Disclaimer : I don't own them, however much I wish otherwise. (After all, who wouldn't want their very own Methos?) "Adam" belongs to R:P/D and the Buffy Gang belongs to Joss and WB.

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Alternates 1 : Teacher's Pet
by Carole
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In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.

Prologue
--------

Watcher Headquarters : Paris, France

"You can bring him in now." The Watcher gestured towards the door. A young, nervous man dressed in jeans and a loose, baggy sweater was ushered into the room.

*He looks like he's coming to his own funeral, but he's woefully underdressed for it.* Jeffrey Hamilton, one of the five Watcher Elders who had convened on the dilemma that was Adam Pierson, suppressed a wave of sympathy and morbid humour. The young Watcher researcher had been escorted here with no warning and, for all he knew, especially given recent events, could be waiting an order of execution for treason. "Sit down, Mr. Pierson."

Adam Pierson, soon to be former head of the Methos research project, settled himself gingerly in the indicated chair. Hazel eyes scanned over the five people seated behind the long, wooden table before settling on Jeffrey who hesitated momentarily before beginning.

"We know you're Immortal," Jeffrey said as gently as he could.

Even so, Adam's face became a mask of poorly concealed terror and he swallowed. His eyes darted from side to side as if to find escape from impending doom. An Immortal in the Watchers was something that could not just be brushed off. Only weeks before, Jack Shapiro had beheaded Jacob
Gallati after leading a Hunt for both him and Duncan MacLeod. Many senior Watchers had lost their lives in Jacob's misplaced scheme of revenge.

"We've known since the Methuselah Stone incident, but given the circumstances have postponed this until now." In an attempt to curb the plainly visible panic, Jeffrey added, "Don't look so worried. Whatever happens today, there are no plans for any beheadings. Neither are we planning to involve Mr. Dawson for not reporting your..." There was a slight hesitation. "...condition while the Highlander was teaching you."

Adam relaxed slightly, some of the tension working itself out of his lean frame, but only partially. Fear and curiosity warred on his face, mixing in equal measure.

Jeffrey himself was relieved that Adam now didn't look like he would bolt at any sudden movements. *Poor kid.*

The boy had had a rough few years and was very lucky to have become Immortal rather than dead. The young researcher had apparently survived his encounter with the power hungry Immortal Kalas unscathed, though his mentor's torture and death at Kalas' hands had struck a hard blow.

After viewing the surveillance tapes of the theft of the Methuselah Stone, Jeffrey had learned differently. As good luck would have it--or more likely Joe Dawson--Duncan MacLeod, the Immortal Highlander, had tried to protect him from Kalas and then taken him on as a student, explaining all the time spent in his company and that of Joe.

Then Kalas had escaped from jail, almost exposing Immortals and Watchers to the world, as well as almost causing the Highlander's death. MacLeod's possession by the Dark Quickening, and his attempt on the life of his other student, Richie Ryan, had surprised everyone, and even the Watchers weren't sure what had brought on his recovery.

Then had come the failed attempt to save a dying girlfriend using the Methuselah Stone. Finally, his friend and fellow Watcher, Joe Dawson, had almost met his death at the hands of the Tribunal, accused of treason. It shouldn't come as a surprise that permanent death at their hands was a very prominent thought on his mind.

"Only a few Watchers know about this, as is obvious with your continued employment. Since you are an Immortal, allowing you continued access to our records and continuing to employ you to search for Methos is interference in the Game." Jeffrey paused to get his breath and attempted a reassuring smile. "But you're one of our best researchers, Adam, and with your linguistic expertise, we are more than slightly reluctant to remove you from service. After weighing a great many factors, we have a proposition for you. If you refuse, you can simply leave and the rest of the Organization will be informed of your change of status and you will, of course, be assigned your own Watcher. Your friends in the Watchers, as a matter of course, will have to refrain from contact with you and you will be treated like any other new Immortal. If you accept, the rest of the Watchers will remain in ignorance."

Jeffrey leaned forward slightly, crossing his hands in front of him and exchanged a glance with the woman beside him before returning Adam's nervous and curious stare. "As a researcher, I'm sure you are familiar with the Slayer Division of our agency. In fact, I believe that you have been loaned to them several times to do translations."

At Adam's nod, he continued. "Since the divisions are relatively uniformed of each other and the Slayer Division has no non-interference clause, there is no reason that you cannot simply be transferred. You may also keep in contact with members of the Immortal Division as long as you don't disclose information about where you have been transferred to. The same will be true of your new acquaintances in the Slayer division. With your experience in dead languages, you could be a real asset. So, what do you say?"

****
A few months later
****

"Sunnydale? I'm being sent to the Hellmouth?" Disbelief and ire filtered through the words. Adam had not really changed since Jeffrey had last seen him, Immortality making that difficult, except perhaps in clothing style. Mr. Pierson now looked right and properly British.

*More probably an attempt to blend then a real change in taste,* the senior Watcher thought. The anger and aggressive stance was also a great departure from the timid young man that had sat before him waiting judgement not many months ago.

Jeffrey frowned. "We know something big--bigger than usual--is going to happen. The signs are there. We don't know exactly when, but we want someone else there."

Adam looked at him apologetically, reining in his previous anger. "I'm a researcher, sir. I've never been a field agent and I don't see how I could be of much use there. The Slayer already has a Watcher."

"You're an Immortal, and that could give us an edge in future battles that might be desperately needed. You were also trained by MacLeod, so I know that you can't be as much a slouch on the physical side as you're implying. There aren't even any Immortals in Sunnydale to threaten you."

Jeffrey made out a muttered, "Probably a few reasons for it," but decided to let it pass. After all, who in their right mind would want to go to the Hellmouth, Immortal or not.

"Whether you inform the Slayer or her Watcher of your Immortality is up to you. We already have a cover set up. You're leaving in two days."

Part 1
------

The Bronze : Sunnydale, California

A girl screamed as the vampire advanced on Buffy Summers, his demon
clearly showing on his face. Xander Harris watched as people exited the Bronze, Sunnydale's coolest, and nearly only, hangout at near inhuman speed.

*Cowards* It was clear that Buffy was on her own.

Still backing up, Buffy aimed her fist right at the vampire's game face and followed quickly with another solid punch. Unfazed, the undead monster gave her a fang-filled smile before launching her onto the pool table.

*Nobody does that to my girl,* Xander thought as he came at the vampire from behind. He grabbed him just before the demon attempted to make the Slayer into his next meal and pulled him off.

"May I cut in?" he asked, sarcasm dripping of the words, before bashing the vampire's head into the pool table. Turning the fiend over, Alexander LaVelle Harris punched him in the gut and face, letting him fall to the floor unconscious. The impressed smile Buffy turned in his direction lit up the whole room. Holding his hand out to her, he asked, "You alright?"

Buffy exhaled a deep breath. "Thanks to you!"

Sliding off the table gracefully, she looked at his hand. "You hurt
your hand! Will you still be able to..."

"..finish my solo and then kiss you like you've never been kissed?" he
continued, following up with a wink and began to return to the stage.

There is a low growl behind him. *You're asking for it now.*
Sometimes they just didn't know when to die. Breaking off a chair leg, he
threw it at the now standing vampire. Ash exploded as Xander returned to
the stage and retrieved his guitar. Buffy looked up at him adoringly
and advanced on the stage.

"You're drooling," she said.

*Huh, what, oh*

"Xander!"

He shook his head in confusion. *Oh, just a dream.* He looked at
Buffy, who pointed to the corner of her mouth.

"You've got a little..."

Quickly, Xander removed the drool from his mouth and chin. *I'm sure
you really managed to impress her there, Xander, my man. No wonder she's
so eager to go out with you.* He gazed around the darkened room quickly, checking if anyone noticed. Dr. Gregory, the biology teacher, was giving a slide show about insects. *No wonder I drifted off, though I'm going to have to stop doing that in the future. A repeat performance wouldn't be a good thing.* He tried to force his wandering mind onto the lecture.

"Their ancestors were here long before us and their progeny will be here long after we are gone. The simple and omnipresent ant."

The teacher then turned off the projector and flicked on the lights.
Slowly, he began walking down the aisle.

