Part 6: Phone Tag
(The Chase Is On)

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
21 November 1998

Giles and Jenny were sharing cups of Earl Grey tea over the break from their research when Willow and Oz joined them in the kitchen. As Oz went over towards the fridge, Willow sat down wearing a look that said that she was thinking, "I'm so clever."

Jenny noticed the look and asked, "Okay, what's going on, you two?"

"Oh, I just followed your suggestion and got us some extra help," Willow said mysteriously.

Jenny shared a look with Giles, who turned to Oz. The guitarist had grabbed a Pepsi from the refrigerator, but shrugged. "Don't know. She's playing 'Cryptic Girl.'"

"Willow," Giles said, "may I ask who, or is the correct word 'what,' is this extra help you found for us?"

"Just a certain Olympian Goddess," Willow said, breaking into a giggle.

Jenny joined her soon after. "Oh, Goddess, of course. It was right in front of us."

"Very good, Willow. Very good, indeed," Giles said, nodding his head in approval. "What did she say?"

"That she'd look into the past, see if Shaw's being controlled like we think," the witch offered. "She also said that if it was needed, she'd take care of this herself."

"Well, hopefully it will make our job easier," Giles remarked as the door to the kitchen opened.

The Slayerettes watched as the Jessups, Randi and Brian, as well as Kendra McPherson, a Slayer, walked in the side door, carrying groceries. As Kendra picked up the rear, a final person walked in, a young man that had joined the group recently.

"Robin?" Willow asked, looking surprised. "When did you get back?"

"'Bout an hour ago," Goodfellow replied. "I went over to Amy's, but she wasn't home. Is she here?"

"Uh, not exactly," Willow said, turning somber. "She sorta left town."

"I don't believe this!" Robin snapped, throwing his hands up in disgust. "I come back, and now SHE'S on vacation?!?"

"Uh, not exactly," Willow said, "she's in Seacouver with Steve and the others, trying to track down Shaw."

"What's La Vulcana doing in Seacouver?" Robin asked in confusion.

The others started looking at each other, and it was Giles who most of the eyes settled on. With a resigned nod, he began to tell the story.

"It seems that while we were in San Francisco," Giles began, "Shaw somehow had part of an Immortal's Quickening become active inside of her. She ran rather than distract us from our mission. . ."

"Fighting Black Mages," Randi inserted as she put groceries into a cupboard.

"And Dracula," Oz added, before taking a sip of his Pepsi.

"You guys squared off with the Big D?" Robin asked in amazement. "You all made it back, I hope?"

"Yes," Giles said, looking perturbed at being interrupted. "Anyway, the Quickening has made Shaw somewhat unpredictable, and dangerous."

"Okay, I understand that, but what I can't understand is the Quickening becoming active," Robin said, starting to pace. "I mean, it would have been gone in another two or three months."

It took about fifteen seconds before he realized that the kitchen had gone silent, and he stopped to see everyone staring at him with strange looks.

"What?" he asked. "I got something on my clothes?" He began looking over his white designer knit sweater.

"Robin," Jenny asked softly, "are you saying that you knew about this?"

"Of course. I can read the level of magic inside of people," Robin told the group. "I did the 'loophole' thing on the ban of using my magic, thinking 'if she's lying about this prophecy and turns out to be evil we need to know about it.' She came back clean. Okay, I will admit, a part of it was concern over Amy, but. ."

"The Quickening, Robin," Giles said.

Robin took in the looks, which had become less than neutral. "Wait a minute, guys. Before you jump me, kill me or turn me into a newt for one of your witchy spells, the Quickie was dormant. It can't become active without a massive discharge of electricity."

"Like a taser?" Giles asked. "Thirty thousand volts?"

"Oh, please," Robin said, rolling his eyes. "Try four or five lightning bolts hitting her at the same exact second. Granted, there wouldn't be much of her left, but you get the idea." As Giles and the others pondered the less than attractive image he'd just given them, he paused. "Wait a minute, Rupe," he said, scratching his head, "why'd you say a taser?"

"Shaw was hit by a taser the night she left," Kendra answered. "Joe and I thought that was what started this."

"Nuh-uh," Robin said, shaking his head vigorously, "No way. Taser, you said thirty kay?"

The others nodded, and he rubbed his chin. "Nope. Not unless sorcery were involved. And I'm talking big time magic, here. No bush league wizard is gonna cause a partial Quickie to become active."

"Robin, how 'big time' are we talking?" Jenny asked.

"Hmmm, lemme see. If I convert the volts into the proper amount of magical energy, and think about how much Quickening was in her. . ." Robin muttered, launching into a discussion about magical formulas that made Einstein's theory of relativity look like "two plus two," and had every single Slayerette, even Giles, getting a headache from trying to follow the speech. After several moments, he looked up at Giles and Jenny, a worried expression on his face. "Uh, guys, you ain't gonna like what I gotta tell you."

"Just do it!!" the Slayerettes screamed.

"Okay!! Sheesh!" Robin hissed as he cringed. "Okay. Level of power we're talking. Merlin, he might be able to do it. Fifty-fifty chance. Titania, seventy-thirty. Oberon, about the same. To be absolutely certain about activating it, you'd have to go higher up the power ladder."

"Uh, Robin," Randi asked worriedly, "who would be THAT powerful?"

"Oh, that's easy," he said, waving a hand. "Odin, Wa-Kon-Ta, Ra, Set, Shiva, Zeus, Hera, Artemis. . ."

"Ares," a female voice added from the entrance to the kitchen. As the Slayerettes turned, Artemis walked into the kitchen and joined the mortals. "It's Ares."

Jenny and Willow quickly stood and bowed to their Patron, and she gave them a warm smile.

"Please, sit. As I told Willow, I looked at the recent events, and discovered that Ares is the one manipulating your friend. I would have been here sooner, but I was arguing this very matter with Ares, in front of my Father. Zeus has decreed that Ares has the right to attempt to convert Shaw Hunter, and to make her his personal champion, much in the way that my Amazons or Shiva's Avatar represent us."

"Wait a minute, Arty," Robin said, drawing a dark look from the Huntress, "the Rules say only one Patron per customer. What gives?"

"It seems that the Immortal your comrade killed in July was the killer of Ares' last priest, also an Immortal. Since Shaw Hunter has the essence inside of her, Zeus has ruled that Ares' claim is valid. What is going on right now is nothing less than a battle for Shaw Hunter's devotion, and her soul."

"And the fact that the group she fights for is hurt by this, too?" Robin asked sarcastically.

"Exactly, Goodfellow," she said darkly.

"So, what are you gonna do about it?"

"I cannot do anything, Robin," Artemis said gloomily, bowing her head. "Zeus has forbidden me to interfere directly in this matter. I can protect my Amazons or their mates if they are directly threatened, but that is all. It is only through Amy's connection to Shaw that I am able to do this much."

Artemis held up a hand, and in a flash of light, a scroll appeared. "This is the spell to cure your friend. However, she must return of her own choice. If someone attempts to force her to return, Ares can 'protect his interests.'"

"Uh, Artemis, uh, are you saying that Steve, Buffy and the others may be facing a God??" Randi asked nervously.

"Yes, young one. And you must call the Wanderer and his group. I will not have any of you going into this without full knowledge of what you may be facing," Artemis said. "They will arrive at the MacLeod's residence in almost fifteen minutes."

"Shaw's at Duncan's right now," Giles said, drawing surprised gasps from those who didn't know about Duncan's earlier call.

"No longer," Artemis said sadly. "She fled, and Ares twisted one of her spells to prevent Richard and Amanda from stopping her flight."

"What happened?" Willow blurted in surprise. "Duncan said she was in control!"

"Calm down, Wil," Oz said, touching her arm. She looked at him with a worried expression.

"I honestly don't know," the Goddess said, waving her hands uselessly. "The Immortal was making coffee. ."

"That's it," Robin and Kendra said at the same time. They looked at each other in shock.

"You know about that?" Robin asked the Jamaican.

"I found out at the same time Shaw did," she admitted sheepishly. "She didn't know before that."

"Excuse me," Giles said, "but why would Shaw run because of coffee?"

"Caffeine, G-Man. Elves and that stuff, bad juju," Robin explained. "It's an allergen, bordering on poisonous."

"But Shaw is half-human, and from Toril," Jenny reminded the sprite.

"Doesn't matter. Elves is elves, as far as this stuff goes."

"How allergic could she be, Robin?" Willow asked.

"Worst case? If she drank four of those Pepsis your boyfriend's guzzling," Robin said, indicating Oz, "she'd be in Millie's arms in a couple of hours. Sorry if that sounds cold, but them's the facts."

"That IS cold, Robin," Randi snapped. "If it really can kill her. ."

"Just letting you know. Besides," Robin said, turning to Artemis, "if I remember, it's a couple of your Amazons that have all but force fed her that black sludge for the last three weeks or so, am I right?"

"If you knew, Goodfellow, why didn't you put a stop to it before something did happen?" Artemis countered.

"I would have, but watching Cordelia and Amy grow frustrated at Shaw's resistance to their 'adaptation classes,' as they called it, was hilarious. Besides, the kid has good instincts. But I gotta ask you one question about this situation with your brother."

"What is it?" the Goddess of the Hunt asked.

"What good does it do if Shaw comes back? What's to keep Tall, Dark and Stupid from just snapping his fingers and elf-napping the kid off to Olympus?"

Now, Artemis smiled. "Oh, Zeus made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that Ares will not receive any more leeway than what he currently has. If she makes the choice to return, he has no choice but to accept it. But I have taken up enough of your time. You need to call the Wanderer and the others. I will keep an eye on things, and if I can, I will relate any other news. Farewell."

Artemis disappeared in a flash, and the Slayerettes looked around at each other.

"Well. Jenny, Willow, go over the scroll. I'll call Steve, and explain what we've learned," Giles said, taking charge of the situation. "Robin, would you mind coming with me? Your help will be needed, I fear. You are more of the expert on the elven People than anyone else."

"You got it, Rupe."

*****

DiSalvo's Gym
Seacouver, Washington
21 November 1998

Duncan rewound the tape for the third time, trying to find any clues as to where Shaw Hunter might flee to next. He'd listened through the tape twice, but there wasn't anything on the tape that he could tell which would provide him with any answers.

<Why did she run?> he asked himself, gloom permeating his every thought. <What did I do to make her think she'd been betrayed? The look in her eyes. . .>

The Immortal Scot was startled out of his reverie when the telephone started ringing. He jumped for a split second, and growled as he picked up the phone.

"This had better be important," MacLeod snapped at the person on the other end of the line.

"Well, I beg your pardon," a British voice responded, no small touch of irritation in his tone, "but I was calling to ask if Steve and the others had arrived yet? They are due right about now, Mr. MacLeod."

"Giles?" Duncan asked, realizing who he was speaking with. His ire quickly drained away. "I'm sorry, Giles. Shaw ran, and I have no. ."

"You were making coffee," Giles said, cutting off the Highlander's apology. "I'll explain, so listen very carefully."

Giles began a detailed account of the story that Artemis had given those Slayerettes still in California. Duncan began to grow mad at the thought of Shaw being manipulated, but it faded rapidly when Giles related the reason she had fled from the dojo. Duncan sighed in frustration.

"God, Giles. If I hadn't started that pot, she'd still be here," he said.

"Perhaps, perhaps not. Ares is quite the manipulative one."

"But still, I had her convinced. Giles, I'll tell Steve and the others what you've told me. I'll have them call you back, I promise."

"May I ask why?" Giles asked, concern coming in over the line.

Duncan leaned back in his chair, and looked at the tape recorder. "Part of it is that I don't have a speaker phone. Also, there are things that I need to discuss with Steve, that are somewhat private. I'm sorry, Giles, but Shaw shared some things with me in confidence. I think that Steve should be the person I take with about them, and they should not be discussed over the phone."

"I think I understand, Duncan," Giles consented, and MacLeod could hear a sigh over the line. "Steve, Buffy, Xander, Cordelia and Amy will be there quite soon, according to Artemis."

"Did you say Amy?" Duncan asked, leaning forward onto his desk.

"Yes, it was felt that she might be able to talk Shaw into coming home."

"You felt right," Duncan said softly, and then spoke into the phone. "Thank you, Giles. I'll have Steve call as soon as we're done talking. You have my word."

"Thank you, Duncan," the Watcher said, and a few seconds later a click sounded.

Duncan wearily hung up the phone, which promptly rang one second after he'd set it down. Moaning, he grabbed it.

"WHAT?!?"

"Whoa, Mac," Richie said from downstairs. "The Shaw Hunter Posse just arrived. You wanna come down?"

"No. Send them up. Alone." Duncan smacked the phone down.

*****

The Immortals Duncan trained with were discussing what had happened when they felt new Buzzes coming towards them.

"Here we go again," Richie muttered, fingering his sword. "You bring some friends you forgot to mention, Kenny?"

Kenny glared at Richie, who gave the child Immortal an equally icy look.

"Try me, punk," he said with a cold smile.

"Stop it, Richie," Amanda said, slapping him on the arm. "We've got company coming."

The doors to the dojo opened, and a group of five people, all bearing the look of seasoned fighters, walked in. Richie, Jarod and Andrea relaxed and immediately moved forward to greet the new arrivals, while Amanda and Kenny remained tense. Parker embraced a mortal brunette, while Jarod gave the male mortal a strong handshake.

Kenny looked at Amanda and asked, "Okay, who are these guys?"

"A group of the baddest dudes on the planet," Richie said, shaking Steve's hand. "Good to see you again, Steve."

"Same here, Richie," Steve said, taking in Richie's torn shirt. "She's not here, is she?"

"Nope," Richie said as he shook his head. "She ran, cast some spell and called up a hurricane that threw me through a window."

"And stole one of my favorite pairs of jeans," Amanda said with a glare at Steve. "Those jeans cost me nearly two hundred dollars."

Steve cocked an eyebrow. "Since when do you pay for stuff?" he asked, drawing some laughs from the others.

"I only take high priced items," Amanda said tightly. "I do have high standards."

Steve looked Kenny over, and then asked Richie, "What's he doing here?"

"Seems that one crazy woman killed Richard Markham, brought him here, and your now famous letter changed him a bit," Richie said. "He told us Shaw'd snuck up the back way, and Duncan headed up after her. Something happened, she ran, and 'wham bam,' I'm making like Dorothy and Toto."

"You're St. Wolf?" Kenny asked, not liking the look of death in the man's eyes.

Steve nodded, and pointed to the others as he introduced them. "Buffy Summers, Immortal and Slayer. Cordelia Chase and Amy Madison, Amazons. And Xander Harris, Green Beret caliber fighter."

"Shaw told me a little about you, Buffy and Amy," he said. He looked at the witch. "You're her cousin?"

"Yeah," Amy said neutrally, folding her arms. "What about it?"

"She said you're a witch," Kenny told her, looking her over. "Said something about making me an adult."

"You?" Steve asked coldly. "Why would we do that?"

"I dunno. Your elf girl said that maybe it'd give me the same chance you gave her, whatever that means."

"And you turned her into Duncan," Buffy said, drawing a gulp.

"Well, she saved my life," Kenny said defensively, "said MacLeod had helped her before, she needed a cure. What was I supposed to do?"

"Exactly what you did," Steve said with an appraising look. "We can't take you with us, but Duncan might be able to keep an eye on you until this is settled. What happens next will depend on you."

"What do you mean by that?" Kenny asked with a touch of skepticism.

"Well, if you can prove yourself, we could do the adulthood spell on you, and you could make your own decisions," Steve explained. "That is, if you don't mind hunting vampires and the occasional demon or three with a group of teenagers that includes Immortals, Amazons, Slayers, and a werewolf."

"And a elf witch doctor?" Kenny added. "I don't know. I mean, people obviously don't trust me, you know."

"Heck," Xander said, entering the discussion, "when Shaw first showed up on the Hellmouth, we thought she was a demon."

"YOU thought she was a demon, dweeb boy," Cordelia snapped. "The rest of us were thinking 'Immie.'"

"Now, she feels like it," Richie told Steve. "You get the Buzz when she comes near, and vice versa."

"I see," Steve mumbled, and then looked back at Richie. "Richie, can you call Duncan and let him know we've arrived?"

"Got it, Wanderer." Richie stepped over to the phone, and dialed Duncan's upstairs extension. He quickly winced, squinting at the earpiece before telling Duncan who'd arrived. He nodded, and hung up.

"Mac says all of you go up, just you guys."

"None of you?" Xander asked.

"Nope. He was VERY clear on that," the redheaded Immortal said with a frown. "He's not happy."

"Understatement, much?" Cordy said as the Slayerettes headed for the elevator.

Duncan felt the Buzz go into effect as the elevator started coming to the loft. He sighed, and stood up and walked over to the gate. As the door opened, he quickly unlocked the gate to let the others in.

"Come on in, Steve," Duncan said as he waved an arm in the direction of his desk. "Buffy, the rest of you, welcome to my home."

"Thanks, Duncan," Buffy said, giving him a quick hug, which he declined to return. Buffy backed up and searched his face. "Duncan, what's wrong?"

"Giles called a few minutes before you arrived, Steve," the Scot said. "Shaw IS being manipulated, and they know who by."

The five people turned to Duncan as Steve asked his mentor, "Who is it?"

"Ares, according to Artemis," Duncan answered to surprised silence, save for a soft curse from the Wanderer. "Everyone take a seat, and I'll tell you what Giles told me, as well as about Shaw's visit."

As the Scooby Gang took their seats, Xander asked, "Why'd she take off, Duncan?"

Duncan didn't answer, but instead looked at Steve. "Steve, do you know anything about elves and caffeine?"

