Ah, summer break. Plenty of time to write—when I'm not working overtime at my job. *grimace* Sorry for the wait, guys. At least it was only half as long as the one between episodes eighteen and nineteen. Since this is a two-parter, I'm hoping to get the second half done before school starts in the fall, at the very latest. Now then, enjoy!


Episode 20: The Faerie Wood

Guest Starring (sort of): Angel Coulby as Renée Blackwood,

Rachel Hurd-Wood as Nyx,

Sean Maher as Tobias MacGowan,

Jewel Staite as Tahn,

and

John Francis Daley as Leonard

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Renée found it a struggle to drag herself out of bed, but the Old Ones weren't a problem that would go away if she ignored it, so she resisted the desire to pull the covers over her head and never come out again. A fresh stack of books surely awaited her downstairs, and perhaps one of them would contain the answer, the solution they had all been seeking for six weeks. Or maybe she would be needed on another relief mission. Though those really only treated the symptoms instead of curing the disease, they were still worthwhile, reminding everyone why they had to keep trying.

When she stood up and walked to her dresser, she was pleased to discover that no dizziness or queasiness was triggered and that she had no urge to shiver in the absence of her blankets. It seemed she no longer had the flu. The last couple of days had been awful, and not just for her—spirits in the Hyperion, which had been low enough already, had been dampened even further lately by an epidemic of the same illness. The only ones who hadn't been affected were the non-humans who were immune. Faith and Wood had kept the three-month-old Nicky from getting sick by retreating to their London flat and barring anyone from crossing the portal to it. The Slayers seemed to suffer worse than anyone else, but recovered in just a day or two.

Renée got dressed in a pair of worn, comfy jeans and a shirt with thin, horizontal yellow and white stripes, then moved sluggishly towards her bathroom. Once inside, she fumbled for the light switch with her left hand while her right closed over the hairbrush she had left on the counter. She shut her eyes tight against the onslaught of light and began to brush her hair. Once her eyes had adjusted, she opened them. When she looked into the mirror, the brush tumbled out of her hand. She opened her mouth to scream, but the sound never left her.

Bracchion, to the displeasure of most, had decided that he would be more comfortable staying at the hotel than going back to Italy. He mostly remained in his room, but whenever he decided to grace everyone else with his presence, he did little but flirt with the nearest female (even if she was clammy and greenish-white and did nothing but scowl at him) and scoff at research he deemed completely pointless.

Willow was too engrossed in the book she was reading to notice that the Slayers who had been studying on either side of her were suddenly scurrying for cover, and was therefore the only remaining target for the approaching Immortal's unwanted attention. "Why don't you put that book down and accompany me on a stroll?" he said, leaning one elbow on the counter and reaching over to trail his fingers along the top edge of her book. "I am sure you will find me much more worth your time than these dusty pages."

"My magic may not be able to affect you directly, mister," said Willow, jerking the book out of reach, "but I could still levitate large, heavy objects into your face."

"There's no need to be so abrasive, my dear," he said, sounding offended. "In truth, there is little you could do that would not be a better use of your time than searching those books for a way to exterminate the Creators. It can't be done."

"Creators?" Willow repeated, frowning. "What are you talking about?"

"Did Triennia never mention it?" he said, idly examining the fingernails on his left hand. "Our race was created by an Old One who wished to outdo the creator of mankind."

"What?" Willow practically shrieked. "Why the hell didn't you tell us about that before?"

"It isn't as if it'll do you any good," he said with a dismissive sniff. "We may have been alive when the Old Ones fell, but none of us remembers it clearly enough to benefit you. I may as well ask a human what it felt like being born."

Willow scowled heavily at him, but his words had given her an idea.

Drusilla's deceptively delicate-looking fingers clutched the railing separating the lobby and the second floor corridor. Her head tilted to the side as she stared at a spot some seven or eight feet out into the space in front of her. "Poor Daddy," she said softly, "trying to help, but getting hanged for his trouble. And yet he calls this place his home."

Her attention was caught then by a flash of bright red below her, which turned out to be Nyx's hair. The petite vampire was striding across the lobby like she owned the place. When she was halfway to the door that led to the courtyard, she glanced up for a split second, locked eyes with Drusilla, and smirked. Drusilla's hands clenched into fists, her nails shaving thin curls of wood from the banister. "Thief," she hissed.

