Author: Greydon Creed <greydon_creed[at]>

Summary: The Slayerettes are not the only ones fighting evil in Sunnydale

Rating: PG-13; for violence and language

Disclaimer: The BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon and associated companies. The story itself belongs to me.

Distribution: Please let me know first and I will be glad to let you archive it.

Feedback: The Coin of the Realm.

Notes: This is a sequel to my previous full length story Rescue Me.

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Chapter 1

Alley behind The Bronze
Sunnydale, Calif.
Early August, 1998

The girl had never been so terrified in her life.

If she survived this mess, she was going to listen to her mom when she was nagging her about going out at night.

The girl was running as fast as she could; she was on the high school softball team and could run fast, but the two guys were keeping up with her. It was as though they were toying with her, not really trying to catch her yet.

She had gone to the Bronze with some girlfriends from school when a cute guy asked her to dance. So they danced until her new habit caught up with her.

Begging off to sneak a smoke in the alley behind the Bronze, the girl hadn't been too surprised that the guy followed her there, or that a friend of his came with him.

It was when the cute guy's face changed into that of a monster that things went bad, and then worse when he lunged for her.

The girl's instinctive defense - a kick in the balls - failed when the guy turned sideways and her foot glanced off his thigh. It staggered him for a moment, enough for the girl to see the friend blocking the door into the Bronze, his face that of a monster as well. The music from inside the club was too loud for anyone to hear her scream, so she wheeled about and ran for the end of the alley, the two monsters in pursuit.

The alley let out into another alley, and then another, until she was all turned around and didn't know where she was. She kept running, her feet beating against the pavement, almost drowned out by the louder pounding of the two guys chasing her.

Finally, the girl broke from the warren of alleys and came out alongside one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries - she couldn't tell which one. She knew that running into a deserted cemetery at night was a very bad idea, so she ran parallel to the wall, hoping to come to a busy street with people that could help her. She couldn't keep running much longer - her lungs were burning, her heart was beating what felt like a thousand times a minute, and her legs were on fire.

Chancing a quick glance behind her, the girl saw that the number of pursuers had increased to three - there was someone a few yards behind the first two and those were only ten yards behind her.

Turning back to the front and seeing the lights of cars on a street, the girl tried to speed up, but she was running on the ragged edge now. She pushed harder, seeing salvation ahead.

The girl was so locked onto the busy street ahead of her that she didn't see the broken pavement of the sidewalk. Her toe caught the edge of an uneven section and with a cry fell on all fours to the sidewalk, her hands getting all scraped and banged up. The pain didn't have time to register when the first two monsters finally caught up with her.

The girl had just turned her head when the first monster grabbed her and threw her hard against the cemetery wall. That she did feel - a loud starburst of light and pain that left her gasping and stunned, unable to move.

The monster slammed her back against the wall, his ridged face only inches away from hers. As the monster opened his mouth to reveal fangs, the girl suddenly realized that he wasn't even breathing hard.

"What... what are you???" the girl gasped - she had to know what these people were.

"The stuff of nightmares, babe." The monster twisted her head to the side, exposing her neck. "And you're dinner for tonight."

Just as the monster was about to bite her, the third person ran up to them. He didn't stop, but instead rammed into the monster holding her, knocking her to the ground and the monster into the wall.

The third guy turned and kicked at the second monster, which was coming up to help his friend. The guy's foot landed in his gut, knocking what little wind he had in there out and driving him back.

"Gabe! I'm at 3rd and Montana! I need back up!" The guy shouted to someone they couldn't see. Spinning around, the guy kicked at the first monster, but he backed off enough for the kick to miss.

The second monster snarled "You're going to wish you were dead, man!" and rushed the guy who was just turning around, his hand coming out from under his jacket. The guy's hand shot out and plunged what looked like a wooden stake into his chest.

The girl blinked when the monster turned grey and suddenly exploded into a cloud of dust. Meanwhile the guy turned and faced the first monster, stake at the ready, just in time for the monster's spin kick to knock the stake from his hand.

The guy began to backpedal, his hand going into his jacket again when he tripped over the broken concrete, falling back on his butt. The monster roared in triumph and leapt forward, but the girl, thinking fast, stuck her leg out and tripped him, causing him to stumble but not fall.

Just as the guy on the ground pulled a handgun from under his jacket, an SUV came to a screeching halt on the street next to the monster. As the monster turned his head to look at the truck, a brilliant light flashed from the passenger side window, blinding him temporarily as a voice yelled, "Stop or I'll shoot!!!"

As the monster turned to run, the guy on the ground yelled to the truck "He's a tango, take him!!!"

The monster had taken but one step away from the truck when there was a loud ripping sound . The monster's head blew apart a second before the rest of him turned to dust.

The doors of the SUV opened and two figures jumped out. One was carrying what looked like a silenced machine gun with attached light, while the other one was holding a handgun. The guy with the machine gun ran up to the girl while the other one went to the guy on the ground.

"You OK, Miss? You hurt?" The guy let the machine gun hang from its shoulder strap while he quickly looked over her with a small flashlight.

"I'm... I'm OK. Just... scrapes." The girl tried to get her breath back while trying to speak, and failed miserably.

"That thing didn't bite you, did it?" The guy dropped to one knee and took her chin in one hand, turning her head one way then the other, flashing his light over her neck.

" Just out... of breath." Now that the guy was close, the girl could see that he was a good-looking guy in his late twenties, with kind brown eyes.

The guy who had been fighting the monsters and the other guy from the truck walked up to them. Truck Guy had red hair and looked a little younger than Machine Gun Guy, while Hero Guy was older, in his late thirties or early forties, with a mustache and a sheepish look on his face.

Machine Gun Guy looked at Hero Guy and stood up. "Next time, you may want to wait for your horse *before* riding off to the rescue, buckaroo."

Hero Guy's sheepish look turned into a frown. "I waited ten seconds for you guys to come up, I wasn't about to lose track of tangos chasing someone."

Machine Gun Guy reached down and helped the girl stand up. "Just be careful, that's all. You have a ride home, Miss?" he asked, speaking to the girl.

" I caught a ride with my friend to the Bronze." The girl rubbed her hands absently, wincing at the pain from the scrapes.

"Go get the first aid kit," ordered Machine Gun Guy. "I'll call for a cab." Seeing the girl's mouth open to protest, he cut her off. "We'll pay for it. We'd give you a ride, but the less you know about us, the better." The guy pulled out a cell phone and walked off a few steps, dialing a number.

Once the red headed guy went to the truck for the kit, the girl was left standing with Hero Guy, who was adjusting what the girl saw was a radio earpiece and dusting himself off.

"What were those things? How come they exploded? And who are you guys?" The rapid-fire burst of questions didn't seem to faze the guy, who pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter while considering his answers.

"I'm sorry Miss, but we can't talk about it." The guy put a cigarette in his mouth and lit up.

"Hey! I nearly got killed tonight! I want to know what's happening here!" The girl was surprised at how angry she got at the first reply and shocked at the response that followed.

With a sidelong glance toward Machine Gun Guy, who still stood off to the side talking on the phone, Hero Guy looked back at her and sighed.

"Look, all I can tell you is... bring a cross, holy water and a stake along if you insist on going out late at night."

"Those were vampires?" the girl asked in a hushed voice. Hero Guy looked at her for a moment and gave a slight nod.

"So who are you guys?" The girl's voice was even lower now.

"You ever watch westerns?" Hero Guy suddenly asked. When the girl nodded, the guy continued to speak. "So you've seen movies where a town is out of control with bad guys, and a bunch of good guys have to ride in and clean up the mess?"

"Sure. So you guys are the new sheriffs in town?" The girl was being sarcastic, but his response surprised her.

A grin split Hero Guy's face, making him look younger. "You could say that," replied Deputy Tim Harris, smiling lopsidedly.

Sunnydale County Sheriff's Department
Headquarters Building
June 29, 1998
Monday, 2:58 PM

Gabriel Martin did not want to admit it, but he was slightly nervous as he briskly walked through the lobby. The message delivered by his lieutenant that morning had arrived unexpectedly, and was short and to the point: Report to the Sheriff, 1500 hours, 29 June 1998. No explanation was included. Gabriel didn't think that he had done anything wrong, but people didn't get called in to see the big boss like this for good news.

Just before he got to his destination, he ducked into the men's room and checked his appearance in the mirror. Gabriel was the youngest sergeant on the department at age 29 and proud of that fact. Standing six feet tall and weighing 175 pounds, he was not physically imposing. In a dark blue suit, white shirt, and dark red tie, Gabriel looked like an insurance salesman or a bank employee. Only two things attracted notice.

The first was the gold badge neatly hanging from his coat breast pocket. The sheriff himself had given him the sergeant's star after Gabriel had broke a series of convenience store armed robbery cases where the clerks had been brutally beaten. The promotion had been six months ago.

The other thing were the brown eyes that peered out from his tanned clean-shaven face. When he smiled, Gabriel would attract the attention of every female within view, but when he scowled, Gabriel's eyes could make a suspect's blood run cold.

Making sure that his dark brown hair was still neatly combed, Gabriel walked out of the men's room and into the sheriff's office. After the secretary announced his arrival, the sheriff called him into his office, shook Gabriel's hand and waved for him to sit down.

Martin watched as the tall, grey-haired man opened a wall safe and removed some files. Gabriel did not know the sheriff very well on a personal level, but had a great deal of respect for him. John Greer had started out in the 1970's in Los Angeles as a jail deputy, working his way up to patrol lieutenant and joined the Sunnydale department in the late 1980's. After working both in the field and in administration and excelling in both, Greer was elected to his current position the year before. The sheriff was a tough but fair man who did not suffer fools lightly.

"I've been hearing about the work you've been doing at Major Crimes, Sergeant," Greer started out saying. "Your case clearance rate is among the highest in the department and your investigation skills are outstanding. Your squad just cleared those jewelry store robbery cases up in Rosemont, correct?"

"Yes, sir. We arrested the suspect without incident at his home. We also recovered evidence linking him to the holdups. I was at the DA's office today and they feel that we gave them a very strong case." Gabriel was pleased at the complements the sheriff had given him, but was still a little nervous about why he had been called in.

"That's what I like to hear. Do you have any other major cases on deck right now?" Greer asked.

"No, sir. I have the armed robberies at the Charlestown housing development, but I only have to finish up the paperwork for the case," Gabriel replied.

The sheriff smiled briefly. "I'm glad to hear that. There are some new developments that we have to deal with and I want you available. I presume that you've heard about the increase in the violent crime rate in Sunnydale?"

"Yes, sir." Gabriel had noticed that the number of violent crimes had doubled compared to the year before in the city of Sunnydale while they remained about the same throughout the rest of Sunnydale County. Even though the Sheriff's Department had the authority to investigate any crime in the county, as a matter of course the Sunnydale City Police Department investigated crimes that occurred within the city limits. Gabriel had heard that the city police had fumbled some major cases and were trying to keep things quiet.

"You moved up here from Los Angeles when you first joined the department. I sure you've heard stories about some of the strange occurrences that happen in Sunnydale," Greer asked, looking at him closely.

Gabriel was thrown by the question, apparently coming out from left field. "Sure, sir, but I always thought that those were just ghost stories."

The sheriff picked up one of the file folders from the safe. Gabriel could now see that it was a red folder, used for reports from Intelligence Division that contained sensitive information. Greer handed Gabriel the thick folder.

"Well, Sergeant, I going to tell you something about those stories. they're true." Gabriel opened the folder and the title of the report leapt out at him:

Boca Del Inferno - The Hellmouth in Sunnydale.

Gabriel could hardly believe what he was reading. The folder contained substantiated reports of occult and paranormal events and entities. Apparently all this had been taking place in the area that became Sunnydale for decades, going back to when the Spanish settled in the area two hundred years ago. Gabriel turned a page and couldn't help but blink hard - the section was on vampires.

Greer watched Gabriel's face as he read. He knew the first question that Gabriel would ask when he finished reading: he asked it himself the first time he read the report.

"Why hasn't anything been done to stop this?" Gabriel asked incredulously.

"The major events started a year and a half ago, after a fifty year pause," Greer explained. "The sheriff before me and the county supervisors got together with the city council and the chief of police and they agreed that the city could handle it. The problem is that the city hasn't been handling it very well. When I first found out about this I tried to get involved but the county supervisors wouldn't let me. After the last incident, where that foreign kid got killed and those others beat up at the high school, I was finally able to convince the supervisors to let me act."

"How have they been able to keep a lid on this?" Gabriel's head was beginning to spin from the contents of the folder.

"The city isn't the ones keeping this under control," Greer said while looking through another folder. "These are the people keeping a lid on this." The sheriff handed the new red folder to Gabriel. The title page on this file stated simply, Elizabeth Anne 'Buffy' Summers.

Greer watched silently as Gabriel read the report on the girl and her activities. After he was done, Gabriel looked up at the sheriff.

"What you are telling me is that vampires do exist and that a bunch of high school kids are the only ones doing anything about it? And the city of Sunnydale and its police department are just sitting around doing nothing?"

Greer smiled grimly. "That's correct. To tell you the truth, I don't think the city knows that Summers and the others are involved and actually helping them out. They did think that Summers was responsible for the last round of attacks at the high school."

"But Summers was cleared, right?" Gabriel was looking down at a surveillance photo of the young woman in question in the folder. It showed her walking down the steps at the front of the high school with a young male with black hair and another young female with red hair. Presumably, they were her friends.

"Right. However, the city dragged its feet in clearing her. Summers went hand-to-hand with cops in two separate occasions and came out on top," the sheriff replied. "And that is where the problem is."

"I don't understand what you mean, sir," Gabriel confessed.

"Buffy Summers took off after the second arrest attempt. We figure that she's not in the city anymore, since the violent attack rate jumped after she dropped out of view," Greer explained. "And no, she is not considered a suspect in any of those attacks. The problem is that we don't know when she is coming back, if at all. We have to plan for that. I'm also offended by the fact that both the city and county of Sunnydale are in effect depending on an 17 year-old high school girl to protect it. So what we are going to do is set up a special unit to deal with these incidents. Officially, we're going to form an anti-crime unit to assist Sunnydale PD. In reality, we're going to take over from the city in dealing with the Hellmouth and the vampire attacks."

The sheriff took the two red folders from Gabriel and placed them back in his wall safe. He removed a regular folder from the safe, closed it, and sat down at his desk again.

"The county board of supervisors has given me the authorization and the funding to form an initial unit of six people to deal with these events for the indefinite future. This task force needs a commander. You interested?" Greer asked, smiling grimly again.

Gabriel was surprised. This was a high risk, high responsibility unit. But given what he had heard about the events in Sunnydale, there was only one response he could give.

"Yes, sir. I'm interested," Gabriel replied. "Who would be the other people on the team, sir?"

"That would be up to you. I'm going to make a couple of suggestions about that, though," Greer said. "You need to select people that can keep their mouth shut. The reason that the city fought us on us taking over is that they're afraid that all this will get out and the city will become a laughingstock. That and the fact that they were covering up a crime wave and doing nothing to stop it."

Gabriel could understand the sheriff's point. Sunnydale, California, could become the next Roswell, New Mexico, complete with vampires ripping the throats out of tourists.

The sheriff handed the folder he was holding to Gabriel. "These are the orders authorizing you to form the unit and to transfer whomever you want to it. I presume you know whom you want already?" the sheriff asked. Gabriel nodded. "Give me their names and we'll get together to talk to them the day after tomorrow. That's as fast as we can do it without attracting notice. This task force will be based out of this office and you will take orders and assignments from me only. Intel Division will provide you with detailed reports of past activity and that will also come through my office."

Greer paused for a second, and then looked straight at Gabriel. "This second suggestion is one you may want to strongly consider. You're SWAT qualified, correct?" he asked, referring to the Special Weapon and Tactics team

"Yes, sir. I'm part of the backup SWAT team," Gabriel had a feeling about what the sheriff was going to say next and he was proven correct.

"You may want to have people on your team who are SWAT qualified. The suspects in these cases are not going to go to jail willingly. If at all," Greer said ominously.

Chapter 2

Sunnydale County Sheriff's Department
Headquarters Building
June 29, 1998
Monday, 3:20 PM

After the sheriff's last remark, the office was silent for a few moments, broken only when Greer sighed and leaned back in his chair. Gabriel looked down at the unit authorization, his mind whirling with ideas and problems.

"I know that it's really too early to ask this, Sergeant, but do you have any idea on how you are going to organize this?" Greer asked. Opening a polished wooden box on his desk. and pulling out a cigar, Greer offered another one to Gabriel, who silently shook his head. Gabriel watched as Greer cut and lit the cigar, waiting until the fragrant smoke appeared before responding to the question.

"Well sir, I was thinking of forming the six men in the unit into two teams. Each team would be made up of two shooters and a tech. The tech would be a shooter as well, just that his main responsibility would be to deal with surveillance and detection gear." Gabriel paused for a second, watching as Greer nodded and motioned with his cigar for him to continue. "The two teams would patrol separately, with training twice a week during the day. With your permission, I would like to have a couple of men from the SWAT team and from Intel Division assigned to the unit. I can give you their names right now if you like."

Greer nodded again and pushed a sheet of paper across the desk. Gabriel quickly wrote on the paper and handed it back to the sheriff. Glancing at the sheet, Greer looked at Gabriel.

"Getting these men shouldn't be a problem. There are only four names on this list though. Presumably, you are the fifth man?" Gabriel nodded. "Who's the sixth man?"

Gabriel hesitated for a moment, visibly putting his thought in order before speaking. "Sir, this deputy is a former Army Ranger, with multiple decorations for valor. He helps train the SWAT team even though he is not a member of the team. He was involved in one shooting with the Department, saving the life of a citizen."

"So what is the problem? This man sounds like an ideal candidate for the unit," the sheriff asked.

"The problem, sir, is that Timothy Harris is only a reserve deputy."

"I see." The problem was not an insignificant one. Reserve deputies had the same authority and powers as regular deputies, only they were unpaid and worked an average of four duty shifts a month. Because of this, reservists were not allowed to join specialized units such as SWAT, as the training and money involved made it obvious that regular deputies had to take the positions. "Tell me about Harris. What does he do for a living?"

"Sir, Tim Harris owns Harris Hardware on Oak Street in River Valley. After Tim retired from the Army, he took control of the family business and did well for himself. However, he got bored and decided to join the police reserves in Sunnydale. He went through a regular police academy with his own money and graduated near the top of his class. By that time, Tim apparently changed his mind and applied to the Sheriff's Department and was accepted as a reservist."

"How has Harris done since he joined the department?" the sheriff asked, leaning back in his chair while puffing on his cigar.

"Tim works a minimum of two duty shifts every week and sometimes more if coverage is needed somewhere. In the two and a half years he's been on the department he has not been disciplined and has been involved in one shooting that was ruled justified and received a commendation."

"Let me see if I understand. You want someone who has all the qualifications for your unit but department regs won't allow you to accept him because he is a reservist. Am I correct?" Greer asked.

"Yes, sir." Gabriel was curious as to where this was going. It almost sounded as though the sheriff was going to say no, but quite.

"Well then, I guess there is only one thing we can do." The stern tone of his voice was belied by the twinkle in Greer's eyes.

The First Asterisk Bar
June 30, 1998
Tuesday, 7:30 PM

Entering the First Asterisk Bar was always something of a shock to the first-time visitor. More than one person compared it to walking into the alien bar scene in the first Star Wars movie.

Located in the basement of an industrial building on the outskirts of the city limits, First Asterisk was not that easily found and it was preferred that way. Dark, smoky, and politically incorrect, as the beer company posters of scantily clad women attested to, it was the customers that usually scared people.

Among the customers were large hulking men in dirty denim with shaved heads and Fu Manchu mustaches, skinny long-haired types that looked as though they were two days out of prison and 10 minutes past their last crystal meth hit, and strangest of all, clean-cut guys in slacks and hideous Hawaiian shirts that were talking with the other bar inhabitants as though there was nothing odd about it. Meanwhile, country music played from the jukebox at a volume that was just short of deafening.

It was only until that visitor saw the portrait behind the cash register that they usually relaxed. In the portrait stood James Patrick, the bar owner, in full SWAT gear, a gleam apparent in his eyes. The realization that most if not all of the bar patrons were off-duty and undercover police officers usually brought a sigh of relief from the worried visitors.

Gabriel Martin always looked at the portrait when he came into the bar, as did many of the other patrons. It served as a reminder that as tough and hard you thought you were, there was always someone out there that was even more so or just plain lucky. Jim Patrick discovered this when he walked into an ambush on a drug raid and caught a burst of rounds in his stomach and legs. Paddy's armor had stopped the stomach rounds, but the damage to his leg was so severe it was amputated above his left knee.

Gabriel had just walked up to the bar when a mug of draft beer slid to a stop in front of him. Looking up from the beer, Martin saw a man walking toward him, hobbling slightly on his artificial leg, his blue eyes twinkling.

"I see you still remember what I drink, Paddy,' Gabriel said, shaking hands with the bar owner. "Aye, and 'tis a miracle too, with ye not coming in no more. That sergeant's shield making you think yer better than us now, lad?" Paddy's Irish accent came to him naturally, as both his parents came from the auld sod. Even so, Paddy only used it when teasing someone or when telling one of his tall tales.

"You know better, Paddy. Nothing like 12 hour shifts to make a man want to be with his wife and family," replied Gabriel, taking a sip of the cold brew.

"Aye, that would be true, lad, if you *had* a wife and family to go home to." Paddy took a sip of his own beer and continued to speak in his regular non-accented voice. "So Gabe, how's it going at Major Crimes?"

"Not too bad, though I wasn't kidding about the hours. This is the first time in three months that I've hadn't had a case hanging over me." Gabriel looked around and back at Paddy. "Is Tim Harris here tonight?"

"Yeah, he came in a few minutes ago. He got a beer and been sitting in that corner by himself. You here to see him?" asked Paddy.

"I going to make him an offer he can't refuse." Gabriel's Italian accent was so bad that Paddy recoiled in mock horror.

"Away, away with ye! The mere sound of your voice will haunt me 'til the end of me days!!!" Laughing, Gabriel shook Paddy's hand again before picking up his beer and walking to the far corner, where a lone figure sat in a booth drinking from a glass mug.

Tim Harris looked ten years younger than his 43 years of age. Most of this was due to the laugh lines that radiated from his eyes and mouth. His dark brown hair, neatly trimmed full mustache, and casual clothes presented the image of a successful, preppy businessman, but the tired look in his dark brown eyes made you realize that this person had seen more in the world than he would have wanted to.

"Is it me or does the jukebox keep playing the same Garth Brooks song? 'Cause that's what is sounds like to me," Tim said in greeting as Martin put his beer on the table and slid into the opposite seat.

