Okay, I wasn't going to start this fic until after I'd at least finished "Worlds Apart", since the last thing I need is a *third* gigantic story to divide my free time over, but my slave driver of a muse had other ideas. There I was, trying to write the next episode of "Season 9", when she popped up and started poking me with ideas for this one. She will be dealt with, I assure you.

Anyway, now that my highly dysfunctional relationship with my muse has been sufficiently addressed, about the story behind the story. It was originally going to be a co-authored project with Blooming Violets, but that was months ago when she had time to work on it with me. So, even though I'm going on without her, it seems only fitting to dedicate it to her, since the premise was her idea and half of the brainstorming/outlining came from her.

Now an introduction to the story itself. It's pretty much what the summary said it is. Buffy is the vampire, while Angel (not his given name, incidentally-that would be Liam, just like in canon) is the Slayer. If you're in this for the romance, I think it only fair to warn you that it's going to be a long time coming. A long time. (Even longer, since this story gets a much lower priority than "Season 9" and "Worlds Apart" and I do not plan to update it until the latter of those two is complete.)

Disclaimer: The characters still belong to Joss. Last time I checked, I'm not him.

Oh, and Tahn, the imaginary Jewel Staite character from "Season 9" is also in this chapter.


April 1753

The rosy tinge on her cheeks and dancing sparkle in her green eyes attested to how much Elizabeth had enjoyed the ball, and her escort (and fiancé), whose father had hosted the event in his manor, was quick to notice these signs and take credit for them. As the many guests made their way out, eventually they were among the only ones left. On a whim, as the weather was so clear and the stars were out in full force, Elizabeth decided she would rather walk the mile back to her father's estate than take the carriage, and Parker gallantly offered to accompany her. Her friends would never have dreamed of doing such a preposterous thing as walking home, but she was rather more adventurous than most of them.

As they passed through the high gates, Elizabeth looked adoringly up at her fiancé and thought herself the luckiest woman in England. Beside her walked the twenty-four-year-old eldest son of Lord Edmund Abrams, one of the wealthier nobles of the area—much wealthier than her father, Lord Henry Somers, at any rate. Parker would inherit both estate and title when his father died, and as his wife, Elizabeth would never want for anything. He was handsome, smiled easily, and paid attention to her even when she let herself get carried away, for the wild imagination of her childhood had yet to be tamed, though she was now eighteen. She could not tell if Parker loved her, but her own affections convinced her that if he did not now, he would come to in time.

They walked in companionable silence for some minutes, Elizabeth letting Parker focus on their path as she cast her gaze heavenward instead. The stars were truly glorious this cloudless night. She fancied that they winked cheerily with hidden promise, and she smiled back at them. A slight chill breeze made her shiver, and she moved closer to Parker, coiling her arm a little more snugly around his.

[o]

The duet of their beating hearts was a siren song, the smell of their warm, living blood intoxicating to the old vampire who watched his prey draw nearer. All they needed was a little fear, and his feast would be perfect. Six centuries of this on a nightly basis was starting to leave him with a craving for grander evils, but there was just something about the simple beauty of the hunt that never dulled over time. And, after all, the demon whose body had once belonged to one Heinrich Joseph Nest, but had long since been known simply as the Master, still had an eternity ahead of him, and that was plenty of time to wreak whatever havoc on the world he saw fit.

"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself this evening," said the young man. His voice was louder than the heartbeats, and the Master's eye twitched irritably at the interruption of their symphony.

"It was a wonderful ball," the girl replied warmly.

"Then there shall be many more like it," the man—well, boy, really—promised.

"Ah, young love," the Master remarked. As they were only twenty paces away by now, they heard him and paused. He moved towards them out of the shadows of the trees and into the light of a nearly full moon. The girl's smile faltered and both heartbeats quickened, causing a corner of the vampire's mouth to quirk up. Not fear yet; only uncertainty. It was too dark for them to see how the demon was beginning to permanently overcome his human appearance. They could not see how his eyes were soulless; their irises the deep, golden yellow of a predator, nor how his teeth were far too sharp to be human.

