Cold.

Dark.

Musty earth, heavy and wet, fills my senses. No light, no space, just dark. Just cold. My hand reaches out into the abyss - or not. The top of my confinement is a scant few inches above my nose. The sides are close around me. What is this? Panic sours in my mouth, clouds my brain. Then I notice the quiet. As terrified as I have become, there is no panicked breathing, no pounding heart. It's as quiet as...

No. The word, the thought, would push me over. I am teetering, I must not fall.

Again, I reach my hand up; my fingers scrape the rough wood. I begin to claw...

NO. Even as I wrote those words, my hand began to shake. My throat closed in terror. Those moments, that hell, I will not relive. I can not.

Out of the grave, out of hell, I emerge. The sheer torture of the last few eternal moments has shattered what little control I had. Looking around me, I feel only one thing: Hunger. He of the piercing eyes and immortal wail - mocking me, pushing me, dominating my very will. I would kill the world, rape and plunder her glories, burn her towers to the ground, for one drop of blood.

My unseeing eyes search the air; my parched throat takes up a soundless scream. Suddenly, I feel something shoved into my hands. I drink; sweet liquid coursing through my body, making me live, making me feel, making me become.

You never forget your first drink. The first time you taste the metallic sweetness, the fullness of it making you ache for more. This is not my first drink. I know this instinctively. For now, though, it may as well be all there is in the world. It is enough.

Pausing, I lifted the pen. I sounded like such a – monster, a demon. "A vampire?" I mused. Disgusted I threw the unoffending pen across the room. "Senseless violence against innocent writing tools," I muttered "I'll just add that to my crimes. That'll doom me for at least one eternity."

Sighing, I rubbed my eyes. Already, my last few hours of daylight were waning; soon the Hunger, the Night would call me. This incessant soul-searching was wearying; this reliving was wearing on me. The advice I was given, however, was to write. So I did.

The blood feeds the Hunger, beating him back. Never defeating him, never banishing. All the blood in the world can only sedate Hunger, make him lie in wait for a season. However, as Hunger retreats, Reason rises again, temporarily taking residence.

I look around. The moon is ripening, not yet in her glory. A gentle breeze caresses my face, teasing my hair, and leaving me behind as it seeks others to play with. I stand atop a hill, under a mighty tree.

"A pleasant spot for a grave, is it not?" rasps a voice. "A bit prosaic, but what grave isn't, eh?"

I whirl around, seeking the speaker. He is behind me, an amused expression under a lock of dark curls. He is a vampire.

"Who...what...who...?"

"And they always told me you were smart as well as beautiful. Tut, I suppose you can't have everything." He oozes closer. "Although, all vamped out like that, you're a morsel, no doubt about it."

My brain suddenly clicks on. A vampire has just given me a cup of blood, which I then consumed with much greed and delight. My hands fly to my face; I am struggling to comprehend what I already know. The memories have not yet come back. I trace the ridge above my eyes, feel the sharp points of my teeth. My heart should beat out of my chest; my breath should be gasping – but nothing.

"No!" I shout – as if enough indignation and rage will reverse the inevitable truth.

I struggle against a tide of images: a fire, sudden and unimaginable pain. Eyes, pleading eyes, loving eyes. A body, a corpse. Under it all, the smell of blood, and death, and pain, and hopelessness.

"No," without conviction now. I remember; and I weep.

"Now, now chickey," the vampire clucks, sounding absurd when coupled with his prominent ridge and razor sharp teeth. "There'll be none of that. What could you possibly be crying about, anyway? You have a tummy full of nice blood, the evening's young, and we're miles away from the Slayer! What more could a lovely awakened like yourself want?"

"Where am I?" I demand. "Who are you? What year is this?"

"Slow down chickey-pie! One question at a time." I can feel my growing impatience. My self-appointed mentor was obviously enjoying this. "If you're confused as to your present location, I suggest you look here." He gestures towards the tombstone with a little bow and flourish.

THERESA REAYON

"LIGHT OF OUR LIVES"

1957-1974

RIP

More memories. More images. I shake my head, determined to avoid until a more opportune moment.

"I'm dead, then?"

"Not dead darling," he delights in saying. "Not dead. You're turned. Converted. Part of a glorious new species."

"I'm a vampire then – a soulless demon." I feel bile creeping up my throat. My worst nightmare come true. I'm one of those which I used to hunt.

"Tisk. So crude. We prefer the term 'soul-challenged'. But you're not." He begins to turn away, jauntily strutting towards the distant road.

Great, a demon drama queen. I bite. "I'm not what." I ask roughly.

He turns, thrilled that I have taken the bait. "Why, soulless, of course. You are not one of the lucky." Now he sits on the – on MY – tombstone, settling into his topic. "No dearie, you have been burdened with a soul. Unlike me," he flips his hair and grins wolfishly, "you have a tether to this mortal realm."

As I listen to this arrogant bloodsucker drone on and on, the vague buzzing in my brain becomes more pronounced. I suddenly remember how much I hate to be kept waiting. My would-be-guru found himself in a very effective choke hold, a convenient branch mere inches from his still heart.

"Now," says I, grinning for the first time, "perhaps we could speed the story up. And leave out your philosophizing." This I enjoy.

"Alright chickey, no need to go all Slayer on me." He fears for the first time. A familiar scent. "Ok, your questions. Let's see – you, vampire."

"Got that," I murmur, toying with the sharp branch.

"Right. Um, I am Edward. I am a messenger from My Master."

Full stop. Reverse engines. "Who do you work for?"

