Kendrick told you...well, it's probably mostly true. You've probably heard the same stuff from other people."

"Jack mentioned...."

"I know," Kate said. "I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to claim to be misunderstood or the victim of some big conspiracy. I'm just going to ask you a favor. If you say no, I'll understand. But I'm asking this favor as an old friend. I'm not going to tell you why I need it, or what I'm going to do with it, and I'm not even going to tell you that it isn't part of some hairbrained idea I got in my head. I'm just asking. And I'm telling you I'm not going to use it to hurt anybody. That's all I've got. Please."

There was a long pause over the phone. Then Vince said:

"Shoot."

"You guys got a John Doe murder victim in last night," Kate said. "His throat was cut."

"He's not a John Doe," Vince said. "His name's Edward Withers. He's...I mean, he was an accountant on vacation from Denver. I've been assigned to it."

"If you have the coroner check it out," Kate continued, "you'll find that the wound doesn't match the cut pattern exactly."

"I know," Vince said. "There were punctures that went down deeper than the knife blade. We checked."

"How did you know to check?"

"Because this is the fifth murder like this in town since last July. An out-of-towner comes in, gets his throat cut by a mugger or something, but there's always something that doesn't seem quite right forensically. And those five are just the ones we know about."

"Is there anything else that the five victims had in common?"

"Yeah, all of them were strapped for cash," Vince replied. "It's weird. Take the last guy. An investment banker named Bellows. He got caught embezzling about a million bucks from his clients. He's got legal fees out the wazoo, a lien on his house, and he's probably facing jail time. Weird time to take a vacation. Normally I'd suspect the wife."

"Why?"

"He had a ton of life insurance," Vince explained. "Getting her husband whacked not only leaves his ex-clients high and dry, it also gives her a huge check to live off of."

"So you think she's a suspect?"

"Nope."

"Why not?"

"She's got an airtight alibi, and hit men cost money. In every other case we investigated, the wife was accounted for, and there wasn't so much as a dime missing from their finances that could have paid to have the guy rubbed out. Hit men don't extend lines of credit. Besides, they're all from different cities. Withers is from San Francisco, Bellows is from Trenton. If they were going to get whacked, why here? Naw, with no money changing hands, and every murder occurring in San Diego, we think we're looking at a serial killer."

"Who goes after white collar crooks?"

"Yeah, that is weird," Vince agreed. "But, who knows? Maybe this guy got ripped off on some investment scheme, and it drove him over the edge."

"So he loses money in investments, and this drives him to stalk out-of-town flimflam men, poke them in the neck with barbeque tongs, and slit their throats after their dead?"

"If I had all the answers," Vince said, "I'd have caught the guy by now."

"Thanks, Vince," Kate said. "Give my love to your kids."

"Kate, wait a minute," Vince said. "If you're onto something, I need...."

"I'll let you know if I find anything," Kate said. "Bye, Vince."

Vince sighed into the receiver, and said:

"Goodbye, Kate."

Kate hung up the phone, turned to Riley and Graham, and asked:

"So, what do you think?"

"Stake the vamp," Graham said. "Same thing I thought before."

Kate rolled her eyes, then said:

"I mean about what Vince said."

"So these guys were bad people," Riley said. "Maybe we've got a vamp who thinks of himself as some kind of a vigilante."

"I doubt it," Kate said. "Although I know one...well, anyway. Ask yourself this: If you wanted to fake your own death, skip town and make everyone stop looking for you, what's the one thing that would make it difficult?"

"Well, I guess the problem is making it convincing," Riley said. "If someone stole money from me, I wouldn't give up so easy."

"So what would you want to see?"

"Well, a body," Riley said. "A guy who bilks me suddenly dies, I'd want to see the body."

"So how do you fake your own death AND show them a body with no pulse?"

"Well, you could...oh, I get it."

"Sundown's in a half hour," Kate said. "Let's move out."


Part VI.


"So," Kate whispered, "how long have you been doing this?"

"Coming up on two years," Riley replied. Riley, Kate and Graham crouched in hiding behind one of the curtains in the morgue's autopsy room. Each held wooden stakes in their hands. Several bodies lay on tables throughout the room. Withers' body was near the front, close to the entrance.

"About the same for me," Kate replied.

"Quiet, you two," Graham admonished. "This is an ambush."

After a pause, Riley said:

"Stick close to me and Graham once the action starts."

"Oh, please," Kate said. "Trust me, I've gone against my share of vampires before, and they're all dead. Well, except one."

"Don't feel bad," Riley said. "I threw down with one who got away. Of course, he was...different."

"Not as different as mine," Kate said.

"Oh, yeah? Get this: mine was my girlfriend's ex." "That's nothing," Kate said. "Mine has a soul."

Riley's jaw dropped. He asked:

"Brooding guy? Long black jacket? About a gallon of dippity-do in his hair?"

Kate scowled. She asked:

"You know Angel?"

"Hey," Graham said. "Will you two keep it down?"

"I don't believe this," Riley said. "Is every woman I meet for the rest of my life going to turn out to be one of Angel's old girlfriends?"

"We worked together," Kate replied. "I wasn't his girlfriend!"

"Yeah, right," Riley said. "Mr. Tall, Dark and Oh-So-Distant-Yet-Vulnerable-In-A-Strong-Silent-Way didn't do anything for you."

"No, he didn't," Kate insisted. "I was a cop. He was a P.I. That's it."

"Oh, come on," Riley said. "I saw that look in your eyes when you mentioned him. Trust me. I've seen that look before. A lot."

"There's no look," Kate said. "Besides, it's too dark in here for you to see my eyes."

"Cut it out," Graham said. "A vamp could hear both of you a mile away."

"So you just worked together," Riley said skeptically. "So you're telling me you two never dated?"

"Of course not," Kate said. "It was always business. Well, one time I asked him to go to a bar."

"That's a date!"

"It wasn't like that," Kate responded defensively. "It was my father's retirement party!"

"He met your parents?!?"

"Oh, for Christ's sake," Graham exclaimed. "Will the two of you shut up? Jesus, we're supposed to be lying in wait, and you two are making more noise than a couple of howler monkeys! I don't believe this! I spent the last month in the jungle sweating my ass off, hunting the minions of Evil, and listening to some heartsick farm boy moan and groan about his stupid blonde girlfriend and her James-Dean-vampire-boy-toy. Now I get a three day pass, and what happens? Do I get to drink and whore around like any other soldier on leave? No, I get to sit in a morgue setting a trap for a hoard of the undead, and listen to you two yammer on and on about your pathetic sex lives! Well, save it! Save it for after we slay the vampires! Save it for group therapy! Save it for the goddamed Ricki Lake show for all I care, but save it! I can't stand it anymore! Shut up!"

Riley blinked, and then said:

"Graham, I think that's the most I've ever heard you say at one time."

"SHUT UP!"

Riley bit his bottom lip, took a deep breath through his nose, and exhaled. After a moment of silence, Kate muttered:

"I wasn't his girlfriend."

Graham's jaw tensed. He covered his eyes with his hand and dropped his head.

At that moment, the door of the operating room opened. Two men walked in. Kate carefully peered around the curtain, and recognized one of the two as the night security manager of the hotel. That explained the attack in the garage. The other she had never seen before.

Zherlon turned to Mickey and asked:

"How long has the sun been down?"

"About forty-five minutes," Mickey replied.

"Do you have everything?"

"Yep," Mickey said. "Any word from Hank?"

"Not yet," Zherlon said. "He's probably still dumping the cop's body."

Don't be too sure, Kate thought, tightening her grip on the stake.

A loud groan echoed through the room. Withers sat up, clutching his chest.

"It hurts," Withers gasped. "It...hurts."

"Here," Zherlon said, handing Withers a jar of viscous red fluid. "Drink this."

Withers took the jar and gulped the fluid down. "What was that?"

"Pig's blood," Zherlon explained.

"It tastes...strange," Withers said. "There's an aftertaste. Like a diet soda."

"It's not human blood," Zherlon said. "You'll have to wait for that. From the scars on your chest, it's apparent they've finished the autopsy. Your wife will be by to claim your body tomorrow. Until then, lay still."

"I feel...different," Withers said. "I can't explain it."

"Let me ask you a question," Zherlon said. "Did you ever feel any regret for stealing money from all those people?"

"A little, yes."

"Do you now?"

"No," Withers said. "It's like...it doesn't matter."

"A little bonus from the change you've undergone," Zherlon explained. "No more pesky conscience."

"I'm feeling a little better," Withers said. "Are the papers in order?"

"Yep," Mickey said, holding up an envelope. "They're all here. Passports. Drivers Licenses. Everything. You and your wife are now Jason and Linda Morris, from Ontario. We'll hand these over to your wife when she gets here."

"Mickey, in his former life, worked for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing," Zherlon explained. "You'll find the documents to be perfect forgeries."

"You can take off for Mexico as soon as you're buried," Mickey continued. "Mrs. Withers will have to wait a couple of months for the life insurance claim to go through. After she's sure she's not being watched, she can join you."

"And you can send us our money," Zherlon added. "Don't get any bright ideas about double crossing us. We know the names you're using, we know where you're going, and we know what you are. We'll hunt you down like rabbits if we don't get our money. You can run from anyone in the world, but you can't run from us. We gave you immortality. We can take it back just as easily."

"Don't worry," Withers said. "A hundred grand is well worth getting out of the mess we were in. Not to mention it's small potatoes compared to the million dollars of life insurance my wife will collect."

"I wouldn't count on that," Kate said, walking out from behind the curtain. Riley and Graham remained behind the curtain. Riley shot Graham a worried glance. Graham shrugged.

"You," Zherlon said to Kate. "You're proving to be quite resourceful."

Kate raised her stake in a threatening gesture. "More resourceful than that goon you sent after me."

"I assume Hank is...?"

"Powder," Kate said. "You're next."

"You're rather confident," Zherlon said. "But I assume you can tell that, with three of us, the odds are a little more in our favor?"

A flying object whizzed past Zheron. He followed it with his eyes. He turned just in time to see Mickey grab a wooden stake that was buried in his chest, and then disintegrate.

"The odds are looking better," Riley said, emerging from behind the curtain.

Zherlon morphed into his vamp face, and lunged and Riley. Graham jumped out from behind the curtain, and pushed an instrument tray into Zherlon's path, sending Zherlon falling to the floor. Withers, still weak, turned to run out the door. Kate leapt toward him, and buried her stake in his back. He turned to dust.

Riley had pinned Zherlon to the ground. Graham stood above Zherlon, ready to bury the stake into his heart.

"Wait," Zherlon said. "We can make a deal."

"Thanks," Riley said. "But I don't think comping our hotel bill is going to cut it."

Graham plunged the stake into Zherlon's chest.


Epilogue


"Kate, you're checking out?"

"Yeah," Kate replied to Riley. She held her suitcase in one hand, and was signing her hotel bill on the lobby counter with the other.

"It's still early," Riley said. "It's only about ten. Graham and I were going to go out and get a drink. You know, to unwind? And I thought tomorrow we were going to...?"

"I don't think Graham will miss me."

"Listen, Kate," Riley said, "if this is about what Graham said...."

"It's not," Kate said. "Well, it is, but it's not because he said it. It's because he's right. I am pathetic. I've spent the last two years of my life trying to prove what I'm not: I'm not a vampire's girlfriend; I'm not crazy; I'm not wrong; I'm not helpless. And in all that time, I never stopped to ask what I actually was. I was a cop, but I'm not anymore, and that was never enough of an answer anyway. I've got to stop running. I've got to find something to do with my life. I've got to find out what I am."

"Look, Kate...."

"Riley," Kate said, "you're sweet. A really nice guy. And I'd love to stay and...well, you know. But who are we kidding? I've got a lot to sort out, and from what you've told me, so do you. If I stayed, would it really make anything better?"

"I guess not," Riley said. "I mean, it be one thing if...well, you know..."

"If it was just...physical," Kate said.

"Yeah," Riley replied. "But I guess that wouldn't help any. It would probably just leave us feeling emptier. Especially since, well....."

"I know," Kate said. "I like you, too. Maybe, someday...."

"Yeah," Riley said. "Maybe."

Kate tore the yellow carbon from the hotel bill, slid the white copy toward the desk clerk and said:

"Goodbye, Riley. Take care of yourself."

"You too, Kate," Riley replied. "Take care."

Kate turned and walked to the door that led to the parking garage. Riley could only stand and watch her go.

"Hey, Riley."

Riley turned to see Graham walking from the bar.

"Hey, Graham."

"Get in here," Graham instructed. "I've got these two stewardesses waiting for us."

"Graham," Riley replied, "I'd think after your last attempt to set me up you'd give it a rest."

"This time will be different," Graham said. "Trust me."

"Oh yeah," Riley said. "How do you know?"

"Because this time," Graham said, "they're both brunettes."

THE END


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One Owner

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Giles' red BMW wasn't his first choice for a new vehicle. Takes place at the beginning of Season 5, between "Buffy vs. Dracula" and "Real Me."
Rating: PG-13.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue


"So, if we can make a deal today, my manager tells me that we can give you our lowest interest rate, if you qualify, which could amount to savings of...."

"I won't qualify," Giles interrupted. The car salesman was growing tiresome. "I have no employment or income. I'm not even an American citizen. I'm here on a work visa, and I'm not working. It may only be a matter of time before your government realizes this incongruity and sends me back to England. I will be paying cash, and therefore interest rates are irrelevant. I simply need to purchase a motorcar."

"Well," the salesman continued, "it's just that BMW is offering great factory-to-dealer incentives on their new line of...."

"I won't be purchasing from their new line," Giles responded. "I came here to purchase a reasonably priced used vehicle. Which I've been waiting for you to show me. For the past twenty minutes. Of course, if you'd prefer I go to another dealer...."

"Well, I'm sure we can find something to fit your budget," the salesman quickly interjected. This obviously wasn't going to be a big commission, so the salesman decided to take his shot at a small one. "Our used lot is around the side."

Giles followed the salesman out the door. I could stake Spike, Giles thought, for wrecking my car. It was bad enough having to actually drive in this country, with it's right-sided lanes and lumbering sport utility vehicles monopolizing the road. But having to deal with the artificial enthusiasm of some bloody American salesman just to obtain a new automobile was unbearable. He'd put off replacing his car, especially since, until recently, he'd expected that he'd be leaving Sunnydale. Now, while he was pleased that he would be staying (at least, as long as he could), the details of maintaining his stay were proving a bore.

"This baby," the salesman said, gesturing toward a TownCar and returning Giles' attention to the matter at hand, "only had one owner."

"A little old lady who drove it to church?"

"Actually," the salesman replied, "it was a little old man who drove it to his stockbroker. Same difference. The sticker is twenty-two thousand, but I could probably...."

"...not get it to anywhere near what I'm willing to spend," Giles said. "Look, I just need a small vehicle to run errands. I don't care how many bloody kilometers it has."

Damn, the salesman thought, this commission really is going to be low. "Well, sir, you certainly know what you want. Here, let me show you this."

The salesman walked over to a green, two door car. The paint was faded, spots of rust appeared randomly on the body, and the fabric top was worn in several places.

"My God," Giles said, "that's a Spitfire!"

"Yeah," the salesman said. "I think it's English. It's got about a hundred and twenty thousand miles on it. I don't know what that is in kilometers."

"Higher numbers, same distance," Giles said. "How much?"

"We got it down for fifteen hundred," the salesman said. "I don't know if my manager would...." "Sold."

There, Giles thought. Problem solved.


Part I.


"So...where's the back seat?"

"There isn't one," Giles responded to Buffy's inquiry. "It's a sports car."

"Interesting," Buffy said, walking past Riley and around the car, which was parked in front of Buffy's house. The engine let out a throbbing, irregular growl. Giles had left the car running to show off the impressive engine sound unique to vintage English motorcars. Buffy wasn't impressed. "Um, Giles, don't you think that, after all the mechanical difficulties you had with your last car, maybe you should have...?"

"It was running fine until Spike crashed it," Giles replied, running his hand across the hood. "Besides, this a Triumph. A classic. It's worth twice what I paid for it."

"Well, how much would it have been worth if the passenger door closed all the way?"

"Merely cosmetic," Giles said. "The engine runs perfectly." "I think it's classy," Riley interjected. "You know, timeless beauty from back in the day."

"It's a nineteen seventy-four," Giles said.

"Yeah," Riley said. "That's what I mean. From way back in the old times when a car...oh, sorry."

"Look, Giles," Buffy said, uncertain of how to proceed on this subject. "I know you haven't been...well...working. Since the school blew up, I mean. If you're strapped for cash, I could ask my mom if she needs anyone at the museum to...."

"That's not it at all," Giles said.

"No, really. I'm sure they could find something for you to do. I mean, who knows more about old junk than you?"

"Buffy, money is not an issue," Giles said. "I'm from a very old, very stuffy, very English family. I've got more money from inheritances and trusts than I could possibly know what to do with. It just seems foolish to expend a large sum of money on something as temporary as a car."

Buffy recoiled. "Temporary? I thought we agreed you were staying?"

"I'm sure that's not what he meant," Riley said.

"I am staying," Giles replied. "I agreed to become your Watcher again while you explore the nature of your powers and...."

"...and then you plan to leave?"

"That's not what I said."

"Look, I like the car," Riley said, trying to change the subject. "Chicks dig convertibles."

Buffy pursed her lips for a moment, then said:

"I've got to get my gym bag. I'll be right out."

Buffy turned, briskly moved up the sidewalk to her front door, and then when inside.

"Well," Giles said, "I didn't think my choice of vehicles would inspire such controversy."

"It's not you," Riley said, but only half believed. He silently regretted that Willow had seen no problem in telling Buffy that Giles had planned to return to England. Willow thought that the secret was irrelevant once Giles decided to remain in Sunnydale. It wasn't. Not to Buffy.

"It certainly seemed to be me," Giles said.

"It isn't," Riley replied. "Buffy's just feeling a little insecure. It's natural. She has some abandonment issues with her father. She just found out that he's dating some secretary. Apparently they're going to Europe."

"I don't see what that has to do with me."

"You're kind of a surrogate father," Riley explained. "Buffy once told me that she thought her father hung around until he thought she and Dawn were old enough to handle a divorce. When she heard that you were going back to England because she didn't need you anymore, there was an emotional memory triggered."

"Thank you, Professor Finn," Giles said. "And exactly how do you propose I deal with that now?"

"It'll take care of itself. You and Buffy will be training together. You'll bond. Eventually she'll get the idea that you're around for the long haul."

"Um, yes. I can see how that would work."

"Anyway," Riley said, "I'll let you two get over to the gym."

"Oh, Riley," Giles said, "would you mind picking up Buffy around three? I have...an appointment."

"Sure," Riley said. "No prob. I'll borrow Joyce's car."

"I'll just run in and get Buffy," Giles said, reaching into the open window, turning off the engine, and taking the car keys. The engine let out several late sputters long after Giles removed the keys, and then finally became silent. Riley said:

"Uh, running a little rough, isn't she?"

"Nonsense," Giles retorted. "That's not at all uncommon for a car as old as...I mean, a car of this classic vintage."

"Right," Riley said, walking away. Giles walked towards Buffy's front door, and entered the house.

Outside, the car waited for its new owner in silence. For a moment. Then a short cough came from the engine. No one was present to hear the engine, or to see the steering wheel make a slight turn to the left, an equally slight turn to the right, and then finally settle into quiet stillness. No further independent movement came from the car.

Not then. It wasn't strong enough. Not yet.


Part II.


"I can certainly see your problem, Mr. Giles," Anthony Lerman said, "but I may be somewhat limited in the ways I can help you. I wish you had consulted me sooner."

"Well," Giles replied, "I've never been one to consult solicitors. I'm sorry, I mean lawyers. I understand a 'solicitor' has quite a different meaning in this country."

"Not that different," Lerman said. "Look, I'm sure the INS would be sympathetic to your situation. At least, as sympathetic as government agencies are inclined to be. After all, you didn't choose to have the high school blow up."

No, Giles thought, it was a group decision.

"But the fact remains," Lerman continued, "you're here on a work visa. Quite frankly, I'm surprised you got one in the first place. Normally a high school librarian isn't the kind of profession which would require the unique skills necessary to qualify a foreign national for a work visa."

"I used some connections to obtain that. Unfortunately, those connections are now...disconnected."

"Well, the INS is too overloaded to check on everyone. But, eventually, they will ask for an update as to your work status. I assume that you wish to continue to live in this country, even though your old position is no longer available?"

"It is imperative that I stay in this country," Giles said. "I have...responsibilities. Personal obligations. I cannot leave."

"Well, then, we'll need to find some way of getting you qualified again for that visa."

"So what do I do?"

"That's a problem," Lerman explained. "If you were to apply for another job, you'd have to tell them that you're a resident alien, which would require them to report your application. Unless your new profession somehow qualifies you to stay in this country, you're really just drawing attention to yourself."

"Again, what do I do?"

"Officially, as an officer of the court, I'm limited as to what I can advise you," Lerman said cautiously. "Technically I should advise you, and on the record I am advising you, that you should inform the INS of your current work status."

"And off the record?"

"You've got to find something that the INS would find to require to your individual abilities, and somehow get into it without them finding out. That is, until you're ready to tell them."

"So I have to work without working, and be unique without being noticeable?"

"Well, yes," Lerman said, "unless there's an American woman you'd consider marrying."

"No," Giles said. "There was...that is...no. That's not an option."

"Well, then, let's start with your skills. Is there any specific area in which you have some rare expertise? I mean, what was your degree in?"

"I have a Master's degree in Library Science. My thesis was on the indexing and listing of medieval tomes on the occult."

"Hmmm," Lerman said, stroking his chin. "The occult, eh? Have you ever considered starting your own business? It's one way to work without actually being employed."

"What sort of business did you have in mind?"

"Oh, I don't know. Something occult-ish. Did you ever see those commercials for nine-hundred number psychics? What could be more unique than the ability to tell the future?" Giles closed his eyes, exhaled, and asked, with more than a little sarcasm in his voice:

"Are you suggesting that I charge people money to exploit their problems and give them false hopes?"

"No," Lerman said. "That's a lawyer, and I don't need the competition. I am suggesting that we may have to start thinking outside the box."

"I'm sorry," Giles said. "I understand that you can't change the law. It's not your fault."

"But I can help," Lerman said. "The INS isn't giving you any trouble yet, so you have some time. Starting your own business seems like the best way to go. Think it over."

"I will," Giles said, rising from his seat. "Thank you."

Giles exited the building and started his new car. It took three turns of the key to get the engine to start.

Giles sighed. Buffy was right. His last car, and this one, were indicative of the instructions he was given when he was first sent to America:

Grow no roots. Have nothing that you would be sorry to leave behind. Do not form attachments to anything or anyone. Not a home, not a job, not a woman...

...and especially not the Slayer. Maintain a distance from the girl in your charge. She WILL die. Forget this and it will only be more difficult when it happens. That is the reality, and those are the rules.

Damn the rules, Giles thought. I cannot leave.

Giles put the car into first gear and drove away.


Part III.


"So when do we get one?"

"Well, Anya," Xander said, shifting the car into third gear, "it would help if I actually had a steady job before I had to make payments on a car. Until then, we'll have to rely on Giles to loan us this one when we need it."

"That's stupid," Anya said, slouching in the passenger seat. "Money is stupid. I don't see why people can't just have whatever they need."

"They tried that," Xander said. "It didn't work out. There were a bunch of wars and censors and borscht shortages. Besides, money can be fun."

"Fun? How?"

"Well," Xander said, "some people actually enjoy making money. That way, the more you make, the more stuff you can have."

"Interesting," Anya said. "I may try that someday if...ooohhhh!"

"What's wrong?"

"When you stepped on that thingy and the car went faster," Anya explained. "There was this kind of vibration that shot through the seat."

"Sorry. It's an old car, and the engine's a little rough."

"That's OK," Anya said. "In fact, can you do that again? Only...longer. And maybe, hold my hand?"

Xander looked at Anya, then faced forward, put the car into second gear, grabbed Anya's hand, dropped the clutch, and said:

"The things I do for my girlfriend."


Part IV.


Xander pulled up to the curb in front of Giles' apartment. He looked over at Anya and asked:

"So, was it good for you?"

"You have no idea," Anya said, trying to catch her breath. "Are you sure cars that can do that cost less money than cars that don't?"

"There's a difference between price and value," Xander said, removing the keys from the ignition. Xander got out, walked around the car, and opened Anya's door. She exited. The pair turned to walk toward Giles' apartment when the engine sputtered.

"Hey," Anya said. "I thought you need the key to make it move?"

"You do," Xander said. "Sometimes older cars...."

The engine of the car roared to life, and the headlights illuminated the street.

"OK," Xander said. "Now that I can't explain."

"Give me those," Anya said, grabbing the keys from Xander's hand. She walked behind the car, held up the keys, and jangled them, saying:

"Stop that! You've got to wait until we...."

"Anya!"

Xander lunged for Anya, tackling her to the ground just as the car flew into reverse and ran over the ground where Anya had been standing.

Xander threw his arms around Anya, covering her body with his, and looked up just in time to see the car speeding away into the night.

"I take it back," Anya said. "You don't need to buy one of those."

"C'mon," Xander said, standing up. He helped Anya to her feet, and the two of them ran to Giles apartment.

In the apartment, Giles, Willow and Tara were putting Giles' books back on the shelves. Most of the books that Giles had stacked for Willow to scan were back in their proper places.

Xander and Anya burst into the apartment. Xander exclaimed:

"Giles, your car left!"

"I know," Giles said. "I gave it to you. I assume you brought it back."

"I did," Xander said.

"He did," Anya agreed.

"But then it started by itself," Xander continued.

"It did," Anya said. "Then it started moving," Xander explained. "All by itself," Anya chimed in. "It threw itself into reverse," Xander said. "It nearly ran me over," Anya added. "Then it sped away," Xander said. "And," Anya said, "it gave me an orgasm." Giles, Willow, and Tara all stared blankly as they tried to form a mental flow chart that could possibly have included the last event Anya described. "Sweetheart," Xander said, "that wasn't anything supernatural." "I think I should be the judge of that," Anya replied. "Hold on," Willow said. "Let's just stay calm." "Willow's right," Tara said. "There's got to be an explanation." "Yes, there must be," Giles said. "We'd better call Buffy."


Part V.


"Alright," Buffy said, with Riley sitting by her side. Dawn sat on the couch next to Xander. Right next to Xander. "Tell me everything."

"OK," Anya replied, "Xander made the car go faster, and that's when I felt...."

"Ahn," Xander interrupted, "you can skip that part."

"The point is," Giles said, "that after Xander and Anya exited the car, it started itself, tried to run them over, and then drove away with no driver."

"Cool," Dawn said. "It can find its own parking space."

"Dawn," Buffy admonished, "Mom said I had to bring you. I say you have to keep quiet."

"So it's haunted," Riley declared (privately thinking that he had become the designated subject-changer for the group). "Or possessed. So we kill it."

"It's not that simple," Willow explained. "When an inanimate object is haunted, it usually has some kind of purpose. And you can't really kill it. Cars don't have a pulse or a heart or a brain. You have to get rid of whatever is possessing it."

"First we have to find it," Xander said. "And before it tries to hurt anyone else. The last thing we need is some little English roadster out there going all 'Christine' on everybody."

Anya asked:

"How do you know it's name?"

"It was a book," Riley said. "And a movie. Classic car goes berserk. Kills people."

Tara asked:

"Wasn't that the one with John Travolta, before he became famous?"

"No," Riley corrected, "that was 'Carrie,' with the girl who could start fires."

"No, no, no," Xander chimed in, "Carrie could move things with her mind. It was Drew Barrymore who started fires."

"Wait a minute," Riley said. "I distinctly remember that Carrie burned down her school."

"No," Dawn said. "That was Buffy. Twice."

"Dawn," Buffy said, "I told you not to...."

"Carrie burned down the school with telekinesis," Tara interrupted. "The fire hose set off the electrical work. The one with the little girl from E.T. started actual fires with her thoughts."

Willow asked:

"Carrie was the one that began in the girls' locker room, right?"

"Yeah, that's the one," Xander said. "She got her first period, everyone made fun of her, and before you know it the entire student body's a burn victim."

"Interesting metaphor for social repression of pubescent impulses," Riley-the-psych-major chimed in. "A young girl's unguided sexual awakening results in the endangerment of everyone she knows."

"Now THAT was DEFINITELY Buffy," Dawn said.

"Excuse me," Buffy said. "Can we possibly put the comparison-contrast between my life and Stephen King movies on hold long enough to stop the crazy haunted car?"

"Willow," Giles instructed, "go to the internet. See if you can find out anything on the history of the car."

"It'll help if you have any information on it," Willow responded, opening her laptop.

"The registration and bill of sale are in my top desk drawer," Giles said. "The rest of us should split up, and try to find the car."

"Sure," Buffy said. "But what do we do once we find it? Willow's right. It's not like I can drive a stake through its carburetor."

"We need some heavy artillery," Riley said. "A couple of taser blasts and that thing would be toast."

"Even if we had the Initiative's weapons," Giles said, "I doubt that they would do any good. Willow was quite correct. This machine is defying all mechanical laws by operating itself. Physical damage is unlikely to stop it."

"Wait," Willow said, pointing to the laptop's screen. "Here's something."

"That was fast," Tara observed.

"There's a lot of information online now if you have a car's VIN number," Willow explained. "It's mostly there to let car shoppers know if a used vehicle has been involved in an accident. I got a list of the prior owners, and then cross referenced news stories involving those people. This is what came up."

"Let's see," Giles said, looking at the screen. "According to this, the car's first owner was a Hollywood actress named Wendy Carmichel. She was an up and coming star until she crashed her car into a station wagon. Apparently there were drugs involved. The family died. She was disfigured, but survived."

Buffy asked:

"When did she die?"

"There's no obituary," Willow said. "Let me check the online telephone directory." Willow made a series of keystrokes and mouse clicks, then said:

"According to this, she lives in Palm Springs."

"So," Buffy said, "this car is haunted, probably by the people that actress killed, and now it's payback time."

Tara asked:

"Why did it wait until now to go after her?"

"Probably because it wasn't parked on a Hellmouth until it got sold to an auto dealership in Sunnydale," Giles surmised. "The mystical energies in Sunnydale probably allowed a lingering spirit to manifest its desires physically."

"So it leaves Sunnydale," Xander continued, "and goes after this actress. Won't it run out of juice once it leaves the city limits?"

"We can't take that chance," Giles said.

"Hang on," Willow said. "According to this report, the car's been involved in five accidents in the last twenty-five years."

"That's understandable," Giles said. "When the car takes control, it's probably reported as an accident, since there's no other explanation that seems rational."

"But they're all the same accident," Willow said. "I mean, they were in different places, but what happened is identical in every case. In each accident, the car was speeding around a hairpin turn, another car came around from the opposite direction, and the Spitfire skidded, flipped, and hit the other car head on."

"Wait a moment," Giles said. "Go back the original story on the accident."

Willow scrolled back to the original story as Giles read over her shoulder.

"According to this," Giles said, "despite the overwhelming evidence of her intoxication, Ms. Carmichel maintained that the steering of the car malfunctioned. She even found an engineer to testify that, had the steering been working properly, she would have made the turn with no problem."

"So maybe she was right," Xander said. "This car has a mind of its own. Maybe it did...."

"Unlikely," Giles responded. "According to this, Ms. Carmichel's car was brand new at the time of the accident. Most inanimate objects require some kind of history in order to develop a supernatural aura."

"So, what," Riley asked, "this car discovered that it liked killing people, and decided to give it a try every now and again?"

"It's defending itself," Buffy said.

Everyone looked at Buffy. She continued:

"You said this actress blamed the accident on the car. That's what it's doing. It's setting up the same accident, making the same turn, doing it all over again, trying to prove that it COULD have made that turn if someone sober had been driving."

"Buffy," Willow said, "according to this, the car was going about seventy when the accident happened. She was probably too drunk to realize her speed, not too drunk to make the turn."

"Tell that to the car," Buffy said.

Tara asked:

"Is that even possible, for a car to haunt itself? Doesn't a haunting usually happen because of strong emotions? I mean, in order to have hurt feelings, doesn't there need to be something with feelings to hurt?"

"Normally, yes," Giles said. "But, to an extent, our perceptions of reality shape that reality."

"Like the invisible girl," Xander said. "We didn't see her, so she became invisible."

"Exactly," Giles replied. "And if we perceive motorcars as pets or companions, eventually, they'll start acting like them. We address cars as 'she;' we choose them based on our personalities, or what we would like our personalities to be; some people even name their cars. If we think of them as living things, it's perfectly reasonable to believe that they could echo our sentiments at some basic level."

"Alright," Riley said, "so this car is riddled with latent guilt, deep-seeded denial, and compulsive impulses. How do we stop it?"

"Willow," Giles instructed, "check for roads that the car might use to recreate the accident."

"On it," Willow responded, clicking away at her keyboard.

"Everyone else," Giles continued, "start researching."


Part VI.


The Spitfire rolled slowly down the street. Watching. Waiting. It had made a cursory run through Sunnydale, and selected a road that would do quite nicely. Provided, of course, it could find someone to complete the one factor remaining to simulate the conditions on that fateful night.

Footsteps echoed on the sidewalk. Someone was approaching. The car turned off its lights, shut down its engine, and waited.

The footsteps grew louder, and then stopped. A shadow was cast across the hood of the vehicle. Someone was present.

"Well, well, well," Spike said, taking a drag off his cigarette. "I haven't seen one of these in awhile."

He strutted around the car, admiring every line.

"You're a beautiful thing, aren't you? I knew a bird in Liverpool who had one of you. Lovely girl. I mean, she kicked and scratched while I was killing her, but that's to be expected."

Spike took a final look at the car, and then began to walk away. As he did, he heard a strange clicking sound behind him. He spun around.

The driver's door of the Spitfire slowly drifted open.

"Now isn't that careless," Spike said. "Anyone who would forget to close the door of such a fine machine clearly doesn't deserve it."

Spike took a quick, but careful look around, and then climbed into driver's seat.

"I'll just take you for a spin, luv," Spike said, reaching under the steering wheels to find the ignition wires. "Then I'll take you down to the scrap yard. You should be worth enough cash to keep me in plasma for the next couple of months."

The engine of the car howled. Spike sat straight up.

"Alright," he said. "Now I know I didn't do that."

Spike felt himself pressed against the seat as the car suddenly accelerated.

"I was just kidding!"


Part VII.


"I think I found the road," Willow said, hitting the 'Print Screen' key. "There's a stretch of highway to the north in the woods that looks about right. None of the other roads in Sunnydale seem to match. I'm printing a map."

"Cool," Buffy said. "Now all we have to do go there and wait for a convertible without a driver to try and take the turn at seventy miles an hour."

"I don't think so," Willow said. "About the no-driver thing, I mean. There was a driver behind the wheel in every other accident that we know about."

Tara asked:

"Why would it need a driver? I mean, it can drive itself, right?"

"It's trying to recreate the accident perfectly," Giles responded. "It probably wants the weight."

"Wait a minute," Riley said. "Who would be stupid enough just to jump behind the wheel of a car they'd never seen before?"

"God, I thought we led a sheltered life in Sunnydale," Xander said.

"My friend, Jason Sneeder," Dawn said, "He took his brother's car once, and drove right into a pond on a golf course."

"Even if we know what it's going to do and where," Anya said, "what do we do about it? I mean, how do we stop it?"

"And without hurting the driver," Riley added. "I mean, it's not like we can shoot anything at it with a person in inside."

"Well, I found an exorcism spell," Tara said. "But I need to throw some magic ashes on the car. We'll need to make it stay still."

"Xander," Buffy said, "you're still working at that construction job, aren't you?"

"For now," Xander replied. "The job isn't wrapping up for another couple of weeks."

"We'll stop there on the way," Buffy said. "I've got an idea."


Part VII.


"Listen, luv," Spike said, gripping the door handle with all his might, "I see we got off on the wrong foot. When I said I'd take you to the 'scrap yard,' I only meant...ahhhhhhh!"

The car turned itself off the highway, throwing Spike against the driver's door.

"Bloody Hell," Spike said, trying to force the door to open, "warn me if you're going to do that!"

The car slowed, and then finally came to a stop. In front of it, several orange cones blocked the road, and a sign said:

"DETOUR"

"It's working," Giles said, hiding behind a tree next to Buffy. "The car doesn't know what to make of it."

"It's possessed," Buffy said. "That doesn't mean it's smart. NOW!"

Buffy and Giles sprang from their hiding places. On the other side of the road, Riley and Xander did the same.

The four of them pounced on the car. Buffy rammed a stake through one of the tires. Giles hacked at another tire with an axe. Riley clubbed at the car's hood with a baseball bat, and Xander ran to the passenger door with a crowbar. He slid the crowbar between the door and the chassis, and said:

"Don't worry, Mister. We'll get you...Spike?"

"Get me out of here," Spike exclaimed.

"Spike," Buffy said. "We're going to all this trouble to rescue Spike?!?"

"Get me out!"

The car shifted gears and started to move backwards, although considerably slowed by it's flat tires.

"Great," Buffy said. "Just great." She climbed onto the trunk of the car, and tore through the fabric convertible top with her stake.

The car started spinning violently, throwing Buffy to the ground. Buffy jumped to her feet and backed away as Giles, Xander and Riley scurried.

"Spike," Buffy shouted. "Get out of there!"

Almost immediately, the hole in the fabric tore even more as Spike sprang out of the top, and jumped to the ground. He ran next to Buffy. The car came to a stop.

"Thanks," Spike said. "I thought I was a goner."

"If I knew it was you...," Buffy began, before Giles interrupted.

"Keep it surrounded," Giles said.

The car's engine growled. It faced the Scoobies as it plotted it's next move.

Giles shouted:

"Willow! Tara! NOW!"

Willow and Tara jumped from behind a thicket, and Willow said:

"Spiritus ex machina itae!"

Tara threw a handful of a fine powder at the car. A purple sparkle enveloped the car, and the engine went silent.

"Well," Riley said, "that wasn't so...."

Suddenly the car's engine raced, and the Scoobies were bathed in the car's headlights.

"Giles," Willow shouted, "the Spell didn't work!"

"It's not possessed," Giles said. "It has a mind of its own. It must not be susceptible to an ordinary exorcism spell."

"Look," Xander said, pointing to the car.

Suddenly the car rose ever so slightly higher from the ground as the tires inflated. The hood of the car flexed, eliminating the dents from Riley's attack.

"Giles, that thing is fixing itself," Buffy said. "We can't hurt it."

"Everyone, wait here," Giles said, holding his hands in the air. He walked toward the car, and stood directly in front of its headlights.

Giles dropped the axe, and walked toward the driver's side door.

"Giles," Buffy screamed. "What are you...?"

"It's alright," Giles said. "I know how to stop this."

Giles stood before the car. The door opened itself before him, and Giles climbed in.

"Giles!"

The car sped through the cones and toward the sharp turn.

Giles looked down at the speedometer. It was approaching seventy.

"Let me take control," Giles said, placing his hands on the wheel. "It doesn't prove anything if you do it."

After a moment, Giles felt resistence in his hands. He had control.

The turn was coming up. Giles quickly did a mental checklist of the facts of the accident: The actress had approached the right turn at a high speed. Skidded and flipped, hitting another car head on. Americans drive on the right side. That meant that she had probably under-steered into the turn. The key then was to begin the turn sooner, keeping the car in its own lane and on all four wheels.

Assuming, of course, that at seventy miles an hour, it was possible at all.

The Scoobies ran up the road, Buffy in the lead. Then they stopped in their tracks as the screech of tires and brakes cut through the night air.

The Scoobies stood silent. Then Buffy exclaimed:

"There was no crash!"

She began running again, the Scoobies behind her. They approached the turn and saw Giles exiting the car about a hundred yards ahead. He walked to them.

"That was crazy," Buffy exclaimed. "You could've gotten killed!"

"Not really," Giles said. "That stuff about the steering being defective is rubbish. It handles like a dream."

"Well, I wouldn't go trying that again," Xander said.

"That won't be necessary," Giles said. "The car has proved its point. It has nothing left to...."

At that point, an explosion rang through the night. The Scoobies turned to see the car engulfed in flames.

"Um, Giles," Riley said. "You wouldn't happened to have bought insurance, would you?"

"I have an appointment with an agent tomorrow," Giles sighed. "Well, had an appointment."


Epilogue


"How long has it been?"

"About one minute since the last time you asked," Giles responded. He and Buffy sat on a fallen log by the side of the road.

"It's taking them forever," Buffy said.

"They have to drive all the way to my apartment," Giles said. "Then Riley will come back for us. There was no room for all of us in your mother's car with Spike along for the ride."

"I still say we should have let him walk," Buffy said. "He's ageless. What's the hurry?"

"Well, look at it this way," Giles said, "after I get my next car we won't have these problems."

"Uh, Giles," Buffy said. "Do you think this time you could get a car that's a little less...."

"Classic? Yes. The next one will be straight off the assembly line. One owner. Me."

"Sure you don't mind wasting money on something so temporary?"

"It's not temporary," Giles said.

"It's kind of sad, really," Buffy observed. "I mean, I know it wasn't a person, but, still. I just don't understand why it blew up."

"If I had to guess," Giles replied, "I'd say it increased the fuel pressure until...."

"That's not what I mean," Buffy interrupted. "I mean, why did it blow itself up? It spent so many years trying to prove itself innocent, and once it did, it destroyed itself. It won. You'd think that it would be ready to move on. Instead, BAM! It doesn't make sense."

"It probably didn't feel that it had anything to move on to," Giles said. "It's the nature of obsession. If you believe that you exist for just one purpose, you can't imagine yourself outside that role. If you have only one reason to go on, and that reason disappears...."

The two sat in silence. Then Giles said:

"Look, Buffy, I want to stay. I don't feel like I have to. Well, I do, but that's not the only reason I'm staying. I hated the idea of leaving, but it seemed like what was best. If I didn't have to train you, there seemed no reason to be around. I realize now that it had nothing to do with you, and everything to do with me. I was still clinging to the old habits instilled in me when I was trained to be a Watcher. I abandoned the job, but I didn't abandon the habits. That's going to change. I realize that I need to be with you, to help you. But I need more than that. So I'm going to start finding something. Here. I'm not going. Ever."

Buffy smiled.

"First things first," Buffy said. "You need a car. Something practical. Four doors. Hard top. Domestic. Boring. Downright stodgy."

"I'll go to the dealership tomorrow."

Buffy and Giles sat silently. Buffy watched for Riley's return, and Giles tried to remember what that horrid salesman had said about factory-to-dealer incentives.

THE END


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Pilgrim's Progress

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: During Season Four, expounds on events slightly suggested during "Pangs," but takes it on a tangent.
Rating: PG-13.
Tone: Way too serious.
Quality: Eh, so-so.
Feedback: Yeah, sure.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction, and is expounded from "Pangs." Distribute if you like.

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Part I.


"What do you mean it's canceled?"

Joyce Summers didn't like the unexpected. She didn't expect her husband to divorce her, and she didn't like it when he did. She didn't expect her daughter to take up demon hunting as a vocation, and she didn't like it when she found out. She enjoyed her life when it was as well-ordered and organized as the displays in her museum, but everyone seemed to enjoy throwing a little chaos into the mix. Apparently the airlines were now in on the conspiracy.

"We're sorry, ma'am," the ticket agent said. He braced for the conflict. He was going to have to give this speech to quite a lot of people this evening.

Joyce closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. "Well how am I supposed to get to Portland?"

"I'm afraid I can't help you, ma'am," the agent replied. He wasn't exaggerating. He saw the look on Passenger J. Summers' face. He was really afraid.

"Look," Joyce said, "It's a long drive back to Sunnydale. It's an impossibly longer drive to Portland. It's eight o'clock at night, and I don't know anyone in L.A., so what am I supposed to do?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. The plane has mechanical difficulties. We'd put you up at a hotel, but it's Thanksgiving, and the closest hotel with a vacancy is in Santa Monica, so...."

"No, I don't feel like staying in Santa Monica. I feel like staying in Portland with my sister, Arlene, like I planned. Can't you get me on another flight?"

"All the flights are booked, ma'am. It's Thanksgiving. If I gave you a seat, then someone else would have to give up their seat, and...."

"Oh, forget it! I'll drive back to Sunnydale." Joyce picked up her garment bag, and walked away from the ticket gate.

It was her own fault. She could have flown out of Sunnydale Airport, and caught a connecting flight in San Fransisco, but she'd decided to take a direct flight out of L.A. instead, which, even with the drive, would be faster, and cheaper. A $49 savings on the ticket and a two hour layover had just cost her a holiday trip to Arlene's, with a big table, a big turkey, a big crowd, a big holiday just like she used to have before the divorce.

It took her about ten minutes to get back to her car. She hung the garment bag in the back seat, and climbed behind the wheel. While looking for her keys in her purse, she also mentally searched for a silver lining. On the bright side, she'd get to spend Thanksgiving with Buffy. She'd felt a little guilty about leaving her over Thanksgiving, especially her first Thanksgiving since college started. They could go out for a Turkey dinner, maybe get reacquainted. They'd drifted apart since Buffy moved into the dorm. She'd always felt insecure when she was apart from Buffy, especially after she ran away two summers ago. Now, they could bond again. It was really a blessing that the flight was canceled. Everything had worked out for the best.

Joyce found her keys. She put them in the ignition. She turned the key.

Nothing.

No roar, no click. Nothing.

Joyce rested her head against the steering wheel. So much for silver linings.


Part II.


It took the tow truck about an hour to arrive. As they were taking her car, the driver said:

"Looks like something's wrong with the alternator. We can get it fixed by Monday."

"Monday!?! How can it take until Monday?"

"Well, we're short staffed as it is. It's Thanksgiving, you know."

"Well," Joyce said, "I guess I'll just have to rent a car."

"Rent a car? Are you kidding?"

Joyce hadn't been kidding. "Why can't I rent a car. This is the airport, isn't it?"

"Yeah, lady, but none of the rental companies are going to have any cars available. This is their second busiest time of the year, next to Christmas. This is...."

"Yes, yes, I know. This is Thanksgiving."

Joyce took a moment to count her blessings. She came up empty.

The driver gave her a lift back to the main terminal. As Joyce stood in front of the ticket counters, she considered her options. No hotels, no rental cars. She sure as Hell wasn't going to call her ex-husband to come to her rescue.

"Excuse me?"

Joyce turned around. A man (quite a man, actually) was standing behind her.

He was fairly tall. His dark hair was only slightly starting to grey around his temples. He wore a tan trench coat, carried a worn leather bag in one hand, and a blue umbrella in the other.

"Excuse me," he repeated, "are you from Los Angeles?"

"I am," Joyce replied. "I mean, I was. I moved about four years ago."

"Well, if you know your way around, do you know how I'd get to the Marriott? It's supposed to be close."

"Oh, sure. You're practically there. Um, do you have a pen?"

The gentleman produced a black Mont Blanc from his shirt pocket. Joyce jotted the directions down on his ticket envelope.

"I feel absolutely helpless," he admitted. "This is the first time I've left Connecticut since, oh, I don't know how long."

He smiled at Joyce. She smiled back. He had a warm face. Joyce handed the pen and envelope back to him. He reached for it. A gold band circled his third finger.

Joyce felt her heart drop. It was a shame. Such a warm face.

"Well, I'll let you get going."

"Yeah, right," Joyce said, half under her breath.

"Problem?"

Oops! Joyce had meant to say that entirely under her breath. "Oh, nothing much. My flight was canceled. My car won't start. They towed it. So I'm kind of stuck here."

"Need a ride?"

Joyce's defenses immediately sprang to life. A stranger. In an airport. He could be an axe murderer. A psychotic rapist. Or even one of those evil, monster thingies her daughter killed.

But, then again, such a warm face....

"Well, I kind of do. Need a ride, I mean. But I don't want to make you go out of your way...."

"I wouldn't be going on my way if you hadn't given me directions. It's the least I can do."

Joyce considered this. She could take a cab. She had traveler's checks. She could find somewhere to cash one, go outside, hail a cab....

"Well, if it's not too much trouble...."

"No trouble at all. Where are you going?"

Good question, Joyce thought. Her ex was out of the question. She had some old friends. Really old. She hadn't kept in contact with anyone.

Then, she had an idea.

"Let me make a call," she said.

"Sure thing. I'm Mark. Mark Shippe."

"Joyce. Joyce Summers."

She went into her purse, got out her cellphone, scrolled to "Giles-R" and hit "SEND." He would have the number.


Part III.


Giles gave her the number. He seemed concerned, but he promised not to say anything to Buffy. No sense worrying her. Besides, from the tone in Giles' voice she could tell that Buffy had other things to worry about. Giles said something about Indians, and Joyce guessed that it had nothing to do with Cleveland's baseball team. She called the number Giles gave her, and got directions.

On the drive over, Mark turned to Joyce and asked:

"So, what are your plans for Thanksgiving?"

"Well, I was going to my sister's," Joyce said. "My daughter couldn't get away from her studies. She's in college, a freshman. So I was going to visit my sister, Arlene, in Portland for a big family dinner. The flight got canceled, and my car won't start, so I'm stuck here."

"Don't you have any friends in L.A.? You said you lived here."

"I had friends," Joyce replied. "But my husb...I mean, my ex-husband, stayed in L.A., so they're really his friends."

"So where are you going?"

"My daughter has a...friend...who lives here. He'll help me out. From what I hear, he does that sort of thing for a living...well...for a profession." Joyce felt that there was no need to explain to her Good Samaritan that "living" wasn't exactly an appropriate description.

"Well, if you need a place to have Thanksgiving dinner, give me a call. It's not good to be alone for a holiday," Mark said, with a hint of sadness in his voice.

Joyce considered this, and asked:

"Um, do you have a cell phone?"

"No," Mark said, taking his eyes off the road for a moment to look at Joyce's face. It seemed to be an unusual question, since Joyce had her own phone.

"Well," Joyce replied, "if you want to use mine to call your wife...."

"Oh, I'm not married," Mark responded. "I mean, I am, or I was but...."

"Divorced?"

Mark paused, then said:

"She died. About a year ago. A week after Thanksgiving, actually. I think that's why my niece wanted me to come out for the holiday."

"Oh! I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to...."

"Oh, I'm O.K.," Mark interrupted. "I'm not that fragile. Not anymore, anyway. My relatives just think that I am."

Joyce's emotions vacillated between sympathy and skepticism. A guy, from out of town, wearing his wedding ring, offers a woman a ride, and says that he's widowed. A tragedy, or a likely story?

"It's a tough holiday, though," Mark continued. "I mean, you're supposed to be thankful, you really ought to be thankful, but...."

"I know," Joyce interjected. "It's tough to be thankful when you're life is nothing like what you planned it to be."

"The best laid plans of Mice and Men...hey, is this it?"

Mark pulled up in front of an older office building.

"I think it is," Joyce said. "At least, this is how they described it." She waited until Mark came to a complete stop, opened the door, and stepped out. Mark rolled down the power window, and said:

"Hey, I was serious about Thanksgiving. Call." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a business card. With his other hand he took out his pen, and began writing. When he was finished, he said:

"That's my niece's number on the back. Don't be afraid to call."

Joyce took the card, and said:

"You know, I just might do that."

They exchanged a final glance, and Joyce turned toward the front door of the building. Mark drove away.

Joyce entered the building. She opened an office door, and walked in on her daughter's old friend and a man that Joyce had never seen before. They were hovering over a desk, and directing their voices toward the telephone.

"You were supposed to call in two hours ago," Cordelia told the telephone. Over the speaker, Angel's voice said:

"I got sidetracked."

"Yeah, well, if you're going to be the boss, you've got to call and keep track of things," Cordelia admonished. "Who's going to keep us in line while you're gone? I mean, for all you know, I could have spent the whole day shopping....hey, wait a minute. I could have. Darn."

"Cordy," Doyle interjected, "I'm sure tha' da boss has bedder tings to do dan hear you grumble abou' lost bargains."

Angel interrupted before Cordelia and Doyle could start bickering. "Anything going on over there?"

"Well, let's see," Cordelia said, looking down at her message pad. "The landlord said he's raising our rent ten dollars a month. Also, some kind of steam demon came in...."

"A Durlatori mist demon," Doyle corrected.

"Yeah, whatever," Cordelia continued. "Anyway, he came up here and said his talisman got stolen. Said if he didn't have his talisman, he couldn't digest the entrails of small animals. He wanted you to find it for him."

"I can handle that when I get back," Angel responded.

"No need," Cordelia said. "Doyle here hooked him up with one of his 'contacts.' Got him a new talisman, dirt cheap. We even got a commission. Thirty-five whole dollars."

"Well," Angel said, "that'll cover our rent increase until next year. Good work, Doyle."

"Here ta help, man."

"That's pretty much it," Cordelia said toward the speaker. "If anything comes up, I'll...oh, Mrs. Summers!" Cordelia, noticing Joyce for the first time, walked around the desk to greet her.

"Please, call me Joyce. You're all grown up now, diploma and everything."

"Joyce," Cordelia repeated. She called back toward the telephone:

"Angel, Mrs. Summ...I mean, Joyce is here."

"Joyce," Angel's voice called out through the speaker. "Glad you found the place. I'm out of town for a couple of days, but feel free to stay while I'm gone."

"I really appreciate this. I wouldn't impose, but I'm in kind of a bind. Um...Giles told me you're...on business. Is Buffy...?"

"She's fine," Angel assured her. "I've checked on her."

"Please don't tell her I'm here. I don't want her to worry."

"I won't. Actually, I don't anticipate that I'll be in contact with Buffy before I leave. I'd appreciate it if you'd return the favor, and keep my trip a secret. I don't want her to know I've been in Sunnydale."

"I won't tell her, Angel," Joyce replied. "Thank you again. For everything." Both Joyce and Angel knew that, by "everything," Joyce meant thank you for moving away and leaving my daughter alone to lead something like a normal life.

"No problem," Angel said, and hung up.

"Well," Cordelia said, turning to Joyce, "how long are you in town for?"

"Well, I might go to Portland on Friday. There should be flights available then. Are you staying here for Thanksgiving?"

"Yeah," Cordelia said. "I figured I'd hang out. I mean, there's not much to do back in Sunnydale, since Daddy...well, there's not much to do."

Doyle cleared his throat, and looked at Cordelia with an expectant glare.

"Oh, yeah. This," Cordelia said, gesturing toward her co-worker, "is Doyle. He gets creepy visions. He's also Irish. That's why he talks funny. Kind of like Bono, only, well, Bono is cute."

"Tank you fer da glowin' introduction," Doyle replied. "'Tis a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Summers."

"Thank you, Mr. Doyle. I hope I'm not in the way here during the holiday."

"Tisn't a holiday fer me," Doyle explained. "In Ireland, Tanksgivin is just another Tursday."

