One Girl in All... Aesop TITLE: ONE GIRL IN ALL… BY: Aesop EMAIL: ENOWON@JUNO.COM RATING: PG-13 DICLAIMER: I don’t own the characters from Roswell, BTVS or Angel. I’m just borrowing them. No profit is earned and I’ll dust them off before I return them. SUMMARY: Liz and Spike are off to Sunnydale to stop the Skins from raising an ancient war god. Cooperation is called for, but how much will they get? CATEGORY: Cross-over The vampire eyed the girl hungrily as she bent to examine something caught on the bush. She was oblivious to his presence, that much was clear. She seemed completely absorbed in whatever it was she was doing. He wondered idly what it was that so fascinated her that she wasn’t even aware of his approach, especially as he made no real effort to hide his presence. "Have you ever seen this before?" she asked suddenly. He blinked, surprised. "Huh?" he asked wittily. "This." She pointed at something on the bush. He glanced at it, curious despite his hunger. Caught on a protruding branch of one of the bushes that lined the park fence was what looked like snakeskin, but it had the vague shape of a Human face. Probably left behind by some demon or other he realized. "You know what left this behind or where it is?" "Nope." He didn’t know or care. The girl still hadn’t turned to look at him. He let his true face show and prepared to feed. A sudden pain in his chest brought him up short, and he looked down, staring in disbelief. The girl had just staked him. Liz heard the distant sound of running feet. They slowed when the vampire crumbled to dust. Liz turned from examining the piece of husk and looked at the man approaching her. His expression was almost comical as his eyes moved back and forth from her face to the stake in her hand, to the pile of dust at her feet. Liz would have been amused if she hadn’t been so annoyed. "Well, he was useless." "Uh, hi," the man said, clearly confused. Liz searched her borrowed memories and identified him. "I’m-" "Riley Finn. Yeah. I’m Liz." "Have we met?" Growing more confused. It feels familiar for some reason. "No, but its past time we did." Liz took pity on him as his expression grew increasingly baffled. "I promise I’ll explain everything. Let’s find Buffy and her friends. I’m going to need help with this." She glanced back at the piece of skin on the bush and reached into her pocket to retrieve a plastic bag. She opened the zipper lock and handed it to him. "Hold this open." Riley did as he was asked while Liz carefully picked up the skin and held it over the bag while it crumbled. "Yuck." Wiping her hands on her jeans she became all business. "I need to collect a couple of people before we head for Buffy’s. It shouldn’t take long." "You know Buffy?" That could explain it, Riley realized, if Buffy had told her about him. "The same way I know you," Liz answered as she led the way across the park. So much for that theory. Who is this girl? ********************************************************************** Dawn Summers looked about herself nervously and glanced at her companion. "He’s getting closer Willow." "Keep walking. We’re almost there. Maybe he’ll back off when he sees whose house we’re going to." Willow clutched the stake nervously. She knew it was a bad idea to come out at this time of night, but there hadn’t been much choice. She was the only one available to get Dawn home. Fortunately, the vampire following them seemed to be more in the mood to tease than grab a fast meal. Buffy’s house was less than a block away, but the vamp was gaining. Suddenly, someone was in front of them. "’Scuse me. I’m looking for Buffy Summers. Does she live around here?" He glanced down at a scrap of paper with an irritable look on his face. Willow and Dawn exchanged troubled glances. They didn’t have time for this. It didn’t seem likely he was another vampire. A vampire wouldn’t have bothered with questions about Buffy but would have simply attacked. So, not a vampire, just inconvenient. The stranger seemed to notice the person following them, and his eyes narrowed in concentration. Willow turned and saw that the vampire was gone. Gone looking for easier prey, I guess. Apparently meeting the stranger was a good thing after all. "Um, Buffy lives in that house." Willow pointed. "Come on." He followed her to the house and the two girls went inside. Will turned to look at the man, teenager really she realized seeing him in better light. He had stopped on the porch, and she opened her mouth to speak when Dawn touched her arm. "No invitation," Dawn murmured. Ever since that unfortunate incident with Harmony, Dawn had been much more careful. They both looked at the man who looked back at them oddly, still waiting. "Oh!" Suddenly he realized what the problem was. "You want to see if I can enter without an invitation." He stepped uninvited across the threshold. "I’m not a vampire," he assured them. The two looked at each other and shrugged. "That’s always good to know," Willow said, still not sure who or what he was. "Um, so Buffy should be back soon, any minute actually…" "Michael, Michael Guerrin." He held out a hand and Willow shook it. "And you would be?" "I’m Willow Rosenburg and this is Dawn, Buffy’s sister. Um, what exactly do you want with Buffy?" "We need her help. Why don’t you call your Watcher friend and ask him about a demon called Devarri while we’re waiting?" The girls exchanged startled looks and withdrew to the next room. "Who is this guy? How does he know about Giles and Buffy?" Willow shrugged and shook her head. "We need to keep an eye on him until Buffy gets here. Then we’ll get some answers." Dawn poked her head into the next room. Michael had taken a seat on the couch. "Um, you want a soda or something?" Michael looked up and smiled. "Yeah, thanks, got a coke?" Dawn nodded and went to the refrigerator. Willow was already dialing. "Keep him talking." Willow whispered as she made the call to Giles. Dawn returned to the living room. She handed him the coke and sat down in the chair. "So how do you know Buffy?"
"I don’t, but I’ve heard about her." He kept his answers short and was fairly uncommunicative. She learned that he was from Roswell; he gave her a dirty look when she asked if he’d ever seen an alien. He didn’t know much about Devarri and pointed out rather acidly that that was the whole reason he was there. Michael was growing impatient and increasingly worried about Liz. Max had told him to take care of her, to protect her, but Liz wouldn’t have it. They had arrived in Sunnydale shortly after sundown and had immediately split up to cover more ground. Not even Spike was with her. He was looking up some old demon contacts. They had agreed to meet later, and Michael had reluctantly gone off to find Buffy. Faith’s memories had provided the approximate location of Buffy’s house, but the other Slayer had never bothered to memorize the address. It hadn’t been too hard to find her home though. Rescuing the two girls from a vampire had been a bonus. Pity he couldn’t let them know. It would have been a nice way of introducing himself. At least his idea had worked. He had been practicing breaking rocks as Tess had taught him. He hadn’t known if it would work on vampires until he tried. Burning them was easy, but it tended to draw attention. Causing them to explode into clouds of dust was a little trickier, but people were less likely to notice. Still, it had worked and the vampire had never known what hit him. He was looking forward to meeting Buffy, despite his initial resistance to the idea of bringing in outsiders. This was her territory and she could prove invaluable in finding the Skins and stopping them. In the meantime, Sunnydale. What he had seen of it surprised him. It wasn’t at all what he had expected of a demon-infested town built over a transdimensional portal to hell, and I can’t believe I’m even thinking that. It had taken some convincing to get Liz’ parents to let her go during school, but they had agreed to an opportunity to visit U.C. Sunnydale as part of a scholarship competition. Max had wanted to come, but his parents had vetoed it, knowing full well what the visit to Sunnydale actually entailed. Sending Michael was the best he could do. Max and Isabel had promised to cover for him in school while he was gone. They had spent a couple of days doing research, learning everything they could about Devarri and the various legends surrounding him. Devarri was a variation on Dev and Persian demon whose name was the root of the word devil. There were a lot of variations on the name, and a lot of trails to follow through seemingly endless tomes, most of which weren’t available to them. They had some idea of where to look though, and that was a beginning. Or it would be when everyone arrived. ********************************************************************** Buffy finished her sweep of the cemetery and decided to call it a night. Two vamps and something that had a mouth like a lamprey and claws instead of hands. Yuck didn’t go far enough for the last, but it was the best she could do without using words that her mother would disapprove of. She had agreed to be home in time to watch Dawn while her mother attended some civic organization meeting, but she had gotten Willow to watch her when Giles had turned up a lead on Glory for Buffy to chase down. It had turned up nothing unfortunately. Glory was really becoming a pain. When the monks guarding the key had needed a place to hide it they picked what they believed was the safest place in the world. All of a sudden Buffy had the little sister she never wanted. It had to be the strangest thing that had ever happened to her, and that was saying a lot. In spite of all of the problems and extra worry it brought her though, it was hard to complain. The false memories the Order had created blended seamlessly with her real ones. She no longer knew how to be an only child and found the idea almost incomprehensible. Dawn was her little sister. That was all there was to it. Buffy shook off the thoughts. She had been over the same territory endlessly, both in her head and with Giles. It all came down to the same thing. There were no new angles or perspectives to view the Dawn situation from. Buffy was tired of thinking about it. The only thing that irritated her was that the decision had been taken out of her hands. She would have protected the key anyway. Buffy was moving before the threat had even registered on a conscious level, spinning and lashing out with a speed that most Humans couldn’t have followed and few demons could match. Some could though. Spike leaned to the side almost casually avoiding the blow aimed at his face. "My, my, aren’t we jumpy." "Spike?" Buffy asked incredulously. "I thought you’d left for good. What are you doing back in Sunnydale?" "Sort of a long story Slayer, and it’d be easier to just tell it once. I’ve asked my friends to meet at your place. Best to call your little Scooby gang together. This could get ugly." "Its already ugly Spike," she answered irritably. "And what friends? Since when do you have friends?" Something occurred to her. "If any of them have fangs I’ll-" "Take it easy Slayer, they’re Human, well, mostly. And ‘aven’t you heard? I’m one of the good guys now. Here to squash a big bad demon. We could use your help though. Like I said, could get ugly. Well, come on." Without bothering to see if she was following, Spike turned toward her home and set off, seeming almost cheerful to be back. For lack of any better idea of what to do, Buffy followed him. Riley, Liz, and Xander arrived at the house just as Buffy and Spike did. Giles’ new convertible was already in the driveway. Buffy entered to find Willow, Dawn,
