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

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

Somewhere I Have Never Travelled
Book Two; The Sang Real

Written by Kirayoshi

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

(Note; this chapter contains spoilers and actual dialogue from "Welcome to the Hellmouth", "Prophesy Girl", "What's My Line", "Innocence", "Becoming part II", "Dead Man's Party", "Helpless", "Dopplegangland", "Bad Girls", "Choices" and "Graduation part I", as well as a scene from "The Yoko Factor" that I rewrote to fit my skewered continuity, plus my own earlier story, "The Dying Of The Light". Got all that? Italicized text between * * * indicates flashbacks.)

Chapter 4

An Angel With A Hand On My Head

Hey now, all you sinners,
Put your lights on,
Put your lights on.
Hey now, all you lovers,
Put your lights on,
Put your lights on.
Hey now, all you killers,
Put your lights on,
Put your lights on.
Hey now, all you children,
Leave your lights on,
Leave your lights on.
Because there's a monster living under my bed,
Whispering in my ear,
There's an angel with a hand on my head
She says I've got nothing to fear.
There's a darkness, deep in my soul,
I still got a purpose to serve,
So let your light shine, into my home,
God don't let me lose my nerve.

--Santana with Everlast
"Put Your Lights On"

Giles and Denise had just finished translating the texts for the Slayer's Handfasting, when he heard a knock at the door. Answering the door, he was taken aback by the sight of Buffy and Willow, looking as though a terrible burden had been weighing down upon them. Willow maintained a look of grim determination (what was universally known among the Scooby Gang as her 'resolve face'), while Buffy looked dazed and lost.

"Buffy, Willow, come in," Giles ushered them inside immediately. "You haven't met Denise Parkinson, have you, Buffy?" Denise waved silently at the two girls as they entered the living room. He offered them tea, but they refused. They sat down together on his sofa, and Willow held Buffy in her arms. Giles noted that this was not a romantic gesture as he had grown used to seeing from the two of them. Clearly, Willow was comforting Buffy, easing some terrible pain. He only hoped that Buffy would tell him what was hurting her, although from Willow's frantic phone call earlier that day, he knew the root cause of her distress.

As Willow stroked her fiancee's hair and murmured encouragements in her ear, Buffy finally managed to compose herself, and, staring Giles directly in the face, asked "What am I, Giles?"

Giles regarded Buffy with the expression of a concerned parent. "What do you think you are?"

Buffy paused and collected her thoughts. "I'm Buffy Summers. I'm a college student, I'm going to marry Willow," Willow squeezed her hand as she spoke, "and apparently, I'm something called a Slayer." She lowered her head, muttering in anguish, "Whatever that means."

Giles exhaled deeply. He considered going into the same familiar speech he had given Buffy when they first met; In every generation there is the Chosen One. She alone will fight the vampires, the demons and the forces of Darkness, she is the Slayer. But he knew that wouldn't wash in this instance. "Buffy," he started, hoping to approach the problem from another angle, "Willow tells me that the two of you have had some unusual dreams. Would you care to discuss them? You don't have to if--"

"No prob, Giles," Buffy interrupted. "Maybe you can figure them out. I sure as hell can't." She then related her latest dream, where she and Willow were living in Victorian London, and had been tracking the nefarious Jack the Ripper through the dark streets of Whitechapel. "It was nuts, Giles, I was called Betsy Somerset, while Willow was, what was that name again?" she asked her partner on the sofa.

"Mina Rose, I think," Willow answered. "Weren't you on the Titanic with Jack Dawson?" Willow giggled at the pop-culture reference, relieving some of the tension. "Well, Mina and I found ourselves facing a--God, I don't know, I guess he was some kind of," she swallowed as she expressed this impossibility, "a vampire. He called himself William the Bloody--"

"Spike," Giles hissed under his breath.

"Who?" Denise asked.

"Never mind, Denise. Just a passing thought."

"Yeah," Willow said. "The thing is, I had the same dream as well, only from the point of view of Mina. It was like we were these people before, we had all their memories, we felt them die in the dream. And this wasn't the first dream we shared."

"I see." Giles sipped his tea as he thought. "Denise, do you recognize these names?"

"I do, Giles," Denise answered. She glanced at Willow and Buffy, and said, "Elisabeth 'Betsy' Somerset was the daughter of a wealthy family who was called to fight evil as the Slayer. She severed all ties with her family, who didn't understand what she really was, and joined together with a woman named Wilhemina Rose to fight the evil that resided in the streets of London. Hmm. Interesting similarity in names; Wilhemina Rose, Willow Rosenberg. Betsy Somerset, Buffy Summers."

"I don't recall reading her name in any of the Watchers' records."

"They tried to cover her up, Giles," Denise commented, "because of her unconventional lifestyle. It was known that Betsy and Mina were openly in love, and rumors persisted that Mina was a practicing wiccan. However, their own Watcher was inordinately proud of his charge, and I recently discovered his journals on her. Interesting fact, Giles, but Betsy's Watcher was none other than Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle."

"You mean the guy who wrote Sherlock Holmes?" Willow beamed at the thought. "Hey, you could probably sell those journals as a horror novel and make a fortune!"

"Uh guys," Buffy interrupted, "getting back to the topic, so you're saying that this Betsy person is a Slayer? And that I'm a Slayer like her?"

"Exactly." Giles answered.

"And how long have I been the Slayer?"

Giles answered calmly, "For the last five years of your life. And you have been one of the

best."

"Yeah, thanks," Buffy sneered. "But something tells me that this is one gig I wouldn't have chosen."

"You didn't," Giles answered with a slight smile, "and you have told me as much in the past."

"Let me guess, you're my Watcher?" Giles nodded, and Buffy shook her head in anguish. "So I've gone to the mat against things that would make Wes Craven lose his lunch, but I still can't remember them. God, what's happened to me?" And she buried her head in Willow's hair.

A palpable silence reigned as Buffy's question hung over them like a huge weight suspended by a fraying wire. Finally Giles said in a soft voice, "Buffy, it is possible that your memory has been blocked by an unknown trauma. I believe I can help free your memories, but you would have to trust me. I would like to place you in a state of light hypnosis--"

"A-hem," Willow growled at Giles, her eyes smoldering. Giles cleared his throat nervously. They remembered what happened the last time Giles had hypnotized Buffy.

"This is entirely voluntary, Buffy," he amended swiftly. "You would still be aware of your surroundings, and you would remember the experience of being hypnotized, but under that state, you and I would be able to free your memories. And I would insist on Willow and Denise staying in the room with us to monitor you in this state. It is entirely up to you." 

Buffy looked at Willow, her expression an unspoken question. "I never trusted hypnosis, Buffy," she said warmly, "but I trust Giles."

Buffy smiled at Willow. "Okay, Wills, if you trust him." Looking at Giles, she added, "So, break out the swinging watch, or whatever."

"Nothing so melodramatic, Buffy," Giles chuckled. "Just sit still and relax." His voice began to take on a slow measured cadence, and dropped to a soothing monotone. "Relax, Buffy. Feel the tension easing away from your limbs, from your shoulders, from your back. Breath normally, Buffy, slowly. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Buffy muttered simply.

"Now, I am going to count to five. When I reach five, you will be placed in a light hypnotic state. In that state you will hear my voice, and can respond freely to my questions. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Good. One. Your eyelids are getting heavy. Two. And heavier. Three. You have to close your eyes. Four. You are completely relaxed. Five." He looked at Buffy and was pleased that she was placed so easily in this state. He glanced at Willow, and mentally kicked himself. Her eyes were closed and she breathed at the same rate as Buffy.

Denise chuckled at Giles' predicament, then leaned in toward Willow and snapped her fingers close to Willow's ear. Willow blinked suddenly, saying, "I'll take Gilbert Gottfried to block." She looked around, asking, "What happened?"

"You went under as Buffy was going," Denise said softly.

"How come you didn't?" Willow asked.

Denise smiled. "Watcher's training."

Giles silenced the two women, then addressed Buffy. "Buffy, can you hear me?"

"Yes, Giles."

"Buffy, do you remember waking up in the hospital last week?"

"Yes."

"I want you to tell me the last thing that you remember before waking up in the hospital. Relax and concentrate. Where are you?"

Buffy started to strain, to tense as the first traces of memory formed in her mind. "I'm in a lab. A government lab. The Initiative. You're with me, so's Willow, with Xander, Tara and Oz. A huge monster is attacking. I can see him, and I see something behind him."

"Calm yourself, Buffy," Giles continued. "You are an observer, you are not a participant. What happened to the monster?"

"The monster, Adam, he's trying to summon other monsters, to hurt my friends. But something's happening. A portal. A mouth. Hellmouth. He's opening the Hellmouth!" The building panic in Buffy's voice drew Willow to her side, as she instinctively held her lover. Buffy didn't notice her presence, as the memories flooded her. "Willow and Tara, they cast a spell to send Adam through the Hellmouth! I managed to push him through, but then Oz--NO!" she screamed suddenly. "KEEP AWAY FROM WILLOW!"

"Easy, Buffy," Giles tried to take control of the experiment. "You are not there anymore. You are not in the lab. I am going to awaken you. I am--"

"NOOO!" Buffy wailed. "Willow! What's happening? Where am I?"

Giles wiped his brow, as Buffy's agitated state only got worse. "Giles," Willow shouted, "What's happening to her?"

"What I feared would happen if we pushed her too hard," Giles despaired. "She's remembering everything. All of her battles, every demon and vampire she faced, all at once. And I can't calm her down enough to draw her out of her hypnotic state!"

In her mind, Buffy was lost in the maze of her memories---

* * *

"'Cause, it's the weirdest thing. He's got two little, little holes in his neck, and all his blood's been drained. Isn't that bizarre? Aren't you just going, ooo?"