"My Master. You knew him as Laalym." Edward smells my sudden fear as easily as I sensed his. "Ah, tisk, you remember him, do you?"

"The year?" I say. First rule of Slaying – When interrogating Vampires, always remember who holds the pointy piece of wood. Vampires love to digress.

"It is 2001. The year of the Rising." A slithery smile stretches its way across the Vampire's features. "A year of changes, Chickey. And you're part and parcel of it."

The night is wearing on. As are my nerves. "Ok Edward. I'm going to level with you. I'm cranky, I'm confused, I'm Hungry, and – if my tombstone doesn't lie – I've been in the ground for twenty-seven years. Which, side note, makes no sense at all. So, if you don't want to find the wrong end of my temper, I suggest you cut the riddles and cute pet names and talk." Ah, the power of a pissed-off Slayer.

"Right, well then. What do you remember of the night you..." He cuts a quick glance at me, an even quicker one at the hovering branch.

"Died, Edward. Not passed over, not evolved, died."

"Yes, died." Nervous vampire. Fun.

"Not much." Blood, pain, a fire. Eyes...if I could just...

"Well," Edward thankfully interrupts my thoughts, "the ceremony was half completed. No need to go into all that. Awakening always leaves the newbies confused; I'm sure you'll remember everything in due time."

Oh boy. Sure am not looking forward to that.

"Anyway, My Master sent me here to meet you. There are a few things you must know. First of all, you have a soul."

My hand inches the branch closer. "We've been over this."

"Yes, well, Chi..." Another quick glance to Mr. Branchey – as I have affectionately named him. "Yes. Well, there is a curse with said soul. You willingly drink the blood of a human, you lose it." He gestures toward the cup I had thrown to the ground. "That's why I had to bring you cow's blood."

"Why would Laalym want my soul to stick around? Aren't most big bad vampires all about the soullessness?" Edward squirms slightly in my arms. Mr. Branchey moves ever closer.

"It has to do with the ceremony. You must be ensouled for the next stage."

Ah. Things are clicking in my brain. Memories, theories, books read and researched. Those eyes - not in pain, but laughing - looking out over the top of Clansen's Demonic Rituals Explained.

"The second thing. You must head toward Sunnydale, towards the Hellmouth. There, you will probably seek out the Slayer. My Master knows this. In fact," the Vampire looks at me, "he wants you to. He tells me to warn you – Remember what has happened."

Eyes. A corpse. Blood, filling my mouth, a heady wine.

"Which way?" The demon in my arms points down the remote road towards the north. "Gee, thanks." I say.

Mr. Branchey darts forward and dust flies.

The road awaits me. Daybreak is only a few hours off. I can smell her coming on the breath of stars.

I head towards Sunnydale. Towards my doom.


Sometimes I wondered why I had come this way. Why didn't I go south, towards some other town, some other place? Or why not fall on the pointy Mr. Branchey and end it all? Sometimes I wonder if I knew who was waiting for me.

Sometimes I wonder if I wonder too much. Probably.

Only another hour or so till I must take to the streets, trying to elude Hunger, trying to fool him. It's our nightly dance, and I cannot be late.

I make it to the crypt barely before Sunrise. She crept up on me, almost took me, but I evaded her golden fingers. This time. As my reward, I stretch out on the cool marble and allow myself blessed unconsciousness.

This waking is almost harder than the previous. No terror distracts me; no pain diverts from him. Hunger, sallow eyes boring me, crouches in the corner, whispers to my brain. I can push him off for now, and I take this reprieve.

I exit my refuge. Information, I realize, is needed. Sharp rustling sounds from one of the overgrown shrubs that encircle the crypt. Luck, perhaps, is with me. A weapon is needed, and again a branch from a nearby tree – this one neatly manicured – avails me.

Creeping forward, my muscles remembering things my mind will not, I advance. Two vampires are on the prowl. Mr. Branchey Jr. quickly dispatches one. The other, a waxen female with lank raven locks, quickly finds herself between a crypt and a sharp stick.

"Now," I say, knowing that I'm in full vampire face, hating the lack of control it shows, "lets say that you and I have a little chat. I'll ask questions, you give answers, and at the end of it all, I just might not dust you. Good?"

"Yeah, yeah, that's a great plan." She fears Mr. Branchey Jr., she fears me, she fears...something else. I shake my head, try to focus on the task at hand. Second rule of Slaying – don't get distracted. It's a good way to get dead.

"Glad you agree." Her dull yellow eyes are staring blankly at me. Direct is probably the best approach for this one. "I'm looking for the Slayer. Got any ideas where I might find her?"

"Umm. Tonight, tonight she's not out yet. That's why me and Josh, that's why we were lookin' to feed. Cause He said she's not out yet. Sometimes, she and her little friends, they stay at the magic shop in town. It's early, and she might be there." She finishes babbling out her information, looks at me hopefully. "That's all I know. Me and Josh, we don't look for no trouble. We were just lookin' to feed. Before she came out."

I look at her. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

"Rest in Peace." I sigh.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.


I head towards town. I need the Slayer and I need books. Both will probably be found at this magic shop. I realize that I am now non-vamped. Perhaps there's a way to control it? I push that towards the back of my mind. On to-do list: learn to control scary demon face.

As I enter the outskirts of Sunnydale, I begin to see people. Real people, with their own thoughts, dreams, and desires; all laughing, talking, loving, breathing, all living. I can feel their blood, their life, pulsing around me, filling the air with an intoxicating aroma.

Suddenly I realize that I am still in my grave clothes. Third rule of Slaying – don't stand out. Demons usually run away from obvious slayage, and that means you might get all sweaty and dirty.

