TITLE: Vesparys - notes
AUTHOR: Nynaeve
E-MAIL: scully@on-net.net
Rating: Pg-13 (Language, Violence)
Category: S, X-File, Crossover
Keywords: MSR, Angst
Spoilers: Various Tiny Ones For Series; Also For Series "buffy The Vampire Slayer" And "Angel"
Disclaimer: chris carter... Yadda, yadda, yadda ... 1013 ... Blah, blah, blah. Bottom line: not mine. Also, joss whedon...etc., etc., etc. ... Mutant enemy... So on, so on, and so on ... Bottom line: not mine either.
Feedback: yup. Love it. Keep it all in little folders, specifically marked for each story. Respond to all of it too.
Distribution statement: anywhere, just let me know please where it's going so i can visit. Spookys - feel free to archive.
Dedication: to the usual, a and j.

Summary: Two demons wreak havoc. Mulder and Scully chase down the "X-File" only to discover someone else knows a little something about this sort of "unexplained phenomena".

Author's notes: some more notes will follow, I'm sure at the end, but two quick ones: one, this is a huge departure for me. I always said "no crossovers" but hey, well, it happened. So, stake me; two, if you made it this far you either don't mind crossovers, are curious, have a lot of time, or have really good taste in tv.

Richmond, British Columbia
January 18
2:18 p.m.

"Richie? Richie, honey? Are you here? It's Mom." The woman opening the front door of the huge, two story, home wore a conservative business suit. Her dark hair was fashionably cut. Her long nails varnished a glowing, yet subtle wine-red shade. Her heels clattered over the hard wood floor that gleamed as the sun fell across the entryway. Her forehead was creased in lines of worry and her dark blue eyes betrayed a mixture of fear and irritation.

"Richie?" she called again, her voice growing more agitated. In an upstairs closet the object of her search, her eight-year-old son, Richie Vale, sat hidden. The principal at his school had called her about an hour and a half ago, drawing her away from a very important client.

Samantha Vale was a well-known, highly respected investment banker. Her career was demanding, as all careers are when they become the focus of a person's life. Her dedication to market shifts, capital gains, and diversified investment portfolios overshadowed all aspects of her personal life. A few months previous, her husband had left her. He claimed she had left him years before, when her career had taken off.

Angry and bitter, convinced the airheaded blond on his arm had "stolen" him, she had gone after custody of Richie with the same ruthlessness she brought to investing her clients' money. Ruthlessness usually pays off and it had in this case. Allen and the peroxide bitch had little access to Richie. That Richie missed his father, that he felt more comfortable with Christine, that he spent more time at school and sitters and various extracurricular activities that Samantha never attended was an irony completely lost on her.

The gravity of the current situation was *not* lost on her. Richie, whose behavior had been deteriorating lately, had apparently left school during the lunch recess. His departure had been witnessed only by three of his closest friends, none of whom said anything. The teacher noted Richie had not returned from the lunch break, nor was he in the restroom, as might have been reasonable. The principal had been alerted and a search instituted. It was only then, about 30 minutes later that his friends told Mr. Watson, the principal, that Richie had simply walked away from the school. They claimed not to know where he was going, that he had never said. Billy Stout added that Richie had been acting weird, "far away" he had called it.

Samantha had been notified. She had left her meeting with as much grace as possible and driven from her office in downtown Vancouver to suburban Richmond hurriedly, hoping to find Richie had just walked to the house. As she continued to call his name and as she searched all the places he might be hiding downstairs, she thought of the choice words she would be sharing with Mr. Watson about a school that can't keep track of its students. She weighed the idea of bringing a lawsuit against them, then dismissed that notion. She'd rather Allen know nothing of this little escapade. It would reflect poorly on her. He was looking for any way he could to take her prize, their son, away from her.

Thoughts of her ex-husband, a weakling who could not face a wife who made more than he did, who had better things to do with her life than pop out three or four babies, then spend the best years of her life changing diapers, wiping noses, and potty training them, filled her with anger. Her head buzzed with emotion. Lost in this chaotic state of bitterness and hatred, she didn't hear Richie creep into the kitchen, where she now stood.

She didn't hear, didn't notice him at all. He had no difficulty tugging the trendy brass plant stand just into her path. He retreated to the shadows thrown by a near wall and watched her. Oblivious to her surroundings, her foot caught the curled up edge of the brass foot. She went down with a shriek. Her hands made a flat "fawhup" noise as she fell onto the Pergo floor. The breath whooshed out of her. She lay inert for only a moment before managing to raise her head.

Her hair, that perfect, stylish hair was mussed considerably by her fall. Locks of it fell across her face, giving her a vulnerable look, the look of a woman with few defenses. Her skin had gone pale, her lips drained of blood, from the fall. She breathed shallowly. Dully, her brain registered the flash of sunlight off the knife in her son's hand.

"Richie! There you are." She stated the obvious. Then, she began scolding. "Put that knife back immediately. You know knives aren't toys..."

Anything else she had planned on saying was cut short by the swift strokes of the blade. She screamed a few times while she had breath, before the honed steel fought its way past her weakly defensive hands, and found her jugular. Blood blossomed forth, spilling expansively across the lovingly cared for flooring. Had she been alive still, Samantha Hales no doubt would have lamented the work the cleaning lady was going to have to do to get *this* mess cleaned.

Sheridan, Indiana
3:43 a.m.

Annie McDoud was having an odd dream. It was like attending a play where they changed the scenery every few minutes. Even in sleep, it baffled her mind and frustrated her. The part of her brain that recalled dreams, that analyzed their impact on her waking life grew impatient with this nonsense, knowing Annie was sleeping poorly. In her dream, Annie McDoud looked into a mirror. It seemed in the latest version of the play she was watching she had become one of the players. In the mirror, she watched her face turn blue. 'Smurf blue' her now-grown children would have told her.

Her eyes snapped open. She turned to look at the digital clock. It glared impersonally at her. 3:43 in the morning. She sighed tiredly, with resignation. Gone were the days when she slept through the night. Most nights her bladder woke her up once, if not twice. Well, at least it explained the odd dream.

She cursed softly as she stuck her legs out of the covers. Despite some recent warm days, nights were still cold in central Indiana. She and Pete had lived in this house almost their whole married lives. In forty years together they had raised five children on a school teacher's salary. There had been lean years and they had always been frugal. Even now, with things not nearly so tight, neither of them was the kind to suggest running the furnace at night. Annie wondered as the cool air swirled around her legs if maybe it wasn't time some habits went by the wayside. She was getting too old for this.

She winced as her feet met the cold ceramic tile of the bathroom floor. Bob, their oldest, was a home builder here and for their fortieth anniversary had insisted on remodeling the bathroom for them. It was a project they had talked about for years, but never gotten around to. Annie and Pete had smiled at each other over Bob's grandiose plans. It was far more elaborate than they would have ever thought of, but it gave him pride to do this for them, so they had agreed. Annie's friends had oohed and ahhed over the remodel which included a whirlpool, garden size tub, separate shower, a double sink vanity, and, of course, a glowing white Italian tile floor. Annie reflected that it surely was gorgeous when the sun flooded in from early morning until sinking along the western horizon. Just as surely, it was colder than the proverbial witch's tit when a person had to pee in the middle of the night. She reminded herself, yet again, to go to Wal-Mart and find a throw rug or two.

She chuckled softly at the image that provoked. Pete, or even Annie herself, playing a bizarre game of midnight hopscotch from rug to rug so as to not freeze their tootsies by moonlight. The chuckle became a gasp of surprise as her left foot landed squarely in a puddle of water - icy cold water no less. Hastily she lifted her foot, dripping, from the watery accumulation on the floor. She shook the offending body part vigorously, spraying liquid droplets around the room. "Damn Beep," she muttered as she continued her way to the toilet.

The cat, the one Veronica, their youngest daughter, had brought home from college about ten years ago, would not drink water unless his bowl was in Annie and Pete's bathroom. It was an inexplicable habit, but cats are themselves inexplicable. They had given up, about five years ago, even trying to get him to take water elsewhere. The only real problem was Beep was a klutz of a cat who frequently overturned his bowl.

Annie finished up and made her way back to bed, her foot thoroughly chilled, beginning to ache actually from the cold. She thought of her younger days, how she would hardly have felt the sort of cold her senior citizen's bones now seemed to draw in. Perhaps that is why she never noticed Beep's water bowl, placed in its accustomed spot near the door, about five feet from the puddle. Moonlight glinted off the water standing placidly in it. The bowl was full, having been filled by Pete before he went to bed.


Los Angeles, California
12:12 P.M.

Angel strode through the police station, looking neither left nor right, but straight ahead. Kate Locksley's blond head was bent over something on her desk. From this distance, with that hair color, it was easy to imagine, to see in her...Angel stopped himself. For a man whose heart no longer beat in his chest, the ache he felt seemed not to diminish at all. It was best not to think of *her*, but to focus on the reality of Kate, who had looked up and seen him.

She stared at him. Some days she was flat out antagonistic to the handsome vampire; other days she was a little more receptive. Angel knew she was in a position most humans rarely find themselves. She dealt with it pretty well, all things considered. She lifted her chin at him and stuck out a hand, indicating he should sit down across from her.

"I was wondering when you'd show up," she said.

Angel bowed his head and laced his fingers together in front of his chest. When he looked up at her, his mouth was set. Briefly he considered trying to talk with her, to explain matters again. He knew, though, that course was futile. She would come to accept what he was, to understand *all* he was, or she wouldn't. "I need to know what you've got," he said baldly.

She glanced around. No one was observing them. He knew instinctively that fact struck her as odd. Humans, those unaccustomed to the supernatural world, never seemed to grasp that demons of many sorts could pass through the mortal world largely unnoticed. The simple truth was no one looked very hard.

"They're not in my jurisdiction," she said.

He nodded slowly. "But ... you could get information about them."

"Why would I?" she challenged him.

He leaned forward, drawing her in with his deep eyes. "Kate, this isn't a game. Something's out there."

"What?" she asked.

He shook his head. "I don't know yet. That's why I need some information. It would help me - Wesley - us figure out what we're dealing with."

She considered his words for long moments. Their relationship had begun when she thought he was a serial killer. It had improved since then, marginally. Her discovery of his "state" had caused a huge gulf to open up between them. His inability to save her father from some less-than-mortal enemies had further alienated her. He waited for her, looking at her, silently willing her to trust him.

"Let me make a few calls," she said at last.

Noblseville, Indiana
9:52 P.M.

Scully sat at the table, typing out her notes on her laptop. Mulder lay on her bed, reading copies of the police reports. They had arrived late enough that they'd had time to do little more than interview the investigating officer before driving back to Noblesville and their hotel.

"Anything helpful?" she inquired.

"Hmm? Only if you consider a total lack of evidence to be helpful," he told her.

"Which you do," she reminded him with a grin.

He sat up. "The house, the car, both bodies, Scully, they're clean of hair or fibers. Nothing turns up that would connect an anonymous drifter. No prints anywhere other than those of the dead couple, their children, grandchildren, and various friends and neighbors."

"So, it was one of the children?"

"Detective Dennison would be surprised by that," Mulder told her.

"Mulder, the things in this world that would surprise Detective Dennison are many and varied in nature." She paused, the clatter of her fingers on the keyboard stopping for the moment. She turned to look at him. "Tell me again why this is an X File?"

He didn't answer her. "Tomorrow I want you to examine the bodies."

"Of course you do, " she replied. "What do you plan to do?"

"Look at the crime scenes, interview the children, wait for your pathology results."

She chuckled at him. "What am I going to be looking for, Sherlock?"

"I don't know yet. You'll know when you find it," he teased her.

Los Angeles, California
Angel Investigations
3:37 P.M.

The elevator creaked to a halt. Angel stepped out of the old-fashioned car and into the office. From her desk, Cordelia looked up at him. Her face was unusually pale and she said nothing. Wesley appeared from Angel's office, holding a large, dusty book.

"Oh, Angel, you're back."

"Yeah," he agreed. "You two find out anything?"

Cordelia nodded and Wesley said, "I believe so."

"In my office," Angel directed.

Once they were seated, Cordelia laid out what she had found. "Fifteen murders since January 18. Starting in Richmond, British Columbia, and moving steadily south."

"Where's Richmond?" Angel demanded.

"Near Vancouver."

"On the water?"

"Yeah," she told him. "More or less."

Angel nodded. He looked at her, concern in his eyes. Cordelia usually cared far too much about herself to care much about the suffering of others. Still, he had to give her credit, Doyle's death had changed her in certain ways. "What did this thing do?"

"It um..." she paused, looking down at her hands in her lap. She was wringing them, twisting the skin on her knuckles white. "It..." She met his eyes, her own filled with rare tears. Without warning she pushed her chair back and fled the room.

Angel looked over at Wesley.

Softly the former Watcher told him. "It possessed an eight year old boy."

Angel sighed in anger and frustration. He bowed his head. "And?"

"It killed the boy's mother. Rather brutally, in fact. Stabbed her with a kitchen knife, severing the jugular on the fourth stroke but continuing to stab another eleven times, according to the newspaper article Cordelia found. It gets worse."

Angel rubbed his forehead with his index finger. He looked up at Wesley. "I probably shouldn't ask this, but how?"

"It then walked out of the house, to the nearest body of moving water and caused the boy to stab himself to death."

Angel's hands clenched themselves into fists of immense power. Sometimes it seemed that when the gypsies had cursed him with the return of his soul they had not only caused him remorse at his own actions, but those of all demons. He wondered idly, as he did when a particularly horrific action came to his attention, if blood debts can ever be paid in full.

"She said there were fifteen murders in all?"

Wesley nodded. "Do you want details?"

"Not really," Angel admitted. "I assume they are all similar in nature. I got quite enough from Kate about the three that occurred here."

Again, the Englishman nodded. "Each spectacularly brutal, unnecessarily brutal even.

"I'll be right back," Angel told him, standing up.

He walked out of his office and into the small room where Cordelia's desk was. She was standing, staring out the window. "Cordelia?"

She turned at the sound of her name on his lips. He never failed to surprise her. Back in Sunnydale she had hated him. She had hated most of them - Buffy, Willow, Xander... She had blamed them for ruining her life when the truth was they had given her far more of a purpose than her popular, accessory-obsessed circle of friends ever could have. The lesson she had begun learning in high school had come home to her here in L.A. as she forced herself to look beneath the surface of the people she met. She had failed to do that with Doyle until it was too late, until all was left of him was a silly video tape and the gift he had passed on to her. Angel had his sins to atone for and Cordelia had hers. Sometimes, when there were cases like these, she didn't know how he had stood it all these years.

"I'm sorry," she said softly.

He walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. She reminded him of his sister, now dead over two centuries, her life's blood sucked dry by himself, one of the sins for which he constantly atoned. Cordy had been protected and petted her whole life until recently. She had grown up mostly ignoring the violence that had surrounded her in Sunnydale. Even when she had reluctantly taken part in slaying type activities, she had rarely seen this level of violence. Angel shuddered mentally at the thought that someday Cordy would inevitably lose all traces of her shallowness in the shadows he inhabited so unwillingly.

"Don't be," he told her.

She looked up at him. "It's just ... Wesley told you, didn't he?"

Angel nodded.

"It made me think of Doyle. How he wasn't like that. Why is that?"

"Demons are like people. Only you can pretty well judge how a demon will act based on its species. The species Doyle belonged to, well half belonged to, is peaceable."

She nodded, her face still bleak.

"You OK?" Angel asked.

She nodded.

"Let's go see what else Wesley can tell us," he suggested.

She agreed. As she passed an odd drawing, carefully framed, her fingers slid out and traced a line along the glass. Angel looked at her. She treasured that "gray blobby thing' as proof of the gift Doyle had given her - prescience. He wondered when she would realize the other gift Doyle had given her - a greater tolerance for differences.

Wesley raised his eyes as they returned. Cordelia looked calm and composed once more. Angel had refocused.

"I think I know what this may be and what it wants."

Cordelia fixed a stare on him. Angel sat in his chair, fingers tented in front of his chin.

"It's called a Vesparys demon. I am relatively certain it has reached the stage in its existence when it needs to spawn."

"To uh...spawn, which, by the way, may I say "Ew", doesn't it need a mate? or is it one of those hematite demons?"

"Hematite?" Wesley asked, incredulous. "Oh...you mean hermaphroditic."

"Whatever," she replied impatiently. "Well?"

"Er...uh ... no, it isn't a hermaphrodite. In fact I would wager ours is a female Vesparys."

"Ours?" Angel asked.

"Well, yes. Somewhere out there is probably a male Vesparys also ready to spawn."

"Great," Cordelia supplied sarcastically. "Should we book them the honeymoon suite at the Wiltshire?"

Angel glanced over at her. She closed her mouth on any comment she might have planned on adding.

"Wesley," Angel said.

"I hardly think we'll need to book them a honeymoon suite. I doubt they'd have much appreciation for it."

"Because..." the vampire prompted.

Wesley gave him a cold look. "Because ... Vesparys demons can only spawn in one place."

Three pairs of eyes met in wordless understanding.

"Would it do any good to try to find this thing here?" Angel asked.

"No," Wesley responded. "We'd never find it before it got out of the city. We'd do far better to go where we know it's heading."

Three mouths sighed in unison.

"I guess it's reunion time," Cordelia said mirthlessly. "Sunnydale - here we come."

Sheridan, Indiana
March23 8:03 A.M.

Scully's hair was pulled back, held under the cheap, yet critically necessary cap that would keep strands of her hair from contaminating her findings. Her hands were gloved in pale latex. Blue scrubs protected her clothing from any blood or bodily fluids that could otherwise end up on her clothing.

The county medical examiner had already done preliminary autopsies. He wasn't too thrilled with Scully's plans to second guess his findings. Scully didn't really care a whole lot. She was sure he'd done his job; the problem was, if this was an X File, it wasn't in his job description to find the sort of anomalies for which she was looking.

The county M.E.'s report lay on a counter, woefully short, to Scully's way of thinking. So stuck on this idea of a random drifter having perpetrated the attack was local law enforcement that no tox screen had been run, vital organs had been examined but the brain, what remained, had been untouched, even the various wounds had only been probed in a cursory fashion.

Scully began with the visual examination, noting the number of stab wounds, their placement, the cuts and scrapes on the woman's legs and feet, and the appearance of the head wound. Several interesting things came to her observant eye.

"Sir? Did you note the placement of these stab wounds?"

The county M.E. walked reluctantly over to her, exuding his unspoken opinion about just how much she was wasting his time. "Upper thighs, abdomen, chest. Do you have a point, Dr. Scully?"

"They are all on the front of the body."


Scully did not reply, bending instead to look more closely into the torn flesh. Although it was hard to believe what she saw, she found she did believe it. "I would say these wounds are self-inflicted."

"What?" the M.E. exploded. "That isn't possible! No sane person would stab themselves in this manner."

"No, I agree with you."

"Annie McDoud was as sane as ..." he stopped, looked at Scully with scorn. "As sane as I am."

"Then I'd like to order a tox screen to see if there was anything in her system that might have caused her to stab herself."

"Now you think she may have taken ... drugs?"

Scully shook her head. "She may have been given something that precipitated her actions. I'd like to know if that's the case. And if it is, I'd like to know what it was."

Scully continued her exam, noting, to the country examiner's displeasure, that she believed the gunshot wound was also self inflicted. She then turned her attention to the injuries on her legs and feet. "Do you know what caused these?" she asked the M.E.

"It looked like her killer made her climb over a barbed wire fence," he admitted.

"In her..." Scully checked the police report, which she had laid next to the one written by the examiner. "In her nightgown?"

The M.E. nodded.

"Was there another way they could have reached the stream where she was found?" Scully asked.

Again, a nod from the man next to her.

"So, if she got cut like this it stands to reason there should be some of her attacker's blood on the same fencing," she stated. "Was there?"

"No," he said coldly.

Scully shook her head slowly.

Despite the M.E.'s objections, his claims that he had already done a thorough internal exam, she began opening up Annie McDoud's body.

The smell that rose from the corpse almost knocked both of them off their feet. It was not putrefaction. The body had been well stored and showed, at first, few physical signs of decay. Rather the smell was one of rotting fish. At least Scully supposed that was as close as a person could come in their description.

When she had recovered her breath, she bent down again. "Oh my God..." she whispered. Annie McDoud's veins and arteries looked as if they had been scoured with a low grade acid. Her internal organs were soft, spongy, almost as if afflicted with a hemorragic virus of some sort. Her rib cage, when touched, gave quite generously, sinking beneath Scully's gently probing fingers. Her thoughts went instantly to the firemen from Dallas. It would seem Mulder might be on the right track, at least in some ways.

Changing gloves, she then examined Pete McDoud's body. McDoud had been killed by a blast from a large caliber gun. The bullet had entered his chest, splintering bone, shredding tissue, exploding his heart upon impact. There was no doubt this had been inflicted by someone other than Pete himself.

Scully ordered a tox screen on Pete as well, even though she was fairly certain it would not reveal abnormalities. Her internal exam showed none of the curiosities of Annie's body. Whatever Mulder's 'force' was, it had inhabited Annie, killed Pete, then caused Annie to kill herself. At least, that's what it looked like to Scully. She kept her thoughts to herself, hoping the tox screen would give her some scientific basis for this theory.

Mulder arrived as she was scrubbing her hands, preparing to change into street clothes. While he stood, leaning casually against the doorjamb, she summarized her findings.

"Self inflicted?" he asked, green about the gills, but not all that surprised.

She nodded. "That's my opinion anyway."

Mulder grimaced. Scully reflected on that. Mulder had seen more disgusting, incomprehensible things than most people can even dream about. Hell, the man had a positive fetish for putting his fingers in unidentified substances, asking what they were only later, when he struggled to get them off without losing his composure...or lunch. Still, the mechanisms of death affected him, turning his face pale, tugging the corners of his mouth into obvious looks of distaste.

"There was more," she stated.

He looked quizzically at her.

"Her insides - the veins and arteries looked like they'd been contaminated with acid of some sort. Her internal organs appeared almost to be suffering the effects of a hemorragic fever, and her bones were soft, vitreous."

"Anything like Dallas?"

"A lot like Dallas," she confirmed.

"Scully, I could be right!"

"Or," she cautioned, "there could be a scientific explanation for this."

He looked at her. Seven years had imbued the both of them with the ability to communicate without words. This was his come-on- Scully-do-you-want-the-alien-to-bite-you-on-the-ass-to-make-it-more- obvious look. She lifted her shoulders in a "wait and see" shrug.

Mulder had spent his morning interviewing family members and neighbors. The McDoud's nearest neighbor, a lifelong friend named Helen Rubenstein, had heard a car pull away from the direction of the McDoud home the morning of the crime. Mrs. Rubenstein remembered it very clearly because her dog, which spent cold nights upstairs with her, had woken her growling. It had been a little after 5:15 in the morning. Mrs. Rubenstein's account had fit well with the time of death, estimated at about 6:00 to 6:30 a.m.

In his estimation none of the children had motive, nor much opportunity to have committed the crime. The two daughters had barely been able to speak with him, so distraught were they. The son, the builder who had insisted on that new bathroom, had been more stoic than his sisters, but little more help.

He had also been taken by Detective Dennison to the scene of Mrs. McDoud's death. Mulder had questioned the man as to why Mrs. McDoud or her unknown assailant for that matter, would follow the route that had been taken from where the car was abandoned to the stream's edge. Indeed there was a much easier, though somewhat more circuitous route, that did not involve climbing through thorny brush. Nor did it involve climbing through a barbed wire fence erected by a local farmer to keep his cows in his pasture. Dennison had been unable to think of any explanation, grunting out his assumption, instead, that the drifter who had killed Annie McDoud had undoubtedly been on drugs. His face had taken on a look of extreme disapproval and he gave Mulder a look that said "And we all know someone on drugs'll do *anything*".

"Detective, with all due respect, I just don't think a drifter did this."

"Look, Agent Mulder, you've got to understand - this is a small town. Things like this just don't happen in our town, certainly not by one of our residents. It's simply not possible."

Mulder looked at the muddy ground, seeing still the faint impression of Annie McDoud's body. He looked away. "Detective, these things "just don't happen" anywhere. There's always a reason. I don't believe in this case the reason is as simple as a drifter."

"What then?" the detective asked.

"Detective, my theory may sound a little odd to you, but please hear me out. I think Mrs. McDoud was under the control of some kind of ...'force' that caused her to commit these actions."

The Detective had laughed for a moment. "You're serious?"

Mulder nodded.

"Agent Mulder ... is this what the FBI pays you to do? to come out and investigate straightforward crimes and come up with nonsense like this to explain them?"

"Detective, this case is not straightforward! You have no physical evidence of a drifter. No fingerprints, no hair or fiber samples at the house or in the car. You found the knife that stabbed Annie McDoud five feet from her body in the mud and the handgun that killed her lying next to her - with only her prints on them. You found no blood evidence of a second person out here with her. I've seen the photos of her body - are you telling me someone could come the way she came, through that bush, through that barbed wire and not sustain cuts? *That's* not possible. There are no footprints but hers and those of your men investigating out here near the body. I'm sorry, detective, your explanation may comfort you, but I believe it is just as nonsensical as my theory sounds to you."

Dennison had looked away.

"Detective," Mulder had continued, his voice softer now, "as hard as it may be to believe, I've seen things similar to this before. And I don't think this case is an isolated occurrence. I think whatever compelled Annie McDoud is still out there."

Dennison had shaken his head in disgust. He had turned to walk away, looking back expectantly, waiting on Mulder to follow him. Mulder had been staring across from the place they stood to where the McDoud car had been abandoned. He gazed intently, scanning the area, running through rapid mental calculations.

"Agent Mulder?"

"Would you say it's a straight line from where the body was found to where the car was abandoned?" Mulder asked.

Dennison had followed Mulder's line of sight. After some moments of reflection he had admitted it was. "Why?"

"That would explain why she didn't go around. She had to get to water and she had to do it quickly."

Without another word, they had returned to the detective's car and returned to Sheridan, where Mulder had met Scully.

"So, Mulder," Scully said as they entered the McDoud house, "You really think this thing, whatever it is, travels in water?"

"That would explain a lot, Scully. Starting with why all the perpetrators were found near rivers."

"But, Mulder, why leave the water at all?"

"I don't know. Maybe when the course of the water is blocked. Maybe this thing feeds in some way. I don't know exactly. But I think my original theory is a pretty good one."

"So how would we find it? stop it?"

"It's heading West, Scully - has been since Truhart. It's got a destination in mind. We just have to figure out where."

"Oh, yeah," she agreed sarcastically, "that'll be easy."

As they examined the upstairs bedroom, Scully made her way into the couple's bathroom. She noted in one corner a cat's water dish, almost empty. She remembered the couple had a cat and that no one had seen the cat since the murder. She walked toward the window, intending to look out and see what, if anything, Annie McDoud could have seen from this angle that last early morning of her life.

She stopped short of the window when the tiles near the tub caught her eye. A small, circular patch of tile, in the shape of a puddle, appeared to be burned away, as if something had eaten at the tile. She knelt down, tracing the rough surface with her fingers. She brought her fingers to her nose and inhaled lightly. She coughed as her olfactory sense was assailed by that same rotting fish odor that had come from Annie McDoud's body. She turned her head, noting small burn marks in the cabinets, the side of the tub, even along the outside of the toilet bowl.

"Mulder," she called. "C'mere. I found something."

Mulder entered the bathroom and made his way to where his partner still crouched. "What is it?" he asked.

"Take a look at this," she requested.

His keen eyes picked out the burn marks on the tile. He too traced the area with his fingers. He followed her with his eyes as she pointed to the small spots around the immediate area that resembled the tile in its burned appearance. "So?"

"So... Annie McDoud's veins and arteries looked like they'd been..."

"Burned by a low level acid," he finished for her. She nodded at him. "The son, Bob, told me he had just redone this bathroom for them. About six months ago."

"So, something got on this floor," Scully concluded. "Something that Annie McDoud stepped in?"

"She must have...then it was absorbed through her skin. Once it was in her bloodstream, It, whatever It may be, compelled her to murder her husband, make her way to that stream, and then kill herself."

"But why? why kill Pete McDoud? The M.E.'s findings indicate he was asleep and I concur with that."

"Maybe this thing likes to kill," Mulder suggested grimly.

"And, Mulder, how did it get in here?"

"It travels in water. It seems to need water to survive; maybe it found its path blocked and got in here through the pipes somehow."

Mulder was peering under sinks, biting his lower lip when Scully's cell phone rang. "Thanks, " she said. He backed out of the cabinet he was investigating and looked at her.

"Tox screens are back. Mr. McDoud's are clean. There were some anomalies in Annie McDoud's though."

Mulder pulled himself up, brushing his hands along his suit pants. "Let's go take a look," he said, leaning down and nearly whispering in her ear.

Back at the morgue, Scully studied the reports in front of her. Pete McDoud's was indeed quite clean. However, large amounts of an unknown compound, alkaloid in nature, had been found in Annie's blood. Scully read and re-read the chemical description of the alkaloid substance. "Mulder!" she exclaimed.

"What? you've got something?"

"Remember Delta Glen, Wisconsin? those kids?"

He nodded repeatedly. "That uh...doctor, the pediatrician ... I don't remember his name ... he was experimenting on them."

"And the experiments made them violent. We never found out what he was injecting them with..."

"He told the parents it was vitamin shots."

"Right...but it turned out to be an alkaloid substance. None of our labs could accurately identify it and it broke down pretty rapidly as they studied it."

"And? What's that got to do with Annie McDoud?"

"I have to look over my case files on my computer, but I think they found almost the same substance in huge quantities in her blood. That would explain her behavior, Mulder."

"It's the same? Are you sure?" He was excited.

She shook her head. "I'm not sure. I said I thought it was almost the same, but I think whatever it is would likely have the same effects." She continued reading. "This is *weird*"

"Something else?"

"Heparin...large amounts of Heparin were also found in her blood."

"The anticoagulant?"

Scully nodded.

Mulder's phone chose that moment to ring. "Mulder," he answered.

He listened for a moment. "Yes, Sir."

Scully watched him. He picked up a pen and scribbled 'Skinner' on a piece of paper. She nodded.

"Un-huh...I see."

He added to his scribbles. "3 more murders last 3 days." Scully's face went pale.

"All right, Sir. Yes, Sir. Thank you."

He switched his phone off.

"Three more?" she asked disbelieving.

"All going steadily West. The latest is in Vicksburg, Mississippi."

"When do we leave?"

"As soon as possible. Skinner wants us to track this thing, find it at least, stop it if we can."

She nodded.

Somewhere Between L.A. And
Sunnydale, California
9:51 P.M.

Angel gripped the steering wheel tightly. His mind was whirling with thoughts and feelings. Battling demons, ridding the world of the forces of Darkness was what he did; it was his place in the scheme of things. He only wished this particular demon weren't headed straight for Sunnydale. He had enough trouble keeping the beautiful, young Slayer out of his head when there was distance between them; it was impossible when he was near her. He had questioned Wesley harshly about this, insisting, demanding Wesley think of another way, a different solution.

"Angel," Wesley had said at last, "there is no other way. We have to go to Sunnydale to stop this demon and from my reading, it's going to have to be a joint operation. I know how hard..."

"No," Angel had said the one word softly, his voice low and threatening. 'You *don't* know how hard this is going to be. There's no way you could."

Wesley had dropped his eyes. "You're absolutely right. I'm sorry."

Cordelia had entered, with coffee. Her horrid-although-it-was- getting-better-but-that's-not-saying-much coffee. She had looked at Wesley, then at Angel. Wesley had not been here when Buffy had come to L.A. a few months ago. Doyle had been and after she was gone it had been Doyle in whom Angel had confided what had happened. In turn, Doyle had told Cordelia so that they both could watch over their friend. Then Doyle had died and little had been said regarding the Slayer and Angel's feelings for her.

"Angel," Cordelia had said softly. "Maybe just Wesley and I can go."

Angel had shaken his head, giving her the barest of smiles. "No. Wesley already explained it's going to take all of us. Just like old times," he had said with bitter irony.

"But still...maybe..." she had trailed off, her suggestion lost in the mists of uncertainty. She had no idea how the two could be kept apart.

"I gave up the chance to be with her, to be human, because fighting for the Light is what I'm supposed to do, what she's supposed to do. So, now, I have to go do it. It doesn't matter where."

Cordy had touched his hand softly. He caught her fingers and gave them a gentle squeeze. Never, had he lived to be a thousand years old, would he have ever believed he could be friends with this girl. But she had changed. He had changed. And this odd friendship, this blend of caring and soft antagonism, suited them well.

"All right, Wes, give us a run down on these demons," Angel said as the car sped through the cool, Southern California Spring night.

"Well, all right. I'll have to go over all of this again with Giles, of course," he protested mildly.

"Humor me," Angel told him darkly.

"Yes, then. Well, Vesparys demons are some of the oldest known demons in the records. Because of their life cycles, little is known about them with 100% certainty. They have a prolonged adolescence, prolonged even for demons. During this adolescence they move about through water, coming ashore from the oceans, or inland from rivers or lakes occasionally. They are thought to cause mischief, though it is usually mild. Again, mild in demon terms. You know, when you think about it, they are a bit like human adolescents." Wesley smiled to himself at his little joke. Noting that Angel's expression had not changed and Cordelia was now glaring at him, he continued.

"Some member of the Council belief a group of adolescent Vesparys - or would that be Vespari? - hmm, very interesting that. I must remember to discuss that with Giles..."

"Wesley!" Cordelia exclaimed.

"What? Oh, sorry, of course...well, a group of adolescents were believed by some Council members to be responsible for the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana."

Angel snorted.

"What?" Wesley asked.

"Nothing," the vampire replied.

"No, what?"

Angel looked over at him. "It's nothing...oh, all right. It's just that your Council really doesn't know as much as it thinks it does sometimes."

"They're hardly 'his' Council anymore, are they?" Cordelia asked with some sarcasm.

Seeing the pained expression on Wesley's face, Angel insisted he continue.

"Where was I?"

"Mischief," Cordelia informed him, sounding bored. "Adolescent Vesparys, or Vespari..."

"All right. It is only when they reach maturity that the Vesparys demons become more ... shall we say, active? It is thought that the urge to mate comes upon them and is an irresistible force."

"Again, something like adolescent humans," Cordelia put in, soothing the sting of her earlier words.

Wesley smiled back at her. "Yes, in a way, I suppose. The mature adult is drawn to the only place it can successfully spawn. The Hellmouth. It's like some birds and fish in that respect, returning to the place of its own birth to mate and give birth to its own offspring."

"So, why doesn't it just travel the lakes and rivers and get to Sunnydale as fast as it can?" Angel asked.

"Because the adult demon has two primary needs. It needs first of all to feed. It does that by inhabiting a host. The host, of course, does not survive this process. The demon's life-force acts like a corrosive agent on the hosts body, burning the very veins and arteries which carry the blood, which the demon possesses. That is why it forces its host to places near moving water. After feeding it must be released back to the water so it can continue moving. It causes the host to do commit violent acts against itself, acts that often drain, or nearly drain the victim of his or her blood."

"Ewwww," Cordelia moaned in the back seat. "That is utterly revolting. Hasn't this thing ever just heard of calling a cab to get where it needs to go."

"It has no corporeal body of its own, Cordelia," Wesley informed her.

"Of course not!" she said loudly. "The worst demons never do."

"What else does it need?" Angel asked.


"You said it has two needs. What's the other one?"

"Yes...well, this is even less pleasant, I'm afraid." He paused, waiting for Cordelia's comment. She groaned. "It needs to impress any potential mates with its ferocity."

"So, it kills," Angel concluded.

Wesley nodded. "Brutally, in an unmistakably gruesome fashion."

They were all silent for a bit. "You said potential...what did you mean?" Cordelia asked.

"Well, a Vesparys, until it comes near to the Hellmouth itself, has no way of knowing if its mate is anywhere near, so it seeks to advertise, hoping to attract a mate."

"You mean this thing *kills*, like ... like *that* ... even if there are no others of its kind anywhere near?"

"I'm afraid so," Wesley told her.

"We have to stop this thing," she stated.

"Yes, well, that could be quite the problem, you see."

"Why is that?" Angel asked laconically.

"There is no information available about how to stop Vesparys demons from spawning."

"Great!" Cordelia shouted, tossing her hands in the air. "That's just great. Why is it *we* always have to go stop the unstoppable? Ascension...kills everyone and everything...no one can stop it... blah blah blah...here's the plan ... yadda yadda yadda. For once, just once, couldn't there be some big crisis that is easy to solve?"

Wesley and Angel let her rant. Sometimes Cordy still missed the finer points of fighting against the dark side.

"How does it spawn, Wesley?" Angel asked softly.

Wes looked back at Cordelia, who was still muttering but seemed largely to be ignoring them. "Two demons, male and female, well, I suppose you would say, 'sense' one another as they get closer to the Hellmouth. They each inhabit a host body. They compel the hosts to ..."

"I get the picture," Angel told him.

"Afterwards, the female demon, who needs great strength and energy, drains the male host body of blood and may possible consume his flesh, or portions of it." Angel made a face. "The actual spawning seems to happen rapidly after that - just a few hours. A bit like ..." he broke off, loathe to refer to Cordelia's own recent experience in this area. "Yes, anyway, the spawning occurs, killing the female host."

"And there's nothing in the literature about how to stop this?"

"I'm afraid not," Wesley said.

Angel nodded.

Outside, they passed a sign. "Welcome to Sunnydale". For better or worse, they were home.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
2:46 A.M.

Giles woke up quickly to the pounding at his front door. His first thought, as it inevitably was when awoken in the dead of night, was for Buffy's safety. Though she was well trained, capable, and strong, he nonetheless waited in unspoken trepidation for the night she, alone, or borne in the arms of one of her friends, should come to the door, bleeding, broken, perhaps beyond the pale of rescue. The fact was being the Chosen One, the Slayer, was a dubious honor, conferring upon its recipient a short life, spent in the shadows, amongst demons and monsters.

He tied his dressing gown around his waist as he hurried downstairs. Caution won out over concern and he did remember to look through the peephole at his caller. "What the devil?" he muttered as he opened the door. "Angel?"

"Giles," the vampire greeted the Watcher.

Giles' consternation grew, seeing Wesley Price and Cordelia Chase ranged behind Angel. "I .. er ... that is ... come in. It must be important."

"It is," Angel told him, sweeping past him into the familiar living room. Angel took a deep breath, despite the fact he had no need to breathe at all. He found the mechanisms by which humans steadied themselves worked for him as well. Angel's eyes took in the room, seeing it as it had been the last time he had looked over it. Then he had been standing outside, eyes locked on Buffy Summers' golden head. She had been mystified, a predator having been dropped by someone from outside, a predator that would have killed her. He had slipped away before she saw him. Unbeknownst to him the same connection that enabled him to sense her presence, gave her the same gift and she had known, if not what exactly, that something had been strange in that kill. He sighed, wanting to forget her arrival, full of heated anger and simmering pain, in L.A. At the same time he clung to that memory, seeing a vision different from what anyone else knew, holding tightly to the memories of what was-and-might-have- been.

"Wesley," Giles said, voice tight. There was no love lost between the two former Watchers. "I didn't know... you ..."

"He works with us," Angel interrupted.

A smile flitted across Wes's face. Gratitude toward the creature, once seen as an implacable enemy, welled within him.

"Oh yes? Well, I see," Giles responded. "Cordelia, it is ... er ... good to see you looking well."

Cordelia was gazing around, eyes on the ceiling at that moment. "Thanks," she said brightly. "Looks like nothing much has changed in good old Sunnydale."

Giles grimaced at her. He invited them to sit down, offered coffee, if they would give him a moment to make some. Cordelia volunteered to make it and seeing the reactions on the faces of his other two guests, Giles joined them in declining.

"Well then," their host said, "what brings you back to 'good old Sunnydale'?" His voice was cheerful, but held its typical edge of sharp irony.

"A demon," Angel told him.

"I see. Well, we do have an ample supply of those," Giles said.

"We're tracking one," Angel said.

Giles nodded and looked at the vamp. He was tense, edgy. Though he sat, his body gave the illusion of motion. His hands moved restlessly, twining into each other, lifting to flick at his lip, tapping his knee. He shifted uncomfortably. "It must be fairly serious to have brought all three of you here."

"It is, "Wesley informed him. He looked over at Angel, who made an almost imperceptible motion with his hand. Wes continued. "We believe it is a Vesparys demon."

Giles' face lost its look of somewhat amused forbearance. "A Vesparys? Are you certain?"

Wes nodded. "As certain as we can be. The case we ... er... stumbled across fits all the known particulars."

"How so?" Giles asked.

Cordelia handed him the file she had compiled. Giles put on his glasses and began reading. His guests sat in silence. When he had done, he lowered the file. "Well, yes, then. I'd say it is indeed a Vesparys."

"Isn't that some type of church service?" asked a voice from behind him.

Giles turned. Buffy must have come in through the back door for she now stood in the kitchen entryway. Her voice had been tight, angry. She was glaring steadily at Angel, who once more shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

Angel lowered his eyes, unable to look at her, thinking to himself how much harder this was going to be than he had first thought. Hearing her voice again shot pain through him, pain as great as if a stake had been run into him. Where his heart used to beat burned with an unquenchable fire. The only thing he really wanted to do was go to her and kiss her until she couldn't breathe. He wanted to tell her, to unlock the memories of the time that had been erased, to give back everything the Powers-that-Be had given him and give up who he was. He could bear, had borne agonies, worse than this, but they had faded from him, left behind in a long and dark journey. This he did not know about.

He raised his eyes, not to meet hers, but to study her from beneath his half closed lids. She was dressed as always, trendy enough to be in style, yet with a practical concession to the demands of slaying. Her hair was back in a ponytail and the soft line of her young face caught the light. Her mouth was hard, set, but, he thought he detected a slight quiver there too. Her eyes glittered with anger and hurt.

Cordelia caught his eye and mouthed, "You never know until you're tested." The corners of his mouth turned up for a brief second. He nodded back at her.

"Buffy," Giles said, shattering the thick silence. "Come in. There's something you should know about."

She stalked into the room, standing near Giles, opposite Angel. She reminded Angel of a cat that's been threatened, tail swollen to three times its normal size, making that low, desperate growling sound.

"Well?" she asked.

Giles smiled uneasily at her. "Um...no, I believe you're thinking of Vespers, which *is* an evening church service. Wesley was talking about a demon."

"Oh," she said in a small voice.

Giles looked puzzled. "Though I have to confess I had no idea you had even heard of Vespers."

"Hmm? Oh, that," she said, her voice struggling to remain aloof, casual. "Riley." She tossed the word out so that it could have been a place or a person. Angel saw that she was working diligently to make it seem so unimportant that he would know exactly how important it was to her.

Unthinking, Cordelia asked, "What's Riley?"

"Who," Buffy stated flatly.

Cordelia, despite Angels' fervent, silent wish that she would stop there, shrugged her shoulders and sighed impatiently, as if to say, "Here we go again! Miss Buffy "I'm the Slayer" Summers thinking she is the most important person in the room." Clearly irritated, she spoke querulously. "Fine. Who's Riley?" The second the words were out of her mouth, Angel could see it dawned on her. Her face fell and she looked over at him quickly, her eyes alight with apology.

He waited for Buffy's response.

She raised her eyebrows, looking from Cordelia to Wesley to Angel. "He's ..." she paused, searching for the word she wanted. Angel continued waiting, dreading the word that would fall from her mouth, from the lips he longed to burn in an unforgettable kiss. "...an associate," she said at last.

Angel met her eyes then, for the first time and saw behind the anger and pain the true feeling she could not deny. Given the power, given a knife which she could have driven straight into him, she had averred. She dropped her eyes first and he let out the breath he did not need, but had held in.

Without warning, Cordelia's hands flew to her temples and she began to pitch forward. Always alert to the possibility of one of her visions, Wesley and Angel reacted before Buffy or Giles could even begin to process the sight in front of them. Angel had his arms around Cordelia before her bent knees could even strike the floor. He had one hand on top of her head, stroking her hair very softly. She let out one sharp scream and several low groans. Wes took her hands and held them in his own, rubbing them as gently as Angel's hand moved over her skull. When the vision had passed, leaving Cordelia shaken and breathless Giles offered her a glass of water.

Still unable to speak, Angel nodded for her and Giles went hurriedly to draw the glass for her.

In a voice chastened of all rivalry, Buffy asked, "I thought your friend Doyle was the one who ... went through this?"

Angel looked up at her, his hold on Cordy loosening as she began to bring herself into a more upright, sitting position. "Doyle died several months ago," he said softly. "Just after ... you ... uh ... your visit."

Weakly Cordelia added, "He died to save some ...". Her voice trailed off. Mentally she cursed and wondered why it was so hard to describe what Doyle had done for them.

Wesley, who had heard the story, finished it. "He had encountered a group of half-demons who were being slaughtered by an army of full demons. With Angel and Cordelia's help, they were taken to safety, but at the last moment, they were all nearly destroyed by a powerful device. Doyle gave his life to stop that."

Buffy was nodding slowly.

Giles had come back with water for Cordelia. "And he passed on his 'sight' to you?" he asked.

Cordelia managed another weak response.

"Cordelia is my link to the Powers-that-Be," Angel said.

They watched in silence as Cordelia drank the cool, clear water. When she was able to sit on the couch once again it was Wesley who asked. "What did you see?"

She shook her head slowly, then she took a deep breath. "I saw Willow."

Buffy was alert instantly. "This things? does that mean it's after Willow?"

"I don't think so...it's hard to say. It looked like Willow was doing one of her um...magic thingies...a spell, I think. She looked pretty upset, but not really terrified."

"Like she might have been trying to help whatever was looking at her?" Giles put in.

Cordelia nodded.

Wesley stood up and paced the length of the room a few times.

"Giles?" Buffy said, getting her former Watcher's attention. "Should I go to Willow?"

"I don't know." He looked over at Wesley. "What are you thinking, Wesley?"

He looked up, his face serious, mouth downturned at the corners. "Cordelia? did you get any sense of the emotions this thing was feeling?"

She nodded. "Yeah," she said with her usual emphasis. "It was ...like terrified." She looked up at Angel and then at Wesley. "Oh! and it hurt. It was sort of...um...like its blood was burning it."

It was Angel who supplied the obvious summary. "Willow was trying to help. That means it's going to possess someone close to her, possibly close to you, Buffy."

"Close to all of us," she told him, bleakly.

Sunnydale, California
6:12 P.M.

Scully through herself down on the bed of the latest hotel room, wondering how long they'd be in this town. Since leaving Sheridan this entity they were following had moved faster than either of them would have thought possible. Mulder felt whatever it was the thing needed, its need must be growing. Whatever it was, it had left a gruesome trail across half the country.

Scully sighed to herself. Eight murders, six perpetrators in five days. Mulder had interviewed the occasional witness, examined crime scenes, tried to figure out where this thing might strike next while she had done what seemed to be an endless succession of autopsies, finding in each case obvious similarities between these cases and the initial one in Sheridan.

Mulder knocked, then let himself in. She raised her head tiredly. He was carrying a bag and from the smells wafting from it Scully could tell it was dinner. She sat up, calling on her energy reserves to give her the strength to get to the food.

Mulder, tired though he was, grinned at her. "I hoped this would revive you."

"Mulder," she whined a bit, "I don't think I've ever been this tired." Her mouth compressed itself into a thin line. "Or felt this useless."

His grin vanished and he nodded. "I know. If we only knew what it wanted."

She looked at him from beneath heavy eyelids. She rolled her head around several times. "Maybe it wants to go shoot the curl off LaHoya."

He looked at her, his eyebrows flying upward at her joke. He guessed it made sense. If they didn't crack a joke about this thing now and then it was going to drive them both nuts. "A shorter trip for me than her," he thought. Aloud he teased her. "So, who gets to make the arrest."

"All yours," she shot back at him tiredly. "Despite Bill's best efforts, I never could get the hang of surfing."

"Hey," he protested in mock horror, "I grew up on the Atlantic Coast, remember?"

"Come on, Mulder, it would be another chance for you to impress me with a show of boyish athletics."

He rewarded her with a wan laugh.

They were both silent while eating the Chinese take-out the hotel manager had recommended.

After eating, finding their energy stores higher than at all that day, they began going over the crime that had brought them to this relatively small, our of the way, California town. Scully went over the particulars of this case. The suicide had been found about three miles outside Sunnydale, approximately six miles from the home she had shared with two college roommates. Her body had been half submerged in an arroyo that was normally dry, but due to heavy spring rains carried run off. Both agents had been perplexed by the difficulty they had faced in getting the report from the police. Though local law enforcement was often confused by their theories, occasionally hostile, it was most often *after* they had begun their investigation, not before.

Mulder had used her laptop to access the local paper's on-line edition. Scully could hear him, shifting, clucking to himself, muttering sometimes. At last he burst out with a stark "What the hell?"

"What is it, Mulder?" she asked.

"Scully, come look at this. This town is ...well, flat out spooky."

She made her way to him and let her eyes flit over the stories he had pulled up. Her face contorted, her eyebrows both rising to meet her hairline, her mouth pulling into a face of disbelief. She turned to look at him. "Mulder?"


"How is this possible? the entire town lost their voices in December? wild 'dogs' attacked a now-dead university professor? the High School was destroyed during a - what did they call it - freak eclipse that only affected this town on the last graduation day? one Christmas the sun never came out?"

"I know!" he exclaimed.

"Oh my God," she said. "I'm never going to get you away from here! Where the hell are we again?"

Sunnydale, California," he reminded her.

Sunnyrest Motor Lodge
Sunnydale, CA
8:02 A.M.

"Scully?" he called out, pounding on her door. "Scully? Open up!"

"I'lth buh yuss a minnit, Muhllr," she tried to yell back around a mouthful of toothpaste and brush. Muttering a muted "damn" she hurriedly rinsed her mouth and made her way to the door.

"What took so long?" he asked as he walked past her, noting her still-damp hair and the fact she wore a tightly cinched bath robe instead of her accustomed suit.

She shot him a mildly annoyed glare as she went past him, stopping to stretch herself up on tiptoes and breathe lightly into his face. He smiled at her retreating form. "Ah, minty fresh breath. That explains it."

She shut the bathroom door behind her. He raised his voice to communicate the new facts in his possession. "There's been another murder," he called out.

"And?" she replied loudly.

He heard the clatter of a hanger against the rather old, but pleasantly clean tiles of the bathroom. He grinned again as he heard her curse the offending item's parentage. His mind wandered to the scene that would be taking place in the bathroom right about now. Bra and panties on she was probably shrugging her shoulders into her blouse. The somewhat cramped quarters in the Sunnyrest's none too large privies probably had caused her to knock the hanger off whatever perch she'd rested it on. Ever the one for order and precision, it had probably filled her with trivial annoyance. He shuddered a bit to think of the revulsion that would run beneath that pretty skull of hers if she saws *his* accommodation.

"Mulder?" she called again.

He came back to himself, realized while he'd been lingering over a somewhat lascivious image of her in a tempting state of half- dress, she had probably finished the job. "No suicide victim has turned up yet."

She opened the door, hair dryer now in hand, wet hair gleaming and straight. She smelled of a combination of tropical fruits. He watched in thinly disguised fascination as she crimped the ends of her gelled hair into her normal style before she turned the heat on them. "Are you sure it's our...," she hesitated. "...suspect?" She turned on the dryer.

He nodded. "Pretty sure. Very brutal killing. I've already talked to local law enforcement. We're going to go take a look at the crime scene, then I've gotten them to let you do the autopsy."

She flashed him a genuine glare this time. "Gee, thanks," she said, talking still loudly over the roar of the hair dryer.

U.C. Sunnydale
Willow's Dorm Room
Same Time

"Ungh," Buffy muttered into the phone she'd picked up just so it would stop ringing.

"Um...er...Buffy?" Giles' voice was a mixture of concern and irritation.

"Giles?" she replied, irritable at hearing his voice again so *soon*. Hadn't she just left the odd little cast of characters at his house?

"Buffy, I'm afraid there's been a murder."

She was awake. "Your um...vestment demon?"

"Vesparys," he said with a sigh. "And we don't know. We need you to see if you can find out."

"Can't you go? or call Xander?"

Giles' voice was serious as he continued. "Buffy, *I've* got to stay here with Wesley and determine if there isn't a way we can stop these things. And you already know what we're looking for. If I call Xander, I have to take time to explain it all to him. Time I do not think we have."

She was nodding, wondering how many Slayers before her had been done in simply by sleep deprivation. She opened her mouth the whine to Giles one more time, then thought the better of it.

On his end, Giles waited for her complaint. He was moderately pleased when he heard the audible click of her mouth closing. He smiled to himself, thinking of the girl he'd first met nearly four years ago, unwilling, rebellious, unable to accept her own destiny. Over time she had conquered many of those traits that would have gotten her killed and the ones she hadn't conquered, the rebelliousness for example, she had put to good use.

"OK if I take Riley with me?" she asked hopefully.

"Yes," Giles said. Though he didn't trust the Initiative and barely trusted Riley Fynn himself, he knew as well as Wesley that this particular demon was one which was going to test all of them. One more ally did not seem amiss. He then gave her the details of where the body had been found. Finally he asked, "Is Willow there?"

For the first time Buffy looked over. Willow was still asleep. "Yeah. She's sleeping. Do you want..."

"Wake her up," Giles said peremptorily.

Padding her way over to Willow's bed, Buffy shook her friend gently. "Will?"

Willow Rosenberg opened one eye and stared up at Buffy.

Buffy covered the phone's mouthpiece and said in an exaggerated whisper, "Giles. It's important."

Willow grimaced. She'd been up late studying and had looked forward to sleeping in this morning.

"I think he wants to put your witchy skills to use," Buffy added in her theatrical whisper.

Willow became instantly alert. She had chosen to pursue her studies in the arts of Wicca not all that long before her tutor had turned herself into a rat and since then had largely been on her own. She had done remarkably well but still struggled with many of her spells. She was inevitably thrilled when her emerging skills were required.

Buffy let herself out of the room as Willow was discussing excitedly with Giles what he wanted her to do and what she should bring to his house as soon as possible.

Buffy showered quickly and by the time she was back, Willow was excitedly gathering up her books and some important spell ingredients, before heading off for her own shower. Buffy called Riley and arranged to meet him in a few minutes at the coffee shop they occasionally frequented.

Alley, About Two Blocks From 'the Bronze'
9:16 A.M.

Scully glanced up at Mulder, gauging his reaction. He looked down at her at about the same time. Her eyebrows shot up in wordless question.

Inside the yellow crime scene tape were two figures. The boy, Scully couldn't think of him in any other way, despite the fact he looked to be twenty-three or -four, was gesturing to something on the ground. The girl, who could not have been more than nineteen, was scanning the alley with an uneasy familiarity.

Mulder scraped his shoe along the rough paving of the alleyway. Though neither she nor Mulder would ever be able to swear to it, both would later agree there had been the tiniest fraction of a second when a violent, almost murderous rage had filled the bright blue eyes of the tiny blond girl. Both agents could agree on one thing - they had rarely seen anyone move with such speed and agility. From a crouched position with her back completely to them, she had whirled to face them, upright, defensively hostile, hand at her hip where a strange bulge rested, all in the blink of an eye.

The boy reached his hand out, stilled the girl's hand as it gripped what might have been a weapon. He whispered something in her ear. Her face smoothed into a look, if not of welcome, at least of calm.

Scully exhaled, completely unaware she'd been holding her breath. Next to her, Mulder did the same.

"Hi," Mulder said tentatively. "Are you ... with the police?"

It was a ridiculous question. Mulder knew it. But it opened up the lines of communication, hopefully.

"Who are you?" the boy asked.

Scully extracted her badge from a pocket. She showed it to them. "Agent Dana Scully, Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is my partner, Agent Fox Mulder." Scully surveyed them both. The girl tensed up again slightly. The boy's head inclined toward her slightly and his mouth set into a rueful line. "May we ask who you are and what business you have at a crime scene?"

The boy took a breath and reached into his pocket for a folio. "Agent Riley Fynn," he said in a strong, authoritative voice. "This is Buffy Summers.'

Crime Scene, Alley Near 'the Bronze'

Scully took the folio Riley Fynn proffered and looked at the badge it contained. She handed it to Mulder for further examination, questions running rampant through her head. The badge identified Fynn as a member of the military, although the exact branch of his service did not seem to be stated. Nor, to her, -granted - limited knowledge of the area, was there a military base near Sunnydale. Mulder handed the badge back to the boy and while Fynn was distracted mouthed the words "black ops" to her. She nodded almost imperceptibly.

That explained the irregularities on the badge and the lack of a base nearby. It still didn't explain his interest in this crime scene or the presence of the girl. "Buffy?" Scully thought momentarily. "Who names their child 'Buffy'?"

"Well, uh ...," Mulder began. "Agent Fynn, I'm afraid I still don't understand your interest in this particular crime scene. Unless the victim was a member of your..." Mulder stopped, at a loss for words temporarily.

Scully picked up the thread of his thought. "Unless the victim was a member of your unit, this is not a military matter, is it?"

Riley and Buffy exchanged glances. For the first time the girl spoke up. "But ... the victim was...a member of Riley's unit."

Scully opened her mouth the argue with that statement and then closed her jaw with an audible click. Mulder had made a tiny motion. He spoke, saying, "Your local law enforcement doesn't seem to know that. We were told they were handling the matter. In fact, Agent Scully, who is a pathologist, was going to do the autopsy."

The blond turned away slightly, muttering all but inaudibly. Scully still managed to catch a few comments about the incompetence of Sunnydale's finest.

Fynn answered, gaining confidence it seemed with each word. "Well, the local boys weren't aware until about 30 minutes ago that the victim was part of my team."

"Un-huh," Mulder said, nodding sagely, shooting Scully a glance that she knew all too well. He turned as if to go. Then, *appearing* as if another idea had suddenly struck him, he turned back around and faced the pair. "That doesn't explain the presence of ... Buffy, is it? Or are you also a member of Agent Fynn's 'team'?"

Mulder's words had struck home with the girl. She looked down at her shoes for a brief moment before looking up to meet his eyes again. Her blue eyes blazed defiantly and Scully shivered a bit despite the comfortable spring temperatures. Buffy Summers was a tiny bit shorter than Scully herself, but a more careful look revealed she was as well muscled, if not more so, than Scully. From her person there seemed to come a feeling of something deep and primeval, some ancient rage carefully concealed. Underestimating Buffy, whatever a person might think of that silly name, guessed Scully mentally, might be a dangerous thing to do.