* * *

"You think I want anything to happen to you? Do you think I could stand it? We just gotta figure out a way...

"I already did. I quit, remember? Pay attention!"

"Buffy, if the Master rises..."

"I don't care! I don't care. Giles, I'm sixteen years old. I don't wanna die."

* * *

"I'm not okay. I knew those guys. I go to that room every day. And when I walked in there, it... it wasn't our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun. What are we gonna do?"

* * *

"How can you say this to me?"

"Lighten up. It was a good time. It doesn't mean like we have to make a big deal."

"It is a big deal!"

"It's what? Bells ringing, fireworks, a dulcet choir of pretty little birdies? Come on, Buffy. It's not like I've never been there before."

***

"Oh, God, ANGEL!" Buffy cried.

"She must be remembering Angelus," Giles intoned. Willow held her hand, desperately trying to console her, but she was inconsolable.

* * *

"Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Picadilly. Farewell, Leicester Bloody Square. You know what I'm saying?"

* * *

"Buffy Summers, if you leave this house now, don't even think about coming back!"

* * *

"In the end, you're always by yourself. You're all you've got. That's the point."

* * *

"Shh. Don't worry about it. I love you."

"I love you."

"Close your eyes."

* * *

"I'm so sorry, Angel, I'm so sorry," Buffy wept, recalling the pressure of the sword handle against her hands as she plunged the blade into her love's chest. Her breathing grew more ragged, in desperate gasps, and sweat was fountaining from her brow. 

"Giles," Denise said, "if we don't do something soon, she'll suffer a massive coronary!"

Willow gasped as she looked at her suffering love.

And still the memories bombarded her---

* * *

"It's a test, Buffy. It's given to the Slayer once she... uh, well, if she reaches her eighteenth birthday. The Slayer is disabled and then entrapped with a vampire foe whom she must defeat in order to pass the test. The vampire you were to face... has escaped. His name is Zackary Kralik. As a mortal, he murdered and tortured more than a dozen women before he was committed to an asylum for the criminally insane.

When a vamp..."

"You bastard. All this time, you saw what it was doing to me. All this time, and you didn't say a word!"

* * *

"Will, I'm sorry about today. You know how my foot likes to live in my mouth. But you know... y-you really didn't have to prove anything."

"Leaving now."

"Will, gotta say, not lovin' the new you."

"Will, wait..."

"Get off me!"

* * *

"Faith, you don't get it. You killed a man."

"No, you don't get it. I. Don't. Care!"

* * *

"You -- you killed me, B!"

* * *

"You can't accept the fact that Tara and I are friends!"

"More than friends, from what I heard!"

"Bloody Hell!"

* * *

"Adam and I cut a deal, Wills. I betray Buffy, he'd give you to me as a gift. It seems that Adam lost, so Plan B. You're mine, Willow, and this dyke whore won't take you away from me!"

* * *

"Keep away from her, Oz!" Buffy shouted, her voice growing weaker, as her breathing grew more shallow. "Willow? Where are you? Willow!" She reached out in blind panic, desperately needing to find her love, her lifeline.

Willow grabbed Buffy's hands in hers, and started to caress them. "It's okay, Buffy," she said in as clear a voice as she could manage. Shoving her own fears for Buffy's safety aside, she spoke to her. She placed a calming hand on Buffy's head, as she whispered in her ear. "I'm here, Buffy. I'm not going anywhere. You're just remembering what it is to be a Slayer."

"But my being a Slayer just keeps getting you hurt!" Buffy cried.

"The only thing that would hurt me is losing you, Buffy," Willow insisted. "You've done so much for me, don't you remember that? Remember me, Buffy. Remember us." She spoke in soothing tones, and Giles and Denise could see the effect she had on Buffy. Her breathing slowed and she started to breath more deeply, and she stopped thrashing about on the sofa. "That's right, Buffy," Willow continued. "Remember. Remember..."

* * *

"Hi! Willow, right?"

"Why? I-I mean, hi! Uh, did you want me to move?"

"Why don't we start with, 'Hi, I'm Buffy,' and, uh, then let's segue directly into me asking you for a favor. It doesn't involve moving, but it does involve hanging out with me for a while."

* * *

"Hey! I hear there's a dance at the Bronze tonight. Could be fun."

"Yeah!"

"Buffy?"

"Sure! We saved the world. I say we party! I mean, I got all pretty."

* * *

"The dark can get pretty dark. Sometimes you need a story."

* * *

"Willow, wake up."

"Uh -- don't warn the tadpoles--"

* * *

Buffy's breathing grew more and more steady, more calm. Willow's soothing voice, and the love that she expressed with each syllable, with the slightest touch of her fingers on Buffy's hand, was having the desired effect on the Slayer. Soon, Giles reasoned, it would be safe to bring Buffy fully out of her spell.

* * *

"It's okay. I understand you having to bail. I can forgive that. I have to make allowances for what you're going through a-and be a grown-up about it."

"You're really enjoying this whole moral superiority thing, aren't you?"

"It's like a drug!"

* * *

"Willow! You're alive!"

"Aren't I usually? Uh, I love you guys too. Uh, guys, oxygen, becoming an issue!"

* * *

"The other night, you know, being captured and all, facing off with Faith. Things just, kind of, got clear. I mean, you've been fighting evil here for three years, and I've helped some, and now we're supposed to decide what we want to do with our lives. And I just realized that that's what I want to do. Fight evil, help people. I mean, I-I think it's worth doing. And I don't think you do it because you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy, and I want in."

"I kinda love you."

* * *

"I love you, Buffy Summers. More than anything or anyone else in this world. Always have. Always will."

"Damn. I wanted to be the first to say it."

* * *

"Buffy," Giles said softly, "I am going to count backwards from five to one. When I reach one, you will be fully awake and alert. You will remember what happened, but from a distance. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Awaken."

Buffy's eyes fluttered, and snapped open. She looked at Willow's face and smiled. "So, any calls while I was gone?"

Willow hugged Buffy fiercely, while Giles and Denise breathed a collective sigh of relief. "oh, Goddess, Buffy," Willow whispered, "I was so scared of losing you."

"Not a chance, Wills," Buffy vowed. "You still have the ring on your finger." Willow grinned at her love, and kissed her lightly on the lips.

"Buffy," Giles coughed, smiling at their obvious passion for each other. "If you could tear yourself away from your intended for a few seconds, I feel that I should ask. How much do you remember now?"

"Remember, Giles?" Buffy thought for a second, then said, "I remember that you can sing any Emily Dickinson poem to 'The Yellow Rose of Texas', I remember every sensitive spot on Willow's body--"

Willow slapped her lightly on the arm, adding, "That goes both ways, Slayer!"

"And," Buffy continued, "I remember the face of every nasty I've staked in my career as a Slayer. I also remember how much I hate training, but I'm sure you'll have a schedule set up soon." 

"I think we can ease into a training schedule. We'll start lightly, when you're ready," Giles smiled, relief flooding his soul. Buffy, his surrogate daughter, this petite young woman who was the strongest person he had ever known, was back.

"There's just one hole in my memory though," Buffy confessed. Willow and the others sat quietly as Buffy explained. "Just after Oz threw me into the portal, I felt a falling sensation. I found myself thinking of 'Alice in Wonderland' for a second there. Then, the next thing I knew, I was in the hospital, and you were waiting at the door, Wills. Somewhere in all that, I lost a year. I don't know what happened to me in Hell. I mean, Angel told me that his few months in Hell were like eons to him, but it felt like a few seconds to me. Does that make any sense?"

"I understand what you're saying, Buffy," Willow answered, "but I wouldn't worry. We found you in a giant crystal, frozen still. I think you were in some kind of suspended animation, or some such."

"I doubt that you have had any memories in Hell, Buffy," Denise added, "and from what I heard, that may be for the best." Giles agreed, and Willow just held her beloved tighter.

"Welcome back, Buffy," she whispered into her ear.

"Glad to be back, Wills," the newly-restored Slayer said. "Love you." 

As the two friends kissed lightly, the ringing of a telephone distracted them. Giles answered the telephone discreetly. "Giles residence," he greeted the caller.

"Giles, it's Angel. You wanted an update on the Hell's Belles. I just saw them terrorizing some people just two blocks away from the Bronze."

"Any sign of Sandra?" Giles asked. Buffy's ears perked as she recognized the tone of his voice. Looks like her honeymoon with Willow was over.

"Sandra and Tara are trying to control the situation, but once Darla shows, they're going to be seriously out-classed."

"I understand," Giles said. "Keep me informed." Giles hung up, then looked at Buffy and Willow.

Buffy already had her game face in place, and Willow was beside her, with her resolve face on. "Vamps at the Bronze?" Buffy asked.

"Three vampires on motorcycles. Soon to be joined by their Mistress, Darla." At the mention of the name Darla, Buffy's eyes widened.

"I thought she was a confirmed check in the 'slain' column," she muttered. "No matter, Giles, let's head 'em out!"

"Hold on, Buffy," Giles protested, "it's too soon after all you've been through. There's another Slayer on the scene, she can handle it."

"Hey, the more the merrier, right Wills?" she turned toward her love, who nodded in agreement. "Just let me stock up. You still keep the spare stakes in the basement, Giles?"

Giles raised his hands in surrender. "Downstairs to the left, as always." Buffy and Willow headed down the stairs to collect their weapons.

"I had hoped to let them ease into their routine," Giles said to Denise. "It's too soon."

"Tell that to Hell's Belles," Denise chuckled. "I doubt they would agree."

Soon, four figures emerged from the townhouse and piled into Giles' car. The battle was about to be rejoined by its greatest warrior.

