* * Prologue * *
"Miles into kilometers" Angel asked throwing a quick left towards Buffy's face. Buffy grabbed his arm and using his own momentum against him sent him tumbling over her shoulder. "Multiply by one point six something." she answered while he rolled back to his feet.
"1.609" he corrected, circling to her right. "You need to be precise."
Buffy grimaced as she resumed her fighting stance. She had suggested the workout to get away from studying conversion facts for a while. She hadn't expected Angel to continue grilling her while trying to find a hole in her defenses.
"Meters to feet" he asked faking a kick at her right leg.
"3.281" she answered trying to swipe his other leg out from under him. Even as she did so, she realized her mistake. With a triumphant grin Angel took advantage of the fact that she was now off balance herself. He took a hold of her wrists, spun her around, and pinned her up against the wall.
"Ugh" Buffy said disgusted, "I walked right into that. That settles it. Science *is* bad for your health. At least when you're fighting." Angel smiled into her eyes and Buffy felt her heart speed up. "But fighting is good for your science. You actually remember your facts while you're fighting."
"Great" Buffy strained against the wall to give herself a little more room for her next maneuver. "Maybe if I start a fight during this year's finals I'll actually pass."
That drew a short laugh from him, and Buffy took advantage of his distraction to hook one of his legs and make him land on his back. At least that was the plan. For a moment they tottered precariously, then they *both* crashed to the floor, Angel's full weight landing on top of her. Buffy winced. More bruises.
Concern had replaced the laughter in Angel's eyes. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," Buffy answered grumpily, chagrined to have screwed up twice in a row. "You just... kind of took my breath away." Angel's face softened and his eyes seemed to turn into two bottomless pools. "I know the feeling." he said quietly, and suddenly her lack of breath had nothing to do with her fall and everything with the expression in his warm, brown eyes.
For what seemed like half an eternity they remained motionless, their faces only inches apart lost in each other's eyes.
The moment was shattered by the shrilling of the telephone. Angel rolled off her, offering her a hand, and Buffy let out the breath she had been holding and pulled herself back to her feet with his help. His eyes lingering on hers a moment longer, Angel turned away to answer the phone.
"Yes? Yeah, she's here." He handed her the receiver. "Giles is looking for you."
* * *
Buffy followed Willow down the stairs behind the stage of Sunnydale High's auditorium. "Are you sure Anyanka is trying her spell here at the school? We've been practically through the whole building."
"That's where we did it last time." Willow answered absentmindedly. She was holding what looked like a two-handled corkscrew to Buffy trying to divine the place where Anyanka was setting up for another attempt to retrieve her necklace.
"I still think we should have checked the burned-out factory." Buffy grumbled. She wished there was something she could do, but in matters of magic she was pretty useless. It was up to Willow to do the real work. Buffy was just along as protection.
"Giles said he would call Angel and ask him to go and take a look, but I think Anyanka will try to harness the power from the Hellmouth for her spell. I don't think she can do the spell without that, even if Michael is helping her."
Buffy thought that through. "If she wants the power of the Hellmouth, the closer to it the better, right?"
"Which is why we worked our way outward from the library." Willow confirmed.
"But what if she isn't in the school, but under it?"
Willow spun around her eyes widening with shock. "You don't think..."
Buffy nodded. "I think we should check the Master's lair."
Willow swallowed hard. "I wish that didn't make so much sense. I really don't like those dank tunnels. All cold and slimy... just the kind of place frogs like."
"You don't have to come, Will. You can just go back and let Giles know where I'm going." Buffy offered.
For a moment Willow looked like she might take Buffy up on that. But then she shook her head. "No, you'll need someone along that knows about this spell. Giles and I went through it and he told me exactly what to do."
"OK. And I promise to slay any nasty frogs we run across." Buffy tried to cheer her friend.
Willow looked at her a little askance. "You think you will have to?"
"Relax, Will, likely all we'll run into will be a couple of vampires or the odd demon."
"Oh, good!" Willow sighed relieved, then reconsidered. "As long as it isn't a frog demon."
"I'll have to ask Giles, but I certainly never heard of any such animal." Buffy reassured her.
* * *
They had reached the Master's lair without encountering anything but a few rats that quickly scurried away at their approach. Now they stood at the lip of the tunnel looking down into the buried old church.
Two figures sat at opposite sides of a five foot circle drawn on the ground with white, sparkling sand. In the middle between them sat an ornate golden bowl glittering in the light of the candles set at equal intervals around the circle. A low chanting told Buffy that the spell had already begun. She turned to Willow. "All right, do your stuff, Will."
Willow gave her a panicked look. "I... I can't! This isn't the same spell. I have no idea what to do!"
Buffy took a deep breath. "Okay. We'll just have to improvise."
With that she carefully made her way down into the church. Willow frantically yanked at Buffy's sleeve. "You can't just break into the middle of a spell! You have no idea what would happen."
"No, but I have a pretty good idea what will happen if I *don't* do something." Buffy countered, pulling herself free.
Luckily the two spell casters were too involved to notice their approach. As Buffy made her way closer she noticed a necklace dangling from Anyanka's right hand and her heart sank. Were they to late?
The chanting voices rose in volume and the golden bowl was suddenly filled with an eerie, deep purple flame. Buffy saw Anyanka draw back her hand to toss the necklace into the flames and reacted without further thought. Two quick steps took her into the circle, her hand shot out and intercepted the necklace just before it dropped into the bowl. Buffy felt the flame licking across the back of her hand. An intense pain shot up her arm and a series of strange images flashed before her eyes. Then there was a soundless explosion of power and Buffy went sailing through the air to land in a heap in front of what remained of the altar.
"Buffy!" she heard Willow yell.
"Well, that was a big no fun." Buffy remarked as she slowly picked herself up. "Remind me not to do that again." She felt bruised all over and her head seemed several sizes to big. But when she held up her right hand to take a closer look at the necklace, her hand was unmarked by its contact with the flame.
Anyanka stood inside the circle a triumphant sneer on her face. "You're too late! The spell is complete and now that I have my powers back, I'll show you all! How dare Ms. Margle fail me in math!"
"There is just one thing you forgot" Buffy pointed out, "I am the one holding the necklace here." Then she asked after a moments thought. "What did you have in mind for Ms. Margle?"
"Buffy!" Willow exclaimed scandalized. "You wouldn't..."
Buffy let out a sigh. "No, I wouldn't. But you have to admit that it's tempting."
"You think just because you hold the necklace you're safe? The Power is still mine!" Anyanka told them.
"Hey," Michael broke in, "you said this spell was going to make both of us more powerful!"
Anyanka shot him a contemptuous look. "I never said any such thing. Men always hear what they want to hear." Then she turned back to Buffy. "Will you give me my necklace or do I have to make you drop it?"
"But it goes much better with my outfit than yours." Buffy quipped.
"Not for long!" Anyanka lifted a hand and pointed it at Buffy. "Be the unclean rodent you really are!"
'Uh-oh' Buffy thought, 'not again!' She braced herself for the transformation, but to her relief nothing happened. "Gee, maybe it's broken." She quipped.
Anyanka stomped her foot and screamed: "Du saublöde Kuh! Give me my necklace, you filthy strumpet!"
"Now why should I do..." But before Buffy could finish, the necklace was ripped from her hand. Holding it close to his chest Michael disappeared into the closest tunnel. Anyanka tried to follow, but tripped over Willow's outstretched foot, landing face first in the dirt.
Buffy laid a hand on Anyanka's shoulder to keep her from running. "I think we better have a long talk about that necklace of yours before we go chasing after Michael. Willow, you better go and tell Giles what happened. Maybe he'll know what we should do now."
* * 1a * *
For the hundreds time Buffy asked herself why she had freed this vampire from his chains and agreed to let him lead her to the Master's factory. It had to be Jeeves' fault. All his talk about a better world, how she was supposed to have come to Sunnydale two years ago, and how he was supposed to have been her Watcher. And all of it because of something some ditzy high school girl had said. Jeeves had insisted that there had to be something to her story, otherwise the local vampire Master wouldn't have sent two of his most vicious disciples to have her silenced.
But all this talk about wish-granting fairies and power centers sounded like so much gibberish to her. Wishing didn't change things. How often had she wished that she wasn't the Slayer? That that truck hadn't spun out of control and crashed into their car, killing her mom and sending Buffy into intensive care. But every time she looked into a mirror, the scar on her face reminded her of how she had watched her mom's life drain away, pinned by twisted metal, unable to do anything but scream for help. Wishing for that help to arrive in time had done nothing to save her mother's life. Wishing had not brought her father back to life, when he had been attacked by vampires, while she was out on patrol. It had not saved her first Watcher's life, or that of her second, and God only knew how long the current one would last. "Emotions are a liability" the Slayer's handbook said. She had learned that the hard way. She had trained herself not to see the people, only the demons that had to be killed. It hurt too much when the people you cared for died.