"Well, I still hope I'm not in the way."

"Oh, it's no problem at all," Cordelia volunteered. "You can stay here. Angel's gone, so you can have his bed downstairs. It's nice down there. Cosy, really, except for the medieval axes on the wall. Tomorrow, if you don't have plans, we were going to have dinner here."

Joyce considered this. She thought of the card in her pocket, and said:

"Well, let's see. We'll talk tomorrow."


Part III.


Joyce curled up under the soft comforter. It was a little...odd...sleeping in Angel's bed. After all, he and her daughter had...well...it was just odd. Sleep would be difficult.

Joyce got up and walked to the kitchen. She opened the cabinets, and found a jar with tea bags. She took one, laid it on the counter, filled the teakettle with water from the sink, and lit the burner on the stove. While waiting for the water to boil, she took a walking tour of the room.

Cordelia was right. With the exception of the antique weapons, the room did have a certain charm. She looked down at the kitchen table. Simple, but nice. Something caught her eye under the table. The linoleum was cracked in several places. Rather badly, actually, almost as though someone had cut into it with a knife. It obviously needed to be replaced, or, even better, Joyce thought, taken up altogether. There were probably nice hardwood floors underneath.

Anyway, it was a nice place. Much nicer than that abandoned mansion Angel had inhabited in Sunnydale. He'd moved up. Well, perhaps not 'up' in the strictest sense of the word; given his...condition...he needed to be underground. But it was a better home. And Buffy was in college, and seemed to be enjoying it. Everything had turned out well. There, Joyce thought, no need to feel guilty about that talk she'd had with Angel. It had all worked out just fine.

"Is Angel here?"

Joyce gasped. The voice came from behind her. No one was supposed to be there. Suddenly, the dark room didn't seem so cosy.

Joyce slowly turned. She saw a woman with long, blond hair cascading down a flowing, white gown. This, in and of itself, was not hard to absorb. She saw a painting on the wall behind the woman, through the woman. This was more difficult to absorb.

Joyce didn't know precisely what to say. Fortunately, the transparent woman interrupted the silence, and said:

"I'm looking for a man named Angel. I was told he could help me."

"A-a-a-ngel," Joyce said, attempting to regain her composure. "Angel isn't here."

"Oh!" The woman's head fell. "I see."

She turned away. It was then that Joyce noticed that the woman's feet never touched the ground. The visitor began to float away.

"Wait," Joyce called toward the woman. "Is there something I can...help you with?"

"No," the woman replied, her back still turned. "No one can help me. It was foolish of me to believe that anyone could."

"Hold on. Angel will be back in a few days. Until then, can't you wait?"

"I haven't much time," the woman said, turning to face Joyce.

Joyce considered this. She said:

"Let me make a phone call."


Part IV.


"So, are you, like, a ghost? Because I have a ghost in my apartment, and I have some questions. For example, birthdays. Do you celebrate them? And what do you give for presents? I mean, Christmas is coming up, and I thought about giving Dennis a book. Because, I mean, it's not like he can use gift certificates. And, how do you do your hair? I mean, Angel has to kind of feel his way through it, not having a reflection and all, but since you don't even have a body, does it

just fall in place, or is there some kind of ectoplasmic conditioner you use, or...." "Cordelia," Doyle interrupted. "Let da lady speak. I doubt she's here ta help ya with yer shoppin' and cosmetology questions."

Cordelia, Doyle and Joyce were sitting around Angel's kitchen table. Their guest hovered in front of them.

"I am not a ghost," the woman replied. "My name is Sira. I am a guardian spirit."

"Interestin'," Doyle said. "Guardian of...?"

"A small grotto in the hills to the south. A statute, a symbol of things too involved for me to explain, was buried there. I was it's guardian."

"And...?"

"The statute was stolen. A vampire, a powerful vampire, stole it. I used my powers. I can control weather, within limits. I sent rain...hail...winds. This scares off people who wander into the wrong place, and may stumble on something too powerful for them to possess. However, this vampire was undeterred. He knew what he was looking for. I called on squirrels, insects, even a wild dog answered my call. He destroyed them all, and took the statute."

Cordelia asked:

"So, how did you end up here? I mean, I came to L.A. to be an actress. I'm just doing this secretary thing until my big break comes along. I've had a few auditions...."

"Cordy, please!" Doyle turned to the spirit. "I tink my associate is askin' how you came to find us."

"I followed the vampire," Sira explained. "Once the symbol was stolen, I was no longer connected to that place. The bond was broken, and I drifted, waiting for my connection to this plane to be lost forever. I don't have much time. I lost the vampire when he arrived in the city. I drifted for several days, until I came upon a tavern. As my bond to this reality dissipates, my ability to conceal my presence becomes weak, and suddenly I realized that everyone could see me. It was late, and the bar was almost empty. Everyone ran when I appeared. They were terrified, except one man. He wasn't scared. I explained my situation to him, and he suggested that I come here. He apparently knows your employer."

"I'll have to ask Angel about dat," Doyle said. "Find out who we can tank for da referral. Wha' do you want us to do fer ya?"

"The statute must be returned," Sira responded. "It maintains a balance in that place which must not be disturbed for too long. I cannot return. I am almost gone. I can feel myself slipping...." Suddenly, Sira's faded form began to fade even more. "No more time...."

"Wait," Doyle said. "Wha's da name o' dis statute? If we know it's name...."

"It is called the Myransa. It will guide you back to it's resting place. But you must...." Sira faded, continued fading, and then finally was gone.

Joyce stared, her mouth agape. Cordelia swallowed once, and bowed her head. Doyle only stared. The silence was palpable. Joyce finally broke the silence when she asked:

"Does...this happen often?"


Part V.


"Here it is!"

Cordelia looked up from the dusty volume of spirit history, pointing excitedly toward an open page. She held up the book, and revealed a charcoal sketch of a statuette of a winged mountain lion. It was approximately nine o'clock in the morning. They had been researching all night.

"Yeah, dat looks like wha' we're lookin' fer," Doyle said, taking the book from Cordelia. He read out loud:

"Da Myransa is a totem of power, protectin' sacred areas from imbalance. It harnesses da powers of nature to keep alignment of da spirit energies of a natural settin'. Mage scholars believe dat da powers of da Myransa may be harnessed, if combined with odder magics, and da power of da Myransa can dereby be redirected to cause unnatural phenomena to occur."

A voice called from the stairs:

"Why would a vampire want that?"

Cordelia and Doyle turned to face Joyce, standing in a robe, her hair wet and tangled. She had apparently just gotten out of the shower.

"Well," Cordelia said, "Vampires sometimes want weird stuff. They're kind of like those people who collect Beanie Babies, if Beanie Babies gave you access to limitless evil powers."

"An' dis git is likely ta be up ta no good," Doyle added. "Look, if dis vamp needs to combine da statue wit some udder magic, he's likely here ta find some. I've got a few contacts I can check."

Joyce asked:

"Is there anything I can do?"

"Actually, Mrs. Summers, ya should probably lay low. Dees vamps, dey can be radder nasty like. You probably shouldn't even stay here, until were sure dat dis vamp didn't follow da spirit. Is dere anywhere ya can go?"

"Uh, yes, I think there is."

"Good. Cordelia and I will snoop around. We'll call yer phone when da coast is clear."


Part VI.


"Joyce, so glad you could make it!"

Mark reached out a hand to take Joyce's coat. She looked over her shoulder to see Cordelia and Doyle drive away. She replied:

"Thanks. I appreciate you letting me come on such short notice. My...friends...at the last minute, had to change their plans, so...."

"No need to explain. Cindy," Mark called to a young woman, perhaps five or six years older than Buffy. "This is Joyce. We met at the airport."

"Nice to meet you, Joyce," Cindy said. Cindy looked Joyce over from head to toe, and smiled. She apparently approved.

Cindy led Joyce in, and introduced her to the family. There were about twenty people at the gathering, and Cindy announced that dinner would be served in about two hours.

Joyce took a seat by the fireplace. Of course, in Southern California, it was for decorative purposes only.

Mark came and sat next to her. He asked:

"So, your friends...."

"They're really my daughter's friends. They had to...um...work on a....project that...materialized, so I thought I'd come over. Thanks again. I hope I'm not intruding."

"Oh, not at all," Mark replied. "My niece told me to bring someone, if I wanted. She keeps trying to set me up. Not that...I mean...I didn't invite you here to...."

"I understand," Joyce said. "I know what it's like to be single all of a sudden."

"Yeah, it's tough. I mean, you get used to always having someone around."

"Yes. You do." Joyce looked straight into Marks eyes. She thought to herself:

What am I doing? He's from Connecticut. What could possibly come of this?

A voice called from across the room:

"Uncle Mark!"

"Oh, that's my nephew, Steve," Mark explained to Joyce. "I should really...."

"Oh, go on. Go talk to him. I'll be fine."

"I'll be right back," Mark promised, and crossed the room to see his nephew.

Joyce looked around the room. This room genuinely was cosy. Not even one pole arm from the Middle Ages hung on the wall. She looked back and forth between pieces of furniture, attempting to occupy her attention among the room full of strangers.

"Here," Cindy said, walking up with a drink in her hand. "It's apple cider. I hope that's alright."

"Oh, yes, thank you," Joyce said, taking the drink. Cindy sat down next to Joyce and said:

"I'm so glad you could come. It's nice to see Uncle Mark here with someone."

"Well, we're not really...."

"Oh, Uncle Mark told me how you met. I know you're not...well, I know you just met. It's just, well, it's nice that he feels...comfortable...asking a woman to go somewhere. You know, after Aunt Sandy died, we were all kind of worried."

"He seems to be doing well," Joyce commented.

"Oh, he's fine, for the most part. It's just, well, it's hard for someone to get used to relating to people, after they've lost someone. I don't think he ever thought that he'd have to learn to talk to women again, you know, that way."

"Yes." Joyce knew exactly how he felt. She remembered Ted. What a disaster. She hadn't even tried to go out with anyone since then. She told herself that she was just too busy, between work and taking care of Buffy. But Buffy was away at college, work was as slow as it was going to get, and, still...nothing.

"Anyway, I've got to get dinner on the table," Cindy said, arising from her chair. "We'll eat soon."

"Sounds good," Joyce said. She stared at the bottom of her drink. Then she looked up across the room toward Mark. She couldn't hear the conversation he was having with his nephew, but she could tell he was happy, lost in the joy of relief from isolation.

She suddenly realized that she craved that relief herself.


Part VII.


"A vampire you ssssay? Yesssss. There wassss one here."

Iggy was a three-foot tall lizard demon. He lived in a small plywood shack in the sewers. He wasn't know for his social skills. But he was known for selling minor magic items to those in need.

Doyle asked:

"Yer sure it was da same guy. We don't know much about 'im. We just know he's a vamp, and he was trying to find sumtin' ta combine wit a magic statue...."

"Yesssss. He wasssss here yessssterday. He bought a gemssssstone. A ssssunssshield gem. He held it up to a ssssstatue, trying to make them fit together."

"Dat sounds like our man. Wha' did he look like?"

"Tall, yesssss. Dresssssed in a red cape. With whisssskers, and dagger on hissss belt."

"Did he say where he was goin'?"

"Ssssomething about having an appointment at the Four Windssssss."

"Tanks, Iggy," Doyle said. He reached in his pocket, and gave the demon a twenty-dollar bill. So much for covering the rent increase.

Doyle climbed a steel ladder to the street, and crawled into the tiny front seat of a small rental car. Cordelia was asleep in the driver's seat.

"Wake up, sunshine," Doyle said, shaking one of Cordelia's shoulders. "Dere's work ta do."

"Oh, Doyle, give me a break," Cordelia exclaimed. "I didn't get any sleep last night."

"Not me fault, Cordy. Hey, did ya have ta get such tiny transportation? Me legs 'er practically in me chest."

"It's all we can afford," Cordelia replied. "Angel took his car to Sunnydale, and, remember, we don't even have a paying client on this one. I highly doubt Ms. Phantom What's-Her-Name is going to send us a fee from the Great Beyond. We were lucky we could rent this. It's Thanksgiving weekend."

"We shoulda let Joyce have tha' car to drive back to Sunnydale," Doyle said. "I don't like us havin' house guests with nasty business up."

"It's a local Mom-N-Pop rental company," Cordelia said. "The car can't be returned in Sunnydale. Any luck with your reptile friend?"

"Drive ta da Four Winds. It's an outdoor patio bar, over in da Valley. Some demon-types frequent da place. I'll give ya directions."

"Oh, can't we get some sleep first? It's daylight. No vampire's going to go to an outdoor place until after sundown."

"Dis may be an exception," Doyle explained. "Ya see, dat vamp, he bought a sunshield gem."

"What's that? A jewel you hang from your rearview mirror that keeps your leather seats from cracking in the sun?"

"It protects humans from da damaging effects of da sun. Sailor's used to use 'em, back before Hawaiian Tropic was invented."

"So, does this protect vampires?"

"Nah, tisn't powerful enough. By itself, dat is. But if da vamp is usin' it wit da statue, I'm guessin' he has a way of changing it. Drive."

Cordelia rolled her eyes, and started the car.


Part VIII.


"So where do you live now?"

Joyce waited until she had chewed and swallowed her mouthful of lettuce before replying to Mark's question. Cindy had sat them next to each other around the dining room table. There were about fifteen people seated around the long table, knocking elbows as they tried to eat. In a corner, four young children sat around a card table, pretending to eat their salads.

"A little town called Sunnydale," Joyce finally said. "I work in a museum."

"Sound's interesting."

"It can be. Of course, I would rather have stayed in Los Angeles. But my daughter had some...trouble...in school, and I got tired of living in my ex-husband's shadow, so we moved."

"Any regrets?"

"Oh, I don't know," Joyce answered. "I mean, the work's OK, and Sunnydale's nice. The town can be a little...unusual, but it's nice. It's just not what I planned. Nothing really turned out the way I planned."

"Well," Mark responded, "look at it this way, nothing really turned out the way the Pilgrims planned, either, and here we are half a millennium later, celebrating Thanksgiving."

"I suppose," Joyce said. "I guess the Puritans didn't leave England expecting to die from starvation, exposure, and disease."

"Nope. But those who survived celebrated. It's kind of a testament to the human spirit. There's something heroic about surviving adversity."

Joyce considered this. She never considered herself to be herioc.


Part IX.


"So, this is the place?"

Cordelia stood beside Doyle and looked up at the sign at the entrance to the outdoor café. It said:

"The Four Winds"

"Yeah," Doyle replied. "Dis is it. Looks innocent enough, don' it?"

Tables were arranged in the outdoor seating area. A bar with a thatched roof was in the corner.

"So, what are we looking for?"

"I have a feelin' we'll know when we see it," Doyle replied.

At that moment, the light suddenly began to grow dim. "Looks like we may get some rain. It's clouding over," Cordelia said.

Doyle looked straight up into the sky. "Dat's not cloud cover. Look!"

Cordelia tilted her head toward the sun. It looked as though the sun was coated with a layer of honey. The light began to grow ever more dim, until the sky was as dark as midnight. Everyone in the courtyard looked up, checked their watches, and attempted to comprehend the sudden darkness.

"Dat's what he's doin'," Doyle exclaimed. "He's blockin' out da sun. Dat gem he bought from Iggy must lower da intensity of sunlight. Dat's how da gem protected sailors from da heat. Dat statute, it increased da gem's power, makin' it dark."

Cordelia looked away from the sky, toward Doyle, and said:

"So, some vampire now has a magic statute that can turn off the sun? Great. That's just what we need. A vampire who can ruin picnics."

"An' can go out in da day, witout worryin' about flamin' up," Doyle observed. "O' course, it doesn't explain why he's coming here. Dat is, if he actually is."

"Uh, I think it's safe to say he is," Cordelia said, pointing to one of the tables.

The first giveaway was the skin. Pasty white, a stark contrast to the black turtleneck, the dark pants, the blood-red cape, and the leather boots. His dark goatee stood out from his face like ink on paper.

Of course, the glowing, ivory white statuette of a mountain cat in his hand was a dead giveaway, too. The vampire held the statute in his left hand. As the statue moved, the gleam of a red gem flashed from the lion's mouth. He was walking toward a table where a solitary man sat sipping an iced tea. Doyle and Cordelia crept closer.

"Julius," the vampire said to the table's occupant. "I thought I'd find you here."

The man attempted to respond:

"Y-y-y-y-y-you, you can't...."

"Go out during the day? Yes, that was a problem, Julius. And you were always good at exploiting it. Never venturing into the open except during daylight, and then staying only in outdoor places. Staying in your home at night. Very clever. You have no idea the trouble I went through, arranging this little 'meeting' between us."

"Darius, I can explain...."

"Explain what? Why you stole from me? Destroyed Diana? Attempted to destroy me? Yes, please, explain."

"Sounds like these two have a history," Cordelia whispered to Doyle.

"Yeah," Doyle whispered back, "and none too friendly like."

Julius stood from the table. He said:

"Well, I guess this was coming sooner or later. If it's a fight you want...."

Julius dropped his arms to his sides. His arms were straight against his body...but they kept dropping. His legs grew, until he reached a total height of ten feet. His hair exploded into a silver mane, and his eyes flashed, red as a sunset.

Doyle and Cordelia scurried for cover. Everyone in the courtyard screamed and ran. Except Darius.

"Don't be a fool, Julius," he said, his face morphing into his vamp form, "you never were a match for me." He threw a chair at Julius, which sent the huge creature reeling backward.

"Da big one's a lot to look at," Doyle whispered to Cordelia, with whom he crouched, peeking up from behind the bar. "But he's not as strong as he looks."

Julius struggled to his feet and walked toward Darius. The vampire sprang up at the towering man, his fangs aimed for the giant's throat. Julius attempted to grab Darius with his huge hands, but Darius caught him by the wrists. The sound of snapping bone filled the courtyard. Darius had broken both of Julius' arms.

He'd also dropped the statue.

Doyle wasted no time at the opportunity. He sprang out from behind the bar, and lunged for the statue at the vampire's feet. He grasped it with both hands and shouted:

"Cordelia! Get outta here!"

Cordelia did not need to be told twice. She ran toward the front gate. Doyle stood and turned to run for the gate himself. Darius turned, for a moment confused, not quite sure what was happening. When he saw the statue in Doyle's hands, he threw Julius against a wall, reached one arm out, and struck Doyle in the back. The blow sent Doyle flying headlong onto the ground.

"Doyle!" Cordelia stopped at the gate, and, reflexively threw her purse at the behemoth. It struck Darius in the head, and the contents of Cordelia's purse scattered on the ground. Darius turned to face his second unexpected attacker of the day.

Doyle took advantage of the opportunity. He still had the statue in his hand. He raised it in the air, concentrated, and silently prayed. The tome in Angel's library hadn't said anything about needing any special incantation to control the statue's powers. He hoped that one wasn't necessary.

As he held the statue, he felt it's power course through his body. As Darius moved toward Cordelia, Doyle shouted:

"Hey, bloodsucker! Beautiful weather we're havin', eh?"

Darius turned toward Doyle, and saw that the gem in the statue's mouth was glowing, fire red. He looked to the sky. The dark haze over the sun was fading from black to brown, then brown to tan. Doyle and Cordelia squinted as the light began to reach their eyes. Darius screamed as the sunshine began to scorch his skin. A less experienced vampire would have been ash on the ground. Darius, however, kept his senses, looked around, and saw a manhole cover. He tore the steel circle from the ground with his bare hands, and jumped into the darkness.

Doyle got up of the ground. Cordelia ran to his side. She shouted:

"Well, that was damned foolish!"

"Yeah," Doyle said, "but ya canna argue with the results."

They walked back to Julius. His body had returned to human size. Doyle checked his pulse. Nothing. The last throw by Darius had broken the giant's neck. Doyle heard Cordelia shout:

"Dammit! My stuff is everywhere." She retrieved her purse, and began picking up a seemingly endless supply of lipsticks and eyeliners.

"Hurry up," Doyle told her. "Let's get outta here ba'fore da sun comes down on it's own, and dat beastie comes back."


Part X.


"That's weird."

Cindy was holding one curtain of her kitchen window open with her hand, and stared into the sky. Joyce, who had volunteered to help her carry out the serving trays, looked over Cindy's shoulder through the window. Cindy continued:

"Did you see that? It was dark for a couple of minutes."

"It could have been a passing storm," Joyce said.

"No, there's not a cloud in the sky. How odd."

Joyce had been enjoying the normalcy of the traditional Thanksgiving celebration. It had brought back memories of a simpler time, when she would have dismissed the moment of darkness without needing an explanation. However, the phenomenon had reminded her of the secret world of darkness that she had become all too familiar with.

"Well, if it was a storm, it's gone now," Joyce said. She had learned something of the art of plausible denial from her daughter. "We'd better get dinner on the table before it get's cold." "Uh...yeah," Cindy said. She took her hand from the curtain, and started arranging the trays to bring to the table. Joyce could tell that she had forgotten the momentary darkness, and moved on to more mundane concerns. Joyce took a bowl of mashed potatoes, and walked toward the dining room. She envied Cindy. There was a time in her own life when tending to hearth and home did not involve worries about the darkness that came without warning.


Part XI.


Darius crawled out of the sewer about three blocks from where he had entered. Night had fallen. He stealthily crept back to the restaurant. Yellow tape blocked off the courtyard. Darius proceeded through undeterred.

He looked at the ground, and saw a chalk outline in the shape of a man. He smiled. Julius had met the fate he so richly deserved. Now, it was only a matter of finding the two miscreants who had interrupted his vengance and stolen a tool which, while it had served its main purpose, would have proven useful to keep.

A flash of white cardboard caught his eye. He reached under one of the tables, and picked it up. It was a business card. There was a drawing of something that looked like...a man in a big bow tie? Perhaps...an elephant's head?

He read the business card. He suddenly understood the significance of the curious shape. An angel. As in, Angel Investigations. With a telephone number. He smiled.

Perfect.


Part XII.


Cindy had accepted Joyce's offer to help clean up while Mark and the others watched the football game. Joyce held a stack of dishes, and was carrying them into the kitchen, when she heard from the television in the living room:

"This is a Channel Five News Brief. We'll be back to the game in just a moment. Our station has been getting calls from local residents regarding what appeared to be a solar eclipse this afternoon. No, it wasn't the Martians invading. Our meteorologists tell us that a patch of smog was lifted by a passing high pressure system, causing a momentary haze over the greater Los Angeles area. More on this story at eleven."

Joyce paused. It seemed to be a logical explanation.

Which was exactly why she didn't believe it.


Part XIII.


Darius reached down onto the knob of the front door of Angel Investigations. It was locked. He forced the knob. The lock snapped, and the door opened.

He walked into the front office, past the reception desk, and through Angel's office. He considered lying in wait for whoever arrived next, but when he saw the elevator, he decided to thoroughly check the premises. He entered the elevator, and pressed the lever down. The elevator sank to the basement.

He walked into the living area, and noted the kitchen table. He looked to one side and saw the open door of the bedroom. Someone lived here, yet he had been able to enter uninvited.

A vampire? With human minions? Very interesting. At that moment, he looked down, and saw a pad of paper lying on the table. He picked it up. It said "Mark," and had a telephone number. Darius walked to the telephone and dialed the number. A voice answered:

"Hello?"

"Yes, I'm looking for a friend," Darius replied. He saw a garment bag draped over the couch. It was half unzipped, and the paisley sleeve of a woman's blouse hung out of the bag toward the floor.

"Oh, you must mean Joyce," the voice replied over the phone. "She said some friends might call to pick her up after dinner."

"Yes," Darius responded, "I am on my way to get...Joyce. How do I get there?"

"I'll give you directions. Do you have a pen?"

Darius smiled to himself and said:

"I have an excellent memory."


Part XIV.


"Well, there goes a perfectly good manicure!"

Cordelia dropped her shovel and put her hands on her hips. "How am I supposed to become a famous model-slash-actress-slash-diva digging out here in the dirt?"

"I tink you got da diva part down," Doyle said, shoveling dirt into what remained of the pit they had dug. The statue, at the bottom of the hole, was now almost completely buried. "Tink of it as auditionin' for a movie about gold prospectors."

"I can't believe how late it is. This is not how I wanted to spend my Thanksgiving."

"Tisn't my fault it took ya two hours ta find a place to buy da shovels."

"Well, that statue may have an excellent sense of direction for finding secluded grottos, but it stinks at finding Wal-Marts. Couldn't this have waited until morning?"

"Take a look around," Doyle said. "Da vegetation is already dyin'. Dat spirit was right about tha' statue maintainin' nature's balance. Another few days, an' this place woulda been barren."

"I know, I know," Cordelia said, as Doyle finished filling the hole and patted down the soil with the shovel. "It's just...I was hoping for a nice, quiet Thanksgiving. No vamps, no demons, no supernatural quests. This is my first holiday away from home. Well, except for that Christmas I went skiing in Aspen. That wasn't so bad."

"Well, tink of it dis way," Doyle said, tossing the shovel aside. "Once you've been on da cover of yer first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, ya can spend every Christmas in Aspen."

"Yeah, well, it's not like I can go home. Or have a home to go to."

"I know dat feelin'."

"Yeah, I suppose you would," Cordelia admitted. "You know, normally it's not so bad, but during the holidays, when every stupid TV show is doing it's 'Very Special' episode, all full of good cheer and togetherness, it just...."

"Oh, please. Not now."

Cordelia was stunned. She said:

"Excuse me!?! Am I annoying you?"

"No...I mean...not...now...ugh!"

Doyle doubled over in pain, grasping at the side of his head. Apparently the Powers that Be weren't taking the long weekend off.

"Ahhhh!" Doyle fell to the ground. He started to lose his vision, and gain his second sight.

"Doyle!" Cordelia ran to his side. She grasped his arm. She didn't know what else to do. She never did.

Through the haze, Doyle saw a small house. A shadowy figure lurked outside, looking through one of the windows. It was Darius.

Suddenly, through the vampire's eyes, he saw through the window, into the house. A woman sat quietly, her hands folded in her lap.

It was Joyce.

The stabbing pain in Doyle's head became a dull ache. His vision was over.

"Doyle," Cordelia asked, "what did you see?"

"Get in da car," he replied, with all the force he could muster through the pain. He stumbled toward the passenger door.

Cordelia followed, jumping into the driver's seat. "Where are we going?"

"It's Joyce," Doyle said, climbing into the car. "Dat vamp's after her."

"How did he find her?"

"Don't know," Doyle said, "just drive."

Cordelia started the engine, put the car into gear, and hit the accelerator. "Here," she said, handing Doyle her cell phone, "call and warn her."

"Good idea," Doyle said. He pulled the phone number from his jacket pocket. He dialed, hit SEND, and put the phone to his ear. He heard:

"We're sorry. Cellular service is not available at this time. Please try again later."

"Cordy," Doyle said, "Dese phones ya got er junk."

"It's not the phone," Cordelia replied. "We're too far from the city. We'll never get a signal out here."

"Keep drivin'," Doyle replied, focusing his eyes on the road.


Part XV.


Joyce and Mark sat in the living room of Cindy's home. Each had a pumpkin pie slice on a paper plate on their laps.

"So, what do you do?"

"I'm a professor of history at UConn," Mark replied.

"Oh," she said. "We have something in common. I was a history major. That's how I got into museum work."

"Yes," Mark said. "I've always been fascinated with history. You can't know where you're going until you know what's past."

"And it's so dynamic," Joyce interjected. "It's always changing."

"And any sort of change results in progress, sooner or later. Wars, earthquakes, any form of tragedy almost universally results in an improvement of the human condition over time. War machines become steam trains. Guided missiles become moon rockets. Disasters may be horrible when they occur, but it is the nature of humanity to improve itself in the face of adversity. And, contrary to the popular saying, history doesn't repeat itself. If you always look to the past to try to predict the future, you'll wind up short. History is a tool for understanding ourselves, but it's not the whole story."

"Very true," Joyce said.

The conversation was interrupted by a doorbell. Cindy called from the kitchen:

"I'll get it!"

Cindy walked to the door. She opened it. A man in a red cape stood at the door. This seemed unusual. Even if capes had been a more normal accessory, it simply wasn't cold.

"Hello," Darius said. "I'm here for...Joyce."

"Oh, I'll get her," Cindy responded.

"May I come in?" Darius stood ready to launch himself into the house upon the granting of an invitation.

"Well," Cindy said, "I don't see...."

"You're not invited!"

Cindy and Darius turned and saw Joyce standing behind Cindy.

"Oh, Joyce," Cindy said, "your friend is here to...."

"He's not my friend," Joyce said. "Do NOT invite him in."

Cindy looked puzzled. She said:

"Joyce, this man said that he was...."

"Don't invite him in," Joyce said again. "He's...he's...my ex-husband. I have a restraining order against him." Joyce shifted her focus toward Darius and said:

"You're looking a little PALE today, dear. Don't you remember the judge telling you that you couldn't come within 100 yards of me?"

This woman is clever, Darius thought to himself. Too clever. He replied:

"You're right, dear. I'm sorry. I'll just be going." Darius turned to Cindy. "Oh, by the way, I noticed that your newspapers are stacked at the side of the house for recycling. You shouldn't let them pile up like that. It's a fire hazard. You know, not every danger that can befall you comes from inside your house. Good day."

Darius walked away. Mark walked up to Joyce and asked:

"Was that a threat?"

"No," Joyce said. Yes, Joyce thought. She couldn't endanger these people. "Look, I should really be going...."

"I'll drive you," Mark offered. "He may be waiting for you, so I'll...."

"No!" Joyce exclaimed. "I'll go alone. My friends were going to wait for me at the corner anyway."

"Look, Joyce," Mark said, "I don't feel comfortable...."

"Mark, listen to me," Joyce said with the same firm tone in her voice that she used to use when she would tell Buffy not to sneak cookies out of the pantry. She hoped that she would have better results with Mark. "Do NOT follow me. Do NOT leave the house. Stay here. I'll be fine. I'll call you tomorrow. Don't worry. And do NOT follow me."

Mark and Cindy exchanged glances. They did not know what to make of this sudden situation.

"Let me get my coat," Joyce said, walking upstairs toward the bedroom where the jackets had been stashed. She walked quickly. Who knew how long it would take for the vampire to find a book of matches.

She walked into the bedroom, and closed the door behind her. She grabbed her coat off the bed and threw it on. She looked around the room for something she could use to protect herself from the vamp. Unfortunately, Cindy wasn't so devout that she kept holy water in every room.

Then Joyce looked up on the wall. A crucifix hung over the bed. Joyce climbed up to the bed, and for a moment thought of the irony: she was stealing a crucifix to fight evil. Under the circumstances, she thought it was justified. She put the cross under her jacket, and walked out of the room, down the stairs. Mark said:

"Listen, Joyce, I really think..."

"I'll be fine, Mark," Joyce replied. "I'll call you. Don't worry. And DON'T follow me."

Joyce went outside the door. She quickly walked to the sidewalk, and went down the street, looking over her shoulder. She knew the vampire would come. She just needed to lead him away from the house. When she was about two blocks down the street, she turned the corner, and looked back towards Cindy's house one last time. She pulled out the crucifix with her left hand, and got her cell phone out from her purse with her right hand. She was looking through her purse for the paper with Cordelia's cell phone number, when a voice behind her said:

"You left. How noble."

She turned around. Darius was standing behind her. She held the crucifix toward him. He took a half step back.

"And you're resourceful," Darius said. "I'm impressed."

"Well," Joyce said, trying to maintain her composure, "I'm my daughter's mother. She's the Slayer. She'll hunt you and kill you if you lay one hand on me."

"Hmmm, a Slayer," Darius said. "I ran into a Slayer once. I lived. She didn't. Now, why don't you put that toy away. I'll only kill you if you don't give me what I want, and all I want is my statue back."

"I don't know anything about your statue. Now get out of here."

"Or what? You'll point that cross at me some more? It may keep me at bay, but I'll eventually maneuver around it. If your daughter is the Slayer, you know I'm not lying. If you don't have what I want, your friends, those two busybodies who took my statue, will have it, and I'll trade you for it. You'll be safe, and I'll have my statue. That sounds fair, doesn't it?"

For a moment, it actually sounded like a good exchange to Joyce. Then she remembered what Cordelia said about evil Beanie Babies. She said:

"Whatever you want that statue for, it's probably to hurt people. So forget it."

"Well," Darius said, "it seems we're at a bit of a standoff. How will we resolve this."

A voice called from behind Darius:

"Stay away from her!"

Darius turned to look over his shoulder. Mark stood behind him, carrying a golf club. It appeared to be a putter, but Darius wasn't sure. He hadn't played golf for about one hundred and fifty years. He made a mental note to get back to Scotland one day soon.

Darius turned back to face Joyce and said:

"Well, a solution has presented itself. The gentleman is carrying an iron, instead of a wood, so I assume he doesn't know what he's up against. So why don't you just come quietly, and I'll let your 'rescuer' go back home in one piece?"

Joyce's jaw trembled. She should have known Mark wouldn't have listened. Darius then said:

"I've got a better idea. I'll kill this friend of yours, and then wait for his family to come out of the house to find him. Oh, yes, I like that solution. I've been a bit hungry...."

Joyce shouted:

"No!"

Darius ignored Joyce's exclamation. His face twisted into his vamp form, and he walked toward Mark, who stood in shock at the transformation. Darius grabbed him by the throat, lifted him from the ground, and said to him:

"Don't worry. I'll just take a taste. If you're not one of my preferred blood types, I'll just snap your neck. Much less painful that way."

SSSCCCREEEEECHHHH!!!!

The squeal of the tires caught Darius off guard. He dropped Mark to the ground, and looked at the lights of the approaching vehicle. Cordelia flipped on the high beams, temporarily blinding the vampire. Darius held up his arms. His hands shielded his eyes from the light.

However, they did not shield his legs from the car's bumper as Cordelia drove up over the curb and onto the sidewalk. Darius was thrown into a thicket of bushes.

Cordelia and Doyle jumped out of the car. Doyle held one of the wooden sticks he and Cordelia had picked up from the side of the road. Doyle had sharpened them while Cordelia drove.

Leaves and twigs flew into the air as Darius sprang to his feet. He had no intention of letting these two get the better of him again. He stood face to face with Doyle.

Doyle did a quick evaluation of the situation. This was a strong vampire, and had probably been fighting off men wielding stakes for at least a hundred years before Doyle was born. Doyle needed a plan, and fast.

Doyle had an idea. He only hoped Cordelia was savvy enough to figure it out.

"Cordy," he said, never taking his eyes off the vamp, "get da statue, and use it ta bring out da sun!"

Cordy paused for a moment, although to Doyle it seemed like an eternity. Then Cordelia said:

"It's in the back seat. I'll get it."

Darius backed away. Doyle advanced toward him. Darius turned so that he could run at full pace. Doyle sprang forward, and buried the stake between the vampire's shoulder blades.

"Actually," Doyle whispered into the paralyzed vamp's ear, "da statue's buried in da woods, but dat's a bit of a moot point now, isn't it?"

Darius dissolved, covering Doyle in his dust.

Doyle walked back to where Cordelia and Joyce were standing. He said:

"Tanks fer backin' me up dere, Cordy. I wasn't sure ya'd pick up on me idea."

"Please! Just because I'm beautiful, doesn't mean I'm stupid."

"Sorry fer, uh, underestimatin' ya," Doyle replied. He turned to Joyce. "An' sorry fer puttin' ya in danger."

"It's not your fault," Joyce said.

"Actually, it kind of is," Cordelia said. "We were going to call and warn you. I told him to wait until we got back to the city to call, but he kept trying, and by the time we got close enough to civilization to get a signal, our own little Irish Alexander Graham Bell here had drained the phone battery."

"Well," Doyle interjected, "if ya'd buy decent equipment, then I wouldn't hafta...."

"What's important is that you both got here on time," Joyce interrupted. God, how did Angel put up with these two?

"Um...Joyce?"

Joyce, Doyle and Cordelia turned toward the voice. Mark was sitting on the ground, the golf club still in his hand. He had the facial expression of...well, of a man who'd just seen someone disintegrate into a fine powder. Joyce ran to him, knelt on the ground, and said:

"Mark, are you alright?"

"Your ex-husband," Mark said, "he just...he...."

"He wasn't my ex-husband," Joyce said. She looked at Doyle and Cordelia. Doyle bit his bottom lip. Cordelia shrugged. Plausible denial didn't seem to be an option this time. Joyce drew a deep breath, turned to Mark, and said:

"That was a vampire. They're real. My daughter slays them. Her ex-boyfriend is a vampire, but he stopped being evil due to a gypsy curse. He now lives in L.A., and uses his vampire powers to help people and fight monsters. Monsters are real, too. These two people work for my daughter's ex-evil ex-boyfriend, and they help fight monsters. Last night a ghost, I mean, a guardian spirit, came to me and asked for help finding her magic statue. My daughter's ex-boyfriend's friends found the statue, and then came back here to help me."

Mark waited for a moment. He then looked toward Doyle and Cordelia and said:

"Have you eaten?"


Epilogue


"Is dere more of da cranberries?"

Doyle and Cordelia sat with Cindy at the dining room table, eating leftovers. The rest of Cindy's guests had gone home. Cindy said:

"I'm afraid that was the last of them. But there's more stuffing."

"Naw, I'm gettin' stuffed myself. Tanks anyway."

"My pleasure," Cindy replied. "Your accent is so interesting. Is it Scottish?"

"Irish, actually."

"Oh," Cindy said. "I was going to say you look a lot like Pierce Brosnan."

Doyle looked up from his plate. Cindy was smiling at him. He said:

"Well, yer not da first ta notice da resemblance. Anyway, I don't want ta eat all yer leftovers. I'm sure you and your husband...."

"Oh, I'm not married. I got divorced about a year ago."

"Really," Doyle said, letting a grin cover his face. "Well, if ya need someone ta help ya wit da dishes, I could stay an'...."

"Excuse me," Cordelia interjected. "Did you say there was more stuffing?"

"Oh...yes," Cindy said, less than enthusiastically. "I'll get it."

Cindy arose from the table, and went into the kitchen. Cordelia shouted to her:

"Take your time!"

Doyle shot a glance at Cordelia that was equal parts frustration and curiosity. Cordelia said:

"What? I'm hungry."

Joyce and Mark sat in the living room sipping coffee.

"So," Mark said, "your daughter slays vampires. How does one get that job?"

"She's the Chosen One. It's like getting drafted."

She stared right into Mark's eyes, and asked:

"Are you OK with all this?"

"Actually," Mark said, "it explains quite a lot. There are a lot of events that they leave out of the history books that can't be explained. We normally write it off to poor records or superstition, but I guess there's more to it than that. I'll have to go back and look up a few things. Some historical theory may be radically wrong."

"Mark," Joyce cautioned, "you can't ever tell anyone...."

"Who'd believe me?"

"True," Joyce said. She looked at her watch. "It's getting late. I'd better be getting back."

"Where will you go?"

"Back to Angel's for tonight. Tomorrow I may see if I can get a flight to Portland."

Mark paused, and then said:

"You could stay here."

Joyce considered this, although it was not the first time she considered it. She said:

"Well, I couldn't impose on Angel's hospitality for too long."

She smiled. She was being coy and aloof, and yet she wasn't closing any doors. This was all coming back to her.

Like riding a bicycle, she thought.

"Well, I have a suite at the Marriott. You could stay with me," Mark suggested, and then quickly added:

"The couch in the outer room turns into a bed. I could stay on that, and you could have the bedroom."

"I couldn't ask you to sleep on the couch."

"Well, you could have the couch, and I could...."

"Mark, why don't I just stay, and we can see what happens."

Mark smiled. "I'd like that."

"I'll have to go with my friends to get my things."

"I'll follow you in my car."

Joyce got up, asked Cordelia to go to the ladies room with her, and told Cordelia of her new...arrangements. Cordelia giggled like a schoolgirl. Joyce got Cordelia to promise not to tell Buffy, Angel, or anyone of her...layover...in LA, and Cordelia said she would get a similar promise out of Doyle.

Shortly thereafter, Joyce stood in the driveway while Cordelia and Doyle got in the tiny rental car, and Mark said his goodbyes to his niece. Joyce looked at the man with whom she would be spending the weekend, her first such weekend in a long time. She thought to herself:

All change is progress.

THE END


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Six Slayers in Search of An Exit

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: In an AU where demons and vampires are real, but Slayers are not, the Counsel casts a spell to summon Buffy...and wind up with more Slayers than they counted on.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. Takes place after "Normal Again" (sort of). The title is a variation of "Five Characters in Search of an Exit," a 'Twilight Zone' episode written by Rod Serling. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

Prologue


"Are you sure the spell worked?"

"Quite sure, Mr. Giles," Witherby's voice said through the cordless telephone Giles held to his ear. "The auras manifested themselves perfectly. She should be arriving shortly."

"Well, I'm looking and I don't see...wait," Giles said, his other hand holding a pair of binoculars to his eyes. He leaned farther out of the window of the Sunnydale High School library. "Something's happening in the school courtyard. An orange glow of some sort. I think...yes."

A long silence passed. Finally, Witherby asked:

"Mr. Giles? Is she there?"

"Witherby," Giles said. "The volumes you consulted. Are you sure they indicated that there is only one Slayer?"

"Quite," Witherby responded. "The accounts are quite clear. 'One girl in all the world,' and so forth. One dies, another is called."

"I suggest we consult the texts again," Giles stated. "There are six girls standing in the courtyard. Four of them appear to be identical."

"Identical?"

"Well," Giles observed. "The hair is different."


Part I.


"What the Hell...?"

Faith's hands instinctively balled into fists as she absorbed her new surroundings. An African-American girl Faith did not recognize stood beside her. In front of Faith, four girls stood facing her, and all four appeared to be Buffy. They appeared to be identical copies of each other, with a few exceptions. One had a scar on her upper lip. Another smiled like a toothpaste model. A third was dressed in some kind of smock that looked like a hospital gown.

"Who are you people?" the African-American girl asked. Faith noticed the girl had an odd Carribean accent. She remembered what Buffy had told her about her predecessor.

"Kendra," Faith half-stated, half-asked.

Kendra turned to face Faith. The two Slayers exchanged confused stares. Then Faith saw Kendra fall to the ground as a roundhouse kick crossed her jaw. Faith turned and saw the scarred-lip Buffy pivot and swing a fist. Faith blocked the blow and shouted:

"Cut it out, B!"

"I don't know what's going on here," she replied, her mangled lip accentuating the snarl in her voice, "but you're obviously all some kind of demons who...ugh!"

The scarred Buffy recoiled as the smiling Buffy punched her in the stomach, saying:

"Buffy doesn't have a scar! You must be a demon! I will slay you!"

"Try it," scarred Buffy said, wiping a trail of blood from her chin and setting into a fighting stance.

"Stop it, all of you," the third Buffy said. "Just hold on. There's got to be an explanation for this."

"There is," a voice called. The six girls turned toward the voice, and saw Giles standing before them.

"Giles," Faith called. "What's going on here?"

"Mr. Giles," Kendra said. "Something strange has happened."

"Giles has books," the smiling Buffy interjected. "He explains things."

"Well, he better start explaining now," scarred Buffy said. "Look, it's Giles, right? You're that Watcher guy from Sunnydale. These wanna-Slayers are...."

"Everybody shut up," the third Buffy interjected. "Alright, we're all obviously confused, and there's something here that's not right. But the one thing we can all agree on is that Giles is the one who's most likely to have answers, right?"

The five girls all exchanged uneasy glances, and then turned to face Giles.

"I believe I can explain everything," Giles said. "Well, not everything. I thought there would be only one of you. But I can say that none of you are from here, and I can explain where here is. Good lord, that was a frightful sentence."

The third Buffy looked at Faith and said:

"Well, at least we know he's real."

"Talking to a litter of Slayers and still quibbling over grammar," Faith observed. "Yeah, it's him alright."

"We should get inside," Giles said. "All of us."

"Wait," Faith said. "Not that three Buffys aren't more than enough, but there was a fourth one. Where...?"

The group looked around and saw the fourth Buffy lying on the ground, hugging her knees to her chest, muttering:

"No...no...no more...please...."


Part II.


Giles stood before the table in the library. The six Slayers all sat around the table. Five of them listened intensely, while the Buffy in the hospital gown held her hands to her mouth with her eyes shut tight.

"My name is Rupert Giles," he said. "I am a member of the Counsel of Slayers."

"You mean the Counsel of Watchers," Kendra corrected.

"Not here," Giles explained. "There are no Slayers. At least, not really. Or, I should say, in this reality. Slayers are legendary. Or at least we thought they were. Then, it was discovered that the texts we thought mythological were actually based on writings brought into this reality by a dimensional traveler in the early fourteenth century. Here, the Counsel fights the forces of darkness. Apparently in the world, or worlds, that you young ladies are from, the Counsel guides a Slayer. She is the Chosen One. One girl in all the world...."

"Yes, we've heard that part," Faith said.

"A lot," the scarred lip Buffy added.

"Well, there is a new force descending on Sunnydale," Giles continued. "A force more powerful than we've ever faced. The Counsel's warlocks in England did a spell to temporarily summon the Slayer from her dimension. We need help. Of course, since there is only supposed to be one Slayer, we expected only one girl."

"That can be explained, Mr. Giles," Kendra stated. "I was called after the Slayer died for a moment. She drowned, and the temporary loss of life was enough to call me. However, I cannot explain how these other imposters are...."

"Cool it, Foxy Brown," Faith said. "Don't start in with the whole 'Slay-ier than thou,' routine. There's obviously more to this."

Kendra scowled at Faith. The uncomfortable silence was broken by the ringing of Giles' phone. Giles grabbed the cordless phone and said:

"Hello? Yes, Witherby. Yes, they're all here and...no...what? Oh, I see...yes, that would explain...what? Oh, quite right...yes...yes, it is a blessing, I suppose. Well, I'll keep the Counsel informed. Right."

Giles rested the phone on the table.

"What's up?" Faith asked.

"Well," Giles said. "It seems that the Counsel has...re-examined the text of the spell. Apparently, the Sumarian word for 'manifestation' can have several connotations, depending on the context."

"In English, Giles," Faith said. "Well, in American."

"The spell was supposed to call forth the current Slayer," Giles explained. "The exact words, as translated, summon 'the Slayer of the time, in her manifestation.' However, the Sumarian word for 'manifestation' does not change from singular to plural."

"Manifestations," Kendra stated. "The spell called forth all Slayers."

"It may be more complicated than that," Giles said. "The word in Sumarian can also be translated as 'image,' or 'incarnation,' or 'derivation.' It's apparently a rather vague concept in Sumarian that doesn't translate directly into English. Or American, for that matter."

"But we're all from the same source," Buffy said. "There's got to be a connection between us."

"Look, I'd love to bask in the sisterhood and all," scarred-lip Buffy said. "But if I have to slay some demon to get back to where I came from, I say we stop jabber-jawing and start ass-kicking."

Faith turned to Giles and said:

"I like that one."

"Perhaps it would shed some light on things if we were to trace the connection," Giles offered. "Faith, what's the last thing you remember?"

"I was in the yard," Faith said. "The guards let us out for the exercise hour, and...."

"In prison?" Kendra exclaimed. "I was right, Mr. Giles. Clearly an imposter. No Slayer would do anything to violate her sacred duties in such a way that would...."

"Well, maybe I'm not a goody two-shoes," Faith interrupted. "But at least I wasn't stupid enough to...." Faith stopped. She wasn't the most empathic person in the world, but even she couldn't just tell Kendra that....

"Stupid enough to what?" Kendra asked. "You act like you know me. I certainly do not know you."

"Kendra, listen," Buffy said. "It's no good fighting each other. The spell called Slayers. That means we're all on the same side here."

Faith and Buffy exchanged knowing glances. Faith knew that this Buffy was real. The connection was still there. It had made them good partners. It had also made it all the more bitter when....

"Giles," the smiling Buffy said. "Thank you for answering our questions. I am ready to fight demons! But first, I need to recharge my power cells. If an electro-dynamic converter is unavailable, I can splice my inputs into an ordinary outlet."

"What is she talking about?" Kendra said.

"She's a robot," Buffy explained. "Spike had her built."

"Hey, that's news to me," Faith said. "A vampire building a Slayer robot. What was he up to?"

"He loves...I mean, he was in love with me," Buffy said.

"Wait a minute," scarred-lip Buffy said. "You're telling me that this vampire Spike built a robot so he could pretend to have sex with me? I mean, you."

"Ew," Faith and Kendra exclaimed simultaneously.

"I assume that Spike paid for his treachery," Kendra said.

"Uh, yeah," Buffy said. She swallowed hard. Most of the girls here were strangers. Still, she couldn't bring herself to tell them that Spike didn't have to settle for a substitute very long.

"Man, that's harsh, B," Faith said. "Musta been weird, thinking about Spike kinda screwing you, kinda not."

"Wasn't the first time, Faith," Buffy said through clenched teeth.

Faith averted Buffy's glare. She turned to Giles, and said:

"This one, the one who knows the bot, she's real. I mean, she's the source. The Slayer you were trying to summon. We're all from her, one way or another."

"You can't know that," Kendra said. "You are drawing conclusions without all of the facts. We need further research to know...."

"Screw research," Faith said.

"Amen," scarred-lip Buffy said.

"And who put you in charge?" Kendra asked Faith. "Mr. Giles is the Watcher. He is the one who...."

"Giles isn't our Watcher here," Faith said. "No one is. And this Buffy's the only one who knows you, me and the robot. I'm guessing she can explain the other two. Would that prove enough for you?"

Kendra clenched her teeth. Then all eyes turned to Buffy.

"The girl in the gown's from a demon," Buffy said, knowing that she was the only one who would have the answers. "I got stuck with a demon's talon. It gave me hallucinations. I imagined I was in a hospital. I was insane, schitzo, institutionalized for six years. In my delusion, my life as a Slayer was a fantasy."

"You're the delusion," the gowned Buffy muttered. "This is in my mind...it isn't real...none of this is...oh, God, make it stop!" She sobbed and threw her hands into her face.

"That's some delusion you had," Faith said. "Good likeness. Not very realistic, though."

"Excuse me?" Buffy asked.

"The hair," Faith explained. "Look, B, it's not like we ever had gym together or anything, but you obviously get a little help with the blonde thing. You think they go around the loony bin and give dye jobs to the head cases?"

"Well, I...."

"Besides," Faith continued, "she's wearing sneakers."

"And, what? I should have hallucinated myself in a pair of sling back Manolo Blahniks?"

"Her shoes have laces," Faith explained. "You can use the laces to hang yourself. They don't let you have shoelaces if you're locked up and they think you're nuts."

"Speaking from experience?" Kendra asked.

"You're pushing it, kid," Faith growled.

"The other one," Buffy said, as much to change the subject as to further the inquiry, "I'm not sure about. I've never seen her before."

"There," scarred-lip Buffy said. "She doesn't know me. That seals it. I'm the real one. I'm in charge. Now let's find this demon and...."

"Really," Faith said. "So I guess you know all about us?"

"Er, Buffy," Giles said, not entirely sure what else to call the girl with the scar. "What's the last think you remember?"

"I was throwing down with that vamp you called the Master," Buffy replied. "I had just arrived in Sunnydale. You told me about this Master guy, and I found his factory where...."

"You never came to Sunnydale?" Buffy asked.

"Not before I got the call that this Master vamp had started up some kind of blood assembly line."

"That explains it," Buffy said. "Faith, remember Anya? Xander's girlfriend? She was a vengeance demon. Cordelia made a wish that I never came to Sunnydale. Anya told us later that the whole town went Beyond Thunderdome, because there wasn't a Slayer here to keep the Master from rising. This Buffy must be from that world."

The alternate universe Buffy pursed her scarred lips and remained silent.

"Alright, we know all the players," Faith said. "Now, what's the deal with this demon?"

"His name is Orelshar," Giles said. "He's trying to open the portal to a Hell dimension and draw humans into it for slave labor."

"Been there," Buffy said.

"You've faced such a demon before?"

"No, I mean, I've literally been to a...oh, never mind," Buffy sighed. "It's complicated. What's his plan?"

"He's assembling a demon army," Giles continued. "Where and when is unclear. It will be at the opening of the portal. I'd suggest we do reconnaissance."

"Sounds like a plan," Faith said.

"Very good," Giles said. "Buffy...."

"What?" the four Buffys responded in unison.

"Oh, hell," Faith said. "This is no good. We'll have to give everyone names."

"We called the robot BuffyBot," Buffy volunteered.

"Perfect," Faith said. "Yo, can opener. You're BuffyBot from now on. 'Kay?"

"I understand," the BuffyBot replied. "I can respond to any command in English, French, German, Japanese, Russian or Chinese. Cantonese or Mandarin."

"Yeah, whatever," Faith said. "We'll let you know if we need you to talk to a moisture vaporator, Threepio."

An awkward silence fell upon the library.

"None of them are exactly up on pop culture," Buffy told Faith. "Trust me."

"Fine," Faith said. "You, with the scar. You're new in town. We'll call you Newbie."

"Not more than once," she replied.

"Call her Celia," Buffy said. The two Buffys exchanged glances.

"You cool with that?" Faith asked.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever," she replied. "Anything to stop you two from talking me to death."

"Fine," Faith said. "Girl in the gown. We'll call you..."

Gowned Buffy held her hands to her ears and squealed.

"...if we need someone to talk to Elvis," Faith concluded. "Alright, BuffyBot. You know your way around Sunnydale, right?"

The BuffyBot smiled back at Faith and nodded enthusiastically.

"Great," Faith said. "You take Kendra and Celia. Patrol near the harbor."

The BuffyBot flashed her smile at Kendra and 'Celia.' Both rolled their eyes.

"B, you and I'll take downtown," Faith said. "If Willy's in this dimension, we'll beat the crap outta him til he talks. For old time's sake. Giles, stay here. Hit the books. See what you can find out about this portal. Keep an eye on mental girl."

"Yes," Giles said. "Quite right."

"What's our time frame?" Faith asked.

"The spell will keep you here for twenty-four hours," Giles responded. "After that, you will all return to your home dimensions. You'll have no memory of this after you return."

"Alright," Faith said. "Let's move out."


Part III.


"So," Celia said, scanning the ships of the harbor for signs of demons. "Is Faith that bossy in your dimension?"

"I do not know her," Kendra said. "And I do not understand how it is possible that Buffy knows her."

"Faith is a Slayer," BuffyBot interjected. "She had fights with Buffy. Spike never saw them fight, but I've described the fights to him. In detail. We were naked."

"Maybe she's from one of Buffy's other delusions," Celia replied, trying to ignore the BuffyBot. "Man. Hallucinations. Robots. That girl has issues."

"She is not a typical Slayer," Kendra said. "She lacks discipline. However, I have fought by her side. I do not understand her, but I respect her. She has great strength."

"We all do," Celia said. "It comes with the stake."

