New Blood
Disclaimer and Notes:

(Written: April 1999 - November 1999) Power Rangers Lost Galaxy and all related indicia belongs to Saban, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions. Before you scream and hit the Back button, hear me out: this is the sequel to "Wherever You Are," it's all in the Buffyverse, and I got requests for a sequel. So there. This is now the second story in a series, and you might not get what's going on til you go back and read "Wherever You Are." (But it'll only take a minute! Really!)

Timeline - for PRLG, right after "Quasar Quest, part 2." For BtVS, shortly before "Lover's Walk." (Everyone knows about Angel, and Cordy and Xander are still together.) The prologue, incidentally, occurs during "Wherever You Are." This fanfic is rated TV-14 for language, violence, and some sexual suggestion. Well, it does take place in Sunnydale. "Solidify" is by Sheryl Crow in reality, but the lyrics seemed appropriate. A cybercookie to anyone who guesses just who else from the PR universe I kind of threw in. Any and all mythology referred to is intentionally twisted around for plot purposes. (Hey, if BtVS can make up demons...)

Thanks go out to: miko, for clarifying some of the Gingaman plotline ahead of schedule; AleXander Thompson, for his wonderful Buffy transcripts that kept my continuity straight; Spartacus and Catherine Lee for looking over the first draft of this; Cynthia, for the original character I (unintentionally) got the idea for Frank from; the folks on a.f.p-r for their discussions on how to explain around the PRLG plotholes; and you, for reading this. Let me know you did and I'll be even more thankful. :) (Translation: Read and review!)

New Blood
by Amanda Ohlin

Saturday

"So what's the big deal?" the smaller of the two boys crouched in the bushes muttered to his partner. "We've been sitting here for half an hour and I don't see nothing."

"Trust me, Max," his companion assured him. "It's almost eleven-thirty. She's been coming out here every night this week."

Max rubbed absently at his neck. "She better be. You sure we're not sitting in poison ivy? Cause if I break out again, Benny, I swear--"

"Shh!" Benny elbowed him, pointing. "Here she comes!"

The tall redhead strode towards the water's edge calmly, confidently, her movements as smooth and mercurial as the rippling surface of the lake. She walked like a model striding down the runway, almost as if she was perfectly aware she was being spied on. As she reached the lake, she kicked off her sandals, dipping a toe into the water as if to test it.

"Yeah, yeah, the water's fine, honey," Benny muttered from his vantage point in the bushes. "Go ahead, take a swim. Nobody's gonna see you."

She decided it was sufficient, and after a quick glance about, began to shed her clothes. Instead of hastily shuffling out of her jacket, tank top, and shorts, she took her time, letting each garment drop to the ground. With the last of her clothing discarded on the grass, she dived into the dark water, going under for a moment before resurfacing, her red hair glistening water-slicked against her skull. She treaded water for a few moments, humming some unknown tune before stopping and squinting. If Max didn't know better, he could have sworn she was staring right at them. Almost as if she heard his thoughts, she smiled, her green eyes fixating right on them.

"You two can either watch," she called, "or you can join me."

Both boys froze at that invitation. "No way," Max whispered. "She can't."

"I can see you just fine," she purred, leaning back a bit in the water to give them a better look. Her red hair floated about her in the water like a cloud as she gave them a teasing smile. "Are you two men going to get in here, or am I going to have to swim all by myself?"

Max sat back on his heels, confused. Benny was already stripping off his shirt, murmuring, "Thank you, God, thank you, thank you, thank you..."

"What are you doing?" Max hissed as Benny stood up, stripping down to his boxers. "Isn't this a little too weird?"

Benny glanced over at the woman again, who was floating on her back in the water. "Too weird? There's a naked woman who wants us to go skinny-dipping with her, and all you can say is 'too weird?' Maxie, you can go back and hide under your bed, but I'm not going to pass this up because it's 'too weird.'" He started off, but paused. "You coming?"

Max thought about it. As he did, the woman began to hum again, an odd, eerie melody that she seemed to be making up as she went along. The music seemed to wrap around his brain, smothering the small part of him that was telling him it was wrong. Desire flamed in him all of a sudden, and he began pulling off his shirt.

They thundered into the water at the same time, swimming out towards her. "That's more like it," she commented, letting a slight Germanic accent slip into her voice. As they reached her, the smile on her face became sharklike. "Catch me if you can!" With that, she dived beneath the surface.

"Hey!" Benny cried. "Where the hell'd she go?"

"Probably gonna steal our clothes," Max snapped, treading water and casting about for any sign of the beauty. "I told you this was a bad idea."

"Yeah, well--" Benny stopped, an odd expression on his face. "Whoa! Man, was that you?"

"What are you talking about?" Max cried as something smooth brushed against his legs.

Benny was chuckling. "Guess she's not gonna steal our clothes, huh?"

She surfaced between them, this time only up to her chin. "Believe me, boys, it's not your clothes I want." As Benny and Max grinned, her eyes suddenly flared crimson. "I'd much prefer your lives."

With that, a huge webbed claw punched through the surface of the water, grabbing Benny's head and yanking him under. Max screamed, but he was cut short as a tentacle lashed out of nowhere and coiled around his neck. The woman and the two boys disappeared beneath the surface in a churning, frothing whirlpool of scales and blood. Within a few moments, the struggles subsided and the bubbles faded. It was all over.

Several feet away, up the hill, an old van was parked on the shoulder of the turnpike. The man leaning against the van watched the carnage from afar with jaded disinterest. He lit a cigarette, taking a long drag before blowing out a cloud of blue smoke. "Any time now," he murmured, checking his watch.

As if on cue, the surface rippled, and she rose up from the lake, the water cascading over her hair and shoulders as she stepped onto the shore and gathered up her things, nonchalantly striding towards the van with her clothes in her arms and a satisfied smile on her face. "Have a good swim?" he asked, his voice muffled by the cigarette between his teeth.

She ignored the jibe, her manner all business. "Satisfying." With that, she opened the door and climbed in.

He paused, eyeing the clouds that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. "Storm be brewing, people," he annnounced as he flicked the cigarette away and opened the driver side door. "Let's move out."

* * * * *

Sunday

The young man groaned, cracking his eyes open to meet the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. He winced at the sharp pain in his head, shutting his eyes tightly and rolling over again. The last time he'd had such a hangover was the morning after his twenty-first birthday. Of course, he hadn't been on active duty then.

Mike Corbett opened his eyes again, suddenly awake. Sunlight? On the space station, there was a decent artificial weather system, but the last time he checked his quarters were on the lower level.

He sat straight up, blinking as his surroundings came into focus. Instead of his quarters on Terra Venture, he was lying in bed in someone else's bedroom, with the sunlight pouring in from the window beside his bed. Sitting up, he could glimpse through the window the trimmed lawns and neat sidewalks of a suburban street. For a few seconds, Mike just stared around him in utter confusion, wondering where he was and how he had come there.

As he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, memory finally surfaced. The previous night was a montage of blurry images - being roused and helped out to a car, trying to stay awake during the drive, being ushered into an apartment. He somehow remembered having the strength to get a shower before collapsing into bed.

"So it wasn't a dream," he mumbled hoarsely. "Damn."

His pants and a clean black t-shirt were draped over a nearby chair. Groaning, Mike swung his legs out of bed, forcing himself to stand up despite the stiffness in his back and legs. He stretched, trying to ignore the complaints in his muscles, and got a decent look at himself in the mirror. Mike made a face as he gingerly touched the bandaged cut on his forehead; it was still a little tender. For the most part, he looked like a punching bag, but it was mostly a few scattered cuts and bruises. Considering what had happened, he was lucky.

Snapping himself back into reality, he pulled on the clean clothes, relieved to find that they fit, and then his old sneakers that had been left by the bed. Kai would have had a fit if he knew that Mike had gotten away with black Nikes instead of the regulation shoes, but no one had ever noticed when he reported for duty.

He stopped at that thought, trying to gather up the reality of his situation. As far as Kai knew, he was dead and gone. Same for Kendrix, Maya, Damon, and Leo. Leo, who was probably giving himself the mother of all guilt trips right now. His younger brother was anything but a stickler for the rules, but when it came down to it he cared about what mattered. Maybe too much. Mike sighed, wishing he could just call up Leo and tell him he was all right, that he wasn't dead.

Then if that was true, where the hell was he? Mike had grown up in California, and he'd never heard of a town called Sunnydale. Not that he knew every town in the state. But something still seemed off. He remembered what the blonde - Buffy, what a name - had called him: "a Starship Troopers extra."

She hadn't recognized the uniform. With the massive media circus that had revolved around the formation of the GSA and then Terra Venture's launching, you'd have to live under a rock not to recognize it. So if he'd fallen into a portal to Earth somehow, this Earth was one that didn't have either the station or the GSA. Maybe it was some sort of time hole?

His headache was getting worse the more he tried to puzzle it over. Down the hall, he could hear voices and smell something cooking. Sighing, Mike stumbled into the bathroom, splashing some cold water on his face and combing his hair out of his eyes with his fingers before turning towards the stairs. Any speculation could wait until after breakfast.

* * * * *

"Don't you ever knock?" Giles did not look up from the stove as Buffy walked into the kitchen, having entered on her own.

Buffy showed not a twinge of guilt as Xander appeared beside her, with Cordelia in tow. "You didn't lock your door."

Xander spotted the bacon and eggs, and his eyes lit up. "Hey, new diet, Giles? Care to share with the rest of us?"

"Translation: Mind letting Xander inhale all of it?" Cordelia put in. At the wounded look he gave her, she sighed. "Oh, come on. We've all seen you eat."

Glancing at the clock, Giles sighed. "I may just have to." He turned off the stove, scraping some of the scrambled eggs onto a plate, offering some to Xander and Buffy in turn. "I'll pass," Cordelia said as he glanced at her. "I'm trying to cut out fat in my diet."

Xander snorted. "You don't know what you're missing."

