Disclaimers;
The Buffy stuff belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, the Gargoyles stuff belongs to the House of the Mouse, Walt Disney Studios.

Rating; PG

Pairings; nothing non-canon, not yet anyway...

Archive; Sure, just let me know where.

Feedback; ring my chimes at Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net

Summary;
A mysterious figure makes Tara an offer, but the price is her life. What is the secret of Mr. Webb?


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Defenders of the Night
Episode One;
Along Came a Spider
By Kirayoshi
========

Chapter 1;
New Beginnings

"I'm broke but I'm happy,
I'm poor but I'm kind,
I'm short but I'm healthy, yeah.
I'm high but I'm grounded,
I'm sane but I'm overwhelmed,
I'm lost but I'm hopeful, baby.

And what it all comes down to
Is that everything's just fine, fine, fine.
'Cause I've got one hand in my pocket,
And the other one is giving a high-five!"
--Alanis Morrisette
"Hand in my Pocket"

He walked slowly and silently through the graveyard with an unsteady gait. He was tall, unkempt, unshaven, and wore torn and ratty clothing; ripped jeans and a dirty tee-shirt that looked like he was buried in it. Which he was.

A sudden snap of a twig arrested his attention. He spun around to find a lanky young man with black hair and a lop-sided grin on his face. "Say, fella," he greeted the undead figure, "I was wondering, you wouldn't happen to know the direction to the Universal Studio Tours, would you?"

The vampire glared at the young man, snarling foul epithets. "Okay, I'm taking that as a no." The young man then pulled a super-soaker out of his jacket and fired a stream of holy water at the vampire, searing the monster's flesh. The vampire shrieked in pain, flailing his arms wildly. A random fist landed in the young man's face, knocking him on his butt. The vampire fled rapidly, disappearing into the darkness of the cemetery.

"That was not fun," Xander grumped as he scrambled to his feet. "Hey, Willow," he whispered into the air, "any word on our target?"

//He took a hard turn past the crypts,// Willow's voice rang clearly in his mind.

Xander shivered as Willow projected her thoughts into his mind. He was never going to get used to having a telepathic friend. "Hey, Wills, ya wanna work on toning the volume down a bit?"

//Working on it, // Willow thought back, from her vantage point on top of one of the taller crypts.

//Hey Willow, // another familiar voice called to her, //can you corral our vamp my way? //

//I'm on it, // Willow concentrated, and a shower of fireballs pummeled the ground in front of the running vampire. The undead fiend ducked around the fireballs, which continued to rain down on him. That, of course, was Willow's plan. To lead the vampire where she wanted him to go.

The vampire ran toward an open field, his limbs leaden with his exertion. He stopped to collect himself. The man with the super-soaker and the witch with the fireballs weren't following him. He was safe.

"Hello," a chipper voice announced from behind him. He spun around on his heel, and found himself facing a blond woman in a tank top and black leather pants. She tossed the stake she was carrying casually from hand to hand. It was she. The one who was supposed to be dead. "My name is Buffy," she introduced herself, "and I'll be your Slayer this evening."

"Slayer!" the vampire hissed venomously. "I heard that you were dead."

"Hey," Buffy answered, "I heard that there was supposed to be a passionate love scene between Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor on the final episode of Xena. I guess we were both disappointed." She twisted on her left foot, and sent her right foot directly into the vampire's jaw. The vamp reeled backward, losing his footing and landing with a thud on the ground behind him. Wasting no time, the Slayer grabbed her stake and thrust it hard into the vamp's chest. The vampire disintegrated in a cloud of dust.

Xander and Willow met up with Buffy, who calmly placed the stake back in the pocket of her leather pants. "Yep," she announced happily. "I said it before, I'll say it again. I'm still pretty." She was about to leave the site, when a red gleam from the ground beneath her feet caught her eye. She bent down and picked up a small object. A gold locket-like frame, embossed to look like a Roman coin, containing a large red stone, smooth and rounded, bearing an etched capital 'C'. "Hmm, a vamp with taste for tacky jewelry."

"Maybe you better take that to Giles tomorrow," Willow suggested, "see if it's some kind of mystical doohickey."

"Good idea, Wills," Buffy agreed, pocketing the object. "Well, I'd say we've got this area clear for tonight."

"Final score," Xander announced, "Sunnydale, five million, Forces of Darkness, nada!" He offered a high-five to Willow, who returned it gladly.

"Another night, another vamp," Willow smiled. "But I gotta get back home, Buffy. I wanna get my beauty sleep before Tara's visit tomorrow."

"Not a problem," Buffy answered as she retrieved her stake from the pile of dust that was the only remaining evidence of their target. "I suspect that Kurt Cobain's our only action tonight anyway. Ready to call it a night, guys?"