"If you read the homework, you should know the two ways that ants communicate."

Xander began to worry when Dr. Gregory approached his desk. He hadn't, of course, done his biology homework. But, instead of the interrogation that he feared, the educator merely leaned on his desk facing Buffy.

"Miss Summers."

Buffy glanced around desperately. "Ways that ants communicate."

"Mmm..." said Dr. Gregory, nodding.

"With other ants."

"From the homework," the teacher repeated helpfully, glasses glinting.

Out of the corner of his eye, Xander noticed Willow trying to get Buffy's attention.

"Ants are communicating..."

The redhead touched Xander's back with exaggerated motions while Buffy
watched.

"Um, uh, um..." said Buffy while trying to make sense of what Willow was trying to tell her. Tentatively, she answered, "Touch?"

Dr. Gregory nodded. "And..."

Willow sniffed at Xander, who felt as equally confused as Buffy looked.
"B.O.?"

Several students laughed. Xander's spine stiffened minutely. One student, Blayne, who he had no like for, piped up. "Thank God, someone finally found the courage to mention that!"

Xander's frown deepened. *I can't stand that guy.*

"That would be touch and smell, Miss Summers. Would Miss Rosenberg like to add anything else?"

Willow quickly turned away from Buffy, but the bell rang, cutting short
any further shame on her part.

"Read chapters six through eight for tomorrow, people!" Dr. Gregory
looked at Buffy. "Could I see you for a minute?"

***

All the students had left the room, leaving Buffy and Dr. Gregory
alone.

"I gather you had a few problems at your last school?"

*Here is comes,* Buffy thought. *All my teachers think I'm some sort
of teen psycho.* "Well, what teenager doesn't?"

Dr. Gregory continued. "Cut school, get into fights, burn down the
gymnasium... Principal Flutie showed me your permanent record."

He walked to the front of the class and Buffy followed. *Well, I guess
I already know what he thinks of me. It isn't my fault I have a destiny and that includes some , uhh, unusual circumstances.*

"Well, that fire, I mean, there was major extenuating circumstances." *Like a gang of vampires who were going to attempt to eat the majority of the school
population. * "Actually, it's, uh, kinda funny!" *In an odd, sick sort of way.*

"I can't wait to see what your going to do here." The last word was emphasized. Going to the closet, the teacher pulled his other pair of glasses from the pocket of his lab coat and began cleaning them casually.

*Oh, feel the anticipation.* "Destructo Girl. That's me."

"But I suspect it's gonna be great."

Buffy felt confused for a moment. *Great?* "You mean, 'great' in a
bad way?"

Dr. Gregory looked at her, then returned to his glasses. "You have a first rate mind and can think on your feet. Imagine what you could accomplish if you actually did the ..."

"...homework thing." *Wow.* Buffy then experienced a vague sheepish feeling, despite the fact she had been patrolling the night before so didn't have time to do her biology. *The first teacher that actually likes me, and I can't even bother doing the homework for his class.*

"The homework thing. I understand you probably have a good excuse for not doing it."

*Boy do I ever.* Then added belatedly, *Some of the time.* It wasn't as if she didn't manage to find time to go to the Bronze and hang with her friends.

"Amazingly enough, I don't care. I know you can excel in this class, and so I expect no less. Is that clear?"

"Yeah! Sorry."

Buffy watched as he continued to look at his slides. "Don't be sorry, be smart. And don't listen to the principal or anyone else who has a negative opinion of you. Make 'em eat that permanent record. Whadaya say?"

Looking up, he gave Buffy a small smile. She found herself returning it and resolved to try to make good on his faith in her. "Okay! Thanks."

He nodded at her as she bent to retrieve her bag. "Remember, chapters six through eight!"

Buffy looked back at him. At least there was one teacher here that was
giving her a chance.

***

Dr. Gregory put the slide down as Buffy left the classroom and went to turn off the lights. That girl could go far if she listened to what he'd said. The teacher knew what it was like to be judged without being given a chance. The same had happened to him in high school, though not at the hands of every teacher.

"Humm..." He placed the slide on the view plate.

Click. Behind him the closet opened.

Suddenly, a large green claw surrounded his neck. *Oh God!* Dr. Gregory screamed as he looked behind him and saw the giant mantis, the hideous insect that had grabbed onto him.

The glasses fell to the floor, broken, and then so did he.

***

Xander surveyed the dance floor before making his way to the stage of the Bronze. Grinning, he gave the singer an acknowledging nod. The replying look clearly stated, 'get outta here.' He smarted with disappointment and moved away from the band and towards the bar where Blayne and his friend are talking.

"Seven, including Cheryl. I'll tell you, though, her sister was lookin' to make it eight!"

*What do girls see in him anyway that I don't have?*

"Ohh," Blayne's friend exclaimed, "Cheryl's sister? The one in college?"

Blayne nodded. "Home for the holidays and lookin' for love! But, she's not my type. Girls really gotta have something to go with me."

*Yeah, like no brains.* Xander interrupted, "Something like a lobotomy?"

Both boys turned to look at Xander, annoyed with the interjection. "Xander," Blayne acknowledged. "How many times you score?" The tone was
sarcastic.

"Well, uh..."

"It's just a question. No big deal here." His voice suggested otherwise.

Xander inwardly winced at the implied insult. *No way I'm gonna let him win here.* "Are we talking today, or the whole week?" he asked, matching Blayne's inflection.

They snickered at him, recognizing the tactic. Just then, Xander noticed Willow and Buffy coming down the stairs. *Keep laughing. I got an idea.*

"Ooo! Duty calls!" Xander approached the girls. "Babes!" They looked at him as he comes up and grabs them by the shoulders.

"What are you doing?" Buffy asked.

He looked at her. "Work with me here. Blayne had the nerve to question my manliness. I'm just gonna give him a bit of a visual."

Willow responded wholeheartedly, throwing her arms tightly around him. "We'll show him!" Xander was disappointed that Buffy didn't show the
same enthusiasm, but looked back at Blayne and gave him a thumbs up.
They gazed back at him, impressed.

"I don't believe it." The distraction in Buffy's voice was evident.

"I know, and after all my conquests." *All none of them.* Buffy ignored him, instead walking towards a tall, mysterious man in a black coat.
*Whoa, what's going on here?* "Who's that?"

"That must be Angel!"

Xander returned his gaze to Willow. "That weird guy that warned her
about all the vampires?"

"That's him, I'll bet you."

*Damn.* "He's , umm, buff. She never said anything about him being
buff!"

"You think he's buff?"

"He's a very attractive man! How come that never came up?"

"Do I hear jealously?"

"Maybe, just a little. After all, he's just mysterious, warning guy, I have nothing to worry about," Xander replied, not noticing Willow's sigh. *Yeah, no worries here.*

***

"Well, look who's here," Buffy said as she walked up to Angel.

"Hi."

*I wonder what he'll come up with now. Couldn't he just have come to see me for me, not some strange and weird prophecy I have to stop.* "I'd say it's nice to see you, but then we both know that's a big fib."

"I won't be long."

*Of course not.* Buffy continued. "No, you'll just give me a cryptic warning about some exciting new catastrophe, and then disappear into the night. Right?"

"You're cold."

"You're a big boy. You can take it."

She watched as he removed his jacket. "I mean, you look cold," he said, putting the coat around her shoulders.

***

Xander watched Buffy and Angel from where he sat with Willow. "Oh, right! Give her your jacket. It's a balmy night, no one needs to be trading clothes!" Already, he knew that this Angel guy was going to be trouble.

***

"It's a little big on me." Buffy noticed a row of cuts on Angel's arm. *Ouch! What could do something like that?* "What happened?"

"I didn't pay attention."

*To what?* She continued the question aloud. "To someone with a big fork?"

"He's coming."

*Nice and cryptic.* "The Fork Guy?"

Angel's voice was stressed as he went on with his warning. "Don't let him corner you. Don't give him a moment's mercy. He'll rip your throat out."

"Okay, I'll give you improved marks for that one. Ripping a throat out; it's a strong visual, it's not cryptic!"

"I have to go," Angel said before walking away.

She stared after his retreating back, whispering, "Sweet dreams to you, too."