Everyone looked at the Wanderer, who sighed. "Gods, Duncan, please tell me you didn't give her something."

"No, but I said that a cup or two of coffee might keep her awake until you got here," Duncan said, a look of guilt on his face. "Giles said she only found out last week herself."

"Uh, excuse me," Buffy asked, looking lost, as did the other teens. "But did we miss part of the conversation here?"

"Elves are allergic to caffeine," Steve said.

Cordelia and Amy looked at each other, and back at Steve. "Uh, Steve, are you saying that if she had drunk some of that coffee we tried to get her to try. ."

"Yes."

"And here I thought you guys called a truce on the pranks," Xander muttered. He quickly added an "Ow!" as Cordelia smacked him.

"That's enough," Buffy snapped. "Steve, the frame of mind she's in. ."

"Did she say anything before she left, Duncan?" Steve asked, getting the conversation back on track.

"No, but there is a possibility," the Highlander answered softly. "Holy ground, of her Goddess, specifically. The holy spring I used won't work."

"How would she know that?" Amy asked, looking around in confusion.

"Of course," Xander said, drawing looks from the others. He smiled at them. "Oh, come on, guys. We forget a lot, because of her sword skills, maybe, that Shaw's more than just a fighter. She's Religion Girl. I mean, come on, sometimes she makes Mother Theresa look like Madonna. If anyone would know holy-type stuff, it'd be her."

Amy's face lit up next, and she said, "Finland. Artemis called Shaw's Goddess her sister from Finland."

"Okay, but how would she get there?" Buffy asked, before answering the question herself. "Flying."

Duncan nodded. "Steve, I told Giles I'd have you call him. Coordinate your efforts, and form a plan."

Steve smiled. "Thanks, Duncan." The Wanderer quickly picked up the phone, and dialed his home number. "Duncan, you have a speaker?"

"No, Steve, I'm sorry," Duncan said.

"Now I know what to get you for Christmas," St. Wolf muttered, and looked up. "Giles, this is Steve."

In Sunnydale, Giles sighed in relief. "One moment, Steve. I'll put you on speaker." As he clicked, the others gathered in anticipation.

"Thanks, Giles. Listen up, very carefully. Willow, Jenny, I need the two of you to hack into Seacouver airline records, and see if you can find Shaw's name anywhere. We think she may be flying to Finland, to where Mielikki was worshipped. She may hope to use the same cure that Duncan used years ago. Giles, keep up the research, have the others help you."

"Steve," Jenny said, "Artemis gave us the spell to help her. But there's one catch; the Quickening has to go into another Immortal, one who willingly accepts it into himself."

"Okay," Steve said softly. As Jenny and Willow left the room, followed by Kendra and Randi, Steve went on. "Get started on preparations. Giles, tell me everything Artemis told you. Don't leave anything out."

Giles said what was known, and after a few minutes, he finished. "That's where we stand at the moment, Steve." He looked at someone waving for the phone. "One moment, Steve."

Giles handed the phone to Robin. "Wanderer, listen up. I knew about the Quickening, but without the Dipwod of War mucking it up, it would have dissipated in a little more time. But now, if she takes one more head or gets zapped by a big charge, she might go loo-loo. I'm telling you straight up what you might have to face. If her skills ARE enhanced, and you or Buffy have to throw down with her, she might get lucky. And we don't want that."

"What would you suggest, Robin?" Steve asked.

"Take her down from a distance, Steve. Magic-style. Amy's got spells that can do it. Stun her, knock her out, and get her here. Just remember, mind control and sleep spells might not work."

"I'll remember, Robin. Thanks," Steve said gratefully, and looked at Amy, who had a surprised look on her face. "Want to talk?"

"Yeah, I'll make it quick," the witch promised as Steve handed her the phone. "Robin? When did you get back?"

"Couple hours ago. First thing I did was go to your house," he answered. "You know, we have to stop NOT meeting like this. Seriously, though, how you holding up, sweetie?"

"Okay," Amy said, shrugging her shoulders. "I just hope we get our teammate back in one piece."

"Teammate?" Robin asked, and then he sighed. "Honey, you know that sooner or later, the two of you need to talk about this." As Amy started to respond, the sprite continued. "Just listen to me, you're off the speaker. The two of you have almost avoided each other for two months. You're waiting for her to talk, she's waiting for you to tell her to talk. I'm not the only one who's noticed, but you know how Spockette would react if she found out someone forced the issue."

"Stop calling her that," Amy said with a frown. "She's in a bad way right now."

"At least you defend her," Robin laughed. "Just think about it, okay?"

Amy pondered her answer for a few seconds, and said, "Okay, I'll think about it."

Amy handed the phone to Steve, who asked for Giles. "Anything on her?"

"One moment."

Giles headed for the computer room, and asked, "Anything?"

Willow nodded with a smile. "This was too easy. She's headed for New York, under her own name. The flight leaves. ." Her shoulders slumped. "A half hour ago."

"Damn," Giles cursed, heading back into the office. "Steve, she's flying to New York City. The flight left a half hour ago. Do you think you can catch her?"

"Gods, I don't know," Steve said. "Giles, we're on our way. I'll call you again before we leave the ground."

Steve put the phone down, and turned to the expectant Slayerettes. "She's flying for New York."

"New York?!?" Cordelia sputtered. "What's in New York?"

"I know," Duncan said, looking at Steve. "Connor."

"Okay. Duncan, give him a call, and warn him. Tell him we're on our way," Steve said.

As the other began to move, Duncan said, "Wait."

Buffy looked at MacLeod. "Duncan, we need to move if we're gonna catch her."

"I'll be as brief as possible. You just finished a mission, right?" he asked. As the Scoobies nodded, he added, "You're fatigued, and so are the others. How about Amanda and I head for Sunnydale, and back your people up. If you agree, that is."

"What about the others?" Steve asked, showing some interest in MacLeod's proposal.

"Richie, Jarod and Andrea can handle things here. We can let the others in Sunnydale focus on Shaw while we handle patrols."

"Thanks, Duncan. But do you think the vamps will take you and Amanda seriously?" Steve joked.

"Are you serious? When they find out that they're being hunted by the man that actually TRAINED the Wanderer?" Xander answered for Duncan, and it got the others to laugh, dispelling a bit of the tension surrounding the group.

"Thanks, Duncan. Anything else?" Steve asked.

"Actually, yes," the Highlander answered. "I'd like to talk to you in private for a few minutes. You, and one other."

"Okay. Buffy, stay. Guys, go ahead. ."

"Steve, I wasn't talking about Buffy," he said as he looked straight at Amy.

"Me?" the blonde Amazon asked, completely baffled. "For what?"

"I'll explain, Amy. Steve?"

"Buffy, Xander, Cordy, go ahead and wait downstairs," Steve ordered.

The three teens gave Amy hesitant looks, but complied with the Wanderer's instructions. After they'd closed the elevator, and the elevator had begun its descent, Steve and Amy looked to Duncan.

"Okay, Duncan, what did you want to talk about?" Steve asked.

"Why don't the two of you have a seat?" Duncan walked over to his desk and sat down. "Okay, there were some things I wanted to say in private, to keep the others from being depressed."

"What is it?" Steve asked. "About Shaw?"

"Yes, Steve. While Shaw was changing into some clean clothes, I set this up," MacLeod said, tapping the tape recorder with a fingernail, "in case she bolted, she might drop a clue about her next destination. What I did get, though, was a lot more than I expected."

"What did she say, Duncan?" Steve inquired.

"She said some things about herself, things that surprised even me, Steve," he responded. "And she talked about Amy."

Amy jerked up at that, and leaned forward. "What'd she say about me?"

"A lot, Amy. But I think these are things that should be private," he said, taking the cassette out of the recorder. He held it up, and said, "Amy, Giles told me that you're here because you could get through to her."

"That's the theory," Amy said. "I dunno."

"If anything, he understated the case," Duncan said, setting the cassette down. "But, at the risk of sounding blunt, you seem to have a problem with her."

"Yeah, I do," the witch snapped. "I don't know anything about her. She hasn't shared anything with me. But she asks me about my Dad, who she's not even related to!"

"Does she know that?" Duncan asked.

Amy considered the question, and shook her head. "I don't believe this. How couldn't she know?"

"How much have you asked her to tell you? Or, hasn't she shared her history with you?"

"Oh, yeah," Amy grumbled. "Things she's done, places she's been. That's it!"

Steve broke in at that point. "Including some hard times, right?"

"Yeah, but Steve. ."

"What do you want from her, then?"

"Stuff about her! What else would I want?" Amy snapped, looking between the two Immortals. "I can probably name every language she speaks, but I don't know the simple shit. Goddess, Steve, I don't even know her frickin' birthday!"

"The twenty-eighth of November," Steve said without hesitation, drawing round eyes from the Amazon. "She shared it with Willow and I to complete her records. And before you ask, she asked us to keep it to ourselves, to avoid putting any pressure on you."

Amy started shaking her head. "I don't believe this. This is crazy."

"Is it?" Steve asked. "What would you have thought if she'd told you? If she just out and said, 'my birthday is so-and-so?í"

"I would have thought. . ." she started to say before stopping. "That she was pushing."

"Right. You're upset that she didn't tell you, but you'd react that way if she did," Steve said, pointing out the paradox.

"Okay, Steve. I get the point," Amy said in frustration. "Robin was right, I guess. We do need to talk. But I want to know her as a person. But she always closes up."

"Because she's afraid of doing something wrong," Duncan said gently. "Amy, as far as she knows, you're the only family she has, after being alone for nearly half her life, half of that being in a living hell."

"That's stupid, Duncan! My grandma's still alive, only three hours from Sunnydale. I got two aunts. . .and I haven't told her." Amy buried her face in her hands. "Were you guys setting out to make me feel like a creep?"

"No, Amy, we weren't," Duncan said, pushing the tape near her. "You want to know her better, right?"

Amy looked at him and nodded. "Yeah, I do. We all do."

"Well, then, she told me a bit," Duncan said to her.

"Duncan, I want her to tell me herself," Amy protested.

Duncan nodded at the cassette. "There's your chance, sitting right in front of you. Her words, her emotions, trust me on that. Right now, you need to concentrate on getting her back, but I do think it'll help you understand her a bit better. I will warn you, though, Amy. There are some things that shocked me, with something she went through."

"Duncan?" Steve asked. "What got her to say something?"

Duncan held up the picture of Mindy Williams, and showed Steve. "It's on the tape, Steve. Amy'll know."

"Know what?" she asked, looking at Steve.

"Amy," Duncan interrupted, "listen to the tape, and Steve can answer your questions. What you need to do, however, is decide what to share with the others. I'm sure there's things on there that you don't know, but perhaps there's stuff that you know that wasn't recorded."

Amy took the tape, looking at it nervously. She sighed, and put it in the pocket of her jacket. "Is that it?"

"Yes, but I want to ask Steve something," Duncan said. "Steve, you remember Mindy. How bad are Shaw's?"

"I'd say, roughly the same," Steve said sadly. "She went through something."

"She did. It surprises me that she still fights, after what she went through," Duncan said. He stood up, and nodded. "Now, get her and bring her home."

Steve, Amy and Duncan came downstairs, and people's eyes shot up when they saw Duncan carrying a suitcase.

"Amanda, Kenny, get packed. We're heading for Sunnydale for a few days."

"Oh, great," Amanda snapped. "You're on a Boy Scout mission, aren't you?"

"Just backup, Amanda," Duncan said with a sigh. "Kenny, you want to see the reason Immortals exist?"

Kenny looked suspicious, but nodded. "Yeah, I do."

"Good. You're gonna get a look, up close." The Highlander turned to Richie. "Richie, you and the others hold the fort here, okay?"

"Got it, Mac," Richie said. He turned to Jarod and Parker. "Well, guys, our first solo act. What do you think?"

"Speak for yourself, solo boy," Parker said, taking Jarod by the arm and walking for their swords.

Steve went over to the Slayerettes, and said, "Okay, let's head for the airport. I called the pilots, they'll have a flight plan for La Guardia by the time we get there."

The Slayerettes perked up a bit, although Cordelia saw the worried look on Amy's face.

"What's up, girl?" she asked, keeping back a step as they walked out.

"A lot," Amy said, giving Cordy an uncertain glance. "I'll tell you on the plane."

"Okay," the brunette said to her. "Let's go and get Shaw."

"Yeah, right, Cordy," Xander without looking back. "You just want to catch her early enough to get some shopping done in New York."

To Cordelia's surprise, Amy was the one who smacked him on the head.

"Ow!!!" Xander snapped. "Cordy. ."

Cordelia looked at Amy. "What the hell was that for?"

Amy seemed surprised by her own reaction. "Uh, like I said, Iíll tell you on the plane."

"Fine. But just keep in mind, you don't hit Xander. That's MY job."

And she did it.

*****

Part 7: Close Encounters
(Angel And The Bad Ass)

Fox Class Jet
En route to New York City
22 November 1998

As the Fox-class aircraft streaked through the afternoon sky at a speed of nearly eight hundred miles per hour, the five Slayerettes sitting in the passenger area considered the knowledge they had received in Seacouver during their visit with Steve St. Wolf's former mentor, Duncan MacLeod.

"So, honey, what are our chances here?" Buffy asked Steve, a worried expression on the Immortal Slayer's face. "Straight up?"

"I don't know, Buffy," the demon hunter admitted. "If it comes down to a fight, we'll lose. Our only real chance is to convince Shaw to come home. I've got Frank waiting at the airport for us. It's just lucky that she's headed for the same airport. He might be able to keep her there. But Shaw, herself, might be our best hope. "

"How's that?" Cordelia asked, a look of extreme doubt on her perfect face. "You're saying that a whacked-out, sleepless-in-Sunnydale, cross-country-running, Dark Quickeninged half-elf is our best chance at beating the God of War?"

"Artemis said that Ares is trying to take Shaw away from her Goddess," Steve said, looking at the dubious Amazon. "Think about what you know about her, and ask yourself; how easy is that going to be?"

Cordelia smiled. "Good point."

"Steve, isn't this really about getting back at us for screwing him before?" Xander asked, sitting next to Cordy. "But Shaw doesn't know the facts about this. If she found out, wouldn't it convince her to come with us?"

"I hope so," Steve said darkly. "If she doesn't, I don't like the idea of trying to take her by force."

Xander and Cordelia looked at Steve in surprise. "Wait a minute, Steve," Xander said. "Don't tell us that you think she could take all five of us. One, probably. Two, tops."

"Xander," Buffy said softly, "Shaw's carrying guns now, plus that new toy she got from that alien. And if she's got an Immortal's skills, on top of her own, how tough do you think she'd she be to take?"

Xander and Cordelia both grew thoughtful expressions, but Xander shook his head after a short time.

"I just don't see it," he said. "For one thing, she's Wigged and running so she WON'T hurt us. That's something in our favor, right?"

"Unless she snaps," Steve said, "and she's got magic."

"The great equalizer," Cordelia mumbled, and then she sighed. "Good thing we've got our own spell-lobber, huh, Amy?"

Cordelia looked over at Amy, who had been silent throughout the discussion. The blonde Amazon was staring at a cassette, holding it in her right hand.

"Yo, Sabrina!" Xander called, startling her.

She looked at her four teammates, who were watching her with looks of varying concern. "Yeah, what is it?" she asked, her attention distracted from the conversation.

"What's your take on this?" Xander asked, genuine interest showing in his eyes. "You think your cousin can take all five of us?"

"How should I know?" she said softly, trying to sound angry but failing.

"What's wrong, girl?" Cordelia asked her, getting up and walking over to her fellow Amazon. She sat down in the seat next to Amy and looked at the tape. "That the reason you picked up the Walkman in the gift shop?"

"Yeah," Amy said, not taking her eyes off of the cassette.

Xander had gotten up, and he walked over to the girls, squatting next to Cordelia. "What's on it?"

"Shaw," the witch said, shrugging. "Duncan says she said some things about me, and about. . .you know."

"Her back?" Xander asked, and Amy nodded. He looked sympathetically at Amy. "You're afraid of what you'll find out?"

Amy sighed and nodded. "I don't get it. I mean, I wanna know, but I don't. You know what I mean?"

"Yeah, we do," Cordelia said, looking at Xander, who nodded. "But I think this'll give us a way into her head, tell us if she's gone mental on us. What kind of shape she's in."

"Other words, we need the info," Amy said irritably. She slowly pulled out the Walkman out of her coat pocket, and also pulled out a set of headphones. She popped open the player on the portable radio and inserted the tape. She fitted the earphones in place, and looked up to see Xander and Cordelia watching her expectantly. "Goddess, guys! Ever hear of privacy?!?"

The couple quickly left the witch alone, and Amy watched their backs, to make sure she was sufficiently isolated before hitting the play button.

*****

World Trade Center
New York City, New York
21 November 1998

At the bottom of the elevator shaft, a lone figure slowly stood up, groaning very loudly in pain as he staggered forward. He nearly fell over, but managed to brace himself by gripping the doorframe.

<Eighty floors!!> Angelus cursed, rubbing the back of his throbbing head. <How the hell do I get into these situations?!?>

He staggered out of the shaft and into the sub-basement. The vampire slowly made his way forward, looking over his ripped clothing, which was turning red in places from the blood flowing from several gunshot wounds. His mind wandered as he considered his current predicament.

<How the hell did this happen? I leave Sunnydale after Spike and Dru betray me, and return to New York. And who the hell do I run into? One of the very damned swordsmen that wiped us out months ago!>

Angelus slowly regained his strength as he walked, his wounds healing as he progressed. He found the stairway leading to the street, and quickly walked through the door.