[o]

Elizabeth frowned at the shadowed figure before them on the road. Who could he be, to be traveling this road alone, at this hour? A robber, perhaps? The idea frightened her a little, until she reminded herself that even if that were the case, the only things of value they carried at present were her jewelry and Parker's gold pocket watch.

"Good evening, sir," said Parker pleasantly. In response, the man laughed. For some reason, the sound caused goose bumps to rise all over Elizabeth's arms. The way he kept moving nearer, almost as if he were prowling towards them, did nothing to help this.

"Oh, yes, it's about to be. Well, for me, that is," he said lightly.

"But we shall be less fortunate?" asked Parker, an edge of sarcastic incredulity marring his polite tone.

"I should imagine so," said the man dryly. "Unless you take this for the face of good fortune." A split-second later, Elizabeth's voice joined her fiancé's in a scream of terror. By the silver light of the moon, they had seen the face of the man—no, surely he was not one—transform. His eyes were now unmistakably blood red in color, and his forehead and nose had creased, becoming bestial and ugly. At their cries, he grinned, revealing a row of wickedly pointed fangs.

Before Elizabeth had even spent a lungful of breath on her scream, she felt Parker tear his arm from her tightened grasp. Still yelling, he fled back up the road in the direction of his family's manor, leaving her at the mercy of this demon. It was strange, but in that moment, her fear was forgotten—erased by the sting of Parker's abandonment, of his cowardly betrayal. The perfect image she had created of the man who was to be her husband shattered into a thousand pieces, and all she could feel was pain from where its jagged splinters had pierced her heart.

"And so, Chivalry dies," the Master observed, sounding both amused and disappointed. "Pity. I'd hardly even consider you a meal. But you'll do, for now." Elizabeth's small hands balled themselves into fists. Her fear had still not returned. When the demon came at her with a low growl, fangs bared, she lashed out; punching and kicking every bit of him she could reach.

Though her efforts amounted to little more than a mild hindrance to the Master, they did give him pause. It had been decades since any victim had fought back, and it had certainly never been attempted by such a dainty slip of a girl as this one.

"You're feisty for a nobleman's daughter," he said with a chuckle as angry tears poured from Elizabeth's eyes and her fists continued to drum against his chest. "I think I'll keep you."

"Unhand me, demon! I'm no one's to be kept," she managed in between blows. She could barely feel her fists after so many impacts with his cold, very solid chest, but she continued raining down blows all the same, because her legs didn't seem to be paying attention to her growing desire to run.

"You will be," he replied, looking her directly in the eyes. A chill that had nothing to do with the cool night air swept through her. Faster than blinking, he had caught both of her wrists in one marble-white hand. She writhed desperately against his grip, but she could not break free. What was more, her fear had returned, and it had brought reinforcements. Why couldn't this be a nightmare? Her waking world was supposed to be balls and books and parties and etiquette, with her wedding only a month off—not this. She thought of her father, mother, and sister. Dawn, oh, little Dawnie…and they had fought that afternoon before she left for the ball. She thought of her friends, her home, Parker…no, only betrayal and hurt lay down that mental path now.

All of these thoughts were obliterated then from Elizabeth's mind by the pain suddenly piercing the side of her neck as the Master sank his fangs beneath her skin and began to drain her blood. Her strength to resist waned to nonexistence, and she would have fallen to the ground had it not been for his death hold on her. She couldn't see or hear; murky shapes and indistinct sounds were blocking her senses. So much as forming thought became a struggle as her world grew steadily colder and darker. She couldn't even feel pain anymore, though she wasn't sure she had a body with which to feel it anyway.

Elizabeth neither knew, understood, nor cared why, but she became aware of something being pressed against her mouth, and then a liquid passing her lips. It was the only thing any of her senses were responding to anymore, the only thing holding her from the empty black void trying to drown her. She swallowed hungrily again and again; too busy drinking at first to realize that something was very, very wrong. But by the time she did and stopped, it was too late. The black void surrounding her had materialized into a monstrous creature, more horrible even than the demon that had attacked her. The longer she looked at it in terror, the more it came to resemble her. Meanwhile, a deafening silence fell as the sound that had always been present but which she had often taken for granted stopped. Her heart had ceased to beat. The last thing she saw in the wake of the horrid silence was the fanged leer of the thing that had stolen her face, and then everything went black.

