Legacy of Damnation
A Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Highlander/
Poltergeist: The Legacy/Kindred: The Embraced Crossover
by Richard Ruth
Copyright 1998

Legalistic Disclaimer
Hello again. As usual, this is the deal: The concept and characters of
`Buffy the Vampire Slayer` (Buffy, Angel, Xander, Willow, Giles, Spike,
and Drusilla) belong to Joss Whedon, Twentieth Century Fox, and Mutant
Enemy. Over in Seacouver, the concept and characters of `Highlander`
(Duncan, Richie, and Joe) belong to Davis and Panzer Productions and
Rysher. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the concept and characters of
'Poltergeist: The Legacy' (Derek, Nick, Rachel, Katherine, Alexandra, and
Philip) are the property of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. And finally, as for the
'Kindred: The Embraced' clans (Julian, Frank, Lillie, Daedalus, Cash,
Sasha, Sonny, and Cameron), they were spawned by Spelling Entertainment
Group. Everyone will be returned to their respective masters none the
worse for wear (yeah, right). Also, thanks to my beta readers, Mary Ellen
Jedrlinic, Claudia Diamond, and Paul and Maria Passadakes (who,
unfortunately, were all roughed up a bit in the name of showbiz).

One last thing before I get this show on the road, please do not re-post this
story without first gaining the author's permission (ahem...that would be
me). Violation of this caveat may result in decapitation, staking, damnation
to Hell, or worse (being forced to watch reruns of 'Gilligan's Island' comes
to mind).

** Important: Author's Note **
This is a sequel to my two other crossover stories, "Immortal Dilemma" and
"Who Wants to Live Forever?" To minimize confusion, I recommend that
you read them before delving into this twisted tale (among other things, I
indicated that Xander is a pre-Immortal of the 'Highlander' type). When
necessary, I've also taken the liberty of filling in some annoying gaps in
character development.

Simply put, in my universe, Richie Ryan was never senselessly killed and
Angel is still his likable, yet tortured, self. Therefore, any episodes of
'Highlander' and 'Buffy' that indicate otherwise (including death and the
loss of a soul) are disavowed in these stories. Also, if you think you notice
some juggling on my part involving the 'Buffy' timeline, you're right. This
is because the show's second season finale REALLY threw me for a loop.
Finally, please keep in mind that this is the mother of all crossovers --
incorporating aspects from four series. Although I've tried to minimize any
plot inconsistencies, some are inevitable. Got all that? You do...really?
Damn, you're good!

Remember, all (positive) comments are welcome. All other (negative)
comments will be criticized and/or ignored (hey, sometimes you get what
you pay for). Please direct E-mail to: ruth@pbworld.com. Once again,
enjoy.


Legacy of Damnation

Spike was not in a good mood today. Not good at all. In fact, Sunnydale's
head vampire was rarely in any other kind of mood these days...and for very
good reason.

In recent months, the conqueror of two previous Slayers had experienced a
series of devastating defeats: He had been betrayed once again by his sire
Angelus, who since regaining his soul a century earlier had become
downright hostile; the current Slayer had dispatched most of his minions;
and finally, that freak, Xander Harris, had somehow survived what should
have been a fatal attack to instead wreak unimaginable havoc on him and
his beloved Drusilla...ahh, poor, sweet Drusilla. The female vampire never
fully recovered from that assault and had withdrawn into a shell that even
Spike couldn't penetrate. It was similar to the time a mob had attacked her
in Prague -- only worse.

Sitting in a large valve chamber located in the sewers deep below
Sunnydale, Spike slowly surveyed his current lair as he thought about the
love of his life...or more precisely, afterlife...lying quietly -- in fact, nearly
always silent now -- in the darkness of their adjoining bed chamber.

"This wasn't supposed to happen like this, Luv," Spike mumbled to himself.
"We shoulda owned this 'burb by now, damnable Slayer or not!"

Outside, in a tunnel leading to the chamber's entrance, two lesser vampires
stood guard.

"He's talking to himself again."

"Be quiet, he'll hear you."

"I think his brain got fried after the witch got it."

"Shut up, damn you! He leads, we follow. Got that?"

"Well, maybe it's time for some new blood around here."

With a mocking expression, the second vampire replied, "You? You're
nuts! He'd tear your heart out and hand it to...hey, who's that?"

The two creatures suddenly became aware of a figure slowly making its way
along the tunnel's narrow walkway in the dim light of bare incandescent
bulbs. As they stealthily started towards their prey, one humorously
whispered to the other, "Hey, did you order take out?"

Suddenly aware that he was no longer alone, the stranger quickly spoke into
the darkness, "Don't harm me, I've come to discuss a business transaction
with your master."

Stepping into the light, the elder of the two vampires, Thomas, asked,
"What kind of business transaction?"

His cohort, however, was less of a conversationalist, stating, "Screw this,
let's eat," as he started to advance on the mortal.

Without missing a beat, the newcomer quickly removed a large cross from
under his coat, causing the younger vampire to quickly shield his eyes and
retreat.

"Now that's not very polite, gents. Do we really have to do this the hard
way?"

With an annoyed expression, Thomas remarked, "Excuse my friend, he's a
little impulsive. Now, why are you here?"

"Simple. I'm here to speak to your leader. Spike, is it?"

"Why?"

"I'd rather tell him myself, if you don't mind."

"Turning to his companion, Thomas stated simply, "Watch him. And if he
moves, kill him."

"But the cross...?"

"Won't kill you! For the love of Caine, where are we finding these
cowardly neonates these days?" Then, moving towards Spike's inner
sanctum, he added, "Bottom of the barrel, one and all."

Before interrupting his leader's reverie, Thomas quickly examined his
surroundings. Spike was sitting on the concrete floor with his back against
a damp brick wall. A large rat was quietly scurrying around the vampire's
feet. Spike, meanwhile, seemed to be totally engrossed with a filthy,
partially burned girl's doll he was holding in his hands. Additionally,
although Thomas realized it was impossible for a vampire, he could swear
that Spike had aged in recent months. Then without looking up, the
platinum-blonde vampire asked, "What is it now?"

"Sorry to disturb you, master, but there's a mortal here asking to speak to
you."

With a look of disdain, Spike rose and, placing the doll aside, asked, "What
are we running here, mate, an open house? Since when do I grant audiences
with my dinner?"

Sensing from the look in Spike's eyes that his continued existence might be
in jeopardy, Thomas quickly replied, "He says he wants to discuss a
'business transaction.'"

After remarking, "Business, huh?" Spike retrieved his leather great coat
from the back of a nearby chair before remarking, "Fine…show him in. I
can use a good laugh."

As the stranger was led before Spike, the man quickly extended his arm to
shake the vampire's hand. In response, Spike merely looked down at the
extended limb with a look of disdain, making no effort to return the gesture.
As the mortal slowly withdrew his hand, he remarked in a clipped British
accent, "Well, so much for good English manners."

"Yea, well gent, I never was much for tradition and all."

"Pity."

"Perhaps, but nowhere near as much of a pity as when me and the boys feast
on your carcass."

"Oh, you wouldn't want to do that, Spike."

"No? Why wouldn't I? You look like a pretty juicy bloke to me."

"With a grin, the man answered, "Thank you...I think. But, be that as it
may, if you kill me, you won't hear my business proposition."

With an impatient wave of his hand, Spike turned and started moving
towards the other side of the large room, commenting, "This better be
good."

The middle-aged mortal responded simply, "Well, what would you say to
destroying the Slayer, her Watcher, friends and, oh yes, her
boyfriend...what's his name?"

Quickly spinning on a booted heal, Spike spit out a single word, "Angelus,"
before quickly moving to stand mere inches away from the stranger.

"You talk a good game, friend. But you're not the first to make this little
sales pitch to me. What makes you so special?"

"Let's just say that I have some special insight that may be useful."

With a sneer, Spike replied, "Special insight, huh? It had better be, mate.
You could say that your life depends on it."

"Oh, I'm counting on that."

With a somewhat confused expression on his face, Spike asked, "Pardon
me?"

"You haven't asked what I expect in return for helping you eliminate your
enemies."

"Damn. There's always strings attached. Nobody kills these days for the
sheer pleasure of a job well done." After a moment, Spike then asked,
"Fine. What do you want?"

"Oh, not much. No more than simple immortality."

"So, you want to live forever."

"Yes."

Moving his face even closer to the man's, Spike replied, "Fine. You help
me kill ALL my enemies and I'll give you eternal life..."

With a broad smile, the mortal then commented, "Very well, let's shake
on..."

"I'm not finished yet!"

Quickly losing his smile, the man asked, "Excuse me?"

The vampire then continued, "Be warned. If you fail me, I'll have your
head on a pike and your guts for gravy." Spike then grasped the mortal's
outstretched hand and, vigorously shaking it, added, "You have my word on
that, gent."

With a nervous swallow, the vampire's new partner gulped, "Of course.
That seems only...fair."

Almost as an afterthought, Spike then asked the man, "Who are you,
anyhow?"

The reply came with a snide grin, "Just call me Ethan."

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

"Aaah, listen to that Willow, Isn't it great?"

After a few moments, the teenager asked somewhat sheepishly, "What is it,
Xander? I don't hear anything."

"Exactly. Peace and quiet rein supreme in the halls of Sunnydale High...for
a change. I love summer break."

"So why are you here then, Xander? I know I promised to help install some
new computer equipment in the library. But I thought you'd be off
somewhere with Cordelia."

"She went shopping at the mall."

"So?"

"Will, have you ever seen Cordelia and her friends in shopping mode?"

"No."

"You're lucky. Believe you me, it's not a pretty sight. I've seen them strip
whole departments at Nordstrom's faster than a chocolate-covered poodle
dunked in a piranha tank.

Visibly cringing as she tried to conjure up that bizarre mental image, the girl
replied, "That's not a very pretty picture, Xander."

With a resigned expression, the teen replied, "Tell me about it. And that
doesn't even begin to describe what goes on at the cosmetics
counter...yeeeooow!"

"I was talking about the poodle/piranha thingy, Xander."

"Oh."

After taking a few more steps down the hall, Willow then repeated her
initial question, "So why ARE you here, Xander?"

"To work out in the weight room."

Allowing a decidedly more pleasant image than poodles and piranha creep
into her brain, the girl tried to suppress a grin as she replied simply "Oh.
Well, that's good."

"Yeah, well I just want to firm up my upper arms and chest a bit. Richie
Ryan thinks they're a little too thin and I kinda agree."

"Good idea, Xander. You can never be too hard...ah firm...ah, I mean, fit.
Yes, that's it, fit." Blushing, she then shyly added, "I have to go now. I
think Giles is waiting."

With a puzzled expression on his face, the boy then watched as Willow
quickly retreated down the hall.

Continuing on towards the athletic center, Xander stopped at an open
doorway upon hearing the distinctive sound of a body impacting a gym mat.
Stepping into the cavernous space, he soon heard a familiar male voice
asking, "New move, Buffy?" I definitely would have remembered that
one."

"Angel used it to flip me onto my back last week."

Xander quickly digested this last remark before loudly clearing his throat.
Four eyes quickly focused in his direction. The only problem was that the
female owner of two of them was currently pinning her male companion to
the floor with an armlock.

With a mild expression of contempt, Xander couldn't resist asking, "Excuse
me for asking, Buff, but why would dead boy have needed to flip you onto
your back?"

Before responding, the Slayer quickly looked into the blue eyes of Richie
Ryan before answering somewhat hesitantly, "Well, ahh, we were practicing
some new positions, ahh moves, yes that's it, defensive moves in his
apartment..."

"Please, Buff, say no more. I REALLY don't want to know." Then,
realizing that both the girl and the young red-headed Immortal were slick
with sweat and similarly attired in loose fitting sweatpants and T-shirts,
Xander asked, "However, I can ask what YOU TWO are doing here?"

Before Buffy could respond, Richie rapidly raised his right leg towards the
side of the girl's neck and proceeded to topple her from astride his legs.

"Hey, that's not fair, Richie. I wasn't ready."

Standing up, the young man quickly extended his hand to her and asked,
"What's the first rule of survival in battle?"

Grasping his hand, she answered, "I know...I know...ALWAYS expect the
unexpected."

Then, turning towards Xander, Richie stated, "And speaking of
prepared...Buffy found me waiting for you in the parking lot. After a few
minutes, we decided to come in here and work out together. That was
nearly an hour ago."

"Sorry, I overslept. I was out late last night."

Upon hearing this, Buffy wasted no time in getting in a quick verbal jab,
asking, "Oh, that reminds me, how did your date with Cordy go last night?"

With a horrified expression, Xander barely managed to gasp, "Date? Date?
Who said anything about a date?"

"Oh, no one. I just happened to be patrolling in the park last night and I
thought I saw her car up on Lovers Leap."

"Ahh...well...ahh...there's a completely rational explanation for that."

"Yeah, sure, you were checking Cordelia's oil." This helpful remark came
from Richie as he was running a towel through his short hair.

"No. NO! That's SO untrue!"

With a tight smile, Buffy then commented, "Well then, that's really a
coincidence that there are two brand new red Corvettes in Sunnydale with
'Born to Shop' stickers on the rear bumper."

"Well, it IS just a coincidence, Buff. After all, stranger things have
happened around here."

"Some stranger than others, Xander."

Sensing that this conversation had run its course, Richie then asked Xander,
"Well, now that you're finally here, are you ready?"

"Yeah. Just give me a couple minutes to change. I'll be right back."

As Xander walked past, heading towards the locker room, the Immortal
responded by saying, "Well, hurry up then," and proceeded to clap the palm
of his hand on the teen's back, squarely between the shoulder blades. The
response was instantaneous.

"OW...OW! Shit that stings!"

With a wink towards Buffy, Richie then asked, "What? A little sore this
morning?"

Turning back to face the pair, Xander answered, "No...not sore.
My...ahhh...cat scratched my back last night as I was...ahhh...washing it."
With his face now crimson, he quietly added, "Damn cat has got to cut her
nails. They're lethal."

After the boy had left the gymnasium, Ryan turned back towards the Slayer
and remarked, "Let's see now. His back was scratched while washing his
cat while seemingly not wearing a shirt. Did I miss anything?"

"No. I think that about covers it."

"I didn't know Xander had a cat."

"He doesn't," Buffy replied.

"Oh," remarked the Immortal.

The Slayer then stated, "Just one of those 'strange' Sunnydale happenings, I
guess."

"Guess so," the Immortal answered. Then, after a few moments, he asked,
"Did I ever mention that MacLeod must have a pussycat just like Xander's -
- right down to the killer set of claws?"

"No, you never did."

Barely able to stifle a laugh, he remarked, "Really? Well, her name's
Amanda and you met her a few months back."

Quickly tossing her towel over the Immortal's head, the Slayer then
deadpanned, "That's bad, Richie...REALLY bad!"

Through the cloth, she heard the muffled reply, "Hey, they can't all be
gems. So sue me."

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

A few minutes later, Buffy entered the school library to find Giles in a state
of near panic. It seemed that as part of the library's planned computer
upgrade, the old card catalog files were being removed in favor of a new on-
line database. Unfortunately, nobody had bothered to mention this to the
librarian, who was now literally being dragged kicking and screaming along
the information superhighway. Therefore, Willow had taken hold of the
sleeve of the middle-aged man's tweed jacket to prevent him from blocking
two burly movers now attempting to roll the ancient wooden card cabinets
towards the library's double doors.

"Calm down, Giles. It'll be all right."

"But, my cards. What happens if the power goes out on those infernal
machines of yours? How will students find the books they require?"

"Giles. Other than Buffy, Xander, myself and, occasionally, Cordelia, what
other students EVER come in here?"

"But, maybe things will change next semester. Library usage may
increase."

"And pigs may sprout wings and fly."

Hearing this remark, Giles then turned towards the room's most recent
arrival and snapped, "That's not very funny, young lady. I think the
increasing illiteracy of today's youth is a very serious matter which is
eroding the moral..."

At this point, the Slayer realized that Giles would have to run down like an
overwound watch before she would be able to get a word in. Therefore, she
let her mind run through a list of things she had to do that day, including
picking up groceries for her mother, buying a pair (or two or three) of shoes
at the Galleria, and doing the usual slayage thing after dinner. Let's see,
had Giles finished his speech yet?

"And another thing, Buffy, a great democratic society needs..."

"Nope. He's not done yet," she thought as her mind once again wandered.
"Oh yeah, Angel. Gonna see him at the Bronze tonight. I wonder if mom
had a change to get my black mini out of the cleaner's yet -- and if the blood
stains came out? That would look pretty good with a red blouse. Maybe
he'll be wearing that white silk shirt and black jacket. He looks hot...VERY
HOT, actually...in that suit."

"And just what are you smiling at, Buffy? I see nothing humorous about the
potential downfall of Western civilization."

Suddenly snapping out of her trance-like state, the Slayer could only reply,
"Gee Giles, I never knew you had such an...unusually...strong attachment to
some 3x5 index cards."

"Well, there ARE some things you don't know about me, Buffy."
After her Watcher turned away and walked back towards his office, Buffy
muttered, "Obviously," under her breath and, catching sight of Willow,
discretely put a finger to the side of her head and started moving it in a
circular motion. In response, the other girl simply nodded and rolled her
eyes skyward.

After a few minutes, Giles had downed a nice cup of hot Earl Grey and
calmed down enough to ask Buffy why she had come to his library in a
rather sweaty and disheveled condition.

"Richie Ryan and I were working out in the gym."

"Where? In Seacouver?"

"Oh...no...sorry. Our gym. Here in the school. Duncan MacLeod is doing a
big-time overhaul of the dojo, so he gave Richie a few days off. Therefore,
he and Xander rescheduled their weekly male macho exercise thing they do
to this morning."

With a quizzical look, Giles then asked, "So how did you get involved?"

"Well, I was out for my morning jog when I saw Richie leaning up against
his motorcycle in the parking lot. Xander was late for their appointment."

"Typical behavior for Mr. Harris."

"Yeah, well, I warmed up Richie until Xander finally arrived. I think our
visiting Immortal should be getting his revenge by now. He really had
Xander on the ropes when I left. Hey, Willow..."

Turning towards the school's resident computer expert, Buffy instead saw
the girl's empty chair and one of the room's outer doors slowly swinging
closed in the distance.

As he used a handkerchief to wipe the lenses of his glasses, Giles then
remarked, "That's very odd. Miss Rosenberg doesn't usually just up and
leave like that. I wonder where she could have gone in such a hurry?"

"The gym."

"Excuse me? What's in the gymnasium that would interest her?"

Without saying a word, the Slayer simply stared at the man for a few
moments. Suddenly, his facial expression changed as what should have
been an obvious realization finally dawned on him.

"Ahhh...yes...the gym...Mr. Harris and Mr. Ryan..."

"That's very good, Giles."

"But Buffy, I thought Willow was interested in that young man she met at
the costume party a few weeks ago. What was his name?"

"Oz."

"Yes, Oz. Aren't they an item?"

"Not yet really, they're both a little shy."

With a look of concern evident on his face, Giles then remarked, "Well,
maybe it's for the best. Those musical types tend to be sort of wolfish when
it comes to young ladies. Willow should be careful."

"She's a big girl, Giles. Stop worrying so much."

Then, as Buffy was turning to leave the library, Giles remarked, "Oh, Buffy,
before I forget, I'm driving up to San Francisco tomorrow to conduct some
research over the next couple of days with an old friend from school. I'll
give you a number to contact me should anything happen."

As the librarian quickly jotted down the information on a notepad, Buffy
remarked smugly, "Once again, don't worry so much, Giles. What can
possibly happen in two days?"

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

At that moment across town, Ethan had the attention of Spike and his
motley crew of undead fiends. They were closely examining blueprints
spread across a wooden picnic table that had been stolen from a park located
above the lair.

"You didn't mention that this place is in San Francisco," remarked Spike.

"I didn't think it was important. What's the problem?"

"Well, friend, we vampires are sort of territorial types. And there just
happens to be some major...issues...about dropping in on our cousins up
north.

"Not up to the challenge, Spike?"

With a dangerous glare, the vampire remarked, "You just worry about
getting us in. And I'll get us back out."

"OK. Now, where was I? Oh yes, once we get past the gate, it should be
relatively simple to invade the building and gain control."

After emitting a loud snort, Spike then remarked, "It should be simple, huh?
Let's see, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, now I remember. It
was also going to be relatively simple to kill that Slayer bitch, Buffy. That
little misjudgment nearly got me and Drusilla killed."

"But Spike," Ethan continued, "this is different. It's a sure thing."

With more than a hint of menace in his voice, the vampire then added, "For
your sake, you'd better hope so, mate."

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

Late the following afternoon, Giles was gingerly driving his car across the
causeway leading to Angel Island. Located in San Francisco Bay, the island
was an exclusive enclave for some of the city's most influential and
powerful families. In fact, the librarian was somewhat puzzled that some
people actually seemed to turn their noses up as his time-tested 1960s
vintage automobile putted past. He had no idea what their problem was,
except for the fact that he needed a muffler and occasionally left a trail of
smoke in his wake.

Finally finding the driveway he was searching for, he pulled up to an
imposing set of nondescript iron gates flanked by a guard booth and a
surveillance camera. Before he even had a chance to finish rolling down his
window, the guard started to approach.

"Sir, can I help you?"

"Well, yes ah, I mean, I believe so. My name is Rupert Giles and I'm here
to see Dr. Derek Rayne."

"Please wait here, sir."

The guard then returned to the booth, checked a clipboard, and picked up a
telephone. After a few seconds, the man placed the receiver back into its
cradle and pushed a button to open the black gates which were adorned
simply with a gothic style capital letter "L" bisected by a sword. He then
motioned for Giles to proceed onto the grounds.

"Please drive up to the main portico. You may park there."

"Thank you," Giles responded as he started up the winding path leading to
the massive fortress-like edifice that served as the headquarters of the Luna
Foundation, which was known throughout the region as a philanthropic
institution specializing in occult and paranormal studies. However,
unbeknownst to Giles, the structure also housed the Legacy, a secret ancient
society devoted to stopping supernatural forces from overwhelming the
world. As he passed manicured lawns and gently swaying weeping willow
trees, the librarian couldn't realize how this would soon impact his life --
dramatically.

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

Later that night at the Bronze, Sunnydale's popular watering hole -- wait,
make that Sunnydale's ONLY watering hole -- for the teen set, the usual
suspects had gathered to buy overpriced soft drinks while also having their
inner ears permanently damaged by grunge groups with unpronounceable
names. In short, the audience loved every second of it, including Buffy,
who was sitting at a table along one of the walls.

About ten minutes after arriving, the girl's nerve endings started tingling,
indicating the approach of a member of the undead fraternity. After a few
seconds of scanning the crowd, she quickly relaxed after identifying the
interloper as he slowly emerged from the smoky haze permeating the club.
However, certain other body parts continued to tingle in response to the new
arrival.

"Hey," the tall, black-haired vampire known as Angel remarked with a
quirky grin.

"Hey, yourself."

"Sorry I'm late, but I got delayed. My snitches tell me Spike's up to
something big."

After taking a sip of soda, Buffy stated sarcastically, "Gee honey, I'm fine.
Thanks for asking."

"What?"

"We haven't seen each other for nearly a week and the first thing out of
your mouth is 'Spike is up to something.' Hey, newsflash -- Spike's
ALWAYS up to something!"

Finally realizing his error, Angel looked straight into the Slayer's eyes and,
taking her hand, said, "I'm sorry, Buffy. After so many years of being
alone, my manners got a little rusty. It's just that I worry about you -- all the
time -- and don't want anything bad to happen."

After a few seconds of silence, a small pouty smile began to form on the
girl's lips. Taking hold of the man's hand, she remarked, "Well, I don't
know if I should accept that apology. After all, like they say, 'talk is cheap.'
I'm not sure..."

Before she could finish, the vampire quickly leaned over the table and
silenced her with a kiss. After a few seconds, he moved his face close to her
right ear and whispered, "After two centuries, not everything got rusty." He
then completed this less than cryptic message by gently nibbling her earlobe
and adding two more words to his prior statement: "I promise."

Before Buffy could respond, she realized a shadow had been cast across the
table. As she and Angel quickly looked up, they immediately identified its
source.

"Ahhh, isn't this cozy. If it isn't Dracula and Juliet. I hope I'm not
interrupting anything vile and unthinkable here."

"Hi Xander. What's up?"

"Nothing much, Buff. Same old, same old. I'm alone...and you're
not...unfortunately."

Before Buffy could respond, Angel jumped into the conversation by asking,
"What happened, Xander? Cordelia go shopping again?"

With a hint of righteous indignation, Xander quickly replied, "No! She had
something VERY important to take care of...alone."

As the two continued to stare him down, the teenager sheepishly added,
"She had to go to that all night hair and nail place across town.
She...ah...found a split end today."

Proving that a vampire could gloat, Angel then remarked, "Oh
yeah...VEERRRY important," as he simultaneously pushed back his chair
and rose.

"Well, at least she's got a pulse, buddy."

Quickly leaning forward towards Xander, Angel responded, "Oh, that's
right. Start with the dead jokes again. How original."

As the two men continued to argue, Buffy couldn't help but smile as she
sipped her drink.

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

Meanwhile, nearly 150 miles up the California coast, dinner had been
served on Angel Island. Dessert and drinks had also been thoroughly
enjoyed by all present. Assembled around the large rectangular oak table in
the grand dining hall were Derek Rayne, leader of the San Francisco Legacy
House. To his right were Nick Boyle, security expert and Derek's second in
command. To Nick's right sat Alexandra Moreau, a Legacy researcher.
Across from them sat psychologist Rachel Corrigan and her daughter
Katherine. At the other end of the table sat Giles. One seat at the massive
table was empty -- the one belonging to Father Philip Callahan, who was
currently working at a disadvantaged parish church in nearby Oakland.

Amidst crystal chandeliers and lighted candelabras, the conversation was
warm and pleasant.

"So Mr. Giles, what brings you to San Francisco?" asked Dr. Corrigan.

After taking a deep breath, and then another for good measure, Giles said,
"Well, actually, I was hoping you might have some information on reversing
the condition of vampirism."

As Derek's eyebrows shot upward, Nick placed his wine goblet down
before asking, "As in vampires? You think you're a vampire?"

With a nervous laugh, the Watcher replied, "Me? Oh no, of course not."

Upon hearing this, Rachel asked, "Excuse me, Mr. Giles..."

