Rating: PG-13-Violence, mild language.

Spoilers: Up to "A New Man" in Buffy. All of Brimstone.

Disclaimer: All Buffy characters belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions. Brimstone characters belong to Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris and Warner Bros. Television. I'm not making any money off this, nor am I trying to infringe on anyone's copyright. So don't sue me.

Lyrics: "Mary, Mary" by Chumbawamba, "Slaying The Dragon" by Prodigal and "Don't Turn Your Back" by Blue Oyster Cult were _all_ used without permission, but no infringement was intended here, either.

Summary: Buffy's marked for death by one of the damned.

Authors' Notes: This story takes place just after "A New Man" in the Buffyverse which is almost a year since "Back In The Bottle". Please send any and all feedback to: donnacsoprano76 AT gmail DOT com. All flames are read, laughed at then deleted with extreme prejudice.

- "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep..."

- children's prayer.

If I Should Die Before I Wake

by Net Girl

University of Sunnydale Campus

Night

Ismail Shakir crept slowly, minding where he stepped as to not alarm the Slayer, Buffy Summers, of his presence. The girl strolled along, humming to herself, as she tossed her stake from hand to hand. She wasn't much build wise. From the stories he'd heard, he was expecting a girl 8 feet tall with six-inch claws, fangs and eyes that spewed fire. It was beyond him how this small girl and Ezekiel Stone managed to take out such a powerful damned soul as Ashur Badaktu.

"Hold," Riley Finn hissed to his two top team members, Forrest and Graham. He glanced over his shoulder. "He's stopped."

"Is he still following your lady fair?" Forrest asked in a quiet voice.

Riley nodded. "He's quite the voyeur," he answered. He wished he knew what this demon's fascination with Buffy was. Normally, a demon would've attacked by now. He checked over his weapon then looked to his team. "Make sure you're primed, fellas. We've gone 'round with this guy once before and got our asses handed to us."

"Yes, sir," was the unified response.

Riley raised up his hand as this strange new demon slowed to a stop again. As a team leader, responsible for the lives of so many people, Riley was hesitant to engage this thing in battle again. The night before they'd tried to take him out, but they'd been too late. He'd killed another student on the outskirts of the campus.

"Maybe I should take a head shot?" Graham suggested, holding up his tranq gun.

Riley didn't answer. He lowered his hand, hissing, "Careful, guys."

Shakir's fingers massaged the knife in the sheath strapped to his waist. "Soon, Slayer, soon," he muttered as Buffy engaged some demon in a fight. "When I get rid of you, I shall finish what I started."

Buffy was knocked to the ground by the demon as it fled. "Hey!" she yelled as she flipped back up to her feet. "Don't you know it's not nice to push girls around!" She took off after the demon, stake gripped tightly in her hand.

Shakir began to follow the Slayer, but a voice yelling out, "Now!" made him turn around. He groaned when he saw those soldier fellows once again. The leader of the group fired a shot at him, which Shakir easily sidestepped. The others flanked him upon the order of Riley Finn.

"Did you not learn your lesson last night?" Shakir asked. His fingers still stroked the handle of his knife as he looked at each of the boys. "You should be grateful that I let you live. My respect for fellow soldiers only goes so far. You try my patience."

"You're trying my patience, too," Riley snapped back. "I really don't appreciate you following my girlfriend around." He raised up gun and fired round at Shakir.

Shakir, in a lighting fast move, made his way over to Riley. He grabbed the boy's gun, ripped it from Riley's hands, tossed it away and had his knife out of it's sheath in what seemed to be the blink of an eye. He held onto Riley's body, picking him up off the ground a little as he slipped his knife against Riley's exposed neck.

"You would do well to back away," Shakir warned the advancing Initiative troops. He snarled at them, making them freeze in their tracks. "I do not wish to harm you or your commanding officer."

Riley held up a hand to Forrest who was trying to get behind Shakir. "Just... do as he says," he ordered. He swallowed then glanced over to Graham. "I mean it, Agent Miller! Back off!"

Graham lowered his tranq gun on Riley's orders. He flicked his gaze over to Forrest then dropped back a few paces. "Yes, sir," he answered.

"Do not seek me out again, child," Shakir hissed in Riley's ear and he pulled Riley closer. "You will not like what I shall do if you defy my orders. Understand?" He pressed the knife against Riley's throat. "I am more powerful than you could ever dream. You and your men will only be committing suicide if you continue to pursue me."

Riley nodded. This guy is nuts, he thought.

"I am understood? Excellent." Shakir removed the blade from Riley's throat then shoved him into Forrest. The two of them tumbled to the ground together.

"Fire!" shouted Graham, raising up his tranq gun. Somebody would be able to take the HST down.

As the rain of gunfire started, Shakir only laughed. The bullets thudded into his body, but he didn't waver or even flinch. With an incredible leap the likes none of the soldiers had ever seen, Shakir sailed over the 8-foot wall that separated the Sunnydale campus from the rest of the world.

"You okay?" Forrest asked as he and Riley got up from the ground.

Riley brushed the grass from his clothes. "Yeah, I think so." He looked in the direction Shakir had fled. "Dammit. We have to get this guy soon."

"We'll get him, Finn, don't worry."

"Leone, you take Evans and Mauricio, head towards the north side of campus," Riley said. He motioned in the direction. "The rest of us are going outside the walls tonight. That HST is out there slashing up innocent people. We've got to stop it."

"Not to mention it has a profound interest in Ms. Buffy Summers," Forrest added.

"I'm trying not to think about that," Riley said, semi-looking back to Forrest. "I want to keep my full concentration on the issue at hand. Restrain and contain. Walsh really wants us to bag this one! Let's move out!"

Meanwhile... in Los Angeles

Zeke Stone stood across the street from one of the most popular rock/dance clubs in Los Angeles. A steady moving line of, to put it mildly, strange people circled the block, waiting to get into the place. He knew she was in there, but he didn't want to go after her. That was part of the reason he'd been rooted across the street for the last twenty minutes, weighing the consequences of letting Marya Sabuda go.

The damned soul wasn't a threat to anyone, he knew. Through the usual game of clues left by the Devil, Stone discovered Marya Sabuda was a witch in 17th century Silesia. During a period of nine years, the years Marya practiced witchcraft, the people of Neisse employed an oven to kill witches, not unlike the Nazis in World War II, except the people who went into the ovens of Neisse were still alive. In the course of Stone's research, he'd found nothing on Marya Sabuda which suggested she did anyone harm during her life.

He hated these.

As he crossed the street, Stone saw a pretty, young dark haired woman standing by the doorway. She handed out fliers to the people as they went into the club. A smile lit up the girl's face as she repeated the same line to each new person, "Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless."

Cordelia Chase handed one of her fliers to a woman with more piercings in more places than Cordelia cared to count. "Remember us if you're ever in a situation you can't get out of with conventional means," she said as she grinned. One of the reasons Cordelia picked this place was because of the sad state of the people going in. They could be clients one day! She'd spent a good amount of her afternoon having those fliers printed up and she planned to get rid of every single one that night.

Stone was passing by Cordelia when she practically blocked his path and handed him one of her fliers.

"Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless!" Cordelia cheerily said. She watched Stone take the flier and look it over. He made a funny face, and Cordelia frowned a little. "What?" she flatly asked. "What?"

"What is this?" Stone asked holding up the flier so Cordelia could see the angel logo. He pointed it out. "A bell with wings?"

Cordelia let out a frustrated sigh. "It's an angel!" she exclaimed. She tossed her hands up, her fliers rustling. "Angel Investigations. My boss's name is Angel. Do you get it?"

Stone continued to stare at the strange drawing on the paper, shrugging a little. "It doesn't look like any angel I've ever seen," he said as he glanced up at her.

Cordelia groaned. "God, what is with people? Are you all blind or just stupid?" She clamped her teeth together suddenly, a slightly embarrassed smile taking over. This was a potential client, it wouldn't be wise to alienate him. "You really look like you could use help," she said as she gave him the once ver.

Mostly with the wardrobe, Cordelia thought as she plastered that smile on her face again. But that's a whole other kind of help that Angel isn't qualified to give.

Stone pocketed the flier. "You couldn't possibly help me with my problems," he solemnly replied, remembering why he was going to this club in the first place. He stepped around Cordelia then went inside.

Cordelia watched Stone go then shuddered. "Oooookay... creep me out much?" she said to herself. She focused her attention on another person walking by, smiled and handed him a flier. "Angel Investigations! We help the hopeless."

Stone entered the club and found himself bombarded by loud, driving rock music. That was another thing he hadn't quite adjusted to since returning to earth. What they called music these days wasn't much more than noise accompanied by screaming. Trying to block out the music, he scanned the people on the dance floor, searching for Marya.

"No virgin me for I have sinned ...

I sold my soul for sex and gin ...

Go call a priest, all meek and mild ...

And tell him, 'Mary's no more a child'..."

Walking through the club, Stone tried not to get knocked down by people dancing on the sidelines of the main floor. It would be a miracle if he found this girl. He could've taken her before she made it into the place, but that's when he was still conflicted about doing the job. That's all it was, a job. Nothing personal. He slowed down as he spotted the girl. Marya, dressed in a black leather skirt and top, was on the floor and absolutely lost in her dance.

"I'll spit on floors and do more drugs ...

Burn every bill, get drunk on love ...

Wear next to nothing in the pouring rain ...

Be a bad example, do it all again..."

Marya spun around a few times, her arms above her head. Memories of decades of torture in Hell were far from her mind tonight. She froze on the dance floor, terror filling her eyes when she saw Zeke Stone coming towards her. Shit.

"Excuse me!" she exclaimed as she pushed her way through the crowd. She squeezed between a couple, glancing over her shoulder to see where Stone was, but he wasn't in sight. Still, she kept going until she made it out the back exit of the club. She stumbled into the darkened alley, her hands going to her face as relief flooded her. Thank the gods, she'd lost him! The click of a gun being cocked echoed through the alley. Slowly, Marya's hands dropped down to her sides and she turned around.

"There's nowhere left for you to run, Marya," Stone evenly said as he took a few steps closer. She was desperate, he could see it in her eyes. This was the dangerous part: would she resist?

To Stone's surprise, Marya dropped to her knees with tears in her eyes, and shoulders slumped. "Please... do not send me back!" she begged. "I cannot stand another day there. I had to get out, do you understand?" The tears spilled down her cheeks. "I never had a life. They murdered me and I did nothing! I went to Hell, for nothing! When the chance to come back to earth arose, I took it."

Stone's finger curled around the trigger. Maybe he could let her go. He could tell the Devil he'd lost her again. His gun froze at mid-level when Marya clasped her hands together.

"Please... don't," Marya pleaded.

Stone averted his eyes from Marya. He hated these. But if he didn't send her back, he would go back. He fired off two rounds, knowing he'd hit Marya in both eyes when the unearthly screaming and bright light followed. Almost immediately afterwards, his jaw tightened as he felt another of the tattoos sear itself off of his flesh. One more down, too many more to go. Shaking his head, Stone put his gun away and walked out of the alley. Back on the street, he looked to his left to see Cordelia, smiling brightly as she said, "Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless."

"Plenty of hopeless in this city. I should know."

Stone turned, chuckling at how the Devil appeared to him this time. Decked out in white robes with a turban on his head, and toting a very long instrument resembling a recorder, the Devil smiled as he approached. "You have other interests besides torturing souls in Hell?" he asked, nodding to the instrument. "I'm genuinely surprised." He walked down the street, in the direction opposite of where Cordelia stood handing out her fliers.

"The ney flute is a passing interest," the Devil replied, looking over the instrument as he fell into step beside Stone. "But my interest in your progress is not. A little under half left to go before all 113 are safely back home."

"Like I don't know that?" Stone mumbled, glancing at the Devil. He shoved his hands into his coat pockets, walking a little faster.

"Good thing that you decided against letting Marya Sabuda go free, Mr. Stone. I wouldn't want to see your lose your second chance at life on earth because of a weakness for the ... hopeless." He laughed then twittered out a pretty tune on the flute. He stopped when Stone did, seeing that disgusted look on the dead man's face. "Your next assignment will take you to old friends."

"What are you talking about, old friends?"

