Coyote Alpha

Author: Greywizard1235 <grey.wizard[at]>

Rating: G for this chapter, maybe R later for violence and some language. I'm not sure yet, but definitely not much worse than the show.

Disclaimer: They all belong to Crack-Head Joss and ME. Deal with it. I have.

Category: B/X, W/X and D/X friendship.

Summery: An alternate S1 version of 'The Pack.'

Time Frame: Through Season One, episode 6, 'The Pack.'

Spoilers: None

Character Bashing: None.

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: If you want to archive this, just let me know where, please.

Author's Notes 1: As I was reading the first chapter of Tjin Ohiy Tur's story 'What Pack?', inspiration hit me (don't worry, it didn't do any damage). I don't get plot-bunnies, I get plot-Pit Bulls, and I felt compelled to start on this little distraction because it kept nipping at my heels until I stopped ignoring it. (The fact that my Muse (who usually looks like Jami Gertz in a green string bikini) was throwing small chunks of raw liver around my feet probably didn't help the situation any, either.) Anyway, thanks, Tjin, for the idea of what might have occurred if Dawn was also hanging around with the Scoobies when Xander got in touch with his 'inner animal.'

Author's Notes 2: Dawn is only two years younger than Buffy in this AU, which makes the school allowing her to accompany her older sister on her class trip much more believable than if there were a five year gap between them.

Author's Note 3: Many thanks to Bill Haden and Merlin for beta-ing this so quickly for me.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

As he and Dawn headed down the shaded tarmac path leading to 'The Dog House,' which was currently housing part of UC Sunnydale's "Creatures of the American Southwest" exhibition, Xander began wondering whether the younger Summers sister's statement that Buffy and Willow had suggested they go on ahead without them was a completely accurate account of the girls' conversation while he had been getting the four of them their sodas and munchies in the zoo's snack bar.

Maybe he was being overly suspicious, but it seemed just a bit out of character for his two best buds to ditch him and Dawn and arrange to meet them later, especially with the way Mrs. Summers had emphasized to both girls that she expected them to be pleasant and civil to each other while on the trip.

Looking ahead, he noticed Kyle and his three fellow juvenile delinquent wannabes, Rhonda, Tor and Heidi, moving to block their way.

"Oh, look. It's Xander Harris and his friend, the other Summers loser," he sneered loudly as the other three snickered at the approaching twosome.

"Oops!" Xander exclaimed, as he suddenly seemed to trip on the tarmac and lose his grip on one of the large sodas he was carrying. The cup flew through the air and impacted on the sneering blonde, soaking him completely and making his companions burst into laughter at the abrupt reversal of fortune that had just occurred.

"What are you, Harris, some kind of spastic or something?" the seething and soaked goon demanded angrily as he pawed ineffectually at his shirt

"Oh, gee, I'm so sorry, Kyle!" the taller brunet apologized insincerely, his mouth quirked in a wide grin as he surveyed the damage his 'clumsiness' had done. Seeing Dawn open her mouth, he quickly nudged her with his elbow for her to keep quiet.

"I'm just so clumsy sometimes, I can't believe it," he said as he and Dawn moved on past the sputtering would-be tough guy. "But look on the bright side, man," he pointed out. "The root beer goes so nicely with your shirt."

Kyle's companions continued to laugh as the pair continued on their way, leaving the loudmouth glaring after them.

"Careful, Kyle! With the way your luck's running today, Summers might beat you up!" Xander and Dawn could hear Rhoda warning her boyfriend as the two of them walked away, matching grins on their faces.

"Amazingly good timing for your clumsiness, Xander," Dawn observed, trying not to laugh as she glanced up at him.

"What can I say, Miss Summers?" he grinned back at her. "Sometimes, you just get lucky."

"So, just how lucky do you think you might get today, Xander?" the younger brunette asked in an all too innocent tone of voice, leaning in a little closer as she looked up at him with an ingenuous expression in her large blue eyes.

The founding Scooby Gang member choked on the mouthful of Coke he had been swallowing and almost tripped over his own feet upon hearing Dawn's question, and he managed to avoid answering for the next few seconds as he gasped for breath.

Fate seemed to be a bit ambivalent about her feelings for the tall brunet that day, as he was rescued from further attempts at responding by the interruption of another female voice.

"He'd better consider the answer to that question *very* carefully if he wants all his bits and pieces to remain intact, Dawn," a glaring Buffy announced as she and Willow joined the two brunettes by one of the benches outside the wildlife exhibition building.

"You can't go around threatening people all the time just 'cause you're the Slayer, Buffy," Dawn snapped, her expression at seeing the other two girls joining them not one of happiness.

"Oh, I wasn't threatening Xander," Buffy smiled in what the sole male figure present considered a quite definitely evil manner. "I wouldn't even consider touching him, let alone doing anything to him, Dawn.

"I'd just mention the conversation to Mom," she said, delivering her coup-de-grace with all the finesse of a surgeon using a scalpel.

As Dawn opened her mouth to say something that Xander figured would most probably incite a small to medium apocalypse, the male Scooby desperately searched the area for some means of escape, his eyes lighting up with relief as he saw the group of figures duck underneath the yellow barricade tape and enter the closed-off entrance of 'The Dog House'.

"Uhm, excuse me, but I think I better go extract Lance from his association with the fugitives from the ape house he just went in there with. This job doesn't require actual slaying, Buffy, so you can stay here and enjoy the weather," he babbled quickly before practically running off towards the door Kyle's group had used.

Staring after the retreating brunet, Buffy commented doubtfully, "Don't you think we should follow?"

"Kyle and those guys are jerks, but they're all talk. Mostly," Willow noted.

Reconsidering, Buffy said, "Why don't we..."

"Yeah, why don't we?" Willow immediately agreed, as Dawn snorted with disgust.

"Has all the hair dye seeped in and finally affected your brain or something, Buffy?" she asked scornfully.

"Xander helps you fight vampires and other demons every night, things that are four times as strong as he is, and you think he needs help dealing with those losers? What color is the sky in your little version of reality, Buffy?" she snarked as she followed the other two as they ducked under the tape and started in, only to be caught in the act by a zookeeper.

"Okay, hold it! Hold it! Are you people blind, or are you just illiterate? Because coyotes are very quick to prey on the weak!"

"Oh, w-we were just gonna take..." Buffy began, before the zookeeper interrupted.

"You're not going in there. Anyone that does is in a world of trouble."

"No, no one's going in there," Willow readily agreed, as she, Dawn and Buffy backed out of the entrance foyer.

"Why is it off-limits?" Dawn demanded, looking to keep the zookeeper occupied and distracted from entering before Xander and the others could sneak out.

"It's a quarantine. These coyotes just came in from the Rocky Mountains; they're part of a pack that was captured for preying on cattle, so keep out," he explained, as he cocked an eye at the three girls. "Even if you hear them call your name."

"What are you talking about?" Buffy asked.

"Native American legends say that coyotes are capable of understanding human speech. They follow humans around by day, learning their names. And then at night, when the campfire dies, they call out to a person. Once they separate him, the pack attacks and devours them. Just like that!" he snapped his fingers.


Inside 'The Dog House,' Xander saw that Kyle and the others had torn through more tape blocking the way in and were now pressing Lance against the bars separating the coyotes from the viewing public as he struggled against them.

"Ow! Stop it! It's not funny!" he heard the terrified youth half-scream, as the others pressed him further back, bending him over the top rail of the fence enclosing the coyotes.

"Why don't you pick on somebody your own species?" the angry-eyed brunet glared at the would-be tough guys, as he rushed in and pulled their arms away from Lance, letting the smaller teen scramble away, his frantic actions smearing the intricate design marked on the floor before the coyotes habitat.

"What? Are *you* gonna get in my face?" Kyle sneered at the interfering good Samaritan, confident with the knowledge that his companions were present to back him up.

The coyotes abruptly growled loudly as they watched the confrontation before them, attracting Xander, Kyle and the others' attention. Suddenly, the coyotes' eyes flashed emerald green, and all five teenagers staggered momentarily, shaking their heads as if in a daze.


The Bronze
Later that night

"I thought Xander would be here by now," Willow commented as she searched the club's shadowed areas looking for him.

"Hmm, that'd make him on time. We couldn't have that!" Buffy observed rather complacently as she carried her Coke and croissant over to one of the numerous small tables filling the area around the dance floor.

"Did he seem upset at all on the bus back from the zoo?"

"About what?" the blonde asked curiously.

"I dunno. He was quiet."

"I didn't notice anything," Buffy told her as they sat down. "But then again, I'm not as hyperaware of him as, oh, say, for example, you."


"Well, I'm not constantly monitoring his health, his moods, his blood pressure..." the Slayer suggested with a small grin.

"130 over 80!" Willow grinned back.

"You got it bad, girl!" Buffy commented.

"He makes my head go tingly. You know what I mean?"

"I dimly recall."

"But it hasn't happened to you lately?"

"Not of late."

"Not even for a dangerous and mysterious older man whose leather jacket you're wearing right now?"

"Goes with the shoes!" Buffy protested in mock annoyance.

"Come on! Angel pushes your buttons. You know he does," the redhead declared firmly.

"I suppose some girls might find him good looking..." the Slayer admitted. Seeing the look she got from Willow, Buffy sighed and added, "...if they have eyes.

"Alright, he's a honey, but... it's just... he's never around, and when he is, all he wants to do is talk about vampires, and... I, I just can't have a relationship..." she continued morosely.

Willow, seeing Xander, interrupted. "There he is!"



Willow frowned as her childhood friend moved smoothly through the club, clearly checking out a girl he passed on the way.

What upset the redhead even more was the way the girl stared after Xander, clearly checking him out.

"Girls!" he greeted his friends with a small smile as he moved to stand next to their table.

"Boy!" Buffy snarked back at him, feeling a bit off-center as he merely stood and stared at the two of them.

There had been something about the way her friend had been moving that made her look at him...differently. He had sorta... he moved, with a kind of grace and an ease of movement that he hadn't had, before... It was... interesting... Maybe Willow was right to enjoy the view...

"Sorry I'm late, I... just forgot that we were gonna be here," he said, his eyes flicking around the dark interior as though on a constant, unconscious watch for anything out of the ordinary.

"Xander, you still want me to help you with geometry tomorrow?" Willow asked, trying to break the uncomfortable silence that seemed to pervade the area around them. "We can work after class..."

"Yeah, sounds good to me, Wills," he agreed, his eyes never stopping in their circuit for more than an instant.

As he continued to scan the area, he leaned in slightly towards Buffy and sniffed her hair in an almost absentminded manner.

"Okay, now what?" Buffy demanded, obviously a bit wigged by her friend's behavior, not to mention the insinuation that she might be smelly.

"You took a bath."

"Yeah. I -I often do. I'm actually known for it," Buffy answered, her brow furrowed with concern at Xander's very non-typical behavior. Even considering it was the goofy brunet, he was acting strange.

"That's okay," he reassured her, as Willow and Buffy exchanged another 'look.'

"And the weird behavior award goes to..." Buffy announced, trying to regain control of a situation that was clearly headed towards Rod Serling-country.

"Oh, great. It's the winged monkeys," Buffy said, seeing Xander seem to bristle slightly and looking over her shoulder to see Kyle and the others come in and almost immediately head towards their table.

Xander merely stared at them as they approached, all four newcomers intent on the table, or possibly its occupants.

Kyle stopped at the table and glanced at both girls appraisingly before he and Xander locked eyes, while Tor, Rhonda and Heidi kept several feet back and watched.

Willow and Buffy exchanged another glance as the two males held their stares, but this look definitely held more concern, verging on worry, in it as they tried to figure out exactly what was going on.

The tension broke a moment later as Kyle finally looked away, and all of the strangely-acting teens all seemed to relax slightly.

"Mine. Now leave."

Xander's low-voiced statement was barely audible to Willow, but the steel she heard in it was unmistakable. She remembered the first time she heard it - it had been in second grade when some bullies were messing with her. That voice, she remembered, had stopped them cold. Kyle glanced over at the brunet one more time, before turning and leading his companions away to another table, where they began to hassle the current occupants.

"What was all that about?" Buffy demanded, recovering from the little shiver that had gone up and down her spine as she looked at the tall brunet whose gaze was now once again roaming the club.

"They decided that they didn't want the table after all," Xander told her enigmatically, and refused to expand on his comment as he sat between them, his back to the wall.


"Alright, it's raining, all regular gym classes have been postponed, so you know what that means," Coach Harrold announced jovially as he held up a large rubber ball, "dodgeball! Now, for those of you that may have forgotten, the rules are as follows: you dodge."

He tossed the ball in his hand to Buffy, as he blew his whistle, and the two groups moved back from center court. He tossed several more balls onto the court, then whistled again and the ball throwing commenced.

Xander was standing to the left side and a few feet forward of Willow, with Buffy reflexively mirroring his position on the redhead's other side, a position that had become second nature from the last two months of patrolling the Hellmouth at night.

Reaching out and catching a ball aimed at Willow, he whipped it back as quickly as it had come at the person who threw it, nailing his first victim, Heidi, and eliciting a yip of surprise and pain from her at the unexpectedly rapid return attack.

Kyle, Tor and Rhonda all immediately glanced over towards the brunette, who was staring at Xander with a combination of hurt and resentment as she slunk off the floor, and all three's eyes narrowed in anger. Each snatched a ball, either from the floor or from someone nearby holding one, and fired it towards the tall brunet who was staring back at them, an equally dark expression on his face.

Once again almost casually catching the ball hurtling towards him with one hand, Xander used it to bat the second one away and uttered a short, "Buff!" before swaying to the side, letting the third pass by him with inches to spare.

Buffy, meanwhile, had picked up on his cue and threw the ball she had caught at the pack members, easily hitting Tor as he, Rhonda and Kyle had focused their attention on Xander. Acting in concert, the two quickly eliminated Rhonda and Kyle by double-teaming against them, the first shot by one forcing the target to dodge into the path of the second's attack.

The coach was obviously enjoying the game from his position on the sidelines, letting out a small chuckle of delight each time a student was hit and clapping his hands at especially hard hits.

"God, this game is brutal. I love it!" he muttered to himself, a wide smile on his face. He even let out a loud laugh when Willow was hit and knocked to the floor while off-balance from dodging another ball, calling out, "Nice hit, Fleming!" to the student responsible.

Unfortunately for the corpulent phys-ed teacher, he completely missed the expression of fury Xander threw at him as he helped Willow climb back to her feet and watched her leave the floor, rubbing the large red mark on her arm where the ball had hit.

Grabbing two balls from the floor, Xander quickly moved several feet forward and to the side, taking up a precise position before nodding to Buffy, who was also eying Willow's assailant with a dire look that was making the boy think twice about his decision to take advantage of the redhead's inattention.

Rapidly firing both balls one after the other, Xander smiled as Fleming dodged out of the way of his first shot and was hit by Buffy's ball just above his right ankle, neatly taking him off his feet, just as he had intended with the distraction, while Xander's second shot seemingly went wild, hurtling wide of the boy's position and ricocheting off two of the gym's walls, before smashing into the side of Coach Harrold's head and knocking him off the bleacher and onto the gym floor.

"Oops, sorry about that, Coach," the tall brunet called, the barest hint of a smirk on his face as he watched the coach dazedly climb to his feet, an expression of dazed bewilderment on the teacher's face as he tried to figure out what had happened, "but like you said, this game is brutal. And accidents do happen."

Coming up beside him Buffy didn't even try to hide her smile at Xander's 'accidental' throw. She just admired the geometry of his shot and again reminded herself never to play pool with Xander for money.

"Come on, guys," he said as he walked off the floor, his arm curled protectively around Willow's shoulders as Buffy flanked the redhead on the opposite side, fussing over the already forming bruise on the hacker's arm. "Looks like all the fun's done now."

Chapter 2

Sunnydale High School
Later the same day

"Look out! It's gotten loose!"

Buffy was heading towards the library for one of her training sessions with Giles and nearly tripped over the small pink creature that had come rocketing around the corner straight into her legs at the same moment as the yell echoed through the hallways.

"Herbert! What are you doing out of your cage?" she asked as she grabbed the wildly squealing piglet and picked it up before it could escape.

Principle Flutie appeared a moment later, smiling in relief when he saw the pig in Buffy's arms.

"Ah, thank you, Miss Summers, you've saved me a great deal of time and effort that capturing this formidable creature would have required," he informed her.

"Glad to be of help, sir," the blonde smiled back, barely keeping a straight face at his description. "Can't have the school mascot running amok through the halls, now can we?"

"You're completely right about that," Flutie immediately agreed. "No telling what sort of panic might have ensued had he been permitted to run rampant through the corridors for much longer."

"You're exactly right about that. Panic is bad," Buffy nodded her head in agreement, almost losing it totally with that last comment, as she tried to hand off the pig to him.

Herbert, however, began squealing and scrambling frantically as the Slayer stretched out her arms towards Flutie, apparently in an hysterical attempt to gain his freedom. < Or maybe he just doesn't like his cologne, > Buffy reflected to herself. < I can definitely understand that. >

"Whoa! Settle down there, Herbert!" Flutie ordered as he dropped his arms and stepped back. "Miss Summers, if you don't mind, would you carry Herbert to his cage?" he asked, as he turned to head back down the corridor from which he and Herbert had first appeared.

"Sure, Mr. Flutie. No problem," Buffy told him, taking a slightly more secure grip on the struggling animal.

"Come on, Herbie, stop going 'bananas' on me," she said in a stage whisper, playing to the hallway audience. "If you're good, I'll paint a '53' on you for the next game." That got a round of applause from the student body and a look of despair from the principal.

As she turned the corner and began following the principal, though, Herbert's struggles intensified and his squeals rose in pitch as his eyes rolled wildly in terror.

Coincidentally, Kyle, Rhonda, Tor and Heidi were approaching the oddly mixed threesome from the opposite direction at just that moment, and all four gave the Slayer identical looks of resentment and hostility as they passed, their heads turning to keep her in view as they moved by, while Herbert squealed and thrashed frantically in Buffy's arms.

It was only after the foursome had turned the corner and vanished from view that the pig calmed down somewhat and ceased struggling sufficiently to allow Buffy to put him in his cage in the faculty lounge.


Xander was sitting cross-legged on a bench under one of the trees in the quad, simply relaxing and enjoying the afternoon sunshine, fighting off an urge to take a nap, when he saw Kyle, Rhonda, Tor and Heidi walking up the stairs from below the administrative offices.

Several passing students turned to stare at them as they walked by, obviously feeling that something was 'off' about them, but not quite sure what it was exactly. < Gotta love those Hellmouth-y vibes, > Xander thought to himself.

Seeing him under the tree, the four of them turned and headed over, to form a ragged semi-circle around him, as Kyle looked down at him, a look of disapproval on his face.

"You shouldn't be wasting your time with them," he said. "They don't belong, and they never will.

"Do you really think they'd want you around if they knew the truth?" he sneered, while the other three murmured their agreement with his statement.

"It's not your decision to make, Kyle," Xander told the blonde, looking up at him placidly, but with an undercurrent of casual power in his voice. "You aren't the Alpha. I am." A lopsided smirk graced his countenance, one that came nowhere near his eyes.

"Unless, of course, you think you can replace me?" he added, the note of challenge clear in his voice as he stared the other youth, his eyes taking on more than a hint of emerald green in their normally chocolate depths.

As they had the night before, the two locked gazes as the other three stood and watched, shifting from foot to foot and fidgeting uncertainly as the silent confrontation raged beside them.

And again, as had happened the night before, it was Kyle who broke away first, almost, but not quite, baring his throat to Xander in submission.

"We still don't think you should be wasting time with them," he half-whined, looking down at the ground as he spoke while Rhonda, Tor and Heidi kept silent.

"I heard you the first time you said that," Xander answered. "And it's still not your decision to make.

He was suddenly on his feet and facing the semi-belligerent youth, the shift so smooth, fluid and unexpected that Kyle and the others took an involuntary step back.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," Xander said as he grabbed his back-pack and moved off, leaving the others staring after him in a mixture of disgruntlement, discontent and resentment.

As he walked away, Xander noticed that Buffy and Willow were sitting and talking on the balcony above, apparently having seen the semi-confrontation that had just taken place.

Stopping just inside the archway below them, out of their sight, he paused and listened to their conversation.

"There's definitely something weird going on with him, Wills," the Slayer said, a note of concern in her voice.

"You mean weird-er than normal for the Hellmouth, Buffy?" the hacker asked, the faintest hint of amusement in her voce bringing a small grin to Xander's face as he eavesdropped.

