Part 20: Larry, Welcome To The Scooby Gang
(How to Break In A Rookie On The Hellmouth)

Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
30 November 1998

As Shaw walked into the Quad of the school, she walked around or past clumps of students returning from their Thanksgiving weekend, relating how they'd spent their weekends, either with relatives or starting on their Christmas shopping. After over two months of exposure to the normal levels of noise at the school, she'd finally managed to learn how to tolerate the sounds that were the norm here.

Shaw had decided to follow Cordelia's advice, even though it went against her better judgment, and had worn some of the more daring clothing she'd bought on her shopping trips.

She was wearing her sheer black top, with a similarly colored black tank top underneath, and the jeans given to her by Amanda, which were once again in pristine condition, thanks to some judicious magic on Amy's part. She wore a pair of black ankle boots, and wore her pendant out in the open, not caring what anyone thought of it. Her hair was unbound, flowing free without impediment, and her own feelings on this were slightly mixed; this would be the first true test of her new glamour ability. As she headed for the main building, she could already feel some of the stares being directed her way.

<I will guess that half of them are from disbelief,> she thought, chuckling to herself, <and the other half are wondering who I am.>

She weaved her way through the mass of students, and stopped at her locker. Setting the books from her afternoon classes on the shelf, she closed the locker just as Willow and Oz walked up.

"Hey, Shaw," Willow said, a smile on her face as usual. She gave the ranger a once over, and said, "You look great."

"Thank you," she said with a shrug. "I was following Cordelia's advice, nothing more."

"Nothing more?!?" Willow hissed in a low voice. "Shaw, you're wearing two hundred dollar jeans, your hair looks like you spent just as much on it, and don't think people haven't been checking you out, *especially* some of the boys."

"Perhaps, but I was wondering more what Harmony and her friends are going to think when they see me," Shaw said, sharing a sly grin with her best friend. "But my mind is on others things. Larry, for one. And. . dreams."

Willow frowned in sympathy, asking, "Still with the nightmares?"

"It has only been a week, Willow," Shaw said quickly, sounding abrupt. "I feel. . . I fear that I am in for months of such nights. They will fade over time."

"Oh. Okay," Willow said, feeling a little hurt over Shaw's tone. "We'll see you at lunch?"

Shaw smiled a little, and said, "Of course. It is good to be back at school. I will stop by the library, and I shall see you later."

Shaw walked off, and Oz asked, "You okay, Wil?"

"Yeah, but. ." the redhead said softly, before letting out a small breath. "She's back to her 'normal' self, after being so different this weekend. You saw her Friday."

Oz nodded as he snuggled up to Willow. "She's back to school, and back in the grind. She's thinking about keeping her cool."

Willow nodded, but the couple's attention was suddenly drawn by a yelp from around the corner.

"What was that?" Willow asked.

Oz shrugged, and said, "Let's check it out."

*****

Percy and some of the football players were joking as they hung out in the hallway before the first hour began, when he caught sight of the woman in tight black clothes walking down the hallway.

Percy let out a low whistle, and his teammates looked up from their conversation to see what had caught his attention.

"Hello, mama," Percy said, his eyes taking in the way the girl's clothes hugged her body. "Check out the babe."

Pedro nodded, and said, "Now that is one hot little number. Any idea who she is?"

"Nah. Can't be a senior, we know all of them," Greg Thompson said as he "admired" her backside. "Must be a transfer, or a junior. Too old to be a freshman or sophomore."

"Well," Percy said, "I think I'll introduce myself to her, and give her the "proper" Sunnydale welcome."

The other football players watched Percy head over to intercept the black-clad woman.

Shaw was heading for the library when a large male student blocked her path. Moving to the right, she said, "Excuse me."

As she began to move forward again, the young man quickly put an arm out to block her. Shaw looked into his eyes, which held a look of desire that she didn't like in the least.

"Excuse me," Shaw said again, trying to get to the library, "but I need to get by."

"Oh, that's okay," Percy said with a sly grin. "I just wanted to say welcome to Sunnydale High."

Shaw cocked an eyebrow, and asked, "If that is the case, you should have done so in September. But thank you. Now, if you will excuse me, I have things that need to be done."

Percy's face scrunched in confusion as he processed her answer, and she took his confusion as assent to leave. She began to go around his right side, but he blocked her again. With a sigh of impatience, Shaw gave the football player a hard look.

"Sir, if you do not allow me to pass, I will simply go by you," she warned him. Shrugging her shoulders to hoist her backpack higher up onto her shoulders, she said, "Now let me pass."

Percy's interest was now turning to irritation at her attitude, and he said, "Look here, girlie. I can talk to the right people, and they can make sure you never have any friends here by trashing your rep. Unless I could be convinced to do otherwise."

"My 'rep?'" Shaw asked with puzzled brows.

"Yeah, your reputation," Percy clarified, thinking he was gaining the upper hand. "So, if you have any ideas. . ."

As he trailed off, Shaw's face tilted to the side a bit, as she saw what was really happening here. She looked straight into Percy's eyes, and asked, "Is this your normal way of inquiring as to whether or not a young woman is interested in engaging in a social activity with you?"

It took Percy several seconds to translate the half-elf's question, during which she waited with faked patience.

<She's asking me if this is how I ask someone out on a date?> Percy asked himself, now thinking that she might actually be interested, but was put off by rudeness. <Okay, suave and polite. I can do that.>

"I apologize for being rude," Percy said, with false sincerity. Trying to ignore the snickers coming from his teammates, he said, "So, would you be interested in having dinner or something?"

As he asked her out, Percy reached out and tried to cop a feel of her butt, but suddenly yelped and went to his knees as his left hand erupted into pain, as Shaw looked him straight in the eyes, not even sparing a glance at the wrist now painfully locked into a nerve hold by her right hand.

Shaw waited until he could rip his gaze from his pain-filled wrist to look straight at her, and she said, "Not in this lifetime, you arrogant piece of offal."

She released his wrist, and he quickly grabbed it with his right hand. Looking down on him, she said, "Now, once again, if you will excuse me, I have to go see some people worthy of my time."

Shaw started to walk away, but before she got five steps, her sensitive hearing picked up the scratch of Percy's sneakers as he stood and quickly turned to catch her. On instinct, the ranger spun to her left, into the wall, and face outward just as the football player went through the space she'd just vacated.

He stopped, but Shaw had already ditched her backpack, letting it fall to the floor, and she took up a passive defensive stance, watching the man's body language for indications of what he was going to do.

"You little ho, I'm going to fuck you up," Percy growled. "Nobody makes a fool out of me."

"I agree," Shaw said, her eyes boring into his as they became puzzled by her agreement. "You are quite capable of doing that yourself. And I am only giving you one warning not to antagonize me."

Shaw quickly sidestepped to the center of the hallway, and waited for Percy to move. Sure enough, he shot straight forward, throwing a right cross straight from the shoulder, throwing all of his weight into it.

Shaw dodged to her left, and caught the arm by the wrist and elbow as it flew forward. Using his own forward momentum, Shaw pivoted on her feet, and "guided" Percy straight into the metal lockers with a loud, deafening "clang!" As he bounced off with a shout, Shaw ducked and sweep kicked Percy's legs out from under him, sending him crashing to the tiles. His head bounced off the floor, and he stared up, dizzy, at the small woman who'd just kicked his ass.

Shaw backed up two steps, and shot a look filled with fury at the other five members of the team, who were just staring on in shock over one of their largest buddies getting beat up by a woman who barely topped a hundred pounds.

With a tone of malice, Shaw said, "Please try something. Give me the smallest excuse to thrash your pathetic asses all over this building."

By this time, Willow and Oz, who'd heard Percy's initial cry, came over and stood in front of the half-elf, and Willow internally shivered at the sheer anger flowing in Shaw's green-shaded pupils.

"Shaw," Willow whispered, trying to stop any further fisticuffs, "you don't want to start a fight your first day back."

"I do not initiate conflicts, Willow," Shaw assured the Amazon. With looks directed specifically at the football players, she said, "I terminate them."

Oz said, "Bad choice of words, Shaw." The rocker turned to the football players, and asked, "You guys have a problem with her?"

Overcoming their surprise, the players looked ready to make an issue of Percy's beating when a grinding, rat like voice sounded out.

"HUNTER!!!"

The Slayerettes, football players, and the small crowd drawn by the argument turned as one to see Snyder walking up, his face twisted in anger. The only two people not looking at him were Percy, now staggering to his feet, and Shaw, who was watching Percy for the slightest hint that he was ready for a second beating.

"Hunter, you're going to be expelled for this. . ."

Shaw slowly turned her gaze to the diminutive administrator, and in an emotionless voice, asked, "You are going to have me expelled for enforcing your regulations?"

Snyder stopped his infant tirade, and through his beady eyes, said, "What? My regulations?"

"Yes, sir," Shaw said, turning to pick up her backpack. Putting it over her left shoulder, she said, "My first day here, you said that you would not tolerate any form of inappropriate behavior by boys and girls."

"Yes, but. . ."

"This man, and I use that term as loosely as possible without lying, barred my path, and tried to coerce me into going, how do you say? On a date?" Shaw reported, pitting Snyder with her glare, silently daring him to interrupt her. "When I pointed out his rudeness, he tried to pretend that he could be courteous, and then tried to touch me in an inappropriate area without my permission, let alone that I have no interest in this particular piece of dung. I stopped him from touching me, and attempted to proceed with my business. He took such rejection poorly, despite the fact that he MUST have much experience with rejection, and tried to attack me. I defended myself using defensive techniques, hoping that he would get the idea that I am not to be trifled with."

"But..." Snyder said, but Shaw cut him off once again.

"And now, you say you are going to expel me for refusing to put up with such activities that you yourself warned me of? Never mind that I could easily report to you, and you would, I have no doubt, take the correct actions of calling the authorities to report this man committing assault and attempting to perform sexual harassment upon myself. And I am sure that Father Johansen would very much like to talk with this man, to learn what his intentions were, pertaining to his attempts to touch and harm me."

Snyder was now sputtering as Shaw laid out her scenario involving the police, her guardian, and one of his star football players. The football players who had watched what happened paled at the thought of legal charges being brought against Percy, while Percy himself was shaking at the thought of what a Catholic priest might do to him for trying to grope his charge.

"But... but..." Snyder mumbled, finally getting a word in edgewise, "you... you..."

"Oh, yes," the priestess said, as if suddenly remembering something. She reached into her folder, and produced the faked medical reports. She held out the reports, and said, "Here is the excusal for my absence, with the full medical reports. Father Johansen said that you should feel free to call him with any questions you might have regarding my illness."

Shaw glanced at Percy, and said, "It is actually fortunate that I am not in peak condition, or I might not have been able to minimize the damage to the lockers from his impact."

Percy started to growl and clench his fists, and Willow and Oz began to move forward to prevent anything else from happening. But Snyder beat them to it, hollering, "Williams!"

Percy stopped dead, finally realizing that he was on extremely thin ice. He gulped as Snyder and Shaw both stared at him with steely eyes. The difference was that Snyder was not likely to use martial arts on him.

Snyder, still somewhat nervous over possible legal action, and knowing that he was required to ask, said to Shaw, "Do you want me to. . ."

Knowing that he couldn't bring himself to ask, the ranger looked at Percy, and as he began to squirm, coldly said, "No. I consider the matter closed, as I am quite sure that my point has been sufficiently made."

Percy and Snyder started to let out breaths they'd been holding, but the half-elf got directly in the senior's face, with her eyes full of wrath drilling into his.

"Do not think that I am being kind to you," she snarled in a deep voice. "The ONLY reason I am settling this matter here and now is because your friends will need you this weekend."

"Come again?" the jock asked stupidly.

With a sneer, Shaw said, "I may not know much about your American sports, save for baseball, but I do listen enough to know that the 'football' game this weekend is somewhat important to our school. I just feel sorry that Principal Snyder must allow an incompetent fool like yourself to represent us." She leaned in closer, so that mere centimeters separated their noses, and said, "But understand this; if you ever again try such behavior on me or one of my friends, I will gladly finish what I started, much to your pain."

Many of the girls in the hallway broke into applause at the end of her short speech, but Shaw ignored it, just continuing to stare at the athlete with a hard look. Eventually, he broke the stare and walked away, trying to keep what little dignity he had left.

Shaw turned to Snyder, and emotionlessly asked him, "Is that enough to finish the matter, sir?"

Snyder weighed his options, primarily that of having a star player available for the weekend playoff game, versus potential trouble after the season ended. Deciding that the students could keep anything that happened quiet, he nodded.

"Just watch yourself, Hunter," the troll snapped, turning and walking away.

The impromptu crowd began to disperse, save for two of the football players, who kept watching Shaw, Willow and Oz.

Shaw caught their glances, and icily asked, "You wish to say something?"

Greg looked to Luke, who swallowed and said, "Just wanted to say thanks for letting him off the hook."

"Do not thank me," the half-elf said coldly. "If I cared less about my education, I would have said circumstances be damned and beaten that little impotent bastard within an inch of his life."

Both jocks blinked at her outburst, but decided to live and let live. Luke and Greg departed without further comment.

Shaw waited until the last people were out of sight, and looked at her watch. Seeing fifteen minutes remaining before her first class started, she looked to Oz and said, "Oz, may I speak to Willow for a few minutes?"

"Sure," the werewolf said with his trademark tiny smile.

Shaw didn't wait for Willow to say anything, and started walking for the women's rest room. The witch silently followed along, and watched as Shaw set her pack on the floor. Shaw braced her arms on either side of a sink, and she suddenly started trembling with a case of the shakes.

Willow could see the ranger staring at herself in the mirror, trying to hold back tears. The auburn haired teen walked up and laid a gentle hand on Shaw's shoulder. As she continued shaking, Shaw addressed her friend while viewing Willow's reflection in the mirror.

"Willow, what was I doing?" the elven Slayerette whispered fearfully. "I was ready to hurt him for what he did."

"You were right to be mad," Willow assured her, squeezing Shaw's shoulder in support. "He tried to get fresh, and he attacked you."

"I almost lost control, Willow," Shaw hissed, turning around and leaning on the sink. "I have not been to one class, and I have already lost my temper. Am I ready for this?"

"Yeah, you are," Willow promised. She put her hands on Shaw's arms, and looked the older woman directly in the eyes. "You kept your cool. All you did was stop Percy from doing stuff that no one should have to put up with. Any one of us would have done the same thing, and Buffy or Cordelia wouldn't have gone that easy on him. You let him off easy."

Shaw swallowed several times as she considered Willow's words, and timidly nodded. Willow smiled and patted Shaw's shoulder.

"You gonna be okay?" Willow asked with a friend's concern.

"I hope so, Willow. Thank you."

"I'll see you at lunch. Take care," the Amazon said, and the pair left to go to class.

*****

Buffy and Willow made it to the lunchroom late, and as a result, they were caught at the rear end of the line. With sad sighs, the two friends resigned themselves to dining on mystery meat. Taking a look at their table, they saw most of the others grinning at their predicament.

Sending soft glares to their teammates, Buffy and Willow paid for their lunches, and headed for their seats. As they sat down, the Slayer looked around the table, and she noticed that one person was missing.

"Okay, where's Hunter?" Buffy asked, looking at the others.

Xander nodded his head in a discreet manner, and Buffy followed his gaze, settling her own eyes on a table at the opposite end of the cafeteria, where Shaw was talking with Larry.

Buffy nodded in satisfaction, and turned her mind back to the table. She looked to Cordelia, and said, "You heard what happened?"

"What? You mean that prick Percy getting embarrassed?" Cordelia said with a thin, evil grin. "Awwww. Poor baby."

