The lock was strong, built to last. An ordinary burglar would never be able to get past it without explosives.
But she no ordinary burglar.
She closed her tiny hand around the vault's handpiece and levered it upward, the mechanism cracking and finally shattering under the unrelenting pressure.
It only took a few moments to stuff her bags with cash. This would be enough for now; if they needed more later, there were plenty more banks in town, her lover had pointed out. And what they were going to do required money.
Later, they wouldn't need any money at all, he'd told her, because their word would be law.
It was wrong. Somewhere deep inside her, she knew it was wrong. He was wrong. He was evil.
And it thrilled her.
Alex was sure—completely sure—that he'd been friends with Willow before they'd lost their memories. Okay, there was the whole jacket thing, but it was more than that. They had a familiarity that could only come with knowing each other for years.
And sometimes that involved an inappropriate busting of his chops.
"Why haven't you got a date tonight? Aren't there any single demons in town?"
"Watch it, missy," he warned. "I could be somewhere with a beautiful woman right now, being sacrificed to a disgusting demon."
"And you gave it up to buy me a frappachino!"
"Anything for my best ex."
"Tara's going to be sorry she miss—"
"Hey, is that Joan?" Alex interrupted, pointing.
Willow turned to look and squinted at the figure darting along the shadows, a couple of laundry bags draped over the shoulder. "I don't know," she said dubiously. "She's about her size, but Joan's not much of a skulker. Besides, there's a washing machine in her basement, remember?"
"Yeah, but—" Alex broke off as the girl jumped over a six-foot fence with no appreciable effort.
"I, uh, guess it's Joan," Willow admitted sheepishly.
Alex hesitated for a moment, then ran to the fence and grabbed the top, hoisting himself up enough to see Joan outrunning the German shepherd in the yard. "Joan! Joan! What are you—" he broke off as she vaulted over another fence and out of sight without glancing back at him.
"What's going on? What do you see?" demanded Willow, hopping up and down in a vain attempt to peer over the fence.
Alex's voice was grim. "I think we'd better find Randy."
Alex didn't bother to knock, just threw open the door and rushed into the living room. "Where's Randy?" he barked.
Dawn jumped and put her hand over the phone's receiver. "Excuse you," she said, affronted. "Like I come to your house and—"
"Dawnie, it's important," said Willow from behind him.
Dawn hesitated for a moment before giving in. Like she wouldn't have anyway. "He's in his room," she sulked.
Willow cast her a grateful look at Alex raced up the stairs without a word. He'd been tense all the way back about Joan's strange behavior.
She was halfway up the stairs when the yelling began.
"What is wrong with you?" she could hear Randy shout. Apparently he wasn't taking it well, so she hurried up to help smooth things over.
When she got to the doorway she wasn't sure how much smoothing would accomplish, since Randy was pulling on his pants and Joan was knotting a robe.
"I'm sorry, I'm—geez! How was I supposed to know?! Why are you two having sex every time I come in?"
"Why do you come in every time we have sex?"
"It was an accident!"
"If it keeps happening I'm going to think you're in love with one of us, and it better not be me!"
"I'm not in love with either of you! It's important, okay?"
"Is someone in danger?" Joan asked loudly, hoping to stem the idiot boyness running rampant.
Alex hesitated "Well…"
"Is it a demon? Is it slimy? Were you on a date with it?"
"Well, what was it?"
It was Willow who answered.
"It was you."
The sunlight glinted off her blond hair, and he smiled in satisfaction. She was perfect. Gleaming and strong, beautiful and malleable. Invincible. She was a masterpiece, the work of a genius. She was made to do his bidding.
And together, they would squeeze Sunnydale until its juices ran down their throats.
The bank had just been the beginning. The town would tremble at their approach—but nobody could suspect the awesome power he wield—
"That'll shave your ginger and teach it to bark!"
Warren swung to his girlfriend, frowning in annoyance. "Babe! How many times have I told you not to interrupt me?"
"You weren't talking," she pointed out.
"…And what does 'shave your ginger' mean anyway?"
"It's funny. I'm supposed to work on my puns. Someone told me to."
"Someone? Someone who? You're not supposed to have talked to anyone! Did you leave the basement?" Sometimes he wondered whether she was the absolute best robot he could build, because sometimes she seemed a little dense. But he was stuck with her—he'd found her in a box in his basement in a couple of very messed-up pieces, along with schematics for reassembling her. He'd searched the whole place from top to bottom, but still hadn't found the complete schematics for the design, so it was her or nothing. On the upside, she did smell like vanilla.