She had been ready to ignore the man chained to the wall in the basement of the Bronze until he had called her by name. She had almost fallen for his story that he had been waiting for her to come to Sunnydale, that he had been sent to help her. Some of Jeeves' naivete must have rubbed of on her. That he had turned out to be a vampire made it a more than even chance that his whole story was nothing but a trap. So why had she freed him anyway, and was now following him where he lead? It wasn't that she trusted him, Buffy told herself, or that she believed his story. Maybe it was something in his eyes. He was certainly different from any other vampire she had met. Maybe it was simply that she no longer cared. Ever since she had gotten out of the hospital after the accident there seemed to be demons and vampires everywhere. No matter how many of them she killed, there were always more. Marilyn Houser, her second Watcher had organized a team of Watchers to go out and help her with the slaying, but they were all dead now, and she refused to watch anyone else die in her stead.
As they neared the old factory building Buffy kept a sharp eye out for any possible ambush. She carried her crossbow in her left hand and had a wooden stake in her right, ready to plunge it into the back of the vampire leading her if this turned out to be a trap. But no ambush materialized. One of the windows of the factory was partially open and Buffy stepped up to it to take a look.
Across the room from her was a big wooden cage filled with frightened humans. In front of it was some strange contraption partly obscured by one of the biggest gatherings of vampires Buffy had ever seen. On a raised platform to her left was a smaller group of vampires and in their midst she saw what had to be the local vampire Master. He was so old he looked no longer really human. His hands were clawed, his head hairless, and the only color in his pasty face was a flush of red surrounding his mouth like a permanent stain of blood.
Not particularly good odds. As she stepped away from the window a sudden attack of vertigo made her stumble to her knees. The whole world seemed to reel around her. She clutched at the grass in a desperate attempt to keep some grasp on reality, to avoid passing out all together. She half expected her vampire guide to take advantage of her momentary weakness, but the only thing threatening her was a rebellious stomach.
As soon as the worst dizziness had passed, she forced herself upright, leaning against the wall of the factory for support. She looked around, but there was no sign of her erstwhile companion. It took a moment for the absolute quiet to register as an ominous change from the noise coming from the factory before. She turned back to the window. To her confusion it was now closed. But there were several panes missing in the one next to it. A glance inside explained the quiet, but did little to lessen her confusion. The factory floor was deserted, showing no signs of the apparatus, and the wooden cage stood open and empty. How had they managed to evacuate the factory so quickly, and why?
She was just about to turn away when a movement alerted her that the factory wasn't totally deserted after all. There was someone making his way carefully around the factory, moving noiselessly and keeping to the shadows. He had changed his clothing, but she recognized the vampire she had found chained in the basement of the Bronze. She must have been out of commission a lot longer than she had thought, but here was her chance to get some information on what was going on. She stationed herself next to the door and waited.
Buffy didn't have to wait long. She had intended to throw him against the wall beside the door and pin him there with her wooden stake held against his breast, but he surprised her with the speed of his reactions and the ease with which he broke her grip. He knocked her stake aside and sent her flying over his shoulder. Buffy quickly scrambled back to her feet and set herself for his next attack, but it never came. Instead he stopped right in front of her and simply stood, staring at her.
"Buffy?" She raised her stake, ready to defend herself as he hesitantly reached out a hand towards her. A frown spread across his face as he pulled his hand back, but he made no move either to attack or to flee. Instead he asked in obvious confusion "What's going on?"
Buffy gave him a closer look. Like the factory there was something different about him, and it wasn't just his clothes. "That's what I would like to know." she admitted, reluctantly lowering her stake. "Where did all the other vampires disappear to?"
If anything he looked only more confused. "What other vampires?" He took a quick look around, then his intense gaze again centered on her. "Giles asked me to check and see if Anyanka was trying her spell here at the factory, but I didn't find any sign of her. Did you find her at the school?"
"Anyanka?" Buffy didn't think she had even mentioned Anyanka to him when they had spoken before. "Giles? Jeeves! When did he talk to you? How long was I out of it?"
"Jeeves? Buffy, what happened to you? Where did you get that scar?" Again he reached for her, but let his hand drop when she stepped back, wary of letting him get to close.
For several moments they simply stared at each other. Buffy had no idea what was going on any more, but she was reluctant to expose her ignorance.
He opened and closed his mouth several times as if at a loss for words, and there was genuine concern in the soft brown eyes watching her. Finally he suggested hesitantly: "Maybe we should go back to the library and talk to Giles?"
"Lead the way."
They made a strange pair walking down the street. Though he respected her desire to keep some distance between them, her companion kept giving her worried and preoccupied looks. As for herself, Buffy was so busy keeping a suspicious eye on him that she almost missed seeing one of the vampires she had seen earlier at the factory coming towards them.
* * * * *
Xander spotted Buffy and Angel walking down the street and changed his course to intercept them. Angel looked worried, which usually meant some big bad evil was brewing. But then Xander noticed the look of cold suspicion on Buffy's face and grinned. Looks like dead boy has done something to get Buffy upset, Xander thought happily as he sauntered up to them.
"Hey guys, what's..." Xander got no further as Buffy suddenly grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pushed him up against the nearest wall. Eyes wide and mouth hanging open he watched a wooden stake whistling towards his chest only to stop inches in front of it as Angel's hand clamped around Buffy's wrist.
Buffy used Angel's grip as a pivot to turn and throw Xander into a row of trashcans further down the street, then she twisted her hand free and turned to deliver a hard punch to the vampire's kidneys.
Momentarily stunned, Xander watched Buffy deliver a series of rabbit punches, that Angel was just barely able to block. Pulling his wits together Xander scrambled back to his feet and looked around for a likely weapon. He spotted a rusty piece of pipe and managed to free it from the rest of the garbage. He turned back to the fight to find that Angel had managed to pin Buffy against a pillar. Both of them were breathing hard and he heard Angel gasp: " I don't want to hurt you, Buffy!" Buffy remained stock still, silently glaring up into Angel's eyes.
Xander took advantage of the stalemate to carefully walk up to them and ask: "Have gone completely psycho Buffy? What in the world did you do to her, Angel?"
"I? It isn't me that's bringing out the homicidal tendencies in the Slayers lately." Angel snapped back.
"Okay, that's a low blow." Xander answered, pointing at them with the pipe in his hand.
Angel gave him a quick glance and Buffy took advantage of his distraction to free her right hand and stab the stake hard into Angel's chest. At the last moment Angel managed to twist enough so the stake missed his heart, but Buffy was already pushing him away to give herself room for another try.
Angel turned the push into a turn, pulling the rusty pipe from Xander's slack grip and delivering a solid blow with it to the side of Buffy's head that sent her flying against the pillar. Even hunched over from the pain in his chest, Angel still managed to catch her on the rebound with a hard left to her chin that sent her unconscious to the ground.
"She almost staked you!" Xander blurted in disbelief. Buffy, trying to kill Angel? What was the world coming to?
"I noticed." Angel answered through gritted teeth.
"Are you all right?" Xander asked worried.
"I'll live. You need to go get Giles. Something's wrong with Buffy."
"I'll say, something's wrong. First she attacks me, and then she actually tries to kill *you*!" Xander still had problems wrapping his brain around that concept.
Angel gave him an impatient look. "We don't have time for this. Find Giles, tell him to come to the mansion. Don't tell him what happened, especially if Wesley's around. The last thing we need is another Watcher goon squad showing up with crowbars. They're not getting Buffy!"
For once Xander found himself in total agreement with Angel. "Right. You need any help?"
Angel gave him a tight smile as he picked Buffy up in his arms. "I'll manage."
Xander didn't waste any more time arguing, and took off down the street running.
* * 1b * *
Angel made it to the mansion and managed to get Buffy chained up before having to knock her out for a third time. He leaned against the wall opposite the fireplace and watched as Buffy slowly sat up and looked around. Her eyes found him, and the look of cold distrust in them hurt more than the wound in his side.
"So, in return for taking your chains off, you put some on me. Well, I should have known better than to trust a vampire!" Angel couldn't help but flinch at the way she spit that last word at him.
"Buffy, something strange is going on. I'm trying to help you." Angel told her earnestly.
"Oh, please!" Buffy snorted, "You don't seriously expect me to fall for your 'I was sent here to help you' story a second time. You blew any chance of that when you saved your *buddy* there on the street."
Angel frowned confused. "Xander and I may not be the best of friends, but I couldn't let you kill him. You would have regretted it later."
Besides, Angel thought to himself, he owed Xander for protecting Buffy from him, when she had been too sick to defend herself during his soulless time last year. He felt deeply sorry for all the horrible things he had done after he had lost his soul, and he would do his best to keep Buffy from having to face the kind of guilt he had to live with every day.
"Regret it? I'm a Vampire Slayer! Why would I regret killing him?" Buffy asked contemptuously.
"You're a Slayer, not a killer! Something happened to you, Buffy." Angel tried again, "You and Xander are friends. I don't..."
"Friends?" Buffy interrupted him, "I would never be friends with a vampire. They are worse than animals." She gave her chains a sharp tug. "If I ever thought for a moment that you might be different, I've certainly learned better by now."