A quick glance down reveals me in my favorite outfit for a night patrol. Black flared pants, a black ribbed turtleneck sweater, and my lucky belt – complete with a slot to hold a stake. The belt – fondly nicknamed BoJangles – was a gift from my Watcher after my first successful kill. I look around. My outfit, though morbidly lacking in color, won't attract any unwanted attention. I make my way towards the heart of town.

A few minutes' walk finds me at the door of an unobtrusive store. "The Magic Box," I mutter. "Clever." I open the door, a tiny bell announcing my entrance. I figure sneaking up on a Slayer and her friends is not the best idea for a newbie Vampire.

"Hello?" I call out. "Anyone here? I wasn't sure if you were open, but the front door..."

A man appears out of a back room. Tall, older, tweed infested, obviously British – probably the Watcher. "Yes?" He asks, removing his glasses and polishing them with a crisp white handkerchief. "What can I do for you?"

A pretty girl with bouncy dark blonde hair comes from what is probably a stock room. "Oh! Are you a customer? Do you want to spend money? Cause I can help you if you want to spend money."

Ok, I am officially caught off guard. Something about this girl...smells funny. She goes onto my 'Not Slayer' list.

"Um, well, I'm looking for someone. And a book, I'm also looking for a book." Great. Way to dazzle them with my intelligent conversational skills. They're sure to believe me now. I sigh. "Sorry, I'm a bit...befuddled."

"Quite all right. Well, let's start with the book. Anya?" The Watcher in Tweed speaks to the bouncy shopgirl. "I think I can help this young lady. You can go back to...well, whatever you were doing before." He gestured vaguely towards the stockroom.

"Fine." She flounces back, muttering something about stuffy Brits and hogging customers.

"Sorry about that. Anya is...well, a bit overzealous. Now, you said something about a book." He smiles, a slow boyish sort of grin. He reminds me of...

Red fire, fiery pain, eyes, a Voice, blood, eyes...

"Are you all right?" the man anxiously inquires.

"Yes, yes, quite. I'm sorry. Just a bit weak. Um, I'm looking for a specific book on demonic rituals, but it's quite rare." Must stay focused. Must find the Slayer. I repeat the mantra in my head.

"Well," he says with some pride, "I do have one of the most eclectic collections of books on the Dark Arts on this continent. What book are you looking for?"

"Clansen's Demonic Rituals Explained. Do you have it?"

The Watcher goes pale. "What book did you say?"

I open my mouth, puzzled. But before I can answer, the back room door opens, and a petite blonde in workout clothes walks out.

"Giles, what's going on? I can't practice my dodging and ducking if I don't have anything to dodge and duck from." She trails off, seeing me. Sensing me. Her expression changes. "Giles," sharply "what are you doing?"

I hold my hands out. Best to calm her down before I announce my business. "Please, don't...that is, I'm not trying..."

"Buffy? What's going on?" the Watcher – Giles, was it? – looks confused. He backs a step away from me. Then his expression changes as well.

God, how I've learned to hate that look. When suddenly, everyone realizes there's a demon in the room. Such hatred, such disgust, such fear; their faces mirroring the loathing you feel. No matter how well they know you, how much they claim to trust you – it's there. Lurking behind their kind eyes, covered in their pity. You're different, you're an outcast, you're what bumps in the night and hides under beds. You're a monster.

It's enough to make you wish you didn't care. That the soul within you didn't cry out to be loved, to be accepted, to be human again. That I didn't long for him, for what could never be. I yearned for the dark, for the cold, for the sweet embrace of the night.

I digress. The Magic Box. The first meeting. The first night.

"Please, I'm not here to hurt anyone. I just needed to see a book." I'll just start small, we'll work our way up to the whole, 'hey, wanna work together to rid the world of evil?' thing.

"Yeah, a book, some blood, maybe even a new demon chew toy. That's ok, we don't do business with bloodsucking reanimated corpses." Her eyes are so hard. Is that how I used to look at my prey?

"You don't understand. Look," I hold my empty hands out, "I'm unarmed. And not in fight mode. Please, I need your help."

"I don't help vampires. I slay them. That's kinda the deal." She advances on me, stake at the ready.

The doorbell jingles merrily. Someone enters behind me, another vampire. Great, just what I need. A party. And me, all out of noisemakers.

"What's all this about?" A decidedly cockney voice drawls, "A lil rumble, and me not invited?"

Well, might as well be helpful before I become dust. I turn quickly, leading with my right leg, catching the demon behind me at the waist. When he doubles forward, I follow with a quick jab. His head snaps back, and I body check him back against the shop window, my arm at his throat.

"I hate party crashers," I snarl. To the slayer, "Pass me the stake!"

Suddenly, I feel myself being whipped around. Slayer strength throws me into a book shelf. Ok, apparently she's a kill hog. I slowly stand up and brush myself off. A glance towards the front of the store, and I'm confused again. The Slayer is standing next to the vampire –who, coincidentally, isn't dust – and they both don't look very happy. But not with each other. Nope, a second look confirms the fact that they are both, indeed, glaring at me. Note to self: never again have a vampire and a Slayer glare at you. Looks might suddenly be able to kill, and then where would you be? Not a pretty picture.

"Ok, that hurt." The vampire is rubbing his left side, murder in his eyes. "Can I kill her?"

"Sorry Spike, I called her first. Besides, she interrupted my workout." Buffy approaches me, the stake that had so unfairly NOT been used against Peroxide-boy sitting Slay-ready in her hand.