[o]

When their eldest daughter did not return from the ball, Lord and Lady Somers naturally assumed that she had been too weary to come home, for it wouldn't have been the first time. As they had previously done on such occasions, an hour after sunrise, the carriage was sent to Lord Abrams' estate to collect her. The coachmen were very fond of Elizabeth, for she was always polite and did not think it beneath her to converse with them. When they found her crumpled, lifeless form lying on the side of the road halfway between the two manors, therefore, they were quite devastated, but dutifully brought her back to the Somers estate, unable to leave her lying there as if she had been discarded.

At the sight of her daughter's body, Lady Joyce Somers collapsed into hysterical sobs that did not stop until her voice was ragged and hoarse. Elizabeth's twelve-year-old sister, Dawn, on the other hand, retreated to her chambers and would not speak to anyone. Lord Somers managed to keep a level head, if only for the sake of his wife and youngest daughter. He ordered an investigation on his Lizzie's murder, and a quiet funeral was held in the afternoon. Apart from the Abrams family, only a handful of other close friends were present.

Dawn looked up from the spot where her sister had been buried to see through her tears that Parker seemed curiously uncomfortable in his mourning, and she suddenly found herself blaming him for the death of her sister. He was her fiancé. He was supposed to protect and provide for her, but now he was here while she was in the ground. Dawn lingered at the grave after her parents and smotheringly consoling friends had gone, wanting to be alone with her sister.

"I'm sorry for what I said yesterday," she said in a quiet, cracked voice. "You're a wonderful sister. And friend. I love you, and I miss you. I promise I'll be strong for Mother and Father. Goodbye, Lizzie." She bent down and ran a hand gently over the dark, damp earth of the grave before quietly walking back to the manor, her cheeks streaked with tears but her head held bravely high.

[o]

June 1992

"Why isn't Dad 'ere yet?" Liam asked his mother with a slight pout.

Julia Gallagher looked down at her eleven-year-old son and smiled. The boy absolutely idolized his father and loved spending time with him, but Brian did have a rather demanding job. He could normally get away from work in time for their weekly family outing, but his boss, Seamus Roarke, had been less accommodating than usual this week. And so it was that Julia found herself shepherding her three children to their usual picnic spot overlooking Galway Bay that evening without her husband.

Kathy and the twins, Faith and Liam, had all gotten their dark hair and eyes from Julia, but Faith was the only one who resembled her beyond that. She was her mother in miniature, right down to the Boston accent that Julia hadn't lost even after living in Ireland for thirteen years. Liam and Kathy, on the other hand, had both inherited their father's features, if not his red hair and gray eyes. Despite being surrounded by four brunettes, Brian often joked that he wouldn't be the only ginger in the family forever.

Faith, the elder twin by thirteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds, was a wild and endlessly energetic child. As much as she and Liam fought, they were nearly inseparable. Liam often followed her lead, which tended to result in mischief and broken family heirlooms, but while she was like a firecracker on legs, he was slightly more subdued. As an exceptionally bright and inquisitive boy, he sometimes preferred reading or drawing to going exploring with Faith and their best friend, Allen. Kathy, the youngest by six years and two months, was shy and sweet. She always clung tightly to either her big brother or her mother and was terrified of starting primary school when the summer ended, because neither of them would be able to come with her.

The family, minus Brian, arrived a little later than they normally did at their destination on the coast. Liam and Faith had gotten into one of their frequent fights, and it had taken Julia a while to get them settled down again, only for the five-year-old Kathy to start crying because one of her favorite toys had been damaged during their tussle.

"Yeah, when's Dad coming?" asked Faith, also pouting.

"I don't know, sweetheart," Julia sighed. "He had to work late." Hopefully this new pattern of later hours at work was a sign that Brian was going to get his long-awaited promotion, but Julia wasn't sure she wanted her husband to be promoted if it meant he would have to keep cutting back on family time. He had already long since fulfilled the promise he made to her when they were dating and she was still a poor study abroad student from Massachusetts. They had a beautiful home that they had recently succeeded in completely paying off, they were debt-free, and they would be able to support their children through college. There was nothing else Julia wanted.

