Part 9: Royal Rumble 
(All That's Missing Are The Steel Chairs And The $39.99 Pay-Per-View Charge)

MacLeod's Antiques
New York City, New York
22 November 1998

"Okay, here's the plan," Steve said, looking at a map of Central Park. "Connor, you're meeting her here, at eight o'clock." When the Highlander nodded, St. Wolf continued. "Okay. Buffy, you and I will enter through the north. Xander, Cordelia, the south. Amy, from the west.  Give it 'til eight-twenty before you go in."

"Steve, that leaves the east side wide open," Xander pointed out, pointing out the relevant area of the map.

"I can handle that," Maxine said, looking over Connor's shoulder.

Steve looked at her, and to Connor, who turned to his current student. "Maxine, we've explained how dangerous Shaw is. I don't want to endanger you needlessly."

"Hey, ain't this why we're here? Help the helpless, save the world, that kinda shit?" she asked in a challenging tone as she chewed snapped her gum between her teeth.

Buffy laughed slightly, and said, "That's one way of putting it, Max."

"Yep. I figure, I can at least keep 'er busy, 'til the rest of youse show up."

Connor looked back at the Wanderer, who smiled. "Okay, Maxine, you've got the east entrance.  We've all got the cell phones, that's how we'll keep in touch."

"Here's how we'll do it. Cordelia will split with Xander about halfway between the entrance and the meeting point. That way, you can backup Maxine. Amy, even though you're alone, you should be able to handle Shaw."

Amy nodded. "Yeah. Shaw said Willow could beat her easily if came down to a spell fight. I can do it."

"And, hopefully, she'll hold back," Buffy added. "I know we can beat her, honey, but that leaves Xander kinda in the lurch."

"I can slow her down," Xander assured her. "I'm pretty sure Connor wouldn't be far behind."

"That's right," Steve said, folding up the map.  "Amy, as soon as you're in the park, use the tracer spell and get a lock on her, so that we can track her."

"Got it," the witch said. "Just remember, the range's only about three hundred yards."

"Okay. It's seven-twenty now, let's head out."

The gang got up and started walking out. Cordelia stopped short at the doorway, when she saw the moderate downpour of rain coming down outside.

"Oh, Goddess, no," she moaned. "We get out of Seacouver before it rains, and now it rains here! My hair is toast!"

"Warm front coming through," Connor said with a smirk. "Sorry, Cordelia.  Normally, it'd be snowing."

"Steve, this is gonna cost you," Cordy promised.  "An appointment with the best stylist in Sunnydale." She stormed out into the stormy weather, and called out to Xander. "Move it, dweeb boy."

Xander looked over at Steve. "At least she didn't say the most expensive stylist."

"In New York," Buffy added with a giggle.

"Don't give her any ideas," Steve muttered.

*****

Central Park
New York City, New York
22 November 1998

Shaw and Blade casually made their way into the park, trying to avoid attracting any attention to themselves. Blade seemed to be irritated by the steady precipitation, and also by the lack of concern showing on the Slayerette's face.

"How can you stand this?" he asked.

"I was raised in forests and woodlands," Shaw said with a slight smile of remembrance. "I worship a Forest Goddess, who represents the cycle of nature, which rain is an important part of." A small grin tugged at her lips. "Besides, if I do happen to catch a cold or worse, a spell to cure diseases will handle that."

The dhampir didn't bother to respond to her slight barb. "How do we do this?"

"I will separate from you, and I will meet with Connor. If anyone tries to interrupt the meeting, you will stop them." Shaw stopped and faced him. "Without resorting to lethal measures, unless they are vampires."

Blade didn't look pleased, but tilted his head slightly to signify that he understood.

"What are you packing?" he asked.

Shaw mentally went over her list. "Soulreaver, inside the duster you gave me, left side.  Five daggers, one in each of the launchers Whistler provided, two in sheaths above my right forearm. One in my right pocket.  Bowie knife tucked into the back of my jeans. The short sword he gave me, here," she said, pointing to her unbound hair, which, while wet, was still thick enough to hide the hilt of the sword hidden inside of a spine sheath underneath her duster. "The Baretta in the shoulder holster, the Uzi underneath the duster. Finally, the arm claws strapped to my left forearm."

"You think like I do," Blade said, not glancing at her. "Maximum firepower."

"Let us separate here," Shaw said softly as they passed a pair of late strollers. "I. . .Blade, I know this probably does not mean anything to you, but. .thank you. Beware on all sides."

At his confused look, she shook her head. "Watch your back."

For once, the Daywalker cracked a slight grin. "Always. You too."

Shaw nodded, and the two parted, each taking a different path.

From the south entrance, Xander looked at Cordelia. "Ready, honey?"

"Yep," Cordelia said determinedly. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Steve's.

"St. Wolf," Steve answered.

"Steve, Cordy. Shaw's walking north, from the south entrance. And she brought some backup."

"Description?"

"Big, black, mean-looking," Cordelia told him. "Six-plus, two-twenty, has the look I had when I walked out in the rain."

"Damn. Okay, wait five minutes, and walk in. Try to distract him, separate them if necessary."

"Got it, Steve." Cordy ended the call and turned to Xander. "We're goin' in."

Xander nodded as the pair began to prepare enter the park. "Let's go get her."

At the western entrance to the park, Amy jumped as her cell phone went off. She clicked the button and answered, "Shoot."

"Shaw, plus one. Negro male, large," Steve said quickly. "South gate. Go in, hit the tracer, be ready to jump."

"Gotcha." Amy threw the phone in her jacket pocket and jogged across the street.

"Ready, my lady?" Steve asked Buffy, who was instinctively reaching for her sword.

"Not really," the Slayer said. "Never tried to fight someone for real without hurting them."

"I know," St. Wolf said tenderly, kissing her forehead. "Just remember, this isn't her fault. She may not be controlled, but she is being herded. And she knows we're trying to help her."

"Okay, honey. Let's bring her home."

*****

Connor was sitting on a bench in one of the more secluded areas of the Park, awaiting Shaw Hunter. He looked at his watch, checking to see what time it was.

<Seven fifty-five.> he thought. He stood up to stretch, and started pacing as the rain continued to beat down on him. <Good thing the coat is good for more than hiding my sword,> he thought wryly.

A sound behind him caught the Immortal's attention, and he smiled. "Punctual, just like the man said," he said to himself, turning to meet Shaw.

As he turned, he saw a flash of metal in the moonlight and a "whoosh" that could signify only one thing; a sword aiming for his neck.

Four hundred years of honed warrior instincts kicked into high gear, and Connor MacLeod quickly dropped and rolled to the side, coming up and reaching into his coat to pull out his katana.

As the rain continued to beat down on the ground, MacLeod's eyes went wide at the sight of the opponent he now faced.

The figure wore German soldier gear, from the Revolutionary War period. He was garbed all in black, from his hard-soled riding boots to his long, flowing ebony cloak. However, it was the one thing that the new arrival lacked that threw Connor.

A head.

<What the hell?> Connor thought as he took up a defensive stance. <Did Shaw. . .>

He threw the unworthy thought aside, and shouted, "Come on, Ares! I'd think you had more style than to send some type of zombie after me."

Ares appeared out of thin air, standing in between Connor and the demon. He wore his customary smirk as the cranium-lacking swordsman stopped his progress.

"Oh, no, no mere zombie for you," the God of War said arrogantly. He stepped aside to give the Horseman a clear path at the Immortal. "Only the best for the warrior who trained my future champion. None other than a living, so to speak that is, legend. The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow."

Connor's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Do your worst."

"Oh, I'm sure he will," Ares said, disappearing from the battlefield.

The Horseman started walking forward, bringing his hand and a half sword to bear.

The demon swung, and Connor parried the blow easily. The Horseman continued swinging, but Connor had little trouble blocking his strikes. In less than two minutes, a look of confidence began to gleam in MacLeod's eyes.

<The Horseman's good, but not good enough.>

Thirty seconds later, Connor performed a disarming move, flinging the evil one's blade off to the side. Connor quickly brought his katana back, and drove it into the Horseman's heart.

Connor set himself to withdraw the blade, and the Horseman chose that moment to throw a superhumanly powerful backhanded roundhouse that connected with Connor's jaw.

The Highlander was sent spinning away, but he was able to roll, coming to a crouched upright position. His opponent picked up his sword with his left hand, and slowly drew the long axe with his right, slowly spinning it in a circle.

The Horseman pressed his attack, using his sword to keep Connor busy, hoping to set the Immortal up for a devastating chop from the axe.

When the Horseman did bring the blade over, Connor ducked to the demon's left, and brought the katana across the ebon-clad warrior's stomach. Connor then brought the katana up for a decapitation chop, too late realizing his error.

The Horseman swung his sword out, catching the scrambling MacLeod in the meaty portion of his left thigh. Connor cursed softly as the blade tore into his thigh muscle, and he quickly backed off, blood glistening on the demon's blade as he hobbled backwards.

The Horseman turned around, marching forward after the retreating Highlander, who was attempting to keep the space open between them until his leg healed. As the blue electrical arcs played over his wound, he began to realize why Ares had chosen this particular opponent for him. With that realization came a single thought.

<I'm in trouble.>

*****

As Xander and Cordelia were walking north, heading for the meeting area where Shaw was supposed to meet Connor, they were discussing what to do if the meeting came to blows.

"You sure we should split up, Xander?" Cordelia asked, looking around for any sign of danger. "I don't like the idea of you being alone, against Shaw or that big guy who walked in with her."

"C'mon, Cordy," Xander said with a grin, "have some confidence in me. Go meet Maxine, and we'll meet in the middle."

The dark-haired Amazon looked doubtful, but nodded. "Be careful, Lame-O. I'd hate to have to break in a new boyfriend."

Xander winced at her jab as she headed off to rendezvous with the Immortal Maxine, and he shook his head.

"Great," he muttered. "Things must be getting worse than we thought.  Now CORDY'S making jokes."

Xander started walking north again, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched. He slowed his pace, and finally stopped, looking around and settling into relaxed guard position.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are," he sang out cheerfully, hoping to draw out whoever was following him.

There was some light rustling that Xander barely make out through the rain falling around him, and a dark figure stepped out of the brush, clothed in a soaking wet, dark-colored duster. Shades hid his eyes, but his posture left no doubt as to his intent, which was to block the Slayerette's progress.

Xander considered the man in his path, looking him up and down. The black figure watched, and finally lost his patience with the teenager.

"What are you staring at?" he asked curtly.

"Just wondering why *I* can't get a good archfoe," Xander said in a lamenting tone. "I mean, Connor gets Kurgan, Duncan gets St. Cloud, Steve gets Throlog, Shaw gets Ares, and Buffy gets the Master, Angel, Spike, Dru, Katherine and every other big, bad vamp in the U.S. Me? Nooooooo. I get stuck with Shaft."

The large, imposing figure didn't so much as twitch.

Xander sighed. "Tough crowd," he muttered before smiling again. "So, what do you want, tough guy?"

"To give someone some privacy. Turn around and take a hike."

"Sorry, dude, but no can do," the Slayerette said firmly, starting to reach for his pistol.

With surprising speed, the man drew out a pistol of his own, aiming it at Xander.

"Drop it, kid," he ordered. "I was told not to use lethal force, but I'm not stupid."

Xander was surprised by this admitted restriction, but decided to try to exploit it.

"Fine, dude," Xander said, throwing the pistol aside. "What do I call you?  I like to know who I'm gettin' into a fight with."

"Blade," he replied, tossing his own pistol off into the night. He then drew his sword, and Xander started sweating.

"Whoa, wait a minute here," he pleaded. "I thought this was gonna be a fair fight."

Blade nodded, and stabbed the blade into the dirt. The modified katana stood straight up out of the ground.

Xander nodded. "Very Excalibur," he stated.

"Like I said, I'm just making sure the Hunter's meeting remains private. You can walk away, you can wait, or you can get beat up. Your choice."

"My choice? Cool." Xander rubbed his chin, and he looked back at the other. "I'll take, 'kick the homey's ass for not letting me help my friend' for five hundred, Alex."

As both men assumed combat stances, Xander decided to try another barb.

"Blade, right?" he asked. When the man gave a single, terse nod, he smiled.  "Obviously, some people vastly overrate their own attributes."

When Blade showed no reaction whatsoever, Xander sighed.

"Not even Hunter's insults get through to this guy. Yep, tough crowd, alright."

Xander and Blade began exchanging blows, throwing tentative punches in their attempts to find possible holes in their opponent's defenses. After each man had blocked several blows, they backed away, each man measuring the other's defensive stances.

"Not bad," Xander said with an easy grin. "So, why are we doing this, again?"

"To let the Hunter have a little privacy with her friend," Blade said evenly.

"Oh, yeah. Well, you see, that's the problem," Xander continued. "She's got a spell on her, she's goin' goofy, and you're keepin' me from helpin' her. So I guess that means that I get to layeth the Slayerette smacketh down on your nappy ass."

Xander started throwing punches with rapid speed, attempting to get past Blade's defenses, but Blade blocked his fists every time.

Blade started to take the offensive away from his opponent, throwing a combination of front and back punches, with a couple of elbows thrown in. When Xander blocked a right roundhouse, Blade threw a circle kick that connected with the teenager's face, knocking him back several steps. Rather than press his attack, the dhampir let the Slayerette get his bearings.

Xander rubbed his jaw and checked for a nosebleed. He smiled again.

"Not bad, Blade man. But you don't let up on an opponent. Bad for your life expectancy." The Slayerette went into a fighting stance once again. "Lemme show you."

Xander started another offensive routine, moving in a nearly blinding pattern to confuse his opponent. If seemed to be failing, as Blade only slowly gave ground, dodging and blocking flawlessly. Xander started to grow concerned, but then inspiration struck.

Deciding to try a variation of Shaw's combo, Xander threw a spin kick. As Blade ducked, Xander used his momentum to throw himself into a crouching spin kick that actually connected, sweeping Blade's feet from under him, sending him flying to the turf.

Xander quickly sprang to his feet, and began to take off running towards the meeting area. That is, until Blade grabbed his ankle, bringing Xander down.

Blade started to move forward from his crouch, but Xander lashed out with a kick that grazed the Daywalker's jaw, breaking his momentum.

Xander kipuped and threw a vicious spin kick, which connected with Blade's jaw and sent him rolling backwards. He quickly used the momentum to roll back to his feet. Xander now had a look of anger on his face, which had replaced the normally easy manner he usually wore.

"All right, buddy," he said in an abrupt tone, "who, or what, are you? You're not human."

Blade wiped a bit of blood from his mouth, and sneered. "The bloodsuckers call me the Daywalker.  What about your power?"

"Fairy magic, courtesy of my good bud, Robin," Xander replied. "So you're the one that Shaw fought last night, huh? Let's see if I can improve on her draw." He tensed, and started throwing punches and kicks once again, and when he saw an opening, he popped a snap kick to Blade's jaw, which only compounded the earlier punishment he'd taken there. However, when Xander tried to follow up on the kick, Blade dropped and threw two quick punches.

The first connected with the teenager's gut, while the second landed straight into his most sensitive area. Xander's mouth opened in a silent scream, and Blade picked the Slayerette up, military pressed him, and tossed him ten feet back in the direction he'd come.

Xander landed with a crash, and Blade watched him as he moaned, sparing the younger man with an icy gaze through his sunglasses.

"Should I follow up on my opponent, now?" he asked.

*****

Cordelia was quickly making her way to Maxine's location at the east side of the park, when she started to feel the hairs on her neck starting to stand on end. She stopped and looked around, completely turning around before deciding she was imagining things. She quickly turned around. . . and nearly jumped out of her skin at the sight of someone less than two feet in front of her.

Cordelia glared at the person in front of her while trying to get her heart back into her throat, and finally said one word in frustration.

"Goddess!!!"

"Yes?" Artemis asked with a smile of innocent amusement.

Cordelia spitted her with a glare that would have cowed a lesser person, but kept her tongue for the most part. "Hello, have we ever heard of knocking? Or clearing your throat?"

"You need to go back. Xander is fighting the Daywalker," Artemis informed her Amazon. "And he's not doing as well as he normally would, because the fight isn't with lethal intent. He's holding back, but too much."

Cordelia's eyes went wide. "Oh, shit. I gotta get to him. But Maxine. . ."

"I'll keep an eye on her, Cordelia," Artemis promised. "I will tell her what has happened, but I cannot directly interfere. Now go."

"Got it, Boss Lady," Cordelia snapped, turning on her heel and taking off back the way she'd come.

Artemis just stared at her back for a second.

<Boss Lady?> she asked herself, before smiling. <I like it.>

She quickly disappeared to go talk to a newborn Immortal.

*****

The Ghostbusters' converted ambulance pulled up outside the western entrance to Central Park with a screeching halt, the locked wheels spraying water in all directions. The doors quickly opened, and the quartet of teenagers stepped out into the evening rain.

Garrett was the first to comment on the less than perfect weather. "Great. Just great.  This is gonna play havoc with my mobility, guys."

"Well," Eduardo said with his customary smirk, "if you wanna wait in the car that's fine by me."

"Cut it out, you two," Roland said. He looked at Kylie, who was waving a PKE meter towards the park. "Anything, Kylie?"

The girl had a worried look on her face. "You want the good news, or the bad news?" she asked.

"I hate it when she says that," Eduardo muttered to Roland.

"Good news, the Level Nine's in the park," she remarked, nodding towards the entrance. "Bad news, there's more than just the Level Nine. I'm getting, according to this modified PKE meter, several Level Three and Level Four readings."

"How many?" Roland asked.

"Uhm. . . two Level Threes, and six Level Fours. That's not good."

Garrett flashed his devil-may-care smile. "Of course it's not good. Egon doesn't pay us by the baddie.  Too bad."

"Let's go," Roland said, spurring the others into action.

The Ghostbusters quickly made their way across the street, heading for the entrance.

*****

As Maxine was waiting near the entrance, a bright flash of light took away her night vision. She blinked her eyes and drew out her darn dao, and once her vision cleared, she saw a woman in armor standing before her.

"Oh, shit," she said with a sigh, "I'm not in the mood for this."

The woman seemed to be amused by her attitude. "Peace, Maxine Thomasson. I am Artemis, the Patron Goddess of the Amazons. I merely came to talk to you for a moment."

"So you're the Amazon Boss, huh?"

"Yes, I am," the Goddess said with a nod.

"Okay, where's Cordy? She's supposed to be bookin' here," the Immortal said.

"Xander is fighting someone, and she had to go back to aid him. I came to tell you this, and to tell you that I will be keeping an eye on you. You may proceed to meet with Connor," Artemis explained.

Maxine snorted in frustration. "Okay, whatever.  I gotta jet. Talk to ya later."

The Immortal took off at a brisk pace, and Artemis watched her go, somewhat surprised at the lack of awe in this woman. After a few seconds, she smiled.

"I like this one's attitude."

*****

Shaw was nearing the location at which she was supposed to meet Connor, considering what she was going to say when she saw him.

<What AM I supposed to say to him?> she thought sadly. <'Can you help me?' 'Where can I go?'  If only I had not run from Frank. . . stop. Stop it. It must have happened for a reason. I encountered Blade and Whistler, perhaps that was the reason I saw Angelus, so that I could meet them, rather than kill that. . .>

She slowed her pace, attempting to focus on the matter at hand, rather than letting her thoughts wander around.

<Focus!! Think!!> she berated herself, clenching her fists. <You are meeting with Connor. You cannot lose control.  You must truly listen to his words, and not take things literally. If the others are with him, you can go home.>

Shaw stopped, considering her last thought. <Do I even have a home with them anymore?  I ran . . . so that I would not hurt them. Meet with Connor, and proceed from that point.>

As she started to walk again, she heard the sounds of metal striking. A sound she was far too familiar with.

<Sword fight. If Connor. . .>

She left the thought behind as she began sprinting towards the sounds of the battle.

She entered a small clearing, and was greeted by a sight that chilled her to the very core of her being.

A man with no head, stalking a wounded Connor.

Shaw barely hesitated before running forward and setting herself into position. She stopped thirty feet from the combatants and unslung the Uzi from underneath her duster. She used one hand to whip off her shades, allowing her infravision to go into full effect. There was no time for explanations, and the half-elf had to protect Connor, so she gambled.

[Incoming!] she shouted in Gaelic.

Instinct took over, and Connor dropped to the ground. Shaw pushed the trigger to her Uzi as hard as she could, the silver bullets ripping through the night, the recoil causing the gun to buck upwards despite the deathgrip the Slayerette held it in.

The enchanted projectiles slammed into the demon's spine, as well as shredding his lungs and heart, causing him to stagger. As he fell to his knees, the gun clicked empty.  Shaw ran up and drew one of her daggers, and stabbed him between two of his ribs, driving the silver blade into his heart. She kicked the demon over, and the headless corpse plunged to the side.

Shaw reslung the submachine gun, and rushed over to MacLeod, who was rubbing his leg, which was finally nearing the end of the healing process.

*****

Blade picked Xander up, and pushed the Slayerette back a bit. The young man staggered dizzily, and Blade took up a defensive stance.

"This doesn't have to go any further, kid."

Xander rubbed his own stomach and growled. "Oh, no. I'm gonna enjoy taking out my frustrations out on you. Let's rock, asshole."

Xander started to throw vicious punches, focusing his power and skill as much as possible, but Blade proved equal to the task. On one punch, Blade sidestepped, grabbed Xander's wrist, and dragged him forward, throwing his elbow into Xander's nose.

The bone cracked, and the vampire hunter threw Xander to the grass once again.

A loud moan sounded through the rain, and Xander slowly stood up, clutching at his bleeding proboscis.

"You boke my nobe!" he shouted.

"I was told not to use lethal force," Blade reminded him. "Anything else is fair game."

"Oh, yowr a dead man," Xander promised.

"Talk is cheap, kid."

"So is that outfit. It is SO 'Terminator,’" a feminine voice called off from the side.

Blade and Xander looked over in the direction the voice had come from, and their reactions differed greatly. Xander started grinning through his bloody face, while Blade growled at the sight of Cordelia holding his sword.

"Is this a private party," she asked sweetly, "or can I make this a threesome?"

Xander gave her one of his patented silly smiles. "Well, if yowr game, Cody. I'm willing to twy anything once."

Cordelia's face took on a positively green complexion. "Eeeewwwww!!! That is SO gross!!!"

"Hey, it was YOWR suggesjen," Xander retorted. "Anyway, here's duh wules.  No guns, no weapons, no killing. Anything else, we can do to this dipstick."

"Cool. Sounds fine by me," Cordy said, dropping the sword. Three seconds after she did, a quartet of evil looking prongs came out, snapping with a vicious sound. Cordelia looked at it, and made a face. "Ewww. What the hell?"

"Keeps anyone from using it but me," Blade said, preparing for the assault he figured was coming.

"Sheesh," Xander muttered. "Talk about not wetting anyone pway wid yowr toys."

Xander then took the offensive, throwing punches and kicks designed to take Blade's head off. As Blade dodged and retreated, Cordelia ran up from behind.

She landed a punch to the back of the dhampir's head, and when his head snapped forward, Xander connected with a palm strike, which snapped his head back again. He staggered back, clutching at his head, and Cordelia followed up with a jumping kick that hit Blade in the chest, knocking him back some distance before he fell to the ground.

As the pair of Slayerettes started to move forward, the sound of an automatic weapon tore through the night. The Slayerettes ducked, hitting the ground posthaste. When the shooting stopped, they quickly stood up, but the Daywalker was nowhere to be seen.

*****

Connor looked at her and saw tears, and naked worry, in her eyes.

{Connor, are you all right? What happened? What manner of ta'narri was that?} she asked, the babbled questions coming out at a speed rivaling that of the bullets she'd shot into the Horseman. The fact that she was speaking Elvish didn't help him any.

"Whoa, hold on a minute," Connor ordered, holding his hands up. "English.  Calm down."

Shaw paused, closing her eyes and concentrating to slow her breathing. After a few minutes, she was breathing normally. She nodded nervously and spoke softly.

"Goddess, Connor, if I had been late. . ."

"Stop," he said, forcing her to look at him, "You're making it a habit of defending my life. One might think you had an interest in me besides friendship."

Shaw tensed, and her eyes narrowed. "Hardly."

"Thanks for helping out. But, you wanted to talk, right?"  When she nodded, he smiled. "Okay. I know what's going on, and I need you to listen. Just listen to me. Ares, Artemis' brother, activated the Quickening inside of you. Artemis' brother. He's trying to take you away from Mielikki. . ."

Shaw's face twisted into a fit of rage. "NO!!!" she screamed in raw anger. "NEVER!!!"

"SHAW!" Connor shouted, grabbing her by the biceps.  "Stop! The anger only grows stronger each time you lose your temper. Calm down.  The others have the spell, you know that. Ares is also attempting to use you to hurt Steve and the others. You have to go back to Sunnydale and let them remove the Quickening. Then it'll be all over."

By this time, Shaw was shivering. "Why? Why did he do this?"

"To hurt the others," Connor said. "To make you his champion, like the Amazons serve Artemis."

Shaw almost lost her temper again, and it took a visible effort to calm down. A few seconds later, she said, "Connor, I am so tired."

"I know. It's okay," he swore. Something behind the half-elf caught his attention, and he threw Shaw aside.

As she tumbled violently to the turf, she looked up to see the Horseman once again on his feet, engaging the Immortal in combat.

*****

Ares was smiling, having regenerated the Horseman with a touch of his power.

<Girl's got style, if not the right motivation,> he thought to himself. <I've got to put her over the edge, though. How can I do that?>

*****

Shaw quickly jumped up, pulling out her Beretta. As soon as Connor backed away, she began pulling the trigger.  The bullets thudded into the Horseman, who didn't seem to notice, continuing his pursuit of Connor.

She simply kept pulling the trigger, until the last round ejected. She didn't have time to reload, so she went to another tactic.

Xander and Cordelia looked around in confusion, wondering where Blade had disappeared to.

"It was a setup!" Cordelia shouted.

"Sounded wike it," Xander said in agreement. "wet's get going."

The couple started forward, but as they passed a tree, a fist came from around and smacked Cordelia flush between the eyes. She fell backward, and the split second it took Xander to react was all it took for Blade to grab him by the coat and monkeyflip him into the brush.

Blade quickly got to his feet, at the same time the Amazon did. She jumped at the black man with a fury of a pissed off Amazon, and threw several furious kicks in an attempt to take Blade out of the fight. When Blade ducked a kick, he tried to sweep her feet, but Cordy jumped, doing a somersault while turning, and landed behind him.

She grabbed him by the hair, turned him around, and delivered a wicked headbutt, followed by several right crosses as she refused to let go of his head.

Blade's face grew bloody as Cordelia threw her tenth punch, and she then picked him up and bodyslammed him to the ground. She brought her foot up to execute an axe kick to his stomach, but he rolled out of the way.

He stood up, and quickly pulled out a derringer. Cordelia stopped short, and snarled.

"I thought the rules said no guns," she demanded.

"I also told the other kid I wasn't stupid," he said. "All he had to do was wait for the meeting to end. But he was determined to fight."

"Yep," Xander said from behind.

Blade turned just the slightest fraction before Cordelia reached out and grabbed the small gun, throwing it off into the night. Xander grabbed Blade, turned him around, and threw a right-handed roundhouse that sent the dhampir reeling towards his girlfriend. She quickly threw her own punch, and it knocked Blade back towards the clearing.

As he rolled, the Slayerettes ran forward, determined not to give him a second's respite. As he stood up, Xander got a running start, and jumped, attempting a side kick. Blade ducked it, and threw a backhanded roundhouse that connected to Xander's already broken nose, beginning the blood flow anew. As Xander staggered back, Blade's next move, a side kick, caught the warrior in the breadbasket, sending him to the ground. But before Blade could recover, Cordelia arrived on the scene, throwing a knife-edge to his neck that sent him to his knees. She then got to his left side, turned to face the same direction he was facing, and brought her right leg back into a kick, the back of her knee connecting with his Adam's apple.

As she connected, she dropped to the ground, and brought her leg down on his neck a second time, this time ending the Daywalker's struggles.

