by Aesop

This story is a crossover between two very fine series. For BTVS the story takes place after "Becoming part 2", for Gargoyles this story takes place a year after "Hunter's Moon." I don't own any of the characters, and I don't profit by this. I have included characters from "The Gargoyle's Saga" a regular Fanfic series that picked up where the TV show left off. I followed it from the beginning and have been impressed by the stories.

All of the characters are used without permission, but this story is written for my own entertainment and I don't benefit from it.



Demona was angry. This in itself was nothing unusual. The fact that it was Angela she was angry with was. No matter how many times she went over it in her mind, she just couldn't understand her daughter's point of view. Two nights before, Angela had turned up with a gunshot wound to the leg. It seemed a mugger in the park had gotten lucky. She scolded her daughter for her carelessness even as she tended to the wound.

"Things like this wouldn't happen if you would let the humans kill each other off in peace. There's no reason for you to get involved."

"I can't do that mother. The innocents in this city need protection. We have to help them when we can. Gargoyles protect." She looked at her mother, silently pleading for understanding. "You must have believed that once."

"Maybe," Demona hedged, "centuries ago, but not any longer. I've learned better. Let the Humans sort out their own problems. It doesn't need to concern us." They had gone on in this vein for some time, neither convincing the other.

Now Demona sat on the wall of Belvedere Castle and brooded as she watched a lone human woman make her way through the park. She began watching the human to take her mind off her argument with Angela. It made no sense to her why Angela persisted in risking her life for people who would just as soon shoot her as look at her.

The woman seemed to be lost, or perhaps looking for someone. She didn't see the men coming up behind her. They were young, teenagers probably, out for a thrill or a quick buck or both. Demona shrugged and started to turn away. It was not her problem. Angela would be disappointed a nagging voice in the back of her head told her. So, she turned back.

The men had surrounded her. She looked angry rather than frightened. "I don't have any money on me, and I don’t have time for this. Get out of my way." She tried to push past them but they grabbed her and shoved her back and forth between them, laughing and making crude jokes. This ended abruptly as the leader of the group was snatched off his feet and thrown into a nearby bush. The thorn bush Demona had carefully selected seemed to clutch at him as he yelled and swore with imagination and vigor.

Demona grinned as the punk got more detailed. It was true. You were never too old to learn something new. She dropped among them and snarled, sending two of them flying with a sweep of her tail. The group scattered like flushed pigeons.

Demona turned, expecting to see the woman running for her life like the others. She wasn't sure what surprised her more, that the woman was still there or that she was holding out a crucifix as if it was some kind of shield. She almost laughed.

"What is that supposed to accomplish?" she asked, curious despite herself. The woman blinked, apparently surprised at being addressed.

"Um, ah,… well. I was told this worked with demons and things." Demona rolled her eyes and snorted. It was too ridiculous. She should have been offended, but she was too busy trying not to laugh.

"I'm not a demon. I'm a gargoyle, and crosses only work in old monster movies, bad ones."

"Oh," the woman lowered the cross, looking embarrassed. "Um, sorry. I heard something about gargoyles in New York, but…"

She trailed off and Demona looked at her more closely. She was clearly distracted by something. "If you don't mind me asking, why aren't you running away? Most people do." The woman considered the question seriously for a second.

"I've seen stranger things."

"Oh? Like what?"

"Oh, vampires, slayers and such. Why only last month I had the strangest conversation with a vampire that said he wanted to save the world."

This, all stated so matter-of-fact, left Demona feeling completely baffled, but she latched on to the center of it all. "A vampire?" She made a face, "disgusting vermin." A look of hope crossed the woman's face.

"You know about vampires? Do you know if there are any in New York?"

"Gargoyles have nothing to do with vampires. We avoid each other whenever possible." She shrugged. "There may be some in New York, but why would you want to find them?

"I'm looking for someone, my daughter."

Demona blinked, taken aback. "Your daughter?" She felt a stab of pity for the woman. "Is she in the park somewhere?"

"I don't know." She gestured vaguely, not seeming to know what to do with her hands. "This is the sort of place she'd be if she's in the city at all."

"I'm not sure how to say this…" Demona wavered. It was strange, feeling sorry for a human, "but, if you're daughter has become a vampire, you're better off not finding her." The human stared at her a moment before realizing.

"Oh, oh, no that's not it. You see…" She was becoming increasingly agitated, delayed reaction to the attack maybe, Demona thought. "We had an argument and she took off. I didn't think she'd actually run away." Demona didn't know what to say to this. Her mind went back to her own argument with Angela. How would she react if Angela had taken off, left her completely? She put aside such thoughts and focused on the most confusing aspect of the conversation.

"What does your daughter have to do with vampires?"

"Well, uh, if you know about vampires, you might know about slayers." Demona had heard of the Slayer, although she had never encountered one personally. She nodded.

"Your daughter is a Slayer?"

The woman nodded. "I didn't take it too well when I found out. I-I think I made her run away." She began to pace, wringing her hands. "I told her she had to give it up, but she wouldn't, said she couldn't. I just don't want her hurt. I never thought she'd run away." The anxiety in her voice was reaching a fever pitch. Demona was beginning to find it annoying however much she might empathize.

"Maybe I can help you. I know some people who might be able to find her. They may even have seen her."

This stopped the woman in her tracks. "Really? Who?"

"Some old 'acquaintances' of mine. I can take you to them. Tell them your story and I'm sure they'll want to help." Actually, Demona wasn't sure of any such thing, but Goliath would probably jump at the chance when he heard of it.

"Are they gargoyles, like you?"

"Some of them are. Some are human, though." She turned and began making her way toward the nearest entrance to the labyrinth. "Come."

From the tree, Angela watched as the mugger made his move. He entered the trail behind the man and moved up quietly behind him. The victim, a man in his thirties wearing a sweat suit and carrying an expensive looking carryall for a gym bag, had made the mistake of taking a shortcut home through the park. It was still early in the evening and there were plenty of people out and about, but Central Park wasn't really safe at any hour of the night, or day for that matter according to Elisa.

Angela watched the mugger closely. If she saw any hint of a weapon she would have to act before he actually robbed the man. Elisa and Matt had told them over and over, not to get ahead of themselves. Looking suspicious was not a crime. Even if you knew a man was about to commit a crime, she told them, you had to wait until he actually did. Hudson said it sounded like foolishness, waiting till the damage was done before intervening, but they had all agreed to abide by Elisa's restriction.

Well, thought Angela, I won't have to wait much longer. Even as the thought crossed her mind the man raced forward and sent his victim staggering with a shove while grabbing the bag with both hands and yanking it away from him. He then turned and ran in the other direction.

Angela lost sight of him for a moment as she moved from tree to tree. It was too closed in to glide between them even on the path. She caught up with him as he raced across a small clearing. Without hesitation she leapt into the air and quickly overtook him.

The unfortunate mugger yelped as he was caught under the arms and lifted off the ground. Angela smiled as she steered towards a tree, intending to deposit him in the high branches. A second later she hit the ground face first and her prisoner rolled free. He quickly scrambled to his feet and Angela rolled over to see what had happened. All she remembered was a powerful grip on her tail and literally being yanked out of the air.

She wasn't sure who she would see, maybe one of the Pack. The last thing she expected was a frail looking human girl standing over her. Her attacker couldn't have been more than 18. The short, blonde girl reached into her long coat and drew a sword. She spared a glance for the thief Angela had caught. "Run," she told him and then began trying to kill Angela.

Her speed and reflexes were incredible. Angela found herself barely able to stay ahead of the flashing blade. She had never met a human who could fight like that, not even Hyena had ever given her this kind of work out.

"Who are you? Why are you attacking me?" she demanded as soon as she got some breathing room.

"If I intended to let you live I'd tell you, and give you a message for others like yourself. You don't attack humans while I'm around. It's not healthy." The stranger didn't speak again; she merely redoubled her efforts. Angela wasn't given the chance to explain herself. All her energy went into staying alive.

"I'm Joyce."


"Joyce Summers, m-my name." She held out a hand hesitantly. As they walked, Joyce had had time to take stock of her odd savior. The strangeness of it all began to come home to her. She had seen a few news reports about gargoyles, but to meet one and talk to it was another matter. Despite her earlier claim and her attempt at nonchalance, Demona was far stranger to her than Spike had been.

She had managed to get the full story out of Giles the day after Buffy had run away. She could still barely believe it. Buffy killing vampires and other monsters, her friends helping her and working to keep it all secret. It was absurd. It was true. Things like this only happened in comic books, but it was happening. Suddenly she came up short. "Oh no."

Demona looked back at her. "What's wrong?"

"Buffy, my daughter, she kills monsters, not just vampires, but other things too. If she runs into a gargoyle not knowing… well, um, she might kill one of you."

Demona frowned. She had not considered this. It was entirely possible, but she was not going to show this human that she was worried. Instead, she chuckled tolerantly. "Slayer or no, I find that unlikely. Vampires are one thing. Gargoyles are quite another."

"She's killed things besides vampires, some pretty tough things according to her Watcher. Even if she can't hurt a gargoyle she might get hurt trying." Demona considered this. Humans had given gargoyles plenty of trouble in the past, ordinary humans. From what she had heard, a Slayer wasn't ordinary.

"Then we'd best hurry, hadn't we?" She did not quicken her pace appreciably, but it brought an end to the discussion. Soon they arrived at the entrance to the tunnels that she had seen the mutates use on occasion. Producing a flashlight from her pouch, she led the way into the tunnel and through the maze to one of the entrances to the Labyrinth proper. There, they stopped and waited.

"Why are we stopped?"

"We're waiting."

"For what?" Demona didn't answer. Her sharp ears had already picked up what Joyce's could not. Someone was coming. Joyce was about to repeat her question when she heard a low, menacing growl. She glanced at her guide, but Demona didn't seem concerned. She stood tall, looking imperious. The growling continued, and now Joyce could hear something moving stealthily toward them. She almost jumped out of her skin when the female gargoyle spoke to whatever was lurking in the shadows ahead.

"I have business with your leader. Go. Tell Talon that Demona want's to talk to him." The growling stopped and there was an uneasy shuffling from the darkness ahead. Then something scampered away down the tunnel. Demona snorted. It was still amazingly easy to manipulate the clones. They were like dogs. They would take orders from whoever barked loudest. She moved down the tunnel to follow and almost ran into Burbank. He met her gaze unflinchingly and refused to budge.