"Buffy is not officially part of our unit, no," stated Riley. "She has ... talents that we often call on."

"Such as?" Mulder challenged.

"I..." began the Slayer slowly, "uh ... have a certain amount of psychic ability."

Mulder nodded skeptically, pursing his lips into something akin to a pout. "Really?" he asked, voice betraying just a hint of smothered mirth.

"Really," the girl returned, deadpan, blue eyes wide and innocent, face a blank wall.

To Riley Scully said, "And your *military* unit often needs the services of someone with 'psychic abilities'?"

Fynn seemed to be growing a bit impatient. With rather more force than was necessary, he barked back, "Yes, the work we do - " he broke off.

"Yes?" Mulder prompted. When Fynn remained silent, Mulder added, "The work you do...?" He lifted his eyebrows at Fynn and the girl.

Fynn clamed up, his posture going quite rigid, his eyes focusing on a distant point somewhere behind Scully's head. "I'm sorry, Sir, there's nothing more I can tell you. I think if you have additional questions you should speak to my commanding officer about this matter, Sir!"

Mulder stared from one to the other of the youths, meeting only Fynn's far-off stare in return and a stony glare from Buffy. With a nod to Scully he turned around and began walking out of the alley. The two F.B.I agents had gone about halfway back to the street when Mulder turned again. "Hey?" he called back. "What will your commanding officer have to tell me about the suicide victim that's bound to turn up? Gonna be another member of your 'unit'?"

Mulder's statement was met with a quickly veiled but unmistakable look of confused alarm on the faces of both Riley and Buffy.

"I didn't think so," he muttered to Scully as they walked back to their rental car.

Watching them leave, Riley said in a very low voice to his girlfriend, "They know."

She shook her head, eyes riveted on the backs of the two retreating agents. "They *think* they know. That's worse."

Riley's cell phone rang at that moment. "Agent Fynn," he answered sharply. He was silent for a minute or so, ending his call with a terse "Yes, Sir."

Buffy looked at him. "Well, at least I wasn't lying to them. The Initiative has taken possession of the body. I'm supposed to report right away for briefing and patrol."

Buffy looked up at him, fear creasing her forehead. "What will you tell them?"

"I don't know," he answered truthfully. "I took an oath the report any information about HST's of any kind."

"This isn't exactly a Hostile Sub-Terranian," she said softly.

He grinned. "I know."

She smiled back.

"I'll tell them enough to keep my men safe."

She nodded. She looked down at the blood stain on the paving. After a moment's reflection she said, "There's nothing your men can do."

He nodded at her this time.

"Keep them away from the Hellmouth, OK? And water." Her voice was an odd mixture of pleading and command.

"Buffy," he said tenderly, taking her hand in his.

"Keep yourself away," she added.

"Buffy," he repeated, his tone more urgent.

She shook her head, cutting off anything he might have said. "I don't have a choice, Riley; this is my destiny, who I am." She tried to smile at him, but the look of naked fear on his face made it impossible. "I have my friends. They've ... we've done this ... it'll be all right."

He nodded miserably at her. For all his physical prowess there were times he was a liability to her and nothing more. Giles, on the other hand, was a Watcher, imbued with no special powers, but through years of study and training there were many times when he was more useful to her. Then there was Willow whose witchy ways had helped Buffy on more than one occasion harness darker powers, powers that had nothing to do with blasters, hand-to-hand combat, or flanking tactics. Even Xander, who had, over the years, learned a lot about the ways of demons, could be more help at a time like this.

As if sensing his thoughts (and he supposed she might have been - they had not strictly lied to the agents about that, as one of her Slayer powers was the occasional bout of precognition), she stepped into his space and wrapped her arms about his neck. He folded her into his embrace, marveling yet again at the power that was contained in her 5'2" frame and the superlative intelligence that resided beneath that deceptively beautiful blond head. She closed her eyes and sighed deeply before leaning up on tip toes to kiss him on the mouth.

His mouth met hers in a sizzle of electricity. Her lips were soft and warm underneath his. He pulled her to him more tightly, kissing her as if it might be the last time. He felt the soft curves of her body against his and the heat from her skin leeched into him. His hands traveled the length of her back, up and down, one at last reaching up to caress her hair, tangle itself in the long fall of it.

Wrapped up tightly in one another, neither noticed the lurker, hiding in a dark alcove, watching them intently. Neither heard the soft, stealthy steps as the figure melted deeper into the shadows, slipping easily into an abandoned building so as not to be seen when the lovers would break apart and leave the alley.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
12:36 P.M.

Rupert Giles looked up as his front door opened. His eyes followed hers as she scanned the room, his brow creased in concern as he watched her mouth harden and pain flicker over her features. He glanced over to where the vampire sat, to where her eyes had been drawn, pulled unwillingly yet inexorably. Giles watched as Angel looked up, met the Slayer's eyes, and quickly looked back down at the map of Sunnydale he was studying

Giles sighed softly to himself, wishing things could be different for his young charge (though she really no longer required a Watcher and though he was no officially unemployed by the Council, she would always be his to look after). His life, his adult life anyway, had been given in service to fighting the forces of darkness and yet he had grown used to Angel, had even come to admire and respect him, had come to understand that this creature of the dark fought for the light in expiation of his many sins.

"Buffy?" Giles said softly.

Slowly, physically, she dragged her gaze away from the dark, brooding features of her former lover. "Yeah," she said vaguely.

"What did you and .. er... what did you find out?"

She stared at him blankly for a few seconds, her eyes distant, her mind clearly not in the present. At last, she blinked, closing her eyes on whatever visions she alone saw, coming back to herself. "We have a problem."

Cordelia, who was running an internet search for similar murder-suicide cases throughout the country, spoke up from her place on Giles' couch. "*That's* brilliant." Lowering her voice, she muttered, "Did you use your Slayer powers to figure that out?"

Buffy glared at her.

"What kind of problem?" Giles asked. "You don't think it was the Vesparys demon?"

Buffy shook her head. "The body was near the Bronze, but it didn't look like your typical vamp killing."

"Adam?" Giles asked dubiously.

Buffy shook her head again. "No, I don't think it was Professor Walsh's little 'science project' either. I think it was this Vesparys demon all right."

"So what's the problem?" Angel asked.

She looked at him, briefly, dismissively, angrily. "We're not the only ones interested in the victim."

Giles nodded. "The Initiative."

"Ye-es," Buffy said. "And the F.B.I."

"What?" Giles exclaimed. "The Federal Bureau of Investigation. Why?"

"I don't know," she replied.

"How do you know they're interested?" Angel asked.

Buffy gave him the same look she had previously. Again, she addressed her reply to Giles. "They were there. Two agents. A man and a woman. Wanted to know what ...I was doing at the crime scene."

"What did you tell them?" Giles asked.

"I ...," she paused. "Riley was with me and we came up with a story."

Giles was nodding. "Where's Riley now?"

Buffy cocked her head in the general direction of the Initiative's headquarters. "He got called in. They'll be on patrol."

"How much does he know?"

"Enough to stay away from the Hellmouth and keep his men away," she told Giles.

Angel was staring at her, his eyes filled with a pain that belied his un-dead condition. Cordelia was watching him carefully, a look of concern etched into her features. Whoever Riley was it was clear Buffy was doing what she could to spare Angel unnecessary pain. Her efforts were largely futile though. While the Slayer had no memory of the days she had spent with Angel in human form in November, the vampire carried those memories in his mind, on his heart, and burned into his soul. Buffy could go on, move forward in her life, never knowing what he had given up for her, for them, for the world, not knowing he could not put it behind him.

The door opened behind Buffy. Willow entered, carrying a shopping bag. Xander Harris and his girlfriend, Anya, trailed in behind her.

Xander took one look around the room, taking in Cordelia's look of ill-concealed scorn, Angel's very presence, and the appearance of Wesley from the upstairs. In his best sarcastic tone he commented, "Hail, hail, the gang's all here."

"Xander," Angel said, his tone neither friendly nor as openly hostile as Xander's.

"What? Weren't there enough demons to fight in Los Angeles?" Xander asked, his voice biting the words into letters it seemed. Turning his gaze on Cordelia, he added, "And you, you know, I keep waiting to see you show up in the next summer blockbuster; heck, even a guest star on um...yeah, 'Dawson's Creek'. So, what's up with that?"

Cordelia spat back at him, "Establishing an acting career takes time. At least I'm working on establishing a career at all."

Giles took his glasses off and rugged the bridge of his nose. Quietly he said, "Children, children...".

His words went unheeded as Anya inserted her opinion. "Xander has a large number of talents. None of which you would know about."

"Ohhhhh," Cordy pretended to moan. "Ex-demon girl is defending Xander. Doesn't that just change everything?"

"Enough!" Giles exclaimed more forcefully. He turned to Willow. "Did you get the supplies we needed."

She nodded.

Xander's face changed, betraying an enthusiasm, a gladness at being in the center of things. "Scoobies to the rescue?" he asked hopefully.

"Um...er...yes," Giles said. "Angel, Cordelia, and Wesley discovered a particular demon that was ..."

Wesley took over. "We discovered an ancient species of demon, one that spawns infrequently and only at the Hellmouth, but causes a great deal of destruction in the process. This species is particularly - how shall I put this - difficult to stop. We felt it was best if we came back to Sunnydale in person."

Xander was about to reply when Anya spoke softly. "It's a Vesparys demon." Her face was pale and blank.

Giles and Wesley exchanged glances. "Yes, we believe that's what it is," Giles affirmed.

"What do you know about them, Anyanka?" Wesley asked.

She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again, shaking her head slowly.

"Ahn?" Xander asked, concern filling his voice as he turned to look at her. "Ahn?"

She looked up at him, met his eyes with her own, filled with fear.

Giles looked from Anya to Buffy and continued to scan the assembled group in his living room. Buffy met his eyes, then looked at Willow who was looking at Anya and back to Buffy. Cordelia was quiet for once and Angel's dark features looked even more pained than was normal.

Xander drew his arm around his ex-demon girlfriend and led her to a chair. She sunk down gratefully and grasped his hand tightly in hers. At last she said in a very soft voice, "How much do you know?"

It was Giles who spoke to her, sitting on the couch across from her. "We know very little, Anya. Anything you can tell us would probably be helpful."

She nodded.

Before Giles, or Wesley, could ask her anything further, the phone rang. Giles answered it. "Yes, she is. Just a moment, please." He looked at Buffy. "It's um ... er ... for you."

Angel looked away as Buffy walked over to the phone Giles held out to her. Buffy glanced over at him and bit her lower lip. "Hello?"

She listened for a moment. "Thanks. Yeah...OK." She hung up. "There's been another death," she informed those watching her.

Anya looked up, face still grave. Xander's hand was now resting on the back of her neck and she seemed to lean into him gratefully. Willow pursed her mouth into an off-center circle and waited for Buffy to say something more. Every eye was focused on her, except Angel's. He was staring down at his hands which lay, clenched, in his lap. He closed his eyes. Buffy watched the tiny muscles that worked his jaw flutter as he ground his teeth together. Time passed, really no more than a few seconds, before he opened his eyes. Even Buffy, who knew first hand the exhaustion, mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical, that came with the immersion of the soul in a world darker than the deepest reaches of space, even Buffy was taken aback at the look seared on Angel's face.

"Suicide," the vampire stated.

Buffy nodded.

Mulder drove slowly through the streets of Sunnydale. Scully was silent, pondering those two kids' actions.

"Didn't make a lot of sense, did it?" Mulder asked casually, reading her thoughts.

She shook her head. "What did the boy call himself? Agent Fynn? That part of it almost made sense, but ..."

"The girl?" Mulder looked over and smiled at her, an amused grin. "Did you buy that? Psychic abilities!"

They fell silent again, both thinking. It was Scully who spoke first. "But Mulder, did you ...," Scully stopped, at a loss for words. "I don't know if I've ever seen anyone move *that* fast."

"Did you check out the bulge at her hip?"

"Gun, you think?"

Mulder shook his head.

Scully lifted her eyebrows as he glanced over at her again. Her head dipped down slightly as her lips curled silently around the unspoken question.

"How about a stake?"

Scully burst out laughing. "A stake? A stake? You mean like wooden, pointy, the sort of thing you stuck into Ronnie Strickland?"

"Ronnie Strickland was a vampire," Mulder insisted.

Scully flashed him a look. She shook her head. "Can we get back to the subject at hand please?" She paused. "Why would that girl have a stake?"

Mulder glared at her, knitting his eyebrows together and pouting a bit.

Scully started shaking her head. "Oh, no," she said. "Oh, no. You are not going to tell me you think this has anything to do with vampires."

"Why not?" he demanded shrilly.

"Mulder," she almost growled at him. "Come on."

"No, Scully, it fits. You didn't read as many of those old news stories as I did. There have been some really weird things going on in this town. The paper never comes out and says it, but a lot of it fits with accounts of vampires."

"Mulll-derrr ... I could take most homicides in D.C. and if I wrote them up a certain way make them sound like accounts of the paranormal. That doesn't mean they would be."

He was silent, giving her the look that said it was useless to argue with someone who wouldn't believe.

"And that doesn't explain the girl," she added.

With that statement, he had to agree. He didn't know how she could fit in at all.

His phone rang before they could continue their conversation. "Mulder." He listened patiently. "Where? OK, we'll be right there. Hold onto that body."

Scully looked at him expectantly.

"The police found a suicide victim, near a creek that runs through a park near the university. Apparently, Agents Fynn's 'superior officer' must have annoyed the boys in blue. They're holding firmly to this body and want us to come down and take a look."

They hadn't been too far from the latest crime scene, so arriving there did not take them long. Once Mulder parked and killed the engine, Scully stepped out of the car, looking around her, taking in the scenery around them. Green, fairly thick vegetation, lots of places in which people could isolate themselves.

"Scully," Mulder said quietly, indicating a direction to his left with a quick tilt of his head.

Her eyes followed his. Her mouth opened slightly in disbelief as she and Mulder exchanged glances.

Though he was trying to stay back in the trees, there was no mistaking Riley Fynn as he watched the police proceedings. As Mulder and Scully looked at him, he turned, a tight-lipped smile creeping across his features. Buffy had joined him.

Monarch Park
Sunnydale, California
March23 - 1:42 P.M.

"Riley," Buffy whispered, moving closer to him so that her body actually rested against his.

He looked down at her shining head and was distracted by her proximity, by the feel of her so close. He made a soft grunting noise in reply to her urgent whisper.

"Don't turn around or look, but in the parking lot," she nudged his abdomen to indicate the direction more emphatically. She continued, "In the parking lot are those two F.B.I. agents again."

"Damn," he muttered. "Any ideas what they're doing in Sunnydale?"

"No. And this happened before Wil could get any information on them. Did you tell the Colonel about them?"

"He already knew. I didn't tell him we'd run into them."

"Not a good idea, huh?"

"Not exactly."

"Hmm," she pondered. "I'm still not exactly welcome at the Initiative."

Riley shook his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the two agents. They didn't *seem* to notice Buffy, or him. They stood in front of their rental car, watching the police tape off the area. Riley waited for them to identify themselves and go over there. His commanding officer had not been thrilled to learn that the local police were insisting on keeping this body. Riley let himself relax a bit as Buffy gazed around, eyes scanning the area for any telltale demon signs.

The agents turned and stared straight at them. Riley hesitated only a moment before pulling Buffy tightly against him and kissing her deeply. He heard the muffled sound of her surprise as his lips crushed hers. As he came up for air, she hissed at him, "Riley! What -'

"Shhh," he whispered at her, mouth pressed against her ear. "They're watching us." He began kissing her again, meeting with a more enthusiastic response this time.

"Agents Mulder and Scully?" The detective that approached them was tall, with graying hair and a waistline just running to fat. As the two turned toward him and acknowledged his greeting, he stuck out a friendly hand. "I gotta say, I don't quite understand the Bureau's sudden interest in our little town, but in a case like this I'll take all the opinions I can get."

Mulder looked at him quizzically. "Sudden interest?"

The detective was obviously disconcerted. "Well, that is ... we've ... Agent Scully, you're a pathologist, right?"

Scully smiled slightly and nodded.

"I wouldn't mind if you were willing to conduct the autopsy. We're a bit shorthanded right now anyway."

She raised her eyebrows. "Shorthanded? I'm ...sorry?"

"Well, our one coroner really can't be expected to do it all, what with the other one on vacation - well deserved - I'm not saying that, and um...well, ..."

Both Mulder and Scully stared at him, mystified. Mulder finally said, "How many coroners do you *have*?"

The detective, Jorgenson was his name, seemed to recover himself. 'Well, normally three, but we lost Miller just a few weeks ago.'

"Lost?" Scully asked.

"Oh no, I mean, we know *where* he is. He's...that is, well, the doctors are calling it 'nervous exhaustion'. They expect him to make a full recovery, in time."

"How wonderful," Mulder said with light sarcasm. "You have three coroners in a town this size? That seems ... like overkill, no pun intended."

"No, no, of course not," laughed Jorgenson nervously. "Would you like to view the body, now?" His voice was hopeful.

"Yes," Scully assented.

Mulder glanced back over his shoulder. "Just a moment, Detective. Do you recognize either of those people over there?"

The Detective peered around Mulder's frame. A scowl came over his face. He shook his head disgustedly. "I recognize one of them," he said sourly.

"The boy?" Scully asked.

"Un-uh. Never seen him before."

"You know her?" Mulder asked. Scully looked over at him. His face had that look - intense, focused, almost happy as he made some bizarre leap of logic that he just knew would be proved correct. He looked down at her. She rewarded him with a small grin.

The detective nodded. "Buffy Summers. Big trouble in a small package."

"Trouble...such as...?" Scully asked.

"Nothing that we've ever been able to make stick, but a few things, here and there," he paused. "A few years ago she pushed her mother's boyfriend down the stairs."

"He chose not to press charges?" Scully said.

The detective scratched his head. "Um...no, not exactly. We er... well, that is, we made a mistake. Declared the man dead when he wasn't." He looked down at his shoes.

Mulder and Scully exchanged puzzled glances. Mulder mouthed "Vampire" at her as he nodded sagely.

"Is there more?" Mulder asked hesitantly.

The detective nodded slowly, swinging his head side to side a bit. "About two years ago, there was a Jamaican girl, killed in a - uh, fracas - over at the high school. A number of people were injured and we found Miss Summers over the body of the dead girl. She fled the scene."

"And the dead girl wasn't really dead?" Mulder joked lightly.

"Oh no," the detective replied earnestly, "she was quite dead. Just turned out someone else was the killer."

Scully made a face, as she looked upward, scanning the sky. Her mouth betrayed her disbelief. Looking back at the detective she exhaled and nodded her head once. "Anything else?" She was almost afraid to ask. More because it would fuel Mulder's enthusiasm.

"Well, now there was an incident last year as well. She and another girl, a real tough cookie, broke into a store and attempted to steal a number of weapons."

"And yet she's free now?" Mulder asked.

"We ... the girls ... our men were careless. We couldn't prove anything."

Scully ended the detectives meandering conversation by offering to go view the body, *now*.

The body, that of a young girl, about seventeen, lay half immersed in the thin stream that ran through Monarch Park. Mulder winced and turned away as he got his first glance at the mutilated corpse. Scully lifted her eyebrows and turned away ever so briefly before kneeling next to her. Snapping on the ubiquitous pair of latex gloves, her nimble fingers probed some of the many wounds on the teen's broken body.

Razor slashes marked her skin, blood thinly crusted along the open lines of wounding. Like a bizarre, nonsensical modern painting, color daubed liberally on a blank canvas by a madman, her body bore the appearance of a failed Picasso. Scully counted sixteen wounds on her torso, six to eight on each arm, several long, deep gashes on each leg, and the final, fatal cuts to her wrists. Scully shuddered at the deep, vertical gashes that marked her pale skin.

This was by far the most gruesome of the suicides they had yet seen. Scully looked up, catching the eye of the detective. He looked back at her, morosely, with the air of a man who has seen more than he ever thought possible.

"Have you identified her yet?" Scully inquired softly.

Jorgenson nodded. "Name's Lynn Foster. Turned eighteen last week. Honor student at our new high school, planned on attending Stanford in the fall."

"Were there any signs of ... this?" Mulder wanted to know.

This time Jorgenson shook his head. "Nothing. Like I said, good student and one of my men checked, her grades weren't a problem. Her mother said she was excited to be going to college. Her best friend was going there too."

"Did she have a boyfriend?"

The detective's face clouded in response to Scully's question. "Yes, she did. College student at the university."

"Do you plan to interview him?" Mulder inquired.

Jorgenson shook his head. "Can't."

Mulder nodded. "He was your murder victim."

The detective looked at Mulder, taken aback. "How ... but...," he stuttered.

"We've been following a trail of similar cases. Vicious murder, horrific suicide in or near a moving body of water."

"A trail?" Jorgenson's tan face blanched noticeably. "How many?"

"Too many," Mulder said.

"Do you have a suspect? any sort of profile?"

The agents exchanged glances. Jorgenson looked from one to the other.

It was Scully who finally answered him. "Agent Mulder believes we may not be looking for a human agency."

"Do you believe in the paranormal, Detective?" Mulder added.

Jorgenson coughed and seemed to bite his lips.

When no answer was forthcoming, Mulder continued. "You see, Agent Scully and I, we investigate cases that are considered unexplained, whose answers may lay in the realm of the paranormal."

"And you have a lot of these such cases?" Jorgenson asked.

Mulder pursed his lips and tilted his head from side to side, indicating they did, rather.

Jorgenson nodded, knowingly. Both agents, accustomed to reactions ranging from scorn to skepticism to lack of comprehension, were surprised.

Jorgenson continued, "What sort of non-human 'agency' do you think is responsible?"

"Well," Mulder hemmed a bit, "we're not exactly certain. We believe this thing, whatever it is, first 'struck' in Virginia, last Thanksgiving. Since then, the entity, for lack of a better word, has moved steadily west, always along moving water."

"I've examined several of the most recent suicide victims and they all have shown the same extreme internal anomalies. I have every reason to believe my autopsy of Lynn Foster's body would reveal similar symptoms," Scully told him.

Jorgenson looked down ruefully at the teenager's body. He seemed almost to be looking through her as he pondered something. One of his sergeants walked over to him and gestured silently. Jorgenson excused himself briefly to confer with his underling.

When he returned he asked if the agents had any objections to their removing Lynn Foster's body to the morgue. Neither of them did, as the crime scene photographer had completed his job and Scully didn't feel there was anything more she could learn without doing the autopsy.

As they walked back to the parking lot, Jorgenson sighed heavily. "Agents," he said as they neared the rental car, "if you are in Sunnydale long enough you are going to figure out our little town is different."

"I was reading some back articles from your newspaper last night," Mulder started to say.

Jorgenson interrupted, "I uh ... well, there is someone who could probably help your investigation quite a bit." The detective paused, pulled out a business card and wrote a name, address, and phone number on the back of the card. "When Agent Scully is done with the autopsy, I suggest you call him. You can follow Sergeant Anderson to the morgue." He handed Mulder the card.

Jorgenson walked away, leaving two quizzical agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stare after his retreating form.

They got in the car. Mulder turned to look at Scully. "That was, dare I say it, almost spooky." He was grinning at her.

She giggled a bit. "He's not a skeptic, that's for sure. What did he write on the card?"

Mulder studied it. Aloud he said, "Rupert Giles." He added the address and phone information.

"I wonder what he can tell us," Scully mused.

"Well, let's follow Anderson there so you can do that autopsy."

"What are you going to do?"

"I thought I might tackle Agent Fynn's superior officer, see what he can tell me about the murder victim."

She nodded.

Both agents hoped their plans would bear fruit in this ever more baffling case and if they didn't, that this man, this Giles, might be able to help them out.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
March23 - 3:00 P.M.

When Buffy returned to Giles' house everyone was busily involved in one task or another. Wesley and Giles, having apparently put aside any remaining differences and lingering animosity, were hunched over various texts, discussing all manner of incantations, spells, and possible methods of containing the Vesparys demons. Anya was seated close to them, making notes. Buffy assumed it was in relation to any times she may have heard of or had contact with the Vesparys species during her days as a Vengeance Demon.

Xander was nowhere to be seen. Willow and Cordelia each had their lap top computers out and appeared to be conducting Internet searches. Buffy looked around the room again.

"I sent him with Xander," Giles said matter-of-factly.

"Oh," she said in a small tone of voice. "Why?"

"I needed Xander to fetch Spike and I thought having Angel along might er ... well, motivate Spike a bit more highly."

"Why do we need Spike?"

"Buffy," Wesley said, sounding still like her erstwhile Watcher, "Spike is a demon and may have some knowledge of this species. Anything, and I mean *anything*, we can learn can only help us."

"And since Spike can't bite people, we thought he might be willing to help us kick some demon butt," Willow added with a giggle.

"Good point," said Buffy with mock heartiness. She flopped into a chair.

"Did you find out anything?" Giles asked, standing up, laying aside his glasses and walking over to stand near Buffy.

"No, we couldn't get anywhere near the body. I heard one of the people in the park say they recognized the girl."

"Who was it?" Cordelia asked, her face grim.

"Lynn Foster. She was a junior last year, I think."

"Yeah," Willow said. "She was in my computer class one year. That's too bad."

"Wasn't she dating some guy who was older? like in college?" Cordelia put in.

Buffy looked up at her. "Yeah," she said slowly. "She was. What was his name?"

All three girls fell into thought, searching the mental directory of faces from their high school years.

"He took her to the prom last year," Anya added. "He didn't look as good in his tux as Xander did."

Buffy ignored her while Cordy and Wil glared mildly at her.

"Brandon Todd!" Buffy exclaimed, her excitement momentary, shallow.

"That's right, yeah," Cordy agreed. "He was on the baseball team. Very hot." She paused. "I wonder how he's feeling. Maybe I should go talk to him. You know, see if he can give us any information."

Everyone rolled their eyes at her. Everyone. Without exception.

"What?" she demanded. "I can be ... Miss Sympathy an' all."

"Un-huh," Buffy said. "Go ahead, Cordelia, but I don't think you're going to get much response."

"And why not? I'd like to know. Just because I'm not *The Slayer*? Huh, is that it? Well, let me tell you something, Miss Buffy Summers, not all guys in this world like that sort of independence, the 'I can handle myself against an eight foot tall demon' sort of thing. Some guys like a little femininity, a little - "

Buffy interrupted her, sotto voce, "Cordelia, he's not going to respond because he's dead. Lynn Foster killed him and left his body in an alley this morning."

Cordelia deflated, visibly. "Oh," she said in a small voice. "He's the body they found this morning."

"I'm pretty sure," Buffy responded.

Willow had hacked into the Sunnydale Police Department database and confirmed that Brandon Todd had indeed been found in an alley near the Bronze, earlier that morning, the victim of an apparent murder.

"You know, Wil, I'm kinda surprised they don't just give you your own password to their database."

She grinned almost shyly at Buffy's round-about compliment concerning her computer skills. "Yeah, well..." she said with a shrug.

Giles cleared his throat. Everyone turned to look at him. "Um, yes, well, Willow, I would think the Sunnydale police database has really lost any sense of challenge it may have once had..."

She lifted her shoulders a bit and nodded, mouth pursed, one corner turned up. "A while ago, if you really want to know."

"Yes, well, I was thinking, maybe a new challenge is in order. What do you say?"

"Like...?" she asked.

Giles was silent, staring at her, eyebrows cocked.

At once Willow got it, her eyes widened and her mouth curved into a silent (and huge) "O" of surprise. She then smiled gleefully. Her fingers began tapping the keys on the keyboard. Buffy and Giles huddled around her.

Cordy sat on her side of the couch and looked perplexed. She raised her eyebrows, narrowed her eyes, and tilted her head to one side. "What - ?" she started.

Buffy looked up from the screen Willow was trying to load. "The F.B.I., Cordelia. She's going to hack into the F.B.I.'s computers if she can."

"Oh," was the only reply.

Spike's Crypt
Sunnydale, California

"That just *had* to hurt," Xander proclaimed after Spike had flown past him and made very solid contact with the door of the crypt.

"Nah, not a bleedin' bit," insisted the heap lying at the foot of said door. Not surprisingly, there was little force behind those words.

"Payback's a bitch, isn't it, Spike?" sneered Angel, his tall, well built frame loose, his face relaxed, the hint of a smile playing at his mouth.

Payback?" demanded the cockney vampire. "For what?"

"Come on, Spike," Angel mocked. "You haven't forgotten already, have you?"

Spike pulled himself to his feet. His back was firmly against the barred door of the crypt. Xander and Angel exchanged looks; Spike was not in much of a condition to be arguing and if he kept it up, that condition was going to deteriorate - quickly. "You're not talking about...? You are!"

Xander shook his head slowly, his face a mask of sympathy. "Spike, you just don't know when to shut up, do you?"

"You shut your bleedin' hole," Spike instructed him, "or I'll come over there and..."

"And what?" Xander asked emphatically. "Bite me? Wait! No, can't do that, not since that little operation the Initiative boys performed on you. Hmmm...let's see. Beat me up? Yeah...oh, wait, no, that won't work either, will it?" Xander shook his head from side to side, taking an obvious and somewhat malicious delight in torturing an old enemy.

Spike glared at him, unable to refute, for the moment, his mocking jests. "Yeah, well, just you wait..." he said at last.

"I'm shakin' already," Xander taunted.

Spike ignored him, turning back to face Angel who stood still, regarding the platinum haired bad-boy from a distance of about ten feet. "Look, Angel, I'm sorry about all that, truly I am."

"Shut up, Spike."

"No, really -" he insisted.

Angel leveled his gaze on Spike's face. "I said, 'Shut up, Spike'."

Spike closed his mouth.

"Now, I want you to listen, very carefully. I don't want to have to repeat myself. If I had to do that, it might get me thinking about the last time we ... met and I might have to..." Angel paused, letting his words sink into Spike's brain, giving him time to register the immensity of the threat. A cruel half-smile crossed Angel's mouth as he arched his eyebrows. "Let's just say I haven't forgotten, shall we?"

Spike's reply was rendered with relative quickness. "Yeah. All right. What is it you two need?"

Xander looked over at Angel and made a small salute to him. Angel smiled back.

"Information," Angel informed him.

"And possibly your help in fighting a demon or two," Xander added.

Spike brightened considerably at Xander's statement. "Kick a little demon ass, you mean?"

Angel and Xander both nodded. "But first," Angel said, "you come back to Giles' with us and tell Wesley and Giles anything and everything you know about Vesparys demons."

"Who's Wesley?" Spike asked.

"Long story," Xander filled in.

Spike was about to say something, sarcastic by the look on his face. Then, he stopped. His bloodless face seemed to go even whiter. "Did you say Vesparys demons?"

They nodded at him.

"Bloody Hell," he whistled through his teeth. "No wonder you've come back to Sunnydale, mate."

"I'm not your 'mate', Spike," Angel said coldly.

"Just an expression, thass all," he whined.

"Find a different one."

"We used to be pals, you 'n' me," Spike reminded him, sounding for all the world like a distraught six year old.

"No. We were never 'pals'. We killed and tortured people together. We brought fear, hatred, and grief into a lot of people's lives, Spike, but we were never pals." Angel's voice was cold, fierce, but beneath the icy mask of his face, an angry flame burned and pain flared as memories, apparitions, and banshee screams filled his mind. Spike may have been cocky, brash, and occasionally foolhardy, but he was not stupid. Stupid vampires don't survive long and he had survived a century thus far and planned on surviving a few more at least. He said nothing more.

Without further conversation the three uneasy allies made their way, carefully, back to Giles'. They skulked amongst trees, avoiding direct sunlight. The vampires pressed themselves into doorways and alleys where the sun was largely blocked. They cut through dusty, abandoned buildings, and made the final dash to Giles' front door covered in dark cloaks, smoke already rising from their backs as Xander threw open the door.

Every eye in the room turned toward them. Cordelia shrieked and leapt up, or rather, she tried to, hampered as she was by her lap top. "What is *he* doing here?" she asked. "Have you all gone insane?"

Giles patiently explained the situation to Cordelia (and, for that matter to Wesley, who had never met Spike. Wesley shook his head at the deplorable fact that not only did they all shield one vampire, Angel, owing to his having a soul, but now the Slayer and a former Watcher amongst others were aiding and abetting yet another creature of the night). As Giles talked, Buffy's eyes found Angel's. He met her gaze steadily. Only Willow and Xander noticed them and both could feel the electric current running between them, as surely as if there'd been a livewire itself stretching from his fingertips to hers.

No one noticed a figure, lurking across the courtyard. A familiar figure.

Sunnydale Morgue
Sunnydale, California
10:28 P.M.

Mulder arrived as Scully was putting instruments away. He came bearing food. She glanced down momentarily at his offering. She looked up at him, his face creased by a huge, mischevious grin.

He leaned down and spoke softly into her ear, "I watched them make it. No chloral hydrate."

She chuckled at him, as she rolled her shoulders and stretched her neck from side to side. She then looked around the tiny room in which they were standing, just off the autopsy bay. "Think there's some other place we could eat that?" she asked.

He nodded. "Jorgenson has arranged for us to use one of the coroner's offices."

"Great," she said, sarcasm lightly twined through her tired voice.

"It's the one suffering from uh, what was it? nervous exhaustion? Jorgenson said they've already cleared it out."

Scully was nodding. "Lead on," she said.

Mulder led the way down a close corridor, carrying the box of piping-hot pizza. Scully trailed him, carrying her notes and taperecorder. Mulder stopped in front of a door, its frosted glass window bare, the glass recently scraped of its occupant's name. He took out the key Jorgenson had given him and opened the door, holding it for Scully.

Inside the office, she slipped off her shoes and slid into the nearest chair, her head lolling back, her eyes closed. Mulder shut the door and watched her momentarily. Her hair fell partly across her face, obscuring at least a bit of the exhaustion that he saw there. She let out a huge sigh.

"As bad as the others?" he asked softly, advancing with the pizza, laying it on the cleared desk that dominated the rather small room. He sat himself down on the corner of the same desk.

Scully pulled her head back to its upright position and looked at him through eyes still half-closed. She brought one hand to her forehead and rubbed an imaginary line into the skin in the center. He watched her as her hand travelled slowly, from the spot where her nose melted into her forehead up to her hairline, and back down, and up, and down ... a soothing, reflexive motion, banishing thoughts he imagined and yet in an odd way, inviting in others. "Random?" he wondered silently.

She sighed again. "The internal exam showed pretty much what I've come to expect. The organs are spongy, almost as though they'd been corroded. The veins and arteries appear scoured. They disintegrate if I probe them too closely. There's almost no blood left in her. But ... Mulder ..." She stopped, unable to continue for a moment. She took a deep breath. Mulder watched her shudder. She looked up at him, blue eyes shining with a thin film of moisture. "This girl was so young and the external damage ... My God, I don't know how anyone could do that to themselves. So many cuts. The pain had to be ..." She stopped again and shook her head.

Mulder thought for a few minutes while watching Scully, who was already re-reading some of her own notes. The pizza grew steadily cooler on the desk. He thought a bit wryly that maybe knock-out drops wouldn't have been such a bad idea...get them both out of their own heads for a while. His eyes began to wander around the room, mostly devoid of anything but standard issue office furniture. A few books and manuals, doubtlessly county procedurals and the like, lay scattered on a book shelf behind Scully.

Mulder shifted a bit and something glittered, caught his eye. Something in the bookcase. Two somethings. He leaned forward, into Scully's space almost. A gold cross, similar to the simple one Scully wore around her neck lay shining on top of a Bible. It was the gold leaf inscription "Holy Bible" on it's side that had caught his eye as the book lay prone on the shelf. Unconscious of the movement, his left hand came to his face, the fingers running lightly over his lips.

Scully put her reading aside and looked at him. His face was intent, almost blank, yet not blank, as though Mulder were somewhere far away, not woolgathering, but fact-finding. She turned, saw the Bible, and wondered why he was so fascinated.

"Scully?" he asked slowly.

"Yes?" she replied.

"What was one of the more common miracles Jesus performed?"

She thought for a moment, thinking back to Sunday school, to Ahab's nightly reading (or Maggie when he was on deployment) of one chapter of the Bible, to sermons, to Melissa's running argument with Bill about ...

"Possession." It wasn't a question, but a statement of awe and wonder. "You think this is demonic possession."

"By a real demon."

"Mulder, demons don't really exist."

"Jesus cast them out of people. Remember the one, Legion - "because we are many" - didn't he cast it into a herd of swine? It had tormented the man it possessed for years, gave him unaccountable strength, caused him to injure himself. When Christ cast it out, it begged not to be killed. It had a life force and sought to preserve that. So he sent it into the swine herd, which promptly ran off a cliff into the water below. Right?"

She nodded. "More or less, But Mulder, that's all metaphor. The man probably had epilepsy or Parkinson's disease or some such thing that medicine of the time knew nothing about."

Mulder shook his head. He was smiling at her, challenging her. "You can't have it both ways, Scully. How can it be he fed the thousands with the fishes and loaves, turned water into wine, *rose from the dead*, but lied about those being demons?"

"Mulder," she protested.

"Hear me out, Scully. What if, just what if, the demons weren't metaphors, but were really demons? The Catholic Church has only recently ceased performing exorcisms-"

"Yes, but it's all superstition!" she insisted.

"Superstitions are usually based on long ago real events," he told her. "What if demons were - and more importantly, *are* - real? It would fit with this - entity we're tracking. It causes hurt to those it possesses; it kills indiscriminately, which would seem to be demonic behavior. It seems to have a lifeforce, a goal. It's come this far. I don't think that's random."

She stared at him, unable to refute his theory adequately.

He stood up, looking revitalized, full of energy. "Let's go see this man Detective Jorgenson told us about. This Rupert Giles."

"Now? Mulder, it's now -" she checked her watch, "- after 11 p.m."

"If this Giles is what I think he is, he won't mind a bit."

Wearily, Scully stood up and followed Mulder out. The pizza lay on the desk, untouched. As usual.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
March23 - 10:13 P.M.

Remains of dinner lay scattered - empty or nearly empty cartons of Chinese food - on Giles' coffee table. Plates sat haphazardly on the same piece of furniture or balanced on the arms of chairs. Wesley's plate held open his place in an ancient text. Giles kept glancing over nervously at this situation, but Wesley, who was almost as fussy as Giles, had taken care to protect the book with several napkins and he fussed over it repeatedly.

Giles himself sat in an armchair and read yet another of his seemingly endless supply of occult texts. Willow sat, intently focused on the computer screen in front of her. Giles' suggestion was indeed proving to be quite a challenge. Several times she thought she had hacked her way into the FBI site only to find herself blocked.

She sighed.

"Nothing?" Buffy asked glumly. Though she sat right next to Willow she was reading a magazine. Before Willow could answer Buffy murmured, "Mmmmm...an authentic mace...that sounds like fun." Sometimes Giles' odd little magazines and catalogs were quite interesting.

Spike who was sitting on the floor near a window looked up at her. "Yeah, right. You couldn't even lift one of those things," he sneered.

"You wanna bet, Spike?" she flared. "I'd be happy to demonstrate just how well I could lift it."

Spike put his hands up in mock conciliation before turning to stare once more at Cordelia.

"Stop that," Cordy commanded after a few seconds.

Spike chuckled. It was fun, messing with the wanna-be homecoming queen's mind.

"Spike..." growled Angel.

Spike raised his eyebrows. "So, is that the way it is, now? Well, innit that just the very thing..."

Before the babble of angry voices could begin, Giles said firmly, "Shut up."

Spike smirked, surveying the angry glances flying between Buffy, Angel, and Cordelia. These soul filled *mortals* (and one immortal) were such fun to toy with!

Willow sighed again, theatrically this time.

"Oh, sorry, Wil," said Buffy. "No luck?"

"No," she said glumly. "But I was closer this time."

"Couldn't that be an ...um ... problem, Wil? I mean if the Federal Bureau of *Investigation* objects and wants to - oh say - chat with you about all this?" Xander asked.

"Well," she grinned. "It could be. I guess."

"Wil?" Buffy asked, cocking her head.

Willow shrugged her shoulders slightly and grinned her goofy-shy "look-at-me-Miss-Rule-Follower-did-something-*bad*-oh-no" smile. "Yeah, there could be trouble. Good thing I used someone else's e-mail and identity."

"Willow!" Giles exclaimed. "That's - oh, nevermind. This is all illegal."

"Wil?" Xander prompted.

"Yeah, well, I thought, you know, if I did get caught, well..." she paused. "Some jail time might be good for Parker Abrams, give him some time to think about his actions."

Buffy's jaw went slack before she broke into a wide grin and peals of laughter. Though incomprehensible to Angel, Wesley, and Cordelia, the rest of the group assembled was soon laughing quite freely. Even Spike gave a chuckle or two.

"I gotta say," Spike said, "that's pretty inspired there, Red."

"Parker Abrams?" Cordelia finally ventured.

Buffy got control of herself, forced herself to maintain a serious face. "Long story. Not worth it."

"Parker - bad," Xander added and the Scooby gang was off again. Willow pantomimed the moment when Caveslayer Buffy had laid Parker flat with a well placed tree branch to the head and soon they were all gasping for oxygen.

"Yes, well," said Giles when he could speak again, "I think that's been quite enough of a break. What do you say, Willow? Back to work then?"

Still giggling, she nodded.

Feeling refreshed by such an easy moment of camaraderie Buffy got up and began clearing away the debris from dinner. Surprisingly, it was Anya and Cordelia who helped her. From the edge of the coffee table Cordy picked up a bowl that contained, to her, a completely unidentifiable substance.

"What is this?" she asked.

Anya looked over, holding a stack of plates. "Oh, that's Spike's. Blood and Weetabix, I believe."

"Gives the blood a bit of texture, the weetabix does," Spike added.

"Ewwww!" Cordy shrieked and quickly laid the bowl back on the table. "I'm not touching that." She rounded on Spike and demanded petulantly, "Why can't you just drink your blood like a ... a ... a civilized vampire? Take Angel, for example -"

"Cordelia," Angel interrupted her. "I think that's enough."

Cordelia shut her mouth ruefully. As she helped clear away what remained, ostentatiously avoiding Spike's "meal", she muttered, "I'm still not touching that."

"Hey," Xander called out. "Check out my fortune: Big events are about to happen in your life."

Before he could continue Anya said, "In bed? Isn't that what you're supposed to add to a fortune?" She was grinning in anticipation. "I think Xander and I should be going now."

Xander buried his head in his hands as his friends hid embarrassed smirks. "How many times, Ahn, do we have to talk about things we don't say around Xander's friends?"

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "That's one of them, isn't it?"

"And you say my social skills are weak," Angel murmured into Cordelia's ear as she passed him, on her way back from the kitchen.

"Yes, Ahn, that would be one of them." Xander's tone was one of affectionate irritation.

"Huh!" Buffy exhaled. "I only got those stupid lucky numbers."

"What are they?" Willow asked. "I mean, you never know, some numbers or number combinations are said to have special powers."

"Well, what sort of powers do these have? two, ten, thirteen, and twenty-three."

Buffy smiled to herself as Giles and Wesley both began to ponder those. When she had first met Giles that had perplexed her, how he read something into *everything*. It had cramped her social life, his insistence she become familiar with the prophecies concerning the Slayer, with the properties of magic, with so many things that had seemed like just so much more studying. She realized for the umpteenth time, she'd grown a lot under Giles' careful tutelage and she owed him her life. His stubborn refusal to allow her to become all brawn and no brains had kept her alive in many situations.

"OH!" Willow yelled, her voice reverberating through the room. "I did it; I'm in!"

Shouts went up as everyone hurried to huddle around her. Everyone but Spike of course.

"Scully, Dana Scully was one of them," Buffy said excitedly.

In moments Willow had pulled up Scully's file. "Weird," she said. "Look at her birthdate."

"February 23...two and twenty-three. Two of Buffy's numbers," Wesley spoke with some amount of awe. "Maybe they were significant after all."

Those who could easily see the screen took turns reading the information they found in the file.

"Wow," Xander said as they finished. "She ought to feel right at home in Sunnydale."

"Do you really think she was abducted by aliens, like that memo her partner wrote?" Willow asked, to no one in general.

"Hmmm...what?" It was Giles who answered. "No, 'course not. No such thing as aliens."

"Find the other one," Buffy encouraged. "Mulder, Fox Mulder."

Mulder's picture popped up with his file. "Wow," Cordy breathed. "He is *very* hot."

In her cool, dispassionate voice, Anya agreed. "An excellent specimen. I wouldn't mind..."

"Ahn!" Xander exclaimed.

"Oh come on, admit it, you thought his partner was just as hot," Anya chided.

Xander stuttered his denials, but it was to no avail.

"Look at his birthday," Willow said. "October thirteenth."

"Ten and thirteen," Giles added, rather unnecessarily. Everyone had more or less gotten the connection with Buffy's lucky numbers.

"Hey, listen to this," Willow said, her voice excited, her speech rapid. "They are assigned to a project outside the Bureau mainstream. It's called the X-Files. They investigate 'paranormal' occurrences."

"Paranormal how?" Cordelia asked.

As though reading from an invisible book, Wesley, his eyes far away, answered her, "Unexplained phenomena - ghosts, transmigration of the soul, werewolves, vampires, what the outside world would term 'monsters'. The Council was aware of their activities. I feel quite stupid for not making the connection sooner."

"Says here, they also investigate aliens," Willow added. She lifted her shoulders and giggled.

"Oh," said Cordelia, nodding her head once emphatically. "So they investigate the things we all kinda ...live with every day?"

"Basically," Giles agreed. "I wonder that they've never got onto Sunnydale before now."

"Hmmm...yes, odd that," Wesley said, his tone preoccupied. "I can't help but think the Council has something to do with that. Shouldn't wonder if maybe ... well, no matter. They're in Sunnydale now, which could prove ... oh ... er ... interesting."

A knock, firm but not aggressively loud, at the door started all of them.

"Who on earth could that be?" Giles wondered.

"Riley?" asked Buffy.

"Right. As if any of you ever knock," Giles teased her.

Mulder stopped where Scully indicated, given the address on the card Jorgenson had given them. They both craned their necks to get a view of Rupert Giles' residence. Light glowed from an upstairs window. Mulder gave Scully a look of mild triumph, as he parked the car next to the curb.

They walked toward the building, discovered that they had to go through a courtyard, and did so, pushing open the gate quietly. Mulder whistled softly. The courtyard was spacious, paved in light flagstones. Native trees and bushes grew around the area, making it pleasing to the eye and providing a good measure of privacy. Scully too gazed around appreciatively.

Without warning or explanation, Mulder shuddered.

"What? Mulder, are you all right?" Scully asked.

He nodded, slowly, a blank look on his face. "It's just .... do you feel that at all?"

"Feel what?"

"I ... don't ... know," he replied. "I just suddenly felt really ... weird." He shook his head, shook off the lingering inexplicable feelings of rage, fear, and death that assailed him, although he could not name those things. Pretending he wasn't bothered any more, he grinned at Scully. "Spooky!"

She smiled back, but the concern for him was evident in the compression of her lips. "Mulder?" Her voice, wrapping itself around his name as silk wraps around precious jewels, was soft, almost fearful.

He looked at her.

"Maybe we should come back, tomorrow. It's late," she pled.

The sound of voices from within, exclamations muted by the solid wooden door that stood sentry to Giles' home, put to rest any objections Scully might have had about the lateness of the hour.

"Come on, Scully. I'm sure Mr. Giles doesn't bite."

She glared at his back and bit back the smile that played on her mouth. This town was strange and it seemed to be having an effect on both Mulder and herself. Resolutely, she caught up with him just as he knocked on the door.

Mulder's knock was firm, but not the fierce pounding that might alarm those within. Still, they could hear through the door the abrupt cessation of all conversation. Murmurs of an exchange reached their ears and they waited. A raised voice, feminine, got louder as the speaker neared the door, but the words were indistinguishable.

The door opened. Scully's eyebrows flew up over her widening eyes and the startled "o" of her mouth might have been comical to anyone who hadn't *just* been party to - illegally - hacking into her F.B.I. file.

Mulder looked at the girl who answered the door.. She was defensive, her posture rigid, but her body betraying a certain looseness, a cat-like readiness to move as necessary and to do so with speed and grace. Behind her stood a man. He might have been taller than the boy, Riley, that she'd been with earlier. It was hard to tell exactly, for the dark haired, intensely morose stranger behind her had a far more powerful presence than Fynn. His features were harder, more precisely defined, his eyes seemed to have accumulated more shadows, more pain, than those of Fynn. There was something, unmistakable, ineffable, that flowed between Buffy and the man who was so clearly guarding her, as much as she would allow herself to be guarded. Mulder realized suddenly one aspect of the scene in the alley that had struck him as false. Fynn had tried to convey the impression that Buffy had tagged along, when it was really Fynn who had been the invited guest. Mulder guessed Buffy could no more invite this man in Rupert Giles' home along than she could prevent him from entering therein.

In the alley had stood professional and amateur. Before the two agents now stood two professionals. Two professionals with a deep history. "Professional what though?" thought Mulder.

It was the man who broke the silence. "Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Buffy mentioned your meeting near the Bronze this morning."

"I'm sorry," Scully said, her tone conveying anything but regret, "you are?"


Buffy spoke, her voice brittle, impatient. "Are you here to see Giles or are you selling tickets to the F.B.I. Ball? Because if you are, I don't think any of us would really be interested."

"We're here to see Mr. Giles. Detective Jorgenson of the Sunnydale Police Department gave us his name," Mulder told her, his voice even, tense only around the edges of the words.

Giles stepped forward, saying, "Oh, really, it's just 'Giles'. Please come in. I suspect we all know why you're here."

Scully glanced up at Mulder as they entered the living room and saw the assembled group. "I'm not even sure why we're here," she muttered.

"You're tracking a demon," Giles stated simply. "A demon that possesses, that causes its host to perform horrific acts of violence to others and ultimately to itself. That demon has crossed the country, starting in Virginia late last year, traveling along waterways, until it reached Sunnydale."

"Thank you, Cordelia," an attractive brunette seated on the couch said. Mulder guessed she was Cordelia.

"Yes," Giles agreed. "Thank you, Cordelia, for your painstaking research this afternoon. I believe it will prove invaluable in our forthcoming task."

Mulder and Scully regarded one another. Mulder with a sly grin just curving his lips while Scully maintained her vaunted skepticism.

Outside, hidden by darkness, protected by caution, the lurker waited, patiently. The right moment would come. It would... Waiting, control, that was the key.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
March24 - 12:04 A.M.

Mulder and Scully regarded one another for a few long, perplexed minutes. The room remained silent, except for the periodic whir of a still-active computer. Mulder made a slight turn in that direction, his gaze searching out, but not quite finding, the screen that might explain some of what Mr. Giles had said to them. From his peripheral vision he watched Buffy catch the eye of a seated red head and make a motion. The girl's pale face creased in confusion. Mulder broke into a big grin.

"She wants you to turn the computer off," he told the red head, smiling.

"Oh!" Willow exclaimed. "Thanks, I really -" She stopped and looked apologetically at Buffy.

"Um...yes, well," sputtered Giles, "May I offer you something to drink? Er...tea? Coffee?"

The two agents exchanged rapid glances once again. Scully sighed, frowned slightly and lifted her eyes to the ceiling.

"It's er...likely to be a rather long night, I think," Giles added.

"Coffee," Mulder said. Looking down at his diminutive partner, he grunted, a sound that most closely resembled "hinnnn?"

Scully smiled at Giles and nodded.

"Yes, well then...uhh... Buffy, will you introduce everyone while I make the coffee?"

"I can make it," Cordelia offered brightly.

Panic-stricken expressions from both Angel and Wesley prompted Giles to decline, politely, her offer and set about making the offered beverage himself.

Giles' distraction almost covered Buffy's repeated motion to the girl with the lap top. In amusement, Mulder watched the blondeís frenzied, yet controlled, hand motions. The red head got the message this time. She kept glancing at the two agents as she went through several steps to shut down her computer. One step, based on the noises emanating from the machine, was disconnecting from the Internet.

Mulder caught Scully's eye and raised his brows at her, the question telegraphed between them wordlessly. With a nod imperceptible to almost everyone else, she agreed mutely to play 'bad cop'. As Mulder had watched the body language between Buffy and the dark man, so the dark man, Angel, watched that between Mulder and Scully. He noticed her nod. Then again, very little escapes the preternatural sight of an alert vampire.

"What was so ... top secret that Buffy wanted you to shut your computer down?" Scully's voice was challenging, cold, slightly unfriendly. It was meant not to threaten the teenager, but to intimidate her, just a bit.

Willow looked at Buffy first. Her eyes betrayed a hint of panic. Buffy came to her rescue before Wil could stutter any sort of response.


Both agents turned their eyes back toward the diminutive Slayer. They had, over the course of seven years, met many defensive suspects, suspicious witnesses, and even those who just plain distrusted the government enough to enjoy hampering the work Mulder and Scully did. This girl had them all beat, hands down. Both looked at her, making silent evaluations.

Buffy Summers stood five feet two inches tall at most. Mulder noted that her bone structure was small in general with her face giving testimony to the fineness of the bones that formed the girl. She wore trendy, fashionable clothes; her hair was piled in a messy, yet stylish manner on her head. Her bright eyes appeared innocent and her face made a nice blank canvas. And Mulder knew without a doubt, underestimating this girl could get you hurt, maybe dead if she found you to be enough of a threat.

For beneath a stereotypical exterior, Mulder (and Scully, though Mulder, with his sensibilities more attuned to the paranormal, could better put his thoughts into words) noted Buffy's demeanor. The tension flowing through her, snapping off her with the sharpness of a flag caught in a hurricane, could have come from the rigorous schedule of a college student. It didn't and he knew that. How exactly he knew that he could not have said, but he knew its source was far deeper, far more urgent than mere midterms, papers, and grades. The muscles that lined her tiny frame, that promised intense power in her legs and arms might be the product of long hours in a gym, but again Mulder just knew they weren't. As in the courtyard, he suddenly shivered, an image of the girl in front of them flitting across his mind's eye - she stood, alert, tight, sweating lightly, a weapon, ancient and wicked looking, held in her hand; at her feet lay a ...beast. Her eyes were cold, triumphant, glad. Her lips curved into a cruel, satisfied half-smile.

"Mulder?" Scully's voice was soft, concerned.

He shook his head and mouthed, "I'm fine."

She didn't believe him, but he motioned that she should pursue her questions about the computer. "Research? about?"

"We're college students. We do a lot of research," Buffy replied, unruffled.

For the first time, someone else spoke up. This girl, seated on the lap of a pleasant-looking young man, had brown hair and a slightly bored air. "They were looking at your files, finding out what they could about the two of you."

"Anya!" Several of those in the room chorused.

She rolled her eyes and sneered. "Well, you were, weren't you? Did you really think they wouldn't find out? After all, they do *investigate* things."

"You didn't have to make it easier for them, Ahn," her boyfriend admonished.

Ignoring the ire of those in the room, Anya informed Mulder, "You're better looking in person."

Xander's head rolled back against the chair in which they sat. He groaned. Willow and Buffy glared at her while Cordelia fixed a look on her that oozed scorn and disbelief.

After a few seconds, Buffy shook her head, setting the blond hair atop it dancing momentarily. She took a deep breath and set her expression to one of forced cheerfulness. She turned back to the agents.

"Let me introduce you to our little gang," she said. Mulder suspected from the hostility that in her eyes that she might just as happily kill Scully and himself where they stood and bury the bodies. She motioned to each person as she made the appropriate introductions. "This is Willow Rosenberg."

"Computer hacker extraordinaire?" Mulder asked.

Buffy ignored him and continued, "Cordelia Chase, works for Angel now. Xander Harris. Anya...I think you kinda met already. We all um...went to high school together."

"The high school destroyed at last year's graduation?" Scully inquired.

The tension in the room ratcheted itself up a notch with Scully's seemingly innocuous question. It was Xander who broke the uncomfortable silence. "Think we took that senior prank thing a bit too far?" he joked.

A small measure of laughter, forced, met his jest. Scully's face remained impassive and Mulder only granted him a tight, sardonic smile.

Eager to distract the agents from the obvious questions building in their eyes, Buffy hurried on, "This is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. You've met Giles already." Giles had returned with freshly brewed coffee. "Wesley and Giles are ...um ... were ... worked at the er..."

"Giles was the bloody librarian and no one's quite sure what the other one's job description was, though he doesn't seem to have been very good at it, whatever it was," Spike inserted. His voice was low, bored, his eyes promising mischief if at all possible.

"Quite close to your teachers, it would seem," Mulder observed.

Buffy looked at Giles quickly. "Sunnydale High School had a truly fine library," she covered.

"Yeah," Xander added. "Books are my life. Boy, I miss that place!"

"You said you were glad the whole place was a pile of rubble and if you never had to look through another one of Giles' dusty old books, you'd be very happy," Anya said, confusion evident in her voice.

"Ahn," Xander sighed.

"Oh..." she grimaced. "Again? Sorry."

Cordelia shook her head slowly. "I used to date *him*? What *was* I thinking?"

"Hey! I'll have you know-" Xander started.

"Children," growled Giles. "Must we?"

"Oh, I think this is good fun. Keep on," Spike encouraged.

"Spike," Angel's voice was quite soft and unmistakably threatening.

Spike looked at him, anger rising in his eyes. "Yeah, right," he said at last, disgust written all over his face.

"And," Buffy said decisively, daring anyone else to speak it seemed, "that is Spike. He and Angel, you met Angel, are ...friends of ours."

Scully thought given the way Buffy enunciated 'friends' it would be very wise not to be this girl's enemy! The look on her face was conflicted. Settling her eyes on Spike, her mouth fell into a fierce frown, puzzlement at his very presence etching lines into her young face. She looked as if seeing him, speaking his name left a bad taste in her mouth and produced a vile smell. Yet as her eyes came to rest on Angel, who still stood close to her, whose energy seemed to envelope hers, her face softened, blended into an intense mixture of care and pain and even hidden, denied desire. Uncomfortably, Scully realized it was almost like peering into a mirror. She turned away.

Giles handed round the coffee and placed a bowl of snacks on the coffee table. Absent-mindedly Cordelia leaned forward and had a handful while studying the F.B.I. agents. Silently she decided Anya, tactless as she might be, was right. Agent Mulder was far better looking in person. She sighed glumly. Why couldn't the ones who looked like that ever be doctors? or lawyers? accountants even? Then she shivered a bit, mind turning to some of the doctors and lawyers she'd met in the last year.