Cordelia jumped to her feet, and ran over to Xander. As she did, a second series of gunshots pierced the night air.  She dove to the ground, but kept her forward momentum as she crawled to Xander.

*****

Connor was starting to grow worried over this opponent, due to the fact that there was no apparent way to kill the Horseman. A brief burst of hope began to grow when Shaw fired bullets into the Horseman, but it faded when the rounds had little to no effect.

The Horseman continued to press Connor, step for step, blow for blow, with a single-minded purpose.

As he continued to parry, the Highlander realized that it was exactly that; the demon's purpose.

<To kill me.> he thought.

"Shaw!" he shouted, hoping he had gained her attention.  "He's after me! He'll ignore anything else. The others are here, find them!  We'll beat him through sheer numbers!"

"No! I will not abandon you!" she shouted, dropping the empty Beretta.

She raised her right arm, sighting along it. She flexed her muscles, and a silver dagger shot out of the launcher. It sank into the Horseman's right thigh with a sick 'thok,' and her hearing picked up a slight hissing noise.

However, the Horseman didn't even slow down.

The half-elf raised her other arm, aiming higher. The dagger fired, and lodged into the right arm.  On reflex, the Horseman dropped his axe.

He stopped, and turned to retrieve the weapon. Shaw took the opportunity to run forward and draw Soulreaver. She quickly used her sword to begin swinging at the demon, forcing him onto the defensive.

She slashed as fast as she could, trying only to keep the Horseman's weapons occupied with her until Connor had rested a bit. However, her furious offensive flurry cost her some of her remaining energy, as the days of constant combat finally began to take its toll on her. She dodged a chop from the axe, but the Horseman's backswing drove the haft into her gut.

Shaw was flung to the side, her lungs emptying with a heavy cough. She lay on the ground, coughing violently as the Horseman once again turned his attention to his true quarry.

By this time, however, MacLeod was ready for him. Connor quickly sliced the demon's left thigh, and as the Horseman's leg collapsed, he performed a second sliding cut across the demon's spine. The black-garbed warrior collapsed onto the ground.

Connor watched for a few seconds, and then nodded in satisfaction. He walked over to the Slayerette, who was still bent over double, heaving heavily for oxygen.

"Are you okay, Shaw?" he asked, placing a hand on her back.

She shook her head, still coughing. After a full minute of wheezing, she gave him an evil glare.

"Connor," she said sarcastically, "I owe you two or three cloudbursts in your home for this."

Connor looked back at the Horseman, who was once again rising.

"Oh, no," he muttered.

Shaw followed his gaze, and stood up, fire in her eyes once again.

"Make that four cloudbursts."

*****

The God of War was trying to decide whether to be impressed with the half-elf, or completely enraged.

"I can't believe this," he snapped, watching as the demon rose once again. "She's helping this Immortal trash the Horseman, yet she's obviously picked up a few new toys to try out."

He continued to consider his options, whether to allow the fighting to continue, or to simply end it. Finally, he decided on the former.

"If I don't let the battle take its course, she might allow the Wanderer to remove the Quickening. Sorry, but no dice."

He watched as the battle continued apace.

*****

As the gunfire ended, Cordelia picked up Xander's head as she knelt next to him.

"Xander, are you okay?" she asked worriedly.

Xander glared at his lover through a bloody mask. "Hell no, I'm not awl wight!" he said with a whine.  "I've gotten my ass kicked and my nose bwoken in a wainstowm. And on tob of dat, I feel wike I'm gonna puke."

Cordelia quickly dropped his head and backed away from him. "Ewwww. Then stay away from me!"

"Gee, thanks four duh woving concoon, Codelia," he said with weak sarcasm. "Yowr wardwobe's alweady wuined by duh wain, why are you compwaining?"

"'Cause I'll have to replace it, thanks to Shaw," she commented. "Your problem'll be easy to fix."

"What?!? My nobe is bwoke!"

"Yeah," she said, shrugging as if weren't a problem.  "We get Shaw, she does her voodoo, and one healing spell later you're all set. Me? Nooo, I have to go shopping."

"Wike I said, why are you compwaining?"

Cordelia considered that, and shrugged. "Okay, you're right for once, Dweeb Boy.  But let's get this shit over with."

She stood up, and drew her own pistol. She walked over and kicked Blade, who woke up in a surly mood.

"Okay, asshole, we're going to talk to Shaw and Connor," she demanded. "Get up, and we'll take it nice and slow."

"And then what?" he asked tersely.

"Simpool," Xander answered as he walked over, holding his nose. "We see what's gone down, and if it's kosher, we intwoduce you to duh Wanderer. We can always use someone new in Section Seven.  But we pwefer that you have a better attitude."

"Like your 'I'm going to kick your ass because my friend wants privacy' attitude?"

"Yep."

Cordy rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Get your sword, smartass."

Once Blade had retrieved his katana, the unlikely trio started walking through the rainy evening.

*****

As the Horseman began to stalk forward, Shaw and Connor were arguing rather vehemently.

"Shaw, I'm going to hold out as long as I can," Connor said. "Find the others, and bring them back here."

"No," she snapped. "I will not leave you alone.  I have too many deaths on my hands already."

The grief he heard almost made him stop, but he pressed on. "Shaw, I'm giving you an order.  Find Steven and the others."

"No. I will not leave you."

"Shaw," Connor sighed in frustration, "you are one of the most short-tempered, smartmouthed, stubborn-willed students that I have ever come across."

Despite her fear, Shaw flashed him the same grin he often used on Duncan.

"You taught me well."

Connor had no choice but to laugh at that, and he nodded.

"All right. I'll start backing up, you hit him from the side, try to disarm him."

"Is THAT an order?" she asked innocently.

"Like you'd follow it," he snapped. "Keep your mind on business."

Shaw nodded, and ran forward, approaching the Horseman from the left. When he brought his sword up for a chop at Connor's katana, Shaw brought Soulreaver across in a left-handed swing, knocking the weapon out wide. Wide open, in fact, for Connor to drive his katana into the Horseman's stomach.

The Horseman brought his axe down around in a neck level swing, but Connor withdrew the sword and rolled to the side. When he rose, the demon turned to follow him. And it placed him directly into Shaw's path.

She drove Soulreaver into the same wound that Connor had inflicted, and the Horseman actually paused, and brought the sword over, but stopped when Shaw jerked her magical blade upward, attempting to open the Hessian like she would when beginning to field dress a deer.

However, although the Horseman did drop his sword, it left his hand free to grab the preoccupied priestess in a chokehold.

With his superhuman strength, he tossed Shaw nearly fifteen feet away, sending her landing with a soft thud onto the rain-softened turf.

The Horseman then reached inward to draw Shaw's sword out of his stomach, and that caused Connor to grin.

As soon as the Horseman touched the flaming blade, an electrical discharge enveloped him, illuminating him in an iridescent blue glow similar to a bug zapper. The demon threw the sword aside, but fell to his knees.

Connor waited cautiously, awaiting the Horseman's next action. Sure enough, after thirty seconds, he began to rise again. The Horseman picked up his axe in a two-handed grip, and began to stalk Connor once again.

*****

Ares was beside himself with glee. He'd been slightly angered when the Horseman had thrown the half-breed, but he buried that anger as the Hessian began to stalk the Immortal Highlander one more time.

<And this time I don't have to worry about her interfering.> he thought, looking over to where she'd been lying on the ground, moaning.

As he did, his jaw dropped. She'd gotten back up, and was sprinting after the Horseman.

<I don't believe this! This girl doesn't know when to quit!> he said open-mouthed. But then, he smiled. <That's part of the reason I chose her.>

*****

Shaw ran full out, and she knew that Connor had seen her. She neared the sight of her sword, and slid on the slick turf, grabbing the sword as she slid by, and then gathered her feet beneath her to jump up at nearly the same speed she'd been running at before sliding.

She saw Connor maneuver himself so that she could attack from the side again, but she smiled to herself as she neared the demon.

<I am sorry, Connor,> she thought. <But I have another way to do this.>

As the Horseman adjusted his course to stay on Connor, Shaw also adjusted her path so that she came up to the side and slightly behind the axe-wielding warrior.

*****

<What is she doing?> Ares thought in amazement. <She's not going to take out his other weapon?  Or his limbs, like she'd normally do?>

Once he watched the girl take her longsword in two hands, and bring the illuminated blade back in a level backswing as she positioned her hips to add even more momentum to the stroke, he understood.

<Sometimes, brute force works better than skill.> the God of War thought. <Eat your heart out, Ken Griffey Jr.>

When she began the swing that would, at least she hoped, cut clean through the Horseman's spine (not to mention the rest of his body at that level), Ares waggled a finger.

<Sorry, but I don't think so.>

*****

As Shaw brought Soulreaver around, aiming just above the base of the Horseman's spine, she felt the subtle manipulation of magic rippling through the demon. However, she couldn't stop her stroke in time.

<I must simply hope for the best.> she prayed.

However, as the enchanted weapon whistled in at the demonic warrior, the worst possible thing happened.

Her sword PASSED THROUGH the Horseman. . .

. . . and sliced deeply into Connor MacLeod's stomach.

Connor and Shaw's faces both went deep into shock, as the half-elf quickly withdrew her blade, and Connor's blood spurted out, drenching her sword and her clothing with crimson liquid. As he fell to his knees, Connor looked at her in surprise, and he could see the astonished grief on her face as she realized what she'd accidentally done.

*****

Steve and Buffy strode into sight of the battle just as Shaw's sword plunged into Connor, and both of them went slack-jawed at the sight of their comrade dealing the wound.

"Oh, my God," Buffy whispered, not wanting to believe what she'd just witnessed. "Steve, we're too late."

"No," he said, drawing Demon Slayer, "look whom they're fighting."

The Slayer looked at the third person in the clearing, and she started to grow fearful at the lack of a head on that person.

"Steve, what the fuck is that?" she asked dreadfully.

"The one opponent an Immortal would have problems with," he said grimly. "The Headless Horseman."

Buffy stared at him. "You mean we just walked into a fairy tale?"

"No, worse," Steve told her. "Ares. He has to be behind this. He's trying to kill Connor, so that Shaw will go over the edge. I saw her swing the sword, it went THROUGH the Horseman."

"How can she fight a ghost?!?" Buffy asked. "How do WE fight a ghost?"

"We don't," the Wanderer said, as the pair overcame their shock, and ran forward. "He's a demon. Ares has to be using magic to aid him."

"Well, let's bail them out."

The two Immortals ran forward, hoping to cover the ground between them and their comrades before it was too late.

*****

Ares shuddered at the sight of the half-elf's blade sliding through the intangible Horseman, and into the Immortal. He looked at the fatal wound, and nodded to himself.

"Now THAT," he said to no one in particular, "has gotta hurt."

The God of War settled back to watch the Horseman finish off MacLeod, and hopefully bring his chosen one closer to his arms.

*****

The Horseman attempted to bring the axe to bear, winding up in much the same way Shaw had done with her sword, and the Slayerette felt another ripple in the demon, and it brought her attention back to reality. She quickly moved forward, and with only two feet separating them, there was no way for the Horseman to dodge her attack.

She drove into the Hessian with a simple football-style tackle, driving both of them to the ground. She quickly got up, beating the Horseman to his feet, and backed up in between him and MacLeod.

She chanced a look over her shoulder, and her eyes went wide at the sight of Connor pitching over, clearly dead from the wound he'd been dealt.

The guilt and grief that welled up in her nearly overwhelmed the ranger with despair, but it evaporated when she looked backed at the Horseman, and saw him rising once again to finish his unholy mission.

It was at that point that Shaw saw the true cause of Connor's temporary death, although she didn't see it as such. Something exploded inside of her, and she welcomed it wholeheartedly.

For the first time in her life, Shaw Hunter welcomed the rage.

*****

Ares felt the amazing surge of anger inside of the elfgirl, and he smiled as she entered into the berserker rage he'd heard spoken of before.

"Finally!" he shouted in glee. "Now we're getting somewhere.  Go to town, baby!"

His triumph was short-lived, however, as he saw the target of her rage: The Horseman.

"WHAT THE?!?" he gasped as the woman charged forward. He quickly teleported the Hessian's sword back into the demon's hands, and almost stopped her himself before holding back. "No, let's see how she does against him. If she can beat him, so much the better."

*****

Shaw saw the Horseman's sword appear out of nowhere, but her instincts had completely taken over. Unlike the rages of times past, however, her instincts were driving her to protect someone, rather than to simply survive.

Enough reason remained for the half-elf to quickly utter a prayer before she then reached over her shoulder, and withdrew the titanium-bladed shortsword given to her by Whistler.

As the Horseman started forward again, oblivious to the berserker before him, Shaw's spell took effect. The wooden haft of the Horseman's weapon bent, warping in all directions and making the weapon useless.

The demon didn't notice until Shaw's raging, primal scream pierced the night at the same time her shortsword pierced his gut.

Before he could react, she withdrew the blade and brought it across in a left-handed backhand swing, cleaving cleanly through the ruined axe handle, which shattered into a dozen good-sized splinters.

The Horseman, once again distracted from his target, brought his sword into both hands to chop down the obstruction. But when he did, a flame-covered blade blocked the weapon, and was followed by a second, shorter blade driving it aside. Then, before he could strike again, the unthinkable happened; the Horseman, by the sheer power, rage, and speed of the half-elf's strikes, was forced onto the defensive.

*****

Steve and Buffy stopped fifty yards away, shocked into motionlessness by the elven scream that pierced the night.

As Shaw charged the Horseman, both Slayer and Wanderer could almost see the change enveloping the half-elf.

"My God!" Buffy whispered hoarsely. "Steve, what's happening to her?"

"Berserker rage," St. Wolf said. "Her instincts are in control."

Buffy's mouth went open, as she processed the information. "That's impossible, honey!  He's not a vampire. She said--"

"She's protecting Connor," Steve explained, taking Buffy's hand and heading for the Highlander, who had yet to revive. "She's the only thing standing between the Horseman and Connor's head."

As the lovers reached and knelt next to Connor, whose abdomen was slowly healing, they watched Shaw begin an offensive flurry that figuratively, if not literally, took their breaths away.

*****

The three warriors were walking quickly, but stopped when they heard a piercing scream cutting through the heavy rain.

"What the fuck was that?!?" Cordelia asked.

"Oh, sit," Xander said softly, drawing Cordy's attention.

"What?"

Xander didn't answer, but looked to Blade. "Wook, buddy, we don't have time four games.  We gotta get to duh meeting, NOW. We stop pointing duh gun at you, you don't fuck wid us. Okay?"

"What's wrong?" he asked, and both Xander and Cordelia were surprised by the curiosity in his voice.

"Hulk Mode," Xander said firmly. "I'm guessing here, bud I'm tinking dat's it."

"What's 'Hulk Mode?'"

"Half-elven boosooker rage," Xander said as he started to move. "Usually involves somewon being injewed by vamps."

"And YOU kept us from the meeting," Cordy snapped.

"It's okay," Blade said. "Vampires I can deal with."

The three started running as fast as their legs could carry them.

*****

Shaw began swinging with as much speed as she could manage, her vision shrinking into a red tunnel that focus on one area; the Horseman's sword, as her instincts determined that the demon would be no threat once that weapon was eliminated.

She brought the swords she carried, ancient elven steel and modern titanium, into a dizzying flurry, combining skill with pure adrenaline and rage to raise her skill to a new level.

The Horseman tried to do more than parry, but the Slayerette’s rage-enhanced reflexes instantly countered each adjustment.

Shaw struck with such speed that the clangs of her blades against the Horseman's became as if they were a single long, ringing continuous sound.

As she continued to drive the Horseman back, she finally found the opening she needed, and drove the shortsword hilt-deep into the Hessian's chest. As he staggered back, the half-elf engaged the Horseman's blade with her own and brought the blades up. She then executed Connor's own disarming move, but with one modification. When the Horseman's sword started to leave his grasp, Shaw reached in and grabbed it in her left hand. The Horseman used his left hand to throw a wicked roundhouse, but Shaw had anticipated the blow, and was already spinning, so the blow only glanced her cheek. Shaw turned one hundred and eighty degrees, rotating the twin blades in her hands.

Stopping her spin, she jabbed backwards with all of her power, and both Steve and Buffy saw the look of fury radiating from Shaw's eyes as the swords drove half the length of their blades into the Horseman's stomach, both blade tips penetrating out of the Horseman's back.

She turned around, grasped both hilts, and then rolled backwards, somersaulting the demon over onto his backs, while the blades exited his body with a sick-sounding "shuk." She rolled backwards herself, and dropped Soulreaver to pick up the Horseman's own blade in two hands. With a scream that drove chills down even Steve's spine, she drove the sword through the demon's chest, leaning into the crossguards to pin the demon into the ground like an insect in a collection.

The Horseman began thrashing, and clawed at the blade pinning his body to the rain-soaked earth. Knowing that the soft dirt wouldn't hold the demon for long, Shaw picked up Soulreaver and swung with all her fury-driven might.

The Horseman's right hand, wrist, and part of his forearm flew off into the rainy darkness. As the Horseman writhed in agony, Shaw moved to his lower extremities, preparing to sever his legs.

*****

"Steve, we gotta stop her!" Buffy pleaded, wanting to go to her friend's aid. "Before she totally flips out!"

"Buffy, stay away from her," Steve instructed her, putting one hand on her shoulder. "Call her name, try to get through to her, but don't get in reach."

Buffy's face became clouded, as she fought his sensible advice with her desire to help Shaw. Finally, with rain beating down harder than before, she closed her eyes and nodded.

Steve squeezed her shoulder, and she took off.

*****

As Shaw hacked into the Horseman's right kneecap, Ares went "oooooo" as Soulreaver cut clean through the demon's joint.

"You know, it almost makes me feel sorry for the Horseman," he muttered. "Ah, let the Immortal live.  The Horseman's done the job I really wanted done, even if he didn't do it the right way."

He quickly disappeared, leaving the Horseman to whatever fate befell him.

*****

Buffy stopped about twenty feet from Shaw, and drew out Vampire Slayer. Holding the sword off to her side, she yelled out.

"Shaw, stop!"

Shaw paused in mid action, at the apex of her upswing. She stood there for several seconds, and slowly brought the magical longsword to her side, pointing towards the earth.

Buffy cautiously moved forward a few steps, and softly called, "Shaw?"

Shaw fell to her knees, holding herself up with Soulreaver, her hands gripping the crossguards for all they were worth. The Slayer could tell she was trembling, and probably not from the chilly rainfall.

Buffy walked up and knelt next to the half-elf, and put an arm around her.

"Shaw, it's gonna be okay."

"No," Shaw croaked in a choked voice, shaking her head slowly, "it will not, Buffy. I . . . I am too far gone. I killed Connor. I . . . I entered the rage. . ."

"To save Connor," Buffy said softly, "you did it to save Connor. You were the only thing between him and the Horseman."

"But, Buffy," she said, trembling as she got a good look at her shirt and duster, "oh, no. Oh, no. Buffy, it is Connor's blood. It is Connor's . . ."

<SHIT! Panic attack!!> Buffy's mind screamed. "Shaw, listen to me!" she hissed. "It's okay. Connor's Immortal, remember that. He'll be okay."

But Shaw didn't seem to be hearing her, shaking her head again and again, and muttering, "I killed him. It was an accident. I killed him."

Shaw suddenly tore out of Buffy's grasp, and started to run, and Buffy got up to take off after her, when Steve yelled, "BUFFY!!"

Buffy turned around, and saw that the Horseman was attempting to rise with his good arm and leg. Buffy's eyes went hard and narrow, and she quickly brought Vampire Slayer to bear.

"Ares, I hope you're watching this, 'cause this is what I'm gonna do to you, you fucking shit!" she screamed, as she threw two lightning-quick slashes of her Katana.

The first severed the Horseman's left arm, but the second, a level cut at waist height, cut completely through the demon's torso, and he fell to the earth, before vanishing into a black, misty fog that quickly dissipated.

Buffy looked on in confusion, and looked back over her shoulder to her boyfriend.

"Please tell me you can explain that," she said.

"He's back in Hell," Steve said simply. "He won't be back for a long time."

Buffy nodded, but quickly turned her attention back to the real reason they were here, but Shaw had vanished into the darkness.

"SHIT!" she snapped. She looked back at St. Wolf.  "Steve, I'm going after her."

"No, let the others find her," Steve said, contradicting her intentions. "We need to wait for Connor to revive. Maybe he can tell us what happened."

"But Steve," she started, but realized that with the speed and head start she had, Shaw would outdistance her fairly quickly. With a heavy heart, she walked back over to Steve and the prone Connor.

*****

As the Ghostbusters moved in the direction of the Level Nine reading, they noticed a single, teenaged girl walking in the same direction, setting a brisk pace herself.

"Kylie, tell me that's not the Level Nine," Garrett said.

"Hope not," Eduardo added. "She's a cutie."

"For one thing, she has a head," the female Ghostbuster snapped in frustration. She glanced at the PKE meter. "She's one of the Level Fours. I'm gettin' some real strong magical readings."

"Do we bag her?" Garrett asked.

"I'd like to," Eduardo said offhandedly.

"Will you two stop it?" Roland snapped. He hefted his proton pack. "We can talk to her, and find out if maybe she's here to stop the Horseman like we are."

"Good idea," Kylie said, starting to head in the direction of the blonde woman. "Let's go ask her."

As they started moving, the object of their attention noticed them, and turned to face them. She looked at the gear that the kids were carrying, and she went on her guard.

"What are you doing out here?" she asked, looking at them warily.

"That's classified," Garrett said as he wheeled closer to her. "You need to get out of here. There's a big bad guy in the park, and we're here to take him out."

Now the girl went further on her guard. "Oh, really. And who's the bad guy? Ares?"

The Ghostbusters looked at each other strangely, and Kylie whispered, "Uh, I don't think she's gonna fall for the cover up routine. She's a Level Four, herself?"

"Then you talk to her," Eduardo said. "You know, girl talk, ghost style."

Kylie sighed. "Fine." She took two steps forward, and called out. "We're the Ghostbusters. We're here because there's a demon on the loose in the park. Know anything about it?"

"A demon?" she asked worriedly. "What kind?"

"The Headless Horseman," Kylie replied. "He's what we call a Level Nine reading, and he's in the middle of the park."

The girl processed the information, and her eyes went wide. "Level Nine? You guys are Bureau 13?"

The Ghostbusters all dropped their jaws as she said that.

"You know about that?" Roland asked.

"Of course. But we don't need the backup, trust me," she answered. She started to turn away. "Wait here, and I'll get my boss."

"I don't think so," Garrett said, pointing his proton pack at her.

"Garrett, what are you doing?!?" Kylie asked in astonishment.

"She's trying to book, and heading for the Horseman," he explained. As the girl took up an aggressive stance, he added, "We need to get by her."

"You don't want to mess with me," the girl warned. "You don't know what's at stake here."

"Tell us," Eduardo snapped.

"Someone's soul, asshole," she snapped back at him.  "And you're keeping me from finding the person whose soul is in danger. Now stay out of my way."

As she started to turn away, the entire team drew their weapons, and pointed them at the woman.

"Hold it, sweetcheeks," Eduardo yelled. "Just lead us to your demon friend, nice and easy."

The woman grabbed the side of her head in frustration. "I don't have TIME for this!"

She started to turn again, and shouted, "Follow me all you want, I've got someone to save!"

As she started to run, Garrett let out a warning blast from his pack, which missed the blonde teenager by less than five feet.

"Don't move," he warned as the others keyed their triggers.

"I'm getting a bad feeling about this," Kylie said softly.

The woman turned back, and her hands started glowing in a bright, yellow light. She stared them down, and said in an even tone, "I told you not to mess with me, people."

"Try us," Eduardo taunted her.

"Fine," she said with a nod. She started chanting, and the light on her hands grew brighter.  "Hecate, work thy will! Show these fools the sun's bright fire!"

With that, a ball of fire appeared in the girl's right hand, and she tossed it straight towards the Ghostbusters.

*****

Shaw was running west, stumbling often as the lowering adrenaline levels had only increased her weariness. She was running on nervous energy, and she realized that sooner or later, she would have to sleep.

<No,> she thought. <I cannot. I cannot stand to see. . .>

Her thoughts were stopped as she heard voices in the distance, and her guard went up tenfold. She cautiously moved forward, standing at the edge of small stand of trees. What she saw was the last thing she'd expected.

Amy, here in New York with the others.

Shaw quickly took in the scene, and she saw Amy's hands start glowing. When the four young humans opposite her started to raise their weapons, Shaw bit back a yell. She quickly exited the trees just as Amy launched a little fireball at the quartet.

The fireball landed about ten feet in front of the four people, and they began to scatter. Two of the three males, a dark-skinned youth and his partner, went right while a man in a wheelchair and the sole female of the group went in the opposite direction.

When they began to recover and point their weapons at Amy, Shaw did the only thing she could think of.

*****

"Holy shit!" Eduardo shouted. "Kylie, why didn't you tell us she was a witch or some shit!"

"Hey," she snapped defensively. "The PKE meter only gives me levels, not specifics.  You got a problem with that?"

"Yeah, I do," Garrett added, putting in his two cents worth. "But I'll take it up with Egon when we get back to the firehouse."

"IF we get back," Eduardo said, drawing looks from the others. "So I'm a pessimist."

As the Ghostbusters began to point their weapons at the blonde woman, a scream pierced the night, and they, and the spell caster, turned as one to find the source.

They saw a second woman, this one with glowing white eyes and wielding a flame-covered sword, racing towards them.

The woman who'd thrown the fireball started to look fearful as she shouted at the other.

"Shaw, don't!"

Eduardo and Garrett, with their usual decisive attitudes, decided to shoot first and ask questions later.

"Blast 'em!" they both shouted.

As they fired their proton packs, Kylie shouted in vain for them to stop.

The blonde girl did a pair of backflips, moving out of the way of Garrett's beam, while the sword wielder rolled, Eduardo's beam shooting over her and into the distance.

Both women stood up, and both began chanting, although the chants were distinctly different.

"Oh, crap," Roland whispered, pulling the trigger at the same time as Eduardo.

A blue glow encircled the second woman, and the proton beams blasted an invisible wall, but the woman herself staggered a bit under the impact.

"What happened?" Eduardo asked. "We didn't hit her."

"No, but maybe the shield's not strong enough. One more time," Roland said.

To their left, Eduardo and Kylie, the latter with great hesitation, fired their own weapons at the other spell caster. Their beams struck, and harmlessly bounced off of, a glowing white hemisphere that appeared around the witch.

"Great," Garrett muttered to Kylie. "We get the stronger one."

"We shouldn't be doing this," Kylie said.

"Tell Ms. 'Great-Balls-of-Fire' that, Kylie."

The Ghostbusters fired their proton packs once more, hoping to break the shields.

*****

Shaw felt the protection spell buckle, and she knew that these weapons would eventually break through.

<But I now know that my spells are effective against Earth technology. But how effective remains to be seen.>

As the two men firing at her discharged their weapons a second time, her shield was penetrated and part of the energy streams struck Shaw in the chest. The half-elf was sent flying back, landing on her back with a crash.

*****

"SHAW!!!" Amy yelled, and turned back to the Ghostbusters. "Stop it! Leave her alone!!"

"It's your turn, witchie," Eduardo yelled, as all four of the rookie Bureau 13 agents turned their weapons on her.

Amy realized that four weapons might be more than her shield could handle.

"Oh, Goddess, am I in trouble now," she whispered.

*****

Kylie was trying to be the voice of reason, asking the others, "Guys, we got one down, do we really have to do this?"

"What, you want another fireball in our faces?" Eduardo asked. "Besides, look at her.  She's pissed off at us as it is. Like she's gonna see reason."

As the rain continued to drive down, the Ghostbusters fired.

The four beams struck Amy's shield, and it started to flash and buckle.  Amy started chanting again, trying to reinforce the spell before they fired at her a second time. But, she saw that they would fire again before she could complete her enchantment.

So busy concentrating on each other, were they, that the five combatants failed to see the sixth person present rise from the ground.

