Hey everyone!

I am SO SO SO sorry for not posting all summer- between my job, traveling with my family, and getting ready to go to college, I really just haven't had time. I should be much better about these things during the year- school just gives me more inspiration.

Beta-ed by the lovely bookdragon01.

Disclaimer: Joss is BOSS!

Episode 7, Angel

Part III: Truth

Without thinking, Rachel pulled a stake out of her jacket and sent it flying at Angel. It thudded into the wall barely an inch from the side of Angel's head. He flinched and dropped Mrs. Summers.

Rachel glared coldly at him, her grey eyes flashing. "That was a warning shot." She grabbed another stake out of her sleeve and flipped it in her hand so that it was ready to throw. "I'm only giving you one because I don't want to kill you in front of Buffy. But if you don't leave now, the next one goes in your heart."

Angel's face reverted back to normal. "Rachel, I can explain…"

SSSTHUNK! A stake thudded into the wall on the other side of Angel's head. "Get out. Now."

Buffy's voice shook slightly. "You're not welcome. You come here and we will kill you."

Angel looked at Buffy for a long moment, then tore free of Rachel's grip. Without stopping to look at Rachel, he sprinted for the back door. Rachel watched coldly as he ran off into the night.

Buffy ran over to the corded phone lying on the bureau in the hallway. Her hands shook as she dialed 911 before diving to her mother's side.

Rachel sprinted into the kitchen to grab the first aid kit out of the cabinet. Even though they'd interrupted Angel mid-feed, Mrs. Summers was still losing a lot of blood. Willow had once told her that the human body had around 5 liters of blood in it. She had no idea how much blood Angel had taken, but she knew that every second she delayed decreased the probability that Mrs. Summers would survive.

Rachel fumbled open the first aid kit, going over the steps to stop arterial bleeding in her head. She snapped on a pair of rubber gloves (who knew where Angel's mouth had been!) before unwrapping some gauze and placing it on the wound before pressing down. "Mrs. Summers, it's me, Rachel! Can you hear me?"

Beside her, the words spilled out of Buffy's mouth as she frantically spoke to the 911 operator. "Yes, I need an ambulance, 1630 Revello Drive! My mother cut herself, she lost a lot of blood! My friend's trying to stop the bleeding, she's certified. Please, please hurry!"

She moved to drop the phone, but Rachel shook her head. "Keep the operator on the line! I've got this, Buffy." I hope.

"Buffy! Rachel!" Rachel looked up to see Willow and Xander barrel in through the kitchen door. They skidded to a stop when they saw Rachel and Mrs. Summers. Xander went pale, and Willow's complexion went a tad green. "Oh my God!" gasped Xander.

Willow ran to Buffy and pulled the other girl into a tight hug. "What happened?"

Rachel scowled as she answered. "Angel happened."

XXX

The trip to the hospital was a blur. Rachel could remember the paramedics loading Mrs. Summers onto a stretcher and putting a permanent bandage on the bite. Buffy had refused to leave her mother's side.

Rachel sat quietly in the hallway outside Mrs. Summers' room, knees curled to her chest. Anger stewed within her, but this time, there was a tiny hint of hideous joy - joy over the fact that Buffy was now on her side. That joy made Rachel a little bit sick, for she knew that the attack was nothing good, that she should only be feeling rage and hatred and sympathy for Buffy. But the tactician and fighter in her couldn't help but feel pleased, because the attack on Mrs. Summers had driven Buffy to want Angel dead. And that meant Rachel had an ally.

Buffy walked out of Mrs. Summers' room and slid down the wall to sit next to Rachel, tiredly staring off into space. "Mom thinks she cut herself with a barbecue fork. The doctors say she's going to live. Apparently, Angel got in by saying he was a friend of mine. Mom went to make him a snack, and then…" She shrugged sadly. "Her blood count's a little low, but they're giving her some iron and a few units of O negative."

Rachel grunted in agreement. "They're doing the right thing. Vampire bites can easily be mistaken for mild anemia."

