Part 16: Thanksgiving
(Turkey Day From A Half-Elf's Perspective)

Johansen Residence
Sunnydale, California
26 November 1998

"NO!!!" Shaw screamed as she snapped into the waking world, sitting straight up in bed. Her covers fell forward, and she quickly grabbed them back up, squeezing them while tears began to fall down her face.

She shivered as she tried to remember what nightmare she had gone through, but like the others she'd had since the Quickening had been removed, the more she tried to recall the dreams, the faster the bits and pieces scattered to the proverbial winds.

She was dripping with perspiration, rivulets running down her face and the rest of her body was beaded in sweat. She slowly regained control of her breathing and trembling, but jumped when Ulric knocked at the door.

Tears flowing lightly, she got out of bed and padded over to the door, walking on the balls of her feet. She cracked the door open and said, "Yes, Ulric?"

"Are you all right?" the priest asked with concern.

"Yes, I am," the woman answered quietly. "I did not wake you again, did I?"

"Child, talking through this door is unsettling. May I come in?" Ulric asked.

Shaw sighed, and said, "No, I must dress first. May I have a few moments?"

"Oh, yes. Of course," Ulric consented quickly, and Shaw could just see him blushing in embarrassment, and it brought a smile to the tired half-elf. "I will be waiting in the living room."

"Thank you, Ulric," Shaw said with a great deal of gratitude. She quietly closed the door and walked over to her dresser.

She opened the top drawer, and pulled out a pair of socks, as well as fresh undergarments. Throwing them on the bed, she quickly worked her way down, picking out some jeans and a cotton shirt. Quickly dressing, she went over to the mirror.

When she looked at her reflection, she was that her eyes were still slightly bloodshot, but she also saw that the color was returning to her cheeks and face.

<If only I were recovering quickly in spirit, as well,> she thought, a burst of anger flowing through her. Letting out a sad sigh, she pulled her hair into a ponytail and walked out to talk to Ulric.

She came into the living room, and saw Ulric sitting on one end of the couch. Walking over, she sat at the other end.

"Good morning, Ulric," Shaw said, not putting much emotion into the words.

"Shaw," he began, trying to be delicate, "How are you doing? Truthfully?"

Shaw seriously considered the question, and finally said, "Physically, I am recovering. I pushed myself too far last weekend, and I am certainly paying for it. Much of the problem comes from not sleeping or eating, but I will recover, Ulric."

"And emotionally?" the Father asked patiently.

"That will be much harder to recover from," the ranger said honestly. "I have snapped out at my friends a couple of times, and I am trying to watch myself. But, I have so much anger and confusion inside of myself right now, and I am still trying to sort through the conflicting emotions."

"And the nightmares?"

Shaw shook as if a chill had run through the room, and said, "I cannot remember what I dream about, Ulric. They are not another's memories, like those I dreamt of while the spirit was inside of me. Goddess be blessed I do not remember those."

Ulric caught the slight catch in her voice. "Losing memories frightens you."

Shaw nodded, and choked a bit. "I know my friends survived the attack upon them. I will see them in three days. But my memories say otherwise." After a pause, she lamented, "No, more accurately, they do not say anything. Ulric, I am not fooling myself. I am not in good condition, to say the very least. And, I am taking things one day at a time."

"I understand," Ulric said, folding his hands together. Waiting a few seconds, he said, "Do you plan to return to school on Monday?"

"Absolutely," the half-elf said, some fire in her eyes. "I have classes to make up, and my schooling is one thing that I will not allow this attack to effect."

Ulric smiled at her answer, and told her, "I am pleased with your answer, Shaw." When she tilted her head a bit, he said, "If you had said that your classes would distract you from your nightmares, then I would have suggested you stay home for another week, to have you deal with what happened, rather than distract yourself."

Shaw felt a light bit of anger that Ulric would make such a demand, but caught herself before she lashed out. <He is worried about you. Accept his caring for what it is.>

Ulric saw the flash in her eyes, and nodded to her.

"And you still have your fire," he said. He stood up and said, "I had worried that you might have been hurt so badly that you would give up the path you have chosen for your life."

"I have the same fear, Ulric," Shaw said softly. She looked into his eyes beseechingly. "I fear that when the time comes, I will not want to take up the fight again."

Ulric placed his palms together, and brought them up to his face. "Your friends said they are going to allow you to aid them. You are still in the fight itself, you are simply allowing others to handle a greater share of the responsibility. Your mind and heart have simply said, 'No more.'"

Shaw blushed heavily, and muttered, "Actually, Ulric, that was my foot."

Ulric blinked a couple times, and asked, "Could you explain, child?"

"I met the person that my group's leader serves," Shaw said, closing her eyes and bowing her head. "He tried to intimidate me into giving him information about myself in my time here on Earth. I reacted badly."

"What did you do?" Ulric asked, sitting down next to Shaw to offer some comfort to her.

"I. . ." the half-elf sighed, before quietly saying, "I kicked him in the groin. It would not have happened if Merlin had bothered to introduce himself in the first place."

"Did you say, 'Merlin?'" the dumbfounded priest asked.

"Yes. He was not very impressive upon first sight, but my teachers confirmed his identity," the tired ranger said. She looked back at Ulric, and said, "We met again yesterday, after I slept some more, and we reached an understanding as to my plans for the future."

"A nonviolent understanding, I hope?" Ulric asked her, only half joking.

"Yes, Ulric, a nonviolent one," Shaw replied with a small grin. She leaned back against the couch, and said, "He is alive and well."

The Catholic returned her grin, and asked, "So, what are your plans for the day?"

Shaw cocked her head in confusion. "We were to share dinner before you left to have your special service this evening," she reminded him.

"Yes, but we will not be eating until three or so," Ulric said to the young woman sitting next to him. "You have seven hours or so until then, and you should go out and enjoy it. Somehow, I don't see you watching American football all day."

Shaw grimaced, and the old man laughed. "Shaw, go out and allow yourself to live a little. The Mall is closed, but the Cineplex is open. There might be a movie you would enjoy. Or walk through the park and enjoy the quiet. The choice is yours, child."

Shaw thought for a few seconds, and decided with a firm nod. She got up and said, "You are right, Ulric. I have this chance, and as you said, I should not waste it."

"Very good. I shall see you later, for dinner?"

"I will be back before then, to wash before we dine," Shaw said with a simple shrug of her shoulders. "Tonight, I can rest. I shall see you in a while."

Shaw went into her room, and quickly threw on a pair of running shoes. She picked up the duster she'd gotten from Whistler, and donned it. She started to leave, but stopped when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. She stared at her reflection for a few moments, and then walked over to the dresser. She removed the clip that kept her hair bound and picked up her brush. She ran the brush through her hair for nearly ten minutes and looked at herself again. She moved her hair away from her left ear, and her eyes narrowed.

Shifting her perceptions to focus on the nexus in Los Angeles, she felt the connection from the source of magical energy, and concentrated again. After a few moments, her ears took on a human appearance.

With a very small grin of satisfaction, the half-elf walked over to her closet. She reached for one of her daggers to take it with her, but stopped short. Frozen for a few seconds, she came to a decision.

"No."

She moved her hand about two feet to the left and selected a small felt pouch, and then shut the closet door so that she could leave.

*****

Weatherly Park
Sunnydale, California
26 November 1998

Shaw followed the path through the trees, enjoying the abnormally quiet atmosphere in the town's only park. She had entered the park through the main entrance, and had walked along the concrete sidewalk until she found the area she wished to enter.

As she picked her way through the woods, her senses suddenly went on alert. Her hearing picked up something, something large, following her. She tuned into her empathic ability, and detected fear and caution in several birds and ground-dwelling animals to her rear.

Shaw sighed in frustration and thought, <Can nothing *ever* be simple when I wish to do this?!?>

Shaw quickly decided on a course of action. She uttered a prayer, casting a spell that would allow her to move without leaving any trail whatsoever, and walked until she estimated that the person following her was less than fifty yards away. She then took off running at full speed, letting out a laugh when she heard a gasp of surprise.

She ran through the woods, knowing that her larger target would be slowed by his larger bulk and lesser knowledge of the terrain. Seeing something ahead of her, she jumped, a new idea forming inside of her head.

The half-elven ranger swung herself upward into a large elm tree, and quickly hid herself in the branches. Arranging herself on a perch, she waited for her pursuer to make his appearance.

A few minutes later, the man came into view. He was clad in gray sweats, a hood covering his face. His breath came out in small breaths, the air visible in the cool morning air, and Shaw nodded in respect.

<Whoever he is, he is certainly fit,> she admitted. <But now. . .>

Shaw sat down on he branch, and rolled backwards, letting out a scream at the top of her lungs. As the figure jumped about eight feet in the air (figuratively, not literally), Shaw reached out and grabbed the branch she'd originally used to hoist herself into the tree.

The hooded figure heard the impact of Shaw grasping the branch, and on instinct, he turned around. When he did so, Shaw clamped her legs around his neck.

Releasing her grip on the branch, Shaw used the momentum of her swing to throw her body around. The large one, with her legs around his neck, was spun around ninety degrees and then unceremoniously somersaulted onto his back.

Shaw was now sitting on the man's chest, straddling him, and she brought a hand back to throw a palm strike when the figure yelled out.

"I give up!!" Larry hollered.

Shaw stopped when he surrendered, and grabbed the hood around his head. Yanking it back, she revealed his face. The woman moaned in disgust, and backed up, offering a hand to the prone athlete.

She helped him up, and asked, "Are you injured, Larry?"

"Only my ego," he said dryly as he brushed himself off. "What kind of move was that?"

"You Americans call it a hurancurana," Shaw said, placing her hands on her hips as he looked at her in shock as he recognized the name. "Are you certain that you are not hurt?"

When Larry nodded, Shaw dipped, spinning and executing a sweeping kick that sent Larry onto his back. As he landed with a loud thud, Shaw could hear several birds taking off in the distance, spooked into flight.

As Larry regained his senses, he yelled, "What was THAT for?!?"

"For scaring the Nine Hells out of me, when my nerves are all but destroyed after what I went through last weekend!" Shaw snapped angrily. She uttered a few choice phrases in Spanish, and held out her hand once again.

Larry just looked at it, and asked, "Is there anything else you're mad at me for?"

"Let us start with your following me," she stated icily, with the glare to match. "Next, the delay in saying my morning prayers. Finally, the lack of privacy, once again, for practicing my music."

"Uh, I saw 'Big Jake,'" Larry said worriedly. At the confused look on her face, he added, "Where John Wayne keeps knocking out his sons for pissing him off."

Shaw sighed out loud, and said, "Larry, I am assuming that I made my point already. Now, would you like a hand?"

Larry nodded, and took Shaw's hand, and she pulled him up again. He let go, just waiting for her to do something, but she just folded her arms.

"Now, why were you following me?" she asked. Before he could answer, she said, "Let me guess; you were hoping I had your answer from my leader?"

"Uh, yeah. But," Larry said quickly, growing nervous, "I was really out for my morning jog when I saw you. I was going to call you, but you zipped into these woods."

"Very well," Shaw said softly, relaxing immensely. "As it so happens, I do have an answer for you. My leader is willing to offer you a 'reservist' role, in which you would train with us two or three days a week, patrol occasionally with others to learn our way of doing things, and when some of us are called away from Sunnydale, you would go onto active duty while the others are gone. Is that satisfactory for you?"

"Reservist, huh?" Larry asked, seemingly calm. "Can I ask why?"

"Yes. The rest of the people in my group have special abilities, as well as experience, that allow us to survive," Shaw explained to the jock. "In time, we would likely offer you a full-time position. I work with the group here, but I have not accompanied them on missions outside of Sunnydale."

Larry thought about it, and finally nodded. "Good reasons," he agreed. He smiled at the half-elf, and asked, "See you on Monday?"

"Meet me at the front door of the school," Shaw told him. "Someone will pick us up and drive us to where we train. I would dress appropriately."

"Got it," Larry smiled. "See you then, Shaw. And thanks."

"You are welcome," Shaw nodded, and the big man took off back the way he had come.

The ranger waited until she was sure she was alone, and went in her intended direction.

Ten minutes later, Shaw walked into the small clearing that she normally came to. She shrugged off her duster, and laid it on the ground. She sat down, crossing her legs. She closed her eyes, and began to pray, her lips moving but not emitting any sound. After saying general prayers, including for Mielikki to watch over the spirits of her Grandparents, as well as her living friends, Shaw began to pray for spells. The divine energy that Shaw drew her spells from began to replenish itself, as energy used in the prior twenty-four hours was restored. But, this time, unlike any other day, something was different. Shaw concentrated harder, and shock rippled through her entire awareness when she realized that her magical energy had increased.

It had *been* increased.

Her eyes snapped open as she realized what that meant. Mielikki had decided that she was worthy of greater ability.

<And greater responsibility.> she added mentally. She reached back into the essence that she felt inside of her, and asked, <Mother, do you truly think me worthy of this?>

She felt a touch, that she interpreted as a smile of approval, although she couldn't understand why she felt a sense of wry humor as well.

Shaw's eyes slowly came open, tears of happiness forming.

<Thank you, Lady,> Shaw beamed to the Goddess. <I will do my best to honor your trust in me.>

Tears still falling, Shaw reached into her pouch and took out her songhorn. As she brought the instrument to her lips, she felt at peace for the first time since her episode with Ares.

*****

Johansen Residence
Sunnydale, California
26 November 1998

Shaw walked into the house, a glow on her face that had long been absent from the young woman. She walked into her bedroom and placed her songhorn on the dresser, intending to practice again later.

"Shaw?" Ulric called from the kitchen, and she went to see if he needed help.

She walked into the kitchen, and said, "Yes, Ulric?"

"Did you enjoy yourself?" the priest asked, checking a pan with some mashed potatoes cooking in it.

"Yes, Ulric," she admitted, but with a sigh of resignation, she added, "at least most of the time."

Ulric looked at her, a touch of worry on his face. "What happened, child?"

"After praying and practicing with my songhorn," Shaw said, a smile on her face at the knowledge of her increased blessing, "I took your advice, and decided to see a movie. However, the only movie not sold out was called, 'Insurrection.' Seeing no other alternative, I decided it was better than nothing. That plainly shows what I know."

"Violent?" Johansen asked with sorrow.

"Worse," Shaw groaned, a bit of humor dancing in her eyes. "Star Trek."

Despite knowing that she hated that subject because of Mark's original comments to her so many months ago, Ulric let out a short bark of laughter. He began shaking his head in amusement, until Shaw let out a barb of her own.

"If you do not silence your humor, I will help prepare this dinner," she warned him.

Ulric sobered immediately, and said, "After what happened the last time, I would think that you would be afraid to enter the kitchen by yourself."

"Perhaps if you had explained the difference between two cups in measurements," Shaw began, a smile tugging at her face as well as Ulric's, "and two cups as glasses for drinking, I would not have ended up looking like what you call a mime when that flour dust exploded into my face."

"You did volunteer to help," the man reminded the half-elf. "And it was a good thing that you did. I shudder to think what would have happened if you had taken it upon yourself to cook Thanksgiving dinner for me, instead of the other way around."

"One possibility," Shaw said mischievously, "would have been my cooking every dish on the counter by casting several Heat Metal spells. The pans would heat the food without using the stove or oven."

"And ruin my pans in the process," Ulric "scolded" her.

"And the counters beneath," Shaw added before leaving the kitchen so that Ulric couldn't get the last word in.

As Ulric finished putting the food on the stove, he set the turkey onto a serving tray, and began to look over the other items. He lowered the heat under the corn to a simmer, and turned his attention to the turkey. He began removing the stuffing, putting it into a large bowl. When he finished, he took out a knife and two-pronged fork, so that he could begin carving the meat.

"A sword would work just as well, Ulric," Shaw said from the doorway, impish humor in her voice.

"That is quite all right, child," Ulric said dryly. "You need not hone your skills on our dinner."

When he had carved several slices and placed them onto a separate plate, he said, "Would you get two plates, please? I will set your plate up for you."

Shaw walked to the cupboard, and took out two plates. When she set them on the counter next to Ulric, he saw that she had changed her clothing.

Shaw was wearing her white dress, and her pendant, rather than being hidden, was in plain view, resting directly over her heart. Also, she had combed her hair out once again, leaving it unbound and Ulric saw the curls that were the natural state of her black tresses.

Ulric just watched her go and take out some silverware from the drawer, and she caught his look when she came back over.

"Is something wrong, Ulric?" she asked.

"No, Shaw," the cleric assured her. "I am simply surprised you donned a dress."

"Oh," Shaw whispered. She shrugged, but Ulric could see her starting to blush. "This holiday would seem to be more formal than many of your other holidays. This is the closest thing I have to formal wear, and. . . I thought it would be appropriate."

"Yes, perhaps you're right," Ulric said with a warm, fatherly smile. "You look very nice."

Shaw's blush deepened, and she simply said, "Thank you."

She set the silverware down and went to get some glasses from one of the upper cupboards. When she reached up, Ulric turned his attention to the plates. He quietly set equal portions of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn on the plates, and set the silverware on the plates as well. He turned around, and carried the plates over to the table in Ulric's small dining room. Shaw carried over the glasses, filled with water, and the two sat down. Ulric bowed his head and quietly said grace, while Shaw did the same, only in accordance with her faith.

Once they finished, they began to eat, and Ulric decided to strike up a conversation.

"Shaw, you seem to be in a brighter mood this afternoon," he observed. When her look brightened a bit, he asked, "May I ask what happened?"

Shaw waited a few seconds, and said, "I have told you how my magic is given to me by the Lady, and how the power and quantity of spells is based upon my level of power and experience."

"Yes, child. And the Lady of the Forest decides when Her gifts to you are increased," he said, as she had explained her faith before.

"The Lady has deemed me worthy of such an increase," Shaw said in a quiet voice, looking at her holy symbol. Fingering it, she looked back at Ulric. "It would seem that She has given me something else to be thankful for, Ulric."

Seeing that it was the gift, and not the power, that mattered to her, Ulric smiled. "Yes, it would seem that way. I am glad that you are happy, Shaw."

Shaw nodded, and took a bite of stuffing. She swallowed, and said, "I am glad, Ulric. Happiness. . .I think that is something that I am still working at."

Ulric's smile faded, and he asked, "What is it, Shaw?"

"Duty, Ulric," the ranger sighed. She looked towards the window, and said, "I enjoyed myself today, but I still feel the obligations to do what I can for others."

Ulric nodded with sympathy, and offered her a bit of advice. "Well, child, perhaps you could find solace that by allowing yourself to finally experience what you have given to others through your efforts, you might come to appreciate them all the more. And, having come to know you in your time here, I think it will only increase your desire to help others when the time comes to take up the sword once again."

Shaw continued to stare out the window as she listened to Ulric's speech, and nodded absently. She took a couple of deep breaths, and a smile touched her face once again.

"Thank you, Ulric," she said gratefully. She turned back to face him, and asked, "May I ask some further wisdom of you?"

"I don't know if my advice qualifies as wisdom, Shaw," Ulric told the ranger, wiping the corners of his mouth with his napkin. He set the napkin down, and said, "But I thank you for the comparison. Please, go ahead."

Shaw hesitated, looking at her fork moving around her plate, and said, "I realized, earlier this week, that I have let go of my Grandparents. My mourning is done. Yesterday, I saw an item that was a reminder of my Grandfather, but rather than allow a friend with an interest in the item to keep it. . . I demanded to keep it myself. It. . it is only an object, Ulric, but one that brings up good memories. But do I truly need it to remind me of better times, or. . was it an instinctive reaction?"

Ulric pondered her question, and finally rested his chin on his folded hands.

"It would seem your decision was instinctive," he offered her. "And sometimes, simple objects can remind one of the better times of one's life. But no, you do not need it to remind you of those times. As I said, it seems instinctive."

"I see," she muttered, deep in thought. "Then would it be acceptable for me to give this item to my friend? I have considered the matter, and I can see no legitimate reason not to let him have it."

"Did you explain your reasoning to him?"

Shaw nodded, and with a glance at the priest, she said, "While I know he was disappointed, he understood. But now. . . I feel that it was selfish of me."

"It is not selfish to want reminders of loved ones, child," Ulric assured her. "And it shows that you have come to care for this person, if you would willingly give up this item."

Shaw tensed a bit, and slowly said, "Ulric, I am not interested in him in the way that it sounds that you are suggesting. He is quite happy with Cordelia, and I would never be interested in him in that fashion in any case."

"I did not mean to insinuate that you were romantically interested in this man," Ulric chuckled in understanding. "I meant that you have taken him as a friend, or perhaps a brother."

"No, not a brother," Shaw said, with a touch of sadness. She then added, "Not yet."

"And that saddens you," Ulric noted with a sorrowed look.

Shaw nodded, and let out a long, slow sigh of tiredness. "Yes, Ulric, it saddens me. I know it will take time to feel that way about them, but it hurts to think that I cannot simply give them that level of devotion."

"I think you are confusing love with loyalty, child," Ulric said, pausing to take a drink of water. Setting his glass down, he continued. "You are completely loyal to them, I can see that. And you are slowly forming the bonds with your friends that you wish to have. So, do not feel sorrow that you do not feel now, what you will feel in the future. Just let it happen in its own time."

Shaw pondered his advice, and a smile began reemerge. "Thank you, Ulric," she said quietly. "My own thinking is clouded by recent events."

"As is normal in such situations," Ulric said tenderly. "I have seen it before, and unlike some people, you are not refusing to deal with the events that hurt you. You have opened up and talked to others, such as Amy or myself."

"Unlike twenty-five years ago," Shaw said as she scooped up some potatoes. Before she ingested it, she said, "Ulric, did Amy or Robin tell you what my 'cover story' will be, to explain my absence from school?"

"No, they didn't," Ulric said, wondering why she had brought up this topic. "I assume it will be about being ill."

"Yes, but. . ." she stumbled over the answer, but told him, "it will say that I had an allergic reaction. To what you call caffeine."

"I see," Ulric said, impressed by such a simple "explanation" for her not being in school. "I have never heard of someone being allergic to that."

Shaw's head snapped up, as she realized he didn't know.

"Ulric," she said, shaking her head at this misunderstanding, "elves, or half-elves like myself, ARE allergic to caffeine. As Cordelia said to Connor, 'it is an elven thing.'"

Ulric's eyes widened a bit, and he asked, "Have you always known this?"

"No, not until just over a week ago," she admitted with a tinge of pink in her face. "Imagine my surprise when Tobabaird confirmed it. It does not matter that I am half human, I cannot ingest it."

"Then might I make a suggestion?" he asked. When Shaw nodded, he said, "Drug stores, or pharmacies, to be more exact, have items that will alert people of your allergy. They can be put onto necklaces or bracelets, telling medical personnel what you are allergic to, or if you have certain medical conditions. I know the chances of your needing such medical attention are slight, given your magical abilities, but I do think it would be prudent."

Shaw eyes became narrowed as she considered the matter, and she smiled. "Thank you, Ulric. I will look into that matter."

"You are quite welcome, child," the Catholic said, before changing subjects. "Shaw, there is one thing I would like to discuss with you, about your schooling."

"Yes, what is it?" she asked with genuine interest.

"As I am supposed to be your guardian," he said, a touch of dry humor in his voice, "I think that you should have shown me your report card, don't you?"

Shaw stared at him, and she said, "You wish to know what my grades are."

Ulric smiled, and he chuckled, "Yes, I saw how disappointed you looked when you came home that day. Was it that bad?"

"According to. . two of my teachers, I am doing very well," she said neutrally. "Especially for someone who has only lived here for less than seven months. My. . . grade point average?"

"Yes, what is it?"

"It said. . . two point eight," Shaw said, looking at him to get his opinion on that level of grading.

Ulric's smile increased, and he looked impressed. "They are right, you are doing very well. If you ever need help, I can give you aid if you wish."

Shaw smiled at his approval, and said, "Thank you."

She went back to her dinner, and she and Ulric spent the rest of their dinner in peaceful quiet.

Two hours later, after Ulric had left for the church, Shaw was sitting on her bed practicing her flute, when the phone started ringing.

With a sour look at her instrument, she considered ignoring the phone, but decide that the call might be important. Getting off the bed, she went to answer it.

She picked it up, and said, "Johansen residence."

"Hey, cuz," Amy's voice rang out. "Just callin' to see how you're holding up."

Shaw's irritation dissipated, and she said, "All things considered, Amy, I would say that I am doing as well as could be expected."

"Uh huh," the witch said, sounding unconvinced. "No blowups? Snaps at others? Bad dreams?"

Shaw hesitated, and answered, "I think you know what my dreams are like right now. As for the rest, I have been careful."

A few seconds later, Amy said, "Okay. I was just worried about you. I called earlier, but Ulric said he'd chased you out of the house so your turkey wouldn't be blown up."

A burst of laughter erupted from the half-elf, and she said, "He said I should enjoy myself, and I did with the exception of the movie. The less said about that, the better."

"Okay," Amy laughed in response. She paused, and said, "Xander told me what happened over that sword. And I know you, you're kicking yourself about it, aren't you?"

"Ulric took care of that," Shaw said, a twinge of guilt still in her heart. "In fact, I would like your opinion on something concerning that."

"Okay, shoot."

Shaw outlined her idea over the course of a few minutes, and then asked for Amy's opinion.

After several seconds, she said, "Sounds good. I can add some stuff to yours, but it'll take a couple days to finish it."

"I can start with the easier parts tonight, and be finished in only a few minutes," Shaw said simply.

"Are you really up to that? You can't push yourself too fast," Amy said, the worry in her tone easy to hear. "Shaw, take your time on this. It doesn't need to be rushed."

"Amy, I am only talking about two spells," Shaw assured her. A fractional smile came to her, and she added, "Thank you for calling, Amy."

"You're welcome," Amy said, in a way that Shaw could imagine that she had a smile on her own face. "I'll talk to you again tomorrow in the library."

"The library?" Shaw asked blankly.

"Uh, you were supposed to do some stuff for Randi and Brian," Amy said uncertainly. "To try to show up us witches?"

"I remember," Shaw said, the memory coming back. "Could you ask Randi to meet me at the library around noon? It will give me some time to do some research."

"Got it," the Amazon said. A split second later, she blurted, "Uh, Shaw, what's your favorite animal?"

"Unicorn," Shaw replied, wondering why she'd been asked that.

"I mean normal animals," Amy sighed over the phone. "You know, non-legend Earth type animals."

Shaw's brow furrowed, but she answered the confusing question. "I have always admired felines, Amy. They have an impressive combination of power, speed and grace. Why do you ask?"

"Uh, well," Amy said, hesitating, "Xander and Cordelia. . ."

"Were arguing," the ranger finished, starting to laugh under her breath. "Will my answer end their arguing?"

"Goddess, I hope so," Amy laughed. With warm feeling that Shaw could hear, Amy said, "Take care, Shaw."

"And you as well," Shaw said, before adding with a grin, "cuz."

She quickly hung up the phone before Amy could respond, and laughing to herself, walked back to her room. When she got to the doorway, she found that her room was already occupied.

By Artemis.

Slightly confused by Her appearance, Shaw nevertheless nodded to Her, and gave the Goddess a warm greeting.

"Good evening, Lady Artemis," the half-elf said with a smile.

"Hello, Shaw," the Huntress said, waving a hand for Shaw to come in. "I wanted to speak with you briefly, if you don't mind."