*****

When they entered the clearing, however, there were only three people in the area; Buffy, Steve, and a now reviving Connor MacLeod.

Xander cursed harshly, and Buffy and Steve both wheeled around, pulling their guns before realizing who it was. They quickly holstered the weapons as Connor stood uneasily.

Xander, Cordelia and Blade walked over to the other three, and looked around.

"Lemme guess, setup?" Cordelia asked rhetorically.

"Yes," Connor snapped, holding his stomach, which the Slayerettes could see through the hole in his shirt. "But not in the way you're thinking."

"Okay, update?" Cordelia asked.

"First, who's the poker face?" Buffy asked.

"Bwade, duh Daywalker, duh pwivacy maker," Xander muttered, drawing a harsh look from Blade.

"So you're the Daywalker," Steve said with a nod. "Steve St. Wolf, a.k. a. the Wanderer."

Blade just nodded fractionally, and sheathed his sword.

"Real conversationalist," Buffy whispered.

"So, whud happened?" Xander asked, looking around.

"Oh, let's see," Connor started sarcastically. He snorted, and began. "Ares sent the Headless Horseman after me, Shaw shows up and empties two magazines into the Horseman, it doesn't do any good, so when the Horseman goes after me again, she tries to swing that sword of hers like a baseball bat to cut him in half down the middle."

"Saw duh demon in half twick," Xander said. "Dat's a new one."

"It still is," Steve said angrily. "Ares, at least I assume it was him, used magic to make the Horseman intangible, like a ghost. So, Shaw's swing went right through him."

"Oh," Xander and Cordy said quietly, looking at Connor's bloody shirt. Cordelia added, "Gross."

"How do you think I feel?" Connor asked rhetorically.

Buffy took up the story at that point. "So, while Connor's doing his Lazarus bit, Shaw goes into one of her hissy fits, and totally kicks the demon's ass."

"How bad?" Xander asked, remembering Willow's description of Shaw's battle with Spike.

"Oh, lessee," Buffy said, trying to keep a straight face, "she cast a spell to destroy his axe, pulls out a short sword. ." she pointed to one sticking out of the ground, "breaks the handle of the axe, and goes warp nine with the attacks, using her sword and the other one. She guts the dweeb, takes HIS sword away from him, and drives both swords through his back, then rolls him onto the ground. . ."

"Ewwww, yuck!" Cordelia said, looking sick.

". . .then she uses the Horseman's sword to pin him to the ground, and cuts off one hand and leg, at the knee."

At this point, Cordelia ran off, clutching her mouth.

Buffy looked at her, and at Xander. "Should I go on?"

"Go ahead," he replied, looking somewhat sick himself.

"Okay. I called to her, got her to come back to normal, but she was wigging over what happened to Connor. Before I could stop her, she ran off, and the Horseman was getting back up."

"And since I don't see a cwippled demon anywhere, I'm gonna assume you sent him back where he came fwom."

"Yep," the Slayer said, patting her sword.

"Gweat. So Saw's on the woose again," Xander said. He turned to Blade, and said, "Thanks again."

  Blade didn't bother to respond, but Steve cleared his throat.

"Xander, enough. Shaw took off in Amy's direction, we need to get moving if he want to catch her. Come on."

With that the group of five, six after Cordelia saw them taking off and started moving herself, headed off.

*****

Shaw slowly stood up, and she saw the uniformed humans firing at Amy. Worry rose, but was quickly smothered by anger. Anger that anyone would dare threaten her kin.

"Noooo," she hissed, dragging out the word.

She began to search her mind for a spell, one that would provide some offense to drive her opponents away from Amy. However, most of her offensive spells were for single opponents. As she started to become desperate, a spell flashed in her mind. Looking at the four people, she drew her mouth into a thin, hard line.

Shaw began praying, preparing to unleash what was perhaps the most devastating spell in her arsenal. The main drawback was that the spell could only be cast under certain conditions. How ironic it was, she thought, that the current weather situation provided the EXACT conditions she needed.

As she finished, she sang out the final words of the prayer in a loud, singing style voice.

Luckily for Amy, it drew the attention of the others present, and they seemed hesitant as to what to do about it.

Shaw concentrated, and her eyes lit up, sparks flying around her pupils as she called down the first of several strikes.

Lightning strikes.

*****

The Ghostbusters heard Shaw sing out her last words, and turned, distracted by the Slayerette off in the distance.

"Uh oh," Kylie said, looking worried. "Why am I getting a bad feeling about this?"

Her question was answered by something no one could have expected; a bolt of lightning, striking the ground ten feet in front of them, sending them flying through the air from the sonic boom that followed the strike.

As the Ghostbusters tumbled, rolling and getting aches from landing on their equipment, a second bolt struck at the exact spot they'd occupied five seconds earlier.

*****

Amy's eyes widened in horror at the force that Shaw had tapped into, and unleashed against the other teens who had been shooting at them.

"WHY?!?" she shouted, before it dawned on her.  "Oh, shit. She's trying to protect me. Oh, shit!"

Amy quickly dispelled her shield, and started casting a spell of her own. She furiously chanted, trying to finish the magic before Shaw drew down another bolt.

"Hecate, work thy will! Shield your children from their enemy's wrath!"

Another shield sprang into existence over the shaken up Ghostbusters, and none too soon, as a third bolt struck the shield dead on, being deflected off into the distance. The errant energy struck a lone bush, setting the shrug ablaze.

Amy looked at Shaw, who looked at her with Amy knew had to be disbelief and confusion, almost seeing her whisper with a shocked "Why?"

Amy shouted, "It was a mistake! They made a mistake!"

When the words seemed to sink in, Shaw raised a hand to her mouth in obvious horror and took off running in another direction.

*****

As Steve's group was moving through the park, heading west, a bright flash of lightning hit the ground in the distance. A few seconds later, a second bolt hit the ground near the same area.

"Oh, great," Buffy said, "now God's against us, too."

"That was magic," Blade said, squinting in the direction of where the strike had touched the ground. "I can feel it."

"Kind of a magical sensitivity?" Steve asked with genuine curiosity.

"A slight one," Blade said. "Helps to tell the bloodsuckers from the humans."

Buffy and Steve looked at him with strange looks, and Buffy said, "That sounds like my spider sense." At Blade's look of interest, she added, "I'm the Slayer. I have something that sounds like what you got."

"Better than what Shaw has," Cordy said. "Doesn't freak people out."

"She's the one casting the magic," Blade said. "I felt her magic when she used it on me and my weapons.  She's the one calling the lightning."

"Oh, sit," Xander said. "Se's in Amy's diwection. Think they wan acwoss each other?"

  "And if she isn't holding back. ." Buffy said in fear, and it spurred the Slayerettes, plus one Daywalker, into a run.

As if to confirm their fears, a third strike of lightning crashed through the New York night.

*****

"Dammit, Shaw! Wait!!" Amy shouted as she started to take off after her.

She was stopped by the now all too familiar whine of the Ghostbusters' guns being charged. She turned back on them, her eyes flashing.

"Do you fucking idiots realize what you've just done, dammit!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "You just ruined our best chance of bringing her home!"

The Ghostbusters looked confused by her vehemence, but Eduardo started to bring up his proton pack.

Amy smiled evilly. "Go ahead, genius. The shield works both ways."

He stopped short, and Garrett rolled over next to him and grabbed the barrel.

"Hold it, Eduardo," he said, before turning around to Amy. "So, now what?"

"I should leave you there, assholes," she snapped. "But it'd spare you getting soaked like the rest of us."

She quickly waved her hand, and cancelled the spell. As the shield flickered and dissipated, the Ghostbusters started moving forward, and Amy stopped them with a glare.

"Please tell me you learned this lesson the first time around," she warned.

"Whoa, we just want to talk," Kylie said, holding her hands up. "We're here for the Horseman."

"Yeah, well, guess what, I'm not him!" she snapped. "I can't believe you shot at me!"

"Hey, what about you and the light bright, witchie? You were the ones makin' the voodoo on us," Eduardo countered, waggling his fingers in a poor imitation of a spell caster.

Garrett spoke up next. "Much as I hate to agree with the comedy relief here, he's right. That maniac tried to fry us with that 'Wrath of God' routine."

Kylie asked Amy, "Why'd you stop us from going after her?"

Amy fumed, but relaxed a bit as she realized they wouldn't be shooting at her anymore. "She's being controlled. She isn't herself."

Garrett looked dubious as he holstered his pack. "You mean she's not always a crazy, glowing-eyed psycho trying to fry people?"

Amy's relaxation died as she moved forward and grabbed Garrett by his jacket collar. "She was trying to protect me, asshole! You idiots started shooting at us!"

"What, the two of you got somethin' going on?" Eduardo asked.

Amy looked at him with her eyes starting to go black. "WE'RE COUSINS!!!" she shouted.

"Oh, yeah," the Latino continued. "You're cousins. She get the heat vision from your side of the family?"

"It's an elven thing," Amy stated evenly.

The four Ghostbusters' jaws went Earthward.

"Elf?" Kylie asked, dumbfounded.

Amy looked at her. "Okay, half-elf. Her dad was human." She looked at each of the four, who were still stunned. "How long have you guys been doing this?"

"Uhm, about ten months," Roland answered.

Amy rolled her eyes and buried her face in her hands. "Great. Rookies."

The Ghostbusters bristled at her criticism, especially Eduardo.

"Oh, yeah, how long YOU been doin' this?" he asked.

"Two years, the first year was kinda off and on."

"Two years?" Roland asked. "We're trained for this. What do you do?"

"I'm a witch," she said. As Eduardo started to make his comeback, she punched him in the gut, and he doubled over in obvious pain. "And, I'm an Amazon. Like the ones on Xena, which it turns out is based on real events. So don't piss me off any further."

"You know, you're not getting on our good sides here," Garrett said, and with a smirk, "not that Eduardo actually has one, but still."

Amy now got back in his face. "I seem to remember that YOU were the one who started this shit. I said follow me, not shoot me in the back.  And if you ain't gettin' the message yet, let me make it clear. My cousin's being royally messed with mentally. She needs my help. YOU stopped me from helping her, and I freaked her out by saving YOUR worthless hides. So don't make jokes about this or I'll make you sit on a fireball!"

"You'd do that to someone in a wheelchair?" Roland asked in horror.

Amy shrugged. "It'd be an Equal Opportunity fireball. Trust me, I know about multiracial stuff." Her smile was pure malice.

"Hey, we're multiracial," Roland protested. "We've got an African American, a Latino, a female and a physically challenged person."

"Here, here," Garrett said.

"Yeah, right. I got your 'multiracial' right here in my group."

"Oh, who you got?" Eduardo asked arrogantly. "Can't beat our mix."

"Hmmm, let's see," Amy said, looking up and chewing on her bottom lip, as if she were trying to recall everyone. "Okay, there's the Englishman. The Jewish girl.  The Gypsy. The Amazons. The witches. The Demon Hunting ex-Green Beret. The Slayer. The half-elf nature priestess, who you just met. The fairy. The college freshman carrying Joan of Arc's sword. Her brother, the reincarnation of Marcus the Valiant. Oh yeah, the werewolf."   The Ghostbusters jaws dropped once again, and Amy shrugged. "The half-elf's my cousin, and the fairy's my boyfriend."

"You have the Slayer in your group?" Kylie asked. "I've read texts on the legends."

"She's no legend. And if I know Buffy, she's duking it out with your Level Nine right now. Wanna place bets on who's gonna win that one?"  When Kylie declined to answer, Amy continued. "Oh, and have you read about the Swords of Destiny?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Buffy carries Vampire Slayer, and Steve, our boss, carries Demon Slayer," she said, awaiting Kylie's response.

"Uhm, I assume. ."

"Yep."

The males looked between the two, not understanding.

"Assume what?" Garrett asked.

"The Slayer swords are rumored to carry a curse. The wielders become lovers."

"Man, talk about a love connection," Eduardo muttered.

Amy grinned. "Like those two needed it," she scoffed.

"What's that supposed to mean? If there's a curse. ." Kylie began.

"What she's saying," Garrett said, "is that they didn't need no stinking curse."

"Oh," she said simply. She looked at Amy. "Hot for each other, huh?"

"Yep. Now, who are you guys? Yeah, yeah," she said, waving her hands, "I know, Bureau 13. I've met Horace. I mean your names."

"Oh," Garrett said, stopping from saying anything he might regret. "That's Kylie, Roland, and Eduardo. I'm Garrett. We've just been activated tonight, since the other teams were out on assignment. Who's Horace?"

Amy looked at him funny. "Horace Gordon, the head of Bureau 13. Steve works for his boss."

"Wait a minute, here," Eduardo snapped. "Your boss works for our boss's boss?  Who the hell is that?"

"Horace's dad," the witch replied. Before they could ask who that was, she told them.  "Merlin."

"Oh, come on," Garrett said, "don't expect us to fall for that!"

"Kylie, you seem to believe in this stuff," Amy asked, looking at the female Ghostbuster. "So tell me, what was the first Sword of Destiny?"

"Excalibur," she replied.

"And the fact that the Slayer Swords just happen to have the same powers, the same materials, and the same creator?"

"You're serious, aren't you?" she asked.

Amy nodded. She looked over the Ghostbusters' shoulders, and said, "And you can ask Steve yourself. Here comes the Wanderer and the Slayer.  And friends."

*****

"Uh, do you see what I see?" Cordelia asked as she and the others saw Amy talking to four teenagers with some high-tech gear on their persons.

"Four kids out of Flash Gordon?" Xander asked.

"No!" Cordy snapped, smacking him on the head.  "Lemme try again. Do you not see what I don't see?"

"Meaning, one sword-swinging Slayerette? Yeah."

"Cut it out," Buffy said softly, fingering Vampire Slayer. "If Amy's in trouble. . ."

The others tensed a bit, except for Blade, who was already tense, but they relaxed when Amy saw them and nodded. The four people she was talking to turned and they began to look nervous as the group of six approached.

Steve took the lead, and asked Amy, "Who are your friends?"

"Friends? Right," she said derisively, "Meet Horace's Baby Bureau."  She pointed to the kids in turn.  "Kylie, Roland, Garrett and Eduardo. The Ghostbusters."

"So you're the ones Gordon's been keeping under wraps. He's had some good things to say about you," Steve said. "Why'd you come out here tonight?"

"Chasing the Headless Horseman, until Rambo here started shooting up Central Park," Amy said, giving Garrett a dirty look.

"Oh, we took care of him," Buffy said with a grin.

"What do you mean, 'we?'" Connor asked. "Shaw and I did all the hard work.  You got mop up duty."

Buffy shot him a glare, but Steve chuckled.

"Okay, introductions. Ghostbusters, you've met Amy Madison, and I assume, Shaw Hunter?"

"Oh, yeah, lightning bolts and all," Eduardo muttered.

Steve looked at him, and then to the witch. "Amy?"

"The rookies were shooting first and asking questions later, and when they turned all four guns on me, Shaw decided to play Zeus. She missed with the first two bolts, but I cast a shield over them for the last one. She took off running when she realized the mistake."

"Play Zeus?" Cordelia asked.

"Lightning bolts," Amy explained. "Good aim, for the most part."

The Ghostbusters paled at those words, and Steve sighed.

"Amy, cut it out. That's an order," he said, staring at her to make sure she got the point.

"Okay," she said, and then muttered, "Shaw was right. You never let us have any fun."

Steve decided to ignore that comment, and the resulting giggles from Buffy and Cordelia. "Okay, guys, the others. I'm Steve St. Wolf, that's Buffy Summers, Xander Harris, Cordelia Chase. ."

"Call me Cordy," she interrupted.

"Connor MacLeod, and Blade."

"Blade?" Garrett asked. When he just nodded slightly, the wheelchair-bound Ghostbuster said, "Of course."

"How quickly they forget," Maxine said as she came up behind the group. "Can't you guys stay in one place for more than five seconds? I missed all the fun!"

Connor spitted his student with a dagger look that would have fried her on the spot if it had been possible, and she said, "What?"

As the Slayerettes laughed at Connor, the Ghostbusters and Maxine just stared on in confusion.

"Never mind," MacLeod snarled, walking off to louder laughs.

Steve turned to the Ghostbusters, and said, "Kids, how about we take this up at your headquarters? I can talk to your boss, and straighten this matter out."

The kids looked less the excited about this suggestion, the reason being summed up by Eduardo.

"Oh, yeah, like we want Egon to hear about this."

Steve's eyebrows lifted at the name. "Egon Spengler?"

"Yeah, do you know him?" Kylie asked in surprise.

"I know Egon, Ray Stanz and Peter Venkman. Egon's a good man."

"I don't believe this," Garrett said, looking at the others. "You know the original Ghostbusters?"

"Steve knows everybody," Buffy muttered. When the Ghostbusters looked at her, she shrugged.  "You get used to it."

*****

Part 10: Green Around The Gills
(Midnight Meetings, And The Downfall Of A Prom Queen)

Central Park
New York City, New York
22 November 1998

"So, how you wanna do this?" Eduardo asked the Slayerettes. "Youse guys wanna follow us?"

"No, I've been there before," Steve told him, considering his options. "Okay, guys.  Buffy, you, Amy and Connor with me. Xander, Cordy and Maxine, meet us at the north entrance and you can follow me there. Blade, you want to join us?"

All eyes turned to the Daywalker, who shook his head. He regarded St. Wolf with an unreadable look.  "No, I'm headin' home. I've got the Agents' number, I'll check in from time to time."

"Here," Connor said, pulling out one of his business cards and holding it out. "A number a little closer than Washington."

Blade took it, looked it over for a few seconds, and nodded as he put it in his pocket. "I'll be in touch." He started to turn, but stopped to look Xander and Cordelia over. The barest of smiles touched his face.  "You two are good. Keep it up."

As he walked into the park, Xander and Cordelia looked at each other.

"Did he actually compliment us?" Xander asked.

"Me more than you," Cordy said, flashing him a smile. "You're the one with the broken nose."

The Slayerettes and Ghostbusters chuckled at Xander's discomfort, but Roland looked sympathetic. "We've got a first aid room at the firehouse," he offered.

"Okay, let's get going," Steve said to the group at large. "Garrett, we'll meet you at the firehouse, okay?"

Garrett and the others nodded, and they turned away to head for the ambulance. After they were a sufficient distance away, Steve looked at the others.

"Okay, listen up," he said, looking at Amy in particular. "We're going to be in a touchy situation here. Egon's a good man, and I think he might be willing to help us find Shaw. But, she could be in trouble over this."

"For what?" Cordelia asked, looking at stunned as the others were. "She's the one who needs help, Steve!"

St. Wolf turned his head to Amy. "Amy, did she cast lightning bolts at them?"

"Not exactly," the witch said with a shiver running through her. "She cast the spell, and bolts started coming down from the clouds, like a regular thunderstorm."

"Did she try to hit them?"

"The second one, yeah. The third one woulda hit them if I hadn't put a shield over them," Amy responded. "Steve, what are you getting at?"

Steve sighed. "In layman's terms, members of Bureau 13 ARE Federal Agents, Amy. And Shaw essentially tried to kill the Ghostbusters.  Horace might not take too kindly to that."

"Now wait a frickin' minute!" Amy snapped, growing pissed. "Those idiots were shooting at us!  They hit Shaw, and they would have broken through my shield and plastered me if Shaw hadn't done what she did. They shot first, but I suppose that doesn't matter, huh?"

"We'll figure it out when we get there," the Wanderer said firmly. "Xander, Cordy, Maxine; meet us at the north entrance. I'll lead the way to the firehouse."

As the three walked away, Steve looked at Amy. "Amy, you're going to have to control yourself at this meeting. I know you're upset. . ."

"I'm way past upset, Steve," Amy said. "I'm pissed."

Buffy laid a hand on her shoulder. "Whoa, Amy. Hold it down a bit. We're on your side, remember?"

Amy's jaw clenched hard, but she slowly let the tension drain away. "Steve, this was Ares' plan.  Screw us over by killing Connor. Now Shaw's loose in New York. How the fuck are we gonna find her in New York?"

"I don't know," he replied honestly. "If the Ghostbusters help us, it might double our chances of finding her."

"If they don't blow her away first," Amy snapped, starting to walk to their car.

"That's enough," Steve said, staring Amy down when she whirled on him. "Amy, I understand your anger, but you need to tone it down a bit. Egon won't react to this mistake rashly.  I might be able to convince him of the danger posed to Shaw, but it you blow up at him, he might ask Horace for advice. And he won't be so reasonable about people trying to electrocute his people."

"Well, I'm not reasonable about people firing those electroguns at my ass while my back is turned," Amy said in contrast to the Immortal's position. "So, forgive me if my opinion of them isn't that high."

Before Steve could comment further, Amy stormed off, and Buffy took Steve's arm, preventing him from going after her.

"Let me talk to her, honey," Buffy said. "She told me more about Shaw, and it's bugging her.  Okay?"

St. Wolf looked reluctant, but finally nodded. "Try to make her understand."

"She gets it, Steve," Buffy told him softly. "But I happen to agree with her on this. But I'll try to make her see reason."

Buffy took off after Amy, and Connor, who'd been maintaining a respectful distance from the others, came up to Steve.

"Steven," Connor said, leaning in close to Steve so that no one else could hear, "let it go."

"I'm sorry, Connor, I can't imagine why she's acting like this," Steve said to the Highlander.

"What's their relationship like back home?" Connor asked.  "How well do they get along?"

"They're distant," St. Wolf answered. "They're friends, but that's about it."

"Well, maybe that's changing, if Amy's reaction is any indication."

"She listened to a tape that Duncan made," Steve clarified, after which he let out a massive sigh of frustration. "It got to her, with whatever she heard.  But as much as I can sympathize with her, she needs to keep control."

"And that's what Buffy's going to attempt to do, Steve," MacLeod said. "She's capable.  Let her handle it."

"So I get to put up with you," Steve muttered as they walked off.

*****

"Amy, wait up," Buffy called. The Amazon slowed down a bit, but the Slayer still had to keep a brisk pace to keep up. "C'mon, let's talk."

Amy slowed down a bit more, but still looked peeved. "Fine. What do we talk about?"

"How about why you're acting this way?" Buffy asked.

"Whatever," Amy snapped softly, but she continued before her friend could comment. "Buffy, the look on her face, when I cast that shield over them. . she looked like she'd been betrayed. I shouted that the rookies had made a mistake, and, God, Buffy, she looked horrified at what she'd done. I freaked her out and she ran."

"She realized what she'd almost done?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah, but. ."

"That's good." When Amy's head snapped around, Buffy added, "It means she's still with us. We have a chance. As long as she can tell the difference between this and that, Ares doesn't have her."

"But I blew it, Buffy," Amy complained as she waved her hands in frustration. "She wasn't even a hundred frickin' yards in front of me, and I couldn't stop her from running. Are we gonna get a better chance?"

"We'll make one," Buffy promised. "Just try to keep your cool. Remember what Xander said on the plane."  After a slight pause, Buffy said, "Amy, I'm not trying to push you or anything, but what are you gonna do about Shaw after this is over?"

"What do you mean?" the witch asked in confusion.

"Are you and her gonna work this out? Try to, well, figure out what you two want?"

"Please," Amy said, patting her jacket pocket as they continued to walk. "I know what Shaw wants. Family. I just don't know if I'm capable of it. I know, I haven't tried, but neither has she. At least now I know why, 'cause she wants it to be my choice. Well, one thing I'm sure gonna set her straight on is that she's gotta have a choice too."

"You say you're not sure if you're capable of 'it.' What exactly is 'it?'" the Immortal asked.

"Caring as much about her as she obviously does me," Amy said. She shuddered, and told Buffy, "Buffy, she tried to KILL those kids because they were shooting at me. That spell she cast, I've never seen anything like that before."

"What? You throw fireballs with the best of them," Buffy pointed out.

"Yeah, but Shaw's magic is usually more, well, I guess subtle is the word. Or maybe precise.  You know, healing, defense. The offense she does have is for close in, hand to hand type stuff."

"She's a nature girl, you should have expected something like this."

Amy shook her head. "Yeah, fire, air, which I've seen. But tapping into something like this," she said, waving her hand up to the rainy sky, "and controlling it?  Goddess, that's scary." Amy considered it, and clarified her point. "It's not the lightning that scares me, Buffy. I could cast a lightning bolt easy. It's that she's THAT tuned into the nature stuff. I mean, Willow can relate a little bit, she's a Wiccan.  But Shaw puts her to shame."

"There's a big diff in knowing about nature and being connected to it," Buffy reasoned.

"Yeah, no kidding."

The two neared the exit where Steve's Century rental was parked, and Amy brought up another question.

"Buffy, what happened at the meeting? The Headless Horseman?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, a little fear in her voice.  "Ares brought him here to kill Connor and drive Shaw bonkers. Connor was losing, and Shaw showed up. They threw everything they had, swords, daggers, bullets, you name it. Ares kept using magic, or so we figure, to help the Horseman. He ended up using a spell to make Shaw's sword go through the Horseman, and into Connor."

"Shaw stabbed Connor?" Amy asked in dread, her eyes wide as was her mouth. "Did she freak?"

"Amy, she went berserko," Buffy said. "She was trying to protect Connor, and she kicked the crap out of the Horseman. She cut off a hand, and one leg, all I had to do was cut him twice to send him back to Hell."

"It scared you, didn't it?" Amy asked, recognizing the tone of Buffy's voice.

"Yeah, it did. Not just the fit, but she was actually focused, and her skill level went UP. I wonder if she would have taken me, if it had come to it."

Amy stopped at the back seat passenger's door. "No way."

"Yes, way," the Slayer muttered. "What scares me is that this time, she focused the anger.  She didn't just get pissed, she controlled it. She even cast a spell during it. And she was doing it to protect Connor. And with the stuff we DO know she's gone through, I can understand her anger. It's just, well, she got angry because she cared about Connor. And that's what I can't figure out."

"What do you mean?" Amy asked, trying to get the Slayer to elaborate.

"How can someone who's had so much shit thrown her way still give THAT much of a damn about everyone else, and not ask for one damn thing in return?"

Amy didn't have the answer for that, either.

*****

Ghostbusters' Headquarters
New York City, New York
Early hours
23 November 1998

As the two Buick Century rentals pulled up to the old firehouse, Xander stared at the Ghostbusters' headquarters with a look of disbelief.

"You have got to be kidding me," he said sarcastically. "This is the base for Horace's best and brightest?"

"Maybe if you're good," Cordelia snapped, "they'll let you slide down the pole."

To Cordy's immense dismay, Xander actually brightened at that comment, starting to look like a kid in a candy store. "Really? Cool!"

As he got out of the car, the Amazon brunette turned to Maxine. "You see what I put up with?"

"Hey, I got it worse," Maxine said, a smirk on her face. "I gotta put up with Connor.  He's my teacher AND my boss."

Both women exited the car, and waited for Steve to take the initiative.

"We sure we wanna go in?" Maxine asked. "This is these guys' turf."

"I've been here before, Maxine," Steve said with a grin. "Okay, Buffy and Connor will join me in Egon's office, the rest of you just try to keep out of trouble."

"Easier said than done," Xander said with a grin.  It disappeared when a loud 'smack' was heard. "OW!!!"

"I didn't hit you that hard, dweeb," Cordelia said.

"My nose is broken, and you just jarred it!"

"Quit complaining, or I'll break something else," the Amazon promised.

"Enough!" Steve snapped, finally losing his patience.  "We could use their help. Behave, or I'll kick both your asses."

That threat made both Slayerettes shrink back a bit.

Buffy went up to Steve and asked, "So, tell me, honey. What's this Egon guy like?"

"Imagine Giles' American twin," Steve said as if it were nothing.

"You're kidding," Buffy said in surprise.

"Nope. Same way of speaking, only in American."

"Oh, God. We're gonna be here for hours." Buffy considered it for a minute before her face went pale. "Or worse."

"How can it be worse?" Amy asked.

"If Steve calls home to check in, and the Egon guy actually begins a conversation with Giles," she said.

"What are you worried about?" Xander asked. "You're Immortal."

"Exactly," Buffy said.

Steve just shook his head in frustration, heading for the front door.

