Disclaimers; I own Mr. Beltaine, Sandra Ogawa, Denise Parkinson and the Hell's Belles, all others are owned by the mighty Joss Whedon. I'm just playing in his dark sandbox.
Rating;

PG-13 to R
Author's note; This is the continuation of my series, "Somewhere I Have Never Traveled", my own personal epic. I'm looking at a trilogy, and now that I have a threat worthy of the mighty Slayer, I'm looking forward to springing it on you.
Summary; Buffy and Willow are reunited after the Slayer's return from Hell. But what are these strange dreams that Buffy is having? Who is the mysterious Mr. Beltaine? Where do Spike and Darla figure? And what happened to Faith?
Spoiler; Fourth Season up to "Hush" and "I Will Remember You"; Angel the Series

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Somewhere I Have Never Travelled
Book Two; The Sang Real

Written by Kirayoshi

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Chapter 1

Ice Cream

Your love is better than ice cream
Better than anything else that I've tried.
And your love is better than ice cream,
Everyone here know how to fight
And it's a long way down,
It's a long way down,
It's a long way down to the place
Where we started from.

--Sarah McLaclan
"Ice Cream"

"Okay, Buffy, close your eyes," an excited Willow Rosenberg insisted as she opened the passenger side door of her car. The blond woman emerged from the car, her eyes clamped shut. Willow took her hand, and led her carefully up the walkway, over the porch steps. She stopped as she withdrew her keys from her purse, and unlocked the door.

"Okay, Buffy," Willow announced after she led her beloved into her townhouse, "Open."

Buffy Summers' eyes blinked open, and she stood transfixed at the sight before her. The living room was spacious, with a rich hardwood floor, an enormous front window, and a beamed ceiling. A hand-woven carpet in Native American patterns dominated the living room. A handsome ceiling fan rotated lazily, circulating the air. The furnishings were simple, clean lines, earth tones and maple finished shelves were the dominant theme. Very Cost Plus World Market, Buffy thought. Suited Willow to a tee.

"Recognize the place, Buffy?" Willow asked sweetly as she made her way to the kitchen. "It's one of the places we were looking at when we went apartment hunting before -- well, before you disappeared. I just moved in a few weeks ago."

"Nice digs, Willow." Buffy whistled. "So, what's the monthly damage?"

"What do you mean?" Willow asked her girlfriend, peeking around the partition.

Buffy looked around, a puzzled expression on her brow. "Rent, Wills. How much do you pay per month?"

"None," Willow reported happily. "Other than utilities, of course." As Buffy's expression graduated from puzzled to incredulous, the redhead elaborated; "Zip. Nada. Bupkus. Squat. I own this pile, flat out."

Buffy looked around at her surroundings, amazed. "How? I mean, we both agreed we couldn't afford the rent on this place before, how did you afford to buy it?"

"My new part-time job," Willow emerged from the kitchen with two soda cans. "Diet Pepsi, right?" Buffy accepted the can, and popped it open. "A few months ago, when we thought you were gone -- I know, awkward."

"No, no, it's okay," Buffy assured her lover. Willow let out a sigh of relief and continued. "Well, I started to bury myself in work to deal with missing you. Didn't quite fill the void, but it helped a little. I started job hunting, and landed a job as a professional beta-tester."

"Man, I've been hanging around you long enough to know what that is," Buffy commented. "You've been trying out software and stuff, before it goes public?" Willow nodded happily. "How much does that pay?"

"From Cybermancers," Willow admitted as she flopped down on her overstuffed sofa, and bade Buffy to join her, "about as much as working for Mickey D's. Minus the paper hat and coming home smelling like french fries and secret sauce."

"And that got you into these swanky digs?" Buffy sat down next to Willow, amazed as always that this vibrant red-haired woman had given her heart to her. Even after a year's separation, there was no disguising her openness, her adoration. Silently and for the million-and-twelfth time, Buffy thanked whatever God had placed Willow Rosenberg in her life.

"Not really," Willow answered. "But someone from product development asked me to design some gaming software for them, and I agreed. They're a small firm, you understand, they haven't been swallowed up by Bill Gates or any of the other Pirates of Silicon Valley, so they had a more employee friendly approach. Someone heard that I was a crack programmer as well as a hacker, so they gave me a challenge. I ended up designing a role-playing adventure based on Buckaroo Banzaii--"

"What," Buffy started to laugh. "That weirdo sci-fi comedy starring the guy from Robo-Cop and Jeff Goldblum?"

"Hey," Willow answered mock-defensively, "Xander introduced me to that movie when we were kids, and I've always enjoyed it." Buffy composed herself, but still had a slight smile as Willow continued. "Once they got the licensing details squared away, which was easy since Buckaroo Banzaii wasn't licensed by anyone and was selling for cheap, the game was beta-tested, a few bugs were tweaked, and it ended up being Cybermancers' all-time top seller. Huge cult following on the movie, including a lot of tech-heads. The suits were so impressed that they've commissioned me to design at least two more games for them, and gave me a nice hefty bonus, which first went into buying this house. I figured that I'd better cover my nut." She gestured to a desk on the far side of the spacious living room, where she kept her computer. "And I'm still beta-ing for them, from home, when I'm not chasing my diploma at UC Sunnydale. That covers heat, electric, groceries, that sort of thing."

"Well," Buffy declared as she took Willow's hand in hers, "you did good, kiddo. Congrats."

"Hey, I know I did good," Willow replied softly, as she took Buffy's hand and kissed her knuckle, "the night you and I became lovers." She took Buffy's face in her hands, and kissed her on the lips. The kiss was soft, sweet, and undemanding at first. But as Willow's desire mounted, her mouth opened, and her tongue met Buffy's in an increasingly heated exchange. Her hands trailed down the blond woman's body, outlining her curves with gentle, questing fingers. "Goddess," Willow breathed, when she finally surfaced from that incredible kiss. "I missed you, Buffy."

"Yeah," Buffy agreed. "We missed a year of our lives. I know it's not my fault, but I can't help feel like I' responsible. I wish I could make it up to you."

"Just say you'll stay," Willow said. This was it, the moment of truth. She had feared that Buffy's year in Hell, even if she didn't remember any of her experience, might have changed her, might have erased the love she professed.

Buffy regarded Willow with a hopeful stare. "You asking me to move in with you?"

"I can't think of this," Willow spread her arms, to indicate the whole house, "as a home without you here. Yesterday, after I visited you at the hospital, I asked Dad to recommend a lawyer. He gave me a name, and I talked to her about having you legally named as co-owner of this house. Just say the word, and we can seal the deal. As far as I'm concerned, this isn't my place, it's ours. And I want you to live here. With me."

Buffy's eyes met Willow's, and her joy at Willow's offer was evident on Buffy's face. "I accept." Willow wrapped her arms around Buffy in a welcoming hug, showering her face with kisses, saying "Thank you," with each kiss.

"Will," Buffy stopped her show of passion with a gentle hand to Willow's lips, "I have to talk to you, though. Y'see, Wills," she tried to steady her nerves for what she planned to do, what she innately knew was the next logical step in her life. "Yesterday, while you were at class, Mom visited me at the hospital. We got to talking, about the mistakes that we made in our relationship, the things she always wanted to do, that sort of thing. She told me that I had an opportunity to make sure I had no regrets when I leave this world. And the first thing I thought of when she said that was you."

"Will, my one regret right now is that we lost a year together. I don't know how you got along without me, although I always knew that you would survive, you always were tougher than you looked. But still, we lost so much time. All the conversations we could have had, all the movie nights, the ice cream, the lovemaking we never got to do, I don't want to lose any of that again." She swallowed hard, and searched Willow's eyes for acceptance, for understanding. Seeing the warmth reflected in those green orbs she adored so much, Buffy continued;

"When I talked to Mom about it, I realized that there was only one thing that would assure me that I wouldn't ever be parted from you again. Mom and I talked about it some more, and, well," She started fishing an object out of the pocket in her denim jacket. "When Mom and Dad got divorced, Mom told me, she tried to return her wedding and engagement rings, but Dad refused. Something about not planning on using them again." She produced a small velvet box, and opened it in front of Willow. The box contained a simple gold band with a three-quarter carat diamond solitaire.