Buffy nodded. "The doctors said that your first aid might have saved her life. I don't know how to thank you enough, Rachel."

Rachel smiled. "There's no need, Buffy."

Buffy laughed humorlessly. "Without you, she'd be dead. And it's my fault."

Rachel shook her head angrily and turned to face Buffy. "No! Buffy, this was not your fault."

Buffy hiccuped slightly. "No? I invited him into my home. Even after I knew who he was, and I didn't do anything about it… 'cause I had feelings for him, because I cared about him." With that, Buffy burst into tears.

Rachel pulled the other girl into her arms and rubbed her back in slow circles, making soothing there-there noises. "Hey, love's blind. It's okay that you fell for him. And I don't think you can change that. I had a crush on a boy my eighth grade year. Turned out to be a complete asshole and transferred in the middle of the semester, but when he came back to visit at the end of the year, I still got the butterflies in my stomach."

Just then, Xander, Willow, and Giles walked up. Rachel stood up, then helped Buffy to her feet. She ushered Buffy into Willow's arms, then zipped up her jacket.

Giles frowned. "What are you doing?" He sounded pretty worried.

Rachel's voice was cold as ice as she answered. "Keep an eye on her." She turned on her heel and began to walk away.

She heard hurried footsteps and the brush of fabric, and then Giles was in front of her. "Rachel!"

She transfixed her uncle with steely grey eyes and raised a pencil-thin eyebrow. The expression conveyed one concept: Really? After a few minutes, Giles gave in and sighed. "I accept that I won't be able to stop you, but do you have any idea where to look?"

Rachel nodded absently as she elbowed her way past her uncle. "Yeah. Most of our encounters with him have been near the Bronze, so I'll start there, work my way out."

"Rachel!"

She stopped and turned on her heel, tapping her foot impatiently. Other than that tapping foot, she gave no sign of her lingering impatience. "What?"

"Just... be careful. He's no ordinary vampire, if there is such a thing. He knows you. He's seen you fight. He, he, he's faced the Three!"

"So have I," Rachel shot back angrily.

"Just… I think this will take more than a simple stake."

Rachel's mouth curved upwards in what was technically a smile. "So do I." Then, she was gone.

XXX

Rachel stalked through the quiet streets of Sunnydale. She'd gone back to the school to pick up a few things- namely some nice, extra-sharp stakes blessed by a priest she knew, a cross pendant, and a pair of squirt guns full of her special garlic juice-holy-water-rock-salt elixir of vampire slaying. And her personal favorite - a scythe with the haft shortened to around a few feet long.

The stakes were in the usual spots- her boots, the inside of her jacket, back belt loop, even one up her sleeve. The squirt guns rested in makeshift holsters at her hips. The pendant dangled around her neck. The scythe hung at her back.

Rachel Giles was on the warpath - and this time, she was loaded for bear. She would take absolutely no chances here.

The town seemed so much older and more tired at night. The streetlamps cast a dark yellow light that made the grass seem shriveled and dying and glittered off the puddles and manhole covers in the streets. The lamps themselves cast long, dark shadows in the street. Almost everyone was asleep, but lights glowed in a few windows. As Rachel watched, a silhouette briefly popped up at one of those windows. Rachel waved at the silhouette.

The silhouette responded by snapping the curtains shut and shutting off the lights.

Rachel smiled wryly to herself as she walked down the street. The person at the window was probably calling 911 or something, she thought. She laughed as she imagined the call. Hello, this is Jane Doe. There's a maniac wandering around here! A lady with guns and some sort of big knife dressed in black, walking down the street plain as day! Oh, it was terrifying, I hope you catch her!

She turned onto the street where the Bronze was located, and a horrible, acrid smell hit her nose. Oh, yeah. The Bronze was closed for fumigation. The fumigants probably wouldn't bother Angel too much since he was a vampire, but Rachel was human, with delicate, irritable human lungs. She fished a scrap of black cloth out of one of the pockets in her jacket and tied it around her nose and mouth in a makeshift mask.