"It's a night," Willow and Xander chorused. As they joined Buffy and walked away from the battle-site, Xander quipped, "I gotta say, Buffy, this is what I missed while you were, uh, er-"

"The word you're struggling for is 'dead'," Buffy supplied, not unkindly. "You can say it."

"Thank you, Buffy, 'dead'," Xander continued. "Anyway, this is what I missed. Not the stopping vamps so much, while that does have therapeutic value, but the saunter away from the scene like this. Like we're walking in slow-mo, casual badass 'tude. Very 'Reservoir Dogs'."

"Let's go, Mr. Brown," Willow grimaced.

"Hey!" Xander protested playfully. "That's Mr. Pink, and don't you forget it!" His two best friends groaned and laughed. Hooyeah, Xander thought. Buffy's back, my girls are smiling, Anya's having my baby and life is good!

========

She poked her head into Dawn's bedroom, relieved to know that her sister was sleeping soundly. God or Goddess knew she didn't have the chance to sleep well in recent months. Since their mother's death last February, through the nightmare that was Glory, Dawn's life had been a roller coaster in recent months. Just the chance to slow things down, for Dawn to just be a normal teenage girl for any length of time, was a blessing Buffy was not going to deny her.

She noticed that her old stuffed pig had made a home on one of Dawn's shelves, standing sentinel over her room. Giles had told Buffy that during her temporary death, Dawn had taken to sleeping with Mr. Gordo in her arms. "Good job, Mr. Gordo," Buffy quietly saluted her childhood companion. "Thanks for looking after her. Keep up the good work." She silently closed the door, and went to check up on Willow before turning in herself.

Buffy had to smile as she watched Willow, asleep in what used to be her bedroom. Willow didn't even complain about the slanty floor, she was more than happy to move into the room. She already set up her computer in one corner, and a trunk containing her magic supplies at the foot of her bed. She looked so peaceful as she slept.

And as long as Buffy was there to protect them, Dawn and Willow would continue to sleep well.

"They'll be fine, honey," her mother's voice sounded in her ears. "She does look cute when she's asleep, doesn't she?"

"Mom," Buffy rolled her eyes as she faced the ghostly figure that stood before her. She looked just the way that Buffy remembered her; her sandy hair spilling over her shoulders, her face slightly worn but still attractive, her expression still loving. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"I used to live here," she observed. "That is, when I was still living. Besides, why should my being dead keep me from watching out for my girls?"

"Sorry, just surprised is all," Buffy observed as she headed back to her mom's old bedroom, where she had moved in when Willow moved into her old room. She turned on a light and sat on the bed, preparing for a good night's sleep.

"Why so?" Joyce asked innocently. "You deal with vampires, demons, mad goddesses, why not ghosts?" She sat on the bed next to Buffy, and looked into her eyes. "I wasn't there for your high school graduation, dear, and I'm not going to let a little thing like being dead stop me from attending your college graduation." She gave Buffy a quizzical look, adding, "Of course, that will require you to go back to college..."

"And I will, Mom," Buffy assured the visitor. "Just not yet. I gotta think about Dawn first. Which means getting a job."

"I understand that, Buffy, I just don't want to see you sacrificing your dreams in the process."

Buffy regarded her mother's image skeptically. This wasn't the first time that her mother had visited her since Buffy came back, and she still wasn't ready to share her existence with the others. She wasn't even sure whether she was a real ghost or merely a figment of her imagination. Still, it made her feel a little better to have the apparition around. "I'm not giving up any dreams, Mom," she assured her. "Just putting them on hold for a while. Once I get a job, I can start socking some money away for tuition. Maybe I can apply for a scholarship or something. I did pretty well in my SATs after all."

"Just think about it," Joyce said. "Besides, with Willow around, it's not like Dawn's going to be without someone to look after her."

"Yeah," Buffy nodded. "Willow's great that way."

Joyce shook her head, a gleeful smirk on her face. "And she's cute too, huh?"

"MOM!" Buffy jumped up and protested. Joyce just shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, come on, I see the way you look at her when you think she's not aware of it. You love her, don't you? And she loves you."

"Maybe, mom," Buffy lowered her head; even when her mother wasn't aware of her being the Slayer, she was good at reading her heart. "But she's in love with Tara. I'm not gonna steal her away from someone else."

"So don't," Joyce answered. "Just let things run their course. Whatever happens, it'll be for the best. Now," she started to fade as Buffy started to undress, "you have to get to bed."

"Right, mom," Buffy mock-complained. "G'night, mom."

There was no answer. Buffy didn't expect one. Just her imagination, she decided. She summoned her mother's image as a sounding board, to air out her thoughts and emotions.