Faith recovered from the disappointment of her dad's absence almost immediately and ran off to the water's edge to look for shells. Kathy followed her happily, but Liam stayed where he was, feeling thoroughly grumpy. Every week, he looked forward to playing tag and rugby with his dad, and now, because of stupid work, he wouldn't get to tonight. He felt his mom ruffle his thick, spiky hair affectionately and scowled.

"Your dad will make it up to you, honey," she said. "I promise."

"'E promised 'e'd never miss family night," said Liam indignantly, squirming out of her reach. "'Ow's 'e goin' to make up fer it?"

"He will," she repeated, her tone ominous. "Or else." She smiled again. "Now, go play with your sisters."

"Okay," he said, and grudgingly got up and ran to join Faith and Kathy.

In spite of Liam's determination to have a miserable time without his dad there, he had a lot of fun on the beach with his sisters. They hunted for shells and interestingly shaped rocks, pretending that they were pirates searching for treasure. Not long after sunset, they heard their mom calling them back for dinner.

"Race you!" said Faith, but she had already started to sprint back, sending up grainy clouds of sand in her wake. Liam was determined to beat her, but he hadn't gone far when Kathy called out to him.

"Liam, wait fer me!" she cried, panting with the effort to keep up with her siblings. Reluctantly, Liam stopped and let Kathy catch up.

"Come on," he said. "I'll give ye a piggy-back ride." He bent down so that she could clamber up onto his back. Once she was securely in place with her legs wrapped around his waist and her arms around his neck, he continued toward the picnic site, which Faith had already reached.

"Who's that?" asked Kathy suddenly, her grip tightening slightly with one arm as she pointed with the other. Liam squinted through the gathering darkness and saw two people heading towards their destination, a man and a woman. They were moving very quickly. Too quickly. Liam stopped to watch, starting to feel uneasy. Kathy's grip continued to tighten to the point that it was almost painful. No sooner had the strangers reached the place where their mother and sister were than two screams cut the air like a knife.

[o]

Brian Patrick Gallagher did get the promotion, but the long-overdue advancement was hollow and meaningless to him. All he could think was that if only he hadn't been at the office so late that night, he would have been with his family where he was supposed to be, and then he would have been able to protect them. But he hadn't been there. He had been at work, where his promotion was followed fifteen minutes later by the news that the brutally mauled bodies of his wife and eldest daughter had been discovered at the beach, and that he would need to go to the police station to answer questions and retrieve his son and daughter.

Almost immediately after the funeral, Brian chose to accept the optional transfer that came with the promotion. Ireland reminded him too much of his beautiful Julia and the happy times they had shared there with their children. And so, before the month was out, he, Liam, and Kathy found themselves five thousand miles from the country they'd spent their entire lives, living in Los Angeles, California.

Brian was too consumed by his grief and his guilt to realize what this transition was doing to his children. He didn't know that Liam blamed himself just as much as he did, or that he had stopped laughing and smiling. He didn't know that Kathy had nightmares and barely spoke for months. When school started, he didn't know that Liam was picked on for his accent, or that he was getting into fights as a result. He didn't know that neither Liam nor Kathy made any new friends in school, or that Kathy slept in Liam's room every night.

Their family was broken, and none of them knew how to put the remaining pieces back together.

[o]

October 1996

Perched atop a two-story building like a statue, her posture relaxed and meditative, was a petite blonde woman. The very same petite blonde woman, in fact, who in a different time and place had fought for her life against a far stronger opponent. But Elizabeth Somers was long dead, and the woman simply went by Buffy now. Not that she knew many people well enough for it to matter what she went by.

How long she had been crouching on that roof was anyone's guess, and as the minutes dragged on, she remained perfectly motionless. A terrified scream shattered the peaceful stillness of the night, and her eyes opened. She waited. Another moment passed in a silence broken only by the distant sounds of traffic, before the scream came again. By the time the second cry had died on the air, Buffy had gone from the roof to the sidewalk next to the building. She hesitated, not sure she was really going to do this, but with the third scream, she made up her mind. Pausing only to reach up and rip a short branch from one of the manicured urban landscaping trees, she set off at a sprint towards the alley that was the source of the screams.

