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Author's notes: First I must thank Ivy. She's been fantastic and encouraging and everything a writer could ask for in a beta. Danke schöne, merci beaucoup, grazi.

And to all the so-patient readers who wrote and asked for more - these pages are for you.

Finally, any and all feedback is appreciated and accepted with humble thanks.

(c) Eleri McCleod, July 2003

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Giles froze in the kitchen, kettle still in hand as the quiet words from the couple in the main room floated through the open section of the wall to him. Glancing quickly through the three by four foot opening, he saw they were focused on each other and not on the Watcher struggling not to eavesdrop on them. His tea forgotten, he set the kettle down on the counter next to the cup, unable to turn away from the scene before him. Worry had shadowed his thinking ever since he'd invited Angel, a vampire, the Scourge of Europe, into his apartment. But the scene continuing in front of him held him transfixed, softening that fear.

"I'm just going over to Willy's to ask him a few questions," the Slayer stated again, jacket in hand, heading for the door. "That is if he's still around in Bizarroland."

Angel mirrored her movement around the couch, grasping her arm. "Wait until nightfall. It'll be safe for me to go with you then."

"I can't wait that long. If anyone still alive knows what the Master is up to, it'll be that little snitch."

Giles tensed as the vampire frowned down at her, Angel's face in full view. She's the Slayer, he reminded himself, halting the urge to separate her from the other man before it could translate into movement. He could only hope she really did know what she was doing.

"Then take Oz with you," Angel insisted, staring down at her, face intent.

Immediately, she shook her head. "He's not a werewolf here. He's just an ordinary guy."

"He's another pair of eyes."

"He's canon fodder."

Stifling the chuckle that was threatening to rise, Giles could only smile at the rapid-fire words coming from the pair. They sounded for all the world like an old married couple arguing over what television program to watch. The two stared at one another, neither willing to give in.

Suddenly, Angel let her arm go, shoving his hands through his hair. "You are so stubborn."

Giles could only picture Buffy's pleased smile with her back to him, but somehow he knew it was there. That same smile dripped from her tone when she tossed back, "Thank you. Now can I go or are you going to obsess some more?"

The aggravated expression slowly melted from the vampire's face, replaced by a startlingly naked fear. "Please. There are more things than just the Master that want you dead."

The quietly spoken words did more than all the insistence had despite their brevity. Buffy stepped forward quickly, dropping her jacket unceremoniously on the back of the couch as she reached for his hands. "I'll go by his place on the way. Deal?"

Suddenly feeling like the intruder he hadn't just moments ago, Giles shifted so he couldn't see them. He'd just witnessed something deeply personal, something he'd had no right to see. But he couldn't wish it unseen. It had been the fear in the vampire's eyes that had made her give in. Fear for the Slayer, his natural enemy. The last bit of unease faded from his chest. He would come to no harm from Angel.

Their parting words were muffled, too low for him to hear as he reached for the kettle once again, galvanizing himself into action. If he appeared with tea in hand, maybe it wouldn't broadcast that he'd heard their entire exchange. If Angel had seen, maybe he would be good enough to overlook it. The water steamed gently as he poured carefully, filling the ceramic mug with just enough room for cream. As the front door closed with its customary thud, Giles took a deep breath and stepped out of the kitchen.

Studiously avoiding Angel's eyes, he made his way to the overflowing table, balancing his tea with far too much attention. He'd never been a good actor. Maybe if he broke the silence he could ignore the tension building inaudibly between them. "What was Buffy referring to when she spoke of Richard Wilkins earlier? He's the Mayor of Sunnydale, what's left of it."

"I could never hurt her."

Giles stilled as the words fell between them. So he'd noticed after all and let it go on anyway. Meeting Angel's gaze, he froze, stunned by the emotions he found within the dark depths. Love, sorrow, pain and determination. They clamored in the vampire's eyes, screaming over each other to be heard. Leaving his tea to the company of the numerous books spilling all over the table, the Watcher swallowed, trying to clear the lump gathering in his throat. "I'm beginning to believe that."

"She tries not to let it bother her, but I know it does. The whole vampire thing," he clarified at Giles' upraised brows. "I love her. I would die if it would keep her safe."

"Not an ideal match, vampire and Slayer," he commented softly, not wanting to ruin the opening Angel had given him. He was lost as to why the other man had begun this intensely personal conversation while at the same time loathe to let it pass by.