Rachel smiled as she noticed a sizable hole in the fence around the Bronze. She ducked through the hole, then drew the shortened scythe. The smooth wood slid into her hand with practiced ease.

Rachel's head whipped around sharply as she heard glass shatter behind her. She saw a ladder resting against the wall. And at the top of the ladder was a broken window. It seemed that her prey had already arrived.

She sheathed her weapon and began to climb.

XXX

Silently, Rachel poured herself through the hole in the window. Drawing her scythe, she padded through the upper level of the Bronze, looking for any sign of Angel. She knew from experience how stealthy the guy could be - he'd managed to get the drop on Buffy, who had the senses of a Slayer.

Finding nothing on the upper level, Rachel silently walked down the stairs. For the first time, she was grateful that Willow, Xander, and Buffy dragged her to the Bronze so much - she knew where the stairs creaked. Now, Rachel put that knowledge to good use.

Once she got to the bottom of the stairs, she turned, drawing her scythe. Slowly, she scanned the room. She could understand why Angel would have chosen a place like this. The fumes from the fumigants compromised her endurance, and he could see in the dark a lot better than she.

Just then, something clattered, and Rachel turned on her heel to face the noise. Angel.

When Rachel spoke, her voice was cold. "I know you're there. And I know what you are."

"Do you?" Angel's voice floated out of the shadows, and Rachel turned to face the sound. "I'm just an animal, right?"

Rachel laughed humorlessly. "You're not an animal. Animals, I like."

Angel growled and walked out of the shadows, fully vamped out. "I didn't expect you to come."

She shrugged. "You really don't know me that well. Probably because you were too busy focusing on Buffy, assumed that because I'm not the Slayer I'm no threat. Well, lemme tell you something, buster." Her lips curved in a wintry smile. "I am most definitely a threat. Buffy seems to have it in her head that you aren't a threat. I don't. I will not hesitate to kill you."

Angel growled. "Let's get it done!" He charged faster than she anticipated. She caught his punch on the haft of her scythe and leaped back as she heard the wood groan.

He struck astonishingly fast, and she frantically brought the scythe up to block. His blow caught her forearm instead. Rachel's arms ached from the impact. Not giving her a chance to regroup, Angel surged towards her and kicked her in the stomach. She reeled backwards and barely managed to deflect his next punch on the haft of her scythe.

Grunting, Rachel pulled away- Angel was scary strong. She'd have to finish this, and soon, or she'd get massacred.

Rachel swept towards him, taking the offensive. He parried Rachel's attack on his forearm. She brought the blade down on his shoulder. He dodged forwards, and she took the chance to aim a kick at the back of his knee. The air filled with the thud of wood against flesh, the whoosh of the scythe blade through the air, and the wet smack of landed punches and kicks.

She attacked again and again, calling on the full measure of her unnatural speed. Angel laughed, and she could have screamed in anger if she wasn't breathing so hard. Whenever she moved to trip him, whenever she got close enough to pull a stake out of her jacket and slam it into his heart or catch his neck in the sickle blade, he dodged away, as if he knew what she planned before she knew it herself. He was toying with her, and it really, really pissed her off.

Rachel whipped the scythe blade through the air, hoping to catch his unprotected neck. He deflected, and though she spun on the balls of her feet and tried to run him through with the sharp end of her staff, he blocked her again.

"Sure you didn't bite off more than you could chew, Rachel?" he said, showing off his sharp fangs. "Maybe you should've brought- OW!"

Rachel grinned as the blade of her staff sliced into his side, right over the cut the Three had dealt him earlier. He bent over, clutching his wound, and her leg whipped out and swept him off his feet, sending him crashing to the ground. She raised her staff, angling the blade at his neck.

He effortlessly batted away her strike, and she retreated while he rose. She was getting tired- she could feel the burn of a stitch in her side, her arms ached from holding the scythe for so long, and her stomach throbbed from where Angel had kicked her.

Angel came at her, and she had no choice but to meet his blows, gritting her teeth each time. The haft cracked and groaned. Angel was so strong, stronger than any vampire she'd ever faced, and she winced as he landed a punch on her side.

