NOTES: Just trying my hand at something a bit different. The overall story-arc is original, but certain elements are taken from various tales, told to me around a campfire or in hushed whispers during my stay at a Navajo Reservation a year or so back. One terrifying incident in particular happened to a man of my acquaintance, though the version portrayed here has been exaggerated and has Tara in his place. Still, if you're ever driving through the desert one night, watch for figures running alongside your car. Roll up your windows, lock your doors, and don't ever stop….

******************
It was the drumming that woke her up.

Now they could go on for hours about how Tara was more sensitive to various natural energies and that it was this particular ability that woke her, but no.

It was definitely the damn drums.

Waking under the covers in a bed that was most certainly not hers, she had a minor panic attack, arms reaching out and groping blindly til they hit something soft and the lump groaned.

'Willow.' Tara calmed instantly. Sitting up to watch her lover twitch in her sleep and let out small, fitful snorts, it all came back to her. They were on a Navajo reservation visiting Nick, Tara's friend and fellow anthropology student from their college days.

'From our college days? Not even 29 yet and you already sound like an old woman,' she berated herself. Willow's snorts turned back into normal breathing, and with that the sound of the drumming became more pronounced. She slipped out of bed with a grace that only ever appeared in the bedroom and rarely elsewhere. Padding to the window she peered out, and nearly leapt from her skin.

They hadn't jumped out at her, but they effect was as if they had. A group of several men, dressed and painted in traditional garb, blending into the darkness so well, but standing out from it once noticed. They stood several dozen yards away from the cabin, and Tara would have greeted them, assuming them to be local tribesmen doing local tribesmen things, had it not been for one thing.

Almost 10 years in Sunnydale made recognizing menace in one's eyes a skill.

They stood behind the tiny picket fence, put in place to prevent plants from growing where they shouldn't and not, as Willow hypothesized, to keep tiny people's tiny dogs from running into equally tiny streets. The men tried to step over the fence, but something prevented them. It was as if they couldn't lift their legs high enough to climb over.

Tara took a step back from the window. Demons were one thing, but to that sort of look on a human face was another thing entirely. It was worse than her father or brother, worse than Warren Mears as he was carted off to prison.

The fact that the drumming intensified, though none of the men had any sort of drum, did not help matters at all.

Diving back under the covers and spooning Willow's slight frame, Tara tried not to shiver.

********************************************

When she told Willow the following morning, she did not receive the expected 'Why didn't you wake me up?' tirade.

Instead, her face was peppered with little smooches, her brown hair smoothed down, and cursory examination to make sure that a bit of a fright was the worst of it.

Then she was scolded for not waking Willow up.

"And then what?" Tara argued. "You stand at the window glaring at them the rest of the night?"

"Yes, well," the redhead blushed. "They scared my woman. More than enough of a reason to glare, don't you think? Maybe throw in some scowling?"

"You're lucky I find your possessiveness endearing."

"You're the endearing one!" She planted a kiss to Tara's jaw. "Breakfast first with Nick and Em, then we'll check out where you saw them?"

"It was probably some Hopi," Nick gushed around scrambled eggs and turkey sausage (Willow had a Big Jewish Revival earlier in the year, and everyone humored her). "They can barely stand us Navajo, let alone outsiders like you two." He swallowed. "We got a few in the area, probably just swung by to freak you out. They are a creepy tribe."

Emma glared at her fiancé.

"Well, not all Hopi," he amended.

She quirked a fine, dark eyebrow.

"I love you?"

She finally gave in, piling more sausage onto his plate with a loving smile. She turned to the two witches. "Show me where you saw them?"

After breakfast, the three women headed out to the far side of the yard, sidestepping Nick's haphazardly parked pickup.

"Maybe it was just a bunch of perverts wanting a peak of some girlie action!" Nick joked as he climbed into the truck.

