Chapter Forty-one: For We Have Seen the Shadows Coming, Like a Thousand Nights Before...

Saturday, November 1, 1997: Route 23, Rory Harris home, Near Ojai, Afternoon 3:35pm –

"Eww," Xander said, scowling at the open box on the work room floor. "Man, Rory – this stuff needs to be tossed. Or better: blown the hell up from a long, long safe distance away from it. Yeesh."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Rory said. "Been awhile since I had any reason to go into the storage shed lockers and take inventory. Haven't been clearing many rock piles lately."

Cordelia frowned at them, and looked down into the box. Ok, longish box with a handful of what looked like your stereotypical long red cylinders. She couldn't see what they were talking about that was making them so nervous looking...

"Ok, dweeb, like, I know I'm an amateur at this, so... " Cordelia said, "What the heck are you two babbling about?"

Xander scowled again, and then grinned at her lopsidedly. Pointing at the box, he said, "Dynamite."

Cordelia nodded, rolling her eyes. "Doh! I figured that much out."

Bending over, Xander reached into the box and wiped off a bit of what looked like condensation off of one of the red sticks. "Sweaty dynamite," he said, straightening. Glancing around, he flicked his finger, sending droplets off into an empty corner of the workshop –

– there was suddenly a loud, sharp bang! from that corner and Cordelia gave a little shriek and jumped about two feet straight up.

"Jeeze... "

"Uh, yeah," Xander said, nodding. "See, dynamite is basically sawdust soaked in nitro. So when it gets old it destabilizes and sweats... "

"And when it sweats," Rory said, "It sweats nitroglycerin."

"Yeow!" Cordelia said, her eyes wide. She backed hastily away from the box. "Jeeze, get that stuff away from me."

"Good plan," Xander said, nodding and looking serious. "Very carefully."

"The TNT is stable, though. Hope there's enough for what you need." Rory nodded, closing the box back up and carefully picking it up. "I'll take this back out, and dispose of it properly as soon as I can."

They both watched a bit edgily as he slowly left the room carrying the box.

"Ok, so... what are we going to be doing here?" Cordelia said, after breathing a heavy sigh. "You've been hinting, you and Hicks before that, at your 'toys', and now I'm curious."

"Ok," Xander said. He pointed at the stuff arrayed on and by the work tables, and the steel prep table next to the workshop's stove. "Heavy PVC pipe, aluminum tubing, electrical stuff and batteries, some of Rory's old electronic junk, all of Rory's black powder, some blasting caps, some of the model rocket stuff you and Hicks grabbed from Wally-World – which I'm really surprised they had – the two pay-as-you-go Nokia brick phones and small walky talkies... and a bunch of assorted household chemicals and some of Rory's supply. Plus a few funnels and assorted odds and ends of plumbing crap."

"Right," Cordelia said. "Either you're planning to unclog a sink the hard way, or you're gonna build a plumbing nightmare that you'd have to pay the Sunnydale building inspectors a ton of money to get by with."

"Snicker. Close," Xander said, smirking. Crossing his arms over his chest, he leaned against a shelf and raised his eyebrows at her. "It's not quite done the way that they had Reese do it in the movie, but chemicals of various types in the proper proportions really can be used to cook up plastique – plastic explosives. Which are moldable and shapeable, like silly putty. Different ones mixed right make thermite, which burns. Burns anything. Black powder burns explosively, and smokeless powder just burns. Fast. Ammonium perchlorate, potassium nitrate, aluminum powder, and a binder agent mixed properly does also, in a controlled like fashion. And TNT blows up real good, whether in sticks or taken apart and repacked properly." Xander grinned at her expression, and continued, "So, you put 'em all together and they probably won't spell 'Mother', but they will add up to a big, close range hobby rocket with a shaped charge warhead."

Cordelia raised an eyebrow, and said, "Which you said before, and I'm still without clue."

Xander nodded. "I'm getting there. Basically, a shaped charge is a formed explosive that when it goes off, forms a narrow really hot jet of plasma that burns through stuff. All sorts of stuff."