"You eat enough for the both of us." As Giles continued to look at her expectantly, she sighed. "Maybe some orange juice. But not the kind with the little bits of pulp floating in it."

The Watcher sighed. "It's not as if there isn't enough to go around." He passed her a glass of orange juice, and she immediately took a seat.

"Oh, yeah," Buffy said, sitting down at the kitchen table. "How's Sleeping Beauty doing?"

"Still sleeping, I believe," Giles said as Xander sat down beside Cordelia. He set plates in front of them and reached for the teapot. "I thought I heard something moving upstairs, but he hasn't emerged yet."

Cordelia frowned. "So any idea who this guy is?"

"Uh, no, Cordy, he didn't give us his life story," Xander spoke between mouthfuls of food as he shoveled it down.

"I meant, like a demon in disguise," she retorted. "You know, along the lines of ugly, hairy, follicle-handicapped, vicious things?"

Buffy couldn't suppress a small smile. "Oh, no, it's not like we ever get any of those around here."

"We can rule out nocturnal demons," Giles answered. "The window in the guest room lets quite a bit of sunlight in, and when I checked it didn't affect him."

"I don't know," Xander said, still speaking with his mouth full. "Maybe some demon sent him or something." As Giles shot him a look, he added, "These are good eggs."

Shaking his head, Giles finished pouring the tea and sat down across from them, a steaming mug in his hands. "I'm not entirely sure. The storm that accompanied his arrival had a rather familiar configuration; it was fairly reminiscent of the energy discharge from a spell of summoning. However, supernatural creatures are often summoned."

"I didn't pick up anything weird about him," Buffy said. "Aside from the fact he fell out of a vortex."

"Not to mention that outfit," Cordelia added. "Talk about a Star Wars reject."

"Starship Troopers," Buffy corrected her.

Cordelia sipped at the juice cautiously. "Whatever, they're all the same."

Giles set down the tea. "Funny you should mention clothing." Standing up, he went into the living room. He returned with an olive colored jacket in his hands. "This jacket looked oddly military. Xander, you wouldn't recall anything from the - er, the Halloween incident - that could corroborate this?"

Xander took the jacket from him, looking it over. "Doesn't look familiar." He turned it over, peering at the insignia on the sleeve. "Hey, there's a logo here: 'GSA.' I don't know what that stands for."

"Greater Soccer Association?" Cordelia suggested. "Well," she added defensively, "I've heard of them."

"Galactic Security Agency," a voice answered. They all turned to see a very tired Mike standing in the doorway. There was a brief moment of tension before he yawned and shrugged tiredly. "That's what it was last week, at least."

Xander opened his mouth to comment, but Cordelia kicked him before he could put his foot in it. Buffy spoke up before either of them could say something tactless. "How long have you been standing there?"

"Couple minutes. Not long." He shook his head to clear it, yawning again. "There enough for five?"

"There's enough for an army," Cordelia observed, shooting Giles a look. The Watcher merely raised an eyebrow in response. "If you sit down now," she added, checking her watch, "you might get some before Xander inhales it all."

Xander shook his fork at her, nearly flicking bits of egg on the table. "I'm a growing boy." She smiled over her glass of orange juice. Shaking his head, Mike pulled up a chair.

Regaining his composure, Giles passed a plate over to Mike. "I - I take it you slept well?"

"Like the dead," Mike answered.

Xander started coughing at that, and was silenced by another swift kick from Cordelia. "Ow! Watch it, Cordy, I kind of like having my ankles intact."

At Mike's questioning look, Buffy shrugged and smiled. "Bad choice of words."

Mike was silent for a long moment before speaking. "I'm not - I'm not a demon or anything. At least, not the last time I checked."

"Hmm?" Xander answered, feigning confusion well through a mouthful of scrambled eggs.

"When the people you're staying with talk about demons and the supernatural like it's an everyday thing," Mike continued, rubbing his eyes, "it's kind of hard not to listen in."

Buffy sighed. "So much for pretending this was a normal morning."

Xander finally spoke without a full mouth. "Hey, somebody had to say it."

"Look," Mike interrupted, "I don't know what's going on or what the hell I'm doing here, but I'm guessing you know a bit more than I do."

"Perhaps," Giles admitted, removing his glasses briefly to clean them - the usual routine prior to an uncomfortable explanation. "Your appearance, such as it was, doesn't rank as one of the more odd occurrences in Sunnydale in the past few years. It's a long story, really, you see--"

Before he could launch into a long and fairly awkward explanation, Xander swallowed his mouthful and cut in. "Vampires are real. A lot of them live in Sunnydale. Buffy kills them. Has a lot to do with the fact the Mouth of Hell's right under this town."

"Okay, maybe not so long," Buffy added.

"Thank you, Xander," Giles snapped, putting his glasses back on. "I think."

Mike's reaction was probably the most profound response one could make. "Oh."

His gaze flicked to Buffy, who nodded, her expression sincere. "It's true. I know it sounds weird, but it's true."

For a few moments, he simply sat there, going over something in his mind. "No," Mike finally decided, shaking his head. "It's not that weird. Not this week." Something else occurred to him. "What's the date?"

"November 22," Cordelia replied promptly. Seeing that the answer wasn't entirely satisfying, she added, "Uh, 1998." Mike winced. "Was that wrong?"

His only response was to groan and put his head in his hands.

Buffy reached over and took the jacket from Xander, inspecting the logo thoughtfully. "Galactic Security Agency," she repeated, turning to Mike. "I'm guessing that wasn't the date on your calendar."

He didn't lift his head. "Nope."

Giles waited a few moments before breaking the confused silence that followed. "I suppose that we all have quite a bit of explaining to do. That is," he added, "if we have any hope of figuring out what's going on."

The reaction was not very promising. Xander immediately dug back into the eggs. Cordelia became suddenly interested in her nails. Buffy looked up at the ceiling. Mike did not lift his head and appeared to be deep in concentration. From Giles' experience, the young man was most likely wondering what crime he'd committed in another life to deserve this kind of mess. Giles had pondered that several times himself.

Buffy's ceiling contemplation was brief, since no one seemed all that eager to jump in. "Okay," the Slayer decided. "How about we discuss after breakfast?"

No one had any cause to argue.

* * * * *

"This is IT?"

Sticking his head out the window like a dog panting for air, Malik peered at the landscape in disbelief. Considering he was driving the van that was cruising past the rather worn "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign into town, it was surprising that the vehicle was moving in a straight line.

A hand shot out, grabbed a fistful of his dreadlocks and yanked him back into the cab. "Dammit, eyes on the road!"

"Owowowow! Knock it off, woman!" He recovered fairly gracefully, pulling over beside the curb before anything worse could happen. "And I use the term lightly," he added as she loosened her grip. "'Sides, Lori, you got to admit. This does not look like the place."

She did not answer, but opened the door and stepped out into the cool early-morning air, her eyes scanning for something that only she could see. For a few moments, she was silent as the other four occupants of the van stepped out as well. "You've got a point," she muttered reluctantly, looking disparagingly at the tame-looking scenery. "Although..."

"This is it," a voice interrupted. The petite girl grinned, her smile a baring of teeth. "We're almost on top of the focus. Can't you just taste it?" she squealed, spinning around with arms wide as if to embrace everything around her. "We're going to have a blast."

"Someone's had too much caffeine," Malik muttered.

But Lori was shaking her head, lost in her own thoughts. "Don't underestimate her," she responded quietly. "Not after the stunt she pulled in Cleveland. She's as valuable as any of us."

He nodded, lowering his voice. "So what's the plan this time, babe? Get a packed house, feed, and split before they catch on?"

She chuckled at that. "They never catch on, you know that. But here...I think we should take a different approach."

* * * * *

"What happened last night?" Oz asked as his girlfriend stumbled towards the front doors of Sunnydale High, trying to balance the ten or so books in her arms. Sighing, he reached over and took a good portion of the stack from her hands, hefting it with more ease than she. "Other than the usual?"

"Oz, you don't have to carry all that!" Willow exclaimed, pouting a bit. "I can do it quite well by myself, thank you very much."

He smiled fondly at that as they reached the front door. "Yeah, but now you get to open the door for me."

Before she could act, the door swung open. "What took you guys so long?" Buffy asked.

"Buffy, I was going to open it," Willow pouted. "And we're not that late."

"I know." The Slayer shrugged as the two teenagers entered the building. "But I'm so used to being the one late for everything that I just wanted to say that."

"Like I was asking Will, what did I miss?" Oz asked as they followed Buffy down the corridor.

"Same old, same old," Buffy answered. "Patrolled, staked a few vamps, although Giles didn't find any prophecies to worry about. Although we know that electrical storm couldn't have been natural."

Oz raised an eyebrow. "That storm shorted out the power at the Bronze for half an hour. If it wasn't natural, what caused it?"

"We don't know," Willow confessed. "But then it opened up this weird gray vortex in the middle of the library and this guy fell out."

"On the Hellmouth, that can't be a coincidence," Buffy added.

Something occurred to Willow. "You find anything out about Mike yet?" At Oz's questioning look, she explained, "The guy who fell out of the vortex."

"Aside from the fact that he eats like Xander, not much. That's kind of what Giles called everybody down here to discuss." Buffy paused as the meaning of Oz's uncharacteristically wordy statement sunk in. "The power went out for half an hour? How long was it before the rioting started?"

Oz shrugged. "Forty-three seconds. Must be a record." He stopped at the doors of the library and looked at his girlfriend expectantly. "Willow?"

Grinning, Willow pulled the door open as Buffy took some of Oz's burden. "Forty-three seconds?" Willow repeated as they walked into the library. "Wow. Either not a lot of people were drunk or they were so smashed it took a while to figure out the power was gone."

"It was after one a.m.," Oz reminded her.

"I'll take 'too smashed' for $200, Alex," Buffy quipped as Giles came out of the office. "Where do you want these?"

"Anywhere will do," Giles responded, wiping his brow. "They still haven't fixed the air conditioning system."