"Yeah, that's exactly what I mean, Will," the Slayer immediately agreed. "Can you really say that you don't think that things are different with Xander, now?

"Like his behavior in gym class this morning," she pointed out. "A couple days ago, Xander would never have done that thing with the bank shot and hitting Coach Harrold with the ball. He might have been mad about the Coach's... enthusiasm, but he wouldn't have nailed him in the head with the ball. Would he?" she demanded.

"I've known Xander pretty much my whole life, Buffy," the redhead stated quietly, and Xander could clearly picture in his mind the small smile he knew was on her face as she spoke, "and he's always been kinda protective. Ever since we first met in kindergarten, he's always been there for me, my best friend and sort of like my guardian, too. If any of the other kids ever tried to pick on me, he'd just show up at my side and tell them to leave me alone and then, when they were gone, he'd make sure I was okay.

"I remember one time, back when we were in third grade, this bully, a fifth grader named Kenny Molicki, shoved me and knocked me down when we were arguing about cartoons and which superhero was the coolest," she recalled, a wistful smile on her face as memories of less complicated times came to the surface.

"I was trying to get back to my feet and not cry in front of him when, all of a sudden, Xander was there helping me up and making sure I was all right. And once he was sure I was okay, he turned around to face Kenny and said, 'You don't ever hit girls, you asshole,' right before he punched him in the nose and knocked him down," she recounted, shaking her head as the memory ran through her mind again.

"Kenny was about three inches taller and probably fifteen or twenty pounds heavier than Xander was," the hacker explained, and the tall brunet smiled with satisfaction as he, too, remembered the incident his lifelong friend was describing, "and Xander just stood there looking down at this kid who was so much bigger than him, lying there on the ground with a bloody nose, and he said, 'If you ever bother her again, I'll hurt you,' with this - look - in his eyes, Buffy. And then Kenny got up and walked away and he and his friends never bothered me or any of our friends again.

"I think Xander was just doing pretty much the same thing he's always done for me," Willow concluded. "He was being a little more... Xander-ish... about it than he usually does, that's all."

"Well, okay, I guess that's one way to look at it," Buffy conceded reluctantly. "But that still doesn't explain what's going on with him and the dode patrol.

"And something's *definitely* going on there," the Slayer insisted. "Something weird. Those four are giving me the wiggins. I guess I'm just concerned that Xander's gonna get pulled in and end up getting hurt or something," she offered as a possible explanation.

"So, what're you gonna do?" Xander heard Willow ask.

"Go talk to the expert on weird."


Giles was going about his work, replacing the returned books on the shelves, and Buffy was following him as they spoke.

The Slayer was obviously exasperated, and her hands were gesturing expressively as she protested her Watcher's apparent dismissal of her concerns.

"I cannot believe that you, of all people, are trying to Scully me, Giles," she declared. "There is definitely something supernatural going on here!

"Get your books! Look stuff up!" she suggested/ordered as she picked up some of the books lying on the nearest table and handed them to him

"Look up what and look under what, exactly?" he asked as he took the books and checked the shelves for their proper location

"I don't know," Buffy sighed. "That's your department."

"The evidence that you've presented me with is sketchy at best, Buffy," he pointed out reasonably, as he carefully placed several English history books back in their correct locations.

"Giles, the four of them terrified the pig. Well, they did," she insisted upon seeing the look he gave her.

"Buffy, adolescents, especially boys, can be cruel. They tease, they, they, they prey on the weak. Sometimes on their classmates, sometimes on animals. I-it's a natural teen behavior pattern," Giles argued. "It's not pleasant, I'll admit, but -"

"What did you just say?" Buffy interrupted.

"Um, it's not pleasant, I'll admit?" the librarian/Watcher repeated himself uncertainly.

"They prey on the weak. I've heard that somewhere before," Buffy said, her forehead furrowing as she tried to remember exactly where she had heard that phrase.

Her eyes lit up in triumph, then darkened with concern as the memory clicked in her mind.

"It was at the zoo! The zookeeper, he said it! That coyotes prey on the weak! And the four of them've been acting even more wiggy ever since the class trip to the zoo. Kyle and the others, they went into the Coyote House. And so did Xander!"

"Oh my god," she exclaimed, her eyes wide with alarm for her friend as a possible explanation for the brunet's uncharacteristic behavior occurred to her and she immediately jumped to a not-necessarily correct conclusion.

"You're saying that, uh, Xander's becoming a coyote?" the librarian asked, his disbelief in the blonde's statement clearly evident in his question.

"I don't know," Buffy immediately admitted. "Or maybe been possessed by one? Not just Xander - all of them," she clarified her suspicions to the still disbelieving Brit.

"Well, I-I-I've cer-certainly never heard of, uh..." he began, only to be interrupted by Dawn and Willow crashing through the library doors.

"Buffy! Did you hear what happened?" Willow asked anxiously.

"Herbert! They just found him," Dawn announced in an excited voice, as she slid to a stop by her sister. The younger Summers was clad in her phys ed shorts and shirt, a field hockey stick in her hand.

"The pig?" Buffy asked, uncertain of the significance of her sister's news.

"Uh-huh!" Willow nodded emphatically. "Dead! And also eaten!" the hacker added, with a grimace of distaste. "Principal Flutie's freaking out!"

"A natural teen behavior pattern, huh?" Buffy turned to her Watcher upon Willow's confirmation of yet another weird event in the school.

Nodding his head at Buffy's questioning look, Giles immediately turned and began hurrying away.

"What're you gonna do?" Willow asked as she saw Giles head towards his office.

"Get my books. Look stuff up," was the succinct reply she received.


Seeing the people he had been searching the school for languidly sprawled around one of the larger trees in the quad, Principle Flutie angrily marched up to Kyle and the others.

"You four!" he exclaimed, glaring at each of them in turn.

"What?" Kyle drawled, insolently staring up at the older man, while the others snickered.

"Oh, don't think I don't know," he said, the principle's anger obvious in both words and manner. "Three kids saw you outside Herbert's room. You're busted! Yeah! You're goin' down!"

"How is Herbert?" Rhonda grinned at her friends.

"Crunchy!" Heidi immediately answered, accompanied by the laughter of the other three, incensing Flutie even further.

"That's it! My office, right now!" he ordered, as they laughed even more. "Now!"

Tor, Rhonda and Heidi stopped laughing as Kyle got off of the table and indicated for the others to follow.

"You're gonna have so much detention, your grandchildren'll be staying after school," Flutie promised as he lead the four into the school.


"Of course, that's assuming 'possession' is the right word," Buffy concluded as she finished updating the two girls on their current hypothesis regarding the behavior of both Xander and Kyle and his followers.

"Oh, I'd say it is," Giles confirmed the blonde's statement. "Many primitive tribes, the Masai of the Serengeti and the Sioux of the Montanas, among them, have spoken of animal possession for, for generations. I... I should have remembered that."

"So how does it work?" Buffy asked.

"Well, apparently there exist rather extreme sects of animal worshipers known as Primals," Giles informed them as he left his office to rejoin them, several books in his hands. "They believe that humanity, uh, consciousness, and uh, the soul, is a, is a perversion, a dilution of spirit. Uh, to them the animal state is holy. They are able, through trans-possession, to, to, um, draw the spirit of certain animals into themselves, strengthening them and giving them the strengths and abilities of the animal chosen. As a matter of fact, it was rumored that Primals played some small part in the Sioux's victory over Custer at the Little Big Horn..." At this point, he noticed that he was getting off topic and hurried to get back to his original line of thought.

"However," he noted, "there is a possibly detrimental side effect to using this power. Those possessed by the animal spirits would act according to the animal's nature, so the shamans had to chose their animal and its host wisely or else risk doing harm to those closest to them. Normally, only the most predatory of animals are, are of interest to the Primals.

"Oh, dear," he murmured to himself as he scanned the contents of one of the books.

"That doesn't sound like good news," Willow commented from her usual seat at the table they typically used for research. "So, what happens to the person once the spirit's in them?"

"If it goes unchecked... If the host isn't strong enough..." Giles' voice trailed off as he held the book out towards the girls, open to a particular page. Buffy took one look, then quickly headed towards the doors.

"I gotta find Xander," was her only remark as she hurried out.

Willow and Dawn both blanched as they took a closer look at the illustration the book was open to, a two page drawing of people with limbs bitten off, heads missing and other massive injuries.


Inside the faculty room, Buffy found the mangled remains of Herbert's cage. Along with the remains of Herbert, too, she realized as she stepped on something that crunched under her foot.

"They are most definitely strong," Buffy noted quietly to herself, as she looked down to find parts of Herbert, some vertebrae and other bones. As she picked up a rib, she didn't notice Xander quietly come in and stand behind her. As Buffy took a step back from the rather grisly looking remains, she bumped into the tall brunet, making her reflexively jump forward as she was startled by his unsuspected presence.

"Xander," Buffy said, feeling her pulse race upon finally seeing the brunet for whom she had been searching.

"Buffy," he said, staring back at her impassively.

Remembering the picture Giles had shown her only a few minutes before, Buffy took the initiative and leaped forward at him, knocking the taller Scooby down and the two of landing on the floor, her smaller body atop his as she pinned his arms to his sides.

"Wow!" the brunet half-laughed in surprise, staring up into the hazel eyes of the petite blonde currently locked in a face-to-face embrace with him. " I gotta admit, I've often dreamed about you jumping my bones, Buff; but I usually pictured it as happening on a king-sized bed with silk sheets after dinner at a nice restaurant, not on the floor of the teacher's lounge after inspecting a dead pig's carcass.

"But," his face breaking out into a familiar grin, "if that works for you, I'm all for it."


"I have seen some sick things in my life! Believe me!" Flutie berated the four teens who were simply standing around him in a loose semi-circle in his office, their expressions ranging from mild antagonism to active hostility. "But this is beyond the pale! What is it with you people?"

The principle was completely oblivious to his circumstances as the pack started to whine and stalk him.

"Is it drugs? How could you? A poor defenseless pig? What are you doing?" he demanded, as he finally noticed the low-pitched growls and yips the four teens made as they slowly tightened the half-circle around him.

"Uhm, excuse me, Principle Flutie, but -" Willow broke off her apology as she stumbled to a halt at the office door upon seeing the presence of Kyle and the others inside. Behind her, Dawn could be seen peering over the redhead's shoulder.

"You!" Kyle snarled, literally, upon seeing the two girls. "You're the reason he's ignoring us! You aren't good enough to join the pack!"

"Uhm, we, uh, we can come back later," Willow stammered, paling as she saw the looks of naked hostility on the faces of all four of the possibly possessed students.

Protectively pushing Dawn behind her as she tried to appear nonchalant while backing out of the office, the redhead nodded her head affably as she agreed.

"Yeah, uh, you're probably right about that, and we're, uhm, pretty busy with, with classes and other after-school activities to be joining any other clubs or things, anyway," she babbled.

With a series of low-voiced growls, all four adolescents turned away from the beleaguered principal and headed towards the two Scoobies.


"Xander?" Buffy gasped in surprise as the first Scooby smiled up at her. "You're still you?" she asked, confused by the absence of any struggle on his part. "Why aren't you fighting me to get away?"

"Why would I want to do that, Buff?" he asked, mystified by her question. "Even though I have absolutely no idea why you decided to do this, I'm just fine with the way things are. Although I think some of the teachers might not really approve if they walk in and see us," he noted.

"But I can live with that," he beamed up at her, a playfully lecherous glint in his eyes and a huge smile on his face.

Buffy began blushing furiously as she realized that her skirt had ridden up a good deal because of her straddled position atop Xander, not to mention that her current seat had become a whole lot...bumpier...and that any onlooker coming upon them would most likely come to a completely reasonable, but wholly incorrect, conclusion regarding their prior activity.

Scrambling off her friend and back to her feet as quickly as she could, Buffy immediately began straightening her clothes, her face flaming a brilliant red with embarrassment.

"I, uhm, I mean, we, ah - Giles! Yes! *Giles* thought you might be possessed by, uh, by a coyote spirit," she spluttered, unable to look her friend in the face. "Because, you - uh, because Kyle and the others have been acting weird since, since the zoo trip, and, and, you were in the exhibit with them, and, uh, well, somebody ate Herbert the pig, and Giles, uh, I mean, we, we thought that you might have been possessed at the same time they were.

"Because you were there," Buffy continued, fumbling for words. "And not because you've been acting weird or anything," she added, feeling as though she could probably broil a roast with the heat coming off her face, as she tried not to look at Xander and see if the bumpier bit looked as big as it felt...

"So, you guys think I might have been possessed by the same kind of coyote spirit that you think Kyle and the others were possessed by, when we were all at the zoo?" Xander asked as he, too got to his feet, looking at his friend and unabashedly enjoying the embarrassed way she was acting.

"Uh...yeah," Buffy reluctantly admitted, nodding her head.

"Well, you were sorta half-right," Xander replied.

"WHAT?!!" Buffy yelled, her head snapping up and sparks almost literally shooting from her eyes upon hearing his admission. "You DID get possessed!?"

The Slayer's body language had immediately shifted from embarrassed/mortified to definitely pissed off/potentially lethal upon hearing the brunet's statement, and he quickly spoke up, wanting to avoid a confrontation with his friend.

"Not really possessed, Buff," he informed her, holding his hands up in an effort to placate the currently somewhat emotional blonde, "more like getting some really strong reinforcement for parts of your psyche. It's kind of hard to explain, and I'd rather not have to do this more than once, so I'd appreciate it if you can just wait till we can everyone together in the library, okay?" he asked.

"Giles can probably help explain some of -" he paused in the middle of his statement, a frown creasing his forehead before he began heading for the door.

"There's something wrong," he informed the Slayer as she moved to block his exit. "I can feel the others, and they're mad about something. I think they're gonna attack someone."

Buffy took only an instant to make her decision. Her Slayer instincts didn't mark him as an opponent, and her own admittedly somewhat confused feelings about him assured her that he wasn't hiding anything and that she could trust him unreservedly.

Something she still couldn't say about Angel, she realized in a flash of insight.

"Let's go!" she said, letting him slide by her to lead the way.

She only prayed they could get to Kyle and the others before they did something they'd end up regretting.

Chapter 3

Principle Flutie's Office
A moment later

"You two're the biggest part of the problem," Kyle literally snarled at Willow and Dawn as the four bestial-acting teenagers began stalking the two girls.

"He's more interested in hanging around you two and your loser friend, when he should be with us!" he shouted, stalking the two Scoobies as they retreated backwards away from Flutie's office and towards the door to the corridor.

"Well, I, uhm, can, uh, definitely see your point," Willow nervously agreed as she kept moving backwards, her right arm behind her to keep Dawn moving and headed towards the hallway. The redhead's attention was mostly focused on keeping herself as a barrier between Dawn and the four increasingly animalistic adolescents who were all now focused solely on the two girls before them, their previous prey, Principle Flutie, completely forgotten.

Kyle suddenly darted forward to grab hold of Willow's left arm and yank her around him and shove her towards the other three growling teens behind him, leaving Dawn unprotected, for himself.

"Leave me alone!" the redhead shrieked as Tor and Heidi grabbed hold of her, while Rhonda ignored her to move up and join Kyle, all of their faces masks of unrestrained rage. Realizing that talking or negotiation was futile, Willow desperately redoubled her efforts to free herself from her captors' grips while simultaneously worrying about a suddenly exposed Dawn.

Lunging forward into Tor unexpectedly, Willow managed to knock him off his feet while also breaking free of his hold on her arm. As Heidi reflexively yanked the hacker towards her and away from Tor, Willow let herself flow into the motion and drove her shoulder into the surprised brunette's chest, knocking her over, too, with her unexpected cooperation.


Seeing Kyle throwing Willow to the lions (in an almost literal sense of the word), Dawn feinted a strike towards Kyle's head with her field hockey stick, then immediately followed it up with a strong kick to the groin that dropped the blond to his knees, clutching at his injured organs.

Taking advantage of Rhonda's momentary lapse of attention at the girl glanced at her pack mate, the young brunette swung her stick at her opponent's head, catching her with a glancing blow to the temple that sent the girl staggering back a few steps.

"Run, Will!" she shouted as she grabbed hold of the redhead's shoulder and began dragging her out into the corridor with her.

Once they were out in the more spacious corridor, the two Scoobies took off at a dead run down the hallway, heading towards the relative safety of the library with the desperate hope that Buffy would have returned from her search for Xander. Behind them, they could hear the full throated growls and snarls of the raging pack members who were even now rushing into the hallway in outraged pursuit of their fleeing prey.

Dashing around the corner at full speed while trying not to lose their footing, the two girls were both praying for some sort of intervening miracle as they heard the echoing sound of their pursuers' footsteps rapidly gaining on them.

Dawn's optimistic belief that they would be able to gain the sanctuary of the library metaphorically crashed and burst into flames as she saw, out of the corner of her eye, the redhead slip and fall on the newly polished floor just as they were rounding the final corner and could see the double doors opening onto their refuge a bare dozen yards away.

Nearly tripping over her own feet on the slick surface as she slowed herself and spun around to rush back to her fallen friend, the Key ignored Willow's frenzied yell to keep on going to take up a protective stance next to the hacker as Willow frantically scrambled back to her feet, just as Kyle and his pack mates turned down the corridor.

Kyle barely managed to duck Dawn's practiced swing of her hockey stick, and the wooden club glanced off his shoulder instead of his head before he struck the weapon from Dawn's hand before backhanding the young brunette into the lockers.

Rhonda grabbed Willow as she attempted to go to Dawn's aid and bounced the redhead off the opposite wall of lockers, a vicious grin on her face as she looked down at the stunned girl.

"Once you're gone and we get rid of Summers, Xander won't have anyone else to go to but us," she sneered triumphantly she bent over to grab the frightened hacker.

"This is what you get for coming between us," Kyle snarled as he grabbed a fistful of Dawn's hair and roughly pulled her to her feet.

Moving forward from their position behind Kyle, Tor and Heidi closed in alongside the other two possessed teens, eager to join in the feeding, too, and thus were caught unaware when the world around them seemed to suddenly explode.

"Excuse me," Kyle heard a female voice say behind him as something flew over his head a fraction of a second before he saw Heidi crash onto the floor hallway floor some ten feet ahead of them and slide another ten before crashing to a stop against the far wall, "but if anyone ever does get to kill my sister, it's gonna be me!"

A fraction of a second later, he felt a small hand squeezing the wrist of the hand holding Dawn's hair and forcing him to release her, while a second hand grabbed hold of the back of his neck and slammed his face against the nearest locker.


Rhonda's only warning of danger was the sound of Tor crashing into the wall with a loud THUD! a fraction of a second before an overwhelming force knocked her off her feet, smashing her down to the floor to end up lying in a dazed sprawl next to the redhead she had been threatening only an instant before.

Snarling her rage at the interruption and twisting around to confront her attacker as the world spun around her, she gave a low gasp of mixed horror and fear as she finally managed to focus on the face scowling down at her, the narrowed jade-green eyes of their Alpha glaring and promising a world of pain and sorrow for the actions she and her fellow pack members had been attempting.

Wide-eyed with panic, she frantically began crab-crawling backwards, sliding on the floor away from her pack leader as quickly as she could manage, not giving any thought to her fellow pack members, intent only on escaping the area as rapidly as she could.

Bumping into some unseen obstacle to her retreat, the brunette looked back over her shoulder to find Heidi staring at their Alpha, too, an expression of mixed fear and trepidation matching the one on her own face.

Off to the side, she could see that the small blonde, Summers, had slammed Kyle's head against the nearest locker and then carelessly tossed him aside as she crouched to check on her sister, while Xander was also momentarily distracted as he did the same with Willow.

Taking advantage of the brief diversion of attention, Rhonda scrambled back to her feet and helped Kyle get back up, signaling Heidi to do the same for Tor, before they all then ran as quickly and quietly as they could manage, in any direction that would take them far away from their Alpha and his anger.


"Are you guys alright? They didn't hurt you, did they?" Buffy was frantically checking out Dawn and took a moment to quickly glance over at Willow as Xander was making sure that she, too, was uninjured.

The expression on the tall brunet's face was a mixture of worry, concern, anxiety and rage. A whole *lot* of rage. Buffy could practically feel it radiating off him like light from the sun.

"You okay, Wills?" he was asking as he carefully helped her to her feet, checking with more than a little concern the large bruise already forming on her head. "You feeling dizzy or anything?

"Uhm, uh, yeah, I'm okay, Xand," the hacker nodded her head hesitantly. "A little shaken up, that's all."