"Please, it's just Giles. There's no need to be so formal."

"Fine...Giles, I'm confused. You're a librarian in a high school, isn't that
correct?"

"Yes, in Sunnydale."

"Then why do you need information on vampires? They're mythical
creatures, like elves and fairies."

To this, the librarian replied softly, "No, I'm afraid they're not."

Steepling his fingers in front of him as the exchange between Rachel and
Giles continued, Derek decided that a direct approach would probably work
best. After knowing Giles for nearly 30 years, he trusted that his friend
would tell him the truth. Placing his hands flat on the table, he stated,
"Giles, although there have been some undocumented cases of vampirism
over the centuries, our records on the subject are surprisingly voluminous.
However, I must know why you really want this information? You realize
that the Luna Foundation is very careful about the dissemination of ANY
occult information.

Slowly taking a sip of wine before answering, Giles had previously decided
that he wouldn't relate any specific information concerning Angel's
existence to the group. This was because he didn't want to betray the
confidence the vampire had entrusted to both Buffy and himself by
revealing his true nature to them. He also didn't want to endanger Angel by
spreading this knowledge any further. However, if at all possible, he
needed to know if a spell existed that could restore the vampire's humanity.
Therefore, he decided to do what any reasonable person would in a similar
position -- he decided to stretch the truth in a big way.

With a nervous lilt evident in his voice, he stated, "I have an acquaintance
who displays all the classic symptoms of vampirism, except of course he
doesn't actually attack people. Otherwise, I would immediately inform the
authorities."

"You actually think your friend is a vampire? You're kidding, Giles?"

"No, I'm very serious, Mr. Boyle. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here." Then,
turning towards Derek, he added, "In fact, he's the principal reason I came
into position of the duLac Cross I gave to you a few months ago."

Rachel then asked, "But Giles, isn't it possible that your friend is delusional
or mentally disturbed...simply believing that he's a vampire?"

"No, I'm afraid not. I believe he's the genuine article."

"My God...a vampire. We thought we found evidence of one last year, but
we couldn't be sure. Giles, have you witnessed his transformation?" asked
Derek.

"No, not the actual transformation. However, I've seen the end result."

Now obviously excited, Derek said, "Giles, maybe we can help. If you
would just tell us who this person is..."

The Watcher did not wait for Derek to finish his statement before
responding, "No. Sorry. I can't do that. He has no idea I've come here. I
could never betray a confidence like that." Then, as if to emphasize the
point, he looked directly into the faces gathered around the table before
adding, "I'm sure all of you can understand that." In response, several
heads nodded.

Derek then heard the chimes of the clock above the fireplace and, glancing
down at his own watch, stated, "Due to the lateness of the hour, Giles, I'd
like to consider your request overnight. In the meantime, Alex can show
you to your room."

As the group rose from their seats, Giles could only reply, "Thank you." He
had stated his case and there was really nothing he could add.

After Giles and Alex had gone upstairs, the three remaining Legacy
members silently walked into the large adjoining sitting room. Quickly
approaching a nondescript bookcase, Derek tripped a sensor that activated a
laser to scan the pattern of blood vessels in his right eye. When a match was
made, the security system's computer deactivated a holograph camouflaging
the entrance to a state-of-the-art control room. This was the nerve center of
the Legacy House, full of computers, telecommunications equipment, and
scanners. Once inside, conversation resumed when the shield was back in
place."

"Do you trust him Derek?" asked Nick.

"I've known Rupert Giles since our days at Oxford. We all dabbled in some
spellcasting back then. But, he's never lied to me before."

"But what about now? People change."

"I know. He may be hiding something. He seems to accept the existence of
supernatural forces a little too easily. Almost as if it's a common
occurrence for him."

Hearing this, Rachel quipped, "Around here it is, Derek."

"Yes, I know. But he's not from around here." After a few moments, Derek
then turned to Nick and said, "I think we need some more background on
Rupert Giles as well as some information on the good town of Sunnydale.
Nick, can you and Alex start researching this now so I can make a decision
by tomorrow morning?"

"Do we have a choice?"

"No, not really."

"Then I guess we'll get started."

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

Later that night, after most of the members of the household had retired, a
white van pulled up to the gates of the mansion. As usual, the guard in the
gatehouse quickly investigated who the unexpected visitors might be.
Walking up to the side of the vehicle, he used his flashlight to illuminate the
interior. The driver had a cockney accent.

"Hey mate, is this 313 Seraphim Drive?"

"No sir, that's on the other side of the island."

Turning to a curly-haired man seated next to him, the driver quickly
snapped, "Damn, I told you we were lost." Then, turning back to the
security guard, he said, "We have a very special delivery in back. Could I
use your phone to tell them we're going to be late?"

After a moment of hesitation, the guard responded, "Ahh, I guess it would
be OK."

Stepping from the van, the driver followed the guard back to the gatehouse.
However, before he could lift the phone, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
When he turned, he was confronted by a now demonic visage, including a
ridged forehead and a set of large fangs. Looking deeply into the man's
eyes, Spike calmly stated, "Open the gate." Unable to resist the vampire's
overwhelming power of suggestion, the guard then keyed in a combination
on a numeric keypad. Moments later, the gates started to part.

With a broad grin, Spike then said, "Thank you" before slashing the man's
neck with a razor-sharp claw. After he had finished feeding, the vampire
unceremoniously dumped the lifeless body onto the booth's floor,
muttering, "There's nothing like a late night snack for a good day's rest."

As Spike returned to the van, Ethan remarked, "Now remember, we have to
infiltrate the vault room quickly. It's in the basement."

"That's your concern. We're not even inside yet."

"Faith, Spike. Have faith."

The vampire merely growled in response. He then started driving up the
winding path to the Legacy House.

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

A couple of minutes later, a buzzer sounded in the butler's quarters. At
night, the doorbell only sounded in the servants rooms so as not to
needlessly rouse the other occupants of the house. This arcane system was a
relic from the time when the mansion served as an estate for a business
tycoon's family. Pulling on a robe, James the manservant quickly plodded
across polished wooden floors in slippered feet to open the door.

Back in the control room, Nick and Alex were still researching Sunnydale's
bizarre and mysterious history. Although the two had extensive experience
in dealing with paranormal phenomena in their line of work, they were still
amazed by the sheer volume of unexplained occurrences they had found on
the Internet about the small, seemingly tranquil, town.

"And you're telling me that the high school cheerleaders started to
spontaneously combust?"

"That's what a dozen witnesses said."

"Nick, it's obviously a hoax."

"OK. Fine, Alex, it's a hoax. But then, how do you explain the college
fraternity brothers who were sacrificing girls to a demon they allegedly kept
in their basement? Or the high school principal who was mauled...no...make
that eaten...by a pack of dogs?"

"Well, people are attacked by dogs every day."

"He was in his office at the time."

"Oh."

"Yeah, 'oh' is right...and now...what the hell is this?"

Glaring at one of the wall-mounted security monitors, Nick saw a van
parked outside the front door and a man ringing the buzzer. This was
strange enough, since the guard at the gate should have called ahead to alert
them. Then, as he continued to watch the screen, he noticed something that
immediately set off alarms. The back doors of the van had suddenly swung
open and various types of equipment seemed to simply FLOAT towards the
front door. While stating, "Oh, shit! We've got a problem!" he was
simultaneously reaching into a drawer for his .45-caliber automatic pistol.
However, before Nick could do anything else, James had already opened the
mansion's front door.

"Good evening sir, how may I help you?"

Quickly stepping inside, Ethan then removed a gun from under his jacket,
and replied, "Well, for starters, you can die!" He then pumped two slugs
from a silenced pistol into the older man's chest and stared down at the
body now lying motionless on the floor. However, before Ethan could
proceed any further, he heard a voice behind him ask, "Are you forgetting
something, mate?"

Ethan then turned back towards the doorway and stated, "Oh, sorry, where
are my manners? You chaps are all invited in."

Stepping over the threshold, Spike muttered, "That's better" and was soon
joined by six other ghouls carrying assorted tools and boxes.

Meanwhile, back in the control room, Alex screamed, "Oh, God! They shot
him!" when she saw James slump to the floor on one of the monitors.

Nick's only reply was, "I know" before quickly adding, "Alex, listen to me.
We have to follow procedures here. First, I need you to contact the police.
Tell them that a group of gunman have broken into the house and that we
need help IMMEDIATELY."

"But, why did they kill him?"

"Alex, stay with me here. Call the police -- NOW!"

Overcoming her initial shock, Alex started dialing 911 as Nick quickly
entered codes on a keyboard. Within seconds, an alarm klaxon started
sounding both within the house and on the surrounding grounds, while a
satellite uplink was established with the other houses in The Legacy
Consortium. Almost instantaneously, the organization's gothic logo,
normally displayed on the wall-sized projection screen, was replaced by the
images of faces sitting in similar rooms in Montreal, Cairo, Paris, Moscow,
Tokyo and, most importantly, the Ruling House in London. The protocols
Nick was using, essentially a distress call, were only to be used under the
most dire circumstances. However, before he could speak, he heard Alex
slam the phone down behind him and exclaim, "Nick, the line's dead! They
must have cut it!"

In reply, he could only mutter, "Well, they planned this out. Whoever they
are?"

Meanwhile, upstairs, Derek was roused from a sound sleep by a noise he
had hoped never to hear, namely the emergency siren. After retrieving a
revolver from his nightstand drawer, he stumbled across the bedroom,
pulled on a robe, and headed into the room's closet. Once inside, he
activated a lever that opened a hidden passage running the length of the
house. Within seconds, he was exiting a closet in Rachel Corrigan's room.

"Derek, what is it? What's happening?"

"Offhand, I would say we have uninvited guests. That's the intruder alarm.
Nick must have activated it."

"I have to make sure that Kath's all right."

"No. I'll do it. You have to stay here. And be sure to lock and, if possible,
barricade the door."

As the Prefect of the house turned back towards the passageway, Rachel
could only say, "Derek, please be careful."

As he disappeared back into the gloom, she heard his reply, "I intend to be."

Back downstairs, things were not exactly going according to plan. Upon
hearing the alarm, Ethan angrily shouted, "Oh, bloody hell!"

With an almost fatalistic air, Spike simply remarked, "Now, let's see. What
was it you were saying earlier? Oh, now I remember -- 'It's a sure thing.'
Well, it's sure not a surprise anymore. That siren's loud enough to wake the
dead -- hey, I think I just made a funny."

"It's still not a problem. We just kill anybody that gets in our way. You can
do that, can't you Spike?"

As the vampire sent two of his lieutenants upstairs, he himself moved in the
direction of the sitting room with two others, while muttering, "Oh, yeah, I
think I might be able to handle that...starting with you, you no good
bugger." Meantime, Ethan and the remaining vampires went in search of
the doorway leading to the basement.

Back in the control room, from where he was monitoring the progress of the
invasion via closed circuit cameras, Nick was also conveying what would
possibly be the last communique from San Francisco. "This is Nick Boyle.
The San Francisco House has been invaded by unknown forces. We request
immediate assistance. Our communications have been compromised and we
have been unable to contact the police. At least one man is already dead."

"Nick, this is Don MacIntyre in Montreal. We're contacting the San
Francisco authorities from here. Help will be on the way shortly."

"Thanks, Don."

"Mr. Boyle, this is Peter Burton in London. Can you be more specific when
you say 'unknown forces' have invaded your house."

"What?"

"Are they human, Mr. Boyle?"

After some hesitation, Nick somberly replied, "I have reason to believe that
a SUPERNATURAL force may be behind this."

As the other Legacy members considered this information, Burton, the
acting head of the organization, stated, "Mr. Boyle, you MUST do
everything in your power to ensure that this entity or entities does not take
possession of anything in your vault. In the wrong hands those items..."

With a look of disgust, Nick interrupted by stating, "Yeah, I know...I know.
Thank you for your concern, Burton. I'll do all I can. Boyle out." After the
connection was terminated, Nick looked across the room to Alex and said,
"Good to see that London is keeping its priorities straight -- as usual."

"I wonder what Derek's doing?"

Before he could reply, however, Nick was suddenly staggered by an intense
pain which started in the back of his head and rapidly settled in his temples.
As he reached for a console to steady himself, Alex couldn't help but notice
his suddenly flushed expression.

"Nick, what's wrong."

As the man rubbed the side of his head, he cryptically replied, "I think our
problems just got worse." He then added, "Alex, please listen to me. No
matter what happens, don't leave this room. You should be safe assuming
the holoscreen holds."

"But, Nick..."

"Alex, promise me that you'll stay here."

Reluctantly, the young woman answered, "I promise." However, before she
could add, "Take care, Nick," he was already gone from sight.

At that moment, back in the sitting room, Spike was experiencing a very
unsettling case of deja vu thanks to the sudden sensation which had rippled
through his skull moments earlier. It hadn't been that long since he had
experienced nearly the exact same feeling -- and he wasn't in the mood for a
replay. His cronies, however, were simply confused.

"Spike, my head hurts."

"Yeah, mine too. Why is that?"

As he scanned the room, Spike replied, "Offhand, lads, I'd say that there's
somebody with a long lifeline creeping around here somewhere." His
vampiric sense of sight then picked up a slight shimmering along one of the
walls that would have been imperceptible to a mortal. Moving towards the
virtual bookcase, he commented, "Now what do we have here?"

As the vampire moved to touch the projected image, the room was
immediately filled with a high-pitched whine. Spike instantly pulled back
his hand as if it had been burned -- which, in fact, it had. After roaring,
"SON OF A BITCH!" he soon added, "Relatively simple my ass...this job's
turning up all sorts of nasty surprises."

"What happened, Spike?"

"Some sort of energy barrier...I think."

"I never heard of anything like that. Are you sure?"

With a look of supreme annoyance, Spike immediately grabbed his crony by
the arm and flung him face first into the barrier. As his quivering mass hit
the floor, the smell of burning flesh was overwhelming.

"Yes, I'm sure. And now so are you, Einstein."

As the third vampire present helped his companion back to his feet, Spike
continued to survey the mysterious doorway, rhetorically asking, "I wonder
what in the bloody hell could be in there?" He immediately got his answer -
- in the form of three lead slugs tearing into his flesh. As the force of the
bullets' sent him stumbling over an armchair, Nick Boyle seemingly stepped
out of the wall and replied, "Well, it's not the Avon lady, buddy boy."
Then, before the other vampires in the room could respond to his presence,
he proceeded to cut them down by sending the remaining six slugs from the
gun's clip into their chests.

As Nick ran across the room and up the adjoining staircase, he was not
completely surprised to see the men he had just fatally shot -- at least it
SHOULD have been fatal -- starting to move again. He also heard what
could only be described as loud growling coming from them. Well, he had
sensed something out of the ordinary in the house -- and this definitely
qualified. However, he was not prepared for what he saw coming down the
stairs towards him. Two extremely annoyed, fully transformed vampires.

After remarking, "Boy, you guys -- whatever you are -- really are ugly
mothers, aren't you?" Nick didn't hesitate before emptying a second clip at
point blank range. As one vampire stumbled over the railing and crashed to
the floor below, the other slammed into an antique suit of armor displayed
on the landing and started writhing in pain. Nick then rapidly made his way
past its prone form and to his bedroom -- locking the door behind him.
After once again reloading his gun, he reached under the king-sized bed and
retrieved a well-oiled rapier. Examining it in the dim light, he somberly
remarked, "Boy, I hope I don't have TOO much explaining to do," before
heading into the secret passageway concealed behind a piece of paneling.

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

Back on the mainland, the central dispatcher for the San Francisco Police
Department was receiving what was perhaps the longest distance 911 call in
the city's history. Making good on his promise, Don MacIntyre in Montreal
had notified the police that an armed group breaking into a mansion on
Angel Island had already killed a man and that others were also in danger.
The response was immediate. Within a minute of receiving the call, a fully
armed SWAT team was racing towards the island led by a team of
detectives who were now speeding down Interstate 880. As usual, with a
city full of cops to choose from, Detective Frank Kohanek and his partner
Sonny always seemed to be the lucky recipients of just this type of call.

Driving their unmarked car, Frank idly remarked, "Angel Island, huh? I
wonder what's going down? Art theft, safe cracking, jewel heist?"

"We'll see when we get there, Frank."

"It's just not every day that we get called to that neighborhood, Sonny.
Some pretty high and mighty types out there."

"Sure, Frank."

As he continued to rapidly chew his gum, Frank could only reply in
exasperation, "God, Sonny, don't you ever get excited about anything?
Sometimes I wonder if you're human."

The young black man sitting in the passenger seat only responded by coolly
turning his head towards the vehicle's driver.

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

Back at the Legacy House, help was still several minutes away. Meantime,
in the basement, Ethan and his associates had found what they had come for
and, not surprisingly, it was locked up tight.

Surrounded by an assortment of safe-cracking tools on the floor, the mortal
remarked, "Well, we don't have time to decipher the combination and it's
too thick to cut through. Guess we'll just have to blast."

"Blast? You never told Spike anything about blasting," Thomas stated with
a hint of disdain in his voice. "And what keeps us from being buried down
here if the roof caves in? I don't know about you, friend, but I didn't dig
myself out of one grave to be buried in another with you. Sorry, been there,
done that."

With some disdain in his own voice, Ethan replied, "For Christ's sake, it's
the 20th Century. You guys should really wake up and smell the
technology." Then, removing two bricks of gray putty-like material from a
satchel, he proceeded to stick them onto the hardened steel of the large vault
door. With an almost cheerful exuberance, he cooed, "C-4 shaped charges.
Those fools at the Sunnydale Armory never even missed them."

"Have you ever used this stuff before?"

As he proceeded to hook several wires up to a detonator, Ethan reluctantly
replied, "Well, not exactly, but I've read some stuff on the Internet about it."

Upon hearing this, Thomas quickly motioned for the other vampire to
retreat out of the basement and up to the main floor. Approaching the top of
the stairway, he met Spike and his two guards coming down.

"So where's Dr. Frankenstein? I've already been shot and nearly
electrocuted tonight. I don't know what else can go wrong?"

As if in answer to his question, the next words which greeted his ears were
"Fire in the Hole!"

"WHAT IN THE BLOODY HE..."

However, before Spike could finish the statement, an immense explosion
rocked the building to its stone foundation. Also, as several laws of physics
clearly state, the energy of an explosion in an enclosed space is going to
follow the path of least resistance, namely up the open stairway. Therefore,
before they could do anything about it, the five vampires found themselves
being instantaneously blown back into the kitchen on the floor above.
When the smoke finally cleared, Spike had three of his minions piled on top
of him. The fourth, however, was impaled on a row of wooden pegs used to
hang aprons and kitchen utensils.

Although he was now bleeding from the ears, Spike immediately roared,
"Get the hell off me!" Then, noticing his desiccated colleague on the wall,
he absently thought, "Well, I guess, we don't turn to dust when we're away
from the Hellmouth. Big, stinkin' consolation that is!" He then headed
back down the stairs.

Meanwhile, up in the living quarters, the explosion also did not go
unnoticed. In fact, several of the ornate stained glass windows blown out by
the shock sprayed Rupert Giles with thick shards of lead crystal. This was
just the latest indication to the Watcher that something was very wrong on
Angel Island. First that godforsaken siren, then gunshots and the sounds of
struggling outside his door, and now an explosion. Sunnydale was
beginning to seem like a paradise in comparison -- and how often could that
be said? Now, strangest of all, as the Watcher -- well, watched -- Derek
Rayne and Nick Boyle were stepping out of his closet. One was armed with
a gun and the other with a sword.

"Derek, what in the world is going on here? What was that explosion?"
Then, after a moment, it also dawned on Giles to ask, "And what are you
doing in my closet?"

However, before his friend could reply, Nick, possessing more information
than his boss, decided to fill both Derek and Giles in simultaneously.

"The house has been invaded by a group of creatures. Somehow, they got
past security and that explosion was probably them blowing open the
basement vault. The really strange thing is that one of them looks like Billy
Idol."

Upon hearing this, Giles and Derek exchanged glances. Derek spoke first,
"Nick, what do you mean when you say 'creatures'?"

After a moment, Nick replied, "I shot several of these guys at point-blank
range. Although they weren't wearing any body armor, they just kinda
hissed and got right back up. But, weirdest of all were the two I shot on the
stairs. They were REALLY messed up. In fact, they actually had fangs.
And, to top it off, except for one of them, they were invisible on the security
monitors. I've never seen anything like it."

Giles couldn't help but remark, "Uh oh."

Turning towards the librarian, Derek asked, "Does this mean something to
you, Giles?"

After briefing mulling over the consequences of revealing the truth, he
decided that honesty might in fact be the best policy. After a few seconds,
he replied, "I believe you may be dealing with vampires." Then, seeing the
look of disbelief on Derek's face, he reluctantly added, "This is very similar
to some recent events in Sunnydale."

After reluctantly digesting this information, Derek then asked, "Now,
assuming you're correct -- and that's a big assumption -- you wouldn't
happen to have any ideas on how to stop them, would you?"

Without hesitating, the Watcher replied, "Well, the traditional methods
include decapitation or a wooden stake through the heart."

Derek then turned to Nick with a somewhat skeptical facial expression and
asked, "So, what do you think?"

The reply was simple and direct, "Hey, we've seen stranger."

"Agreed. But now what do we do about it? We can't just wait up here
while they ransack the vault. There are some items in there that we can't
afford to lose."

"Derek, I don't think this is the time to worry about worldly possessions
while lives are at stake."

"Dammit, Giles. I don't care about money. Some of the items we safeguard
here can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. You're duLac Cross is just
one of dozens of very...unique...artifacts in our vault. Do you understand
what I'm saying?"

"Oh. OH! Sorry, my mistake."

Quickly turning back towards Nick, the Prefect of the Legacy House stated,
"We have to stop them."

"That may be easier said than done, Derek."

After remarking, "Who said it would be easy?" Derek finally seemed to take
notice of the large piece of sharpened steel that Nick was expertly holding at
his side. He asked, "Nick, where did you get that sword?"

"Well...ah...it's my old Navy sword from my SEAL days. When I saw that
bullets weren't stopping those guys, I thought I'd try something else."

"Very good, Nick, that was fast thinking."

"Yes, very wise indeed, Mr. Boyle."

"Well, wise or not, we have to get outta here and stop those bastards."

Derek then remarked, "And for that, we need a plan."

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

Down in the basement, Ethan had been sheltered from the force of the
explosion by taking cover behind the immense cast-iron furnace in the
center of the room. After the dust cleared, his eyes beheld a beautiful site;
the previously gleaming stainless steel vault door was now blackened and
twisted to reveal its treasures. However, before he could proceed inside, he
felt himself being held by the scruff of the neck. When he finally managed
to turn his head, he was staring into the golden eyes of a very torqued-off
vampire.

"Are you bloody psychotic?" Spike's voice boomed. "Setting off a bomb
INSIDE a building that I'M in! I never gave you permission to do that!"

"I never asked for it."

Lifting the man off the ground, the vampire growled, "Boy, it's going to be
a real joy to drain you. I'm going to savor every moment of it."

"Now, Spike, don't be hasty. We've come a long way. Don't ruin
everything now."

"I'm not going to ruin anything -- well, for me anyhow -- as for you, that's
another matter since you'll be dinner and all."

"Spike, just look into the vault and tell me what you see."

Looking over Ethan's shoulder, the vampire was not impressed. "I've seen
better stuff at a tag sale. This is why we came here?"

"You don't even know what you're looking at. Put me down and I'll show
you."

Allowing the man to drop to the ground, Spike stated, "Pull another lame-
brained stunt and it'll be your last."

As he muttered something about the vampire's lack of a sense of humor,
Ethan quickly moved into the vault and surveyed his surroundings. Then,
sighting the objects of his desire, he pointed at them and excitedly said,
"There they are!"

To this, Spike sarcastically replied, "Ooh, dusty old hopechests. I bet
nobody else on my block has even one, let alone five."

Completely losing his patience with Spike's sarcasm, Ethan replied,
"They're not just chests, you fool. They're Sepulchers...THE
SEPULCHERS...and with them we can do or have anything we want!"

Upon hearing this, for the first time in a long time, Spike actually seemed
intrigued.

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

"OK, Derek, the police have been called, so we have to keep those goons
occupied until they get here. Then at least we might have a chance to stop
them."

"What do you have in mind, Nick?"

"Well, first off, you and Giles have to get to Rachel and Katherine and make
sure they're safe."

To this, Derek quickly replied, "I already did that, I took Katherine to
Rachel's room. Right now, they have the doors and windows blocked. I
doubt if anything can get in there."

"Wise precaution, Derek," commented Giles, "Rachel wouldn't stand a
chance against vampires while trying to protect her daughter."

"Oh, I don't know about that, Giles, she can be a pretty surprising woman."

Nick then continued, "Next, we have to get out of here and get downstairs.
Derek, these passages also lead down to your study, don't they?"

"Yes they do, why?"

"Because I think our best hope is to open up a two front assault on these
guys."

Giles then asked, "What do you have in mind, Nick?"

"For starters, you and Derek make your way downstairs through the tunnels,
while I take a more direct approach down the main staircase. Then, in about
five minutes when you get my signal, you come out shooting. Although
bullets don't seem to kill vampires, they do seem to distract them. If
everything goes according to plan, I should be able to finish the job with
this," Nick added, brandishing the sword.

"But Nick, we don't even know how many there are in the house."

"Do you have a better suggestion, Derek?"

After a short pause, the Prefect dejectedly replied, "No, I guess not."

Nick then handed his pistol to Giles and asked, "Do you know how to use
one of these?" He got his reply when the Watcher quickly checked the clip,
replaced it, and chambered a round.

As Derek looked on in disbelief, Nick could only remark, "I'll take that as a
'yes.' He then added, "OK, let's get to work."

Almost as an afterthought, Giles then decided to ask, "Ah, Nick, what will
your signal be?"

In response, he mysteriously replied, "You'll know it when it happens,
Giles."

"Well, then, good luck Mr. Boyle."

As both Giles and Derek moved towards the closet, Nick started to slide a
dresser away from the door leading into the upstairs hallway. However,
before disappearing completely into the darkness, the head of the San
Francisco Legacy House advised his protege, "Don't try to be a hero, Nick."

Looking back in his direction, the young man grinned and responded, "Hey,
Derek, I have an image to uphold."

As he vanished from view, Nick heard his boss reply, "That's what I'm
afraid of."