After some awkward silence, Willow spoke up. Almost shyly, definitely using a goofy tone, she asked, "Do you two really chase aliens?"

"Willow..." Giles cautioned.

"What?" She looked at him, hurt at his tone. "Anya already told them."

"Oh, well, then..."

"So, do you?" she repeated.

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances. "Sometimes, yes," Mulder answered.

"That's ridiculous!" Giles exclaimed. Forestalling any comment Mulder might make, he added, "Aliens do not exist."

"Neither do demons, Mr. Giles, yet you told us that's what we're here tracking," Scully responded levelly, coolly.

"Demons *do* exist," insisted Wesley.

"Agent Scully is a bit of a skeptic," Mulder explained. "She likes physical proof of the paranormal. As a scientist, she believes her science can answer any riddle we might come across."

"And you, Agent Mulder?" Angel asked this.

Mulder looked over at him. "Agent Scully would tell you I'm more ...gullible. I believe there are many things science cannot *yet* provide answers to."

Four sets of eyes met. Buffy, Giles, Angel, and Wesley seemed to confer silently. Giles spoke at last. "Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, I quite understand your concern in this ...er ... matter, but if I may suggest? Go home. You don't know what you're dealing with and that is most dangerous."

"Then why don't you tell us *exactly* what that is?" Mulder's voice was harsh, acidic.

"It won't matter," Buffy stated.

"Why not?" Scully queried.

"Because you don't believe. He might, but *you* don't and in this case your disbelief is going to do more than influence a report or cause some raised eyebrows in the F.B.I."

"Your disbelief could kill you....or someone else," Angel finished for Buffy.

Scully snorted in impatience. She looked at Mulder, her anger glowing hotly in her eyes.

Softly Giles said, "We've dealt with this sort of ... occurrence before. I assure you, everything will be resolved."

"How?" What will you and this ...this..." Mulder was at a loss for words.

"Bunch of meddling kids?" Xander supplied in mock helpfulness.

Mulder glared at him.

"Agent Mulder, we *have* been through events of this sort before. We are quite well equipped to handle this threat."

"Well equipped?" Scully asked, incredulous. "You're delusional. You think demons really exist and somehow all of you ... you ... people here are going to "resolve" this situation."

Despite the wall of eyes, the insistently hostile expressions on all nine faces, neither agent felt inclined to give in. Resentment, anger, fear seeped from Buffy, flowed easily over the two agents. Each group, the Sunnydale residents and the two agents, bonded together more tightly as the tension mounted in the room. Angel, still standing within inches of Buffy, still quite close to Mulder and Scully, looked down at the floor, seemed to study the tongue and grooves of the wood there.

Angel raised his face.

Scully was staring, unseeing at Giles. It was Mulder who saw, who had no choice but to believe what he already did (mostly anyway). Roughly, he pulled Scully behind him as he reached for his weapon and drew it. When Scully saw the cause of his alarm, she gasped and whispered, "Oh my God."

Angel's smooth, handsome features were horridly disfigured. His forehead bore a few pronounced wrinkles, ones that seemed to melt into the protrusions on his nose. His eyes glittered yellow with a barely concealed and gleeful menace. His lips, rounded and fuller, seemed redder, more close to the color of warm, human blood. At each side of his mouth, the agents could see the tips of long, startlingly white, pointed incisors.

"Put your gun away," the creature said, his voice mocking, devoid of any feeling. "You can't harm me with that. I would think anyone who's studied the 'paranormal' would know that."

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
March24 - 12:20 A.M.

"All right!" Spike exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "Now this, this is more like it." He was grinning from ear to ear in evil merriment.

"Sit down, Spike," growled Angel, the sound low, rumbling, setting up eerie vibrations in everyone's hearts.

"But-" Spike started to complain.

"...and shut up," Angel commanded.

Spike did as he was told, muttering darkly about the numerous, nah make that damn near uncountable, injustices he had suffered at the hands of the Slayer and her little group of friends. His face was more glum than before.

Angel was staring at Mulder and Scully. Mulder stared back in awed curiosity. Scully averted her glance, her body quivering in fear and revulsion.

Buffy gave them both a very matter-of-fact glance. It was dismissive and scornful as well. "You see? You have *no* idea what you're dealing with."

Recovering her voice, Scully spoke, struggling to find an explanation that would make rational sense to her. "If he's ... the ... killer and you're sheltering him for some reason?"

"Him?" Cordelia asked indignantly. "What are you talking about? Angel helps the innocent, protects the protectorless type people. He saves souls!" she added triumphantly.

No one spoke.

"I mean, yeah, OK, sure...there was a time, really, when you stop to think about it, it wasn't even all that long ago," Cordelia babbled. "When, well, yeah, he was kinda sorta kill-your-friends sort of evil. But he's beyond that now. He got his soul back and..." she trailed off, noticing at last the look Buffy fixed on her. "Um...yeah...you know? Angel, or Giles, or Buffy, or even Wesley could probably explain it better." She nodded and pursed her mouth into a theatrical grin.

"Thank you, Cordelia," said Wes sarcastically. "Your vote of confidence is overwhelming, I assure you."

She smiled brightly at him.

"Angel is a vampire," Buffy said quietly. "It's a long story. Maybe you wanna sit down to hear it?"

Both agents agreed. Willow got up from her place on the couch so they could have a seat. She stood near Giles, close to the kitchen pass-through. Buffy and Angel went to stand in front of the fireplace. Both Watchers remained where they were, taking up, as if on cue, only supporting roles should they be required.

"Do you know what a vampire is?" Angel asked. Mulder and Scully noted his face had returned to its normal visage.

"Creature of the night," Mulder said. "Sucks the blood of the living to sustain itself."

Spike interjected. "Yes, that's wot we do. But do you know *what* we are?"

Mulder and Scully both looked over, Scully's eyebrows arched enough to make the Gateway Arch jealous. They looked back at Buffy and Angel. They nodded.

"So..." Scully began uncertainly, "what *are* you?"

Angel looked up at Giles. "Oh...yes...well ..."

"The short version, if you please, Rupert. I can't sit underneath this window indefinitely, now can I?" Spike said with great sarcasm. "And I do so want to know how you convince these two that we demons do walk the earth."

Buffy rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and muttered, "I should have killed him when I had the chance." Looking at Spike, she said, "Spike, one more word out of you - and I mean *one* single word - and you will find yourself bound to a chair when the sun comes up and I will personally open that shade and watch you turn into a big, huge, *quiet* pile of dust."

Spike made a motion of acquiescence with his hands.

"Giles," she said, "Please continue."

Giles did so, explaining as quickly as he could the history of demonic habitation of the earth, of its banishment to other worlds, and the creation of the first vampire.

"So, the last demon to leave this earth, mingled its blood with that of a mortal man?" Mulder asked.

"Yes, quite," Giles confirmed. "And when this event took place, the man's soul was gone, flown into the "ether", replaced by the soul of a demon. Feeling no remorse, no shame, no guilt, the man mingled his blood with another and another and so on."

"And ever since then vampires and other demons have been looking for ways to rule the earth again," Angel told them.

"If a vampire has no soul, no feelings of guilt or remorse, why would these two sit here with you? Why don't they kill you?" Scully asked.

"Spike ... well, let's just say Spike took a little trip to the vet, got this chip put in his brain by a bunch of military commando guys, and has been pretty harmless ever since," Xander informed them, swaggering a bit, glancing over at Spike to watch his barbed words hit home.

"Angel is a special case," said Wesley, with respect. "You see, Angel was given his soul back. Twice, in fact."

"Well, that *had* to hurt...I mean after years of what? killing, torturing ... wow, that must have been a rough day," Mulder joked. It was clear their story stretched even his credulity.

"You have no idea," Angel informed him, his voice reverberating with a tightly coiled power.

It was Scully whose eyes glowed suddenly, flared briefly into some form of belief. "How did it happen?"

It was Buffy who told her lover's tale. "Angel is 244 years old. For a long time, 140 years or so, he was very well known, very much feared. His actions and deeds were recorded in many places. Then, in Romania, just over a century ago, he killed a young Gypsy girl. Her people were so enraged, they cursed him."

"They gave you back your soul as a curse?" Scully asked.

Angel nodded. "What more fitting punishment? I was a creature who had killed indiscriminately, took great pleasure in the pain I caused, soon forgot my victims as their corpses rotted in shallow graves. And then, I became a creature who could remember it all, see again every single face, hear every sound they made as I took their lives. I was - am - still a vampire, still immortal. I will carry the memories of what I've done with me forever, unless I'm killed. For me, there is no escape."

"Ummmm...not quite," Xander said.

"Yeah," Cordy added. "You left out the 'one moment of pure happiness' part there, Boss."

Giles filled in, watching both Buffy and Angel grow uncomfortable in their very skins. "The Gypsies had neglected to mention to Angel a detail of the curse. Should he ever experience one moment of true happiness then he would again lose his soul and revert back to 'Angelus'."

"This happened?" Mulder asked.

Everyone nodded slowly.

"You said Angel got his soul back a second time," Scully said, looking at Wesley.

"A woman, a descendant of those gypsies, named Jenny Calendar had been sent by her people to watch me," Angel explained. "Though the knowledge of restoration was lost, she began trying to reconstruct it. When she was successful, but before she could share her news with anyone, I killed her. Willow eventually found the computer disk where the information was and restored my soul."

"Yuh-eah!" exclaimed Cordelia. "After you and Drusilla kidnapped Giles, tortured him, killed Kendra, and tried to open the Hellmouth. If Buffy hadn't gotten there when she did and sent you to Hell, who knows what would have happened?"

"She works for you?" Mulder asked, skeptical of that fact.

Angel smiled a little at that. "It's a small business. We're very honest with one another. Painfully honest." He paused. "But in this case, also painfully accurate."

"Buffy?" Mulder asked. Buffy looked up at him, startled out of a reverie. She nodded. "How do you fit in?"

Buffy looked at Giles. She frowned. Giles studied both agents very carefully. He then took a calculated risk, hoping they would find this all too unbelievable, or would know their superiors would find it so so, to put in a formal report.

"Buffy is the Slayer," Giles said bluntly. "It is her destiny to slay vampires, demons, any sort of evil creature that preys on this world."

"It's not a nine to five kind of job, but you know... you gotta do what you gotta do," Buffy said in a joking manner.

"Actually, it is sort of a nine to five job, Buffy, just not the nine to five most people think of," Willow said.

Buffy pondered this for a minute. "Good point there, Wil."

Mulder's lips began moving silently. Scully looked over at him, worried again. He stopped, took in the crowd assembled in Mr. Giles' living room. "Into each generation is born a girl, the one who shall stand against the vampires."


After a moment, it was Wesley who spoke. "Yes, that is what is written, or very close. Where did you read it or hear it?"

Mulder remained quiet for a moment. At last he said, "When I was at Oxford. I ... thought it was just something a friend of mine was making up. He used to recite that bit at pubs, around girls."

Giles and Wesley both made a harumphing noise. "Well, he must have been a Watcher in training," Giles said.

"I should be surprised though to learn he had actually ended up by being employed by the Council," Wesley added.

"No, I don't think he was," Mulder told them. "He died suddenly."

Giles got a funny, pained look on his face. "How long ago was this, if you don't mind my asking?"

Mulder shook his head. "About twenty years ago, I guess."

"Charles Thorton-Quisbury," Giles said. Wesley's face went pale.

"Oh, my," Wes whispered. "*That* did create a stir, didn't it?"

Giles nodded.

"It was real then? His talk about vampires and demons and a chosen girl who fought them."

Giles nodded again. "Charles was never right for the Council. They should have seen that right away. But the Council can often be blind, stuck in their traditions. He made it too plain what he was, or what he thought he was."

"If I recall, the vampires who attacked him weren't content to leave it there," Wesley said. "Their leader sired him."

"Yes," Giles agreed. "It was several years before the Council was able to stop him." Giles paused. "I'm sorry, Agent Mulder."

Shrugging it off, not out of coldness or lack of feeling, but the knowledge it was too far back in the past to worry over, Mulder turned again to Buffy. "You're the Slayer?"

She nodded and pursed her lips into a thin smile. "I'm the Chosen One."

"Do you know what this thing is?" Scully asked.

"Yes," Wes told her. "It's a Vesparys demon. A particularly nasty breed, I might add."

"I say," Giles interrupted. "The demon isn't going to strike tonight as far as Wesley and I have been able to determine. I suggest everyone get some rest. Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, we'll be happy to explain all about this demon in the morning. I think just now it might be a bit much."

The agents exchanged glances. They agreed with nods and stood up to go. Arrangements were made to meet the next morning.

When they had gone, Buffy turned and faced the fireplace. "She still doesn't believe it."

"We need a plan to keep them out of the way," Angel stated.

"We need more of a plan than that, Angel," Wesley reminded him.

In the car, Scully turned to Mulder. She stared at him.

"I know, I know," he said. "It sounds crazy-"

"Mulder," she said sternly, "it *is* crazy. Not only crazy, but impossible."

"Not impossible, Scully. Their explanation of vampirism made some scientific sense, you know."

"The demon mingling its blood with a human? The soul of the man being lost to the 'ether'? Yeah, it's scientifically possible, Mulder. If you're a Fourteenth Century scientist who also believes the moon is made of cheese, the sun revolves around the earth, and through incantations lead can be turned into pure gold!"

"So, Scully, how do you explain what happened to Angel in there?"

She paused. He watched her defenses go up. "Well, he was looking down during his transformation. And we were distracted ...both times when he 'changed'."


"Mulder, I'm sorry, but no. It's just not possible. They said he went to Hell and came back."

"Puts a whole new spin on that expression, doesn't it?" he grinned at her.

She finally had to smile back at him. She shook her head as she murmured, "Gypsy curses. Being immortal. A girl who slays demons. Gee, Mulder, they didn't get around to mentioning werewolves."

"Maybe they're leaving that for tomorrow," he kidded her as he started up the engine.

From the bushes, the lurker watched, impatient for them to leave. They had nearly caught ... nevermind that, they were gone now. Back to the window, peering in soundlessly, watching as they made their plans.

Sunnyrest Motor Lodge
March24 2:30 A.M.

Scully sighed in exhaustion, stepping out of her heels as she walked across her motel room. Mulder followed her, shutting the door quietly. Scully had been very silent, staring out the window as Mulder drove back. He had left her to her thoughts, sorting out his own as the car slid through the dark town.

The realization of the long-ago fate of his college friend, Thornton-Quisbury, had shaken him more than he cared to admit. It made a great deal of sense, given the circumstances of the young man's sudden death and even more sudden funeral. He remembered how Charles' family members, tight-lipped, white-faced, had refused to discuss how he had died. He remembered running into the victim's older sister a few months later and being shocked by how strained, even ill, she appeared. He had sudden flashes of a night he'd once chalked up to a bit too much ale at a pub and far too much Phoebe. Turning a corner, his arm around Phoebe's waist, fingers creeping higher as she stroked his side, they had been laughing when a figure leapt out at them. In the shadows, the man, for the size of the interloper indicated it must be a man, appeared to be disfigured. A trick of the light gilded his eyes and highlighted unusually pointed incisors. A sound, rumbling, inhuman tore from his throat. Mulder remembered Phoebe, reaching into her bag and, despite the restraining arm he had laid across her, lunging at the figure with something outstretched in one hand.

The man had shrieked and fled. Perplexed Mulder had looked down at Phoebe, noted that what she held was a cross. He had taken her blithe assertion that it was indeed a vampire as yet another one of her head games, just as she must have expected him to.

Later that night, sleeping off the ale, he had dreamt, a horrible, confused series of nightmares in which vampires figured prominently throughout. In the phantasm of his brain, he felt those sharp teeth he had seen so briefly sink into the flesh on his neck, heard himself scream in agony as the blood pulsed from the gaping tears on his neck, heard too the suckling sound the creature made as it fed on Mulder.

He had seen a different ending to the scene, where Phoebe turned to face him, her own visage changed, her teeth glinting and sharp, her eyes that heartless yellow that spoke millennia of evil and hatred.

In one version, he saw their attacker clearly and recognized, underneath the cruelly different face that of his friend, of Charles Thornton-Quisbury. In this dream he had been about to speak, to accuse the man of some vicious prank, when Phoebe had pulled that cross from her bag and sent the thing into the depths of the Oxford evening.

Sitting in a chair in Scully's room, listening to the sound of running water as she brushed her teeth, he realized, nearly twenty years later, that part had been real. It had been Thornton-Quisbury that night. Phoebe too had known Charles, yet they had never spoken of that night. She must have known, must have seen it was him. He thought he might ask Wesley or Rupert Giles if they had ever known her.

Scully came out of the bathroom wearing her bathrobe and smelling of mint. She sat on the end of her bed and looked at him. "Mulder, please tell me you've thought about it and you know none of that is true."

"Actually, Scully, I've thought about it and come to the conclusion that it's all quite true."

She rolled her eyes at him and sighed deeply. "Mul-derrrr," she whined. "Come on...vampires?"

"Chaney, Texas, Scully," he reminded her with a twinkle in his eye. "Though I'll grant you, neither of these two had big buck teeth."

She glared at him then looked down at her hands, which lay entwined on her lap. Sighing again, she said, "All right. Let's discuss the supposed supernatural elements of this case at another time. Whatever our respective opinions may be, I think we can agree those people could get in our way, could make it impossible for us to catch this ... thing we're looking for."

"I don't think so. If they are what they say they are, we're going to need them."

"And if they aren't, Mulder?" Her eyebrow shot up. It was late and her patience had been left in Rupert Giles' living room. "Say they are nothing more than a bunch of fantasy nuts who've invented some game for themselves. How are we ... how are *you* going to explain to Skinner that you let a bunch of ..."

Echoing Xander, Mulder interjected, "Meddling kids?"

It earned him an industrial strength glare.

Smiling softly he said to her, "Scully, they may at least have information that could help us. Let's hear them out in the morning as planned and then we can decide what to do from there."

Giving in, she nodded. This wasn't a battle she could win, not this late and not with all those silly, impossible stories secure in Mulder's paranormal-seeking brain. She would go along with him for now, get some sleep, and deal with it in the morning.

Mulder stood up to leave. She walked with him to the door. He stood on the threshold for what felt like a long time, looking at her, wondering if his eyes rested as intently on Scully as Angel's did on Buffy, knowing they must. She gazed back at him and he thought he saw some of the emotion she kept locked up so tightly struggling to break through. He thought of Buffy Summer's eyes, filled with a mixture of pain, fear, concern, and love as she had stared at Angel. The history floated between them, written in a text only those familiar to them could decode, but Mulder suspected it was, in its way, a history fraught with as many challenged and rewards as the one he shared with Scully. He also thought that ironically, it was a history that might just be filled with more honesty in its own way.

"Good night, Scully," he said, drawing his hand lightly across hers as she rested it against the door frame, prepared to close the door behind him. "Don't invite any strangers into your room," he teased.

She smiled at him, sleepily. "Stranger than you?" she teased. She added, "I won't. Sleep, Mulder."

He nodded and trailed down the corridor to his own door. He heard the soft click of her door shutting.

Left to herself, Scully's mind tumbled over the blocks of information, or fiction, that had filled her day. Though she could offer no scientific explanation for events in Chaney, she still refused to believe vampires might actually exist. Or she mostly refused to believe. Despite the weak objection she'd offered up to Mulder, she could not think of any way truly to rationalize Angel's rapid and horrifying transformation.

Had it only been the physical features she might not have struggled so much, but it had been something in his voice, in the way he held himself. It could have been an act, but she didn't think so. It had been almost like watching someone with Multiple Personality Disorder. When he had changed, he had *changed*. The soft-spoken, but firm tone was gone, subsumed under a voice that mocked. She could imagine that voice uttering cruelties, threats, making vicious jokes at the expense of anyone in the room, even Buffy, for whom he clearly had intense feelings. The rigidity of the muscles that lay beneath his shirt had faded; his posture had slackened the slightest bit. His whole body seemed looser, as though somewhere deep inside a spring had been sprung or a coil unwound enough to take away some of the tension.

She lay on her bed, lights out, staring up at the ceiling. Unwillingly, she recalled the others in the room. Once she had begun to recover from seeing Angel that way, she had taken the time to glance around. No one had been shocked, nor had anyone seemed to find any of it amusing. She had been looking for signs that this was all a show, put on to scare away Mulder and her. Given that large assemblage of people, most who were quite young, she would have expected some sign of nervousness or mirth. They either believed what had happened or were skilled performers. She wanted to believe it was the latter.

She wanted to believe the story of Angel's life was a tale, a tall bedtime tale told to frighten small children and nosy F.B.I. agents. She did not want to think of the implications of this Slayer myth. The more her mind tried to shy from that, the more it came back to that moment in the coroner's abandoned office. Mulder had told her she couldn't have it both ways. She couldn't accept that Christ had worked miracles, had died on a cross and risen, had been the Son of God, but refuse to believe accounts of demon possession.

Her scientific mind had always assumed demons didn't exist. Though stories of them existed in ancient times, up through the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and even into our times, she had believed demons to be nothing more than a human invention, a way to keep believers in line, to put the fear of sin into them. She didn't believe in evil incarnate, only evil, and felt demons and the devil were little more than an excuse for men and women, and increasingly, children, to harm one another. The Kryder case had shaken her belief in that a bit, as had her experience in Father Gregory's church.

Why was it Mulder's mind, so skeptical when it came to matters of faith, could take these turns, could accept answers she found preposterous despite their Biblical origins?

She didn't want demons to exist in the same way she didn't want aliens to exist. She wanted to be in control of her life in this world as much as possible and ... well, she didn't want those things to exist. It was as simple as that.

These thoughts slowly seeped into the corners of her mind as she drifted off to a sleep that was deep, dreamless, and all too short.

Rupert Giles' Residence
March24 2:41 A.M.

Only Wesley had stayed at Giles'. The two (former) Watchers had talked at length, grabbing a few hours sleep only toward dawn. Naturally, at first, they had spoken of the Vesparys demon that had brought them all together again. An assiduous study of Wesley's texts and those of Giles had provided them with a clue as to the time when the Vesparys would be likely to spawn. They knew where, of course, without really looking. There were some aspects of living on a Hell Mouth that did actually make fighting evil just a touch easier.

Conversation had then turned to the last time Giles and Wesley had seen one another. After his release from the Sunnydale hospital, Wesley had come to Giles' home. Giles has ascertained that Wesley was perfectly fine, no long term damage had been suffered as a result of the head injury the younger man had suffered at the mayor's Ascension. Wesley had come to say good-bye, having been sacked by the Council. The parting had been awkward at best.

Once the topic of the Vesparys demon had been exhausted, conversation had turned toward the presence of the F.B.I agents. Both men had expressed deep regret that those two had found their way into this situation and agreed it could muddle things in far worse ways. Neither had an adequate plan for preventing them from continuing to involve themselves in what the Watchers saw as their own particular province.

The safer subjects of discussion thoroughly covered, silence had reigned for some time. Giles had studied Wesley with care, making an effort to see beyond the man who had arrived in Sunnydale a year before, cocky, assured, and utterly without a clue. From the first day Wesley Wyndham-Price had done little more than irritate (at best) and alienate (at worst) those around him. He had not known what to make of Buffy, had expected her simply to fall in line with the words of the Council. When she had declined to do so, he had taken a hard stance with her and it had caused a total break between the Slayer and the Council, whose actions she had barely tolerated under the best of circumstances. Wesleyís actions in regard to Faith, the once-rogue Slayer who now lay in a Buffy-imposed coma, had been in a single word, disastrous.

For his part, Wesley was well aware of Giles' scrutiny and he bore it silently, feeling its deserved weight, waiting until the time when Giles would render judgment. Wes knew he had been a wash as a Watcher; he wished he could have had some inkling of what he knew now, even the slightest bit of knowledge. Giles, though resentful of the Council's decision to replace him, could have been a strong mentor. With his help, Buffy might still be willing at least to hear out the Council and Faith... well, Faith might be on their side.

"What is it like...er ... working with Angel?" Giles asked at last.

Wesley looked up, thoughtful, choosing his words with care. "Rewarding. Angel is quite amazing, as I think you know."

"Yes, quite," Giles agreed.

"I have learned a great deal in the time I've been in Los Angeles."

"Oh? Uh ... skills, lore you were not taught by the Council?"

The younger man chuckled softly. "Good Lord, no. Things the Council never could have taught me, never would have been willing to."

Giles was silent, staring at his counterpart intently.

Wesley looked down for a long while. When he spoke, he spoke as much to himself as to Giles. "Don't you find the Council is far more interested in abiding by the codes they've created to fight evil than fighting evil itself?"

Giles nodded, though he knew the question had been rhetorical.

"With Angel ... heavens, with Cordelia even ... I've come to see that people - well, not that Angel is a person, exactly, but he does have a soul and -"

"Yes, I know," Giles interrupted.

"Oh yes, sorry," Wesley paused. "It's just that I used to believe people were good or evil and never changed. I thought the Council was ... just about perfect because they were dedicated to fighting evil."

"And their methods are strict, precise."

Wesley nodded. "That ... aspect of things appealed to me as well. Bringing order out of chaos, playing the hero, even if it was vicariously through the Slayer, it seemed so noble. The truth is... well, the truth is Angel has shown me how people, creatures do change. And I've seen more courage, more nobility, more ...yes, more *humanity* working with Angel than in all my years with the Council."

Giles nodded again.

"He took me in when I was down on my luck, penniless really, and gave me a job. And he's never made me feel as though it's charity. He is fair and honest." Wes stopped and smiled. "I don't recall ever feeling that I truly belonged somewhere as I do now. After all I've done, things I'd said, yet Angel trusts me, seems to believe in me. I must confess - I'm not always certain why."

"I think Angel sees the capacity to change in everyone. It's an experience of which he has some intimate knowledge, after all."

Wes nodded this time. "Indeed."

They had been silent again, staring at nothing, wrapped in the quiet of the late night. Wesley broke the silence that was making him drowsy. He needed to say something before this alliance went any further.

"Rupert, I want to apologize. I was an idiot, in every way possible last year. My actions ... well, my actions led to Faith's situation for one thing. And it was only because of you that Buffy ever listened to the Council at all."

"Forget it, man. That was last year. I don't think any of us made it easy on you, either."

"That doesn't matter. I could make excuses, but I won't. The fact is I wasn't ready to be a Watcher and I accepted the position for all the wrong reasons. You once told me I had all the maturity of - what was it again?"

"A blueberry scone," Giles supplied ruefully. "Look, Wesley, that was-"

"No, it was true. I can only hope I've grown and if I have indeed, then I owe it to Angel."

Giles appraised the other man and was pleased to find he could indeed see Wesley, not as the incompetent, haughty ponce of a year ago, but as someone Angel trusted, someone they could depend on. The change was a welcome one, of course.

"Oh yes, well," Giles said, his voice light, "I'd say at least the maturity of a good Yorkshire Pudding."

For a brief moment in time, the old Wesley rose to the surface and panic masked his features. Quickly though he realized Giles was joking and that in its way, the joke itself was a compliment. Previously, Giles would never have joked with him. Wes smiled and added, "Well then, I think I shall set my goals even higher. I think in six months time I should like to have the maturity of a clotted cream."

Neither man would ever be able to explain the humor in that conversation to anyone else. Neither would care.

Room STEVENSON HALL, U.C. Sunnydale
March24 2:50 A.M.

"Remind me again, Wil, how we got stuck with her?" Buffy was changing. Willow was brushing her hair.

"She didn't have anywhere else to go," Willow said, her voice plaintive, sympathetic.

"She has parents. They live in Sunnydale," Buffy countered.

"Buffy," Willow chided. "You know the situation there. Besides, it will be like old times, like high school. We'll stay up all night and talk and reminisce..."



"Old times? Reminisce? About ... how she tormented you? how she never missed an opportunity to say something cruel about one of us? how she blamed *me* for causing her problems and made that stupid wish that brought Anya into our lives?"

Willow's face fell, the muscles going slack. She pressed her lips together, her mouth pulling down at the sides just slightly. "Well, okay, there were those ... few ... a lot ... constant 'issues'. But Buffy, she's working with Angel. Maybe she's changed."

Buffy raised her eyebrows in a skeptical look that had she but known it would have rivaled Agent Scully's best "Mulder-you've-got- to-be-kidding-or-out-of-your-mind" look. "Un-huh, sure."

Cordelia returned. She looked at Buffy, who having changed into her yummy-sushi pajamas, now lay tucked in her bed. She turned to glance at Willow, who sat on her bed, toes under the covers. "So," Cordy said brightly, despite the late hour. "who gets the floor?"

Buffy rolled her eyes.

"We were thinking, well, since we weren't really expecting company-" Willow stammered.

"You do," Buffy said bluntly.

Cordelia opened her mouth, then closed it around one syllable. "Oh."

As she settled herself into the nest of blankets Buffy and Willow had hastily thrown together, the two occupants of the room exchanged glances. Willow was triumphant; Buffy openly shocked. As soon as Cordy was settled, Willow switched out her light and the room was dark, except for the light from the outside which filtered in dimly.

"How's college?" Cordelia's disembodied voice floated through the stillness.

"Good. It's good," Willow answered quickly. "Going to classes, doing homework. It's a lot like high school ... well, actually no, it's not. It's a thousand times better."

"If nothing else, the college isn't *on* the Hell Mouth itself," Buffy interjected.

"What's it like working for Angel?" Willow asked, her voice full of anticipation and glee.

Cordy sighed. In the dark, she rolled her eyes. "Well, the salary is barely enough to get by. The benefit package ... what benefit package? The clientele is ...um ... different. I shower a lot - and I mean *a lot* - because of all the yucky, slimy, stinky demons we deal with. *And* because of Doyle I get these vision thingies that are like a migraine with digital picture and surround sound." She sighed. "I really like it."

"How is he?" Buffy asked. Willow rolled onto her side and peered at Buffy. Her face was tight with emotion and her voice had been tentative.

"Angel is ... Angel. He broods. He saves people. He broods some more."


"He misses you," Cordelia added. After a pause, she said, "Willow, I'm really sorry Oz left."

Willow inhaled sharply. Her friends had been right; the pain got better a little every day, but she still missed him terribly. "Thanks. He had to go. But hopefully when he comes back, he'll be better."

"Can he get better?" Cordy asked.

"Well, no one knows. Giles doesn't think so, but ..."

"We hope he can," Buffy finished.

"And what's with Xander?" Cordelia asked, changing subjects with her usual lightning abruptness.

"You mean, Anya?" Buffy said.

"Isn't she the one who ... you know ... with that amulet?"

"Well, since Giles destroyed her amulet and the spell she tried with me didn't work, evil girl decided to settle down in Sunnydale. And now she's got her hooks into Xander." Willow's voice betrayed how very little she liked Anya.

"Be fair, Wil. Anya has actually been some help to us since she and Xander started ... um ... dating."

"Like when?" Willow challenged.

Buffy thought for a moment. "Well, she tried to help us call D'Hoffreyn when that spell you did went all weirdness on us... and she's the one who got Giles when we trapped on Halloween." Willow started to protest, "And...and she helped you beat on that killer Indian spirit guy with a shovel at Thanksgiving."

"Yeah, yeah, Okay, so she's had her moments."

"You still don't like her?" Cordy asked rhetorically. "Typical Xander."

"Bad taste in girlfriends?" Buffy asked with a hint of fairly good-natured malice in her voice.

Cordelia seemed about to agree when she realized Buffy's implication. "Hey!"

Buffy smiled and laughed. "Sorry, you walked right into that one though."

After a moment, Cordelia laughed as well.

"So, how's the acting thing going?" Willow asked.

Cordelia talked about her career until all three dozed off.

Rupert Giles' Residence
March24 8:24 A.M.

Giles handed round the donuts for which the girls had stopped on their way over. Willow was pouring cups of hot, strong coffee. No one looked particularly well-rested. Everyone was ill at ease. Giles looked at the group assembled in his living room, eyes resting especially on the three with whom he had begun this journey. He smiled, to himself mostly, as he thought of Buffy, Willow, and Xander, sophomores in high school, banding together. Buffy the Slayer of vampires and demons, Xander and Willow the self-appointed Slayerettes. How Giles had feared for his young charge in those days. How he had feared for the fate of the world.

Yet Buffy had proven to be the strongest Slayer in the Council's long history. The independence that had once so irked him had come to be one of her most important qualities. The brain which had seemed so well-trained toward interpreting the latest vagaries of the fashion industry also showed it was fiercely intelligent in fighting evil. That spirit of rebelliousness, the stubborn refusal at first to accept her destiny, had given Buffy Summers great perseverance in all things. Giles now knew the fate of the world was in good hands and he was pleased to think he had had any part in that.

They were, to put it in the mildest possible terms, an odd group. Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia had gone back to Stevenson Hall on campus and spent the night, Cordelia preferring not to see her parents until this current problem was solved. Giles wondered what that had been like for Buffy and Willow and he wondered in sudden amazement that in four years, they had all survived Cordelia Chase. He gave the young woman credit. Working with Angel and Wesley was deepening her. Slowly, Giles mused. Very slowly. A bit like the progress of the Colorado River in forming the Grand Canyon.

Anya Emerson, ex-demon and madly in love with Xander, never failed to surprise him. Very frequently she irritated him and he found himself wishing when they destroyed her amulet, they had destroyed her as well. Yet her information had proven useful on a few occasions. She and Xander had reappeared from whatever activity they had - "Never mind," thought Giles with a shudder. Due to Anya's almost deplorable frankness, he already had an unfortunate store of images as to their activities upon leaving his home in the early hours of the morning.

Spike had returned. Dragged, one suspected, by Angel, who had gone back to the crypt with Spike. If the Council could see that what they would say was not hard to imagine. Two vampires in a room, welcomed in no less, by two Watchers and a Slayer. It defied the logic he and Wesley had been taught. Then again, the real world was far from logical and required a certain flexibility which the Council did not display.

The topic everyone was discussing (and had been for the last forty minutes more or less) was how to get rid of the F.B.I. agents. The best suggestion thus far involved one of them acting as a decoy and leading the two alien-hunters on a wild goose chase. The only problem with that suggestion was they really couldn't spare anyone to do the leading.

"We could just not tell them the time or the place," Buffy said hopefully.

"Somehow, Buffy, I don't think they'd be inclined to believe us, do you?" Wesley asked.

"You mean, they might catch on that we were trying to ditch them?" Her voice was lightly sarcastic. "Foiled again."

"Couldn't we send Anya?" Cordelia suggested.

"Hey!" Anya exclaimed.

"No, we need Anya ... as an ex-Vengeance demon she may, as the time draws nearer, recall some important detail."

"Yeah, like how to run for her life," Cordy muttered.

"How was I supposed to know you all could stop an Ascension?" Anya defended herself.

"All right! That's enough," Buffy said harshly. "This isn't helping."

"How about sending Spike?" Wesley put in.

"No good," Buffy answered. "First of all, he can't go out in the daylight."

"Good point."

"Bloody right, good point!" Spike exclaimed.

"And second of all, if these things spawn, we're going to need Spike's strength to help us fight as many of them as we can."

"Thank you," he said, achieving a tone of mocking gratitude that was virtually his trademark.

"Lastly, we can't trust him," Buffy concluded.

"What? Oh, come on, I ... oh, yeah, right...you can't trust me."

For the first time in nearly an hour, Willow raised her face from the book she had been engrossed in studying. "How about a misguiding spell?"

"Can you do one?" Giles asked.

She nodded emphatically. "That is, I'm pretty sure I can. It's not that hard."

"What does it do, Wil?" Buffy asked eagerly.

"Well, it ...um ..."

"Let me give it a shot, Wil. It misguides?" Xander quipped.

"I got that, Xander! I meant, well, I meant how does it misguide exactly?"

"Well, I'm not too clear on that. The book is a little foggy on that part."

"There's irony for you," Angel said. Everyone but Wes and Cordy looked up. "What?"

"Did you?" Xander looked around the room, his face dumbfounded. "Did he? Was that?"

"A joke?" Cordy supplied. "Yes, he does that occasionally."

Willow smiled and giggled. "Not bad," she complimented.

"Yeah," Buffy added, still surprised.

Xander continued to feign shock until no one was looking at him any longer.

"Willow? The spell?" Giles was interested in this latest suggestion.

"Well, I *think* it would cause them to hear things incorrectly. Like if we told to go to the old high school, they would hear it as ...well, some other place. If they tried to follow us, it's like they wouldnít be able to see us just right. I mean, I think thatís how it would work."

"I must say, I think itís worth a try," Giles said.

"What do we need and when could you perform it?" Buffy asked.

Willow peered back into her book. She read a list of ingredients, most of which she already had back in the dorm. "Okay, hereís the tricky part...the spell isnít actually performed on them."

"Itís an amulet spell," Anya said.

Willow nodded.

"Amulet spell?" Cordelia asked.

"Willow enchants something, an amulet, and gives it to them."

"Right. It has to be something they each have with them all the time."

Cordy looked confused again. "If itís something they have with them all the time, then how...?"

"I have to get it - whatever it is - in my possession, do the spell, and then get it back to them."

"Without them figuring it out?" Spike asked. "Oh, yeah, thatís bloody likely. Them being trained investigators Ďní all. Iím sure theyíll never notice a thing."

"Well, weíll just have to figure out a way to do it so they donít notice," Angel said in that voice that left no room for doubt. What needed to be done would get done. It was as simple as that.

"I hate to sound like a doubting Spike," Xander began, "but we also donít exactly know what sorts of things they always keep with them."

"Weíll watch them," Giles told him. "While weíre discussing the Vesparys demon with them, everyone will pay close attention to any items that seem of special importance to them."

"íCause *that* wonít be almost impossible!" Cordelia exclaimed. "Itís not like you can just figure out what *things* are important to a person by watching them."

"Your shoes," Anya said.

"My what?"

"Your shoes," she repeated. "You keep looking at them, then looking at all of us. Iíve concluded that you highly value those shoes and would like one of us to say something about them."

Cordeliaís mouth hung open. After a moment she closed it. "OK," she said. "Maybe not that hard after all."

"But we still donít know how Willowís going to enchant whatever these things turn out to be," Xander insisted.

"Patrol," Buffy stated.

Giles raised his eyebrows at her, as did Wesley.

"Thatís an excellent idea, Buffy," Wes said, voice hushed with admiration.

Angel was nodding. "We take them on patrol."

"We?" Buffy demanded.

"This is going to be a two person job, Buffy," the vampire pointed out.

"Yes, me and ... and ... a second *person*."

"You need someone with the reflexes and coordination of an immortal being. You need someone with preternatural senses."

"You also need someone who can fight if you actually encounter any vampires or demons," Giles added. "Angel is right."

Reluctantly, Buffy agreed and a plan was formed.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
March24 - 9:06 A.M.

Scully was glaring heartily at Mulder as he knocked on the door to Giles' home. She refused to tell him yet again that this was ridiculous, improbable, not to mention likely to be useless and a waste of time they didn't have. He hadn't listened the half dozen times she had said that so far this morning. Wryly she reflected, he never listened to that argument.

The dark haired girl, Cordelia, opened the door and flashed them a wide, charming smile. Mulder returned her grin with a cheery one of his own. Scully raised her eyebrows at him and continued to glare, now including those assembled in Giles' living room in the scope of her unhappy gaze.

"Come on in," Cordelia said brightly. "Do you want some coffee? Willow made it and she's great at making coffee. And have some doughnuts. We stopped and got them on our way over here..." her voice trailed off as she felt a light touch on her arm. She knew without turning it was Angel and that she should stop talking.

Mulder chuckled at her. She didn't fit in too well with this gloom-and-doom group they'd met. He cautioned himself, amending that mental statement. She didn't seem to fit in. He looked up at Angel who still stood close to Cordelia and Mulder's eyes instinctively sought out Buffy, wondering if there was any jealousy there, trying to gauge the currents running between this intense gathering of such unseemly allies. She looked calm, although tired.

He remembered the tales he'd heard in England of Slayers. He calculated Buffy's age and guessed she must be about nineteen. He recalled few Slayers lived past twenty-five and he wondered how someone who looked so tiny, seemed so fragile, could carry that burden with such seeming ease.

Angel's gaze followed Mulder's and the vampire could not stop the emotion that eased his mouth into a tight smile.

Scully declined the offer of coffee, though Mulder accepted it. He also took a doughnut and sat on a chair that had been provided.

'You were going to tell us about this thing - ' Scully started.

"Demon," Wesley corrected.

Scully paused, giving Wesley a withering look. With sarcasm not-so- gently filling her voice, she went on. "...this 'demon' we've been tracking." With an obvious show of reluctance, she sat next to Mulder.

Mulder looked at her and grinned. She'd come so far, but there was still so much she refused to see. He noticed Buffy was smiling, looking down at the ground to hide her expression. She must know something about skeptics herself.

"It's called a Vesparys demon," Giles stated. "Somewhat surprisingly the texts we have at our disposal do not contain a great deal of information about this species."

"Why surprisingly?" Mulder asked, slipping into investigator mode with ease.

"Well, between myself and Wesley, and Angel as well, we have a great store of knowledge. However, Vesparys demons do not appear in the world very often and when they do ..."

"They don't leave a lot of people behind to record their deeds," Wesley finished. "They are a violent, brutal, single-minded breed of demon."

"Single-minded?" asked Scully.

"Yes," Wesley said. "They have but two major purposes in their long lives: to wreak havoc when they may and to breed."

Mulder made a face of disgust while his partner rolled her eyes in disbelief.

"Fortunately, if anything about this species can be called fortunate, they spend most of their lives in water and it limits their interaction with human beings," Giles added.

Mulder looked up, his face sharp, focused. "They spend their lives in water?"

"In general, yes," Wesley told him. "It is believed they spend most of their time in the oceans, feeding off the animals that inhabit those oceans, spending centuries, or possibly longer, living in the currents, spanning the globe."

"How do they feed?" Mulder wanted to know.

"Fear." Angel stated. "They possess a living creature and cause it to terrorize those around it. The fear of its victims gives it strength, vitality."

"And the host?" Scully asked skeptically.

"It kills the host. The demon's life force acts like a..." Angel paused, spread his hands helplessly before him.

"An acid," Cordelia supplied with a shudder.

"Yeah, thanks... it's life force acts like an acid on the tissues of the host, burning them away until the host can no longer sustain it's own life."

For the first time Scully felt a tingle, suppressed a shiver. What Angel had described was too similar to what she'd seen in a number of those Mulder believed had been possessed.

"We've seen ... Agent Scully in her autopsies has found..."

"I've examined several of the murderers and what I've found matches what Angel just described," she admitted slowly.

"But none of the victims, right?" Willow asked.

Scully shook her head.

"Do you know how the demon affects the possession?" Mulder asked.

"That is one thing of which we are confident, yes," Giles answered.


There was a moment of silence. They had discussed this, deciding at last that the story, to have its full impact, must be told by an eye-witness to a Vesparys possession. Giles and Wesley turned to look at Anya. Willow studiously looked away. Buffy and Cordelia found the ceiling suddenly fascinating. Spike seemed to be drowsing from his spot on the floor. Angel watched the girl with a closed look on his face. Xander took her hand.

"Vesparys demons have no corporeal form," Anya started. "That is, they don't have bodies like ... we do."

"We got that," Mulder said gently.

"Sorry," Anya muttered. "When a Vesparys demon is on land, it appears as a small puddle of water. Although if you pay attention, the water shimmers and moves a little. When a human comes into contact with this puddle, the life force of the demon is absorbed through the skin. And if the demon was on anything solid - stone, wood, for example - the surface is scarred, burned away."

"Only humans?"

"Yes, Agent Mulder, only humans," Anya replied, voice strained.

"Why is that?" Scully queried. There wasn't anyone in the room who didn't get that she was trying to trip up Anya, to prove false her story.

"Animals are protected by their fur. A human in shoes, for example, would be safe, unless there was a hole in his shoe, or he splashed the water and it got on him that way. And deons don't possess animals unless they can help it. They find animal possession dull, and a bit humiliating," She paused. "It takes only a few drops for the demon to possess the host."

"What happens then?" Xander asked softly. he knew the answer. He also knew his lines in this little scene. He improvised though, stroking her fingers softly.

Anya shuddered. "The host is unaware of the possession. First, they grow cold, too cold for a human being, really."

"That slows down the blood flow, allows the demon to possess the host longer before destroying its body," Giles explained.

"As the demon fills the host, the host becomes violent. Obviously violent. The idea is to terrify anyone who might be around."

"And the demon feeds on the fear," Mulder said, nodding.

"When the demon has caused the host to kill, when the demon feels the host body beginning to break down, it begins to search for water - a river, a lake, an ocean - whatever it can find. It guides the host to the water and there..." she stopped.

"The host commits suicide." Scully completed Anya's thought.

Anya nodded.

"In the messiest way possible," Buffy added.

"Ooooohhhf! I hate demons!" Cordelia explained. Her eyes met Angel's. "Most demons," she amended, her voice pinched.

"Why so messy?" Mulder inquired.

"It's quite lovely, if you stop to take it in," said Spike. "A Vesparys demon gains strength from fear; pain causes fear. So, a spectacular suicide is bound to produce pain, and then fear, in the host, now, woonnit?"

"And the host's blood, which has been mingled with the life force of the demon has to be released into the water," Mulder mused aloud.

"Or as near it as possible," Giles put in. "But yes, that is why the suicide is so bloody."

There was grim silence for a few moments. Scully broke it at last. "How do you know this?" she asked Anya.

"I saw one," she stated in her oddly flat voice. The slight tremor that ran through it caught the attention of several people who thought they knew her. Absent-mindedly, Xander kissed her forehead. A smile flitted across her face.

"From what you've implied, it would be very rare to see this sort of possession and live," Scully challenged.

Anya looked at Giles.

"Anya was once a vengeance demon," he explained.

Scully's jaw actually dropped open. She stared from Giles to Anya in utter disbelief. "Of course," she said finally, the sarcasm unmistakable. "That would explain everything, wouldn't it?"

Mulder was watching Anya, glancing from time to time at the others around the room. As incredible as this group of people seemed, he was beginning to believe it more and more. Anya was either rattled by her memories of what she'd seen or a really fine actress. Mulder doubted her acting ability.

"Come on, Mulder. I think we've wasted enough time here." She stood up from her seat.

"I believe them, Scully," he said softly.

She rounded on him. "Oh, I should have known! Mulder, for ... this is insane! Demons do not exist. Vampires do not exist, no matter what trick they tried last night, it's just not true! Vesparys demons...vengeance demons...vampire slayers...these are stories told to scare people, invented to keep people in line. They were born of an age of superstition and ... they are not real!"

Angel, who had been leaning casually against a wall, moved swiftly, covering the few feet between him and the standing agent in a few long strides. Before she could back away from him, his hand gripped the gold cross she wore around her neck.

"What-?" she started. She stopped, watching smoke curl out of Angel's fisted palm. She looked up at his face, her own paling visibly when she saw the rictus of pain that gripped his visage.

"Angel!" Buffy called out. His eyes flashed at her, silencing her with words they each knew instinctively.

"That takes some stones," Spike said appreciatively. "Nice to know you aren't completely domesticated, Angelus."

Through a jaw clenched in pain, Angel warned Spike, "Call me that again, Spike, and you'll be dust before the last syllable leaves your mouth."

At last, with a badly suppressed cry of agony, Angel released the talisman Scully wore. She watched it, almost in slow motion, fall back against her skin where it gleamed in the filmy morning light. She looked then at the palm Angel held up. The palimpset of her cross stood out blackly on his pale skin.

"How did I do that, Agent Scully?" he demanded. "How could this possibly be a trick?"

She opened and closed her mouth, finding her vocal cords had chosen that moment to go on vacation.

"I am a vampire, Agent. If I go out into the sunlight in that courtyard, I will burn. Do you want a demonstration?"

"Yeah, we can always send Spike," Xander supplied. Spike displayed two fingers of his right hand to Xander in reply.

"What *is* that?" Xander asked to no one in particular.

Anya whispered something in his ear.

"Ohhhhh... OK, I get it now." Xander said. After a moment's further contemplation, he turned to Spike and said indignantly, "Same to you!"

Spike smirked.

Ignoring the juvenile exchange taking place, Angel grabbed Scully's wrists. He leaned closer to her, his face impossibly near hers, his voice soft, quiet, and lethal. "You can take out your gun and shoot me, if you want. Through the heart. It will hurt like hell, but it won't kill me, Agent. Sunlight, a stake through my heart, and decapitation. These things will end my immortal existence. I've been a vampire for 244 years, just like Buffy told you last night. To survive, I feed on blood, though I no longer drink humans. 244 years I've fed on the blood of the living and I will do so until my existence is ended. This isn't a trick. It isn't some parlor game we devised to mislead you. This is who I am; it's who Spike is...sort of. And it is the *truth*."

He let go of her and she sunk back down to her chair weakly.

Willow went to get Scully the coffee she had declined earlier. When she returned, Scully sipped it gratefully, glancing at Mulder from time to time.

"You said there were two of these things," Mulder said after a while. "Are you certain they are both coming here?"

"Yes," Wesley replied. "Certain."

"To spawn?" Scully asked. She recovered quickly, Angel noted. Her voice did not have quite the same authoritative tone it had, but it sounded strong and sensible, just as before.

"To spawn," Giles agreed.

"Why here?" Mulder asked.

"Because Sunnydale has a Hell Mouth," Buffy stated.

"A what?"

"A Hell Mouth...center of mystical convergence...yadda..yadda... yadda...lots of demons, ogres, witches - the bad kind, Wil - vamps, and other assorted creatures of darkness are drawn here."

"And Buffy was drawn here...lucky us!" Willow said.

"Yeah, do you know our graduating class had the lowest death rate in years?" Cordelia added.

Mulder chuckled at them. "You all grew up here? stayed here? Geez..."

"There's no place like home, be it ever so ...hmmm, 'humble' isn't exactly the right word is it?" Xander quipped.

"How about 'fatal'?" Willow said helpfully.

"Be it ever so ...fatal," Xander tried. "Yeah, I like that. Thanks, Wil."

"Anytime." She smiled broadly at him.

"And you joke?" Scully raised her eyebrows with that one.

"We have to, Agent Scully," Buffy said. "Or we'd all be locked in padded cells somewhere."

Mulder looked around the room again, seeing now people who were relaxed in each other's presence. Except Spike...he was bored. Mulder made a mental note to ask about Spike. A thought came to him. "No one has said how you stop this thing."

"We don't know how," Giles stated. "But we're working on it."

"And we have a very good track record of doing the impossible," Willow chimed in.

Before anything more could be said, Mulder's cell phone rang. As he answered it, leaving his chair to find an out of the way corner, Giles' phone rang. For Buffy. From Riley.

Everyone tensed. The timing would not be coincidental. There had been another murder-suicide. As the tension mounted, Scully was unaware of the several sets of eyes that regarded her closely. Unthinking, she wrapped her fingers around her cross, sliding it back and forth along the chain.

Mulder ended his call, his face grim and angry. He waited to speak until Buffy was done with her call. He played with his cell phone, opening and closing it rapidly.

Buffy eased the phone down gently and turned back to face her friends. Tears ran slowly down her face. She looked over at Mulder, willing him to speak first.

"That was Detective Jorgensen. A group of college students, three males and two females, were killed early this morning. There bodies were found by a friend who came to pick one of them up for class. They all shared a house with the perpetrator. He's been found dead, suicide...name was..."

"Owen," Buffy said softly.

Soft gasps and a muffled "oh no" from Willow met her announcement.

"Owen...Emily Dickinson Owen?" Giles asked.

Buffy nodded miserably.

"You knew him?" Scully asked, the hard edges gone from her voice.

The girls, excluding Anya, whose face was blank and impassive, nodded. "We went to school with him," Xander said. "We .. uh..."

"Owen very nearly got himself killed one evening when he took Buffy out on a date. It was nearly three years ago now. The Master was still trapped underground. The Master was .. oh, never mind." Giles filled in.

"I'm sorry," Scully said softly, sincerely.

"Owen thought he wanted a life of danger and excitement," Buffy said. "I guess he got it in some way."

Unable to watch her any longer, unable to withstand the fact of her pain and grief, knowing how the feeling of powerlessness swirled around her, taunted her with whispered reminders, Angel crossed the room to Buffy. He took her in her arms and held her. She let him. She clung to him, not sobbing, but allowing the tears to fall from her eyes.

All she could think of was how the time had changed them all, stolen so much from them. She was the Slayer and that was one thing, but to know all Willow and Xander and Giles had suffered with her, for her, even because of her stubborn streak. The infatuation with Owen had passed long ago and they had never even become friends, but to Buffy he had represented an innocence to which she had no claim, a life peacefully simple in its ignorance. Internally she railed again at the fate that denied her hope and the forces of evil whose steps dogged her own so assiduously.

Angel held her tightly, his hand whispering along the soft blond fall of her hair. This was the only time he ever felt complete, ever felt as though there really was a purpose to his existence. He had never loved a woman the way he loved her, not in 244 years. And he knew if he lived another thousand, his feelings for her would not change one bit, except to deepen. He could never have her, could only clutch at the memory of a few brief moments of happiness with her, moments she, of necessity did not recall. So he held her now, feeling her heat against him, seeking out the insistent rhythm of her heart. Letting its strong beat push itself into his memory, the perfect memory, willing away the thought that always lurked, of the day she would be nothing more than what he carried in his mind, in his soul.

Giles, Wesley, and the two agents began to discuss what they should do next. Giles was supposed to steer them into going on patrol with Angel and Buffy that night. He was explaining that according to the calculations, they had one more night in which to find a way to bind these demons and prevent them from doing further harm. Cordelia had gotten up from the couch and was standing at the window, to Spike's infinite annoyance. Deciding Spike might be right for once, Angel inched himself and Buffy deeper into the safe shadows. Just in case...

Angel looked up, gauging where the light would fall should Cordy pull open the blinds.

"Wesley!" Angel called out. "Cordelia!"

Wesley reacted instantaneously, closing the distance between himself and Cordelia faster than anyone who'd known him before believed possible. She was in his arms, hands pressed to her forehead, pain wracking her body.

Buffy disengaged herself from Angel's arms and stepped away from him. He looked down at her and read the words in her eyes. He went. Months of this had given him practice in interpreting the messages from the Powers.

He knelt next to her as Wesley continued to support her. "In her bag, there are pain killers. Someone get her one," Angel commanded. Willow hurried to get her some water and Buffy rifled through Codry's hand bag until she found the pills. She handed the bottle to Willow as the red head came back with a glass of water.

"Cordelia," Angel's voice was soft, a caress against her battered psyche. "What is it? What do you see?"

"Same as before," she choked out.

"Willow?" Wes asked.

Cordy nodded.

"Me?" Willow was taken aback.

"Does that mean Willow is in danger?" Buffy asked.

"Um...no, it didn't seem to indicate that last time," Wesley assured them.

Cordelia shook her head. "Something is looking at Willow. It wants you to help...pain...burning pain..."

"The host," Angel said.

"It's someone she knows," Buffy added.

"Oh my God," Willow murmured.

"Ahhhhhhh!" Cordy screamed again and doubled over in Wes' arms.

"What?" Angel asked.

"More...ahhh...nooo..." Cordy's eyes rolled in her head and she screamed out.

"Cordelia, we need to know," Angel insisted.

"I ... I ..." she stuttered. The pain began to recede. Cordelia realized Willow had the painkiller and water. Gratefully, she accepted one from her hand. She took a long draught of the water. The images that had whirled in her brain, had flashed against her memory like a strobe light at a tacky dance club, came clearer. "No," she said. "Un-huh..."

"Cordelia, what did you see?" This was Wesley.

"It's not right," she said flatly. "It just isn't."

Wes and Angel exchanged looks. "Cordelia..."

"No," she repeated emphatically. "This time the Powers are wrong."

"Who did you see?" Wesley demanded.

"Me," Angel said for her. Cordy nodded, eyes filling with mute tears.

"Angel? No...it's ... your vision is wrong," Buffy said, panic racing through her. "I won't let him .. I won't let you die!"

"He wasn't dead," Cordelia admitted miserably.

"Angel was feeding?" Wesley made an intuitive guess.

A nod this time was all Cordy could manage.

"Well this is quite the situation, isn't it?" Xander said. "I thought your visions were about people in trouble?"

"They are," Wesley said.

"So how could feeding be trouble for Angel? I mean, I can see for the rest of us...I mean, been there, done that...'

"Xander?" Buffy's voice was cold, full of angles. "Shut up."

"I'm just wondering..."

"The demon is going to possess *me*," Angel told him.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
March24 - 10:41 A.M.

"The demon is going to possess *me*," Angel said, his voice dull, matter-of-fact. Mulder had an absurd vision of some random Klingon stating that today seemed to be a good day to die. Except, Mulder realized, when Klingons said that they didn't usually seek out the person they loved and exchange mute glances full of meaning. Buffy's face had gone ashen and the muscles in her jaw fluttered as she clenched her teeth together until Mulder wondered if they might fuse that way. He was about to ask what it was they had just seen when Scully got over the astonishment that had held her motionless and speechless during Cordelia's 'fit'.

"I'm a medical doctor!" she informed them all, her voice authoritative, expecting a path to be cleared to the victim's side. "I can help," she added for good measure.

"No offense, but," Willow started, "you're a *pathologist*. How exactly can you help? Cordelia's not dead."

At those words the morose Spike brightened visibly. "Hey...thass right." He fixed his gaze on Scully's face. "I'm dead. Maybe you could help me, find a way to remove the bloody chip the bloody commando boys put in my 'ead."

Cutting off any reply Scully might have made, Buffy smiled with saccharine sweetness and said, "Please ignore Spike. He's likely to get even deader before this is through."

Spike narrowed his eyes at her and scowled viciously. "I swear, one of these days, I'm gonna..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the drill...rip my throat out, break my neck, blah, blah, blah. You know, Spike, you never managed to do those things when you *didn't* have that chip in your brain."

"As amusing as all this is, I assure you," Giles interrupted, "I think Wesley and I should sit down with Cordelia and see if we can determine more about her vision."

"Thank you, Agent Scully, for offering to help, but ... Cordelia will be fine in a few minutes," Angel promised.

Scully looked, as usual, skeptical.

"She's a seer?" Mulder ventured a guess.

Angel nodded. "Through Cordelia I am able to find people in need of help and ...well, help them."

Mulder nodded.

"If she can ...what? see people who need help, why don't you all know exactly how this spawning is going to occur?" Scully asked.