"You okay, Dawn?" Xander inquired worriedly as he stole a quick glance over at the young brunette being fussed over by Buffy.

"I'm fine...Buffy, quit already, okay?," the brunette was insisting, while secretly enjoying the realization that her sister was so concerned about her well-being.

Okay, so part of Buffy's worry was due to the fact that Mom would probably blame the older sibling for anything weird that happened to her, she acknowledged to herself, what with Buffy being the Slayer and everything. Still, it was nice to see her sibling worried about her for a change; it was usually the other way around, with her and Mom always wondering if Buffy was going to be coming home injured, or at all. Not that she'd ever admit that to her, mind you. Buffy had enough ego-boosting about being the Slayer already, it wouldn't do to have her know that her younger sister worried about her safety whenever she went on patrol.

And hearing the concerned note in Xander's voice as he asked about her well-being was quite nice, too, she admitted.

"I'm fine, Xand. Thanks for asking," she said, to reassure the male Scooby as she smiled to herself at the agitation evident in his voice.

< He really does care about me! > she exulted to herself. < He's finally seeing me as more than Buffy's little sister! >

Shaking off the moment of introspective triumph, Dawn turned to look over at Xander and her mind immediately went into "Hellmouth emergency" mode as she recognized the look on his face.

The last time she had seen an expression like that on his face was when Amy's mother had cast that spell on Buffy a couple weeks back, and Giles had told them that the only way to break the spell was to chop off the witch's head. Xander's face had taken on the same expression he was wearing now, and he had immediately started looking for an axe, while pretty much completely ignoring everyone else's suggestions as to how to handle the witch.

"Buffy, you take the guys back to Giles and make sure they're really all right," he was saying. "I've got to find Kyle and the others and stop them, before they can seriously hurt anyone. They're my responsibility."

"No, Xander," Buffy was shaking her head, her face revealing that she was more than a little wigged by his reaction, too. "You can't take on all four of them by yourself. We need to figure out what we have to do to take care of this

"You have to come with us," she said. "You told me you'd explain about the possession thing, and what happened with the coyotes, and Giles needs to hear about it, too."

"Yeah, Xand, you can't go running off by yourself," Willow chimed in. "We need to figure out what's going on and make a plan to take care of it."

"Yeah, Xand. Isn't that what you're always telling Buffy? Don't just run off, think things out first?" Dawn added, reminding him of his recurring advice to her sister.

His eyes were still alight with rage and anger, but Xander took a moment to close his eyes, take a deep breath and try to calm his turbulent emotions. When he opened them a moment later, the near-berserker rage that had been threatening to explode had been contained and the light of rationality shown from them once again.

"I really hate it when you guys make sense," he smiled at the three girls, albeit a very weak smile on his lips. "Okay, let's go see Mr. Watcher Man."


"Well, I'm not really sure exactly what caused it, but when I was telling Kyle and the others to leave Lance alone, suddenly the coyotes' eyes all lit up, glowing-like, and then suddenly, bang! I'm feeling like all super-charged up," Xander told his carefully listening audience.

"Sorta like I just drank two gallons of Jolt! cola and ate a couple pounds of hyper-caffeinated chocolate covered coffee beans, but even more so, if you know what I mean," he tried to come up with an appropriate analogy for the sensation of power that had unexpectedly permeated him upon his apparent possession by the coyote spirit.

"And all of a sudden, I'm seeing and hearing and smelling and even tasting everything around me like it's ten or twenty times more intense, and I'm feeling like I could just leap over the walls around the zoo," he told his audience.

"And I'm suddenly also feeling that I have to make sure that everything is okay with my pack, but the people I'm most concerned with aren't Kyle and Rhonda and Tor and Heidi, but you guys," he explained, with a gesture to indicate the three girls and Giles.

"I could feel right away that the others didn't like that, but it really didn't matter a whole lot to me, because I was the Alpha, and they follow me, I don't follow them. And we all of us knew this without anything being said in words, at all," he added, his voice sounding a bit puzzled at this sudden realization of a fact he hadn't consciously recognized earlier.

"I was going to tell you guys about what happened once I figured out for myself what was going on," he reassured his listeners. "I knew they were jealous of you guys, but I never thought that they'd ever consider attacking any of you. You know that, right, guys?" he asked, a worried expression on his face as he regarded his friends.

"We know that, Xand," Willow immediately smiled as she reached over and patted his leg reassuringly. "We all know you'd never do anything to hurt any of us," she said, with Buffy and Dawn both chiming in to voice their own matching sentiments.

"So, Giles," Buffy said, turning to address her Watcher. "Have you found a way to pull these spirits out of these idiots before someone gets seriously hurt, or worse?"

"Actually, Buffy, I believe I have come across a spell that would actually enable us to permanently bind a spirit to a possessed individual," Giles informed them as he tried to answer the Slayer's question. "It would essentially enable that person and the possessing spirit to merge, with little actual difference in the personality of the one possessed, since the spirit is primarily a collection of instincts and intuition which would serve primarily to augment and reinforce the intellect of the individual in question."

"Uh, Giles, that's pretty much exactly the kind of thing we *don't* need," Willow spoke up a little hesitantly.

"Yeah, Giles. Having Kyle and the others all superpower-y all the time is not of the good, especially considering how they've been acting lately," Buffy pointed out.

"But Xand having superpowers would be a good thing, wouldn't it?" Dawn broke in. "Then you'd have someone backing you up who's just as strong and fast as you are, right?"

"Yeah, Buff," Xander nodded. "The more big hitters we have, the better the odds are for you making retirement age."

"Well, that certainly sounds good, guys" Buffy agreed, "but we'd have to make sure that it's not gonna hurt you or be bad for you before we do something like that, Xand. Have you come across anything mentioning anything like that, Giles? Would making the spell permanent hurt him or cause problems?"

"I, uhm, I don't really know, Buffy. I-I'm afraid I still don't have all the pieces," Giles reluctantly admitted, looking a bit flustered as the four teens stared at him expectantly. "Um, the accounts of the Primals and their methods are a bit thin on the ground.

"There is some talk of a-a-a predatory act necessary for the initiation of the transferal spell," he noted as he picked up a book and began leafing through it, "but the exact ritual is, is, um... The Malleus Maleficarum deals in particulars of demonic possession, which... may apply..." he noted as he paged through the ancient-looking tome.

"What we need to do first is put the coyotes back in the coyotes," Willow noted practically as she, too, searched through yet another musty-looking volume.

"B-but until we know more, uh..." Giles hesitated as he pondered what they needed to do.

Dawn watched them all quietly, keeping an especially focused eye on Xander, who was currently restlessly pacing back and forth in one of the smaller recessed areas among the stacks.

"Betcha that zookeeper could tell us," Buffy ventured. "Maybe he didn't quarantine those coyotes just because they were new."


'The Dog House'
Sunnydale Zoo

"The students have been possessed by the coyotes?"

The same man, an Edward Gillian, who had chased the three girls from the Dog House earlier in the week was now looking at them, his forehead wrinkled in thought.

"Yes," Giles affirmed the Scoobies' earlier statement.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. We're really, really sure," Buffy nodded, watching the man and wondering about his reaction, or more precisely, his lack thereof, at their earlier explanation.

Xander, Willow and Dawn were currently standing quietly in the background, listening to everything that was being said.

"Y-you don't seem enormously surprised by this," Giles observed.

"The zoo carted those coyotes in from Wyoming. I thought there was something strange about them from day one," Gillian admitted, "so I did some homework... That particular breed is pretty rare. They're supposed to be very intelligent and highly respected, almost feared, by all of the tribes in the area. Historically, they were worshipped by these guys..."

"Primals," Giles interjected, his scholarly enthusiasm ignited by the man's comments.

"Yeah! Creepy guys!" the zookeeper remarked. "Now, they had rituals for taking the coyote spirits, but I-I don't see how that coulda happened to your kids."

"Uh... Well, we don't know exactly how the ritual works. We do know that it involves a, um, um... predatory act and some kind of symbol, but aside from that, we are uncertain as to the particulars of the ritual."

"Predatory act? Of course! That makes sense. Where did you read that?" Gillian inquired, the spark of intellectual interest in his eyes.

"Do you have Sherman Jeffries' work on, on cults and on..." Giles' response was cut short by a somewhat irritated question.

"Excuse me, guys? Trying to avert a minor catastrophe here," Buffy interrupted, shooting both of the men a low-level glare.

"Sorry," Giles mumbled, looking a bit sheepish at his momentary oversight.

"Look. I think we may have enough information so that together we could pull off a reverse trans-possession," Gillian suggested with a thoughtful look.

"What do we do?" Xander immediately demanded, speaking up for the first time.

"We've gotta get those possessed students over to the coyote cage as quick as possible. I'll meet you there, and then we can begin the rituals," the zookeeper proposed.

"W-well, we can guarantee getting one of them there, but there are four more, and we don't have any idea where they are," Buffy said, not looking at Xander as she spoke.

"No, I wouldn't worry about that. After coyotes feed and rest, they'll track the missing member of their pack until they find him. They should come right to you if you've got the missing pack member," Gillian advised them.

"They haven't fed for several hours," Xander stated, "and they were pretty upset and scared the last time we saw them. They probably hid out for a while, but now..." his voice trailed off ominously.

"We have to locate them. Now," Buffy stated, exchanging a worried look with the pack's Alpha. "Giles, can you get the books you were talking about? Will, can you stay here and help out with whatever preparations we'll need? That's okay with you, right?" she asked the zookeeper, who nodded his agreement as he began rooting through several boxes on a nearby shelf.

"What do you want me to do, Buffy?" Dawn inquired, a hopeful look in her eyes.

"You get home, Dawn," the petite blonde turned her attention to her sibling. "I don't want Mom worrying about anything happening to you while these guys are running around loose."

She ignored the outraged and rebellious glare Dawn threw her way and turned to Xander.

"Let's get moving."


A typical Sunnydale home.

A married couple carrying a young child exited the front door and made their way down the front walk.

"I didn't say she looks better than you. I said she looks better, that's all," the man was saying as he and the woman with whom he was walking headed towards the Jeep Cherokee sitting in the driveway.

"I heard what I heard," the woman snapped, her voice sounding quite definitely annoyed as she spoke to her companion.

Turning her attention to the little boy she was strapping into his car seat, she corrected him. "Joey, chew! You have to chew or you'll choke!"

"I don't see why we have to have this conversation every time we see them," the man said as he adjusted his own seat belt.

"I didn't start it," the woman snapped petulantly as she put on her seatbelt.

"Damn. Where are the keys?" the man said rhetorically, looking at the ignition.

"Joe-y! JOE-Y!"

Hearing their son's name being called from outside, the couple began to look around, and saw Kyle looking down from the Jeep's roof into Joey's window. The mother screamed as the two female members of the Pack climbed onto the hood and began slapping at the windshield.

"What going on?!" the man demanded as Tor popped up next to his window. "Hey! Get off! Get off of there!"

"Go away!" the boy said, staring at the man standing next to his window.

Kyle broke the window with his elbow, growling as he reached in for Joey. Joey's mother reached back, swatting at Kyle's arm as she tried to protect her child.

Buffy ran up and grabbed Rhonda and casually threw her off of the hood to the ground as Xander tossed Heidi onto the front lawn, then did a reverse crescent kick to knock Tor away from the driver's side of the car. Looking over to the other side of the car, she saw Xander pulling Kyle out of the broken window and casually throwing him onto the lawn to land next to a snarling Heidi.

"Still want to be the Alpha, Kyle?" Xander smiled down at other youth, a vicious teeth-baring smile on his face. "If you decide you want to do something about it, I'll be waiting at the Dog House," he told them, before turning and running off into the darkness.

"You lame-o's can't even keep up with me," Buffy laughed at the cowering, snarling quartet as they now turned their attention to her .

"How can you even dream of trying to take him away from all of us?" she taunted them, her hands on her hips.

"C'mon. You know what you want," she said, before turning and running down the street.

Looking uncertainly at each other for a moment, the pack sprang to their feet and gave chase.


'The Dog House'
Sunnydale Zoo

Giles ducked under the tape still sealing off the coyote exhibit and walked into the main area.

"Doctor Gillian? Zookeeper?" he called. "I have Willow watching for their arrival at the front gate. We expect they should be arriving almost any moment now."

Hearing a door close, the librarian turned and was startled by the zookeeper, who was dressed in buckskin clothing, carrying a staff and wearing ceremonial Amerindian face paint.

"Oh! Oh, of course, the, uh, Sioux ceremonial garb. Yes... Very good. Are you, uh, otherwise prepared for the trans-possession?" Giles observed, looking over the zookeeper

"Almost," Gillian nodded, staring at the Watcher with a blank expression on his face.

Noticing the markings on the floor in front of the coyote enclosure, Giles examined them interestedly.

"Oh, right! The, uh, sacred circle. Yes, you'd need that to, um... This would be here when... when the children first came. Why would you... " He exhaled a long sigh as realization set in. "How terribly frustrating for you, that a bunch of school children could accomplish what you could not."

"It bothered me," Gillian admitted. "But the power will be mine," he declared as he suddenly swung his staff up and struck the Englishman in the gut, then across the back of the head as he doubled over, knocking him out. Dropping the staff to one side, he dragged Giles away, into one of the various storage rooms.

A moment after he returned to the exhibit room, Willow came running in.

"They're almost here! Giles! Giles? Where are the coyotes for the trans-possession?" she asked, noticing Gillian in his ceremonial garb.

"They're right here in the feeding area," Gillian replied, indicating the area in the rear.

Willow started towards the fenced-off area to check the coyotes, but the zookeeper held out his arm and stopped her.

"Stay back! They haven't been fed."

"Where's Giles?" willow asked, looking around and not seeing the Englishman.

"He's... laying in wait."

"They're almost here. Shouldn't you bring the coyotes out?"

"When the time is right. I'm gonna need your help," he said, as he began binding her wrists.

The zookeeper positioned Willow in front of him, holding his knife up to her throat as he pulled her tightly to him.

"What's this?" willow questioned him, looking over her shoulder at him.

"A predatory act, remember?"

"Uh, right. You'll pretend to slash my throat and, and put the evil in the coyotes?" she asked a bit uncertainly.

"Something like that."

Xander and Buffy came running in as he finished speaking.

"They're right behind me!" Buffy warned as they burst through the doors and took up positions inside the inscribed circle chalked on the floor in front of the coyote enclosure.

"Buffy! Xander! It's a trap!" Willow yelled, realizing that things were not as they first appeared.

Xander and Buffy, their attention distracted by Willow's yells, were caught unaware as the four other possessed teens burst through the doors and jumped atop them.

"YU BA YA SA NA!" Gillian shouted.

The pack and Buffy all looked over at him, and the pack members' eyes all flashed green. As the zookeeper's eyes flashed green, also, he turned to Willow and growled, dropping the knife, grabbing her head and moving in to bite her.

From a closet behind the zookeeper, a dark-haired figure unexpectedly darted out and hit the zookeeper with a sliding tackle, knocking all three of them into the inscribed circle in which the six teens had been fighting.

As the skirmish ceased, Kyle, Tor, Rhonda and Heidi all looked around in bewilderment for a moment, before hurriedly scrambling to their feet and running outside as quickly as they could manage.

Behind them, both Xander and Buffy were struggling with the zookeeper, trying to pull him away from Willow, but were being beaten to a pulp by the multiple-spirit-enhanced sorcerer.

Dawn lay at their feet, just off to one side, half-stunned from her fall in her attempt to save Willow, and she could see that her friends and sister were being pummeled unmercifully by the zookeeper.

"YU BA YA SA NA!" she shouted, trying to recall the words she had heard him use earlier, in an attempt to disrupt the spell.

As had happened just an instant before, the green glow of the zookeeper's eyes flickered several times. Both Dawn's and Willow's eyes glowed for a moment, as did Buffy's, while Xander's eyes seemed to blaze with an inner fire even more brightly than they had previously.

"NO!" Gillian screamed aloud as he realized that he no longer possessed the stolen power.

Focusing his anger and frustration on Dawn, he lunged at her, and then tripped over her feet and tumbled over the fence into the pit as she rolled to the side to evade him. A moment later, a loud shriek died in mid-scream accompanied by the sound of numerous snarls and growls.

It was at just that moment that Giles came stumbling out of the back storage room.

"Uh, did I miss anything?" he asked, staring at the four teens who were turning away from looking down into the coyote enclosure, distraught expressions on their faces.

"Mr. Gillian really wasn't a very nice guy," Willow noted, as she raised her hands and casually snapped the rope binding them.

"Uh, Giles, you know that spell you mentioned earlier, the one that can bind a spirit to the person it possessed?" Xander said. "Is it very difficult to do?"

"Oh, bugger!" the Watcher muttered under his breath as he looked at the four teens, all of whose eyes seemed to be glowing faintly in the semi-darkness of the room.

Chapter 4

Sunnydale High School Library
The next morning

"We are *so* not telling my Mom about *any* of this stuff!" Buffy emphatically declared as she watched Giles, with Willow's help, pull out various very old-looking books from the locked cage in which they were stored.

"You don't think that your mother might notice something's a little *different* about her only two daughters now?" Xander asked a bit skeptically. "Like the fact that Dawn can bench press a pick-up truck, and that you're even stronger than that? Hmmm?"

"Are you telling your folks about your being all superpower-y now?" Buffy challenged the tall brunette.

"Buff, most to the time, if I'm lucky, my folks don't even recognize me, let alone know that I live there," Xander answered quietly. "If I told them about any of the stuff I'm involved in, they'd either commit me, or expect me to start charging money for doing it, so they wouldn't have to work, and they could stay home and drink all the time, instead of just most of the day, like they do now."

Xander's disclosure made the Slayer pause in surprise for a moment as her assumption that he had a normal home like she, Dawn and Willow did was suddenly blown out of the water. Finding out that little bit of news was extremely disturbing to her for some reason, and right away, the thought that Xander, and Willow, too, should move in with her and Dawn and her mother popped into her mind. That way, they could all be together, the way they should be, she decided, only half-consciously aware of her train of thought.

After the ritual the night before, they had all ended up back at the Summers house, all jumbled up and curled together on the couch, watching some mindless teen comedy she couldn't even remember the name of, now. They'd fallen asleep that way and had all slept quite comfortably, despite being all scrunched together, until awakened by her mother this morning. Mom hadn't said or done anything, aside from the rather odd look she had given them all, but Buffy could tell she had seemed just the slightest bit... concerned... about their somewhat atypical behavior.

Still, it had all felt so right, waking up with everyone together like that...

"Buffy, Mom already knows that there's something really strange going on with you," Dawn interjected, making the two Scoobies cease arguing for a moment. "I think she's worried that you're involved with drug dealers or something like that."

"Huh? What do you mean?" the Slayer immediately demanded, her previous train of thought sidetracked upon hearing that tidbit of information.

"What do you mean, what do I mean?" the brunette asked, a wry grimace on her face as her sister looked at her in surprise at that revelation. "You thought that after all your weird behavior and getting in all that trouble and then getting expelled from Hemery after the gym burned down and us moving here to Sunnydale, Mom'd just think that everything's peaches and cream again?" She gave a very unladylike snort.

"Boy, the bleach must really be affecting your brain!" she semi-sneered.

"As entrancing as this discussion regarding the particulars of your family life might be, ladies," Giles interrupted the incipient argument, "at present, we need to discuss in much greater detail the ramifications of last night's events and determine what, if anything, we need to do to avoid a repetition of the behavior exhibited by the other possessed students."

The Watcher's no-nonsense tone of voice out an immediate stop to the sisters' sniping and all four teens instantly focused their attention on him, waiting to hear whatever it was he intended to say.

"I want to reiterate once again, for the record, that I am extremely uncomfortable with the fact that I performed the binding ritual on all of you last night," he stated unequivocally, his concern for them all evident on his face, "and that I did so only because I was more apprehensive that, lacking any details regarding the particulars of Mr. Gillian's preparations for the trans-possession ceremony, any attempts to exorcise the spirits from you might cause you some more serious type of injury or damage.

"Having said that, however, I will venture that, based on our observation of Xander's behavior while possessed by the coyote spirit, and some additional research on the apparent nature of the spirits involved, I do not believe that there will be any significantly negative aspects to the merger of the spirits with your souls," he informed them.

"That's good to hear, big guy," Xander smiled with relief upon hearing Giles' statement. "Does that mean we can go out and party, now?"

"Uhm, excuse me, Giles, but exactly what kind of characteristics do you think we might expect to exhibit?" Willow asked, a mixture of curiosity, anticipation and trepidation in her voice as she expressed the questions she and Dawn had been discussing as the four of them had walked to school earlier.