"Only for the bank," she said reassured him. He was angry for some reason. Maybe her makeup was smeared?
Mention of the bank soothed him. "Yeah, the bank. You did good, babe. The first step is major, sets the scene for the entire plan. And it is going to go off without a hitch.
"Then Sunnydale will be ours."
Tara slipped into the Magic Box and hurried to the back table where Joan and Dawn were poring over some thick books. Maybe Joan was helping with her sister's homework, or they were researching cloning technology.
Joan pointed to something in one of the books. "Eww! This one has six hands and fins!"
Okay, maybe there was no studying going on. Tara nervously cleared her throat to get their attention, then immediately felt conspicuous when they turned to look at her. But they had to know, because it was important. And scary. "He called again."
"The religious nut—the one who—"
"The one who thinks he's an angel?"
Tara shuddered and nodded. It was the third time she'd answered the phone to hear a deep angry voice insisting the caller was an angel. She wasn't religious—at least, she didn't think she was—but the thought of an angry angel frightened her deeply.
"Okay, this is nuts!" protested Dawn. "Let's just change the number before Freaky McFreakerson decides to put us on speed dial."
Anya shrieked and actually came out from behind the cash register, horrified by the idea. "Changing your phone number is a terrible idea—it'll confuse all your customers and your business with suffer."
"What customers?" asked Joan.
"What business?" added Dawn.
"And you really shouldn't listen to adolescents—they're irrational by nature. I would suggest waiting for ten to twelve years and then seeing if her advice has improved."
"Excellent advice, my dear," praised Rupert just a little tightly from where he was examining the bookshelves. "But perhaps not applicable in this situation."
"Fine, take her side," sniffed Anya.
"Side? There are sides?" Tara asked.
Joan stood and assumed her most inspiring stance. "Look, I think we've got bigger things to worry about than imaginary customers. Someone's trying to steal my identity or create a clone army or something, and that psycho's been calling again."
Rupert frowned. "Could they perhaps be linked?"
Everyone was silent for a long moment, contemplating the possibilities.
"I guess that's a yes," Joan murmured. "It'll be dark soon. Randy and I will go out and see what we can dig up."
"So we're just going to walk randomly around town and hope we find her? Whose brilliant plan was that? Dad's?"
"It's a great plan, Joan," he assured her sincerely.
"I've planned snuggle breaks."
She reached out to catch his fingers. "Well, we have to fill the time somehow. It's not like we're just going to find her walking down the—"
"Hello! Do you know where I can find a laboratory?"
Joan and Randy turned to see…Joan.
Her eyes widened as she looked at them. "Spike!"
Randy started. If there were spikes flying around, he needed to watch himself. Not much could kill him, but spikes were a sure way to die.
Joan moved in front of Randy protectively, trying to figure out where the threat was coming from. And it seemed to be…from nowhere. "What spikes? There are no spikes," she said in annoyance. "Was that some kind of threat? Are you threatening Randy?"
"I don't think so. When I saw him, I thought Spike."
"What did you think when you saw me?" Joan asked crankily.
"That you look like me."
"That I should I show you how to do your hair."
Randy let out a low whistle and backed away to a safe distance.
"...What?" said Joan, her voice deadly.
"Say, do you know where I can find some uranium?"
Randy looked at her suspiciously. "What do you want with uranium?"
"My boyfriend wants it."
Joan leapt in. "Your boyfriend! Has he been—"
In the distance a woman screamed, terror in her voice. Joan straightened, her superhero instincts prickling. "—calling me," she finished in frustration, turning to race to the woman's aid.
"Tell him to stop calling. And if you've got any evil plans, drop them," Randy said hurriedly before running after Joan.
She looked after them plaintively. "What about the uranium?"
Warren was pacing when she got back. "Where have you been? You were supposed to be back with the uranium 15 minutes ago!"
"I'm sorry, Warren—I ran into me, and we had such a nice talk."
He looked at her skeptically. "You ran into you. Did you look in the mirror again?"
"Maybe. Are you sure we should be following your evil plan?"
"Sure? Of course I'm sure!"
"But I couldn't find any uranium, and when I asked people they looked at me funny."
"Okay, okay, I'll get you and address and a map, and you can get it tomorrow night. And don't mess it up this time!"