"Don't you know? *All* country music is the same song played *over* and *over* and *over* again." Both men grinned at the pithy comment. "How's it going, Tim?"

"Same old same old. Sell hammers and nails during the week, chase drunken kids on weekends. Last week was a bit more fun; I got to see the look on Lt. Williams' face when I was teaching the guys to Australian rappel." Tim grinned lopsidedly.

Gabriel smiled at the image. Lt. Bob Williams was one of the team leaders on SWAT. Calm during a crisis, Williams was a bit more high- strung during training. Gabriel could imagine the look on his face as Tim taught the SWAT team members how to walk on the side of a building using rappel ropes, with the climber literally standing horizontally - facing down.

"What's up, Gabe? All I know is that you left a message at the store to meet you here. No reason, no explanation." Tim took another drink while watching Gabriel consider the question.

"Can you tell me about your shooting incident?" Gabriel saw that the question surprised Tim.

"What's there to tell? You've heard the story before." Tim put his beer down and looked at Gabriel closely.

"I want to hear it from you." Gabriel and Sheriff Greer had spent the day going over the prospective team members' personnel records, including Tim's.

"What's to tell? My partner and I responded to a call of screaming in Rose Fields Park. We split up and I found the woman and perp behind some trees. I lit them up with my light and ID'd myself. The perp rushed me with what looked to be a edged weapon in his hand. I put two rounds in the guy and he spun around and took off. The woman was badly injured, so I stayed with her and called for paramedics. Sunnydale PD screwed around like usual and by the time we got dogs out there we lost the trail at a sewer manhole."

"What was strange about what happened?" Tim's story matched the official report so far.

"Strange? You mean besides the fact that the guy was wearing a monster mask? That I put two rounds in his X-ring and he still ran off and escaped? That the sweet nothings he whispered in the victim's ear was that he was going to drink her blood and eat her heart? Or that Sunnydale PD flat-out refused to go into the sewers to search for the perp even though it was already daylight by that time? Oh, there was nothing strange... for Sunnydale or it's wonderful PD." Tim rolled his eyes and took a drink from his mug of beer.

"You sure about the two rounds?" Gabriel knew this was important.

"Positive. Not only did I see the hits, there was a major blood trail that stopped halfway to that manhole cover." Tim picked up his beer and looked at Gabriel with a frown.

"There's one more thing I want to hear about, if you don't mind," Gabriel asked, his tone neutral. "Tell me about the incident at Sunnydale Police Academy when you were a cadet."

Tim's eyes went from curious to cold to wary in the space of a half- second. and went back to cold before he began to speak.

"One of the tactical officers at the Academy was sexually harassing a female cadet. I had gone into the gym after class to get my bag when I heard voices.

"Before they saw me, I heard the tac officer tell the cadet that if she didn't "accept his proposal" he would bust her out of the Academy. This was while he had the cadet at attention and he was standing way too close to her.

"The two finally saw me and the tac officer tried to BS his way out of the situation. I told the cadet to come with me to the Academy Commandant's office and the tac officer lost it, yelling at both of us to stay put. We walked from the gym into the quad and he came out after us, still yelling. In front of a squad of cadets he grabbed and spun me around, and my fist "accidentally" hit him in the jaw and knocked him down."

Tim paused to take a drink of beer, eyeing Gabriel for a couple of seconds before continuing the story.

"The other tac officers ran over and held back the one I knocked down before he grabbed me again. They took us all to the Commandant's office and the whole story came out. The Commandant relieved the tac officer of duty and ordered that no charges be filed against me.

"An official inquiry found that there was insufficient evidence of sexual harassment and the tac officer stayed on the force, but did discipline him for attacking me. The female cadet graduated number three in the class and left Sunnydale PD "without prejudice" immediately afterwards. She's now an officer at Shady Hills PD.

"After I graduated, I was informed that "due to injuries and wounds received in military service" I was now disqualified from joining Sunnydale PD. I applied to the other departments in the county but they didn't have anything available. SCSD had a reserve slot open, so I took it. That was almost three years ago."

Tim took another drink of his beer and put it down on the table. "You want to tell me what this is about, Sergeant?" Tim asked, with emphasis on the rank.

Gabriel smiled at Tim. "Don't worry, I just wanted to hear the stories from you. What I'm about to tell you can't go any further." Gabriel waited until Tim nodded his assent.

"SCSD is forming a special unit. It's going to deal with incidents like the one in the park."

Tim interrupted. "Investigate, you mean?"

Gabriel shook his head. "No, it's going to be proactive, try to prevent incidents. And that is all I can tell you. What I need to know is if you would volunteer to join this unit."

Tim looked steadily at Gabriel. "Probably, but there is one little problem. Reservists can't join special units. That's why I'm not on SWAT, remember?"

"Besides that, would you volunteer?" Gabriel matched Tim's level stare.

"Yeah, I would. But isn't the point moot?" Tim frowned slightly as he spoke.

"Not exactly. Do you have your star with you?" Gabriel referred to Tim's deputy sheriff's badge.

"Sure." Tim reached inside his jacket, pulled out a slim leather wallet and pushed it across the table to Gabriel, the frown still on his face.

Gabriel flipped open the wallet and saw the gold star and photo ID card inside. Closing the wallet, Gabriel reached inside his coat and produced an identical wallet and handed it to Tim.

Opening the wallet, Tim saw his photo and name on the ID card. On the line marked "Rank" was the title "Deputy Sheriff II" instead of the previous title of "Reserve Deputy Sheriff". Looking closer, Tim saw that the badge had a regular badge number instead of one marked by an "R" that the reservists carried. And the sheriff's signature on the ID card was handwritten, not machine printed. Looking up sharply at Gabriel, Tim saw that the younger man was smiling.

"Still interested, Tim?" Gabriel could see that Tim was slightly stunned at what the ID folder represented.

"What about duty tours? I still have a store to run." Tim looked back at the wallet as if to reconfirm what he was actually holding.

"You can have the same amount of hours you put in now, only you'll be paid for them. You'll be working nights mostly, and I'm sure that your manager can pick up any slack at the store. I can tell you the rest later. So, you in?" asked Gabriel again.

"How can I refuse?" With that, both men lifted their beers and tapped the mugs together, sealing the deal.

Chapter 3

Sheriff's Conference Room
SCSD Headquarters
July 1, 1998
Wednesday, 9:00 AM

Gabriel stood at the podium, his hands gripping the sides while looking out at the men seated before him. Even though his police investigation and people skill were very good, public speaking didn't come to him easily. The group in front of him was small, but the briefing was still important.

The man sitting closest to him was Senior Deputy Peter Murray, Gabriel's training officer when he first went to Patrol Division. A tall muscular black man, Murray was the second oldest of the deputies he had selected for the unit at age 40. SWAT qualified and street- savvy, Murray was also the only other deputy present with a prior shooting. After stopping a speeder who he did not know was wanted for murder, a shootout resulted where Murray remained standing with a bullet in his armor and a glancing bullet wound on the side of his head and the speeder was dead on the ground. Gabriel planned to make Murray the second team leader.

Deputy Matt Parker, age 27 with blond hair and blue eyes, resembled the California surfer that in fact he really was during his time off. But on duty Parker was one of the hottest shooters on the SWAT team. He was one of only two people that could run the SWAT kill house exercises and get a perfect score. Parker would be the shooter on the second team.

Deputies Scott Kelly and Steve Angelo were to be the techs on the teams. Kelly had red hair and blue eyes, while Angelo had dark hair and eyes, but the two were so similar in height, build, and personalities (they looked like mid-twenties computer geeks) that people sometimes thought they were brothers. Even now, they were speaking to each other softly in techno babble that only they understood. The Twins, as they were sometimes called, were assigned to the Intelligence Division. Intel dealt with electronic surveillance, such as wiretaps, and also dealt with computer crimes and with analyzing crime patterns. Kelly had helped set up most of the slides and reports for the briefing, although the sensitive information and photos came from the sheriff himself.

Tim Harris was sitting toward the back of the room, twirling a pencil between his fingers. Tim had an idea as to what this meeting was about, but it was just the tip of the iceberg of information that Gabriel was going to reveal here.

At the far end of the table, chewing an unlit cigar, was Sheriff John Greer. The only other man in the room who knew the entire story, he looked grimly satisfied that his project was about to start. Tapping his wedding ring against the tabletop to get everyone's attention, Greer waited until all eyes were on him before speaking.

"I want to thank everyone for being here this morning. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the formation of a special unit. Everyone present is a candidate for this unit and it is hoped that you will all elect to volunteer to join. This unit will deal with suspects and crimes that are unusual, to say the least, and you were selected to possibly join with this in mind. If at any time during this briefing you decide you do not want to be a part of this unit, say so immediately and you will be excused to return to your regular duties." Greer paused and looked at everyone, seeing curiosity on everyone's faces. "You may start the briefing, Sergeant Martin."

Seeing everyone's eyes back on him, Gabriel forced a smile onto his face. "Everyone here knows what the difference is between a fairytale and a police war story is, right? A fairy tale starts out with 'Once upon a time', and a war story starts out - "

"'This is a true story,'" everyone answered in unison, some chuckling at the old joke.

"Well deputies, this isn't a fairy tale, it's a true story. Some of you already know parts of what I'm about to tell you, but now you are about to get all we currently know." Hitting the switches to turn on the slide projector and dim the room lights, Gabriel clicked a button to show one of the few subject photos they possessed, taken from a surveillance camera videotape. Once the close-up of the snarling vampire was on screen, Gabriel continued to speak.

"Vampires are real . . ."

As Gabriel clicked the lights back on and turned the projector off, he looked at the men sitting before him. Except for the sheriff, Gabriel saw varying degrees of shock and wonder on everyone's faces but no disbelief. After all they had seen on the screen and on the street, they had no reason *not* to believe.

The sheriff's deep voice broke the silence. "Now you men know why this unit is being formed. Since you are all still sitting here, we can assume that you are still interested in joining the unit or are deep in shock."

There were some distracted chuckles, but everyone there was still mentally seeing the crime scene photos the thirty-minute briefing had presented. No one ever got used to seeing dead children and teens and there had been pictures of that.

"What I need now is for everyone to formally agree to be a member of the unit. We'll go around the room, starting with Deputy Murray. Peter?"

"I'm in." Murray's face showed a faint trace of shock from the briefing, but it was quickly replaced with determination.

"Count me in." Parker's surfer cool reestablished itself as he shook off the images in his head.

"I'm in." Kelly and Angelo spoke in unison, looking grim for once.

"I'm in." Tim Harris answered last, looking at the projection screen as though trying to see something in the white surface.

"Very well. For now, everyone take a ten minute break. We'll start going over details for the formation of the teams at . . . 9:45," Greer said, looking down at his wristwatch.

Everyone stood up and moved toward the door except for Tim. Walking over to the slide projector, he switched it on and advanced the slides until it got to the picture of Buffy Summers on the steps of Sunnydale High School.

"Hard to believe that that girl's been the one fighting this up 'til now, isn't it Tim?" asked Gabriel, standing behind him.

"That's not it, Gabe. You're not going to believe this, but I know that kid there." Tim pointed to the dark-haired boy standing next to Summers.

"How do you know him, Deputy?" Sheriff Greer came up behind Gabriel and looked at the screen.

"That's Xander Harris, sir. My nephew."

Gabriel and Greer looked sharply at Tim, then at each other before looking back at the projection screen.

Gabriel was the first to speak. "How well do you know him, Tim?"

"Not very well. My brother and I don't get along, so I only see Xander every once in a while. The last time I spoke to him was about a month ago."

"How do you get along with him, Deputy?" Sheriff Greer asked the next question.

"Pretty well, sir. I didn't get to see much of him because I was in the Army for most of his life," Tim replied.

Greer and Gabriel looked at each other again before Greer spoke again. "This may prove to be useful, Deputy. It is something that we would have to think long and hard about before we acted on it."

Tim turned from the screen and faced the two men. "Xander isn't a criminal suspect, is he, sir?" he asked in an even tone of voice.

"*None* of these teens are criminal suspects, at least in matters that are not related to the vampire hunting. Our intention is *not* to put these kids behind bars," Greer replied.

"I'm glad to hear that, sir. For a moment I thought you were going to ask me to infiltrate their group." Tim was still looking steadily at the two men.

"That thought did cross my mind, Tim," Greer admitted, using his name for the first time. "But there are other ways of getting information, and that is all we intend to do for now. Investigation and prosecution of this group is not an objective."

"Yes, sir." Tim relaxed slightly.

"Right now, our intent is to form and train the teams. Besides the supernatural events, you are going to deal with human suspects and crimes as a cover. That is where you come in are going to be of great help, since you have military and SWAT training experience," Greer continued explaining. "In effect we are setting up a stakeout unit that deals with street crimes, human and otherwise."

"How is Sunnydale PD going to react to SCSD coming in and playing on their turf?" Tim asked, curious.

"They're not going to like it but they no longer have any say in the matter." Gabriel replied for Sheriff Greer.

"Let me see if I have this straight. SCSD is forming a unit that will not only be fighting *vampires* but will have no immediate backup because the local agency is going to hate our guts for being there in the first place?" Tim watched as both Gabriel and Greer nodded their heads in confirmation.

Shaking his head, Tim reached over and turned off the slide projector.

Chapter 4

Sunnydale, Calif.
September 5, 1998
Saturday 2:45 AM

Tim Harris leaned tiredly back in the driver's seat of the SUV, waiting for the traffic light to turn green. Their duty tour was almost over and Tim felt like hell, no pun intended.

After the teams had been formed a couple of months before, they had plunged into near-frenetic activity. The first week had been nothing but planning - training, weapon and gear issue, patrols, analyzing previous crime patterns.

Scott Kelly and Steve Angelo had been busy that first week doing some discrete hacking. Sheriff Greer had given permission for the techs to break into the Sunnydale PD computers after the crime reports and statistics they had been using began to look suspect after close scrutiny. Their hunch proved to be correct once the techs found the real figures. The actual numbers shocked everyone - the City of Sunnydale had twice the homicide rate and four times the assault rate than had been publicly revealed.

The training for the Special Enforcement Unit, as they were officially known as, hadn't been easy, but it wasn't all that difficult either. Since Gabriel, Peter Murray, Matt Parker and Tim had either SWAT or military backgrounds, it had been a matter of getting Scott and Steve up to speed while getting in proper shape themselves. The techs had cursed under their breath on the runs and complained loudly when their (relatively low) shooting scores resulted in paying for beers at the First Asterisk bar. But a couple months later, the techs were keeping up with the shooters on the runs and buying beers only infrequently now.

Rudimentary patrol tactics and signals hadn't taken long to absorb, so two weeks after formation the teams started patrolling. Nothing heavy-duty at first; they did walk-throughs of the various parks, alleys, and streets where attacks took place. They didn't see any vampires at first, since they had gone in all together with powerful lights and no attempts at stealth. Once they started doing decoy and solo ops however, the story had changed dramatically.

Decoy ops was the official name, but informally they were called sucker plays. With two shooters watching him, one man would pretend to be drunk or lost and go into a hot zone. Since the shooters were in continuous close observation and radio contact with the decoy, if and when a vampire attacked the others could intercede if necessary.

Solo ops were similar to decoy ops, but with one important difference; the shooters could not be close to the decoy without blowing his cover, so they would be farther back than normal to provide backup. They would respond, of course, but they could be anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute away - a long time in a hand-to- hand fight. So far only Tim and Peter Murray were cleared to do solo ops, since they were the most experienced fighters on the teams.

Their first staking had occurred almost by accident. Gold Team had been going down an alley behind a club called the Bronze when they had seen a girl leaning up against a wall crying. When Murray walked up to her to ask what was wrong, the girl had spun around and leapt at him, vamp face in place. Only the fact that Murray had been so much bigger than the girl had kept him from being knocked down. As it was, Murray was so busy fending off the vampires' punches and kicks that it was Matt Parker was the one that ran up behind the girl and staked her.

After that both teams moved around more carefully. They never approached someone without at least one team member having their hands on a weapon, firearm or otherwise.

Tim stepped on the gas once the light finally turned green. The dark blue GMC Yukon smoothly accelerated, not disturbing Gabriel Martin, reading printouts in the front passenger seat, or Scott Kelly in the back seat working on a laptop computer.

Cruising in the Yukon was one of the better perks of being in Stakeout, as the teams were informally known as. Once the sheriff has signed off on their equipment requests, Gabriel and Tim had gone to Bob Williams to "borrow" the gear and vehicles needed. Memories of the SWAT lieutenant's howl of anguish at the news of losing some of his team's toys still produced laughs at First Asterisk.

In retrospect, Williams couldn't really complain about the requisitions. Most of the weapons and gear they were borrowing were already assigned to the current SWAT team members or had been seized in drug or smuggling cases from the port. The Yukon and the black Chevy Suburban were also drug forfeitures, but the SWAT team had been planning to use those for themselves. The massive vehicles had already been outfitted with dark-tinted windows, running boards, brush guards and extra lights when the department garage installed police lights under the grills and radios under the dash. The techs had just finished their work the day before when Gabriel and Tim showed up on SWAT's doorstep with big smiles on their faces.

Formation of the two teams had happened almost on their own. Peter and Matt had SWAT in common so they naturally gravitated toward each other. That being said, the young blond surfer and the older black family man couldn't look more dissimilar, not that it mattered when they moved through the shooting house silently and in near perfect synch.

Gabriel and Tim paired off since they knew each other from before as well. Scott Kelly wound up on Gabriel's team since he had access to SCSD and SPD computers via his laptop computer and Steve Angelo was more up to speed on the surveillance gear the other team carried in their truck.

Gold Team, consisting of Peter Murray, Matt Parker and Steve Angelo, was the heavy assault team. SWAT team members Peter and Matt carried their callout gear in the large black Suburban, along with Steve's techie gear. Steve had rigged up a sophisticated alarm lockdown system on the truck, since it contained enough weapons, armor and explosives to make a squad of Marines flinch.

Blue Team was made up of Gabriel, Tim and Scott Kelly and functioned as a scout and investigative team. They would check out locations where attacks and disturbances had taken place. Most of these were culled from the SPD computer, where Scott had set up a backdoor access code to facilitate snooping in the restricted files.

Once either of the teams had located a known vampire area, or "hot zone", they would set up a decoy op or link up with the other team to sweep the location, using silenced firearms and blessed weapons to deal with whatever popped up.

Memories of the weapons being issued still brought a faint smile to Tim's lips. With special permission from the sheriff, the team members were allowed to carry personally owned handguns with approval of the unit leader. While Gabriel, Scott and Steve carried the department issue Beretta 92F 9mm pistols, Peter chose a Smith & Wesson 4506 .45 caliber handgun and Matt carried a Heckler & Koch .45 caliber USP Compact pistol. Tim showed his age by carrying a Colt Government Model .45 caliber handgun, the old military service pistol. No one on the team made fun of his choice after he beat them all in the first qualifying firearms test by shooting 495 out of 500 points possible. Matt, the next best shooter, shot only a 490, with everyone else shooting above a 450, the minimum department qualifying score.

Tim, as the unit's main firearms instructor, had decided that combat shooting demanded more stress and a harder target than the regular silhouette. Taking a cue from an story about the Old West gunfighter Wild Bill Hickock, Tim taped playing cards to the silhouettes to be used as targets and told the stunned shooters that the lowest scoring shooter would be buying the team beers at the First Asterisk bar. Shooting rapidly improved after that.

Since the four designated shooters on Stakeout were SWAT qualified, they already were familiar with the H&K MP-5 submachine guns used on the teams. However, Tim was able to scrounge up PDW models, compact versions of the already small weapons. Slung on special tactical shoulder harnesses, they could be carried unseen under a coat but still be drawn and fired accurately in a second and a half. Fitted with silencers and white lights to blind targets, the mini-subguns could empty a 30 round clip in three seconds. A vampire would dust if it took that kind of sustained burst to the head or heart; Gabriel had demonstrated that during the summer against the vampire that had tried to run after chasing a girl from that club.

The techs were familiarized with the subguns, but they mostly stuck with the shotguns that all deputies were trained with at the Academy. Rifles with scopes were also issued for longer distance shooting, but those were used mostly by Tim and Matt.

Traditional weapons ran the gamut from short swords and stakes to small one handed crossbows and hand axes. Scott displayed his weird sense of humor by filling a Super Soaker with holy water and carrying it in his truck.

Heavy Kevlar battle armor with laminated ceramic trauma plates and throat guards were given out. Hidden Agenda jackets, which looked like regular black windbreakers, but with hidden identification panels so they could ID themselves if necessary to carry most of their smaller weapons under. Black balaclava hats, which looked like stocking hats but could be pulled down to cover faces if the need arose.

The members of the teams took the weapon issue in stride, picking out the weapons they felt the most comfortable with and setting it aside, so that each team member had a selection of traditional and modern weapons on the tables in front of them. Once they had all their gear, the team members were instructed to lay out the traditional weapons and to put on the battle armor and line up in front of the tables. That is when the priest was brought in.

Father Anthony Matthias was the department chaplain and a close friend of Sheriff Greer. Presumably the Jesuit priest knew what happened in Sunnydale after dark, since Father Matt didn't bat an eye at being asked to bless some items.

Tim could still remember the slightly uncomfortable looks on the other deputies' faces as Father Matt sprinkled them with holy water and chanted the blessings in Latin. Only Gabriel and Tim were Catholic, so the others were not familiar with the rituals as the wizened man in black blessed them, their armor, and their swords and other traditional weapons.

Tim made a right turn at the next corner, driving along the short picket fence of Restfield Cemetery. Glancing over through the fence, Tim saw figures moving among the headstones and slowed the truck to a stop along the curb opposite the cemetery.

Feeling the vehicle stop, Gabriel looked up from his printouts. "Got something, Tim?"

"Something's moving in the cemetery," Tim responded. Shutting off the engine, he lowered his window and reached for a night vision scope behind his seat. Flipping the scope's power on, Tim started sweeping the graveyard, trying to pick up the movement again.

"Not now. Please God not now. I'm still trying to get the vamp dust out of my coat," Scott groused. He closed his laptop and picked a parabolic mike, ready to start scanning as well.

"You just want to hit the rack, Scott. And if your coat gets dirty, it's because you keep getting knocked on your ass by tangos," Tim replied softly, using the team code word for targets, such as vampires.

Gabriel chuckled. The team leader would normally let the two bicker, since they would knock it off the second something turned serious.

"Tallyho - I've got three possible tangos at 10 o'clock, they look human." Tim increased the magnification of the scope, zooming in on the figures.

"Got 'em," Scott replied. Switching on the mike, he pointed the dish out his own open window at the figures, trying to hear if they were talking.