"There he is," the large, muscular black man said as the vampire exited the World Trade Center, appearing to be in less than pristine condition. "Looks like Hammer missed."

The old man sitting next to him nodded gravely. "Yep. Well, isn't that why we're here, to pick off what others miss?"

The old timer leaned his head out of the Mustang and spit out a wad of tobacco juice. "Doesn't surprise me, this one surviving. Angelus, the baddest of the bad for the soulless fucks."

"He's a vampire," the younger one said, taking his shades out and putting them on. "He'll die like the rest."

<He's in hunting mode.> the old man thought. "This one, you'd better be ruthless. Kill him, don't toy with him."

"Got it, Whistler," the hunter said, starting the car and taking off into the night.

*****

Fox Class Jet
En route to New York City
21 November 1998

Amy settled back in her seat as the tape started playing. It was a few seconds before voices began speaking. Her face took on a thoughtful expression as the recorded portion of the conversation between Duncan and Shaw began to play. The first thing she heard was Shaw's voice speaking in a foreign language.

<What the. .>

Once Duncan identified it as Italian, and Shaw admitted it was the memories of the Immortal she'd killed, a tinge of sympathy rose within the witch.

<You can hear the fear in her voice.> she thought. Amy leaned forward and rested her chin on her fists while setting her elbows on her thighs. As the tape continued, Amy started to smile. <I don't believe it. Shaw Hunter actually talking about clothes!>

When the recording got to the point about an earlier talk Shaw and Duncan, the Amazon leaned back again.

<It was Duncan who avenged his loved one?> she thought to herself, thinking back to something the half-elf had discussed with the Slayerettes the morning before she'd revealed herself for who she was. <He was the one who had the effect on her.>

She sighed softly, adjusting the volume a bit. <That's why she went to him. To look for his help. And he'd convinced her to come home. If only he hadn't. .>

When the talk turned to the girl named Mindy, Amy's face became sad as Duncan related the story of the events of eight years ago. At first, Amy became angry as the thought of Shaw saying that someone "deserved" what had happened, but it was quickly replaced by shock when the missing teammate mentioned that the events were identical.

<She was. . .> the witch thought dully, not believing what she was hearing. <She never said. .>

When Shaw started to talk about her concerns, Amy tilted her head forward as she listened. She was wondering how her cousin could think such a thing when she heard it:

"I allowed it to happen."

Amy's jaw dropped as the words sounded in her ears, and a cold lump of horror started to grow in her gut.

<She. . . she allowed?!?>

Her thoughts were cut off as Shaw began her outburst, her voice growing constantly as the words and emotions poured out of Shaw's mouth, raw feelings flowing through the recorder. When Shaw kept saying something about "three days," it had Amy puzzled.

<What three days?> she whispered in her mind. <Come on, Shaw. .>

The thought broke and the lump of horror exploded as she listened to the final parts of Shaw's tantrum, the words ringing in her mind.

<Her innocence?!? Oh, God, no! Not. . .> she thought in horror, putting her hand over her open mouth as her eyes suddenly looked as if someone had splashed them with a glass of water. As the word fully ignited her emotions, she listened to the final scream from the speaker on the tape.

Simply, it was too much.

Amy jammed her thumb, pushing the stop button and ripping off the headphones. She threw the entire assembly onto the floor, where it landed with a clatter.

The others were startled by the sound of the Walkman hitting the floor, and turned around, to see Amy with her face buried in her hands, softly crying.

Cordelia vaulted out of her seat and ran over to Amy, placing a tender hand on the witch's shoulder. "What's wrong, Amy? What is it?"

"Shaw," Amy croaked, not removing her hands. "She, she. ." She lowered her hands, but didn't look at Cordelia. Instead, she just kept shaking her head over and over. "Oh, Goddess, Cordelia. She. . .I can't believe. ."

"What's wrong, Amy?" Xander asked, having gotten up from his own seat. "Hunter's Greatest Hits turn out to be country music?"

Amy's face instantly turned red with anger, and she jumped out of her seat, her eyes starting to bleed over into the black color they assumed when she was working her more powerful spells. "You son of a bitch!! Give me one reason not to fry your ass right now!!"

The other Slayerettes were honestly shocked by her reaction, save for Xander, who was looking quite calm considering the fact he was facing a fireball, or worse. He nodded softly, and spoke in a similar tone.

"Okay, Amy, I'll give you a reason," he said, holding his arms up. "In case you haven't figured it out yet, we're facing a frickin' God, here. If we're forced into a fight, we're gonna get smoked. Our only chance is to get through to your cousin, and you're the best chance we've got."

"What does that have to do with your smartass remarks, Xander?" Cordelia snapped, just as angry as Amy. "What reason would you say something like that? Isn't it obvious that she's Wigged out over whatever she heard?"

"That's why I said it," he answered. "To stop it. I'd rather have her pissed at me, and have her head screwed on straight, than have her Wigging out. If she loses it, we lose Shaw. 'Nuff said."

Amy's face had lost its color, and her eyes turned back to their normal dark blue. The anger slowly bled out, and she nodded as she sat back down.

"Thanks, Xander. You were right."

"First time for everything," Xander added, and asked, "What happened? Did she say something bad about you?"

"Goddess, no, Xander," she said, tearing up again, "I didn't get that far."

Cordelia sat down next to her, and asked, "Want to tell us?"

Amy nodded and looked up at Steve. "Steve, please tell me she was lying. Or that it was the Immortal's memories, or something," she begged, a desperate look in her eyes.

"Duncan said it was her words and emotions," St. Wolf said gently. He then said, "Truthfully, knowing her personality, do you think they were lies?"

"No," she admitted, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I just want them to be."

"Gory details?" Buffy asked with extreme hesitation.

"Details?" Amy repeated, starting to laugh bitterly. "Details? Hell, no, all I heard were facts! But if. . ." Amy paused, gaining control of herself. "The facts were bad enough, Buffy. I don't know if I could handle the details."

"Start at the beginning, Amy," Steve said, leaning over the back of a seat. "Only tell us what you want, just be thorough."

"Okay," she said, and looked up, glancing back and forth as she gathered her thoughts and wits. "They were talking about that girl, Mindy. The one you guys rescued?"

"Stop there, I'll go over that." Steve explained Mindy's story, including her physical condition and the raid several Immortals had pulled in Libya. The expressions of grief and anger at the girl's story rivaled those Steve had seen in his companions' faces all those years ago. After he finished, he nodded to Amy. "Go ahead, Amy."

"Okay. Shaw said something about actually deserving what happened to her because four people died, or something," Amy said softly. She looked around at the unbelieving looks on her friends' faces, and added, "She said the events were the same, Steve. She never told us she was a slave, or some shit. Why didn't she tell us?"

"Amy, hold up," Xander said. He seemed to be thinking about something. "Any idea when this happened?"

Amy gave him a look of mild surprise. "Yeah, Xander. She said she was twenty-eight. And she said something about 'inexperience.' I don't get that."

"Me neither," Cordelia added, putting her two cents in. "What does experience have to do with being a slave?"

"Shaw was a part of a group, remember? Her world's version of Section Seven, or something like that?" Xander asked, looking at the others to supply a name.

"The Harpers, she called them," Buffy said.

Xander pointed at her. "Bingo. How old was she when she joined them?"

"Shortly after becoming an adult, she said," Amy said, looking confused. "Early twenties, I think. Why?"

"This is in her late twenties. Put two and two together, whadda ya get?"

Buffy's eyes popped wide in realization. "A mission. She was maybe on a mission, undercover, or whatever. If fits. Remember she was on a 'mission' before joining us."

"Let's try to keep the guesses to a minimum," Steve firmly stated. As the others looked back to him, he added, "Let's stick to the facts, but I do think that Buffy's guess is close, if not dead on. Amy, what did she say next?"

"She. . ." Amy covered her face with her hands, and hissed, "She let herself be tortured."

The others gasped in total disbelief, and the witch went on. "And something else; she's worried that we'd hate her for that."

"Guilt trip, much?" Cordelia said in a hollow voice, tinged with fear. "How could she. ."

"Guys, wait," Steve snapped, snapping the others back to reality. He sighed, and looked at Amy. "She actually said that?"

Amy nodded, unable to bring herself to reply.

"Steve, more guesswork, but think about this," Xander said offhandedly. "Shaw said four people died, then she got cut up. You've dealt with fucks like this before, so tell me; what kind of slave dealer kills off his merchandise, or only takes five people at once, only to kill them off?"

"My thoughts, too," Steve said darkly.

Amy and Buffy stared in confusion, trying to figure out the mens' point, but Cordelia got the idea fairly quickly.

"There were more people," she said, her face pale. "Oh, shit. Shaw would do that, if it meant it didn't happen to someone else."

Amy dropped her head and stared at her feet. "And we thought stabbing herself was extreme. She probably knew, didn't she, Steve? She knew going in, what was gonna happen to her."

"I don't know. That's for her to tell us." Steve paused, letting the others process the information. He started to speak, but Amy beat him to it.

"That's it," she muttered. "That has to be it."

"Amy?" Buffy asked.

Amy brought her face up to look at the Slayer. "Remember when she said, 'morals and duty are sometimes at odds?' She chose to follow her morals, and paid for it." Amy started tearing up again, and sadly said, "And she did."

Cordy took hold of Amy's hand with her own. "What happened?"

Amy looked her fellow Amazon in the eye. "She wasn't just tortured, Cordy."

The other Slayerettes look around, and Xander asked the question that was on all their minds. "What else is there?"

Amy exploded. "Shaw's a girl, YOU figure it out!!" she shouted.

Xander looked confused, as did Steve and Buffy. Cordelia, however, understood, and her face went almost gray.

"Amy, you don't mean. . ." she said hoarsely, and when Amy nodded, she said simply, "Fuck."

Buffy picked it up next, and started gagging, and Steve put an arm around her. She buried her head into his shoulder and started crying.

Xander, however, shook his head. "You're wrong, Amy."

The others whipped around to look at him, and Amy's eyes flashed again.

"She said it, Xander!" she yelled loudly. "I heard Shaw say it!"

"Then you heard wrong," Xander said, quite sure of himself. "I promise you, Shaw wasn't raped."

"Then what the Hell did she mean by 'sacrificing her innocence?!?'" the witch screamed.

Xander nodded and said, "I'll come back to that. But she wasn't raped, Amy."

"And how would YOU know?" Amy snapped, sounding angry but hopeful that Xander was correct.

"Shaw's a virgin," he said firmly, drawing boring eyes from Cordelia.

"And how would you know THAT?!?" Cordy asked, her voice tinged with just the barest trace of danger to it.

"'Cause she told me," he answered.

"She. . .told you?" Buffy asked, looking totally dumbfounded, as did the Wanderer.

"Yeah, she did. I--" he stopped, taking in the strange gazes he was getting, particularly from Cordelia. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold your horses! Will you at least let me explain?"

"Please do," Cordelia said grimly.

"Okay, okay! Remember the first weekend in October, when Willy gave us the 'hot tip' about a 'vamp convention' coming to town?"

Amy snorted. "Yeah. Turned out it was a bust. Why?"

Xander now turned to Cordelia. "Cordy, remember our patrol partners that first night?"

"Lemme see," she mumbled. After a second or two, she nodded. "Yeah. Wil, Oz and Shaw. It was supposed to be her 'coming out' patrol, as part of the team, not as a rookie. Didn't find a single vamp all night."

"And we took turns playing bait," Xander continued. "When Shaw and I teamed up for a couple runs through the park, we got to talking. You know, I'm kinda curious about where she comes from. Wizards, dragons, sword and sorcery-type stuff."

"The point, Xander?" Amy asked impatiently.

"Iím getting to that," he replied. "Okay, eventually I asked her if she had any regrets about staying here rather than finding a way home. That wizard of hers comes here, or maybe Steve coulda talked to Merlin, whatever. She said no, for the most part. She considers this her home, now. The only regrets she did have were people she'd served with in her temple, or people she considered teachers, to see if they were well or not. Strange thing was, they were all women."

"No guys?" Cordelia asked.

"That's what I asked her. She mentioned a couple of 'comrades' in her group, but she knew they'd been killed before she went dimension hopping," Xander offered. He shrugged. "I asked her, what about a boyfriend. She said that religious and Harper duties had always taken priority in her life."

"Not one boyfriend?" Cordelia whispered. She turned to Amy. "We have GOT to get this girl a social life."

"She said there was one guy she thought she might be falling for, but something happened, and it nearly destroyed their friendship. They made up, but not to the point that they would ever, you know, be an item." Xander began to look nervous, gazing at Cordelia, and said, after gulping, "Then, before I could shut my mouth, I asked her 'wait a minute, haven't you ever, well, you know. .'"

Amy and Cordelia stared open-mouthed at him. "You actually asked her if she's ever had sex," Cordelia said in a wooden voice, unable to believe it.

"I didn't say the actual word, Cordy," Xander said.

"You're lucky," Amy muttered. "She probably didn't know what you were talking about."

"Oh, she knew, alright," Xander muttered, rolling his eyes. "She looks at me and asks ME, 'are you asking if I have ever engaged in sexual intercourse?'"

Cordelia's eyes widened, and she looked Xander up and down. "How many healing spells did it take her to heal the damage she did to you?"

"She didn't hit me, she gave me a straight answer," Xander said, sweating a bit from Cordy's look. "She says straight up, 'no, I am still a maiden,' like I'd asked her the frickin' time."

"Maiden? She actually said, 'maiden?'" Cordelia asked, starting to giggle.

"Cordelia, think. Middle ages, wizards, Round Table?" Xander said, and she nodded, but continued to giggle a bit.

"So, she wasn't. ." Amy asked, just above a whisper.

"No, Amy. Like I said. As for the innocence thing, remember what I said in Seacouver. Religion Girl? What kind of innocence would matter to her?"

Amy thought about it, and she nodded when she got the idea. "Her soul, spirit, or whatever she calls it."

"Right," Xander said. He picked up the cassette player and handed it to her. "You need to listen to the whole thing, Amy. Just stop if you have to, and let us talk, okay?"

The witch hesitantly took the Walkman and nodded. "Thanks, guys. I needed this."

Xander, Cordelia and Steve got up to give her some privacy, but Buffy stayed behind for a second. Amy cocked an eyebrow, and Buffy smiled.

"You okay?" the Slayer asked.

"No, but I will be," she said. She looked at her friend with sad eyes. "I. . .I can't believe she had to go through this." She looked at the others, and said, "Buffy, there was one more thing, but don't tell the others yet, okay?"

"What is it?" Buffy asked, sitting down.

"Three days after Shaw was. ." Amy sighed, and tears started to form again, "three days later was when her folks got killed by that vamp."

Buffy's eyes went wide at the latest revelation, and she leaned back in the seat, her head sounding with a soft "thud."

"No wonder she went kill crazy," Buffy said. "That explains so much, Amy. She goes through this shit, and then her family gets killed? Oh, God."

"Yeah. And you know what's funny, Buffy? She loathes what she used to do, hunting for revenge. But after listening to this, I can't really blame her, you know?" Amy said, wiping her tears on the sleeve of her shirt. She looked at Buffy and said, "Robin tells me others have noticed us 'avoiding' each other. Is he right?"

Buffy sighed. "Well," she began, "other than the times you see each other, during school, training, or group fun, how much time have you spent together? As friends, let alone cousins? Now, I'm not saying it's all your fault. Shaw hasn't exactly been Miss Information with you. I know she said it'd be your choice, but someone's gotta make the first move."

"Duncan said she's afraid of doing something wrong," Amy said.

"Yeah, but sometimes, that's how you learn what to do right," Buffy countered with a small grin.

"Well, I did find out her birthday," Amy said, and she snorted a bit. "She told Steve and Wil when they tweaked her records."

Buffy's eyes rose in interest. "Yeah? When is it?"

"November twenty-eighth," the Amazon said, smiling a bit. "At least it's a start." When Buffy didn't answer, Amy turned her head, and saw Buffy's mouth hanging open. "Buffy?"

"Steve told you? November twenty-eighth?" the Immortal asked softly.

"Yeah, that's right."

Buffy's eyes narrowed dangerously. "He is SO dead. At least twice."

Now it was Amy's mouth which was hanging open. "Buffy? What's wrong?"

The Slayer turned to the witch. "The twenty-eighth? That's next Saturday."

Amy's own eyes started narrowing. "Make it three times. And do it slowly."

Buffy started giggling a bit. "Wait. I know why he didn't tell us. Shaw offered to handle patrols this weekend, to let the rest of us have it off."

"She was gonna spend her birthday patrolling?" Amy asked skeptically. "Why??"

"Thanksgiving weekend. I was there, she says 'I believe that I understand the reason for this holiday. I also believe that I understand the importance it holds for you and the others, to spend this time with your families.' So, she made the offer."

"What about her?" Amy demanded. "Who'd she spend the weekend with?"

"Ulric has services to run," Buffy said with a shrug. "And like I said, she wanted us to spend it with our families."

"I don't believe this," Amy muttered. "Girl's gotta get her priorities straight. You know, after her first training session with us, my thought was, 'what did we do to deserve her?' In the sarcasm sense."

Buffy giggled. "So did Steve. And probably Xander, too. And now?"

Amy laughed at the memory of that session, but quickly sobered. "I wonder if we do deserve her." After a few seconds, she started to put on the headphones. "I'm gonna listen to the rest. Talk to you later?"

"Okay," Buffy said, smiling at the witch as she stood. "If you need us, just yell."

*****

La Guardia Airport
New York City, New York
Late hours
21 November 1998

As Shaw walked through the La Guardia terminal, heading for the luggage pickup area, she continuously looked around, attempting to pick out familiar spots that stood out, from her previous trips through this airport.