The Slayerettes shared some more laughs, and their eyes were shining when Shaw walked over, tray in hand. She took the entire group in with a single sweep of her eyes, and sat down without comment, aware that her friends were watching her with humor in their eyes.

Finally, she lost her patience. "I assume your humor is based on what happened this morning?" she said quietly.

"Oh, you might say that," Amy giggled.

"And it does not concern you that I could have seriously injured him?" the half-elf asked, worry in her voice.

"Be glad we don't do it to him," Xander said, a light shade of anger in his answer. He looked around quickly, and said, "I think I talk for everyone here when I say no one would blame you for kicking his ass."

Shaw saw the nods from everyone, and slowly relaxed. Taking the lessening of her tension as a good sign, Buffy tapped Shaw's hand.

"Everything set for later?" the Immortal inquired with a smile.

Shaw waited to answer, taking a sip of water. "Yes, it is. Larry will meet me after school, and you will pick us up. And I made the point for him to dress in proper gear."

The Slayerettes, shared wicked grins, and Amy said, "Poor Larry. What's gonna be worse, the bumps or bruises, or the look on his face when he sees us?"

No one ventured an opinion.

*****

Interlude
(We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Fanfic To Bring You This Special Presentation: How To Get A Highlander Pissed Off At You Without Even Trying)

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
30 November 1998

Steve picked up the phone on the second ring, and politely answered, "St. Wolf residence."

Steve suddenly jerked back and stared at the phone as if it were about to sprout fangs and claws. A burst of loud, incomprehensible noise came through the earpiece, and Steve sighed.

"Just a minute, Connor," St. Wolf said in exasperation. He clicked a button, and placed the phone back on the receiver. "All right, Connor, do you want to tell me why you're cussing me out on my day off?"

"I'll tell you why," Connor growled in a low, gravelly voice. "It's all your fault, Steven. This happened because of you."

"Excuse me, Connor, but can I ask you one question?" Steve asked, thoroughly confused by MacLeod's outburst. "What the Hell are you talking about?"

"Maxine!" Connor barked.

Steve's eyebrows shot up, but the movement was wasted on a phone conversation. "What about her?"

"Are you telling me you don't know?" Connor demanded in a frosty voice.

"Connor, tell me *exactly* what it is you're talking about," Steve ordered the older Immortal. "What is this about Maxine?"

"Oh, I'll tell you what this is about," the Scot promised. "I had scheduled a training session for this morning, before Maxine went to her classes. We sparred with blades first, and I noticed that Maxine was showing vast improvement. It took me a full four minutes to disarm and defeat her."

"And you're pissed at me because Max is getting better?" Steve asked with rising amusement.

"I'm not done," Connor barked out. "When we went to bare hands, I tried to throw a punch. Imagine my surprise at what happened next."

With a low groan, Steve said, "Just tell me, Connor."

"She grabbed my arm and separated my shoulder, broke six ribs with three kicks she launched in less than four seconds, and then she military pressed me and threw me to the floor, knocking me out for nearly twenty minutes. And when I wake up, she says, 'Oops!'"

With a feeling of extreme skepticism, Steve asked, "You're joking, right?"

"Of course I am," the Immortal Scot snapped. "When I asked her how she manhandled me in under twenty seconds, she told me, 'The Boss Woman made me an offer I liked.'"

"The 'Boss Woman?'" Steve asked, despite the fact that he had a fairly good idea who Connor was talking about. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yes," Connor confirmed with a snap. "She even set up a damned shrine in my dojo!"

Steve chuckled and muttered, "Welcome to the club, Connor. But think about how much easier this'll make your patrols."

"Steven. . . ." Connor growled.

"Hey, don't worry, Connor," the Wanderer said, "I'm sure it won't be *too* painful for you."

Connor's phone in New York slammed down.

(We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Fanfic)

*****

Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
30 November 1998

Larry stood outside on the Quad, standing next to the flagpole in front of the school. He looked at his watch again, and sighed.

<4:15. Okay, I'm getting impatient now,> the large man thought. <I said I'd be here, so where are you?>

Larry looked up at the sky and sighed, wondering where Shaw Hunter was. He started to rub the bridge of his nose, when a voice from behind made him jump.

"Hello, Larry," Shaw said pleasantly.

Larry whirled around, and groaned. "Don't DO that!"

"Do not do what?" the young woman asked with a little, amused smile.

With a heavy sigh, Larry said, "Okay, you've had your fun, Hunter. So now what?"

"SO, now that," Shaw said, pointing towards a dark Chevy Tahoe that had its engine running. "We will head to the training session, and you will meet the others in our group."

Larry stopped as he realized she'd said "our group." "Our?" he asked.

"If you are joining, you will be part of our team," the ranger said, as if she knew for sure he was joining. She looked at the ground for a second, and said to Larry, "Larry, some of the things that I told you about myself. . ."

"Aren't true," Larry finished. When she jerked in surprise, he said, "Hey, you needed to protect yourself, I understand. You weren't lying to me, you were just keeping up your cover."

"Even so, I wish to give you the truth," Shaw told the athlete, folding her arms in a way that told Larry he didn't have a choice in the matter. Seeing that look in his eyes, she smiled. "Very well. As far as Amy, my biracial heritage, my magic, and the group I fight for, that much is true. What was not true was my father and grandfather being in the British military. They were warriors, but not in that manner. My grandmother was also a warrior, but my mother was a sorceress. Fighting evil is a tradition in my family, going back seven generations, perhaps more."

"I can see your point. It explains your training, at least," Larry said kindly. He chuckled, and said, "Thanks for trusting me with the truth. Any other surprises?"

"How about that fact that I have Irish blood, as well as Scottish?" the half-elf asked mischievously. "Or the fact that the relative who links me to Amy was not my twice-great grandmother, but my great-grandmother?"

Larry has snorted in amusement at the mention of Irish blood, but his eyes went blank as Shaw mentioned her ancestor. He watched her for many seconds, and finally said, "Okay, how old are you? Really, I mean."

"Fifty-four," the ranger said honestly.

"Fifty-four," Larry echoed, to which Shaw nodded with a smile. He started shaking his head and smiling, and asked, "And how old is that in human years?"

"Fifty-four," Shaw repeated. "That is by our calendar."

"I meant equivalent, Shaw," Larry stressed.

"Oh. In that case, seventeen. By lifespan," the Slayerette offered. With a shrug, she said, "Mentally, I would estimate myself to be closer to the early twenties."

"So you're still a young lady," Larry said in observation.

"Yes, Larry," Shaw agreed quickly. Putting a friendly hand on his shoulder, she said, "And seeing how well you handled this information, I think the rest of the day should not be so difficult for you. Shall we go?"

Larry smiled, and let his arm out to indicate that she should lead the way to the Tahoe. The pair walked to the truck, and Shaw headed for the back. Taking the hint, Larry opened the passenger door and nimbly climbed in, but stopped short of saying anything when he saw the driver.

"Buffy," the big man finally said, watching her.

"Hey, Larry," Buffy smiled. She shifted the truck into drive, and said, "Are you surprised?"

"Actually," the athlete mused, his eyebrows going up when he admitted, "no. No, I'm not, not really."

Shaw could be heard laughing from the back as Buffy pouted.

"Spoil my fun," she said, suddenly peeling off and heading for Steve's.

*****

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
30 November 1998

The Tahoe pulled up into Steve's driveway, and Buffy shifted the truck into park. With a full smile, she turned to Larry. "That wasn't so bad, was it?" the Immortal Slayer asked.

Larry just stared straight ahead, and answered, "And I thought a vampire's face was scary."

"If you say so," Buffy said, giggling.

The two seniors, as well as the junior in the back, climbed out of the Tahoe, and began walking to the house. Larry looked at Shaw, who seemed exceedingly calm.

"Didn't that drive scare you?" he asked.

"No, Larry. I have experienced insane driving before," the elven warrior shrugged. "It is dimensional travel that I have problems with."

Larry looked at Buffy, who laughed. "Some people get seasick. Shaw gets 'teleport sick.'"

The rookie nodded with a grin, and they walked into the living room. Seeing it empty, Larry asked, "Where is everyone?"

"In the training room," Buffy replied. Seeing Larry's look, she explained, "We have our own training room here at Steve's house. Kind of a combo gym/ karate room. We've got weights, kendo sticks, you name it. That's why you're in sweats." Her grin grew sadistic, and she said, "You didn't think we'd go easy on you, did you?"

Larry looked at Shaw, and asked, "Day off for you?"

"No, Larry," Shaw said tersely. He winced, and her face fell. "Larry, I apologize. What happened last week nearly made me insane, and I am, to use your phrasing, burned out. But it does not excuse speaking to you in that fashion."

Larry looked very surprised by her admission, and said, "Hey, we're cool, Shaw. Everyone needs a break."

"Yep," Buffy added. She grabbed Larry by the arm, and said, "Are you ready to meet the Scooby Gang?"

Putting on a brave face, Larry chuckled, "As ready as I'll ever be, Buffy."

"Okay, let's go," the Slayer said, leading him and Shaw into the training room.

*****

Larry was the first to walk in, quickly followed by Buffy and Shaw. As Shaw pulled the doors shut, Buffy smiled at Larry.

"Larry, I think we can skip most of the intros," Buffy joked.

"Hey, Lar. How's it hanging?" Xander asked Larry, who just stood there, staring at the group in the room.

To his credit, Larry recovered quickly. He did lost a bit of his recovery when he saw Jenny and Giles. "Mr. Giles? Ms. Calendar? You're part of the team?"

"Hi, Larry," Jenny said warmly as the pair shook hands. "Yes, we're part of this. You seem to be handling this pretty well."

"I hope so," Larry said dryly, prompting some laughs from the gang. "So where do we start? I mean, how did this all happen, vampires, demons?"

Giles cleared his throat, and said, "Well, Mr. Blaisdell, it begins like this. The world is far older than you know, and contrary to popular mythology. . ."

"The Earth began as Hell, as demons ruled this plane of existence," Shaw continued, much to the shock of the others, save for Buffy. "The Old Gods, such as the Greek and Viking Gods, eventually drove the demons into Hell, and allowed the current races, such as humans, to take over. Some demons, including vampires, still walk the Earth, hoping to one day return the Old Ones, the demon Lords, to power."

Shaw took in the stunned gazes, and looked at Buffy. "What that 'short version' short enough, Buffy?"

Buffy smiled a little, and said, "Pretty good. Giles, you can do the Slayer bit."

Despite massive irritation, not to mention numerous snickers and giggles, Giles said, "Very well. Larry, many centuries ago, seven of the Greek Gods, including Zeus and Hercules, banded together to make a champion invested with a small portion of their divine powers, who would defend mankind against the vampires. This woman is called the Slayer. When she died, her spirit entered the body of the next woman to be Chosen. Through the centuries, when the Slayer is killed, the spirit enters the next woman. Three years ago, the spirit entered Buffy. Last June, Buffy was temporarily killed, and the spirit entered into Kendra, here. Kendra is the current Slayer."

Kendra sent Larry a silent nod of respect, which he returned. He looked at Buffy, and with genuine interest in his voice, asked, "Buffy, how did you 'temporarily' die?"

"I got sucked on by a Master vamp, and he threw me into a pool," Buffy said with a shiver, as she flashed back through the memories. "I drowned, but Xander was able to find me, and use CPR on me to bring me back. I was only gone for a minute."

Larry looked at her skeptically, and said, "You don't really expect me to believe that, do you?"

"What do you mean?" Buffy asked, as bewildered as the rest.

Larry looked at Jenny, and said, "Well, I couldn't help but notice Ms. Calendar's cool-looking tattoo. It looks just like the one my grandpa had on his left arm when he was alive."

The Slayerettes all now stared at Larry as if he'd confessed to knowing the location of the Ten Commandments. They all eventually looked to Steve St. Wolf, and the Wanderer just sighed in disbelief.

"Okay, your grandfather was a Watcher," Steve said. "You know what that means, as far as Buffy goes?"

"Yeah. Grandpa told me a few things," Larry said with a grin directed at Buffy. "He told me about Immortals, the 'Game' thing. But he only told me about a few specific Immortals. So, how old are you really, Buffy?"

"Larry, I'm seventeen," Buffy protested. "I died last year. I've only been an Immortal for a year and a half."

"That's it?" Larry blurted out. "A year and a half?"

"Well, keep in mind, before I became an Immie, I was fighting vampires every night," Buffy offered. She smiled and said, "And having friends like these is a big help."

Xander raised his hand, and said, "Yo, Lar. Let's get this straight; your grandpa was a Watcher?"

"Yeah, Xander," Larry admitted without pause. "The last Immortal he Watched was twenty-five years ago. Some Scottish guy named MacLeod."

Larry was startled when the entire group busted into uproarious laughter, Shaw included. After a few minutes, the laughs began to subside, and Larry was growing impatient with their delay in an explanation.

Larry looked to Shaw, his sponsor, so to speak, and asked, "Okay, what's so funny?"

"Larry, I once received training from a MacLeod, and was subsequently adopted into the Clan," Shaw said with a wide grin. "Which MacLeod did your grandfather Watch, Connor or Duncan?"

"Duncan," Larry responded. He looked around when the laughter started again. "What?" he asked impatiently.

"Well, Larry," Steve chuckled, trying to talk without laughing too much, "Duncan was my teacher when I became an Immortal. So the subject hits a little close to home, doesn't it, Duncan?"

Larry looked at the dark haired Immortal, who smiled and said, "Guilty as charged. Pleased to meet you, Larry."

Larry looked at Xander, and asked, "Why am I getting the feeling that this is a common thing with this gang?"

"You've got good instincts," Steve said with a lopsided grin. "Okay, now that the surprises are *hopefully* over, let's get the introductions out of the way for those you don't know, okay, Larry?"

"Sure," Larry said, still somewhat overwhelmed that someone his grandfather had had intimate knowledge of was standing less than ten feet from him.

Steve smiled at him, and said, "Okay, let's start with me. I'm Steve St. Wolf, born Carson Jamieson in Texas, in 1959. I joined the Army at sixteen, and did time in the Rangers and Green Berets before being discharged. My wife was murdered in '83, and I killed the men who did it. I was killed by a nutcase trying to kill some kids in Michigan a short time later, and I met Duncan a few days after that. Since then, I've become a Demon Hunter, although I also work for the CIA."

Steve and Larry shook hands, and said, "Now, for those you don't know. First is Joe N'Gato, a Knight in the Order of the Grail, which is run by my overall boss, Merlin. Kendra McPhereson, the Slayer. Randi Jessup, who's my student along with Buffy, and her brother, Brian. And this," he said, turning to Robin, "is Robin Goodfellow. He's a fairy."

Larry's eyebrows narrowed, and he said, "Oh, really."

"Larry," Shaw said with a friendly smile, "my mother was an elven sorceress. Are fairies such as Oberon and Titania that much harder for you to believe in?"

Larry just looked at Robin, who smiled back at him.

"Read A Midsummer Night's Dream," the sprite told the new guy, "and you'll get the basic idea."

"If you say so," the football player said softly. He let our a sharp breath, and said, "Okay, any more big shocks?"

Buffy grinned, and said, "Well, other than Xander having the memories of a Green Beret from that Halloween crap last year, Oz being a werewolf, Amy, Cordelia, Jenny and Willow all being Amazons, and witches except for Cordy, and Giles being able to do some magic, all that's really left to tell you is about Shaw being from another dimension."

Shaw gasped, and Larry looked over to her in surprise.

"Is she serious?" Larry asked.

Gingerly, Shaw confessed, "It is somewhat complex, but yes, Buffy is correct. I was unsure that you would believe it, even knowing everything else."