Tara and Anya already present. "Hail, hail, the gangs all here," Spike mocked as he looked over the group. "Y-yes. So it seems," Giles paused to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, a nervous gesture that the Sunnydale group was long accustomed to seeing. "The question is… why?" "Maybe things are getting dull in Roswell so they decided to come see how the other half lives," Xander quipped. It was a weak joke, and he didn’t make any effort to follow up. He was finding it difficult to look at the strangers. Buffy noticed this and noticed that Anya was having the same problem. "So…" she started, deciding to get the ball rolling, "lets start with the basics. Who are you?" "Allow me to make the introductions," Spike said with obvious relish. "Buffy Summers, Vampire Slayer, meet Liz Parker, Vampire Slayer." Buffy looked at the girl incredulously for a second and then at Xander and then back again. A Slayer? Faith’s replacement? Why didn’t Xander…? "You’re Faith’s replacement?" Spike took her wrist, pressing two fingers against her pulse point and then snatched his hand back as Buffy took a swing at him. "Well she’s obviously not yours, seein’ as you’ve still got a pulse." Buffy opened her mouth to deliver a withering retort, but sighed instead, giving it up as pointless. She turned to Xander instead. "You knew who they were?" Xander nodded, looking uncomfortable. "You never did talk much about what happened." "Not that surprising," Liz interjected. "We don’t talk much about it either. The fight with Cole was…" She searched for an appropriate word for a moment before settling on "ugly." Buffy heard her dissatisfaction with the word and sensed the wealth of meaning it was meant to convey. She glanced at Xander. "Think of Graduation Day and multiply it by about 10," her friend suggested. The rest of the group exchanged unreadable looks, not sure what something worse than Graduation Day would entail. "Anyway, that’s behind us and from what Liz has said Devarri is in front of us. So, let’s talk about him." Giles had stiffened at the name, a look of alarm on his face, although only Buffy, Willow, and Xander recognized it as such. "Devarri? Are you sure?" "Looks that way Rupes," Spike said, growing serious. He reached inside his leather coat and brought out some folded papers. From a backpack he carried, Michael removed the head of one of the creatures they had fought. Giles examined both before turning toward the nearest book shelf with his almost trademark ‘Good Lord!’ He stopped in consternation when he remembered that he wasn’t in his own home with his trusty occult reference books close at hand. Spike smirked, strangely reassured by this bit of the familiar. Despite the changes in the group, some things remained constant. "Yes, well…" He concentrated a moment, calling up what details he could from memory. "Devarri is a variation on Dev, Devi, and several others," he lectured. "It has the same root as the English word Devil." He squinted, thinking hard, as he searched his encyclopedic memory for the information he wanted. "One of my books makes reference to Devarri. An aspect of Dev was worshipped in ancient Persia as a god of war. There is an old story about that aspect of him being ‘invested’ in an image of the deity." He broke off for a moment. "There aren’t many details in that tome. I’ll have to check a few other references, but I’m sure I have the full story somewhere." "Knew you would Rupes. That’s one of the reasons we’re here." "What are the other reasons?" Xander asked for the group. "Story time." Spike grinned happily as he grabbed a kitchen chair and turned it around to straddle it as he and the others began to tell their story. Buffy glared at her old nemesis. The neutered vampire was having entirely too much fun. She glanced at the other Slayer. Liz seemed to be taking Spike’s antics in stride, but her friend was looking progressively angrier. "And you are?" Buffy asked. "Michael Guerin." "He’s here to protect me," Liz volunteered. Her tone made it clear she thought it was a sweet, but unnecessary gesture. Michael shot her an irritated look and spoke up before he could think better of it. "Something you’re not making easy. You know what it will do to Max if anything happens to you?" Liz looked down, suddenly embarrassed. She mumbled an apology. "You could at least make sure there’s someone to watch your back instead of going off on your own. Even Spike would do." "Hey," the vampire protested. Michael ignored him, growing angry with Liz. "During the time you two were apart, he was like a one man funeral procession. I don’t want to see what you-" he broke off, suddenly realizing what he was about to say, and that he had become the center of attention. After a moment’s silence he started again. "Yeah, well anyway, let’s get this over with so we can go home." "Here, here," Spike said, irritably. "Now where was I? Oh yes. Devarri and the end of the world." With Michael and Liz interjecting at points to clarify or cut Spike off before he could say anything about aliens, they got through an edited version of the story. Buffy watched their interaction closely, and quickly realized they weren’t telling the whole truth, but it seemed unlikely they were leaving out any relevant details. At first she thought that the personal friction between them might be something to watch, but as the story progressed she decided it wasn’t a valid concern. If anything the three seemed to compliment each other. That set her back considering that Spike was one of them. She remembered Xander commenting on it after he had returned from Roswell, but had discounted it, mostly because it was just too strange. Now she was seeing that interaction for herself and it was still strange, but she couldn’t ignore it now. What on Earth was Spike up to? And what did it mean that this new Slayer was working with him? Giles interrupted her train of thought as the story came to an end. "So these… ‘Skins’ you called them?" Liz nodded in response to Giles question. "They need these husks to live in our world. When you destroyed the new ones they were growing you set a time limit for their operation. They need to raise Devarri before their time runs out so he can make it possible for them to stay here." "That’s right. We don’t know how close they are to doing it, but they must be close if they’re pushing ahead with their plan. If they still had months of work ahead of them they wouldn’t have time." "Yes Liz, I suppose that’s reasonable. Do you know that they are here in Sunnydale?" Liz reached into her pocket and drew out a bag of skin flakes. Giles took it gingerly, an expression of distaste on his face. "I found that in the park. One of them was there less than an hour ago. After a while the shed skin crumbles to dust on its own. They fall apart almost immediately if they’re touched. That used to look like one of those latex rubber masks, only thinner. While they wear them, the Skins are indistinguishable from Humans." "Yeah," Spike agreed. "It even masks their scent some. Need to get up close before I can smell the difference. Even up close though, they look Human, but I can kill ‘em so I know they’re not." A sudden thought occurred to him. "I wonder if they’re edible?" Everyone stopped and stared at him, some looking incredulous, others simply nauseous. "What?" "So, um," Liz looked around at the Sunnydale group. "I’m thinking research. We get the full story on Devarri and hopefully some clue as to how to stop his raising." The others nodded, happy to move past Spike’s gastronomic speculations. "So tomorrow morning, magic shop, 8:00 A.M.?" Everyone quickly agreed and split up to go their separate ways for the night. Reluctantly, Buffy asked if Liz and Michael had a place to stay. Liz noted her tone. "Yeah, we’ll be fine." She hustled Spike and Michael out the door. "So, where are we staying?" Michael asked as they walked down the street away from Buffy’s house. "She might have offered to let us stay." "You aren’t a very perceptive little green man are you?" Spike commented. Michael glanced at him. Spike’s alien jokes still annoyed him, but as his objections only amused Spike Michael was learning to ignore them. "Meaning?" "I make her uncomfortable," Liz said. "She was the same way around Faith." "Liz reminds Buffy of the time she died," Spike clarified. "There wouldn’t be any other Slayers if not for that little incident." They were silent for a moment, considering. "I guess I understand that," Liz allowed. "Think it’ll keep her from helping us?" "Buffy’ll come through," Spike assured them. "She always does." "You sound like you admire her," Liz said, looking at her teacher curiously. Spike snorted in derision, but it was half-hearted. "I know what she’s capable of. Let’s leave it at that." The last bit carried a note of warning. Liz, though curious, let it lie. Michael shrugged, not curious in the least. "Well, the crypt I used to stay in is free. Room if you want it." He knew they