"Why? You brag about the lesbians in your guestroom?" Willow snipped. They all laughed at that. Nick had originally tried to woo Tara years ago, a short lived campaign that had ended with a very grumpy Willow. Upon discovering the real nature of the girls' relationship, he had proclaimed it the most awesome thing ever and became the first to bash the heads of any idiot college male who offered to 'make them normal again'. This in turn, won him Xander's friendship and if he hadn't been at Disneyland with Anya and their two illegitimate daughters, the carpenter would be here too.

"Oh yeah, sold tickets too," he deadpanned. Pulling out of the drive, he waved one last time. "See ya Ems, Tara, Lady-dude." He was already halfway down the street before Willow could register and bristle at the nickname. With a huff, the redhead flounced towards the fence.

All of the sudden, it was as if a ball of ice had dropped in Tara's stomach.

"Baby, stop!" She flung her arm out, grabbing her partner by the elbow.

There was a time when Willow would question her, and an even darker time when she would probably have brushed her off, but this was no longer that time. Nearly 10 years together, and her magic responded to the panic in her lover's voice, flaring up in response to whatever caused it. "What is it? What do you see, baby?"

Unlike her soulmate, Willow was no empath. Her aura reading skills left much to be desired, but with a physical connection, she could borrow that ability, if only for a while. Unable to explain with words, Tara pulled her closer.

Well shit. No wonder Tara hadn't wanted her going any closer.

The entire fence-line permeated such a sense of darkness. It was a primal darkness, the feel of an unfinished hunt, the reek of old blood, and the anger and malice of a starving predator.

"They were after you," Emma gasped, dropping to her knees.

Tara clutched Willow closer. "Who?"

Emma shook her head, wrapping her arms around herself.

"Emma," Tara was sounding panicked now. "Who w-wanted Willow and I?" She was stuttering her W's, which told Willow that her partner was well and truly spooked.

"You have power," the dark-haired woman said. "And they want it."

"Emma, please. Who?"

"Yee naaldlooshii," she whispered. "Skinwalkers."

******************************************************

After bringing her back inside the house, Emma was hesitant to explain further. It was generally considered taboo to speak of such frightful things to outsiders, but their involvement and their previous experiences with things like this made Willow and Tara the exception.

"There's, well," Emma sipped from her cup of water. "There's a lot of varying stories for what a Skinwalker actually is, but the most popular is that it's a witch who turns into an animal."

"I had one once," Willow blurted moronically. Tara shushed her with a smile and a hand on her knee.

"Right. They tend to run around in animal form, wearing the pelt of whatever animal they turn into, usually coyotes or other predators. Some believe that the human form isn't really theirs either, and that it's just another skin they're wearing."

Willow leaned forward. "Coyotes? Are they associated with the deity?"

Emma actually laughed, shaking her head. "Old Man Coyote is misrepresented in your culture. He is a Trickster and pokes His nose in people's business, but He is wise, and reinforces harmony. So no, I'm sure that they are in no way associated with Coyote."

Tara's brow furrowed. "But what do they want with us?"

Emma frowned. "That's just the thing. They usually don't bother with non-natives. But you two are powerful…"

Willow turned to her lover. "You know what this means, right?"

"Dawn?"

"Dawn."

************************************************

"Hello, this is The Magic Box, Sunnydale's number one provider of ma-"

"Dawn, it's us."

The 23 year old former Key pulled back from the phone at the tone of the witch's voice. "Geez Willow, grumpy much? Buffy's on patrol right now, but-"

"Can you look something up for us? It's kind of an emergency."

"Okay, sure! Goodness, and weren't you and Tara the ones who taught me about polite conversation?"

"Dawn!"

"Okay! Geez! What do you need me to look up?"

"Um, Skinwalkers. I think it should be in 'Infernal Bestiary'. North American addition."

"I'm looking, I'm looking," Dawn muttered, making her way from the counter to the research books. "Jordy! Watch the till!"

Willow and Tara pulled back from the phone and looked at each other. Then, Willow brought it back up. "Jordy? Jordy Osbourne? Oz's little werewolf cousin, the one who bit him?"