"Don't remind me," Cordelia moaned melodramatically, emerging from the stacks with Xander in tow. She fanned herself with a magazine, flopping into a chair. "November never seems to go below seventy-eight. It feels so gross in here!"

From their slightly disheveled states, it wasn't just the lack of air conditioning that had raised Cordelia's temperature. Giles raised an eyebrow, and Xander looked a little embarrassed. "Well, uh, it is kind of hot in here."

Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy could see the strange expression on Willow's face. She seemed disappointed, but almost...relieved, in a way. Buffy made a mental note to ask her friend if something was wrong. Willow had gotten over Xander a while ago, as far as anyone knew.

Mike emerged from the shelves on the other end of the library, where the few non-occult references were housed. He was flipping through the 1997 Almanac and looked thoroughly perplexed. "This doesn't make sense," he muttered. Giles cleared his throat, and Mike looked up, dazed. "Oh."

"Sorry," Buffy apologized. "Thought you'd like to know people were staring." As Willow cleared her throat, she added. "Oh, yeah. Mike, meet Oz. Oz, this is Mike, uh--"

"Corbett," Mike repeated for the third time that day. "How many people know about this?"

"Historically, the Slayer and her Watcher worked in secret," Giles started. "But from time to time, others have found out. It actually has been rather helpful."

Oz smiled ever so slightly. "Giles can't get rid of us."

Mike chuckled and turned his attention back to the almanac, looking somewhat perplexed. "What do you mean, it doesn't make sense?" Willow asked, bringing them back to the subject at hand.

Sighing, Mike ran a hand through his hair, setting the almanac down on the table. "It's not that I don't understand what I'm reading, it's just that a lot of things here didn't happen in 1997. Not for me, anyway."

Before anyone could react to that, another voice interrupted. "New blood?"

Everyone but Cordelia, who was still fanning herself, turned.

Leaning casually against the doorframe, the speaker smiled lazily. Mike managed to keep himself from staring, but he couldn't help giving her an appraising look. The girl standing there reminded him somehow of Maya, but any reason why she would completely escaped him - aside from the fact that she was gorgeous.

As he caught himself, he didn't notice that she was sizing him up as well, nor did he notice the appreciative look she shot Buffy. The blonde rolled her eyes.

"Nice of you to join us, Faith," Giles greeted calmly, without a trace of sarcasm.

"Could have used you last night," Buffy added as Faith strode over to join them.

The casual smile faded from Faith's face at that. "I - kind of had some personal stuff." At the concerned looks on Buffy and Giles' faces, she added hastily, "Couple of drunks in room 8 decided to come party with the girl next door."

"Didn't get very far?" Xander asked.

Faith snorted derisively. "I'm not their idea of the 'girl next door.'" Even Willow managed a small smile at that. "Like I said, who's this?"

Buffy sighed, pointing at people in turn. "Okay. Faith, Mike Corbett. Mike, Faith." She folded her arms. "Introductions done."

Unsatisfied, Faith turned to stare at Giles.

"Well, ah, Mike just seemed to drop in on us during the storm last night," Giles explained. "In a manner of speaking."

Cordelia translated. "Vortex opened up, he dropped out." Faith nodded, seeming unsurprised.

Mike shook his head. "Nothing surprises you people, does it?"

Willow, Xander, and Buffy answered in unison. "No."

Faith leaned against the table, almost sitting on top of it. "So what's the sitch, B?" she asked. "We gotta stop some demon from taking over the world?"

"The same thing we do every night, Pinky," Xander put in. Then he paused at the lack of reaction. "That joke doesn't work as well backwards, does it?"

"Not unless you're dyslexic," Cordelia shot back. "Oh, wait a minute..."

"Nothing so immediate." Giles answered the question, ignoring the two teenagers. "We're mainly trying to discover how, exactly, Mike ended up in Sunnydale. The storm that preceded his arrival had a somewhat familiar configuration."

Faith eyed the pile of books on the table with more than a touch of disdain before straightening up. "Sounds like a blast, but I've got stuff to do."

Giles was removing his glasses as he spoke. "Now - now, Faith, I honestly don't think--"

She didn't slow her pace a bit, calling out to Buffy as she walked out. "Patrol tonight?"

Buffy smiled. "Major slayage as always."

Faith strode to the door, opened it, and then paused, turning to Mike. "See you around, Corbett." With that, she was gone.

"All right," Mike began. "What, exactly, was that?"

"That was Faith," Buffy answered. "Slayer number two."

Beside her, Xander seemed to be in a trance. Cordelia nudged him, and he jumped in surprise. "You know, I think I might just try the stake-to-the-throat idea," the May Queen mused.

He grinned playfully. "Promise?"

Giles cleared his throat. "At this rate, I'm ready to start swinging about a battleax. Can we please return to the topic at hand here?" In the resulting silence, he nodded. "Good. Now about that almanac--" He stopped, recalling their conversation at breakfast. "What was the date before you landed here, so to speak?"

"November 21," Mike answered. "2006." Even Oz seemed mildly surprised at that, albeit only momentarily.

A few seconds passed before Xander broke the silence. "Sooo...that's eight years from now." He glanced over at Willow, half expecting her to correct him.

"Guess that explains the outfit," Buffy commented.

"I'm sorry," Cordelia interrupted. "But I do not want to live in a future with that absolute lack of fashion sense."

"So you're from the future," Oz repeated.

"Not from this future," Mike corrected. "Half the stuff that I know happened in 1998 either didn't happen or turned out completely different."

"It - it could just be inaccurate editions," Willow offered. "You know, when they make mistakes like spelling the Prime Minister's name wrong and flipping pictures around and, uh, that sort of thing."

Mike shook his head. "I doubt it. This is too far off." At the blank looks he got, he added, "According to my history: the Unabomber was some religious nut named Bill Gates, Monica Lewinsky had an affair with Newt Gingrich, Saddam Hussein aimed missiles at the '95 World Teen Summit and managed to blow himself up instead." He paused before finishing. "...and a bunch of aliens tried to nuke my hometown in '98. Same old, same old."

"I'm going to go out on a limb here," Xander guessed, "and say we're not dealing with typos."

"From what you're telling us, it sounds as though you're describing an alternate timeline of sorts," Giles proposed, starting to pace.

Willow pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Alternate timeline? Like alternate dimensions on Star Trek?"

"Possibly," Giles answered. "There are a few vague records of attempts to create temporal or spacial folds that result in - ah - interdimensional travel, I suppose. But that can only be achieved by either a supernatural force or someone with experience in complex magical arts."

"I fell into a crevice on an unknown planet," Mike put in, repeating himself from the previous night. "I don't know a thing about magic, and I'm still not completely buying what you told me at breakfast."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Xander interrupted. Cordelia elbowed him.

Mike continued, ignoring the jibe. "But everything that happened was so bizarre--" He trailed off helplessly, staring at the tabletop.

"What were you doing on some unknown planet anyway?" Buffy asked.

Mike's gaze remained fixated on the table. "We followed a girl through a portal on the moon."

"Ooookay," Cordelia added skeptically, "so what were you doing on the moon?"

At that, Mike closed his eyes and sighed deeply. "Looking for Jimmy Hoffa," he replied sarcastically before shaking his head. "It was a final training exercise, all right?"

It was Giles who broke the long silence that followed, putting a reassuring hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Perhaps you should start from the beginning."

* * * * *

The Mayor did not look up as his next meeting entered his office. The curtains were appropriately drawn, plunging the room into darkness. "3:32 p.m. You're late."

Closing the door behind him, his visitor finally removed the long hooded coat and gloves, tossing them on the chair. "Evening meetings are more my style."

"If there's one thing that bothers me," Wilkins answered casually as he finished sorting papers, "it's a lack of cleanliness. But tardiness is right below that on the scale."

Trick chuckled. As bizarre as the Mayor of Sunnydale was, he liked the man's style too much to be put off by him. "It's not easy to cross town in a winter coat and gloves and still be...inconspicuous." He inclined his head at the air conditioner, which was blaring full blast. "I'm guessing this is important, enough to risk my life going out in broad daylight."

"Touche." Wilkins began to pace. "Under normal circumstances, my friend, I would have waited til sunset. But something rather last-minute has come up, and I'd like some of your men to look into it tonight."

The vampire did not sit down, but sought out a dark corner of the room, shadowed enough so that he could take cover if someone accidentally threw the curtains open. "I'm listening. What?"

"That brief electrical interference last night, to be exact," the Mayor explained. "The last time I saw a storm of that configuration, it usually accompanied a summoning, or a demon escaping its prison. Now I don't know about a summoning, but I don't have any sacrifices scheduled until a week from now. Besides, I've just been informed that a very important guest is coming into town. Anything more just throws off my entire itinerary."

Trick raised an eyebrow. "So somebody on your list got a little impatient."

"Maybe." Wilkins folded his arms. "And if that's true, I want it dealt with."

"I thought you always kept your campaign promises."

"Of course I do," Wilkins declared as he crossed the room and pulled the bottle of Scotch out of the cupboard. "But only if my clients keep theirs. Really, a man can't adequately govern without some form of organization. And since the eye of the storm was almost directly above the Hellmouth..."

Grinning, Trick shifted into his game face, his eyes like pinpricks of yellow light. "Then I'd better go renew my library card."

* * * * *

As Faith slammed the vampire's head into the concrete, she heard a familiar grunt and the faint hiss of the undead becoming dust. "Kind of late, aren't you, B?"

Buffy spun to block the next vampire's punch as Faith finally ceased her pounding and drove a stake through the half-conscious vampire in her grasp. "You missed a really good story."

For once, Faith didn't waste any time in dusting the next vampire that came at her. "Uh-huh. When Giles pulls out the books, it's time to go slay."

Turning, Buffy punched and staked the last one, leaving just the two of them in the alley. "Kind of. But I don't think they're going to find anything in Giles' books. They'd do better in the sci-fi section."

"Sci-fi?" Faith tried and failed to hide her interest. "Okay, B, you got me curious. Spill."

Buffy stopped and looked at her oddly. "Why are you so interested?"

"He's kind of hot, and I'm bored."