wouldn’t, but it was the ‘polite’ thing to do. "Er, thanks. We’ll make other arrangements." They parted company and Liz and Michael made their way to a rooming house that Michael had noticed earlier. ********************************************************************** They got one room, much to the delight of the little pervert behind the desk who winked at Michael and gave Liz a lewd glance. Michael was hard pressed not to knock the guy’s head off. One room was all they could afford. There was some confusion over the sleeping arrangements, but Liz, practical as always, insisted they share the bed. They were there on business and both involved with someone else. "I won’t tell if you won’t," she assured him. Both slept in their clothes. ********************************************************************** The Magic Box wasn’t that hard to find. Such a place would have stood out in Roswell like a sore thumb, but somehow it seemed to fit right in in Sunnydale. Or at least no one seemed to find it strange. There were stranger things, Liz supposed, than magic shops which sold actual magical talismans, books, and ingredients for spells, but she couldn’t think of one at the moment. Aliens like the one walking next to her seemed quite commonplace. Michael pushed open the door and walked in. "Hello?" "Back here," they heard Rupert Giles call to them. They made their way to a table piled high with books, some open, some merely marked with slips of paper containing the Watcher’s scribbled notes. "Ah good, you’re both here." He moved about the table reading from various volumes and scribbling new notes on a pad he carried. "I have good news and bad news." He didn’t glance up at them as he continued to circle. "Where are the others?" Liz asked, not taking the bait. To be fair, she realized, it probably wasn’t bait as it would have been if Spike had greeted them with those words. "Buffy called a short while ago. She’s bringing Dawn with her, as their mother has to work. It takes a little more time to get organized with Dawn along." He sighed as something occurred to him. "She’ll probably be staying here while Buffy tends to this matter." He set that evidently distressing thought aside and focused on something in one of his books. "Um, Xander is usually tardy to research sessions, the, ah, ‘book thing’ not being his forte. He is fetching donuts, however. The other’s are gathering additional research material." "Good," Michael said, deadpan, "cause you sure don’t have enough here." Giles ignored him. "Spike should be along soon." He looked toward the door. "He doesn’t need an invitation does he?" "Sadly no. The shop is a public place, not someone’s home." He straightened and looked at them keenly. "Do you mind a question?" Liz nodded for him to continue. "Why Spike?" "He volunteered, and it was a choice between him or someone from the Watcher’s Council." Liz shuddered as Faith’s memories of her dealings with the Council came unbidden to her mind’s eye. "Knowing what I do of the Council I thought Spike was the better choice." "For as long as he hangs around anyway," Michael amended. "That Angel guy predicted he’d get bored pretty quick." "Yes," Giles pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, a delaying tactic Liz realized while he organized his thoughts. "Spike’s attention span is notoriously short. I’m curious though, precisely what do you know of the Council? You’ve never had any direct dealings with anyone of the Council except Wesley," he said the name with some distaste, and Liz wondered at the cause of the conflict there. "What precisely did he tell you that has so set you against them?" Liz and Michael exchanged inscrutable looks. Finally, Liz asked hesitantly, "How much did he tell you about me? Or about what happened that night?" "Only that a new Slayer had been called when Faith died. Rather unusual that you would be right there, unprecedented in fact." His visitors exchanged another unreadable look. "I take it I’m missing part of the story." ********************************************************************** "Faith is alive!?" Buffy didn’t know whether to be angry or relieved. The surge of relief puzzled her greatly considering her history with the rogue Slayer. "Why weren’t we told about this?" She shot a look at Xander who shrugged helplessly. "He didn’t know," Liz assured them. "It didn’t come up, and I assumed you knew." She glanced around the group. "Wesley didn’t tell you?" "No," Buffy said shortly. "He didn’t." "Maybe he decided the fewer people who knew, the better," Michael offered. "The Council might still want Faith dead if they knew." Buffy nodded reluctantly but still didn’t look happy. "Y-yes," Giles agreed. "That does make sense, but setting that aside for the moment, how did you learn so much about the Council?" "Or about us?" Riley put in, taking the opportunity to satisfy his curiosity. "You recognized me last night. How?" "I was just getting to that," Liz assured them. She continued the interrupted story, winning puzzled and incredulous looks from all but Buffy who nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, the same thing happened between me and Faith once, after I stabbed her." "I remember," Liz nodded. "Well, sort of." "Faith gave you all of her memories?" "She thought she was dying, yeah. I’m not sure how she did it, but she did. She couldn’t believe it when Max revived her." She had stuck with Wesley’s CPR explanation that had gone over so well with Max’s parents. There was no need for the Sunnydale group to know everything. "By then though she’d been dead just long enough for… you know." "Yeah," Buffy nodded, almost sympathetically. "I know. So, where is Faith now?" "Prison. She surrendered to Sheriff Valenti as soon as she got the idea. Tell the Council she’s dead, and she could safely go to prison. The sheriff was able to work out the details with a detective Lockley in Los Angeles and things were handled quietly." Liz picked up her story again and told them how Wesley had promised to conceal her from the Council and how Spike had become her Watcher. "I can understand you not wanting to have anything to do with the Council, what with Faith’s memories," Buffy allowed. "Yeah," Xander agreed. "She didn’t have a whole lot of positive experiences with them." Liz told them the rest, including her encounter with Angel, and a brief recounting of their fight with the vampire Cole and his army. "Wow, that was… bad." Tara finished lamely. Even latecomer Spike looked grim as that part of their story was recounted; though Liz knew that the vampire had actually enjoyed the battle immensely. "It’s something I’d rather not have to do again," she agreed. "But we do have a new crisis to deal with. Not to be to obvious about changing the subject, but perhaps we can get on with that?" "Quite, let’s begin." All eyes turned to Giles. "Dev, Devi, Devarri, he seems to go by several names. Or at least he was worshipped under several names. I believe I’ve discovered the method by which these ‘Skins’ intend to bring him forth. According to an old legend it was tried once before. It involved crafting the image of what was desired. In this case that meant an image of the demon passing through a gateway into our world. When complete, the image would ‘be realized’ according to the texts, and Devarri would be able to pass through into our plane of existence. Apparently, before the ritual could be completed, the temple of the cult attempting to bring him forth was attacked and the image shattered. The pieces of the image were deliberately scattered across the world." "Sort of like what happened to the Judge?" Willow asked. "Exactly. As you remember, when the pieces of the Judge were reassembled the demon came to life. If what I have learned is accurate, when the image of Devarri passing through the gate is completed, and the ritual is performed, Devarri will be free to walk the Earth. I’ve researched other legends associated with this demon and determined that that is something we should like to avoid." "So where do we begin?" Liz asked. "The Skins blend in pretty well. All we know is that they’re gonna need pieces of this demon to bring him here. Do we have any idea where some of those pieces are?" "Well no," Giles admitted. "This happened almost two thousand years ago, so our sources are somewhat limited. Records from that period tend to be fragmentary at best." He adjusted his glasses. "Which brings us to another problem, the ah, bad news I mentioned earlier. I’ve been unable to find anything on these ‘Skins’. There is no type of demon that matches your description of their abilities and weaknesses." Liz and Michael exchanged nervous looks. "Well, no you wouldn’t," Spike spoke up. "They’re not local." He didn’t elaborate even when Giles gestured for him to continue. Finally he asked. "What does that mean?" "They’re aliens," Dawn said matter-of-factly from her chair in the corner, where she was leafing though one of the books of mug shots. "Dawn, please," Buffy said admonishingly without glancing at her, but Liz looked at her curiously and spoke up. "She’s right." Dawn shrugged as the others traded stunned looks. "How’d you know?" "Giles couldn’t find anything on them. That’s new. Besides… Roswell. 