Nodding slowly, Angel moved a few steps back into the room. "You could say that. It's been a rough year." His eyes darkened as memory shifted beneath his features. Somehow Giles knew he wasn't exaggerating.

"What happened? To Angelus, I mean. The Watcher Journals simply state that he, you, seemed to drop off the face of the Earth around the turn of the century. And in all honesty I wasn't quite myself when Buffy had me pinned to floor earlier." He searched Angel's face, a little guilty at feeling a touch excited to finally have one of the greatest mysteries of his childhood explained.

His father had let him read through the Watcher Journals he'd kept at home once he'd been old enough to understand them. Young Giles had spent countless hours surrounded by stories of Slayers and the vampires and demons they'd fought. Angelus had been a legend in his time, a demon of the worst order. The young boy he'd been had cried the first time he'd come across a passage about the 'Scourge of Europe.' The brutality, the sheer viciousness of the attack faithfully recounted had left him bruised inside. For almost one hundred and fifty years Angelus had been unstoppable. Then one day, pouring over a particularly long volume, the reports had merely ceased with not another entry to be found on the demon. No Watcher had heard of an attack, no Slayer had had a meeting, no vampire had revealed any information leading to Angelus' whereabouts. He'd simply vanished.

Giles had wondered for a long time what had become of the vampire before his studies had ended the thought of spare time for contemplation. Angelus had become a footnote in the annals of Watcher history and a forgotten memory in the young man's mind. Now that memory stood before him, ready to tell him the chapter that had been missing from that old Journal.

"I killed a Gypsy girl. Her clan cursed me by returning my soul. All the people I'd murdered, all the destruction I'd caused, and suddenly I had a conscience to care about them."

The stark sentences left out what Giles could only imagine in his nightmares. The screams of the dying, the faces of the dead, the mere knowledge of knowing that he'd caused the horrors Giles had only read about in his books. The Gypsies had chosen well. "In the end, isn't it better this way? You can make up for the past, for everything Angelus ever did..." he trailed off, mind working swiftly. It was too neat, his simple plan. There had to be a catch. There was always a catch. "What am I missing?"

"It wasn't enough to merely suffer for everything I'd done. They wanted me to suffer throughout the rest of eternity. There was one thing that could make me lose my soul again, one tiny stipulation they failed to mention." Angel's expression closed in on itself, a mask of indifference that might have fooled the observant Watcher had he not just witnessed the gentle moment between the vampire and the Slayer. "We found out too late."

"Your soul wasn't permanent?" Giles asked, confused by the contradiction. Why would the Gypsies want a return of the creature they had sworn to torment? And how could Angel be standing before him if Angelus had returned. The unease crept back into his gut.

A tight swallow clenched Angel's throat briefly before he answered. "Only one true moment of happiness could take it away."

Confusion battled with the unease as he stared across the short distance to the other man. 'Happiness?' The Gypsies had made a rule out of 'happiness?' What did that have to do with- Confusion cleared abruptly, the unease turning to lead that filled his stomach. The Slayer's tenderness of minutes ago, the vampire's gentle eyes whenever he looked at her. 'Happiness' indeed. "Buffy." It wasn't a question.

"Buffy." The vampire answered anyway. "Like I said, we found out too late."

Silence reigned in the room as Giles struggled to absorb the knowledge slapping him in the face. The nightmarish pictures returned to batter at his stunned brain, leaving him empty. That poor young woman, he thought, unable to fathom what she had gone through when her gentle companion had become the Angelus he'd read so many horrifying things about. "How did you get it back?" He didn't bother to ask 'if.' The fact that Giles was still alive after being in the same room with the vampire was proof enough.

"Willow Rosenberg. I tried to kill her twice and she still did this for me, for Buffy." A smile covered his face, chasing some of the shadows away. "She's a special person."

"I never really met her," the Watcher admitted solemnly, the same feeling of inexplicable loss from the library coming over him. "She was merely a quiet student who came in to get books. She died not long after I came to Sunnydale."

"Because Buffy wasn't here to stop it." Angel shook his head, the smile fading. "You should see them, Giles, they're practically unstoppable together. But Willow's emerging wiccan powers can't change a century-old Gypsy curse." Their eyes met and held, the vampire's frustration and anger at the situation burning in his eyes.

Giles stood calmly before the emotional outburst, strangely not worried in the slightest. His reservations about Angel seemed to vanish as the sincerity of his words broke through a lifetime of training. This vampire posed no threat to him or to Oz or Larry, just as Buffy had said. "Perhaps you'll allow me do some research on this. I have many rare volumes at my disposal."