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"Duck and cover!" Sandra shouted as a Harley came barreling down on top of them. Sandra and Tara ducked in opposite directions, narrowly evading the bike. Leather, the vampire who was trying to run them over, circled around, ready for another pass at the two. Her partners in blood-sucking, Rizzo and Frenchie, knocked back a bottle of Jack Daniel's and laughed at the two girlfriends' hopeless situation.

Sandra got back on her feet, shouting, "Tara! You okay?"

"A little bruised, but fine," Tara assured her girlfriend. "But she's coming back, and we can't dodge her forever!"

"We won't have to," Sandra stood calmly, her feet parted, her arms loose at her sides, a stake in her hand. "Ever see the chariot race in 'Ben Hur'?"

Tara stood frightened as Leather charged her two-wheeled steed toward Sandra. Sandra stood her ground, waiting, waiting--

At the last possible second, just when the bike was inches away from her, Sandra ducked and feinted left. With blinding speed, just as the bike was moving past her, Sandra rammed the stake into the spokes of the rear wheel.

With the wheel jammed by the stake, the bike suddenly flipped out from under Leather,

knocking her hard on her back. The impact would have knocked the wind out of her, if vampires ever felt the need to breathe. She struggled to right herself, as her bike landed on its side yards away from her. Frenchie and Rizzo ran to help their comrade, and once she was standing, Leather was angry.

"That's it, Bitch!" Leather spat out the words. "You and your girlfriend are going down, and going down now!"

"Yeah, they're going down," a voice called from behind them. "They're going down to the Espresso Pump with us after we dust the three of you!" The Hell's Belles turned on their heels, only to come face to face with five figures. A sandy-haired gentleman in his early-forties and a statuesque black woman in her thirties both held crossbows at the ready. A lanky young man in a duster jacket crouched, ready to strike quickly. A petite red-haired woman stood beside him, a stake in her hand. 

And an unassuming blond woman walked toward the three vampires, a crossbow pointed at Leather's heart.

"In every generation," the blond announced calmly, "there is the Chosen One. She, and those who choose to follow her," she glanced at Giles, who seemed to approve of her rewording his original declaration of her calling, "will fight the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness." She smiled as the vampires took a step back, recognizing her for who she was, and being afraid of her.

"She is -- I am -- The Slayer!"

 

Chapter Five

Face the Face

You must have heard the cautionary tale
Of the dangers hidden on the cul-de-sac trail.
We are the ones who've been through it all,
The painted names sprayed upon the wall.
We gotta judge the judge,
We gotta find the finds,
We gotta scheme the schemes,
We gotta line the lines.
We gotta stake the stakes,
We gotta show the shows,
We gotta take the takes,
We gotta know the knows.
Try to race the race, so
We can face the face!

--Pete Townshend
"Face The Face"

One minute ago, Xander Harris was walking his midnight beat at Whetherly Park, keeping alert for anything out of the ordinary. He found it soon enough, as three biker chicks started to harass two young women. On closer examination, he recognized the two women as Tara and Sandra. He figured that the biker chicks were the vampires that Sandra called "Hell's Belles".

He immediately pulled out his service piece, and replaced the ammo clip with one of his 'special' clips. While the unusual clips were not officially recognized on any police budget, there were enough cops on the Sunnydale Force that knew more about what was going on in this town to make sure that certain under-the-table precautions were made, and the higher-ups generally looked the other way.

"Officer Harris, calling anyone within the vicinity," Xander spoke into his radio as he ducked behind a bush. "Reporting a situation in Whetherly Park. Three bikers attacking two women, over."

"Harris, this is Axelrod on Nightshift," the voice answered, and Xander breathed a sigh of relief. "Nightshift" was the unofficial Sunnydale PD anti-vampire squad. "Identify assailants; any signs of unlife? Over."

"Affirmative," Xander answered. "Perps match description of known night life. Requesting backup, repeat, requesting--"

"In every generation," a familiar, commanding voice cut through the night with the authority of a judge's gavel, "there is the Chosen One." Xander stopped and looked toward the voice. Buffy Summers, backed up by Willow, Giles, Angel and Denise Parkinson, stood before the three vamps, who suddenly were less cocky than they were before. "She, and those who choose to follow her, will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is -- I am -- the Slayer!"

"Ooh, just what I wanna hear from a girl," Xander whispered gleefully.

"Harris, repeat your last statement," the voice on the radio reclaimed his attention. "Do you require assistance? Over."

"Uh, cancel request for assistance, Axelrod," Harris answered, fumbling for his radio. "The situation appears to be contained. Will report back if situation changes. Harris out." Turning off his radio, Xander turned his attention to the show in front of him.

On his face, he wore the smile of one who knew that all was right with the world. His hero was back.

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

So many out-of-town demons knew about Sunnydale California. They knew mostly to avoid it. While the Hellmouth acted like a magnet for supernatural forces, drawing demons and vampires toward it like moths to a flame, the wiser demons knew to resist that temptation.

She lived here. The Slayer.

Rizzo brought her gang to Sunnydale because she had heard rumors that the Slayer had been killed. But now she knew that those rumors were false. The Slayer and some of her friends stood in front of her, ready for the kill. Rizzo knew of the Slayer's rep, and that it was well deserved. And in the coal-black depths of her heart, she knew fear.

However, she refused to be conquered by her fear. "Frenchie, take the carrot-top!" Frenchie dove toward Willow, her fingers as claws, ready to shred flesh from bone.

Buffy considered moving to defend Willow, but one glance toward her love's direction proved to her that her concern was unnecessary. Willow ducked easily, avoiding Frenchie's clumsy attack, and even managed to score Frenchie's leg as she passed with the tip of her stake. Frenchie landed gracelessly in the bushes behind her, balled up in pain, howling in agony. Wooden weapons, even if they don't pierce the heart, are the bane of vampire's existence. Especially if they had been treated with holy water.

"Okay, wannabees," Buffy snarled as she prepared for battle. "Who wants a piece of me?"

Leather tensed up as her lover writhed in pain, and would have made an attempt at Willow's life, if Rizzo hadn't stopped her. Rizzo pointed her finger at Buffy, shouting, "Let's settle this now! You, me, mano a mano. You game?"

"Hey," Buffy said in mock innocence, "I'm so game I'm copyrighted by Milton Bradley!" She stood before Rizzo, making beckoning motions with her hands. "C'mon, Pink Lady. Take your best shot!"

Rizzo nodded to Leather, who backed off to tend to Frenchie's wounds. Rizzo then sneered at Buffy and whipped out a switchblade, saying, "C'mon, let's see if you can walk the walk."

"Oh, I can walk the walk," Buffy answered as Rizzo lunged at her. "I can also fight the fight." She evaded Rizzo's initial blow, and came around with her fist on the biker's face, dislodging her left fang. Willow, the other Scoobs, the biker vamps, all looked on silently, not daring to interfere in this fight. The two fighters circled each other, switchblade to stake, taking stock in each other. Then, they met in the center of their circle

Buffy feinted and parried with her opponent, who proved to be a skilled street fighter. Rizzo took her shots quickly, striking like a cobra, giving Buffy milliseconds to react to her attacks. Buffy paced herself, calming the anger that normally boiled in her gut when she fought vampires, keeping steely control over her motions. Her hazel-blue eyes smoldered, and as she battled the vampire, she stared intently at Rizzo, in an intimidating gesture that Angel had taught her in her first year in Sunnydale; 'the eye of the wolf' he called it. Above all else, she let Rizzo move around her, let her expend energy, let her make herself madder, while she herself conserved her energy.

Rizzo drew first blood, with a swift knife strike to Buffy's cheek. Buffy ignored the sudden pain, concentrating on finding her opponent's weakness. She seemed to favor her left leg. Buffy had read that left-footed meant left handed. She tested her theory; she jabbed quickly with her stake at Rizzo's left side, then again at her right side. Rizzo blocked the first blow with her left hand easily enough. But the second strike, Buffy was able to connect briefly with Rizzo's ribcage before Rizzo brushed her aside. Buffy smiled. Her weakness.

Buffy started to work on Rizzo's right side, repeatedly jabbing and slicing with her hands, working on her weaker right arm. Rizzo tried to turn to her right, to allow her left side dominance. But Buffy kept leaping around her, working on that right side.

Leather watched the fight with angry eyes. She knew that Rizzo would be enraged if she tried to interfere; for Rizzo it was a matter of pride that she fought the Slayer herself. But Leather saw that her leader, her Sire, was on the ropes. She had to do something. She watched the crowd as they witnessed this grudge match. Her eyes scanned their faces, especially the new allies that Buffy had brought with her.

Her vision rested on one girl. The redhead who injured Frenchie. She looked at the fighters, at Buffy, with a rapt attention. There was something in her eyes, something smoldering, something passionate.

The same passion she saw in Frenchie's eyes when they made love. The redhead loved Buffy.

With blinding swiftness, Leather slipped behind Willow, and grabbed her by the throat. "Drop the stake, Blondie!" she screamed, silencing the combat. "Or we'll see if your girlfriend's blood is the same color as her hair!"

Buffy stood stock still, as she looked into her endangered love's eyes. "Don't do it, Buffy," Willow whispered hoarsely, countering her fear with her love for the Slayer.

Buffy let the stake fall from her hand. "So help me, psycho-slut," she spat at the vampire, "if you even look at her funny, I'll turn you inside out!"

"You idiot!" Rizzo screamed. "I almost had her! I could have taken her!"

"Yeah, in your dreams, Rizzo!" Leather argued. "Darla said she wanted these mooks wasted, and she wanted us alive! We're on the clock, we have no time to play with our food!"