Buffy could only stare at her. "What?"

"Come on, B," Faith added. "He's got a nice ass, you've got to admit."

"I didn't really stop to check," Buffy answered, laughing in disbelief. "You're kidding."

"Look at the menu again," Faith pointed out. "You got Angel, sure, but the Hellmouth is the only thing this town's got going for it."

"That's not exactly how I'd put it." Buffy would have said more had not someone stepped from the shadows behind Faith. "Took you long enough."

She was speaking elsewhere, and Faith turned, turning serious she saw who it was. "Speak of the devil. Um, figuratively."

Still focusing on Buffy, Angel didn't take offense. "Sorry," he apologized quietly. "I had a few things to take care of."

"Doesn't everybody?" Buffy murmured.

Faith cleared her throat. "Earth to Buffy. Either give me details or we go find something to stake."

"What? Oh, yeah, Mike." Turning to Angel, she explained, "We got a really weird story out of the guy from last night, and I don't think Giles' books will cover it."

Angel frowned. "That's a first."

"Giles thinks he's from an alternate timeline," Buffy began as the three crossed the street, heading towards one of the many cemeteries in Sunnydale's city limits. "Last he checked, it was 2006, and a lot of stuff that happened for us didn't happen for him."

"So?" Faith asked.

Buffy sighed. "Three words: Monica and Newt Gingrich."

"That's four words," Angel corrected, smiling slightly.

Faith made a face. "That was an image I didn't need."

"Anyway, it's kind of a long, weird story why, but he was on this space station, ended up on some other planet, fell into a pit, and landed here." She paused for only a beat before adding, "Where are they already?"

It took the other two a second to realize what she was talking about. "I don't know," Angel answered. "You'd think we would have been attacked by now."

"It's been a slow night," Faith added. "Like I said, I'm bored. Patrol's been quiet."

Angel turned to meet Buffy's gaze. "Too quiet."

It didn't take a psychic for her to know what he was thinking. "Oh, God," Buffy cried, "not again!"

* * * * *

Something had gone wrong. Something had gone terribly wrong.

This was not his world. It was not his resting place. And he remained in energy form, as insubstantial as the mist. He clenched a fist - what passed for a fist - in frustration. Where was this place, and how had he come here, instead of transferring his life force? He should have been free and at full strength again, not a specter in some unknown place.

But the power was still with him. He simply lacked the substance to complement it. Which meant that something must have interfered in his attempt to escape from his prison. Casting about, he suddenly sensed what he was looking for.

It was not far away, a mile at the most, and it emanated great power. Dark power, a wellspring of it, taking in power and letting it sift through the cracks at the same time. Its energy was muffled, like a portal that had been temporarily shut but ready to burst open at any moment. But as evil as it felt, and as muffled as it was, its influence had been great enough to interfere with the transfer and pull him here.

But not just him. He was growing more and more aware by the minute, and he suddenly knew. The host he had chosen was also nearby. If not for the faint connection he had established, he would not have known.

Awake, his chosen would probably not agree to it so readily. But there was no other way. The mergence of life forces had already begun, and he would see it finished.

He had waited too long, and come too close, to let it go now. Right and wrong be damned; his enemies had to pay. No matter what it took.

With that, the Defender faded from sight.

* * * * *

"Next up...middle name?"

"You really need to know that?" Mike asked. At Willow's nod, he sighed. "Oh, hell, I'll forget a fake one anyway. Edgar." Xander started chuckling.

Sitting across from the laptop that Willow was working at, Cordelia asked loudly, "What are you laughing at, Xander LaVelle Harris?"

It was Mike's turn to snicker as Xander wandered over to peer over Willow's free shoulder. "That's it, mock my parents' cruelty. What're you up to?"

"Making some fake IDs," Willow answered. "If Mike's going to be here for a while, he's going to need identification, medical records, that kind of stuff. Oz knows someone who can do the IDs," she added, anticipating Xander's next question. "I'm just filling in the records."

Xander turned to Oz hopefully, but the musician was already shaking his head.

Willow glanced up from the computer. "Date of birth?"

"March 15..." Mike broke off, realizing something. "Wait, I'd have to push it back eight years. March 15, 1973."

Cordelia perked up. "'73? Maybe you should make the food runs for us." She glanced over at Xander as she added, "You could get us more than just donuts."

"You wound me, Cordy," Xander answered, turning back to Willow. "And you make him legal? Doesn't our long-time bond of friendship mean anything to you, Will?"

"Give her a break," Mike told him. "She's not making me anything. I'm twenty-five." To Willow, he added, "You're sure you can get away with this."

It was Giles who provided an answer. "I don't see why not," the Watcher said as he emerged from the book cage. "The police in Sunnydale regularly seem to ignore the implications of the high murder rate here. I doubt they'd bother much with background checks."

"Well, I'm going to be thorough," Willow declared. "Okay, place of birth."

Mike thought about it for a minute. Angel Grove was nowhere on the map, so he couldn't put down an honest answer. "Ummm...Northridge. We lived there a few years."

"Parents' names?"

"Mike and Catherine Corbett."

"Mother's maiden name?"

"You've got to be kidding."

"Nope."

"O'Donnell," Mike answered as the doors to the library were violently kicked open. "Oh, shit."

Giles looked up to see half a dozen vampires swarming into the library. "Not again," the Watcher murmured as he snatched up the nearest cross he could find. Cordelia shrieked and dived beneath the table as the vampires attacked.

Mike turned in time to see a fist headed straight for his face. He didn't have time to dodge, and the vampire caught him in the shoulder, sending him flying into the railing. Dazed, he stumbled to his feet as someone grabbed him by the shirt, lifting him into the air.

He looked up to see a twisted parody of a female face, now shriveled and warped with glowing yellow eyes. "New in town?" she purred, opening her mouth to reveal gleaming fangs.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what she was up to. "None of your business," Mike gasped, slamming a knee into her stomach. Surprised, she lost her grip on him and stumbled back a step, lunged for him again, and promptly exploded into nothingness.

Cordelia was standing there, having staked her with a pencil. She scowled at the pile of dust on the floor. "Slut."

Xander was grappling with another vampire, who hadn't noticed that the teenager already had a stake on him. With a grunt, he managed to twist around in time to drive the stake through his attacker's heart. The vampire's fangs were just about to sink into his flesh when they - and their owner - turned to dust.

"Stake through the heart," Mike muttered as he ducked another punch, delivering a roundhouse kick to his assailant's gut. "Got it." He made a mental note to thank his parents for letting him and his brother take martial arts in the first place, if he ever saw them again.

Clutching the laptop to her chest, Willow suddenly found herself backed into a corner by another vampire. Before he could pounce, though, Oz smashed a chair over the vampire's head. It barely fazed the vampire, but it distracted him enough for Willow to snatch up the splintered chair leg and stake the vampire with it.

Giles was suddenly beside Mike, fending off a vampire with a wooden cross. "This is ludicrous," the Watcher muttered as he shoved a stake and a bottle into Mike's hand. "We're eventually going to run out of chairs if this keeps up." Having said that, he turned to face a new attacker.

Mike caught a glimpse of the bottle's label. Holy water. It figured.

Something grabbed him from behind, and the stake slipped from his grasp. Still holding on to the bottle, Mike elbowed his attacker in the gut, breaking free and turning to face the vampire. The stake was out of his reach, so he dashed the bottle in the vampire's face.

With a howl of pain, the vampire staggered back, covering his face with his hands. Mike dropped to the ground, sweeping the vampire's legs out from under him. As his attacker crashed to the floor, Mike snatched up the stake and jumped to his feet, driving it through the vampire's chest. For a split second, he feared he'd missed the heart, but was relieved as the vampire collapsed into dust.

The next thing he knew, someone grabbed him by the shoulders and promptly threw him over the railing. Mike crashed into a bookshelf and crumpled to the floor with a groan.

It was a moment before he managed to lift his head and check to see how bad of a bump he'd gotten. It wasn't bleeding, but it felt tender. Mike cursed under his breath, then noticed that for the moment, he was being ignored.

He staggered to his feet, leaning against the railing for support. One of the vampires noticed him and charged. Mike silently prayed to whatever deity was listening, and somehow managed a wobbly tornado kick. By sheer luck it landed on target, sending the vampire flying backwards. But Mike was knocked off balance as well, and spun around, barely catching himself on the railing before he could flip over it again.

The sight that greeted him was not what he expected at all.

Over the central table, a patch of air was rippling, shimmering and distorting like an invisible wave of heat. The distortion seemed to take on a vaguely humanoid shape, standing right in the middle of the table - right above the Hellmouth. A few wisps of ghostly light shimmered at its edges, intensifying to outline the figure as it turned, surveying the room.

All activity in the library ceased as everyone, human and vampire alike, spotted the apparition. While the figure remained indistinct and faceless, Mike knew the moment its eyes locked on him. An icy chill went through him, and it felt as though its gaze had him bolted to the floor, unable to move. The specter lifted a hand to point at him, and then flickered and blurred away, gone as swiftly as it had come.

The entire performance had only lasted seven seconds.

"What the f--" one of the vampires began, briefly forgetting he was supposed to be attacking Giles. His epithet was cut short as the Watcher shoved a stake through his chest from behind.

The simple gesture automatically snapped Mike back into reality. But as he spun to face his opponent again, he was saved the trouble as Faith punched and staked the vampire. "Thanks," he managed, catching himself on the railing.

"No prob," she answered before turning to deck another attacker.

Down by the office, Buffy was doing a similar favor for Giles, while Angel gave Willow time to hide the laptop. Faith vaulted over the railing, landing almost on top of a vampire. She backhanded the startled vampire in the face, then grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket and slammed his head into the table before staking him. The remaining vampires took one look at the piles of dust and took off running. It was all over in a few minutes.

Stumbling to his feet, Giles literally dusted himself off. "Is everyone all right?"

"We're fine," Oz answered, sinking into a chair beside Willow.