"Well, based on the research I did last night, I must say that the coyote is a much more formidable creature than I had originally believed it to be," the librarian said, as he removed his glasses and his face took on a thoughtful expression.

"The species is extremely adaptable and has managed to successfully integrate itself into virtually every ecosystem to which it has been exposed, irregardless of climate or habitat," he noted, pensively, "and has also shown the capability to cooperate and work together as a group while hunting, to a degree not seen by most other predators.

"Based on the pack instinct which is typical of most canine behavior, I suppose I would expect to see strong indications of community and solidarity among the four of you as compared to normal adolescent behavior," he mused. "Possibly even to the extent of a display of aggression against those that might be perceived as being a potential threat to the group or pack."

"Like say...vampires..." Dawn mumbled to herself. But of course, all the teens heard her clearly and grinned at her.

"All of that would be in addition to the enhanced senses and enhanced physical characteristics which you all began displaying almost immediately last night," Giles continued, pulling himself back to the here-and-now to look quite intently at his four charges. "From the various fragmentary bits of information I've been able to piece together, there is nothing to be concerned about as regards any physical changes, since the spirits generally act to improve their host's health and physical well-being to the most optimum state possible.

"My most pressing concern at the moment, however, is with you, Buffy," he stated turning his gaze upon the Slayer.

"While I believe that the Slayer Spirit, being of a predatory nature itself, would most likely integrate itself quite well with the coyote spirit that seems to have selected you as its host, it remains only a hypothesis at the moment, and I need to know if you have observed any indications that there might be any problem with the sudden introduction of the coyote spirit.

"Have you noticed any problems or discrepancies with your normal well-being, any physical problems or difficulties arisen that might indicate a possible conflict between the two entities?" he asked.

"Nope. Hope I don't disappoint you, but I'm feeling just fine, Giles," Buffy teased him with a smile.

"Actually, I am delighted to hear that, Buffy," the Englishman responded with a smile of his own. "That means that you will be able to help initiate Dawn, Willow and Xander's training this afternoon without any problem whatsoever. I will expect to see you all here ten minutes after dismissal for your first lesson."

"Training? Them? What are you talking about, Giles?"

"Cool! Does this mean I'm gonna get to patrol by myself, or am I gonna get stuck having to go along with Buffy?"

"Training? Is that going to cut into my study time?"

"Great! Are you gonna train us the same way you do Buffy? Can we have our own swords and stuff? Are you gonna teach us the secret Slayer death touch Buffy said you taught her?"

The general confusion of voices died away after a moment and all heads were turned towards Xander as his final question seemed to hang in the air.

"What on earth are you talking about, Xander?" Giles asked, a look of complete bewilderment on his face as he addressed the other male Scooby.

"The secret Slayer death touch," the tall brunet replied. "You know, the one you taught Buffy a couple weeks ago," he reminded the older man.

An expression of complete bafflement on his face, Giles turned to look at his Slayer, who was now looking somewhat red-faced and appearing a bit uncomfortable as she avoided looking any of her companions in the eye.

"What on earth is he talking about, Buffy?" Giles asked his now actively fidgeting Slayer. "And what in the name of heaven is ' the secret Slayer death touch'?"

"Well, uh, you see, we were out patrolling one night a couple weeks ago," Buffy reluctantly began, once she could see that she wasn't going to be able to get away without some sort of explanation, "and it was right after we had been watching all of these cheesy kung-fu movies that afternoon, and Xander was going on and on about how cool all the ninjas were in the movie and he was being a real jerk and teasing me about how didn't I wish that Slayers had some sort of cool secret death grip or something like that, so I just sorta, well, I just - "

The Slayer's voice trailed off as her explanation faded away, only for Dawn to suddenly burst out laughing.

"So you told him you DID have a secret Slayer death touch?!" she said incredulously.

"And you believed her?" she continued, turning to look at Xander with an expression of wide-eyed disbelief. "Oh my god, that's just perfect!"

"You mean, there really isn't any secret Slayer death touch?" Willow asked, looking askance at her two best friends.

"Well, it's really all Xander's fault," Buffy began defensively, while Xander was looking at her with much the same expression he would be wearing had the Master come forward and asked him for a bottle of holy water to gargle with.

"You lied to me?" he said incredulously. "You lied about the secret Slayer death touch?"

"I can't believe you actually believed her when she told you that," Dawn grinned at his reaction. "I'll bet you believe her hair's that color naturally, too, don't you?" she added, earning her another glare from her sibling. "Hey, Xand, I've got this bridge in Brooklyn I've been trying to get rid of...Wanna buy it?"

Any further squabbling was cut off as the bell for class rang and the four students all headed out for their classes, much to Giles' unvoiced relief.

"And to think that the fate of the world might one day rest on this generation's shoulders," he murmured to himself.

"We're all doomed."


The Master's Lair
Later that night

A slight dark-haired boy was tossing stones into the relatively large pool of water that formed part of the boundary delineating the extent of the Master's mystical prison.

As he watched the ripple spreading outward from the point of impact, he reached over to take yet another stone from the Master's hand, then tossed it underhand to replicate the ripples one more time.

"Zachary didn't return from the hunt last night," the imprisoned vampire lord announced in a casual tone of voice, not turning his head as he addressed the blonde-haired vampiress who had silently entered the cavern.

"The Slayer," she answered the unspoken question.

"Zachary was strong, and he was careful," the Master observed. "And still the Slayer takes him... as she has taken so many of my family.

"It wears thin," he declared as he gave a small sigh. "Collin, what would you do about it?"

"I'd annihilate her," the demon-possessed child immediately said.

"Out of the mouths of babes..." his mentor noted, with a small smile.

"Let me do it, Master. Let me kill her for you," Darla requested.

"You have a personal interest in this. This insolent child is the focus of Angelus' attentions, not you," he stated with apparent disinterest. "This should be done quickly. But as painfully as possible in the time available."

"I don't get to have any fun," Darla pouted, the expression almost comical considering she was currently wearing her game face.

"I will send the Three," her master decided after a moment of contemplation.


The Bronze

"Ah, the fumigation party."

Buffy and Willow were seated at a table, watching Xander and Dawn dancing rather enthusiastically, if not completely rhythmically, out on the dance floor.

"Hmm?" Buffy asked, her wandering attention partially brought back to the present by the redhead's comment.

"It's an annual tradition," the young hacker informed her friend. "The traditional closing of the Bronze for a few days to nuke the cockroaches?"

"Oh. Okay," the Slayer nodded vaguely.

"It's a lot of fun... What's it like where *you* are?" Willow smiled at her friend.

"I'm... sorry, I was just... thinking about things..." Buffy apologized.

"So, we're talking about a guy?"

"Not exactly a guy," Buffy shook her head ruefully. "For us to have a conversation about a guy, there'd have to be a guy for us to have a conversation about. Is that a sentence?"

"Almost...You lack a guy," Willow sagely observed.

"I do," Buffy agreed. "Which is fine with me, most of the time, but..."

"What about Angel?"

"Angel? Oh, I can just see him in a relationship: 'Hi, honey, you're in grave danger. I'll see you next month.'"

"He's not around much, it's true," the redhead agreed.

"When he is around, though... it's like the lights dim everywhere else," Buffy sighed, her eyes glazing slightly as she thought about her mystery guy. "You know how it's like that with some guys?"

"Oh, yeah!" the redhead nodded as she looked across the dance floor at Xander, who was now accompanying Dawn back to their table, after stopping for a moment to trade barbs with Cordelia.

"Boy, that Cordelia is a regular breath of vile air. So, what are you vixens up to?" he asked as he courteously held Dawn's chair for her to sit down. He'd been doing a lot of that, lately, being courteous, helpful, concerned and attentive. At least to them. And the female contingent of the Scooby Gang liked it a lot; if this was part of the Primal Spirit upgrade he got, it was worth it all by itself.

"Just sitting here, watching our barren lives pass us by," Willow half-smiled up at him. "Oh, look, a cockroach," she noted, before stomping on it. She *really* liked her new reaction time, she decided.

Buffy remained slumped in her chair, her attention clearly not with the group at the table.

"Whoa, let's stop this crazy whirligig of fun! I'm getting dizzy!" Xander said dryly as he took his place at the table, his attention focused on the oblivious blonde, while Dawn shot her sister a look that would have flash-fried any vampire or demon unfortunate enough to cross her path.

"Alright, now I'm infecting those nearest and dear to me," Buffy announced, finally noticing that she was the center of attention of everyone present.

"I'm gonna call it a night," she said, getting up

"Oh, don't go!" Willow protested automatically.

"Uh, yeah! It's early! We could dance!" Xander chimed in.

"Oh, no, Buffy. Please stay," Dawn said in a flat, obviously insincere voice. Her sister's behavior lately had *really* been getting on her nerves, and she was getting quite tired of it.

"Rain check later, okay? Good night," Buffy waved her goodbyes as she hurried outside.


Once outside the Bronze, Buffy made her way down the tree-lined street looking distracted and disconsolate as she meandered her way through the darkened, dimly-lit streets. Her disconsolation, she realized, came from her currently dateless state. The distraction, however, seemed to increase in direct proportion to how far away she was from the rest of her Pack.

Things had been so different just a year ago, she reminisced; *she* had been the queen of the Hemery social hierarchy in L.A., the way Cordelia was here, and all the guys had clustered around her like moths to a flame. Then she had been Called, and everything changed, most of it not for the better. The past day or so, however, had been better than things had been for a while, she realized reflectively. She had been feeling like she was a part of something bigger than herself, bigger than anything she had ever been involved with, before now. And that felt nice.

Very nice, indeed.

Her Slayer sense told her that something non-human had been following her since shortly after she left the Bronze, and her newly enhanced hearing allowed her to catch the faintest sound of feet scuffing the street, so she paused to look behind her, but saw nothing. She paused briefly, to provide the so-very-mysterious-and-elusive Angel with an ideal opportunity to pop up and deliver some obscure and cryptic warning or observation, but nothing happened, aside from her standing there feeling a little bit ridiculous.

After a moment's wait and nothing happening, she resumed her journey home.

A few moments later, as she continued on, walking past an alley, she abruptly stopped and turned to face back the way she had come, still feeling the presence of *something* in the distance behind her.

"It's late, I'm tired, and I don't wanna play games. Show yourself," she stated clearly to the darkness.

A vampire wearing some kind of funky looking armor, like soldiers had worn back in the Middle Ages suddenly roared as he unexpectedly dropped down to the sidewalk behind her. She reached into her coat, pulled out a stake and quickly spun around to stake the vampire, only to be surprised again as another vampire grabbed her arm from behind, while yet a third slammed her in the back of the head, making her see stars, as he appeared on her other side before grabbing her free arm. She tried pulling free, but she was a bit too woozy from the blow to her head to succeed, even with her Primal-enhanced strength

"Ooo! Okay, okay, not nice..." she said, shaking her head to clear it, her heart beginning to beat more rapidly as she began to more fully appreciate the seriousness of her situation. Most vampires couldn't, and wouldn't work together as a team, but these three were all functioning like a well-oiled machine, which was make their threat quotient jump exponentially. The two vampires holding her arms began pulling her backwards into the alley and up against a fence, while the first one followed a bit more slowly.

"Okay, okay... Look, I really don't wanna fight all three of you... unless I have to," she said as she abruptly snap kicked the vamp in front of her in the crotch, elbowed the third, and tried to punch the second. He blocked her swing and drove his knee up into her gut, knocking her wind out of her and then slamming her back up against the fence again. The other two quickly recovered and grabbed her again, as the second one slowly approached her, grabbed her head and moved in to bite.

Angel suddenly appeared out of the darkness behind the vamp about to bite her, grabbed her would-be assailant by the hair and pulled him away from her.

"Good dogs don't *bite*!" he snarled as he punched the Slayer's would-be attacker.

Taking advantage of the distraction offered, Buffy used the support of the two vampires holding onto her arms to kick up with both feet, hitting them both in the face with a double kick and managing to pull herself free. Before she could get away, however, one of her assailants grabbed her and slammed her back against the fence yet again.

Angel continued fighting the other two, punching one and snap kicking the second. As he staggered backwards from the force of the kick, the second vamp yanked a piece of iron bar from the security grill of a nearby window and swung it at his opponent.

"Look out!" Buffy yelled, seeing the bar headed towards her potential boyfriend.

Angel spun to face his opponent, only to be struck in the chest with the bar, the jagged edge slicing through his shirt and opening up a shallow gash across his chest.

Buffy frantically drove an open palm into her assailant's chin, pushing him away from her, punched him once in the gut and then slammed both fists into his head. Angel was bent over in pain and about to be struck again as Buffy quickly side-kicked his attacker in the face, knocking him away from the injured man.


Back at the Bronze

Willow had finally gotten Xander out on the dance floor and was silently admiring how he now moved with a fluidity and grace that had smoothed out his previously spastic-style dancing to such an extent that Harmony and some of the Cordettes were now looking him over, in an appraising 'I think I'd like to take that for a test ride' kind of way.

< Don't push your luck, you brain-dead bimbo, > she thought to herself when she saw the blonde checking out her dance partner. < He belongs to us. We're pack and you're not. >

The redhead also noticed that she was drawing a number of equally admiring glances from the male contingent of the audience for the lithe and fluid way she was moving, and she let a small smile cross her face, confident in a manner that she would have believed completely impossible only the day before.

< Of course, > she thought to herself, liking the way her low-cut teal top and chocolate brown jeans clung snugly to her slim form, <It helps that I'm not wearing something from "Nerds 'R' Us" tonight. >

Buffy had responded quite enthusiastically when the redhead had asked her, somewhat hesitantly, earlier that afternoon, if she would help her go through her wardrobe and select a more...appropriate...outfit to wear when they hit the Bronze later that night. In fact, the Slayer had been telling her, with an almost religious fervor lighting up her eyes, about the opportunities for *real* shopping that were just waiting to be experienced, at the next chance they had to go to L.A.

As the two Scoobies moved off the dance floor at the end of the song, they noticed that Dawn had now evidently caught Percy's notice, as he was enthusiastically informing her of his inestimable importance to the various school teams in the upcoming seasons. Two of his teammates moved to block their path as he and Willow approached the alcove holding their table, unwilling to let them interrupt whatever line of drivel their friend was spouting to Dawn.

"Excuse me, you're in our way," Xander said politely when the two didn't move aside.

"Find another table, geeks. This one's in use," Mike Ducasy, a halfback and the wider of the two, sneered in his best intimidating manner, expecting the two nobodies to back off immediately.

Having been an athlete during the course of his entire scholastic career, the would-be hardcase had nothing but contempt for anyone not a member of at least one of the school's athletic teams, so he was more than a bit disconcerted when Xander Harris not only didn't cower away in fear, but actually smoothly slid forward, invading his own personal space, and almost literally growled at him, a feral smile gracing his face.

"Get out of my way, Ducasy," the unexpectedly *very* intimidating brunet told him in a low pitched voice that suddenly had him thinking of nasty things with big teeth and claws. *Very* big teeth and claws. Unconsciously cowed, he stepped back, allowing the two Scoobies by. "Or I'll move you out of it."

Glancing over at Vern Hiller, the other half of the pair set by Percy to ward the approach to the alcove, he found his teammate also stepping back, a mixture of doubt and uncertainty on his face as he stared at Willow Rosenberg, the geek brainiac that Harris usually hung around with. Shifting his focus over to the redhead in question, Mike discovered her gazing at the two of them with a smile that had an entirely too sharp edge to it. The almost predatory looks the two of them were giving both jocks was making some small atavistic corner of the halfback's mind curl up into a small ball, in the hope that he didn't look very appetizing.

"Thank you," the redhead grinned at the two jocks as she preceded Xander down the now-accessible aisle, the air of menace pervading the two Scoobies now gone as quickly as it had appeared.

"Hey, Perce," Xander nodded a minimal greeting to the school's first string quarterback as he pulled Willow's chair out for her to sit down. A quick glance over at Dawn noted her minimal headshake as the beautiful brunette glanced towards the two of them, assuring her older companions that she currently had everything under control, so the elder Scoobies merely sat down and began discussing a science project Willow had suggested they work on for the upcoming Science Fair.

A bit flustered at the pair's unexpected appearance, Percy paused momentarily before continuing on with his seemingly endless recitation of both the school's and his own athletic accomplishments, apparently not noticing the somewhat disinterested expression in the younger girl's eyes as she listened to his relentless droning.

The bored expression vanished a moment later as all three members of the Scooby Pack suddenly straightened up and then practically leaped to their feet, to begin heading towards the exit.

"Hey, I'm not finished yet," Percy said as he reached out to grab hold of Dawn's shoulder as she tried to slip past him.

The world seemed to momentarily whirl around him as he abruptly found himself slammed back against the club's wall, the delicate-appearing young brunette he had been trying to impress holding him effortlessly with one hand as his feet dangled several inches above the floor, a feat he realized he wouldn't have been able to accomplish, even with someone as small as the girl who now pinned him so effortlessly.

"I don't have time for your garbage, Percy," she told him before dropping him and hurrying after the two other Scoobies, who had moved through the surrounding crowd like wind through a forest.

As he pushed himself back to his feet, he became aware of a number of people staring at him, having witnessed at least part of whatever had just gone down.

"I was done talking to her, anyway," he scowled at the onlookers, before turning and heading off to the far side of the club.


The sudden sensation of fear and apprehension that unexpectedly surged through them had taken the other three members of the Pack by surprise, and they practically rocketed to their feet as they immediately headed in the direction of their absent Pack mate. Something had surprised Buffy and caused her to feel scared and fearful, and they were intent on, first, determining exactly what it was that had accomplished that, and second, eradicating it completely.

*No one* threatened one of their own in any way and got away with it.


Chapter 5

Buffy again ducked as the vamp swung the bar at her as though it were some type of sword, and kicked at her opponent's wrist, trying to knock the club out of his hand. Although she did connect, it was more of a grazing blow and failed to disarm him, allowing him to follow up her attack with another blunted slash, this time at hip level, making it much more difficult to avoid the attack.

Stepping forward and inside the attack, Buffy grabbed her foe's wrist with her left hand as she simultaneously drove her fist into his throat, feeling her enemy's Adam's apple shatter under the force of her attack. At the same moment, she snapped a short front kick into the vamp's right knee as he was distracted by the immediately previous attack, shattering it and dropping him to the pavement.

Twisting the steel bar out of her foe's now loosened grip, Buffy swung it overhand and brought it down across his back, the force of the blow driving him to the ground. As she started to turn towards the two remaining vamps, the Slayer caught a glimpse of something heading towards her face before the world seemed to explode and greyness filled her vision as she fell to the ground alongside her downed assailant.


Xander rounded the corner at full speed, having somehow managed to outdistance both of the girls, and saw what was obviously a vampire dressed in some kind of funky looking armored breastplate standing above both Buffy and another clearly incapacitated vamp, the sword in his hand swinging upward in preparation for a final strike against the Slayer. Some few yards off to one side, he could see the back of someone dressed in black leather that he guessed was Cryptic-Guy Angel fighting with a third vamp and apparently holding his own. That was something he'd have to ask him about later, once they got things straightened out, here, he noted to himself only half-consciously.

The sight of Buffy about to be attacked caused something within Xander to explode, and he crossed the intervening distance at his top speed, barreling in and driving his shoulder into the vamp's spine even as the sword began its downward descent. The unexpected impact caused the vamp to lose his grip on the sword as he fell, feeling as though he had just been hit by a speeding truck. The crack of several vertebrae breaking was clearly audible to Xander's enhanced ears in the fraction of a second before the two of them hit the asphalt, his victim's body absorbing most of the force of the impact of their hitting the ground.

In the meantime, he wasted no time and took full advantage of the element of surprise to grab hold of his target's head with both hands and *twist*, the power behind the effort more than adequate to literally rip the vamp's head from his shoulders. As the vamp's body turned to dust beneath him, Xander rose to his feet, to find Willow couched over Buffy, her after-school training in emergency first aid coming to the fore, while Dawn was busy staking the crippled vampire that Buffy had obviously taken down before succumbing to another's attack.

Looking over to the remaining vamp, Angel, or whoever the unknown stranger with his back to them might be, had managed to produce a make-shift stake from somewhere, most likely from some nearby broken packing crate, and after tearing off the bastard's breastplate, drove it into the vamp's heart, dusting the son of a bitch, and letting him off a lot easier than any of the pack members would, the Alpha noted.