"OK... two short ones and a tall one... moving natural..." Tim said, watching them approach the cemetery fence, gradually coming close enough so that he would be able to make out faces.

"Picking them up... putting them on speaker." Kelly disconnected his earphones and plugged in a mini-speaker.

"-still can't believe you're looking forward to your homework, Wil. You'll probably have it all done by October."

"I will not! I haven't done that since... since..."

"Freshman year, Wil. And you didn't do it since then only because we were with... were busy all the time."

'Don't tip toe around it. You meant to say 'when we were with Buffy.' Remember the rules, Xander."

By the time Tim could clearly make out the faces of the approaching figures. The voices and names were a giveaway, but Tim's hands still tightened on the scope when he saw Xander Harris with Willow Rosenberg and her boyfriend Oz. Relaxing his grip, Tim turned to Gabriel and raised an eyebrow, silently asking for instructions.

Gabriel shook his head; he recognized the names and voices as well. "Let's get going, Tim. Head for home."

Tim put down the scope and turned on the truck engine. Rolling up the windows, he dropped the truck into gear and pulled into the street, away from the three teens.

Scott flipped open his laptop and began to work, but Gabriel kept an eye on Tim. Gabriel could tell that seeing his nephew had affected Tim, but only because his lips had tightened in an otherwise calm face.

"I wonder why we haven't seen that many tangos. We've only averaged one or two tangos a week," mused Gabriel aloud.

"It's summer, boss. Less tangos 'cuz the days are longer," Scott replied absently, pecking at his keyboard. "They either sleep longer or they move to darker climes."

"Hmm... but it's September now. Days are getting shorter. So attacks are going to rise?" Gabriel asked.

"From what I pulled from SPD, attacks will double once school starts. I guess tangos like their meals young," responded Scott, his voice flat.

Tim's lips tightened some more but otherwise did not react. Gabriel decided not to say anymore and instead turned up the volume of the police radio that had been muttering softly throughout the night. Just then three loud beeps came from the radio - the signal for a dangerous call.

-- All units available, Unit 3 Bravo 9, 211(armed robbery) in progress, 500 W. Main Avenue, Speedy Gas & Mart, silent alarm, no answer phone. Unknown subjects, respond code 2 (emergency lights, no siren). --

The female voice on the radio had announced an armed robbery in progress at a gas station in Sunnydale. Even though the city had a big enough problem with assorted undead bad guys, actual human crimes were not low either. That being said, armed robberies were not that common.

-- 3 Bravo 9, copy, code 2. --

-- 3 Bravo 14, in on that, code 2. --

-- 3 Bravo Sam 1, responding, code 2. --

-- 3 Bravo 9, 3 Bravo 14, 3 Bravo Sam 1, copy response, code 2. --

Three units had responded. The assigned unit and two nearby units had confirmed that they were responding to the call, one of them a supervisor unit, probably a sergeant.

Tim looked over at Gabriel, eyebrow raised again. This time Gabriel nodded and reached for the radio handset. Tim flipped on the red and blue emergency lights and sped up as Gabriel spoke into the handset, using their code designation for Sheriff Stakeout Blue Team to identify themselves

-- Sheriff unit Sierra Bravo responding to 211 in progress , code 2. - -

There was a few seconds silence before the dispatcher responded.

-- Sheriff unit Sierra Bravo, copy response, code 2. --

"Sunnydale's Finest are happy to hear from us, right?" Tim spun the steering wheel, guiding the SUV onto another street.

"You could say that," Gabriel replied.

-- Dispatch, 3 Bravo 9, 10-97 (on scene) with 3 Bravo 14. --

-- 3 Bravo 9, 3 Bravo 14, copy 10-97 --

The first two units had announced that they had arrived at the scene to dispatch, who confirmed their call.

"How much longer to get there?" Gabriel shoved his paperwork into a notebook and put it aside,

"Two minutes, max." Tim had just made another turn, heading down Main Avenue when a different voice came over the radio.

-- Dispatch, 3 Bravo 14. Location secured. Change call from 211 to 187. Requesting paramedics, CSU and Henry Unit response. --

The radio transmission was not crystal clear, but listeners could hear how shaky the officer's voice was. With good reason - he had just changed the call from an armed robbery to a murder. The officer had also requested that Crime Scene Unit and Homicide Unit respond. The paramedics were just a formality.

Slowing down, the three men could see two sets of emergency lights at a gas station ahead. As Tim pulled up behind the black & whites parked in front of the gas station, they saw a uniformed officer run from the inside of the store and around the corner of the building.

Just as the three deputies threw opens their doors and jumped out of the truck, thinking the officer was pursuing a suspect, retching sounds became audible. Slowing to a walk, the three saw that the uniformed officer bent over, throwing up what was left of his dinner.

"Not a good sign, eh?" Scott cracked.

"Not likely," Gabriel replied. "Stay here with him, Scott. Make sure your tac link's on." Gabriel and Tim turned and walked back to the front of the gas station, trying to spare the sickened officer more embarrassment.

Speedy Gas & Mini-Mart
Sunnydale, Ca
September 2, 1998
Wednesday 3:00 AM

As Gabriel and Tim approached the open front door of the gas station, the two pulled at tabs on their black windbreaker jackets, revealing reflective panels with the word "Sheriff" on the back and front right panels and an embroidered badge patch on the front left. Once they got to the door, Gabriel noticed what Tim was carrying in his hands.

"Sure you brought enough gun, Tim?" Gabriel enquired, making sure his tac radio earpiece-mike was in place.

"Can you ever have too much?" Tim shot back, settling the sling of the SIG 551 assault carbine across his back. Snapping the folding stock into place, he tested the white light mounted on the weapon before pulling back the charging handle, chambering the first 5.56 mm caliber round. "You think there's going to be a shootout, you bring a rifle. After you," Tim said, motioning toward the door.

Gabriel drew his Beretta pistol and pointed toward the ground. Standing alongside the door he called out, "Sheriff's Department, anyone in there?"

A shaky male voice responded, "Officer Roberts, Sunnydale PD. You can come in."

Gabriel and Tim moved through the door and saw a uniformed officer standing by the cashier's booth. The two men quickly went through the aisles and the back rooms, making sure no one was hiding in there before joining the officer at the booth.

The officer looked a few years older than the one outside but didn't look much better. The harsh florescent lighting made his pallor into a near ghostly white.

Both Tim and Gabriel had seen dead people as part of the job, in photos and at crime scenes. But this one was different.

There was shattered Plexiglas all over the floor; someone had smashed through the booth door.

The cashier was laying on the floor flat on his back, legs curled beneath him. There was a look of horror set on his face, unseeing eyes wide open.

The dead man's head was at an odd angle, his neck apparently broken; his throat was ripped open as well, although there was little blood visible.

The man's arms were splayed out on the floor. The fingers on the left hand were at odd angles; it looked like someone had broken them deliberately.

Laying off to the side of the body was a handgun, a revolver. The smell of gunpowder suggested that the dead man may have gotten some shots off at his attacker before being overpowered.

The register and the safe under the counter were open and empty. There also appeared to be some cartons of cigarettes and bottles of liquor missing as well.

Seeing the video camera mounted in the corner, Gabriel turned and spoke to Tim, who was standing behind him. "Go look in the back room for a VCR. Don't touch it, just check." Tim nodded and walked toward the back of the market.

Crouching down after holstering his pistol, Gabriel put the back of his fingers against the dead man's cheek. He felt warmth; not surprising considering that the alarm had been triggered only about ten minutes ago.

Whispering some words under his breath, Gabriel made the sign of the cross and stood, just as a loud voice came from behind him. "The SD is doing last rites now? Man, have you guys need to get a life."

Recognizing the voice, Gabriel turned to see Jimmy Lewis grinning at him.

On the fortunately few occasions that Gabriel had to deal with Lewis, he found the Sunnydale police detective to be loud, obnoxious, and not as smart as he believed himself to be. Ten years older than Gabriel, with thinning blond hair, at least thirty pounds overweight for his large frame, wearing an ill-fitting suit, Lewis looked like the archetypical dumb small-town cop.

As Gabriel faced him, Lewis' smirk got wider. The older cop liked to push people when he thought he had the upper hand, and Gabriel was treading on Lewis' turf. "Already solved the case, Martin? 'Cuz we local cops are all atwitter when you county guys show us how it's done."

"It's a two-eleven gone one-eighty-seven. Register and safe empty, missing cigarettes and liquor. Although there are strange elements to this crime," Gabriel said, his voice detached and professional.

"Such as?" Lewis' voice remained mocking.

"The fact that the booth was broken into, the type of injuries on the victim, the cause of death, the lack of blood on the scene, the shots fired by the victim's weapon..." Gabriel still spoke in his detached voice.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! What are you talking about here? Lack of blood, injuries, cause of death? It looks pretty straightforward to me." Lewis' voice went from mocking to confused.

"In other words, someone smashed through a shatterproof door, grabbed the victim even though he fired a handgun at him, broke his fingers to convince him to open the safe, ripped his throat out and snapped his neck even though there is only a small amount of blood on the scene, grabbed the money, some smokes and booze, and fled the scene before PD responded." The detachment in Gabriel turned into coldness as he described the incident.

"The hell you say! It sounds like we should be looking for a monster instead of a stickup artist." The smirk was back on Lewis' face. "Once we get the video from the camera we'll see what this guy really is."

The words had just left Lewis' lips when there was the loud *clack- clack* sound that was made only one way - working the action of a firearm. Lewis froze in place; the sound had come from right behind him.

Gabriel and Officer Roberts were facing Lewis, so they saw who had made the sound. Flicking his eyes past Lewis, Gabriel asked, "You find anything?"

Spinning around, Lewis saw Tim Harris standing behind him, casually loading a loose cartridge into the detached magazine of his carbine. Tim had worked the charging handle of his weapon to clear the chambered round, but he also wasn't unaware that doing so right behind Lewis would probably scare him.

"There's a monitoring system for the cameras, but someone took the tapes. Our bandit, I presume." Tim reinserted the magazine into his carbine and slung his weapon muzzle down at his side.

"You touch that machine, Harris?" The fear on Lewis' face was quickly replaced by something uglier.

"Nope, the VCR was empty. Good to see you again, Mr. Lewis." The sarcasm in Tim's voice was palpable.

"Sergeant Lewis to you, Harris. What the hell you doing here anyway? You're just an over-the-hill soldier playing at being a cop. No wonder you only made reservist." The scorn in Lewis' voice cut like a bullwhip.

"I've been a regular deputy for the last three months. Wanna see my badge?" Tim shot back, disdain in his voice.

Lewis started toward Tim when Gabriel stepped between the two men and spoke. "Tim, go check on Scott, will you? I haven't heard from him yet on the tac link."

Watching as Tim walked out of the mini-mart, Lewis turned to Gabriel, anger plainly written across his broad face. "You two done messing up my crime scene? I need to get to work here," Lewis snarled.

"We're done here, Sergeant. Glad to have been of assistance. Have a good night." Gabriel spoke with a straight face before turning and walking out, Lewis glaring at his back as he left the mini-mart.

Walking up to the Yukon, Gabriel saw Tim walking from the back of the mini-mart, lighting a cigarette with what looked to be a battered Zippo lighter. Scott and the second police officer came behind him, with the officer reentering the store and Scott and Tim walking toward the Yukon and Gabriel.

"What happened in there? That officer was pretty shook up," Scott asked, looking from Tim to Gabriel.

"Two-eleven gone one-eighty-seven by a split personality tango," Gabriel replied, watching Tim puff on his cigarette.

"Split-personality tango? How's that?" Scott queried.

"The tango was dumb in that he smashed through the bandit-barrier door and probably got shot in the process, but smart in that he pulled the surveillance tape. And vicious in that he broke the victim's fingers until he opened the safe and ripped his throat out and snapped his neck."

Scott whistled softly. "So what do we do now?"

"Sergeant Lewis has the case and we don't have official cause to take it away from him. What you can do is to go into the SPD computer and see if there are any other robberies with the same MO," Gabriel said, referring to a criminal's method of operation.

"OK, I'm on it," Scott replied. He got back into the back seat of the SUV and fired up his computer to start the search.

Gabriel watched as Tim continued to smoke, questions about the encounter inside on his mind. Finally, he spoke, asking a dumb question. "I thought you stopped smoking, Tim."

"I still smoke every once in a while. Especially at dead body crime scenes. Helps cover up the smell." Tim's smoke was more than half finished.

"Why did you call Lewis 'Mister'? He's a police sergeant, not a regular citizen." Gabriel's next question was more relevant.

"All the tac officers at Sunnydale Police Academy were called 'Mister'." Tim looked at his smoke, visibly debating to put it out or not.

"Lewis was your tac officer? *The* tac officer?" Gabriel asked, remembering the story Tim had told him months ago.

"Yep. Relieved of duty, lost his promotion, almost fired." Tim took another puff from his cigarette.

"Why wasn't he fired?"

"His uncle is Sunnydale Chief of Police. That's why I was disqualified from Sunnydale PD." Tim flicked the coal from the butt of his smoke and stepped on it, flipping the dead butt into a nearby trash can. Looking back at Gabriel he asked with a raised eyebrow, "Anything else?"

"No. Let's get going." With that both men got back in the Yukon. Tim started the engine and pulled out, passing the ambulance coming in as they left the gas station and drove back the way they came.

Chapter 5

The Old Range Building
SCSD Academy
September 9, 1998
Friday, 8:00 PM

Gabriel Martin walked up to the whiteboard and turned to face the rest of the classroom. The assembled men quieted down on their own, knowing that the meeting was about to begin.

The Old Range Building was a part of the Sunnydale County Sheriff's Department Academy complex. With two classrooms, an armory and six outdoor firing lanes, it was too small and too open to the elements for the number of deputy sheriffs and recruits training and qualifying these days. A federal grant allowed the Academy to build a new range rather than have to repair and update the old one, so the building had sat unused.

When Gabriel needed a place to base the SEU, the Old Range Building came to mind. It met their requirements perfectly; it was private, it had an armory vault to store weapons in, and since it was on Academy grounds, it was secure from outsiders.

The firing lanes got extensive use when they first formed. Nowadays the teams used the lanes to practice for their official monthly firearms qualification and informal competitions.

One classroom was used to store non-sensitive materials, junk from the other rooms and even had a couple of cots when someone needed to crash for a few hours.

The other classroom became their bullpen; they held their meetings and briefings there when the need arose, but mostly it was a workspace where they could do repairs and maintenance on their gear and weapons. The Tech Twins set up their computers on borrowed desks alongside tables full of surveillance equipment. Gabriel also had a desk across the room where he did the teams paperwork.

The front half of the classroom was left intact, with chairs and tables for the team members to sit at and a whiteboard and lectern for the speaker, which was where Gabriel was now standing.

"Good evening. This is the weekly briefing for the Stakeout Teams." A normal enough greeting, only Gabriel delivered it in the worst Bela Lugosi Dracula accent they had ever heard, resulting in groans, the brandishing of a couple of crosses and various thrown wads of papers.

Gabriel stood there grinning until the ruckus died down, then continued to speak in his normal voice. "OK men, first we cover last weeks events. Gold Team first."

Peter Murray stood and faced the room. The two team leaders alternated running the briefings and this week it was Gabriel's turn.

"We've had a fair-to-middling week out there. Two tangos staked on the street, one in Gates of Paradise Cemetery, with locations are posted on the map. We also collared a human criminal during a decoy op downtown yesterday. I almost staked the guy before I realized he was human."

"How'd you know he wasn't a tango?" asked Gabriel, leaning against the lectern.

"Because when I spun around with my stake up, he was suddenly standing in a puddle and it wasn't raining." Murray waited for the laughter to die down before continuing. "Turns out that the guy was wanted for violating parole, so we booked him for that pending investigation for the other muggings in that area."

Gabriel nodded in approval. "Anything else?"

"That's it for Gold Team." Murray sat down.

"Blue Team?" Gabriel said next.

Tim Harris stood up. He was in charge of Blue Team when Gabriel wasn't there or when he was doing something else, like running the briefing.

"We had about the same week as Gold did. Three tangos, two in graveyards, one on the street, locations on the map. No human arrests this week."

Gabriel spoke before Tim could sit down. "Weapons?"

"Everyone has qualified with department issued firearms as of last week. Shooting for beers will be tomorrow at seven pm, before briefing. As always, low score buys the first round, with side bets both allowed and encouraged.

An evil chuckle came from Matt Parker. Both Parker and Tim shot well enough that they never had to buy the team a round, even though the blond surfer had lost side bets to Tim, the only team member to consistently shoot better than him.

Shooting for beers had been Tim's idea. An experienced shooter, he believed that you need to practice shooting under stress to prepare for a real life-or-death shootout. And as Tim had half-factiously said, what was more stressful than the prospect of having to buy beers for six thirsty cops?

"Intel?" Gabriel asked next as Tim sat down.

Scott Kelly stood up. "I've found a pattern of 211s/187s that match the Speedy Gas 187 last week. They've happened every couple weeks or so and have taken place mostly in the City of Sunnydale. One took place two months ago in an unincorporated area just outside the city where SCSD patrols, near the beginning of the spree. We have a partial description of a suspect, but it's only that of a white male, dark hair, stocky, wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and a straw cowboy hat. It was given by a citizen driving by one of the scenes just after the crime were the PD got lucky with the canvass."

Someone groaned out loud; not only was the description sketchy, it was one that would never stand up in court.

"Two more things," Scott continued. "One, the Speedy Gas 187 was the first one where the clerk managed to hit the 211 button in the safe before getting killed, so that's why we've never heard anything before now. Two, since one of the 211s was in a county area, we could force our way into the SPD investigation or start a parallel one if we want to."

Everyone turned to look at Gabriel, who was deep in thought. After a couple seconds, he looked over at Scott. "We have everything that SPD has, right?" Scott nodded. "Give me a copy and I'll go over it. If there is anything we can use, we'll open a parallel investigation but for now we don't have anything to do with SPD on this."

Scott nodded and continued. "The only other pattern I can pick up is that there is a gradual increase in the number of 'fights' and 'assaults' around the Bronze, that nightclub in Sunnydale. No deaths yet, but almost all of them involve neck wounds. We may want to keep an eye around that area. And finally, we're still staying away from those kids, the Slayer's friends. That's where we're getting our graveyard tangos, the ones that get away from them."

Gabriel nodded. "Thank you, Scott. And thanks for bringing up the Slayer, since I have new information about her."

Everyone sat up straighter. They hadn't heard about the teenaged female vampire killer since they first formed the unit in the beginning of summer.

"Sheriff Greer just passed me this info, who just got it from Intel Division. Buffy Summers is back in Sunnydale." Gabriel let that sink in, then continued. "Evidently, Summers heard that she was finally cleared by SPD of the homicide that occurred last June at the high school. She's back home with her mother, who has forced Sunnydale High to revoke her expulsion and readmit her to school. We've even heard that her friends are throwing a welcome-back party this week."

There was silence for a few moments before Peter Murray spoke up. "How are we going to deal with her if we run across her on the street?"

"For now, Sheriff Greer has ordered that we are to have no contact with her unless absolutely necessary. We want to see how she operates, for one thing, and we still need to keep this team's existence secret for now. Given her previous history, we don't know how she'll react to law enforcement. Granted, most of what we have about her we have from SPD and Sunnydale High records, but we still need to be prudent just in case."

Gabriel turned to look at Steve Angelo. "I know we haven't given Tech Support much to do, but that's now changed. Start plans for putting bugs in the school library. That's were they did most of their meetings before Summers had to leave town and they'll probably use it again. Obviously, we're not getting a court order for this, so we are going to use the data received as intel only, not for criminal prosecution. We also need for the bugs to not be traceable to us if discovered. Can that be done?"

Steve thought for a moment. "I can make bugs from scratch, no problem. They'll only know that they are made from store-bought components. You'll also want taps on their phone and computer lines, right?" Gabriel nodded. "That will be a little trickier. Give me a day or so to figure something out."

Gabriel moved back to the lectern. "OK then. Anyone have anything else?" No one responded.

"Blue Team will take Alpha and Bravo sectors tonight and Gold Team will have Charlie and Delta. Both teams will go past that Bronze place when time permits. If you get a feeling about tango activity there and there's nothing else happening around town, call in and set up a discrete observation post. In other words, don't park in front of the place." Everyone chuckled. "Don't go into the club unless we have to; we'll set up a recon later. Any questions?"

No one spoke. Gabriel grinned and said, "Let's be careful out there." This being said in his horrible Dracula accent, Gabriel manfully stood and weathered the hail of paper wads and groans of disbelief that followed.

Chapter 6

The Old Range Building
Sunnydale County Sheriff's Dept. Academy
September 10, 1998
Saturday, 12:30 PM

Tim Harris steered the GMC Yukon into it's designated parking slot and shifted the transmission into park. Looking over to the passenger seat, he saw that Gabriel Martin was slumped against the door, his head against the glass. The Blue Team leader clearly looked wiped out.

Feeling the engine turn off, Gabriel sat up and looked over at Tim, then back at Scott Kelly, who looked just as tired. Seeing that they had arrived, Scott opened the truck's door, almost falling out before finally standing up straight. Pulling his bag from the truck, Scott slowly walked into the range building.

Seeing the Suburban pull up next to them, Tim and Gabriel watched as the three members of Gold Team got out and walked toward the building, their exhaustion apparent in their slow walk.

Gabriel ran his hand through his hair and sighed. Tim kept looking at him until Gabriel breathed out one word.


Tim sat silently, waiting for the words he knew were coming.

"Freaking zombies. I knew stuff was weird in this town, but zombies..."

Tim looked forward through the windshield, absently patting his jacket pockets.

"Vampires I understand. Heck, we kill about a dozen a month in this town. But freaking zombies..."

Tim found the cigarettes he was looking for, putting one between his lips and brought up his Zippo lighter before realizing he was still in the truck and couldn't light up there.

"Those poor kids..."

That was the crux of the matter. For the first time the Stakeout Unit had failed. Humans had died and Stakeout had failed to prevent it.


Blue Team had been cruising near Adams and First around 11:00 PM when the calls started to come in on the Sunnydale Police Dept. radio net. Strange beings walking the streets, attacking people. The radio net was rapidly overloading, most of the calls with the three beeps signaling danger.

They immediately hit the lights and sirens, rushing toward the nearest danger call. Gold Team also called in to take another of the calls. SPD Dispatch never acknowledged, there were so overwhelmed taking 911 calls and trying to assign them to the units on the streets.

The sight that met Blue Team's eyes at the first location was something that would be impossible to forget.

As the Yukon skidded to a stop, they saw four figures clustered around something in the enclosed parking lot.