Before he could think of what to say next, he heard footsteps and voices coming from the garden court. Good, Xander had found Giles. Maybe the Watcher would know what could have happened to Buffy. Straining against her chains, Buffy shot him a look of pure hate that cut through him like a knife. "So, you invited a couple of youre friends for dinner. I was wondering why I was still alive!"
Angel stared at her, comprehension slowly dawning on him. "Buffy, it's not what you think. I would never hurt you!"
"Oh, is that why you chained me up? Are you going to tell me that you never tortured anyone either? Well, guess what, you can play your little mind games with someone who doesn't know as much about vampires as I do. They might actually fall for this crap."
Xander, Giles and Willow had heard that last and stood there staring at him with various expressions of shock on their faces. Buffy's words hurt. All the more so for the truth contained in them. He had loved to torture and play games with people, but that had been before he got his soul back.
Giles raised a hand uncertainly. "Angel? Buffy? What's going on?"
Buffy turned towards him and asked: "What are *you* doing with them? I thought you used to be a Watcher. But then, who better to help the vampires entrap a Slayer than an ex-Watcher, huh?"
Giles just stared at her speechless.
"We are now entering the twilight zone." Xander quipped.
But Angel thought he finally understood at least a part of Buffy's behavior. He strode over to the table, scooped up a cross that Buffy had left there on her last visit, and quickly tossed it in Xander's direction. "Heads up, Xander!"
Xander caught it out of the air and quickly turned in a circle, holding it out in front of him. Giles had pulled out a cross and stake and was doing the same. When they couldn't see any signs of attacking vampires they turned back to Angel with a questioning look.
"Give the cross to Willow." Angel instructed Xander. Still mystified, Xander complied. Once Willow held the cross, Angel turned back to Buffy and held up his right hand, showing her the red burn mark running across the palm of his hand. "I *am* one." He told her, "*They* are not."
He could see that she was shaken, but she refused to capitulate that easily. "And next you're going to tell me that you and I are friends, too, huh?" she asked contemptuously.
Angel turned away to hide his despair from the others, in his mind he heard again the words Buffy had said to him after Spike's visit to Sunnydale: 'We're not friends. We never were.'
"Wait a minute" Xander asked in disbelief, "are you saying Buffy tried to kill me because she thought I was a *vampire*?"
* * *
Buffy entered the library to tell Giles that he could stop researching Anyanka and her necklace, at least for the present, and go home and get some sleep. But the only ones there were Cordelia and Wesley. Cordelia was wearing her 'really listening' face, while Wesley was explaining something about wishes and demons. Buffy raised her eyebrows at them, causing Wesley to blush a furious red. "Uh, ah, Buffy." he managed to get out, "breaking off patrolling a little early, aren't we?"
"Well, if you want to call chasing after a totally useless necklace with a girl that can't stop whining about her bygone glory days patrolling..." Buffy shrugged.
"I told you Anyanka was nothing but a delusional teenager. Suffering from a hormonal imbalance, no doubt." He drew himself up with a haughty sniff. "Well, you better get started with your regular patrol. Can't have you slacking off, you know."
Buffy bit back on a snide remark and asked simply: "Where's Giles?"
"Oh, he went with Xander and Willow to pay Angel a visit." Cordelia answered "Seems your demon honey ran into some kind of trouble."
"What kind of trouble? Is he all right?" Buffy wanted to know.
"How should I know?" Cordelia asked dismissively "I guess somebody tried to kill him or something. High time somebody did, if you ask me."
Buffy's hands balled into fists, but she kept them by her side. She tried to keep the threat out of her voice as she took a step closer to Cordy. "He is all right though, right?"
"Gee, get a grip!" Cordy refused to let herself be intimidated. "If he was dust, they would hardly be going to see him now would they? What else matters when you're talking about a vampire."
Buffy refused to waste any time on an answer as she made for the doors.
"Now, Buffy, you better be going on patrol," Wesley called after her, "I won't have you..."
The rest was cut off as the doors swung shut.
* * 2 * *
As Buffy walked down the steps into the garden court she could hear her friends talking inside. "...a variation on the spell Ethan cast?" Giles voice. Then Willow, her voice carrying clearly: "Maybe this is something Anyanka did to get even with Buffy? She was *real* mad when Buffy snatched the necklace out of the fire."
Anyanka had done something to Angel? Buffy scanned the room anxiously as she stepped through the doors. Her eyes found Angel. He stood apart from the others, eyes closed and head hung in defeat. Ignoring the others and the sudden silence that descended on the room, she stopped in front of him. "Angel?" she asked anxiously.
His eyes snapped open and he stared at her, his mouth slowly dropping open. He reached for her hesitantly, almost as if he expected her to vanish. When she took his hand in hers, he jerked involuntarily and she heard his sharp intake of breath. Then she noticed the red burn mark on the palm of his hand. "I'm sorry! You're hurt." Buffy tried to withdraw her hand, but he tightened his grip until it became painful. "Buffy?" he asked.
Now the others were crowding around her as well. Willow pointed a finger at her and slowly poked her in the chest. "You're real!" she exclaimed.
"Of course I'm real, Will. Giles, what is going on here? Cordy said that somebody tried to kill Angel."
"Yep." Xander chimed in. "That would have been you."
"Well, you tried to kill both of us, " Xander amended, "but Angel is the only one that actually got staked."
Buffy gave Angel a searching look and noticed the stain of blood on his shirt, which had been half hidden by his jacket. Her eyes flew back up to his face, "Are you all right?" -- "I'll be fine." He reassured her with a smile.
Willow added reassuringly: " And it wasn't you you, it was the other you."
"The other me?" Buffy echoed confused. The others turned and looked towards the fireplace. Buffy found herself staring wide-eyed at ...herself.
Buffy took a hesitant step closer, then stopped. "Two of me?" she whispered shocked.
"Look on the bright side," Willow suggested helpfully, "at least your other you isn't a blood-sucking fiend, ... as far as we know." She turned to Angel and asked worriedly: "She isn't, is she?"
Angel gave her a half smile. "No, I'm pretty sure she is a Slayer, like Buffy."
"Oh, good!" Willow nodded.
"Anyanka's spell." Buffy thought out loud, "But why another me, not another Michael? He was the one helping with the spell!"
"Yes," Willow answered, "but he wasn't the one that stepped into the circle and stuck his hand into the flame."
Giles looked at Buffy aghast. "You stepped into the middle of a spell? Good Lord!"
"I was just trying to catch the necklace before it could land in the fire." Buffy explained defensively.
"Yes, um... the necklace." Giles ran a hand through his hair. "What happened with that. Willow told us that Michael ran off with it, and that you and Anyanka went after him."
Buffy shrugged. "We found him. The necklace still doesn't work. Anyanka was not happy. I didn't understand all the words she used, but none of them sounded very nice. The spell was a bust." Then she turned and frowned at the other Buffy still chained next to the fireplace. "Except maybe it wasn't. ... Why am I chained up?"
"Apparently she attacked Xander on sight, and when Angel intervened, she tried to stake him." Giles explained almost apologetic.
"She thought that Xander was a vampire." Angel came to the other Buffy's defense. "And I *am* one, after all."
"Well, Xander isn't a vampire, so there is no need to stake him." Buffy told her twin self firmly.
"And don't stake Angel." Willow added confidentially, "Buffy tends to get really cranky when anybody does that."
Wordlessly Angel handed the key to Buffy, who went over and unlocked the chains. "You won't, will you?" Buffy couldn't prevent a note of threat creeping into her voice.
Xander was the first to break the awkward silence that followed.
"So, now we have three Slayers. This club gets less exclusive all the time."
The other Buffy spoke for the first time. "Three Slayers?"
Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. "Long story." -- "Buffy died" Willow explained helpfully.
"Only a little!" Buffy said defensively. "Angel and Xander brought me back."
"Actually, it was Xander," Angel corrected, "vampires can't do CPR." -- "But I never would have found her in time without you." Xander allowed magnanimously.
"Sorry to interrupt your mutual admiration committee," Giles broke in, "but what do we do now?"
"Well, I still have to patrol. Wesley was very insistent on that." Buffy answered.
"Wesley? Wesley Windham-Pryce?" the other Buffy asked. "That punk!"
"Punk?" Xander mused, "Dork, maybe, but punk? I don't see it."
Giles tried to recapture their attention. "Yes, but, Buffy, what are we going to do about ... ah, ... Buffy?" --"She can sleep over at my house tonight." Willow offered helpfully. "That is, if you want to, Buffy. I mean the other... This is really confusing... How do we know which, ... I mean..."
"Yeah, " Xander agreed, "it will be hard enough to explain where you suddenly got a twin sister, Buffy. But same name, too?" he shook his head.
Buffy turned to her double and offered: "How about Anne. I used that last summer after..."
When she broke off Xander continued helpfully: "After she ran away, and left the slaying..." Willow elbowed him in the ribs and interrupted him hurriedly. "That's a nice name, Anne. How did you come up with it?"
"It's my middle name." both Buffys answered almost at the same time, then looked at each other and smiled.
The other Buffy shrugged. "Anne is fine."
"Good," Buffy said, "Angel, do you have a first aid kit? We need to bandage that hole in your side." Angel nodded. "I'll get it."