[o]

Her own petrified screams ringing in her ears as she ran for her life, Winifred "Fred" Burkle found herself wondering what exactly she had done to land herself in this situation. She had walked home this way from every single shift at the ER for the past three years, and the only thing she'd ever had to contend with had been a bad-tempered poodle owned by the old lady who lived next door. What she wouldn't give for ten of those stupid dogs to be chasing her now instead of the nightmarish reality.

Before she realized where her feet had taken her, she had run out of back alley, and was very abruptly impeded by a solid brick wall. With nowhere else to go, Fred turned to face her inhuman pursuer, and yet another scream tore from her throat. She didn't have time to do anything else before his hands had slammed her shoulders painfully against the wall and his razor sharp fangs were headed straight for her carotid artery. There had to be something wrong with her. Why would anyone be thinking in medical jargon at a time like this?

Buffy could smell the rich, metallic scent of blood hit the air just as Fred's screams changed from terrified to agonized. She could see them now, and the sight lent her a burst of adrenaline as she rushed toward them. Without a second thought, she barreled into the vampire, knocking him away from Fred, who let out something between a gasp and a sob, her hand immediately moving to press tightly against the profusely bleeding wound. She opened her eyes to try and find out how she wasn't dead, while instinctively moving in the opposite direction of her attacker.

Her eyes widened when they landed on the small blonde woman who was standing over the clearly inhuman man and leaning down to seize him by the front of his shirt. She watched in astonishment as this woman, who was at least half a head shorter than her and almost as thin, picked up her much larger attacker with ease and tossed him against the brick wall. Attempting to get back to her feet, but feeling rather sluggish and uncoordinated from blood loss, Fred fell back to the ground and continued to watch as the man stood and dove after her rescuer.

Assuming her long-practiced defensive stance, Buffy avoided his punch and ducked down, slamming her own fist into his stomach before standing and driving her knee hard into the same spot, then stepped back and kicked him hard in the chest, sending him crashing into a dumpster. It seemed that she had underestimated the young vampire though, for in spite of her attacks, he recovered rather quickly and aimed another punch at her. This time she didn't dodge quickly enough, and his fist connected with her face. Instead of letting her fall back, he grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her against the wall.

Buffy couldn't help the low growl that escaped her throat as she pulled herself up, only to find that her opponent had taken advantage of her temporary incapacitation to go after the woman again. Fred stared up at him and let out a squeak of fright as he drew closer, but it seemed that all of her efforts were going into not passing out. Why, thought Buffy irritably, hadn't she run away while they were fighting? Had common sense been sucked out along with blood?

"Hey!" she snarled, "We weren't finished." Her mounting irritation, combined with the scent of blood now heavy on the air, caused her face to change as she stalked towards them once again. The vampire paused before he reached Fred and turned. He barely caught a glimpse of a pair of gleaming yellow eyes before he was once again being thrown to the grimy pavement. Her back to Fred, Buffy went after him, pulling the makeshift stake from her back pocket. He stood up and stared at her, and, with a loud hiss, she waited for him to make a move.

"What are you doing?" he asked incredulously, the words distorted slightly as he spoke around elongated fangs. "Why are you fighting me? If you wanted me to share the meal, all you had to do was ask! Come! We can feast together!"

Buffy only rolled her eyes and shook her head, not dropping her guard. "I don't think so."

The vampire didn't have a chance to respond before she closed in. Her fist flew so quickly and unexpectedly that he had no chance to block or avoid it. A loud crack echoed down the alley and Buffy watched as he fell back, a loud, painful howl falling from his lips as he cradled his broken jaw, his eyes watering. Before he could push past the pain, Buffy rammed the jagged end of the tree branch into his chest, then ripped it back out. His eyes snapped open in shock as he looked down at what she had done. The string of curses flowing from his mouth was abruptly cut off when he disintegrated into a cloud of dust.