Above the growls of the creatures were the sounds of human screaming.

Moving in what felt like slow motion, Gabriel jumped from the truck and ran toward them, his Beretta pistol in one hand and a police flashlight in the other.

A teenaged boy who looked to be about sixteen years old was trying to fend off the creatures, a smashed cell phone at his feet. As Gabriel rapidly got closer, he saw one of the creatures grab the boy's head and with an audible crunch break his neck.

Screaming "Sheriffs, hands up!!!" Gabriel was still a distance away when he saw the source of the screams; a teenaged girl, about the same age as the boy.

He was but three steps away when three of the creatures jumped on top of the girl.

Gabriel couldn't fire for fear of hitting the girl so he brought the flashlight up like a club, the light illuminating human features that were grey and rotting.

He brought the flashlight down hard; the skull of the first creature shattered like an overripe melon, dropping the creature into a flopping twitching pile.

Swinging the flashlight backhand, Gabriel caught the second creature on the temple, but barely rocked it back. He was reaching back for another swing when Scott Kelly beat him to it, booting the creature in the chest like a place kicker going for the extra point, the crackle of ribs breaking sounding like a bundle of sticks snapping, throwing it back off the girl .

Gabriel was turning toward the last creature on the girl when something suddenly grabbed him around his chest in a bear hug, yanking him up and back. He could smell the stench of rotting flesh on the creature holding him.

Thinking fast, Gabriel swung his free arm over his opposite shoulder, jamming his Beretta into the creature's face. Firing once twice three times, the pistol reports deafening, until the creature fell back onto the ground, dragging Gabriel down with him, it's face and the back of it's head blown away.

Pulling himself up, Gabriel started to move toward the last creature and the struggling girl when Tim Harris stepped up to the pair and pushed the muzzle of a shotgun against the creature's head. With a loud blast it's head disintegrated, the gruesome spray of steel shot, flesh and bone going safely past the girl. Tim pumped in a new shell as he turned, aimed at the creature Scott was struggling with and as the other deputy jumped clear shot it in the head as well.

Gabriel dropped down besides the girl, dimly aware of a third shotgun blast as Tim shot the head-smashed creature.

The girl was in bad shape; gasping through a partially crushed windpipe, bleeding from multiple wounds on her neck and chest, bright red blood spraying from her mouth with each breath; sign of a pierced lung, probably by a broken rib.

Glancing to the side, Gabriel saw Scott bent over the teenaged boy. Scott looked up and shook his head; the boy was dead.

Looking back down at the girl, Gabriel saw that her eyes were fixed on something, the silver cross he had taken to wearing around his neck. Her hand had weakly reached toward it; Gabriel immediately took her hand in his and brought it up to the cross, wrapping her hand around it.

Gabriel knew there was nothing they could do; the internal injuries were too severe. Watching as the girl's breathing grew weaker, Gabriel was about to pick her up to take her to the truck when faint words stopped him.

"Our Father... who art in heaven... hallow be thy name..."

In a weak voice, broken by gasps, the girl was saying the Lord's Prayer.

Stunned for a moment, Gabriel quickly joined her, saying the prayer along with her. When the prayer ended, the girl smiled faintly at Gabriel, took a deep breath and slowly released it. No other sound came; her hand fell from his neck, breaking the delicate chain, cross still in her hand as the arm fell to her chest.

Just as Gabriel was to about to pick her up, to start CPR, do something, anything, there was a bright flash.

Looking up, the three deputies saw the dead bodies wink out of existence; first the creatures, then the dead boy, then as they looked back at her, the girl.

On his knees, Gabriel looked at the empty space before him in disbelief. There was nothing on the ground in front of him... except a broken necklace with a bloodstained silver cross.


The dead boy and girl had not been the only incident they had rolled on; both Blue and Gold Teams had responded to several calls, but they had all been the same. There would be dead or injured citizens, monsters that attacked them as soon as the team got there, and bodies that would disappear in a flash of light as soon as the monsters were killed and flashed out of existence as well.

In the truck, Gabriel looked over at Tim, his eyes fixing on the cigarette hanging unlit from the other deputies' lips. "Give me one of those," Gabriel said shortly. Silently, Tim gave him a smoke and fired up his Zippo, lighting Gabriel's cigarette before his own.

Gabriel coughed a couple times before settling down, puffing on his smoke before speaking again. "You knows what the worst part of this is? There are no bodies, nothing to bury. The only reason we know it actually happened are these." Gabriel held up the broken necklace and a pink plastic wallet of the kind carried by teen girls, found on the ground in the first parking lot. On the outside pocket was a strip of photo booth pics, showing the girl and boy laughing, hugging, kissing.

Both men sat for a minute before Gabriel asked what was weighing heavily on his mind. "How do you deal with watching kids die?"

Tim glanced over at Gabriel. "That wasn't the first dead teen you've seen on the job," stated the older man.

"No, it's the first teen death I've seen happen. Everyone else was after the fact," replied Gabriel.

The former soldier thought for a moment. "You can do one of two things when dealing with death. The first is to shove all those thoughts and memories into a compartment in your head and try not to think about it."

"So repression is number one?" asked Gabriel. Tim nodded. "What's number two?"

"Getting drunk. That's my plan for tonight." Tim opened the door, got out of the truck and stood on the sidewalk until Gabriel got out. The two men then walked into the building.

Sergeant Gabriel Martin, SCSD Stakeout Unit Commander, had to make his report to Sheriff Greer tonight. After that was done, trying out Plan Two sounded awfully good to him.

Chapter 7

Sunnydale City Hall
Sunnydale, CA
September 24, 1998
Thursday 8:45 PM

The Honorable Richard Wilkens was not a happy camper.

Not that he was much of a camper to begin with. Dirt and bugs and germs tended to interfere with the enjoyment of a fieldtrip.

However, the news he was receiving from the Sunnydale Chief of Police made him long for a quiet walk in the woods, maybe with a shotgun to blow up bunnies with.

Wilkens sat behind his desk, fingers steeped, watching the chief finish his oral presentation; material this sensitive was never put to paper, which had a nasty habit of appearing where it would be least convenient.

After the chief finished speaking, Wilkens sat for a minute, watching a bead of sweat trickle from the man's forehead. The chief was nervous enough delivering bad news, but having the Mayor sitting there motionless, watching you, eyes blinking every ten seconds or so, was... slightly terrifying.

"Let's review, shall we?" Wilkens smoothly stood and walked around the desk, sitting on the front edge, arms crossed, three feet in front of the still-standing chief. "Sheriff Greer has formed a unit to deal with supernatural beings, and so far he has been successful?" The chief nodded. "He hasn't been able to connect anything to me, but we both agree it's only a matter of time?" The chief nodded again, abet reluctantly. "And we can't fight this unit publicly because the Sheriff's the lead law enforcement officer in the county and he has highly embarrassing information about us that he could release to the media?"

The chief finally spoke. "Sir, the local media is under our control..." The chief's voice trailed off as he saw annoyance flash across the Mayor's face.

"Of course the local media is under our control, that's why we've been able to operate for so long. But we don't have much control over the Los Angeles or San Francisco newspapers, do we?" Wilkens' voice was still at normal levels, but the look on his face suggested that silence would indeed be golden, if not beneficial to one's health.

The Mayor continued where he left off. "So the only thing to do is deal with the Sheriff and his unit covertly, hidden from the public view. This is something that has to be dealt with using intelligence, finesse, and subtlety. In other words, *not* a job for you." The chief flinched but kept silent. "For now, do not interfere with them. If you come across any information let me know, but that is all. Understood?" Wilkens asked sternly. The chief nodded.

"And give the wife and kids a big hug for me, will ya?" Wilkens smiled warmly, the mercurial change in personality not surprising, but still disconcerting. "Dismissed, Chief."

Wilkens watched as the chief walked through the double doors and closed them behind him. After a moment Wilkens stood and looked toward the dark corner next to the large cabinet. "Alan?"

As the deputy mayor stepped into the light, Wilkens sat behind his desk again, falling deep into thought. As Alan Finch waited patiently in front of the desk, Wilkens snapped out of it.

"You told me that there was a group of beings here doing some sort of surveillance, correct?"

"Yes sir. Humans, demons and vampires are all involved. From what we've discovered, they seem to be preparing for some type of competition," the deputy mayor replied.

"Hmmm. Interesting. And we sent the boys out to find out what is going on?" Wilkens was referring to his group of men used for 'special projects'.

Alan nodded. Wilkens sighed.

"Too many cooks spoil the broth, Alan. Sunnydale Police, Sheriffs, the boys, and now this group. Pretty soon there's going to be more spooks in the pot than broth." Spooks was a slang term for spies and secret agents, although in this case the literal version of the word could apply to some of the beings in questions.

Wilkens pinched the bridge of his nose, then looked up smiling. "Alan, call the boys back in. We need to talk about the beings in this town. I just thought of something so elemental, I could just kick myself for not coming up with it sooner."

Alan nodded, his eyes dropping as his mind came up with that image. Considering some of the things he had seen the Mayor do, it was not a difficult task.

"Sir, may I ask what your plan is, so that I may prepare?" Asking Wilkens for information wasn't always a good idea, but with the Mayor in such a good mood, it wasn't much of a risk.

Wilkens was still smiling as he stood. "It's simple, really. What does any conscientious city official do when there is a special interest group that needs his help?"

Wilkens paused for a moment.

"Establish a liaison."

Chapter 8

The Bronze
Sunnydale, Ca.
September 24, 1998
Thursday 7:45 PM

Gabriel Martin really did not know what to expect when he entered the Bronze, but it certainly was not what he was used to.

Most of the bars and clubs he had been to in Sunnydale County were either crime scenes or criminal hangouts, usually both. First Asterisk was a cop bar, in a class by itself.

The Bronze was different, though. For one thing, it allowed teens to enter after stamping their hands to prevent them from buying alcohol. Another thing was the different cliques of teens were mingling without trouble. There were couches and tables scattered about, where people were chatting and drinking and listening to the halfway decent band that was playing.

Gabriel stood and took in the scene for a few moments until Tim stepped up beside him, scanning for possible threats. Most people would not have noticed the casual looking but through sweep, but Gabriel had worked with the former Ranger long enough to know what he was doing.

"Not exactly a hot zone, is it?" Gabriel took to quick look around to make sure he did not missing anything during his initial look around.

"More like a convention of Britney Spears and 'N Sync wanna-be's," Tim replied, nodding toward the dance floor, where a bunch of kids were thrashing about. "Either that's dancing or they're taking part in a collective seizure."

Gabriel grinned; Tim's acerbic wit was far superior to his, so most times he did not even try to match it. "You see anything out there, Tim?"

"Besides several violations of fashion and/or decency, no." Tim could be surprising stuffy for a guy his age.

"Come on, Tim. You grew up in the '70's and this freaks you out?" Gabriel motioned toward the crowd.

"That's exactly *why* I'm freaked," Tim shot back, a half-smile on his face. "You buying today?"

Gabriel groaned in response. He and Tim had shot it out the other day at the range and Gabriel had lost, but this time by only a small margin. He owed Tim a drink and he knew it. "Jack Daniels and Coke?" He asked innocently.

Tim snorted. They were both on-duty and could not drink alcohol. Gabriel as needling him by offering to buy his usual drink. "Sure. You're getting a Cuervo Gold, right?"

Gabriel shook his head in amusement as he walked toward the bar. Tim's own amusement was tempered by pity; at club prices, Gabriel would be paying almost as much for sodas as he would have for alcohol.

Automatically Tim moved so he was standing in the shadow of the staircase, partially hidden. Old habits died hard, especially the ones that kept you alive and out of sight of bad guys.

The band on stage was winding up it's set and Tim watched as they finished with a flourish. Tim could see the lead singer working the teenyboppers in the crowd, trying to score for the night. Finally the teen left the mike and Tim was able to see the band member behind him.

Tim was looking at the stage through narrowed eyes when a female voice spoke loudly behind him. "Let me guess, Xander, not only are you not on time, but you didn't get us a table like you were supposed to."

Turning around, Tim saw a stunning young woman; brown hair and eyes, tanned, expensively dressed. She looked ready to step onto the cover of a fashion magazine.

Once his face came out of the shadows and into view, the expression on the girl's face changed from mocking to stricken; the guy she had spoken to was not her boyfriend.

Just as her mouth opened to say something, Tim beat her to the punch. "I know my fashion sense isn't all that great, but I haven't had someone dress me in... months," Tim replied, straight faced, looking down at his faded blue jeans, dark blue shirt and old army field jacket. He managed to keep an offer to let her dress him to himself; although the girl looked to be about nineteen, these days you couldn't tell the jailbait from the adults.

As the stricken look turned into anger at being made fun of, Tim realized whom he was talking to. He kept this to himself, as the girl did not know who he was.

"Well, obviously you're not Xander. Even he wouldn't wear a caterpillar on his lip if he ever wanted to..." The girl's voice trailed off as she realized that she was about to give out too much information.

Tim's hand unconsciously went up to his oversized mustache, which he had grown out to Wyatt Earp proportions. Sheriff Greer and Gabriel Martin had authorized "relaxed grooming standards", so this was his form of taking advantage of that latitude. Matt Parker had grown out his blonde hair to where he wore it in a short ponytail, the Twins were wearing their hair longer than department regs normally allowed and Peter Murray had grown a goatee to go with his carefully trimmed mustache. Only Gabriel was still clean-shaven with short hair. Part of Tim was amused by the girl's audacity; he was obviously at least 15 years older than she was, and she was tearing into him as though he was only a high school sophomore.

"Since I'm not your boyfriend, good luck finding him." And good luck to him dealing with her, Tim silently said to himself.

Watching as the girl flounced off, Tim turned to see Gabriel standing a few feet away holding two glasses, an amused look on his face.

"Remember that we're working here, Tim," Gabriel said mock-seriously as he handed a drink to him. Tim took a sip, tasting only Coke, no alcohol. "A little young, isn't she?"

"It's part of my charm. No woman can resist me." Tim's voice was appropriately deadpan as he spoke. "All Harris' have it, even my nephew."

"Why do you say that?" Gabriel took a sip of his Sprite.

"That was Cordelia Chase. She mistook me for her boyfriend, Xander Harris."

"No kidding?" Gabriel turned to see if he could catch a glimpse of her in the crowd.

"Yep. She left town for the summer. She knows about tangos, but she isn't into slaying like the others. She was mentioned in the early intel reports," Tim explained, the slightest hint of reproof in his voice.

"Anything else you want to tell me?" Gabriel turned back to face Tim.

"Besides that that Oz kid does a decent job of playing lead guitar in that band over there, no." Tim took another sip of his drink.

Gabriel looked up to the stage, where the redheaded kid was packing up his guitar. He looked back at Gabriel, who was smiling slightly.

"Touche', Tim. How long have you known there were here?" Gabriel asked sheepishly.

"Just as you went to get the drinks. Don't stress, Gabe." Tim sipped at his drink before speaking again. "You still not worried about me running into Xander here?"

"Not really. Even if you did, we should be OK." Gabriel and Tim had talked with Sheriff Greer about Tim's relationship with Xander. They had decided that as long as Stakeout's cover wasn't being compromised, Tim and the others could operate around the Slayer and her friends.

After another look around the club, Tim decided to bring up something that the two hadn't spoken about since it occurred. He needed to know if his team leader was OK with it. "You having any problems with what happened that Friday night?"

The smile left Gabriel's face; he knew what Tim was referring to. The night of the zombie attacks, when those kids died in front of them. Gabriel turned to see that Tim was watching him.

"I'm alright. I did your "plan B" and felt like hell the next day. Then you had to go and pull that bonehead stunt of your." Gabriel smiled ruefully at the memory, and Tim grinned in response.

SCSD Academy
September 14, 1998
Monday 7:00 AM

Gabriel was sure he was going to die today, and he hadn't even started running yet.

The training program for the Stakeout units was for the most part informal, but certain aspects of it were set in stone. The shooting competitions were one of them; the rigorous program improved everyone's shooting skill to where everyone in the unit now qualified as High Expert at the official monthly qualifications.

Another activity was the Monday morning runs. Everyone was required to stay in good physical shape and responsible for maintaining their conditioning. The Monday morning runs were to test that.

The SCSD Academy had their deputy cadet class run every Monday morning. Right now the cadet class was running three miles in thirty minutes; not a killer pace, but not a walk in the park either. To make the runs more interesting, the Academy Drill Instructors would take the class up and down hills, increasing the difficulty.

While the DIs were leading the class through calisthenics, Gabriel and the two teams were stretching in preparation for the run. Once the cadets were loosened up, the team members would take their place alongside the column of cadets, following the cadets on their run. The DIs would also run alongside, shouting colorful imprecations and threats to cadets who were in danger of falling out of the run. Falling out was serious - two consecutive dropouts would result in the cadet being dismissed from the Academy.

Gabriel was feeling terrible; on Saturday afternoon he and Tim had killed a bottle of tequila at Gabriel's apartment after completing the paperwork from the zombie attacks. Gabriel had let Tim crash on the couch since he obviously couldn't drive. The next day Gabriel found a note on his kitchen table next to a quart bottle of water and a container of aspirin, saying that he would see him at Monday morning PT.

Looking around, Gabriel saw that everyone except Tim was there. That was unusual; Tim had never missed a PT session. In fact, Tim was usually the first one there warming up.

Seeing that the DIs were forming up the cadets for the run, Gabriel turned to Peter Murray. The other team leader was on the ground, finishing his regular fifty pre-run push-ups. "You haven't heard from Tim today?"

Peter stood with a grunt, brushing off his hands as he answered his commander. "No. You worried about him not being here?"

Gabriel shook his head. "Not really. I'll start calling around after the run. It's just strange that he's not here."

Peter looked over Gabriel's shoulder and his eyes widened slightly. "I don't think that's what you have to worry about, boss man." He motioned with his chin for Gabriel to look behind him.

Once Gabriel saw what Peter was referring to his eyes widened as well. The missing team member was jogging up to their little group, looking ready to go to war.

Tim Harris would normally wear a tank top, camo BDU pants and sneakers when he went on his runs, standing out from the DIs and cadets in their customary shorts and t-shirts. But right now Tim was wearing a black BDU shirt and pants, battle harness and belt with a holstered pistol, boots, and had his rifle slung next to his side. As he came to a halt in front of Gabriel and Peter, he pulled a black bandana from a pocket and started to tie it around his head, pirate- style. "Morning, Gabe, Peter," he said in greeting. "Sorry I'm late."

"Morning." Gabriel looked over Tim again. "Don't you think you're a little overdressed for the run?"

"Nope. Just need to get the blood pumping this morning." Tim finished with the bandana and looked up his team leader. "How you doing, Gabe?"

Gabriel could not believe it; Tim had drunk as much as he had the day before and except for slightly bloodshot eyes, looked as he always did, while Gabriel felt like the living dead. He knew he couldn't hold his liquor, but this was ridiculous.

"Fine." Gabriel responded shortly. He looked at the assault rifle hanging at Tim's side. "That's not loaded, is it?

Tim detached the magazine from the weapon and pulled the charging handle back to open the chamber, showing them both to be empty. "I may be crazy, but I'm not insane," he said smiling as he replaced the magazine in the rifle. "Ready for the run?"

"If you are." Gabriel turned and walked over to the lead DI, who had formed the cadets into line for the run. "We're good to go, Gunny."

Sergeant Paul Baxter was a former Marine Drill Instructor; he had retired as a Gunnery Sergeant after twenty years in the Corps. Baxter joined the Sheriff's Department after blasting through the Academy as the number one cadet and was now doing the same thing he had done with Marine recruits at Parris Island. He knew what Tim was doing by being dressed as he was for the run, but his eyebrows were raised anyway as he looked at him. Turning and walking in front of the formation of cadets, he called out, "Eyeballs!"

"Click, sir!!!" The cadets called out as they turned their heads to look at the DI.

"Ears!" Baxter turned to face the cadets.

"Open, sir!!!" The DI had the cadets full attention.

"See that deputy in black over there!" Baxter gestured to Tim, who was standing casually in front of the assembled Stakeout team members. "That man is wearing twenty pounds of gear for this run. You people," disdain obvious in Baxter's voice as he spoke, "are wearing shorts and running shoes. There should be *no* reason for anyone to fall out."

"Sir yes sir!!!" The cadets were looking at the DI again.

"Company, a-ten-hut! Left, face!" The cadets were now facing down the empty two-lane road and Stakeout took their places besides the formation.

"Forward, march! Double time!"

"Ooh-rah!!!" The company of cadets began to run as the DIs kept pace besides them

"Mr. Murray, lead cadence," the lead DI called out. Baxter would let some of the Stakeout team members call cadence, used to keep the company in step and to motivate the cadets on the run. Peter Murray had the best singing voice, and Baxter would usually start with him, rotating the job between the various DIs, cadets and team members. Peter started out with a running song he had heard Tim use, singing one line in his deep voice and waiting for the running men to repeat it before singing the next.

C-130s rolling down the strip,
Airborne Rangers going to take a little trip.
Mission's unspoken, destination unknown,
Don't even know if we'll ever get home.

Gabriel got his breathing stabilized before singing. Looking over at Tim beside him, he saw that the former Ranger had unslung his rifle and was cradling it in his left arm, muzzle pointed upwards. Tim was singing along with the cadence easily, the extra weight of his gear not visibly bothering him.

Stand up, buckle up, shuffle to the door,
Jump right out and shout "Airborne!"
If that chute don't open wide,
I've got another one by my side.

Tim felt Gabriel's eyes on him and turned, grinning in response. Gabriel shook his head and turned to the front, continuing to sing.

And if that chute don't blossom 'round,
I'll be the first one to hit the ground,
Singing lo, right, left,
Left right left,
Lo right left,
Love to double time...


The company of cadets and team members were coming up to the last stretch of road before the Academy buildings. It was a couple hundred yards from the top of the slight hill to the stop sign they used as a marker for the end of the run, and almost everyone was glad to see it, even if they would not admit it aloud.

Gabriel no longer felt like he was going to die, but he did feel like throwing up. That was an improvement from the stabbing pain in his side that he had at the beginning of mile three, but that had eased out after a few minutes. Now that it was almost over, Gabriel remembered the old joke about the reason a man had given for hitting himself in the head with a two by four; because it felt so good when he stopped.

Baxter was finishing out the cadence he was singing when they crested the hill. The company relaxed a little once they saw the buildings ahead, knowing that the end was literally in sight.

Gabriel looked over at Tim beside him and felt a pang of jealously; the only sign of exertion from the run was the sweat stains on his bandana and under his armpits. Otherwise Tim was slightly spaced out, running along with an out of focus look in his eyes.