"Then how are you Amy's cousin?" the jock asked, looking between the two.

"I told you that Alison Madison went to explore other places," the half-elf reminded him. "It was simply not on Earth."

"Then you're not really Scottish."

Amy raised her hand, and said, "Uh, Larry? Alison was American, but of Irish and Scottish descent. Does that help?"

Larry laughed with the others, and said, "Yeah, I guess so. Sorry about making you uncomfortable."

"Thank you," Shaw whispered.

"Okay, enough small talk," Steve said. "Larry, you ready to get your first taste of sparring with Amazons?"

Larry shook his head. "You mean, am I ready to get tossed around like a rag doll? Guess so."

"Welcome to the club," Shaw and Randi said. Randi said, "Don't worry, Larry. It won't hurt *that* much."

*****

Two hours later, Larry was rubbing numerous parts of his body and grimacing as the training session ended. The Slayerettes joked and talked, and Larry was feeling right at home, thanks to the efforts of the others.

Steve walked over and said, grinning evilly, "Well, I'll say this for you, Larry. You've got enthusiasm, and you certainly know how to roll with your impacts."

"Football," Larry said quickly with a shrug. "Teaches you how to take a hit, and playing infield helps the side-to-side movement."

"Well, you've got a long way to go," Steve offered, but he told Larry, "but you've got potential."

"For bumps and bruises," Larry joked, rubbing one such bruise on his shoulder. "But you could've warned me about those. . . empowerments the guys have. The guys're just as bad as the girls."

"Don't worry," Jenny said, coming up behind the sore teenager. "With Shaw, Randi and Joe, you'll get to fight against people with normal abilities. The sparring with us just gives you an example of what the vamps can do."

"True," Larry admitted dryly. "But I hate to think of what trying to do sword sparring will be like, Ms. Calendar."

"Larry, call me Jenny. We're teammates here."

"Uh. . okay. That'll take some getting used to."

Xander walked up with Cordelia, and said, "Hey, Larry, don't take it bad. As big as you are, you lasted longer against me and Cordy than Shaw did her first time. At least you'll be in the same boat as us with the swords. Shaw beats everyone but Steve and Buffy."

"Yeah, I can see why," Larry said, looking at Shaw. "Being fifty-four years old helps, huh?"

Xander blinked, and said, "Wait a minute, Larry. Shaw's fifty-three."

Shaw jumped in, and said, "No, Xander, I am fifty-four."

"Since when?" Xander asked, missing the grins spreading to the rest of the group.

"Since Saturday," Shaw told him. She turned to Larry, and said, "Larry, you did do better than me in my first session. So do not feel bad."

"Thanks," Larry said with a friendly smile. "I'll keep that in mind when I'm landing on my butt again."

"Uh, Shaw," Xander said as he butted in, "you're saying that you're fifty-four now?"

"Yes, Xander," Shaw said again.

Xander was looking stumped. "Uh, Shaw, can I ask you something?"

Shaw looked at him, and said, "Of course. What is it?"

"Uh, well," he hedged, "are you saying that Saturday was your birthday?"

"Yes, Xander."

Xander blinked, as did Giles and Robin. "Uh, Shaw? Can I ask you another question?"

With a look of slight impatience, Shaw nodded. "What is it?"

"If Saturday was your birthday, why the Hell didn't you TELL ANYONE?!?" he said loudly.

Shaw looked at him, puzzlement in her eyes. "I did not have to."

"You didn't have to?!?" Xander spit, his jaw open. "Shaw, you could you not tell anyone your birthday?!?"

"Because people knew," the half-elf replied easily.

"Oh, really," Xander responded sarcastically. He put his hands on his hips, and demanded, "Anyone who knew that Saturday was Shaw's birthday, raise your hand."

Everyone in the training room, with the exceptions of Giles, Xander, Robin and Joe N'Gato instantly raised their hands up high. Xander, Giles and Robin looked at the others, and Xander looked at his grinning girlfriend.

"You knew?" he asked.

"Duuuuuh. Remember the 'boys only' patrol on Friday?" Cordelia asked. "Well, we had a 'girls only' birthday party at the Bronze."

As the majority of the others began laughing at the disbelieving look on Xander's face, Giles turned to Jenny.

"You did know about this?" the Watcher asked.

"Of course," the computer teacher replied with a seductive grin. "But I hope that you'll remember that I got you the night off."

After a moment, Giles nodded. "I'll keep that in mind."

As the Slayerettes and visitors left the training room, a knock came at the door, and Willow announced she'd get the door.

She trotted into the kitchen, while the others began talking with each other. Cordelia came over next to Larry, and asked, "Well, what do you think?"

"I think I'm in for a lot of butt kickings, but I think I'll pick it up," Larry said. He rubbed his sore shoulder again, and said, "I just hope you don't expect me to help you out tonight."

"Nah," Cordy said with a quick peck on the cheek. "We try not to throw the rookies in the deep end the first time."

Any retort was lost when Larry's eyes fell on the person who walked into the living room with Willow. The African-American stranger stared at Larry, and a smile curved onto his lips.

Larry broke from the group and walked over to the new arrival, their impressive heights allowing them to stare each other in the eyes. Steve walked over, looking between the two men.

"I take it you know each other," Steve coolly remarked.

The black man nodded, and said to Larry, "I thought I told this stuff was classified."

"Well, I sorta joined up," Larry retorted.

After a few more seconds, both men started grinning and clapped their hands together in a strong handshake. After a few seconds, the dark man turned to Steve.

"Remember the DeBrachy fight in August?" Charlie asked, leading Steve to nod. "This kid was in the cage. He saved my ass when a demon tried to sneak up on me."

Steve turned to Larry, and asked, "You were in the crypt in August?"

"Yeah," Larry said, looking at Charlie. "But since this wiseass said you guys were some kind of top secret unit, I decided to forget the fight. No one would've believed me."

"About the vamps, you mean?" Xander joked, drawing laughs from everyone.

"No, about the vamp with the Uzi and willie peter grenades," Larry countered, sharing a laugh with Charlie. "Good to see you got out."

"You, too," Charlie said, thinking back to the battle in August against a vampire named Reginald DeBrachy, a former member of the Knights Templar. DeBrachy had attempted to open the Hellmouth, but a combined force from Section Seven, Section One, Bureau 13 and the Knights of the Grail had put an end to his threat. It was easy to forget, amid all the fighting, the two hundred prisoners Charlie had been with protecting. Apparently, Larry hadn't forgotten.

Charlie put his hand out again, and Larry took it. Charlie nodded, and said, "I owe you for that one, kid."

"Hey, we're even," Larry assured him.

Steve cocked an eyebrow, and said, "This was more surprising for us that it was for you, Larry. At least, I'm starting to think that way."

"No shit," Xander said. "Larry, Charlie's our undercover guy in the vamp camp."

"How's that?" Larry asked.

"Well, it's like this," Jenny said, taking the floor. "You see, Larry, there are different types of vampires. The most common breed, the ones we fight, have no souls. When one of these types turns a human, the person's soul leaves, and a demon takes over the body, and animates the corpse. However, there are certain spells that can restore the soul to them. Charlie's one such vampire."

Charlie took over the story. "When I got turned, Steve, Buffy and company were about twenty minutes too late to save my life. So, when I woke up the first night, the demon was in control. Jenny, Amy and Willow used the spell to restore my soul minutes after coming to. I agreed to become their undercover man, even staging a fake fight with Buffy to establish a 'reputation' as one of the few vamps to fight the Slayer and survive. I get paid, yes, but it's to help support my wife and kids, who are still alive."

"Man, what a bummer," Larry said, shaking his head. "You don't do the vengeance gig, then?"

"At the start, I did. But, I got over it," Charlie told him. He clapped Larry on the shoulder, and said, "But I'm glad you decided to join up. How'd you find out about the team, though?"

Everyone looked at Shaw Hunter, and Charlie raised a speculative eyebrow.

"Of course. Blame me," the half-elf mumbled. "It was not as if I had a choice."

"Hey, we don't blame you," Xander said with a silly grin. "Saving people's lives is one way to get people to join up. Heck, that's how it works in the books."

Shaw's eyebrow rose, and she asked, "What books?"

Xander started to answer, but stopped when he realized he'd inadvertently revealed something. "Oh, shit," was what he said instead.

"What is wrong, Xander?" Shaw asked him.

Larry looked at Charlie, and said, "Any idea what's going down?"

"Nope," the souled vampire responded.

Xander was looking nervous, so Cordelia moved to the fore. "Uh, Shaw? Maybe this is something we should talk about in private. Just you, me, and Xander," Cordelia offered.

Shaw looked at the couple, and asked, "Is it that important?"

When Xander and Cordelia both muttered "yes," the ranger nodded and the three headed for the training room. Amy and Robin looked at each other, and they nodded, following the trio.

Buffy leaned in towards Steve. "Are they going to talk about you-know-what?"

"Probably," the Wanderer said. "But let's let them talk it out." Steve turned back to Larry, and said, "Well, Larry. We'll see you on Wednesday?"

"You got it, Steve," Larry promised. "Thanks for the chance."

"Don't thank him until you use a sword against him," Buffy grinned.

*****

Xander, Cordelia and Shaw walked into the training room, but before Cordy could close the door, Amy and Robin popped through the door with neutral looks on their faces. The five Slayerettes assembled in a rough semi-circle, and Shaw spoke up first.

"What did you want to talk about, Xander?" the ranger asked politely.

"Uh. . ." Xander said, trying to figure out where to start. Finally, he said, "Okay. You know Elminster comes here, right?"

"Yes, so I was told," Shaw agreed.

"Well, as it turns out, I knew the name when you first said it three months ago," the warrior said. Before Shaw could inquire further, he blurted out, "There's books and games based on your world, they call it the Forgotten Realms. They call the overall stuff Dungeons and Dragons."

Shaw just watched him with a closed look, and asked, "Is there anything else, Xander?"

"Uh, well, there's the fact that some of the books are Elminster's biography," Xander feebly offered. Gulping, he said, "There's books on Elminster, Drizzt Do'Urden, Storm Silverhand. . ."

"Storm's history has been published?" the half-elf demanded incredulously.

"Uh, yeah. But it's not just your world," Xander continued. "There are other worlds that get the treatment. Their versions of Elminster or Merlin like to get together and shoot the shit."

"The premier wizards of other planes come to Earth simply to do something that disgusting?"

Cordelia and Amy started laughing, but Shaw froze them with a glare.

"Ahem," Robin said, taking over the conversation. "Shaw, what that means is that the big wizards come here to share information about their worlds, as well as to learn about Earth. It's been going on for centuries. The meetings, that is, not the books."

"And neither of you thought I might want that information?" the half-elf asked in a voice distinctly laden with anger. "Knowing that I have not been on Toril in thirteen years?"

"Now wait a minute," Cordelia snapped. "You told us--"

"Cordelia."

The brunette Amazon looked at Robin, who had spoken. The fairy sighed, and said, "Xander, Cordy, Amy, let me talk to Shaw in private, huh?"

Cordelia looked at Amy, who shrugged. The three slowly walked out. When the door closed, Robin let out a breath, very slowly.

The sprite cocked his head, and asked, "Well?"

Shaw looked at him through the corner of her eyes, and asked, "Why was I not told of this three months ago?"

"Well first of all, there wasn't really time with the prophecy and everything else going down," Robin said. He leaned against the wall, and said, "But then, your own words showed that you might not be interested in the info."

"How can you possibly say that?!?" Shaw demanded, stepping forward a bit.

"Xander asked you if you had any regrets about staying here, and you said no. You also told the girls that Millie's the only thing you felt a connection to on Faerun." Robin moved forward, and shrugged. "Plus, I know every bit of stuff involving the Realms. Before you ask, it's to keep up with current events when I can't visit Toril myself. Remember, I've been there a number of times. Now, maybe it was a mistake, but it was for the right reasons."

"And what would they be?" Shaw demanded, but without any venom.

Robin sighed, and asked her, "You said this is your home now, right?"

"Yes, it is," Shaw replied firmly.

Robin spread his arms out, and said, "And he realized that. Maybe he made a mistake in not telling you, but it was for the right reasons. He didn't want you to be ticked off at him, and he didn't want you to feel heartbroken or homesick."

Shaw blinked, and softly said, "I am not mad at him, I am mad at that pipe-smoking, beak-nosed shard of orc dung from Shadowdale. I do not approve of stories of the exploits of my people being used as entertainment."

Nodding in understanding, Robin said, "Hey, how do you think I feel! My reputation's been trashed for four hundred years since that little bastard Puck stole the credit I was rightfully due. I'm the Merry Wanderer in the Night, he's the twisted, psychotic wanderer in the night. At least your people got a fair shake out the thing!"

"All of that information about Toril published," Shaw softly muttered. An idea came to her, and she looked at Robin. "Robin, you know the names of my ancestors. . ."

"Not a word about them printed," Robin promised, going so far as to raise his right hand. "Believe me, words wouldn't do justice for Alison." After a brief pause, he said, "Disappointed?"

"No," Shaw answered. "Relieved."

Robin started laughing, and Shaw joined him a few seconds later.

*****

Part 21: Surprises Again
(The Hits Just Keep On Coming)

Sunnydale High Library
Sunnydale, California
1 December 1998

As Giles and Jenny walked up to the library, they were hardly surprised to see lights on at seven-fifteen, but disappointment from a message the night before made Giles sigh in resignation.

"As much as I am grateful for her work ethic and desire to catch up my paperwork, I was hoping for some privacy," the Watcher dryly remarked. "After what that little bastard did. . ."

"Ahem," Jenny intoned severely. "You have no right to call him that."

"But. . ."

Jenny stuck her nose up in the air, and in a faked British accent, said, "For all of his faults, Principal Snyder is not a bastard. Goblin or troll is acceptable, but not bastard." Switching back to her normal voice, she added, "Or something to that effect, if I remember correctly."

Giles stopped, and looked at the giggling Romany. "It's not often that you're able to use my own words against me."

"I know, Rupert," Jenny said with a smile. "But as to your point, I'm sure she'll give you the privacy you need. If you want to be alone, I'll respect your wishes, too."

"What do you mean, if I want. . ." Giles blurted before seeing through the teasing. "Very funny, Jenny. Shall we?"

The teachers walked into the library, and Jenny said, "Good morning, Shaw."

When the normally pleasant answer didn't come, Jenny and Giles both turned to face the silent assistant. Shaw was sitting at the table next to the computer, reading a thick, and quite obviously old, volume. There was some file active on the computer screen, but from the look of things, if had been completely forgotten by the young ranger. So absorbed in whatever she was reading, she didn't even notice the 'clack, clack' of Jenny's heels as they walked closer.

"Shaw?" Jenny asked again, but once again, she failed to draw an answer.

Jenny turned back to Giles, and paused at the look of slight anger on his face. She asked, "Rupert, what's wrong?"

"She's reading one of the Watcher's Diaries," Giles answered brusquely. "I keep those locked in my office."

Now, Jenny realized what Giles was angry about. <She broke into his office?> the technopagan wondered. <What could drive her to do that?>

"Shaw," Giles said, putting some iron into the word.

Jenny was smirking, thinking that he would get no more response then she had.

"Hmmm?" Shaw mumbled distractedly, not looking up from her reading.

Now completely perturbed, Giles reached in and yanked the Diary from Shaw's hands, snapping her back into awareness. She quickly took stock of her surroundings, and her eyes narrowed as Giles slammed the book shut. Shaw shot to her feet, a look of anger in her own eyes.

"What do you think you are doing?" she asked in a low voice.