"So, Anne, you want to stay at my house tonight?" Willow asked again.
"I don't sleep nights. Nights are for killing." Anne answered.
"And dancing. Let's not forget dancing! I'll be more than happy to show you our local club." Xander offered. "How about it? You and me? Could be fun!"
Anne just looked at him as if had grown a second head.
"You can patrol with me." Buffy was busy cleaning and bandaging Angel's side.
"Good idea" Giles seconded. "It is probably best if you stay close to Buffy, ah... Anne. It'll give you a chance to get acquainted. This has to be terribly strange for you. In the meantime, it is getting rather late. Willow, Xander, I can give you a ride home. We'll all meet again tomorrow."
Buffy closed up the first aid kit. "I better get going, too. You ready, Anne?"
In answer Anne pulled out a wooden stake. "Always."
* * * * *
Anne walked next to Buffy through a night of surreal quiet. No screaming, no vampires, not even a single demon in sight anywhere. It was downright unnerving. "Is it always this quiet?" she finally asked just to break the silence.
"Not always." Buffy answered, "What's it like where you come from?"
"It's certainly never this quiet." Anne shrugged. "Most places, the demons keep a low profile and people can refuse to see what's happening. Other places the vampires and demons have openly taken over. People there either form their own demon killing squads or keep their heads low and hope they won't get eaten tonight. Some actually work with the demons, like the late President."
Buffy gave her a shocked look. "Wow. How did it get so bad?"
"Started about two years ago, shortly after my first Watcher died." Anne didn't want to get into that so she continued quickly: "Somebody must have opened a gate to a demon dimension somewhere, and kept it open long enough for a whole bunch of them to cross."
Buffy gave her a thoughtful look. "How long have you been in Sunnydale? Your Sunnydale."
"Got there yesterday afternoon. My Watcher got a call from Giles. Wesley wanted me to go to Cleveland, so of course I went to Sunnydale." Anne gave Buffy a tight half smile.
"So, ... you weren't here for the Harvest. That was about two years ago, just after I moved here. The Master was trying to free himself and open the Hellmouth. I guess since you weren't there to stop it, in your world the Master rose." Buffy said slowly.
Anne gave a strange look. "That's what your vampire friend said when I found him chained up in the Bronze."
"They had Angel chained up?"
Anne looked over at Buffy and wondered at the fire in her eyes. "You really *care* for a *vampire*?"
In disbelief Anne watched as Buffy actually blushed as she answered: "Angel is ... different. He got his soul back, so now he is one of the good guys."
"So he was telling the truth when he said he would help me fight the Master." Anne mused.
"You were going to fight the Master?"
"We had just arrived at his factory when everything went crazy. The next thing I knew I was here." Anne said.
"Maybe just as well, " Buffy suggested, "the Master was pretty hard to kill. He was the one that killed me. But I killed him twice! Well, sort of."
Anne listened as Buffy told her briefly what had happened to her since coming to Sunnydale. When she came to the part where a group of vampires had invaded the school on parent-teacher night, and how her mom had actually hit a vampire attacking her daughter with an ax, Anne broke in hesitantly: "Your ... mom? She ... she's still alive?"
Buffy looked back at her. "Yeah. Yours isn't?" Anne just shook her head.
"What happened?" Buffy asked softly.
Anne didn't want to remember, but disconnected flashes of memory escaped through the wall she had built up inside her. The pain in her legs, pinned by twisted metal. Her mother's pale face turned towards her, her eyes staring at her through a curtain of blood drenched hair. Her own voice, high and shrill, "Don't die, mom, please, don't die! Somebody, HELP!"
With an effort she pushed the memories away and took a deep breath.
"She died." her voice sounded dull and far away in her own ears.
There was a long silence. Finally Buffy said softly: "I'm sorry."
Anne shrugged, uncomfortable with the sympathy in Buffy's voice. "Life goes on. There is always another demon that needs killing."
"I guess." Buffy looked around: "We might as well head home. It's quiet tonight."
Anne thought about meeting Buffy's mom, and shook her head. "I don't think that's such a good idea. How are you going to explain me to your mom?"
"Good point. But, where else are you going to stay?"
"There has to be a motel somewhere." Anne shrugged.
"I have a better idea." Buffy countered. "Angel has plenty of room; you can stay there. I'm sure he won't mind. Just ... promise me you won't stake him again."
Buffy expected her to sleep in the same house with a vampire? She looked at her other self, dressed more for a date than to go out slaying, and wondered if she had ever been that open and trusting. And this unnervingly quiet town... All of a sudden, it was all too much to deal with. She shook herself and realized that Buffy was still waiting for an answer. "Why not?" she shrugged, " As long as he leaves me alone..."
* * 3 * *
She woke slowly, and more refreshed than she had felt in a long time. Automatically she turned to check the time. There was no alarm clock on the bedside table. Late afternoon sun slanted through the drawn curtains of a strange room. Slowly memory caught up with her. Anne. Her name was Anne now. Still the Slayer, but suddenly no longer the only one. And in a world with strangely few demons. No massacre or other catastrophe that had to be averted in the next few hours. She felt strangely adrift without an immediate task that had to be accomplished. For the first time she had time to think, to feel. Something she had avoided in the weeks since her Watcher Marylin's death. Wesley had been very impressed with her dedication to duty, and going from fight to fight had kept her too tired and busy to think. Hurriedly she threw back the covers and slipped into her clothes. There had to be something here that needed to be done, that would keep the memories at bay. As she left her room, she heard a knock echoing somewhere in the house, then the sound of a door opening. Voices. The first belonged to the boy she had mistaken for a vampire. "Hey, man, how you're doing. Mind if I come in?"
"Be my guest." The voice of her vampire host, what was his name again?
"The others should be along soon. Giles wanted to meet here instead of the library. So, is Anne up yet?" Xander again.
Then her own voice, Buffy's voice: "Hi, guys, Giles here yet? I was going to work out a little before he got here." Then as she saw Anne coming into the room. "Hi, Anne, sleep good?"
"You want to work out against me?" Anne asked. Training was almost as good as fighting when it came to getting your mind of things.
"Yeah, sure." Buffy answered a little taken aback by her abruptness. Unlike the night before, Buffy was actually dressed in something sensible, though still much too bright for Anne's tastes. Bright colors attracted vampires. Not a good idea for a Slayer to advertise her presence to the enemy. Anne had learned the hard way that it was much better to wear the drab colors that allowed you to blend into the background.
At first they were careful with their punches and blocks, feeling each other out. Anne had to admit that for all her unprofessional appearance, Buffy did know how to fight. But the sparkle of enjoyment in her eyes reminded her of a time when she herself had still thought that there was more to life then demons and death. It brought back carefully buried memories of Ian, the young Watcher's apprentice, who had been part of the support team her second Watcher had assembled to help her in her nightly slaying. Memories of all the glorious times they had spent together, studying, training and fighting side by side. His eyes had held that same sparkle and optimism. Until the day he had thrown himself between her and the poisonous stinger of a Scara-demon. Her punches started coming faster and faster as she tried to fight off the memory of him writhing in her arms as the poison slowly burned that unquenchable optimism out of his bright eyes.
"Buffy!" The sound of a shocked voice tore through her preoccupation and pulled her back to the present just as Ian's last pained whisper of 'I love you' echoed through her mind. She froze, staring at the mirror image of her own face, sweat-streaked, the laughter replaced by fierce concentration. She looked around into a row of shocked faces; and one that did not hold shock, but a mixture of concern, pity and understanding.
The door to the garden behind Giles and Willow stood open and without any further thought, Anne took off running. She had to get away. Away from the memories and away from those soft brown eyes that looked at her with so much pity and understanding, as if they could see all the way down into her soul.
* * * * *
Taking a deep breath Buffy watched Anne run up the steps of the garden court and disappear up into the hills.
"Ah, Buffy?" Giles asked, his voice tentative, "What were you doing?"
Buffy gratefully accepted the towel Angel handed her and wiped the sweat from her face. "We were working out. What did you think we were doing?"
"Yeah, right." Xander added sarcastically, "And it was such a mild work out that Anne decided to go for a run afterwards just to get her circulation going."
"I better go after her." Buffy decided.
"What, so she can give you a real workout?" Xander wanted to know.
"This is not good, Buffy." Willow worried, "First Faith and now..."
"She's not like Faith!" Buffy interrupted her. "You have no idea what she's been through."
"Did she tell you about it?" Giles wanted to know.
Buffy thought back to last night and the expression on Anne's face when she had told Buffy that her own mother was dead. Her eyes had been so bleak and hopeless. "I think she has had to watch too many of the people she loved die. Two Watchers, ... her mother. Sunnydale is a peaceful vacation spot compared to where she comes from." She looked up into Angel's eyes. "She wasn't there to stop the Harvest. The Master rose and brought a whole lot of company."
"Good Lord." Giles whispered appalled. "It's a wonder there is *anything* left of her world."
Willow's eyes were huge. "Wow. If Angel hadn't warned you about the Harvest..."
Buffy laid a reassuring hand on Willow's arm. "But he did, and we stopped it."