He headed over towards the leather clad one, who was currently bent over, hands braced on his legs as though he were catching his breath after a hard run or workout. Whoever he was, the guy could fight, Xander admitted grudgingly, acknowledging to himself that the only reason he had been able to defeat his opponent as easily as he had was because he had not only the element of surprise, but greatly superior strength that had enabled him to decapitate the vampire with virtually no effort at all.

"Thanks for the assist, buddy," he said gratefully, as he reached out to put his hand on the guy's shoulder.

"Are you okay?" he began asking, noticing that the smell of blood coming from the guy was extremely strong, indicating the presence of a still freely-bleeding wound. As he began turning the guy to face him, he was shocked to discover Buffy's mysterious and cryptic, potential paramour Angel, but an Angel with the distorted features of a vampire.

"Vampire!" he yelled as he grabbed hold of the demon and easily picked him up, throwing him across the alleyway to slam against the nearest wall. "Give me a stake!" he yelled as he rushed over and grabbed hold of the monster again and pinned his unresisting foe against the wall.

"No, Xander!" he heard Buffy scream, even as Dawn was tossing him a broken piece of the packing crate Angel had used to dust his opponent a few moments earlier. "He saved me from the other three! Don't stake him! I need to talk to him!"

The earnest pleading tone of his blonde packmate was the only thing that stayed the brunet's hand, making him alter the trajectory of the stake as it drove towards the heart of the demon he had pinned against the wall so that the jagged splinter shattered on the brick face of the building.

"Why?" Buffy demanded as she got to her feet, waving off Willow's attempts to help her. "Why didn't you just attack me when you had the chance? Was it a joke? To make me feel for you and then..." Her voice trailed off for a moment, before she spoke again, her anger at the demon obvious to everyone present. Her three pack mates could feel her rage, hurt and confusion through the link they shared and they all glared at him in sympathetic emotion, Xander's hand reflexively tightening the grip he had on the vampire's throat.

"I've killed a lot of vampires," Buffy half-snarled as she stared at the person who had recently figured so prominently in her romantic fantasies, her injured feelings and anger lighting up her eyes like beacons. "I've never hated one before."

"Feels good, doesn't it?" Angel replied, looking over at her, trying to ignore the almost palpable anger focused at him from all four demon hunters surrounding him. "Feels simple. Makes it easier to do the things you're supposed to do, fight the things you're supposed to kill."

"Stop trying to confuse me. You could have hurt me any number of times, but you didn't. If we let you go, what will you do? Attack our families?" Buffy questioned the dark-haired demon, her bewildered jumble of emotions tugging her in several different directions simultaneously.

"Why not?" Angel shrugged. "I killed mine. I killed their friends... and their friends' children... For a hundred years I offered ugly death to everyone I met, and I did it with a song in my heart."

"So what changed?" Dawn interrupted his half-brag/half-confession.

"Fed on a girl about your sister's age, little one ... beautiful... dumb as a post...but a favorite among her clan," he answered as his eyes remained locked on Buffy.

"Her clan?" Buffy asked.

"Romany," the vampire explained. "Gypsies. The elders conjured the perfect punishment for me. They restored my soul."

"What, they were all out of boils and blinding torment?" Xander asked. He could feel his packmates calming down now, so his reflexive humor was making a reappearance.

"When you become a vampire, the demon takes your body, but it doesn't get your soul," Angel elaborated. "That's gone. No conscience, no remorse... It's an easy way to live. You have no idea what it's like to have done the things I've done... and then to care about them. I haven't fed on a living human being since that day."

"So, what have you been doing since you got your soul back? And when, exactly, was that?" Willow asked, her intellectual curiosity aroused by the apparent contradiction facing them.

< A vampire with a soul? One who actually cares about his former victims? Giles is definitely going to be wigging when he hears about this! > the hacker thought to herself.

Angel paused for a moment and looked over at the redhead before answering.

"It happened about eighty years ago. Afterwards, I skulked around Europe for years trying to find somewhere I could fit in, somewhere I could hide, before I decided to head across the ocean to America. There were a lot of people hunting me...wanting to kill me for things I did, back before..." his voice trailed off for a moment, as everyone present considered the probable basis for the vampire's pursuers' actions.

"So, after finally arriving in the land of the free and the home of the corndog, you decided you wanted to head out here to sunny California to work on your tan? Or were you hoping to be discovered by a talent agency looking for someone to model hair gel, maybe?" Xander asked, the edge in his voice blanking out any trace of humor the questions might have contained. From what he'd just heard, the vampire had spent a long time doing a whole lot of nothing, to his way of thinking.

"No," Angel shook his head in negation. "I stayed on the East Coast, mainly in New York for the first couple decades. I did visit Boston, Philadelphia and Washington a few times, though. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall were quite inspiring," he noted.

"Well, thanks for the tips about the historical tours," Xander said, sarcasm practically dripping off every word, "but you still haven't told us how you ended up here, at sunny California's demonic equivalent of Disneyland."

"I started moving around the country, trying to find something that might help me deal with the guilt," the vampire explained. "I spoke with any of the native shamans that I could find and who would speak to me, and none of them could help me at all.

"One of them though, told me that someday in the future, a chance would be offered to me, that I'd be given an opportunity to redeem myself and atone for all the evil things that I'd done before getting my soul back," Angel continued, a note of hope seeming to color his words.

"He said that the Trickster's children would find me after the Vessel was returned to the Mother, before the Bound One could escape his prison, and that if I chose properly, when the stars were right, I would lead them down through the depths to him, so that the Golden Daughter could fulfill her destiny, and I could then find mine," the souled vampire told them.

"Sounds like a nice little fairy tale you spun there, Overbite," Xander scoffed, his grip on the demon's neck not loosening in the slightest. "But that still doesn't give me a reason not to stake your demon ass here and now."

"Wait a minute, Xand! I've got some questions for him," Dawn broke in before the tall brunet could say or do anything further.

Turning her attention to her packmate's prisoner, the doe-eyed brunette gave him an narrow-eyed look as she posed her question, while Buffy and Willow watched with interest, their own curiosity piqued by the focused interest all of the pack could feel emanating from the youngest member of their group.

"Tell me again what the shaman told you," Dawn demanded, the entirety of her attention centered on Angel. "The exact words he used, if you can remember them," she clarified her statement.

"Dawn? What's going on?" Buffy asked, puzzled at the younger girl's actions, only to have her sibling motion for her to be quiet, without even a glance towards her.

"Okay," the souled demon-animated corpse agreed, an expression of complete bafflement on his face at the young brunette's request. Pausing for a moment to recall the words the long-ago shaman had spoken to him, Angle began speaking.

"'You will wander until our children's children's children walk the Mother's world, blood drinker,' Angel quoted the long-dead village elder. " 'Know that you shall one day find the one chosen to protect her people from those that would feed on them living above the cave that holds the Gateway to the demon world, and it shall be then you will be given your choice, to continue on as you are now, or offer yourself up to the service of her and the Trickster's other adopted children. The Vessel shall fall, and soon after, when the stars permit, the Bound One shall seek to break the bars that hold him in the prison Coyote forged for him. Then the Trickster's Golden Daughter shall face her destiny, as you shall face yours. Atonement and death shall be yours if you choose correctly, and the choice will be yours and yours alone.

"'That is all I can say, blood drinker, for that is all the spirits have shown me. Go now, and know that we will never see each other again in this world,' " the vampire finished his story, then added, "So I left, as he told me to do, and never did see him again. I found out later that he died in his sleep that night, shortly after I left."

"Okay, Dawn, what's going on?" Buffy demanded again, after the vampire had finished his recitation. "What was so important about some witch doctor telling him that he was going to meet some spirit's kids a long time to come in the future?"

"Guys, we can't kill him," the younger Summers daughter stated firmly.

"Uh, Dawn," Xander spoke up while not loosening his grip on Angel's throat in the slightest, "in case you weren't paying attention, he's a vampire, she's a vampire slayer and we're her support team," he indicated Angel, Buffy and themselves, respectively. "We're supposed to be enemies and try to kill each other, not sit around and critique each other's fashion sense."

"I think he's supposed to be here, guys," Dawn informed her packmates. "Like in a 'destined to be here by supernatural Powers' kind of way. I was looking through some of Giles' books this afternoon before we started training, trying to find some more information about Primals and spirit possession, and one of the books I was reading described some Native American religious beliefs.

"One of the most powerful spirits pretty much all the various tribes believed in, the one they say created and watches over the human race was named Coyote, because his favorite form to change into was a coyote, for when he wanted to wander around the world in disguise and not have anyone recognize him. From what the book said, it sounds like he had a sense of humor a whole lot like Xand's, here," she informed her packmates, "and one of his nicknames was 'The Trickster'."

"Now, after hearing that and listening to the story Angel just told us, does anyone here really think that everything that's happened to us over the past couple days is just a coincidence?"


Angel watched impassively from inside the book cage as the Scoobies poured through the various texts at hand, attempting to either verify or discredit the vampire's story.

"Well, I was unable to locate any mention about Angel in any of the texts I've checked, but while I was searching, it suddenly occurred to me that it's been ages since I've read the diaries of any of the Watchers before me," Giles announced as he returned to the main reading area of the Library from his office, an ancient looking journal in his hand. "Consequently, I went back and checked for any references that might have been made by the Watchers or Slayers of the time,"

"There is a mention, as it happens, some two hundred years ago in Ireland of, of an Angelus, the one with the angelic face," the Englishman informed them as he held up a worn-looking leather-bound book, its bindings tattered with age and use.

"They got that right," Buffy muttered under her breath as she threw a venomous look towards the book cage and its inhabitant. She seemed to relax the slightest bit as Xander moved behind her and rubbed her shoulder to offer a little comfort.

"So, Angel's been around for a while, huh?" Willow remarked.

"Not all that long for a master vampire. Uh, two hundred and forty years or so," Giles noted.

"Huh! Two hundred and forty? Well, Buffy said he was an older guy," Dawn commented, drawing and ignoring a low level glare from her sister for her remark.

Giles sat at the table they typically used for research and leafed through the journal as he summarized the book's contents.

"Angelus leaves Ireland with his sire, uh, a female vampire named Darla, and uhm, wreaks havoc in, in Europe for, uh, several decades, and then, um, about eighty years ago, the most curious thing happens," the Watcher noted. "He, he comes to, uh, to America, um, shuns other vampires, and, and lives alone. There's, there's no, no record of him hunting here."

"So he *is* a good vampire!" Willow declared. Seeing the looks that remark received, she quickly tried to amend her words. "I mean, on a scale of one to ten, ten being someone who's killing and maiming every night, and one being someone who's... not."

"Actually, Willow, I said only that there's no record of any of his activities," Giles corrected the redhead, "but, uh, vampires hunt and kill. It's, it's what they do."

"Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly," Xander said, his face blank.

"He could've fed on me. He didn't," Buffy pointed out, her conflicting emotions blazing fiercely in the pack's empathic link, as she tried to reconcile the duality of her nascent feelings for and about the vampire

"Question," Xander spoke up, in an apparent response to Buffy's comment. "A hundred years or so before he came to our shores, what was he like then?"

"Uh, like all vampires," Giles admitted. "Uh, a vicious, violent animal."

"Hey, guys, I think you're ignoring what might be some important considerations, here," Dawn spoke up from her position of to one side of the table, a location she had chosen because it allowed her to keep tabs on both the main entrance to the library and the windows opening up onto the side lawn of the school. Actually, now that she thought about it, all four of them had taken complementary positions that let them keep all of the possible entrances to the library covered.

"And what might those considerations be, Dawn?" Giles asked, turning to face his Slayer's younger sibling.

The other pack members quieted down and all turned to look at her, patiently waiting for her viewpoint on all of the events that had occurred over the course of the past few days.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, the young brunette began itemizing the points she had been contemplating for the past hour.

"Well, first off, I think I should point out that there's no way Angel could have known what, if any, of your books I was looking at this afternoon, Giles," Dawn noted, "let alone what chapters of them I might have been reading, so I don't think it's possible for him to have made up that story about the prophecy that shaman gave him."

"A valid point," the librarian conceded the legitimacy of her observation with a nod of his head while Dawn could feel her packmates reluctantly agreeing, also. She could also feel a sense of pride coming from them (even Buffy, she noted) at her mental acumen.

"And then there's the fact that the zookeeper just happened to have finished inscribing all the symbols necessary for the ritual to work on the floor in front of the coyote exhibit on the very same day that the four of us visit the zoo on our annual school trip," the beautiful brunette pointed out as she continued listing the various aspects of their situation that disturbed her.

"Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder why he had done that at a time when pretty much anyone in the world could have walked into the exhibit and trigger the ritual when he wasn't there? Cause that's exactly what Tor and the others did. Wouldn't it have been a lot smarter for him to have waited to finish drawing the symbols until the zoo was closed for the night and he knew that there wasn't any chance of him being disturbed? And why didn't he at least lock the doors to the exhibit to keep people out if he was going to do the ritual during the day?"

"The guy was a moron, Dawn," Xander stated simply, acting more as the devil's advocate than in disagreement. "It's that simple. Even smart people can do really stupid things, sometimes," he declared.

"Yeah, that's true, Xand," she replied. "But when you add in the descriptions of the people Angel's supposed to meet in the future, I think saying that it's all just coincidence is ignoring a bunch of things that're right in front of your eyes. Think about it: 'the Trickster's adopted children'... 'the one chosen to protect her people, living above the cave that holds the Gateway to the demon world'... 'the Trickster's Golden Daughter.' Doesn't all that sound like descriptions of us, the way we are now, and of Buffy, before and after she merged with the spirit? And 'the cave that holds the Gateway to the demon world' sure sounds like a fairly good description of the Hellmouth to me.

"Look, Xand, I understand why you hate vampires, and I agree with you completely on general principles," Dawn continued, knowing how Xander and Willow felt after what had happened to Jesse. Buffy, Willow and Giles all listened with focused attention as Dawn made point after point, while Xander just stared impassively. Angel, too, was watching the discussion with a great deal of interest. It was his ultimate fate that was being discussed, after all.

"But, this isn't your typical, run-of-the-mill vampire situation we're talking about," Dawn reminded her Alpha. "Did you even notice that Angel really doesn't feel anything like the other vamps we fought tonight?" she asked, her question eliciting a look of surprise from her packmates and Giles.

"What was that, Dawn?" the Watcher asked the youngest pack member. "What do you mean, Angel doesn't feel like the other vamps you encountered?"

"Just a minute, Giles," the brunette replied. "Let the guys finish checking things out first, okay?"

Looking over at the other three pack members, Giles found them all now staring intently in the direction of the book cage and, more specifically, at the vampire currently imprisoned within it.

"Damn," he could hear Xander mutter under his breath as he gazed at the vampire, the hardness in the tall brunet's eyes diminishing the slightest bit as he studied the imprisoned demon. "She's right."

Off to the side, he could hear both Buffy and Willow murmuring similar comments as they, too, scrutinized the vamp.

"How is it that Angel differs from other vampires, Buffy?" Giles asked his Slayer as he turned his attention to the Chosen One.

"Well, he's, uhm, not a regular vamp," the blonde replied, not looking away from the subject of her examination as she spoke.

"And you never noticed this before?" he questioned her, curious as to the reason she had never remarked on this type of vampiric characteristic previously.

"Well, I'm kinda seeing things differently, now, Giles," she explained as she turned to address her Watcher. "It's different from the way I see things as the Slayer. With the primal spirit being merged with me now, I can sorta see how things are connected.

"With the world, I mean," she elaborated, as she tried to clarify her meaning. "I can see, we all can see the life energy of everything, and it's all connected together. Except for vampires, that is. They're like these big blobs of darkness taking up space, 'cause they're not really connected to anything."

"Yeah, Giles, vampires are like black holes when you're comparing them to the life energy around them," Willow chimed in now. "They're the complete opposite of the life energy that's all around us. They can't blend in, because they don't have any life energy. Even demons have life energy. It's a kind of really freaky life energy, but it's there.

"And this whole analogy about seeing life energy and vampires' lack of it isn't really correct, because we're not really seeing that stuff, we're sensing it, but we don't have any other comparisons that would make sense to you, so we're trying to use comparisons like that, even though they're not valid, and I think I'm starting to babble, so I'm just gonna shut up now," she added as she realized she was beginning one of her famed 'Willow-babbles.'

"And how is that Angel differs from the typical vampire, then?" Giles asked, fascinated at the revelations these children were providing him.

"He's not a black hole like other vampires are," Xander stated, surprising the Englishman with his impartial evaluation. "He's more kinda light to medium grayish. It's like he's got some part of him that's got life energy in it, that offsets the darkness of the demon. He said he's got a soul, and that might be what's making things different about him," he suggested.

"But he's definitely not like any of the other vampires that attacked Buffy earlier tonight," the pack's Alpha admitted. "They were all black, blotches on the area around them."

"And you all can, can, uhm, see this darkness that you think might be the blood-demon inside a vampire?" the Scoobies' mentor asked.

"Yeah, Giles," Xander acknowledged. "It seems to be another perk the whole spirit merger thing's given us. Looks like it could be something that comes in real handy for identifying vamps, especially in public places," he noted parenthetically.

"And it looks like Dawnie might be right about Angel, after all. He's not your regular, run-of-the-mill vamp, that's for damn sure," he reluctantly conceded as he continued staring at the vampire.

"But that doesn't mean I have to like you or this situation," he stated as he walked over and unlocked the book cage door. "There is one thing I am completely sure of, though; at the end of the day, you're still a vampire. You make one wrong step, Deadboy, and I'll make sure it's your last," he warned Angel, staring the vampire straight in the eye and letting his own glow slightly to ensure there wouldn't be any misunderstanding between them whatsoever.

"I understand completely," the ensouled vampire assured his erstwhile enemy, returning his gaze without flinching. "I'd feel exactly the same way in your place."

On that note, Angel turned and made his way out of the library as the Scooby Pack silently watched.

The silence continued for an additional moment before Buffy shook her head slightly, as though to clear it, and then stood up.

"Okay, I think we should be getting home now, before Mom starts freaking out about how late it is and sends out a search party to find us," she said, looking over at Dawn, who gave a small grimace and nodded her agreement at her sister's suggestion.

"Will, your parents are still away on that promotional tour, right?" she asked.

Seeing the nod the redhead gave her, the Slayer continued issuing directions. "All right, then, you're staying at our place, tonight and every night until they get back.

"You're staying with us, too, Xand," she added, drawing a slight look of surprise from the tall brunet at her statement.

"I don't think any of us want to even think about you staying at your parents' place, right, guys?" she said in response to his unasked question, looking to Dawn and Willow for support.

"Uh-huh," Willow shook her head in agreement with Buffy's comment, while Dawn chimed in with a "Damn straight!" that drew a disapproving look from both Buffy and Giles.

"What's the matter, Xand, you don't want to spend the night with three beautiful women at the Summers' house?" Dawn teased him with a wide smile, before immediately adding, "And Buffy'll be there, too, so you can keep her company."

Giles would comment later that the look his Slayer threw her sibling had scorched the top three layers of varnish from the polished surface of the table they used for research, although he made sure that Buffy wasn't within earshot when he did so.


Part 6

Sunnydale High School Library
Two days after the fight with the Three

"Hey! When'd you get the new toys, Giles?" Buffy asked as she checked out the weapons cabinet Giles had had installed shortly before the school year had begun.

"Crossbow! Cool!" she identified the weapon with a big smile as she lifted it out of its storage compartment and reflexively swung it into position against her shoulder.

Since her last class, Chemistry, had been cancelled after one of the students in an earlier class had somehow managed to whip up some truly odious-smelling brew that rivaled eau de skunk in its foulness, and the janitorial staff were still trying to get rid of the stench three hours later, she was killing time in the library waiting for her fellow Pack members to finish up their classes and show up for training.

The fact that Xander had been the one to suggest making use of Angel's skills to improve all of their chances of surviving Sunnydale's somewhat unusual nightlife had come as a major shock, to her at least. Recalling his comments ("I may not like Deadboy, but I'll be the first to admit, he's one hell of a better fighter than anyone else here, except you, Buff. If it'll help keep you guys safe, I can live with him hanging around.") and considering the depths of his antipathy and anger towards all vampires, including Angel, that the three other members of the Pack could feel still radiating from him, Buffy again wondered exactly how far Xander would be wiling to go to ensure the safety of those he cared for.