Spike would have been happy to smoke his cigarettes inside the hotel, particularly as Angel had forbidden it, but since the ban was supported by two dozen Slayers, none of whom especially liked the idea of working with vampires in the first place, he grudgingly chose to take his smoke breaks in the shaded part of the courtyard instead. It was during one of these smoke breaks that Nyx sauntered up to him, something she'd been doing rather frequently for the past week or so.

"Fancy joining me on a hunt?" she asked sweetly.

He raised an eyebrow and jerked his head in the direction of the patch of morning sunlight that began five feet from where he was standing. "It'd be a short hunt."

"Not if we used the sewers."

"You know," he said, snuffing his cigarette out on the side of the pillar he'd been leaning against and taking a couple of steps towards her, a smirk tugging at his lips, "it's not very healthy to go hunting when you live in a hotel full of Slayers. Angel Jr. and Wolf Boy can smell it if we've gone off our special truce diet, and not all of us have immunity from Slayer-related harm."

She shrugged. "So you can do the killing and I'll do the drinking. It'll be like you're buying me dinner. Madame General won't even see us leaving together, if she's what's stopping you. She's holed up in the office with a book."

"Who says I even want to buy you dinner?"

"Oh, you want to," she said, boldly gliding closer and trailing her fingertips lightly over the lapels of his coat. She leaned in so that her mouth was inches from his neck. "You've wanted to since you found out I was a Slayer." His eyes closed as her hands continued their journey, abandoning his coat for his black shirt, traveling down until they reached the hem and slipping underneath to touch skin. "Come and find me when you decide."

Buffy, sitting in the office with Giles and Dawn, couldn't focus on the book in front of her. Nobody in the hotel had been hit harder by the flu than Angel, and yet he had somehow managed to heave himself to the lobby to join in the research. Giles, who had been one of the first to fall ill but had now largely recovered, could not fail to notice the way Buffy's gaze was frequently drawn to the window of the office, through which the couch where Angel sat was clearly visible.

"He's going to be fine, you know," he said gently after the dozenth time he'd caught Buffy's gaze wandering.

"Huh?" she said, looking around at him with unfocused eyes. Dawn glanced from one to the other of them over the top of her own book.

"Angel," said Giles. "Within a few days, it'll be as if he was never ill."

Buffy's expression taughtened slightly and she avoided Giles's eyes. After a moment, she said, "How can you be sure? His body hasn't had to deal with sickness for hundreds of years."

"True, he hasn't built up the same resistance to modern pathogens that the rest of us have, but to have survived to adulthood in the eighteenth century, he must possess a remarkably strong immune system. I very much doubt that he is unequal to something like this." Though she didn't reply, he knew he'd said the right thing. The set of her shoulders eased, as if a great weight had been lifted from them, and she turned away quickly, but not quickly enough to prevent him from seeing the watery brightness of her eyes.

About thirty seconds later, Willow strode into the office. "Any luck?" Giles asked her.

"No," she said.

"I saw Bracchion out there," said Dawn. "If you want, I can open a portal to the shrimp world and get Connor to toss him in."

"That's fine with me," said Willow, "but right now I want to try out a hunch."

Nyx had no trouble getting to the basement without anyone noticing. The humans were mostly all still swooning with fever too badly to leave their rooms, and none of the ones who had managed to join the researchers in the lobby had any attention to spare for her, or anyone who accompanied her. She smirked and thought of Spike. He would join her. Perhaps not immediately, but she wouldn't be waiting long.

The basement door squeaked slightly when she opened it, and she gladly stepped into the deep shadows on the other side. She probably would have come down here even if she didn't have plans; it was the only place in the entire hotel that was completely free of the stench of sickness-ravaged humanity. Nyx enjoyed human suffering as much as the next vampire, but she'd never been fond of the odors that tended to accompany it, nor of what it did to the taste of the blood.

She had only gotten halfway down the stairs when a sweet singsong voice floated out from somewhere nearby, making her jump. "Last night I saw upon the stair a little man who wasn't there. He wasn't there again today. Oh, how I wish he'd go away."

Furious for allowing herself to be caught unawares but not wanting to show it, Nyx adopted a haughty, indifferent expression and looked over at the tall, thin woman standing near the sewer access door. "What are you doing down here?" she said.

"Shhh, dead Slayer," said Drusilla crossly, holding a finger to her lips. "You mustn't wake the creatures below the earth."

"They're already awake," said Nyx irritably. "That's the problem."

"Why else would I be singing them lullabies?" Drusilla asked, with a look that suggested that Nyx was being extremely dim-witted.