2+2." "You mean the Skins really are aliens?" Tara asked skeptically. Liz and Michael nodded reluctantly. "Oh, perfect," Giles tone grew sarcastic. "I’m so glad you didn’t mention that before I spent half the night searching my books for information about them." Buffy looked at Xander and Anya. "Did you know about this?" Both nodded reluctantly. "It was something they didn’t like talking about." He glanced at the two from Roswell. "I kinda got the impression that the fewer people who know the better." Michael nodded. "Definitely," Liz confirmed. "It’s a long, complicated story, and the fewer people who know the details the better. No offense." "Bad things tend to happen when the wrong people find out," Michael elaborated. "Better not to talk about it." Giles polished his glasses, looking uncomfortable. The young man’s tone spoke volumes about how much he didn’t want to talk about it. Giles’ irritation evaporated. "Well, ah, lets move on then. The Skins will be bringing the pieces here. If we find them we find the pieces. That’s what we need to focus on. We do know that they need the energy put out by the Hellmouth to accomplish it though. So they will be here." He looked up at Liz, a thought occurring to him. "You’ve already seen that, having found part of that, ah, husk." Liz nodded, frowning. "True. So we start by looking for newcomers in town?" "Good start," Buffy nodded. "Willie will know about anything new and different in the demon community." "They look human," Liz reminded her. "They can blend a lot more easily than your average slime demon." "True, but for something like this, I’m betting they’ll need contacts in low places. We’ll go check out Willie’s Place." "I’ll get to some of my old mates," Spike spoke up. "Assuming Buffy hasn’t killed them all." He sounded petulant at the prospect. Buffy just smiled at him sweetly. "Why don’t you check with Harmony? Your old girlfriend has been keeping a low profile." Spike winced. Harmony could be pleasant company under the right circumstances, but talking to her was his least favorite activity. "You left her alive just to annoy me didn’t you?" Buffy rolled her eyes at what she obviously considered a ludicrous notion and turned to leave. Liz and Michael followed. Spike stared after them for a moment, with a look of profound irritation on his face; then he slipped out the back and into the sewers. "I suppose that leaves the rest of us to do research," Giles looked at the remaining members of the group. "Willow, perhaps a check of local motels, new arrivals of large groups and such." "Will can do the computer work, while I do the leg work," Xander volunteered. "Anything I can do?" Dawn asked. "You can help me with the inventory," Anya suggested. "Counting packets of mugwort and conjuring dust. Its hard keeping up with Willow helping herself to stuff for her spells without paying." Willow shot the ex-demon a dirty look and Giles gave a much-put-upon sigh, not wanting to get caught between the two. Xander saw it coming as well and spoke up. "I’ll check some of the motels. I’ll give you a call from the Motor Inn." He beat a hasty retreat, while Giles stared enviously after him. ********************************************************************** "You and Spike seem to be getting along," Buffy observed as they walked. It was a little before noon and they were on their way to Willie’s. "I was… I don’t think surprised is strong enough a word, when I heard about what he was doing." "Spike’s okay," Liz shrugged. "Okay?" Buffy sounded incredulous, remembering Spike and how much trouble he’d caused her even after he had gotten the chip. "Well, you have to make allowances for him being a vampire. He usually has to guess at what the ‘right thing to do’ is, but he’s been a big help." "He’s weird," Michael opined. "He’s always irritating but…" "But," Liz picked up, "he tends to waver between extremes you know? I’ve seen him go from clueless to insightful in seconds." Buffy’s mind flashed back to an incident more than a year before when Spike had kidnapped Willow to do a love spell for him. ‘You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll fight, you’ll shag, you’ll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends.’ Those words had proved to be prophetic as it turned out. Buffy nodded in reluctant agreement. "I’ve seen that too. Kind of creepy." Liz smiled, and all three laughed. "What was that about his girl friend?" Liz asked.
Buffy snickered. "Harmony was a girl I went to high school with. She was very pretty, very popular, and a complete ditz. When I found out she’d been made a vampire I couldn’t believe it. Whoever did it must not have spent any time talking to her. How Spike hooked up with her, how he tolerated her so long without staking her himself, I’ll never know." She glanced at Liz, who was looking at her strangely. "What?" An image flashed through Liz’ mind of Spike looking at the people around him cluelessly and asking, ‘what?’ It almost made her smile. Almost. "Nothing," she demurred. "Sounds like something." After a moment Liz answered. "You knew this girl. Even if you didn’t like her…" she broke off, unsure of how to continue without offending her. An argument was not what they needed. "I guess," Buffy looked down, suddenly feeling ashamed and slightly annoyed because of it. "I guess I sound kind of cold. You’ve never had to stake someone you know have you?" Liz shook her head. "Well I have, too many times. You have to develop a thick skin or you don’t last long as a Slayer. Yeah, I knew Harmony, but she’s dead now and a demon has taken her place. That’s something Spike probably didn’t emphasize with you. When a person becomes a vampire they die, and a demon takes up residence. I don‘t know much about the person Spike was before he was turned, but I know he wasn’t an amoral killer." "So you have to separate the two in your mind?" "Yeah. It’s not easy, but you have to learn to do it." The subject was making Liz uncomfortable, Buffy could see, so she looked at Michael instead. "What’s your story?" Michael shrugged. "Just along for the ride." That was typical of him, Buffy was coming to understand. He kept his answers, when he had to give them, short and uninformative. It was annoying, but she supposed his reticence was understandable, if even half of what she suspected about him were true. "Max asked him to watch out for me," Liz reminded her. "And Max is?" "My boyfriend." "And is he…?" She didn’t finish the statement. She wasn’t sure what had been said or rather implied about aliens, but didn’t want to push them. To the surprise of both women it was Michael who answered. "Just your average green-blooded American alien." When he saw Buffy’s expression he snorted. "Oh come off it, like Xander and Anya didn’t tell you." "Actually, they didn’t, but I suspected as much. Got the impression there was something strange there. I didn’t want to press in front of the group, especially not Dawn. I like to shield her from the weird stuff as much as I can." She grimaced. "Usually doesn’t work. Are you…?" "Yeah. Me too." Buffy considered this and then sighed a tired, world- weary sigh and shook her head in the way of an adult observing a child’s mistakes. This was bringing back bad memories and associations for her. "Dating outside your species is rarely a good idea Liz. Trust me on this." Her suddenly patronizing tone annoyed the other Slayer who spoke up before she could think better of it. "Max doesn’t have Angel’s limitations." Buffy’s head came around sharply, looking at Liz as if the other girl had slapped her. An awkward silence ensued. Buffy regretted her condescending manner toward the ‘rookie’, and Liz regretted reminding Buffy that she knew more about her personal life than Buffy was comfortable with. The genial rapport that had begun to develop between them cooled quickly. A word at that point from either of them might have helped, but although both regretted their words, neither could bring herself to take them back, or make any gesture of reconciliation. Michael distanced himself from the two slightly, not wanting to get involved. The silence held until they reached Willie’s Place. "Follow my lead," Buffy said, her tone all business, before pushing the door open. Willie looked up from the bar when he heard the door open, and a look of resignation crossed his face. The three of them took seats at the bar. "Are you tryin’ to drive me out of business?" he whined. "Good to see you too Willie. What’s new?" "Is this just a fishing trip?" Now he was sounding petulant. He looked at Michael curiously. The alien had his back to the bar and was surveying the room with a pensive look. It wasn’t yet noon, and there were only a few people in the bar, but those who were there… "Buffy?" He spotted three vampires and two creatures he couldn’t identify. "I know. Lots of demons hang out here. Just keep an eye on them." She turned her attention back to Willie who was running her eyes over Liz with a lascivious gleam. "So Slayer, who’s your friend?" Liz grabbed his hair and brought his head into sudden contact with the bar. "Oh. So Faith finally kicked off huh? Sorry!" He hastened as Liz reached for him again. "No disrespect intended." "I’m sure," Buffy said dryly. "We’re looking for some people." She decided to get straight to business. "A new group in town. They look human, but they would be wanting to make some connections in the underground." "What do they want?" When Buffy hesitated, Liz spoke up. "They’re looking to release an ancient war god." Liz ignored the admonishing glance Buffy gave her. No doubt, Liz decided, Buffy was worried about the bartender selling them out. She could fix that. "You know," she continued, ignoring Buffy. "The type that smashes people and buildings just cause they’re in front of him. Wrecks the place, never pays his tab. Not good for business at all." Willie went from looking crafty to concerned in under a second. "I seen that type," he shuddered obviously remembering some of the more destructive demons and monsters who had come through town. "Um, let me think." He concentrated for a moment. "Maybe I heard something about some new group in town, but nothing definite. There’s a guy comin’ in in a bit who can tell you more." He looked up as the door opened again. "Oh, there he is now. Wait here." He admonished and moved slightly away. "Be ready to stop this guy if he runs," Buffy muttered. Then she glanced at Liz. "Nicely done by the way." The admission was a bit grudging, and Liz just nodded. They watched Willie remove a brown paper bag from the refrigerator and set it on the bar. The potential informant proved to be a skinny, nondescript man in his twenties. Unkempt brown hair and two days worth of beard framed a very forgettable face. He leaned forward and sniffed at the bag. Liz listened in. "I got what you need right here my friend. Wasn’t easy either. You got the money?" The man nodded and reached a pale shaking hand into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. "I know how hungry you’ve been. Hope this does the trick for ya." The man looked at him suspiciously. "What do you mean? What do you know?" "I just heard that your hunger got the better of you the other night. Didn’t go quite as planned though did it?" "That’s none of your business," the man snapped. "Not like she was Human anyway." He made a disgusted face that quickly collapsed. "I just got so hungry," he mumbled, looking