The door opened before he reached it, and Janine stepped out. She looked the group up and down, and a smile appeared on her face. "Hey, Steve. Long time, no see."

"Hey, Janine," he said calmly. "How's Egon doing? You two finally hook up?"

"I'm workin' on it. Egon finds love to be 'unscientific.' Come on in." Janine turned and walked back in, holding the door from inside.

"Before I do, how's he reacting to what happened?" the Wanderer asked.

"He wasn't too thrilled, until Kylie stood up for your witch and your elf," Janine called out. "Right now, he's more interested in your case than getting even."

"Okay," Steve said, releasing a breath that he didn't know he'd been holding. Steve was the first through the door, followed by Buffy. Steve started to ask Janine a question, but didn't get the first word out before a high-pitched, cartoon-like voice called out as a large blur flew at the pair of Immortals.

"Shhhhteven!!"

Steve's eyes widened, and he quickly ducked, grabbing Buffy by the shoulders and taking her with him. The green-colored blur flew over their heads and plowed straight into the next person coming through the door.

Cordelia.

The thing threw its arms around Cordelia and gave her a big, sloppy kiss.

"MMMMWWAAHHHH!!"

Apparently, the floating blob realized his mistake, and floated backwards a bit, looking at two intensely glaring eyes looking through a large mess of green goo covering her face, neck, and her blouse from its collar to her breasts. The blob started to look concerned, and his concern was justified when Cordelia let her feelings be known in the most quick, clear and efficient manner possible.

"AAAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!"

The green blob quickly panicked and flew away at top speed, screaming "Aaaaaahhhhh!!" at the top of whatever passed for its lungs, and he passed through a wall, leaving a splotch of green mess on the wall.

Xander and Amy quickly came through the door, looking for danger.

"Cordy, what's wrong?!?" Xander shouted.

Cordelia turned around, and the response was pretty much uniform.

"Eeeeeeeewwwww!!" Amy said, wrinkling her nose and covering her mouth in disgust.

"Cordelia," Xander said with a cocked eyebrow, "if you need a Kleenex, just say so."

Cordelia ignored him and snarled, "That half-elf is SO DEAD!! First my hair, and now my outfit!"

The Ghostbusters had quickly come downstairs in response to the screams, and started snickering at the sight of the Slimed Amazon.

"Hey," Garrett called out after Cordelia's comment about Shaw, "at least she didn't try to hit you with a lightning bolt."

"Shaw'd never do that to Cordy," Xander replied with a smile. "Cordy'd never attack Amy, and it's hard to cast that spell in sunny California."

Eduardo looked over to Roland. "Yo, Roland. Wanna rent a U-Haul, load up the containment unit, and move to LA?"

"I don't think Egon would like that," Roland said dryly.

Steve pulled Buffy up, and smiled. "Nice try, Janine. See the Spud's still with you, huh?"

"Yeah, and still eating us outta house and home," the administrative assistant said, returning his smile. "Egon's waiting for you in the office."

"Okay, try to keep the youngsters out of trouble for me," he said, escorting Buffy and Connor into Egon's office.

"Who's the Spud?" Buffy asked.

"Slimer, the ghost that just gave Cordelia the Ghostbuster welcome."

"Slimer?" Connor said, trying to keep a straight face.  "It fits."

Steve walked into Egon's office, and Buffy and Connor quickly followed. The original Ghostbuster looked up from his notepad, and nodded a greeting.

"Welcome back to New York, Steve."

"Wow, you weren't kidding," Buffy said, staring at Egon.

"I beg your pardon?" Egon asked curiously.

"He even wears the same glasses," Buffy muttered.

Egon looked at Steve, who shrugged. "She's comparing you to someone she knows."

"Who?"

"Rupert Giles," the Wanderer said innocently.

"Former curator of the British Museum," Egon said in recognition. "He left their employment a few years ago, and disappeared from England."

"Hey! He's my Watcher," Buffy protested. "He works at the library at my high school."

"Where's this?" Egon asked. "Steve, who is this young lady?"

Buffy took the initiative herself. "Buffy Summers of Sunnydale, California. Slayer at large," she said by way of introduction, with a smile as she awaited Dr. Spengler's reaction.

"The Slayer," he repeated, giving her nothing more than an upraised eyebrow. "Hmmmmm. Interesting."

"Giles' American twin?" Connor asked innocently, drawing a glare from St. Wolf. "You were right."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Egon said with a touch of rare humor. "Steve, how about taking a seat, and I'll listen to your side of the story. I have to admit, I'm confused about what the exact situation is, so why don't you begin?"

"Okay, the short version," Steve said as all three took their seats. "Shaw Hunter, one of my group, has had a spell cast on her by Ares. It's raising her levels of anger, and unbalancing the rest of her emotions. I've got the spell to cure her, but the hard part is finding her and getting her to return to Sunnydale."

"One moment, Steve," Egon said. He looked at his notes. "Are you saying that she doesn't want to return? She did run off after using the magic in the park, according to what the others told me."

"Guilt trip," Buffy answered. At Egon's look, and a nod for her to continue, she frowned. "Once she found out the whole shooting match was an accident, she freaked out over nearly nuking your guys like flies in a bug zapper."

"Buffy," Steve warned with a growl before taking over the narrative. "She set up a meeting with Connor here, in Central Park to meet with him, and hopefully come home. Problem is, Ares somehow found out about the meeting, and recruited the Horseman to kill Connor. Why the Horseman, I don't know.  Shaw showed up, and she and Connor did some major damage, including a berserker rage from Shaw when Connor was knocked out. She fears that part of herself, and ran off while Buffy mopped up, sending the Horseman back where he came from."

"I don't think it'll be that easy, Steven," Spengler said. "The Horseman can only be summoned by taking his head and hiding it. If Ares still has the head, you might not have seen the last of the demon."

Buffy and Connor went pale at that, but Steve just shrugged.

"That's why I carry Demon Slayer."

"Yes, of course." Egon looked over some more notes, and asked, "So what about the encounter between your people and mine?"

"From what Amy says, she told them to follow her, and they decided not to take the chance she was with the Horseman. Shaw saw Amy being shot at, and decided to help out her cousin. And before you ask, I'll explain that in a minute. Shaw and Amy raised shields, Shaw's got penetrated, and she cast that lightning spell after your team concentrated their firepower on Amy's shield. And I think it says something that Amy shielded them from that last bolt, and the fact that Shaw ran off over the guilt she felt about this."

"I see," Egon muttered, and he looked at Connor. "May I ask what your involvement in this is, Mister. .?"

"Connor MacLeod," Connor said, offering his hand to Egon.  "I have three connections to Shaw. First, I was once her teacher in martial arts. Second, I'm her sponsor as an exchange student from Scotland."

"Please pardon the interruption," Egon said apologetically, "but if she's half-elven. . ."

"I'm sure you can understand the need for 'official' records, Dr. Spengler," MacLeod replied politely. "The third connection, also 'official,' so to speak, is that her great-grandmother was a member of my clan in Scotland. To solidify the link between me and her, for being in America."

"I do understand, Mr. MacLeod," Egon said. He looked at Buffy and Steve, and asked one more question.  "And this relationship with. ." a quick look at his notes. . ."Amy?"

"That's the truth," Steve said. "Shaw is over fifty years old, I'm sure you know about elven lifespans, right?" When Egon nodded agreeably, Steve continued. "Okay, simplest form, Shaw's great-grandmother was a sister to Amy's great-great-grandmother. The link is on Shaw's paternal and human side, and on Amy's maternal side. And a branch of Immigration that knows about this has already taken a DNA sample with Shaw's permission, if you or Horace have any doubts."

"Your word's always good, Steve," Spengler said, closing up his notebook. "I haven't reported to Horace, partly because this was obviously a mix-up, mostly because I don't want to admit to him that my kids were shown up by you. But before I commit to helping you, I need to know; the anger that this girl carries, what causes it?"

"Seeing someone fuck with her friends," Buffy snapped before considering what she was saying.

"Buffy."

Steve's single word, with the lack of emotion, brought her under control quickly, and she looked somewhat sheepish.

"Sorry, Mr. Spengler," she said softly. "It's just, she's been through major crap, and Ares is getting his fuzzies by screwing with her and us."

"I understand, Ms. Summers," Egon said. He got up, and walked over to a cabinet.  "Steve, can you tell me how you plan to take her home?"

"Convince her of the danger. We HAVE been able to tell her what, and who, is happening to her." Steve stood up, and asked, "What information are you looking for?"

"What weaknesses does she have, that we can take advantage of, should we need to take her by force?"

Steve seemed to be seriously considering the question, but Buffy jumped up and shouted, "Now wait a minute!"

"Buffy, he does have a point," Steve whispered.  "Shaw nearly killed four people tonight."

"And it wouldn't have happened if they hadn't fired at Amy," she responded. "I know, we can go back and forth all night, but I don't like the idea of telling them how to kill Shaw. No way."

"Buffy. ."

"I'm your second in command, right?" Buffy demanded, putting her hands on her hips.  "The assistant boss, Spock to Kirk, Pippen to your Jordan? Well, this is one decision we need to discuss."

Steve looked back and forth, between Egon and Buffy, and didn't say anything until he looked at Connor. "Connor? What's your opinion?"

As the other two looked at him, he slowly stood up. "How about this? We tell them weaknesses that won't hurt her, but can give us a psychological advantage." The Scot looked at Buffy, and asked, "Simple things, that can help us. Is that okay?"

Buffy nodded with the slightest reluctance. "Inside limits, Steve."

"Okay," he said, turning to Egon. "Shaw has a few things we can take advantage of.  One, the fact we're in such a large city. She's sort of claustrophobic when it comes to urban areas.  She's the wilderness type, and she might head for something like that, if there is one in the Big Apple. Second is her lack of experience in city situations. She knows how to blend in, but she looks to the rest of us for advice. Third, the one that helps us the most, is her desire to help people and her tendency to fight defensively. She rarely strikes the first blow, but if she's pressed and gets an opening, she'll strike hard and fast. She does that to make the kill quick and clean. If something suffers, it causes her guilt. And that's another one. Right now, she's almost certainly feeling guilt over the mistake in the park. She'll be more reluctant to go to such drastic measures again."

"All right, Steve," Egon replied. "No iron or caffeine."

"Iron wouldn't work on her anyway, Egon," Steve said. "Different race of elf.  But otherwise, she has the same normal weaknesses as a normal, everyday human."

"Okay, that'll do. Let me talk to Horace, and then if you need to talk to him, you can."

"Actually, I do need to call Sunnydale, and check in with my people. Living on the Hellmouth is hectic to say the least."

When Buffy groaned softly, Egon looked at her curiously. "Is something wrong?"

"Just that if you talk to Giles, and talk LIKE Giles, your phone bill's gonna be bigger than Bill Gate's checking account."

As Steve closed Egon's office door behind him, Janine turned to the rest of the crowd.

"Okay, kids, how 'bout you go upstairs and wait a bit," she suggested. "This might take a little while."

"Hello?" Cordelia snapped, extending her arms out, showing off her mess. "Bathroom?"

"Follow me," Kylie said, pointing in one direction.  "Slimer's 'presents' are easy to wash off."

"What about my clothes?" Cordy asked irritably.

"Uh, not so easy."

The Amazon muttered something under her breath and the others chuckled at her situation as Kylie led her into the Ghostbusters' locker room.

At this point, Xander turned to Roland. "Hey, Wowand. First aid woom?"

"Right," he said. "This way." Roland and Xander headed in the opposite direction, and Garrett turned to Amy.

"Guess that leaves us until they get done," he said.

"Oh, I can hardly wait," Amy said frostily. As Garrett started to make a smart reply, Amy held up her hand.  "Let me save us some time. You're pissed 'cause I threw a fireball at you and Shaw tried to fry you. I'm pissed 'cause you shot at me."

"That was a warning shot," Garrett clarified.

"And I tend to hit what I aim at," Amy added. "So enough on that. We have something more important to talk about."

"Your 'cousin?'" Eduardo asked, still not convinced about that part of their story. "How the hell are you cousins with an elf?"

Amy looked at Garrett. "Does he ever listen to a word anyone says?"

"Yeah," Garrett said. "But he decides what parts he actually listens to."

"Okay, one more time," Amy said, looking at Eduardo. "Shaw's dad was human.  Shaw's great-grandma had a sister. That was MY great-great grandma. Shaw's nanny lived in Colorado, moved to Scotland.  Mine lived in Colorado, moved to California. Simple enough for you?"

Eduardo gave her a dirty look. "Yeah, it is. I'm not an idiot, you know."

"You just play one on TV," Garrett said with a smartass grin. He gave Amy a look of confusion.  "I did notice that Shaw only had one 'great' in there?"

"She's fifty-three years old," Amy said as if it weren't a big deal. "And in half-elf terms, that's about seventeen."

"So she's a fifty year old teenager?" Eduardo asked dumbly.

Amy looked at him, smiled, and then looked back at Garrett. "Okay, you were right.  He's not totally lost."

Eduardo frowned and started to steam, but Garrett turned to Maxine. "How about you?  What's your story?"

"I help Connor," she said with a shrug. "He's my boss, I know vamps are out there, so I help 'im out."

"With a sword?" Janine asked. "Why not something better?"

"What, you think bullets work on a vampire?" Maxine held up her sword. "This, on the other hand, makes things simple.  Cut off the bugger's head, no more vamp. Lot quieter, too."

"How do you explain carrying that pigsticker with you?" Eduardo asked.

"I tell 'em the truth," the Immortal said.

Amy was shocked. "You TELL them?!?"

"Yeah," Maxine said, popping her gum for emphasis.  "You'd be amazed at what tellin' some jackoff yer from Jersey will let you get away with."

It took Amy about five seconds to register that, and she rolled her eyes. "Connor deserves you," she muttered.

"Oh, come on. I'm worse than Connor," she said cheerfully.

As the tension began to leave, Roland and Xander walked back into the garage, Xander wearing a band aid over his nose.

"Is it as bad as it looks?" Amy asked.

  "Naw, it's just cwacked," the male Slayerette said. "But if we'd found Saw, a heawing spell would've been nice."

At the look of pain that suddenly crossed Amy's face, he sighed. "I didn't mean it dat way, Amy."

"I know," the witch said softly. "We've had a rough three weeks, and it's finally catching up."

"I know. Anyway," he said, looking at Roland, "why don't we head upstairs? Steve could take a while to finish wid your boss.  I don feel wike waiting for him."

"Or for your girlfriend to finish blowing her nose?" Eduardo asked with a smirk. When Xander glared at him, his stance became less than friendly. "What, you got a problem?"

"Yeah," Xander said evenly. "You're stealing my wines."

Eduardo's eyes went wide, and he moved into Xander's face, and the two started trading smart comments.

*****

Off to the side, Maxine looked at Janine. "Janine, right? You got a kitchen? I'm suddenly dying for some coffee."

"Me, too," the secretary said, both of them bailing out and leaving the other kids alone to deal with Xander and Eduardo.

Garrett was the first one to realize the possible problems of keeping the two in the same room.

"Uh, Amy?"

"Yep," she answered, before he could even get the question off. "I'll wait down here."

"Oh no, you don't," Garrett said. "If we have to put up with him, you have to put up with Eduardo."

Amy winced at the idea. "I'll keep a disintegration spell online, just in case."

"What are you talking about?" Roland asked, trying to follow their conversation.

"Xander and Eduardo," Amy replied. "Dueling one-liners."

Roland said, "Oh, no. How about casting that spell now, to save us the trouble?"

Before Amy could respond, Xander and Eduardo backed away from each other, and Amy looked at Xander.

"Okay, who won that round?"

"Neider," he answered. "We agweed it'd be much mow fun to mess with evweyone else, espesially Cody. Whoever gets off mow wines, wins."

Garrett looked back at Amy. "Is that bad?"

"Yep."

*****

At this point, Kylie and Cordelia walked out of the locker room, and Cordelia had a look of disgust on her face. The reason was because she was wearing one of the Ghostbusters' coverall uniforms.

Before Xander could even draw breath, Cordy spitted him with an intense look. "Don't start, Dweeb Boy."

She looked at Amy, a look of hope replacing the anger. "Amy, don't you have a spell to make this into something decent?"

The blonde shook her head. "No. I could do color, but I don't like messing with transmutation spells."

"So much for the advantages of bringing a witch along," Cordelia muttered. She looked at Kylie, and said, "So, we go upstairs or what?"

"Why not?" Kylie said. "You can tell us what it's like hunting vampires, demons, and living on the mouth of Hell."

The three male Ghostbusters all looked at Kylie in shock.

"The mouth of Hell?" Roland asked for all of them.

Kylie looked at Amy, and they both shrugged. "It's a dimension thing," Amy said.

*****

After heading upstairs, the kids had made some good progress on telling their histories, battles, and some of the generally paranormal messes they'd had to deal with, making passing the time into something of a rap session. They had worked their way up to September, and it was the Slayerette's turn, having turned the talk into a sort of contest to see who'd had the weirder time of it.

"Okay," Kylie said, looking at Cordelia, "September.  School starts. We get to fight all kinds of ghosts, including the raysvelt. A weather-controlling reptile out of Norse mythology. And after he was taken care of, we still had to deal with the tornado he left behind."

"September?" Cordelia asked, a look of thought coming to her face.  "Okay, Amy, your turn."

"Gee, thanks," the witch muttered.

"What's the pwobwem? See's your cousin," Xander said.

"Okay, okay," she said. She gathered her thoughts, and said, "All right, Kylie. Keep in mind, we've had this information confirmed, as hard as it'll be to believe. Hell, WE didn't believe it at first."

"Just get on with the story," Garrett said, before looking at Roland. "I think we're ahead on points."

"Okay," Amy said, pretending not to hear the challenge in Garrett's voice. "September, Buffy and Steve are on vacation, and we're thinking, school starting, we'll get some downtime. Ohhh, no. Angel, Spike and Dru, the vamps we told you about, show back up in town at the same time as Shaw does, because a prophecy is about to come about."

"God, how many prophecies have you gone through?" Eduardo asked.

"We're charter members of the Pwophecy of duh Month cwub," Xander said. The battle of the puns had been more or less a draw to this point, but was continuing.

"Anyway," Amy continued, "Shaw's pretending to be a full-blooded human, 'cause she knows she's part of the prophecy. We know about the prophecy, but not about Shaw's involvement. The kicker, we know about each other being involved in fighting vamps, but not about each other being involved in the prophecy. Xander thought Shaw was a demon, a new Slayer, an Amazon, etcetera."

"Why?" Kylie asked.

"Saw's eyes gwow wed in the dock," Xander explained. "Se sees by body heat witout enough wight.  In daytime, see sees wike evweyone else."

"Infrared?" Roland asked, and Xander nodded with a smile.

"It's an elven thing," Cordelia added.

"Anyway, once Shaw was told about me and Randi, she's the one carrying Joan of Arc's sword, she came to the library and helped Willow and Giles beat up Spike and Dru. That's when she told everyone that she was the great-granddaughter of my long-lost relative."

"How'd you take having a half-elf witch doctor as a cousin?" Eduardo asked.

"Not good. Of course, she hardly blinked at my being an Amazon witch." Amy looked at Garrett. "Short version, Shaw, Dru and Randi were all involved in the major parts of the prophecy. Dru solved the puzzle while Spike and Angel killed a nightmare demon sent to kill her. Randi used Joanie's sword to cut off the Cenobite's head."

"What's a Cenobite?" Roland asked.

"A demon, and a powerful one," Kylie asked, but it only drew more blank looks.

"Imagine Wocutus of Bowg wid bodypiercing all wover his head," Xander said, and the looks went from blank to sick. <I'm ahead of you now, Eduardo.>

"And Shaw?" Kylie asked.

Xander answered. "Suved her own sword true her guds to stab Ninja Boy true duh hard."

The Ghostbusters went white, except for Roland, who went green.

"WHAT?!?" they asked in unison.

"Se was being stwangled at duh time," Xander said.

"You just HAD to tell them that part," Cordelia said sourly.

  "Hey, dey wanted to know," Xander said. "If dis was a movie, it'd barwey wate a PG-13 nowadays.  And two weeks ago, we got to go to San Fwan to find the ashes of Dwacula."

The Ghostbusters were stunned at that proclamation, although Garrett tried to call what he saw as a bluff.

"Prove it."

"You prove it," Cordy said, an evil grin on her face. "Call Horace, and ask him what Tunafish was doing two, three weeks ago."

"Tunafish was there?" Kylie asked.

"Yep," Amy said. "Good people. If you get to work with them, you'll have a good time."

"I'll take your word for it," Garrett said to himself. He turned his wheelchair to Amy.  "Amy, I got a question. What's your cousin like? Normally, I mean."

"Define 'normal,'" Cordelia said, drawing a nasty look from the witch.

"When she's not getting the Jedi Mind Trick laid on her by some doofus," Eduardo said in an attempt to expand upon Garrett's question, as well as pull back into the competition with Xander.

Amy's face took on a hard look, and Kylie saw the confrontation coming if someone didn't do something fairly quickly.

"Amy, really, what's she like?" the female Ghostbuster asked.

The witch's temper settled, but she appeared hesitant to answer the question. "Actually, telling someone what Shaw's like can be kind of hard. . ."

"Mix Seven of Nine wid Joan of Awk, add two scoops of Xena," Xander said without hesitation.

". . .or not," Amy finished, glaring at her fellow Slayerette. "Et tu, Xander?"

"Hey, it saved you duh twouble," he said with a smile.

Cordelia looked at Kylie. "You have to put up with this kind of crap from Eduardo?"

"Yeah," Kylie said in disgust. "But, he usually gets himself into the most trouble, so we don't have to do anything about it."

"I just slap Xander," Cordy countered. "Like this."

She slapped Xander, who shouted, "Ow!"

"I'll have to keep that in mind," Kylie said, looking at Eduardo, who gulped. "Of course, I'd use a proton pack."

"Anyway, why's she in New York?" Roland asked.

"Well, while we were in Frisco," Amy answered, "Shaw was holding down the fort in Sunnydale, along with a couple of others. Ares cast the spell on her, and when she realized something was wrong, she booked 'cause she was worried about hurting someone. She went to Santa Carla, looked up some friends there, then went to Seacouver, ran when she got mixed up about something someone said, and now she's here. Connor was her martial arts trainer, and she trusted him to help her."

"Enter the walking ghost story," Eduardo said.

"Yeah, no shit," Amy said. "Buffy tells me Shaw and Connor kicked his ass around Central Park, but Connor got hurt, and Shaw went nutzoid. . ."

"Hulk Mode," Xander said.

Amy sighed in frustration, but ignored the comment. "She beat the demon, gutted him twice, cut off one arm and leg each, and was about to finish him when she realized she was berserk. She ran, scared shitless.  The rest, you know, 'cause that's when she found us going back and forth on each other."

"And now we're here," Roland finished up.

"So what do you guys do when you're not out saving the world?" Eduardo asked.

"Most of us go to high school or to the local college," Amy said. "We do teenage stuff, and take turns patrolling the town."

"Even your fifty-year old teenage cousin?" Garrett asked.

"Yeah, except for the teenage stuff," Cordelia said, and before Amy could reply, the brunette looked at her. "Seriously, Amy. The Bronze is hard, 'cause the music messes with her hearing, she hates shopping 'cause she's Miss Modesty as well as the other problem, and before she started driving and slinging the Uzi after Ares zapped her, she was techno-challenged 'cause of the dimension thing."

Amy buried her face in her hands. "You had to mention Toril," she muttered dismally.

"What?" she asked, and then she saw the stares from the Ghostbusters.

"Shaw's from another dimension?" Eduardo asked.  "Sounds like something off Star Trek."

"Which Shaw hates," Xander said. "The ear ting."

Garrett looked at Amy, with a suspicious look in his eyes. "Amy, you said she's from a planet called Toril?"

"Yeah," Amy sighed. "It's a long story.  Simple version, wizard comes to Earth. Witch meets wizard. Witch and wizard exchange info on worlds. Witch goes to Toril on Lewis and Clark kick. Witch meets man, witch marries man, witch starts family. Fast forward to fifty years ago, Shaw's dad marries an elf, and if you've had The Talk with your folks, you know the rest."

"Would this wizard be named Elminster?" Garrett asked.

Amy's face shot up, turning red. "HOW THE FUCK DID YOU KNOW THAT NAME!!!"

"I'll take that as a yes," Kylie said softly.

"Uh, Garwett," Xander started, "don’d tell her about dat."

"About what?!?" Amy snapped, looking back at Xander. "What?!?"

Garrett cleared his throat, and everyone looked at him. "Uh, Amy, you said this info about your cousin had been confirmed?"

"Yeah, by Joanie," Amy said. "Came to the lunchroom at school, told us that Shaw was telling the truth. So did my boyfriend, Robin.  I get the suspicion he knows more than he's telling, but I let it go. Why?"

Garrett didn't answer, instead heading over to his bunk and reaching into the drawer next to it. He pulled out a book, and brought it over to Amy. She took a look at the title. Her grip on the book started to tighten.

"Elminster, the Making of a Mage?!?" she said in disbelief. "Forgotten Realms?!?"

As she digested this, something shone in her eyes, and she turned back to Xander.

"You knew about this?" she demanded.

"Yeah, but if I had told you, you would've thought see was lying to us." Xander sighed, and added another thought. "And Wobin's sort of fwom another dimension himself, wight? He told you see was wegit. I figured you'd take his word over mine. And Saw doesn't know about dis. See doesn't wike duh E-man any better dan you do, and he's Merwin for dat world, wemember? How'd SEE take it if she found out dis guy's selwing his wife stowy as a sword-and-sorcery novel on our world?"

"Xander, if the story's true. ." she broke off and turned to Garrett. "Are there any others?"

"Plenty," he confirmed. "It's part of the Dungeons and Dragons stuff."

"She hasn't been there in fifteen years," Amy muttered, handing the book back to Garrett. "This would let her know what's happened since she left."

"And if she decides she wants to go back?" Cordelia asked.

"See won't," Xander said firmly. "I told you dat. She has famiwee here."

"One question," Garrett said, raising his hand. "Why doesn't she like him?  He's the living legend or whatever."

"Who knew her backgwound, and didn't tell her after vampires on her world killed her famiwee," Xander said. "If see'd known, it might've saved her some major sit. Which we don't have the wight to tell you."

The Ghostbusters looked curious, and disappointed that the Slayerettes wouldn't tell them, but they let the point go.

"So what do you think our bosses are talking about?" Roland asked.

"Whether or not you can help us find Shaw, whether or not Shaw's gonna be charged with attempted murder," Amy said, looking at the Ghostbusters with a renewed trace of anger.

"Assault with a deadly wightning bolt," Xander muttered.

Amy turned on Xander. "Shut the fuck up, dammit! I've had enough of your shit!"

The witch stood up and left the group, but stopped short of the stairs when Cordelia called her.

"Hey, Amy, stop." She got up herself, and walked over to Amy, who turned to look at her fellow Amazon. "What's wrong?  You usually put up with Xander a lot longer."

  "Cordelia, she cast that fucking spell to protect me," she snapped. "I don't like the idea of her going to some kind of anti-magic jail because she was covering my ass." Amy started to turn, but stopped. "You guys call her a maniac and a psycho? Xander, Cordy, tell them what SHE went through, and give them an idea of just how lucky she is to NOT be nuts."

Amy turned and walked downstairs.

As Cordelia turned around, she said, "Well, Xander? Do we tell them anything?"

"About what?" Kylie asked.

"Well, you heard Saw's gwandpawents were killed by vamps?" Xander asked.

The Ghostbusters nodded, and Cordelia took the Next. "Well, those grandparents raised her.  Her mom and dad died when she was two, and while her grandfolks were being killed, she was on a mission."

"Mission?" Garrett asked, looking at Xander. "What was she?"

"You know, you're too smart about dis, Garwett," Xander said. "See calls herself a wanger, but see's also a pwiestess."

"Oh, shit. A Harper, right?" Garrett said.

"Yep," Cordelia said. "On that mission, it went bad, and she got tortured for it."

"She told you?" Eduardo said, at a rare loss for a comeback.