"Oh yeah," Xander groaned, sitting up. "It's not like I need my spleen for anything, right?" Cordelia sighed and knelt down beside him.

Still leaning against the railing, Mike swallowed, trying to get his bearings. "Buffy?"

The Slayer blinked. "What?"

"Now I'm buying it."

* * * * *

Monday

"Nothing taken from the office, the bookcage, or the shelves." Willow ticked off the inventory on her fingers as she spoke. "Giles checked through everything. Every cross, every stake, every weird little artifact was in its place."

"You're kidding," Buffy said, jiggling the handle of the locker uselessly. "They have to have taken something."

Willow shook her head. "We looked through everything while you guys went back on patrol."

The Slayer scowled at her locker. "I swear, Snyder deliberately picked out the worst locker in the whole school for me." She sighed and switched back to the topic at hand. "So, any clue on what they were after?"

"Well, Giles is looking into stuff on ghosts," Willow offered, earning a confused look from Buffy. "There was that ghostly thing that appeared last night, and it popped up right over the Hellmouth, and right where Mike landed."

Buffy gave up trying to jimmy her locker open, delivering a swift kick to a certain spot on the door. It swung open easily, and she swapped books and notebooks before shutting it again a moment later. "Mmmm. So, in other words, Giles doesn't know what's going on."

"Not really," Willow explained. "I think he has a clue. He had that look he gets when something seems really familiar to him, but it'll take him a day or two to find it in his books." She frowned. "Then he got the look he gets when he thought he was on to something and he has to start over."

"Really?" Buffy asked.

Willow nodded. "Mike was looking through the want ads when I left."

Buffy nodded understandingly as someone came up behind Willow and wrapped his arms around her waist. The petite redhead almost jumped in surprise before she realized who it was, leaning back into his embrace. "Oz," Willow admonished, smiling, "you scared me."

"You don't look all that scared," the musician answered.

Buffy smiled in spite of herself. "PDA alert, guys. Break it up." Shaking his head, Oz let go of Willow before an administrator could catch them. "So how's the IDs coming?"

"Dropped them off at Giles' during lunch," Oz responded.

The two girls gaped at him as they edged their way to the wall, out of the flow of traffic. "They're done?" Willow asked incredulously.

Oz leaned back against the wall. "The man works fast."

"No way," Buffy retorted. "Nothing gets done that fast in Sunnydale."

"Nothing good, anyway," Willow added. "And I guess this is illegal, technically, but it's still a good thing."

Oz nodded as Buffy checked her watch and led them back into the flow of traffic. "Technically."

The subject was temporarily dropped as they weaved their way through the stampede of students, until finally they reached Buffy's goal. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the office?" Willow asked.

Buffy nodded. "Yep. The domain of Snyder." At their confused looks, she added, "Turns out I didn't finish all the hours of counseling I had to get when Platt got killed. And now that they got that new guy, Mr. Stone, Snyder's making me finish it up after school just to satisfy his sadistic tendencies."

As they entered the office, Oz winced. "The excitement continues."

"Yeah, well, if he'll get off my back--" Buffy broke off as she realized just who was sitting in the waiting area. "Mike? What are you doing here?"

Surprised, Mike glanced up from the folded page of want ads he was looking over, and Willow glanced knowingly at Buffy. "Trying to get a job."

Willow looked baffled. "Why?"

Mike sighed, leaning back against the peeling plastic upholstery. "I'm being realistic. We spent hours looking through books that have been around longer than taxes, and couldn't find a thing." He looked down at the floor. "And I can't just leech off Giles until I find a way home."

"What I think she meant was," Buffy clarified, "why here?"

"What can I say? I'm desperate."

"That's an understatement," Oz observed.

"Well, out of the available jobs I can do that don't require heavy background checks, here are a few of my options." Mike ticked off on his fingers as he spoke. "Sanitation department. School janitor. Bussing tables at this club. Taxi driver."

The others shuddered sympathetically. "Ouch," Buffy murmured. "That's it?"

"There's a few more," Mike admitted. "But I'm not going near anyplace called 'Hot Dog on a Stick.'"

"Ah, Miss Summers. Discussing your brilliant future career options?"

Buffy glanced up and grimaced to see Snyder standing a few paces away, oozing insincerity as always. The principal continued as she rolled her eyes. "Sometime today you might deign to make your way to the guidance counselor's office. Of course, it's all up to you," he added.

Buffy blinked. "Excuse me?"

Snyder smirked. "Personally, I think the straitjacket look would do wonders for you."

The Slayer shook her head and shoved past him, storming off towards the guidance counselor's office. Snyder turned back to the others, seemingly unperturbed. "Unless you two are on a careening course towards a padded room as well, I'd suggest you run along home." He suddenly noticed Mike, who was getting to his feet. "Can I help you?"

"Thanks," Mike answered, "but I'll pass." On his way out, Willow could clearly hear him mutter, "Sanitation's looking better and better."


Mayor Wilkins nodded to his guest. "Can I get you a refreshment? Tea? Coffee? Perhaps some milk, if you prefer?"

"I'm fine, thank you." The tall woman sitting in front of his desk smiled. From his viewpoint and the angle of the late afternoon sunlight behind her, Allan couldn't get a good look at her face. "Besides, anything that clogs up the vocal cords is a bad idea."

Wilkins chuckled at that, settling down in his chair. "Yes, I could see how that would be a problem in your line of work." He folded his hands on the desk in front of him. "Now what would be the purpose of this little visit?"

"As you probably know by now, I've brought my act to Sunnydale." At his nod, she continued, playing with her necklace. "Normally, we breeze through with no trouble. But this is different." She looked up from her jewelry before continuing. "I've heard that you run the show on the Hellmouth."

"Did you hear that?" the Mayor chortled, grinning at Allan. "My reputation precedes me." He turned back to his guest. "Miss Halverson, is this building up to some sort of proposition?"

"I'd just prefer not to have to contend with any of your business practices."

"So you're asking permission," Wilkins finished. "From what I've heard, that's not like you."

"I'm a realist." She folded her hands in her lap. "I could have gone and set up shop on my own, but I'd rather cause mayhem without any complications."

The Mayor smiled at that. "Well, mayhem is just up my alley nowadays. Besides, any sort of confusion you can create - so long as it doesn't interfere with my activities - would be much appreciated."

"Which means you won't be sending any committees to deal with us?"

"You've done your homework, haven't you?" At the look she gave him, he smiled, holding his hands up in a gesture of supplication. "You have my word."

She sighed. "I suppose that's good enough." With that, she stood up. "If that's all, I'll be off. The natives are getting restless."

"Just one of the downsides to not working alone," Wilkins answered, nodding.

Pausing at the door, the woman turned and leaned towards Allan, letting an odd tone seep into her voice. "Sit." Without even realizing what he was doing, Allan violently crashed into a sitting position on the floor. Chuckling, the woman walked out.

The Mayor burst out laughing heartily. "Quite a woman, isn't she?" he asked Allan before dissolving back into laughter.

For the nth time, Allan Finch wondered just how he was going to get out of this line of work.

* * * * *

The manager of the Bronze sat down in his "office," a former storage room in the back he'd managed to furnish to resemble an office. Harry stared at the piles of papers on his desk and scowled. This was great. Just great. The riot damage from Saturday would cost him a bundle. Not only that, but he had no band booked for the week; the group who were booked there had lost their lead singer to another of those gang attacks. And his usual fallback was playing out of town for most of the week. Unless an act fell into his lap suddenly, they weren't going to make up for the repair costs.

"I should've just opened a restaurant," he muttered as someone knocked on the door. Probably Tina, the airhead he'd hired last week, reporting another screwup. "It's open!"

The woman who stepped through the door was definitely not Tina. Not unless she'd dyed her hair red and grown a foot. The redheaded Amazon who stood before him was easily five foot ten, but it wasn't her height that made him gape. It was her eyes that seemed to fix him to the spot, making him feel like a fly caught in a spider's web.

Seeing his reaction, she smirked. "I hear you're looking for an act."

All Harry could do was nod.

* * * * *

When Mike entered the school library, he found Giles engrossed in one of the oldest books he'd ever seen. The Watcher didn't even notice his entrance, and Mike had to clear his throat just to get his attention.

Giles jumped at the sound, nearly knocking his glasses off in surprise. "Sorry," Mike said. "Didn't mean to startle you."

"No, no, it's quite all right." Giles rubbed at the bridge of his nose as Mike sat down across from him. "How goes the job search?"

Mike smiled and shrugged. "I've decided not to pursue a career as a school custodian."

Giles nodded. "You've met Principal Snyder, I see."

"Unfortunately," Mike answered. "He's not human, is he?"

"As far as we know, he's human," Giles responded, his gaze dropping back to the pages of the book. "Although whether or not he is truly evil..." He paused. "The jury is still out on that."

Nodding, Mike sat down at the table. "I had a squad leader like that. Promised myself if I ever had to work under someone like that again, I'd resign or shoot myself."

"I wouldn't blame you at all," Giles murmured.

Mike leaned back, rubbing his eyes. "Only decent option I have is teaching self-defense at the gym downtown."

"In Sunnydale, there's quite a market for that," Giles noted, looking up from the book again. "You're sure you can get the job?"

"I got my second black belt years ago, so yeah, I probably can." Mike sighed. "But it doesn't pay enough unless I want to live in a Motel 6."

He opened his eyes and paused, his gaze traveling to a far corner of the library. A dark-armored figure was standing beside the bookcage, watching them. "What the--"

Giles noticed Mike's discomfort. "Are you all right?"

"Huh?" Mike glanced at the Watcher, then back at the bookcage. There was no one there. "Oh, yeah. Just kind of tired."

"You know, you don't have to worry about getting employment so soon," Giles added as he turned a page. "Even if we don't discover the reason for your appearance immediately, it won't be a bother to put you up for a while. You may have to limit yourself to the couch, but it won't be much trouble."

"Thanks," Mike added, glancing at the empty space where the figure had been standing, "but it wouldn't feel right."