He noticed, much to her chagrin. "Tired already?" he asked. "It's a pity all your talk didn't amount to much."

"Shut up." She snarled and lunged. He stepped aside, and her eyes went wide as her blade whiffed through empty air, her momentum carrying her forward as she fought to catch herself-

He slammed his fist into her spine, and she only saw the blur of the linoleum before it collided with her face. Out of the corner of her mind, she noticed her weapon fall from her fingers.

"You're almost funny, you know," he sneered, his shadow falling over her as she scuttled away from him, her normal grace replaced by fearful clumsiness. The bitter, coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. Her breath came fast and hard, and her knees ached as she pulled a stake out of her jacket and stumbled upright, charging at him. Almost lazily, he grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and hurled her back. Somehow, she kept upright as she tripped, and stopped a few feet from him.

Angel circled her idly. He was drawing out the inevitable, like a predator playing with his meal before eating it. Of course, he actually was a predator. He wanted to enjoy every moment.

She had to end this now. Before Angel ended her.

Rachel shot forward with a fierce cry, whirling the scythe into a storm of metal. She ran at Angel, preparing to deliver a strike that should have laid him open from shoulder to hip. Well, it would have if he hadn't grabbed the haft and brought it down across his knee.

The wood snapped in two.

The scythe blade rolled into the corner, leaving Rachel with a splinter of wood. Angel looked at her for a moment before his other arm lashed out and connected with her shoulder.

Rachel heard the sickening crack before she felt the pain, and she screamed, dropping to her knees as her left shoulder popped out of its socket. His foot met with the shoulder, and she flew backwards, falling so hard that her shoulder relocated with a bloodcurdling crunch. Her vision swam and her eyes watered as the agony blinded her. Every cell in her body screamed.

Angel grabbed the collar of her jacket to pull her to her feet. She staggered back out of his grasp, footsteps unsteady, and then fell, hard.

She spat blood and raised her makeshift stake in her right hand. Angel approached, whirling and kicking her bad shoulder. She fell to the ground again, wincing as she landed on a discarded Coke can. But somehow, she got up again, letting her rage propel her.

Angel's fist slammed into her jaw. Her knees twisted as she fell.

"I expected better," he said, almost conversationally. She clutched her stake and crawled to her knees. She panted roughly, air hissing out of her in little whines. She would not give this creep the satisfaction of seeing her cry, of hearing her scream… "What would your uncle say?"

Rachel growled. "I said, shut up," she hissed, her words trembling as she fought the pain rippling through her. She tried to rise to her feet, but he shoved her. Even as Rachel stumbled back, head spinning from the pain, he kicked her in the ribs. She went flying, flipping over and over again, until she slammed into the bar. She fought to hold onto consciousness. Behind her, Angel grabbed her, pulling her upright, twisting her bad arm behind her back.

Rachel screamed in agony. Her ribcage was on fire, her arm and shoulder and back pulled in ways they weren't supposed to pull… Everything hurt. Angel pulled her hair aside, almost lovingly, and bent his head towards her neck-

A crossbow twanged! The quarrel flew through the air, ruffling Rachel's hair as it passed. What the-

"Let her go!" At that moment, Rachel could have kissed Buffy. Angel dropped her with a snarl, and Rachel fell to her knees, breathing heavily. Fresh pain stabbed through her with every breath. She struggled to pull herself upright with one arm, and she smiled grimly at what she saw.

The Slayer stood in front of Angel, with a crossbow trained on his heart. Angel cocked his head calmly, and despite herself, Rachel didn't pick up her weapon or pull a stake out of her boot. She watched, open-mouthed, as the drama unfolded in front of her.

Angel spoke first. "Little wide," he said, gesturing at the crossbow quarrel lying on the floor.

Buffy ignored his gibe. "Why? Why didn't you just attack me when you had the chance? Was it a joke? To make me feel for you and then... I've killed a lot of vampires. I've never hated one before."