"Yeah! Not so little anymore, though. He just got back from Tibet, visiting Oz and Bay."

Tara smirked. "And he's there now?"

Dawn balanced the phone between her face and her shoulder as she flipped through pages. "Yeah, Jordy swung by to keep me company while I fill in for Anya. He even brought pictures of Kelden! Also, got the book, and I'm not finding it."

"Oh, um try," she turned to Tara. "Yee naaldlooshii?"

Dawn paused. "Um, gesundheit?"

"Uuuugh! Just keep looking and call us back if you find anything." With a click, she hung up.

Jordy ran his hands through his short, black hair. "What was that all about?"

Dawn looked at her boyfriend and shrugged. "I honestly have no idea."

*********************************************

Hours later, Tara stood by the window, watching the sun go down. Perhaps they would show up again tonight, perhaps not, but the knowledge that they were after her and Willow set her teeth on edge.

"We should get a veltro." Suddenly pulled from her reverie, she turned to Willow.

"Huh?"

"A veltro," the redhead scooted on the bed to give Tara some room. "It's mistranslated as greyhound, but apparently it's actually strong enough to fight bears and wild boars. Wouldn't that be useful back home?"

"Sweetie," with a smile Tara rested her head on Willow's shoulder. "I'm pretty sure it's unethical to send a dog running around after demons."

"Well here it's running an evil she-wolf into hell," she held up her book for emphasis.

"Baby as much as I love your quirks, I draw the line at using 'The Divine Comedy' as a dog training manual."

It was their thing, poking fun at Willow over her worn, dog-eared copy of the book. She had thrown a small fit their senior year at UCS, having lived on the Hellmouth her whole life and yet had never cracked open that particular book, and promptly bought it. Forget being one of the few people in the world who understood Ancient Sumerian, now she was a scholarly-type. There was also the fact that this was the last book she ever bought from that particular bookstore before she was banned. A young cast member from a cult TV phenomenon had taken the step to writing fantasy novels, and also shared more than a passing resemblance to Tara. Standing in line for a scone and maybe a mocha right before a book signing, Willow had nonchalantly walked up to her and let her lips and hands do all the talking.

Miss Benson let her hands do all the talking too, as evidenced by the photo of a bright red slap mark on the redhead's face and a restraining order proudly framed on the Summers' wall.

Tara chuckled at the memory, content to curl up against her girl and read over her shoulder for the umpteenth time. It was moments like this that made her forget all the darkness in their lives.

Almost.

"You have to come with me!" Emma burst into the room. "It's Nick! He's been hurt."

************************************************

"Ouch! Em, knock it off! It isn't that bad!"

Hands tight on the steering wheel, Tara peered into the rearview mirror, just to make sure Willow was following them. Nick had been ready to climb into his truck after work, and was leapt upon by some dog.

Or coyote.

The three women had piled into the witches' car and driven down to the clinic to pick up Nick, who had been cleaned and patched up. Blood tests were still being run, and they would get a call in the morning. Willow was driving their car back while Tara took Nick's truck.

"Not that bad? You could've severed your brachial artery! You might have rabies!"

"Dammit woman, let's just get home. I need a warm meal and some sleep and I'll be fine."

Tara opened her mouth to tease them both, but was rudely interrupted.

HONK! HONK! HOOOONK! It sounded as if Willow was leaning her full body weight onto the horn, and the cab was flooded by the jeep's high beams. Tara turned, wondering what the hell was wrong with her partner, and barely swallowed a scream.

Sitting in the bed of the truck, illuminated by Willow's jeep lights, was a coyote. Not like any coyote Tara had ever seen, and she had grown up on a ranch. It was bent and twisted, limbs too long and joints in places canines usually didn't. It sat back on its haunches, squatting like a man, half-hand/half-paw worrying at the little glass window of the cab. Emma turned and shrieked.