Patiently Angel explained. "Cordelia is my link to the Powers that Be. Fate, if you want...whatever you call them doesn't matter. They send her images, sometimes sounds -"

"Sometimes the most god-awful, vile smells you can imagine," Cordelia interrupted, her voice sharp, complaining (thought not without cause).

Angel lifted his eyebrows at her in brief acknowledgment. He continued, "It's up to me to determine the rest."

"That doesn't make sense," Scully countered. "If they wanted you to help - what am I saying?!?!?"

"He helps people so he can clear the slate, make up for all the fun he had as a big, bad-ass vampire lordling," Spike muttered. "Do you know what the worst thing about you creatures with souls is?"

"That we can't bring ourselves to stake a defenseless vampire?" Xander mocked.

Spike rewarded Xander's joke with much the same look he'd given Buffy just a few moments ago. "Oh, please. Sometimes I wish one of you would stake me and get it over with-"

"Giles! Giles!" Buffy called out, a counterfeit glee in her voice. "Did you hear that? Spike wishes one of us would stake him."

"I said *sometimes*!" Spike protested. "Today isn't one of them days...not yet anyway."

Intent on continuing to torment the platinum haired bloodsucker (retired bloodsucker, that is), Xander broke in again to the on-going exchange. "What is it that you hate about us, Spike?"

"About you?" Spike tilted his head to one side. "Don't get me started...No, you humans and...him," he spat out scornfully, tossing his head in Angel's direction. "What I hate is you've always got to talk things out, explain things, have a plan... bloody waste of time, if you ask me."

"And yet, I don't recall anyone asking you, Spike. And the fact remains, we *do* need a plan, so if we could get back to that discussion, I think it would be most beneficial," Giles stated.

"You don't think those commando guys might not have a way you could stop a Vesparys demon? They certainly know what they're doing when it comes to us vamps!" Spike insisted. "And what with Blondie's boy toy being one of their leaders-"

He stopped as Buffy took a few steps toward him, her hands already blindly searching for a wooden implement that might be scattered among what passed for decoration in Giles' living room. It was Willow's restraining arm that held her back, allowing only her fearsome gaze to land on Spike.

"Oh goodie!" Anya cried and clapped her hands together a few times. "Fight."

"Ahn, honey," Xander said, his eyebrows raising themselves up, "Not now."

"But we've been waiting for Buffy..." her voice trailed off. She glanced up at Angel, who was looking away from Buffy's stricken face. If she had been Agent Mulder she might have mused that Buffy and Angel seem equally matched in the jaw-clenching category. "Oh," she said flatly.

Buffy wrestled her fury under control. She gave Spike a look that actually reminded him he was still walking around, drinking beers and blood, due to the sufferance of the Slayer. It was something of a novel experience for him. Her voice full of a sweetness she didn't feel, she informed him, "You know, Spike, Drusilla was the brains of your operation. Really, she was. And you couldn't even keep her happy...no surprise. So, why don't you just shut up and be grateful we've chosen to *allow* you to ... not be a huge dustbunny!"

Spike, for all his cockiness and arrogance, was still a fairly intelligent vampire. He knew when he had pushed Buffy too far and he did what she suggested.

"Angel?" Buffy said.

He turned to look at her, having been concentrating on Cordelia, whose color was returning and who didn't seem to need to press her hand to her head any longer. His face showed no anger, no recrimination, just a deep pain and regret. "Later," he said tersely.

She didn't argue. Instead she took a deep breath and seemed to settle back into her skin, as though before she might be too much for her little frame to contain. "Giles, what do you think we should do?"

Giles gave her an almost imperceptible nod of his head, acknowledging the strength he knew it had taken her to continue this discussion. "I think you should patrol tonight. As well, I think Angel should."

"What's patrol?" Mulder asked.

"That's when I look for any kind of vamp or demon activity and stop it when I can," Buffy explained.

"It's hard to know if the local vampires and demons will be more or less active with the Vesparys demons, or at least one, being here, but we - Wesley and I - think intensive patrolling is for the best."

"You don't think this ... thing will spawn tonight?" Scully wanted to know.

"No," Wesley told her. "We've been able to put together enough information to determine that." He stopped and looked at Giles and Angel. they had decided to be honest with the Agents regarding when the Vesparys demons would spawn, though they hoped Willow's misguiding spell would keep Mulder and Scully away from the Hellmouth. "They spawn tomorrow night."

Mulder didn't look over at Scully, making a decision for them both instead. "We'd like to patrol with you tonight."

So softly that only Willow, who still stood next to Buffy, could hear the Slayer said, "I thought you'd never ask." Willow hid a grin in her hand as she pretended to cough.

Scully stared at him. "We....what?"

Both Watchers, the Slayer, and Angel exchanged glances and seemed to ponder that request. The two agents fell to arguing in hushed tones.

"Mulder, have you lost it? Completely, totally, for once and all gone over the edge? This is crazy," Scully told him in an urgent whisper.

"Why? Why is it so crazy?" he demanded, leaning in, taking her arms by the elbows.

She looked at him, made a grunting sound as air whooshed out of her. "Mulder, if you have to ask that, then it shows you are nuts!"

"Look, Scully, you don't believe these people one hundred percent-"

"Mulder, *I* don't want to believe them at all!" she reminded him.

He nodded. "Fine. Whatever. This is our chance to see if they're for real."

She didn't say anything, just gave him the "Mulder, you're nuts" look that meant he was winning. He grinned at her a bit. "Scully, look, I promise, if nothing turns up tonight, we'll ... we'll do things your way."

"Mulder? When have we ever done things my way?"

He looked at her, searching for a good answer.

"Yeah, that's right - after your way gets us into a mess." But she was agreeing, he could see it.

"Um..well, yes," Giles sputtered. "It's rather irregular. I can't really think what-"

"Oh, come on, Giles," Buffy said, delivering her line with convincing sincerity. "It might be helpful."

Appearing to capitulate, Giles agreed and Wesley concurred, though seemingly dubious, that the agents could accompany Buffy and Angel on their patrols that night.

"What will the rest of you do while we go on this patrol?" Scully asked.

"We'll be doing what we do best," Willow stated.

"Cowering in a corner, waiting for Buffy to save us?" Xander joked.

It earned him a chuckle from most of the people in the room.

It was Cordelia, restored by time and the assiduous rubbing of her temples to her normal state of sarcastic self-involvement, who replied. "We'll be trying to find a way to stop the unstoppable... again."

Out and About
Sunnydale, California
March24 - After Dark

Mulder followed Buffy as quietly as he could. Still, she shot him annoyed glances over her shoulder too often for his comfort. He had no idea how she could be as stealthy as she was. He had been trained in this sort of thing, had dressed for the occasion and yet, next to the Slayer, he sounded a lot like a moose lost in tall brush.

He was also amazed at the way she was dressed. Mulder was wearing his favorite stealth-mode ensemble - black, head to toe. After all, he definitely considered *this* to be some funky poaching. Buffy, on the other hand, wore stylish jeans, ankles slightly flared. She had on a halter top. Mulder didn't give the top very good odds in a fight, no matter how securely it seemed to be tied. In deference to a cool evening, Buffy had on a black leather jacket, slightly too big for her. Scully had smirked at him when she'd caught him appraising Buffy's wardrobe. Mulder looked down once again at his own sneaker clad feet and whistled silently when he observed, once again, Buffy wore boots with a fairly sizable stacked heel.

Mulder and Scully had firmly intended to stay together during "patrol". The whole patrolling activity had remained a bone of contention between the agents all afternoon. After leaving Giles' in the morning, they had argued in the car.

"Mulder, you know how ridiculous this is? Right? You do know that? Tell me you know that...please."

"Scully..." he had stopped, looked over at her. His face, he knew, had been beseeching; he'd flashed her the grin he knew she couldn't resist. "We don't know how to stop this ...thing we're after, so what can it hurt to go 'on patrol' with them?"

"What if there's another murder while we're out playing make-believe with Buffy and Angel? What would we tell Skinner?"

"That we were following a lead." He paused while the car idled at a red light. He reached down and plucked a sunflower seed from the pack next to his leg. He popped one into his mouth. "Do you have any better ideas you haven't shared with me, Scully?"

She had gone silent at that. The truth was there had been no pattern to the way the demon, or entity, if Scully preferred, behaved. They had no chance of predicting its next targets. They had no clue how to stop it even if they could make a decent prediction. Deep down Scully knew that, knew that, while she mostly dismissed Buffy and her friends as people in desperate need of good mental health care, they at least seemed to have a plan, to have some ideas.

"Maybe, Scully, we'll get lucky," he had teased.

She had gone on to insist, however, that they stay together, not quite trusting these people. She wanted to see whatever Mulder might see, so that they could corroborate each other later, as needed. Mulder had chided her about wanting their stories straight, ahead of time. He had also agreed to her condition.

She had done the autopsy on Owen's body, although she could have (and did mentally) recite everything she'd find, chapter and verse. There were no surprises. A few facts seemed to differ slightly, but no more so than you might expect, each case being a bit unique. She had commented to Mulder that this body seemed to have been mutilated even more savagely than the previous ones and she wondered why that might be. Had they known, Wesley and Giles would have understood perfectly. The demon was announcing its presence, its readiness to its potential mate.

Mulder had stayed for very little of the autopsy. He had come in long enough to study Owen's face. The police had done their best to close his eyes and to keep them shut, but nothing could hide the contortion that, in life, would have been his mouth. It had been a ghastly rictus of anguish.

Scully too had studied the boy. She had smiled sadly. "He must have been cute. I bet all the girls thought Buffy was lucky to go out with him."

"I bet Angel wanted to rip his throat out," Mulder had replied. "Might have been better if he had."

Scully had nodded slowly, the idea that Owen's having his jugular ripped open might have been a preferable end to the one he had faced caused her stomach to do lazy flips. "We've *got* to find this thing and stop it, Mulder."

He had nodded and left her to her grisly task.

While Scully had sliced, examined, and noted all there was to slice, examine, and note of Owen's earthly remains, Mulder had talked to some of his friends, tracked down one of his professors. He had attempted to speak again with Colonel MacNamara, but the Colonel refused to answer any of Mulder's questions. Sunnydale Police had found Owen in time to take his body into custody, but MacNamara's group had discovered the victims. About them, he would make no comment whatsoever.

They had grabbed dinner at the diner next to their hotel. Scully had iterated her demand that they stay together.

"Scully, if you're ... I can do this alone, if you'd prefer," Mulder had offered.

She had bristled at that suggestion. "No! I just don't think we should split up. If there's trouble of any sort, I want someone I can trust watching my back."

He had paid the bill and they had left, arriving at Giles' as the sun crept down the hillsides that nearly ringed the town. The shadow of twilight slowly enfolded them in its blanket of obscurity and not far behind, night was pushing its way along the landscape.

Scully had reminded him, one final time, that she wanted him watching her back before they'd gone to the door. Mulder had nodded, agreed wholeheartedly, the odd energy in Giles' courtyard sending chills up and down his spine again.

Cordelia had let them in as she had in the morning. In dumbfounded silence, the agents had watched Buffy's and Angel's final preparations for patrolling. Angel was strapping on what would prove to be spring loaded wooden stakes. Buffy, businesslike in her manner, had admired them and asked Giles to take a look. Giles too had been impressed and Angel had promised to go over their construction and use once they had stopped the demon.

Buffy had a backpack and Mulder had seen, before she cinched it closed, a jumble of wooden stakes and several bottles of a clear liquid.

"Holy water," Buffy had said tersely.

"What?" Mulder has asked.

"It's holy water...you were wondering what I had besides the stakes."

"Oh...uh...yeah, I was," he had stammered.

Wesley had come forward, his critical eye appraising the agents. He had nodded at last. Mulder had assumed, incorrectly it turned out, that they had his approval.

"Cordelia?" Wes had called out.


"Agent Mulder needs a cross."

Mulder had laughed. "Oh...uh...no, thanks. I ...er ..."

"Agent Mulder," Wesley had said sternly. "It doesn't matter what you believe or don't believe. A cross can indeed ward off a creature of the night. If Buffy and Angel are otherwise occupied, it may be your best chance."

Scully had pursed her mouth into a thin line that did little to hide her amusement. She had covered her mouth with her hand and stifled a giggle when Mulder leaned down meekly to allow Cordelia to drape a cross on a thick cord over his head.

Wesley had also provided each of them with several stakes apiece. "Hopefully, you won't have to use these. Without training, you aren't likely to fare well against a vampire. But if you find yourself facing one and Buffy or Angel cannot get to you in time, you must aim for the heart," Wesley had explained.

"Yes, and if you hit the heart, the vampire will turn into a large pile of dust," Anya had added helpfully.

"Which, I must say, is much better than some other demons whose vile, smelly, scaly, bumpy bodies some people then have the pleasure of burying!" Cordelia had exclaimed.

"And if we don't hit the heart?" Mulder had asked with a smile. He was a boy, ready to go out on an adventure.

Buffy had shaken her head in aggravation. With an impatient sigh, she had said flatly, "Run."

As the four had been about to depart, Buffy had picked up a cross- bow from where it leaned against the couch. Mulder had looked around, hoping Wesley would bring Scully and him each one of those as well. When it became obvious that wouldn't happen, Mulder had complained. "Wouldn't Agent Scully and myself be safer if we each had a crossbow?"

"The crossbow takes training," Giles had stated.

"We both can fire guns, very well I might add," Scully had replied, not wanting the crossbow so much as not wanting to be treated like a rank amateur.

"A crossbow isn't a gun," Buffy had told her, meeting Scully's level blue gaze with a serious one of her own. "Trust me."

Mulder had insisted there was no reason he and Scully couldn't handle the bows. Irritated and concerned over the delay, Giles had at last told Buffy to let Agent Mulder examine the weapon. As he did so, his finger had brushed over the sensitive trigger mechanism and the bolt Buffy had already loaded went flying across the room. Xander had pulled Anya and Willow off the couch and covered them with his own hide. Giles and Wesley both had leapt into the hallway near the kitchen. Buffy, standing behind the agents, had rolled her eyes at Angel and mouthed "I told them so". He had grinned at her. With a shriek, Cordelia had tumbled to the floor. The bolt make a solid "whump" as it had embedded itself ... in Spike's left side.

"Bloody 'ell," Spike had complained. "Must I always get shot with a damn arrow when I come over here?" With stunning ill-temper, he wrenched the barb free. "That does sting a bit, *mate*," he had informed Mulder.

"Can we go now?" Buffy had asked.

Mutely, Mulder had returned the bow to her and they had stepped into the courtyard. Somehow, Mulder wasn't sure just how they'd done it, but Buffy and Angel had deftly separated Scully from him. He'd ended up, on foot, with Buffy, heading to a local cemetery. He knew only that Scully was with Angel.

Separating the agents had actually been easy, easier than she'd assumed it would be. In fact, she was going to be buying the next pizza since Willow had bet her it would be a piece of cake. Buffy smiled to herself at first, then grimaced slightly. Pizza and cake. She needed to watch her metaphors!

Once in the courtyard, she had let the eager male agent take the lead, heading for the front gate. Angel had stalled Agent Scully while Buffy chased down Mulder. He had been concerned about his partner, but preoccupied enough to accept Buffy's explanation that she would catch up to them; Angel would see to it.

There are a dozen cemeteries in Sunnydale proper and probably enough bodies buried surreptitiously to fill half again as many to capacity. If people built graveyards for demons, that is. The plan was to patrol two of these. One would be patrolled by Buffy and Mulder, the other by Angel and Scully. During patrol the Slayer and the vampire would each distract 'their' agent, find a way to secure the object Willow would use as a talisman, and leave it in a pre-arranged location. At some point later in the patrol, the item would be noticed as missing and after enough searching to make it look good, retrieved and returned to each agent.

Buffy wished, for roughly the thirty second time that she could have patrolled with Scully. That cross was going to be easy to get away from her, easier anyway than a damn cell phone. At least that was what Buffy kept telling herself.

Giles had sat down with Spike to get as much information as he could about demon and vamp activity recently. Spike had been his customary unforthcoming self until Buffy had stood just in his line of sight and worked at honing some extra stakes. Several times when he would glance at her, face full of bravado, she would smile sweetly at him, and blow wood shavings from the stake. The last time, she had run her finger along the now lethally sharp point. When he had snorted and tossed his head at her, she had mimed a tripping motion and mouthed the word "Whoops!" at him.

"Buffy, do you think you could threaten Spike at a later date? This information is quite important, you know," Giles had reprimanded, though there had been no trace of heat or impatience in his voice.

"OK," she had agreed easily, seeing that Spike was suddenly giving Giles his full - well, it was Spike, maybe half-full (or, she had asked herself, "Was that half-empty?") - attention and cooperation.

After lengthy consideration, they had chosen Sunny Hills Cemetery which was close to campus and Rest Haven which was not too far from Giles'. Both promised to be quiet and, although there are no guarantees in Sunnydale, vamp-free. No one really wanted to agents to encounter any vampires, or demons for that matter. There were more than enough complications already.

"What are the rest of them doing while we're patrolling?" Mulder asked quietly as they made their second circuit of the graveyard.

"Research, mostly. Trying to find a way to stop these things."

"Demons...do different demons have to be killed in different ways?"

"Un-huh," she answered, looking around them the whole time. "Some can be drowned. Some have a body part you have to cut off or crush. Some you can kill like you would kill a human being."

"But no one knows for this Vesparys thing?"

She stopped and looked at him. Her look was just short of utter scorn. Then she remembered how hard it is for most people to accept demons and vampires and werewolves and seers. She reflected that even some like Agent Mulder, who investigated the paranormal could be forgiven; Buffy doubted even the so-called paranormal included as many things that go bump in the night as she had faced. She shook her head. "It's almost impossible to tell where the demon is until it possesses someone and then the only way to kill it would probably kill the host, too."

"Something you'd - that is we'd - prefer not to do."

She nodded.

"What did Willow mean when she said you had a good track record of stopping the unstoppable?"

Buffy sighed. "There's been a few times ... I - we've - saved the world. It's just part of living on the Hellmouth."

Mulder stared at her, thinking what Scully would say if she heard that...Wait, Scully wouldn't say anything. She'd be laughing too hard at what she would see as this girl's delusions. Mulder was serious. "How many times?"

"I don't...," she paused and looked at him. "Actually saving the world...four times, I guess. Saving humanity from some big ugly... more."

"When was the last time?"

"The last time what?"

"The last time you saved the world?"

She sighed again, really not liking this conversation. "A couple of weeks ago."

Buffy looked around, feigning concern, then appearing to decide it was safe enough for a break. she sat down on the grass and leaned against a headstone. "Brian Williams, 1902 - 1975"

Mulder was looking at her, aghast.

"What?" she asked.

"You're...that's ..."

"Agent Mulder, Mr. Williams here is dead." She stopped and considered that. "Or he's not dead, but a vampire somewhere." She stopped again and checked the dates. "No, most likely he's dead. Either way, he's not really using this space and it's nice to have something to lean against."

After some time for his own ponderings, Mulder joined her, though he chose not to have a back rest. He sat facing her. She noticed his cell phone, which was only clipped to the waist band of his pants, slipped a bit.

"What's it like, being the Slayer?" he asked.

She shrugged. "What's it like being an FBI agent?"

He grinned at her. "I chose my career. If I understand Slayer lore, this chose you."

"Yeah, that's how it works. Chosen one...yadda yadda...destiny, prophecy, save the world...yack yack yack...one Slayer dies, the next is called."

"Do you ever think about her?"


"The next Slayer?"



"Faith - the next Slayer. You asked if I ever thought about her. Try not to actually."

"You know her? I thought..." his voice trailed off.

"Oh!" Buffy exclaimed with a laugh. "Yeah. Sorry. See, when I was sixteen I died. It was just a little bit. I mean, Xander revived me really quickly, but it was enough to ... yeah, so ..."

"So, right now there's two of you?"

She lifted one shoulder, her lips tight, eyes clouded. "Sort of. Faith ... Faith had some real problems. She killed someone last year and it kinda ..."

"She went to work for the other side?"

Buffy nodded. "She's in a coma now."

Mulder looked at her with sympathy.

"One I put her in," Buffy added. "She tried to kill Angel."

Mulder let the subject drop. Buffy Summers was all of nineteen years old and she had already died and put a girl, like her, a Chosen One, into a coma. Those were the things he knew about. He strongly suspected the story of Buffy and Angel could make death and suffering look pleasant by comparison.

After a while Buffy said, "So what's it like?"

He laughed at her. "What?"

"Chasing aliens. That's what you do, isn't it?"

He nodded and shrugged, as she had. "That's not all we do."

"Right...you investigate the paranormal. Like what?"

Mulder proceeded to tell her about some of their cases. "One time, this was over five years ago, I guess, we discovered this giant flukeman, half fluke worm, half man."

"Wow...that sounds a little bit like our swim team." She told him the story of Sunnydale High's ill-fated aquatic superstars.

He told her about Florida and the Mothmen. She told him about Marcy Ross, the girl no one had noticed and who had eventually become invisible. He explained Alex Krycek, 'The Rat Bastard'. She mentioned their pet rat, Amy Madison.

"She used to be a girl. We went to school with her, but last year, when the townspeople almost burned Amy, Willow, and me at the stake, Amy turned herself into a rat so she could escape. Then Giles and Cordelia rescued us. Willow's been trying to turn her back ever since."

"No luck?"

Buffy shook her head.

"Who's Oz?"

"Oz was ... is ... he and Willow used to be together, but there was this incident with another werewolf and - "

"Oz is a werewolf?!?!?"

Buffy grinned and nodded. "Usually he's okay, but this other werewolf, Veruca, she messed with his head. He went away to try to straighten things out for himself."

Mulder was shaking his head in happy disbelief. "Do you have any mummies?"

"Mothers? Yeah...mine's at ho-"

"Not 'mommies'...Mummies! I figure you have everything else."

"Oh," she laughed. "I see." She thought about it. "Well, there was that time with the Inca ... um, yeah, er...probably, but so far we haven't had to deal with any...others. And really, if it's OK with you, I don't want to start now."

As if on cue, a loud noise several graves away startled them. Acrobatically, Buffy leapt to her feet. Mulder briefly considered trying to mimic her and then decided he might rupture something vital. He scrambled up instead, not noticing his phone work itself lose and fall to the ground. He was too intent on Buffy.

Seconds before she had been laughing, smiling, joking with him. Completely relaxed and at ease in his company. Now she was upright, tense, listening to the sounds that flowed around them, eyes scanning the nearby graves for any movement, no matter how small. In her left hand was a wicked looking stake which she not so much grasped, as seemed to wear as an extension of her arm.

Sudden movement drew their gazes to a clump of bushes about thirty feet away. A vampire burst out, running toward them. He saw Buffy and changed direction immediately.

"Should we follow him?" Mulder yelled.

"Yeah," Buffy replied. "Stay behind me and if he gets by me, run. OK?"

Mulder nodded. Buffy made a dive for her backpack and was able to grab his phone from where it lay on the grass before they took off in pursuit.

The truth was Buffy wasn't too concerned with staking the vampire. She needed to steer Mulder to the drop-point so she could leave his phone for Willow, then lead him away long enough for Willow to get there, do her spell, and leave.

They quickly lost the vampire, but the chase had given Buffy enough time and provided enough distraction that, while Mulder had been searching the doorway to a sealed crypt, Buffy had been able to place his phone down without his seeing her.

"Where do you think he went?" Mulder asked when he had his breath back.

Buffy shook her head. "We'll go this way and see what turns up," she said, pointing in a direction that led them one hundred eighty degrees away from the phone. "Stay close."

They patrolled for a further hour, finding nothing (to Mulder's disappointment and Buffy's relief). He was amazed that, despite her business like manner toward patrolling, she was yet able to maintain hushed conversation with him.

"You and Riley Finn seemed pretty close," Mulder commented.

Buffy stopped, looked at him. "We are," she said simply.

"But ... with Angel...this morning."

"Whew..." Scully exhaled. "Agent Mulder, that is a very long story."

"If we're going to be in on this ...hunt with you, I need to know both of you can keep your emotions in check," Mulder told her. He figured only most of it was a bold-faced lie. In reality, he was simply curious. A vampire, who had a soul, and a Slayer. From the little he remembered, it was unprecedented, on both counts.

She fixed a steady look on him, evaluating his face. After a few silent, uncomfortable moments, she told him more of the story than he had heard the night before.

"So, this curse? if Angel is happy, even for a moment...he loses his soul and becomes evil again?" Mulder asked, looking for clarification when she was done.

She nodded. "And we've been there, done that, buried a friend to prove it."

"When he tried to destroy the world...you..."

"I sent him to Hell."

"But...you said you knew the spell had worked, that Willow had restored his soul."

She tilted her head at him and raised an eyebrow. "Didn't matter. The world was about to be sucked into Hell. I didn't have a choice."

"How old were you?" Mulder asked.

"Seventeen," Buffy replied wistfully.

"God..." Mulder breathed. After a pause he asked, "But Angel made it back?"

"Yeah. And nothing had changed."

"You love each other."

The blond nodded.

"But, Riley?"

She gave Mulder a sad smile. "Agent Mulder, Angel and I can never be together. We tried telling ourselves we could be together without... well, being together, but it wasn't going to work...there were times."

"So he left? and you went on with your life?"

She nodded at him.

He wondered silently, "How?" Angel had walked away from the one person who mattered to him and she had let him go. She had been eighteen. At eighteen, Fox Mulder had gotten involved with Phoebe Green. He shuddered. That was when he noticed his phone was missing.

Out and About
Sunnydale, California
March24 - After Dark

Scully sighed with ill-concealed impatience. She wondered yet again how she had let Mulder talk her into this latest excursion into insanity. She mused too over the (now) obvious tactics that had allowed Buffy and Angel to separate Mulder and herself. She mentally cursed Mulder for his overeagerness. Had he even noticed that she and Angel weren't following him and Buffy? When he had noticed, she thought, giving him the benefit of the doubt, what assurances had Buffy given him? "And," she thought angrily, "did he believe her as easily as I believed Angel?"

Mulder had taken off, enthusiastically ready to 'patrol'. Scully remembered watching the young blond take off after him. She herself had started to follow when Angel had seemed to trip, blocking her path, spilling a stake or two from the pockets of his duster. He had asked her to pick up one that had rolled (been pushed?) under a bush. By the time she'd picked the weapon up and stood upright, Mulder and Buffy had disappeared. She had followed Angel's lead, hesitantly, but with little choice.

She recalled the sense of deja vu that had assailed her as she found herself heading down a dark sidewalk with a virtual stranger at her side. It had been too much like Florida, the numbing realization that once again they'd let themselves be herded in opposite directions. Uncertain rather she would be better off turning around, she had nonetheless found herself nearly running to keep up with the long striding vampire. Her mind had refused to focus on the circuitous route they'd taken upon leaving by the back gate of Giles' courtyard. Irrational though it may be, this town gave her the creeps and she had chosen to keep up with Angel rather than stand irresolute, more or less lost, on a dark, quiet, possibly dangerous street.

Now they sat in a cemetery. Rest Haven cemetery to be exact. There was a low wall dividing the older section of the graveyard from the newer. Scully shifted her bottom a little, wincing as a loose stone from the wall dug into her flesh. With a surreptitious move (she hoped), she removed the stone and sat quietly once again, legs dangling, heels drumming slowly against the wall. Angel sat next to her, fairly close. He was hunched over, staring into his entwined fingers.

"Did ... never mind," Scully said.

Angel peered up at her, his dark eyes alight. "What?"

She smiled at him and shook her head. "It's nothing. I... can't believe I was even going to ask."

"You really don't believe any of this, do you, Agent Scully?"

She met his eyes.

"Most people don't, really," he assured her. "Not in this day and age."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"In my ... when I was alive, people were much more superstitious, believed more deeply in demons and fairies, guardian angels and dark magic. Things have changed a lot in two and a half centuries."

She nodded, not knowing what to say. How do you talk to people who are so steeped in their delusions as to be unreachable?

"You still can't believe what you've seen, can you?"

She fixed him with a very hard stare. "No," she said at last. "You said yourself, vampires, magic, all of that belongs to a more superstitious time. I prefer scientific proof."

He smiled gently at her. "Superstition and science are two sides of the same coin, Agent. They're both a reaction to fear. One seems to cower in the dark, shaking like a leaf, submitting to the overwhelming fear evil produces, while the other strides boldly out into the light, vowing to vanquish that same fear and the evil behind it. You refuse to be cowed by your fears, don't you?"

She stared at him, open mouthed, unbelieving at how easily he had summed up such an integral part of her character.

"I've had a long time to study people. It's people like you, Agent Scully, people who refuse to admit fear who have brought the world out of the dark ages. With science you've explained away many of the monsters under the bed; you've shed light into the dark corners of the mind, and made rational what for thousands of years people thought inexplicable."

"I guess then you'd say that science is better than superstition?"

He smiled again and shrugged. "Except that a lot of scientists seem to think if they can prove the bogeyman doesn't exist, he'll go away quietly."

"By using the rules of science-" she started.

"Evil doesn't follow rules, Scully," Angel said, calling her for the first time by the name he'd heard Agent Mulder use. He paused. "Go ahead. Prove to me why I can't be a vampire. Explain to me, using science, how I changed my face last night, how your cross, which does you no harm, burned my skin this morning."

Scully said nothing, thinking back to his demonstration with her cross. His face, wrenched in pain, eyes squeezed shut, mouth pulled into the thinnest of lines, pale and trembling, floated before her. She saw the thin wisps of smoke drifting up from his enclosed fist and heard again, unwillingly, the stinging sizzle, like meat against a grill. She remembered how she had flinched, involuntarily, as he had let the cross fall back, expecting it to scorch the skin on her throat. The gold had been cool, soft, the same as ever against her flesh.

She reached down and took his hand. The black imprint was already fading from the stark white pallor of his palm. She noticed his palm was unlined and his fingers appeared to have no prints, yet there were no scars that would indicate the willing effacement of the lines and whorls that branded each person unique. The flesh, which had been badly burned, should have blistered, should have been raw and red. She traced a finger lightly over the mark. He should have jerked his hand from her grasped, should have winced, at least, in pain. Instead he looked dispassionately at her, challenging her to explain what the laws of science said were impossible.

She dropped his hand. "The fact *I* can't explain this doesn't mean there isn't an explanation, a *scientific* explanation."

"And what if someday your science overcomes its fears enough to explain this?" Drawing a deep breath, Angel's already burned hand closed again over Scully's cross. He clenched his teeth against the anguished moan that sought egress through his lips. He closed his eyes, lest Scully see how clutching this talisman of hers brought out the demon in him, narrowing his pupils, yellowing the whites of his eyes, giving such obvious testimony to the perverse bloodlust that such objects brought out in vamps. He heard her wince, inhale sharply as he burned. He hoped she would react as she did. His preternatural senses felt the motion of her body almost the same moment her mind made the decision to back away from him. Focusing on the task at hand, the defeat of the Vesparys demon, he tightened his grip on her cross, and as she pulled back, he tugged. His strength was such that it didn't take much for him to snap the chain. He felt the links tremble, flow, give way, and he let go at last of the symbol of Christ's passion. The chain slid through his fingers. He caught it at the last moment.

He murmured an apology to her as he placed the chain and cross in her hand. She gazed down at it, as if seeing the cross for the first time. Slack-jawed she looked back up at him, catching his hand again to examine the fresh burn. "I can't explain it," she admitted finally. Her hand slid down to slip the broken chain into a pocket, only to remember she had no pockets. She looked at him a bit helplessly.

"Can you? I mean...would it ... if?"

Wordlessly Angel opened a pocket along the side seam of his long black duster. Gratefully, Scully dropped the cross and chain into the opening.

"Is it...?"

"I'll be fine," Angel assured her. "Only direct contact with the cross can hurt me." He jumped down from the wall and held out a hand to help her down. "Let's make another circuit of the cemetery."

They walked silently for some time, Angel waiting until they should reach the agreed upon drop location, thinking of a way to distract Scully so he could leave her cross for Willow to curse...or was that bless?

They were mere steps away from the grave marker Willow had chosen as the drop spot. Angel stopped, tensed, seemed to be listening intently. Scully halted next to him. She waited for him to say something, keeping silent so his vamp ears could pick up sounds her own might miss. He was about to speak, to fabricate a noise, an enemy they should chase, when a shrub, close to Scully seemed to explode.

Greenery flew in every direction, pelting them. Without thinking, Angel wrapped the petite agent in his arms and looked for the attacker. What he saw was unmistakable, to many residents of Sunnydale anyway. A werewolf, male judging by its size, crouched, snarling, its long, yellowed teeth glinting in the full moonlight.

"What the hell is that thing?" Scully demanded.

"A werewolf," Angel responded tersely.

"Is it going to attack us?" she asked.

"It should." Angel stared at the unholy beast. The vampire's breathing was rapid and shallow, a remembered response more than a needed one. Angel glanced down at Scully. She was breathing much as he was. Her face was flushed and he'd rearranged her careful hairstyle with his rough, protective gesture. She was pulling away slightly and he released her. While she stared at the werewolf, Angel slid a hand into the pocket that contained her cross. Wrapping it in the handkerchief Giles had provided him, he lifted it surreptitiously out.

"Shouldn't we-?"

"Run!" Angel barked at her, dropping the cross next to the Karen LaFonte's headstone. Scully, turning, never saw him do it. She took off running. Angel looked back at the 'were' and then at Scully's retreating back. He hated to have that thing chase them. He wasn't sure he could protect the agent from the beast unless she made it a point to stay out of the way, but he wanted to draw it away from this place where Willow would arrive so shortly. With a mild, muttered curse, he followed Scully.

The werewolf gave chase. As they ran, Angel reviewed what he knew of Fair Haven. There was an abandoned crypt on its north edge. If they could outrun this thing, they would be safe behind the stout door of the old charnel house.

Angel tossed a look over his shoulder. The wolf was closer and seemed to be gaining on them every few steps. He grabbed Scully's hand and tugged her along even faster. "Turn!" he yelled at her as they reached the main path. "North!"

She nodded, breathing heavily.

The crypt came into sight. Angel could hear the ragged respiration of the beast behind them. They weren't going to make it unless they could get a burst of speed. "You're not going to like this," he muttered at her.

"What?" she gasped out.

"But..." he said, picking her up at a dead run. She squealed in protest until she got a look at how close the werewolf had gotten.

"Angel!" she screamed.

He increased his speed and, as the crypt loomed ahead, leapt into the air. He landed at the door, jerked it open, and stepped inside. The door slammed behind him. He set Scully down and looked around for something heavy with which to bar the heavy wooden portal. A stone slab lay askew of an empty coffin. Scully stared in disbelief as Angel maneuvered it into place, rendering the crypt safe from any assault the werewolf might launch.

He turned and looked at her, his breathing slowing as hers was. She raised an eyebrow at him.

"Preternatural strength. It's a trait of vampirism."

"I see," she said, for once not challenging his claim. "Your face," she added shyly.

"Sorry," he murmured. He turned from her and willed the vampire instincts in his blood to quiet.

She was looking around their accommodations when he turned back toward her. She looked distinctly uncomfortable.

"It's abandoned," he said softly.

"Oh. Good. I - why is it abandoned?"

"I don't know," he said, chuckling at her. "But the former occupant won't be back any time soon."


"At all."

They stood awkwardly for a few moments. Finally Angel took off his coat, folded it, and offered it to her as a cushion so she could sit down. She accepted gratefully and they sat side by side, backs against the east wall of the crypt, moonlight filtering in the high, slitted windows that dotted each wall.

"How long do you think we have to stay here?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Werewolves aren't really that patient, but I'd like to give it enough time to..."

"Scare the life out of someone else?"

He grinned and nodded.

"I can't stay here indefinitely, after all," Angel observed.

"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Daylight."

"Daylight," he agreed.

"Are there a lot of ... those in Sunnydale?"


She nodded.

"Scully, there's a lot of everything in Sunnydale."

She laughed with him at that.


He shrugged. "The only werewolf I ever knew was... Oh, no...not now."


Angel's mouth hung open for a moment as his mind replayed images of that werewolf. He had guessed it was a male and as the scenes flashed by him again, he thought about the markings he had discerned on their attacker.


He brought a hand up and tugged gently on his lower lip in a gesture that reminded Scully instantly of Mulder. Angel finally looked up at her, his dark eyes guarded. "Willow's boyfriend, Oz, was - is - a werewolf. There was a problem a couple months ago. Oz left."

Scully looked at him. "You think that may have been ... that it ... he came back?"

Slowly, Angel nodded.

"Do you think Willow will be happy?"

"We're not going to tell her."

"What? why not?"

He regarded her steadily. "We are probably going to need Willow's wicca skills, at least in part, to stop these demons. We can't afford to have her distracted by the possibility Oz is back."

Scully was nodding. She looked over at Angel whose jaw had gone slack again. "What else?"

He dropped his head slightly, his chin resting nearly on his chest. "I know who the second demon is going to possess. I understand Cordelia's first vision."

"Her first vision? I thought this morning she saw you being possessed."

"She did." He bit his lip and clenched his fists briefly. "That was her second vision about these demons. It was her first vision that brought us here. She saw Willow, casting a spell, but looking very shaken."

"So," Scully said with a sigh, "you think one demon is going to possess you and the other will possess this Oz person?"

"That doesn't make sense," Angel said, more to himself than to her. "We're missing something."

"Maybe it isn't Oz," she suggested.

He lifted an eyebrow and shrugged. "I'll talk it over with Wes and Giles. I still don't want Willow to know."

Scully nodded her agreement. She reflected it was too bad Mulder couldn't be with her now. Her skepticism was in tatters. She smiled to herself.

"What?" Angel asked.

She giggled and sighed. "If Mulder could see me now. Chased by a werewolf into an old crypt. Sitting on a vampire's coat, talking about a demonic possession that's going to take place at some point in the near future... and I haven't mentioned scientific proof once."

"Not even once," Angel agreed with a smile.

"What did you mean when you said science needs to overcome its fears? You know, right before you grabbed my cross again?"

He looked over at her. She was shivering in the cool damp of the tomb. He considered putting an arm around her, companionably, but knew the gesture would be a hollow one. The days when he could warm a female companion were two hundred and forty four years behind him.

"In the years I've walked this earth I've seen a lot of changes. I've watched science overshadow suspicion. I've seen people lose, abandon, or throw away religious beliefs that sustained their ancestors throughout the centuries. I've watched old beliefs, teachings held true since the blood sacrifices of the druids, come around again, masquerade as those of a new age, changed only in the fact that the blood rites are no longer. All of these things seek to banish the fear of evil, as if by banishing it, evil would melt away. But it won't. Never. People *should* fear evil, Agent Scully. And science needs to stop being afraid to admit it can't know everything."

"But knowledge ... well, it's a clichť, but it is powerful," she argued.

He nodded. "Powerful, but not *all* powerful. Sometimes we just have to accept what is. Sometimes knowledge can crush us, tear us apart, leave us screaming for mercy."

Scully looked down at her hands, which lay inertly in her lap. "Sounds like you have some experience."

"I told you last night. I remember the face of every person I've killed. I remember the sounds of their voices. I remember how their blood tasted and how I felt taking their lives. That knowledge transforms me, but it also haunts me every day of my existence."

Scully had no reply. They sat quietly, letting the minutes tick by in a profound silence. Angel watched the moonlight filter in through the windows and listened to Scully breathe. What he'd told Scully had been true, though it seemed further away, his time as Angelus, now than it had ever before. It was Buffy who haunted him mostly now, memories that he alone carried of holding her, making love to her as a human man once again, promising to make a life with her, only to give it all back when it became clear the usefulness he found as a vampire was lost to him as a mortal being. She remembered nothing of those twenty-four hours. He had made that choice for her, for them, unable to face what might happen if she too were allowed those cherished memories. Knowledge of that time threatened to crush him, to tear him apart, as he'd told Scully. Had Buffy known it would have ground them both to dust in the blink of an Oracle's eye.

The silence seemed to fill up the crypt, to thicken the air around them. Though uneasy, Angel made an attempt at small talk. Cordelia had been prodding him, nagging him really about his lackluster social skills. His protests that this patrol was hardly the social event of the season had fallen on deaf ears. And the sarcastic reply that given they were in Sunnydale he just never knew, now did he, and it might very well turn out to be quite the social affair, mister! "What's the story with you and Agent Mulder?"

Scully turned and looked at him. She arched her eyebrow as high as it would go.

Mentally berating himself for listening to his assistant, Angel backtracked. "I'm sorry. It's none of my ... it's just that Cordelia wanted ... she was wondering if Agent Mulder was... forget it." He found himself profusely glad vampires can't blush because he knew were he mortal he would have, at that moment, had the coloring of the local fire engines.

Scully stared at him a moment and Angel began to fear she was furious. Then she surprised him. She burst out laughing. He could hear in her laughter the edge of exhaustion and strain. The agents had been tracking this thing a long time with little hope of finding it or stopping it and it would tell on anyone after a while. He could hear the tremblings of fear. In the past two days she'd been confronted with vampires, demons, and as a special, Hellmouth-y kind of welcoming treat, a werewolf. She was locked in a crypt with a creature who could, if he forgot he had that pesky little soul, drain her blood, or worse, and no one would be any the wiser. But he could also hear genuine mirth and pleasant release in the abandoned throatiness of her laughing. She laughed until tears rolled from her eyes. Angel smiled at her the whole time, trying to remember the last time he *had* smiled that much.

Getting herself under control she said at last, "Agent Mulder is my partner. That's all. No story."

"But if Cordelia tried to attract his interest, you'd rip her heart out, right?" Angel grinned at her.

Scully stared at him. Suppressing more giggles, she told him, "Liver actually." That set her laughing uncontrollably again for a few minutes. When she could speak she gave him a brief explanation of Eugene Tooms. Angel made a disgusted face as she described Tooms' predilection for the hepatic organ. At least Scully was assuming that was a disgusted face. It looked like he was brooding, on an upset stomach.

"Why did you think that? about Mulder?" she asked after a bit.

He shrugged. "Willow hacked into your files -"

"She WHAT? That's illegal."


"She won't care you told me?"

"She hacked in using someone else's identity." He paused. "Also illegal, of course. I don't think anyone here would mind if he got caught."

"Why not?"

"I'm not supposed to know," he answered her.

She arched the eyebrow at him again.

"I think he dated Buffy. Or something like that."

Scully found herself, surprisingly, liking this ...man. She couldn't think of him as a vampire. Though she groaned inwardly, remembering the charming sheriff of Chaney, Texas. But he'd made an effort, Angel hadn't. "Now," she wondered, "does that prove Mulder's theory that vampires are charming or disprove it? Is he so charming he doesn't even need to try?" She found she didn't care. He was quiet and reserved and thoughtful. "So what's the story with you and Buffy?"

"Un-huh," he shook his head. "Not until you tell me about you and Agent Mulder."

"I already told you," she insisted. "We're partners."

"I don't believe you."

"Why not?"

"Because we read your files, remember? Antarctica? The Bermuda Triangle? Alaska? Exchanging someone who might have been his sister for you? Duane Barry? Africa?"

"We were each doing our jobs."

Angel's eyes met hers. She dropped her gaze first.

"Besides," he said softly. "He looks at you the way I look at Buffy. And trust me, Agent Scully, after two hundred and forty four years, I know true love when I see it."

Out and About
Sunnydale, California
March24 - After Dark

Peering around the grey, cold headstones, Willow spotted Agent Scully's golden cross right where she'd asked Angel to leave it. She looked cautiously for any sign of Angel and his charge. She saw the scattered remains of what might have been a fairly large bush, but no other signs of life or demonic presence. With Anya, Xander, and Spike in tow, she stepped out of the shadow of the trees, toward Karen LaFonte's grave.

The three mortals looked at the remnants of the greenery with obvious puzzlement.

"Is anyone else wondering if they were attacked by a bush?" Xander asked at last with his trademark dry, sarcastic tone.

"It could have been a Florinite demon. They take the form of bushes, trees, sometimes even large flowers," Anya told them eagerly. "I remember one time-"

"It ain't a Florinite," Spike interjected scornfully.

"Oh yeah? How can you be so sure?" Anya challenged.

Spike fixed a baleful stare on her, sighing before deigning to answer. "Wull, for one thing, Florinites don't explode into littul bits 'n' pieces."

Anya nodded with ill grace, admitting Spike was right in that.

"And," he continued, "If they'd been attacked by a Florinite, it woulda eaten everything but their heads."

"Ok, fine, you're right," the former demon girl agreed sulkily.

Willow had gone quite pale. Xander's face was creased into a revolted scowl. "Wait a minute," he said, "are you saying there are demons out there that can take on the appearance of ...of my mom's best efforts at gardening?"

"And they eat people?" Willow added weakly.

"All but their heads," Spike iterated without emotion.

"And people wonder why real estate is so cheap here on the Hell Mouth," Xander quipped.

"Oh, well, it would be odd to find a Florinite this far north anyway," Anya informed them, in much the same tone a normal girl might read the latest fashion news.

"She's right," Spike added. "They tend to manifest in South America."

"So, Ahn, you felt it was necessary to suggest it was this... bush demon...why exactly?" Xander asked her, a note of hysteria creeping into his voice, his hands flattening out in front of him, speaking with as much frustration as his voice.

"'Cause I, for one, could have gone a whole, long time without knowing about those ... things," Willow mentioned.

Anya made a face at them. She still had a hard time understanding the human squeemishness about demonic activity. In an off-hand manner, she apologized.

"Say, Red, shouldn't you get down to business before Angel and the girl agent make their way back along here? I mean, it might look a little suspicious if she came upon you doin' some incantation 'n' all."

Willow rolled her eyes at Spike, but she also nodded. While Spike and Xander stationed themselves so they could watch the paths, Anya helped Willow set out her supplies.

With sacred sand, Anya described a diamond whose points touched each cardinal direction.

"Good," Willow said. "Don't forget to cross the barriers at each intermediate compass point, too."

As Willow had shown her at Giles, Anya added a thin line, intersecting each line she'd already drawn at careful angles.

"What is that supposed to do again?" Xander asked.

Willow looked up from the spell she was reviewing. "Having the diamond's points at each cardinal direction should pull energy into something like a whirlpool; adding the lines of force at the intermediate compass points keeps the energy stirred, confused. If I do this correctly, no matter how they try to follow us, they should get confused."

"And if you don't?" Anya asked.

Willow raised her eyebrows at her. "I don't think that's really something we want to think about."

"She means we'd end up with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum at our little possession-stopping party," Spike said.

"You know, I knew those two looked like gate crashers," Xander added.

"Ok, everyone. Quiet. I'm ready," Willow told them, putting an end to the banter that swirled around her. "Spike, Xander, make sure no one interrupts us. Anya, you know what you need to do?"

Anya nodded. She rarely did magicks since losing her powers, but she felt confident she could offer the right responses to Willow's chants.

Taking a deep breath, Willow sat in the northern point of the diamond on the grass. Anya took her place in the southern point and looked at Willow. The studious witch had her supplies ranged around her and her spell printed out in large, clear type.

Willow placed a single candle in the center of the diamond. She lit the candle and burned a small branch of some plant whose name no one else there knew. The other three all made faces as the smoke, which proved to be strong and foul smelling, reached their nostrils. Spike opened his mouth to speak, but the knowledge of what the Slayer would do to him if he did anything to ruin little Sabrina's spell forestalled the imprecations that almost came out.

Willow next arranged a variety of colored crystals in a semi-circle around the base of the burning candle. She picked up Scully's cross from where she'd laid it on the lawn. Willow gave a quick glance at Anya, who took a deep breath and nodded her readiness. The redhead lifted the golden talisman with her left hand until the cross spun in lazy circles in front of her focused eyes.

She and Giles had diligently practiced the required incantation, to be rendered in Sumerian, numerous times that afternoon, after Spike had so helpfully answered Giles' questions about recent demonic activity. Anya, too, had practiced her part, somewhat to the annoyance of Giles since Ahn had put her usual lack of dedication into an activity that was Xander-less. Now Willow was prepared to utter the words that would render Scully's cross into an instrument of misguiding.

"Come, God of all Steps. Come from the North, from the South, from the Eastern house of the birthing sun, from the Western crypt of its daily death. Together bind into a circle the path of my foe," Willow intoned in Sumerian. Xander looked over his shoulder at her, his face a mystified blank while on his side of the path, Spike mouthed the words along with her.

Quietly Xander muttered, "You know Sumerian?"

Spike shrugged with his usual nonchalance. With his fingers he made a sign that indicated he knew a little. Xander looked further mystified.

Willow hushed them both with a baleful glare.

"Let her steps be not steady," Anya added, speaking slowly and with great care.

Willow nodded at her and continued. "Into her path mete only confusion and disorder. In my way prevent her from following. My words let her hear as whispers of the wind, substantial only as the fall of an eagle's feather to the sand."

Anya glanced at the wicca, who motioned that it was her cue. "Bind her feet. Bind her ears."

"Her mind liken unto a whirlpool. Whisk away my words into the maelstrom of doubt." Willow paused. She picked up a raven's feather and brushed the cross she still held aloft with the the plume, which she then singed in the glowing candle flame. She laid the feather in a straight line, pointing at Anya.

Willow's voice grew stronger, took on a commanding tone. "Onto this talisman, let my words be settled. Let my foe, its bearer, my spell be under." She lowered the cross so that it hung in the flame. It twirled in the still of the darkness, revolving slowly and inexorably until white sparks danced along its polished surface. The candle guttered and extinguished itself without warning. Silently, Willow laid the cross on the grass and began gathering her supplies, slipping them into a cloth bag.

"Did it work?" Xander asked.

Willow looked up at him, then back at Anya and over to where Spike stood. She nodded. "At least, I'm pretty sure it worked." She stood up and began kicking the sand Anya had spread out.

"Now what?" Spike asked, his tendency toward impatience when allied with the Scooby Gang reasserting itself.

"Now I finish getting rid of the traces of the spell, Xander takes the cross a few graves over, and we head over to Sunnyrest for an encore performance," Willow said with forced cheer.

Anya helped Willow efface the lines of sand and both young women scanned the area carefully for anything that might indicate magicks had been performed there. Xander came back from laying the cross at the base of a headstone just off the main path. Spike stood morosely with his hands thrust into his pockets and waited.

"There," Willow said after a few moments. "Xander?"

He smiled at her and inclined his head in mock humility. "Agent Scully's cross is now 'resting in peace' right near Paul Frankel's grave."

Three pairs of eyes rolled at Xander's pun.

"Then let's get a move on. We haven't got all night and we still need to do the spell on Agent Mulder's phone," Willow reminded them.

As they walked along the path back out of Fair Haven Spike asked "And tell me why, again, we have to do this silly spell to the phone? Why wasn't the cross enough?"

Willow sighed impatiently. "It's a talisman spell."

"That means it only works on the person whose object is enchanted," Anya added.

"Oh, right," Spike said. "Now, tell me again, why I bloody well have to go along?"

"Because, odd as it may sound, we are protecting Willow and Anya while they do the actual spell. We're part of the team," Xander told him, his voice mocking as ever.

"Yeah, wull, see, I don't want to be part of the team," Spike said. "I thought I made that clear a couple of weeks ago."

"What can we say?" Xander asked. "We just miss your smiling face and 'sunny' personality when you're not around, Spike."

Spike scowled at Xander. "You do know I'm only doin' this because Angel and that Slayer of his'll come after me if I don't."

"I don't think we really care *why* you're here, buddy, just so long as you do what you were told," Xander said harshly.

"Not to mention that if we get really lucky we might not get back until after sunrise," Anya added with gleeful malice.

Spike made a noise of protest that originated from his throat and rose to a rather unmanly wail.

At that point Willow rounded on all of them, demanding, "Would you all *shut up*? You're making enough noise to wake the - OK, hopefully not, 'cause, you know, ewww." She looked at each of them. Xander and Anya looked contrite and Spike knew enough to look slightly humbled. "None of this will be worth anything if Agent Scully finds out and unless she and Angel are on the other side of the cemetery, locked in some crypt, she's gonna hear you if you keep up this bickering. *And* if she finds out that's gonna make dealing with the demon tomorrow night even more impossible."

Xander muttered an apology and Anya nodded, as though the motion added her words to those of her boyfriend. Spike looked at his shoes and hoped Willow wouldn't rat him out to Buffy.

The four left Fair Haven silently and made their way to Sunnyrest with a minimum of quiet conversation.

Rupert Giles' Residence
March24 11:07 P.M.

Cordelia sipped some more coffee and grimaced. She thought it was too bad they had't had Willow make some more before she'd left. No one else seemed to be able to make a decent cup, including herself she admitted silently.

She turned her attention back to the papers spread out on the table in front of her. She had made some sketches of what she'd seen. None of them gave them much information that they didn't already know, but it had given Cordy something to do. With Wes's guidance she had added in as many details as possible. Wes had said that it would help if they could pinpoint in which part of the ruined school library the possession might take place.

Other papers contained the notes both Wesley and Giles had made over the course of the last few days. Cordelia sighed in the frustration that seemed to define her life. They knew just enough of the details to make them all the more impotent. Tomorrow night, in the library of the school they'd destroyed on graduation, the Vesparys demons, male and female, would possess hosts, would draw upon the vile energy of the Hell Mouth to spawn, and in so doing would unleash a new generation of demon on the world. *And* possession would kill the hosts, one of which at least was well known to Cordelia, was someone upon whom she had come to rely, to cherish even in her own unique Cordy- fashion.

Then there was the problem of the other host. Cordy shivered briefly at the memory of Willow's face in her visions.

She looked up as Wesley came into the room. He carried a mug of tea. He sat in a chair across from her and rubbed his eyes tiredly.

"No ideas?" Cordelia asked glumly.

Wes shook his head. "I think Giles and I have been through every source we have. So little is known of these demons. As far as we know, a spawning has never been stopped and no host has ever survived the possession."

"What about spells?"

Wes shook his head. "Giles has been researching spells as well. I don't know."

As if on cue, Giles came downstairs, holding a spellbook in front of him. Looking up at Cordy and Wes, he announced, "I think I've found something."

Cordy raised her eyebrows in synchronicity with Wes's "Yes?"

Giles nodded. "It's a cleansing spell."

"How does it work?" Cordelia asked.

"Er..well, first, we have to stop the heart of each host-"

"What?" Cordy exclaimed. "Giles! How does stopping their hearts save the hosts?" After a brief pause, she added, "And if, Angel...I mean, his heart - well, it doesn't exactly, you know, beat."

Giles ignored her and continued. "-the incantation puts each host into a sort of...suspended animation, as it were," he looked pointedly at Cordelia, "which should affect Angel."

Cordelia grimaced at him.

"So the first part buys us time," Wesley summarized. "What then?"

Giles took a deep breath and sighed, his mouth thinning into a tight line. "That's the hard part," he said with some irony. "The spell casts the demon out of the host's blood, *if* I'm right and *if* the incantation is done precisely in the correct manner."

"And that's it?" Cordelia asked. "That means the end of the Vesparys demons?"

"Not exactly," Giles told her.

"We have to find a way to contain the demons," Wesley supplied.

Giles nodded. "It will be over *if* we can find the appropriate vessels in which to contain the demons."

"That's too many 'if', Giles," Cordelia protested.

"Yes," the former Watcher agreed. "It is."

The three looked at one another. Wesley and Cordelia both looked stricken, far more than Giles would have suspected possible a year before.

Her voice trembled as Cordelia asked, "And *if* you're wrong about any of this?"

Giles met her eyes and watched as she brushed away tears she was trying to deny. "The hosts are likely to be killed," he said as gently as possible.

Cordelia stifled a sob underneath one well-manicured hand. With no further speech, she stood up and stumbled to the kitchen.

Giles exchanged a glance with Wesley, who then went after the dark-haired teenager.

Giles sunk down to the couch and took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his free hand. He stared at the ceiling, thinking about all manner of things, yet nothing in particular. Although he had no intention of eavesdropping, Angel's associates stood just a few feet from him and even their hushed whispers remained audible.

"Wesley, I can't ... I mean, Angel? It's not fair. Not after everything with Doyle... and Buffy - what he did then was...," she sniffed as her words trailed off.

"Cordelia," Wesley said, his voice a mixture of stern and tender emotions, "I have not been associated with Angel nearly as long as you, but I have learned a great many valuable lessons from him in that time. And I do know he is not only the most courageous ...person I have ever known, but also the most tenacious. He has a ...well, I think he sees it as a sacred duty, not unlike Buffy's, to help the defenseless, the weak, those the light forgets. In this short time I've been with the two of you, I've seen him put himself at risk, fight for others with a will that is unstoppable. If any one can survive this possession, it will be Angel."

Cordelia was silent and Giles could hear her sniffling still. The thoughts in Giles' head began to take a form, just out of the reach of his mind's eye, a vision both misty and tangible. It had to do with Angel, not surprisingly. Giles thought of the times Angel had helped them, had saved himself, Willow, even Xander, and, of course, Buffy. Those memories were inexplicably tied up with the horrible reminders of his time as Angelus, the ways in which the soulless killer had trormented them all, had stolen from them ... Giles refused to let himself think of that. He shifted his thinking back to the good Angel had done in their lives.

Giles sighed as the memories pursued him. No matter how he tried to turn from the thoughts of her, he saw her large, dark eyes, heard again her soft voice, tinged with gentle mocking born of a love that never quite was. He could not prevent himself from feeling the touch of her supple lips against his and the way the strands of her thick, raven hair had flowed under his fingers. Though he tried to stifle it, her name rose to lips and he murmured it softly. "Jenny." Almost two years later, the occasional recollection of her could shred him into little pieces.

Cordelia brought him back to the reality they faced. "What about Ms. Callendar?" she asked, walking back into the room, her eyes red rimmed and shining with moisture, but her typical poise returned.

Giles looked up. "Hmm? What? What about Jenny?"

"You said her name," Cordy stated. "I thought maybe ... I don't know, maybe you'd thought of some spell of hers or something that might help."

"I'm sorry," Wesley interjected. "Who is ... Jenny? Is she someone we could ask for help?"

Giles stared stone-faced at Wesley and Cordelia looked ready to cry again. The room went silent for a few moments. Giles spoke at last, his voice subdued. "No, Jenny-" his voice caught.

"When Angel was Angelus the last time he killed her."

Wesley's face paled. "Oh, er... I see. She was ... you all were close to her?"

Giles looked at him. "Close. Yes, I suppose you could say we were close to her. It was her people that cursed Angel. After... after he lost his soul, she was trying to recreate the spell. He killed her before she could tell me she had been successful."

"Did he," Wesley paused, knowing his curiosity was a bit ghoulish, but feeling a need to know, "sire her?"