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

Back downstairs, work was continuing apace. Ethan was excitedly directing
the transfer of the Sepulchers into the van as Spike and his two guards
dispassionately observed.

"Careful, you fools, don't damage them! They're extremely fragile!"

"And they also probably have a toy surprise inside," sneered Spike.

"That's not funny, Spike. All five must be in perfect working order for our
plan to succeed."

"Well, don't let me pour cold water on your wet dream here, Ethan, but if
they're so delicate, I also assume you have some way to open them."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, genius," Spike remarked, "I definitely see locks on those chests.
Therefore, I also assume you have the matching keys."

Looking suddenly thunderstruck, Ethan sighed, "The keys?"

"You don't have the keys? I don't bloody believe it! You idiot!"

"They must be back in the vault. The explosion must have buried them. I'll
be right back." However, before he could move back towards the cellar, he
was distracted by the sound of clashing metal coming from somewhere in
the adjoining room.

"What in the hell is that now?" Spike asked rhetorically.

As he, Ethan, and two guards then went to investigate the disturbance, they
couldn't know that they would receive the answer in the form of Nick
Boyle's "signal."

Having quietly exited Giles' bedroom minutes before, Nick had proceeded
down the hall until he finally met resistance on the balcony overlooking the
floor below. This came in the form of the vampire who had earlier been
slammed into the suit of armor on the stairs. Seeing the sword in Nick's
hand, the creature rapidly started retreating until he once again encountered
the demolished pile of armor. Glancing down, the vampire noticed a sword
and shield lying amidst the debris. Retrieving them, he growled, "I'll slice
you to pieces, puny mortal."

"Hey, there's nothing puny about me. But, you're looking pretty ripe,
friend. And what's that smell? You guys aren't exactly spring fresh, are
you?"

Sparks flew as sharpened steel clashed. Initially, neither combatant had a
clear advantage. However, that situation rapidly changed when one of
Nick's downward slashes cleanly sliced through the vampire's right arm,
causing the creature to drop the heavy shield. The response was
instantaneous. Snarling, the vampire left his feet and landed a forceful kick
to Nick's midsection that flung the man into a wall -- bruising and possibly
cracking a couple of ribs.

Now coughing up blood, Nick regained his footing and made a feint
towards the vampire's wounded arm, which he quickly redirected upwards
when the vampire defensively moved to protect its injured limb.
Remarking, "Bad move," Nick then sliced the creature's head from its
shoulders, causing the body to instantly shrivel to the consistency of
parchment.

"Oh, that's just lovely" Nick idly remarked. With the pain in his chest
subsiding somewhat, he then eased himself down the stairs and, noticing
movement coming from the front vestibule, decided it was time to send his
signal. Placing his sword down, he removed a standard-issue U.S. Marine
hand grenade from inside a fanny pack, crouched down between the stair
treads and the wall, pulled the pin, and lobbed it towards the entryway. He
then covered his head with his forearms.

As Spike and company were moving towards the sitting room, they
suddenly became aware of the soft whirring sound of metal rolling across
wood. Immediately becoming cautious, Spike sent his two goons ahead as
he and Ethan held back a few paces. Their caution was rewarded when they
noticed a small olive green object roll into view. Screaming, "GET
DOWN!", Spike tossed himself behind a heavy sofa -- followed closely by
Ethan -- as an immense blast rocked the building, blowing out most of the
remaining windows on the first floor as well as sending a plume of flame
and smoke towards the front door.

Simultaneously, back in the control room, the explosion also shorted out all
the computer systems, knocking out the holographic projection system and
sending sparks cascading down upon Alex, who had hidden under one of
the larger consoles.

Meanwhile, back in the sitting room, a clawed hand suddenly materialized
from behind the overturned sofa as Spike slowly got back to his feet. Ethan,
however, was still groggy and slower in regaining his footing. Their
companions was not so fortunate, however. Having caught the brunt of the
explosion, the two vampires were eviscerated by the cloud of debris that
struck them. Then, to top it all off, Derek and Giles suddenly burst from an
adjoining doorway and started rapidly firing in Spike and Ethan's direction,
hitting the vampire in the arm and midsection, while sending Ethan back
behind the furniture.

Seeing the Watcher, Spike could only say, "YOU...I should have known!"

In shocked recognition, the Watcher could only mumble, "Spike? Ethan?
What the hell?" However, in so doing, the Watcher momentarily forgot to
keep firing his gun, thereby allowing the vampire to dive towards the front
doorway and disappear. Giles then heard a voice coming from behind the
sofa, "Derek, it's good to see you and Giles again. It's just like the good old
days at merry old Oxford.

In answer, Derek shouted, "I should have known that someone like you
would be behind this, Ethan!"

"That's right, someone like me, Derek. I gave the best years of my life to
the Legacy. And what did I get in return? They drummed me out! The San
Francisco Prefecture should have been mine, not yours! I was next in line!"

"You're unstable, Ethan! This proves it. You need help."

"I've got all the help I need, Derek. Oh, best of all, say goodbye to your
precious Sepulchers. It was very considerate of you to assemble all five in
one place. I didn't think the Ruling House would approve of that. I assume
you never told them."

As the sound of an engine wafted into the room through the shattered
windows, Ethan quickly popped up from behind the chair and, firing his
own gun, sent the two other men scrambling for cover. After Ethan dashed
from the room, Giles and Derek heard a car door slam shut, followed
moments later by the sound of tires screeching off into the distance. After
only 15 minutes, the attack on the Legacy House had ended.

Quickly surveying the room, Giles immediately realized that Derek was no
longer standing next to him. Instead, the Prefect had headed up the stairs
and was now kneeling at Nick Boyle's side. Joining them, he soon realized
that the young man's condition was grim. Protruding from Nick's stomach
was a railing baluster that had evidently been blown loose during the
explosion. Occasionally coughing, blood was also slowly trickling down
from the corners of his mouth.

"I guess I should have zigged when I zagged, Derek."

"Nick, just be quiet, help is on the way. We'll get you to a hospital in no
time and you'll be fine."

With a strangled laugh, the man replied, "Did I ever mention that you're a
lousy liar, Derek?"

"Nick, please be quiet. Don't talk. I'll only increase the bleeding."

Giles then chimed in, "Yes, Nick, you really should remain still and
conserve your strength."

Disregarding this advice, the mortally-injured man instead said, "Derek, I
know I'm dying and so do you...nothing can prevent that." Reluctantly,
Derek could only weakly nod in response.

"You've got to do exactly as I say. Please promise me?"

Expecting to hear a final request from the young man, Derek answered, "Of
course, Nick." However, he could never imagine the form that the request
would take.

With sirens now becoming audible in the distance, Nick stated, "You've got
to take me up to my room and pull this damn thing out."

"Nick, I can't do that. You'll bleed to death."

Coughing once again, he replied, "Please listen, Derek, I'm already bleeding
to death. This is my only chance to recover."

Hearing this, Giles immediately locked eyes with the prone young man and
asked, "Nick, what are you saying?"

"I can't go to a hospital. Derek, as my friend, please do as..." the statement
went unfinished as Nick's head rolled to the side as he passed out.

Taking hold of Nick's shoulders, Giles started lifting his body when Derek
violently grabbed him by the forearm. "What the hell do you think you're
doing?"

"We've got to get him upstairs."

"We'll do no such thing, Giles. We can't move him. The paramedics will
be here momentarily."

"Derek, listen to me, I've seen this sort of thing before. We have to do
precisely as Nick says."

"He was delusional, Giles! We can't act on anything he said, he wasn't
thinking..." Derek was then interrupted by a small streak of lightning that
suddenly appeared on Nick's forehead, instantly closing a small wound."

"What in God's name is happening?"

"Derek, we've got to get him upstairs -- NOW! It's for Nick's own good,
believe me!"

Reluctantly, the other man grabbed his assistant's legs and started lifting.

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

As Spike's van careened towards the causeway leading off Angel Island, he
soon found himself heading directly towards the detectives and SWAT team
responding to the emergency call. Narrowly avoiding a head-on collision,
Frank Kohanek immediately spun his Chevy Caprice around, radioed the
SWAT team to continue on to the crime scene, and started pursuing the
suspects at high speed. Before long, the chase had proceeded onto the
notoriously hilly streets of San Francisco. With sparks flying from the
undercarriages of both vehicles as they hit the pavement, it quickly became
evident that something was going to have to give pretty soon.

"Damn, this son of a bitch can drive. I'm doing 95 and I can barely keep
up!" Frank exclaimed as two hubcaps were blasted off the cruiser by the
latest impact.

In the seat beside him, Sonny quickly added, "We have to end this before
somebody gets killed."

"Yeah, like us for example!" Frank replied. Then, seeing a stretch of
relatively flat road ahead, he proceeded to gun the engine and started pulling
up on the driver's side of the van. As they were coming alongside, Sonny
released the shotgun from its rack between the two front seats and rolled
down his window. Within seconds, he had a clear view of the profile of the
van's driver, which only became clearer when Spike turned his head and
looked directly at him with golden pupils. As a result of this distraction,
Sonny momentarily lost his aim on the driver and instead blasted a hole in
the vehicle's side.

"Where the hell are you shooting, Sonny? We're gonna lose him!"

Deciding not to wait around for the cop to reload, Spike quickly swerved
into the car's front fender, crushing it, and sending the vehicle into a spin.
By the time Frank regained control, the van was far off in the distance.
Slamming his fist on the steering wheel, Frank shouted, "Dammit, Sonny,
we had them! What the hell happened?"

"Sorry, Frank, I missed."

Calming down somewhat, he replied, "Yeah, well, I just hate to loose scum
like that."

As Frank radioed dispatch that the suspects were headed south, Sonny
calmly watched as the vehicle's taillights disappeared completely from
view.

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

Back on Angel Island, as police cars seemed to converge from all points on
the compass, Nick had been taken back to his room where he was lying
immobile in bed. By this time, Rachel and Alex had joined Derek and Giles
behind closed doors and emotions were running high. As Alex, fighting
back tears, held Nick's limp hand, Rachel asked, "Derek, why did you bring
him here?" Then, with the authority of a medical expert which, in fact, she
was, she added, "Listen to me. He's hemorrhaging internally and has to be
taken to an emergency room immediately."

"No, I'm sorry, no hospitals."

"But Derek, without surgery, he's going to die."

"I said no hospitals."

Looking up with a look of disbelief, Alex asked, "But why, Derek? Do you
WANT Nick to die?"

After a few moments, he answered, "Of course I don't want Nick to die.
But this is a matter of faith. Nick -- and Giles -- have both asked me to do
this, and I've given them my word."

"You're word is going to kill your best friend," Rachel replied icily.

"That may be true, but it's my decision as Prefect...and I expect you both to
accept it. Then turning back towards Nick, he added, "I just hope it's the
right decision."

As Derek clasped the protruding shaft, Giles suddenly grabbed his hand and
remarked, "Derek, let me do this. Just in case I'm wrong and it doesn't
work."

As Giles took hold, Alex couldn't help but avert her eyes as Derek and
Rachel looked on. With one swift movement, the baluster came free and
blood started flowing freely from the now gaping wound. As Rachel
futilely tried to bandage the area, Alex continued to grasp Nick's hand with
renewed urgency. Suddenly, without warning, the young woman -- who had
proven psychic abilities -- was flooded with images she couldn't completely
understand. They included glimpses of military training, jungle warfare,
past incidents involving the Legacy and, most bizarre of all, sword fights
and lightning storms. As Nick suddenly stopped breathing, Alex also
collapsed on the floor.

"My God, Alex!" Derek exclaimed, going to her side.

Now confronted with two emergencies, Dr. Corrigan had no choice but to
attend the patient who, in her medical opinion, had the better chance for
survival. As Rachel aided Alex, Giles was left alone standing over Nick.
Then, upon hearing police officers entering the house downstairs, the
Watcher turned to Derek and said, "We have to stall them. They can't come
up here now."

"Why?"

"Because if I'm correct, they can't witness what is about to happen in this
room."

Standing rather shakily, Derek could only reply "I hope you're right,"
before heading down the stairs with Giles close behind. They were soon
confronted by a squad of heavily-armed cops clad in black body armor who
had poured into the house from both the front and the rear. Upon seeing the
two men -- and the assorted body parts on the floor around them -- several
f the cops roared, "Get your hands up!" as they quickly surrounded them.

Raising his hands, Giles calmly stated, "Now, gentlemen, there's no need
for alarm. Everything's under control."

Something about the other man's controlled demeanor struck a chord with
Derek. Either his old friend was a raving lunatic or he had actually been in
situations like this before. Derek wasn't sure which possibility was more
unsettling.

With an incredulous tone, one of the cops replied, "Under control? Are you
crazy? We already found a body in the gatehouse, another hanging on the
kitchen wall, and we're surrounded by bits and pieces in the living room."

"But officer," Derek added, "we live here. We were the victims of a..."

"Robbery," Giles quickly offered.

"Yes, that's correct, we were able to fight off the culprits...who you see
here."

Not believing the story, the cop then instructed other officers to check to
house from top to bottom. As two started up the stairs, Giles and Derek
both moved to block their path, stating, "No...no...please don't go up there."

"Why not?"

Exchanging glances, Derek was the first to respond, "Well, there's a little
girl sleeping upstairs and we wouldn't want you to wake her."

Quickly moving to stand nearly nose to nose with the Legacy member, the
cop said, "Now listen to me, mister, we're here to investigate a serial killing,
possibly a bombing, and God knows what else from the look of this joint.
And if we have to wake up a girl to do it, then so be it! Now, get out of the
way!"

As they meekly moved aside, the two cops quickly climbed the stairs two at
a time. Expecting the worst within moments, Derek and Giles were amazed
to hear a weak voice from above ask, "Hey, Derek, what's up?"

Looking up the stairs, they were both amazed to see a somewhat pale Nick,
now clad in a robe and leaning against a table for support, with Rachel,
Katherine, and an obviously shaken Alex at his side.

With a look of disbelief evident on his face, Derek quickly turned towards
Giles who simply stood there smiling.

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

About an hour later, the detectives finally arrived on the scene after securing
another car. With the occupants of the house now gathered in the blasted
and burned remains of the sitting room, teams from forensics and the county
coroner were moving through the house looking for both bodies and
physical evidence. They weren't disappointed. It wasn't every case that
resulted in a mass killing, shootings, and bombings. Frank's head hurt
simply contemplating the resulting paperwork. That was until he got a good
look at the body hanging in the kitchen. Then he got interested...really
interested. As the technician from the medical examiner's office was
performing a preliminary analysis, Frank asked the woman, "So what's the
cause of death?"

After a few moments, she replied, "Well, ordinarily, I'd go WAY out on a
limb and guess those three wooden pegs sticking out of his chest, but..."

"But, what?"

"This time, however, I'd have to say it's a toss-up between impaling and
extreme old age."

"What the hell are you talking about, old age?"

"Take a look for yourself."

As she quickly removed a sheet from the corpse's head, Frank found
himself staring at a body that looked like it had been long dead. He then
asked the technician to do him a small favor, "Check the teeth."

"What? Why?"

"Just curious. Please."

With a latex-gloved hand, she carefully opened the lower jaw -- with an
audible crack -- to reveal shrunken gums surrounding a set of nasty fangs.

"What in God's name are those? How did you know?"

"Just an educated guess," Frank lied. He then added, "Be sure to get some
good pictures."

Behind them, Sonny was quietly rubbing his fingertips along the sides of his
forehead while futilely trying to take notes of the physical surroundings. As
his partner approached, he asked, "Frank, what are you doing?"

"My job, Sonny. Or is that a problem?"

Continuing to rub his forehead, he replied, "No. As long as you don't go off
on one of your tangents again."

"Hey, Sonny, I'm not the crazy one. This town's crazy...I'm just trying to
prove it." Then, noticing his partner's physical distress for the first time, he
asked, "What's wrong with you...headache?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"You OK?"

"Yeah. I'll live."

"OK, so let's go talk to the victims."

Walking into the adjoining room, the two detectives found themselves being
closely watched by six people. As they approached the crowd, Sonny
perceived that he was not the only one present who was in physical
discomfort. The youngest man in the room looked pale to begin with and
was now also holding his head in his hands.

"I'm Detective Kohanek and this is my partner, Sonny. I was wondering if
you could tell us what happened here tonight?"

Speaking first, Derek remarked, "Well, detective, I wish I could tell you
definitively, but other than a bungled burglary attempt, I can think of no
reason why anyone would want to do this."

"Well, since you have a vault in the cellar, isn't it fair to say that you have
large sums of money or valuables in the house?"

"No, not really, the Luna Foundation is more a charitable foundation than..."

Frank then interrupted, asking, "Excuse me, did you say the LUNA
Foundation? As in Julian Luna?"

"Why yes," Derek replied, "Mr. Luna is our benefactor. He's very generous
you know."

"Yeah, so I've heard," Frank remarked with a neutral tone. "Please go on."

As the conversation continued, Sonny started inspecting the rest of the
room. Coming to a dimly-lit passageway oddly located in the center of a
group of bookcases, he cautiously proceeded into the gloom. As he did so,
Alex, Rachel, and Nick exchanged nervous glances with each other. Derek,
his eyes also following the other cop, elaborated on his previous answer by
saying, "We have a vault because some antiques come into our possession
from time to time that must be safeguarded."

"Was this one of those times, Mr. Rayne."

"No, detective, it was not."

"So do you know what they took from the vault?"

"As far as we can determine, Mr. Kohanek, they got away empty-handed."
Upon hearing this, Giles' eyebrows rose slightly on the other end of the
couch. Noticing this reaction, the cop then turned towards him and asked,
"Mr. Giles, is it?"

"Yes, Rupert Giles."

"Do you have something to add?"

No, officer, I'm afraid I really don't. However, I was just considering what
an appalling loss of life this was for a simple burglary."

"You're not from around here are you, Mr. Giles?"

"Oh, no. England actually."

"No, I mean a bit more locally. You don't live in San Francisco, do you?"

"No, I'm visiting Dr. Rayne and his colleagues. I reside in Sunnydale."

Quickly jotting down notes, Frank's questions were suddenly interrupted by
a tall young priest who had somehow gotten past the police line and into the
house. Resenting the invasion of his crime scene, Frank quickly intercepted
him.

"Excuse me, Father. You'll have to wait outside."

A voice with a heavy Irish brogue replied, "But detective, I live here. And
these are my friends." The man then proceeded to hug both Rachel and
Alex who had risen as he entered the room. As he embraced the doctor, he
heard her whisper, "Philip, we have to get them out of here."

Suddenly taking hold of the priest's black coat, Frank repeated, "Father, this
is a crime scene. You'll have to leave."

"But, do you have to question them now? I'm sure Dr. Rayne and the ladies
would be much more helpful tomorrow morning after they've had time to
collect their thoughts."

Unmoved, the cop automatically replied, "Sorry, that's not how we do
things." As he started to lead the taller man outside, Frank was amazed to
see the police commissioner and his captain walk through the front door.
Letting go of the priest, Frank immediately went to see why the brass were
suddenly taking such a keen interest in this case -- HIS CASE."

"Frank, I'm sure you know the commissioner."

"Actually, we've never met. Good evening, sir. What can I do for you?"

"What happened here tonight, detective?"

"Well, sir. Apparently it was an attempted burglary that went bad. We have
a dead guard and several dead perps, but..."

"But what, detective? Is there more?"

"Sir, it's still too early to say. I don't believe the witnesses are being honest
with me and I think an in-depth investigation is necessary."

Quickly turning towards the captain, the commissioner then stated, "Don't
your men realize that the department doesn't have the resources to
investigate open and shut cases?"

Flabbergasted, Frank could only manage to state, "But commissioner, we
haven't even finished combing the grounds for evidence. How can you..."

"Kohanek," the captain cut in, "you heard the commissioner. Wrap this case
up FAST!"

As the brass turned to leave, Frank heard the commissioner comment, "It's
obvious a gang of deranged crack addicts did this for some spare cash.
What kind of cops do you have working for you, captain?"

Within minutes, the cops had left the grounds, leaving Frank staring at a
group of people who looked a little TOO content considering the
circumstances. As he handed Derek his card, the cop stated, "Dr. Rayne, if
you think of anything new, please call me."

"I certainly will, detective."

Fully expecting never to hear from anyone in the house ever again, Kohanek
then started to look around for his missing partner. Calling, "Sonny," it was
not long before the other officer emerged from the tunnel leading to the
control room. However, when Frank then asked, "So what's in there?"
everyone present was amazed with the response.

"Nothing much."

The two cops then bid everyone farewell and headed out the door.
However, once outside, they were accosted by a young woman who was
quickly scribbling down notes in shorthand.

"Detectives, what can you tell me? What happened here tonight?"

As Sonny ignored her and got into the car, Frank lit a cigarette and
remarked, "Maybe I should be asking you how you got here so fast, Ms.
Byrne? The coroner's people haven't even finished yet."

"You know the press has its ways, Frank."

"Monitoring the police band again, Caitlin?"

Her reply was blunt, "You bet your sweet ass." She then asked again, "So
what happened here? According to the dispatcher, it was pretty bad."

"This isn't for attribution, Caitlin. I don't want to see my name in The
Times."

"Of course not, Frank."

"Fine. In that case, you can say that a man living here was killed during a
botched robbery attempt, as were several of the perps. The exact sequence
of events is not yet clear pending further investigation."

"That's all? C'mon, Kohanek. You're holding out on me."

As he got behind the wheel of his car, the cop merely smiled and stated,
"You know I'd never do that?" He then drove away.

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

Immediately after the police and medical personnel had left the house, the
sitting room exploded in conversation, focused exclusively on Nick. Derek
was first to ask the key question. "Nick, what the hell happened? You were
dead."

At this, Philip Callahan could only ask, "Excuse me, I think I missed
something. What do you mean dead?"

Rachel then responded, "As in not having a pulse for nearly five minutes."

Slumping further down in the chair, Nick was not his usual wisecracking
self. Instead, he turned to Giles and asked, "You've seen this before,
haven't you?"

Giles merely nodded.

"What are the two of you talking about?" Derek asked. "You mean this has
happened before?"

"No, not exactly, Derek -- at least not like this. I guess it's better just to
show you."

Rising to his feet, he gingerly shed his robe, exposing gory pants and
bandages beneath. As he started to unfasten the clamps holding the
bandages in place, Rachel attempted to stop him, saying, "Nick, if you take
those off, you'll start bleeding again."

Giles then took the woman's hand and said, "It's all right, doctor. Trust
me."

As he finished removing the wrappings, the other Legacy members were
astonished to see only slightly bruised flesh beneath. There was no
indication of the previously fatal wound.

"I don't believe it," Rachel remarked. "That's not possible."

"Yeah, I'm afraid it is," Nick answered. He then sat down next to Alex and,
taking her hand, said, "I'm sorry I hurt you before. I didn't realize what
being in contact with you when I...died...would do to you. It could have
killed you."

With a smile, she replied, "Hey, it's not your fault. Live and learn."

Derek was still confused. He asked, "Nick, how's this possible? I knew
your father and mother. They weren't like you, were they?"

"Actually, Derek, you knew my foster parents. I was an orphan. I didn't
even know I was adopted until I joined the Navy and my blood type didn't
match either of my parents. That's actually part of the reason that my father
and I don't get along very well. I resented that he lied to me all those
years."

"But are you human, Nick?"

To this, Giles replied, "He's Immortal."

As all heads turned towards the librarian, Philip headed over towards the
wet bar.

"Giles, you've obviously seen this before," Derek commented.

"Twice, actually."

"Damn heathens!" the priest exclaimed, quickly causing everyone to face
him. Seeing the alarmed expressions on the faces studying him, he then
added somewhat sheepishly, "They shot all the good stuff to hell." For
emphasis, he held up a shattered crystal decanter and started laughing.

With the mood in the room now somewhat more relaxed, Nick proceeded to
relate the particulars about the lives of Immortals, including the occasional
need to fight to the death in order to survive. After nearly an hour, as the
sun started to rise over the skyline, he had finished his tale to a mostly
stunned audience. Alex was the first to ask the key question, "And you
have to cut off your opponent's head? Why?"

"Well, it's either you or them. If you leave them alive they WILL come
after you again. Believe me, I've tried that approach...and it doesn't usually
work."

Running a hand through his curly hair, Derek then remarked, "But Nick,
you're been here with us for nearly ten years. How many of these duels
have you been involved in?"

"Derek, you know when I sometimes go out driving at night and come back
a few hours later looking like I was hit by a tornado."

"Yes, but you have a convertible. I thought it was just the wind..."

"Derek, sometimes it's MORE than just the wind and, anyhow, haven't you
noticed that I look exactly the same since I arrived here?"

"No, I just thought all those exercises you do were keeping you
exceptionally fit."

Hearing this, Alex could only remark, "Well, I guess that also explains the
freaky lighting storms that I saw in my vision."

"That 'freaky lightning' is called The Quickening."

"And it can level a building," Giles added helpfully.

"Boy, you're one hell of a well-rounded librarian," Nick commented dryly.
Then, after an extended silence, he stood, walked over to Derek and said,
"I'm sorry that I hid this from you...from all of you...but it's just not
something I usually talk about. People treat you differently when they find
out." After a short pause, he then added, "I'll be out of the house by this
afternoon."

Derek then rose and without hesitation, put his arm around the younger
man's shoulder and stated, "Nonsense, Nick. You're as welcome here as
ever. After what you did last night, we probably all owe you our lives."

With a smile, the Immortal could only reply, "Thank you," before he
suddenly felt a little weak in the knees and had to sit back down.

"Are you alright, Nick?" Rachel asked with some concern.

"I'll be better after I get some rest. Dying takes a lot out of you."

"I can imagine...I think," replied the psychologist.

With this conversation ending, Derek quickly changed the subject to
something more in keeping with the Legacy's expertise, namely recovering
the stolen Sepulchers. He remarked, "Giles, we obviously both recognized
Ethan, but it also appeared to me that you recognized the vampire working
with him. Is that correct?"

"Yes, quite, his name is Spike, and he's very dangerous." As he removed
his glasses to polish the lenses, Giles quickly added, "Strange though.
Vampires usually turn completely to dust when destroyed. I have no way to
account for the bodily remains that were left here."

Hearing this, Philip then inquired, "Excuse me, did you just say 'vampire'?
As in Dracula?"

"Well, except for some minor differences, yes, that would be an apt
analogy," replied Giles.