The Devil motioned behind him. Stone turned around. They were in front of a closed electronics shop with TVs on display in its front window. The television sets were on, playing a snippet of a local newscast, but not for Los Angeles.

"For the last two weeks, Sunnydale Police have been baffled by the slayings," the anchorman said. "And even more disturbed by the hands and feet of the victims missing, presumably sawed off and taken by their killer. More on this story as it unfolds. Gina?"

The television sets flicked off.

"It's Buffy Summers' town, no doubt it's a demon," Stone matter of factly said. "She'll take care of it."

The Devil drummed his fingers on the flute, shaking his head. "Ah, but she can't. The Slayer herself is the target this time." He tapped Stone on the shoulder with the flute, making the man look at him. "And it's no demon. Not the kind Buffy slays, at any rate. Your escapade in Sunnydale made some headlines among the Damned. You and this little girl take down Ash, the biggest and baddest damned soul to escape Hell? That's going to grab attention."

"Who's after her? The same person responsible for the murders?"

The Devil smiled. " 'With bleary eyes observe the dawning, believing its real. You've got your... second chance at slaying the dragon.' Solve the puzzle and you'll have your answer, Ezekiel." He played the same melody on the flute then disappeared.

The Hotel

Stone walked into the hotel lobby, thinking about the strange clue concerning the damned soul in Sunnydale. He hated these games more than just about anything. Why didn't the Devil just give him straight information? Obviously he wasn't in a hurry to get his escaped souls back in Hell. The clicking of a keyboard caught his attention. He saw Maxine sitting behind the lobby counter, fast at work, probably typing up her next novel. He walked over to the counter just as she looked up and smiled.

"You're back early," Max said, putting her laptop aside to talk to him. "It's not even 11."

"Job didn't take as long as I thought it would," Stone answered. He blinked when flashes of Marya Sabuda on her knees, begging for her life, flashed into his mind. Was it the guilt over sending her back, or was it the Devil reminding him of why he was there? It didn't matter, really. The memory bothered him either way.

"I'm glad you're back," Max replied. "I need someone to beta read my new chapter."

"Beta read?"

"You know, an author picks someone to check out their stuff before it's finished, get early feedback." Max placed the laptop on the counter. "Come on, it's not much."

"Not tonight," Stone said, an apologetic tone in his voice. He would've liked to, but he wasn't in the right frame of mind to read anything, let alone be helpful. He started to leave, but stopped and turned to Max. "You wouldn't know anything about poetry, would you?" he asked. She was a writer, maybe she could make sense of the clue the Devil gave him. She'd helped before.

"Sure," she answered, her face lighting up at the mention of poetry. "What do you need to know? Love poems, death poems? I'm familiar with a lot."

Stone repeated what the Devil had said to him on the street. "Recognize that?"

Max shook her head. "No, that's nothing I've ever heard before." She held up her hand. "But wait... I can try to find out what it is online." Quickly, she jacked her laptop into the phone system, then hopped onto the Internet. "It shouldn't take long to find out what that's from," she assured him as she typed away.

Stone leaned forward on the counter as she typed. He watched the as the search engine generated results. "So...?"

She clicked on one of the sites listed. "Here... yes, this is it. Your poem isn't really a poem at all," she replied, pointing to the screen. "It's song lyrics. 'Slaying The Dragon'. Doesn't really look like your type of music, Stone." She smiled a little.

Slaying The Dragon. Stone was certainly puzzled. What was the next step? That song lyric gave him little to go on. He was about to give up for the night, but remembered the melody the Devil had played twice for him. "What about a melody? Do you think you could find it on this thing?" he asked, motioning to the Internet search engine. "A friend of mine gave me a sample of an interesting song, but he never told me what it was."

"I could probably access some midi files," Max replied as she cleared her search screen. She poised her fingers over the keys. "Did you have any idea what type of melody it was?"

"I'm not sure." Stone concentrated on hearing that melody in his head. "It sounded Middle Eastern."

Max stared at him for a moment. "Yeah, that helps a lot, Stone. You can't get any more specific? I'm gonna come up with a ton of useless stuff if I put in 'middle eastern'."

Stone recalled the instrument the Devil had. He tapped the screen with an index finger. "See if you can come up with anything on a ney flute."

"Ney flute?" she repeated, an eyebrow arched curiously. When Stone nodded, she shrugged. "Okay, let's see what we get." She typed in the words, hit search and a moment later the results popped up. She paused. "Well, what do you know? Ney flute: an instrument used predominantly by Turks and Arabs. And we're treated to a list of midi files featuring songs with the ney fluke. You're lucky, Stone. Real lucky."

"I don't think it's luck," he replied, glancing at her. He pointed to one of the tunes listed. "Let's start with this one." They listened to a few of the melodies available on the site, yet none were what he wanted. "This is going to take forever," he grumbled as he stood straight.

"You shouldn't be so negative," Max said. She wagged a finger at him. "Negative thinking leads to eternal disappointment."

"I'm not being negative, I'm being realistic," Stone told her. He motioned to her screen. "We're never gonna find this. And it might not even be there."

"Ye of little faith," Max chided then she clicked on the next file. To Stone's amazement, she'd picked one that the Devil had played. "See?" She looked up at him, smiling at the expression he wore on his face. "You should learn a lesson from this."

"No time," Stone said. He listened to the melody once more, to make certain it was the one. "What's this one called?" The next clue had to be in the melody.

"Ummm... let me see," Max murmured as she used her mouse to click down to the information part of the file. "Here we go. 'The Wind Subsides'. A traditional Armenian melody."

"Armenian?" Stone murmured, looking at the information.

"That's what it says."

"What's the connection between an Armenian melody and a song about slaying a dragon?" Stone wondered aloud without realizing.

"I could do a cross reference, try to find out for you," Max offered. She typed in the keywords of 'Armenia' and 'dragon' to start off. A long list of websites connected to an event called the Armenian Genocide popped up. "Whoa," she said, looking over to Stone. "Let's see what this leads to." She clicked on one of the sites.

Stone watched as Max sifted through all of the information on the site. From the looks of it, during World War One, the Turkish army attempted to exterminate the Armenians living in their empire. Pages and pages of documents from trials and photos filled the site.

"It's a sick world we're living in, Stone," Max quietly said as she watched photos of dead women and children scroll by. "A sick world."

"Wait... stop there," Stone suddenly said. "Back up." He tapped his finger on a link to an article. 'Ismail Shakir, The Dragon's Teeth', the link read. Max clicked the mouse button. An article on this person came up. According to it, Ismail Shakir was a colonel in the Turkish Army and overseer of one of the "deportation" camps for Armenians.

"I never even knew this happened," Max breathed as she read along with Stone. She shook her head, a lump growing in her throat. She blinked and looked away from the screen.

"Here we are," Stone said, his finger sliding along the screen. "'His nickname, The Dragon's Teeth, was given to him by the Armenian people because of the jambiyah knife he carried, which sported a dragon's head with rubies for eyes as the handle'." Stone stared at the black and white picture of Shakir. With a gleeful grin on his face and brandishing his knife, it's slightly curved blade covered in blood, Shakir held up the hands and feet he'd sawed off several unfortunate Armenians.

"Shakir was tried and executed by the war crimes tribunal after World War One," Max read when she built herself up enough courage to continue. She skimmed the rest of the text. "He was heavy into sadistic torture of his Armenian victims. Serves him right, the sick bastard. I hope he's burning in Hell."

"Not at the moment, unfortunately," Stone muttered. He stood up. "Thanks for the help, Max. I owe you."

"Help? Wait, Stone, what's all this is about?" she inquired as he started for the elevator.

"It's nothing," he answered, hitting the button. "I'm going to be out of town for a few days."

"Out of town? Where?"

The elevator door opened. "Sunnydale," he replied as he stepped on and hit the button for his floor.

As the doors slid shut, Max called, "I ask again, where?"

University of Sunnydale Campus

Next Day

"So, anything exciting happen last night?" Buffy asked Riley as he joined her and Willow Rosenberg in the halls of Sunnydale U. after the last class of the day. She smiled, but that faded when Riley didn't return it. "What? What's going on?"

"You know the murders on campus?" Riley asked as they walked together. He glanced around, making sure nobody was paying any mind to their discussion.

Willow nodded. "Yeah. We've been keeping tabs on them ourselves." She motioned to Buffy. "Giles thinks it might be a demon."

"Well, he's right," Riley said. "But this is no demon like I've ever come up against. A creature that appears human, but we can't do a damn thing to stop it. Bullets and darts hit it and it's not even fazed."

Buffy and Willow exchanged a glance. An untouchable demon that looked like a human being? Now where have they run into that before?

Riley noticed the look. "Do you know what I'm talking about? Is this something you've come across yourself?"

"No," Buffy quickly said before Willow could open her mouth. "It's new on me, Riley. But this sounds extremely dangerous. Perhaps Walsh should leave it alone, let me handle it?" Her voice was more hopeful on the last question.

"This thing has me worried, Buffy," Riley replied. They stepped out of the building and into the warm, sunny afternoon. He and the two girls stopped at the foot of the stairs. "It was following you on your patrol last night."

Buffy stared at Riley then glanced over at Willow. Her best friend attempted to restrain her own moment of wigging. "Oh, really?" she asked then scoffed. "Well, that's not new. All these demons like the check out the Slayer when they find out who I am. They think if they study me, they can defeat me. It's nothing, really. But it's sweet that you're so concerned about me." She tried to smile.

"Be careful on your patrols." He placed his hands on her shoulders, looking down on her. "Maybe you should stick with me? I know Walsh has been talking about bringing you into the Initiative, anyway."

"I'll be fine, Riley," Buffy assured him. She looked to her left. "I think Forrest requires your attention." She nodded to Forrest, waving a hand. "I'll see you later? And don't worry so much about me. I'm a big girl."

Riley gave her a kiss on the forehead. "I know you are, but it doesn't stop me from worrying." He nodded a little to Willow. "Bye."

Buffy and Willow watched Riley jog across the quad and join Forrest. The two of them immediately left, headed for their own dorm. "I think it's safe to start freaking out now," Buffy said.

Willow nodded. "Yeah, I was just about to suggest that." The two girls began to walk. "I can't believe this. What is a Damned soul doing stalking you, Buffy? You kill vampires and demons. Why would they care about you?"

"I did help Zeke Stone take out a rather nasty one of their kind," Buffy replied. She hugged her books against her chest. It all seemed so long ago, a million years ago. The near sacrifice of Willow, Ash's attempt to bring the world to it's knees so she could revive her old gods, and Buffy finding out that her job wasn't quite what she'd thought it to be. "If this punk does want to start some trouble, I'm ready for him."

A passing thought of the stranger who claimed to be Satan appearing in her room that night Ash was destroyed went through Willow's head. She shuddered but kept it to herself, though. Buffy had enough to worry about, and that. Well, that was Willow's own personal problem.

"We have to tell Giles about this," Willow said. "We're gonna need a plan."

Giles' House

Xander Harris, Rupert Giles and Anya stood together in Giles's house, waiting for Buffy to explain what exactly was so important. She'd dragged Anya and Xander away from whatever it was they did together in his basement for this, and Buffy could tell Anya wasn't too happy about the entire situation.

"Another of those Damned souls is in Sunnydale, Giles," Buffy said. She looked over to Xander, who went white.

"What? In Sunnydale?"

"Yeah, Giles, I just said that," Buffy answered.

"Oh... yes. Have you seen Mr. Stone?" was his next question.

"Not yet," Buffy replied. Willow shook her head too. "The thing attacked Riley and his team the other night. They don't know what it is. I played dumb when he asked me if I'd ever run into anything like it before.

Giles sat down on the couch. "Yes, it's probably wise to keep him in the dark," he said. "For now, at least."

"Man, I thought this crap was over?" Xander sighed as he, too, sank down onto the couch. "It took a lot for me to get all that out of my head." He leaned over. "I hate this town."

Anya folded her arms across her chest. "What's going on?" Buffy and Giles gave Anya a quick run down of what had happened last year in Sunnydale.

"Oh! A soul hunter! I met one of them about 1,100 years ago in Northern Italy," she said once she'd heard the story. "I'd not been a demon long when I made his acquaintance. He asked me to help him get out of Hell. But that's one thing you don't mess with, you know?" She noticed the looks on their faces. "Oh yeah, there's a Devil. We all stay away from him and try to forget he exists."