Rizzo was about to retort, when another voice made itself known. "Police! Spread 'em! Hands where I can see them!" All heads turned to the sight of Officer Alexander LaVelle Harris, his gun aimed directly at Leather. "Move away from her, nice and slow, sister. We don't want any trouble here."

Leather laughed mirthlessly at the cop. "You really don't have any idea whom you're dealing with, do you?"

"Actually," Officer Harris said calmly, "I do. So don't try anything!"

"You mean like this?" Leather cackled as her face contorted to it's vampiric nature, and she dove for Willow's neck, intent on her jugular. Xander fired his weapon directly into Leather's shoulder.

Searing white pain ripped through her arm, forcing her to let go of Willow. The wiccan ran directly to Buffy who received her in a relieved bear hug. Rizzo and Frenchie, not to mention the others, looked shocked at the officer, who stood there with his gun in hand.

"Explosive tipped bullets," Xander explained. "Hollow, filled with holy water. Not enough to kill, but I'll bet it hurts like hell. Of course, I aim for the heart, you're dust. Feel lucky?" He drew a bead directly at Rizzo's heart.

Rizzo backed toward Leather and Frenchie, fear growing in her dark eyes. She helped her partners back onto their feet, and snarled at Buffy. "This ain't over, bitch!" The three vampires left swiftly before Buffy and Xander could follow them.

Buffy turned her head to look at the trembling redhead in her arms. "You okay, Wills?" she asked, stroking a sweat-matted strand of hair from her love's forehead.

"Man, I hate it when they do that," she murmured against Buffy's chest. "Do I have a sign on my forehead saying 'Please hold me hostage'?"

"No," Buffy smiled at her fiancee. "Just the one that says 'My heart is property of Buffy Summers'." Willow grinned impishly, as Buffy kissed her nose.

The two then turned to Xander, and Buffy said, "Hey, hero. Mighty nice shootin' there."

"Shucks, ma'am," Xander answered in the worst John Wayne accent on record, "'Tweren't nothin'."

"I must say," Giles commented, "I was surprised that the Sunnydale police department had such weaponry."

"Not officially, Giles," Xander answered. "But ever since Buffy took down Hizzoner Mayor Wilkins, the S.P.D. have been a lot less clueless than they were before. We took some old notes from the Initiative once they folded, and designed a few new additions, like the holy water bullets. Someone's working on a flash grenade that will duplicate the effects of bright sunlight for five seconds, just long enough to dust every vamp in a ten yard radius."

"Hmm, impressive."

The dark voice behind them caused the hairs on Buffy's arms to stand on end, and she could sense that she wasn't the only one to feel that way. She picked up her stake, and spun around.

The man who faced her was gaunt, his body half-shaded by the nearby trees as he strode toward them. Every aspect about him said 'tasteful', from the tailored cut of his shoes to the part of his hair. But the fire in his eyes, the gait of his stride, the scowl of his lips, they said something else to Buffy Summers. Hunter. Predator.

Vampire. Probably a master vampire. In the back of her mind, she recalled an old lyric by the Rolling Stones; "Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste..."

Xander's eyes widened with the twin shock of the stranger's arrival, and recognition. "Mr. Beltaine?"

"You remember me, Officer Harris," he said in a clipped and formal voice. Giles thought he could detect the faintest Eastern European accent. "I am glad of that. And I am especially glad to see you, Miss Summers," he added, turning his attention to Buffy.

Buffy fished the crucifix out of her pocket, and held it in front of her. Beltaine backed slowly away from the cross, and asked Xander, "Did you tell your friends that I was not their enemy?"

"I told Giles, but you still have to convince me." Xander said simply.

Beltaine nodded. "Fair enough." He then glanced at Angel, who sat silently as the elder vampire walked toward him. "But you, my old friend," he said to Angel, "You and I, we know each other very well, don't we?"

Angel blinked as Beltaine looked him over. His eyes widened with recognition as well, and he almost staggered back away from the master vampire. "You--" he said, shaking as though he were facing the Devil himself, "it was you. You placed the curse on me, bonded me to my soul."

"Indeed I did, Liam," Beltaine answered. "And I can see into your soul now. You recently defeated the demon within you, once and for all. Your soul is yours now. I bow to you, my friend." He lowered his upper body in a reverent bow.

"What's with the bowing?" Buffy whispered, still keeping her stake at the ready.

"Maybe Angel just won Ben Stein's money," Willow offered. 

Beltaine glanced back at Willow when he heard these words. He then regarded Willow with an almost fatherly affection on his face. "So you must be Willow Rosenberg. Ah, Janna mentioned you in her letters to me. She thought the world of you. Now I can see why."

Giles glared hard at the vampire as he spoke this name from his past. "Janna? Janna Kalderash?" he asked, steel in his voice. "You knew Jenny Calendar?"

Beltaine nodded sadly. "I did, Giles. She was my daughter-in-spirit, as dear to me as if she had sprung from my own flesh. And you were very dear to her as well. Someday, we must drink to her memory."

"Why would we drink with you, Beltaine?" Buffy asked suddenly. "You're a vampire, after all."

"I am, my child," he answered, "but like your friend Angel, my soul is bonded to me. The powers of my tribe are formidable indeed. As you probably have guessed by now, I am of the Romani gypsies, the same tribe that punished a demon named Angelus. I am in fact their leader."

"Yeah, and now he's ours as well," an all-too familiar British accented voice chimed in. Spike stepped out from the shadows, followed by Faith, and the two vampires joined their master in the dim lamplight. "Oh, and just so you know, that chip the Initiative gave me, I got it removed." He bared his fangs to punctuate his point. "So don't you get any ideas."

"Hey, B," Faith added, giving a fang-laced smile. "How's it hangin'?"

 

Chapter Six

A Beltaine Night's Tale

There's no time for us
There's no place for us
What is this thing that builds our dreams yet slips away from us
Who wants to live forever
Who wants to live forever?
There's no chance for us
It's all decided for us
This world has only one sweet moment set aside for us
Who wants to live forever
Who wants to live forever?
Who dares to love forever?

--Queen
"Who Wants To Live Forever?"

Buffy stared directly at the three vampires, daring them to make the first move, her hand gripped tightly around Mr. Pointy. She sized up her opposites, and didn't like the odds.

The one on the left, she knew all too well. Spike, AKA William Blood, AKA William the Bloody, AKA Jack the Ripper. Cocky, violent, bad tempered, interested only in self-preservation. He was tamed last year by the Initiative when they installed a chip in his head that prevented him from harming others. Now, he has informed her that the chip was removed.

The one on the right, she also knew. Faith. A slayer like herself. But so different. Darker, more concerned with herself than with her calling. So many long nights, she wondered if any single change in herself would have made her like Faith. All she knew in the end was that Faith was dangerous. And that was as a human. Now, she was a vampire.

The one in the middle, Buffy didn't have a clue. He called himself Mr. Beltaine, he seemed to know a great deal about herself and her friends. He claimed to be the leader of the Kalderash tribe, the home of her late friend Jenny Calendar, and Angel recognized him as the one who bound his soul to him. He also had claimed that he possessed his soul.

For many long moments, Buffy regarded the three vampires with an expressionless face, which in many ways was her most intimidating expression. Willow stepped up next to Buffy, her resolve face firmly in place. Giles, Xander, Tara, Sandra and Denise stood at the ready as well, prepared to follow Buffy's lead.

Finally, the leader of the vampires broke the stalemate. "I know that there is nothing I can say that you will trust, but I assure you that the three of us mean you no harm. And what I have to say to you is of vital importance to you all. Indeed, your very existence depends on it. But perhaps we can remove ourselves to a safer shelter. My residence is a few blocks away from here. Will you join us?"

Buffy glanced back at Giles, who regarded the three before them with the same caution that she demonstrated. "Confab, people. Any ideas on mystery guest Number One?"

"None, Buffy," Giles admitted.

"Cordy and I ran into him the other night," Xander offered. "He didn't do anything to us, he just asked us to tell Giles that he needed to talk."

Buffy looked back at Beltaine. "Is that why you're here, buddy? To talk?"

Beltaine nodded.

"What about your chorus line? Any reasons I shouldn't stake them now?"

"Only your deep-seated aversion to killing anything with a soul," Spike answered, and Buffy for the first time noted that his normal venomous attitude was missing. "Yeah, that's right Ducks, Beltaine came up to me a couple of months ago and offered to have the chip removed. Just like that. Of course, he forgot to tell me after he removed the chip that he provided a far more insidious substitute. My soul."

"Same here, B," Faith answered. "Mr. B here had my body taken out of the prison morgue just after those vamps took me out, then bound my soul to me. Nowadays, I go to sleep with memories of the mistakes I made, the people I hurt or killed. I'll be atoning for my crimes for a long time."

"Yeah, well, boo-effing-hoo!" Willow shouted at the dark Slayer. Buffy felt her jaw tense as she heard the one she loved speak with such hatred. She glared at Faith herself, hating her all the more for causing such pain to Willow. "After what you did to Buffy and me the last time we met, don't be expecting any favors from us!"

"I told you, Mr. B," Faith said sadly to her leader, "they're not gonna wanna listen to us! They'll never forgive me."

"We are not here to seek forgiveness, Faith," Beltaine admonished her gently, "rather, to earn it." To Buffy, he said, "I ask again. Will you and your party join us?"

Buffy looked at Willow, again relying on her for support, for advice, for a moral compass. Willow's eyes narrowed, and she spoke with a dark tone; "If you go, you don't go alone."

Buffy asked Beltaine, "My posse goes with me. Agreed?"

Beltaine smiled warmly. "What I have to say is for all of you." Buffy nodded, and murmurs of agreement were heard from those behind her.