Not backing down, but still caught off guard by her tone, Giles said, "I think I should be asking you the same question, Shaw." He brandished the large book, and asked, "Why did you do this?"

"Because I have a right to this knowledge," Shaw replied testily.

"You had no right to break into my office, Shaw," Giles huffed. He set the book on the table, and told her, "If you wanted to read one of these Diaries, you should have asked."

Shaw's eyes went wide with amazement, and she snapped, "I cannot believe that you are telling me that I have to ask for information that I have a right to!"

"You're rights to anything do not allow you to violate the privacy of my office," Giles said angrily.

Jenny was frowning by this point, but it wasn't in anger. <Why am I getting the feeling they're arguing over two completely different subjects? Rupert's upset about her breaking into his office, and Shaw's upset about. . .>

"And you have no right to keep me from information about someone whose blood flows through my veins!" the young woman told the Englishman.

<That's it.>

"Enough, you two!" Jenny said, stepping between the arguing parties. "You two don't even get the idea that you're arguing over two different things."

Giles and Shaw both looked strangely at Jenny, and she smiled inwardly as the both of them seemed to be thinking about the point she'd raised. Sensing their hesitation, she decided to take over the argument.

"Now. Both of you, listen to me," Jenny ordered. Looking at Giles, she said, "I'm playing judge here. Rupert, you go first. What are you angry about?"

"You know why I'm angry," Giles said disbelievingly.

With a sigh, Jenny said, "Explain it to *her*."

Giles looked at Shaw, who was still fuming. He took a deep breath, and said, "Shaw, you violated the privacy of my office by breaking into my private collection of records and taking out this Diary. You went behind my back and did something that is, quite simply, a violation of my trust in you."

Shaw stiffened, and as if in a daze, asked, "What did you say?"

"I said that you violated my trust," the Watcher reiterated.

Shaw was absolutely stunned by his declaration, and she whispered, "You say you cannot trust me because I want to know about an ancestor?"

Jenny stepped in at that point, once she saw that Shaw still misunderstood. She faced Shaw directly, and said, "Shaw, it's not your curiosity that's the subject here. What's at issue is the fact that you didn't *ask* to see that Watcher's Diary. You broke into his records without consideration for his feelings. *That's* why he's angry."

Shaw started looking between the two teachers, and the combination of anger in Giles' eyes and earnestness in Jenny's face and posture drove home the point the teachers were trying to make. Once the point registered, Shaw bowed her head and stared at the floor.

"Shaw?" Jenny asked.

"I am sorry, Giles," the half-elf said in a hollow voice. "It will not happen again."

"Shaw," Jenny said, touching her shoulder, "you still haven't told us why you did it. I know there's an explanation for your actions. Let us understand it."

Without moving, Shaw simply said, "On the computer."

With a cocked eyebrow, Jenny turned to the computer screen, and looked at the file. She quickly read over the file, and then turned back to Shaw.

With a helpless shrug, she said, "Shaw, I still don't understand."

"Giles will," the half-elf muttered dejectedly, sitting down in a chair.

Jenny and Giles were only more confused by her actions, and Giles asked, "What is on the file, Jenny?"

"Some names," the Gypsy replied, reading over the file once more. "Margaret Abigail Madison, her husband, one son, three daughters, one of whom was adopted. . ."

"Adopted?" Giles repeated. He opened the front of the Watcher's Diary, and saw some writing on the inside cover. "An adopted daughter."

Jenny nodded, and said, "Yes. Her name was. ."

"Maria Delgado," Giles finished.

The computer teacher turned towards Giles, an open question on her face. Giles pointed to the page he was reading, and some understanding was on his face.

"Maria Delgado was a Slayer in the latter half of the eighteenth century," Giles said, fingering his glasses with his free hand. "Margaret Madison was her Watcher. Maria lasted nearly ten years as the Slayer, with an amazing record. Margaret is often considered one of the greater Watchers of her time, and she and Maria are still held up as one of the top Watcher/Slayer teams in the Council's history."

"She adopted her Slayer?" Jenny asked, and an idea began to form in her head.

"Yes, Jenny. Maria was quite short-tempered and hard headed, and Margaret was the only Watcher who could match her in that regard. Margaret adopted Maria, but according to Margaret's Diaries, it was much more to them than the matter of convenience it was for the Council."

Giles looked through the Watcher's Diary, and said, "They truly loved each other as mother and daughter. ."

"They WERE mother and daughter," Shaw said irritably.

Giles frowned at her, and said, "Shaw, please do not interrupt again."

"Then please get your facts correctly," the half-elf said, standing up. "Legally, they were mother and daughter, and they loved each other as such."

Giles looked ready to snap at Shaw, but Jenny cut in.

"Shaw, enough." When Shaw looked evenly at Jenny, the Romany said, "Don't look at me that way. I agree with Rupert as far as going into his office goes, but I know why you did it. That is, if this file is the one I think it is."

Shrinking back into herself a bit, Shaw nodded. "It is, Jenny," she said quietly.

Now, Giles was looking confused. "Jenny, you know why she took a Diary out?"

"That Diary, specifically," the witch clarified, standing up and walking over to Shaw. "Do you want to tell him, or will I?"

"You can, Jenny," Shaw muttered. "I am sorry, but this. . "

"I understand," Jenny said. With a sigh, she turned back to the librarian, and said, "Rupert, when I said Margaret's name, you made the connection to Maria, yes?" When Giles nodded, she said, "Shaw made the same connection from her computer file that you made from the Diary. Margaret's Diary."

"I understand that," Giles assured his fiancé. "But what does this have to do with her breaking into my private records?"

Jenny sighed, and said, "The file on the computer was part of a larger file on a compact disc that Amy gave Shaw for her birthday. On that disc was the Madison family tree, Shaw's Earth ancestry going back over six centuries."

Giles looked confused until Jenny's final sentence brought the idea home. He looked in the opening page of the Diary once again, and then back at Shaw.

"Shaw, you’re a descendant of Margaret Madison?" Giles asked in wonder.

"Her five-times-great granddaughter, through her second daughter," Shaw answered, still not looking at the Watcher. "A direct matrilineal line until my Grandfather. The matrilineal line is complete for her six-times-great granddaughter."

"Amy," Jenny whispered, but it was loud enough for Shaw to hear, and nod in confirmation. With a small smile, Jenny said, "You know, Rupert, this world is getting far too small for such coincidences."

"Yes, quite," Giles muttered.

"I also think it explains how Maria was able to last so long as the Slayer," Jenny said. At Giles' raised eyebrow, she smiled. "Rupert, Margaret *Madison*. Amy said the traditions of her family go back four hundred years or more. This places Margaret right in the middle of the span."

Giles thought about it, and he looked at Shaw, who was obviously repentant about what she'd done, despite her reasons. "Well, it doesn't condone what you did, Shaw, but I understand your reasons. I have Diaries that my father and grandmother wrote, so I know the differences inherent with reading words penned by someone you know existed, and reading the words and perceptions of one's ancestors. If you want to read this Diary, you are of course free to do so. All I ask is that you let me know. Is that agreeable?"

Shaw looked up at him, and softly, she answered, "Yes, Giles. I simply want to know things about my history."

"Of course," the Watcher said. "The matter is forgiven, and it will be forgotten. Just be somewhat more reserved in the future. Now, you'd best get to class. When you come for sixth hour, you can borrow the Diary then."

Shaw nodded, and a smile appeared on her face. She quickly packed up her belongings, and headed out into the hallway. Waiting a few seconds, Jenny spoke up.

"I think she learned her lesson, Rupert," the computer teacher muttered.

"Yes, it's just a shock that she would do something so. . ."

"Impulsive? Youthful?"

Giles sighed, and said, "She is somewhat hard to figure out, sometimes."

"She's young, Rupert. Even at her age," Jenny joked, drawing a sigh from Giles. "Oh, stop being so stuffy."

*****

Office of Sydney Greene
Sunnydale, California
1 December 1998

Sydney Greene sat at his desk, smiling as he read the latest letter he'd received from Jarod and Parker. As always, he was glad that the former Centre operatives had gotten together after the events in Los Angeles. The only regret he had was that they lived in Seacouver while training with Duncan MacLeod, whom Sydney had finally been able to meet when the Immortal had come to Sunnydale just over a week ago. It did Sydney's heart good to know that the two children of his heart were in a pair of the most capable hands he'd ever had the pleasure of meeting.

<Of course,> Sydney thought to himself, <Mr. St. Wolf is also a student of Mr. MacLeod, so that is another good sign.>

Sydney folded the letter up and placed it into his coat pocket, and started to pull out some patient records when a knock came at the door.

"Come in," Sydney called, putting down the folders.

Angelo walked into the office, a strange look on his face. He closed the door behind him, and said, "There's someone here to see Sydney."

Sydney's eyes narrowed in thought; he didn't have any patients for the rest of the afternoon, so he didn't have any idea who could be sitting in his waiting room. He interlocked his fingers, and thoughtfully asked, "Angelo, can you read anything off of him?"

"Not him," Angelo said, shaking his head. "Her."

"Ah, I see," the psychologist said with a tiny grin. "Very well, can you read anything off of her?"

"Good woman," Angelo said, looking pleased with herself. "Strong woman, very strong. But very hurt. She needs Sydney."

"She needs me?" Sydney asked, and Angelo nodded vigorously. "Is there anything else?"

"She feels things," Angelo smiled in approval. "She feels things like Angelo."

<An empath?> Sydney asked himself. He stood up, and said, "Well, shall we go and meet her, Angelo?"

Angelo nodded heartily once again, and Sydney relaxed a bit; Angelo's feelings were rarely off. If he approved of this woman so quickly, than this should go smoothly.

*****

Sydney walked into the waiting room, and was taken aback by the woman in the room. She stood just shy of five and a half feet tall, and couldn't weigh much more than a hundred pounds. Black waves of hair fell to the middle of her back, held in place by a very old silver hair clasp. She wore simple clothes; a black cotton shirt over a pair of blue jeans, and running shoes. The long coat she had laid over the back of one chair set off warnings in Sydney's head, as did her manner of walking; on the balls of her feet. Someone less observant than Sydney might have missed that trait, but it showed him he was dealing with no normal young woman.

<Of course, 'normal' has become somewhat relative lately,> Sydney thought before fully turning his attention to the young woman. "May I help you, Miss?"

The woman calmly turned around, and said, "Steven believes that you can."

<Steven?> Sydney repeated before making the connection. "Ah. You work for Mr. St. Wolf?"

The woman nodded, and said, "Yes. He suggested that you might be able to help me deal with. . ." She looked over at Angelo, and finished, "Certain events."

Sydney cocked an eyebrow, wondering if the woman was being evasive, or perhaps she'd been ordered to come, and only reluctantly.

"Miss, did Steve send you here?" the psychologist asked calmly.

"No, sir," the woman answered, looking as if she couldn't believe he'd asked that question. "Steven told me of your specialty, and I decided that I would come and see you."

"I see," Sydney replied, relaxing a bit. "You see, one usually makes an appointment to see me." When she started to look crestfallen, he reconsidered. "However, I am free for the rest of the afternoon, so I can see you now. Also, I can set up a list of future appointments."

The dark-haired woman perked up a bit, and said, "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Miss. . ."

The woman's eyes lit up as she realized he didn't know her name. With a nod, she said, "Shaw Hunter. I am pleased to meet you."

The two shook hands, and Sydney said, "I'm Sydney, and this is my assistant, Angelo."

"Angelo," she said, drawing a shy smile from the empath. She furrowed her brows, and asked, "Sydney, is there something. . . different about him?"

"Angelo is an empath," the doctor explained. "He can sense feelings, and read impressions off of objects. He has also been known to see the past and future."

"A psionicist," Shaw reasoned. "They are not unheard of, but this is the first one I have ever met."

"A psionicist?" Sydney asked curiously.

"Someone with psionic powers," she elaborated. "As I said, they are few and far in between."

"What about you?" Sydney asked. When she sent a questioning look his way, he said, "Angelo said that you 'feel things.'"

Shaw nodded and shrugged. "I have a true empathic ability, but I can only read the emotional states of animals. I could stare at you all day, and feel nothing. So there is no danger of your privacy being violated in that manner."

Sydney listened to her explanation, but decided to leave it at that. <As interesting as such a conversation would be, it's moving from the reason she's here.>

"Miss Hunter," Sydney asked, "could you tell me what happened that you need my help?"

Shaw sent a glance towards Angelo, and then back at Sydney. Sydney understood, and moved to allay her concerns.

"Miss Hunter, I can assure you, Angelo will not repeat anything he hears," Sydney assured her. "I was only asking about the general events in your case. The details would be discussed by yourself and I, in private."

The woman relaxed once more, and nodded once. "Where shall we start?" she asked.

"Tell me what happened to you," Sydney said. "As I said, I just want the facts in your case to begin with."

Glancing at Angelo once more, Shaw sat down in the chair she'd laid her coat on, and prepared to speak. Her mouth opened, but no sound came forth. After two minutes, she stood up again.

"I am sorry," Shaw apologized, not looking at either man. "I mean no offense, but I would rather do this in private."

Sydney pursed his lips, and thought about her hesitancy. <She wants help, but she wants to keep it to as few people as possible.>

"Miss Hunter, does Mr. St. Wolf know what happened?" Sydney asked.

Shaw blinked at the question. "Of course he does. Everyone knows. That is, everyone on our team, as well as Duncan and Connor."

"Connor?"

"Connor MacLeod, mine and Duncan's kinsman," Shaw told him.

Sydney smiled a bit, and Shaw started as she realized she'd just answered one of his questions in front of a complete stranger. She clenched her jaw and took several slow, deep breaths before sitting down once again.

"This is what happened," she began, going into the story of the plan hatched by Ares. She gave him the basics of the prior week and a half, and ended with the removal of the Quickening from her body. When she was finished, she told Sydney, "As I am sure you can guess, there is more. I hope that we can speak of it privately, as you indicated."

"Of course, Miss Hunter," the doctor agreed kindly. "If you will follow me, we can begin."

Shaw stood and gathered her coat, and followed Sydney into the office.

*****

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
1 December 1998

Steve and Buffy were preparing to head out on patrol when the phone started ringing in St. Wolf's office. When Randi called from upstairs, asking if Steve wanted her to get it, he answered in the negative.

Buffy looked at Steve, who said, "Go ahead and warm up the Tahoe. I'll be as quick as I can."

Buffy grinned, and said, "I hope so. I just might be tempted to go for pizza."

With a good-natured wince, Steve threw the keys to the Slayer. Buffy trotted out, and the Wanderer walked in and picked up the ringing phone.

"Hello," Steve said pleasantly. After a few seconds, he smiled, and said, "Just a second, Sydney."

Steve clicked on the speakerphone, and said, "Okay, Sydney, how can I help you?"

"Someone paid me a visit today. Shaw Hunter," Sydney answered. "If I didn't know the things I do, from my association with your organization, I'd never believe what this young woman told me."

With a chuckle, Steve asked, "So how'd her hour go?"

"We talked for closer to three hours, Mr. St. Wolf," Sydney said. "She told me what happened to her, involving Ares, in graphic detail. She has also admitted to having nightmares nightly, sometimes twice a night. We also got into her religion and the first twenty years of her life."

"That much?" Steve asked distractedly, very surprised that Shaw had been so open. "Was it helpful for you?"

"Certainly. Particularly the information about her beliefs," the psychologist said. It took him a few seconds to continue, as he went over his notes. "Steve, her beliefs, along with the influence of her grandparents, clearly define the person she is. I will tell you this; I was surprised such a strong-willed person would come to me, regardless of whether or not she needed counseling or treatment."