"Like, oh, say, the hard outer shell on a Terminator to let you get to the chewy center?" Cordelia said, starting to grin.

"You got it," Xander said, grinning back. "In theory, anyway."

"And of course, there is no difference between theory and practice," Cordelia said, "Except when in practice there is."

"Right," Xander said, nodding. "So we better hope I did a real good job of designing Hicks to know what the hell he was doing, and that my memories of his skills and knowledge base are accurate."

"Ok, so what are you two cooking up now?" Rory said, reentering the workshop.

"We're gonna bake a cake, Unca Rory!" Xander said in a bright, cheerful voice. "While you're loading up lots a six hundred grain solids for us."

"I think I preferred sir," Rory said, laughing.

"Sorry sir. Smart ass mode disengaged, sir," Xander said, grinning at him. Cordelia thumped him one, rolling her eyes.

"Oh, yeah. Like that'll ever happen," she said. "Ok, so what happens if theory and practice don't mesh?"

"Then if we're real lucky, we won't have to worry about the Larry-bot no more," Xander said, "'Cause we'll be looking down at him from the afterlife and smirking." Cordelia made a face, and Xander snickered, and added, "And if we're less lucky, we get to figure out if we're as good at improvising as Linda Hamilton was."

"Oh, gee. Now I'm not sure which result to hope for," Cordelia said.

"Hope Xan can do this right and it works so you won't need either plan B or C," Rory suggested.

"Good idea," Xander said, nodding. "Anyway, the more serious answer is: short range launched shaped charges, and maybe even shaped charge on a steek for poking things with. And thermite and TNT for a few high explosive incendiary warheads, just for good measure." Rory nodded back, and Xander grinned at him, and added, "And a few good old fashioned pipe bombs just because you can never have enough really big M-80's to play with."

Cordelia sighed. "Boys and their toys. So... and the assorted electronics crap and the cheap phones and not cheaper walkie talkies?"

"Circuit boards and other suchlike odds and ends," Xander said. "Because, not being James Cameron, I don't want to reach up and stick a pipe bomb into the Larry-bot from right next to him like Kyle Reese did. Looks really cool and brave in the movies, but it's kinda hard on your time traveler."

"Improvised remote detonator?" Rory said. "Good plan."

"Yeah. There's brave, and then there's desperate and stupid," Cordelia said. "Let's try and avoid getting quite that desperate, m'kay? 'Cause Willow will skin me alive if I get you blowed up."

"Can't have that," Xander said. "Ok, so... let's get busy."

"Oh no," Cordelia said, holding up a hand in a stop gesture. "We're so not doing the whole 'putting a resistance hero in the oven thing', remember? Let's make some explosives instead."

Saturday, November 1, 1997: 3743 Midland Court, Sheridan home, Sunnydale, Afternoon 3:35pm –

"Whoa," Misty said, looking up. "That is really cool. And kinda impressive, too."

That was a split level, multi-room and decked tree house built into a huge, seriously tall, spreading black walnut tree and its two closest and almost as big nearest neighbors. Rope bridges and walkways connected the three sections, and a rope ladder led up about twelve feet to a railed deck from which a staircase led up to the lowest and nearest tree house.

The central black walnut tree was so large that it rose nearly thirty feet before its first major branching caused it to fork out and spread widely and suddenly. The pecan and the oak next to it, forming a rough, shallow triangle, didn't rise nearly as high before branching out, but were just as broad, and nearly as tall.

"Scratch the 'kinda' and you'll pretty well have it," Beverly said, grinning. Kitty Kat and Chessie nodded enthusiastically, looking up with wide eyes.

They were about a quarter of a mile back into Miller's Wood from the Sheridan's back yard, and in a small clearing surrounding the trio of trees. Mrs. Summers had called and then dropped off the two cat girls and Pooka Bell prior to taking the other three girls shopping for clothes and necessities.

Benjy didn't blame her: having 'Kat and Chessie along would have been bound to get her talked about. But man – what a thing to have videos of. Benjy grinned to herself at the thought.