"Ok, before you kill me, can I just ask one question?" Might as well get my curiosity satisfied.

"I hate last minute confessions."

All right, bad plan. I really don't want to fight an angry Slayer, but hell if I'm just going to sit around and let her stake me. I crouch, ready.

"Buffy." A strong, quiet, British voice breaks through the killfest. "Perhaps we're being a bit hasty."

The girl rolls her eyes. "Let's review, shall we. Vamp tries to bite you..."

"I wasn't trying to bite him!" Ooh, bad look again. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut. Giles holds up his hand, silencing me.

"Buffy, I know when I'm being attacked. This girl..."

"Vampire." She puts in.

"Yes, vampire, was looking for a book. This is a store that sells books. Perhaps she was just..."

"Giles, focus. She's a Vam-pi-er. Evil, demon, soulless, likes to suck blood – any of this ringin a bell?"

The other vampire, the one called Spike, had come closer to me. He had a quizzical look on his face, the one you get when something or someone you should know is just out of reach.

"Yes, but she said she needed help. Maybe she knows something." The Watcher looked at me, something shadowed in his eyes for a moment, then was gone. Something stirred in my brain, like the forgotten chords to a song...

"Not soulless." Spike joined in the ping-pong discussion. "She's got the same...smell...as Angel." He looks me up and down, disgusted. "Yep, definitely souled." He looked around, satisfied now that he had figured out that pressing issue. "So, do I get to kill her now?"

"No Spike," Giles said sharply, "you can't kill her. Go...sit in the corner."

I get the distinct impression that these two didn't like each other. Can't imagine why.

"Ok, let me get this straight. You're a vampire. With a soul. And you need my help." Why does it sound so silly when the Slayer says it?

I nod. "That's the short version, yes."

"Well that sounds very unlikely. I mean, if you really were able to get your soul back, why would you need our help?" At some point, the bouncy shopgirl named Anya had reentered. She terrified me "Granted, Buffy is the Slayer, and demons are usually scared of the Slayer, so maybe she needs Buffy to scare someone.".

"Right. Thank you, Anya." Buffy's Watcher gestured toward a table further in the shop. "Er, perhaps we should sit down? The others should be here soon, and we can discuss the best course of action."

Cue jingly bell.

"Sorry we're late, but Wil had a ice cream attack." A slightly goofy dark-haired man entered the shop, three girls in tow.

Two of the girls – the first a redhead who's diminutive figure was dominated by an extra large, double scoop, chocolate cone; the other a soft feminine figure with a slight smile dancing around her face – looked to be about the same age as the goofball, the shopgirl, and the Slayer.

The third, a young teen, was pretty on the verge of gorgeous. Young, innocent, and – different. Hmmm...On to-do list: figure out why so many peculiar things were wrapped in human packages around here.

"Ah, yes. Please, do come in. We have a bit of a – situation." Giles was trying to herd everyone in to the table. He could hardly wait to crack into the problem, search for a solution; he was chomping at the bit at even this slight delay.

Now how do I know that? I risk a quick glance at him. I find him looking at me, his eyes searching, probing, wondering...

"What's up? Another Big bad out there?" The young girl plops down at the table, carelessly tossing her backpack on the floor behind her.

Red; tall, dark and goofy; Anya; and the soft one also take seats. Spike is still sulking by the counter. Be thankful for small favors, my dear mother always says.

"Your show, love," the vampire says as he pulls a cigarette from a pack and places it between his lips. "Just be quick about it. I got things to do, you know."

"No one's keeping you. Pretty sure we could limit the meeting to the non-dead." Ok, so goofball hates the vamp too. Not a popular chap.

"Break it up you two!" The Slayer takes the final seat at the table, leaving myself and Giles standing by narrow stairs leading up to a balcony full of books. She looks at me. "So, you need help? Talk."

I've had nicer introductions, but at this point I'll take what I can get. Hunger is stalking me once again, and I must not lose control. I begin my tale.

"Into each generation a Slayer is born. She, alone among the masses, is the protector of the right, the true, and the innocent. The power of the protector and the mantel of responsibility is given to her upon her Calling. A lonely, uphill, endless battle marks her life; heartbreak scars her premature death.

"I was called when I was 16. My Watcher's name was Elizabeth Jayn Norman. She was...a great woman. Stuffy, overly British, and obscenely fond of tea – but a good woman. A hero. She died trying to save me."

The memories flood back to me. The eyes – His eyes, holding me, loving me without words. The smell of Elizabeth's favorite Breakfast tea. Katie...oh God. Katie.

" I had a friend. Katie Wood. The first vampire I ever slayed was trying to make a snack of her. A pretty decent witch. I remember the first time she ever did a spell. A binding spell, for this raid on a nest of vamps I'd stumbled across. I thought she was going to spill the ingredients, her hands were shaking so bad. Her Latin accent was horrible.

"Her twin sister, Jena, was our heart. No matter what happened, she always found the silver lining. I wonder what happened to her? She wasn't there that night."

So many images. I glance at the faces around me. All eyes on me. Well, not all. The Watcher was looking at the floor, his arms across his chest.

"Anyway, I'd been slaying for about a year, when we got wind of this major demon named Laalym who was planning on throwing the Hellmouth in our town wide open. He's a vampire, a really old, really powerful monster, but at first we didn't take it too seriously. I mean, how many times do the big ones try to attain ultimate power through some outdated spell? If you ran around treating everything like the end of the world, you'd never have time to breathe.

"But, my Watcher was really big on the research. So, I spent a great deal of time looking this guy up in various books."