"Of course," Shaw said, walking over to her bed and picking up her songhorn. She put the instrument away, and turned back to Artemis. "What did you wish to discuss?" she asked.

Artemis laughed, and said, "You are much like Mielikki, Shaw. You dispense with pleasantries and go straight to the subject at hand."

The Olympian sat down on the edge of Shaw's bed, and said, "Please sit down, Shaw. There are a couple of things that I need to tell you, but it will not take long."

Shaw sat down, and Artemis smiled at her, stroking the half-elf's hair.

"You know that I aided you and the others against Ares," She began, looking straight into Shaw's eyes. "The reason *I* did this was because Mielikki was unable to intervene on your behalf directly."

Shaw started to speak, but Artemis put a finger over Shaw's lips.

"Please, let me finish," she requested. "In recent months, Mielikki ordered a radical reorganization of Her church. The result of this restructuring was an elevation of Her power, and She now resides on the plane known to your people as the Beastlands. She came directly to me as soon as Her duties permitted, but unable to interfere directly, I did it for Her. She came to Sunnydale Herself to secretly help your friends, including Duncan, fight vampires to keep your friends from harm."

Shaw absorbed this shocking information, and asked, "She was here?"

"Yes, and as much as She wished to see you, and to aid you, Her duties to Toril kept Her from doing so," Artemis told the half-elf. "But She personally asked me to give you two messages."

Shaw's eyes went blank with wonder, and Artemis smiled approvingly. "The first, there are other servants of the Lady of the Forest here on Earth. Not worshippers, but spiritual servants, who can and will act as your guides here in your new home."

"Who. ."

"I cannot tell you that, little one," Artemis said softly, but with a touch of a smile. "Discovering who they are is part of that quest. But if I might make a suggestion, do not immediately begin this search. Allow yourself to heal, and allow yourself to finally be a young woman, rather than a warrior, a hunter, or even a priestess. I am not saying to stop doing what you wish to do with your life, but allow yourself to simply be a person."

Shaw looked into the Olympian's eyes, and she finally nodded. "That seems to be everyone's advice to me. It is not easy for me, but I am trying to follow it."

"I know," Artemis grinned. She reached over and stroked the back of one hand down Shaw's cheek, and said, "Her second message is much simpler."

"Yes?" Shaw asked, looking to Artemis like a child wanting to open a Christmas present.

With a tender look, she said, "She is very proud of you."

Shaw's eyes went wide, and after nearly a minute of stunned silence, she asked, "She said this?"

"Yes, child, She did," the Goddess of the Hunt promised, and with a grin, added, "And she asked me to give you something."

Artemis looked over to Shaw's dresser, and two items appeared in a flash of light. Shaw's eyes followed the Patron of the Amazonsí gaze, and her jaw dropped when she saw one of the items.

Shaw stood up, and as if in a dream, slowly walked over to it. The ranger stood there, her eyes unable to break the locking gaze that she had put onto the small ivory carving of a female warrior standing about one foot tall.

"Artemis, this looks like. ." Shaw breathed quietly.

"It is," Artemis corrected, standing up and walking over. Putting her hands of Shaw's shoulders from behind, she said, "You thought it lost, didn't you?"

Shaw nodded, tears starting to flow out of her eyes. "I never went back for it after. . ."

"I know, Shaw," She said. With a squeeze of support, she continued with, "Millie told me that it stayed there, and your shrine became known to Her rangers, who would pray there when they passed through Mistledale. But, now, She thought that you needed it more, so that you know that She is still watching over you."

Her lips opening a bit, Shaw looked over at the other item sitting on her dresser. It was a ring, carved from ivory identical to the statuette, set with a diamond. A bit of confusion entered into Shaw's mind, and she asked, "What?"

"It's a ring, Shaw," the Goddess said with an affectionate smile. "Nothing more. It is simply a gift from Her to you, as a token of Her love for you."

Shaw didn't move, but Artemis didn't need to look at Shaw's reflection to know that the priestess of Her Sister was crying. After a few moments of silence, Shaw turned around to face Her.

"Lady Artemis," she choked, "would you give Her something for me?"

"Shaw, She can already hear how you feel," Artemis pointed out.

"Yes, but. ."

Shaw didn't finish, but simply embraced the Goddess, holding on for all she was worth with a hug that Artemis knew was really intended for someone else. However, She didn't mind in the least.

"Would you?" she asked in a small voice.

Artemis returned the show of affection, and said, "Gladly."

*****

Part 17: Party Time
(In Which Cordy's Question Is Answered. Also, How To Show Up An Amazon Witch)

Sunnydale High Library
Sunnydale, California
27 November 1998

Amy, Randi and Brian walked into the school, heading for their noon meeting with Shaw, talking about the events of their mission to San Francisco. In particular, they were discussing what they had learned about the younger Jessup's destiny during a raging spell battle between Section Seven and a number of Black Mages.

"What do you think, Randi?" Amy asked with a grin directed towards Brian. "You think she can pull this off?"

"I dunno," the newbie Immortal said with a grin of her own. "I wonder how many zaps she'll take before she makes any headway. You and Willow have been 'bit' enough times."

"How 'bout you, Bri?" the witch asked the young man between her and Randi. "Think Shaw can top the witches?"

Brian shrugged, and said, "I'm more worried about her."

Amy and Randi shared glances, and Randi said, "You still wondering what we talked about Tuesday?"

"Yeah, Randi," the twelve-year-old boy said anxiously. "Robin said Shaw should tell me. I asked Steve, and he said the same thing. Is it a sex thing?"

Amy stopped, her jaw dropping while Randi started blushing. Brian looked between the two of them, looking confused. Finally, Randi answered her little brother.

"No, Brian," she said as Amy started to close her mouth. "I. . ."

Amy took over by kneeling in front of Brian, and said, "Brian, I won't lie to you. Right now, Shaw's in rough shape. That's why she's sort of on vacation right now. As for what we talked about, it sorta has to do with her, and when her Grandma and Grandpa died. You and Randi were out when Shaw showed us something, something that hurt her, and I don't know if she'd want to tell you, 'cause she might think you'll be afraid of her. That'd hurt her."

"I wouldn't be afraid of her," Brian huffed, looking quite confident of himself. "She could show me. I can handle it."

Randi and Amy looked at each other, and Randi cleared her throat. When Brian looked at her, she said, "Brian, this is something scary. And it would make her sad if you got nightmares from it."

Before Brian could protest, Amy said, "Brian, this was something that gave Shaw nightmares. Think about that; something that made *her* have bad dreams. Really bad ones."

Brian thought about it for a minute, looking at the toes of his shoes. After that, he looked to Amy.

"Would she tell me what happened?" he asked softly. "If she didn't show me?"

Amy nodded once. "Yeah, she would," the Amazon agreed reluctantly. "But I hope she gives you the 'PG' version. But I want you to promise me something; wait 'til we're done with what we came for, and then you can ask her. Okay?"

"Okay," Brian agreed, seeing that they weren't saying "no" outright.

"Cool. Come on," Amy said, standing up and heading for the library.

The trio walked into the library, and Shaw whipped her head around from her seat at the computer. A small smile came to her lips, and she quickly logged off of the computer. Shaw stood up and walked over to one of the larger tables in the library, where Amy could see a notebook with notes scribbled on it. However, Amy couldn't read the language.

"Hello, Randi," Shaw said warmly, before looking to Brian. "Brian, it is good to see you again."

"Hi, Shaw," he said with a smile. "How you doing?"

"Right now, I am all right," the ranger said, although the smile in her eyes faded. "Overall, it has been a very hard time."

"Oh," Brian said quietly. He looked at the notes she'd written, and asked, "What's that? It looks funny."

"Arabic," Shaw said, getting looks from the other three. She blushed a bit, and told them, "Since I have these languages, I felt it prudent to practice."

"True," Amy grinned. She took one of the chairs at the table and asked, "So, you gonna pull this off?"

Shaw sighed at her humor, and said, "I will tell you that this was not as easy as I thought it would be."

"Uh oh," Randi and Amy said with growing grins.

Shaw gave them a hard look, and said, "I will make this as short a version as possible. The first thing I did was to look through Giles' library, to get a starting point. That yielded very little. Thus, I took the other avenue available to me."

"You went online," Amy said, trying to poke fun at the half-elf.

If failed.

"Exactly," Shaw agreed. She walked back to the computer and pulled out a CD from the hard drive. Holding it up, she said, "This has all of the information I could find on Marcus the Valiant and Tara, as well as legends surrounding them. I have already e-mailed copies of the files to Steven and Willow, to have more than one source of this information available."

Amy looked impressed, while Randi asked, "Anything on the shield?"

Now, Shaw looked slightly hesitant. "Yes and no," she admitted. She held up a hand, and said, "It seems that the shield was reputed to be magical. However, Marcus had a matching set of full plate armor, as well as a sword whose power, while not in a class of a Sword of Destiny, would likely be nearly equal to your own sword, Randi."

Amy let out a low whistle, while Randi and Brian both looked shocked. "I hear a 'but' coming," Amy remarked.

"Yes, Amy." Shaw sat down and said, "The items I read said nothing about the armor or sword's powers. I am plainly theorizing here, and I exhausted the sources from Earth legends."

"Earth legends?" Amy asked as she did a doubletake.

"This once, my origins provided some benefits," Shaw said with a smile. She stood up, and went to the side of the table. "Brian, come here, please."

Brian got up and walked over to her, and asked, "What now?"

"I want you to call the shield," Shaw instructed. "Imagine it appearing on your arms, with the buckles in place."

Amy frowned at that, muttering, "Showoff."

Shaw looked at the giggling Randi, who said, "It took Amy and Jenny four 'clangs' before they thought of that."

Brian had closed his eyes, and held his left arm in a guard position. Within seconds, the golden shield bearing the coat of arms of Sir Marcus the Valiant appeared on his arm.

He opened his eyes, and smiled at the half-elf nodding in approval. She crouched down, bending at the knees as she looked the shield over, peering at it. After several seconds, she stood back up.

"Yes, it is very powerful," Shaw said, looking to Amy for confirmation.

"No kidding," Amy said. "That part was obvious."

"Yes, indeed," the ranger said. She suddenly reached out as if to grab the shield, which promptly shocked her with a burst of electricity.

Without any sound, Shaw jerked her hand back, shaking it to get rid of the numbness that Amy and Randi knew she was feeling.

"Oops," Randi said, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "I thought I told you about that part."

Shaw ignored her, and this time, slowly reached out with a single finger, to rub it along the coat of arms. When she did, the smallest arc of energy repelled her finger. Shaw nodded, seemingly satisfied with that turn of events.

Amy realized what Shaw was testing for. "Wait a minute!" she blurted.

"You did not know about this?" she asked with a smirk directed at her cousin.

"Uh, no," the witch growled at the elder Slayerette.

"Know what?" Randi and Brian asked, looking between the two spell casters.

"Amy?" Shaw asked, offering the Amazon a chance to explain what they'd just figured out.

"Seems that the shock you get from the shield," Amy said with a frown at Shaw, "goes up or down. It depends on how hard you try to touch the shield."

Brian's eyes lit up, and he said, "So if someone tries to grab it, they get a big bite."

"Or a small one if they simply try to touch it," Shaw finished with a smile at the boy. "Now I want to try my other theory, with your permission?"

Brian nodded with a grin, and said, "Go for it."

"Very well," she agreed, her smile now matching Brian's. "Brian, may I see your shield?"

"Uh oh," Amy and Randi muttered with worry.

Brian started to unbuckle the shield, but Shaw stopped him by placing her hand on his left arm.

"Brian, I am asking for your permission," the priestess stated with a smile. "May I see it?"

"Sure," he answered with a simple shrug.

He unbuckled the shield, and with Amy and Randi tensing, thinking that Shaw was about to begin cursing from the shock, handed the shield to Shaw. She took the shield in her hands, and examined it for nearly ten seconds before it dawned on the others.

"Hey!" Amy sputtered out. "You're holding it!"

"You have a gift for stating the obvious," Shaw said dryly, trying not to smile at Amy's surprise.

Randi took a few more seconds to overcome her shock, and asked, "How'd you do that?"

"It is really quite simple," Shaw said to the Immortal. "You see. ."

"Short version," Amy pleaded in frustration.

"Very well," the half-elf said with a shrug. "I had his permission."

Amy, Brian and Randi all just stared at the Mielikkian in stunned quiet for several moments, before Amy recovered.

"You had his permission?" Amy asked, thinking that Shaw was pulling their legs.

"Yes, Amy. The first two times I tried to touch the shield, it was on my own initiative. However, when Brian consented for me to hold it, nothing happened. Because Brian allowed me to hold the shield."

"I'm not believing this," Amy moaned. "Two weeks of getting zapped over and over again, and you figure that out in five minutes!"

"As I said, there are legends on Toril about such magics," Shaw answered. "Look at Soulreaver, for example. The sword can be used by anyone, as long as they are not evil."

Brian was smiling, and asked, "What else?"

"There is one more thing that I do want to try," Shaw said.

She laid the shield against her arm, and made to buckle the straps. As soon as the buckle touched the strap, a large shock rippled through Shaw's arm. Holding the shield in her right arm, she winced in pain as her left arm hung uselessly to the side.

"Shaw!" Randi exclaimed, jumping out of her seat.

Shaw shook her head, and said, "It is all right, Randi. My arm is, to use your terms, 'asleep.' But this just proves my theory regarding the shield, and I would assume, the armor and sword.

"What?" Brian asked with wonder.

"The shield is keyed to you, Brian," Shaw explained to the wide-eyed Brian. She handed the shield back to him, and said, "You are the only one who can use it. Others may handle it with your permission, but only you can actually use it in battle. There are similar magical items on my homeworld, which can only be used by one specific person at a time, on a hereditary basis. Being the reincarnation of Marcus, I would surmise that this is a similar situation, if not completely the same."

Amy looked to Randi, and said, "I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I?"

"What? That Shaw figured out more in ten minutes then you did in two weeks?" she replied with a spreading laugh.

"Yeah, that," the witch sourly answered, burying her head in her hands. "Shaw, you realize what the others are gonna say when they find out what you just pulled?"

"That I made your jobs easier?" Shaw guessed. When Amy shot her a nasty look, she added, "Amy, there is still much to be done, regarding the armor and sword that were mentioned in the legends."

Shaw tapped the CD, and said, "Having three copies available, Steven can call Merlin for advice on the matter, you, Jenny and Willow can come up with your own theories, and a final copy that I could give to Jenny for safekeeping. I do not know how to have Brian call the armor into existence, it may be a natural progression as he matures, or he will simply need to manifest it by thinking about it. I simply do not know."

"So you've already told us everything you know," Amy said, not believing that Shaw wasn't about to pull another rabbit out of the proverbial hat. "That's it?"

"Yes, Amy. As I said, I have exhausted the sources I could find here," she said, waving her hand around the library. "There may be other sources of knowledge, perhaps among the Knights of the Grail, or other groups. This is where your experience will come to the fore."

Brian looked at the three women, and asked, "We done?"

Shaw smiled at the disappointed tone in his voice, and said, "Yes, Brian. For now, we are finished. You may send the shield back to wherever it goes."

He nodded, and buckled the shield back onto his arm. In seconds, it disappeared. He and Shaw took their seats, and looked at Amy and Randi.

"Is there anything else I can help you with?" Shaw asked Randi, who shook her head. "I am sorry I could not come up with more, but as I said, it would be better to ask those with greater knowledge of the events in question, or perhaps those who were around at the time. Merlin, Cassandra, or Methos, for example."

"Frank said he'd ask Cassandra," Amy said quickly. "So that's one person we got taken care of."

Shaw nodded, and shrugged. "I can translate the notes into English for you, Randi, and return them to you by the end of next week, if that is all right with you. That way, you at least have a copy for you and Brian that will not be dependent on your ability with computers."

With a grin, she nodded. "Thanks, girlfriend. I guess we'll see you later, huh?"

"Of course," Shaw agreed with a smile.

As Randi started to get up, Brian gave her a hurt look.

"Uh, Randi? You said?" he asked sadly.

Randi stopped, and started looking between Shaw and Brian. With a sigh, she nodded and sat down. Shaw looked to Randi again, and waited for Randi to speak.

"Shaw, Amy told us what happened to you twenty-five years ago," the Immortal said quietly, not looking Shaw in the eyes. "But, Brian didn't hear the story, 'cause Steve and I thought it would be too bad for him to hear. Robin told Bri that it was for you to tell him, and Steve said the same thing."

"I see," Shaw said, now looking at the expectant Brian. "Brian, I agree with Steven and your sister on this. You should not have to hear what happened on that mission. The things that I. . ."

Shaw stopped talking, looking at the table and trying to gather herself. Amy and Randi refrained from saying anything, knowing that the decision on the matter was Shaw's alone to make. Finally, Shaw looked to Brian again, extreme sadness in her eyes.

She said, "Brian, would you consent to my telling you the basic facts, and saving the details until a later time?"

Brian still looked disappointed, but nodded his head. "Okay, Shaw."

Shaw looked to Randi, to get her opinion on this, and she nodded as well.

"That's cool," Randi said, mentally relieved that she and Shaw agreed on the matter.

"Very well," Shaw said, folding her arms and leaning forward on them. "Brian, you know that I was in a group much like Section Seven on my homeworld. When I was twenty-eight, I volunteered for a mission to infiltrate a slave caravan, in order to stop his trading in human lives."

When Brian looked confused, Amy raised her hand. When he glanced at her, the witch said, "She was undercover, Brian."

Brian nodded in understanding, and looked back to Shaw, waiting for her to continue.

"I separated from the group that I was part of, and went to the village where we knew the slaver would take prisoners," Shaw said, her eyes taking on a distant look that Amy knew all too well. "I was taken prisoner, as my mission dictated. The problems began two days later, when the wizard suddenly stopped the caravan, and began torturing one of the villagers."

"What happened?" Brian asked in fear at the events from so long ago.

"He ended up killing three people, and I did what my heart said must be done. I tried to kill the wizard to stop the slaughter," the half-elf said. With tears flowing from her eyes now, she finished by saying, "I failed. And in the process, a lightning bolt meant for me killed a very special little girl. She lost her life trying to save mine. The wizard offered me a choice; I could undergo one of his tortures, or he would kill the thirty-seven people left in the caravan."

"He tortured you, Shaw?" Brian asked, not really having to ask the question.

"For twenty-one hours, before my friends attacked," she responded in a choked voice. "The problem was that the wizard was insane, and no one knew this at the time. In the end, I went insane myself. . .and I killed him. I killed someone not in control of himself."

"It wasn't your fault," Brian said to the crying half-elf. "You didn't know."

"I know, Brian," Shaw said, not bothering to wipe her tears. "But afterwards, I went into what you would call a catatonic state for four days, where I would not talk, eat or drink. I did not even sleep. One villager commented that it was as if my spirit had fled my body. It was during those four days, hundreds of miles away, that a vampire killed my Grandparents. I was supposed to be with them for a holiday, but took the mission I was on, and before our meeting date, they were killed."

Brian was softly crying by this point, and he said, "You blame yourself, don't you?"

"Somewhat," Shaw admitted, looking at Brian through tear-blurred eyes. "There was no possible way for me to alter their fate. More likely, I would have died with them. But knowing something does not always stop you from feeling something."

"I know," Brian said softly. He got up and walked over to Shaw, and they hugged each other. "I'm sorry, Shaw."

Shaw ended the embrace, and said, "Do not be sorry, Brian. When you are old enough, I will tell you everything, if you want to know when the time comes."

"Okay," Brian said with a brave attempt at a grin. "Can you tell me what you did to Ares now?"

Shaw looked at Randi and Amy, and asked, "He is referring to the fight, I hope?"

"Yep," Amy said with a smile. "I just hope you give equal credit to your teammates, cuz."

Shaw gave her a tired smile, and looked back at Brian, who was waiting anxiously for the story.

"Brian, I must warn you," Shaw began with a soft tone, "this is not going to be a classic tale of heroism and magic."

"It's not?" the boy asked, looking let down.

"No, it is about Xander, Cordelia, Kylie, a young woman from New York, Amy and myself kicking Ares'. . ."

"Shaw. . ." Randi warned.

Shaw and Brian both looked at Randi, then back to each other.

"Steven must be rubbing off on Randi," Shaw told Brian in a whisper that everyone could hear. "He tries to keep us from having fun, as well. Or it may be Jehanne's influence, but I cannot be certain."

"Yeah, I know," Brian said in the same "whisper."

Randi started frowning, but Amy was giggling under her breath.

"You walked into that one, Randi," the witch said gaily.

"Ha ha. Come on, Shaw, I haven't heard it either," the Immortal complained. "All Steve and Xander tell us is that you guys ripped Ares a new asshole."

Shaw and Brian just stared at her while Amy lost control, and began laughing her head off. Randi was confused at first, but her face went red when her words caught up with her.

She let out a groan and pounded her forehead with the palm of her hand, muttering, "I'm gonna get even with you for that, Hunter."

"I remember Cordelia and Amy saying that once," Shaw warned the Immortal. "Do you recall what happened then?"

"Come on, Shaw," Brian begged.

"Very well," Shaw conceded with a smile.

She began telling the tale of how Ares had tried to kidnap her, and how Amy's quick teleportation spell had prevented that. She gave the details of the battle, with Randi breaking out into laughs when the ranger mentioned what Ares had called Xander due to the latter's broken nose, and Brian was smiling widely at the end of the story, when Shaw told him how she and Amy had injured the God of War. She edited out what she'd forced Ares into, but instead told Brian that Ares could never gain revenge on any of them for what had happened.

As she became quiet, Brian's eyes were shining with admiration for Shaw and Amy, which Amy could tell made Shaw feel uncomfortable.

"Wow," Brian said with a smile. "I wish I'd been there to help."

Shaw shook her head, crashing his smile against the proverbial rocks. "Brian, if you had been there, and something happened to you, I would not forgive myself."

Brian watched her looking at the table, and said, "I just wanted to help you."

"I know, Brian," Shaw said quietly, sighing as she looked at him. "Brian, I am not questioning your desire or ability. I merely do not like the thought of someone being hurt because of my actions."

"Shaw, you know it wasn't your fault," Amy said, not liking the turn this conversation was taking.

Shaw nodded, and told Amy, "I know that, Amy. I merely try to remind myself of it."

"Good for you," Amy said firmly.

"Shaw?" Brian asked, getting her to look at him, "I didn't mean to upset you. It's just, you get to fight with the others 'cause you're old enough. I just want to be able to help like you do."

"I understand your desire, Brian," Shaw said, gathering her notebooks and piling them one on top of another. "I still desire to help, but I am not fighting for the time being. I simply must let others do this."

"I know, but. ."

"Brian," Shaw interrupted, surprising not only him, but Amy and Randi was well, "your time will come. Right now, you know that you have a destiny, a glorious tradition that you are heir to. I have a destiny here, that I will eventually learn. I also had a destiny that I did know, and as

someone who has seen both, I can tell you that I prefer the former."

"How come?" Brian asked curiously.

"Because until then, I can live my life as I choose, and when the time comes to embrace my destiny, I will be ready for it," Shaw answered. Looking into Brian's eyes, she told the young man, "Brian, you know your destiny. But, the thing about destinies is that they will still be there in time. Do not try to make it happen too soon, and live your life while you can."

Brian looked a bit upset, and asked, "Are you saying I should be a kid?"

Shaw, to their surprise, shook her head. "Brian, you may be a child physically, and legally, but in the ways that truly matter, in your mind and heart, you are quite likely the finest young man that I have ever known. But, you are exactly that; a young man. You still have some maturing to do, but in my opinion, it will not take that long. And when the day comes for you to take up your role in our fight, I have no doubt your sister will be there with you. And know this; when that day comes, I would be proud to stand at your side."

Amy and Randi were both silent during this time, although Randi's eyes held a fair amount of happiness. They both waited for Brian to respond, to see what he'd think about it.

"You're telling me to take my time?" he asked Shaw, who nodded with a smile of approval. "I get it. I'm just jealous 'cause they let you fight."

"Because of my experience and training," Shaw said, placing her palms down on the table. "And, in fact, I am envious of you, Brian."

Three sets of eyes went wide, and Brian asked, "Why?"

"Because," she answered softly, "the others are more than friends to you, Brian. They are your family. I hope to feel that way someday, and to be a part of it."

Randi blinked, and looked at Amy, who had a sad look in her eyes.

<She wants to be more than friends to us?> Randi thought to herself. <Damn. She told us she was here for the foreseeable future two months ago, but she's really here for the long haul, isn't she?>

Any further musings were cut off by Brian's answer to Shaw's words.

"I think you're family," Brian said, complete honesty in his reply.

Amy and Randi, both startled by his proclamation, looked to the half-elf for her reaction, and were confronted with something neither woman would have ever expected to see.

Shaw Hunter, literally speechless.

It took nearly thirty seconds for Shaw, with wide eyes, to quietly ask, "You think of me that way?"

"Yeah," Brian said with a shrug. "I like you like a big sister."

"A sister?" Shaw repeated in a dull voice. Regaining some of her composure, she said, "Brian, I am old enough to be your grandmother."

"So?" the twelve-year-old said. "You're more like Cordy than my grandma."

"How's that?" Amy asked with a grin.

"She doesn't treat me like a kid," he said, glowering at Randi when she started to laugh. "She tells me the truth, and she's straight with me, like she is with all of us."

"Even if it's not everything you want to hear?" Randi asked as that dawned on her.

"Yeah, Randi," he said, before turning back to the stunned ranger. "I mean, you don't try to hide anything or be nice to me. You just say what you think, and you even tell me why you think that way. You treat me like everyone else."

"That is how I try to treat everyone, Brian," Shaw said, still off balance. She lowered her eyes, and told Brian, "You are no different, simply because you are younger."

"That's his point, Shaw," Amy said, smiling at her cousin.

"Oh," Shaw muttered before looking at Brian, a strange look in her eyes. "Thank you, Brian."

"For what?" he asked with a furrowed brow.

"For showing that you are as special as I told Randi you were," she told him with a touch of pride in her voice. "You and your sister are very special."

"Me?" Randi asked in astonishment. "You can't be serious."

"I am completely serious," the priestess said to the shocked Immortal. "Randi, we know that Brian is heir to the legacy of a legendary hero."

"Yeah," she said uncertainly. "And me?"

"The sword you carry," Shaw said, pointing at Randi's new duster. "Only one other person has ever carried that sword, Randi. And knowing who she is, I would say that fact puts you into very exclusive company."

Randi looked uncomfortable with such a comparison, and asked, "So what do you think *I'm* supposed to do?"

"Your destiny is your own, Randi," Shaw said. With a small grin, she added, "But for now, I think helping to raise your brother is challenging enough."

Amy and Brian both started to snicker, and Randi couldn't help but join in. After a few seconds, Shaw went on.

"Randi, Brian," she said, taking on the air of making a vow of some sort, "the offer I made before still stands. If you wish to talk, about your parents, I would be glad to do so."

Randi smiled, and said, "Same goes for you, Hunter. You need to talk to someone, give us a ring, okay?"

"I will," the elder Slayerette said with a grin, getting up to give Randi a quick hug. "Will I see you on Sunday?"

"Or sooner," the Immortal said in a way that, for some reason, made Shaw suspicious. "We'll talk to you later. Come on, Brian."