"What do you want outcast?" he demanded gruffly. Demona took a step back, surprised by his manner. Her surprise lasted only a moment though.

"Stand aside oaf, my business is not with you." He moved to block her when she tried to go around him.

"You not give orders here Demona. If leader wishes to speak to you he will send word." He smiled. "Or maybe he send word to toss you out on your tail." The idea seemed to please him no end.

Demona was about to respond to this when she heard Joyce backing away down the tunnel. She turned to the human. "Don't be afraid of him Joyce. He's all bark" she shot a look at the clone, "and no brain." Burbank moved into the light, his eyes glowing slightly. Joyce backed away, frightened. Demona's manner softened. "Really, it's alright. I'm sure Talon will be willing to help you."

Burbank turned to the human. "Help? What's wrong?" Joyce stared at him, unable to speak.

"Her daughter is missing. It seems likely that she might turn up here." Burbank glanced at Demona and then back at the frightened woman.

"Why do you care?" he asked Demona bluntly.

"Care about what?" a deep voice asked from behind them. They all turned to face the creatures that approached them from deeper in the tunnel system. The one that had addressed them was nearly seven feet tall and covered in short black fur. He bore a striking resemblance to a panther.

The other was much smaller and moved on all fours. It moved with an animal quickness, but the eyes revealed an intelligent mind. The second creature regarded Demona with open hostility, the first with a cautious curiosity.

"What is this about Demona?"

"I found this woman in the park. She is looking for her daughter. I thought you might be the perfect one to help her."

"We'll do what we can," he said without hesitation. He nodded to her. "I know this must seem very strange to you, but we're not monsters." The two male gargoyles made odd noises in the backs of their throats and glanced meaningfully at Demona. She ignored them. "My name is Talon, this is Burbank and Brentwood. Please, come with us. We'll do what we can to help. The sanctuary attracts all sorts of unlikely refugees. Maybe your daughter is already here."

It took some coaxing, but Joyce Summers followed Talon. Demona accompanied them despite the glares from the clones. When Talon asked why, she shrugged and said she had nothing else to do, and she wanted to see how this turned out.

Angela was barely keeping ahead of her attacker. Several times she tried to take advantage of her opponent's increasingly wild attacks, dodging around or under a swing or thrust to strike at the girl. Every time she tried though she was kicked or punched and had to fall back. Her strength was incredible. Angela moved out of range at the first opportunity. Her opponent seemed tireless, but Angela needed a breather. She was on the verge of making a run for it when she heard the sound of wings approaching. There was a deep-throated roar as Broadway dove at Angela's attacker. The girl flipped out of the way, landing on her feet. She had to duck immediately though to avoid Lexington.

The stranger quickly sized up the odds and retreated, disappearing so quickly and completely, that none of them could find a trace of her.

Angela leaned against Broadway breathing heavily. He folded his wings protectively around her. "Who was that?" he demanded.

"What was that" Angela corrected. "Not even Hyena gave me that much trouble. I don't think she's a normal human." Broadway frowned at the implications.

"Terrific. Just what we need, another new enemy." Angela's breathing began to slow. She shook her head.

"I'm not so sure." Angela took a moment to catch her breath and put her thoughts in order. "I think she was trying to rescue that human thief I caught. She said attacking humans while she was around wasn't healthy." Broadway and Lex just stared at her.

"I thought everyone in New York knew about gargoyles." Angela shrugged, wincing at one of the many bruises she had picked up in the last few minutes.

"Maybe she's new in town."

"She tried to kill you," Lex pointed out. "Even if she was trying to protect the guy we don't know anything for sure about her."

"I'm not suggesting we invite her home for tea," Angela answered a little testily. "I just think there's more to her than meets the… uh." She rubbed her back where a roundhouse kick had nearly put her down for the count. "Never mind. You know what I mean."

Lex nodded reluctantly. "We should try to learn more about her. She could prove to be an ally I suppose, or a very dangerous enemy." With Broadway's help Angela got herself airborne and started back to the castle.



"Vampires?" Talon sounded skeptical. Joyce nodded.

"I found it hard to believe myself, but they do exist and they are very dangerous. Most people are happy believing that they're just stories. It seems a lot of vampires are happy with blood banks and stray animals, but in Sunnydale they hunt openly. They make the lives of the people there miserable. That, Giles tells me, is why there is almost always a Slayer there. If they don't live there then they're visiting. It gets rough otherwise."

"And you want this Slayer back?"

"I want my daughter back." Joyce clarified. "She took off after-" Joyce shook her head. "It’s a long story. I don't know all of it. I think Giles is trying to protect me. There was so much he insisted I shouldn't have to deal with. But that doesn't matter. I just want to find Buffy and take her home." Talon considered for a time. It sounded pretty strange, but then, who was he to cast stones? Finally he nodded.

"Alright. Any ideas about how we might find her? I have some friends in the police department. Perhaps…"

"No. You can't involve the police." She seemed panicked at the idea. Talon regarded her curiously.

"And why is that?"

Joyce hesitated, not wanting to tell them, but not seeing a choice either. "The police in Sunnydale are still looking for her. They think she killed a girl. Her friends, who saw it happen know that she wasn't even there, but the charge still stands. Someone wants her out of Sunnydale. I don't know what's behind it, but if the police there won't listen to eyewitness testimony then what will happen here? Do you think that they'll take her word over that of the police back home?" She shook her head and laughed a bit hysterically. "I must sound completely paranoid to you."

The mutates and gargoyles exchanged looks. Some of them were starting to doubt her, others were certain she was delusional. Maggie stepped forward to put a hand on the distraught woman's shoulder.

"We can make a few discreet inquiries without involving the police directly. There's no need to be worried about that." She smiled ruefully. "We've become quite adept at working around the police when it becomes necessary. After all, we can't exactly stroll into a station and swear out a complaint against someone trying to hurt us."

Joyce nodded hesitantly. "I suppose not. Where do we start?" Maggie glanced at the clan leader.

"First we make those inquiries, plus a few extra. If there are vampires active in the city you think they would leave a trail of some kind, no matter how well they cover it. If we find them, we might find her."

They split up shortly after that. Talon offered Joyce a place in the labyrinth, but she chose to return to her hotel room to make some calls home. Derek surmised that she wanted to do some checking of her own with the watcher she'd mentioned. He wondered what she would be told and how she would react. It should be interesting.



Buffy Summers decided to call it a night. She was worn out and desperately in need of sleep and time to heal. Leaving the park, she turned down a quiet side street to the shelter where she had spent the last two days. She always kept on the move, never staying anywhere too long. It was necessary, but it was also a pain. After today she would have to find a new place. Fortunately, the one thing New York wasn't short of was homeless shelters. There was always a new mission or a shelter to check into.

Demons. Terrific. At times like this she really missed Willow and Giles to provide her with the answers she needed. She didn't know anything about these creatures. What did they want? What patterns did they follow? How did she kill them? She would just have to do the research herself.

I don't need this, she thought. Not now when I've already got a mystery to solve. There had been a rise in vampire activity in the past month. It was very well concealed but obvious when one knew what to look for. There had been a slasher on the loose for over a month. Two victims a week had been found in very public places. The police believed they were looking for a serial killer, they were right in a way. They had also noticed a rise in the number of disappearances among the homeless. They didn't see them as being connected though.

The killings were ritualistic and definitely not what she had come to expect from vampires. The cuts were precise. The blood loss had been explained away easily enough. The police believed, correctly that the victims had been killed elsewhere and then left on display.

Only someone familiar with a vampire's patterns would know that the victims had been drained and the cuts made to hide the puncture marks. At first Buffy had been surprised. In Sunnydale vampires didn't bother to conceal their handiwork. The community in New York was far more cautious. They were timid by the standards she was used to. She had killed only six vampires since her arrival in New York three weeks ago. Only two of those she'd killed had been hunting.

The community here was very low profile. What had been happening for the last month was not normal. They were gearing up for some sort of ritual. She only wished she knew what.

The vampires she had killed hadn't been very talkative. They fought when confronted. Kill or be killed. Not one of them had said a word. Not one of them had tried to flee. It was spooky in a way, but she didn't let it bother her. She just kept working. When she found a vampire she tried to question him. Eventually she would find one that would tell her what she needed to know.

As she settled in the bunk she determined not to wait though. There were other sources of information and she thought she knew where to find them. Were the demons she had encountered part of it? She didn't know.

Enough, she thought. I'll know soon enough, and I'll deal with it.




The meeting at Pack Media Studios finally ended. With a weary sigh Fox made her way to her car. It was beyond her why her producers were being so obstinate. Getting Pack Media up and running again was hard enough without internal resistance as well as the bad publicity.

She sighed again as she got out her car keys. Her favorite little red sports car was in sight and she was really looking forward to getting home. The last thing she wanted or needed was the punk with the gun popping out of the shadows between the parked cars.

"Don't move. Just cooperate and you won't get hurt." Fox quietly raised her hands while judging the distance between herself and the mugger. He was moving closer but was still out of range. If she tried to take the gun at this point she'd just get shot. "This way, please." He nodded toward the alley next to the studio building. "Move!" he insisted when she hesitated. She moved into the alley ahead of him, gradually letting him get closer. She turned when he was within range only to see him calmly putting the gun away.

She raised an eyebrow questioningly. He only smiled. "If this is some kind of joke, it's not funny." His smile got wider as his face changed.

Fox backed away in alarm, glancing left and right for some way out. The creature lunged at her, snarling. She grabbed a trashcan lid by the handle and hit the creature as hard as she could. It staggered but did not fall. It moved to block her way when she tried to run past. Before she could strike at it again she was seized from behind, her arms pinned.

"She's a lively one. You chose well Tom." She struggled forcing the person holding her to pivot in order to maintain his grip. "Give me a hand Tom will ya?" There was no answer. "Tom?" Her captor pivoted back toward the open end of the alley. There was a short blonde teenager standing there, but no sign of 'Tom.'

"Let her go." Fox and her captor stared at the new comer.

"Who the hell are you?" the person behind her snarled. There was a low growl in his voice that no human could have managed. The teeth were uncomfortably close to her throat. She knew, without seeing that they were just as sharp as the teeth of the first creature that had attacked her.

"Let her go," she repeated, raising a sharpened wooden stake, "and I'll make it quick. Won't hurt a bit." She allowed herself a grin as she said this as if it were some private joke.