shamefaced. "I ain’t had a Human in over a year." "Hey kid this ain’t people-eaters anonymous." Willie held up a hand to forestall any further conversation. "Actually I am interested in whether that one was alone. Whether there were others like her. "Others?" "Others, same type of demon, maybe they’re traveling in a group?" The stranger looked thoughtful for a moment. He hadn’t yet given Willie the money. "What’s it worth to you?" He drew the cash back. Willie looked stricken. "Oh, don’t do that to me kid. You know how hard this was to get?" He gestured at the bag. "It costs too. I’m not makin’ a dime off of this deal." Buffy rather doubted that, but the conversation was starting to bore her, and she decided it was time to step in. "Actually, the information is for me." She approached the stranger confidently, with Liz and Michael close behind. "Who are you?" he asked, taking an involuntary step back. "I’m Buffy." "Oh," he actually seemed to relax. "The Slayer. What’s that to me?" "I don’t limit myself to killing vampires you know." She got to within two feet of him, trying to intimidate him. Liz suspected that with her reputation in the demon community it normally worked, but he had stopped retreating. "Uh-huh," now he was starting to sound annoyed. Turning his head slightly, and looking at the bag, he opened his mouth. Snake quick something emerged from his mouth, passing within inches of Buffy’s face. The long thin tube of a tongue, tipped with a razor sharp point, punched through the bag and, judging by the sound, Liz realized, through something much tougher inside it. There was a slurping sound and the tongue was retracted a second later. "What’s that to me?" he asked again after swallowing his meal. He tossed the wad of bills to Willie who made them disappear with a speed and skill Houdini would have envied. "Do I want to know what’s in that bag?" Michael asked, looking a trifle green. Willie shook his head. Buffy had barely flinched. Liz wasn’t sure whether that indicated excellent control or a complete lack of it. She did know that it was time to change tactics before something pointlessly violent happened. Buffy quickly recovered her mental balance, but before she could decide how to react Liz stepped forward. "Let’s not get off on the wrong foot. I’m Liz." She held out a hand while not so subtly coming between the two. He looked at her suspiciously for a second, then shook hesitantly. Whoever she was, she obviously annoyed the Slayer. That alone got her points in his book. "I’m Jack." "Look Jack. It seems like you don’t want to hurt anyone. I mean you said it’d been over a year since you attacked a Human." Jack nodded. "I don’t want to hurt people, but…" He stopped himself, eyeing Buffy warily. "You get hungry for Human? I think I can understand cravings. Who can’t?" She could barely believe she was saying this. This creature was a killer. Slayers were supposed to fight such things, but she couldn’t get past the tortured look on his face and his apparent desire for understanding, perhaps even sympathy. Well, I need to know what he knows, so it can’t hurt. Jack was nodding hesitantly. "I can eat other things, things people don’t object to." "The other night you had a problem though, didn’t you?" she asked sympathetically. He suddenly looked horribly guilty. His quicksilver mood changes were confusing to follow, but Liz kept the friendly, sympathetic look on her face. "I didn’t mean to, really. I wanted to walk away, but… well she wasn’t Human anyway, and I didn’t spot any difference before I tried to feed. She wasn’t Human so…" "No harm done," Liz assured him. "Did this woman… did she… explode?" "Yeah," Jack looked surprised. "She just went poof. At first I thought I’d got a vampire by mistake, but…" He broke off, searching for a way to describe the experience. "Skin flakes?" Liz ventured. He nodded. "How’d you know?" "I’ve met them before. They’re up to something that could hurt a lot of people Jack. They need to be stopped. Anything you could tell us would help." Jack considered. "She was staying at the Holiday Inn. I remember ‘cause I saw a sign there about a convention of some kind, the Universal Friendship League, kind of creepy sounding." Liz blinked in surprise. "Wow, I didn’t think it would be that easy." She smiled at him with honest gratitude. "Thanks Jack." She gestured to the others. "Come on guys. Lets go." Once out on the street Buffy looked at Liz incredulously. "What was that about?" "Threatening him just made him angry," Liz pointed out. "He could have easily killed you just now. I decided to try a different approach." "He’s a demon," Buffy said angrily. "So’s Spike. I noticed you didn’t kill him." "Spike’s helpless." "And Jack’s harmless. Or at least he’s trying to be. You saw the money he laid out for a meal that wasn’t Human. Anyway, we have the information. Let’s check it out." Buffy had to agree with that. The momentary irritation passed as they made their way to the hotel. Sure enough there was a sign there welcoming the members of the Universal Friendship League. Liz walked past it, looking away from the hotel. "I might be recognized. We should set up surveillance and watch for the people from Copper Summit." "Sounds good. Let’s call in." ********************************************************************** "I got some of the pictures from Whitaker’s campaign," Willow said turning away from her laptop computer and showing them the pictures on the screen. They had gathered back at the magic shop after looking over the Holiday Inn from a distance. Liz hadn’t wanted to take the chance of being spotted and recognized. The pictures showed not only Whitaker, but some of her ‘family’ as well. Liz recognized one of the faces. "Whitaker’s mother. She was at Copper Summit." She looked at Willow. "What about the League? Their website…" "Is heavily encrypted. It’ll take time to crack it. There’s basic information there, a civic organization, yada, yada yada. A lot of public image stuff, but nothing of any use to anyone. I haven’t been able to log on as a member yet." "I’m not sure it would help anyway," Michael said. "I don’t think they’d post invasion plans no matter how good their firewall is." "Probably not," Willow admitted sheepishly. "It doesn’t matter anyway," Michael groused. "We know where they are, and what they’re doing." "So lets go break some heads," Spike enthused. "I need a good brawl." "Have you forgotten what Whitaker did to that vampire in Roswell?" Liz asked. "We need to do this carefully. Willow, what about the guest list from the hotel?" "Got it. Betty Whitaker is there, but not Vanessa Whitaker." "She may be using an alias to keep from being noticed," Riley offered. ‘A U.S. congresswoman might attract attention." He shook his head. "An alien in Congress. That’s disturbing." "Tell me about it," Liz sympathized. "Let’s just deal with it." She looked around at the full assembly. Xander was the only one missing. He was watching the hotel from a diner across the street. He had reported in a few minutes before to let them know that Whitaker had just arrived. She’d been carrying a large package. "What now?" Riley asked. "Do we bust in and take them out?" Buffy smiled. "Simple. Direct. I like it." Liz shook her head. "They have some pretty lethal powers and we’re not sure how many of them there are." She considered for a moment. "What about check in times? They probably arrived in a big group." Willow nodded thoughtfully and called up the necessary page. Compared to getting past the League’s security, looking at the register for the Holiday Inn in Sunnydale was easy. "Okay. Here it is. There’s no list of people associated with the League, but a big group did check in a couple of days ago. Looks like about eight people in a group. I’m betting there’s more cause, like this is their only chance, I’d think all of them would show up." "Good bet," Liz nodded. "So how about we watch them? I doubt they’re doing whatever ritual they need in the hotel." "Probably not," Giles agreed. "They would need a fairly elaborate arrangement of mystical symbols and apparatus for focusing the energies necessary for the ritual." "So we watch ‘em," Spike summarized. "Find out how many there are, then make plans based on that. Then we follow them to where they’re doin’ the mojo and break some heads." "That’s the plan." Liz confirmed. "Sounds good to me," Buffy agreed, although her tone suggested it was a grudging admission. "Xander will let us know when they leave. We should be ready." ********************************************************************** "There she is. Betty Whitaker." Riley’s voice came clearly over the radio. "There’s a fairly large group getting ready to move out." He paused for a moment. "I count ten." "They’re not even trying to be subtle," Buffy remarked from the back seat of Giles’ car. "Why should they?" Michael asked rhetorically. "They’re just members of a civic group heading off to a perfectly legal and harmless meeting." "Yeah, well lets go bust up this legal and harmless meeting. Follow at a safe distance Giles. We don’t want to be spotted." They waited until the last of the group of three cars pulled out of the hotel parking lot. It was shortly after sunset and the entire group was assembled. Giles, Buffy, Michael, and Willow waited in the convertible a block away. Riley, Spike, Liz and Xander waited in Riley’s car a half-mile down the road. Spike was grousing over the close quarters, and neither Xander nor Riley was happy with them either. "Let’s get this over with," the ex-soldier said between clenched teeth, barely holding on to his temper. "Amen," the vampire responded fervently. "Focus Spike. We need to work together." Liz repressed a sigh of frustration. She was getting tired of diffusing arguments between her Watcher and the Sunnydale group. It was an extra aggravation she could have easily done without. Spike started some of the arguments, but he was by no means the only one to blame for the friction. They resented his presence and, to an extent, hers. The sooner they were done and on their way home, the happier everyone would be. She wasn’t prepared to rush things though. With an effort, she suppressed her irritation and followed her own admonition. She focused on their immediate goal. They did have one advantage. The Skins had no idea that they were there. Not expecting trouble of any sort, they had chosen to ‘hide in plain sight.’ They weren’t making any effort to conceal what they were doing. They didn’t feel any need. Following them to a rented building on the East Side of town was easy. The Skins parked in the lot and went inside, all in plain view of anyone who happened by. At Liz’s direction, Giles parked in the next block and Riley joined them a few moments later. They made their way back to the building, being wary of sentries. It didn’t seem likely that they would be that overconfident. Spike spotted the first one. "Got him. South-east corner." It took 20 minutes of careful maneuvering, but they found the rest. There were four in all. Three were very well hidden. The last was trying to look like an ordinary jogger making circuits around the block where the building was located. Either he didn’t know or didn’t care that nighttime joggers in Sunnydale were rare. "One for each of us," Spike grinned at Liz, Buffy, and Michael. "Lets do it." They spread out and found their targets. They started a silent count and moved in simultaneously. Buffy thought it was a bit much and had said so, but she went along with the plan. After all, Liz knew these people and what they were capable of. She didn’t. Though she realized it was petty and a little irrational, some part of her resented that. She found, to her honest surprise, that she didn’t like having to follow someone else’s lead. This time she wasn’t the one with the plan, the one making the decisions. She didn’t like it. Suddenly, Buffy was seeing a part of herself that she wasn’t terribly proud of. When the current crisis was past, she would have to take a long hard look at how she’d handled this meeting with Liz. When it was in the past. Pushing it all to the back of her mind for the time she moved into position and waited for the count to reach zero. The balding, pudgy man dressed in jogging sweats didn’t make a sound when Buffy drove her fist into the spot Liz had shown her. She quickly retreated into the shadows as the remains of the husk fluttered to the ground. There was no reaction from the building. The windows remained dark and no hint of movement was revealed at any of those windows. Time to move in. There was no alarm on the window. Spike checked the corners of the room for motion detectors. They were there but inactive. He moved into the corridor after listening at the door for indication of movement. Michael nodded to Spike as he completed his circuit of the ground floor hallway and met the vampire near the basement stairs. It was a fairly simple layout. There were several offices and storerooms along the outer edge of the building. Each one opened onto the same inner hallway that skirted the edge of a large central room that was used for whatever function the current renters were organizing. The central room was empty. That only left one place the Skins could be. The basement was, if anything, more expansive than the central room, having been designed to accommodate big trucks bringing in all manner of supplies and equipment. They had seen from outside that the vehicle entrance was closed off securely to prevent casual intrusion by Sunnydale’s small homeless population or by demons of any sort. That entrance would have been too obvious anyway Michael realized as he silently greeted the others. Giles looked in at the group and nodded before withdrawing. He, Willow, Tara, Xander, and Riley had agreed to take up positions outside the building to watch for any Skins trying to leave. No, the truck entrance was undoubtedly being watched. Liz glanced at her watch and Michael did the same. Two minutes had passed since they had killed the guards. Liz nodded toward the door. Michael placed a hand over the locking mechanism and concentrated. A moment later, the push bar moved and the door to the stairwell swung open. After listening for a moment he turned and motioned to the others. "Ready?" They all nodded. He eased through and descended the stairs as quietly as possible. Spike, the last through, quietly closed the door. At the bottom of the stairs they paused and listened. There were voices, but they were muffled, distant. Carefully opening the door, Michael looked out and saw that they were in a service corridor. The voices came from the right, at the far end of the corridor. Buffy moved to the fore and edged her way to the end of the corridor. The scene in the room made her stop. She gestured to the others and, one by one, they each took a look. There were almost twenty of them. A geeky looking teenage boy was giving the orders. He was fairly ordinary looking except for the chain he wore about his neck, a chain with a carved stone face hanging from it. It made for a decidedly ugly piece of jewelry. The Skins were busily opening boxes and unwrapping parcels. Against one wall a stone framework of sorts had been assembled. Some of the stone used seemed to be very old, perhaps parts of the original bas- relief. Others had clearly been shaped recently. The Skins were using their powers to merge the old and new pieces together. Where the original pieces met, however, this wasn’t necessary. The image of Devarri himself was nearly complete. As they watched, a large piece of torso was fit into the scene like a missing puzzle piece. The edges of the once shattered pieces immediately fused together. All that was lacking now was part of the left leg, the right hand, and the head. Most of the body appeared to be original material, badly scarred in some places, but original. The few pieces of Devarri’s actual body that were not original were plainly visible as a creeping, inky blackness slowly covered the gray stone, turning the granite to something that looked like obsidian. Buffy suspected that this need of ‘new material’ was the only reason that the job had not been completed already. The Skins were efficient she had to admit. Even as she watched, cracks and chips were repaired with shaped stone that began to blacken almost immediately, corrupted she supposed. At a table in another part of the room the final pieces were being unwrapped or shaped. Buffy drew back quickly preparing a plan even as she focused on them. The odds were very heavily against them, so a frontal assault was far too dangerous, likewise just smashing it and running wasn’t an option either. They needed an advantage. Spike held up a hand to stop her. She looked at him impatiently, but he grinned and, with a slight flourish, pointed to the fuse box on the wall. He pointed to himself, then the box, and then to Michael. Buffy looked on in confusion as he made an odd gesture with hand outstretched palm facing away and then made a face, an almost comical imitation of Devarri’s twisted countenance. Michael nodded, apparently understanding. Spike pointed at Liz, Buffy, and at himself again and mimed a few punches. Liz nodded and moved toward the entrance behind Michael as he took up position. Buffy didn’t like it, but she had to admit that she didn’t have any better ideas. It was close to suicide, but it was their best chance. Michael held up three fingers and began counting down. Three fingers, two fingers, one. The lights went out and there was a small explosion from the far end of the room where Devarri was being assembled. Immediate chaos. There was confused babbling, shouted but barely heard orders and rising above it all was an inhuman howl of rage. Into this confusion came four new shapes, moving through the darkness with deadly purpose and efficiency. A few seconds passed before any of the Skins realized there were enemies among them. Suddenly the room was full of light that was nearly blinding despite its apparent lack of a source. The two Slayers and the vampire squinted against the glare but kept moving, never giving the Skins a chance to focus on them. Surrounded by enemies, staying in constant and violent motion was their best bet. Michael was the most caught off guard, but Liz had been keeping a close eye on him and quickly killed the first Skin to threaten him. "Keep moving," she hissed as she delivered an uppercut to a man trying to draw a bead on Spike. There were too many of them. They had injured or killed several of them, but the light was a serious problem and there was no ready solution. Buffy was the first to fall, hurled against a wall as by an unseen giant. Michael attempted to reach her, but neglected his own defense to do so and was overwhelmed. "Sop now or we kill them!" Liz looked to see the teenager with what she realized was Devarri’s head on a chain standing over her unconscious friends. "Keep fighting!" Spike shouted, taking advantage of the distraction the Skin’s leader had caused to kill another. "They’ll die anyway if he gets loose." He didn’t get a chance to say more as a small crate was hurled across the room and impacted with his head. Distracted by her teacher’s fall, Liz held position long enough for one of the aliens to throw her against a wall, just as Buffy had been thrown. "Do not kill them!" a loud rasping voice commanded. The Skins obeyed and quickly moved in to bind them. The teenager came forward, bearing Devarri. It was the head itself that had spoken. "I want the pleasure of killing them myself." Liz stared in amazement at the stone head. "Nicholas, set a guard on them and put the rest to work repairing the damage they have done. "They will die by my own talons." Nicholas turned away from them, taking Devarri out of view for a moment. He quickly gave orders and then turned back. "Well," the head hissed as it’s burning eyes swept over them. "A Slayer… No, two Slayers and a vampire." It’s attention, something Liz could actually feel, though she didn’t understand how, turned to Michael. "And you. I do not know your kind, but be assured I will grind them under my heel for this offense." "That’ll be a neat trick," Buffy observed, eyeing the disembodied head. Nicholas kicked her in the face. "Silence!" Liz’ attention was fixed on the rest of Devarri. Michael’s blast had done a lot of damage. Most of the torso was scattered across the floor and a long, wide crack ran down the only complete leg. Good aim, she acknowledged. Several people were already at work with brooms sweeping up their lord and master. She couldn’t repress a snicker. "Laugh while you may Slayer," Devarri hissed. "Soon I will be whole." Devarri