Cordelia looked down at her hands and twisted them around one another, discomfort washing off her. Giles took a deep breath. "No. He snapped her neck and left her in my bed as a message."

Wes looked at the ceiling, his face registering shock and distaste He realized yet again he, himself, had never faced the sorts of evil Giles, Buffy, and their friends had fought on a regular basis. "I *am* sorry," he said softly.

"Giles?" Cordelia asked. "Why did you say her name?"

"I was thinking of how Angel has helped us in the past. It's hard to think of the good without the bad, though." Giles paused, the vision dancing on the edge of his memory waltzing more clearly into his mind. Angel. Jenny. He sat up suddenly and strode quickly to the bookcase in which he kept his Watcher's Diaries.

"Giles?" Wes asked.

Giles raised a finger at them, stalling any further questions. He found a volume labelled "1997-1998" and opened it. He scanned his own familiar, fussy handwriting. Technically he needn't have entered the incident in his offical log as Watcher, but he had, wanting to preserve a record of Angel's selfless actions because he had known Angel was likely to outlive all of those who had witnessed it and he had wanted succeeding generations of Slayers, Watchers, and Council members to remember that nothing ever is black and white. He perused his entry quickly.

"Of course!" he exclaimed. He turned to face the other two in the room. "Cordelia, do you remember Byhgon?"

Her face was confused. "When you went away?"

"No, no. Byhgon, the demon...Ethan Rayne?"

"Oh, oh! The one you worshipped back in your days as a juvenile offender? The one that killed almost all of your old friends and possessed Ms. Callendar and...! OH!"

"Um...again, I apologize, but could one of you explain, please?" Wesley requested. "Mr. Giles was a ... juvenile offender?"

Giles turned to him. "Yes, yes. I'm sorry. I suppose the Council never mentioned that? Not that it was something I wanted known, of course. Well, when I was in my twenties-"

"You worshipped Byhgon?" Wesley interrupted, incredulous. "What were you thinking?"

Giles stopped. "Well, I wasn't really. It was more a rebellion. Much like Buffy once did, I needed some time to accept my destiny as Watcher. Several friends...we ... we called forth the demon. For nothing more than the pleasure of it."

"I will assume that did not turn out well," Wes said drily.

Giles shook his head. "No. One was killed and years later, Igon came after the remainder of our group."

"And what has this to do with Angel exactly?"

"Oh, yes...well, Ms. Callendar, Jenny, was possessed by Byhgon and it was Angel who saved her."

Light began to dawn on Wesley. "If Byhgon is threatened in the host body he will jump to the nearest *dead* body."

Giles was nodding.

"So, in some manner, Angel got the demon to possess him and...?"

"The demon within Angel defeated Byhgon."

"That's right!" Cordy exclaimed. "So maybe ... maybe... maybe," she stuttered in her excitement.

"Maybe he can defeat the demon alone," Giles finished for her.

For the first time since her vision, Cordelia began to feel hopeful. The person, who in the past months, had stood by her in ways her own parents never had, might yet be able to save himself. She sighed.

Wesley looked at both of them, glad to see a smile on Cordelia's weary face, but worried. "I hate to say this, but-"

"No," Cordy commanded. "If you hate to say it, don't."

"Cordelia," Wes chided. "I have to point out that Igon, while not a weak demon, is nothing compared to the little we know of the power of the Vesparys. Because Angel once fought one demon and won-"

"Gives us hope he could at the least fight this one to a standstill in his blood," Giles spoke slowly, pointedly. "My God, man, this is the first real glint of hope we've had yet."

Wesley nodded and hoped Giles and Cordelia were justified in their expectations. He let the matter go, deciding he would mention it later to Angel. "We still need to be prepared to help the other host, don't we?"

"Quite," Giles agreed. "Cordelia, if I make a list-"

"I will go to the magic shop and get it," she concluded his thought.

As Willow, Anya, Xander, and Spike made their way from Fair Haven to Sunnyrest, Giles wrote out a list of the supplies that would be needed with Wesley looking over his shoulder, reading the procedures involved in the complicated and vital incantation.

Giles' Neighborhood
Sunnydale, California
March24 - After Dark

Anya and Xander led the way, walking along, holding hands, their steps quick, lively.

"I'm feeling something," Xander announced. "Now what is it?"

"Do we really need to know?" Spike asked mockingly. "I mean, it's usually your girlfriend who...oh forget it, somehow I'm just not in the mood."

"Are you feeling all right?" Willow inquired, her natural solicitousness producing worry in her.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Not like any of you really care, anyway. Only when it's 'Spike, we need you to help kick some demon ass' or 'Spike, stand guard while I cast a spell' or-"

"Excuse me," Anya interrupted. "I think Xander was saying something. About himself." She snuggled herself closer to her boyfriend.

"Like I said-" Spike started.

"Yes," Xander said, cutting off any further verbal repartee. "I think 'jaunty' would be an apt word to describe my state of mind."

"Jaunty?" Willow asked with some doubt in her voice.

"Yes, indeed," Xander affirmed. "We've done a good night's work." He paused. "Well, you've done a good night's work, Wil, but the rest of us, the ever trusty Scooby gang...and... er...um...*other*...did, in some way, however minuscule, participate."

"No, not minuscule," Wil protested. "I ... um... well, yeah, I needed," she grimaced over her own verb choice, as needing either Spike or Anya (let alone both of them in one evening) was not something that had been high on her life's to-do list. She hesitated slightly, shuddered almost imperceptibly, then continued. "Yeah, I needed all of you."

"I'm part of the Scooby gang?" Anya said hopefully, with a transparent smile plastered across her face.

Everyone hesitated for a moment, before each added a comment. "Sure. Why not?" Xander contributed.

"Who bloody cares?" Spike asked derisively.

"No! Oh, uh, OK, yes...ewwww," moaned Willow.

Anya didn't notice anyone other than Xander had spoken and she fairly glowed as they continued their now leisurely pace back to Giles' house.

After a while, Willow added, "We did do good work. Now it's up to Buffy and Angel to make sure the agents get their items back."

"And they won't be skulking around, following us?" Xander asked for verification.

"Nope," Wil agreed. Her face scrunched up and her usual, now-the-deed-is-done-how-did-I-do doubts assailed her. "At least I hope not." She paused, then babbled on. "I mean, I *know* everything went well with the cross. That was just about perfect," she giggled. "Pretty bad-ass actually." They walked in silence again, everyone waiting for Willow to take up the thread of her monologue. "But the phone...well," her eyebrows rose and her eyes widened. "I *hope* so anyway, but-"

"The sparks weren't exactly the right color," Spike inserted, finding the rambling deconstruction a bit irritating at last.

Willow shook her head. "No....but," she grew excited, shook her hands up and down a bit, and skipped a step or two. "I'm thinking that could just have been because it was electronic, you know. It's not like they had cell phones in Ancient Sumeria-"

Spike contributed, "Yeah, makes ya kinda glad it weren't a microwave oven you were all in for cursing, don't it?"

Willow ignored him. "-and so maybe that was it." She paused and her face grew dubious again. Xander glanced back at her, reflecting, as he had done countless times in his life, how changeable Wil's face was, how poorly she dissembled any emotion at all. "But I think I did mess up one tiny little syllable...oh," she groaned. "But I fixed it. Really, I did. I hope Giles won't be too disappointed."

"Wil, he's going to be thrilled," Xander assured her. "And we can ask him now," he added as they passed into Giles' courtyard and strolled to the door.

Without knocking, Xander opened the door, holding it while Anya entered, then Willow. Spike shot him a condescending look. Xander sneered back at him and the two jostled for position in the doorway, neither one able to advance or retreat.

Giles, Wesley, and Cordelia looked up as Willow and her helpers returned. All eyes fell on the struggle ensuing in the doorway. Though the by-play between Xander and the vamp tended to grate on Giles' nerves, he noted the grins dancing along the faces of both Anya and Willow. He saw how Cordelia put aside her on-going animosity toward Xander and her distaste for Spike aside and was actually laughing at them. Even Wesley, who clearly found Spike a mystery beyond comprehension and who had never gotten along with Xander, was smiling broadly. Giles gave in and laughed himself, glad for some comic relief in the midst of the intense struggle they were in.

Both hating to be ridiculed almost more than they hated one another, Xander and Spike, realizing they were the focus of the merriment sliding around the room, glared at one another briefly, before disentangling themselves and tumbling into the room. No one said a word.

Still smiling, Giles asked Willow, "How did it go?"

"Good. It went good - oh, I mean, well. Sorry."

Giles looked at her in puzzlement. He often felt great kinship with Willow. Her intelligence was unassailable, but for years she had seen it as her one asset and she was still finding out how very much more there was to herself. He had been like that in some ways. True, he had rebelled in a most dangerous fashion with little guidance, his father feeling the statement 'It is your sworn duty to be a Watcher' should be enough to end any argument. Willow's own rebellion might have had similar earmarks, as she had parents who seemed to view her more as an endless source of scholastic paper topics to be submitted to a dizzying array of professional journals and less as a child to be loved and cherished. It made Giles glad he could, in his own way, guide her, anchor her, support her much as he did for Buffy. Much, he realized, as he did for all of them. He smiled again, realizing afresh, how very much a parent he had become to these - children no longer, he reminded himself... and how very happy it made him, indeed. He understood Willow's need for approval in all things, even as she honed the wicca skills that clearly would benefit them all.

"Well, then?" he asked.

She nodded. "Except...for...well, I'm not even sure, that is-"

"Willow," Giles cautioned.

"I made a mistake on one syllable the second time."

"Did you um...correct yourself?"

She nodded. "Immediately."

"Which part was it? Do you know?"

Again, she nodded. "The part about 'whispers of the wind'," she confessed.

"Do you remember how you mispronounced it?" Giles asked.

Together they went over the hopefully small error Willow had made, Giles reassuring her he didn't believe it would pose a problem, that he was very pleased with her castings. "Anything else? Anything odd?"

"Hullo!" Cordelia exclaimed. "This is Sunnydale. How do you tell odd from ... not odd?"

Giles looked over at her. "What? Oh, yes. I guess sometimes living here does tend to skew one's perspective. I meant, well, you know what I meant. Yes?"

Xander and Willow nodded. "And yes, actually," Xander said.

"Yes?" Wesley said, gaining interest in the conversation.

"Yeah," Willow agreed. "A bush...well, it *used* to be a bush."

"A Florinite demon?" Giles asked.

"What is it with you people and this Four - uh, Flori- thing?" Xander demanded, the images Spike and Anya had conjured up re-entering his mind.

"What's a - whatever demon?" Cordy asked.

"You do *not* want to know," Willow assured her. "And no," she told Giles. "There were pieces of ... bush all around, on the ground. Almost like it exploded. And, of course, we didn't find any ..." her face paled and she covered her stomach with her arms.

"Heads?" Wesley supplied helpfully.

Willow only nodded sickly.

"What? Heads? OK...yeah, never mind except for ...ew!" Cordy exclaimed.

Giles had picked up a book from the stack on the floor next to the couch and was flipping through it.

"Was it near where Angel left the cross?" Wesley asked.

All four nodded.

"Well, then, we can ask Angel when he gets back, unless Giles thinks..."

Giles looked up from the book he was studying. "No," he shook his head. "We'll ask Angel. Until then, I would suggest everyone get some rest. We have another long day ahead of us tomorrow."

"Does that mean you found something?" Xander wanted to know.

"Sure does," Cordelia answered. "Giles thinks he's found a spell that might work."

"What will we need?" Willow asked.

"Cordelia has already agreed to go to the magic shop tomorrow morning," Wesley said.

"Oh, OK...does Cordelia...do you even know where the magic shop is?" Willow asked.

"Of course," Cordelia responded indignantly, making a mental note to ask Giles later exactly where it was.

"Again, I think you all should go get some rest. We can meet back here tomorrow and make our plans. We need Buffy and Angel, of course," Giles iterated.

Spike began to sidle out the door when Giles' voice pinned him where he stood. "Not leaving, are you, Spike?"

"Wot? Well, I didn't think ... you did say-"

"Yes, I did," Giles agreed with the unspoken remainder of Spike's whining complaint. "But if you leave now, getting back here tomorrow would be quite the ... challenge, now wouldn't it?"

"Not that we wouldn't mind seeing you attempt it," Xander stated. "But somehow, it's just not the same, toasting marshmallows during the daytime."

Spike muttered, as usual, and threatened great damage to every one of the so-called Scoobies once he got the chip out. He looked around him in time to see Giles, Willow, and Xander mouthing his threats along with him. Disgusted, he walked back to the couch and threw himself along its length. "But if I starve..."

"Oh, do shut up. There's some blood in the fridge," Giles told him. "Now, everyone else, go home."

They did so without being told twice.

Sunnyrest Cemetery
Sunnydale, California
March24 - After Dark

"I'm sure it's here somewhere," Buffy assured Mulder, who was looking decidedly antsy. Mentally, she hoped Willow had worked her mojo. "You probably lost it when we had to chase that vamp."

"Is it safe to ...," he shrugged.

"Retrace our route?"

He nodded.

"Sure. Vamps are usually pretty much the cowardly lion types. He knows I'm out here, so he'll probably stay away."

"You mean they aren't aggressive?"

She lifted her shoulders and made a face. "Some of them are," she agreed. "Some of them totally are, believe me." She paused and Mulder sensed he had hit a nerve.

"Sorry," he said.

She said nothing, staring glumly at the ground as they headed back the way they'd come. She had her hands behind her back, clasped so tightly that anyone who looked would have noted how white her knuckles had gone.

Mulder watched her, concern transforming his features from the gleefully amused little boy who was, at heart, enjoying this marvelous adventure, to the man Scully would have recognized, full of sympathy and gentleness. Mulder's weakness was women, Buffy could see it out of the corner of her eye, as she watched his face. Not as a womanizer, but as a man who sees in women one girl, who hopes to redeem whatever failings he may have shown towards that girl by bearing the burdens of any woman in need. Buffy smiled a tiny smile, wondering at the perversity of the world. She sincerely doubted Agent Scully easily allowed her partner to shoulder her burdens.

Buffy stopped and looked up at the handsome man with her. She wondered for what horrible transgression he held himself accountable. From the files Willow had hacked she knew about his sister...this man had been a boy, twelve. Surely, he didn't blame himself? Parents' divorce? Buffy knew what it was like to take the blame for that one. She'd had at least one all-too vivid nightmare about it. Something with Agent Scully? That made sense; lovers, physical or not, eternally broke their own hearts over the things they could not change, even if they were willing.

"It's all right," she told him softly. "It was ... a while ago."

"Sometimes it doesn't matter how long it was, the pain can hold you pretty tightly."

Buffy sucked in a deep breath. "Ohhhhh, yeahhh," she agreed. "Tight enough to crush you."

"Does it have to do with Angel?" Mulder asked.

Buffy chuckled grimly. "Boy, does it ever." They resumed their walk, both scanning the path for any sign of Mulder's missing phone. Buffy watched him fiddle with the empty space at his waistline. That phone was for him what Mr. Pointy was to her, an extension of self, almost a defining part of his personality.

After a while, Buffy asked, "What's the what with you?"

"The what with me?" He was grinning at her.

"Yeah," Buffy said, with a slow, firm nod. "You know, what is it that ... you dream about at night and wish you didn't?" She grimaced. "Oh, and never dream those sorts of things in Sunnydale; nightmares have a bad habit of coming to life." She shuddered.

She waited for him to smile. Instead a pall swept over his face and the sparkle in his eyes extinguished. "Most of mine already have."

"Your sister?" she asked.

He stopped this time and stared at her. "How do you know about my sister?"

In an effort to lighten the suddenly leaden atmosphere, she joked, "We have our methods here on the Hell Mouth."

He didn't look amused.

"We ...um...do you have anything to do with tracking down cyber crime?"

Now he chuckled at her. He shook his head.

"We hacked into your files. Yours and Agent Scully's."

"*That's* what Willow was doing yesterday?"

Buffy nodded.

"I thought she was into wicca?"

"She is. She's also really good with computers."

"Well rounded," Mulder teased.

"Yeah. She didn't even use her own name...oooh, that I really shouldn't tell you."

Mulder chuckled again. "Whose name did she use?"

Buffy looked at him. "Some ... never mind."

"Old boyfriend?" Mulder prodded.

Buffy laughed. "You're good," she said admiringly. "It's kind of a long ... it ended badly."

"Hell hath no fury and all that?"

Buffy shrugged. "In this case, more like 'The 'net hath no fury...'"

They neared the area where Buffy had left Mulder's phone. Willow was supposed to leave it at the base of the third tree from the left of the crypt entrance. Buffy kept mouthing that information to herself as they got closer.

"What?" Mulder said.

She looked at him, eyes wide and innocent. "Hmmm? Oh, just um ... thinking about that guy," she finished hurriedly.

Mulder nodded, not entirely convinced.

Buffy caught sight of Mulder's phone before he could say anything more. "Aha!" she exclaimed. "There it is. See, it must have fallen out when we ran past here."

Mulder hurried over to his phone, his fingers almost physically itching for its familiar weight. He picked it up and checked it over. He was pretty tough on phones, but it looked like it had survived its fall nicely. As if to prove it had indeed suffered no injuries from its rather ignominious experiences (only one of which Mulder knew about), it rang.

Sunnyrest Cemetery
Sunnydale, California
March24 - After Dark

Buffy's expression of surprise mirrored Mulder's own as his phone sounded its familiar clarion. Glad for the return of his favorite electronic device, Mulder stared for a moment as it trilled again. Buffy was staring at him. He looked down and recalled the purpose of the phone.

"Mulder," he said. He held a finger up, signaling to Buffy he was going to go a few steps away. She made a face, scrunched, her teeth showing and she lifted her fingers into claws, uttering a soft "grrrr", the typical Scooby gang visual designation for a vampire. He nodded, acknowledging her concern that he not stray too far. He moved toward the entrance of the crypt, his back to Buffy. She paced slowly, keeping him to her side, gazing around and listening for any unexpected noises. Preternatural Slayer senses also helped her eavesdrop on his conversation.

"Yes, Sir," Mulder said. "No, Sir. Agent Scully, Sir?" Mulder paused. "Yes, Sir, I know, my partner." Mulder grimaced, not enjoying, as usual, his anticipated raking over the coals. "Scully is ... pursuing a lead."

Buffy smiled to herself. "And I thought Watchers were bad," she muttered.

"Me? I'm ... uh ... pursuing a lead."

Even in the distance that separated them, Buffy could hear an explosion from the phone. The man on the other end sounded harsh, stern, and not at all happy. Buffy repeated her earlier comment, with a bigger grin.

"It's ...no, Sir, not really two separate leads; more like two parts of the same lead. Colonel MacNamara, Sir?"

"Uh-oh," Buffy murmured.

"Civilians? No, Sir, I really don't know what MacNamara means. No, Sir, I can say unreservedly, Agent Scully and I are not investigating the same angle that MacNamara's ... men are."

Mulder listened again. "Yes, Sir. I understand. Yes, Sir. Tomorrow, Sir. We'll send you an update. First thing, yes."

"And I thought Giles was tough on me," Buffy teased as Mulder made his way back to her.

Mulder glared at her, though his gaze held no malice.

"You wanna drop that thing again?" she continued.

Mulder smiled at her. "My ... our boss is more ... flexible than a lot of the suits in the Bureau."

"But he's still got rules and regulations to follow?"

Mulder nodded.

"I know all about *those*," Buffy told him ruefully.

"That Council thing?"

"Yeah, I quit last year."

"They let you?" Mulder was astonished.

"They're in England, Agent Mulder. 'Let' isn't the word you're looking for. I'm sure most of them probably burst an aneurysm or two over it, but...well, bottom line is they're in England."

"England is only a plane ride away," Mulder reminded her.

She smiled. "That and a good ass-kicking or three by yours truly."

Mulder laughed at her. "If they know what's good for them?"

She shrugged. "They're a little slow sometimes, but after a while they do catch on." She smiled wickedly up at him, through long lashes.

He shook his head at her moxy. They were approaching the place they'd sat earlier, exchanging 'war' stories. Buffy checked her watch. If everything had gone according to plan, Willow, Xander, Anya, and Spike were back at Giles and the coast would be clear. If it hadn't, they might still be out, trying to perform the incantation on Scully's cross.

"It's a bit early to call it a night," she told Mulder. "We can take a break here again, do another pass in about thirty minutes, then head in."

Mulder agreed, sitting down and propping himself up against a gravestone. Buffy raised a doubtful eyebrow at him. His earlier squeamishness was obviously totally gone. He grinned at her. "I figure, based on the dates, the occupant is either long gone, long 'gone', or so slow at this rising thing that you can handle him pretty easily."

Buffy laughed at his joke, appreciating how he turned her own earlier comment around on her. She took a peek at the dates of 1872 to 1954.

"Nope, I think we're pretty safe," she said and settled down against the nearest headstone.

Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
March25 - 1:38 A.M.

Spike was sprawled out on Giles' couch, the TV blaring a late night informercial advertising the benefits of an expensive, complicated looking fitness contraption. Everytime the host, a suspiciously tanned young man with bulges and ripples in places neither Giles nor Wesley knew bulges and ripples were possible, enthused over the superiority of the product, Wesley ground his teeth and Giles winced. The young man had the sort of voice far more appropriate to a rugby field than to an ad campaign.

"How do you suppose he gets his teeth that color?" Wesley asked through a haze of exhaustion.

Giles looked up in time to see the host spear the audience with another gleaming, toothy grin. Giles grimaced. "Don't know. And I'm not certain I want to."

Giles' eyes dropped back down to the book spread out on the table before him. Just after the teens had left, he had recalled a slim volume of arcane prophecies that he had stored since the final Sunnydale High graduation. He had found it easily and begun perusing it diligently.

Wesley, tired, impatient, feeling helpless, stood up and crossed to the TV.

"I'm watchin' that, mate," Spike muttered.

"You're sleeping!" Wesley protested.

"No, I'm not," Spike insisted in clipped tones. "I'm thinking about ord'rin' one of those."

"I don't think they sell the host, Spike," Giles admonished. "Not that you could bite him anyway," the Watcher added with a touch of malice.

Wes threw Spike a disgusted look, turning down the volume so that, at least, the hosts perky, oddly nasal tones would no longer penetrate quite so deeply into his own brain and that of Giles.

"Thank you," Giles said gratefully. "I was beginning to support the idea of giving him to Spike as a meal."

Silence reigned for some time. Wesley paced, Giles' spellbook in hand, reading and re-reading the spell Giles hoped to use tomorrow night. Wes wondered fretfully what they would be able to use to contain the demons. If they could not contain them then, at best, they set the demons free to wander the world again. At worst ... he sighed.

"Oh, good Lord!" Giles exclaimed.

"Have you found something useful?" Wesley asked.

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. It was a familiar gesture for him, giving him time to think, to visualize. His eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep and too much reading. They were dry and grated to the touch. His head throbbed and seemed to float in a cloud oversaturated with particles of unrelated information. He sighed.

"Not useful; quite possibly problematic, though."

"How so?" Wesley asked

"In a prophecy by Namor, he speaks of the very 'maw of Hell' and of the spawning there of the 'water-bred demons' in the eighth century after Vinarava's reign in the demon realm." Giles paused while Wes did some quick mental math. After a brief silence, Wesley concurred with Giles that the prophecy would seem to indicate the events they now faced.

"And on the earth they shall cause great consternation, defiling men and women and children without regard until their time shall come. To the very maw of Hell the water-bred demons shall be drawn and shall there spawn, unleashing on the world another thousand years of torment...," Giles quoted.

"Typical prophetical wording," Wesley commented.

Giles nodded absent-mindedly as he continued. "The souled one shall a vessel be. His cries shall ring out. He shall call on the Powers and if they listen, shall the world be saved."

"Angel!" Wesley exclaimed. "Then he is the key."

"There's more," Giles added glumly. "'But of the Moon Beast, hiding in the visage of a companion, who shall say? He shall have no recourse with the Powers and through him can their work be unmade."

"The Moon Beast? I don't...," Wesley stopped, aghast as the import of Giles' words became clear to him.

From the couch Spike sat up and gazed over at the other two Brits. Though the vampire had no affection for any of the humans with whom he was forced to associate, Willow was his favorite and what Giles had quoted was not lost on him.

"Will you tell her?" Spike asked.

"God, no," Giles answered. "Not unless we have to. We need all of Willow's attention focused on these spells and ... we simply can't risk it."

"Yeah, please. The last time she had trouble 'focusing' on her spells I ended up engaged to that dimwitted Sl- uh, Buffy."

Wesley started to speak when all of what Spike had said hit him and he choked on the words in his throat. His face went bright red as he coughed repeatedly and struggled for breath. At last he gasped out, "Engaged? to *Buffy*?!?!? I... Giles?"

Giles shook his head. "It's a long, *painful* story. One we'd all like to forget, I assure you."


Flatly, Spike explained, "She did a spell to have her will done. It went wrong. Bad things happened. Can we move on?"

"Yes, please," Giles agreed with his enemy.

"I...of course. It's just...to think of-" Wes stopped and looked at Spike, then shook his head.

"Yes, we know," Giles told him.

"She tried this spell because of Oz?"

"In a way," Giles told him. "We just can't take a chance with the distraction."

"And *I* don't want to end up mouth to mouth with Buffy again," Spike reminded him.

"Yes, Spike, I think you've made that quite clear. Thank you." Giles looked back at the prophecy. There could be no doubt it spoke of the Vesparys demons, of Angel, and of a werewolf. 'The Moon Beast' had to be a reference to the animal transformation wrought by the full moon on those infected. It was something of a leap, some might say, to assume the werewolf would be Oz, but that bit about him hiding in the 'visage of a companion'. That would seem to indicate Oz. Plus, Giles thought wryly to himself, the Hell Mouth had a way of combining all the various ingredients you hoped you'd never see together into one lump.

Wesley had picked up the volume of prophecy and was reading through it himself. On one hand, it sounded a bit hopeful. If Angel could use his connections to the Powers-that-Be...

"What do you suppose this Namor bloke meant by the 'Powers'?" Spike asked, concerned inasmuch as his own hide might be at risk.

"I'm not entirely certain," Giles confessed.

"I am," Wesley told them. "Angel has dealt with them before, when-" he stopped. Cordelia had told him of Buffy's last visit to see Angel, how she and the vampire had been attacked by a Mohra demon, tracked it; how Angel killed it, but not before some of their blood was mixed and Angel rendered a mortal man again. She told him how Angel had been freed from his obligation to the Powers. She also explained how the Mohra had regenerated itself and in trying to kill it again, Angel had nearly lost his new-gained life. Realizing he and Buffy had a higher duty, he had asked the Oracles to fold time, to give them back the day he and Buffy had spent together. It had amazed Wesley as much as it had impressed Cordelia and Doyle. It had opened his eyes to how very much of the quality people called 'humanity' resided in one not at all human. Angel only remembered those hours, keeping them so the results would not be repeated in an endless cycle. Buffy had been lost to him then, remembering nothing of the brief euphoria they had shared. Cordy had ended by telling him how Buffy had stalked out of Angel's office, angry, bitter, and how Angel had let her go, taking upon himself everything seen and not seen, felt and not felt, said and spun back into the twin voids of time and the unsaid. Wesley would have liked to tell Giles, but knew it was not his choice and he had no intention of saying anything around Spike. "Angel has dealt with them before. After his friend, Doyle, died. He spoke with their Oracles. It is the Powers who send the visions, who guide Angel."

Giles was nodding. "So, it could be if he calls on them, they might help him."

Wes shrugged doubtfully. "They intervene rarely in the affairs of the world, preferring only to guide, not direct, the actions of those of us, here....below, I suppose you could say."

Giles pondered the words. There were never easy solutions in Sunnydale and hoping some magical force would simply step in and save Angel and Oz, if it was indeed Oz, was wishful thinking. Not to mention, wishes, wants, and dreams had a tendency to turn out the reverse of what one expected. The Hell Mouth rather redefined the old chestnut 'Be careful what you wish for.'

"Giles? Didn't Namor write in a form of Greek?"

"Yes, he did, actually. The Neo-Attican formula devised for the rendering of demon prophecy, if I remember correctly. Complex, code-like version of Greek. Er...Thompson on the Council was an expert in it, I believe."

Wesley was nodding now. He grinned tiredly at Giles. "Would you care to guess who my language master was when I joined the Council?"

Giles returned the smile. "The original prophecy is a few pages back, I believe."

"Shall I give it a try? See if I can discern anything different?"

"I'll get the coffee," Giles offered as they younger man seated himself, found the original prophecy, and began his own translation of the passage.

It took him nearly an hour to work his way through the code. "I think I've got something," he announced, handing his version to Giles.

"Others? Not Powers?" Giles asked.

"Yes, the word used is one whose root has a number of translations. 'Powers' is one translation, but I believe if you look at the time in which Namor was writing, apply the linguistic subtleties of his time to the word...well, I think 'others' is more valid."

"You're saying 'Powers' is more modern?"

Wesley nodded.

"So, we have 'He shall call on the others and if they ... you have 'aid'...aid him..." Giles's voice trailed off. "That makes sense. He shall call on the others - Willow, Buffy, Cordelia, you, myself...all of us... and if we 'aid' him-"

"If we can aid him, I should think," Wes interrupted.

Giles nodded again. "Yes, if we can aid him the world shall be saved, but the Moon Beast shall have no recourse. The prophecy assumed we wouldn't know who the werewolf was, would not try to help him."

"Well, after all, prophecy is not an exact science," Wes added.

Both men looked almost hopeful for the first time in a long time. Even Giles' finding of the casting out spells had not had such an effect. Spike got their attention by clearing his throat.

"You two do know, dontcha, that littul Red is bloody likely to figger things out when she sees her great, shaggy loverboy has joined us?"

Sunnyrest Cemetery
Sunnydale, California
March25 - Sometime after Midnight

"Tell me about your sister," Buffy said without preamble. She and Mulder had been sitting quietly for a few minutes.

"Tell me about being a Slayer in love with a vampire," Mulder countered.

Buffy chuckled. "I'll tell you my sob story if you tell me yours."

Mulder smiled over at her. "You read my files. You know what happened."

"That's not what I mean - and you know it, Agent Mulder," Buffy insisted.

"You can call me 'Mulder'."

"Fine, *Mulder*. Tell me about Samantha."

Mulder told her the basics of that night on the Vineyard. He left out the things Scully had come to know over the years - his over- weening sense of failure and inadequacy; his need to protect fiercely anyone he let close enough to love him or whom he could love. He made mention, almost in passing, of his parents' divorce, excluding telling Buffy how in some ways he still felt responsible. He did not tell her how his life had been defined by the same two words that so shaped hers: if only. His story sounded much like the one he had first told Scully so many years ago. It was the version he'd told for years and it sounded hollow now.

"It wasn't your fault," Buffy told him. "But I'm sure Agent Scully has told you that many times."

He nodded and gave the blond a pained smile. "Have you ever had a vampire, or anything, get away, only to find later it killed again?"

Buffy nodded.

"Were you responsible?"

"No," she admitted. "Point taken, Age - uh...Mulder."

"I help people no one else will listen to I guess, because no one ever seemed to listen to me. I help them to forget for a little while that I couldn't help the one person who really mattered to me."

"Does it work?" Buffy challenged.

He shook his head. "When I'm not still searching for her, I'm stumbling over cases that remind me of her. Or, worse, I'm putting my partner in constant jeopardy, dragging her along on this 'heroic' quest of mine." His voice was hot and bitter.

"She didn't look too unwilling to me," Buffy told him. "She came ready to patrol tonight, didn't she?"


"Work?" Buffy laughed. "Mulder, this is *my* work. It's Angel's work. It's even Giles', and Willow's, and Xander's, and, odd as it seems to those of us who knew all too well, Cordelia's work. But this is *not* your work, nor hers. You wanted to be here and she wanted to be with you."

He shook his head. "She doesn't believe in this, any of it."

"She believes in you. Anyone can see that. She may not agree with you, but she believes in your dedication. Willow told me once, when Angel was evil and was doing some pretty scary stuff that one thing hadn't changed - I was all he thought about. You, this ...what did you call it? quest? ... even when she hates it, even when she doesn't believe in it, she believes in you."

"How old are you again?" Mulder demanded lightly.

Buffy smiled at him. She was about to make a joke, something along the lines of Slayer years being similar to dog years, when the second vamp of the night ran by.

"Not again!" she wailed with impatience. "Come on!"

This vampire was slower and Buffy was not intent on confusing 'her' agent. She soon caught up with him.

Mulder stood back and watched as she pummeled, kicked, head butted, and wrestled the demon to the ground.

"What is it with you guys, tonight? Can't you see we have company? Tsk, tsk...such bad manners means you have to go to bed without supper," she told the bloodsucker pinned beneath her left knee. She raised Mr. Pointy high in the air, prepared to dust the vamp without further ado.

"Wait," he begged. "I have information. Valuable information."

"Yeah?" Buffy asked. "Well, if it isn't about this Vesparys demon that thinks it can just come in to my town and spawn without so much as a -"

"It's about Angelus," the vamp interrupted. "I mean, Angel."

Buffy's face contorted in confusion. "What about Angel?"

"He's here in Sunnydale."

"I know that, you moron," Buffy told him. "You'll have to do better than that."

"The word down at Willy's is-"

"You heard this at Willy's?" Buffy interrupted this time. "Please."

"Wait! He's with a woman, right? About your size, only with red hair?"

Mulder closed the distance he'd kept between himself and Buffy and her quarry in the blink of an eye. "He's talking about Scully!"

"OK, so spill," Buffy threatened, brandishing Mr. Pointy more fiercely. "What about them?"

"Word has it a werewolf chased them into an old crypt...you know the one on the north side of..." He saw by Buffy's face she was no longer listening.

"And?" Mulder demanded.

"And a werewolf chased them into an old crypt," the vampire repeated.

"Yeah, we got that part. What the nice man means is what happened next?"

The vampire shrugged. "Tommy said he got out of Fair Haven as quickly as he could, said it was like running the hundred again."

Buffy looked down quizzically at the vampire. She realized he had been a football player and track star at Sunnydale High. One of Larry's obnoxious friends, she thought. "Anything else?"

He looked at her, trying desperately to think of something that might delay the point in time in which his still heart got an up close and personal introduction to the business end of Mr. Pointy.

"I didn't think so," Buffy said and plunged the stake in. The vamp exploded into a pile of dust, emitting that odd shrieking noise that is the death wail of the undead.

Mulder stared at her, stared at where the vamp had been, tried to get his brain around what he'd seen, but his brain just kept screaming Scully's name at him.

Buffy stood up. "She's with Angel. She's safe."

He nodded.

"We'll go see what we can do," she finally said. They turned and began running out of the cemetery.

Fairhaven Cemetery
Sunnydale, California
March24 - After Dark

"Isn't this about where that ... thing attacked us?" Scully asked, hugging her arms around herself. Her eyes scanned the headstones and bushes warily.

Angel nodded.

"Is it ... will it come back here?"

"Probably not," Angel told her. "I just want to see if anything around here gives us a clue to its human identity."

"You said it was Willow's boyfriend."

He nodded again. "I'm hoping I'm wrong."

Scully stood on the nicely manicured path down which they had earlier fled. Her eyes were thoughtful as they watched Angel's movements. She wasn't certain how long they'd been trapped in the crypt. It had been an interesting experience, one she knew would stay with her a long time. She wondered if Angel would agree with the late Alfred Felig's assertion that one can indeed live too long. She sighed, turning from where she stood to kneel down and examine some stones on the east side of the pathway.

Angel watched her from the corner of his eyes. She was at an angle to him and had moved off the path. With preternatural grace and that silent quickness that so unnerved mortals, he moved to the gravestone near which Xander had left Scully's cross. The handkerchief he'd used previously was wrapped around his scorched palm. With one deft movement, he slipped her golden talisman back into his pocket, the agent never having been aware it had left.

Though he had not expected to find anything relating to the werewolf, he was rewarded with a surprising find. A torn shirt, the pop culture logo now shredded beyond recognition, at least to Angel, had been discarded in the bushes. He picked it up. Certainty crawled along his spine. Oz, as a normal twenty-something male, was not a huge guy. The strips of fabric Angel now held would, in their united state, have fit someone of Oz's build.

Carrying the shirt, he headed back toward Scully. She heard his footsteps crunch on the crushed rock of the path. She looked up at him, seeing firstly the pained expression in his eyes. Then, she saw the shirt he was holding.

"You recognize it?" she asked. She had never met Oz, but found herself, after everything Angel had told her, wishing fervently it belonged to anyone else. Some horny teenager with a weird sense of the kinky. A recently reawakened vampire. Just not Willow's boyfriend.

He shook his head.

"That's good...isn't it?"

He handed her the shirt. "Describe the physical build of the guy who wore this shirt?"

She studied it, holding it by what was left of its shoulders. "Medium build, I'd say. Not too tall, not heavy, or bulked up. Is...?" She returned the shirt to him, where it dangled from one of his hands.

"Oz is a pretty slight guy, really."

Scully laid a hand on Angel's arm. "I'm sorry."

Angel looked over her head, staring at the bright, full moon. After some time, he looked down at her and gave her a wan smile. "I could still be wrong. It doesn't make a lot of sense - the demons wouldn't possess both me and Oz because..." his voice trailed off and he made a face.

Scully nodded. "Yeah," she agreed. "I get it."

"Scuh-leeeeee!" A voice called out just to the south of them.

Hastily, she withdrew her hand from Angel's arm. "Mulder?" she called out.

"Scuh-" he stopped as he rounded the corner and saw her standing with Angel. She was safe, Perfectly safe, as Buffy had said, had assured him.

Scully gave him an irritated look. *Hours* later he was concerned about her whereabouts?

"Mulder, I'm -"

"We heard you two were attacked by a werewolf," Mulder interrupted her. Having reached her at last, he hugged her tightly, grateful she was all right.

"We were," she told him, "but Angel knew of this abandoned...what?" "You were?" he asked, disbelieving ( a fact Scully would find amusing later).

She pulled away from his embrace and nodded. "Why?"

"*Scully*!" he exclaimed. "I said you were attacked by a werewolf and you *agreed*. Werewolves don't exist, though. I mean, wasn't it a wild dog? a rogue wolf? a really pissed off ground squirrel?"

"Mulder, you've never seen a werewolf, have you?" she teased.

Completely at a loss, Mulder looked from his partner to the vampire with whom she'd spent a big part of the evening. Angel shrugged.

The vampire caught Buffy's eye and the two exchanged guarded looks that said "Mission accomplished" in a wordless communication they had long shared.

"A werewolf attack?" Buffy asked Angel.

"Yeah, I'll tell you about it on the way back to Giles'"

The four started walking toward the entrance of the cemetery.

"Buffy... um...what do you call what you did to that one?" Mulder asked.

With a smile, she looked back at him, walking next to Scully, his hand resting protectively against the small of her back. "Dusted," she said cheerfully.

Mulder, awestruck glee sparkling in his eyes, started over. "Buffy dusted the second vampire we chased."

Angel looked at Buffy with concern. "The second?"

"Yeah," she said, surprise evident in her tone. "The first one got away, but then this second one ... it was weird."

"Was that the one who told you we'd been chased into the crypt?" Scully asked.

Buffy nodded.

"How'd he know?" Angel asked.

"Said he heard it at Willy's. Must have been big news in the demon underground," Buffy commented. "We really haven't had a lot of werewolf activity since-"

She stared up at Angel, her mouth a silent "O" of unwanted horror. "No. Un-huh," she insisted, though neither Angel nor Scully had said anything.

Without a word, Angel handed her the shirt Scully had so recently examined. Buffy made a small noise, an achy noise that started in her chest and caught in her throat. Years of practice swallowing sobs before they could be full born paid off for her in that moment.

"Have you ever seen it before?" Angel asked.

She nodded. It was the twin to a shirt Willow had. Something about a dog walking service...or rabbit...or...Buffy was mentally reeling too much to remember for certain. Not dogs, it was odd, some animal you wouldn't walk. The drawings were kind of like those ones from that comic, "Life in Hell" or whatever it was. She shook her head, trying to get her mind to focus on the thing it was avoiding.It didn't matter what was on the shirt. What mattered was Oz and Willow had found them at the flea market last summer, had thought it would be cute to have matching apparel, especially inexpensive matching apparel. They'd forgotten, of course, the fact that Willow, scheduled, organized, detail-oriented, did her laundry once a week and Oz, haphazard, spontaneous, ambiguous even, did his laundry when he ran out of clothing.

She pulled herself out of her pointless, mental ramble with a painful swallow. The lump in her throat could have been a stake for all she knew. "Oz ... had one."

Angel looked down at the ground. Whatever he'd planned on telling her about the attack was moot now. He would keep the details to a minimum.

"You ... knew?"

He shook his head. "Not until we were in the crypt. Then, I got thinking. We came back here, looking for ..evidence."

Buffy sighed heavily. "Just once I'd like the impossible task facing us to have one less impossible factor," she said in disgust. Muttering, she added, "Mayor's gonna become the world's biggest snake; Faith goes over to the Dark Side of the Force; a freak eclipse means his vamp boys can attack the student body...the Master kills me; I kill the Master; his followers try to wake up his lazy bones...some big, ugly, unstoppable demons want to get it on...etc. etc. etc.....and now it looks like Oz chooses this particular moment to make his comeback."

Angel chuckled at her. "Life on the Hell Mouth is hardly ever dull."

"You know, I remember one time, it was dull...for a few weeks there it actually was dull." She sighed again. "Xander jinxed us. Xander observed how vamp-free, demon-less our lives had been. This is *all* Xander's fault!"

Angel looked puzzled. They all walked along in silence for a few minutes. Finally, the vampire asked, "When was that?"

Buffy looked up at him, her face still clouded by fear. "When was what?"

"Sunnydale - dull," Angel stated for her.

"Oh," she said distractedly. "Just before I found about my mom and Ted." She suppressed a shiver, recalling the memory of the self-made robotic serial killer.

"Buffy, that was two years ago!" Angel exclaimed.

"Yeah, so?" she asked. "Believe me, I have it in my diary - Dear Diary, almost two whole weeks of dead un-dead activity." She grimaced. "We can't tell Willow. I mean, she's dealing, better than ever before and this...we can't tell Willow."

"I know," Angel agreed.

Late night silence surrounded them while they continued their walk back to Giles'. As they approached the agents' rented car, Mulder explained he and Scully would go ahead and go back to their hotel. "Unless you need us...?"

Buffy shook her head. "We'll talk to Giles. You have that report you're going to have to send to your boss." She smiled sympathetically, thinking at least Giles had never gone so far, when he was her Watcher, as to require essays.

"Do we do this again tomorrow?" Mulder asked.

Buffy looked at Angel. Angel took the lead, telling them he and Buffy would talk with Giles, suggesting they call Giles in the morning.

Both agents agreed. Mulder opened the door for his partner. Seeming to remember at the last minute, Angel extracted Scully's cross from his pocket. He handed it back to her. "Get a new chain for that tomorrow. You'll need it around here."

She nodded. Mulder, having gotten in and started the car, drove off as Angel stood up.

Angel and Buffy faced one another. As if of one mind, they turned to go in to talk to Giles and Wesley.

Giles looked up from his book as the door opened. He grew concerned, seeing how tired Buffy appeared tonight. He narrowed his eyes too at the look in her eyes. The exhaustion mingled with despair and remorse. Wesley cleared his throat, reminding Giles of the grim suspicion he had to tell Buffy.

"Yes...er," Giles muttered. "Buffy, I don't know quite how to tell you this. It ... well, there is an obscure prophecy that would seem - possibly; you know how it goes with prophecies, after all - anyway, as I was saying-"

"Oz is back," Buffy interrupted him.

"You know?" Giles asked.

"Agent Scully and I were attacked by a werewolf. It chased us into the old crypt on the north side of Fair Haven," Angel explained.

"Is Agent Scully all right?" Wesley asked.

Angel nodded.

"Did Willow get her spells done?" Buffy asked.

From the couch Spike said, "Yup, Red got her magick done all proper-like."

For the first time Buffy and Angel noticed Spike's presence. Both rolled their eyes. Buffy walked over to one of Giles' barstools and sat herself down on one. Her shoulders slumped.

Angel had moved quietly to her side. He didn't touch her, couldn't bear the thought of her skin under his. As close as he was, he could hear the beat of her heart and the flow of her blood in her veins. The burdens she bore weighed heavily on shoulders nature hadn't designed to carry such mass and he could feel her slipping into the ache of destiny, the meaning of being the Slayer. In his flawless memory he saw her at sixteen, at seventeen, at eighteen, knowing things no girl should know, her young face centered around eyes as old as his own. If it were only the world she had to save, Angel doubted it would hurt her this deeply. Instead, as ever, it was personal. Upon her actions rested the lives of her friends. In silence she would follow the lead of her destiny, would die, kill, or feed a loving demon for them. The loneliness was an insurmountable void at times. He was the only one in her life who could ever truly understand how she lived. He had, in his strong, abiding love for her, forfeited his place by her side, his right to stroke away her pain as his fingers rippled through her hair, his right to kiss away her fear as his lips sought hers in an endless dance, his right to hold back the demons and monsters that plagued her by wrapping her in his arms.

Buffy looked at Angel, watched his eyes meet hers, almost defiantly. The love she doubted, that pierced her soul through and through, shone from his eyes and for a moment it stirred in her a vision of something that never happened, the fantasy she'd dreamt countless days since learning he was a vampire. She shook her head, her face flickering with confusion, her fingers tingling with the sensation of Angel's skin against her fingertips, his heart beating steadily beneath them, his face smiling at her, full of love, rapture, and most of all, life.

"Buffy?" Giles asked.

She looked up. "Sorry," she paused and looked at Angel who still stared at her, the flare of love banked down again in his eyes. "I ...uh ... nothing."

"Are you certain it's Oz? I mean, the prophecy we found tells of a 'Moon Beast', but that doesn't necessarily mean..." he stopped. Angel was holding up the tattered shirt.

"Doesn't Red have one just like that?" observed Spike from his sofa vantage point.

Glumly, Buffy nodded. "She and Oz bought them to match."

"Wull, thass a bit tacky, if you ask me," Spike said.

"We didn't ask you, Spike," Angel menaced.

Spike shrugged, lifted an eyebrow, and sank back down into the couch.

"You know, Buffy, that doesn't mean-" Wesley started.

"I found it right near where the werewolf attacked us," Angel told them. "The transformation probably took place there."

Giles nodded in agreement.

"I think one of the demons is going to possess Oz," Angel added.

"So do we," Wesley told him. "The prophecy Giles has found would seem to bear that out."

"It explains Cordelia's first vision," Angel stated.

"You know, I'm still not clear on the whole vision thingy," Buffy said. "I thought your friend, Doyle, got them."

"He did." Angel's voice was tight, his lips drawn.

"So, how did Cordelia end up with this gig?"

Angel stared at the floor for a few moments. The souls he had taken haunted his dreams. The souls he could not save lurked around every corner. Doyle's soul hounded his every step, reminding him of his utter powerlessness in the face of fate. "We were trying to help some... people." He stopped.

Wesley finished softly, his voice reflecting the awe he felt. "Doyle knowingly sacrificed himself so that Angel and the others might live."

"The good fight," Angel said tersely, trying to banish the memories of Doyle's earnest face from his mind. He tried not to hear those words of his on that ad Cordelia had made. 'Is that it? Am I done then?' he had said, nervous, eager, almost humble.

"I'm still not clear how..."

"Doyle had a ...crush on Cordelia," Angel explained. "When he'd made his decision, he kissed her goodbye."

"And this 'gift'? It was transferred from your friend to Cordelia?" Giles asked. "How interesting."

"Oh, quite. I assure you," Wes added. "It took Angel some time, I think, to convince Cordelia to stop kissing any passing stranger."

Buffy looked up. The image Wes's words presented cheered her slightly. Everyone was silent for a few moments, lost in their own private 'might-have-beens'.

After a while, Buffy broke the silence. "Giles, did you find anything that might help us stop these things?"

"I believe I may have, yes," he informed her.

Giles explained the spell to Buffy and Angel, adding that Cordelia would get the needed items at the magic shop while he, Willow, and Wesley practiced the incantations before the next nightfall. He told them his only concern was what to do with the demons if they could indeed cast them out of the hosts.

"Many demons require special containers, specific to their species, in which to be held captive. Some are strong enough to break out of any conventional box or anything we might use. Wesley and I are hoping we can find some clue in time."

"I'll see if I can arrange anything," she told them, then yawned, covering her mouth. She announced her intention of leaving, getting some small amount of sleep before facing the next day. Angel walked out with her.

"Will you be OK?" he asked. "It's late and..."

"Angel, I'm the *Slayer*, remember? It's better to ask if the bad guys will be safe from me."

He smiled at her, nodding.

She reached the gate that led out of the courtyard. Angel was still a few steps behind her. "Buffy," he called out, his voice urgent.

She turned and he saw the fear on her face. He knew without asking, without having to hear her say it, that the fear was for him, that in the few moments her back had been to him, every nightmare made real by Faith's poisoned arrow was about to be revisited upon her. The scar on her neck tingled slightly. Absent-mindedly, she rubbed it.

Angel said nothing. The power of speech seemed to have deserted him after the two syllables of her name. He crossed the distance that remained between them. She could not speak, could not demand what he was doing, before his lips crushed hers in a kiss that had her head spinning, her body aching with familiar desire, and her memories sparkling like stars seen through fog.

Her arms came up around his neck, drawing his mouth down more firmly to hers as she returned his passionate kiss with one of her own.

Courtyard of Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
Early Morning March24

Memories sucked Angel's human soul into a vortex laced with the pleasure of loving Buffy and the agony of being absent from her. Clarity broke over him in uncontrolled waves, the visions he always carried with him supplemented now by the taste of her hot, human lips against his. The smell of her shampoo, perfume, fabric softener, even her make-up tumbled the images wildly in his head. Then she made a sound, small, aching, desperate, as she tried to pull away. He felt the demon within him rise to the surface, contort his features and his own possessed blood demanded he hold her all the more tightly, crushing her mouth against his until she fought for the breath he hadn't needed in two and a half centuries.

She pulled back, gasping, angry, yearning for another of his punishing kisses. The 'normal' girl in her, the one she tried so hard to be, lifted a hand to his cheek, intending to slap him with every bit of her Slayer strength. Instead she traced the never-to-be-forgotten contours of his vampire face.

In his eyes she was sixteen again, seeing him this way for the first time, witnessing his true nature. She was the girl, who months later, had told him she no longer even noticed the transformation, revealing to him with those few gentle words the truth that his real nature lay buried beneath the centuries of violence and pain. She had seen all he could be and he had wanted to be what she envisioned.

He trembled slightly as her fingers glided along his forehead. She stood on tiptoe to reach and the action pressed her body against his. He closed his eyes and his world narrowed to her touch, the burning sensation of her mortal flesh on his. Her fingers pulled him back to the night, yet another filled with fear and desperation, when she had given herself to him, making him almost human again, it seemed, as he had made love to her with an understanding the boy he'd been in Ireland could never have had. As his hands had stroked her body into a glow and his lips had teased from her heat she'd never felt, he had begun to see his purpose in the world, to understand and accept, maybe for the first time, why he'd been sired. She had loved him in all her vulnerability, giving him the illusory sensation of a life interrupted suddenly regained.

Her fingers trailed over his mouth and he caught one in his lips, kissing it lightly, wanting not to think of the price they could pay if either of them ever gave in to the temptation raging between them now. Stripped down to nothing, both killers, cold and pure, they had fought; he to end the world; she to save it. The girl whose love had taken his soul had given it back a little too late.

He'd watched her carry that guilt, as she carried every thing else in her life. It wasn't an easy load and she'd stumbled, often and sometimes badly. Yet in the end, she always put her feet on the path rightly, giving of herself until so little was left you wondered how she existed at all. He realized as he looked into her eyes it had been nearly a year since he'd kissed her at all, the long, luxurious moments of last November living in his memory alone.

Her eyes blazed with a passion no other creature could ignite within her. He was the one love without whose existence she would fade away. No matter how she tried to move forward because she knew she had to, he would always pull at her heart. Deep inside, where all the secrets were locked, she would never stop aching for him. For no reason, she tasted mint on her tongue. Mint and the slightly salty tang of post-coital skin. Ice cream in bed. Chocolate and peanut butter. Laughter and love and being the girl she'd always dreamed of.

In a gateway, a temple of sorts beneath the post office in Los Angeles, the Oracles felt the chill breath of destiny.

In a scroll case, locked tightly in the vampire-proof vaults of Wolfram and Hart, an ancient prophecy shimmered in the darkness, waiting.

In Sunnydale, underneath a full moon, Buffy Summers' mind played snippets of scenes about which she should know nothing. And Angel could not banish the feeling of the last time, in this reality, his lips had touched her body.

His vampire side, the demon in his blood called out for hers. He longed to sink his teeth into the soft flesh of her neck, to drink until the unsatisfied tickle within him was gone, to make her like him, to abandon all she had made of him.

She stared up at him, those eyes of hers deep with the heat of lust. She panted raggedly, in breaths that Angel could feel even before they escaped her mouth. He met the ferocity of her gaze with a wild, dangerous passion of his own.

He knew he never should have followed her out here. His conversation with Agent Scully was too close, had awakened in him so many things that slept in the darkness of his heart, things that should never see light. Now Buffy stood next to him, as eager as he was, her heart pounding in her ribcage, sending her blood screaming through her body. She was so close, so vulnerable. Though she may have been the Slayer, the demon in him knew he could overpower her. Knew too, in the end, her vulnerability lay most deeply in the fact she would never really fight him, would instead cling to the irrational hope things would differ a second time around.

The full moon, bathing them in its bright, day-like glow, seemed, for reasons no one could explain, to have its own effect on them, though not as extreme as that it had on those like Oz. Angel tried to tell himself that moon was the reason he wanted her beyond all rational thought, beyond caring about anything that would inevitably follow a few moments of passion. Loving her one more time seemed worth it.

The human side of him, the soul restored to him by the Romani, by Jenny Callendar's ancestors, whispered its plea, winding its insistent mantra - no, you can't; she can't; no, not with her - into the few thoughts he still possessed. Through the cacophony of his own blood and the symphonic beat of her heart pumping the blood that sizzled inside her, sizzled for him, through it all, the whisper continued. The quiet voice, in its gentle familiarity, prevailed. Angel turned to go.

On an instinct buried in her heart's memory, she reached out, brushed the top of his hand with hers. Giles' courtyard dissolved around them, leaving them standing in the void of time-undone. The whisper in Angel's head rose to a scream, lashing him with the litany of consequences, the bare list of names of his victims. He swept it away, allowed the roar of passion to deafen him, allowed his soul, for the first time in so long, to call out for hers.

She was reaching for him, pressing her hand into the back of his neck, pulling his lips to hers as he pinned her against the wall. Vines climbed the walls, flowered, and hid them in their generous profusion. He kissed her until she couldn't breathe, bruising her lips, marking her arms where his hands gripped her, holding on to her in a display of his immense power over her. And a recognition of his powerlessness before her. Slayers do not easily bruise, but she would have the marks of his strong hands on her for days.

His hands stroked her hair, as he had longed to do, had not done since she had lain in his arms, just days before her senior prom. The reality they lived and the day he had un-made mingled as he sunk easily into his reclaimed right to kiss her, hold her, touch her. Protect *her*, the Class Protector of Sunnydale High, Class of 2000. She who needed protection only from herself. She let him, gave her lips heedlessly to the pleasure of his mouth on hers.

She had almost forgotten the feel of his hands on her, of his lips tasting her. Memories burst in her head, her whole life, what seemed to be her whole life, centered on him, on her need for him. She moaned, softly, helplessly, as he pressed her tiny frame against the stucco wall.

The moon slipped behind the clouds that scrolled lazily by, surrounding the two with a comforting darkness. Neither noticed. The darkness was too familiar, too inviting to want to notice.

Sunnyrest Motor Lodge
Sunnydale, California Early Morning,

Scully had been silent during the drive back to the hotel. Mulder had told her, excitedly, about his night with Buffy. She had nodded from time to time or smiled distractedly at him. They were in the parking lot before he remembered Skinner's phone call.

"Skinner wants a report. Tomorrow. First thing."

She nodded, her eyes distant as she unhooked her seat belt.

She turned to open her door when Mulder laid his hand on her arm. She looked down at his hand, seeming barely to recognize it. "Scully? Are you OK?" he asked, his eyes creased in concern and sudden distrust of Angel.

She blinked slowly, coming back to the moment. She nodded. "I'm fine, Mulder."

He continued to regard her steadily. "Are you sure? Did Angel do...?"

She smiled at him, a real smile at last. Her voice was warm and genuine. "Really, I'm fine, Mulder. Angel didn't - we talked."

"About werewolves?" Mulder teased.

She laughed at him. "Among other things."

Mulder was still surprised that his skeptical partner seemed as accepting as she was. He sat back and looked hard at her. Her mind was far from him again. He stroked the back of her hand, garnering her attention once again, though he sensed she gave him only a small portion of her thought processes. "Now you think he's a vampire?"

She shook her head uncertainly. "I ... there are things about Angel I can't explain. There are things about this whole town I can't even *begin* to explain."

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Scully stared down at her hands. Mulder watched Scully watch her hands. When she spoke again her voice was low. He had to lean closer to hear her properly.

"I've seen a lot, been through a lot, Mulder, but ... if even half of what Angel told me tonight is true ... even if there's nothing supernatural about *any* of it..." her voice trailed off.

Mulder thought of Buffy, her composure, her confidence. Scully was right. Even if the whole lot of them were delusional, those delusions had somehow combined to make extraordinarily strong people. Of course, after watching Buffy slay that second vampire, if she and her friends were delusional, then so was he.

"I really did see her slay one, you know," he told Scully.

She looked at him, head tilted so that her gaze came up at him, from underneath heavy eyelids and feathery lashes. "And?"

He shrugged. "It could have been a trick of moonlight."

"But it wasn't," she supplied.

He shook his head.

Without further conversation, Scully got out of the car. Mulder got out of his side quickly and walked with her, his hand resting in the small of her back, to her door. From her purse, she took out the key, grateful in a way for the old-fashioned keys at their cheap, dingy little motel. Mulder loomed over her and she was acutely aware of him, aware of his body heat and the sound of his breathing.