Willow's eyes widened at the sight, and at the implied question that came with the ring. Buffy gulped again before emotion overcame her purpose. "She told me that she wanted this ring to stand for something real, more real than her marriage. That's what I want, and I know that's what I got with you. So I guess there's no other way to say it, but to say it."

She got off the couch, and knelt before Willow. "Willow Rosenberg," she asked in a plaintive voice, desperately trying to finish the question before she was overcome with nervous sobs, "Will you marry me?"

Willow leapt off of the couch and into Buffy's arms, with a force that nearly knocked the blond onto her back. Buffy found herself assaulted by Willow's lips, as the wiccan rained soft kisses all over her beloved. Buffy finally pulled Willow's body away from her, looked at her soulmate, and asked, "Was that a >yes'?"

"Yes!" Willow exulted in Buffy's arms. "Yes, yes, yes! I will marry you!" Buffy wrapped her arms around Willow's shoulders, not caring that she was in danger of losing her balance. Sure enough, they fell sideways to the floor, and rolled around on the carpet, lost in their bliss. They kissed like that for several minutes, before Buffy remembered the ring. Reluctantly prying herself from Willow's arms, Buffy crawled to where she dropped the ring box and collected the engagement ring. She took Willow's hand in her own, and gently slipped the ring on the appropriate finger.

Willow admired the ring, especially the sparkle of the diamond. She imagined that her eyes sparkled as brightly as she looked at the gem. She looked again at Buffy Summers, her fianc�e (Goddess what a wonderful word, she thought,) and embraced her again. Buffy collected her lover in her arms, and lifted her effortlessly. It had occurred to her that she shouldn't be so strong, but at the moment it didn't matter. "Bedroom," Buffy whispered urgently in Willow's ear.

"Just what I was thinking," Willow agreed, her eyes darkening with growing lust.

"Where is it?" Buffy asked.

"Oh." Willow giggled slightly. "Uh, down the hall, to the right."

Following Willow's instructions, Buffy carried her toward the bedroom. Willow wrapped her arms around Buffy's shoulders, kissing and nipping her neck, and nibbling her earlobe. Buffy entered the bedroom, noting with satisfaction the queen-sized bed. She had to smile when she saw a familiar friend sitting on the pillows.

"Well, hello there, Mr. Gordo," Buffy purred as she gently placed Willow on the bed, and picked up the stuffed pig. "Have you been taking care of Willow while I've been gone?" she asked, touching her nose to Gordo's snout.

Willow chuckled as Buffy doted on her childhood toy. "Yeah, he's been keeping me company this last year. Sort of a surrogate Buffy."

"Well," Buffy announced as she placed Mr. Gordo on top of a nearby bookshelf, "thanks for taking care of Wills for me, but I'm here now." She then glanced back at Willow, who started to unbutton her top. Buffy climbed onto the bed and stopped her with a gentle kiss. "Allow me," Buffy whispered.

She slowly unfastened the buttons, parting her shirt, and placing her lips on each new inch of exposed skin in a series of feather-light kisses. Once the last button was loose, Willow shimmied off the top, revealing a pink lace bra. Willow then grasped Buffy by the shoulders, rolled her over, and pinned her to the bed. She lavished her face with wet, passionate kisses, finally clamping her lips onto Buffy's mouth and sucking on her tongue. Buffy reciprocated, and the two women began to make passionate love. Clothes were discarded, lips and hands explored, and the air was filled with moans of pure pleasure.

Hours later, two naked women snuggled together beneath the covers, sated for the time being. Willow purred happily into Buffy's ear.

"Welcome home, Buffy," she murmured.

Buffy stroked a strand of red hair lazily, and kissed the top of Willow's head. "You know, Wills, if we're going to do that again--"

"If?" Willow raised her voice in mock-indignation. Buffy playfully swatted her lover's arm.

"Willow, I'm saying that if we're going to keep this up all night, we're gonna need to replenish our strength."

"In other words, food," Willow said, stretching like a contented cat. The act of stretching accentuated her subtle curves in just the right way to stir Buffy's passions further. "Okay, Buffy. Anything in particular?"

"Anything we can eat in bed, I'm thinking," Buffy pondered the offer. "Ice cream, of course. Just the container with two spoons."

"I dunno, Buffy," Willow smirked. "I could never eat ice cream in bed. It keeps landing on me."

"Oh dear," Buffy gasped theatrically. "What ever will I do if that happens? I'll have to lick it off of you or something."

Willow regarded Buffy with a wolfish stare. "I'm so liking that idea," Willow giggled. She rushed off to the kitchen to collect the ice cream.

Buffy suddenly remembered something else; "Oh, and peanut butter, preferably crunchy!"

"I got it," called a masculine voice. Within seconds, a naked Angel entered the bedroom, his arms laden with food. He dropped the parcels on the bed, where he joined Buffy. Buffy happily grabbed a spoon and tucked into the ice cream.

"The perfect yum," Buffy announced. "Mmm, this is a dream. You're human for like a minute and already there is Cookie-dough-fudge-mint-chip in the fridge."

"God, I love food," Angel declared, as he cuddled up to Buffy.

Buffy smiled at Angel, agreeing; "Food is good."

"Why didn't you ever tell me about chocolate and peanut butter?"

"Well, I figured if your vamp taste buds couldn't really savor it," Buffy answered, playing with Angel's chest hairs, "then it would only hurt you, you know? By the way, I'm over the whole needing to be mature thing. That time you just spent in the kitchen? That was enough time apart."

"Too much." Angel leaned into Buffy's embrace, and the two kissed with the passion of two lovers long separated and now reunited. The kiss quickened in tempo, until the ice cream in the spoon Angel was lazily holding dripped onto his chest. The sudden coldness caught him off guard, and he started to chuckle at his predicament. "Okay, mortal coordination leaving something to be desired."

"Wrong," Buffy growled, "it's just right." She then dipped her head to Angel's chest and started to lick the ice cream off of his chest.

"Buffy, Buffy," a voice that didn't belong to Angel broke through her reverie, and Buffy heard the sound of fingers snapping in front of her. She blinked, and Angel was gone. No, she realized, he was never here. She shook her head in disbelief, and no small amount of guilt; not a few hours after asking Willow to marry her, and Buffy was thinking about sex with an old boyfriend. And Willow was standing before her, peanut butter and ice cream in hand.

"You okay, Buffy?" Willow asked.

"Oh, uh, yeah," Buffy collected her scattered thoughts. "I'm fine. Just hit by your dazzling beauty, that's all."

"Liar," Willow stuck out her tongue at Buffy. "Was it your memory?" She sat down, placing her burden beside her on the bed. Her eyes displayed genuine concern.

Buffy nodded to Willow. "Yeah, I think so. It was about me and Angel before--" she hesitated. "That doesn't bother you, me talking about Angel, does it?"

"No, it doesn't," Willow's voice was calm, assuring. "He is part of your life."

"A very small part," Buffy illustrated by holding her thumb and forefinger up, very close together. "You, on the other hand, are everything to me. Never doubt that, you hear me, Wills?" Willow nodded, a tear of joy trickling down her cheek. "Now then," Buffy added, "let's dig in to that ice cream before it melts."

"Good idea," Willow answered, holding out two spoons. "Choose your weapons."

Buffy took one spoon, and dug into the ice cream container. She got in several large bites of ice cream, when Willow gave Buffy a sloppy kiss on the mouth, tasting the ice cream on her lips.