Willow gave Buffy a shaky smile and nodded. Buffy turned to go after Anne, but Giles held her back. "Buffy, it might be better if you don't take her along on patrol again. She may not be another Faith, but I don't think she is ... is entirely stable. The way she was laying into you..."
Buffy gave him a wry smile. "Kind of reminds you of the way I was after the Master killed me."
"Exactly." Giles agreed, "She obviously has ... has a lot of ... of issues she needs to work out."
"We'll just have to help her deal." Buffy told him.
"Yes. Well. Just be careful, will you?" Giles admonished her.
Buffy looked out through the garden doors. "If anyone would be able to understand her it's me. She *is* me, if different things would have happened to me. If I would never have met any of you guys." Again her eyes sought Angel's, trying to draw comfort from his steady presence. "I better get going."
* * *
She found Anne sitting with her back against a rock, arms wrapped around her knees, looking out over Sunnydale. There were tracks on her cheeks, but Buffy wasn't sure if they were from sweat or tears. She certainly wasn't crying now. Her face was devoid of any expression and the flat dead look in her eyes sent a shiver down Buffy's back. She took a hesitant step closer. "Are you all right?"
She was glad to see some semblance of life return to her eyes, as Anne looked up and asked: "I almost beat you to a pulp, and you ask me if *I'm* all right?"
"Well, you didn't. Beat me to a pulp, that is. You did give me a pretty good workout though."
The joke sounded flat even in her own ears, so Buffy tried again. "Are you all right? You ran off pretty sudden."
Anne refused to meet Buffy's eyes as she answered flippantly: "Going for a run is a good way to round out a training session."
"Yeah, it helps to get your circulation going." Buffy answered thinking of Xander's remark. She was rewarded by a short laugh.
"You're so different. And your world, it's so bright and ... orderly." Anne made a sweeping gesture to include the town below them. "There are all these colors, it's ... like they don't even care what's lurking in the dark."
"Most of them don't know anything *is* lurking in the dark. That's sort of my job, to keep it that way."
Buffy thought how lucky she had been in her life, even with all the bad things that had happened to her. Looking at Anne, she suddenly had to admit that it could have been a lot worse. She wondered if she could have handled the life that Anne must have been leading for the last two years. Then she smiled. Anne was her after all. If she had been able to cope, that meant Buffy would have, too.
Finally Anne stood up and said: "I think we better get back. If Giles was anything like my Watcher, he'd be here already wanting to know what was going on. I think you're lucky to have him instead of Wesley."
"Actually Giles isn't my Watcher anymore, he got fired a couple of weeks ago."
Anne stared down at her. "They fired your Watcher? Why?"
Buffy wondered what to tell her, when something occurred to her. "Are you 18 yet?"
Anne shook her head. "Three more weeks till my birthday, if I live that long. Why?"
Buffy took a deep breath to ease the knot in her stomach as she thought back on her own 18th birthday. "Have they set you to studying the properties of vibratious crystals yet?"
"No, but that is in the next section of the Slayer's Handbook."
"You got a handbook? How come *everyone* else gets one?" Buffy groused. "Well, if your Watcher wants you stare into a crystal, especially if it's a big blue one: don't!" She got up and brushed off the seat of her pants. "Come on, I'll tell you about it while we walk back."
* * 4 * *
Joyce Summers looked up from the list of new acquisitions for her gallery that she was going over to see her daughter come in through the front door. "Hi, honey, you're home early. Done training for the day?" She could tell by the look on Buffy's face that there was something troubling her. In the past she would have suspected boy trouble, but with a Slayer for a daughter is was rarely that simple.
"Mom, we have to talk." Buffy stopped in front of her mom and ran her hands over her hips the way she did when she was nervous or unsure of herself.
Joyce's heart sank. "Sure, honey, what is it?"
"This is going to sound a little crazy, but..." Buffy trailed off uncertainly.
"Crazier than demons, witches and Hellmouths, you mean?"
Buffy gave her a weak smile. "You got a point. It's a bit complicated. There is this girl at school who claims that she used to be a demon or a fairy or something. She's been trying to get her powers back by conjuring some necklace from a parallel world into ours."
Joyce blinked and clamped down on her automatic disbelief. She had promised herself to never again make the mistake that had driven her daughter into running away last summer, and dismiss something she told her out of hand, just because it sounded incredible.
It was hard at times, but she was doing her best to adjust to her daughter's calling, and be supportive of it. She wanted to be a part of her daughter's life. Wanted her to be able to come to her with any problems she might have, be they supernatural or of the normal teenage variety.
When she remained quiet, Buffy continued hesitantly. "When I stopped her latest try, something went wrong with the spell, and now there are two of me."
"Two of you? You mean she split you in half?" Joyce asked stunned.
"Not exactly. This is like a different Buffy from a different world. One where we never moved here."
From Buffy's look, she could tell that there was more to it than that. "And?" she prodded.
"Well, from what she told me, her world is very different from ours. She's really had it tough being the Slayer there. She seems so ... burned out, ... defeated, hopeless. I thought, maybe we could do something to show her that life is still worth living. Maybe take her to an ice-show, or a park or something?"
"Well, the Gallery will be closed for another three days while we arrange the new pieces." Joyce forced herself to deal with the practical side of things to avoid thinking of the deeper implications. "I don't have to be there. Walter can handle it without me."
She was rewarded by a warm smile from her daughter. "You're the best, mom."
Joyce smiled in return. It had been so much easier when she had still been ignorant, but it was moments like these that made it all worth while.
"I thought we could invite her to stay with us, tell people she is a cousin or something." Buffy said, "She is staying at Angel's right now. Oh, and we decided to call her Anne to avoid confusion."
"Why don't we drive over and get her?" Joyce suggested. Angel. There was another part of her daughter's life she had trouble adjusting to.
She was a bit surprised when they stopped in front of a house on the outskirts of town that looked more like a mansion. Somehow she had always assumed that Angel lived underground somewhere, since sunlight would burn a vampire. She still had trouble with the simple fact that her daughter, the Vampire Slayer, actually had a vampire for a boyfriend. Though when Angel opened the door to let them in, she had to admit that it was not hard to understand why Buffy had fallen for him. He was certainly good looking.
She saw the way they smiled into each other's eyes in greeting and sighed inwardly. She wanted her daughter to be happy, but she just couldn't see how this relationship could ever work.
"Where's Anne?" Buffy asked.
"Out in the court reading." Angel gestured to a set of doors barely visible at the other end of the next room. The inside of the house was light and airy, not dark and gloomy like she had expected. Joyce wondered at the big windows and the delicate works of art scattered around the mansion. Her trained eye recognized several as extremely valuable. Not for the first time she had to adjust her view of her daughter's unconventional boyfriend.
As he led them into the adjoining hall, she noticed that he carefully skirted around the sunlight streaming in through the skylight as well as several other windows and shook her head. Less than a year ago she had thought of vampires as nothing but fairy tales. Now she was visiting one in his own home.
"There is one more thing, mom. Anne's mother, you know, the other me's mother? It seems that she died some time ago. So, she might be a bit..." Buffy trailed off uncertainly.
Joyce raised her eyebrows at her daughter. "Let me guess. She has no idea that I am coming?"
Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. "She tries so hard not to feel anything. Giles tried to get her to open up just a little. I've tried. But she just shuts us all out. I thought maybe..."
Joyce gave her a long hard look. Then she smiled. "I can't promise anything. But I'll *try* to treat her as if she were you."
Buffy smiled back at her with relief. "Thanks, mom." Buffy led the way out into the sunny courtyard, while Angel stayed behind in the shadows of the house.
Joyce had meant what she had told Buffy, even though she thought that it would be difficult to treat this stranger as her own daughter. But as soon as she took one look at her, her heart went out to her. She looked so much like Buffy, and she looked so lost and lonely. Anne looked up from her book as they neared and Joyce saw her eyes widen. She felt tears well up in her own as she wordlessly opened her arms. Anne lurched to her feet with an inarticulate "Mom?" and stumbled towards her. Joyce rocked her softly as she cried herself out against her shoulder in wracking sobs that shuddered through her whole body.
* * * * *
Anne stood on a hill overlooking Sunnydale watching the sun rise and paint a world of shades of gray with color. It was the way she herself felt. Over the last four days since she had been pulled into this reality, her own world and heart had slowly thawed and started to fill with color. She took a deep breath of the soft morning air. For the first time in years she felt alive again and ready to get on with her life. Last night she had talked to Giles and the others and they had reluctantly agreed to send her back to her own world, where she was needed. The only thing left was to break the news to her ... to Buffy's mom.
She found her in the kitchen reading the morning paper over a cup of coffee. Anne still felt a sense of wonder every time she looked at her. It wasn't her mom, but it could have been. Knowing that her mother would have been able to accept her being the Slayer and love and support her in spite of it, meant more to her than she would have believed. She had hated not being able to tell her own mother the truth.
"Morning, mom." Anne greeted her.
"Morning, honey, there's hot chocolate on the stove and waffles in the microwave." Buffy's mom had insisted that she call her mom as well.
Anne got herself a cup of hot chocolate and sat down.