"Oh no human. It'll hurt a lot." Suddenly Fox was shoved aside as the creature charged past her. The two began to fight furiously. They traded blows for several minutes. Neither seemed to be getting the upper hand. Things changed when the creature hit the ground near where the one he called Tom had been standing. Fox saw him grab something from the ground. It was a second before she realized it was the gun Tom had been carrying.

"Look out! Gun!" she leaped forward and kicked the creature as hard as she could. She managed to throw off the aim, but when the gun went off the girl was struck and staggered hard against a wall, cracking her head. Fox did a snap kick as her opponent turned, knocking the gun out of his hand. Just like an old episode of The Pack she thought as she drove two fingers up under it's jaw. It staggered back, gagging.

Fox wasn't one to waste an opportunity in a fight. She followed it up with a series of vicious kicks and punches. For all her skill though, the creature seemed more annoyed than hurt. He easily blocked her last attack and grabbed her throat and shoved her against the wall. She grabbed his wrists trying to force his hands away, but she couldn't budge him. Teeth shining in what little light there was in the alley, the creature leaned toward her throat. She couldn't keep him at bay.

Alex. She thought of her son and how it would be for him if she died. Fox was certain her last thoughts would be of her son. Suddenly he stopped, his eyes widening. Then he was gone. He simply exploded into a cloud of dust. Fox moved along the wall, away from the settling dust. The girl was standing there, stake in hand, swaying on her feet. Blood ran freely from her wounded shoulder.

"You'll be okay now," she said and started to stagger away. Fox stared after her incredulously for a second.

"Whoa, where do you think you're going? You need a doctor."

"I'll be f-fine." She slurred a bit while pressing a hand to her wound.

"Let me get you to a doctor."

"No. No hospitals. I-" she stopped and stared. After a second Fox raised her eyes to find out what she was looking at. The girl blinked at the figure before her owlishly. "Er, um, am I seeing elves?" she asked uncertainly.

"No," the singular Puck answered truthfully.

"Maybe I do need a doctor." The girl promptly collapsed.

The last thing Buffy remembered was a small man with pointed ears and long silver hair floating in front of her smiling. She considered the image carefully before drawing the only conclusion she could. Oh man, my dreams are getting weirder by the day.

Buffy Summers sat up and looked around. She was not dead. That was the first good news. She was not in a hospital room. Better and better, she thought, looking around. It appeared to be someone's bedroom. There were no windows, so she did not have any immediate clues as to her whereabouts. The place looked strange though. The walls were stone and looked very old, and the furniture in the room looked expensive. She rose slowly from the bed. Her head had stopped hurting, well mostly, and her shoulder was mostly healed. It still ached, but she could move it freely. She was ready to go.

"You wanted to talk to me doctor?"

"Yes Mr. Xanatos. I wanted to give you a status report on my new patient. The girl your wife asked me to treat."

"Yes? How is she?" The doctor slowly shook his head.

"I'm starting to wonder if anyone associated with this place is normal." Xanatos raised an eyebrow.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"The girl will be fine. In fact, she's almost fully recovered."

Xanatos leaned forward in his chair, clearly intrigued. "I thought you said she'd been shot, and had a concussion." The doctor nodded.

"She was and she did, but those wounds are almost completely healed. The gunshot wound has closed and the tissue damage is repairing itself at a remarkable rate. All signs of concussion have vanished. She's been asleep since she was brought here, but she should be waking up on her own soon, fully recovered." He spread his hands in a show of bafflement. "I can't explain it."

David Xanatos leaned back in his chair with a thoughtful look. "I want to talk to her as soon as she's awake. Whatever mystery she may pose, she saved Fox's life. I want to thank her properly. That doesn’t entail prying."

The doctor nodded, "Very well. She should be awake soon. I'll check on her and let you know." The doctor nodded and turned away. He was very curious about the girl, and he suspected Xanatos was too, but he knew better than to give even the appearance of disagreement. Although he would love to know how she was able to heal so quickly he wasn't going to press the issue with her or with Xanatos. He made his way quickly toward her room.

It was a castle. That much was clear. The place was a bizarre mixture of ancient and modern. The sconces that once held torches now supported electric lights. She had found a very modern bathroom, which was a considerable relief, and the place was obviously heated. She didn't know much about old castles, but she was fairly certain they should be drafty and cold. That and the security cameras convinced her that the owner, whoever he might be, wasn't completely stuck in the past.

The oddest thing was that there was no one around. She hadn't seen anyone since she left the room where she had awakened.

Then she did hear someone. Voices were coming from behind a door off of the corridor she was making her way down. There were two voices, one gruff and masculine, the other clearly that of a woman. She couldn't make out what was being said, so risked a peek in hopes of getting some clue as to where she was and what was going on.

Buffy found herself looking into someone's bedroom. On the bed was a woman in her mid to late 20s. She wore only a brief pair of cream colored panties. She was sharing a passionate kiss with… a purple demon?!

Buffy stared as the creature ran its large hands gently, almost worshipfully over the woman's almost nude body. "My love," he whispered between kisses. She leaned back and smiled at him, whispering endearments, the whispering became louder as he went beyond caresses. She gasped and pressed herself toward him while she reached down and finished removing her clothes. As her last garment hit the floor she pulled aside the creature's loincloth to reveal…OH MAMA! Buffy's eyes widened. She couldn't mean to… she did.

Buffy tore her eyes away. Retreating quietly and as quickly as possible from the door, she picked a new direction. I've got to get out of here. She moved toward what she hoped was the outer wall. Up and over, and I'm gone, she thought as she found what must have once been a servants entrance leading to the castle courtyard. Buffy quickly moved across the open, wary of cameras and people. She reached the base of the outer wall and climbed the stairs quickly. On reaching the edge, she stopped in her tracks.

Her eyes, which had seen so many incredible things over the past two years could only stare uncomprehendingly at the sight before her or rather below her, far below her.

"Watch that first step." Buffy whirled to find herself face to face with a small demon. She tried to shift into a fighting stance and very nearly over balanced and fell. The creature reached forward grabbing her wrist and pulling her back from the edge. "Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."

Buffy had been prepared to lash out at it, but instead she stopped and stared curiously at the creature before her. It was about the size of an 11 year-old girl. The skin was red and the face was beaked like some kind of dinosaur. It did not look in the least frightening or menacing.

"I'm Ariana." The creature held out her hand. Buffy reached out and took it hesitantly. "Don't worry, I don't bite." The creature gave her an appraising look. "You've never seen a gargoyle before, have you?"

"Actually I have, but we weren't formally introduced." Ariana looked blankly at her. "Never mind." Buffy pursed her lips thoughtfully. She hadn't been the most attentive of students, but she was certain that Giles had never mentioned gargoyles. "Gargoyle huh?" Ariana nodded.

"Yeah, gargoyle, not demon or monster, just another kind of person. Not many people take the time to learn that though. Usually they just scream and run or they attack us." Buffy felt herself blushing.

She looked around. "Could you tell me where I am and how I get out of here?"

"If you tell me what you're doing here." Buffy considered. That seemed fair.

"I don't know. I woke up here after a fight in an alley. I don't remember anything about coming here."

"A fight?" The girl's eyes lit up with excitement, literally. When did I start thinking of her as a girl? Buffy wondered as she stepped back from the glowing eyes. "Oh, sorry, I did it again huh? Don't worry, it's just something we do. Um, who were you fighting?"

"Long story. What is this place anyway?" Ariana suddenly looked apprehensive.

"You really don't know anything about this do you? About the castle or gargoyles or anything?" Buffy shook her head. Ariana took a deep breath. "Well, first off we're not monsters like I said before. Gargoyles are protectors. We protect the city from thieves, muggers and people doing bad stuff like that. We've lived in New York for a few years now."

"Protectors? This is too weird." She shrugged. "Then again, who am I to talk?" She started to move toward the stairs. "Look, I really don't think your folks would be happy to see me, and I do have work to do."

"Why wouldn't you be welcome?" Buffy hesitated before deciding to try to answer.

"I um, had a misunderstanding with a gargoyle in the park the other night. I saw her attacking a human." Ariana's eyes widened.

"You attacked a gargoyle? Wow. That was brave of you." She considered. "I know everyone made it home safe, maybe if you talk to the others they'll understand."

"Maybe," Buffy thought for a moment, "the fewer hassles I have the better. I don't want an angry gargoyle interrupting me at the wrong time if I can avoid it." She made her decision. "Okay. I'll be happy to meet them." The sound of an approaching gargoyle interrupted them.

"You! What are you doing here?" Broadway landed next to her, grabbing her arm. His arrival was so abrupt Buffy reacted instinctively. She twisted out of a grip that would have held most humans and grabbed his arm. In less than a second she twisted, locked his arm and heaved. Broadway suddenly found himself on the other side of the castle wall falling toward the street. He spent a few seconds wondering what had happened before spreading his wings and angling back up toward the castle.

"Oops." She shrugged. "Well, so much for that idea," she growled. Ignoring the stairs, Buffy jumped down into the courtyard. She hit the ground and rolled several times to absorb the impact. She was on her feet and running before Broadway started back up. Ariana stared open mouthed after Buffy as she made for the entrance to the castle. She almost ran headlong into Hudson as he and Fox came out into the courtyard.

"What's all this?" the old gargoyle demanded as Buffy tried to get around him. Buffy nodded to Fox.

"Thanks for the hospitality, lovely place you have here. Bye now." She started to make a dash for it, but Hudson took her by the arms and held her.

"Hold on a moment lass. What's your rush? We're not going to hurt you."

"Careful Hudson." Broadway shouted as he headed down to join them. "She's dangerous."

"Take it easy Broadway." Fox said. She turned to face Buffy. "You don't have to be frightened of them. They're not monsters. They're friends." Buffy shot a dubious look at the infuriated Broadway. "Come on." Fox said, "Lets get everyone together and try to make some sense out of this. No fighting."

Twenty minutes later Buffy found herself sitting at a table facing one of the oddest assortments of people she had ever seen. She quietly summed up what she knew. The red head she had saved the night before was married to the richest man on Earth. They shared their castle built on top of a skyscraper, with a clan of gargoyles. Bizarre wasn't the word for it.

"Well, now you know about us," David Xanatos said, leaning back in his chair. "What about you?"

"Yes," Goliath put in, a low growl in his voice, "start with why you attacked Angela in the park." Buffy looked at the gargoyle leader, the purple demon she had seen earlier. The dark-haired woman was with him, fully clothed now. Both looked a bit put out at being rousted out of bed for this.