Only the gloating thought of her impending rendez-vous with Spike stopped Nyx from scowling in response. "Great," she said, making her tone as scathingly patronizing as possible, "why don't you go do the same in the basement of the Academy, and then in the Archive, just to be thorough?"

Drusilla flashed a brilliant smile at her. "What a lovely idea," she said, and immediately strode towards the stairs to leave. Nyx watched her go with narrowed eyes. When she was on the threshold, she stopped and turned slowly to fix Nyx with an ice-cold, unsettlingly lucid stare. "You think that you will never end, dearie, but I can see baby sister sifting your ashes through her fingers."

"Was that supposed to be a threat?" said Nyx, a growl rising in her throat. "Who's 'baby sister'?"

"I missed her when she came for a visit," said Drusilla as she turned away again and kept walking, "but she'll be along soon enough."

Spike was almost to the kitchen when he hesitated. He was alone in the corridor, and his eyes were drawn to the door that led to the basement. Nyx was down there, waiting for him. He could go meet her, or he could go on to the kitchen, get some pig's blood, and then go to the Archive in search of Dru, who seemed to enjoy floating about amongst the ancient books, for some reason. After a few seconds' pause, he continued on.

Xander and Leonard were in the kitchen when Spike entered, sitting on stools, passing a package of Saltines back and forth as they attempted to concentrate on the contents of a couple of old books in front of them. Spike ignored them, retrieved a container of blood from the fridge, transferred the contents to a mug, and headed to the microwave.

"You know that heating it up that way ruins it, don't you?" said Leonard. Xander's lips quirked up in amusement and his eye flickered to Spike to watch his reaction.

"Bull," said Spike, opening the door and sliding the mug inside. "I've microwaved blood plenty of times."

Leonard snorted. "Okay, then."

Spike looked around at him. "We're only not allowed to kill you wankers, you know. Nobody said anything about breaking bones."

"I'm pretty sure they did, actually," said Leonard, looking maddeningly calm—even entertained—in the face of Spike's threat. He took a swig from his bottle of ginger ale, then pointed at him with the finger of the hand still holding it. "Seriously, though, you can't just throw blood in the microwave."

"Why not?" said Xander, showing all the curiosity with which Spike refused to dignify the subject.

"Blood isn't like hot chocolate or coffee," said Leonard, "it has living cells in it, and if you heat it up too fast, they'll explode. It's called hemolysis. There's been at least one case of a hospital patient dying because of a transfusion that got heated up too fast in the microwave."

"Ouch," said Xander.

"Well that's the patient's poor lookout," said Spike, beginning to press buttons. "Vampires aren't quite as fragile."

"Look," said Leonard, shaking his head, "vampires usually drink blood straight from the source, which suggests that you need it as fresh and alive as possible. You keep heating it up like that, you'll end up slowly starving yourself. So, unless you're trying to lose weight…."

Xander snickered.

"Bloody hell," Spike muttered, removing the mug from the microwave unheated. "That explains a lot." He then raised the mug to Leonard, switching to vamp face with a smirk. "Cheers, mate," he said, and chugged the blood down.

"No problem," said Leonard, his smug half-grin sliding off his face, to be replaced with a very queasy grimace. Xander, having long since gotten used to Spike's diet and manners, merely clapped Leonard on the back and resumed munching Saltines.

"Not that I don't appreciate the study break, Wil, but why are we here?" said Buffy. Their bodies were still in the office, but their conscious selves were walking beneath the thick canopy of leaves in the forested realm of the tiger spirit guide.

"I think we might have been going about this the wrong way," said Willow. "With the research, I mean."

"Please tell me this epiphany didn't come from Bracchion."

"He's right, Buffy," said Willow, her voice quiet and grave. Buffy looked at her sharply. "I mean, think about it. We've been looking in books for a way to destroy them, but everything in the Archive is from way after the Old Ones were locked in the Deeper Well. They're just records based on accounts of their followers in the past few millennia, and whatever else people could find out about them a long time after they were gone. Nobody who wrote those books actually saw one die."

"What else can we do, though?" asked Buffy. "I mean, it's always better to know more about the thing you're trying to destroy, isn't it? We might still find a weakness somewhere."

"Well, yeah, but in the meantime, I want to try a more direct approach. Illyria was murdered before the fall of the other Old Ones, so she can't tell us about that, and the one that killed her kind of sneaked up on her, so she doesn't know how he managed to kill her in the first place. Bracchion and Triennia were too young to remember it, but maybe someone else does."