After several minutes, she resignedly gave up.

<Admit it to yourself. What you are truly hoping to see are Jonathan and Mark.> she snapped. She shook her bowed head as she walked. <How I wish they could help me.>

As she arrived at the rotating luggage unit, Shaw looked at her bag, and cast a quick spell. She squinted, then nodded. <Obscuring spell still active. Good. I do not need to explain two swords, a pair of arm claws, and several silver daggers. Let alone an Uzi and a Baretta.>

As she picked up the bag, a voice asked, "Shaw Hunter?"

It took a split second for her to recognize the voice, and she spun around.

As Shaw spun, Frank Iverson tensed.

<Oh, shit. She's gonna fight.>

Shaw looked him up and down, and Frank could see the signs in the way her arms and legs tightened up, coiled to spring into action. Seeing him standing there casually, she relaxed a bit, allowing the slightest bit of the tension to bleed away.

"Hello, Frank Iverson," she said emotionlessly.

Frank gave her a disarming grin. "C'mon. We may have only known each other a few days, but you can all me Frank."

Shaw slung the bag over her shoulder. "If you are here for me, I must assume that the others know I am here. And I suppose I should ask where Cassandra is, as I am not experiencing a mind numbing headache."

"In Chicago, for a book signing," he informed her. He chuckled at the gleam in her eyes at the mention of books. "She got you hooked, huh?"

"Yes. Enough of the pleasantries," Shaw snapped. "You must know what my current state of mind is, Frank. And, perhaps, why I am here?"

"Yep," Frank said, extending an arm out, indicating she should move on. "Let's walk while we talk about this."

Shaw looked at him with great suspicion, and nodded tersely. She started walking, and softly spoke to the former SEAL.

"Frank, I am not safe to be around. I. . .have killed a few people already."

"Let's see. A few vampires, and Richard Markham," Frank said. "I don't see the problem with that."

Shaw turned and faced Frank directly. "And the fact that I killed one of those vampires slowly? ME? Think of what you know about me, and ask yourself; under normal circumstances, would I be capable of taking a life, even the life of a vampire, so cruelly?"

"These aren't normal circumstances," Frank reminded her. "And by my estimations, the others will be joining us within ninety minutes. So you have a choice to make; do you keep running, or do you go home?"

Shaw's eyes went wide, and she began to back up. "Frank, I cannot. . .not after what I did to Richard. My magic is out of control. If I. ."

"Shaw, they found the spell to cure you," Iverson told her, stopping her retreat. As she looked at him with obvious doubt, he added, "You have to get back to Sunnydale for Willow and Jenny to cast the spell."

Shaw's eyes bore into Frank's, and he figured she was looking for any trace of deception. Finally, being unable to read his face, she sighed.

"Remind me never to play poker with you," she muttered.

"You play poker?" Frank asked, a grin coming to his face.

"No," she admitted, drawing raised eyebrows. "It was a phrase Jonathan used once, after I bluffed a vampire from getting what he was looking for."

"Blood," Frank said.

"No, a prostitute."

Frank's mouth opened in surprise, but quickly gave way to laughter, and he bent over and clutched his stomach as he tried to regain control. After a minute and a half, he did.

"Let me guess. You were hoping the phrase was appropriate for this?" When Shaw nodded, he smiled. "Very good. And what you did really happened?"

"Yes, Frank," she replied, not amused. "Now, can you give me any reason to believe you, as far as a spell goes? I freely admit, I am getting desperate, but I am not naive."

"Maybe not. But why don't you call Steve's house, and ask them yourself? They'll surprise you," Frank said, laying down the gauntlet.

Shaw gave him a long, searching look, and started looking for a phone. Frank cleared his throat, and when she looked at him, he handed her his cell phone.

"You do realize, of course, how much money this will cost me," he said, tongue in cheek.

Shaw looked at him, and then the phone, and started to hand it back. He stopped her by holding his hand out.

"It was a joke. And an obvious one. If you can't see that, you are in bad shape," Frank reasoned, a rare touch of sympathy in his voice.

Shaw nodded, and dialed the number to Steve's house.

*****

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
Late hours
21 November 1998

The phone started ringing, and Randi cursed as she rolled over in bed. She got up, and quickly put on a robe over her nightshirt. She padded downstairs, and glanced at the Caller ID.

<Frank? Good. Maybe he's got news.>

She picked up the phone, and answered, "Hello? Frank?"

"Randi?" Shaw asked, and Randi gasped. "Randi, are you well?"

"I'm fine," Randi said in relief. "Shaw, we're a little more concerned about you right now. How did you get Frank's phone?"

"He is allowing me to use it, to call you. Randi. ." Shaw paused, and Randi heard her sigh. "Do the others have a way to end this?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed quickly. "Shaw, we have it. We--"

click

It took three seconds, when the dial tone started buzzing in her ear, to realize that Shaw had hung up. Randi tapped the receiver twice, but to no avail.

"FUCK!!" she screamed.

*****

La Guardia Airport
New York City, New York
Late hours
21 November 1998

When Shaw hung up after only a few seconds, Frank got pissed.

"I can't believe you!" he snapped, and started to go further, until he saw the tears starting to flow down her face. Tears that contrasted with the smile starting to form. He realized that she had the answer. "Who told you?"

"Randi," she whispered. She handed the phone back to Iverson. "Frank, how long have they had the spell?"

"This afternoon," Frank said. "We can talk about it. Do you want to sit down for a while? You look wasted."

Frank's phone started ringing, and he hit the answer button. "Randi, right?"

In Sunnydale, Randi jerked. "Uh, yeah. How'd you know?"

"Shaw told me. She wanted to know if you guys really had the spell."

"Great. She hung up on me," Randi complained.

"Blame Cordelia's influence," Frank said with a smile, which had Shaw looking confused. "Look, Randi, Steve and company will be here in about an hour and a half. We'll give you an update then.

"Okay, Frank," she said. "How is she, really?"

Frank looked at Shaw, and asked, "Randi wants to know how you're doing."

Shaw reached out for the phone, and he gave it to her. Shaw put the phone up to her ear. "Randi? I am sorry for doing that, but. . .I am scared, Randi. I. . .feel myself becoming like I was before I came to Earth. It is not a good thing."

"Hey, we'll get you home, and get you better. And knowing Cordy, she'll drag you out to the mall to celebrate."

Shaw paused for three seconds, and said, "Randi, I thought the others wanted me to come back."

"They do!" she said quickly.

"Then mentioning shopping is one way to guarantee that I run for my life as if every denizen of the Nine Hells were after me," the ranger said slowly.

"Shaw, wait!" Randi yelled, starting to panic. "I was joking!!"

"As was I," Shaw said, crying harder. "I hope to see you soon, my friend."

"Me too, girl friend," Randi said, hanging up a second later.

Shaw slowly handed the phone to Frank, and he put it away. "You okay?"

Shaw looked at him, and shrugged. "I need to sleep, Frank. But when I do, I see. ."

"I know, Steve told me. Let's go get something to drink," he said. "I could use a beer while we wait for the others."

"All right," she muttered, but he grasped her bicep.

"Wait a minute. Ground rules," he stated with no room for counterarguments. He released her arm and continued. "For you. One, no alcohol. You're losing control; liquor'll only make it worse. Two, you stick to water. No soft drinks, no juices, no nothing. ESPECIALLY coffee or soft drinks, which I'm told are not good for you."

"Because of. ." she said, trailing off when he nodded. She started to cry, her lower lip trembling. "Frank, Duncan. ."

"Didn't know," Frank said, cutting her off. She nodded, and he was surprised. "You figured it out?"

"Only after the plane left Seacouver. If I had realized it earlier, I. . .oh, Goddess, what have I done??" she said as she started to panic a bit.

"You've been scared and messed with, nothing more," Frank told her. He started to tell her about Ares' involvement, but her face took on a hard look, and he started to get nervous. "Shaw?"

"No," she hissed, her eyes taking on a dangerous gleam that Frank had seen before. "Not him."

She started to walk by Frank, but he grabbed her arm again. As he started to pull her back, she said, "Let me go, Frank. He is here."

"Shaw, stop. There's. . ." He never finished as Shaw drove an elbow back into his right eye, knocking him backwards onto his butt as he was unprepared for her attack.

He quickly got up, rubbing his eye, but Shaw had vanished into the crowd.

Angelus was slowly moving through the crowd, looking for an unwatched entrance into the baggage area. He was leaving town, so that the swordsman that had been hunting him would not know he was still alive.

<Atlanta. The flight will leave and arrive in Atlanta while the sun's still down. Enough time to find a place to hide.> he thought as he went through the door. He quickly picked up the pace through the dimly lit corridor, but stopped when he heard the door open a second time. <Oh, no! Hammer's found me!>

Angelus started to run, and rounded several corners, until he stopped and turned, waiting just out of sight so that he could jump whoever was tailing him.

When he heard his tail coming down the section of hallway, he quickly jumped out, his game face on full display. But, rather than the large, burly Hammer, he saw something that made his blood run cold.

Halfway down the hallway, well out of his reach, was a short female shrouded by darkness, with her eyes glowing a bluish-white, a flame-enshrouded sword in her right hand.

"Oh, shit," Angelus whispered, a knot of worry forming in his stomach. He took on a dangerous pose, and snarled, "So. You're in New York. I thought you were too busy taking out your revenge on the easy ones on the Hellmouth."

"No longer, Angelus," the Hunter said in an icy tone. "I have no reason to interfere with their hunting. But YOU, on the other hand, have entered my territory without my permission. And if you know anything about predators such as ourselves, then you know two things. Predators take defending their territory very seriously, and female predators are always the most dangerous."

Angelus was confused by her statement, not expecting what she had said. "What the hell are you talking about?" he demanded, while backing up a bit.

"Oh, let us just say, that I talked to William after the prophecy was fulfilled," she said, slowly walking forward towards a light on the wall. "And I discovered, much to my surprise, that he had not overrated his attributes as much as I had surmised."

<What the. . .> Angelus thought, before realizing what she was hinting at. <I don't believe. . .>

She stepped into the light, and Angelus got a good look at her face.

Her GAME face.

<She's. . .> Angelus' face went even paler than usual as he comprehended her earlier words, about entering her territory. "Wait a minute, I'm leaving New York! This doesn't have to happen!"

"It is a little too late for that, you pathetic inbred impotent human piece of shit."

She started to move forward, raising her sword, so Angelus did the only thing he could think of.

He ran.

He took off like a bat out of Hell, moving as fast as his legs could carry him. He figured that he had the advantage, not being weighed down by a sword and the luggage she had on her back.

He quickly ran through the final door of the corridor, and into the luggage area, knowing where to go from there. He quickly ducked out of sight, and not soon enough, as the Hunter busted through the door not three seconds later, able to catch a glimpse of him as he disappeared down the hallway.

<Why can't I get lucky?!?> he thought. <The Hunter's a vampire?!? And she'll kill anyone who comes near her?!? This is just another reason for me to skip this town.>

Angelus started moving faster, the loading dock where the luggage for the flight to Atlanta was located less than a hundred yards away. As he burst into the luggage loading area, he saw that it was strangely deserted.

Except, that is, for a muscular, black man holding a heavily modified katana in one hand, and an iron stake in the other.

"Hello, Angelus," he said, with no expression betraying his emotions. "At long last we meet."

"Who the hell are you?" Angelus asked in a panicky voice.

"The Daywalker," he said, "but you can call me Blade."

Angelusí eyes went wide with fear as he remembered the stories behind this one. Even worse, he had another lethal tracker hounding his every step.

The vampire began to wonder how he was going to get out of this situation as he began to back up while the man started stalking forward.

*****

Shaw was moving quickly through the area she'd chased Angelus into, mostly concentrating on finding the vampire, but also mentally smiling to herself for her clever use of glamour to simulate a vampire's demonic appearance.

<Tobabaird will probably not be pleased that I used his lesson for such a purpose, but so what?> she thought.

A noise drew her attention back to the matter at hand, and she quickly sped up her pace, running into what was a large, well-lit area.

She saw Angelusí back, and quickly picked up Soulreaver into a two-handed grip, preparing to decapitate the vampire from behind before he realized she was now behind him. She quickly wound up and swung, shouting an Elvish battlecry that shook Angelus to his bones.

To her immense surprise, he ducked out of the way, and her blade met not empty air, but another blade, being wielded by a dark skinned human whose eyes held just the barest trace of yellow. The Slayerette was caught off guard, and it almost cost her as he launched another strike, which she barely parried, and returned his offense with interest, sending several strikes at her new, unintended opponent.

After parrying several blows, the man backed up, and was apparently quite surprised by her appearance in the room. He quickly backed up and walked back further in, allowing her to fully enter.

Angelus scampered off to the side, but Shaw ignored him, seeing the other armed person as the larger threat.

"So, it looks like I will be able to end two unholy existences tonight," she said grimly.

"You're one to talk, bitch," Blade said, a low growl forming in his throat. "I'll take you quick, and then I'll take out Angel Boy."

"That, I extremely doubt, blooddrinker," the half-elf said in a hissing voice. "You are about to find out what your next incarnation is, you soulless bastard."

"Let's get it on, bitch," Blade returned. "Whoever you are."

"Shaw Hunter," she snapped, bringing her sword up to a kendo position. "What is your name? I prefer to attach a name to those whose evil I end."

The man assumed a stance similar to hers, and sneered.

"The name's Blade."

*****

Part 8: Free For All
(Comic Book Commandment 673-A4: When Two Heroes Encounter Each Other, They Will Mistake Each Other For Villains And Beat The Crap Out Of Each Other)

La Guardia Airport
New York City, New York
Late hours
21 November 1998

Blade launched the first blow, a level swing with his modified katana aimed at Shaw's neck. The half-elf quickly parried the strike, and leaped backwards when Blade jabbed forward with the iron stake in his left hand.

Shaw switched Soulreaver to her left hand and drew the sole dagger she'd carried on her person during her flight to New York. As Blade launched a second strike with his sword, Shaw deflected it with another block, to lessen the impact it sent through her arm.

Blade moved his other arm forward again, but rather than parry, the Slayerette stabbed at the hand holding the stake. She scored a slight hit, but the dhampir's inhuman reflexes brought his arm back out of range. However, Shaw had accomplished her goal; the hunter instinctively released the stake, which Shaw quickly kicked away, before beginning her own offensive.

Shaw threw a backhanded slash of her sword, which Blade dodged, before striking forward with her dagger hand. The vampire hunter leaned backward before thrusting the dagger aside with a karate-style blocking technique.

The combatants broke apart, warily circling each other and searching for any sense of weakness in the other.

With the two sword wielding fighters concentrating on each other, Angelus was, needless to say, quite scared.

<The Daywalker against a vampiric Hunter?!?> he thought in terror, his knees shaking. <And they're fighting for the right to kill ME?!? Sorry, but as much as I'd love to see the outcome, I'm not sticking around for this fight!>

Angelus quickly got up and fled the room, to find another way to his flight, unnoticed by the other occupants of the room. As he did, the two combatants began the next round of their encounter.

After some few moments, Blade struck again, attacking with a backhanded blow, now wielding his sword with both hands.

Shaw ducked, throwing herself into a spinning sweep kick she'd learned from Xander, but Blade avoided it by jumping into a backward flip. He landed on his feet, but the split second it took him to recover was enough for Shaw to toss her dagger from her crouched position, right leg extended for balance. The blade twirled through the air before burying itself deep into Blade's right bicep.

Blade hissed at the shock the blade caused as it tore through muscle, but he didn't hesitate in ripping it out and throwing the silver knife aside.

"First blood, blooddrinker," the ranger hissed evilly, raising her sword into a position that all but invited the black man to attack her.

Blade decided to oblige her, striking quick and hard, sending several strikes at her, all meant to decapitate his opponent. The female showed an impressive amount of skill in parrying his blows to minimize the power of his strikes, or by dodging them altogether. She began giving ground, willingly moving backwards as she awaited a potential opening to exploit in her opponent's defenses.

As Blade and Shaw exchanged two-handed blows, Blade tried an overhand chop. Shaw brought her sword backwards across her chest, knocking the katana aside. She then released her left hand from the hilt, and landed a back punch to Blade's left cheek.

He spun with the blow, spinning and landing his own blow with his right hand. His superior strength now came into play, as the intensity of the punch split the Slayerette's lip, sending droplets of blood splattering into the air.

As Shaw dropped to one knee, Blade attempted a second overhead strike, but the half-elf somehow managed to bring Soulreaver up, parallel to the concrete floor, blocking the strike meant to cleave her head into two equal halves.

Shaw's arms shivered and tingled in pain at the impact, and she gasped at the pain in her arms, but she remained focused enough to move the vampire hunter's weapon to the side as she scrambled out of his reach.

The two opponents gauged the condition of their foes, both bleeding from the wounds they'd been dealt.

Blade again moved to the attack, switching to more advanced techniques as his power alone apparently would not be enough to defeat the woman. The half-elf proved equal to the task, managing to block or redirect the man's blows once again.

Shaw intercepted the final blow of his offensive, and attempted to disarm him. She spun the blades around in a counterclockwise motion, and managed to rip the sword out of Blade's hands. But, before she could take advantage of her opponent's vulnerability, he threw a spin kick that connected flush with Shaw's chin.

The blow snapped the girl's jaw around, and sent her flying away to the floor. As she landed on her chest, Blade rolled to the side, and when he came to his feet, he had regained his sword. He stalked forward to finish off his adversary, but stopped when she stood up, speaking gutterally in an unknown tongue. Blade held back suspiciously, and it cost him as the half-elf's left hand began glowing with a golden light. She quickly touched her jaw, and Blade watched as her jaw knitted itself back together.