"Oh, are we in that mood, Wills?" Buffy grabbed the peanut butter, and dipped her fingers into the jar. Scooping out a dollop of peanut butter, she smeared the spread all over Willow's breasts, and then started to lick it off, savoring the taste and texture of the peanut butter mingling with Willow's skin.

Willow noticed that Buffy had cleaned up the last of the peanut butter, but was still nibbling at her breasts. Not that she minded. Their love play continued long into the night, as Willow gladly welcomed Buffy home.

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Egypt, 1300

Lady Hathor wore a linen cloth at her waist, but no other coverings. It was the way of her calling that she stand within the temple of Isis unadorned, that Isis might see her true self. Besides, she knew that Ankh-Isis took pleasure in seeing her naked. She approached the priestess of Isis, who regarded her champion and lover with a compassionate nod, her wisdom and her love showing within the depths of her kohl-rimmed eyes.

"Are you well, Hathor?"

"As well as can be expected, Ankh-Isis," Hathor replied. "The legions of Set and Anubis grow each day. The Nile will run red with the blood of our people before they are through." She winced in pain, as her shoulder protested her latest battle with the undead creations of Anubis, god of embalming.

"You are hurt," Ankh-Isis stood up from her throne, and supported Hathor's weight. "Come, sit, let me heal you." She immediately plucked a lotus blossom from the nearby pond, and crushed the base of the flower in her hand, wringing out the flower's sap. She rubbed the sap onto Hathor's wounded shoulder, massaging it deep into her skin. The soothing lotion began to work its power on Hathor, removing the tensions and pains of her battle with the undead.

"Set was always an obstinate opponent," Ankh-Isis said. "By his alliance with Anubis, he seeks to bring the dead to a mockery of life, thereby robbing them of the glories of the kingdom of Osiris." She turned Hathor in her arms to face her and continued. "You serve Osiris, as I serve his sister-wife Isis. As such, we are bonded as they were."

"You are right," Hathor agreed, seeing the warmth in Ankh-Isis' eyes replaced by the heat of her desire. "But is it right for us to feel as we do about each other?"

"Not only right," Ankh-Isis answered, taking Hathor's hand in her own, and kissing it, "but just and necessary. By loving each other, we fulfill the love of Osiris and Isis, the love that was cruelly destroyed when the betrayer Set killed his brother Osiris. Love me now, Hathor, as Osiris loved his Isis." Hathor said no more, but claimed the priestess' lips with her own.

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Buffy's eyes opened suddenly, as she studied her surroundings. She was in Willow's room--no, their room, she reminded herself. She felt the weight of Willow's body on her own, as Willow caressed Buffy's breast in her sleep. She smiled as she enjoyed Willow's touches. But the dream still weighed down on her.

She didn't understand why, but this was the second dream she had in as many days, and the theme was similar. She was a fighter, a warrior of some kind, against some sort of great evil. And in each dream, she was partnered with a woman who was her lover. A woman who vaguely resembled Willow. Even if the appearance of the priestess in tonight's dream wasn't close to her Willow, the soul was similar.

She wondered if these dreams were the key to her lost memories, but she found that idea extremely far-fetched. Her memories would surface on their own, Giles had assured her of that.

But what if there was a connection between these dreams of the distant past and her own life? What kind of life did she have before? Who was she?

Buffy realized that she couldn't answer those questions now, so she let them drift back to the back of her mind. Right now, her only concern was the beautiful red-haired woman who, even when she slept, seemed to desire her body.

Buffy lay back and surrendered her body to Willow's caresses. This, she decided, is what was important. She had her Willow back.

And she was not going to let her go.

 

Chapter 2

Hell's Belles

"All that we see or seem,
Is but a dream within a dream"
--Edgar Allan Poe

The roaring of three Harley-Davison engines hacked into the night outside of Sunnydale. The three women riding into town were here for a little fun. They pulled over and cut off their engines, just outside of the city limits.

"Sunnydale, California," the lead biker announced, removing her helmet to unleash a thick mane of red hair. "Squaresville USA."

"Hey, I dunno about that, Rizzo," the blonde next to her argued as she took off her helmet and popped her chewing gum. "Wasn't this were the Hellmouth was supposed to be?"

"Yeah, Frenchie," Rizzo answered. " >Supposed to be' is right. The Hellmouth got closed last year by the Slayer. Word is she died to close it."

"You know what that means, Riz," the brunette biker offered, pulling out a cigarette. "We're gonna get the chance to raise a little hell!"

"You're right, Leather," Rizzo said, spitting to the side. "C'mon, girls," she announced, as her face contorted to that of her true nature, a vampire. "Hell's Belles ride tonight!"

The three vampires rode into town, whooping loudly. Tonight, the hunt would begin.

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It was Eighties Open Mike Night at the Bronze, when Buffy and Willow entered their favorite hang-out, ready to party. They had hoped to run into their friends that night, as they had news to share.

They were pleased to find Cordelia at the Bronze, but surprised to see her on stage, backed by Evil Petting Zoo, the band that had once been known as Dingoes Ate My Baby. After Oz died in his traitorous attack on Buffy over a year ago, Devon and the other surviving members regrouped and launched a new sound. With a new guitar player, they began to enjoy a greater popularity than ever.

Tonight, they were supplying a live karaoke, as amateur singers tried for a one-hundred dollar prize. The only rule was the singer had to perform a song from the Eighties. Cordy had chosen a lively dance piece from disco-era survivors Blondie, and sang with obvious joy;

"When I met you in the restaurant,
You could tell I was no debutante.
You asked me what's my pleasure; "A movie or a measure?"
I'll have a cup of tea and tell you of my dreaming.
Dreaming is free.
"I don't want to live on charity
Pleasure's real or is it fantasy?
Real to real is living rarity
People stop and stare at me, we just walk on by
We just keep on dreaming."

The two girls bounced over to the dance floor, where Xander saw them. "Hey, Willow, Buffy!" he greeted his long-time friends, bear-hugging both in turn. "Good to see you here, Buffy, the place hasn't been the same without you."

"I'm glad to be back too, Xander," Buffy shouted to be heard above the band. The three friends turned their attention back to Cordy's performance.

"Feet, feet! Walking on a two mile.
Meet, meet! Meet me at the turnstile,
I never met him, I'll never forget him.
Dream, dream! Even for a little while
Dream, dream! Filling up an idle hour
Fade away, radiate."
"I sit by and watch the river flow.
I sit by and watch the traffic go.
Imagine something of your very own;
Something you can have and hold, I'd build a road in gold
Just to have some dreaming,
Dreaming is free.
Dreaming.
Dreaming is free."

The band slowed to a finish, Cordy took a bow, her face awash with happiness. Xander greeted her as she stepped down from the stage, kissing her lightly on the lips.

The four friends sat at their regular seats, and ordered fruit juices and mochas from their server. "Man," Willow breathed, as she cuddled next to Buffy on an overstuffed lounge, "It's good to be back here again. I've missed the Bronze."

Buffy looked surprised at Willow. "You mean you never came here while I was gone?"

"Too many memories, Buff," Willow admitted. "I guess I didn't want to be here without you." And she kissed Buffy on the cheek.

"Hey," Cordy announced, "back when I was vying for super-stardom, I never thought I'd say this, but now that I'm back here, I'd rather party here than at Spago's any day!"

"That's right," Xander announced, his voice taking on a camp Cockney accent. "It's my happening, baby, and it freaks me out!" At this statement, Cordy's face turned chalk white.

"Help me," she pleaded with Buffy and Willow. "I just agreed to marry a man who quotes >Austin Powers'!"

"Sorry, Cordy," Buffy shook her head as she reached for her mocha. "You're on your own. It's your own fault if your gonna--" Her voice trailed off as she made the connection. "--MARRY XANDER?"

Willow gaped at the two young lovers like a stunned fish. Xander glared at Cordy in mock seriousness, saying, "Way to wreck our reveal." Turning to Buffy and Willow, Xander announced, "Hey guys, did I tell you? We're getting married."