"What the fuck! What the fuck!" Nick's voice also filled the cab. Catching Tara's eye, the creature snarled once, and leapt off of the truck. This all happened in the seconds in took for her to turn and slam on the breaks. Behind them, Willow swerved to avoid tailgating them and came to a stop. She leapt out of the vehicle.

"Stay in the jeep!" Tara shouted. "Willow, stay in the jeep!" But it was no use, not when it came to Willow. Pulling the truck's door open, she reached in and pulled Tara into her embrace, burying her nose into that warm brown hair and just breathed.

"Scoot over," the redhead croaked. "We're near the house. We can get the jeep tomorrow."

Aside from their heavy breathing, the ride home was a silent affair.

************************************

Nick had been fed, medicated, and put to bed. The three women remained in the kitchen, holding mugs of coffee that none of them were really quite willing to drink.

"You two head on up," Emma said sternly. "I'll finish up cleaning here."

Tara's brow furrowed. "A-are you sure?" Willow tensed at hearing her girl's stutter. "W-we can help clean up if you want."

The dark-haired woman shook her head with a sad smile. "No, no, we've all had a rough night. At least I had Nick to grab onto during the whole thing. Go on. I'll be fine, really."

"Well, can't argue with that logic," Willow tried to joke. "I mean you could, but it'd be a dumb argument."

******************************************

Ten years together and it never got old.

Sweat cooling on their entwined bodies, pressed so close that their tummies touched with each breath, love-juice sweet on their lips…

'Yep. Definitely never gonna get tired of this.' Willow turned her head to glance at the bright red numbers on the alarm clock.

5:16 AM

The redhead felt a smug smirk tugging at her lips as the realization that she and Tara had been at for literally the whole night. Not the first time, really, but in Sunnydale they were lucky to make it back to bed by one. After the whole 'coyote-in-the-truck' incident, they had miraculously made it upstairs at about 11:30.

Needless to say, they found quite a lot of ways to spend their free time. They say that the best sex happened after a big scare, and the two witches proved that to be true, their love-making interrupted only for numerous cuddle sessions and quick power naps, which they considered to still be love-making anyway.

Staring up at the ceiling, Willow's mind travelled back to the image of that creature, menacing her lover and friends in front of her. 'Where have I seen that before?' Her thoughts were interrupted as an arm wrapped around her middle and kisses were planted along her jaw.

"Willow," Tara whimpered. "Willow, darling. Again."

The witch pushed all other thoughts away as she rolled over, all too willing to tend to her woman's needs.

*******************************
CRASH!

"Oz!" Willow sat up in bed several hours later, woken by the thunder. Tara peered up at her from her nest of pillows, looking just a tad bit miffed. Willow's eyes widened. "Oh no baby, I didn't mean it like that!" sitting up on her knees, she grasped the other witch's face, kissing her nose, cheeks, and forehead.

"Willow, sweetie, I'm not mad. Ten years together, I'm pretty sure I know where your loyalties lie," she gave that little lopsided smile of hers. "I can't blame you for what you dream abou-"

Willow's face showed horror it had not shown since the first time she ever saw a vampire. "Nononono! Tara..baby, no! Definitely of the no. It's just…the thing in the back of the truck? I've seen it before."

Tara's eyes widened as realization set in. "Oz?"

"It looked the way he did, mid-transformation."

********************************

"Emma!" The two witches, clothes pulled hastily on, rushed downstairs. "Emma, we need the phone!"

Tara slid into the kitchen just as Willow jumped the last three steps. The dark-haired woman turned to them, brow furrowed. "Sorry you two. Power's out."

"Aaauugh!" Willow threw her hands in the air. "Why does no one we know own a cellphone?"

Growing up on a ranch herself, Tara hazarded a guess. "Nearest neighbors are a few miles away, too, huh?"

Emma nodded. "Few miles away, and further out. Is it an emergency?"

Silence, as the two witches struggled for something to say. "Well, ah, you see-"

"Y-yes! But, a-a personal one!" Willow nodded in agreement, a little too enthusiastically.