As the shining illumination on her hand faded away, Shaw lifted Soulreaver and moved after Blade. She swung the enchanted blade, which was met in midstroke by the titanium-alloy katana wielded by her foe. She threw several strokes that she'd learned over the past two months, trying to get past Blade's defenses. He barely managed to avoid her blade's tip on two of her thrusts, and backed off.

Shaw gave him no room to breathe, however. She continued to advance, sending blow after blow, varying her targets, aiming blows at both legs, his stomach, and his neck, never trying for the same spot twice in a row.

Shaw then attempted a rare overhead blow, which Blade intercepted, bringing the joined weapons up high. As their arms extended, Shaw jumped, and executed a snap kick to Blade's jaw, causing the half-vampire's teeth to rattle. As Blade staggered back two steps, Shaw threw a spinning heel kick with her right leg, connecting with a second blow. As the vampire hunter's head snapped to his left, Shaw threw yet a third kick, this time with the instep of her left boot smacking into virtually the same spot.

Shaw immediately reversed her momentum, bringing Soulreaver around in a vicious two-handed swing, a whistling arc of elven-crafted steel trying to connect with Blade's jugular vein.

Blade's eyes widened and he ducked, barely ducking underneath the flame-enshrouded longsword. He attempted the same spinning sweep his foe had tried earlier, and had better luck. His heel connected with Hunter's ankles, and sent her sprawling to the ground.

Blade threw a quick reverse punch to her gut, driving the air out of her lungs in a rush of air. He quickly stood up, and brought his katana up in a two-handed grip, preparing to drive the point of the blade into her heart. As he reached the apex of his upswing, a grim smile touched his lips as he watched the half-elf's eyes widen in horror.

"SHIRAK!!"

A bright flash of light burst into existence, encompassing Blade's head and costing him not only his vision, but the seconds necessary for Shaw to roll out of the way, as Blade brought the sword down, sparks flying in all directions as the tip of the acid-etched blade struck the spot she'd occupied only seconds before.

Shaw staggered to her feet, breathing heavily. She quickly began praying as Blade started to move forward, waving his sword uncertainly. As she finished the prayer, she concentrated, and the globe dissipated.

Blade blinked his eyes to clear his vision, and quickly went back into a defensive stance, seemingly waiting for her to attack.

She began circling and snarled at him. "Tell me, blooddrinker. In your estimation, how many innocent lives has your unholy existence ended?"

"I don't drink blood like you, cunt," Blade replied, starting to stalk forward. "You're the one wearing a demon face."

Shaw's eyes shot up as she realized his assumption, and quickly concentrated, dispelling all of the glamour she'd had in effect. She quickly backed up two or three steps, and showed the human her right ear.

"I am truly sorry to disappoint you, vampire," Shaw snapped angrily, "but reports of my undeath have been greatly exaggerated."

Blade started growling, and he said, "You really think I won't kill you, girl? At least I'll make it quick."

The man started to move forward and attack, but it was at that moment that he began to feel the heat emanating from his weapon. The second her saw the blade beginning to glow red in the middle was the very second Shaw chose to attack.

She threw a number of strikes, which Blade was able to parry, but the rising temperature of his own weapon finally made it impossible to handle the sword any longer. He threw the blade at the half-elf, but she ducked and started to move forward, a hard, cold predatory glare in her eyes.

She started to throw several slashes at Blade, trying to eliminate what she still saw as a threat. He gave ground, barely dodging his opponent's blade. On a two-handed swing, she overextended, and Blade chopped down on her right arm, forcing her to drop the sword. He threw a punch, which she faded back from, and her retreat allowed Blade to retake the offensive. He threw a dizzying array of punches, chops and kicks, all of which the female avoided, much to his surprise.

When he threw a lunging right cross, Shaw ducked under the punch, and twisted behind him. She grabbed Blade around the waist, locking her right hand around her left wrist, and pulled back with all of her strength. She launched Blade over her as she fell backward, causing him to land heavily on the back of his shoulders and neck.

Blade painfully rolled over, and quickly reached his feet, only to receive two quick punches to the stomach, which doubled him over, and then an axe kick to the back of the neck, which drove the dhampir to his knees.

As Shaw launched what she meant to be a fatal blow, a full-power punch to the man's temple, Blade threw an elbow out in desperation. The elbow connected with her stomach, knocking her back a few steps.

When she straightened, Blade threw a side kick which doubled her over a second time. He took a single step forward, and threw a punch intended to send his fist into her nose, with the goal being to break her nose and send shards of bone into her brain, instantly killing her.

However, as his fist flew forward, the half-elf dropped into a split, and threw her entire weight of her body into the force of a single punch. A punch that connected squarely with Blade's groin area, dropping him to his knees. As he dropped, Shaw threw a second punch, this time connecting with the front of his throat.

Blade snapped back, clutching at his windpipe. He rolled over on his side, and tried to get up. When he rose to one knee, he felt the young woman grab his head in a way that left no doubt as to her intentions; to snap his neck and kill him.

Blade reached up instinctively, and stood up. He grabbed the woman's hair, and dropped down onto his rear, jamming her jaw into the top of his skull. He felt the impact and also felt her hands release his head. He heard her drop to the ground, and slowly stood up, still grasping at his throat as he turned around.

Shaw was standing up herself, rubbing her jaw, which, fortunately for her, hadn't been broken again. Both hunters staggered around in an uneasy circle, preparing for the next flurry in their fight, when a sarcastic voice cut through their intense concentration.

"I thought the point of this exercise was to find Angelus, not to audition candidates for your better half," Whistler said, spitting out some juice while pointing a laser-sighted rifle at Shaw's forehead, waiting to see her reaction.

Despite the fact that she had a red dot lighting up her skull, Shaw's face turned red at the old man's suggestion.

{If you EVER suggest that I would engage in such a situation with a vampire ever again,} Shaw said in one of the most dangerous growls ever uttered from her lips, {I will drive my sword into your posterior and out through your genitals!}

The old timer cocked an eyebrow, and used one hand to rub his salt-and-pepper whiskers. "Now THAT'S an original curse, but I'm surprised at your language, young lady. The Tuatha du Danaan I've encountered in my life are usually raised to be more polite."

"Well, young Cha'Tel'Quessir raised by their human grandparents, and who lose those grandparents to a blooddrinking offspring of a whore, such as the one next to me, are a different story."

Blade started to move forward at her comments, and she quickly assumed a defensive posture.

"Please, give me an excuse," she hissed, anticipating an attack. "I have several spells left to use on you."

"Ah ah ah," Whistler said, easily holding the rifle. "Mustn't kill the dhampir, sweetie."

Shaw launched into an intense speech in Elvish, discussing what she thought of his comment, as well as what she could do with certain parts of his anatomy, and it had the desired effect; he actually choked on his chew. Shaw sent on evil smirk his way as he coughed continuously. Turning to Blade, her smirk was replaced with a look of open hostility.

"If you are not a true vampire, why did you not say so? We could have looked for Angelus together, rather than you trying to kill someone who hunts vampires as you do."

"You attacked me, girl," Blade said in a low voice.

Shaw folded her arms and narrowed her eyes. "I seem to recall that it was YOU who said, 'let us get it on, bitch.'"

While the two warriors were debating who had started the battle, Whistler finally cleared his throat of tobacco juice, after several seconds of coughing.

"Excuse me, but how 'bout some introductions?" he asked. "I'm Whistler, and you've gotten acquainted with Blade. What's your name?"

Shaw watched him for several seconds, and then raised one arm, and gave Whistler the finger. Blade started to move forward again, but Whistler started chuckling.

"I like the girl's style, Blade," he said, starting to grin. "What's your name, kid?"

"Hunter."

Whistler stopped laughing, and started to cough as he once again swallowed a bit of fluid from his chew. The sight brought a sly grin to Shaw's face.

"My reputation would seem to have preceded me," she said innocently. "The Wanderer's training is paying dividends."

Shaw turned away and walked over to Soulreaver, and picked it up. "As. . .unique as this diversion has been, I have other business to attend to," she said, sparing an evil glare towards Blade. "I have wasted enough time here."

"How 'bout you come with us, Hunter?" Whistler asked, drawing Shaw's attention. "We could take you to our hideout, let you catch some 'Z's.'"

Shaw stared him down, and asked him, "Why should I trust you?"

"'Cause we hunt vamps like you do," Whistler said. "You got business in town, you need a place to stay. An' that elf blade of yours kinda stands out."

Whistler switched off the scope and slung the rifle. "Besides, if you can fight Blade to a draw, the Wanderer's training program must be damn good. Maybe we can exchange numbers."

Shaw considered his words, thinking furiously. <The others are supposed to be coming here. But, they know I am going to find Connor. And we do not often have a chance like this. Would Steven and Buffy approve of this?> After a few seconds, she nodded, walking over and picking up her bag. "What helps my training is that half of my training opponents are Amazons. But, let us go. The night grows long."

Whistler nodded, and looked to Blade. "What do you think?"

"That I'm gonna regret this."

*****

Private Hangar
Iverson Air
La Guardia Airport
New York City, New York
Early hours
22 November 1998

As the Sunnydale-based Fox-class jet slowly pulled into the hangar, Frank Iverson tenderly rubbed the bruise forming around his right eye, sighing to himself about Shaw Hunter taking off on him.

<What's going to be worse? Telling Steve how she escaped, why she escaped, or that she's now loose in the Big Apple?>

As the pilots parked the jet, and began to initiate the shutdown sequence, Frank started walking out to greet his comrades. As he closed within twenty feet, the hatch started opening, and he stopped at the spot that would leave him six feet from the point where the stairway touched the earth.

As soon as the door touched down, Steve St. Wolf stepped out, and quickly took in Frank's facial expression and body posture. He took on a neutral look, but Frank could tell that the man he considered a brother was disappointed.

Steve started walking down the stairway, followed quickly by Buffy, then by Xander and Cordelia. Frank was surprised, however, when Amy Madison stepped out, pulling up the rear. One look at Frank, and he could see the disappointment and frustration register on their faces.

Steve walked up and heartily shook Frank's hand. "What happened?" he softly asked.

"Well, Steve, I found her at the luggage rack, pickin' up her stuff," Frank started. "I talked to her, and convinced her to call your place. Randi told her that you've got the spell she needs. . .her mood swings are getting worse, Steve. One second she's crying for joy after finding out about the spell, the next she's bawling her eyes out as she tells Randi

she'll see her soon."

"Frank, why'd she run?" Amy asked from the rear.

"She didn't run from me," Frank explained, sighing. "I think she saw someone, or something. She said, 'he is here,' and went into hunting mode."

"And she bopped you one?" Xander asked, trying half-heartedly not to smile.

"Yeah, Xander," Frank said with a glare. "Thing is, I don't think she realized it. She was focused on whatever she saw. It took me only a second to recover, but she'd disappeared into the crowd."

"The 'Batman Exit,'" Cordelia muttered. "Been there, done that."

"Did you look for her?" Amy demanded, drawing a look from Frank.

"For nearly an hour. I even doubled back twice, in case she was waiting for me where I'd last seen her." Frank waved his hands in helplessness. "I'm sorry, Steve."

"You should be," Amy snapped softly.

Steve and Buffy turned around to face her, surprise on their faces. Amy met their looks without hesitation.

"Is there a problem, Amy?" Steve asked, using a completely reasonable tone.

The witch looked to Buffy, and then back at Steve. "Yeah, there's a problem. We're sitting here talking, when we should be out looking for our friend. If she's still in the airport, I've got tracer spells to track her down. I know Shaw's 'signature,' to use a word for the magic she's got inside her. That's everything; spells, elf stuff, even her empathy. I know her sword's 'mark,' too. I wanna find her."

"We do, too, but that's no reason to take it out on Frank," Steve said. He looked at Frank, and then at her. "Could you apologize?"

Amy nodded. "Sorry, Frank."

"It's okay. I'm pissed at myself, too," the former SEAL said. "We could split into teams, cover the airport faster. If we don't find her, you guys can stay at my place."

"No," Steve said, shaking his head. "We'll get a place in town, because Shaw WILL go to Connor sooner or later. But for now, let's check out the airport terminal. Three teams. Xander and Cordy, start at one end, Frank and I'll start at the other. Buffy, you and Amy are the rovers. Use Amy's spells; see if you can find her. Got it?"

The others nodded, and began to head for the terminal.

As Amy and Buffy were moving through the European arrivals section, which included the customs checkpoints, they had a total lack of success in trailing their teammate. It had both teens growing more and more frustrated by the second.

"Anything, Amy?" Buffy asked, using her own enhanced senses in a vain attempt at finding Shaw.

"No," Amy snapped. She immediately regretted the tone she'd used. "I'm sorry, Buffy. It's just. . .what we found out about her, what else I heard on the tape, it really gave me a look at her side of things."

"Like what?" Buffy asked, looking at the witch.

Amy stopped, and leaned up against a nearby wall. "Well, look at what went down three weeks ago. She didn't tell us anything, and it's driving her up the 'guilty' wall. She can't accept that it might take her time to tell us this stuff."

Buffy nodded. "Like Cordy said, guilt trip," she said, and looked off into space. "I think part of her problem is, she goes on two sets of standards. She's willing to forgive us for mistakes, and give people their second chance."

"But she holds herself higher up," Amy said, seeing Buffy's point. She sighed, and continued. "And when she falls short, she's slow to forgive herself."

"Yeah. Was there anything else?" the Slayer asked curiously.

"Another guilt trip. She admitted she doesn't love me," Amy said, a sad smile coming to her face. "That is, not like she loved her grandparents. And she thinks it's cheating me."

"Hold the phone," Buffy said, turning to face the Amazon. "What does she want from you?"

"She hasn't even thought about that," Amy replied, looking up at the ceiling. "How did she say it? Oh, yeah. 'I will not accept more than what she is capable of giving.'"

Buffy started shaking her head. "You know, I've heard of relationships that're 'take take take.' Never heard of it being done the other way."

Amy giggled a little at that. "Yeah, she says she cares about me as a friend, my emotions, my welfare, yadda, yadda."

"Hm. For someone who says she doesn't love you," Buffy observed, "it sounds like she's off to a pretty good start." The pair started walking again, and Buffy posted another question. "Amy, what caused the prob in the first place?"

"When she told us who she was," Amy said right off. "At first I thought it was 'cause she didn't tell me the night we saw each other."

"Kinda hard to hold a reunion when you and your long-lost cousin are choppin' up vamps," Buffy said.

"No kidding," Amy said with a grin. "I don't think I realized it at the time, but she actually saved my hide that night. And she chewed Robin a new one for not being there with me."

Buffy's mouth went open and round at the same time. "Oh, God. What happened?"

"Nothing, she just told him not to call me a 'bitchy Amazon witch," she said. "Anyway, back to the point, it was later that I figured out that what pissed me off was that she told us so that we'd accept her for the prophecy. I don't like being manipulated like that."

"Yeah, I can understand that. But what about her?"

"What do you mean?" Amy said, stopping to look at the Immortal.

"Well, who told her about you?" Buffy asked.

"Stupid question. I know who it was, she came to us the day we killed the demon."

Buffy nodded. "Okay, so did she tell Shaw about you so that she would know that she had family here on Earth?"

"No, she told her so that we'd know she wasn't lying to us," Amy said, and after watching Buffy stare at her for a few seconds, she rolled her eyes and moaned. "And she said that Frenchy manipulated her into that mission. But we didn't listen. Okay, I didn't listen."

"Yep," Buffy said, shrugging as she nodded for the two of them to start walking again. "But I can see it from your side, too. She hasn't come to you with a lot of details, other than what she's shared with everyone. You both want to get to know each other, you've just gone about it the wrong way."

"Okay, so I'll drag her somewhere so we can talk when this is over," Amy said. "Buffy, she thinks that I'm the only relative she has, right?" At Buffy's nod, she sighed, and made a confession. "I have my Mom's mom, and her two sisters, that don't know about Shaw, or vice versa."

"Are they like your mom?" Buffy asked worriedly.

Amy's eyes went wide. "Hell, no, they're not like that! In fact, Grandma would have plastered my Mom against the wall for what she did. And my aunts, well, if Grandma hasn't told them what happened, then they don't know. They just know that she up and went 'poof.'"

"Witches?" Buffy asked, only slightly less worry in her tone.

"Of course," Amy said with an evil grin, but it died when she saw the look on Buffy's face. "Whoa, Buffy. They will NOT go on a 'hex the Slayer' kick for that. You did it to help me."

Buffy's relief was palpable. "That's good. The last thing I need is to be looking over my shoulder for your relatives. At least, the ones I don't know that I can beat with a sword."

Amy smacked her on the arm. "Very funny."

The two laughed as they continued looking around. Amy looked at Buffy, and uncertainly asked, "Buffy, what's gonna happen after this is done?"

"Whaddya mean, Amy?"

"Buffy, I'm not stupid," Amy complained. "You know exactly what I mean. Shaw. She's not gonna get booted, is she?"

Buffy stopped, and grabbed Amy softly by the arm, dragging her off to the side of the aisle they'd been walking in. She looked at Amy, who was surprised by the hurt look on the Slayer's face.

"Do you really think we'd do that to her? Or that I'd let it happen?" Buffy asked. She frowned a bit, and added, "Hell no, she's not gonna be kicked out. But she's gonna need some serious downtime."

"Define downtime, Buffy."

"Fine. No combat. No patrolling. No training, at least for a couple weeks. Other stuff, like research, I think Steve'll allow that. Plus, her healing spells keep our doctor bills down." Buffy looked around to see if anyone else was listening in. "Steve was planning to arrange a vacation for all of us, because we've been going nonstop for six months now, right?"