Dana Scully hadn't ever been a shy child. As a teenager she had gone through the inevitable awkward stage, but she had always been reasonably sure of herself. During her adult years, she had become used to the need, in her chosen line of work, to be forceful, to defy the expectations of the Old Boys' Club. Though Mulder, in their early association, had been able to unbalance her occasionally with his wild theories and his challenging demeanor, she had not once felt shy of him. In that moment, caught between the firmly shut door of her single hotel room and his palpable physical presence, she couldn't meet his gaze. Angel's words in the crypt played in a repeating loop inside her head, his voice stroking the words, imparting a soft, secret depth to them in his tone. "He looks at you the way I look at Buffy. And trust me, Agent Scully, after two hundred and forty four years, I know true love when I see it."

Mulder watched her, befuddled, completely at a loss to understand his partner's sudden awkwardness. He felt, for a brief instant, just as he did taking Sally McCardle home after their first and only date, wondering desperately if he should kiss her, wanting to, but not daring. Somehow he doubted Scully would slap him, the way Sally had had a reputation of doing to suitors who got too fresh. This was worse. He felt convinced if he so much as said the wrong words, she would open the door that, at the moment being closed, kept her so close to him and would flee into the sanctuary of her solitary room, leaving him to the solemnity of his.

Scully moved after long, uncomfortable moments passed them by. She slid the key into the lock and turned it. The latch clicked and she opened the door, backing her way into the dark room. As she faded into the blackness within, she looked up at Mulder and he saw in her eyes the thing he thought he saw from time to time, but of which he felt he could never be certain. Desire, fierce and protective, glowed in the light of her eyes and the curve of her lips.

She touched his hand in parting and whispered a good night that almost seemed an invitation rather than a farewell. Immobilized by surprise and the fear that bound him, he stood still, watching her hand creep up the side of the door, slowly, as if she waited for him to move. Mentally berating himself for his accustomed lack of follow-through, he stared as the door closed softly, denying him his chance to chase his heart's desire.

He stood where he was, thinking again of his young companion of this evening. Nineteen years old. Certain of what she wanted in life; certain she would get it. Certain the way nineteen year- olds are. Yet assured with a certainty beyond her years. Steady and calm with a wisdom born of so much adversity, but also of a great deal of fortune. Buffy Summers, alone, unique in her calling as Mulder had made himself alone, unique, had made a choice Fox Mulder had not. She had chosen the warmth and support of a loyal group of friends. Friends kept, not on the fringes of her life, but fully a part of all she did, all she was. She had loved Angel, had seen him become a monster, had brought him back and killed him all at once, had been given a second chance with him, and had let him go, in the end. Though he had heard in her voice the ever freshness of those wounds, she had feared neither loving him, not letting him go because she had not made him her only ally. He amended his words in his mind. She had feared those things, assuredly. She had not let her fear master her.

With a sigh, he moved the few feet to his door and let himself in. Exhaustion hit him like a Mack truck and he fell onto his bed, bothering only to kick off his shoes before sleep found him.

In her room, Scully leaned against her door, wishing it open again, wishing she could bring herself to look into Mulder's eyes, wondering if she would see what Angel saw. His words had stunned her only in the idea that someone else saw what floated unspoken between herself and her partner.

She moved away only when she heard the sound of Mulder's door opening and closing. She listened for the sound of the TV coming through the thin walls, but heard nothing. It was possible, for once, that Mulder had gone straight to bed, too tired for even the insomnia to hold on to him.

Despite her own exhaustion, she knew sleep was still far from her. With her usual precision, she changed, hanging her black slacks on a hanger, examining the hemline critically for dust or grass stains left from their heedless flight from the werewolf. She sighed. The hems were both dusty and still damp and would probably look even muddier in the morning. If this case went on much longer she was going to have to find a good dry cleaner.

She slipped into her pajamas, washed her face, brushed her teeth, and laid between the cool sheets on the too-soft mattress. The pillow was surprisingly plump for a place such as this. She sighed, feeling the small luxury it afforded her. In the dark, she stared at the ceiling until her eyes adjusted and it became a thing of odd plaster swirls and not a part of the fathomless ether of space.

She rolled over, wanting the pillow onto which she tossed her arm to be Mulder's chest instead, giving in as she never used to do to the fantasy of him in her bed, holding her. The ache inside of her, the one produced by the many things she had witnessed, by the people she had lost, by the future she would never hold, but produced mostly by too many years spent sleeping alone and waking up to the spectre of solitude, that ache turned itself over, making her catch her breath. Angel's words, their long conversation in the crypt, invited the loneliness in to her heart, a place to which it was so long used to coming it rarely knocked anymore, giving no warning, only taking up its familiar position just outside the periphery of her senses.

She wasn't sure if Angel was lonely because of his vampiric condition or if somehow the loneliness hadn't led him to that condition. She knew only that in her life, loneliness was sucking her dry, bleeding the soul out of her one precious drop at a time, weakening her imperceptibly with each gentle, seductive pull at the wound it had made in her spirit. She knew she was perilously close to the end, the point where she stopped even fighting and gave in, believed the words she told her mother, her brother, the few friends she had sort-of retained. I'm happy in my life, she always told them. Soon, it would be true, but only because the thing she had once prized as life would be gone, replaced by a mechanical existence spent chasing Mulder while he chased his aliens and the ghost of his sister, spent wanting to make any sort of life with him but never having the strength to force that final shift in the evolution that had brought them this far.

Sunnyrest Motor Lodge
Agent Dana Scully's room
Sunnydale, California
Early Morning March24

Scully sighed and turned over again. The walls in this place were so thin she was deeply grateful there was no one in the room to the left side of her. From Mulder's room, to the right, she had heard nothing. She let that worry her slightly. Worrying about Mulder's physical condition was easier than thinking of the numerous 'life lessons' Angel had imparted to her a few hours before. In the dark she smiled, the irony of her tossing and turning was not lost on her. She could imagine quite easily what Angel would say to her right at that moment.

"You're not immortal, are you, Agent Scully?" he might say with a devious twinkle in his eyes.

She would shake her head.

"Then what are you waiting for?"

"The right time," she would reply, with the confidence of a resident of Stepford, one who knows her lines perfectly.

He would snort mildly at her.

"I don't know what to say to him," she might tell Angel, pleading with him to release her from the one task that frightened the hell out of her with surprising ferocity.

He would stare at her, his expression unchanged, his eyes cool and appraising.

His eyes amazed her most of all, she reflected as she laid in her bed. She had seen the expression in them change only twice. The times he had transformed, had shown the face of the demon that resided within him, his eyes had glowed a dull, cruel yellow. And when he had looked at Buffy. A spark he kept well hidden leapt from his face whenever his gaze found her. His eyes softened, deepened, became vulnerable as they focused on the one person, she had learned, he had ever truly allowed himself to need.

"True love, Angel?" she had asked skeptically after he made his romantic statement to her. "Really?"

"You don't believe in true love, Scully?" he had challenged her.

She had gazed at him, a slight smile resting on her lips. After what seemed like a long time, she had looked out into the crypt, examining its stone walls, shivering slightly in thinking over the purpose of this place. She knew her voice had been soft, lacking its usual confidence, when she had spoken at last. "Agent Mulder has a poster on the wall, in his office. It says, "I want to believe"."

"In what?" Angel had asked.

She had shaken her head slowly. "I'm not sure anymore. The poster has a picture of a UFO on it. I think - " she had paused for quite a while, trying to shepherd her jumbled thoughts into an orderly procession. "I used to think he had it because of his sister, because he wanted to believe in aliens who had taken her away. *If* he believed, *if* they existed, then he could get her back, I suppose."

"You don't think that now?"

She had shrugged. "Agent Mulder has had much of what he once held true proven to be false, or at the very least, highly doubtful." She had paused again. "I've lost a great deal myself. Maybe we've both reached a point where we just want to believe in something, anything, just to have a pretty picture to cling to, even if it isn't real." She had looked back at him then.

Angel's eyes had narrowed. He had smiled slightly at her and she had noticed for the first time that his smile was quite crooked. "You think true love is just some pretty picture to comfort yourself with when everything else is gone?"

"I - in a way, yes," she had admitted.

"It isn't just that," he had told her flatly. "Not unless that's all you let it be."

"But you and Buffy ... you're not together. I mean- " she had stopped, aware Angel probably didn't know about the other young man Buffy had been with when Scully and Mulder had first encountered her.

He had shaken his head. "No," he had admitted, his voice tight. "We're not. But it's not because we don't love each other, Scully. True love doesn't necessarily mean you can be with the person."

She had smiled, a hint of triumph in the expression. "In all the fairy tales-"

He had interrupted her, his voice bitter and raw. "In all the *original* versions of the fairy tales, Agent, the lovers have a tendency toward dying." He had stopped, looked at her with fire glowing in the depths of his dark, enchanting eyes. "You aren't the kind of woman who's ever believed in 'happily ever after', anyway."

"Did you - believe in 'happily ever after'? Before, I mean."

"Before I become a vampire?"

She had nodded.

He had shrugged, raising his eyebrows at her slightly. "I didn't believe in much of anything, except drinking, gaming, and wenching-"

"Wenching?" she had interrupted with an astonished giggle.

He had smiled at her. "Wenching. It was what we called it."

Trying to stifle her giggles, she had said, "I know that. It's just ... I've never heard anyone actually *use* the term, outside of a historical novel that is."

His smile had been gentle.

"Right," she had agreed, hiding her smile behind her hand, understanding his unspoken point. "So, you um...believed in wenching?"

"Among other things," he had concurred, his smile matching the one she had not been able to erase.

"But not true love?"

He had given her that small shake of his head again. It was a slow, subtle gesture that he seemed to imbue with a certain gravity and depth.

"Not until you met Buffy?"

"Not until Buffy let herself fall in love with me," he had amended. "Someone so strong, so ... independent, yet at the same time, so loyal, stunned me. I'd never known anyone like her, not in two hundred and forty years. That this girl, who fights her destiny tooth and nail, who has learned to give into it only on her own terms, that she found anything in me to love... For the first time in my existence, mortal or immortal, I felt like the sort of man who could be loved the way the hero in the stories always is."

"Do you ever find it almost too much to deal with?"

He had snorted bitterly. "Why do you think I left, Scully?

She had nodded.

He had gazed at her, evaluating her it seemed. "You've thought about walking away?"

"I was assigned to the X File cases originally to prove all of Mulder's theories wrong. We should have been adversaries, but - we've ended up ... anything but. Still, my life was never supposed to be this way; this was Mulder's choice, Mulder's pursuit. But-" she was quiet for a few moments. "Mulder ... sometimes with him it's like he's lost so much that I feel like I'm all he has left. As if all the good things in his life depend on me."

Angel had been silent, waiting for the words inside her to tumble out, to whisper along the gray stone of the crypt. He had sat with the infinite patience of an immortal, appearing to know her secrets would spill out until she had said what was in her heart. She had known her confidences would be just that.

She had taken a deep breath, then spoken much as Angel had, baldly, without preamble. "I almost died a few years ago. Cancer." She had looked at Angel, who had simply nodded at her. She had found herself relaxing into the telling of her life, the litany of the chaos that consumed everything she had once wanted. "The cancer was not ... a chance of nature or genetics. It was given to me by a group of men who wanted to use me to destroy Mulder."

"Given to you?" Angel had asked.

She had sighed and smiled tiredly. "Sometimes my life story feels like an epic novel, with so many players and chapters and conflicting, contradictory plotlines. It's hard to know where to start," she had given a light snort. "... or end." She had stopped, looked down at her fingers.

Angel's gaze had followed hers. When she had looked back up at him his expression was unfathomable to her. He had seemed very far away. His eyes had met hers and he had tilted his head slightly, indicating she should continue.

"I was abducted. I've never learned exactly what happened to me during the time I was gone, but after a few years I found a chip in my neck. Here," she had told him, bending her head to show him the tiny scar.

The level of trust she had displayed had not been lost on Angel. Her hair had cascaded over her face, obscuring any vision she might have had, leaving herself vulnerable to a demonic predator. His fingers, cold, lifeless, yet surprisingly reassuring had traced the small line.

"You had it removed," he had observed.

"And that's what gave me my cancer."

He had teased her then, "Gotta love that scientific technology."

She had smiled, a small, tight look tinged with bitterness.

"So you *almost* died?"

"Mulder ... um ... he found out the chip was the only cure. He'd been led to a second one which I had reimplanted."

"He saved you," Angel had said softly.

She had nodded. "But he blames himself, thinking if it weren't for him-"

"No abduction, no chip, no cancer..." Angel had finished for her.

"Among other things."

Angel had raised his eyebrows. "Other things?"

"I told you it was an epic," she had reminded him.

"You did," he had agreed. "Sounds like you and Agent Mulder would fit right in here in Sunnydale."

She had rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Please, whatever you do, *don't* suggest that to Mulder."

Angel had laughed with her at that request. "Those other things?" he had asked gently, with genuine interest in her strange life story.

She had reminded herself to someone such as him her life must not seem all that odd, after all. "I've been shot, kidnapped, exposed to a virus of unknown origin, hunted invisible predators called Mothmen, investigated urban legends, found evidence of the weirdest life forms you - never mind, you might be able to imagine some of these things." She sighed, lifting up a hand to tick off the items she'd mentioned on one lovely hand. "We've been attacked by microscopic, lethal insects, investigated a haunted house, on Christmas Eve, of course, seen a huge bug-man-creature that no one else could see - the list really goes on."

"The travel opportunities have been good. At least it looked that way in your files," he had added with an uncharacteristic twinkle in his brown eyes.

She had snorted again. "I've been to the Arctic, twice, Antarctica, Africa, Scandinavia, where we almost died of old age no less, not to mention most major cities in the United States and a lot more small towns than I knew existed. Indian Reservations, restricted military bases, and the local baseball diamond haven't been out of the question either. Between Mulder and myself we've seen far beyond our fair share of Emergency Rooms - and none of them have doctors who look like the ones on T.V., not that I get to watch much of that, myself. We've both probably lost a couple of gallons of blood - oh, sorry!"

He had shrugged and looked at her questioningly.

"It's just - I mean..."

"Scully, I'm two hundred and forty-four, remember? People can say the "b" word around me."

She had smiled for an instant, then her expression dimmed. "In addition to the bizarre things we've seen and investigated, we've spent years tracking a group of me, possibly the ones who took me, Mulder's sister, others. We've come close enough to make these men very uncomfortable at times. So much so that my sister was murdered a little over four years ago. The assassins mistook her for me."

"You blame yourself?"

"Wouldn't you?" she had asked, not understanding the stricken look he tried to hide from her.

His only response had been a terse nod.

"That was, I guess, when it stopped being a job so much and became a mission, became the same quest Mulder is on."

"Quests are never quite as noble as they sound in books, are they?"

She had shaken her head slowly. "They're painful, dirty, violent, lonely things. I sometimes wonder if the resolution, *any* resolution, can give back even a fraction of what has been lost to us forever."

He had stared down at the stones and Scully had felt suddenly colder, as if the shadows liquefied and crept into her flesh and bones.

"There are times ... the memories of what we've lost *are* the resolutions we've searched for."

She had stood up then, stretched her legs, and walked around the crypt. The plaque against the far wall proved to be that of a child, a little girl who had died when she was about four. Angel had come to stand behind her. Softly, she had said, "How do you suppose - would a vampire...?"

He had shrugged, not wanting to tell her the vampiric view on children, but an ugly image of a young mother he had once tormented with the word "dessert" in connection to her son had assailed him.

"Besides the cancer, the men who abducted me stole my ova. They did it to hundreds, thousands, maybe more, women."

Angel had been silent, letting her speak at her own pace again.

"Two years ago I learned I had a child. An experiment designed by unholy men, brought to life in a manner no God ever intended. She died shortly after I found her. Until that period in my life I thought the only thing I had left to lose was my very life. Where's the resolution in that, Angel?" she had asked bitterly.

He had thought, gazing down at her hair, which gleamed even in the dim light of the tomb that was their momentary haven. She had reminded him fiercely of Buffy, kicking against the forces which conspired to ensnare their lives, longing for a normal life, yet understanding in some measure that a normal life would never be theirs, that for everything the world could ever offer, they both cared too much about others ever to stop being who destiny made them.

His voice had been nearly a whisper as it cascaded over her, making her shiver again. "If you could change it, go back so that it never happened, you never found your daughter, would you?"

Without hesitation she had replied exactly as he had expected. Her answer was an emphatic 'no'.


Scully had turned to him, her face pale and grave, not wanting, on this night of werewolves, vampires, and abandoned crypts, to add the knife edge of anguish.

He had repeated his question.

AT last she had answered. "Because she was mine. Even if I couldn't raise her, I loved her. In the end, I loved her enough to let her go."

"Sometimes that's the resolution - loving enough to let go."

"You've let Buffy go?" she had demanded, disbelieving.

He had shaken his head. "I've let Buffy think I've let go. I've let Buffy move on, but I never will. It took all of my first two hundred and forty years to believe in that elusive reality called 'true love', Scully. I can't stop now because we can't be together. I will always love her with everything I am because she made me everything I never dreamed I could be. *That's* my resolution."

"You've let Buffy go?" she had demanded, disbelieving.

He had shaken his head. "I've let Buffy think I've let go. I've let Buffy move on, but I never will. It took all of my first two hundred and forty years to believe in that elusive reality called 'true love', Scully. I can't stop now because we can't be together. I will always love her with everything I am because she made me everything I never dreamed I could be. *That's* my resolution."

Scully had stared up at him, her eyes hard, unflinching as she had searched his face for some sign of emotion. She had found it in the set of his jaw, so tight that the muscles in his cheek quivered slightly. His dark eyes had seemed to have turned to stone in the stoic sculpture of his face. Barely trusting her own voice not to crack, to betray the pain he had somehow made her face, she had spoken softly. "In that much pain, how can there be any resolution, Angel?"

She had been utterly unaware of the tear trickling down her face until he had brushed it away with his thumb. She might never know exactly how uncharacteristic a gesture that had been for him, but it spoke to the depth of empathy he felt for this woman. Angel was a creature who rarely touched, rarely held others. For a century and a score or two of years, his touch had meant death, of one kind or another, to those he had touched. For another century he had been unable to bring himself to touch anyone, filled with overwhelming guilt and shame about his demonic actions; the few people he had tried to help, he felt he had harmed beyond reparation. Then Buffy had come into his life and his world, still a realm of darkness, had lightened. The sunshine of her smile, the warmth of her open-hearted eyes, the humanity of her voice, her laughter, even her pain, had been, to him, the siren song of the living. When he was with her, the bright lamp of day, so long forfeit to him, had seemed closer. She had carried with her some of the sting of the real sun, but also the gentle soothing of the twilight moments, before the dark sky claimed him for its own. Touching her had been, for Angel, like holding the sun; kissing her like drinking in its rays. Like Icarus, he had flown perilously close to the sun and had been catapulted back to the place from which he had traveled so arduously. Being already dead, his fall had not taken his life, but it *had* taken much of what Buffy had given him, left him trembling within for fear of another tumble. Now, he rarely touched anyone of his own accord, having physical contact with a human only when the mortal initiated it.

Yet, he had felt a pull at his all-too-human soul to wipe away the grief that slid from the pretty agent's eyes. "Are you satisfied with your choices, Scully?"

She had gazed at him blankly.

"Do you believe you made the only choices you, yourself, could have made?" he had rephrased, trying to clarify for her.

She had sighed and examined again the plaque pressed into the stone. She had nodded silently.

He had waited, wondering if she could give voice to the lie her nod had sanctioned.

"Except?" he had asked, in the face of her continued silence.

She had set her mouth in a thin line. To anyone other than an immortal, it might have seemed an eternity passed before she had replied. "What do you see when *I* look at Agent Mulder?"

"The same thing I see when he looks at you - a love nothing could ever break."

"What else?" she had demanded softly.

"Fear. You're both paralyzed by it." His honesty had been tempered by concern.

She had nodded.

"We can't be together," she had stated. "Not in the way most people would be."

"Why not?"

She had traced the little girl's name and dates on the plaque. "Those men, the ones I told you about, they would use any relationship we might form against us."

Angel had considered this for a few moments, watching as her fingers had continued to run idly over the stark facts of that unknown, long-dead little girl's life. "Why did they abduct you? Why not Agent Mulder?"

She had made no reply.

"How did he get that second chip? What was the price for that?"

She had remained silent.

"How did you end up in Antarctica?"

She had turned again and looked back up at him.

"What more could they use against you, Scully? Do you think anyone who sees the two of you together doesn't know?"

"We - it's better..."

He had cut her off, harshly. "You two make excuses. They couldn't hurt either of you any more than they already have, except to kill you. And given all they've put you through, it seems they'd rather have you alive." He had held her gaze in his own steady, unflinching, demanding one. "It's easier for both of you to stand still, to tell yourselves you're apart because of these men, than to admit you're terrified. You've learned nothing, despite everything you've been through together."

"That's not true," she had protested.

"What? Your mind is more open now? He isn't quite so insistent about some of his bizarre theories, at least not around anyone but you? You haven't learned anything in the place where it counts the most: in your hearts. You've both accepted you can't ever be together because the fear mastered you a long time ago.

"What happens when you find his sister, or what happened to her? When you find the men who took you, who killed your sister? What excuses will you devise then?" Angel had snorted in disgust. "You've walked through fire and both prided yourselves on not being burned alive."

"Shouldn't we be?" she had exploded at him.

"Not if you haven't even been warmed by it," he had warned her.

"You have no idea what our lives are like," she had protested.

"Oh, yes, I do," he had told her steadily. "I've lived your lives, telling myself I needed nothing, wanted no one in my existence. I'd convinced myself I was fine all on my own, that by staying apart from the world, I protected it. I hid from the world until the world itself seemed to find me. It wasn't easy - nothing in this life is - and Buffy and I ... we nearly ruined everything and everyone around us.

"You asked how I can find resolution so much pain? I know what might have been, Scully! It tears me into pieces every time I think of all we lost, Buffy and I, but at least I *know*. As long as you and Mulder stand, rooted where you are, all you'll ever have is maybe."

She had remained angry with him, angry because he could read her pretty well. "How can you stand there and say these things to me when you and Buffy are obviously afraid to be together?"

He had taken her hand and led her back to the steps. "Let me tell you a story," he had said. She had sat down, her anger fading slowly. She had angled her body so that she could face him and her back had rested against the edge of the stone slab barricading the crypt. He had sat, still, staring down into clasped hands. Scully had marveled silently at how utterly unmoving he could seem. She had to remind herself he had the infinite patience of one who has seen centuries pass, marking not a single moment of those years with the beat of a heart or the flutter of a breath.

He had continued to stare down at his clasped fingers. Still silent, he had reached into the pocket of his duster and pulled out something small and silvery. He kept it locked in one fist as he had begun his story.

"The first time I saw Buffy, Agent Scully, she was fifteen, maybe sixteen. She was with her friends, laughing, smiling, gossiping. All things any normal teenage girl would do. She was a cheerleader, one of the most popular girls at her school. She thought the biggest tragedy in her life was her father's refusal not to buy her a new dress for a dance. I saw her being called, saw her meet her first Watcher -"

"Giles wasn't her first Watcher?"

"No, he - the other one was killed." Angel had continued, "I sat in the shadows and watched and listened as her whole life changed that day. She didn't want to be the Slayer; no girl in her right mind would. It's horrifying and lonely and usually disgustingly brief. Like a death sentence handed down with no hope of clemency, only the likelihood of solitary confinement until the moment they kill you. Buffy is the first Slayer to have friends, as she does, to have help.

"I watched him approach her, watched her reject what he said. All she wanted was to go on being a normal girl, to live the life she planned, not the life some far-off Powers had in store for her.

"I watched her stake her first vampire. She missed the heart the first time." He had grinned. "Even then, without training, she had the Slayer agility, reflexes, and strength though. Her second attempt found his heart and he turned to dust in front of her. She wore this *ridiculous* jacket - quilted, orange! Buffy's always been in style." He smiled at the memories of some of her slaying attire.

"I followed her home. She was late and her mother yelled at her. I heard Buffy tell her mother her first lie as a Slayer. I saw her mother accept it because it was easier to accept it than to ask any further questions. After her mother had left her room, Buffy went to her dressing table and looked in the mirror. Looking for some change, some outward sign. While she stared in that mirror, her parents started arguing - about Buffy."

"Parents argue, Angel."

"Because they love their children. I gave my own parents plenty to argue over, but my mother ... she always defended me. I knew no matter what I did, my mother would take my part in it. This was bitter, acrimonious, filled with recrimination. They both wanted Buffy, even then, to be different from who she was, but neither wanted to take any responsibility for their role in who she was. For Buffy, trouble had started before she even became the Slayer - boys, poor grades, the things parents don't want to happen. There was no love in that argument, just frustration and concern over how it all might appear to their friends." He had paused. "Buffy's parents love her. I've run up against her mother enough times to know it. For a while though, I don't think they knew exactly *how* to do that."

"Buffy couldn't tell them? About being the Slayer."

"A Slayer isn't supposed to tell anyone. I think one reason the Council fired Giles was so many people knew Buffy's identity."

"Do her parents know now?"

"She finally told her mother; she had to. It was good it came down to that - it's done a lot for their relationship." He had paused again. "But that first night, she was lonely. I watched her cry, the first tears she ever shed as a Slayer. Everything had changed for her in a split second and no one noticed."

"You fell in love with her?" Scully had asked softly.

Angel had looked up at her, for the first time since starting his own story. Scully had inhaled sharply. His eyes had been unveiled, completely open windows into the way this being felt. She had wondered if Buffy, for all her obvious maturity was truly capable of comprehending the real meaning of his love. Scully had wondered if any mortal ever could because what she saw was even more than what Angel had said of her feelings for Mulder. This was beyond unbreakable. As long as he walked the earth, Buffy would live in his heart, would haunt him. His memory would never fade. For him there would never be an escape, nor did he seem to want one.

"In that same split second," he had answered her somewhat rhetorical question. "Buffy was alone; she was scared; and her personality - she seemed a very unlikely Slayer." He had grinned. "But underneath all the layers she'd built up to protect herself, under the image of a shallow, California blonde, she was who she has always been - a loyal, loving, caring girl. As her world changed, so did mine.

"I'd lived a long, long time, Agent Scully. A score or so years as a boy in Ireland, nearly a century and a half as one of the most feared vampires in Europe, and then almost a further century as an abomination to both man and demon - the vampire with a soul. It wasn't until saw Buffy that I understood living at all. I wanted to protect her, to hold her and keep her safe from any harm this world might throw at her. Everything she is has made me what I am."

"You've had something to do with who she is," Scully had observed softly.

Angel had stared at her for a few moments. "We've shaped each other. At times it hasn't been ..." his voice had trailed off as he couldn't find the words he had wanted. He had taken up the thread of his narrative instead. "It was an uneasy relationship from the start; unlikely, unhealthy in some ways, a lot of ways. We both tried to keep our distance."

"That sounds familiar," Scully had said with a bitter chuckle.

"I thought it might," Angel had replied with a gentle twinkle in his otherwise somber eyes. "But I couldn't stay away from her. I wanted to protect her, to - love her from a safe distance. I ... we found out that wasn't possible. You know," he had shifted, pausing with a sardonic half smile curving his lips, "when I was mortal, we didn't really 'date'. I can't say I think much of the custom now days. It's a pain in the ass."

Scully had laughed. "Are you saying you two 'went steady'?"

That had earned her a smile and a glance from underneath his dark lashes. "'Steady' is not a word I would ever apply to Buffy and myself. We went in fits, you might say. Until her seventeenth birthday. I gave her this." He had held up the object he'd removed from his pocket. He'd stared at it, seeing, Scully had been certain, neither her face nor the walls of their shelter, but events that had transpired years ago. "It's a claddaugh ring."

"I know," Scully had nodded. "It's a lovely gift."

"We were, as always, fighting a big bad evil, this time in the from of an ancient demon known as The Judge who, when at full strength, could burn any creature with humanity in it with nothing more than his gaze."

"Charming," she had said sarcastically.

Angel had nodded. "The Judge had been defeated once, in the Middle Ages. His body had been dismembered and the pieces buried around the globe. Spike -"


"Pre-chip Spike, when he could fight humans."

She had nodded.

"Anyway, Spike was working on reassembling The Judge. We found out when one of the pieces came into our possession. It was decided I would take the piece, travel somewhere remote, and rebury it. I never made it. Buffy and I were attacked at the docks, the box containing the arm was stolen, and Buffy and I were nearly killed."

He had stopped, taking a deep, unnecessary breath.

"Our mission a failure and our lives at stake, we fled back to where I lived then. We were both scraped up a bit, not to mention wet due to the unexpected swim we took."

"One thing...?"

He had nodded. "Led to another."


"We told you about the Gypsy curse that restored my soul? The Gypsies had left out one key element on their curse. One moment of true happiness and the demon within me took control once again."

"You lost your soul?"

He had nodded slowly, still looking at the ring he'd given Buffy. "I became, once again, the remorseless killer I'd been. I tortured Buffy, playing the games I'd always loved. I stalked her, stalked her family, her friends. I made vampires of people she knew and sent them to her as 'greetings'. Hallmark has never thought of anything so elaborate or personal as the wishes I passed on to her. I killed a -"

He had stopped, his voice strained.

"Her name was Jenny Callendar. She was a computer teacher and a friend. Of mine, as well, before. She and Giles - I knew taking her would wound Buffy as deeply as anything I could do because Giles loved this woman. Buffy felt responsible for what happened."

"Because of what happened?"

He had shaken his head. "Not totally. She'd had chances to kill me before that. She couldn't. And because of her, Giles and Jenny never had a chance."


"Jenny was a descendant of the Gypsies who cursed me. She'd been sent to watch me, to make sure I suffered. When Buffy found out her role in all of it, she refused to have anything else to do with Jenny. Giles did, too."

"Buffy was angry?"

"For a very long time, at a lot of people. Mostly at herself. Mostly for things she couldn't control."

Scully had swallowed hard, uncertain she really wanted to know. Still, she asked, "Did you um...?"

"Sire Jenny?" Angel had shaken his head 'no'. "I found her at school one night, working on, of all things, a version of the curse that would restore my soul. The original had been lost to her people, but she was so desperate to make things right with Buffy, Giles, and the rest, to atone for having kept her heritage a secret, that she was trying to undo what had been done. But I didn't want my soul back. So, I found her, chased her, cornered her, and then I snapped her neck."

Scully had gasped.

"I left her in Giles' bed," he had concluded baldly.

Scully had blanched obviously, going as pale as Angel's normal coloring. Not until she felt the stone behind bite into her back had she realized she had recoiled from him. She had swallowed convulsively a few times, trying to find her voice.

Angel had resumed the litany of his demonic sins before she could speak. "After that, Buffy was ready to kill me. She had finally realized there was nothing left of Angel within me, that the demon Angelus had full possession of the heart she had loved."

"But ... now?"

He had looked down at the ring in his hand. When he had returned his gaze to hers, his eyes were shuttered once more. His mouth had been set and his jaw worked back and forth steadily. He had sighed, another unnecessary gesture on his part. Scully had known he was stalling, but, as he had given her patience earlier, she gave him the time he needed.

At last he had told her. "A demon, ancient and powerful, who had been 'bound' centuries before was brought, in his sarcophagus, to Sunnydale. With the help of Drusilla - long story," he had said, quieting the question forming on her lips. "I stole Acathla and planned to raise him. Raising him would have ended this world; anything mortal would have been sucked into the vortex of hell and demons would have walked this earth as they did before the race of men arose."

He had looked away from her, looking at the windows instead. "I tortured Giles to learn the secrets of raising the demon. I nearly killed him before Buffy arrived to stop me. While Buffy was on her own mission, Willow, who had found Jenny's spell, was working to restore my soul."

"She did?"

He had nodded. "But not before Angelus could begin the raising. To save the world, Buffy had to -" His fist had clenched over the claddaugh ring he held. "Only the blood of a righteous man could stop Acathla from sucking the world into hell. Once my soul was restored, Buffy had no choice."

Her voice trembling, Scully had finished what she saw Angel could not. "She killed you."

"Yes," he had said simply.

The had both been silent for a while.

"You're right," the agent had conceded. "You two have every reason to be apart."

"We - unknowingly - did something that very nearly ended the world. Not because of some shadowy group of men who may wield some temporal power. Not because anyone cared who we were or how we felt. Because we are who we are. I am a vampire, cursed with a soul, a fragile, perishable soul. She is the Slayer, destined to kill vampires, not to love them. Everything we are should keep us apart, but, in truth, nothing can but actual distance because we are who we are and we can never change that."

"You know, Angel, I'm not a - romantic woman, not in the book sense-"

"You don't tend to moon over men?" he had asked, the twinkle, subdued, back in his tired eyes.

She had shaken her head. "But you *are* right. There are times when the only thing that keeps with where I am is the thought of 'someday'." She had reached across the distance between them and touched his hand. "You don't even have that. How ...? I can't imagine."

He had smiled at her, the same exhaustion reflected in his eyes, flowed over her from his lips. "I have memories. Perfect ... wonderful ... generous memories."

Her face had creased. "But - you ... it cost you your humanity!"

"No, not that time." He had looked at her, feeling the still light touch of her hand on his. "Can you keep a secret, Agent Scully?"

She had snorted at him, nodding slightly.

So Angel had told her about Buffy's visit to Los Angeles the previous November. She had listened with rapt attention as he had explained about the fight with the Mohra demon, how his wound, open, bloody, had admitted some of the demon's regenerative blood, rendering him mortal again. He had told her of his encounter with the Oracles, of his release from what they had called 'fealty' to the forces of Light. She had watched his face light up as he spoke of seeing, for the first time in centuries, his reflection, of tasting actual food, of finding Buffy, going to her as she stood in the sun and sweeping her into his arms, kissing her as the light beat down on them.

He had continued with the story of the Mohra's own regeneration and his discovery that he could not fight it, that as a mortal man he had nearly died, could have cost Buffy her own life.

"You gave back your mortality, you chance for happiness with Buffy?"

He had assented. "The Oracles agreed to fold time, to give us back the day. To ensure that we would not make the same mistakes, only I remembered the day."

Scully, for what seemed like the thousandth time that evening, had felt stunned. "She -"

"Has no memory of that day. No one does. Cordelia and Wesley know about it, but that's all. And now you."

She had nodded. "I'm sorry," she had told him.

"The hardest part, the part that wakes me up from my dreams, was the end. When I told her what I'd chosen, I held her, felt her tears soak into my clothing, listened to her protests and sobs. She promised she'd never forget and I knew she would never want to. I also know it would be impossible, but part of me hoped, as she sobbed into my chest, telling me 'I'll never forget, Angel. I'll never forget.' My name, on her lips like that, will bleed me from the inside until the day my existence ends."

Scully had removed her hand then, slowly, gently brushing it as she did. He had smiled softly at her.

Finally she asked, hesitantly, "Was your name always Angel?"

He shook his head. "Liam. It was a family name. It died with me."

"Didn't you have ...siblings?"

"A sister," he had said shortly.

"As I said, Agent Mulder lost his sister. It's been 25 years and he still doesn't really know what happened to her."

"I have no doubts about my sister's fate. Agent Mulder is lucky."

She had looked at his face until the meaning of his words hit her. She had flinched as though physically slapped. His eyes were sad, but calm, his gaze steady. Only the slight lines at the corner of his tightly closed lips had betrayed the depth of his emotion.

"It wasn't ...I mean, not you.." she had stumbled.

He had shaken his head. His voice had been bitter. "No, it wasn't me. It was the demon I willingly became."

Courtyard of Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
Early Morning March24

Angel's kiss left Buffy dizzy. Were it not for the wall behind her and the pressure of Angel's body against hers, she would have crumpled to the ground that seemed to rock beneath her feet. She moaned in despair as his lips left hers, clutched at his hair, trying to pull him back to her. Her frantic efforts ceased when she felt his mouth skim over her cheek.

He ran his fingers through her long, golden hair, following his caresses with swift kisses. With every muscle, he could feel her trembling against him, her desire, her wild abandon matching his own. Letting her hair fall back, he cupped her face in his hands, easily spanning the space from her cheekbones to her chin. With a gentleness almost unimaginable in their mutual frenzied state, his thumbs glided over the fragile bones of her face. He could feel the blood racing through her. It was so close, so tenable, so tempting. Heat enveloped him, reminding him in a sweet anguish of the humanity he had twice sacrificed.

Their lips met again and locked. Buffy could not remember the last time she had felt the heat Angel made her feel. Though her body responded to Riley Finn's touch, there was no room for him in her heart of hearts. The spark he could ignite in her burned, but did not consume her the way Angel's touch did. Her heart and her soul ached for the impossible, for the miracle she could not quite prevent herself from imagining, from believing to be true.

He felt her lips part slightly beneath his as he drew his tongue along her mouth. She giggled softly and he smiled against her. Her arms slid down, back around his neck as she tugged him closer. His tongue slid between her lips, scraping lightly against her teeth. She nipped playfully at him. He winced in surprise, then drove himself against her, her little game fanning the out-of-control flames of want within him. He tore his mouth from hers, felt her head loll back as she gasped for the breath he had denied her. He bent his head, bringing his lips to her neck.

The kisses he peppered along her flesh were light, until they brushed against the slightly raised flesh that marked where she had offered herself for his salvation. He felt the instinctive panic rise within her, the core of her being, that which demanded self-preservation as she tried to push him away. She seemed drained of all strength as he grabbed her hands and pinned them with his own to the wall. He knew the moment she gave in to him, felt the fear overwhelmed by a languor, a desire-induced stupor. She tilted her head, inviting him to do whatever he would.

She was lost, had given herself to Angel willingly, caring nothing for some remote future, wanting only to spend an eternity, no matter how brief, in his crushing embrace. She felt his lips come to rest against the scar she would always carry. She moaned as his tongue traced the pale flesh and gasped as his teeth glided over her skin, pricking her neck with a gentle but unmistakable pressure.

She was back in the mansion, her high school graduation and the time of the Mayor's Ascension only hours away. In her mind, Faith lay in the coma she had chosen rather than submit to Buffy's design, Buffy's desire that Faith be forced to sacrifice herself for Angel's life, the rogue Slayer having been the one who came so close to ending it. She felt again the solid contact of her own fist with Angel's anguished face, her punches provoking the demon within him, reminding him of the selfishness that resides within every soul, the impulse to continue no matter what the cost. As his lips threatened to bruise the scar, as the fangs his human form hid scored her flesh ever so lightly, she nearly begged for a return to that moment, the instant his vampiric fangs had sunk into her flesh, had drawn the blood from her. The blood that sustained her had cured him, had been the sole remedy, had left them both with a need they steadfastly ignored, but that could not be quenched.

Her neck burned as the memories flared within her. That 'good, low-down tickle' Faith had been so fond of mentioning was a screaming urge, long denied, never-to-be fulfilled, inescapable in its ferocity. Angel released her hands and she fought a desire to tangle her fingers in his hair, to drive his mouth into her neck, to tell him with everything but words to lose his soul, take hers, make them two of a kind. His fingers trailed down her jacketed arms and she shuddered. Her breathing was ragged as her lungs struggled to get the oxygen she needed. She moaned as his hands caressed her shoulders, slid under the lapels of her leather jacket, the one he'd placed on her years ago and never reclaimed. He pulled her to him as he tugged her out of the garment. In helping him she wriggled against him and the stars burst inside his head again.

He ran his hands restlessly up and down her bare arms as his lips continued their less-than-gentle exploration of her neck. He could feel her heat as their bodies pressed together, feel her well- shaped, toned muscles with his fingers, with his legs as they pinned hers. She was the only true equal he had ever had and had he known the path of her inchoate thoughts, he might have granted her wish in spite of the voice that cried out futilely for him to stop. In more than two centuries, he had never wanted anyone the way he wanted Buffy. The distance from her dulled that desire only by keeping them apart; the moment he was near her it consumed him as it always had.

Buffy's mind spun in crazy, side-to-side ellipses of near-thoughts. From the dreams they'd shared under the power of the First, to the culmination of those dreams less than a year ago, back to the night they'd first made love, still further back to the first time he kissed her and showed his hidden nature. She felt again the pain of seeing him with Faith, when they'd tricked her into revealing her real loyalties. Her heart touched upon and recoiled from the memories of cradling him with one arm while running the sword through him that would send him to a horrifying demon dimension with the other. It seemed every kiss, every touch, every word of anger, jealousy, or love they'd ever shared ran through her mind. She felt the Southern California sun, still strong in November, shining down on them as he kissed her, felt again the rough solidity of his kitchen table as they laid across it on the day her every fantasy had been granted.

Angel's tongue glided across her neck, tasted the tiny wound he had made in his frenzy to possess as much of her as possible. Her blood, its unique taste, called to him. The last shred of his sanity, the tattered remnant of his tested soul was about to snap. The demon within him was bare seconds from silencing the man forever when he heard the whisper of her voice.

She spoke, her voice husky, thick with desire. "Angel?" She felt him respond, felt him fight for the control she struggled for herself. His lips closed over his teeth and he kissed her neck softly. She repeated his name. His head rested against her and his body slumped slightly. She found his hands and curled her own into them, entwining their fingers in loving companionship as her breathing slowed.

He pulled back from her, barely able to look at her. When he did, his features were his own again, his eyes stricken with remorse and shame. "Buffy," he said plaintively. "God, Buffy, I'm sorry."

She shook her head. "It's not ... don't be."

He stared at her. "I -" He disengaged one hand and gently touched her neck. She did not flinch even though he knew the tiny wound had to sting. "I was about to..." He couldn't finish, couldn't admit how close he'd been to taking her in the most destructive way possible.

"I wanted you to," she stated, no surprise, no anger in her voice. She reached up and took his hand again, stroking his fingers lightly, reassuringly. "All I could think of was being able to be with you, forever. I didn't care about anything else."

He kissed her forehead, resting his mouth against her, inhaling the scent of her, everything now sharpened into a spicy blend of exertion, desire, fading fear, and the shrubbery their bodies had crushed. "What ... happened?"

She looked up at him, her mouth set. "Walk me home? There's something I need to ask you."

He nodded, stepping away from her, freeing him from the powerful cage of his body. He bent down to pick up her jacket as she straightened her top. He held the jacket for her as she shrugged back into it.

"It's still too big for me," she said softly.

"Yeah," he agreed, "but it still looks better on you than me."

She smiled up at him. "You just tell me that so I'll keep wearing it."

He shrugged at her. "Anything wrong with that?"

She shook her head.

They walked in silence for a while, Buffy pointing out turns every so often. Angel had seen her on-campus dorm once and without the distraction of her by his side probably could have made the trip from Giles' just fine. Once they were on-campus, Buffy stopped at one of the many benches littering the paths of the sprawling UC Sunnydale campus. She sat down and he joined her. Not certain she would be willing, he slipped a tentative arm around her. She laid her head on his shoulder. He smiled in the dark.

"You know," he said, kissing the top of her head, "you promised me once you'd always be my girl."

"And a few weeks later you told me I shouldn't want a life with you, that I needed someone who could take me into the light."

His face contorted at her implication. "Buffy, I - "

"Angel, you know no matter what happens, I'll never love anyone the way I love you. Ever."

The smile he gave her was sad, reflecting the futility of the fantasy they left unspoken between them. She ran a hand lightly along his cheek bone, letting him kiss her fingers lightly as they reached his lips.

"I guess it's a good thing we're both moving on with our lives, huh?" he pushed her.

"Angel, what happened in L.A.?"

"I thought we explained. Cordelia saw an article about a murder-suicide. Wesley and I noticed-"

She interrupted him. "That's not what I mean and you know it. Angel, something happened in November."

He looked at her. "You came to tell me off for coming to Sunnydale and not letting you know. The Mohra demon attacked us. I killed him. We both agreed we needed to continue keeping our distance. You left."

She shook her head. "Angel, I'm remembering things that never happened. Between you and me. That's what happened tonight. Outside of Giles'. I remembered something."

He hoped his face concealed his feelings, a mixture of concern and joy that not even the folding of time could completely erase from her heart the time they'd spent together. He said carefully, "Buffy, you and I both know how real some dreams can seem..."

"I'm not dreaming this," she insisted.

"You must be," he said.

Both were so intent on the other that neither noticed the two foolhardy vamps who had crept up behind them and were now slinking around the sides of the bench. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw the one on her side and quickly turned her head to see the one approaching Angel. His reflexes matched hers and they both alerted each other at the same time, calling the other's name with urgency and concern. Buffy whipped Mr. Pointy from her jacket pocket while Angel extended his left arm.

"Not now!" Buffy exclaimed as the vampires made their move to attack. "We're *trying* to have an important conversation." Her thrust was quick and true and the vampire was dust before he could fully understand what she'd even said. At the same time, Angel triggered the mechanism that shot the spring loaded stake from his jacket sleeve at a lethal velocity into his attacker's heart.

They both glanced down at the piles of dust at their feet.

"New bench?" Angel asked.

"New bench," Buffy agreed.

They walked along the path, closer to Stevenson Dorm, before finding another bench to sit on. Angel looked down. "Hmm...this one really is new."

Buffy looked at the bench appraisingly. "Oh, yeah, it is."

He raised an eyebrow at her in question.

"Bad day. Roommate issues," she explained.

He pursed his lips slightly. "So, you slew a bench?"

She shrugged. "I wasn't myself. She was stealing my soul."

"Willow?" Angel asked, aghast.

Buffy laughed. "No. Kathy. My roommate before Willow. She was a demon. Didn't want to go back to her dimension, needed my soul to stay here ... you know, nothing all that unusual around here."


"Hmm? Oh - her father came to get her. You know, I should have known. She had the *biggest* Celine Dion fetish." Buffy shivered and Angel laughed at her. Despite Giles' best efforts to get Buffy to hone her Slayer instincts, to solve problems using logic and intellect, Buffy still tended to make her decisions based on fashion sense (or lack of), music taste, and occasionally, personal hygiene.

She put her head on his shoulder again. "They're not dreams, Angel. They're memories."


"I've never dreamt about you being in the daylight. Except when you...when I thought I'd killed you." She paused. "This - some of it - is in daylight. You came to me, walked into the sunlight, kissed me."

He was silent.

"The rest is at ... I don't know exactly. I guess your place, where you live now. How would I dream that? I've never been there. I only saw your offices."

Angel remained silent, unable to speak. His heart, which didn't beat but nonetheless could ache, could fill with joy, could agonize over decisions, seemed to flutter within him, phantom pulses from the day that floated along the edges of his love's memory.

"Angel, *please*," she pleaded. "Something happened. It had to be when I came down to L.A."

He looked at her, leaned down and kissed her, gently, but with a deep longing.

"You're not going to tell me, are you?" she asked when he pulled away from her.

He shook his head.

She stared at him angrily, knowing he was trying to protect her from something. Part of her feared what it was he hid, part of her, the deepest part of her heart where she remembered every moment of that lost day, longed to hear his explanation. At last, she sighed. "Just tell me I'm not going crazy?"

Softly, regret laced through his voice, he told her, "You're not going crazy."

This time she kissed him, working them both up into a good heat, controlled this time, burning pleasantly, but not with the same wild abandon as before. She broke away from him for a moment, laying her hand against his still chest. She felt the tension heighten within him. "When this is over?"

He nodded against her head. "I'll tell you."

"Will I like it?"

Angel nuzzled her ear and spoke in a voice so low, so deep it vibrated through every cell in her body, "It's a great bed time story."

She sighed.

Oblivious to the world around them, they sat and kissed for neither knew how long, their lips meeting in the sweet dance of a love that cannot be undone, only ignored at best. The kisses he laid along her neck were soft and tender this time, kisses she returned with the same tenderness. Hands met, clasped, parted, leaving fingers to trail across arms, through hair, along each other's back. As temptation rose between them, they pulled apart. Angel put his arms around her and held her tightly while her head rested comfortably on his shoulder, her hands lying on his far shoulder. They sat in silence for a few moments, giving and taking, renewing the possession they took of each other's souls.

Without warning, Buffy giggled.

Angel smiled at her. "What?"

She shook her head.

"Come on," he begged.

She looked up at him and smiled. He planted a kiss on her nose, fighting the deja vu that swept over him. She would never know just how similar this was to the hours they had spent in his bed.

"I was just wishing," she said.

He waited. She didn't continue. "For?" he prompted.

"Willow," she stated.

He gave her a deeply confused, slightly alarmed look.

An evil grin spread over her face. She continued, "And an Orb of Thessala."

It took him just a few seconds to get her meaning. Once he did, he laughed with her, silently agreeing it wasn't an altogether bad idea.

Buffy and Willow's Dorm Room
Stevenson Hall, U.C. Sunnydale
March24 - 9:10 A.M.

"When did she get back?"

"Shhhh...she's still asleep. You might wake her up."

"So? There's evil to be fought...demons to slay..."

"Shhhh! That's not until tonight and if she's still asleep then she must be really tired."

"Well, we got in pretty late and *we're* up."

"Cordelia, shut up," Buffy muttered tiredly. She lay unmoving, her eyes closed. "What time is it, Wil?"

Willow flashed Cordelia an 'I-told-you-so' look and said softly, "Just after nine, Buffy. Do you wanna sleep some more? We can-"

Buffy groaned and flopped over on her stomach. "No, I'll get up. Cordelia's right - we've got a lot to get ready for."

"Yeah, but," Willow protested, worried about the late hour Buffy had gotten in, whenever it had been, "the day time stuff is... well, it's non-Buffy required stuff. It's not like tonight with the slaying stuff, which is definitely Buffy-necessary. I guess that's kind of obvious though since it's slaying and after all, you are the Slayer..." Willow's voice trailed off as Buffy sat up, rubbing her eyes.

Cordy was staring at Buffy, her eyes narrowing as she did so. At once she exclaimed, "Oh my God, you and Angel - what did you do to him? Are we gonna have to stake him now? Cause if I'm out of a job..."

"Buffy?" Willow now eyed her cautiously.

"No! Of course not," Buffy protested.

"But you *were* out late," Cordy accused.

"We ... talked ... a lot," the Slayer stammered.

"Buffy," Willow said, as she pointed. "Your neck."

Buffy's hand flew to her neck and a flush spread across her face.

"You two did more than talk!" Cordy exclaimed.

Willow and Buffy both gave her looks that said quite clearly, "DUH!"

Buffy's face wore a distressed expression, distress for the concern she was clearly causing her friends, distress for the lack of control she and Angel had exhibited, distress over the secret Angel was keeping from her. "What happened in November, Cordelia?" Buffy challenged, hoping she could get something out of her former classmate.

Cordelia froze. Her eyes widened. She stumbled over the single word she tried to say. "N...Noth...Nothing."

Willow chuckled harshly. "No offense, but I hope you're a better actress when you've got a script, Cordy."

Cordelia glared at Willow before looking back at Buffy who was staring at her, her own eyes hard and cold.

"Cordy, I know *something* happened. Please tell me what it was."

"How do you know?" the 'beauty queen' asked.

"I remember things. Things that never happened and I know aren't dreams."

"Did you talk with Angel about this?"

Buffy nodded. "He won't tell me. I want to know why."

Cordy bit her lip. She frowned, then sighed. Her gaze slipped from Buffy to Willow and back to Buffy. "I - it's not fair to ask me."

"I know," Buffy agreed. "But it's not fair that Angel won't tell me himself."

"What is it you think he's not telling you?" Willow asked, deflecting attention from the now seriously concerned Cordelia.

Buffy turned to Willow. "Wil, when I went to L.A. in November something happened between Angel and me." She paused. "I can only remember bits and what I remember doesn't make sense. Angel in the sunlight. Angel and I talking in his apartment, which I've never even seen. Angel and I ... well, *not* talking."

Willow's brow creased in confusion for a moment. Then her face lit up with a goofy grin. "Oh, *that* kind of not talking! Buffy, that's great. I mean, you and Angel...wait, that's *not* great because it can't happen."

"Which is why I want to know why I'm having memories of things that never took place. He says he'll tell me when we've gotten through this situation. I can't help thinking he'll just melt into the night though. Cordelia?" Buffy looked back at Cordy.

The brunette sighed. "Buffy, if he wouldn't tell you, please don't ask me to."

"But you *do* know?" Buffy challenged.

Cordelia nodded miserably.

"Why would he tell *you* something he won't tell me?" the Slayer demanded.

That stiffened Cordelia's spine a bit and she replied angrily, "Look, I'm pretty valuable to Angel. It might not be going too far to say we're friends these days. He trusts me with a lot of important-"

Buffy interrupted her. "I'm sorry. You're right. I didn't mean it that way. It's just that - it seems to be about him and me and ... I don't understand why he won't tell me."

Cordelia calmed down, though being who she was, she made no pretense of accepting Buffy's apology. "Look, Buffy, I wish I could tell you. I do. But if he won't tell you, I can't betray his confidence."

"Cordelia...please?" Buffy pled.

Cordy dropped her head, remembering the anguish Angel had gone through after sacrificing his happiness to continue battling the forces of Darkness. It brought back memories of Doyle who, eager to 'fight the good fight' as Angel did, had sacrificed himself for his two friends and a boatload of people he didn't really know. And memories of Doyle always shamed Cordelia into remembering how she had taken him for granted, had teased him almost because of the obvious torch he'd carried for her.

"Cordelia?" Willow added softly.

The young almost-actress looked up. Buffy's eyes were filled with unshed tears and Wil's face was etched with worry. Swallowing past the lump in her own throat, Cordelia at last said, "What if I tell you what happened was the most precious thing in the world to him and that the only reason you can't remember it is to protect you?"

"Is that the truth?" Buffy demanded.

Cordy nodded.

"Will you make sure he tells me?" the blonde asked.

Cordy said, "I'll try. You know that's the best I can offer. You know him, Buffy."

"I know he'll try to go on protecting me even when I don't want him to."

"When exactly would that be?" Willow teased gently.

For the first time since waking, Buffy smiled.

Willow smiled back and even Cordelia managed a weak grin.

"So, um, your neck?" Wil asked again.

Nonchalantly, Buffy said, "Oh, it's just a scratch."

"Un-huh," Willow agreed, adding sarcastically, "you just brushed up against his teeth?"

"Something like that," Buffy said with the same wicked grin that had been on her face when she made her 'Orb of Thessala' suggestion to Angel the night before.

Cordelia indicated she was going to the bathroom to get dressed and do her make-up. As she left, she grew concerned about Angel, wanted to hurry to him as soon as possible, for Buffy and Willow had sunk to Willow's bed where Buffy was rattling on excitedly about how she'd forgotten how she felt when she kissed Angel.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
9:25 A.M. March 24

Giles watched as Wes and Angel discussed likely scenarios for the coming Vesparys possession. They felt, given Cordelia's visions, they knew pretty well who the demons would possess, though they admitted, as Giles did, that it made little sense for the demons to possess Angel and Oz. Spike, listening with a small portion of his attention, had started to inquire about that.

"Oh, right, never mind," he had finished. "A little too poofy, that."

Giles and Wesley gave Spike confused looks.

He stared at them, conveying his honest opinion that they were both beyond stupid. "Poofy? You know - the *both* of them being-"

"Oh, right, yes!" Giles exclaimed. "Thank you, Spike, for an image that may haunt me the rest of my natural life."

Wesley turned away, shaking his head as well.

From time to time the conversation between vampire and former Watcher was interrupted by Spike's loud exclamations, usually highly critical of the guests on the current morning talk program he was watching. Giles was sad to admit to himself he knew the program to be "Jenny Jones". Spike's last stay had been far too long.

Giles continued to study Angel, while putting together a breakfast for himself and Wes. He knew the girls would probably soon be there with doughnuts, so 'breakfast' actually consisted of English Breakfast Tea, brewed to Giles' own meticulous standards.

The night before, when Angel, who had followed Buffy out, failed to return, he and Wes had stepped outside. Buffy and Angel had both been gone, though Giles had grown concerned about the obvious damage to the clinging vines. He would never confront Buffy with his suspicions, knowing from long years of experience, she was in general a trustworthy, level-headed young woman. He also knew Angel was her one irredeemable weakness.

Motioning with one hand, he had asked Wes, "Any chance Angel would...?"

Wes had shaken his head. "No more chance than Buffy would."

Giles had nodded. "Wesley, may I ask you something?"

"Of course," Wes had answered with his usual formality.

"You may not want to answer, but I would appreciate if you would do so anyway. You may be assured anything you tell me would remain confidential."

"Oh, dear. This sounds quite serious. Do you wish to go back inside?"

Giles looked toward his apartment. "Actually, no. Spike is less likely to overhear us out here."

They had sat, instead, at the small table in the courtyard. Giles had begun, "I didn't mean to eavesdrop earlier, when you were speaking with Cordelia, but given the close proximity... Well, I'm sorry, but I *did* overhear some of your conversation."

"Understandable," Wesley had pardoned him.

"What did she mean when she referred to everything Angel had been through with Buffy?"

Wes had hesitated. "I assumed she was referring to their long history."

Giles had looked sternly at Wes. That look always caused Wesley to color a bit and it had done so then as well. "She said, I believe, "what he did then was". That sounds very specific to me, wouldn't you agree?"

Wesley had looked at the table for a long while. When he had spoken, his voice was far less formal, his face was less set than usual. "Rupert, I'm hardly at liberty to tell you about ... that is to share information which was given to me in the strictest of confidence."

Giles had grown angry. "Damn it, man! If this concerns Buffy, then I need to know. I may not officially be her Watcher any longer, but she is someone for whom I have deep affection and I will do what I must to protect her from *anyone* who harms her."

So, Wesley had reluctantly told Giles the story Cordelia had told to him one sunny morning. When he had finished, Giles had sat back in his chair, clearly stunned.

"Angel did ... that?" Giles had asked.

Wes had nodded. "Gave back the one wild hope that, I dare say, sustains him."

"And Buffy has no memory of this?"

Wes had shaken his head this time. "No one does, except Angel himself."

"How do you know then?"

Wes had sighed. "Doyle - the one who - well, I suppose Doyle was my predecessor in some ways- Doyle got it out of Angel. For Angel's sake, Doyle told Cordelia. It was Cordelia who, with Angel's permission, informed me of the events."

Giles had choked slightly. "Cordelia asked permission?"

Wes had smiled briefly, then come to his pretty colleague's defense. "Rupert, Cordelia has changed since leaving Sunnydale." He had grinned at the still shocked expression on Giles' face. "Oh, don't mistake me, she'll always be ...well, who she is. But working with Angel, the things she has seen, has experienced herself - those things have changed her."

Giles had taken off his glasses, rubbing his eyes and smiling tiredly. "And I suppose we should all be grateful?"

Wes had nodded slowly.

"All right then," Giles had agreed. They had been silent. "Buffy really has no memory of that day?"

"How could she?" Wes had asked rhetorically. "The Oracles took back the entire day, erased it, as it were."