"All clear First Sergeant Major Chief," Pooka Bell said, zooming down and coming to a hover in front of them.

"Good work, Pook," Benjy said, grinning. "Stand down now, 'K?" Pooka nodded and zipped over to sit on Bev's shoulder.

"Didn't think you had trees like that in SoCal, outside of the Sequoia national Forest, jeeze," Misty said. "Where'd that thing come from?"

"Not sure about the trees," Bev said, shrugging. "Been here lots longer than we have. But the tree house... my dad and a few of the other neighborhood dads built it over the course of about a year for my older sis and my brother when they were around eight and ten. And their friends. I kind of inherited it."

"Wow. You could live in that thing," Misty said.

"You seriously could," Bev said. "There's even a generator in the little bitty house at the bottom, by the base of that oak tree. It's where I was thinking of putting 'Kat and the others until Dawn talked Mrs. Summers into taking them in."

"Oh?" Misty raised her eyebrows. "How were you gonna feed 'em?"

"That part I hadn't worked out yet," Bev said, shrugging.

"Need food," 'Kat said. Chessie nodded. 'Kat and Chessie had wolfed out on bar-be-que, and Beverly's mom had gotten a thoughtful look and ordered out for an extra-large pizza for Pooka Bell...

"Well, at least you guys woulda have had enough room," Misty said. "It's like the Tarzan house on the old TV show."

Beverly nodded. "C'mon, let's check the rope ladder, and then we can go up and see if the elevator still works."

"Elevator?" Misty shook her head, following Bev to the base of the pecan tree. 'Kat and Chessie gave the ladder a disdainful look, disregarded it, and swarmed up the tree trunk using claws. Misty and Bev watched them go, shaking their heads in amazement as the pair vanished inside of the first platform level.

"Yeah. For hauling things up to the first platform," Beverly said. She grabbed the ladder and gave it a good couple of yanks before chinning herself on it and letting her body weight swing from it. It creaked but held, and she let go and dropped the two feet back down.

"Figured if you were serious about doing this," Bev said, "Then we're gonna need a headquarters for the Irregulars."

"That'd do it," Misty said. She looked around them, adding, "Close to home, but kinda remote, too."

"Yeah. 'Bout another quarter mile thataway is Miller Pond where I go and plink at dragonflies with my wrist rocket," Bev said.

"Dragonflies?" Misty blinked.

"Yeah." Beverly grinned at her. "That's what I do for moving target practice. I shoot dragonflies, wasps, and hornets out of the air."

"Jeeze," Misty said, rolling her eyes. "I give up. I'm going back to my rifle." Shaking her head, she said, "Well, let's go up and inspect the barracks, Sarge."

Saturday, November 1, 1997: Mears Residence, 2417 Guava Drive, Sunnydale, Afternoon 3:35pm –

"Mom! I'm fine! I'll get something to eat later, all right?" Warren Mears called up through the intercom by the basement door of his parents home.

"Your parental units are not going to come down here to check on you?" Seven said, frowning.

"Oh, naw," Warren said, waving negligently toward the stairwell door. "I'm holed up down here all weekend sometimes without coming up. They're used to it. 'Sides – the door leading to the house is always locked. They've given up on expecting me to open it, like, as of about five years ago."

He turned back to the dual twenty-two inch monitors on his Tri-Star DEC Alpha workstation, frowning at the CAD diagram taking shape there.

"As you say," Seven said. "Still, I believe that I should replace my garments in the event that you are in error."

"Ughn, yeah," Warren grunted a bit absently. Seven's words registered on him belatedly, and he jerked his gaze from the monitor, swiveling his chair so he could soak up one last view of that body before she covered it up. "Uh, if you have to."

"Yes," Seven said, smirking at him as she bent to pick up her bodysuit. "We can resume copulation activities later, and then you can stare and drool at me again."