"See sowed us, dude," Xander said. "We don't know the details. It's not something you share over wunch in the cafetewia."

Before anyone could comment, there was a call from downstairs.

"Hey, everyone," Janine called from the office. "Get your lazy butts down here!"

The combined group of teens was silent as they got up to see what was up.

*****

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
Late hours
22 November 1998
(It's a time zone thing)

Joe N'Gato answered the phone and politely answered, "St. Wolf residence."

"Joe, put me on speaker," Steve's voice said.

"Of course, Sir Steve," the bald Knight said, complying with Steve's directive.

"Thanks. Who's present?"

"At this moment, myself, Randi and Brian, both of whom are in bed, and Mister Goodfellow," Joe reported. "Giles and Jenny will be by later on, while Duncan, Amanda, Kenny and Kendra are handling patrols."

"The others?" Steve asked.

"Willow and Oz took the night off, as did Giles and Jenny, at my suggestion," Joe said. He sat down at Steve's desk and leaned forward. "Giles and Jenny will be by later to look over final preparations for the spell provided by Artemis."

"All right, tell me what's been going on," the Wanderer ordered.

"The patrols have been surprisingly dull, thanks to two things. The first was Mr. MacLeod's special appearance at Willy's Alibi Room. He walked in and wanted to know what Willy thought about the Wanderer. When Willy mentioned that you would win a showdown, Duncan than informed him of his status as your teacher."

"What happened?"

"Willy promptly fainted," N'Gato replied. "It took nearly ten minutes for Duncan and Amanda to revive him."

Steve laughed over the line, and said, "What's the second thing?"

"Well, that's the problem," he answered. "There are rumors of a sword-wielding warrior woman, who is also a deadly archer, taking vampires out. However, there isn't even a description to go on, although I'm sure you can understand what the local vampires are thinking."

"Well, it's not Shaw, she's here in New York."

"Yes, about that. The others have been calling all day, hoping for some news. They have been somewhat distracted by the return to school tomorrow."

"Well, I've got news, and not much of it good," the Immortal's voice said, and Joe could hear the weariness in that voice.

"What happened, Sir Steve?"

Steve related the events of the previous hours, and Joe silently digested the news.

When St. Wolf had finished his story, he asked, "Well, what do you think?"

It took several seconds for Steve's fellow Knight to find his voice. "Sir Steve, Knight Lieutenant Crane barely survived his encounter with the Horseman. Are you certain that Shaw and Connor dealt the Horseman such a defeat?"

"Buffy and I saw it, Joseph. Connor and Shaw did some major damage before Buffy used Vampire Slayer to disperse his essence. The catch is that Ares may still have the head hidden somewhere."

"Perhaps, but Shaw and Connor earned a great victory, Sir Steve. Is there any chance that Miss Hunter will come to you of her own accord?"

Steve paused before answering. "In her current state, I can't tell. Egon has to call Horace Gordon, and I'll try to keep his temper down."

"Sir Steve, one more thing," N'Gato said. He stood and started pacing. "It appears that Shaw stopped by Willy's before leaving Sunnydale."

"And the punchline?"

"She emptied three magazines from the Uzi, and caused over thirty-one thousand dollars worth of damage. On the bright side, she did eliminate sixteen vampires." N'Gato stopped, and seemed to be pondering something.  "Sir Steve, what is your concern regarding Horace Gordon?"

Steve sighed, and said, "Shaw tried to use lightning bolts on Gordon's newest agents. I don't think he'll take too kindly to it. Why do you ask?"

"I thought that perhaps if I called the Knight General, and explained the entire situation, including the Horseman's involvement, he might be persuaded to put in a good word on your behalf."

Steve chuckled softly. "Sir Joseph, you are developing a nasty streak of deviousness."

"Of course, Sir Steve. It's a byproduct of assigning Shaw Hunter to my command," N'Gato commented. "I shall speak with you later."

Less than an hour later, Jenny and Giles walked in, and Joe quickly walked up to them, with Robin tailing right behind.

"Mr. Giles, Ms. Calendar," he whispered softly, "might we speak with you in private? It's important."

The two Watchers glanced at each other, and nodded.

The four people walked into the training room, and Joe turned to the others.

"Sir Steve called before you came, and the news is most disturbing," he began. He related everything Steve had said, and Giles and Jenny both had looks of naked concern on their faces. By the time he finished, the looks differed. Giles looked deep in thought, while Jenny was fuming.

"Ares is going too far," she said, her tone not entirely covering her anger. "First, he disrupts Shaw's magic, now he tried to kill Connor."

"Actually, Jenny," Giles said, attracting her attention, "if Shaw's reaction to Connor's injury is any indication, I would think his plan is doomed to failure."

"Big help if he drives her loco," Robin said, entering the discussion at last. "If she goes nuts, it might make her like the old Hunter again, and this time she might not be able to come back from it."

"That's my thought, too," Jenny said darkly. She turned and looked at the statuette in the Amazons' shrine to their Patron. "Rupert, you've seen the changes in her since she came here.  This could undo all of that work."

"Yes, I just wish there were something more we could do," Giles muttered. He looked at Robin.  "Robin, Artemis is prohibited from directly interfering with this, but what about you?"

"Me?" the fairy asked. "I'm human, remember?"

"Yes, but you can use your magic to fight evil, isn't that correct?"

"Not in this case. Ares may be Tall Dark and Stupid, an egomaniacal jackass, and an all around loser, but he's not evil. He just follows his methods as his areas of influence dictate. Also, this is a battle of faith. I won't interfere with that. I can't believe you would even suggest that."

"Well, I don't see you coming up with alternatives," Giles said.

Robin huffed, and looked at Giles crossly. "Look, Rupe. The very first thing I thought of was contacting Oberon. But, there we have a baseball situation in Shaw's disfavor.  Strike one, Tel'Quessir from Toril don't answer to my boss like the Tuatha du Danaan do. They've got their own set of Gods, just like the Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, what have you. Strike two, the faith thing. So even IF Oberon consented to stick his nose into this, Shaw is Mielikki's, and any interference on her behalf would piss off Ares. And Strike three, my second idea, going to Mielikki herself, wouldn't work, 'cause the last time I was on Toril, Millie was tied to that plane, sorta like a Gaia/Mother Spirit of the Earth thing. If she was on the Outer Planes, then I figure she'd have come here to kick Ares' ass personally. Millie was always more involved with her worshippers' lives than some Gods I could name, and I can promise you, she isn't taking kindly to what's going on."

Giles and Jenny both listened to his impassioned speech, and Giles nodded softly.

"My apologies, Robin," he said, offering his hand.

Robin took it, and nodded. "Hey, she's my friend, even if we'd rather not admit it. We irritate each other pretty good.  Like Oscar and Felix, fairy style."

"Oscar and Felix?"

Robin gave Jenny a glance. "You really need to get him into the 20th century, Gypsy girl."

"Gods know I've tried," Jenny laughed. "I'm going to try to call Artemis, and see if she knows anything new."

"Of course," Joe said, "we'll leave you in privacy, Miss Calendar."

Once the three men had left the training room, Joe asked, "Mr. Giles, do we inform the others about this? As much as I dislike the idea of keeping secrets from the others, this might only serve to make them more discouraged."

Giles stood still, his arms folded as he considered that. Finally, he shook his head. "No, Sir N'Gato.  I think we should tell them, despite the potential effect. Jenny and I did this once already, and we both regret it.  I'll not keep this back."

"Very well," Joe said with a grave nod. "I do happen to agree with you, but I thought the possibility should be voiced."

"Thank you. Well, in any event," Giles said, "I pray that Artemis can help us."

*****

Jenny stood before the statuette of Artemis, and sent up a soft prayer. "Lady Goddess, hear your servant's plea. Aid her in this time of need."

Jenny waited for an answer, but after nearly a minute with no reply, she sighed and turned around. She stopped in her tracks at the sight before her. Watching Jenny was a large woman, six feet tall if she was an inch, with long, curly brown hair and deep brown eyes. Leather armor covered her buxom torso and well-muscled arms, and she wore tan leggings and boots. A pair of wicked-looking scimitars sat at her waist. A small smile touched her lips, and her eyes danced with humor.

Jenny could feel the magical power in the woman's blades, and prepared to attack, should it be necessary. However, the stranger held up her hands, palms out, to show she meant no harm.

"Peace, Jenna Kalendish," the woman said if a deep contralto voice, surprising Jenny with the use of her real name. "Your Patron is currently watching over your battlesisters in the city called New York, so I have taken it upon myself to watch over the others. No doubt, you have heard rumors going around."

Jenny nodded, and asked, "Who are you?"

"Someone with a vested interest in the outcome of the situation that you find yourselves focusing on, Jenna," the figure said by way of explanation. She walked around the training room, as if inspecting it. "I would talk with you, if you have no objections."

After a few more seconds, she looked at the Amazon. "This is your shrine?" she asked.  When Jenny nodded, the woman let out a sad sigh. "So much for my hope that Arti would have improved in her taste in holy sites."

Jenny was taken somewhat aback by this. "Did you call her Arty?"

The woman nodded, grinning all the while. "Yes, I gave her that nickname over fifteen hundred years ago.  An old friend picked up on it, and he used to drive her to no end of insanity by calling her that."

"Robin," Jenny said.

The woman, for the first time, seemed surprised. "You know that prankster?"

"He's the boyfriend of another Amazon, Amy Madison."

The woman's eyes flicked back and forth for a split second before settling back on Jenny. "Ah, I had not made that connection, despite what I had been told."

"What are you talking about?" Jenny said, being put back into a state of confusion that was very unknown to her.

The mysterious woman shook her head, and settled into a more serious look. "Forgive me, but to business.  Artemis gave you the spell to cure Shawukay, am I correct?"

The fact that the intruder had called Shaw by her real name, as she did Jenny, was not lost on the Romany.

"She did. What of it, if I may ask?"

The woman held her hand out, palm up, and a scroll appeared in it. "Jenna, please listen to what I have to say. This is a modified version of the spell you've prepared. However, there are things that have happened in the last days, that Shawukay should not be forced to live with, to remember, or to suffer through. This spell will take care of that."

"You're talking about erasing some of her memories!" Jenny said with incredulity. "How can you possibly think I would be a party to that! Especially with how she feels about mental intrusions!"

"Your own argument," the woman said firmly, yet gently. "About her changes in recent times. That work being undone." The woman started to pace, and Jenny was put more at ease, since it was obvious the woman wanted something. "Jenna, there is also the matter of her adapting to this home. Through this spell, she will retain the abilities that Ares has awakened within her. That would be a burst of poetic justice, wouldn't it?"

Jenny just watched the woman for a time, and asked a question. "What is your aim in this?  Why are you asking this of me?"

The unknown warrior turned to Jenny, and smiled. "You care about her?"

"As I do the others," the Gypsy witch answered, putting her hands on her hips. "And I demand to know what your role in this is."

The woman gave Jenny a winning smile. "You are one of her mentors, yes? She has named you as such."

"I am one of her teachers," Jenny replied frostily.

"Very well," the stranger said, taking on a very serious look. "I have responsibilities elsewhere, which I cannot neglect. Also, I cannot risk a direct confrontation with Ares on this plane, no matter how much he deserves to be punished for what he has done. However, I refuse to watch my daughter suffer any longer for events that are not possible for her to control, and for things for which she is faultless. She has been through enough, and she must begin to be allowed to heal, and to truly begin to live her life once again."

Jenny was stunned by this speech, not only for the emotion that rang through, but for some other reasons. Mostly, it was the fact that she now knew without any trace of doubt what type of woman this was, and also, she knew precisely WHO this woman was.

"Your daughter," Jenny repeated softly.

"Yes, Jenna. .Jenny Calendar. And this is the most direct involvement I can take without possibly attracting Ares' attention. While Artemis does what she can, I will do what I can to make sure that none of you are harmed. If this happened, it would only serve to hurt Shawukay further. I only wish I could do more," the Goddess said regretfully. She then looked Jenny in the eyes.  "Will you do this, Jenny Calendar? For me, and for one who calls you mentor?"

Jenny didn't hesitate. "Yes, I'll do it. But I have to ask. ."

The woman nodded. "Your Patron knows of this, and she approves. I would not have approached you without her permission. Also, you were the best choice, even before Steven, Buffy, Robin or Amy. Simply, Steven and Buffy play the roles of both leader and armsmasters, teachers in the ways of combat. Giles is her mentor in the ways of the scholar, as are you. But, while you can think as objectively as Giles, you also have a streak of practicality that I admire. Robin and Amy, they are connected to Shaw, Amy through blood and Robin through Amy, and both would possibly be too close to this to be impartial."

"I assume you wish this to remain between us, Lady Goddess?" Jenny asked.

"As I said, Arti knows," the woman said with a secretive smile. "And I will promise you that a certain War God will be taken care of once this matter is dealt with."

The two women shared a laugh, but the Goddess quickly sobered.

"Jenny, I wish to ask of you one more favor."

"Name it," she replied.

"It is not that simple, Jenny," the visitor said, shaking her head. "You have determined that Shawukay went through some great pain, and difficult ordeal?

Jenny nodded, and softly said, "You refer to the scars?"

"Again, it is not that simple, Jenny. Even if Shawukay tells you every detail of this ordeal, which I do believe she will in time, one cannot understand everything that she went through in that time." The woman gave Jenny a look of compassion. "She still has the pain in her, and what I am asking of you is this; to show you, like watching one of your television programs perhaps, exactly what happened. So that one person can understand her pain. As I said about this spell, I feel you the best choice. In the times ahead, she will seek the help of you and the others to aid in her healing, but it will help her greatly if someone understood the root of her pain."

"Are you saying you wish to share her memories with me?" Jenny asked.

"No, an outside point of view," the woman clarified. "What happened to her, I would never inflict upon someone else. And your Patron knows of this. The choice is yours, and you can refuse with no dishonor, Jenny." The woman looked at her with sad eyes.  "Will you consent to this? Not for me, but for Shawukay."

Jenny pondered this latest request, and finally nodded. "You may proceed."

"Thank you, Jenny Calendar," the woman said with great gratitude, and she touched Jenny's forehead with one finger.

Jenny's eyes closed, and after only a few seconds, the spell ended. Jenny's eyes opened, and she looked as if daydreaming, or remembering a distant memory. She looked at the Goddess, her eyes watering.

"This is what happened to her? What she did to help those people?"

"Yes, and that is part of my own feelings in this. She prayed to me whether to join Myokar and Mishaya, or to help those people. I did not know that the vampire would attack them. Part of Shawukay's guilt was the state that you would call catatonia that she was in during the attack, while her mind allowed her to assimilate what had happened. Another source of pain for her is that the mortals of Toril lose the memories of their lives when they pass into the next life, except for those of their mates. I hope you can understand her grief in this manner."

"Completely," Jenny replied, still considering what she'd just learned. "What do you wish me to do?"

"Understand her," the Lady said, placing her hands on Jenny's shoulders. "Shawukay is her own worst critic. I can only ask that you find ways to help her alleviate her guilt for something not her fault, and to help within your limits. In essence, simply to continue what you have done for her already."

"I'll do my best," Jenny promised.

"Thank you, Jenny Calendar. Now, I must go. But I will be watching her."

"You love her, don't you?" Jenny said, not really asking a question.

"I love all those who worship me, Jenny of the Romany," the woman said as she disappeared. However, a trace of words entered into her mind, sounding almost like an echo. *But my daughter's faith shines like the stars, and I weep for joy that she can give me her love so selflessly after what has happened to her. To lose her now would be a tragedy.*

As the words faded, Jenny walked over to where the original spell lay, and quickly used a small enchantment to destroy it, placing the new spell in its place.

"Ladies," she said softly, calling on both Goddess involved in this, "watch over her."

*****

Bureau 13 Headquarters
Location Unknown
Early hours
23 November 1998

Horace Gordon laid down the latest of his field reports, sighing in frustration due to the fact that the phone was ringing once again. It had been an amazingly active night, and the head of Bureau 13 was wondering if he was ever going to get to bed.

Horace picked up the phone, and barked, "Gordon."

"Hello, Horace," Egon Spengler replied, not reacting to the rudeness displayed by his superior. "I have a report for you concerning the Horseman."

"Okay, go ahead," Gordon said, regaining control of his temper.

"Perhaps you should put this on speaker," Egon suggested, "it might take awhile."

"Oh, great," he muttered, pressing the speaker button. He leaned forward, shoving his papers to the side, and said, "Alright, Spengler, how'd the kids do their first time out?"

"Well, it seems that there was more than the Level Nine in Central Park tonight, Horace," the senior Ghostbuster began. "Upon arrival, the kids detected two Level Threes and six Level Fours scattered in the Park. On their way to the location of the Level Nine, they ran across one of the Level Fours."

Horace started to get a sinking feeling in his stomach, as he could already see the direction this was going to take. "Spengler. .Egon, just tell me one thing first.  Is the Horseman contained?"

"No, but he was sent back where he came from," was the comeback.

Horace gave the speaker a funny look, and he could feel the sinking feeling growing larger. "All right, give me the basics."

"Okay, Horace," Egon said, and Gordon could hear a deep breath being taken on the other end. "The Level Four, a witch, indicated that she was looking for the Horseman. She also indicated that she knew about Bureau 13. ."

"WHAT?!?" Horace shouted. "Are you serious?!?"

"I'll explain everything," Egon promised, "if you'll allow me to continue."

Gordon buzzed Dimitri's desk, and the centaur came in at the trot, and Gordon reached into his desk for a bottle of Advil. "Listen in on this, Dimitri."

"Egon's team?" the centaur asked.

"Hello, Dimitri," Egon said, and he quickly recapped what had been told thus far. "Now, to continue, the kids suspected that the Level Four was in league with the Horseman, so they fired a warning shot. This led to an exchange of fire, and it was at that point that a second Level Four entered the area. This Level Four charged the team, who split their fire to deal with the threats. Both Level Fours cast shielding spells, but the proton beams broke through the shield of the second Level Four. When the kids turned all of their firepower onto the original contact, the second Level Four, a shaman or priestess, cast a spell to call down some lightning bolts at the team."

"Wait!" Gordon snapped. "This shaman used magic on your team?  How are they?"

"They're fine. The first Level Four dropped her shield, and shielded the kids herself to deflect the last bolt that came down. She saved their lives, Horace."

"I see," Gordon said, rubbing his chin. "I'll draw up a search and detain order for the second Level Four."

"It's not that simple, Horace," Egon said slowly. "There are extenuating circumstances in this case."

"For committing assault with intent to kill on Federal Agents?!?" Horace asked in astonishment.

"What are the circumstances?" Dimitri asked, hoping to lessen his boss's ire. <If he loses it, I'll be here all night, too.>

"It seems that the Level Fours are blood cousins," Spengler reported, and he let out a sigh of regret. "She was only trying to protect her relative."

"I don't care, what about the Horseman?" Gordon demanded.

"Well, that's where things get complicated. It seems that the shaman, along with three other level Fours, were the ones involved in sending the Level Nine back to the Fourth Circle."

"Wait. Are you telling me that this Level Four shaman that attacked your team helped to get rid of the Horseman?" Dimitri asked, because Horace was too stunned to respond.

"One of the other Level Fours was the target of the Horseman, and the shaman was once his student. I have some basic descriptions of the Level Fours involved in the battle."

"Give them to me," Horace ordered. "I want them brought in for questioning."

"Here they are. The four Level Fours are described as follows; one half-elven warrior priestess of Mielikki, a samurai sword-swinging Scotsman, and. ." Egon said, and after a suitably dramatic pause, he said, "a pair of Jedi Knights armed with light sabers."

Dimitri's jaw opened to respond, but his reply was frozen when Horace's head dropped, smacking into the desk with an impressive "thud." A moan, not of pain but of frustration, capped the Director's reaction.

He slowly raised his head, and snarled, "Spengler, you put that insane, psychotic, Slayer Sword-wielding smartass on the line RIGHT NOW!!!"

After a pause, a new voice rang out over the office.

"Hey, Horace, how's it going?"

"Wanderer, what the hell are you doing in New York?" Gordon snapped. "And don't tell me it's Section Seven business!"

"Actually, it's Slayerette business, Horace," Steve said.  "A new Slayerette, Shaw Hunter, has been messed with by Ares, and it's driving her over the edge. She came to New York to meet Connor, and Ares brought the Horseman to the party, hoping to kill Connor and fully gain Shaw as his personal champion, like the Amazons or Shiva's avatar. I think you see the problem."

"This would be the half-elven priestess?" Horace said.

"Right. This isn't a simple recruiting plan, but an attempt to steal someone from their deity. We followed her here, but your kids showed up, and the confusion allowed Shaw to escape into New York."

"The confusion that includes this girl attempting to zap my agents like the priest in 'Caddyshack?'" Bureau 13's head asked sarcastically. "And let me guess, this witch that shielded them would happen to be one of your Amazons?"

"Yep, Amy, to be specific," St. Wolf muttered. "And yes, they're cousins.  There's more to the story, but suffice it to say that even with her going nuts. . OW!!"

Horace and Dimitri looked at each other strangely, and Steve's voice came back over the line. "Sorry, Buffy took exception to that. Anyway, Shaw was trying to protect Amy from your team. We've straightened that out on this end, I'd like to ask for your permission to enlist them to help find Shaw."

"You really think they'll help you after this?" Horace asked in disbelief.

"New York's a big city, Horace. I've only got seven people on my team here, counting Connor and his new student. Another four would help out."

Horace sighed, and reached into the bottle, quickly swallowing three pills. "Steve," Horace said slowly, "I'll tell Egon to help you out. But I hope you realize that with this girl running around the Big Apple, the priority has to be secrecy, and keeping her from harming anyone."

"I know, but I think that she ran off in a major guilt trip over that spell. Normally, hurting someone’s the last thing she wants," Steve countered. "But, the circumstances, you will admit, are not normal."

"As you said, she's nearing the edge. I'm going to authorize whatever force might be necessary. That's the best I can do."

Steve sighed, but apparently that was the best deal he was going to get. "Okay, Horace.  But I want to combine members of both teams, so that some people don't get trigger happy." In the firehouse, Egon raised an eyebrow at the slight emphasis St. Wolf put on the word ‘some.’

Horace looked at Dimitri, who shrugged. "Okay. But I don't like the idea of what Merlin's going to say about this."

"Actually, it might be better if you don't say word one to him just yet," Steve warned. "If he does ask about it, just tell him I'm training one of Elminster's finest."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"He'll understand."

The phone clicked dead. Horace looked at his reports, and said, "I'm never getting home tonight."

"Uh, sir, the Knight General's on Line Two."

Horace moaned and began to reopen the Advil bottle.

*****

Ghostbuster Headquarters
New York City, New York
Early hours
23 November 1998

As Steve hung up the phone, Egon asked, "Well, what did he decide, Steve?"

"That we can divide the teams into co-op groups, and they can look for Shaw. He did say he'd authorize whatever force is necessary."

Buffy's face twisted into anger. "Whatever force is necessary? Exactly what is that supposed to mean, Steve?"

Steve favored Buffy with a look of compassion. "Exactly what it means, honey.  Whatever is needed to stop Shaw, is what we use. That's why we're going to combine both groups, and divide them into separate teams."

Buffy considered it, and nodded. "We better make them good teams, then."

"Exactly. Egon," Steve said, looking at his old acquaintance, "you want to call everyone down, we can set up a meeting for later this morning."

"Of course," Egon said with a nod, and the group began to head out for the main room of the firehouse.

After Janine had called them down, the kids were assembled next to the ambulance, and Eduardo spoke for the group.

"So, what's the plan, boss?"

Egon looked at Steve. "It's quite simple, Eduardo. Our two groups will meet at Connor's antiques shop at nine in the morning, and we'll divide into smaller teams to cover the city. This will allow us to cover more area at once, and hopefully allow us to find Shaw before she goes over the edge."

Most of the teens were nodding in thought, with the notable exception of Amy. Steve picked up on it, but decided to wait. "Okay, Egon, I'll see you in the morning?"

"Of course, Steve," Egon said. He turned to his team. "Go ahead and head to bed, kids."

The Ghostbusters started to head back upstairs, and Steve walked over to Amy. "Is there a problem?"

Amy rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah," she snapped softly, but quickly added, "but nothing to do with the guys. I just found out that Shaw's world is very popular with the Dungeons and Dragons set."

Steve's face crinkled in confusion. "Would you run that by me again?"

"Ask Xander," she said, looking at the Slayerette she'd just named. "He knows all about it.  And I'm not too happy he kept it a secret. But I'll deal. Shaw, on the other hand, might not."

She walked over to talk to Buffy, leaving Steve to wonder what that was about.

<The sooner we find this girl, the better,> he thought to himself. <I wonder where she is right now. . .>

*****

Near Times Square
New York City, New York
Early hours
23 November 1998

After nearly a full hour of panicked flight through the shadows and back alleys of the Big Apple, Shaw had finally collapsed from exhaustion, both physical and emotional. She was sitting down, leaning against a wall, with her arms wrapped around her knees, a strong, steady stream of tears flowing from her eyes.

Other people, homeless and with nowhere to go, walked by her occasionally, but she paid them no heed, and they silently returned the favor.

Shaw was trying to make sense of what had happened earlier tonight, but her thoughts were too jumbled, and her mind too weary, to form a coherent thought for more than a few seconds.

<Why?!? Why did Amy protect them?!? They were trying to hurt her! How was it a mistake? I cannot understand!> The thoughts continued to go rapidly, flying through her conscious mind faster than she could follow. <I killed Connor.  How could I do such a thing?!? I was aiming at the demon. How could I miss?!?  Connor died because of me...>

She buried her face in her knees, and started weeping anew, crying harder and harder for a number of minutes before a soft voice drew her out of her reverie.

"Hey, kid."

Shaw's head snapped up, and she saw someone, probably one of those who lived in this alley, looking at her. He wore gray sweats, complete with a hood, and his body posture showed genuine concern for her. She looked at him intently, but finally said, "Please, leave me alone."

The figure, a male by his size, said, "You look like being alone is the last thing you need right now."

Shaw shook her head in a jerking motion. "I am too dangerous to be around. Please, leave. I cannot be trusted."

"Why not? I don't know you," he said.

"I. . .am not well. Please, go away," she asked, but her voice betrayed her hesitancy.

"Something happen to you?" the man asked, and before she could reply, he added, "Call me Al."

Shaw looked at him, and said, "Why should it matter if I know your name?"

"Well, you look like you could use a friend," Al offered. "Why don't you tell me what happened?"

"It is none of your affair," she said, turning halfway towards the wall. "You would not understand."

"Try me," he said gently. "I've seen, and been through, a lot in my lifetime. I don't think it would shock me."

Shaw's gaze snapped back at him, her eyes glowing in the dark alley, but he didn't seem put off by it. Shaw didn't even realize that she'd neglected to put her shades back on after the fight in Central Park. But it was his comment, one made to her several days ago, by someone else, that drew her attention. And, it made her do something she'd never consider under normal circumstances; trust a complete stranger.

"I. .tried to kill some people tonight," Shaw began, the tears flowing once again. "They were trying to hurt my cousin, and I tried to protect her. But. ." she trailed off, crying harder and slowly rocking back and forth on her heels.

"What was wrong?" he asked softly, trying to coax the answer out of the obviously frightened girl.

"It was a mistake. They had made a mistake in thinking her an enemy," Shaw whispered in horror, nearly choking on the words. "I was only trying to save Amy. She is my only family. ."

Again, she started crying, and she leaned against the wall, sobbing softly. "You must love her," Al said.

Unknowingly, Shaw just nodded, not realizing she'd answered his question. Al looked at her with compassion, and held out his hand. "Come on."

Shaw was snapped out of her despair, and looked at his hand. "What?"

"You want to get out of this mess?" he asked, indicating the cooling, winter's night. "You could stay the night in the abandoned church. It's not very warm, but it's dry."

"What do you want in return?" she asked, suspicion slowly creeping up.

"Company would be nice," Al said in genuine mirth.  "You can only talk to the same hoboes every night for so long before running out of stuff to talk about."