Willow laughed out loud, smiling broadly. "Wow!" was all that she could say, as she stood up and hugged her life-long friend. Buffy joined her briefly in hugging Xander, then went over to embrace Cordy. "Congratulations, guys," Buffy announced. "We're happy for you."

"Yeah," Willow added, as she regrouped with Buffy. She draped her left arm over Buffy's shoulder, displaying her left hand. "I guess there's a lot of that going around these days." And she wiggled her fingers, to make sure that Cordy and Xander noticed the diamond on her hand.

Xander's jaw dropped, and Cordy gasped audibly. "You two--" Cordy started, but couldn't finished. She rushed over to Willow, and lifted her up in a joyous embrace. "Way to go, Wills," she announced.

Xander collected himself long enough to shake Buffy's hand vigorously. "So you finally landed her," Xander grinned. "Just promise you'll take good care of her."

"That's a given," Buffy vowed. "Hey, Cordy, do you mind if I borrow your fiancee for a second? I wanted to see if these rumors of him joining the Force were true."

"Amazingly, they are," Cordy confirmed. "You two go and talk, I gotta chat with Willow." She tipped her hand in a casual wave while Buffy and Xander walked away.

"So," Willow said. "Apart from the obvious, how're things with you?"

"Great, Wills," Cordy answered. "I'm enrolling at U.C. Sunnydale next semester, I may qualify for a student grant, my job's going well, and I'm marrying the guy I used to treat like dirt in high school. Life's funny that way," she added as she sipped her kiwi-strawberry drink.

"Yeah," Willow agreed, "it's a turvy-topsy world." Cordy regarded Willow with a thoughtful expression. Years ago, she would have dismissed the shy young computer hacker as a geek. Her fashion sense derived from the >softer side of Sears' as she called it. Now, looking at her, she could scarcely recognize that shrinking violet she once knew, that her posse would degrade at every turn. Willow had grown into an exceptional woman. "Something wrong, Cordy?"

"Not really," Cordy said wistfully. "I was just thinking of old times. I'm starting to realize how much I missed in high school. I wish I had a friend like you back then."

Willow smiled warmly at Cordy. "You did, Chase. You just didn't recognize it then." She patted Cordy's hand, and the former cheerleader nodded understandingly.

She then sobered up, as other thoughts intruded. "Willow," she asked, "something's up. Something Hellmouthy. Can you meet us at Giles' place tomorrow?"

"Should I bring Buffy?"

"Not if she doesn't have her memory," Cordy confessed. "This could get creepy. There's a new vamp in town. Xander and I ran into him the other night. I'm guessing he's not a newbie. Calls himself Mr. Beltaine. And get this, he says he has a soul."

"Whoa," Willow breathed. "Yeah, this has the potential for freaksomeness."

"So, you want to talk to G-Man, do the research thing tomorrow?"

"I guess we'd better talk to him then," Willow nodded. "Buffy's enrolling in refresher courses at the campus tomorrow, to get caught up for fall semester. I can meet you while she's doing that."

"Good," Cordy felt relieved. She had hoped not to be involved in Slayer's business when she moved back to Sunnydale, but if she was, it was good to have friends like Willow at her back.

Buffy and Xander returned just as Willow and Cordy were finishing their conversation, and the two couples continued to chat for a while. Cordy was briefly upset to learn that the hundred-dollar prize went to a trio performing Beastie Boys' "Fight For the Right to Party", but summed it up by saying, "I knew they'd pull in a ringer."

The four friends then hit the dance floor, as Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5" poured out of the speakers. For a brief while, all troubles were forgotten.

But Cordy and Xander knew that this was just the eye of the storm.

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Jesse Montrose and Rachel Pryde had only stopped behind the gazebo at Whetherly Park for a quick necking session, when the roar of a two-stroke engine could be heard in the distance. As the roar got louder, Jesse craned his neck, lifting his head to see what was going on. The sight of three huge black motorcycles, their headlights blazing like beacons of hellfire, barreling straight at them, made his stomach lurch. He quickly pushed Rachel out of the way, then dove in the opposite direction, just before the screeching tires ground up the sod where they had just lain seconds ago.

The bikers called Hell's Belles braked their steeds, shutting off the ignition. "Okay, girls," Rizzo announced, discarding her helmet, "Who's hungry?" Her fellow bikers joined her, as they began to stalk toward the young woman.

Jesse grabbed Rizzo's shoulder, shouting, "Get away from her, bitch!"

The biker turned and faced Jesse. Her jutting brow hooded over glowing yellow eyes, and her fangs glistened in the dim streetlights. "No one," she growled as Jesse let go of her, "touches the leather and lives!" She lunged at Jesse, preparing to rend his throat and drink his blood.

A wooden shaft grazed her face, cutting close enough to cause pain. "Back off, Warrior Princess," a calm voice rang out behind the biker chick. The vampire twisted around her, momentarily forgetting Jesse, to concentrate on this new interloper. A young woman, Asian-American from the looks of her. She stood before her, legs apart, ready to move, ready to fight.

"Well, well, well," Rizzo barked out her laughter. "What's this, everybody's kung fu fighting?"

"You know," Sandra Ogawa answered, talking almost conversationally, as she noted that Jesse and Rachel had taken the opportunity to make their escape, "I'm really getting sick of that stereotype. I'm Asian, I'm in good shape, so people automatically assume that I'm into martial arts. Of course, as it happens," she leapt at Rizzo, executing a perfect flying kick, connecting hard with Rizzo's jaw, "I am. But that has nothing to do with my ethnic background, and everything to do with my being the Slayer."

"Slayer!" the other vampires shrieked, as they gathered around their fallen leader. Rizzo snapped her fingers, shouting, "Frenchie, Leather, take her out!"

"Sorry," a quiet voice behind Rizzo spoke, and Rizzo turned to see a young blond woman holding a crossbow aimed at her heart. Tara smiled as she fingered the trigger, saying, "I'm taking her out these days, and I tend to get possessive. No hard feelings."

Before Tara could pull the trigger on her crossbow, a clawed hand swiped down, knocking the weapon out of her grip. A lean muscular arm grabbed her around the throat, and held her in a hammerlock. The new vampire, an older-looking blond, shouted to Sandra as she raised her stake toward her, "Drop the stake, or I drop your girlfriend!"

Sandra stood motionless for five seconds, measuring her chances of freeing Tara and taking out her captor. The chances didn't look good. She allowed the stake to drop from her fingers, saying, "Okay, sister. I've done what you want."

"What makes you think I wanted to bargain with you, Slayer?" the vampire cackled evilly. She then added, "But your witch friend is of no concern to me. Catch!" She tossed Tara roughly at Sandra, who caught her wiccan girlfriend in her arms.

The vampire helped Rizzo to her feet. "I am Darla," she introduced herself, "and I have need of good allies like you."

Rizzo laughed lustily at Darla, saying, "I like your style, lady. You ride with me!" She snapped her fingers, and they all got on their motorbikes. Darla sat behind Rizzo, her arms wrapped around Rizzo's waist. The biker vamps gunned their motors, and rode off into the night.

Sandra stood behind, and held Tara in her arms. "Did she hurt you, Tara?" she asked, worry etching her face.

"I-I'm fine," Tara replied. "Just sh-shaken up a bit. And we saved those two."

"Yeah," Sandra replied. "just wish we could have stopped those rejects from >Grease'."

Tara noticed the look of determination on Sandra's face. She recalled Buffy getting a similar look in the past. She recalled how Buffy often took it as a personal failure whenever a vampire escaped. She turned Sandra's chin toward her with a gentle finger, saying, "Hey, Sandra, don't let it get you down. Not even a Slayer can outrun a Harley. We'll go to see Giles and Miss Parkinson tomorrow, and get their take on this situation."

"You're right," Sandra answered Tara, some of her concern fading. "You're good for me, you know?"