"I do not mean physical strength," Kendra said. "She has strength of character. She has faced many enemies."

"Again, part of the job."

"Her enemies are different," Kendra said. "She maintains ties with people."

"That's just stupid."

"There was a time I would have agreed with you," Kendra said. "But I have seen how she faces her foes. She loved a vampire. She lost friends. She was able to face these challenges, and become stronger. I envy her sometimes. And sometimes I pity her."

"Yeah, right," Celia said. "Boo. And might I add, hoo. You get close, you get hurt. That's the rule. You can't go all mushy just because a couple of people get bit before you save the day."

"It is more complicated than that," Kendra said. "She draws strength from her friends. It makes her more powerful. But it can also hurt her. When I came to Sunnydale...."

Kendra stopped walking. Her eyes became vacant.

"What's wrong?" Celia asked.

"I was in Sunnydale to help Buffy," Kendra said. "I was guarding her friends. She was hunting Angel. We were attacked. A woman...a vampire...I looked in her eyes. She...cut me...."

"So, you got cut? Big deal. I didn't get this lip from a bee sting."

"It is the last thing I remember," Kendra explained. "I think...it is the last thing. I think I died."

"You're reaching there, Ken," Celia replied. "Just because the moment the Brits yanked you into this dimension was in the middle of a fight doesn't mean...."

"Faith never knew me," Kendra continued. "She knew about me, but she didn't know me. A Slayer must die for another to be called. Buffy knew her. That means...."

"Drusilla killed Kendra," BuffyBot said. "Drusilla was a daft little sex kitten, but she wasn't good enough for Spike."

"Shut up," Celia said. "Listen, Kendra, that doesn't mean crap. Maybe this other Buffy had another near death experience. There could be dozens of Slayers running around. From what I've seen of that girl, she probably dies every twenty minutes."

"It doesn't work that way," Kendra said. "My Watcher explained it. When I was called, the Counsel consulted the diaries. There was another time, during the War of the Roses, that there were two Slayers. The first drowned in the Thames before she was rescued. Another was called in Cairo. The line ran through the second Slayer. If Faith is a Slayer, it must have been me who...."

"Fine," Celia said. "Then you're the one who got brought back. They slapped a band-aid on you, but you were out just long enough for the Boston Bitch to get powered up."

"But I have no memories after...."

"Listen, it's not true," Celia said. "It's just not. We don't know what we can trust in this messed up world. In fact, I'm through with this bug hunt. I don't believe a word of this alternate universe bullshit. I'm finding my way out of here on my own."

Celia turned and walked toward the center of town.

"Celia, wait," Kendra called. "If there is a demon, it is our duty! It doesn't matter what happens to me! We are needed!"

"Oh, right," Celia shouted. "For what? So you can spend the next twenty hours going after some demon you've never heard of, then fade away into nothing? Because some librarian and a bunch of strangers and a walking vacuum cleaner say so? Fine. You do that. Me, I'm going to find out what's really going on, because I don't buy any of it!"

"Celia! Cel...Buffy! We need each other! Buffy! Come back!"

But she didn't come back. She kept walking, fingering the scar on her lip, and trying to think about anything but the Master's hands grasping her head. Turning...twisting...snapping....


Part III.

"Thanks for taking charge back there."

"No prob," Faith said, looking down a dark alley. Nothing appeared amiss, so the pair continued down the street.

"Too bad Willy wasn't around," Buffy said, .

"Yeah, I was kind of looking forward to fighting something that wasn't trying to steal my shampoo."

"Speaking of which," Buffy said, "if we're going to be out on the street, we've got to find you something other than that jump suit. A cop's going to pick you up."

"Oh, yeah," Faith said. "I forgot. I guess I kind of got used to it."

"That'll happen," Buffy replied.

"Look, B," Faith said. "I don't expect everything to be cool between us, just because...."

"Listen, Faith," Buffy said. "First, it's so not. Second, I've got so much going on lately that I don't even have the energy to be angry at you. So for what it's worth, you've dropped to about number forty-three on my list of things I hate about my life."

"I'll take it," Faith said. "So, Angel tells me you came back from the dead. What was that like?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Sorry," Faith said. "I always had a talent for touching your sore spots."

"No argument," Buffy said. "So, you talk to Angel pretty regular?"

"Every couple of months," Faith replied. "He stops by on visiting day every so often. It kind of breaks up the time."

"Great."

"It's not like that, B," Faith said. "We're just...."

"Yeah, I get it," Buffy said.

"By the way, sorry about your mom."

"Why? Because it means you'll never get another shot at her?"

"Well, I guess you found the energy after all."

"Look, Faith," Buffy said. "This isn't the best time to try to bond, okay? I've had a rough year."

"Sorry," Faith said. "I assumed that a nice resurrection would have improved your disposition. My mistake."

"Faith, don't! You have no idea what it was like!"

"What, Hell? Granted, never been, but I have been to New Jersey. Hell can't be much worse than Jersey. It's not all that Springsteen and Kevin Smith make it out to be."

"It wasn't...look, just drop it."

"It wasn't what?" Faith asked.

"I said drop it."

Faith scowled, then said:

"It wasn't Hell, was it?"

"Drop it!"

"That's it, isn't it? It wasn't so bad, getting a break from fighting the good fight?"

"Dammit, Faith, don't even pretend to understand! Don't even try to understand! I'm sick of people looking at me like they understand! They don't! Xander, Willow...all of them look at me like I should be all grins and whistles because the weather's nice! No one knows what it's like to lose that much!"

"Oh, yeah," Faith snorted. "You're the only one who understands loss. I'll try to remember that the next time I chisel 'chosen one' on the concrete wall next to my bunk!"

"Uh, this is getting us nowhere," Buffy grunted.

"As usual."

"No, this patrol," Buffy said. "What are we even looking for? Converging demons? They're not likely to walk over to this portal with pennants and giant Number One foam fingers."

"Yeah, when has that happened?"

"Wait," Buffy said. "It has. The Hellmouth!"

"The Hellmouth? Wouldn't Giles have known about that?"

"In this dimension the Master never rose. There may not be a Master. If the Master never tried to open the Hellmouth...."

"Then Giles doesn't know he's standing on ground zero," Faith finished. "Let's go."


Part IV.


"Drink this. It's tea."

Giles gestured toward the cowering girl with the mug. She didn't flinch.

"The label said it was English Breakfast," Giles continued. "I can't say I really see the connection."

"Stop talking to me," she replied.

"Of course," Giles said. "I can see how this would be...traumatic. I'll simply...."

"I miss you."

"I...I don't understand what you...."

"You left. And I miss you."

"You must mean the Mr. Giles from your world," Giles said. "Well, I'm sure that, wherever he went, he'll return as soon as he...."

"He left because of me. I drive away everyone who loves me. I'm...."

"I don't believe that," Giles said. "You heard what Faith said."

"Something about Spike," Buffy said. "She's one to talk. Slut."

"I meant about the shoelaces," Giles said. "That would explain...."

"Will you just stop? You're keeping me sick! You're the one person who could fix everything! Don't you see? That's why you're here! I was just getting better, and you showed up!"

Giles stared, mouth agape. He felt the overwhelming urge to comfort this girl, but he couldn't.

"Listen, Buffy," he said. "Tomorrow this will all be over. You'll go back...."

"...to a hospital," Buffy completed. "And then I'll dream up some other adventure to draw me away. Oh, god...." Buffy collapsed off the chair onto the floor and began quietly weeping. Giles could only stand over her and stare.

Perhaps, Giles thought, this is why they are called Watchers.

"Giles!"

Giles turned to see Buffy and Faith running into the library.

"Giles," Faith said. "This portal. Is there any reference to it being called a 'Hellmouth'?"

"Well," Giles said, "there is a passage that refers to 'opening the mouth of Hell.' I assumed that it was a metaphor for the...."

"It's here," Buffy said. "The Hellmouth is under the library. It's a power source. It draws the big bads to Sunnydale."

"My Lord," Giles said. "That would explain the rather high demonic activity in this particular area. I've always thought it curious that...."

"Hey, Giles," Faith said. "Let's write a book about it. Hell, let's write a whole volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica about it. After we gear up for the demons that are about to show."

"Oh, quite right," Giles said, walking over to the weapons cabinet.

"In my universe you have an axe I like," Buffy said.

"Byzantine?" Giles called.

"Scottish. Dark ages."

"Got it."

"Hey, Giles," Faith called. "How do we deal with this Orelshar?"

"There's a dagger on the table," Giles said. "Plunging it into his heart is supposed to cast his soul into Hell."

"Way to keep the sharp objects near the psychopath, G-man," Faith said, glancing at the Buffy writhing on the ground. "Speaking of Zelda Fitzgerald, what's up with her?"

"She's distraught," Giles said.

"Yeah, well, she's gonna have to snap out of it," Faith said. She knelt down and grabbed the sobbing girls shoulders.

"I said snap out of it," Faith said, shaking the girl. "You're going to have to go into Giles' office and sit still."

"Leave me," the girl whimpered. "Just leave me alone."

"Fine! You want me to leave you alone? Sure. I'll just leave you out here, and when the big bad monsters come, you can just cry them to death!"

"Faith," Buffy said. "Leave her alone. She doesn't have powers."

"Neither does Giles," Faith replied. "Neither do your Scooby friends. But they manage to pull it together when the going gets tough."

"You don't know what it was like for her," Buffy said. "Cut her some slack."

"You mean cut YOU some slack, don't you, B? That's what she's all about, isn't it? Your little way of making an escape?"

"Faith," Buffy hissed, "this isn't the time for...."

"No, I think it's the perfect time," Faith said. "She's a pathetic, writhing little mouse, and you just wish like Hell that you could be her. That way you wouldn't have to put up with all the Slayer crap. You know, B, we've had issues. We've fought. We've shouted. And, yeah, there was that time you knifed me in the gut. But what you've never done is run from a fight. That's the one thing you've always had on me. Me, I'd rabbit if the going got tough. But you'd always make a stand. And now you're looking at some sniveling little coward, and you're jealous. So excuse me if she's not exactly my first priority right now."

"Ladies, this accomplishes nothing," Giles exclaimed, walking to the table with an axe in each hand and a crossbow under his arm. "Focus on the issue at hand. You will have plenty of time to bicker after the gates of Hell are closed."

Buffy glared at Faith, then bent down, took the weeping Buffy by the arm, and lifted her from the floor.

"This isn't over," Buffy said. "We're having this out."

"Good," Faith said. "Looking forward to it."

Buffy lead the crying girl into Giles' office as Kendra and the BuffyBot walked in through the double doors.

"Mr. Giles," Kendra said. "We were unable to locate...."

"They're coming here," Giles explained. "The portal is under the library."

"We should get ready," the BuffyBot said. "I like weapons."

"Somehow I knew you would," Giles said, handing her an axe and placing the other weapons on the table. "If you could help me with the other weapons." BuffyBot smiled and followed Giles to the weapons cabinet.

"Where's the other one with the magic smile?" Faith asked Kendra.

"She became agitated," Kendra replied. "She left us. We were talking and...Faith, there is something I must ask you."

"Don't."

"Faith," Kendra continued. "I need to know. If Buffy knows another Slayer...."

"Kendra, don't," Faith said. "We're not sure of anything here. We could all be from different dimensions. None of us know what we're going back to."

"Hey," Buffy said. "Is Kendra up to speed?"

"I am," Kendra said. "I will assist Mr. Giles with the weapons."

Kendra walked to the weapons cabinet.

"Did you tell her?" Buffy asked.

"Didn't have to," Faith said. "She figured it out. I'm guessing the other one did, too. She didn't make it in Anya's little fantasy world, did she?"

"Great," Buffy said. "That leaves us a Slayer short and one with her head screwed up."

"More than one by my count," Faith said. "More than two, actually."

A crash sounded through the library before Buffy could respond to that barb. A demon came through one of the windows of the upper level of the library.

"I'll take point," Buffy said. "Cover me from down here."

"Got your back," Faith said, reaching for the crossbow.

Buffy leapt up to the upper level of the library. The demon took a swing at her, which she easily dodged. She kicked the demon in the stomach as Faith shot a crossbow into its skull. It fell to the ground, dead. Buffy knocked over a bookcase, covering the shattered window.

The doors of the library burst open. The demon Orelshar entered, flanked by a trio of vampires. Orelshar's body was covered by a long, flowing black robe, but his insect eyes stared directly at Faith. Faith dropped the crossbow and grabbed the magic dagger. She leapt at Orelshar. From under Orelshar's robe, a tentacle sprang, throwing Faith across the room and knocking the dagger from her hand.

Kendra and the BuffyBot engaged the vampires. Buffy jumped down to the lower level. One of the vampires was waiting for her.

As the Slayers fought, Giles snuck toward the lost dagger. Orelshar reached out another tentacle, grabbing Giles by the neck and slamming him against the wall.

Above, the Slayers heard the bookcase come crashing down. From the window, Celia leapt inside and pushed the bookcase back into place.

"There's no way to get in through the doors," Celia called out. "The place is surrounded."

"Celia, get the dagger!" Buffy called as the vamp she was fighting knocked her to the ground with a high kick.

Celia jumped to the ground and tried to engage Orelshar. Another tentacle sprang from under his robe. Celia blocked its blow, and tried to work her way toward his body.

"Celia!" Faith called. She sprang to her feet, and grabbed the axe off the table. She began hacking wildly at Orelshar's tentacles, trying to help both Celia and Giles. Then the tremors began.

The Slayers and the vampires alike had to fight to keep their balance as the ground began to move.

"Giles!" Buffy shouted. "It's opening the Hellmouth."

"I...noticed," Giles gasped, grasping at the tentacle around his throat.

"Arrrrrghhhh!"

The demon's scream echoed through the library. The Slayer's turned to look as the tentacle holding Giles' throat fell to the ground, severed at the base. Then they saw her, standing in her hospital gown, holding the jeweled dagger in her hand.

Orelshar snarled as two tentacles emerged from his robe. He grabbed her, one tentacle surrounding her torso, the other tightening around her throat.

"Faith!" Buffy screamed. "She's not strong enough! It'll kill her!"

Faith began slashing fiercely at Orelshar's body. He seemed to be out of tentacles, but the ordinary axe was useless against his demon skin.

The Buffy in the demon's grasp was trembling. Her hospital gown was shredded. She gasped. She wept.

But she didn't drop the dagger.

She grabbed the Orelshar's robe with her free hand and pulled herself toward him. When she was within a foot of the demon's body she sank the dagger into its chest. A final spasm of pain shot through Orelshar's body. The Slayers could hear bones snap as the tentacles tightened. A yellow light surrounded Orelshar's body, as his form faded to nothing. The vampires fled. Kendra staked one in the back as he ran. He disintegrated.

Buffy walked over to Giles and helped to free his neck from the severed tentacle. The other four Slayers walked toward the limp body on the floor. Kendra dropped to her knees, pushed back the torn gown from the girl's throat, and checked for a pulse. She looked up to the group, and said:

"She's gone."


Epilogue


"What's the Bot doing?" Faith asked, leaning on the railing on the library's upper level.

"She's reading some of Giles' books," Buffy replied, standing next to Faith. "Apparently there were some books destroyed when we torched the school that she wanted to read onto her hard drive."

"It's not going to be in her memory tomorrow night," Faith observed.

"Well, she hasn't read the book that says that, either," Buffy said. "She has a hard time with abstract concepts. Anyway, it's keeping her occupied."

"You think Kendra will make it to Kingston before the spell wears off?"

"She has nineteen hours," Buffy said. "If she makes her flight, that will give her about half a day. That won't leave her much time with her parents, but she never really knew them. I think she just wants to see them."

"Where's Celia run off to?"

"She took a walk with Giles. Funny. All of us are drawn to him, even the ones that never met him."

"Not so strange," Faith said. "What's the deal with calling her 'Celia?' What is that, your middle name or something?"

"She was my...our cousin," Buffy explained. "She died when I was young. It was a demon. I was too young to understand. Or do anything about it."

"Sorry," Faith said. "About a lot of things. Especially what I said about the head case. Er, sorry. Again. It's just we never got around to naming her."

"It's funny," Buffy said. "I made her up in my mind. I've felt so weak. I guess when the demon poison gave me a way out, I chose to be a girl who was helpless. One who didn't have to be strong. Ironic, when you think about it. She turned out to be the strongest one of all of us."

"You'd kick ass in any dimension, B," Faith said.

"This was nice," Buffy said. "I mean, the whole thing with the demon and vampires and hell on earth, that was bad. But, I mean, it was nice. The other part. Getting back into it again. With Giles, and Kendra. And with you."

"We always made a pretty good team," Faith said. "Well, not always. When we weren't trying to kick the crap out of each other, we made a good team."

"Yeah," Buffy said.

"You know, we're not going to remember any of this."

"I know."

"Look," Faith said. "Giles has to clean this place up before school opens. We should help."

"Gotcha," Buffy said.

"Cool," Faith replied. "I'll start downstairs. You got things up here?"

"Got it," Buffy said.

Faith started down the stairs as Buffy turned to pick up a pile of books that had fallen off of the shelves.

"Hey, B!"

Buffy turned to look over the rail.

"See you on the other side," Faith called.

Buffy replied:

"I'll let everyone know to lock up their boyfriends."

But she smiled when she said it.

Faith returned the smile. Buffy turned to prop up a bookcase that had fallen. Faith continued down the stairs.

THE END


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Something Old

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: AU - What if Willow had made a different choice at the end of 'Something Blue'?
Rating: R.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue


Willow stared at the mystical vision of the Scoobies fighting off the onslaught of demons.

"Oh, God," Willow exclaimed. "But I didn't...I didn't know that I could...."

"But you did," D'Hoffryn replied. "And you can. I can give you power. The limitless power of the Wish. I am Vengeance. You will be my instrument. Impose the will of those who are wronged, and the power is yours."

Willow closed her eyes. She felt...different. She'd floated pencils. She'd restored Angel's soul. But never anything like this. She could feel the power coursing through her. There was so much she could do. So much she wanted to do.

Memories of weakness rushed upon her. The fear she'd had in high school. Always on the outside. Always afraid.

She had learned so much. The slightly larger world of college, which had seemed so liberating, now felt small, confining. Magic had made her powerful. It could make her even more powerful. No one could ever hurt her again. Not the way Oz had....

Willow took a deep breath, met D'Hoffryn's gaze and said:

"Do it."


Part I.


"Two beers. That'll be six dollars."

The young man handed a ten dollar bill to Anya. She grabbed four singles out of her apron and gave the change to the man, who returned a dollar. Anya pocketed the tip and walked back to the bar.

"Slow night," Ernie said, clearing an empty glass from the bar.

"Very," Anya responded, leaning against one of the bar stools. "Of course, it's Tuesday. This is Santa Fe. What can you expect?"

"I still don't know why you bought this place," Ernie said.

"Oh, I dunno," Anya said. "It seemed like a good idea. It appealed to the entrepreneur in me. Lately though, I just can't seem to get into it."

"Yeah," Ernie agreed. "I remember when you first bought the joint. You were booking bands, putting up flyers like crazy. What happened?"

"Nothing happened," Anya replied. "I mean, business was good. I made money. Good money. But...hey, Ernie, have you ever asked yourself what the point of it all is?"

"Well, for me, the point is feeding my family," Ernie said. "Look, I don't mean to sound sexist, but has it occurred to you that you haven't had a boyfriend in the three years I've know you?"

"Oh, that's just what I need," Anya said, rolling her eyes. "Because everyone knows that dating can be soooo uplifting."

"That's a bit cynical," Ernie observed. "I guess you've been burned, huh?"

"Once," Anya said.

"So he pretty much put you off relationships?"

"No," Anya responded. "I mean, for awhile, yes. A long while, actually. But then I met a guy. A really nice...but it didn't work out. Something...happened."

"Jeez," Ernie said, "you sound like Miss Lonelyhearts."

"Who?"

"The girl at the corner table," Ernie said, pointing toward the far end of the bar. "Her name's Paula. She's been in here every night this week. Cries in her screwdriver about some guy who dumped her. She's sitting with some redhead tonight. You know, that redhead's had her eye on Paula since Friday. I think she bats for the other team, if you know what I mean."

Anya didn't respond. She looked at the far table and listened to as much of the conversation as she could pick up over the noise of the bar.

"I can't help it," Paula sighed. "I just feel so...so...."

"I know," the redhead said. "It's painful. Sometimes, don't you just wish he'd...I dunno...explode? Or melt away?"

"I guess," Paula said. "I just don't know if I....."

Paula's head fell as she started to cry. The redhead looked up at the Budweiser clock on the wall and rolled her eyes.

"Be patient," Anya mumbled under her breath through clenched teeth. "I did it for a thousand years. You have to take your time."

"Huh?" Ernie grunted.

"Ernie," Anya seethed, her hands balled into fists. "I've got to go make a call. Keep an eye on the redhead. Make sure you don't let her leave your sight."

"Uh, OK," Ernie said. "But I don't see what the big deal is. I mean, I'm not the most enlightened guy in the world, but it seems to me that the girl's got as much right to make time with Paula as any of the guys in here who...."

"She's not a lesbian, Ernie," Anya interjected. "Trust me, she's many things, but a lesbian isn't one of them."

Anya walked behind the bar, through the kitchen, and into her small office. She got out her address book, looked up a number, and quickly dialed. After four rings, she heard:

"Hi, you've reached the Bludd residence. Please leave a message after the beep."

Anya drummed her fingers, and as soon as the tone sounded, she exclaimed:

"It's Anya. Willow's here. We've got to get everyone together. This is our last chance."


Part II.


"If you'll just sign here, Mrs. Bludd," the bondsman said, "they're bringing him out now."

Buffy pulled a pen out of her purse. She sighed, looked over the papers, and then signed 'Buffy Bludd' on the bottom line.

"This is your copy," the bondsman said, tearing the yellow carbon sheet from the bottom of the form. "Of course, you know that. You're one of our best customers."

"Thanks," Buffy said. The bondsman walked out of the police station lobby. Buffy stared at the clock for a few minutes until she heard:

"We've got to stop meeting like this, luv."

"Yes, Spike, we do," Buffy said. "Let's get out of here."

Spike and Buffy walked out of the police station. They climbed into the car. Spike threw the manila envelope that said 'Personal Property, detainee #4B300235, Bludd, William' onto the back seat.

"I suppose you got fired," Buffy said as she started the engine and pulled away.

"Couldn't be helped, pet," Spike said, rolling down the window and lighting a cigarette. "Stupid git of a night foreman made some crack about me loafing. Found out he was half Burganti demon last week, so I had to give him a few digs. Got all pissy when I broke his nose."

"That's it!? He made a wisecrack, and you found out you could hit him, so you just had to? God, I'm sick of this."

"You knew what I was when you married me," Spike said. "Don't start complaining now."

"I had to put up the house as security for the bail bond," Buffy protested. "It was my mother's house. My father's already giving me trouble about keeping Dawn. What will happen if we lose the house?"

"We bugger out of town," Spike replied. "Like I've wanted to do all along. Hit the road. The Little Bit will love Tijuana."

"Spike, we're not going anywhere," Buffy said. "I work like crazy during the day flipping burgers just to keep up the mortgage. I spend most of the night out patrolling. The least you can do is keep steady work at night to help out."

"Enough about money," Spike said. "I can get money. Any amount of cash is worth paying if it will stop your incessant nagging."

"Oh, and how will you do that? Steal? That's a great example to set for Dawn."

"I'm not a bloody role model! Christ, you can get annoying."

"We're not discussing this," Buffy said, pulling up in front of the house. "I'm not bailing you out anymore. Next time you pull something, you can just stay in jail."

"Really," Spike said, raising an eyebrow. "Are you saying you wouldn't miss me?"

Spike slid his hand up Buffy's thigh. Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Stop it," Buffy said. "You can't fix this just by...."

"By what? Doing this?" Spike asked. He moved his hand up farther. "Or this?"

Buffy's jaw trembled.

"Don't," she whispered.

But Spike did. He always did. And it always worked.

Dawn had run to the window of her bedroom when she'd heard the car pull up to the house. The phone had rung about a half hour after Spike was supposed to be home from the loading dock, and Buffy had left quickly with her purse. That meant only one thing. Buffy and Spike were still in the car five minutes after parking. That also meant only one thing.

Dawn walked over to her computer, sat down, and signed on to the internet. She and Janice had snuck out for a movie, and when Dawn returned, there was a message from Anya. She'd saved the message, hoping that it would spur Buffy toward action. The time for hoping was over.

Once her account had logged on, Dawn pulled up her mailbox and clicked on 'New Message.' She typed in the address, and wrote:

'It's Dawn. Anya found Willow. Meet her in Santa Fe, a bar called The Whistle Stop. I'll get Buffy to go. You'll need to take care of the rest. Hurry.'

Dawn hit 'Send,' and once the message had gone through, she logged off. She then put on her bathrobe, sat on her bed, and waited for Buffy and Spike to finish...reconciling.


Part III.


Xander watched through a crack in the boards covering his only window as the SUV pulled up the winding dirt road to the front of his cabin. The driver got out, opened the back hatch, pulled out a brown paper bag, and walked up to the door. He knocked. Xander's grip tightened on the twelve gauge Winchester in his hands. His finger dropped to the trigger.

The delivery boy looked around. As usual, no one answered his knock. He placed the bag on the doormat and grabbed the envelope that was taped to the door. He opened it, counted the money, and began walking back toward his truck. As he opened the driver side door, he looked at the symbols drawn on the ground in sulphur. He shook his head, climbed into his truck, and drove away.

Xander opened the door. He cautiously looked left and right, then quickly grabbed the bag and slammed the door shut. He locked the deadbolt, dragged the heavy wooden crate back to its blocking position in front of the door, then brought the bag to the kitchen counter. He opened it and made sure all of his order was there. Coffee. Powdered milk. Oatmeal. Dinty Moore. Everything he'd ordered was in the bag. He rested his shotgun by the door, put the food in the pantry, then walked over to the only chair in the cabin. He sat down and grabbed the printout he'd downloaded of the prior day's 'Portland Daily News.'

He'd circled three ads. Two of the cabins were more than he could afford. The third was for a small, one room cabin about twenty miles outside of Salem. It had no electricity and no hot water, but the owner was willing to rent it for six hundred dollars for two months. He'd been at his current location for six weeks. It would only be safe for another two weeks, tops. Xander had learned from bitter experience that it paid to make arrangements in advance.

Xander looked down at the boxes on the floor. Two thousand envelopes. Two thousand coupons for Arby's. Two thousand coupons for a ten percent discount on an oil change. Nine other boxes, each containing two thousand coupons for just about anything else one could imagine. If he could finish stuffing the envelopes by Thursday, he would have enough money to cover the cost of the cabin in Salem, plus enough for provisions until spring.

He sighed. The routine was familiar, but no less painful. As he walked over to the pantry to grab a can of beef stew, a crash sounded through the cabin. Xander looked over toward the window. A slimy green...something...had broken through the boards. Xander lunged for the Winchester. The demon crawled through the broken boards as Xander fired a shot into its head. The demon continued to move as it dropped to the floor. Xander fired a second shot into its chest. The demon lay still.

Xander cautiously approached the demon's body and poked it with the barrel of the gun. Porangi demon. Most demons avoided the high altitudes and low temperatures of mountain climates. Porangi were an exception. Xander had seen four of them in the three years he'd been on the run. Porangi were loners. It was probably the only demon on the mountain. But it wouldn't be that way for long.

Xander walked over to the table and opened his laptop. He took the cell phone out of his pocket and connected it to the computer modem. There wasn't much time. The runes he'd drawn on the ground would only hide his presence from demons for a limited time, and once the dead demon's scent permeated the air, the magic symbols would provide no concealment at all.

He logged onto his email account. There was so much to do. He'd need to contact the envelope company and get the next batch forwarded to him. He'd also need to pay his cell phone bill online, or he'd be completely cut off. The internet, which had been at best a novelty to Xander in high school, was now his only contact with the outside world. He relied on chat rooms and online newspapers to maintain his sanity...well, what was left of his sanity.

Xander read through his messages quickly. Mostly junk. One email offered him a free life insurance quote. That had stopped being funny. Then he opened a message from dawniekey@msn.com:

'It's Dawn. Anya found Willow. Meet her in Santa Fe, a bar called The Whistle Stop. I'll get Buffy to go. You'll need to take care of the rest. Hurry.'

Xander read the message over and over again. He'd waited three years for this. There was a time when three years away from Willow would have seemed unthinkable. They'd been best friends. Now....

Xander walked over to the mantle, grabbed two shotgun shells, and reloaded. He then yanked the cell phone from the computer's modem cord and scrolled through his speed dial. The call would probably cost him five dollars, minimum. Important money. But it was worth it.

He found the number and hit 'Send.' He put the phone to his ear, then heard:

"History department, UCLA. How may I help you?"

"It's Xander, Maggie."

"Mr. Harris," Maggie said. "We haven't heard from you for so long. I know he's missed talking to you."

"Is he there? It's important."

"I'm afraid not. He's teaching a class today. He'll be out around noon. Would you like me to have him call you?"

"Can't," Xander said. "I'll be...out. Just leave him this message: Anya found Willow. We're meeting in Santa Fe. He'll know what it means."


Part IV.


"So as the findings by Dr. Marshall demonstrate," Giles said, "the artifacts discovered at this particular tomb show that the village was not in fact destroyed by an earthquake as was originally believed. Further research will be required to ascertain the actual cause of the destruction. Any questions?"

"Professor Giles?"

"Yes, Mr. Winslow."

"I'm curious about the pictograms found on the pottery discovered by Dr. Marshall," Winslow commented, arising from his seat as the rest of the students in the auditorium looked on. "If you look at the depictions, you can see that...oh, I mean...um....."

"That's quite alright, Mr. Winslow," Giles said. "I'm familiar with Dr. Marshall's description of his findings. Continue."

"Well," Winslow continued uncomfortably, "it seems that the natives were attacked by a neighboring tribe. But there were no other indigenous people in that area. It was fifty years before the region was explored by the Spanish. The pictures seem to suggest that the attackers were...well, cannibals. There are images of people being fed upon. Of course, there were no cannibalistic tribes in that region either, so...."

"There have been theories that it might have been a pack of wild animals," Giles stated.

"But enough to kill over six hundred people? Besides, the attackers are portrayed as bipeds. It almost looks like they were saying they were attacked by...monsters."

"Never underestimate the tendency of fear to affect perception," Giles stated. "It is natural for people to try to explain that which cannot be explained by resorting to superstition."

At that moment, a bell sounded through the lecture hall. Giles reached over to the kitchen timer on his desk, and said:

"It seems we are out of time. Please read the article by Smythe for class Tuesday. You are dismissed."

The students filed out of the classroom. Giles, with typical English concern for appearances, waited for the footsteps to stop, then reached out a probing hand toward the side of his desk. When he felt the long narrow cane in his grasp, he stood up, and with a steady 'click, click, click' he started walking toward the door. He felt for the doorknob, opened the door, and then cautiously began proceeding down the hallway toward the faculty offices.

Giles counted the steps. It was exactly thirty-three steps to the end of the hall. Then a left turn, and another fourteen steps to the door of the faculty offices. At step fourteen, Giles stopped and felt left and right for the door. The knob was only about a foot to his right. He was getting closer and closer every time. He recalled Buffy's blindfolded training sessions. You never know when the enemy will be clouded in darkness, he'd warned her.

Now, for Giles, the enemy was the darkness.

Giles walked into the office.

"Good morning, Professor," Maggie said.

"Good morning," Giles replied. "Has the braille edition of the Swanson text arrived?"

"Yes, it has," Maggie said. "Also, you have a message. From that nice Harris boy."

"What did he say?"

"Let me see," Maggie said, searching her desk for the pink memo slip. "Oh, here it is. He said 'Anna found Willow. They're meeting in Santa Fe.' He said you'd know what he meant."

"Could he have said 'Anya?'"

"Yes, I suppose."

"Maggie, if you wouldn't mind," Giles said. "Please call the travel agent we used when I went to London last summer. I'll need to be on the next flight to Santa Fe. Also, ask Dr. Morris to cover my classes this week."

"Yes, Professor," Maggie replied. "I'm sure Dr. Morris won't mind. But what do I tell him? Are you going to see a friend?"

Yes, Giles thought. If all goes well.


Part V.


"So, when are you leaving?"

"Oh, I don't know, Dawn," Buffy replied. "Things are just so crazy around here. Warren and his nerd friends are still making all kinds of trouble. And I really can't miss work."

"Fine," Dawn said. "That's just great. Xander has been in hiding for the past three years because he attracts demons like flies. Giles is blind. And you're going to hang around here to play a live version of Dungeons and Dragons with a threesome of wanna-villians, and work overtime to cover your husband's bail. You're some friend. When I grow up, I want a friend just like you."

"Dawn, stop it. I'm doing what I have to do. I'm the Slayer. I have to keep an eye on the Hellmouth. And I didn't notice you complaining about Spike when he was helping me save you from Glory. We both nearly died trying to protect you."

"I wish I had died. It would have been better than this."

"Dawn, don't even joke about that!"

Dawn bit her bottom lip. This was going to be difficult.

"Look, Buffy," Dawn said. "Doesn't this seem...wrong? Don't you see that it's not just Xander and Giles?"

Buffy scowled. "What do you mean? Do you think Willow's spell affected someone else?"

"Oh, forget it," Dawn said. "Look, I've had a long talk with Dad. He says I can come stay with him. His girlfriend doesn't mind. Well, she does, but she'll go along with it. When they're traveling, I can stay with Aunt Arlene."

"Dawn, you are not leaving! I can't protect you if...."

"Buffy, you're not protecting me. You're...you're...oh, I don't know what you're doing."

"Dawn, I know it's been hard since Mom died," Buffy said, panic creeping into her voice. "But it will be different. I promise. We can...we can...."

"Go to Santa Fe," Dawn said. "You go to help Giles and Xander, and I'll stay."

"You're blackmailing me?"

"Call it whatever you want. If you don't help them, I'll tell the social workers all about Spike's little trips to the pokey. I'll tell them he steals my stuff. I'll tell them he has a drug problem, and that's why he can't keep a job. I'll tell them that, sometimes, when you're not home, he looks at me funny, and one time when I was coming out of the shower...."

"Dammit, Dawn! Stop it!"

"Pack your bags," Dawn said, her jaw set. "You're going to Santa Fe."


Part VI.


Xander pulled over to the side of the road. He checked his map. He'd stayed off the interstate so far to avoid any populated areas. He looked around, rolled down the window of his truck, and when he heard and saw nothing, he popped open his laptop, connected his cell phone, and logged on. He had one message. It was from Dawn. He read:

'Buffy's coming. She'll meet you at Anya's bar. I still can't get through to Buffy. I did everything I could, but I had to pull every trick I knew just to get her to go. She may still give you problems. Good luck.'

Xander removed the modem cord from his cell phone, and dialed. After two rings, he heard a young woman's voice say:

"Whistle Stop."

"It's me," Xander said.

"Oh...hi," Anya replied.

"Yeah, hi," Xander said. "I got the message from Dawn. I should be in Santa Fe in about twelve hours. Buffy's coming. She still doesn't know that she's under Willow's spell, so she may not be cooperative."

"Maybe we can reason with her," Anya said. "Make her realize that the thing with Spike is just magic."

"And that we're trying to undo the magic? That may not make her more helpful."

"Oh, yeah," Anya said. "Well, we still need her. Willow's still coming by the bar every night. Sooner or later the dumped girl's going to make a wish, so I don't know how much longer we have. Once we're all together, hopefully we'll be able to persuade Willow to undo the spell."

"Yeah, persuade her," Xander said, looking over to the passenger seat. The long vinyl sheath that covered his shotgun reflected the sunlight.

"We're meeting at the bar," Anya said. "I'll give you directions off the interstate."

"No good," Xander said. "I'm still demon bait, remember? Santa Fe isn't Sunnydale, but there are still too many creepy crawlies around for me to be in public. You'll have to find someplace out of the way. Someplace we can protect."

"I know a place," Anya said. "I think I can make the arrangments."

At that moment, a thud sounded on the roof of the truck. Two long strips of suction cups slapped down on Xander's windshield. A high pitched whine sounded. Xander turned on the ignition and shouted:

"I'll call you once I'm close! I've got to move! S'borgon demon's after me!"

Xander pressed 'Stop' on his cell phone and punched the gas. The tires squealed as the truck sped forward. The whine turned into a howl as Xander zig zagged from one side of the road to the other until the tentacles finally ripped free.


Part VII.


"So, this is it, huh?"

"It's the best I could think of," Anya said. "The water tower's been abandoned since they dug the reservoir. There's only one way up."

"Perfect," Xander said, looking out over the railing to the town below.

"I drew runes at both the base of the tower and the top of the ladder," Anya said. "You know, those one's I found in the Grimaldi Tome? They should keep the demons off your scent for awhile."

"Thanks for sending me information on those concealment spells," Xander said. "They've helped."

"How long do they last?"

"A couple of months in unpopulated areas," Xander replied. "In a city, maybe a day. Two, if we're lucky."

"I wouldn't count on us being lucky," Anya said. "I mean, we've never been before."

"Yeah. Look, Anya, I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," Anya said. "Willow's the one who did the spell."

"Not for that. I mean, for leaving. Well, I had to leave, but...."

"You didn't even say goodbye."

Anya swallowed hard. She couldn't look Xander in the eye.

"If I'd said goodbye," Xander said, "I don't know if I could have handled it. I might have done something really, really selfish. Like asked you to go with me. We'd only been dating a month. I didn't have any right to ask you to make that kind of sacrifice."

The wind whistled through the night as Anya and Xander stood at the ledge.

"You'd better go," Xander finally said. "I'll wait here while you get together with Buffy and Giles. When you have a plan, call me. I'll see if I can help."

Wordlessly, Anya walked to the ladder and began climbing down.

Xander walked over to his duffle bag. He opened it, and began looking for the breakfast bars he carried with him to sustain him while he was on the run. The raspberry ones weren't so bad.

"Yes."

Xander turned toward the voice. Anya stood on the second rung of the ladder. Only her upper torso was visible over the platform.

"Yes," she repeated. "If you'd asked me, I would have said yes. I would have gone with you. That would have been my answer. And it's my answer now. I'll go with you. No matter how this turns out."

"Anya," Xander said, walking to the ladder and kneeling down to look Anya in the eyes. "You can't mean that. We haven't seen each other for three years. You don't know what it's like. Always running. Always scared. And there's me. I'm not the same. I'm...different. I...."

"I'm different, too," Anya said. "I've gotten into quite an un-demonly routine. I've got a business. I pay taxes. I watch TV. I get junk mail. I'm a real, genuine member of the human race. But, while I've been human for four years, the only time I ever felt like a person was when I was with you."

Anya released one hand from the handle of the ladder and grabbed Xander's neck. She pulled him towards her, and kissed him. The high winds pressed against their bodies, but no force could separate them.


Part VIII.


"So, have you been OK?"

"Oh, yes," Giles said. "Quite well."

"Your drink is right in front of you," Buffy said as she observed Giles' hand probing for the glass.

"Thank you," Giles said. "But I really do need to do such things myself. It helps if you think of the table as a clock. Just remember that you set things down at two o'clock, four o'clock, and so forth."

"Does it work?"

"Well, daylight savings time tends to pop up when you least expect it."

"Can I get you folks anything else?" Ernie asked as he approached the table.

"I think we're fine," Buffy said.

"Anya should be here any minute," Ernie said, dropping a full bowl of bar nuts on the table. "She said she just had to make a stop on her way over."

"That's quite alright," Giles said.

"Hey, listen," Buffy said. "Maybe there's something you can do for us. We're looking for a girl. Red hair. We were told she comes in here regularly."

"Oh, her," Ernie said. "She usually comes in here with Paula. You probably won't see her tonight, though. I doubt Paula will come in after what happened to her ex."

"What happened?" Giles asked.

"Well, it's a little gruesome," Ernie said. He looked around the bar, saw a newspaper that had been left behind by one of the patrons, and dropped it on the table, saying:

"Read for yourself."

Buffy snatched up the paper and read the front page to herself.

"What is it?" Giles asked.

"A guy died," Buffy said. "According to this, he was coming out of his new girlfriend's apartment, when he was attacked and devoured by wild dogs. I guess Paula finally made her wish."


Part IX.


"So why exactly are we here?"

"Willow," Anya replied to Buffy's inquiry. "She'll want to see her handiwork. She won't leave town until she's visited the grave."

"Speaking from experience?" Giles asked, holding Buffy's elbow for guidance through the cemetery. Of course, in the darkness of the night sky, Buffy's eyesight was only marginally better.

"Well, yes," Anya admitted. "There's no point in delivering vengeance if you don't see the results. Willow will definitely want to catch a glimpse of the wronged woman putting flowers on the grave of her abuser. Paula said she'd be out here visiting the grave tonight. She didn't want to go to the funeral and run into her boyfriend's relatives. They don't know about the wish, but family have a way of instinctively knowing things."

"I guess she'd feel pretty bad," Buffy observed. "Wishing her boyfriend would be eaten by animals, and then it happens. Even if she doesn't know about magic, it would still be pretty weird."

"I don't think it's hit her yet," Anya responded. "When I talked to her, she seemed pretty upbeat. We're here."

The three gathered around the headstone.

"So what's the plan?" Buffy asked.

"We wait for Willow to show up, and then try and talk her into undoing the spell," Anya said.

"Are we sure she will be...receptive to such a suggestion?" Giles asked.

"Probably not," Anya said. "After three years of being a vengeance demon, I doubt she'll be inclined to actually undo magic."

"Well, then, I'll force her," Buffy said. "All we have to do is smash her amulet, right?"

"That will undo the effects of her wishes, and take away her powers," Anya said. "But it won't help us with our problems. Willow did the spells before she became a demon. She'll have to undo them with ordinary magic."

"Where's Paula?" Buffy asked.

"I'm not sure," Anya said. "She should be here."

"Well, we'll have to wait for both of them," Giles responded. "We don't have much more time. Xander's hiding place won't keep him safe much longer."

"He was really angry he couldn't be here," Anya said.

"It's not safe," Giles said. "If we'd arrived in town before this Paula girl had made her wish, we could have lured Willow to a remote location. As it is, it's not wise for Xander to be here, given his...problem."

"It's not wise for you to be here, either," Buffy retorted. "You should have stayed behind."

"Buffy, Xander's presence would endanger us all," Giles said. "My presence only endangers me, and that's a risk I am quite willing to take."

"I'm not willing to take it," Buffy said. "You could get hurt. Anya and I can deal with Willow. You could have stayed...."

"Buffy," Giles interrupted. "She blinded me. I couldn't read for a year while I was learning braille. I couldn't help you. I couldn't do anything. I'm going to be here when Willow arrives."

"Where is she?" Anya asked no one in particular. "And where's Paula? They should both be here by now."

"Anya, look at the ground by the grave," Buffy instructed. "There's something there. The grass is...dead."

Anya stooped to the ground to check the grass.

"I don't like this," Buffy said. "Dead vegetation usually is a sign something's up. There's something very wrong here. If something is killing the grass...."

"It's not dead," Anya said. "It's burned. If I didn't know better, I'd say...."

"Buffy?"

The three turned to face the voice. Willow stood before them. She wore a dark flowing gown, and purple veins bulged from her face.

"Willow," Buffy said, trying to regain her composure. "Um..how've you been?"

"Demon," Willow replied. "What are you doing here?"

"Um, Will," Buffy said. "Remember that spell you did just before you...well, you know. Um, well, Giles would like to see again, and Xander's been living like the Unabomber, so we were wondering if...you know...if you're not busy...."

"Sorry," Willow said. "Can't. I had to swear off doing ordinary magic to get my wish powers. Anya can tell you. Rules are rules."

"Oh, please," Anya said. "C'mon. Everybody cheats a little. It's like taking home post-it notes from the office. You're not supposed to, but no one cares."

"Love to help," Willow said. "But I really can't risk it. I've really taken to this job. You know, you even get a Sam's Club Card?"

"Willow, please," Giles said. "I-I-I can't see. Anything. I'm sure your...employer would understand if you...."

"Yeah, you can't see," Willow said. "That was a good one. I must admit, even before I was a demon, I was awesome."

"Willow, this isn't funny," Buffy said gravely.

"And I'm not laughing," Willow shot back. "You people and your perfect lives. Too busy to care about me. And now you want me to come running to your rescue? I don't think so."

"Look, Will," Buffy said. "You were hurting. Maybe we should have helped more. But if that's all you remember about our friendship, then I'd say you've been a demon too long."

"What are you going to do about it?" Willow asked. "I'm more powerful than you can possibly imagine. So what are you going to do?"

"This," Xander said, leaping from behind a tree. He leveled the shotgun at Willow, and fired directly at her chest. Willow was thrown back three feet, and landed on her back.

"Xander!" Anya exclaimed.

"I had to," Xander muttered. "You don't know what it was like. You don't know...ugh!"

Xander looked down at the metal blade protruding from his chest. Suddenly, the blade disappeared, and a river of blood gushed out of his shirt. He dropped the shotgun and fell to the ground. Behind him, a demon raised his bloodied sword and lunged for Buffy. Anya ran to Xander's side as Buffy kicked the demon in the chest.

From the woods, another demon lunged for Buffy. Giles instinctively tried to swing for the demon. The demon responded by lifting Giles from the ground by his neck.

"Giles!" Buffy screamed. She moved to help, but the first demon kicked her legs out from under her. As she fell, she heard the bones in Giles' neck snap. His attacker dropped Giles' limp body to the ground, quite dead.

Buffy sprang to her feet. A viscous attack ensued between her and the two demons as Xander gasped to Anya:

"It's...me...they'll...keep...coming...as...long...as...I'm...."

Xander reached and grabbed his shotgun. A look of terror covered Anya's face. She reached out to grab the gun away, but with the last of his remaining strength, Xander pushed her away. Anya sat up, and saw Xander put the barrel under his chin. The sound of the shotgun blast was almost drowned out by Anya's shriek:

"No!!!!"

The demons looked to Xander. The removal of their attraction to him caused them a moment of disorientation. Buffy used the opportunity to grasp the first demons arm, and maneuver the blade into the second demon's chest. It howled, then fell dead. The first demon grabbed Buffy with his other arm, lifted her from the ground, and threw her against the headstone. A crack echoed through the night sky as Buffy's skull struck the granite.

The demon turned to face Anya, who had crawled to Xander's side. Through her tears she saw the demon approaching her. She grabbed the shotgun and pointed it at the demon, who, no longer compelled by magic to attack, made a hasty retreat.

Anya looked down at her hands, and realized that the gun was covered with Xander's blood. She screamed, dropped the gun, and collapsed into tears.

"That was stupid."

Anya looked up. Willow stood before her.

"He should have known a gun couldn't hurt me," Willow said, as she faded into mist.


Part X.


"I think you've had enough."

"I haven't had nearly enough, Ernie," Anya said, sitting at the bar. "I own this place until I drink myself bankrupt, so don't tell me when I've had enough."

"Look, Anya," Ernie said. "I don't know what happened last week, but this has got to stop. You'll drink yourself to death."

"Promises, promises," Anya said.

"Anya?"

She turned around on her barstool, and saw Willow facing her.

"You," Anya spat. "Get the hell out of my bar."

"I know you hate me," Willow said. "But you have to understand. This is what I am now. You were like me, once."

"Fine," Anya said. "You've said your piece. I can't kill you, and I don't want to see you, so get out."

"Look, I feel really bad about how this ended," Willow continued. "I can't leave things this way. So I've come up with a solution."

Anya was suddenly sober. Willow had power. It would break every rule if Willow used her powers to fix things. D'Hoffryn would almost certainly take away her amulet. But she could do it. Once.

"I'm listening," Anya finally said.

"I've talked to D'Hoffryn. If you want, you can have your old job back."

"What?!"

"He said he's had a few years to think it over, and the whole smashed amulet thing really wasn't your fault. He'll bring you on part time. And if it works out...."

"You monster!" Anya exclaimed. "You wicked....evil...!"

"Hey, Anya," Ernie said, walking over to Anya's end of the bar. "You want me to call the cops on this girl."

"I'd like to see you try it," Willow growled.

"Hey, lady, drop the attitude," Ernie said. "What you do is your business, but don't force it on someone who isn't interested. So why don't you go hit on some other girl?"

"Oh, for god's sake, Ernie, she's not a lesbian," Anya exclaimed. "She's a demon. Her boyfriend dumped her and she became a demon. Trust me, things would have worked out much better if her boyfriend had dumped her and she became a lesbian, but that's not how it happened."

A voice from the back of the bar called out:

"Is that what you truly desire?"

Anya, Willow and Ernie looked toward the voice. A tall woman stood before them. She would have looked beautiful, were it not for the purple valleys running down her face. She wore a gossamer wrap and a flowing gown. At the front of the gown hung an amulet with a dark stone at the center. Willow saw her, and called out:

"Paula?!?"

"Is that your desire?" Paula repeated.

Anya, realizing the opportunity that had presented herself, said:

"Yes. That is my desire. That is my WISH!"

"Done," Paula calmly intoned.

Willow gasped as white light enveloped the bar.


Epilogue


Anya grabbed the mail from the box at the door of the apartment. Xander had called The Magic Box to say that he'd be running late that night. That left Anya to fix dinner for herself.

She unlocked the front door, and thumbed through the mail as she entered the apartment. It was mostly wedding related. The bill from the florist. Confirmation from the reception hall. And a response to one of the invitations.

Anya opened the stationary envelope first. So many of the guests hadn't responded to their invitations. Time was running out, and the caterer needed a final head count. She pulled out the reply card first. The box marked 'I will be unable to attend' had been checked. That was one less dinner they'd have to pay for. Then Anya saw that a note had been stuffed in with the reply. She took it out, and read:

................................................................

Dear Anya,

Thank you for the invitation. While you're the only one who remembers how we met, I think you'll agree it's best that we not push our luck. Besides, I'm still backed up from Valentine's Day. As you probably remember, it's a vengeance demon's busy season.

I'm really sorry I can't come. I kind of feel like I was the matchmaker (which is ironic, when you think about it). Best of luck on your special day.

Love,

Paula

p.s. I'd send a gift, but I think the gift I've already given you is quite enough!

.................................................................

Anya walked to the bedroom. She placed the reply card in the 'no' pile on the desk and dropped the note in the garbage. Anya wasn't a terribly sentimental woman. Besides, there would be too much to explain if Xander found it.

Anya went to the kitchen to throw together a quick dinner. She smiled.

Yes, Anya thought, quite a gift indeed. A gift that keeps on giving.

THE END


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Still She Haunts Me, Phantomwise

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: In the future, an elderly Giles gets an unexpected visitor. Expounds on events from Season 5.
Rating: PG-13.
Tone: Way too serious.
Quality: Eh, so-so.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The title is from a poem written by Lewis Carroll, published at the end of "Through the Looking Glass." The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

Prologue


"Mr. Giles, if you don't finish your medicine, I can't let you watch TV."

"I see," Giles said, fiddling with the armrest of his wheelchair. "And I suppose if I don't eat my meat, I can't have any pudding?"

"Oh, Mr. Giles, you know you're on a strict diet," the nurse said. "No sweets for you. Now drink up!"

Giles looked down at the red viscous fluid in the paper cup, took a breath, and threw back the medicine in one gulp.

"There now," the nurse said. "Now I'll be back in a minute to give you you're sponge bath."

"I'll wait with baited breath," Giles responded as the nurse walked out of the small room. He wheeled himself away from the bed and toward the small night stand. He reached for the remote control. His arm ached as he extended it; years of abuse had made every limb sore.

He flipped on the television. A local station was running "Charmed" in syndication. Rather than run the channel filter through the other four thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine channels, he turned off the TV in disgust. The Master would have eaten those three birds for lunch, Giles thought, as he wheeled his way toward the door.

The rest home was unusually active for a Tuesday morning. The nurses had organized a Pokemon tournament in the lounge, and the competition was getting ugly. Mr. Halderman had apparently beaten Mr. Walters, and Mr. Walters was threatening to shove his hydraulic crane into an…uncomfortable orifice. Bloody Americans, Giles thought. No sense of decorum.

Giles went to the newspaper screen at the table of the lobby. He could have accessed it from his room's computer, but he was feeling bored. The narrow walls of his room had become claustrophobic.

He hit the FRONT PAGE button on the table. He read:

SYDNEY KOALAS WIN 2030 WORLD SERIES!

Giles hit the OFF button. American culture throughout the world had become all too pervasive for Giles' taste. He turned around and wheeled back to his room.

He looked around the room. He thought about spending the morning reading. His books were lined up on a shelf in the corner. They had traveled with him throughout his life like a faithful spouse. However, Giles had noticed that lately, like many faithful spouses, they had nothing to say to each other.

Giles closed his eyes. His days had been reduced to empty hours between medications.

"Mr. Giles," the nurse called from the doorway.

Horrid woman, Giles thought. "Sponge bath already?"

"No," the nurse responded. "You have a visitor."

Giles sighed. Every so often the young whelp who had bought the magic shop came by to ask a question or borrow a tome. Giles still attempted to pretend that the visits were tiresome. In fact, they provided his only distractions.

"Send him in," Giles said.

"Her," the nurse corrected. "She's right outside."

The nurse exited. Giles heard a set of footsteps approach. And then he saw her. Small. Blonde. Young. In fact, far too young. And apparently as confused as he was. Giles took a moment, and then said:

"Buffy!?!"


Part I


"So, like, when did you get old?"

"I didn't get old," Giles corrected as he hit the SEND key on his computer. "I aged. Apparently you haven't. I mean, you have. You did. I saw you."

"Well," Buffy said. "If I did, I missed it."

"The nurse, she saw you? She spoke to you?"

"Yep. She's a little weird."

"Astute as ever," Giles said. "Well, we know you're not some kind of an illusion, or a figment of my imagination, if others can see you."

"Could I be…a ghost? I mean, am I…?"

"You're quite alive."

"That's a relief," Buffy said. "I mean, I guess I broke the longevity records for slayers."

"You always were…I mean, are exceptional. When did you first realize that you were away from your own time?"

"Well, when I saw a city bus hovering past me, it was a bit of a clue."

"What's the last thing you remember?"

"Let's see," Buffy said, placing her index finger on her chin. "I was walking up to my room. Riley and I were going to the movies. I saw someone standing in my room. A girl. She had dark hair, and she was going through my jewelry box. Not like she was stealing, more like she was going to borrow something. Next thing I knew, I was out on the street and the cars were floating."

"Do you remember anything unusual about how Dawn acted?"

"Who?"

"Dawn…your sister. I mean, not really your sister, but…"

Buffy stared blankly at Giles. "Giles, have you gone senile on me?"

"People don't go senile anymore," Giles said. "They made a pill for it. You don't remember Dawn?"

"Nope. You called her my sister. Did I join a convent?"