Right on cue, the white tiger emerged from between two trees. "I did not think I would see you again so soon," it said, lowering its great head.

Willow was about to make a confused remark about how it had been several months since their last visit when Buffy said, "Where's Dana?"

"She has moved on," said the tiger, and there was something like wistfulness in its voice. "She would gladly have tarried here with me, but she was needed elsewhere."

"When—," began Willow in confusion, but Buffy answered the question before she could finish it.

"The day I miscarried. I was here while I was unconscious."

"Oh."

There was a painful silence, and Willow was intensely relieved when the tiger broke it. "What would you ask of me?"

Willow straightened and decided to get right to the point. "Do you remember the fall of the Old Ones?"

The ends of the tiger's whiskers dropped a few inches. "I'm afraid not," it said. "I have only existed as long as the Slayer line has existed, so that was before my time." Willow felt a great sense of let-down. She had really relied on her idea producing good results. However, the creature wasn't finished speaking. "But there are beings older than myself, beings whose memories of that time are clearer than those of your Immortal friends."

"Who are these beings?" asked Buffy. "And where can we find them?"

"They are not to be approached lightly. All are dangerous and most seek only to gain more power for themselves. In many ways, they are similar to the Old Ones. You have already dealt with some of them, if only indirectly."

"We have?" said Willow, her brow furrowing. "Who were they?"

"Wolfram and Hart," said Buffy darkly before the tiger could answer. "Angel told me they've been around pretty much forever. But they aren't the only ones you mean, right?" she went on, addressing the tiger now. It nodded. "Who's our best chance?"

Willow was glad to see her friend's eagerness and determination; she so rarely saw any emotion in her at all these days.

"Boone, the Guardian of the Faerie Wood," said the tiger. "He does not suffer trespassers readily, but he will deal with you honestly if you can prove you are worthy of his information."

"How do we find him?" said Willow.

"Only those who lose themselves in the forest can hope to find the Faerie Wood, and only children can see the gates."

Connor thought the hotel seemed unusually quiet when he got up that morning. Normally, thanks to his heightened senses, he could hear the sounds of people moving about in the rooms around his as they got out of bed and got ready—for instance, he very often heard Nigel discussing his plans for his day with himself in detail next door—but today all was silent. With a shrug, he decided to just appreciate the lack of noise while it lasted.

He looked around and was suddenly struck by how grateful he was that the room he'd used two years ago had already been occupied when he'd returned. Angel had apologized about that at first and offered to try persuading Laurel and Sarah to switch rooms, but Connor didn't particularly want the constant reminder of his old life in his surroundings. The hotel in general was different enough with so many people in it that he didn't mind spending so much time there, but living in that room again would be uncomfortable, at the very least.

Stifling a yawn, he shucked the sweats and baggy t-shirt he'd worn to sleep and pulled on fresh clothes from his dresser, then sat down on the edge of his bed, picked up his cell phone, and dialed his parents' number. They didn't know he was in L.A. He couldn't exactly explain that his girlfriend had made a portal that connected the closet in this room to the closet of his dorm at Stanford, enabling him to help out at the hotel as much as possible without missing any classes.

He stood up again and paced while he waited for someone to answer. After two rings, his mom picked up. "Hey, Mom," he said, smiling. "Yeah, I'm fine. What about you?" His face fell. "Yeah, I know," he said, stuffing his free hand into his pocket. "There's a lot of weird stuff going on. You'll tell me right away if anything goes wrong, won't you? …Okay…. Okay…. Yeah, I'll ask Dawn if she wants to come…. Love you too. Bye."

He was on his way out of the room when he heard a yell from somewhere down the hall. It only lasted about a second before it was cut short. Connor took off running in the direction it had come from, skidded to a halt in front of the door two down and across from his, and burst inside.

To his surprise, the room was empty, and there was no sign of a struggle. Still, something felt wrong. He knew this was the right room; the smell of fear was still in the air. Moving so quietly that even he couldn't hear the sound of his footsteps, he caught up the stake lying on top of the lamp table and crept along the wall, peering behind and under furniture.

As he passed the dresser halfway along the north wall, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned and looked into the large mirror hanging on the wall. He had a fraction of a second to be confused by what he saw before that confusion turned to horror.

Oz had taken Dawn's place in the office when Buffy and Willow came to.

"What did the spirit guide have to say?" asked Giles at once.