Angel's voice took on an oddly sardonic note. "Feels good, doesn't it? Feels simple." Rachel grabbed her stake with her right hand, but didn't attack. There was something in Angel's voice, some note of self-loathing combined with encouragement that made her pause.

"I invited you into my home and then you attacked my family!" yelled Buffy.

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

Buffy cocked her head, and her voice was still hard and suspicious. "What changed?"

"Fed on a girl about your age… beautiful… dumb as a post… but a favorite of her clan."

"Her clan?" Buffy asked.

"Romany. Gypsies. The elders conjured the perfect punishment for me. They restored my soul." Rachel whistled softly. From what Rachel remembered, the Romany had a well-deserved reputation as extremely skilled crafters of various curses and charms. And restoring a vampire's soul… That was fiendishly clever.

Buffy smiled skeptically. "What, they were all out of boils and blinding torment?"

Biting her lip in pain, Rachel struggled to her feet and limped over to stand next to Buffy. Her left arm dangled uselessly at her side. "Actually, it's a far better punishment than you might think. See, when you become a vampire, a demon takes over your body, but your soul is destroyed. And with your soul goes your conscience. When the Roma restored Angel's soul, they restored his ability to feel remorse. And what with everything he's done…"

Angel nodded. "You have no idea what it's like to have done the things I've done… and care. I haven't fed on a living human being since."

Rachel could see the age-old pain in his eyes, and suddenly, the feeling she had that he'd seen a lot of things no guy his apparent age should ever have seen made sense. But the pain suffusing her body reminded her that Angel was still very much capable of hurting people. She scoffed. "Tell that to Joyce Summers."

"I didn't bite her."

She gritted her teeth. "I find that real hard to believe. You were fully vamped out, and she had two itsy-bitsy pinpricks in her neck."

Angel winced. "But I wanted to. I can walk like a man, but I'm not one. I wanted to kill Buffy tonight. I'd have tried to if she'd shown up earlier. And I wanted to kill you."

The corner of Rachel's mouth kicked up in a half-smile. "Well, you came pretty close."

Then, before Rachel could stop her, Buffy put down her crossbow and stepped towards Angel, exposing her neck. Rachel's eyes widened. "Buffy! Are you out of your mind?"

Buffy completely ignored her. "Go ahead."

Rachel could see a muscle pulsing in Angel's forehead, but he just looked at Buffy in silence.

Buffy nodded knowingly. "Not as easy as it looks."

Then, a girl's taunting, goading voice floated out of the shadows. "Sure it is!"

Buffy, Angel, and Rachel turned to see the blonde female vampire they'd met before the Harvest walking out of the shadows. Horror filled Rachel. As much as she didn't want to believe it, Angel might actually be telling the truth.

The female vampire smiled like the cat that had got the canary. "Do you know what the saddest thing in the world is?"

Buffy shrugged mock-innocently. "Bad hair on top of that outfit?"

The vampire simpered. "To love someone who used to love you."

Buffy looked at Angel in shock. "You guys were involved?"

The female nodded. "For several generations."

Buffy grimaced in mock sympathy. "Well, you've been around since Columbus, you are bound to pile up a few exes. You're older than him, right? Just between us girls, you are looking a little worn about the eyes."

"No, my bet's that you went a little overboard on the plastic surgery," Rachel interjected. "The Barbie doll fake look - so unattractive." Maybe if this vampire slaying thing didn't work out, she'd pick up acting.

The female just smiled. "I made him. There was a time when we shared everything, wasn't there, Angelus? You had a chance to come home, to rule with me in the Master's court for a thousand years, but you threw that away because of her. You love someone who hates us." Her face contorted into an ugly snarl, although her features stayed human. "You're sick. And you'll always be sick. And you'll always remember what it was like to watch them both die." She smiled. "You don't think I came alone, did you?" Oh, shit. One vampire, she and Buffy might be able to take. But with her ribs and busted arm, she'd be worse than useless.