Fred watched blankly as Buffy brushed a considerable amount of this dust off her clothes. Having gotten as much of it off as she could, Buffy turned. She felt an unmistakable twinge of guilt as she looked Fred's frightened and horrified expression. It was one she was very familiar with. She sighed. "Are you okay?" she asked. Stepping closer, she swept a critical glance over Fred and came to a fairly obvious conclusion. "You've lost a lot of blood. You'll need to get to a hospital."

As she took another step towards her, extending a hand, the sound of Fred's heartbeat suddenly stepped up to its previously racing pace and reverberated maddeningly in Buffy's ears, and she began to scoot frantically away. "It's okay, I won't hurt you," Buffy assured her as gently as she could.

"Y-y-you're like him! A-a freak! A m-monster!" Fred shrieked in a slight Texan twang, fighting her dizziness to get back to her feet as quickly as she could. "Don't come any closer! Get away from me!"

Buffy took an automatic step backward as if she had been slapped. She remained motionless as Fred finally found her footing and backed unsteadily out of the alley. "Stay away from me!" she cried again, before running around the corner and disappearing from view, her purse swinging wildly on her arm and a hand still pressed tightly over her wound.

Buffy was, of course, used to reactions like this, but she still felt a small twinge of hurt as she watched her run away. A slight breeze stirred the scent of spilled blood, which was still thick upon the air and Buffy couldn't stop herself from inhaling slowly and deeply. Fresh. Warm. Delicious. She licked her lips. Shaking her head to clear it of the intoxicating scent, Buffy ran her tongue once over her pearly white fangs before forcing her face to change back to its human disguise. Letting out the unneeded breath in another sigh, she walked slowly out of the alley, where she turned and headed deliberately in the opposite direction of the fleeing woman.

[o]

At the age of fifteen, Liam was a pale, skinny boy whose Irish accent had almost completely vanished after nearly five years in the United States and whose hands and feet were slightly too large for his body—something he hoped was indicative of an impending growth spurt, like with little puppies that have big paws and then end up being enormous dogs. He was pale because he spent most of his free time in shadowy corners of the public library, his nose buried in a book, and he was skinny because he, like most boys his age, seemed to have a black hole for a stomach, so that no matter how much he ate, it had no effect whatsoever on his physique.

Despite his slightly awkward adolescent proportions and chronic bookworm tendencies, there was no denying that Liam looked cool; almost always dressed in black and wearing an expression that seemed to have frozen in the attitude of The Thinker—but he was still given a wide berth by most of his classmates. He didn't get in fights anymore, but the other students seemed to find him dangerous. Even seniors on the football team didn't pick on him like they did the other underclassmen. The teachers, on the other hand, absolutely adored the quiet, dark boy who sat in the back of their classrooms and whose brooding mask hid a brilliant and voracious mind.

[o]

The first Wednesday of the month began like any other day. Liam woke up to find Kathy curled up on the other side of his bed. Their father had already left for work when they came downstairs and ate Pop-Tarts for breakfast. Liam walked Kathy to school, hugged her goodbye, and made his way to Hemery. As usual, he arrived early and spent the time before class in the library. In class, he took careful notes in an easy, calligraphic script that his English teacher would have killed for, and, when the final bell sounded, he walked out and sat on the front steps of the school with his sketchbook open on his lap.

"Liam Gallagher?"

Liam looked up to find a short, pudgy, middle-aged man in a stuffy-looking suit standing over him, his expression gravely serious. "What?" he asked, not even attempting to sound polite. Who was this guy, and how did he know his name?

"I need to speak with you."

"You sure you're not looking for the guy from Oasis?" said Liam dully. He had already endured a fair amount of teasing for the name he shared with the famous British singer, and he was thoroughly sick of it. Why the man couldn't just go by his given name, William, he had no idea.

"There isn't much time," said the stuffy-suited man, ignoring Liam's comment. "You must come with me. Your destiny awaits."

"My destiny?" Liam repeated with a snort of skepticism.

"Yes. You are the Chosen One. You alone can stop them."

"Chosen One?" said Liam, putting his sketchbook back in his bag and getting to his feet, preparing to put some distance between himself and this nutcase. "Stop who?" he asked, almost in spite of himself.

"The vampires," said the man.