Brian got up and said, "Bye, Shaw. See you later."

"Of course," she agreed.

Randi and Brian walked out of the library, and Amy just watched Shaw, who continued to stare at the door without comment. After nearly three or four minutes, Amy tried to get her attention.

"Come on, cuz," the Amazon said, waving her hand up and down. "What's on your mind?"

Shaw took a few seconds to answer, saying in a wooden voice, "He thinks of me as family, Amy."

"I heard," the blonde teenager said, with a grin on her face. It faded when she realized that. . .

"It really got to you, didn't it?" she asked in wonder.

Shaw nodded, just looking at the table. Amy got up and moved over next to the elven warrior, lightly gripping her shoulder.

"Hey, you okay?" she asked with true concern.

"Things are happening so fast," the half-elf mumbled. She now looked at the Amazon, and said, "Amy, use your ability to read the level of magical power in someone, and look at the power that I draw my spells from."

Amy stared at her, and blinked after a few seconds. Knowing what the source of Shaw's magic was, she let out a low whistle.

"You've been promoted," Amy said, a smile appearing on her face since she was sincerely happy for Shaw. "That's great. Goddess knows you deserve it."

"I hope so," Shaw said, a ghost of a smile appearing. "I received a visit from Lady Artemis last night."

When Amy's eyes narrowed in interest, Shaw related what the Goddess had shared with her, and told her of the items Mielikki had asked Artemis to give Shaw in her stead. Amy's smile deepened at the story, and she patted Shaw's hand.

"Can I see it?" the Amazon asked.

Shaw said, "The statue is in my room, Amy. I can show it to you when you pick me up tomorrow, if you wish."

With a humored roll of her eyes, Amy said, "I meant the ring, silly. It's not every day. . . Hell, it's not *any* day someone gets a birthday present from their Goddess."

Shaw held her left hand out, her face the slightest tinge of pink. Amy looked at the ring and let out a low whistle.

"Nice rock, Shaw," the witch said with her smile.

Shaw started to look puzzled. "Amy, this is not rock. It is ivory."

"I meant the diamond," the witch told her in good-natured exasperation. "We sometimes call diamonds 'rocks.' It's an Earth thing."

"I should have known," Shaw muttered dryly, though a smile touched her lips. "You think it is nice?"

"Yeah, cuz," Amy agreed fully. She let her grin become mischievous, and said, "So, you got a promotion and a birthday present, huh? Millie must really like you."

"Millie?" the half-elf asked in confusion.

"Uh oh," Amy said as she realized that she'd have to come clean on that matter. "Uh, that's what Robin calls Her. Like he calls Artemis, well, you know."

Shaw did know. "As long as you use some restraint in calling Her that, we shall get along fine."

Amy's head jerked back, but she saw the corners of Shaw's mouth lifting, and she rolled her eyes.

"Shaw, you gotta stop hanging with Xander and Robin," she mumbled before getting back to the subject she wanted to discuss. Her confidence plummeted, Shaw picked up on it.

"Amy, what is wrong?" the older cousin asked as she leaned forward.

Amy let out a short, sharp breath, and said, "What I'm gonna tell you, well. . . I've known that you'd want to know about this, but with our situation, plus what Ares did to you, and. . ."

Amy looked at her hands for a second, and told Shaw, "I hope you'll forgive me for not sharing this with you before. You have a right to know."

"To know what?" Shaw asked.

"Well. ." Amy said, and then, with a tone of complete sorrow, said, "I'm not the only family you've got here on Earth, Shaw. Hell, I'm not the only family you've got in California, even."

Shaw's eyes went wide at Amy's words, and her mouth opened to speak, but no words would come forth.

Amy took the shock as her chance to finish what she wanted to say. "I've got my Grandma, that's my Mom's mom. I have two aunts, Allie and Joan, and Joan's got my cousins, they're twelve. Twins."

Amy looked at Shaw, regret etched on her face, and said, "Shaw, I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, but I was scared, I didn't know. . ."

"I have other family here?" Shaw asked dully, completely derailing the Amazon's apology. She looked Amy straight in the eyes, and asked, "I truly have other blood kin here?"

Amy nodded. "I haven't told them yet. I'm sorry, Shaw."

"I understand, Amy," Shaw said, tears glistening in her almond-shaped eyes. "I know how hard it was for you, as well as myself, to discover the connection between us. It was not easy for either of us to deal with this knowledge, I can understand you hesitancy. In fact, I prefer it."

"Don't you want them to know?" Amy blurted out.

"Of course I do," the half-elf replied. She got up, and started to pace, trying to explain her reasoning. "But this is exactly why I wished for the choices in our relationship to be yours. Amy, my family began and ended with my Grandparents. I lack any type of experience in these situations, so I need your help, and your experience, to guide me."

Amy was stumped, and stood up, walking over to Shaw.

"You're not mad that I didn't tell you?" she asked.

Shaw turned to the witch, and said, "No, Amy, I am not. But this. . . this is so shocking, I. ."

"Where'd you ever get the idea I was the only cousin you had here?" Amy asked, not understanding.

"Jehanne only showed me your face, when she told me. She did tell me I had kin here, but. . I made assumptions, so I cannot blame her."

"Well, guess what? You're gonna meet 'em," Amy said, getting Shaw to look at her with wide eyes. "I talked with my Dad last night, and right after Christmas day, I'm borrowing the car, and we're heading over to my Grandma's so you can meet her, Allie, Joan and the twins."

"Amy, you do not have to. ."

"Oh, be quiet," Amy said jokingly, but with a touch of finality. "Shaw, they're your family, just like I am. And they'll want to know the solution to the mystery. It's not every day you get a brand new family member like that, and I know they'd want to meet you. In fact, it's already set up."

Amy walked up to Shaw, and asked, "Shaw, do you really want to pass up this chance to meet the people that you're connected to here? The part of your roots that are the same as ours?"

Shaw nodded, looking at Amy through the tears that were starting to form, and hissed, "No, Amy, I do not."

"Good," the witch said, grinning again. "Not that I was gonna give you much of a choice in it, but what the hey?"

She turned and walked over to her purse, and rummaged through it before pulling out a CD inside of a clear plastic case. She walked back over to Shaw, and said, "Well, I have to tell you I'm a bit miffed that your Goddess got to you first, but here. Happy birthday, Shaw."

Shaw looked at the compact disc that Amy was holding out to her, and said, "Amy, you have done enough for me. You did not. . ."

Amy sighed, and told her, "Shaw, this isn't for the team, or to help you get over what happened, this is for YOU, for YOUR birthday, because you're my cousin and friend. It's because I want to do this, not to pay you back or to do anything but give you a present, because I care about you."

Shaw breathed in and out a couple of times, and said, "Thank you, Amy."

She took the CD, and Amy said, "Now slip it into the computer, and take a look at what's on it."

Shaw looked at Amy strangely, but complied when she saw the look of determination on the Amazon's face. The two women walked over to the computer and Shaw sat down, with Amy standing behind her. The half-elf slipped the disc into the computer, and watched as a picture of a tree popped up on the screen, with a bunch of small squares on the tree.

Shaw looked at Amy, who said, "Go to this one, riiiiight. . .here."

She pointed at the right one, and Shaw clicked the appropriate square with the cursor, and the square enlarged, showing the name Lydia Madison. Shaw read the information that was included with the name, including birthdate, date of death, and a short yet concise biography of the woman named.

Shaw was impressed with the amount of information, and asked, "Who is she, Amy?"

"Look at her sister, right here," Amy said, pointing at another square, "and you'll see soon enough."

Shaw fought down a touch of frustration, and touched the cursor to the square. She started to read the information, but didn't get past the name.

"Alison Madison?" the half-elf asked quietly.

"Yep," Amy said, a grin forming on her face. Not allowing Shaw to get any further questions out, she pointed to a word at the top of both windows. "Now, see that word, 'parents?' Touch it."

Shaw obeyed her order, and two more boxes came up, with the names George Taylor, and Adeline Madison. Shaw read the information, including that George Taylor had fought in the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War before leaving due to wounds suffered at the second Battle of Bull Run. She stopped and looked at Amy, hoping for an explanation.

"Shaw," Amy said, realizing that Shaw hadn't made the connection, "Who's Alison Madison?"

"My great-grandmother," Shaw answered off the bat.

"And George and Adeline?" the witch asked.

"Her parents."

"Your great-grandma's mom and dad, which would make them. . ."

"My twice-great grandparents," Shaw replied, looking confused as to the line of questioning before her eyes widened, and she turned back to the screen, and just stared at the two names before her. In a low, quiet voice, she asked, "My twice-great grandparents?"

"From *Earth,*" Amy stressed, "and my triple-great grandparents. The grandparents that connect us. Lydia was MY great-great Grandma. Alison's sister, and your great-grandaunt. This is the Madison family tree, the line of Madisons going back over 600 years."

Shaw just kept staring at the screen, before asking, "These are Alison's ancestors? My. . .MY ancestors?"

"The Madison ones, and from Earth, but yeah," Amy replied, putting her hands on Shaw's shoulders. "Going as far back as we could find, about 1350 or so, our time."

"I. . . I never knew," Shaw said, shaking her head slowly as if in daze. With a voice filled with awe, she said, "There are so many, Amy."

"Yeah, I know." Amy smiled, and whispered, "Shows you've got a bigger connection to Earth than you thought, doesn't it?"

Shaw just nodded her head silently as she tried to assimilate the idea that Amy had just handed her over five hundred years worth of family history. Tears started to form in her eyes, and began to fall unbidden down her cheeks.

"Shaw?" Amy asked quietly, trying to penetrate the haze that the half-elf seemed to be locked into.

"This is my lineage," Shaw said as the true vastness of her ties to Earth began to fully register in her mind.

Amy nodded, and bent over, looking at the screen. "Yep. Your ancestors, your roots, your family history. Or at least the Earth part of it."

"I never imagined it could be so large," the ranger said in a cracked voice. She turned to the Amazon and asked, "Amy, do you have any idea how much this means to me?"

Amy smiled at the crying Shaw, and kindly said, "Yeah, cuz. Yeah, I think I do."

Shaw tried to say something, but she couldn't seem to find the words. She said, "Amy, I... I do not know what to say. I. . ."

"'Thank you' usually covers it," the grinning Slayerette told her.

Shaw just shook her head in denial. "Not this time, Amy. Not here. That is nowhere near adequate. . ."

Shaw just broke off, unable to continue. Amy came in and took Shaw in her arms, and for the second time in a week, let her cry into her shoulder. This time, however, Amy was smiling because she knew the tears were from more positive emotions. After a few moments, the half-elven priestess stopped crying, and Amy smiled at her.

"You okay?" she asked, already expecting a positive answer.

Shaw nodded, a small smile on her face as she wiped her tears away.

"Yes, Amy. I. ." she paused, the words catching in her throat. She then said, very softly, "Thank you, Amy. Thank you very much."

"You're welcome," Amy said just as softly. She gave Shaw's hand a gentle squeeze, and added, "Happy birthday."

Amy turned back to the computer screen and said, "Just promise me you won't try to read this all at once. Take your time and enjoy it."

"I promise," Shaw answered, her tears lessening.

Shaw moved to turn the program off, sliding the disc out of the compartment and putting it back into the case. After shutting the computer down, she got up, and put the CD in her purse, before turning back to the witch.

"Thank you, Amy," she said once again. She averted her eyes, and said, "This means a great deal to me."

"I know, Shaw," she said, grabbing a chair and sitting down next to Shaw. "Shaw, you need to know that you'd better cancel any plans you had for tonight."

"Why?" she asked in confusion, her eyes hooded. "Not that I had any plans for tonight. . ."

"Even better," the blonde girl said, with a sly smile coming to her face, "because we girls got together to throw you a birthday party at the Bronze tonight."

Shaw's mouth dropped, and she babbled, "But. . .but Amy, you did not have to. . ."

"Yeah we did," Amy said triumphantly, since Shaw had no excuse not to go. "You'd join in for a party for Wil or Cordy, right?"

"Yes, but. ."

"So you're no different," Amy finished, folding her arms as she leaned back in the chair. "This is for your birthday, and we are keeping it simple, 'cause you prefer it that way. But here are the ground rules; no guilt, no angst, no saying 'you did not have to do this.' And you let yourself have some fun. We're not gonna force you onto the dance floor, 'cause you can't dance..."

"I do know how to dance, Amy," Shaw said petulantly, "I simply cannot dance the way you do."

"Oh really," Amy said, thinking Shaw was trying to distract her, "how can you dance, then?"

"In Irish or Scottish styles," she answered without hesitation. "Like your show that you call 'Riverdance.' I am nowhere near as good as those dancers, but I am competent. My talents are in playing music."

Amy's eyes were round, as she realized there was still a great deal she didn't know about her cousin, but this revelation began to form the seeds of an idea in the back of her head.

<Oooooh yeah, cuz,> Amy thought evilly. <Come Christmas vacation, I've got the perfect setup for you.>

Quickly keeping herself from becoming more distracted, the Amazon witch turned her attention back to the ranger, who looked rightly skeptical about the gleam in Amy's eyes.

"What are you thinking, Amy?" Shaw asked with deep concern.

"About Christmas, but it can wait," Amy declared, getting back on track. "Shaw, we want to do this for you. You're one of us, and like Brian said, you're becoming more than a friend to us. And you said you've let us in, here's a chance to keep it up, becoming part of our 'family.' Do you really want to let the progress you've made end here?"

"Have I made progress?" the half-elf asked softly.

"Of course you have," Amy said. She smirked and told Shaw, "In fact, you got your official Slayerette nickname a few days ago."

Shaw looked at her with equal amounts of doubt and trepidation, and asked, "I did?"

"Yep. Remember that Cordelia's 'Queen C,' or that Willow's 'Net Girl?'" the witch asked, but without waiting for an answer, she told Shaw, "Well, you're 'Religion Girl.' You can blame Xander for that one."

Shaw's eyes narrowed a bit as the thought about it, and to Amy's surprise, she said, "It is appropriate, at least."

"Yeah, is it ever," Amy said with a grin at Shaw's light discomfort. "But like I said, do you want to lose the ground you've gained in getting closer to us?"

"No, Amy, I do not," Shaw said quietly. "I just wish to give back to all of you for your help."

"And you will, some day," the younger woman grinned. She took Shaw's hand in her own, and said, "Shaw, we made a start on Monday. And I think it was a pretty good one. We're gonna keep working at it, and there'll be a little trial and error, but we can pull it off. Trust me."

Shaw sat there for some time, as she weighed Amy's words. When she looked at Amy again, she asked, "Could we stop at my house briefly? I would like to change into fresh clothing. I. . " Shaw sighed, and confessed, "I wore my dress last night for Thanksgiving dinner with Ulric, as I thought it was appropriate. What would be appropriate for this?"

Amy smiled, and said, "Tight jeans, tight shirt, and no weapons. Jewelry's optional."

Shaw sighed again, and muttered, "I do need lessons from Cordelia, if only to learn when not to say a single word as not to leave you openings like that."

*****

Amy started laughing, and a few seconds later Shaw joined her. After a couple minutes, they got up and closed the library, heading out into the afternoon sun.

*****

The Bronze
Sunnydale, California
27 November 1998

As Amy and Shaw approached the front door to the Bronze, the witch looked the ranger over and smiled approvingly at the wardrobe the half-elf had "selected" to wear to her short notice birthday party.

Shaw was wearing a dark blue shirt made of silk which, when combined with her thick black hair, brought out the pale white skin of her face and blue-tinged cheekbones. Added to this were a dark gray (bordering on light black) pair of tight jeans that left little for any man who looked at her to imagine what her figure might look like underneath. A pair of black tennis shoes completed her ensemble, save for the ring she wore on each hand.

"Are you absolutely sure about that?" Amy asked, looking at Shaw's tight braid. "If someone sees those ears. . ."

"I have taken precautions, Amy," the half-elf assured her. Reaching for her neck, she whispered, "But I feel naked without my pendant."

"Hey, it's safe," the Amazon promised with a smile, crossing her finger over her heart in an "x." "I even put an 'ignore me' spell on it to keep thieves away from my purse. It's safe."

"I just hope you do not forget to take it home because of that spell," Shaw muttered.

Amy looked at Shaw, and upon seeing the corner of her mouth rising, Amy gave her a soft, good-natured slap on the arm with the back of her hand.

"Smartass," she said.

Shaw nodded in agreement, and looked to her cousin, who'd opted for a sleeveless red top, with a black skirt that fell to mid thigh, which was modest by California standards. A pair of knee-high boots was her choice of footwear for the evening, and the witch wore a gold chain with a small cross charm dangling from it.

"So, you ready to go in?" Amy asked.

"What do you think?" the elder cousin asked in return.

Amy sighed, and said, "Shaw, you look good. I'll tell you this; if you ever let go and start dressing like Cordelia, every boy in the joint won't be able to take their eyes off you."

"I thought you were trying to convince me to 'loosen up,'" Shaw observed dryly. "Not to become to scared to do it."

Amy looked to the heavens in supplication, and said, "Shaw. ."

"Got you," she replied, heading inside.

Amy stared at the door for a second, and said, "Oooooo. I'm gonna kill Xander and Robin for messing with her."

The witch quickly headed indoors, to join Shaw and the others waiting inside.

"There's the birthday girl," Cordelia said at the female Slayerette's table. "Well, two good things right off the bat."

"I'm afraid to ask," Randi laughed, not turning to watch the cousins approach, "but tell us."

"One, Amy's not dragging her in by the heels," Buffy said, being the other woman with a view of the entrance. "Two, she actually dressed for the occasion."

Now Randi, as well as Willow, did turn to see Amy and Shaw's outfits. They also saw the reactions that some of the teenage males in the Bronze were having as the pair walked by. Randi let out a low whistle, and looked back at Cordelia.

"You know, 'Queen C,'" the older Immortal whispered, "if you do get her into miniskirts, you might have some actual competition in the 'Prom Queen' department."

"Better one of you," Cordy answered with a shrug, "the one of the sheep. Shaw still needs to let her hair down, though. I mean that literally."

"Cordy, the ears," Willow reminded her. "Remember?"

"More than I want to," the brunette mumbled. She stood up and gave Amy a quick hug. "Got the birthday girl to come, huh?"

"Well, I just hijacked her holy symbol," Amy said with a smile. Looking at the irritated Shaw, she added, "She'll get it back if she actually has fun tonight."

"That is not funny, Amy," the Mielikkian muttered, not putting any venom into the words because she realized that Amy was simply getting her goat.

"Hey, it's a joke," Cordelia scolded her. "We're here to have fun. Happy time."

"Perhaps, until whatever band is playing tonight begins torturing me with your brand of music," Shaw countered with a thin smile.

"Hey!" Willow blurted out. When Shaw looked at the redhead, she said, "Shaw, it's Dingoes Ate My Baby."

Shaw's eyebrows rose, and she nodded.

"I have heard Oz play his guitar," the half-elf said, her smile growing a bit. "For them, I will make an exception. But, what about the others?"

"Zip, zero, nada," Buffy said with a smile. "Steve's got Xander, Kenny, Robin and Joe patrolling. Kendra joined them 'cause she's even more scared to go out than you are. Jenny and Giles are having dinner at their place, and Duncan and Amanda headed down to L. A. for a romantic night on the town. It's just us girls."

Shaw nodded as she and Amy sat down at the table, and the Slayerettes looked over at the stage, where Oz's band was prepping for their first act. Cordy stood up in her one-piece blue sleeveless miniskirt, and looked at Shaw.

"You wanna try it?" the Amazon asked, enjoying the truly sour look that came over Shaw's face. "I know, I know. I was just kidding. Try to relax, Hunter."

Cordelia headed for the dance floor, while Buffy and Amy joined her. Shaw watched the trio separate and claim spots on the dance floor, but turned back to Willow and Randi as the Dingoes started their first song. As expected, Willow and Randi watched Shaw wince as the band started a fast, loud rock song.

Willow reached over and touched Shaw's hand, and the priestess looked at her best friend. "Yes, Willow?"

"Are you okay, Shaw?" the auburn-haired witch asked with a smile.

Shaw returned it and nodded, grateful for Willow's concern. "Yes, Willow, I am doing much better, even with problems sleeping. Things happened yesterday. . . Willow, the Lady increased my magical abilities and gave me a gift as well."

As the looks of interest from Randi and Willow, Shaw placed her left hand on the table so that they could see the ring given to her by Mielikki by way of Artemis.

"Nice," Randi said with admiration. "Even if it does clash with the other one."

"Yeah, they don't match," the witch added, giggling as Shaw blushed at their teasing. "Is it magical?"

Shaw shook her head, and her voice caught as she said, "It was Mielikki who was hunting vampires to protect the rest of you while I was gone."

"Yeah, we know," Willow told her. The witch brushed her hair back, and said, "You do realize that Buffy and the others were really going to get the cake and stuff, right?"

Shaw looked quickly, and sure enough, there was no trace of the trio on the dance floor.

"I shudder to think of what Cordelia might bring in," Shaw said, a slight grin on her face. "Randi, did you tell Willow what we learned about the shield?"

Willow gave a fake pout. "Quit bragging, Shaw," she said before cracking a grin of her own.

"Besides," the Immortal pitched in, "we're not here to talk shop. So focus on having fun, girlfriend."

Before Shaw could comment, Willow waved at Oz as the band finished their song. He smiled and whispered to Devon, the lead singer, who nodded. They began to play a slower, quieter piece, and the couples who'd stayed on the floor began a slow dance.

"A nice try, Willow, but not very subtle," Shaw said, leaning back in the chair and folding her arms, a knowing smirk on her lips.

The Amazon blinked, and sighed. "Uh, we're trying to keep your hearing in one piece," she feebly offered.

Shaw and Randi chuckled, and Randi said, "I'm going to grab us some drinks. What do you guys want?"

"Pepsi," Willow piped in.

"Fruit juice," Shaw answered. Off the strange look from the Immortal, she added, "Caffeine, Randi."

"Got it," Randi whispered. "Sorry, I forgot. Fruit juice, you got it."

As Randi took off, Shaw turned to Willow, looking to the witch to suddenly be very nervous.

"Willow, I need to ask you something," Shaw said, gulping softly. "Before I lose my courage. Randi said that you know what happened on the mission years ago."

Willow's face fell as she brought up the topic. <Why now?> "Yeah, Amy told us everything."

"Would it be selfish of me to ask what the reactions were?" Shaw asked, having equal parts interest and worry on her features.

<Goddess, she wants to know. And we haven't seen her to tell her. .> Willow touched Shaw's hand, and said, "It was a clean sweep. Everyone was on your side, Shaw."

Shaw blinked in surprise, and asked, "You were?"

"Yeah," the petite redhead told her, giving her a reassuring smile. "Shaw, Cordy and Oz actually cried."

Shaw's eyes widened, and she licked her lips, before settling down as her shoulders sank a bit, but it looked to Willow that she was letting out a bit of tension and relaxing, rather than being upset.

Shaw quickly wiped away a couple of nascent tears, and she looked at Willow again.

"Thank you, Willow," the ranger whispered. "I do have a favor to ask of you."

"Sure. What is it?"

"Do not let Cordelia and Amy embarrass me too much tonight," the half-elf said, with a bit of pleading in her voice picked up by Willow.

Willow grinned, and said, "Oh, sure. Play divide and conquer. But between you and me, you should learn to dance, Shaw. It's fun."

Shaw cocked an eyebrow at her, and said, "When I see you, Amy and Cordelia dancing like the dancers from 'Riverdance,' which is how *I* dance, then you may give me lessons on how *you* dance. For now, I will, as you say, 'stick' with the styles from that show, as well as playing the music."

Willow's eyes went wide as Shaw revealed this to her. "Wow. Uh, we thought. ."

"I know. Your reaction is somewhat more subdued than Amy's, however," the half-elf said. Her eyes flicked to the table, and then back to Willow. "Willow, I know that I have not been the most open of people, but I am trying to change that."

Willow smiled, and told her, "Just be careful, though. You never know what people will want you to talk about."

"Such as?" she asked in bafflement.

"Boys," Cordelia's voice sang out from behind her.

Shaw stiffened, and upon seeing the unusual smirk on Willow's face, she turned to see Cordelia, Buffy and Amy standing right behind her chair. Amy was holding a cake with yellowish frosting, and laughing under her breath at the ranger's surprised reaction. Buffy, in her pink halter-top and white knee-length skirt, looked speechless, while Cordelia had an evil glint in her eye.

<By the Lady, I may as well ask,> Shaw thought dismally, and asked, "How much did you hear?"

"Everything after you asking her to take your side tonight," Buffy muttered in a dull tone.

Shaw looked at Cordelia's gaze, and said, "What are you planning, Cordelia?"

"To arrange for teen-style dancing lessons, girl," the brunette Amazon said, her grin now as evil as the gleam in her eyes. "Definitely, dancing lessons."

Shaw moaned and let her head fall to the table, and the Scoobies got their laughs in at her reaction.

"Hey, we'll start you slow," Willow offered supportively.

"I'm glad you think so," Amy grinned.

Shaw raised her head, and muttered, "Willow, I will have retribution over this."

"What are you guys talking about?" Randi asked as she brought the glasses to the table.

"Shaw admitted she can dance," Amy told her, just grinning even more as Shaw glared at her.

Randi looked at her, and said, "What kind of dancing can you do?"

"Irish and Scottish styles," she said, seeing that the secret was out. "Those types of dancing are not exactly what you call 'in' with American teenagers."

Randi looked at Buffy, who said, "She does the 'Riverdance' bit. But she's better with the music."

The four standing Slayerettes sat down, and Amy mused, "So, where do we start?"

"With boys, of course," Cordelia answered cheerfully.

What followed was an hour-long gossip session where Buffy, Willow, Cordelia and Amy all "dished the dirt" on their respective significant others. Randi was quickly laughing her head off at most of the comments, but Shaw seemed to hold back until Cordelia started talking about Xander. By putting a humorous spin on Xander's fight with Blade, she made Shaw enjoy the story for itself, rather than for the stakes that had been involved.

Randi talked about Frank Boyle, the Immortal from the Legacy house in San Francisco, and the possible relationship developing between them. Shaw was, by now, thoroughly enjoying herself, and completely relaxed for the first time in a very long time, when everyone suddenly looked at her.

"Okay, Hunter. Your turn," Cordelia said with a grin shared by the other Slayerettes. "Let's hear what you've got to say."

"Me?" the newest Slayerette asked, looking like a deer caught in a pair of headlights. "What am I supposed to tell you?"

Cordy looked up, and seemed to be thinking about it. "Hmmm. Oh, I know; tell us about. . . . . Toby."

Shaw's eyes went round, and her jaw just dropped at the name, before she recovered her equilibrium, and shook her head in frustration.

"I see that Kendra has been talking," she said in a low voice.

Seeing that she was admitting that they'd caught her, Buffy smiled. "Consider it getting even with you for messing with her and Joe while we were gone."

"I only did what Cordelia requested for me to do while you were in San Francisco," the half-elf said, knowing she wouldn't get out of talking about the elven fighter-mage.

"You were supposed to be subtle about it," Cordelia reminded her.

"I tried. But Joseph and Kendra's stubbornness rivals mine at times," Shaw countered. "And you know that is saying a great deal."

The other women looked at each other, and had to concede that point to the Hunter.

"Enough stalling, girl," Randi said, getting in on the fun at Shaw's expense. "We heard this rumor that Toby was actually in your bedroom."