Buffy smiled confidently. "I know I didn't. You up for this, Rachel?" Rachel raised the remnants of her staff, and Buffy kicked the crossbow up into her hands and aimed it at the female.

Their opponent cocked her head. "Hmm, scary."

She produced two pistols from behind her back, one in each hand. "Scarier!" Rachel swore.

Then, the female shot Angel. He staggered back into a post. This time, both Buffy and Rachel swore.

The female's smile grew wider. "Oh, don't worry. Bullets can't kill vampires. Can hurt them like hell, but…" She giggled insanely.

Rachel and Buffy bolted. Shots rang out, and Rachel winced as one of them zinged over Buffy's head. Rachel dove behind the pool table, and Buffy rolled over it to take cover beside her. Rachel bit her lip again, hard enough to draw blood. That landing had been hell on her shoulder. Beside her, Buffy snapped another quarrel into the crossbow.

The female's taunting voice floated over their heads. "So many body parts, so few bullets. Let's begin with the kneecaps. No fun dancing without them." Shots rang out, thudding into the pool table. Rachel hissed in pain as a wood splinter gashed her forehead. Buffy popped up with the crossbow and took a shot at the female. Rachel heard a grunt of pain, but then the female spoke again. "Close, but no heart!" She heard a clatter, and guessed that the female had pulled out the quarrel and tossed it to the floor.

Then, Willow's voice rang out from somewhere in the rafters. "Buffy, it wasn't Angel who attacked your mom, it was Darla!" What the hell was Willow doing here? The female, Darla, was carrying guns! With actual bullets! That could easily kill Willow! Darla turned and let loose a swarm of bullets.

Rachel grimaced in pain as she hauled herself upright and ran towards Darla as best she could with a broken rib and bum shoulder. Her right shoulder slammed into Darla, and they both went down. Nobody shot at Willow Rosenberg. Nobody.

But Darla was stronger than Rachel, and Darla easily tossed Rachel aside. From her position on the floor, Rachel raised her leg and kicked Darla in the back of the knee. Out of the corner of her eye, Rachel saw Angel pull the quarrel Buffy had shot at him out of the wall.

Darla sidestepped Rachel's kick and hopped onto the pool table. Buffy just grabbed the edge and pulled. Darla's feet slipped out from under her, and Buffy took the opportunity to run for cover. Darla kept shooting as the pool table rolled across the floor. Buffy dove over a glass case, even as Darla's shots splintered the glass. Already, Rachel could see several painful-looking cuts on Buffy's face and hands.

Then, Rachel felt cool hands slide under her body, being careful to avoid her ribs and arm. She looked up to see Angel moving her into a corner, out of the line of fire. He raised his finger to his lips in the universal "be quiet" gesture, then walked away.

The pool table stopped sliding, and Darla got off it to look for Buffy. The vampire advanced along the counter shooting everything in sight, wearing that evilly delighted grin the whole time. If it weren't for her injuries, Rachel would have just loved to wipe that stupid grin off Darla's face.

Then, the Bronze lit up as someone turned on the strobe lights. Rachel squeezed her eyes shut as white lights flashed through the place, turning everything into rapidly shifting, stark light and shadow. Everything was chaos, and Rachel heard Darla stop shooting. Rachel opened one eye cautiously. The strobes were still going, blinking and running along the walls. Rachel had to hand it to whoever had thought to turn on the strobes - that was a brilliant tactical move.

Out of the corner of her eye, Rachel saw Buffy move. Unfortunately, Darla also noticed and let loose another volley. "C'mon, Buffy," she yelled. "Take it like a man!"

Then, like a dark shadow, Angel came up behind Darla, roared, and stabbed her in the back with the crossbow quarrel. Somehow, Rachel knew that he'd hit her heart.

Darla screamed in surprise and pain, and her back arched. She turned to look Angel in the eye. "Angel?"

Then, she fell to the floor and exploded into ashes.

Buffy slowly got up from behind the counter, eyes wide as saucers. She had several scratches on her face and she was breathing hard, but there were no serious injuries.