He was so busy talking he didn't notice her frown.
"I can't believe we found her and lost her. We suck," complained Joan, walking through the darkened magic shop.
"It was just bad luck, darling," Randy consoled her. "We'll find her tonight."
"We better. Just let me get my axe first."
"Axe? What do you need an axe for?"
"Just in case."
"Just in case what? What are you going to do? Decapitate her? Cut off her limbs?"
"What are you going to do? Make sex eyes at her some more?"
"I did not make sex eyes at her. I don't even have sex eyes!"
Joan felt a warm fuzzy growing inside her. Randy really believed he didn't have sex eyes. "Yes, you do. You just don't know you do it."
"Am I doing it now?" he asked.
"You're always doing it," she whispered, leaning in for a kiss. "…Just let me get my axe. The sooner we go out the sooner we can get back and have a little alone time."
"Let's go, then," he agreed with a twinkle, opening the door to the weapons room.
Anya and Alex broke apart with a guilty look.
"What the devil's going on here?" Randy demanded in surprise.
Anya shrieked and fled. Alex searched for something very important to say, but only came up with, "It's not what it looks like."
"Yeah? It looks like my poor old dad will be tossing that gold digger and we won't have to listen to her endless awkward ramblings anymore," Randy said gleefully. "Now he can get an age-appropriate girlfriend, or better yet, compose sonnets to Mother's memory. It's the least she deserves."
"She's not a gold digger!" protested Alex. "She's very attached to your much older father she just happens to own a business with."
"She was just very attached to your mouth."
"Say, have you found Joan's clone yet, or are you just going to concentrate on being the kissing police?"
Joan winced. "Kissing police? That's kind of weak."
Alex looked resentful. "I was surprised, okay? I prefer a little time to work on my witty retorts."
"I don't think time would have helped," Randy taunted, grabbing an axe in one hand and Joan's arm in the other and tugging her out. "My god! This is the best night ever!"
"Don't curse us," Joan chided. "We still have a lot to do."
Randy laughed. "Don't worry, baby. I have the feeling everything's going to turn out great."
Her step was resolute. She would get the uranium for Warren, even if it was wrong. Even if he was calling that girl. Even if—
Suddenly something clicked in her brain. "Buffy! Yes, I'm Buffy. And I fight evil, because I'm the Slayer—and that's what I do! I kill vampires!" She turned to see a tall, dark, handsome man climbing out of a car.
He looked a little nervous. "Well—"
"Except one vampire. I love him with all my heart."
Angel felt his cheeks flush, which seemed impossible. But he was sick of fighting. If he felt like he was blushing, he was blushing.
If he felt like he had to see Buffy, he had to see her.
"I've been calling and calling. Have you been avoiding me?"
"No, I'd never do that. Your hair sticks straight up."
She knew him, she could feel it—somewhere deep in her subconscious…. "Nobody told me you called. I would have talked to you if they had."
Angel ground his teeth. That probably had been Xander's idea. Or Giles's. Or Spike's. Once he had called and Spike had answered, and that damned brat had the nerve to hang up on him. "God, I just wish you were in L.A. It's so frustrating, not being able to know you're all right. And you wouldn't believe the things we're dealing with—sometimes I don't even know who I am anymore."
"Okay, I'll go to L.A."
"You will?" Angel blurted. "What about Spike?"
"Spike has a girlfriend. She's very pretty."
"What about Dawn?"
"God, Buffy, I'm sorry—is she living with your father?"
He was calling her Buffy, her name. Warren had never called her by her name. Of course, she didn't even remember her name until this tall handsome man said it. And Warren was calling other girls. In fact, she wondered if he only loved her for her bank-robbing and uranium-obtaining skills. And her sexual subroutines. "Let's go, Angle. And we'll never come back!"
"That's wonderful, that's—wait, did you call me Angle?"
Happiness lit up his whole face, even his forehead. "Let's go," he agreed warmly.
As they clambered into the car and drove off they didn't see the couple standing up from behind a bush. "Did you hear that! It was the religious wacko after all," Joan marveled.
"I guess Dad was right," Randy admitted. It was nice to see the old man could still pull it off now and then.
"I just wish we found out what they wanted."
"Yeah, would have been nice to find them sooner. But you heard the girl—they're never coming back. Problem solved."
"We are pretty wonderful," she agreed.
"So what's next?"
"Well, I have put a lot of thought into it."