"What did you find out? I mean, was this guy a serious Big Bad?" Red pipes up. "Oh, sorry. Am I interrupting the good part?"

"I don't think this story has a good part, Wil." Goofball says. "And not to be cruel or cut in on the therapy session that's happening here, but I'm major confused. Is it just me, or is a lot of this story making zero sense?"

"Maybe we should give her a chance." the soft one next to Red joins in, "She was probably getting to that. Right?"

Seven pairs of eyes focus on me. Giles was still studying the floor. On to-do list: Crack the Code of the Floor. Apparently contains the Meaning of Life.

"Well, I don't know about the rest of you buggers, but I'm getting bored." Spike throws his half smoked cig on the floor, grinds it in with the heel of his boot – apparently he enjoys the Slayer Glare. "I mean, here we are, ten minutes into a random vamp's story, and we don't even know her name."

Ah. I hate it when the annoying alpha males are right.

"Sorry. I'm a bit...confused yet tonight." I'm getting a lot of miles out of that excuse. "My name is Theresa. Theresa Reayon. I hate my name. But I was named after my mom. Her name was Marta Theresa, and so I'm Theresa Marta. You can call me Tessa, if you want, cause...And your names?" Must...end...babbling.

"Oh. I'm Dawn. I'm Buffy's little sister." The young one smiles at me, wide open and unafraid. Ah, the unblemished innocence of youth. Still no clue why she seems so different. The mystery continues.

"I'm Willow. This is Tara. It's nice to meet you Tessa" Red also smiles at me, her hand entwined with the soft one – Tara.

"Xander Harris." No smile from the goofball. So, he heard the Vampire comment from Spike. Goody, another source of glares. Just when I was running out of things to put on my 'Reasons why today sucks' list.

"Buffy. The Vampire Slayer. You can call me 'the one who's still waiting for a reason not to introduce you to Mr. Pointy'." Her much too cheery voice clashes with the death grip she still has on her stake.

"Come now, Buffy." The Watcher's soft voice gently reprimands his slayer. His eyes never leave the floor.

"And I'm Spike. I'm a vampire. I like to drink blood. I also like long walks on the bloody beach. Are we done with the feel-goods yet?" Testy bugger, ain't he?

"Oh, and Giles." Willow says. British Tweed never looks up. "He's Buffy's watcher."

A thousand moments of awkward silence. What do you say to someone who's trying so terribly hard to ignore your existence? I'm sure Miss Manners has addressed this very issue. Must look into that.

Finally Willow goes on. "And the Big Bad...was he? A Big Bad, that is?"

"Yeah." And the 'Understatement of the Year' award goes to...

"Oh." She looks vaguely disappointed.

"When we studied Laalym, we realized that he'd tried this before. He was a lot older than any of us thought. Jena found the earliest references to him in manuscripts discovered from the Crusades. And every twenty seven years, he'd try to open a Hellmouth."

"Why twenty seven?" Xander questioned.

"It had something to do with Luna – Neptune. It's his ruling planet. One year for each of Luna's days. It's all in the book I was asking for."

"Clansen's Demonic Rituals Explained?" Giles asked. Finally his eyes raised, meeting mine.

"Yes" I all but whisper. Oh God. I think...

"I'll go get that then. It's in my office." Didn't know tweed could move that fast. And here I thought it was more of a mosey fabric.

"Ok, so basically this..." Buffy looks at me.

"Laalym." I supply.

"Right. Laalym wants to open the Hellmouth again."

"Basically. He's using a pretty complicated spell. However, unlike all the other Big Bads who use the blood of a virgin by a full moon at sunrise or some other such nonsense, this spell works. If he should complete it, well...let's just say we very much don't want that to happen."

"Wait a sec." Xander cut in. "You're still here. Albeit, vamped out, but still here. No big crater, no demon overrun town, right? So, you stopped him." He looked around, a desperate smile on his face. "Right?"

"I delayed him." Memories. Images. Blood. A corpse, Katie's corpse, her blood still on my lips. My soul, returning...his eyes...

"Delayed? That doesn't sound very permanent." Xander Harris, king of Obvioustown, strikes again.

"No. No it was a little less permanent that we'd hoped. But it was the best I could do."

"So now you need my help to stop him, permanently." Buffy's eyes were searching mine, looking for a weakness, a indication I was betraying her. I meet her eyes, allowing her full access. Nothing hidden, nothing held back. I need her. I don't have time to be coy.

"Yes."

One more look. Then a nod. "Go on."

Ok, she lost me. "Go on?"

"With your story. How did you get turned?"

Ah. Of course. That would be particular interest to her. Giles returns out of his office, a familiar manuscript in hand.

"Here." He opens it up to the section on Laalym of Luna. "I think this is what you're looking for."

"Thank you." I look at him. Oh God. I think I know. But now is not the time nor the place. Hunger is stalking me. I can hold him off for a few more hours, then feeding or unconsciousness are my only two options for escape.

My eyes instead search the pages; my fingers tracing the words, as if to connect me with a time I yearn for. There, the section I need. I make a mental note, and go back to the beginning of the chapter.

"The ritual is only hinted at here. But my Watcher and my friends managed to piece together information from several sources, 'till we had a pretty complete picture of what Laalym was attempting." I look up at all of them. This time, even Giles' eyes were focused on me. Or rather, on the book I was holding. At least he wasn't trying to bore a hole through the helpless floor any longer.

"What he needs is to take an innocent, a Pure Heart, and turn it into the Once Pure. Then the Once Pure must feed on the Still Pure and Helpless. After, the Once Pure will be ensouled again – ensouled, but cursed. Willingly drinking human blood will cast the soul out for all eternity and open the Hellmouth."