"All I did was suggest that you would be able to help her," Steve told Sydney. Leaning back in his chair, he said, "The choice to come to you was her own. But really, how'd it go?"

"For a first visit, it went amazingly well," the doctor admitted. "I got the distinct feeling that she definitely wants to deal with what happened. That's the first step to recovery. As far as a diagnosis goes, I don't think it'll be a surprise to you; Post Traumatic Stress. Miss Hunter was quite literally violated in the most personal matter possible. She is dealing with what happened, but she will have psychological scars for some time."

"Okay, Sydney," Steve said sadly. After a pause, he asked, "How about a prognosis? Will she get over this?"

"I'd be more surprised if she didn't make a complete recovery, Steve," Sydney replied. "As far as treatment goes, that poses a challenge. I have treated people for combat fatigue before, and this young woman has been 'on point,' so to speak, for over a decade without rest. At the same time, she feels the need to help other people."

"Don Quixote Complex," Steve said with a chuckle.

"Actually, I would put her closer to Mother Theresa with an Irish temper," Sydney countered. "It does pose a strange dilemma. It might help if you could tell me what Miss Hunter's current status with the team is."

Steve nodded, and said, "Of course, Sydney. I'm letting her attend training sessions, but she's not sparring or participating other than to offer any critique. If anything noncombat related comes up, such as research, she can help. Also, she has her own spells that the witches can't cast, mainly of the healing variety. Basically, she's not fighting in any way whatsoever, by her own request. I was considering letting her start sparring next week, to slowly let her get back into the swing of things. Do you disagree with that plan, Sydney?"

Sydney took a few seconds to answer, then said, "Actually, I think you've done exactly what Miss Hunter needs. You are allowing her to remain part of the team, but you've removed her from the more stressful situations. Perhaps you should take up psychology, Mr. St. Wolf."

Steve laughed heartily, and said, "No thanks, Sydney. I don't think you need the competition. But, what happens now?"

"I'm going to set up appointments twice a week, Tuesdays, and one other day," the older man said. "Steve, when one usually seeks counseling like this, the patient spends the first few appointments slowly breaking into the issue. It's a refreshing change to have someone who jumped right into the problem." After a pause, Sydney said, "She agreed to appointments twice a week, but she asked me to discuss this with you, because she trusted your judgment on this, with this being new ground for her."

Steve mused over the conversation, and asked, "Do you see patients on Saturday? This would allow her to maintain training, but still allow her something of a social life."

"I wouldn't mind in the mornings, Steve," Sydney replied. "Saturday mornings are easy enough. I'll make the arrangements."

"Okay, Sydney," Steve said gratefully. "This Saturday won't work, because I need to take her out of town for a day or so. But this is likely a one-time thing."

"Does this involve any fighting?" Sydney asked.

Steve could almost imagine Sydney's raised eyebrow, and answered, "Only if you count the bidding wars that'll be sparked by the antiques I'm picking up. Shaw got some training from Connor on antiques, and I'm going to further that training this weekend. But thanks for the concern, Sydney."

"Of course," Sydney said. "I shall speak with you later."

*****

Sunnydale High School
Sunnydale, California
4 December 1998

Willow, Oz and Buffy entered the school, heading for a morning meeting in the library. As they walked, Xander, Cordelia and Shaw joined them, and Xander had a look of frustration on his face.

"What's wrong, Xander?" Willow asked with a wrinkled brow.

Xander looked at Shaw, and said, "Her."

When the others looked at Shaw, she said, "Xander is still frustrated because he cannot irritate me with comments about Margaret."

The others started chuckling; ever since Shaw had revealed that a distant grandmother of hers and Amy's had been a Watcher, Xander had been trying at every opportunity to get a rise out of the cousins by making jokes about the woman. Cracks about stuck up British witches (Amy pointed out that she wasn't British, but Irish), Watchers flying around on brooms (Shaw said no, a Citroen like Giles', prompting a better reaction), even a comment about tweed Witch's robes (Amy said wool or cotton) had all fallen flat, or been countered by Amy or Shaw.

"What was the latest one?" Buffy asked with a grin.

"He suggested that the genetic imperative to wear tweed might be present in me, given my former preference for buckskin," the newest Slayerette said. "Imagine his surprise when I said I was forced to concede that it might be possible."

"Rub it in, Religion Girl," Xander grumbled.

Willow looked at Shaw, and asked her, "Religion Girl?"

With a smile, Shaw said, "My 'official' Slayerette nickname, courtesy of Xander."

Willow blinked, and once again asked, "Religion Girl?"

"It was that or 'Ladyhawke,'" Cordelia suggested. "Shaw likes 'Religion Girl.'"

"Shaw," Buffy said, "I need to talk to you before you and Steve leave tonight, okay?"

Shaw nodded, and said, "Of course, Buffy. I need you to know that I will be late for lunch. I have an errand to run, so I will be a few minutes late."

"What's that?" Oz asked.

"I will tell you at lunch," the half-elf said with a clever smile.

"Uh oh," Xander and Cordelia said together.

Shaw looked at them, and then at Willow, and asked, "Why do Xander and Cordelia always assume the worst?"

"Personal experience," they both said.

As the rest of the students went to lunch, Shaw Hunter watched as Jenny Calendar entered the library with a sour look on her face. Shaw understood exactly why her computer teacher and teammate looked that way.

<I suppose I would be upset as well, if Principal Snyder had scheduled a 'faculty meeting' the very night my special dinner had been reserved,> Shaw thought to herself. <And they had to make those reservations two months in advance. Well, perhaps this will not be the same, but they will have their time.>

Shaw snuck over towards the library doors, and peeked inside. Seeing the Romany closing the door to the office behind her, the half-elven Slayerette snuck in.

Shaw walked over to a large table, and set her backpack on the floor. She reached in, and pulled out her Walkman. Making sure that the tape inside of the Walkman had been fully rewound, she set the player on the table. Putting her backpack back on, Shaw closed her eyes and settled herself into a calm state.

<Mother, please help me with this,> the ranger pleaded. <I know this is not the normal use, but it is important to me, and to them.>

Shaw felt a strong sense of approval, as well as humor, from Mielikki, and the feeling was infectious. Opening her almond-shaped eyes, Shaw began praying with a soft voice. In a few seconds, the spell took effect, enveloping the top of the table in a white light. When the glow faded, Shaw took the table in with a quick glance, and nodded in satisfaction.

Shaw quickly moved towards the door, and quickly uttered a second spell. When two startled yelps came from the office, Shaw sprinted into the hallway, and headed for the cafeteria.

*****

Jenny and Giles were sitting at Giles' desk, feeling miserable that they had been forced to cancel their planned romantic dinner at an exclusive restaurant in Los Angeles because Snyder had ordered a faculty meeting four days prior. They were sharing cups of tea when the office was suddenly enveloped in complete darkness. Both teachers gasped in surprise, and Giles yelped when he banged his knee of the edge of his desk when he stood up.

Jenny concentrated for a few seconds, and cast a spell to negate the darkness. When the darkness dissipated, she said, "That was Shaw's magic, Rupert."

Still rubbing his sore knee, Giles said, "Of all the childish, irresponsible pranks. . ."

Giles and Jenny quickly exited the office, intent on having a long discussion with one certain Slayerette. But, even though there was no sign of her, neither teacher noticed her absence.

Their attention had quickly become riveted to the library table and its contents.

"Uh, Rupert," Jenny asked, "do you see what I see?"

"Uh, I believe so, Jenny," the librarian responded. "I see. . ."

*****

"Fresh bread, diced carrots, baked potatoes, corn on the cob," Shaw informed the seated Slayerettes, "and Jenny and Giles each have one venison steak weighing about eighteen ounces, give or take two ounces in either direction."

The Slayerettes all stared at Shaw, and then broke into laughter. Willow was the first to recover, still fighting a case of the giggles.

"What exactly is venison, Shaw?" the redhead asked.

"Deer," she answered.

The laughter abruptly ceased, and Shaw suddenly found herself to be the subject of numerous stares.

"Don't tell us you killed a deer," Buffy pleaded.

"Buffy, I used a spell," Shaw reminded her. "The food is a magical creation."

"Oh, good," the Slayer said dully. "So you didn't, like, kill Bambi or anything."

With a sigh, Shaw said, "No, Buffy. In any case, I would only hunt adult animals."

"Bambi's mother," Xander added, leading the girls to say, "Ewwwwww!"

"Well, I think it was nice of you," Amy said with a smile. "You're making sure they get their dinner. Too bad you couldn't give them the music to go with it."

Shaw just cocked an eyebrow, and let a smile creep onto her face. She reached into her backpack, and pulled out a second tape. Tossing it to Amy, she said, "This is your copy. It has the same musical pieces as their copy."

Amy read the printing that was listed on the tape casing. "Shebeeg Shemore, Green Hills of Tyrol, Banish Misfortune, Danse Macabre. . . uh, Shaw. . ."

"I can explain them later," Shaw promised her cousin. "But continue, please."

"Okay," Amy said, reading the songs. Her eyes shot up, and she asked, "That's a Kenny G. piece. You did Kenny G.?"

"I *attempted* to," Shaw corrected with a "harrumph." "How good it is will be up to you."

"Okay," the blonde witch said, reading again. "Oh, cool. This is. . ."

*****

". . the music from 'Everything I Do,'" Jenny informed Giles. Upon his confused glance, she said, "The song is by Bryan Adams, from 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.' With Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman."

The tape that had been laid on the table had intrigued the two teachers, and Jenny had been the one to comment that they might as well enjoy themselves, after all the effort Shaw had gone to so she could get them out of the office.

Once they'd sat down to their improvised lunch, Giles had reluctantly pressed the 'Play' button on the Walkman. His eyebrows had shot upwards when Shebeeg Shemore started playing, and he began to explain the stories of the Celtic and Irish songs to Jenny. She, in turn, would explain their modern counterparts that Shaw had included in her recording.

The teachers made it a mini-contest of identifying the pieces, which included Irish and Celtic music, modern pop, and even songhorn renditions of Ode to Joy, Messiah and the William Tell Overture, which had Jenny suffering through Lone Ranger flashbacks.

When the tape switched to Drowsy Maggie, Giles said, "Well, I must Shaw credit where credit is due. If she's trying to get us into a romantic mood, she's being subtle about it."

It was only seconds later that Maggie ended, and a new, haunting piece of music started up, and both Jenny and Giles stopped chewing bits of steak in midbite.

The Slayerettes looked at the Walkman, and then back at each other.

"So much for subtlety," Giles murmured.

Jenny quietly asked, "Rupert, is that what I think it is?"

"That depends," said the Watcher, "on what's going through your head right now."

"Images of figure skaters?" the Gypsy said. After the briefest of pauses, she asked, "You, too?"

Giles nodded, and they both looked at the recorder, and then at each other, once again.

They both opened their mouths to say. . .

*****

"Bolero?" Amy asked, reading one of the last titles on her tape. "What the heck is 'Bolero?'"

Shaw looked at Buffy, and said, "Buffy, I am surprised that you do not recognize that song."

"Me? Shaw, I don't do classical music," Buffy said with a puzzled frown.

"Perhaps not, but you are a fan of figure skating," the ranger said. "I believe that Steven attached the word 'obsessed' to his description of your devotion to that sport."

Buffy growled, "Is that right? But you got the music from ice skating?" When Shaw smiled, Buffy returned it. "Oh, I get it. You tell me who the skater was, and I can place the music?"

"Precisely," Shaw said. She looked at her watch, and said, "In fact, the piece should have just started on their tape."

"Okay, so who's the skater?"

"Skaters," Shaw said, stressing the plural. "They have appeared in two of your Olympic Games, Buffy. The music is from their first performance."

"A pair?" Buffy asked. "Hmmm. Okay, who were they?"

"Torville and Dean," the half-elf replied.

Buffy's eyes suddenly went wide, as did Willow's and Cordelia's.

"T-T-T-Torville and Dean?!?" Willow squeaked out. "THAT Torville and Dean?!?"

"Yes, Willow," Shaw replied with an innocent look that didn't fool anyone. "They are the only ones I know of."

"Their music?" Buffy asked, staring at Shaw. "Jenny and Giles are hearing THAT music?!?"

"Yes, Buffy," Shaw said, her innocent look fading.

Cordelia's lips curved into a grin, and she said, "Hunter, you are EVIL! Evil, I say!"

"Thank you," Shaw said.

*****

As the fifth hour class came to an end, Shaw shut off her computer, and began putting away her supplies. As the class started to leave, Shaw purposely strayed, to see if Jenny had anything to say. Watching Jenny put away her grade book, Shaw tried to maintain a straight face.

"Ms. Calendar?" the ranger asked innocently. "Do you need any books returned today?"

"No, Miss Hunter," Jenny said professionally.

Shaw nodded, and started to leave for the library when Jenny's voice caught her just before she entered the hallway.

Shaw stopped, and cocked an eyebrow in inquisition.

"Thanks," Jenny whispered.

Shaw just smiled, and left the classroom.

*****

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
4 December 1998

As Steve threw his overnight bag in the back of the Tahoe, Shaw was talking with Amy, Buffy and Xander about her weekend trip out of town.

"You know, cuz," Amy said with a grin on her face, "people are starting to get jealous of you. I mean, fighting skills, boo coup languages, music and now antiques? You need to stop showing off all those talents."

"I would not be going with Steven if someone had not revealed that part of my training to him," Shaw said with a meaningful look at Buffy.

With a smile, Buffy said, "Remember what I told you."

"Of course," Shaw promised, exchanging a quick embrace with the Slayer and then Amy. She turned to Xander, and said, "Xander."

Xander looked at her extended hand, and sadly said, "No hug?"

With a cocked eyebrow, she said, "You have been smacked enough already."

"You wouldn't smack me," the young man said with confidence.

"No, but I will," Cordelia snapped from behind.

Xander glared at the smirking half-elf, and said, "Thanks for the 'warning,' Hunter. You owe me a good souvenir for that one."

Shaw looked at Amy, who just smiled back at her.

"I will consider it," she told him. "But I make no guarantees."

"Are you ready, Shaw?" Steve asked as he went to the driver side door.

"See you Sunday," Amy said.

Shaw nodded with a smile, and said, "I will see you, Amy. Take care of yourself."

Shaw walked to the Tahoe and climbed in, and the SUV pulled out and left for the town of New Salem.

*****

After thirty seconds, Xander said, "So, you think she's gonna get a dog or cat?

"Cat," Buffy, Cordelia and Amy said in unison.

"You're sure," Xander said, quite sure of himself.

"Let's just say I have my sources," Amy said, before turning and heading into the house for a movie night with the team.

"Poor Shaw," Xander said, laughing to the others. "She has no idea she's about to get saddled with a Guardian Spirit."

"Poor Steve," Buffy said with wicked delight. "Shaw's gonna pretend she's there to keep any 'super sexy witches' away from him."

"What if Steve wants to use her to play a joke on them?" Cordy asked.

"She gave me her word," the Slayer told the Amazon. "'Nuff said."

The three friends started laughing as they walked into the house.

*****

New Salem, Colorado
5 December 1998

Steve pulled up into an alley situated three blocks from the diner he'd been in just eight months prior. He looked at his watch, and nodded in satisfaction.

<Yep. According to Niume, the early risers should be arriving for breakfast any time now,> he thought with a grin. <Including Joshua, Mara and Peter.>

Steve looked over at the young woman sitting in his passenger seat, and winced. <How the Hell can she sit like that for two hours at a time? It's going to destroy my upholstery.>

Shaw was sitting with her feet on the passenger's seat, and she had her legs crossed. Somehow, she'd managed to sit there, without falling, ever since Steve had woken her up at her request two hours before arriving in town. Shaw had muttered some soft prayers, and then the half-elven ranger had fallen silent, leaving St. Wolf to assume she was saying morning prayers for spells. He waited a few minutes, and softly tapped her on the shoulder. The priestess' eyes slowly opened, and she quickly took in the surroundings.