"Where were you last year?" Xander muttered.

"Flunking math," Anya replied with a scowl. She shrugged it off. High school was nothing but a bad memory now. "So you guys encountered a soul hunter? It's amazing the Devil can scare anyone since he can't seem to keep the Damned in Hell."

"If it's this Damned soul killing these people," Buffy said to Giles, "and I'm sure it is, he's doing it because he gets off on it. I've seen the photos of the victims. This guy has to be stopped - ASAP."

"Stone's not here, Buffy," Xander replied. He shrugged, waving a hand at the others. "What are we gonna do?"

"We deal with him ourselves. We can't allow this psycho to run free and slaughter people on campus."

"We're mortals," Xander countered. "If this guy hits one of us, we're dead. Get it?"

"You think I don't know that, Xander?" she snapped. She pointed to herself. "I got my ass kicked by two different ones last time. I know damn well how dangerous they are. We've got to do something. Guys..." her voice became soft, almost pleading, "I'm going to need your help on this. All of you."

After an awkward moment of silence, Willow said, "I can work some magick spells. You know, defensive stuff to keep us safe."

Buffy smiled, relieved. "Sounds great, Will."

"Okay, I'll come. I'll come!" Xander exclaimed. He tried to smile when he looked at Buffy. "Not like I have anything better to do tonight."

"Thanks, Xander."

For the first time in a long time, the old Gang was going a patrol together.

Sunnydale

That Night

Spike walked along the northern portion of the Sunnydale University campus, checking out some people and dying to have a drink from one of them. He cursed the Initiative mentally for sticking that bloody chip in his head and the Slayer for being no help to get it out. He'd grown tired of this "impotence".

"What this town needs is someone with power," he muttered as he leaned against a tree. "Since old Spike isn't at full capacity and all." He scowled as a girl, all alone, walked by. Easy pickings in the old days. "If all those stories are - " He stood straight when he heard familiar voices chattering. He turned around until he saw something rather unusual in the distance: Buffy and her friends all together. It appeared they were on a patrol. Curious as to what would have the old Gang together again, Spike followed, careful to keep himself out of sight.

"I hope that spell works for us," Willow said. She crossed her fingers behind her back. "I spent most of the afternoon working out the kinks."

"If you followed my directions, it should work well enough," Anya assured Willow.

Now, what's all this is about? Spike wondered. He noticed Xander toting a baseball bat. Something definitely had the Slayer's dander up, to drag her friends out on a patrol.

"Xander, why do you have that?" Buffy asked, pointing to the bat in her friend's hands.

"It's an idea I picked up from Giles," he replied. He gripped it in his hands.

"You have to take his eyes out, not hit a long line drive to deep left center."

Spike's interest was piqued. He'd been hearing stories about a new evil in town, something that even had other demons and vampires frightened. Could this be what they were looking for? If so, maybe they would lead him right to it. He grinned.

"I'd feel better if Stone were here," Xander commented. He noticed the look Buffy shot him. He nervously chuckled. "Not that I don't think you could take this thing, Buffy. I'd just feel better."

Screams from a secluded portion of campus caught their attention. The screams were music to Spike's ears. He eagerly followed the Gang as they ran to help whoever was in trouble.

Shakir yelled at young student in Turkish. He held his knife to her throat, and yanked her hair tighter when she struggled in his grasp.

"Please! Please, don't hurt me!" she whimpered. The girl yelped in surprise as an arrow hit her attacker in the neck, sticking there. Her eyes grew wide when he didn't bleed, or even show pain.

Shakir yanked the bolt out, cursing as he turned around. He chuckled when he saw the Slayer, crossbow in hand, her friends flanking her. He let go of the girl and threw the bolt to the ground.

The girl ran for Buffy and the others. "Thank you! Thank you!" she said as she hugged Anya. "I thought I was going to die! Thank you!" Hysterics had taken the victim over, but Anya did her best to be receptive and comforting.

Shakir laughed as Buffy stepped forward. "The stories of your intelligence and skill were greatly exaggerated, Slayer." He pointed to his face with the point of his knife. "You have to hit the eyes... remember?"

Buffy loaded up another bolt. "Oh, I remember." She grinned. "That one was just to get you to turn around." She fired again but Shakir caught the bolt in his hand then laughed.

Spike laughed as he watched the fight begin. Who was this fellow, he wondered. Better yet, what was he? He definitely wasn't another vampire. What was all this talk about eyes?

Buffy rushed Shakir and kicked the knife out of his hand. While he was distracted, she executed a spin kick, knowing it wasn't going to do any good. However, Xander used the opportunity to slip behind Shakir, his bat gripped tightly in his hands.

Shakir only laughed. "You are very stupid, girl," he hissed at Buffy. "However, I must give you credit for trying."

Xander whacked Shakir hard with his bat. He gasped sharply when Shakir whirled around and grabbed it. "Help!" he cried out.

Buffy jumped onto Shakir's back, a stake in her hand now. "Xander, let go! Quick!" she yelled as she wrapped her left arm around Shakir's neck. "Xander!"

Shakir seized Xander's wrist before the boy could do so. He laughed, his eyes flashing with fire. "You have nice hands," he told Xander. "They will look nice in my collection."

"Xander! Let go of him!" Anya tried to help Xander get his wrist free. Shakir continued to laugh at Anya's vain attempts to pry his hand off of Xander. She remembered Shakir's eyes and clawed at the man's face.

"Argh! You bitch!" he shrieked, letting go of Xander in order to protect his face from Anya. With a renewed strength, Shakir threw Buffy off of his back, and she landed on the ground with a thump. "I've had enough of this game, Slayer," he snarled as he picked up his knife.

"Yes, slice her open," Spike hissed as Shakir approached Buffy.

"Goddess Hecate, work thy will... let thine fire clear the path!" Willow's voice loudly and firmly declared. A wave of fire flew from Willow's outstretched palms, and it was so powerful it knocked her on her rear.

The fire hit Shakir with such force it knocked him onto the ground. Suffering from disorientation, Shakir didn't notice what Buffy was doing. She'd caught a stake that Anya tossed to her. She brought her arm down, the stake point going straight for Shakir's left eye. He barely rolled out of its path, but his eye took a hit sufficient enough for a stream of shimmering gold light, his soul, to escape. He screamed in Turkish as his hands flew to his eye. The light slipped between his fingers as he stumbled to his feet. He snarled when he realized he couldn't continue the fight like this. With an amazing, supernatural aided leap, Shakir sailed over the wall marking the boundary of Sunnydale University.

"He's getting away!" Anya yelled, pointing to the wall. She spun around to see Buffy wiping away her sweat. "He got away!"

Buffy gave Anya a look. Like she didn't know that. "He'll be hurting for awhile. Won't forget me very soon, that's for sure."

Xander helped her up. "You almost had him, Buff."

"Yeah. Almost." She looked him over, noticing that he massaged his wrist. "You okay?"

He nodded. "I'm fine."

Spike cursed the Slayer as he kicked his foot into the ground. The guy was so close! He'd almost killed that goody-goody little bitch! He looked at Buffy then in the direction the fellow had fled.

Perhaps I could offer some help to the lad? Spike thought. Valuable information on Buffy and her friends?

Giving Buffy and the others one last look, Spike climbed over the wall and went to seek out the stranger.

Buffy and Xander picked Willow up from the ground. Willow blinked a few times then looked from Buffy to Xander. "Did I hit him?" she asked.

"Yeah. Thanks to you, Buffy almost took an eye out," Xander told her. He let go of Willow's arm, making sure she was able to stand on her own. "But he ran."

Willow frowned. "Should we go after him?"

"I don't think he'll be hurting anyone else tonight," Buffy replied. She turned her attention to the girl they'd just saved. The girl sat on the ground, rocking back and forth. "Are you all right?"

The girl slowly raised her eyes up to them. She recognized Willow from one of her classes. A brief nod was all she could muster for an answer.

"Do you have any idea what that guy was saying to you?" Buffy inquired.

The girl shrugged. "I've never heard that language before."

"What language was that anyways?" Xander asked no one in particular.

"Turkish." Anya looked at them. The others stared at her. "What? You all act so surprised when I have something useful to add. I do know about things other than sex."

"Look, guys, why don't you take her back to her dorm room," Buffy suggested to the others, indicating the girl. "I'm going to do a quick sweep of this area." Before Willow could object to Buffy going off alone, Buffy added, "If I see him, I'll run. Okay? I just want to know how bad he's hurt."

Once Buffy assured her friends she'd be okay, she separated from them and went in the direction which Shakir had run. Her crossbow was in her hands, and she was ready for anything. So far, she'd found nothing. Not even a demon or a vampire.

What does Shakir really want in Sunnydale? Buffy wondered as she continued her hunt. Obviously, I'm posing a problem for whatever he has planned. Why else would he bother with me? Ash sure didn't when she was in town.

She came to an abrupt halt when she heard a noise nearby. Bringing up her crossbow, Buffy took a close look around her. Nothing but tall bushes and trees here. Suddenly, she reached into the bushes to her right, grabbed whoever was hiding on the other side, and threw him to the ground. "Got you!" she triumphantly declared as she aimed her crossbow at the person on the ground. She was surprised to see Stone, his pistol drawn and pointing right back up at her, lying at her feet. She breathed a sigh of relief as she lowered her crossbow. "You scared the hell out of me!"

Stone put his gun away. "You returned the favor. Did you have to grab me like that?"

Buffy held out a hand and helped him to his feet. "Did you have to be following me?"

"I wasn't following you," he replied, brushing the bits of bush and grass off his clothes. "I happened to be there -" He motioned to the section of bush Buffy had yanked him through. " - when I heard someone creeping around on the other side here."

She felt her face flush, slightly embarrassed. "How long have you been in town?"

"Only since this evening." He smiled a little.

"You showed up at a good time because - "

"Because there is a Damned soul in Sunnydale trying to complete a genocide he started over 80 years ago."

Buffy blinked then spluttered a few words before saying, "Yeah, that about covers it, but you know more details than I do."

"I have an angel on my shoulder, whispering little hints to me. Remember?"

"Oh, yeah, that's right." Buffy put a hand on her hip. "I gotta admit, I'm kinda curious to meet this guy." Stone stared at her, a stare that creeped her out. "Or not. Geez."

"You don't want to meet him. Don't talk about it. Don't even think about it."

"Fine, we'll talk about something else. But later. I've got a Damned soul to find." She started to walk away.

"Not without me, you don't."

She stopped and turned around. "I can handle this, Stone. Xander, Willow, Anya and I did just fine against him. We saved somebody! I damaged him. His eye got all sparkly when my stake grazed him."

"It's probably healed by now. It wasn't a serious wound if he walked away from it."

"I'll have to move faster next time." She continued on and Stone joined her.

"Buffy, you're going to need help. You needed it to give him a minor wound." He looked around. "Your friends aren't here."

"You're right," she finally made herself admit. She motioned in a direction. "He went this way. You can tell me what you know about this guy, too. I want to know why he's been following me." She saw the expression on Stone's face. "What?"

He shook his head, shaking it off. Shakir was following her? "It's nothing," he lied. "Let's find him." Before it's too late, he added in his head.

Abandoned House

Off campus, a small one story home was where Shakir had set up shop. Almost void of furniture with the ancient curtains lying in a pile on the floor, the place suited his needs. A wide range of candles kept the place lit. That's all he needed in a home. Light and walls. A place to plan the next step in his crusade. The Initiative held it, but the Slayer would be in his way.

Shakir paced back and forth, muttering curses in Turkish under his breath. He stopped in front of the cracked mirror in the living room, peering at his left eye. He gently touched it. A millimeter more to the left and he would've lost it. He pulled out his knife and drove the blade completely through the wall. "Bitch Slayer!" he yelled in English.

"She drives me crazy too," Spike said as he entered the abandoned house. He made mental note of not having to be invited inside, meaning this chap was dead. "I favor throwing my fist through a wall instead."

Shakir whirled around, yanking his knife out of the wall. He narrowed his eyes at this platinum blonde pale face in his home. "Who are you?" he snarled.