"Yeah," Tara grinned impishly at Sandra. "That's why you love me, right?"

"Among other reasons," Sandra replied as she tilted her head in to kiss the lips she had longed for all day. Two months ago, Sandra Ogawa hadn't even heard of Tara, and now she couldn't imagine life without her.

But this new vampire had her worried. She could sense her power. This Darla was more powerful than any vampire she ever faced before.

Suddenly, her life felt a great deal more complicated.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Giles sipped his Earl Grey as he glossed over the Book of the Goddess. No matter how many times he read over this ancient text, he was never less amazed that this book had been part of the backbone of the Watcher's Council since its inception many centuries ago, yet had been left to rot in a dusty repository since the Crusades.

The section he had been re-reading was a chapter on the Slayer's Handfasting. The ceremony, officiated by the Watcher who oversaw the Slayer, joined the Slayer with her chosen love, a mage or witch, as spouses. He imagined that once Buffy regained her memory, and was told of this ritual, she would want him to officiate a handfasting between herself and Willow. He found that he looked forward to the honor.

The incessant ringing of Giles' phone broke his concentration. He glanced at his clock, and grumbling under his breath that it was too late in the evening for anyone to call, answered the phone. "Rupert Giles residence," he answered.

"Giles," a familiar formal voice greeted him. Giles raised his eyebrows as he recognized the voice. "Wesley?"

"I hope I didn't get you at a bad time," Wesley Wyndam-Price announced, "but I have some distressing news to report. I was wondering if Angel was there."

"No," Giles answered. "He's back at his old mansion. Is it something you can only tell him, or can I take a message?"

"No, Giles," Wesley said, "it's nothing I can't tell you. In fact I think you should hear this."

"I'm listening," said the Watcher.

"It's Faith," Wesley said, as his voice grew more morose. "The prison warden called me. She was attacked by a fellow inmate in prison a few days ago. She's dead."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

"Master," the peroxide-haired vampire announced, bowing low. "I have bad news."

Mr. Beltaine sat quietly as Spike made his announcement. "What is it, Spike?"

"Three new vamps breezed into town," Spike reported. "Call themselves Hell's Belles. I ran into them a few decades ago. They're tough. And they hooked up with Darla."

"I see," Beltaine answered. "This does disturb me. Darla's getting stronger, and gaining allies. We'll have to contact the Slayer and her comrades soon."

"I'm not sure they'll want to see me," Spike said ruefully.

"They'll understand when the time is right," Beltaine answered philosophically. "I suspect that many strange alliances will be made before the final war begins."

"Yeah," said a young woman who sat across from Mr. Beltaine. "Like me and you, Spikester."

"Believe me, ducks," Spike grinned, "I can think of other people I'd rather be with. Hell, even Brooding Boy would be an improvement."

"Enough, children," Beltaine cut them off in a quietly bemused voice. "We have preparations to make. And you, my child," he turned toward the young woman vampire who now stuck out her tongue at Spike, "will be instrumental."

"Oh goody," she grinned.

"Yes," Beltaine smiled. "I thought that you'd be--what was that peculiar phrase you employ so frequently? Ah, yes, five-by-five with it."

The vampire who was once a woman named Faith smiled at her new master. Yes, she decided, this new life had potential.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Atlantic Ocean, 1665

She awoke to the sensation of swaying, and the stink of dead fish. She opened her eyes, and her worst fears were confirmed. She was in the cargo hold of a galleon, and the pitch of the boat threatened to empty her stomach. She glanced around and saw him. Her guardian. Her Watcher. And now, her enemy.

"Where are we?" she shouted to the severe figure sitting before her. "Where's Charity?"

"We are on our way back to England," the Watcher answered, his voice laced with condemnation. "That is all that need concern you at this time."

"What happened to Charity, Goodman Carter?"

"Charity Weber is no longer any concern of yours, Patience Jones," Watcher Carter intoned. "Your unholy lusts will be purged once we return to the Watcher's Council."

"Unholy--" Patience stammered as the realization hit her. "You had her hung for witchcraft."

"She condemned herself," the Watcher stated, no emotion in his voice. "With her godless ways, her consorting with the Devil, her seduction of you. She turned you away from your calling. I am only thinking of you."

Patience could say no more as her grief consumed her. She and Charity had shared something special, something truly holy, something that this fool of a watcher could never understand. And now it was ripped from her, like a rent garment. And now she faced the punishment of her masters, the Watcher's Council, and there was naught that she could do against her fate. Indentured as she was to Watcher Parker, she had no choice but to mourn her beloved Charity.

And she would mourn. For the rest of her short life.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Buffy awoke with a tightness in her chest. She could sense that she was sobbing, and as her eyes opened, she saw Willow leaning over her, concern clouding her green eyes. "Hey, honey," Willow soothed. "Did you have a nightmare?"

"That obvious, was it?"

"You were crying in your sleep, Buff," Willow said as she stroked her lover's cheek. "Something about Charity. You had lost Charity." Buffy didn't miss the bemused expression on Willow's face as she spoke.

"Charity?" Buffy asked to herself, "I think Charity was you."

"Good answer," Willow teased. Buffy stuck her tongue out at Willow.

"I was on a ship," Buffy answered. "Headed for England. It was late seventeenth century, Puritan New England."

"Salem witch trials?" Willow ventured a guess.

"Yeah, like that," Buffy nodded. "And I was being taken away from you. I was named Patience, and you were Charity. And I knew that you had been hung for witchcraft." Buffy could scarcely continue, as her tears started to flow again. The thought of losing Willow, now that they were to be married, was almost too much for Buffy's heart to bear.

"Oh, Buffy," Willow took Buffy's head in her lap, and comforted her beloved silently. As Buffy's tension melted away under the warmth of Willow's love, Willow felt a knot of tension tightening in her gut. She too had a dream that night.

In the dream, she was Charity Weber, a woman who dared to love another woman, Patience Jones. And for that love, she was named witch, and hung.

As Buffy went back to sleep in her arms, Willow felt a shiver down her spine. First she dreamed of being a tribal shamaness, then a priestess of Isis in ancient Egypt, now a Puritan witch. And Buffy evidently was having corresponding dreams.

She had to ask Giles about the dreams. She had to know what they meant.

For now, all she could do was hold her beloved Buffy in her arms and try to sleep. She kissed Buffy on her forehead and whispered, "I love you, Buffy," and allowed her body to relax long enough to fall asleep.

 

Chapter 3

Battlelines Being Drawn

There's battlelines being drawn,
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.
Young people speaking their minds,
Getting so much resistance from behind,
I think it's time we
STOP!
Children, what's that sound,
Everybody look what's going down."
--Buffalo Springfield
"For What It's Worth"

Willow found herself facing a sense of deja-vu as she headed up the steps to Giles'

townhouse. A few weeks ago, she and the rest of the Slayerettes gathered here to question

the new slayer, Sandra Ogawa. Later that evening, Angel had arrived to inform them that

Buffy was still alive, and trapped in the bowels of Hell.

Before that, the last time that the Scooby Gang met was under unpleasant circumstances.

They had gathered to deal with Adam, but the cyber-zombie's ally Spike had started

spreading wild rumors, innuendo and outright lies, in an effort to turn the Scoobies against

each other. He almost succeeded, nearly convincing Buffy that Willow was having an affair with Tara, while convincing Xander that Buffy and Willow had no room in their lives for him anymore. The shouting match between Buffy and Willow over Tara might have ended their newborn love for each other if Buffy hadn't mentioned that Spike was her source of 'information' regarding Tara. Once they realized that Spike was behind their argument, they had made up, in time for their final battle with Adam.

Where Oz had dealt the final betrayal, the one that had taken Buffy away from Willow for

over a year.

Pausing long enough to curse Oz's soul to Hell for eternity, Willow had cast those thoughts from her mind. She had Buffy again, and wore a ring on her finger to remind her of Buffy's love, and she had the love of her friends.