"Kendra talks far too much," Shaw sighed miserably, jumping when five other Slayerettes gasped in surprise. She looked around and asked, "What?"

It was Willow who voiced their thoughts. "Shaw, he *was* in your bedroom?!?"

Seemingly resigned to the inevitable, she said, "Yes, Willow. But you must understand, that in the entire time Toby was here, I never had the chance to truly or effectively analyze his techniques."

Now, all five human Slayerettes were positively shocked.

"Techniques?" Buffy managed to croak out.

"Yes," Shaw responded. With a visible shudder, she then said, "And he wears all that disgusting metal."

Jaw flapping, Willow squeaked out, "Metal?"

"Yes." Shaw let out a gigantic sigh, and remarked, "How anyone can properly wield a sword while encased in eighty pounds of plate mail armor is completely beyond my comprehension."

It took virtually a full minute before the last comments registered in the minds of Buffy and company, and Cordelia started waving her arms around.

"Wait a second here, Hunter. You're talking about combat?" Cordelia asked.

"Of course I am," Shaw said, a "puzzled" look on her face. "What did you think I was talking about?"

"Uh, well. . ." Cordy said before realizing that she and the others had been had. "You know exactly what we were thinking!"

With a victorious smirk, Shaw corrected her by saying, "No, not exactly. But I did have the general idea."

Willow and Amy started giggling at Cordelia's failed trap, and the Amazon warrior glared at them before looking at Buffy.

"I told you," she told the Slayer.

"What did she tell you, Buffy?" Shaw asked.

Cordelia sighed, and said, "I was tempted to hire a stripper, but Buffy vetoed it."

"No kidding," Buffy agreed. When the others looked at her, she said, "Like Shaw's ready for a stripper."

"What is a stripper?" the priestess asked, looking confused for real this time.

"Okay," Cordelia said, taking over the role of translator for the Earth-term challenged. "A stripper is a guy, a great-looking one, that dances in front of you while he takes his clothes off. Well, except for his skivvies."

Shaw thought about it, and looked even more puzzled when she looked at Cordelia again.

"I thought that was why you had Xander."

The table exploded into laughter as Randi, Amy, Willow and Buffy lost any trace of self-control. Cordelia's jaw was hanging all the way open after Shaw's words, while Shaw just looked around continuously, totally lost. Eventually, she looked back at the fashion queen, realizing that she might have said something better left unsaid.

"Cordelia, did I say something wrong?" she asked.

Glaring at her four comrades-in-arms lost in hilarity, she groaned, "No. But you missed the point on the stripper. Shaw, the stripper would have been for *you.*"

Shaw stared at her, and slowly said, "Xander warned me about this."

As the four laughing women tried to come back into the discussion between Cordelia and Shaw, Cordelia was now the puzzled one.

"Xander warned you about what?" she asked.

"That you and the others would try to set me up," Shaw grumbled, sounding less than happy about it.

"Shaw, this wouldn't be a joke," Amy assured her cousin, still having a case of the giggles. "There are people who do that for a living."

"I was not referring to pranks," Shaw said, a small sharp edge to her voice. "I meant setting me up as you tried to do to Randi and Kendra."

Buffy's jaw opened at she realized what was being said, and she quickly smiled.

"Shaw, hiring a stripper is for *entertainment,*" the Slayer stressed to the confused birthday girl. "You know, for parties and stuff."

Shaw nodded, thinking it better to keep silent rather than dig herself deeper into the metaphorical hole with Cordelia. Cordelia must have realized that, because she said, "Okay, moving on. Let's eat."

Randi and Willow rose from their seats, and Shaw started to do the same, but was stopped by Amy's grip on her wrist.

"Uh uh, cuz," the witch admonished. "Birthday girl does not do any of the work."

With a roll of her hazel eyes, Shaw sat back down with a "thump." Randi and Willow set the plates and plastic forks out, and brought the cake over and put it on the middle of the table.

Cordy broke out candle shaped like a question mark, and whispered, "For people sixteen going on fifty-four."

As the others, Shaw included, shared a laugh, Cordelia lit the candle. The five senior Sunnydale residents stood up, and before she could ask what they were doing, began singing "Happy Birthday." Shaw quickly decided that the Dingoes suddenly changing from their fast-paced song to a musical accompaniment of the Slayerette's singing was most definitely NOT a coincidence. As the girls finished, Amy smiled.

"Well, blow out the candle, cuz."

Looking at Amy strangely, the ranger nevertheless did as instructed. The Slayerettes clapped their hands, much to Shaw's confusion, and sat back down, except for Cordelia, who began slicing the cake.

"Do I even ask why?" Shaw asked Amy, looking to her for an answer.

"Earth thing," the blonde said, her eyes shining with humor. "Later."

As Cordelia set the pieces in front of her friends, she said, "Okay, Shaw. Since you're chocolate-challenged 'cause of the caffeine thing, we got something almost as good, so see if you like this."

"What is that?" she asked in genuine interest, not letting disappointment about her allergy make her spirits fall.

"Butterscotch frosting," Buffy replied for the Amazon warrior. "Take a bite, tell us what you think."

Shaw just stared at the cake in front of her, and said, "Please tell me you do not mean 'Scotch' as in alcohol. I am only 'seventeen,' after all."

The others giggled, and Amy grinned. "No, it's a flavor, Shaw. No alcohol, I promise."

Sighing in relief, Shaw took a small piece and tasted it. Her eyes lit up, and she swallowed it quickly, and a bright smile came to her face.

"This is very good, Cordelia," she said. She looked at Cordy, and asked, "This was your idea?"

"Well, Buffy's too," she said, her grin matching Shaw's. "You like it, huh?"

"Absolutely," the ranger replied, digging into another bite.

<Damn, this might be easier than we thought,> Cordelia thought to herself. <She's actually smiling.>

As the Slayerettes began eating, Shaw paused and looked at Cordelia.

"Cordelia, about Toby," Shaw began, causing the other Slayerettes to stop their chewing, "what did Kendra tell you about him?"

"He's an elf, and a wizard," the Amazon said with a shrug. "That's it."

"Very well. First of all, we met at McClarity's pub in Paris, when Connor took me there."

Buffy, her face lit up with a full smile, asked, "What happened?"

"Essentially, two things happened. One was dancing all night to Scottish music," Shaw replied. With a chuckle at herself, she added, "And, I got myself completely intoxicated by consuming an entire bottle of Scotch over the course of the evening. I barely stayed awake long enough to tell him 'good night.'"

Every single on of Shaw's friends was dumbfounded at the idea of Shaw being in such a state, much less the idea that she could so completely let herself go. They slowly regained themselves, and Randi was the first to talk.

"Did anything else happen?" the Immortal asked.

"We talked," Shaw answered, shrugging her shoulders.

"Yeah, but what's he like?" Amy asked. "What does he do?"

"He is a good man, Amy. His sense of humor is a rival for Connor's, however," the elven woman began. "He is sensitive, but he does not pry for details. As for an occupation, he works as a computer analyst for SERRA. That is a group of Earth elves and humans working together, in the production of motors and engines for racing vehicles, based in Savannah, Georgia."

"What's his accent like?" Buffy asked.

Shaw stared at the Slayer, and asked, "What accent?"

"Well, you've got that elven accent, doesn't he?"

"No, Buffy," she replied. "His 'accent,' if you wish to call it that, is an American one."

"An American elf? Cool. Were there any sparks?" Cordelia asked. Sensing confusion on Shaw's part, she converted the phrase. "Is there a relationship there?"

Shaw hesitated, but came out with the truth. "We are friends as this stage, having only seen each other twice. Tobabaird expressed some interest in moving towards something further, but. . . I am not ready for romance. In the future. . there may be some possibilities, for something deeper than friendship. I will have to see if anything develops over time."

"Is he cute?" Buffy grinned.

Shaw stared at her for her reaction. "Imagine Steven's body, three inches shorter, with long brown, curly hair, and add elven features." With a slight blush, she added, "He is handsome, yes."

"Ooooooooooo...." the other five said together, breaking into giggles soon afterwards.

Shaw joined in their laughter, despite the teasing. The Slayerettes finished their cake, and had seconds before Cordelia called for their attention.

"Okay, Hunter," she announced. "You know what time it is?"

"You are wearing a watch, Cordelia," Shaw said, looking at her strangely.

Cordy's next words froze in her throat, and she said (through laughter from the others), "It's time to open your presents, Shaw."

"Oh," Shaw said, fidgeting a bit.

<Oh no, you don't,> Amy thought quickly. <No guilt trips, Hunter.>

"Actually," Amy said, making sure Shaw couldn't protest, "Millie and I gave Shaw presents already. Show 'em the rock."

"Is there anyone you do *not* plan on having me show this ring to?" the ranger asked.

"Not yet," Amy answered sweetly.

Shaw started to go red, but the Slayerettes called for her to produce the goods, so with an exasperated sigh, she showed them the ring, which drew good comments from those who hadn't seen it yet.

"More ivory?" Cordy asked. "Is that some kind of Millie thing?"

"It would seem that way," Shaw admitted.

"Okay, enough. First up," Cordelia said, grabbing the smaller of two boxes from the empty table next to them. She handed it to Shaw, and said, "This one's from Duncan and Amanda."

Shaw took the box, and opened it after gently removing the wrapping paper. Her breath caught a bit, and she reached in and pulled out a silver clasp of Celtic design with filigree on the outside of it.

"What is that?" Buffy asked, wrinkling her nose in confusion.

"A hair clasp," Shaw answered, turning it over in her hands. "Seventeenth century, it is used to pin your hair into a tail. It is like the one that Duncan wears."

"That's over three hundred years old?" Randi asked. Looking at it, she said, "Do you keep it put away or do you actually use it?"

"I will wear it, of course," Shaw answered. "That is what it is for, Randi."

"Okay, Hunter," Cordelia said with a grin. With a flourish, she placed the second box on the table. "This one's from us."

The dark-haired Amazon set the large, low box in front of Shaw, who looked at Amy.

"Amy, would you happen to have any shielding spells at hand?" the half-elf asked, half serious.

"Sorry," the witch grinned. "I'm tapped out. Stop stalling."

She untied the red ribbon that tied the box shut, and lifted the top off of the box. Inside was a white wool sweater, which had small green stripes at the neck, bottom, and on the cuffs of the sleeves. She lifted the sweater out, revealing more clothing underneath. Shaw saw a silk blouse, ivory white in color, and also saw a pair of white jeans underneath the blouse.

Shaking her head in amusement, Shaw laughed. "More tight clothing. I should have known."

"Well," Cordelia said, smiling since Shaw seemed actually seemed to like the outfit, "I picked out the outfit, but Will and Buffy suggested the colors. They said you'd like the outfit for some Mexican thing. The winter salsa, or something like that."

Shaw tried to decipher that phrase, and turned to Willow. "Translation?"

"Winter solstice," the redhead said, a strange grin on her face.

The half-elf looked confused at first, but then her eyes widened, and she looked at the outfit again, her grip tightening on the sweater. She just continued to look off into space, and tears began to form.

"Uh, Shaw?" Cordelia asked in confusion that was shared by Amy and Randi. "Earth to Hunter."

"How did you know?" Shaw asked, so quietly that the others almost didn't hear the question.

Gently, Willow said, "We have our ways."

Cordelia was looking at Willow, who along with Buffy, had smiles on their faces that screamed, "I know something you don't know."

She then looked back at the silent ranger, and said, "Uh, you do like it, don't you?"

Shaw just jumped up and grabbed Cordelia into a hug, saying "Thank you" over and over again, much to the Amazon's dismay, not to mention Randi and Amy's as well. Amy looked at Willow, who mouthed "later." Amy nodded, with a look that said she'd hold her fellow witch to that promise.

As Amy turned her attention back to the ecstatic priestess profusely thanking the shell shocked Amazon, Buffy and Willow silently exchanged high-fives.

An hour or so later, the Slayerettes exited the Bronze, walking out into the cool autumn night. They faced each other, and Cordelia smiled.

"Have a good time, Hunter?" Cordy asked.

"Yes, I did," she said, a bright smile on her face. "Thank you."

"No prob," Cordelia shrugged. With a look at Amy, she said, "You're her ride?"

"Yep," Amy said, pulling her car keys out of her purse. She also pulled out Shaw's pendant, and held it out to her. "Before we forget."

Shaw took it, but rather than put it on, she placed it in her own purse, much to the shock of the other women.

With a sheepish look on her face, she said, "Duty can wait until tomorrow."

"You go, girl," Buffy said with a pat on Shaw's back. "See you Sunday, okay?"

Shaw nodded with a smile, and the Slayerettes exchanged hugs before Shaw and Amy headed off for the car. Once they were out of sight (and Shaw's earshot), Cordelia turned to Willow, Randi and Buffy.

"Okay, you guys want to tell me who the Hell that was we just threw a birthday party for?" the Amazon demanded.

"Uh, it was Shaw," Randi guessed.

"Randi, that wasn't the Hunter we know. She smiled! She laughed! Hell, she had fun!!!"

Willow was laughing, and Cordelia snapped, "You got an answer, laughing girl?"

Willow's laugh died out, and she said, looking sympathetic, "You want the honest answer?"

"Yeah, it'd be nice," the brunette said.

"I think that was Shaw Hunter," the Wiccan answered with a sigh directed, along with a gaze in the direction Amy and Shaw had walked. "The Shaw Hunter from twenty-five years ago. The Shaw Hunter that still had Grandparents, that had people there for her, and who was happy."

At the boundless silence that followed that observation, Willow topped it.

"It's the person she was all those years ago, before all the stuff that happened," Willow told her friends. "And we just saw that the person's still in there, even after all the crap that's been done to her. She might have a long way to go before it comes out for good, but at least there's a chance."

After a few moments of silence, Cordelia said, "Okay. But what was with all the hugging and mushy stuff over the outfit?"

Buffy and Willow exchanged grins, and Willow nodded to the Slayer.

"Okay," Buffy started. "Priests of Mielikki wear different colors for different seasons. In summer, the colors are yellow with red accents."

"So?" Randi asked, not seeing the point to this.

Willow said, "So, winter's coming up, and according to Artemis, the colors for winter are white and with green accents. If Shaw was on Toril, she'd be wearing white and green. Sorta like Ulric wearing black, because he's a priest."

"This isn't Toril," Cordelia pointed out.

"Artemis said to consider it the Earth version," Buffy said with a laugh.

Cordelia's eyes went wide, as she realized exactly why Buffy and Willow had insisted on those particular colors. Randi did to, and began laughing along with the Slayer and Amazon witch.

"Wait a minute," Cordelia ordered, one hand on her hip and the other on her forehead. "Are you telling me that what I picked out for Shaw was basically church clothes?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Buffy answered.

"We gave Shaw church clothes for her birthday?!?" the woman known as Queen C shrieked.

"Look how happy she was," Willow reminded her.

"CHURCH CLOTHES?!?"

"But they're *good looking* church clothes," Buffy said.

*****

Johansen Residence
Sunnydale, California
27 November 1998

A Ford Taurus pulled up to the curb in front of Ulric's house, settling into park, and shutting off. Inside the vehicle, Amy turned to Shaw.

"Hey, what're you thinking about?" the witch asked.

Shaw had been in something of a daze the entire trip home, but when Amy asked her question, she looked at her cousin, a smile on her lips.

"That I cannot think of how I can deserve such friends," the half-elf answered softly.

"Because you do," Amy answered with a smile. "You had a good time tonight."

It wasn't a question, but Shaw answered nonetheless. "I had a very good time, Amy. I have not been so. . ."

When she trailed off, Amy said, "Come on, out with it."

Shaw gulped, and whispered, "I have not been this happy since before my Grandparents passed away."

Amy's face fell, but she perked up again when she thought of something. "Well, you've earned it, wouldn't you say? And I'm glad we could make you happy, Shaw."

"I just wish it could last, Amy," she said, and before Amy could counter that statement, she added, "But there is a long road ahead of me, isn't there? A great deal of recovering to do."

Amy thought of it from Shaw's point of view, and agreed. "Yeah, you do. You're not letting yourself be fooled. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the good stuff while you heal."

"I know," she replied. She looked out the window at the night sky, and said, "Amy, thank you for talking me into doing this."

"You're welcome," the witch grinned, her eyes shining. "Okay, I'll see you tomorrow. Eleven o'clock, right?"

"Yes, Amy."

Looking at the thoughtful look on Shaw's face, Amy reached over and placed a hand on the woman's shoulder.

"You do wanna do this, don't you?" she asked.

"Of course I do, but. ." Shaw said, before breaking off and reaching into her purse. She pulled out a small jewelry box, and held it out to Amy. "This is for you."

Amy cocked an eyebrow, and pointed out, "Uh, Shaw, you realize that the birthday girl is supposed to *get* the gifts, not give them, right?"

"Yes, but," she said, pausing to collect herself, "I was going to give this to you next month, but I wanted you to have it now."

Amy's eyes lit up as she now understood. "This is my Christmas present?" she asked. When Shaw nodded emphatically, she took the box with a small smile touching her face. She opened the box, and took on a considering look. "Uh, what is it? It looks old."

"It is," Shaw answered, now more confident of herself. "It is at least a century old. The silver is just that, the black stone is onyx."

"An antique?" Amy asked, more to herself than to Shaw. "What is it?"

"What do you see?" Shaw asked in return, looking at Amy intently.

"Well," the Amazon witch began, "I see stars, what I'm assuming is a moon, and a harp. . ."

She broke off at the last word, and looked back to the person sitting in the passenger seat.

"Shaw, is this about what I think this is about?"

Shaw nodded, now switching her gaze to the Harper pin in Amy's hands. "I inherited it from my Grandmother, who set it aside for the day that I became a full ranking member of the Harpers."

Amy started to hand the box back, and protested, "Shaw, I can't accept this. It has to be all you have left of her. ."

"I have my music," Shaw countered, stopping Amy's protest in the starting blocks. With a quiet voice, she said, "There is more, Amy, that I have never told anyone. Grandmother did not only give the pin to me, but it was given to her as a gift, when she was inducted into the Harpers. She received it from the person for whom the pin was originally crafted, over a century ago."

"Who was that?" Amy asked.

"Her mother-in-law," the half-elf answered softly.

Amy made the connection quickly, and she looked back at the old pin, the item now having both occupants of the car with their gazes locked onto it.

"This belonged to Alison Madison?" the teenager breathed out.

"Yes," Shaw said, taking her eyes from the box to look at Amy's profile. "Amy, it was passed from Alison to my Grandmother, and then down to me. Grandmother gave to someone to hold for me, if she had not survived her final mission. Sometimes, it makes me think she somehow knew. . ."

She paused, not wanting to ruin the gift or the moment, and simply said, "Amy, this is the closest thing I have to a family heirloom."

She paused again, and softly wept, "I can think of no one who deserves it more than you."

Amy just stared at the pin for several seconds, until she finally closed the box and put it into her purse. She looked at Shaw, who was obviously anxious about the situation, and smiled, although Shaw could see tears in the Amazon's eyes.

"Thanks, cuz," she said.

Shaw reached over and embraced Amy, the two hugging as best they could in the confines of the Taurus, simply enjoying the moment of one cousin giving a meaningful present to another.

*****

Part 18: Makeover
(Guccis And Bowies Revisited)

Johansen Residence
Sunnydale, California
28 November 1998

Amy pulled her dad's Ford Taurus up to the curb in front of Shaw's home, a smile on her face as she thought of the success of the party the previous night. She put the Taurus in park, and shut off the car, throwing the keys in her coat pocket.

The blonde witch got out, and walked up the sidewalk towards the front door. She paused just short of the porch, and decided to confirm something that she'd felt on Tuesday morning. Shifting her perceptions, the house in front became a cascade of magic, lit all over with various defensive, protective and blessing spells. Amy shook her head at the level of the defenses that Shaw had laid on her home in her time here.

<Not to say she's paranoid, but damn!> the Amazon thought as she shifted back to "normal" sight. <But, living on a Hellmouth, I can't blame her.>

Still giggling softly, she walked up and knocked on the door. After a few seconds, Ulric answered the door, and a thin smile came to his lips.

"Hello, Amy," the Finnish priest said cordially. "How are you doing this morning?"

"I'm fine," Amy grinned. "Is Shaw ready?"

"I believe so, but I think she may have lost track of the time," Ulric told her as he stood aside so she could enter the house. "Listen."

Amy's face furrowed until she walked into the house, and heard the musical notes coming from Shaw's room. She nodded knowingly, and thought, <I bet she's zoned out.>

She looked to Ulric, who was nodding in approval.

"She is accomplished, despite her protests about being 'out of practice,'" Ulric said to her. "Go ahead, Amy. I doubt she will mind the interruption."

"Thanks, Ulric," Amy said with a smile to the priest.

Amy walked to Shaw's room, and she lightly knocked on the door. The music did not even pause, so with a sigh she opened the door and walked in. She closed the door, and leaned back against it, folding her arms as she watched Shaw play her songhorn, completely oblivious to her unexpected audience. Shaw was wearing a black cotton shirt with a collar, blue jeans, and had her hair put in a ponytail using the clasp given to her the night before. Sitting crosslegged on her bed, Shaw's eyes were closed, as she was completely absorbed in her practice.

<Ulric was right. She is good,> Amy thought. <Not my taste, but still. . .>

The witch just sat there for nearly five minutes, just listening to Shaw's piece, until the half-elf finished.

"Not bad," Amy said with a smile.

Shaw's eyes snapped open, and she just froze, watching at Amy smiling at her from the door.

"That was a compliment," Amy offered, trying to get Shaw to say something.

Shaw blinked, and said, "I thought one was supposed to knock before entering a room?"

"I did knock."

Shaw looked at the songhorn, and asked, "Was I, what did you call it? Zoned out?"

Amy started laughing, and Shaw muttered, "I shall take that as a yes."

Shaw opened the pouch that she kept the flute in, and put the instrument inside. She climbed off the bed, walked over to the closet, and placed the pouch on the shelf. She closed the closet and turned to Amy, a smile now on her lips.

"I am ready, Amy," the ranger said. She picked up a pair of tennis shoes, and asked, "Is there anything we need to discuss before we leave?"

Amy thought about it, and said, "Well, one thing. That sword we're gonna 'zap' for Xander. Can I see it, so I know why he likes it so much?"

Shaw nodded, and got up to open the closet. She reached in and pulled out the flamberge Duncan had found on the Humvee once driven by Gib Cain. Amy took one look at the wavy blade of the sword and started to look sick.

"That is SO gross," Amy groaned. "No wonder he likes it."

Shaw shrugged, and put the sword back in the closet.

"Okay, so let's head out," Amy said, handing Shaw her purse. "Let Ulric know we're leaving, and we'll be on our way."

"All right, Amy," the half-elf said, throwing her purse on her shoulder. "I will be out as soon as I can."

Amy nodded with a smile as they left the bedroom.

Shaw walked out of the house, where Amy was waiting for her. As Shaw and Amy started walking, Amy gave Shaw a sidelong look.

"Hey, where are we headed, anyway?" the witch asked.

"The Mall," the half-elf responded promptly.

Amy stopped walking, completely stunned by Shaw's simple answer. "Did you say, 'the Mall?'" she asked.

Shaw turned to look at Amy, and said, "Yes, Amy. I made appointments at the hair stylist."

"Hair stylist?" Amy repeated in a low voice.

"Yes." Shaw looked at the witch's strange posture, and asked, "Is something wrong, Amy?"

Amy folded her arms, and said, "Okay. Who are you, and what have you done with the half-elf?"

Shaw's eyes rose a fraction of an inch, and asked, "What in the name of Mielikki are you talking about?"

Amy relaxed a bit, but said, "Shaw, you just said we were going to get your hair done."

"Yes, I know," she answered. "What is wrong with that?"

"Uh, hello? The ears?" Amy pointed out, figuratively and literally, by pointing at Shaw's head.

"Oh," Shaw muttered, her eyes going wide. She smiled, and told Amy, "Watch very closely."

Shaw moved her hair from over her right ear, and she got a great deal of amusement out of Amy's jaw starting to open and close at the sight of Shaw's ears. It took about forty-five seconds to catch herself, and form a coherent sentence.

"Wait a minute!" she spurted out in shock. "I've seen your ears in practice! What the Hell..."

"Glamour," Shaw answered, her smile settling into a small grin. "Toby helped to activate this ability; it would seem that my clerical magic is not the only thing adapting to Earth."

Amy sat there with an open mouth for another few seconds, before her jaw snapped shut. She stared at Shaw for a few more seconds, and her eyes flashed.

"Would that be the 'precautions' you took last night?" Amy asked irritably. When the ranger nodded in amusement, she asked, "And just how long have you been able to do this?"

"Less than two weeks," Shaw answered. She then lost some of her mirth when she said, "It will make things much easier for me at school, Amy."

Amy smiled, and nodded. "Okay, you're right," she said, despite her irritation. "But now you've got no excuse to avoid getting your hair done. And the eyes. ."

"That will not work," she countered. "To cover my infravision would leave me blinded. As for other things, I will eventually work on hair and skin colors if needed. It was also how I forced Angelus to run from the airport."

"By making your ears round?" the witch asked, somewhat confused.

"No, like this," Shaw said, concentrating. In a few seconds, her face twisted into a demonic appearance, and Amy's eyes bulged out as she staggered back in shock and fell on her butt on Ulric's sidewalk.

Shaw's eyes went round, and the illusion disappeared as she lost her concentration because she was now laughing at the sight of her cousin sitting on the sidewalk.

Amy sat there, silenced, until the got the idea that the game face was only an illusion. And her temper flared as she digested what Shaw was laughing at.

<Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up.> she mentally growled. <I know; the big, bad Amazon witch sprawled on her ass from an illusion.>

Amy stood up and brushed herself off, glaring at the Mielikkian for a few seconds before saying, "Okay, you got me. Now, are we really going to the Mall or what?"

Shaw tried to settle herself down, and finally said, "Yes, Amy. I was truthful about that. I apologize, but you knew I was going to make that illusion."

"Well, excuse me for not expecting a vamp face," Amy muttered. With a sigh, she said, "Okay, we're running late. Let's get going."

*****

Sunnydale Mall
Sunnydale, California
28 November 1998

Amy and Shaw walked into Cut Above The Rest, the premier hair salon in Sunnydale, at eleven thirty-five, looking for any of the hair stylists. Fairly soon, Amy's usual stylist, Shelli, walked out with a middle-aged woman, heading for the register.

After Shelli cashed out the woman, she turned to see the new arrivals. Her face broke into a grin, the white teeth contrasting with her deep suntan. Her smile faded, however, as she spoke with regret.

"Hi, Amy," the stylist said sorrowfully. "I'm sorry, but I can't fit you in today. I've got back-to-back appointments starting in. . . ten minutes."

"Would you be Shelli?" Shaw asked in a pleasant voice.

The woman looked her over, trying but failing to place the half-elf's face.

"Uh, yes," Shelli answered, before asking, "Who are you, if I might ask?"

"Shaw Hunter," she replied, holding out her hand. "We spoke earlier this week."

Now Shelli's eyes brightened with recognition. "Ah, good. You're right on time, so we can get started right away," the woman said, before doing a double take, looking at Amy once again. "Amy, are you the other one getting her hair done?"