"Good Lord! I was afraid of that!" exclaimed the priest.

Derek then asked, "How do you know him, Giles?"

"Well, he normally operates out of Sunnydale and, as I'm sure you've
probably had your people research by now, we have quite a few unusual
happenings in town."

Alex then asked, "What makes you think that we've checked out Sunnydale,
Giles?"

Turning towards Derek, the Watcher then replied with a grin, "Because in a
similar situation, I would have checked you all out by now."

Derek then stated, "Giles and I think alike, that's probably why we've been
friends for so many years."

"Well, I hate to burst anybody's bubble," Alex remarked, "but our computer
equipment is completely shot. Until we fix it, we're essentially deaf, dumb,
and blind."

After rubbing his chin for a few moments, Giles then stated,
"Ah...well...with Derek's permission, I might be able to help you out on that
count. I know a young lady who might be able to patch something together
rather quickly."

In response, Derek replied somewhat hesitantly, "Since we're already at
ground zero, Giles, I guess things can only improve. However, one thing is
for certain, we have to recover those Sepulchers quickly before Ethan finds
some way to use them. Although he doesn't have the keys to unlock them,
I'll feel much better when we have them back."

Upon hearing this, Giles then asked what to everyone else in the room was
an obvious question, "Pardon me, but what can these...what did you call
them...?"

"Sepulchers," several voices stated simultaneously.

"Yes, Sepulchers, what can they do exactly?"

To which Derek replied ominously, "They can unleash Hell on Earth."

"Oh, I see. Can I use your telephone?"

As the Watcher walked over to the phone sitting on a side table, Derek
remarked to the priest, "Philip, I forgot to thank you for persuading the
police to leave here so quickly. I didn't know that you were friends with the
police commissioner."

With a confused expression, the man could only reply, "I'm not, Derek. I
thought you had something to do with that."

At this point Alex chimed in, remarking, "And how do you explain that
detective not asking what all the equipment in the control room is for?
Weird...really weird."

Quickly dialing numbers a few feet away, Giles then sagely remarked, "It's
been my experience that police in California seem to be a bit slow on the
uptake about many such things."

To this, the group slowly nodded in agreement.

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

Within minutes, Buffy's phone was ringing off its hook. Answering it, she
was quite surprised to hear Giles on the other end.

"Giles, are you crazy? Do you know what time it is? Six o'clock? God, it's
worse than I thought. Giles, have you been smoking Mr. Happy Weed
again? Chill, Giles, it's only a joke." Then, sitting up on her elbows, she
added, "Slow down, Giles. Where? I have to come up to San Francisco?
Today? Why? Hell on Earth -- so what else is new around here?
Fine...fine...I'll get somebody to drive me. Willow too? Yeah, sure, Giles.
What? The Legacy? What the hell's that? OK, I'll tell her. See you later.
Goodbye, Giles." Hanging up, the Slayer then put a pillow over her face
and screamed.

Five minutes later, Willow Rosenberg hung up her phone, put a pillow over
her face, and sighed.

Ten minutes later, Richie Ryan hung up his phone, threw a pillow across the
room, and screamed.

Fifteen minutes later, Xander Harris hung up his phone, put a pillow over
his face, fell asleep, and nearly asphyxiated himself.

And, finally, 20 minutes later, Angel's phone simply kept ringing and
ringing until his answering machine picked up. Strange, he was always
home during the day. Oh well, Buffy thought, she hated to do it, but she'd
have to leave a message canceling their date. What she didn't know,
couldn't possibly know, was that Angel had already received a similar
summons to the City by the Bay several hours earlier. Racing north on his
black Harley-Davidson, the leather-clad vampire reached his destination
mere minutes before the sun dawned over the Golden State.

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

Within two hours, a group of very disgruntled -- and very tired -- young
people were speeding up the California coast towards San Francisco. All
wearing sunglasses, they were making the trip in a black 1962 Thunderbird
convertible that Richie had borrowed from his friend, mentor and boss,
Duncan MacLeod. Upon penalty of death, he promised that he would allow
no damage to befall the classic car and that he would return it washed with a
full tank of gas -- in other words, just as he'd borrowed it. MacLeod was
anal retentive like that sometimes. Actually, make that all the time.

"So where's this place, Buffy?" asked Richie.

"Giles gave me directions. We have to take the Bay Bridge. Then after we
get off the bridge, we have to find the causeway to Angel Island."

"Did he go into any detail as to what we're supposed to do once we get
there?"

"Save the world."

"Again? Didn't we just do that a couple of months ago?"

"Yeah, it seems like that, doesn't it? Hey, Will...?" Receiving no response,
Buffy then turned around to peer into the back seat of the car. The sight she
saw was quite heartwarming. Now both asleep, Willow and Xander were
sitting there peacefully. Xander with his arm thrown over the girl's
shoulder and Willow with a look of sheer bliss on her face.

"Ah, isn't that cute?"

"Isn't what cute, Buffy?"

"Xander and Will. They make such a cute couple...well, except for that
drool on his chin, of course."

Then, turning on the radio, Buffy and Richie started listening to a local
radio station that kept advertising that it played ALL the hits all the time.
However, after hearing the 'Titanic' love theme repeatedly, the Slayer was
ready to tear out the radio and hurl it from the car.

"God, I know it made a trillion dollars but, for the love of God, FOUR
TIMES IN AN HOUR! Are they mental?"

Laughing, the Immortal replied, "But, Buffy, there are LOTS of Leonardo
DiCaprio fans out there."

"Yeah, I know, but FOUR TIMES! Gee whiz!"

"You do know that he's an Immortal, right?"


"Who?"

"DiCaprio."

With a look of disbelief on her face, Buffy asked, "Are you're saying that
Leonardo DiCaprio is going to live forever?"

"Yep, just like River Phoenix and James Dean. Unless he loses a fight to
someone along the way."

"Whoa...whoa...hold it right there. River Phoenix and James Dean are both
dead. One overdosed and the other wrecked his car. End of story."

"Yeah, well, that's what they want you to believe. But some of us know
better."

"Oh please, Richie. The next thing you're going to tell me is that Elvis is
still alive too."

Then, taking his eyes off the road, the young man turned his head towards
the girl and, with a broad smile, stated, "Now you're getting the picture."

As the car continued to race onward, all Buffy could think to ask was,
"You're kidding, right Richie? Right? You're only kidding?"

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

A short time later, as the car threaded its way along the winding main road
on Angel Island, Richie couldn't help whistling and remarking, "I could
really get used to living in a place like this."

"Yeah, we're talking Yuppied to the max," added Buffy."

"Even if I lived 500 years, I don't think I'd be able to afford any of these
places. I think MacLeod would even be out of his league around here."

"How IS the kilted one?" asked Xander from the back seat.

"Grim as usual and full of advice -- 'this isn't funny, Richie; train harder,
Richie; don't trust strangers, Richie; don't play in traffic, Richie.' Same old
story."

Hearing this, Willow remarked, "He cares about you, Richie. MacLeod
might not be able to admit it, but he seems to treat you like the son he never
had."

To this the redhead morosely replied, "Yeah, I know. He would NEVER
admit that to me. Mac isn't good with the warm and fuzzy stuff. Except for
a rare pat on the back, he really is a master of understatement."

Buffy then remarked, "That's just the way he is, Richie."

"Tell me about it," the Immortal quickly replied.

Moments later, they had reached their destination. After being checked
over by the two guards now on duty, the Thunderbird's occupants were on
their way to the mansion. Taking in the sweep of the landscaped grounds as
well as a sleek black helicopter sitting on one of the immense lawns, Xander
could only remark, "Giles knows these people? OUR Giles?"

"He said he went to school with the guy in charge of the place," remarked
Buffy.

"Well, if either of you ever own a place like this after we graduate, I'd
appreciate if you'd remember to invite your poor old friend Xander over for
a sleepover every once in a while."

"Sure thing, Xan" replied the Slayer.

With an evil grin, the boy then added, "However, Buff, you don't have to
wait until then to invite me to a sleepover. My schedule is pretty flexible."

At this point, Willow "accidentally" stepped on Xander's foot.

"OWW! What was that for?"

"What was what for?"

"You stepped on me."

With an innocent expression, the girl replied, "I did? Guess you're not as
flexible as you thought."

As Richie pulled the car to a halt, the previous night's damage was clearly
visible. Most noticeable were the large broken windows and the shards of
glass that glittered on the pavement in the early morning sunlight. As the
three teens quickly jumped out of the vehicle, the driver headed to the trunk
to retrieve a large duffel bag. In so doing, his head quickly shot around to
scan the surrounding grounds. As the girls proceeded to the front door,
Xander noticed his reaction and remarked, "You look like you saw a ghost,
Richie. Trouble?"

"Nah, probably not. Giles mentioned that there's another Immortal living
here. That's probably him I sense. However, even when you expect it, the
hair still stands up on the back of your neck. It's the damnedest feeling you
can imagine."

"I can do MORE than just imagine it, Rich. I WAS able to sense you guys
for a few days after Spike put the bite on me last year, remember?"

"How can I forget? You also sunk your teeth into me if I recall."

With a look of mock indignation, Xander quickly replied, "Oh, that's right.
One little mistake and you'll never let me live it down."

"You made an hors d'oeuvre out of me, Xander."

After a moment the boy then stated, "OK...OK...one GIGANTIC mistake
and you'll never let me live it down."

After mussing up Xander's hair with his hand, Richie instructed the teen to
go into the house to meet their hosts. As he headed towards the doorway,
he suddenly turned back around and called out, "Be careful, Richie."

"I always am," muttered the Immortal under his breath.

Holding his duffel, Richie headed down a few steps and followed a narrow
tree-lined stone path that opened up onto a broad clearing of emerald grass.
Standing under one of the trees on the periphery of the field was another
man somewhat older in appearance than himself, dressed in black
sweatpants and a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word "NAVY" in gold
letters. The stranger didn't acknowledge his presence, simply continuing to
work his way through a series of Chinese meditation and stretching
techniques that were all too familiar to Richie. Deciding to get a little closer
-- but not too close -- the younger Immortal leaned against a large boulder
and simply continued to watch. After silently sitting cross-legged on the
ground with his back to him for a couple of minutes, the other Immortal
finally rose, turned, and said to Richie, "So, you're one of the friends Rupert
Giles told us about...Ryan is it?"

"Yeah, that's right -- Richard Ryan -- but my friends just call me Richie."
Then after a short pause, he stated, "And you would be Nick Boyle."

Nodding, the dark-haired man replied, "The one and only." Then after a
moment, he stated, "That's quite and interesting car you drove up in...'62 T-
Bird if I'm not mistaken. I know someone who owns one just like it.
Maybe you know him too -- his name's MacLeod -- Duncan MacLeod."

Feeling a slight chill run down his spine, Richie once again realized how
well-traveled MacLeod was after 400 years. It seemed like EVERYONE
knew him -- for better or worse. After digesting this information, Ryan
truthfully answered, "Yeah, you can say I know him. In fact, you can say
he's my teacher."

With a smile, Nick then replied, "Well then, that makes two of us."

As Richie unsuccessfully tried to conceal the astonishment from his face,
the other Immortal bent down, picked up the towel he had been sitting on,
and said, "C'mon, let's go back to the house and compare notes. This might
be interesting."

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

At that moment, on the other side of San Francisco Bay, in another mansion
not very dissimilar from the Legacy House, the being known as Angel to his
mortal friends, and as Angelus to others of his kind, was awaiting a meeting
with Julian Luna, the current Prince of the City and ultimate ruler of the
legion of the damned within his domain. Like kings and all powerful
figures throughout history, there was frequently intrigue and deceit hiding
behind the throne...and this situation was no different. Having been
summoned, and therefore having no choice but to appear, this was the
aspect of the visit that Angel hated most -- and the primary reason he had
stayed away for so long -- all the politics.

Dressed in black pants and a white dress shirt, he had reluctantly
surrendered his leather jacket to a young mortal housemaid upon entering
the home. Then, having been met by Luna's personal bodyguard, Cash, a
rather scruffy-looking vampire -- wait, not the proper term to use here, make
that the more politically acceptable, "Kindred" -- he was led past several
other bodyguards stationed at key points throughout the house. Finally,
coming to the anteroom outside the Prince's office, he had decided to stand
rather than avail himself of the plush sofa and chairs. Looking up at the
portrait of the former Prince of the City, Archon, hanging above the
fireplace, Angel silently thought that it wouldn't be wise to get too
comfortable in the shark tank, especially when they had become unfamiliar
waters.

He also realized that he was being closely watched by Cash -- and for good
reason. Say whatever else you will about the undead, they definitely tend to
be very territorial and exceptionally conscious of age and the attendant
power that it usually brings. Although Angel had the age advantage, by a
couple of centuries, he was in Cash's sandbox and that made for an
uncomfortable combination. After letting the other creature stare at his back
for several minutes, he finally turned and asked, "Did you want to ask me
something or do you want the name of my tailor?"

"Yeah, I want to ask you something. Who the hell are you anyhow? I've
definitely never seen you around -- I can't even tell what clan you belong to.
And here you are having a personal audience with the Prince. What's the
story?"

"The story is if Julian wanted you to know, he would have told you. Do I
need to say anymore?"

Quickly closing the distance between Angel and himself so that they were
scarcely a foot apart, the curly-haired Kindred, his eyes flashing, spat out,
"Anything that concerns the Prince is my business. In your case, he told me
to expect someone fitting your description and to show you in. Now that
I've followed those instructions, I'm asking you again, who are you?"

Deciding to sidestep the question, Angel instead remarked, "I'm impressed.
Pretty gutsy little SOB for a Gangrel, aren't you? You really don't know
who you're dealing with here, but that's not stopping you at all. I can see
why Julian choose you to protect him. You're a damn pit bull."

"You still haven't answered my..."

"I'm sure that Stevie Ray would be proud of you, Cash."

Hearing the name of his beloved, but now dead, sire, Cash couldn't help but
ask, "You knew Stevie Ray? When? How?"

"I knew Stevie Ray...and HIS sire...when the Gangrel were a homeless clan
wandering throughout California. I was here when Archon extended an
invitation to your people to settle down, and when the war erupted with the
Brujah clan that almost annihilated your race. And I can see him in you
now. No wonder you were selected as Primogen to lead the Gangrel."

As he attempted to absorb this information, Cash hadn't even noticed that
the door to Julian's office had opened and that the immaculately-attired
Prince was standing there listening. Upon seeing Julian, Angel quickly
walked over and simply embraced him, not bothering to kiss the large ruby
ring, symbolizing his office, on the Prince's right hand. Cash was even
more confused upon witnessing this obvious breach of protocol -- a breach
that Julian would have undoubtedly noted -- go unremarked. After all, only
Primogen were permitted to dispense with the subservient gesture.

"Good to see you again, Julian. I just wish that it was under better
circumstances."

"Very true, my friend. I see you've met Cash here. I trust him with my life,
just as Archon trusted you."

Upon hearing the name of Julian's recently destroyed sire, Angel grimaced
and then quickly remarked, "I was sorry to hear about Archon's death. He
was a good man. You know I would have come to pay my respects if it was
possible."

Hearing this, Julian stated simply, "Of course I know, Angelus -- and so
would he."

Cash's head quickly sprung up upon finally learning the identity of the
mysterious stranger. So, Angelus -- a legend among many of the San
Francisco Kindred for his loyalty and service to the community -- had
finally returned home after so many years. This explained much. As he
watched the door to Julian's office slowly close, the youngest Primogen in
the city wondered how long it would take for news to spread of the Prodigal
Son's return.

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

Sitting in Julian's office, the two Kindred shared a glass of red wine before
discussing the reason for their meeting.

"As I told you earlier, Angelus, some outcast Kindred from Sunnydale
invaded my domain last night and killed mortals. If that weren't serious
enough, they also committed the worst crime among our kind by violating
The First Tradition and endangering The Masquerade. For this, I believe a
Blood Hunt is necessary to track down and destroy this rogue band,
including their leader who, I believe, is one of your progeny."

"Spike," remarked Angel somberly.

"Yes," the Prince replied, "Spike must be destroyed to protect the rest of
us...if it isn't too late already." Then, seeing the look of unease on Angel's
face, Julian asked, "What's wrong, Angelus? You know it's the right thing
to do. After all, haven't you been trying to stop Spike for nearly two
years?"

"Yes, but that's different. I wasn't simply ORDERING his death. This
seems so impersonal...it seems wrong somehow."

"Do you have any other suggestions?"

After sitting silent for a few moments, Angel finally replied, "No. Spike
knew the penalty for disregarding the Masquerade. Therefore, he must be
destroyed."

"Fine, it's settled. Then that only leaves the matter of the mortals who saw
Spike and his gang last night. What can we do about them?"

Examining his now empty wine goblet, Angel replied, "Why don't you
simply cloud their minds and make them forget? It shouldn't be too
difficult. That way, no innocents will get hurt."

"My thoughts exactly, Angelus. No wonder I've missed your counsel all
these years, we think very much alike."

"Actually, Julian, we're not THAT much alike. You enjoy the company of
other KINDRED, while I actively avoid as much contact as possible.
Archon knew that. That's why I think he kept you at his side and sent me
out into the world to preserve the Masquerade by helping the Slayer."

"Are you sure there isn't another reason, Angelus?"

"Such as?"

"Such as...that you really loathe what we are. You see us as a bunch of..."

"Vampires...parasites...demons?"

"Well, you never did mince words, Angelus. Yes, you tend to view us as a
bunch of parasites who prey on mortals."

"Aren't we, Julian? For us to live forever, mortals must die. It's just that
simple, isn't it?"

After a few moments of thought, the Prince ran a hand through his slick jet
black hair and answered, "Angelus, we've made great strides towards living
in harmony with the humans in San Francisco. Now, don't misunderstand,
there are still problems, but we're trying." Then, after another pause, he
added, "And that's the other reason I asked you to come here. I need your
support."

"I don't think I'm going to like this," Angel interrupted.

Ignoring his reaction, Julian continued, "It's high time you accepted you
duties as Primogen of the Tremere clan. You've been avoiding your
responsibilities much too long. Therefore, I plan to announce my decision
at tonight's meeting of the Primogen Conclave."

"Oh, no...No...NO!" Angel shouted as he launched himself from his chair. I
don't play nice with the other children. You KNOW that -- I tried it before,
remember?"

Remaining calmly seated behind his desk, the Prince remarked, "I need your
support in the Conclave, Angelus. I know you're above the usual politics
and that you'll vote your mind." He then added, "I've made my decision,
Angelus."

"If you put me back on the Conclave, Julian, I'm not going to be your
lapdog. Archon tried that once and it didn't work."

"I'll expect you to vote your mind, Angelus, that's all."

With a defeated sigh, Angel then asked, "Do I have a choice here?"

With a note of finality, and a smile on his face, Julian then rose, put his arm
around the taller Kindred, and replied simply, "No."

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

Back at the Legacy House, lunch was being served on what remained of the
china in what remained of the dining room -- its paneled walls now
pockmarked with bullet holes and shrapnel. As the group surveyed the
destruction around them, Philip spoke first, "I've seen less damage in
Belfast, and that says something."

To this Derek replied, "I guess it was time for a renovation, anyhow. Early
17th Century was a bit out of vogue -- there just isn't much use for armor,
maces, and swords these days."

"Present company excluded of course," remarked Nick dryly with a glance
towards Richie."

"Oh, sorry...I didn't mean..."

Putting down his sandwich, the Immortal quickly retorted, "That's exactly
what I'm talking about, Derek, you're acting differently. I'm still Nick
Boyle and you're still my boss. Remember that. Don't feel like you have to
walk on eggshells around me now that you know that I'm...different."

"I didn't realize that I was, Nick."

"No? Well, when was the LAST TIME you apologized to me?" Receiving
no response, Nick then answered his own question, "Never. That's when.
And that's what I'm used to."

"He does have a point, Derek," Rachel chimed in from across the table.

"Now don't you start, doctor!"

Silently observing this exchange from the other end of the room, the gang
from Sunnydale merely shared uneasy glances until Xander remarked, "Say,
how about those Giants? Looks like they have a kick-ass team this year."

As the tension started to dissolve somewhat, Alex then asked Richie, "So,
Giles tells us that you're like Nick. How fascinating."

"Except better looking," replied the redhead.

"That's a matter of opinion," Nick quickly responded.

Hearing this exchange, Buffy remarked, "Ahh, smell the fresh scent of
testosterone in the air."

Waiting for the ensuing laughter to die down somewhat, Derek then asked
Willow, "Miss Rosenberg, have you had a chance to assess the damage to
our computer systems?"

Upon hearing her name, Willow nearly snorted soda up her nostrils. After
swiftly placing her glass down, she replied, "Well, sir, the most damage
seems to have been caused by electrical surges. But fortunately, you had
surge protectors on most of the equipment. I'm hoping that by later tonight,
Alex and I should have at least some of the equipment back on line."

"That's excellent, Miss Rosenberg. Better than I could ever have hoped
for."

"Thank you, sir. Actually, I'm looking forward to seeing what your
equipment can do. It looks pretty sophisticated."

Giles then interjected, "The sooner we know what Spike and Ethan might
me up to, the better." Turning to Derek, he asked, "Ethan seems to hold a
grudge against your organization...the Legacy, is it? Why would that be?"

Taking a deep breath before answering, the Prefect started off by saying,
"Normally, I wouldn't tell outsiders about the Legacy's mission. But, as
you may have noticed, these are anything but normal circumstances.
Therefore, I trust that you will all treat this information in the strictest
confidence."

Receiving nods all around the table, Derek then recounted how the ancient
organization serves as humanity's final line of defense against a growing
evil presence in the world, using its considerable resources to explore the
mysterious realms of the paranormal. Listening to this, Giles couldn't help
but consider the similarities between this group and his own Watcher oath.

The Prefect concluded by remarking that Ethan was kicked-out of the
organization after it was discovered that he was dabbling in the Black Arts -
- an unforgivable violation of Legacy policy.

"To this I can attest," Giles commented.

"Yeah, the whacko cast a spell on all of us last Halloween," remarked
Xander. "He turned me into a Rambo type, Willow into a ghost, and Buffy
into a lady."

After receiving a swift kick under the table, the young man realized that the
Slayer didn't appreciate his attempt at humor.

"Ouch! Chill, Buff, that was only a joke...OK, admittedly a LAME joke, but
give me a break here -- and I don't mean my leg."

The girl then remarked, "What Xander MEANT to say was that Ethan's
spell turned me into Scarlet O'Hara."

Giles then added, "Unfortunately, he also escaped after his attempt failed."

With a tone of finality, Derek then stated, "Well, this time we have to stop
him...permanently."

Once again, his statement was received with nodding heads.

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

Meanwhile, at the 28th Precinct of the SFPD, Frank Kohanek was at his
desk during the day, although most other cops who worked the 12:00-8:00
am shift were wisely home sleeping. Holding a cup of coffee in one hand,
the cop was also holding a preliminary autopsy report on the perpetrator's
body found at the crime scene the night before. According to the coroner,
the cause of death...other than the obvious wooden stakes sticking out of his
chest...was a combination of severe dehydration and the atrophying of
several key internal organs, not the least of which included the heart, lungs,
liver, and kidneys. The estimated age of the deceased was also pegged at 95
years old. Only one minor problem with the report, thought the cop, this
guy was very much alive as he tried to burglarize a house less than 24 hours
earlier.

After putting the file down, he quickly retrieved another from the
Department of Motor Vehicles. It seemed that the van he and Sonny chased
had been reported stolen from a town in the southern part of the state --
Sunnydale to be exact. As he remembered that the mystery vehicle was last
seen heading south on the freeway, he thought that this might be a
significant piece of information. Frank then picked up the phone and, after
dialing information, had the number of Sunnydale Police Headquarters.
After dialing, he waited several rings before receiving an answer, and then
several more as his call was transferred to the town's detective squad. He
was now talking with Detective Chris Collazzo who, he could hear, was
unsuccessfully attempting to wolf some food down (probably jelly
doughnuts, Frank thought) between words.

"Hello, detective. This is Frank Kohanek with SFPD Homicide."

"Hi Frank, what can I do [chew] for a colleague [chew] up north?"

"Well, we had an incident here last night that was pretty bad. It looks like a
botched robbery that ended with several stiffs on slabs in the morgue.
However, some of the perps got away in a hot van that was reported stolen
from your neck of the woods."

"Really? You got [chew] a tag number on the van? I'll see if I have [chew]
anything on it."

"Yeah, I'd appreciate that. The plate number is 4GH-857."

Almost immediately, Frank heard the rapid clicks of a keyboard followed by
a rather disgusting belch. He then heard the following dreaded words come
over the line: "Ah...Frank, hang on...I'm putting you on hold."

After less than a minute, Collazzo was back on the phone. However, Frank
could intuitively sense that something had changed in his demeanor.
"Sorry, detective. We don't have any record of that car..."

Frank then cut-in, stating, "It's a van...a white van."

"Yeah, well, whatever...we don't have any vehicle with that plate reported
missing."

"But that's impossible. I'm looking at a printout from the DMV right now."

"Well, Frank, they make mistakes too, you know."

"But I saw it..."

"Sorry, detective, gotta go now...we're very busy here."

"But..."

"Don't hesitate to call if we can ever help again. Gotta go." The next
sounds Kohanek heard was a click followed by a dial tone.

As he slammed the phone down, Frank could sense that mere incompetence
couldn’t explain the other cop’s behavior. There was something
wrong...VERY WRONG...in Sunnydale. He had never received such a
brusque response from a colleague while investigating a serious crime. The
detective then dialed his partner’s beeper number and, after a couple of
minutes, his phone rang.”

“Sonny? Oh, sorry...were you asleep?”

“Hello, Frank, what is it?”

“I was checking out some of the leads from last night’s case, and some
things just don’t add up.”

“Whoa...whoa...hold it right there, Frank. You did hear the captain AND
the commissioner tell us to wrap-up that case, didn’t you?”

“Yeah...yeah, I know, but there’s something rotten about all this. I was just
on the line with the Sunnydale PD and...”

“Why were you talking to the Sunnydale PD, Frank? If this is their
problem, let them deal with it.”

“But Sonny, that’s my point. They don’t seem to care if a crime occurred or
not, either here or there. I’m not going to let those murderers get away just
for the sake of not rocking the boat.”

“The captain’ll have your badge, Frank.”

“Not if I take a few days off to investigate on my own time.”