And her friends needed her now.

She felt a pang of guilt at lying to Buffy about the afternoon meeting. Buffy's memory still

hadn't returned, and Willow was getting concerned. She still didn't discuss any of the more esoteric facts of their life together, like Buffy being the Slayer, and Willow being a practicing wiccan, and a rather powerful one at that. After all, it was her faith in Buffy, her love for her slayer, that freed her from suspended animation while in Hell. A far cry from her pencil floating days.

But she still didn't know how to free Buffy's memories. And what she did remember didn't make sense. Buffy told her about a sensual experience she had with Angel, recalling that it happened less than a month before Buffy and Willow confessed their love for each other. 

But Willow knew that Buffy and Angel consummated their star-crossed love only once, during Buffy's junior year of high school. That terrible night when one moment of joy, unmarred by guilt for his past sins, robbed Angel of his soul.

And the dreams that she and Buffy were apparently sharing, they made even less sense.

Why would Buffy remember living in the 16-hundreds? Why would Willow? If the dream

weren't so clear in Willow's mind, even after waking, she wouldn't be worried. But she could still recall the sour-faced priest condemning her soul for blasphemy, she could still feel the coarse rope binding her hands, the noose around her neck, the sickening sensation of the noose being pulled, of her body being wrenched off the ground, of her breath being strangled out of her.

That's why she decided to meet Giles a few minutes before the rest of the Scoobs arrived.

She needed answers, for her sake and for the sake of the woman whom she planned to marry.

She swallowed hard, as she knocked on the front door. A few seconds later, Giles opened the door. "Willow," he greeted her with a warm smile. "I wasn't expecting you here for a few minutes yet."

"Yeah, sorry Giles," Willow answered hastily, as Giles ushered her in. "But there's some developments on the Buffy front I thought you should know. Privately."

"I understand," Giles nodded. "And please, no need to apologize. Is her memory returning?"

"Uh, I'm not sure," Willow hedged. "She's remembering stuff that she shouldn't. And so am I."

Giles pursed his lips in thought and said, "Perhaps you had better sit down and collect yourself. I had just put the kettle on. Would you care for some tea?"

"You have any chamomile?" Willow asked. Giles left for the kitchen, and Willow took what had become her usual seat on the sofa when the Scooby Gang met at Giles' house. A minute later, Willow heard a brief whistle, and shortly after that, Giles entered the living room with two cups of tea. He handed one to Willow, who accepted with thanks. As he sat in his favorite chair with his Earl Gray, he said, "Now then, Willow. Perhaps you can explain what you and Buffy are remembering."

"Well," Willow started, "we've had these weird dreams. At first I thought it was just me, but from what Buffy said last night, we've both had them." She gazed in rapt attention at her teacup as she recalled what happened. "Actually, first it was Buffy. When she got back from the hospital, we were having ice cream, and, well, she remembered a night she had with Angel. Only she didn't have it."

"Let me guess," a dark, quiet voice issued from the stairwell. "Crunchy peanut butter and cookie-dough chocolate mint chip ice cream."

Willow snapped her head toward the voice, and gawked. "Angel! What are you doing here?"

"I came here last night when Giles had received a call from Wesley. I stayed overnight in the spare room." Angel walked down the stairs with his usual coiled grace. In response to Willow's concerned look, Angel added, "Don't worry, I'm fine as long as I keep out of direct sunlight." He took a place near the couch, crouching lightly. "Oh, before I forget, congratulations. I saw the ring from over here."

"Ring?" Giles asked suddenly, looking at Willow, as she self-consciously displayed her engagement ring. "Did Buffy--" Giles started, only to see Willow nod vigorously, grinning broadly. "Well, congratulations indeed." He raised his tea cup, saying, "To Buffy and Willow."

Angel nodded in agreement, adding, "Keep her happy, Willow."

"Thanks, Angel, Giles," Willow blushed. "But getting back on topic, how did you know about the peanut butter and ice cream?"

"That night did happen, after a fashion," Angel said. "When Buffy confronted me in L. A over my stalking her over Thanksgiving, we found ourselves fighting a demon. He cut me with his sword, then his blood got into my wound. His blood made me mortal, and Buffy and I--" he stalled as Willow turned her head. "I'm sorry, Willow."

"Don't be," Willow said simply. "That was before we got together. But why didn't she talk about this before? And if you were mortal, how come you're still a vamp?"

"The Oracles told me that if I remained mortal, Buffy would die. So I gave up my humanity to save her. The only way for me to do that was for the Oracles to turn back time so that the day I was mortal would never happen. I would remember it, but no one else would. Buffy tried to remember that time, but once the day was repeated, it was lost to her." Angel sighed. "Until now, I guess."

"Whoa," Willow muttered. "I guess. Must have been the ice cream. But she still doesn't remember you being a vampire, or anything Slayer-ish. But she had a weird-ass dream last night. And I think I had the same dream, or at least a matching dream from my perspective. Y'see, it was 1665, and I was a woman named Charity Weber, and Buffy said that in her dream she was Patience Jones--"

"And she was being hauled back to England to be judged, and ultimately hung, by the Watcher's Council," Giles intoned solemnly.

Angel and Willow looked at Giles in shock. Willow had to ask, "You didn't have the same dream, did you?"

"No, Willow," he answered darkly, "but I am aware of the details." He pulled off his glasses and wiped them with a tissue, before launching into full Watcher mode; "Patience Jones was the Slayer of her generation. And by all accounts she was an effective Slayer, having defended her colony in Salem, Massachusetts from vampires. But she was a rebel, as Slayers often are. Unconventional, outspoken. And at that time, Slayers were made into indentured servants of their Watchers, to explain their relationship away from prying eyes. When Patience became involved with a young girl named Charity Weber, the townspeople saw their 'unnatural closeness' as a sign of the Devil in their midst.

"The town leaders leveled trumped-up charges of witchcraft, lead by Patience's Watcher.

He arraigned for her to be taken to England, where she would answer to the Council for her 'unholy' acts and was ultimately hung on Council's orders, while Charity herself was hung for witchcraft. A charge that has never been proven, I might add."

"I think she was," Willow said suddenly. "At least in my dream, I knew that I was a witch. I think I, I mean Charity, got off a couple of good curses before she was hung."

Giles nodded understandingly. "That seems to confirm what Denise had shown me regarding Watcher's history. She showed me a forgotten text that was once of great importance to the Council, a text that indicates that the Slayer must join with a mage if she is to be powerful enough to take on the evils she is destined to face. Buffy has clearly done so with you, however the Council had long ago suppressed this knowledge. Later tonight when Denise is here, we can go over the details."

"I look forward to that," Willow agreed, just as a knock was heard at the door.

Giles, putting the matter of Willow's dreams behind him for now, greeted Xander and Cordelia as they entered his house, with Tara, Sandra Ogawa and Denise Parkinson right behind them. Xander nodded to Angel, who acknowledged his presence and said no more.

Cordy hugged her former boss, who smiled at her. "So, you two are making it legal?" Angel asked Cordy.

"Yeah," she answered smiling, as Xander placed a protective arm on her shoulder. "We're talking about having a night ceremony. That way, you can give me away."

"I'd be honored," Angel smiled. Xander said nothing, knowing that it was the bride-to-be's place to make the arrangements for the ceremony, and finally accepting that Angel was not the enemy. Now that he wasn't in danger of ever losing his soul again, it was easier for the rest of the Scoobs to distinguish between their friend Angel and the demon Angelus.

The others had taken their seats, and Willow noted with amused interest that Tara and Sandra sat together on the couch next to her, holding hands. Another Slayer/Wiccan match, Willow thought, smiling. They'll need to look at Denise's book later also.