"Hey, Bossman," Spike commented, "we forgot something. Look," he pointed to the three Harley Davidson motorcycles that were left behind when Hell's Belles scattered. "We can't leave three Harley hawgs lying around. You want someone to start asking questions?"

Beltaine noticed the three bikes. "Good point, William. I'll make arrangements for my people to pick them up. We'll have to check the serial numbers, assuming they weren't filed off, to make sure they weren't stolen. If we can't find their rightful owners," he smiled at Buffy, "well, we have three slayers, maybe they could use them."

"No one claim the blue one, no one claim the blue one, no one claim the blue one," Faith chanted to herself. Buffy and Sandra admired the bikes briefly, then Buffy said to Mr. Beltaine, "Let's just stick to the subject for now before you start playing Vampy Claus."

"Fair enough," Beltaine agreed.

The party left in silence, and soon arrived at an attractive townhouse a few blocks north of the park. Willow admired the ornate brass-inlayed oak doors, and the size of the bay window that overlooked the front lawn. Much larger than the place she and Buffy shared. Beltaine opened the door, and ushered the others inside. All filed in silently, except for Angel, who stood outside the door impatiently. Beltaine looked at Angel, and suddenly remembered. "My apologies, Liam," he chuckled. "Enter freely, and of your own free will."

As Angel entered the house, Willow glanced around the living room, looking uncomfortably at the surroundings. She was about to sit down, when an all-too familiar voice greeted her; "Hey, Willow. Long time."

Willow spun on her heel, at the person who greeted her. A thin, lanky young man with sandy brown hair walked down the stairs, his familiar unassuming air still apparent. Willow growled with rage and fear, as she recognized him. "OZ!" she shrieked. "But you're dead! I killed you!" Buffy promptly rushed to Willow's side and held her in her arms as Willow trembled at the sight of her once-lover and later betrayer.

Daniel Osbourne stood silently, checking the pulse of his left wrist with his right hand, and said, "Uh, I beg to differ. I was told about what happened--"

"SHUT UP!" Willow commanded. "Just don't speak to me, ever! I don't know how you got out of Hell, but one more word out of you, I'll send you back!"

Oz looked sadly at Willow and Buffy, who both looked at him in undisguised contempt, and sighed. "I guess we know what my evil twin's been up to, Mr. Beltaine."

"Indeed," Beltaine said sadly. "My apologies, ladies, I should have warned you. I--"

"WARNED US?" Buffy shouted. "Warned us that the man who tried to killed me is your houseguest? Yeah, you bloody well should have told us!"

"This is not the Daniel Osbourne who sent you into hell," Beltaine raised his voice to be heard above Buffy's tirade. "Please, Slayer, bear with me for the duration. I have much to explain to you, and I will gladly answer any questions you may have when I have finished."

"Please, mates," Spike requested. "The man's telling it straight. Listen to him."

"Oh, yeah, like you're a fine character witness," Angel spat out.

"Back off, Peaches," Spike growled at his former partner in mayhem. "Just because I've got a soul doesn't mean that I like you any better, Angst-boy!"

"Oh, shut up, Jack!" Buffy shouted at the blond vampire. "Yeah, that's right, we know." To the others, she announced, "Did you guys know that he was Jack the Ripper?"

Before Spike could respond to Buffy's accusations, Beltaine held up his hands. "Please, please, we have plenty of enemies without fighting among each other. Sit down, let me speak my peace."

Buffy and Willow glowered at Oz, who just sat on the stairs, away from the group. He recognized that he wouldn't be welcome among his old friends for the time being, and hoped simply that once Mr. Beltaine told his story, they would accept him again. He watched as Buffy sat next to Willow on the sofa and draped her arm protectively around Willow's shoulders. He caught a glint on Willow's finger, and when he got a better look, he saw the engagement ring on her finger. One look at the way she leaned into Buffy's embrace and Oz knew that Buffy and Willow had indeed found each other. He was glad of that. He was glad that Willow had found happiness with someone who could love and protect her. He silently wished them good fortune.

"Now then," Beltaine said civilly as Faith emerged from the kitchen carrying a tea tray, and offering tea, coffee or cocoa to the guests, "Perhaps I had better explain who I am, and why I am here. I was born Janus Pyotr Kalderash, in the Year of our Lord 1077. I was the heir to the dominion of the Romani clan, and had been trained in the skills I would need to fulfill the demands of leadership. Warrior skills, as well as healing magic. Our people were well versed in the ways of magic, and possessed many artifacts, a few of which we still hold fast to. Giles, if you would open the wooden case on the table in front of you?"

Giles looked warily at Mr. Beltaine, who nodded solemnly. Guessing it was safe, Giles examined the small, ornately carved, red lacquered wooden chest that sat in front of him. He loosened the catch, lifted the lid, and sat back as he beheld its contents, his eyes big as baseballs. On the sofa next to his chair, he could hear Willow gasp. "My dear lord," he whispered. "Is that--"

"The Greater Orb of Thessula," Beltaine acknowledged. "I understand that you, Willow Rosenberg, used a smaller Orb to re-bond Angel's soul."

"Yeah, me and the others," Willow answered sheepishly, recalling the harrowing experience. She had never before taken on such a monumental task in magic, and was both relieved that it worked, and saddened that it was too late to save Angel once Acaltha had been awakened.

"This is the source of that magic," Beltaine stated. "The source of my own soul. I had ascended to the role of chieftain of my tribe when I was twenty, and had for ten years led my tribe, protecting it from the slowly encroaching conquerors and crusaders. It was then when an ancient vampire had chosen to Turn me. I was Born to Darkness...I believe that's how Anne Rice described it, I rather liked that turn of phrase...in the year 1109. My very first thought as a vampire was to destroy my wife, Magda, and our children. But Magda was well versed in the ways of magic, and had cast a spell to restrain me. She then led the elder mages of the tribe to invoke the Orb, to use its powers to restore my humanity. They hadn't quite succeeded, but she had managed to bind my soul to me. The price was great, however; my Magda had died to invoke the spell, sacrificing herself to save me, to save our people from me.

"I felt great guilt over my condition, and how it had cost my Magda her life, but in time, I saw the rightness of her actions. The vampire who had taken me from the daylight sought to use me to destroy my tribe. Some unspoken insult, some redress of grievances. By some strange irony, that vampire had insured my tribe's survival, by granting me the means and the power to defend it, literally forever. I made sure to thank my unwilling benefactor before I slew him.

"For the next few centuries, I protected my tribe from all threats; barbarian conquerors, crusaders, those who simply sought to destroy us because we existed. Through the centuries, I watched as my two daughters had children of their own, and their children had children, and they had children of their own, from generation to generation. Janna Kalderash, whom you know as Jenny Calendar, she was a direct descendant of mine. I don't recall how many generations removed." Beltaine regarded Angel with a gimlet eye, causing the younger vampire to squirm in his seat. "As was the child who's life was taken by a vampire named Angelus."

Angel bowed his head low, saying, "I know, Janus Kalderash, and I regret my crimes."

Beltaine smiled at Angel. "Do not blame yourself for your demon's actions, Liam. You have been punished long enough." To the others, he explained; "You see, I used the Greater Orb of Thessula to restore Angel's soul, with the clause that should he not be tormented by the crimes of his past before he succeeded in atoning for them, his soul would be lost and the demon would retain control. It was meant as a punishment, true. But not an eternal punishment."

"So you're saying that Angel has the potential for his own salvation?" Giles asked.

"I am. As he traveled the world after our encounter, I sent my spies after him to monitor his progress. The last spy I sent was Janna. She reported back with the news that Angel was no longer living a furtive and solitary life, doing nothing but reflecting on his own self-pity. Instead he chose to join with others, with one called the Slayer, to aid her in her battle with evil." Leaning forward, Beltaine captured Buffy's eye with his own. "You, my friend, were the catalyst of his salvation. Through you, because of his love for you, Angel stopped brooding and began to act, to atone for his past by undoing evil instead of spreading it. In retrospect I should have kept Janna better informed, or allowed her greater leeway in revealing her mission to you. Perhaps the knowledge of what would have happened if he ever experienced a moment of pure happiness before his time would have saved her life."

Buffy nodded silently, feeling that familiar grief and guilt build up in her soul. Willow must have sensed her beloved's unease, because she started to caress her shoulders gently with her hand. "Don't go there," she whispered to Buffy. "It isn't your fault. What happened isn't anyone's fault. It just happened."

"Your love speaks truth," Beltaine assured Buffy. "I have lived no small years, and have seldom known of greater love or greater sacrifice than that which you experienced. I have known many Slayers over the years. I have been a silent partner to the Watcher's Council for over five centuries, until recent years when their desire for control outstripped their duty to the cause. And in all that time, I have never known a more capable fighter than you, Buffy Anne Summers."

These words of praise, from someone who should be an enemy, somehow caused Buffy to feel a great weight lift off of her shoulder. The knowledge that this man, the oldest relative of Jenny Calendar, did not blame Buffy for her death, caused Buffy to feel a lightness in her soul that she seldom experienced, outside of Willow's arms.

"I'm still at a loss to understand this," Denise spoke up. "I had always understood that once a person was turned into a vampire, the soul fled the body, allowing the demon to take over."

"It is not so simple, my lady," Beltaine said, nodding to the younger Watcher. "The soul remains dormant within the body, where it remains a prisoner, but if the soul is strong enough, it may be allowed to retain control, albeit only with some magical assistance. I have made an extensive study of vampires, and I learned a few things that your Watcher's Council had not discovered. I learned that it is not the act of Turning that shocks a soul into dormancy, but the first kill. The Demon that enters the body of a newly-sired vampire will lose its power quickly unless the soul can be quickly corrupted. That is why, Liam, that the moment you were turned your first act was to kill your parents. The demon drives its host to murder, thus forcing the soul to recoil from what it has become. The demon then has free reign, to kill and devour as it pleases."