She took a deep breath and forced herself to get started: "We need to talk, mom."
Joyce folded the newspaper and looked over at her. "From the tone of your voice, I am guessing that it is about Slayer business."
Anne shrugged uncomfortably. "Yes, and no." She took a sip from her cup to calm the butterflies in her stomach. "The thing is, this is not *my* world. There are two Slayers here already; there is no need for a third one. But my world ... it desperately needs a Slayer. It's my responsibility, and I just feel like I am skipping out on it..."
Joyce laid a reassuring hand on her wrist and interrupted her. "And you feel that you have to go back to do your job. I understand."
"You do?" Anne swallowed almost in disappointment at how easily Buffy's mom had accepted the idea, but her next words eased the unacknowledged hurt in her heart.
"I can't say that I am happy with your decision. You are as much my daughter as Buffy is. But I had a feeling that you would want to go back, that your own sense of responsibility wouldn't let you stay here. Your sense of duty is as strong as Buffy's it seems. When are you leaving?"
Anne swallowed a lump in her throat. "Tonight."
"Honey, are you *sure* you want to do this?" Joyce asked despite her earlier words, covering one of Anne's hands with her own.
Anne nodded. "I am. I know there is a chance that my world will cease to exist when our Giles destroys Anyanka's necklace, but what if it doesn't? I can't stay here, wondering if I am leaving my own world unprotected."
"I promised myself that I wouldn't interfere with Buffy's Slayer duties, or yours, but I will miss you. We all will." The look in her eye told Anne that she really meant it.
How long since anyone had truly cared for her in that way? How long since she had allowed herself to care for someone? And she did care for them, she admitted to herself. She was going to miss them, when she returned to the real world. Her time here had been like a dream, a vacation from reality. But all dreams came to an end.
* * 5 * *
Anne staggered and fell to all fours, clutching at the grass, gulping air in an effort to settle her stomach. Her eyes were blurry and her head was spinning. A worried voice penetrated the roaring in her ears.
"Buffy? Miss Summers? Are you all right?" Angel's voice. And if he was calling her Buffy she was back in her own world. She took another deep breath and looked up at him. He was crouched only a few feet away from her, his eyes wide and one hand stretched out towards her uncertainly. She looked down at her leather-clad arms and grinned. She wondered what *she* would think if she saw someone disappear in front of her eyes, only to reappear dressed in an oversized leather duster and burdened with an assortment of bags and weapons. She took his hand and let him help her up. "How long was I gone?"
Angel gave her a worried look. "You weren't, you just ... changed ...and fell down."
She thought a moment about how much she should tell him. Then shrugged. "It seems I got pulled into a parallel world." She saw the look of incomprehension in his eyes and continued. "It's a long story. Let's just say that I was gone for almost five days and met some people, and they gave me all this stuff." She shrugged out of her burdens and took off her coat. "Before I forget, they made me promise to give you a message. That curse you're under has a rather nasty escape clause. If you are ever truly happy and content you'll lose your soul again. Here put this on and button it up." She said, handing him the coat.
She disentangled the rest of the bags and hid one behind some bushes. It held the presents Buffy and the others had given her to remind her of them and their world of color and sunshine. If she survived this she would come back for it later. When she turned back she found Angel standing motionless, a stunned expression on his face, the coat still held in one hand. She laid a hand on his arm and he blinked. "Time to deal with that later. Put on the coat. It should give you some protection from the holy water."
He shook his head and complied. "Holy water?"
"It'll be your job to get those people out of the cage while I distract the vampires. We thought it might even the odds a little if they had something to defend themselves with." She lifted two bags. "Holy water bottles for them to throw and crosses." Next she pulled a little bag on a string out of her pocket and handed that to him as well. "Put that around your neck."
He took it and looked at it questioningly. "Smells like mint."
"It's a personal protection spell for you from a friend." Buffy told him. "I'll explain later. Right now we better get in there before they start up the Master's factory."
* * * * *
Angel snaked his way through the waiting vampires towards the door of the cage. The leather coat chafed against the burns on his chest. And where had Buffy gotten a coat that fit him so perfectly, as well as all the other things? He pushed the question aside and forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand. He had almost reached the cage when he heard the crossbow snap. He looked up at the podium and watched the Master grab Xander and use him as a shield. The bolt lodged high in Xander's right shoulder right over where the Master's heart would have been. There was a moment's stunned silence then absolute pandemonium ensued. Angel took advantage of the distraction to open the cage. He spilled the bag of crosses onto the floor. "Grab one of those and get out!"
He didn't wait to see if they followed his instructions but turned and set the bag of holy water bottles on top of the stopped conveyer belt. Picking up bottle after bottle, he began hurling them into the knot of fighting vampires in the middle of the factory. The holy water grenades proved devastatingly effective. Soon there were vampires pushing through the humans at the exit in their hurry to get out of the factory.
Then someone grabbed him from behind and sent him flying through the air. He heard the slats splinter as he impacted with the cage. Felt something stab him in the back as he landed hard on the floor inside the cage. He tried to ignore the pain as he pulled out the piece of wood protruding from his lower back. With it in his hand he turned to face his attacker.
Willow stood in front of him, wearing a smile that chilled him to the bone. "Puppy wanna play?" The look of gleeful anticipation froze him in his tracks. It reminded him of all the times during the last two years that she had come into his cage to play with her 'puppy.'
Forgotten was the piece of wood in his hand and the battle raging around them. Fear twisted his gut as Willow slowly advanced on him, her smile growing with every step. He inched backwards until his back came up against the wall. "Puppy's being bad." Willow purred as she stretched a hand down to grab his neck. Angel silently screamed at himself that he was no longer chained, that he was free, that he could fight back, but her eyes kept him pinned to the floor. Helpless, like a mouse trapped by a snake.
Suddenly a bottle of holy water crashed against the side of Willow's face. Drops of it landed on Angel's hands and the burning pain finally broke his trance. He forced himself up and swung the piece of wood in his hand towards Willow's chest. But even with one side of her face a mass of smoking burns, Willow managed to block his thrust and backhand him into the wall. Darkness threatened to pull him under, and by the time he fought his way back to clear consciousness Willow was halfway out the door.
Taking a deep breath he looked around for Buffy.
He found her just in front of the podium battling Xander, while the Master made his way down the steps behind her. A warning on his lips, he crossed the floor of the factory and hurled himself at the Master, just as he was reaching for Buffy's neck from behind. He managed to jam his piece of wood into the Master's back, but it was not enough. In the next moment his feet were dangling a foot above the ground, the Master's left hand clutching his throat in an iron grip. Desperately he clawed at the Master's hand, but was unable to break his hold.
"You again!" The Master said, almost conversationally. "I think you will regret this even more than your interference with the Harvest. It seems you need to be taught another lesson."
Angel saw a youth with blond hair rushing up behind the Master another broken slat from the cage in his hand.
"I guess I'm just a slow learner," he gasped, trying to distract the Master. "Or maybe you are not a very good teacher," Angel taunted.
It worked a little too good as far as Angel was concerned. The Master's fist drove several times into his stomach then connected hard with the side of his head. Through the roaring in his ears and the clouding of his vision he saw the youth plunge his piece of wood into the Master's back next to Angel's, just as another stake whistled by Angel's side and buried itself in the Master's chest. The Master's scream followed him down into sweet oblivion.
* * *
Despite his best efforts to stay under, his mind slowly drifted up towards the pain that had so often greeted his return to consciousness for the past two years. Reluctantly he opened his eyes and stared in wonder at a wrist bare of chains. Memory returned. He had been freed by ... Buffy.
He must have said that last out loud, because he heard her answer. "Here. Can you stand?" He took a deep breath and pushed himself up off the floor. Strong hands took a hold of him and helped him to his feet. He found himself swaying, staring down at a skeleton on the floor in front of him.
"The Master?" he asked hoping against hope.
"Yeah, that's him. I don't think he'll get much use out of his factory. Neither will anybody else, once I get through with it." She helped him over to the side of the factory. "I better make sure he is good and dead. No reason to repeat other people's mistakes." With that she went to pick up a big pipe wrench and proceeded to smash the Master's skeleton into a million pieces.
Angel felt his knees giving way and let himself slide down the wall. He hurt everywhere and he hadn't eaten more than the occasional rat in weeks. Now that the immediate danger was over, he could no longer ignore the sweet smell of fresh human blood that hung over the factory. He closed his eyes and rested his head against his knees.
The ever-present hunger rose and threatened to overwhelm him. But over the last two years he had gotten a lot of practice fighting it. It had been a constant point of amusement to the other vampires that he refused to feed off a living human being. Willow especially had delighted in leaving him alone with some of her only partly drained victims. Often it had taken all he had to wait until the person had died of blood loss or shock before sinking his own teeth into them.
He clenched his fists in an effort to retain some control over his hunger as the blood smell intensified to an almost unbearable level. He was concentrating so hard, he banged his head into the wall behind him when he suddenly felt a hand gently shaking his shoulder. His eyes snapped open and he found himself staring into Buffy's face just inches away from his own.