"Say what?" the witch asked, her eyes blank. Getting the idea, she turned her head to Shaw, whose innocent look didn't fool her in the least. "Shaw, what did you do?"

"I made appointments for the both of us," the older Slayerette pointed out needlessly. "I said as much when we left my home."

"Shaw, remember what I said about birthday girls getting and giving birthday gifts?" Amy asked rhetorically.

"Yes," Shaw told her, before saying, "but if you think that I am going to go through this alone, you are insane."

"But. ."

"It's too late, Amy," Shelli giggled, seeing that Shaw had set Amy up. "She's already paid for both appointments. By the way, you're going first."

"I am?" the witch asked. "Why?"

"So that I do not go through this, only to have you come up with some form of excuse to get out of it," Shaw answered with a grin. "Also, I have some items I need to buy while you are having your hair done."

"Wait a minute, Hunter," Amy protested quickly. "You're going shopping by yourself?"

"Only to buy things I need," the half-elf emphasized. "After we are done, we can look for things we *want.*"

Amy frowned at the ranger, who just grinned as she had her cousin trapped. Finally, the Amazon turned to the chuckling hairdresser, and said, "Let this be a warning, Shelli. Never deal with crazy military brat cousins from Scotland."

Shelli shrugged, and said, "Hey, I've got it worse. I have a mother-in-law."

"Gee, thanks," Amy muttered.

*****

An hour later, Amy and Shelli walked back into the front of the salon, and Shaw's eyes were rising when she took in Amy's new hairstyle. The long blonde strands, for lack of a better term, "twirled" at the sides, and Shaw had to admit that she'd never seen a haircut like that before.

"Well, cuz? What do you think?"

"I am not sure," the priestess answered, looking slightly puzzled. "I am not a good judge of hu... American fashion traits. Might I suggest asking Cordelia?"

Amy's grin vanished as Shelli laughed behind her hand. The Amazon turned to the beautician, and asked, "What's so funny?"

"Well, I know you were looking for an honest opinion, and she gave it to you," Shelli answered with a snicker. "At least she didn't lie to you."

"Yeah, right," Amy sighed, although she smiled a bit. "Lying's not in her vocabulary."

The Amazon turned to the half-elf, and said, "Your turn, Hunter."

Shaw stood up, and made ready to go in. She looked at Amy's style, and asked, "This is what my hair will look like when you are finished?"

"No, Shaw," Shelli responded quickly, to allay Shaw's obvious tension. "What Amy has is called a 'Ray of Light' cut. But your hair's totally different; long, thick, let alone black. So I'll do something completely different, yet maximizes what you can do with your hair, even after I'm done."

Shaw gulped, but nodded, and Amy was now the one enjoying her cousin's discomfort. As Shelli started to escort Shaw to the back, Amy started whistling "Taps," and was rewarded with Shaw's head looking to the sky in supplication. Once the two were out of sight, Amy selected a fashion magazine and settled back to enjoy the wait.

*****

Nearly sixty minutes later, Amy was on her third magazine when Shelli walked out, a big smile on her face. Amy set the magazine down and stood up, a questioning look on her face.

"Well, you're alive, and in one piece," the witch teased. "So I'll guess it wasn't too horrible."

"Please. Amy, I wish all my customers were that easy to handle," Shelli said dismissively with a wave of her hand. "Granted, she was really nervous going in, but your going first actually calmed her down a bit."

Shelli pulled out Shaw's antique hair clasp, and said, "Go ahead and put this away for now. She's going to walk around with the cut the rest of the day."

Amy took the clasp, and said, "So really, how'd it go?"

Shelli smiled and said, "Pretty well. I gave her a layered cut; it was the best thing for her, really. Especially with all those curls."

"Curls?" Amy asked in shock. "What curls?"

"Her normal look is heavy wavy to medium curly," the stylist explained. "Didn't you know?"

"Shelli," Amy bleated, still stunned by yet another revelation about her cousin, "Shaw's 'Miss Modesty.' She always wears that mass in braids, ponytails, or done up with clips. Hell, it was all me and Cordelia could do to get her to wear tight jeans, let alone a long, modest dress."

Shelli listened, and nodded in satisfaction. "It's easy to explain, Amy. You said she was from Scotland, right?" When Amy nodded, Shelli said, "Those Celtic women have what we call a 'big hair' gene. For one thing, if she does braid her hair, it's as thick as your forearm, and might be classified as a lethal weapon in some places.

Amy began to snicker, but Shelli hissed, "Amy, I'm NOT joking!"

"You're serious?" she spitted, and Shelli nodded.

"Now, to get back on track," the hairdresser continued, tapping her chin, "the layered cut gives her the options of putting her hair up with clips or hair sticks and showing off the curls for the 'soft and innocent' look, or using a scrunchy for the 'casual' ponytail. There's really no limit to what she can do with it, but she seems pretty clueless on that kind of stuff."

"Yeah, and she'll be the first to admit it," Amy seconded. She grinned and said, "The Tomboy from Hell. Well, can I get a peek?"

"Yeah, follow me," Shelli said, waving her into the back.

Amy walked in behind her, seeing other women getting their hair styled, and stopped dead at the sight of the half-elf, who was looking at herself in the mirror, looking as if she couldn't determine what she was supposed to be thinking.

"Whoa," was the only word that Amy could get out of her mouth, and Shaw heard it, turning to face the Amazon. Seeing her cousin's new look from the front, she said, "Mega whoa."

Shaw's hair had been curled in the top layers, and went down to the lower reaches, with the curls seamlessly blending into the waves of he longer, heavier strands. Seeing her fellow Slayerette in this fashion, Amy was, quite simply, in disbelief that this was the same Shaw Hunter who'd fought tooth and nail with her and Cordy over what she considered scandalous modes of dress.

The sole consolation Amy took from this was Shaw's uncertain look, but Amy submerged the impulse to poke fun at Shaw.

<She needs support, not wisecracks,> the witch thought. <This is new ground for her.>

"Well?" the nervous Hunter asked. "What do you think?"

"What I think," Amy said, sharing the grin worn by Shelli, "is that the girls at school are gonna be green with envy, especially the Airhead Brigade."

That comment only served to confuse Shaw, who asked, "Why?"

"Because all the boys will be staring at you," Shelli added.

Before Shaw could ask "why" a second time, Amy spelled it out for her.

"Shaw, you look great," she said, a bigger smile forming. <We get you into the right clothes, and Cordelia *will* be jealous of you.>

"You approve?" Shaw asked, seeming just a tad more comfortable, since both Amy and Shelli were supportive of what she'd done.

"Hell yes, Shaw," Amy said, walking over and inspecting the style. She looked at Shelli, and said, "Shelli, you outdid yourself."

"Hey, she had the hair," the stylist said with a disarming smile. "I'm just the sculptor, so to speak. Have fun, you two."

"Thank you, Shelli," Shaw said as she and Amy turned to leave, her thanks echoed by the Amazon.

*****

Shaw and Amy's first stop after leaving the salon was the music store, where Shaw surprised Amy by buying a Walkman similar to the one she'd bought in Seacouver, and then purchasing several tapes, including some blank ones. Shaw, whether knowingly or unknowingly, was giving Amy quite an education on her true musical tastes, and Amy enjoyed poking some jabs at Shaw's liking of classical music, and the cousins traded barbs about the tastes of the others. But, Amy was still pleasantly surprised when Shaw picked out tapes that the Amazon already had in her collection, and the simple truth came out.

<Wow. Classical, mideval, but some pop, too,> the witch thought to herself, glancing at Shaw's nearly full hand basket. <Madonna, Whitney, Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Kenny G. . . *three tapes* of Kenny G. She does like some of "our" music, just not the hard stuff.>

Amy was still ruminating when Shaw made one more turn, away from the register. Now, Amy cocked an eyebrow.

"Uh, Shaw? Register's that way," she said, pointing her thumb at the cashier.

"I have one more thing to look at, Amy," Shaw promised.

She led the teen to a section Amy'd never crossed over to, and Amy's eyes went up.

<Books?> she asked in confusion. <What kind of books. . .>

Her question was quickly answered when the half-elven Slayerette picked out a book whose title indicated that it was Celtic music. Then, Shaw opened the book, a smile coming to her face as Amy peeked over her shoulder, and saw scores of musical notes. Amy now realized what purpose the blank tapes Shaw had selected were going to serve.

"By Artemis, you're going to record some of your own stuff, aren't you?" Amy asked aloud, to which Shaw nodded in satisfaction. "So, are you finally going to let us hear you strut your stuff?"

Shaw turned to Amy, and asked, "You would want to hear my music?"

"Of course, Shaw," she said, grinning. "If the little bit I heard at your place is a sign of how good you are, then I definitely want a copy. Heck, it might even make me like that music."

Shaw laughed a bit, but quite seriously said, "I can have a copy for you in a couple of weeks."

"Cool," Amy said, as the Slayerettes went back to looking for specific books, and then went to the next stop on their shopping jaunt.

The next stop, somewhat to Amy's surprise, was the clothing store. They both made the jeans their first stop, and Amy and Shaw both picked out pairs of jeans that were tight, but they also selected pairs that were more for everyday use than fashion.

Now, Shaw eagerly looked to Amy for help, which the teen provided with relish. Unlike Shaw's first mall adventure, the sticking point wasn't tight clothing, but the color of the clothing, as Amy attempted to convince Shaw to expand her selection of colors.

"Look, it's simple," Amy said, showing off the different colors of jeans and shirts. "Black and blue are okay, but they can't be the only colors you have. This is what I mean by variety. I mean, some dark purples, browns, and reds are good, too. It's all a matter of taste."

With a wry grin, Shaw said, "Please remember that my tastes once ran towards deerskin."

"Don't remind me, Ladyhawke," Amy said with a sour look.

Before Amy could comment further, Shaw said, "Please, go ahead, Amy. As I said, I do need your expertise in this area."

Amy sighed, but smiled in return. "Okay," she said, pulling one shirt off of the rack. "Do you have any problem with this one?"

Shaw looked over the silk shirt, which was red in color and sleeveless, with gold stitching along the armholes and along the Mandarin collar. The buttons were to the left side of the shirt, rather than in the middle. She considered the overall Oriental design, and looked back at Amy's eyes.

"The only possibility I see would be where my arms come out," the half-elf commented.

That drew a strange look from Amy, who asked, "What? You gotta have sleeves?"

Shaw looked around the busy store, to make sure no one else was within hearing distance. Then, very softly, she said, "Scars."

Amy's face paled, and she said, "Shit. I forgot, Shaw. If you don't. ."

Shaw said, "We could go into the dressing room, and I could try it on. We can tell then, if any of them show."

Amy nodded, and told Shaw, "Plus, you can look at if from the front, and see how it looks in the mirror. Then I'll check out the back. Sound cool to you?"

"Acceptable," Shaw answered, and the two headed back for the dressing room. "We can also try on the other items we selected."

"Now you're getting into the spirit," Amy said cheerfully.

Once they entered the dressing area, Shaw and Amy both stepped into stalls, and began changing. In a few minutes, Shaw stepped out, dressed in the silk top and a pair of black jeans. Amy came out of her stall, dressed in a khaki outfit consisting of slacks and shirt, which she seemed quite pleased with. She looked at Shaw, and nodded in approval.

"Good from the front," the witch said with enthusiasm. "Now turn around, and let's see it from the back."

She did as ordered, and Amy quickly looked at where the elder woman's arms came out of the shirt. Satisfied with the left arm, she looked at the right, and her spirits plummeted. Two inches of one scar, plus the smallest bit of a second, were in plain sight.

"I'm sorry, Shaw," Amy said dismally. "You called it."

Shaw turned around, a look of speculation on her face. "This is the only item I have that problem with. Might they have something like this, only with sleeves?"

Amy stared at the outfit, tapping her chin with her index finger. Finally, she shook her head. "I didn't see any," she told Shaw. "But we'll check again the next time. The Oriental look would be good on you, with the shape of your eyes and the hair. Okay with you?"

Shaw looked slightly disappointed, but nodded. "Very well. Shall I try on the rest, for you to consider?"

"Sure, cuz," the Amazon grinned, heading in to try on another outfit. "And I'll even help you match the stuff. Let's get moving."

Once they'd finished, Amy had to admit the clothing venture had been a surprising success. She'd picked up the khaki outfit, plus several other items, but even so, she had to admit that Shaw had given her a run for her money.

Shaw'd picked out five pairs of jeans, including the black pair, as well as a pair of deep red Levis that were tight even by Amy's teenage standards. Shaw had also selected three tight shirts, one red, one a nice shade of royal blue, and a chocolate brown blouse that Amy was jealous of because, unlike the other items, Shaw had found it first.

<Well, at least her taste is improving,> Amy giggled to herself.

What surprised Amy was when Shaw found and picked out a Levi vest, which she said would give her an extra. When Amy questioned her about it, Shaw commented on what Mark had sometimes called a "Western" look, which drew laughs from the senior Slayerette.

After leaving the clothing store with their haul, Amy thinking there was no other word that qualified, Shaw brought up the topic of training gear, which had Amy cocking her eyebrow.

"Why do you want training gear?" she asked.

Shaw hesitated, then replied, "I have thought about three weeks ago, and if all of you can accept what my back looks like, I. . ."

Amy understood, and finished for her. "You can take off the sweats, but the fact remains that you're still that modest."

"Do you have any suggestions for this? I would have handled this while Shelli was styling your hair, but I need advice on it," the ranger spelled out.

"Well, for one thing," Amy said, scratching her head as she thought, "winter's coming, so I'd suggest keeping the sweats, and wearing them to training, to keep warm. In training, maybe some spandex tights, and for a top, two ways you can go. One would be a leotard like the one you borrowed from Amanda. The other, you could wear a sports bra, but wear a t-shirt over it. You've got a lot of ways to do it."

"All right, Amy," the half-elf answered. "Would you help me with this?"

Amy grinned. "Of course. Come on."

The cousins headed over to the sporting goods store, and in less than twenty minutes, Amy helped Shaw pick out a pair of red spandex tights, two sports bras, and a six-pack of t-shirts for herself. Shaw balked a bit at the tightness of the spandex, until Amy explained that they were stretchable, and had more give than her normal sweats, making them less likely to be ripped. Shaw grumbled a bit about how easy it was for others to get her to buy something by explaining it in terms of practicality, and they shared laughs over it.

The next stop for the duo was the crafts shop, where Shaw's attention was drawn by the display of pewter and crystal figurines. Amy smiled at the thought that Shaw, the fifty-four year old warrior who made vampires wet their pants, could be interested in something like this, as so many teenagers, male and female alike, often were.

"Let me guess," Amy said as they walked in, "you're looking for unicorns, right?

"Perhaps," Shaw confessed with a light blush. "But certainly something else could pique my interest."

The pair of Slayerettes looked around the store, seeing if anything caught their eye. Eventually, they ended up precisely where Amy thought they would; in front of the crystal and pewter display case.

Shaw looked with vested interest at a tiger made completely of Austrian crystal, and scanned several unicorn and pegasus figurines crafted from pewter. After looking at some letter openers shaped like daggers, Shaw crouched down. Amy leaned in for a closer look, and saw the item of Shaw's interest; a pewter fairy with butterfly-style wings, sitting on a mushroom.

"I can't believe you're thinking of buying that thing," Amy said about the nude statuette.

"Only if it would irritate Robin," Shaw said, trying to keep from breaking out into laughter. "Amy, this representation is nowhere near accurate! The wings would be more like a dragonfly's; clear and gossamer things. Certainly they would not have gems embedded into them. Also, a female fairy would levitate of hover, rather than sit on a toadstool. And of course she would be *wearing* something, even if it were less modest than one of your bikinis."

"You'd get it to mess with Robin's mind?" the Amazon asked.

"Such as it is," Shaw added, to which Amy nodded in concession.

Seeing nothing else, Amy and Shaw left the crafts store, but Amy stopped, suddenly heading in the opposite direction.

Heading for a small booth, Amy called out, "Follow me. I've got an idea."

Slightly confused, the half-elf followed, and Amy drew aside a curtain on the booth.

"Hop in," the witch ordered. Seeing Shaw hesitate, she said, "Shaw, no problems with claustrophobia. I'll be coming in, too."

Shaw slowly slid into the booth and sat down on the small bench, scooting over when Amy sat next to her. She watched in confusion as Amy took a dollar bill out of her purse and slid it into an opening. Amy adjusted her posture, and faced straight ahead.

"Smile, cuz," Amy said, smiling herself.

Shaw turned her head towards Amy, and asked, "Why?"

FLASH!

Shaw's head whipped around when the light went off, and she instantly started looking around.

Amy moaned, "Shaw!!!"

"What?" the thoroughly baffled woman asked.

"You were supposed to be smiling!" she exclaimed, not helping her kin's confusion any.

"Why?" Shaw asked again.

Amy turned to the Slayerette, and said, "Shaw, this is. ."

FLASH!

Amy stopped as the light went off again, and buried her face in her hands, saying, "Great! Explanations cost a dollar now."

"Explanations about what?"

Amy sighed, and leaned against the back of the booth, looking up at the ceiling. "I'm assuming you don't have photography on your homeworld, right?"

"You are," Shaw agreed confusedly.

"Okay," the witch sighed again. She closed her eyes as she said, "I'll assume you at least know what a camera is. They're used to take pictures. We're sitting in what's basically a big camera. The reason I told you to smile was so that we could get our picture taken."

Shaw's eyes flashed in understanding, and she asked, "Can we try again?"

Amy inwardly smiled at Shaw's eagerness, and said, "Okay, but let's get it right this time, huh?"

Laughing with each other, Amy pulled out a second dollar and slid it into the bill acceptor. Settling into position, she smiled. Shaw looked forward this time, and a small smile touch her lips as well.

FLASH!

The two Slayerettes walked over to the food court, wanting to get some food and a bit of rest after all their shopping activities in the last few hours. Shaw just stood silently as Amy considered the food stands, and she said, "Come on. This way."

Amy led Shaw over to the ice cream vendors and set her bags down. She looked over the menu for several seconds before deciding what she wanted. "I'll take an extra-large hot fudge sundae," she told the cashier. "With whipped cream and nuts." Looking at Shaw, she said, "How 'bout you?"

"I will have the same," the ranger said.

As the cashier nodded, Amy snapped, "Oh no you don't!"

The cashier and half-elf both looked at Amy strangely, and she blushed.

"Shaw, fudge is a form of chocolate," the witch explained. "You can't eat that, remember?"

Now it was Shaw who blushed. "Sorry."

"Hey, no big," Amy said supportively. "Just pick something else."

Shaw read the list, and her face brightened immediately. "Butterscotch, please."

Amy had to stifle a groan as she realized something. <Cordelia Chase, you've created a monster. Great, butterscotch's answer to the chocoholic Buffy Summers.>

The Slayerettes took their ice cream over to the closest table, and started eating. Before they were halfway through, Amy pulled out the pair of good pictures from the photo booth, and quickly muttered something under her breath. She drew one finger along the middle, and separated the two pictures. Quickly looking them over, she handed one over to Shaw.

"Here you go, Shaw," she said with a quirky grin.

Shaw took it, and looked it over. "I continue to see many benefits to your technology, Amy. You make it seem so simple, yet the results. . ."

"Well, it's yours," she answered.

Shaw looked at Amy, and asked, "You are giving this to me?"

"Of course," the blonde said, taking a scoop of her sundae. After she swallowed, she said, "I thought you might like it. I mean, a picture of us together, you know?"

Shaw lowered her eyes, just staring at herself and Amy smiling back at her. Her eyes misted a bit, and she let a tiny grin form.

"Thank you, Amy."

Amy smiled. "No problem, Hunter."

*****

Connors/Madison Residence
Sunnydale, California
28 November 1998

Shaw watched as Amy pulled the Taurus up to a house that she had not passed in her time in Sunnydale. Her eyes squinted in confusion before she turned and asked Amy, "Amy, why are we here?"

Amy turned and smiled at her fellow Slayerette. "This is my place," she answered. Shaw's eyes rose in surprise, leading Amy to grip the steering wheel. She said, "Look. We know that my Dad and Stepmom are gonna find out about us sooner or later, right? Well, since my Dad already knows I'm taking someone to meet the family next month, I figured he should know why."

"Amy," Shaw softly said, "you know that you do not have to do this."

"Yes, I do," the witch said with determination. She paused and said, "Look, cuz. We got off to a bad start in our relationship, and we're making up for lost time. I know we had a damn good time at the Mall."

Shaw let a small smile touch her lips. "I did, Amy. I did not think that I would enjoy myself so much." She hesitated before speaking again. "I had a very good time."

"Me too," Amy grinned back at her. She turned the car off and said, "Okay, let's go in and try the clothes on."

"We already did," the half-elf reminded her.

"Yeah, but we can try them on without having to worry about other people wanting to use the dressing rooms," the witch told her with a smirk. "It's called having fun, girlfriend. Come on, you'll enjoy it."

Shaw looked somewhat dubious, but nonetheless smiled a bit. "Very well. Let us go."

"That's the spirit," Amy gushed. She said, "As far as my Dad goes, let me break it to him gently, okay? Hopefully, he won't be ground me 'til Doomsday because we kept this to ourselves for three months."

Shaw nodded as the cousins exited the car.

*****

When Amy and Shaw walked into the house, each carrying two armloads of bags with clothes in them, Amy cocked her head a bit.

"What is it, Amy?" Shaw asked.

"Blackie," the blonde teen replied. //Blackie? What's wrong?//

//HELP ME!// the Amazon's Guardian shouted over their mental connection. //In your littermates' room!//

<Oh Goddess.> Amy thought. An evil smile tugged at her lips and she said, "Shaw, come on. There's something you have to see."

Amy led the priestess up toward the upstairs bedroom shared by her younger sisters.

*****

Amy came up to the door and looked at Shaw. "Don't overreact. You're going to love this."

Opening the door was something of a chore, with the multiple bags in her arms, but she managed to get it open and walked in, Shaw right behind her.

Once the two Slayerettes saw the scene before them, Amy promptly started to giggle uncontrollably, while Shaw simply smiled at what they were seeing.

Amy's seven- and five-year-old half-sisters, Cindy and Terri, were playing dress up and had apparently decided to make their party a threesome. They had dressed Blackie in one of their mother's sweaters, a scarf around the Shepherd's head, and a pair of her old high heels on the dog's front feet. As an added touch, the girls had put a faux pearl necklace around the Guardian's neck. Unlike the girls, who were obviously enjoying themselves, Blackie stared at Amy and Shaw with a desperate, pathetic puppy dog look.

When the little girls noticed their sister and her companion, they both smiled and ran up to hug Amy.

"Amy!" Terri, the younger sister, cried. "We're playing grown up!"

"I can see that," Amy snickered, loving the Guardian's miserable look. //You look good, Blackie.//

//I do NOT!// the black Shepherd snapped with a yelp. //You want me to show these little terrors where you keep your components? Get me out of this!//

Amy's smile widened. //I cast spells on my stuff long ago to keep them from having any interest in it. So you can't bargain your way out that way, bucko.// She looked at Cindy and asked, "Have you asked Rhonda if you could use her lipstick? I think Blackie would look *great* in red."

The two little sisters smiled at Amy's "enthusiasm" for their game, while their impromptu playmate began whining. Cindy said, "Mommy went to the store. Daddy's in the den."

"He's working at home," Amy translated for Shaw. She glanced at her dog once more and said, "Kids, can I take Blackie for a little while? I have to feed her, so you two play by yourselves for a while, okay?"

The kids looked disappointed with the imminent loss of their partner, but nonetheless scampered towards their toy box to find something new to whet their interest.

Amy shot a smile in Shaw's direction. "Let's split before they decide to dress *you* up."

Shaw just shook her head in amusement as the two left, Blackie following hot on their heels.

*****

The Slayerettes dropped their packages in Amy's room before heading down to the kitchen to get some drinks and to feed Blackie. After setting some food down for the puppy, Amy dove into the fridge and pulled out a pair of Pepsis for her and Shaw.

She walked over and set the sodas down. She opened hers and took a sip, but frowned when she saw Shaw staring at her bottle. She swallowed and said, "What's wrong?"

Shaw cocked an eyebrow and held up her left arm. Amy looked at the pewter bracelet that bore a medical symbol on it. When she realized what her cousin was silently saying, she smacked herself on the head.

"And after I got on you about the hot fudge," she groaned before the two laughed over the faux pas.

The witch took the Pepsi and quickly exchanged it for a glass of orange juice. As they drank, Amy said, "Okay, after we're done, we'll go up and start trying on the clothes. Cool?"

"Of course, Amy," Shaw said with a grin. She arched an eyebrow and said, "But I would hope that you do not force me to let Blackie try my clothes on."

There was suddenly the sound of Amy coughing in an attempt to clear her windpipe. Shaw just grinned at her while Blackie sent a mental chuckle her way.

//Tell her thank you for me.//

//Shut up,// Amy shot back at the Spirit. //And why are you complaining about Cindy and Terri? You love them and you know it.//

//It's just the things that I have to put up with,// she mentally relayed.

//They're MY sisters,// Amy thought. //You don't have them getting into your stuff when you're not looking.//

//Stop complaining,// Blackie snarled. //You love them and you know it.//

//Okay, okay,// the Amazon pledged. She said to Shaw, "We ready?"

Shaw finished her juice and nodded. "I am."

"Cool, let's go."

As they got up to leave, a middle-aged woman walked into the house, carrying two bags of groceries. Amy smiled and walked over to greet the woman and take half of her burden.

"Hey Rhonda," she said with affection. She set the bag on the counter and started taking food out. "Any good stuff?"

"Not right now," Amy's stepmother teased. She noticed Shaw sitting at the table, watching with keen interest. Rhonda Collins took in the stranger's face, and then looked between her and Amy. She started to say something, but a dual call prevented that.

"MOMMY'S HOME!" Cindy and Terri shouted as the twin whirlwinds ran into the kitchen. They threw their arms around Rhonda, nearly forcing her to drop the bag she still held.

Amy reached over and rescued the bag, allowing Rhonda to embrace her two younger daughters. As she put the bag on the counter, she chanced a glance at her teammate, who was taking in the scene with a thoughtful look.

<Oh boy. She's going into 'people to protect' mode,> Amy thought. She smiled since she knew how Shaw would feel about the younger children. She walked over and nudged her cousin. "C'mon. Get up and introduce yourself."

Shaw looked uncertain, but complied with Amy's directive. She stood up and walked over to introduce herself. She held out a hand and said, "Mrs. Connors, I am Shaw Hunter. Amy has told me a great deal about you."

Rhonda took Shaw's hand, letting her gaze wander over Shaw's face for several seconds. Finally, she smiled. "Pleased to meet you, Shaw. But please, call me Rhonda."

Shaw's eyes furrowed and she looked at Amy, who nodded enthusiastically. She turned back to Rhonda, and she nodded. "As you wish, Rhonda."

Cindy happily told her mother, "Mommy, Amy said we could use your lipstick on Blackie!"

"I beg your pardon?" Rhonda asked as Amy sighed. "What is she talking about?"

"They were playing dress up with the dog," Amy admitted with a sheepish smile. "I told them to ask you if red is Blackie's color."

As the younger girls looked expectantly at their Mommy, the subject of the conversation just laid her head on her paws and whined.

Rhonda laughed under her breath. "I'm sorry, but no. You are not using my lipstick on the puppy."

"But, Mommy. . ."