When did it happen? Buffy asked herself that question again and again. When did she fall in love with her best friend? Earlier that year she had declared that she was through with romance. After Riley left her, she decided she would never risk her heart again. And now she was doing it again, with the one person who was most important to her. The one person she could never betray. The one person she could never have.

She decided to simply keep the secret, to never tell anyone the truth about her feelings for Willow. Willow had Tara, and Buffy was happy for her. That was enough for now.

She quickly drifted off to sleep, dreaming of a beautiful and caring woman with red hair.

========

"Harris," Mr. Brubaker greeted Xander in his office. "Glad you could see me. Sit down, we have some business to discuss."

"Sure," Xander sat down and faced his boss. Steve Brubaker was a good foreman, and one of the first adults in Xander's life who didn't talk down or condescend to him, or make him feel inferior or unwanted. "What's up, sir?"

"Well, Harris," Brubaker started, "like the old joke goes, I have good news and bad news. I'll give you the bad news first. The Seattle job fell through. The company who commissioned us to build their headquarters got swallowed up in a merger, so all construction projects they've been considering are on hold indefinitely." He paused and looked at Xander briefly. "I know you were counting on this job, especially with you and Anya starting a family."

"Hey, it's no big," Xander admitted. "I mean, the money would have been nice, but Sunnydale's my home. I'm kinda glad that I don't have to relocate any time soon."

"I'm glad to hear you say that," Brubaker said. "That brings us to the good news. We have a new contractor, and this is bigger than the Seattle job. And get this; they want to build their new West coast HQ here in Sunnydale. They're looking to expand their corporation, and they chose here instead of L. A. and San Francisco. And I'm offering you the position of deputy foreman. It'll mean more responsibilities on your part, but I have confidence in you. Plus, it'll mean a substantial boost in your take-home pay."

"Hey, if you think I'm up for it," Xander announced, "say no more, I'll try not to disappoint you." He stood up to shake Brubaker's offered hand. The deal was sealed. "So, when do I get to meet our client?"

"Right now," Brubaker pressed a button on his phone. "Steph, you can show him in now." The door opened, and a young man, around mid-thirties entered the office. He was athletically built, with long brown hair tied into a ponytail, and a beard trimmed into an impeccable van-dyke. "Xander, this is our new benefactor, Mr. David Xanatos."

"A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Harris," Xanatos shook Xander's hand. He regarded the young man with a discerning eye. If half of the reports he had read about him were true, than there was no doubt that he knew something about the supernatural atmosphere in Sunnydale. Which meant he probably knew the Slayer.

Yes, he thought, this was going to be an eventful trip.

========

Buffy was going through her regular workout in the backroom of the Magic Box, under the attentive eyes of her Watcher. Giles nodded approvingly as she executed a devastating series of kicks and jabs into the air, and then went back to a standing position, without even looking winded. He was glad that his instructing her in Eastern breathing techniques was paying off so well.

Hell, he was just glad that she was here, alive and well, after all that she had been through this past year. Finn's sudden departure, the terror caused by Glory, and certainly most heart wrenching of all, the death of her beloved mother. Not for the first time, he wondered if her 'final sacrifice' on the tower was just an excuse for her to end a life she didn't want any longer. And again not for the first time, he offered a silent prayer to whatever Gods were listening, to ask that her second life should be happier than her first life had been.

Buffy stopped pummeling the body bag, causing Giles to furrow his brow. "Is anything the matter, Buffy?"

"No, not really," she answered, going to where she had left her purse. "I just remembered something. Last night, when I dusted that grunge wannabe, I found something in the dust pile. Here, you recognize this?" She pulled the red jewel out of her purse and tossed it to Giles.

Giles took the item and appraised it carefully. "My word," he breathed his eyebrow arching.

"Great, you say, 'My word', I get worried," Buffy huffed.

"Wha..." Giles looked up, seeing the worry lines forming on Buffy's brow. "Oh, no, not like that. In fact it's good that you took it from him. If I'm right, this is a Centurion Stone. Very rare talismans, only a handful known to exist."

"Okay, what's a Centurion Stone?"

"The Centurion Stones were supposedly created by a fifth century mage who wished to control large numbers of vampires. In the time of the Roman Empire, a Centurion was a soldier who led a large battalion. Literally, 'leader of a hundred men'. The 'C' etched on the stone..."

"C for Centurion, got it," Buffy interrupted. "I saw Sesame Street when I was a kid."

"Uh, not quite, C was the Roman numeral for one hundred." Buffy made oh-of-course noises, and let Giles continue. "A Centurion Stone allows its wielder to command the minds of one hundred vampires at a time."

"Ah," Buffy nodded. "And since vampires normally don't work and play well with others, this stone would be needed to whip them into a crack fighting unit."