She shrugged. "I saw a man run out of the woods, obviously running from something. When Angela swooped down and grabbed him I assumed he had been running from her. So I stopped her."

"You do this sort of thing on a regular basis?" Fox asked. Buffy nodded. "Why? Not that I'm complaining you understand."

"I kill monsters. It's my job. Normally, I just fight vampires, but I've come up against werewolves, witches and some things you really don't want to know about."

"And how exactly did you get into this, ah, line of work," the other woman, Buffy had heard someone call her Elisa, asked.

"She was called." Everyone looked around to see Owen, Xanaatos' servant entering the room. "You are the current Slayer are you not?" Buffy hesitated a moment before nodding, as if admitting to a shameful secret.

"Yeah, one of them."

"One?" Owen looked surprised. "I thought there was only one at a time."

"Normally. If you know that then you probably know the whole spiel. There is only one. When the Slayer dies another is called. But something happened about a year ago." She hesitated. "It’s a long story," she said looking around the table."

"You were killed and then revived?" Owen surmised.

"Apparently not that long." She shrugged. "I was only gone a minute and they replaced me, how's that for job security?" Everyone was staring at her, not quite sure what to make of this.

"So," Fox jumped in, anxious to change the subject. "Those things that attacked me the other night were vampires?"

"Yep. Vampire attacks in New York have been on the rise recently. From what I've been able to tell the community here is normally pretty timid. They rarely hunt, and when they do, they're careful about covering their tracks. The rash of murders the police are currently investigating are vampire attacks." Buffy paused. "What I don't understand is the very public way the killings are happening. The vamps are making little or no effort to conceal their work."

"Do you mean the serial killer everyone is looking for?"

"Yes, and those so called wild dogs that have been reported. Several victims were found with their throats ripped out, and the rise in the disappearance of homeless people," she added as an afterthought.

"That doesn't make sense." Elisa shook her head. "Animal attacks should leave a great deal of blood around the body. If there was a lot missing, someone at the coroner's office would have noticed."

Buffy sighed. It was an old complaint and no one liked the answer. "People can be blind when they want to. The police are no exception." She snorted, obviously bitter. "In fact they seem to specialize in not seeing what they don't want to see." After a moment's consideration she said, "Actually, I prefer it that way. It gives me the room I need to work. Speaking of which," she pushed away from the table, "I have to go."

"Wait," Ariana called. "If there's a threat to the city we need to know about it. We protect the city, so maybe we can help each other." Buffy looked back at the eager young gargoyle and saw some of the adults nodding in agreement. They stopped when they saw the haunted look on her face.

"I work alone."

"We've faced tougher things than these vampires of yours," the one called Brooklyn put in. "We can handle this." Buffy turned away.

Owen was standing in her path. "You were almost killed last night. The gargoyles assistance could mean the difference between surviving and dying." She met his gaze without flinching.

"If I die then I die alone. Another Slayer will be called." There was a shocked silence from the table behind her, but Owen didn't bat an eye.

"Not in time. If your survival isn't important then consider the success of the mission at hand." That stopped her. She thought hard about it, but couldn't find any fault in his logic. She tried one more time though, briefly wondering who she was trying to convince though, them or herself. Her voice was quiet, but it carried nonetheless.

"If I hadn't had help during my fight with Acathla, Kendra and Angel would still be alive." Owen paled slightly at the mention of the demon's name.

"Acathla?" There were quiet murmurs from the table. None of them were used to seeing Owen rattled. "Acathla has been found?"

"Don't worry." She smiled patronizingly. "Acathla's gone bedy-bye for good."

"Hold on a minute." Xanatos spoke up. "What's Acathla?"

She let Owen guide her back to the table. "Acathla's the kind of thing I have to deal with." She regarded Owen suspiciously. "How do you know about him?"

"You might say I'm a student of folklore and legend. It is remarkable how much of it actually happened. Acathla, did he awaken?"

"He was awake for about ten seconds before I skewered him again. He didn't get a chance to do his thing." She looked around at the baffled faces and sighed, making a decision. "Alright. Let's start from the top."

Over the next hour Buffy told them a carefully edited version of the truth. If Owen suspected she was holding back he said nothing. They agreed to help her with her fight, in fact, they insisted when it was made clear exactly how much of a threat the vampires were.

"There's one thing I don't understand," Elisa said when it was over.

"One thing?" Lexington asked incredulously.

"If the community in New York is normally as timid as you say, why this sudden increase in hunting? Why leave the victims on display?"

"That’s the final Jeopardy question isn't it? So far I haven't been able to question any of them. They insist on fighting to the death."

"I believe," Goliath rumbled, "that we can be of assistance in that regard." Buffy nodded. It made sense. Goliath could probably hold a vampire all by himself without any trouble.

"Alright, the night is wasting. Let's see what we can accomplish before the vampires scurry back to their holes at dawn."



Talon's discreet inquiries had turned up exactly what Joyce had predicted. Buffy was still wanted on several charges. Two of them, Talon determined, were entirely bogus. He considered carefully. The idea of corrupt cops was distasteful to him in the extreme. What was more alarming, given what Mrs. Summers had told them, was who might be giving the orders. Obviously, something was very wrong in Sunnydale.

It was also clear that there was a basis for some of the charges. Evading arrest was perfectly understandable under the circumstances he supposed but assaulting a police officer? Maybe. Talon had to admit to himself that he didn't know all the facts. Whatever the full story might be, there was enough evidence to warrant excluding the police at this point. Although it didn't sit well with him, there were some things, he knew, that cops simply weren't equipped to deal with.

Joyce Summers had returned early in the afternoon. Shortly after sunset Demona made an appearance as well. Although no one was happy to see her they agreed to hear her out.

"I spent the day doing some research. It seems that the number of vampire attacks has increased dramatically over the past month." She told them about the serial killer and the dog attacks and the truth behind them. Something strange was going on. "I need to check some of my old diaries, but I think this seems familiar. I'm not sure how it all relates, but I think these vampires are building up to something big. It would be easier to capture and question one though than to spend days reviewing old books." She smiled. "When possible, I prefer to go straight to the source." Talon was skeptical to say the least.

It took some time to convince them, but Talon finally agreed to accept her help. The winning argument seemed to be her greater knowledge of vampires. An hour later, two hours after sunset, they were waiting atop the roof of a building a few blocks south of Central Park.

Talon had already spotted two undercover detectives presenting themselves as potential victims. Demona kept her eyes open for any one looking even vaguely suspicious, but she was distracted by Joyce, who kept sneaking looks at her when she thought Demona wouldn't notice. Finally, she sighed and confronted her.

"I take it by the way you keep looking at me that you've learned something of my past? Perhaps from your Watcher friend?" Joyce blushed beet red. "I thought so. Now you're wondering how much of it is true?" Joyce nodded mutely, and Demona shrugged. "All of it." She offered no further explanation, no gesture of reassurance. She simply went back to watching the street. Joyce stared at her for a long time. Talon made no comment.

"I'm sorry," Joyce said finally.

"About what?" the gargoyle asked absently, watching as a man moved quickly down the street, sneaking looks over his shoulder every ten seconds or so.

"About your family." Demona turned to her, surprised. "I can't imagine what it would be like to lose everyone you love like that." She fell silent, a pained, worried look crossing her face as she thought of Buffy. "No one should have to outlive the rest of their family." Demona had no response to this. Normally, the idea of a human feeling pity for her would have enraged her, but all she felt was numb. Finally she mustered a half-hearted growl.

"Save your pity for yourself human." She focused herself by speculating on what the Watcher must have told the woman. Somehow she doubted Joyce had gotten the entire story, or even most of it. She knew she was mentioned in the Watcher diaries. She had read a few of them in her time. They rarely got the entire truth. Then again, no one ever did. Her introspection was interrupted by a call from one of the clones. Burbank and Claw had seen a commotion in an alley. They took to the air and soon arrived.

Talon landed at the alley entrance and set Joyce down to approach on foot while Demona took a more direct approach. She barreled into two vampires that were attacking a tall thin man. He was giving a good accounting of himself, but he was outnumbered and couldn't last long.

Demona took the two she had bowled over and threw them hard against a wall. A third rushed for the entrance, trying to rush past Talon, mistaking him for another gargoyle. The mutate snarled and did something no gargoyle could do. He let loose a blast of pure electrical energy. Vampires had always been vulnerable to fire. The blast set the demon's clothes ablaze. Soon, there was nothing left but ashes.

The man they had rescued looked around at them. He was clearly confused and frightened, which came as something of a surprise to Joyce, since he was a vampire himself. Not just any vampire either.

"Spike?!" Spike looked around at the sound of his name. He looked at her blankly for a second before it clicked.

"Joyce Summers, what are you doing in New York? And keeping such charming company?" Joyce considered carefully before answering. Spike looked strung out. Even as she watched bruises were appearing on his face, and he had a haggard look about him that she found difficult to associate with the cocky demon she had met in Sunnydale only a month before.

"You look awful. What happened to you?" She glanced at the three piles of ashes and then at Demona as she tossed aside a sharp-ended board broken from a crate, "besides the obvious I mean?"

"None of your business ducks. Besides, it's rude to answer a question with a question."

"I'm looking for Buffy actually. I don't suppose you've seen her?" Spike looked surprised, and oddly excited.

"The Slayer? She's here in the city?"

"I think that's a no," Talon commented dryly. "Perhaps we should just kill him now."

"No." Joyce raised a hand to forestall any action. She turned back to Spike. "What's going on Spike? The last time I saw you, you and Buffy were cooperating, sort of. When I mentioned Buffy just now you looked almost eager. What's going on? Does it have something to do with the rise in vampire attacks in the city?" Spike glared at them sullenly for a moment.

"Alright. We cooperated as you put it. For all the good it did me I might as well have stood by and cheered while Angel destroyed this mud ball of a world." Even Demona seemed shocked by the bitterness in his voice.

"What happened Spike?" He remained tight lipped for a few seconds, considering.

"I made the deal for Dru. I wanted her back, and I wanted Angel out of the way. I did my part and the Slayer did hers. So, I left town like I promised. We came here to catch a ship for Europe." He looked at each of the group in turn before returning his full attention to Joyce. "This is where we ran into trouble. An old vampire named Aldus had taken control of the community in New York. He's a disciple of the Old Ones."

"Old Ones?" Demona looked interested. "I always thought they were a myth." Spike spared her a glance.