Silence. Willow and Tara's faces are white, their hands gripping each other as a lifeline. Spike has taken up the floor-watching vigil. I have a feeling he knew more than the rest. Buffy, Xander, Anya, and Dawn are still watching me, waiting for a further explanation.

Giles – Giles is holding me with his gaze. At some point in my recitation, he has focused on my face. I think he knows too. If only...

I sigh. That's my motto, folks. Fourth rule of Slaying – don't let those personal demons get in the way of killing the real and public ones. A.K.A. 'The rule that kills your social life'.

I take up my story again, "About two weeks after we first figured out that Laalym might be more than just your average bloodsucker on a power trip, a future Watcher from England came to spend the summer holiday with my Watcher. Elizabeth was a friend of the family, and his parents were having to take part in Council business out of country. His name was Daniel. He was the one who finally put the pieces together to figure out the ritual Laalym was attempting to perform.

"The sad part about this spell is that it can take place at any time. It's only dependent on the ingredients, not the period or place. So, we had no idea when we might be expected to save the world. Again. Therefore, we decided to go on the offensive. That is, I decided to go on the offensive. My Watcher advocated restraint and planning. I wanted nothing to do with it."

Guilt isn't something that hits you suddenly, like Fear or Love or Hate. Guilt oils, twists, oozes into your core, until you can't imagine what it was like without it. Until it takes over everything else. Until it infects every part of your being. Guilt took my breath away, replaced every other thought and emotion. Guilt became my self.

"We attacked at dawn. He was ready. I don't know how, but he knew we were coming. We never had a chance. At first, I thought we might break through the ranks. Katie was doing some pretty fancy mojo, and Jena was killer with a crossbow. We dusted probably half the vamps, Daniel and I leading the drive. God, he could fight. He'd get into the thick of it, a blur in the center of all these vampires. And then, he'd laugh. It was the most amazing sound. He enjoyed it. He said it made him feel alive.

"Together we cleared a path up to Laalym for Elizabeth. She was a great hand-to-hand combatant. She fought him with everything she had. Finally, he thrust right, and she ducked left. His heart was exposed. She plunged the stake into his chest. Everything just kind of – stopped. The vamps all came to a standstill, like we had stabbed them all with one stroke. All clutching their chests, all looking towards their Master.

Life changing moments don't come with pre-cursors. They don't warn you that they're coming. There's no way to plan for them. One minute, your world is as you know it. Good, bad, happy, tragic, beginning, ending, whatever. It's your life, your existence, and it is Now. Then, Something Happens. One moment that changes everything. Then, no matter what your life was before, it can never be that again. It becomes After. And there's no going back. No negotiating. No sequels or dramatic comebacks. It's over.

"Laalym, with Elizabeth's stake thrust through his chest, looked at me. And I knew. And I couldn't stop it. His hand reached out to my Watcher, his eyes never left mine. And he snapped her neck. That's all, just snapped it, like you snap a dead branch off a tree. No last minute heroics, no grand battle scene, no swelling music or dying speech. He killed her as offhandedly as you talk about the weather with your waitress. And I didn't save her.

"Daniel was the one who got us out of there. He fought through the rest of the vamps to get Elizabeth's body. He rallied Jena and Katie to get all of us out of the building. He herded us home. He buried Elizabeth."

Here I break. I don't even know where Daniel buried her. Suddenly, I'm filled with an overwhelming desire to visit her grave, with the obligatory flowers, and talk to her. God, I miss her.

"What...what happened after that? I mean, did the Watcher's council send someone else?" Dawn's tremulous voice broke my melancholy. I looked up.

"No. No they didn't."

"Wait. That makes no sense at all." Xander, leans forward, his eyes glancing at Giles, then back at me. "The Council isn't one to lose control. No way does the Slayer get to roam free and Watcherless when Big Bad is in town. That's not exactly their MO. Right Giles?"

I cut in before Giles can answer. "We didn't give them that choice. As far as they knew, Elizabeth was still alive." Accusatory and incredulous glances all round. "Look, we didn't have time to wait for the Council to deliberate. We were at war. My Watcher had just been killed."

"So what? You just marched in there and got yourself vamped?" Again with Xander and his pointy teeth envy. "Oh yeah, I totally trust your judgement in all things battle-like. You and Spike, totally trustworthy."

"That's enough." A sharp British tone cuts through. Giles glares over the top of his glasses at Xander. "I don't know what has made you think that you are worthy to stand and judge someone you know so little about, but I think you need to seriously reconsider that assessment. You will keep your comments to yourself, or you will leave this establishment. Now." He looks around the room, "Questions are acceptable, even necessary. But accusations and petty quibbling over past events are going to get us nowhere. Agreed?"

Nods of assent from all, even Spike. Though the snarky grin he flashes Xander kind of negates the submissive head nod.

Xander even goes so far as to mumble an "I'm sorry" in my direction. Will wonders never cease? I smile slightly at him. No hard feelings from me. He says nothing I don't already think of myself.

"Ok. So, you're down a Watcher and you have to fight a super-vamp, who apparently can't be staked?" Buffy said. "That fell into the question category, right? Cause you're scary when you get mean."

Giles smiled softly at the Slayer. "I don't mean to be, er, scary. We just have something huge to face. If everything I've heard about this demon is true, Theresa might be our best and only hope to defeating him."

"Right. So, are we ever going to finish this story, 'cause I'm beginning to think that eternity might not be long enough." Ahh...I knew the blessed silence from the Blonde Bombshell had gone on just a bit too long.