"Besides," Rhonda continued, "it's almost time for your nap."

The kids looked disappointed, but Rhonda said, "But you can have a snack first. Do you want some cookies?"

Now, both kids brightened up while Shaw and Amy shared smiles over how well Rhonda was handling the kids. Amy grabbed a package of cookies out of the bag and said, "Do we have to share with the kids, Rhonda?"

Shaw started laughing at the expressions of fear that came over the kids' faces. Amy fed them an evil grin before opening the package and setting a couple of plates out.

"Amy," Rhonda said as she poured some milk for the children, "can I talk to you for a minute?"

Amy looked unsure, but she nodded with a grin. "Sure." She turned to Shaw and said, "Can you keep an eye on the kids, Shaw? Keep 'em away from Blackie."

//Very funny.//

"Of course," the half-elf said with a smile.

Amy and Rhonda exited the kitchen, leaving Shaw with two very active young children.

*****

As Rhonda and Amy stepped out, Shaw watched as Amy's little sisters watched her with keen interest. Finally, someone decided to make the first move.

Cindy asked Shaw, "Who are you? You're old."

Shaw cocked an eyebrow. "Yes," she admitted with a chuckle, "I suppose I am. At least, to you."

Terri then asked her, "Are you Amy's friend?"

Shaw started to answer, but stopped to consider exactly what she was supposed to say. As the two girls expectantly waited for her answer, she glanced at both of them. Finally, she said, "Yes, Amy and I are friends. We go to school together."

"Do you know Willow? She's nice," Cindy added with a smile. "Or Robin? He's silly and makes funny faces."

Shaw laughed at that comment, leading the kids to smile with her. She grinned at Cindy and told her, "Willow is my best friend. I do know Robin, and I agree, he is. . . silly. But he is also my friend."

"You talk funny," Cindy said with a scrunched up face.

"So people have sometimes said," the woman sighed dramatically. She said, "I am from Scotland."

"Where's that?" Terri asked with wide eyes, as if she were amazed, or if the name meant anything to her.

Cindy gave her the patented "irritated with little sister" look and said, "That's around the block."

When Terri pouted, Shaw took pity on her. "Actually," she said, pointing east, "it is down the street, in that direction. . . about six thousand miles."

"Oh. Do you walk home?" Terri asked her.

"It is. . . complicated," Shaw answered. When the girls looked confused, she smiled again. "It is a bit far to walk, Terri."

Terri smiled. "You ride a bike!"

<Amy, I am going to assassinate you,> Shaw thought wryly as she tried to decide how to explain the concept of oceans to a five-year-old.

*****

Amy followed Rhonda into the living room, where her Stepmother turned around, a strange look on her face.

"Who is she?" the woman bluntly asked.

Amy considered her mood; she didn't appear angry, just curious. But the witch was still surprised that she noticed something. She brought her hands together, palms flat, and started to pace back and forth.

She considered a diplomatic answer, and Rhonda just waited, knowing that her daughter wanted to explain things. Amy stopped and said, "Well, Rhonda, it's complicated. Check that, it's strange. Twilight Zone strange. But I promise you, it's true, and I can prove it."

Amy watched Rhonda look her over. The older woman seemed to sense that Amy was earnest, but unsure how to proceed. She gently said, "Amy, is this something you should be talking about with your father? I'll understand if you want to keep it between yourselves."

Amy's jaw dropped at that comment. She moved up and said, "Rhonda, I know that I don't exactly call you 'Mommy,' but I like you, you know that. Heck, you treat me a lot better than Mom ever did. You might be my Stepmom, but you're hardly the 'evil' type, you know? I want you to know about this, too. I wouldn't keep you out of the loop. I'm sorry if you thought that." She looked at the floor, then grinned at Rhonda and said, "I really like you, okay? You and Dad are happy, and I'm happy. Besides, I got two little sisters out of the deal."

Rhonda laughed along with the Amazon, reassured by Amy's declaration of affection. "All right, Amy," Mrs. Connors said, "we'll talk to Michael. Do you want to have her there with us?"

"That'd probably be better," the Amazon admitted with a dry roll of her eyes. She smiled and said, "I just hope I'm not gonna get grounded for life for not telling earlier."

"Telling what?" Rhonda asked.

"I---" Amy stopped and sighed. "Promise you won't tell until we do?" When Rhonda nodded, she said, "Shaw's my cousin."

Rhonda's eyes blanked. "Your cousin?"

"On my Mom's side," Amy finished. "So you see the sitch, right?"

Indeed she did. Rhonda sighed and rubbed her face as she considered the information. She said, "Alison doesn't have any children."

"No," Amy said, preparing for another bombshell, "Shaw's related through a great-great-grandma. She's from Scotland. It's just a long story, and it'll take a bit of time to tell. Shaw's a good kid, Rhonda, she's just sorta 'family challenged,' you know?"

"No, I don't," Rhonda countered. She held up her hands when Amy started to protest. "Amy, I don't know the story, so I won't make any judgments about the situation. I understand that it might be a touchy subject for Michael, but I'll support you if you need it."

Surprised by this unexpected development, Amy smiled thinly. "Just remember that if he tries to ground me."

The two women giggled together and went to grab Shaw from the jaws of the toddlers.

*****

Rhonda and Amy walked into the kitchen to find Terri sitting on Shaw's lap and Cindy sitting on her chair, the younger children listening raptly as Shaw told them about a pet she'd once had.

Rhonda listened to the story, wondering if the visiting girl was being serious. <A hawk?!?> she thought in amazement. <How could a girl have a hawk for a pet? But she sounds so serious!>

She looked at Amy, who just smiled and nodded once; apparently she'd heard this before, and was confirming that it was for real.

Amy leaned in and whispered, "She found the bird as a baby. That's how she had it as a pet."

Rhonda wondered how Amy could read her thoughts so clearly, and looked at her, but Amy just gave her a smile. The mother turned back to the trio at the kitchen table and listened as Shaw finished her story. She took the opportunity to tell the girls it was time for their naps.

The girls went through the required pouting and protests, but obediently ran up the stairs to their bedroom. Rhonda escorted them out.

Amy turned to Shaw and whispered, "I can't believe you told them about the hawk!"

"They asked me if I had any pets," Shaw replied. She glanced at the door and said, "I did not want to lie to them, Amy."

Amy nodded once. "Just be glad I was able to explain it to Rhonda." She switched to another subject. "You got along with them, huh?"

"Absolutely," the priestess agreed happily. "They are very bright, Amy, not to mention curious. And. . ."

"You like 'em, huh?"

Shaw hesitated before saying, "I know that they are not. . ."

When words failed her, Amy finished for her. "They're not your cousins, at least by blood. Well, that doesn't matter to me. I know you love kids, and I know the way you think; they're my sisters, so you're going to consider them kin, right?" When Shaw hesitated, the witch smiled and said, "I don't mind, Hunter. Sheesh. You'd think I didn't think about this. It's. . . it's okay."

Shaw let out a deep breath. "If they were older and Amazons, I might not feel that way, but. . . you are correct. I do love children."

"Well," Amy said, putting an arm around Shaw's shoulder, "they seem to like you, so when they find out, I don't think they'll let me 'keep' you as 'my' cousin."

Shaw snorted in laughter, soon joined by Amy. It was then that Rhonda walked in and said, "Amy, do you want to talk with your father now?"

Amy suddenly felt her confidence sag a bit. But, she still nodded. "Yeah, let's get the intro over with."

The three women walked out of the kitchen, bound for the den.

<The lion's den,> Amy muttered.

*****

Michael Collins typed away on his keyboard, trying to finish his weekend work so that he could spend some quality time with his family. He was just about to save the file when he heard a soft tapping on the den door. He took off his bifocals and said, "Come in."

The door opened and his wife walked in, followed right after by Amy and a striking young girl he knew he'd never seen before, but still somehow seemed familiar. He saved the file and logged off of his computer. He turned around in his chair and leaned forward on the desk with a smile.

"Hi, Amy," he greeted his oldest child, "how'd your trip go?"

"It went fine, Dad," Amy said with a grin. She glanced at her friend and said, "We had a great time at the Mall." She made a show of showing off her new hairstyle and said, "What do you think?"

"You look lovely," Mike said supportively. "Did you come to tell me how much you charged to my credit card?"

"Please," the blonde girl scoffed good naturedly, "I have been known to pay cash once in a while." Her manner became a bit serious. "But that's not what we came to talk about."

"Oh?" Mr. Collins asked curiously. He sensed that Amy wanted to be serious about something, so he decided to try and lighten the mood. "Is this about boys?"

Amy's shoulders dropped and she glared at her father. "No," she said archly. "This is. . . well, this is about Shaw."

"I take it that's your friend here," he decided, glancing at the pale-skinned teen next to Amy. Deciding to let her speak her piece, he nodded. "Go ahead, honey."

"Okay," Amy wheezed. Her eyes darted about, apparently trying to figure out a starting point. Finally, she seemed to make her decision. "Okay, Dad," she said hesitantly, "when you were married to Mom, did she ever tell you about the old 'Madison Mystery?'"

Mike leaned back in his chair, thinking back the time of his first marriage. He racked his brain for several seconds before something surfaced in his memory. "Are you talking about a Madison woman from about a hundred years ago? Someone who disappeared?"

Amy's relief was palpable. "Yes!" she exclaimed. "What do you remember about it?"

"Something about how one of your Mother's ancestors met a man," he began, thinking about what little he knew, "they became friends and, about a year later, she disappeared. Most of your Mother's family thinks she was kidnapped, but Catherine didn't."

"She didn't?" Amy asked, surprised.

"Oh, no," Michael said with a grin. "She would go on and on about how no Madison worthy of the name would let anything happen to them that they didn't want to happen. . ."

"That sounds familiar for some reason," the girl named Shaw said, giving Amy a knowing smile.

Amy gave her a backhanded slap on the arm. "Cut it out and let him finish."

Michael chuckled before going on. "Your mother was of the opinion that her family didn't approve of this person, so he anand your ancestor ran away to get married. Seemed plausible to me."

Amy looked thoughtful, but her friend's smile had vanished and was replaced by a look of sheer sourness.

"Mr. Connors, that is disgusting!" she protested.

Amy stared at the girl in shock. "Shaw. . ."

"What's disgusting?" Michael asked curiously.

"Shaw. . ." Amy whispered.

The girl gave him a hard look and said, "The thought that Elminster Aumar could possibly be my twice-great Grandfather."

Amy moaned and buried her head in her hands, leading Michael and Shaw to stare at her strangely while Rhonda began fighting to keep from breaking out in laughter.

"Amy?" her friend asked with a bit of worry.

"Amy, what's wrong?" Mike asked, also concerned.

With a massive sigh, Amy said in a hollow voice, "Shaw, remember what I said about breaking it to him gently?"

"Of course. Why do you ask?"

Amy stifled a scream. She weakly said, "I think it's a little late for that now."

The head of the Connors household watched as the raven-haired woman looked back and forth between himself and his daughter. Her eyebrows scrunched and she asked, "Is this where an American says, 'My bad?'"

"No," the blonde adolescent said, bringing her head up and glaring at her companion, "this is where I say, 'I am so dead.'"

"Oh."

Michael thought about the exchange, as well as Shaw's comment about a great-great-grandfather, and put the pieces together as to why Amy was so nervous about this. Still, something seemed off.

"Amy," Michael chuckled at her thinking the worst, "are you trying to tell me that this young woman is related to you through your mother?"

"Yes," Amy groaned before shooting another look at the girl. "You figured that out thanks to the Mistress of Tact here, huh?"

"You might say that," he chuckled. He looked between them and said, "All you had to do was tell me that she was visiting from your Grandmother's. Why all the hush hush?"

Amy and Shaw now both looked nervous. Michael glanced at Rhonda, but she just shrugged. He turned back to Amy and told her, "Okay, sweetheart. Out with it."

Amy looked at Shaw, who nodded, somewhat uncertainly. The young Madison stared her father in the eyes and said, "Okay. Here's the deal."

She gave him an abbreviated version of their relationship; Shaw's arrival in Sunnydale as an exchange student; their first meeting, in which Shaw had saved Amy's life; their discovery that Shaw was related to Amy through Amy's mother; and how their mutual friends had worked to help them form a stable relationship. When she finished, Michael's amusement had faded to thoughtfulness.

After considering the story for several minutes, he said, "Would you mind if I asked you both a few questions?"

Sensing that the ball was about to drop, Amy sheepishly nodded. "We figured you might want to do that."

"Very well," Mike said patiently. He switched his attention to Shaw and asked, "Are you truly related to Amy?"

"I am," Shaw answered simply. "Through Alison Madison, my twice-great Grandmother, who migrated from America to Scotland, where she met her eventual husband. I can provide any records you might need to satisfy your doubts, sir, including the Madison family tree."

Before Michael could reply to her surprisingly generous answer, Amy added her own two cents. "Here," she said, holding out a sheet of paper. As he took the sheet and started to unfold it, his daughter informed him, "Dad, we didn't know until we met and started talking about our family trees. I mean, we were both Wigged about this at first. Shaw knew too much about this to be lying. And this is the proof, right here."

Michael nodded as he scanned the sheet of paper. He looked at Rhonda and handed it to her. She looked it over and said, "Why did INS run a DNA test?"

"Well, that's the funny part," Amy confessed. "They had some questions about Shaw's mom. Seems her mom's dad was an Army corporal, who was an Indian. They came to Sunnydale to talk with her about it and ran a DNA test to see if Shaw was part Apache, like the report says. Since we knew we were cousins on her dad's side, they ran a test to prove it if we ever needed real proof."

"And there are matches," Rhonda said needlessly.

"Yes," Michael said softly. He asked, "Can I ask you why we're finding out about this now?"

"Well," his daughter reluctantly said, "the first reason was because, well, I was kinda Wigged by the whole 'cousin who just happened to be going to my high school' thing. It was like a twisted episode of Patty Duke, you know? We didn't get off to a good start, and. . ." She glanced at Shaw sadly and said, "Well, we're just starting to get around to figuring out this family thing. I mean, c'mon Dad, what was I supposed to say? 'Here's my long lost cousin from Scotland who just happens to be going to my high school?' Please! You would've Wigged like I did."

Michael started to comment, but Shaw cut in. She leaned forward and said, "Sir, please do not blame Amy for this. It was not easy on either of us. I have not had family since my Grandparents were. . . killed four years ago. On Amy's side of the coin, I was the solution to this family mystery, suddenly thrust upon her. I. . . I was not the most congenial of people when I first came here. The word 'loner' would be a grave understatement." She licked her lips and said, "I have no experience with family outside of my immediate family, since my father was in Her Majesty's service. I was raised, for the most part, by my Grandparents. My side of the family was very small, so I have no uncles, aunts, or cousins on which to draw experience. So, I rely on Amy's guidance in these matters. I also asked her to use her discretion in this matter, so as not to accidentally put her into a compromising position by acting impulsively." She chanced a quick glance at Amy and smiled, "Such as my comments about Elminster scant minutes ago."

Amy rolled her eyes and groaned, "Did I mention her sense of humor's really whacked?"

"So I notice," Michael said with a small grin. "All right, I can understand your situation, Amy. May I ask where Shaw is staying?"

"I live with Ulric," she responded with pride. Upon their questioning looks, she said, "Father Johansen. He is a priest."

"Ah," Mike said. "I see." He looked at Rhonda, who smiled at him. Turning back to Amy, he said, "I'm not going to ground you for this, but from now on, just come to me if you have something like this. I'm always willing to help you, Amy. All you have to do is ask."

Touched by his concern, not to mention relieved that she was apparently getting off Scott free, Amy stood and leaned across the desk to hug her Dad. "Thanks, Dad," she whispered in his ear.

"You're welcome," he said.

He watched Amy and Shaw get up to leave the den before asking, "Oh, Amy, one more question, if it's okay?"

"Shoot, Dad," she said with a grin at how well the explanation had gone.

Michael smiled back at her and said, "Is your cousin a witch like you?"

Michael and Rhonda just smiled and appreciated how Amy's jaw started flapping as she tried to form a comprehensible sentence. Shaw just looked surprised, but recovered fairly quickly.

She looked at Amy and said, "You told me that your father had no idea you were a witch."

That observation brought Amy back into coherence. She looked at her cousin in mortification and said, "Shaw!"

Shaw looked back at the two adults, then at Amy once again. With false shame, she softly said, "My bad."

Amy glared daggers at her as Michael and Rhonda started laughing at her. Amy turned on her parents and began tapping her foot in frustration.

"What's so funny?" she demanded.

Michael caught control of himself and tearfully replied, "Amy, I was married to your mother for over a decade, and I used to talk with your Grandmother about Catherine's 'hobbies.' She was looking into things that were best left unobserved, and you know that her 'hobby' was a factor in our divorce. I talked with your Grandmother about it, and she told me that it was best that I let your Mother have custody of you, since she hoped it would make her think twice about letting her daughter have access to dark magics, and she feared for my safety if I had custody of you, because your Mother was adamant about you following in her footsteps. It wasn't until she disappeared that she and I knew that it hadn't worked." He looked at his desk and said, "Since your Grandmother knows more about this subject than I do, I went with her advice."

He looked back up and saw Amy considering him. She walked forward and hugged him once again. "She was right, Dad. Mom would've tried to hurt you. And things turned out good." She tightened her grip and said, "I love you, Daddy."

"I love you, too," Mike returned. As they ended the embrace, he looked at Shaw and said, "I hope this isn't the last time you'll come over, Shaw."

Shaw glanced at Amy and said, "I have the same hope, sir."

"Please, don't call me 'sir,'" he pleaded with a mock wince. "It makes me sound old."

"We're teenagers," Amy retorted over her shoulder. "To us, anything over twenty-five is old."

"You still haven't answered your father's question," Rhonda said with a grin at the banter being exchanged. "Shaw, are you a witch?"

"No, Mrs. Collins," the young woman said with a prim smile directed in Michael's direction. "I am a nature priestess, a shaman."

Amy and Shaw grinned at Michael and Rhonda's stunned expressions before walking out, laughing at leaving with the upper hand on the adults.

As their laughter faded, Michael overcame his shock and looked at the woman he loved. He said, "You knew, didn't you?"

Rhonda giggled at him before answering. "Amy only told me they were cousins. But it was easy to see, Michael. You saw the resemblance."

"I knew something was familiar," he confessed. "The eyebrows, the chins, the jawlines. . . plus the 'look' in their eyes. It's the same Catherine had, an. . . 'intensity' that says they've worked magic before."

"You never mentioned it to Amy before," Rhonda mused.

Mike sighed as he looked at the door, as if he could see the girls through it. "I was beginning to think she'd missed out on it, that maybe her gift had skipped a generation. I didn't mention it because I didn't want her to think I was pushing her into it like her Mother. If she was going to be a witch, it would be her choice. I started noticing the signs around the end of February. Something happened and she made her choice. As it is, I'm happy for her."

"Unless she starts burning toads or eyes of newt in her bedroom?" Rhonda teasingly asked.

With a chuckle, he retorted, "With my luck, I'd find out that she was doing something to make her life easier."

"Such as?"

Michael shrugged and said, "Maybe hypnotizing her teachers to avoid doing homework, or casting love spells. I don't know."

*****

The Slayerettes walked into Amy's room and started going through their shopping haul.

"Well, that was easier than I thought," Amy said with a smile of relief. "I think telling him how you bailed me out in our first meeting helped a lot."

As Shaw pulled out the red jeans she'd bought, she said, "Amy, about our first meeting. When we fought the vampires?"

"Please," the witch said with a sniff, "you fought 'em. I just got my neck squeezed."

Shaw looked at her and said, "Amy, I have never been so scared in the time since I came to Earth. Not even with what happened last week."

"Shaw, your spell worked," Amy told her as she glanced at the elven woman. When Shaw's head bowed a bit, she walked over and gripped Shaw's shoulder. "Let me tell you something; saying 'what if' only makes you feel worse. It worked, that's all there is to it. But I can understand you being scared. I was too."

"It was also the happiest moment of my time here on Earth," Shaw confessed. When she heard Amy gasp, she blabbered out, "Amy, growing up, I always dreamed of fighting alongside my Grandparents. Whether against simple opponents like orcs or goblins, or against a greater evil, I always had a. . . fantasy that I would stand by their sides, not as a student or as an equal, but as their granddaughter, as a family standing together. I never had that opportunity of standing alongside family, until. . ."

Amy put the pieces together. She understandingly whispered, "Until that night."

Shaw nodded, some tears starting to form. She looked at her cousin and said, "Even though we didn't know each other, we didn't know each other's names, for those few seconds. . . we fought together. I was fighting with someone to whom I'm kin. For the first time, I was *protecting*. . . I was protecting someone I loved."

"I remember," Amy said with a smile at Shaw's use of contractions, something that only happened when she was flustered. "But like I said, don't ask yourself, 'what if.' It just hurts. Trust me on that." She jokingly said, "I owe you for that night, too. I know you wouldn't accept anything in return, but I still feel like I owe you."

Shaw looked into Amy's eyes, seemingly emotional. However, she shot that impression down when she said, "In that case, I will call in that debt right now. If I recall correctly, you melted one of my silver daggers with your burning spell."

Amy's jaw dropped until she saw the humor dancing in Shaw's eyes. She snapped, "Gee thanks! You're just as bad as Dad dropping the bomb that he's always known I'm 'Sabrina.'" She then moaned, "I'm never going to hear the end of this from Dad. You know that, right?"

"I thought you would be happy that he has no problems with it," Shaw observed with confusion. "Are you not glad that you do not have to keep your gifts a secret from him?"

"Well, yeah," the Amazon muttered helplessly, "but he'll rub it in, sometimes. It's a teenager thing."

"I will take your word for it," the ranger said with a grin at Amy's discomfort. Her face took on a thoughtful look, and she asked, "Do you plan on telling him anything else about our 'activities?'"

"Like the Amazon thing?" Amy asked. When Shaw nodded, the Scooby member known to her teammates as "Sabrina" grinned evilly. "Come on, cuz. I have to save *something* for a counterattack."

The cousins laughed as they began to go through their shopping haul.

*****

Part 19: Lessons In Saving The World
(Robin And Xander Meet The Frog Brothers. Proceed At Your Own Risk)

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
29 November 1998

Buffy got up from the kitchen table where she was helping herself to a late breakfast, and went to answer the knocking at the side door to Steve's house. Duke, Steve's German Shepherd-cum-spirit guardian, was already at the door, sniffing and wagging his tail. Buffy folded her arms, and just looked at the dog wagging his tail in anticipation.

"Well, it's friendly," the Slayer said with a grin. "Care to tell me who it is?"

Duke promptly starting howling, and Buffy grimaced; Oz was the only one he did that to. The blonde Immortal opened the door, revealing Oz, Willow, and...

"Shaw?" Buffy asked dully, staring at the ranger. "Uh. . . "

Shaw didn't answer. She turned to Willow and said, "I thought you said she would like it."

Willow started giggling, and Oz just let one corner of his mouth rise. Buffy rolled her eyes before turning her attention back to Shaw.

"You look good, Shaw," the Slayer said reassuringly. "Amy talked you into getting your hair done?"

"No, I set up Amy to get her hair done along with me," she corrected with a wan smile. "She and I spent the day together at the Mall."

"I know that," Buffy said with a grin. "So you did a mega shopping trip?"

"Yes, Buffy. I had a very good time," Shaw told her, quickly filling her in on the events of the previous day.

Now, Buffy was staring once again. She looked at Willow, and asked, "Uh, Wil, this IS Shaw Hunter, right?"

Willow's giggles had increased, but she nodded her head "yes."

"What's so funny?" Steve asked as he walked into the kitchen.

"I think she's laughing at Shaw's new 'do," Buffy said with a shrug.

"No, she is laughing at my plans for Xander and Cordelia," Shaw told her. She then laid out her plan, and Buffy was looking confused, while Steve just cocked an eyebrow.

"So, how long have you had the glamour?" St. Wolf asked.

"About two weeks, Steven," the ranger answered, showing off one ear quickly. Turning to Buffy, she asked, "What do you think?"

"Uh, nice illusion," Buffy said, still somewhat stunned. "Wil, did you know about this?"

"Only since this morning," the auburn-haired Amazon said. "We met her on the way here, so we gave her a ride."

"They're not due until one o'clock," Steve said, looking at his watch. "It's only eleven fifteen."

"I know, Steven," Shaw replied. "But, I have some things I wanted to discuss with you, if you have the time."

"Of course. What's on your mind?" the Wanderer asked.

Shaw looked at the others, and said, "Could we perhaps move this into the living room? There is more room there."

"Sure," Steve said with a smile.

Buffy, Willow and Oz started for the living room, but Steve caught Shaw's arm. As they disappeared through the door, Steve looked straight at the half-elf.

"What's the sword for?" he asked, pointing at the left side of her black duster.

"Edgar," the junior Slayerette said deadpan. "I was going to ask if you had any objections to my giving the Horseman's blade to Alan, and McGuire's blade could be given to Edgar. I have already laid blessings on this one."

Caught off guard by her simple answer, Steve nodded. "Okay, I don't have a problem with that. Good call, Shaw. But there is something we need to talk about."

"You checked your e-mail?" she asked, surprising Steve with the lack of hesitation in her voice.

"Yes, I did," Steve said, rubbing his hands through his brown hair. "I still can't believe you did this."

"I still do not know *why* I did it," Shaw grumbled. "At least I was cognizant enough to put this under your authority. I cannot even remember doing it, I would never believe it until I checked your message on my e-mail at the library. Thank you for warning me."

"It's okay," Steve assured her. "I appreciate you sending the stuff to me. But I don't look forward to their reactions when they find out."

"On that, we are in agreement," the half-elf muttered, as the Immortal and ranger headed for the living room.

As Steve and Shaw walked in, Randi and Brian were walking down the steps, and the brother and sister just stared at Shaw's new hairstyle. Catching their looks, she sighed.

"Is this how everybody is going to react?" Shaw asked dryly.

"Probably," Willow grinned. "Hey, it's a nice cut. Shelli does good work."

Shaw walked over and greeted the Jessups, and Randi quickly regained her equilibrium.

"Wow," the newbie Immortal said. "I guess I don't have to ask what you and Amy did yesterday."

"Everyone seems to agree that it came out well, at least so far," Shaw said with a weak grin.

"It did," Randi agreed. She looked at Brian and said, "Well, say something."

Brian just kept looking at her, and said, "You look like a girl now."

The other Slayerettes started laughing, and Shaw fought to keep from joining them. "I am a girl, Brian," she reminded him. "And I was told that it is traditional here to celebrate one's birthday."

"When's your birthday?" Brian asked in surprise.

"It was yesterday," Shaw replied with a smile. "But allow me to kill your fears. I promise not to become like Cordelia without a great deal of 'kicking and screaming.'"

Buffy cleared her throat, and Shaw and Brian looked at the Slayer.

"As far as clothing goes, maybe. Attitude, too late."

Shaw cocked an eyebrow, and said to Brian, "Brian, I fear that I would have to agree with Buffy's argument, there. What do you think?"

"That's not as bad," Brian said with the same smile.

"As you say. Oh, I will need your help with something, Brian," the ranger added, seeming as if she had just remembered something. "I need you to keep an eye on Buffy and Randi if they gather with the other females."

"Say WHAT?!?" Buffy snapped, not believing what she'd just heard.