***

The next morning, Buffy and Giles discussed the events of the previous night.

"That's all he said? Fork Guy?" Giles took another bite of the apple he was eating and looked at Buffy.

"That's all Cryptic Guy said: Fork Guy."

"I think there might be too many 'guys' in your life," Giles replied with a laugh. They continued to walk toward the bench were Willow was sitting. "I'll see what I can find out." Rupert looked up at the sky. "God, every day here is the same."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "Bright, sunny, beautiful. How ever can we escape this torment?"

Willow smiled at Buffy's comment. The Vampire Slayer set down her bag and sat down beside her best friend.

"Really," Giles replied and turned to leave. Xander walked up to him.
"Good Morning."

"Mornin'," Xander returned the greeting. "Guess what I just heard in the office? The new history teacher's here and no Dr. Gregory today. Those of us who didn't do our homework aren't as dumb as we look." He flipped Willow's book closed and she rushed to grab it before dropping it on the ground.

"What happened? Is he sick?" Buffy asked.

"They didn't say anything about sick, something about missing."

"He's missing?" The worry was obvious.

"Well, let's see. Um, I was kinda distracted, you know. The cheerleaders were modeling their new short skirts... Yeah! Yeah, they said missing."

Buffy and Willow exchanged a look before returning their gazes to Xander.

"This is bad?" he asked cautiously.

"If something's wrong, yeah!" Buffy exclaimed. Xander looked slightly
confused.

"He's the only teacher that doesn't think Buffy's a felon," Willow
explained.

Now Xander's tone was consoling. "I'm really sorry, I'm sure he'll..."
The words drifted off. "I, uh, huh..." Buffy and Willow followed his
gaze to see what the distraction was. Down the hall, a beautiful women, snappily dressed with short, dark hair walked towards them as Xander continued to stare. She stopped just short of Xander.

"Could you help me?"

"Uuuuuhhhhhh....Yes!" said Xander, attempting to recover his composure.
Behind him, Willow and Buffy exchanged amused glances.

"I'm looking for Science... 109."

"It's, umm..." Xander looked around, trying to locate the room that he
went to every day. He turned back to the teacher, smiling. "I go
there every day!" Looking at the girls in a supplication for help, he
continued, "Oh, God, where is it?" They just shrugged at him as Blayne walked up the hall.

"Hi! Blayne Mall. I'm going there right now. It's not far from the
varsity field where I took All-City last year." He smiled in Xander's
direction smugly.

"Oh! Thank you, Blayne."

Xander watched them as they walked down the hall, surpressing a mutter
under his breath, then turned back to Buffy and Willow. "It's funny
how the Earth never opens up and swallows you when you want it to." They
both nodded and gave each other a smile.

"Isn't it, though? I was wondering if any of you could direct me to the
history room?" All three spun towards the accented voice, Xander
glaring slightly at the man who overheard his comment. He was tall with
short cropped hair, hazel eyes, high cheekbones and large nose, combining
into a handsome face. "Your principal gave me some slightly, um,
confused directions."

"History, huh?" said Buffy. She turned and whispered to Willow, "I only went once or twice. You remember where it is?"

Willow glanced back and forth down the hall. "Uh, h-history, umm..."
She pointed to the right. "Down the hall, turn left and it sh-should
be right down there."

"Thank you."

He gave a melting smile in her direction and nodded at them before
continuing down the hall.

Xander spoke up. "Probably the new history teacher."

"Do you think he noticed me stuttering?" The query was directed at
Buffy.

"No, you were cool. At least you knew where the room was." The criticism was meant for herself, but Xander looked offended.

"Why do you care? He's just some Giles wanna-be. Bet he was disappointed the librarian position was taken."

***

The three friends entered the classroom together, while the beautiful supply-teacher stood at the front of the room. Buffy spotted Dr. Gregory's glasses on the floor and bent to retrieve them. *Why would he leave his glasses, unless..* She attempted to force her mind away from the thought, but it proved to be an impossible task and her worry echoed on her face.

"What's wrong?" Willow asked.

"Dr. Gregory dropped his glasses..." She paused briefly before uttering aloud her concern. "Why wouldn't he pick them up?"

*He's missing. This is the Hellmouth, you know what probably happened.* Of all the teacher's in this school, the one who didn't look down on her was the one who was missing. One of the few teacher's she actually liked and now he was most likely dead.

*You don't know that, something else could have happened.* After her mental pep talk, Buffy raised her eyes to the teacher as she walked to her place.

"My name is Natalie French and I will be substituting for Dr. Gregory."

*I could be wrong. Just ask.* "Do you know when he's coming back?"

Buffy's hope was shattered by the reply. "No, I don't, um..." Miss French looked down, checking her roster. "..Buffy. They just call me and tell me where they want me."

Buffy heard Blayne's mutter, despite her distraction and his lowered voice. "I'll tell you where I want you."

So, apparently, could Miss French. "Excuse me, Blayne?"

He recovered quickly. "Uh, I was just wondering if you were gonna pick up where Dr. Gregory left off?" he answered.

The teacher smiled. "Yes. His notes say you were right in the middle
of insect life." Natalie retrieved a mantis mounted within a clear plastic box. "The praying mantis is a fascinating creature. Forced to live alone. who can tell me why? Buffy?" The teacher set the mantis back in its place.

Buffy wanted to yell at her, tell her it wasn't important, that Dr. Gregory was probably dead, but she didn't. She stared at the mantis for a moment and said the first thing she could think of. "Well, the words bug ugly spring to mind."

Students attempted to stifle their laughter as the substitute went on. "There is nothing ugly about them. The reason they live alone is because they're cannibals."

Buffy's comment summed up the general classroom consensus. "Uhg!"

"It's not their fault. Nature designed them that way: noble, solitary and prolific. There are over 1800 species and in nearly all of them, the female is the larger and more aggressive."

"Nothing wrong with an aggressive female," Blayne murmured in Buffy's direction.

*In your dreams. I do not think so. Can't he do anything besides make innuendoes?* She expressed her mind with an angling of her head and a look in his direction.

Miss French picked up her notebook and began walking around the room. "The California Mantis lays her eggs, and then finds a mate..." There was a slight break in the words and Buffy would swear that Natalie was staring at Xander. "...to fertile them. Once he's done his part, she covers the eggs in a protective sack and attaches them to a leaf or twig out of dander. In a few months, she'll have several hundred offspring."

The teacher returned to the front of the room and lowered the notebook. "You know, we should make some model egg sacks for the science fair. Who would like to help me after school?"

The entire male populace of the class raised their hands in answer.

***

Willow stood with her two best friends in the cafeteria line, waiting patiently to reach what some adventurous people might have called food.

Buffy stated the near universal opinion. "Yum, hot dog surprise. Be still, my heart."

"Call me old fashioned, but I don't want anymore surprises in my hot dogs," Willow answered, supporting Buffy's view, oblivious to Xander's distraction. Sometimes the redhead suspected that some of the cafeteria staff had a grudge against the students at Sunnydale High, but so far they all had managed to survive their previous lunches here. Of course, she also recalled hearing about a food poisoning incident at this same cafeteria a few years previously where a victim's father had threatened to sue. That was not a thought that would allow a person to enjoy their meal, so she mentally switched to a nicer topic.

"So, were you thinking of coming to history this afternoon?" she asked.
After all, there was definite ulterior motive, say the new, good-looking history teacher. Buffy also needed some cheering up about Dr. Gregory. *We're teenagers. Isn't this what teenage girls are supposed to do? And it is not being disloyal to Xander. He doesn't notice me anyway. Well, besides, it's just looking, cause he's like a teacher.*

"Possibly. I was contemplating the idea. It's his first day on the job and going to class might help a long way with making a good impression. Impressions are, well, um, important." She smiled in Willow's direction. "And he won't be exactly hard on the eyes either."

Willow nodded back at her, returning the smile. "He has to be better than Mr. Harrington, anyway." She felt her smile slip a bit, regretting speaking ill of the dead.