didn’t bother making threats. Instead he had Nicholas pitch in to reassemble the image. It would take a while, but they would finish it before the night was out. Speaking of ‘out’… Spike was unconscious. Liz had no idea how long it would take him to recover. Vampires healed quickly, but time was running out, and the odds were against them. She counted 12. There were seven piles of dust on the floor, testament to the group’s reduced numbers, but they were still badly outnumbered. Whatever else they were though, the Skins weren’t competent knot makers. The ropes were tight, but they weren’t staying that way. Liz knew she could get loose, but at the moment there wasn’t any point. Five of the Skins stood guard over them, and she knew enough of their powers to know that there wasn’t time to get free and finish them before one of them killed her. The only bright spot, and that was debatable, was that Spike was starting to come around. "Oh, bloody hell!" "Welcome back," Michael sulked. Spike glanced around the room and scowled. "I woke up for this?" The Skin set to guard him glared and moved to kick him. Spike leaned to one side and the sneaker shod foot struck the stone wall. It’s owner howled and cursed while holding his foot. The others laughed despite themselves, but a curt word from Nicholas silenced them. "I told you to watch them, nothing more." Subdued, the guards glared sullenly at their prisoners, blaming them for the reprimand. Terrific, Liz thought irritably looking around for any opportunity or distraction. Nothing presented itself until the room started to fill with fog. Fog? Liz didn’t stop to question it. The fog rapidly spread and she had her distraction. Quickly freeing herself she prepared to attack, but before she could make her move there was a movement near the truck entrance. "Fire in the hole!" Riley yelled and something rolled into the room to stop near what was left of Devarri’s portal to Earth. "NO!" Devarri howled, seeing the object and apparently recognizing it. Determined as he was to preserve his gateway however he couldn’t keep Nicholas from going the other way. Liz threw herself flat, yelling for the others to do the same. The grenade shattered the image and sent stone shrapnel across the room. The prisoners were pelted with bits of stone, but were protected somewhat by their distance from the blast. The Skins weren’t so fortunate. Three members of the group closest to the blast had their husks shredded and vanished completely. Buffy, Liz, Michael, and Spike were up before the dust settled and wading into the survivors. The fog was as much a mystery to them as it was to the Skins, but they didn’t stop to wonder, they just kept moving, taking advantage of the cover. The woman in front of Liz exploded and Xander was suddenly there wielding a crowbar. She caught a glimpse of Willow and Tara near the truck entrance holding small bowls from which the fog literally poured. Liz couldn’t take time to be amazed; there were still seven Skins. Nicholas, unfortunately, had not been one of those killed in the blast. The remaining Skins began to rally to him, and their combined powers forced the Slayers and their friends back. Buffy was on the verge of calling for a retreat. It was getting too dangerous. At her gesture they began to retreat. A call to Willow, and the fog began to thicken, hiding them from view. "No!! You will not escape me that easily!" Devarri roared, and even through the fog they could see the stone eyes glowing. "This is bad right?" Buffy asked of Giles as they turned to run for the entrance, hoping the fog would cover their retreat. In the fog ahead of them, she heard Willow scream. "Will!" Buffy was by her friend’s side even as two bowls hit the ground. When they shattered the fog began to settle and clear. There was something holding Willow and Tara against the wall, something vaguely reptilian with vicious talons, currently moving toward the witches’ throats. "Devarri’s critters," Michael yelled and focused a blast back toward a shield of some sort that had been raised against him. The shield was advancing towards them with the Skins right behind it. Whatever it was, it was absorbing Michael’s best efforts. The only good thing about it seemed to be that it worked both ways. The Skins couldn’t actively attack them while the shield was raised. He chanced a glance over his shoulder and saw Liz and the others fighting for their lives against Devarri’s minions, the same type of demons that had attacked them on the road back from Copper Summit. Glancing back toward the Skins, he saw that the shield was steadily advancing. With a supreme effort of will he forced it back, but was unable to do more. He couldn’t breach it. A scream drew his attention and his head whipped around. Liz was down, one of the creatures straddling her. Something like a strong static charge caused him to cry out and convulse in pain. A quick glance back showed him the shield was advancing again, and he staggered away from it, giving up valuable fighting room. The demon’s sharp talons descended toward Liz. A shield that shocked and burned anyone who touched it advanced steadily, cutting them off from any retreat. The smug, superior look on Nicholas’ face as he met Michael’s eyes. That look. Memory. Not from his current life, but the one before. He knew that look even if the face that went with it had changed, and it made him angry. Connection. The connection was not with another person, but with something deep inside himself; something he’d never even suspected was there. A switch was thrown. A circuit closed. A floodgate opened. No single metaphor seemed to work, but the power he had feared for weeks after Pierce’s death suddenly poured from him, as it never had before. Liz managed to catch the descending arm, keeping the claws from her throat but she was still at a terrible disadvantage. In an attempt to throw the creature off she twisted the arm she held and bucked. The arm came away and the weight vanished with an abruptness that amazed her. She was on her feet and looking for a new enemy at once. There were none to be found. Turning a quick 360 failed to find her an opponent. She repeated the turn more slowly, wondering what had happened. The others were all there, and apparently just as baffled as she. Buffy was holding a fighting stance while pivoting on her heel. She looked as bewildered as Liz felt. Giles, Riley, Xander, Willow, Tara, and Spike all looked equally mystified. "What the hell was that?" Spike finally asked. "Huh?" Riley asked looking at the vampire in confusion. "What d’you mean, ‘huh?’ That… that wave. Something passed over us and suddenly no more bad guys." "Wave?" Xander asked. "I didn’t notice any-" "He’s right," Willow spoke up. "There was a wave. Felt kinda magicy, but not quite." She stopped and stared. First Liz, and then the others turned to see what she was looking at. Michael knelt in the midst of slowly settling cloud of skin flakes, which was all that remained of Nicholas and his followers. He wore a stunned expression and didn’t respond at first when Liz spoke to him. She placed a hand on his shoulder as she knelt next to him and tried again. "Michael? What happened?" His mouth opened and closed silently for a moment before answering. "I did." "Would you care to explain that?" Giles blinked owlishly at him. Michael didn’t respond. He just looked down at his hands, turning them over and over. "Michael?" "I killed them all." Spike snorted. "Well that was the idea," he said condescendingly. Michael finally glanced up, a flash of irritation penetrating the shock. "Not like that." He looked around at the others as Liz helped him to his feet. "Why are you still alive?" The Sunnydale group exchanged startled glances and a moment passed before Riley ventured a guess. "You weren’t aiming for us?" Michael let out a short, harsh bark. No one mistook it for laughter. "Aim? I didn’t aim." Riley didn’t know how to respond to that. So he asked the question Michael himself had asked. "So why are we still alive? Why weren’t we affected?" Buffy stepped forward hesitantly. "What did you do?" "Three questions," he muttered darkly. "Same answer. I don’t know." Looks were exchanged again. "What do you mean you-" "I mean I don’t know!" He yelled. "I don’t know what that was or why you weren’t affected. I don’t know!" The silence that ensued was profound. Even Spike kept his mouth shut. Finally, Michael shook his head, calming down slightly. "It’s Pierce all over again." "Who is Pierce?" Giles asked. Michael ignored him and walked out of the building. Giles looked at Liz for answers. "He was… a man that Michael accidentally killed. Pierce was trying to kill us at the time. Michael was the only one in a position to stop him, but he didn’t intend to kill him." "He lost control," Giles interpreted. Liz nodded. "It really tore him up. He avoided everyone for days after it happened. It took weeks of intensive training before he would trust himself to be around anyone he cared about." She looked after him, not prepared to follow yet. "I should go after him. I know how this will affect him." She looked around at the others. "Could you take care of the… um, cleanup? I should go..." she gestured vaguely in the direction her friend had gone. She looked to Buffy who nodded and took off to find Michael. Buffy watched the other Slayer go not sure what to do. There was too much about them that she didn’t know and couldn’t even begin to guess at. She turned her attention to what was left of the Skins and Devarri. There was nothing left of the Skins and the stone of the gateway was melted. Melted?! The thought was tinged with alarm. What the hell did he do? One of their enemies had survived, after a fashion. The image of Devarri’s face carved in stone stared up at them. The chain had been reduced to slag, but somehow the face had survived with only a crack. She didn’t know how, and didn’t care. She brought her heel down hard on the stone face, shattering it. That done she turned to the others, all of whom still looked a bit rattled. "So," she said, a little more loudly than necessary. "What should ‘clean up’ consist of?" "Lots of baggies?" Willow suggested. "To keep the bits apart?" Giles nodded. "Y-yes, that seems appropriate. We can arrange to scatter the pieces via the U.S. postal service and some