Once they came over the hill, Tim snapped out of it and looked around, seeing the looks of relief on the cadets' faces. Shaking his head in disbelief, Tim looked over at Gabriel and smirked.

"Don't say it, Tim," Gabriel cautioned. Tim had on other runs loudly questioned the fortitude of current youth in general, deputy cadets in particular and had proclaimed that the military draft needed to be reinstated to toughen up the modern American male. Gabriel agreed with most of what Tim said, but he didn't want to deal with the grief he got from upstairs when Tim went off on one of his little rants.

"OK then," replied Tim. "I'll just show everyone instead." Looking around one more time, Tim shifted his rifle to one hand and took off at a dead sprint.

"Oh shit," Gabriel groaned, taking off after him. Tim had done this kind of thing before, and the DIs always responded the same way.

"After them!" DI Baxter yelled out from the center of the group. The company of cadets tried to yell out a response, but most of them struggled to run faster after the racing deputy. The other Stakeout members just cursed under their breath and picked up their pace.

Tim was still ahead of the group, but a few of the cadets were catching up with him. Tim didn't look behind him, he just keep his legs pumping as he crossed for the finish line a couple yards ahead of the faster cadets

Gabriel was feeling the stabbing pain in his side again, but he managed to stay ahead of the main group of cadets when they crossed the stop line. Moving off to the side as the group slowed to a stop, Gabriel bent and put his hands on his knees as he breathed deeply, feeling his heart pounding in his chest.

Once he determined that he was not going to die, Gabriel looked up and saw Tim standing in front of him, breathing deeply but not as much as he was. Seeing Gabriel looking up at him, Tim grinned at him. "Feeling better now?"

Gabriel glared at his subordinate. "Once I put a ball and chain on you for these runs. Don't you even feel it after all that tequila?"

"Nope. Are you hungry? We can go to IHOP for scrambled eggs and sausage." Tim smiled evilly.

"You bastard," groaned Gabriel as bile rose in his throat, staggering off for the men's room as Tim stood there laughing at him.

The Bronze
Sunnydale, Ca.
September 24, 1998
Thursday 7:55 PM

"You don't approve of my little wind sprints during PT?" Tim asked as he tried to look innocent.

"No comment." Gabriel tossed off the rest of his drink and put the empty glass on a nearby table. "See anything else of interest out there?"

Tim took another look around the club before turning to face his team leader. "Not really. We can't really pick anyone out of this mess. It's not like the tangos wear capes and fangs here."

"True." One of the things that they never really got used to was what different sorts wound up being vampires. The teams had staked tangos that ranged from homeless people to high-school students to business types. "Back to our original plan, then," Gabriel continued, referring to their normal pattern of patrolling known vampire areas.

"Let's get going then." Tim finished his drink, and as he turned to put his glass next to Gabriel's he saw the young man walking by behind them. Pulling up short, the teen asked in some surprise, "Uncle Tim?"

Tim hesitated only a moment before replying. "Xander? How're you doing?"

"Fine, and you?" Xander Harris stuck his hand out toward his uncle and Tim shook it, an easy smile appearing on the younger man's face. "Haven't seen you in a while, Uncle Tim. Didn't know you came to the Bronze."

"Wanted to show my friend here some of the local nightlife." Gabriel made a slight choking sound, and Tim turned toward him. "Xander, this is Gabriel Martin. Gabe, my nephew Xander Harris."

Xander and Gabriel shook hands. "Xander? I haven't heard of a name like that before." Gabriel looked from Xander to Tim.

"It's short for Alexander. My friend Willow," Xander gestured toward the tables, "thought Alex was too common. You work with Uncle Tim at the hardware store?"

"I'm an engineer in the county waterworks department. We buy materials from your uncle's store. You're still in high school, right?" Gabriel asked, pretending ignorance and deflecting any more questions about him.

"Yep, senior this year, finally. Will and me come here a couple times a week with our other friends." Xander gestured again at the table area, and frowned slightly when he saw that the table was empty and that his friends were about to go out the door. "Looks like they're taking off, it was good to see you again, Uncle Tim."

"Come by the store one of these days and we'll catch up some more. Good to see you too." Tim clapped Xander on the shoulder before the teen moved off after his friends.

"Waterworks department?" Tim asked in a low voice as Xander went through the doorway.

"Had to say something. Couldn't say who I really work for, could I?" Gabriel replied. He would have said more, but he started digging in the coat pocket and pulled out a cell phone on vibration alert.

Tim watched as Gabriel put the phone to his ear and listened for a moment before keying it off and shoving it back in his coat pocket. "That was Scott, something's up," Gabriel said succinctly.

"Let's go then." Tim moved toward the exit doors with Gabriel behind him. Just as they went through the doors, Tim caught a glimpse of Xander and his friends were coming back into the club, including a short blonde girl.

Once Tim and Gabriel got outside and started walking toward the truck, they were surprised to see Scott Kelly waving to them from a doorway by an alley near the Bronze.

"What's going on, Scott?" Gabriel asked, stepping back into the doorway with Tim and out of sight of the kids in front of the club.

"I saw a fight going on in this alley here. A guy and a girl from the club came down here and the guy attacked the girl. I was about to call you when it ended, the girl's OK," Scott said quietly, his words suddenly coming to a stop

"And?" Gabriel was not sure if he should be concerned or not.

Scott hesitated for a moment before speaking again. "The guy was a tango, and this girl was bouncing him off the walls before staking him."

"So Summers got another tango?" Gabriel still didn't understand what was bothering the redheaded deputy.

"This girl was taller and had long dark hair, she definitely wasn't Buffy Summers." Scott looked from Gabriel to Tim and back again. "I think we got ourselves another Slayer."

Chapter 9

Outside The Bronze
Sunnydale, CA
September 24, 1998
Thursday 8:05 PM

Tim Harris looked around the street, thinking fast. Gabriel Martin was standing besides him, absorbing the information they had just gotten from Scott Kelly. The intel that the teams had operated on had always assumed that there was only one Slayer. If there was more than one, it brought up doubts about their intel, not that they had a lot of confidence in it anyway.

Tim turned toward Scott. "Was the girl about this tall and wearing black leather?" Tim held his hand up to show height. Scott nodded. "She went back into the club with a bunch of teens, right?" Scott nodded again.

"She's with Xander and the others."

"Huh?" The deputy was puzzled by Tim's statement.

"We ran into Xander in the club, he came out just before we did." Tim paused for a moment, just as his commander spoke.

"Was Summers with him?" Gabriel asked, focusing on Tim.

Tim frowned for a moment, concentrating. "I saw a short blonde girl with him when they went back into the club, so probably yes."

"What I'd give to hear what they are talking about," Gabriel muttered, looking back at the entrance to the club, turning back as Scott began to quickly dig through his coat pockets.

Pulling out a cell phone with an attached hands-free earpiece, Scott gave to it his commander. "That's a modified parabolic mike with a transmitter. It won't make phone calls, but it'll relay what it picks up to a recorder."

"What's the range of the mike?" Gabriel asked, looking at the medium sized fixed-antenna cell phone. It looked grossly ordinary, even a little clunky.

"One hundred feet out in the open. The signal is transmitted up to 300 yards. You can also hear what is being transmitted only through the earpiece." Gabriel passed the phone to Tim.

"You have the recorder in the truck?" Tim asked. Scott nodded. "I'm going back in there." Tim looked over at Gabriel, who nodded his assent. "How's this thing work?"

"Hit 'power' to turn it on, 'talk' to transmit, 'end' to stop, volume is the same, point the antenna at the target." Scott pointed to the buttons as he spoke rapidly.

"OK then." Tim turned to leave as Scott continued.

"If it's someplace noisy like a club, you may have to get close for you to pick up anything."

"Great. See you in a bit." Tim walked quickly toward the club entrance, the two other men walking just as fast in the opposite direction toward the parked truck.

The Bronze
Sunnydale, CA,
September 24, 1998
Thursday 8:10 PM

Tim Harris stepped up to the railing of the balcony, looking around at the various groups in the club. He had looked around the club upon entry, but the crowd was too thick to pick out faces. Moving up to the balcony offered a better vantage point, which paid off almost immediately.

Seeing Xander and his friends sitting on couches around a low table, Tim plugged the earpiece in and turned on the 'cell phone', pointing it at the teens, not believing what he heard at first.

-God, I could eat a horse. Isn't it crazy how Slaying just always makes you hungry and horny?

Tim saw all the other teens turn from the dark haired girl scarfing down food from the table in front of her to the blond haired girl sitting off to the side, who was starting to look embarrassed.

-Well... Sometimes I crave a nonfat yogurt afterwards.

Tim looked down at the display screen of the 'cell phone' and saw the transmit icon, indicating that the signal was going out. Looking around to make sure he was not being observed, Tim concentrated on the conversation again, hearing Xander's voice come through the earpiece.

-So what was the story about that alligator? You, uh, said something... before.

The dark haired girl replied to his nephew's question.

-Oh, there's this big daddy vampire out of Missouri who used to keep them as pets. So he's got me rasslin' one of 'em, okay? The thing must have been twelve feet long and I'm...

-So was this, ahem, also naked?

-Well, the alligator was. 'Smooth, Xander,' Tim thought to himself, catching the glare that Cordelia directed toward her boyfriend.

Outside the Bronze
Sunnydale, CA
September 24, 1998
Thursday 8:30 PM

Tim shut the passenger door of the Yukon, looking over at Scott in the back seat. The tech flipped him a thumbs-up, indicating that everything was fine at his end.

"There weren't any problems inside the club, Tim?" Gabriel was sitting in the driver's seat, all strapped in and read to go.

"No, I waited until they had left before leaving myself, I didn't want for Xander to see me again." Tim pulled on his seat belt and clicked it into place. "You got everything off the mike, right?"

Gabriel started the engine of the truck and drove away from the club, glancing over at Tim. "We were able to get what you transmitted, but there wasn't that much hard info about the new girl. We just have her first name, and a possible hometown."

"Surely that's enough to get an ID, no?" Tim had a non-committal look on his face.

"On the computer? We'll probably get 200 hits on that name, assuming that it *is* her real given name and her real home town." Scott was packing up his surveillance gear in his gear bag as he spoke. "It's times like this that I knew I should have gone into accounting, like Dad wanted."

"You need to have faith, Scott." Tim smiled at the double entendre. "There is more to life than your ones and zeros."

"Oh yeah? How can you improve on technology, oh wise one?" Scott looked up to see that Tim was now grinning at him.

"By going back to basics, my young apprentice." Tim tossed something at Scott, who flinched but managed to catch the crumpled brown paper bag.

"What's this?" Scott could feel something in the bag, something bulky but very light. Opening the bag, the deputy saw an empty Sprite can.

"Good old fashioned detective work, young one." Tim turned and faced forward again. "One that doesn't involve more than a little dusting."

"This is Faith's soda can?" Scott's expression changed to that of admiration.

"Yep. I suggest running the prints on that can through Boston PD first, she mentioned an arrest there." Tim glanced over at Gabriel, who gave him a half smile and approving nod.

Scott put the bag aside and began to bow. "We're not worthy, we're not worthy," he chanted, eliciting laughs from both Gabriel and Tim as the truck headed down the street.

The Old Range Building
SCSD Academy
September 25, 1998
Monday 6:00 PM

Gabriel Martin loved his job, but he really hated certain aspects of it.

He loved arresting bad guys, but he hated seeing the results of their actions.

Beatings, rapes, murders - Gabriel had investigated almost every crime that people committed against one another.

Most police work was reactive, taking place after the harm had been done. That was the reason Stakeout had been established - to keep people from being hurt or killed by the monsters in this town.

For the most part, Gabriel got a lot of satisfaction from dusting vampires, knowing that every cloud of vampire dust he created was one less 'mugging' or 'gang-related attack' that would occur to a helpless citizen.

But now Gabriel was paying the price for all that good deeds he and the others on his teams had done.

...At the above date and time while on patrol in the area of Third Street and Collins Avenue, SEU Bravo came across a crime in progress...

Gabriel sat at his desk in Classroom 1, tapping away on his computer keyboard.

...This deputy observed a adult male attempting to open a parked automobile with a burglary tool...

Stakeout Team Blue had come across a guy trying to steal a car parked in an lot near downtown Sunnydale. Gabriel had given a half-serious thought to just scaring the guy off, knowing what would follow, but his sense of duty had overcome the brief impulse.

...The members of SEU Bravo approached on foot and took positions next to the driver's side of the car...

The wanna-be car thief had jimmied the door lock and was working on the ignition wires below the steering column after when he heard a tapping on the window glass. Looking up, he saw a sight that almost brought his heart to a screeching halt.

...The suspect was made aware of the deputies' presence...

A twelve-gauge shotgun, the muzzle gaping wider than a sewer drain pipe, was on the other side of the glass, only a foot away from his face.

...and with badges clearly visible, the deputies identified ourselves.

"Hi, we're from Triple A. Do you had a problem with your ignition ?" The voice on the other side of the scatter gun sounded a little amused, but the looks on the faces of the two men flanking him, pistols drawn and also aimed at him, negated the humor of the first guy. The next line was from one of the other men. "Sunnydale Sheriffs. Put your hands up." He did not have to finish the sentence for the car thief to figure out what could happen if he did not comply

...The suspect got out of the vehicle and following the deputies' instructions assumed the prone felony arrest position and was taken into custody...

A male voice rasped, "Lie down on the ground, hands on your head, and don't do anything stupid." Rough hands quickly cuffed him, patted him down and dragged him to his feet

...The suspect was identified as one Adam Buford, and was booked on the charges of attempted grand theft auto and auto burglary...

Gabriel loved arresting criminals, but really hated the paperwork involved.

Finishing the report, Gabriel hit save and print, the document appearing on the feeder tray of the printer on the other side of the table. Standing up to retrieve the document, he saw Scott Kelly walking up to him, an amused look on his face.

"What's so funny, Scott?" Gabriel asked without rancor in his voice.

"We got the prints back from the lab, the ones on that Sprite can. I ran them through the computer, and got a hit. Problem was it was all juvie records, had to crack into the Boston computers to get at them." Scott had some papers in his hand. "You know that old cliché about criminal records being as long as your arm?"

"Yeah." Gabriel watched as Scott brought the papers in front of him, and then letting them drop, the computer printout sheets unfolding until they hit the floor.

Scott looked from the pages to his commander. "We finally got some who beat that." He handed over the top page, the pages trailing on the floor.

Gabriel read the first few lines out loud. "Faith Esther Donal." Looking up, Gabriel said incredulously, "Esther???" then continued. "Born South Boston, Massachusetts. Age 17. Father - Unknown. Mother - Mary Ruth Donal, incarcerated. Currently under guardianship, Department of Children Services."

Scott spoke as Gabriel paused in his reading. "Apparently, the mother stabbed a drug dealer that was under police surveillance. She was strung out, trying to jack some drugs from the dealer. She was lucky, the cops got to her before the dealer's friends did. She plead out to assault with a deadly weapon and is serving 2 to 10 years in prison."

"So what is the rest of this about?" Gabriel shook the printout.

"After the mother went to prison, the daughter started to act out, doing all the dumb things teens do, so she has multiple busts for drinking, fighting, stuff like that. She was cycling between Juvie Hall, foster homes and the streets when all of a sudden she got a new guardian and everything cooled off. Her last bust was three months ago for indecent exposure, but the charges were dropped and she was released to her guardian," reported Scott.

"Any word on the guardian? Faith is alone here in Sunnydale." Gabriel asked.

"Her name's in there, but except for that one mention in the club, Faith didn't say anything else about her." Scott replied. "I would have to make an official request for Boston PD to talk to her. That is pretty weird, this new girl showing up alone. She wasn't listed as a runaway in that report, but that might change in a day or two."

"OK, keeping looking into this. Anything else pops on her, let me know." Gabriel ordered. He was about to go back to his desk, then looked back at Scott. "One more thing. That girl mentioned a rocket launcher attack. Run a search on all unusual weapons used in crimes in Sunnydale. Let me know what comes up on that."

"No problem, boss." Scott walked back toward his computers. With a sigh, Gabriel sat down at his desk and started working on his next report.

Chapter 10

Gates of Heaven Cemetery
Sunnydale, Ca,
October 10, 1998
Saturday, 11:45 PM

Gabriel Martin was sweating under his mask, and it was not because of the heat.

The balaclava mask that the Stakeout deputies used on patrol were normally worn by SWAT Team members. Looking like a stocking cap, with one quick jerk the mask could be pulled down over someone's face, leaving only a narrow gap for the eyes. SWAT wore the Nomex masks on raids to protect their faces against flash burns from stun grenades. Stakeout wore the masks to conceal their identities, which was why Gabriel had his mask down at the moment.

Stakeout Team Blue had been sweeping through Gates of Heaven Cemetery on routine patrol when Scott Kelly had heard noises through his parabolic mike's earphones. More than one person was walking toward them, the faint crackle of leaves the only warning. Scott threw his hand in the air and gave the 'enemy approaching' signal, and Gabriel had immediately responded with the 'take cover' hand signal. Scott was now crouched behind a oak tree ten yards away on Gabriel's right side still scanning with his mike, while Tim Harris was kneeling eight yards away behind a monument on his left, shotgun at low ready position.

Gabriel had his silenced MP-5 PDW pointed at the ground behind the vault he was hiding behind, selector switch on safe and finger outside the trigger guard. He had only the short 10 round concealment magazine inserted in the compact automatic weapon, but loading a full sized 30 round mag would make too much noise, since the oncoming visitors were only a few yards away from them now.

Breathing shallowly through his mouth, Gabriel was starting to make out what the two figures ahead of were saying now.

"You've got to be kidding me, B, you're telling me you don't have a stud to use and abuse in this place?"

"I.. I don't believe you Faith, is that all you think about, slaying and sex? I don't need a guy to take care of me."

"Oh, really? Don't tell me you don't get the same itch I do after a good slay, either you take care of it yourself or you have someone do it for you. Unless you're not into guys..."

"No... NO! I'm not gay, I just don't go throwing myself at guys like..."

"Like I do? Don't sweat it, B, I don't hide what I do. If I didn't get my freak on, I'd probably pop inside a week. To each her own."

Gabriel's hands had tightened on his weapon before consciously relaxing them. The two Stakeout teams had run across the Slayer out in the field before, and the drill had always been the same - stay out of sight and move away after the girl had passed. This was the first time that she had ever been so close to them, and now they had the new Slayer to worry about.

"So you wanna go to the Bronze after this? Have to get rid of all this excess energy. If I can't fight, I might as well dance it away."

"Sure, just have to stop by the library and check in with Giles..."

"Hell no! What are you going to tell him, 'Hey G-Man, we slayed two vamps and we're going to the Bronze to try and get our brains screwed out by some hottie?"

"One, we are *not* going so we can get with some *hottie*, and two, if I don't check in with Giles, the next time I see him he'll sit me down, start polishing his glasses and lecture me about my duties as a Slayer and how my personal life should not interfere with it. It's a great speech, Faith, I usually fall asleep about halfway into it."

"Make you a deal then, B. We find a phone and call the report in Watcher Man, and then we go to the Bronze. There's a pay phone there, even."

"Deal. Just have to finish this section of the cemetery and we'll be done."

Gabriel saw the shorter girl turn and more off to the left of where she had been walking - right toward Scott's position. There was no way that the girl would miss him and there was no way that Scott could get out of her way without being seen.

Just as Gabriel realized what was about to happen, there was a loud clinking sound to his left. Slowly turning his head, Gabriel could see that Tim Harris was throwing rocks into the headstones behind the two Slayers, creating a distraction.

"Back me up, B." Drawing a stake from her waistband, the taller Slayer cautiously moved toward the sound, the shorter Slayer facing the other way to make sure no one snuck up in them.

Moving slowly, Scott low crawled away from his position once he was out of the line of sight of the two Slayers. Seeing that Scott was safely moving away, Gabriel moved his head behind the vault and gestured for Scott to keep falling back.

"Look what I found, B." Faith's voice carried over to Gabriel, causing him to stop in mid-motion, thinking that the Slayers had seen them after all.

"What are you doing here?!?!" Buffy Summer's voice was angry as she stormed over toward the other Slayer and the sheepish figure standing beside her. "Would you believe that I was just in the neighborhood, Buff?" Gabriel turned to face the new male voice.

"Like hell, Xander. You were following us, weren't you?"

"Uh... um... no???" Xander Harris replied weakly.

Buffy got up in Xander's face, hands on her hips, her whole posture radiating anger. "So what are you doing in a graveyard at midnight, huh? Just taking a stroll?"

"Hey, I got my gear with me, I'm OK. I've slayed vampires before."

"Not by yourself, Xander. And not in a cemetery at night!" Buffy's voice was getting louder.

"I've staked vamps alone. And I can take care of myself." Xander's voice was going from defensive to angry.

"Even if you do, you shouldn't be out here late at night, you could get yourself killed. And what were you doing following us???"

Gabriel snuck a look around the vault, catching a quick glimpse of the angry look on Buffy's face, the embarrassed look on Xander's, and the amused look on Faith's. Moving back, the magazine of his weapon scraped lightly against the stone side, causing him to freeze in place.

"How many times have I told you that you shouldn't be patrolling, Xander? You don't have the strength or the training to go one on one with vampires."

"I did pretty well that night I saved *your* ass, Buffy. Strength and training didn't do much for you then." Xander's angry retort was followed by silence, and as Gabriel was edging around to sneak another look, he suddenly flew backwards, the punch to his chest not registering until he fell to the ground two yards back.

"We got company here!!!" Faith shouted to the others, jumping forward toward Gabriel after throwing the punch that knocked him back and caused his MP-5 to fall from his hands.

Instinctively, Gabriel tried to move away from the oncoming Slayer but saw that it would not do any good. Instead he waited until the last second and kicked out hard, his boot connecting with the girl's ankle, causing her to cry out and stagger back a couple steps. That gave him just enough time to stand so he could be tackled by Faith and knocked to the ground again.

"What the fuck are you?" Faith snarled as she punched him hard in the stomach twice. Gabriel's armor vest absorbed most of the force, but the wind was still driven out of his lungs, leaving him gasping on his back, the Slayer straddling him.

Just as Faith was reaching up toward his mask, she was suddenly knocked back and off of him. The quick shape of Scott Kelly was about to reach down toward the Slayer when Xander Harris slammed into him, knocking him away from the dark haired girl. Xander advanced toward Scott as Faith pulled a stake out and started toward Gabriel again.

Gabriel was scrabbling backwards again when suddenly something happened that caused everyone to stop where they were. As a bright light flashed on them, they was the distinctive *chunk-chuck* sound of a shotgun being pumped.

The three teens turned to look, but all they could see behind the brilliant light was the shape of a man aiming a shotgun at them.