“Now hold on, Frank...”

“See you later, Sonny. Goodbye.”

After putting the phone down, Sonny couldn’t help but stare helplessly at
the instrument for a few seconds with golden-tinged pupils. He then heard a
voice remark, “It seems that Detective Kohanek doesn’t give up easily.”

“Yeah. Tell me about it. He’s determined, I’ll say that much.”

“Although he knows about us, he can’t be allowed to retrieve hard evidence
of our existence. Right now, he’s considered an eccentric -- that can’t be
allowed to change -- otherwise he may endanger himself and also expose
the Masquerade to other mortals.”

“He said he’s going to Sunnydale to keep investigating,” remarked Sonny.

“Well then, so are you,” replied Julian Luna to his progeny.

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

Later that afternoon on Angel Island, Richie and Nick had decided to brush
up on their technique on the south lawn of the estate. As Buffy and Xander
watched from under the shade of a large oak, the two Immortals, similarly
attired in jeans, cut-off T-shirts and sneakers, prepared to begin by
withdrawing their swords from compartments in their duffels. As Richie
examined his Gothic bastard for imperfections, Nick eyed his more delicate
rapier.

“Nice blade, Ryan. Where’d you get it,” inquired Nick.

“MacLeod, who else? Actually, it’s just a loaner until I can pay for one
myself. My first sword was...ah, kinda destroyed by a guy who broke down
my door one day.”

“Why did he break down your door?”

“Well, I sorta killed his student outside a bar.”

“So what? If he challenged you?”

“Actually, it was more complicated...MUCH more complicated...than that,”
Richie replied. “Let’s just say that these two had developed a REAL
CLOSE relationship after 800 years on the road together.”

“Oooh,” replied Nick. “He must’ve really been pissed when you nailed
junior’s ass.”

“Yeah, I think that would be a fair statement,” stated Richie. Then, eyeing
Nick’s weapon, Richie commented, “Now let me guess. An army
infantryman’s rapier, produced in Toledo, Spain, about 200 years ago.”

“I’m impressed, you know your swords.”

With a smile, Richie replied, “Actually, I don’t. But it’s just like...in fact,
identical... to my first sword.”

Now examining the hilt closely, Nick slyly remarked, “You know what this
means, don’t you?”

“Yeah, that Mac gives ALL his students the same exact sword,” commented
Richie.

“Cheap bastard! Why am I not surprised?”

“Actually, the word is ‘frugal’. If anything, Mac is that...and let’s not forget
practical. He probably stumbled on a garage sale one day and decided to
buy a dozen of them.”

Nick then remarked, “He told me it was unique...to make it part of myself...”

Richie concluded the thought by adding, “...and that one day it might be
your only friend.”

After a stunned silence, both Immortals looked directly at each other and
then stated as one, “And then he threw me out a few days later.”

“I don’t believe it,” remarked Richie. “He even shed a tear as he told me to
leave.”

“Which eye?”

“The right one.”

With a mocking tone, Nick then remarked, “Well, he got all weepy in
BOTH eyes for me. I musta been extra special.”

“Yeah, probably an extra special pain in the ass!”

Back under the tree, Buffy and Xander were getting impatient. They
couldn’t hear what the two men were saying, but they had definitely
expected to see blades flying by now.

“Are they going to talk all day?” whined Xander.

“Maybe they’re preparing,” answered Buffy.

“What’s to prepare? You get out your sword and start hacking.”

“Easy for you to say, Xander. But, you’re not an Immortal. It’s probably
more complicated than that.”

With a sneer, the teenager then remarked, “Boy, those guys really have it
made. They’ll be young forever and have plenty of dough.”

“You mean, they have it made, EXCEPT for that little decapitation risk?”
Buffy asked

“Yeah, well, other than that. Chicks must dig them, don’t you think?”

After a moment, Buffy replied, “Well, speaking on behalf of all the ‘chicks’
in the world, there’s much more to a relationship than just money, Xander.”

Thinking he knew what the Slayer meant with her last remark, the teen then
added, “Oh, yeah, I almost forgot -- SEX -- those guys will always be at
their sexual peak. Babes must REALLY think that’s a turn on.”

With a dumbfounded expression on her face, Buffy could only manage to
remark, “Sometimes you scare me, Xander...REALLY scare me!”

“What do you mean, I...”

Before Xander could finish the statement, the two teens were distracted by
the familiar clink of metal against metal.

Nick immediately tried to catch his opponent off guard by lunging forward.
Richie easily blocked the move and the two started circling each other.

“I’ll take it easy on you, Ryan,” remarked Nick. “I don’t want to hurt
MacLeod’s star pupil.”

“Don’t do me any favors. Anyhow, I’d hate to chop one of his graduates.
He might get pissed off.”

As the duel continued, the two soon discovered that they were very closely
matched. However, while pressing an attack to the older Immortal’s
recently healed midsection, Richie was grazed in the left bicep.
Immediately moving to exploit the younger man’s arm wound, Nick made a
upward stabbing motion that was blocked and quickly turned aside. Richie
then forced him to retreat from a flurry of powerful thrusts. All were
blocked, except one that slashed deeply into Nick’s right shoulder. Seeing
the unanticipated damage he had done, Richie started to apologize, but had
only managed to remark, “Hey, I’m really sorr...” before he saw the hilt of
the other Immortal’s sword swinging towards his left cheek. Staggered, he
felt like he’d been hit in the face with a brick.

“No, NOW you’re sorry, you punk” stated Nick.

Witnessing this, Xander remarked, “Oooh, that’s got to smart.”

“Hey, that was a pretty cheap shot,” commented Buffy.

Struggling back upright, Richie shouted, “What the hell was that?”

With a shrug, Nick remarked, “All’s fair in love and war.” He then moved
to capitalize on Richie’s stunned condition. After unsuccessfully slashing at
the redhead’s legs, Nick then received a nasty surprise of his own when
Richie smoothly trapped his blade, quickly brought a knee up into his groin,
and delivered a left cross to the side of his head. As Nick hit the ground,
Richie growled, “Hey, I couldn’t agree more, you son of a bitch.”

Now seeing this, Xander could only remark, “Oh man, that’s REALLY got
to hurt.”

Buffy was also getting uncomfortable, stating, “Xander, this is getting out of
control.” Her fears were realized when Nick suddenly launched himself
headfirst into Richie’s stomach. With swords now flung aside, the duel had
degenerated into a brawl, with the two Immortals rolling around and
pummeling themselves bloody.

“We’ve got to stop them, Xander. They’re going to kill each other.”

“Oh really? And how do you recommend separating two pit bulls...cold
water?”

However, before the Slayer could think of any options, the brawl had died
down and both combatants were now lying on their backs staring up at the
sky. As Buffy and Xander rushed to them, they were surprised not to hear
any yelling or cursing. Except for the sound of heavy breathing, there was
nothing. As both Immortals struggled back to their feet, Nick finally
panted, “Pretty good, kid. MacLeod obviously taught you pretty well.”

Hearing this, Richie replied, “No, Mac obviously taught YOU pretty well.
And who are you calling a kid?” The two then retrieved their blades and
headed back towards their equipment bags.

Left standing with Xander, Buffy could only ask, “Did I just miss something
here?”

Scratching his head, the teenager replied, “I’d chalk this one up to male
bonding, Buff.”

The Slayer merely remarked, “Strange...very strange.”

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

A short while later, after Buffy and Xander had returned to the house,
Richie and Nick remained behind to scarf down a six-pack of cold beer
while their wounds healed under a nearby shade tree. As they were
discussing their lives, the talk inevitably came back around to their mentor
with Nick asking, “So how’s Tessa doing these days?”

Upon hearing the name of MacLeod’s dead fiancee, Richie’s smile instantly
faded and he could only ask, “You didn’t hear what happened?”

“Hear what?”

“Tessa’s dead. She was shot by a mugger on the night I became Immortal.”

With an astonished look on his face, Nick could only reply, “Oh man, I
didn’t know. MacLeod must have taken that really hard.”

Richie replied, “Yeah, he did. Fact is, I don’t think he’s really ever gotten
over it. He’s harder now, less forgiving.”

“Less forgiving? You’re kidding? MacLeod wasn’t exactly the easiest
going guy to begin with.”

“Tell me about it,” Richie responded. “I found that out after I made my first
kill. Some Immortal bounty hunter by the name of Mako ran down and
killed a girl I cared about. Mac thought I should just let it go, but I thought
differently. After I killed Mako, Mac sent me packing. I was on the road
for nearly six months before we even started speaking again. End of story.”

After hearing this, Nick remarked, “Well, if you think that’s tough, wait till
you hear my little tale of whoa. Ten years ago, I was a Navy SEAL and...”

Taking another swig of beer, Richie remarked, “Hey, aren’t they pretty
tough...like the Marines?”

“Actually, the Marines are a bunch of wimps compared to the SEALS...just
don’t tell them that I said that. But anyhow, I digress. Back in ’88, my team
was sent down to Colombia to stop some drug smugglers. Well,
unfortunately, someone in their government snitched to the local cartel, so
they were waiting for us. I was on point that day and suddenly all hell broke
loose...bullets and rocket-propelled grenades incoming from all directions.
In less than a minute, the mission was lost and 10 SEALS were dead,
including me. However, after the smoke cleared, I got back up and,
needless to say, was quite amazed that I was still breathing.”

“It’s confusing the first time, isn’t it?”

Crushing a now empty aluminum can in his hand, Nick answered, “Yeah,
especially when there’s nobody around to tell you who and what you are. In
my case, it also didn’t help that I was the sole survivor of one of the worst
debacles in recent Navy history. They were looking for a scapegoat and I fit
the bill nicely.”

Richie then interrupted by asking, “But it wasn’t your fault. What about the
snitch?”

“Ah yes, the snitch. Well, the Navy had a choice between embarrassing our
Colombian allies or throwing a lowly sailor to the wolves. Guess which
they chose.”

After remarking, “Man that sucks,” Richie then asked, “but how did you
meet Mac?”

“I was just getting to that,” Nick responded. “Here I was with my freshly
minted dishonorable discharge papers in my pocket, having been separated
from the service at the Seacouver Naval Base, and I was banging around
from bar to bar. Well, pretty soon I realize that I have a killer headache and
some guy with a ponytail is checking me out in the alley outside the dive I
just got bounced out of. Needless to say, I thought I might have to kick his
ass.”

With a wide-eyed expression, Richie then asked, “Hey, this is getting pretty
good. So what happened next?”

“Well, I was dead drunk and this guy offers to take me home...or some
words to that effect...so being Mr. Macho SEAL, I do the natural thing -- I
take a swing at him.”

“Uh oh, bad move.”

“Yeah, I missed...MacLeod didn’t. He clocked me upside the head real
good. The next thing I know, I wake up on a couch in an antiques store and
a woman is putting ice on my jaw. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

“But that still doesn’t explain why Mac eventually kicked you out.”

“Well, MacLeod and I did the usual training -- running and dueling -- which
wasn’t very different than my SEAL experience, so it really wasn’t that hard
for me. However, as you know, our teacher has a rather Medieval outlook
when it comes to honor in battle -- a view that I didn’t exactly share. Once
again, my very practical 20th Century combat training told me to kill the
enemy any way I could. This clashed with his principles from the start but,
as usual, MacLeod thought he could ‘reform’ me. He couldn’t.”

“I think I see where this is leading,” Richie remarked.

“Basically, it led to him teaching me about this nebulous ‘Game’ with rules
and regulations for fighting -- at least that was MacLeod’s idea. My view,
on the other hand, was that if you left me alone, I’d leave you alone -- live
and let live. However, you screw with me and I’ll bury you...anyway I can.”

“Mac doesn’t believe in that.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Nick responded with a sigh. “Well,
anyhow, I was very up front about this with MacLeod. So it really
shouldn’t have surprised him when the first freak with an attitude
challenged me.”

“But it did?”

“Yeah, it did. Some big asshole by the name of Kincade...Jerome
Kincade...shows up one day. An ‘old friend’ of MacLeod’s, it seems.”

“Those are the types you REALLY have to watch out for...they always try to
kill his students.”

“No shit...well, anyhow, it seems that MacLeod slept with Kincade’s
girlfriend sometime around the Civil War...”

“God, couldn’t that man ever keep his pants on?”

“Good question. I vote ‘no,’ but anyway, this Kincade was 6’ 6”, 300
pounds and still ticked off. It seems that his life went into the toilet after
this girl left him and he wanted revenge on MacLeod and anyone close to
him.”

“And that, of course, included you.”

“Naturally. I see this is making some sense to you.”

“Been there, done that.”

“Well, anyhow, I fought this guy once and actually managed to disarm him
in a rather unorthodox manner -- I belted him with a crowbar I also had
under my coat with my sword.”

“Boy, you’re really full of surprises, aren’t you?” remarked Richie.

“Yeah, well, since I was such a nice guy -- and still kinda grossed out by the
whole head-chopping thing -- I let Kincade walk.”

“But...?”

“He came back,” stated Nick.

“They always do...they’re like cockroaches.”

“Well, to improve his chances in Round 2, this roach decided to run me
down with his Mercedes one night in the alley outside the antiques store
BEFORE issuing his challenge. That kinda pissed me off...actually that
REALLY pissed me off.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask, what did you do?”

“With MacLeod and Tessa watching from their bedroom window, I pulled
out my Navy-issue .45 automatic and pumped four rounds into his fat gut.”

“YOU SHOT HIM?”

“DAMN STRAIGHT! Then I walked over, picked up HIS sword, and took
his head clean off with it. The damn Quickening blew out all the display
windows in MacLeod’s store.”

With a shocked expression, Richie asked, “Then what happened?”

“Then I took a shower.”

“No...NO...I mean with Mac!”

“Oh, he went completely berserk . He said I was dishonorable...I was a
disgrace to all Immortals...I was scum...yadda...yadda...yadda. But, what he
failed to realize -- bottom line -- was that I was alive and Kincade was dead.
Tessa actually saw where I was coming from, but there was no reasoning
with Kiltboy.”

“He threw you out.”

“That very same night...after giving me this sword. Anyhow, a few weeks
later, thanks to my foster father’s connections with Derek, I latched onto
this job here. It’s not too bad, actually. Except for the occasional demon or
disgruntled spirit.”

Opening another beer, Richie then remarked, “Man, and I thought I was a
bad student. I feel better now.”

“Glad to be of service, Ryan.”

After a couple minutes of silence, Nick then asked, “So, what’s up with
those two kids who were out here before. Buffy and Xander Harris, is it? I
was picking up a distinct buzz from either one or both of them.”

“Both, actually. Buffy is the one and only Slayer.”

“A what?”

“A Slayer. It’s her duty to stop vampires and the forces of evil from
destroying the world -- or at least California. Giles is her Watcher.”

“Watcher, huh? Which means what, exactly?”

“Basically, he provides guidance, does research, and helps train her.”

“Damn, I wonder if we can hire them? The Legacy can use all the help it
can get.” Reaching for the last can of Bud, Nick then asked, “And what
about the boy?”

“I think you already know the answer to that question. Xander will be
swinging a sword one day just like the two of us. Actually, he’s pretty
decent with various weapons right now. I’ve been training with him every
week or so.”

“Does he know?”

“No, but Giles does. It was necessary to tell him a few months back.”

Starting to get up, Nick commented, “Well, I guess he’ll find out soon
enough. Ignorance is bliss.”

Also rising, Richie replied simply, “Boy, is that true.”

As the Immortals slowly headed back to the house, Richie then asked Nick,
“By the way, do you know about Watchers?”

“You mean like Giles?”

“No, not exactly. Different group -- go figure. Giles is A Watcher. THE
Watchers watch us.”

“Watch us do what?” asked Nick.

“Oh, just about everything -- live, die...love.”

“Ryan, please tell me you’re not serious. There’s someone watching
EVERYTHING I do?”

“Sorry, but it’s true. But they’re usually harmless.”

“USUALLY? But I would have noticed somebody watching me all the
time.”

“Believe me, Nick, they’re very good at blending into the background.”

“Did MacLeod know about them?”

“No. Not when you were with him.”

“Oh great, Ryan, this Immortality gig just keeps getting better and better.”

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

With the sun now setting over the horizon, Angel decided to visit a longtime
friend before entering the viper pit known as the Primogen Conclave. After
crossing Julian’s large open courtyard and garden, he soon came to an
unassuming side entrance that led far down under the mansion. Making his
way through long, dank tunnels, he soon came upon a door leading to a
lighted drawing room beyond. Once inside, he soon viewed a creature
regally attired in a maroon smoking jacket, silently painting a serene
landscape on a tripod easel. The rest of the room, meanwhile, contained a
multitude of antiques and paintings. Without turning around, the large
hulking figure remarked, “I heard you had returned, Angelus. The question
is why?”

“The Prince called and I came. Is there any better reason?”

Turning slowly, the hideous Kindred known as Daedalus, an ancient
member of the Nosferatu clan -- as was Angel’s former Master -- put his
rush down and remarked, “Always the correct answer, Angelus. I must
have taught you well.”

As the two embraced, their separation of nearly 30 years became
meaningless. Soon, the older Kindred was holding a green-tinted bottle and
two glasses. Seeing this, Angel commented, “I already had quite a bit of
wine with Julian up in the house.”

Filling the goblets with a red liquid, the Nosferatu remarked with a sly grin,
“Who said anything about wine?”

As he took hold of the glass and slowly sniffed the aroma of its contents,
Angel serenely stated, “I always knew you kept the good stuff down here,
Daedalus.” Then, he offered a toast, “To life eternal.”

Taking a sip, the other Kindred couldn’t help but remark, “That was an odd
toast, Angelus, considering that we’re among the damned.”

“Well, I still hope for miracles, don’t you?”

Putting his now empty glass down, Daedalus couldn’t resist stating,
“Considering that one might consider your life a miracle itself, I suppose I
do. Not every creature can change so radically from being a soulless
monster to such a unique individual, Angelus. However, fate intervened
and brought us together at a time when you needed us and much as we
needed you.”

As they both sat down, Angel asked his mentor to apprise him of the current
state of the local Primogen Conclave -- its members and politics, as well as
the overall state of Kindred affairs in San Francisco. Instantly, Daedalus
starting detailing events that added up to major trouble for Julian Luna. It
seemed that since the former Prince, Archon, had stepped aside, there had
already been an unsuccessful attempt on the new Prince’s life by the former
head of the Brujah clan. Although the offender lost his head during the
attempt...literally...the thuggish Brujah were still intent on wresting control
of the city away from Julian’s conservative and rational Ventrue clan. Now
led by a scheming young Kindred known as Cameron, the Brujah already
controlled New York and Los Angeles and wanted to add San Francisco to
their list of conquests. In fact, Cameron’s most audacious act to date was
the revenge killing of Archon, Julian’s sire and mentor, an act for which --
thanks to a loophole in Kindred law -- he narrowly avoided being
condemned to final death.

As for the other clans in the city, the Brujah had nearly annihilated the
Gangrels only a few years before. Therefore, young Cash and his followers
were hell-bent on derailing Brujah plans whenever possible. As for the
Toreador clan, led by the beautiful -- and extremely cunning -- Lillie
Langtry, their allegiances were always shifting...usually to whoever
currently had the upper hand in the city. Upon mentioning Lillie, Daedalus
noticed a nearly imperceptible shift in Angel’s demeanor, commenting, “She
is quick to anger and slow to forgive, Angelus. But I suppose you would
remember that.”

“Yes, you suppose correctly, my friend. Lillie always wants to be on the
winning side...”

“...and in the winner’s bed. Never forget that.”

“Now how could I possibly forget that? It almost cost me my life 80 years
ago.”

“And it almost cost Julian his life last year,” Daedalus quickly added.
“Although her relationship with Julian ended long ago, Lillie got jealous
when the Prince started seeing a mortal woman and nearly aided in his
assassination.”

In a somewhat astonished tone, Angel then asked rhetorically, “Julian is
having an affair with a mortal? Our Julian?”

“Yes. Ironically, she’s a newspaper reporter. However, for the sake of the
Masquerade, he’s kept his true nature hidden, of course.”

“Of course.”

After emptying his own glass, Angel finally asked, “And what of the
Nosferatu clan? Where do their allegiances lie?”

After a moment of reflection, the leader of the Nosferatu and long-time
enforcer for the Prince responded, “As usual, the Nosferatu swear loyalty to
the Prince of the City.”

“A very good answer, Daedalus. However, it tells me nothing other than the
Nosferatu will support whomever sits on the throne.”

“As it has always been, Angelus. We do not involve ourselves in politics --
we try to rise above such petty issues.”

“Very true. However, allow me to get more specific by asking where
YOUR loyalties lie, Daedalus?”

Without hesitation, the other Kindred answered, “I follow Julian Luna,
lawful Prince of San Francisco.”

“I’m very relieved to hear that, Daedalus. At least I won’t be alone in that
goddamned room!”

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

About an hour later, Angel was leaving the second-floor room that had been
prepared for him when his preternatural hearing picked up the sound of a
heated argument coming from downstairs. Upon reaching the balcony
railing overlooking the large room below, he spied Julian, Cash, and an
unknown young female Kindred engaged in a shouting match concerning
the girl’s desire to leave the house that night -- something that Julian and
Cash seemed to be dead-set against.

“I’m not going to stay locked up in this damn house for the rest of eternity,
Uncle Julian.”

“OK,” Angel idly thought, “that must be Sasha, Julian’s niece.”

“But, it’s not safe for you to go out now. The streets are very dangerous for
those close to me. Please don’t go.”

“But Uncle Julian, I’m Brujah now...you can’t keep protecting me. I have to
be with my people, otherwise I’ll die here.”

Upon hearing this, Angel had difficulty imagining any situation that could
have allowed a Ventrue Prince’s relative being made a Kindred -- embraced
-- by a member of the hated Brujah. There were just some mixes that should
never happen in Kindred society, at this was at the top of the list.

Deciding to head down the stairs rather than continue eavesdropping, Angel
was soon aware of several sets of eyes locked on him. When he reached the
bottom, Julian said, “Good to see you’re ready, Angelus. We’re just about
ready to leave. But before we do, allow me to introduce my great, great
grandniece to you.” Then turning to the girl, he said, “Sasha, this is
Angelus, the Tremere Primogen and a good friend.”

As Angel extended his hand to her, the girl commented, “Ooh, a Tremere, I
don’t think I’ve ever met one of your kind before.” Then, running her
tongue across her crimson upper lip, she added, “They say that you can be
as ferocious as a Nosferatu when angered, but as passionate as a Toreador
when otherwise aroused.” Incredibly, Sasha then took her free hand and
quickly reached under the fabric of Angel’s dress shirt, raking her long red
nails across his chest. However, before he had time to react, Julian instantly
grabbed the girl by the upper arm and pushed her towards Cash, who also
looked none too pleased.

As the Gangrel led the girl back upstairs, the Prince immediately apologized
for his niece’s actions, saying “I’m truly sorry about that disgusting display.
But, you must forgive her, she hasn’t been the same since some Brujah scum
took advantage of her. She and Cash were supposed to be bonded -- he’s
loyal and dependable -- they would have been happy together. But now, a
Brujah and a Gangrel -- bitter enemies -- I just don’t know if it can possibly
work out.”

While proceeding towards the Prince’s armored black limousine, Angel
couldn’t help but compare Cash and Sasha’s star-crossed relationship with
his and Buffy’s. After a few moments he remarked to Julian, “Believe me,
you’d be absolutely amazed at the types of relationships that can work out in
this world.”

“I truly hope you’re right, Angelus. For both their sakes.”

A few moments later, after the two had climbed into the back seat and Cash
was positioned in the front passenger compartment, the sleek vehicle started
on its way downtown.

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

Within 15 minutes, the limo arrived at the front door of a rather glitzy club
called “The Haven.” As Angel followed Julian, with Cash and another
Kindred watching their backs following close behind, the group glided
smoothly past the velvet ropes and bouncers at the front door, quickly
headed through the establishment with its blaring rock music, and up a
curving staircase. As they ascended the steps, the Prince turned to Angel
and remarked, “This is one of Lillie’s clubs, we use the rooms upstairs for
Conclave meetings.”

“Why don’t you hold meetings at the mansion, like Archon did?”

With a gleam in his eye, Julian answered, “Recent history has shown that
meeting on somewhat neutral ground is more productive...and secure.
Especially at times like this.”

Upon entering the large, richly appointed conference room, they
immediately discovered that they were, in fact, the last to arrive. In addition
to four bodyguards from assorted clans standing in each corner, those seated
on one side of the table included Lillie, Toreador Primogen, wearing a form-
fitting long black dress and Cameron, Brujah Primogen, wearing a black
pinstripe suit and striped red tie.

Across the table from Cameron sat Daedalus, Nosferatu Primogen, wearing
a starched white shirt with Nauru collar and frilly cuffs. After Cash,
wearing his trademark leather jacket and jeans, had seated himself next to
Daedalus, Julian finally sat at the head of the table with Angel remaining
standing behind his right shoulder. Most eyes in the room were focused on
the newcomer. The Prince started by stating, “I have called you all here
tonight to deal with one of the most serious threats posed to the integrity of
the Masquerade in decades.”

With a bored expression, Cameron then remarked, “OK, Julian, you’ve got
our attention. Can you please dispense with the melodramatics and cut to
the chase.”

Almost instantly, Cash growled in response, “The only thing I’d like to cut
is your throat, Brujah.”

As the room exploded in shouted threats and counter-threats, Angel simply
rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. Once order had been restored, Julian
continued, “Last night, a group of outcast Kindred invaded this domain,
killed and injured mortals, and exposed their true nature to law enforcement
officers. Therefore, I need not tell you that for breaking several of our most
sacred laws, these outcasts must be sentenced to final death. For this
reason, I have called upon the sire of the leader of this group, Angelus of the
Tremere clan, to join us to perform one of the most solemn duties of a
Kindred who has sired children, namely to call for a Blood Hunt upon his
offspring.”

Stepping up to stand beside Julian’s chair, Angel then stated the traditional
words of the death sentence, “For violating the Traditions of the Camerilla, I
must call upon the Primogen of this Conclave to call the Blood Hunt upon
the Kindred known as Spike and all those loyal to him.”

A vote was then taken, starting with Julian who, now acting as Ventrue
Primogen, said, ”It is with deep regret, Angelus, that this action is
necessary. The Venture vote in favor of the Blood Hunt.”