Her left hand rested on his shoulder, her right held a long stemmed wineglass filled with human blood.
"Wake up. I brought you something to eat. You need to heal, and she's already dead. You can't hurt her anymore. At least this way her death won't have been a complete waste."
He reached for it slowly, careful not to spill a single drop.
He was grateful to her when she got up and left him to feed in private. He closed his eyes and forced himself to drain the glass slowly, instead of gulping it down greedily.
When he opened his eyes again the blond youth that had attacked the Master was squatting only a few feet away, watching him. To his surprise there was neither hatred nor disgust in the look he gave him. "Hi, I'm Oz. I wanted to thank you for getting us out of that cage."
Angel wasn't sure what to say, so he simply nodded.
"You and the Slayer make a good team." Oz continued, then he reached out his hand. "Here, let me get you a refill. You look in pretty bad shape."
Stunned by his easy acceptance Angel let him take the glass from his hands and watched him walk over to the Master's machine to refill it.
* * 6 * *
Rupert Giles sat on the floor with his back against the wall and looked around his cluttered living room. Nothing had changed. Anyanka had disappeared in a blinding flash of light, leaving him with a myriad of after-images and a pounding headache, but otherwise everything was the same.
He took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. He was a fool. Nothing was ever that easy. Ms. Summers was right. Wishing didn't change things. Neither had destroying Anyanka's necklace.
He had come to Sunnydale to await the arrival of the Slayer and take up his duties as her Watcher. Instead he had been approached one evening by a strange man, who had warned him about something called the Harvest. A man, whose knowledge of the Watchers and the current Slayer had set off all the warning bells in his head. When that same man had turned out to be a vampire, Giles had congratulated himself on spotting and avoiding a clever trap. Why would any vampire ever come to a Watcher, or any human for that matter, for help? That had been his first mistake, and to this day he still wondered if he could have averted the chaos and destruction unleashed by the Harvest, if only he had acted sooner.
He had researched this so-called Harvest anyway, just to be safe, and much to his dismay, he had found it to be a very real threat. A call to warn the Council and to get the Slayer to Sunnydale in time to stop it yielded the information that she had just barely survived a car crash, which had killed her mother outright, and was still in intensive care. He insisted that the Harvest was a grave threat and that he needed all available help to try and stop it. He was asked how he had found out that the vampires of Sunnydale were planning to hold this ritual, and why they would do so. When he had been forced to reveal that the warning had come from a vampire, he had been called gullible and alarmist, as well as several less flattering terms, and his corroborating research had been dismissed out of hand. Giles response had been less then diplomatic.
To this day he wasn't sure if he had quit or been fired.
He had gone to the Bronze to do what he could to stop the Harvest. He had found a door that had been kicked in from the outside and a knot of fighting vampires on the stage usually reserved for what passed for a band these days. He had taken advantage of the distraction to get as many people out as possible, but had to watch helplessly as the vampire acting as the vessel had disappeared in a shower of light signaling the completion of the Harvest.
The two years that followed had been one continuous nightmare, so when Cordelia Chase had suggested that there was a chance to not only end it, but to actually undo it, he had been more than willing to take it. He had clung to the hope that there was a way to start over, to erase his mistakes, and the countless deaths that had followed, no matter how slim.
With a sigh he leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. Not only had he failed to change his world for the better, he might unwittingly have changed it for the worse. It was his call that had drawn the Slayer to Sunnydale, and she was even now going up against the Master, alone. She had to be either very good, or very lucky, or both, to have survived the last two years, but going up against one of the oldest and most powerful vampires in his own lair, surrounded by his followers, struck him as suicidal. He didn't want to be responsible for the Slayer's death, however indirectly.
His thoughts returned to Anyanka and he forced himself back to his feet. Maybe there was something he had overlooked in one of his books.
"Where is she?" a haughty voice cut through his preoccupation.
"There was a flash of light and she disappeared." Giles answered absentmindedly, still focused on the events of the last hour.
Giles looked up form his book and found a stranger clad in black jeans and a black leather jacket, decorated with a multitude of tarnished silver crosses, surveying him with a shocked expression through wire-rimmed glasses.
Giles snapped back to the present and closed the book he had been holding. "Who, the hell, are you," he wanted to know, "and what are you doing in my house?"
The other man drew himself up to his full height and answered as if it was supposed to mean something to him: "I am Wesley Windham-Pryce, and I want to know how you managed to lure her away from her duties, and where she is now."
Giles frowned. "I have no idea. Destroying her power center should have rendered her powerless not make her disappear..."
"Destroying...? What did you do?" Wesley interrupted him, getting more and more upset.
"Well, I smashed her necklace." Giles explained. "But the world didn't change!"
Wesley pushed his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose with one finger. "You smashed her necklace and thought that would change the world? Are you out of your mind!?! No wonder they threw you out of the Watchers!"
Giles mouth dropped open in surprise. "How did you know I..."
Wesley gave an impatient snort. "I have heard all about you from Quentin Travers."
"Quentin..." Understanding dawned. "You are talking about Ms. Summers!"
"Of course. Who else would I be talking about?" Wesley wanted to know.
"Anyanka, the patron saint of scorned women." Before he could say more, they were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Excuse me."
Giles told Wesley as he went to open it. Amy and Owen burst into the room, looking scared. "They got Oz and Larry."
"Who?" he asked, though he was afraid he already knew.
"The Master's goon squad. They are rounding up as many people as they can get their hands on. They almost got us, too. What are we going to do?"
First Nancy, now Oz and Larry. Despair threatened to overwhelm him. Was there even a point to fighting any longer? It was so tempting to just give up; he was so tired of fighting, of losing friend after friend. He opened his mouth to tell them that there was nothing they could do, and the words died on his lips. Owen and Amy looked at him, scared, but sure that he would know what to do. "Do you have any idea why or where they were taken?" he heard himself asking instead.
Wesley came up next to him and asked: "Who is this Master?"
"Supreme vampire around these parts." Giles answered. "The Slayer went to the Bronze to fight him."
"He's not there. We went by the Bronze on our way here, and it was deserted." Owen broke in.
"Then where *is* the Slayer?" Wesley wanted to know.
* * * * *
Buffy looked back at the people still following her. The number of humans was now reduced to just Oz, Larry and Sandy, all the others having peeled off in groups as they got close to their own homes. Then there was the vampire.
Buffy was wondering what she should do about Angel as they neared Giles' house. He had been instrumental to the success of the raid on the Master's factory, fighting quite effectively in spite of his depleted condition. And comparing the way he moved to the way she had seen the Angel of the other Sunnydale move gave her a pretty good idea just how hurt and weak he was, though he hadn't said one word about it. He seemed not to expect anything in return for his help, but she felt responsible for him nevertheless. In his current condition he wouldn't stand a chance if he encountered any other vampires, and they were unlikely to let him live after he had sided with the humans against the Master. Sunrise was in less than two hours and she would need to find a safe place for him to spend the day. They had passed by his old apartment and found it occupied by a group of demons, so that was out. But there had to be a motel or an empty building somewhere. Maybe that old mansion the other Angel had lived in. It had enough windows that it was unlikely to have been claimed by any vampires.
Buffy decided that she would try the mansion as she lifted a hand to knock.
"Thank God you're all right!" Giles exclaimed relieved as he opened the door. Then he caught sight of Angel and his eyes widened. "You!"
Buffy looked from Angel to the ex-Watcher, but couldn't tell much from their expressions. "You know each other?"
"Yes. I am sorry I didn't believe you." Giles answered, then, his eyes still on Angel, he added. "Won't you come in?"
Buffy thought she saw surprise in Angel's eyes at the invitation. So, Giles knew that Angel was a vampire and needed an explicit invitation to be able to enter. That would save her some explanations.
As they entered the living room Angel and Buffy found themselves pushed to the side by two teenagers pouncing on their three companions. One of them was a girl with dark shoulder length hair, the other was a good looking boy with short blond hair, as tall as Angel and even bigger than Larry. They were followed by the unwelcome sight of Buffy's new Watcher.
"There you are." He said, every line of his body radiating disapproval. "I'll have you know, that I find your behavior totally unacceptable. A good Slayer is expected to follow her Watcher's orders at all times. You will collect your things at once and we will be on our way to Cleveland."
"I am not going anywhere for a few days." Buffy told him calmly. "The Master may be dead, but there is still a lot of clean-up to do here. I have seen the reports about Cleveland, and it can easily wait until things here have calmed down."
Buffy watched Wesley's mouth drop open. There had been other times when she had quietly ignored his orders, but this was the first time she had actually spoken out against them. Then she caught Giles sleeve and asked him: "Did you already destroy Anyanka's necklace?"
With amusement she watched his mouth drop to match Wesley's. "How ...how ...did you...? I did, but nothing changed." He made a sweeping gesture to indicate the world around them.
Buffy nodded with satisfaction. "So, I was right to come back." Then she took in Giles dispirited expression and added: "Actually, you did change things, at least for me." She cast a speculative look in Wesley's direction and smiled. "I wonder if this Cordelia is still alive. It might be fun to introduce her to certain people."