Staring at the librarian, shock plain on his face, Angel nodded slowly. "Yeah. I'd appreciate it. Just don't tell Buffy. I don't want to get any hopes up or anything."

"I understand." Feeling more in control with the questions he'd been afraid to ask answered, he took a small sip of his cooling tea. "Now what was this Buffy mentioned about Richard Wilkins?"

*****

"I've just got to ask: what am I doing here again?" Oz shut the van door solidly, meeting Buffy as she made her way around the hood.

"You're an extra pair of eyes," she stated cryptically, heading for the entrance of what she'd referred to earlier as "the worm's little hidey-hole." She paused, hand reaching for one of her pockets instead of the door. "I know it's broad daylight, but humor me, okay?"

Since it really hadn't been a question, he didn't bother answering. He grasped the stake lightly, eyeing the Slayer as she pushed the door open. A grin flitted over his face, tucking the sharpened piece of wood in his waistband under his shirt. This Slayer was beginning to grow on him.

The interior looked like any other bar he'd seen on TV and had played in with the Dingoes before they'd had to disband. Wooden floors, tables, chairs, bar, stools, everything he would have expected. The bartender was wiping glasses as Buffy walked straight up to him, a smile Oz could only classify as 'satisfied' on her face.

"I don't serve no underagers here," the small man said fastidiously, a complete opposite from his greased back hair and oily smile. Oz instantly knew he couldn't trust a word that came out of his mouth. Was this Buffy's source of information? The slimy man continued, "I got a reputation to maintain."

Buffy snorted inelegantly, as convinced as Oz of the man's sincerity. "Right, Willy. You sure have 'got a reputation.' How about you tell me what I want to know and I'll leave that 'rep' intact." The thinly veiled threat was accompanied by a bright smile.

A frown wiping the smirk from his face, Willy obviously wanted to know how the girl before him knew his name. "I don't got to tell you nothing. Now how about you move on out of here before you get yourself hurt," he stressed the pronoun slightly. "This can be a dangerous town for a pretty little girl like you."

Instantly, Oz knew that had been the wrong thing for the bartender to say to the Slayer. Her hand shot out, grabbing Willy by the neck and slamming his face into the bar. The towel dropped to the ground, glass from the other hand shattering as it struck hard wood. Freezing in shock, Oz could only stare in amazed fascination. He had barely seen her move and suddenly Willy's face was contorted with pain and fear, pressed hard into the grain of the bar. That single act was more like the Slayer he'd met over a week ago than anything she'd said or done since she and that vampire had appeared in the alley. Doubt crept into his gut. He'd seen her die. The Master had broken her neck. This couldn't be the same girl, could it?

"Since you're not the Willy I usually deal with," Buffy spoke companionably, easily holding the squirming rat down by his neck alone, "I'll forgive the pathetic attempt at 'tough guy talk.' My name's Buffy and I'm the Slayer. You're Willy and you're going to tell me everything I want to know."

"You can't be the Slayer. She's in Cleveland," he insisted, hands groping for purchase on the slick wood of the bar. "We don't got a Slayer here."

"Well, you do now. What's the Master up to?"

Oz couldn't hold back a grin. He absolutely loved the way this young woman, this Buffy, operated. He'd been annoyed when she'd showed up at his place, dragging him back out into the sunlight after he'd just managed to get himself to sleep, a task he was finding much too hard lately. Her pounding had jolted him to the door with a serious case of the ugly. Now, watching her squeeze information out of the bartender, he was glad she'd dragged him along. He was having the most fun he'd had since the Harvest.

"One last thing, Willy," she stated simply when she'd finally run out of questions. "Who are you going to tell about our little chat?"

"No one! I ain't gonna tell no one."

It seemed that was the answer she'd been looking for since she released her grip on his neck, allowing him to scramble away from her to the relative safety behind the bar. "If you gave me bad info, Willy," she started, hands gripping the rounded edge of wood in front of her.

"No, it's all good, I promise," he interrupted her, pathetically anxious to stay on her good side.

Buffy smiled sweetly as she backed away, wiping her hands together to rid them of any part of Willy or the bar that clung to them. "I'll be back later if I need anything else."

Slightly behind her as the Slayer made her way to the door, Oz held in a chuckle as Willy grabbed a towel from the counter, mopping the sweat from his face. Oh, she is good, he thought appreciatively as the door blocked out his last sight of Willy the Snitch. Somehow Oz didn't think the bartender was looking forward to a second meeting.