"But the soul may be restored," Angel continued the thought, "by a powerful spell, like the Orb of Thessula?"

"You got it," Spike answered. "Of course, if you've been a naughty vamp, the process of getting your soul back takes a long time, and hurts like Hell, literally. Y'see, mate, I'm about where you were before. My soul's a loaner, and if I get the happies once, it's gone. I've done some terrible things in my unlife; like Buffy said, I operated in the Whitechapel area during 1888, and the dumb coppers never found half of the women I killed. All their faces, and all the others I killed, they visit me every night now. But I got hope now. It's a matter of atonement. I hate to say it, Ducks, but you were on to the right idea all along."

"Yeah, what peroxide-boy said," Faith added. "I mean, I wasn't a prize when I was alive, who knows what kinda psycho vamp I'd have been if Mr. B hadn't claimed my corpse from stir. I owe him for the second chance, and I owe the rest of you for all the crap I put you through." She bowed her head, and Buffy searched Faith's manner and her voice for any sign of pretense, of guile. She found none. Faith was laying her soul bare before them, not caring what they thought of her. "I don't expect any forgiveness, and I wouldn't accept it if offered. Not yet, anyway. I'm as far from five-by-five with you guys as you can get. All I ask is the chance to prove myself. The old Faith is dead. Let her rot. 'Cause no matter how much you guys hated her, I will always hate her more."

Buffy and the others sat in silence, digesting Faith's words. Buffy looked into Willow's eyes, again relying on the red-haired wiccan as her moral compass. She could see anger and resentment still flaring in those jade-green orbs, but somewhere beyond that, she could see something resembling compassion. Willow nodded at Buffy, silently indicating her willingness to trust the two vampires.

"Okay," Buffy stated, crossing her arms. "We'll give you that opportunity. But," she added, her eyes narrowing to angry slits, "what about THAT?" She pointed to Oz, who sat quietly on the stairs, watching the debate. "He still betrayed us, is he trying to redeem himself too?"

"Buffy, you don't know half of the truth," Oz said sadly. "I haven't set foot in Sunnydale since I first left two years ago. I'd been studying in Tibet, learning how to control the wolf within." The others gaped at Oz, disbelieving.

"He speaks the truth," Beltaine defended the werewolf. "I ventured to the lamasery where he was staying three months ago, and recruited him to my cause. I knew I had to find him when I heard what had happened to Buffy last year." He opened a drawer beneath the coffee table, and withdrew a leather-bound journal. "Perhaps this will explain it more eloquently than I could," Beltaine presented the book to Giles. Giles examined the binding, looking for a title or any identification. He opened the book, took one look at the first page, and dropped the book immediately.

"My dear Lord," he whispered. "That--that's my handwriting. I'd know it anywhere. But I never wrote in this book before in my life!"

"You didn't," Beltaine agreed. "But Rupert Giles did."

"And the contradictory award goes to--" Xander commented.

"You are aware of the idea of alternate realities, Xander," Beltaine said impatiently. "I understand that your fiancee, Cordelia, witnessed one such reality, one where Buffy never came to Sunnydale?"

"Don't remind us," Willow rolled her eyes. "I still have nightmares about my vampiric twin." Although, she did admit to herself, that her other half did make her think about a few things. 'Kinda Gay', she said at the time. She glanced at Buffy, feeling a mischievous grin tug at her mouth.

"You say, then," Giles nodded, "that this diary comes from an alternate reality?"

"It does," Beltaine answered. "One where you made a terrible mistake, Rupert Giles, a mistake you were able to correct in your own world. But the consequences for your rash acts were much more dire in this other world. As you shall see when you read the text. Please, read the first few entries now."

Giles turned the page, and scanned through the first few paragraphs. His breathing grew more labored as he read, and sweat formed on his brow. Buffy glanced at her Watcher, worried about what she was seeing. Whatever was in that book, it was having a nasty effect on Giles.

"My God--" he stammered when he could not read any more. "In this world," he said, displaying the book, "I never told Buffy the truth of the rite of passage on her eighteenth birthday. Buffy went to face Kralik alone, not knowing what had happened to her, how I had--" his voice started to catch, as his normally dignified, stuffy attitude was replaced by anger, self-loathing and despair. "How I had betrayed the Slayer."

"Hey, don't go there, Giles," Buffy assured her Watcher, placing her hand on his. "We've had this conversation before. When it came down to crunch time, you did what was right, not what the Council ordered. I don't blame you for what happened. Not anymore."

"Yes," he said, flustered. "I was able to correct my error. But my counterpart, he went along with the Council. As a result, Buffy didn't know what she was getting into." He sipped his tea in an attempt to calm his nerves. "In his world, Kralik won. He Turned Buffy, and she then killed Joyce." A collective gasp could be heard from the others, and Willow's grip on Buffy's arm tightened. "Buffy took the name of Lady Bathory, a noblewoman of Sixteenth century Eastern Europe who was reputed to be a psychotic killer of young virgins. Buffy, or Bathory, then turned Willow, Xander and Cordy, had Willow cast a spell to corrupt Oz, and then they tormented her Giles."

"Whoa," Willow interrupted. "You're saying that my other self in this world turned Oz evil?"

"That's exactly what he's saying," Beltaine said solemnly. "He was the one who betrayed you, who sent you to hell. He was sent here by Lady Bathory to take out her greatest threat to her plans. She is coming to your world. Soon.

"And unless we band together to stop her, we are all doomed."

No one said anything for over a minute. Willow looked darkly at Oz, looking for the man who betrayed her last year, and only finding the sad, silent young man who gave her up for her own safety. And perhaps for the opportunity to find her true love. She still didn't trust him, perhaps she never would, but she no longer hated him. She didn't have the time or energy to hate him.

Buffy, for her part, allowed Beltaine's words to roll around in her head. If Beltaine was right, then she and the others were about to face a threat even greater than Mayor Wilkins, Angelus, or Adam.

They were going to face themselves.

 

Chapter Seven

The Enemy

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

--Walt Kelly

''''''''

~From the diaries of Rupert Giles~

February 11, 1999

Today, I became a traitor.

I have betrayed the finest, most noble woman I have ever known. Because I had not the stomach to tell my superiors in the Watchers Council that what they were doing was wrong.

Buffy Summers just left the library. I sat by silently as she left. She was still weakened by the muscle relaxant that I had pumped into her veins. She still has no idea why her strength has deserted her, why her reflexes are at half of their norm, why her speed is not up to standard. And I sat by without saying anything. I just watched as she marched on to certain doom.

That's what I do, isn't it? I Watch. I'm a Watcher. A worthless, bloody Watcher!

Damn Quentin, damn him to the deepest pits of Hell! When I confront him tomorrow, I intend to resign my position as Watcher. Then I shall tell Buffy the truth about how I have betrayed her, and accept her anger, her hatred of me. Believe me, she cannot hate me as much as I hate myself.

''''''''

February 12, 1999, 12:05 PM

Quentin refused to even listen to me when I confronted him. He insisted that we were following the traditions of the Watcher's Counsel.

Shortsighted little toady!

I told him that he and his bloody traditions could go to Hell! I tendered my resignation to the Watcher's Council and informed him that I was ending the test. He responded that the test was in progress; that Buffy had gone to face Kralik. That she would soon pass the test or die.

I felt a strange satisfaction when my fist impacted with his jaw. He simply ordered me to start packing my bags, that I would be recalled to England within the next two days. I told him to go to Hell.

February 12, 1999, 8:30 PM

''''''''

It's all my fault!

She failed in her battle with Kralik. She has fallen.

Kralik somehow managed to escape his confinement in the safehouse where Quentin was keeping him, he burst out of his cage and turned several Council employees. He then attacked and abducted Joyce Summers, in order to force Buffy to confront him. And he defeated her in battle. Without her Slayer strength, she was no match for a psychotic vampire like Kralik.

Just how do I know this? Because late last night, she knocked on my door. I invited her in, steeling myself for what I had to do. I offered her tea, allowed her to rest on my couch, then I sat in the overstuffed chair beside her. I confessed my crimes to her, how I was responsible for her weakened condition. How I had been ordered by the Council to subject her to this rite of passage. I spoke with caution, expecting her to attack me at any moment. Her temper is legendary.

Dear God, I wasn't prepared for what happened. She just looked at me, without emotion, without any rage at all. She just stared, almost as though she were looking past me, through me. She then smiled, and I could see an almost imperceptible change in her. A coldness, a terrible knowledge, something that reminded me of--

Of Drusilla. That's when I realized the truth.

She said to me; "So you're the one responsible for what happened to me? For making me--" Her face contorted, her brow shifted, her eyes turned sickly yellow. Her teeth were bared, and sharp fangs emerged from her mouth.

Dear God, she's a vampire!

"And I was just going to kill you, Giles," the monster that had once been Buffy Summers snarled at me, as she leapt from the couch and punched me in the gut, hard. She cuffed me on the back of the neck, and kicked me in the ribs several times for good measure, before she spoke again. "It's too bad you never gave my mom a chance, after that whole band candy incident. I guess it's too late now, seeing as how I drained her just now. Ooh, she was so sweet." The predatory leer on her face spoke volumes to me. Gone forever was the woman whom I had regarded as a surrogate daughter. In her place stood a creature which combined the strengths of a Slayer with the powers of a vampire. And it was all my fault.