* * * * *

There was a brilliant flare of light above them, and a shimmering hole opened up in space. A figure dived through, a mass of limbs and joints as it tumbled gracelessly down the dusty slope, unfolding at his feet.

"Who are you?"

Anything else he would have asked was cut off as she brushed her hair back from her face and a pair of large hazel eyes met his own. Before he knew what was happening, he was pulled into their depths, entranced by the strange girl who had appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

Then the creatures had appeared, interrupting anything else that could have been said. But even as he fought back, her face lingered in his mind. He was the rational one, the disciplined one, the one with common sense.

And all he could think about was protecting a girl he didn't even know.

When it was over, she turned back to face him, and again those eyes captured his.

"My name is Maya."

As her friends were turned to stone, he heard her stop and cry out, starting towards certain death. Panicked, he pulled her along, an arm around her shoulders, trying to ignore the feel of her skin and her long, unbound hair that brushed against his cheek. They raced through the jungle, trying to escape the petrifying wave that was freezing her world into stone.

The earth cracked open beneath him, and he heard her scream as he was swallowed up.

"Mike!!!"

Mike's eyes flew open, and he nearly fell off the couch in Giles' living room. He sat up, breathing heavily, as his surroundings registered in his mind: couch, bookshelf, coffee table. It had just been a dream. He was still in Sunnydale, light-years away from where Maya might be if it was the same dimension. Not that this was all that comforting.

He wiped the sweat off his face, trying to untangle himself from the sheets before lying back down and staring at the ceiling. What's wrong with me? Of all people to dream about, why Maya? He knew her the least of the five friends he'd left behind. But what was disturbing was that the way she'd mesmerized him in the dream wasn't far removed from how he'd really felt. It was an instant, captivating attraction, so sudden and unreal that it bothered him.

"I knew her for all of three hours and already I'm dreaming about her," he murmured to the ceiling. "Isn't this how stalkers start out?"

The ceiling, quite naturally, provided no answer. Sighing, he rolled over and forced himself to relax. Whether he liked it or not, he probably wasn't going to get a chance to sleep in. Generally, he was a light sleeper, and he doubted he'd sleep through an overworked school-librarian-slash-Watcher's attempts to get ready for work. Besides, the job search would continue tomorrow, and he had to be coherent.

Closing his eyes, Mike took a deep breath and let his mind drift as sleep finally began to claim him.

My name is Maya.

At that memory, Mike almost shocked himself back to awareness, but it was too late and he was too tired. He gave up on psychoanalyzing himself and fell asleep.

* * * * *

Tuesday

Seven down, one last option to go. Mike was getting used to the rejections.

"I hate to tell you this, kid," Harry answered regretfully, "but I've got all the help I need."

Mike sighed. "Yeah, well, that seems to be the pattern." He was a little more disappointed than usual; here, at least, was a boss he wouldn't have minded working for. Harry Foster was a big, stocky man in his mid-forties, somewhat laid-back but not above yelling at idiots. He reminded Mike a bit of one of his uncles back home.

"Don't get me wrong," Harry was saying. "Believe me, I'd hire you if I could. I know common sense when I see it." He turned towards the still empty club. "Not unless you can--"

Whatever he was going to say was cut short as he spotted a couple of waiters fumbling behind the bar. "Nick! Tina! What do you think you're doing back there?"

"The tap's jammed back here, Harry," Tina explained as the manager strode over to the bar, with Mike right behind him. "Dumbass here bumped it with his knee, and I can't shut it off now."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," her co-worker snapped.

"Shit," Harry muttered. "This is the last thing we need."

Mike was leaning over the counter, peering down at Nick's attempts to close the valve. "You're going to break it if you keep that up," he observed. "You've got to pull it sideways, towards her. It should pop back in."

The younger man blinked, confused. "What?"

"Let me show you." Mike squeezed his way around Tina behind the bar and grasped the handle of the tap, jerking it sharply to the left rather than trying to turn it. There was a popping sound, and Mike easily turned the handle, cutting off the flow. "There. You knocked it out of whack, so the valve couldn't close. Happens a lot."

As he looked up again, he realized that both Harry and the waitress were giving him curious looks. "You tend bar before?" Harry asked.

"A little," Mike admitted. "Had to pay for school."

A wide grin spread across Harry's face. But before the manager could continue, a shout interrupted their conversation. "Yo, Harry!"

The lanky, dark-skinned young man was leaning against one of the speakers being set up on the stage, a cigarette clamped between his teeth. "Where's the good plug again?" Standing behind him, inspecting the lights with a critical eye, a tall redheaded woman made a face.

She noticed Mike suddenly, and her brilliant green eyes met his. A slow smile spread across her aristocratic face as she fixed him with her best "come-hither" stare. Oddly enough, it didn't have the desired effect. The cold green eyes and sharklike smile sent an inexplicable chill through him, and he turned away.

"Right side of the stage, Mal!" Harry hollered back before turning to Mike. "What I was going to say, kid, is I might have a job for you after all."

Mike brightened somewhat at that, forgetting about the ice queen on the stage. "For real?"

"Yeah." Harry turned away, gesturing for Mike to follow. "C'mon. We'll discuss it in my office."

Unable to believe his luck, Mike followed the manager towards the back. The redhead watched him go, her eyes narrowing.

* * * * *

"So what are you planning on doing tonight?" Willow asked as the two friends sat in the shade of an oak tree beside the athletic field.

Buffy sighed. "Well, after I'm done in guidance, Giles pretty much has the evening booked. Training, patrol, that stuff."

"The whole evening?" Willow asked, and Buffy nodded. "Wow. What's the occasion?"

"Nothing's happened since the attack," Buffy answered. "So Giles figures that they're waiting around for something big." She sighed, lying back on the grass. "He's probably right. Paranoid, but probably right."

"He's been kind of jumpy lately," Willow observed.

Their conversation was interrupted as Xander and Oz hurried over, lugging a huge picnic basket between them. Cordelia followed, carrying a thermos. "Ladies," Xander grunted as they set the basket on the blanket, "your feast."

"Wow," Buffy exclaimed as Cordelia opened the basket and began sorting out packs. "Where's the army that's going to eat all that?"

"They went for catering, so I had to settle for you," Cordelia answered, pulling out several wrapped packages and handing them out in turn. "Besides, if we're going to take advantage of the 'seniors leave for lunch' privilege, it should be an edible lunch."

"Cordy, I'm impressed," Xander commented. "Is there a spark of the sharing spirit in there somewhere?"

She shoved a steak-and-cheese sub into his hands. "Here, Xander. Put something in your mouth."

"Who's jumpy lately?" Oz asked as he settled down beside Willow.

"Giles," Buffy responded. "He's on a training kick all of a sudden."

Xander reached behind Cordelia and snagged a bottle of Coke. "Still feeling the burn from evil Watcher lady, huh?"

"Yes and no," Buffy answered. "I think it's more the fact that she turned out to be a fake that's making him feel inadequate." Xander was struggling with the cap. "Need help with that?"

"No, I'm fine," Xander grunted.

They sat there while he strove to unscrew the bottle. Several seconds passed, and he had no success. "I can do it," Xander insisted as Buffy opened her mouth to speak.

Without a word, Oz reached over and unscrewed the cap, turning it in the opposite direction that Xander had. "Oh," Xander muttered, dumbfounded. "Thanks."

"Speaking of inadequate," Cordelia began.

He took a swig and shot her a look. "Could you be nice to me for five seconds?"

"In public? No." She smiled. "You know you love it."

In response, he reached over to tickle her. "Xander, stop!" she shrieked, slapping at him halfheartedly as he continued relentlessly.

"So the Bronze is out?" Willow concluded, ignoring the giggling pair beside her.

"'Fraid so," Buffy told her.

Cordelia managed to shove Xander away, sitting up and brushing herself off. "We're going to the movies. That is, if Tickle-Me-Xander can keep his hands to himself."

Xander just grinned. "You know you love it."

Willow looked to Oz. "We're playing up in Monterey tonight," the musician offered. "I'll take you if you want me to."

"Really?" Willow beamed. "Thank you, Oz! Thank you so much!" She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

"Someone's searching for a social life tonight," Cordelia noted.

Buffy leaned forward, speaking in a lower voice. "Her mom suddenly wanted to be best friends this week."

Both Cordelia and Xander grimaced at that.

* * * * *

"All right!" Giles exclaimed as Buffy delivered yet another vicious kick to the padded target he was holding. She backed down, and he dropped the target on the floor, leaning on the desk for support. "That's, that's enough for now."

Buffy looked him up and down. "Are you okay, Giles?"

"I just need a moment." He wiped his brow. "I'm usually in better form than this. I suppose the heat is getting to me."

"No kidding. It's like an Easy-Bake oven in here."

"Actually, you're hitting a bit harder than usual," Giles continued. "There isn't anything you'd like to talk about, is there?"

The Slayer scowled. "Giles, don't ask me to talk about my problems. Please. An hour with Kidney Stone was enough."

"Kidney Stone?" Giles echoed, chuckling. As Buffy glared at him, he held up a hand. "No, it's - it's quite appropriate, actually."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's kind of hard for me to relax and sort out my problems with a counselor who's that hyper," Buffy went on. "I swear, Giles, he must be on something."

Giles was nodding. "Yes, well, Jerome does hover around the coffee maker in the lounge." He became serious. "But you must give the man a chance. For one thing, his report will ultimately decide whether you stay in school."

"I guess so," Buffy sighed.

"Besides," Giles went on, "from what I've heard, he's coming from a rather unpleasant prior position in Stone Canyon. Something to do with a couple of students continually making life harder for him."

Someone coughed, and they turned to see Mike leaning on the circulation desk. "If I'm interrupting anything," he said, "I'll leave."

"No, no, we're just taking a break," Giles insisted, beckoning.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "He is. I'm just venting. How come you waited ten minutes to announce your presence?"

"I didn't think interrupting was such a good idea," Mike explained. "If I distracted you at the wrong time, well, we'd be taking Giles to the ER." The Watcher smiled in silent agreement.