Buffy was at the van and waiting impatiently for him, arms crossed over her chest and foot dancing against the ground. "Let's get back to Giles'. I need to compare notes and see what kind of plan we can come up with. I don't like how this is beginning to shape up in my head." Her eyes lost their unfocused stare as she met his, expression serious. "This is going to get ugly."

With that cheerful remark, she climbed into the can, leaving Oz to gape in her wake. What had she pieced together, he wondered, pushing himself into motion around the van's hood. Maybe she'd be more forthcoming at Giles'. A quick glance over to his passenger confirmed his thought. She had drawn into herself, face a study in concentration. Sighing quietly, Oz started the engine, ready to head back to the librarian's home. Maybe this time their attempt to destroy the Master wouldn't end in defeat. This changed Slayer actually just might be enough to win.

*****

Third cup of tea empty and long forgotten, Giles listened intently as Angel concluded his brief history of Buffy Summers' tour of duty as the Slayer . The young woman had been through more than he could have possibly imagined in three years. Ethan Rayne had come to Sunnydale and Giles had barely suppressed a whoop of triumph when he'd heard how both his counterpart and the Slayer had taken their turns mangling the wretched man. But the sorrows and losses of the years pulled at his insides. Two Slayers dead, and while one had been revived, the other had had no chance. Teachers, students, innocent townspeople, all lost because of the Hellmouth. Even if they defeated the Master, it seemed their struggle was far from over. And they still wouldn't have a Slayer.

"You said Xander brought her back, correct?" He waited for Angel's confirmation before continuing his thought. "And since you have no idea how long she'd been dead, we have no way to determine if it takes a few seconds or a few minutes for a new Slayer to be called." Realizing too late how cold he sounded, he shrugged apologetically. "It could have been very important information for the future."

"Have you discovered who the new Slayer is?" Angel asked, accepting the Watcher's look with a nod. "She may be able to help."

But Giles was already shaking his head. "I've spoken with Ms. Summers' Watcher. I informed him and the Council of her death. The Council believes it's easier if the previous Watcher doesn't meet or speak with the new Slayer, at least for some time." He'd never been assigned a Slayer, something he'd dreamed of all his life. And then he'd met Buffy Summers and had been confronted with the most unpleasant part of his job, the one he'd only read about. "A Watcher and his Slayer can become very close, despite the Council's rules and warnings against it."

"I know. Our Giles is like a father to her."

A swell of pride filled his chest at Angel's simple statement. He had made a difference in that young woman's life. Well, not him exactly, but Rupert Giles had made a difference. "I'm glad to hear that, although I'm sure the Council would have a few undesirable things to say about it." Their eyes met, Giles reading the truth of his words in the other's face. "Yes, well, back to our current situation. Have you given any thought as to how to defeat the Master?" Unhappy with the abrupt, although necessary change of subject, he closed his mind on the thoughts. He and the Council had always been at odds over their view of the Slayer as a tool only and not a living person with a soul. He'd let the thoughts out when he could afford the distraction.

"Hopefully, Buffy will have more information when she gets back. She was right. If Willy is still alive, he's the rat to ask." Angel, bless the man, went along with his topic shift without missing a beat. The vampire knew even more than he did about uncomfortable subjects. "From what it sounds like, we need to take out that factory as soon as possible. The Master could do a lot of damage with that machine of his."

"I agree," Giles nodded, rising to put the kettle on again. Buffy and Oz would be arriving any minute if everything went as she'd hoped. "The problem is we can't get anyone inside. There are too many guards and too few of us."

A grim smile covered Angel's face as the Watcher returned from the kitchen area. "That shouldn't be a problem."

Pausing at the vampire's flat tone, a matching expression covered his face. Between the combined power of the Slayer and this vampire, Giles began to hope once again. Maybe they could do it. Maybe they could rid the world of the Master after all. That thought stopped the hope from expanding within him. What were they supposed to do after defeating him? The Hellmouth would still be present beneath the town and demons of all species would be drawn to it. Quickly, he slammed the door on those thoughts, blocking them in with all the others he didn't have the time to deal with. One catastrophe at a time, he told himself as the sound of heels striking tile bled through the door, interrupting his internal conversation.

"And that should be them now." He made his way to the door, still battling his discouraging thoughts. They needed to hear what Buffy had to say. Then he could open his box and worry.