"Yeah, but what does this have to do with my cousin?" Amy asked.

"You've promoted her," Buffy said, starting to grin a bit. "From teammate, to friend to cousin."

"Hey," the Amazon protested, "I've never denied that. We're just not close."

"Okay. Well, we've been fighting for six months. How long has Shaw gone without a vacation, or whatever passes for it?"

Amy went sick at that. "That's cold. You know what that shithole world was like. She was stuck there for thirteen years. But then she came here."

"And she was traveling, training, and still fighting from the second she arrived. Heck, a vampire followed her here, for God's sake. She wasn't here five minutes, and she was fighting," Buffy continued. "You can't go on that long without a break. That she wasn't allowed to rest doesn't help. And this, do you know what she's going through? Really?"

"I got switched with my Mom's body, so I think I can relate," Amy said.

"Maybe. What I think about this, well, is that you came close when you thought she was raped."

"Go on, Buffy," Amy said, despite not liking the sound of this.

"Well, Ares has basically mucked her emotions, her mind, and is trying to take her away from Whatshername," Buffy said. "As much as Shaw wanted to leave behind hate and anger, and as much as she loves her Goddess, what's happening to her is like being raped. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually."

"And she's getting worse," Amy whispered. "The longer this goes on, the worse she gets."

"Right. But luckily, we're in the same area, now. She hasn't reached the point of no return. It's our job to make sure it doesn't happen.

The Slayer and Amazon walked on, more determined to find their friend.

Steve and Frank were heading through the main doors of the West terminal gates, and both men began swinging their eyes back and forth, sweeping the entire area with their sight, although a normal person would never have noticed what they were doing.

"So, Steve, what's gonna happen?" Frank asked, not facing Steve directly, and speaking in a low, unnoticeable voice. "You got a plan?"

"Call Connor, or be at his shop first thing tomorrow morning. If Shaw hasn't made contact with him, it'll be the first time we've had the jump on her."

"Check. Well, count me in, Steve," Frank said to St. Wolf, a corner of his mouth rising. "After all, I owe the kid."

Steve's jaw clenched. "Frank. . ."

"Not for the eye," Iverson chuckled, looking at Steve through the corner of his eye. "But for the case of asthma I got from laughing at that Halloween prank. Mulder sent me and Cassie a copy of the tape."

Steve started chuckling, as well. "Right. Thanks, pal. This has been hard, knowing Ares is behind this. And don't call her kid. She could be your older sister."

"Okay, so what happened? How did this all start?"

"Shaw killed an asshole who was hunting Oz, but not before getting tasered. Ares did something that activated the part of McGuire's Quickening she'd absorbed. It's a magic thing, according to Giles, so don't ask me to explain it." Steve kept walking, but slowed his pace a bit. "She went to Santa Carla, gave her friends some of MY guns, after trading for some of the hunting equipment Cain had. Two of her friends were shot, turned out to be Immortal."

"Who got the better of the deal with the guns?" Frank asked, trying to needle Steve.

"I did, big time. Four rifles, the taser, some handguns, and a bunch of scopes and ammo."

The ex-Navy SEAL cursed, and said, "What happened next?"

"She killed Richard Markham the next night, the morning after that she and Kenny tranked Methos. He wasn't too happy about that," Steve said, grinning as Frank began to laugh.

"And now she's here," Frank finished. "Kid gets around, doesn't she? But enough for now. How'd San Fran go?"

"In one word: Dracula."

"Oh, crap," Frank said. "Alright, I won't go in that direction."

"Good."

"Okay, your recent additions to your 'family,'" Frank tried, going onto another subject. "How're the newbies doing? Your new student, her brother, the elf, and the Slayer."

Steve closed his eyes and smiled a bit. "Randi, excellent. She's going to UC Sunnydale, and her training's coming along fine. The Cenobite was a good start, showed her she could handle herself. She got a Black Mage in 'Frisco. The Sword she's carrying works like it was made for her."

"Or the other way around," Frank said, sounding like a television evangelist. "The Lord works in mysterious ways."

"Kiss my ass," Steve said with a chuckle. "Okay, Shaw, until this she was doing fine. Having forty years of previous training and experience really helped. Handled five days of solo patrol well, although I was worried about that."

"How come?"

"She's used to working alone, so I was concerned about how she'd take orders from Joe N'Gato. She worked well with both Joe and Kendra, despite constantly needling them about their 'nonexistant' attraction to each other, and a bout with biology."

"Not caffeine, I hope?" Frank asked, sincerely worried.

"No," Steve said brusquely, refusing to elaborate.

"Then what?" Iverson asked, but then he understood, and began laughing under his breath. "Oh, brother. Must've been bad for Sir N'Gato."

"She almost kicked his ass after he ordered her to raise some zombies to escape a trap some vamps set for them," Steve supplied.

Frank almost blew his top before remembering where they were. "What the fuck was he trying to do?!? Forcing an elf to disturb the dead?!?" he hissed, his face going red. "He's lucky she didn't carve that bald head of his open like a fuckin' coconut!!"

"She consecrated the ground right after," St. Wolf told his partner.

"Okay, how about Kendra?"

"Not bad. Joe said she was slow in her first fight, but Shaw put him in his place about that." The Wanderer chuckled. "Went toe-to-toe with an alien big game hunter, and that impressed a lot of people."

Frank whistled softly. "Okay, three for three. And Brian?"

"You're not gonna believe this one," Steve promised. "First, he shot two vampires in Hollywood, saving Robert and Nakao's lives. In San Fran, he kidney punches a Black Mage trying to kidnap a young girl. And THEN, we find out that Brian and Kat, the girl, are the reincarnations of Marcus the Valiant and Tara, the Witch of the Moors."

Frank stopped dead, and Steve stopped as well, looking back at him. "What is it, Frank?"

"Marcus and Tara? I wonder if Cassandra knew them. I'll ask her when she gets back from Chicago."

"Thanks. Info on them would be a big help."

"And how did Brian and Randi take this 'destiny' thing?" Frank asked, his grin showing he'd made a pretty good guess.

Steve's frown showed that he was not amused. "Brian was tickled pink. He wants more than anything to help us. Randi, she smacked me across the face. She got pissed, and started to leave, wanting to take Brian with her. She and I both got dressed down by Arthur, who pointed out that Brian WANTS to be a hero, and that Randi and I were taking the decision out of his hands."

"Arthur stood up for Brian, huh?" Frank mused before shooting a grin at Steve. "Hard to deny the kid his dream with a living legend sticking up for him."

"Fuck you," Steve said in mock anger, still chuckling a bit. "The problem I have, Frank, isn't the fact that Brian wants to help. It's that he should be allowed to be a kid before he becomes a hero."

Steve and Frank saw Xander and Cordelia approaching, disappointed looks on their faces.

"She's not here," Steve said sadly. He turned to Frank. "Let's head for the car rentals."

"No need," Iverson said, digging into his pockets. "Got two Buick Century sedans waiting for you. In case you have to split up for anything."

Steve nodded in approval. "Thanks, good thinking. Okay," he said, waving to Xander. "Let's find Buffy and Amy, and head out. We need what sleep we can get."

Cordelia and Xander joined the pair, and Xander said, "No luck, huh?"

Frank shook his head, and they started walking for the center of the

airport to meet the other search group.

"Let's find Buffy and Amy and find some rooms," Steve said as the foursome proceeded. "We're going to get some sleep, and be at Connor's store first thing in the morning."

Xander slowed up a bit and called Steve. "Yo, Steve, how about this. Why don't we call Willow or Jenny, have them check hotel records, see if our Richard Kimball wannabe is staying somewhere?"

Cordelia smacked him on the back of the head. "Stop with the stupid ideas, dweeb boy."

"No, Cordy," Steve said, looking somewhat chagrined. "That's so obvious, and no one else thought about it. I'll call my place now, and call again once we find a room. Good work, Xander."

Frank handed St. Wolf his cell phone, and Steve began punching buttons. Xander turned to Cordelia with a goofy smile on his face.

"You owe me one, Cordy," he taunted.

"Okay." When he turned around, she smacked him again.

"Oww!"

"We're even."

*****

Abandoned Warehouse
Unknown Location inside New York City, New York
Early hours
22 November 1998

Shaw looked around the abandoned warehouse as Whistler and Blade unloaded their equipment from the trunk of their black 1969 Ford Mustang. She took in the labyrinth-type building, and she realized that the while having a large, vulnerable opening at the front of the building, the mazes of walkways could make it virtually impossible for invaders to find the defenders.

<A simple system, but effective.> she thought to herself. <Suited for my style of fighting.>

"Yo, Elfie, mind giving us a hand?" Whistler called out, shooting her a friendly smirk.

Shaw gave him a glare which made his smile die a bit. She walked over and got right into his face.

"Understand this right now, N'Tel'Quess," she said, stressing every syllable of the last word, "I will not tolerate insults about my heritage, I will not tolerate insults about my family, and I will not tolerate insults about my religious beliefs. You have already insulted one. I will. . .recommend that you do not make a second or third such mistake. Are we clear on this?"

Whistler's face became as stony as Blade's usually was, and he nodded very slowly. "Yeah, we're clear."

"Good," Shaw said harshly, and she backed up half a step. "Now, you asked for my assistance with your equipment?"

<What the. .> Whistler started to ask himself, but then nodded. <She's made her point, she's moving on. Fair enough.>

"Yeah, take this box, and follow Blade, he'll show you where to put it," the old man said, nodding and pointing to indicate the vampire hunter waiting with a hard look. "After that, we can clean up."

"Fine," Shaw said, taking the box in both hands. It strained her arms a little, but she managed.

Blade started walking deeper into the factory, and Whistler got into the Mustang to hide it out of sight.

Blade walked into their laboratory, and he walked over to a large, state of the art worktable. He set his own load down on the table, and nodded for her to do the same.

Shaw grunted a bit as she set the box down, and she backed up, stretching out her muscles. Once she finished, she took her own sack off of her shoulder and began to unload the weapons she was carrying. Blade watched her intently, and despite knowing his gaze could have burned a hole right through her, she ignored him.

She took out Soulreaver and the sword she'd taken from Richard Markham after killing the Immortal, and set them down. She unloaded the arm claws, and then the handguns and daggers. She began loading some of the enchanted silver bullets that she had left into magazines, and she could almost feel Blade's rising interest as a tangible thing.

When Whistler walked in a few moments earlier, he just whistled at the sight of the small arsenal before him. "Damn, girl, you're loaded for bear."

Shaw stopped loading the magazine, and slowly stood up. She turned around, and favored Whistler with a look filled with cold rage. "If you ever again suggest that I would hunt game in such a manner, I will take it as a manner of honor. I am not one of these sadistic, bluidy, sassanach human poachers that kill things for sport!"

Whistler cocked an eyebrow at the changing inflection of her voice, but decided to let it go. "Whoa, kid, that's just an expression. You've got enough weapons for two Navy SEALs, let alone a vampire hunter."

"Green Beret, actually," Shaw corrected, turning back to her work. "The Wanderer had better taste than to join your American Navy."

"Oh, really, when did he serve with the Berets?"

Shaw stopped, and considered what she knew of Steve. "Late seventies to the early eighties."

"I was an armorer at Bragg for fifteen years," Whistler said. "I went AWOL after my family was killed by bloodsuckers, and joined the movement."

"Movement?" Shaw asked, turning around, a curious look in her eyes.

"Yeah, we're part of an unknown cadre, that tracks down vampires and eliminates 'em," the old timer explained. "Most breeds of vamps keep a low profile, trying to survive and exist in secret, like certain other races. But the soulless ones, well, they're a problem. Any other renegades, we take out."

"Please tell me that you do not work for those who are not 'renegades,'" Shaw said neutrally.

"Hardly," Blade said, uttering his first words since entering the factory.

Shaw turned and looked him up and down. "The strong, silent type speaks. Imagine my surprise."

Blade started growling, and Whistler shook his head, trying to keep the situation calm. "Look, little lady, you really need to tone down the sarcasm. We invited you here, you could at least treat us with a little respect."

"And respect works in both directions, Whistler," the half-elf said, turning back to him. "Just so that you know, if you do not already, I am not a full-blooded elf. Half of my blood is human, as yours is. Also, I am fifty-three years of age, and I have been an adult for just over thirty years. I am not asking you to treat me as an equal. Far from it; if I did not have my clerical magic, Blade would have cleanly defeated me in our combat. But I will not be treated as, to use one of your phrases, a 'shrinking violet.' I have been fighting evil, and to a lesser extent, vampires, for as long as your companion has been alive."

Whistler seemed a bit surprised at her willingness to admit that Blade would have beaten her, and a little bit of respect did bleed over into his eyes.

"Okay, then let's try again. Can you give me the Wanderer's name?"

"No. But if you did happen to know him," Shaw said, turning back to her work, "his nickname was the same as one of your Native American tribes. Name various nations, and I will tell you if you are, to use another one of your quotes, 'getting warmer.'"

Whistler sighed, and he heard Blade growling in irritation. <She's trying to see how long it'll take him to talk, rather than sit there like the noble, grim warrior. Good luck, honey.>

"Okay, let's try some obvious ones. Apache, Navajo, Lakota and Sioux."

Shaw didn't even look up from her work. "Hardly even worth the effort."

Now Whistler was growling like Blade. "Fine, Mohawk, Kiowa, Cherokee. . ."

"Stop."

The armorer cocked his eyebrow, and went back over the names. <Mohawk, Kiowa, Cherokee. . .>

"Oh, my fuckin' God," Whistler whispered. "Not Cherokee!"

Shaw looked at him, and groaned. "Is there any one human, dragon, elf or any type of creature on this Goddess-forsaken planet that Steven does not know on a personal level?" she asked the world at large.

"He died fifteen years ago!" Whistler protested.

"His death was faked, to take over the direction of a covert operations unit," Shaw lied, using the cover story that the others had used before. "Have you heard of a group called Section Seven?"

"Yes, they. . .the Wanderer and Cherokee are the same man?"

"It certainly did not take you long to figure that one out," the ranger said, turning to Whistler with mischief dancing in her eyes. "I am a 'trainee,' to use the term that I believe applies. In a year, perhaps a little more, I hope to be a fully accepted member of this group."

"What else can you tell us?" Whistler asked.

"Not much. I will not violate their secrets. As per your suggestion, I will give you a number of those that can contact him directly, so that if you need his help, he can come here," Shaw said, laying out her plan of action. "The people who you will be able to contact live in the eastern half of this country, while the Wanderer and his love, the Slayer, live on the West Coast."

"The Slayer?" Blade asked, startling both Whistler and the Slayerette.

Shaw turned to him, and nodded. "Yes, she is his second in command. And my friend. Also, we have Amazons, which I already told you, and some witches. A well-rounded group."

"And these contacts you're gonna give us?" Whistler asked.

"They are a pair of agents with your FBI," she answered. "They are just as skilled as any of our group, save for the Wanderer and Slayer."

"Feds that know about vampires? I can't believe it," the old man snapped. "Next thing you'll be telling us is that it's those crazies that run their so-called 'X-Files' division."

Shaw's face lit up in a bright smile, which took Whistler completely off guard.

"Good. You have heard of Dana and Mulder. That will make the introductions MUCH easier."

Whistler once again choked on his tobacco, and Shaw's smile settled into a grin.

"Perhaps you should give up that habit, Whistler," she offered in complete innocence.

"They know about the Wanderer, the Slayer, AND Section Seven?!?" he gasped.

"They are two of the four founding members," Shaw informed him. "They know full well what we fight, and they have dedicated themselves to the defense of humanity. A much cleaner, purer purpose than fighting for revenge."

Now Whistler was the one with the evil glare. "Oh, right. Like that isn't why YOU hunt the bloodsuckers?"

"No longer. Until about six months ago, I was like you and your friend," she admitted, her eyes growing narrow. "A vampire killed the human grandparents who raised me from the time I was only two years of age, who were the only family that I ever had. Ten years after this happened, I snapped when I encountered the vampire who had killed them, and I threw away everything I believed in, for revenge. But, once again, I am fighting the right battle, for the right reasons. And a large part of it I owe to Section Seven and to those who run it. But, what truly, what is the proper word? Oh, yes. What helped 'cement' my return to the proper path is that I discovered that one member of Section Seven is my kin. Human kin, that I never knew I had, after twenty-five years of being alone. So, do not think that you can put me into the same category as yourselves."

She turned to Blade, and asked him, "Tell me, Blade. Why do YOU hunt vampires? Is it to help those who cannot defend themselves, or is it to avenge someone you lost?"

"My mother," the Daywalker sneered. "A vampire killed her as I was being born. A vampire named Deacon Frost."

"I see. So you have a name to attach to your mother's killer. I do as well. His name is Aunsulaur," Shaw said, leaning over onto the table. "But I have put the past behind me. I see no reason that you should not at least try to do the same."

With that she turned, and addressed Whistler.

"Now, if you want to know about my weapons, I can give you information," she said, turning and picking up Soulreaver and the other sword. "Soulreaver. Elven-crafted longsword, approximately twelve hundred years old. Enchanted to destroy all forms of undead. Also, no one who is evil can touch it without being electrocuted. The flames are illusion. The other sword, I am sure you recognize from your military career?"

"Yeah, go on to the other stuff," Whistler said.

"Very well," she said. She picked up one dagger, and the arm claws. "The daggers are silver, and blessed by myself, so that it will affect vampires just as holy water or a cross would. The arm claws, I have not had time to do this. It is alien technology, I do not know what kind of metal it is. Watch."

She strapped the mechanism to her left arm, and flexed the muscles in her forearm, and the claws shot forward with a vicious "snap!" She looked to Whistler. "Is that sufficient?"