"We have arrived," she assumed.

"Yep," Steve said with a smile. "It's nine o' seven, so I'm letting you out here. The diner's three blocks straight down."

"Understood," Shaw said. She looked at Steve, and asked, "What do you have planned?"

"Simple," St. Wolf grinned at her. "You walk in, and say you're looking for the Wanderer. Ad-lib from there, but stay out of a fight. This is just a joke. Give me five minutes, then walk over."

"Of course," the half-elf promised. <I apologize, Steven, but I already have my orders.>

Shaw slowly opened the door to the Tahoe, and quietly stepped outside. Steve nodded and gave her a thumbs up, before backing out of the alley, and took off at a leisurely pace. Shaw backed behind a wall that jutted out enough to conceal her body, and looked at her watch. After two minutes, she focused on herself, and saw that the spells she'd cast over herself and her clothes were still in place. Nodding in satisfaction, she left the cover.

<Time to fulfill Buffy's orders.>

*****

Everyone in the diner looked up from their meals when Steve St. Wolf walked in. Some of the patrons tensed, but most of those having breakfast, including several car-crazy teenagers, recognized the Immortal warrior who'd entered their midst.

A large man stood up from his table and walked over to greet Steve.

"Sir Steve," Joshua Patrick said warmly with a handshake. "What brings you back to New Salem?"

"Mostly, one of our 'swap meets,'" Steve easily replied. "If anyone has anything they want to sell or trade, I have until midday tomorrow. On a smaller scale, I'm in need of a Guardian Spirit for a new member of my team, if anyone would be willing to part with one. Preferably, a kitten over a puppy."

"I see," Joshua said with his rumbling voice. "Do you need to see Mistress Harkness?"

"I'd like to, if possible," Steve agreed, sitting down at the table with the large man. "But I don't want to disturb anyone's breakfast. I have some time."

"Very well, Sir Steve," Joshua said. He smiled, and asked, "How goes things with your lady?"

"I'm cursed, I tell you," the Immortal said with a laugh. "Smaug pulled a fast one on me and gave Vampire Slayer to Buffy to get even with me for getting him hitched to a lady dragon."

Joshua burst out into a deep, rolling laugh, as did several other patrons in the diner. Mara O'Reilly walked up to Steve, a pad and pencil in her hands and a smile on her lips.

"Welcome back, Sir Knight," the witch said with a toss of her hair. "Do you want to order something? Other than to remove that curse, that is. Far be it from us to anger a dragon."

Steve smiled and ordered a breakfast special consisting of eggs, bacon, and hash browns. As Mara wrote down the order, a bright smile on her face, someone walked in. Mara, Joshua, and every other patron looked at the short, raven-haired woman in dark clothing with contrasted with her cloud-colored skin. She started looking around, meeting the stares but not lingering on them.

Mara looked at Joshua, and said, "I thought the spell was supposed to keep them out, or at least disinterested in stopping here."

"It is," Joshua said softly, plainly surprised by Shaw's appearance.

"What are you talking about?" Steve said softly. <Oh Gods, don't tell me I screwed up bringing her here.>

"There's a spell over New Salem," Joshua explained. "It keeps up an 'ignore us' field that effects normal humans. Meaning, humans with no mystical, psychic or special abilities. This girl should've kept on walking without looking twice."

Steve's jaw had dropped, and he thought, <Normal human? With the different gifts she has, she should be easily detectable.>

*****

Shaw's eyes settled on Steve's table, and her look hardened. In a cool voice, she said, "Wanderer."

<Showtime,> Steve thought, now biting back a grin. He gave her a cool look, and said, "Yes?"

"I have been looking for you," Shaw said, switching her eyes to Joshua as the heavyset man rose out of his chair.

Steve didn't comment, and enjoyed Joshua's and Mara's ripples of shock at her next line.

Staring at Joshua, Shaw said, "My business is with the Wanderer, warlock. Especially since I have my orders concerning him."

<Orders?> Steve thought, enjoying the looks on the New Salemites' faces.

"Well, you can take your orders elsewhere," Mara snickered as several large men stood up behind Shaw. "The Wanderer is not your concern."

Shaw let an evil smile onto her face, and said, "As you wish. I will tell the Immortal Slayer to come here herself, then, and you can deal with her directly, Mara."

Mara blanched, as did Steve, but for different reasons. St. Wolf was quickly realizing that Buffy had gotten to Shaw before she'd even climbed into his Tahoe.

"Now, wait a minute," Steve said, trying to keep Shaw, and through her, Buffy, from embarrassing him too much.

"No," Shaw countered sharply, "you take a minute to determine what you will tell Buffy when she finds out that you were once again in close proximity of one of those I was ordered to make sure you were protected from."

Joshua snarled, "And just what were you supposed to protect him from, little girl?"

"According to the Slayer's orders," the half-elf smirked, "I am to protect him, or keep him away from, 'super sexy witches.'" She looked at the now nervous waitress, and playfully asked, "Mara, how much 'couch life' do you think Steven will be facing if Buffy takes the contents of my report the wrong way?"

Mara blinked as she realized that this was actually nothing more than some fun at the Wanderer's expense, and she smiled. "Perhaps a month, assuming that his Lady doesn't just cut off his manhood with a Sword of Destiny."

Steve started to blush, so Shaw dug the wound deeper, saying, "He *is* Immortal, Mara. He will heal, so I do not see a problem for him in that scenario."

As Steve's blushing turned to a look of disgust, he fought back, saying, "You're forgetting Duke, Shaw."

"Who is Duke, Sir Knight?" Mara asked.

"Gert's son," Steve announced, bringing a look of pride to Joshua's face.

"I did not forget about him, Steven," the half-elf promised. "It is amazing what promises one can procure with six pounds of bacon."

Many of the patrons began chuckling at the discomfort Steve was feeling as he began to rub the bridge of his nose.

"Shaw Hunter, I will get you and Buffy for this," he swore.

Joshua looked to Steve, and asked, "Sir Steve, would this young human be part of your group?"

"Human?!?" Steve asked in astonishment, before seeing the evil look in Shaw's eyes. With a growl, he said, "Okay, Shaw, how'd you do it?"

"I cast the reversed forms of Detect Magic and Locate Object spells," Shaw answered. At the wary looks off of Mara and Joshua, she said, "I do not think you have encountered my type of magic before. I did not wish to alarm you. . . or to blow this joke before it began. Most people react badly enough to my last name as it is."

"Hunter?" Joshua asked, before he made the connection. "You're the one they call the Hunter?"

With a sigh, Shaw nodded. "Goddess, I hate those rumors. I do not hunt for revenge any longer, I am not a vampire, a half-vampire, a demon, a half-demon, nor am I a psychotic vigilante." She paused, and asked, "Did I miss any rumors?"

"There is the one rumor that you have fairy blood," Joshua said with a snort of laughter.

"Actually, it is elven blood," the Slayerette said, and she cancelled the spells upon her with a second's concentration.

Steve and Shaw suddenly felt every eye in the diner upon them, and Peter, the elderly man who had provided the Slayerettes with sorely needed research materials from his bookstore in March, was the first to catch enough breath to speak.

"Tuatha du Danaan?" he asked in awe.

Shaw looked at the old man, and kindly shook her head. She took a few seconds to pick up a spoon to show that she could handle iron, and said, "No, sir. My mother was Tel'Quessir, my father a human warrior."

Amid all the stares, Mara said, "You have magic in you, but you are neither mage nor witch. What. . .who are you?"

Shaw looked at Steve, who nodded for her to proceed. Shaw slowly removed her duster, and laid it over the back of a chair at Steve's table, exposing the two scabbards belted at Shaw's waist. At her left hip was Soulreaver; at the other was her titanium-bladed shortsword.

Shaw held her hands up, palms out, and said, "Well met, people of New Salem. I am Shawukay Madison Hunter, daughter of Trocar Flamingarrow, grandson of Alison Madison, and Miyana Redstar, blood kin to the House of Nightstar of Evermeet, warrior and priestess sworn in the service of the Goddess Mielikki."

"Mielikki?" Joshua asked, apparently not recognizing the name.

"Our Lady of the Forest and Goddess of Faerie of the Suomi Pantheon of Finland," Shaw replied with a kind smile, before adding, "Even though my records say I am from Scotland."

Most of the looks directed her way were of surprise, with two notable exceptions; the younger children had looks of wonder and awe, while most of the teenagers had the same look that Shaw saw when Willow or Xander got when they thought something was "cool."

Shaw's own eyes locked onto Joshua's, whose face had gone white with shock. Before she could ask what was wrong, he said, "You are a Madison?"

Surprised that he recognized the name, Shaw still replied, "Through Alison, sister of Lydia, daughters of Adeline and George." She lowered her hands to her sides, and added, "I am a cousin to Amy Madison, witch and Amazon warrior in the service of the Lady Artemis."

Joshua looked to Steve, who nodded to back up Shaw's claim. "And Gert's daughter was the one that chose her as her Companion."

The large man leaned back against a counter, and said, "Mistress Hunter, did you know that this town is where the Madisons lived before Lydia moved to California, and Alison disappeared? Your great-great grandparents rest here, as do the two generations before them."

Shaw's own face went pale, and she looked at Steve. She had planned to ask if he had prior knowledge of this information, but the similar look of amazement on his face quickly assured her that he didn't.

"I think it would be wise for me to sit down," the half-elf mumbled quietly.

Mara quickly showed the ranger to a seat, and said, "Sir Steve?"

"Get her the same thing I'm having," St. Wolf asked. Once Mara went to fill the order, he asked her, "Are you all right?"

Shaw took a few breaths to collect herself, and said, "This is my and Amy's ancestral home, as Ireland and Scotland are."

"If I had known, I would've told you two," Steve said, before turning another topic. "By the way, what's up with the swords?"

Shaw snorted once. "Buffy thought it might be helpful to you if I presented the 'proper image' of a half-elven warrior. I assume I was successful?"

"Does the word 'celebrity' mean anything to you?" Steve asked. "I think these kids will be *very* interested in meeting an elven warrior."

Joshua came over, and said, "Mistress Hunter?"

"Please, call me Shaw," the half-elf requested. "It is much easier."

"Very well. I'm Joshua," he said, offering his hand. "May I ask how a Madison came to have elven blood in her veins?"

Shaw looked at Steve, who said, "How about we wait for Mistress Harkness? I'm sure she'll want to know how certain witches have done these last months."

When several of the younger patrons looked disappointed, Steve sighed. "Great. Okay, I'll start, but we go back over it when she gets here."

*****

Steve started with the story of Fragnar's birthday, which had led to Dana Scully's induction into the ranks of the Amazons, and Smaug's giving of Vampire Slayer to Buffy. Of particular humor to Steve was the younger peoples' reactions to the mentioning of John Tesh, which was very similar to that of the Slayerettes. As he was finishing that tale, someone at the door caught his gaze.

Standing at the door was Agatha Harkness, dressed in a long, floor-length purple dress, with a shawl around her neck. A cane was held by her right hand, and she smiled a bit when she saw Steve looking at her. When Shaw turned around in her seat, Agatha locked her gaze onto that of the ranger.

Shaw gave her a look of complete neutrality, not giving the seventy-year-old witch any trace of approval or disapproval. Agatha slowly walked over to the table, and Steve and Shaw stood up. When Steve helped her to her seat, and went to reach for an empty chair, Shaw backed away and offered her seat to Steve.

Steve looked at her curiously, and she said, "I will leave you alone to discuss your business, Steven. You can call for me if you need me for anything."

Steve realized that she assumed he wanted to discuss things in private. Before he could tell her to stay, Agatha did it for him.

"Please sit, child," the old woman requested. "I am sure your story of the past months is equally interesting."

Shaw hesitated, but then nodded softly. "Very well, Grandmother."

As Shaw grasped her chair, Steve frowned. "Grandmother?" he asked sharply.

"A term of respect, Sir Knight," Agatha said with a demure smile. "In her mind, it might mean the same as 'matriarch.'"

"Ah," Steve said as Shaw seated herself. "Were you informed as to why we're here, Mistress Harkness?"

"Yes, Sir Steve," she replied easily. "Your earlier trip was very beneficial to us. May I ask a question of your companion?"

Steve looked at Shaw, who said, "What do you wish to know?"

"I was wondering," Agatha said, "if you were the one Niume said put her husband in his place. She did not give me details, but I would like to know how you were able to humble the mighty archmage."

When several people snickered, Shaw replied, "I used the most basic maneuver in any gutter brawler's repertoire, Grandmother."

Agatha cocked an eyebrow, and looked at Steve for an elaboration. Blushing a bit, Steve said, "She kicked him in the family jewels."

Agatha's eyes went wide, but Mara and several of the women started giggling, and Joshua’s deep bass laughter, and many of the other men joined them as well.

Agatha chuckled to herself, "That does sound like how a Madison would handle things. And I understand that one of your witches is of that line. By reputation, at least, they are dangerous enough without being Amazons."

"Thank you," Shaw said with a grin.

Steve glared at her, but ignored it. "Mistress Harkness, do your people have any trades at this time?"

"We do, Sir Knight," Harkness replied casually. "And you, young lady. Do you have anything that might need from us?"

After hesitating a bit, Shaw said, "Yes. I have recently risen to a level of power that will allow me to begin enchanting items, and any supplies you could spare would be most helpful. Barring that, I could use the locations of places where I might find such supplies."

"You can make magic items, now?" Steve said in surprise.

"Simple ones," the half-elf replied. "Spell scrolls, simple potions, such as healing potions. Weapons, if I work with Amy, Willow or Jenny."

Agatha smiled, and said, "I think we can work something out. Is there anything else?"

"Yes, Grandmother," Shaw slowly admitted. "I would like to know the location of where you inter those who have passed onto the next life. I want to pay my respects to the ancestors that Joshua tells me rest here."

Agatha blinked at her answer, but nodded in approval. With a tiny smile, she said, "Of course, child. Joshua can give you directions."

With a look of sincere gratitude, Shaw said, "Thank you, Grandmother."

Steve said, "Shaw, we have a couple of hours. If you want to go now, you can take some time."

Shaw looked at him, and nodded with a smile. She got up, and walked over to Joshua, who quietly talked to her for several seconds. Nodding once, Shaw shook his hand and walked out of the diner.

Agatha looked at Steve, and said, "Yes, that child is truly a Madison, Sir Knight. Wherever did you find her?"

"It's a long story, as is most of this year," Steve chuckled. "But you're not the only one who sees it in her. Amy and her boyfriend say the temper bred true."

"And what man would know that?" she asked.

"Amy's boyfriend. He's pretty famous, actually," St. Wolf said cryptically. Once he was sure that everyone was hanging on his next statement, he said, "He goes by the name of Robin Goodfellow."

There was suddenly a sound of spitting, and several of the patrons of the diner were now coughing, or removing liquid sprayed upon them by those now coughing.

Harkness was just staring at Steve's grinning face, and said, "A Madison dating the most infamous of Oberon's children? There must certainly be a story behind that."

"We were merely awaiting your arrival to begin telling the tale, Mistress," the Immortal answered, going into the events of the last half-year. He quickly glossed over Fragnar's birthday party, then told the tale of the fights in Los Angeles and Libya, the appearance (and subsequent moving in) of Robin, the dimensional trip, and other events that had transpired, such as the revelations concerning Randi and Brian Jessup, Shaw's arrival on Earth, and the recent fights with both the Prince of Darkness and the God of War.