"Still, I can't help but wonder..." Giles' voice had faded. "Though she would never admit it to me, I have no doubt what you described is Buffy's dearest dream."

They had remained outside talking for a long while. Giles had asked about the Oracles, about Cordelia's visions, if Wes had any news from the Council. Wes had asked how the situation was in Sunnydale. He had been surprised to learn of the Initiative and of Maggie Walsh's "son", Adam the cybernetic demon-man hybrid. Giles had explained in detail about Spike's current condition. It had caused chuckles in both of them for, although Wesley had never known Spike in his old incarnation, the neutered version was enough to irk any thinking person in very short order.

"For a while," Giles had been explaining, "he was running with Harmony Kendall."

"Harmony Kendall?" Wes had asked.

"Friend of Cordelia's," Angel had said from behind them. Both former Watchers had turned, making no comments on Angel's rather disheveled appearance. "Who in their right mind would sire Harmony?"

Giles had nodded in agreement, unable to supress a grin. "One of the Mayor's 'boys', at graduation."

"Has she caused a lot of ...yeah, right, what am I about to ask?"

Giles had laughed softly. "Yeah, real 'world in peril' stuff," he had joked.

"I can imagine," Angel had replied, clearly amused by the whole idea. "Buffy always said that girl was two-faced."

"I would say that is quite literally true now," Wes had added as the three men had laughed.

Catching his breath, Giles had said, "You know, none of this is really all that funny."

"Yeah," Angel had agreed, "but sometimes it doesn't have to be all *that* funny."

Shortly after, they had gone inside. Giles and Wesley to sleep, Angel, most likely, to keep an eye on Spike.

Now in the morning light, Giles studied Angel in a way he'd been unable to the night before. Giles had had a more than antagonistic relationship with Angel, even before he'd turned, before he'd killed Jenny, before he'd tortured Giles himself. Angel, and the demon Angelus, had always been a threat to Buffy in one way or another. Though Giles had felt Buffy's pain, recalling clearly her simple, yet anguished statement the night of her prom - "He's leaving me." - Giles understood why Angel had left and felt it was the best thing he could have done. With him in her life, the Slayer had no peace. Now Giles admired Angel for giving back his own happiness, for taking on the bitter resentment of his one true love, and for protecting her from memories which would drain her as surely as any vampire might. If Giles had ever questioned Angel's character, had ever doubted him (and he had), Wesley's story put an end to those questions and doubts. That the fate of the world might, at times, rest on Angel's shoulders gave Giles a sliver of peace, such a sliver as he knew Angel would never have.

A knock at the door brought Giles out of his reverie. Willow's head poked in. Giles figured at least one of them had knocked this time, which was a most unusual circumstance.

"We've got doughnuts," Willow called out.

"Jelly ones," Buffy added.

"Lots and lots of jellies," Cordelia further added.

Xander and Anya were right behind the three girls. Giles watched the group assembled in his living room, dispensing tea as needed, handing cream and sugar to Buffy, finding the napkins Willow realized they'd forgotten, and giving Anya a most puzzled look when she asked for peanut butter.

"It's for..." she began.

Giles held up his hand. "Truly, I don't want to know."

Anya shrugged and took the proffered jar.

Giles smiled distractedly, feeling, despite the coming battle, and despite Spike's lamentable presence, that all was right in their world.

Buffy brought him a pastry and smiled at him. Her gaze turned toward her friends as well. "Like old times, isn't it?" she asked.

Giles nodded. "Yes, indeed."

Slayer and Watcher were silent, thinking over past battles, all whose end results were chalked up in the proverbial 'win' column, though some of those victories were indubitably phyrric.

Around them swirled and surged the hidden eddies, as always. Willow was unaware that most likely, Oz had returned. Buffy herself did not know about the events in Los Angeles, but now her Watcher did. None knew of the details of her encounter with Angel, though Willow knew bits and pieces. The ties that bound them all together also tripped them up at times, but it was times like these, crises, when the 'Scooby gang' proved their mettle, demonstrated that there is little stronger than friendship and love.

Angel was watching Buffy, having observed her hair was brushed to cover her neck. Giles met his eyes and they exchanged almost imperceptible nods. Buffy watched them watch each other and thought of the tug-of-war that had always existed amongst them - Giles her Watcher and, truth be told, more her father now than her biological one; Angel the one love she could not escape and the one love completely off limits to her; herself, trying to balance her heart against her head. She sighed and gave them both a smile. She had come to accept she wouldn't have changed this complex, tortuous labyrinth of emotions for anything.

What was it Spike had said last year? Their blood called out for one another. They could love and hate and shag (well, not that) and fight, but she and Angel could never be *friends*. And they never would. Somehow, Buffy didn't think they really wanted to be, not deep down, not in their blood.

Woods - Sunnydale
10:08 A.M. March 24

The figure hidden by scrubby bushes turned over, groaned as light stabbed his eyes. He had vague memories of the night before, of chasing a familiar individual. With a start, the naked figure sat up, searching his hazy recollections for any instances of violence done to humans. He sighed with relief, recalling only tearing some bushes apart.

Last night had been the night before the full moon. Tonight he would have to lock himself up, find a way to get to his former cage. He couldn't risk hurting someone. When the moon had passed, he would find Willow. When the moon had passed he could quit lurking in the shadows, gazing in at the assemblage of his friends as they met at Giles, hard at work keeping the residents of Sunnydale safe from the monsters under the bed, from the things that went bump, thump, and slurp in the night.

He studied his surroundings, got his bearings, and knew he had left his van and clothes fairly close to where he'd ended up. He hoped he would be able to get that far without being seen. Daniel Osborne was back in Sunnydale and his timing couldn't have been worse.

Sunnydale Motor Lodge DANA SCULLY'S Room 10:34 A.M. March 24

"Scuh-leay!" Mulder called, pounding on her door.

"I'll be right there," Scully shouted, rushing around her room. In two fluid movements she stepped into her heels, while putting her second earring into place. As she got to the door, she grabbed her purse.

Mulder was leaning against the wall.

"You OK?" he asked. Her silence of the night before and her unusual tardiness this morning worried him.

"Yeah," she assured him. "I uh ... I just had trouble sleeping."

Mulder looked at her. quizzically. He cocked his head slightly. "Isn't that usually my line?"

She shrugged.

"You sure everything's all right?"

Scully stopped as they walked toward the restaurant's brightly lit coffee shop. The words almost tumbled out of her. When this case was over she promised herself, berating herself as she did so for being a coward. She sighed. "Mulder, really, I'm fine. It's just this case - it's really starting to get to me."

He nodded.

They continued down to the coffee shop where Mulder ate a cholesterol filled breakfast and Scully consumed a bran muffin. They discussed their plans for the day. Scully took her cross from the pocket of her jacket, asking their waitress for the name of a good jeweler.

Mulder grinned at her. "This town is really working on you, isn't it?"

"And it isn't on you?" she countered.

He nodded with the same grin plastered on his face. "All right, Agent Skeptical, we'll stop at the jewelers," he teased.

"Why thank you, Agent Gullible," she had replied, smiling broadly.

They finished their breakfasts in a pleasant silence.

Wegman's Jewelers
Downtown Sunnydale
11:03 A.M. March 24

Scully fingered the two chains the jeweler held out for her inspection. She made her choice quickly and easily. The jeweler rang up her purchase, took her credit card, and made polite conversation while they waited for the card approval to come through.

"What brings you to Sunnydale, Miss Scully?" the jeweler asked.

"Business," Scully stated.

The man nodded, then gave her a perplexed look. "Business?"

Scully continued to gaze at him, her look bland and inscrutable.

He leaned closer to her. "Which kind do you hunt?" he asked conspiratorially.

In a stage whisper, she replied, "The gray ones."

Mulder covered the astonished laugh that escaped his lips with a hasty cough. Scully turned and looked at him. He was peering intently at the merchandise in the case opposite Scully. She watched as he shifted, viewing the jewelry from different angles.

"You have some *lovely* stones here, Mr. Wegman." He looked up in time to see the alarmed expression on Scully's face. "I mean, the diamonds."

"Oh, uh, thank you," the jeweler sputtered. "I'm uh...that is ... Mr. Wegman was the previous owner. He used his ... er ... well, he acquired them."

"I'm getting the impression Mr. Wegman wouldn't have been able to help Miss Scully with her cross?" Mulder asked.

The man looked at Mulder. "That is ... well, no."

The credit card machine beeped and spit out the copies Scully would sign. As she signed the slip, the jeweler offered to put her cross on the chain for her.

"Miss Scully?"


"The um ... O-ring on your charm is seriously weakened. I could fix it for you."

Scully hesitated.

"It's - Sunnydale isn't a good place to be without this sort of talisman."

Scully nodded.

"It will take me a little bit of time. Would you like to come back later this afternoon?"

"All right," she agreed.

"Give me a couple of hours...say, anytime after two p.m. I close at five."

As they walked out of the shop, having promised to come back between two and five, Scully asked Mulder what their next move would be.

"I thought we would check out the library. Maybe we can determine where these things might 'spawn'."

"You don't think Mr. Giles can figure it out?" she asked, surprised that Mulder didn't want to spend more time with the monster-hunting set.

He looked over at her, confounded by her sudden interest in the Slayer and her cohorts. He shrugged. "Maybe a little, old-fashioned detective work is required here."

"So, where's the library?" Scully asked with a smile.

Mulder slipped his hand in the small of her back and pointed straight ahead.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California 3:47 P.M. March 24

Cordelia, Xander, and Anya came through Giles' front door arguing.

"I'm telling you," Cordy said in her 'I'm-right-and-you're- such-an-idiot' tone, "the list says 'moxilla bear roost', whatever *that* is."

"Cordy, I go to the magic shop for Giles *all* the time. I've learned how to read his ... unique handwriting. Besides, there is no such thing as 'moxilla bear roost'," Xander explained.

"I'm telling you," she insisted. "When the whole spell fails and we all die horrible, grisly deaths because *you* wouldn't listen..."

Xander ignored her and handed Giles a bag of Vanilla Bean Roast coffee.

"Thank you," Giles said dryly. "I'm sure we're all going to need this before the night is over."

Cordelia stood, open mouthed. The smug look on Xander's face caused her to snap her jaw closed abruptly. "Fine," she said, in a huff, "just because I have better things to do than fetch, like a good little boy-"

"Oh, yeah?" Xander retorted, cutting her off. "Well, at least I don't have these lame-ass, vague 'visions' about some big, scary danger-"

"Lame-ass?" Cordelia shrieked. "I'll have you know those visions can be pretty darn important-"

"Enough!" Angel roared from across the room. "This isn't the time to pretend you're back in high school fighting to hide the fact you like each other."

Xander and Cordy both gave off inarticulate sounds of protest and dismay.

"You're just jealous," Anya muttered.

Cordy turned around, her face aghast. "Jealous? of Xander? Xander Harris?"

Anya nodded, squeezing her boyfriend's arm possessively.

"Oh, please," Cordy said and stalked away.

Anya smiled her smug, triumphant grin. She missed the glares the rest tossed her, Xander, and the hopping-mad Cordelia.

"Look," Buffy said, her tone sharp and irritated, "this is going to take every single one of us working together. If *anyone* in this room thinks they can't handle it, they need to leave. Now."

Spike got up from the couch and headed for the door.

"Sit down, Spike," Buffy, Giles, and Angel all said together.

"But ... she said! She said if anyone could-int work together, they should leave. Thass wot I'm doin', mates," Spike protested.

"Sit down, Spike," Buffy repeated.

"But you said!" he insisted.

"Spike," Angel said slowly, gravely, "sit down like Buffy told you."

"Or wot? I can still hurt you, friend. It's any *living* thing I can't harm. That doesn't include you."

Angel stared at him. Spike stared back.

Sulking, Spike sat back down.

There was an uneasy silence. Willow turned back quickly to Giles' spell book. Anya looked around the room from underneath her eye lashes. Xander shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. Buffy and Angel exchanged irritated glances. It was Wes who broke the stillness.

"Right, then. I suggest we go over our plans again."

"I still don't see the point in planning-" Spike started.

"Spike?" Buffy spoke sweetly. "If I were you, I wouldn't mention the word 'point'. It might give someone ideas."

Spike closed his mouth with clear ill humor.

The Scooby gang resumed making their plans, using what little information they had to guess what spells what be most useful, how to exorcised the demons once they had possession of their victims, how to destroy them if possible.

"My biggest concern," Giles said to Willow and Wesley as they hovered over the book, "is how to contain the demons *if* we can even exorcise them."

"Buffy can't just slay them?" Willow asked hopefully, her face betraying the fact she already knew the answer.

Giles shook his head. "The demons will ... they won't have a corporeal form as you and I do. I can't say I'm certain of anything, but given what little we do know about these demons, I believe our only chance of killing them is to contain them, then destroy the vessels in which they are held."

"And we still have no idea how to contain them?" Buffy asked, having walked over to hear what Giles had to say.

Giles shook his head.

"Giles," she said with urgency. "If Cordelia is right, this thing is going to possess Angel. We *have* to do something."

"Buffy, we are working on it."

"Well...work faster," she demanded.

"Buffy," Willow said earnestly, "Giles already found the spell that will ... OK, it's like suspended animation for the demon."

"How long does it last?"

The three stared back down at the book. "We don't know," Wesley admitted at last.

"And we don't have a whole lot of time. I'd rather not go into this fight guessing." Buffy added.

All three nodded at her. Wes leaned against the wall, reading from yet another old text. Willow sighed and turned her attention back to the book on the desk in front of her. Giles also continued reading from another tome.

Buffy looked over her shoulder, where Cordelia still sulked in the entrance to the kitchen. The brunette's face had lost the well-known pout and Cordelia's face evinced deep concern. Buffy followed the path the other girl's eyes traveled and found they rested on Angel, who stood staring at Giles' empty fireplace. As though she sensed Buffy's eyes on her, Cordy looked up and traded a pained look with the Slayer.

Buffy looked down at the floor for a moment. She was having trouble figuring out Cordelia these days. In some ways she was the same girl, honest to the point of bluntness, far more concerned about herself, herself, and herself, than anyone else. Yet she had changed in subtle ways, showing obvious concern for Angel and a fond irritation for Wesley. Buffy looked back up, wanting to think of something to say to her, but Cordelia's face was contorted and her hands were pressed to her temples.

"Angel!" Buffy called out. "Wesley!"

Both men turned. With the preternatural, catlike vampiric grace, Angel was across the room, his arm around Cordy's waist, holding her up as she sagged into his embrace. Wes held her hands and rubbed her wrists lightly.

"What do you see?" Angel asked softly.

Cordelia shrieked and groaned. "Arrrgh...ohhhhh....godddddd.... um...OK." She breathed heavily.

Willow without having been asked had gotten a glass of water and the pain pills from Cordelia's purse. She stood on the fringes of the Los Angeles trio, waiting until Cordy had delivered whatever message the Powers has sent.

Cordelia writhed in fresh pain as a second wave hit her. Her body stiffened and pitched backwards. Angel held on to her more firmly, reaching up with one hand to stroke her hair lightly.

"Oh...OK ... what's an am'ru?"

"A what?" Angel asked.

Wes looked at Angel, perplexed. Had the Powers been even more vague than usual?

"Cordelia, are you certain ...?" Wes asked.

She nodded. "Am'ru." Then she spelled it.

"Oh, good Lord!" Giles explained.

"Oooh," Anya exclaimed. "It must be important. That's what he *always* says when it's important."

"Giles?" Buffy asked.

Giles raised one finger, signaling everyone to be quiet, to give him a moment. He pulled a dusty book from one of the upper shelves. Pages turned quickly as Giles' excellent memory guided his fingers to the right section.

"Oh," Wes breathed. "Of course!"

"Hello?!?!? Psychic boys...care to clue in the rest of us?" Buffy demanded.

"It's a legend ... or well, it's always been ...that is no one thought it described an actual account," Giles sputtered out.

"At the risk of sounding like Buffy's echo, *what*?" Xander asked.

"In Africa, centuries ago, there was a story of a 'water killer'," Giles began.

"It's always been assumed the legend meant some - entity - that poisoned the water," Wes added.

Buffy was nodding. "But it could be our lovebirds?"

Both Brits nodded.

"So, does this legend give us any ideas how to kill these things?" Willow asked.

"Actually, yes, it does," Giles responded gravely.

Mayor Richard M. Wilkins III Public Library
Sunnydale, California
5:23 PM March 24

"Scully?" Mulder asked softly, trying to catch his partner's wandering attention. "Reticula to Dana Scully."

She looked over at him, her eyes blank. "What? I'm sorry," she said sheepishly. "I guess I was ... Reticula, Mulder?"

He grinned at her. "Got you back, didn't it?"

She nodded.

"What were you thinking about?" he asked.

She smiled softly. "Angel, actually."

Mulder's face went blank, his eyes veiled by concern. "You two really hit if off, hmmm?"

Scully raised an eyebrow at him. Then she shook her head, chuckling. "Jealous?" she teased.

Mulder shrugged, trying to appear unconcerned, failing, in Scully's eyes, miserably. "Concerned," he replied a bit defensively. "This wouldn't be the first time you were charmed by a bloodsucker."

Scully sputtered at his implication. "What are you saying?"

Mulder didn't say a word, just pointed to his front teeth and grinned wickedly at his partner.

"He did *not* have buck teeth," Scully hissed. "And who says I was charmed...by either one of them?"

Mulder gave her a look that clearly read "Oh, come on".

She looked back down at the table where volumes of Sunnydale history lay open in front of them. Without looking up at him, she spoke, her voice soft, distant. "Angel has some ... interesting insights, that's all."

"Insights about?"

Scully raised her eyes. "People," she responded flatly.

Mulder was about to press her on her meaning, when she gasped. "What?" he asked.

"What time is it?" she exclaimed.

Mulder checked his watch, noticing Scully wasn't wearing hers. "About 5:30. Why? ... Wegman...your cross. Scully, I'm sorry."

"Do you think...maybe...?"

"We can go over there and check. We haven't found anything this afternoon anyway. Then we could go over to Giles'. See if they've figured anything out we haven't."

Scully nodded.

Seeing them stand up the librarian made her way over to them. She asked if they were done with the documents she'd brought them, if they needed anything else. Assuring her they were done and were, in fact, leaving, they thanked her for her help. She declined their offer to help her replace the texts they had perused, saying, "Oh, no, it's quite all right. I know exactly where they go. It's an honor to keep the library in the sort of order that would have pleased our dear, late mayor."

Mulder looked at her, perplexed. "I thought the Mayor...?"

"Oh, no!" the librarian exclaimed, interrupting before Mulder could finish his thought. "Don't you believe whatever lies you might hear about Mayor Wilkins; he was a wonderful man."

Mulder nodded, giving her the smile he reserved for the people he deemed loonier than he ever might be. "Thanks again," he told her as he guided Scully out of the library.

Scully grinned at him once they were outside. "What was that all about?"

"The uh...Mayor wasn't exactly a great humanitarian."


Mulder shook his head.

"Why not?" she asked.

"Well," he said, "Mayor Wilkins - er - he turned into a giant snake during the graduation last spring."

"Really?" she asked, her eyebrow sky high.

"He tried to eat the student body," Mulder concluded.

Scully nodded. "And?"


"What happened?"

"Oh, Buffy stopped him."

"Buffy? alone?"

"No, with ...well, pretty much everyone we've met."



"I know I've asked you this before, but, is there anything you don't believe?"

He laughed at her.

"Come on, Scully, you seemed to believe in a lot of this yourself last night."

She looked over at him as they walked. "Well," she paused. "A giant snake?"

He nodded.

She shrugged. She had seen a few things the night before that had worked on her scientific mind, but reports of such bizarre happenings were still another matter.

"Damn," she muttered as they reached Wegman's Jewelers. The shop was dark and shuttered, the door locked.

Mulder peered in the window. He took a chance and knocked, but no one responded. Scully peered in the other window and saw no one either.

"Worried?" Mulder teased her gently.

She looked at him. "Of course not," she insisted.

Mulder was about to offer her the cross Cordelia had given him last night, which he had not yet returned, when Scully motioned down the street.

"Xander, right?" Mulder called out.

Xander and Anya stopped as they reached the agents. Anya clung to Xander's arm, while batting her eyelashes at Mulder. "Agents," Xander said, inclining his head and smiling at them.

"We were uh - we were just on our way to Giles'," Mulder told them.

"Really?" Anya asked with a flirtatious smile. Though she did find the male agent attractive she didn't really have any sincere interest in him. Rather, she enjoyed Xander's varied reactions to her occasional flirtations. "We're on our way back right now. We had to go and get-"

"Tea. Giles was completely out and he gets really cranky without his Earl Grey," Xander interrupted her.

Anya's face grew cross and she began to argue.

"Ahn," Xander insisted, staring sharply at her, "I *said* Giles was out of tea."

Anya glared at him, but caught his meaning before she said anything else. Meekly she added, "Yes, that's right. Giles is really awful without his tea."

Mulder and Scully exchanged amused glances.

"Want a ride back with us?" Mulder offered.

Reluctantly, Xander and Anya agreed. As Xander held the rear passenger door for his girlfriend he motioned her to say nothing. She screwed her face up at him, wanting to argue. He made an emphatic nixing motion with his hand and she nodded, sulkily.

Starting the car, Mulder also made an attempt at starting conversation. "So, did your research last night turn up anything useful?"

"Research?" Xander asked, choking a bit.

"Yeah," Mulder said slowly. "Buffy said the rest of you would be doing research while we - uh - patrolled."

"Ohhh," Xander replied, nodding. "Right. Research. Well, actually," he laughed uncomfortably, "Giles, Wesley, and Willow are really the ones who do best with that book-learning stuff."

"Xander!" Anya protested.

"No," he insisted, glaring at the ex-demon, watching her settle back into a stony silence. "I, that is, we, Anya and I, we provide a ... different service."

"And that would be?" Scully asked.

Smiling nervously at her, his voice taking on the self-deprecating tone his friends knew so well, he said, "Food."

"Food?" Mulder queried.

"Food," Xander restated. "Donuts, pizza, you know, the stuff that keeps those super brains running."

Mulder and Scully nodded. After a brief silence, Mulder tried again. "So, did their research turn up anything?"

"Gosh, I'm not entirely certain," Xander said. He decided to supply a small amount of the truth. "I think Giles said something about a spell that might help."

Xander looked out the window, seeing they were nearly to Giles'. He told Mulder, "You want to park here."

"Hmm?" Mulder responded.

"Park. Here," Xander repeated.


"Yeah," Xander replied. He looked over at Anya, who seemed equally confused.

Xander was about to say something when Scully addressed her partner. "Mulder? Don't you recognize it?"

Mulder looked at her as he eased the car alongside the curb. He sounded a little dazed as he replied, "Yeah. I guess I was just ... distracted." He shook his head, trying to clear away the sudden profusion of mental cobwebs.

In the backseat, Anya tapped Xander excitedly. She mouthed "Willow's spell is working." Xander nodded knowingly.

As the four of them entered Giles', a scene of determined grimness greeted them. An impressive supply of weaponry was piled in one corner of the room. Buffy was arguing quietly with Angel as the two of them loomed over the collection of stakes, crossbows, holy water, and what appeared to be a sword or two.

"The point is that *everyone* survives this, remember?" Buffy whispered urgently.

"Yeah," Angel agreed, "but if the spells don't work, then the hosts have to be killed before the spawning takes place."

Buffy gazed up at him, her eyes angry, frightened, weary, and above all, woeful. "I killed you once. I can't do it again," she told him.

He gave her a slow, sad smile. "Then make sure Cordelia's armed."

Buffy glared at him, but couldn't help choking back a smile and giggle. "In that case, let me get a spatula."

"What?" he asked, incredulous.

She grinned at him and made a dismissive gesture with her hand. "Long story. Homecoming?"

"Oh, right," he agreed. They looked at each other for a long moment. "Buffy..." he said softly.

"Later," she replied, her voice equally soft. "When this is over."

"Yeah, but if-"

She shook her head. "We've never lost a battle like this one. We're not gonna start now."

Giles came downstairs, seeing Xander and Anya. "Thank the Lord, I was beginning to worry you two weren't able-"

"No worries, G-man," Xander said brightly. "We've got your tea right here." He held up the bag he carried and pointed.

Giles' faced clouded over. "Xander, I've asked you before not to use that ridiculous name... My...?" He caught sight of Mulder and Scully standing behind the two teens. "Yes, thank you."

Anya broke in. "We know how cranky you get without it."

Giles nodded. "Definitely. Yes. Cranky."

Giles crossed the room and shook the hands of both agents in greeting. Quite loudly, he announced their arrival.

Mulder reflected on how oddly the denizens of Sunnydale were acting and was beginning to concur with Scully's assertion that these people might be delusional after all. Trying to sound interested, he explained why they'd stopped by. "We wondered if you had uncovered anything."

"Why don't we let Wesley fill the agents in?" Xander suggested. "I know how much Giles would like his tea, *now*."

Wesley and Giles exchanged looks and subtle nods. Motioning for the agents to join him at the coffee table where some books still lay open, Wesley sat down while Giles, Xander, and Anya went into the kitchen.

"Why on earth did you bring them here?" Giles demanded in an angry whisper.

"We didn't have much of a choice," Xander defended. "We ran into them downtown."

"What were they doing downtown?" Giles asked.

"How should we know?"

"You didn't think to ask?"

"We were sort of trying to avoid their questions about the 'research' we were all doing last night!" Xander exclaimed quietly.

"Oh," the Watcher conceded. "But you brought them back here?"

"They were on their way here already," Anya supplied.

"I figured at least this way we got here the same time they did."

Giles rubbed his forehead. "All right...so now we have to figure out how to get rid of them."

"Oh, that will be easy," Anya informed him.

Giles looked at her.

"Willow's spell is working."

Giles looked to Xander for confirmation. Xander smiled and nodded.

"How do you know?"

"Xander had to tell Agent Mulder where to park when we got here," Anya said in a gleeful whisper.

"Yeah, it was weird. It was like he didn't even recognize this place," Xander added.

"Like who didn't recognize Giles'?" Willow asked from behind them.

"Agent Mulder," Anya told her in the same gleeful whisper.

"My spell?"

"Is working like a charm, Wil," Xander assured her.

Willow smiled broadly and clapped silently.

From the living room came the sound of Wesley, prattling on, using big, supernatural terms in an attempt to sound more knowledgeable. It was hardly that he didn't know what he was doing. Far more it was that he didn't know what he was doing just *then*, nor why. He was desperately trying to make the 'information' sound believable without giving away what the Scooby gang did indeed know.

Spike interrupted the varying conversations that swirled around the flat. His gaze was focused on the darkening skies he could see from the window. "I should think, 'gang'," he said loudly and with biting sarcasm, "that we should consider moving this party, if you know wot I mean."

All eyes followed the path of Spike's gaze. The sun was almost nearly all the way down; in just a few moments it would sink completely below the western horizon permitting Angel and Spike free movement throughout Sunnydale. It would mark in Oz, wherever he may be, the transformation from man to wolf and put in jeopardy any he might come across.

"Right," Giles agreed tersely.

"You know where we need to go, then?" Mulder asked.

"We believe so, yes," Giles replied. "You can follow us."

Mulder nodded, his enthusiasm for the antics of this group returning. Scully sighed, wondering what tonight would bring, preparing equally for an assault to her good sense or the possibility of unforeseen revelations.

Scully was halfway across the courtyard when she heard Mulder ask Willow, "And where are we following you to exactly?"

Mulder was puzzled by Willow's expression as though he'd cornered her in some way. She glanced quickly at Giles who was the last one out the door. He nodded almost imperceptibly at her. Brightly, she responded, "The high school."

Mulder nodded, uncertain where that might be. He jogged to catch up with Scully, so they could check the map quickly. Mulder was feeling as though, for some reason he couldn't quite fathom, no one would be too willing to tell him how to get there. And given that niggling feeling, he didn't want to rely solely on following people who suddenly seemed quite evasive.

Scully had heard only part of Willow's reply as she had gotten into the car to wait for Agent Eager. She was already getting out the map when Mulder opened his door and slid into the driver's seat. She looked up to see three cars pulling away from the curb.

"You checking the route?" Mulder asked.

She nodded. "I didn't quite hear what Willow said, though," she told him.

Mulder gave her the name he'd heard Willow say.

She looked at him, confused. "Are you sure?" she asked.

He stared at her. He suddenly felt as though he walked in a thick forest, unable to determine his direction, the moon obscured by heavy, imposing clouds. He nodded uncertainly. "Why?"

"I thought I heard her say something about a school," Scully told him.

"I was right there," he protested. "I heard ..." he paused.

"What? Mulder, what is it?"" Scully was growing worried.

He shut his eyes, hearing Willow's voice again, certain she had said 'Short Canyon', but as though from *underneath* her words, he heard ... he wasn't sure what, but not what she'd said.

"Mulder?" Scully's voice was sharp, concerned.

He opened his eyes and looked at her. "It's like - like she said on thing, but I heard another. Kinda the same as ..." he smiled nervously and continued, "those bad subtitles in the old Japanese movies."

She smiled weakly at him.

"Damn it!" he exclaimed, realizing they'd now lost any chance of following the others. "They did something...somehow..."

"How, Mulder?" Scully asked. "In addition to that super strength and agility Buffy has, does she have magic powers to ... I don't know, confuse you?"

He shook his head. "But Willow studies wicca."

"But you were never alone with Willow. Wouldn't she have to put some," Scully hesitated, "'hex' on you or something?"

Mulder's eyes widened. "Or something I own!"

"You gave her something of yours?"

He shook his head. "But while we were patrolling, during the chase with the first vampire, I lost my phone. Buffy was *so* certain we'd find it." Mulder slammed his palms against the steering wheel." He paused. "But why just me?"

Scully was shaking her head. "Not just you... Angel ... he did that thing with my cross. It - threw me and I backed away from him."

"That's when the chain broke?"

She nodded. "But Angel held kept the cross for me - oh! - in his pocket."


She glared at Mulder, not angry with him, marveling instead at how thoroughly they'd both been played by amateurs in the stealth game. She shook her head back and forth slowly. "When we were attacked, he was - a step or two behind me. I didn't even think about it at the time..."

"He was leaving your cross."

They looked at each other. Mulder said, "Somehow I don't think Willow was doing a lot of research last night after all." Scully looked out the passenger side window, wondering what their next step should be.

"Mulder?" she said softly, a smile creeping across her face. "*I* heard Willow correctly."

"How can you be sure?" Mulder asked. Before she could answer, the same smile spread across his face. "Your cross is locked up at Wegman's Jewelry store."

They smiled at one another.

"Where did she say they were going?" Mulder asked.

"I think I heard her say something about a school?"

"Which one?"

Scully shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure, but a good guess would be-"

"The old high school," he interrupted. "Buffy told me about some of the stuff that went on there. 'Spooky' place, by her account."

Scully consulted the map. "OK, *this* should be pretty easy..."

Sunnydale High (Abandoned, Burned Out)
Sunnydale, California 8:45 PM March 24

Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Spike had been back to the school since graduation day. Very recently, actually, as yet another group of demons had attempted to open the Hell Mouth. Buffy, with Riley's help, had stopped them and saved the world *again*.

Although no one who'd been at the final Sunnydale High Razorback graduation could have doubted the damage done, it still came as a shock, almost a physical blow to those who saw it for the first time.

Cordelia gazed around in saddened surprise. Evidence of the snake-mayor's passage through the halls as he'd chased Buffy to the library was unmistakable. Lockers, torn from their moorings, flattened, then charred by the explosion and fire, littered the floor. She barely noticed Wes' hand on her arm, guiding her through the debris. Bits of glass lay everywhere, testimony to the shattered windows. Doors hung from hinges or leaned crazily against the walls they had once segregated.

"Awful, isn't it?" Willow asked her quietly, as they picked their way along what was once the main hall.

Cordelia nodded.

"I mean, this wasn't exactly my favorite place in the world, but..."

Cordelia stopped. Her face were pensive and melancholy. "I know it's *really* shallow-"

"Cordelia Chase, shallow? Don't believe it, folks!" Xander interrupted her.

"Xander," Willow scolded, seeing Cordy was in genuine pain.

Cordy glared at her ex-boyfriend. " - but this place... there are so many memories here. There," she pointed, "that's where Grant Dellums asked me out and I turned him down. And that..." she gestured again, "that's where Ambrosia once fell on her face in front of-"

"Yep. The more things change..." Xander said.

"OK, OK, would you rather we went over *your* memories, Xander? That's where Bailey Reese dumped apple juice on you freshman year...that's where Buffy turned you down for a prom date."

"It is not!" Buffy protested.

"Right," Xander agreed.

"It was in the courtyard," Buffy added. "Xander wouldn't have dared ask me out under artificial light."

"Hello?" Giles said, irritation evident in his tone and the expression in his eyes. "As thrilling as this stroll down memory lane is, I think there are some more ... pressing matters to deal with."

The teens all apologized sullenly, knowing Giles was right.

Though no more comments were made, each member of the little band of intrepid monster-fighters was lost in his own reflections of the things that had occurred in this building.

Cordelia had given voice only to the moments which confirmed everyone's view of her as a shallow popularity seeker. The truth was she saw more things than she let on, felt them as deeply as the others. Her locker was where she'd once hidden as she took off the pendant Xander had given her two Valentine's Days past; it was where she'd kept pictures of the two of them. It had been raided during the 'witch hunt' led by Buffy's deluded mom and her expensive hair spray confiscated. She was surprised to find the pang that might once have caused her was now very minor. These walls had seen her greatest triumphs on what may well be the smallest stage possible. She realized part of her had looked forward to coming back here someday, to showing everyone how very well she'd done - handsome, wealthy husband, perfect children, fast, luxurious car, clothes straight from Paris, shoes from Italy. Now she was back and more proud of what she actually did have to show off than she ever could have been of those other things.

Angel, walking next to her, caught her eye and smiled. She smiled back at him. She and Angel still scraped against one another often. They always would. And she hadn't ruled out the rich, handsome husband, nor the children and the car, but Angel knew, better than anyone, that she had found a higher purpose in her life than getting the latest Prada handbag.

For Wesley the burned out walls reminded him starkly of his utter and complete failure as a Watcher. Faith had become a dangerous rogue. An accidental death, an overbearing, foolish Council-sanctioned tactic had driven her from the light to live in the shadows. Buffy had quit the Council, turning her back on their demands and guidance. He had been, truth be told, woefully unprepared for life on a Hell Mouth and rather than rely upon Giles, who might have helped him, he'd been arrogant, stuffy, and thoroughly out of touch. Yet, this group of people had never completely turned against him. In the final moments, they had accepted his offer of help, had made use of him, no matter how badly he bungled his part in their plans. They'd shown more faith in him than the feckless Council and, now, were even willing to treat him as one of their own.

Angel had seen destruction, ruins, architectural chaos in his unnatural lifetime. Never had they affected him as this place did. In this place so much had happened, so much with Buffy, with her friends, much he gladly remembered, much he would erase from his memory were it possible. He'd chased Jenny Callendar along these halls, listening to the rapid pace of her steps, hearing her panicked breathing. He shuddered at the memory of her throat in his hands, the rush of blood in her veins, the sound her pretty white neck had made as he'd snapped it, ending her life, disdaining even to feed on her.

Once, in these halls he and Buffy had met, not themselves, but joined in some mystical way to a pair of lovers who'd died, a murder-suicide, in 1955. The demon Angelus had held sway over him then, but he'd been unable to resist, telling himself he went to her then only to torment her. Yet he had come to the school as she had, pulled there a spirit who begged forgiveness and another who offered absolution for a crime committed and forgiven more than forty years before. Buffy, unable to forgive herself, taking the blame for all that had happened between them, to Jenny herself, had been ripe for possession by the spirit of the young killer. Angelus, denying any portion of Angel still existed within him, had been inhabited by the spirit of the victim. Together, they'd fought, acted again the parts assigned to them, and found some measure of peace. He'd held Buffy, danced with her, kissed her deeply and with a pleasure as pure as anything he'd ever felt. In the end, as history melted away, leaving them only themselves again, they'd resumed their roles as bitter enemies.

He sighed. They reached what had once been the library. Moving cautiously, the group walked into the library.

"Giles," Buffy breathed.

Giles looked up. Buffy pointed. Everyone followed the direction of her fingers.

Cordelia made a sound of disgust as she turned quickly away from the sight of two bodies. Willow gasped and also turned.

Angel and Buffy stepped toward the mutilated corpses.

"Be careful!" Giles admonished.

They looked up at him.

"Well," he said, "I *have* to say that. It was in the Watcher's handbook."

"Yeah, right next to the part about befriending us bloodsucking creatures of darkness, no doubt," Spike said. He looked around, waiting for someone, anyone to respond to his jest. "Wot? No one gonna tell me to shut up? no threats of blemishing my lily white chest with a pointed wooden object? Oh, come on!"

Anya looked at him with the same sort of gaze a lizard fixes on ... anything. Her voice was flat, her tone perfunctory. "Spike, shut up." She turned to Xander. "Was that good?"

Xander nodded distantly, his eyes were drawn unwillingly to the sight of the bodies and of Buffy and Angel gingerly examining them.

"Xander," she whined.

"Anya, not now!" he snapped.

She shrunk from him until he reached an arm out and placed it around her shoulders, pulling her to him wordlessly. She went with reluctance, not fully understanding still this mortal horror of death.

"Ground zero," Buffy whispered. "They're here somewhere."

With great care, Buffy and Angel moved the bodies to a corner of the library.

Solemnly, Wes said, "We should get started."

"And for heaven's sake, everyone do look out for anything that resembles a puddle of water," Giles admonished.

Giles, with Wesley's participation, drew the pentagram that would draw the spawn-crazed demons, would, if the first spell worked, focus the energy that would bind the demons in time, suspend their force for a few precious moments. Cordelia, under Willow's guidance, placed the copper am'rus where Giles had indicated during their planning.

"Do you think these will work?" Cordy asked Wil nervously.

Willow looked at the planters they'd pressed into service as make-shift mystical, demon containers. The description in the legend Giles had found had been reasonably detailed, but there had been no time to fulfill all the given requirements.

"I highly doubt the magic shop would stock ancient African am'rus which have exactly one use," Giles had said glumly.

"You never know," Willow had inserted hopefully. "They did used to carry the Orbs of Thessala as 'new age paperweights'."

Several sets of eyes had reproached her silently.

"What?" she had demanded. "They *did*."

"Yeah," Spike had supported her. "And all these things sound like are bloody big pots, if you ask me."

"Spike, they are hardly 'big pots', as you so-" Wesley had admonished, his voice breaking off when Buffy had turned suddenly and rushed out the front door.

"Buffy?" Giles had called after her.

The only sound they'd heard in response was the scrape of metal on concrete, a muffled huffing sound, and then the hollow bang of a large container as it bumped into the outer wall.

"Oh good Lord!" Giles exclaimed. "Not my ficus...Buffy, that's the first plant I've been able to keep alive in ages."

Buffy had stood in the doorway, nudging a large, copper planter with her toe. "Giles, it's copper, it's round, it's 'mouth be more narrow than its base'. It'll do, right?" Giles had regarded her balefully. "Best of all, you've got one more out there."

Giles had groaned and muttered something about his long suffering horticultural projects. "All right, yes, yes, the planters should just about do."

"We are going to need some different herbs, the tongue of a young lemur - oooh, yuck! - and the sap of a ripe thornbush," Willow had reminded Giles.

"Sounds like Ahn and I are magic store bound," Xander had said.

Giles had looked up. "Yes? You don't mind?"

Xander had shrugged. "These ingredients vital to the cause?"

"Extremely," Giles had told him.

"Then write us up a list and we are outta here," Xander had insisted.

When Xander and Anya had gone (only to return later with the two FBI agents in tow), Giles had drawn Willow and Wes aside.

"I must tell you both, I'm not certain this will be successful," he had said to them.

"Giles, we don't have much of a choice, do we?" Willow had asked.

"I fear Willow is correct," Wesley had concurred. "We have to assume it is the herbal and um...er ... animal products which are the key to the spell's efficacy."

Giles had nodded. "I just wanted to make certain we were all prepared for the worst."

"When aren't we?" Willow had responded, her voice a cross between grim irritation and sarcastic gibe.

Now she and Cordy set the am'rus in the places Giles and Wesley had deemed best. Willow was loathe to answer the brunette's question.

"Willow?" Cordelia repeated, "Do you think they'll work?"

"I don't know, Cordelia," Willow admitted. "I hope so."

Cordy had stood back and surveyed the on-going work. Giles and Wes were nearly finish. The am'rus were in place. Her face grew puzzled. "I *still* don't get why we didn't just put these babies in the circle."

Willow sighed. They'd explained this once, but she went over it again. Quickly. "From what they've read, Giles and Wesley believe the demons, in possession of a human, are repelled by copper, so placing the am'rus *in* the pentagram would drive the hosts away. But, when exorcised they'll be defenseless, desperately seeking safety and then, they'll be drawn to the copper."

"So why don't we just try to get them into the plan- am'rus to begin with?"

Willow shrugged. "We can try, but, if your visions are accurate, the possessions *will* take place."

Cordy was silent again. The am'rus lay on their sides, their mouths just touching on the edges of the pentagram at the points where the star's upper angles intersected the circle. Cordy shook her head.

"What?" Willow asked.

"I'm just wondering ... the possession isn't going to be pretty, but the exorcism...," her voice trailed off and she shuddered.

"Is going to make that possession look like it could win a beauty pageant," Willow finished for her.

"Again, as I've said so many times over the last four years, *yuck*."

Xander stood back and watched the girls work. He followed the progress made by Wes and Giles. His eyes found Buffy, standing protectively close to Angel. Xander loved Buffy, as he had for nearly as long as he'd known her, but the time that passed had smoothed over the jagged edges of that emotion. He would never like Angel. At times it felt like he was the only one who remembered well the pain Angel's other self had put them all through. Still, Xander had come to accept that Buffy would always love Angel with a passion she couldn't feel for anyone else. He knew he had a part of her Angel could never have - deep, trusting, secure friendship and loyalty untainted by a past full of razorlike memories.

He felt Anya squeeze his arm and he looked down at her and smiled. She was annoying, contrary, and abrasive. She was also devoted, in her way, to him.

"What're you thinking?" she asked him.

He shook his head, looking around the charred library. He gazed at what remained of the stairs that had led to the upper level, where the stacks had once contained all manner of volumes, both arcane and mundane. He'd stood there and listened to Buffy lament her Slayerness with Giles, had broken an arm defending his friends against Drusilla's onslaught, had furtively kissed Willow while supposedly researching information for Giles. In this room he'd been part of something far bigger than himself.

" 'I say we attack the mayor with hummus'," he finally replied.

"What?" she asked.

He grinned again. "Something Oz said before the final confrontation with His Honor the Big Killer Reptile."

"Hummus? But why - that would have been futile and would have resulted only in your own deaths."

"Yes, Ahn," he said, "Oz was joking."

Anya considered this for a moment. "It's not funny."

Xander nodded with little surprise.

Buffy couldn't help but overhear their conversation. She smiled to herself. Angel was looking at the broken floor, grinning as well.

"She's um ...," Angel started.

Buffy nodded. "Yes, she is," she agreed with that same smile.

"How ... did they?"

"I don't know and I *really* don't want to," she told him.

"I can respect that," Angel deadpanned.

They watched one another in silence for a few moments. "Hummus?" Angel asked.

Buffy shrugged. "Oz was right. His plan was brilliant."

Angel raised his eyebrows at her.

"No one would have seen it coming," she explained.

Angel chuckled. Without thinking, he brushed a strand of hair from her face. "I miss you," he told her impulsively.

Her eyes welled with tears. She caught his hand as it fell back to his side. Angel nearly flinched as her hand brushed his, falling back to that irreplaceable, inescapable moment when human passion had swept them away and they'd been happy for a brief day.

Giles and Wesley stood up, both cracking their backs in an unintentional simultaneous gesture. "We are prepared," Wes announced.

Willow?" Giles asked, "The am'rus are ...?"

Willow nodded. "Set and ready to go," she confirmed.

"Weapons, Buffy?" the Watcher checked.

She nodded, still holding Angel's hand.

Giles was about to speak again when chaos exploded into their reality. A large, snarling animal that every Sunnydale denizen recognized instantly as a werewolf burst through the ruined outer wall of the library.

It was Anya who screamed first and hers was not a scream of terror, but warning.

The werewolf raised its head and looked straight at Anya. Xander stepped in front of her protectively. In that same instant Xander saw what the girl behind him had seen.

"Stop!" he yelled out. His warning went unheeded as the beast's back paw sunk into a puddle of water.

The world slowed down as perceptions sharpened, lengthened. All eyes watched as the wolf stared down at his foot. Snorting, he picked up the drenched appendage and shook it. Instinctively, the humans, Angel, and Spike all shrunk back even further. No droplets were flung out however. The werewolf's head snapped up. His face was perplexed. The others exchanged confused looks, mouthed inchoate questions.

"Oh... my ... God," Cordelia whispered as the puddle of water slowly vanished, pulled up into the beast's paw.

The werewolf raised his snout and howled. His body stiffened as the demon flowed through his blood.

Willow screamed. "Oz!" Her voice was piercing, anguished. She began to run toward him.

"Wil!" Buffy yelled.

Wesley was closest to Willow and grabbed her, pulling her to him, folding her into his arms, barely avoiding her flailing fists. "Willow, no," he spoke as calmly as he was able. "He will kill you."

She gazed up at him, hardly seeing him. Already crying she sobbed out her words. "But it's --- it's Oz. It's... I have to go to him, to..."

"To what?" the Englishman asked gently. "It's *not* Oz."

"But ... it *is*" she wailed.

Buffy had come to her friend's side and took her from Wesley's familial embrace. "Wil?" Buffy said, her voice full of frightened tears. "That isn't Oz. It's a demon."

Wil shook her head convulsively.

"It is," Buffy iterated. "And the best way you can help him is to do the spell Giles found. Right?"

Willow's uncontrolled sobs and wild breathing started to calm slightly. She looked into Buffy's eyes, gentle and concerned.

"You ... knew?" the redhead asked.

Giles approached the girls. "We had our suspicions."

Willow turned on Cordelia. "You saw this! This is what you saw, isn't it?"

Cordy nodded sadly.

"And you all thought I didn't need to know?" Willow demanded tearfully.

With a sigh, Spike added his opinion. "I told you she'd figger it out once she saw Shaggy over there."

"Spike knew?" Willow shrieked.

Angel walked over to the group and placed on hand on Willow's shoulder. "Willow? We didn't tell you because we wanted you to focus. No one meant to hurt you," he assured her.

"Wil?" Buffy added. "We do need you to focus, OK? It's the only way to help Oz."

Willow regarded the faces around her. She bit her lip and finally nodded.


Everyone kept Oz in their peripheral vision but turned to see Agents Mulder and Scully standing in what used to be the entrance to the library.

"This would be a werewolf," Mulder exclaimed. "This town has *everything*!"

"Mulder," Scully scolded.

"Well ... ," he insisted petulantly.

"Is it - ?" Scully started.

"Oh, great," Willow cried indignantly, "*She* knew too?" She turned her gaze to Xander and Anya. "How about you two?"

"Nope, no, nothing," Xander answered quickly.

Anya shrugged.

The agents began to cross the library. Scully stopped suddenly. She looked down at her foot, having eerie flashbacks to steeping in acidic green *goo*. She sighed in relief when she saw it was only a puddle of water.

"Scully?" Mulder asked when he'd noticed she had stopped.

"It's noth-" she started to say, then understanding illuminated her face. "Mulder?" Her voice was suddenly weak, frightened.

"Oh, no," Giles breathed softly. "Willow, we must start the binding spell immediately."

"I - but -," Wil stammered.

"*Now*!" Giles shouted. "She isn't like Oz; this will kill her far faster."

Buffy looked up at Angel. She released his hand. But it was Cordelia who sighed his name.

"I c - c - can't," Angel stammered.

"Angel," Buffy said softly, "it's the only way."

"You can't ask me to do ...," his voice trailed off.

"You have to," Wesley insisted. Angel and Wes stared at one another. "You can fight this, far better than she can."

Mulder broke in angrily. "What are you talking about?" At his side, Scully sagged slightly, shivering as the demon flowed through her blood already.. "You can't."

Scully touched Mulder's arm gently. She looked at Angel. She nodded at him.

He shook his head.

Scully nodded again, slowly as a frisson of cold wracked her body. "Please," she asked him softly.

Angel looked down at Buffy. He leaned down and kissed her.

When he looked back up, his face was transformed. He strode toward the possessed agent, pulled her from the protective embrace of her partner, and swept aside her hair.

"Stop!" Mulder screamed. "He can't..."

Xander laid a restraining hand on his shoulder. "She'll die if he doesn't."

Mulder looked on in horror as Angel's gleaming fangs sunk into the soft flesh of Scully's neck. He trembled with the sound of her soft moaning, unable to imagine what she might be feeling. He pushed against Xander's arm as blood began to trickle down her neck and the sound of Angel's deep gulps reached his ears.

"Scully... no...no...," he whimpered. "No."

Sunnydale High (Abandoned, Burned Out)
Sunnydale, California
9:28 PM March 24

As Angel, his transformed face pressed against Scully's exposed neck, drank deeply, Mulder lunged against the restraining arm Xander had laid across his chest. Xander stood his ground, but wobbled with Mulder's pushing. Spike reached in and gripped Mulder's shoulder as well. Mulder looked down at Spike's pale hand. The agent looked back to the vampire's face and glared furiously.

Softly, Spike said, "Don't worry, mate, our Angel won't take it all. Iss not in 'im."

Only Xander and Anya were close enough to hear 'The Big Bad' offer his words of comfort. They traded surprised looks that the demon had that much compassion in him. They both gave Spike the disbelieving look.

"Wot?" he demanded petulantly. "Even though she left me for that chaos demon, I'd still wanna kill any creature who hurt my Dru." Then Spike shrugged and added, "Besides, if he does anything to harm Angel, the Slayer'd find some way to blame me and I don't fancy that."

Xander and Anya nodded knowingly at the last part of the explanation.

Mulder continued to stare and struggle futilely against the hold Spike and Xander had on him. His voice was sharp, anguished, raw, as he shouted, "He'll make her ... she'll be one of ..." He stopped, breaking down, unable to complete his thought.

Buffy looked over at the little tableau just inside the doorway. She raised her eyebrows at Xander. Xander nodded silently, showing he understood her intention.

"She won't be," Xander reassured Mulder.

"But ... he's -"

"Yes," Xander said calmly, interrupting the agent before he could fully express himself, not wanting the picture his words would form to haunt him any more than this experience itself would. "But it takes more than being fed on to make someone a vamp." His words depersonalized what was happening.

Mulder looked at him. "You're sure?"

Xander smiled, his smile self deprecating as usual. "Yeah, I'm sure."

Mulder continued to gaze on in horror, but his face was slack, the furious tension replaced by a defeated concern. After a moment he said, "This is what -" he paused, gulping a breath and swallowing tightly. "Buffy let him do this to her, didn't she?"

Xander nodded slowly, his face creasing in pained memories. "To save his life. Yes, she did."

Everyone was silent, holding a collective breath as Angel drank. Scully's blood coursed through her veins, rushing to fill the hemorrhage occasioned by Angel's fangs. Angel gulped noisily, uncontrollably. The demon in him groaned in delight, the man in him muted by the primal instincts. Scully moaned in pain from time to time, seemed to try to pull herself away from the burning sensation of her own blood flowing out of her. Angel's hands held her fast, forced her into excruciating immobility.

In a jarring, matter-of-fact, and, in the unnatural silence of the library, loud voice, Anya observed, "And how exactly will this help Agent Scully?"

Even Spike glared at her in annoyance and irritation.

"What?" she asked.

"Ahn, shut up," Xander told her.

The door had been opened though and Mulder's panic began to rise again. He renewed his struggle against Xander and Spike.

Seeing his fear manifest itself again, Giles spoke from his place across the room. Out of one eye he watched the werewolf who, confused by the goings-on around him, paced nervously but maintained a discrete distance from the humans. "The Vesparys demons infect the blood of the hosts. The demon 'burns' through the host, destroying the body from the inside out. Angel is, we hope, taking the demon into his own blood. He is stronger than she is, can last longer."

"We hope," Cordelia added bleakly.

Any further commentary was abruptly ended. Angel screamed out in pain. His mouth ripped free of Scully's neck and he thrust her from him. She crumpled to the floor. Angel stiffened, shivered, whispered Buffy's name.

From the complete stillness of seconds before, the library erupted into activity. Mulder, no longer restrained by Xander and Spike, rushed to Scully. He gathered her into his arms, cradling her gently, murmuring her name repeatedly. His fingers grazed the gaping wound on her neck from which blood still trickled. Buffy went to Angel, put an arm around him and told him to learn on her. She began walking him to the pentagram Giles and Wesley had drawn.

Though occupied with the spells to be performed, Giles looked over at the two agents. "Anya!" he called out. "Take the agents to the hospital." She didn't move. "Now!"

"But why me?" she whined, grasping Xander's arm once more.

Giles glared furiously at her.

"*He* has a car," she complained. "He can tell them-"

"Tell them what, Anya? That she was fed on by a vampire?" Giles exploded.

"Ahn," Xander spoke softly to her. "He can't possibly find the hospital alone in this condition." Xander was nodding slowly at her. Her head bobbed with his. "He needs someone who knows about ... things."

"Well, why can't Spike go? or you? It's not like they really need you," she said hopefully.

Xander grimaced. "Thanks for the vote of confidence," he said sarcastically.

"I just meant-"

"I know what you meant," he assured her. "Ahn, please?"

Finally, she nodded.

"Anya will stay with you," Xander assured Mulder, who scooped Scully up. She had lost consciousness temporarily. "She knows what to tell them so they won't ask too many questions."

Mulder adjusted Scully, alarmed when she moaned softly in her stupor.

"It will be fine," Xander promised him.

Scully stirred in Mulder's arms, her head lolling back, her clouded eyes seeking Angel. "Will ... he ...," she said softly, slowly, feebly, her voice thick with pain, her brain fighting for unconsciousness. "He has to-"

"Scully," Mulder interrupted her. He spoke lowly, in an emotional pain nearly the equivalent of her physical agony. "Don't-"

"No," she said, taking nearly all the strength left to her. "Xander?"

Xander moved close to her, bent over her so she would not have to speak loudly, to tax herself. He was amazed, having lost so much blood she was awake at all and her pain was apparent in the etched pallor of her face.

"Tell him-" she whispered breathily. "Tell him ... I'll share ... my se-". Her words were interrupted by a cough.

Mulder started to move, not caring what more his partner might want to impart to this teen.

Scully grabbed Xander's arm and Mulder was forced to stop. She wasted no effort in repetition, only started exactly where she'd left off. "Secrets," she stopped, panting. A small, weak, yet unbelievable, given the circumstances, smile crept over her mouth. "If he'll... tell ... his."

Xander looked at her, uncomprehending. He nodded his agreement.


"I will, I will," he promised verbally, not wanting to watch her struggle any further. Her words made little sense to him, but that didn't matter. His promise seemed to soothe her. Xander looked back up at Mulder. "Go," he mouthed.

Anya glanced back at Xander, her eyes concerned, her face set. Xander gave her a wan smile which she returned briefly. Mulder swept past her. In his arms, Scully was now unconscious. Turning, Anya followed them from the library. Xander heard her tell Mulder to be careful of all the debris. He smiled again, thinking Anya was leaning a few things about human socialization. He turned back to the scene in the room, knowing they had never faced anything quite like this. Then again, it seemed each crisis they faced was unique in its own special, terrifying, Hellmouth-y way.

Angel stepped slowly, as if in pain, or as if a child struggling to master the art of ambulation. Buffy had her arms around his waist, was guiding him carefully to the center of the library, to the pentagram where the demon in his blood could be contained. "We hope." Cordelia's bleak, fatalistic words echoed unhappily in Buffy's mind.

"Willow," Buffy called out. "Be ready to start the spell."

Willow stared blankly at the Slayer.

Xander picked his way quickly over the treacherous, broken floor of a room that had once been central to their lives. He reached Wil and put an arm around her shoulder. "Wil," he whispered. "You can do this. Come on. I'll help you get everything ready."

Willow shook her head bleakly.

Cordelia, who was still close, kneeled down next to her two former classmates. She put an arm around Willow's other shoulder, her hand brushed Xander's. Over the red haired Witch's head, they exchanged glances. Cordelia smiled softly and Xander returned the sentiment. "Willow," Cordelia spoke in a voice that was so soft and gentle, even Xander was taken aback. He'd all but forgotten the tender side of the spoiled Sunnydale princess they'd known and loathed. Mentally, he apologized to her for that lapse of memory, for believing in the sum of his own bitterness.

Willow looked up at Cordy.

"Willow," Cordy repeated. "You're the only one who can do this."

"Giles can," Willow claimed tearfully.

Cordy shook her head. "Not the way you can. You're the witch," she said earnestly.

"Gee, Cor, is now the time for name calling?" Xander interrupted with a little smile, hoping to tease Willow even a little way out of her misery.

It worked as Willow giggled briefly.

Cordelia smiled gently too. "Willow, please. I know you love Oz." She paused and looked at Buffy, who still held Angel, still struggled for each step with him. "Well, I ... I *need* Angel, Willow. Not the way Buffy does, but-"

"Wil, you're the only one who can do this," Xander insisted.

Wil looked from Xander to Cordelia. They both smiled encouragingly at her. Finally, she nodded, a small, easily missed gesture had they not been watching her intently. They helped her up, helped her to where she had laid out the magick supplies she would need.

The werewolf seemed, as Xander and Cordelia talked to Willow, to come out of the trance Angel's transformation had put him in. He turned, began to charge out the shattered window through which he'd entered. Giles and Wesley moved to head him off. The were' paused, swerved.

Buffy looked up. "Spike!" she yelled. "Help Giles and Wes," she commanded.

Spike began to move languorously as the beast slashed out at the two Watchers, who leapt back rather gracelessly.

"Sooner, rather than later, Spike!" Buffy added.

"Spike?" Willow called out. "Don't hurt him."

Spike raised his eyebrows in irritation. "Help Giles and Wes, Spike! Sooner rather than later, Spike. Don't hurt my fuzzy boyfriend, Spike," he muttered sarcastically.

He also moved faster.

Suddenly, Angel's body went rigid in Buffy's arms. He reached down and plucked her arms from his waist. His motion surprised her and he was able to nearly toss her away from him. As she stumbled backwards, she looked at him. His eyes had glazed over. She knew the demon was in control.