"Yep. In fact, we've got something like that," he said, walking over to a chest. He opened it up, and withdrew something that looked like the straps, but with a different mechanism. "This launches knifes and daggers, like the ones you're carrying. Same trigger, flex certain muscles. Maximum range, about thirty, forty feet with any accuracy."

"Excellent. I will trade you some of my ammunition for two of those," she said, making an offer. "The bullets are silver, and enchanted. I gave some friends the wooden ones, which are made from condensed wood, holy water, and wax from holy candles. For the silver bullets, they are enchanted and head or heart shots will kill any vampire you hit with them. There are three types of bullets, as well."

"What kinds?" Whistler asked, looking confused.

"The bullets will work in three types of weapons. Those of .45 caliber, nine millimeter, or what you call a 308," she explained. "Much easier than ammunition meant for only a single class of weapon. The ones I am carrying are for nine millimeter weapons."

Whistler grinned, and nodded heartily. "Okay, say, two hundred for each forearm launcher?"

"Five hundred total. That will leave me with fifteen hundred, and I do not know how long I will be away from California." Shaw looked at the Uzi, and shrugged. "And this thing uses ammunition very quickly."

"Okay, it's a deal. When we run out, how do we get more?"

"That would be done in the same way that you would contact 'the crazies,'" Shaw said sarcastically. "But understand, if you call us, on a later date, you would be obliged to help us if we needed it."

"In other words, this isn't out of the goodness of your heart," Blade muttered loudly.

"Hardly," Shaw said, turning to him. "I believe your phrase is, 'quid pro quo?' Or better yet, scratch my back, and vice versa. I am sure that is something that even you can understand."

Blade started to stalk towards her, but Whistler well, whistled, and both hunters turned to him.

"Alright, that's IT," he snapped. "I don't know what your problem with each other is, but it stops here. We're here trying to be friendly, so let's be friendly."

Blade looked at him, and at the half-elf, who met his gaze with a hard glare that he tried to call as a bluff, and when he did, she let the anger build a bit, and then bleed out, showing that she could be as heartless as he was.

A corner of his mouth lifted upwards, and he turned and walked away. It was then that Shaw understood that her reaction was just what he wanted, to see that she was capable of being just like him. However, she smirked.

<The thing is, Blade, I know the difference between being heartless, and being capable of it. It was a hard lesson to learn, I hope that you learn it more quickly than I did.>

"What was that about?" Whistler asked.

"Simple, Whistler," she said. "Our problem with each other. In Blade, I see the person that I could have become, had I not realized my mistakes. In me, he sees someone who has found something to live for other than vengeance. And, neither one of us likes what the other sees."

"I see," he said, giving her a hooded look. "What about me?"

"You have something to fight for," she said, looking straight at him. "You have Blade. You think of him as a son, perhaps? I have seen it in those I fight with, they consider each other family." She hesitated a bit, and added, "I hope that I will eventually feel the same about them, and that they will accept me in that fashion."

Whistler nodded, and said, "I found him when he was thirteen. His vampiric instincts were surfacing, and I found him living on the streets of New York, surviving on rats. It was then I realized what he was. I took him in, and after a few years, we found out about Frost."

"And you have never been able to hunt him down? I have seen Blade's skill," Shaw said, and then snorted, "up close and personally. I would think that this vampire would have fallen quickly."

"Money talks," Whistler said. "Bad guys don't suffer from budget cuts."

"Yes, you are right," she said. She looked in the direction that Blade had gone in, and then back at the old man. "Whistler, I apologize for calling you 'not people.' That is the most common term that would apply to me, and I had no right to do that to you."

"Apology accepted."

"Thank you. Now, you mentioned a chance to sleep, or perhaps to make myself clean?" Shaw asked.

He nodded, and indicated the direction Blade had gone in. "Follow me, Hunter."

Whistler led Shaw into Blade's room, and when they walked in, they saw that he had stripped his shirt off, and he had placed his sword onto a stand or some sort, and he was kneeling in front of it, with his hands on his hips, and he was not moving.

Shaw stopped and watched him intently, taking in the sight of the dhampir simply sitting there.

Whistler was watching her. <What is she looking at?> he thought, before coming to a conclusion. <Oh, right. He's a man, she's a woman. Is she 'taking in the scenery?'>

As Shaw stood there, Blade spoke up, despite the fact they'd given no indication to betray their presence.

"What are you staring at?"

Whistler fought to restrain his laughter, at the thought of how the elfgirl was going to worm her way out of this one.

"Your tattoo," she said evenly, with no trace of emotion.

"Why?" Blade asked tersely.

"The artwork," she answered, pausing as he stood and turned to her. "The craftsmanship is masterful."

<She's admiring his tattoo?!? This girl has got some strange tastes.> Whistler said to himself.

Blade frowned at her. "What does your back look like?" he asked, trying to provoke her.

To his surprise, a comment that should have been pathetic actually dropped her cold demeanor.

"That is none of your business, blooddrinker," she told him coldly. Her eyes were shining silver-white in the low candlelight of Blade's bedroom, and a few tiny arcs played over her pupils.

He started to stalk forward, but Whistler got in between the two of them. "Now look, I'm not getting paid enough to play referee, here. Keep it down, or I'll kick both your asses. Got it, Blade?" He nodded, and Whistler turned to Shaw. "Got it, Hunter?"

She locked glares with Blade, but nodded as her jaw clenched. "Fine. I apologize for interrupting your meditations, and I also apologize for the deadly sin of paying you a fucking compliment." As Whistler tensed, she continued without heed. "And to answer your question, I have forty-two separate scars across my back, each one from a different blade of some sort, sword or dagger, being drawn across my back in a random fashion. If you want to picture that, well, I have no intention of showing you, so you may as well use your imagination. That is, if you have one, or if you have any qualities of humanity left inside of you."

Before either of the humans could comment, she turned and stormed out of the bedroom, leaving Whistler speechless, and Blade silent as usual.

Whistler walked out a few minutes later, and he could see Shaw packing up her equipment, throwing it into the sack, and obviously getting ready to depart.

He walked over and to his surprise, he could see tears flowing from her eyes.

"What happened?" he asked.

She turned on him, her eyes flashing bright white. "That is none of your affair," she hissed. "And do not pry in any way, because it will not work."

She threw the bag over her shoulder, and started to walk out, and he stepped in front of her. "Where are you gonna go?"

"Anywhere but the same area as that heartless, emotionless, cold-blooded killer you call your son," she snapped.

"Wait a minute. There's more to Blade than just that," Whistler assured him.

"Of course. There is the fact that the idiot cannot tell the difference between a vampire and someone with elven blood in her veins. You are correct, that makes him the pinnacle of righteousness."

"Well, maybe he wouldn't have mistaken you for a bloodsucker if you hadn't played all fancy pants with the fuckin' glamour," Whistler said.

"I needed an edge against Angelus," she countered. "In a clean fight, in that tight corridor, he would have killed me. By taking the advantage by making him think I was like him, it gave him reason to run. I fought his child, Spike, to a draw of sorts, but only because I entered a berserker rage."

"You're awfully free with your limitations, kid."

"Yes, I am," Shaw replied. "I do have pride in my skill and experience, but one thing that I have never had a problem with is ego."

"Okay, I can understand that. But it's obvious you need some sleep. Is there anything else you need?" When she seemed to consider it, he thought, <Ah. There is something else.>

"Yes," she finally answered. She looked at him, and back towards Blade's room. "I need to call someone in the morning, to arrange a meeting with him. I might need some assistance, if only to assure that the meeting remains private."

"Not a vamp you're hunting, I hope."

"Of course not!" she snapped, getting in his face. "In fact, it is the swordmaster who was my first teacher in your human martial arts. His younger cousin, in fact, was the first sword trainer for the Wanderer. It is this man that I need to meet, to discuss things with."

"Okay, I think I can talk Blade into providing backup, as long as you stop playing the holier-than-thou 'give up vengeance' routine."

Shaw narrowed her eyes at Whistler, and nodded. "Provided he stops playing the 'I am so superior because I do not have the weakness of emotions' act upon me. He does have emotions, if only towards you."

Shaw turned and put her weapons sack onto the table, and said softly, "Whistler, I will pay you for your providing me with shelter for the night. I have spells that I can cast, that will allow me to lay religious blessings upon any of your hand-to-hand combat weapons. Swords, daggers, what have you. It will provide you with an extra edge in your fight. I would also offer to do this for Blade's weapon, if he had any shard of willingness to accept."

"Hmmmmm. Okay, I'll get out the melee stuff, and you can do your stuff," Whistler said. He looked at the door to Blade's room, and said, "Maybe, if I can convince him, you can throw one of your 'Hail Marys' on the katana."

"Mielikki," Shaw stated. "Not Mary, or anything to do with your God."

"No offense, Hunter. . ."

"Shaw. Call me Shaw Hunter." She opened her sack, and pulled out Markham's blade and the arm claws. Looking at Whistler, she saw the old timer's look of interest. "If I am going to bless your weapons, I might as well do mine as well. I prefer to be thorough."

Whistler laughed at that, and it actually drew a grin from the Slayerette.

An hour later, Shaw opened her eyes after casting her third ceremony spell, that would grant permanent religious blessings upon any weapon within ten feet of her person. She slowly stood up, and staggered a bit, forcing Whistler to catch her.

The half-elf nodded her thanks, and he walked her over to the worktable. He handed her a glass of water, which she quickly and messily drank down.

"How long have you been awake?" he asked.

"About four days," she replied. "I am. . .under the effects of some type of spell that forces me to see the memories of others in my dreams. The fact that the ones I am seeing belong to a man who murdered over one hundred people makes me less than anxious to rest."

Whistler looked at her, stunned that she had gone this long without falling asleep. "That why the spells are tiring you out?"

"Yes, probably," she said. "I would be slightly fatigued anyway, after three of these spells in rapid succession, because of the amount of weapons that I blessed. Sort of the same fatigue you would feel after the combat Blade and I had, or perhaps an intensive exercise routine. But nothing that I could not recover from."

"Well, try to grab some sleep anyway. I'll call you about eight o'clock, and you can make your phone call."

"No," she said, fear showing in her voice. "If I fall asleep, I will see their faces."

"Keep in mind, dreams only actually last a few seconds," Whistler told her. "In fact, if you start to moan or yell in your sleep, I'll come by and wake you up, and stop it before it kicks in. Sound okay?"

Shaw considered it, but eventually shook her head. "No, thank you. I would prefer to find the way to eliminate the spell's effects before I sleep. But it is hard to stay awake."

"'Cause of the caffeine allergy," the old man said. "Kinda hard to stay awake when the one thing that can keep you awake will likely kill you instead."

"Yes," she said, uncomfortable about him knowing her weakness. "But again, thank you for your offer."

"Okay." He walked over to one of the weapons, and picked it up. He walked back over to her, and offered it to her. "Take this. You can use a backup blade."

Shaw looked at him, and took the sword. She drew it out of the brand new leather sheath, and looked it over. It was short, approximately twenty-five inches altogether, with a six-inch handle made of some type of bone. The pommel cap was a perfect circle, but it was the blade that drew her attention. The blade was single-edged, but like most standard double-edged blades, except at the tip, where it curved and formed a point similar to those seen on scimitars. She looked at the blade more intently, and looked to Whistler.

"This is not steel," she observed.

"Nope. Titanium," Whistler told her. When she cocked an eyebrow in curiosity, he smiled. "Natural metal. They make tank armor out of it. Twice as strong as steel, but only half the weight. That's what Blade's sword is made of, and that's why you couldn't melt it with that spell. Stuff doesn't melt at anything below 350 degrees Celsius."

"And the greater strength makes for better cutting power," Shaw continued, impressed. "And the lighter weight provides an edge in speed of stroke and recovery. And that Blade uses a katana, which I know the advantages of, made from this material makes his weapon that much more lethal."

"How do you know about katanas?" he asked.

"The Wanderer, Slayer, and the Wanderer's first sword teacher all use those swords. I might as well, if I had enough training to use them and did not carry a sword already enchanted."

She replaced the sword in the sheath, but Whistler held out his hand. "There's one more trick to this sucker. See the small button on the handle?" he asked. When the half-elf nodded, he said, "Press it."

She did, and a small dirk-style blade shot out of the pommel cap, which split in half. Whistler was somewhat disappointed by her lack of a reaction other than the slight nod she gave.

"Okay, I'm turning in," he said. "If you ain't going to sleep, at least try to remain quiet. And don't get into anything, I'd hate to have to clean up the mess in the morning."

Shaw nodded, and the man went away, headed for his own bedroom.

At around nine in the morning, Blade walked out of his room, and stopped at the sight of the female vampire hunter sitting on the floor, legs crossed and her hands on her knees. She had her head bowed, and the unicorn-head pendant she wore over her heart was glowing with a soft light.

He simply stood there, watching her for several minutes, until the glow faded and the smallest of smiles touched her lips. She slowly took a deep breath, breathing through her nose, and slowly exhaled the same way.

"What are you staring at?" she asked softly, not deigning to open her eyes.

"Your 'glow in the dark' good luck charm," Blade said without any trace of emotion in his voice.

Shaw's eyes snapped open, and she slowly made her way to her feet. She stretched, and walked over to the weapons table. She picked up her Baretta and started to inspect it.

"Blade, yesterday. When I was being wrongly rude to Whistler?" Shaw asked gently. "Do you remember what I said about certain things I would not tolerate?"

Without allowing him to answer, she turned and pointed the gun at him.

"You just made that mistake."

Blade started to tense a bit, but Whistler, standing behind the Slayerette, cocked the hammer on a .44 Magnum in his right hand.

"Don't try it, honey," he warned.

Shaw gave Blade an evil grin, and brought her hands up, and slowly turned to face Whistler, showing him. . .

"Empty?!?" he shouted, dropping the Magnum to his side. "Of all the crazy, wild, bone-headed--"

"Yes, I agree that anyone who disturbs my morning devotions has those personality traits," Shaw said softly, looking at the old timer. "But you should not insult Blade like that to his face. He is likely to take it out on you."

Shaw placed her Baretta onto the worktable, and started walking towards Whistler. But she stopped, and looked at Blade.

"Blade, I assume that Whistler told you what I did to your combat weapons?" she asked.

"Yeah," he replied.

"Do you have a problem with what I did? Any objections?"

"No," he replied. "I'll take any advantage I can get."

"Very well." Shaw turned back to Whistler, and said, "May I make that call now, Whistler?"

Whistler nodded, and Shaw turned back to the dhampir one more time.

"Blade, I am pleased that you do not object to my blessing of your weapons. But I will ask that you show some respect for the Goddess who made it possible," she said evenly. With great regret in her voice, she added, "When I said that you would have defeated me last night? I meant every word. You have great skill. It is a shame that your personality does not match your skill, for you could have been a great champion for mankind."

She then walked into the bedroom, leaving Blade and Whistler silent.

*****

MacLeod's Antiques
New York City, New York
22 November 1998

Maxine Thomasson was sitting up her register when she felt the Buzz of an approaching Immortal. She quickly put the cash drawer under the counter, and put her hand on the hilt of her sword.

<Connor's already in da office,> she thought to herself. <I don't need this kinda crap today.>

The Jersey native walked around to the end of the counter, and waited, her left arm behind the counter, gripping the handle of her Chinese darn-dao. The five-foot-seven woman ran her hand through her crew-cut blonde hair, and waited for whoever was coming to enter the store.

The door opened, and a pair of teenagers walked in, and warning bells went off in Maxine's mind; the kids were mortal, but they handled themselves like professionals. She also noted the way they were regarding her. Three more people walked in, a guy looking about twenty-five, and two teenagers, both blonde girls. The guy, and one of the blondes were the Immortals.

<Oh, shit. Two of 'em.> she thought. <Connor ain't gonna like this shit. He came in pissed already. And worse, I get to clean up the damn mess if we have a Quickening in here.>

"Maxine, I presume?" the male Immortal said, extending his hand in greeting.

"Yeah, whachu want?" she asked in her Jersey accent, refusing the man's hand. <What, you think I was born yesterday?>

The man smiled a bit. "It's good to finally meet you. We're here to see Connor."

"Uh-huh, right," she said sarcastically. Her grip on the darn-dao tightened. "These yer groupies?"

The man sighed in impatience. "Maxine, I don't have time for this. Don't make me call my teacher on you."

"And who's that, pretty boy?"

"Duncan MacLeod," he answered.

Maxine paled, and almost dropped her sword. "Who the hell are you?"

"Steve St. Wolf," he said with a smile. "And groupies. Buffy, Amy, Xander and Cordelia."

"The kids who kicked ass in L.A., right?" When the others nodded, she relaxed. "Sorry, but I'm kinda cautious. New to this shit."

"I know," Buffy said with an understanding grin. "I freaked out when I found out. This after I'd been Immortal for nearly a year."

The Jersey Immortal began to get a bit of the color back in her face. "Gawd, St. Wolf. I don't need this shit this early in the mornin'. You coulda called first."

"Sorry, but we needed to get here," Steve said, looking back at the door to Connor's office. "Is Connor in yet?"

"Yeah, he's here. He's pissed off about somethin'," Maxine grumbled, shivering a bit. "Got a call yesterday from the bogeyman, and the boss's ready to chop off yer head if ya look at him funny."

"Who's the bogeyman?" Xander asked.

Steve flashed him a grin. "Duncan. Maxine, can we go in?"

"Yeah, better you than me," she said, going back behind the counter. "Don't say I didn't warn ya, though."

Connor was sitting at his desk, finishing a couple of online orders as the knock came. He clicked off his Internet service, and called out.

"Come in."