"Ok, works for me," Warren said, grinning. Wow. A girl that was not only freaking brilliant, but also gorgeous, and as enthusiastic about sex as any horny nerd. And who bore a distinct resemblance to a seventeen year old Jeri Ryan, to boot...

He was in sheer heaven, which was ironic seeing as how he was a confirmed atheist.

"Ok, so... alternating or direct current?" Warren said, once Seven had pulled the coverall over her breasts.

"Phase modulated," Seven said. Dressed again, she returned to her seat in front of his old NextStar that he'd jiggered to run NT as well as Next and OS/2, and networked into his growing collection of new and obsolescent computer equipment and servers.

They were still holed up down in Warren's lab in his parent's basement. Other geeks had lairs, or basement caves. He, Warren Mears, had a Laboratory where he did real work. Complete with a full electronics workshop, and an extensive array of tools and shelves and shelves of parts.

Since they'd woken up around twelve or so, the only time he'd ventured out was to grab a tray of sandwiches and some two liter cokes to bring downstairs. Heck, after getting here last night, they hadn't left off sex until almost dawn...

"Hmm," he said, frowning at his screen. He clicked to accept the file that Seven shot to him from her machine, opened it in an inset window, and scowled at it as well.

"Can you not achieve that with the technological capability of this world?" Seven asked, arching an eyebrow at him.

"Well, yeah," Warren said. "All of the battle here is knowing it can be done, and having someone like you who knows how to do the theory and the practice." He shook his head, adding, "But the problem is that I don't have a lot of the components we'll need."

"Hrmm." Seven frowned down at her screen. "I have simplified the design parameters to the barest minimum required already."

"Do you absolutely have to have a regeneration module, still?" Warren asked. "I was never really clear on that in later seasons of Voyager."

"Yes. I can do without one for some time, but after a point, I will begin to experience degradation of my remaining implants," Seven said.

"Huh. Problem is that the components I don't have are gonna be expensive," Warren said. "And that kind of money I'm not sure I can fool my dad into forking over."

"Then we shall have to determine a means of acquiring funding," Seven said.

"Well... there's always my hidden camera and real teen porn marketing idea," Warren said, thoughtfully.

"I must admit that I do not much care for that concept," Seven said, frowning at him. "It seems... both degrading and dishonest."

To be honest, now that he'd actually had sex, and had a willing partner that was better looking than eighty percent of the cheerleaders and drill team at Sunnydale High School, with the exception of Cordelia Chase and a few others, Warren was starting to find the idea a bit distasteful himself. Not that looking at nude cheerleaders would bother him, with or without their knowing about it... but the idea of feeding the images to greasy perverts wasn't sitting quite as well any more.

Must be some of Dr. Soong's influence, he figured.

"Yeah, me either," Warren said, sighing. Reluctantly, he let the concept go. "But we'll still need funding."

"Hmm. Then let us examine and inventory what you do have to work with, and determine a marketable and patentable design based within those parameters," Seven said, nodding. "You are a brilliant man, even if you are no longer Dr. Soong. The least of your designs are beyond current capabilities here, and would command a high price from the proper choice of investment speculators."

"Huh." Warren began nodding. She was right... he hadn't ever really thought about taking some of his ideas into legitimate markets before. Only of using them for his own pleasure and gratification. But there were vast, as yet untapped markets for robotics and cybernetics – untapped because, honestly, the capabilities hadn't been invented yet.

Profitable markets.

"You know," Warren said, "Leaving the voyeuristic porn alone, 'cause hey, I'm not really enthused there either, any more... there's still a huge market for, uh, entertainment, uh, toys."

"You are speaking of sexual gratification robotic devices, are you not," Seven said, raising an eyebrow and smirking at him.

"Well, yeah," Warren said. He shrugged, "It's not like profiting off of real girls against their wills. And rich guys – and womenwould pay a lot for, uh, perfect partners built to their specifications."

"True," Seven said, nodding. "However, that may be something best left for a future venture. For the moment, we need more immediately attainable options."

"Ok," Warren said. He swiveled his chair around to face her, and leaned forward. "Shoot. Start throwing ideas and options at me, and I'll bounce them back and we'll see what we come up with."