colleagues of mine in other parts of the world." ********************************************************************** "Michael?" "Go away. It’s not safe." "Michael, don’t do this, not again." He looked back briefly but kept walking. "We need you." "Nobody needs a live grenade Liz." He kept walking. Liz was quiet for a while, not knowing how to respond to that. As analogies went it wasn’t that far off. A grenade. A grenade without a pin. She honestly didn’t know what to tell him, how to reassure him. They walked in silence for a moment before Liz had an idea. She was, after all, one of the few people who could understand his problem. "We’ll work on it together. Don’t you remember how I was when I first became the Slayer? I was afraid. I was afraid all the time that I would lose control and hurt someone. I got over it. I learned to control it. So can you." Finally, he stopped and faced her. She raised a hand to stop the objection she saw coming. "Don’t say it’s different, because it’s not. When I killed Nasedo I freaked. Not just because I’d never killed anyone before, but because I hadn’t intended to kill him. I didn’t even think about it. It was… it was automatic, a reflex I couldn’t control." "So you understand. Great. Doesn’t really help does it? Did it help when I offered you that support?" Liz remembered and couldn’t meet Michael’s eyes. The days after she became the Slayer had been busy ones, but not so busy she didn’t have time to brood over what her life had become. She had distanced herself from everyone, everyone except Spike whom she couldn’t kill accidentally. She had concentrated on solving problems with her mind, not her fists, but the impulse was always there barely suppressed. Michael had seen the signs. He had come to her the day after the slavers had left town. Liz was obsessed with training, gaining control over her reflexes. She tried hard to hide it, but Max knew she was struggling, and so did Michael. He offered to talk about what had happened, reminding her of his own experience with Pierce. Liz hadn’t talked about it. She had shut him out and gone back to training. The next words came hard, but she got them out. "No. It didn’t help me gain control, and I know I was kind of rough with you about that, but it helped to know you were there, that you were willing to help." She stopped, uncertain but continued after a moment, "even if you couldn’t make it better." A deep breath. "I just want you to know that I’m here, the way you were there for me, and I understand if you don’t feel you can accept that." Michael didn’t answer for so long that Liz had almost decided he wouldn’t. Finally he nodded. "Thanks Liz. It helps." Well, Liz reflected, it was more than I said. "I need a little time alone right now. Could I meet you back at the magic shop? Tomorrow morning?" Liz nodded. "Okay. I’ll see you there." She stopped and let him walk on alone. "Michael?" He looked back. "I will won’t I? See you I mean?" He nodded. "I’ll be there. I promise." ********************************************************************** Buffy looked up as Liz entered the basement. She looked at the other Slayer curiously. "Where’s Michael?" "He needs some time alone to think, but he promised to meet at the shop tomorrow. It‘ll take time, but he’ll be okay." Buffy nodded, and started casting about for a neutral subject. "Um, well, we’re just about done here. We’ve got them wrapped up and we’re gonna send them off around the world." Liz nodded absently. "I’ll take a few pieces back with me, dump ‘em along the way. Anything magical you need to do to the pieces?" Buffy shrugged and looked at her Watcher. "Giles?" "No. Why?" "Well," Liz said hesitantly, "not all of the stone in the… whatever, was original. It looked like the original pieces were… corrupting the new stone." "Yeah," Buffy said, remembering the same thing. "The black was spreading from the original stone." "Ah, no, I believe that it was the Hellmouth’s proximity that allowed that to happen. It was part of the reason for performing the raising here. Removed from Sunnydale, the power will fade and it will become ordinary stone, even the, ah, head which seems to have some permanent connection to the demon." "Well the head is in pieces so that’s not a problem. By next week all six pieces will be in six separate time zones. No problem." "Good enough," Liz agreed, somewhat distractedly moving away. Buffy and Giles exchanged worried looks. Buffy followed hesitantly. "Liz? Can we talk? In private?" Liz looked puzzled, but nodded. They made their way outside. Liz watched the other Slayer patiently until Buffy spoke again. "I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I haven’t been very nice to you since you’ve been here. I don’t really know why." Liz shrugged. "Spike said you might have trouble. I mean about having another Slayer around." Buffy shot her an unreadable look. "Oh, he did huh?" "On account of what happened. There wouldn’t be any other Slayers if you hadn’t… well." Buffy’s face cleared. "If it means anything I sort of understand that. I um, kind of died a while back myself. Shot. If Max hadn’t been there… Well I don’t like to think about it." "Oh. Yeah, that’s a part of it. Not all though." Liz had known that, but had decided not to say anything. "You’ve got Faith’s memories, and…" "I know some things about you that the others, your friends don’t?" Buffy nodded. "Faith. Faith did something that no one else has ever done before. I’ve lost fights. I can deal with that, but Faith made me feel like a victim. Thing is… for a long time I blamed myself for what went wrong between Faith and me. I wasn’t exactly welcoming. I didn’t exactly welcome Kendra when she came around either." "You don’t like sharing the spot light," Liz stated baldly. She was tired and worried and not in the mood to be delicate. Well I tried. If she wants it out in the open, we might as well get it there. To her surprise, Buffy didn’t get angry. She stiffened slightly at Liz’s words, but then her shoulders slumped, and she nodded. "One girl in all the world…" she murmured. "You don’t have that distinction anymore. Get over it." Buffy bristled at this, but didn’t argue. "I like to think the world is a little better off for it, Faith not withstanding. Even she’s done her share." Buffy nodded reluctantly. "You’re right, and you did really good tonight. I guess… I guess Spike’s been… a pretty good teacher." Liz laughed softly. Time to lighten the mood. "Wow, was that really as painful as it looked?" That won a weak smile from her Sunnydale counterpart. "He’s come through for me more than once, and he has taught me a lot." She thought a moment. "You know, it wouldn’t hurt though if I spent some time training with someone who could hit back. Normally the only ones who do that are trying to kill me. As a learning experience it’s… lacking." This time Buffy laughed out loud. "We’ll have to do something about that." ********************************************************************** Michael hesitated outside the store. He really wasn’t looking forward to this. "Should’ve told her I’d meet her outside," he muttered. He took a deep breath and shoved open the door. "Liz? You ready to go?" "She’s not here yet." Michael looked around to see Anya behind the counter. She was busily rearranging bottles and jars on the shelves. "I gather you had a late night. Spike is the only one here." She turned from the shelves and caught her first glimpse of him for the day. "Oh. An all nighter huh?" "Not really. When’ll they get in?" Anya shrugged. "I’m not sure. Xander was still sleeping when I came to open the shop. I’m not even sure when he got in. Normally I wait up for him when he’s out fighting evil. I like to make sure there’s no damage…" Michael tuned her out as she started to relate some personal details he really didn’t want to know about. Geez! She babbles more than Maria. Fortunately he was spared the need to comment on anything by the arrival of Liz, Giles, and Buffy. They nodded to Michael and Anya. "Are you all right Michael?" Liz looked at him with concern; a concern that he saw the others shared. What surprised him was that it was concern for him, for his well being. They weren’t afraid for themselves. I suppose I should be touched, he thought morosely. Unfortunately, their attempts to commiserate and be understanding only put them at risk. Nevertheless, he tried to reassure them. Liz was the only one who wouldn’t be reassured, and remembering what she had said the previous night, he could understand that. Spike joined them at some point, but he wisely stayed out of the conversation. They retired to the back room and talked about the details of disposing of Devarri’s remains, and for a time no one spoke or thought about what had happened. Spike quickly grew bored and wandered off to browse in the shop. Things seemed back to normal. Normal being a relative term, Michael brooded, thinking back on the days with the FBI around every corner and a bug in every room almost nostalgically. At some point the phone rang, but it was picked up by Anya who had stayed at the counter. "’Scuse me, Liz?" Liz looked up. "There’s a call from Roswell. Spike’s got it. I think there’s a problem." Liz hurriedly rose and headed for the phone. She arrived in time to see Spike hang up. "Was that Max?" Spike didn’t answer or turn around. "Is something wrong?" Spike turned toward her with an expression on his face quite unlike anything she’d seen before. She glanced at Buffy and Giles who had joined her, but they looked equally puzzled. Spike’s facial muscles seemed to be in conflict, attempting to express several contradictory emotions at once, but having to settle for shifting rapidly from one to another. First astonishment, then anger, then a grin would begin to spread across his face before being replaced by something else. "What happened Spike?" Liz demanded. The grin finally won out and Spike almost doubled over with suppressed laughter. "What’s going on?" Now she was getting irritated. Spike finally gained enough control to answer her. "You think they could manage a couple of days without supervision." He shook his head in mock resignation. "We’ve been here bustin’ our tails, keepin’ the world safe for picnics and puppies…" He paused a moment to give an oddly disbelieving laugh. "Meanwhile, back at the ranch…"