"I wish. The Old Ones look at vampires the way we look at humans. If the Old Ones and their servitors are released we'll wind up on the bottom of the food chain. Everything mortal will be wiped out and vampires will be little better than casual sport for them." He grimaced. "Aldus wants to release them."

"Why? Aldus is a vampire himself? Wouldn't he suffer just as much?" Spike snorted.

"Why do some humans worship demons? He thinks he'll win favors for his service. It's proof that demons can be just as stupid as humans." This last bit he grumbled under his breath. "He tried to recruit us to help him open the gate. When we refused he killed Dru. I barely made it out."

"So it's revenge you want?" Demona asked. It was a motive she could understand.

"That's right." He turned back to Joyce. "Is she in the city?"

"I think so." She shook her head in confusion. "Wait a minute. Why do you want to find her? I mean… won't she kill you if she sees you?"

"Last time we worked together we had a common cause. Now we've got one again. She won't want to see the Old Ones released, and I can't get my revenge alone. I need her help." His tone made it clear that it was hard to admit that he needed anything, let alone the help of a Slayer.

"Of course you do," Demona put in snidely. "Every vampire needs a Slayer." Spike snarled, his true face showing. Demona growled back, eyes glowing. Everyone else stepped back.

Talon cleared his throat loudly. "Could we focus please?" Vampire and gargoyle turned to look at him. "We shouldn't be fighting each other. We need to focus on these 'Old Ones.'" Gradually, the two calmed down although they continued to glare at each other.

"Alright," Spike backed off. "Finding her shouldn't be too difficult, now that I know she's here."

Joyce brightened up considerably. "You know where to find her?" She then realized how pointless it was, putting anything resembling faith in this creature. A smile spread over Spike's face, reminding Joyce strongly of a shark.

"I have a few ideas."

A Slayer. It was the only explanation. Aldus paced back and forth across his sanctum like a tiger in its cage. He had lost twelve servants in the last three weeks. None of his servants who had encountered the Slayer had returned. Now he waited impatiently for the report of his eldest servant. He had been ordered to watch from a distance as others hunted. Aldus had made sure Jacob understood that he was not to engage the Slayer under any circumstances but simply to observe and report.

Aldus waited impatiently while cursing his luck. Why did a Slayer have to come along now? He was so close to completing the preparations for the ritual that he could taste it. Soon the glory that was the Old Ones would be loosed upon the Earth, and all things mortal would perish. The thought of it always calmed him. Soon. The gate would open and the Old Ones would bring their wrath down upon the humans.

Leaving the peace of his private chambers, Aldus moved into the main chamber of what had once been the Hotel Cabal. Attention drawn to the place after that disaster with the gargoyle had forced the Illuminati to abandon it. Aldus and his followers had moved in a few weeks later. The only occupants had been a group of drug dealers who believed that they had found the perfect base of operations. It had been perfect after Aldus had recruited them.

It was always easier to turn young vampires to the faith. Older demons, like the miserable upstart Spike, were always more wary. They preferred to go their own way.

Growling low in his throat, Aldus again cursed the blonde vampire. Spike had caused him considerable trouble, killing two of his men and crippling three others before escaping. At first Aldus thought that it was Spike killing his men, but three nights ago two hunting parties had gone out, and only one returned. The pair of vampires that did return told of a violent encounter with Spike. It was then that he realized that there was someone else.

The wounded were only now beginning to recover. At first, Aldus had wanted to kill them for their failure, but their blind obedience had caused him to hesitate. It was difficult to find loyal followers, and sparing them would only bind them to him more tightly. They would follow him anywhere, obey any order. It would be wasteful to throw away such useful tools.

There had been other reports of Spike interfering with the hunts. When they first fought, Aldus had beaten Spike badly. The Billy Idol wannabe knew better than to challenge him directly, but that didn't mean that he was prepared to forget what Aldus had done.

The Slayer was another matter. Only last night, Spike had been spotted in one part of town, but a hunting party had failed to return from another. There could be no doubt.

"Has Jacob reported yet?" he demanded of one of his followers.

"No Master. He has not returned or called." Aldus nodded curtly, not wanting to show his frustration to an underling. Where was Jacob?

Jacob, for his part, was wishing he was back at headquarters, or anywhere else for that matter. He watched as the small blonde woman, a girl really, whirled and leaped. She lashed out with fists and feet, driving a stake into the heart of the vampire that had tried to attack her from behind. That vampire wasn't the only one with problems. The gargoyle fighting with the girl had already killed two others. Jacob pressed himself farther back into his niche, hoping not to be noticed. The chance to test himself against a Slayer might have sounded tempting, but after seeing her fight, all such desires had faded. Besides, he had his orders. Instead of joining the fight he watched, and what he saw was curious indeed.

At first he had thought the Slayer and gargoyle were fighting together, but if they were they were not cooperating in any way. They ignored each other for all practical purposes. They didn't help each other. Not that either one seemed to need help. In under five minutes three vampires had been killed. Jacob watched the two curiously.

"Well, that was interesting," Lexington muttered. Buffy glared at him.

"You didn't have to get involved you know." Lex returned her glare but said nothing. "You've made it clear you don't trust me and want nothing to do with this. Why are you here?"

"It's what Goliath wants. He's clan leader."

"What is your problem anyway? I'm not your enemy."

"I've heard that before," Lex muttered. "People ask you to trust them, pretend to want to help you or be a friend, then they stab you in the back."

Buffy blinked in astonishment at his words and tone. "Talk about issues," the Slayer snorted. "Look I don't really care. If you want to help, fine, if you don't, I don't need this. I'm not asking for help or offering to be your friend. Let's just get through this okay?" Lex considered for a moment then nodded.

"Okay, let's go find the others then."

They moved off, leaving Jacob alone in the alley. The Master would be pleased to hear of this dissension, he hoped. It was the only thing resembling good news that Jacob could offer. He waited till he was sure they were gone before silently making his way back to the Hotel Cabal.

Goliath looked at the two disgruntled warriors. He knew Lex did not trust her but had hoped they could work together. The clan leader didn't know what this Slayer's problems were, but her goal was the same as theirs. After watching them interact over the past hour his hopes that they could set aside their differences was fading rapidly. Lex, usually the first to warm up to new people was cold and suspicious. The Slayer, for her part, didn't seem to care. She was businesslike to the point of rudeness, keeping everyone at arm's length. He set these thoughts aside for the time being.

"We need to capture one of these creatures alive and interrogate it. It may take all of us working together to do it though."

"It's not going to be easy. The ones I've fought so far would rather die than talk to me." She sniffed, "It's enough to give a girl a complex." Lex rolled his eyes. "I think we just need to find a weak link. I mean they can't all be that determined. Lets move on to the next area on the map. I'll play bait. As soon as they're in the open you can take them." She gave Lex her patented Look. "Just knock them out, don't stake them. We'll interrogate them separately."

"Agreed," Goliath turned to Elisa. "I'd like you to work with her. You've played the role of 'bait' before. I'd like you there to help her. The vampires are being careful, so we'll have to keep our distance. Two of you stand a better chance holding them until we arrive."

Buffy wasn't pleased with the idea, but she agreed. She had to admit it made a certain amount of sense. Ten minutes later they were walking down an empty poorly lighted street. They talked casually, but their eyes moved constantly from shadow to shadow, trying to anticipate the attack they felt certain would come.

"How did you get into this line anyway?" Elisa asked.

"I didn't choose it. It chose me." Elisa was quiet for a moment, considering this.

"I think I understand."

"No, you don't," Buffy said. There was no particular inflection to her voice; she wasn't being sarcastic or condescending. "It wasn't a career choice. It wasn't something I always wanted to do. Until I was called I had a normal, happy life. I never gave vampires a second thought, or a first one for that matter." Buffy eyed her critically. "Let me guess. Your father was a cop, and you wanted to follow in his footsteps. You've probably got a brother or sister who's a cop too."

"I never said I was a cop," she said, "how did you know?"

"You've got an edge. Different from Kendra but I can see it. Kendra'd seen too much." She glanced at Maza again. "How old are you? Twenty-eight, twenty-nine?" Elisa nodded, wondering where this was going. "Kendra was seventeen when Drusilla cut her throat."

"I, uh,…"

"You don't have to say anything. There's nothing to say." She lapsed into silence, concentrating on their surroundings.

"I've lost friends to this job too. It's not one you should have to be doing. Why can't you get help from the police?" Buffy snorted contemptuously. "You don't think much of cops do you?"

"I don't know many. All I do know is that there are two kinds of cop back home, bought and paid for or deeply stupid."

Elisa wasn't sure how to respond to this. She was offended on behalf of the honest cops, but the idea of cops on the take made her angry. Although skeptical of the source, she knew it could happen, she'd seen it happen. Nevertheless, "Cops taking bribes from vampires?" The skepticism in her voice was clear.

"I don't know. Do I look like J. Edgar? All I know is that the death toll in one small town makes Washington D.C. look like Mayberry and no one official seems to notice."

Elisa nodded slowly. "I don't see how it could happen." Buffy shrugged, not knowing, maybe not caring. "I suppose I can understand you not trusting cops, but that doesn't explain why you're acting like this. We're trying to help you, you after all."

"I didn't ask for help." Buffy snapped, but after a moment she relented. "Knowing about it makes it impossible to ignore it. Trying to help me is what got two of my friends hurt. They could have been killed."

"Ah, and you forced them?"

"Of course not."

"Then it was their choice?"

"If you think that makes a difference, you're wrong. If they didn't know they wouldn't have been trying to help me. They wouldn't have been in the line of fire."

Elisa knew there was nothing she could say to make it any easier. She had known cops killed in the line of duty. It was always hard, and the family always went through a stage where they blamed the job. There was always one indisputable fact though. The job was the choice of the individual. No one forced it on them.

Buffy hadn't chosen though. It had been forced on her. Maybe, Elisa conceded, that made it harder for her to understand why anyone would choose to take the risks. She didn't know what to say, so she said nothing. To her surprise, Buffy continued the conversation. Maybe, Elisa realized, she needed to talk.

"A Slayer never has a choice. If I stick my head in the sand and try to ignore it people die. I couldn't live with that. So I have to fight. Kendra had the same 'choice', but she was raised to it. She knew from early on that she might be called someday. I didn't have any warning." She was quiet for a while. "Having the help of Will and the others was really great at times, and Angel was the best thing that ever happened to me." Again she fell silent, remembering.

"You said Angel was the one who wanted to awaken Acathla. He was changed into a vampire?"