The previous teacher had been found dead in his house two weeks before. After some research and a bit of hacking, Willow had pieced together the cause of death. It had been strange, even for the Hellmouth, like something out of a cartoon. Mr. Harrington had tripped while cooking with his gas stove and managed to knock himself out. Since his house was not well ventilated, the teacher managed to gas himself to death while cooking dinner. And for the next two weeks, the history class had been inflicted with a series of supplies until a replacement could be found, though most students had not bothered to come at all. She was brought back from her thoughts when Xander began thinking out loud.

"I wonder what she sees in me? It's probably the quiet good looks and smoky magnetism."

Willow raised an eyebrow in his direction. *Good looks, definitely, but quiet? When did this happen? How did I miss it? And just who is this?* Willow thought, having a perfectly good idea of the identity of the woman in question. She exchanged a look and a smile with Buffy.

"Miss French," Xander answered, as though neither of them had noticed his behaviour that morning. "You're probably a little young to understand what an older woman would see in a younger man."

Buffy looked at him. "Oh, I understand."

"Well, good!"

"The younger man is to dumb to wonder why she can't find someone her own age and too desperate to care about surgical improvements."

Xander looked taken aback. Warily, he asked, "What surgical improvements?"

Willow turned to Buffy, her voice full of mock understanding. "Well, he is young."

"And so terribly innocent," Buffy continued.

Insulted, he spoke up. "Hey, those that can, do. Those that can't laugh at those who, um, can do." He drifted off as Blayne came up next to him.

Blayne's tone was smug. "I gotta carb up for my one on one with Miss French today. When's your? Oh, right, tomorrow. I came first and you came seconds. Guess that's what's called natural selection."

As he left, Xander said to the girls, "Guess that's what they call a rehearsal! Rehearsal..." He laughed lamely, his pride stung.

Willow watched as Buffy went to grab some utensils and collided with Cordelia.

"Excuse you!" Cordie exclaimed.

*Like it's her fault.* Willow had disliked Cordelia as long as she could remember. She disliked the way she looked down on anyone, but the most popular students and she disliked the way she blamed others for everything. This had been true since a certain incident involving the sand box in kindergarten.

Cordelia walked behind the counter, holding before her a piece of paper. "Medically prescribed lunch. My doctor ships it daily...I'll only be here as long as I can hold my breath."

*I guess she doesn't want to breathe the same air as us commoners. Can't she do anything without being insulting?*

Cordelia opened the fridge and what happened next wiped all thoughts of her hatred for her from Willow's mind. The redhead rushed to the fridge with Buffy as Cordelia backed away babbling.

"His head! His head! Oh, my God, where's his head?"

Inside was a decapitated body. *Oh no, it's Dr. Gregory.*

***

*I can't believe that happened.* Willow looked over at Buffy as Giles brought her a glass of water, her eyes red with shed tears.

"Here, drink this."

Buffy took the glass listlessly. "Thanks," she said and took a sip.

Behind Giles, Xander spoke. "I've never seen..."

Giles turned to look at him and Willow followed his gaze. Xander was obviously shaken. *But aren't all of us.* "I mean, I've never seen anything like... that was new."

*Who would do that to Dr. Gregory?* Willow asked herself for what seemed like the thousanth time and repeated the thought out loud.

"Uh, he didn't have any enemies on the staff that I know of. He was a civilized man. I liked him." Giles' voice was sad.

Willow looked up at Giles and put all the determination she felt into her words. "Well, we're gonna find out who did this. We'll find them and we'll stop them."

"Count on it," Buffy agreed.

"Well," Giles said. "What do we know?"

"Not a lot, um..." Buffy paused to wipe a tear from her nose. "He was killed here on campus. Probably the last day we saw him."

"How do you know?"

"He didn't change his clothes." At Buffy's statement, Willow's mind went back to the scene that had been presented in the cafeteria fridge, Dr. Gregory, still in his labcoat without his head.

Xander spoke up. "This is a question that no one particularily wants to hear, but...where did they put his head?"

"Good point," Willow said. "I didn't want to hear that." She tried to surpress the various ideas that sprang to mind. *Maybe they keep a collection, mounted him on a wall or something. No, don't think of
things like that, Willow,* she ordered herself.

"Angel!" Buffy's sudden exclamation broke Willow from her morbid thoughts. "He warned me that something was coming." She took another sip of water and walked to the table.

"Yes. Yes, he did, didn't he?" Giles agreed. "I wish I knew what he meant. We've been trying to gather more information on the Master, the, um, local vampire king. There was one oblique reference to a, a, a vampire who displeased the Master and cut off his hand as penance."

*Wait a minute. We? Who's this other person?*

"Cut off his hand and replaced it with a fork?"

"I, um, don't know what he, uh, replaced it with."

"Why would he come after a teacher?" Xander asked.

"He probably didn't." Willow turned with the other's towards the man coming towards them from Giles' office. It was the new history teacher.

"Okay, hold up a sec," Xander said. "How do you know anything about this? Is anyone else slightly confused?"

The three looked to Giles for clarification. "Oh! This is Adam Pierson. He's been sent by the Watcher Council. Buffy, Xander, and Willow."
The librarian nodded at each of them respectively.

*Why would they send someone?* Willow thought. As far as she knew, it was one Watcher to a Slayer. This could only be bad news. She tuned back in on what was being said.

"...meet you under such circumstances."

"Does your coming here have anything to do with what killed Dr. Gregory?" Willow cut in.

"Not as far as I know, though it's a possibility. I was told that there have been signs of something worse than usual may be coming soon and that the Watcher's wanted someone else here just in case."

Willow didn't ask in case of what, that was obvious. *I don't think I want to know what could be worse than usual for a Hellmouth.*

Buffy finally spoke. "We can do intros later. Have any ideas about what this thing could be?"

Mr. Pierson looked at Giles, who went and grabbed a newspaper from the counter. "There was a incident two nights ago. A homeless man was practically shredded in Weatherly Park, but nothing like Dr. Gregory."

Buffy stared down at the paper, as if trying to divine the truth from it. "So, Fork Guy doesn't do heads."

Adam shook his head. "Not usually and, even if he did, why didn't he drain the body, instead of leaving it in the cafeteria fridge?"

"So, there's something else out there?" Xander's voice was full of false enthusiasm. "Besides Silverwareman? Oh, this is fun. I love living on Monster Island. Never a dull day here."

"Unpleasant things do tend to gravitate here, but, uh, we don't know there's anything besides this chap. He's still our likely suspect," Giles replied.

Willow clearly heard the muttered, "More like only," coming from Mr. Pierson's direction and was sure Buffy could as well, because she turned
to look at him.

"Was there anyone who stood to gain from his death? Someone may have even tried to make it look like a monster so it would be covered up. Don't want to upset the citizens, after all."

"Since we don't know of anything else yet, I'll have to go with Fork Guy. Where was that guy killed? Weatherly Park?"

"Buffy." Giles advanced towards her. "I know you're upset, but this
is no time to go hunting. Not until we know more, anyway. Please,
promise not to do anything rash?"

"Cross my heart."

***

Buffy climbed over the park fence, beginning her search for the vampire
that might have killed her favourite teacher. Walking through the park, she looked around carefully, taking in the darkened surroundings. A bum walked up to her and she almost jumped, startled.

"Shouldn't be out here at night, little lady. Dangerous."

*So am I.* Buffy wasn't that worried about finding something dangerous. In fact, she wanted to, especially a certain someone with a nasty reputation and a claw for a hand. This time he would be the prey, not the hunter.

He left her alone. Looking around again, she noticed another homeless man laying on the ground in front of a bench. Buffy went up to him, but he was just asleep.

*I know you're here. Come out, come out wherever you are.* She continued to stalk around the park, cocking her head to the side to listen to the bark of distant dogs.

*Shrubs, trees, rocks.. Oh, look what we have here.* The Chosen One looked down at the sewer access hole that had been obscured by it's cover of plantlife. *Perfect hiding spot for someone who doesn't want to get a really bad sunburn.* She pulled it open, only to have the object of her search leap out at her.

Buffy rushed back from the figure that had suddenly appeared before her. He wore a vampire's typically ugly face and lunged at her with one arm.

*Woah. Look at that thing. So much for the fork.* She slammed a straightened arm into his stomach, then onto his back. The vampire barely paused before swinging at her again, giving her barely time to dodge.