"Spike, mate," he casually answered as he lit up a cigarette. He took a long drag then exhaled the smoke. "And I've been waiting for a messiah to join me in Sunnyhell." He grinned at Shakir.

Shakir was suspicious. "What are you talking about, Messiah?"

"The one who's come to rid this place of the Slayer, Buffy Summers."

"Yes, the Slayer. I only wished to kill her but after what she did to me tonight..." Shakir's fingers brushed over the left side of his face, his eyes flaming. "I will make sure she suffers."

"Torture? You're definitely talking my language." He wagged his cigarette at Shakir. "And this is your lucky night."

"How so?"

"I've got inside information on the Slayer and her band of home-wrecking do-gooders," he replied. He took another puff then blew out the smoke as he walked a circle around Shakir. "I'm a vampire, see? Automatically I hate the Slayer. However, thanks to that bloody Initiative bunch, I'm unable to feed off living creatures anymore. So, in my handicapped state, I was forced to live among the Slayer and her friends for a few weeks."

Shakir raised a curious eyebrow. "A vampire living with the Slayer?" he said. "The soldiers who roam this campus did it to you?"

Spike was surprised Shakir knew about the Initiative. "Yes."

Shakir stepped closer. "Do you know what this 314 means? It is why I came to this place. I heard stories from the slime on the streets. A power that has even demons frightened. I must have it." He eyed Spike. "What is it?"

"I haven't a clue." He flicked his cigarette butt on the floor and snuffed it out. "All I do know is they put this bloody chip in my head and it took away my fun in life. Well, I can harm demons."

"But you prefer humans. Their fear -" Shakir inhaled deeply "- it's much more pure." He smiled crookedly at the vampire. "I have plans for the living beings of this world."

"And the Slayer is gonna cause you problems, right?"

Shakir remembered the Devil's soldier, Ezekiel Stone. "Among other things, yes. What can you do for me, vampire?"

"I can get you the Slayer with little difficulty. She's extremely gullible if properly motivated. When we snag the bitch, you can rip out her intestines and I'll enjoy using them to decorate my new bachelor's pad."

"If you do what you say can, I shall make you a lieutenant in my new army," Shakir said, smiling. He motioned for Spike to come with him. "We must discuss this. There isn't much time left."

Giles' House

Buffy opened the front door of Giles' house to find Xander, Willow and Anya inside with him. They'd just finished filling Giles in on what had happened.

"And, hey, there's Buffy now," Willow said, pointing to her friend in the doorway.

Giles walked across the room and gave Buffy a hug. "I'm relieved you're all right, Buffy," he told her as he took a step back.

"Giles, not in front of everybody!" Buffy teased him.

"I'm only concerned about your safety, Buffy," Giles replied, his tone changing to that fatherly one. "Going after a Damned soul like you did, you could've been killed."

"Well, I wasn't."

"Did you find him?" Anya asked.

"No, but I stumbled across something even better." She stepped aside as Stone walked into the house. "Ta da!"

"Thank God!" Xander exclaimed. He paused, nervous as he asked, "Is that right to be thanking God? Or is there some rule we should know about?"

"It's all right. Nobody's gonna burn in Hell because of it," Stone assured Xander. He hesitated, gave the matter a moment of pondering, then added, "At least, I don't think so." He saw the blood drain from Xander's face. "That... was a joke."

"So, you didn't find him?" Giles asked Buffy.

She shook her head. "No."

While Willow talked about her firewall spell she'd used against Shakir, Stone kept seeing Marya Sabuda in his mind's eye. She was about the same age as Buffy and her friends. Willow followed the same path as Marya. Willow hadn't hurt anyone with her spells, but neither had Marya. She ended up in Hell just the same.

Willow caught Stone staring at her. She shifted uncomfortably in place. Unlike Giles, Buffy and Xander, Willow still had reservations about Stone. Even though he'd helped them, saved her from being sacrificed to a powerful goddess, he'd done something terrible to land himself in Hell.

"What do you know about this soul in Sunnydale?" Giles asked, getting Stone's attention.

Stone didn't particularly want to go into the gory details, so he gave them a brief summary of Shakir's career in the Turkish military. A man who enjoyed his orders a little too much.

"How did you come to that information?" Willow asked.

"Clues," Stone simply answered.

"From whom?" Giles inquired.

Anya sighed in frustration. "From the Devil!" she exclaimed, rolling her eyes. "He works for him! People, let's think a little?" She looked at Stone. "We haven't been properly introduced. I'm Anya, ex-vengeance demon. I'm powerless, stuck in this mortal body and I have sex with Xander."

"Tact, Anya," said Xander as he placed a hand on her shoulder. His cheeks flushed bright red. "We discussed this."

Anya frowned. "Sorry," she apologized.

Stone decided to leave that one alone. He focused his attention on Buffy. "Shakir is targeting you."

"That's pretty obvious," Willow said. "He was talking about how he was gonna kill her. Yet why is he killing all these other people on campus? I don't understand it."

"Are the victims connected by their nationality?" asked Stone.

"No," Giles answered. He picked up the local paper, pointing out the latest murder. "We've been checking things like that. These people came from various backgrounds and nationalities."

"It's not just Armenians he's after this time. It's everybody." Buffy's brow furrowed as she recalled Riley's story about Shakir. "Riley and his team had a run in with Shakir the night before, but Shakir didn't kill them. I wonder why not?"

Giles sat down on the couch. "That's a good question."

Stone looked from Giles to Buffy. "Who's Riley?"

Anya lay sound asleep in Xander's arms, while he semi-listened to Giles, Buffy and Willow fill Stone in on everything from Spike to Riley to the Initiative. Anya yawned as she resituated herself, mumbling something in her sleep. Xander looked over his shoulder to the others. Stone, from what Xander could tell, was as befuddled by it all as much as they were.

Vampires with chips that stopped them from killing people? A group of military and science people doing experiments on otherworldly creatures? Stone shook his head a little. "And I thought my job was strange," was all he could find to say.

"I've so totally got you beat in the 'strange department'," Buffy replied, waving a hand in a dismissive gesture. "I see more weird in one night than you have in the last two decades." She grimaced slightly. "Um... I take that back, I forgot where you were for most of the last two decades."

"So you didn't tell your boyfriend about anything, right?"

Buffy shot Willow a glance. "No. I wasn't sure how to handle it, so I played dumb. That worked well enough."

"What is Shakir's plan?" Giles asked, breaking out of his quiet thought. "What must he do to finish out his genocide?"

"It's not like he's Ash and has other Damned souls with him." Willow leaned against Giles's desk. "How does one guy plan to take out six billion people?"

"Answer that one correctly and you win a prize," Buffy said then heaved a tired sigh.

"There's not much else we can do tonight. We should rest up and get a fresh start in the morning." Giles removed his glasses, massaging the bridge of his nose. "I'm going to the library tomorrow, do some independent research on Shakir." He placed his glasses back on his face. "Perhaps a clue of what he'll do lies in his life on earth."

Sunnydale U. Campus

Next Morning

"This stuff would have to happen right now," Buffy complained as she and Willow walked across the campus, headed for their morning classes. "Things are complicated enough. I just found out about Riley being in the Initiative, not long ago Ethan Rayne turned Giles into a demon. Plus, I think I might've flunked that last Psychology test."

"Life's hard, Buffy," Willow replied with a shrug. "You've gotta take it as it comes."

Riley joined them. "Morning," he greeted then gave Buffy a kiss.

Buffy took note of the bruises on his face and arms. "What happened to you?"

"While we were looking for that new demon, we came across a rather nasty fella who spit out fire." Riley winced and brushed his hand over a minor burn on his left hand. "Forrest was almost scorched to death."

"Been there, slayed that," said Buffy after taking a closer look at Riley's wound. She looked up at him. "Fire demons detest water. They're rather easy to pin down in a fight if you have a garden hose or a fire truck handy." She smiled.

"Now you tell me," he said in a mock stern voice.

Buffy felt Willow nudge her in the ribs. She exchanged a look with her friend. Willow kept mouthing, "Tell him", giving Riley pointed motions with her eyes.

"No," Buffy stiffly hissed, shaking her head.

"Am I interrupting something?" Riley inquired as Buffy and Willow continued their strange bit of pantomime.

"No, of course not!" Buffy declared before Willow could open her mouth. She poked Willow with her elbow, and grinned at Riley. "So...did Walsh have anything to say about the indestructible demon guy?"

"She's really interested in testing it. She wants him taken alive very much." He saw Forrest. "I'm sorry to just leave like this," he said to Buffy, "But Forrest and I need to plan strategy for tonight's patrol."

Buffy kissed him good-bye. Her smiled disappeared once Riley was gone.

"You should've told him Buffy. He could get killed out there against this Shakir person."

"Willow, Riley's a big boy... and he has automatic weapons. He'll be all right. I know he will." She started to walk. "Come on, we'll be late for class."

The Initiative

"Ahh, Agent Finn," Dr. Maggie Walsh greeted as Forrest and Riley approached her desk. She removed her glasses then stood. "I was just going over the last batch of tests we ran on the fire demon your team captured last night." She patted the manila folder. "This should be a great help to my work."

Riley and Forrest exchanged a look. Both were clearly boggled by Walsh's pleasant demeanor.

"But we didn't catch the HST you really wanted, Professor," Riley replied. He ignored the death glared Forrest slipped him while Walsh wasn't looking.

Walsh smiled a little. "You did manage to bag one hostile, if not the one I wanted. You always do your best for me, Agent Finn. I appreciate that."

Riley was happy Walsh wasn't busting a gasket over the team's failure the night before. "He was a no show, Professor. We'll cover a wider area tonight."

Walsh absently nodded her approval as she skimmed another set of results a technician handed her. "Keep searching. You're dismissed, agents."

"Yes, ma'am," Forrest and Riley said in unison.

Walsh watched them leave. They were certainly doing their best, she knew. Soon, though, the creature would come to death by the Slayer's hand, or simply leave town. She decided that if she wanted to find this creature, she'd have to stow her scientist gear and become a field agent for a night.

She checked her watch then picked up her briefcase. Her classes started soon.

Sunnydale U. Campus

That Afternoon

Stone walked the Sunnydale University campus. He'd spent most of the afternoon visiting all the sites where Shakir had attacked and killed his victims. Every victim was murdered in the rather deserted northern section of campus. He looked around, spotting a wall, which was the barrier between the college and the rest of the world. Committing murders on the university campus was clearly to draw Buffy out into battle. He sat down on the ground where the fourth victim had been slain. He folded his coat and laid it in his lap. Shakir must've been hiding out near this area. It was the most logical conclusion.

"Enjoying your higher education, Ezekiel?"

Stone ruefully smiled as the Devil stepped up beside him. "Higher education? Is that what goes on at this university?" He looked up.

"It's not Berkeley." The Devil locked his hands behind his back, grinning. "I'll never forget Berkeley in the good ol' sixties though. Riots, civil unrest, war, hate, greed, degeneration of a generation. Ahh, the perks of this job." He paused. "Have you solved my puzzle?"

"Yes, I have," Stone answered. He scanned the quiet campus. "Shakir wants to kill Buffy to push through his ultimate plan - complete genocide. Which means there is something in Sunnydale he wants and he knows Buffy will be a barrier."

"I gave you fairly easy clues this time." The Devil joined Stone on the ground. "Or you're more clever than I thought."

Stone ignored the Devil's bait for an argument. "I understand what Shakir is attempting to do, but the only question left is: how? It would take an army."

"As a matter of fact, it would." The Devil vanished.

Stone got up and walked across the campus. When he reached the quad, he ran across Buffy, who was surprised to see him.

"What are you doing here?"

"Making sure you're not cutting classes," he teased.

"Oh, ha ha," Buffy flatly said. "Seriously, what're you doing here? And if you say you're checking up on me, or protecting me from this psycho Shakir, I'll deck you, whether it'll hurt you or not."

"I'm not checking up on you, or trying to protect you," he assured her. When her face softened he went on. "I was visiting the sites of the previous murders."

"Oh... looking for clues?"

"Among other things."

Buffy tilted her head to the left slightly when Stone's expression changed to one more melancholy. "Are you all right? You look funny."

"It isn't anything you should be concerned about." He diverted his gaze from meeting hers.