"I think we might have to anyway," Buffy joked, giving Giles a look.

Giles straightened. "If Faith would get here sometime this millennium, I wouldn't be in this shape, now would I?"

"He says after hounding me about training all morning," Buffy shot back.

"Okay, okay!" Mike cried. "I might as well spot for him if this keeps up."

Slayer and Watcher turned to stare at him. "Are you serious?" Buffy asked.

Mike paused, thoughtful. "Well..." Abruptly, he shook his head. "Look, I just came to let you know I might have a halfway decent job."

"Finally some good news," Giles began, but paused. "'Might?'"

"Nothing's definite yet," Mike replied. "I got the job out of sheer luck, but I've got to pull a shift tonight to make sure I'll be working there for a while. So I'm going to be back kind of late."

Buffy folded her arms. "So what's the job?"

"I'm not saying anything or I'll jinx it. Let's just say it's a hell of a lot better than sanitation or Snyder." He turned to Giles. "So it's not going to be a problem?"

"No, perhaps not," the Watcher said thoughtfully. "On one condition. You take my place for twenty minutes."

Mike started at that. "You're kidding."

"Actually," Giles said with a small smile, "no." He straightened up. "It's just warm-up, really. Simple offensive-defensive drills. Mike, you can take the defensive and Buffy, the offensive." As the two young people continued to stare at him, he sat down to watch. "Focus on form and accuracy instead of brute strength. In short, Buffy, don't kill him."

"You're serious?" Buffy asked.

Giles nodded. "Twenty minutes."

Reluctantly, Mike tossed his jacket over a chair. "All right, let's get it over with."

Buffy grinned as they took up their stances. "Think you can last twenty minutes?"

"Maybe I'll get lucky."

He lasted for twenty-three.

* * * * *

"Is it always this busy on a Tuesday?" Mike had to shout over the din to be heard.

Of course, Tina's attention was elsewhere. "What?"

"I said, is it always this busy on a Tuesday night?"

The blonde waitress frowned, shaking her head. "Not usually this busy," she mused, playing with a stray lock of hair. "I mean, this is the only place to go in Sunnydale, but, like, we usually get competition from Must See TV."

"Oh." Mike nodded, pretending to understand. "Must be all reruns tonight."

"Yeah, right. It's sweeps week." She leaned over the counter. "So are you seeing anybody?"

Mike sighed and looked past her to a table of teenagers who looked increasingly impatient. "You know something? Those guys over there look like they need to order. They've been glaring at us for the past ten minutes."

She glanced over at the table. "So?"

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you wait tables around here?"

A few seconds passed before she bounced up, understanding. "Oh, yeah! I'll see you later, okay?" She picked up her notepad before bouncing over to the table.

Mike groaned. "Where do they find these people?" He didn't have time to reflect as another teenager came up to try to get a beer out of the new bartender.

The kid was overdoing the swagger, not to mention he couldn't be a day over fifteen. "Gimme a Molson's."

"Yeah, right. ID."

On the stage, the band was starting a new set, and the crowd got a little quieter as the elbow room in front of the stage became less. Left alone for the moment, Mike glanced over at the four band members and frowned, reviewing the little he knew about them. Most of it had come from listening to them argue or from listening to Tina babble about them. The Amazon - Lori, he thought her name was - was on lead guitar and vocals, and seemed to believe she owned the other three. As for the drummer, Malik, if he wasn't arguing with Lori about something, he was getting a smoke in the alley.

The other two he didn't know so well. Mike didn't even know the name of the girl who did keyboard and backup vocals, but that was because he hadn't bothered to learn it. Tina said the girl gave her the creeps, and Mike could see why. She couldn't be older than fifteen, and her mind seemed to be continually on another plane of existence. "And her fashion sense!" Tina had lamented. "What does she call that look, 'not-quite-Goth?'" But there was something else about her that unnerved Mike, probably just in the way she stared at people. You had the uncomfortable feeling that her gaze could burn right through you.

Mike sighed and turned his attention to the bass player, a guy named Frank. Of the four of them, he seemed like the most normal, although he never spoke a word. He was tall and lanky with spiky black hair and dark eyes that always seemed worried or depressed. Maybe he just seemed normal because he was also uncomfortable with the motley crew - it was almost as if he was thrown in with them against his will.

He was jarred out of those thoughts as Lori leaned into the microphone. By this time, everyone in the nightclub was paying some attention to the music, seemingly entranced. For his part, Mike thought they weren't bad at all, but he was starting to get a headache. He searched behind the bar for the Tylenol as they hit the chorus.

Why should I (why should I)
Why should I (why should I)
solidify?

Finding the bottle, he shook two out and glanced around to see if Harry or anyone else was looking his way. It was just Tylenol, but he didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea on his first night. Strangely enough, no one was looking his way; almost everyone was caught up in the music, especially the people on the dance floor. Pouring himself a glass of water, Mike downed the pills and dumped the glass in the sink. Sure, this band was pretty good, but not that great.

Make me real so you
can see me...

As he continued to scan the crowd, trying to figure out what was with these people, he suddenly noticed a dark shape by the pool tables, covered from head to toe in black armor, watching him. It was the same hallucination as before, except this time, it didn't blink out. He felt frozen in place, waiting for it to make its move.

Then the song ended, and the spell was broken. Mike jerked back, shaking his head to clear it, as applause replaced the music. When he turned back to look at the pool tables, there was no sign of the apparition.

But his headache was gone as well. Sighing, he steeled himself to deal with the next teenager who swaggered up to the bar.

* * * * *

"Any news yet?" The Mayor, for a change, got right to the point.

On the other end of the phone, Trick sighed. "Depends on what you call news."

"Which, I assume, means 'no.'"

"Not exactly," Trick answered. "The Slayer and her friends haven't picked up on the Halverson project yet, though. They're too busy whining about the heat."

Wilkins leaned back in his chair. "Good, good. Speaking of the opposition, what do we know about this newcomer - what's his name?"

"Mike something." Trick frowned. "Him we don't know much about. But if you ask me," he added in a lower voice, "I don't think we have to worry much about this one. Kid can fight, but that's about it. Nothing special."

"I suppose we really don't have the time to investigate that new development," Wilkins admitted. "But it's only been a few days. Just keep your ears open and let me know if anything comes up."

The vampire smiled. "That's what I'm here for, isn't it?"

* * * * *

Wednesday

"So how goes the head-shrinking?" Cordelia asked in an uncharacteristically interested tone as Buffy set her tray down at the lunch table. They couldn't take advantage of the lunch privilege mainly because Cordelia's car was blocked in by an illegally parked Jeep - and the owner just happened to be a faculty member.

"It's all right," Buffy answered warily as she sat down beside Willow. "I've been going for the past two days. Why the sudden interest?"

The May Queen suddenly became very interested in her half-empty tray, and Xander answered. "Cordy has to spend some time in guidance next period. She told Freeman exactly what she thought of him." At his girlfriend's dismayed look, he put an arm around her and added, "Which was, I might add, an incredibly bold move that many of us have been tempted to make ourselves."

She moaned and put her head on his shoulder. "I don't know what came over me. I just couldn't stop staring at his stupid comb-over ponytail."

"So...what did you say?" Buffy asked, interested.

"Just the basics," Cordelia mumbled.

Xander grinned with pride. "You know: that he's an idiot, that everyone knows it's a comb-over, that his obsession with Dolly Parton has nothing to do with the executive branch, and that he doesn't need to smoke on the roof because the school doesn't need a chimney."

"Everything we've all wanted to say but never got the guts to," Buffy concluded. "I'm impressed."

Cordelia did not look convinced, and Willow added, "Well, you're using your powers of insult for good instead of for evil. That's, that's always a good thing."

"I'd go and lend her moral support," Xander added to Buffy, "but I got stuck with detention. Something about the subject I picked for art class."

"What subject was that?" Cordelia asked.

Xander blanched a bit. "Oh, uh, nothing really. Typical school censorship."

Buffy smiled and interrupted before they could begin squabbling. "The new guy - Mr. Stone - is pretty weird."

"What are they calling him?" Willow interrupted. "Kidney Stone?"

Nodding, Buffy continued. "He's harmless, but he's just kind of out to lunch. He wanted me to call him 'Jerome' but I said no. And he was trying way too hard to 'be my friend,' or just get me to talk to him. Kind of nervous. He's probably not going to keep you very long, though." When Cordelia did not look convinced, Buffy added, "Hey, at least he doesn't smoke like a chimney."

"You just convince him you're not crazy," Oz put in. "That's all."

"It's not me, it's the heat," Cordelia groaned. "If they don't fix the air conditioning sometime this year, I'll go completely insane! Before you know it, I'll be wearing Kmart!"

Willow glanced around at the other students eating outside, as drained by the heat as they were. The only reason so many students were eating outside was that there was at least a breeze, while the indoor cafeteria was suffocating. "Everybody's drained from the heat, Cordelia. It's not just you."

Xander nodded, looking past the group. "No kidding."

Curious, Buffy turned to see what he was looking at. Jonathan was trudging past the picnic tables, seemingly in a daze. He nearly walked smack into a pole, and collided head-on with one of the football jocks, who promptly grabbed him by the collar. Surprisingly, Jonathan didn't look all that scared; it was almost as if he was so tired it hadn't quite registered in his brain that he was about to be pounded.

Buffy stood up. "That's not the heat," she muttered as she maneuvered around the tables to reach Jonathan. She shoved her way in between Jonathan and the bully, forcing the bully to let go of him. As Jonathan stumbled back in a daze, Buffy got right in the bully's face. "Go smack someone else against your ego shield."

"Hey, that little punk should learn to watch where he's going," was the response. "So I was just gonna teach him."

"Hello?" Buffy snapped. "Look at him. He's sick. What, you're going to show how macho you are by beating up on a sick kid?"

He grabbed her wrist. "Like you're gonna do anything about it."

Ordinarily, Buffy would have just flipped him over her head, but some people were watching. Turning so that no one could get a look at what she was doing, she wrenched her wrist out of his hand and grabbed his own wrist, twisting it roughly. As his face contorted in pain, she murmured, "Want everyone to see you get trashed?"