Shaw considered his words, and slowly took his hand. He helped her up, and nearly fell over when she all but pitched over into his arms.

"How long have you been awake?" he asked, noting her exhaustion.

"Four, perhaps five days," she answered weakly, standing on her own with great difficulty. "I. . am no longer sure."

Al sighed, and said, "Come on. You need to get some sleep."

Shaw tensed, but said, "There is a problem. I cannot sleep without. ."

When Al looked at her, she merely kept silent.

"Okay, but what are you gonna do tomorrow?" the gray-clad person asked. "You gonna keep running?"

"I. .want to go home. But when I make the decision, something happens," she answered in a soft, hissing voice. "I am being manipulated, and it puts my friends in danger. Every time they come near me, something happens."

"Well, maybe the thing to do is to go to THEM, rather than wait for them to come to you."

As the two walked through a hole in the wall of the old church, Shaw considered his words.

"Perhaps. .you are right," she admitted. "I. .do not know what to do."

"Well, first things first," he said, reaching into a backpack sitting on an old, rotting wooden pew. "How about a candy bar? It's not much, but it'll get something into your stomach."

Shaw looked at him through wary eyes, and nodded softly. He gently handed her a Payday bar, and she slowly opened it.  She walked around, looking at the stained glass windows of the church, not comprehending why a house of worship would be abandoned.

"Al? Is that your name?" she asked.

When he nodded, she asked, "Why is this church in such a state? Is there no one who worships here?"

"Well," he said, looking around himself, "what I figure is that the people that came to church here moved away, or perhaps built a newer, better church somewhere else in the city, and that left the congregation too small to make coming her viable. But, it still serves people in a way, providing shelter for people without homes."

"I see," Shaw said softly, and she silently lamented that any holy place could be allowed to suffer such. "This is still holy ground, however. I can feel it."

Al looked at her, interest and no little bit of surprise in his voice. "How do you know?"

"I am a priestess," she replied, and seemed about to say more before she let out a large yawn. Her eyes started to droop, and Al stood up and led her over to a solid pew.

"Here, lay down," he said. He looked at her wet clothing, and said, "Why don't you take off the coat? I can hang it up, and let it dry out.  Wet coat's no good in this cold weather."

Shaw looked at him, and reluctantly nodded. She took off the coat, and set it down, taking the time to remove the weapons. Al just watched her as she removed Soulreaver, her Uzi, the daggers she was wearing, and he looked with interest at the arm claws that she removed from her left arm. When she was done, she handed him the coat.

"You're loaded for combat, aren't you?" he asked.  "What do you do?"

"Protect people from evil," she muttered, settling back down onto the pew.

<You're not the only one, kid,> Al thought.

Al had hung her coat on a coat peg, and sat down, simply watching her with a detached interest. He was completely unsurprised when she fell asleep in less than fifteen minutes.

<Now, what's wrong with her?> he asked himself. He used his mystical senses to read her aura.  <Hmmm. Okay, I see. She's got something inside of her that don't belong there. But, I can't remove it, because it's tied to her own magic.>

As Al tried to think of something he could do to possibly help this girl, a sound from the entrance caught his attention. He slowly stood up, reluctant to leave the poor kid alone, but headed for the entrance. When he got there, he moaned in irritation.

"This is NOT the time for this," he said, looking at the ceiling.

"It is the perfect time for this, Hellspawn," the woman staring at him said. She wore what would normally be called a chain-mail bikini, but it was made of fabric, and she had a small mask covering her eyes, and strange earrings dangled from her lobes. She carried a large, very long spear, and she smiled with evil intent. "I've waited a long time to fill my license on you, Simmons."

"This is not a good time, Angela," Al told the woman, jerking his head back towards the area where Shaw was sleeping. "Why don't you do something constructive for once, and help the kid that's in a major world of hurt?"

"Do you really expect me to fall for that?" Angela taunted.

"Oh, come on Miss High-and-Mighty. Use that holier than thou power of yours and Look at her. I can't help her, maybe you can?"

Angela looked suspicious, but slowly extended her own extra special senses throughout the church. She found what she was looking for, and slowly exhaled.

"A Mielikkian," she said, looking at Al. "But with a touch of Ares. That's not possible, she can have only one Patron."

"Does it have to do with whatever's NOT supposed to be in her body?"

Angela considered the aura again, and nodded. "I see. A battle of faith. And it's raging within her. I'm surprised her sanity's lasted this long, even with her faith."

"Yeah, well if you can't do anything, how about letting me get her to her family, who's here looking for her."

"Sorry, but there are priorities, Spawn." Angela hefted her spear, and said, "Taking out a possible general in Satan's Army is more important than one young girl."

She concentrated, and a blast of energy fired at Spawn, who dodged it, and his gray sweats began to morph, changing into an outfit crisscrossed with chains and having a long, flowing cape. He started to fade back, and pleaded with Angela not to attack.

"Angela, I made my choice," he stated. "I won't serve Satan.  And we've danced this dance before, I don't want to destroy you."

"Well, that's what makes it easier for me," she said, firing another blast at him.

To both their surprise, however, a blue glow formed in front of Spawn, and the beam penetrated it, but was lessened enough for Al to shield himself from the rest of it.

Angela's eyes widened, and she shouted, "HOW DARE YOU?!?" to the church.

Shaw walked out from behind a thick, Corinthian pillar, and took up a position by Spawn, Soulreaver in full sight, her eyes blazing in blue sparks.

"How dare YOU attempt to kill someone for trying to help me?" she snarled. "Your master tried to kill Connor using the Horseman, and now he sends you to kill this man? Be glad that I will make this quick and painless."

Angela began laughing, a pure, musical sound that belied her deadly intent. "You little fool, I don't serve that Olympian clod! I serve God! And you are protecting a Hellspawn."

"Do you truly expect me to believe that?" Shaw asked, taking up a defensive position.

"Shaw, look at me," Al said, and she turned to do so.

Shaw's eyes widened at the look of his face, something she'd only seen on ghouls and zombies, but she used her newfound ability to sense sources of magic, and she could see what he was.

"Your magic is like that of the Hellmouth," Shaw said softly.

"Yes," Angela said, smirking at the girl's look, "and he is the one you seek to protect."

Shaw looked at her, and then back at Al. "Why did you bring me here?" she demanded.

"You looked like you needed help," Al answered. He looked at Angela. "Angela, let the girl leave.  She has no part in this."

Angela looked at Shaw, and nodded. "Leave, Mielikkian. I have no quarrel with you."

Shaw shook her head, and retook her stance in front of Spawn. "If you are an angel, than you are a stupid one, to think I would repay his kindness with abandonment. Is he evil?"

"Of course," the hunter snapped. "He is a Hellspawn!"

"Fine," Shaw said, turning to Al, who tensed. She turned her sword around, and offered it to him, hilt first. "Take it, Al."

Looking confused, he did. He looked it over and asked, "It's strong, but not enough to handle Angela, here."

"And the enchantment that electrocutes anyone evil who touches it?" Shaw asked, taking the blade back from him. She turned to Angela, and said, "If you desire his life, you will have to take mine as well."

A look of slight regret passed over Angela's face, and she nodded. "So be it."

"Of course," Shaw said, and then she made one final comment. "But I do have to wonder what Jehanne will say when she finds out about this."

Angela's spear was starting to charge with a golden light, but it died suddenly once Shaw mentioned that name.

Angela looked Shaw over with an appraising look, and her eyes became distant.

"What's happening?" Spawn asked.

"She is talking to the Boss," Shaw said with a touch of sarcasm.

Angela snapped back to the situation at hand. "So you're the one Jehanne's talked about," she said.  "I wonder what she'll say once she finds out what you're doing."

"Knowing your Master, He is probably telling her at this very moment," the half-elf replied. "What did He have to say about this?"

Angela's jaw tightened, and she hissed, "He gets a reprieve for now, but in the future, if his actions warrant it, he will be hunted again."

"I wouldn't expect any less, Angie," Al said with a smile of victory.

She snarled, but without any reason to linger, she vanished in a burst of golden light.

Shaw watched the space for a few seconds, and turned to Spawn. She gave him a considering look, and he asked, "Well?"

"Can you trust her?" Shaw asked.

"Yeah, she's a pain in the ass, but she's the honorable type."

"Fine," Shaw said very softly, heading back for her weapons. Al started to follow her, and she looked back over her shoulder at him. "Al, how did this happen?"

"It's a long story, and one I've regretted for a long time," he replied. "I'd rather not tell it again."

Shaw gazed at him, and nodded, a pair of tears running down her cheeks. "I understand, believe me."

"So, you wanna try to get some more sleep?" he asked with true concern in his voice.

Shaw looked afraid, but finally nodded. "Yes. Can you wake me at around eight in the morning? I will follow your advice, and try to find help from those I need it from."

"Okay. Pleasant dreams," he said, leaving her some privacy.

Shaw laid down, and tears started flowing again as she whispered, "I could use them."

As the tension left her body, her eyes quickly fluttered shut, and she quickly faded, crying herself to sleep in the cold, empty church.

*****

Part 11: Mayhem
(The Heroes And The Villains Go Head To Head)

Abandoned Church
Near Times Square
New York City, New York
23 November 1998

Spawn jumped as a shout sounded through the church. He quickly jumped up and ran to the pew where Shaw had been sleeping. More than once, she'd started moaning and mumbling in her sleep, and it saddened him to think of what her dreams might be like.

He found her sitting on the pew she'd used as an improvised bed, her elbows on her knees and holding her face in her hands, her shoulders heaving as she sobbed softly.

"Shaw?" he asked tentatively.

Her head jerked up, and he saw the look of fear in her eyes, which were teary and bloodshot, despite the sleep she'd managed to get. Her face was red from the amount of weeping she'd done.

She didn't seem to recognize him at first, but acknowledgement dawned in her eyes after only a couple of seconds, as she came back to the waking world. She shook in fright, attempting to gain control of herself.

"Are you okay?" Al asked.

Shaw looked at him, and shook her head. "No, I am not. I cannot keep doing this," she said in a cracked voice, her throat parched and dry. "I cannot keep seeing those faces, it is so horrible."

"What faces?" he asked, not understanding her answer.

"The spell Ares cast upon me has. ." she trailed off, looking for an answer he would believe. "There is another spirit inside of me, waging a battle with my own. When I sleep, I see memories of him.  He. .was a killer."

"Shit," was the reply she received. "That's why you didn't want to sleep, right?"

When she silently nodded, he said, "Can your friends help you?"

"They have a spell, but Ares continues to keep them from taking me home. I. .endanger them, and I do not know how to stop it."

"Go to them," Spawn said firmly, taking her hand and helping her up. "Go straight to them, and get home. Point A to Point B."

When Shaw looked at him in puzzlement, he tried a different phrase. "The shortest distance between two points."

"A straight line," she said, finishing the saying, and she smiled a bit when she got the hint. "I understand."

"Good," he replied. He turned and went over to a small pile of clothing, and held up a sweater and a pair of dark jeans. "Try these on. They might be big, but they're clean and dry."

Shaw took the black sweater, and the black jeans that had the look of being what Cordelia had referred to as "stone washed," and looked back at Al.

"These are brand new," she said, not understanding where he could have gotten them. "Where did you get them?"

"I have my ways," he said with a smile, knowing full well that she'd get it.

"Meaning that you stole them," she said with a frown.  "Al, you should not risk yourself like that."

"Come on, you needed the clothes," he countered, indicating the mess she'd made of the outfit she'd borrowed from Amanda, after a night running through the rain. "You really have a problem with them?"

"No, it is just that I know about having to maintain secrecy, being half-elven," the Slayerette told him. "It must be even more difficult in your case.  That the others accept you shows that they do not care about your appearance."

"Yeah, well, I help protect them from the gangs and punks," Al said, shrugging nonchalantly.

"How do you choose to help others, being a. .Hellspawn?" Shaw asked.

"I was human, Shaw," he said, a look of pain coming over his face. "I was a government assassin, and I was left for dead in Korea. Because of my sins, I was sent to Hell. I'm told I made a deal with the devil to come back because I loved my wife, and was sent back as this, with a predetermined amount of supernatural power. If I survived long enough, and the power ran out, I'd be a general in Satan's army for Armageddon."

"And what was, how do you say," Shaw muttered. "Oh, yes, the 'catch?'"

"Five years passed before I came back, and most of my memories were wiped out. My wife remarried, and had a kid, named Cyan," Al said sadly. He looked into her eyes, tears actually forming on his face. "Once I figured out everything, I made the decision to help others, and not use the power for evil, as was intended. I suppose I hoped for forgiveness, or maybe redemption."

Shaw considered what Angela had said before departing the night before, and looked at Al. "What if you had your chance? To help others but with more resources, other people to help in your task?"

"How?" the man asked in confusion.

"There is a group called Section Seven, which fights mystical threats to Earth. They are what is essentially a mystical covert operations group."

"Whoa, there, kid," Spawn said, holding up his hands and waving them frantically. "This is what got me into THIS situation."

"Al, this group includes some of the best people I have ever known," Shaw said.

"Like who?"

Shaw softly said, "The Slayer, the Wanderer, the Knights of the Grail, others who are just as good and helpful, who I have not met. ."

"I've heard of the Wanderer, but not the others. ." he said, interrupting, but he stopped at the look of frustration on her face. "What's wrong?"

"Is there anyone on this Goddess forsaken planet that does NOT know of Steven or that he does NOT know of?" she asked, shaking her head.

"Beats me," he said, smiling. "But I do know his reputation. He's one of the best. But do you really think he'd accept me?"

"They accepted me, someone who was consumed with revenge," Shaw said, looking at him directly to show the honesty in her eyes. "And they have accepted others in need of a home.  Some who have become my friends."

"How would they find me?" Spawn asked, and with a smile he added, "I'm not exactly listed in the Yellow Pages."

"I could give you the phone numbers of some of the others, that you could contact," she said. "Al, it would allow you to find a home." She looked at him, and said, "But bear in mind that this comes from someone who has run from hers."

"Well, then, you'd better get going to your friend's place, right?"

She looked at him, and nodded. "Directly."

She walked up to Al, and to his immense surprise, she gave him a hug.

"Thank you, Al," she whispered. "I will remember this, and I will pray for you."

The Hellspawn smiled sadly, and said, "Thanks."

*****

Outside MacLeod's Antiques
New York City, New York
23 November 1998

The Ghostbusters pulled up to the curb, looking at the address of the antiques shop they were in parking in front of. To say the least, they were somewhat surprised at the meeting place they'd been instructed to come to.

"An antiques shop?" Garrett asked.  "This MacLeod guy hunts vampires and runs an antiques shop?"

"What were you expecting?" Kylie asked.

"A gym, or maybe a martial arts class," Eduardo said. "The guy uses a big old Ginsu, remember?"

"Eduardo, according to Egon, that 'Ginsu' is over four hundred years old. It's one of the finest swords ever made, by one of the greatest sword makers in ancient Japan," Kylie said, remembering a short discussion she'd had with Egon that morning. "Not only is it one of the finest blades ever produced anywhere in the world, it's priceless."

"And he uses it to fight vampires," Garrett said.

Kylie sighed in frustration, and Roland tried to help her out. "Guys, what Kylie's trying to say is that sword was made for a samurai. It's meant to be used in combat."

"So, is it supposed to be a weapon or an art piece?" Garrett asked.

"Both," Kylie AND Roland said simultaneously.

"Oh," he muttered, finally getting the point.

"And don't forget that Steve and Buffy wield those light sabers," Eduardo said, smirking at Kylie.

"That just proves what kind of people they are," Kylie said, wanting to get into the store and away from explaining magical theories to the pair of information challenged Ghostbusters.

"Yeah, they're cursed to be lovebirds," Garrett said, not understanding. "What's that got to do with this?"

"Guys!" she snapped, and Garrett and Eduardo both cringed, knowing what she was like when she was in THAT state of mind. "Those swords are two of only nine like them in existence. They're two of the most powerful and important magical items in the fight against the bad guys."

"Oh, like Excalibur?" Roland asked.

"That's one of them, Roland," the young woman said with a smile. "Thanks for proving the point. That means that Steve and Buffy are as good as warriors, and as good as people, as King Arthur. Does THAT clear this up?"

Apparently it did, because both smart-alec Ghostbusters just nodded dumbly. They finally got out of the ambulance, and started to head for the entrance to the shop where they would meet the Slayerettes.

When the bell rang, Maxine looked up to see the Ghostbusters walking in. She smiled a bit and popped her gum as they headed to the counter.

"'Bout time youse showed up," she said. She nodded to the back door. "Go on in, everyone's waiting for ya.  I'll hit the 'closed' sign and be in there in a sec."

The kids walked in, and saw the people they'd met last night, and to their surprise, another man was there. He looked to be about forty, and he moved to shake their hands with a grace that they would never have expected.

"Hi, I'm Frank," the man said, introducing himself.

Roland took his hand, and said, "I'm Roland, and this is Kylie, Eduardo and Garrett."

Frank looked at Garrett with a smirk. "So you're the Wyatt Earp of the gang, huh?"

Garrett looked at Amy, who was also smirking. "Very funny, Amy. I apologized, didn't I?"

"Hey, I gotta have some fun," the witch said with a shrug. "I'm 'grounded,' and I gotta hang here all day while you're out looking for Shaw."

The Ghostbusters turned as one to Steve, who was chuckling in amusement. "What she means, kids, is that she's staying here. If one group finds Shaw, Amy's gonna cast a quick teleporting spell directly to that location. I've only got two spell scrolls, so I can't waste them having her teleport all over the Big Apple."

"Sorta like EMS," Eduardo said, and when no one reacted one way or the other, he looked at Xander. "Tough crowd."

"Dweeb boy already used that line," Cordelia said. "And it saves Kylie the trouble of smacking you for it."

"Okay, so how's this gonna work?" Garrett asked.

"Well, it's pretty simple," Steve said. "Four teams will head out, and cover different parts of the city. You'll report in every hour, and we'll cross areas off the map. As we narrow it down, we'll hopefully figure out where she is."

"What are the teams?" Roland asked, unsure as to whether or not he wanted to hear the answer.

"Okay. First team is Xander, Cordelia and Kylie," Steve began, looking at the three in turn. "Xander and Cordy are a good team, and Kylie, this is your town. I want the other teams to be similar in makeup."

"Okay, that's cool," Kylie said, nodding to Cordelia.

Xander started to sweat a bit at that nod. <Oh, crap, I'm in for it now. I'll get even with Steve for this.>

Steve pretended not to notice Xander's glare. "Second team's me, Buffy and Frank.  Buffy and I work together, and Frank's an old friend of mine who lives here."

"You deal in antiques too?" Eduardo asked with a smile.

"No, I run Iverson Air out of La Guardia," Frank answered with a similar smile. "Before that, I was a SEAL."

"Whoa," Garrett said. "Guess everyone needs a hobby."

"Right," Steve said as the others enjoyed the chatter.  "Third team will be Connor, Eduardo and Garrett."

Buffy and Amy started giggling, and Connor's answering glower led the two Ghostbusters to realize they'd been set up.

"Let me guess, he's like us?" Garrett asked, pretty sure of the answer.

"Worse," Maxine said from the doorway. "Better you two than me."

"Final team, Roland and Maxine. I'm sorry, but like I said, I need Amy here to pop out if we find Shaw. Also, with your PKE meters revamped, you each have the capability of detecting Shaw's signature. I'm sorry that we don't have one extra person for you."

The Ghostbusters started looking at each other, and Kylie, more or less by default, stepped forward. "Uh, Steve, we do have someone else, waiting in the car, but he'd afraid to show himself. He's willing to help, but he wasn't sure Cordy'd like the idea."

Cordelia started fuming as the Slayerettes got the idea as to who Kylie was referring to, but she gave up, and said, "Oh, whatever. I won't kill him."

"Uh, Cordy, he's a ghost," Xander pointed out.

"That's why I won't kill him," she said with a sweet smile. "And I get to pick on you anyway."

"Anyway, we'll keep in touch with cell phones and your Bureau 13 comm units," Steve instructed. "We'll start in about an hour, but I don't want you guys doing this on an empty stomach."

"Want me and Cordy to hit the donut shop?" Xander asked, raising his hand.

Steve looked around. "Any objections?"

When no one objected, he nodded. "Okay, but take Kylie with you. You three can get started on your teamwork early."

Xander moaned as Cordelia and Kylie exchanged high fives on their way out the door.

*****

Two blocks away from Connor's shop, a bus was pulling to the side of the street. As a sizable number of passengers dismounted from the public transport, one figure stepped out, looking around as if she did not know what direction to go in. As she gained her bearings, she looked at the address numbers on the shops in front of her, and quickly gained the idea of which direction she had to go in.

<Well, this is easy enough.> Shaw thought to herself as she looked around, trying to avoid people walking to and fro as they passed her. <The main problem will be crossing this street when I get to the location of Connor's shop.>

As the half-elf started to walk in the proper direction, she began to realize it might not be as simple as walking in.

<What if the others are not there?> she wondered, slowing down a bit. <If Connor has to call them, that might give Ares a chance. .>

She quickly focused, putting the thought behind her.

<NO! Do not think that way!> she mentally shouted, closing her eyes a bit to focus her concentration.  <If something happens, you stay! You go home!>

She shivered a bit at her reluctance, and with renewed determination, started walking again.

After taking a full five minutes to make one block, due to the heavy stream of foot traffic, Shaw began to lose what little patience she had in reserve. She briefly contemplated just barreling her way through the crowds, but she killed that idea fairly quickly.

<It was reacting in haste that has endangered the others, notably Connor,> she thought, hating herself for considering another such action. However, the thought began to linger in the back of her mind, and fresh guilt swelled up inside of the Slayerette. She fought it, however, desperately hanging onto her intention to link up with the others.

As she crossed the final street, she started to feel uneasy, as her dislike of cities started to manifest, brought on by the combination of crowds and noise. She gritted her teeth, and moved to one side of the sidewalk, nearer to the buildings on her side of the street, hoping to avoid oncoming pedestrians.

That plan worked for all of two minutes, as she came directly across from the shop whose address indicated that it was where she would find MacLeod.

It was at that point at which her head exploded into a full blown migraine headache, the likes of which she'd never felt in her entire life.

With the onset of the crushing Buzz, all of her concentration and determination vanished. She fell backwards crashing against the wall of a watch repair store, holding her head doubling over, by waves of agony the likes of which she'd never experienced before rolling over her like a series of large waves coming in off the ocean.

She was so disoriented by the pain that she failed to notice a trio of people watching her from across the street, nearly half a block away.

*****

Xander, Cordelia and Kylie were walking back from the donut shop, with the girls forcing Xander to carry all three boxes of donuts and having fun at his expense, when Xander suddenly stopped dead.

Cordelia, being distracted by her conversation with the Ghostbuster, plowed into Xander, who was unable to stop the topmost box from dropping onto the sidewalk, spilling a dozen prime jelly-filled treats onto the New York pavement.

"Xander, you idiot!" she snapped, preparing to smack him on the head for the umpteenth time that trip. "Those were my favorites!"

"Fewst off, you smack me again, I'll dwop anudder box," Xander threatened. "Second, wook acwoss duh stweet, about halfway down duh bwock."

Cordelia and Kylie did as he told them, and Cordelia's jaw dropped open.

"I don't fucking believe it," she said dully.

"Don't tell me that's her?" Kylie said, looking at the Amazon for her answer.

"In the pointy eared flesh," Cordy muttered. "Xander, stay here. Let's see what happens."

"But Cody," he began to say, but she cut him off.

"Xander, why would she come here?" she asked, before answering that herself. "She's coming to Connor's shop. She wants to come home, Xander."

Before either Xander or Kylie could comment, Shaw suddenly staggered, and practically fell back against the wall of the shop directly across from Connor's establishment, where everyone was waiting for them.

"What's wrong?" Kylie asked.

"Oh, sit," Xander said. "Cody, she's gedding duh Buzz."

"The Buzz?"

"Sort of a magical car alarm," Cordelia lied quickly. "Sorta like those detection gadgets you carry.  She's detecting Steve, Buffy, the swords, et al."

"Oh, shit," Kylie said. "She'll run, won't she?"

Cordelia took charge, reaching into her coat, readying her pistol. "Kylie, time to break in your comm unit."

"Gotcha," Kylie said, tapping her new bracelet.

*****

Olympus
Home of the Greek Gods
23 November 1998

From his planning room, Ares was screaming in frustration at the sight of Shaw standing across the street from the Immortal's store.

"No!" he shouted at the walls. "I can't let this happen!  I'll be a laughingstock!"

He walked around, pacing like a caged panther, looking in at the reflecting pool and trying to find a way to turn the situation back to his advantage. When he saw the three people watching the half-elf, his agitation grew even more.

"NO!" he screamed. "Not them!!!"

He stopped suddenly, and he came to a decision that he rarely made in such matters.

"It's time to get up close and personal."

Ares quickly vanished in a burst of light, heading for New York.

Unknown to Ares, two figures were keeping their own eye on this matter, watching the God of War without his knowledge.

The first figure turned to her guest, and asked, "Well?"

"You know how this must go," the second said sadly. "As much as I want to, I am not fully attuned to the Beastlands as of yet. I have done what I can, and helped the others as much as possible. You will have to do what you can."

"Of course, sister," the host said with an evil grin that was shared by the other occupant of her viewing room. "This is going to be fun."

As soon as the other woman nodded, Artemis headed for New York herself.

*****

Steve was discussing the search plans with Connor, Frank and Garrett when he, the Highlander, Maxine and Buffy jerked, and started looking around.

"Uh, what's going on?" Eduardo asked, not liking the looks on the Immortals' faces.

"Something magical," Steve lied, looking at Buffy.  "Buffy?"

"Not a vamp," the Slayer said, playing along. "I can't tell. ."

Everyone jumped as the Ghostbusters' bracelets went off as one.

Garrett quickly answered his. "This is Garrett. What's up?"

"Someone's across the street, looking for a friend," Kylie said, which only served to confuse the others.

"Try that in English, Kylie," Eduardo snapped.

"It's their friend, stupid," Kylie snapped. "She's across the street. Cordy says she's feeling the 'Buzz.'"

Buffy was the first to start moving, but Steve grabbed her arm.

"Hold up, Buffy," he said. "If she's here, she's coming to us." The Wanderer turned to Garrett. "Garrett, ask them what she's doing."

"Got it," the spokesman-by-default said with a nod. "Kylie, what's she doing right now?"

"She looks like she's about to puke," the girl on the other end reported. "She's really hurting, Garrett.  She nearly knocked herself out falling against the wall of the clock shop across from Connor's."

"All right," Garrett responded. He turned off the comm, and asked, "Well, you want us to go after her?"

"No," Steve said, turning to Connor. "Connor, is there anywhere across the street that someone could come out of, say, without anyone seeing them?"

It was Maxine who answered for him. "Hell ya, St. Wolf. There's an alley across the street, 'bout twenty feet from where she's sittin'."

"Good," St. Wolf said, turning to Amy. "Amy?"

"You bet," Amy said, unrolling the scroll and starting to read. "Just hope I don't teleport into the middle of Yankee Stadium."

"Naw, with our luck," Maxine countered, "you'd end up right in front of a cab."

Amy's face winced as she processed that scenario, but finished, vanishing as if she had just turned invisible.

"What, no eff ex?" Eduardo asked. "You guys'd never make it in Hollywood."

"No, they'd work on the WEATHER stuff," Buffy said sweetly, drawing laughs from the others, even Roland and Garrett, as Eduardo fumed.

"That was low," he said.

*****

As Xander, Cordelia and Kylie started running across the street, Shaw slowly started to stand back upright. As they stepped onto their sidewalk, someone stopped by Shaw, looking at her with a look of concern.

"Oh, sit," Xander said, "where scwewed."

"Why?" Cordelia asked, looking at him. "She's right there."

"Yeah, well, dat guy dat's 'elping 'er," the Slayerette said, nodding his head to indicate who he was talking about, "bears a stwiking resemblance to an actuh named Kevin Smit."

"Oh, shit, you're right," Kylie said as her face started to go white.

"And who's Kevin Smith?" the Amazon asked impatiently.