She leaned over, trying to get him to look at her. "Hey, you're not hiding stuff from me again, are you? Because I so totally hate that." She stood straight once Stone looked at her.

"I only do it for your own good, Buffy," he told her, with a sly grin.

She scoffed, then rolled her eyes. "Stone, if you weren't dead, you'd be perfect for my mom." She checked her watch. "I have to go to my last class for the day. Are you gonna be lurking around here in an hour or so?"

Stone shrugged. "I don't know."

Riley stopped as he came into the quad area. Not too far away, Buffy talked with some guy Riley'd never seen before in his life. The man appeared to be a friend of Buffy's. He watched Buffy smile and wave good bye to the man then she jogged away, headed for class.

What's all this is about? he wondered. Buffy never told me she had a friend in town.

Riley continued on his own way to Lowell House, glancing over his shoulder at the man Buffy'd been talking to. Something felt weird about that guy.

Later that afternoon...

"Why don't you just talk to her, man?" Forrest asked. Riley'd been staring at Buffy, who walked across the lawn with Willow, presumably headed for their dorm. Riley mentioned Buffy had talked with some stranger earlier in the day, and it was definitely bugging the guy. "Go to the girl and ask what's up."

Riley shook his head and looked at Forrest. "I can't let her know I was watching her. She'll think I'm some kind of stalker. One of those boyfriends with no self-esteem who hounds his girlfriend about every other guy she talks to."

"Then don't go ask her."

Riley stared at Buffy. She laughed at something Willow said. "I'm gonna go ask her."

"The boy is hopeless," Forrest muttered as Riley walked away.

Riley joined the girls.

"Hi, Riley," Willow greeted, smiling at him.

"Hi, Willow," Riley politely returned. He put a hand on Buffy's shoulder, bringing her to a stop. "May I talk to you for a moment, Buffy? Alone?"

"I'll just head back to the room, Buffy," Willow immediately replied when Buffy glanced at her. She threw a look over her shoulder as she walked away and wondered what Riley was concerned about.

"What's up?" she inquired as soon as Willow walked away.

Riley didn't know how to ask his question and favored fidgeting instead. "Well... I was.." No, that wouldn't sound right. "I happened to be..." Nix that, too.

"Just spit it out, Riley," She smiled, hoping to ease him. "What is it?"

He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. "It's just that I happened to see you talking to... to some guy I've never seen before earlier," he managed to rush out in one quick breath.

Buffy stared at him and waited for the rest. A moment later, she prompted, "Yeah. So?"

He let out a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have even mentioned it. I'm being a jerk." He started to walk away, but Buffy stopped him.

"No, you're just asking a question." She met his gaze as her hand slipped down to grasp one of his. "What do you want to know, Riley? What that guy is to me? He's a... friend."

Riley nodded then shrugged. "If that's what he is to you, Buffy, then fine." He squeezed her hand, smiling at her, but it vanished when he saw the expression on her face.

"Fine?" she said, raising an eyebrow. Her hand let go of his. "Fine? So, if he wasn't just my friend, it wouldn't be fine? Is that what you're trying to say?"

"I didn't mean it like that, Buffy. Really." That wasn't helping his situation. He held up his hands. "I'm sorry I even brought it up. It was stupid. I'm being stupid."

Buffy shifted in place, glancing at the ground. She wasn't sure what to say. Riley spying on her left her with a creepy feeling. "I have to go," she finally replied, quietly. "I... I promised Willow we'd spend the evening at the Bronze." She tapped her books. "I have a lot of homework to finish. Bye."

As Buffy hurried off, Riley slapped his hands on his legs, muttering curses, and feeling like a complete ass.

Buffy and Willow's Dorm Room

Willow shut the door behind her as she entered the dorm room she and Buffy shared. She walked straight over to her bed and dumped her books there. Her curiosity about what was going on between Riley and Buffy was getting the better of her. She hoped nothing was wrong. Sighing, she considered giving Tara a call. Maybe she had time to work on some protective spells before Willow and Buffy went to the Bronze.

"Hello, Willow."

Willow gasped as she whirled around. The Devil sat at Buffy's desk, playing with Buffy's stuffed pig, Mr. Gordo. "What do you want?" she asked when she found her voice. "Why do you insist on torturing me?"

The Devil laughed. "Child, you'll know when the Devil tortures you."

"What do you want?"

"I'm here to offer you my help, Willow."

Willow eyed him, suspicious. "What do you mean, help?"

"Buffy Summers, the Slayer, and your best friend is in serious peril. Certain death lies in her future."

"Buffy's always in danger."

"Ah, but not like this," the Devil countered as he tossed Mr. Gordo onto Buffy's desk. "One of my beloved Damned wants to kill her. And he'll stop at nothing to have what he wants. Your friend will die."

"Buffy has us. We'll stop him." Willow looked down her nose at the Devil. "We certainly don't need any of your help."

The Devil rose to his feet and came closer to Willow. "Yes, you do. I have foreknowledge of certain events, Willow, and your friend..." He frowned. "She won't live unless you let me help you."

"What do you care about helping Buffy?" Willow asked. She took a few steps back, keeping as much distance between her and the fallen angel as possible.

"I don't give one damn about her. But you do." He pointed a finger at Willow. "I offer protection to her. She won't be harmed."

"You want me to make a deal with you?" Willow incredulously replied. She frowned. "But that means you get something in return, and what the Devil wants are..." Her words trailed off as her gaze met his.

"All you have to do is say yes." The Devil put on one of his smiles. "One little word, and she's safe from Shakir."

Willow turned away. "I can't just say yes," she began.

"You can!" The Devil came up behind her. "Say yes and your friend is well protected." He put his hands on Willow's shoulders when she shook her head. "Come on, girl! You know your magick isn't powerful enough. Say yes, and it's sealed. You don't want to be responsible for her death. Her blood will be on your hands."

Willow covered her ears and closed her eyes. "No!" she shouted. She shook her head. "Leave me alone!"

The Devil looked up as the dorm room door opened.

Buffy walked in as Willow, hands still at the sides of her head, yelled, "Go away! Stop harassing me! Leave me alone!"

"Will," Buffy asked, rushing over to her friend. "What's wrong? Willow?"

Willow lowered her hands, opening her eyes to see Buffy, very concerned, standing before her. She gave the room a quick once over. The Devil was gone.

"It's... it's nothing, Buffy," she softly said. She swallowed hard then bit her lower lip.

"Willow, you're shaking," Buffy said as her hand settled on Willow's shoulder. "What happened?"

Willow pulled away from Buffy's touch. "It's nothing," she said in a much firmer tone. "I'm all right." She sat down on her bed, then took in a few steadying breaths. Before Buffy could ask more questions, Willow changed the focus by asking Buffy what Riley wanted.

Buffy's gaze lingered on Willow a few moments. "Riley saw me with Stone earlier today, he was asking questions about who he was."

"Did you tell him?"

"No. The less he knows, the safer he is... for now."

"You'll have to tell him sometime, Buffy. Do you think that if we teamed up with Riley, we could defeat this guy?"

Buffy dropped her books on her desk then sat down on her own bed. "I don't want to involve him, and that's just it on that."

Willow remembered what the Devil told her before Buffy showed up. Buffy's life was in extreme danger. "Are you sure we should go to the Bronze tonight?" she asked. "That psycho is stalking you..."

"He's gonna stalk me no matter what. At least I can enjoy a little of my free time while being stalked."

Sunnydale Campus

Evening

Maggie Walsh, decked out in the standard issue military dress of her soldiers and armed with weapons, walked along the area of the campus the demon frequented. She continually monitored a handheld device designed to track different types of demons. The readouts didn't reveal anything promising. She hoped against hope she would get this creature. It would be invaluable to her research with Project 314.

Walsh was surprised from behind by Shakir. The demon grabbed her by the straps of her body armor and jerked her back towards him. She tried to get her tranq gun, but he only knocked it out of her hands. She heard the "shing" of a knife as it was pulled from a sheath.

Shakir gritted his teeth as he threw an arm around Walsh's lower body, slipping his knife under her chin. "Good evening, Doctor," he hissed.

Walsh's fingernails dug into his dead skin of Shakir's forearm wrapped around her waist. He made no sound, or acknowledged any pain. She drew in a sharp breath as Shakir tightened his grip on her.

"I do not wish to harm you, Dr. Walsh," Shakir whispered in her ear.

Walsh felt his knife scrape against her throat. "Who are you?"

"Who I am is not important. It is what I want. You have it, doctor."

Walsh wetted her lips with her tongue, running a few scenarios in her mind. "What do I have?" she asked. Perhaps she could get information while being held hostage.

Shakir laughed loudly. "You keep a very potent power, my good doctor. Something called 314." His voice lowered to a growl. "I want it."

Walsh froze, her eyes widening at Shakir's mention of Project 314. How did some demon know about something as sensitive as that? It was a very deep in the black project, even among those within The Initiative.

"I won't give you anything," she defiantly snarled.

"You should be more accommodating," Shakir said. "I do not wish to kill you. Your knowledge of science could prove useful for my future plans. But I will if I must."

"I don't give a damn about your future plans," Walsh spat back.

"I assure you, you will."

"The lady's already turned you down, Shakir," Stone's voice said. He stepped out in front of Shakir and Walsh, his gun out and trained on the two of them. "Why don't you let her go?"

Shakir was careful to keep Walsh between him and Stone's gun. "The Devil's foot soldier!" he pleasantly greeted. "I have been wanting to meet you for some time. So much I would like to discuss with you."

"Let her go and we'll talk all you want."

Shakir pretended to think it over then shook his head. "No, not yet. The good doctor and I were working out a deal. She has something I want... and I have something she wants."

Stone couldn't get a clear shot at Shakir. He was keeping Maggie Walsh's head in front of his own. "What do you have she wants, Shakir?"

"I have her life." He chuckled. "But I have more important business to attend to tonight." He spun Walsh out of the way and she fell to the ground. Shakir used the moment of confusion to charge Stone. He barreled over Stone and quickly vanished into the darkness.

Stone took a moment to check on Walsh, who was shaken but psychically fine, then he scrambled after Shakir. He scaled the north wall of the campus, but he didn't get far before realizing Shakir had effectively ditched him.

"I have more important business to attend to tonight," Shakir's voice echoed in Stone's head.

"Buffy."

The Bronze

"I still think you should reconsider," Willow said as she and Buffy made their way through the Bronze.

"Willow, I'm not listening," Buffy replied. She smiled as she sat down at the table where Anya and Xander were seated. "I hope we didn't miss anything exciting."

"Semi-average dancing to below average bands," Anya grumbled. "You didn't miss anything."

Willow glanced around the crowd in the Bronze, partly spooked by Shakir and mostly afraid that the Devil would pop up again. She wondered if she should tell Buffy and the others about her encounter? No, Buffy definitely had enough on her plate as it was. And asking Xander or Anya to keep a secret, that was a joke.

Xander noticed Willow's odd behavior. "Willow, what's up?"

"Nothing is up," Willow said, turning in her seat to look at Xander. "I'm all right, Xander." She hopped up from her seat when someone bumped into her. "Watch where you're walking!" she exclaimed upon seeing it was another person and not the Devil. She sat back down.

Buffy watched Willow sit down. "I should be the jumpy one, I'm the gal with the stalker from Hell. Literally."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Willow muttered. None of the others heard it because the comment was drowned out by the music.

"What is going on with Shakir?" Anya asked, trying to take an interest in the problems at hand for Buffy. She'd found that Xander's friends problems automatically became her problems too. She didn't like it, but if that kept Xander happy, she'd try her best to appear to care.

Buffy shrugged. "He's determined to take me down, that's all I know."

"Like that's anything new." Xander scoffed. "These villains should show up in town with something original."

"It's hard to come up with something original when it's all been done a hundred times before, and better, by somebody else," Anya told him. She sipped on her glass of water.

Buffy slapped her hands on the table, making Willow jump again. "I came here to have a little fun, not dwell on circumstances out of my control." She got up. "And I plan on doing just that. Having some fun!" She left the others and headed for the dance floor.

Willow watched her friend dance for a little bit, until she saw Spike come into the Bronze. "Uh oh," she said, motioning at Anya and Xander. "Look at who walked in, guys."

"They just let anybody in here," Xander said.

"Don't turn your back ...

Danger surrounds you ...