The tall brunet had pretty much astonished everyone involved with the Scooby Pack when he had suggested, the day before, that they ask Angel if he would be willing to teach them whatever he could as far as fighting skills went. Since Buffy was currently the only member of the Pack who could actually be considered to have any fighting expertise whatsoever, the Pack was in serious need of training in all aspects of fighting, and Giles was more than willing to admit the souled vampire's superiority in regards to hand-to-hand combat skills. After due consideration among themselves and a quick consultation with Angel, they had arranged for the souled vampire to begin instruction for the other three Pack members to begin immediately, everyone agreeing that the Watcher's expertise in the use of edged and ranged weapons complimented the vampire's empty-handed martial skills quite well as far as the Pack's instruction was concerned.

Unfortunately, however, the tall brunet wouldn't be attending their first lesson after school that afternoon, having received an after-school detention for disrupting class.

Truth be told, a more accurate description of his actions would be to say that he had received detention for slamming Darryl Swenson, one of the football team's first-string fullbacks, up against the wall in the boy's locker room and letting the much larger youth's feet dangle above the floor during this morning's Phys Ed class. It had allegedly taken the combined efforts of several members of the football team to get the Pack's Alpha to finally release his grip from around the now-not-nearly-so-arrogant fullback's throat, and it was primarily the coach's unwillingness to expose Swenson to equivalent discipline for being involved in a fight that had resulted in the lesser disciplinary charge.

The Slayer's later attempts to find out from Xander exactly what had triggered the incident had been met with, first, a stony silence and then polite but insistent refusals to discuss the incident ("Just call it personal reasons, okay, Buff?"), leaving her and the other Pack members puzzled and concerned about their Alpha's seemingly out-of-control behavior.

"What've you got there, Buffy?" Willow's question caused the Slayer to turn around, glad to be distracted from her thoughts, and she beamed at her friend as she held the polished wood and metal modern-day version of the Renaissance weapon out for inspection.

"Look at this baby, Will! Giles got a new toy and didn't want to share with us," she complained, throwing in a minor pout that had almost always helped her get her way, at least back when she was at Hemery. It wouldn't do to let herself get rusty, and practice helped keep the old skills sharp. "Huh! Check out these babies," she added as she noticed the bolts in the lower drawer and pulled one out to examine it more carefully. "Goodbye stakes, hello flying fatality! Is there something around I can shoot?" she asked hopefully, eagerly checking around the library for a potential target.

"Wow!" the redhead exclaimed enthusiastically upon seeing the crossbow. "A Barnett RC-150! When'd you get this, Giles?" she asked the librarian as he emerged from his office.

"Uh, exactly how did you, uhm, recognize what this particular model of crossbow is, Willow?" Giles inquired, looking at the redhead with an expression, for him, of extreme surprise.

"One of the guys my Uncle Harvey works with used to be a real gung-ho bow hunter when he was younger, Giles. But Evan told me he stopped hunting bear and deer, and started hunting adolescent girls, once he got to be about fifteen," the flame-haired hacker informed him with a wide grin.

"Evan used to come by with Uncle Harvey at family functions, and he'd spoil me rotten and announce to everyone around that he was going to come back when I was eighteen, sweep me off my feet and marry me. And then mom's family would get all upset with him and Uncle Harv and start talking about how inappropriate his behavior was around 'impressionable young women' and me and Xander and Uncle Harv and Evan would all go outside and laugh because I always knew Evan was saying that just to get Uncle Benjamin and Uncle Sam all wound up and that he was never really serious about sweeping me off my feet and marrying me and all that other stuff," she informed him with a huge grin.

"Not that I probably wouldn't have been interested in marrying him, if I had been a couple years older when we first met," she clarified her earlier statement, "but Evan was more like an older cousin to me and Xander back then. And, anyway, like I said, he was mostly doing it just to get Uncle Benjamin and Uncle Sam all wound up 'cause he knew they didn't like him all that much.

"'Cause, you see, Evan's goy," the redhead concluded, as though that phrase conclusively explained the entire situation she had just outlined.

"Since he had indicated that he was interested in marrying you, Willow, how can you be sure that he truly is gay? He just may be merely confused regarding his actual sexual orientation," the Englishman queried the redhead.

"Not *gay*, Giles, *goy*," Willow corrected him with yet another grin.

Seeing Giles' blank look upon hearing Willow's explanation, Buffy took pity on her Watcher and translated.

"A goy is anyone who's not Jewish, Giles," she told him.

"Oh. I see," the Slayer's Watcher immediately responded, although the look on his face seemed to contradict his words.

"And what made the whole situation even worse, though, at least as far as my parents were concerned, is the fact that Evan is Uncle Harv's partner. Strictly in a work-related sense, though," Willow elaborated.

"You see, Uncle Harvey's sort of the black sheep of my Mom's family. 'Cause not only didn't he become a tax lawyer like mom's other brothers, he's a former social worker. Who lives in San Francisco. Became a Deadhead and later joined the police department," she noted, obviously feeling the revelation worthy of the greatest reverence.

"He's also my very favorite uncle in the entire world and he gave me my first computer for my seventh birthday, and then he got Mom *really* mad when he refused to return it and get me something 'more appropriate for a young girl,' like she asked him to do. I don't think she spoke to him for six months after that argument.

"And boy, did we get sidetracked away from your original question, didn't we?" the ebullient and vociferous redhead abruptly noted.

"Uhm, yes, I suppose that we did," Giles nodded, still somewhat taken aback by the Willow mini-babble barrage he had just experienced.

"So, Giles, where're some targets, so I can try out this baby?" Buffy reiterated her original inquiry in the ensuing moment of silence, as she looked with eager enthusiasm at the crossbow she was still holding.

"Um, there aren't any, at present, Buffy. The crossbow comes later," the Watcher replied as he took the crossbow from her and replaced it in the weapons cabinet, to Buffy's evident disappointment.

"You must first become proficient with the basic tools of combat. So, let's begin with the quarterstaff," he continued as he removed two six foot staves from the cabinet and handed one to her. "Which, incidentally, will, uh, require countless hours of vigorous training. I speak from experience."

"Giles, 20th Century? Ah... Friar Tuck's not a vampire, is he?" she asked as she looked at her Watcher a bit uncertainly.

"You never know with whom or what you'll be fighting," the Englishman warned as he put on his head pads. "And these traditions have been handed down through the ages. Now, you show me good, steady progress with the quarterstaff, and in due course we'll discuss the crossbow. Put on your pads."

"I'm not gonna need pads to fight you," Buffy laughed, as she casually dropped back into a relaxed stance, holding the staff before her.

"Well, we'll see about that. En garde!" Giles stated as he began a series of thrusts, all of which Buffy parried easily.

Taking the offensive, she pushed his staff to the floor and punched him in the face, swung her staff around onto his back, and then swung again to sweep his legs out from under him, sending him tumbling to the floor. Less than three seconds had elapsed for the entire sequence.

Looking up at the petite blonde as she stood above him, Giles tried to catch his breath as he managed to gasp out, "Very good, Buffy. Now, let's move on to the crossbow."


Later that evening

"Uh, Giles, can I talk to you for a minute?"

Looking up, the Englishman saw Willow standing at the entrance to his office, a trouble look on her face.

"Why, most certainly, Willow," he replied, wondering exactly what it was that was bothering her. The redhead's normally ebullient mood was noticeably absent, a clear departure from her typical behavior. "What is it that you wished to discuss with me?"

"Is it possible that something might have gone wrong with the binding spell you cast on Xander the other night?" she asked, a bit hesitantly.

"Well, I suppose that that's certainly possible," he admitted, his forehead furrowing with concern as he thought back to the ritual he had performed earlier in the week. "We were lacking a fair amount of detail regarding the particulars of the binding ceremony," he admitted.

"Why? Is there something wrong, that you're asking me about this? Are you feeling all right?" he asked, a bit of alarm creeping into his voice.

Admittedly, he hadn't felt entirely comfortable performing the ritual on the four adolescents, but he had felt it more imperative that the rite be performed as soon as possible after the trans-possession ceremony, in order to minimize any chances that the spirits might be able to adversely affect any of his charges' behavior.

"Well, I'm not exactly sure, but I'm kinda concerned about the way Xander's been acting today and yesterday," the redhead admitted. "It's not anything that I can really point a finger to and say, 'That's it, that's what's wrong,' but he's a whole lot edgier than he would normally be, even considering everything that's happened the past couple days.

"Buffy and Dawn don't think there's anything wrong, but they've really only known him for a couple months now," she continued. "I've known Xander since we were five years old, and I really think that there's something odd going on with him. He's always been relaxed and easy-going, but since the whole zoo and spirit thing, he's been a lot more - intent and focused - about pretty much everything going on. Especially if it involves Buffy, Dawn or me. I don't think that he's even aware he's doing it, but he's always looking around, like he's keeping watch or something.

"And he's a *lot* more aggressive than he's ever been before," she added, a worried frown creasing her forehead. "I know Buffy and I mentioned about what happened the other morning in the gym when we playing dodge ball, but did you hear about what happened in the boy's locker room, this morning?" she asked.

Giles nodded, and answered her question. ""From what I gathered from Coach Harrold's report of the incident, Xander took offense at some relatively innocuous remark that another student made about some of the female students, and a minor scuffle ensued that resulted in Xander's detention," he informed her.

"Knowing Xander as I do, however, I am certain that there is much more to the story than has been stated."

"Yeah, there is," Willow nodded, a mixture of concern and worry, along with what might be described as the slightest hint of a pleased smile on her face.

"I finally managed to coax - well, browbeat, actually - the whole story about what really happened out of Jonathan after school this afternoon," she stated, "and according to him, Darryl was telling some of the other football team members that he was going to ask me and Buffy out on a date this Friday, the two of us, at the same time, and then made some - comments - about us.

"Some extremely graphic and detailed comments," she said, not looking directly at him as a slight blush colored her cheeks. "About our, uh, physical attributes and, uhm, what kind of things he was gonna have us do, once we were all alone together.

"'Cause, uh, he said that, uhm, he thought we were, uhm, that we might be - interested - in each other. Buffy and me, he said," she managed to stammer out, her discomfiture at the potentially embarrassing information she had gained clear to the Englishman.

"And I would gather that Xander, upon hearing such remarks, then took offense and, knowing him as I do, suggested rather strongly, I would imagine, that this Darryl fellow retract his earlier comments," Giles hypothesized, noting the redhead's discomfort at repeating the jock's clearly embarrassing opinions.

"Yeah, I'd definitely say so," the hacker agreed with a faint look of amusement at the Watcher's typically British understatement. "But I'm guessing that it was probably kinda hard for him to apologise, 'cause Jonathan said that it took nearly half of the front line of the football team to get him to let go of Darryl's throat enough to let him breathe. Jon said he didn't know that anyone's face could get that color red," she added, as a fleeting grin crossed her lips.

"I see," the librarian nodded as he considered the situation Willow had outlined. "I'd venture to say that you are, indeed, correct in your concern about Xander, Willow, in that the behavior you're ascribing to him is clearly much more aggressive than would be considered typical, judging by his past behavior."

Willow's "Duh!" expression at his response went unnoticed by the Watcher as he considered what steps needed to be taken, in order to determine what, exactly, might be responsible for the male Scooby's current behavior and what additional steps might be required to correct it, should the cause of the problem be found contrary to the best interests of all involved.

"Willow, if you would, please arrange to have everyone meet here at the library as soon as possible," he suggested as he arose and began collecting the various components that would be needed for the analytic spells he intended to make use of, later. "We need to examine Xander as soon as we can, if we're to determine what is causing these uncharacteristic displays of aggression he's been experiencing."


Fortunately for everyone involved, the - somewhat impulsive - behavior currently being exhibited by the Pack's Alpha was ultimately determined to be the result of the brunet's having become the repository of *two* of the Primal Spirits who had been summoned and then released by the zookeeper.

Giles had been unable to offer an explanation for both spirits' having chosen to possess the tall brunet, but had later pointed out that, from the various descriptions of the ceremony the pack members gave him, the zookeeper had apparently contained *all* of the spirits, at least for the short period of time prior to Dawn's reversal of the spell, so there didn't seem to be any reasons prohibiting such actions from occurring.

In any event, the presence of the two spirits also offered a simple explanation for the male Scooby's significantly superior strength and speed, as compared to that of the two other non-Slayer members of the Pack. The enhanced aggression that Xander had been experiencing was then easily leashed by Giles' recasting of the binding spell he had used earlier in the week, merging the second spirit with him and leaving his intellect in control of the resulting composite being, just as had been done with the previous ritual.

The Pack's primary problem in the days following Xander's skirmish with Swenson had been with the football coach attempting to recruit Xander for the team, an effort that was curtailed only after Giles had taken Coach Harrold aside and informed him 'in strictest confidence' that Xander was highly unlikely to pass any of the league's blood test, should the school's opponents raise any protests regarding a Sunnydale victory.

The first opponent encountered by the newly formed Scooby Pack turned out to be a demon who had been inadvertently scanned into the internet from the book in which he had been mystically imprisoned for nearly six centuries. Taking advantage of his newly gained freedom, Moloch had sought to take over the physical world by transferring his consciousness into a robot body created by a group of cyber-anarchists formed from some of the more intelligent, but less socially adept, members of the Sunnydale High School population. Assistance from their techno-pagan computer instructor, Jenny Calendar, whose investigation of recent on-line peculiarities and her own divinations had alerted her to the probable occurrence of some type of mystical upheaval, enabled the Pack to bind the demon in a robot body he had instructed his followers to assemble for him. Unfortunately for the demon, however, his robot body, designed to withstand an attack by the Slayer (the only supernatural human opponent of whose existence the fiend was aware), proved to be merely a minor challenge to his four mystically enhanced opponents, who were more than a little pissed off at his attempts to initiate world-wide catastrophes in order to facilitate his efforts to establish a demonic kingdom among the ruins of a devastated human civilization.

Of even more pressing significance to the Pack, however, was the fact that Joyce Summers had finally been drafted into the ranks of the informed, with regard to the darker side of life here in Sunnydale, although the revelation had come only after she had nearly died at the hands of Angel's sire, Darla.

The blonde vampiress had apparently planned to drain the Slayer's mother and then frame Angel for the attack, but had been interrupted only seconds after beginning her assault by Dawn's unanticipated return home to retrieve her field hockey uniform which she had neglected to take along with her that morning. The younger brunette's panicked reaction to seeing her mother attacked had caused her to focus more on Joyce's condition after pulling the demon off her mother than in making sure the vampiress was dusted, and Darla had managed to escape.

The vampiress had, however, sustained some rather nasty injuries that would take more than the usual time from which to recover, since Dawn had stabbed her with a blessed silver cross she had received as one of her birthday gifts from the other Pack members earlier in the year, and fragments of the cross had broken off in the wound. Darla had apparently then immediately left Sunnydale for an indeterminate time and an unknown location, since the Scooby Pack's devastatingly vicious retaliatory foray into Sunnydale's demonic underworld that night, searching for the blonde vampiress, had come up empty-handed, at least as far as finding the vampiress was concerned. The display of the Pack's savagery and daunting ruthlessness during their quest had quickly established a degree of fear and respect for the group not seen in the demonic underworld since the days of Van Helsing and his organization.

The disclosure by Jenny of an easily performed ritual to revoke the unwitting invitation into the Summers home that Joyce had given Darla had soothed the Pack's remaining worries concerning the Summers family matriarch's safety, and offered them an ideal opportunity to provide her with all of the necessary information she needed to remain safe. Or at least as safe as anyone living in the vicinity of the Hellmouth could expect.

The following weeks proved to be of more than passing interest, but of little actual challenge, to the Scooby Pack as they encountered and then dealt with a broad series of opponents that demonstrated for them the far-ranging extent of the weirdness spectrum the Hellmouth either attracted or created.

Subsequent to their dealings with Moloch and Darla, the Pack were then made brutally aware of the presence at the school of a demon focused on stealing organs from members of the student body in order to maintain their human appearance and immortality when members of the school populace (including one of Dawn's classmates) began turning up dead and eviscerated. And it was primarily due to the efforts of a demon-hunting wooden mannequin that Giles escaped the prospect of being conscripted as the brain donor by the demon for which they were searching.

A few weeks later, the Pack had found themselves forced to confront their own deepest fears as they helped a young boy fight his way free from a far-too-dangerous refuge in the realm of nightmares that he had found while seeking to escape from his abusive baseball coach. The aftermath of that incident had seen Dawn hounding Xander unmercifully for nearly a week after discovering his deeply-buried fear of clowns, until Buffy had finally taken pity on him and revealed her sibling's own deep-seated phobia regarding Smurfs. The younger Summers daughter had awoken the following Saturday morning to find herself literally surrounded by a virtual army of plush, blue-furred minions, with an eighteen inch tall replica of the maniacally-smiling, blonde-haired Smurfette, a plastic dagger clutched in its hand, perched on the pillow next to her head.

Joyce Summers had awoken to her younger daughter's initially frenzied screams, which were soon followed by invective staggering in both its breadth and variety, and which seemed to indicate a possible linguistic proficiency that the younger girl might wish to investigate in the future. After a few moments listening, however, Joyce was strongly tempted to follow her now-deceased grandmother's long-abandoned practice of washing out her daughter's mouth with a very strong soap. The virtually unceasing hysterical laughter of the three other members of the Pack had finally caused the Slayer's mother to decree an end to their amusement under pain of what could be considered the most dire threat the three could ever face: if they didn't stop, Joyce would have Dawn cook breakfast for them all. Privately, she was quite favorably impressed with both the sobering degree of solemnity which had immediately appeared on the faces of all three adolescents, and the speed with which it had appeared.

< Sometimes,> she had thought to herself as she looked at the clearly intimidated children, < it's fun to be the king. >

Once the internecine warfare had passed, the Pack then found themselves involved in a situation that had them locating and then befriending a young woman involuntarily rendered invisible by an unfortunate combination of both her fellow students' indifference and a relatively minor manifestation of the Hellmouth's intermittent power flare-ups.

Fortunately for everyone involved, however, the Pack's ability to sense Marcie Ross' life energy had enabled them to quickly locate her after her attack on one of the admittedly more annoying and narcissistic jocks and persuade her to cease her intended attacks on the rest of the high school's aggravating inhabitants. As Xander had phrased it, "Marcie, if you get rid of all of the annoying assholes at school here, we'll be missing all of the jocks, most of the cheerleaders and over half of the teaching staff. You really need to focus on using your abilities for the betterment of mankind. And you can start by getting us the answers to the chemistry test Mrs. Caroga's scheduled for this Tuesday."

An ensuing extended discussion with both Giles and Jenny Calendar had provided the emotionally distraught and troubled teenager with not only concerned adults with whom she could talk about her rather unnerving, yet somehow typically Sunnydale-ish life, but had also put her on the beginning steps of a path that they believed might eventually help her learn to control her current visibility-impaired condition. An intriguing aspect of the invisible girl's condition the Pack had discovered while searching for her was that she was also undetectable by smell, and attempts to track her simply by listening required intense concentration by any would-be tracker, as any sound she made was both muted and distorted, throwing off any would-be assailant.

The Pack's main source of anxiety and worry, though, occurred when they finally learned that Darla had returned to Sunnydale.

And that she hadn't returned alone...

Part 7

The hunt had begun when Xander had stopped by the Alibi Room for his semi-weekly check-in with the barkeeper/information broker. The worried expression on the snitch's rat-like face when he first caught sight of the tall brunet had instantly alerted the male Scooby that trouble was not only in the air, but was falling in large piles all around them at terminal velocity.

"I swear to you, kid, I only just heard the rumors, not even a half-hour ago! I was gonna call you as soon as I could make sure no one could hear me! Honest!" Willy had begun whining immediately upon catching sight of the male Scooby, his hands held up before him in a conciliatory gesture that did absolutely nothing to sooth Xander's growing disquiet and anger.

"What is it you heard, Willy?" The kid's voice was almost a growl, something which did nothing at all for Willy's peace of mind.

"Darla's back in town, kid, and she brought some OLD friends with her. Some of the local vamps are saying she's looking to take out the Slayer's family and friends before she gets around to taking out the Slayer," was the reply, and Willy suddenly found himself pulled across the bar and almost touching noses with the Scooby Pack's Alpha.

"Who'd she bring back with her, who told you that about attacking friends and family, and where can I find them?"

Willy had somehow found himself staring into two glowing, jade-green eyes and could feel the sweat pouring put of his entire body as he prayed to any deity who might be listening for assistance in placating the clearly enraged youth holding him in what could easily become a death grip around his neck. This was definitely not the kind of confirmation that he was looking for to prove that the Slayer and her little group weren't entirely human anymore. The Mayor was going to owe him a pretty penny for this little tidbit of information.