"It told us to find the Faerie Wood and talk to its guardian if we want to know about the Old Ones," said Buffy as she got to her feet.

"Well that's something," said Oz, offering Willow a hand to help her up and glancing around at the three of them with slightly raised eyebrows and widened eyes.

"Yeah, we might finally be getting somewhere," said Willow.

"How does one find the Faerie Wood?" asked Giles, adjusting his new glasses on the bridge of his nose.

"Big Kitty said we have to get lost in the forest," said Willow. "I guess it sort of finds you at that point."

"As long as you bring a kid with you," Buffy added.

"Yeah," said Willow.

"Need me to come with you?" said Oz, slipping his fingers through hers and squeezing gently.

"Thanks," said Willow, squeezing back while looking at Buffy, "but I think it might make it a little hard to get lost if you come with us." Buffy nodded.

"Got it," said Oz. "No trackers."

"Be careful," said Giles.

"We will," said Buffy.

Willow kissed Oz on the cheek, then left the office with Buffy. Oz and Giles watched them go. "If you'll excuse me, Oz," said Giles once they were out of sight. Oz shrugged, not taking his eyes off the doorway, but Giles had already strode across the office and disappeared through the portal leading to the Archive.

Abby and Livvy were eating cereal together in the kitchen when Buffy and Willow entered, having decided to look for them there before going upstairs to check their room.

"Hey," said Abby, pausing with her spoon halfway between bowl and mouth.

"Hey," said Buffy. "We need your help."

"What is it?" asked Abby, dropping the spoon into the bowl and sitting up straight.

"Uh, actually, it's Livvy's help we need," Willow clarified.

"Really?" said Livvy, dropping her own spoon with much splashier consequences and jumping excitedly out of her seat. "You need me?"

"Whoa, what?" said Abby, standing up too and moving in front of her sister. "She's not going on any missions. I thought we were on the same page about that."

"She's the only one in the hotel who can do this," said Buffy. "It's a kids-only thing."

"How dangerous is it?" said Abby, folding her arms.

"Shouldn't be dangerous at all," said Willow. "We're just going to go exploring in a forest—one of the forests that's still inanimate, I mean, and we need Livvy to tell us when she sees the entrance to the Faerie Wood. Then I can bring her straight back here."

"Wow, you mean real fairies?" said Livvy, sidestepping Abby and looking hopefully from Buffy to Willow and back again. Buffy nodded, and Livvy turned to Abby. "Oh, please, please let me go! I want to see the fairies!"

"Fine," she said after a few seconds of pursed-lipped deliberation. "But I'm coming too."

Spike watched Buffy return to the office in the lobby only to vanish in a flash of white light with Willow and those two English Slayers. She hadn't so much as acknowledged him in days. Even in the midst of this weird estrangement between her and Angel, when Angel was so ill he could barely move, she didn't turn to him. And then there was Drusilla, whom he had to seek out if he wanted any attention from her.

Something seemed to snap inside his brain. Jaw and fists clenched, he abandoned the book he'd been using as little more than a cover while he watched Buffy from across the lobby. He stalked into the corridor that led to the basement, wrenched the basement door open, and stomped down the stairs.

Nyx was standing there at the sewer access door, just as she'd said she'd be. Spike hadn't wanted to admit to wanting her, but he did, and for once in a very long time, he hadn't been the pursuer. She wanted him and she wasn't ashamed of it, and it was bloody refreshing.

"That didn't take long," she observed.

"Look, I have one question for you before I go anywhere with you in those tunnels."

"Fire away."

"I'm not your second choice here, right? You wouldn't rather have that Demetri bloke going with you, or wish that Angelus were still around?" The second name came out through gritted teeth.

"I don't waste my time with second choices."

"Good answer."

Getting lost in a forest is a simple matter when you have a witch capable of teleportation on your team. Willow brought the three Slayers with her into the middle of the nearest patch of woods to Los Angeles—one of the few forests in the state that hadn't come alive in the last six weeks. The distance they'd traveled was short enough that teleportation sickness wasn't too terrible—only Abby had to duck behind a tree to throw up.

It was a lovely spring morning, and here, with the vibrant forest around them, a warm breeze on their faces, and the sound of birdsong filling the air, it was hard to believe what was going on in the rest of the world. They chose a random direction and started walking. Many of the trees and undergrowth were in bloom, and the smell of flowers was almost too strong.

Despite Livvy's pouting scowl, Abby kept a tight grip on her hand as they walked, but it had barely been ten minutes before Livvy suddenly tore her hand away and trotted out ahead of the other three.