"Then your best bet would be in town."

Willow nodded. "How's Nick?"

"Still resting up. Are you two sure you'll be alright going into town? With that…thing running around."

Tara shrugged. "We need to pick up the jeep anyway."

After a cup of coffee each, Willow and Tara walked out the door and the two miles to get the jeep, and then headed into town. Emma wished them well, and set about doing her usual housework.

A creaking on the stairs made her jump.

"E-emma…."

"Nick?"

*****************************************************

"You think it was safe, leaving them at home?"

Willow nodded. "Whatever those men were, they didn't seem to be able to cross the fence line. And even if whatever bit Nick is what I think it is, he should be alright til next month."

"If you're sure," Tara chewed her lip. "So, what's the itinerary for today?"

The redhead welcomed the change of subject. "Well, pretty lady, I figured that while I do the difficult task of talking on the phone, you'd do the honor of picking us up some nourishment? Coffee's nice, but if there's Scoob-age about, my tummy's gonna need some extra nummies."

Tara laughed, reaching for her belt as they pulled over. "Fine, fine, you ravenous beast." She leaned over to nuzzle Willow's nose.

"Yes, well," she smirked. "You should know all about how much of a ravenous beast I am." She feigned injury as Tara batted her arm, and slid out of the jeep laughing. "I'll go see about a phone.

Finding a phone proved harder than she thought, payphones proving to be everywhere when you didn't need them and nowhere to be found when they had the chance to be useful. Several other places refused access to non-customers. She wandered a bit more before coming across the gas station, the older gentleman running it tipping his hat and returning to his reading.

"Welcome to the Magic Box, Su-"

"Dawn! It's me, Willow."

"Willow? How's that emergency going? Is everyone alright?"

"Dawnie, is Jordy still around?"

Dawn turned towards the stairs, where the werewolf in question was lugging boxes. "Yeah, he is."

"Put him on the phone, please." There was the sound of shuffling as the phone changed hands.

"Hey."

"Jordy, this is gonna sound totally weird and out of the blue, but do you know anything about were-coyotes?"

"Yeah. Smaller than us wolves."

Oh, fine time for the younger Osbourne wolf to be doing his Oz-impression. "Cut the crap, Runt." There was a growl on the other end. "This is serious!"

"Alright. Fine. They don't usually cross paths with werewolves, because we tend to be bigger, but we used to have one or two near Sunnydale because SoCal is usually coyote range."

Willow nodded, pulling out a pad and pen. "Okay. Is dealing with them the same as dealing with werewolves?"

There was silence on the other end. Then, "Willow, are you and Tara alright?"

"We have some suspicions," she sighed. "That there's a were-coyote running around."

"Hate to admit it, but they're smarter than wolves. At least, if you're dealing with an experienced one. The upside is that they don't have the physical advantages werewolves do. You can do them in with just about anything." The nonchalance with which he said it didn't surprise her at all. Used to have one or two near Sunnydale, indeed.

Willow glanced over her notes. "So smarter than average, but easier to kill? I'm gonna guess that a new one won't be much trouble then. Like putting down a dog," she paused. "Not that I've ever put down a dog. That's awful."

"Are you dealing with a new one?"

"Sorta. Our friend Nick, the one we're staying with? He may have been bitten last night. No big deal right? You weres don't transform until the next fullmoon, right?"

The silence that met her was eerie. "Willow, if you or Tara are at the house, get out now."

"Jordy, what-"

"No. Get out. Now."

"Calm down, we're in town. What's wrong?"

"The coyotes. They're not like us." Back in Sunnydale, he shook with worry, Dawn rushing to his side.

"What do you mean? I thought we went through all that was different."

"Willow, they're not like werewolves. Were-coyotes…they aren't moon-called."

Willow went white. "You mean-"

"They change, moon or not."