Retaking the offensive, Buffy delivered a powerful backhand to his face and a roundhouse kick to his jaw, before following up with another punch. He attempted another swing, but the Slayer evaded it easily, giving him another kick. When he lunged at her, Buffy grabbed his arm and flipped him over her onto his back with a loud crunch. As she moved forward to stake him, he rolled to his feet. *Damn. Some guys just don't know when to give up.*

Buffy gave him another kick that sent him sprawling. Going forward for the kill, she stopped. *Voices. Not now!* Turning around, she saw people with flashlights approaching over the hill.

"Hold it! Police! Did you see that? I got nothing here."

Seeing the posse, the vampire ran off. "...I heard it. Spread out. Let's go over here. This way. Alright..." Buffy followed him.

***

The Slayer could see Natalie French, the supply, with her bag of groceries walking home outside the fence. So could the vampire, who climbed over.

*No. Not again.*

He landed behind the teacher, who, noticing something strange, turned around to face him. He hissed at her, his face showing as much fear as his demonic visage would allow, before making tracks in a different direction. Calmly, Natalie watched him go, then continued on her was home as Fork Guy vanished into a manhole. Buffy could only stare.

Part 2
------

"You went hunting last night." Giles' voice emphasized his displeasure.

"Yes," Buffy answered, following him into his office.

"When you assured me you wouldn't."

"Yes, I lied. I'm a bad person, let's move on."

Rupert opened his filing cabinet, not looking at his Slayer. "Did you
see someone with a fork?" *You could have been killed! We don't know
what we're up against.* He ignored his inner thoughts as he turned to
face her.

"More like a jumbo claw."

"Oh. Well, at least you're not hurt." *But you could have been.*
Rupert knew he was supposed to remain detached in helping the Slayer, but
he cared anyway. If she died...

"And I found something much more interesting than your average run of
the mill killer vampire."

Giles attempted to continue his disapproving tone, but failed. "Oh?"

"Do you know Miss French, the substitute biology teacher?"

Rupert smiled at her. "Yes, she's lovely. In a, a common, extremely
well-proportioned way." He began replacing files in the cabinet.

"Well, I was chasing Claw Guy and Miss Well-Proportioned is heading
home. Claw guy sees her and runs screaming for cover."

"He what?" His voice was confused. After all, there are not many things
that a vampire is afraid of. "Ran away?"

"He was petrified," Buffy assured the Watcher.

"Of Miss French." Disbelief echoed in his voice.

Buffy began to pace. "So, I'm an undead monster that can shave with my
hand...How many things am I afraid of?"

*Someone is not what they seem. I guess Adam was right about the, um,
Claw Man.* "Not many. And not substitutes, as a rule."

"So, what's her deal?"

"I think that perhaps we should keep an eye on her. Dr. Gregory's
death may only have been a means to get close to other victims in the
school."

***

Buffy rushed though the halls at a near breakneck pace in a vain attempt
to reach class on time, or at least it became so when she was brought
to a halt by Principal Flutie. *Yes, I know I was running, but Xander
and Willow are in a class with some kind of demon.*

His statement was unexpected. "You were there. You saw Dr. Gregory,
didn't you?"

"Um, you mean yesterday in the cafeteria, when we, um, found him..."

The principal cut her off. "Don't say dead! or decapitated or
decomposing. I'd stay away from D word altogether. But you are a witness,
so, this way..." He started off down the hall.

She attempted vainly to stop him. "I'm going to be late for biology.."
*With a possible murderer or demon or both.*

"Very late," he replied. "You have to see a counselor. Everyone who
saw the body has to."

"But I really don't need..."

"We all need help with out feelings so we don't bottle them up. I
believe that if everyone reaches out to each other we can beat this thing.
I'm always there for a hug." He jumped back, as if expecting her to
pull him into an embrace right there. "Not a real hug. No touching;
this school's very sensitive to wrong touching."

"But, I really don't..."

"No, you have to start healing."

"But..."

"Heal!" He sat Buffy down in a chair outside the council office before
pacing off.

***

"Keep your eyes straight ahead on your own paper." Miss Natalie French
came up behind Xander. "I think you meant pollination for #14," she
said in a low voice and put a hand on his shoulder. "I'll see you here
after school."

*Oh, God.* It was like Xander's dream come true.

***

Buffy came up running to the classroom door and looked through the
window. "Oh, great, a pop quiz. Maybe I should be a bit later and miss it
totally."

The teacher inside straightened. Buffy watched as Natalie turned her
head around 180 degrees.

***

Willow and Buffy entered the library together.

"No, she wasn't craning her neck. I'm talking Exorcist twist."

"Ouch," Willow replied. *At least she hasn't spit pea soup.*

"And that reminds me. How come Blayne, who worked with her one on one
yesterday, isn't here?"

"Good question. Inquiring minds want to know."

Buffy looked towards Giles. "Any luck?"

Willow seated herself in front of the computer and began to attempt a
search while continuing to listen to the conversation.

"Actually, Adam and I came up with a few obscure references. He is
out checking those right now, though I think I may have stumbled on the
answer while he was out." Giles placed an ancient looking tomb on the table
and opened it. "The Kathkono, or Levinas are a powerful race of demons
whose antagonism towards vampires is well known, relatively speaking."
He paused, looking down at the book.

"Could I have the Coles notes version?" Buffy asked.

Giles sighed and Willow began to pay more attention to what was being
said than what she was doing on the computer. "Uh, um, they are nearly
impossible to tell from humans and while, um, vampires and some demons
can sense them..."

"...we don't have any here."

"They heal faster than a vampire and can only be killed by beheading,
which is also their favourite method of killing. On Crete, they also
boiled them in vinegar to make sure that they stayed dead, but I think it
may be a cultural thing because its only mentioned..."

"Is there a good part to all this?" Willow asked. "Major weaknesses
etc. would be kinda nice."

"Well, it is unlikely to run into more than one at a time. They're, uh, territorial and tend to kill each other on site. They're are also fairly few in number."

"So, they don't gang up together. That's good. One alone sounds bad enough."

"That brings up another point." Giles looked grim. "When they die, there's a lightning storm that converges on the killer. Possibly a revenge, um, spell or a deterrent. Another of their kind can survive it, but..." Giles trailed off.

Willow was horrified. Even succeeding in killing Miss French could cause Buffy's death. She was not going to loose her like that.

"Do you know anything else?" Buffy asked, her voice strained.

"The references are vague. I did manage to dig up accounts of the last recorded time these demons overcame their antagonism towards each other. There are so few references because writing about them was said to be a way to call them down on you. Only a person very brave or confident that he would be protected would mention them. A group of four disguised themselves as mounted warriors. They managed to terrorize civilizations and other demons alike. Luckily, they broke up after a thousand years, or the world as we know it might not exist."

Buffy was clearly shaken, but spoke anyway. "Can they turn their heads all the way around?"

"No, not that I've read. Their physical structure is similar to humans, so that would be impossible."

Willow was greatly relieved. The picture Giles had painted was very grim indeed. *I hope one never comes here.* There were tons of vampires on the Hellmouth, maybe that would keep them away.

"There are insects that can," Buffy said. "Whatever she is, I'll be ready for her." Buffy walked up to the stairs and to the stacks. Giles removed his glasses, as if they were playing him false.

"What are you going to do?"

"My homework." She was interrupted by Adam's return. "Have you got anything on bugs?" she continued.

Adam looked around, confused. "Did I miss something?"

***

Xander entered the classroom and walked up to Miss French, who was
spreading butter on a piece of bread.

"Hi!"

"Oh, hi. I was just grabbing a snack. Can I fix you something?"

Xander shook his head. "No thanks, I never ... eat when I'm making egg
sacks." He looked down at the model. "Wow. If this were real the
bugs would be ..."

"As big as you."

"Yeah. So. Where do we start?" Xander asked.

"Oh, Xander." The teacher rose to her feet. "I've done something
really stupid. I hope you'll forgive me."

"Forgiveness is my middle name," he said quickly. "Well, it's really
LaVelle and I'd appreciate it if you took that with you to your grave."
He laughed and she returned it, though not nearly so nervously.