"Hardly," Giles said. He was about to explain, but his computer screen flashed. He turned, and read:

YOU HAVE 1 CALL FROM BUFFYSUMMERS78214@AOL.GOV

"Buffy," Giles said, "go outside for a moment. I'll call for you."

"What's going on?"

"Buffy, please, trust me. I'll send for you in a moment."

Buffy scowled, but then left the room. When door closed, Giles turned to the computer screen and pressed the ACCEPT key.

The face of a woman appeared on the screen. Her hair was more gray than blonde, and lines had started to spider web around her eyes.

"I got your call," Buffy said. "What's going on?"

"I just had a very interesting meeting," Giles responded.

"With who?"

"You."

"Me?"

"Yes, you."

"Apparently I have a double," Buffy observed. "Is she evil?"

"No," Giles said. "Actually, she's rather sweet. She's also quite young. About twenty, I'd estimate."

"Well, we've seen stranger things. What do you suppose is making it happen?"

"I don't know, really," Giles said. "but there must be an explanation."

"I'll be on the next flight over. I can be there in fifteen minutes."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Giles said. "Until we know what brought her here, we don't know what effect there will be if we bring the two of you together."

"Giles," Buffy said. "I don't like the idea of you handling this alone. Let me contact Graham. He can have a team in Sunnydale by the end of the day."

"Buffy, I really think you're overreacting," Giles said. "There's absolutely no indication that there's any danger."

"Then why did you call me?"

"I was concerned," Giles said. "I thought, if this…girl…was here, then you might have…in any event, there's no reason to bring President Miller into this."

"Giles," Buffy said. "Promise me, if there's any trouble, you'll let me know."

"I promise," Giles said.

"Fine," Buffy said. "I'm in Berlin. I'll be in Hong Kong next week, but it's just some cult that's been sacrificing virgins. They've been worshiping a three-headed demon for the last four thousand years, so they'll still be there if I take a couple of days in Sunnydale to…"

"I promise I'll let you know if there's anything I need."

"Fine," Buffy said. "Keep in touch."

I wish we would, Giles thought to himself, and then immediately felt guilty for the thought. Buffy's work was incredibly important.

"Goodbye," Giles said. The screen went blank.

Giles paused to consider the problem. He turned to his computer, and instructed the data banks to cross reference the events surrounding Dawn's arrival with doppelgangers, doubles, and time travel. There wasn't time to do paper research. While the computer compiled the information, Giles heard a knock on his door.

"Come in," Giles called.

Buffy entered the room and asked:

"Um…Giles, are vampires still a secret?"

"Of course. Why?"

"Well, I'd better get a dustpan," Buffy said. "I just slayed your nurse. She was sucking on some guy named Walters. He muttered something about a guy named Pikachu."


Part II


"According to this," Giles said, gesturing toward the screen, "certain spells which replace memory can leave a residue."

"When did you learn to use a computer?"

"There everywhere now," Giles responded. "It's been thirty years. You can't avoid them. Now, please, Buffy, pay attention. When the spell replaces the memories of a person, the old memories become a sort of free floating energy that can, eventually, take on corporeal form."

"Corporeal? You mean, like, with rifles and green uniforms and stuff?"

"I said 'corporeal'" Giles explained. "In other words, living." God, Giles thought, I'd forgotten how exasperating she could be.

"So," Buffy said, "you're saying I'm not real. I'm just the stuff that was left over when those monks you told me about fiddled with the real Buffy's memory."

"I wouldn't say that," Giles said, sensing that Buffy (he had decided to call her Buffy for simplicity's sake) was upset. "You're the product of Buffy's actual past, not the artificial past that was invented for her memory. You're more real, in a way. Your memories are of actual events, rather than false ones."

"I guess I can live with that," Buffy said.. "So what do I do now that I'm here?"

"I don't know, really," Giles admitted. "You obviously have your powers. You proved that when you took care of that ghastly nurse. I always suspected that she dished out that red fluid a little too proficiently."

"So I just start slaying as usual. I'll probably need you to fill me in on some of the developments in the last thirty years. You know, like floating cars and stuff."

"They don't float, they hover," Giles corrected. "But you're right. We can't just unleash you on the undead until you know how to deal with the living. I don't know where to begin, really."

"Hmm," Buffy said. "I'd really like to know about fashions. And how the X-Files ended. And…well, about some people. I mean, Xander. And Willow. Oh, God, and Angel. And Riley, too, of course. And my Mom. Is my mom…? Wait a minute. Maybe I'd better not know. I should probably know more about what brought me here first. If I ever had to go back, and I knew the future, well, I suppose it could cause a whole weird 'Terminator 2' kind of illogic to happen."

"Well," Giles said. "At least I now know that you're really Buffy. I'm both impressed with your maturity and completely bewildered by your metaphors. Only you were able to do both simultaneously."

"Thanks," Buffy said. "I think."

"First thing to do is to find a place for you to stay. You can't stay here."

"As much as I hate to miss all the tapioca and knitting, you're probably right. Where do I go?"

"I have an idea."


Part III


The hovercab stopped outside a small house. Buffy and the driver assisted Giles out of the cab, and Buffy followed Giles as he wheeled up to the front door. Giles rang the bell, and a young man answered the door.

"Giles," he said. He spoke with an English accent. "Good to see you."

"Jason," Giles said. "I hope you are well."

"Quite," Jason responded. "Come in. I'll get Missy."

Buffy followed Giles and Jason into the living room. Jason left to get Missy (whoever that was), and Buffy said:

"It's quite the British-fest in here. Who is this guy?"

"He's Missy's Watcher."

"Watcher? As in Watcher's Council? As in crazy psycho Watcher's Council?"

"The Council is now a more relaxed organization," Giles explained. "I'd like to think I played some small part in bringing that about. Jason trains Missy. She's the current Slayer. She's quite talented. She is American, but no one's perfect."

"Wait a minute," Buffy said. "If I'm still…I mean, if the real Buffy is still alive, then how can there be a new Slayer? I mean, did they find a way to…oh, God."

Giles gave Buffy a minute to absorb what she had realized. Then Buffy asked:

"It's Faith, isn't it? Faith's dead."

"I'm afraid so," Giles said. "In fact, she's been dead for quite some time. There have been two other slayers since Faith."

"She was in jail when I…I mean, last I remembered. I…I hated her. At least, I thought I did. But now…was she, I mean, did she get…better?"

"She did," Giles said. "And, for what it's worth, the two of you mended fences. She died quite honorably."

"Giles," Buffy said, "if I ever ask another question about someone, give me an answer. Ten years after I ask. No sooner."

"Agreed," Giles said, as Jason entered the room with a young girl.

She looked about fifteen. She had bright red hair which fell straight down past her shoulders. She wore a maroon leather jacket (some things never change, Buffy thought) and dark canvas pants. She looked Buffy over from head to toe, and said:

"This is her? I see the resemblance."

"It's not a resemblance," Jason said. "It's her."

Missy turned to Giles and said:

"When did she show up?"

"This morning," Giles said. "She needs a place to stay. And she needs to learn a bit about how things have changed."

"Cool," Missy said "I could use some backup. Dalok's been getting aggressive lately."

Buffy decided to let the "backup" comment go, for the moment, and asked:

"Who's Dalok?"

"He's the new big bad among the vamp crowd," Missy explained. "He's up to something."

"No prob," Buffy said. "After beating Dracula, this Dalok guy shouldn't be too big of a deal."

"Drac was a pain," Missy said. "But he wasn't too much trouble when I faced him."

"Well," Buffy said. "I guess you're just all that."

The two girls stared straight into each other.

"Giles," Jason said. "Do you realize that there are now THREE slayers?"

"Yes," Giles said. "The world is doomed."

"Look," Buffy said. "I'm not here to step on anyone's toes. Actually, I don't know why I'm here. But while I am here, I might as well help."

"Agreed," Jason said. "I'll show you to your room."

Buffy shot a last look at Missy, then followed Jason up the stairs.

"She's a piece of work," Missy said to Giles. "Was she always this bitchy?"

"She did have an independent streak," Giles said. "Not unlike you."

"Whatever," Missy said. "I'm surprised you would even speak to her."

"I can't imagine what you'd mean."

"Oh, come on," Missy said. "After the way she's treated you. I'd never let my Watcher sit alone in some rest home without even calling."

"That's not fair," Giles said. "She's…very busy. She has quite a responsibility."

"She wouldn't be alive to take care of her responsibility," Missy retorted, "if you hadn't done such a good job looking out for her. When was the last time she even visited you?"

"Missy," Giles sighed, "when you get older, you'll understand that…."

At that moment the computer chirped. Missy walked to the computer, looked down at the screen, and then touched the ACCEPT key, saying:

"Hello."

The face of an elderly gentleman popped up on the screen and asked:

"Is Jason there?"

"He's upstairs, Lord Fields," Missy said. "Giles is here."

"Rupert," Lord Fields said. "I'm glad you're involved. It's Buffy."

"I know," Giles called out. "She showed up on my doorstep. Nothing that the Council need worry about. I brought her here to stay with Jason."

"Not her," Lord Fields said. "The real Buffy. Our Buffy. I just got word from our Council man in Berlin. Buffy collapsed while she was boarding her flight to Hong Kong."


Part IV


"Giles," Jason said, walking toward his dining room table with another pot of tea, "did the computer mention any explanation for Buffy's sudden problem."

"Nothing," Giles said. "Of course, the computer only targets specific queries, and even then it has no sense of intuition."

Buffy stared at the bottom of her coffee cup, then asked:

"Am I hurting her?"

"It's impossible to say," Jason said. "It could have nothing to do with your arrival. Buffy faces all sorts of dangers every day. There could be any number of causes of her sudden weakness."

"And she may not be in danger," Giles added. "Lord Fields said that Buffy is in stable condition. She just appears to have become exhausted. It may merely be fatigue."

"Thanks for that, guys," Buffy said. "But you don't really believe any of that, do you?"

Giles and Jason exchanged glances. Finally, Giles responded:

"We simply don't know. I've instructed the computer to research the subject further. It should take about an hour."

At that point, Missy ran down the stairs, and exclaimed:

"It's Dalok. He's at it again. The Watcher's satellite picked up some vamp activity down at the graveyard. He's probably recruiting."

"We'll go down together," Jason said, reaching for his coat hung near the door.

"I can handle this," Missy protested.

"You're still early in your training," Jason responded. "I must observe your progress."

"I'll go too," Buffy said.

"Buffy," Giles interjected, "it may not be a good idea for you to…"

"I can't just sit here," Buffy said. "I'll go nuts."

"It may be a good for her to get out," Jason said.

"Very well," Giles said. "But be careful."

Buffy walked to Giles' side, bent down, and kissed his cheek. "You always looked out for me."

Buffy, Jason and Missy walked out toward the door.

Giles wheeled his way toward the computer in Jason's den. The screen read

COMPILING

as a blue bar slowly grew longer.

Nothing to do, Giles thought. He took a moment to absorb the day's events, and realized that he had enjoyed it immensely. It was just like the old days, Giles thought. The computer chirped. Giles looked down at the screen. It read:

POSSIBLE LINK FOUND. PRESS ENTER TO REVIEW ANALYSIS

Giles hit the ENTER key. Three paragraphs of data scrolled down the screen. Giles read the writing, and then exclaimed:

"Oh, my God!"


Part V


"So what's the sitch?"

"Dalok is probably waiting for a bunch of vamps to rise," Missy said, crouching behind a gravestone next to the one Buffy used for cover. "He and his goons went on a real feeding frenzy last Wednesday. He probably has about three new followers ready to sprout."

"Where's Jason?"

"He'll be watching from behind the big oak tree with the DigiCorder. We record all our encounters so we can study the fight later."

"So," Buffy said, "how long have you been at this?"

"About six months," Missy responded.

"I remember my first six months," Buffy said. "It was hard, but…"

"Look," Missy said. "I appreciate the backup. And the person you became, she's done a lot. It kinda gives you hope, that you can actually do this job and live long enough to collect on your IRA. But I don't like you. I don't want to be your friend."

Buffy recoiled. "Exactly what did I do that was so horrible?"

"It's what you didn't do," Missy said. "Pretty much as soon as Giles got stuck in that wheelchair, you blew him off. Always running around with that boy toy of yours. Hell, when USAir went all supersonic, you barely ever came back to Sunnydale. Giles deserved better."

"I'd love to apologize," Buffy said, "but it's hard when you're talking about something I didn't do."

"Haven't done," Missy corrected. "Yet. You will."

Buffy was about to respond, when suddenly a growl came from the corner of the graveyard. Buffy and Missy both turned toward the sound. Missy drew a stake. Buffy snapped her fingers at Missy, and Missy threw a spare stake to her.

The dirt on a fresh grave was stirring. A hand, then an arm emerged from the soil. Buffy and Missy crept toward the rising vamp. Missy was focused on the vampire, but Buffy heard a twig snap behind them. She grabbed Missy's arm, and pointed toward the brush.

Two vampires sprang from behind the bushes. Missy turned to face the pair, but Buffy turned to face the rising vamp in order to cover Missy's back. It was then that Buffy saw two vamps emerge from behind a mausoleum, and another vamp come from behind a tree.

"Missy!"

Buffy and Missy turned toward the voice. It was Jason.

"Fall back," he shouted. "It's a trap!"


Part VI


Giles heard the door open, and then slam shut. He turned toward the hallway, and saw Missy run up the stairs.

"Missy," Giles called. "Missy?"

Giles then heard a slow set of footsteps come from the foyer. Buffy stood before him, a stunned look across her face.

"Buffy," Giles said. "What's happened?"

"It's Jason," Buffy said. "He's…he's…dead."

"Oh, my Lord," Giles said.

"Missy's taking it hard," Buffy said. "I know how she feels."

"Of course you would."

"Maybe you should go talk to her."

"I can't," Giles said. "Not yet. There's something else that will be…difficult. I have bad news, and it can't wait."

"What's wrong?"

"It's you," Giles said. "Our initial information was wrong. Or at least, it was not complete."

"I'm the one making the other Buffy sick, aren't I?"

"I'm afraid so," Giles said. "It seems that you aren't 'free floating' energy. You were a separate part of Buffy's life force, but still part of Buffy all along. Somehow you were drawn out of her. Your memories, they may not have been conscious, but you're a part of her spirit. You're the basis for her whole psyche. Without you, her soul is incomplete. She'll die if you aren't returned."

"So it's her or me."

"I'm sorry," Giles said. "We may be able to research some other solution…."

"But Buffy may die in the meantime," Buffy said. "You'd better do whatever you have to do."

"There's a spell," Giles said. "We really don't have time to delay. I am sorry."

"It's OK," Buffy said. "It's not like I really belonged here."

Giles paused, then said:

"You always were heroic. I'm so proud of you."

"Eh," Buffy said, "it comes with the job. At least I know some part of me will live on."

"What I don't understand is how you got here," Giles said. "The research indicates that the energy of the separate memories can only be drawn out by some event or force which calls it forth. It's like a poltergeist. It's drawn to mental energy arising from a human crisis. I'd normally say it had to do with Jason, but he wasn't dead yet when you…"

"You," Buffy interrupted.

"Excuse me?"

"It was you," Buffy said. "I came to you. I was drawn to you. I was wandering around town looking for something familiar, when I saw your name on the activities list on a board at the rest home door. I thought it was a coincidence, but I must have been drawn there. Was there any reason why you needed me? Maybe that vamp nurse? Some part of you may have sensed that she was…"

"No," Giles said. "I don't believe that was it. It was less…dramatic than that. I guess I felt…I mean, I needed...well, we can't wait. The research indicates that waiting more than twelve hours can…"

"I understand," Buffy said. "Really, I understand, Giles. I understand, everything."

Giles reached for his spellbook and opened the yellow pages.

"Giles," Buffy interrupted. "I don't know if I ever said this…I mean, I may have said it a hundred times in the last thirty years, but, I want to say it now. Thanks. Thanks for everything. Now that I know how long I survived, I want you to know that I wouldn't have lasted three weeks without you. And I love you. From what I've heard, I've neglected saying that in the last thirty years the same way I neglected saying it in the first four. I thought there would be plenty of time, and so much was always happening, but I always felt it. And I know that the real me feels it, too, even if she isn't very good about saying it. You were my friend, my father, everything I ever needed. Thank you so much."

Giles swallowed hard, unable to form words. Finally Buffy said:

"Do it."

Giles took a deep breath, looked down at the book and read:

"Fiat lux ad corpus."

A purple glow surrounded Buffy, and then she was gone.


Epilogue


Missy shuffled down the stairs. She saw Giles sitting, waiting for her. He asked:

"Are you alright?"

Missy shrugged.

"You can talk about it," Giles said. "It's alright to talk about it."

"What good will it do? He's dead. There's nothing I can do about it now."

"I suspect there was nothing you could do at any time."

"I'm the Slayer! It's my job to protect people! It was my job…"

"It was Jason's job to protect you," Giles said. "He was doing his job. You were doing yours. It's not your fault."

Missy bit her bottom lip, then asked:

"Where's Buffy?"

"She's gone," Giles said. "I mean, our Buffy is in Berlin. She's recovered nicely. The other Buffy…I performed a spell to reverse the magic that brought her here. She couldn't stay."

"So she's gone, right? I mean, it's not like she went back somewhere. She's just gone?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry."

"Thank you," Giles said. "But she still lives on, in a way. She's part of what our Buffy is, where she comes from."

"Giles, what's going to happen to me?"

"That's largely up to you," Giles replied. "The Council will assign you a new Watcher. You can have a Watcher sent here, or you can relocate. You don't even have to be the Slayer. This isn't the twentieth century. Nobody will try to force you if you want to go back to your family."

"No thanks," Missy said. "I know I never talked about it, but my family…well, they weren't any kind of a family to go home to."

"Well," Giles said, "you have choices. And you don't have to decide now. Take as much time as you need. You've suffered quite a loss."

"So have you," Missy said.

"Get some sleep," Giles said. "We'll discuss this more…."

"Giles," Missy interrupted. "Could you be my Watcher?"

"Missy," Giles responded. "Be practical. I can't even walk."

"You don't have to walk," Missy said. "That's why it's called a 'Watcher.' Not a 'walker' or a 'runner' or a 'stander.' You know more about training Slayers than anyone the Council would send."

"Missy, I can't train you properly."

"Why? Because you can't duel with me? That's not what I need."

"Missy, it's important that you have the proper…"

"Giles," Missy said. She took a breath, regained her composure, and then continued. "I know what I need. I know more about my powers than Jason thought. I've read the Slayers' diaries. I know that there's darkness in my powers. I know that it's dangerous. I don't need someone to teach me how to fight. I know that, and what I don't know you can tell me without having to show me. I just need somebody. Not one of those cold fish the Council will send. I need someone real. Someone who knows what it's like to lose someone. Someone who needs me as much as I need them. Giles, I need a friend."

Giles thought for a moment, then asked:

"If I agree, will you promise to do everything I say, without question?"

"Um…" Missy said. "Sure. Of course. Absolutely."

"Liar," Giles said, a smile crossing his face.

Yes, Giles thought, this will be fun.

THE END


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Summers Away from Home

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Buffy spends the summer before college in L.A., and sees her father, Cordelia...and, of course, a gang of vampires. Set between seasons 3 and 4.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue


"Dad, this is Willow."

"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Summers," Willow said, putting down her overnight bag and reaching to shake Hank Summers' hand.

"I've heard so much about you," Hank said. "It's nice to finally meet you in person."

A voice over the PA system announced:

"Flight 443 from Sunnydale and continuing to Spokane has arrived at Gate Fourteen. Passengers embarking on Flight 443 for Spokane should proceed to Gate Fourteen with their boarding passes. Boarding will begin in approximately ten minutes."

"We should get out of the way," Hank said.

"I've got to go to the restroom," Willow said. "I'll meet you at baggage claim."

"Alright," Hank said. "It's straight down the escalators. Buffy and I will wait for you there."

Willow walked to the ladies room while Hank and Buffy proceeded toward the escalators.

"Thanks for letting Willow come along," Buffy said.

"No problem," Hank replied. "There's plenty of room. Besides, she can keep you company while I'm at work."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "I figured we'd hit the malls during the day. I know you're not going to miss the shopping sprees."

Actually, he would.

"I can still get some time off, if you want," Hank said. "I have another six days of vacation left for the year. I'm sure my boss wouldn't mind if...."

"Oh, don't worry about it," Buffy said. "It's only a week."

I know, Hank thought. It used to be the whole summer. Last summer no one knew where she was. It turned out she was in L.A. the whole time. She'd never even called. When she decided to go home, she went back to Sunnydale. Directly back. He had to hear over the phone from Joyce that Buffy had been found. A local call from L.A. would have been thirty-five cents. It had been a long time since Hank Summers had been to a bus station, but he was pretty sure they still had pay phones.

This year, it was a week. "You know," Hank said, "you can stay longer. I mean, if your friend needs to get back, we can change your flight and...."

"Nah," Buffy said. "I really do have to get back. You know, college stuff. A lot to prepare for."

"Yeah, I remember," Hank said, although most of what he remembered involved summer parties. "So, did you reply to UCLA?"

"Well, I didn't say yes," Buffy said. "And they said I had until May 31st to say yes, so I guess that's the same as saying no."

"So you've made up your mind?"

"Pretty much," Buffy said. "I know UC Sunnydale doesn't have the same name recognition as UCLA, but it's still a good school. Besides, I've got a lot keeping me in Sunnydale. All my friends are there. And there's mom. I mean, I'm going to live in the dorm, but I think mom would like me close. She's not used to living alone."

And she'll never get used to it, Hank thought. You never do.


Part I.


"So, who's hungry?"

"I'm fine," Willow said, dropping her purse on the couch. "I ate on the plane. They gave us sandwiches. Well, they said they were sandwiches. There was bread involved."

"I'm really not hungry either," Buffy said. "We should probably just unpack."

"That's fine," Hank said. "Um, I'm just going to go into the den to check my office e-mail. The condo pool is open, if you kids...I mean, if you young ladies want to go for a swim later."

"O.K.," Buffy said, taking her bags toward the spare bedroom. Willow followed.

Hank paused for a moment, then walked to his den.

"Your dad seems nice," Willow said as they entered the bedroom.

"Yeah," Buffy said, dropping her suitcase on the bed. "He's O.K. I haven't seen him much this year. Our weekend visits got a little off track. Every time we had one scheduled, either the Mayor was up to something, or it was some other demon."

"Yeah," Willow agreed, even though she remembered quite a few weekends that Buffy could easily have...well, that was none of her business.

"Hey, girls," Hank called, entering the room. "I was thinking. There's a really good Thai food place that just opened around the corner. Anyone interested?"

"That sounds good," Willow said.

"Great," Hank said. "Tomorrow night I figured we could barbeque, like we used to back at the house. I've got a hibachi set up on the balcony that should do the job."

"Cool," Buffy said. "We should be home from the mall around six."

"Perfect," Hank said.


Part II.


"Do you think Oz will like it?"

"Are you kidding?" Buffy asked, tossing her soda cup into a garbage can in the food court. "He'll love it. What there is of it, anyway."

"It just feels, well, weird," Willow said, looking down at the small Victoria's Secret bag in her hands.

"It's supposed to feel weird," Buffy said. "But once you get used to the lace...."

"That's not what I mean, and you know it," Willow said, trying to suppress a giggle. "I'm just not used to...well, you know."

"So you and Oz are basking in the carnal, huh?"

"Well," Willow replied, "let's just say that his van may need a new set of shocks before the end of the summer."

"Oh, my," Buffy said, fanning herself with her open hand.

"You don't mind me talking about this stuff, do you?"

"Well, I'd prefer you skip the Polaroids, if at all possible."

"I'm serious," Willow said. "I mean, if it bothers you...what with Angel leaving and all....."

"Willow, don't be silly," Buffy said. "I want you to feel like you can share this stuff. And I'm OK, really."

"You don't have to be," Willow said. "OK, I mean."

"Well, I am," Buffy said. "Pretty much."

"I'm just saying...hey, is that who I think it is?"

Buffy followed Willow's eyes and looked through the clear glass window at the front of one of the mall's clothing stores. A young woman was straightening sweaters on a display table.

"Cordelia," Buffy said. "Yeah, it is her. Gainfully employed. Go figure."

"I heard she left town after what happened with her parents," Willow said. "I guess she wound up working here."

"At the mall," Buffy observed. "Again, go figure."

"Should we go and say something?"

"I don't know," Buffy said. "Seeing us like this, seeing her like this. It would probably make her feel awkward, uncomfortable, ashamed...yeah, let's go."

"Buffy, c'mon," Willow said. "I mean, Cordelia may have had her moments, but you can't help but feel a little sorry for...oh!"

Cordelia looked up from the table and saw Willow and Buffy standing on the other side of the glass. They half-waived politely. Cordelia bit her bottom lip, then motioned for them to come in. Buffy and Willow walked through the entrance and approached Cordelia.

"Hey," Willow said.

"Hey back," Cordelia said.

"So how's it going?" Buffy asked.

"Good," Cordelia said as convincingly as she could. "Real good. Couldn't be better."

"That's...great," Willow said.

"Oh, don't hand me that," Cordelia said.

"What?"

"You know," Cordelia said. "I know what you're thinking. Spoiled little rich girl is getting what she had coming."

"I wasn't...," Willow started.

"Well, I'll have you know that things are going perfectly," Cordelia interrupted. "Do you see that Hickory Farms down there? Katie Holmes worked there for six months before she got discovered. And the Orange Julius? Two words. Freddie. Prinze."

"Junior," Buffy added. "That's three."

"This mall is one of the hottest places to work if you're on the brink of discovery," Cordelia continued. "Usually you have to be a Juliard grad just to get an interview at Chik-Fil-A, but I got into women's clothing the day I showed up. So tell that to all your friends back in Sunnydale."

"Cordelia," a woman's voice called. A middle-aged woman (who's name tag indicated she was 'Charlotte,' and that she was an assistant manager) walked up behind Cordy. "I hope you're not socializing."

"Oh, Mrs. Jessup," Cordelia said. "I was just, um...."

"Helping me pick out a sweater," Buffy interjected. "I normally don't wear sweaters. In July. In California. But this nice saleswoman pointed out that cotton breathes."

"Well," Charlotte said, "please continue."

Charlotte turned and walked toward the shoe display.

"Thanks," Cordelia said. "Of course, you realize you have to buy one now."

"Excuse me," Buffy said. "It's July. In California."

"Cotton breathes," Cordelia replied. "So, what brings you to L.A.?"

"Visiting my dad," Buffy explained.

"That's nice," Cordelia said. "I forgot you used to live in...hey, watch it!"

A trio of teenaged boys walked past Cordelia. One of them had pinched her. They responded to her protest with smiles and leers, then shuffled out of the store.

"Ugh, the public," Cordelia said. "I wish security would just throw them out already."

"The public?" Willow asked.

"No, those guys," Cordelia said. "Every day they just walk around the mall. Young punks. It's obvious they're not buying anything. I mean, look at their clothes. A mall this upscale would never sell acid wash jeans and nylon jackets."

"Members Only," Buffy said, her eyes fixated on the three boys as they stood outside and made crude comments to the women who passed by.

"Now that's a good idea," Cordelia said. "A mall where you have to be a member to shop."

"No, the jackets," Buffy said. "Remember the 'Members Only' jackets? And the acid wash jeans? From back in the eighties?"

"Dated clothes," Willow said. "That's a classic vampire tell."

"Yeah," Cordelia said. "That would explain the string of murders that have happened in the parking lot every night."

Buffy and Willow turned to face Cordelia.

"Cordelia," Buffy said. "You've noticed a bunch of pale kids walking around the enclosed, artificially lit mall, and there's been a string of murders outside the mall at night, and you didn't make the connection?"

"No, I didn't," Cordelia said. "That's what I moved away from Sunnydale to get away from. And even if I did notice something was up, what was I supposed to do? Tell security that the mall was infested with bloodsucking demons?"

"Well, you could have done something," Willow said. "Oh, yeah," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes. "Maybe I could have found some other demon fighter, and spent yet another three years as a sidekick to a superpowered vigilante. Like I'm really going to put my impending stardom on hold to do THAT again?" "Cordelia," Buffy sighed, "I don't have time to argue with you. Can you get me into the mall after dark?"


Part III.


"So how long is your daughter in town for?"

"A week," Hank replied, throwing a stack of files into his Out Box. "She has to get back to her mother so she can get ready for school."

"Yeah, right," Jackson replied, taking a seat in front of Hank's desk. "I remember all of the 'getting ready' I did before college. Beer and nakedness, mostly."

"Jackson, do you mind? That's my daughter you're talking about."

"Sorry," Jackson said. "Well, at least she still comes around. My kid, shit, at that age I was lucky if I saw him once a month. Well, except for birthdays and Christmas. I was a lot more popular at gift-giving time."

"Yeah, well, I'm not," Hank said. "Christmas? Easter? Nothing. You know, she called me and said she didn't want me to go to her high school graduation?"

"Wow, that's harsh."

"Her mother said it was some kind of a teenage thing," Hank explained. "I mean, Joyce didn't even go to the ceremony."

"Well," Jackson said, "at least the kid's equal about it."

"It's not equal," Hank said. "Joyce gets to see her every day. Me, if it's not a special occasion, I'm pretty much cut out. Buffy used to be thrilled when we had our visits. Now, I get every excuse in the book as to why she can't come."

"She's a teenager," Jackson said. "It's normal. Every kid goes through the phase where they don't want to be around their parents. Their friends are what's important to them. Friendships are the relationships that teach them how to interact in the adult world. It's part of growing up, becoming independent. It's just harder when they're living somewhere else."

"I just feel like I can't win," Hank said. "If I push, then I'm crowding her. If I don't, I'm letting us grow apart."

"Yep," Jackson said. "And you know what? When she's a couple of years older and going through all of the abandonment crap, it's going to be all your fault. My kid, when he was sixteen, he wouldn't speak to me because he had other stuff going on. Now, the way he remembers it, he figures I blew him off, so...he doesn't speak to me."

"Well, it's good to know I have something to look forward to," Hank said wryly. "I guess the best I can do is to be there for her."

"And work on having your own life," Jackson replied.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Have you told her?"

"No, and I'm not going to," Hank said. "It's tough enough as it is. It won't help matters if Buffy knows I'm seeing someone."

"Hank, you've been going out with her for a year. She's invited you to meet her family at Thanksgiving. How long do you think you can keep it a secret?"

"That's not the point," Hank said. "Joyce might be going to visit her sister this Thanksgiving. If I'm not here, and Buffy can't get away from her classes, she'll have nowhere to go."

"Oh, that makes sense," Jackson said sarcastically. "Your ex gets to see your daughter everyday, and Joyce can do whatever she wants. Buffy gets to pick and choose where she goes. And if she doesn't choose you, well, then, you can just sit at home and eat a pot pie. Meanwhile, a beautiful woman who loves you like crazy gets to try and convince her family, and herself, that you're really serious about a relationship. Weren't you the one bitching about fairness?"

"Look, not that I wouldn't love to continue this conversation," Hank said. "But I have to get this paperwork done this afternoon. I'm leaving early to cook dinner."

"Whatever," Jackson said, standing up to leave. "Listen, I'm just looking out for you. It took me forever to get it through my head that I was never going to make my kid come around. I spent way too much time trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Now I'm fifty-three, single, and alone. There's no woman asking me to come to Thanksgiving dinner. I'm just saying." Jackson walked out of the office. Hank sighed, then shook his head and dove into another file. He had a lot to do, and he'd have to be done by five if he wanted to have dinner ready for the girls by six.


Part IV.


"I don't believe this," Cordelia said, climbing into one of the cardboard boxes. "You're in town, what, a day? And already I'm hiding and sneaking and putting myself in danger."

"Cordelia, shut up," Buffy said, climbing into the box with her. "If I could hide out in here and get through the security systems on my own, I would. As it is, we're going to be stuck here together for another couple of hours until the mall closes. It will go by a lot faster if you don't whine."

"You know, you could try being nice to me," Cordy retorted. "I am risking my life, not to mention a really good job that gives a twenty percent employee discount on items not marked down, plus first dibs on all the discontinued accessories before they're returned to the manufacturer for...."

"My god," Buffy interrupted, pulling the top down on the box. "You are so self-absorbed. And loud about it. You think I'm happy here? I'm supposed to be on vacation. My dad is going to freak when Willow tells him I'm not coming home for dinner."

"Oh, that's fine," Cordelia said. "Daddy misses dinner, and it's a tragedy. Cordelia could become dinner to a vampire, well that's just fine and dandy."

"It's different," Buffy shot back. "My father doesn't know...what I do."

"So tell him already," Cordy said. "Your mom was able to handle it. Why can't he?"

"My mom found out," Buffy replied. "I didn't want her to know, and ever since she found out, it's been really hard for her. I don't want to put my dad through it. He's better off not knowing."

"Ugh," Cordelia exclaimed. "That really stinks."

"Excuse me?"

"That's so unfair," Cordelia continued. "You sound just like my father. 'You didn't need to know. I didn't want you to worry about money. I thought it would all work out.' Then all of a sudden out of nowhere the IRS is taking all our stuff, I'm out on the street, and my visits to my father are through plexiglass barriers. My whole life turned upside down, and I never had any warning because HE decided what I could and couldn't handle. When you care about somebody, you take the good with the bad. You have a RIGHT to take the good and the bad. Whether he can handle the truth should be HIS choice, not YOURS."

Buffy swallowed hard. She had faced the demonic possession of her true love, a drowning death in a shallow pool, and a snake the size of a subway train. But she had never faced a prospect as unsettling as this.

Cordelia...Cordelia Chase...sounded...right.


Part V.


"This chicken tastes wonderful, Mr. Summers," Willow said, watching Hank Summers make small circles in his baked beans with his fork. He had no reply. Willow continued:

"Did you make this chicken with sage? Because I think I taste sage. Did you know that the druids used sage as a healing herb? It's true. They'd rub it on...."

"Buffy still hasn't called," Hank interrupted.

"Um, yeah," Willow said. "I mean, when we ran into Cordelia, she insisted on showing Buffy her new apartment. I guess they just lost track of time. You know how it is when us girls start gabbing."

"I don't remember Buffy mentioning a friend named Cordelia," Hank said.

"Oh, I'm not surprised," Willow replied. "They're really not that close."

Hank dropped his fork on the plate, making a loud clank. He never met Willow's eyes.

"I mean, they were friends," Willow quickly added, realizing the significance Hank had placed on her words. "Good friends. Like sisters, actually."

Hank had no reply.

"Um, anyway," Willow said, trying to change the subject. "I remember you mentioned that you checked your office email here. There's a program that I can hack off of Motorola's web site that would automatically send your email as a text message directly to your cell phone. It's not out yet commercially, but I've never been one to allow a little thing like that keep me back."

Hank looked up and saw Willow's uncomfortable expression. He smiled. He'd been behaving horribly. No sense making this girl feel bad. It wasn't her fault that his daughter....

"Alright," Hank finally said. "Show me what you can do."


Part VI.


"Dude, that chick was like, sooooo into me."

"In your dreams," the young vamp replied to his companion, lounging on a chair in the mall's food court. The darkness of the long-since-closed mall didn't hide the look of dismissal on the vamp's face. "Besides, she was like, sooooo not hot. I mean, really. She was all, like, in those baggy overalls. She looked like a farmer."

"That's the style now, you idiots," the third member of the group interjected. "My god, you two are pathetic. We're immortal. We can go anywhere. Do anything. And all you two want to do is hang out at the mall like we're still in high school."

"Dude, chill," the first vamp said. "Don't, like, get an attitude just because you're a senior."

"Quit calling me dude! And quit calling me a senior! That was thirteen years ago! We're not teenagers anymore. God, I don't believe I'm wasting my time with you two. Every day, every night, the same thing. We lurk in the parking lot and feed off whatever stragglers finish shopping last. Then we come back in here, and I have to listen to the two of you yammer on and on until the sun comes up. And then we wander around for another twelve hours while the two of you harass women and bitch at the music store clerk because he hasn't gotten in any new Twisted Sister records. Well, guess what? There aren't any new Twisted Sister records. They're not called records anymore, and there will never be another record, album, tape, disc or any other form of media created by Twisted Sister again! Jesus! I've had it! Something's got to change!"

"I think I can help with that," Buffy said, emerging from the shadows. She hurled a stake into the lounging vamps chest. He turned to dust.

"Whoa," the first vamp said. "That is like, sooooo gnarly."

"She just killed him, you jackass!" the third vamp shouted. "She's the Slayer!"

"Slayer?" the vamp wondered aloud. He turned to Buffy. "Hey, sorry. I loved that record you put out back in eighty-six."

Buffy rolled her eyes and threw another stake into the first vamp's heart. He looked down at the wooden handle protruding from his chest, and as his form began to disintegrate, he meekly said:

"Uh, album?"

The final vampire sprang to his feet. He picked up a chair and threw it at Buffy. She dodged it easily. As he turned to run, Buffy leapt into the air, kicking him between the shoulder blades and sending him sprawling to the ground. As he turned over, he saw Buffy standing over him with her final stake raised in the air.

"Oh, go ahead and do it," the vamp sighed. "I've been stuck in the same pathetic pattern forever. I'm too lazy to change, and all I do is bitch about how hard it is. Just finish it."

Buffy scowled. Cordelia walked up behind her.

"Kind of sad," Cordy said. "I mean, we've all been there."

"Yeah," Buffy muttered.

"At the same time," Cordelia noted, "he does eat people."

"Oh, yeah," Buffy said, coming to her senses and plunging the stake into the vampire's heart.


Epilogue


"Hey, dad."

"Hi," Hank said, not looking up from the TV.

"Sorry I missed dinner," Buffy said. "I got caught up with Cordelia, and, well...."

"I understand. Really. I get it."

"Look, Dad," Buffy said, trying to find the right words. She hadn't had time to think about her words with her mother. It had all happened so fast. And gone so badly. Buffy decided to wait, just a little longer, until it was the right time.

"It's late," Hank said. "You should get some sleep."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "Dad, listen, we have to talk. When I come over for Thanksgiving...."

"I won't be here," Hank interrupted.

Buffy recoiled. "But...I thought...I mean...Mom's going to Aunt Arlene's. I thought...."

"I have plans," Hank said. "There's a woman. We've been dating. I'm going to her house for Thanksgiving. I'll be back that Friday. You can come then. If you want."

"Oh," Buffy said. "Um...OK. That's...fine. I'll just come that Friday."

"If you want," Hank said. "Don't put yourself out."

"Uh, sure. We'll just plan on Friday. I'm...going to get some sleep now."

"Good night," Hank said, picking up the remote control to change the channel.

Buffy turned to go to the guestroom, then stopped and said:

"Um, Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"I...nothing. Good night."

Buffy continued down the hall and closed the bedroom door behind her as she entered. Hank Summers flipped through the channels for another half hour. He half expected Buffy to come out and talk. She didn't. He turned off the TV and went to bed.

THE END


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Summertime Blues

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Between seasons Three and Four, expounds on a story hinted at during the Season Four opening, but takes it on a tangent.
Rating: PG-13.
Tone: Way too serious.
Quality: Probably stinks, written on a lark.
Feedback: Yeah, sure
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction, and is expounded from "The Freshman," written and directed by Joss Whedon. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue


Jake had already counted out the twenties, the tens, and the fives. His pudgy fingers had just finished laying down the ones when he heard:

"I cleaned the back rooms, Boss. Can I go?"

"Hold on," Jake replied. He picked up a pencil, and wrote down the last of the figures, tallied them up, and then looked up from the round table. He sat on a high stool, like a plump gargoyle.

"Jimmy," Jake said, "how much do you figure we made tonight?"

Jimmy started to walk past the podium toward the front door. He did not want to have this conversation.

"Uh, I dunno, Boss. It was a slow night. I, uh, gotta go. See ya tonight around..."

"I said hold on," Jake interrupted. "How many guys you figure we had in here?"

"Uh, I dunno, maybe sixty. Seventy tops. Can I go?"

"No." Jake held up a small, silver disc in his left hand. "Do you know what this is, Jimmy?"

"Well, um, it looks like one of those buzzers kids have. Ya know, they go to shake your hand, and then...."

"It's a counter, you idiot! Every time I push this button," Jake said, clicking the button for effect, "the counter goes up one. Now, I click this button every time some guy comes in the door. Do you know how many guys came in tonight? Eighty-one."

"Gee, Boss," Jimmy said, "I kinda thought it was a slow night, but it coulda been...."

"Now, Jimmy," Jake said, standing up, also for effect. "I want you to think about this real careful like. Don't hurt yourself. Can you explain to me why this counter says that eighty-one guys came in here tonight, and each of them paid a five dollar cover charge, but I'm sitting here with all the money you gave me from the door, and I only have three hundred and eighty dollars?"

Jimmy considered the problem.

"Well, I never was that good at math, Boss. But, to me, it seemed like a pretty slow night. Tuesdays are always slow, except when...."

"JIMMY!" Jake abandoned all attempts to be subtle. "HAVE YOU BEEN SKIMMING THE COVER?"

"Uh, gee, Boss...."

"Stop calling me that! I'm not your boss anymore. Get the hell out of here!"

Jimmy absorbed this. It took him a good half minute.

"Uh, sorry, Boss. I mean, sorry, Jake. Sorry."

Jimmy left quietly. Even with his back turned toward the door, you could see his big head hung in shame.

"Well, that's just great!"

Jake turned to face the woman who had shouted at him. "I don't want to hear it, Jessi."

"Who's gonna work the front door now?"

"I'll take the door. Mindy can take the DJ booth, and you can cover the bar."

Jake had known better than to suggest that Jessi take the DJ booth. The DJ didn't get tips. Tips were all important to Jessi.

Jessi grinned sarcastically. The smile showed the small lines in her face that had come from age. For this reason, she never smiled in front of customers. Not only for this reason, but that was part of it.

"Oh, wonderful! I get to do the bar, where I make half the tips I would make out on the floor, and I'm supposed to be just as grateful as...."

"It's only temporary!" Jake shouted. "Til I get another guy to do the door."

"Yeah," Jessi responded, "and how long is that gonna take?"

"Uh, excuse me..." a voice called from the front door.

The voice betrayed a modicum of eloquence that immediately told Jake that Jimmy had not returned. He wouldn't dare. Jake turned toward the door and said:

"What?"

A young man replied:

"I'm kinda lost. I'm guessing from the sign outside promising 'All Nude Girls' that this isn't the unemployment office."

"Gee, you're bright," Jake said. "To think, a bright guy like you is on the dole. What's this world coming to?"

"Jeez, Jake, cut the kid a break," Jessi said. "This is Two Hundred South Appleyard Avenue. The unemployment office is Two Hundred North Appleyard. Just go four blocks up. You can't miss it."

"Thanks," the young man said to Jessi. He turned to Jake and said:

"I'll just be going. Sorry to bother you."

"Wait, kid." Jake scowled at the young man. "You looking for work?"

"Yeah, just something temporary. I was going to check out the job board at the unemployment office. I'm passing through town, and I thought...."

"Save me the autobiography. I repeat, are you looking for work?"

"Um, yeah."

Jake turned to Jessi, smiled, turned back to the young man, and inquired:

"Do you believe in Fate?"

The young man considered this. "Actually, I've seen a few prophecies come true, so I suppose I do."

"Those jobs they have on the board pay six bucks an hour," Jake said. "I'll pay you seven to work the door. Can you work nights?"

"Well," the young man responded, "I've done some of my best work at night."

"Perfect," Jake said. "See, Jess, problem solved." He reached out his hand toward the young man and said, "I'm Jake. You can call me Boss."

The young man paused, thought for a moment, then shook Jake's hand and said:

"I'm Xander. Xander Harris."


Part I.


Tuesdays normally were slow. However, this Tuesday was the 15th. That meant it was payday for most of the town. It was never slow on payday.

Xander surveyed the club. He figured there were about forty guys in the place. About ten at the bar, probably ten in the back room, five walking around, and somewhere around fifteen sitting around the stage. That made about forty, not counting the dancers.

A group came in through the front door. Xander counted nine in all. He shouted over the blaring music:

"Five bucks per, guys!"

One of the men came up to Xander. "Hey, this is a bachelor party. You got a deal for that, right?"

Xander counted again, and still came up with nine in the group total. "Hold on," he said. He turned to the DJ booth and yelled:

"Boss!"

Jake looked up from the sound board. Xander held up two fingers. Jake made his own count, shook his head, and held up one finger.

Xander turned back to the group. "The groom can get in free. Everyone else, five bucks."

"Aw, come on! Usually the groom and the best man get in!"

"You only have nine guys here," Xander responded. "One's free. Everyone else, five bucks."

Silently, the group exchanged glances, shrugged, and reached into their pockets. Xander collected the money, then waived them in. Jake watched from his perch, and smiled. The kid was working out just fine.

"Boss!" Xander shouted.

Jake looked again. Xander pointed at his watch, and then held up five fingers. That meant break time. Jake nodded, and shouted:

"Jessi!"

Jessi had been stroking the shirt sleeve of a guy who had been about to pay for a private dance. She looked up to the booth, and Jake pointed his finger toward the front door. Jessi scowled at Xander, and he shrugged. She made her apologies to her customer, and then walked toward the door.

"Thanks, kid," she said to Xander as she arrived. "I was about to get that guy to go in back. That's fifty bucks you lost me for your lousy timing."

"Sorry," Xander responded, "but I skipped my break last time."

"Well, next time wait until I'm not busy," she said, and then took her post at the door. Xander knew that she was just being, well, Jessi, but he still felt bad.

"I'll be back in a couple minutes," he said.

"Take all five minutes. Jake doesn't pay you enough to take short breaks." Jessi winked at Xander. All was forgiven.

Xander walked around the stage where a tall redhead was twirling, stretching and gyrating topless. Xander passed by with the indifference to the nude woman that he had developed in his two weeks working at the club, a nonchalance that he would not have believed possible two weeks prior. He went out the back door, where a fenced-in porch area held a small plastic table and two chairs. Local ordinances banned smoking in the club. The customers would get their hands stamped and smoke in front of the building. The girls smoked out back.

When Xander got outside, a petite blonde was sitting at the table, finishing her cigarette. She wore a purple silk robe, just in case any of the locals were peeking through the slits of the fence. Nothing's free. "You're Xander, right, the new doorman?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "I'm just taking a break."

"I'm Evie." She picked her pack of cigarettes up off the table, and made an offering gesture toward Xander.

"No thanks," Xander responded. "I never picked up the habit."

"You should get some bad habits. You'll fit in better."

"You don't think I fit in?"

"I meant it as a complement," she said, throwing her cigarette butt into the metal grate on the ground that covered the sewer access. "Have a seat."

Xander sat at the table. No one at the club, except Jessi, had attempted to strike up a conversation with him.

"So," Xander said, "how long have you been...?"

"About four months. I'm just passing through town."

"Funny, so am I."

"Where ya from?"

"California. Little town called Sunnydale."

"California?" Evie sat up. "I'm going to California."

"Really? Where?"

"Los Angeles."

"Do you have family there?"

"Nope. I left most of my family in Topeka. Things got a little...well...weird with my stepdad. My mom...well..."

She paused, fiddled with her cigarette pack, and then said:

"Anyway, I'm headed to LA. I'm going to be an actress. I'm just saving up enough money to make a decent go at it. Acting lessons, and all...hey, what's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing," Xander said. He hadn't realized that his face had dropped. In fact, he hadn't entirely realized that he had, for the moment, thought of Cordelia. She never even said goodbye.

"So," Evie said, "how do you like working here? I guess, for a guy, this is like a dream job."

"Well," Xander said, "it does look suspiciously similar to some of my dreams. Usually the kind of dreams I have when I stay up too late watching cable. But, I don't know, this really isn't my thing. I've never been much of a ladies' man"

"Let me guess," Evie said, "you were the high school nerd. Never had a date, never went to prom...."

"Actually, I did go to prom. But the date was a nightmare. Actually, it was kinda what a nightmare would be like, if in your nightmares you wore a tuxedo."

"Oh, come on," Evie responded. "It couldn't have been that bad. What did your date do, tear your lungs out?"

"Well," Xander said, "not that night, and not me personally, but you're closer to the truth than you think."

Evie smiled. She had a pretty smile.

"Anyway," she said, standing up, "I've got to get back....hey, listen, I'm here 'til closing. Do you want to, I dunno, get a cup of coffee after?"

"W-w-well, sure," Xander responded. She had a very pretty smile.

"Great! We'll celebrate. I made over two-hundred bucks tonight. That's my best night ever!"

Xander forced a smile, but he couldn't help thinking of how she had earned that record breaking take.

"Uh, come to think of it," Xander said, "Jake is gonna want me to stay and clean up. I'll probably be here late. Maybe some other time?"

"Oh, sure," Evie said. She wasn't a woman who was used to having men say no. "Some other time."

She went into the club. Xander looked at his watch. One more minute on break. He decided to cut it short.

As he approached the back door, Mindy, one of the other dancers, passed by him on her way out. She smiled politely, sat down at the table, and lit a cigarette. Xander was long gone when the door opened again. An unfamiliar man walked over and looked down at her...in her...through her. There was something about his eyes, so black....

Mindy caught her breath, and said:

"This area's closed to customers. Take a hike."

"I'm not exactly what you'd call a customer," the man said, as his eyes turned from black to an ugly, dirty yellow, and his lips twisted, stretched, and became impossibly long. He smiled, showing his razor teeth as he leaned down toward her.

What big teeth you have, Mindy thought to herself, panic sending her mind into a childlike state. She should have screamed. It was a mistake she didn't live to correct.


Part II.


"Hey, Xander!"

Xander looked up from the floor he was sweeping. He thought the club was empty. Jake had gone home; he actually trusted Xander enough to leave him to close up. Jessi was standing before him.

"Hey, Jess."

"I hear you shot down Evie."

"Well, I didn't exactly shoot her down...."

"Is it because she's a dancer?"

Xander paused, and said:

"Well, it's not that...well...maybe. A little...."

"Good," Jessi interjected. "Stay away from the dancers. They all have issues."

Xander struggled for a response. "She seems sweet."

"She is sweet," Jessi said. "That's the problem. If they're sweet, they either don't stay around, or they don't stay sweet. That girl, if she's lucky, won't stay around. Either way, it's no good for you."

"I'd say it's sweet of you to be concerned," Xander said, "but that would kind of blow you're theory."

Jessi smiled. "Just be careful. Don't go getting all mushy on dangerous women."

Xander smiled back. "Been there. Done that. Came way too close to getting strangled to death. Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Jessi said. "So what's a guy like you doing here?"

"Saving some money. Enough to hit the road again."

"Where are you going?"

"Nowhere in particular. I graduated from high school, and I didn't have anything lined up, so I decided to see the world. My car broke down, so I got a job washing dishes at a little restaurant, and saved up enough money for a bus ticket here."

Jessi looked around the club. "This is what you call seeing the world?"

"Well, I thought I'd be at the Grand Canyon by now, but traveling is always iffy. You remember what happened to the Brady Bunch."

"Well, just don't stay here too long," Jessi said. She threw her purse over her shoulder, and walked toward the door. She stopped, looked back, and said:

"And remember what I told you. Hands off the dancers. They're nothing but heartache."


Part III.


Xander showed up at eleven the next morning.

"Xander," Jake said.

"Yeah, Boss?"

"Make sure the men's room's got plenty of paper towels."

Xander checked the men's room, filled the paper towel dispenser, and while he was there, he wiped down the sink, cleaned the mirror, and emptied the change out of the vending machine. It was better to do things before Jake asked. Jake never asked nicely.

Xander left the men's room. He went back to the dressing room at about twenty of noon. The dancers were in back, all half-dressed, or half-undressed. It was difficult to tell. Xander came back every day just before the club opened for the lunch crowd to pass along any messages from Jake. All the girls were supposed to be at the club at eleven-thirty.

"The Boss says to push the rum & cokes," Xander announced. "They're on special. Two for one."

"Jake must've got some rum real cheap," Jessi speculated as she adjusted the top of her fishnet hose.

"Anybody need anything before we open?"

"Yeah," Jessi said. "Tell Jake Mindy didn't show up yet. Tell him to give her ten minutes, then he better call a replacement."

Brenda, a dancer who could do things on stage with a bandana that even exceeded Xander's vivid imagination, asked:

"Any idea where she is?"

"Dunno," Jessi responded. "Don't care. We need a full company today. It's day after payday."

"I'll tell him," Xander said, and left the room. He went over to the DJ booth, handed Jake the handful of change from the vending machine, and said:

"Here's the men's room money. Oh, by the way, Mindy's not here. Should I call her and find out if she's running late, or...."

"Forget it," Jake said, counting the quarters with his thumb. "I already called Zoe to take her slot. She'll be here soon."

"Did Mindy call in?"

"Nope," Jake replied, "but she's not here, so she loses her spot."

"Should anybody call her? I mean, she could be...."

"Xander," Jake said, "When a girl like that doesn't show up for work, they're not coming back. That's it. Girls like these just move on. They go back to their boyfriends, they go back to their jobs at Dairy Queen, they go back to Iowa, but they don't come back here. These girls aren't exactly poster children for stability. Don't get attached to any of 'em, they don't stick around."

Xander considered this, and said, "They really go back to Iowa?"

"I know, it's strange, but yes, some freaky farm types actually like Iowa. Now go turn on the light outside. If the light's not on, how do people know we're open? Are you trying to send me to the poor house?"

Xander went outside, turned the neon lights on, went back in, stood by the door, and waited. The first customers started to arrive about ten minutes after noon. The afternoon crowd was mostly locals. The girls grudgingly performed, because the locals might tip, but they didn't blow serious money on back room dances. Mostly, the dancers just smiled politely and milled around, oblivious to the locals. The exception was Marty.

Marty was about seventy. He walked with a limp, and always wore one of two pairs of polyester shorts (tan or dark brown) and one of two polyester golf shirts (green or blue). He tipped the girls in single dollars he folded into origami animals. The girls would smile, perhaps run their fingers through his thin, grey hair, and in return, he would hand them (in their hand, always a gentleman) a dollar bill folded into a dog, a bird or a fish. He never talked more than mere pleasantries; rumors went around that his wife had died, or left him, or that he never married. The girls didn't know, and didn't care. He always obeyed the rules, and looked at them with more respect than they were used to. The girls liked Marty.

That afternoon, Jessi came over to Xander and said:

"Marty looks a little hot. This summer heat must be getting to him. Bring him a glass of water. I'll watch the door." Jessi never minded watching the door in the afternoon, when the big money customers were about three hours away from arriving.

Xander went to the bar, poured a glass of icewater, and brought it to Marty. Marty looked at the glass, looked up at Xander and said:

"Thank's son, it has been a bit warm."

"No problem, Sir," Xander said. "That's my job."