"Uh, he plays on Xena, and, uh. ."

"He happens to play a certain God of War?" Cordy asked, finally getting the point.

"Yep," Xander and Kylie answered together.

"Good," the brunette said, rubbing her hands together.  "This is going to be fun."

As Cordelia started to move forward, Xander and Kylie's eyes bugged out at her brazenness.

"Are you nuts?!?" Xander squeaked out. "'E's a God!"

"Yeah, and what happens if he threatens me or you?" Cordelia called over her shoulder.

"Den. ." Xander said, and he began to get an evil grin on his face at the realization. "Oh, I love dat woman."

"You two are nuts," Kylie said.

Xander turned on her. "What se's saying is dat if Awees twies do hurt us, Cody's Goddess can come in an' kick dat dipstick's ass to pwotect her Amazons and der boyfwiends."

"So we'll have two Greek Gods throwing down in the middle of New York?" the Ghostbuster asked, not liking that possibility any more than the first one.

"Hey, id's wike the Navy," Xander said as he started to run to catch up to Cordy. "Id's not just a job."

"Oh, great," Kylie snapped as she ran with him.

*****

As the man gently laid a hand on her shoulder, Shaw jerked. She stood up fully, trying to make out who was in front of her.  As she fought to break through the pain and her clouded thoughts, she whispered, "Who?"

"A friend," came the answer. "You look like you need some help."

Shaw hesitated, but said, "I. .I am going to someone. Across the street."

"Well, I'll help you across," he offered gently. "You look like you won't make it on your own."

In her confusion, Shaw didn't see anything wrong with his offer, and nodded. "Thank you," she said softly, but in a great deal of pain.

"Come on," the stranger said, putting an arm around her back and guiding her away from the wall she was sagging against.

In the haze and pounding agony in her head, she failed to notice that he was taking her away from Connor's.

*****

"Sit!" Xander yelled as he and the two young women started running full tilt. "He's twying to book. We gotta stob him!"

Cordelia decided to try to do the simplest thing as the three barreled through the crowd of people barring their progress. She yelled at the top of her lungs.

"Shaw!"

The half-elf and man guiding her stopped, and Shaw seemed to hear her name being called, but she started looking in the wrong direction. However, the man turned around and glared at the Amazon.  He quickly turned, and started to guide her into a side alley.

"Shit!" Cordelia said, now pushing people out of her way. "He's gonna disappear on us!"

"Want me to call backup?" Kylie asked.

"No time! Break out your toys," Xander called as he and Cordelia turned the corner.

Shaw allowed the unknown man to guide her, and she was grateful, not knowing that he was taking her away from her destination. Suddenly, a loud yell pierced the thick fog of her mind.

"Shaw!"

*****

Shaw stopped, and tried to focus at the sound of her name, and in a familiar voice.

<Cordelia?> she thought to herself. She looked around, trying to see if she could see the Amazon, but she was nowhere in sight.

The man was looking concerned, and asked, "What is it?" as he looked over his shoulder and grimaced.

"I. . thought I heard a friend," she muttered.

"Come on," he said, his voice taking on a note of urgency, "let's get you where you need to go." <The sooner I get you out of here, the better.>

Ares saw an alley, and decided to get the half-elf and himself out of sight, and put in a quick teleport out of the city.

<Well, Olympus is as good a place as any,> he thought.

He quickly guided her, nearly forcing her to stumble in her disoriented state, into the alley.

As he did so, she suddenly perked up, and started looking around.

<What the?> the God of War thought, surprised by her quick recovery. <Oh, no!  She's out of the Immortals' range!>

Shaw looked around as her head cleared, and she looked at the man who'd taken her away from her intended destination.

"Why did you bring me here?" she asked accusingly, backing away from him a bit. "You said you would guide me across the street!"

Ares realized that he'd better talk quickly, or events would likely take a turn for the worse. For him.

"You looked like you were going to be sick," he explained. "I didn't think your friend would appreciate you throwing up on his floor. But it seems that you're all right now."

Shaw looked suspiciously at the man, and asked, "Who are you?  I prefer to thank people by name."

Now, Ares started to look worried, and Shaw's caution went up another level or two.

"Well, my name's not important," he began, but he was cut off.

"Oh, come on, Ares," a sarcastic feminine voice called from further into the alley. "You've been trying to get her to know you and your way of doing things. Shouldn't she know who cares SO much about her?"

Shaw and Ares whipped around, and saw the teenager who'd said that, standing in an aggressive pose, her hands pulsing with arcane energy, just waiting to be unleashed.

Shaw's jaw dropped, as she recognized the person standing there.

"Amy?" she asked softly.

"Hey, cuz," the witch answered with a smile. She looked at the God standing next to her.  "Get away from her, asshole."

"Now wait a minute," he said, turning his attention fully to her. "This isn't any of your business."

"Oh, yeah, it is, Ares," Amy snarled, the bright radiance on her hands growing along with her anger. "It's more my business than anyone else's, except for a certain Goddess."

Shaw turned halfway towards Ares, and began to back further into the alley as she understood that this was the man responsible for her predicament.

"You are the one who has done this to me?" she asked in a hissing voice. "YOU are the one who has been trying to kill my friends?"

"Yeah, he id," Xander called as he and Cordelia entered the alley. "He's duh stupid sit who brought duh Horseman to your ged togedder wid Connor last night."

Shaw looked past Ares, to see the Slayerettes, and Kylie, taking up positions behind Ares, Xander and Cordy taking out their pistols, while the Ghostbuster brought out her pistol-style proton beam.

Ares looked around, turning as he did so, and shook his head as he chuckled to himself.

"Oh, man, this is not how I wanted to do this," he said.

"Oh, really?" Cordelia asked, pointing her Glock 19 at the Olympian. "Just how did you want to do this?"

Ares turned to Shaw, and asked, "I'm going to assume that you know that I wanted you as my champion, right?"

"Yes," Shaw snarled, starting to stalk forward, but when Amy said her name softly, and the half-elf glanced at her over her shoulder, the witch shook her head. Shaw stopped, but the building anger could be seen in her trembling body. "How did you ever think that I would consent to this?"

"Well, my plan was pretty simple, actually," he began, folding his arms and tilting his head as he looked at her. "The first part was easy; activate the Quickening, and get you away from your friends. The fact they were in San Francisco gave me the perfect opportunity. What went wrong there is that you went to that bald-headed geek and told him what was wrong before you left, and your friends coming home that afternoon. The second part was going fine, thanks to you; get you to run due to the guilt you felt as you went more and more crazy. The monkeywrench there was you taking MacLeod's side against the Horseman. But, since you went berserker, I thought it served my purpose to let him live. And, once you'd been lost to your friends, on the brink of despair and insanity, lo and behold, a savior would offer you salvation."

"Meaning you," Xander snapped derisively.

"Yes, Elmer Fudd, exactly," Ares said, apparently pleased at the deduction. "I'd offer to cure her, give her a new cause, since she'd feel too guilty to go back to the Hellmouth, and since I know how she feels about repaying debts of honor, I'd have myself a mortal champion."

"By killing my friends?!?" Shaw screamed.

"That wasn't my intention. But, since they planned to trap you last night, that allowed me to protect my interests," the God of War said with a Gallic shrug, as if it meant little to him. <Which it does.>  "However, since that's not going to work, I'm going to do it the way that my idiot sister did this. Shaw Hunter, I'll give you my blessing, and make you my mortal champion, and I'll offer you things that Mielikki can't possibly give you."

The Slayerettes looked suspicious of the offer, but Shaw's jaw clenched in suppressed rage.

"What could you possibly offer me, you pathetic drops of sweat off of a balor's groin?" she hissed as she clenched her fists.

Ares' eyes narrowed at her insult, but after a second he smiled. "That's one thing I like about you, you don't hold back what you're thinking," he said. He started to tick off his fingers. "Okay, first thing, I'd give you the same abilities your friends have. You'd be the equal in all the physical departments, the same as an Amazon or fairy-blessed fighter. Do you think that I haven't noticed that your GOOD friend Goodfellow hasn't offered you the same benefits package? I mean, it wouldn't conflict with your faith like an Amazon blessing would. But he hasn't said a thing. Why won't he offer to put you in the same class as the others?"

"Because I am comfortable with my abilities," the priestess said defiantly. "I do desire to be better, but not in that way.  It is the type of person that I am that I want to improve."

"Fair enough," Ares muttered, now ticking off his second finger. "Second thing I can give you, spells. While you're a warrior, you're also a priestess. I can enhance your spells, and give you spells more suited to fighting, better offensive capabilities and the ability to handle more opponents at once. This'll help you save more lives whenever you fight."

Before Shaw could counter that argument, he added his final offer.

"And, the most important of all, at least to you," he said, ticking off a third finger, "I can give you the one thing you miss the most. I can bring back your grandparents."

All of the jaws of people in the alley, with the sole exception of Ares', dropped at that pronouncement.

"What did you say?" the ranger asked in a voice that indicated that she was completely shocked.

"I'll give you back your grandparents," the God of War said decisively. "I can make a case to Zeus, and he can talk to Artemis, who can tell Mielikki to give them up. It might take a while, since your Goddess is tied to your homeworld, but I know I can swing it."

"Yeah, right," Cordelia said, drawing his and Shaw's attention. "You'll lie about anything to get her on your team."

"It's no lie," the Greek God said, raising his right hand. "I'm a God, and Zeus has done such things before. If you've watched that show with my idiot brother, you know I'm right."

"What brother?" Kylie asked.

"Uh, dad'd be Kebin Sobo," Xander said softly. "Nide guy."

"Wait! You're saying he's actually. ." Kylie said with wide eyes, before remembering certain episodes that suggested that very scenario. She looked at Xander. "Lemme guess; you've met him."

"Once, when Artemis made us into Amazons," Cordy added. "Nice guy, and even better-looking in person."

Xander growled a bit, and the girls laughed before Ares brought the matter back to where he wanted it.

"Well, Hunter, what about it?" he asked. "That's just the beginning of what I can offer you.  The choice is yours."

Shaw still seemed stunned by his last claim, and she turned to Amy. "Amy, is what he is telling me true?"

"I don't know, cuz," Amy said, shaking her head uncertainly. "But he is a God, so he might be able to do it."

"I. .what do I do?" she asked, grief on her face, but with something else in her eyes.

Amy gave her a sad look, and said, "Shaw, I can't help you with this. It has to be your choice, and yours alone."

Shaw looked at the other three, and Xander and Cordelia gave her looks that suggested they were thinking like Amy was. She slowly walked up to Ares, and looked him in the eye.

In the softest, most hesitant voice they'd ever heard from her, the half-elf asked, "You would truly do this? You would take them from Her and bring them here?"

"Yes, I would," Ares promised.

"You. ." she began, and suddenly the anger bled into her eyes as she bit off, "you son of a BITCH!!!"

She quickly threw a roundhouse right to the jaw that completely caught the War God off guard, and sent his staggering back a few steps. Xander and Cordy started to panic as they realized what Shaw'd just done.

"Oh shit!" they both said in amazement.

As the Greek deity stood back up, moving his jaw back and forth as if he might fear it broken, and said, "You dare strike me?!? I am Ares, God of War! You're gonna pay for that!"

The object of his attention paid him no heed. "I will NEVER serve you, you arrogant bastard!!"

Shaw quickly drew her Uzi, and the two Slayerettes and Ghostbuster behind Ares all dove to the ground as she pointed it at Ares' heart. Amy, however, shouted at her cousin.

"Shaw, don't!"

When Shaw stopped short of pressing the trigger, Ares snapped, "Fine! That's how you want it, let's do it!"

He threw his arm to the right, and Shaw was suddenly lifted off of her feet, and thrown into the wall on her left, as Ares took out his frustration at the failure of his plan on the ranger.

Amy's eyes went wide, and she snarled. "Hecate, work thy will! Let the flames of Tarterus smite this foe!"

The witch's hands blossomed into flame, and she let loose a rolling, twisting gout of fire like a flamethrower at the God of War, and he turned his attention to her as the flames just seemed to make him angry.

"Oh, now I'm going to enjoy this," he said, an evil grin on his face. "That's not a fireball."

A ball of orange flame appeared in his hands, and he said with a smirk, "THAT'S a fireball."

"Oh, gweat," Xander said, "now he's wibbing of Cwocodile Dundee. Cody, led's so dis jagass whud we think of 'im."

"With pleasure," the Amazon replied.

The two Slayerettes fired their guns, and screams from the sidewalk could be heard as people began running for cover. The enchanted silver bullets ripped into the God, but had no effect.

Ares turned to them, bouncing the fireball in his hand. "Did you really think that'd work?"

"Well," Cordelia muttered, "it was a good idea at the time."

"Let me try," Kylie said with an evil grin, pointing her proton back at him. "You gotta know what target to shoot at."

She fired her proton pack, and the arcing beam hit its target; the fireball in Ares' hand.

The ball of divine power exploded, and the bulk of the force hit the War God head on, and drove him across the alley into the wall opposite of the one that Shaw had been thrown into.

Xander and Cordy smiled, and quickly charged Ares. He quickly rebounded, and caught Xander's punch and lifted the Slayerette into a military press, but before he could throw him, Cordy punched him the gut. Unfortunately for Cordy, Ares dropped Xander straight into her arms, and she fell back to the pavement as she was unprepared for the tactic.

Kylie quickly lined up a second shot, but Ares gestured at her, his arm straight out, and an invisible force slammed into the Ghostbuster, sending her flying back several feet, and almost into the oncoming traffic flying by in the street.

Ares quickly shook himself, to get his bearings, and said, "Now, THIS is fun."

He turned towards Amy, who he saw as the greatest, however minor that might be, threat to him. He smiled as she began to chant another spell, but before he could manifest another burst of power, Shaw charged across the alley and drove him back into the wall with a loud, primal scream. Ares was momentarily stunned, and as he regained his bearings, he looked at her and saw something inside of her, a distinctive magical signature, that he instantly recognized. And he realized that he had overstepped his boundaries.

<Oh, no!> he thought just as Shaw drove a punch into his stomach, the blow delivered with enough superhuman strength to double him over.

Amy also noticed the change in Shaw's aura, and she was stunned into inaction, as she thought about what she was seeing.

<Goddess, how??> she thought, and was surprised when she got an answer.

*Oh, that was easy,* Artemis' voice came back to her. *Consider it a temporary blessing.*

Amy could almost feel the wicked grin on the Goddess' face, and it rubbed off on her a bit, despite her surprise.

<But you said you can't. .>

*I had permission.* the voice in Amy's head informed her.

<Shaw gave you her permission?> Amy thought in amazement. <But she wouldn't do that!>

A mental giggle. *It wasn't her permission that I needed. Suffice it to say that I've been talking to an old friend who dropped by for a visit.*

<You mean. .>

 *Yes,* the Goddess of the Hunt said. *But enough. You cannot tell her of this. That's MY job when this is over.  But as I am allowed to defend my Amazons, I figured I would do it with style. And while I'm enhancing her physical abilities, your spells are what I'm adding to. So get casting.*

As the voice died, Amy's face broke into a truly diabolical grin.

"Oh, yeah."

*****

As Ares doubled over, Shaw delivered an axehandle to the back of his neck, sending him to all fours. The half-elf then grabbed him by the scruff of the neck with one hand and used the other to grab his left arm.

She then proceeded to drive him face first into the brick wall, her enhanced power making the impact all the more painful.

As Ares received a personal, physical introduction to the wall, he gasped as the half-elven priestess threw a kidney punch into his back, and as the pain manifested, he heard a distinct "snap" of metal that he'd heard on one occasion during the past few days. He quickly realized what has going to happen.

<No!!> he thought, just as his rear end exploded into raw agony.

Shaw threw the kidney punch, the added strength making the God of War gasp, and it gave the woman a feeling of satisfaction at her striking back at the man who'd led her to leave Sunnydale and put her and the others through this ordeal. Then, an idea popped into her head, and she smiled evilly.

Shaw flexed her left forearm, and the Predator arm claws snapped forward, and she drove them into his rear end, and he screamed in raw pain, as Shaw failed to notice the glowing orange energy that was lining the claws as the penetrated the God's flesh.

She withdrew the claws, and forcefully turned him around, and threw a backhanded slash with the claws, the tips leaving a pair of cuts across his left cheek. She then threw him back, but before she could follow up with a spin kick, someone shouted.

"Shaw, drop!" Amy called out.

Instinct took over even more, and Shaw quickly did as she was bid. Ares looked at her with a glare of poison, but before he could take advantage of the ending of her offensive, the pain in his behind erupted even further.

*****

Amy watched in frustration as she waited for an opening, not wanting to hit Shaw as well as Ares. Finally, when she saw what Shaw did with the claws she'd taken to using, she came up with an idea.

"Shaw, drop!" she yelled.

As Shaw did so, Amy smiled. <Let's take a page out of your book, cuz.>

Amy started a quick, easy spell designed for single opponents, rather than large groups.

"Hecate, work thy will!" she chanted, her enjoyment plainly evident as she sang out. "Let the wrath of Zeus erupt!"

Amy threw her right arm forward, and a single blast of raw, blue-white electricity, wreathed in a corona of orange power that Amy recognized, flew forward towards the God of War and struck him squarely in the raw wounds in his posterior.

The God shrieked in pain, and Shaw used the opportunity to wrap her legs around Ares' ankles, and twist, sending the deity falling onto his twice-wounded rear end.

An even louder scream sounded through the alley, and Shaw quickly jumped up, and drew her sword and pointed it at the Greek, who was scrambling backwards by pushing himself along the ground.

Both Xander and Cordelia jumped up and came up behind Ares. The Amazon warrior quickly lifted him up by the armpits, and Xander threw a kick in for good measure, and Ares howled once again, and the lovers threw Him against the wall with all the considerable power they could muster.

With each of them holding one arm, Shaw quickly stifled any attempt he might have made to throw off their grips by putting her sword to his throat. Amy walked up beside her, her eyes glowing orange over black, and her hands doing the same. Kylie walked up, but stayed back a bit, holding her proton pistol at the ready, just in case.

"Okay, what now?" Cordelia asked the group. "What do we do to this asshole?"

"Oh, we cood fwy him," Xander suggested.

Shaw gave him a strange look, and asked, "Xander, why are you talking in such a strange manner?"

"'Cuza yow fwend, Bwade," the young man said in a sour tone. "Enshewing yow pwivacy."

Shaw blanched as she realized what he meant, and tears started to form. "Xander, I. ." she said before breaking off.  She looked at Amy. "Amy, will you take Soulreaver for a moment?"

The witch nodded, and grinned horribly at Ares as she took the weapon and pointed it at his Adam's apple. Shaw quickly uttered a healing spell, and put her hands to Xander's cheeks.

The golden aura flared and quickly dissipated, and Xander smiled in thanks as his broken nose was repaired.

"Thanks, Hunter," he said.

"I am sorry, Xander," she said shamefully. "I did not think that would happen."

"It's all right," he assured the half-elf, and nodded to Ares. "So, what do we do with him?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"You're the one he fucked with," Cordelia answered for her boyfriend. "I figure you're the one oughta decide what to do with the body."

"Cordelia, he is a God," Shaw answered. "Killing him would likely destroy a good portion of this city."

As that option was eliminated, Ares said, "Wait! You have no right to do this!"

"Oh, I beg to differ," Artemis said as she appeared out of nowhere. "You see, you are going to be in serious trouble with our Father. Especially since you tried to kill your chosen champion."

"Wait a minute!" he shouted, looking completely pissed off. "What are you talking about!  She struck me!"

"And you disobeyed Zeus' directive that you would honor her choice if she declined your offer," Artemis said. A sly smile appeared, and she said, "And she did it last night. When Connor MacLeod told her of your plan, she most vocally said 'no,' and 'never.' Then, you attempted to kill the Scotsman and the woman you claimed as your champion. And now, you attacked my Amazons when they attempted to keep you from taking the girl after she turned down your offer. This freed me to aid them in helping her. And, since it was her Goddess that you attempted to steal her from, as far as I am concerned, Shaw Hunter has every right to determine what is to be done with you."

"But, but. ." Ares muttered, but a grin came over his face as he said, "Fine. Let her decide. I don't think she can come up with anything that terrible."

Artemis looked to Cordelia and Xander, and nodded. Reluctantly, the Slayerettes released him, and he shook himself, wincing at the pain in his backside. He quickly concentrated, and the wounds healed.

"You know, sis," Ares muttered, "these two are sadistic. And the way you aided them was just as bad."

"I like to do things with style," the Goddess said with a glare.

"Whatever," he said, and he turned to Shaw. "Well, let's get this over with.  Tell me what horrifyingly hideous punishment you could possibly give me."

Shaw looked at Amy, who nodded with a grin, and then at Artemis. "How likely is he to actually fulfill his word?"

"He can be honorable most of the time," she said with a shrug. "It depends on how you word the punishment."

"I see," Shaw said, and then she switched to another language, and began to speak very precisely and formally.

Ares face twisted into speculation at the first few sentences, while Artemis actually seemed surprised. The Slayerettes and Ghostbuster were confused.

"I hate it when she does that," Xander muttered.

"Elvish?" Kylie asked.

"No, Common," Amy answered, and at Kylie's confusion, she added, "her world's version of English."

Kylie nodded in understanding. <Her native tongue. I suppose it's appropriate.>

However, the four teens started to look worried when Artemis' jaw dropped and Ares' face began to look sick as Shaw began speaking louder and more forcefully. As Ares started to sputter a reply, Shaw cut him off by snapping something else, and Ares finally got an answer in edgewise.

"NO!" he shouted. "I WON'T ALLOW IT!!"

Shaw didn't stop talking, and held her hand out to Amy, and the witch quickly handed her sword over to its wielder. Artemis looked as if she were trying to determine whether she should be smiling or sick, as Shaw raised her sword, and added an exclamation in Common.

Ares' eyes bugged out, and he all but screamed, "I'LL DO IT!! IN ZEUS' NAME!!"

Shaw looked him in the eyes, and said, "I do not believe you."

She made a motion of lifting her sword, and the God of War vanished in a burst of light, a look of terror on his face as he left New York.

Artemis looked at Shaw in admiration, and said, "That is so sickening, it's pitiful.  And I can't believe you got him to do it in Zeus' name."

"What?" Xander asked for the others.

"You don't want to know," the Goddess said with a sour look to her face. "Trust me, Ares won't be able to do anything about this."

"Oh, where've we heard that before?" Cordy muttered.

"Well, the first two things she got Ares to agree to were that he would take no action against anyone even remotely associated with Section Seven, in any way, shape, or form. Second, that he would not seek to violate the letter OR spirit of this in any way, shape or form. The third thing is that he has to start finding ways to HELP those like you, rather than doing things that hinder your efforts to protect the mortal realm," Artemis answered, looking at the angry half-elf with a smile. "As for the rest, that's for her to tell you. But I think that you need to get home first, don't you, Shaw?"

Shaw nodded once, and began to turn around.

"Where are you going?" Amy asked.

Shaw turned, and looked at Amy. "I. ." she began to speak, but stopped. She looked down, and said quietly, "I want to see Connor.  After what happened. ."

"Let's go," she said firmly. She took Shaw's hand, and said, "Uh, you realize what's gonna happen once you get back into 'Buzz' range, right?"

"Yes."

"Amy," Artemis called, calling the attention of the others as they started to walk. "When you're ready, call on me, and I'll teleport you straight back to Sunnydale."

At the soft moan from the half-elf, Xander asked her, "What's wrong?"

"I hate dimensional magics," the ranger said irritably. "They make me sick to my stomach."

Artemis laughed as she vanished, leaving the five mortals alone.

"Well, Hunter," Cordelia said, looking at her, "let's get this over with."

Shaw nodded, and they started walking out of the alley.

Amy and Shaw started walking first, followed by Xander and Cordelia, with Kylie bringing up the rear. Before they went four steps however, Shaw stopped, and took a step backwards.

Amy looked at her, with a slight tinge of worry in her eyes. "Shaw, come on. We need to get you home."

Shaw opened her duster, and gripped the shoulder strap to her Uzi. As the witch started to tense, causing an identical reaction from the two Slayerettes behind them, Shaw reached for the buckle of the strap, and opened it, bringing the submachine gun loose, and taking it in one hand. The half-elf removed the magazine, and almost pushed the items at the blonde Amazon.

"Take this disgusting thing away from me," she said, sounding like she was pleading. "Please, Amy."

Amy nodded in sympathy. "Okay, cuz." She took the Uzi in her hand, and rebuckled the strap underneath her leather coat, and placed the magazine in her left pocket. She turned her head to the ranger, and said, "You did good back there."

Shaw simply shrugged lightly, and said, "This is going to hurt, Amy," while looking out towards the street.

"I know," the witch replied. "Just try to make it, if you can't we'll get you there.  You just have to look at Buffy and the others, and it'll stop hurting."

"All right," Shaw said, putting on a brave face and steeling herself for the pain to come.

The cousins walked out of the alley, and saw that the area was still deserted, although they could hear sirens in the distance. They started on a diagonal path, cutting directly across the street, making a beeline for Connor's store.

As they made it about halfway across the street, the Buzz hit.

Amy's only warning was a small sound escaping from the half-elf's mouth, which sounded almost like the squeak of a mouse, before she doubled over, literally collapsing. Luckily, the sound was enough for Amy to react, and catch Shaw before she crashed to the blacktop. She moved halfway in front of Shaw, and caught her under the left arm, and picked her up by the other arm by reaching her right arm around Shaw's back to support the pain wracked Hunter.

To Amy's surprise, Shaw whimpered from the pain, as she was hit with the heavy Buzz for the second time in less than fifteen minutes. She clutched at her stomach, and began to make sounds as if she were attempting to vomit.

<Oh, shit!> Amy thought, watching Shaw hacking with dry heaves. <I knew she hadn't slept, now you're telling me she hasn't eaten?!? What the hell are you trying to do to yourself?!?>

The witch started walking faster, with Cordy, Xander and Kylie pulling up the rear, all but dragging Shaw across the street, despite the older girl's attempts to put her feet under herself. Finally, they reached the door to the shop, and Amy leaned Shaw back against the wall, to attempt to steady her.

"Shaw?" she asked, trying to get through the obvious pain in her relative's face, with the closed eyes with tears streaking down her cheeks. "We're here. We're gonna take you in, and it'll be over in a few seconds, okay?"

Apparently, some part of her question did get through, because Shaw just jerked her head in a single, painful nod.

"Okay, here we go," she said softly, taking Shaw by the arm and back to guide her through the door.

Kylie opened the door, and Amy guided Shaw through, followed quickly by Xander and Cordelia, and Kylie quickly came in behind them, closing the door and making sure the "Closed" sign was still turned outward.

"Steve!" Xander called, shouting when he didn't really have to. "Buffy! Get your butts out here!"

The doors to Connor's office opened, and Steve and Buffy quickly came out, followed by Frank and the other three Ghostbusters. Steve looked at Shaw, and sighed as he realized the pain that she was in, while Buffy had a look of sympathy on her face.

Shaw was still nearly doubled over, and Amy whispered, "Shaw? Look at them. Come on."

Shaw's eyes twitched, and she looked up, and opened her eyes hesitantly. Her eyes cleared up a bit, and some reason apparently returned, as she slowly, and with great difficulty, stood up under her own power, although everyone could tell she was still hurting immensely.

She looked at Steve and Buffy, and averted her eyes a bit, before looking back at them and saying a single word.

"Connor?" she asked.

"He's in the office, Shaw," Steve said. "Are you okay?"

"No," she snapped harshly, before closing her eyes and sighing at herself. "I am sorry, Steven. I cannot control my temper with this. .thing inside of me."

"I know," the Wanderer replied, walking up and putting a hand on her shoulder. "Once we get you home, and cast the spell, Ares' plan is over."

"It's already over," Cordelia said, an evil grin coming to her face.

The others who'd been in the alley started getting similar smiles, minus Shaw, and the Immortals and Ghostbusters started looking at all of them in confusion. Steve cleared his throat.

"Okay, what happened?"

"Ares tried to take me from here after I. ."