"I have a teacher's meeting in half an hour and I forgot the paint and
paper-mache at home. I don't suppose you'd like to come to my place
tonight to work on it there?"

Xander swallowed. *Go to her place?!?* Come to, uh ... your place?"
He wasn't entirely sure that he hadn't misheard her. *Maybe I'm
hallucinating again or something.*

"7:30? Here's my address." She scribbled something on a piece of
paper and handed it to him.

Xander couldn't believe it.

"I'll see you tonight?"

He answered in a high, squeaky voice. "Yeah!"

***

Buffy returned from the stack's carrying an open book. "Dig this:
'The praying mantis can rotate its head 180 degrees while waiting for its
next meal to walk by.'" She slammed the book shut with satisfaction.
"Ha!" The exclamation was treated with silence from the room's three
other occupants. "Well, come on, guys. Ha!"

"Isn't she sort of big for, uh, a bug?" Willow asked.

"And she is by and large, woman shaped," Giles continued. Buffy
contained her disappointment at the lack of enthusiasm when Adam spoke up.

"Not necessarily. I know of a, a woman who could project a false image
of her appearance."

Buffy was glad of the support from her new Watcher and glanced at her
best friend and Giles.

"Where did you find this?" Giles asked. "Keltharthy's Diary's or the
Heathelin texts..." he trailed off, looking at Adam, whose eyes darted
back and forth, not meeting Giles'.

"Um, well, not exactly," Mr. Pierson replied. "We, um...dated. So,
Buffy, what do we know again?" It was a clear attempt to change the
subject swiftly.

Buffy exchanged a glance with Willow, but let it lie. She understood
about bad break ups and why he might not want to talk about an
ex-girlfriend. "Okay. Factoid one: Only the praying mantis can rotate its
head like that. Factoid two: A pretty nasty vampire is terrified of her.
Factoid three: Her fashion sense screams 'predator'."

"It's the shoulder pads," Willow agreed.

"If you're right, then she could be a shape shifter or a..." Giles glanced at
Adam. "A perception distorter. On a helpful note, I had a chum at Oxford, Carlyle, with an advanced degree in entomology mythology."

"I guess we're in luck then," Adam said.

Buffy was confused. That was something she had never heard of before.
"Entoma--what?"

"Bugs and fairy tales."

"Oh, I knew that."

"If I recall correctly..." Giles paused, thinking. "...poor old Carlyle, just before he went mad, claimed there was some beast..."

He was interrupted by a beep of the computer. "Buffy, 911! Blayne's mom called the school. He never came home last night."

"This was the boy who worked with Miss French last night?" Adam queried.

"Yeah!" Willow exclaimed. "If Miss French is responsible for...Xander's supposed to be helping her right now! He has a crush on a giant insect!"

"Okay, don't panic. I'll warn him. But I need you to hack into the corner's office for me," Buffy said, trying to calm her down.

"Well, what are we looking for?"

"Autopsy on Dr. Gregory. I've been trying to figure out those marks on the corpse... I'm thinking that they were teeth." The Slayer pointed to the praying mantis picture in the book. "These should definitely be brushed after every meal." She turned to Giles. "And what were you saying about a beast?"

Giles rose to his feet and made his way to his office. "I have to make a phone call." He turned and looked at her and Willow. "Um, this computer invasion, one assumed it is entirely legal?"

The two answered together. "Entirely!"

"Of course."

"Don't worry, Rupert," Adam said. "We weren't here, didn't see it and had no way of preventing it. You know how teenagers today are."

"Yes, right." Giles continued to his office.

Adam turned to leave, but Buffy stopped him. "Where are you going?"

"I was going to get my laptop and see what I can find out about Miss French. The info is probably all false, but it should tell us something."

"Laptop?" *A Watcher with a computer?* So far Giles had exhibited a downright phobia towards the object, and a Watcher using a computer seemed strange. "Aren't you supposed to, like, use some old mystical books, or something?"

He smiled at her disbelief. "There's no vow or anything against modern technology."

"Oh. I guess we should get going then."

***

"Hey!"

Xander turned at the sound of Buffy's voice.

"So, how'd it go with Miss French?"

*Wouldn't you like to know?* He knew what Buffy thought of his attraction towards the supply.

"Well, it's a bit demanding being her favourite guy in the universe, but I'll make it through."

"Xander, she's not what she seems."

He pulled up short and glared at Buffy. *Of course she's not. Someone likes me and has to be some sort of horrible monster.*

"I know, she's so much more." He continued walking.

"Okay, um... I'm gonna tell you something and I really need you to listen, okay?"

"Okay." *Maybe she's jealous,* he thought. *After all, hope springs eternal and all that.* He knew Buffy considered him a friend and nothing else, despite his efforts.

"I don't think she's human."

"I see." His voice was brittle. "If she's not human, she's...?"

"Technically? A big bug."

He laughed as she stared at him.

"I know this is weird," Buffy said, "but..."

Xander interrupted her. "It doesn't seem weird at all. I understand completely. You're jealous."

"What!"

"Look, Buff, there's nothing I can do about it. There's just, like, this certain chemical thing between us."

"It's a pheromone. It's a chemical attractant that insects give off."

Xander couldn't take it anymore and snapped at her. "She's not an insect! She's a woman and, as hard as it is for you to accept it, someone might actually find me attractive! I know I'm no mysterious man handing out leather jackets, and, while we're here, what kinda girly name is
Angel anyway?"

"Huh? What does that..."

"Nothing! It's just been bugging me. I gotta go." He left Buffy behind him.

***

Xander rang the doorbell of Natalie's house. She answered the door, dressed in a tight black dress. Xander tried to stop himself from openly staring and only half succeeded.

"Hi! Come on in!" He entered the door which Natalie closed behind him. "Should I change? Is, is this too..."

"No, no." *No!* "It's the most beautiful chest..dress I've ever seen." He berated himself for his slip, but she smiled at him and he thought he might melt into a puddle there in her hallway.

Xander followed her deeper into the house as she went into the living room. "Thanks. That's sweet. Martini?" Natalie offered him one of the two glasses on the table. "Oh, I'm sorry, would you like something else?"

He quickly accepted the drink from her hand, trying to hide his nervousness.

She laughed. "I just need to relax a little. I'm kinda nervous around you." Natalie settled herself on the couch, a move which Xander soon followed. "You're probably as cool as a cucumber."

*Cucumber, cool, be cool, Xander.*

"I like cucumbers. Like in that Greek salad thing with yogurt. Do you like Greek food?" *You're babbling.* "I'm exempting Schwarma of course, I mean, what's that all about?"

They laughed. Xander focused on trying to keep his voice calm. He gulped his martini.

"Hohoo! Hello!"

"Cheers!" Natalie replied, clinking their glasses together.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" She set down her glass and moved
closer to him. "Have you ever been with a woman before?"

*Oh my.* "You mean like in the same room?" *She can't mean what I
think she means.*

"You know what I mean." Her voice was low.

"Oh, that, um," He was distracted by Natalie running her fingers through his hair. "Yeah, there was, uh, several, I mean, quite a few times, she was incredible...No, uh-uh."

"I know. I can tell."

"You can?" The question was more reflex than coherence.

"Oh. I like it. You could say that I...need it."

*God!* "Oh, well, needs should be met, uh, as long as it doesn't require
ointments the next day...or..." *Xander, what are you doing? You love
Buffy!*

*Shut up!* he yelled at his inner conscience, until he noticed that there really was someone yelling, a muffled sound coming through the walls.

"Do you hear..."

"No..."

"Sounds like someone crying..."

"I don't hear anything." The grip of her hand on his brought his mind away from the noises. Xander leaned back, unable to keep sitting upright, speaking thoughts that his inner voice had been telling him aloud.

"Buffy. I love Buffy. Wow! So that's a martini, huh?"

She nodded. His head lolled to the side as he began to loose control over himself. "Your hands are...really...serrated. I...I...really think I have to..."

He lost consciousness too soon to see that he was being dragged away by two large claws.

==================================

Author's note: Yes, there really are Kathkonos. They're a type of vampire. I've altered them slightly. Merely a misrepresentation on the part of us mortals have caused us to mix this obsure vampiric race with the common immortal.