Nodding, Seven leaned forward as well, and they began to brainstorm.

Saturday, November 1, 1997: Pirate Ship Windover, somewhere in the seas of the Never-After, Evening: sometime indeterminate –

Captain Ezekiel Hook grinned at his First Mate, the Lady Joy, as the two of them looked out across their new command. It had been a long rest of the night and long day of hard work getting the Bloodfin and the Windover to the rendezvous point with the rest of the fleet, but now it was done. Finally, they'd met up and hove to with the others of Admiral Landlorn's command. Darkness had just fallen again, and he, Joy, and their crew were just now finishing transferring over from the Bloodfin to relieve Blackjack Tar and his Prize crewmen.

He never had made it back to his quarters aboard the Bloodfin, working long hours into the day to make ready for the transfer of command.

"Sweet ship, Senior Captain," Joy said, her eyes sweeping the decks from the vantage point of the quarterdeck.

"Aye, that she is," Hook said, nodding. His gaze went to the crewmen who were escorting the last of the transferred crew from Bloodfin, the collection of new cabin and scullery urchins – and a small few others.

The blonde Viking lass, whose name he'd still not learned, and the curvaceous red-gold devil gal, whose name he couldn't pronounce, came to a halt before the quarterdeck. Neither cruelly nor roughly, the devil girl pushed forward the two prisoners she and her companion were escorting.

"They insist on speaking to you, Cap'n," Devil Girl said, rolling her eyes.

"Nothing for it, lass," Hook said. "Crew, even former crew, have a right to petition their officers."

The Viking gal said something Scandinavian sounding and struck first Saucy Morgan and then the former Pirate Elise behind the knees with her scabbarded sword as Devil Girl pushed them down. They went to their knees, looking up at him and Joy with horror struck expressions.

Joy smirked down at them, stepping back a bit to let Hook have the center stage here.

"Chad!" Morgan said, her eyes huge. "There's a mistake! Something horrible's happened here – you've got to let us go and we've all got to escape from here!"

"Nay, Lass," Ezekiel Hook said, his tone not unkind. "Nay mistake. The only error it is that I'm seeing is your calling me by a name that's not my own."

"But – you're Chad Everette, a Sunnydale High School student," Elsie said, her tone desperate. "Like us. You- you're not some pirate. That was just a costume! For last night!"

"Please, Chad," Morgan said. "You've got to listen to us. We don't belong here."

"Aye, 'tis true and that is," Hook said, smirking. "Ye belong on the crew. And as soon as ye learn and master yer new duties to me satisfaction, the sooner ye'll earn yer boots and swords back." He shook his head, adding, "As to the rest... I am Senior Captain Ezekiel Hook, late of the Bloodfin's complement and now Commander of the Black Fleet Pirate vessel Windover."

"No, Chad," Morgan said, shaking her head a bit dully. "You're Chad Everette, a football player. And we're Junior Varsity cheerleaders from Sunnydale."

Sighing, Hook shook his head again. "A shame it is that ye've turned out to be Changelings, but it happens to a few every time, or so I'm given to understand. It'll make it nigh impossible for ye to be crew again, but not unheard of."

"You're serious about this," Elise said, fear slowly turning to terror in her eyes, "You raped us all last night while we were all... under whatever it was. And now you- you're going to... "

"Make chamber wenches and bed warmers of you both for as long as it suits his fancy?" Joy suggested, laughing. "Of course."

"Noooo... "

"Aye," Hook said. "We have little use for changelings, but for such as yerself, there's always some use to be had."

Morgan began to say something else, but at Joy's slight head shake, the Viking girl cuffed her sharply and she subsided. Elise glanced fearfully back and up at the Devil Girl.

Joy sighed, and said, "Apply yourselves to your new position, and maybe you'll earn favor. Even as changelings."

"Orders, Captain?" Devil Girl asked.

"Take them to their new quartering by my cabin," Hook said. "I'll send ye to bring them when it is rested enough for proper sportin', I am."