"Spike and Drusilla - they're both master vampires that were part of her old nest; they used to be called the Scourge of Europe," the bartender squeaked as he desperately searched his memory for any detail he might offer that would divert the youth's focus away from him. "There were a couple groups of the Master's minions in here earlier, and I heard someone say they were gonna meet Darla at the Bronze and then head on over to the Slayer's friends' homes and kill everyone they can find before they hit the Slayer's home, while the other group attacks her Watcher and some teacher at the school library," he practically screamed. "That's all I know, I swear!"

Wily heard the slam of his front door at approximately the same moment he found himself lying on the floor, and he gave heartfelt thanks to whatever power that had decided to intervene on his behalf.

"Crazy bitch is looking to get herself dusted real quick, letting people know what she's planning like that," he muttered to himself as he slowly climbed back to his feet.

"And if she's really banking on the Slayer finding out so she'll walk into a trap, she's even crazier," he said, as another thought occurred to him. He did his best to get his breathing under control before dialing the secret number the Deputy Mayor had given him.


All four members of the Pack had immediately realized that the information provided was almost certainly intended to split them up, but they refused to take any chances with Joyce's safety, and had detailed Dawn, along with a goodly portion of their armory, to remain home with her mother while the other three Pack members and Angel began their hunt for Joyce's assailant and her minions.

After a quick call to alert Giles and Jenny of the rumored attack and allow them to take as many precautions as they could, Willow and Xander headed to the library to gather up the two faculty members and escort them to join Dawn and Joyce at the Summers home, at Buffy's request, while Buffy and Angel made their way to the Bronze. ("Please, guys? I've got some things I need to tell him, okay?")

Once the two teachers were safely deposited at the Summers residence, the two packmates would join the other two hunters at the blonde vampiress' rumored destination, all four of them paying more than just lip service to the concept of safety in numbers.


"Uhm, Angel, I know when things were first starting out between us a couple weeks ago, I was kinda acting all Harlequin book-ish around you and stuff, and we need to talk about that and some other stuff," Buffy said, as the two of them made their way to the Bronze. She was watching his reaction from the corner of her eye, and she saw him glance over at her impassively for a brief moment before returning his gaze to the area before them. She knew that he wasn't going to be very pleased with what she had to say, but that really wasn't her problem.

He certainly seemed like a nice guy, charming and cryptic and kinda melodramatically romantic, but when you got right down to it, he was a vampire, and she was the Vampire Slayer. To ever seriously think that there could really be anything between the two of them was the height of foolish schoolgirl romanticism, and she was going to have enough problems in her life just battling all of the various demons and other monsters that Giles had told her would be coming here, looking for her, gunning for the Slayer. She never be able to have any kind of stable or normal life with him, no matter how nice he seemed.

And then there was the fact that his demon had been responsible for killing and tormenting thousands of people over the course of his existence, including, if Giles' records were correct, four of her predecessors. That was something she just couldn't ignore. The gypsies had cursed him with a soul for a reason, after all; because he had killed someone they had loved, and they wanted him to pay for that crime, and the other crimes he had committed while a demon. It would be like saying their deaths really weren't that important, all things considered. And she could never do that. She drew a deep breath, unconsciously drawing strength from her packmates to say what she needed to say when Angel interrupted her.

"You're going to say that there can't ever be anything between us except friendship," he told her, when she didn't immediately follow up on her first comment.

"Uhm, uh, yeah, I was," she agreed, turning to look at him, trying to see what, if any, expression was on his face.

"You're right. There shouldn't be," he agreed with her, turning to look her full in the face as he shifted to let his demonic features show.

"You shouldn't ever forget that this is what I truly am, Buffy," he told her, indicating his game face. "And I can't ever forget that, either. I've been trying to redeem myself, to atone for all of the horrible things I did while I didn't have my soul, as well as the things I did before and after, and I need to remember that any true happiness will only happen *after* I've achieved redemption, not before it.

"When I first saw you, I lost sight of that, but I'm not going to ever lose sight of that, again. True happiness, like I could possibly have with someone like you, is something I'll deserve after I've redeemed myself, and until then, I'll just have to keep reminding myself, when it's necessary, of what I am and what I've done. And I don't think that my redemption is something that's going to happen any time soon," he said, looking away. "So you need to find your own happiness, in your own way. Because that's what I want to see happen, Buffy. You, being happy."

Buffy looked at him, a bit surprised at the amount of consideration he had obviously put into analyzing their situation, then answered him with the first words that came into her mind.

"Thank you, Angel. I will."


"I still think we should wait for Willow and Xander to show up," Angel repeated his earlier comments as they stealthily approached the Bronze's back door.

"You're a two hundred and forty year old Master vampire and I'm the Slayer, supercharged with a Primal Spirit, Angel," Buffy quiet words weren't audible five feet away from them. "We should be able to stomp on any vamps we find inside without any problem at all."

Once he saw that the little blonde didn't have any intention of slowing down or waiting for reinforcements, Angel gave a silent sigh and moved to take point, vigilant for any signs of an ambush.

With Angel off to her left, warily leading the way, Buffy cautiously entered the temporarily deserted club, her eyes, ears and nose alert for any further sign of either the blonde vampiress she had been seeking or her protégées, Spike and Drusilla. The building was currently closed, in order to permit various desperately needed structural repairs and upgrades to the electrical wiring that had been discovered when one of the second floor supports collapsed, and the various piles of construction materials scattered throughout the ground floor provided more than adequate opportunities for ambush and concealment than she was comfortable with.

They had made their way to the edge of the billiards area when a voice called from the stage, breaking the silence.

"Hello, darling. It's been a while, hasn't it?" they heard Darla's mocking voice greet them.

Turning to the stage, they could see the blonde vampiress standing in the center of the platform and leaning against a tall, strikingly beautiful but pale complexioned brunette, smirking at them.

"I ran into some family members while I was on vacation, and thought you'd be delighted to see them, darling," Darla's voice boomed out across the empty dance floor, "so I invited them to come back home with me, to say 'hi'."

"He's not Daddy!" the brunette declared as she looked first at the two demon hunters, then back to the shorter blonde. "It's the Angel-beast with his nasty soul! You promised me I'd find my Daddy again," she said accusingly, stamping her foot on the stage in piqué.

"And he brought the bad doggie's Golden Daughter with him," she added as she tilted her head as she looked at Buffy, as though to get a different perspective of her forever destined adversary.

"The bad doggie's daughter is a Slayer," she smiled at Buffy as she stared and continued speaking. "She and the doggie's other children will switch with the Star Walkers when Chaos rules, and after that there will be so much wonderful violence! The Dark Daughter shall die and live again, and she'll kill my poor little baby, she will. Bad! Bad, bad girl, to do that! And they'll fight the Jigsaw Man and tear him apart and take away his glowy puzzle pieces, and then they'll open the door that isn't there, to throw away the one left behind!" she announced, her eyes apparently focused on something no one else could see.

"Death comes, Grandmother," the brunette smiled at Darla. "Death comes for everyone here, and we don't have any tea or crumpets to serve."

"Who's the looney-toon?" Buffy asked, glancing over at Angel as the brunette lapsed into silence, her soliloquy apparently now over.

"Her name's Drusilla," Angel replied, his face a mask of sorrow and regret. "My childe."

Darla broke off her puzzled evaluation of her aimlessly raving companion; she really hated trying to figure out exactly what her grand-Childe's ravings/predictions might mean, so she turned her attention back to Angel

"It'll be so nice once we have the whole family back together again, won't it, lover?" she asked, a wide smile on her face.

Buffy looked over at Angel in distasteful disbelief. "You guys were involved?"

"For several generations," Darla smiled.

"My taste in women took a while to mature," Angel side-barred to Buffy, while never taking his eyes off either his Sire or childe.

"Well, if you've been around since Columbus, you're bound to pile up a few ex's," Buffy shrugged her shoulders. "You're older than him, right? You know, just between us girls, you are looking a little worn around the eyes."

Darla smiled as she gazed down at Angel. "I made him. There was a time when we shared everything, wasn't there Angelus? You had a chance to come home, to rule with me in the Master's court for a thousand years, but you threw that away, because you thought you were different just because of that pesky soul the gypsies cursed you with.

"You miss it, don't you, darling?" she purred as she slowly moved towards the front of the stage. "The smell of their fear as you loom over them, the taste of their blood on your tongue, the look of despair and resignation on their face when they finally realize that no one's coming to save them... It's all so exquisitely delicious! You want it back, don't you?"

"No," the ensouled vampire shook his head negatively, a look of anguish in his eyes. "The demon misses it, but I don't."

"Liar!" Darla sneered, practically spitting at him as she spoke. "Kill her and we can have it all back the way used to be. If memory serves, you used to love the taste of Slayer blood. Or maybe you prefer crawling on your belly around this child, pretending to be sorry, pretending to repent for all the pain and suffering we spread!

"Listen to me, Angelus!" she demanded. "Come back to me and we can walk like dark gods over this world! Slaughtering anyone we want, as much as we want! Or do you really like being this sniveling, disgusting creature you've become? Afraid of your own shadow, afraid to be the monster you once gloried in being?

"Is that it?" she half-screamed her accusations at the quietly waiting vampire who was staring at her expressionlessly.

"Well, as much fun as this hasn't been listening to you rant, I think it's time to say goodbye," Buffy interjected as she swung up her crossbow. "I'd say, see you around but, hey, that's not gonna happen."

"Hmm, scary, little girl," the blonde vampiress judged as she looked at Buffy's weapon.

"But I think this is scarier," she added as she reached behind her and produced two nickel-plated Smith and Wesson 9 mm pistols. Both guns began barking and Angel stumbled back from the impacts as the slugs slammed into his shoulder and upper body, knocking him backwards onto the dance floor.


"Okay, Giles, Ms. Calendar, let's get you guys moving out of here and back to the house. Rumor has it that we might be getting uninvited visitors of the fang-y kind dropping by, now that the sun's down," Xander announced as he and Willow hurried through the apparently vacant school library and into the librarian's office.

Both the Alpha and his redheaded Pack mate were both wearing dusters, Giles noted, although the relative coolness of the night air didn't seem sufficient to warrant their use. The coats' actual purpose was revealed when each Scooby pushed their coat aside to reveal a blade, a Roman gladius in Willow's case and a long sword in Xander's.

"Did you guys manage to find any information on those two master vampires Willy said Darla was bringing back with her?" Willow asked as she picked up Jenny's laptop-filled briefcase and began escorting her out of the office, while Xander duplicated her actions with Giles.

"Yes, I have, Willow, and I'm afraid none of the information we've gathered is encouraging, in the least," the Watcher replied. "The female whom Willy identified, Drusilla, is reputed to possess various psychic abilities in addition to those normally possessed by master vampires, and has been described as being as crazy as a loon, while their companion, Spike, has a long history of torturing and tormenting his victims solely to satisfy an innate vicious streak he possesses."

"Well, it's always nice to know that your efforts haven't gone unrecognized, innit, boys?" a Cockney-accented voice greeted the Scoobies as they entered the library proper.

A short, slightly-built, arrogant, bleached blond man was standing by the corridor doors, flanked on both sides by a half-dozen vampires, all of whom were staring at the four humans with cruel smiles of anticipation on their game faces.

"I'm guessing you must be Spike, since you really don't look much like a Drusilla to me," Xander said, as he and Willow both immediately moved to place themselves in front of the two worried-looking teachers.

"Oi, they're just doing wonders with this American school system nowadays, ain't they, mates?" the blond smirked as he looked over the two Pack members.

"Well now, you're one fine looking bint, I must say," he stated as he gave Willow an appraising look. "What would you say if I was to offer to turn you and keep you around, huh, love?" he asked as he looked her in the eye.

"I'd say that you've just assured yourself of an extremely painful death, you pathetic Billy Idol wannabe," the hacker calmly replied as she took a step to the side away from Xander, to give herself adequate room to move.

"Ooh, the bint's got spirit," Spike smirked. "I'm definitely gonna make you last for a while, now that you've said that, little girl," he promised. "Any of you others got any last words you want to say before we kill you all?"

"You know what I regret, Will?" Xander said as he looked over at the calmly waiting redhead, apparently ignoring the vampire's words.

Behind the two, Giles and Jenny were preparing themselves for combat, pulling out stakes and crucifixes from carefully prepared pockets, Giles preparing himself to protect Jenny for the precious few seconds she would need to cast whatever spell she was readying.

"No, Xand," Willow shook her head curiously. "What?"

"That I can't think of any really cool Ash quotes for a moment like this," he lamented as he slid his hand inside the folds of his duster. "Guess I'm gonna have to go with one of the classics, instead."

Spike had been watching their verbal byplay with a puzzled frown on his face; the two teenagers didn't smell scared in the least, he sighed with disappointment. He really hated brave, talkative food; fear in the blood made it taste so much better. Well, he'd fix that, right away.

Looking over the blonde vampire who was staring at them in puzzled annoyance, Xander gave him a feral, teeth-bearing smile as he asked, "Are you feeling lucky today, punk?"

Simultaneous with his question, Xander swung his arm up from its position by his side, revealing the shotgun hanging from his shoulder inside the duster by its sling, his finger gently squeezing the trigger as it became parallel with the floor.

Spurred by some unidentified instinct, Spike threw himself to one side an instant before the shotgun fired, messily decapitating the vampire who had been standing next to him and initiating the demon's transformation to dust.

"Get him, you morons!" the blond screamed to his minions as he rolled behind one of the half-height book shelves dotting the center of the room.

Xander attempted to track the master vampire's motion with the shotgun, rechambering and getting off a second round that nicked Spike's trailing leg as it blew a fist-sized hole in the vampire behind him, as well as reducing a small planter to shattered debris, but was then forced to reassign priorities as the remaining vampires charged them.

Letting the shotgun drop back against his side, the tall brunet was unable to draw his sword before two vamps were close enough to attack, so he simply seized the nearest one by his outstretched arms and proceeded to use him as a club against his nest mate.

Lifting the surprised vamp into the air, Xander brutally slammed him against his companion, knocking the second off his feet and onto the floor, then tossed him atop the fallen vamp, giving himself an opportunity to draw his sword.

Willow, meanwhile, had drawn her own sword so smoothly that it almost seemed as though it had materialized in her hand. Continuing her drawing motion, the redhead slightly altered the arc of her blade and sliced through the neck of the vampire unfortunate enough to be closest to her.

As that vamp's companion blinked in disbelief at what she had just seen happen, Willow carried on with her attack and slid forward in a pattern Giles absently recognized as one he had taught all of the Scoobies only a few weeks before. The Goth-attired vamp was only beginning to lift her hands in a defensive measure when she felt the redhead's blades sever them at mid-forearm and then swing back to remove her head from its position on her neck.

The sixth vampire, seeing what he believed to be an opportunity for a surprise attack on the tall brunet who had shot his nest mate, was just stepping forward when the twang! of a crossbow firing sounded and he felt a stabbing sensation in his chest. Looking down, he had barely sufficient time to recognize the feathered tail of the bolt protruding from his heart before he dissipated into dust like his companions. Off to one side, Giles quickly reloaded.

Xander quickly sliced through both of his opponents' necks with two economical motions, then turned to catch a glimpse of a blonde-haired figure slamming through the corridor doors and out into the hallway.

With a reflexive snarl of rage, he began heading after the fleeing vampire, and was heading into the corridor when he skidded to a halt as Willow called out to him.

"Xander! No! We have to get Giles and Ms. Calendar out of here first! We need to get them to safety before we do anything else," she yelled after him. "We can find him later. Right now, we need to take care of them and get them out of here and somewhere safe, so get back in here right now!" she insisted.

"Sorry, Giles, Ms. Calendar," he apologized as he returned to the library, a somewhat shamefaced expression on his face. "You're right, Will, we'll just find him and stake his butt later. Come on, guys, we need to get you to the house, and then find Buffy and Deadboy.

"I still don't trust him alone with her," he muttered to Willow as the two Pack members quickly hurried the two faculty members to Jenny's car. "I'll feel better when we're there to back her up. We're pack, and he's not."


Up on the stage behind Darla, Drusilla began swaying back and forth, dipping and twisting her body to music only she could hear as her grandsire continued firing at her opponents.

"Oh, don't worry, dear. Bullets can't kill vampires. They do hurt like hell, though," Darla giggled as she shot at Angel yet again, missing him as he rolled behind a stack of plasterboard sheets for cover.

Buffy retreated behind a band saw as Darla turned the guns on her, then did a diving shoulder roll over a pile of bags of concrete mix.

Popping up quickly, Buffy took a shot at the blonde vampire, hitting her in the left shoulder and making her drop one of the pistols. Dropping back behind the cover of the pile of concrete mix, the Slayer immediately began reloading her crossbow.

"So many body parts, so few bullets. What say we start with the kneecaps," Darla called out, laughing, as she pulled out the bolt and tossed it away. "No fun dancing without them," she mocked as she reloaded her remaining pistol.

Firing off several more rounds as she headed in the Slayer's direction, causing small plumes of dust to erupt from the bags, Darla smiled triumphantly as she leaped atop the pile and began firing down behind it, only to stop and look around when she discovered the space was empty.

Buffy popped up from behind a nearby drum and fired at Darla, who doubled over as the quarrel skewered her midsection.

"Close, but not quite good enough, dear," she sneered as she pulled that bolt out, too, and contemptuously tossed it aside, as she fired her S&W twice more in Buffy's direction.

"Come on, Slayer, don't you want to come out and play?" she called as she paused to eject the clip and insert a new one. "I thought you'd want to stake me for attacking your mother.

"She's quite tasty, you know," she smiled maliciously, hoping to provoke her foe into attacking and betraying her position. "Maybe I'll stop by some night soon and finish what I started."

"Not if you're dead again, bitch!" Buffy snarled as she stepped from behind one of the main support beams and fired again at the master vampiress.

Darla dodged to the side just as Buffy fired and the bolt merely brushed her arm, while her own shots caught Buffy just above her right hip, knocking her down and making her lose her grip on her crossbow, which slid across the floor to finally come to rest against the wall, well beyond her reach.

"C'mon, Slayer. Take it like a man! Or at least a little girl!" Darla laughed as she walked up to the stunned Slayer lying on the floor and stood over her, gloating, as she tried to scramble away. "I bet you never thought it'd end like this, huh?" she asked, idly wondering why the Slayer's eyes were glowing like that.

Suddenly, a flurry of gunshots filled the air and Darla began jerking like a puppet whose strings were being pulled by a group of five year olds.

As she dropped to the floor, stunned by the unexpected spray of bullets, a gamefaced Angel slowly walked up to her and dropped to one knee beside her.

"Angelus?" the blonde vampiress whispered as she looked up at him in mixed surprise and pain.

"You're partly right, Darla," he said, as he lifted his left hand to reveal one of the crossbow bolts she had discarded earlier. "I did miss the killing," he told her, right before he plunged the bolt into her heart.

Darla had only enough time to look shocked and betrayed before she burst into ashes, which scattered across the already dusty floor.

"How bad are you hurt?" Angel asked as he then turned to look over at Buffy, a look of calm acceptance of everything that had just occurred on his face.

"I don't know," Buffy managed to grit out through clenched teeth. "I've never been shot before. But it hurts. A lot," she added.

Remembering who else had been present at their confrontation, she began frantically looking around the now-vacant stage as she asked, "Where's Drusilla?"

"She took off once Darla started playing Annie Oakley," the ensouled vampire replied as he moved over and began checking her wounds. "And don't worry about her coming back," he said reassuringly. "I can feel her presence when she's around.

"The bleeding doesn't seem to be too bad," he judged, after a moment's examination of her injury. "Both look like flesh wounds, and the bullets appear to have gone right through you without hitting anything vital. It looks like the bleeding's already stopping, but we still need to get you to a hospital, so a doctor can look you over.

"Hold still for a minute," he advised, as he painfully pulled off his jacket and then removed his white shirt, which he quickly ripped into bandages he used to temporarily bind up Buffy's wounds.

"Oh my god," Buffy whispered upon seeing the half-dozen bullet holes scattered across Angel's chest and abdomen. "Are you okay?" she asked, shocked at the sight of the now barely bleeding wounds marring his chalky skin.

"These things? They're nothing to worry about; I'm already dead, remember?" he half-smiled, half-grimaced as he carefully helped the petite blonde to her feet. "The bullets that are still inside will work themselves out over the next few days. Not fun, but I'll survive.

"Do you think you can stand up by yourself for a minute?" he asked, watching anxiously as she swayed slightly once he let her stand by herself, but seemed only slightly reassured as she nodded her head, then put a hand against the wall to steady herself. "I want to put on my jacket.