He grimaced. "You win, Summers." Satisfied, Buffy let go.

As he walked away, rubbing his wrist, Buffy turned back to Jonathan. He was leaning against the wall for support, and up close he really did look drained. He was somewhat pale and sweaty, and he was this close to falling asleep then and there. "Are you all right?"

Jonathan nodded vaguely as Willow and Xander, followed by Oz and Cordelia, came up behind Buffy. "Yeah, I'm okay now. Thanks."

"Trust me, buddy, 'okay' is not how you look right now," Xander replied. "Just stating the obvious."

"I'm just kind of tired," Jonathan mumbled. "I think I gotta sit down."

The other five managed to herd him back to sit at their table. "You don't have mono, do you?" Cordelia asked warily. "My cousin Jess had that for a whole year, and her social life almost died out completely."

Jonathan shrugged. "I was fine yesterday."

Willow reached forward and put a hand to Jonathan's head. "You don't have a fever," she observed. "Did you eat anything?"

"I'm not sick," Jonathan insisted. "I just can't stay awake."

"What do you have after lunch?" Oz asked.

Confused, Jonathan blinked, willing his brain cells to produce the answer. "Uh, I think Government."

Xander realized what Oz was getting at. "Freeman can put me to sleep even with two cans of Surge."

"You're not gonna make it," Willow concluded. "Get a note and go to the nurse's office."

"They won't let me," Jonathan mumbled.

"Tell them you think you have mono," Buffy suggested. "They'll do whatever they can to get you out of the building."

Jonathan wavered. "I don't know."

"Go to the nurse," Willow repeated. "I'm - I'm ordering you to go," she added sternly. "Now."

"Okay, okay," Jonathan acquiesced, getting up. "Thanks, guys." With that, he shuffled off.

Willow turned back to Oz. "You think that was forceful enough? I know I'm not that intimidating, well, not at all, but he really looked sick and I was worried."

"Extremely forceful, Will," Xander assured her, putting an arm around Cordelia.

"Really?"

Oz smiled and nodded. "You're still cute when you're forceful," he added, and she frowned. "That's a difficult balance to attain." Willow brightened again.

Buffy was silent, watching Jonathan trudge off. Sure, he could just be sick, but a nagging feeling was telling her otherwise. Besides, Jonathan regularly came into contact with the forces of darkness whether he liked it or not. He was a magnet for trouble, and her "Slayer sense" was telling her that it had found him yet again. She made a mental note to keep an eye on him before turning back to her lunch.

* * * * *

"...and the square of the cosine plus the square of the sine, you recall, is always equal to 1. So if we divide the cosine out..."

Xander's head lolled back as the trigonometry teacher, a substitute who practically read out of the textbook, droned on mercilessly. The ceiling was not much more interesting, so he turned his gaze to the rest of the classroom. Most of the other students were reacting similarly, staring into space, doodling, a few faking death in the back row. The heat was even getting to the teacher, who stopped mid-drone to fan herself with the workbook in her hands.

Surprisingly enough, Harmony, who always had the irritatingly perky habit of always raising her hand - whether she knew the answer or not - was passed out over her desk, fast asleep. The teacher didn't notice it at first, but when Harmony started to snore, several students started giggling. Sighing, the sub closed the workbook and walked over to Harmony's desk. "Miss Perkins."

No reaction. "Miss Perkins?" the sub repeated, louder. When that didn't work, she leaned down and shouted, "Miss Perkins!"

At that, Harmony jolted awake, sitting up like a bullet and nearly falling out of her chair with the violent motion. As she sat there, blinking, her blonde hair in her face, the entire class erupted into laughter. "Miss Perkins," the sub repeated sternly, "I'd advise sleeping in your own bed in your own home; it'll spare you the chiropractic bills later." This elicited some more giggles. "In the meantime, please move up to the front row next to Mr. Harris so you can stay awake." Xander flinched.

Nodding, Harmony absently gathered up her books and stood up, rather unsteadily. Seeing the way she was wobbling, Xander frowned, forgetting his disgust at the prospect of having to sit next to her. As much as he despised her, this was not normal. Even if she was at school sick, Harmony constantly had to put on the perfect poised Barbie doll act. But now her hair was hanging in her face, and she was barely noticing the giggling as she stumbled down the aisle. In fact, she wasn't balancing all that well.

As she passed the second row, Harmony's legs suddenly gave out under her, and the cheerleader crumpled to the floor, scattering books and papers everywhere. The laughter immediately died away as several students - including Xander - jumped to their feet and crowded around the pale, drawn form on the floor. The substitute shoved through the students, kneeling down at her side. "Someone get the nurse!"

"I'll do it," Xander announced before anyone else could volunteer, grabbing up the hall pass before turning and hurrying down the hall towards the nurse's office. The nurse, nothing, he thought. I'd better talk to Giles.

* * * * *

The Bronze was fairly empty, but then again, it was only three in the afternoon. Technically, it shouldn't have been open, but the manager either didn't expect or didn't care if anyone wandered in. It was probably due to the damages from Saturday; the blackout riot had cost the manager a few windows and some furniture. They were still dealing with repairs on top of cleaning up after the patrons.

Whatever the reason, Faith had nothing better to do. It looked to be a standard patrolling week; Giles hadn't found anything out of the ordinary. There were a few hours left til sunset, and most of the Scooby Gang was otherwise occupied: Xander, stuck in detention, Willow, stuck tutoring, and Buffy, stuck with the guidance counselor. So there was time to kill.

A new guy was behind the bar, cleaning off the glasses and sweeping up, his back turned to her. Faith strode over and leaned casually against the bar. "Give me a Miller."

"Give me some ID," a familiar voice shot back.

At that, she looked up and was surprised to see Mike behind the bar. "Corbett, what are you doing? The real bartender know you're back there?"

"Very funny. I'm working, of course." She rolled her eyes, and he added, "Hey, it's better than janitor duty at Sunnydale."

Faith snorted. "What loser let you tend bar?"

"The same loser who's watching me like a hawk. ID."

"Come on, just give me a drink."

"Not until you show some ID," Mike insisted. "If I lose this job, I'm condemned to janitor work."

Sighing, she leaned back and fished out a Massachusetts driver's license, intending to merely flick it briefly past his line of vision. But Mike was just quick enough to catch her wrist and peer closely at the card. "Hey!" Roughly, Faith yanked her wrist free, so hard that Mike had to catch himself against the bar. "Don't you trust me?"

Mike smirked, rubbing his hand. "No." He paused, a curious expression crossing his face before he continued, "I just wondered if that was your real name. Never would have figured you for a Scot, though." At her blank look, he added, "Faith Mackenzie?"

"I don't know. Probably closer to Spuds than Macbeth." He smirked at that, and she gave him her best manipulative little smile. "Now will you give me one, Corbett?"

"The name's Mike." He was still smirking. "Maybe I should start calling you 'Mac' from now on."

Faith cocked her head. "You're not getting any extra points here."

"I'm not trying to score," Mike answered. "Planning to patrol on a buzz?"

"What's your point?"

"For one thing, I know a fake ID when I see one." As she continued to look him up and down, he added, "Besides, you're dangerous enough when you're sober."

She merely stared at him for a few seconds before smiling and conceding the point. "All right, give me a Dew." As he pulled out a clean glass, she added, "How'd you get this job anyway?"

"Dumb luck." He produced a cold can of Mountain Dew, setting it beside the glass. "Came down to bus tables yesterday, but I was too late - they'd already hired enough people. Of course, they were short a bartender."

"And desperate enough to let you do it." She tossed a few dollars on the counter before popping open the can and taking a swig.

"Hey. I tended bar a few years. Had to pay for school." He took the money, opened the cash register, and counted out the change. "Besides, Harry's kind of in a rush. New band came in and charmed the pants off him, not to mention they really packed in a lot of people last night."

"Tuesday night?" Faith repeated. "They're that kicking, huh?"

Mike grimaced. "Yeah, but - I don't know why, but every time I've heard them, it gives me a headache." He shrugged and slammed the cash drawer shut. "I'm probably going to pick up some earplugs when I get a chance."

She nodded, changing the subject. "So you're working here tonight?"

He checked his watch before taking the glass and washing it off. "I'm off in half an hour. The only catch to getting the job was that I had to do a test night and help today with cleanup. There was some kind of riot here Saturday."

"Heard about it from B," Faith answered. "First time that's happened here without any vamps around."

Mike stopped mid-rinse. "So...vampire attacks happen here a lot?"

"All the time," Faith continued. "I mean, with all the teenagers and the drinking and the partying, it's a vamp magnet."

He stared at her for a moment, then shook his head, chuckling. "Yeah, I picked a great place to work." Glancing down at the cabinets and compartments beneath the bar, he frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe they should keep some stakes back here."

"Mmm-hmm," Faith agreed absently, her eyes straying to the group clustered around the speakers. "So about this band - what do you think?"

Mike followed her gaze, looking thoughtful. "They're pretty damned good. But every time they play, I get an automatic headache. And it won't go away until the music stops. I don't know why. I guess--"

He broke off then, staring at something. "Mike?" Faith asked, bringing him back to his senses. "You there?"

"What? I - yeah, I'm fine." He glanced back at the stage and frowned. "It was there a minute ago..."

"Yo!" Faith punched him lightly in the arm. "Ground control to Major Corbett." As he snapped out of it, she inclined her head towards the door. "You're done, so let's motorvate."

Mike dried the last glass and put it away before checking his watch again. "It's 3:20. Close enough for government work."

Faith grinned as he locked the register and they headed out into the late afternoon heat. "You're learning."

"So how many extra points is that?"

She cocked her head. "I thought you weren't trying to score."

"Just wondering," Mike answered absently.

Faith saw the look on his face and briefly wondered just what was going on in his head. "C'mon," she urged, taking his arm. "Let's go see if the Scooby Gang's made parole."

To be continued...