"Aye," Devil Girl said, hauling Elise up onto her feet while the warrior girl did the same to Morgan. "Will you be wanting the two of us to report for special orders later?" she said, jerking her head to the Viking girl, and running her tongue over her lips lasciviously.

"Aye, that I will. Now off with ye."

Hook and Joy watched, grinning, as the protesting Morgan and Elise were led off.

Neither of them noticed the small, battered and cold eyed figure wearing black that had paused to watch the little tableau, not even when it was given a rough shove by Pirate Mitch, the former Mitch Fargo and herded below after the rest of the scullery crew.

Saturday, November 1, 1997: Sunnydale High School, Sunnydale, Evening5:30pm –

"Ok, so, basically, there I am, just walking in through my front door," Buffy said, waving her hands, "And suddenly, there's this green glowing pixie with two little eeny weenie swords going 'halt and identify!' at me."

Standing on the steps with Jesse and Aura, Willow giggled at Buffy's animated description. Buffy grinned at her, and continued. "So, I said, 'hey, I'm a Buffy and I live here,' and start to push past her." Pausing for dramatic effect, she then added, "And then she lunges in and jabs me right in the freaking nose with her sword, dammit!"

"Ow," Aura said, laughing.

"Yup." Buffy snickered, and said, "And then I shout for mom and look past her, and there's these two little cat girls and a little devil girl wearing Dawn's spare pajamas in the hall doorway, yawning at me. So I yell, 'demon!' and go charging in, and then everything comes unglued on me."

"Oh, having seen 'Kat, Chessie, and Devila in action, I can only imagine," Aura said, starting to grin from ear to ear.

"Heh. Wish someone woulda warned me," Buffy said, grinning back. "So, there I am with my slay ready and then freaking Dawn comes barreling out and throws herself in between me and them yelling 'Buffy you're scaring them!' at me. And so I nearly break in two putting on the brakes, right? 'Cause brat or not, Mom would have a cow if I slayed Dawnie. And then the Devil girl and gray spotted cat girl freaking disappear. Thin air, no foolin'."

"Yup. Seen this trick, only in reverse," Aura said, nodding.

"And I'm standing there all 'Whut? Whut?' and then there's this tap on my shoulder from behind and a purring voice sez in my freaking ear, 'Hi there!' all bright and chipper like," Buffy said, her hands energetically punctuating every syllable.

"Oh, gods, can't breathe, stop..." Willow gasped out, holding onto Jesse and laughing so hard her face was purple. Jesse wasn't in much better shape, nor was Jenny Calendar.

"I'm supposing from what you told us earlier, Buffy," Giles said, chuckling, "That you did not end up slaying them."

"No. Dawn and mom wouldn't let me," Buffy said, sticking her lower lip out.

"Probably just as well," Angel said. It had just gotten dark enough for him to go outside with them without turning into vampire flambé. Now they were all standing around by the front of the school, still trading stories from late last night.

"Yeah," Ms. Calendar said. "You'd probably have felt horrible once you found out what was going on."

"Not at that moment, no," Buffy said, shaking her head. "So, anyway, I go BWAH! And jump out of my skin, and come down and nearly brain myself on the coffee table, and another little voice sez 'Hey there!' right in my other ear."

"I can see it now," Jesse said. "Don't tell me, lemme guess..."

"Yup. BWAH! Again, only this time I land almost on gray kitty girl," Buffy said, snickering. "And freaking Dawn and the black kitty girl are on the floor holding onto each other and laughing themselves sick fit to bust, and gray kitty girl sez, 'Oh, that just never gets old! She's funny!'"

"Oh, gods..." Willow said again, tears starting to trickle out from under her eyelids.

"And then mom comes out and sez, 'Buffy! Stop scaring them!' like I'm the bad guy," Buffy said, rolling her eyes.

"Well, I'm glad you didn't slay 'em anyway," Aura said, giggling.