"I don't think the police would bother us if they see us, but there's no point in going out of our way to attract their attention," he explained as he shrugged on his jacket with some discomfort, then bent to appropriate both pistols and deposit them in his jacket pockets, after first checking to see how many bullets remained in each clip.

"Six shots left, total," he said, when he saw Buffy worriedly watching his actions. "Let's hope we don't run into anything on our way to the hospital."


Xander and Willow were just leaving the Summers house when both of them suddenly cried out and doubled over, falling to the walk as they each clutched at their right side, while inside the house they heard Dawn scream in matching pain as she, too, felt the injuries Buffy sustained.

Both teens scrambled to their feet and immediately took off running towards the Bronze, hearing the front door of the house slam open behind them as Dawn burst out and headed after them, the eyes of all three adolescents glowing with a lambent jade light as they ignored the frenzied questions the three adults in the house were shouting after witnessing that rather disturbing display of the Pack's empathic bond.

Xander quickly outdistanced his two female Packmates, and arrived at the deserted nightclub just as Angel was exiting through the back door, carrying Buffy in his arms.

Seeing the expression on her Alpha's face and feeling his raging emotions as he took in their blood-splattered appearances, as well as feeling her other Packmates' worry and emotional upset through their empathic bond, Buffy immediately called out to him, as she simultaneously tried to project a feeling of calm and reassurance of her safety to the other Pack members.

"I'm okay, Xand," she tried to reassure the tall brunet as he practically ran into the two of them, nearly knocking Angel to the ground as he carefully took the wounded blonde from his arms, while frantically demanding to know how she felt and an explanation of what had happened.

Willow and Dawn both also joined in the insistent questioning of the petite blonde, as did Joyce, Giles and Jenny when they arrived moments later in the computer teacher's car. The three adults' apprehension and anxiety upon discovering the nature of Buffy's injuries raised the level of panic-stricken babble to new levels as they rushed to transport her to the hospital.

By the time anyone thought to question Angel for more details about the events leading to Buffy's injuries, the vampire had disappeared into the night.


The insistent, unrelenting pounding on his door finally roused Angel from his exhausted rest and brought him to the door of his apartment, although at a sluggish, much slower rate than he would have normally reacted.

His astonishment at finding Xander standing at his door with a large brown bag in his arms was quickly masked behind his usual impassive expression.

"Xander," he nodded his acknowledgement of the brunet's presence. "Is Buffy all right?"

"She's fine, thanks to you," the Alpha replied, his expression a mixture of several emotions; discomfort, relief and a few others the vampire couldn't readily identify. "How're you feeling? Buffy told us about your getting shot, and how you saved her and staked Darla."

"I'm fine," the vampire shrugged, more nonchalantly than he actually felt. "Give me a couple days to get the lead out and I'll be as good as new." They both snickered slightly at that.

"I brought you some blood," Xander said, holding out the bag he carried. "You'll heal faster if you drink a pint or two every couple hours," he noted. "At least, that's what Giles tells me.

"I kind of broke into the butcher's shop and helped myself to a couple gallons," he added, suddenly acting as though he were unsure of himself.

"Uh, thanks," Angel replied, surprised at the gift, and even more surprised at its source.

"Look," Xander said as he looked down at the floor, "I want to say 'thank you' for everything you did for Buffy today. You saved her life, and put yourself at risk trying to help her."

"I didn't do it for you. I did it for her," Angel replied, looking at the youth.

"I know that, and I still need to say 'thanks,' anyway," the Alpha told him. "And so do Dawn and Willow and Mrs. Summers and Giles and Jenny, and all the people that Darla would have killed in the future, if you hadn't staked her."

The ensouled vampire remained silent, unsure of what he should say in response to the other's expression of gratitude.

"My best friend was killed by Darla and that's a big part of the reason I hate vampires," Xander suddenly said, surprising the other with the unexpected revelation. "I know, rationally, that you didn't do it, and that you really had nothing to do with it, but I also can't forget that you're a vampire and her childe, so I think I was kind of subconsciously blaming you for his death, too.

"In any event," he continued, "I realized earlier that you're really not the bad guy I was making you out to be. If you had been someone like that, you would have run away and let Darla kill Buffy. Instead, you went out of your way to save her. You're a good man, Angel.

"I don't think we're ever going to be friends," he said, "but from tonight on, at least, I know we won't be enemies.

"Thanks for saving Buffy from Darla tonight, Angel," he told him, sticking out his hand towards the ensouled vampire.

Angel looked at the outstretched hand for a long moment, considering the entire situation as he saw it, before sticking out his own and taking the youth's hand in a strong grip.

"You're welcome, Xander," he said simply, before stepping back and holding the door open a little wider for his guest. "Want to come in for a cup of coffee?"

"Yeah, I think I will," the younger man gave the other a tentative half-smile as he entered.

Part 8
** Prophecy Girl, Part 1 **

It had begun as a normal enough night.

People were doing pretty much the same thing they did every night: going out shopping, going to movies, staying home and watching television.

The Pack was out hunting vampires.

Two men and a woman broke free of the trees, running at full speed and looking frantically over their shoulders. Behind them, a short redheaded young woman, followed a moment later by a tall brunet youth, emerged from the same grove of trees, their faces focused and intent on their prey, eyes seeming to faintly glow emerald in the darkness, their legs a blur as they quickly gained on their quarry.

A car was parked in the distance, its windows all fogged up, and the three runners turned towards it. As the fleeing trio approached the vehicle, two figures, one blonde and one brunette, burst from the woods on the far side of the car and moved to intercept them.

The small blonde, a look of determination on her pretty face, interposed herself directly between the car and the lead figure, whose face seemed to suddenly shift and contort into a ridged caricature of its normal appearance with prominent fangs and sickly yellow eyes.

The monster swiped a claw-tipped hand at the blonde, only to have its arm grabbed and pulled forward, as the apparently frail figure then effortlessly tossed the creature over her head to land clumsily with a loud thud and the crack of shattered bone on the ground some thirty feet away.

Inside the car, Cordelia Chase broke off her kiss with the young man attempting to get his hands inside her blouse.

"Kevin! What was that?" she demanded, pulling away and trying to see out the fogged-up window.

"What was what?" Kevin asked, out of breath and cursing silently about the loss of tactile contact with the brunette's impressive breasts.

Outside the car, the young brunette's hand snapped forward and a brown streak flew towards the nearest of the two remaining creatures, whose features had morphed to resemble their companion's. With a dull thunk! the stake impaled the monster's heart and it burst into dust.

"Someone's out there," the cheerleader said, peering out into the darkness.

"That's silly! Who would be out there?" Kevin replied.

The blonde rushed the creature she had just casually tossed the length of a bus, a stake in her hand driving in and out of her opponent's chest so quickly her motion would have been a blur if anyone had been watching. That monster, too, turned to dust and the blonde's lovely features wore a small grin of predatory satisfaction.

Behind them, the tall brunet surged forward past the redhead, the sword in his hand rising to strike at the last remaining vampire. Suddenly, just as his arm began its downward arc, a stake flashed past him to impact squarely in the bloodsucker's heart, turning him into a cloud of dust that was ineffectually, if spectacularly, bisected by the downward cleaving blade.

"Willow! No fair! You stole my vamp!" the youth exclaimed in a whining voice.

"I didn't see your name on him, Xand," the redhead smirked at her taller companion. "That means he was fair game for anyone to tag."

"I got three, Will," Dawn smiled happily as she posed a leading question. "How many did you get?"

"That last one made three for me," the hacker declared with a smug smile. "How about you, Buff?"

"Three in one night. Giles would be so Watcher-ly proud," the blonde made a point of announcing her total kills for the night.

"How many did you have, Xand?" she asked, an innocent expression on her face as she turned to the final Pack member.

"Two," he mumbled under his breath, obviously reluctant to answer the question.

"How many?" the petite blonde asked again, the innocent expression on her face straining the outermost bounds of credulity.

"Two." The answer's low-voiced, teeth-gritted tone of voice clearly warned against a third repetition of the question.

"Gee. That would mean you've got the lowest number of kills out of everybody tonight," Buffy noted as Dawn and Willow watched with wide matching smiles of feminine superiority on their faces. "I guess that means you get to pay for the ice cream then, doesn't it?"

Their Alpha's reply was too low-voiced for even people with their acute sense of hearing to make out, but the attitude behind it came clearly across their empathic bond, as did the three women's clearly obvious satisfaction at managing to triumph over the tall brunet.

"I'm telling you, there's someone out there," they could hear Cordy insisting as they headed back towards town. "I'd swear I heard voices."

"I'm listening to the voice of an angel right now," Kevin purred as he reached over and pulled the head cheerleader back away from the window.

"Oh god, how lame can you get?" Dawn pantomimed sticking her finger down her throat.

"Do guys really expect lines like that to work?" she demanded incredulously as the four headed off towards Eddie's Ice Cream Hut.

"Hey, don't look at me," Xander replied. "I'd never say anything that stupid to anyone."

Seeing the narrow-eyed semi-glares he got from all three women at that statement, he immediately asked, "What's the matter? What'd I say? Huh? Well? Is someone gonna answer me? Huh?"

The brunet's plaintive questions grew ever fainter as they headed off down the road to the home of frozen confectionary heaven.


Giles sat at his desk, his cup of tea by his right hand as he read the text of the Codex.

"Ho korias phanaytie toutay... tay nuktee. 'The Master shall rise...' Yes, yes, this is it," he murmured to himself with satisfaction. "'The Master shall rise, and the Slayer...'

"My God!" he exclaimed, his face going white as he completed the translation. As he considered what he'd just read for a moment, he reached for his tea.

The cup began to jiggle, and he looked over at it curiously. A few seconds later, the entire building began to shake, and he realized he was experiencing his first earthquake. He quickly got up and looked as everything in the library began shaking. His teacup vibrated off of the desk and smashed to pieces on the floor.


A hundred feet below the surface, the Master stood with his arms stretched out above him as the rock walls around him shook and trembled.

"Yes! YES! Shake, Earth! This is a sign! We are in the final days! My time has come! Glory! GLORY!" he intoned exultantly.

The quake was over as quickly as it started, leaving only trickles of dust still falling from the walls to indicate that it had even occurred. He looked over at Collin, his sense of melodrama fading as fast as it had arrived.

"So...Whadaya think? 5.1?"


Sunnydale High library.
The following morning

Giles walked out of his office and headed over to the cage as Buffy breezed in from the corridor through the double doors.

"Morning!" she smiled brightly, the smile dimming slightly as she looked around at all the damage. Giles' expression when he looked at her was as if he'd just seen a ghost.

"Wow. The damage looks fairly structural," she observed, the instincts of a native Californian coming to the fore. "Are we safe in here?"

"Buffy!" Giles exclaimed, his expression distraught.

"What? Do I have something on my face?" she asked, reaching up to check her face.

"No! Uh, and, and yes, we're, we're safe," he said, his hand sweeping around to indicate the stacks. "Uh, but probably best not to go up there."

"How're you doin' there, Giles? Get much sleep last night?" the Slayer asked.

"Um... I-I-I've been working."

"Us, too. We went hunting last night, and it is awfully sweet of you to ask. It's getting hairy out there, Giles. We killed a total of eleven vampires last night," she informed her watcher proudly, "and one of them was practically on school grounds."

"Their numbers are increasing," Giles agreed, clearly distracted as they spoke.

"And they're getting cockier. Look, I'm not loving it. Last night was a pretty close call. Cordelia almost got a bigger hickey than normal last night."

"Uh, yes," the Englishman nodded, clearly preoccupied with something apart from their conversation.

"Uh, Giles, care? We're putting our lives on the line battling the undead. Look, I broke a nail, okay? I'm wearing a press-on," Buffy informed him with the least bit of a whine, holding up her right hand to show him the nail on her little finger. "The least you could do is exhibit some casual interest. You could go, 'hmm'."

Still distracted, the librarian seemed to realize they were still speaking. "Hmm? Oh, sorry. Um, yes, I'm very glad that you're alright. Uh, I-I need to verify, um... I just can't really talk right now, Buffy."

"Fine. That's okay. I can't put it off any longer. I have to meet my terrible fate."

"What?!" Giles exclaimed, spinning around to look at her, wide-eyed.

"Biology," she explained, as the bell rang and she left the library to go to class, Giles watching her go.


Giles was speaking on the phone as Jenny Calendar entered and stood by his office door.

"Hello. Uh, this is Giles. Uh... Uh, Rupert Giles," he identified himself. "I-I need to see you. No, I-I realize that. Uh... Come after sundown. Good. I'll see you then."

"You know, that outfit looks just like the one you wore yesterday," Jenny said conversationally. "Only wrinkly-er. Were you here all night?"

"Sorry, uh... I, uhm, I'm not really up to, uh, socializing just now."

"Something's going on, Rupert, and I'm guessing you already know what it is."

"What is it you think you know?" the Englishman asked as he rose and headed to the book cage.

"Well, I've been surfing the 'Net, looking for unexplained incidents. You know, people are always sending stuff my way...They know the occult's my turf. Now, here is the latest:

"A cat last week gave birth to a litter of snakes; a family was swimming in Whisper Lake when the lake suddenly began to boil; and at Mercy Hospital last night, a boy was born with his eyes facing inward. I'm not stupid, Rupert," she said, moving over so that she could look at his face.

"This is apocalypse stuff. And throw in last night's earthquake, and I'd say we've got a problem. I would say the end is pretty seriously nigh."

"I don't know if I can trust you," Giles told her honestly.

"I helped you cast that demon out of the Internet," she reminded him. "I think that merits some trust, doesn't it? Look, I'm scared, okay? Oh, plus, I've got this, this crazy monk e-mailing me from Cortona about some Anointed One?"

"The Anointed One? He's dead!"

"Someone's dead?"

"Uh, who is this monk?" Giles thought to ask.

"Uh, a brother Luca something? Keeps sending out global mailings about a prophecy."

"Jenny, I need you to talk to him, find out everything he knows."

"Look, Rupert, you haven't told me jack, so what's with the order?"

"Just do it! I'll e-explain later."

"You'd better."


Outside in the school hallway
A few minutes earlier

Kevin and Cordelia were walking side by side, his arm around the brunette cheerleader's shoulders.

"I'll get everything tonight after practice. The guys'll help me," he promised.

"Well, it's all in the A-V room. The sound system, and the decorations... And, oh, Aura needs help, um, moving the coolers."

"Don't sweat it! We've got it covered."

"Well, bring everything to the Bronze, and I'll meet you there in the morning!" Cordy directed him, flashing him a brilliant smile.

"Done!" he grinned back at her.

"You're so sweet! Why're you so sweet?" she half-giggled, leaning into him for a quick peck on the lips.

"I dunno! 'Cause I'm usually mean as a snake!" he answered, while reflecting that his mood might have something to do with the thorough Braille examination of Cordelia's breasts he had made the previous night.

Smiling at him, Cordy spotted Willow and Xander walking down the hallway over his shoulder.

"Willow! Xander!" she called over Kevin's shoulder. "Hold up a minute! I'll see you in the morning," she smiled at him.

"Bet on it!" he grinned back

"Willow! I really like your outfit!" Cordy smiled as charmingly as she could at the two demon hunters as she walked over to them.

"No, you don't," the redhead shook her head as Xander merely stood by and watched with a small grin.

"Actually, I really do," the cheerleader countered with a nod of her head. "Your dress sense has really blossomed lately. But I would have chosen something more in a rose hue than that pink you've got on with those pants," she commented semi-critically. "That'd flatter your complexion a little more, although the pink really doesn't look bad at all. And your eye shadow looks really good."

"Thanks, Cordy," the hacker smiled back, for real this time. "I was thinking either this or possibly a very pale olive, if I wore the khakis I was originally considering."

"Oh no, this was definitely a much better choice!" Cordelia opined firmly. "With your skin tone, any olive shade would make you look sickly and washed out! Stick with the blues when you're wearing any of the grey shades, or the darker green eye shadows, because they'll bring out your eye color so much better! There's no question about that, at all!"

Xander rolled his eyes listening to their conversation, and tried to steer the topic back to whatever point Cordy had wanted to make.

"You had a question you wanted to ask, Cordy?" he reminded her.

"Oh yeah, that's right!" she agreed. "I need a favor."

"What kind?" Willow asked.

"Well, the Bronze won't let us use their sound system, and I need someone who knows how to hook one up without blowing the whole place up. If you could just show up tomorrow morning, I'd be really, really grateful!" she explained. "I figured you guys wouldn't mind, it is for the dance and everything."

"Sure. No problem," the redhead nodded her agreement.

"Great! Tomorrow at ten good for you?"


"Great! See you then!" the head cheerleader flashed them both another brilliant smile as she turned to get to class.

"Oh, and you're doing a great job with his wardrobe, too!" she called back over her shoulder as she headed down the hall. "You took a flamethrower to all of those shirts of his, right?"

Xander's insulted "HEY!" was partly drowned out by Willow's incompletely covered snickering and her 'thumbs-up' to the cheerleader.

Both pack members suddenly gasped in shock as they each felt as though they had been struck by some unseen psychic blow.


Girls' locker room

Dawn shut her gym locker as two girls walked by chatting. She idly played with one of her spare stakes as she headed to the sinks and put it down on the shelf above one as she looked at herself in the mirror and absently turned on the water. She wondered absently whether she should wear her dark green outfit or the navy blue and white dress her mother had gotten her last month when their mother had taken he, Buffy and Willow shopping in LA. Xander had wimped out on going with them, she remembered with a grin, claiming that Giles had requested his assistance in building some additional bookcases needed for storing some rare volumes he had run across at a curio store in San Diemas, run by a guy named Rufus, of all things. Of course, it hadn't stopped them from picking up some clothes for him while they were there; fixing Xander's fashion sense was a project that they sensed would probably take decades.

After carefully checking her complexion in the mirror another moment, she looked down and gasped as she saw blood pouring from the faucet.

It was at exactly that moment she felt as though she had been blindsided by some unexpected psychic body blow.


Buffy quietly entered the library, her mind a bit preoccupied with thoughts of the upcoming dance. Back in Hemery, she'd have been asked by a half-dozen guys already, and her sole problem would have been deciding which of the jocks she'd deign to let escort her.

Nowadays, however, things were significantly different. She'd been having some decidedly weird dreams the past couple nights, and last night's had most certainly been a contender for "The Most Surrealistic Dream of the Year" award. It had only been Dawn's presence beside her tha had allowed her to finally get back to sleep. She wished that the other half of the Pack could have been there, too, but her mother wouldn't have appreciated that in the least. Nowadays, Xander spent pretty much every weeknight at Willow's place, her parents not caring (or possibly even realizing), that he was there. After his inadvertent revelation about his home life, the three female Pack members had decided that, from that night forward, Xander would spend as little time at his own house, or anywhere near his parents, as possible. As an added bonus, it also gave Willow veto power over Xander's clothing selections for the day.

As far as the dream went, though, it had been weird enough to fall into the possible Slayer dream category. Which was why she was here, to discuss it with Giles.

"Giles, you are not gonna believe this," she said, semi-rehearsing what she was going to say. After all, Giles was her Watcher. He was supposed to help her train to kill vampires and demons, not act all therapist-y and help analyze her subconscious feelings and desires and things.

She stopped when she heard Giles talking and looked into his office.

"It's clear. It's what's going to happen. Uh, actually, it's happening now!" he was saying to someone. Whether he was speaking to another person in the office or he was on the phone was unclear at the moment.

As she watched, she saw Angel move into the light, holding a large dark, leather-backed book, she vaguely recognized as one Giles had spoke of several times as being irrefutable in its prophecies.

"It can't be. You've gotta be wrong," she heard the vampire saying as she moved closer, her steps inaudible to any listeners.

"I've checked it against all my other volumes. It's very real," Giles replied, a note of resignation in his voice she'd never heard before.

"Well, there's gotta be some way around it," Angel insisted.

"Listen to me, Angel. Some prophecies are, are a bit dodgy. They're, they're mutable. Buffy herself has, has thwarted them time and time again, but this is the Codex. There is nothing in it that does not come to pass," the librarian stated clearly.

Looking into his office, Buffy could see a very discouraged-looking Englishman slumped back against the edge of his desk.

"Then you're reading it wrong," Angel insisted. Whatever it was they were discussing, the Irish vampire was clearly opposed to Giles' analysis.

"I wish to God I were! But it's very plain! Tomorrow night Buffy will face the Master, and she will die."