"Gee, son," Marty said, his trembling hand reaching toward the glass. "Back when I was your age I would've been chasing these young things, not taking other people's money so they could chase them."

"Well," Xander replied, "I've never been much of a chaser."

"Oh, come on," Marty said, "There's got to have been one girl you chased in your life."

"There was one," Xander said, "but I didn't exactly chase her. I kinda circled her. Hoped that she would end up going in a direction where she would be chasing me."

"And...?"

"We're just friends now," Xander said. "Just friends."

"That's too bad," Marty said. "Here, take this...." He reached into his pocket, and put a dollar bill cat into Xander's hand.

"You don't need to tip me for water," Xander said.

"Son, don't fight it. Take every bonus life gives you."

Xander looked down at the dollar kitty. "Thank's, Sir," he said, and put the bill in his shirt pocket.

The rest of the night was fairly typical. Around eight Evie showed up in a sweat suit, with her gym bag over her shoulder. She worked the night shift. The prettiest girls all got to work the night shift.

"Hey, Xander," Evie said, "How's business?"

"O.K. Mostly locals. A few guys who look like they're from the hotel down the street. Oh, and a couple of guys who came in here in leather jackets. Could be bikers, but they've been behaving so far."

"How've you been?"

"I'm O.K.," Xander said. "And you?"

"Alright. Uh, I better go get dressed."

"Yeah," Xander said. As Evie walked away, Xander shouted:

"Hey!"

Evie turned toward him.

"I was thinking," Xander said, "I don't have to clean up tonight, so if you're still interested in that cup of coffee...."

"Oh, yes! I mean, sure. I'd like that."

"O.K., see you after closing."

"Yeah, see ya," Evie said, turning away and walking toward the dressing room.

To Hell with Jessi, Xander thought to himself. How complicated can it get?

He rethought this issue when he saw Evie leading one of the bikers by the hand, into the back room. His stomach knotted, his heart raced, he could feel his jaw tighten.

Wise up, Xander, he thought to himself. Either get used to it, or don't go there.

"That's some guy Evie just snagged."

Xander turned toward the voice next to him. It was Brenda.

"Yeah," Xander said, "a real Hell's Angel."

"More like a Hell's Movie Extra," Brenda responded.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, that guy doesn't look like a biker. He looks like someone trying to look like a biker. The leather jacket's too plain, and what's with the matador boots? He looks more like Fonzie than anything else."

Brenda turned to walk away. Xander grabbed her arm.

"Hey, what the...?"

"Sorry, Brenda, I didn't mean to startle you," Xander said, trying to think of how to choose his next words. "So, would you say that guy's clothes looked dated? Like, maybe, someone who was wearing clothes out of another time? Like, let's say someone died in the 50's, came back, and dressed exactly like he did back when he was young? Like fashion had completely passed him by. Is that what the guy looks like?"

"Well," Brenda said, "I would never have quite thought to put it that way, but, yeah. I suppose."

Brenda walked toward a guy who had just pulled out his wallet to pay for a drink. The girls always gravitated toward the guys with their wallets out.

Xander froze. Thoughts raced through his head. This isn't Sunnydale. It's probably nothing. Nothing.

Xander decided he couldn't take the chance. He had to do something. He was scared, and when he was scared, he always asked himself the same question:

What would Buffy do?

He shouted:

"Boss!"

Jake looked down from the DJ booth, saw Xander's five fingers in the air, caught Jessi's eye, and in a moment Jessi was at the door. The typical routine. Only on this break, Xander didn't go to the back porch.

Back in the dressing room, Lindy, a buxom blond with roots as dark as midnight, was counting out her tips. Xander walked up to her and asked:

"Lindy, do you have your 'Catholic Schoolgirl' outfit here tonight?"

"Yeah," she said. "I was gonna wear it tomorrow night. Why?"

"I need to borrow your crucifix."

"Why? You forget to say your rosaries?"

"No," Xander said, looking over his shoulder, then looking back. It had been a long time since he had looked over his shoulder for what he hoped not to see there now. "It's not that, I just need to borrow it."

"Well, alright," Lindy said, walking toward her locker. She reached in, and pulled out a metal cross on a gold chain. "Just don't lose it. It cost me twelve bucks at the flea market."

"I won't lose it," Xander promised. "Trust me, this will never leave my hands."

He ran out of the dressing room, crossed the floor, and went past the curtain which covered the entrance to the private dance room. On either side along each wall were small, curtained rooms with booth seats. Groans and moans came through most of them. Xander pondered breaking in on all of the private dances, rethought the plan, and then looked down at the ground. Coming out from under one of the curtains was the black sleeve of a man's leather jacket. Xander walked up to the booth and opened the curtain.

Evie was curled in the fetal position in the corner of the booth. The biker had one hand over her mouth, and one hand on her throat. He turned to face Xander, and his yellow eyes glowed like gold in sunshine. For the first time, Xander was actually relieved to see the sharp fangs of the undead protruding from a man's mouth. This time, there was no blood on the fangs. He'd arrived in time.

The vampire let out a low growl. He waited for a reaction, but did not get one. Xander stood as still as a streetlamp. The vamp decided to make his point verbally, and said:

"If you're smart, you'll take off, twerp"

"I'm not that smart," Xander admitted, "but I think that I can figure out how to use one of these." Xander let the crucifix drop down from the palm of his hand, and dangled it from its chain.

Evie, who had understood none of what had happened so far, also could not understand why it was now her attacker who was curled in the fetal position in the opposite corner of the booth.

"Now, listen, my walking dead friend," Xander said, staring straight into the yellow eyes of the trembling vamp. "I'm not going anywhere. I know what you are, and I'm not afraid. I know how to kill you. I've got a lot worse than this cross with me, but I have to sweep the floors in this place, so I'd prefer not to dust you. So take your friend, and get out."

Xander grabbed Evie's arm, backed out of the booth with her at his side, and waited outside for the vampire to exit. He did.

Xander still had the cross, and the vamp kept his distance. He growled:

"Who are you?"

"Just a proud alumni of Sunnydale High," Xander replied.

"Sunnydale," the vampire said, "I was on my way to Sunnydale."

"Well, when you get there," Xander said, "be sure to say 'hello' to the Slayer for me, because she'll sure be saying 'hello' to you. Apologize to her for me. I meant to send postcards, but, you know, you get busy."

At the word "slayer," the vampire's jaw clenched. "I'll say 'hello' to you first, twerp," the Vamp said, although he said it on his way to the exit. "This isn't over."

When the vamp was gone, Xander turned to Evie and said:

"Don't scream, don't run, and don't ask. We'll talk, but right now we're both getting out of here."


Part IV.


"What was that thing?"

Evie and Xander sat in a booth at the diner down the street from the club. She was wearing a pair of faded jeans shorts and an oversized t-shirt she had thrown on in the dressing room. She and Xander had left the club, no explanations, no goodbyes to anyone. Jake would never let them come back to the club, but employment was the least of their concerns.

"It was a vampire," Xander explained. "They're real. The other guy with him, in the same leather getup, he's probably a vampire, too."

Evie stared down into her coffee cup. It seemed impossible, but no explanation seemed possible. This impossible explanation seemed to be, well, plausible.

"He was going to kill me, wasn't he?"

"Yes, he was." Xander took a sip of his own coffee. For Evie's sake, he tried not to let his hands shake.

"Why me?"

"Why anybody? I've lost a lot of friends to vampires. There isn't a reason. They feed on us. Anybody. It doesn't matter who you are."

Evie absorbed this. "How did you know what to do?"

"I'm from Sunnydale," Xander replied. "It's on a Hellmouth. My friend, she slays vampires. They're drawn to the Hellmouth, and she protects people."

"But why would a vampire be drawn to a strip club?"

"I've been wondering that myself," Xander said, putting down his coffee. In retrospect, a caffinated beverage didn't seem like such a good idea. He was wired enough already. "Vamps usually hang out in alleys, dark streets. How did they think they could get out of there, leave a body behind, and not have half the police department looking for them?"

"I wonder how many other girls....Mindy!" Evie gasped, and put her hand over her mouth.

"Hmmm...that makes sense," Xander said. "She didn't show up for work today."

"W-w-w-ell, maybe not," Evie argued. The thought that Mindy had been killed only added to the horror of the night. "I mean, lots of girls just take off. Jake says...."

"The fact that lots of girls disappear only proves that....Jake!" Xander sat up straight in his seat. "Jake must be in on it!"

"Wait a minute, Xander, I know Jake is a little bit of a hardass, but he wouldn't...."

"Mindy was only about five or ten minutes late today," Xander continued. "Jake told me that he had already called another girl to take her place. How did he know to do that, unless he knew a long time before that she wasn't coming in at all?"

"But why would he...?"

"They may pay him, or provide something else for him. Vampires everywhere must know about this place. After all, if they were just randomly picking girls, eventually someone would get suspicious. Lots of the girls have friends and family in town. Jake must tell them which ones aren't local, which one's live alone, and so forth. That way, they know who they can kill and still sneak out of town without anyone knowing that they were there!"

Evie closed her eyes. A single tear ran down her cheek.

"Hey, Evie," Xander said, placing a comforting hand on top of hers. "I'm sorry about Mindy. I'm sorry about everybody. But you got out of there, and...."

"It's not that," Evie said, her voice quivering, her eyes still shut tight. "It's just that....that thing...that vampire...it was after me...it picked me...because no one would care if I...if I...."

Xander squeezed her hand and said:

"I'd care."

"That's sweet," Evie said, forcing a slight, slender smile.

"No, really," Xander insisted. "I'd care. A lot. Really."

"You really would, wouldn't you?" Evie opened her eyes. Now many tears rolled freely down her face, freed from the eyelids damming their flow. But this time when she smiled, it was a real smile.

"Listen," Xander said. "We've got to get you back home."

"What about you?"

Xander considered this, then said:

"After closing, I'm going back."

"What?!?"

"Whatever Jake's doing, it stops now."

"Xander, no! Let's just get out of here. You can't face him...them...those things!"

"You know," Xander said, "a very pretty girl once told me just about the same thing, and you know what? I lived to tell about it."

"Xander, please! I can't even think of you...."

"Evie," Xander said, giving her hand a last squeeze, "this ends. Tonight."


Part V.


Xander dropped Evie off at her small apartment. With him he took a wooden picture frame and one of her kitchen knives. He called a taxi at the payphone at the corner. While waiting for the cab, Xander used the receiver to smash the glass, and broke the sides of the frames into individual sticks. He now had four sturdy pieces of wood. The cab pulled up. He climbed into the back seat, gave the driver directions to the club, and on the way he used the knife to sharpen the ends of the sticks into points.

"Hey, kid," the driver said, looking at Xander in the rearview mirror. "Whatcha doin' back there?"

"I'm whittling," Xander explained. "Didn't you ever see 'The Andy Griffith Show?' Opie did it all the time."

The driver accepted this explanation, and drove on. He dropped Xander in front of the club. Xander walked behind a tree. It was about quarter to four a.m.. He waited.

About ten minutes after four two dancers walked out the door, then three more, then another three. With Evie at home, that was everybody. Just after the last of the girls left, Xander saw the two biker vamps walk in through the front door. He crouched even lower behind the tree.

When he heard the deadbolt on the door lock, he went around to the side, where the bathroom window faced the street. He used one of the stakes to pry it open. Jake knew the lock was broken, but he was too cheap to have it fixed. Xander crawled in the window, and dropped to the bathroom floor. He kept one stake in his hand, one in each of his back pockets, and one in his sock. The knife he stuck through his belt, and Lindy's cross hung around his neck.

He snuck through the bathroom door toward the small office Jake had off to the side of the club. The door to the office was cracked open. He carefully stepped over the speaker wire that ran from the DJ booth to the back speakers. He crouched by the door, peered in through the crack, and saw Jake sitting behind his desk, talking to the two biker vamps. Jake said:

"How the Hell did I know the kid was going to get the idea he was Sir Galahad?"

"Listen, Jake, we pay you good money to come here." The vamp wasn't happy.

"Yeah, Jake, last guy I killed had three hundred bucks on him. I gave all of that to you for tonight. And what do we have to show for it?" This was the vamp that Xander had scared off. He really wasn't happy.

"Listen, guys, it won't happen again," Jake explained. "Just kill the two little wastes of space, and be done with it. No harm, no foul."

"Well, the girl's taken care of, but we haven't found the kid."

Xander lost his breath. His heart forgot to keep beating.

Jake inquired: "Dead, I assume?"

Xander listened. He wanted an answer to Jake's question more than Jake ever could.

"She's back at her apartment. She's not going anywhere," the vamp responded. "We figured we'd take her with us on the road. Have a little fun."

Xander found his breath, his heart remembered it's function. She was alive. His mind raced.

Jake asked:

"How'd ya get invited in?"

"Told her through the door we were cops, looking for a friend of hers," the vamp explained. "We asked if we could come in. She said 'sure' before she opened the door. They should really put peepholes in those doors."

"Well," Jake said, "I'd prefer you just kill her and dump the body somewhere...."

Xander crept backwards from the door. He had to get back to the window. He had to get back to Evie. He had to get her out of that apartment.

He also had to step over the speaker wire to get out unnoticed, but this time he forgot. He tripped, and landed against a table, sending it crashing to the ground, himself with it.

The door to Jake's office sprung open. Light from Jake's desk lamp fell on Xander like a blanket. Jake stood above him, with one vamp at each side.

"Well, lookie what we got here," said Xander's old vampire nemesis. "If it isn't my favorite resident of Sunnydale, here to save me the trouble of hunting him down."

Xander looked down at his chest. The chain of the crucifix had become twisted. The cross was now somewhere behind his neck, nowhere to be seen.

"Now, kid," Jake said, staring down at Xander, "I told you not to get too attached to any of the dancers. Now look what you've got yourself into."

Xander stared straight into Jake's eyes...until he couldn't anymore, because they were too far apart. Jake's eyes began to slowly grow farther and farther away from each other. In the space they left, his skin grew into a bump, the bump grew into a horn, and the horn grew six inches out from his face. His ears climbed up toward the crown of his head, twisting into points. And sometime during all of this Jake's skin turned a drab green.

"You know," Jake growled, "disloyal employees just bring out the worst in me!"

Xander's right hand held a stake. One stake. He couldn't reach the other stakes or the knife while he was sprawled on the floor. One stake. Two vamps. One...whatever Jake was. And only one stake. He gripped the stake. He would take at least one down....

BAAAAAMMMMMMMMM!!!!!

Thunder rang in Xander's ears. It sounded as though someone had set off a firecracker in front of a bullhorn. When Jake fell to the ground, Xander saw Jessi standing behind him, a large revolver in her hand. The vampires turned to face her. Jessi said:

"I'm glad I came back for my purse."

She turned to point it at one of the vamps. Xander regained his senses. The bullets might slow the vamps, but Jessi couldn't possibly know that they wouldn't die. As the vamps moved toward Jessi, she leveled her pistol at the vampire on Xander's left. Xander took advantage of the opportunity, jumped to his feet, and plunged the stake through the back of the vamp to his right. It disintegrated. He pulled another stake from his back pocket.

The other vamp turned toward Xander. Jessi never blinked. She stared at the vamp and said:

"If there's one thing...[BAMM!!!]...I can't stand...[BAMM!!!]...it's customers...[BAMM!!!]...who come in here...[BAMM!!!]...AND DON'T BEHAVE THEMSELVES!!!"

BAMM!!!

She continued pulling the trigger of the pistol. Click. Click. Click. It was empty.

The vamp pushed himself up off the floor. Xander kicked him in the head. It fell back on the floor.

"You heard the lady," Xander said, dropping to his knees and lifting the stake. "Behave!"

He rammed the stake into the vamps chest. It turned to dust.

Xander looked up at Jessi. She said:

"I knew this thing would come in handy. Jake didn't like me bringing it into the club. He said it was dangerous." She looked down at Jake's fat body. He was gasping, clutching his chest where the bullet had penetrated, and struggling to pull his bulk up from the floor. "Damn right it was dangerous, you bastard!"

"'Scuse me, Jessi," Xander said, crawling next to Jake's body.

"Boss," Xander said, pulling the knife from his belt, "I hereby tender my resignation."

Xander drew the blade across Jake's neck once, then again. With the third stroke he had severed Jake's head from his body. Jake stopped struggling. He lay dead on the carpet.

Xander looked up at Jessi. "Listen, get rid of this...thing. The police can't find it. They'd never understand. I don't have time to explain what's happening. Evie's back at her apartment. They got to her. She may be hurt. I've got to go."

"Go, kid, go," Jessi agreed. "I'm not squeamish."

Xander ran out the front door.

Jessi looked down at Jake's body, and thought for a moment. Then she got an idea. She picked up Jake's head. She'd come back for the rest.

"Jake, Jake, Jake," she said, walking toward the door to the back porch. "You never did have a good noggin for running a small business."

She went out to the porch, dropped Jake's head unceremoniously, and laced her fingers into the holes in the sewer grate on the ground. She lifted with all her strength, and the grate came out of its grooves. She dropped the grate on the ground, picked up Jake's head, and as she was about to drop it into the abyss, she glanced down inside. She saw a glimpse of skin, a twist of hair, and a set of eyes staring up at her. Mindy's eyes.

Jessi was right. She wasn't squeamish. But even she felt nauseated for a moment. She hadn't been the first one to think of the sewer for hasty disposal of corpses.

She glanced down at Jake's head in her hands, and said:

"Well, I bet you thought you were clever."


Part VI.


Xander rushed toward the door of Evie's apartment. It was knocked off it's hinges.

He ran inside. Evie was lying on the carpet. Very still.

He looked down at Evie's body in disbelief. He saw two small punctures in the nape of her neck. He closed his eyes. No...I can't be too late...no...they said they were bringing her with them...no...she can't be dead...no...they said they didn't kill her...no....

"Xander?"

He opened his eyes. Evie had opened hers. His heart raced. His eyes widened. Of course! They had fed on her, but they hadn't killed her! Just like when Angel drank Buffy!

"Evie!" He grabbed her, held her, ran his hands through her hair.

"Xander...Xander...I feel...different."

He looked down into her eyes. Then he looked at her mouth. Blood. On the corners of her lips. Blood. She drank their blood.

They drank her blood. She drank their blood.

"Oh, God! Evie! They...they...."

"No, Xander, I'm alright," she whispered. "I...I feel strange, but, I'm alright. In fact," she said, struggling to sit up, "I've never felt more alive! I don't understand it. I don't know what they did, but I've never felt more alive!"

"Evie...oh, Evie...."

"No, Xander, you don't understand," Evie said. She sat up, Xander's arms still around her. "I don't really understand, but I see that I've been all wrong! I've spent my whole life running. Running from people who I loved. Running from people I thought I loved. Running from people who hurt me. But I was a fool! You don't run away! You run after them! You make them run away from you! And they'll run, and they'll run, and when they can't run anymore, that's when you...."

"Evie," Xander whispered, "You're right. Something has changed. I know it's scary, confusing. But here's what you do. Close your eyes, and lie back. Just soak it in. If you take a moment to let everything settle you'll understand. I promise." He gently helped her recline to the floor. "Just close your eyes."

She closed her eyes. "Xander," she sighed, "it's so beautiful. It's so peaceful. I've never felt this...uggghhhh!"

Her eyes sprang open. There was pressure, pain, in her chest. She looked, and saw the brown wooden stake protruding from her shirt. It was the last thing she saw.

About a half hour later, Jessi came to the door. Jake's body had only taken a few minutes to get rid of. When she didn't get a call, she decided to meet Xander and see if Evie needed an ambulence. She stood in the doorway of Evie's apartment. Evie wasn't there. There was only Xander, sitting cross-legged on the floor, drawing tiny circles in a pile of dust.


Epilogue


"So now what?"

Jessi stood across from Xander in the lobby of the bus station.

"I dunno," Xander admitted. "Next city. Next job. I saved some money working for Jake. Enough for a bus ticket somewhere."

"Still going to see the world?" Jessi's voice had a tone of disapproval.

"The world's still out there, waiting for me to see it. The Grand Canyon isn't going to get any grander."

"Well," Jessi said, "At least when you get home you'll have one Hell of a story to tell your friends."

"I don't think I'm going to tell anyone about this," Xander said. "I'll leave this part of my trip out, or I'll make something up. This isn't exactly my proudest moment."

"What are you talking about?" Jessi's scowled at Xander. "Jake and his monster buddies would have kept at it forever if you hadn't come along. You saved a lot of people."

Xander turned his head, averting Jessi's eyes. "Not the one I tried to save."

"Oh, Xander, you can't blame yourself for that!" Jessi looked at Xander's face, realized that he had found a way to blame himself, and that she wasn't going to find a way to talk him out of it.

"Thank's for the ride to the station, Jessi. Don't worry. I'll be O.K."

"I have a feeling you're going to be a lot better than O.K., someday," Jessi said, "if you learn to stop being so hard on yourself. Hey, if you're going to make something up to tell your friends, make it a good one. Tell 'em you worked at a male strip club, and you shook that bod of yours every night, and drove the ladies crazy."

Xander smiled. "I just might use that one. Or a variation of it. I'll improvise."

Jessi reached out her hand, and cupped Xander's cheek in her palm.

"You know," Jessi said, "instead of spending so much time trying to see the world, maybe it's time you started making an effort to make the world see you." She slowly pulled her hand away, tracing the line of his jaw down to his chin with her fingers. "You're really something special, Xander Harris."

They exchanged glances, and Jessi left.

Xander walked up to the ticket counter. The clerk asked:

"Round trip or one way?"

"One way," Xander replied.

"Where to?"

"How much to the Grand Canyon?"

The clerk typed some numbers into his computer. "One hundred twenty-two."

Too much. "What's the cheapest ticket you have?" Xander did a mental tally of his cash. He hadn't saved all that much.

"The cheapest ticket?" The clerk scowled. "Going where?"

"Anywhere. I'm just going."

The clerk rolled his eyes, and shouted to a clerk in the back:

"Hey, Steve, we still got any Super Savers?"

Steve called back: "Where to?"

"Anywhere," the clerk replied. "Jack Kerouak here doesn't care where he's going."

"Check Denver," Steve shouted.

The clerk typed a new set of numbers into his computer and said:

"I can get you to Denver for thirty-nine bucks, one way."

"Great," Xander said. Thirty-nine. That would leave him some spare money to get a motel room until he could find a job.

"Cash or credit card?"

"Cash," Xander said, pulling out his wallet. As he opened it, a picture stared at him through the plastic sleeve. It showed him sitting with one arm around Buffy, and the other around Willow. Giles stood behind them. "Hey," he asked, "how much is a ticket to Sunnydale?"

"Sunnydale?"

"It's in California," Xander explained.

"Hang on." The clerk typed a few more numbers into his computer. "It depends on how you go. You'll have to make a stop. If you change buses in L.A., it's ninety-two. If you go through Oakland, it'll take longer, but I can get you there for seventy-eight. That's with tax and everything."

Xander pulled all of his money out of his wallet. He counted...three twenties...a ten...a five...and one, two singles. Seventy-seven dollars. He checked his pants pockets. Nothing, not even change.

"A little short, Jack?" Xander smiled at the clerk, silently wishing him a painful and chronic disease. A dollar! With all the money he had watched changing hands at the club, and now one dollar was all he needed.... "Wait!" Xander suddenly remembered Marty. He reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out the dollar bill kitty. He dropped it on the counter. It landed on it's feet. "Well, what's it gonna be, Jack?" The clerk was growing impatient. "Denver or Sunnydale?" Xander looked up from the counter, and asked the clerk: "Do you believe in Fate?"

END


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The Host Man Always Sings Twice

Author: Mikelesq
Concept:A vampire drifter wanders into Sunnydale, and crosses paths with the Slayer. Told from the vampire's point of view. Set between the episodes "Triangle" and "Crush" of Season 5 of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title is a variation of the novel "The Postman Always Rings Twice," written by James M. Cain, presumably owned by his estate (and certainly not owned by me), and the story is a homage to his novels ("homage" sounds better than "ripoff," right?).

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Prologue


They threw me off the train at about eight-thirty. It could have been worse. The sun had gone down at seven forty-five.

The conductor came by and asked me for my ticket. I didn't have one. I'd been broke for about two months. Most of my victims lately had been short on cash, and using credit cards is too risky. I did my usual routine under the circumstances: I pretended to be drunk. The clothes I was wearing were ragged and dirty, so it fit. Most train conductors won't bother getting the cops involved if they think you're a bum who wandered on the train; they'll just throw you off. Which was fine by me. I wasn't going anywhere in particular, and whatever stop was next suited me fine.

I stumbled off, the conductor's hand clenching the back of my shirt. As the train pulled away, I had a little mental temper tantrum. Rage is a pesky byproduct of losing your soul. I imagined the look on the conductor's face if I'd sported fangs and lifted him off the ground with one arm. I could have crushed his neck in my grasp like a beer can. The sound is more similar than you'd think. Then I'd have leapt aboard, growling as I jumped into the aisle, grabbing whatever victim looked the most appetizing as the rest of the passengers scurried like ants....

I shook it off, and started walking toward the center of whatever town I'd found myself in. It was a stupid fantasy. I mean, I could easily have taken out all of them, but it was just too risky. With all those people, one of them could decide to play hero and get a bunch of them riled up. A mob can slow you down, and there are two many accidents that can happen. Besides, if someone survives to describe your face, you spend the next ten years or so crawling from sewer to sewer so no one gets a good look at you. Humans may be weak, but their numbers create problems.

So I wandered around looking for an abandoned building to use for a hideout while I got a feel for the town. I passed a newspaper box. The town was Sunnydale. Not good. Every vamp knows Sunnydale. Back in the day, it was like Vegas for vamps. There's supposed to be some kind of energy that comes out of the ground that gives spell casters a little extra edge. They came to Sunnydale, and they always needed minions. Lately, though, word was out that a Slayer had grown roots in Sunnydale. There was still good work to be found, but the risk was high. I was never much of a risk taker, so I came up with a plan. Hide out for a couple of days, feed a little, grab some quick cash, and take off.

I came up to a building that looked abandoned. A sign over the front door said that the place was "The Bronze." Whatever. One of the back walls was torn out. A large hole in the ground about six feet around sat smack in the middle of the space the wall once occupied. Orange cones marked it off. I looked down. It seemed bottomless. Before I got vamped back in thirty-two, I'd worked a lot of construction. Back then there was a lot more sweat involved. No big machines to do the heavy lifting. I'd seen a lot of holes like this one. Someone had torn out one of the support columns. They were probably going to replace it with something sturdier. Whenever something shakes the foundations of a building, they always rebuild it with more support. I don't know if it's precaution or penance.

I wandered in. The place was trashed. I know the difference between long term decay and short term destruction, and someone, or something, had given this place a real going over.

I decided to move on. Someone was obviously working on the place, so it wasn't abandoned. Then I heard a voice behind me.

"You're early."

An older guy walked up. He was about fifty, with a ragged work shirt with faded jeans held up by leather suspenders.

"You were supposed to get here at nine-thirty," he continued. "I don't know if the guy's here yet."

"Uh, sorry," I said.

"Oh, wait," he said, "here he is."

A younger kid, about twenty or so, walked up.

"I checked out the stage, Mr. Jorgan," the kid said. "We really can't get the work done there while we're working on the framework. I talked to my boss. He said working on it at night is O.K."

"That's perfect, Harris," the man (who I figured was Jorgan) replied. "This is the guy I was telling you about."

"So you're Braddock," the kid said. "I'm Xander Harris. I'm supervising the subcontractor carpentry for this job. Mr. Jorgan says you called him about the ad in the paper. Are you Union?"

"Well," I said. "Not exactly."

"Alright," Harris said. "That's not a problem, if you work nights. Our union contract lets us hire peripheral night workers for smaller jobs even if they don't have their cards. But you can't work during the day, or the union reps will have a cow. Is that alright?"

"Well, I suppose...."

"Perfect," Harris said. "The stage needs the stairs completely redone, and the stage floor needs a new finish. And we need to be quick about it. We're supposed to have this place ready to open in two weeks. Can you handle that?"

"Uh, sure," I said. And, strangely, I could. Back when I was alive, this sort of thing was right up my alley.

"The tools are in the storage trailer," Harris continued. "Put them back every night. My supervisor will have kittens if anything goes missing."

"Don't worry," Jorgan said. "I'll be by every night to check out the work. I can't come during the day. I've got another business to run. But I'll keep an eye on him."

"Great," Harris said.

Not so great, kid, I thought. Humans can be a little dense. Here's a guy about as pale as a sheet on a clothesline, who says he can't come out during the day. Obviously a vampire, which complicated things. Normally, isolated on a construction site after dark, I'd just kill both of them, feed, then take off. But one of them was a vamp. Even worse, a vamp who was passing for human. If I'd killed the kid, there's no telling how the old man would react. I was pretty sure I could take him. He looked soft from living as a human, and he'd been turned at an older age. But there was no sense taking chances with a creature whose strength was close to my own just to snack on some kid. So I figured I'd just play along for a couple more minutes until I could slip away.

Then I saw her.

You can be pale without looking like death. She pulled it off. Her skin was pure white, and would inspire poetry instead of fear. It contrasted sharply with the dark wave of hair that flowed from her ashen face down to her soft, round shoulders.

"Manny," she said. Her voice was like a harpsichord. Gentle, sweet, and just a little sad. "I waited in the office."

"And keep waiting," Jorgan snapped at her. I could have snapped his neck.

"Sorry," she replied. "I just ran out of papers to go through."

"They'll be more," Jorgan said. "This is Braddock. Hey, what's your first name?"

"Uh, Jack," I said. "Jack...Braddock."

"Yeah," he said. "Anyway, this is my wife. She'll be around when I am. She's taking care of the paperwork. Making sure I don't get ripped off on the labor."

The kid's face tensed just a little. Easy, kid. Even vamps who are passing have tempers.

"I'll just start prepping for tomorrow," Harris finally said. He walked into building and disappeared.

"Anyway," Jorgan said, "start on those stage stairs. Then refinish the whole thing."

"Right," I said. I turned toward the equipment shed, then turned back, and said:

"Nice meeting you, Mrs. Jorgan."

She glanced down, then looked up and said:

"Call me Marie."

She walked away. I watched her walk. Jorgan followed her. I didn't watch him.

I walked toward the tool shed and walked in. I stood inside. I thought about a million things. Well, one thing, a million different ways.

"Hey?"

The voice came from outside. A silhouette emerged in the doorway. I shouted:

"What do you want?"

"I'm Braddock," he responded. "Randy Braddock. I was supposed to come here about a job. Are you Jorgan?"

"Uh, yeah," I said. "I am. Come on in."

He stepped up into the trailer. "Sorry I'm late. I hope this doesn't mean you gave the job to someone else."

"Well, tardiness does have consequences," I said. I grabbed his head in my hands, and broke his neck with one twist. I quickly gulped down as much of his blood as I thought I safely could, and then threw his body over my shoulder. I peeked out of the trailer to make sure the coast was clear, then walked over to the support column hole. I dropped him in. Based on the amount of time it took for him to hit bottom, I figured it was about forty feet deep. Too deep for the smell to get out.

I walked back to trailer to grab a tape measure and a level. I also grabbed a notebook and a pencil. I figured I'd have enough sketches done by sunup to start work on the stairs the next night.


Part I.


"How those stairs coming?"

"They're coming along fine, Mr. Jorgan," I said. And they were. I hadn't lost my touch. I'd only been at it three nights, and the stairs were pretty much finished. It would only take me about another week to finish the whole stage.

I pulled my notebook out of my back pocket to check my sketches, then put it back. I took a pencil and a level, and started on the last riser.

"Manny?"

I looked up. Marie had walked over. Her pale white dress was backlit from the work lights. You could make out every millimeter of her form.

"There's a receipt missing from the order of lumber we got in today," she continued.

"Damn," Jorgan said. "I told those dolts on the day shift not to take any more deliveries without getting the receipts."

Marie turned to me and asked:

"Are you sure you got all the boards you ordered?"

"Yes, ma'am," I replied. "Um, Mr. Jorgan...."

"For the thousandth time," Jorgan said, "call me Manny. You're making me feel old."

"Uh, yeah," I said. I tried to focus on Manny, but Marie was walking away. She moved like a cat. "Anyway, we'll need to get a couple of gallons of the wood varnish in by the day after tomorrow. These stairs don't have much longer."

"Good," he said. "Perfect. Heh. I got this place for half of what it was worth. That's my specialty. Buying properties from motivated buyers. Apparently some biker guy came in and trashed this place. The owners didn't have the cash to rebuild, and that's when I came in. I told them it would take me at least six months to get open again. They dropped another hundred grand off the price. When I get this place opened next month, I'll be pulling in enough to get my whole investment back within a year. After that, it's pure profit."

"Well, we're on track as far as the stage goes."

"Perfect. Once we're done with that...hey, what are you doing? That top stair is dipping a good half inch!"

"Um, sorry Mr. Jor...I mean, Manny," I said. "It's these lights. Too many shadows cast without natural light."

"Well, tilt the lamps," Manny said. "The last thing I need is some snot-nosed musician falling on those stairs."

"Right, Manny," I said. I started fixing the top stair. It really was crooked. I didn't bother adjusting the lights. The lights had nothing to do with it.

I wanted that woman so bad I couldn't draw a straight line.

"You know, Manny," I said. "That lumber company, the guy who owns it called last night."

"So?"

"So he's probably at his office tonight," I said. "He said he usually works nights at his office to get paperwork done. If you want that receipt, he'll probably be there."

"Hmmm," Manny said. "That's not a bad idea. I'll just call to make sure he's there."

"He won't answer the phone," I said. "He said that he leaves the phone off the hook so he can get work done. Of course, you can always go over there during the day, but...."

Of course, I knew he couldn't.

"Nah, I'll go now," Manny said. "Every time they forget to leave the paperwork. I've complained at least four times now, and still...."

Manny continued talking as he went toward the office. He emerged with his coat, walked over to his truck, and drove off. I knew the address of the lumber company. At least forty-five minutes to get there. And at least forty-five minutes back.

I walked over to the office. I opened the door. Marie was behind the desk, adding numbers from the day's receipts on a tape.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey, back," she replied, never looking up from her calculator.

"I was wondering," I said, "if there was anything else I could do. I mean, the stage won't take much longer, then I'll be out of work."

"We have to be careful about using non-Union people."

"It's O.K. for small stuff," I said. "Anything other than the structure, that is. I mean, like the office. I could put down new carpet, or replace the door."

"There's nothing wrong with the door," she said, keeping her eyes on her work.

"Are you sure? I mean, does the lock work alright?"

"Yes," she said. Then her eyes left her desk and looked at me. Right at me. "The lock on the door works fine. If I...that is, if we...I mean, if I or my husband ever wanted to lock the door, we could."

"That's good," I said. "As long as you can lock it...if you want to."

"I must apologize for my husband," she said. "I know he's difficult to work for. He's a good man. It's just he's...."

"I know what he is."

"You do?"

"I do," I said. "I know what you are, too."

"Do you?"

"I do," I said. I concentrated. I could feel the change: the flesh of my face twisting; the skin on my forehead rising; my teeth growing, sharpening.

She didn't blink. She didn't shudder. She stared straight into my eyes, and then her own face changed. Her eyes turned deep gold. Razor fangs grew in her mouth. Her face became harsh, wicked, beautiful.

She walked up to me. Our faces were less than an inch apart. Her eyes never left mine. She said, in a breathy, soft voice:

"Perhaps we should check the lock on that door."


Part II.


"How much longer?"

"At least thirty minutes," I replied. Marie was curled in my arms on the ugly office couch. We both smoked cigarettes. "Round trip will take him at least that long."

"I'm hungry," she said. "Are you hungry?"

I nodded. She got up, grabbed a tupperware bottle from the small fridge in the corner of the office, came back, and reclined in my arms. She opened the bottle, took a sip, and handed it to me. I drank.

"This tastes a little funny," I observed. "What is this, pig's blood?"

"Cow's blood," she corrected. "Manny gets it from a butcher."

"It tastes terrible."

"I know," she said. "We don't get human blood that often. Only when we can be sure it's safe. Manny says that we can't take any chances, that he's worked too hard building up legitimate businesses to risk screwing it all up."

"There's more to life than money."

"Not much more," she replied. "But I do miss human blood. And the kill. I think I've only killed three or four people since I...changed."

"It's overrated," I said. "But the blood's worth the effort."

"We should get dressed," she said. "He can't find us like this."

"Why not? I can handle him."

"Jack, no," she said. "You can't. You have to promise me. Never."

"What hold does he have on you?"

"Nothing like what you think," she said. She took a long drag off her cigarette. "It's just...I owe him."

"Owe him what?"

She sighed.

"My family came to California when I was four," she explained. "There had been a talent search. They said I could be on TV. My folks picked up and moved just for that. I got a series of commercials for a doll company. National spots. Then there was a TV series. I was quite a success story, for a toddler."

"And then?"

"By the time I was ten the work dried up," she explained. "Being buck-toothed wasn't cute anymore. My parents got me braces, acting lessons, everything. But by the time I got past awkward adolescence, everyone had forgotten. I was a has-been before I went to prom."

"So what happened?"

"When I graduated high school, I got the money in my trust fund. Only there wasn't any money in my trust fund. My parents had 'charged' me for 'managing' my career. I was broke. I waited tables. My agent got me a couple of local commercials. I was a spokeswoman for a local auto dealership. After awhile the only thing I got offered were 'adult' movies. I made a few of those movies, Jack."

She waited to see if I would be repulsed. I just kept smoking. It's funny. Vamps can kill and maim and drink the blood out of people, but we still have all the sexual hangups that humans carry around.

"Anyway," she continued, tossing her cigarette into a paper cup on the floor, "that's when I met Manny. One of the bars he owned in L.A. was being used for a shoot. It was about five years ago. He was sweet. I knew he was a vampire. I'd run into a lot of vamps when I was working in porn. A lot of porn actresses will only work with a vampire co-star. They don't carry diseases, they can't get you pregnant, and as long as they get paid, they behave. But Manny was different. He passed as human, full time. He was respectable. He made legitimate money. With him, I could live forever, and I could show my face around."

"So you got what you wanted," I said. "You have nothing to complain about."

"What I thought I wanted," she said. "Jack, he's old. I don't mean in years. I mean, when he became a vampire, he was already fifty. He thinks like an old man. Everything's all business. We never go anywhere. We never do anything. I'm going crazy. I'm young, Jack. I'll always be young. He'll always be old."

"So why don't you leave him?"

"And do what? Go back to living the way I was before? If I wanted to live in sewers from one meal to the next I would have stayed in porn. I can't live with him, I can't live without him...."

"And you can't kill him?"

"What good would it do? He's got money, and plenty of it. But how would I get it? He can't die. Not the way humans die. If I ever killed him, the only thing left would be dust. How would I explain to a court that my husband blew away on the wind, so I should inherit everything he has? It's not fair. If he was a human husband, I could divorce him or wait for him to die. Like this, I'm stuck."

"You're not stuck," I said.

"Of course I am," Marie said.

"No, you're not," I said. "You can get rid of him. And get his money."

"How?"

I took a final drag off my cigarette, and said:

"With my help."

And that's how the damn thing got started. It's difficult to make people understand. They think vampires pretty much just want blood and a roof over their heads at dawn and that's pretty much it. And that's all some vamps want. But we're not all like that. We're as different from each other as people can be.

Me, I've always lived by my wits. I've always enjoyed thinking that I was the smartest vampire in the sewer. I don't mean that I thought of myself as some evil genius. I always thought those guys were suckers. Gathering minions and trying to dominate the world, even though they probably would have no idea what to do with it if they succeeded. No, I just mean that I never really relied on my physical strength to get by.

Take this one time. I was in a seedy little dive in Tucson. Some vamp came in, started chowing down on the patrons. I let him have his way with them. Then I picked up a chair and broke it over his back. When he realized how hard I'd hit him, and that I held one of the splintered chair legs in my hand, he ran. He was in no mood for a fight with someone who could match him, and knew his weaknesses. One guy was O.K., so I told him to go and get the cops. While he was gone, I found a couple of stragglers hiding behind one of the booths. I drank both of them. When the cops came, they were none the wiser. I stood around, gave them a statement, even shook hands with one of the officers as I left. No tracks, no chance someone would get lucky and shove a pencil in my heart. I laughed all the way back to my lair.

Now I had a chance to really pull something off. I always wondered what I could do if I had enough cash to blend into the classy part of town, where the victims had Rolexes and diamonds and big, fat wads of cash in their wallets. With half of Manny's bankroll, I could live in style. Best hotels. Sleeper car on the train. No more sewers.

And her. I wanted her before. But now, I wanted more. I wanted to take care of her. I wanted to be the one that rescued her. I wanted to know that she would have an eternity of everything she ever wanted, and that I was the reason. I won't pretend that it was noble. It wasn't. I'm a vampire. We're not capable of nobility. Sure, we can wrap our own selfish wants around whatever stupid ideals that we carry around with the memories of our humanity, but that's just crap. And even if I kidded myself that whatever I felt for Marie was somehow cleaner or kinder than my own wants, I now know that it wasn't. It was just a dangerous mix of lust and ego and fairy tale bullshit. But it was the closest thing to a dream that I'd ever had, and she was the one I wanted it with.

It was doable. I could do it. At that moment, I knew I really was the smartest vampire in the sewer.


Part III.


"Alright," Manny shouted, "let's get that scrap lumber outside."

I picked up an armload of the wood. Manny had been a little short with me over the last three days. I think he was still ticked at me because the lumber guy hadn't been at his office that night. I'd pretty much convinced him that the guy was probably hiding out in his office, but that didn't make Manny any less grumpy.

"Hey, Manny," I said. "Grab that plank. It's right behind you."

Manny looked behind him, saw a two-by-four lying on the ground, and bent over to get it. I sprang. I dropped the all the wood in my hand except for one good size board. By the time Manny heard anything I was on top of him. I hit him across the back of the head, hard. I felt bone give way. Manny collapsed. He was out cold.

I looked down at him. There was a large dent in the back of his head which would have certainly killed a human. I was counting on that.

I reached into my jacket. I grabbed the hypodermic and vials I'd bought off a junkie down on the docks. I filled the needle and shot it into Manny. Then I filled the needle again, and shot that dose into Manny.

Marie ran up. She asked:

"Did you do it?"

"It's done," I replied.

"How long will he be out?"

"I just shot him with enough heroin to keep a junkie high for about two weeks," I said. "It should keep him out for at least three days. Help me drag him."

Marie grabbed one arm. I grabbed the other. We dragged him out to the wood pile behind the building. I ran around to the other side and gave the pile a good shove. It came tumbling down all over Manny's body. Marie and I ran inside. Marie went to the office as I grabbed the board I'd hit Manny with, went back outside, and placed the board by Manny's head. Then I returned to Marie.

"Make the call," I instructed Marie.

Marie picked up the phone, dialed 911, and when an operator came on, she started the rant:

"Oh, God. Thank you. You have to send an ambulance. My husband had an accident. Wood fell on him. What...no, we can't wake him up. Yes, that's our address. Look, you have to hurry, we can't wake him up. One of our workers is outside with him but he can't wake him up. You've got to send someone. I think he's coming. Please send someone. Hurry!"

She hung up. I asked her:

"Alright," I said, "let's go over this again."

"We've been over it ten times a night, every night for the past two days," she protested.

"Yeah," I said, "and we're going to go over it again one more time to be sure we've got it right. We're going to end up running the sewers between here and Tijuana if we screw this up. Have you ever been in a Mexican sewer? I have. So we're going over it again."

She bit her bottom lip, but she was listening.

"Now," I said, "What do you tell the cops?"

"My husband was getting wood...."

"No," I interrupted. "He SAID he was getting wood. You didn't actually see him getting it."

"Sorry," she said. "He said he was going out to see if there were any good wood planks in the scrap pile we could use on the stage."

"Who was here?"

"Just me," she said. "And Jack Braddock, our night carpenter."

"Where was he?"

"He came into the office," she said, "and we both heard the wood pile fall down. We ran outside, and Manny was buried under the wood. I went in to call an ambulance, and Jack tried to wake up Manny."

"Why did you hang up with 911?"

"I don't know," she said. "It was stupid. But I heard someone coming, and all I could think about was whether it was Manny, or maybe Jack had gotten Manny to wake up, and I just hung up."

"And then?"

"Jack came running inside," she continued. "He wanted to make sure I'd gotten through to someone. He was going to run back out to try and help Manny, but I went hysterical, and he couldn't leave me."

"And what do you keep asking?"

"Is Manny going to be alright? Is Manny alive? What are they doing for Manny?"

"Perfect," I said.

"How long until the cops get here?"

"Two minutes, tops."

Her eyes never left mine. Without saying a word, she sat on the couch. She reclined, and gathered her skirt up around her waist.

"We don't have time," I said.

She didn't say anything. She just kept staring at me, with those eyes.

As it turned out, we did have time. Barely. It was stupid. It was worth it.


Part IV.


"I got no pulse," the paramedic said. "Nothing. This guy's head is all caved in and he's cold as ice. He's dead."

His partner sighed, closed his medical kit, and said:

"Alright, I'm calling it. Time of death, eleven-oh-three."

One of the cops stood over the two paramedics like a god on Olympus. He turned to me and asked:

"Do you want to tell the lady, or should I?"

I thought about that. Marie was in the office with the policeman's partner. If I went in, we'd have to pull off the act simultaneously, in front of a cop. Not good.

"Maybe you'd better do it," I said. "I mean, I don't know her that well, and...you know."

"Don't worry, sir," the cop said. "This is part of my job." He walked into the building.

"Jesus, Jack," I heard a voice behind me say. I turned around. It was the Harris kid.

"Xander," I said. "What are you doing here?"

"I got the call from the cops," he said. "My boss said I should come and check it out. We'll have to fill out a report for the insurance company. They're real strict about work site stuff."

"Well, it's not your company's fault," I replied. "You know Manny. I mean, I hate to say it, but you know how cheap Manny is...I mean, was. He was out here trying to get some wood scraps for me to use on the stairs. He shouldn't have been poking around the scrap pile."

"Yeah, it is weird," Xander said. "Especially since I put aside some scrap wood for him this morning."

"What?"

"Yeah," Xander said, pointing toward the supply shed. "That pile of wood over there. It's the scrap from the framework. Manny asked if he could have some for the stage, and I told him it was O.K. I had some guys put it aside for him. Heck, he called the site this afternoon, and I even told him where it was stacked. There's more than enough over there to finish the stage work three times over. Why would he be poking around the scrap pile?"

Damn. Think fast, Jack.

"Well, you know Manny," I said. "Why take something for nothing when you can take everything for nothing?"

"I suppose," Xander said. I caught the look in his eye. He didn't suppose. He didn't suppose one damn bit. And the place was crawling with cops. I mentally started practicing my Spanish.

"Oh, God, nooooooooooooo!"

Xander and I both turned as we heard the shriek echo through the empty building. The cops had told Marie. It was convincing.

Maybe too convincing. I didn't know why, but somehow, Marie seemed just a little too...convincing.


Part V.


Marie and I stood side by side in front of the coffin. She wore a black dress with a wide-brimmed black bonnet. I wore a black suit I'd bought from the Salvation Army. It had been awhile since I'd bought clothes. Normally, as a vamp, you just take whatever you need off a victim. But until the whole deal was done, it was too dicey to risk stealing, let alone feeding.

The funeral director came up to us. He looked somber, but then I suppose that's an occupational requirement. He asked Marie:

"Are you sure you wouldn't like to have a minister come? I'm sure we can arrange...."

"No," Marie interrupted. "My husband never was religious, and we don't know anyone in town. He always said that this was the way he would want things if...if...."

At that point, Marie's face contorted. I was a little scared. I was worried she'd gone nuts and was ready to vamp out on this guy. But she didn't. Instead, she burst into tears, and buried her head on my shoulder.

Damn, she was way too good.

The director bowed his head, and then turned to a technician, who started flipping switches. A recording of "Amazing Grace" started playing, and Manny's coffin started moving down a belt, and through an opening in the wall. When it was all the way through, the opening closed. The technician flipped another switch. While I'm sure they went to great pains to make the machinery sound proof, my hearing could pick up the woosh of the burners in the crematorium.

I held my breath (figuratively). We'd been lucky so far. The coroner had decided that, because it was clearly an accident, and the cause of death was obvious from the head trauma, no autopsy was necessary. I had counted on that. There was no amount of dope I could have shot into Manny to make him sleep through dissection. We'd convinced the funeral director that Manny wouldn't have wanted a wake, or even a ceremony. Now it was just a matter of whether the flames would take Manny before....

I loud whistle sounded through the room, and you didn't need vamp hearing to catch it. An all too familiar whistle. To a human, it probably sounds like a cat hissing at a mouse. To a vampire, the sound is unique: another vampire, trapped, burning, dying.

Marie's eyes widened. I stared straight ahead. If our eyes met....

The hissing stopped. There was no sound. The funeral director asked:

"Did you hear that? That 'woosh' sound?"

"Uh, yeah," I replied. "You should check the pipes. You may have a gas leak."

"Oh, God," he exclaimed. "There could have been an explosion! Mrs. Jorgan, I'm so sorry. We never allow...."

"Please, think nothing of it," Marie responded. "If you could just arrange...."

"Of course, Mrs. Jorgan," he said, and scurried off.

I waited until the little weasel was out of earshot, then whispered:

"Are you nuts?"

"What? What did I do?"

"Your husband's getting cremated," I explained. "You hear a gas leak, you don't say it's no big deal. It is a big deal. These are your last moments on this earth to say goodbye to your soulmate. It's a real big goddam deal. You cry. You shout. You make a big...."

"Jack?"

"What?"

"It's over."

"What are you talking about?"

"It's over, Jack," she said. "Manny's dust. The cops don't have any reason to believe he should be anything but dust. We did it. I'm meeting with the lawyer tomorrow, and the insurance agent on Tuesday. We're rich. We got away with it."

She was right. Manny's insurance was worth a half million by itself. We could dump his other stuff in about a week, and blow Sunnydale forever. We'd won.

We took Manny's ashes down to the beach that night. We scattered them into the ocean. The dust floated, then spread, then finally sank into nothing.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.


Part VI.


"What the Hell are you doing?"

The guy on the stage looked up at me. He had a bunch of nails in one hand and a hammer in the other.

"I'm finishing the stage," the guy replied. "Just like she told me."

"Who told you?"

"The broad in the office," he explained. "She told me to get the stage finished, then work on the bar."

It had been a couple of days since we'd dumped Manny's ashes. Marie had gone to the construction site to get some papers. After a couple of hours had passed I had gone to check on her. I looked around. The stage wasn't the only thing that had been worked on. New dry wall had gone up, someone had delivered new tables, and a section of the roof had been torn away so the new support column could be installed.

Marie had continued the construction on the new building.

I stormed into the office. Marie was sitting behind the desk. Paperwork was everywhere. I screamed:

"What the Hell?!?"

"You're upset," Marie said, rather matter-of-factly.

"Damn right," I said. "Why are they still working on the building? We're supposed to be selling it back to the original owners, then blowing town."

"I talked to the lawyer," she replied. "He said the bank loan on the property went through before Manny died. If we don't continue with the construction, the bank could take title before we could even find a buyer, and with the unrealized gains on the property, we'd take a real bath on the foreclosure."

"Who gives a damn? It'll take another two weeks for this place to get done. We can't hang around that long, and then wait to find someone to buy this place."

"I'm not sure I want to look for a buyer," she said. "I did some checking. This place is a hot property. It's the only real nightclub in Sunnydale. Once it reopens, it could pay for itself in a year."

"A year?!?"

"Uh, Jack," I heard coming from behind me. I turned around. It was the Harris kid.

"Yeah," I said. "What's up, Xander?"

"Um, I talked with my boss," Harris continued. "He said we could get the main support column put in by Monday. He wants to know if we should start tomorrow."

"Yes," Marie chimed in. "You can tell your boss that I'm in charge now. Tell him I want the support column in by Friday. That's what he promised, and that's what I expect."

"Um, sure thing, Mrs. Jorgan," Harris said. He turned and walked out.

"Great," I said. "Just great. Now you're Donald Trump. I thought the whole point of this was to get Manny's money, so you wouldn't have to live like a...."

"Jack, I have the money now," she said. "That was the point. I dreamed of this for a long time. Now that it's come true, I see things differently. Maybe Manny wasn't so crazy. I could live a good life if I...."

"We," I interrupted.

"What?"

"We could live a good life," I continued. "That's what you meant, right? You and me. Partners. You're not thinking of cutting me out, are you?"

"Jack, don't be stupid," Marie sighed. "Of course you're cut in. I need someone to help me. I can't run this club alone. And I'll need someone to help with Manny's other businesses. You're smart. You know a lot that I don't. We're partners. Fifty-fifty. But while the property is all in my name, I'm calling the shots. I'm sitting on a goldmine, and I'm not going to give it away for less than it's worth."

I took a good look at her. All of her. God, I was an idiot. Getting suckered in by those doe eyes. She'd planned this from the moment we'd met. Hell, she'd probably planned it from the moment she met Manny. And I'd bought it. Yep, me. Mr. Smartest Vampire in the Sewers. Yeah, right.

"Hey," I heard. Christ, doesn't anyone knock?

I turned to see the guy who had been working on the stage.

"What do you want?"

"Look," he said. "When I signed on for this, I thought there would be no trouble. If you're making enemies here, we're going to have to renegotiate."

"What are you talking...?"

"The Slayer," he said. "I was hired to make some quick cash doing woodwork. I never signed on to take on the Slayer."

I took my first real look at the guy. Pale as a ghost.

I stormed past him and walked out toward the stage. Harris was walking along the back wall. Beside him was a blond girl. Petite thing. She was looking around. At everything. Closely.

I turned and went back to the office. When I got there, Marie was handing the carpenter a stack of twenty dollar bills. He grabbed them and left. I asked Marie:

"What was that for?"

"He's got the idea that there's some kind of bogeyman out there," she explained. "I had to pay him a little extra to stay on. It's worth it, though. It's still cheaper than paying a union guy."

"Are you crazy, hiring a vamp?"

"I told you, it's cheaper."

"It's no bogeyman," I said. "It's the Slayer. That Harris kid is walking around with some blonde girl. That woodpile thing must have made him suspicious. If this vamp is local, then he knows what the Slayer looks like. Everyone knows that Sunnydale...."

"Jack, don't be silly," Marie sighed. "Manny told me that the Slayer is just some dumb myth that superstitious vampires think...."

"Manny was full of it," I interrupted. "He was a damned fool, running around like he was human, and not knowing what he was. I know. I was feeding at a TVA camp in thirty-nine. A Slayer came in and cleaned the place out. I saw her dust four vamps without even breaking a sweat. She's real, and that's her outside. We've got to get out of here."

"We can't go," Marie argued. "I'm headed up to Tarzana tomorrow to pick up the insurance check and settle some accounts with our suppliers. After that, I'll be able to finish the work on the club, and...."