Next, Daedalus spoke, “It is never easy to discipline wayward children,
Angelus. Therefore, I know how difficult this must be for you.
Unfortunately, drastic action is necessary to protect our Masquerade. The
Nosferatu vote in favor of the Blood Hunt.”

Moving along to Cash, the youngest Kindred present stated, “The loss of
any of our number weakens us. However, sometimes it is necessary to
sacrifice some for the sake of all. Therefore, the Gangrel vote in favor of
the Blood Hunt. My sympathies to you, Angelus.”

Now moving down the opposite side of the room, Lillie said, “As one who
has also found it necessary to call down a hunt upon one of her children
recently, I know how unpleasant this process can be.” Then, glancing
towards Julian, she added, “I also know how passionate you are about many
things, Angelus. I’m sure this is just one of them. The Toreador, therefore,
vote in favor of the Blood Hunt.”

Finally, it was Cameron’s turn to speak. Not bothering to look up from
examining his well-manicured fingernails, he remarked, “If they screwed
up, they should die. The Brujah accept this basic fact and vote in favor of
the Blood Hunt.”

Upon hearing these final words, Angel stared daggers at Cameron while
Julian, Cash, and Daedalus simply shook their heads. Lillie, however, felt
compelled to say, “In the name of Caine, you always know just the right
thing to say, don’t you Cameron?”

“What? Why all the false emotion? Does anyone here even know this
Spike?”

“That’s not the point, Cameron,” Julian responded.

Standing to leave, the Brujah Primogen then stated, “Yeah, well, whatever.
If you’ll all excuse me, I’ve got some business down on the docks.”

However, before he could take a step towards the door, the Prince stopped
him dead in his tracks by saying, “Cameron, this meeting is not yet over.
There are other items on the agenda.”

“What other items, Julian? I didn’t know about anything else.”

With a neutral expression, the Prince then responded, “You’re lack of
information is not my concern, Cameron. Please sit down.”

As the Brujah returned to his seat in a huff, Julian then stated, “I have also
asked Angelus to join us this evening for another reason.” As several heads
once again swiveled towards him, the Prince continued, “Although several
of you had never met him previously, Angelus provided valuable counsel to
former Prince Archon and has aided both Kindred and mortals for many
years, including hundreds of Nosferatu who were trapped below ground
during the Great Earthquake of 1906. Subsequently, he also served on this
Conclave as interim Tremere Primogen after that clan was nearly obliterated
and scattered by clan wars.” As he said this, he cast an accusing eye in
Cameron’s direction. “However, in more recent years, Angelus left us to
perform a special service to all Kindred. First at the request of Archon, and
then with my continued blessing, he has been aiding Slayers in their quest to
destroy rogue Kindred and in so doing protect the Masquerade.”

Interrupting, Cameron immediately spat out, “He’s been helping mortals
destroy Kindred? That’s an abomination!”

Hearing this, Daedalus calmly responded, “No, it’s not. Actually, it’s one of
the systems that WE devised many centuries ago to ensure that mortals
never became aware of our presence. Since we are very restricted in our
ability to track our kind during daylight, a spell was devised to enhance the
senses of certain mortal girls to detect and ultimately destroy rogue
Kindred.”

Listening closely, Cash then asked Daedalus, “But how can we be sure that
the Slayer only destroys rogue Kindred and not ALL Kindred?”

Julian decided to answer by stating, “The girl can only hunt what she can
find. Therefore, since we can also detect her, innocent Kindred almost
always choose to flee rather than fight. So far, the system has been very
effective.” When the Prince did not hear any further outbursts on the topic,
he then decided to make his intended point, “For all these reasons and
others, I have asked Angelus, eldest member of the Tremere in this domain,
to assume the responsibilities of clan Primogen, effective immediately.”

As Angelus moved towards a vacant chair at the other end of the table,
opposite Julian’s, Cameron finally lost what little remained of his self
control.

“What the hell is this! A new Primogen? You can’t just create an
additional vote in this Conclave, Julian. We’re all entitled to vote on this.”

Actually, Cameron, you’re wrong again,” the Prince remarked coolly. “I
didn’t create a new position, instead I’m filling a long vacant one. There’s a
difference.” After a momentary pause, during which the Brujah continued
to fume, Julian then added, “However, in the name of domestic tranquillity,
if you want me to put the matter to a vote, I will. All those in favor of
Angelus becoming Tremere Primogen, please raise your hands.”

Up shot hands belonging to Daedalus, Cash, and Julian.”

“And all those opposed?”

Up went Cameron’s lone hand.

“Any abstentions?”

With a smile, Lillie then raised her hand, remarking “I always like to be
different.”

With a broad grin, Julian then stated, “The motion is so carried. Very well,
as I was saying then, welcome back to the Conclave, Angelus. You’ve been
away much too long.” Ignoring the fact that Cameron was still cursing
under his breath, the Prince then moved on to the final order of business
before the group. “And last, we must decide on how best to deal with the
mortals who witnessed Spike and his followers yesterday.”

“Why don’t we simply make them forget?” asked Cash. “That’s worked
well in the past.”

Without any preamble, Cameron then growled, “Why don’t we just kill
them? That would be VERY effective.”

As all faces turned towards the Brujah with cold stares, Julian icily replied,
“No humans will be needlessly slaughtered in this city as long as I am
Prince.”

Never knowing when to remain silent, Cameron then muttered, “Well,
maybe we should take care of that too.”

With a dangerous red gleam in his eyes, Julian slowly rose from his chair
and said, “BE VERY CAREFUL...you’re treading on dangerous ground
here, Cameron. You’ve been warned before and my patience is not
unlimited.”

As Cameron then started to reexamine his manicure, Julian sat back down
and said, “As I was going to say before I was interrupted, thanks to Sonny,
we have a video surveillance device hidden in the house ransacked by
Spike. Therefore, we have taped footage revealing what the mortals know
about us.” As he was saying this, the Prince pressed a button that activated
a wall-mounted monitor. Soon, the screen was filled with the fuzzy black
and white images of a group of people sitting and standing around what
appeared to be a computer room. And, almost immediately, Angel knew
that things were about to get even MORE complicated than they already
were. Scanning the screen, he was able to identify Buffy, Giles, Willow,
Xander, and Richie Ryan. However, everybody else was unknown to him.

As the Kindred continued to watch, it soon became apparent to all those
present that the humans knew exactly who and what they were dealing with.
The words ‘vampires’ and ‘Sepulchers’ were used in nearly every sentence.
After a few minutes, Julian shut off the video and started discussing
possible courses of action.

“At this time, I feel it is necessary to tell the Conclave that several of the
humans you just saw are not as ignorant of the supernatural as most. In fact,
they are members of a foundation that I established to conduct research into
that very subject. Quite coincidentally, I might add, an ancient society
known as the Legacy has infiltrated the foundation over time and has
actually been acting to secretly CONTROL the spread of dangerous
phenomena. This arrangement has been quite beneficial in much the same
way as the Slayer concept has served to camouflage OUR existence.”

Cameron, now thoroughly fed-up, sarcastically stated, “Gee, Prince Julian,
is there anything ELSE happening around here that you haven’t told us
about? The existence of extraterrestrials perhaps?”

Lillie then remarked, “So, like Cash said, why don’t we simply make them
forget about the existence of Kindred? Wouldn’t that work?”

Speaking for the first time on the subject, Angel replied, “No, it wouldn’t.”

“Why not?” asked Julian.

“Because according to that tape, the Slayer, her Watcher, AND an Immortal
human are in that house. We CAN’T make the Slayer forget about
vampir...sorry, Kindred. It just wouldn’t work.”

Cameron then made his last unwise remark of the evening by asking, “Why
not, Angelus, are you hot for the little girl? Is she the one in the black mini
ski...” The Brujah was unable to finish the thought before he was knocked
out of his chair and slammed against the wall. Now enraged and
transformed into his more sinister form, Angel then flipped Cameron’s
bodyguard across the table and proceeded to lift the Primogen up by the
throat, with sharp claws pressing against his jugular.

As Daedalus started to move around the room to restrain his friend, Julian
immediately took hold of the Nosferatu’s arm, indicating that he shouldn’t
interfere...yet. Cash and Lillie simply looked on with amused expressions
on their faces.

“In case you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t like you very much,” Angel
roared into Cameron’s face. Then, shaking him for emphases, he added,
“To me, you look like a two-bit hood in a cheap suit. But be aware, the
Prince’s patience far exceeds mine. If you ever mouth off to me again,
you’ll end up as a stain on the carpet. You got that?”

Upon receiving only a hateful glare in response, Angel then allowed his
claws to start piercing Cameron’s throat. As a trickle of blood started to run
down the Brujah’s neck, only then did he manage a strangled reply, “Yeah, I
understand.”

Angel then smiled and remarked, “See, I knew you were a smart boy,”
before unceremoniously dumping him on the floor. The Tremere then
quickly composed himself and calmly sat back down as Cameron struggled
back to his seat.

As order was now restored, Daedalus then picked up on something that
Angel had mentioned previously, asking, “You mentioned an Immortal
human. How is that possible? I’ve never encountered one in my many
centuries.”

“They also live a secret existence, Daedalus. Actually, there is much more
to know about them. I’ll have to tell you sometime. But, needless to say,
there are complex issues involved here that defy a simple solution.”

“Can the Slayer and her Watcher be trusted?” asked Julian.

“Yes. I’ve trusted her many times in the past two years. I have total
confidence in her.”

“Well then,” Julian remarked, “I’d say that this situation may require a
unique solution...a personal solution. I move to adjoin this meeting until
further notice.”

After the other Primogen had filed out of the room, only Julian and Angel
remained. The latter quickly apologized for his actions during the meeting -
- to which the Prince quickly replied, “There’s no need to apologize,
Angelus. I’ve been tempted to smash Cameron on many occasions. It was
actually quite refreshing.” After a pause, he then added, “For a moment, I
actually thought you were going to destroy Cameron. It was very good
acting indeed.”

Turning towards his Prince, Angel replied with a grin, “Who said I was
acting?”

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

Back in Sunnydale, Spike was sitting in his lair staring at the five
Sepulchers laid-out around the chamber. The really creepy thing was that
he had the distinct feeling they might actually be staring back. Ethan,
meanwhile, was in archeological ecstasy. Although Spike always suspected
that the human was a bit off to begin with, his behavior since stealing the
Sepulchers had taken a decidedly eccentric turn. Right now, he was
bouncing around the room talking to himself while referencing an
assortment of ancient texts piled high on a table.

“Oh, this is magnificent, I never realized that this one was recovered in the
Himalayas!”

“Yeah, magnificent,” sniped Spike, “if you happen to be on the ‘Antiques
Roadshow.”

“What was that? Did you say something?”

Quickly standing, the vampire moved across the room and was now
towering over Ethan, who was examining one of the chests with a
magnifying glass.

“Yes, I was wondering how these old crates are going to help me polish off
the Slayer and her pet Angelus?”

With a snort of disdain, the human replied, “These ‘crates,’ as you so
ignorantly call them, contain answers to many of the mysteries of the
universe.”

“That’s what you keep saying, mate. But could you be just a WEE bit more
specific for the crowd in the bleachers.”

“Each Sepulcher can act as a doorway to an alternate dimension -- a spirit
dimension -- that we on Earth colloquially call ‘Hell.’ But when used in
concert with each other, their power is multiplied. And when ALL FIVE
are used together...”

“Sounds similar to openin’ the bloomin Hellmouth to me,” replied Spike.
“And that plan got the Master cooked.”

“Who?”

“The Master...an ugly loser with bad breath. Oh, never mind...go on.”

“The Hellmouth is what makes this so exciting!” Ethan gushed.

“Calm down, mate. Take a breath or two.”

“Even under normal circumstances, the Sepulchers are a powerful force
because they can generate their own interdimensional portal. Now imagine
what would happen if they are placed in proximity to an EXISTING portal!”

“The Hellmouth.”

“Exactly. The Sepulchers will INCREASE the power of the Hellmouth
exponentially! And then, we’ll bring forth the demons to control this
world!”

“WHO will control the world, Ethan?”

Quickly correcting himself, the man replied, “YOU’LL control the world,
Spike.”

“NOW I’m beginning to like the sound of this,” remarked Spike. However,
his smile quickly faded when he recalled a potential glitch in the plan. “But
what about the keys to the boxes? You never found them.”

“Not to worry, Spike. I’ve already planned for that contingency.”

“The last time you said that,” sneered the vampire, “I got blown up and
shot!”

Rapidly turning back towards the Sepulcher he’d been examining, Ethan
remarked, “Well there are always unforeseen eventualities in every
ingenious plan.”

Raising a boot to kick the human in the backside, Spike muttered, “I’ll give
YOU an unforeseen eventuality, you bloody...” However, before he could
land the blow, he was distracted by a weak voice coming from an adjoining
room, “Spike...?”

Quickly lowering his foot, the vampire nearly stumbled over one of the
Sepulchers as he sprinted into the bedroom, “Dru...? I’m here, baby.” The
vampire quickly turned on a lamp and sat down on the bed beside his
beloved.

“Spike, I’m cold.”

“I know, luv...you haven’t been eating regular. I’ll get you someone...”

“No, don’t leave me alone, Spike. It’s so dark in here and all.”

While stroking her jet-black hair, her lover replied, “But you’ve got to eat,
Dru, or you’ll waste away to nothing.”

“I’m tired. I just want to sleep...it’s so peaceful when I sleep. So nice and
warm and toasty.”

“Go back to sleep then, hon. I’ll stay here with you.”

After she had fallen back asleep, Spike gently removed his arm from under
her head and smoothed her long white nightgown. He then pulled thick
blankets up around her shoulders. After silently contemplating her
condition for a few minutes, he left the room and returned to Ethan.

“Can those boxes be used to heal a vampire?”

“Ahh, I’m not sure...I suppose so, why?”

“Change of plan. You’re going to heal Drusilla first. Then I’ll take over the
world.”

“But Spike, I haven’t...”

The vampire quickly moved close to the man, placing his finger on Ethan’s
lips and remarking, “Shhh, I don’t want to hear it. You look like a relatively
bright bloke and have all these nice big books and all. It shouldn’t be any
trouble at all for you to get Dru up and around again.”

“But...”

Suddenly grabbing the human by the throat, Spike lifted Ethan off the floor,
snarling, “You’re not listening to me, you damn wanker. Either you cure
Dru or I’ll kill you -- dead. Is THAT clearer?”

Unable to breathe, Ethan quickly nodded yes.

After dropping him down beside one of the Sepulchers, the vampire calmly
remarked, “Good. I knew you’d listen to reason.”

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

The following afternoon, as Alex and Willow were attempting to pry
information on the Sepulchers out of the patched-together Legacy
computers, Buffy, Xander, Richie, and Nick were sightseeing in downtown
San Francisco. This left Derek and Giles alone in the former’s study
reminiscing over brandy about their younger days.

“What was her name, Giles? You know, the brunette who always wore
those...revealing...sweaters.”

After a moment, the Watcher replied with a smile, “Oh yes, Angela
McCartney. She was truly magnificent. She had real promise as an
archeologist.”

“At the time, you weren’t only interested in her IQ, Giles. I wonder
whatever became of her?”

“She became a nun.”

“No...you’re not serious!”

Giles then replied, “Yes, quite serious, Derek. She took her vows a few
years after graduating.”

“She never struck me as the nun type.”

With a grin, the librarian replied, “Neither did your sister, if memory serves.
She was also quite liberated as I recall.”

Taking a sip of the amber liquid, Derek answered, “I guess people change
over time.”

“That they do, Derek. That they do. For instance, I thought you would
surely have a tenured position at a nice quiet university. That’s what you
always said you wanted to do.”

“My priorities changed, Giles. After school, I was recruited by the Legacy.
They offered me research opportunities the likes of which I could only have
dreamt about in the academic world.”

“But at what price, Derek?”

“Actually, Giles, I can ask you the same question.”

“Well, the Watchers have also provided many opportunities over the years.
As the Yanks say, ‘It’s not just a job...it’s an adventure.’ That’s very true.
In fact, I tend to believe that it must be very similar to a religious calling.
You just know it’s the proper thing to do.”

While replying, “My feelings exactly,” the Prefect was interrupted by the
telephone on his desk. As he moved to answer it, he added, “Excuse me,
Giles.” As the Watcher continued to sip his drink, he couldn’t help but
overhear one side of the conversation.

“Julian Luna? Yes, I’ll hold.” And then, after a few more seconds, “Good
day, Mr. Luna. This is quite a surprise...it’s been some time. What can I do
for you? Of course it’s not an intrusion, you’re always welcome. I’m
flattered you’re concerned with our well being. Very well then...I’ll see you
tonight.”

After hanging up, Derek remarked to Giles, “We’ll be having a guest
tonight. It seems that our benefactor is concerned about recent events and
would like to discuss the situation.”

“I should hardly find that surprising, Derek. After all, people were killed on
his property. I’m surprised it took him this long to contact you.”

“Actually, Giles, I tried to call him yesterday, but was told he was out of
town.”

“Obviously he’s returned then, Derek.”

“Just what I need. As if recovering the Sepulchers weren’t difficult
enough...and now this.” The Legacy member then drained the remaining
liquor from his glass.

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

A few hours later, as Buffy, Xander, and the two Immortals returned from a
day on the town, they found an impressive limousine parked under the
house’s main entrance. However, simple curiosity soon turned to
consternation as the Slayer, Richie, and Nick all started to sense that
something was not right.

“Nice Mercedes. I wonder who owns it?” asked Xander.

“I think the question is more like ‘what owns it?’ the Slayer corrected.
“Does anyone else feel that?”

Richie quickly replied, “Yeah. I definitely think the fang gang is lurking
around again. I’m having an Excedrin moment here like you wouldn’t
believe.”

Rubbing his temples, Nick added, “Oh yeah...I can’t believe those bastards
would come back again.”

“Well, no one ever accused Spike of being particularly smart,” retorted
Buffy. She then asked Nick, “Other than the front door, is there another
way into the house?”

“Yeah, around back near the helipad. There’s a door that comes in through
the utility room. It’s padlocked though.”

Hearing this, Richie removed a small leather case from his jacket pocket and
remarked, “That REALLY shouldn’t be a problem.”

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

A couple of minutes later, the group had quietly entered the house thanks to
Richie’s lockpick kit -- a holdover from his adolescent juvenile delinquent
phase. As they stealthily made their way towards the main living quarters,
with wooden stakes and swords at the ready, the quiet that permeated the
place was eerie.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Be quiet Xander, they’ll hear you,” warned Buffy.

“This is bad. I hope Willow and the others are safe.”

“Shhhhh!”

“Sorry.”

Now entering the kitchen, Buffy, Xander, and the two Immortals had yet to
meet any resistance. In fact, they now heard low talking coming from the
dining room beyond. However, while peeking around the side of the room’s
large free-standing oven, the Slayer now spied her first target -- a male form
approximately her height, with his back turned towards her. Quickly sizing
up the leather-clad vampire as being a relatively easy kill, Buffy used a hand
signal to indicate to the others that she had some slayage to attend to.

Meanwhile, a few feet away, Cash was feeling particularly uneasy. Julian
had asked him to leave the room while he was discussing matters with
Derek Rayne and the others -- he thought a bodyguard might be too
intimidating. If that wasn’t frustrating enough, the Gangrel now felt even
worse thanks to a funky headache that seemed to materialize out of
nowhere. Left with nothing to do but stare at the kitchen walls, he felt
useless. And then he noticed a shadow suddenly move across the wall he
was staring at.

As Buffy was about to stake leather boy, the vampire quickly pivoted at the
hip, while simultaneously arcing his left leg in a sweeping motion. In so
doing, he knocked the Slayer to the floor and was on top of her in an instant.
While pinning her stake hand at her side, Cash remarked, “That’s not very
nice, little girl. Didn’t anybody ever tell you not to play with sharp
objects?”

Quickly replying, “No!” Buffy used her legs, which were not pinned, to kick
the vampire away. As they both regained their footing, she then hurled a
stake at her target, catching him on the right side of the chest. As Cash
growled in pain and reached to remove the offending piece of lumber, the
Slayer landed a kick that propelled him through a swinging door and into
the dining room.

Upon seeing what had transpired, Nick remarked to Ritchie, “So much for
the element of surprise.”

Xander then added, “Yeah, and she thought I was making too much noise.”

Seconds later, the Slayer followed Cash into the dining room...and was
shocked to see what appeared to be a polite dinner party in progress.
Although the vampire she had just attacked now had a gun -- a vampire with
a gun? -- pointed directly at her, everything else seemed to be normal.
Then, surveying the room a second time, she was startled by one of the faces
staring back at her.

“Angel...? What are you doing here?”

“We have to talk, Buffy.”

The girl was followed into the room moments later by Nick, Richie, and
Xander. The Immortals were holding their swords at the ready.

Giles then commented, “Buffy, it’s good you’re back. There were some --
circumstances -- here of which we were ignorant.”

“Ignorant? Is that what you call it, Giles? You’re having tea with a group
of vampires.”

“I’d prefer you didn’t use that word...it’s so vulgar. The correct term is
‘Kindred.’” Buffy didn’t recognize the speaker, who appeared to be in his
late 20s with slicked black hair.

“No. Sorry. ‘Buffy the Kindred Slayer’ just doesn’t sound right and...why
am I even having this conversation? Why shouldn’t I just stake you and
your trained mutt here?” she asked, indicating Cash.

“Touch the Prince and I’ll put a bullet between your eyes,” answered the
bodyguard.

“You do and I’ll cut you in half, bat boy,” remarked Richie.

“Let’s just everyone relax. Cash, please put your weapon away.”

“But, Julian...”

“Please, Cash. I’m sure Ms. Summers and the others will listen to reason.”

Derek then remarked, “Mr. Luna here was just explaining that we’re all
seeking the same resolution to our current dilemma.”

“This is Julian Luna?” asked Nick. “But, he’s a vampire? How is that
possible?”

Angel then stood and came around the room towards Buffy. Upon reaching
her side, he remarked, “He’s the leader of San Francisco’s Kindred
community.”

“Community? As in many?”

“An entire society, Buffy.”

“You knew about this, Angel? And you never told me? Why?”

Instead, Julian quickly replied, “Because he was forbidden from telling you
about us. Although out of necessity you know of the existence of certain
rogue Kindred, it’s dangerous for ANY mortals to know the whole truth.
It’s our law.” Then, turning towards the Immortals in the doorway, he
added, “And, I understand that Kindred are not alone in the desire to keep
their existence hidden from the world.” Richie and Nick simply exchanged
astonished glances.

“I’m sorry, Buffy. Telling you would have put you in great danger.”

“Really? So why am I allowed to know now?”

“Because, Ms. Summers, we’re all trying to accomplish the same goals here.
I believe you’ve been trying to stop the Kindred known as Spike for some
time -- and now so are we. In addition, we possess information on some
objects that were recently taken from this house that you might find
helpful.”

“The Sepulchers,” added Derek.

“Exactly,” Julian replied. “In fact, we believe they may be even MORE
dangerous than initially thought.”

“Oh, that’s just great! First, I have to slay vampires -- simple -- I like that.
But now I have to work with them to save the world,” sighed Buffy. “I
think I need to sit down, this is getting WAY complicated.”

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

As Buffy and company were getting to know each other, Ethan was quickly
devising a plan to both heal Drusilla and still conquer the world. After
consulting some ancient spellcasting texts, some of which he had stolen
years earlier from the London Legacy House, he soon realized that he was
going to need a special ingredient to activate the Sepulchers, not possessing
the keys to unlock them. However, after consulting other sources, he also
realized that he could kill two birds with one stone.

“You need a girl to sacrifice? Why?” asked Spike

“Actually, a VIRGIN. According to the Codex of prophesies, the
Sepulchers can be activated without keys by...wait, let me read this
exactly...’Shedding an innocent’s blood of the age of majority to the spirits
contained within.’ Simply put, no girl...no taking over the world and no
healing your girlfriend.”

With a sneer, the vampire then asked, “Oh, why didn’t you just ask for
something difficult? Like a hydrogen bomb, for example.”

Now thoroughly confused, Ethan replied, “What? I don’t understand?
What’s wrong?”

“You REALLY don’t get out much, do you! HELLO...how do you expect
me to find a virgin in California? This being the 90s and all, they’re kinda
hard to come by these days.” Pacing the floor, the vampire quickly started
thinking aloud, absently stating, “Maybe I should just go to the airport and
wait for a flight from Kansas or Iowa or something.” Then, noticing a
troubled expression on Ethan’s face, Spike hesitantly remarked, “Oh, no.
That’s not all, is it? What else do you need?”

“A church...”

“A WHAT?”

“Please, Spike, calm down. We’re actually pretty fortunate on this count. It
seems that for the ritual to work, a sacrifice -- the girl -- has to be made at
midnight on the main altar when the Holy Trinity is not present.”

“Oh, this is just getting bloody better and better! When is God not present
in a church? That makes no sense.”

“On Good Friday and Holy Saturday.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yes, and the next day, as sheer luck would have it.”

“How? I don’t understand.”

“Don’t you remember your Catechism, Spike?”

“No, you fool! It’s only been about 110 years...I’m sorta rusty...so humor
me.”

“According to Christian tradition, after Christ is crucified on Good Friday,
his spirit is absent from the world until his resurrection three days later.
That’s why sacristy candles are extinguished during that period.”

“OK, fine. That’s it, isn’t it? Or are there a few MORE strings attached?”

The human simply replied, “No, that should do it.”

After sarcastically remarking, “I’m SO happy to hear that,” the vampire
quickly assembled a few of his minions and gave them a shopping list for
the evening.

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

Back at the Legacy House, emotions were now being kept in check as the
assembled humans, Immortals, and Kindred were listening to an update
from Alex. The youngest Legacy member present wrapped up her report by
stating, “Fortunately -- and I use that term loosely -- Ethan was unable to
find the keys to the Sepulchers. Although he can try to force them open and
harness their powers, chances are he’ll only manage to either damage or
destroy their inner mechanisms, thereby neutralizing them forever.”

Hearing this, several people around the table visibly relaxed as Buffy
remarked, “I can think of worse things.”

“Amen to that,” added Philip Callahan.

However, Derek -- still looking troubled -- quickly remarked, “It sounds too
simple. Ethan may be mad, but he usually plans things out to the smallest
detail. We still have to recover the Sepulchers. Until then, no one is safe.”