Buffy frowned for a second before deciding it was too much to go into, even if the cop believed her. Best to keep it simple.

"He went from the gentle, loving man I knew to a vicious animal." Her voice was tight with suppressed emotion.

Elisa had the irrational urge to hug the girl and comfort her but knew it wasn't the time or place. Besides, she realized, Buffy definitely wouldn't take it well. "When that Acathla business came up, I had no choice but to kill him."

"Is that why you left home?"

Buffy glanced sharply at her. The woman was too quick on the uptake for her own good. Why am I telling her this? Buffy wondered. I hardly know her. Maybe, she smiled to herself, because she's as screwed up as I am in some ways. She sleeps with a gargoyle for pity's sake.

"Mostly. Everywhere I went I saw reminders of him. I just couldn't deal anymore." If Elisa suspected that there was more to it than that, she didn't let on. They lapsed into silence as they moved down yet another dark side street. It was Buffy who heard them first.

"Here we go," she whispered, rolling her shoulders and readying herself for a fight. Elisa took a step away from Buffy, trying to make it look natural.

Two thugs rounded the corner ahead of them so abruptly it was obvious they had been waiting the opportunity to surprise their 'victims'. Two more approached from behind, closing the distance quickly. They went into the victim routine. Both had experience at faking fear, building the confidence of the predators, whether they be vampires or ordinary muggers. The vampires smiled broadly, fully taken in by the act.

Their cockiness vanished abruptly when Buffy stepped forward and delivered a snap kick to the jaw that sent one of them to the pavement. The distinctive sound of a neck being snapped caused that vampire's partner to hesitate just long enough to make a perfect target of himself. Buffy's first blow broke ribs. Her second sent her opponent to the ground. He scrambled to his feet and attacked again. The fight only lasted thirty seconds before Goliath and the others arrived.

They arrived in time to pull one of the other vampires off Elisa. She had managed to knock out one of them, but the other was too strong. Having shrugged off her best efforts, it was preparing to kill her when Buffy noticed her predicament. She took a moment from her own battle to drive a boot heel into its face. It recovered quickly but didn't get another chance. Goliath lifted the vampire off its feet and slammed it against a wall. They quickly gathered their prisoners and retreated to a vacant office in a darkened building.

"His neck is broken," Brooklyn noted critically.

"So? We need him alive, not healthy." The vampire under discussion tried to snarl at them, but it came out closer to a whimper. Given time, the injuries would heal, but he seriously doubted he would get the time.

"Get out," she told them. They started and looked at her. "You heard me, out." She pointed at the door. "You don't want to be here for what comes next." They were prepared to argue. Elisa was especially vehement, and she was one of the few people Buffy had ever met who was completely unfazed by her 'Look'. Eventually they agreed though.

"Well now," the Slayer smiled brightly. "What should we do with you?" Their captive said nothing. "This will go a lot smoother if you just cooperate. Tell us what we want to know."

"I'm not telling you anything," the vampire snarled. "You might as well kill me Slayer. You will anyway." Buffy's mind flashed back to a very similar conversation with another vampire. It was different this time. The lives of her friends weren't directly threatened, but that didn't mean that the situation was any less urgent.

Well, it worked last time. "Oh, I'm definitely going to kill you," she agreed. She paused a moment, but decided it was no time to worry about sparing the sensibilities of her allies. "The question is," she took the crucifix out of her pocket and slapped it against the vamp's cheek, "when." It started screaming.

It took nearly an hour, but one of them finally broke. After hearing two of his comrades tortured he was eager to tell all he knew. The gargoyles had been appalled. At first they had wanted to stop her, but they had also understood the need for fast answers.

"I've got what we need," she said as she joined them. They were quiet, simply following her directions as they left the abandoned building, and the four piles of ash slowly scattering in the light breeze, for the place her informant had pegged as the center of Aldus' operations.

"So what are we doing here again?" Demona asked, looking around the empty rooftop. The place provided a good view of the surrounding buildings. At Spike's suggestion they had concealed themselves in an office that had a sliding glass door leading out to the roof. Spike, Demona, and Joyce waited in the office while Talon, Malibu, and Burbank watched from neighboring buildings.

"Waiting," Spike answered curtly. "We're waiting for the Slayer to arrive." Joyce looked at him, confused.

"I thought you said you knew where to find her." Spike pointed to a tall building down the block.

"That's Aldus' place. It wont take the Slayer long to find out where it is. Why chase all over the city looking for her when she'll come to us?"

"You're that confident about her abilities?" Demona asked. "I thought you hated her."

"I do. It's natural, a vampire/Slayer thing y'know? Thing is, in order to kill her I had to study her." He looked at the two females and tapped the side of his head. "Know your enemy and all that."

Joyce concentrated on keeping her face calm throughout this. He looked back at the Hotel Cabal. "I'd never stand a chance of beating her if I didn't know what she was capable of. She'll be here," he said with complete confidence.

The wait wasn't as long as the gargoyles had feared. It was shortly after 11:00 when they arrived at a building overlooking the former Illuminati facility. Only three gargoyles had come on the final raiding party. Goliath had decided that he, Angela, and Sata would accompany Buffy into the building, while the remaining gargoyles patrolled what seemed to be the vampires' favorite hunting areas. They flew high to remain inconspicuous. When the building was in sight they dropped to the roof of a nearby building for a careful look around first. They came in quickly, hoping to avoid being noticed.

Any illusions Goliath had had about arriving unobserved evaporated when a vampire stepped out of the shadows.

"About time you got here Slayer."

Buffy spun at the sound of the familiar voice. It was him. The same easy grin and smug expression, the same arrogant manner that never failed to irritate her. She would have known him anywhere.

"Spike." The name came out in a low, venom filled hiss. The tone and the look that went with it had caused many a vampire to stop in its tracks. Spike only chuckled.

"Good to see you again too pet." What happened next was almost too fast for the surprised gargoyles to follow. Spike had to fall back, dodging and blocking a series of furious blows.

None of the clan had even had time to react. They simply stared at the two as they traded blows with a speed and ferocity they had never seen in a human.

"Will you hold on a minute!" Spike pressed his back against a wall, put a foot to her stomach and shoved. She landed on her backside with a loud 'oof!' but was on her feet in a second. "Truce already! I'm not here to fight you. I'm here to help."

"He's telling the truth Buffy." The Slayer stopped in her tracks, her eyes going to the darkened office Spike had emerged from. Joyce Summers and Demona came out on to the roof. "He does want to help."

The gargoyles had watched this exchange with expressions ranging from the initial anger at the vampire's arrival, to complete confusion over the presence of Demona and the human woman. Their confusion only increased when the Slayer finally spoke. "Mom?"

Quickly Buffy moved over to her mother while shooting a warning glance at the vampire. She raised her mother's chin with one finger and examined her neck. Joyce was confused for a moment until she realized what Buffy was looking for.

"He didn't bite me." She pulled Buffy to her in a tight hug. "I've been worried sick about you. Why did you leave?"

"I've been wondering that myself," Spike mused. "With me and Dru gone and Angelus dead I would have thought good old Sunnyhell would be downright quiet. So why leave?" He watched her carefully as he spoke. He saw the way she winced at mention of Angelus.

Buffy stepped away from her mother. "We don't really have time for this," Buffy said. "I have vampires to kill. Unless you want to be one of them you'll give me a reason, now."

"The last time I saw you, you were committed to killing him." Spike ignored her warning and continued his musings. "I can see you being upset, you were lovers. Still, he was a vampire. He killed humans for food, and he enjoyed it," Spike laughed "He enjoyed it more than any vampire I've ever known."

The gargoyles watched the confrontation without interfering. Goliath moved as if to intervene but Demona raised a hand and shook her head. Something in her expression stopped Goliath. Maybe, he thought, this scene needed to be played out. Buffy moved toward him, clearly intent on violence. Spike ignored her.

"Face it pet, your Angel died months ago. How many meals did he have while you tried to make yourself fight him?"

"Psychological approach Spike? Teasing isn't like you. Usually you're much more direct. Been taking lessons from your Pappy?"

Spike growled. He drew back his hand for a blow, but stopped. "Heh, very good Slayer. You almost got me." He smiled. "Alright pet, no more baiting." He cocked his head to one side. "I still can't help but be curious though. You're not one to get worked up over any vampire, even him… unless." His eyes narrowed in concentration. "Unless…"

"Don't go there Spike." Her tone was deliberately condescending. "You were never a thinker, so don't strain yourself." Spike ignored the insult, intent on solving this conundrum.

"Unless it wasn't him." He considered a moment, while stepping back to avoid an anticipated attack, but Buffy didn't move. "Yes, that Calendar woman worked out that spell to restore a vampire's soul before Angel killed her, and Dru said that when she went to get your Watcher that she interrupted some kind of ritual."

Spike looked enormously pleased with himself. "That's it isn't it? Your little witch managed the spell. It must have taken effect right after I left, after the vortex opened."

Buffy stared at him, her expression unreadable. Finally she sighed, her shoulders slumped. "There was no choice. The only way to close the vortex-"

"Was with Angel's blood since he was the one who opened it. I get it." Spike's smile suddenly faded as the full implications hit home. No one spoke for a long time. The gargoyles didn't understand but they could hear the pain in her voice. Joyce had learned enough from Giles to know exactly what her daughter was saying. Giles had speculated, but he hadn't guessed this. Maybe, some detached part of her wondered, some possibilities were too horrible to contemplate. She hadn't known Angel, but Buffy's friends had told her what he had meant to her.

Spike could only stare. At the moment she was completely helpless. He could have killed her easily, but he found he couldn't. Even if the gargoyles hadn't been there he doubted he could have done it.

"This won't mean much to you, but if it had been Dru, I couldn't have done it." Buffy was silent for a moment. Finally, she straightened.

"We have work to do. What's your interest in this Spike?"

Her old sparring partner shifted gears immediately. "The vampire your after is called Aldus. He's trying to open a portal so the Old Ones can come to Earth. He killed Dru when we refused to join him."

"He killed Drusilla?"

"Yes, and I intend to see he dies for it. Don't worry Slayer I don’t expect you to cry for her. All I care is that he gets what's coming to him."

"He will, I'll give him a kiss before I kill him." His backhand caught her across the face. Her head rocked back. Her answering blow staggered Spike. They glared at each other. "I've already got more help than I know what to do with. Why do I need you?"