"You want me to spy on girls?" the younger Jessup asked with a grimace. "Why?"

"It is a well known fact that certain Immortals and Amazons enjoy finding romantic interests for their friends," Shaw started, with an evil gleam in her eye not seen by the others, save Brian.

"Oh, I'm not believing this," Willow said as she saw where Shaw was going with this.

"Yeah, so?" Brian asked.

"Well, Randi has found someone in whom she has an interest," Shaw answered. Folding her arms, the half-elf asked, "So, who is the only Slayerette who is currently without a romantic interest, and likely to be their next target?"

Brian thought about it for several seconds, and he stared at Shaw, looking as if he were feeling sorry for her.

"You're screwed," he said.

"Which is why I need your help," Shaw pointed out. With a grin, she asked, "Can I count on help from my. . . 'little brother?'"

With an evil grin of his own, Brian said, "Yeah."

Shaw turned back to face the others, and saw Steve and Randi trying to hold in their laughter, while Buffy and Willow were shooting Brian and Shaw with looks that could melt a glacier.

Shaw just gave them a grin, and quickly asked, "Shall we begin, Steven?"

"Sure," Steve chuckled, taking some sheets of paper out of his pocket. "Okay, I'm going to talk to everyone about this eventually, but I'll start with all of you."

"What's this about, honey?" Buffy asked.

"You'd better take a seat for this," the demon hunter suggested.

Everyone sat down, laying their coats across the backs of the couch and chairs. Once everyone was seated, Steve sighed.

"Okay, here's the situation. The night Shaw left, she used Raymond McGuire's memories, as well as my computer, to take a look at McGuire's Swiss bank account. Then, she took the money in his account and did some stuff with it."

Buffy looked at Shaw, and said, "How much did you get?"

"I do not know, Buffy," Shaw said hesitantly. She looked at Steve, and said, "This is among those things erased from my memories."

Buffy, and the others, looked back at the head of Section Seven.

"The estimated total was thirty-five point seven million," Steve said, scanning the sheets. "Of which, Shaw took all but three and a half million and donated it to various charities."

Everyone but Oz and Shaw gasped at the announcement.

"Shaw," Willow croaked out, "you gave away thirty million dollars?!?"

"It would seem so," she mumbled.

"Who did she give it to?" Buffy demanded, holding her forehead.

"Let's see," the Wanderer said, flipping through the papers in his hands. "Ah, here we go. UNICEF, CARE, Christian Children's Fund, Red Cross, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Wildlife Forever. . ."

"Wildlife?" Randi asked dumbly. She looked at Shaw. "You gave money to animals?"

Shaw looked as if she were trying to shrink into herself, and said, "I am a ranger, Randi."

"Basically, from the e-mail Shaw sent me, she felt that McGuire got this money from murdered Immortals, and hoped that it would do some good this way," Steve offered with a smile. "Although I'd say there was some 'get even for the Dark Quickening' motive in there, I agree. That money'll do a lot of good for people."

"What did you do with the rest, Shaw?" Randi asked. "At least you kept that."

"She didn't," Steve countered.

"She didn't?" Buffy breathed. "Oh, God. What *did* she do with it?"

"Well, she kept one point one million," Steve said, trying to hide a smile to keep from losing the moment coming up, "and set up more accounts, under my control, under some other names, to the tune of two hundred thousand dollars."

"Oh, for identity switches," Buffy guessed with a grin. "Pretty smart."

"That's not why she did it, Buffy. You see, the names the accounts are registered to," the Wanderer said, pausing dramatically, "are as follows; Elizabeth Summers, Rupert Giles, Jenny Calendar, Kendra McPhereson, Cordelia Chase, Alexander Harris, Willow Rosenberg, Oz Green, Robin Goodfellow, Amy Madison, Randi Jessup and Brian Jessup."

Willow, Buffy and Randi's jaws had gone slack as their names were read off, while Brian looked confused, and Oz seemed quite unperturbed about the whole thing.

Buffy weakly stuttered, "Two-two-two hundred thousand?"

"Yep," Steve said, a devil-may-care grin on his face.

The Slayer turned to Shaw. "You took two hundred thousand dollars and split it between the twelve of us?"

"So it would seem, Buffy," the ex-Harper weakly confirmed. "But I cannot remember."

"Ahem." When the present Slayerettes all looked to the Wanderer, he said, "You're wrong. When I say two hundred thousand dollars, that's two hundred thousand EACH."

Now the three female teens were all shocked into silence once again, and this time, even Oz's eyebrows twitched. It was two complete minutes before someone could speak again.

"You're saying we're each worth two hundred thousand dollars?" Willow asked in a voice two or three octaves higher than normal.

"Yeah, that's what I'm saying," Steve said.

Her head spinning, the Wiccan asked, "Can I faint now?"

"Not in *my* living room," St. Wolf said with a mixture of humor and finality.

"Perhaps in the training room?" Shaw offered with a smirk that Steve frowned at.

"So what do we do with it?" Buffy asked, stating what the others must surely be thinking.

"Well, like I said, the accounts are under my control," Steve said with a shrug. "I'll leave the choices up to the individuals, but I can make suggestions, like investments and other ways to make it work for them. Hell, as it is, this is enough to pay for most, if not all, of your college educations."

"Wow," Randi said, finally managing to get one word out.

"Hmm," Oz said, rubbing his chin. At the weird looks from the others, he said, "What?"

"Oz! You've got two hundred thousand dollars with your name on it! And all you can say is 'hmm?!?'" Willow babbled. Gaining speed, she said, "Shaw just GAVE you two hundred thousand dollars!"

"Even if she doesn't remember," Buffy teased.

"She gave ALL of us. . ." Wil sputtered before stopping. Looking sick, she muttered, "Uh, help. Feeling woozy again."

Oz scooted over closer to her, letting Willow lean her head on his shoulder, and putting an arm around her as her head swam.

"Okay, like I said, I'll talk with each of you, and we'll go from there," Steve said as he folded the sheets back up and put them in his back pocket. "Shaw, I'll assume you want me to do the same as your other accounts?"

Shaw thought about it, and said, "If you wish to do so, Steven. I know you will be careful with it."

"Okay," Steve said to the group at large. Clapping his hands, he told Shaw, "Shaw, you go ahead and do whatever you need to do with the swords. Your friends are due here in about an hour, and I want to be ready."

A half-hour later, the majority of the Slayerettes had arrived, but Cordelia had called, saying that she was "having a hard time" waking up Xander, so Steve had taken the various Slayerettes into his office to explain the money situation. The reactions ran the gamut of emotions; Jenny and Giles were caught off guard, but recovered quickly, telling Steve that he could transfer the money to their control. Kendra just looked on in stony silence, and decided to think about it. Amy's jaw dropped at the news, and she stared at Robin with wide eyes when he referred to the money in his name as "pocket change." Oz told Steve to use most of it, telling the Wanderer he wanted to upgrade the band's equipment, while Willow still looked pale, and told Steve to work with it. Randi told Steve that she'd prefer his help for both hers and Brian's money, but Steve said he'd give her lessons on investing, as part of her training, giving the Wanderer a good laugh at her groan at yet more training in the ways of Immortals.

Steve took notes on the various responses, and was fairly satisfied with the course of events. Putting away his notes, he got up and headed out into the living room. He walked in, and saw the majority of the Scooby Gang watching a movie on the VCR. Missing from the group were Willow, Amy and Shaw.

"Where's Willow, Shaw and Amy?" St. Wolf asked.

Buffy looked at him with a handful of popcorn in her left hand. "They're in the training room. Shaw wanted to check out something with the swords she's giving to Edgar and Alan. Oh, honey, Duncan called; said he, Amanda and Kenny would be a few minutes late."

Nodding absently, Steve headed for the training room to see what the three missing women were up to.

When he entered the gym, Willow and Amy were sparring with the two bastard swords intended for the Immortal brothers.

Steve cocked an eyebrow at the sight before him. Even with their enhanced Amazon abilities, Willow and Amy shouldn't have been able to swing the large swords with the speed with which they were wielding them. Shaw just stood off to the side, watching the witches spar with the flats of the blades, and Steve could see the look of disgust on Shaw's face as she watched her friends dance with the steel in their hands.

<Yeah, she's burned out.> Steve thought, considering her attitude. <She'd normally insist on trying this out herself.>

Amy and Willow finished their match, and put the swords in their respective sheaths. Steve started clapping, but the two witches just rolled their eyes at his applause.

"Okay, what's the word?" the Immortal asked.

"Simple, Steve," Amy answered as Willow went to the water cooler. "Shaw put her blessings on the swords, and since these guys are newbies, at least with the swords, Wil and I put mass reduction and speed enchantments on them. That'll give them an edge on any vamps or other bad guys until they get up to speed."

Steve smiled in approval. "Are the spells permanent?"

"Yeah," Willow called out. "The reason we did it was 'cause Shaw chose the swords for the reach. The speed spells will help Edgar and Alan out until their training's advanced a bit."

"All right," Steve agreed. "Good work. But, it's a day off, so head into the living room, and relax. Shaw, I'd like to talk to you for a second."

Amy and Willow exchanged looks, but silently walked out of the room after leaving the swords on the weapons rack. Once the door shut tight, Steve looked at the watchful Shaw.

"You were fairly quiet out there, today," Steve observed, leaning against the door. "What's on your mind?"

Shaw waited a few seconds before answering. Finally, she replied, "The lost memories, Steven."

"Can you elaborate?" St. Wolf asked.

"I do not remember all of what happened after this began," the half-elf put forth, walking over to the cooler. "You know this."

As Shaw got a cup of water, Steve said, "Yeah. Go on."

"It frightens me, Steven," she said. Taking a long sip of water, she went on. "It frightens me to know that events happened, that I might have done things, that I cannot remember. Also, it is time that I cannot regain. You have reassured me about Edgar and Alan, you told me about the Mayor, and you told me what happened in the Alibi room. I. . ." With a deep breath, Shaw confessed, "This is not the first time this has happened to me, Steven. It is simply different."

"This has happened before?" Steve asked, wondering if she was about to tell him something new about her past.

Shaw nodded. "After the mission, I was catatonic for four days. I have no memories of those days, because my mind simply could not take any more punishment. I remember calling the lightning to strike Jazartho's wagon, but after that, the next thing I remember. . . the next thing I remember is waking up screaming in my bedroll, in a camp on the way to Shadowdale."

Shaw finished the cup of water, and said, "Steven, you cannot know. . ."

"I do know, Shaw," Steve said in a pleasant voice. When Shaw cocked her head, he told her, "I went catatonic once, even if it was only for a few hours. But, I do know where you're coming from."

Steve then described the events in Kansas City from nearly a decade before, where it had taken Merlin, Hercules, and the angelic spirit of Steve's own bride, Katherine Jamieson, to keep the Wanderer from committing suicide. Shaw just listened in surprised silence as Steve related the entire story.

Once he finished, he told her, "Now you know, there's at least one of us who not only knows what happened to you, but also how you feel about it. That's also how I can recognize the signs of burnout in you, and it's why I'm glad you chose to sit out of the fighting. But, I can tell you, you seem to be handling the day-to-day all right.

"I hope you are right about that," Shaw said softly, with some lack of conviction. She hesitated again, and asked, "Steven, can I ask you something?"

"Of course. What is it?"

"How long will I be out of training, by your estimation?" she asked. She quickly added, "You have my word that I have not done any practicing, save some tai chi."

Steve nodded, and folded his arms. "I want you to take this week off. You can attend, because you do have the experience to point out things. Next week, depending on how I think you're doing, we'll go slow. But you won't be patrolling for some time."

"Good," the ranger muttered before she could catch herself. She started to flush, saying, "Do you see why I do not want to endanger the others?"

"Yes, I do. There's something else I want to suggest to you, but I'll leave the choice up to you," St. Wolf said. He pushed off from the wall, and said, "We have a doctor, a doctor who specializes in mental traumas, named Sydney Greene. I think that it might be a big help to you to see him. It might help you recover faster."

Shaw looked suspicious, and quite dubious. "What does he know about Section Seven?"

"Shaw, he works for Section Seven," Steve told her. She relaxed a bit, and Steve said, "He's a good man, as well as a fine doctor. Like I said, I'll leave it up to you."

Shaw nodded distractedly, and a knock came at the door. Steve opened it, and Willow peeked her head in.

"Xander and Cordy are pulling up, Shaw. Showtime."

Shaw nodded and headed for the door.

Xander and Cordelia each got out of Cordelia's car, and started walking for the fence surrounding Steve's back yard. As the got near the fence, the gate opened, and Shaw walked out, catching Xander's attention.

Xander was instantly rendered speechless by Shaw's transformation, but it took Cordelia a second to realize what Shaw looked like.

"Hey, Shaw," Cordelia said, before stopping to look at the wide-eyed Xander Harris. "Xander, what are you staring at?"

"Uh, uh, uh," was all that would come out of his throat as he stared at the ranger.

"I think he is trying to reconcile my new 'look,' with what he is used to, Cordelia," Shaw supplied with a smile.

"Why?" the Amazon asked before realizing exactly what she was looking at. Unlike Xander, Cordelia gave a quick once over to Shaw, before breaking into a grin. "Wow! Damn, Hunter. It's about time you let yourself go. You look fabulous!"

Shaw looked a bit embarrassed by the attention, but she said, "Amy deserves much of the credit, as does Shelli."

"You went to her? Good choice," Cordelia said, walking up and exchanging a hug with her. "It's good to see you loosening up a bit."

"Thank you," Shaw said. She looked at Xander, and asked, "Xander, what do you think?"

Cordelia looked at her boyfriend, and snapped, "Stop staring, Xander!"

Xander jumped, and said, "But, Cordy. ."

"I can't believe you! She went to all this effort, and you couldn't even compliment her," the Amazon seethed. She shook her head in disgust, and said to Shaw, "Sorry, girl. Unlike *some* people, I can appreciate the effort you went through."

"Thank you," the ranger said, absently moving the hair at the right side of her head. As she did, Xander and Cordelia's eyes went very wide, and both of them started stammering. Shaw looked between the two of them in confusion, and said, "Is something wrong?"

The flabbergasted Xander started sputtering, "Uh-uh-uh... uh, Shaw. . ."

"Yes, Xander?"

"Uh, uh, your ears. . ." he said, quite confused.

"Yes? What about them?" she asked.

"Uh, they're . . . they're round!" Xander spit, looking straight at the side of her head.

Shaw's brow furrowed, and she said, "No, they are pointed. You know this."

Cordelia had finally come back to the present, and quietly asked, "Uh, Hunter? Did you look in the mirror this morning?"

"Of course, I did," the half-elf answered with a snort. "I do try to make myself look presentable, Cordelia."

"You look a lot more than presentable," Xander said with a grin.

Shaw's face brightened noticeably, and she said, "Thank you, Xander."

"Oh, she *does*, does she?" the dark-haired Amazon seethed, giving Xander an evil look.

"Yeah, she. . ." Xander started to say, breaking off and gulping as her eyes bored into him. "Cordy, wait a minute. ."

"Are you saying stuff like that to *other* women?" Cordelia demanded. "Who else have. ."

"Now hold on!" Xander blurted, pointing at her. "You're the one who got on my case for not giving Shaw a compliment."

"You had your chance earlier," she snapped. "But if I find out you're talking to other women like that. ."

"Enough!" Shaw snapped, catching their attention.

Xander and Cordelia jumped, and looked at Shaw, who had tears in her eyes. "Cordelia, Xander, I am sorry for causing this, but you have no right to argue over this!" she cried out. She ran her hands through her hair in frustration, and wept, "I am sorry that actually trying to make this my true home only pisses the both of you off!"

With that outburst, the half-elf turned around, her hair flying about, and stormed off into Steve's house, leaving Xander and Cordelia staring in shock, and not from her outburst.

"Uh, Cordelia," Xander mumbled, "did you see what I saw?"

"Uh, yeah," Queen C said, her face as knitted in confusion as Xander's. "You saw pointed ears?"

"And round ones three minutes ago," Xander responded. He turned his head, and their eyes met as she did the same. "You saw the same thing I did?"

"Round ears, then pointed ones?" Cordelia said in a strange voice.

"Yeah," Xander said. He struck his forehead with the palm of his hand, and shook it violently. Then, he said, "Nope. I still remember it."

"What the Hell is going on?"

Xander shrugged. "I dunno, but we'd better find out. Hunter's freaking."

Shaw burst into the living room, and the Slayerettes started at the tears in her eyes. Jenny got up and walked over to her.

"Shaw, what happened?" the Gypsy asked with motherly concern.

Shaw blinked, and asked, "What are you talking about?"

"You're crying," Jenny pointed out, removing a tear from the ranger's cheek.

"I must be a better actress than I thought," the half-elf said, now smiling. "Willow?"

"Got everything," the computer expert grinned. "Scene two, in the training room."

"Good. Amy, Willow, shall we?"

The two witches started for the training room, leaving several confused Slayerettes in their wake. Jenny's eyes lit up, and she turned to the grinning Buffy.

"Set up?" she asked.

Buffy nodded in confirmation. "Set up."

The subjects of said set up burst into the living room only a few ticks of the clock later, and stopped short at the unpleasant looks directed their way.

Xander and Cordelia looked around, worry rising in their minds.

"Uh, did anyone see a runaway Slayerette?" Cordelia asked.

Giles stood up, and quietly asked, "Do you mean the one crying her heart out over something you said?"

"Wait a minute, G-Man," Xander said to contradict Giles. "Cordy and I started arguing, and Shaw flipped out on us."

"And why is that?" Steve asked in a low voice. "She ran full bore for the training room, and Willow went after her."

"Okay, we're going to apologize," Cordy said, as she and Xander started to head for the gym.

Buffy stood up and blocked her path, and softly said, "Listen, you two. After what we found out today, be careful. Don't push her."

"What'd you find out?" Xander asked.

"Later," St. Wolf said. "Right now, you'd better find out what Shaw's feeling, don't you think?"

Sunnydale's most infamous couple left the living room, and when the others heard the door close, they let out their laughter.

Xander and Cordelia hustled into the training room, and stopped short at the sight of Shaw crying into Willow's shoulder, while Amy's hot gaze made them both retreat a step. She started to move forward, but Shaw backed away from Willow, laying a hand on her cousin's shoulder. Amy glanced between them, and slowly nodded before giving Shaw center stage.

"Look, Shaw," Cordelia started, but was stopped when Shaw shook her head.

"It is all right, Cordelia," the half-elf assured her. "I was simply caught off guard by your argument. I thought I had caused it."

"No, that was Xander," Cordelia snapped, giving him a look that dared him to contradict her. "But we need to talk about your ears."

"CORDELIA!!!" Amy shouted at the top of her lungs.

"Amy, wait!" Xander pleaded, now quaking in the knees. His heart rose up into his throat, and he said, "I swear, we're not making any jokes!"

"Then what's it about?" Willow asked, trying to place peacekeeper.

"Uh, well. . ." Cordelia uttered, licking her lips nervously. "Uh, Shaw, could we see your ears again?"

Shaw shrugged, and pulled the hair over her left ear back. Xander and Cordy's eyes started to bulge as Amy and Willow looked at the ear, and then each other.

"What are you guys staring at?" Amy asked, walking over to Shaw's left. "It's pointed. We knew that months ago."

"B-b-b-but. . ." Xander said, trying to made sense of what he and his lover were seeing. "Amy, can't you see?!?"

"Xander, it's pointed," Willow said, staring straight at the round-looking ear. "It's plain as day."

"It's ROUND!!!" Cordelia shrieked.

Shaw winced at her scream. "Cordelia, please do not scream like that," she pleaded.

"Shaw, let's try the right side," Amy sarcastically ordered her cousin. "Maybe that'll set them straight."

"HEY!" the lovebirds shouted.

"Goddess, that hurts," the junior Slayerette whispered under her breath. Complying with the witch's order, she showed her right ear to the other four Slayerettes.

With folded arms, Amy asked, "Satisfied now?"

Xander and Cordelia were both sputtering, trying to express their total shock at the sight that greeted their eyes. Willow had her "resolve" face on, and Amy knew that her fellow witch was seconds away from bursting into uncontrollable laughter.

"But. . . but. . ." Xander said repeatedly, finally becoming able to get one word out.

"It's pointed," Willow said, stating the obvious. "Are we done now?"

"Wait a minute!" Cordy shouted in disbelief. Trying to make any sense whatsoever about the situation, she said, "Shaw, let me see your left ear again."

With a sigh of impatience, the elven woman turned once again and pulled her hair back. Now Xander and Cordelia were back to senseless stammering, as they saw the (once again) pointed ear of a half-elf. Releasing the black waves, Shaw favored the couple with a look of resigned sadness.

"I am very disappointed in the two of you," Shaw said quietly. Bowing her head, she whispered, "To think that people I care about would use such a sensitive subject for a joke."

As Xander tried to sputter an apology, Shaw walked between him and Cordelia, a look of sadness on her features. Xander and Cordelia turned and watched her back, until she stopped just short of the doors.

After a pause, Shaw said, "Xander? Cordelia? Before anything else is said between us, may I show you something? I value your honest opinions."

Feeling like kicking herself, Cordelia said, "Yeah, girl. Go ahead."

Shaw turned around, her illusory vampire face on. Xander and Cordelia both went white in the face, and they both backpedaled until Cordy tripped over Xander's leg, sending the both of them falling to the floor. Amy, Willow and Shaw all cringed at the loud thumps created by their landing.

As Xander and Cordelia stared at Shaw in disbelief, she let the illusion disappear, and she folded her arms, cocking an eyebrow at the sprawled lovers.

Staring at them, the priestess said, "Xander, Cordelia, I think that such 'activities' should take place in private. They should not be done in front of others, let alone in Steven's training room."

"Oh, I don't know," Willow said, trying to hold back the laughter about to erupt. "Artemis might like her Amazons having these 'activities' in her shrine."

"Hmmm. That is a good point, Willow," Shaw conceded. Seeing Cordy's face going red, she asked, "Is something wrong, Cordelia?"

"Yeah, something's wrong!" the brunette shouted, clenching her fists. "You're talking about MY love life!"

Xander was not staring at Cordelia in disbelief. "What are you doing?!?"

"Shut up, Xander! I'm---"

"Discussing our sex lives with a vampire," the young man finished for her.

Cordelia looked at him, and then back at Shaw, and she and Xander started scooting backwards, looking for any handy weapons.

Amy stepped in front of Shaw as the couple stood back up, and asked, "What do you two think you're doing?"

Xander stammered, and said, "Amy, she's a vamp!"

Willow stepped over next to Amy. "No, she's not. Don't the two of you know what glamour is?"

"Duuuuh. I read that magazine," Cordelia said with a roll of her eyes.

"She means as far as magic goes," Amy pointed out with a smirk.

"Yeah, I looked it up," Xander said. At the strange looks from Amy, Willow, and Cordelia, he defensively said, "Hey, I can read. Anyway, it's a type of magic used by elves and fairies to walk around humans."

"Wizard-type stuff?" Cordelia asked, surprised that her boyfriend knew something like this.

Shaw smiled at her. "No, Cordelia. It is an elven thing."

"Oh," Cordelia said, before realizing what Shaw had said. She frowned and said, "Very funny."

Xander moaned suddenly, and Cordelia looked at him. "What is it, dweeb boy?"

"Oh, I don't believe this!" the empowered warrior snapped at the other three women. "Not again!"

"What?" Cordelia demanded of her boyfriend.

Xander turned to the fashion queen, and said, "Cordy, glamour is a type of illusion. Elves use it to make themselves look different."

"Oh," Cordelia said, still looking confused.

As she started to think about it, Willow said, "It's sinking through the first three or four layers of hairspray."

"Wait a minute," Cordy said, her eyes flashing a bit. "You mean they can, like, change their hair color and eyes and stuff?"

"It's drilling through the thickest skull in Sunnydale," Amy said, sending Willow into giggles.

"And ears," Xander added, glaring at Shaw, who just had her "innocent" look on.

"Ears, check," Cordelia said, just before the pieces began to fall into place almost at once. She stiffened in realization, and her jaw opened in shock before she turned, her eyes boring into the half-elf and her fellow Amazons.

"SHAW HUNTER, YOU ARE SO DEAD!!!"

Shaw simply said, "Amy, Willow, we have achieved comprehension."

The two witches finally succumbed to laughter, and Xander and Cordelia were shaking in anger as they realized they'd been set up.

"I can't believe this," Xander said again. "Hunter, we thought you were freaking out on us."

"I was a Harper, Xander," Shaw said, placing her hands in her pockets. "You know I have such training to play roles."

"Yeah, but. . Jesus Christ, Shaw."

Xander just shook his head in resignation, now that the joke was over. Cordelia, on the other hand, looked to Amy and Willow.

"Wait a minute, you two," the young woman said. "Amy,

Wil, how the heck did you not see what she was doing? You said you saw pointed ears."

"True sight spells," Willow wheezed, still shaking with giggles. "They make us immune to illusions and deceptions."

"So we saw the truth," Amy added. As she wiped tears from her eyes, the witch told them, "And don't feel too bad. She got me with the vamp face yesterday."

"Xander, Cordelia," Shaw said, catching their attention, "the two of you know me as well as anyone. If I can fool the two of you, then certainly I can fool anyone at school, such as Principal Snyder."

"Wait a minute. This was a test?" Xander asked. "To see if the illusion stuff worked? You had us running around in circles for a test?"

"Not entirely," Willow said. "Let's just say. . ."

"Smile," Amy said with an evil smirk. "You're on Candid Camera."

Xander and Cordy had no problem figuring out what that meant, and started stammering again as Amy, Willow and Shaw left the training room, their laughter lingering for several seconds.

Shaw was waiting in the front yard when the old Ford station wagon and later model Nissan Sentra pulled up in front of Steve's house. The vehicles shifted into park, and shut off almost simultaneously. The ranger watched as the doors opened, and the Frog Brothers got out of the wagon, while Sam and an unknown woman in her early thirties got exited the Sentra and seemed to be checking the address to make sure they'd gotten the right house.

Sam saw Shaw walking over to them, and grinned before his eyes widened as he took in her new style. Shaw just rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath in Common, coming up to the friends from Santa Carla, and their female companion.

She met Sam first and the two friends exchanged vigorous handshakes. She turned to Edgar and Alan, and tears started to form.

"I thought you were dead," she whispered, barely loud enough for them to hear. "I thought I had abandoned you."

"What are you talking about?" Alan asked, confusion the dominating feature in his eyes. "Don't you remember last Thursday?"

Shaw flinched, and quietly explained what her situation had been the previous week, including how some of her memories had been erased once the Quickening had been removed. Once she finished, she turned her attention to her friends' welfare.

"How have you been the last few days?" the half-elf asked with sincere concern. "I hope you have not had any problems the last few weeks."

Sam and Alan glanced at Edgar, and started snickering, as did the woman accompanying them.

"Ha, ha," Edgar said, rolling his eyes. He shivered inside of his camouflage coat, and said, "Four days ago, one of the outlets in the store died, and I tried to pull it out. Got shocked to death."

Shaw blinked, and began laughing, joining Edgar's teammates in their enjoyment. After a few moments, she regained control.

"I meant as far as patrolling," the priestess explained.

He nodded, and told her, "We've been careful, but it's hell trying to shoot a bloodsucker in the heart. We're still getting used to keeping the Soakers as backup, you know?"