“Yes,” added Giles, “Ethan has never failed to surprise us in the past. I
don’t think we should believe he will act any differently on this occasion.”

Having waited for the humans to reveal what they knew before commenting,
Julian then turned to Angel, who was standing next to him, and said, “Please
tell them what Daedalus told us earlier this evening.”

After nodding slightly to the Prince, Angel glanced around the table until he
finally made eye contact with Buffy, stating, “According to the Codex, the
Sepulchers...”

Giles immediately interrupted by remarking, “But, you gave me the Codex
nearly a year ago, Angel.”

“Let’s just say that there is more than one copy, Mr. Giles. Please continue,
Angelus.”

After another obedient nod, one which Buffy, Xander, and Willow all found
odd for a free spirit like Angel, the Tremere Primogen continued,
“Unfortunately, the Sepulchers can also be activated by sacrificing a virgin
at midnight in a church during two specific nights of the year.”

“I don’t think I’m going to like the answer, but what nights would they be?”
asked Derek.

“Good Friday and Holy Saturday.”

“Oh, that’s not good at all,” sighed Giles.

“You do have a knack for understatement, don’t you Giles?” quipped
Xander.

“I’m afraid there’s more.” Angel then conveyed the dire implications of
activating the Sepulchers in the vicinity of a Hellmouth.

“OK,” Xander stated bluntly, “Now I’d say we’re definitely up shit’s creek.”

“Xander!” Giles exclaimed, “This isn’t the place for your brand of humor.”

“Actually, Giles,” Derek remarked, “I tend to agree with Mr. Harris. We
have to stop this from happening -- at any cost. And, to complicate matters
further, we don’t have much time left.”

“That’s why I felt it was necessary to come here this evening, Dr. Rayne,”
Julian commented. “I’d like to offer you any assistance I can in resolving
this matter.”

“Thank you, Mr. Luna, you’ve already been very helpful. But at this point, I
don’t even know where to start looking for Ethan and his vampi...sorry,
Kindred friends.”

“Perhaps I can help again. We have some...resources...at our disposal that
may aid in the search.”

“What kind of resources?” asked Nick.

“Let’s just say they’re very reliable. And they’re already in Sunnydale. I
expect some useful information to be conveyed to us very shortly.”

“Excuse me,” interjected Giles, “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but why
do you want to help us?”

“You mean, why should you trust me?”

“Well, yes, but I didn’t want to state it in that manner.”

“That’s quite all right, Mr. Giles. In fact, it’s only natural. To be honest
with you, I feel somewhat responsible for this situation because I am
accountable for the actions of all Kindred within my domain. Although
Spike is a renegade, he did harm humans here.”

“That’s quite an enlightened attitude for someone of your...kind.”

“Not all Kindred are monsters, Mr. Giles. Truth be told, we’re always
struggling to control the darker aspects of our nature. Unfortunately, some
try less diligently than others.”

After a few moments of tense silence, Derek replied, “At this juncture, Mr.
Luna, I’d welcome any assistance you can offer.”

About an hour later, after the group had finished planning strategy, Julian
was heading back to his car with Angel and Cash in tow. As the three
Kindred were about to leave the house, they were intercepted in the foyer by
Buffy.

“Angel, can we talk?”

“Buffy, I’m sorry. We’ve got to be going.”

Hearing the conversation behind him, the Prince then turned and remarked,
“We’ll be waiting in the car, Angelus. Take as much time as you require.”

“Thank you, Julian.”

After they had gone, Buffy asked, “Angel, why do you keep bowing to him?
What’s the deal here?”

“He’s the Prince of San Francisco...and my friend...and as such I owe him
my loyalty.”

“But I thought you wanted to help me destroy ALL vampires?”

“It’s not as simple as that, Buffy. Not all vampires are cruel and evil. Some
are like me, simply damned for eternity. Or at least they will be one day.”

“Don’t say that, Angel. It’s not true.”

“I’m sorry, Buffy. I’ve gotta go.”

As the limousine pulled away from the house, the Slayer remained standing
in the open doorway. As it disappeared into the blackness, she whispered,
“I love you, Angel.”

On the way back to the mansion, Julian quickly noted the silence
permeating the car.

“You love her, don’t you?”

“Don’t go there, Julian. It’s not your concern.”

“Actually, Angelus, it is. As I said earlier, everything that happens within
this domain is my concern. You know that.”

“Let me remind you that Sunnydale isn’t within your domain, Prince
Julian.”

Cash, who had been trying to blend into the vehicle’s leather seats up until
this point, couldn’t miss the sarcasm that dripped off this last remark.

“Mere semantics, Angelus. YOU are in my control and as such I can forbid
you from seeing her -- a mortal, may I remind you.”

“You mean like you forbid yourself from seeing Caitlin Byrne.”

After momentarily frowning, the Prince quickly recovered, stating, “Touche,
Angelus. I see that somebody has brought you up to speed on current
events...Daedalus perhaps?”

After staring out the window for several seconds, the Tremere Primogen
finally responded, “Yes, Julian, I love her. And why is that so wrong?”

“I think you already know the answer.”

“The damn curse.”

“Yes. It could be dangerous for her AND you.”

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

By 10 o’clock the following evening -- Friday -- the two SFPD detectives
had been driving around Sunnydale for several hours when Sonny suddenly
pulled his car over to the curb.

“That’s it, Frank. I’m going to call one of my friends in the Sunnydale PD
and see if they’ve spotted our mystery van yet.”

“Why didn’t you call him earlier, Sonny? Instead of driving around in
circles for hours?”

“Because, Frank, I didn’t know if I wanted to lose my badge and my partner
OR just my partner.”

“I guess you’ve made up your mind then?”

“Just shut up and wait here, Frank. I’ll be right back.”

As Sonny jogged across the street to a pay phone to call a “friend,” Frank
couldn’t resist looking in the man’s glove compartment out of sheer
curiosity. However, the only thing he found inside -- other than the usual
owner’s manual, tire gauge, and a couple of tapes -- was a plastic bottle
containing the strongest sun block on the market. Then, seeing the other
cop returning, he quickly slammed the compartment door closed.

“Any luck, Sonny?”

“Hope so. He gave me an address a few blocks away.”

Less than five minutes later, the cops pulled onto a secluded street with a
large church located at the end of a cul-de-sac. Parked on the lawn in front
of the building was the shot-up white van, two other vans, and a black
1950s vintage car with orange flames highlighting the front fenders.

“Hey, this looks like the place, Sonny.” Moving to open his door, Frank
then added, “Let’s go.”

“The only place I’m going is to call for backup.”

Turning to face his partner, Frank began to say, “C’mon, Sonny.
Where’s...” when he suddenly found himself staring at a supernatural
visage. He also suddenly felt very tired.

“Go to sleep, Frank. This isn’t your concern.”

As the cop slumped back against the vinyl, Sonny removed a cell phone
from his pocket and started dialing.

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

Hanging up the phone in his study, Derek quickly addressed those
assembled in the room.

“That was Julian Luna. He has a probable location for Spike and the
Sepulchers in a church...St. Paul’s...in Sunnydale. He’s leaving with his
people now -- as should we. Nick, please ready the helicopter. We’ll be
along shortly.”

As Nick started for the door, he was joined by Richie who remarked,
“Buffy, we’re really gonna have to move to get there before midnight. I’ll
be in the car. Coming, Giles?”

The Watcher nervously stammered, “Maybe I should drive myself. I’m sure
there’s ample time...”

“There’s no time, Giles. You have to make it back to Sunnydale before
midnight tonight -- NOT tomorrow night.”

“That’s not funny, Buffy.”

“What? You don’t trust my driving, Giles?”

“Well, Richie -- to be totally honest -- no. Being unable to die in a car
wreck might tend to make one reckless behind the wheel.”

“Hey, have it you way, Giles.”

As he was removing a pistol from his desk drawer, Derek then stated to his
friend, “Giles, you’re welcome to come with us. Without Philip, there’s
plenty of room in the helicopter.”

“I’ve never been in a helicopter before, Derek.”

Pulling the Watcher towards the door, the Prefect remarked, “It’s just like
riding a bicycle, Giles. You’ll get used to it in no time at all.”

As the two headed down the hall, Buffy heard Giles feebly reply, “But
Derek, Nick can’t die in a crash either.”

When the Slayer finally got into the Thunderbird, she found Richie arguing
with Willow and Xander in the back seat.

“Listen you two, this situation is gonna get hairy. Get out of the car.”

“Danger is my middle name,” replied Xander.

“I thought it was Sebastian,” remarked Willow.

“Shhh...I told you never to mention that.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“C’mon, guys. At least Richie and I have a reason for going. You two
CAN get hurt.”

“We can get hurt crossing the street, Buffy. We’re your friends. Where you
go, we go.”

With no time left to argue, the Slayer reluctantly relented, stating, “OK,
Willow. But will you at least promise to stay out of the way when the
stakes start flying?”

“I promise.”

“And what about you, Xander?”

“Would you believe me if I promised, Buffy?”

“Not for a second.”

“And you shouldn’t. But I’m still not getting out of the car.”

Now totally defeated, Buffy buckled up, turned towards Richie and
commanded, “Hit it!”

As the car sped through the gate, a sleek black chopper cleared the trees
overhead and headed out over the bay.

Meanwhile, in Julian Luna’s floodlit courtyard, two identical black limos
were lined up. Arrayed around them were half a dozen large motorcycles of
assorted variety, including two black Harleys belonging to Angel and Cash.
Inside the house, the Prince was going over the attack plan with the two
Primogen who would be leading members of their clan into battle, namely
Cash and, surprisingly, Cameron -- an unlikely pairing under any
circumstances. Daedalus, Julian’s enforcer, was also going to provide
additional support should it become necessary. Tradition also dictated that
Angel, the sire of the condemned, be present to carry out the prescribed
punishment.

As the meeting ended and the principals headed to their vehicles, the Prince
quickly stripped out of his suit jacket and tie and changed into a black
turtleneck sweater. He then fastened a shoulder harness in place, not to hold
a gun, but rather a large-bladed knife about two feet in length. Daedalus,
meanwhile, carried no weapon since an enraged Nosferatu was a weapon
unto itself. They then headed for their car.

Cash and Cameron, however, were not traditionalists. Years of clan warfare
-- usually with each other -- had made them dependent on the latest in
Kindred-killing technology. The prime example of this was a shotgun-like
weapon -- known as Dragon’s Breath -- that, instead of firing traditional
bullets, released high-velocity phosphorous shells that reached temperatures
in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Upon impacting Kindred flesh, the
effect was immediate and devastating. As these weapons were being
loaded, Cash offered one to Angel.

“No, thanks. I never liked those things.”

“Are you sure, man? You can never be too careful.”

“Sorry, I guess I’m from the old school. Sometimes the personal touch is
better.”

“Funny. That’s what Julian always says. He drives me crazy...I think he
has a death wish sometimes.”

As Cash started his bike, Angel’s reply was drowned out by the noise, “That
makes two of us.”

The Prince’s limo then pulled out of the compound, followed by Cameron’s,
with the motorcycles taking up the rear. However, once the convoy reached
the Pacific Coast Highway, the bikers, with Angel and Cash in the lead,
redeployed to form a flying wedge in front of the cars. Now in an optimum
configuration to protect the Prince, the group sped along at speeds in excess
of 100 miles per hour. A short time later, on the outskirts of Seacouver,
they roared past a black T-bird that was cruising along at “only” 90.

“Hey, did you see that, Richie? Angel and The Lost Boys just blew past
us.”

“Yeah, Xander, I saw them.” The Immortal decided not to add, “How could
I miss them?”

“So, step on it! We’re losing them!”

“Yeah, Richie, gun this sucker!”

Hearing this last remark, Buffy spun around and asked, “What have you
done with Willow? Because that sure wasn’t her talking.”

Now looking contrite, the girl replied simply, “I’m sorry. I got caught up in
the moment.”

The Slayer then turned back to the driver and said, “It’s up to you, Richie.”

After weighing the potential consequences of arriving late or totaling Mac’s
pride and joy, Richie somberly remarked, “What the hell? Who wants to
live forever?” before flooring the accelerator.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the darkness over the coastline, Giles was having
an intimate moment with a barf bag.

“Oh, good God, let me die.”

“Are you all right back there, Giles?” asked Derek. Failing to receive a
coherent reply...just some moans...he then asked Rachel and Alex, “How’s
he doing?”

“He’s a lovely shade of green, Derek,” remarked Alex.

“Rachel, can’t you give him something to calm down?”

“Derek, I’ve already given him a sedative AND an airsickness pill. In all
my years of practicing medicine, I’ve never seen anyone react this badly to
flying.”

“You’ve obviously never flown with Giles, doctor.”

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

As the assorted groups converged on St. Paul’s Church, Ethan was putting
the finishes touches on what he hoped would be a paranormal masterpiece.
Working quickly, he instructed Spike’s followers to remove the assorted
crucifixes, statues, and icons spread throughout the building. His
renovations also included demolishing much of the altar, thereby freeing up
its central portion for his ceremony. Then he had Thomas and the other
vampires erect an ancient totem pole.

By the time Spike had arrived, wearing his long black leather coat and
leading a delirious Drusilla along by the arm, an unconscious teenage girl
with a hood over her head had been tied to the pole. The five Sepulchers
had also been neatly arranged at equidistant points from her -- and a
pentagram had been painted under them. Scores of black candles were
providing illumination.

“I like what you’ve done with the place, Ethan. I guess I really should go to
church more often.”

“I thought you might like it, Spike. I believe everything’s in order. Now all
we have to do is get Drusilla into position and wait a few more minutes to
begin.”

Replying, “Excellent,” the vampire then led his lover towards the vacant
side of the totem. After backing her against its wooden surface, he gently
placed her arms behind her body and bound them.

“Spike...what’s happening? Where are we?”

“You’re going to get all better, luv...very shortly.”

“We should go to America, Spike. Prague isn’t very friendly anymore.”

Not bothering to mention the fact that they had, in fact, fled Europe nearly a
century earlier, Spike simply replied, “Sure, Dru. Anything you want.” He
then proceeded to post sentries at all the doors. As he was doing so, the
hostage began to moan and pull against her bonds.

“Hey, where am I? What do you sickos want?”

“Where did you find the girl, Ethan? She sounds like she still has some
fight left in her.”

“Some of your lads picked her up in the shopping mall’s car park. I didn’t
bother asking how they know she’s a virgin. They seemed pretty sure about
it though.”

“Have no fear, Ethan. We demons have our ways.”

Meantime, unbeknownst to Spike, the assault forces had started gathering in
a nearby park. As the cars and motorcycles were clustering under the trees,
the Legacy helicopter had touched down on the baseball field. Needless to
say, Giles exited the aircraft first.

“Oh, thank God! I’ll never get into that contraption again.”

“What’s the matter, Giles? You don’t like my flying?”

“No, Mr. Boyle, I don’t like ANY flying...yours or anyone else’s.”

By the time Derek, Alex, and Rachel stepped from the chopper, Buffy’s
group and the myriad Kindred had emerged from the treeline and were
jogging towards the Legacy members. Looking like a mob in search of a
riot, they held an assortment of weapons in plain view, including shotguns,
handguns, knives, stakes, and crossbows.

“OK, what’s the plan, Giles?”

“Actually, Buffy, Mr. Luna has developed the plan to invade the church.”

“Sorry, Giles, but I still don’t like the idea of trusting a group of vampires to
stop a group of vampires.”

Overhearing this remark, Cameron snapped, “Well, I don’t relish working
with this Slayer bitch either.”

Instantly spinning around towards the Brujah, Angel remarked through
gritted teeth, “Do you remember what I told you the other night, Cameron?
Well, the same applies to her...got that?”

As Cameron muttered a reply, Julian stated, “I understand your discomfort,
Ms. Summers, but I believe we’ve developed a strategy to recover the
Sepulchers, stop Spike, and rescue his hostage. Although we haven’t
known each other very long, I’m asking you to trust me.”

“And what’s behind curtain number two?”

“The Apocalypse.”

“Oh, in that case, let’s hear your plan.”

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

Back at St. Paul’s, things were moving along nicely -- at least from Ethan’s
point of view. It was now 11:50 p.m. and he was just about ready for the
festivities to begin. The same, however, could not be said for everyone else
present.

“Hey, you freaks! You’d better let me go right now or my father will sue
you big time!”

“Oh, bloody hell! When do we get to kill her? She’s giving me a
headache.”

“Not yet, Spike. There’s precise timing involved in this ceremony. We
can’t bleed her prematurely.”

“BLEED ME? Now listen you ASSHOLES...”

Shouting, “That’s it! I’ve had just about enough of this!” Spike angrily
stalked over to the girl and ripped her black hood to shreds. Then, amazed
at the identity of the wide-eyed face staring back at him, he could only
remark, “You?!?”

“I should have known you’d be behind this, you plasma-sucking scum,” spat
Cordelia Chase.

Recovered from his initial shock, Spike stated joyously, “Oh, this is going
to be sweet...no, make that exquisite! Killing one of the Slayer’s best
friends in such grand style.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, when Buffy gets here she’ll nail your sorry ass to the
nearest wall. She always does.”

With a sinister grin, the vampire replied, “Guess again, dearest. I haven’t
seen the Slayer in weeks and no one even knows you’re missing. In a
nutshell, the cavalry won’t come charging over the hill this time.”

By now, Ethan was losing his patience with all the aimless banter. After
checking his watch, he remarked, “Spike, I hate to interrupt your Dr.
Strangelove monologue and all, but we ARE running out of time here...strict
schedule, remember?”

With what could only be described as a pout on his face, the vampire
sighed, “Oh, all right. If you must.” In a lower voice, he then added,
“Damn 20th Century...never any time to savor a good kill anymore.”

Without further delay, Ethan -- now wearing a long black robe tied at the
waist with a red sash -- climbed onto the altar. After setting down a gold
chalice and a wicked-looking curved dagger, he opened a large black
leather-bound text and began chanting in a language that was unknown even
to Spike.

Cordelia, witnessing what was transpiring before her, proceeded to do what
any normal red-blooded American girl would do in her situation -- she
started screaming for help at the top of her lungs.

Spike, meanwhile, had moved around to the other side of the pole. Now
stroking Drusilla’s hair, the vampire was also whispering into her ear.
However, he was suddenly distracted as a stiff wind started blowing through
the sacristy -- although all the windows were sealed -- causing many of the
candles to initially flicker and then die. Simultaneously, an otherworldly
glow started emanating from the keyholes of the Sepulchers as a high-
pitched wail seemed to fill the building. Then, looking up for the first time
since she had been brought into the church, Drusilla focused on Spike with
pitch-black eyes and stated, “He’s coming...I can hear him.”

A few feet away, as Ethan continued to chant, he slowly raised the chalice
and dagger over his head. In so doing, the wailing instantly intensified and
several of the stained-glass windows shattered. Smoke also started to
escape the Sepulchers, forming into a swirling funnel above the altar. Ethan
then lowered his arms and started to approach Cordelia.

“You stay away from me, you psycho!”

Ignoring her screams, Ethan calmly remarked, “This isn’t going to hurt
much, my dear.”

A moment later, he received an unexpected reply from the other end of the
building -- specifically, from the choir loft.

“You’re wrong, Ethan. It’s going to hurt YOU big time!”

Searching for the source of the intrusion, the man turned his head just as a
crossbow bolt caught him in the right shoulder; the resulting impact flinging
him against the back wall of the altar.

Spike instantly left Drusilla’s side and growled, “Amateur!” as he moved to
retrieve Ethan’s dagger that had skidded across the floor. In so doing, he
also heard a voice -- a very familiar voice -- say, “Spike, for violating the
Traditions of the Camerilla and for endangering the Masquerade, the Prince
sentences you and your followers to Final Death.”

As the church’s bell carillon started to gong midnight, Spike asked,
“Angelus...is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me, Spike.”

“Who are you to sentence me to anything? You’re no prince. You created
me. You’re responsible for everything I’ve ever done.”

“I know, Spike...and that’s why I’m here. I’m truly sorry.”

After initially starting to remark, “You can take your ‘sorry,’ Angelus, and
shove it where the sun...” Spike suddenly went silent upon noting a dozen
glowing eyes focused on him through the broken leaded-glass windows.
Moments later, the back and side doors of the church were blown from their
hinges by phosphorous shells. The resulting splinters instantly dusted
several of Spike’s guards, while the remaining sentries dove for cover
behind rows of pews. As Kindred poured into the church from the rear,
Buffy and Angel made their way down from the choir. Meanwhile, Xander,
Willow, Giles, Richie, Nick, and the other Legacy members invaded from
the side chapels abutting the main altar. Instantly, all sorts of nastiness
erupted. Clawing, ripping, tearing, stabbing, spiking, blasting -- you name
t, it was happening.

Serving as a running blocker for Buffy, Angel slashed any guards who were
foolish enough to get in their way. Following close behind, the Slayer was
careful only to pummel, kick, and stake “hostile” vampires (and amidst all
the fangs and claws, it wasn’t always easy to sort out friend from foe).
Generally, if something growled AT her, she nailed it.

Meantime, having fought his way through the church’s main doors, Julian --
with Cash, Daedalus, and Sonny at his side -- was cutting a wide swatch
through Spike’s defenders. Cameron, all too happy to take up the rear, was
much more blase about eliminating the enemy. He could think of worse
scenarios than the Prince and the other Primogen “accidentally” getting
killed in battle. After all, the resulting power vacuum would benefit him
and the Brujah.

While the bells continued to chime and the vortex continuing to swirl
overhead, Cordelia was now struggling against her restraints with renewed
vigor. She was also shouting, “Help me! Help! I’m over here!” Her voice
was particularly familiar to one person -- Xander -- who, upon identifying it,
left Richie and Giles and staked his way past one particularly ugly fangster
with a bad haircut. Once the explosion of dust had cleared, the teen
immediately went to Cordelia and remarked, “Cordy, what are you doing
here? I thought they needed a virgin or something?”

“Will you just shut up and get me out of here, numbnuts!”

After replying, “Oh, yeah sorry,” and then adding, “damn, I need a knife to
cut these ropes,” Xander was momentarily perplexed when Cordelia,
looking over his shoulder, suddenly gasped. Just as he was about to ask
what was wrong, he heard an accented voice remark, “You can have my
knife, dear boy.”

The teen then felt a sensation much like being punched between the
shoulder blades. When he turned, he saw Ethan -- who had since removed
the crossbow bolt from his shoulder -- wickedly grinning at him. He also
thought he should say something, but he had the oddest sensation in his
chest -- and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. Cordelia was also
screaming his name for some reason that he couldn’t quite comprehend.
Then, attempting to move towards Ethan, Xander’s legs suddenly buckled
and he fell face down on the floor. As a pool of blood rapidly expanded
under him, the teen’s last conscious thought was a pleasant daydream:
Buffy, wearing a lime green bikini, ramming a stake into Angel’s chest.

Cordelia’s now constant screaming, although not nearly as loud as the wails
coming from the Sepulchers, was clearly audible to anyone near the altar.
This included Richie, Giles and Willow who, with the Immortal leading the
way, began to fight their way to Xander’s side. However, this involved first
getting past Ethan.

“Nice to see you again, Giles. Pity that you’re on the side of truth and
justice. Nothing like the good old Ripper I knew and loved.”

“What have you done, Ethan?”

“Oh, do you mean the boy? I skewered him like a stuck pig. He had such a
surprised look on his face. It was truly precious.”

Removing his glasses, Giles coldly stated, “Get out of our way, Ethan.
Now!”

“Or what, Ripper? You going to thrash me?”

“No, Ethan,” Giles answered before removing a revolver from his jacket
pocket and quickly firing a slug into his former classmate’s chest. “I’m
going to kill you.”

Before Ethan had even stopped twitching, Willow was already kneeling at
Xander’s side, “Oh God! Giles, how is he?”

Still staring down at Ethan’s body, it took the Watcher several seconds to
compose himself and, after quickly examining the teen, reply, “Ah, oh my,
it’s not good...not good at all. I think the blade may have punctured his
lung...or worse.”

Richie then asked, “Do you feel a pulse?”

After a few moments, the Watcher sadly answered, “No...I don’t think so.”

“Damn! I shouldn’t have let him come...shit!”

Willow then sobbed, “Giles, we’ve got to get him to a hospital...or he’s
going to die!”

Instead, Richie replied, “Willow, believe me, he’s going to be all right.”

“What do you mean? Xander’s not...not breathing...we’ve got to get help.”

“Willow, Xander’s an Immor...” However, before Richie could finish the
statement, the ground started shaking so violently that everyone present was
thrown to the floor. Then, one by one, the tops of the Sepulchers blew
open, allowing a light brighter than daylight to arc upward through the
swirling vortex.

“Ah, Giles, I think we’d better get off this altar...NOW!”

Quickly taking stock of the situation, the Watcher then noticed the pool of
blood -- Xander’s blood -- on the floor surrounding the boxes, and
responded, “Yes, I believe that would be wise.”

Grabbing Willow by the hand, Giles led her away as Richie used his sword
to cut the ropes binding Cordelia. The Immortal then scooped up Xander’s
inert body in a fireman’s carry.

In the meantime, Spike -- always keenly aware of the shifting tides of battle
-- knew that he couldn’t possibly win a fight against so many enemies
closing in on so many fronts. Therefore, he decided to use this diversion to
cover his tactical retreat. After using his claws to slice through Drusilla’s
bonds, he regrouped his remaining vampires -- who had acquired firearms
from some of Julian’s fallen warriors -- and started blasting their way out
one of the less heavily defended side doors. Within a minute, gunfire and
screeching tires could be heard outside the building, followed shortly
thereafter by the sound of motorcycles as several Gangrels pursued them.

Amidst all the chaos, Derek, Nick, and the other Legacy members managed
to fight their way over to Giles and Richie, who had removed Ethan’s
dagger and laid Xander flat on a pew. As Rachel futilely searched for the
boy’s pulse, Derek asked the librarian if he had managed to stop the
sacrifice.

“We seem to have made a faulty assumption, Derek.” Indicating Xander’s
prone form, he added, “We thought the virgin had to be female.”

“Oh man, you’re kidding!” Nick exclaimed.

“Giles, we have to close those Sepulchers.”

While responding, “Yes, I know...how do you propose we do that?” the
ground once again shook as the altar’s marble floor slabs started to separate
and lurch upward. As Buffy and Angel now joined the assembly, the Slayer
instantly noted Xander’s condition as well as Rachel and Alex attempting to
perform CPR on him.