"Exactly," Giles answered. "Anyone with a Centurion Stone would be have command of one hundred powerful soldiers, who would willingly lay down their undead lives for their master." He took the gem to a nearby safe, and dialed the combination. "We'd better keep it in my private vault for safekeeping. Don't want anyone else getting their hands on this device."

"Gotcha," Buffy answered, opening a bottle of Gatorade and slamming it down. As she drained the bottle, she glanced at the door, seeing that someone was watching her. "Tara," she greeted her best friend's girlfriend. "Don't be shy, c'mon in."

"Buffy? Can I talk to you?"

Buffy grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat off her brow. "Sure, anytime," she called out. The shy young witch entered the back room, and waved at Giles. "Hey, how you doing, Tara?"

"Not too bad," Tara answered reservedly. "But I kinda need to talk to you, alone." Giles glanced at the two and took the hint. "Go ahead, ladies, I need to check a new stock of books anyway." He departed the workout room, leaving Buffy and Tara to talk.

"So, Tara," Buffy asked, "how's Berkeley these days?"

"Pretty good, actually," Tara answered. "I'm doing well in my classes, and I've even started attending a local Wiccan group."

"Let me guess," Buffy grinned, "more wanna-blessed-be's?"

"No, they know their stuff," Tara defended her new friends. "In fact, next time Willow visits me on campus, I want to take her to meet them. Maybe she can show them something." She started to twirl a lock of her hair nervously. "And the group's leader, Miss Lafayette, she really knows a ton. I could listen to her lecture all day."

"As long as that's all you're doing with her all day, little missy," Buffy warned Tara teasingly. "I don't want to deal with a heartbroken Willow anytime soon."

"No worries about that," Tara answered, chuckling. It did Buffy good to see Tara happy.

Suddenly, Tara's expression grew more serious, more thoughtful. "What's up, Tara?" Buffy asked. "Something on your mind?"

"Yeah," Tara said slowly. "I want to ask you a favor, Buffy." Buffy pulled up a chair and sat in front of Tara, letting her have the floor. "Berkeley's great and all, but...the other night, I-I thought I was being tailed by some big guys, like football players."

Buffy looked at Tara worriedly. "Did they hurt you?"

"N-no, not really," Tara said hurriedly. "They just rattled me a little. Maybe I've just been jumpy about being alone at night, y'know. Since my run-in with Glory and all."

"Hey, I don't blame you," Buffy admitted. "Glory was one tough customer."

"Yeah," Tara muttered ruefully. "It's just- I just don't want to be afraid anymore. I want to be able to look after myself." She swallowed briefly, summoned her courage, and said what she came to say. "Buffy, could you teach me how to fight?"

Buffy didn't know what to expect when Tara wanted to talk to her, but this wasn't it. "Fight? Like, slayer stuff? I dunno..."

"No, not like that," Tara answered. "I mean, no way I could do that kind of stuff. I mean, just some basic stuff, some self-defense moves. I just want to be able to handle myself if I get into trouble."

"Ah," Buffy nodded. "Just long enough to get away from some mauler, something like that."

"Yeah, just like that. Most people I've checked out in the campus area would charge too much, and besides, I'd rather learn from someone I can trust."

Buffy pursed her lips in thought. "How much would they charge? Ballpark figure."

"Well," Tara thought briefly, "usually a hundred or so, for a six-hour class. Oh, sorry, I know you need the money yourself, and I'd be willing to pay you, but..."

"Fifty bucks, for the whole course," Buffy offered. "How's that sound?"

Tara blinked at Buffy's offer. "Uh, sounds good. Sold." She and Buffy shook hands, and Tara asked, "Uh, how soon can we start?"

"Is now too soon?" Buffy stood up. "I can show you some good defensive moves, just to get out of the way. Nothing fancy, just basics. You game?"

"Sure," Tara stood up, and Buffy began to show her a quick way to escape from a captor who grabs her by her arm.

One hour later, Tara left the backroom, thanking Buffy for the lesson. Buffy stayed behind, wiping herself down from the workout. She felt a great deal better than she had, and as she prepared to head home for a shower and change of clothes, she started getting an idea.

As she headed out of the Magic Box to where she parked the Jeep, she felt a sudden faint tremor brush against her psyche, like something vaguely sinister had entered her space. Then, just as suddenly, it disappeared. She dismissed the sensation, figuring that it was just the ambience of the Hellmouth.

As she pulled away and drove home, a tall, thin man puffed on a cigarette and watched her leave. He glanced at the Magic Box, observing the blond and the redhead who had just exited the shop, hand in hand. He eyed them with a hungry eye; he could practically taste the power that emanated from them.

Power that would soon be his, if his plans were successful.