After a long moment, Gabriel stood, and not turning his back toward them, started to move away from the three teens. A moment later, Scott did the same. Once they were standing behind Tim and his shotgun, they started to move away from the Slayers and the boy. As soon as they were a decent distance away, Tim turned off the tactical light on his shotgun and they started to run away toward the street.

Once the three spectral shapes faded into the darkness, the three teens looked at each other, confusion and a little fear on all their faces.

Sunnydale High School Library
Sunnydale, CA
October 11, 1998
Saturday, 12:30 AM

Rupert Giles was polishing his glasses with a silk handkerchief as he considered what he had been told. The three teenagers were sitting quietly in front of him, their alternating stories finally completed.

"You are not able to identify these beings as vampires or demons?" Giles looked toward Buffy as he put his glasses back on.

"It happened too fast. Twenty seconds, tops." Buffy looked unhappy as she spoke.

Faith shook her head. "I punched my guy solid in the chest two times and he got back up, nothing human can take that kind of hit without major damage."

"What did it feel like when you hit him?" The two Slayers and the Watcher looked surprised at the question from Xander.

"What do you mean? It felt like hitting a brick wall. I thought I broke something after the second time." Faith looked down at her hands, the knuckles red and swollen.

"I mean, did it feel like you were hitting flesh and bone or did you feel something solid?" Xander had a frown on his face, evidently thinking of something in particular.

Faith considered the question. "I didn't feel any give when I hit, that's why I said it felt like hitting a wall."

"There a point to this, Xander?" Buffy was still annoyed at him for following them on patrol.

Xander looked briefly at Buffy then up at Giles. "I think those guys were cops, something like that, Giles."

Faith's and Giles' eyes went wide, as Buffy shook her head. "What makes you believe that, Xander?" Giles inquired.

"These guys had masks on like SWAT cops do. We haven't seen any demons or vamps try to cover their faces, only humans would do that. They were all wearing street clothes, jeans and coats. One of these guys had a submachine gun and another had a shotgun, cops carry those. That's why we had to back off."

Faith nodded. "That guy pumped a shotgun, you can't mistake that sound."

"That guy that Faith hit was probably wearing body armor with a trauma plate in the front, you've seen the kind I'm talking about, Buffy. That's why the guy didn't get hurt.

"So why didn't the other guy shoot? He had the drop on all of us." Buffy still looked unconvinced.

"Because he didn't want to shoot us. They were trying to scare us off." Xander was looking between Giles and Buffy now.

"Again, what makes you believe that, Xander?" Giles was starting to look convinced.

Digging in his shirt pocket, Xander stood and handed something to Giles. "I found that on the ground after those guys took off."

Buffy stood and looked that the green object in Giles' hand. "What's that?

"It's a Remington tactical reduced recoil shotgun shell, they issue them to police officers. The guy with the shotgun already had a round in the chamber when he pumped his gun, that's why I found that shell on the ground. All he had to do to fire was to pull the trigger, but he didn't. He let us go." Xander stated definitively.

"Didn't you tell me that the cops here in Sunnydale had their heads up their butts most of the time, B?" Faith was rubbing the knuckles on her hand.

"They do. The only thing they do is arrest me when they find me involved at some crime scene." Buffy looked over at Giles for confirmation.

"The police here in Sunnydale does tend to be remarkably inept, Faith. They manage not to see what is directly in front of them. That is not to say they would not be a threat to us if we were to cross paths." Giles leaned up against the big table, glasses off and rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"You're saying that the PD might mess us up if we get too close to them. That doesn't sound like the kind of guys that we ran into. They could have dropped us with that shotgun and no one would have said 'boo' to them about it." Faith stood up and started to pace in a circle. "Do you think that Sunnydale PD would knows about the creepy- crawlies here in the 'dale?"

"There is no way that they couldn't know that there are unusual happenings here in Sunnydale, but would they believe that there are demons and vampires? Probably not." Giles stated with certainty.

"Those guys were loaded for bear and they didn't throw down on us. People don't run around in the graveyard at night with guns for fun. These guys know what's up here." Faith stopped pacing and looked back at Giles. "What are the chances that the PD getting their act together?"

"Not very likely, unless something much bigger than what has been occurring lately has taken place to change their method of operation. This is something that is a cause for great concern." Giles stated, putting his glasses back on.

"If you're talking about having another big deal to worry about, G- Man, I agree. Guns beat stakes hands down." Xander sat back down in his chair.

"Ditto." Buffy said softly, worry plain on her face.

The Old Range Building
SCSD Academy
Sunnydale, CA
October 11, 1998
Saturday, 12:45 AM

Gabriel walked slowly into the range building, his ribs aching from the hits he had taken. The heavy war bag in his hands did not help any, but Gabriel was too proud to ask one of the other deputies for help.

Once they had gotten back to the truck after running from the Slayers, Tim Harris had gotten in behind the wheel and waited until everyone had jumped on board before slamming into gear and driving off toward the Academy.

Gabriel had seen the outward calm on Tim's face, but he had an idea as to how Tim was really feeling. The worse things got, the more calm the former Ranger sergeant appeared to be. Right now Tim was the most calm that Gabriel had ever seen in a stressful situation, and that was beginning to worry him.

Just as Gabriel was beginning to wonder how bad it would be if Tim actually *appeared* stressed, the truck pulled into the parking slot in front of the old range building. Shutting off the engine of the Yukon, Tim got out of the truck and without a word walked into the building, leaving his gear behind. Scott quickly walked in behind him, having received a phone call from Steve Angelo at the range building while they were still en route that got him all excited.

Walking slowly, Gabriel finally dropped his bag by one of the firing lanes of the range when Steve and Scott walked out of the classroom toward him, grim looks on their faces.

"What happened?" Gabriel could see that the news was not going to be good.

"I was monitoring the bugs we had placed in the school library after our team got back from patrol. The two Slayers, the boy and the librarian were there right now and they were talking about you guys." Steve was the first to speak.

"So you know what happened out there tonight." Gabriel's voice was flat as he looked at the two techs.

"From the Slayers' mouths to our ears. And they were talking about how they think that you may be Sunnydale PD." The corner of Steve's mouth twitched up slightly.

"Wonderful," groaned Gabriel. "At least our cover hasn't been completely blown."

"Considering how hard that Slayer hit you, I'm surprised you didn't blow something else." Scott looked down at Gabriel's chest, where his shirt concealed his body armor.

"Tell me about it," Gabriel groused. Tapping himself on the chest and hearing a faint clink, he frowned. "I think the plate is broken."

Scott looked like he was about to say something else when they saw Tim, no expression on his face, come striding out of the classroom they used for storage. What caused everyone's eyes to widen was the hickory night stick he had in his hand.

"Hey Tim, what's up with the..." Steve spoke to Tim but stopped as he walked by them without even acknowledging them.

Turning to follow him, the three deputies watched as Tim walked up to one of the thick support pillars for the building and without a pause swing the night stick with full force at the concrete column.

*CRASH* *CRASH* The sound of the hickory baton smashing into the concrete caused the deputies to flinch, watching Tim as he did a forward strike and immediately reverse it and hit the pillar again from the other direction, the two strikes only a half second apart.

*CRASH* *CRASH* The baton hit the concrete again, causing small fragments of both the night stick and the concrete to come flying free.

*CRASH* *CRACK* After one more swing the baton broke, half of the hard wood stick flying off, leaving only the handle and a couple of inches of hickory in Tim's hand.

Stepping up to one of the firing lanes Tim threw the other half of the baton down range, the piece soaring almost the entire length of the 25 yard range before falling to the floor with a clatter.

Turning back to face the three deputies, Tim flexed his hand, still stinging from the impacts, and one eyebrow raised as if to dare anyone to say anything.

"Feel better now?" Gabriel was pretty sure he knew what had gotten Tim so upset. "Not really." Tim kept clenching his hand. "I had to aim a loaded shotgun at my nephew tonight, Sergeant. I don't think I'll ever feel better about that."

Gabriel looked from Tim to the deputies from both teams, who had come out at the sounds of the night stick hitting concrete and now had curious looks on their faces.

"It's been a bad night for everyone, Tim." Turning to look at the assembled deputies, Gabriel spoke up. "Steve, set up the tape from the library for me to hear. Everyone else, lock up your gear and go home. We'll do the after-action report tomorrow." Gabriel was disregarding team procedure by putting off the report, but after the triple whammy of fighting the Slayers, having to point weapons at them and then finding out that their cover may have been blown, some slack was understandable.

Once the deputies nodded and wandered off, Gabriel looked back at Tim and saw him looking down at the floor, his shoulders slumped slightly. With a deep breath, Tim stood straight and looked toward his team commander.

"I'll go get my gear from the truck." Tim stated neutrally. Gabriel could see in Tim's eyes that he was slightly ashamed of losing control like he did.

"OK then. See you tomorrow at briefing." Gabriel nodded at Tim and watched him walk toward the parking area before turning and walking to the classroom.

Chapter 11

SCSD Academy
Sunnydale, CA
October 12, 1998
Monday, 10:45 AM

Dropping the Ford Crown Victoria into park, Gabriel Martin let the engine stay on for a minute, the air conditioning of the unmarked department car washing over him before he finally cut the engine and got out. It was an hot day in what was already supposed to be autumn, which of course meant that it was the day that the Academy scheduled their Field Forces training.

Every member of the Sunnydale County Sheriff's Department had to go through a yearly refresher course on riot control tactics. Since the cadets at the Academy had to learn how to deal with unruly mobs, the instructors would have the requalifying deputies role play as rioters. So while the young cadets stood in ranks wearing riot armor, helmets with visors, and carrying heavy Lexan shields and batons, the role players would stand in a group in front of them, catcalling and hurling insults along with tennis balls, raw eggs and the odd half full plastic water bottle in order to get them used to holding the line against hostile rioters.

Walking up to the dark blue Chevy Caprice parked on the edge of the grassy field, Gabriel saw that Tim Harris was leaning against the fender of the car, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. His attention was fixed on the now advancing line of cadets, who were moving at a slow walk with their shields at high port, chanting "MOVE! BACK! MOVE! BACK!" while pushing back the rowdy role players.

The two men were silent while they watched the training go on for a few moments before Tim finally spoke first.

"Two thousand years ago that was state of the art combat. You formed up your men in heavy armor in a solid square, advance on your enemies at a run with spears and swords at the ready and you smashed your way through. The world trembled before the phalanx." Tim took a drag off his cigarette and exhaled through his nose. "Things were a lot more simpler then."

Gabriel stood for a moment before speaking. "I had a meeting with Sheriff Greer today. Your name came up."

"About pumping the shotgun?" Tim asked. Gabriel nodded. "Am I off the team?"

"No. The Sheriff agreed with me that you were in a highly stressful situation and your actions were understandable and justified . Since no one was harmed and the team's cover status was not compromised, no actions will be taken at this time," Gabriel said evenly.

"'At this time,'" Tim repeated. "You mean I'm under watch now?"

"Look Tim, I didn't want something like this to happen and if anything, it's probably my fault. Chances are that if we had known that you and Xander were related we wouldn't have selected you for the team, but that is over and done with. What we have to do now is try and prevent stuff like this from happening again," Gabriel explained.

"How do you intend to do that?" Tim had gotten to the end of his cigarette and was now in the process of light a new one with the butt of the old one.

"You may not like this, and you are free to say no if you want to." Gabriel could see Tim's eyes go cold before he continued. "The Sheriff and I think it may be worth a shot for you to try and get closer to Xander and his friends."

"Toward what end?" Tim's tone of voice now matched his eyes.

"To sound them out, mostly. See how they feel about the SCSD getting involved. If that goes well, we may even let them know about the Teams. Point is, we don't want to be at cross-purposes with them and if we co-operate there is a lesser chance of that happening." Gabriel could see that Tim was relaxing somewhat. "Ideally, the Teams could take over from the kids so that they don't have to risk their lives anymore.

Tim nodded. "That's fine and dandy, but there's a couple of things that might interfere with that." Tim paused and Gabriel motioned for him to continue. "First thing is that they may not want law enforcement involvement. Buffy Summers has had bad experiences with Sunnydale PD and Faith Donal is skittish as hell."

"That is why we want the info. Until Scott and Steve can figure out a way to crack into that Willow girl's computer system we're awfully thin on intel here," Gabriel replied.

"How much luck are they having with that, anyway?" Tim had seen Steve and Scott collectively bang their heads against Rosenberg's security.

"The twins tell me that the computer files are protected by PGP encryption that is damn near unbreakable unless you have access to NSA supercomputers. Scott thinks he has a way to trick the computer into giving us the encryption key, but it depends on Rosenberg using the right computer at the right time," explained Gabriel.

"Any idea on how they are going to do that?" Tim took a puff off his smoke.

"Hell no. The last time they tried to explain it to me I wound up with a headache." Gabriel smiled slightly. "Besides, I don't want to know too much. This isn't quite legal, you know."

"Uh huh," Tim replied. He was not put off by the statement; he know that the sergeant would stand up for his men if the mess ever hit the fan. "Second thing is, now that I think about it, Xander doesn't know that I'm a deputy sheriff."

"You're joking." Gabriel was surprised by the revelation.

"Not even. I've only been on the department for two years and I don't see Xander that often, remember?" Tim was getting to the end of his second cigarette.

"That might be make things easier then. Look, lets get back to the Range and hash this out. The sooner we can get our act together the better." Gabriel watched as Tim put out his smoke and straightened up from leaning against his car fender.

"A sus ordenes, mi comandante," Tim responded, his Spanish accent good for a non-native speaker.

"Adelante, sargento." Gabriel's reply showed his native Spanish accent as he let Tim move away from his car fender and walked toward his own vehicle.

Rupert Giles' Apartment
Sunnydale, CA
October 12, 1998
Monday, 6:15 PM

Buffy Summers walked onto the back porch of Giles' apartment, the object of her search sitting on a chair. Buffy had been looking for him for a while now, and she was not happy with him, both for not being easy to find and for his perceived sins.

Xander Harris looked up from the piece of wood and the knife he was using on it. Whittling was something he was good at, and he had a stack of wooden sticks on the table beside him and a bucket on the floor in front of him for the shavings.

"What are you doing, Xander? I was looking for you." Buffy's voice did not sound friendly.

Seeing the look on Buffy's face, Xander bit back the various smart ass remarks that sprung to mind. Instead he gestured with his hands and said "Carving stakes, Buff."

Buffy looked at the finished stakes on the table and picked one up. Noting the reinforced point and grooved holding surface, she remarked, "You're the one that has been making these?"

Xander nodded, placing the half-finished stake aside. "I got a bunch of splinters dusting a vamp with one of the other stakes we had, so I started fooling around with making a better one. These won't mess up your hand or break when you use them." Closing the buck knife in his hand, Xander put it next to the stake. "You want something to drink?" He gestured toward the cans of soda on the table beside him.

"I'm OK." Buffy placed the stake back on the table. "I want to talk to you about the other night."

"What about it?" Xander knew what was coming and decided that he wanted to hear her say it anyway.

"You were following me and Faith on patrol. You know how dangerous that is?" Buffy moved to where she was standing in front of Xander, who was still sitting in his chair.

"I've got a fair idea, Buff." Xander also decided that he wasn't going to make it easier for her either.

"Damn it, Xander, there's all kinds of vampires and demons running around here. You're going to get yourself hurt if you're out at night. What the hell are you thinking?!?" Buffy's hands were now on her hips.

"Like I told you, I can handle myself out there. I haven't gotten dinged out there and I don't plan to." Xander reached over for his soda.

Buffy slammed her hand down on the table, causing everything to jump and stopping Xander from picking up his soda. Seeing his eyes snap up to meet hers, Buffy was struck by the cold expression that had appeared on the teen's tanned face. Although she didn't react outwardly, a tiny piece of the Slayer quailed at seeing her best male friend looking at her like that.

Suddenly, Buffy remembered another time that Xander had that hard look in his eyes - the night after she had returned from Los Angeles after running away. Buffy had seen Xander walking slowly in an alley by the Bronze and she walked up behind him. Just before she spoke to him she stepped on a soda can and Xander had immediately spun around, a cross with sharpened ends in his left hand, his right hand going under his heavy black coat, apparently going for another weapon. Buffy had cracked wise about playing with pointed sticks, but she had been surprised by the coldness, the flat merciless look before he blinked and recognition appeared on the young man's face once he realized who she was. And when the vampire that he had been tracking burst through the crate and attacked them, it was Xander that slammed that sharpened cross through the vampire's heart as Buffy fought him.

Moving her hand away from the table, Buffy dropped into the other seat on the porch. Looking at Xander watch her carefully, Buffy took a deep breath. "Let try this again but without the drama and the smart-ass comments, OK?"

Seeing Xander nod, Buffy continued. "What are you doing following Faith and me on patrol, Xander?"

Xander reached again for his soda and cracked it open, drinking it down before looking at Buffy and speaking. "Sometimes I *do* follow you on patrol. I used to do it before Faith got here. I always thought that you might need back up. Last night was the first time that I've done it in a while."

Buffy swallowed down the anger that was building in her, keeping her voice calm. "You're can get yourself hurt or killed that way, Xander. What if I heard you behind me and thought you were a bad guy and attacked you?"

"No offense, Buff, but you've never picked up on me before. In fact, it was Faith that caught me the other night." Xander drained the soda can before dropping it in the trash can. "Besides, being right behind you is pretty safe. The vamps that see you coming usually run like hell."

"I keep repeating myself, what if something happens to you?" Buffy was leaning forward, her eyes fixed on his face.

Xander sighed. He wasn't trying to be a wiseass but the answer to that question was probably going to tick Buffy off, so he tried to answer that question with one of his own. "Why do you keep trying to keep me out of danger? Of all people, you've seen me take care of myself."

Buffy blinked and leaned back in her chair. "You're human, Xander, you don't have any powers that can defend you if a bad guy attacks. You're my friend, I don't want to see you get hurt."

"Willow and Giles don't have 'powers' and they do ok." Xander knew that it was a weak argument, and Buffy's reply proved it. "Giles has years of Watchers training and Willow can do magic. You fight a vamp, you could get killed!" Buffy's voice was started to rise again.

Xander looked steadily at Buffy, trying to frame the reply that he knew he had to give. Finally, he decided to let the chips fall where they may. "For two years now, I've known about vamps and demons. You've known me for those two years. Do you really think I can just stand aside and do nothing? Would you walk away from Slaying if you had the chance?"

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but no words formed. She knew that she was always complaining about being the Slayer, but deep inside she also knew that Slaying was in her blood now, it was something she could not walk away from.

After a few moments of the two teens looking at the floor between, Buffy spoke again, her voice still low. "I don't want you to follow me and Faith on patrol. With the two of us together, I won't need back up."

"How about this - you let me tag along on your patrols with you?" Seeing the objection on Buffy's face, Xander continued speaking. "I'm not saying that I have to be with you all the time, just every once in a while."

Buffy sat still, considering Xander's words. She still thought that he was putting himself in danger, but short of chaining him to a wall, she knew that there was no way to keep him out of action.

"I agree, on one condition." Xander was watching her face as she spoke. "You don't do anything to put yourself in danger deliberately. Fight, yeah. Doing something suicidal, no. The first time you do, you're done." Xander thought for only a moment before replying. "Deal. Shake?"

Buffy took Xander's extended hand, feeling the rough calluses on the palm and fingers. Despite that, his large warm hand felt good in her small cool one.

An evil light appeared in Xander's eyes as he spoke again. "So Slayer, what *are* you going to do if I misbehave? Spank me?"

Buffy felt her face immediately get hot as the low suggestive voice made that image pop into her mind. Yanking her hand away from him, she hissed out, "Xander!" before she saw him waggle his eyebrows up and down and grin, glaring at him before finally breaking down and laughing softly with him.

Chapter 12

Downtown Sunnydale
Sunnydale, CA
Nov 10, 1998
3:32 PM

Xander was looking dubiously at the candy bar in his hand as he walked down the street. While there were few junk foods that he did not tear into with voracious abandon, this band candy was starting to get to him. Snyder had pressed a box of forty chocolate bars into his hands and now he was trying to figure out how he was going to sell them. He had to do it soon - he was already down three bars that he had eaten that he would have to pay for with his lunch money tomorrow.

Selling at the school was out - every other student was carrying a box of candy. His friends were out for the same reason. And unless the candy had "Jim Beam" on the label, his folks were pretty much out.

Sighing, Xander shifted the knapsack on his shoulder and dropped the candy bar back into the cardboard box. Things would work out, they usually did. Now he had to go and buy some wooden dowels to carve into stakes; Buffy and Faith tore through them like there was no tomorrow.

Not hearing the car pull up to a stop alongside him, Xander looked up when he hear the short honk of a car horn. It was a blue Chevy Caprice, one with a driver that he instantly recognized though the open passenger window.

"Hey Xander, need a lift?" Tim Harris leaned over to peer through the window, the smile unmistakable even with his oversized mustache.

"Hey, Uncle Tim! I can always use a lift." Xander grinned and opened the passenger door, tossing his knapsack and box of chocolates into the back seat before climbing into the front seat. "Whatcha doing out here, Uncle Tim?"

Tim Harris flinched slightly. "Xander, I think you are old enough that you don't have to call me 'Uncle' any more. Just Tim is fine." Xander grinned again. "OK, what are you doing out here, Just Tim?" Tim growled, but smiled at the same time. "Smart ass. I had an appointment with a supplier here in town, he going out of business, so I'm buying a bunch of his stock. I was thinking of expanding the inventory, the store has been doing well. Where are you going?" "I have to buy a bunch of materials for a school project; I was headed over to Smith's Hardware to get them." Xander was usually detailed to buy supplies for the gang, so he had a cover story for when people asked him as to why we would buy wooden dowels, whetstones and other items.

"Smith's Hardware?!?!?! Why the heck you going to that old coot's store when you have my store to go to?" Tim mock-glared at Xander, who pretended to cringe backward.

"Well, if your store wasn't on the other side of town, and I had a ride, I would, but Smith's is 10 minutes away on foot and your store is a half hour away by bus." Xander was speaking in a fake whiny voice, causing Tim to give a short bark of laughter.

"You've got your ride today, sonny, I won't have you shopping at my competition." Tim turned the steering wheel, steering away from downtown Sunnydale. "Gotta support the family business, you know." Tim was looking away from Xander, so he didn't see the faint bitter smile that quickly morphed into a more mirthful version. "Yep, gotta support the family. Speaking of which..."

Looking back at Xander, Tim gave him a concerned look. "Something wrong?"

Xander gave him a lopsided smile. "I have a bunch of band candy I have to unload. Could I sucker you... convince you to buy a couple of bars?" The look on Xander's face was as innocent as he could make it, considering his joking slip up in making his sales pitch.