"Don't worry, oh Leather Clad One, I'm almost done. It's just my life, so I'll cut out the boring, angsty parts where everyone I know dies a horrible death. Wouldn't want to interrupt your play time." Hunger makes me testy.

"That's more like it." Spike lit up another cigarette and settled back against the counter.

"Anyway, yeah, Laalym was too tough for a stake – at least any stake that could realistically be carried around. So, we decided to live by the sword. Two nights after Elizabeth was killed, Daniel, Katie and I marched into Laalym's stronghold. Our only goal was to kill Laalym. We fully expected death to meet us there.

"Katie set up a protection spell and worked on rudimentary fire bolts and things of that nature. Daniel and I just went hand to hand. We beat down flunky after flunky, but more kept coming. Then, Laalym oozed in. We were all prepared to fight. We weren't ready for a trap.

"I'm pretty certain that every vampire ever sired showed up that night. We dusted a hundred or more, but where one went down, two sprung up. It was suicide. My whole world narrowed down to the vampire in front of me. Gradually I realized that the fire bolts had stopped. Then, through the dusty remains of vamp number one hundred and thirty six, I saw four of the demons jump Daniel, pulling him to the floor. As I ran forward to help, three vampires grabbed me from behind. I frantically looked around, seeking some flash of brilliancy, some stroke of genius to save our lives. Instead, I saw Katie, unconscious, draped over a crate.

"The vamps holding me forced me towards a platform, where Laalym was waiting. He smiled at me, the kind of smile that twists your gut and chills your spine.

"'I knew you would come. I knew your pathetic loyalties couldn't allow me to live. And I knew you would bring the rest of the ingredients to the spell with you. Well done.' He chuckled, he smiled, he killed all hope left within me. I had murdered us all. First Elizabeth with my impetuousness, now Daniel and Katie because of my grief.

"We had figured out the spell, but we weren't sure exactly what it meant. Now we were about to find out first hand. I was prepared to die fighting, and I gripped my forgotten sword, ready to take as many of them out with me as I could. He expected it.

"'I wouldn't do that if I were you child.' His smile trickled across his face. Laalym gestured towards the back of the room. Four vampires were holding Daniel up. His brow was bleeding into his blackened eye, cuts and scrapes marred his face. They twisted his arms behind him, forcing him to look up to me. 'Any move you make will kill him instantly.' The Vampire Master gazed at me, a triumphant expression on his heinous features. I was utterly defeated.

"I dropped my sword.

"Laalym stepped towards me, the victorious crowing over the defeated. 'Good, good. Now, we begin!' He clapped his hands, and the Vampires holding me stepped back. Laalym began to chant.

"'I offer the Pure Heart, to make her UnPure. I offer her to the night, to the hunt, to the blood, to the Hunger. I offer her heart and I make her BECOME!'

"His teeth bit into me, he began to drink of my life. It was like..."

Again, I must stop here. To relive that moment would be worse than experiencing it. There are no words in this tongue to fully describe being taken by a vampire. It is an occurrence most don't retell. It is...painful...and wonderful, all at the same time. On one hand, you can feel yourself dying, by degrees, by drops. You can sense the life flowing out of you, Death wrapping around you, Light fleeing from you. On the other, you want it, need it, desire it, more than anything else. Every vampire is looking for that feeling again. It is almost better than life, greater than death, bigger than Hunger, and stronger than the Light. But is a fleeting moment, never to be held again. And it is better not dwelt on.

"The last thing I remember of the human world is Daniel's eyes, holding mine. Then, the bitter taste of my Sire's blood, and a deep nothingness.

"I awoke. It was like exploding. All I felt was Hunger. He possessed me, filling my senses, dominating my being. I felt nothing, saw nothing, desired nothing outside of him. Something warm was pressed against my seeking hands. As if from a distance I heard my Master's voice booming, an undercurrent of another spell harmonizing with his overtones. 'I sacrifice the Still Pure and Helpless to the Once Pure's Hunger. I give the Once Pure over to Hunger, that he and she may become one.'

"The hunter within me, the demon lurking, emerged, unhindered by anything as passe and fleeting as a soul. I grabbed the body sacrificed to my desire, ravaged it, gulping the blood in heaving swallows. I drained it dry, tossed it aside. My world was viewed through a crimson haze, bloodlust stirring in my core, Hunger caressing my body.

"I reveled in my newfound freedom, my power, my Hunger. The world was mine and I would destroy it. The underspell and my Master's overspell became louder, more real.

"'I return the soul of the Once Pure, that she may know Guilt, that she may fall from Becoming, hate what she has become. I curse the soul of the Once Pure with this – if Hunger overtakes her, if what she has become reveals it's true nature, if human blood again slakes her thirst, she will lose her last thread of humanity; may she Open the Gateway with her bloodlust, may she destroy the world with her Hunger!'

"A jolt of pure energy pierced my body, seeking to destroy me. I felt as if a war is raging in my being – the demon which had been exploring it's recently dominated power and a familiar presence, a Light, unleashed. A struggle, in which I was sure I was going to be torn apart. Then, the Light took control. The Hunger receded, the bloodlust was beaten back. I remembered who I was, what I had become.

"I looked around, desperate to find answers. My hand reached up, touched my lip, pulled back. My fingertips were red, dripping, bloodstained. I looked down in horror. Katie's sightless eyes were staring back at me, her throat covered in her blood. My brain froze, my body collapsed to it's knees. Then, I raised my eyes.