**************************************************

Tara hummed as she balanced the bounty in her arms. A cardboard carrier containing two Styrofoam cups of caffeine-y goodness, and a large box of donuts that they could bring back to the house and share with Nick and Em.

"Tara!"

She turned her head to the sound of a familiar voice shouting her name, and had to step back at the face's look of complete panic. "Nick? What're you doing here? Shouldn't you be, y'know, bedridden."

He was weeping, and crying, snot and spittle and tears running down his face. "Tar, oh god Tar, you haveta..please, you haveta."

"Nick, what's wrong?"

"You gotta come with me Tar. Pleasepleaseplease, you gotta!"

There was definitely something wrong with him, his body pale and reeking with sweat. But, he was her friend, and he was distressed, and damn if Tara wouldn't give her all to help him. "Alright, alright Nick." He continued his simpering. "Shhh, shhh. J-just, let me p-put these in the jeep," she reached in through the open window and deposited her bounty, never taking her eyes off of him.

"You gotta, Tar. You gotta." Tara nodded and followed him to his truck, making sure to keep him in her line of vision at all times. With no small amount of trepidation, she slid in with him and the engine roared to life.

"Tara!" Willow kicked up dust as she forced her feet to stop, watching with mounting fear as her lover drove off with Nick. She took after them running, only stopping when she realized her own stupidity. "Dammit Willow! You have the keys!"

She raced back to the vehicle and jerked the door open, throwing herself inside. "AAAHHH!" Searing pain, as the unexpected Styrofoam cups spilled their heated contents on her shorts clad legs. "Shit shit shit!" Gritting her teeth, she forced her body to power through her pain.

'Don't worry, baby. Your Willow's coming.'

***********************************

Calling the ride back to the house uncomfortable would be like calling 'Duffy the Demon Hunter' a badly written show: a complete understatement. Nick's tears and cries never quite stop, and he never moved to wipe his face, giving him a red and raw look. Tara was intent on not moving her eyes from him, made all the more difficult because something was rolling around the bed of the truck, making her jump with each

BANG!

Tara jumped.

"N-nick," her breath hitched, the seatbelt digging into her skin as the truck came to a stop. "W-what's going on."

"Come. Look. Please," he pulled her from the truck, a bit more forceful than necessary. She jerked her arm from his grasp, and he stared at her blankly for a moment, before turning and leading her into the house. Tara stepped in after him, and gagged.

"Oh god, Nick! It reeks in here!" He didn't answer, and instead led her to the downstairs bathroom. "Nick?"

"You can fix her. You can fix my Ems. You can fix her."

"Fix Emma? Nick, why would Emma need-" she stepped into the bathroom and got her answer.

The floor was sticky with blood, and the scent of it made her feel sticky, too. It splattered the walls and the hanging light, casting the room in a dull, red-brown glow. And in the bathtub…

In the bathtub, in more blood than a human body should have, was Emma. Or at least, what was left of her, large chunks torn from her body and her entire head missing.

It was only her experiences in Sunnydale that kept Tara from vomiting on the spot. "Oh my god, Nick! W-was this you?"

He was sobbing again. "It's alright. You can fix her again, right? You're a witch, you can make it better."

Tara shook her head, backing into the hall. "No Nick…I-I can't fix this."

The visage of despair almost immediately turned into one of rage. "No. You'll fix her, Tar." The witch sobbed, and turned around, ready to run. Nick roared. "No, you'll Fix her! Fixherfixherfixher!"

Almost to the door, she could hear the sounds of bones snapping and flesh changing behind her. As paws thundered on the floor, she flung it open and ran into the yard. Ducking behind the truck, she finally realized what was rolling around in the back of the truck.

She had found Emma's head.

BEEP! BEEP-BEEP!