==================================

Part 3
------

Xander was groggy when he awoke. He looked around at the bars of his
cage, trying not to listen to the strange, squishing noises. Grabbing
the bars, he pulled himself up. It was then he spotted the giant mantis
preparing her nest.

"Miss...French?" His voice combined disbelief, horror and fear.

"Please, call me Natalie."

***

Giles was frustrated. He was still trying to convince the person on
the other end of the line to let him talk to Carlyle. "Frankly, madam, I
haven't the faintest idea what time it is, nor do I care. Now, unlock
his cell, unstrap him and bring him to the telephone immediately," he
said as if explaining to a small child and his accent became more
clipped. "This is indeed a matter of life or death!"

***

"I got it!" Willow exclaimed as the computer displayed the needed
information. "Coroner's report, complete with ...Yuk!...colour pictures."

Buffy walked up behind her and Adam looked over from his laptop, his
face impassive.

"There are teeth marks. Which match perfectly with the praying mantis."
Buffy continued reading over Willow's shoulder.

"I, I don't like this." Willow's voice was nervous and disturbed.

"It's the way they feed, head first. They also do that while they
mate, the female bites off the..."

"No, no, no! See? Xander's, I like his head! Its where you find his
eyes, his hair and his s-smile." *No, not Xander.*

"Relax, Will. He isn't in any immediate danger. I saw him leave and
he's probably safe at home right now."

Adam spoke up. "Maybe you should check on him, just in case. You'll
feel better if you know he's alright."

***

Xander backed up in his cage, away from the sight in front of him. He
jumped at the near whimper from the one side."

"Blayne!"

The guy he'd wished many various torments on previously was babbling in
fear. "Oh, God! Oh, God!"

"Are you alright?"

"Oh God!" Blayne took a breath, stopping his chant for divine
intervention. "You gotta get me outta here! You gotta! She, she, she gets
you, and..."

"What?" Xander asked.

"...she, she..."

"What does she do?" he snapped. *I'd like to know before it happens.* He sighed, then tried a coaxing tone. "Blayne. What does she do?"

"Oh, God, Oh, oh, not! She, she...she, she takes you outta the cage
and she ties you up and, and...she... she starts movin' and thrombin' and
these eggs come shoo-in'' out of her! And then..."

"What!?!"

"And then..."

"Then what?"

"She mates with you!"

*What!*

"She..."

Blayne continued. "That's not the worst part!"

"That's not?"

"See her teeth? Right, when, you know...I saw her do it! I don't
wanna die here!"

"Blayne! Chill! It's okay. We'll get outta this."

He turned towards Xander hopefully. "You gotta plan? What is it?"

*I do?* "Just let me, uh, perfect it."

Obviously giving up all hope, Blayne returned to his previous mantra,
rocking back and forth. "Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God..."

***

"I, I understand Carlyle. Yes...I, I'll take every precaution. Oh,
absolutely. It sounds exactly like the creature you described. You, um,
were right all along about everything. Well, n-no, you weren't right
about your mother coming back as a Pekinese, but, uh... Yes, I'll keep
looking for her... Try to rest, old man... Ta! Bye now!" Giles hung up
the phone and walked out of the office towards the trio.

***

"Dr. Ferris Carlyle spent years transcribing a lost pre-Germanic
language. He kept his discovery to himself until several teenage boys were
found dead. Then, he went hunting it..." Giles' voice trailed off.

Buffy urged him to continue while Willow listened. "It being..."

"Uh, he called it a She-Mantis. Its a type of Kleptes-Virgo. An, um,
Virgin thief. They appear in many cultures. Greek sirens, Celtic sea
maidens, who, who, um..."

*Anytime this century,* Buffy thought. "Come on, Giles, while we're
still young."

Adam spoke up. "Basically, they appear as beautiful women and lure
virgins back to their lair. Don't they teach mythology in school these
days?"

*Oh.* It was obvious to Buffy that Giles had been attempting to find a
way to soften the blow, especially after the look he directed in Mr.
Pierson's direction.

"Virgins? Well, Xander's not, I mean, he's probably..."

Willow rose to her feet, agitated, picking up on Buffy's worry.
"...gonna die," she continued and moved hurriedly to the phone.

"Okay." Buffy paced around Giles and Pierson. "This thing is breeding
and we need to find a way to sniff it." She turned to face Giles
expectantly. "Any tips on the snuffing? A gallon of Raid? What?"

"Um, Carlyle recommends cleaving all body parts with a sharp blade."

*That I can do.* "Okay, Slice and Dice."

"What ever you do, it must be certain and quick. This creature is
extremely dangerous."

"Your buddy Carlyle faced it and he's still around."

"In a straight jacket, howling his innards out day and night."

"Nice mental image, Giles. Way to inspire the troops. Have you got
any more encouraging things to say, 'cause, if you do, I'm not sure I
want to hear them."

"Sorry."

***

"Xander's not home! He told his Mom that he was going to his teacher's
house to work on a science project. He didn't tell her where." Willow's
voice cracked under the worry for her closest friend since kindergarten.
*She's going to kill him. Xander's going to die.*

Buffy's voice cut short her negative thoughts. "Giles, go see if you
can record bat sonar and fast! Will, if you can find her address of the
sub. rolls."

"Already done."

Adam's voice stemmed off Willow's panic slightly. *We'll find him. We have to find him.*

"Bat sonar, yes?" Buffy nodded towards Giles. "Why?"

"Bats eat them. Its sonar makes their nervous system go kaplooey."

"And I would find this sonar where?"

"The vid library. Its dark and musty, you'll feel right at home. Go!"
She exhaled deeply. "You two look at the stuff on Miss French, I'll
deal with the armory." Bufy walked off leaving Willow with Adam.

"So, what do we have?"

"Well, according to this she was born in 1907."

"She's, like, 90 years old!"

"She's an idiot, 90 years old or not."

This stopped Willow short. "Why?"

"Fake ID's aren't that hard to get. If she had any brains at all, she'd
have an identity that matched her physical appearance. Of course, this
could also be a bad sign."

"Bad how? If she really isn't that bright..."

"She might have done it because no one has ever come close to stopping
her before so she doesn't care."

"Oh. Right, that isn't good."

***

Xander continued to pound on one of the bars as Blayne watched. "Don't
do anything to make her mad!" *Please, don't notice. Please, don't
notice...*

He watched as Xander managed to pull out the bar. Maybe they could
escape after all. *If I get out of this, I'll never even look wrong in
his direction. God, I swear* "Hey, alright, now I can get outta my
cage!" *Wait a minute.* "Into yours. What'd you do that for?"

"A weapon!" was the reply.

Blayne felt himself shiver when he saw *her* approaching. "I think
you're gonna need it..."

***

Giles returned to the library, holding the tape recorder. "Recording bat sonar is something soothingly akin to having one's teeth drilled."

"Great," Buffy exclaimed almost cheerily. "Wills, Pierson?"

"Got the address."

"Let's roll."

***

"Oh, God!" Blayne went through the hole into Xander's cage. "He did
that. He broke the cage. Take him! Not me, him!"

***

"What now, exactly? We can't just kick the door down." The four of
them looked up at the modest little house that was the abode of the
ruthless killer.

"Yeah, that would be wrong."

She raised her leg to kick, but the door opened. *Huh?* Standing in
the doorway was a small, fragile looking old woman.

"Hello, dear! I thought I heard... Are you selling something? I'd
like to help you out, but... I'm on a fixed income."

"I'm looking for Miss French."

"I'm Miss French."

"Natalie French, the substitute biology teacher?" *This is very
strange.*

The woman laughed. "Goodness, that's me! I taught for over thirty
years. How did you know?"

Buffy glanced around at her compatriots. "I can't believe this! She
used Miss French's records to get into the school. She could be
anywhere!"

"No, dear. I'm right here."

***

"What's she doing?" Xander watched as the creature turned her
head back and forth between the two of them.

"I think it's eeny, meeny, miney..."

"Moe." *Shit!*

Part 4
======

Natalie opened the cage for Xander to crawl out. He came, bar in hand.

"I'm comin'. I'm comin'."