"It's the SLAYER," I said, pounding my fist on the desk for emphasis. "You're not hearing me. Do you know how many thousands of vamps there are in this world? Well, the great cosmic scale of the universe puts ONE of her up against all of us. And you know what? It balances out. And that's not the half of it. I've heard about this Slayer. She's different. She's...."

"She's not going to get in the way," Marie said. "Look, she doesn't know anything."

"Yet," I said.

"And she won't," Marie said. "Look, I'll be in Tarzana a couple of days with the lawyer. Once I get back, I'll put the rest of the money into Manny's old accounts to cover the costs of finishing the club. They'll be about fifty thousand left over. If you want to leave Sunnydale, fine. Fifty thousand's a lot more than what you came to town with. You want your piece of the real money, you can stay."

I was crazy, and I'm sure my eyes showed it as I stared into her. She asked:

"You thinking about how to kill me, Jack?"

And damned if I wasn't. I'd risked so much for her, I'd have killed for her, there was a time I would have died if it meant she could have had the happiness she wanted. Now....

"Don't be stupid," I finally said. "We're partners, straight through."

"Fine," she said. "I'll be back Tuesday. We'll meet here Tuesday night."

She got up, grabbed her purse, and started to walk out. Then she turned, and said:

"Look, Jack, I don't want it to be this way. What we had...what we have...it's real. More real than anything I've ever known. I just can't be poor again. I had it all once, and I lost it. I can't go through that again. I can't have another run of the good life just to watch it all slip away like it did before. I love you. I really do. But I can't risk everything just because you're scared of staying put. I know you. I was you, once. It's no good. You can't wander forever. A century's too long to live without growing up, Jack."

She turned and walked out the door.

Half of my brain was still thinking of how to kill her. The other half was thinking of how it wouldn't be so bad. Settling down. Growing some roots. Living respectably on bar profits and cow's blood. She was right. If I blew town with fifty thousand, or even ten times that much, I'd still be broke in about a year. Even for a vampire, I was just no good.

Of course, being a vampire, I wasn't sure I wanted to be good.

Then there was her. She'd come across like a trapped fawn. She'd played me like a fox. Now I didn't know what she was. I couldn't stop loving her. I couldn't stop hating her. All I knew was that I could blow town, with her fifty grand or without, and I'd never get her out of my mind.

I needed answers. And I only knew one place to get them. She'd be out of town for the next two days. So would I. I checked the nickel plated pocket watch I'd stolen off a sailor I'd killed a couple of weeks after Pearl Harbor. It was ten-thirty. If I hurried, I could still catch the red-eye train to L.A.


Part VII.


"Thank you, thank you."

I put the microphone back on the stand and climbed down off the stage. I wonder if the guy who invented the phonograph realized that karaoke would be the ultimate result? It's a shame, really. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Then again, so is the road to Los Angeles.

I'd been to this place once about six months prior. I was passing through L.A. on my way to...well, nowhere. Anyway, I'd heard there was a place demons could grab a drink without worrying about getting hurt. It was supposed to be some sort of sanctuary. Once I got there I found out some green guy read your aura if you sang. My aura seemed fine at the time, so I just had a shot of blood and a beer (vamps call it a "bloodboiler"). Since then my aura had changed, for the worse, and I needed an aura tuneup, awful damn quickly.

Mr. Green (I don't know his real name; people just call him 'The Host') climbed on the stage and said:

"Alright! Everyone give it up for Jack. He's a vampire with a lady on his mind and a song in his heart. Put your hands together for Jack! Alright, alright. Settle down. I'm going to have a little chat with our new friend Jack. Meanwhile, Gargorlak is going to sing a little tune. He's a Methussian worm demon who's can't decide whether to burrow into the ground and feed off rotting corpses, or go back to school for his MBA. Everyone, a big hand for Jack, who's Takin' that Midnight Train to Georgia!"

The crowd clapped and some slimy guy came on stage and started into the Gladys Knight tune. Mr. Green walked off stage, pulled me aside, and said:

"Liked the choice of tunes, pal. I've always been a sucker for Sinatra. Why did you pick 'Lady is a Tramp,' if you don't mind my asking?"

"Because she is," I replied. "Look, I don't know...."

"No, Mister, you don't," he replied. "Look, Jack-o-lantern, I'm a sucker for the oldies myself. You remember 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,' that old song from back in your day?"

"Yeah," I replied.

"Do you like it?"

"Not really."

"Neither do I," he said. "In fact, I hate it. I mean, the premise is just ridiculous. Some Army guy blows reveille with a swingin' rhythm? Yeah, that's just what a bunch of guys waking up to a trumpet at five in the morning want to hear. After he got the stuffing kicked out of him a couple of times, trust me, that bugle boy would keep it short and sweet. But whenever I hear that darned old song, my toes start a tappin', and I just can't help but belt it out. What can I say? I'm weak. We've got a World War Two crowd of vamps who come in every second Tuesday of the month, and they just go nuts for that old Andrews Sisters garbage. I always start out with that song, figuring I can get it out of my system. But when the night's winding down, I always go up and do an encore."

I paused, waiting. Then I asked:

"And the point of that story is...?"

"That it's stupid to fight what isn't going to change," he replied. "I mean, something inside me just wants to sing that song. It's not something I can get rid of. Life becomes easier if you accept the things about yourself that you can't leave behind. Now lets take you, for example. I could tell you that this woman is just no good for you, or anyone for that matter. That she's never going to be any good for you. That no matter how hard you try, you're never going to see any kind of happily ever after with her. But you know what? It won't do any good. You've got this woman in your blood. Well, in whoever's blood you've got in you at any given time. You're going to have to play it out with her, and take the consequences. You killed for this woman. You killed WITH this woman. Do you really think you can just walk away?"

"I guess not," I admitted.

"Well, that's the thing," he said. "The fact is, you can. But you won't."

I let this sink in.

"Well," I finally said, "I guess I'm headed back to Sunnydale."

I grabbed my jacket and started to leave. On my way out, I turned back to the Host and asked:

"Look, is there any chance of things ending well with this? Any chance at all?"

The Host's eyes dropped, then looked up at me, and he said:

"Sorry, pal."

I turned, walked out, and went back to the motel room I'd rented for the night. I'd never get back to Sunnydale before sunup. I spent the daylight hours waiting for the nine p.m. train to Sunnydale, and planning my next move. The Host had confirmed what I'd suspected: there was no way I was going to be Prince Charming in this fairy tale. I figured I could be Red Riding Hood, or the Big Bad Wolf. Funny thing is, when I was a kid, I heard a couple of different versions of that fairy tale. In one, Red got eaten. In another, the wolf got his head chopped off.

I broke apart one of the flimsy wooden chairs in the room, and sharpened one of the legs against the cement window sill. If I was going to be the wolf, I'd need at least one sharp tooth.


Part VIII.


I snuck into the club after sundown with my homemade stake in my back pocket. I walked around the hole in the ground where the wall had been torn out. They'd torn away more of the wall to make enough room to install the support column, including a section that opened into the storage room. I went into the storage room figuring I could sneak in easier through the hallway, rather than exposing myself in the open area of the club. Manny's old truck was parked outside, so I knew Marie was already there. I was a half hour early. Apparently Marie had arrived even earlier than that.

I snuck back toward the office. The door was partially opened, and light spilled out across the floor. I heard Marie's voice, so I figured that Marie was talking on the telephone. Then I heard another voice.

"Don't worry, Mrs. Jorgan," a female voice said. "I've dealt with this sort of thing a lot. When he gets here, just stay in the office. Does the lock on the door work?"

"Um...yes," Marie replied.

"I'll go out and hide backstage," the girl continued. "I'll jump him when he gets here. I won't let anything happen to you. Trust me, he'll pay for what he did to your husband."

"This is all just so hard to accept," Marie said. "I mean, when that wood pile fell on Manny, I knew that something didn't sound right. But I couldn't think of any reason Mr. Braddock would have to hurt Manny. Then, a couple of days ago, I came in wearing a cross around my neck. My mother gave it to me. Mr. Braddock got this look, like he was in pain. Then his face...changed. God, it was horrible. I didn't know what to make of it. I'm glad I told that nice Mr. Harris about what I'd seen. I was lucky he knew what to do."

That's it, Marie. Do your 'damsel in distress' routine. If it works, stick with it. I guess Marie had figured things the same way I had. Well, I've got to hand it to her, at least she worked it out on her own, and spared herself the humiliation of karaoke.

I needed a Plan B, and quick. I came up with one. I snuck out to the toolshed. I picked up three pieces of scrap wood. Two of them were stubby and of about the same length. The third was longer than the other two. When I got to the toolshed, I grabbed a cleaning rag, and a bottle of the quick drying glue we use to temporarily hold wood together until we can get in screws. I glued one of the stubby pieces to the side of the longer piece, only a little off center. Then I wrapped one hand with the rag. I applied some of the glue to the side of the longer piece of wood just opposite the stubby piece. I slid the final piece into place with the hand I'd wrapped in the rag. As they came together, I could feel my hand start to burn. I drew my hand away as soon as the glue bonded. I looked at my hand. I had a couple of blisters. But I also had a makeshift crucifix.

I re-wrapped my hand, bit my bottom lip in preparation for the pain, and grabbed the crucifix. Even through the rag, the cross seared my hand. I'd have to move quickly.

I moved as quickly as I could back to the office. I could smell the smoke from my burning flesh in my nostrils. I paused outside the door. When I heard both Marie's voice and the Slayer's, I kicked the door open, and stuck the crucifix in Marie's face.

Marie hissed and recoiled. Instinctively, she flashed her vamp face. I'll give this Slayer credit. She caught on as quickly as I'd hoped she would. She saw Marie change, saw the smoke coming off of my hand, and exclaimed:

"Both of you?!?"

I dropped the crucifix, enjoying a moment of relief from the pain, then bolted.

I could hear the sounds of fighting behind me. I'd hoped that the Slayer would deal with Marie first, either out of a sense of betrayal or simply because Marie was closer. I was right. Unfortunately, in my haste to get out, I tripped on a piece of exposed wiring on the floor. Jesus, don't these union guys know that a safety inspector would go nuts over that sort of thing?

As I got up, the Slayer was tossing Marie in my direction. Poor Marie. She'd never learned enough about fighting to stand a chance. The Slayer was tossing her around like a rag doll. I guess the Slayer really was bright, because she was forcing Marie to retreat in my direction. Smart girl. Keeping both of us in sight.

The Slayer landed a beautify roundhouse kick to Marie's head, and Marie was down, and out. She was dazed, barely conscious. The Slayer drew a stake from her jacket pocket. She was going to do just what I'd set out to do. And while she was staking Marie, it would have been the one opportunity I'd get to make a break for it.

And then, wouldn't you know it, I stopped. I kid you not, I actually heard 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' in my head. God, I'm pathetic.

I sprang on the Slayer, pushing her away just in time to keep her from staking Marie. I hoped (I don't know why) that Marie would get up and bolt, but she was still flat on her back, fighting to get her senses back.

Like I've said, I've never been one for fighting, but I can hold my own. The Slayer landed a few punches on me, but I blocked most of them, and even planted a few on her myself. She kept advancing, which is what I wanted. We were backing up toward the open wall of the building, which meant, if I could hold her off, I'd still get my chance to rabbit out of there.

Just as we were getting toward the back wall, the Slayer leapt into the air and landed what I must admit was a perfectly executed kick to my chest. I felt myself falling backward. I figured I'd roll to my feet when I hit the ground and get out of there. The thing is, though, it was taking me way too long to hit the ground. Then I noticed that there was no light around me. The only light I could see was a shrinking circle of moonlight above me. At first I thought she'd knocked me out. Then I hit bottom, literally. I felt the bones in my legs snap. The fall was hard, much to hard to be a simple fall to the ground. I reached out to pull myself up. My hands hit solid rock. That's when I realized she'd knocked me backwards into the support column hole.

I looked up into the moonlight. I heard the Slayer's footsteps fading away. She was running back to finish off Marie.

I did an inventory of my injuries. There was a spot behind my ear that didn't hurt. Actually, I was surprised at first that I wasn't hurt worse. Even with vampire strength, a forty foot fall should have broken every bone in my body. Then I noticed the smell. I felt underneath me, and stuck my fingers into a mass of rotting flesh. Braddock, the real Braddock, had broken my fall. I couldn't figure out if that was tragic, ironic, or just disgusting.

I checked my pockets. I don't know why. It's not like I was going to find any rock climbing gear. But I wasn't thinking that clearly. I could feel the notebook of stage sketches in one back pocket. I'd forgotten all about it. In one front pocket I had my pocket watch. It was smashed. In my shirt pocket I had a pen I'd taken from the motel. Finally, in my other back pocket, I could feel the stake. I pulled it out of my pocket to defend myself against...oh, I don't know what. Again, my head was really messed up.

Above me, I heard the sounds of a fight. I guess Marie had come to. I heard loud smacking sounds, that were followed by grunts I recognized as Marie. Then I heard Marie scream. The moonlight was suddenly blocked out. I could feel air and earth falling on me, then a sudden crushing weight sent spider webs of pain shooting through my already aching body.

After a moment, the weight started wiggling and moaning.

"It's looking like tomorrow's going to be a beautiful day," I heard the Slayer's voice shout from above. "I think I'll just wait up here and soak up some rays."

Crap, I thought. This girl really is something.

"Jack?"

The weight on my chest had Marie's voice. I replied:

"Yeah, it's me."

"I'm hurt, Jack," she said. "I can't feel my legs."

"I can feel mine," I responded. "Trust me. You're not missing anything."

"The Slayer, she's so strong."

"That pretty much comes with the job description." I resisted the urge to add 'I told you so.' No sense being petty.

"Jack, she's still up there," Marie said. "Is she going to come down after us?"

"She doesn't have to," I explained. "That crack about tomorrow being a beautiful day? She's talking about the sun. When it gets to be noon, the sunlight is going to shine right down on us."

"Oh, God, Jack," Marie exclaimed. "I don't want to burn!"

Neither did I. There are only a few ways for a vamp to die. Most of them are quick. But not burning. If you're going to die, that's not how you want to do it.

"Jack, listen," Marie said. "Maybe we can climb up and...."

"And run right into the Slayer," I interrupted. "She's waiting up there for us. My legs are broken. You can't even feel yours. Even if we could climb out, we're no match for her."

Marie sighed. "I guess we burn."

"For quite a long time."

"Oh, yeah," she said. "I guess that's true."

She lay silently on top of me. Dammit all if I actually didn't have an urge to put an arm around her. God, I'm a sap.

"Look, Jack," she said. "I want you to know something. What I said, before I went to Tarzana. I just want you to know I meant it. I know that sounds stupid, after all that's happened, but you really were my dream. I made bad choices. I know that. I guess neither one of us is any good. But it's important for me that you know that what we had was real. It's the one thing I ever had that really meant something to me. I want you to know it that. I'm sorry. I know that if I'd handled things better, maybe we wouldn't be here. Oh, God, Jack, I don't want to burn, but if I'm going to I need you to know that I really am sorry."

I slowly put my arms around her. She nestled as best she could in my arms. Of course, it was too dark for her to see that I had a stake in one hand. I buried it between her shoulder blades. She gasped, then her dust covered me, like rain on a roof.

"Apology accepted," I said, to no one in particular.

Revenge, or mercy? Damned if I know.


Epilogue


If you're reading this, it means someone found my sketch notebook. I spent the last few hours writing down the whole story. I'm not sure why. I'm not going to do something stupid like ask for your hopes or your prayers. What good would it do? I'm a demon. I'm damned, by mechanics even if not by merit. Maybe I'm just trying to make sense of all this. Or maybe having squandered one immortality I'm trying to put together another one.

The sunlight is creeping down into the pit, slowly pouring down the walls like honey. There isn't much time left. I'm going to try to bury the notebook under Braddock's body so the pages won't burn up with me. I better wrap this up.

I just keep wondering what it's going to be like. Will there really be fire? Or is that just a metaphor for some other, more abstract torment? I don't know. The ironic thing is, after all this, what I'm really wondering is if I'll see Marie again. Well, I'm going to Hell. I figure that makes the odds pretty good.

THE END


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The Metaphor Suffers

Author: Mikelesq
Rating: PG
Genre: Humor
Pairing: Depends on your point of view.
Setting: Futurefic, several months after Chosen
Spoilers: None other than the Big Casting Spoiler for next season's AtS that just about everyone knows by now.
Disclaimer: ME owns it all
A/N: Thanks to estepheia for her input.

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"So...now what?"

Spike shrugged, taking a drag off his cigarette and resting on his elbows on the roof's ledge. The cool night wind blew the smoke back in his face. He looked over his shoulder at Buffy, and said:

"Dunno. Whatever comes next. The big bad of the week's pushing up the daisies, no small thanks to you. Nice of you to stop by LA."

"Eh, it was on the way," Buffy replied, walking up beside Spike and leaning against the ledge. "So, you've been here, what? Two months?"

"Three next week," Spike answered, flicking his cigarette over the edge and watching it plummet to the ground.

"I would have come sooner," Buffy said. "But...."

"Forget it," Spike said. "No apologies necessary."

"Angel keeping you busy?"

"Yeah," Spike mumbled. "It's always something here. Angel and his cronies are really getting their money's worth out of this whole setup."

"I'll say," Buffy said. "I'll admit, I'm kinda impressed. This huge building, all the tech stuff, a dozen cars. Not bad at all. Imagine what we could have done back in Sunnydale with all this."

"Right," Spike snorted. "We could have bollixed things up on a much grander scale."

Buffy pursed her lips, drawing a slow, deliberate breath.

"You didn't answer me," Buffy said.

"About what?"

"About what's next."

"I think I did," Spike said. "I don't know."

"Look, Spike," Buffy said. "We really haven't had a chance to...well, we've had chances, but...."

"You want me to come with you?"

"It's an idea," Buffy said. "There's a lot you could do...."

"What are you offering?" Spike asked.

"I'm...I...I don't know," Buffy said. "But you could do a lot of good. With us, I mean."

"With you, you mean," Spike corrected.

"I'm not saying I have all the answers."

"Well, that puts you ahead of me," Spike said. "I don't even have the bleedin' questions at this point. I just know...."

Spike felt Buffy's stare as he struggled for his next words. Finally, he said:

"Look, Buffy, I've been doing a lot of thinking. Trying to sort all this out, all on my own. Not really looking for any help, just trying to figure things out for myself."

"And?" Buffy asked.

"I've thought it through," Spike said, turning to face Buffy. "And I think I've come up with something."

"And that would be?"

Spike stared at the ground, then looked up, gestured toward Buffy with both hands open, and declared:

"I'm cookie dough."

Buffy's eyes narrowed. "You're...what?"

"I'm cookie dough," Spike said. "It's like, I'm not done baking. I'm all gooey, right? So, I've got to stay in the oven before anyone can eat me."

"Spike," Buffy said in a low, even tone. "Have you been talking to...?"

"You see," Spike interrupted. "You can't eat cookie dough right off. You've got to bake it until it's done."

Spike squinted and cocked his head to one side.

"Well, you can," Spike said. "Actually, people do it all the time. Hell, they even make a cookie dough flavored ice cream."

"Gee," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. "You came up with that all by yourself, did ya?"

"No, no, wait," Spike said. "What I mean is, if you want to be a cookie, you've got to bake. And if you want to bake right, you can't have someone waiting by the stove for you to finish. Wait a minute. Of course you can. People bake cookies all the time. You put them in the oven, wait a bit, then...."

"Spike," Buffy said. "I get what you're trying to say."

"No, wait, it's stupid," Spike muttered. "It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. That's got to be the dumbest thing he's...I mean, the dumbest thing I've ever dreamed up."

"It's not important," Buffy sighed. "The important thing is...."

"It sounds all profound," Spike said. "But when you think about it, it's just a load of crap! It's got to be the most insipid load of nonsense that ever...!"

"It's not that bad," Buffy intoned.

"Fine," Spike sighed. "I still think it's a load of...well, in any event, what I'm trying to say is that I might be better off staying here."

"Maybe," Buffy muttered.

"There's just so much to sort out," Spike said. "Sorting out, that was never my strong suit. There's something about me...some reason why I'm here. I think here's the best place to work on that. With you, it would be about you. Here, it's a job. I think I need that right now."

"Yeah," Buffy replied. "I get that."

"Look, I know you have to go," Spike said.

"I do."

"Well, no sense stalling then," Spike said.

Spike and Buffy turned, and slowly began the walk back to the stairwell.

"So, you're comfortable here?" Buffy asked.

"Who wouldn't be?" Spike responded. "It's a nice setup. Just about anything a bloke could ever want."

"And Angel?" Buffy said. "How's he like it here?"

Spike shrugged. "He seems to be settled in."

"Is there anything here he particularly likes?" Buffy said, her eyes scanning the rooftop, until she spotted a loose metal pipe that rested next to the debris of a broken crate.

"What do you mean?" Spike asked.

"Well, you've got all this neat stuff here," Buffy explained, bending over and grabbing the pipe. "All the furniture and cars and techno doodads. Anything Angel's particularly fond of?"

"He's got one of those big screen TVs in his office," Spike said. "I thought his soul was gonna pop right out when they showed 'Lawrence of Arabia' on the Superstation."

"Hi Def?" Buffy asked, slapping the pipe against her open palm to test its heft. "You know, one of those expensive plasma screens?"

"Think so," Spike answered. "Why?"

Buffy tightened her grip on the pipe, took an experimental swing at the air, and said:

"Just curious."


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The Summer of Our Discontent

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: The Buffybot patrols Sunnydale during the summer following the Slayer's death, and comes to the rescue of an unlikely victim...Parker. Set during the summer between Seasons 5 and 6.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue


"You son of a...."

Parker braced for what he knew would come next. His face reflexively winced as Cindy's open hand struck his face.

There were basically three types: the Scowlers, the Howlers and the Smackers. The Scowlers basically put on a good front, covering their bruised egos with an "I-really-didn't-like-you-anyway" defiance. Those weren't so bad. The Howlers made a scene, getting all weepy, begging, crying, etc. They were embarrassing, to themselves more than anyone else. Then there were the Smackers. This one was a Smacker.

Parker shook off the slap, and said:

"Look, I understand your feelings. But understand my feelings. I connected with you, in a very real way. It was a beautiful moment. That's why I don't want to ruin that one, perfect time we had together by trying to...."

Smack!

"Prick," Cindy said, half exclaiming, half observing. She stormed off.

Parker sighed. Oh, well, he thought. At least the Smackers tended to storm off, and stay off. Nothing too clingy.

Besides, Parker thought as a smile crossed his face, mission accomplished. She was cute, too.

Parker threw a five dollar bill on the table, got up, and left the outdoor café. He'd used this particular coffee shop a few times to...extract...himself from a dalliance. He knew that two cappuccinos came to four dollars and eighty six cents. Twenty cents was enough for a tip, right?

Parker walked down the street on his way to the frat house. Summer parties were cool. Lots of local high school girls came out, providing good prospects until the school year started and new freshman girls could provide opportunities. Parker checked his watch. Cindy had taken longer than he'd expected. He'd need to hurry if he wanted to get to the party before everyone had hooked up. He decided to take a short cut down an alley to try to make up some time.

On his way down the alley, he heard a sound come from behind him. He turned around. Nothing. Probably just a cat.

He turned to continue, and saw a figure walking toward him. He recognized the face, and said under his breath:

"Crap."

It was that girl...what's her name...Bunny? No, Buffy. She was a Scowler-Howler-Smacker combo. He'd actually thought about trying to get another piece of her, after she'd helped him. That's when she'd turned into a Smacker. Quite a hard Smacker, actually. She'd used a stick. His jaw still made clicking sounds. Now, here she was again. Parker wondered why he would be running into her in a dark alley. Karma never occurred to him.

"Uh, hey," he said. "How ya doin'?"

Buffy, with a blank look, stated, rather matter-of-factly:

"You know Buffy."

Weird, he thought. She refers to herself in the third person, like that guy on that episode of Seinfeld. The one with the big shoes.

"Uh, yeah," Parker finally said. "Funny meeting you here."

"I know you," Buffy replied. "But I don't remember you. If you tell me your name, I will ask Willow who you are, and she will tell me. Willow explains things to me when I don't understand."

"Um, O.K. You sure you don't remember me?"

"But first," Buffy said, ignoring Parker's question, "I must slay the demon who is sneaking up on you. I will rescue you, which will save your life."

"What the...?"

"She's talking about me, punk," a voice behind Parker said.

Parker turned around. Standing behind him was a guy. A big guy. REALLY big. About seven foot tall. And wearing blue makeup. Blue makeup?

The demon lifted Parker off the ground by his shirt, and growled:

"Parker, right? The girl wants you to know what a jerk you are."

He tossed Parker against the alley wall.

Parker tried to stand. His whole body ached. He closed his eyes and shook his head to clear his vision. He opened his eyes, and couldn't believe them.

Buffy was fighting the blue giant. And...winning?

God, Parker thought, I knew this chick was weird after the last time, but Jeez.

Buffy had the demon up against the wall, pinning him with multiple blows to the face. She then threw the demon to the ground and said:

"Now I will kill you."

The demon, dazed as much by Buffy's statement of the obvious as by the head trauma, said:

"Huh?"

To accentuate the point, Buffy buried a stake into the demon's chest. Not being a vampire, he did not disintegrate. Being a creature with a necessary heart, he went limp and died.

Buffy exclaimed:

"Program completed. Awaiting next task."

Parker stood up. He said:

"That...thing...it tried to kill me! It was after me!"

"Yes, it was," Buffy said. "But I slayed it."

"Yeah," Parker said. "That's twice you saved me."

"I only know about this time," Buffy said.

"He...he said my name. He was after ME!"

"Yes," Buffy said. "Demons kill people. Some are just bad. Some are bad because they want something. Some, like Spike, are bad because they can't help themselves, and their dark, oozing badness makes them irresistible and...."

"What?!?"

"You must come with me," Buffy said. "Giles will know what to do. He has books."

"Uh, O.K."

Buffy strode down the alley. Parker followed wordlessly.


Part I.


"And you never saw this demon before?"

"Of course not," Parker replied to Giles' question. Giles, Willow, Tara and Spike sat around the table at the Magic Shop. Parker stood before them, hardly believing the story he'd told them, even after he'd told it.

"Well," Tara said. "It's good that you're O.K."

"Sort of," Willow muttered.

"Look," Parker said. "I have no idea what's going on. I just don't get it. Some blue guy comes up and tries to kill me. He said some girl sent him. Buffy fights it off, like some kind of ninja-girl. And she talks like she's narrating a documentary."

"Well, uh," Giles said, "Buffy's been through quite a lot, what with her mother passing away, having to suspend her studies...."

"...dealing with lecherous upper-classmen who seduce unsuspecting freshman girls and then dump them," Willow interjected.

"I think what Willow means to say," Giles said, "is that we really don't know much, but we are used to dealing with such things. Perhaps it would be best the...I mean, if Buffy and Spike took you someplace to stay. For safety."

"No problem," Parker said. "I don't want to be out on the streets by myself."

"And Lord knows you shouldn't be on the streets," Willow said, and then added, "by yourself."

"Spike," Giles said. "Buffy is in the training room. If the two of you would give Parker an escort, Willow, Tara and I can get to our research. Take him to Xander's apartment. Since he isn't even a student, there is no reason for anyone, or anything, to look for Parker there."

"Right," Spike said. "C'mon, mate, we'll go out the back."

Parker followed Spike into the back room.

"Willow, really," Giles said, "that wasn't productive."

"Yeah, but it felt good," Willow said. "Parker's a slime. He broke Buffy's heart. And a lot of other girls', too. Rah, rah, demon, I say."

"Willow," Giles said, "I understand your anger. But you must admit that murder is a rather extreme penalty for Parker's behavior."

"He's right," Tara agreed. "I mean, one of these girls is messing with dark forces. It could be dangerous."

"I know," Willow said. "I'm not saying we don't help him. I just don't see any harm in giving him a piece of my mind. So what do we do?"

"First, we make sure Parker is safely tucked away," Giles said. "Then the two of you should start looking for a girl who may have a reason to want to harm Parker."

"Alright," Willow said. "So what do we do next decade?"

"Honey," Tara admonished.

"Kidding," Willow said. "Well, exaggerating."

"Meanwhile," Giles continued, "we will have to work on refining the programming of the BuffyBot. Her ability to fight seems to be up to par, but her verbal reactions are obviously...well, obvious."

"I'll see what I can do," Willow said. "It's been rough, though. Trying to write a program to make her language spontaneous."

"It's imperative we overcome that obstacle," Giles stated. "If even a casual acquaintance like Parker can tell that there's something amiss, a demon will certainly notice."

"Not to mention Mr. Summers," Tara added. "The other night, the BuffyBot picked up the phone, and it was him. She started out the conversation saying, 'Hello, you're my estranged father. Your neglect of my development has caused me to seek out relationships with wankers and losers.' Thank god I grabbed the phone away from her. It was starting to sound like an afterschool special. Well, except for the slightly better dialogue."

"Well, Dawn has made it very clear that she wants to stay in Sunnydale," Giles replied. "And I really cannot blame her. In any event, it wouldn't do to have her leave our supervision. She's been exposed to some rather dark elements at an early age. An unknowing parent wouldn't be able to protect her from some of the seductive elements of that world."

"Spoken like a true reformed ex-teen rebel warlock," Willow said. "I'll start out with our yearbooks. If I scan the pictures, and put blurbs on the people Buffy knew into the robot's programming, it'll at least have a passable initial reaction to anyone she might meet. And I'll try to put in some of the wisecracks that Buffy uses. I mean, that she used to...."

The three paused for a moment at a reference to the real Buffy. It was still painful.

"Also, Willow," Giles said, trying to change the subject. "Spike has mentioned something. Normally I wouldn't give too much thought to the sensitivity of a vampire who's tried to kill most of us at one time or another, but his request seems reasonable. Besides, if we're going to keep the dark forces of Sunnydale at bay, we need all the assistance we can get." "Shoot," Willow said. "It concerns the robot's reactions to him," Giles explained. "It seems that it is still somewhat...amorous." "Well, I'll try to remove that," Willow said. "But it's pretty deeply ingrained in the programming. Of course, I can understand why Spike would be upset. I mean, it looks and sounds just like her. If I were Spike, I don't know how I'd react." "Spike knows how he'll react," Giles said. "He says that if the BuffyBot keeps making sexual comments, he'll tear it apart, quote, 'like a bloody Christmas present.' Since we need the robot even more than we need Spike...." "I'm on it," Willow said. "Very well," Giles said. "Let's get to it."


Part II.


"So, you're Parker?"

"Yep," he replied. "And you are...?"

"My name is Anya. I'm Xander's girlfriend. We live here. You'll be staying with us. I should point out that you'll be safe here."

"Thanks," Parker replied. "That's very nice of the two of you."

"I've reformed," Anya explained. "A few years ago I would have covered your body with throbbing sores. However, I've put that behind me. Also, I can't."

"Um, honey," Xander interjected. "Why don't you go get some sheets for the couch?"

Anya walked to the linen closet in the hall.

"Parker," Xander said, "I just need a minute to talk to Spike. I'll walk him and Buffy outside."

"Fine," Parker replied.

Xander, Spike and the BuffyBot exited the apartment and walked down to the street.

"Giles says keep the kid indoors," Spike said. "Once we've got this mess cleared up, we'll let you know."

"We help people," the BuffyBot interjected. "That way, they live longer."

"Well said," Xander replied. "Look, Spike, maybe the Bot should stay with us. If any more giant smurfs come by, Anya and I aren't going to be much good."

"Not a bad plan, that," Spike said. "Alright, the tin can stays here. We'll be in touch if we need her. I mean, it."

"Gotcha," Xander said.

Spike turned and walked back toward the Magic Box.

"He's walking away," the BuffyBot gleefully observed. "Do you see his firm bum?"

"Okay," Xander said. "First, a thousand times, no. Second, you can't see his...bum. He's wearing a trenchcoat."

"Well, you don't have to see it," the BuffyBot exclaimed. "You just know it's there. Sometimes I just close my eyes, and...."

"Um, Buffy," Xander interrupted. "You know what makes his...bum...even better?"

The BuffyBot's eyes widened.

"If you never mention it," Xander explained. "I bet that, if you go a full year without mentioning it again, Spike's posterior will be ten times better. But only if you never bring it up. Ever. Especially, and I cannot overemphasize this, especially when I'm around."

"Really," the Buffybot exclaimed. "But, how does that work? How does mentioning his tight buttocks make...?"

"Ah, there you go," Xander said. "You mentioned it. Now you have to start the year over."

The BuffyBot's microprocessors did a quick cost-benefit analysis, and determined that the possibility of an improvement to Spike's already perfect rear end was worth accepting the lack of data regarding its origin. Xander and the Bot walked back to his apartment in silence.


Part III.


"Yeah, we dated for awhile."

Willow and Tara listened to Jessica as best they could over the noise of the frat party.

Willow asked:

"So, how long ago?"

"Last semester," the Jessica replied. "My friends warned me about him. But he fed me a load of crap about how we had an incredible connection. He'd made mistakes with other girls, he had trouble opening up, I was different, he never felt so comfortable, blah, blah, blah."

Tara asked:

"So, what happened?"

"He dumped me," Jessica said. "He gave me some line about how we were too perfect to ruin it with a structured relationship. But it was obvious what happened."

Willow and Tara glanced at each other, not knowing what to say.

"My roommate went home for the weekend," Jessica explained. "I had the room to myself for the night. My roommate came back. Parker didn't."

"I'm sorry," Tara said.

"Yeah, me too," Jessica said. "So, which of you lucky girls is Parker after?"

"Um, me," Willow said. "But you've really opened my eyes. Thanks."

"No prob," she said. "Look, not that this isn't tremendous fun, but...."

"It's O.K.," Tara said. "Thanks for your help."

The girl walked off.

"Well, that was depressing," Tara said. "Do you think it was her?"

"Hard to say," Willow replied. "I was only half kidding when I told Giles that we'd have trouble just asking about people who would have a grudge against Parker. This will take forever."

"Well, we could try narrowing it down to people who have been around Parker recently. I mean, the last girl he was with would be the most likely suspect."

"That would be hit and miss," Willow said. "Who would we ask, and how would we be sure they were right? We could ask Parker himself, but I don't think he's very trustworthy."

"Yeah," Tara agreed. "Normally I'd say he'd do anything to help us, but I think the shock of what happened has probably worn off. By now, if he follows the typical pattern, he's probably rationalized the whole thing."

"A spell," Willow exclaimed.

"What?"

"There's a spell I found in a book Giles got in last week," Willow explained. "Basically, any person who's summoned a demon within the last phase of the moon will momentarily transform into the demon they summoned. If we cast it here, we just look for the girl who turns periwinkle."

"Willow," Tara said, "that sounds a little dangerous. I mean, if this girl get's demon powers, she'll be hard to deal with. She could hurt people. Plus, transformations are tricky. You remember what happened with Amy. This girl could get stuck in demon form. We're trying to stop her, not hurt her."

"Oh, that won't happen," Willow said. "Amy must have just gotten the biochemistry out of balance. I can do that easy. Besides, it will give me a chance to get some experience with corporeal invocation spells, so I'll be ready when we get the urn."

"Oh, I know you can do it," Tara said. "It's just, maybe we're moving a little too fast. I mean, we're talking about deep magic."

Willow recoiled.

"You mean with the demon, or with Buffy?"

"Both," Tara replied. "I mean...look, I don't like keeping this a secret from everyone. Especially Giles. If anyone knows how to deal with this sort of thing...."

"Giles isn't a warlock," Willow said. "And he'd only tell us not to try. Tara, we're blowing it. The vamp activity in town is down since we got rid of Glory. You kill a god, the lower beasts are going to lay low for awhile. But that won't last. We can get the BuffyBot as close as possible to the real Buffy, but it's not going to fool them forever. We need Buffy. The real Buffy. And I know that, wherever she is, she needs us. I can feel it. I know that this is why I was meant to become a witch. I have this power, and I know I can use it to make everything right again."

Tara dropped her eyes.

"Tara, we've got to do this," Willow said. "If we can't get the urn, we'll bring in Xander and Anya. They'll be able to use the Magic Box suppliers. But we can't bring on anyone who isn't going to be with us one-hundred percent. Not Dawn. Not Spike. And especially not Giles."

"And what do we say to Xander and Anya when they ask why Giles isn't helping?"

"Whatever we have to," Willow said. "It's Buffy. We do whatever it takes."

Tara sighed. "Look, I'll wait here while you're getting the spell from the Magic Box. I'll see if I can find this girl. If I can't, we'll do the spell."

"That's my girl," Willow said, kissing Tara on the cheek, and walking toward the door. Tara smiled weakly. She couldn't tell if she was trying to smile, or trying not to.

Tara walked toward the refreshment table, looking for a nonalcoholic beverage. Predictably, there was none. Jessica walked up beside her, grabbed a beer, and said:

"I hope I didn't disappoint your friend too much."

"No," Tara said. "It was probably good for her to hear."

"Yeah," Jessica replied. "I wish I had listened to the people who warned me about Parker. But I was stupid. You know, sometimes, you just want so much to feel wanted that you can't see the obvious."

"Yes," Tara said. "Or sometimes you see it, but you just can't...well, you just can't."

Jessica sighed, then walked back over to a group of her friends.

"Um, excuse me?"

Tara turned to face the voice behind her. A petite brunette was standing there.

"Um, hi," she said. "My name's Sandra. I heard you talking with Jessica. You weren't talking about Parker, were you?"

"Yes, I was," Tara replied. "Parker asked a friend of mine on a date, and...."

"They're not out now together, are they? I mean, she's not around Parker a lot?"

"Listen, Sandra," Tara said. "We're looking for a girl that Parker used to go out with. It's important that we find her."

"Oh, God," Sandra exclaimed. "He didn't have...something, did he? I mean, we were safe, and everything, but...."

"It's nothing like that," Tara said. "Parker's in trouble. Someone's trying to hurt him. We're looking for her."

"Well...um...look. Just tell your friend to stay away from Parker. It's...not a good idea to be around him right now."

Sandra turned to walk away.

"Sandra," Tara called out. "The blue guy's history. If anything else comes after Parker, we're going to have to do something about it. No one's gotten hurt yet. If someone does, everything changes."

Sandra stopped. She hung her head, then looked up, and said:

"I'm sorry. I just...I wanted...I don't know...oh, God, what do I do?"


Part IV.


"So how did you do it?"

"It was an accident, really, Mr. Giles," Sandra explained. "My aunt died about a year ago. She used to babysit me. Our family used to talk about how she was...strange...but every time I'd ask why, they'd avoid the issue. When she passed away, she left me some of her things. There were some books, and a few pieces of jewelry. I never really looked at them. Well, at first."

"But later you did," Willow interjected.

"I was sitting in my room," Sandra continued. "Parker had just...well, you know. I was feeling pretty down. I didn't want to go out, so I started going through Aunt Melba's things. The books were really creepy. One of them had a couple of paragraphs in some weird language. Some notes in my aunt's handwriting said that it was a revenge spell. I read some of the words out loud, and the next night they appeared."

Tara asked:

"You mean the blue guy...and who?"

"There were two of them," Sandra said. "One of them was blue, the other was red. I'd thought the spell hadn't worked. But the night after I read the spell, they showed up. They said they needed a couple of things to complete their 'mission.' They took a sweatshirt that Parker had left behind, and a pocket calculator. I was too stunned to ask what they needed them for. I never expected the spell to work. It was just...I don't know...a fantasy, I guess."

"A sweatshirt and a calculator," Willow repeated. "Maybe the demons were going to warm Parker up, and then...balance his checkbook?"

"I'm sure there's a more metaphysical significance than that," Giles said. "But in order to determine what, and to dispel the second demon, it would help if we had the spell book."

At that moment, Spike entered the magic shop.

"Mission accomplished," Spike said. "The kid's tucked away. I left the Bot over there to keep an eye on him."

"Good," Giles said. "Now, if you and Willow would go with this girl to her dormitory, she has a book that we require to complete our research. Tara and I will try to find what we can with the books here."

"Oh, bloody Hell," Spike said. "I didn't sign on with your little Scooby gang to play errand boy. If I don't get in a few good ass kickings soon, I'm turning free agent."

"If we are to give you your 'ass kickings,' as it were, we're going to need that book," Giles replied. "This girl summoned the demon. Once we have her spell book, we'll know where to find it."

"Fine," Spike said. "But if this all ends, and I haven't gotten in a few digs...."

"Don't worry, Spike," Willow said. "If history is any lesson, we'll all be in desperate, life-threatening danger by the end of the night."

"Promises, promises," Spike said.


Part V.


Sandra rifled through her closet. "I'm sure it's here somewhere."

"Well, be quick about it," Spike said.

"This is an impressive collection," Willow said, looking at the books on the shelf on the wall. "Your aunt must have been a powerful witch."

"I wouldn't really know," Sandra said from the closet. "I had no idea what she was doing."

A voice called from the hallway:

"Sandra?"

Sandra, Spike and Willow turned toward the voice. A young man stood in the hallway, peeking in through the open door.

"Oh, Andy," Sandra said. "Everyone, this is my friend, Andy. His room's on the floor downstairs."

"Hey, everybody," Andy said, giving a small waive. "What's up?"

"Andy," Sandra said. "Do you remember that book I showed you? The one I said I got from my aunt? With that spell I told you about?"

"The one you tried when that creep...um, yeah, I remember."

"Do you remember what I did with the book?"

"Well, you showed me that spell you tried to do. I told you not to be silly. You told me you weren't being silly. I told you to forget the jerk. You told me...."

"Andy, please," Sandra said. "This is important. Have you seen the book?"

"Yeah," Andy said. "I'm looking at it right now. You put it up on your bookshelf. The one with the red cover."

Willow pulled a book down from the shelf and asked:

"This one?"

"Yeah, that's the one," Andy confirmed. "So, what are you guys gonna do? Try to turn the RA into a toad?"

"The spell worked," Sandra replied. "There's something after Parker."

"Oh, come on," Andy said. "Look, Sandra, if you needed to let off a little steam about Parker, fine. Say 'abracadabra,' and let it go. But this really isn't healthy. Get a grip."

"Andy, it's real," Sandra said. "A blue demon and a red demon came to my room. One of them went after Parker, but these people have a friend who killed it. The red one is still out there. If anything happens to Parker, it's my fault."

Andy took a moment to absorb this.

"Look, Andy," Willow said. "These things are dangerous. But right now it doesn't look like anyone but Parker is threatened, and we've got him protected. You've got to keep this a secret. If anyone found out...."

At that moment, a red arm reached into the doorway, grabbed Andy by the back of the shirt, and threw him into the room. He went flying, but landed safely on the bed.

The red demon strutted into the room. Spike flashed his vamp face and stepped forward.

"Stop it," Willow said. "This is enough. Your mission is over. The girl no longer desires revenge."

"Too late," the red demon replied. "The piper has played. Now he's got to get paid. Those are the rules."

The red demon took a step forward. Spike lunged toward him, wrestling him to the ground. The demon threw Spike to the side. As he stood, Willow said:

"Combust!"

A small burst of flame shot from Willow's forehead, and struck the demon in his chest, stunning him for a moment. Spike took this opportunity to rise and shove the demon toward the window. The demon crashed through the glass and fell out of the building.

Stunned, Sandra asked:

"Will that kill it?"

"Not likely," Spike said. "I wasn't thinking. Now I'll have to run downstairs to finish him off."

"Not now, Spike," Willow said. "We've got to regroup. There are too many people here that can get hurt. We'll sneak back to the Magic Box."

"You've got to be kidding me," Spike said. "I've been lurking around ever since these guys showed up. I'm not in this for the reading. Besides, that Parker git's the only one this red bloke wants to hurt."

"It wasn't after Parker," Willow said. She turned to Sandra. "It was after you. It talked about a 'price.' Do you know what it was talking about?"

"I have no idea," Sandra said. "I really couldn't read much of the spell. There were some notes in English that said it was a vengeance spell, but I think the rest was in Greek or something."

"Latin," Andy corrected. "I remembered some of the words from midnight mass."

"Great," Willow said. "So we still don't know what we're dealing with. C'mon. We'll head back to the Magic Box. We'll translate the spell book. But we've got to get going. It won't take that demon long to get back."

"You can go out the side entrance," Andy suggested. "It leads out toward the woods. You should be able to get out unnoticed."

"You should come," Willow said. "We can't protect you otherwise."

"You said it yourself," Andy replied. "This thing is after Sandra. Being with you is a sure way to put myself into danger, not stay out of it."

"Kid's right," Spike said.

"Alright," Willow said. "Let's get going. And we've got to be quick about it."

Sandra, Willow and Spike started to leave. Andy called out:

"Sandra!"

Sandra turned. Andy continued:

"Um, be careful. Call me when you're sure you're OK."

Sandra nodded. The three of them scurried toward the stairwell.


Part VI.


"Try not to get too scared," Willow told Sandra as they stood at the counter of the magic box. "We deal with this sort of thing all the time."

"I just feel so stupid," Sandra said. "First I get duped by Parker. Then I do that spell. I never really wanted to hurt him. I mean, I did, but I wouldn't have actually gone through with it. Does that make any sense?"

"Of course it does," Willow said, remembering the spell she'd planned for Oz and Veruca. "I've been through this sort of thing myself. It helps if you have someone to talk to. Like your friend Andy, for example. He seemed nice."

"Yeah, he is," Sandra agreed. "He's real easy to talk to. A real friend. He's not like most guys. You know, where you're always worried that they're going to hit on you? Andy's not like that. He was really there for me, especially after what happened with Parker."

"I think we've found it," Giles said, looking up from the table where he, Spike and Tara were sitting. Willow and Sandra walked toward the table.

"According to this," Giles explained, "the spell calls forth two demons, called Tylorots. The blue Tylorot does the bidding of the witch."

"The second one is kind of a balancing demon," Tara continued. "It keeps the forces evened out. Basically, whatever the witch orders the blue demon to do to her enemy, the red demon does to the witch. It's kind of like a safety net. The spell keeps the witch from doing too much harm, because whatever she does, she has done back to her."

"What I don't understand is how you managed to cast this spell in the first place," Giles said. "This isn't a minor illusion or simple force spell. The incantation would need to be pronounced perfectly. Not to mention the fact that the actual instructions to the demon must be given in Latin, and a rather obscure Latin dialect, at that. Plus, without any experience in spell casting, I'd be surprised if you could have the proper mental balance to execute the enchantment."

Willow asked:

"Is there anything in there about the sweatshirt and the calculator."

"Not specifically," Giles said. "But it does say that the Tylorots need objects owned by both the target of the spell and the witch. It gives the demons an aura to read, so they can locate their victims."

"So the blue Tylorot took the sweatshirt so he could find Parker," Tara surmised. "And red guy took the calculator so he could find Sandra."

"Exactly," Giles said. "Which means we should prepare for this demon's arrival. He'll be able to find Sandra wherever she goes, so it's probably best to make a stand here."

"Perfect," Spike said. "Finally, enough of the bookworming."

"It wasn't mine," Sandra said.

The Scoobies turned to look at Sandra.

"The calculator," Sandra explained. "It wasn't mine. It's Andy's. He loaned it to me for my calculus class."

"Well, that's odd," Giles said. "It's hard to imagine that the demon wouldn't have sensed that the object wasn't in fact...."

"Giles," Willow said, "Andy recognized the writing in the spell book as Latin."

Giles removed his glasses and considered this.

"Yeah," Spike added. "And the little bugger made sure that we wouldn't take him with us back here."

"Tara," Giles said. "Call Xander. Tell him we need the BuffyBot."

"I don't understand," Sandra said. "What are you all talking about?"

"There isn't time to explain," Giles said. "We have to act quickly. Sandra, where would Andy go if he wanted to hide?"


Part VII.


Andy slowly climbed down into the cave on the hillside. He couldn't help but smirk at the irony. He'd taken Sandra here once after they'd first met to look at the stars. He'd hoped that, with the right setting, he'd be able to work up the nerve to...well, here he was again.

He opened up the knapsack he'd hastily packed on his way out of the dorm. He had a couple of cans of ravioli, his reading for English Lit class, a change of socks....

"Did you really think I wouldn't find you?"

Andy looked up. The red Tylorot was standing at the mouth of the cave. The demon jumped down and stood before Andy.

"Time to pay," the Tylorot sneered.

"Listen," Andy said. "Deal's off. Your partner blew it. He got killed before he could hold up his end of the bargain. The way I see it, I don't owe you anything."

"That's not how it works," the demon replied. "The payment is for the summoning. For calling forth the power. You owe."

Andy swallowed hard. What could he do? Sue?

"Alright," Andy sighed. "Get it over with."

The Tylorot took a step forward.

"Hey, red! Up here!"

The demon looked up, and saw Spike perched above.

Spike looked over his shoulder, and asked Giles:

"Now? Ass kicking?"

"Oh, yes," Giles said. "Let the kicking begin."

Spike sprang down onto the demon, forcing him into the cave wall, and delivered a sharp blow to the demon's face with his elbow.

"My turn," the BuffyBot interjected, jumping down to the floor of the cave. The demon forced Spike away, only to receive a roundhouse kick to the face from the BuffyBot. Giles, Willow, Tara and Sandra began climbing down toward Andy.

The Tylorot punched the BuffyBot in the face. Sparks flew as wires sprang from the robots forehead. The demon grabbed the robot by the throat and lifted it off the ground.

"Spike," Giles called, tossing a short sword toward the vampire. Spike caught the sword in midair and drove it through the demon's back. The Tylorot let out a gasp, and then collapsed to the ground.

The Scoobies gathered around the demon's corpse, and then turned to look at Andy.

"Um, I guess you want an explanation," Andy said.

"Yes," Giles said. "I believe that would be in order."

Andy bit his bottom lip, then said:

"My mother was a witch. She wasn't into it heavy, but when I was younger, she taught me a few things. Simple magic, like how to make my toys put on their own puppet show. Then one day I levitated the cat into the ceiling fan. My dad put a stop to the magic lessons."

"An understandable reaction," Giles replied. "However, I suppose you remembered some of what your mother taught you?"

"A few little things," Andy admitted. "Not much. It helped that I took a couple of years of Latin in high school. It kind of refreshed my memory."

"That explains the spell," Willow said. "You could read the text."

"Yeah," Andy said. "After Sandra showed it to me, I snuck the book out of her room. It was a little more complicated than anything I'd seen before. But I could read it. I was kind of glad that Sandra couldn't do it. She would never have known about the red demon."

"So you decided to do the spell yourself," Tara said. "That wasn't very bright. Those demons could have killed both of you."

"I didn't order the demon to kill Parker," Andy retorted. "I just told it to rough him up. Teach him a lesson."

"You knew about the red demon," Sandra said. "What were you thinking? You knew it would come after you. Why would you bring that on yourself? I don't get it."

"You don't get it," Andy said. "Yeah, I guess you wouldn't."

Andy walked past the Scoobies and climbed up to the mouth of the cave. He turned, and called down:

"You know, Sandra, sometimes you're so dense, I'm surprised you don't have your own gravity."

Andy walked away into the night.

Sandra blinked. She got it. The Scoobies exchanged glances. They got it. Spike looked at the BuffyBot, then looked away. He really got it.

"Willow," the BuffyBot said. "My circuits have sustained minor damage. Should I return to the house for repairs, do my usual patrol, or give Spike a neck rub?"

Spike shot Willow an angry glance, pushed his way past the Scoobies, and then climbed out of the cave.

"Um, Buffy," Willow said. "We'll go back to the house. I've got to do some repairs. And there's some other...changes...I have to make."


Epilogue


"You see," Parker said, "I don't really get anything out of these parties. Normally it's just a bunch of stupid conversation that doesn't mean anything. But you're different. I feel like I can really connect with you."

"Wow," the girl said. "You know, I was just thinking the same thing. You're not like the guys I knew in high school. You're...deep."

Score, Parker thought.

"Listen," Parker said. "I've got this great book on the philosophy of social dynamics back at my dorm room. You should read it sometime. Normally I wouldn't recommend it to a freshman, but I can tell you're way beyond most girls."

"Um, OK," the girl replied. "Um, maybe I could come by and we could...read it together?"

"That would be great," Parker said. "Hey, what did you say your name was?"

"Blue."

"What?!?"

"Baleu," the girl repeated. "Jennifer Baleu. Hey, is there something wrong?"

"Um, no," Parker said, trying to keep his jaw from trembling. "Uh...listen...maybe I should just call you."

THE END


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Urban Warfare

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: While Riley and Sam look for the Suvolte and The Doctor, Graham searches Sunnydale for the buyer. Set during Season 6 "As You Were" episode of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

Read This Fic »

Prologue

"Is it moving?"

"Yes, ma'am," Graham replied, adjusting the tint on the monitor. He clicked a few buttons on his keyboard, and a map of Sunnydale was superimposed over the screen.

"Where is it?" Sam asked, leaning over Graham's shoulder.

"Moving fast down Main Street," Graham replied.

"That's my boy," Sam said. "Any chance of catching up to it?"

"If you move out now," Graham said. "It's headed toward the river, so you should be able to cut it off."

"If Riley's got a tag on the Suvolte, we can track it within a fifteen-mile radius," Major Ellis noted. "Sam, get out there and back him up."

"Cool," Sam said, pulling her kevlar sweater over her head. "You coming?"

"One of us has to go after the buyer," Graham answered.

"Agreed," Major Ellis confirmed. "Hit the streets. You used to live here. First set up a relay network to link all of us to the tracking system. Then check out your sources. I'll radio HQ and update them as to our status."

"Yes, sir," Graham replied.

Major Ellis walked out of the room and climbed the stairs to the secured radio room.

"Sounds like we have a plan," Sam said, grabbing a GPS. "What frequency are we using?"

"Fourteen, oh, nine," Graham said. "Keep in touch."

"Gotcha," Sam said. "Um...you think he found her?"

Graham shrugged.

"Not that I'm worried," Sam said, wrapping her dark hair with a band. "I mean, why would I worry? I don't have any reason to worry. Do I?"

Again, Graham shrugged.

"Graham, this is no time for your trademark economy of conversation."

"What do you want me to say?" Graham asked.

"Say I don't have any reason to worry."

"You don't," Graham said.

"Gee, that was reassuring," Sam said.

"Sam, he's crazy about you," Graham said. "Buffy worked him over. I broke them up. With you, I didn't stand a chance."

Sam's eyes widened. "You tried to...?"

"Oh, yeah," Graham said. "I didn't think it was a good idea for him to date another Wonder Woman with a funny name."

"And now?"

"Let's just say Riley refuses to tell me if you have a sister."

Sam laughed. She walked over, kissed Graham on the cheek and said:

"Her name's Nicole. She's twenty, she likes horses, and she'll be at our house for Thanksgiving. You're invited."