"No, since my backup weapons are daggers," Shaw said in wry humor. "But I shall take your word for it. But seriously, how have you been?"

"Good," Alan said. He ran a hand through his hair, and told Shaw, "Liz here has been a big help. She set us up with portable headsets, and she's helping us with the target practice."

Shaw cocked an eyebrow, and now looked at the woman standing very close to Sam. She was dressed in blue jeans, a black t-shirt, and a thick beige jacket and Army boots. Her chestnut hair was cut very short, almost into a crew cut, and her dark brown eyes appraised the half-elf as quickly as Shaw did her. The woman had a small scar on her forehead, just above her right eyebrow.

Shaw nodded a greeting, and asked, "You are 'Liz?'"

The woman smiled and said, "Lizabet' Youngstown, U. S. Navy, ninety-one ta ninety-four. Society o' Watchers, ninety-six 'til now. You might say it be a famlee tradition."

Elizabeth extended her hand, which Shaw took. After exchanging their handshakes, Shaw cocked her head.

"French?" the Slayerette asked with curiosity.

[[Non. Cajun,]] Liz smiled, speaking in French. [[I was raised in the South, my family's been in the Watchers going on two centuries now.]]

[[Ah, a family tradition. Very impressive,]] Shaw replied, speaking the French tongue with a moderate accent.

The three Santa Carla natives just stood with blank looks on their faces, until Sam muttered, "Is that some kind of girl code?"

"It be French, mon ami," the Watcher said teasingly in English. Then, switching back to French, she told Shaw, [[You try to give them culture, but it never works.]]

[[The vampires have been a bad influence on them,]] Shaw proposed with a smirk. Going back to English, she said, "I apologize, Edgar. We are simply having some fun at your expense."

"No kidding," the trio said together.

The five shared some laughs, and Shaw said, "So, Elizabeth. You have been assigned as their Watcher?"

"Yeah, I been assigned ta dem," Elizabeth said with a sly smile. "An' it's yer fault."

When Shaw raised an eyebrow, she said, "You done kilt my last Immortal, Richard Markham. So, Dawson sent me ta de Frogs, since dey needed a Watcher. I got experience wit' guns, an' communications, so I been helpin'."

"They have been fortunate indeed," Shaw said with approval. "How do Michael and Star feel about you?"

Sam snorted, drawing a glance from the ranger. "Star seems to think Liz and I would make a good match."

"De feelin' be mutual," Liz said playfully, which set Sam to blushing. "Anyway, Hunter, dese tree men seem ta tink you not Immortal. Dey say you elven."

"Half-elven," Shaw corrected with a smile. "My father was human. But, I can understand the confusion. Elizabeth, I am fifty-four years old, which makes me the equivalent of a seventeen year old fully human woman."

"But de Quickenings. ."

"An effect of internal magic," the ranger said softly. "But we now have ways to prevent it from causing problems in the future."

After a brief pause, Shaw looked to Edgar. "Edgar, I am told that you were the one who called Steven, to tell him I had been to see you."

Edgar looked uncomfortable, but he said, "Yeah. I know I didn't wait two days, but we were worried about you."

"And if you had followed my directions, I might be insane, or worse, now," Shaw said to the Immortal. She clapped him on the shoulders, and told him, "You are partially responsible for my mind and soul being saved, Edgar. You, Alan and Sam. I cannot thank you enough for that."

"Uh, thanks," the vampire hunter mumbled. "Uhm, so. What can we expect at the meeting?"

"First, Steven will tell you the essentials of being Immortal. ."

Edgar and Sam both chuckled, and Alan said, "Believe us, Hunter; Liz has been VERY thorough on that stuff. She told us just about everything, including getting our store computer hooked up to the Watcher's Database, and the only things she says we need are swords and a teacher to get us trained.

Shaw's face settled into a mysterious smile, and she said, "I see. Well, shall we proceed inside?"

Shaw turned for the door, and it was Elizabeth who voiced the thoughts going through all four human heads.

"I don' like dat smile one bit."

Shaw showed the others into the training room, and Edgar and Alan were rubbing their foreheads from the Buzz of all the other present Immortals.

"Man, I hate that," Alan muttered. "This is gonna take getting used to."

"I understand completely, Alan," Shaw said in a dry tone. "At least it does not give you migraines."

Shaw led the quartet into the training room, and their eyes went a bit wider at the large group in the room. Edgar and Alan relaxed at they took note of how many Immortals were in the gym. To Sam, the people were just people. Youngstown, however, whistled softly as she recognized four of the six Immortals in the room.

Shaw waved towards the group, and said, "Elizabeth, Edgar, Alan, Sam, the Slayerettes."

"Slayerettes?" Alan asked in confusion.

"The team nickname," Steve St. Wolf said by way of explanation. Leaning on a kendo stick, he said, "We're one of the core teams of Section Seven. What Section Seven is, is a group of people, from various organizations or groups, who fight a common battle against the forces of darkness. Usually, that's supernatural forces, but occasionally a mundane threat exposes itself, and we take care of it."

"What do you consider 'mundane?'" Edgar asked.

"Oh, the usual; religious cults, slavers, international terrorists," Steve said with a smile. "You know, the usual. But to put it in layman's terms, Section Seven is the first, and often the only, line of defense against the biggest, baddest demons on the planet. In terms you can understand, consider us the magical version of Delta Force."

The three men looked positively shocked, while Liz Youngstown just chuckled, as did the Slayerettes.

Edgar swallowed, and said, "So, basically, you're the Knights of the Round Table crossed with the Navy SEALs."

The Wanderer chuckled, and said, "Actually, Edgar, I was a Green Beret out of Bragg."

"No accountin' for taste, eh, St. Wolf?" the Cajun asked with a grin. "You could have been a proper Squid like me or Jarhead like de boss, Dawson, neh?"

"Don't push me, Swamp Rat," St. Wolf said sternly, but the smile on his face told the others he was just enjoying the banter. "Okay, let's get the introductions out of the way, and then we can have the Q and A session. Shaw, if you'd do the honors?"

"Of course, Steven," the half-elf said with a smile. She extended an arm towards the Santa Carla team, and began, "From left to right, Elizabeth Youngstown of the Watchers, working for Joseph Dawson. Sam Markeson, and Edgar and Alan Frog, brothers and now Immortals. Not present are Michael and Star, who are Sam's brother and sister-in-law, who help them patrol Santa Carla."

As the four nodded in turn, Shaw turned more towards the Slayerettes. "Now, Edgar, Alan, and Sam. This is the group I fight with. First, our leaders, Steven St. Wolf, also known as the Wanderer, and Buffy Summers, first a Slayer, now an Immortal."

As the three hunters recognized the name of the Wanderer, Sam said, "Oh, boy. This is the first string."

"Please," Xander said with an easy grin. "We're the Super Bowl Champs."

"Shut up, dweeb boy," Cordelia said, smacking him on the head.

With a sigh of frustration, Shaw said, "Xander Harris and Cordelia Chase. The male, mortal version of you three, and Cordelia is an Amazon warrior."

"HEY!" Edgar, Alan, Sam and Xander protested at the same instant, much to the enjoyment of the others.

Moving over to the next pair, Shaw told the Frogs, "This is Rupert Giles, Buffy's Watcher and a mage of some skill, and Jenny Calendar, Amazon and witch. Also, she is a Gypsy, so I would not antagonize her."

The Frogs looked nervous, and Jenny frowned at Shaw. "You're the one antagonizing me right now, Shaw. Your friends shouldn't be afraid of me." Her smile returned, and she said, "Much, that is."

Turning to Willow and Oz, she didn't get that introduction out, as Sam said, "I recognize you. You're the guitarist for a band, right? You played in L. A. ten months ago, I was there on winter vacation."

Oz nodded, and said, "Dingoes Ate My Baby. I'm Oz."

Willow smiled, and said, "I'm Willow. I'm an Amazon and a witch. Oz is a werewolf."

The trio stopped dead, staring at Oz, who just shrugged.

Shaw said, "The story is somewhat complicated. ."

"Got bit," Oz said.

"Or perhaps not," she said, grinning at the three mens' confusion, whereas Liz was having apparently having the time of her life from their reactions. <Let us see how long your composure lasts, Elizabeth.>

Moving along, she said, "Edgar, Alan, Sam, Elizabeth, my cousin, Amy Madison, and her boyfriend, Robin."

"Let me guess," Edgar said, holding up a finger. "Amazon, and witch."

"Yeah," Amy said with a smile. Taking Robin's arm, she said, "This is Robin Goodfellow."

"Oh, yer mama and papa liked Shakespeare, non?" Liz asked, feeling sorry for anyone whose parents named someone after a character from British literature.

"Actually, I sold the rights to that story to Will a long time ago," Robin said with a sly grin. "And no, I'm not Puck. That little bastard lives in New York."

Now it was the Watcher's eyes that went wide in disbelief once she realized what he meant by that. She looked at Shaw.

"Yer cousin's datin' a sprite?" the Cajun asked in wonder.

"Yes," Shaw answered. "Although I do question her taste in men sometimes."

"Watch it, 'baby sister,'" Goodfellow growled.

"Baby sister?" Sam asked, looking at the half-elf.

"I was 'adopted,'" Shaw muttered, trying to get to the next group.

Stepping to the last three in the group, she said, "And these are Kendra McPhereson, the current Slayer, Randi Jessup, the Immortal charged with carrying the Sword of St. Catherine, and her brother, Brian, the reincarnation of Marcus the Valiant."

Now, Liz started to hyperventilate, babbling, "De Sword o' St. Catherine?!? De Sword carried by de Maid?!?"

"What maid?" Edgar asked, not understanding Elizabeth's reaction.

Red with embarrassment, Randi said, "She means Joan of Arc, Edgar." Randi pulled out the sword, and said, "I'm gonna get you for that, girlfriend."

"Of course you will," Shaw grinned at the young woman.

Shaw looked over to Duncan, Amanda and Kenny, and said, "And finally, these are friends from Seacouver. Duncan MacLeod, Amanda and Kenny."

Edgar and the others shook their hands, but Liz said, "Did you say Kenny?"

"Yes, and he's changed for the better," Duncan said firmly. Looking into her eyes, the Highlander said, "If I don't convince you, you could ask Dawson. If not for Kenny, Shaw might have been worse off."

Alan looked to Elizabeth, and asked, "You know this guy, Liz?"

"Oh, yeah," Youngstown said. "Duncan be one o' de finest Immortals around. He be a bad ass katana man. He take out Immortals that make vamps look like de Pope."

After the laughs died down, Edgar was shaking his head. "Sheesh. And here I thought we were meeting some guys we could hold our own with."

"Don't sell yourselves short, guys," Buffy said, understanding their being overwhelmed. "We all started out somewhere. And you guys stayed alive ten years before dying the first time. That's more than I lasted as the Slayer."

All three stared at her, and she nodded. "I died a little more than a year after becoming the Slayer. So you had me beat by eight or nine years."

As the trio began to relax a bit, Steve smiled. "Okay, Edgar. I assume you've got some questions, right?"

"I guess you could say that," Edgar mumbled. Taking and releasing a deep breath, he said, "Okay, let's start with the obvious; who's in Section Seven?"

"A lot of people, Edgar," Steve said, smiling at the question. "Section Seven can really be divided into two categories; magical and nonmagical groups. Magical being those who fight vampires, demons and so on as a matter of course, which includes the three of you, obviously. Nonmagical consists of those who originally dealt with normal opponents, and have only begun to receive training in supernatural opponents."

Steve paused for breath, and leaned back against the wall, taking on an easy posture in order to relax the new boys. "Okay, for specific groups, magical groups include the Knights of the Order of the Grail, of which I'm a member with the rank of Knight Lieutenant. The Order is under the leadership of Merlin. So yes, before you ask, Merlin is real. Another group is Bureau 13, the FBI's covert operations branch, devoted to taking out paranormal threats to America's safety. They have teams that rove all across America. I know of three teams, one based in Chicago, another in New York, and another in Texas. Then, there's the Legacy, who have been fighting the Darkness for thousands of years, recovering ancient and mystical artifacts that the bad guys would love to get their hands on. There's the C'est Dei, which is a group of warrior priests. There are witches, Amazons, as you've seen, and many Immortals. Going over to nonmagical groups, you'll recognize most, if not all, of the names of the people that have been involved with some of our battles. Those fall into two categories, civilian and military. Among the civilian groups are members of the FBI, LAPD, SFPD, the Texas Rangers, and a ninja clan operating out of San Francisco. The military groups include members of the 82nd Airborne and 5th Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg. Those are Army Rangers and Green Berets, respectively. We also have contacts with Navy SEAL units, Marine Force Recon, and a paratrooper unit in the French Foreign Legion in Africa. Personally, I occasionally work for the CIA, as well as their intelligence counterparts in Britain, France, Germany and Australia. Altogether, we can usually muster any size force we need inside of twenty-four hours, and often in less than twelve."

Finishing his speech, he hoped that the Santa Carla team wouldn't be too speechless by the size of Section Seven, and he was glad to see that their faces were more thoughtful than blank.

"Damn," Edgar said, nervously shaking his head. "Okay, next question; how do we get in contact with you?"

"We'll give you the numbers," Steve said with a shrug. "As far as contacting us, Liz will be making weekly reports to her boss, Joe Dawson, who's also Duncan's Watcher. Giles and Jenny are mine and Buffy's Watchers, so we'll know how you're coming along. Now, at any time, you can call us if you run into something you can't handle. But, you'll then be obligated to come help us if we need it. And, we can set you up with a supply of our special silver ammo, since I know that *someone* was kind enough to provide you with wooden ones."

As everyone sent amused glances at the blushing Shaw Hunter, Steve added, "Just don't expect any rocket launchers up front."

"Awwwww," Sam and Elizabeth pouted at the same time. Liz added, "But doze are fun, Wanderer."

The two teams shared some laughs, and Steve asked, "Anything else?"

"Yeah, Steve," Edgar said. He folded his arms and looked at the floor, deep in contemplation. "Two questions as far as the Immortal gig goes. The first. ." He looked at Sam, and asked, "How about Sam? We want to be sure, one way or the other."

"He's mortal," Steve said right off the bat. "Immortals who've been like us long enough learn to detect not only other Immortals, but what we call Pre-Immies, those who are yet to become Immortal. But I appreciate you finding out now, rather than later. The other question?"

"Well, Liz mentioned us needing swords and a teacher," Edgar offered. "And we've got no idea how to go about it. That's where we need the most help."

Steve looked over at Kenny, who nervously stepped forward. He looked at Amanda, who smiled and nodded encouragingly at her former student.

"I'm Kenny," the child Immortal told the Frogs. "I told Steve and Shaw I could teach you the sword stuff, and you guys can show me how you take out the vamps. Sort of an equal trade."

Alan looked at Shaw uncertainly, and she nodded. He asked Kenny, "How old are you, Kenny?"

Kenny smirked, and answered, "I'm eight hundred twenty-six. I died in England in 1182, at age 10. Amanda was my teacher."

Edgar asked Amanda, "Uh, I know it's rude, but. ."

"Twelve hundred or so," the thief grinned. Putting an arm around Duncan's waist, she said, "And my Highlander here is four hundred and six."

"Edgar, Alan," Steve said, getting their undivided attention, "Immortals come in all ages. I'm only forty, real age, though I died when I was twenty-four. Buffy's been Immortal about a year and a half, she's actually seventeen, and Randi's nineteen. You can't go by apparent age, but you'll get used to it."

Shaw had quietly walked over to the weapons rack during the discussion, and picked up the swords intended for Edgar and Alan. She walked up to them, one in each hand, and held them out.

"Edgar, Alan, these are for you," the half-elf said with a smile. "I have put blessings on them, so that they will be as effective against vampires as holy water. Also, Willow and Amy used spells to make the swords lighter and faster. This was to help you until your training has reached levels that can help you stand on your own."

Edgar and Alan gingerly took the swords, and Shaw said, "Edgar, your sword belonged to the Immortal I told you about when your Immortality was triggered. Alan, yours belonged to the Headless Horseman."

Alan stared at her, and asked, "You killed the Headless Horseman?"

"No, I wounded him, and took his sword arm. Buffy was the one who sent him back to Hell."

Edgar muttered, "She likes you better, Alan."

Shaw blinked in shock as the Slayerettes and others started laughing, and she sighed in frustration. She looked at the Immortal brothers, and said, "I hope that the two of you will learn the lesson that a vampire's neck is a much easier target than its heart. But I know that your unorthodox methods are enough to give you an edge against vampires expecting more traditional techniques."

Sam grinned slightly as he realized that Shaw's gifting of the swords was more than a gift from a warrior to another; it was also a mark of her concern for people she'd named as friends. He looked at Liz Youngstown, and she nodded with a lavicious grin.

<God, she's a man-eater, all right,> Sam moaned.

He turned his attention back to the meeting as the groups started to mingle Shaw turned her head, and walked over to Sam, asking, "Do you not wish to talk to the others, Sam?"

"Well, it's just, I'm a normal guy, you know? I'm not Immortal or anything," he said, looking sheepish.

"Please consider that I am what passes for a normal person with my team," Shaw retorted. With a glance at the group, she told Sam, "My magic is less powerful than that of the witches, my physical abilities are within normal limits, and I lack their skill in barehanded combat. That you do not have paranormal abilities only makes your choice to join the fight all the more special. You have survived ten years of fighting, without what you call 'special abilities.' That is enough to show me that you are an equal, Sam."

Sam smiled, and said, "Thanks, Hunter. So, you want to help us break the ice, so to speak?"

With a grin, Shaw escorted Sam and Elizabeth to meet Jenny and Giles.

An hour and many one-liners shot back and forth by Xander, Robin, Edgar and Alan later, members of the Sunnydale and Santa Carla teams were behaving like old friends. Steve, Duncan and Amanda gave Edgar and Alan advice on various aspects of living as Immortals, while Liz traded stories of her time in the Navy, putting up with the inevitable jokes from St. Wolf about sailors. After another half-hour, the various members of both teams were telling stories of their fights, and Robin came up with the idea of using telepathy to read the memories of the storyteller, and sending the information to Amy or Willow, so that either witch could create an illusion of the incident.

Of particular fun was Sam relating how he'd met Edgar and Alan, when his brother Michael had been targeted for turning by a gang of vampires and their leader, whose objective was Sam's mother. They finally reached the part of the climactic battle, where Sam's grandfather had killed the leader of the vampires by driving his vehicle through the front of his own house, launching several telephone pole-sized pieces of wood off the hood of the truck, puncturing the vamp's entire upper torso, all to the tune of "La Cucaracha."

The Scooby Gang erupted into laughter when the image of Sam's grandpa calmly got out of the vehicle, walked to the fridge, and took a drink out of it. He took a long sip, and said, "One thing I never could stand about Santa Carla. All the damn vampires."

When the laughter started to subside, Xander asked, through his tears, "Your Grandpaw knew everything? The whole time?"

"Yeah," Sam said, laughing ten years after the fact. "He once said, 'Let's just say if everyone who ever died here was to suddenly start walking around, we'd have one hell of an overpopulation problem.' Man, my Mom was pissed. But it was his house, so she couldn't complain about it."

"The one I like," Kenny said, "is when the dog kills the vampire, and Edgar tells Sam, 'We killed the one who looked like Twisted Sister.'"

"How 'bout the one who looked like the guy from 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure,'" Robin chuckled. "Might explain what happened to his movie career."

"Okay," Buffy said, looking around. "Anyone else?"

The others started looking, and a gleam entered Xander's eye. "How about it, Hunter? We haven't heard from you yet. Any standout battles you want to share with us?"

Shaw's face went ice cold, and she said, "Not in particular, no."

Sensing the touchiness of the subject, Amy said, "How 'bout the fight you ran away from, cuz?"

Shaw started to shift uncomfortably as every eye in the house now focused on her.

"You ran from a fight?" Cordelia said, her face registering total shock. "No way."

"Way," Amy said with a grin. "Trust me, even Buffy would've run away or wet her pants if she had seen this thing up close."

Buffy's mouth opened, and she narrowed her eyes. "Is that a challenge I'm hearing, Amy?" the Slayer demanded.

"Nope, just a fact," the witch countered, looking very sure of herself. "Trust me, if you saw it, you'd freak out."

"Riiiight," Buffy said, turning to Shaw. "Well, Shaw? What was it?"

"Something that you would not want angry with you, Buffy," the half-elf said, seeing where Amy was going with this. "Not up close."

"Oh, come on," Willow said encouragingly. "Let's see it, Shaw."

Xander spoke up next. "Yeah, come on. Anything that can make you run *has* to be worth seeing."

"It would not appear very threatening in miniature," Shaw told the assemblage of fighters. "But you do not want to see it at its full size, either."

"Tell you what," Buffy said, standing up. "Make the illusion, and we'll see how I react. Life-size, detailed, the whole thing."

"But Buffy. . ."

Robin said, "Got it." He did a double take, and said, "That's what she's going to be seeing?"

"Yes, Robin," Shaw answered, somehow managing to keep a straight face.

"I see your point," Robin told her. He looked at Amy, and said, "Here's how it appeared to her."

Amy's eyes narrowed a bit, and she said, "Eugh. That's even worse than I thought. That's how it really looked?"

Shaw nodded, and Amy quickly uttered a chant in Latin, and said, "Okay, Buffy. It's in the computer room. That's the only place it'd fit other than the training room, but this is closer."

Buffy now looked suspicious, and said, "How do I know you took the real thing out of her head?"

Shaw quickly stood and walked over to the computer room, and opened the door. She looked inside, and a shiver escaped from the ranger.

She closed the door, and told Buffy, "It is the genuine appearance, Buffy. But I hope you know that there is the sound as well."

"No problem," Buffy assured her. She started to head for the training room, but Amy's next statement distracted her.

"Ten bucks says she screams her head off."

Buffy turned, and saw some of the others taking money out of their pockets.

"I say she falls on her butt," Xander said, smacking his money onto the coffee table.

"Same here," Cordelia added.

Steve looked at her, and said, "My ten says she isn't impressed."

"Me, too," Willow said.

"At least someone still believes in me," Buffy said with a smirk.

Brian put a ten on the table, and said, "I think she'll take out her sword and swing at it."

Randi's eyes bulged, and she said, "Brian!"

Brian said, "Oh, come on, Randi. Let me have some fun."

Randi looked at the chuckling Wanderer, who nodded. "He's got to learn sometime," Steve said.

"Anyone else?" Robin asked, taking money out, but Amy grabbed his wrist. "What?" the fairy asked.

"You made the illusion," the witch said. "You're the referee, so you can't be in it."

Robin looked disappointed, but sighed in faked disgust. He looked around, and said, "Any more takers?"

No one seemed willing to part with money, but at the last second Liz set a ten on the table.

"I'm goin' wit' de kid," the Southern woman declared with a grin. "Hack an' slash all de way."

Oz put a ten in, betting on Steve and Willow's scenario, and the others looked at Jenny and Giles, who declined, as did the three Santa Carla hunters.

Again, the others looked at Shaw, who sighed in irritation, and laid her own ten on the coffee table.

"I say that she will be running so fast, that she tears the hinges off of the door to Steven's computer room."

Everyone stared at her, and she shrugged. "I stand by my prediction."

Buffy was glaring at her, and said, "I like it better when someone else is being bet on."

Before anyone could comment, she went and headed for the computer room. Buffy threw the door open and brazenly walked in, shutting the door behind her.

Five seconds later, it happened.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The door to the room flew open, and Buffy ran out, shutting the door as quickly as she could, and leaned against it, panting in fear. The Slayer was wide-eyed, and stuttering.

"What the Hell was it?!?" Willow said, her eyes wide at the sight of the Immortal Vampire Slayer shaking in her shoes.

Robin smiled, and in a strange voice familiar to most of the people in the room, said, "Heyyy there, Boo-boo!"

The entire group just stared at the fairy, and then looked at the trembling Buffy.

"Bear?" Willow asked in curiosity.

"B-b-b-big bear," Buffy confirmed. She looked at Shaw, and asked, "That's what you ran from?"

Shaw nodded. "Please consider that I was sixteen, eight inches shorter and twenty-five or so pounds lighter than I am now, and faced with a protective mother grizzly bear, standing twice my height and massing ten times my own weight, with five inch claws on paws that could easily take my head off with one swipe. Running seemed the practical solution."

"Good plan," Buffy muttered.

The Slayer looked over at Amy, who was counting her money. "Satisfied, Amy?"

"Yeah, I got a good haul," the witch said. She looked at the glaring Buffy, and asked, "Oh, you meant the illusion? She said you didn't want to see it. You didn't ask me if I agreed."

Edgar leaned over to Xander, and asked, "Is this the way your meetings usually go?"

Shaking his head, Xander said, "No way, Edgar."

"Good," Alan said, adding his two cents worth.

"We're keeping it toned down for you guys," the Slayerette finished.

Edgar, Alan, and Sam all looked at each other, and back at Xander.

"That's what I was afraid of," Sam said.

As the Santa Carla boys headed out to their cars, Kenny had joined them, and Shaw accompanied them, to say farewell one last time. As Edgar and Liz started up their respective cars, Shaw exchanged handshakes with Alan, Sam and Kenny.

"Be careful, all of you," the ranger instructed the hunters. "As I told Kenny, I do not have enough friends that I could stand to lose one."

"I'll get them up to speed," Kenny promised. He looked at Alan, and said, "But we need to get the coats first."

"What IS up with the coat thing, anyway?" he asked.

"You have to hide the sword somewhere," Kenny pointed out.

"Oh."

Shaw smothered a chuckle, and said to Sam, "Sam, I can tell that Elizabeth likes you. She might see a relationship between you."

"Please tell me you're not going to play matchmaker," Sam groaned, but he was reassured by sour look on her face at the last word.

"No, but if you find that you are attracted to her, I would suggest you at least see what potential there is for such matters," Shaw offered, looking at Edgar getting out of the station wagon. As he walked over, she said, "Edgar, again, I cannot thank you enough for what your help meant to me."

"We're even, Hunter," Edgar said with a smile. "You need us, call us, okay?"

"I will," the half-elf promised. She reached into a pocket, and pulled out a piece of paper. She handed it to Edgar, and said, "My number, if you are unable to reach Steven or Giles."

Edgar nodded, and Shaw turned her attention to Elizabeth, who'd joined the small group.

"Well, Hunter, we be off for home," the Watcher said as the two women shook hands. "It wa' good ta meet you."

"And it was a pleasure for me as well," Shaw said with a friendly smile. With the same smile, she then said, "Oh, Elizabeth? If you wrong Sam in any way, and I learn of it, I will stop whatever task I am performing, hunt you down like a dog, find you while holding Soulreaver, and conveniently forget that you are a Watcher and not Immortal. Are we understood?"

The four men were all staring at the women with open jaws as Shaw delivered her warning, and she looked at Sam.

"I may not be Immortal, but I do have another two centuries before me," she reminded them. "And I prefer to be direct and concise. Vague warnings never deter unwanted behavior." She turned her eyes back to Liz's, and said, "Take care of them, Elizabeth."

Shaw turned and headed back for the St. Wolf residence, and Edgar leaned in to Sam.

"Well, I was right," he said.

"How's that?" Sam asked.

"I said we'd see her again, and get us into more trouble than we could handle."

"An' you'll rub it in all de time, won't you?" Liz asked.

Edgar just smiled.

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