The audience in the diner sat there, spellbound by the stories, until Steve finished. He took a long drink of water, and smiled. "All in all, we've been a little busy."

Agatha laughed at his comment, and said, "Yes, I can see that. At least now you've gotten the chance for some rest, which you have certainly earned. I will arrange some meetings for you to look over the various items this afternoon, so that you may expedite your business. As far as your companion, I understand that you wish to get a Guardian for her."

"Yes, but I haven't told her," Steve said with a grin. "She'd protest that we've done enough for her already, and I feel she might object to having an animal bonded to her."

"I would think that a nature priestess with elven blood would love animals," Agatha remarked.

"She does, believe me," Steve pointed out. "It's the matter of the bonding, and that type of magic she might object to."

Now, Harkness' eyes shone with understanding. "Yes, I see your dilemma," the elderly witch muttered. She cupped her chin, and said, "I think, perhaps, that she would understand that the Guardians need to be cared for when they are young, just as normal creatures do. Perhaps that would alleviate her concerns."

"Okay," Steve said with a sigh of relief. "I just hope her choice isn't too controversial." At Agatha's interested gaze, he added, "The other kids are betting hot and heavy whether she gets a puppy or a kitten, as well as what breed the Guardian appears to be. And it doesn't help that the one pet Shaw *has* had in her lifetime wasn't a dog or cat, but a red-tailed hawk. Amy Madison said she'd move out of Sunnydale if Shaw brought home a bird of prey, because she's afraid its real form would be a phoenix that would burn down the town."

Mara O'Reilly was wiping tears from her eyes in laughter, and she said, "And what happens when she is bonded? What type of person is she?"

"Actually, Xander summed up her personality quite nicely," the Immortal said. "He says, 'Mix Seven of Nine with Joan of Arc, add two scoops of Xena.' Then, you add in that she's shut out Xander in the prank department."

"Ah, Goodfellow has been a bad influence on her?" Joshua asked.

"Not only has she pulled pranks of her own," Steve grumbled, "but she's also managed to aid and abet others while getting her shots in on her accomplices, while still playing the joke on the original victim."

"I feel sorry for your friends, Sir Knight," Mara whispered sweetly. "You'd best pray she doesn't pick a similar Guardian."

"Gods help us all," Steve agreed.

*****

About two hours later, Shaw walked into the diner, and saw Mara O'Reilly smiling at her.

"Mistress Hunter," the witch called out with a friendly voice. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

"I did, Mara, thank you," Shaw told her. The warrior sat down at the counter, and said, "It was somewhat daunting to find the resting places of a few of my ancestors."

"I suppose it could be," Mara agreed. She looked over Shaw's shoulder, and asked, "If I might ask, who's your friend?"

Her eyebrows furrowed, Shaw turned around on the stool. She was surprised when she saw a kitten, looking to be about six months old, staring back at her with intelligent blue eyes that neatly mimicked the almond shape of Shaw's own eyes. The cat had brownish-colored fur, save for the bottom half of her legs, the end of her tail, and a mask on her face, which were darker, bordering on black.

"I saw her in the cemetery," Shaw told the waitress. "We had something of a staring contest, before I went to pay my respects to my ancestors."

She stood up, and knelt down. "What are you doing here, little sister?"

The cat walked over to Shaw, sniffed her for a couple of seconds, and jumped onto Shaw's shoulder. Slightly startled, Shaw caught the kitten, which positioned herself on Shaw's shoulder and started to purr contentedly.

"Well, I'll be," Mara said in good humor. "Looks like you've been adopted. Funny, too; a Guardian that hasn't bonded with a person by that age acts as a guard for the whole town. This one must really like you."

Shaw moved the kitten away from her shoulder, and looked into her eyes. She could sense satisfaction and amusement radiating from the feline, and Shaw realized, with a resigned sigh, that she was now in the same boat as Xander and Cordelia, as far as Guardian Spirits went.

"I suppose you will not allow me a choice in the matter?" Shaw asked the cat. When the cat sneezed in denial once, Shaw sighed again. "What do we do now?"

Mara laughed, her voice sounding sweet. "I just happen to know the bonding spell, Mistress Hunter. I think your new friend was counting on that when she followed you here. Would you like to do this now, or wait for someone else?"

"I think that the sooner I do this, the better," Shaw said, shaking her head in frustrated amusement. Sensing her acceptance, the kitten flopped over onto her back, inviting the half-elf to rub her stomach, as if she were thinking, "Now that that's settled..."

Mara began to recite the spell for bonding a Guardian and Companion, and when Shaw softly repeated the oath, she and the cat both glowed for a second.

Once the glow faded, Shaw heard a voice in her head.

//Hello, Shawukay,// the kitten said in her mind.

Shaw cocked an eyebrow, and asked, "Why do you have an accent to your mental voice?"

//Because you do,// the cat purred. //We reflect the type of Companions we have.//

Mara started smiling, and said, "She's right, you know."

"How do you know what she is saying?"

Mara pointed to a full-grown cat that was sitting off in the corner. "Isabelle can hear her voice, and she relays it to me. Remember, they can understand anything you say. They have the same human intelligence of their Companions."

//Or do I have half-elven intelligence?// Shaw's Guardian asked, drawing exasperated looks from both humans, while Isabelle meowed in laughter.

Going silent, Shaw thought, <Can you hear this, as well?>

//Of course, Shawukay,// she said with indignation.

<Great. I am going to have no privacy from this moment forth.>

//Yes, you will. I won't always listen to your thoughts. But I can't wait to meet Ulric. He sounds nice.// the kitten remarked.

"Who's Ulric?" Mara asked with an evil smile.

"My guardian, who I live with as I attend school," Shaw answered. "He is a Catholic priest."

Mara hissed, "You live with a priest?"

Shaw looked at Mara with an even gaze, and told the witch, "A Catholic priest who knows of things that most humans regard as legends, and who happens to be the acquaintance of a probationary angel, and who happens to be from Finland, which is where Mielikki was worshipped. He may worship God, but he believes in the existence of the Old Gods, and accepts my faith for what it is. In fact, he has been quite helpful to me."

Mara looked at the newly bonded Guardian, and asked, "How do you think he will react to you?"

//I heard the Wanderer talking with Mistress Harkness,// the kitten answered. //Ulric already knows, but they kept this from Shawukay to prevent her from protesting about becoming bonded and to let her littermates have fun at her expense.//

Shaw stared at the kitten, whose eyes shined with amusement. With a frown, she said, "How would you like to help me get even with them when we return to Sunnydale?"

//I'd love to,// came the reply, with a low growl.

<Oh, no. Not another joker,> Mara thought to herself. Thankfully to her, Isabelle didn't add her two paws' worth.

*****

The next morning, when Steve and Shaw were packing up the supplies they'd received from the people of New Salem, the citizens of the town had gathered to see them off. The inspections of the items to be going up for trade had gone very nicely, with one exception; Shaw had taken a liking to a small, bronze Byzantine cross that Steve dated back to the fifth century A. D. Shaw asked how much it was worth, wanting to buy it as a gift for Ulric, and was amazed when he said it would only draw anywhere from fifty to two hundred dollars. Determined that the people who agreed to sell it to her got enough money to actually buy some of the modern conveniences they were in need of, Shaw asked Steve to arrange for twice the maximum amount to be given to them.

The man who sold her the cross was stunned at the ranger's generosity, until Shaw pointed out that it was more than an antique, but an archaeological artifact.

Seeing her reasoning, as well as that it was a gift for someone who would truly appreciate it, the man gladly accepted the extra money.

When the supplies were all packed, Steve looked at Shaw's Guardian, who was perched on the roof of his Tahoe.

Steve smiled, and said, "Okay, into the carryall with you."

"I do not think so," Shaw replied as she came around the back of the truck.

"Shaw. . ."

"Those are Brenna's words, Steven, not mine," the Slayerette replied casually. "Be grateful I did not put the emphasis on her words that she relayed to me."

"Great," Steve muttered as many of the kids laughed at him. "Your Guardian's just as stubborn as you are."

"Brenna is not stubborn, Steven. She is worse," Shaw dictated. "She is patient."

Steve looked at the cat, who watched her with those intelligent eyes. "I'm Immortal, furball. How much patience can you have?"

Shaw looked at her, and then back at the Wanderer. With a deadpan look, Shaw said, "Nine lives worth."

The people of New Salem began laughing at the frustrated St. Wolf, who looked from the cat to Shaw, who stared back at her with an emotionless face, and then back at the kitten, whose look was now equal.

"Mistress Harkness, you see why I'm glad I have a dog?" Steve asked the powerful witch.

"Yes, I can," Agatha said serenely.

Sighing in defeat, Steve said, "Okay, fine. But give me one reason why you can't ride in the back."

"I can give you two reasons, Steven," Shaw answered. "The first, despite all the technological enhancements of your truck, the bed is not heated, and it is nearly winter. The second, you have small artifacts made of wood in the rear, and Brenna is a cat with very sharp claws."

Steve frowned at the cat, who simply gazed at Steve with a feline poker face, but he could easily sense her knowledge that he wasn't going to win this argument.

"Okay, fine!" Steve snapped. "But you stay on HER lap, and you don't scratch the seats. Got it?"

The cat didn't deign to reply, but instead jumped into Shaw's arms, and she sweetly said, "Brenna says she is glad we have an understanding."

Shaw then walked around the truck, leaving Steve to be laughed at by the New Salemites.

"I can't believe this," Steve groaned. "The personal champion of Merlin, wielder of a Sword of Destiny, and scourge of the demon world, being dictated to by a four-legged fur ball who thinks she's a half-elven cat. Xander's going to be razzing me on this for days."

*****

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
6 December 1998

Steve parked the truck in his driveway, and looked at Shaw, who was smiling now that they had made it back to Sunnydale.

"You did good with the antiques," he told her. "You might consider taking a part-time job at the antiques store I work at. Your increased skills with computers would help you out."

Shaw considered it, but eventually shook her head. "Not at this time. I have too much to get over, and to think about."

Steve saw her point, and agreed. "Okay, but let me know if you change your mind in the future."

"I will," Shaw said, exiting the vehicle. As she touched the ground, people began coming out of the house.

The priestess walked over and hugged Amy, and then shared quick embraces with Buffy and Cordelia. Xander exited soon after, and looked Shaw up and down.

"So, how'd it go?" the young man asked her.

"It went well," Shaw said, before looking at Amy. "Amy, Mistress Harkness said to inform you that you and I are welcome to visit New Salem any time we wish to do so."

Looking at Shaw in puzzlement, the blonde Amazon asked, "Why?"

"It seems that New Salem is where George and Adeline were born. Also, they rest there," Shaw responded, knowing that Amy would know what she meant. "As do their parents and grandparents."

After several speechless seconds, Amy finally said, "Wow."

Shaw looked at Buffy, and said, "She sounds just like Oz."

Amy rolled her eyes, and said, "She's not home ten seconds, and she's making the jokes. Cordy, slap Xander."

Cordelia slapped him on the back of the head.

"Ow!" he screamed. "What was that for?"

"For being a bad influence on her," Amy growled.

Xander rubbed his head, and asked Shaw, "So, did you bring anything back, Hunter?"

"Of course I did, Xander," Shaw said with a small grin. "If you would help unload the items out of the back, I can get them home much sooner."

"Uh, home?" Xander asked dumbly.

"Xander, I would like to wait until tomorrow to give you your gift. It has been a long trip," the half-elf explained. "Is that all right?"

"Yeah," Xander said, sounding like a disappointed toddler. "I'll grab the stuff out of the back."

As Xander started to walk to the back of the Tahoe, Shaw leaned in close and said, "I have supplies for making spell scrolls and potions, as well as helping with enchanting other items, Amy. I can have some scrolls done by next weekend."

Amy's eyes rose, and she smiled. "You know we can't cast spells off of scrolls you make, right?"

"But they can be cast by other priests, of any faith, as long as they are capable of spell casting," Shaw retorted. "Plus, it will help with our 'projects.'"

"Wait," Cordelia said, holding up her hands. "You two are going to start making magic stuff?"

"Yes," Amy and Shaw answered together.

"With help from Jenny and Willow, hopefully," Shaw added, just before a low growl and a loud, terrified scream sounded from the back of the Wanderer's SUV.

Amy, Buffy and Cordelia all ran full tilt to the scene of the sounds, while Shaw calmly followed them, a smile of satisfaction on her face.

When Shaw walked up, she saw the three girls laughing at scene before them; Xander, lying on the ground, pinned by a two hundred and fifty pound saber tooth tiger.

Shaw looked down at the terrified Slayerette, and said, "I see you have met Brenna."

"Uh, why is she growling like that?" Xander asked, as a deep, rumbling purr came out of the cat's throat.

"She is purring," Shaw pointed out. "Cordelia, Amy, Buffy, this is Brenna."

"Brenna?" Buffy repeated with a smile. "That's pretty."

"Thank you," Shaw said with a smile. She cocked her head, and said, "Brenna thanks you as well. Brenna was the closest female name I could think of to 'Brynner.'"

Xander stared at her in shock, despite the large animal pinning him to the ground. "You named your cat after Yul Brynner?"

"Of course," the ranger replied. "She likes the name."

"Uh, Shaw, your cat's not bald," Cordelia pointed out.

"I know, Cordelia. I named her after the type of person he played in a movie, because her normal form is that type of cat."

Steve had brought out Jenny and Giles by this point, and Jenny said, "What type of person did he play in this movie?"

"He was their leader," Shaw answered.

"She's Egyptian?" Cordelia asked. "He played the king in 'Ten Commandments.'"

"No, the other movie he played a king in," Shaw replied.

Jenny smiled, and said, "You mean 'The King And I.'"

The kids looked at the teacher strangely, and Buffy asked, "What king did he play in that?"

Giles smiled knowingly, and said, "The king of Siam."

The kids looked back at Brenna, who stared at back at them. Shaw slowly said, "She says it should have been obvious from her eyes. What did you think she was, a Huskie?"

"A Siamese?" Amy asked, and Brenna let out a low, rumbling purr. "Damn. Willow wins the betting pool."

"Shall we go in?" Steve asked, "before the neighbors have a heart attack?"

The kids started to head inside, but paused when Brenna didn't move off of Xander.

"Uh, Shaw?" Xander pleaded.

Shaw looked at Brenna, who just plopped down on top of him, and let out a yawn, exposing her large canines.

"Uh, Shaw?" Xander pleaded again.

Shaw shrugged, and said, "As I said, it was a very long trip."

She turned and walked into Steve's house, and the others followed, laughing at the poor teen as the Guardian Spirit shifted her head to become more comfortable.

*****

Part 22: Payback and Payoffs
(The Wanderer Gets Even With The Slayer)

St. Wolf Residence
Sunnydale, California
7 December 1998

Buffy and the other Slayerettes arrived at Steve's house for their afternoon training session, animatedly discussing their plans for the week, as well as tentative plans they were making for the vacation coming up in a matter of weeks. Shaw and Larry were hanging back, and discussing Larry's second week of training that he was about to begin.

"Well, back to the butt whooping," he said jokingly. "Another week, another chance to be thrown around."

"Do not feel bad about yourself, Larry," Shaw encouraged him. "I do not do so well against them myself, in unarmed combat."

"You said you fight dirty," he said, bringing up what she had once called her only advantage against the others. "What about that?"

"I try to restrain myself," she said with a small grin.

"So, today's the day I get to see you swing a sword?"

"Yes," Shaw admitted with a quiet voice. "I only hope that I do not lose control of myself."

"Hey, just take it one step at a time," Larry told her. "The others will be there to help you keep your cool."