Her heart soared as she saw her salvation. 'Willow. The vehicle swerved to a stop, door flung open. Tara ducked behind her redheaded lover just in time. Willow lifted her hand just as the beast that was once Nick leapt upon them. A flume of fire struck the animal in the chest, and with a howl of rage, he thundered off in the opposite direction

In the aftermath, chests heaving, Tara buried her face in Willow's neck. "Emma's dead," she wailed, and she welcomed her lover's comforting embrace

*****************************************

It was two nights later, and neither of them were looking good at all. After some questioning from the local police, they had moved to the local Best Western. The new accommodations did nothing to soothe them. Used as they were to the loss of friends, Emma's death and Nicks affliction was different.

This wasn't Sunnydale, yet somehow, it felt as if they had brought all its hell and deposited it on their friends' doorstep. Calling back home would have brought Faith and Buffy, no doubt. But the Hellmouth needed protecting, and the witches felt that this something they needed to do themselves.

Two nights, hours of meditation, and a shady purchase by Tara had brought them to this point. Sitting on top of their jeep, uphill from where a meeting of elders was occurring.

They sat there for hours. Then the howling started.

It was time.

It was all too easy to piece together, once they found all the pieces. Around the time the numerous 'skinwalker' sightings occurred, a group of several young men had begun protesting various changes the tribe was making, preferring to hold true to tradition rather than conform to white philosophy. Cliché, but most villains were. They suspected they would strike when all the elders were gathered together, and they had guessed right.

Now that they knew what they were dealing with, it seemed all too easy. No shapeshifting, evil witches. Just a pack of were-coyotes, utilizing old tribal legends and fears for their own ends, terrorizing innocents. All in complete control of their bestial forms.

They had wanted Willow and Tara's power, assuming it'd help them further their goals.

They'd give them power.

The first beast was taken down before it even knew what hit it, Willow's fire striking its head and chest as it stood on hind legs to howl at the sky. It dropped, tendrils of smoke rising from its blackened face. The other three scrambled, snarling at this new threat.

Futile.

With a flick of her wrist, Tara knocked the legs out of a second. It hit the ground hard, and Willow was upon him instantly, bolts shooting from her fingers and into the head.

It was a brutal lesson learned early on in Sunnydale: If the wolf knew what it was doing, it was held accountable for its actions, just another demon. These weren't wolves, per say, but the principle still applied.

Tara sent a third crashing into a tree with a yelp. He hit the ground and turned, tail tucked between legs, to crawl away. The jolt of satisfaction she felt as she heard his bone's crack made her sick. The shriek that came next washed away all such thoughts.

Twisting her body to avoid a swipe by the remaining beast, Willow tripped and fell on her wrist. She clutched it close to her body, and from this angle Tara couldn't tell if it was merely sprained or broken. Only one thought remained: The beast was almost upon her, and Willow. Could. Not. Cast.

The speed at which she moved would have made a Slayer proud. Six strides. Six strides was all it took to get there, and as she did so she adjusted her newest purchase, pumped it, and pressed it against the coyote's side.

"Not. My. Woman." She gritted out, and squeezed the shotgun's trigger.

***************************************

"Four dead young men last night," the sheriff had said. "Two from severe burns, one from internal bleeding, and a fourth from what appear to be shotgun wounds."

Willow and Tara stilled, wary. Not all police could be as lenient as Sunnydale's, they knew. The sheriff sighed. "The drunken antics of young men…such a waste."

And that had been that. Now they were on their way home, Tara driving because Willow's wrist was going to be incapacitated for a while(fractured, they had been told)

Home. Where friends knew the true dangers of the world, where they knew how to fight it, where deaths could not so easily fall on anyone's conscious as they all were aware of the risks.

Home.

Somewhere in the distance, a coyote sang. Willow figured it may have been Nick. It was far deeper than any normal coyote's song, and how could it not be Nick? How could it not be Nick, when the song was filled with the sound of sorrow and regret and the loss of a mate?

Willow peered at Tara, her pale skin almost illuminated by the setting sun. Blue eyes twinkled as she too, heard every nuance of Nick's cry. Reaching out with her uninjured hand, she clasped Tara's, resting them on the shift.

It was a song, Willow vowed, that they'd never have to learn.