"I know a way in that isn't guarded. It isn't pleasant but it will get you inside without raising every alarm in the place. Interested?" Buffy thought quickly, fuming over the situation. Spike wasn't to be trusted, but he did have a point. Aldus apparently had a large force of vampires with him and only cutting off the head of the beast would put an end to the problem. Reluctantly, she nodded.

"Good then." Spike grinned. Let's get to it then, only a six hours till dawn so we'll need to hurry."



A call to the other mutates and gargoyles later a small crowd gathered around the table in the office where Joyce, Demona, and Spike had waited. Spike traced out a map for them, with a few contributions from Talon, who knew the underground a little better than the vampire did. Finally they were ready.

Spike, Buffy, Goliath, Angela and Sata would sneak in. Brooklyn, Talon, Broadway, and Lex would launch an attack on the front door as soon as the group signaled they were ready to move. The two-pronged assault would divide their target's attention and forces. The rest of the two combined clans and Demona would patrol the area to intercept and destroy any vampire hunting parties they found returning to base.

Joyce would return to the Labyrinth with Talon so he could fetch the rest of his clan and then would stay there where it was safe. She had argued over that, but both Buffy and Spike insisted she stay out of the way. Spike's support surprised her, but when she glanced at him for an explanation he only shrugged. Eventually though, Joyce agreed.

Five hours before sunrise Buffy found herself and her rather bizarre strike team wading through muck in the sewers approaching the entrance Spike had told them about. He grinned at her. "Told you it wasn't pleasant." Disgust and irritation warred for dominance on her face, but she clamped down on both feelings.

"Let's just get there already," she said tightly. She had retrieved her sword and had several sharpened stakes secreted about her body. The others were similarly armed.

Eventually, they reached the grate that Spike had been secretly using to come and go from the place ever since his last encounter with Aldus. He had discovered it about three days after Dru died and had used it to spy on the master vampire. Aldus had never been vulnerable enough though for Spike to risk an attack alone. Now that had changed.

He quietly moved the grate he had oiled on previous visits so that it would move silently and pulled himself through. Buffy followed as did Sata and Angela. It was too small for Goliath. He prepared to force a wider opening, but Spike stopped him.

"You want to draw every vamp in the place down on us? You'll just have to sit this out." Buffy shook her head.

"I got an idea."

Two of Aldus minions heard the muffled crunching sound followed by a splash coming from the basement store room and went to investigate. They had never heard a sound quite like it, but was no reason to be concerned.

"I think an off-shoot of the main sewer runs under the building," one commented as they opened the door. "It's probably someone's toilet backing up."

They both turned opposite ways as they entered the room, not expecting a trap, but covering all the angles anyway. "Nothing," one commented looking at the piles of boxes. There was a meaty thunk behind him, and he turned quickly to see the Slayer they had been warned about smiling at him while bringing her sword back to the guard position. The vampire started to snarl, but was cut off by another sound behind him, a sound and a strange tightness in his chest. He looked down to see then end of a wooden spear exiting just beneath his breast bone.

"That's two down," Buffy whispered as she moved toward the door, the rest moving cautiously behind her. "You know the layout of this place Spike, which way to Aldus' HQ?"

"Follow me." The blonde vampire led the way quietly through the building to a small landing overlooking a large open area. Aldus was directing a group of his followers. He was assigning guard duty as far as Buffy could tell. One of his sentries had seen gargoyles flying in the skies nearby, and Aldus didn't want any surprises.

Buffy grinned, "Too late," she whispered. Her expression hardened when she saw that Spike had a matching grin. The green-skinned gargoyle was the only one who noticed and she was looking curiously between the two of them.

The two old enemies gave each other matching scowls and Sata repressed a smile as she suddenly, and rather strangely, found herself strongly reminded of her children when they argued. Goliath and Angela hadn't noticed the exchange. As soon as they were all in position he signaled Brooklyn to begin the attack.

It didn't take long. Only a minute later a minion raced through the door and told Aldus they were under attack. Aldus gave a rapid series of orders and two separate groups of vamps went scurrying out. Aldus kept about five with him. Two were working at computers, one was guarding the main door, one was operating what looked like a radio dispatcher's set up, and the last stuck by Aldus' side and appeared to be taking dictation.

Not having her crossbow, Buffy had had to improvise. She picked up the top from what might have been a large fruit juice can. It had been removed with an electric can opener and the edge was fairly sharp, if a bit ragged. She had found in a garbage can outside. It wasn't an impressive weapon, but it suited her needs. Sata looked at the piece of garbage curiously, not understanding, but Spike grinned happily and indicated the radio operator. Buffy nodded. Taking a deep breath she rose to her feet and threw the improvised blade like a frisbee. It neatly passed through the radio operator's neck and lodged in the equipment that sparked a crackled before the electronics started to burn.

Aldus immediately looked up and barked orders to his remaining minions. The guard at the door tried to open it to call for help but was impaled by a splintered board thrown by Goliath. Unfortunately it missed the heart and the vamp staggered out yelling before he collapsed.

Aldus turned to face Spike and Buffy as they dropped from the landing where they'd been hiding. He did not look happy.

"Company soon," Spike said, noting the open door and the screaming guard. He casually backhanded an over eager vampire, sending him sprawling while Buffy kicked another in the throat and staked him while he gagged.

A blur of motion off to one side caught Spike's attention and he turned in time to see Sata parry a wild swing from a crow bar and behead the wielder in one smooth motion.

"Oh, nicely done!" Spike said cheerfully as he grabbed Aldus secretary with one hand and used the other to flatten the vamp's nose, driving bone fragments into it's brain. It wouldn't kill a vampire, but Spike wasn't looking to kill just yet. Buffy and Sata had their hands full with the last minion in the room while Aldus tried to escape.

He stopped when he found his way blocked by two snarling gargoyles. "Don't kill him," Spike warned, losing his jovial demeanor for a moment. "He's mine." As he moved toward the master vampire though, there was a shout from the door and a group of vampires rushed to their master's aid.

The next few moments were very confused. Spike found himself fighting back to back with the lavender female at one point and backed into a corner with a red beaked male, where did he come from? at another. The gargoyle eyed him suspiciously, but after Spike broke the neck of a vampire that had dropped on him from above, the gargoyle seemed a little less inclined to shoot.

Finally, Spike found himself a little breathing room and looked around. Aldus and the one called Angela were wrestling, neither gaining a clear advantage. Sata was making excellent use of her katana, but she was badly pressed. The leader, Goliath was thrown against the wall next to him and took a moment to catch his breath. Spike spared him a glance and then his eyes sought out Buffy.

"Magnificent isn't she?" he remarked to no one in particular. The Slayer had lost her stake at some point and was relying on sword, fists, and feet. As the vampire and gargoyle watched she spun and ducked and slashed and stabbed, never ceasing her motion. "Poetry in motion," Spike mused.

"I thought you two were sworn enemies?" the clan leader asked.

"Doesn't mean I can't admire the way she fights. She's my favorite Slayer, and I'm not just saying that because I killed the others. This one's got real talent. She's cunning and she can think on her feet, adapting as a fight progresses second to second. I know centuries old vampires who can't fight near as well. Ah, here we go."

Spike saw an opening and plunged back into the fight. He quickly staked two vampires and pulled another off Sata's back, holding it up for her to behead. "Some fun eh?" he shouted as he turned to gouge the eyes out of another. "Learned that from the three stooges I did." He gave the blinded demon a push toward the Slayer and watched as a backhand swipe from her blade created yet another pile of ash on the floor around her.

Aldus was running out of followers. So far he had held his own, largely because of the number of followers willing to die for him. He was no weakling to be sure, but even he could not survive long against such odds. Even as he threw the young female gargoyle away from him, he saw the thrice damned Spike throw another of his minions into the path of the Slayer's blade. The only reason it had gone on so long was that Spike and the Slayer were doing most of the killing. The brutish gargoyles didn't seem to realize that simply hitting a vampire was not enough. Fools, he thought irritably, leaping over a tail swung at his legs and driving a boot into the exposed back.

For all their ineptitude though, they seemed nearly impossible to kill. They were simply too strong. The gargoyle he kicked went down, but it was up again almost immediately. He needed some way to turn the tide, or at least, he reflected, to wipe the grin off that oaf's face! Spike was having entirely too much fun.

Between him and the Slayer Aldus was down to four minions. Even if all of the hunting parties returned at once there wouldn't be enough to reverse this disaster.

"To me my minions it's time we were going." In a violent show of strength he lifted Goliath off his feet and hurled him into his clan mates. Three of his minions made it to the door, the Slayer and Spike hot on their heels. Jacob stopped suddenly ducking the Slayer's swing and driving an elbow into her gut. Pivoting on one foot he doubled his fists and brought them up under her chin. She tumbled back, almost tripping Spike. Almost, but not quite. He leaped over her and brought a boot heel down on Jacob's knee. The sound of cracking bone, tearing muscle and skin, and the vamp's scream was music to Spike's ears. He almost hated to drive a stake through its heart.

By then, Buffy had recovered, but Aldus was already gone. Spike was about to charge through after, but Buffy grabbed him. "Only one way to go?" Spike stopped, glaring at the door slammed in his face.

"Trap?" They moved to opposite sides of the door. Buffy kicked it open and drew her leg back fast. There was a clatter and the sound of running feet. Then the door all but disintegrated under the force of the blast. Both vampire and Slayer were thrown to the ground, but were shielded from the worst of the blast by the wall.

"Since when do vampires use grenades?" Buffy demanded, pulling herself to her feet. A glance through what was left of the frame showed that Aldus and his two followers had fled.

"He is not getting away," Spike growled. Thinking quickly he gestured the others to follow. "I think I know where he's going." He led them trough a maze of corridors and rooms, some of which were pretty bizarre. Finally they emerged in a control room of sorts.

"He's not here," Buffy observed.

"Perhaps not," Goliath spoke up, "but we can find him from here if he's still in the building."

"Oh we can do more than find him," Spike grinned. He flipped a few switches and the monitors lining one wall came to life. "Now then, where would he be?"

"Let me," Angela stepped forward. "This is sort of like mother's security system." She fussed over the controls for a moment before images formed on the screens. None of them showed anything. "Just a minute." One of the images changed to a map of the level they were on. Then another came up, and another. The fourth screen showed a flashing light in one of the corridors. "Got 'em," she announced.

All but two of the screens went blank. The one not showing the floor plan for that level was a camera image of a corridor. It came up in time to show Aldus ducking into one of the rooms.