Don't turn your back ...

To the dogs who hound you..."

Buffy waved off an offer from someone to dance and head over to the bar to get some water instead. She smiled at the tender, thanking him then took a swig.

"...Don't turn your back ...

Don't show your profile ...

You'll never know ...

When it's your turn to go..."

As she left the bar to join Anya, Willow and Xander at the table, Buffy bumped into Spike. Water sloshed over the sides of her glass and onto the floor. "Spike?" she said, looking from the floor to him. "What are you doing here?"

"Better yet, what are you doing here?" Spike shot back. He checked over his coat. No damage done. "Shouldn't you be on a patrol?"

"Who are you, Giles?" Buffy snapped back, annoyed.

"No, thank bloody God!" Spike rolled his eyes a bit.

"Did you want something, Spike, or are you here to further complicate my already complicated week?"

"No." He leaned on the counter. "I thought it'd be good form to mention that I saw a vampire take a nice, juicy morsel out the back." He nodded to the side door, which led to the alley by the Bronze. "Wish I could've joined him. But since I can't, my motto is, if I can't join 'em, you might as well get to slay them."

Buffy let out a disgusted sigh as she pulled out a stake she kept on her person at all times. "Thanks so much, Spike," she muttered, pushing past him.

Spike grinned as he watched her head for the door. "Think nothin' of it, luv," he said.

Buffy shoved open the door and entered the alley. She looked around, but nobody was out there. "What an ass," she grumbled, lowered her stake. "Spike, that little - " As she turned around to go back inside the club, she came face to face with Shakir.

"Greetings, Slayer."

The last thing Buffy saw was Shakir's fist hitting her square in the face.

Back inside the Bronze, Anya finished scanning the club. "What happened to Buffy?"

Xander shrugged. "Don't know. She's gotta be around here someplace. Maybe she found someone she knows?"

Willow, concerned with something other than herself now, gave the Bronze a thorough scan as well. She didn't see Buffy, but Spike headed their way. "This doesn't look good," she muttered, nodding to Spike as he reached the table.

"Spike, have you seen Buffy?" Xander asked upon the vampire reaching their table.

"Sure." He jerked his head, indicating the back of the Bronze. "She went out back, to slay a vampire."

"Did you see her come back in?" Willow inquired.

"I'm not the Slayer's keeper, kids," Spike replied. "You want her? You find her. I've got places to be." He walked away and left the Bronze, grinning.

"Maybe we should see if Buffy needs help?" Willow suggested. "I'll be right back." She got up, weaved her way through the other club patrons then entered the alley. No Buffy. No signs of a struggle.

"Buffy?" she called. Her own voice was the only sound. "Buffy, are you out here?" She stopped when her feet kicked something. "What the -?" She leaned over and picked the object up. "Oh no. Buffy's stake." A panic washed over her as she ran back inside, yelling for Anya and Xander.

Giles's House

Giles removed his glasses, placing his right hand over his eyes. Gently, he massaged his temples with his thumb and forefinger. The material he'd poured over most of the afternoon was nothing short of horrific. He didn't think the English language had a word that properly described the photos and personal accounts of atrocities suffered during the Armenian Genocide.

He lowered his hand, picking up a book detailing the Armenian Genocide during World War One. These were things that Stone never talked about, at least in detail, when he spoke of Shakir. Hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children slaughtered like animals in the name of "ethnic cleansing". And Shakir was one of the most vile and violent of the offenders.

In his testimony at the war crimes trial, Shakir stated he wished the Armenian dogs were alive, so he could kill them all over again. Giles couldn't fathom what sort of person could do such things to his fellow man. With Ash, he could understand, to an extent, her anger, her reasoning. Shakir, however, had no rhyme or reason. He deserved to be in such a place. All demons should be in Hell.

Giles jerked when a knock came on his door. He opened the top drawer of his desk, swept all the books and papers into it, then got up. He found Willow, Anya and Xander on his stoop. The blank expressions on the faces of the three children alarmed him.

Willow held up the stake she'd found in the alley of the Bronze. "Buffy's missing."

After listening to Willow's account of what happened at the Bronze, he shook his head. "She hasn't checked in with me," he said. "And we can only assume she's in danger, seeing that Shakir is on the loose in Sunnydale."

"Spike was the last person to talk to her before she disappeared," Xander said.

"Someone should find him then. Get some answers."

"I'll do it," Xander volunteered, not even giving it a second thought.

"I'll go with you, even though I really don't want to," Anya added.

"Thanks so much for your continued support, Anya," Giles told her, his voice a mix of sarcasm and anger.

"I'm going back to the dorm," Willow said. "I think there might be a spell I can use to locate Buffy." She looked from Giles to Xander, adding in her mind, With Tara's help, maybe I can get it to actually work.

"What are you going to do?" Anya asked as Giles grabbed his coat.

"I'm going to find Zeke Stone."

The Initiative

"You did what?" were Riley's first words in response to Walsh's recount of her adventure with Shakir. He made it no secret he was angry Walsh put herself in that position in the field. "What would we do if this guy had killed you? Catching this thing is _our_ job." He motioned to Forrest at his left.

"How dare you question my decision to go out in the field, Agent Finn?" she demanded, rather indignant. "I learned quite a lot about this creature, and expect to have some answers about it soon."

"How?"

One of the technicians presented Walsh with a few papers. "The results on that skin sample came back, Dr. Walsh," the young woman said.

"Thank you, Trudy," Walsh replied, pleased. She put on her glasses and proceeded to take a look at the information before her.

"Skin sample?" Forrest asked.

"During the attack, I was able to get a bit of skin off the hostile with my fingernails," she answered. She shook her head. "Trudy, these results can't be right."

"I thought they were rather strange myself," Trudy agreed. She pointed to a certain section. "How is... that possible?"

Riley saw the look on Walsh's face. "What's wrong?"

"The sample of skin... it's human." Walsh raised up her head, meeting Trudy's gaze.

"Human?" Forrest repeated. "That wasn't human. No human has that much strength and is impervious to our weaponry."

"That's not all." Walsh looked to her two soldiers. "This flesh is dead. Decay estimates put it around roughly 80 years old."

"An indestructible being wearing 80 year old dead human flesh?" Forrest said, just to hear it spoken aloud.

"Whatever it is, it's out there. What do we plan to do about the hostile?" Riley asked. He met Walsh's gaze. "He's killing people. He must be contained or destroyed. There's no way the local PD is taking him down."

"That's why I'm putting you in charge of the massive task force," Walsh replied, taking off her glasses. She pointed at him with them. "Any and all Initiative personnel and equipment is at your disposal." She started to walk away.

"Is this a seek and destroy mission, Professor?" Riley called after her.

Walsh slowed to a stop and looked over her should. "I want the hostile taken alive, Agent Finn. Do not fail me on this." She walked away.

Shakir's Hideaway

Consciousness hit Buffy first before she actually came out of the blackness. Her heavy eyelids took much coaxing to open, but when they did, she found little to be happy about. She blinked a few times as she raised up her head. Her arms were killing her and so were her legs. That's when she realized she was in a standing position.

"Mmm..." she moaned, trying to move her feet. The clank of chains responded. "Huh?" She looked down. Her feet were in shackles and the chains were bolted to the wall she leaned against. Above her head, her wrists were in the same predicament. Why couldn't she break simple chains? Her entire body felt as if it were floating. Coasting. Sailing.

Giving up on getting free, Buffy looked around, but that wasn't much better. The awful sight sent chills up her spine. Illuminated by candlelight, the living room walls of Shakir's broken-down house were decorated with human hands and feet. The entire place reeked of death. Waves of nausea washed over her and she gagged.

Oh, God, where am I? she wondered, looking around. Not far from the fireplace, a large metal bowl sat on a tripod. It was similar to what Willow or Giles sometimes used to prepare ingredients for spells. This one, though, it only held a large, flickering flame.

She froze when she heard voices in another part of the house, but couldn't make out anything about them. Two voices. Flashes of Shakir hitting her in the alley went through her mind... Spike. Was he part of it? She scowled. She wouldn't put it past him, and cursed herself for being so stupid as to go out back on Spike's word.

Buffy re-engaged her struggle with the chains again as Shakir entered the room. She tilted her head slightly upon noticing the strange uniform he wore.

"It's a Turkish uniform, from the period during which I served, Slayer," Shakir told her. He smiled as he stopped by the metal bowl on the tripod, his fingers brushing over dragon's head handle of his knife. The ruby eyes of the dragon glimmered in the candlelight.

She ignored him and continued to attempt escape.

"It's useless." Shakir chuckled as Buffy tried even harder to pull her arms free. "I am not stupid. Your Slayer strength would easily break those chains, so I took the liberty of giving you some muscle relaxants."

Buffy groaned. That's why she was so weak. The feeling was familiar because she'd had it done to her before. On order of the Council for some idiotic "test".

Shakir smiled wider when he saw the look on Buffy's face. "I believe you are already familiar with the technique of removing a Slayer's power?" He drew closer to her. "I have done research of my own, little girl." His eyes narrowed to slits as he hissed, "I know you, how to hurt you, how to torture you... There is nothing you can do to stop me!"

Buffy, a concerned expression on her face, looked at Shakir. "Oh, hey, amidst all my kidnapping, I forgot to ask... How's your eye?" she bitterly snapped.

Shakir's left eye flinched. He drew his knife.

"That's an awfully big knife. Freud has theories about guys like you."

Shakir shoved the blade in her face. "This knife gutted thousands of people, cut off millions of hands and feet, gouged out countless eyes." He rested the flat side of the blade on Buffy's cheek, the point millimeters below her left eye.

Buffy didn't acknowledge that the knife touched her skin. "A friend of mine had a knife kind of like that. Shame what happened to her."

Shakir's eyebrows arched in interest. "Oh... and what happened to her?"

Her eyes narrowed. "I put her in a coma. So if you think your little knife scares me, think again, punk."

Shakir drew his knife away from Buffy's face, sliding it back into the sheath as he walked over to the tripod. "Originally, I wanted to kill you, girl, but now I do not. You almost sent me back to Hell." He picked up a metal poker from the set of fireplace tools near the caved in fireplace. "That did not please me." He rested the point of the poker over the fire in the metal bowl.

Buffy's eyes jerked from the tip to the face of this psycho. Fear grew within her at what Shakir planned to do with that poker. She tried to keep a blank expression, but it became harder and harder as the seconds ticked away.

Shakir held up the poker, the tip now glowed red from the heat. He approached Buffy. "What should I do to you, Slayer?" he asked, waving the tip of the poker inches from various spots on Buffy's body. "Slide this into your gut and listen to it sizzle against your flesh? Hmm? How about I take out an eye?" He shoved the poker closer to her face.

She resisted the temptation to turn her head away. She glared at him. "I have somewhere you can stick it."

In the next room, Spike came to a stop when he heard Buffy scream in agony as Shakir decided on a place to stick the poker. A wicked smile, one of extreme pleasure, crossed his face.

He truly wanted to be there while the bitch got what was coming to her, but he couldn't. His new assignment was to find the other pesky kids and lead them to the place so Shakir could finish off all of them. Shakir would be torturing her for awhile, Spike figured. Plenty of fun was left to be had. He left the house.

Buffy and Willow's Dorm

Stone pounded on Buffy and Willow's door with a fist a few times. "Buffy?" he called then knocked again. He'd been all over Sunnydale searching for the girl, but he hadn't come across her, so he decided to try her dorm.

"Buffy, it's Stone!" he called once more. Nobody answered. Frustrated, he turned around. "Jesus," he gasped when he came face to face with the Devil. "I really wish you wouldn't do that."

"She isn't home, Ezekiel," the Devil simply said.

"Thanks for telling me that after I asked about fifty different kids which dorm room is hers," Stone scoffed in reply. "You don't happen to know where she is? Wait. If you did know, you wouldn't tell me."

"You're too late to help her, anyway. Concentrate on Shakir."

Stone looked at the Devil. "What do you mean, I'm too late?"

The Devil shrugged as he shifted his gaze down to the floor.

Stone grabbed the Devil by the lapels of the long, black dress coat he wore. "What's happened to Buffy?" he demanded, slamming the Devil against Buffy's dorm room door. "Where is she?"