"He was staring at me, dismay and fear and sorrow etched in his eyes. Daniel's captors had dropped his arms, he was supporting himself. My Watcher was murdered, I had killed my best friend, but Daniel was still alive, he still had a chance. I might be lost and my life might be over, but for the first time since Laalym's eyes met mine over Elizabeth's helpless form, I had real hope.

"Laalym started the final part of the spell. When I was supposed to willingly drink the blood of a human, lose my soul, and bring about Armageddon in the name of Laalym. Right. Not bloody likely.

"The sword I had dropped in my despair laid under Katie's limp hand. Oh God. Katie. No, no time to think, to dwell, to grieve. Soon I would be gone. A forgotten passage of text had come to mind. Cryptic, but I thought I now understood. I knew what I would do.

"Laalym reached his hands up to the heavens, beseeching dark powers to start their evil work. I took that moment to strike. I grabbed the sword, and thrust upward, plunging it into Laalym. My eyes met Daniel's. Screams, blood, fire, pain. Darkness. Cold. Then, I awoke.

"And was met by one of Laalym's flunkies, directed here, and," I looked around the room, "here I am."

Silence greets the end of my tale. Hunger rears its head, but again I delay it. I remember all, and I grieve. I grieve for Katie, for Elizabeth, for the life I have forfeited. Worse than the pain of loss is the knowledge that I must face it all again. That is reason enough to make me wish the Slayer had staked first and asked questions later.

"So we've gotta protect Buffy." Dawn speaks first. "I mean, this Laalym is going to be looking for her. We can't let him get her."

"Willow and I can do a barrier spell. That should keep any demons – vampires and all – away from her." Tara glances at Willow for confirmation, they hold a conference with their eyes in the way only lovers can.

"Guys, that's going to hamper the whole Slayer thing." Buffy glances around the table. "Really, thanks Tara, but I can handle it. I'll just go in there and chop off ol' what's his name's head. Spike can back me up. He's expendable."

Spike grimaces at her comment. "Really now, that's uncalled for."

"Well, maybe not a barrier spell then." Willow put in, "There's got to be some sort of protection thingy we can whip up. Let Tara and me do a little something of the research variety. We'll think of something."

Xander was not to be outdone. "I want to help too! Anya and I can help with the researchy stuff. Right Anya?"

The girl-who-smells-funny rolls her eyes. "Yeah, I guess so. Although I'd like to point out that I always get the dusty jobs."

"Duly noted" rejoins Xander.

A flurry of activity starts. Willow is handing books to Tara, who distributes them around the table. Spike joins the group at the table, talking strategy and street sources they can hit up for information. No one seems to notice Giles' lack of verbiage or my jaw hitting the floor. Perhaps I should break up their 'protect Buffy' kick. Gee, I hate to be the party pooper, but...

"Uh, pardon me." Ah, the glares again. Just when I started to miss them. "Sorry to interrupt, but, what are you doing?"

Xander's glare changes from pure hatred to incredulous. "We're trying to save Buffy's life. We're trying to keep her from turning into you. Now, if you're going to get in the way, I suggest you leave. Thanks for the heads up, sorry bout your Watcher and all that. But..."

"I don't think you understand." My voice is stronger now. I am remembering things about my life, about myself, before Laalym. I don't have time for pissy little boys. I have a world to save. "Buffy isn't in danger. At least, not of turning into me. Not while I'm here."

Deep breath. That would be so much more effective if I had to breathe. "The spell wasn't completed. But it also wasn't broken. I'm still here, still alive, still souled. That means..."

"That means that Laalym isn't looking for Buffy. He's looking for Theresa." Giles said. The flurry stills. The glares disappear.

"Oh. Well." Xander was almost cute when he realized he was an ass.

"We have work to do. We must find out how to kill Laalym. I assume the fact that you've risen means he's also here, in Sunnydale." The Watcher had a most intriguing way of talking to me without actually looking my direction.

"Yes. At least that's what his little ambassador implied. Like I said, the spell has nothing to do with time frame. He just needs the ingredients. Me. Once he's within his twenty seventh year, he has free reign."

"Well that's not very helpful." Anya put in. "I mean, he could at least have the common curtsey to have a specific time table if he's going to try to end the world. Honestly, vampires are the rudest demons."

"Yes, well, Laalym's pretty impatient. I'd give it a week, maybe two. He's going to move fast once he finds out I've told you everything." I am pretty sure I could find out exact dates for this engagement with hell. However, I don't know if I want the Slayer groupies to know it just yet. 'Remember what has happened' Laalym said. It's a warning I don't intend to take lightly. No one will die for my misjudgments. Never again.

Never again.


Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy The Vampire Slayer, her friends, or Mr. Pointy. Those belong to Joss Whedon. Sigh I also do not own Theresa, Laalym, Edward, Mr. Branchey or his offspring (the illustrious Mr. Branchey Jr.). These belong to a poka-dotted plot bunny named Hubert. Who is currently chewing on my leg.

AN: This is the first very long chapter in a story that has been rolling around in my head for quite some time. I know it's confusing, and quite frankly I admire you for sticking around this long. Much thanks and cookies have to go to my very patient friends: J. for reading and encouraging, my ever wondrous roommate for constantly assuring me that Spike wasn't coming out all crazylike, and the illustrious HonorH – otherwise known as Miss H, headmistress of OBAFU – whom I have the distinct privilege and constant pleasure of being able to stalk...er...know. Finally, thanks to Rupert Giles – whom I insist must actually exist and who begged me to tell this story.

And to you, dear reader. Reviews make me do the snoopy dance. Just so you know.