Buffy just looked at Angel, speechless. They looked at each other for a long moment, and Rachel turned away, feeling as if she was intruding on something private.

Then, Angel turned and was gone.

Rachel heard three pairs of feet coming down the stairs, and she turned her head to see Xander, Willow, and Giles. Upon seeing Rachel, Giles sprinted over. "My God, Rachel, what happened?"

She smiled, letting the adrenaline from the fight soak away. "Angel happened. It was nothing personal. What the hell are you lot doing here?"

Giles shook his head as he looked over her injuries. "Saving you, it seems."

Rachel tried to laugh, but it quickly turned into a pain-racked cough. "I had it under control."

Giles raised an eyebrow. "Rachel, the bullets in the wall say otherwise."

Rachel would have delivered a snarky comeback, but just then, the pain overwhelmed her. Her vision faded to black as she passed out.

XXX

Two days later, Rachel, Willow, Xander and Buffy were back at the Bronze. Giles had done an excellent job of covering up the carnage that had taken place. He'd made a few phone calls to some carpenters he knew while Rachel was in the hospital. The carpenters had worked a miracle. The glass covering the counters was perfectly intact, and a few faint scars in the wood were the only reminder that a fight to the death had taken place here.

Of course, Rachel still bore physical signs. Underneath her blouse, her ribs were taped up, and she wore her left arm in a sling. The doctors had said she'd be fine, but it still hurt like a mother, and she'd been instructed to take it easy for the next month. She'd planned to completely ignore that- until Giles had threatened to take her weapons away. Rachel had quickly capitulated.

Of course, she was just as good with her right hand as with her left - and here, at the post-fumigation party, she was proving that. Her record of 129 cockroaches killed in a single night had risen to 140, and Rachel was feeling pleased as punch about it.

Awkwardly, she tipped a dead roach into the jar. The barkeep nodded and tossed her a can of Coke, and she popped it open and walked back to her table. "Ah, the post-fumigation party."

Buffy frowned, confused. "Okay, so what's the difference between this and the pre-fumigation party?"

Rachel chuckled and took a sip of her drink. "Much hardier cockroaches. I don't mind, though. Means I get much more of a challenge."

Willow leaned her head on her hand. "So, no word from Angel?"

Buffy shook her head. "Nah. It's weird, though. In his way I feel like he's still watching me."

Willow smiled, staring off into the distance. "Well, in a way he sort of is. In the way that he's right over there."

Buffy and Rachel followed Willow's gaze to find Angel standing in the corner. Angel winced slightly when he saw Rachel's sling. Rachel just ignored him. Buffy looked back at them, then walked over to Angel.

Xander turned to face away from them. "I don't need to watch because I'm not threatened. Just gonna look this way."

Rachel laughed, seeing through Xander's bravado. "Dream on, Harris. Dream on."

Buffy and Angel talked for a few minutes. Minutes during which Xander grew increasingly antsy. "What's goin' on?"

Rachel kept her face carefully blank as she looked over and saw Buffy and Angel kissing. And not just a tender peck, either. This was a full on tonsil hockey kiss. "Nothing."

Xander nodded, accepting Rachel's answer. "Well, as long as they're not kissing."

Rachel burst into hysterical laughter.

A moment later, Buffy walked back to the table. "He wants to talk to you, Rachel."

Rachel nodded. "Good. Because I've got some words for him." She got up and walked over to Angel.

They stood in awkward silence for a few moments. Angel was the first to break it. "How's your arm feeling?"

Rachel snorted. "Fine. No thanks to you."

Angel at least had the good grace to wince. "I'm really sorry about that."

Rachel nodded. "I know you are. Now, let me tell you something. I wanted to kill you back there. I don't trust you, and I probably never will. I will be watching you like a hawk. Buffy loves you. If you take advantage of it, I will castrate you with a cross soaked in holy water and garlic juice. Then, I'll kill you. If you lose that soul of yours and go dark side on us?" She shrugged her good shoulder. "Then, I'll just kill you."

She turned and left without another word.