Liam's eyes widened, then narrowed. In his mind, he saw what had haunted him every day since that summer night years ago. Glinting yellow eyes, impossibly sharp teeth, his mother's and sister's blood…so much blood. He remembered the police telling him and Kathy that they were in shock, not thinking clearly; that it was impossible that horror story monsters were responsible for what had happened. Over the years, he had convinced himself that they were right. Vampires weren't real. But now, here this man was, telling him otherwise.

Though very wary of the middle-aged stranger—who later introduced himself as Merrick, his new "Watcher", whatever that meant—Liam ultimately agreed to meet him at a local cemetery around midnight. Before they parted, Merrick gave him a wickedly sharp wooden stake, which he told him he would need that night.

[o]

"Ah, there's my little blueberry muffin!" cried Lorne warmly, his arms spread wide in welcome. Though Buffy wouldn't quite consider the eccentric Pylean a friend, he came a great deal closer to it than anyone else had since she'd had a pulse. They were both outcasts, demons, generally rooting for the side of good, and each found the other fascinating. As a result, going to Caritas had become a nightly ritual for Buffy ever since it opened a few months before.

"Hey, Lorne," she said, allowing him to hug her, but, as usual, not reciprocating.

"Aw, sweetie, what's wrong?" he asked in his unnervingly perceptive way once he had released her from the hug.

"Nothing I can't handle," said Buffy evasively. "Need me behind the bar tonight?"

"No," he said. "Where I need you is in the spotlight. It's a crime to keep those gorgeous eighteenth century pipes of yours to yourself."

"Lorne."

"I know, I know," he sighed dramatically. "Party pooper. But come on, how often am I gonna have the chance to read a vampire with a soul?"

"Lorne."

"You don't exactly come a dime a dozen. You're cheating me out of the opportunity of a lifetime, here."

"Lorne."

"Oh, fine, go mix drinks, then. Stubborn mook."

Buffy ducked her head so he wouldn't see her smirking, then flitted around the bar to start taking orders. Every single time she had come to Caritas, Lorne attempted to guilt her into singing for him, but she refused. She wasn't interested in learning about her future, because she couldn't see how it would be any different from her present—unless it was worse, and if that were the case, then she was even less curious about it.

She spent a couple of hours mixing every type of drink imaginable, which she found ironic, given that she was technically still eighteen. A few of the singers were quite good. Others were dreadful. Finally, when Buffy was starting to think about going home, Tahn (a bubbly, lilac-skinned demon with slit-pupiled eyes, very sharp eyeteeth, and a long tail, who frequented the bar solely for its karaoke machine) stepped up to the mike. Tahn was by no means the best singer to test her mettle at Caritas, but she was still Buffy's favorite. It was impossible not to like her for her cheerful enthusiasm and dazzlingly bright smile. Buffy suspected that there may also have been something supernatural about the demon girl's voice, because the sound was like a tonic to her heavily burdened soul. Before she knew it, she was humming along, just in time for Lorne to drop by the bar for his hourly sea breeze.

"Ever considered swinging through the cemetery on your way back to that lonely little apartment of yours?" he asked casually.

"What, for the company?" Buffy snorted. "No."

"Well, you might wanna think about making that detour tonight," he said with a wink. "You never know what you could find."

"But you do, I take it," said Buffy, mentally kicking herself for getting so carried away with Tahn's singing.

"Of course," said Lorne sweetly, "but it wouldn't be any fun if I spoiled the surprise."

"Naturally," Buffy grumbled.

[o]

Despite her determination not to give Lorne the satisfaction of following his advice, Buffy's curiosity got the better of her, and she did indeed find herself veering into the cemetery on the way home that night. At the distant sound of heartbeats, she realized that there were humans there. Two of them. Wondering if they were what Lorne's vague hints had been about, she crept in the direction of the heartbeats with all the acquired stealth of two and a half centuries.

The first heartbeat belonged to a short, rotund man who was most likely in his fifties. For some reason, he seemed to be hiding behind a tree, but not in a way to suggest that he was being pursued. Buffy looked at him in bemusement, then edged around to another tree and peered around it. There, walking among the headstones, was a teenage boy. He was dark-haired, thin, and about half a head taller than her. When he turned, the moonlight lit his features. Though there was well-concealed pain and grief in his dark eyes and Buffy had the impression that he rarely smiled, there was an innocent, childlike beauty about him that took her aback. He was almost angelic.