Giles, always the proper host, emerged from the kitchen with a tray containing several teacups, a teapot, and a stash of teabags. He placed the tray on the coffee table and permitted his guests to help themselves. Before anyone could pour themselves any tea, the teapot lifted itself off the tray, and started to pour its contents into each cup. Teabags emerged from their box and dropped, one into each cup. The cups then levitated one at a time to each guest, Cordelia's first.

As the others watched this phenomenon with slack jaws, Angel and Cordy took it in stride. "Looks like your friend came along for the ride," Angel offered.

"Thanks, Dennis," Cordy said as she accepted her teacup. To the others, she announced, "Guys, this is Phantom Dennis, he's a ghost. I met him in L. A., he was haunting my apartment. He's a nice guy once you get to know him."

Xander looked at the teacup in Cordy's hand. "Ooh-kay, as long as he knows that we're getting married."

Another cup floated in front of him, and Cordy said, "Don't worry, Xander, he likes you. And he won't play voyeur, will you, Dennis?"

Xander took the cup and said, "He'd better, I know Peter Venkman's home phone number." Cordy just snickered at the reference.

"Now then," Giles said as the last of the tea was distributed by Cordy's ghostly friend, "we have some matters to discuss. First item of business, the sighting of this Mister Beltaine. Xander, Cordelia, the two of you were the only people to have any contact with him, what can you tell me?"

"Only what he told us," Xander said. "He said he was a vampire, that he had a soul, and that he needed to talk to you, G-Man. He said that he'd contact you when he needed to."

"Yeah, he knew your name, Giles," Cordy added. "He said something about a great power afoot. Hmph, pretentious much?"

"Hmm, Denise," Giles asked his fellow Watcher. "Do you know of any vampires named Beltaine?"

"Nothing that rings a bell," Denise admitted. "If he really is a vampire and not a pretender, it sounds like he's an older vampire, in full control of his nature."

"Interesting name though," Tara added. "Beltaine is the feast of Spring, the vernal equinox, in most pagan traditions. The maypole comes from that tradition."

"You want me to play Research Girl later?" Willow offered.

"If you wish," Giles answered. "I suspect that we won't find much about him. He said he would contact me. I will wait until then." The others nodded in agreement. "Now then," Giles added, "Item two. A new band of vampires have come to Sunnydale. What did they call themselves, Hell's Ladies?"

"Hell's Belles," Sandra corrected. "They looked like extras from 'Grease'. And they have the advantage of speed. They ride Harleys. Tara and I ran into them last night, but before I could dust their leader, Rizzo, another vamp threatened Tara. She then left with the bikers. Her name was Darla, I think." 

"Darla?" Xander groaned, a sentiment that was shared by the veteran Slayerettes. "I could have happily lived my life without ever hearing that name again." 

"Yeah," Willow added. "I could've sworn she was an affirmative in the 'Slain' column."

"You can thank Lindsay and the senior execs at Wolfram and Hart for resurrecting her," Cordy groaned. "They brought her back in an effort to take down Angel over a year ago. She then struck out on her own. But why would she hook up with these Happy Days fugitives?"

"Perhaps she's building an army," Tara suggested. "Kinda like what Adam was doing with the demons captured by the Initiative."

"Possibly," Denise commented. "I would suggest extra caution in future patrols. Giles, I would appreciate any information you have on this Darla. I take it you faced her before."

"We have," Angel nodded grimly. "She was my sire. I can give you more details later."

After Sandra and Denise agreed to meet with Angel later, Giles continued. "Next, item three; I have some distressing news to report. Last night, I was informed by Wesley Whyndam-Price of the apparent death of Faith in a prison attack."

"Uh, wait," Willow asked, "what do you mean 'apparent'?"

"I was in touch with Wesley this morning, just before sunrise," Angel answered. "Her body was never found. And word on the street is that a gang of vampires has become quite powerful among the inmates." He left his statement hanging intentionally, as the implications became clear.

After a few seconds of startled silence, Xander was the first to speak; "So what you're saying, Angel, is that La Slayer Loca is a vamp, and out of stir?" Angel nodded. "I gotta tell ya, D.B., I've gone to bed with nicer thoughts."

"Don't worry, Xander," Cordy cuddled up to her fiancee. "I'll give you something nice to go to bed with."

"You're loaning me your teddy bear?" Xander quipped, only to be playfully slapped by Cordy.

"Please, if we could control our hormones until we get home," Giles admonished the young lovers. "Sandra, Tara, if Faith is indeed a vampire, and if she is on her way to Sunnydale, I would advise you to be especially cautious. She was dangerous as a Slayer, there's no telling how powerful she is now that she's a vampire. Especially without a soul to hinder her."

"Yeah," Willow groaned. "Like having a soul made any difference to her." She still harbored memories of the last time she was alone with Faith. At the time, Faith had used a spell to forcibly swap bodies with Buffy. Faith, in Buffy's body, then visited Willow and proceeded to take her to bed. Willow, sensing nothing amiss at first, returned 'Buffy's' affections, only to have her lover take her roughly, savagely. Willow had tried to control the direction of their lovemaking, but 'Buffy' was not to be denied. It was only after the fact, when Willow lay sprawled and bruised on her bed, with the real Buffy gently rubbing salve onto her aches, when Willow realized how she had been used by Faith. Buffy assured her that she didn't blame Willow for what had happened. But Willow still blamed herself. She felt guilty for not seeing how Buffy's soul had been fragmented, ripped out of her body. And with Oz's return, followed by Spike's efforts to drive the gang against each other, it was a miracle that their love survived. And now, despite Oz's betrayal, Willow had her beloved back. And she vowed never to lose her again.

"What this all boils down to, guys," Xander suggested, "is that we need Buffy back. Stat."

His words were met by general agreement from the others.

"You are quite right, Xander," Giles reluctantly admitted. "Willow, I want you to watch over her the next day or so. If her memory shows no sign of recovering, I want you to bring her to me. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this. I hate to rob the two of you of a hard-earned peace, but we need her."

"I understand," Willow said solemnly. "I think those dreams we've been having are a sign of her trying to remember."

"Possibly. We'll know soon enough. Oh, and finally, for those who haven't heard, congratulations are in order for Willow and Buffy, as well as Xander and Cordelia. Both couples, it seems, are to be married." Denise, Sandra and Tara cheered the happy couples, while Angel smiled quietly from his perch.

"Congratulations, Willow," Tara embraced her friend. "I hope you both are very happy together."

"Thanks," Willow smiled at Tara. She knew that Tara was once attracted to her, but had accepted that Buffy alone held the key to Willow's happiness. And now, Willow observed, Tara seemed to find some happiness with the new Slayer, Sandra. "Same for the two of you."

The meeting died down from there, as Xander left for the precinct house to start his beat, Sandra prepared to begin her patrol, and the others left for their various errands. All knew the same secret.

There was a darkness on the horizon. And there was no certainty of how it would end.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Three vampires waited in an abandoned garage for their leader. Rizzo was replacing some worn parts on her Harley-Davison, while Frenchie snapped her gum and Leather simply laid back on a tattered sofa. "So, when's our new leader going to show?" Frenchie asked Rizzo.

"When she shows, all right?" Rizzo went back to her repair work. "So far, she's done right by us. And she's got something big planned for this burg. I say we tag along and see what's happening."

"A wise decision, my dear," a honeyed voice echoed through the warehouse. A tall blond vampire emerged from the shadows, as Rizzo put down her wrench and sat up, paying attention to the older vampire's words. "In this town, we are now the hunted," Darla explained. "The Slayer and those who follow her, they will not rest until we are impaled on their stakes. That is not right. We are the predators, they are the prey. That is why I have come here. To restore the natural order. Soon, we will bring forth an ally, a being of such power that none can withstand her. Soon, Lady Bathory will lead us to our final victory against the Slayer, and this world will be ours. Can I count on your support, my friends?"

"Hey," Leather grunted from her seat, "if it means more blood for us, you got it." Frenchie and Rizzo nodded in agreement. Darla smiled at her new lieutenants. This army would soon be joined by others, and soon the Slayer would be eliminated.