"Do you see it?" asked Willow.

"I…I think so," she said. She was looking at a pair of trees whose upper branches grew together to form a roughly circular gap between the trunks. To Abby, Willow, and Buffy, the two trees looked dead, their branches devoid of leaves and their trunks rotten and gray, but Livvy was staring at them with wide eyes, her mouth hanging open. Before they could call her back, she had run forward into the gap between the trees. The second she crossed that threshold, she vanished.

"LIVVY!" shouted Abby, Willow, and Buffy in unison, and went charging after her.

As soon as they passed between the two trees, however, they nearly collided with her on the other side. She looked like she was about to burst with delight, and their reprimands to her for running off alone died in their throats when they saw why.

The Faerie Wood answered Buffy and Willow's every childlike ideal of an enchanted forest. Soft sunlight scattered off the leaves of the surrounding trees in rainbows of color. The random birdsong of the normal forest on the other side of the gateway was harmonized here into an orchestra, flawlessly weaving a tune that both calmed and invigorated them. The scent of spring blossoms was no longer overwhelming, though there were far more of them here and in a far wider range of colors. The breeze stirring the leaves felt like a friendly presence as it whispered past them. Small spheres of bright light were caught up in it, like dandelion seeds, swirling around each other and around them. They could hear what sounded like children laughing somewhere out of sight.

For a full minute, they did nothing but look and listen, finding more to see and hear all the time and becoming more hopelessly entranced with the wonder of it all.

"How come I never got lost in the woods when I was a kid?" said Willow faintly.

"Maybe I should have tried harder to get lost in those city parks where we used to have Sunday picnics when I was growing up in L.A.," said Buffy.

"Something isn't right," said Abby, whose hand was firmly clamped around Livvy's once more (the only reason the little girl hadn't run off in pursuit of the laughing children).

Willow looked around at her, frowning. "What do you mean? Don't you like it?"

"It's beautiful," Abby admitted. She looked as if part of her wanted to get lost in the fairytale come to life, but the rest of her couldn't trust it to be real. "But it feels…off. I don't think we should stay here."

"You can go if you want," said Buffy, her eyes still on her surroundings. "I'll find Boone and see what he knows."

"Okay," said Willow, but she still only started to move when Abby grabbed her forearm and tugged her back towards the two trees. Almost immediately after Abby, Livvy, and Willow had gone, the sound of laughter suddenly drew much nearer, and three fairies appeared from behind a clump of bushes. Buffy spun where she stood to keep them in view as they flew around her head. They were all no more than four or five inches tall, with glittering translucent insect wings and clothing woven together out of leaves and flower petals. They looked and sounded like children of about Livvy's age. They were too small to really make out any of the details of their faces, but two were definitely girls, one with bright purple spiky hair and the other with long royal blue hair, and the third was a boy with messy green hair that hid the top half of his face.

"Uh, hello?" said Buffy. The fairies only giggled in response, then zipped away through the trees. "Wait!" she cried, running after them. They didn't go far, only to a clearing full of flowers and cheerful sunlight. More fairies appeared and dropped a wreath of yellow blossoms onto her head. "Please, can any of you take me to see Boone? I need to speak with him."

At her words, all the fairies in the clearing (there were about a dozen now) flew off together in the same direction. Hoping they'd listened to her and were flying to Boone, she followed. They went slowly enough now that she had time to enjoy her surroundings again. It was all so beautiful. Peaceful, despite the fairies' boundless energy. She felt as if none of her problems—or the world's problems—could touch her here. It took her a while to realize that she was smiling for the first time in six weeks.

Angel looked up from his book when the second flash of light heralded Willow's return. He expected to see Buffy with her, but she'd only brought Abby and Livvy back. He frowned. What with his body still wracked periodically with violent chills and his entire digestive system a squirming mess of pain and nausea, standing up was the least appealing prospect in the world, but he heaved himself to his feet all the same and made his way to the office in time to hear Willow gushing to Oz about what she'd just seen and Livvy begging Abby for something.

"I want to go back, Abby! Please, please, please can I?"

"It was better than I could have imagined, Oz! I wish you could have seen it too."

"No, Livvy, you're not going back."

"I'm sorry I missed it."

"Seen what?" asked Angel.

"The Faerie Wood!" said Willow and Livvy excitedly together, before lapsing into dreamy contemplation. Oz only had eyes for Willow, but Angel noticed the way Abby was looking at her little sister with concern and alarm.