Before Buffy could get her thoughts back in order, she realized that the old man and the beautiful boy weren't the only ones in the cemetery apart from herself. Another vampire, so obviously a fledgling that she nearly rolled her eyes, was there as well, and he was headed straight for the teenager. Had Lorne sent her here to protect him? She suddenly wished that she had sung for him months ago.

Though Buffy fully intended to kill the fledgling—slowly and painfully, if possible—for attacking the boy, she soon realized, to her complete shock, that her interference was quite unnecessary. She hadn't seen anyone fight like that since…but no. He couldn't be. It was absurd, wasn't it?

[o]

When Liam arrived at the cemetery, stake in hand, he couldn't see Merrick anywhere. He wandered around looking for him for a few minutes, growing increasingly bad-tempered as he went. It was pretty pathetic if a man that old was playing a prank on a high school sophomore, Liam thought. He felt disgusted that he had let himself be duped into thinking that he'd really be able to fight things like the monsters that had killed his mom and sister—that he'd allowed himself once again to entertain the childish belief that their murderers had been anything other than human.

Liam turned to leave, only to come face-to-face with the same inhuman features that had plagued his nightmares for years. Fear was the first emotion he felt, but it was almost immediately eclipsed by blinding fury and hatred. A powerful force he had never felt before seemed to come alive inside him, and when his fist collided with the vampire's face, it went flying backward two yards, tripped over a headstone, and crumpled to the ground. Liam stared at his fist in astonishment, but didn't have time to process his inexplicable super-strength before a feral snarl reached his ears. He looked up to see the vampire struggling to his feet, and felt the fury licking his insides again.

The fight didn't last long. After dodging a couple of the vampire's attempted blows with ridiculous ease, Liam flipped the demon over on his back and plunged the stake into his chest, which caused him to explode into dust. Gripping the stake so tightly that his knuckles turned white, Liam staggered backward from the spot, his mind reeling from what had just happened.

"You see?" came Merrick's voice from behind him. "You see your power?"

"H-how?" he stammered, his eyes still on the patch of grass where the vampire had been.

"It was supposed to be Faith," said Merrick with a heavy sigh.

Liam whipped around to look at the Watcher instead. Nobody this side of the Atlantic knew about Faith. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"Your sister was supposed to be the one chosen. There has never been a male Slayer before, you see, but no Slayer has ever had a twin, either. It's quite a fascinating little anomaly, actually. It seems that when she was killed, her potential transferred to you. Or perhaps it was shared between you from the womb. Either way, the Council was still quite surprised when you were chosen. They thought for sure that one of the other potential Slayers—one with training and a full understanding of the calling—would have been chosen, but, obviously, that was not the case."

"So you want me to fight vampires in my sister's place?" asked Liam.

"That's what it means to be the Chosen One," said Merrick.

Liam considered him for a moment. He didn't like the idea that this was what Faith would have had to do if she had lived, but he wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to kill the things that had torn his family apart. "Then I'm your man," he said at last. The words came out in a growl.

"I'm glad to hear it," said Merrick. "I'll be in touch with you soon to discuss training."

Liam nodded. He turned to go, but the hair on the back of his neck prickled, as if he was being watched. He spun around, squinting at the trees several yards away, but there wasn't anything there.

[o]

Buffy remained frozen in place behind her tree long after the boy and his Watcher had gone. A male Slayer. How was that possible? She had heard the Watcher's explanations, but still. Fascinating anomaly, indeed.


So, there we are. Some backstory for our protagonists, with some bonus Fred and Lorne involvement. I used Fred there because I felt like if I didn't, it would mean that she'd be trapped in Pylea like in canon, except that this story's plot won't exactly provide for her getting rescued from there. So...just pretend that the portal that got Lorne out of Pylea was created by some other means than via Fred's unfortunate mishap in the library. I really overthink this, don't I? Anyway. Liam's broken family makes me sad. Parker being Buffy's days of yore fiancé makes me giggle unpleasantly. There will be more flashbacks in future installments regarding his fate, oh yes.