"The Slayer isn't your mission, Mr. Stone," the Devil snarled in response. He shoved Stone back then straightened out his coat. "You're here to get Shakir's soul back to Hell." He tilted his head, looking deep into Stone's eyes. "You like that girl, don't you?" he said, not hiding his disgust with it. "And all this time I thought it was only gratitude you felt towards her because she saved your, to loosely phrase it, life. As I recall the last young person you cared for turned out to be one of the illustrious 113."

Stone began to walk down the hallway. This was no longer a job to be done. Shakir had made it personal by murdering Buffy. The Devil's comment about the last young person stung, however, a painful reminder of the teenaged Brian.

"It's best you keep your emotions in check, Ezekiel!" The Devil called to Stone's retreating figure.

Stone took a right once he got outside of the dorm building. A few moments later, Willow came from around the corner from the left. She looked around. She had the feeling someone watched her. She hurried into the dorm building, but slowed to a stop in the lobby when she saw the Devil sitting in one of the chairs.

"No silly location spell is going to help you find your friend." The Devil got up from the chair and walked towards her.

"Why don't you just leave me alone?" Willow asked, almost whining.

"I'm only offering you my help, Willow."

Willow closed her eyes. "I don't believe in you, I don't believe in you, I don't believe in you..." she repeated in a whisper. When she stopped, she slowly opened her eyes, and the Devil was gone. Her relief at that fact was short lived, though.

"It doesn't matter if you believe in me, little witch," the Devil, now behind Willow, murmured into her left ear. "I believe in you."

Willow leaped forward then whirled around. "Why can't you bother somebody else? Like somebody who'd want to hang around you?"

"Not many people want to hang around me."

"Gee, I wonder why?" Willow sarcastically replied.

The Devil half-smiled at her snidely toned remark. She had a mean streak in her. He liked it too. "None of you will stop Shakir in time, not you, your friends, or Ezekiel. You'll all fail. You don't want that to happen, do you?"

Willow stepped toe to toe with the Devil. "How do I know you're not lying about it? Huh?" she asked. She raised an eyebrow as she put her hands on her hips. "You're the Devil, right? And the Devil likes to lie."

"Can you take that chance, Willow?"

She glared at him. The thought of Buffy being slaughtered by Shakir went through her mind, then she pictured herself selling her soul to the Devil to save her best friend.

"It's a chance I have to take," she finally replied. "Buffy's well aware of the danger in her job. And so am I." With that, she turned on her heel and left the dorm to find Anya and Xander or Giles.

The Devil scowled, irritated that Willow refused his offer, but the fact that she was wise enough not to take it intrigued him as well.

Sunnydale U. Campus

Giles walked through the Sunnydale U. campus, hoping to find Stone. He'd been over a few other spots in town already. No luck, sadly. He tried hard to control his fear for Buffy's safety, and concentrate on the matter at hand. The more time he spent alone, the more he dwelled on it. What awful things Shakir could be doing to Buffy at that very moment.

He ducked out of sight as some of the Initiative people marched by, armed to the teeth. He figured they, too, searched for Shakir. Walsh's fervent desire to catch Shakir made Giles wonder exactly what that woman was up to? What was the Initiative all about? From what Ethan said, it had the vilest of demons petrified.

Giles spotted Stone, and the man headed his way. "Mr. Stone," he said.

"I was just coming to see you," Stone replied, stopping in front of Giles.

Giles saw the look on Stone's face. He had a fire in his eyes Giles knew all too well. "What's the trouble?"

Stone didn't know quite how to tell Giles about what had happened to Buffy. Perhaps it would be best not to tell him at all. Then again, the guy had a right to know. He was practically the girl's father. Luckily, Giles started to talk, saving Stone from having to make a decision.

"Buffy's missing," Giles said. "That's why I sought you out. We think Shakir has her."

"I know she's missing. I was looking for her myself."

"How did you find out?"

Stone glanced down, meaningfully. "A lower power."

"This lower power didn't happen to tell you where Shakir is, did he?"

"No, but I have a good idea." Stone motioned to the campus. "All of the murders took place on one side of the campus, the northern outskirts of it." He glanced at Giles. "An easy in and out job. I suspect that Shakir is close to, or nearby, that portion of campus."

Giles nodded. "Logical conclusion," he replied. "Let's go find the bastard, shall we?"

Cemetery (near campus)

"I wish I wasn't part of this," Anya sighed as she and Xander strolled through the cemetery. They'd been searching high and low for Spike, but no luck so far. Anya, though, filled the time by complaining. "These aren't my problems. Damned souls and all this mess."

Xander sat down on one of the headstones then rubbed his legs. "If you want to be part of the Scooby Gang, you have to make it your problem."

Anya stopped. "But I don't want to be part of your Scooby Gang."

"Oh... well, then put up with it for my sake?"

She pondered it. "Okay," she finally replied.

Xander chuckled a little, shaking his head. As he looked beyond Anya, he saw Spike step out from the shadows. "Hey! Spike!" he called out, waving a hand. He got up and motioned for Anya to follow him. "C'mon."

Spike sauntered over, meeting them at the halfway point. He lit up a cigarette, took a deep drag, then asked, "What do you losers want from me now?"

"Buffy's missing," Xander answered. He watched Spike take another long drag off his cigarette.

"And this means what to me?" Spike asked when he saw Xander waiting for a reply. He flicked the ashes off the cigarette. "I don't have her."

"You spoke with her last," said Anya.

"So that automatically means I'm involved?" Spike scoffed, offended at the insinuation. "Whatever happened until innocent until proven guilty? How rude!"

Xander smiled. "With your track record, it's pretty much a given you're guilty, Spike."

Spike exhaled smoke, making a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Sins of the past, mate. I got me a clean slate now that I'm all harmless like." He smirked at the two of them.

"We know you did something." Anya stepped closer to Spike. "And you're lying about not being involved."

Spike stared back at her. "Just how would you know?"

"After 1100 years of watching men lie, I picked up a few things. So where is she?"

Spike took one last puff on his cigarette then flicked away the butt. "I might have a bead on where she is," he casually replied.

"You know who has her?"

Spike flicked his gaze over to Xander. "I never said that. I said I might know where she is."

Xander nodded. "And where's that?"

"An abandoned house just off campus," Spike replied. He pointed to the street leading away from the cemetery they were presently in. "Word on the demon street is that a heavy duty evil is holed up there. He could be your boy."

Anya turned to Xander. "We should go and get Giles."

"We don't have time. But what we do have is the element of surprise."

Anya's nose wrinkled. "We should get Giles, Xander, because you're not very strong and I'm just a human girl now. We'd be killed instantly."

Xander smirked at her. "Thanks for that vote of confidence."

"Bleedin' Christ," Spike exclaimed, getting Anya's and Xander's attention. He pointed to himself. "I'll go with you if it'll shut up your prattle!"

"Anya, Xander," Willow said as she slowly walked up to join the group. She looked around, wondering if the Devil had followed her.

"How did the location spell go?" Anya asked, putting off the discussion at hand.

"I didn't get the chance to do it." She shivered as she remembered her encounter with the Devil. "I didn't have all the necessary ingredients in my room," she lied. She pointed at Spike. "What's going on here?"

"Spike says he has an idea where Buffy might be," Xander explained. "An abandoned house not far from the U.C. Sunnydale campus."

"Stand here and blather on," Spike said as he walked away. "If you're coming, then follow me. If not, I'll tell the big, bad evil that you lot are on your way. I'm sure he'd be happy to have advance information." He glanced back, giving them an evil grin.

"Come on, let's follow him," Xander said, then sighed. He and the two girls trailed after Spike.

In the distance, an Initiative humvee drove by.

Shakir's Hideout

Stone and Giles crept around outside of the old house Shakir had made his home. Didn't take long for them to find the place. It was strange to see an abandoned house with light coming from inside of it. Stone, gun drawn, held up a hand to keep Giles from moving ahead of him.

"What is the plan here?" Giles asked in a hushed voice. All he could think about was how powerful Ash had been. And engaging that again scared the hell out of him.

"Shhh," Stone hissed as he stopped by one of the windows. "Someone's home," he whispered when he made out voices.

Carefully, they both peered through the window to see Buffy chained to the wall with Shakir pacing back in forth in front of her, a poker in his left hand, talking. The girl's body was covered with blood, sweat and various burn marks. She barely stood on her own, and her head hung down low, defeated.

Stone's body flooded with relief when he saw that Buffy was still alive. Quickly, it switched to anger when he realized the Devil had lied to him. His fingers gripped his gun tightly. Shakir would pay for this.

Giles's rage built with each new wound he saw on Buffy. His hands squeezed themselves into fists as his gaze shifted over to Shakir. He would take that poker from that bloody wanker and ... He started to go in, but Stone held him back.

"Wait," Stone ordered. He looked back through the window.

Buffy screamed as Shakir let the hot tip of the poker sear into the skin of her forearm. She drew in a deep, sharp breath when the poker was pulled away from her flesh. She clamped her teeth together, dealing with all the pain and trying to control her tears. If anything, Buffy didn't want Shakir to see her cry.

Shakir watched as Buffy's head dropped down. "I can make the pain stop," he softly said, coming closer to her. "All you have to do is ask."

Buffy raised up her head and stared at Shakir. She spat in his face, a feral gleam in her own eyes.

Shakir snatched his knife from the sheath with his free hand and pressed it against Buffy's gut. "I'll slice you from stem to stern."

Buffy weakly laughed. "Is that the best you could come up with?" she asked in a hoarse voice. "The soulless version of my ex-boyfriend was a lot scarier than you and he's only a vampire."

Shakir punched her in the face with the hilt of his knife, which caused a nasty gash in Buffy's left cheek. He walked away from Buffy and over to the tripod where he placed the poker back into the fire. His back was to Giles and Stone.

"Now," Stone said, pointing towards the house.

"What?" Shakir whirled around as Stone and Giles busted into his place. He saw Stone's gun pointed at him. Grinning, he raised his knife and, instead of aiming for Stone, he threw it at Giles.

Stone grabbed Giles by the sweater and put his own body between Giles and the knife. The knife caught Stone in the middle of the back. "Argh!" he cried out in pain as he collapsed to the ground. His gun clattered to the floor in front of him. "Son of a..."

Giles stood frozen for a moment, his eyes on Stone who tried to get the knife out of his back. Gathering his wits about him, Giles snagged Stone's gun and fired a shot at Shakir. The Damned soul didn't even waiver as the bullet struck center mass.

Shakir slammed into Giles, knocking him backwards. The ex-Watcher sailed across the room, hit the wall and fell to the ground with a thump.

Stone grunted as he finally removed the knife from his back. He pushed himself up to his knees. Shakir, done with Giles, turned his attention to the real threat, which attempted to get up off of the floor.

Buffy watched helplessly as Giles and Stone tried to save her life. She fought with her chains once again, hoping that the damn relaxants would wear off soon. "Let... go," she panted. She gave them one more pull, but it was pointless.

Shakir stood over Stone. He pushed Stone back onto all fours with a booted foot. "You are a fool!" he snarled. He kicked Stone in the side then spat on him. "No lackey of the Devil will stop me from carrying out my orders!"

"What orders?" Stone asked. He winced in pain. His hand tightened its grip on the handle of Shakir's knife.

"From my superiors, dog," Shakir growled. He grabbed Stone by the neck, pulled the man back onto his knees and glared into his eyes. "I will finish this. And you, I am sorry, must go back to Hell." He crooked the index and middle fingers of his right hand.

"I have a few things left to do here," Stone told him. He plunged the knife into the side of Shakir's right knee then twisted it.

Shakir howled in pain and let go of Stone. He cursed in Turkish as he doubled over, holding his injured leg. As Stone got to his feet, he was surprised by Shakir shoving him. He crashed into the flaming metal bowl and the poker clattered onto the floor. The coals from the fire skittered and scattered everywhere. The old curtains and dry wood of the flooring quickly ignited. Fire began to race up the walls and across the floors, filling the room with intense heat and smoke. Shakir groaned loudly as he pulled out the knife. He stared at his knife and rose up to his full height. He could feel his body repairing itself already. Slowly, his gaze went from Stone trying to pick himself up off the floor over to the Slayer. The girl tried frantically to free herself.