"Did you say that you killed the Master?" Giles asked.
Buffy nodded. "Oz and Angel helped. And I smashed his skeleton so they wouldn't try to revive him."
"Vampires don't leave a skeleton..." Wesley protested.
"This one did." Buffy interrupted him, and handed him a bag. "I brought you his skull as a souvenir." Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Buffy thought with satisfaction.
* * * * *
Angel stood behind Buffy, feeling isolated and alien. As he watched the teenagers talking excitedly about the night's events, he felt the old familiar stab of loneliness. He fought down the self-pity that rose up reflexively, telling himself that it was nothing less than he deserved. He was a vampire; he had done terrible things. His conscience made it impossible for him to associate with his own kind any longer, and there was no place for him in the world of humans.
Being the only vampire cursed with a soul made for a bleak and lonely existence, and sometimes the hunger for simple companionship was almost worse than his constant craving for fresh human blood. For the short walk back to town from the factory he had savored the illusion of being part of a group, but the sun would be rising soon and he still needed to find a safe place to hide for the day. He looked at Buffy, but didn't know what to say to her. He might as well just leave. It wasn't as if anyone would miss him.
His movement towards the door caught Buffy's attention. She glanced from him to the clock on the wall, then turned back to the two men. "I better get going. I haven't found a place to stay at yet."
Giles looked from Buffy to Angel. "It's kind of late to start looking now. You're welcome to stay here until you can make other arrangements. Both of you."
Angel blinked and looked at Giles to make sure he had heard right.
Giles gave him a mirthless smile. "With the Slayer staying here, I am not likely to get attacked by any vampires, don't you agree?"
Before Angel could answer Wesley broke in contemptuously. "Vampires can't enter a house unless you invite them. But I guess I should expect nothing less from you. You are well known for your groundless paranoia in the Council."
"Thank God you're here to tell me these things." Giles' sarcastic answer made the other man bristle.
There was a sparkle of amusement in Buffy's eyes as she looked at Angel. "Well, with Angel around we are perfectly safe. I never could have gotten all those people out without his help."
Giles raised his eyebrows. "Indeed." Then he turned to Angel and said. "Since you come so highly recommended, let me show you where you can sleep. And if you want to clean up a bit, there is the shower. I think, I have a pair of sweat pants that should fit you, too."
Angel followed him; more than a little bemused by his change from tortured prisoner to tolerated guest in the span of one night. For the second time Buffy had managed to effect a major change in his life.
As he let the warm water wash away the stink of his imprisonment, his mind went back to the moments before they had entered the factory. How had Buffy found out about his curse, let alone that there was a clause to it that he was totally unaware off?
On the surface her remark that she had just spent five days in a parallel world seemed ludicrous. But how else could she have gotten the coat, the crosses, the holy water, as well as knowledge about him and his curse? And there was more to it than that. Her whole attitude had changed as well, all in the blink of an eye. The fire of her heart, that had captured his own when he had watched her being called, had been reduced to nothing but a fitful flicker by the time he had seen her again. When she had freed him from his chains so he could lead her to the Master's factory. Now it was back, burning bright and strong, and again he felt himself drawn to it like a moth to the flame.
* * 7 * *
"I demand to know what has been happening here!" Wesley bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, his hands clasped behind his back, glaring down at Buffy for all he was worth.
"Look I've had a really long day. Can't this wait?" Buffy let out a tired sigh.
"Yeah, why don't you give her a break?" Owen broke in, planting himself firmly between Buffy and her Watcher. "She just saved a bunch of people from being juiced like oranges in the Master's factory, she actually killed the one who's been calling up all the demons and monsters, and instead of thanking her you chew her out! What have *you* done lately?"
Buffy felt her eyebrows go up in surprise, and suppressed a smile at the sight of her Watcher sputtering helplessly, totally thrown by the teenager towering above him.
"Why don't we talk about it tomorrow? Or more precisely, later today?" Giles broke in diplomatically. "I am sure we'll all be the better for some sleep. Hmm?"
"Very well." Wesley conceded. "But I expect you to make a full report to me at the Marston Arms at four o'clock sharp, young lady! God only knows what kind of nonsense Mr. Giles has been filling your head with!"
Everybody breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed behind him.
"Charming person." Oz remarked dryly.
Buffy turned and smiled up at Owen. "Thank you for the bail. I didn't think I would get off that easily."
A slight flush creeping up his neck, Owen waved off her thanks. "Anytime. Hey, if you're gonna hang around for a while, maybe you'd go to the Senior Picnic with me? That is... " He trailed off uncertainly, the blush rising up into his cheeks.
"If I have the time, why not?" Buffy answered with a shrug, thinking of the fun she had had with Xander at the Bronze in the other Sunnydale.
"Great!" Owen said.
"It is getting really late." Giles interrupted. "I think it's time you all got home. Your parents will be worried. The sun's almost up, so you should be save enough."
Buffy waited for him to close the door behind the teenagers before she asked him if she could borrow his first aid kit.
"Yes, certainly. Are you hurt badly?" he asked worried.
"I'm fine, just dirty." She reassured him. "But I think Angel could use some patching up."
Giles gave her long look before he turned and retrieved the kit. "If you don't mind my asking, what exactly do you know about him?"
Buffy took the kit. "I know that since a bunch of gypsies restored his soul about a hundred years ago, he is one of the good guys. Are you having second thoughts about inviting him into your house?"
"No, no... I just don't... He asked for my help in stopping the Harvest two years ago. But with him being a vampire..." Giles shrugged helplessly. "Sometimes I wonder if things would be different if I'd... That's why it was so tempting to think that there might be a way to change all this."
Buffy heard Angel come out of the Bathroom and told Giles. "Let me take care of Angel and we can talk some more about this whole Anyanka deal."
She entered Giles' den to find Angel standing in the shadows looking out the window at the sun rising behind the hills. For a moment she hesitated in the doorway, watching him. Standing there barefoot in a pair of dark gray sweats he projected a vulnerability she didn't remember ever seeing in the other Angel. She resolutely squashed the sympathy that rose within her. Soul or no soul that was still a vampire she was looking at.
Angel turned as she walked into the room and looked at her with a mixture of surprise and wariness. Suddenly unsure of herself, Buffy stopped a few feet in front of him. "I brought bandages and some gel to put on those burns." she said indicating the welts, bruises and blisters covering his torso.
"I'm fine." he told her, an unreadable expression in his eyes. "Vampires are pretty hard to kill."
"Maybe so," she answered, "but you are going to get Giles' nice clean sheets all dirty, if we don't patch you up."
One corner of his mouth quirked up in response. "Can't have that." He agreed.
She handed him the jar Willow had given her. "Here, hold this. It's for holy water burns, but it should help with the welts as well."
"You carry special medicines for vampires?" Angel asked incredulous.
"Not as a rule. This is something Willow gave me." Buffy felt Angel stiffen under her hands and looked up. "Not this Willow, the other Willow. She never got vamped and is one of Buffy's best friends." She sighed at the confusion clearly written on his face. "I told you I spent five days in a different world? Well, it was what our world, would have been like, if I had come to Sunnydale in time to stop the Harvest."
She shook her head looking down at her hands. "It was really weird to meet myself... she was so... different. And I just *can't* understand how she could *ever* fall in love with..." recalling who she was talking to, she swallowed the rest of that sentence and hurried on, "Anyway there was another me, another you, another Giles... Willow and Xander were both still human... and my mother... my mother was still alive."
Buffy swallowed hard at the memory of getting a chance to say a proper good bye to her mom.
"If there was no Harvest that means..." Angel interrupted her reverie.
"A world where people still believe demons and vampires are fairy tales." Buffy nodded. "Peaceful and quiet."
"Why didn't you stay?" he asked her quietly.
"It was my duty as a Slayer to come back." she answered, moving to treat his back.
"But from what Giles said downstairs, this world wasn't even supposed to exist any more. Why would you think it your duty to return to a world that was about to vanish?" Angel persisted.
"But I wasn't *sure* it would vanish," Buffy countered, then added quietly "and I wasn't needed there. They already had two Slayers. I... I just didn't belong there." Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. "That whole place was so orderly and full of color. It was almost bizarre."
"Still," she continued quietly, cleansing the puncture wound in his lower back of the dirt and wooden splinters embedded in it, "it is rather comforting to think of my mom in a place like that. Safe, and out of the reach of any of the creatures here that could hurt her."
Placing the last piece of medical tape, she whispered: "Even if that means I will never see her again."
Why am I telling him any of this? she asked herself, briskly gathering her supplies.
"Sorry, I don't usually run on like this." she told him curtly as she turned to leave the room.
"Thank you." The soft words stopped her in her tracks.
"What for?" she asked, looking back over her shoulder.
He just looked at her and made a helpless gesture with one hand as if he wasn't quite sure himself, or didn't know how to say what he meant. Again Buffy was struck by how vulnerable he looked. She felt a sudden kinship with this creature of the night. Like her, he was stuck somewhere between the worlds of humans and monsters not truly part of either. One of a kind. Alone.
Uncomfortable with the feeling, she just nodded and hastily closed the door behind her.