She walked toward the door, as though I weren't worth her time. She then turned around, and smiled, almost sweetly. "No, you aren't worth the effort of killing. I'll keep you around for a while. And every person I kill, and believe me, we're talking triple digits at the very least, their deaths will be on your hands as well! Toodles!" She left my place and before I could follow her, disappeared into the night.

I spent the last hour setting up magical wards against Buffy; having invited the vampire, I had to recite the proper spell to 'uninvite' her. I then tried to call the others, but only contacted their parents. I informed them calmly that I needed to speak to them. I doubt they will get the message; I am aware that the parents of Sunnydale tend to look upon me as a dirty old man, not one with whom they would trust with the safety and well-being of their children. All I can do now is ready myself, and pray.

It is my fault that the Slayer is now a vampire. I must rectify that mistake.

I have to slay Buffy.

''''''''

February 17, 1999

As Shakespeare once said, "One woe doth tread upon another's heels, so fast they follow".

She calls herself Bathory now. She had listened to Willow babble on about how she had read about Countess Bathory, the mad Romanian noblewoman who slaughtered virgins, believing that their blood would make her immortal. And now, Bathory has taken the others.

Willow was first. I encountered her last night, standing alone in Wetherly Park. I tried to warn her off, to explain what happened to Buffy. She just smiled at me, and changed. Buffy -- I mean Bathory, stepped behind her and kissed her soundly on the lips. Evidently Bathory had made Willow a willing lover as well as a vampire. Bathory then pointed to the pile of corpses the two of them had recently drained, that I had failed to notice in the first place. Willow then whistled, and a wolf-like creature ran toward her on all fours, and knelt beside his mistress, allowing her to scratch behind his ears.

My eyes widened when I recognized him. "Oz?"

Willow nodded to the beast, who changed before me into Daniel Ozbourne. But he still knelt beside Willow, like a trained lap dog. "I control his transformations now," Willow explained, smiling evilly, "not the moon."

"You've lost, Giles," Bathory growled at me. "I'm in charge now! Sunnydale is mine! And I will destroy everything you ever loved!"

The next night, she called my house, to inform me that Faith, Xander and Cordelia had been turned as well. They hadn't bothered to turn Oz, he was more effective to their cause as a mindless werewolf.

I turned on the news, and the anchorman had reported many violent murders. Violent ends are not uncommon here in Sunnydale, seeing as how we are close to the Hellmouth, but this many, so quickly, even the populace of this town couldn't ignore them. Among the fatalities over the last twenty-four hours were, to my lack of surprise, the parents of Willow, Xander and Cordelia, Mr. Snyder and a large percentage of the school faculty. The reporters claimed that the police had no leads, but I knew exactly what was going on. The former Scooby Gang were having their revenge.

After I had seen the news, I desperately phoned the Watcher's Council; Quentin had quietly left town after the test. I begged them for help in this matter. They informed me that, from this moment on, Sunnydale was no longer their concern, and that as far as they were concerned, the sooner I died, the better. I was told to never contact them again, before the line disconnected.

I had tried to contact Angel for the last few nights, with no luck. I must assume that Bathory has dealt with him as well. I am also aware of the lack of activity in the demonic circles. Even Mayor Wilkins, who I know has dabbled in dark forces, has been weirdly absent these last few days.

So I am alone in my battle with my former allies. These five young people, once the bravest, most self-sacrificing individuals I had ever encountered, now perhaps the greatest threats the world had ever seen. Sunnydale was abandoned, no help would be coming, and I now prepare, alone, to fight my friends. This will very likely be my final entry in this diary. If by chance, a future Slayer finds this book, let me give this one word of advice to you;

Ignore the Watcher's Council. Do not trust them, do not believe them, not even if they tell you that rain is wet. They are as much to blame for any of this mess, they and their hidebound need for ritual and tradition. Do what you know is right. Oppose the Council at all costs. They are as much the enemy as any vampire you will ever face. Their arrogance, their sanctimonious belief that their archaic traditions are right, will be their undoing.

I know this, for I supported them. And my beliefs have damned a beautiful, brave young woman. A woman named Buffy Summers.

''''''''

I am dying.

I have failed in my efforts to slay Bathory and the others. And my failure has doomed the world.

Bathory had somehow discovered where that fool Quentin had hidden the crypt of Acaltha once it had been closed by Buffy, when she fought Angelus to save the world last year. Ironically, now it was Bathory who had finished what Angelus started.

Bathory's clan had relocated to Angel's old mansion. I was correct in my earlier assumption that Bathory had slain Angel. I am somewhat surprised that they didn't try to take his soul from him. An attempted seduction, an offer of bliss, that's all it would take. I suppose they didn't think him worthy.

I had brought spare stakes and a fully loaded crossbow with me, when I stormed the mansion. The first attack came from the werewolf. I shooed him away, hit him with a tranquilizing dart. I hoped foolishly that I might be able to save him once I had dispatched the others.

I didn't have a chance. Xander and Willow dropped behind me, and attacked mercilessly. It had been too long since I had taken the field. I had reached for my crucifix, but didn't find it. I glanced at Oz, only to see him toss a silver chain out the window. His attack must have been meant to rid me of any crosses and holy water before the vampires attacked me. And it had worked.

Before I could get enough leverage to break the deathgrip of Willow's arms around my neck, Bathory made her move. She threw me aside, and slashed at me with her sword. I tried to feint her attacks, to dodge the arc of her blade, but she was too fast for me. Soon, Xander had me pinned, and made motions for my throat, when Bathory stopped him.

"No, Xander," she glared, her voice was authority itself. "He's mine." She smiled at me as she walked toward me, saying, "Admit it, Giles, you wanted to get this close to me since the first day we met, when you dropped that book about vampires in my lap." She was now centimeters away from me, her lips redder than any blood. "Well, enjoy it while it lasts, because mine is the last face you will ever see."

Unable to reach her, I spat at her. "The one whom I loved as a daughter is dead. You are not she."

She glared at me, then slapped my cheek, hard. "And you are not anything," she shouted at me, her face corrupted into that of a vampire, "but a food source."

I closed my eyes, and made my peace with God, as I felt two sharp pricks pierce my neck.

Then blackness.

''''''''

I awoke, half-drained, in the middle of the desert. They must have drove me there, and left my body behind. I wasn't even good enough for her to finish off. She was going to let the desert take me.

So be it. I tried to stand up, but my legs failed me. I was lost, and I knew it. I had lost too much blood to survive for very much longer. I tried to look around me, to get my bearings, when I saw them.

Terrible greasy red clouds hanging over the horizon, spreading their taint to the rest of the night sky.

"She has finished her goal, Rupert Giles," a voice intoned behind me. I craned my neck as much as I could, to see the speaker. She was a golden-skinned woman, regal in bearing, dressed in an impossibly complex Greek toga. A wisdom shone around her, and a power, a power that sustained me somehow. I felt my limbs strengthen as I gazed at her.

I had heard and read the legends of this woman and her male companion, but I never believed I would encounter her. "Are you an Oracle?" I stammered.

"I am," she said sadly. "Alas, I fear you are the last mortal on this plane who will ever see me." She pointed to the red stain in the sky, saying, "Acaltha walks the earth. The one you once knew as Buffy has done her work. The monster Acaltha has damned all humanity to Hell on earth."

I lowered my head in despair. "So I have failed in my mission to defend the light against the darkness."

"Only in this world, Rupert Giles," she answered in a kind voice. "I can only sustain you for so long, Watcher. And soon, Bathory and her clan will seek to extend their evil to other worlds, other dimensions. You have one last task to perform." With a wave of her hand, she produced from thin air this Watcher's diary. "You must record the last battle, so that the Watcher and the Slayer of their next world will know what they face."

I nodded, taking book and pen from her hands, and set my hand to writing one last time. I found it strangely comforting to do this, that writing should be my last act in this world.

So there is my story. I have erred, by following the wrong orders, and in so doing, doomed my world. I am assured by the Oracle that this book will fall in the right hands. I warn you, Watcher and Slayer, whoever you are, beware Lady Bathory. Beware her followers, Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris, Daniel Ozborne and Cordelia Chase. They may be the most dangerous opponents you ever faced.

And above all else, beware the compulsion to follow orders blindly. If your instincts dispute your orders, follow your instincts. You must believe for yourself that what you do is right, is proper, is what must be done. If you don't question those who command, you are not fit to be the Slayer. Or a Watcher.

These are the last words of the Rupert Giles of this world. I wish whoever receives this diary better luck than I experienced. I pray that you will never have to face the mistakes I have made. Or the consequences of my mistakes.

Beware of Lady Bathory. Beware---------

''''''''

Giles stared at the book, thunderstruck. The evil he had witnessed through the eyes of his counterpart, the damage that had been done because this Rupert Giles had said yes, when he himself had said no. He had read the book aloud, and the effect on the others was no less dramatic. Only Mr. Beltaine, who had read the book before, stood unmoved. Buffy instinctively placed her arms around Willow's shoulder, feeling the red haired wiccan tremble as Giles spoke. The two of them retained this close contact, afraid of losing each other if they let go.

"The Oracle came to me last year," Mr. Beltaine continued as Giles placed the book on the coffee table in front of him, "and gave me that book. I knew that I had to contact the Slayer. I had heard that Buffy Summers and her friends were still alive and well in Sunnydale, so I sent my spies to find them. They reported back that the Slayer had been killed, evidently by Bathory's servant Oz. She had sent Oz to this world to prepare for her coming, by killing the one person who could challenge her."

"So when you heard of Buffy's death," Denise Parkinson asked, "is that when you tried to contact Faith?"