"Buffy, I'm coming!" Stone called as he staggered towards her. He stopped when Shakir stepped into his path.

"You cannot help that bitch," he snarled at Stone. He laughed when he saw Stone looking around at the fire, growing in its intensity. "You and I can survive this, Stone... but that whore and her Watcher will die." He smiled as he looked from the flames to Stone. "Remind you of somewhere?"

Stone tried to get by Shakir. Shakir seized him by the coat and hurled him across the room. Stone slammed onto the floor and slid to a stop near Giles. The ex-Watcher was still knocked out.

Buffy coughed as the smoke increased and the flames spread. With one more try, she managed to pull her arm chains free from the wall and she thumped to the floor. She drew in a breath, coughed, then yanked out the chains that held her feet to the wall. Her strength was gradually returning.

Giles stirred on the floor. His eyes opened. He sat upright when he saw the flames dancing up the walls and around the floor. Smoke so thick one could cut it loomed above his head. Giles heard someone cough. Buffy'd managed to get herself free from the wall. On his left, Giles found Shakir throwing Stone around the place like a ragdoll.

"Oh, bloody hell," he mumbled. His own throat was sore from breathing in all that smoke. The smell of burning flesh filled his nostrils as he got to his feet. The back of his hand went to his nose as he looked around for something to use against Shakir. He hobbled forward and picked up the nearest weapon - the poker.

Shakir ground his knee into Stone's chest now that he had Stone flat on his back on the floor. Smiling evilly, he shoved his knife in Stone's face. "Do not worry, you will not be alone for long. You will have friends joining you very soon."

Stone prepared for the worst, but before Shakir could gouge out his eyes, something miraculous happened. The point of the poker came through the front of Shakir's chest. Giles stumbled back a few steps when Shakir didn't acknowledge the act.

"Another fool is your friend," Shakir said to Stone as he nodded at the poker. He continued to laugh until Stone seized the poker with both hands and pulled it the rest of the way through. Shakir rolled off of Stone, screaming in pain.

Outside the Hideout

Spike skidded to a halt but the rest of the Gang barreled past him. He shook his head, his eyes wide in disbelief. The bleedin' house was on fire! "No! This isn't fair!" he shouted then began to throw a fit, kicking the ground and cursing. "Nothing goes right in this goddamn town!"

"Buffy?" Xander called as he Anya, and Willow rushed into the burning house. "Buffy, where are you?" He covered his mouth and coughed.

"Buffy?" Anya paused when she smelled something very familiar.

"God, what's that awful stench?" Xander asked, his hands covering his nose and mouth.

"Human flesh burning," Anya evenly replied.

"She's over here!" Willow happily called, pointing across the room.

"Buffy, we're here!" Xander said as he put an arm around Buffy's waist. "Anya, help me!"

"We'll get you out of here," Anya assured Buffy. She and Xander helped Buffy to her feet. "Let's get out of here before we all fry!"

Buffy coughed. "Giles... Stone," she weakly murmured. She nodded in the direction where the worst of the fire was. "Need... help."

"Giles!" Willow yelled.

Giles stopped backing up and turned around. He spotted Anya and Xander helping Buffy out of inferno and outside to safety. "Thank the lord," he found himself saying.

"Giles, come on!" Willow ordered. She waved at him to follow her.

Giles figured Stone knew what he was doing. This was his job. He followed Willow out of the burning house and to safety.

"I must leave you, Stone," Shakir yelled. "So much left to do!"

Stone, who now had his gun, fell to the ground when Shakir shoved him out of the way. Shakir roared as he flew through the wall, making his way to freedom on the other side. In futile gesture, Stone fired a couple of shots at Shakir. By the time he jumped out of the hole in the wall Shakir had made, Stone had no clue as to which way he'd gone.

"Damn it," he swore as he lowered his gun. Shakir had escaped.

Shakir ran down the street from the burning house. He looked over his shoulder. The place was just out of view at this point of the road. He heard the sound of something driving up the road. He focused his attention back on where he was going as Riley's humvee came right for him.

He cursed in Turkish as the humvee slammed into him. Shakir rolled up the hood of the humvee when Riley pounded on the brake and smashed in the windshield. Shakir raised up his head, grinning when he met Riley's wide-eyed gaze.

"It's him!" Riley barked orders at his men to get their weapons.

Shakir laughed and shoved Forrest out of his way. He ran run up the street again.

"Leone, you go that way with Mauricio!" Riley ordered, motioning to the left. "Everyone else, come with me. We'll try to flank him! Let's go!"

The soldiers ditched the humvee in the middle of street and split up to chase after Shakir.

Buffy and the others watched the remains of the house crumble to the ground in flames. They were very lucky to be alive, all things considered. Anya held onto Xander while Willow sat on the ground with Buffy. Giles, also on the ground with Buffy, hugged the girl, careful as not to hurt her anymore than she already was.

"We should get you to a hospital, Buffy," Giles said as he looked her over. A concerned expression mixed with sadness crossed his face. "All the burns and cuts worry me."

"I'll be fine," Buffy assured him. She cracked open the shackles on her wrists and ankles then tossed them aside. She flexed her muscles. "I'm getting better already."

"You look really bad." Anya caught the glare Xander shot her. "Sorry," she immediately replied.

Buffy didn't even hear Anya's comment. She looked around. "Where's Stone?" she asked Giles and Willow. Willow shrugged as did Giles. "Didn't he come out with you guys?"

At that moment, Stone came around the flaming pile of rubble. He shoved his gun back into his holster under his coat as he made his way towards the group.

Anya pointed. "There he is."

Stone looked at Buffy sitting on the ground with Giles and Willow. She was in pretty bad shape physically, but she was still alive and surrounded by her friends. He probably would've hugged the girl, however, he knew how much his feelings for Buffy annoyed the Devil already. Another distraction. For Buffy's safety, he held off on the urge.

Buffy managed a thankful smile when Stone joined them. "Shakir?"

Stone shook his head. "He escaped."

Buffy's smile melted away. She felt Giles's hand squeeze one of hers. Swallowing hard, she met Willow's gaze. Would Shakir come back to finish what he'd started with her?

"You let him get away?" Anya exclaimed what she figured everyone else thought, but were too chicken to say out loud. "What kind of soul hunter are you?"

"I didn't let him get away."

Willow shuddered. She looked at the others. "What if he comes back?"

"I'll be here," Stone replied.

"Speaking of being here," Xander said as he looked around. "Where's Spike?"

Spike walked along the road, headed away from Shakir's hideout, pissed off that his plans to get the Slayer and her friends dead fell through. He felt the need to kill something. A stray dog lumbered up the road. As soon as the dog reached him, Spike kicked it, and was rewarded with a mind breaking zap from his implant.

"Dammit!" he cursed, placing his hands to the sides of his head. He looked up to the night sky. "Why is it I can never catch a break in this bloody town?" he shouted.

The sound of tires screeching on the pavement made Spike turn around, slowly. One of the Initiative humvees barreled down on him. The vehicle came to a jerking halt two feet from Spike in the street. He ran into the confines of the trees when a bunch of gun-toting soldiers jumped out.

"He went that way!" the team leader yelled, pointing to the west. "Hostile 17, we're in pursuit! Move it!"

Giles's House

Two Days Later

"Two days," Willow said. She sighed. "Two days and nobody's seen Shakir." She looked at Buffy who reclined on Giles's couch. Her friend was well recovered from her physical injuries, but she suspected the mental wounds would take much longer to heal.

"What about The Initiative?" Xander asked.

Buffy looked to him and Anya, who sat together on the other end of the couch. "Riley told me the Initiative soldiers haven't seen Shakir either," she replied. "The gave him chase that night... " Her voice trailed off. "And, well, he got away."

"Did you inform Riley of what you know about Shakir?" Giles asked. His voice became quiet when he added, "Or what happened?"

Buffy shook her head. "No, I don't want him to know that stuff." She sniffled then tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear. "He's safer not knowing. He and I have enough to deal with between us right now, anyway."

Willow put a hand on Buffy's shoulder. "You're not even going to tell him what Shakir... did to you?" she asked, gently.

"No." Buffy shortly and firmly answered.

"Well, at the very least, the slayings have ceased," Giles injected after a few moments of silence. "Sunnydale University campus is safe once more."

"For the time being," Xander told Giles. "Shakir's probably laying low, waiting until we least expect it. Then BOOM!" He slapped his hands together. "That's all she wrote."

Willow jumped a little. She exchanged a look with Buffy. "Giles, you don't think Shakir's still in town, do you?"

Giles shrugged. "I don't know. I can only hope he isn't, but that means he's harming innocent people somewhere else."

"I'd say he's left town," Anya said. She looked at each of them. "That's what I would do."

"You know what really bugs me?" Buffy said. She frowned. "We never did find out exactly what Shakir was doing in Sunnydale. I know he wanted to kill me. But how was he going to make his genocide plan work?"

The others fell very quiet, pondering Buffy's question. A moment later, they were startled by a knock on Giles' front door.

"What if it's him?" Xander asked in a hushed voice. He saw Giles going to answer the door. "Giles, what if it's him?"

"I very much doubt he'd knock, Xander," Giles replied. Still, he peeked out the little window before he opened the door. "Mr. Stone," Giles greeted, relieved. He stepped back to allow Stone into his house.

Xander breathed a sigh of relief as Giles closed the front door. He put a hand to his chest. "Ahh, there, my heart started beating again."

"Did you find that slash happy psycho?" Buffy inquired, hopeful, as Stone joined them.

"No. I've been around town the last two days. Nothing." He saw Buffy's hope drain away. "Shakir is gone."

Willow glanced at Buffy then asked Stone, "Do you think he'll come back?"

"Those Initiative guys were out pretty thick the last few nights. If Shakir does come back, he'll be spotted for sure."

"But that's no guarantee he won't come back," Anya pointed out.

"No, it's not." He paused, wondering if he should even mention the next part. "I have an idea where Shakir went, though."

"Really?" Giles said, his own hope returning. "Where?"

"Los Angeles."

"How do you know -" Xander coughed loudly, cutting his own sentence off. "Yeah... right then."

"So you're going to back to LA?" Buffy asked as she sat up on the couch.

"That's where the business is."

"Then I'm going with you." Buffy got to her feet. She noticed the way the others looked at her. "Oh... you don't think I want to go because Angel is there, do you?" she exclaimed, putting her hands on her hips. "I want to get even with Shakir for sticking a hot poker in me!"

'Angel Investigations! We help the hopeless.' Stone recalled Cordelia's tagline in his mind. 'My boss's name is Angel!'

"Buffy that is not a wise idea," Giles told her. "You'll be safer here. Sunnydale needs you. We need you. I'm sure Mr. Stone will track down Shakir and... and send him back where he belongs."

Reluctantly, Buffy gave into her friends. She sank back down onto the couch. "All right, Giles," she softly replied. "I'll stay here."

"I'll find him, Buffy. I promise you, I will." Stone started to leave, but paused when Buffy said, "Hey!"

"Thanks," she added when he'd turned.

"You've already said that."

"That 'thanks' was for the last time," Willow added. "With Ash. We never got the chance to say it. Thank you."

Stone nodded. "You're welcome," he replied. "Good-bye." He left the house. Halfway down the walk, the Devil appeared out of nowhere and fell instep beside him.

"Oh, you'll find Shakir all right, Ezekiel, but not for that girl," the Devil angrily informed him.

"Why don't you just go away?" Stone asked, looking over at him.

Angered even more by that comment, the Devil stepped in front of Stone, stopping him. "Remember who you're working for," he snarled. "It's me, not the good of mankind."

"Ideologies change."

"Not yours," he hissed, poking a finger in Stone's face. He looked Stone up and down. "You seem to forget who is in charge."

"I think you do," Stone replied with a laugh. "You're powerless up here."

"But not in Hell. I can always replace you, Ezekiel."

"You've been threatening me with that for a long time now." He stepped toe to toe with the Devil, then added, "And that's all it is... a threat."

"Not for much longer. Your feelings for this girl are making you lose your focus, much like how you lose focus when your lovely wife is on your mind."

Stone scoffed then started down the sidewalk again.

"You won't be so defiant when you find yourself back in Hell, Ezekiel!" the Devil called after him.

Stone just kept walking.

To Be Continued...