"Kiddo, you've got a lot to learn about making a sale. Rule One: Don't let your feelings for the customer affect the sale pitch. Rule Two: You have to sell the product like you really believe in it. Why do you think no one trusts car sales men?" Xander smiled at the last part, as it brought to mind the unctuous smile of Joe Isuzu from the TV commercials.

"OK, let's start again. Hi!, I'm selling this wonderful chocolate confection on behalf of my high school marching band, it contains these wonderful artificial preservatives that will not only cause your skin to break out to the point of leprosy, but keep you from having to get embalmed when you keel over from the sugar shock." The grin on Xander's face while making this incredible spiel was bright enough to dust a vampire.

"Oh crap, you've got to be kidding me." Tim was laughing so hard that driving was beginning to be a problem. "How much is this stuff cost?"

"Only one dollar per bar! And for the low price of five dollars, buy three get two free!!!" Xander was really getting into the 'car salesman' mode of thinking.

Tim snorted. "Yeah, right. How much of this wonderful chocolate do you have?"

Xander reached into the back seat and grabbed the box of candy, holding it in his hands and shaking it. Scowling in thought, Xander stated gravely, "It feels like this box contains about... 37 bars of candy. So for the one time only price of $36.95, you can not only get this wonderful chocolate, you get this lovely white carrying case to transport it in."

Shaking his head, Tim pulled the Caprice into the parking lot alongside Harris Hardware. Dropping the transmission into 'Park,' Tim shut the engine off and got out of the car, Xander following suit on the opposite side. "Tell you what, I'll take twenty of them only because I have twenty bucks I was going to spend on smokes and booze otherwise. I'll see if I can find someone I don't like that I can give them to. That way I can have the pleasure of watching 'them' break out in zits and bounce off walls from the sugar high."

"Sounds good to me," Xander responded, walking up alongside of Tim as they walked toward the store. "Don't you eat chocolate yourself?"

"Nope, when I was your age I had a bad skin problem, cutting off the chocolate helped a lot. I'll give the candy to some of my customers and employees instead." Tim stopped next to the cash register, nodding at the clerk ringing up a customer. "Hey Joe, you remember my nephew Xander?"

"Hey there Xander, been a while since I've seen you," the elderly man called out. "Still hanging out with that cute little redhead?"

Xander came to a dead stop, his mind racing for a moment before calming down. Joe Holbrook had worked at his uncle's store for more than thirty years, and knew both him and Willow from when they were both in kindergarten. His innocent question about his longtime friend did not mean that his secret was on his face for all to see. That was of the good, since he knew that if anyone found out about "the Fluke" he could look forward to a size 8 boot print on his butt courtesy of Oz, not to mention that Cordelia would rip his face off with her bare hands. Come to think of it, Oz would rip his face off for real if he found out about it at the wrong time of the month.

Forcing a smile on his face Xander replied, "Yeah, Willow and I are still friends. Going to the same high school, in fact."

"Still doing your homework for you?" Joe grinned. Turning toward Tim, Joe explained, "I remember that time that the two of them were cutting out dinosaurs for a class project and Xander's were looking more like amoeba than T-Rexes. Finally Willow had to put her hand over his so that he stayed outside the lines when he cut."

Listening to the two older men chuckle at the story, Xander flashed back to the memory of Willow's small hand guiding his own as he used the safety scissors to cut the construction paper for the mobile they were making. Which brought to mind feeling Willow's hand in his as they kissed in her room, her hand sliding from his and up to his face, holding him close to her as her tongue slipped into his mouth; which *then* brought to mind feeling Willow's hand going up his t- shirt against his bare back while kissing in the library stacks.

Mentally shaking that image from his mind, Xander looked around the store, noting that not much had changed. The spray paint cases in the back, the tools on the left, building materials on the right. Dropping his knapsack and box of chocolate on the desk behind the counter he said, "I'm going to grab the stuff I need, Tim. I'll be back in a minute." Seeing his uncle nod, Xander walked into the building materials section.

Tim looked over at Joe to find him looking back at him with a contemplative expression on his face. After a moment Joe said in a lower voice, "It looked like he grew up real good. Doesn't really look like his daddy, does he?"

"Thankfully, no," Tim replied softly as well. Xander wasn't as tall as Tony Harris; he had inherited Jessica's dark hair and eyes. But there was also something missing from his face - the anger and resentment that was always present on his parents' faces.

"If I had to say, he looks more like you than anything. Sure he's isn't your long lost kid there?" Joe was smiling slightly.

"I'm pretty sure not." There was no love lost between Tim and Tony Harris, and a measure of pity for Jessica. But Xander has been the only reason Tim had kept coming around, even if it was for a day or two when he had been on leave from the Army.

"So what is Xander doing here? He going to buy anything?" Joe and Tim watched as Xander walked toward the register, some four foot long three quarter inch dowels in his hands along with what looked to be a couple of hacksaw blades.

"Yeah. Some kind of school project, I guess." The flat tone of voice made the older man look at Tim, who had a slightly tired look on his face which disappeared when he turned to look at Joe. "Xander gets the employee discount, Joe."

"Okay, chief." The clerk took the merchandise from Xander once he got there, then his eyes widened slightly as he saw his boss take two twenty dollar bills from his jeans pocket and hand them to the surprised teen.

"For the chocolate, Xander," Tim explained.

"But you had said that you only wanted twenty bars, Tim." Xander looked from the money to his uncle doubtfully.

"I just remembered someone I really don't like; I'll give the chocolates to their kids, then watch them try and keep up with them." Xander smiled at the image Tim had brought to mind.

"You are a mean, mean man, Tim. Remind me not to tick you off."

"Don't you forget it, Xander."

Underground Storm Drain Seven,
Sunnydale, CA,
Nov 11. 1998
8:37 PM

Gabriel Martin tried to keep his heavy breathing down as he ran behind Tim Harris. Matt Parker brought up the drag, and that was it. Only half the Unit was on its way to a hot zone and if he wasn't sweating already from the run wearing full gear the tactical situation would have done it handily.

Gabriel had shown up early for the nightly briefing and didn't find it unusual to see that Steve Angelo and Scott Kelly working at the computers they had set up at the opposite side of the classroom. What was kind of weird was the amount of giggling that was going on - it sounded like the two deputies were kids doing something that they should not have been doing. But Gabriel was used to strange behavior from the Twins, so he didn't realize something was wrong until the two started actually fighting each other.

His head snapping up as he heard the crash of Scott throwing Steve over a table, Gabriel ran over to the computer station just as Tim and Matt burst out of the Armory and Peter Murray ran in from the firing lanes at the sound of the commotion. Separating the two struggling men took two men on each fighter, and they were struggling so hard to break free that they wound up riot cuffing the techs with plastic zip cuffs hand and foot.

When Gabriel finally was able to find out what the two were fighting about, he couldn't understand what they were talking about; apparently, Tim had brought in a box of school chocolate bars and the Twins had eaten them all. Scott and Steve were actually fighting for the last one when the other team members broke them apart. It wasn't until Peter spoke up that Gabriel realized how serious this had become.

"Uh, boss, we don't have access to the military computer network, right?" Peter was doing something that Gabriel had never seen a black man do - turn pale.

"No, why do you ask?" Gabriel started to turn pale himself as he realized what was on the screens of the computers Scott and Steve had been using.

"Then why do we have the Air Defense display for NORAD Missile Command on the computer?"

After a mad scramble to disconnect the computer modems before the military could trace the hack back to them, Gabriel and the rest were trying to question the still giggling techs when the first bit of luck for the night happened - the computerized phone tap on the Sunnydale High School Library kicked on.

The Twins had rigged the tap and the computers running it to activate only when certain names were spoken or certain voiceprints were identified. Right now the computer screen indicated that Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg were on the line.

After listening to Summers and Rosenberg talk about how the band candy had been cursed and that the whole town had been affected, every sober person in the classroom was speechless. Even the Twins had stopped giggling and looked almost serious.

It wasn't until Summers stated that the band candy had been distributed as a diversion so that a tribute to a demon could be performed and what the nature of the tribute was that everyone turned pale. Upon hearing that the most likely source of the tribute was the Sunnydale Hospital newborn care unit, the deputies broke into action.

Leaving Peter to watch over the two restrained deputies and to continue monitor the taps and the police radio net, Gabriel, Tim and Matt pulled on full tactical gear and ran to the Suburban parked outside the Old Range Building, burning rubber as they sped out of the parking area.

As Matt slalomed around the various car wreaks and bonfires on the streets of Sunnydale, Gabriel was on the cell phone to Sheriff Greer. After a quick sitrep, Greer agreed to put the Sheriff's SWAT team on alert for possible deployment under the guise of offering support to the Sunnydale Police Department to help quell the disorders taking place there. Both men knew that SPD would request help only if the whole town was aflame, but it gave them a pretext to get everyone ready. And they would need the help; with only three men currently on the case, any assault on a nest would be bordering on suicidal.

Coming up on Sunnydale Hospital, Peter called from the Old Range Building. Summers and Rosenberg had talked on the phone again; confirming that four newborns were missing and that they had a possible location on them. Just as the truck was arriving at the hospital, the deputies saw a battered Jeep Cherokee speeding out of the lot. Recognizing the driver as Buffy Summers, Matt immediately slowed down. Knowing that Summers had a better chance of finding the tribute than they did, Gabriel directed Matt to keep following Summers.

His left hand on Tim's shoulder and Matt's hand on his own, Gabriel walked as silently as possible as the three deputies moved toward the end of the storm drain they were in. Standing still as Tim reconnoitered the room ahead, Gabriel and Matt moved up once they saw Tim give the "come up" and "be quiet" hand signals.

Once Gabriel saw what lay ahead of them his heart sank. There were four figures in robes standing around a table that had the four infants on it. Further to the side were two figures that appeared to be dressed in business suits. One was a white male who was talking on a cell phone while the other male who was talking to the figures in robes appeared to be black.

This was the worst kind of situation that Stakeout could find itself in; being shorthanded, hostages, tangos of unidentified types, and the wrong type of weapons to deal with them. Only Tim had a precision weapon, his SIG 551 assault carbine. Matt and Gabriel had their MP5K- PDWs, which due to their short barrels had an effective accuracy range of 15 yards max. Beside that, the only other effective weapons they had were their stakes and edged weapons.

Using the hand signals that Tim had insisted they all learn, Gabriel rapidly signed -Have to call for backup-

-Out of time- Tim replied back. -We go now-

-Don't have weapons or men- Gabriel signed quickly.

-ETA backup?- Tim responded. Gabriel's shoulders slumped slightly. Even with the SWAT team on alert, it would take an hour for them to get there and be ready to engage. They didn't have an hour; they didn't have ten minutes.

-You have plan?- Gabriel had never been afraid to ask his subordinates for ideas, especially when they had more experience in the area.

-Distraction on side, charge in, headshot first, go blades close in- The Teams had learned the hard way that they were better off with edged weapons close in with tangos, since they did more devastating damage than an in-and-out bullet wound could. Short of a head shot or a shotgun blast, vampires were hard to put down with conventional bullets.

-Distraction how?- Gabriel asked. Tim pulled out a flash-bang grenade from his tactical vest and Gabriel nodded. The grenade would cause a brilliant flash and an extremely loud explosion, but no fragments or shrapnel to injure friendlies.

-Target?- Gabriel was asking where Tim would throw his grenade.

-Leaders- It took a moment for Gabriel to realize that Tim meant the two males in suits. It made sense; not only would the blast disorient everyone, the leaders would not guide the defense against the attackers.

-OK. Stack up- Gabriel glanced out of the tunnel and saw that a robed figure was anointing the infants. He pulled down his balaclava mask so that only his eyes were visible and watched the other two men do the same.

Once the three men were standing hands on shoulders in an assault stack, Tim, who was standing at the head of the short line, gave the signal to count down to the attack with his left hand, the flash-bang ready to be thrown in his right. Rocking forward slightly to get the stack synchronized to move in unison, Tim counted down. -Five, four, three...-

At three, Buffy Summers dropped down through a manhole onto the ground behind the four robed figures and with a sunny smile said, "Hi!"

Immediately throwing up the -Hold Fast!- sign, Tim watched as Summers attacked the robed figures with an incredible array of roundhouse kicks, punches and blocks. Two more people dropped on though the manhole and moved toward the infants, intent on rescuing them.

Looking back at his commander and team mate, Tim rapidly signed -No guns, flash bang and blades only- Tim and Matt nodded agreement; with friendlies intermixed with tangos, they could not risk shooting unless close up.

Looking forward again, Tim saw that Summers was fighting two tangos at once while the two other people were trying to fend off the other two tangos. Rocking and counting down again, at -GO- the three deputies rushed into the room as Tim threw the flash-band at the two suits standing off at the side. With a massive roar the exploding grenade blew the two men backward, drawing the instant attention of the fighters who then saw three masked men running full-bore at them.

Matt and Gabriel had drawn their edged weapons in the tunnel. Slashing diagonally, Gabriel's machete took off a tango's hand. Throwing himself backward and screaming, the vampire threw himself backward to dodge another swipe of the razor sharp blade and fell into a shallow pool. Matt swung his replica Roman short sword and caught his vampire in the throat, causing a major spray of blood and a gargling cry but no dusting. Swinging again, this time from the other direction, the blade cut through the neck and spine of the vampire, finally dusting it.

Thrusting out with her stake, Summers was able to dust one vampire as Tim was drawing his own edged weapon. Spinning the Gurka kukri back in his hand, Tim swung the weapon forward. The force of the heavy bladed knife spinning forward was such that the short curved weapon chopped through the vampire's arm below the elbow, the limb dropping and dusting on the ground. As the vampire drew breath in to shriek in pain, Summers' stake slammed into his heart from behind, dusting it.

As Tim looked over at Summers and saw the questions forming in her eyes, there was a low rumbling sound that rapidly built in intensity.

"What the hell is that? The man in the t-shirt called out, a British accent apparent.

Looking toward one of the other drainage pipes, everyone saw the bleeding vampire standing in the middle of the shallow pool just before a giant demon snake appeared in the pipe, its body almost filling the large tunnel. With a roar, the snake grabbed the wounded screaming vampire with its mouth and dragged him back into the tunnel.

"Lurconis, I'm thinking." Summers replied.

Hearing the rumbles begin again, but this time building up faster, Tim called out, "Grab the kids, he's coming back!!!"

As Gabriel, Matt, the British guy and the older woman each grabbed a kid and moved as fast as they could away from the tunnel the demon snake had appeared from, Tim drew his assault carbine forward and brought it to the ready position. There was no way a weapon like that would stop the giant snake, but hopefully it could distract it long enough for the others to get clear.

Summers realized the same thing as well. Jumping up at the ceiling, she grabbed onto a gas pipe and managed to break one end free. Just as the giant snake appeared at the end of the tunnel, Summers pointed the high pressure pipe at the snake and yelled at Tim, "Light me!!!"

Thrusting the muzzle of his carbine into the gas stream, Tim fired a short burst, the flash of the shots igniting the gas and turning the pipe into a blowtorch. Summers aimed it at the demon snake, the roaring flames causing it to shriek in agony. She keep pouring it on, driving the snake back into its tunnel until finally the shrieks faded away.

"This isn't the end of this." Both Tim and Summers looked up to see the black vampire looking down at them through a manhole. "There's going to be hard times ahead." A moment later he vanished.

"They never just leave; they always have to say something," Summers muttered, more to herself than to Tim. He watched as Summers carefully bent the gas pipe double, the steel folding in her hands until the pipe was crimped shut, the flames at the end going out.

"You and I need to talk, mystery man." Tim glanced down at Summers, seeing a look of determination on her face.

"I thought you just said that you wanted us to leave without saying anything?" Tim could see the other people were walking back toward them, the older woman now holding two infants, while the Brit was empty handed.

"Nuh uh, I don't like players I don't know on my field. People who wear masks don't inspire confidence." Tim smirked at the arrogance of the statement before realizing that with his mask on, there was no way for the blonde Slayer to see it.

"It's not like you have a choice, Ms. Summers." Watching the girl stiffen at the use of her name, Tim silently damned himself for the slip up.

"I bloody well think we do, mate." Watching the Brit swagger up to him, Tim knew that use of force was becoming more likely.

Slinging his carbine up under his arm, Tim turned to face him with his hands empty. "We're not at liberty to discuss who we are. Let's just leave it at that." Mentally Tim groaned at his own statement; he sounded like every B-movie spook in creation.

"And if we chose to make it our business?" Seeing the smirk on the Brit's face, Tim knew he was going to make a move. Therefore he was not surprised when the Brit grabbed for his balaclava, intending to rip it off his head.

Juking sideways, Tim snapped his left arm across the Brit's, spinning him sideways and away. Seeing him snarl and rush toward him, Tim waited a couple of heartbeats before rapidly drawing his kukri.

Hearing Summers and the older woman cry out, "Giles!!!", Tim sidestepped and as Giles went past him, spun the kukri into a reverse grip and smacked the Brit on the side of his head with the pommel, dropping him on the ground.

Spinning the kukri into a regular grip again, Tim watched as Summers quickly checked out the Brit, her inspection confirming his words. "He's just knocked out, he'll be fine." Seeing the anger in her eyes, Tim sheathed the blade and called out to his team mates, "Guys, put the kids on the table."

Once the two infants were down and the older woman was standing next to them, the two men moved away from them and following the casually given sign by Tim, moved back toward the tunnel they had entered through. Tim himself moved back toward the tunnel, careful not to turn his back on Summers.

"We trust you can get the kids back to the hospital, OK?" Seeing the short angry nod from the blonde girl, Tim continued speaking. "Sorry about this, maybe another time. Just keep in mind; we're on the same side here."

Turning into the tunnel, Tim still heard Summers mutter, "Sure, same side. Right." Moving at a jog, Tim and the other went down the tunnel, back toward the Suburban.

Old Range Building,
Sunnydale County Sheriff's Academy,
Nov 12, 1998
7:30 PM

Tim stayed standing as the rest of the deputies filed out of the classroom. Debriefing for the night before had not taken long, as it was most a review of stuff that everyone already knew about. Steve and Scott looked a little green around the gills, not to mention what looked to be a breakout of acne on their faces. Tim was more than glad that his own skin problems had kept him from eating any of the band candy.

Once the meeting was over, Gabriel had asked that Tim stay for a moment to talk. Even though the use of force the night before had not been over the line, Tim was sure that he was going to get dressed down for it.

Seeing the look on Tim's face, Gabriel waved him over to a chair and leaned back in his own. "This isn't that kind of talk, Tim. Relax."

As Tim began to relax a little, Gabriel pulled a plain manila envelope from his desk and handed it over to Tim. Just as he was about to open it, Gabriel held up his hand.

"Once Steve and Scott sobered up from the candy this morning, I talked to them about what they were doing in the military computer network. Believe it or not, they were working on a request of mine before the candy made them wonky. I had asked them to look into any unusual weapons being used in Sunnydale because Buffy Summers had mentioned using a rocket launcher. They managed to get this out of Army Criminal Investigation Division archives before they decided it was more fun to hack into NORAD."

Tim opened the envelope and drew out several pages of a computer printed report. Looking at the header, the subject immediately drew his attention.

Theft and Recovery of AT-4 Anti-Tank Weapon, Sunnydale National Guard Armory.

Reading through the report quickly, Tim came to the interrogation of the sentry on duty when the rocket launcher was stolen. Reading the suspect's description, Tim's eyes widened.

Looking up at Gabriel, all he said was, "Read the section on the recovery of the weapon."

Skipping ahead, Tim read the witness statements of the people at Sunnydale Mall where the rocket launcher had been used and left behind. One witness gave a description of the young people whom she had seen use the weapon.

Once Tim looked up again, Gabriel simply stated, "Now read about the disposition of the case."

Tim flipped to the back of the report and read the few paragraphs. Slowly he looked up and stated, "You've got to be kidding me."

Gabriel shook his head. "No. Because there had been a large-scale weapons theft ring running out of the Armory, and one of the suspects in that case matched the description given, this was lumped into the case they already had. The suspects were convicted for stealing military property and arms trafficking and sentenced to long terms at hard labor."

"So the military and the government are no longer looking for the people responsible for stealing the rocket launcher?" Tim asked slowly.

Gabriel shook his head. "No. It's all over. Scott cross-checked the report to see if they were implicated in any other criminal activity and nothing came back. The only thing out there is that some biological samples from the mall were sent to a military lab to be tested and they were determined to be non-human. So except for that, this case was closed."

"So they're off the hook? I'll be damned." Tim shook his head in disbelief.

"If you live right, you probably won't be." Gabriel smiled for the first time. "I'm going to need that back."

Tim handed the report to Gabriel, who put it back in the manila envelope. Switching on a paper shredder, Gabriel fed the envelope in and both men watched as its contents were reduced to half inch strips.

"See you at the truck in a minute."

"Gabriel... Thanks."

"For what? We never had that report."

"Thanks anyway."


Chapter 13

Shady Hills Cemetery
Sunnydale, CA,
November 24, 1998
10:34 PM

Contrary to popular belief, night vision was not very useful when fighting vampires.

There were two types of night vision gear available for the Stakeout Teams to use while on patrol, light amplification and infrared. Light amp would take the available ambient light and increase it electronically, but all that resulted in was various shades of green when seen though a scope or binoculars. Any strong source of light would cause the scope to flare and wash out the image, rendering it useless. Infrared was more useful in that you could easily tell vampires from humans, but the vampires were at most only one or two degrees warmer than the ambient air temperature, resulting in a faint blue image compared to the orange or red figure produced by human body heat.

Tim Harris had known this when he had been selecting his gear for the night's mission, but the compromise he had settled on was proving to be almost unworkable. The infrared scope on the M21 7.62mm NATO sniper rifle would not allow him to clearly identify targets. Matt Parker had both regular and light amp binocs and could not guide the shots the way a spotter could have done in the daylight.

Tim and Matt were on the top of a two story chapel, wrapped in grey and black ghille suits. The two marksmen were barely able to keep up with the fight occurring a mere fifty yards ahead of them, next to a crypt that was a part of some ritual that was supposed to take place. All Tim could see was that a few orange figures were swirling though a group of blue figures, the blue shapes disappearing one by one.

-Sierra Four to Sierra Six, unable to take shot IR, tangos unclear, over.- Tim whispered into his throat mike, letting Gabriel Martin know that he was unable to fire.

-Sierra Four, copy, Sierra Five, hold position.- Gabriel responded, also letting Peter Murray know to stand by at his location with Steve Angelo twenty yards from the fight to the south. Gabriel was 25 yards to the north with Scott Kelly, all the deputies with SMGs and shotguns at the ready.