"Buffy!" Giles yelled.

"I know!" she replied. "Any chance that 'suspected animation' spell would work with them outside the pentagram?"

"'Suspended animation'," Giles corrected. Buffy rolled her eyes at him, though she did adore the fact that even in the face of unmitigated chaos he could take time to correct her. "And I don't know."

Buffy leapt at Angel, prepared for his vampiric strength this time. He fought her with his own strength, now harnessed to the vile purpose of the demon possessing him. He thrust her away again. She took a few steps back then launched herself at him, her foot connecting solidly with his jaw. His head rocked back. He fixed a snarling gaze on her, his face metamorphasizing instantly into its vampire visage.



"With the weapons, there's a tranquilizer gun."

"I'm on it," Xander assured her, edging his way past where Buffy and Angel fought one another.

Near the windows, the three Brits wrestled the werewolf, jumping back to avoid his slashing claws. One caught Spike along the upper arm.

"Bloody Hell!" he cried out indignantly. "You people are bad for my health."

"We could be a lot worse for your health," Giles reminded him, his voice winded, tense, a note of panic creeping in.

"We could use some of that tranquilizer over here, Xander," Wes yelled.

"All right," Xander called as he rummaged through the weapons' pile. He looked up as Wes screamed. "Ouch!" Xander hissed, watching the man take an impromptu flight across what remained of the library.

Cordelia and Willow turned their heads to follow his flight path. Wil winced in sympathy as Wes landed. Cordy watched as her colleague lay still for a moment, then groggily pulled himself upright. Cordy shrugged. "At least he didn't scream like a woman this time," she said matter-of-factly.

"Xander!" Buffy called. "Hurry."

Angel had wrestled the Slayer to the floor and positioned himself on top of her. He pinned her hands above her head, the demon in control of his soul screamed for her blood, screamed for a final kill before its spawning. Angel threw his head back, baring his fangs. He growled and lowered his jaw to her neck. As his teeth got closer and closer, Buffy struggled futilely against him. Marshaling every bit of her strength she kicked his legs, clawed at his hands, bucked her hips against him.


There was no reply from her friend, but suddenly the vampire's body went limp against her. She raised her head from the floor and gazed at Xander, who still held the dart gun pointed at Angel's back. She was panting heavily. "Nothing like cutting it close," she told him.

"Sorry," he said sheepishly. "The safety was on." He looked down at the dart gun in his hands.

"Xander?" Giles reminded him strongly.

Buffy rolled Angel off of her and looked over to where Giles and Spike fought the werewolf. Wes was weaving his way back to them, but he wobbled perilously, even over the few smooth regions of the floor.

"I'll take care of him," Buffy told Xander, nodding down at Angel. "Go shoot Oz."

Xander leapt nimbly over the scarred, uplifted portions of the floor and was in range in a few seconds. Spike and Giles each grabbed one of the beast's forearms. They swung wildly as the powerful animal continued to flail against their attempts at restraint.

"For God's sake, make sure you hit *him*!" Giles told him. "I've got a decent track record of not going unconscious this year and I'd like to keep it that way." Giles' voice rose and fell, wavered as his feet bounced off the floor and the beast shook him.

Xander took aim and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

Disgusted, Spike told him, "You put the safety back on!"

Xander looked down. He flipped the catch off and aimed again. This time when he pulled the trigger there was a satisfying release, accompanied by a small pop as the dart flew from the muzzle. The werewolf crumpled, nearly taking Spike and Giles with him on his journey to the floor.

As Buffy dragged Angel's inert form toward the pentagram, Giles and Spike tugged Oz to the same place.

"We have no idea how long the tranquilizer will last," Giles said.

"Xander, give me a hand?" Buffy asked.

At last both hosts lay silent, still, in the center of the pentagram. Buffy stared at Angel, tears running silently down her face. Xander took her hand and held it lightly. She squeezed it in gratitude.

"I'll get started," Willow said softly.

Both bodies began to stir before Willow had gotten very far, but they were bound by the mystical region described by the pentagram. Willow's voice wavered as she watched out of the corner of her eye, watched the body that was Oz stir, sit up, watched his wolf features contort, heard him howl in confusion and pain. She shook and her words faltered.

Cordy touched her hand lightly in reassurance.

Willow's voice steadied, continued. Her voice rose and fell with the cadence of ancient words, understood only by the speaker and the two Watchers. From the depths of time and spirit, Willow evoked the powers of binding demons, called on the scattered forces of light to hold back the dark tide rising within the blood of the hosts.

On cue, as they'd practiced, Giles added his supplication to hers, echoing her pleas. Their words rang off the charred, tottering walls of the library. The floor, which hid the Hellmouth shimmered, seemed to waver. Light, as if someone off stage were training a theatrical spotlight on them, panned over the assembled group.

Oz and Angel had begun stirring, had risen, charging the humans who stood around them. The unseen barrier of the pentagram repulsed them, sent them sprawling back into the symbol's dark heart. Confusion quickly became anger. Anger transfigured itself into howling rage as the demons protested this thwarting of their age-old instincts.

Willow's voice grew louder, rose to a violent crescendo as she made her words heard above the din of ired screams. Giles too practically yelled out his parts, his voice becoming even more stern, more unyielding, harder.

Willow and Giles in unison called out the final syllables of the suspension spell. "Nah- *lah*!" they commanded. Oz and Angel both froze exactly as they were.

Like badly made statues they stared out at everyone, their faces contorted in rage and pain. Oz's left forearm was extended. He appeared to be intent on ripping the air in front of him to tatters. Angel's teeth were bared, his mouth a soulless, menacing leer.

"You did it!" Cordelia shouted. "You stopped the demons!"

Willow released the pent up breath she hadn't known she was holding. She shook slightly. "We paused the demons, that's all."

Wes and Giles quickly crossed to Willow.

"Yes," Wes agreed. "The hardest part is yet to come."

"You okay, Wil?" Buffy asked.

Willow nodded. "I just want to get this over with."

"I don't think you'll find any arguments here," Giles observed.

As Willow, Giles, and Wesley arranged the needed supplies for the second spell, the casting out, Buffy spoke to Xander, Spike, and Cordelia.

"OK, we have to be prepared in case this doesn't work and we..." She bit her lip in consternation.

"We won't have to," Xander said softly.

"We *may*, " Buffy insisted.

Xander looked down at his shoes. Cordelia turned away and sniffed slightly.

Without another word, Buffy handed out weapons and gave warnings. Watching Willow and Giles finish their preparations, she whispered to Cordy, "Your visions have been right so far. Anything about what comes next?"

Cordy shook her head dismally.

Buffy shrugged. "No news is good news and all that." Her voice quavered. She was only calm on the outside. She sighed, exhausted again by the destiny that repeatedly demanded she set aside everything she wished she could have been and be that for which fate had chosen her to be.

"They're ready," Wes informed everyone.

Xander couldn't watch Oz and Angel - the hosts, he tried to make himself think; it made this a tiny bit easier and living in Sunnydale taught you to appreciate life's small wonders. He watched instead Buffy and Willow and Cordelia. He thought of the role the three of them had played in his life over the last few years.

He thought of Buffy, whom he'd worshipped from the moment he saw her. He remembered how beautiful she had seemed, so young and fresh, full of optimism and a determination to live her life on her terms. She was far more beautiful now, he realized. The Slayer skin, which she had worn for so long like an ill-fitting costume, like a child playing dress-up in her mother's discarded clothing, now had been stretched and molded, cut and tucked to fit her perfectly. She had lost everything that made her who she was, or so she'd thought, and she'd left them behind. All that confidence had lain in tiny, shattered bits around them all. When she'd returned, she had knitted it together again, had forged of herself something new, something far more certain, something far more real and true to the inmost nature both Xander and Angel had seen.

He considered Cordelia, who bit her lip in consternation. He shook his head disbelievingly. She too had changed, the girl he had once thought was incapable of changing. She remained forthright to the point of painfulness, but somehow now it seemed less petty, as though the world had opened up for her and she had understood its meaning at long last.

Lastly, his eyes fell, and rested, on Willow. He couldn't remember a day of his life when he hadn't known her. There must have been a time when she had been a stranger to him, but his mind had wiped clean that part of his memories. He knew her better than he knew anyone else, as she knew him. He loved her as he could love no one else in this world. She was the repository of his past, the monitor of his present, and the reliquary of his future. She had already been through so much with Oz that Xander wondered how much more she could stand, how much longer could she lean into the gale force winds, bending without breaking.

She had changed so much since Buffy had come into their lives, Xander reflected. Then, he realized that wasn't accurate. Willow was what she had always been, just more so. It was as if, over these years, the colors, the hues that were Willow Rosenberg had sharpened, brightened. She was like a photograph, one of those old sepia toned ones that, instead of bleaching out, had become more vivid, had shown more accurately with each passing moment its subject's true self. Xander realized again Willow was the finest person he knew, finer in her way than even Buffy. For Willow, with no special powers, had always stood her ground against the darkness they lived with.

He watched her now as she shook like a leaf in a light wind. Her voice was watery, uncertain. She glanced nervously at Oz too often, every emotion spread out along the planes of her face.

Willow and Giles spoke the old African words that, if the legend was correct, would expel the demons, would fling them into the makeshift am'rus, where Buffy could dispatch them with a modicum of ease.

Willow's hand quavered violently as she sprinkled herbs and other items of potent magick onto the shining surface of each am'ru. Giles' hand was steadier as he added a foul smelling mixture to the dust Willow had sifted through her fingers. At last Xander turned his attention, like that of everyone else, to the figures in the pentagram.

Everyone jumped, those not involved in the conjuring actually moved backwards, as both hosts screamed. Willow and Giles stood, one at each am'ru now, a mystical bar holding back the demons. Willow shook horribly, Giles too, though less so. Both were sweating, yet ashen in pallor. Both looked anxious.

"Oh my God," Cordelia whispered, then turned away and covered her eyes with her hands. Blood trickled from every pore of both hosts.

Buffy watched in stunned horror as blood at first trickled slowly, then with more speed, as streams rushing downhill, then it became a torrent from the statuesque bodies of Oz and Angel. Their clothing was soaked in it, the floor soon washed in it. It flowed in two distinct paths.

"It's working," the Slayer whispered.

The blood ran, making gurgling, protesting noises, into each copper container where, sickeningly, they could hear it slosh. Buffy almost thought she could hear it speak, curse them, rage against those who had put it there, who had denied it it's right to procreate.

With an ever tapering slowness, Giles and Willow's voices came to a quiet halt. The spell was over and it had succeeded. In the pentagram, Oz and Angel collapsed.

Xander started it, his voice rising in a cheer of pure triumph. He hugged Cordelia, who hugged back. Giles embraced Willow and congratulated her. Buffy clutched her best friend as if she might never let go. "Thank you," the blonde whispered.

Willow blushed. Hands clasped, both girls stepped inside the markings on the floor, knelt by Oz and Angel. Angel was awake, disoriented, but seeming none the worse for the possession. Oz began to stir as Willow murmured his name.

"Um?" Hullo?" Spike said hesitantly.

"What is it, Spike?" Giles asked, his voice both tired and irritated.

"Wull, I don't want to ruin your litt-ul celebration here, but it may be a bit too soon to break out the noise makers and party hats, if you know what I mean."

"As a matter of fact, I don't know what you mean and I'm not entirely certain I-" Giles chided him, stopping as Spike pointed to something over Giles' shoulder.

"I mean *that*," Spike said.

Behind Giles on one side and Xander on the other, the copper planters, poor substitutes, had spilt open silently and disgorged their contents. The demons, having been expelled from their hosts and unable to find a source of water, had taken on corporeal form. No one had ever seen a Vesparys in corporeal form. Giles' last thought before the real battle began was that it was a shame the Council employed neither him nor Wesley any longer, as this information might have interested them.

Sunnydale High (Abandoned, Burned Out)
Sunnydale, California
11:37 PM March 24

The Vesparys demons rose, corporeal for the first time in millennia. They had been formed in the time demons walked the earth, before, as Giles had once been so fond of relating, the 'race of man' had filled the earth like a 'plague of boils'. Formed to travel the primordial seas, to revel in the sickened, sulfurous sludge of languorous rivers, to bathe in the lacy- scummed shawls that hugged the shores of primeval lakes. Their bodies were lithe, sinuous. Scales shimmered with an oily, wan glow. A thin film of blood seemed to coat these scales, to seep from them in a slow, steady ooze. They reeked of putrefaction and gore, of centuries of killing and of the unholy pleasure taken in each act of violence.

When they opened their mouths it was in unison, as though they were but one voice, one will, in two beings. They shrieked in rage and in pain. These bodies, once home to them, had been cast off so long ago, they no longer knew how to fit into them. Too long accustomed to the boundless freedom of Earth's vast network of water, or else, at home in the blood of their prey, singing their death song, finding ecstasy in the anguish and agony of their victims. They howled in the fear of their own vulnerability. For eons they had taken pleasure not only in the killing, in the pain, but in thwarting all that was good and pure in humans, in rendering them into killers who willingly, even joyfully, took the lives of those around them before ending their own. Now, however fearsome they were, they were still *vulnerable* and afraid.

Buffy touched Willow's arm. Wil looked over at her, her eyes saucers. Buffy nodded down at Oz and Angel. "We've got to get them out of here," she told Willow.

The redhead nodded.

"Buffy, no," Angel protested weakly. "I can..."

She looked at him. He was laying across her lap. Pain spiked through her forehead, the world rolled over on a forty-five degree angle, then quickly righted itself. It was like being in one of those snow globes, Buffy thought disjointedly. She'd done this before. She'd held him like this, one hand caressing his face, her heart clenched in the terror of losing him, not just of his going away, but of his being taken out of the world, being where she could never touch him again. "Angel," she whispered. "What...?"

"Buffy?" Giles called sharply.

The Slayer looked up, her mind clearing, the memory fading, her heart relaxing.

"Angel, get out of here. You're weak."

"I'll be fine," he insisted.

Willow had gotten a very groggy Oz to his feet with Xander's help. Buffy pulled Angel up.

"Buffy!" Angel pleaded with her.

She looked at him, her mouth compressed into a thin line, her lips trembling nonetheless. "You're *hurt*. You could be killed," she reminded him, her voice quickly thickening with tears.

"So could you," he said softly.

She met his eyes, trying to blink back the tears. He reached up and brushed one from her cheek. Words screamed in her mind. "It's not long enough; it's not long enough. I'll never forget." Her words, her voice, desperate, disbelieving echoed in her head. She took a deep breath. "Cordelia?" she called out. "Come get your boss out of here."

Angel gazed at her, his dark eyes caressing her, pulling her into everything they'd had. "Don't-"

"Nothing's gonna happen to me," she promised.

"Because you're the Slayer?" he asked angrily.

She touched his face. "Because I want to know what it was I wasn't ever going to forget."

Angel closed his eyes and bowed his head until his forehead touched hers. He sighed, a reflex hundreds of years old. Where another man's sigh might have washed her face in his scent, lifted her hair with such a show of love, Buffy heard nothing more than the sound, felt his love only in her heart.

Cordelia tugged at his arm. Angel turned and stumbled after the brunette. Willow and Xander and Oz were at the entrance to the library, out of the battle but none willing to abandon completely their friends.

Buffy turned to face Giles. He tossed her a sword. Wes and Spike were similarly armed. "Spike, with Giles! Wes, with me," Buffy commanded.

"Awwww," Giles and Spike protested as one.

Buffy glared at both of them. "Boys? What say we argue about it *after* we dispatch the big uglies? OK?"

Sullenly, both nodded.

Buffy looked over at Wes. "You ready?"

Wes nodded, traces of his former self-importance rising to the surface. "We rogue demon hunters are always ready for anything," he intoned.

Buffy raised her eyebrows at him. "Duck," she said.


"Duck!" she iterated, loudly.

Wes ducked just as the demon behind him swung wildly. It was clear these demons were clumsy in their new-old corporeal forms, but Buffy had no doubt they'd learn fast. With a smooth, practiced move, she sliced at the demon's arm as it reached for Wes. The sword reverberated off the scales, sending waves of pain up Buffy's arm, causing her to catch her breath.

"These aren't going to be much use," she called out.

"We got that!" Spike said. Buffy glanced over her shoulder. Giles was hacking at "his" demon, while Spike had jumped on its back and was pounding on its head. Buffy shrugged. If it got the job done...

Buffy took a few steps back, gathered momentum, spinning into a wicked kicking motion. She caught the demon square in its scaly, ugly chest and sent it sprawling backwards. It seemed stunned, disoriented. She leapt onto it and began pummeling its face, which was about the only part not covered in those impervious scales.

"Buffy, Wes," Giles called out. "Underneath its... um...where ears would be...I think...ooof...ughghghg..."

"Giles?" Buffy's voice was high pitched with concern.

There was a choking noise, several loud thumps, and then Giles spoke again. "No, no, quite all right. Nothing to worry about."

"You were saying?" Buffy asked.

"What?" Giles paused. "Oh, um, yes...ears ... I think they're vulnerable there...no scales...urrrrffff...Spike, for Pete's sake, do make certain you hit the *demon*!"

This last was accompanied by a loud howl from the platinum haired 'Big Bad'. "OH! God! Bloody Commando Boys, if I ever-"

"Shut UP!" Buffy and Giles yelled. Buffy added, "Kill demons now, threaten the Initiative later!"

The demon beneath her struggled. Buffy looked desperately around her for anything sharp she could drive into that unprotected spot where their ears should be. "Where the hell's Faith when you need her?" she muttered.

"What?" Wes asked incredulously.

Buffy looked at him. "You can bet Faith would have had a knife stashed somewhere."

"Buffy, Faith would have had any number of lethal objects upon her person," Wes observed.

"My point," Buffy told him flatly. Her fist connected with what might have been the demon's nose. "Wes, with the weapons, there are a couple daggers."

"I'm on my way," he assured her. That was right before he tripped over the demon's outstretched arm.

"Giles might be having a decent year staying conscious, but you're sure not, are you?" Buffy muttered at Wes' prone figure.

She punched the demon again, checked to see that Spike and Giles were holding their own against their prey. Her eyes darted to the weapons stash. She judged the distance, took in the obstacles in between, and decided a sprint across the library was the only way to end this.

In one smooth move, she was off the demon and running full speed. Her blond ponytail streamed out behind her as her muscled legs pumped hard, propelling her with almost effortless grace over the ground to be covered. She reached the weapons, found a dagger.

"Giles!" she yelled. "Here." She lobbed the dagger across the room. It connected with a solid thuh-whump and an indignant scream.

"Oh, come on!" Spike complained. "What am I lately, a bleedin' pincushion?"

"Not a word about weapons training, Giles," Buffy warned him.

"Oh, no. Not a word," Giles promised with a grin. He wrenched the dagger free from Spike's shoulder and drove it into the soft folds of the demon's neck. Ichor, thick, crimson, foul-smelling, gushed from the mortal wound Giles had inflicted. Giles and Spike both made disgusted noises.

Caught off guard, Buffy was tackled by the remaining demon, now in a frenzy of demented, mournful rage. Buffy found herself struggling against the demon. She had no leverage and could do little more than defend herself from clawlike nails and what she realized were some wicked looking teeth. "I know," she grunted, "you've been out of circulation for...". She panted. "...a long time, but wow," she exhaled sharply as the demon landed a solid punch on her stomach. "...haven't you ever heard of Listerine?"

Buffy felt her strength ebbing. Her hand groped blindly amongst the weapons. She knew there was another dagger in there somewhere. She hoped she could find it, unsheathe it, and find the right spot before the demon got the better of her. "Damn," she muttered. "Where the hell-"

Suddenly, the demon was wrenched off of her, pulled upright. It howled and kicked as its feet were pulled off the floor. Its high pitched wails were cut off in an instant as its head lolled forward and its struggles stopped. Buffy watched in amazement as Angel dropped the demon to the floor.

"You can also break their necks," he said.

"I see that," Buffy breathed. They looked at one another for a long moment. "Thanks," she added softly.

"Any time," he told her.

She looked at him questioningly.

He smiled. "Any time I'm in Sunnydale that is."

Slowly everyone returned to the middle of the library. Cordelia and Xander helped Wes up. Wes touched the back of his head gingerly, wincing as his fingers grazed a sizable lump.

"You all right, Wes?" Buffy called out while still gazing at Angel.

Wes nodded, setting off waves of nausea. Weakly, he said, "Yes, I'll be fine as soon as ..." He wobbled dizzily, reaching out to Cordy and Xander who steadied him. "Well, maybe I'll sit down on this nice ... er ... chair?" He looked down at a piece of mangled furniture that might once have been one of the library's chairs. It also may have been a card catalog.

Leaving Wesley sitting somewhat comfortably, Xander and Cordy joined the others in their examinations of the bodies. The others had gathered around the one Angel had strangled.

"Ewwwwww," Cordy observed.

Willow, holding up Oz, paled. Her mouth curled down and her teeth crept out along her bottom lip. "Double ewwwwww."

"I think "ewwwww" has been nominated and seconded," Xander quipped. "All in favor, say 'aye'."

No one said anything, but everyone raised a hand, including Wes from his seat across the room.

En masse, they trailed over to the one Giles and Spike had tag teamed. The dagger was still stuck into its neck area. No one got too close due to the large pool of ichor that spread out from beneath its corpse.

Cordy tilted her head to one side. Then she turned her head around and looked over at the other one.

"Hm!" she muttered.

"What?" Giles asked.

She looked up at him, her eyes wide, innocent looking. "Hmmm? Oh, well, ... um ...," she blushed.

Buffy's eyebrows rose as she too peered more intently at the stabbed demon. "So, do you think size *does* matter?" she asked with a suppressed smile.

"I bet *he'd* like to think so," Xander replied.

"And I was so hoping with Anya gone we could avoid any sort of ...unseemliness."

"Nope," Buffy told him. "Not possible." She smiled.

"What should we do with them?" Willow asked after some silence.

"Oh, God," Buffy exclaimed. "I *hate* digging graves. You know that's the nice thing about vamps. You stake 'em. They turn to dust. Worst case scenario - the cord on the dustbuster isn't long enough..."

"...and, the batteries aren't charged," Xander finished.

"Do *you* mind?" Spike yowled. "There are vampires present, after all."

"For once, I agree with Spike," Angel deadpanned. "And that hasn't happened in over a century."

"I don't think it would be wise to leave them here," Giles said. Everyone sighed. "Also, I think we should bury them in several pieces each."

"Dismemberment?" Buffy complained. "Again?"

"Some days it just doesn't pay to save the world, does it?" Angel asked her.

Rupert Giles' Residence
Sunnydale, California
3:14 AM March 25

Bodies lay scattered around Giles' living room. Willow sat against one end of the couch, Oz cradled in her lap. She stroked his hair tiredly. Xander was propped up against the other end, with Anya wrapped in his arms.

Giles sat, leaning back in the chair near his desk. Wesley still held an ice pack against his tender head. He sat leaning against a wall. Buffy and Angel sat, holding hands, on the stairs.

"So, Agent Scully is going to be fine?" Giles asked Anya.

Anya turned owlish eyes on him. Slowly, she nodded. "They said she could go home tomorrow." Anya paused, then added defensively, "Agent Mulder is staying with her. I didn't have to stay."

"No, Ahn, it's fine. Thanks for going with them," Xander said quietly.

Anya smiled her happy smile and shrugged more deeply into Xander's embrace. She had gotten back to Giles' just as the rest had returned from disposing of the bodies of the Vesparys demons. They had filled her in on their trials and tribulations and the subsequent burials.

"Burial*s*?" she had asked.

"Two demons, a dozen earthen holes," Buffy had said with a sigh.

"Yeah," Xander had agreed. "One grave for each of Sunnydale's fine cemeteries. Didn't want to leave any of them out."

Anya's eyes had lit up, despite how tired she had been by then. "Dismemberment?" she had asked with glee. Then her smile had changed into a scowl. "I missed it? Damn, I miss all the best parts."

Everyone had looked at her, expressions confused, somewhat revolted. She had stared back blankly. Finally, everyone had simply shrugged at her. Angel had nudged Buffy, who had gazed up at him.

"Don't ask," she had whispered. "The explanation would be worse, trust me."

He had nodded.

Buffy had continued to look at Angel, watching the question he couldn't bring himself to ask eat into him. His dark eyes had gone even darker and he had twined his fingers, lacing and unlacing them repetitively. She had taken one hand then and had not let go.

"Anya?" Buffy had asked. "Agent Scully?"

"Hmmm?" Anya had looked totally blank for a moment.

"You know, the one Angel sunk his fangs into," Spike had added maliciously.

"Spike," Giles had said without looking up from the spot on the carpet that held his attention so firmly, "go away."

"Oh sure, first it's 'Come kill demons with us, Spike' and then when the killing is done, I'm just dismissed. Is that it?" he had demanded angrily. "And what if I won't go?"

"Hecate, goddess of darkness, hear my plea. This unholy-" Willow had been interrupted in her spell.

"All right, all right!" Spike had exclaimed, holding up his hands. He had stomped to the door, turned, and looked at the assembled crowd. "I don' know why I keep on helping you anyway."

After the door had slammed behind him, Wesley had asked, "And this is the 'Big Bad'? William the Bloody?"

He had been greeted by silence and nodding heads.

"Not an all together bad change," Angel had said dryly.

"Yeah," Xander had agreed. "Even better when he's not sleeping in your lazy-boy."

"Or chained in your bathtub," Giles had agreed.

Buffy had leaned in, ready to whisper an explanation to Angel.

"Don't," he had said softly. "I don't want to know."

Still stroking Oz's hair, Willow had spoken in a far-off voice, coated in emotional and physical exhaustion, "It's kind of sad."

"Spike?" Cordelia had asked. "Because I, for one, don't think it's sad at all. I mean, when you think about all he's done-"

"No," Willow had stated emphatically. "The Vesparys demons."

"Um...Wil?" Xander had said, "How tired are you?"

She had smiled. "Not *that* tired." She had paused. "It's just that ... well, they were looking for the things we all want. Someone to be with, some way to achieve immortality, you know, by leaving behind children."

"Willow?" Angel had said flatly, "Demons aren't looking for any of those things. Most of the time they just want to kill something, any way they can."

Willow had smiled, a very small, sad smile.

Then Giles had asked about Agent Scully.

"That's good," Buffy said. "About Agent Scully." She squeezed Angel's hand.

"Great," Angel said sarcastically, shaking his head slightly.

"Angel, you didn't have a choice," Buffy said, looking intently into his eyes. "She would have died, would never have been able to withstand that - that-"

He nodded. Then, he stood up.


"Er...yes?" Wesley jumped, having been dozing lightly.

"I'll meet you and Cordelia here tomorrow after sundown," Angel explained tersely.

"What? Oh...all right. Er...meet us here? Where are-"

"I'll meet you two here," Angel repeated.

"After sundown," Cordelia said gently. "We'll be ready."

Angel walked out the door, shutting it firmly behind him. Buffy watched him helplessly. She'd watched him tear himself to pieces before and she'd feared for him before. She no longer knew if she'd be welcome though, in his life, if she would bring comfort, or only disquieting reminders of everything that never would be again.

"Buffy?" Xander spoke softly. "Go."

Buffy looked at the others. Neither Wes nor Cordy would meet her eyes, but Willow nodded at her. Lastly, she caught Giles' eye; he inclined his head. It was all she needed. She fled the luminous circle of her friends, running out into the familiar darkness, chasing a shadow who would always have the power to eclipse her heart. She called his name.

He stopped, became still as a statue. Only his hands moved, clenching into fists.

Buffy reached him, put a hand on his arm. "Angel," she whispered.

"Buffy," he groaned. "Go back inside."

"No," she told him.

"I need to be alone," he said.

"That's the last thing you need," she insisted.


"No," she repeated. "I won't leave you alone. Not like this."

He looked down at her. His eyes were solemn, his face grave. At last he smiled at her. He brushed her cheek with one cool fingertip. "You don't take 'no' for an answer, do you?"

"Have I ever?" she teased.

He shook his head, laughing gently at her. "Not once," he admitted. He kissed her, felt her stand up on her tiptoes to get closer to him. He wrapped his arms around her. With one hand he stroked her blond hair, cradled her head in his palm.

She pulled her mouth away from his with an aching slowness. Want and need raged through him. Not the desire to possess, to control, but the need to belong, to fulfilled and thus be fulfilled. She made him as close to human as anything ever could.

"Come on," she whispered, pulling him forward, away from Giles', away from friends, associates, and prying eyes.

Inside, a curtain fluttered shut. Giles sighed to himself.

"She wants to know what happened," Cordelia said.

"Do you suppose he'll tell her?" Giles asked.

Cordy and Wes both shrugged.

Giles snorted softly. "There's never been a Slayer like her."

"Nor will there be again, in all likelihood," Wes added.

"Oh, I'd say Faith brings her own special brand of individuality to the realm of Slayerdom," Xander interjected with some bitterness. His face then creased. "She wants to know what? What should Angel tell her?"

Willow shook her head at him.

"But-" Xander protested.

"Whatever it is, Buffy'll tell us when she wants to," Willow told him. She looked down at Oz, who had fallen asleep with his head in her lap. He had come back too soon. Too soon for him, too soon for her. Love and pain were still freshly intertwined, memories too clear and precise. Time had not yet brought its full measure of forgiveness. Nor had it wrought in him the control he'd hoped for, the victory over the beast within. Willow couldn't honestly say what she thought would come next. She had feared that night for Oz because he had woven himself into the pattern of her soul, but she no longer felt each heartbeat as though it was in rhythm with his; her life had moved on, the weaver's fingers hesitant, clumsy at the beginning, but now smoothing out, opening up, changing the pattern in ways both subtle and deft. She bit her lip, wondering if he would understand any of it. The colors he'd brought into her life had not faded, had remained part of who she was, but the pattern in which they met, danced, was different. Time might someday spin her back to him, or it might whirl her away completely. Would he see that?

"Willow?" It was Giles' voice breaking into her hazy reverie. "Why don't you go back to your room? Oz can stay here. Wes and I will keep an eye on him. You - we - can deal with this in the - well, *later* this morning."

Willow nodded and eased herself out from under Oz. He stirred slightly but did now wake. Xander and Anya extricated themselves from the other end of the couch. Xander picked up Oz's feet and gently laid them on the cushions.

"Come on, we'll walk you and Cordy back to campus," he offered.

"We will?" Anya asked.

"We will," Xander told her emphatically, his raised eyebrows emphasizing the point.

She smiled and gave a decisive nod of her head. Putting on her best 'cheerful' voice and face, she said with Anya-exuberance, "We will!"

"That's my girl," Xander remarked sardonically.

"And how long has this been going on?" Cordy asked, sidling up to Willow.

Willow sighed in response.

"What *does*-"

"Jealous?" Willow interrupted.

Cordy sputtered, but closed her mouth. "I just don't like her," she muttered.

"And yet," Giles reminded her softly, "we have you to thank for her presence."

"Me?" Cordy was indignant.

"Well none of the rest of us wished Buffy had never come to Sunnydale," Willow said.

Cordy looked taken aback. "Oh, all right, fine," she said. "Let's go."

Giles chuckled softly as the teens left.

"We really managed it," Wes observed.

"You mean Buffy and Angel managed it, don't you?" Giles corrected.

"Well, yes, all right," Wes agreed. "But I don't think the rest of us were useless."

"No, never that. It's amazing," Giles said slowly, "such strength in numbers."

"Yes, well, a superior force-"

"For God's sake, man, I don't mean the fact we outnumbered those demons!" Giles exclaimed. "This ... group ... everyone does his or her part and together, we are greater than the sum of those parts, even Buffy and Angel themselves."

Wes was silent.

Sunnydale General Hospital
Room 2014
5:35 A.M.

"Mulder?" Scully's voice was weak, confused.

Mulder jerked awake. He'd been sitting in a chair next to her bed since they had transferred her in here. Her hand was still clutched in his. "Scully?"

"Where...? Why am I here?"

"You don't remember?"

"I - we were at the high school..."

"In the library," Mulder supplied.

She nodded and winced as pain shot through her neck. She touched the bandage on her neck with two tentative fingers. Her eyes widened as her mind registered the location of her injury. "Um... I..." she stumbled over her words. "I stepped in something - water - it was so cold."

"It was one of the demons," Mulder told her.

She rolled her eyes at him. "Mulll-derrr," she said. "Come on. I can't believe I let you talk me into that ... nonsense."

He raised his eyebrows at her, wishing for the umpteenth time he could arch just the one like she could. "You don't remember anything else?"

She gave that some thought. "Something about Angel. He did that ... thing with his face."

Gently, softly, Mulder told her. "He fed on you, Scully. To get the demon out of your blood."

She laughed at him, wishing she hadn't as she was suddenly woozy and her neck seemed to throb. She could almost feel the flesh pulsing uncomfortably. "I don't...can't ... it's not true," she said lamely.

Mulder stood up and leaned over her. With cautious movements, he removed the bandage on her neck. She sat, stunned, fearful, dubious, while he went and got her a mirror from the bathroom. He held it out to her. She examined her neck.

"Oh my God," she whispered.

Sunnydale General Hospital
Room 2014
March25 - 5:45 A.M.

Scully stared at the reflection of her neck in the hand mirror Mulder had brought her. Her hand trembled as she touched the torn skin with her other hand. Her fingers brushed the ragged wounds and she winced at the stinging sensation that produced. Her face lost all color, making the mark all the more livid in contrast.

"Mulder...oh my God," she repeated. "What happened ... you didn't mean ... not really..."

Mulder nodded at her, his face creased in worry.

She put the mirror down. Her eyes met his and locked. Her lips were clamped together tightly and he could see her swallowing convulsively and running her tongue over her teeth. At last she spoke, her voice hard and tight, "You're telling me I was possessed by a demon and to ...what? ... cure me, Angel - *bit* me? Mulder, come on, you can't expect me to believe that."

He shook his head slowly. Seven years and she still found every way she could to rationalize what she saw, what she experienced. "Scully, last night, you yourself told me you were chased by a werewolf," he said softly. She started to speak, but he held up his hand. "How is it that you can't believe what I'm telling you?"

She looked down at her hands, saw her pale reflection gazing back at her from the mirror which lay in her lap. "Mulder, I was ... last night, I was chased by some wild animal, stuck in a - a - a crypt, for God's sake, with someone I hardly knew ... I - "

"You were spooked?" he asked with a smile.

She glared at him, but only briefly.

"Scully, we've been down this road before. I know you need proof, scientific proof, but ... think of the bodies you've seen, think of - how do you explain that?" he pointed to her neck. "What do you think the doctor is going to tell you about why you're here?"

"I don't know," she answered heatedly.

"If he tells you they treated you for massive blood loss, what will you say to that?"

"Why would Angel," she stopped and sighed angrily. "Fine, Mulder, say Angel - how did you put it earlier, 'fed on me'?- say he did that, why? If I was possessed by some demon, how would *that* help me?"

"Scully, think about those autopsies you did...all of them. You told me it looked like their arteries and veins had been scoured with an acid, right?"

She nodded.

"You heard what Wesley and Giles told us about these 'entities', if you don't want to call them demons. They possess the hosts through their blood."

"And how exactly did I get 'possessed' again?" she asked with skeptic hostility.

"You ... um ... stepped in ... one of them."

"Of course," she said with a nod, meaning just the opposite.

Mulder was silent. After a moment he said, "Don't you remember getting cold?"

For the first time she looked confused, unable to make a reply.

Mulder pressed forward. "That was the effect of the demon. It was in your blood."

She bit her lip. "So the only way to stop the ... demon ... was for Angel to ..."

"Feed on you," Mulder finished. "It saved you."

"Then what?" she asked tentatively.

"Anya and I brought you here."

"What happened to Angel and the rest?"

"I don't know. I - had to get you here. Angel saved you from the demon, but the blood loss almost killed you."

The doctor came in before Mulder could say any more. He was young, mid-twenties, Mulder guessed. He picked up Scully's chart and studied it for a moment.

"Miss Scully? How are you feeling?" the doctor asked.

She looked at Mulder briefly. "Um ... fine."

"Do you remember anything from last night, when Agent Mulder and Miss Emerson brought you in?"

She shook her head.

"Do you recall anything about the animal that attacked you?"


"Yeah, you remember, Scully," Mulder prompted. "We were walking back to our hotel when that animal attacked us."

Scully rolled her eyes at him, then turned back to the doctor. "I'm sorry, Doctor ... Thompson, I don't remember too much."

He nodded. "We get a lot of that."

"Really?" Mulder asked in mock surprise.

The doc nodded. "You'd be surprised."

"Or not," Mulder muttered under his break.

"So, um, when could I leave?" Scully asked.

The doctor replied, "Well, you lost an awful lot of blood. I'd like to keep you a couple more hours for observation. This evening OK?"

She nodded.

"I'll send a nurse in to check your vital signs, then I'd like you to try to rest some more. I'd just like to be sure we got everything back in balance before releasing you."

She agreed.

The nurse came in, took Scully's pulse, blood pressure, checked the IV that dripped into her arm, and redressed the wound on her neck. She refused to meet either Mulder or Scully's gazes. As the nurse left, Mulder, in a stage whisper, said, "It's a good thing they won't release you until tonight. You know, the *sun* and all."

The nurse gasped and hurried from the room.

Scully giggled at Mulder while trying to scold him.

Sunnydale High School (Front)
3:18 P.M.

Willow sighed, looking at the building she couldn't quite seem to escape.

"I can't disagree with that," Oz said.

They looked at each other.

Willow had returned to Giles' around eleven in the morning. Oz had been awake, talking with Giles and Wes. He had looked tired but whole, unscathed by his recent possession. Willow had felt tense, uncertain around Oz and whether he had simply sensed that or had felt that way himself, the situation had been awkward. Giles had come to the rescue by suggesting they go for lunch.

Willow had seized on that eagerly. Food was a distraction, even if she hadn't felt even remotely hungry. They had offered to bring back sandwiches to share.

"Oh, no, thank you, though," Giles had declined. "Cordelia promised to bring us something."

"On second thought..." Wesley had added with a smile.

Everyone had chuckled.

"Where is Cordelia?" Willow had asked, looking around for the missing seer.

Giles had smiled blandly. "She ...er ... went to see her parents."

"Oh," Willow had said softly, raising and eyebrow and crinkling her mouth uncertainly. "I wonder how *that* will go."

"Yes, well," Wesley had said, "if you feel the earth tremble, see the sun darken, and feel the urge to tear your clothing..."

"Right," Willow had agreed in mock solemnity. "We'll know it didn't go well."

She and Oz had had sandwiches at the Espresso Pump, then had walked around town, drawn to the old high school, it seemed.

Now they stood, gazing at the walls which still stood, scorched in places, visibly weakened in others.

"Really?" Oz asked. Despite the completely non sequential nature of his question, Wil seemed to know what he meant.

She nodded.

"I never would have pegged him as the type," Oz commented.

"It was ... unsettling," Willow told him.

"To say the least," Oz agreed. "I just can't ...No, trying, but I can't see it."

They were silent.

"Did Buffy?"

Willow shook her head. "She missed it."

Oz grunted in reply. "Probably a good thing."


"He does have good taste in music, though."

"Yeah. He does." She paused for a moment. "It was still weird hearing Giles sing though."

Oz laughed quietly, briefly. His face slackened, he seemed to be concentrating on something far away.

"What happened, Wil?"


"Here. Last night. How did you all know where to be ... what to do?"

Wil sighed again before telling him the story of the Vesparys demons and his own possession. Part of her was surprised Giles and Wes hadn't filled him in, but part of her was grateful they had left this to her. It was conversation.

"Things haven't improved," Oz told her when she'd finished. If he was at all fazed by his own experience, he didn't let on.

"I know." Her voice was small, distant, bleak.

"I came back too soon."

She was quiet for a dozen heartbeats. "Yeah."

"I'm sorry," he apologized.

Oz ... it's ... I mean, I'm glad ... no, more than glad ... well, giddy almost ... knowing you're all right, but ..."

"But the wolf is still between us," he finished for her.

She nodded, tears falling from her eyes. He brushed them away, the awkwardness melting from between them as the truth of where they stood with one another flowed between them.

With a last, long look at the high school, they moved on, heading by mutual consent, but without words, toward Giles', toward another parting.

"So, Spike can't kill people?" Oz asked.

"Nope, the Initiative did some weird science on him and poof, no more biting," she said happily.

"The commando guys?"

"...are the Initiative."

"And Riley Finn is part of it?"

"So was Maggie Walsh, the psych prof. She um ... well, I can only hope her science fair projects in school turned out better."

"Does Angel know about Buffy and Riley?"

Willow shook her head. "She..."

"Yeah," Oz said simply. "How often are you glad you're not the Slayer?"

Willow snorted. "When am I *not* glad?" she asked rhetorically.

They stopped in front of Giles' building. Without words, Oz leaned in and kissed Wil. It was a gentle, tender, bitter moment. Their lips touched, held, moved together in a shared memory. They parted. Oz stroked Willow's cheek softly.

"This is where I disappear into the ... afternoon," Oz told her.

She nodded.

His van was parked across the street. He began to move toward it, when she reached out for his hand. He looked back at her, her tears cutting him to the quick. She was as she had always been, the girl he'd fallen in love with one night at the Bronze over two years before. Where others had seen smart, obsessively smart, a geek through and through, he had seen her quirky brilliance, her amazing sense of humor, her unending loyalty and careful consideration of others. He had seen an Eskimo, wrapped up, hiding who she could be and he had wanted to reveal her, to show the whole world what he knew innately. She was and always would be his heart's beat.

He grasped the hand that had brushed his and pulled her tightly to him. This kiss was deep, passionate. He fought the rising panic within him. She was all he wanted, all he needed. If only...

"You're with me always, Wil," he pledged to her, placing her hand over his heart. "I carry you with me every moment."

She nodded through hear tears.

He held her again, feeling the strength of her heart against his, feeling her breathing within the circle of his arms. Suddenly, he released her. She said nothing, unable to break her silence, unable to put into words what he knew anyway.

He was gone. His van slid down the street, wavering in the wash of the tears that filled her eyes endlessly.

"Goodbye, Oz," she whispered.

The Mansion
5:36 P.M.

"Sun'll be down soon," Angel commented.

Buffy nodded distractedly.

"Cordy, Wes, and I are leaving tonight," he added.

She nodded again, slowly, as if from a great distance.

"I'm thinking of playing third base for the Dodgers. I know the day games will be a real headache, but-"

"What?" she asked, emotion breaking through at last.

He smiled at her as she turned around to look at him. She stood by the heavy velvet drapes that shut out the killer sun. They moved gently with the sway of her body, the rhythm of her breathing. They fluttered, dust motes glimmered, then vanished in pale shafts of light that fell onto Buffy's blonde head and slim shoulders.

"You're making me nervous," he said.

She looked blankly at him for a moment. With a small smile, she moved away from the curtains. He sat still and waited for her to be ready. He'd been waiting all day, worried yet resolved that he would tell her whatever she might ask.

They'd come back after leaving Giles'. They'd walked slowly, hands clasped, saying nothing, seeing the past in so many dark corners and grimy alleys.

Angel had looked down at her from time to time, his mind comparing the woman who walked next to him, taking in the leaner planes of her face, the tighter curve of her muscles and seeing, with remorse, the girl she'd been. Time had subtracted from her more than it had added, more than it could ever add, more than he could add no matter how much he ached to give her increase.

Each time she had noticed him watching her, she had smiled at him. Her smile caused his soul to tremble, finding in that smile only the barest traces of its former carelessness. If it would have changed her life, without changing who she was, he'd have done away with all of his kind, just to protect her. But he knew everything he saw, he saw because she was the Slayer, chosen to carry these burdens so that no one else would have to.

Along Sunnydale's darkened downtown, they had walked. The movie theater, its marquee tattered, falling apart, mocked them with memories of their last moments of bliss together, before Faith melted out of a by-way and laid waste to their illusions. He had been able to hear the other Slayer, the rogue killer, tease them, thrusting herself between them as he'd proven to Buffy he could kiss her, hold her, *want* her without losing control.

She'd shivered once, feeling the anomalous snow that had blanketed Sunnydale just fifteen months ago, giving her a day with him, a day without sun, but warm and bright from reconciliation, from the secure knowledge they were as one. Past the magic shop, they'd gone, neither daring to observe aloud that this was where Spike had reminded them that their blood was cursed, cursed by one another with a love that burned them, branded them, held them fast. Forever. And ever. Amen.

Their path had led them past the high school again, where memories, not of a few hours gone by assailed them, but by so many other events they had shared.

Into the cemetery, their footsteps had wandered, past tombs and crypts, graves fresh and old, past their own shadows, allying, fighting, loving, hating, all around them. Time slowed, wove itself around and through them, catching them up, reforming its pattern around them.

At the entrance to the mansion, she'd hesitated.

He'd stopped and looked at her, waiting. He could wait forever for the things she needed in her life, for the things she needed each and every moment.

"Have you been...?" his voice had trailed off.

"Been back?" she'd asked. She had shaken her head. "Did you...?"

"No," he'd answered. "Buffy?"

She'd looked up at him.

"We can go somewhere else."

She'd curved her lips ever so slightly. "No, this makes sense."

Once inside, they'd looked around, neither saying anything for a long while. Near the fire place still lay the pewter jug Buffy had crushed as Angel had fed on her. If he'd listened closely, he'd still been able to hear her moans, the gasps of pain, and what had sounded like the groanings of forbidden pleasure. She had stared at it.

"You brought me back," he'd said softly.

"I couldn't have let you die like that," she'd replied.

"You always bring me back," he'd added.

She'd looked at him in confusion.

"Your heart, Buffy. Your love. Your determination." He'd paused. While he'd been trying to order his thoughts, to marshal his feelings into some semblance of structure, she'd walked into the other room, had stood facing what had been his bed.

She'd ached with the memory of the night spent in his arms, the last before her world rocked away from her, tilted angrily, before spinning dizzily back into its proper sphere. Almost. Exhaustion had finally overwhelmed the adrenaline that had kept her moving. She'd lain down and he had followed her, holding her as he had then.

"Do you know what happens, Buffy, when you let go?" His question had been rhetorical so he'd not waited for her answer. "When you let go, when you free yourself of me, I am with you all the more strongly. Don't you know that?"

Only her soft, even breathing had greeted him.

"Let me go, Buffy, and I'll always be with you," he'd whispered, kissing her hair tenderly.

She'd slept most of the morning and afternoon, and Angel had been content to hold her, to watch her, to doze in the soft current of his memories. Somewhere in all of this, she had forgiven him his furtive trip to Sunnydale in November. Somewhere, deep inside her, the undeniable reality hid, curled, darkened, yet present. He'd smiled gently, stroking her hair as she'd slept, realizing that same love which had brought him from the depths of hell defied the logic and power of the Oracles. He'd felt as though that which he'd lost had been returned to him in some measure.

When she'd stirred at last, he'd seen a momentary look of guilt cross her face. With willful ignorance, he'd brushed her hair from her face and kissed her softly. There was someone else, he'd known that from the first, but he'd also felt in her the emotion that ran stronger and deeper, fed his own, fed *off* his own with fangs as sharp and as loving as his own had been when they'd sunk into her flesh in this very edifice.

Through his days as Angelus, through her self-imposed exile after she'd been forced to send him to that hell from which he'd later emerged, she'd kept the ring he gave her, the claddaugh that symbolized his soul to hers. Her dreams had sustained him and held him there and only when she'd at last let go of him, laid down finally, that ring, that symbol, her heart had called out to him, pulled him back to her, back to this world, back to the good fight.

Nothing could ever match that. Nothing in this world or any other.

He'd smiled at her. "Sorry, still no mirrors," he'd whispered.

She'd grimaced good naturedly at him. Her gaze had been steady on him. After long, steady beats of her heart, she'd asked, "Why did you come that night?"

He'd shrugged. "It meant ... you've never been an ordinary woman, Buffy. The world lays on your shoulders and you wanted to let it tumble off for one evening. You deserved to let it look after itself for a few hours."

"You didn't have to-"

"I wanted to," he'd interrupted. "And I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

She'd risen after that, gone into the other room, where he'd followed her. They'd talked about minutiae for a while, peppered with long stretches of silence.

Now she stood near the drapes and he waited.

"I'll be right back," she said suddenly. She hurried past him, out the door, into the sun. He could only remember how she looked, standing in the bright sunlight. He sighed with the ever-present knowledge that there was a part of her he could never touch.

He didn't hear her come back, so far away was his mind.

"Xander may be able to see me in the daylight," she said from behind him, "but only you have ever been able to see into the deepest part of my heart."

She'd stood in the waning sunlight for five or ten minutes, judging it was getting on for late afternoon. Soon they would return to Giles' and Angel would leave her once again. She'd let what was left of the afternoon light roll down over her, fill her in the simple ways she longed for. She'd closed her eyes and seen Angel, seen him striding out of the shadows to sweep her into his arms. She'd felt every fiber of her being fill with an unbelievable, fantastic joy. In one heart beat, she'd wanted to know and in the next, she'd decided she couldn't bear it. She'd returned to Angel.

"Buffy, you wanted to -"

"No," she said softly. "Whatever it is, it was the ... best part of my life ever. I lost it once, this ... thing I can't remember, only feel in the beating of my heart. I can see it in your eyes and that's enough."

"Are you sure?" he asked slowly, gazing steadily at her.

She shook her head. "But I will be."

He nodded at her. Mutely, tears streaming down her face, sealing the moment between them, she went to him as he stood up. He wrapped his arms around her and held her as tightly as he could. He cupped her head in his hands and trailed his fingers through her long hair as she wept against him.

She looked up at him. He leaned down and kissed her, hard, fierce, a kiss that would have to last him eternity. She kissed him back, giving him that eternity, making him ache for that heartbeat he'd given up.

"Been here, done this. Right?" she whispered as they drew apart.

"Something like that," he affirmed with an achy smile.

"Whatever they are - these memories I'm not certain of - keep them safe for me ... for us. OK?"

"Every moment of every hour," he replied.

They kissed again, finding their way back to the couch where they sunk down and held one another, lips meshed, fingers entwined until his senses told him the sun was beginning to sink beneath the weight of the western skies. The death of another day brought him to another night of existence, took him another twelve hours of darkness away from her, another seven hundred twenty minutes from what she made him, another forty-three thousand two hundred seconds toward all he had to make of himself.

He began, once again, counting the time without her.

Rupert Giles' Residence Sunnydale 7:28 P.M. March 25

Mulder turned the engine off. He looked over at Scully. She was pale, her hair glowing in contrast. She'd brushed it so it almost completely hid the white bandage covering the gouges in her neck.

"Scully?" he asked. "We can just go straight to the airport-"

She shook her head. He didn't think she even realized her fingers were running lightly, repeatedly over the gauze.

They sat quietly for a few minutes longer.



"Do you know -" she swallowed hard. "Um ... after last night ... is there any chance...?" Her voice trailed off.

Mulder's eyes jumped in worry. He reached out and took her hand, drawing her fingers from their incessant fretting over the stark white fabric guarding her skin. Softly, but firmly, he assured her. "No, no chance at all."

Biting her lower lip, she looked over at him, down at their hands. He watched a tear slide from the corner of her eye. "How do you know?" she whispered. "He fed on me."

"Um ... Xander - I wanted to stop Angel, but Xander told me it took more than a vampire feeding on someone."

Scully nodded.

"And - when the doctors were working on you, I asked Anya. You would have to feed on him, before..."

Scully nodded again, still pale, trembling slightly. She let out a deep, shuddering breath.

"Why didn't you ask me before?"

She sighed. Then she smiled at him, the shy smile he saw so rarely. "I ... didn't know what to think. I mean, Mulder, all this about vampires, werewolves, demons ... it's incredible." She paused. "Besides, if I admitted I believed even some of it, then I had to be ..."


She smiled at him.

"I was terrified watching him last night. Terrified he'd kill you, make you like him. Or that it wouldn't work and that demon would destroy you."

She squeezed his hand lightly.

"I'm not going anywhere, Mulder."

"I wouldn't blame you if you did. This is just one more thing you never would have gone through if it weren't for me," he told her.

She shook her head. "Whatever I've been through, whatever you've been through, Mulder, whatever else may be coming, I don't want to be anywhere besides with you."

"Are you sure, Scully? If Spender figured out..."

"Mulder, what more can they do to us?"

"Scully!" he exclaimed.

She interrupted him. "All right, don't answer that. The fact is everything they've done, all the reasons we've ... I've never ... whether we say it or don't, whether we act on it or don't, they'll still use what we feel against us."

She leaned over and kissed him lightly.

"The truth, Mulder, is no one has kept up apart as effectively as we ourselves have."

He smiled at her and brushed away the tears that washed her cheeks. She inclined her face into his hand. "When did you get so wise?" he asked.

She chuckled. "Angel ...um ... 'pointed' a few things out to me while we were stuck in that crypt."

"Yeah? Like ...?"

"He told me some things about himself and Buffy."

"That whole curse thing?"

She nodded.

"Pretty bad, eh?"

"He loves her with ... everything he is and they truly can't be together." She stopped and Mulder watched the stars fade from her eyes. "If that whole curse is for real, that is."

Mulder groaned. "Scuh-leee," he pleaded.

She smiled wickedly at him.

He laughed at her and kissed her.

"Let's go say our good-byes," she told him.

They walked up to Giles' front door. Mulder's hand rested in the small of her back. He felt the familiar comfort that motion brought him, but also a wonderful, new tingle of possibilities, of a future to come.

Cordelia opened the door when Mulder knocked. Cordy smiled at them and invited them in.

"Agent Scully!" Wesley called out. "How are you?"

She smiled. "I'll be fine," she assured everyone.

"Our plane leaves in a few hours and we came to say goodbye," Mulder explained.

"Good," Willow said. "Oh, I don't mean - er, uh, I mean it's great you're saying goodbye...no, I mean-"

"Wil," Xander said gently. "Breathe." He smiled at her.

She stopped and smiled back.

"We're glad we get the chance to say goodbye," Buffy clarified.

Willow nodded enthusiastically.

Mulder and Scully were both smiling brightly.

"Can we get you something?" Giles asked, indicating with a sweep of his hand the varied assortment of foods laid out on the coffee table.

"Quite a spread," Mulder observed.

Through a mouthful of tortilla chips, Xander explained, "Post- save-the-World-from-Apocalypse-Slayage tradition."

"Yes, Giles always has excellent forms of sustenance!" Anya affirmed with glee. Xander popped a chip into her mouth in reply.

As they made their way around the room, Mulder found a moment alone with Buffy.

"Saved the world again, I guess?" Mulder asked the blonde.

Buffy nodded with a smile. "Another day, another apocalypse averted."

"You know, if you ever want to branch out, give me a call. I have a feeling the aliens wouldn't be much of a match for you."

Her face grew serious. "Is your partner all right, really?"

Mulder nodded. "She'll be fine. We've both learned a lot in your little town."

"Well, Sunnydale can be highly educational," Buffy agreed.

For her part, Scully had sought out Angel. As she approached, he drew something out of his pocket. She saw her cross dangling from his hand.


"Seems you forgot about it." He smiled at her. "Buffy and I picked it up for you."

"But ... it would have been still light...he closes at-"

"He knows who Buffy is. He made an exception," Angel explained.

Scully nodded, then became confused again. "How did you know where?"

"Xander and Anya had mentioned where they'd run into you yesterday. Two and two. You know if you'd had this last night, none of this-" he gestured to her neck, "would have happened."

"Why not? What exactly did you all do?"

"You think we did something to your cross?" Angel teased her.

"And Mulder's phone," she responded.

"You're too skeptical, too scientific, to believe Willow put a misguiding spell on them, right?" His eyes twinkled at her and she returned his good natured ribbing with a smile.

"Of course," she agreed with mock gravity. She looked up at him. "Thank you."

"For sending you to the hospital?" he asked, his voice bitter with recrimination.

"For saving my life," she answered him.

"I could have ended it," he responded.

"But you didn't," she said softly. "I can only imagine how hard that was for you, to do ... that. But you gave me another chance, at a lot of things." She smiled up at him and glanced around to find Mulder.

Angel smiled back at her as her gaze returned to his face. "Don't waste it," he advised her.

"We won't," she promised.

"Scully!" Mulder called out. "We gotta get a move-on."

She raised her hand in acknowledgment. She turned back to the vampire and took his pale, cool hand. "Stay out of the sun," she admonished him, grinning.

He laughed at her. "Stay out of alien spaceships," he returned.

The agents left and shortly after, the Fang Gang exchanged glances, indicating it was time to leave.

Good-byes were said as everyone made their way to Angel's car.

"Man, this baby is something!" Xander exclaimed.

Wes and Cordy launched into a description of their boss' vintage car. It gave Buffy and Angel, who hung back from the others, a chance to say goodbye privately.

"I still can't believe Cordy works for you," Buffy remarked.

"Most days neither can I," Angel told her.

Buffy's eyes clouded and filled with tears as Angel embraced her. She tilted her head up to meet his lips. If sadness had taste it would have been the salt tang closing their throats. If given form, it would have been the press of their lips together, a kiss out of time, saved only in the dim past, promised only in a dark, uncertain future.

He gazed down at her and brushed a strand of hair from her face. "We've got to get back before sunrise."

She nodded.

There were no more words spoken between them. Goodbye was not part of their vocabulary for one another. Instead she watched him walk out of her life once more, into a life he'd made away from her, and her heart cracked just a little more than it had the day before, and the day before that one, and all the days since he had come into her life at all. And that same heart healed ever so slightly in the knowledge that he was in the world, his soul intact, his heart still hers.

The Scooby Gang stood and watched them drive away.

"Buffy, I'm terribly sorry-" Giles began.

"I didn't ask him," she interrupted.

Giles stopped and stared at her, as did Xander and Willow.

Anya whispered to Xander, "Ask him what?"

Xander shook his head in reply. He mouthed, "Later," a response which did not please his contrary girlfriend, but one she accepted with ill grace.

"Buffy -"

"Whatever it is, Giles, it's one more burden that I just can't carry."

"But, Buffy," Willow protested, "what if it's ... you know ... everything you ever wanted?"

Buffy looked at her, looked at Xander, who looked at the ground, and then at Anya. Then the Slayer looked at her Watcher (for fired though he might have been, he would always be her Watcher; the bond was forged of anguish, determination, loyalty, and love). Buffy saw it in Giles' eyes.

She looked back down the street. "It was, Wil. I don't know how or why, but I know it was. And I know it's gone."


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