Steve St. Wolf walked in, followed by Buffy and the others that Duncan had mentioned would be showing up. He stood up and nodded to them.

"Hello, Steven, everyone," he said politely.

<Uh oh, Maxine was right. He's p-o'ed.> Steve thought as he shook the elder MacLeod's hand. "Good to see you again, Connor."

"I wish. Sit down, Steve, we have a lot to discuss."

<Uh oh.> Steve thought again as he sat down while the others just stood back a bit. "Is something wrong, Connor?"

"Hell yes, something's wrong," Connor barked. "What the Hell have you done to my student?"

Connor's outburst caught the others by surprise.

"'YOUR' student?" Buffy asked.

"Yes, MY student," the Highlander said, looking at Steve nastily. "How in God's name did this happen?"

"Well, I'll tell you," Steve said, folding his hands together and setting them on his leg. "Remember when Shaw killed McGuire? Well, she absorbed part of his Quickening, and Ares has somehow activated it. So, it's messing up her emotions, and may be driving her insane. And since she called from Seacouver yesterday, we've been crisscrossing the country trying to track her down."

"And she's here to fight me?" Connor asked, honest shock in his voice.

"No, Connor, she's here to come to you for help," Buffy answered. "She went to Duncan, and he mentioned coffee, and her being allergic to caffeine, she Wigged and hopped the jet express for here."

"Shaw's allergic to caffeine?" Connor asked.

"It's an elven thing," Cordelia said, closing off that topic.

Buffy moved over to the desk, and sat on the edge. "We have a spell to cure her, and she knows it, but we have to get her back to Sunnydale to cast it. We've been through the ringer in San Fran, so Duncan and a few of the others are heading there to handle patrols, so that we can focus on Shaw."

"All right, but why these three? Being mortal, they're more at risk than the three of us," Connor pointed out. "I know they're very good, but still, I'd be concerned."

Amy stepped forward with a glowering look on her face. "For your information, we're here because we care about 'YOUR' student. If YOU care about her, you'll quit pissing and moaning about this and help us find MY cousin so we don't lose her to that son of a bitch!"

Connor looked stunned. "Your cousin?" He looked at Steve with a puzzled look. "What is she talking about?"

"Seems that Shaw's great-grandmother was from Earth. Her. . .father's father's mother," Steve explained to the dumbfounded Scot. "Her sister was Amy's great-great-grannie, in a direct line of mothers and daughters, until now. A wizard took Alison, Shaw's nana, to his world, and the prophecy Shaw took part in predicted her coming to Earth."

"Why didn't anyone tell me this?!?" Connor demanded. "Shaw, Duncan, Mulder, Dana? YOU?!?"

Steve fed him an evil grin. "Letís see. Shaw, sheís been too busy with school, training and trying to adjust to living here. Duncan, to get his jollies about you not having the information he had. Mulder, she kinda pissed him off when she hinted that heíd never had sex, and then by embarrassing him in a sparring match. Scully, I donít know. As for me, you didn't ask. Maybe you should have asked the person who told everyone about Shaw's background."

"And who would that be?"

"Joan of Arc. Remember?"

Connor's mouth curled into a snarl. "Keep rubbing it in, Steven. See what happens."

"Okay, play nice," Xander said. When both Immortals shot him a glare, he added, "we're waiting for someone to call, remember?"

Connor nodded, and shrugged. "Sorry, Steve. The girl's been through enough as it is. If you want, the rest of you can wait here until she calls."

"Thanks, Connor. We're gonna go grab some breakfast. But if she calls, be careful. We don't know what kind of shape she's in."

"Okay, there's a donut shop around the corner," he said. "If she calls, I'll have Max hightail it and grab you."

"Thanks," Steve said, and the others left the office.

A half hour later, the gang reentered Connor's office, and he was finishing up talking to someone on the phone. The Slayerettes looked on in shock, thinking the same thing, but he rolled his eyes, and said clearly, "Thank you, Giles. I'll tell them."

Connor hung up the phone, and said, "Duncan and the gang arrived about twenty minutes ago. They're settling in at the Motor Lodge, and they'll be on patrol tonight."

"Good," Steve said. "The others need a break."

"Actually, Kendra and Joe offered to team up with them," the Scot said congenially. "Giles says that Kendra said that she and Shaw hit it off quite well."

"Of course," Buffy said with a giggle. "They're a lot alike. Formal, proper, firm believers in duty. . ."

"No life," Cordelia muttered, drawing a dirty look from Buffy. "Hey, I call 'em as I see 'em."

"And the fact that she's right in this case. ." Xander said, trailing off.

"Well, she seems to be fairly good at playing pranks on people," Connor said, grabbing everyone's attention.

Cordy and Xander started sweating. "How did you get a copy of that tape?" Xander asked.

"Mulder."

"He is SO dead," Cordelia vowed, clenching her fists. "First he sends one to Frank, now he sent one to you?"

"Yes. I thought it was pretty good myself," Connor said, starting to smile.

"No one asked you," Cordy snapped, and shot a look at Amy when the witch started laughing under her breath. "What do you find so funny? I seem to recall she said stuff about you, too."

"Yeah, but she reserved most of it for you and Xander," she said. "The worst thing she said about me was 'no stamina.' If I hadn't been scared about you killing me when we watched that thing, I would have been rolling with the others when she said she'd share Xander with me."

"Screw you," the brunette Amazon muttered, admitting defeat for the moment.

"Enough," Steve said, glaring at Connor, who was sitting there looking very pleased with himself. "Done with the morale boosting, Connor?"

"Yes, for now," he said. "I thought you could use- -"

He broke off at the ringing phone, and quickly picked it up, and put his hand over the speakerphone. "Hello?"

He listened for a second, and glanced at Steve. "One moment, Shaw. I need to get a pen."

He set his hand over the speaker piece, and said, "Don't say a damned word, any of you. I'm going to put it on speaker."

The others nodded, and Connor hit the button as he put the phone back to his mouth.

"Okay, Shaw, go ahead."

"Very well, Connor," the half-elf's voice came over the speaker. "I stayed the night with someone that I met at the airport. He and his friend have. .similar extracurricular activities."

"I see," Connor said, glancing at Steve for a split second, "vampire hunters?"

"Yes," she confirmed. "I have given them the number to contact Dana and Mulder, if they need our help or if we need them. They are very effective."

"What are their names?" Connor asked.

After a pause, Shaw said, "I cannot give their names, but they have consented for me to give certain information. The younger of the two, he is very skilled; if I had not had magic to use against him, you would be planning my memorial service at this very moment."

Cordelia almost gasped, but Xander put his hand over her mouth. When her fiery eyes lit up and she glared at him, he tilted his head towards the speaker. Grudgingly, she nodded.

"But you can't give us his name?"

"No, Connor. I. .one moment," she ordered, and after two seconds, she replied, "vampires call him the Daywalker."

Connor looked at Steve, whose eyes had went very wide open. He squinted in confusion, but Steve waved for him to continue.

"He's good, Shaw?"

"Yes, Connor. My magic was the only thing that allowed me to fight him to a draw. A case of mistaken identities," the Slayerette said. "His mentor knew Steven in his time in the American Army. He says he was an armorer, until vampires killed his family."

Connor once again glanced at St. Wolf, who shook his head, not knowing who she could be talking about.

"So, this Daywalker wants to join us?" Connor asked.

"No, he simply recognizes the old saying about the enemy of another's enemy being a friend. Connor, I need to meet with you, to talk. In private."

"I see," Connor said, growing cautious. "Where do you want to meet me?"

"I. . .I do not know. That choice should be yours, you know this city better than I do. And with my. ."

"Claustrophobia?" Connor finished, drawing a strange look from Steve and the others.

"Yes, if that is indeed what it is," she said, and everyone could hear the fatigue in her voice as she said, "Please, Connor?"

"Alright. Central Park, say, eight tonight?"

"That is after dark, Connor," Shaw pointed out. "I. . .am losing my edge. I have not slept for several days."

"I know," the Highlander said softly. "It'll be okay. I'll see you tonight."

"As you wish, Connor," the tired woman said. "I. .thank you."

The phone went click, and Connor shut off the speaker.

He leaned back in his office chair, and said, "Now, first things first. Daywalker?"

"A dhampir," Steve said, looking impressed. "Said to be very nasty, very deadly. And obviously Shaw's even more improved than I thought, if she actually survived a fight with him."

"What's a dhampir?" Buffy asked.

"Half-vampire," Amy said. "Someone who has a vampire father and human mother." At the sick looks from Xander, Cordelia and Buffy, she shrugged lightly. "Hey, I only read it from one of my Grandma's books."

"Eeeewwww," Cordy said.

"What she said," Xander agreed.

"Talk about necrophilia," Buffy muttered, shaking as if she were feeling a chill. "Yuck."

"Okay, enough from the peanut gallery," Steve said, ignoring the angry looks from the four teenagers. "Connor, what's this about claustrophobia?"

"Her dislike of cities, Steve," MacLeod said. "It has to do with the fact that in cities like New York or Paris, the buildings tend to be close together, crowded, and so forth. Also to consider is that where, or when, she comes from, the cities tend to be surrounded by walls. And she's a person raised in the wilderness."

"So, it's not the city she fears, it's the crowded areas," St. Wolf reasoned.

"More or less," he said in approval at Steve's conclusion. "She said she will feel uncomfortable in rooms with a lot of people, but not fearful. I guess it depends on the situation at hand."

"Thanks, I didn't know that. Okay, so how do we do this? Who goes with you tonight?"

"No one," Connor said firmly, holding up his hands, palms out, before anyone could protest. "I'll meet her alone. If she 'feels' more than one Immortal, or sees anyone with that night sight of hers, in the Park, she'll run. If they're out of range, or not in the park when she comes in, I might be able to talk her into coming with me to meet you."

"So, you want your chance to get her to come home," Amy said.

"Yes, but only within a certain time limit. Say, fifteen or twenty minutes?"

"Okay, Connor. That sounds fair. Just be there early. Shaw tends to be somewhat punctual."

"No kidding."

Unknown to the Slayerettes and the Highlander, Ares was listening in on their conversation, and he was actually pleased with the direction this was taking.

"Oh, this is great. They're planning a possible trap, so this allows me to have some fun," he remarked from his spot out of phase with time. "And I know just who to get to handle this Immortal who wants to play bait."

Ares disappeared into the ether, heading for whoever he was planning to bring after Connor MacLeod.

*****

Upstate New York
22 November 1998

Ares appeared in the forest, in front of the largest, oldest tree in the woods. He sent out a small portion of divine energy, and after a few moments nodded in satisfaction.

"Yep, this is the one," he said with an evil smile.

He waved his arms, and the ground near the tree began to shake. The dirt started spraying all over the area, although the God of War had the sense to raise a small shield to deflect any of the forest soil from hitting him. After five minutes, a large human skeleton rose from the hole in the Earth, looking for all the world like a marionette waiting for someone to begin moving the strings.

He gestured, and one part of the skeleton ripped off, and Ares waved again, teleporting the portion of the man's anatomy to Olympus. He dropped his hand, and the bones dropped back into the ground. The dirt began flying back into the space it had previously occupied, and he finally turned back to the tree.

He sent a large bolt of divine power into the tree, and the tree split open, forming what appeared to be a swirling whirlpool of black light. Slowly, Ares waited for someone to step out, and in time, a large figure did just that.

The figure before the God of War was tall, and dressed completely in black. Around the man was an aura of sheer malevolence, which Ares could certainly appreciate. At the figure's left hip was a large sword, and from behind his right shoulder peeked the head of an axe.

Ares smiled, and said evilly, "I've got a job for you to perform for me. Do it, and you'll be back where you belong in a matter of hours. Just kill one guy in your own unique fashion, and home you go."

The figure, standing nearly six feet tall, didn't respond, but simply awaited his orders.

"Okay, here we go," Ares said, and he waved his hands, sending the two figures vanishing into the night, without any signs to betray that anyone had even been in that spot.

*****

Bureau 13 Headquarters
Unknown Location
22 November 1998

Dimitri the centaur quickly galloped into Horace Gordon's office, startling Horace so badly that he spilled some of his coffee. He quickly started to berate his aide de camp, but halted when he saw the sheer look of terror on the centaur's face.

"What is it?" Gordon barked.

"A very bad one, sir," Dimitri stated. "The Seers have picked up two disturbances, very powerful and in immediate proximity."

"Report."

"Two level Sevens, an Gate opening and a teleport. One. . .Level Nine, sir. A demon from the fourth circle of Hell."

Gordon paled at the implications of that report. "An Old God bringing a Fourth circle demon into the mortal plane?!? What the hell would they do that for?!?"

"I don't know. But, the level Sevens are a perfect match for the ones in Portland, Oregon and Seacouver, Washington over the last two days."

"Dimitri, you're scared shitless. What is it?" Horace blurted.

"Sir, Tunafish, Angel and the Thunder Bunnies are all out on missions of their own. The level Nine is now in New York City, in the middle of Central Park, and we don't have a team to send after it. And the level Nine isn't just any demon."

"What is it? A marilith? A balor, maybe?" Gordon said, unimpressed. "And I have a team to send. A team long overdue for their own mission."

"Sir, the demon. . .the origin of the disturbance. ."

"Spit it out, Dimitri!"

Dimitri nodded, looking ready to faint. "The location of the disturbance was in upstate New York. Specifically. . .Sleepy Hollow."

Now it was the head of Bureau 13 who looked ready to collapse. "Oh, my God. I'm calling in team XGB. Like I said, they're overdue."

"The rookies, sir? Are they ready?"

"They'll have to be."

*****

XGB Headquarters
New York City, New York
22 November 1998

As the red phone started ringing loudly, Janine picked up the phone and said pleasantly, "Ghostbusters."

The voice on the other end firmly said, "The password is Gorza."

Janine sat straight up, and just as firmly stated, "Ecto."

"Samhain."

"Hey, Gordon, what's up?" the administrative assistant said.

"Your kids are now activated. A hot one. Get Spengler on the phone, now."

"Got it, Boss Man," she said, hitting the alarm button as she switched the call to Egon's extension.

As the firehouse's alarm began to shriek, voices could be heard scrambling around. Within seconds, people came sliding down the fire pole, heading to Egon's office. Kylie stopped by the desk and asked, "What's the call?"

"Top secret, Kylie," Janine said, pointing for her and the others to go on into Egon's office. "Welcome to the Big Leagues."

Kylie gave her a look of confusion, but ran in. The others, Eduardo, Roland and Garrett were all watching Egon Spengler, the last of the original Ghostbusters, pacing back and forth. Seeing Kylie enter the room, he stopped.

"Please, sit down," he said. As they did, he adjusted his glasses. "Okay, listen up. What I'm about to tell you doesn't leave this room, other than to talk to Janine and Slimer. Understood?"

The Extreme Ghostbusters nodded in unison, and Egon smiled. "Alright, here's the scenario. The original Ghostbusters were more than a simple ectoplasmic control agency. We were part of a top-secret group of occult experts that fought paranormal threats to humanity. That group is called Bureau 13. It's part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and has been in existence since the end of the Civil War."

"Whoa, Egon," Eduardo said, breaking up Spengler's speech. "You sayin' that youse old guys was some kind of Navy SEALs or somethin'?"

"Sort of, Eduardo," Egon continued. "Our team relied more on cutting edge technology rather than mystical or conventional methods of paranormal investigation. The primary team, codenamed Tunafish, consists of FBI agents, telepaths, White Mages, and a priest. The Thunder Bunnies, an all-female team, is composed of Special Forces-caliber fighters and weapons. The Original Ghostbusters disbanded ten years ago, because it was thought that the current teams were enough. That is, until late last year."

"When you started training us," Garrett said from his wheelchair.

"Exactly, Garrett," the senior Ghostbuster said, sitting down. "This training has been with the eventual goal of inducting you into Bureau 13 as their team for the Northeastern part of the US. The Thunder Bunnies are responsible for the Southwest, primarily the state of Texas, and Tunafish, the roving first string. Well, your activation is now. We've been handed a mission possibly more dangerous than any that your predecessors ever faced."

"Wait a minute," Kylie said, a surprised look on her face. "More dangerous than Gorza, or Samhain?"

"Or the Marshmallow Man?" Eduardo asked with a smirk.

"The origin of the disturbance is a demon from the Fourth circle of Hell. The gate he entered Earth through is located outside of Sleepy Hollow, New York."

Kylie gasped, and the others looked at her.

"What, Kylie, you know who we're going up against?" Roland, the team mechanic, asked.

"Egon, are you talking about. ."

"The Headless Horseman," he finished. Now the others looked at him as if he'd sprouted a second head.

"Wait a minute!" Garrett snapped. "Are you telling us that we're going up against a guy from some old ghost story?"

"Hardly. For your information, the story is quite real. Except that Ichabod Crane did not die or disappear, as he did in the story. He solved the murders committed by the Horseman, who was under the control of a witch. He successfully defeated her, and the Horseman returned to Hell of his own volition. Now, someone apparently has recalled the Horseman, and it's up to you to send him back where he belongs, or to trap him, and allow us to put him in the containment unit."

"Okay, let's rock and roll," Garrett said, starting to turn his wheelchair as the others began to move.

"Wait!" Egon yelled, and as the others stopped and turned back, he handed them each a type of bracelet. "These are Bureau 13 standard issue communicators. They'll allow you to communicate with each other, or with me. Also, it you press the bracelet, you will instantly be teleported back here. That ability is only to be used in case of extreme emergencies. Welcome to the team, guys."

"Thanks, Egon," Roland said as the next generation of Bureau 13 agents grabbed their comm units and headed out.

"Good luck, kids," Egon said, beginning to pray for his team.

Back

Home

Next