She didn't notice a dark haired woman in the rafters high above her. The dark woman sat quietly, and heard and saw all. She made her way to the skylight overhead, and scooted up without being noticed by the vampire gang.

The interloper jumped from the roof of the warehouse, and swiftly headed toward Wetherly Park. As she headed for the park, she pulled out a cell phone, and dialed a private number. She heard a ring, then a rich baritone voice. "Report, Faith."

"Mr. B." Faith answered. "Darla's taken over the Hell's Belles. She said something about Bathory, whoever she is. Some kind of summoning."

"Damn," Mr. Beltaine muttered. "They're on the move. Tomorrow night, we must contact Giles. And pray that Buffy Summers can help us."

"Yeah, like B will be falling over herself to help the chick who screwed her girlfriend," Faith said ruefully. "She and Red will be playing 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' to decide who stakes me."

"You will be safe, I assure you. I will be with you, and they will understand the truth. Meet Spike and me at the residence. You can brief us more fully there. Beltaine out." The connection was cut. Faith puffed a sigh, and headed out for Mr. Beltaine's place.

She would have to confront Buffy Summers soon. She hoped that Buffy would listen to her first. She wasn't the same person she was before. Not since she was turned. And certainly not since Mr. Beltaine's magicks bonded her soul to her. She had a second chance, to undue the damage she had done in life.

Yeah, like B would believe that, she thought as she disappeared into the night.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

London, England; 1889

"Mina, my beloved," Elisabeth Somerset demanded of her companion "Is there one man in Scotland Yard who is not a complete fool?"

"I do not know, dearest Betsy," the young redhead next to her answered. Wilhemina Rose seemed an incongruous match with the outspoken suffragette, especially in her dresses and petticoats, where Elisabeth dressed like a man. Her dress, coupled with her political opinions and her assertive manner, ultimately led to her parents disinheriting her and casting her out of their house forever, but she didn't mind. Not so long as she had her mission as the Slayer to occupy her, the support of her Watcher and the love and companionship of her love, Mina.

"They are all idiots!" Betsy continued her tirade against the London constabulary. "They think this 'Jack the Ripper' is some kind of common killer, but we both know better. He's an inhuman monster, a nosferatu. A vampire."

"And do you really believe the officers of Scotland Yard to accept such a supernatural explanation? Dr. Doyle had tried to explain this reality to them, but they refused to hear."

"Indeed," Betsy fumed. "Or they simply decided that the prostitutes of Whitechapel weren't worth the effort to defend."

"If he is such a beast as you say," Mina assured her lover, "then we will end his evil together. It is your calling, isn't it? Just as it is my place to fight beside you."

"You are a tonic to me, Mina," Betsy smiled at the young mage. "Tonight, at Whitechapel, he will strike. We will patrol there, and then, we will put him down like the rabid dog he is."

The patrol went by silently, as the two young women sought any sign of the vile monster who had preyed on the unfortunate women of Whitechapel. Mina Rose nervously stayed close to her love's side, at one point asking, "Are you certain it is a vampire? Why would he use a blade instead of his fangs?"

"Because the blade would be explained away as the actions of a deranged mind," Betsy explained patiently, "while two puncture marks on the neck would lead to more suspicions. It is like our Watcher said; 'When you have eliminated the obvious--'"

"'Whatever remains, however improbable,'" Mina finished the oft-quoted words, "'Must be the truth.' Very well, Betsy. But I do hope we can get away from this god-awful night air soon. I could murder for someone to draw a nice hot bath."

"I will gladly volunteer for that pleasant duty," Betsy announced, "provided you will let me join you."

"Naturally," the young witch dimpled. Their banter was interrupted by a crash of splintered wood as an inhumanly strong figure broke through the door beside them. 

"Oh, no, my little pretties," the monster exclaimed through wickedly pointed teeth. "I'll be doing the bathing tonight, Slayer. In your blood!"

"So, Ripper," Betsy stood her ground, as the vampire stalked toward them. "Not a bad scam you're running here. Slaughter young women, drain their blood, and then slash them with your knife to hide evidence of vampire attack!"

"Those whores won't be missed, Slayer," the beast mocked her, as he lunged toward her. "And neither will a pair of lesbians like yourselves!"

"Keep your disgusting hands off of Betsy!" Mina shouted as she tossed a small bag of herbs at the vampire. The twice-blessed herbs had been treated with Holy Water, and when they landed on the vampire's face, they burned like acid.

The beast screamed, the pain only making it madder. "You whore!" he shouted. He raked her face, his fingers as claws, knocking her down hard against the cold cobblestones.

Betsy, enraged at how the Ripper had assaulted her Mina, launched herself at the vampire. "You will not raise a hand against another helpless woman again!" she shouted, as her fists struck the vampire in a rapid flurry of punches.

If her attack had harmed her opponent, he didn't show it. He grabbed her wrist and twisted it hard, breaking her arm. "Sorry, peaches," he smiled ferally, "but I win this bout. You're not the first Slayer I've taken out. And you won't be the last." As he lowered his mouth to the helpless woman's neck, he added, "And when you and your little sapphic whore meet Lucifer, tell him William the Bloody sent you!"

Those were the last words Betsy Somerset heard as her world plunged into a final blackness.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Buffy bolted up from her slumber, her hair matted against her head, her heart beating like a Ginger Baker drum solo. Her breath came in deep gasps, as the sensation of being murdered by that unholy creature replayed in her mind. She knew in her mind and heart that such a creature shouldn't, couldn't exist.

But at the same time, she knew that vampires were real. And that she had faced them.

"Buffy?" a worried voice whispered behind her. She felt Willow's arms around her shoulders, and sensed the tension in her lover's muscles. "Another nightmare?"

"Oh God, Willow," Buffy sobbed into tears in Willow's arms. "It was terrible, I saw you, you were being attacked by a vampire! He killed me! Oh, Willow, what's happening to me?"

"Shh, shh," Willow soothed, stroking Buffy's hair. "It's okay, sweetie. I'm here. Jack the Ripper's not gonna get to you."

"It seemed so real, though, Wills," Buffy lamented. "I could smell the streets, I could feel his fangs on my neck, I--" she stopped and held Willow at arms length. A puzzled expression crossed her face. "You said 'Jack the Ripper'. But I never mentioned him. How did you know?"

Willow turned away from Buffy, but Buffy drew her face back to hers with a firm hand.

"What's happening, Wills?"

"Buffy," Willow choked on the words. "I've been having the same dreams as you. First, I dreamed that I was a priestess in Egypt, then I was a puritan in Salem, and tonight, I dreamed of Jack the Ripper."

Buffy looked at her fianc�e, amazed. She swallowed hard, and asked the one question she dreaded to ask; "What the hell am I?"

Willow stared intently into Buffy's smoky blue eyes, and answered. "You're the Slayer. I don't know if I can say anything that will make any sense. I'm sorry."

"No, Wills," Buffy held her tightly. "Don't ever be sorry. I know. I know I'm a Slayer, I just don't understand what that means. I know I've lived a tough life. And I wish I could explain it any better, but I sense that I've lived all these lives I've been dreaming about before. And in each life, there was you."

"Yeah," Willow answered, wiping her eyes with the corner of their comforter. "I feel that too. Don't ask me how, but I know it's right."

Buffy looked back into the face she loved so much, and asked, "What are we gonna do?"

"Shush, Buffy," Willow said softly, encouraging her love to lie down in her arms. "We'll see Giles tomorrow. He'll help you find out what you are. What we are."

"Okay, Wills," Buffy tried to smile for Willow's benefit. "Love you."

"Love you too," Willow whispered, as she could feel her lover go back to sleep in her arms. She hoped that this would be the last night that she and Buffy would have these nightmares.

But between Faith and Darla, she sensed that the nightmares were just beginning.

Continue to Chapters 4-7

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