-Sierra Four to Six, switching to normal scope. Prepare to pop flares on my signal- Not waiting for the confirmation, Tim quickly unsnapped the IR scope from the sniper rifle and slapped on an adjustable power conventional scope. 'If I ever meet the guy who came up with these interchangeable constant zero scope mounts,' Tim thought to himself, 'I'm definitely buying him a beer.' The rifle was now able to shoot within a minute of angle up to 500 yards. At 50 yards the rifle would place his shots inside a half inch of it's aiming point; of that, .308 inches was the diameter of the bullet itself.

Beside him, Matt had put down the binocs and was now brought a FN M249 Squad Automatic Weapon to bear on the target zone. The Belgian light machine gun was ready with a 200 round belt of 5.56mm NATO, with tracers loaded one-in-three among the full metal jacketed cartridges. The backup plan involved the ground teams firing parachute flares into the air every 15 seconds until the threats had been neutralized by the sniper team. The down side to that plan was that every person within a couple of miles who wasn't blind and deaf was going to realize that there was a military trained sniper team in the area as soon they started shooting.

Peering though the optics as he heard Gabriel confirm his last transmission, Tim swept along the target area before sighting in on two figures struggling at the edge of the group. Focusing the scope, he was able to see the distorted visage of a vampire facing toward him, but it the face of the human fighting him that caused his blood to turn to ice.


Shady Hills Cemetery
Sunnydale, CA,
November 24, 1998
10:33 PM

The Scooby Gang had thought they could leave him behind. They thought that if they planned everything right, they could sneak out to the demon ritual without him none the wiser, without him fouling up the attack the way that he usually did and endangering them. But instead, he had worked out what they had done, tracked them down, and was now merrily wreaking havoc on their carefully drawn out plans.

Murphy (of the Law's of Combat fame) had really fouled up the fight tonight.

Xander Harris was with Giles, Oz and Willow, covering for them as they prepared a counter-spell for the demonic ritual that night, but it had been another attempt to keep him out of the fighting. Giles had prepared the ingredients back at the library, Willow and Giles was doing the chanting, and now Oz was standing besides her with a crossbow, picking off any vampire that came too close to them. Standing by with a short sword in hand, Xander could only watch as Buffy and Faith tore through the assembled vampires trying to get to the demon performing the spell. He couldn't quite remember what the spell was supposed to do, it was either supposed to make the minor demon into a major Bad Guy or cure male pattern baldness, he couldn't remember which. Although looking at the hairless demon with brown and pink molted skin, he was betting more on number two.

Watching Buffy and Faith fight, you could almost ignore the fact that they were outnumbered three to one. The previous intelligence they had scared out of Willy the Snitch was that there were going to be only five vampires along with the demon, but there had been fifteen vamps on site when the crew came up on the open crypt. That number was now down to six, but the vamps were fighting for their very unlives now rather than just defending their boss..

Hand clenching on the sword handle, Xander watched as Buffy kicked and punched a vampire into near insensibility before throwing it toward Faith, who would stake the vamp in midair. Buffy's stake had hung up in the ribcage of an earlier vamp, destroying the wooden weapon as well as the undead creature. The resulting tag team slaying would be fascinating to watch, if it hadn't resulted in more danger to the two Slayers.

Xander watched as Faith took a running leap off a tombstone, a captured sword in her hand, and vaulted over the few remaining vampires to directly attack the Demon-In-Charge, breaking the bowl that contained the spell ingredients along the way. Xander snorted to himself as he thought of the title he had just come up with - it may have been accurate and funny, but he doubted anyone besides Faith would appreciate the acronym that came from that title... and maybe Oz.

Looking over at Buffy, Xander could see that she was busily bouncing the two remaining vamps off various crypt walls and tombstones, weaponless and temporarily unable to dust them. Seeing that Giles and Willow were relatively safe now that most of the vamps were gone, Xander started toward the remaining fight intending to throw his sword to Buffy when he saw that a third vampire was coming up behind her and she didn't realize it.

Moving quickly, Xander took a running dive toward the vampire, swinging his sword at the vampire's neck. The vamp managed to deflect the sword with his left hand, losing a couple of fingers in the process but otherwise staying alive... or undead, as the case may be.

Giving a snarling scream, the wounded vamp charged Xander, who began to back peddle while swinging the sword around in front of him. The sword kept the vamp from overrunning him, but he had to keep moving back to keep the vamp from grabbing him. Xander cursed under his breath as he kept swinging - he was a fair hand with a sword, but had never received any actual training like Buffy, Faith, and Giles had.

"Xander! Get out of the way!" Hearing Willow shout that made Xander's ears go red; it wasn't like he was deliberately getting in the way. Catching a quick glimpse of Oz trying to shoot at the vampire with his crossbow, Xander tried to maneuver out of the line of fire, but the vamp wasn't co-operating, as he realized that not only was he attacking an armed human, but another human was attempting to shoot him, not to mention that two Slayers were about to join in this fray momentarily.

Looking at the vampire's furious eyes, Xander felt a calm start to pass through him. Seeing the vamp begin to rush him, he instantly knew what his intention was - to grab him, sword or no sword, and use him as a hostage to get away from the varied enemies around him. Winding up as a after-getaway snack was merely a bonus.

As though in slow motion, Xander swung his sword one more time toward the vampire's neck, only to see the vamp knock the sword away with his injured arm, resulting in a deep gash on his forearm, but otherwise sending the sword flying through the air toward Buffy. The blonde Slayer neatly plucked the sword out of mid-air in the middle of her sprint toward the remaining fight, her last two opponents still slowly turning to dust, but there was no way she would reach her endangered teammate in time. Faith, her adversary headless on the ground, was a couple of steps behind her as well.

Xander could see the unholy glee in his opponent's yellow eyes as he got within arm's reach. Still reacting in that calm, emotionless fashion, Xander moved his weight to his right leg, and with all his strength, kicked out and down with his left, smashing though the vampire's right knee.

Before the vampire could scream from the excruciating injury, Xander took a small step forward, setting his left foot down, and as the agonized vampire began to jack knife forward, brought his right knee up full force into the vamp's chest, throwing him onto his back.

Xander looked around and saw that Buffy and Faith were a few seconds away from reaching him. He did not want the vampire to attack or try to get away, but he didn't have his sword anymore. Taking a quick breath, Xander used the only other weapon he had left.

The vampire had just enough time to look up from his position on the ground to see the teenager jump up into the air. The last thing the vamp saw was 180 pounds of Xander Harris dropping toward his head, feet first.

Sunnydale High School Library
Sunnydale, CA,
November 24, 1998
11:45 PM

Xander sat with his head slightly down, trying not to listen to Buffy chew him out. In fact, he was more interested in looking at Willow and trying to gauge the look on her face, to tell the truth. After witnessing his little airborne stunt with the downed vamp, Willow had proven that people's faces can indeed turn green, just before she ran for the bushes to throw up. Willow was now sitting unsteadily besides Oz, who had stood beside her to make sure nothing happened to her as she tossed her cookies behind a bush.

Buffy and Faith has not gotten sick, but they had stood in stunned disbelief after witnessing the end of the fight. Seeing that the vamp had not dusted, Xander asked Faith for her sword. After the Slayer handed it over, Xander carefully decapitated the vampire, not that there was much of the vampire's smashed head left, watching as it finally disintegrated.

"...Are you even listening to me, Xander?!? That was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen you do. What the heck were you thinking attacking a vamp like that, without a weapon even? Faith and I could have taken it out, you should have let us do it..." Xander looked up at Buffy, who was standing a couple of feet in front of him, her hands on her hips.

"That vamp was about to blindside you, Buff. What would you have wanted me to do?" Xander's question only served to anger the blonde Slayer.

"That vamp was not going to blindside me, I would have taken care of it. You should not have jumped into that fight..." Buffy looked like she was winding up into another rant, but suddenly Xander was tired of it, since he just realized something - Buffy was apparently more upset with the fact that Xander thought she needed rescuing than that he got involved in the fight.

"You had no weapon, you were fighting two vamps you couldn't dust, and that third vamp got within striking distance of you without you knowing it. You sure you could have taken it?" Xander was looking steadily at Buffy.

"Yes! I've been attacked before, I would have beat him off, you shouldn't be getting into fights you're not trained for..." Xander give a mental sigh as Buffy began the same argument again. Looking around Xander could see that Faith and Giles did not fully agree with Buffy, but also that they were not going to intervene on his behalf.

"You know what, you're right." That statement brought Buffy to a complete halt.

"Of course I am." Buffy looked a little unsure even as she replied. "You're not going to do that again?"

"Probably not. One pair of trashed sneakers is enough." Xander looked down at his formerly white tennis shoes, which even after a lot of scuffing and kicking were still stained with red and grey goop. So much for vampire dust.

Seeing the anger flashing across Buffy's face, Xander turned toward Giles. "There's nothing else to do tonight, right Giles?"

The older British man gave a slight start. "No, we've done quite enough tonight, Xander. All that is left is routine patrolling," the Watcher responded.

"Cool. I'll be headed home then." Xander stood and started to walk out of the library when Buffy's voice stopped him.

"You can't walk home by yourself Xander, it's too dangerous."

Rolling his eyes before turning back toward the Slayer, Xander raised Faith's sword, which he had just picked up. "Even with this?"

Seeing a faint look of embarrassment on Buffy's face, Xander turned toward Faith. Reversing the sword in his hand, he offered it to her and in a young sounding voice said, "Beautiful Lady, could you walk me home and protect me from the big bad boogieman? Can you tuck me into bed? I promise to be a good little boy."

The dark haired Slayer gave a short laugh before glancing toward Buffy's angry scowl. Still smiling, she responded, "Sure, but you know that bad little boys get spanked, right?" She took the proffered sword in hand.

Xander waggled his eyebrows up and down and smiled. "You promise?" Seeing the disapproval on Willow's face, and the faint amusement on both Oz's and Giles' faces, he crooked his right arm and offered it to Faith.

Sliding her left arm into his, leaving her sword arm free, the two began to walk off. "Night, guys," Faith called out, not turning to see the anger on her sister Slayer's face for being made fun off. But what really gilded the lily was when Xander started to whistle a tune that after a moment was recognizable as 'We're Off To See The Wizard' from "The Wizard of Oz." With that, the older Slayer growled and stalked off.

Old Range Building
Sunnydale County Sheriff's Academy
Sunnydale, CA,
November 25, 1998
01:55 AM

Gabriel Martin neatly stacked the papers on his lectern before placing them in a manila folder. While the After Action Reports did not get officially filed with the Central Records Division of the Department, they still kept records on the unit's computers. The twins would make backup copies of all the data on the hard drive and destroy the hardcopies, both for security's sake and to save room in the office. Gabriel liked to hold on to actual paper while working however, so the manila folder's contents would wind up in a shredder before he left for home. Now that the debrief was done all he had to do was dispose of the papers and lock up the empty building.

Looking up Gabriel was surprised to see Tim Harris sitting at one of the tables in front of him. The older deputy's eyes were fixed on a slim back up knife that he was twirling between his fingers like a pencil. Tim had told him that he did stuff like this to increase his dexterity, but this was the first time Gabriel had seen him use a knife like that.

The narrow black bladed knife rolled over Tim's fingers in a continuous motion, the bright sharpened edge flashing as the knife flipped end over end between his fingers. The blade stopped for a moment before it reversed itself, going in the opposite direction. Finally the knife stopped twirling and in one smooth motion was replaced into the sheath Tim had strapped on his lower left arm under his shirt sleeve.

Tim looked up at Gabriel, his gaze steady for a long moment before he spoke. "I'm getting tired of this crap."

"What crap would that be?" Gabriel pulled a chair over and sat down on the opposite side of the table.

"Watching kids risk their lives while we stand around with out thumbs up our asses." Gabriel knew Tim almost never used profanity in his speech.

"We're not exactly doing nothing here Tim."

"No, but we tonight we were watching kids fight *demons* with medieval weapons while trained police officers with military weapons couldn't do anything because we could have blown the kids apart with the demons. We can't do the over watch thing anymore, it's almost useless at night with the gear we have. We have to be next to them for this to work."

"Yeah." Gabriel could tell that Tim was upset with the whole situation. "How has it been trying to get close to the kids?"

"I've run into Xander a couple times on the street, but it hasn't gone beyond that. We never were that close before. God only know I wish we had been." Tim gestured toward the wiretap recorders and computers. "Could you believe the crap Summers was saying?"

Gabriel shook his head. The deputies had heard Summers bawling out Xander for jumping into the fight that night, where among other things she had brought up the fact that Xander had received no combat training from either Slayers or the Watcher.

"I was thinking of pushing forward with the contact thing. The only way that I'm going to get inside their group is if they know that I know about vampires." Tim stopped speaking for a moment, visibly putting his thoughts in order. "I don't think they would take it very well if I just walk up and say I know about their night jobs."

The two deputies sat quiet for a few moments before Tim stood up and pushed his chair under the table. "I'll sleep on it, maybe something will come to me tonight." Gabriel stood as well, watching as his partner grabbed his war bag and looked back at him. "Sorry about bending your ear about this."

Gabriel waved him off. "Don't worry about it, we have to get things moving anyway." Locking up his desk and tossing the papers into the shredder, Gabriel picked up his bag and walked over to the doorway where Tim was standing. Flipping off the light switch, the room was illuminated by only the computer monitors. "See you tomorrow Tim."

Sunnydale High School Library
Sunnydale, CA,
November 26, 1998
03:30 PM

Rupert Giles had always thought of the school library as a sanctuary, but not as much as he was that day. After spending an hour in Principal Snyder's office justifying the book budget he had submitted for the upcoming year, Giles had been only moments away from throttling the little troll. Only years of training had prevented him from satisfying his urge to strangle the miserly sadistic school official until his eyes popped. However, this did not keep him from having the occasional pleasant daydream contemplating where he should dispose of the body.

Walking toward the library doors, Giles was struck by a strange odor, one that reminded him of burning candle wax. Feeling his anxiety jump up to match his suddenly rushing heartbeat, Giles pushed his way though the swinging doors to see Xander and an unknown man doing something at the library table.

"Xander! What in the devil are you doing with that lighter?" Giles could see that Xander was running a cigarette lighter over what appeared to be a black boot.

Xander looked from the boot toward Giles with a smile. "Hey there Giles. I'm just polishing my new boots here." Xander gestured with the lighter toward the other boot sitting on the table and various other boot polishing equipment, such as a brush and boot blackening wax.

"With a lighter? Giles asked disbelievingly, looking toward the unfamiliar man sitting next to Xander.

"You put a layer of wax over the boot, then you melt it with a lighter so it fills in the cracks in the leather. Then you polish it with a cloth till it has a good shine. Beats brush shining for sure." The man responded in a matter-of-fact voice as he stood and walked toward Giles. "Hello, I'm Tim Harris."

Giles took the offered hand as he looked at the man's face. He looked to be his approximate age, with a striking resemblance to Xander under the oversized mustache that would not have looked out of place on a Victorian-era British Army officer. It was not just the shape of his face and his hair color, but the look of humor that sparkled in his brown eyes. His hand shake was strong and confident, with calluses that showed that this man was not afraid of manual labor. Giles felt a definite liking toward him. "I am Rupert Giles, the school librarian here. You are Xander's father, I presume?"

A lopsided smile appeared on Tim's face, further strengthening his resemblance to Xander. Even so, Giles could tell that the smile was not entirely that of humor. "Afraid not, Mr. Giles. I'm Xander's uncle, his father's older brother. Sorry about the mess here, I was just showing Xander how to give a pair of leather boots a proper Airborne polish."

"You were in the military then, Mr. Harris?" Looking at his neat clothing and haircut, it was not difficult to imagine Tim Harris as a soldier.

"Yep, twenty years in the Army, topped out as a Master Sergeant. And call me Tim, people calling me Mr. Harris makes me think I'm in trouble."

"Very well, Tim. You may call me Rupert or Giles as these barbaric children insist on calling me" Giles said with a slight smile on his face.

Tim turned to look at Xander with a mock frown on his face. "Xander, you call an school teacher by their last name? Where are your manners?"

Xander grinned back at him. "I was raised by wolves, remember Tim? They're the one that taught me how to eat too."

Tim looked beseechingly up at the ceiling. "Saints preserve us from the young." Looking back at Giles, who was restraining a smile. "On behalf of the Harris clan, I offer our most sincere apologies."

"No need, Tim, Xander means well." Giles looked back at the boots and materials sitting on top of old newspapers on the table. "Are you almost done with your boots, Xander? I need to lay out some books in a few minutes."

"Almost Giles. Let me finish buffing this boot." Xander began to rub at the boot he was holding with a cloth. "Man, am I glad you had these boots Tim, my old sneaks just about had it."

"You got Xander his new boots, Tim?" Giles looked over at the boot box sitting on the table. The boots, and in fact the box itself, looked brand new.

"I saw his shoes when I gave him a ride this morning, and I had these sitting around my house, so I came by to give them to him. I lost the receipt to these and I couldn't sent them back to the store I bought them from." In fact, Tim had been waiting for Xander to walk from his house so he could give him the ride. Once he saw the sneakers that he had heard about over the wiretap, he went to the police uniform store afterwards to buy him a pair of black steel toe combat boots.

"That was very generous of you, Tim." Giles turned as he heard the library door open and Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia walked in, with Buffy and Willow both saying 'Hi Giles' in unison. "Good afternoon to you. Do you know Mr. Harris here?"

The redhead was looking at Tim with a strange expression that changed to pleased recognition once his name was said. "Uncle Tim, I haven't seen you in years, are you still in the Army, how are you doing..." Willow would have continued her happy babble if Tim had not interrupted.

"Hey there cutie, still letting your mouth get away from you?" The warm smile on Tim's face confirmed his identity as much as his name had. The teenager rapidly walked up to Tim and gave him a hug, but then pulled away, her shyness apparently kicking in.

"Don't worry Red, you're not an eight year old anymore." Tim raised his hand and gently stroked her cheek of the shy girl before touching her scarlet hair. "Got rid of the braids, I see. At least you kept your hair long."

"No, no more braids, some kids at school were making fun of me, calling me Pippi Longstocking..." A brief glance over towards Cordelia even as she spoke, " I got my mom to take them out, I'm so glad to see you Uncle Tim, you're living here in town now?"

"Call me Tim, Willow. Yeah, I run the hardware store now. I gave Xander a ride this morning, he looked like he had stepped into chemical waste with his sneakers, so I brought him some boots I had." Tim turned toward Xander, who had been smiling at the reunion. "How did you mess up your shoes Xan? You never did tell me."

The smile on Xander's face slipped a little, as did the looks on Buffy's, Willow's and Giles' once they realized what shoes Tim was talking about. But Xander stayed smiling as he replied. "I was cutting through a construction site walking from school and stepped in some spilled paint. By the time I got home I couldn't get them clean."

Tim nodded his understanding and then turned toward Buffy and Cordelia. "Hi, I'm Tim Harris. Who might you be?" he said with a smile, knowing full well, but going though the motions regardless.

Buffy and Cordelia both smiled at Tim. "I'm Buffy Summers, Willow and Xander's friend," replied the blonde while the taller brunette responded, "Hello, I'm Cordelia Chase, Xander's girlfriend."

Tim comically widened his eyes and looked over at the young man. "Xander! How come you didn't tell me you had such a gorgeous girlfriend?"

"Because she insisted that we didn't tell anyone." Xander was smiling, but the smile, like Tim's smile earlier, wasn't completely full of humor.

"But she's saying it now, I'd be running up and down the halls shouting if I had a girl like that when I was in high school." Tim looked over at Willow. "What happened to the Cracker Jacks rings, Willow?"

Seeing Willow blush, Buffy asked her best friend, "Cracker Jacks rings?"

Willow looked up at Buffy, trying to keep her eyes away from both Xander and Cordelia. "When Xander and I were eight years old, we were eating Cracker Jacks when found plastic rings as the prizes."

Once Willow stopped talking, Buffy raised her eyebrows and looked over at Xander, who was blushing slightly. "Spill it, Xander."

"Will thought it was a sign that we were meant to be together, so she had Tim do a mock wedding. She had to bribe me by promising with her juice boxes for a week. But we stood on Granddad's desk at the store and Tim did the ceremony."

"Did you kiss the bride, Xander?" Cordelia did not look upset, in fact she looked amused.

"Yep. A peck on the lips." Xander looked over at Willow, who was blushing deeply. "Wifey over there knew that I lost things a lot at that age, so after the 'ceremony' she took my ring and told me that she was keeping them for us until I wasn't such a boy."

"That's so cute, Willow! Did you take any pictures?" Buffy was teasing, but to all their surprise Tim answered.

"Actually, I did. I still have them in a photo album at home." Tim looked at the smiles on Giles', Buffy's and Cordelia's faces as well as the embarrassment on Xander's and Willow's. "I'll have to dig them out if you want them."

"Surely, if you have the time, Tim." Giles smiled briefly before turning toward Buffy and Willow. "Actually Buffy, I am sure you will be happy to hear that there is no need to do research tonight." With a quick look at Tim, Giles managed to have the girls understand his meaning. "All you have to do is your regular homework."

"Yea me, no research! Come on Willow, lets get going." Buffy took her best friends hand and started toward the door. "Good to meet you, Mr. Harris."

"Tim, call me Tim! Unless you want me to be calling you Ms. Summers, Buffy." Tim smiled at the blonde.

Buffy blinked for a moment at the use of her name before returning the smile. "OK, Tim. Good to meet you." Once the redhead said her good byes the two girls left the library.

"I have to study too, give me a call later Xander." With that Cordelia turned and left as well.

Xander turned and faced the table, memories of kissing Willow going though his mind. "If you give me a minute, Giles, I'll have all this off your table." He started to pack up his boot polishing gear. "I owe you at least dinner for this, Tim."

"No problem, Xander." And it was not a problem. Tim had no intention of letting Xander pay for dinner. Turning toward Giles, Tim stuck out his hand again. "Pleasure to meet you, Rupert."

Stakeout Original Character List

Sunnydale County Sheriff Department

Stakeout Team Blue

Sheriff Sergeant Gabriel Martin - Benjamin Bratt

Deputy Tim Harris - Bruce Campbell

Deputy Scott Kelly - Reed Diamond

Stakeout Team Gold

Senior Deputy Peter Murray - Avery Brooks

Deputy Matt Parker - Paul Walker

Deputy Steve Angelo - Nick Wechsler

Sheriff Sergeant Paul Baxter - Mark Harmon

Retired Deputy Jim Patrick - Billy Connelly

Chaplain/Father Anthony Mattias - Hector Elizondo

Sheriff John Greer - Sam Shepard

Sunnydale City Police Department

Sergeant Jimmy Lewis - Neal McDonough

The End