Sam turned and trotted out of the front door of the safe house. Graham got up, opened his duffle bag, pulled out his civilian clothes, and silently wondered why Riley always saw the good ones first.


Part I.


"Hey, Randall."

"Graham?" Randall asked, standing in the front doorway of his apartment.

"In the flesh," Graham replied. "Can I come in?"

"Uh, sure," Randall said, taking a step back and gesturing for Graham to enter. Randall grabbed a cane that rested against the arm of a chair and hobbled a few steps backward. "Want a drink?"

"Coffee, if you have it," Graham said. "I've been up for about two days."

"If you don't mind instant coffee, you're on," Randall said, limping toward the kitchen. He gestured toward a recliner in the living room. Graham took a seat.

"So, how've you been?" Graham called.

"Not bad," Randall shouted from the kitchen. "I didn't expect to see you again."

"I'm just in town tonight," Graham explained. "How's the leg?"

"I have good days and bad days," Randall said as the microwave timer beeped. "It's better than it would have been if we hadn't gotten out of the Initiative. That Eituron demon really tore me up bad."

"We were all lucky to get out," Graham stated. "So, you decided to stay in Sunnydale?"

"Where else could I go?" Randall observed, walking into the room with a coffee mug. He handed the mug to Graham, and sat on the couch "The army doesn't have any use for a demon hunter with a bum leg. I got a job with a local hospital. I work in the blood lab. It's not as exciting as analyzing demon secretions, but it pays the bills."

"Well, at least it worked out," Graham said, placing the mug on the coffee table. "Look, I need a favor."

"Shoot."

"There's a guy in town," Graham said. "Calls himself The Doctor. He's trying to get his hands on some Suvolte eggs."

"Suvolte? Aren't they some kind of flesh eaters?"

"Exactly," Graham confirmed. "And they breed like rabbits. Heard anything?"

"Hell, I'm not exactly plugged into the demon doings anymore," Randall replied. "Every so often a blood sample comes through the lab that looks a little funny. If I see any vamp cells, I sneak down to the morgue to stake the corpse before it rises, but past that...."

"Any unusual characters in town?"

"Not that I've heard," Randall said.

"Well, it never hurts to ask," Graham said. "So, how's the job? You know, if you want a little more excitement, I could probably get you a job with the SubT unit at the CDC."

"I might just take you up on that," Randall said. "The job at the hospital is pretty lame. Standard stuff, lousy pay."

"Can't be that lousy," Graham replied. "You deposited twenty thousand dollars into a bank account last Tuesday."

Randall's jaw dropped. "You've been checking up on me?"

"We never stopped," Graham said. "The way I see it, whoever's picking up those eggs needs someone to help store them before he moves them. Someone, maybe, who used to guard a containment area for the government?"

"You're just fishing," Randall said.

"Cops fish," Graham replied. "I don't need to worry about due process. Of course, I'll bet that if I get this coffee analyzed, it would give me all the proof I need. What's in here? Knock out drops? Or something more lethal?"

"Nothing lethal," Randall said, pulling a small pistol out from his jacket pocket. "I didn't want to kill you. But I will."

Graham didn't flinch. "So, how are we gonna play this?"

"I'm walking out of here, and you're going to drink your coffee," Randall said. "I was planning on leaving Sunnydale after the deal went down. Now I guess I'll have to."

"I'd be careful about choosing the next town," Graham said. "If you pick one that those terrorists plant the Suvolte in, you'll be an appetizer. Along with thousands of innocent people."

"Oh, don't hand me that holier than thou crap! I did my time as a Boy Scout! And what do I have to show for it? A knee that's hooked together like an erector set! And what did I get from Uncle Sam? Two months discharge pay and a pat on the back!"

"You knew the risks."

"Yeah, well, now I really know them," Randall said, pushing himself up with his cane and inching toward the door. "And once we've picked up the eggs from The Doctor, I'll be on tonight's red eye to Rio, and I'll never have to deal with any creepy crawlies again."

"Tonight," Graham repeated. "The only way that happens is if the Suvolte's already laid its eggs. Thanks for the info."

Randall looked away for a moment as he realized that he'd given away too much. That moment was all Graham needed to snatch the coffee mug and throw its contents into Randall's face. Randall instinctively threw his hands in the air, dropping the gun. Graham sprang across the room, knocked Randall to the ground, and drew his pistol from its ankle holster.

"Not bright, Randall," Graham stated, as Randall looked directly into the barrel of Graham's gun. Graham reached into his back pocket, grabbed his radio, and said:

"This is Agent Miller."

"Go on, Miller," Major Ellis' voice said through the radio.

"I've got Randall," Graham said. "We'll need someone to come pick him up. He was in on it."

"He say anything?"

"The Doctor's got the eggs," Graham said. "We'll need to move fast."

"Faster than you think," Ellis replied. "Riley and Sam radioed in. That girl Riley was looking for. She killed the Suvolte."

"It was supposed to be a tag and track," Graham said.

"Apparently she didn't know that. Riley forgot to tell her."

"Great," Graham said.

"Riley's in your quadrant," Ellis said. "I'll have him meet with you. Anything you get from Randall could lead you to either the buyer or The Doctor."

"Affirmative. Miller out."

Graham pulled back the hammer of the pistol. "It'll go easier on you if you talk."

"Bite me," Randall replied.

Graham shrugged, then walked over and kicked Randall across the jaw, knocking him out. He holstered his pistol and began rifling through Randall's pockets.


Part II.


Graham was studying the materials he'd laid out on Randall's coffee table when he heard a knock on the front door. First one sharp knock, then three light knocks, then two sharp. That was the signal. Graham went to the door. When he opened it, Riley was standing before him.

"Took you long enough," Graham said, gesturing for Riley to enter.

"Got tied up," Riley replied, entering the apartment. He glanced over at Randall's unconscious body on the floor. "You really must've clobbered him."

"I stuck a knockout tab under his tongue," Graham explained. "Where you been? It's been an hour since you killed the Suvolte."

"We regrouped at Buffy's," Riley explained.

"Why not the safe house?"

"We need Buffy to hit the local demon haunts," Riley said. "I didn't want to give the location to a civilian."

"How is she?"

"Alright, I suppose," Riley said. "I mean, she seems a little...I dunno. She was working at some burger joint when I found her. It's like she's not in the game. I barely recognized her. I mean, I read in Buffy's dossier that her mom died, but I completely forgot to tell her I was sorry when I saw her. It's like she's a completely different person. I knew things would be awkward, but I get the feeling she's been going through something weird. Something must have really shaken her up, and I don't mean her mom. Giles would never have left if...."

"Riley," Graham interrupted.

"Yeah?"

"I was asking if she got hurt by the Suvolte."

"Oh...um...no."

"In town two hours," Graham sighed, "and already...."

"It's cool," Riley said. "I wasn't sure it would be, but it is. Sure, she still gets to me, but not that way. I'm just concerned the way I'd be over any old friend in trouble."

"Yeah, right," Graham said. "I noticed how upset you were about Randall."

"Can we just get to business?"

"Sure," Graham said. "I think I found something."

Graham picked up a sheet of paper off the coffee table and handed it to Riley.

"Hmm," Riley said, his eyes darting over the paper. "These blueprints, I know this place. Looks like they're doing the exchange at the coffee shop over by the Magic Box. I wonder why."

"They sell ice cream," Graham noted. "They'll probably need cold storage."

"To keep the eggs from hatching," Riley said. "That makes sense. At least they know how to keep the litter dormant."

"They buyer does," Graham said. "This Doctor may not. We still need to find him."

"So what do we do? I thrashed Willy, but he doesn't know anything. If we...hey, what's this?"

Graham looked at the scribbling Riley pointed out. Notes in the margins of the blueprints read:

-$10,000
-Set up storage.
-Get three guards, $1000 each.
-MUST be human. The Doctor can't hurt people.
-Charter flight, Ecuador.

"The Doctor can't hurt people," Riley read aloud.

"Yeah, weird," Graham said. "Humanitarian smuggler. Must've been absent on Career Day."

"It says can't," Riley said. "If you take that literally, it would...Graham, did you just make a joke?"

"Maybe."

Riley reached into one of the cargo pockets of his pants. He pulled out a packet of smelling salts.

"What are you doing?" Graham asked.

"Waking up Randall," Riley said. "If The Doctor is who I think he is, I need some answers."

"Who is it?"

"Remember Hostile 17?"

"The vamp? Well, it would fit, if that chip still works."

"It doesn't fit," Riley said. "Spike's done some messed up things for power and women, but to go through all this for money isn't his style. We don't have time to chase after him if I'm wrong, so we'll need to confirm it."

"Wait," Graham said. He walked over to the clock on the wall and rotated the hands until the time read 5:00 a.m. He glanced at Riley, who nodded, then knelt down beside Randall and broke a smelling salt under his nose.

"Ugh," Randall said, shaking his head in disgust. "What the...?"

"Hey, Randall," Riley said. "Long time, no see. I hear you've been up to no good."

"Go to Hell, Finn," Randall said, leaning up on his elbows. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to take you into custody," Riley said. "You're lucky. We were able to nab the whole gang before the deal went down. Good thing. If those eggs had left Sunnydale, the brass would want a scapegoat. As it is, you may only get twenty years."

"Lucky me," Randall sighed.

"I don't get it, Randall," Riley said. "What were you thinking? Did you really think that a vamp would play straight with you?"

At the word 'vamp,' Randall swallowed hard. There was no way they could know about the vampire, unless they'd actually caught him in the act.

"He's harmless," Randall finally responded. "I'm surprised you didn't recognize him."

Riley and Graham quickly met eyes. Riley continued:

"I thought he looked familiar. So that's why you used him? You both knew you could stake him if he double crossed you."

"Yeah," Randall said. "Professor Walsh made sure of that. The code name was my idea. Surgery that keeps him from hurting people. 'The Doctor' seemed appropriate."

"Stupid," Riley said. "He may be a vamp, but he's not the sharpest stake in the woodshed. A plan like this is way beyond him. I'm surprised he'd even try. What good is money to him anyway?"

"He said something about a human girl," Randall said. "She's hard up for cash since her mom died. He wanted to help her out."

Graham saw Riley's jaw tense.

"So this vamp thought he'd get into this girl's pants by giving her money?" Riley asked.

"He's already in there," Randall said. "He said he's been nailing her for a couple of months. He said he hoped she'd quit her job at some fast food place if she got the money, so he wouldn't have to smell the grease on her when they...ugh!"

Randall's body contracted into a ball as Riley's punched him in the stomach. Riley stood and began kicking Randall in the ribs.

"Finn, that's enough!" Graham exclaimed, grabbing Riley by the arms from behind. Riley gave Randall a last kick across the face, knocking Randall into unconsciousness.

"You take the coffee shop," Riley said, shaking off Graham's grasp. "I'll take care of the eggs. Spike's just stupid enough to keep them in his crypt."

"Riley," Graham said. "I'll take the vamp. You're not exactly objective."

"I'm fine," Riley said. "It's not like you think."

"It sure looked like it."

"I'm fine," Riley repeated. "I'll radio Sam and have her meet you at the coffee shop. You'll need backup."

"And you won't? Sam's already at the cemetery."

"I can take care of a neutered vampire on my own."

"Are you sure it's not because you don't want Sam around when you see this vampire?"

"I said I can handle it," Riley said, storming out of the apartment.


Part III.


"See anything?"

"Nothing," Graham muttered. Sam snapped her fingers, and Graham passed her the binoculars.

"Riley sounded upset," Sam observed, peering at the courtyard outside the coffee shop.

Graham shrugged.

"Don't start on that again," Sam said.

"We're on a stakeout," Graham said. "We're supposed to be silent. Your hubby's had problems with that concept, too."

"It has something to do with Buffy, doesn't it?"

"We've been through this," Graham said. "He loves you."

"I know," Sam said. "It's just...you know, I did everything I could to put up a good front. I was nice to all her friends. I tried to warm up to her sister. I even tried to connect with her while we were searching for The Doctor. It's just...grrrr! Why do I feel this way?"

"Sam," Graham said. "You graduated med school at age twenty. You went through two years of commando training in ten months. Has anyone ever told you that you don't have to be perfect all the time? So there's one problem you can't fix by doing everything just right? So what? Cut yourself some slack. You deserve it."

"Thanks," Sam said. "I needed that. It's just frustrating. I mean, seeing her. With him. I love Riley, and I trust him. But, seeing them together...knowing they're together when I don't see them...it's so...I dunno. It's stupid. Jealously is stupid. You ever been jealous like that, Miller?"

Graham's eyes didn't leave the entrance to the coffee shop. He shrugged. Sam saw a subtle twitch of his cheek, and he seemed to swallow almost....

Sam looked at Graham, suddenly reevaluating the time they'd spent together. They'd always flirted. Innocently, Sam had thought. All part of being one of the guys. Was it possible that Graham...?

"Um, look," Sam said. "If there's something...."

"Heads up," Graham whispered. "Company."

Sam looked toward the coffee shop. Four men walked past the outdoor tables and through the entrance.

"They're human," Graham said. "Watch the force level."

Sam and Graham crept toward the door. Graham looked in through the small window of the door and saw the four thugs talking with a fifth man. Graham whispered:

"I know him."

"Who?" Sam asked.

"The boss," Graham said. "Some English guy. We kept him in one of the containment units at the Initiative for a couple of weeks until the Feds picked him up. He's some kind of warlock wannabe. Ethan...something."

"Any weapons?" Sam asked.

"Stakes," Graham said. "That fits."

"Why?"

"The Doctor's a vamp."

"A vampire?" Sam asked. "Why would Riley be upset that The Doctor is...Buffy's boyfriend, before Riley, he was a vampire, wasn't he?"

"It's not what you're thinking," Graham said. But you're close, he thought without saying.

"How am I supposed to know what to think? No one's telling me...."

"Guns up, soldier," Graham said. "We're live."

Sam gritted her teeth, and nodded.

Graham took a step back and kicked in the door. He dropped to his knees and rolled into the room. The guards sprang on him. Graham kicked one in the stomach, and backhanded the other one in the same motion. As the other two approached, Sam tripped them with a roundhouse kick. Graham kicked one across the face, as Sam dropped to the ground, elbowing the final minion in the jaw. Graham and Riley left the four unconscious minions on the ground, and looked across the room toward Ethan.

"Still up to your old tricks?" Graham asked.

"New tricks," Ethan Rayne replied. "And much more profitable."

"How'd you get out of custody?"

"A little sleight of hand," Ethan said. "Something like this."

Ethan slapped his hands together and muttered under his breath. A flash of bright light filled the room, blinding Graham and Sam for a moment. When their vision returned, they found themselves standing before a group of six men, all of whom appeared to be Ethan Rayne.

"Only one's real," Ethan said.

"The rest are copies," one of the doubles continued.

"You can't stop all of us," a third completed.

Sam looked at Graham. Graham nodded. Sam pulled a round object from one of her cargo pockets. She pulled a pin from the grenade and threw it toward the group of Ethans. With synchronized timing that came from months of fighting together in the jungle, Sam and Graham simultaneously jumped backwards. Graham grabbed the edge of a table and pulled it over him and Sam for cover. They braced as the explosion drove the table down upon them.

Graham pushed the table away, and he and Sam stood and surveyed the damage. All six Ethans lay still on the floor. Then five melted into pools of flourescent pink goo. The sixth groaned and muttered:

"Alright, maybe you can."

Graham rolled his eyes. Sam pulled a pistol out of her belt and covered Ethan. Graham grabbed his radio and said:

"This is Agent Miller, do you copy?"

"Copy, Miller," Major Ellis replied.

"Buyer's in custody. Awaiting orders."

"Good work, Miller," Ellis said. "Riley radioed in about an hour ago. They got the eggs. We're sending a chopper to pick him up in front of some magic store."

"That's about three blocks from here," Graham said. "We'll rendevous with him in fifteen minutes. Better send a team to pick up the prisoners."

"Roger that," Ellis confirmed. "It may take awhile to extract you. We can only take two at a time on the wench line."

"Wench line?" Graham repeated. "Why doesn't the chopper just land?"

"Finn's idea," Ellis explained. "He said something about minimizing civilian contact. Sounded strange to me, too. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was trying to impress somebody."

Graham could see Sam's face fall.

"Never mind," Graham said. "I'll hoof it back to the safe house. Miller out."

Graham put his radio away and walked over to Sam.

"Ellis is right, isn't he?" Sam asked. "Riley's trying to look like a big man in front of...." "Yeah," Graham interrupted. "He was always trying to impress Buffy's friends. Finn spent a lot of time with that whole gang. He's probably trying to show off in front of them by floating away with a gorgeous commando on his arm."

Sam smiled.

"Graham, look," she said. "I think we should talk...."

"You'd better get going," Graham again interrupted. "You wouldn't want to disappoint John Boy, would you?"

"I guess."

"Put on your game face," Graham said. "It's only up the street."

"Right," Sam said. She walked toward the door, paused for a moment, and walked out.


Epilogue


"You let him go?!?"

"I got the eggs, Graham," Riley explained, packing up one of the radios in the safe house. "The Doctor was never an objective."

"Killing demons is always the objective," Graham said through clenched teeth.

"Keep it down," Riley said. "Ellis and Sam are upstairs. If you're going to critique my decisions, don't broadcast it to the whole team."

"I don't believe this," Graham said. "Every human involved in this mess is going to Federal lock down for at least ten years. That includes Randall. And you let a vampire off with a harsh glare?"

"He's harmless."

"He was smuggling breeder demons!"

"Ellis doesn't care," Riley said. "I'm not sure why you care so much."

"I listened to that line you fed him," Graham said. "About respecting the Slayer's territory after the Initiative fiasco."

"And it was true," Riley said. "The brass has made it real clear. Sunnydale's off limits, barring special circumstances."

"That's bull," Graham spat. "I know what you did, and I know why."

Riley glared at Graham. "And you shared that with...?"

"No one," Graham interrupted. "Not Ellis. Not...anyone."

"Good," Riley said. "Look, Graham, let's just drop it. We're headed for Nepal. After we leave Sunnydale, none of this matters, right?"

Graham didn't respond.

"Is Sam alright?" Riley asked.

"I guess," Graham said. "I'm sure it wasn't easy for her, but I think she handled it well. She suspects there was a reason you called her off The Doctor. You may have some explaining to do. She's feeling a little vulnerable, but you know Sam. She'll be fine once...."

"Graham," Riley interrupted.

"What?"

"I was asking if she got hurt by the explosion," Riley said.

"Oh, um...no. She's fine."

"Good," Riley said. "What the Hell were you...?"

"Get that radio stowed," Graham said. "We'll need it in Nepal."

Graham turned his back to Riley and started gathering up the tactical maps. Riley shot a curious glance at Graham, and then continued packing up the radio.

THE END


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What You Wish For

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Oz goes on the road after finding out about Willow and Tara, but must return to Sunnydale.
Rating: PG-13.
Tone: Way too serious.
Quality: Probably stinks, written on a lark.
Feedback: Yeah, sure
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like.

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Prologue


A broken guitar string can be embarrassing, even for a werewolf.

Oz had just finished the last verse of "A Pirate Looks at Forty" when he felt one of his strings give away under his pick. The last chord sounded horrible. He laughed, and shook his head. The crowd (if you can call twelve people a crowd) laughed with him.

"Well, I guess that's my last song," Oz said into the microphone. "I guess the Higher Powers are telling me to avoid the acoustic sets. Good night, everyone." He lifted a beer pitcher full of dollars and change into the air, and added:

"Tip well. It looks like I have to go shopping at the music store tomorrow."

The crowd laughed again, and applauded. Oz handed the pitcher down to a couple at a small table near the stage. The man reached into his wallet, threw a bill into the pitcher, and passed it along. Oz walked off the stage over to the table near the corner of the bar where he had left his guitar case.

As he was packing his guitar away, a man came up to the table. He was young. In fact, he looked too young to be in a bar. However, he held two beers in his hand. He said:

"That was a good set."

"Thanks," Oz responded, closing the latches on his guitar case. "The Buffett stuff isn't exactly my style, but this didn't look like the crowd for Velvet Underground." A waitress came by with the tip pitcher, and put it on the table. Oz took out the money, and did a quick count. Twenty-three dollars and some change. Not bad for an open mike night.

The man gestured toward Oz with the beer in his left hand and asked:

"Drink? It's on me."

"No thanks," Oz replied. "I'm on a...special...diet. Mostly herbs. Alcohol could...um...throw it off balance."

"Oh, come on! One beer can't hurt."

Oz considered this. He'd only lost control when he was around Willow. Willow was nowhere near. Oz said:

"Alright. One beer."

"O.K.," the man said. "My name's Benny."

"I'm Oz."

"Pleasure," Benny said. "Hey, do you mind if I ask you some questions. I'm taking guitar lessons, and I could use some pointers."

"No problem," Oz said.

Benny sat down. For about an hour, Benny and Oz talked chords, choruses, and keys. One beer turned into two. Then a third. Then a fourth. After the bar was empty, Benny asked:

"So, how did you end up in this little one-horse town?"

"I broke up with my girlfriend," Oz said, the slightest hint of a slur in his voice. "Actually, we'd already broke up. I...had some stuff to sort out, so I took a little road trip. I went back, but she was already...involved...with someone. So I went back on the road."

"Oh, that sucks, man. I bet you just wanted to beat the crap out of this new dude."

"Um...well...I did want to...I mean...it wasn't a dude, dude."

"Oh, man! You mean...?"

"Yeah," Oz said. "I mean."

"Man," Benny repeated. "That's harsh. I mean, when you left, was it for another chick?"

"No."

"So you came back, and she wouldn't even give you a chance?"

"Well, I wouldn't say...."

"Oh, come on, man! When you found out she was with some chick, you weren't ticked off?"

"Well, of course," Oz said. "But, I mean...well...yeah. It bothered me. I mean, I'm not like that. I don't judge people based on their...preference. But Willow. I mean...yeah...it bothered me."

"Man, don't you just wish her and that other chick would just, I don't know, get hit by a bus...or eaten by lions...or...."

"Nah," Oz said. "I could never wish anything bad on Willow."

"Well, what about this other chick? Couldn't you just...."

"I could have," Oz interrupted. "I had the chance. But it's not her fault. I mean, it did bother me that...it was a woman. I know it shouldn't."

"Oh, come on, man! You're only human!"

"Well, if I was only human, it would have simplified things," Oz said. "But...I don't know...I was prepared when I went back for the possibility that she might have met someone. But...."

"It would have been easier if it was a guy? Someone you could just haul off and hit?"

"Yeah," Oz said. "That would have been easier. I know that's wrong. I mean, it's not very...enlightened. But yeah, if it had to happen, I would have rather it have been a guy."

"Yeah, and some jerk, too! I mean, if it was some real jerk she was involved with, you wouldn't feel so bad. You know, if it was someone who didn't treat her right, you could have gotten her back, right?"

"Well," Oz said, "I never thought of it that way. But yeah, I think I would have had a pretty easy time getting her away from...oh, I don't know, maybe Spike." Oz laughed at the thought.

"Who's Spike?"

"He's...a really bad guy. Pure evil, actually."

"I bet if this guy Spike had been her new boyfriend, that would have taught her a lesson. Showed her that there are worse things than a guy who needs to take a little break."

"I suppose that I could have beat Spike out for her a lot easier than Tara," Oz agreed. "And, yeah, she'd certainly appreciate me more if she'd been putting up with Spike awhile."

"So, if she had to be dating someone, you'd wish it was this Spike guy?"

"Yeah," Oz said, and then laughed. The idea was amusing. God, I must really be drunk, Oz thought to himself. He looked into the bottom of his empty beer mug, and completed the thought, saying:

"I wish that Willow would dump Tara, and her and Spike would become an item, so I could go and get her back."

Oz looked up from his glass and saw Benny. Or what was Benny. Benny had suddenly developed a wrinkled, oily skin. His eyes were midnight black. For the first time, Oz noticed that he wore a pendant around his neck. It now glowed with a pale green light. In a harsh, deep voice, Benny said:

"Done."

Oz blinked, and Benny had disappeared into thin air.

Oz leaned back in his chair, and took a moment to recap the events in his head. They were talking...Oz said that he wished Willow and Spike would...and the amulet glowed...and Benny....

"Oh, brother," Oz said out loud, jumping to his feet, checking his pockets for the keys to his van, and mentally calculating the drive time to Sunnydale.


Part I.


Willow and Tara embraced outside the dorm. Willow was still getting used to the Public Displays of Affection with Tara. She considered a kiss, but...she wasn't ready. For that. In public. Yet.

"Have fun on your dig," Willow said.

"Yeah, I'll bring you back a brontosaurus bone," Tara replied.

"Yeah," Willow said. "I'll wear it in my hair like Wilma Flintstone."

"Actually, it's not that kind of dig," Tara explained. "We're going to a valley that a Native American tribe supposedly lived in. You know, arrowheads and stuff."

Willow recoiled. "Not Chumash Indians?"

"I don't think so," Tara responded. "Why, is that a problem?"

"Well, just don't go arousing any vengeful spirits."

"I'll try to avoid it," Tara promised. "But I wouldn't mind finding some shaman's totems. That's the whole reason I took the archeology course."

The driver of the car waiting on the curb honked his horn. The one of the other students in the back seat yelled: "C'mon, already!"

"I've got to go," Tara said. "I don't believe we're leaving this late at night."

"Well," Willow said "you'll miss all the traffic."

"I'll miss you," Tara said. "I love you."

Willow opened her mouth to reply, but, suddenly, a feeling she couldn't explain overcame her. She couldn't speak. She couldn't think. Sudden confusion occupied her every thought.

Tara stared at Willow. "Are you OK?"

"Uh, yeah. Yeah. I think so...."

"Well, s-s-s-see you in a w-w-w-w-eek," Tara said. Her stutter betrayed her disappointment, and confusion.

"Yeah," Willow said. "See you when you get back."

Tara paused for another moment, then lifted her bag, and walked to the car. She climbed in the front seat, and stared at Willow as the car pulled away.

Willow watched Tara leave. She sat on a bench by the sidewalk. Willow had planned to go back to her dorm room and get some sleep before her morning class.

Plans had changed.

She headed down the street toward the cemetery.

Back at the dorm, Buffy was enjoying a peaceful sleep. No dreams. No prehistoric slayers tackling her in the sand. No cheese. There was a blissful absence of cheese.

The telephone rang. Buffy awoke, and looked at the clock. It was one-thirty. She looked out the window at the darkness. Telephone calls in the wee hours of the morning were never good. The telephone rang a second time. She hopped out of bed, grabbed the receiver, and said:

"Giles?"

"No, Buffy" a voice said. "It's Oz."

"Oz? What's wrong? Where are you?"

"I'm...at a payphone. I just wanted to talk to Willow."

Buffy considered this. She looked over toward Willow's bed. It was empty. She then remembered Tara's field study. She said into the telephone:

"Um...Willow's...not here."

"Is she with Tara?"

This was getting weird. "Well, Oz, she might be. I mean, she...."

"No problem," Oz said. "I just need to talk to her. If you see her, tell her to wait for me. It's important."

"Oz, I don't think...."

"It's not what you think," Oz said. "I just need to tell her something."

"OK," Buffy said. "I'll tell her. Anything else?"

"Yeah," Oz replied. "Do you have Giles' phone number?"


Part II.


Willow walked down the gravel path towards one of the larger mausoleums in the cemetery. She went up to the large, oaken door, and pushed it open. She walked into the darkness.

"I knew you'd come," a voice said.

Willow turned toward the sound of the voice. From a shadowy corner of the tomb, a cigarette tip glowed like tiny sun in the darkness.

"I couldn't stay away anymore," Willow said. "Suddenly, I just...couldn't."

"I know," the voice said. Footsteps came from the darkness, and then a shadow appeared. The shadow stepped into the moonlight, and faced Willow.

"I thought I'd go mad waiting for you," Spike said. He took Willow's face in his hands, and bent down to kiss her.

Willow felt the pressure of Spike's lips against hers. There was no warmth. It was like pressing her lips against glass, if glass could be soft, yielding....

"Oh, Spike!"

She returned his kiss. Her left hand went to Spike's neck, and then up, her fingers into his white hair. She moved her right hand up his chest, and slowly she began to unbutton his shirt.

Spike took his hands from Willow's face, and threw his arms around her, pressing her body against his. Willow's knees grew weak, and she collapsed in his arms. Spike gently lowered her to the floor.

"Spike," Willow gasped between kisses. "The door...."

Spike extended his leg and kicked the door of the mausoleum shut. The darkness enveloped their bodies.


Part III.


"What do you mean, a man like Anya? I honestly don't believe that there's a man, woman, child or beast like Anya anywhere on God's earth."

The question had caught Giles off guard. Of course, any question asked over a telephone at three o'clock in the morning is somewhat unsettling. Giles sat in his bathrobe at his desk.

"I don't mean like Anya's personality," Oz explained over the receiver. "Or lack thereof. I mean, could there be vengeance demons, only for men? Like, a male counterpart to what Anya was?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Um...a guy I met, he...described something that sounded like that." Oz didn't want the Scoobies to have any reason to lower their already low estimation of him. Especially if he could find some way to fix this himself.

"Well, let me see." Giles pulled a book from his shelf, and then returned to the telephone. The demonology tome had been book marked with yellow post-it notes on the pages that referenced vengeance demons. Giles had been caught off guard when Angel had reverted to his evil origins. He had learned from the experience, and was prepared if Anya should someday...have a relapse.

"Let's see," Giles said, glancing through the first page. "There is a reference to a demon called Calrutha. He seems to be a counterpart to Anya's former...employers. Apparently they are meant to balance each other out."

"How does it work?"

"Pretty much the same way," Giles said. "Calrutha selects a minion, changes him into a demon, gives him a special amulet which grants wishes, and the minion roams the earth looking for scorned men who desire revenge."

"And to undo what they did, you break the amulet, right?"

"Well, that's what Anya described," Giles responded. "I of course have no memory of the actual events."

"Because once the magic's undone, time moves backwards, right?"

"Well, let's see," Giles said, returning his eyes to the pages. "It says here that time will be altered if it is necessary to undo the results of the wish. Otherwise, the magical effect simply dissipates."

"OK. Thanks, man."

"Oz," Giles said. "Why do I feel that you're not being entirely honest with me?"

"It's nothing," Oz said. "Just...a friend of mine needs help. I can handle it."

"Oz, these demons are quite powerful. Are you sure you don't want me to...?"

"I can handle it," Oz repeated, and hung up the receiver.


Part VI.


Willow reclined in Spike's arms on the floor of the mausoleum. Spike stroked her red hair with his hands.

"We can't stay here," Willow said.

"I know," Spike replied. "No one here would understand."

"Where can we go?"

"Anywhere, babe," Spike said. "Anywhere. As long as I have a roof over my head between dawn and dusk, the world is ours."

"I don't want the world," Willow said. "I just want you."

"You've got me, luv," Spike said. "I'm all yours."

"I feel so safe here," Willow said.

"I know," Spike said. "That damned chip just keeps going like the Energizer Bloody Bunny."

"That's not what I mean," Willow said, giving Spike a playful slap on his chest. "I mean, I'm so clear on what I want. I've never had that. Everything's always been so confusing. Who I liked. Who I didn't like. Who liked me. It never made any sense. Now, everything is so simple."

"I could make everything even more simple, babe."

Willow frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I can't hurt people," Spike explained. "But I wouldn't be hurting you. I'd just be...changing you. I'd bite you. You'd drink from me. You'd be like me. You'd live forever. We'd live forever. Together."

Willow sat up. "Spike, I could never...."

"I just can't imagine being without you," Spike continued. "After it took so long for us to find each other. I can't think of you growing old. Withering. Dying. Leaving me. I don't know any other way for us to always have each other."

The simplicity of the moment suddenly became much more complicated. Willow trembled. She said:

"I have to think about it."

"Take your time, luv," Spike said.

"Listen, Spike," Willow said, wanting to change the subject. "We've got to get out of here."

"I'll get a car."

"OK. I'll have to get some clothes."

"Do you want to risk waking up Slaygirl?"

"No," Willow said. "I've got some stuff at Tara's. I have her key."

Willow could feel Spike's muscles tense.

"I'm just going to get some things," Willow said. "Tara and I are over. It's you and me now."

Willow kissed Spike deeply. Spike returned the kiss, and ran his hand down her leg.

"I...," Willow gasped, "I...can get my things...later....."


Part V.


Oz parked his van outside Buffy and Willow's dorm. He ran toward the entrance. The front door was locked. He slammed his open palm against the door in frustration. Then he heard footsteps behind him. He turned. A couple was walking toward the door.

"Hey, pal," the guy said. "You want in?"

"I'm looking for someone," Oz replied. "Her name's Willow. Willow Rosenberg."

"Alright," the guy said, looking for his keys.

"Wait," Oz said. There was no way he could go to Willow's room and avoid Buffy. "Do you know a girl named Tara?"

"Oh, yeah," the girl said. "She's in a couple of my classes."

"Where's her room?"


Part VI.


Willow took her bag off of Tara's desk. She took out the books. She wouldn't be needing them anymore. She went over to the drawer that Tara had given her to use, and started taking out the spare clothes she kept there. She stuffed them in the bag, and then began looking for the jacket that Tara had borrowed.

"Willow!"

Willow turned, and saw Oz in the doorway.

"Oz? What are you...?"

"Willow, have you seen Spike?"

"Oz," Willow said, "I have something to tell you."

"Oh, dammit! You've seen him, haven't you?"

"Oz, listen...."

"No, you listen," Oz said, grabbing Willow's arms. He took a moment to assess his...feelings. They seemed to be in check. The wolf inside him was apparently dormant. "I know about you and Spike."

Willow looked at Oz. She sniffed the air.

"Oz, have you been drinking?"

"Yeah, and I did something while I was drunk that I'm not proud of," Oz replied. "I made a wish, and a demon granted it. I wished for you and Spike to get together."

"What? What kind of a wish is that? You wish for ponies. You wish for world peace. You don't wish for...."

"Sweetheart," a voice called from the hallway. "I got the car."

Oz turned to face Spike and shouted:

"Stay away from her!"

"Oh, great," Spike said, rolling his eyes. "Doberman Boy is back."

"Spike," Oz said. "I'm warning you...."

"Oh, yeah?" Spike took a step toward the door, but at the door frame he ran into an invisible wall.

"Honey," Spike called from the hallway, "be a doll and invite me in."

"I don't think I can," Willow said. "Technically, I don't live here. It's not my invitation to give."

"Well, you're shagging her, aren't you? I'd think you have privileges!"

Willow recoiled.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, come on! I just meant that...."

"If you can't accept my past, just say so!"

"I didn't mean that! I just meant that...."

"OK you two," Oz said, struggling for a solution. "Willow, Spike still has that chip, right?"

"Yep."

"OK, Spike, I'll come out into the hallway, but you have to listen to me."

Spike considered this, and then stepped away from the doorway, and gestured for Oz to follow.

Oz exited the room. As soon as he was outside, Spike lunged for him, but immediately cried out in pain, grasping the side of his head, and fell to the floor.

"Damn," Spike mumbled. "I was hoping your werewolf thing would be a loophole. Listen, mate, would you mind sporting that fur of yours for a few minutes. You're a bit too human for me to break your neck."

"Nobody's breaking anyone's neck," Willow said. "Oz, what do you mean, you wished for this?"

"I wished that you and Spike were a couple," Oz explained. "I don't exactly know why. I just did. It seemed to make sense. I was drunk. I was talking about getting you back, and...."

Willow interrupted:

"You were still thinking of me?"

Oz looked into Willow's eyes. He said:

"I never stopped. I don't think I ever could stop."

"Oh, Oz," Willow said. She placed a finger on Oz's chin. Oz took her hand, and leaned forward. He kissed her, and she leaned forward into his arms to return the kiss.

"Bloody Hell," Spike said, massaging the side of his aching head.

Oz leaned back. He looked into Willow's eyes. He saw the love Willow felt for him. He'd dreamed of seeing that look in her eyes every night since he'd left.

Then he looked again. There was something else in her eyes. A hazy, far-away look that he couldn't quite place. It seemed as though Willow was sleeping with her eyes open.

Then he thought about his wish. All of his wish.

"I wish that Willow would dump Tara, and her and Spike would become an item, so I could go and get her back."

This was his wish, the final part of his wish, that was now coming true. The look in Willow's eyes was love. But it wasn't real.

"Willow," Oz said. "I love you. And I want with all my heart for you to love me. But not like this."

Willow's face fell.

"What do you mean?"

"Yes, what do you mean?" The voice came from behind Willow. "What the hell do you mean? Are you like, crazy, dude?"

Oz looked over Willow's shoulder. Bennie was standing there.

"Listen, Bennie," Oz said. "I didn't really mean it. I want you to undo this."

Bennie laughed, and said:

"Undo it? Are you nuts? This is awesome! A witch boinks a vampire. A werewolf kills the vampire. This is perfect! It's a vengeance demon's dream!"

"Bennie," Oz said, trying to stay calm, "undo it."

"Or what?"

Bennie held up his clawed hands to accentuate the threat.

Oz considered this. Human, he was no match for Bennie. His wolf form was uncontrollable. That left one option.

"Hey, Spike," Oz said. "I wished that I could take Willow away from you. This guy's making it happen. This DEMON is making it happen."

"Oh, yeah," Spike said, arising from the ground. "We'll see about that."

Spike's face morphed into it's vampire form. He lunged at Bennie.

Bennie caught Spike's arms with his claws. He threw Spike against the wall. Bennie threw a punch, missing Spike and going through the plaster. While Bennie's arm was caught, Spike threw a punch across his jaw, then tackled him to the floor.

Spike had one hand around Bennie's neck, and another on his face. Bennie clawed at Spike's arms.

Oz reached down and yanked the amulet from around Bennie's neck. "I'll take that," Oz said. He dropped the amulet to the ground, and raised his foot in the air.

"Don't," Bennie said, as strongly as he could with Spike choking him. "This is your last chance with her."

"I don't think so," Oz said. "But if it is...it is."

Oz slammed the heel of his shoe against the amulet. It burst into pure light, and then was gone.

"Arrrrgh!"

Oz turned to look at Spike, who was screaming in pain. Spike released Bennie, who stood up, quite human, gasping for air.

"My powers," Bennie wheezed. "I've lost my powers! I'll...I'll..."

"You'll get out of here," Oz said. Oz held up his hand, which then started to grow long black nails and dirty grey fur. "Or do you want to settle this now?"

Bennie took a breath, and then ran for the exit.

Oz concentrated, and forced his hand to return to human form. He turned to face Spike, who was still recovering from the pain. Spike said:

"If you're going to turn someone human, at least tell me so I can stop choking him. My head damn near exploded."

"I'm all broken up," Oz said.

"Well, I no longer seem to be enamored of Red," Spike said, "so I'll be going. By the way," Spike said, turning toward Willow, "it was fun. Let me know if you get bored of the whole alternative lifestyle thing. Bye."

Spike strutted down the hall.

Oz turned to face Willow. "Are you OK?"

Willow paused, then slapped Oz across the face.

Oz took a breath. "OK, I deserved that."

"Go," Willow said.

"Willow, I...."

"Go! Just go! Damn you! Do you know what you did to me? What he did to me? What you made me do to.....Dammit, just go." Willow dropped her hands into her face, and sobbed.

Oz wanted to comfort her, but he knew that he couldn't. He walked down the hall, and disappeared into the stairwell.

Willow went into Tara's room, shut the door, and collapsed face first onto the bed. She could smell Tara in the bedding. All the chaos returned to her now free mind. She couldn't stop thinking about Tara. She couldn't stop thinking about Oz.

And, dammit all, she couldn't stop thinking about Spike.

Willow rolled over, stared at the ceiling, and said out loud:

"I wish I had Brad Pitt!"

Willow sat up, and looked around the room. Nothing. She said:

"Never a demon around when you need one."

THE END


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With an Alien People Clutching Their Gods - Chapter 1
And Arrived at Evening, Not a Moment Too Soon

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After Buffy’s death, the Scoobies face a new threat, and one of Glory’s minions devotes his life to the worship of his new goddess. Set during the summer between Seasons 5 and 6 of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please. E-mail Mikelesq@aol.com
Spoilers: Up to the “Bargaining,” Episode of Season 6.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer” characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title, chaper titles, and lines quoted are from T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.” Thanks to Estepheia for the plot bunny.

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“So if I understand you correctly,” Giles said, “you have decided, after almost a year of trying to kill Buffy, that you now wish to...worship her?”

“I DO worship her,” Jinx corrected. “I adore the ground she treads, the air she breathes! I would gladly lay before her, so that she could wipe the dirt of her shoes on my most loathesome back.”

“Thank you,” the Buffybot replied. “My shoes are clean now. But it’s very nice of you to offer!”

“Alright,” Xander said. “First of all, that’s SO creepy. Second, where did you get the idea that the...I mean, that Buffy is a god?”

“She must be!” Jinx exclaimed. “She defeated the all-powerful Glorificus! Oh, I cannot believe the years I wasted in the service of an inferior being. Curse my eyes, for not seeing the superior beauty, the infinite power, the ultimate perfection that is...Buffy!”

“Does that mean I’m pretty?” the Buffybot asked.

“You are resplendent!” Jinx exclaimed. “You are the unparalleled embodiment of all that is pleasing and delightful! My wretched eyes drink the exquisite perfection of your beauty!”

The Buffybot absorbed this, then asked:

“Does that mean I’m pretty?”

“Er...well...yes. Very pretty.”

“Thank you!”

“Alright, look,” Willow said. “Jinx, we all helped defeat Glory. It was a group effort. So I really don’t see....”

“But none of YOU returned from the dead,” Jinx pointed out.

A hush fell over the Magic Box as the Scoobies exchanged concerned glances.

“W-w-well,” Giles finally said. “I-I-I can see where that would lead you to...Jinx, what makes you think that...?”

“I saw it with my own eyes,” Jinx explained. “I waited in Glory’s chamber, ready to bear her clothes and...well, mostly her clothes, to the next dimension. I heared the thunder as the portal opened. I rushed outside, carrying the first three bags of open toed pumps, and Glory was nowhere to be found. Buffy hurled herself from the tower, closing the portal. Her limp body fell to the ground, and you carried her away. Many days later I saw you bury her.”

“You were watching us?” Anya said.

“I observed,” Jinx admitted. “I was somewhat...I really didn’t have anywhere else to...well, no matter. What is important is that the splendid one was put to rest in the ground, but here she is! Alive, in all of her glor...I mean, in all of her delicious...wonderful...um...scrumptious....”

“Running out of superlatives?” Tara asked.

“It happens,” Jinx admitted.

“Yes, well,” Giles said. “I certainly can...understand...your position on this matter. If you wouldn’t mind, we could use a moment to...that is, we need to consult with Buffy, to see if she will allow you to offer your services.”

“Oh, but of course!” Jinx said. “Please, give counsel to her most supreme...er...superior....”

“Divinity?” Willow suggested.

“Yes! That’s a good one! I’ll just put my woeful hands to whatever service you deem worthy of my deplorable attention.”

“Well,” Anya said. “Now that you mention it, I could use some help sweeping up the....”

Anya stopped as she realized that the Scoobies were staring at her. Xander squinted a disapproving scowl.

“What!?” Anya exclaimed. “He offered! So what if he’s evil? You people used me and Spike to do all kinds of things back when we were evil!”

“Hey!” Spike retorted. “Still quite evil, thank you!”

“Oh, please!” Anya replied. “When was the last time you did anything really evil?”

“I do evil things all the time,” Spike argued. “I...I just don’t go showin’ it off is all. I’m secure enough in MY evil so that I got nothing to prove.”

“Riiiiight,” Anya said. “Have you ever been to Egypt? Because I think you’re taking a trip down a little river called....”

“Will the two of you please stop?” Giles interrupted. “Jinx, as you can see, we really do need to...consult. If you woudn’t mind?” Giles gestured toward the front displays.

“Oh, fine,” Anya muttered. “Just go stand over there. Stand on the dirty floor, with your dirty feet, right next to the nice, clean broom. See if I care.”

Jinx bowed, then walked toward the front of the store. Once he was out of earshot, the Scoobies huddled around the table.

“Well, it seems we have a problem,” Giles said.

“Yeah,” Spike agreed. “Stupid bugger knows too much.”

“Giles,” Willow said. “If he starts telling other demons that he saw Buffy die....”

“We certainly cannot count on other demons to misinterpret the situation,” Giles said. “We’ll need to...dispose...of Jinx.”

“That might not be so easy,” Dawn warned. “These guys, they’re strong.”

“I can take him,” Spike said.

“As I remember, last time they took you,” Xander pointed out.

“What if he runs?” Tara asked. “It’s not enough to just try to kill him. We need to make sure he can’t escape. These things...you can’t underestimate them. T-t-they...they did....”

Tara choked back a sob.

“It’s OK,” Willow said, resting a reassuring hand on Tara’s shoulder. “We’ll take care of it. He won’t get away.”

“Tara is correct, though,” Giles said. “It is important that we include a strategy to contain Jinx, in conjuction with our attack.”

“And can we at least TRY to minimize the damage to the store?” Anya added.

“Good point,” Willow agreed. “I mean, we can’t just keep trashing this place.”

“Alright, it’s soldier-guy time,” Xander said. “We’ll need to cover the exits, then come at him with a flanking maneuver. If we can concentrate our attack....”

“Who put you in charge?” Spike asked. “What are you going to do? Drop weapons ‘til he trips on one?”

“Spike, I have just about had it with....”

“Can we please stay focused?” Willow interrupted.

“She’s right,” Giles said. “We must keep our attention on the matter at hand. Glory’s minions proved quite powerful in the past, so it will require all of us working together with a concentrated, disciplined....”

“Excuse me,” Jinx said, approaching the table. “I was just wondering if perhaps there was something I could....”

“It’s impolite to interrupt when people are talking,” the Buffybot interjected. “Willow taught me that I should wait until other people stop talking before I say anything.”

“Oh, forgive me!” Jinx implored. “Of course, you are right, oh most perfect of beings! I beg your forgiveness!”

Jinx grasped his robe with both hands and ripped open the fabric, exposing the pale, wrinkled flesh of his chest.

“I implore you!” Jinx continued. “Please, tear out my heart for my impertinence!”

The Scoobies exchanged glances. Willow looked at Giles and shrugged. Giles caught the Buffybot’s attention, and nodded in Jinx’s direction.

Wordlessly, the Buffybot plunged her fist into Jinx’s chest. Jinx choked in pain as the Buffybot pulled out her hand, holding a pink, throbbing heart in her grasp.

“Thank...you,” Jinx gasped as his body collapsed to the floor.

“You’re welcome!” the Buffybot replied.

Jinx’s body shuddered, then went limp.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” Xander said. “I mean, it was easy. Gross, but easy.”

The Bot turned to Giles and extended the heart toward him.

“Did you want this?” The Buffybot asked.

“Well, yes,” Giles said. “I mean, no. I don’t want to actually....”

“Um, Buffybot,” Dawn said. “Could you not hold that over the table? Jinx’s blood is getting all over my notes.”

“I am very sorry,” the Buffybot said. “I will take this outside to...oh, it’s disappearing! Nevermind.”

The Scoobies looked, and saw that in fact Jinx’s heart was slowly fading into mist.

“Well, that’s odd,” Tara observed.

“Huh,” Anya interjected. “I haven’t seen anything like that since I saw a Migortha demon lose a hand during the Civil War.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of the Migortha,” Giles said. “From what I remember they...well, their organs....”

“Regenerate,” Jinx completed, rising from the floor.

The Scoobies stared in stunned silence.

“Although, for my kind, it’s not true regeneration,” Jinx continued. “Not the way that, say, vampires regenerate. It’s more of a mystical reassembly of cells.”

The Scoobies absorbed the sight of an apparently healed Jinx standing before them. Finally, Giles said:

“So, tearing your heart from your body, it doesn’t...harm you?”

“Well, it’s painful,” Jinx said. “But it heals.”

“And other forms of physical damage?”

“Also heal. It takes time, of course. I still feel a bit...achy. Not as bad as when Ben stabbed me, but that hit my liver. Livers take awhile.”

“Um, okay,” Willow said. “So cutting won’t kill you. What about other stuff? Like, let’s say, oh, I dunno, burning. Would burning kill you? I mean, just out of curiosity.”

“No,” Jinx said. “Burning’s the same. I remember one occasion, Glory discovered that I had returned from a raid on a clothing store with a dress that was a size eight. She lit my legs on fire, and I had to hobble around on my knees for two days while I waited for my feet to grow back properly over the charred, blackened flesh.”

As the Scoobies shuddered and swallowed and gasped, Jinx sniffed back a tear, then wistfully added:

“Good times.”

“Alright,” Xander said. “What about...acid? Would acid kill you?”

“No,” Jinx replied.

“Frost?” Tara asked.

“No.”

“Poison?” Anya suggested.

“No.”

“Blunt trauma?” Giles proposed.

“No.”

“Gettin’ all the blood drank out of you?” Spike put forth.

“No, and that actually is somewhat theraputic,” Jinx said. “When the blood comes back, it’s...well...cleansing. It filters out the toxins.”

“Oh, like they do to Keith Richards?” Xander asked.

“Exactly,” Jinx agreed.

“So what’s the big deal about Buffy coming back?” Dawn asked. “You came back. So what?”

“Yeah,” Anya said. “Why don’t you go...well, worship yourself.”

“Oh, no,” Jinx said. “That’s just silly. The regeneration is simply how my body works. I am no god. Not like Buffy.”

“Er, well, yes,” Giles said. “You obviously are...quite a creature. Perhaps we should allow you to serve as Buffy’s minion. That way, we’ll have you nearby.”

Giles glanced around the room, making sure the Scoobies understood his meaning. Once he’d determined from their faces that they had tacitly agreed on a plan, Giles continued:

“Nearby, so that you can serve Buffy. You’ll have the opportunity to worship your god, and we’ll have the oppportunity to see you in action. That way, eventually we’ll know how to deal with you. That is, how you can serve Buffy best.”

“A most splendid plan!” Jinx exclaimed.

“Jinx, perhaps you could take Buffy to wash her hands. The rest of us have some research to do. Willow, you and Tara should start searching for information on the vampires we fought tonight. Check a map of the cemetery, and see if there are any reasons for the vampires to be there. Xander, you and Anya should start researching our other...problem.”

“I would be most happy to assist her most esteemed worship in cleaning the blood of my foul heart from her delicate yet strong hands,” Jinx said. “Please, do not let the thought of my vile blood on the hands of the beautiful one distract you from your investigation of the tomb of Iparthus.”

“Wait a minute,” Xander said. “You know what those vamps were looking for?”

“Oh, yes,” Jinx said. “I heard them speaking before you arrived. They were discussing their search for the Talisman of Iparthus for a good twenty minutes, before the most magnificant Buffy dispatched two of the unworthy creatures.”

“W-w-well, Jinx,” Giles said. “That’s quite a...surprising bit of news. Perhaps Dawn could help Buffy clean up. We may need you for...other things.”


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With an Alien People Clutching Their Gods - Chapter 2
The Ways Deep and the Weather Sharp

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After Buffy’s death, the Scoobies face a new threat, and one of Glory’s minions devotes his life to the worship of his new goddess. Set during the summer between Seasons 5 and 6 of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please. E-mail Mikelesq@aol.com
Spoilers: Up to the “Bargaining,” Episode of Season 6.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer” characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title, chaper titles, and lines quoted are from T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.” Thanks to Estepheia for the plot bunny.

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“How do we even know they’ll show?”

“We don’t, Xander,” Giles whispered as he, Xander, Anya and Tara crouched behind a hedge. “But we know that this is the tomb of Iparthus, and if these vampires are looking for it, they’re bound to turn up sooner or later.”

“Well, it’s been two nights, and so far, nothing,” Xander complained. “Meanwhile, there are a lot of other places we could be patrolling.”

“He’s got a point,” Anya said. “How do we know this talisman is even worth it?”

“The undead don’t organize simply to go antiquing,” Giles said.

“Where’s Willow?” Xander asked. “I can’t see her.”

“You’re not supposed to see her, Xander,” Giles said. “Hence the crouching. She’s on the other side of the tomb, with Jinx. With us covering the sides, Spike and the Buffybot should be able to handle anything that comes from the front.”

“I don’t like leaving Willow alone with that...thing.”

“She’ll be fine,” Tara said. “Besides, it was her idea. She figures that we can cover more ground magic-wise if we each cover one side of the mausoleum. She’s got Jinx with her for muscle.”

“Speaking of our latest compatriot,” Giles said. “How is the research on him progressing?”

“Nothing solid,” Xander admitted. “There wasn’t much on Glory, and her minions didn’t get a whole lot of press, either. So far, nothing on how to kill them.”

“I tried to get some information out of him,” Anya added. “But he hasn’t mentioned anything helpful. I’ll tell you something: Glory did just about everything you can think of to her minions. Dismemberment, branding, beating, you name it. We were talking about this one guy I cursed back during the ‘Frisco gold rush. I buried him in giant gold nuggets. Well, Jinx told me that Glory once crushed a minion under an entire....”

“Wait a minute,” Xander said. “You compared notes?”

“Well, sort of,” Anya said. “I mean, we were coming at it from different angles, me with the inflicting and him with the suffering. But I’ve never really had a chance to chat with someone who’s been on the receiving end. Gives you a whole new perspective, really. Did you know that, if you stick a hot poker into a guy, it actually hurts more when you pull it OUT? See, I always thought that the searing metal would kill the nerve endings after awhile, but as it turns out....”

Giles sighed as Xander began to argue the ethics of torture shop talk with Anya.

Behind a bush on the other side of the tomb, Willow sat with her legs crossed. Her eyes were closed as she muttered an incantation under her breath.

“I’m not sure I approve of this strategy,” Jinx said. “I feel that I should be at Buffy’s side, protecting her most wonderful....”

“Shut up,” Willow admonished. “I’m trying to do a spell to search for the vampires. Besides, Buffy wants it this way.”

“Oh, of course! I did not mean to suggest that my own wretched thoughts are worthy of consideration by Her Greatness. Please, take one of these twigs and shove it down my most ignoble throat for daring to....”

“No! Ick! Jeez, what’s with you? Cut it out with the mutilation offers, already.”

“I apologize,” Jinx said. “I only meant...well, it has been a...difficult adjustment. Her Splendor and her followers have...strange ways of working.”

“What? We’re not trying to kill and destroy as much as you’re used to?”

“Well, that’s part of it. But there’s so much argument. It seems that no one can ever agree on a clear course of action.”

“We’re not like Glory,” Willow said. “We’re a team. We work together.”

“But with no leadership? I remember how Glory marvelled at the Slayer’s focus, her ability to marshal forces to her aid. I must admit, I do not yet understand how she was able to do so without taking command.”