"Where is that?" Buffy asked.

"Fourth floor," everyone looked around at Goliath. "I've been here before. I recognize the room." Angela, who had continued to work the keyboard, gradually becoming more confident, brought up an image of the room. "He has a key," the clan leader observed.

"Maybe so," Spike said smugly reaching over Angela's shoulder, "but we can override and still start the fun." The room shuddered and the floor abruptly tilted, flinging Aldus and his men away from the exit they were headed for. They landed in an ungainly heap and continued to roll along the wall as the room rotated on an unseen axis. Aldus dug in fingers into the wall and started to climb toward the door they had entered by, the opposite door now well out of reach. His remaining followers did the same and they scrambled out into the corridor soon after.

"If I remember correctly," Goliath rumbled, "there is a parallel corridor that leads to an elevator. They can escape that way."

"They won't," Spike assured him. "I've studied this place enough to know that he has to go through one of the rooms to get there."

"I'm surprised," Angela mused, "that the Illuminati would just abandon this place with all of the machinery still working."

"Perhaps they planned to come back," Sata suggested.

"Or maybe Aldus just took it from them." They all looked at Spike. "I heard him once talking about the previous owners, said they made useful servants." The implication didn't make anyone happy, but it explained the facility's condition.

On the screen Aldus was heading for another door. Only one of his minions was visible though, Angela was about to switch to another view when the screen filled with snow. "There goes the camera. They looked at the other screen showing the floor plan and saw Aldus heading down the corridor, past the door he'd just opened and toward another.

"Start the trap in that room," Buffy instructed.

"They're not there," Angela protested.

"Yeah, but they don't know that we know that… y'know?" Angela nodded and activated the room's hidden machinery. "Wow, what was this place?"

"Long story," Goliath said, glancing at her briefly before returning his attention to the monitor. Aldus and his men were in the room down the hall, no doubt grinning over the sound the machinery down the hall was making.

"Now," Buffy pointed start it up. Angela did so, and the outline of the room started to flash red, just as the other room's outline was flashing.

"Trap engaged." She flipped a switch to change views, but discovered that none of the cameras on that level were working. "What's it doing?" Angela wondered aloud and glanced at her father.

"I don't know. I never went into that room."

"Whatever it is," Spike said viciously, "I hope it hurts." They watched the display for a moment or two, then the flashing indicator abruptly stopped. "What happened?" Spike demanded.

"I don't know. Give me a minute." She typed at the controls experimentally for a moment. "Ah, they're now on level three." Another screen filled with an image of Aldus and one follower missing his left arm struggling down a corridor toward an elevator.

"They found the elevator, come on Spike. They'll probably try to get out through the basement. Let's go greet them." She turned to the gargoyles. "Think you can keep them busy until we're in position?" Angela gave a smile, strongly reminiscent of her mother.

"I think so." Vampire and Slayer left together headed for the sub-basement where the elevator shaft would let out.

Thanks to the delays created by Angela, they reached the bottom level just as Aldus and his last follower were emerging from the shaft. The two vampires wasted no time, but beat a hasty retreat out of the building with Spike and Buffy hot on their heels.

"We can't shake them master," the last minion panted. He looked around frantically for any sign of an escape route. Aldus shot him an annoyed look. This one had only been a vampire for a month but still, hasn't the fool realized he doesn't need to breathe? "No matter. I despise running anyway." He turned to face the Slayer and the vengeful Spike as they rounded the corner together and entered the alley. They stopped as they took in their surroundings.

"Dead end," Spike observed blandly

"Appropriate," Buffy deadpanned. They moved forward side by side. "You want Aldus, I'll take lefty." Spike nodded, his game face slipping into place.

"I nearly killed you last time Spike," Aldus reminded him. "I won't make that mistake again. This time you don't walk away." The two snarled at each other and leaped at the same time, coming together with a series of vicious blows that Buffy was glad not to be on the receiving end of.

'Lefty' regarded her with the look of one resigned to his fate but determined to go down swinging. He grabbed a bottle from a Dumpster in the alley, broke the base off and charged. In his day 'Lefty' had been a gang member and drug dealer. He had been in his fair share of back alley fights, and although a broken bottle wasn't his weapon of choice, he could adapt.

He came in low, swinging the bottle in an attempt to disembowel the Slayer. She stepped inside the swing to block and punch him in the face, at least that was the plan. In mid-swing he raised the bottle and jabbed toward her throat, and she had to fall back to avoid the cutting edge of the glass. Lefty followed immediately, pressing her and trying to stomp on her leg while still distracting her with the bottle. He was only partially successful and the edge of his shoe scraped along her shin. She yelled.

"Ooww!" Moving with unbelievable speed she reached around the bottle, grabbed his wrist and twisted until it snapped and he dropped the bottle. "That hurt!" She slammed the one armed vamp face-first into the wall and then back across the alley where he ran into Aldus who was, to his surprise, having to fall back before Spike.

Lefty's impact caused Aldus to stumble and Spike immediately took advantage, delivering a round house kick to the chin and a snap kick to the belly. Aldus leaped back though rather than double over to get a knee in the forehead. A back handed blow sent Lefty staggering back towards the Slayer who was waiting with an improvised stake. He died before he knew what had happened.

Buffy rubbed her leg, muttering under her breath while watching Spike and Aldus. Whatever she thought of Spike personally, he knew how to fight. He was doing well enough, but he was starting to lose ground. Buffy had learned long ago that rage could only sustain you in a fight for so long. Aldus was stronger and more experienced, but he had vulnerabilities, and Buffy made note of them as the throbbing in her shin died down.

She watched for an opening. Spike was starting to lose ground fast and Aldus might make a break for it if he could get to the street. Seeing her chance, Buffy took three long strides forward and delivered a roundhouse kick to Aldus' lower back. The surprised vampire was catapulted forward into a left cross from Spike. He staggered back, lashing out with one hand to strike at the Slayer. It never came close. Buffy had already dropped was starting a sweep to take his legs out from under him.

Aldus attempted to skip over her leg, but another blow from Spike knocked him off balance and he went down hard, flat on his back. His head struck the pavement and his vision dimmed briefly. It returned a second later to see Spike descending on him.

Spike's rage was back full force. He pounded on the downed vampire, as Buffy backed away. She could hear bones breaking under Spike's fists, and gradually Aldus' struggles became weaker. She was almost relieved when Spike finally drove a broken board through Aldus' heart.

His face resumed its human appearance as he backed away from the pile of dust. "Damn," he muttered, looking decidedly downcast.

"Well," Buffy said observantly, "he's dead, and then some." She eyed him closely. "You don't feel any better do you?"

"No," he groused. "He got what was comin' to him but it don't bring Dru back." Sighing regretfully he shook his head. "I'm really going to miss her." His expression grew contemplative, and he seemed to be settling in for a moment of quiet reflection. Then, "Oh well," his blow caught Buffy under the jaw and knocked her back into the wall. She was out cold before she hit the ground.


"Uuhh, oh that hurt."

'She's coming around," Buffy heard a voice, she recognized as Ariana's, call. Buffy opened her eyes to find herself back in the room in the castle where she had first awakened. She heard a door open and people coming into the room. There was the sound of human feet and the heavier tread and slight dragging sound she had come to associate with gargoyles. The light was too bright the first time she opened her eyes, so she closed them immediately and waited for the pounding in her head to die down a bit.

"Buffy?" Mom. Oh great. "Buffy? Can you hear me?"

"I hear you, not so loud, huh?" She opened her eyes, more slowly this time, and gradually sat up.

"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" Buffy turned toward the unfamiliar voice. "You have a concussion. Even as quickly as you heal you'll need a little time in bed."

"And you are?"

"Oh, Buffy, this is Dr. Reynolds. I'm told he took care of you when you were brought in last night. You had a concussion and a gunshot wound then, right?" Buffy suppressed a sigh, this was not going to be easy.

"I'll be alright mom. I-"

"I hope you're not going to tell me you've had worse."

Buffy glanced at the doctor and Arriana who was sitting next to the bed looking excited. "Could you give us some time?" the doctor nodded and left the room, followed by the young gargoyle. "There's no way to make this easy is there?" Joyce was silent for a time, considering her answer.

"We've had this discussion, haven't we? You're going to keep risking your life no matter how much I worry?"

"I've got an important job, mom, and I'm the only one who can do it. As much as I'd like to have a normal life, I can't have it. I'm sorry if you can't accept that. I can't change who or what I am."

"I know honey." Joyce sighed. "Knowing you, you probably wouldn't if you could."

"Some days," Buffy grimaced, rubbing her head.

"What happened anyway?" Before Buffy could answer, there was a tentative knock at the door. Ariana poked her beak in.

"Sorry to interrupt, but I forgot to give you this." She held out a slip of paper. "Aunt Angela says this was in your pocket when they found you, unconscious in the alley." Buffy took the paper and unfolded it.


Angel was right, you are cute when you're

asleep. I decided not to kill you this time.

The world's a more interesting place with

you in it, besides, that was much too easy.

Till next time,


Buffy sighed, half in frustration, half in reluctant amusement. She shook her head as she refolded the note and instantly regretted it as her headache intensified. "Till next time Spike."

Buffy tucked the note away and lay back. Leave it to Spike to get the last word in. "Well?" Joyce asked, "what does he say?" Her daughter smiled ruefully.

"Nothing important, just a parting shot."

"Parting shot? I don't understand."

"Spike likes to irritate me. It's a hobby of his." She yawned, her eyes getting bleary. Joyce smiled tucked the covers around her shoulders.

"You better get some sleep. You need rest." She got up and left the room, turning off the lights as she went. Buffy thought to protest, but she was just too tired.

"Demona?" The azure gargoyle turned from where she was perched on the wall.

"What do you want?" Her tone stopped Joyce in her tracks for a second, but then she came on, if a bit more slowly.

"I-I wanted to see you before you left, to thank you. If not for you I might never have found her. Thank you." Demona smiled reluctantly.

"You're welcome. What will you do now?"

"We're going home. Giles and her friends will be happy to have her back. They've been trying to do her work by themselves." Demona's eyes widened slightly.

"Good grief, it's contagious."


"Nothing. I'm glad I could help. Have a good trip home." With that, she turned and leaped from the wall. Joyce watched her go.

Finally, she turned to go back inside. There was a lot to do, before they could go home, not the least of which was getting Buffy cleared of Kendra's murder. Joyce sighed. It didn't matter. She had her daughter back and everything else was just details.