"I did," Beltaine admitted. "She was unruly, untrustworthy, had made her share of mistakes," Faith sat beside Beltaine, squirming at his observations, not because he made them in front of her, but because they were true. "However," he added, noticing her discomfort, "she had the potential for redemption, and the power I would need to mount an offensive against Bathory. Unfortunately, she was locked up rather tightly in her prison. By the time I had been able to determine a method of, um, liberating her," he chuckled lightly, "vampires employed by Wolfram and Hart had turned her. It did make it easier for me to remove her body once the prison officials had her discarded, but it also necessitated the use of the Greater Orb of Thessula to restore her soul."

"Actually, luv," Spike commented, "these last two weeks led to an entirely new experience for me; I was actually glad that you weren't dead, Buffy." He tried to speak in his normal level of bluster, but Buffy could pick up the genuine undertones of earnestness in his voice. She started to believe that the monster that was William the Bloody was truly dead, buried by his newfound soul.

"Yes, Mr. Blood is right," Beltaine agreed. "Your return, Buffy Summers, has given me hope. But I fear we will not have much time to prepare."

"You're saying that my double's coming to Sunnydale?" Buffy asked.

"I am sure of it," Beltaine answered. "That is why Darla has recruited those formidable women with the motorcycles. She plans to lead them in a ritual that will pierce the dimensional veil and bring Lady Bathory and her clan to Earth." He leaned toward Buffy, his expression one of contrition. "I am aware that you have had much information to process these last few days. But this world needs you. Perhaps now more than ever."

Buffy digested the information that she had been given. Another Slayer, another Buffy, another Scooby gang, only evil, and augmented by vampiric strength. She looked at Willow, searching her green eyes, and asked, "Well, Wills, you up to saving the world?"

Willow nodded toward her fiancee, her resolve face firmly in place. "Always." She took Buffy's hand in her own.

"Hey, count me in, too," Xander added, reaching across to join hands with his two best friends.

"And don't forget us," Tara and Sandra agreed, joining their hands with the others. Denise and Giles also joined them, as Giles vowed, "You have my word, Buffy Summers, Denise and I will do everything in our power to help in this crisis."

"And you can count on my support as well," Angel added. "I have some connections in L.A. One call from me, they'll be here."

"And you will have the aid of my people," Mr. Beltaine promised. "I am not without resources, both in men, in finances and in more esoteric areas. I may have some magic tomes that even the old Council was unaware of," he added, winking at Giles. Spike, Faith and Oz nodded their agreement, silently pledging to give everything they had, up to and including their lives, to the cause.

"Okay," Buffy announced solemnly, "Some of us have to wake up in the morning, so we'll call it a night. Tomorrow night, we meet here and start planning our strategies." The gang started to disperse, as Xander headed out to return to police headquarters; he might have to recruit some help and equipment from Night Shift for this one.

Before Willow joined Buffy in the night air on their way home, Oz stopped her. "Hey," he said to his former love. Willow turned around, regarding the man whom she once blamed for her sorrow of the last year. She was no longer angry at him, but she still couldn't quite bring herself to fully trust him. He would have to earn that, as far as she was concerned.

"I just wanted to say," Oz continued, "I'm glad you and Buffy hooked up. She's good for you." He dropped his head, and Willow thought she could see a tear fall down the normally taciturn musician's cheek. "A lot better than I would have been."

Willow smiled sadly, lifting Oz's chin with her finger. "Yeah, she is good for me," she declared. "But I'm glad you're back in my life." She wasn't sure where those words came from, but the moment she said them, she knew them to be true. "Still friends?"

"Always," he answered, gripping her hand in a hearty handshake. Oz let go, and headed back up the stairs.

"Hey," Buffy wrapped her arms around Willow's waist. "You okay?"

Willow looked up at the face she loved more than any other. "Yeah," she said, smiling. "For the first time in a long time, I'm really okay." She kissed her love fully on the lips. They cherished this closeness, praying that it wouldn't end.

Tomorrow, they prepared for battle. Tonight, they simply wanted to be together, to make love, to maintain this connection. To be truly alive in the light of their love.

''''''''

"DAMN!" Rizzo shouted as she and the others made their way back to the warehouse. She steadied Frenchie on one side as Frenchie's leg still ached from the holy-water treated splinters, while Leather cradled her shoulder, still wincing from the holy-water bullet.

Darla emerged from her hiding place, to see her wounded sisters. "Rough night, girls?" she asked.

"That bitch Slayer's so dead once I get my hands into her!" Rizzo screamed, as she deposited Frenchie onto the couch, and collapsed on the easy chair next to her.

"Yeah, just save me that red-haired girlfriend of hers," Leather answered as she sat next to Frenchie, and cradled her lover's body in her arms. "After what she did to Frenchie, I'm gonna think up new ways to hurt her!"

"Yeah, and that cop friend of theirs too," Frenchie complained, kissing Leather hotly. "Look what he did to my Leather's shoulder."

"And you idiots left your bikes behind," Darla complained. "Stop your complaining. One good day's sleep and you'll be good as new." She stalked the other three like a drill sergeant, saying, "Besides, tomorrow night, we have plans. I need you alive and well to perform the ritual. In three nights, we must prepare to summon Lady Bathory. With her and her clan on our side, the Slayer and her followers will be defeated!" The four vampires nodded, smiling wickedly.

Soon, they vowed, they would have their revenge on the Slayer.

''''''''

Xander Harris came back to his single-bedroom apartment, his body and mind worn out. After what he had seen and heard this night, he despaired at the possibility of getting a good night's sleep. He took his jacket off, and started to remove his police holster, when a voice called out; "Xander? Is that you?"

Xander almost drew his gun out, until he belatedly recognized the speaker. "Geez, Cordy! Don't scare me like that!" He turned and saw Cordy getting up from the sofa. They met in the middle of the living room, in a warm embrace. "God I'm glad you're here," he said to his fiancee.

"You're the one who left me a spare key, and I had to see you," Cordy answered, and Xander could hear the tension in her voice. "I desperately needed to be here, with you, after -- after --"

"You had one of those visions?" Xander asked.

"Yeah, a nasty one," she admitted. "I saw you and the others, you were being attacked by vampires." She shook in Xander's arms, as Xander eased her onto the couch and continued to hold her. "And Buffy, oh God, Buffy was one of them--" She could barely speak further, and her breathing was labored. "She tried to kill you!"

"Hey, don't worry, Cordy," Xander said, stroking her hair. "I'm not going anywhere. Besides, it wasn't Buffy." Cordy looked at him oddly, and he gave her one of his patented goofy Xander smiles. He then told her about the meeting with Mr. Beltaine, and the revelations he had heard that night. "The good news is that Buffy's back in the Slayer game. The bad news is that we'll be facing off against her evil double. That's who you must have seen attacking me."

"God, have I mentioned lately that I hate being a Seer?" Cordy grinned weakly. She cuddled into Xander's shoulder some more. "I wish I was more brave, like you are."

"Hey, you're the one marrying a cop," Xander commented. Cordy lifted her head to offer Xander a kiss, which he accepted. Their mutual need for comfort quickly gave way to passion, and their kisses became more urgent.

"I don't want to leave here tonight," Cordy said breathlessly.

"I don't want you to go," Xander answered. They kissed some more.

"God, Xander," Cordy whispered as they broke off the kiss and allowed Xander to lead her to his bedroom. "How did I get so lucky to get a second chance with you?"

Xander grinned, and coughed, "A-hem-karma-a-hem." Cordy playfully slapped his arm. He grinned back, and for the rest of the night, the two lovers were able to forget their fears and their concerns in their love for each other.

''''''''

Joyce Summers arrived at the townhouse that her daughter shared with Willow, and knocked at their door. Buffy answered the door and hugged her mother. "Hey, Mom, good to see you."

"Thanks for inviting me," Joyce answered as she entered the house. She admired the tasteful decor, before continuing. "Is Willow here?"

"Right here, Mrs. Summers," Willow poked her head out of the kitchen. "You want anything?"

"Iced tea if you have it," Joyce answered. As she sat down, and Willow emerged with three glasses of tea, she looked at her daughter and asked, "So, any reason why you invited me here?"

"Well, Mom," Buffy started hesitantly, "Willow and I have a few announcements to make." Yeah, she added to herself, I'm gonna be fighting a vampire version of myself soon. Nah, I think I'll skip that part.

Willow sat beside Buffy as Buffy continued. "First, my amnesia cleared yesterday. Giles and Willow helped me remember everything."

Joyce sighed audibly. "I was kind of hoping you could forget being the Slayer."

"Yeah, you and me both," Buffy admitted. "But we have something else to announce." She took Willow's hand in her own, and started, haltingly, "Mom, I know that you've always supported me, and my relationship with Willow, despite the same-sex thing, so we want to tell you together, Mom,--"

"We're getting married," Willow chirped brightly. Buffy glared half-seriously at Willow, saying, "Hey, I wanted to say it!"

Willow smiled impishly at her beloved, and kissed her nose. Joyce took in the sight of her daughter, looking happier than she had ever seen her.

"I'm so glad to hear that," Joyce declared. "Welcome to the family, Willow." She took her future daughter-in-law in her arms in a welcoming embrace. Buffy joined them in their embrace, until Willow complained, "Uh, guys, oxygen, becoming an issue."

The three disengaged their hug, and began to talk as a family. For a brief moment, the threat of Lady Bathory and Darla seemed far away.

Buffy looked at Willow, knowing that they would survive this ordeal together. Together. She repeated the word several times in her mind. She had found the one with whom she could share her life. And the one for whom she would give her life gladly to save.

She had her Willow. That was all she needed.

FINIS

To be continued in "Handfasting"

Then the conclusion, "Somewhere I Have Never Traveled Book 3; Dopplegangwar"

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