“Giles...what happened to Xander?”

“Ethan stabbed him in the back...it’s very bad.”

“Are you saying he’s dying, Giles?”

“Well, not exactly...”

“Not exactly? What the hell does that mean?”

Quickly grabbing the girl by the shoulder, Angel then stated, “Buffy, there’s
something you should know about Xander.”

However, before he could say anything further, Nick remarked, “Ah,
guys...I really hate to break up this reunion, but I think we have a bigger
problem right now.” As he motioned over to the crater in the floor, it was
now plainly evident that something -- something very large -- was starting
to climb out. As everyone, including the Kindred, stopped and watched in
awe, first one red hand, and then another, followed by tremendously large
arms, shoulders, a horned head, and an immense torso appeared before
them.

“That’s not what I think it is...is it?” asked Richie. “Because I’m thinking
we can use an exorcist right about now.”

“I’m thinking we can use the Pope right about now,” remarked Nick. Then,
turning towards Derek, he added, “I hope you’ve got a plan to deal with
this.”

“A nuclear warhead might work.”

“Sorry, Derek...I must have left that in my other jacket. Any other ideas?”

“I’m at a loss. Too bad Philip’s not here.”

At that moment, the demon bellowed and struck out at the group, tearing a
section of altar rail loose and flinging the heavy cast iron grillwork in their
direction.

“LOOK OUT!”

As mortals and Immortals scattered, the Kindred opened fire with their
guns. Unfortunately, this had little effect other than to anger the monster
even more. As a result, it was now advancing on them while also breathing
fire in their direction. Cameron and several of his clan, the furthest from the
beast, quickly beat a path to the nearest door and then out of the building.
Seeing them go, Julian remarked, “They might have the right idea...for a
change. I’m open to suggestions...Daedalus?”

“Stay out of its way.”

“Over 1,000 years of Nosferatu wisdom, and that’s all you can say?”

“Sometimes, Julian, discretion IS the better part of valor.”

About 20 yards away, Richie, Nick, Giles, and Derek were taking cover
behind columns discussing their options.

“We have to close those damn Sepulchers. But if we make a move towards
them, that thing will tear us apart.”

“What if we destroyed them, Derek? Would that stop the demon?”

“Yes...it should, Nick. But how do you intend...?”

The Immortal then smiled and indicated new movement on the altar behind
the monster. Incredibly, Ethan was back on his feet...somehow. He was
also feeling around his chest and shoulder for bullet holes and puncture
wounds that were no longer there. Realizing what Nick was planning,
Richie said, “You’re NOT serious! Even you wouldn’t do THAT!”

“Why not? That scumbag killed both me AND Xander this week.”

“Nick, I know he’s garbage, but you still can’t hill him on Holy Ground!”

“Why not?”

“Because you just can’t -- it’s a rule -- A MAJOR RULE!”

After remarking, “I told you, I make my own rules,” the Legacy member
started carefully approaching the altar from the side, slipping past the
monster, which was still preoccupied by the Kindred shooting at it, and
finally came up behind Ethan.

“So, Ethan, what DOES it take for someone to sell out the human race?”

“Spike promised me Immortality...and he must have given it to me. I was
shot...I should be dead.”

“Actually, I couldn’t agree with you more.” As he raised his sword, Nick
then added, “But first, I want you to know that Spike gave you jack. You
would have become Immortal anyway. Life’s a real bitch like that
sometimes.”

Taking great pleasure in the astonished expression on Ethan’s face, Nick
then stepped back and stated, “There can be only one,” before cleanly
removing the man’s head from his shoulders.

Witnessing this, Richie, rarely understated, remarked, “SHIT! This is
bad...VERY BAD!”

As Derek, Giles, and the others looked on in astonishment, a white mist left
Ethan’s corpse and slowly enveloped Nick before moving towards the
vortex already over the altar. When the two forces connected, an incredible
maelstrom erupted with lighting arching and dancing along the ceiling
rafters.

Seeing what was happening, Richie ran towards Cordelia, Willow, Rachel
and Alex, who were still hovering over Xander, shouting, “Get down!”
Across the center aisle, Derek and Giles needed no encouragement as they
huddled behind the marble pillar that was itself shaking. And Angel, as he
had done on other similar occasions, immediately threw himself on top of
Buffy, attempting to shield her from ballistic debris.

As the firestorm continued to lance around the building, shattering
chandeliers and setting wooden paneling and pews afire, Nick was lifted
into the air -- the eye of the storm -- as massive electrical bolts entered his
body, causing him to scream and convulse violently.

The demon also noticed the massive disturbance that was now beginning to
take it’s toll on the building’s structural integrity -- blowing out the
remaining windows, snapping rafters, and cracking support columns.
Turning away from the Kindred, it headed back towards the front altar
where the Sepulchers were being pummeled by rubble falling from above.

Now taking cover like everyone else, Cash asked his Prince, “What’s
happening, Julian?”

“Any thoughts about this, Daedalus?”

“It’s something even WE have never encountered.”

Moving back within the pentagram, the demon was actually attempting to
shield the Sepulchers from further damage when a large portion of the
building’s roof, now supported by nothing but air, broke free and came
crashing down onto the bronze canopy over the altar. Moments later, the
entire mass fell to earth, crushing the chests -- and the demon -- under tons
of rubble.

Then, as quickly as it had come, the Quickening was gone and all was quiet.

Slowly shaking plaster and concrete dust from their clothes and hair, the
mortals and Immortals alike came out of hiding. In fact, the only person --
other than Xander -- not moving was Nick, who lay sprawled in one of the
side aisles. Quickly reaching his fellow Immortal, Richie was attempting to
rouse him when his eyes suddenly shot open and, after drawing a deep
breath, he gasped, “Oh man, what a trip!”

“Now you know why it’s a rule...the Quickening flattens the church.”

“NOW you tell me!”

Their discussion was then interrupted by a piercing shriek, courtesy of
Cordelia. Willow, meanwhile, was simply staring, mouth agape, at Xander -
- who was now sitting up. Rachel and Alex also appeared shell-shocked.
After the teen then remarked, “Hey, guys. I had the strangest dream,”
Cordelia swooned to the floor.

“Uh oh. That’s definitely not a good sign,” Nick remarked.

“Well at least Willow’s still standing,” added Richie.

[THUD]

“But then again...”

Meanwhile, back on the altar, Derek and Giles were cautiously picking their
way through heaps of debris.

“Where’s the demon, Derek?”

“I assume that when the Sepulchers were destroyed, it must have been
pulled back into its own dimension.”

“Good riddance.”

After replying, “Amen to that, Giles,” he then asked, “how are we going to
explain all this?”

“Explain? You forget, this is Sunnydale, Derek. This sort of thing happens
nearly every week.”

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

A few minutes later, as emergency vehicles started to pull up to the remains
of the church, Detective Frank Kohanek began shaking the cobwebs out of
his head.

“Sonny...?”

“Here, Frank...how do you feel?”

“Weird. What the hell happened?”

“Don’t you remember?”

After a moment of trying to recall the missing memories, Frank dejectedly
replied, “No.”

“Well, Frank, we were going to check out the church and as usual you
didn’t want to wait for backup. So off you went when the church just blew
up. The explosion knocked you out. Must have been a gas leak or
something.”

While rubbing his head, the cop asked, “Was there anyone inside, Sonny?”

“No, the place was empty. I must have gotten a bad tip.” With his partner
still looking perplexed, Sonny then inquired, “Is something wrong, Frank?”

“I don’t know. It just feels like I should remember SOMETHING.”

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

A week later, after the dust had settled -- metaphorically speaking -- Buffy
and her friends found themselves back in San Francisco. However, the
reason for this visit was decidedly happier than their earlier tour.
Specifically, Julian Luna was hosting a party at his mansion to celebrate
what he hoped would mark the dawn of a new chapter in the relationship
among Kindred, Immortals, and humans...or at least, certain Immortals and
humans.

On a broad grass field overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay
below, torches had been erected to illuminate the area while strolling
musicians entertained. For those in attendance with more “traditional”
dining habits, a barbecue was rapidly churning out a variety of hickory-
smoked delights. Although it was night, there was also an assortment of
games in progress, including volleyball and a Frisbee toss. Several of the
Kindred, meanwhile, simply imbibed some the best port ever produced by
the Luna family winery as they mingled with their Prince’s guests.

“This is quite generous of you, Mr. Luna, considering all that you’ve
already done.”

“It’s my pleasure, Dr. Rayne. Actually, it’s probably long overdue.
Although the general population may not be ready to learn of our existence,
I believe it’s time to build new bridges to the outside world.”

“Why now?” asked Giles.

“Because our secrecy nearly led to disaster...and not only for the Kindred.
If we didn’t work together, we might not be standing here having this
conversation...and that would be a true tragedy.”

Derek then inquired, “But aren’t there others of your kind who might resist
this type of openness?”

“Dr. Rayne, there are always resisters and fringe elements who stand in the
way of progress. You can either humor them and make no headway or
ignore them and hope for the best. After all, there are still some among us
who would prefer we live underground and practice human
sacrifice...completely barbaric.”

“Very true, Mr. Luna.”

“There is, however, a request I would make of the two of you.”

“What is that?” asked both men in unison.

“Doctor, I ask that you and your team not record the precise details of the
past few days in the journals I suspect you keep. I also ask the same in
regards to any records that you maintain, Mr. Giles. Although I have come
to trust you both, I cannot say the same of your organizations. Their more
conservative elements might attempt to misrepresent the true nature of our
relationship into an apparent collaboration with the forces of evil. If that
happens, the ramifications might be...unfortunate...for all concerned.”

After a few seconds, Derek replied, “I understand. I’ll talk to my people.”

“Very good, Dr. Rayne. I knew you were a reasonable man.”

“You also have my word, Mr. Luna.”

“Thank you, Mr. Giles.”

Meanwhile, about 20 yards away, Willow and Alex were playing a heated
game of Frisbee with a dog...somebody’s large, gray, wolfish-looking dog.
As the two women attempted to toss the disc to each other, the animal
usually succeeding in catching it in its mouth and running away, causing
them to follow. As Buffy was watching this pattern unfold, she felt a
familiar sensation run down her spine. As usual, Angel had soundlessly
approached as was now standing less than a foot away.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Buffy, we’ve got to talk.”

“What’s to talk about, Angel? These are your people. You should be very
happy here.”

“That’s the point, Buffy. I’m not happy. Julian is a friend, but it’s not like
being with you.”

“So what are you saying? You’re coming back to Sunnydale?”

“Well, kinda.”

“Kinda? Kinda what? Yes or no, Angel?”

At that moment, their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a tall,
attractive woman with piercing green eyes.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your little friend, Angelus?”

Suddenly appearing more uneasy than usual, the vampire stated, “Ah...Lillie
Langtry, this is Buffy Summers. Buffy, this is Lillie, Primogen of the
Toreador clan.”

Extending her hand towards the Slayer, Lillie smugly remarked, “Oh,
Angelus, why so formal? I’d hoped that I still meant more to you than that.”
With a prim smile, she then added, “Hasn’t Angelus mentioned that we’ve
dealt with so many...affairs...over the years together. It’s always so exciting
when he’s in town.” Then, upon spotting the Prince speaking to Derek and
Rachel, the Toreador quickly excused herself and pranced away.

“That bitch! I’m gonna stake her prim ass to the nearest tree!”

“Buffy, calm down. She’s just trying to annoy you. Lillie’s very good at
that.”

“Calm down? What was she talking about, Angel? What affairs? Did you
have a thing going with that...that ice princess?”

“It was a very long time ago, Buffy.”

“OK. That would be a ‘yes’ then,” the girl replied sarcastically.

“It ended nearly 80 years ago.”

“Well, she doesn’t seem to think it’s over. Why is that?”

“Lillie can be very...possessive. It’s a common character trait...one might
say a flaw...among Kindred. But, I’m telling you, she means nothing to me
now. Only you occupy that place in my heart.”

“Oh, a character flaw...you mean like lying. Or at least not telling me the
truth about Xander.”

“Buffy, I couldn’t tell you or anyone else about his Immortality. MacLeod
and I thought it was better for everyone involved.”

“Who were you to make that decision, Angel? What gave you the right to
conceal that information from me? I thought we were honest with each
other.”

“Would you have told him, Buffy?”

“What? What do you mean? What does that...”

“God knows I wanted to tell you, but we couldn’t risk Xander finding out
about himself before the proper time. Otherwise his life would have been
altered sooner.”

With a skeptical look, the Slayer remarked, “Fine. For argument’s sake,
let’s just say that you were trying to protect Xander AND that we’re still an
item. Then what’s all this Primogen stuff you told me about? Will Luna
even let you come back to Sunnydale?”

After a few moments of hesitation, the reply finally came, “Ah...yes and no.
He still wants me to take care of clan business here. However, since Spike
and Dru escaped, he won’t object to my returning whenever necessary...and
I intend to frequently make it necessary.”

With a rueful smile, Buffy then remarked, “Well, I don’t know. Having a
part-time relationship sounds pretty lame to me.”

“Buffy, please work with me on this.”

Before the girl could reply, however, she had to duck to avoid being hit by
an errant Frisbee being pursued by both Willow and the dog. Smoothly
snatching the object in mid-air, Angel handed it back to the girl, asking,
“Are you, Alex, and Cash having fun?”

With a puzzled expression on her face, Willow replied, “Cash? We’re not
playing with Cash. What do you mean, Angel?”

Pointing over her shoulder, he indicated that she should turn around. When
she did, she no longer saw the dog -- which was, in fact, a gray wolf --
instead, the young Gangrel Primogen was now laying in the grass smiling in
her direction. Still puzzled, Willow asked, “Oh, where’d the doggy go?”

Angel then decided an explanation was in order, “Willow, various Kindred
clans have different traits and abilities. For example, Ventrue are
sophisticated and refined, Toreador are hedonistic and artistic, Brujah are
criminals and rebels, Nosferatu are introspective, and Gangrels, like Cash
there, are exceptional shapeshifters.”

“Shapeshifters...?”

“Willow,” Buffy interjected, “Cash IS the wolf.”

“Oh...Ohhhh!” the girl finally exclaimed. Then, after examining the smiling
Kindred for a few more seconds, she pulled Buffy off to the side and asked,
“Doesn’t he look kinda cute lying there?”

“Willow...he’s a wolf. You’d have to WALK your boyfriend! That would
NOT be a good thing.”

“Well, OK, but maybe we’ll overcome our differences. And, on the positive
side, I wouldn’t ever have to buy a pet and -- oh God, now he’s looking at
me with those sad puppy-dog eyes. Buffy, what should I do?”

Realizing that logical argument was futile, the Slayer simply told her to go
talk to Cash. However, as the girl started walking away, she called after
her, “But, remember, if he rolls over and wants you to rub his tummy,
DON’T DO IT!”

Willow’s departure left the Slayer and the vampire alone once again.
Turning towards Angel, she asked, “OK, now where were we? Oh, yeah,
you were going to do the commuter thing between here and Sunnydale.”

“It’s only a couple of hours away, Buffy.”

“That’s not the point, Angel. First you don’t tell me that there’s a whole
tidal wave of vampires loose in the world and now you’re working for one
of their top dogs...no pun intended. How SHOULD that make me feel?”

“Giles seems to have accepted it.”

“Hey, in case you’ve never noticed, I’m not Giles. I’m the Chosen One,
remember? I’m supposed to slay creatures of the night -- even if they’re
wearing Armani.”

“If you really feel that way, then why haven’t you tried to kill me?”

“Well, you’re...different.”

“That’s my point, Buffy...they’re different too. If it wasn’t for Julian, we
might never have met at all.”

With a pouting expression the girl then asked, “OK, assuming I agree to this
arrangement, when will I get to see you?”

“I’ll try to get back at least on weekends.”

“You’ll try? You’ll have to do better than that, Angel.”

Suddenly leaning down and grasping the back of her head, he instantly
locked his lips against hers for several long seconds. When he finally
released her, he asked, “How am I doing now?”

After catching her breath, the girl replied, “Not bad...for starters...” This
resulted in an even longer and deeper kiss as well as a passionate embrace.
From across the field, Immortal eyes looked on.

“What does she see in that guy? Maybe it’s the motorcycle...or the fangs.”

“It’s not the motorcycle, Xander. Believe me, it’s never done anything for
me. Maybe Angel’s got a big...bank account.”

Instantly putting down his frankfurter, the newest Immortal in California
replied, “Hey, Richie, I’m trying to eat here.”

“Sorry.”

“No you’re not.”

“I know...but it seemed like the thing to say.” After taking a sip from a can
of beer, the redhead then changed topics, asking, “So how are you doing?”

“Not bad...considering that I’ve been stabbed to death, resurrected, and had
my life turned upside down. And no, I don’t want to talk about the virgin
sacrifice stuff...EVER!”

“I know how you feel, Xander. It happens to all of us sooner or later -- well,
except for the virgin stuff -- you might be unique there.”

Nodding, Xander then added, “Well, at least you knew you were adopted,
Richie. It’s kinda traumatic finding out at 17 that your parents...aren’t really
your parents.”

“Did you talk to them yet?”

“Yeah, I cornered them the other night. They told me that they couldn’t
have children of their own and that they loved me.”

“Did you tell them about your Immortality?”

“No...not yet. They were pretty upset. I didn’t want to push it.”

After stating, “That was probably a pretty good idea, Xander,” Richie then
asked, “So how’s Cordelia doing?”

“As well as can be expected...considering she was almost murdered last
week.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant, Xander. How does she feel about you?”

After a long pause to gather his thoughts, the teen replied, “I think the jury’s
still out. She’s glad I’m not dead...obviously...but she’s not sure if we have
a future together. After all, in 50 years, she doesn’t want to be one of those
blue-haired old ladies with a boy toy on her arm.”

“Fifty years is a long way off, Xander. What until then?”

“Why don’t you tell me, Richie? You’ve been playing this game longer.”

“Yeah, and Mac’s been playing it ALOT LONGER...and I don’t think he’s
got the answer yet either. But I think he would tell you to give Cordelia
time. If there’s really something there, she’ll come around.”

“Yeah, time...assuming some psycho with a sword doesn’t whack me first.”

However, before Richie could reply, the two suddenly became aware of
another presence approaching. As they both started looking around, they
soon focused on Nick sauntering towards them with a chili dog in each
hand. As he handed one to Richie, the newcomer remarked, “Hey, it’s a
party you two...why all the talk about getting whacked? You’ve obviously
been hanging around MacLeod too long.”

“Are you sure you were MacLeod’s student, Nick? You don’t act anything
like him,” stated Xander.

“And I do?” asked Richie. “Gee, thanks.”

“No...no. Neither of you do,” the teen stammered. “It’s just that MacLeod
always seems so serious...like the world’s about to end or something.”

Nick then started to remark, “Take it from me, kid...”

“Hey, I just realized something,” Richie interrupted, “I’m not the newest kid
on the block anymore...I like that...I REALLY like that.”

“We’re happy for you, Ryan. Now where was I? Oh yeah, take it from me,
MacLeod acts grim all the time for one simple reason. Do you know why?”

As Richie continued to sip his beer, the boy -- looking on with a rapt
expression -- asked, “Why, Nick?”

“Because chicks really dig it. It’s all just an act...Ryan can tell you.”

Upon hearing this, the other Immortal nearly choked on his hot dog, but
remained silent. Nick then added, “As MacLeod’s training you, you’ll see
that he really respects free thinking. Remember, whenever you can disagree
with him, you should take the opportunity. He really admires that.”

Turning to Richie, Xander asked, “Is that true?”

Now fighting back tears, Richie was barely able to nod in the affirmative.

“OK...I can do that. My teachers always said I had a big mouth.”

Their discussion was cut short by the mingled sounds of a girl’s laughter
and canine growls coming from nearby.

“Hey, what’s that dog doing to Willow?”

“Calm down, Xander. It looks like they’re playing.”

“I know, but that’s one big-ass dog. She might get hurt rolling around like
that.”

Before Richie or Nick could stop him, Xander headed off to help his friend.
Once he was gone, Richie turned to Nick and remarked, “Mac’s gonna kick
his ass from here to San Diego...you know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So why did you lie to him?”

“Who lied? I always argued with MacLeod. Didn’t you, Ryan?”

“Yeah...and he HATED it! He’s a control freak.”

“My point exactly. Harris is the latest in a long line of students who
MacLeod gets to torment for a couple of years. It’s our responsibility...no,
it’s our duty...to get even with him. It’s only fair.”

“You’re really a piece of work, Nick.”

“Thanks. I’ll take that as a complement.” Popping open a can of beer, Nick
then observed, “Hey, it looks like Harris wrestled the dog off Willow.”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t look too happy.”

“Harris?”

“No, the dog.”

“Oh.”

A few seconds later, as they observed Xander sprinting across the lawn with
Cash in hot pursuit, Richie calmly remarked, “Maybe we should help him
out?”

“Nah...this is a valuable lesson for him.”

“Really? And what lesson would that be?”

“Not to run off half cocked.”

“HEY, GUYS...I NEED A LITTLE HELP HERE!”

Richie then turned towards Nick and remarked, “You know who you just
sounded like, don’t you?”

“Watch it, Ryan. That’s not funny.”

“Just making a simple observation, Nick.”

“DOWN BOY! HEY, GUYS...HELP!”

“Yeah, whatever.” After some hesitation, he then added, “I was thinking
that I should probably visit MacLeod...it’s been awhile. I haven’t seen him
since Tessa died and all.”

“Mac would probably appreciate that.”

“Boy, Harris got up that tree pretty fast.”

“GOOD DOG...AH, RICHIE...NICK? I CAN USE A HAND HERE!”

“Ryan, I’ve been thinking about something you mentioned the other day.
Those Watcher guys. I really don’t like the idea that somebody is keeping
tabs on me.”

“I don’t like it much either. But you’ll get used to it.”

“Have you met your Watcher, Ryan?”

“Nah...I don’t think I have one permanently assigned to me. I’ve met Mac’s
shadow though -- pretty nice old guy by the name of Joe Dawson. Owns a
bar in Seacouver. I can introduce you to him if it would make you feel any
better.”

“Oh, no! If they don’t already know about me, I’m not going to be the one
to tell them.”

Silently observing the two Immortals from a distance was a tall figure clad
in black -- except for a white clerical collar. In his hand, he held a small
notebook into which he was quickly jotting notes.

“I assume you’re not copying down the phone numbers of pretty young
ladies, Philip.”

Initially startled, the priest quickly recovered and, while flipping the
notebook closed, said, “I thought you knew me better than that, Rachel. I
was just making some notes to myself on things I have to do at the rectory
tomorrow.”

“Pretty nice party, isn’t it?”

“Oh yes...Mr. Luna is quite a good host.”

After answering, “Yes he is, Philip,” the psychologist then asked, “So then
why are you standing here alone, instead of mixing? You aren’t the shy,
retiring type.”

“Actually, Rachel, I was attempting to reconcile my role in this world.
Vampires, Immortals, demons, spirits...where do we fit into the mix...where
do I fit in? It used to be so simple when I was a new priest...now I just don’t
know.”

“Do you want to talk about it, Philip?”

Then, sighting a cloaked and hooded solitary figure over the doctor’s
shoulder, the man replied, “Maybe...maybe later, Rachel. I’ve got to go
now.” Sprinting across the grass, the priest eventually caught up to the tall
stranger just before he ducked into a dark doorway located in the mansion’s
elegant gardens. “Excuse me...can I talk to you?”

Without turning, the form asked, “Why do you want to talk to me, priest?
What can I possibly offer a man of God?”

“Answers, perhaps.”

“You may not be prepared to know the answers to your questions, Philip
Callahan.”

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

The following afternoon in Seacouver, Richie and Xander arrived at
MacLeod’s dojo to begin the teen’s sword training under the elder
Immortal’s guidance. As the Scot came down the stairs of the red brick
building to meet them, it soon became obvious that things were going to be
unexpectedly complicated. This was because the black Thunderbird Richie
was driving was not the only car pulling into the driveway. Following
behind was a red Mustang with Nick Boyle at the wheel.

As Richie climbed out of the car, he tossed his mentor the keys and headed
inside. This left MacLeod standing face-to-face with Xander.

“You’re one of us now, Xander.”

“You knew I’d be like you, didn’t you, Mr. MacLeod?”

“Yes. So did Richie and Angel.”

“Why didn’t anybody tell me?”

“Because it’s not our way.”

“Oh.”

Now eyeing Nick leaning against the hood of his car, MacLeod put his arm
over the young man’s shoulder and said, “It’s going to be OK, Xander. Go
inside, I’ll be up shortly.”

As his newest student loped into the dojo, MacLeod turned towards his
eldest surviving student and stated simply, “Hello, Nick.”

“How have you been, MacLeod?”

“Fine, Nick. And you?”

After initially replying, “Getting by, MacLeod,” the younger Immortal then
looked at the ground and added, “Ryan told me about Tessa. I’m very
sorry.”

“Thank you.”

“She was a great lady.”

“Yes. That she was.”

After several awkward seconds of silence, Nick sensed that the conversation
wasn’t leading anywhere. Moving to get back into his car, he remarked, “I
can’t change the past, MacLeod. I know we’ve have our differences, but I
just wanted to tell you that I was sorry about your loss. I’ll be going now.”

Softening somewhat, MacLeod approached the side of Nick’s car and
remarked, “Why don’t you come upstairs? I can probably find some
Scotch.”

Smiling, the younger Immortal replied, “I’d like that, MacLeod.”

As the two men headed up the stairs and into the building, they failed to
notice a figure sitting in a nondescript car about a block away. After
placing down a pair of miniature binoculars, the man quickly retrieved a
cellular phone and keyed in a number.

“Hello, Joe’s Place.”

“Joe Dawson, please.”

“Hold on.”

After a few seconds, the caller then heard a familiar voice respond, “Hello,
Joe Dawson here.”

“Hi, Uncle Joe.”

“Philip? Is that you?”

“Yes, Uncle Joe. I just wanted to let you know that I’m in town.”

“So what brings you down here?”

“Oh, the usual. Nick Boyle is visiting some friends.”

“Well, after you file your report, why don’t you come over for a late dinner.
How does 8 o’clock sound?”

“It’s a date. See you later, Uncle Joe.”

Father Philip Callahan, priest, Legacy member AND Watcher, then hung up
the phone and drove away.

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