Swinging the bar as heavily as he could, Xander attempted to force the
Mantis creature away from him. She staggered, giving him the
opportunity he'd been looking for. Gathering his strength, he made a break for the stairs that would lead him to safety.

*Almost there--5 steps, 4 steps, 3 steps! I'm gonna make it!* This happy thought was cut off by the claw that managed to trap his foot, tumbling Xander back down the stairs.


"What do we do now?" Willow asked.

"Prayer springs to mind," replied a worried Giles.

Buffy spoke up. "She was walking past this neighbourhood with grocery bags. She has to live around here somewhere."

Willow headed in the direction of the houses. "I'm gonna start banging
on doors."

Buffy grabbed her arm, stopping her. "Wait! We don't have time for that."

"And what would you suggest, Miss Summers? Wait for his dying screams
to give us a general direction?"

She glared at Adam. "That's not what I had in mind." The Slayer headed in the direction of the manhole cover where Mr. Claw had made his escape the previous night. "Don't worry. This shouldn't take long."

****

Xander struggled with the leather straps, attempting, without hope, to
escape.

"Oh, yeah, here it comes!" Blayne exclaimed, far too happily in
Xander's opinion.

"What? What's happening?!"

"How do you like your eggs, bro, over easy or sunny side up?"

"Eggs? She's gonna lay eggs?" But it was happening, right in front of
his eyes. *God, please. I want to live. I don't want to die like
this.* He flashed back to the lecture on the California Mantis from what
seemed like years ago. *Please, I don't want to die. Please.*

***

Claw Guy swung his arms in Buffy's direction. *I don't think so. I have to save Xander*. With quick, efficient movements, she avoided the deadly weapon and flipped the vampire onto his front. "Be a good boy and sit." Taking the rope, she pulled the monster's arms and tied them tightly behind his back. Then the Slayer used the rope to lever him to his feet and pushed him into the open.

"You!"

"Me!" Buffy replied. She continued to shove him violently down the street.

***

Willow was quiet as they followed Buffy and her captive vampire. She
really hoped Buffy knew what she was doing. Visions of Xander's
mutilated body drifted in front of her eyes. *Please, Xander, be all right.
You've lived on the Hellmouth all your life. You can survive this.*

"Come on!" Buffy yelled. The strain of the situation was obviously
getting to her as well. "Where is she? Which house? I know you're
afraid of her. Come on."

Suddenly, the vampire attempted to struggle out of the Slayer's grip
even more violently then before. He quivered and squirmed, but the
Chosen One held onto him tightly.

"This is her, isn't it? This is her house. Better than radar!" Buffy
released Claw Guy, allowing him to free himself of his bonds.

*Oh no!.* "Buffy!" Willow shouted.

The Claw man swung at Buffy, but he wasn't fast enough. The Slayer
avoided his strike, only to fall helplessly to the ground over a miniature fence. Willow watched as her friend crawled backwards on the ground
away from the vampire. Buffy grabbed a piece of the damaged fencing
and plunged it into Claw Guy's heart. The three observers breathed a
sigh of relief.

***

The muffled call for help reached Giles through the basement window.
*He's still alive. Thank God.*

Buffy smashed the window and slided in to help her friend.

"Hey, hello. In the cage," called a voice that Giles didn't
recognize, but was definitely male.

Buffy reached and pulled her bag through the window. "Let him go!"
Willow, Adam and Rupert followed through the small opening. Buffy pulled
out the cans of insect repellent from her bag, getting Natalier in the
face.

The Virgin-Thief stagged back, but Giles was too busy the appreciate
it. He went to where Xander was tied and began to remove the bonds.
*Bloody hell,* he mentally snarled at one stubborn binding.

"Get them outta here, Giles." Buffy pulled out the tape recorder and a
machete from the bag. Natalie retreated away from the Slayer and
hissed at her.

"Remember Dr. Gregory? The guy you killed? Yeah, well, he taught me
to always do my homework. You learn stuff, like what happens when you
hear this." Buffy pressed the button and Giles heard his own voice
coming from the machine. "...extremely important to file not simply
alphabetically..."

"Giles!"

"It's the wrong side! Turn it over!" *Don't die because of this.*

Natalie knocked both weapons from Buffy's hands and Giles watched
helplessly as the recorder flew by him and under a refigerator. He
scrambled over to it, searching as quickly as possible. *This is my fault.*

Xander sprayed the creature in the face with more insect repellent. Giles
couldn't pay much attention to the fight, attempting to find the recorder. Suddenly Buffy had a dagger in her hand and forced Natalie away from her.

*The recorder!* Giles pushed the play button down and the singularly unpleasant sound of a forty foot bat echoed through the basement. The slayerettes winced, but the effect on the monster was much more drastic.

The mantis flailed her claws, unable to gain control of her own body.

"Bat sonar," Buffy said. "Screws up your whole nervous system. "

Giles watched as she handed the dagger to Adam and picked up the
machete.

***

"Well...I would say that it's, um, deceased," Giles stated.

"And dissected," continued Willow, relieved.

"You okay, Buff?" Xander asked.

"Yeah."

"You were right. I'm an idiot and God bless you!" Buffy lowered her
head at the statement.

Xander turned to everyone else. "Thank you, too."

"Yeah, really!" Blayne agreed.

"I'm really glad you're okay. It's so unfair how she only went after
virgins." Xande laughed at Willow's statement, but then realized what
she had said.

"What?"

"I mean, you guys are doing the right thing, when a lot of other boys
your age..."

Blayne interupted her. "I am not..."

"Well, you see, that's the She-Mantis' modus operandi," Giles stated.
"She only preys on the pure."

"My dad's a lawyer. Anyone who repeats this is gonna find themselves
facing a lawsuit."

"Shut up, Blayne." *Look at what happened to us and that's all you
care about. We're lucky to be alive. Not that I want this going around
either.*

"I think it's really sweet. Nothing to be ashamed of..."

Xander stopped paying attention and picked up the machete. He looked
at it for a long moment before beginning to destroy it.

***

The group walked slowly down the street. Xander lagged behind,
thinking about what could have happened to him, when Mr. Pierson came up to
him.

"Are you sure you're alright, Mr. Harris?"

Xander glared at him. *Go away. * He practically threw the thought in
the direction of the Brit.

The man smiled as if reading his thoughts. "It could have been worse."

"How? This all just proves that all their thoughts about my
incompetancey are true. Xander the Moron strikes again. Buffy is never...I
mean, there's mysterious jacket giving guy and well..." *Xander, don't
babble. It just digs deep holes and places your foot in your mouth.*

"One--you're alive. I would count that as a good thing."

Xander could only agree. *Where there's life there's hope.*

"Any other encouraging comments?"

"Well, at least she wasn't very good."

He stared at the teacher in disbelief. "So, why would you say that?"

"Her ID said she was 90 years old. I would never be that careless. I
wouldn't pick people with close friends or families either. Harder to do,
but less chance of getting caught. Setting herself up as a supply
teacher might also have been a mistake. Who couldn't figure out a
connection between the missing students and the suddenly appeared Miss French?"

"Anything else?"

"I'd pick the victims a bit more carefully and I wouldn't leave
headless bodies lying around. A body isn't that hard to get rid of."

"Fine, thanks, I wanted to know that--not. Serial killers 101. I
don't want to know what you did before becoming a Watcher. Nor do I want
to know why you are carrying around a dagger under that coat of yours."

Pierson sighed. "This is the Hellmouth, and we were going out to kill
a creature that turned Rupert's friend into a howling madman. Call me
paranoid, but I thought backup weapons might be useful."

Xander had to admit he had a point. That, however, didn't make him any
less nervous.

***

Angel smiled in Buffy's direction. "I heard a rumor that there was one
less vampire making a nuisance of himself."

"There is. Guess I should thank you for the tip."

"The pleasure's mine."

"This would be easier if I knew how to get in touch with you."

"I'll be around."

"Or who you were?"

He just smiled at her again.

"Oh, here's your jacket."

"I looks better on you." With that, he turned and walked away.

She watched as he turned and looked back at her before disappearing. *Oh,
boy.*

***

Xander stared at both Buffy and Angel, watching as she looked after his
retreating back. *Well, he's right. I'm alive. And I guess that
means there's hope.*

The End