"Come along, Livvy," she said, and the two of them left the office, Livvy with a heavy pout.

"Ready to get back to researching?" said Oz.

"Sure," said Willow, and they departed as well. Angel watched them leave, his frown back in place.

"Angel," said a voice from behind him, making him jump. He turned to see Giles entering the office through the portal, carrying two rather enormous leather books, one green and the other black. "Didn't expect to see you on your feet."

"I probably shouldn't be," Angel admitted ruefully, taking the opportunity to flop into the chair behind the desk. "What do you know about the Faerie Wood?"

"Only that it exists," said Giles. "It's not something the Watchers' Council ever placed much significance on in the time that I learned from and worked with them. Which is why I found these." He let the books fall onto the desk with dusty thumps, and Angel saw that the front cover of the black one bore the title Fae in gold gothic lettering, and the green one, which was embossed with intricate Celtic knotting, had the words Aes Sídhe written on it in rounded silver letters.

Intrigued, Angel pulled the green book towards him and flipped it open. "Irish," he said in mild surprise. He hadn't expected anything beyond the title to be written in his native language.

"Yes, I was planning on asking for your help with that one, if you felt up to it," said Giles. "But I see that won't be necessary."

Angel shook his head vaguely, already immersed in the text.

Tobias couldn't keep his mind on his book. Tahn had been staying at the hotel since shortly after the Old Ones escaped, and they usually met up in the mornings to do their research together. Today, however, she had failed to appear. When two hours had elapsed past their normal meeting time, he gave up trying to read and went to find her, hoping she hadn't contracted the flu after all.

Her room was on the fourth floor, the first on the left after the staircase. Tobias knocked on the door tentatively. "Tahn?" he said. "It's me."

"Come in," said Tahn's voice, which sounded perfectly normal. Feeling relieved, Tobias entered the room, where he found Tahn rushing about, the end of her tail coiled around the handle of a hairbrush.

"Late start?" he asked, amused.

"Yeah," she said. "I slept in." She turned and smiled sweetly at him. "Why, Mr. MacGowan, were you worried about me?"

"Maybe a little," he admitted sheepishly.

Her smile broadened, showing her pointed teeth, and she flitted up to him and planted a swift, smacking kiss on his lips. "If you just wait another couple of minutes, I'll be ready to go downstairs with you."

"Okay," he said, slightly dazed from the kiss. She smiled and skipped over to the bathroom and disappeared into it. Barely a second later, her scream pierced the air. "Tahn!" Tobias shouted, running to the bathroom and wrenching the door open. She was no longer inside. The hairbrush she'd been holding was on the floor, still rocking back and forth slightly on its curved sides in the aftermath of being dropped. Tobias bent and picked it up, his heart hammering in panic.

"Tahn! Where are you?" he said. He threw back the shower curtain, but the stall was empty. He made to leave the bathroom, intending to run to the lobby for help, but then a flash of lavender caught his eye. He looked at the mirror, where, to his astonishment, he saw Tahn staring back at him with a terrified expression, her breath fogging the glass, her hands pressed flat against its surface. "Tahn!" he cried again, rushing closer. But as soon as he was directly in front of the mirror, his reflection seemed to knock her aside, even though he felt nothing. He had meant to place his hands against hers on the mirror, but instead ended up with his palms against his reflection's while Tahn stumbled to the side, looking just as surprised as he felt.

"What is this?" he said. "How did this happen?" She looked at his reflection standing next to her as he spoke, then looked back at him. He saw her mouth the words "I don't know," but heard nothing. He glanced automatically at his own image as if it could give him the answers he sought. The instant his eyes met his reflection's, the floor beneath his feet gave an almighty lurch, and he yelled as he was pitched forward through the glass, landing heavily on all fours on the other side.

"Tobias!" cried Tahn. He could hear her now. She helped him to his feet, and he looked at her. There seemed to be something slightly off about her appearance, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was. He made to brush his clothes free of dust (even though there wasn't any), then froze, noticing that the buttons on his waistcoat were on the wrong side. He reached into his right pocket, only to find it empty. The list of book titles he'd made for himself was now in his left pocket, and the writing was all backwards. His pulse quickened. Growing more alarmed by the second, he put a hand to the right side of his chest and felt his heart beating there instead of on the left. He turned slowly to look out through the mirror into Tahn's bathroom. How were they going to get out?