"Nearly tossed your cookies from the Buzz?" Xander asked, finishing her sentence.

His comment made Shaw look even sicker, and she favored him with a hostile look, which made Xander nervous, and his worried expression made Shaw's face fall as she saw that she'd scared him a bit.

"Xander, I. ." she started to say, but looked back at Steve. "Steven, where is Connor?"

"He's in the office," the Wanderer told her again. "You can see him after. ."

"Uh, honey," Buffy said, "She's still got a Buzz or two making her loopy?"

Steve rolled his eyes as the point registered, and he nodded. "Come on, Shaw."

The trio started walking, and at this point Maxine came out of the office, and Steve could see the relief in Shaw's body as another part of Shaw's pain vanished, by the loosening of her muscles and the unclenching of her fists.

"You Hunter?" Maxine asked with a smile, popping her gum as an exclamation.

"Yes, I am," the half-elf answered, looking at the blonde Immortal. "And you are. ."

"Maxine Thomasson, Connor's student and employee," the newbie introduced herself. "Although *I* actually run the shop."

Shaw nodded, not getting the joke, and peering behind Maxine when she heard a groan from behind him. She started to dart forward, but held herself back, looking at Steve for permission, and he nodded.

Shaw entered the office as Maxine stepped aside.

Connor quickly got up out of his chair, and walked around to look over the half-elf. To his surprise, as well as Steve and Buffy's, Shaw nearly vaulted forward and threw her arms around the Highlander, and the Slayerettes could hear her crying into his shoulder. Connor was startled by her rare show of emotion, but he returned the embrace.

"I am so sorry, Connor," she whispered over and over through her tears. "I did not mean to hurt you."

"It's okay," MacLeod answered tenderly, letting her soak his shirt with her tears. "It wasn't your fault. You know that."

Shaw's shoulders shook as she cried, and it looked as if she didn't want to release the Immortal for fear that he might not be real.

Eventually, Connor gently guided her back a bit, and she looked up at him, tears flowing from her bloodshot eyes.

"I'm fine," he said with his normal grin, trying to assure the guilt ridden half-elf that he didn't hold her to blame for what had happened in the park the previous night. "And it shows that you're still in control, since you came here, looking for me."

He looked at Steve with an evil smirk, and said, "Shows she's got better taste in teachers."

"And ancient holy relics," Steve countered.

Connor's smile vanished, and was replaced with a grunt of frustrated humor. He led Shaw over to one of the chairs in front of his desk, and sat her down. He bent over, and asked her, "We've got a little bit to talk about, and then you can get home. Okay?"

Shaw nodded, but remained silent as she started to wipe her tears.

Connor walked over to the other three Immortals, and said, "Steve, Buffy, stay here and we'll talk to her. I want to get rid of that guilt before it really takes hold of her. Maxine, would you mind waiting with the others? We won't be too long."

"Sure thing, boss," Maxine said, heading out of the office and closing the door behind her.

Maxine walked over to the Slayerettes and Ghostbusters, and said, "They're gonna talk to her, and then youse are goin' home."

"What're they talking about?" Cordelia asked.

"She's flipped 'cause she cut Connor up," Maxine said, shrugging. "I don't see what the big deal is.  Lotta times I feel like doing it to him, but I need the money for school."

Xander and Cordy started snickering, while the Ghostbusters just looked around in confusion. Garret moved forward and asked, "What took you guys so long to get her across the street?"

Amy, Xander and Cordelia looked at Kylie, who shrugged.

"Oh, just a little fight in the alley," she said simply.

"She went nuts on you again?" Frank asked.

"No, on Ares," Kylie answered, her smile now matching those of the Slayerettes.

The three male Ghostbusters all felt their mouths open, and Garrett was the first to regain his composure.

"You guys had to fight Ares?"

"He showed up, trying to kidnap Shaw," Xander said with a slight frown of anger at the memory. "Problem for him was, once he took her into the alley, she got out of Buzz range, and her headache cleared up."

"Oh, shit," Frank said, although his smile showed he was less than worried.

"Plus, I was waiting for him," Amy reminded them. "That's when things got a little out of hand."

"What happened?" Garrett asked, not knowing if he wanted to hear the answer.

"Uh, well, once Shaw found out that HE was the one who messed with her head," Cordelia replied, "she kinda punched him in the jaw."

"Pissed her off, huh?" Eduardo said, smiling at the thought of the God of War getting nailed.

"Understatement, much?" Cordy snapped, shivering.  "She was gonna Uzi him until Amy told her not to."

Now, the male Ghostbusters' jaws dropped again, as did Maxine's.

"Man, this girl's got some serious balls," Frank said chuckling, which prompted an "ewww" from Cordelia.

"She was gonna use an Uzi on 'im?" the Immortal said in shock. Then, she smiled.  "Gawd, I don't even know this woman, an' I'm likin' her."

"Yeah, and Ares threw her against the wall, and did the same to me," Kylie said, looking at Eduardo. "Of course, this was after I shot a fireball in his hand with my proton pack and blew it up in his face."

Garrett smiled and held out his hand, which Kylie smacked. "Way to go Kylie! But you coulda called us and let us in on the fun."

"What happened next?" Roland asked. "More fireballs?"

"No, Shaw got up close and personal," Xander said, grinning like a fool. "Opened up a can of whoopass on ol' Warboy, and then Amy and Shaw ripped Ares a new asshole."

"Ewwwww," Cordelia said, grimacing at the words.  "Why'd you have to put it that way?"

"It's what we did," Amy said, her grin matching Xander's.

"You chewed out the God of War?" Maxine asked.

"No, they ripped him a new asshole," Xander said. His smile became less foolish and more satisfied.  "Shaw drove a pair of metal claws into his butt, and then Amy shot a lightning bolt into the wounds."

The male Ghostbusters, Frank and Maxine all stared for a second, and then started laughing at the description of Ares' downfall.

Amy took up the story from there, a full smile on her face. "And then, Shaw trips him up, and he falls right on his sore ass. That's when we held him up, and Artemis showed up to tell him it was all over. Game, set, match."

"What happened? Did he try to fight?"

"Naw, Eduardo," Kylie said, giggling. "Shaw forced him into an agreement to basically skip any revenge, and to try to become a good guy. And from what Artemis said, Shaw didn't leave him any loopholes to get out of it."

"It'd be nice to have one less asshole to worry about," Frank said, impressed with Shaw covering her bases.

"Plus whatever it was that had Ares scared shitless," Cordelia added, which drew questioning looks from the others who hadn't been present. "Don't look at me, I don't speak her language."

"Oh, we'll find out eventually," Xander said, rubbing his hands in anticipation. "Shaw doesn't keep secrets from us."

*****

Connor sat down behind his desk, while Buffy took a seat next to Shaw. St. Wolf remained standing, casually leaning against the wall of Connor's office.

After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Connor spoke, attracting Shaw's attention.

"Shaw? Are you all right?" he asked.

Anger flashed in Shaw's eyes for a split second, a couple of arcs flowing over them, before she clenched her jaw and sighed.

"No, Connor," she muttered dismally. "I am not. Why does everyone continue to ask me that, when they know what is inside of me?"

"To try to help you, that's why," the Scot answered. He leaned forward, and said, "Shaw, what happened last night wasn't your fault. It was Ares who set me up like that and used the magic to make your sword go through the Horseman like it did."

Shaw blanched at the reminder of that swing, and she looked at Connor, guilt written all over her face. "Connor, if I had not run, you would not have been endangered. This would not even have happened if I. ."

She broke off, burying her face in her hands, crying harder.

Buffy reached out, and lightly grasped the half-elf's arm. Shaw looked up, and whispered, "I am so sorry.  I did not know what to do, Buffy. ."

"It's okay," the Slayer said, giving her teammate a look of concern. "You panicked.  It happens to everyone once in awhile. We don't blame you for not knowing that Ares was behind this."

Shaw didn't look totally convinced, but she seemed to regain a little bit of control. She swallowed nervously, and looked back at Connor.

"Connor, are you all right? Truthfully?"

"One of the advantages to being Immortal," he answered with a smile, "is the rapid healing. Of course, there were a couple of things I did want to discuss about what happened."

Shaw looked worried, but nodded, asking, "Yes?"

"Well, there's the matter of the shirt you ruined," Connor said in a teasing voice.

Shaw nodded, softly saying, "I will replace it, Connor."

Connor's smile vanished, and he moaned as he dropped his face into his hands. Shaw looked at Steve and Buffy, who were both laughing under their breaths.

"Why are you laughing at him?" she asked, completely confused.

"Connor was joking," Buffy clarified, smiling at the priestess.

Shaw considered what the Immortal Slayer had said, and she turned to Connor, her face white as a sheet.

"How can you make jokes about this?" she croaked, her eyes wide with incredulity. "What happened is NOT funny, Connor!"

"Shaw," Steve said, forcing her to turn around in the chair to look at him. He walked up to the back of the chair, and added, "he's trying to get through to you that he doesn't blame you for what happened. He doesn't want you to feel guilty about what as clearly an accident."

Shaw watched him intently, and turned back around, looking at Connor. He gave her a nod with that often-irritating grin, and the look of sincerity in his eyes convinced her of his feelings. As a result, some of the incredible guilt she felt began to dissipate.

"I am sorry, Connor," she said, before remembering something. She cocked her head, and asked, "You said there was a second matter you wished to talk about?"

"Yes, Shaw," the Highlander said, looking at her with a heavy glint of humor shining in his eyes. "Your technique on that swing was abominable. Very sloppy."

Shaw bristled at the second joke, and Steve began to glare at Connor. As the Wanderer prepared to say something to Connor, Shaw beat him to it.

"Perhaps my lack of finesse has something to do with my taste in teachers," she replied in an even voice.

Connor's jaw dropped as Steve and Buffy broke out into hilarity, Steve nearly doubling over while Buffy tried to keep tears from forming from the way she was laughing.

Connor gave Shaw a look that spoke of volumes of irritation, but Shaw just cocked an eyebrow at him.

<Well, at least the guilt is under control,> he thought.

Steve regained control of his mirth, and said, while still chuckling, "Maybe we should just get back to business, Connor."

"Right," Connor grumbled, looking at a small pile of paperwork sitting on his desk. He picked up a bunch of sheets, and looked at Shaw. "Shaw, I understand that you met James Stalking Rattler, am I right?"

Shaw's eyebrows rose at the question. "Yes, Connor. How did you find out about this?" she inquired.

"He called me, and told me what happened in Sunnydale, as well as what his organization is doing for you," he told her. He handed her the first two sheets, and said, "This is a copy of the DNA test that used the sample you supplied them with. As promised, for 'official' records, the elven DNA has been removed and replaced with human DNA."

"Yes, they told me they would do that," she said while trying to make sense of the sheets.

Connor flashed her a grin that she didn't see. "Imagine my surprise when I found out that your 'mother' had Apache blood."

Shaw's head snapped up, and she said, "Did you say Apache?"

"He mentioned something about your 'arrangements' with certain big game hunters, and finding a way to get even," the elder MacLeod said with a quirky grin.

Shaw snorted, and irritably asked, "So now, he is supposed to be one of my ancestors?"

"No, but what this does is clear certain roadblocks to your becoming an American citizen, which I believe one Agent K discussed with you?" Connor said, turning his attention to the other papers. "To let you stay here for good."

"Yes," the half-elf said in resignation. "I assume that I cannot change this, so I will just have to let Stalking Rattler have his revenge."

"Yes," Connor said, grinning at her light frustration, "but, speaking of ancestors, take a look at these."

MacLeod handed her more papers, which she took and immediately began scanning. She quickly nodded in understanding.

"Records for my maternal 'great-grandparents,'" she said, putting the top sheet on her lap and going to the second piece.

"Look at your so-called 'great-grandmother's' maiden name," Connor suggested, unable to keep either the joviality out of his voice or the twinkle out of his eyes.

Shaw gave him a look of suspicion, and glanced at the appropriate area. The Slayerette quickly tightened her grip on the faked records, and her face started turning a bit red.

"He had no right," Shaw said, hissing the words.

"Shaw?" Steve asked, sharing a glance with Buffy.

"He had no right to do this," Shaw repeated.

"Come again?" the Slayer asked, giving Shaw a look of worry.

She looked at Buffy, and handed the Slayer the papers, pointing to the place that the Immortal should look. She did, and she sighed in understanding.

"I see your point," Buffy said, handing the sheets back to the ranger.

"Is something wrong, Shaw?" Connor asked, failing to look impartial at all.

"Yes, Connor," the half-elf snapped, slapping the sheets with her free hand. "Stalking Rattler had no right to do this, using your name for my records. It is disrespectful! He is. . .putting words in your mouth."

"Your name, Connor?" St. Wolf asked with a raised eyebrow.

"It seems that the woman's maiden name was 'MacLeod,'" the eldest Immortal in the office explained with a shrug. "He needed a name to put in the slot."

"He had not the right, Connor," the young woman reiterated.

"He had my permission, Shaw," Connor informed her, his grin now spreading from ear to ear. "And my decision was proven correct by something Duncan told me when he called me the other day, explaining your situation. We talked about some of the things you discussed."

"About what, specifically?" Shaw asked, the air in her sails suddenly taken away.

"About the effect he and I have had on you, how you feel we've helped you since you came to Earth," Connor said, spreading his hands. "I wanted to make sure that you still have those options. If you need to talk to me or Duncan about anything troubling you, you're more than welcome. This," he continued, pointing at the papers in Shaw's hands, "is to put into writing, so to speak, what I, and probably Duncan as well, feel already. That we consider you part of our family, extended or otherwise."

Connor looked over her shoulder at Steve with a thin tight smile. "Also, I'm hoping the fact that you're now 'officially' a relative of mine and Duncan's will inspire Steven to improve upon his less than stellar guardianship of you."

Steve rolled his eyes and started rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, while Buffy started giggling. Shaw looked around at all three Immortals, apparently having become lost somewhere during Connor's explanation.

"Connor, I do not understand," Shaw said, shrugging helplessly.

Connor smiled considerately at her. "Shaw, I'm saying that I hope to give you a sense of belonging to a family unit that you've not had for a long time. Something that you've lacked, and needed, for many years."

Shaw watched the Immortal for many seconds, and then lowered her head, not able to look Connor in the eyes.

"Connor, perhaps my fatigue is affecting my thinking," she said with audible regret. "Normally, I can understand these things, but this time I simply cannot. In layman's terms, what are you saying?"

Buffy gently touched Shaw's left hand, and when the half-elf looked at the Slayer, she smiled.

"What Connor's saying, is," Buffy said with a wink, "consider yourself adopted."

Shaw looked from Buffy to Connor, and the blonde-haired MacLeod nodded once, they look in his eyes telling her that Buffy's translation was exactly right. Her mouth opened, as if she were about to reply, but no words came forth. The half-elf just sat there, silent and unmoving, for nearly a minute as she stared past MacLeod, not truly looking at any one thing in particular.

"Shaw?" Buffy asked softly, bending forward to catch Shaw's eye.

Instead, the junior Slayerette stood up quietly, crumbling the papers in her hand and quickly heading for the door. Neither Steve nor Buffy said anything, letting her walk into the front of the store. As the door closed, Connor looked to St. Wolf.

"Is she all right?" Connor asked.

"She is," Buffy answered, and both men looked to her. A small smile appeared on her face.  "I think you've overloaded her, Connor. You mentioned what others are doing for her, and now 'bam!' You've told her she's now part of your family. Lotta stuff for her to take in."

Steve nodded, and asked, "Connor, what did Duncan say when you told him what you're doing?"

Connor's eyebrows furrowed, and he said with mock realization, "I knew there was something I forgot to tell Duncan when he called."

Steve sighed, and asked Connor, "Why are you setting him up?"

"Well, he told me that, according to Shaw, he had as much as a beneficial effect on her as I did, and he made no secret as to how much he enjoyed that fact," Connor said with a thin smile. "This will put me back ahead in that department.  That's not to say that I don't take this seriously, because I do. But it'll get Duncan's goat that he didn't think of this before I did."

"And I'll be caught in the middle when he finds out," St. Wolf said, feeling a slight throb starting to form in his temple as Buffy laughed at his situation, leading him to stare daggers at her.

"Yes, there is that benefit, too," Connor said as he stood up to walk out to the front room.

*****

Shaw walked out of Connor's office, and all the heads in the front of the store turned as one. One look at her face set everyone on guard, although Eduardo decided to strike up a conversation.

"Hey, Hunter, what's happenin'?" the Hispanic Ghostbuster called with a one-sided grin.

The half-elven Slayerette looked at him, apparently noticing him and the other Ghostbusters for the first time, and she seemed to be trying to remember where she'd seen the young man before. Apparently, she did, because her eyes began to become mere slits.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, her voice holding the slightest tinge of displeasure.

"Whoa, girl," Cordelia said, moving up and gripping Shaw's shoulder lightly. "They were here to help us look for you. They're the good guys."

"That did not seem to be the case last night," Shaw said as she clenched her fists.

"Shaw, don't start," Cordelia said sharply. "Everything that happened last night was an accident."

Shaw turned to the brunette, and said in a low voice, "I do not consider their shooting Amy and myself with artificial lightning bolts to be an 'accident.'"

"Hey, we cleared it up," Xander said with a silly smile. "Since they're rookies, we figured they were entitled to a mix up or two their first time out."

As the Ghostbusters bristled at the "r" word, the half-elf turned to Garrett.

"Your initial mission?" she asked neutrally. When Garrett and the others nodded, she sighed, "How long have you been fighting evil?"

"About ten months," Eduardo said with a frown at her disapproval. "How 'bout you?"

"Thirty-three years," she replied deadpan. "With fourteen years of training before that."

Eduardo and Garrett both stared at her.

"Didn't you have a childhood?" Garrett asked, dumbfounded that she'd just admitted to spending her entire life training for fighting.

"Of course I did," Shaw replied with a strange look. "I spent it preparing for my role in life, what I wanted to do. I wanted to follow the same path as my grandparents."

"Oh," Garrett said, leaving it at that.

Just then, Steve, Buffy and Connor exited the office, and the Wanderer took in a quick glance around and saw Shaw in close proximity to the Bureau 13 Agents. "Uh oh," Buffy whispered to herself.

"Is everything all right?" he asked.

"We're cool," Amy said, attempting to put his fears to rest. "We're just talking."

"What where you talking about?" Connor asked.

"The differences in how long we have been fighting evil," Shaw answered, not noticing the winces from the Ghostbusters. "Xander and Cordelia explained their lack of training and experience to me, and the fact that they were not truly trying to kill Amy and myself last night."

"Okay, that's it," Amy snapped, drawing her cousin's attention, "when we get back, Cordy's gonna teach you tact. Got that?"

"In the same way that you tried to teach me how to drink certain liquids?" Shaw asked with a less than pleasant glance at the Amazons.

"Case in point," Xander muttered.

"What are they talking about?" Kylie asked for the others, not knowing in the slightest what they were talking about.

"Shaw's allergic to anything with caffeine in it," Xander answered.

The Ghostbusters looked to the half-elf, who did not look pleased at this bit of information being made known to them.

"Rub it in, Xander," Cordelia snapped.

"You had no reason to tell them this, Xander," Shaw said quietly. "Do you realize what could happen to me if the wrong people find out about this?"

"Shaw," Connor said softly, and Shaw's head turned like a whip cracking to the Scotsman. He gave her a look of disapproval, and continued. "They're good people. Everyone makes mistakes, and I know you tend to forgive people for theirs. Are you making an exception for these young ones?"

Shaw locked her eyes onto Connor's, who stared back with a mix of compassion and firmness. After a few seconds, she broke the stare.

She turned to the Ghostbusters and said, "I am sorry for treating you this way. It is because you attacked Amy, and I was only trying to protect her. I. .hope you can understand my actions last night."

She didn't wait for an answer, and turned to Amy.

"Can you please call your Goddess, Amy?" she asked so quietly that the witch could barely hear her, despite the fact they were less than a foot apart. "I want to go home."

Amy nodded, but asked, "Shaw, is something wrong? I mean, besides what's inside your guts?"

The ranger just shook her head, and refused to say anything further.

<What the hell? She's folding like a cheap deck of cards,> Amy thought.

"Okay, I'll call her," she said. She turned to Cordelia, and said, "You wanna do this in the office? Pretty crowded in here."

"Yeah, let's go," Cordy replied.

The two Amazons turned and headed for Connor's office, and after they walked in, Connor turned to Steve.

"Do they think that just because they're Amazons, they don't have to ask permission?" he asked.

"They don't any other time," Xander answered.

"Great," Connor muttered, looking up at the ceiling for help.

"Okay," Steve said, taking over the lead in the group.  "Since we'll be leaving soon, is there anything else we need to discuss before we take off?"

"Ahem," Frank said, clearing his throat. When Steve looked at him, he pointed at his black eye before nodding towards Shaw, who looked confused as to what he wanted. "Think we could take care of this, first?"

"I don't see any reason not to," Steve said. He turned to Shaw. "You have any healing spells left?"

Shaw's eyes went blank for a second or two, and she nodded. "Yes, Steven."

"Go ahead," he instructed.

She walked over to Frank, and prepared to cast the spell, but paused. "Frank, how did you get that bruise?"

"You elbowed me at the airport, remember?" the ex-SEAL said with a small grin to show he didn't take offense to it.

"What?" the half-elf said, clearly surprised. "When? How?"

"When you went hunting," Buffy answered for him. "Who'd you go after?"

Shaw thought about the question, and her face paled as she recollected the reason she'd left Frank's side that night. She turned to Steve, a look of anger replacing the fear on her face.

"Steven, we cannot leave," she said with determination.  "It was Angelus."

Xander, Frank, Buffy and Steve all had their eyes go wide with her pronouncement, while Connor softly cursed. The Ghostbusters and Maxine just looked around in puzzlement.

"You couldn't have told us this earlier?!?" Buffy exploded in disbelief.

Shaw gave her a hard look at the harshness of the blonde's tone, and started to move forward. "Perhaps if I had not been fighting for my life against the Daywalker, and then fighting for mine and Connor's lives against that Goddess blasted ta'narri," she shouted, tears starting to flow down her face again, "and if I had not had to protect Amy from these incompetent children, and then had to fight the Goddess-damned mother-wenching son of a bitch who did THIS to me, I might have remembered to say something, so do not criticize me for something that is driving me mad that I cannot control!!"

By the time she finished her exclamation, Shaw was only inches from Buffy's face, tears flowing as she let the Slayer know exactly what she felt.

"I am sorry that I ran from my home! I made a mistake, and I admit it! But I will not be criticized for trying to protect all of you from myself, Buffy!" she snapped. "And I am sorry that I have not done enough to earn your trust enough to have gone to San Francisco with the rest of you, and done what I wanted to do, to truly be one of you and actually be accepted as part of the family that you are, but obviously that is not possible, even knowing that I have been through and done things that you will never have to live with!"

With that, she turned and started to walk away, but Xander stepped in front of her, and she pulled up short, crying hard.

"Get out of my way, Xander," she snapped through her tears.

"Uh, uh, Hunter," the Slayerette said, holding his arms out to block any progress she might make by going around him. "You had no right to say that."

"Why not? Is it not true?" she snapped.

"Look at Buffy's face, and you tell me," he countered.

Shaw turned around, and she could see the look of hurt that was plainly etched on the Slayer's face. Her anger diminished a bit, and she looked at Xander, and was surprised to see not anger, but sensitivity that he rarely allowed to show to others.

She looked back at Buffy, and her anger instantly transformed into grief.

"Buffy, I. ." she began to say, before breaking off in a choke and turning for the office, barging in by almost tearing the door of the hinges.

Connor put a hand on Buffy's shoulder, and said, "She didn't mean it, Buffy."

"I know, Connor," she said, shaking her head. "That sick shit's really put her through the ringer, and we thought we knew it, but we didn't see just how bad. She's hanging on by a thread, isn't she?"

"Yes, and she knows it," MacLeod said, backing up.

Steve squeezed Buffy's shoulder in support, and looked to the Ghostbusters, and said, "You guys can take off. I'll call Egon and Horace and tell them what happened. Thanks for the help. Tell Egon to contact Horace if you need backup."

"No problem," Garrett said as the others started to back up to leave. "Just next time, call first."

The group chuckled a bit at the wisecrack, and the Ghostbusters and Xander exchanged handshakes and farewells.

When he got to Kylie, Xander said, "Good shooting on that fireball. Try to help these guys improve their marksmanship, okay?"

"You got it," the young woman said, and her eyes widened the slightest bit. "Oh, I almost forgot."

She slapped Xander upside the head.

"Owwww!"

"She said I could get some practice in before I put up with Eduardo any more."

Eduardo gulped, and beat a hasty retreat out of the store to the laughs of the others.

As the Ghostbusters exited the shop, Cordy came out with a look of bewilderment on her face.

"What the hell happened?" she asked, looking at Steve. "The girl's all but begging us to, and I'm pretty much quoting here, 'take me home and get this bleep, bleep, bleepin' thing out of my body before I lose my mind.'"

"She snapped at me, Cordelia," Buffy said, waving her off. "Something she didn't mean."

"Did she apologize?"

"She's too broken up to do it," Xander responded. "She's going looloo, and she's upset because she didn't go with us to San Fran."

"Well, okay," Cordelia said, not quite understanding. "The boss lady's waiting for us. . ."

Artemis walked out of the office.

". .or not," the brunette finished.

The Olympian female walked over to Steve, and said, "You need to remove that Quickening from her soon, Wanderer. She is growing closer to losing herself."

"Can you send us back to California, then?" St. Wolf asked.

"Immediately," Artemis agreed. "If you will wait in the office, I shall be there shortly. I would like to talk to Connor MacLeod for a moment."

The others looked at Connor, who shrugged. The others started heading for the office, but Artemis called for them to halt.

She turned to Connor and playfully asked, "With your permission?"

Connor flashed her a grin. "Well, it certainly is nice to meet a woman with such fine manners," he said, sketching her a short bow.

"Layin' it on thick enough, ain't ya, boss?" Maxine asked, drawing laughs from the others, Artemis included.

Connor sighed and muttered something about smart mouthed students. The Slayerettes marched into the office, but Cordelia quickly did an about-face and rushed back out.

  "Hey, they're gone!" Cordy shouted. "Where're Amy and Shaw?!?"

"In your training room," the Huntress answered with a smile which quickly faded. "I wanted them to have some privacy, and hopefully, Amy can calm her cousin down a bit."

The Goddess looked at Buffy, and added, "She is sorry for what she said, Buffy. She is hoping you'll forgive her."

"I guess I didn't have to blow up at her," Buffy said with a slight blush.

"Compared to Shaw's speech, you barely lit a spark," Xander said.

Cordelia smacked him upside the head once again.

"Oww!"

"Cut out the comedy routine," she ordered him, turning around and walking into the office.

The others followed her in, and Artemis turned to Iverson.

"Before I forget," she said, snapping her fingers.

Frank felt the tender areas around his eye heal up, and he reached up and touched it. He smiled in gratitude at the Goddess.

"Thanks, Artemis," he said gratefully.

"My pleasure." Artemis turned back to MacLeod, and said to him, "I heard the arrangements you have made for Shaw Hunter, as well as what you told her."

"Do you object?" Connor asked curiously, yet politely.

"No, I approve," the Goddess of the Hunt said, looking back at the office. In a lower voice, she continued.  "As does Mielikki, who has been watching this entire affair."

Frank and Maxine just shared glances with each other, while the Highlander's eyebrows rose slightly.

"Mielikki?" he asked.

"She knows what has been happening," Artemis assured him. "There have been changes in her church on Toril in recent months, and as a result she will be able to keep a more watchful eye on her worshippers, wherever they may be. And the guidance that you and Duncan can provide for one worshipper in particular is greatly appreciated. She wished me to extend her thanks."

"She is most welcome," Connor said with a grin, slightly inclining his head. "It was my pleasure."

"Well, I must go," Artemis said, turning for the door. She took two steps, and stopped.  "Oh, and Connor MacLeod? I like your current student's attitude. Keep up the good work."

She disappeared through the door with a sweet laugh.

<Why does that compliment worry me?> Connor thought.

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