"Me not so sure," Buffy said, "Considering that Chessie and little Devil Girl scared me out of about ten years growth popping up and tapping me on the shoulder from behind me. And I can't afford to lose any growth – Dawn'll be taller than me before long."

"Yeah, they do that," Aura said, snickering. "And 'Kat can step into and out of shadows the size of Jesse's shoe, just about."

"Tell me!" Buffy said, shaking her head and laughing.

"Oh gods," Willow said, finally managing to get some breath back. "So, what's going on with them now?"

"Oh, they're fine, Will," Buffy said, "Anyway, Mom was taking them all out shopping for clothes this afternoon, after she dropped 'Kat, Chessie, and Pooka off at the Sheridan's. I almost bailed on you guys to go with and watch that one. Bet that was gonna be a total zoo."

"She and Dawn took Devila with them?" Aura asked.

"Yup. They figured she could pass wearing one of Dawnie's hats, as long as the tail was hidden," Buffy said, grinning.

"So, you're adopting the whole crew?" Jesse said.

"Looks like," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. "Mom's already talking about getting a mini-van as a second car. Besides, they can't go back home, can't dump 'em on the street, and they really can't fit in anywhere else. And no way are we letting there be any chance of them getting hauled off to some laboratory."

"Oh, those poor parents," Jenny Calendar said. "Not ever knowing what happened is going to be so rough for them."

Jesse nodded, and Buffy gave him a sympathetic look.

"Gods," Willow said. "I can just imagine."

"So, what's next?" Buffy said, looking at the others. "Considering we're about as post slayage debriefed as we can get now."

"Well, I'm planning on going by the hospital to see Kendra," Aura said, "And then get something to eat before dropping Jesse off at the Sheridan house. You guys want to come with?"

Willow glared slightly at the casual reminder of Aura and Jesse, and then brightened visibly. "Oh yeah! Seriously would like to see if Kendra's going to be ok." Buffy nodded.

"I'll have to go get my car," Angel said, "And then I can join you all there."

"Don't forget to get in touch with Kendra's Watcher, Mr. Giles," Aura said. "I promised her."

"Of course," Giles said, nodding. "I'll continue trying until there's a response at the number the Council gave me for him. It is the least I can do."

"Do that, Giles," a rough, growling voice came from above and behind the small group. "The black frail will need someone to look in on her once these aren't around any more."

From the corner of her eye as she spun around to look back and up, Buffy saw Jesse's face pale and his own eyes go wide.

"Creed," Jesse said.

"Hello Fisty Boy," Victor Creed said, as he launched himself off the front roof of the school. He came to a crouching, balanced landing atop one of the big stone lions at the end of the walkway before the steps. "Figured we'd continue where we left off, whattya say?"

"Figured you were too tough to kill," Jesse said. He took two long steps to his right, away from Buffy and the others, and added, "And I'm not Daniel Rand, anymore. Just plain old Jesse McNally."

"Gonna be a really short dance, then," Creed said.

"Giles. Ms. Calendar," Buffy said, quietly. "Back inside. Go."

"Yeah," Creed said, nodding. A slasher smile slid across his lips, showing nearly an acre of pointed fangs... "I'd do what the frail says."

"Aura, you and Willow run, now," Jesse said, equally quiet and soft. "Your quarrel is with me, Sabretooth. Leave them alone."

"Buffy," Giles said, as he and Jenny started to back toward the school entrance. "You can not fight him."

"I'm thinking this fight picked me, Giles," Buffy said. "Go."

Her eyes wide and showing white all around, Willow broke and ran up the steps after Giles and Ms. Calendar as they continued to back toward the school. Aura began backing down the steps away from Buffy and Jesse.

"You're not gonna have much to say on it, whoever you are," Creed said, "But you're right – I got no real fight with 'em. You or the dead man, either," he added, looking at Angel as he backed up to stand beside Buffy.

"You have one with my friends, you've got one with me," Buffy said, as Jesse took another two steps to his right.

"Up to you," Creed said. A low, rumbling snarl came out of his chest, and he launched himself off of the head of the stone lion directly at Jesse.