Buffy didn't know how long she'd been walking, but she'd be happy to continue on for quite some time before finding Boone, because finding him would bring her that much closer to achieving her purpose in coming here, and once she did that, she'd have to leave. She didn't want to leave.

She'd seen a few dozen more fairies flying here and there as she walked, giggling and talking into each other's ears and staring at her with bright curiosity. They all looked like children, and she wondered where the adult fairies were, or if there even were any. Didn't they have parents?

The trees around her now were much taller and thicker than the ones surrounding the entrance to the Wood. It reminded her of the dream she'd had while at the hospital, when the tiger guide and Dana had found her. Of course, this forest was much more idyllic than that one had been, but the scale of things was the same. Maybe this was why she'd had that dream.

"Well this is interesting," said Giles.

"What?" said Angel.

"There's a whole section in here on the Faerie Wood. It begins with a quatrain:

If, in age, the Faerie Wood you find, beware,

For only children may go there.

But if a child you remain, then enter, friend,

And fairy's joy shall know no end."

"Only children may go there," Angel repeated. "But I thought anyone could, just that only children can see the way in."

"Poetic license, I imagine," said Giles.

Angel made an indistinct noise in his throat and kept reading his own book. It was nice to have something to read that was written in his native tongue for a change. Doyle hadn't known enough Irish to carry a conversation in it, so this was Angel's first real exposure to it in a very long time.

He stopped, his brow furrowing, and reread the last paragraph. Then he stood up, his eyes wide.

"What is it?" said Giles.

"Buffy shouldn't have gone in."

"Why not?"

Angel didn't want to stand here and explain, he wanted to find Willow and make her take him to the Wood immediately, but his stomach was already roiling in protest just from standing up, so he sat down while it settled. "The sídhe—fairies, they keep you if you stay in their realm too long. Most people would be able to get out, but anyone who has something they're trying to escape in the real world falls under the spell more easily. This was written by someone who had to drag his brother back out."

Giles looked alarmed. "You think she'll want to stay because of what happened to the baby." It wasn't a question, and Angel only looked at him gravely in reply.

Buffy knew she'd come here for a reason. There was something important she needed to find out, but she was having trouble remembering what it was. She was still following the growing frollick of fairies (there were at least a hundred of them now) between taller and taller trees. She could see a kind of meadow not far ahead now, and when she looked around, she saw other fairies flying towards it from different angles. Perhaps that was their destination.

She walked faster, trying to see what was in the meadow. For a second, she thought it looked like a huge black stag, but too many fairies were now flying around it for her to make it out, pouring into the meadow from all sides, joining hands in a kind of mid-air line dance. When she stepped past the last tree, into the clearing itself, the fairies suddenly flew skyward with a chorus of laughter, exposing what stood in their midst to view.

Buffy gasped. She thought her heart might have stopped. If it really had been a stag, it wasn't now. It was a boy, no older than seven. He had spiky dark hair and large chocolate-brown eyes. He looked exactly how she had pictured her son looking when he reached that age.


I know, that was mean. This wasn't originally meant to be a two-parter, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much would be in it, and it just couldn't fit all in one episode. Hence the nasty multi-pronged cliffhanger. Anyway, the Faerie Wood is something I borrowed from my original fiction, but I've tweaked it a bit. I know there's already a character named Boone in the Buffyverse (that blue demon guy Angel fought in "Blood Money"), but I had already created my Boone long before I first saw that episode, and he wasn't willing to change names to accommodate the Buffyverse. Oh well. Also, I was rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender the other day and realized that I probably got the whole "ask a being old enough to remember" thing from the Book One finale. This version of Boone isn't *quite* as creepy as Koh, but he comes close. Moving on, I don't know how many of you picked up on the fact that Nyx was actually flirting with Spike last episode when she kept messing with him (she has issues), but this episode pretty much clears that up. And we have lots of sick people. Fun. I mostly did that because this was pretty much the worst possible time for Angel to be ill. Oh, and I'm inserting my headcanon that Angel knows Irish into this fic. So there. (Though I guess I already did that in episode five when I had memory-loss-Angel swear at Xander in Irish. Whatever.) Also, I wrote that Faerie Wood poem way back when I was in high school, for a calligraphy project, and those first three fairies Buffy saw are the ones I painted on the poster, fluttering around the words.

P.S. I watched "The Freshman" again about two days after I saw The Avengers (which is awesome beyond words), and at the part when Xander says "Avengers assemble!", I totally freaked out.