“Well, she did,” Willow said. “Take command, I mean. But now...well, Giles takes care of most of that now.”

“Really? He doesn’t seem to.”

“Well, he directs the research. The outside stuff...um, we’re still working out a system.”

“A system,” Jinx repeated. “Interesting.”

“I’ll admit we’ve been a little...well, everyone does argue a lot over what to do.”

“I have noticed,” Jinx said. “It reminds me of what happened right after Glory disappeared.”

“Really?”

“Oh, my, yes. While Glory led us, we were a force of greatness. Once she was gone, there was nothing but confusion and dissension. Eventually, we all went our separate ways. It was impossible for us to stay together in such a state.”

“Huh. You know, that is kind of like what happened when Buffy died.”

“You must be happy to have her back, then. Now, she can lead you again.”

“Um...yeah.”

A silence passed, until Willow said:

“Hey, Jinx? Can you keep a secret?”

“Not from the Most Perfect One.”

“No, no, not from her,” Willow said. “Tell her whatever you want. But, I mean, from the others?”

“Oh, the other minions do not concern me.”

“Uh, right. Listen, there’s this...project...we’re working on. And it’s REALLY important that everything goes right. That’s the kind of thing where it would be okay to take charge, wouldn’t it?”

“Have the others agreed as to a leader?”

“Yeah, actually, they picked me. It was kind of touching, really. I mean, I was so excited I just hugged the plaque, and I still haven’t been able to get all of the glitter out of my sweater, but...well, I’ve been trying to just keep it business as usual.”

“The others selected you to be their leader?” Jinx asked.

“Yeah.”

“So, they feel that they need a leader?”

“I guess.”

“Well, if you do not lead them, who will?”

“Hmm,” Willow said. “I never thought of it like...hey, wait! Keep it down, someone’s coming.”

Willow and Jinx crouched lower as footsteps rustled by. Willow peeked up, and saw six vampires walk down the path toward the tomb, one in the lead as the others followed.

“This had BETTER be it,” the lead vamp grumbled.

“It is,” another vamp replied. “This time, it’s for sure.”

“You’ve been saying that for a week,” the leader shot back. “And we’ve got nothing to show for it but a bunch of worthless trinkets.”

The group stopped at the entrance to the mausoleum. The leader snapped his fingers, and two of the vamps ran to the double doors. Each grabbed a handle, and pulled the doors open.

“Alright,” the leader growled. “Let’s see what’s inside.”

“Knock, knock!” a feminine voice called from inside the mausoleum.

The vamps exchanged puzzled glances.

“Oh, no,” Willow muttered under her breath.

The Buffybot walked out of the tomb and said:

“You’re supposed to say ‘Who’s there?’ That’s how it works!”

“Slayer!” the lead vamp shouted. He turned to run, but saw that the Scoobies had surrounded the group.

Spike emerged from the mausoleum. He morphed into vampface, and said:

“You might want to come quietly, mates. We’ve business to discuss.”

The vamp leader’s eyes narrowed. All of the Scoobies stood ready to act. He searched their eyes, and noticed a fierceness in all of them...except for Tara. He saw no fierceness in Tara’s eyes. There was resolve, and courage, but no fierceness.

The leader slowly began to raise his hands, and his companions followed suit. Then, seeing a moment of relief in Tara’s eyes, he leapt toward her.

“Ancile!” Tara gasped, staggering backward.

A pale green circle of energy materialized before Tara. The leader ran into the mystical shield, grunting from the force of the impact against his body. He fell to the ground, disoriented.

Tara concentrated on maintaining the shield between her and the vampire, but before the rest of the Scoobies could react, the other vampires sprang at Tara from either side, outside of the protection of the magical barrier. Outnumbered and surrounded, the vampires realized that overcoming one of their attackers was the only hope they had of creating an escape route. Xander grabbed one of the approaching vamps before it could reach Tara, while Anya smacked the vampire about the head with a baseball bat. Another disintegrated as Giles fired a crossbow bolt into its chest.

But a third vampire slipped by.

The magic shield dissipated as the vampire wrestled Tara to the ground. She screamed as the vampire bared his fangs, ready to strike.

“Tara!” Willow cried. Her hand dropped to her side, and then shot forward as she shouted:

“Fulgor!”

Sparks flew from Willow’s fingers as a blue bolt of electricity arced from her open palm and struck the vampire between the shoulder blades. The vamp screamed, paralyzed by fear and pain and shock. His denim jacket sparked into flame as he collapsed on top of Tara. The flames engulfed the vampire, until he disintegrated. Giles ran to Tara’s side, throwing his jacket over Tara to smother any fire that might have remained.

Willow surveyed the scene. Anya had drawn a stake from her pocket, and was plunging it into the chest of the vamp in Xander’s grasp. Spike was pummelling a vampire he’d wrestled to the ground, and the Buffybot had kicked another against a tree, and was beating him into submission with a series of blows to the face. Jinx ran to the Bot’s side and began punching the vamp in the ribs.

That left the leader, who had taken advantage of the confusion, and was now running at full speed toward the woods.

“Willow!” Giles called. “Are you...?”

“We need one alive,” Willow growled, taking a few steps forward before screaming:

“Conglacio!”

A white wind burst out of Willow’s mouth, sending a narrow cone of frost at the fleeing vampire. Only steps away from the forest’s edge, he froze, literally, in his tracks as a thick coat of ice covered his torso and legs. He fell to the ground, flailing his arms in vain.

“Got him?” Spike asked, staking the vamp beneath him.

“Got him,” Willow muttered.

“My turn!” The Buffybot exclaimed, tearing a branch from a nearby tree and staking the vamp in her grasp.

“A most splendid dispatching, my goddess!” Jinx exclaimed.

“Thank you!” The Buffybot replied. “I really made my POINT!”

“Tara!” Xander exclaimed, turning to face her and Giles.

“I’m fine,” Tara said, struggling to sit up. “He caught me off guard, but I’m fine. My clothes smell like pool hall, but other than that, I’m okay.”

Willow forced her her fisted hands to open, took a series of slow, deliberate breaths, then said:

“Let’s find out what was so important.”

She stormed off past the Scoobies, in the direction of the fallen vampire. Giles stared at Willow, then made eye contact with Tara. There was fear in Tara’s eyes, a fear that had nothing to do with her near miss with her attacker. Tara swallowed hard. She said:

“Look, I’m fine. G-g-g-go help Willow.”

Giles slowly rose to his feet, and then turned to catch up with Willow, gesturing for the others to follow.

“Hell of a trick from Red,” Spike said, crouching beside Tara as Giles, Xander and Anya went after Willow. “I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near when that hit.”

“You mean like Tara?” the Buffybot asked.

Spike tried to think of a way to answer that, but before he could, Tara said:

“She saved me. She had control. She wouldn’t have done the spell if she didn’t have control.”

Spike turned to Tara to reply, but noticed that Tara hadn’t been looking at him, or at anyone. Her eyes stared into the endless darkness beyond the graveyard.

At the edge of the cemetery, the vampire clawed at the ice that surrounded his legs. Small chips flew into the air, but he was nowhere near freeing himself as Willow approached, scowling down upon him.

“Alright,” Willow hissed. “Talk.”

“Screw you,” the vampire mumbled.

“Confringo,” Willow uttered.

The vampire wailed as he felt a sudden pressure surround the index finger of his left hand, forcing it backwards until the bone snapped.

“Talk,” Willow repeated.

“I don’t know anything,” the vampire gasped through clenched teeth.

“Confringo,” Willow said again.

This time the vampire’s thumb twisted until the bone shattered. He screamed as Giles, Xander, Anya and Spike arrived at Willow’s side.

“She’s crazy!” The Vamp exclaimed. “Make her stop!”

Willow fell to her knees, grasped the vampire’s shirt and growled:

“The only one who can make me stop is you. Now, what were you looking for, and who sent you to look?”

The vampire trembled in Willow’s clutches. Finally, he said:

“Look, it’s called The Medallion of Reynaal. A guy hired us to find it. He called himself Orad. He’s a Prythh demon. I swear, that’s all I know!”

Willow released her grip on the vampire’s shirt, arose, and said:

“Stake him.”

Willow turned and began walking back toward the tomb.

Giles, Xander and Anya exchanged uneasy glances, then Giles drew a stake from his pocket and drove it into the heart of the vampire, leaving nothing but a dusty mist and an icy mold of the vampire’s lower body.

The three of them turned and trotted to catch up with Willow.

“Uh, good job with the interrogation,” Xander said. “I mean, it was a little extreme, but....”

“I didn’t do anything Buffy wouldn’t have done,” Willow said, no hint of emotion in her voice.

“She’s right,” Anya agreed. “Buffy never hesitated to play rough with the vampires. Did that come out more sexual than I intended?”

“I certainly would hope so,” Giles said.

“What are the rest doing?” Willow asked.

“Spike’s with Tara,” Xander replied. “She’s OK. She just needs to catch her breath.”

“And I think Jinx is paying the Buffybot more compliments,” Anya said.

“Well, we got what we needed,” Xander said. “We know what we’re looking for, and who’s looking to get it first. All in all, I’d say we did a pretty good....”

“Pretty good?!” Willow shouted, stopping and turning to face the others. “We’re blowing it!”

“Will, calm down,” Xander said. “Look, the plan was to get a couple of the vamps trapped in the mausoleum, split up the group, make them easier to take down. Sure, the Bot had a little glitch, but eventually....”

“Eventually one of us is going to end up dead!” Willow interrupted. “And it’s not just the Buffybot! I’ve had it! I’ve had it with Giles burying his nose in a book every time something gets tough. I’ve had it with Anya following you around like a puppy dog. And God knows I’ve had it with you and Spike arguing. The Tracy-Hepburn routine you two have going on? Not funny anymore! The vampires are better organized than we are! Something’s gotta change!”

Willow turned and stormed off toward the mausoleum.

“Well, that was judgmental and aggressive,” Anya observed.

“She’s upset,” Xander said. “Tara got hurt, and she’s upset.”

“I was upset when you sprained your wrist,” Anya said. “And I didn’t scream and carry on. When you got hurt it was scary, and distressful, and it was your good foreplay hand, but I managed to keep a civil tongue.”

“I think Xander’s right about Willow,” Giles said. “And while she may not have been as...eloquent as we may have liked, Willow has a valid point. We do need to work on our focus.”

“I think we’re doing splendidly,” Anya said. “Especially given that we’re suddenly Slayer-less. And I hate to be the one to say it, but things have never been easy, even when Buffy was alive.”

“Ahn,” Xander sighed.

“Well, it’s true,” Anya said. “I know it hurts everyone to think that Buffy wasn’t perfect, but she wasn’t. Sure, the demon slaying was easier, but even when she was alive, we all argued and screwed up, and Buffy argued and screwed up right along with us. I miss her. I really do. But we can’t beat ourselves up because we can’t be Slayers, and Willow was way out of line.”

“Willow’s always been...well, gifted,” Giles observed. “Her studies, her computer work, her witchcraft...she always managed to excel, and much more quickly than others. Impatience is a common character trait for overachievers. It’s natural for someone who’s used to seeing difficult enterprises come easily to become frustrated when other things, well, don’t.”

“She’ll be fine,” Xander said. “We’re all adjusting. Just give her time.”

The three walked the rest of the way back to the tomb in silence.


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With an Alien People Clutching Their Gods - Chapter 3
And the Villages Dirty, and Charging High Prices

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After Buffy’s death, the Scoobies face a new threat, and one of Glory’s minions devotes his life to the worship of his new goddess. Set during the summer between Seasons 5 and 6 of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please. E-mail Mikelesq@aol.com
Spoilers: Up to the “Bargaining,” Episode of Season 6.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer” characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title, chaper titles, and lines quoted are from T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.” Thanks to Estepheia for the plot bunny.

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“Are you sure you don’t want me along?” Xander asked, as Giles lifted a pair of stakes off the table and tucked them in his jacket pocket.

“It’s been two weeks, Xander,” Giles answered. “There have been no signs of any vampires searching for the Medallion. Odds are they’re researching, and we should do the same. Spike and I will patrol. You and Anya should continue to look for any information regarding the Medallion’s location. Between your research here, and Willow searching the internet at home, we should make more progress than by randomly patrolling the cemeteries.”

“Yeah, besides,” Spike said, lifting his duster from the Magic Box counter. “We’ll cover more ground on our own. Don’t worry, Harris. If we cross any vampires that need sanding or molding, we’ll ring.”

“Fine,” Xander replied. “And we’ll call you if we need...um, Spike? Do you think our little Tracy-Hepburn routine is getting old?”

Spike scowled. “So, what? Now you want to join a book club together? Grab ‘brewskies’ and brag about the birds we’ve shagged?”

Xander returned Spike’s scowl. “Well, as much as I’d LOVE to hear Drusilla and Harmony stories, I think I’ll pass. Sorry, but I don’t think there’s enough alcohol in the world to make that bearable.”

“That’s better,” Spike said. “You had me worried for a minute. Thought you might finally be getting in touch with that feminine side that keeps popping out when you try to use a weapon more lethal than a rubber band.”

“You know, Spike? Maybe you....”

“Oh, no,” Giles sighed. “That hasn’t grown at all tiresome.”

“You should have heard them during inventory last month,” Anya said, looking up from the book she’d been reading at the table. “They were going at it worse than Mary and Abe Lincoln arguing about postwar Reconstruction.”

Giles blinked, then said:

“That’s a rather obscure historical refer...Anya? Are you saying that...?”

“Giles,” Xander interrupted. “I’ve heard this story, and trust me, you so don’t want to know.”

“No, I suspect I don’t,” Giles agreed. “Lock up when you’re finished.”

Spike followed Giles to the door. The pair exited. Xander and Anya exchanged glances, then Xander walked up to the front window, looking up and down the street.

“They’re gone,” Xander said. “The coast’s clear.”

Anya reached down underneath the table and grabbed a dark leather bag. She opened it, and pulled out Willow’s laptop.

“Have I mentioned I really hate lying to Giles about this?” Xander said as he walked over to the bookcase behind Anya and grabbed the end of a computer cord that rested on a low shelf.

“I’m not crazy about it either,” Anya replied, reaching out her hand and taking the cord from Xander. She plugged the cord into the side port of the laptop, lifted the screen open, and hit the power button. With her other hand, she clasped Xander’s palm, pulling him close.

“You sure you know your way around this computer stuff?” Xander asked, resting his hands on Anya’s shoulders and gently massaging the muscles of her neck.

“Oh, please,” Anya said. “I bought Lexmark at twenty-nine dollars a share. A couple of good double clicks on E*Trade, and I’ll be able to pay for our honeymoon. Assuming, of course, we ever have a wedding.”

Xander’s hands suddenly became motionless.

“Ahn, we’ve talked about this,” Xander sighed. “Things are just too crazy right now.”

“Whatever,” Anya said. “Anyway, I should be able to find some magic urn. If it still exists, that is. It may take some time, though. P-E ratios and mandrake bargains, that I’m good at. The really deep, dark stuff, that’s more Willow’s territory.”

“Willow’s been looking for a month,” Xander said. “And so far, nothing. Tara’s not good with the internet, and Willow thought a second set of eyes might help. Besides, back at the house there’s too much of a risk Dawn might see what she’s up to.”

“I’ll just be glad when this is done,” Anya said. “We bring Buffy back, then she can slay the demons. That way, Willow doesn’t have to be bossy and frightening, and we can get our sex life back on schedule, without any excuses about late night patrolling or restrictive injuries.”

Xander stood stunned for a moment, then said:

“Alright, I can think of about twelve things in that sentence that just scare the living....”

Before Xander could finish, the bell at the Magic Box door rang. Anya and Xander both gasped. Anya quickly closed the laptop screen, hoping that Giles and Spike had not returned early. The pair looked toward the door, then both breathed a sigh of relief as they saw Jinx standing at the entrance.

“Oh, it’s you,” Xander sneered. “What are you doing here?”

“Willow, at the direction of Her Most Complete Perfection, asked that I bring this tome for your examination,” Jinx explained, walking to the table and handing Anya a thin, dusty book.

“Oh, yes,” Anya replied, glancing at the cover. “The McConnell Journal. He lived with Prythh demons for six years. He was like Dian Fossey. Granted, Dian Fossey never threw goats into a volcano to summon weather spirits, but no metaphor is perfect.”

“That may help with the Medallion,” Xander said.

“Probably not,” Anya said. “There’s not much to the Prythh. They’re kind of purple. Strong, but not that strong. Less than vampire strong, actually. They’re pretty smart, though. This Orad creature probably just wants it because he wants it.”

“Worth checking anyway,” Xander said. “Alright, Jinx. You can leave.”

“Well...perhaps there is something more I can do here,” Jinx offered.

“That’s alright,” Xander said sarcastically. “If we need anybody to kidnap us for an evil god, we’ll page you.”

“Surely there must be something I can do,” Jinx implored.

“Shouldn’t you be off doting on Buffy?” Anya asked.

“Well, I was,” Jinx said. “But I am not sure that I have been of much use to her this evening. The Almighty Goddess seems to be...frustrated...by my inability to help her with a form of humor that occupies the majority of her attention. It seems, if I understand the premise, that one party to the witticism pretends to be at a closed door, while the other pretends to knock at the door, not by pantomiming a knocking motion, but rather by exclaiming....”

“Say no more,” Xander interrupted. “We get it.”

“You know,” Anya said, turning to Xander. “He could help you move those boxes of S’Nithar bones that came in yesterday. We really should get those put away until Kaagora’s Solstice. No one’s going to want them until the fertility rituals.”

“Ahn,” Xander said. “We’ve discussed this.”

“Would you rather he went back to the Summers’ house?” Anya asked. “Spend some quality time with ‘Buffy,’ getting to know her better?”

Xander’s jaw clenched as he absorbed this. Anya was right. The less time Jinx spent with the Buffybot, the less chance he would find out his goddess was a walking, talking lawn mower.

“Alright,” Xander sighed. “Jinx, I’ll meet you down in the basement.”

Jinx smiled, then walked to the basement door, opened it, and descended the stairway. When the door had closed behind Jinx, Xander said:

“Anya, I don’t like having that...thing here.”

“Well, we’re stuck with him,” Anya replied, lifting the screen on the laptop. “At least until we can figure out how to get rid of him.”

“Maybe,” Xander said. “It would just be a lot easier if the ‘Bot was a little more convincing. I mean, we needed to do something, but the knock-knock jokes and pie pan metaphors aren’t going to keep the demons from figuring out that Buffy isn’t her normal, quippy self.”

“I really wish Willow would get that out of the Buffybot’s system,” Anya complained. “That book we gave her on the history of American humor really isn’t helping with the battlefield wisecracks.”

“It could be worse,” Xander replied. “Remember the time she saw that Gallagher special on the comedy channel?”

“Don’t remind me,” Anya said. “Thank god we finally sold the Troll Hammer to that collector from Phoenix. I don’t think the grocery store would be very happy if they got another visit from a super-strong blonde girl smashing the produce and yelling ‘It’s the All New Sledge-o-Matic!’ I never did get the watermelon stains out of my blouse.”

“Well, Willow seems to think it’ll work itself out,” Xander said.

“Why doesn’t she just make it stop?” Anya asked. “Flip the humor switch to ‘off’ or something?”

“I asked,” Xander responded. “She said it’s not that simple. It took Willow a month just to get the ‘Spike-is-sexy’ comments down to once a week. Whatever software that Warren guy used to program the ‘Bot, it’s pretty complicated, and Willow doesn’t have the original code to completely know how her mind works. Apparently she’s designed to absorb whatever stuff she sees or hears, then the information gets all scrambled through the whole system. So, once she gets an idea in her head, it’s pretty much stuck.”

“Great,” Anya groaned. “So if she sees an episode of ‘The Sopranos,’ I guess we can all look forward to getting whacked.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Xander said. “First, they don’t get HBO. Second, Willow said she made one of those...things...um...where you copy everything?”

“A backup?”

“Yeah, that’s it. After the jokes got out of hand, Willow plugged the Buffybot into something and duplicated all of her stuff. That way, if the ‘Bot starts in on something else, we can just put her back the way she was.”

“Speaking of bringing back Buffy,” Anya said. “I check my email. None of our major suppliers have any leads on the urn. I’m still waiting from my guy in Madrid, but if he doesn’t know anything, we’re pretty much out of luck.”

“Well, keep at it,” Xander said. “I’d better go check on our new stock boy.”

“Have fun,” Anya called, as Xander opened the door to the basement and started down the stairs.

Xander descended into the basement. He had no expectation that he would ‘have fun,’ but the subject of Buffy’s possible return had arisen again, and he did not want to continue the conversation with Anya where it had left off before Jinx’s arrival. Of course, Xander knew that avoiding the discussion did not amount to a resolution, but...well, the boxes weren’t going to move themselves.

As he reached the bottom of the stairs, Xander saw Jinx standing before the boxes, his hands folded before him.

“We need to get these against the back wall,” Xander said, brushing against Jinx as he walked past him, lifting the first box.

“As you wish,” Jinx agreed, stooping to pick up another of the boxes. “I am just pleased to be assisting Her Most Delightful and her minions.”

“Friends,” Xander corrected, dropping his box against the wall. “Among us non-murderous types, we prefer ‘friends.’ We’re funny that way.”

“That’s fine,” Jinx said, depositing his own box on top of Xander’s. “Whatever pleases The Everlasting One.”

“Look, Jinx,” Xander said. “Doesn’t this seem...screwy to you? I mean, you help Glory do all that evil stuff, now you help Buffy fight evil. You see where I’m going with this?”

“Oh, the purpose is of no consequence,” Jinx replied, lifting another box. “My adoration is for a much more noble end.”

“And that would be?”

“For love,” Jinx proclaimed.

Xander paused, not expecting that response. Finally, he said:

“For love? I mean, you think that Buffy loves you?”

“I love her,” Jinx shrugged, placing the box in his arms beside the first two. “And she allows me to shower my devotion upon her. What more could I ask? My Goddess honors me by allowing a loathsome wretch such as myself to serve her. I attended to Glory in return for that honor, and now I have that privilege with Buffy.”

“Huh,” Xander grunted. “So, the way you see it, loving...I mean...worshipping someone means putting up with the bad stuff? I mean, you just count your blessings?”

“Precisely,” Jinx said. “For example, Glory would often send us to steal clothes on her behalf. On one occasion, I hurled my body through the glass window of a small boutique, and the glass shards buried themselves in my eyes. But it was worth it, just to see the look on her face when I returned with a blue Chanel suit that flattered her most perfect figure.”

“How did you see her face with glass shards in your eyes?”

“Well, I had to squint.”

“Hey, Jinx,” Xander said, lowering his voice and leaning forward. “Did Glory ever send you out to get...feminine...stuff?”

“Well,” Jinx said. “Glory did insist that any dresses we purloined required a decolletage to flatter her....”

“No, no, no,” Xander interrupted. “I mean...you know what I mean. FEMININE stuff. You know...like...tampons?”

“Oh,” Jinx said. “Well, Glory’s hormonal changes were...well...of a...supernatural nature.”

“I hear ya, man,” Xander said. “I hate it when Anya sends me out for that stuff. And she always asks like it’s nothing. ‘Oh, you’re going to put gas in the car? Pick up some tampons while you’re out.’ Like one has anything to do with the other.”

“Um, Glory did not have an automobile, so....”

“So you swing by the grocery store,” Xander continued. “And, of course, it’s a girl at the checkout. She scans the price, and they always give you this look. Why the look? I mean, it’s one thing if you’re buying panty hose, because, hey, possible transvestite. But why the look when you’re buying tampons? They KNOW you’re buying them for your girlfriend! Heck, they have boyfriends. They send THEIR boyfriends out to by tampons. What’s with the look?”

“I...I...I do not know the answer to that.”

“God’s own mystery,” Xander said.

“I do not claim to know the reasons behind the choices of the Divine Ones,” Jinx said. “I simply bask in the glow of their most holy attention.”

“Yeah,” Xander sighed. He turned to get another box, then looked at Jinx and said:

“Hey, Jinx? Did you ever wonder what would happen if, maybe, as time went on, you just couldn’t take it? If maybe love wouldn’t be enough? I mean, sure, you can figure it all out, add it all up, and know that you’re a really lucky guy. But, what if, years down the road, all the little stuff starts piling up and you find yourself just tired and angry and sitting on the couch drinking yourself numb and just dreading every moment and...well, did you ever wonder?”

“Well, no,” Jinx replied. “I cherish every moment that My Goddess gives me. I can think of no time that her attention would bring me anything but joy.”

“Uh, yeah,” Xander muttered. “Me neither.”

Xander leaned against the stack of boxes, staring at the ground. Then he looked up, and said:

“Um, look, Jinx, maybe you should go upstairs and see if Anya needs your help. I just need...um, I mean, I can finish up down here.”

“If you wish,” Jinx said. He turned and walked toward the stairs.

“Hey, Jinx,” Xander called.

Jinx paused at the foot of the stairs.

“Um,” Xander started. “Look, sorry about...I mean, thanks for...well, nice job with the boxes.”

Jinx smiled, then ascended the stairs.

Upstairs, Jinx found Anya sitting at the table, smiling, with a bemused look on her face as she stared at the laptop screen.

“I was instructed to see if you required any assistance,” Jinx stated as he reached the table.

“Nah,” Anya responded. “I’m just taking a break. I found some stuff on that medallion. Most of it is in some weird language I’ve never seen before.”

Anya gestured toward a small printer she had set up beside the laptop. Several printed pages were piled beside it. Jinx looked at the top page, which had a black-and-white picture of an inscribed disk printed in the upper right corner. Lines of text in a vaguely Arabic alphabet surrounded the picture.

“The language is unfamiliar to me as well,” Jinx said.

“Eh, no big,” Anya said. “That’s what Willow and Giles are for. Hey, Jinx? What do you think of this? Do you think three thousand dollars is too expensive?”

Anya pivoted the laptop so that the screen faced Jinx. He looked at the web page, which showed a young woman wearing a flowing white bridal gown.

“Well, she is a lovely creature,” Jinx said. “But it was my understanding that human slavery had been abolished.”

“The dress, not the girl,” Anya explained. “And yes, slavery has been abolished, most places. Here for about a hundred odd years. Of course, they fought a big war over it, and there was this one couple that...well, anyway. What do you think of the dress?”

“It is very flattering.”

“I’ll say,” Anya sighed. “But it’s a little out of my price range. I mean, right now it’s only at about two grand, but there’s six hours left before the bidding closes, and with the normal retail price...well, anyway, no sense getting my hopes up. There’s no room on E-Bay for the sentimental.”

“Is there an occasion approaching that requires you to have such a dress? Perhaps some feast day in honor of Buffy?”

“Not everything has to do with Buffy,” Anya grumbled. “At least, that’s MY lonely opinion. Sometimes, I wish...whoa! Can’t say that. You’d think I’d know better. No wonder I had such an easy time of it.”

Jinx stood in silence, finding himself, yet again, uncertain of a proper response.

“Have you ever been married, Jinx?” Anya asked.

“Oh, no,” Jinx said. “Serving Glorificus required total devotion.”

“C’mon,” Anya said. “I mean, even minions have needs.”

“We require food and clothing, like most creatures,” Jinx agreed.

“No, needs,” Anya said. “You know? Neeeeeeeeeds? Sexual needs?”

“Oh, yes,” Jinx said. “Ahem, well, the ecstasy from Glory’s attention was more than enough to satisfy my....”

“So you and Glory had sex?”

“Oh, Heaven’s no!” Jinx exclaimed. “Glory would never lower herself to couple with a minion!”

“Well, then,” Anya said. “You couldn’t have spent every moment serving Glory.”

Jinx drew a deep breath, made a cautionary glance over his shoulder, then leaned forward and whispered:

“There was a fellow minion whose...company...I kept.”

“Neat,” Anya giggled, leaning toward Jinx.

“Her name was Reeks,” Jinx said.

“Oh, how...pretty.”

“A lovelier creature you have never seen,” Jinx sighed. “She had the most exquisite valleys in the skin of her face.”

“Well, not to brag, but back when I was...oh, sorry. You were saying?”

“We would often steal away in the wee hours of the morning, as Glory slept,” Jinx continued in a hushed tone. “We would lay on the roof, holding each other as we stared at the stars.”

“How romantic,” Anya said. “Um, Jinx? Why are you whispering?”

“Oh, I am sorry,” Jinx said. “Force of habit. Reeks and I went to great pains to keep the nature of our relationship a secret.”

Anya sat straight up. “Oh, you...I mean, the two of you agreed not to tell anyone?”

“Yes, both of us,” Jinx answered. “Both. It was a joint decision. Between the two of us. We were in absolute agreement.”

“Really?”

“Well, truth be told, it was Reeks who was rather...adamant about concealing our relationship. She felt that, for the good of our service to Glory, it would be best if no one knew.”

“But you weren’t so sure?”

“I...I thought that perhaps...Glory never specifically prohibited her minions from having relations with each other. But Reeks thought it would dishonor Glory if we were to even suggest that our attention was even slightly diverted from Glory’s endeavors.”

“Hmm,” Anya said, her face falling slightly. “So, where is Reeks now?”

“I do not know,” Jinx said. “After Glory disappeared, we of course hoped that she would someday return. When it became obvious that Glory had abandoned us, Reeks became depressed. She said she needed time. I suggested that perhaps we should seek a new god together, but there was only one god for Reeks. One day she just...left. I have not seen her since.”

“I’m sorry,” Anya said quietly. “That must have been awful.”

“I certainly understood her feelings,” Jinx said. “I was as distraught as any when we lost Glory. But, still, I had hoped that Reeks’ feelings for me would be enough to....”

Jinx swallowed, then took a forced breath.

“Hey, Jinx,” Anya said, leaning forward. This time, it was Anya’s voice that dropped to a whisper. “Did you ever wonder if maybe...well, if maybe Reeks kept everything secret for another reason? Like, maybe it just wasn’t out of respect for Glory? Maybe he...I mean, maybe SHE kept it quiet so she could get out of it? Maybe she just wasn’t sure about the two of you?”

“I have thought that,” Jinx admitted. “Of course, if she did feel that way, it would be understandable. We did not lead normal lives. I had seen many minions try to maintain relationships with each other. None were successful. I often laughed at them, called them fools for believing that they could succeed where so many others had failed. Still, I had hoped that Reeks and I were...different.”

“Yeah, I get that. Between you and me, sometimes I....”

Anya was interrupted by a sharp ‘beep’ from the laptop. She turned the screen toward her, and guided the cursor to the new window with the touchpad.

“A development?” Jinx inquired.

“Nah,” Anya said, clicking on icons. “Willow wrote a program for us that automatically monitors websites that sell things, in case any of the stuff might be magic. Someone probably just put some wolfsbane up for bid at a discount below the going rate of....”

Anya’s voice trailed off as she absorbed the image before her. Her eyes widened. She jumped up out of her chair and screamed:

“Holy copulation! That’s it!”

Jinx stared in stunned silence as he heard pounding footsteps coming up the basement stairs. The door to the basement flew open, and Xander rushed to Anya’s side.

“What’s wrong!?” Xander asked. “Did something...?”

“I found it!” Anya exclaimed.

“What? The medallion?”

“No, I found IT!” Anya repeated, pointing frantically at the screen.

“Huh?” Xander said, leaning down toward the screen. He read a few lines of text, then gasped:

“Oh, my god! A-a-are you sure that’s it? I mean, it looks like a flower pot.”

“Move,” Anya said, shouldering Xander out of the way. After a couple of clicks, the printer on the table hummed and whined. A sheet of paper began a slow descent into the printer.

“I bookmarked the page,” Anya said, trying to catch her breath. “We’ll need Willow to be sure, but I’m pretty sure...wow! After just one night! Yay, me!”

Xander threw his arms around Anya, lifted her into the air, and kissed her full on the mouth. He released her, and playfully growled:

“You know, computer savvy women are such a turn on!”

Anya scowled. “Xander! I’m the one who found the urn! And she’s been gay for over...oh, you mean me!”

“Has something good happened?” Jinx wondered.

“You bet it has,” Xander said. “Real good. The best thing ever. It’s a secret, though. That is, Buffy said to keep it a secret.”

“So Buffy will be pleased?” Jinx asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Xander said. “I think this’ll make her happier than she’s ever been. Everything will be perfect.”

“Here,” Anya said, releasing herself from Xander’s grasp and grabbing the printed sheet from the paper tray along with the information on the medallion. “Take these to Willow. Tell her it’s VERY important that she call us at home tonight and let us know whether we should keep going. Remember, only give these to WILLOW!”

“Of course,” Jinx said, taking the papers from Anya.

“Quickly,” Anya said. “There aren’t any bids yet. Our only real chance is to make a deal privately.”

“Are you sure we can get it?” Xander asked.

“Are you kidding me?” Anya shot back. “It’s pre-bid! We can go to him directly. Once we start negotiating I’ll have him begging to sell it. I’ll be throwing deals at him that’ll knock him on his sandy gnome ass!”

“That’s my girl,” Xander said, throwing an arm around Anya’s shoulder.

Xander and Anya gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes. Anya rested her head against Xander’s chest, then realized that Jinx was still standing before them.

“You,” Anya said. “Go now. We need to celebrate naked. Move it.”

“Oh, yes,” Jinx said. “As you command.”

Jinx turned and hurried out of the shop.

“You think we can trust him to keep it close to the vest?” Anya asked.

“Yeah,” Xander said. “I mean, he seems...well...he’s something.”

“Yeah,” Anya said. “He’s...quite a piece of work.”

“Yeah.”

With her head on Xander’s chest, Anya could not see the hint of misgiving that had crept into Xander’s face. Of course, that also meant that Xander could not see the hint of misgiving in Anya’s own eyes.

All traces of apprehension were gone from both of their expressions as Anya looked up at Xander. He smiled, and she smiled back.

“C’mon, beautiful,” Xander whispered. “Let’s go home.”


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With an Alien People Clutching Their Gods - Chapter 4
And the Silken Girls Bringing Sherbet

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After Buffy’s death, the Scoobies face a new threat, and one of Glory’s minions devotes his life to the worship of his new goddess. Set during the summer between Seasons 5 and 6 of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please. E-mail Mikelesq@aol.com
Spoilers: Up to the “Bargaining,” Episode of Season 6.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer” characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title, chaper titles, and lines quoted are from T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.” Thanks to Estepheia for the plot bunny.

Read This Fic »

“Who’s there?!?”

“That’s a real knock, Buffybot,” Tara sighed as she walked past the robot to the front door of the Summers’ house. She tightened the belt on her bathrobe, then opened the door, and found Jinx standing on the porch, holding a stack of papers in his hand.

“Oh, you,” Tara mumbled, instinctively taking a cautionary step backwards. She drew a raspy breath, memories of the madness inflicted upon her by Glory rushing back to her. Jinx had been frequenting the Summers’ home for two weeks, but the memories returned every time.

“C’mon in,” Tara said, struggling to maintain her composure.

“Thank you,” Jinx said, entering the house. “Good evening to you. And a most pleasant evening to you, Oh Most Marvelous Being.”

“Thank you!” The Buffybot responded.

Tara groaned, then said:

“What is it, Jinx?”

“I bear information from Anya and Xander,” Jinx replied. “I was told that a response was required expeditiously.”

“Alright,” Tara said, extending her hand. “Hand it over.”

“Well, Anya was very specific in her insistence that only Willow take possession of these documents.”

“Buffy,” Tara said. “Tell Jinx to give me the papers.”

“Jinx,” the Buffybot responded. “Give those papers to Tara!”

“As you wish, My Goddess,” Jinx said, giving the papers to Tara. Jinx smiled at Tara. The Buffybot smiled at Tara. Then Jinx turned to the Buffybot. Jinx and the Buffybot smiled at each other.

Tara didn’t smile.

“Alright,” Tara said. “I’ll give them to Willow. You can leave now.”

“Well, I was instructed to verify that Willow will provide further instructions this very evening,” Jinx replied.

“Buffy,” Tara said. “Tell Jinx to...oh, forget it. Look, just come into the kitchen. Willow will be down in a minute.”

Tara turned and walked toward the kitchen, with Jinx and the Buffybot close behind.

“Brother,” Tara mumbled under her breath as she walked. “If it was like this when Spike signed on, I’m glad I was crazy.”

The three entered the kitchen and found Dawn sitting at the counter. She wore an oversized nightshirt, and was opening one of three pints of ice cream before her. Three empty bowls sat along the edges of the table, each with a spoon laying beside it.

“I call dibs on the caramel fudge,” Dawn said. “Did Willow remember the chocolate sprinkles, or should we just...oh.”

Dawn’s jaw stiffened as she turned to face Tara and saw Jinx standing along side her. Dawn crossed her arms, instinctively shielding her stomach where Doc had made his shallow cuts.

“What’s HE doing here?” Dawn asked. “I thought the jokes knock-knocked him out?”

“Xander and Anya found some stuff,” Tara explained. “He brought over the papers.”

“What’s he STILL doing here?” Dawn asked.

“I was going to tell...well, it’s a long story.”

“Jinx came with information,” the Buffybot said. “We will use the information to fight the evil vampires!”

“Yeah, right,” Dawn mumbled.

“Dawn, as your sister, I think I should remind you of your bedtime,” the Buffybot said, walking over to Dawn and resting a hand on her shoulder. “Girls your age should....”

“Um, Buffy,” Tara said. “We discussed this. It’s summer vacation. Dawn is allowed to stay up....”

Tara stopped as Dawn forcefully pushed the Buffybot’s hand away. Dawn turned, looked into the robot’s eyes, and said:

“Don’t. Touch. Me.”

Tara quickly looked over to Jinx, who watched uncomfortably.

“Heh, sisters,” Tara said, smiling weakly. “You know how they fight. But it’s nothing to worry about. Right, Buffy?”

The Buffybot nodded, and a wide grin spread across her face.

“Right?” Tara said, turning to face Dawn.

“Sure,” Dawn murmured. “Everything’s just great.”

Tara paused as she heard footsteps behind her. She turned and saw Willow approaching.

“Sundae-fest ready to go?” Willow asked as she entered the kitchen. “I picked up some spray can whipped cream on my way home from...oh! Jinx! Hi! What are you...?”

Willow paused when she felt the confused stares of Tara and Dawn glaring upon her.

“Um, that is,” Willow continued, forcing her face into a scowl. “What do you want?”

“He brought these,” Tara replied, handing the papers to Willow. “Anya found something.”

“Oh,” Willow said, taking the papers and flipping quickly through the sheets. “Hmm. It’s a medallion, and the name Iparthus is pretty clearly mentioned, but the text is....”

Willow paused as she came to the final paper in the stack.

“Oh, my god,” Willow gasped.

“What?” Dawn asked. “Something big?”

“Oh, um, no,” Willow stammered. “It’s...the amulet. There’s...stuff, about the amulet. All kinds of stuff. Really. Stuff.”

“Stuff,” Dawn repeated.

“Let me see,” Tara said, walking over to Willow and reading over her shoulder. “Anything on what the amulet...oh, my god!”

“Two oh-my-gods,” Dawn observed. “That must be some amulet.”

“Uh, yeah,” Tara said. “Willow, you should start checking on this.”

“I’m on it,” Willow said. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Willow,” the Buffybot said. “My batteries will require recharging before the morning.”

Willow’s eyes widened as she stole a glance at Jinx. A puzzled expression crossed Jinx’s face, until Tara interrupted with a loud yawn.

“Yeah,” Tara said, drawing a deep breath and stretching her arms high above her head. “I’m kind of tired, too. A good night’s sleep will really ‘recharge my batteries,’ so to speak.”

Jinx smiled, nodding in understanding. Dawn turned her head to prevent Jinx from seeing her sigh of relief.

“Good thinking,” Willow said. “Tara, why don’t you take Buffy upstairs to bed, so she can ‘recharge the ol’ batteries’ with a little sack time. I’ll start checking out stuff. Dawn, stay down here with Jinx until we come down.”

Dawn scowled. “I don’t want to stay down here with HIM!”

“Dawnie, please,” Willow said. “It’ll just be for a few minutes. I may need Jinx to...um...get a message to Xander and Anya. I’ll be right down. I promise.”

“Whatever,” Dawn said, absently stabbing a spoon into the ice cream.

Willow bolted out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

“C’mon, Buffy,” Tara said, taking the robot by the elbow. “Let’s get you to bed. Dawn, I’ll be down as soon as I can. It’ll be okay. I promise.”

Dawn paused, then nodded. Tara led the Buffybot by the arm out of the kitchen.

“Have I interrupted a ritual of some kind?” Jinx asked.

“Sort of,” Dawn replied. “Every Thursday we have an ice cream pig out. It’s a girl thing.”

“I must admit,” Jinx said. “The customs observed by My Goddess are...difficult to comprehend.”

“Sorry,” Dawn sneered. “We used to have more ceremonies where we’d slice into teenagers to open up dimensional portals, but we ran out of innocent victims.”

“I certainly hope that I was not the cause of the disagreement between you and The Most Splendiferous One?”

“No,” Dawn admitted. “It’s just...I don’t like her touching me.”

“Why? She is your sister, is she not?”

“She’s not...I mean...look, Jinx, this is really none of your business. Stay out of it.”

“I apologize,” Jinx said. “You are quite right. The familial relations of My Goddess are hardly the concern of one as foul and decrepit as myself. I beg you, for my arrogance, take....”

“Jinx, please,” Dawn interrupted. “If you’re going to make some kind of an offer to get disfigured, skip it. You’ll ruin my appetite.”

“Again, I apologize,” Jinx said. “I did not mean to.. that is, I did not want to be the cause of any conflict. I would not wish to....”

“Wish to what?” Dawn asked.

“I have already failed one goddess,” Jinx said, his eyes falling. “I cannot bear the thought that I would fail another.”

“What are you talking about?” Dawn asked. “I mean, I thought you were on shoe duty when Buffy beat Glory?”

“Yes,” Jinx said. “I followed Glory’s instructions to the letter.”

“Well, there you go,” Dawn said. “It wasn’t your fault she got the stuffing kicked out of her before my blood opened the gates to Hell.”

Dawn frowned as she pondered her last statement.

“I have told myself that many times,” Jinx agreed. “But I cannot help but think that there was something more that I could do. Of course, Glory insisted that it was imperative that her tastefully chosen ensembles accompany her. She told me that she had no intention of abandoning the wardrobe she had spent a lifetime accumulating. Apparently, in her home dimension, the more powerful beings normally adorn themselves with the viscera of lower demons. Glory stated that the innards of such creatures would fail to flatter her calves.”

“Ew,” Dawn winced. “Well, I guess it would be hard to find entrails that have a slimming effect. On the person wearing them, that is. The demon it came from, well, you can’t get much more slimming than...okay, there goes that appetite.”

“Glory always did have a keen fashion sense,” Jinx observed. “Still, given the gravity of the events, I find it hard to believe that, well....”

“What? You think she was lying?”

“I suspect that she had another motive for assigning this task to me,” Jinx said. “I was Glory’s oldest minion. I would always assume her most challenging enterprises. I would deal with Ben, hunt for the Key, hand wash her more delicate unmentionables. As Glory grew closer to her goal, she would relegate me to increasingly more menial tasks. I suspect that she was trying to keep me out of harm’s way.”

“That doesn’t sound like Glory. I mean, she was evil and all. And you always talk about how she would smack you around and stuff.”

“Oh, that was just her way,” Jinx said. “Sometimes, when she was alone and despondent, she would tell me of her plans to return to the realm from whence she came. And then she would tell me that I was her favorite, and that she would take me with her, to serve her for all eternity.”

“Oh,” Dawn said, looking into Jinx’s dispirited expression. “And that’s why you figure she gave you her suitcases when the big battle was coming? She let her feelings for you distract her from...well, what she should have been thinking about?”

“Perhaps,” Jinx said. “Not that I am not gratetful for the preference she showed me, but...a part of me was relieved when Glory told me to stay away from the fight. I try to tell myself that it was obedience, but a part of me suspects that it was fear.”

“So,” Dawn said, her eyes focusing intently on the empty bowl that sat before her. “You figure that...the only reason you’re here is because...because you let Glory talk you into keeping yourself safe?”

Jinx shrugged. “I certainly could have tried to persuade her to let me do more. Not that it is the place of a minion to question an order, but...for the longest time after she was lost, I kept asking myself if it was selfish of me to simply allow everything to occur, without so much as a word passing my wretched lips.”

“Yeah,” Dawn said. “I mean, you tell yourself that you just did what you were told, but maybe you wanted...maybe you were just afraid....”

Dawn lifted her spoon and reached for the pint of ice cream before her. She stared at the label wordlessly for a moment, then turned to Jinx and said:

“Hey, look, do you ever get...angry? At Glory, I mean. Do you ever get really, really angry at her, which is stupid, because she isn’t...there...but still you think about how much you miss her, and how awful you feel, and how crazy things have gotten, and how much better it would have been if she’d just let you....well, do you? Get angry?”

“I did,” Jinx admitted. “But not anymore.”

“Why not?”

“I now serve Buffy. I cannot change the past. All I can do now is serve my new Goddess to the best of my ability. I am here. I wallowed in my grief for a time, but to do so indefinitely would accomplish nothing.”

“Huh,” Dawn mumbled. “That’s...interesting. You know, sometimes I....”

Dawn was interrupted by the sound of a single telephone ring. Dawn turned toward the kitchen phone, but when a second ring did not follow, she surmised that Tara had answered the telephone upstairs. A moment later, Tara walked into the kitchen and said:

“It’s Janice. She wants to know how you’re doing with your summer reading.”

“I’ll take it upstairs,” Dawn said, rising from her seat and walking toward the hall.

“Okay,” Tara said, taking a seat at the counter.

Dawn stopped before exiting the kitchen, turned to Tara, and asked:

“Tara, is...Buffy...all taken care of?”

“Uh, yeah,” Tara responded, somewhat surprised by the question.

“Good,” Dawn said. “I’ll be right down. Oh, Jinx?”

“Yes?” Jinx replied.

“I’ll...I’ll be right down,” Dawn repeated, then turned and continued down the hallway.

Tara shot a puzzled glance at Jinx. Jinx merely smiled, his hands folded in his lap.

“What were you two talking about?” Tara inquired.

“We were merely discussing the difficulties of being a minion,” Jinx explained.

“Yeah, tough job,” Tara said, an uncharacteristic tone of sarcasm in her voice. “I guess helping Glory turn helpless victims into insane slaves wasn’t always easy, was it?”

“Oh, it was one of many tasks that required a great deal of effort,” Jinx said. “The kidnappings, the constant complimenting, the pedicures. Unpleasantness, but I was honored to perform whatever menial services I could provide. After all, I could ask for no better.”

“What do you mean?” Tara asked. “Did you do something wrong?”

“Oh, it was not a question of atonement,” Jinx said. “It was merely fitting my station.”

“Your station?”

“Other demons generally do not associate with our species,” Jinx explained. “We are considered a lower form of demon.”

“I don’t get it,” Tara said. “You have that regenerating thing. You’re unkillable. I’d figure other demons would be looking to stay on your good side.”

“There is a hierarchy among demons,” Jinx said. “It is difficult to explain to a human. The members of your kind are virtually identical to each other. The minor differences among you are of no consequence.”

“I dunno,” Tara said, shifting uncomfortably. “I mean, humans can be like that, to people who are...different. Sometimes humans can be very cruel to each other, just because...well, for no good reason, really.”

“How odd,” Jinx observed. “Well, for our kind, it eventually was of no consequence.”

“Why?”

“Glorificus,” Jinx sighed. “Demons sought her from all over the globe, simply to worship her. She could have selected the strongest, the fiercest, the most powerful of demons to serve as her minions. But she selected us. She selected ME, a loathsome pile of flesh and hair, to attend to her. Centuries of hiding, of cowering before the lower beings, and then, the most powerful of all beings chose me to be at her side. It was as though all the years of struggle had finally brought me to something that made my foul existence a gift to be treasured.”

“You mean, she made you feel special,” Tara said, her eyes drifting downward.

“Yes, she did,” Jinx said.

“I guess I can see that,” Tara said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that justifies all the evil and killing and mind stuff, but...I can see how that would feel.”

“I try not to dwell too much on the past,” Jinx said. “After all, I have been so fortunate to find Buffy.”

“Yeah,” Tara replied. “It’s not easy to find someone who makes you feel that way.”

Tara was silent for a moment, then looked up at Jinx, and said:

“Um, Jinx? Did you ever wonder...if maybe that’s what it was all about? I mean, when things would get scary, and stuff was going on that made you...uncomfortable...did you ever wonder if maybe you kept it all inside because you were afraid that, if you screwed it up, you’d go back to feeling like you didn’t matter? Like you’d stop feeling...special?”

“Well, no,” Jinx answered. “I surely do not want to return to the life I had before, but the life I have now gives me joy because my devotion to My Goddess is genuine. She is truly a wondrous creature. She is most worthy of any hardship I may have to endure. Simply being in her presence gives me delight, and I know that it comes for my love of her, not from anything in the past.”

“Yeah,” Tara said. “I mean, it’s great when you’re with someone, and you just know it’s right. But, still....”

“We got it!”

Tara turned and saw that the cry had come from Willow.

“We got it?” Tara repeated. “What...oh! It. Are you sure?”

“You betcha!” Willow exclaimed. “I mean, we don’t actually HAVE it, but I checked it out, and it’s definitely the one. I contacted Xander. He couldn’t talk long. He and Anya were...well, let’s just say he was out of breath. But he did say that they found an out of town source, and we’ll know in a couple of weeks whether we can get it.”

“How did you talk with him?” Tara asked. “Isn’t Dawn on the phone with Janice?”

Willow grinned and tapped a finger against her forehead. “I was a little worried about making a connection, what with the distance, and the interference from the Henderson’s satellite dish, but I got through. Remind me to tell Xander to stop speaking out loud when we do the ESP thing. It makes an echo.”

“So if we get...it,” Tara said, casting a cautionary glance at Jinx, “we have a chance?”

“Chance my ass,” Willow said. “I can do it. I know it. Hell, the way I feel tonight I think I could do anything!”

“That’s...great,” Tara said, absently playing with the fringed end of her bathrobe belt.

“What’s wrong?” Willow asked.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Tara said. “I’m...I guess I’m just a little tired.”

“Perhaps you should ‘recharge your batteries’ with some sleep?” Jinx suggested, looking in Willow and Tara’s faces for approval in his use of the idiom.

“Yeah,” Tara said, a weak smile crossing her face. “Maybe that would help.”

“Janice doesn’t get John Keats either,” Dawn said, entering the kitchen and sitting at the counter. “So, sundae time?”

“All set,” Willow replied.

“You will not require my services for the rest of the evening?” Jinx asked.

“Nope,” Willow answered. “We’re done.”

“Very well,” Jinx said. “I will bid you all a good night.”

“Um, Jinx,” Dawn said. “Where exactly do you sleep?”

“Oh, there is an abandoned warehouse on the docks,” Jinx explained. “Quite comfortable.”

“Oh,” Dawn sighed.

“Hey,” Tara said. “You know, there’s plenty of room in the basement.”

“Oh, I would not dream of imposing on your hospitality,” Jinx said.

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” Tara responded. “Right, Will?”

“Uh, yeah,” Willow said, somewhat taken aback by Tara and Dawn’s new concern for Jinx’s comfort.

“Well, it would allow me to tend to The Most Delectable One more closely,” Jinx said.

“There you go,” Dawn said.

“I will retire to the basement, then,” Jinx said, bowing and turning to walk toward the hall.

“Wait a minute,” Dawn said. “Uh, before you crash...well, we always buy way too much ice cream. I mean, we scarf it down, but there’s always plenty left.”

“Would you like me to arrange the freezer?” Jinx inquired. “I am sure that, given a little attention, I can organize the frozen foods in such a way that would allow ample room for....”

“No, no, no,” Tara said. “I think Dawn means that you can have some, if you want.”

“I thought this ritual was for female minions only?” Jinx asked. “I would not want to commit a sacrilege against your....”

“It’s fine,” Dawn said. “Isn’t it, Willow?”

“Sure,” Willow replied, deciding to accept Willow and Tara’s new rapport with Jinx until she could get an explanation. “Help yourself. I mean, if you want. I know demons can have some...unusual tastes. Do you like ice cream?”

“I...I really don’t know,” Jinx said. “I’ve never had it before.”

“You’ve NEVER had ice cream?” Dawn gasped. “Oh my god, you’ve got to try the caramel fudge. It’s fantabulous!”

Jinx looked at the faces of the ladies, found their expressions full of inviting approval, then walked up to the counter and said:

“Caramel fudge it is.”


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With an Alien People Clutching Their Gods - Chapter 5
We Returned to Our Places, These Kingdoms

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: After Buffy’s death, the Scoobies face a new threat, and one of Glory’s minions devotes his life to the worship of his new goddess. Set during the summer between Seasons 5 and 6 of BtVS.
Rating: PG-13.
Feedback: Please. E-mail Mikelesq@aol.com
Spoilers: Up to the “Bargaining,” Episode of Season 6.
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer” characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction. Distribute if you like. The title, chaper titles, and lines quoted are from T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.” Thanks to Estepheia for the plot bunny.

Read This Fic »

"Take this to HEART!" the Buffybot quipped, thrusting her stake into the chest of the vampire that Jinx had pinned to the ground.

‘Xander, behind you!’ Willow thought, standing at the upper level of the Magic Box, watching the battle below.

"Yikes!" Xander yelped, turning to face his attacker just in time to catch a punch across his jaw. Anya swung the bat in her hands, connecting with the vampire’s shoulder. The vamp growled, turned to face Anya, but collapsed to the ground as a roundhouse kick from Spike struck him in the back of the head.

Giles raised his crossbow, taking aim at the vampire on the ground, but before he could send the bolt on its way, another vampire tackled him and pinned him against the bookshelves.

"Invola!" Tara exclaimed, standing next to Willow, with Dawn watching beside her.

From the wall opposite Giles, a row of books sprang one by one at the vampire, who released Giles and shielded himself with his arms. The vampire threw himself to the ground as the final book flew through the air and struck Giles squarely on the forehead.

"Oh, sorry!" Tara gasped.

"You’ve GOT to teach me that," Dawn said.

‘Jinx,’ Willow thought. ‘Help Giles.’

Jinx ran across the room and dove onto the crouching vampire, wrapping him in a bear hug. The Buffybot followed, grasped the vampire by the throat, and plunged her stake into the vampire’s heart. It disintegrated in Jinx’s grasp.

"One left," Spike muttered, backhanding the last vampire across the face, drawing a stake from the inside of his jacket, and burying it in the vampire’s chest.

"Done and done," Spike said as the vampire turned to dust.

"Giles!" Tara cried out, running down the stairs.

"I’m alright," Giles replied, holding his head with one hand and lifting himself with the other. "It was a relatively small volume."

"I guess you’re luck