Shaw stopped, and sent the athlete an appraising glance. "I thought I was supposed to be the one offering encouragement to you, Larry. You are the 'rookie,' are you not?"

Larry chuckled, and said, "Hey, friends can offer each other advice. Just because you're older doesn't mean you always do the Miyagi routine on me."

At Shaw's puzzled glance, he said, "You do watch movies and television, don't you?"

"Of course," the half-elf said. "In fact, I impersonated Zorro in a sword duel with Xander a few weeks ago. And I named Brenna after Yul Brynner because he played the King of Siam in an old movie."

"Zorro?" Larry asked blankly. When she nodded with a grin, he started laughing. "Oh, God. You didn't."

"I did."

"And the cat?"

"Larry, I said that he played the King of Siam," Shaw reiterated. "Think about what breed of cat she is."

Larry got the point, and said, "What did they say to that?"

"Considering that Oz named his cat Harriet, and Steven named his Shepherd Duke after John Wayne, they have no room to complain," Shaw said with a shrug.

At that point, Xander came up and said, "You realize you're in trouble today, right Shaw?"

"And how is that?" Shaw asked curiously.

"Well, you might say I talked to Steve," the senior Slayerette told her. "Your schedule is a hand-to-hand match with Buffy, and a sword fight with yours truly."

"And how does that put me in trouble?" Shaw asked with a little smile.

"Well, I figure the bumps and bruises you get from Buffy will slow you down enough for me to do a 'Zorro' on you," Xander said, explaining his theory. "I just got a good feeling today. I just hope you're a good sport, and you still give me my present after training."

"You have my word, your present will be in your hands before we leave tonight," Shaw said with a smile. "And I hope you will be pleased with it."

"So what is it?" Xander asked eagerly.

"You will have to wait," Shaw told him, leaving his face in a pout as she and Larry walked into the house.

Once the entire Scooby Gang, as well as Duncan and Amanda, had assembled in the training room, Steve looked around and said, "Okay, let's get this rolling. Buffy, you and Shaw are up first."

"Why us?" Buffy asked, sensing danger with this arrangement. "You're pulling something, honey. What's the setup?"

"It's called payback, my lady," the Wanderer said to chuckles from the rest of the team. "You two made me look silly in front of the people of New Salem, now I'm getting even."

Shaw and Buffy looked at each other, and back at Steve.

"You didn't tell him, did you?" Duncan asked.

With a sense of foreboding, Steve asked, "What?"

"Well," Robin said, jumping in, "everyone here saw what happened in New Salem."

Steve turned on Buffy as the others started laughing. "You taped it?!? How?!?"

"Worse," Shaw answered. "Brenna took my memories of the discussion in the diner, and gave them to Robin."

"And I relayed it to everyone," the fairy concluded. At the Wanderer's disbelieving look, he shrugged. "Hey, it's amazing the money you can save with telepathy. I eliminated the tapes, the recorders, the camera. . ."

"Enough!" Steve said, looking defeated. "Hunter, your cat might be safe from me, but you and Buffy aren't. Get in there."

Shaw hesitated, and began to take off her sweats. She took them off, and laid them on top of her bag. When she turned her attention back to the others, she stopped short. Everyone was staring at her, so she looked down at her t-shirt and tights, and asked, "Is something wrong?"

"Well, uh. . ." Buffy started, "you're actually wearing spandex."

"I followed your advice," Shaw answered. "Amy was a great help in choosing this clothing."

"Yeah, but we know why you didn't wear it before," Cordelia said to the half-elf. "We don't mind about your back, Shaw. You don't need the t-shirt. You got it; flaunt it."

Shaw turned a bit pink in the face, and said, "One step at a time, Cordelia."

Cordelia started to speak, but Amy leaned in and whispered, "Cordy, she IS that modest. It wasn't a cover. We still have our work cut out for us."

"Oh," the Amazon mumbled. "Sorry, Hunter."

Shaw smiled to show it wasn't a problem, and went onto the training mat, where Buffy awaited her. As they took up defensive positions, the Slayer grinned at Shaw.

"Don't worry, Shaw," Buffy said confidently. "I'll make it painless for you."

"Sure you will," Steve said with a smirk. "Shaw's the attacker. On three. One. . . two. . . begin!"

Shaw quickly moved forward and planted her right foot, throwing a kick aimed at her opponent's stomach. When Buffy caught the kick instinctively, she started to grin. That is, until her smile turned into a look of astonishment as the ranger jumped and whirled. The top of Shaw's foot connected with the base of Buffy's skull, and Buffy flipped over in a complete somersault, landing on her back with a "thud" that had several Slayerettes' teeth rattling.

Shaw quickly rolled backwards, and regained her feet. She settled into a defensive stance, but relaxed a bit when Buffy didn't get up. In fact, Buffy just lay there, staring at the ceiling while the Slayerettes stared at the two women in complete shock.

After twenty seconds or so, Buffy said, "Uh, Shaw?"

"Yes, Buffy?"

"When I said I'd make it painless for you," the Slayer told her, "the idea *could* have worked both ways."

"I apologize, Buffy, but this is the first time I have used this particular maneuver outside of actual combat," the half-elf replied. "I did attempt to lessen the blow."

Buffy sat up, rubbing her skull. "A little advice. Keep working."

"Of course," Shaw said, missing the sarcasm behind Buffy's suggestion. She turned to Steven, and asked, "Was that satisfactory, Steven?"

Xander, Robin and Larry were snickering, and Steve favored them with a

glare. "Mind letting the rest of us in on the joke?"

Xander gained enough control to squeeze out, "Ask Shaw where she learned that move from."

When Steve looked at the confused ranger, she said, "I saw the this particular move on television. It has proven very effective against Agent J and one of Merlin's bodyguards."

"What show did you see *that* on?!?" Buffy asked painfully.

Shaw said, "I found it quite interesting. It involves flamboyantly dressed gladiators participating in what appears to be ritualized combat with predetermined outcomes on a raised platform, with thick strands of rope encircling the platform, for the entertainment of large audiences, many of whom were children who appeared to greatly enjoy themselves. I can appreciate the great bodily risks these gladiators take to entertain their audiences."

At the blank looks from the majority of the Slayerettes, Xander said, "Shaw, tell them the name of the program."

"Monday Night Raw," the priestess answered. "Xander, have you heard of that program?"

"You might say that," Xander laughed.

Once they overcame their shock, most of the Slayerettes joined in the laughter, with the exceptions of the stunned Buffy, and the disbelieving Wanderer.

"Are you saying I just got beat by a pro wrestling move?!?" Buffy babbled in astonishment. "WRESTLING?!?"

"Look at the bright side, Buff," Xander chuckled. "She didn't use a steel chair."

"Shut up, Xander!" Buffy snapped. She turned her fiery gaze on her boyfriend, and snarled, "Are you happy now, HONEY?"

"Oh, yeah. Especially since I left a tape running," St. Wolf said. "I told you I was going to get even with you."

Steve looked at Shaw, who'd been watching the entire scenario unfold. "And you. Xander all but begged me to match you two against each other, and I saw no reason not to accommodate him. So pick up a stick and line up."

When Shaw moved to grab a practice blade, Duncan leaned over to his former student.

"Getting the revenge over and done with?" the Highlander asked.

"Also, I want to see how she handles this," the Wanderer answered. "I know she'll be concerned about her control, and I want to see how she does."

Duncan softly nodded, and watched the two friends take opposite stances.

Steve waited until they were firmly set, and said, "Begin!"

Xander immediately went on the attack, sending a neck-level swing at Shaw. Normally, Shaw would either block the blow or back away, moving out of the sword's range. To everyone's surprise, she tried something new; she ducked and rolled forward. Coming to her feet, she was to the left and slightly behind Xander. She threw a two-handed strike of her own, which Xander clumsily blocked with an awkward backhanded grip. The blades struck, but Shaw quickly spun, staying on the attack by doing a three-sixty, her blow aimed at Xander's gut. Xander again proved equal to the task, blocking the blow with the point of the sword facing the floor. Shaw backed up a step, and threw a one-handed, left-handed strike at his leg, which the young man quickly backed away from.

Xander brought his sword back up to an appropriate position, and began an offensive flurry that Shaw had to work hard to avoid. Xander varied his targets, but Shaw's elven reflexes allowed her to keep up, allowing her to redirect, block, or dodge his maneuvers. Once or twice, Xander overcompensated, but Shaw seemed satisfied to stay on the defensive. Once Xander was finally forced back, Shaw began a complex series of moves, bent on disarming her opponent.

"She's holding back, Duncan," Steve whispered to his mentor.

Duncan nodded, but told Steve, "She's keeping control, though. I think that's a good sign. Xander's really improved, so that counts for a bit."

The two Immortals refocused their attention on the sparring match, where Xander had managed to elude Shaw's combination of Eastern, Western and elven sword techniques long enough to break away from the dizzying flurry. Xander began another routine, which Shaw countered fairly well. Steve noticed Shaw's eyes flash when Xander suddenly broke off the new series and backed off. The look became one of anger, and what Shaw did next stunned everyone.

She lowered her sword.

After an instant of shock, Steve said, "Shaw, this match isn't over."

"It should be," the Slayerette said, not looking away from Xander. To him, she said, "Xander, are you insane?"

"Say what?" he asked, no less surprised by her question than the others.

"When you see an opening in your opponent's defenses, you capitalize on it," she said disapprovingly.

Xander laughed at her. "Right, Hunter. I try to stab you, BAM! You poke my ass. I don't mean that literally."

Shaw squinted at him, and then turned to Steve. "Steven, what in Mielikki's name is he talking about?"

"I saw it, too," Steve said with a smile. "He's catching on to your traps."

Shaw's eyes went up a bit, and she shook her head. "You are mistaken, Steven, Xander. Xander, that opening was genuine. You should have followed your first instinct to strike."

Xander looked at Steve in confusion, and said, "I assume there's a translation somewhere in the near future?"

Duncan answered for Steve, who was surprised by Shaw's admission. "In layman's terms, Xander," the Scot said pleasantly, "you had her."

Xander blinked, and looked back at Shaw, who was now smiling a bit. "Uh, Hunter? Are you telling me I actually had you beat?"

"Cleanly," the ranger said with detectable approval. With equally detectable pride in her voice, she said, "And I think that you do not realize the depths of your own improvement."

"Wait a second, Hunter," Cordelia butted in, with great doubt, "are you saying Xander BEAT you?!?"

"In more ways than one, Cordelia." Shaw looked Xander up and down, and told him, "First, you saw the opening that you could have exploited, given your speed and strength. But, in that instant, you realized that is *could* have been a ruse. Without even thinking, you instantly divined two possible situations, one offensive and one defensive. Quite simply, you were able to fight on offense and defense at the same time."

"Uh, okay," Xander said, with confusion shared by the rest of the Slayerettes.

"Xander," Duncan said, "being able to fight offensively and defensively without a division between the two is only possible for the finest of warriors. What Shaw's telling you is for that instant, you were at a new level of skill. You have the potential to become even better than you are now, and that IS saying a lot."

"So, Xander just beat Shaw," Cordelia said. When Shaw, Duncan and Steve all nodded heartily, she moaned. "We're never going to hear the end of this."

"Not until someone else beats her," Buffy said. "But she says that's not long in coming. Right, Hunter?"

"Yes, it is," the ranger said. "Cordelia, you should be proud of him. If not, it gives you a target to shoot for to keep him from bragging too much."

With an arched eyebrow, Cordy said, "That does make a lot of sense."

"Hey!" Xander snapped.

"But that does bring up another matter, Buffy," Shaw said. She started to head for her bag, and said, "I must confess, I am somewhat disappointed in Willow."

"What?!?" the redheaded witch blurted. "Why?!?"

Shaw didn't answer, digging through her bag. Buffy, realizing what Shaw was talking about, sent an innocent smile at Steve, and walked over to join Shaw.

"Oh, shit," St. Wolf moaned, closing his eyes in frustration.

In a concerned voice, Duncan asked, "Is something wrong, Steve?"

"Yeah, Duncan, something's wrong," Steve growled as he realized what was about to become known to his teacher.

Shaw pulled out a ten-dollar bill, and handed it over to the grinning Immortal Slayer, with the others looking on in bafflement.

"Thanks, Shaw," Buffy said as she gripped the money. "This'll pay for dinner tonight."

"I do prefer to settle my wagers in a timely fashion," Shaw told her.

"What wager?" Amanda asked.

Buffy turned to the thief, and began to explain their bet to everyone else. "Shaw and I were talking a month or so ago, and she told me that some of us were getting near her level of skill with a sword. She brought up some names as to who could be the first to beat her, and we made a little bet on that."

"That was why I was disappointed in Willow," Shaw said, sending a mischievous grin towards her friend. "You cost me ten dollars."

With a giggle, Willow said, "Sorry."

"Who else was on your list?" Jenny asked.

"Xander and Cordy," Buffy answered, looking at the couple. "Her reasoning was, Amy and Jenny are more likely to resort to magic first, and swords second. Willow is a little newer to the magic, not having the family background Jenny and Amy have, and is still as likely to get up close and personal, as she is to throw a spell or two. Giles uses more traditional styles like fencing, which Shaw knows how to counter. Xander and Cordy, on the other hand, aren't what Shaw calls 'multitalented. . .'"

"HEY!" the two teenagers snapped.

"Xander, Cordelia, what I meant by that was that most of the others, save for Oz, have spell casting abilities that they nurture in addition to their skills as warriors," Shaw answered. "The two of you are pure warriors, and so your attention, and training, is not distracted by other learning. I meant no offense."

"Oh," the two teenagers mumbled.

"What about me?" Randi asked. "Or Oz? You didn't mention him."

"Randi, Willow cannot figure out Oz," Shaw said with a grin shared by the werewolf. "Do not ask me to. But as for you, it is not so much a matter of the intensity of your training, but simply experience. Xander and Cordelia have been training with Steven longer than you have, it will simply take time for you to reach their level. But I do not doubt that you will."

As the other Slayerettes talked about Shaw and Buffy's bet, Duncan looked at Steve, a cocked eyebrow in place.

"You allow your students to make bets on your training sessions?" the Highlander asked.

Steve just growled a reply.

*****

After the training session ended, the Scooby Gang was relaxing in the living room, when Xander approached Shaw.

"Uh, about my present?" he asked excitedly.

Shaw sighed, and looked at Amy. "What do you think, Amy? Has he behaved well enough?"

"For once," the witch said, giggling at his sour look. "I'll get it."

Amy headed for the armory, and a few minutes later, returned with a wrapped bundle, with a hilt sticking out of it. Xander's eyes popped a bit, and he looked at Shaw.

"Uh, isn't that. ."

"It is," Shaw said softly. She licked her lips, and said, "I gave it a great deal of thought, and talked with Ulric and Amy, and I saw no reason that you could not wield it as well as my Grandfather."

"But," Amy added with a smile, "we made some 'improvements.'"

The others, having become curious over this discussion, were now gathering around, to see what was going on.

"What kind of improvements?" Xander asked, looking to have equal parts eagerness and caution.

"Some spells we put on the sword," Amy said, looking over the weapon critically. "Let's just say it'll catch the bad guys off guard."

"Wait a minute," Steve said, breaking into the discussion. "Are you saying you made this weapon magical?"

"In a sense, Steven," Shaw replied, eyeing the weapon herself. "It is not magical in the sense that our weapons are, forged from the beginning to be magical. But the quality of this weapon is high enough that we were able to make it magical. The power of the sword is about two-thirds of that of Soulreaver, and the effects are more defensive in nature, but it is fairly well-rounded."

"What kind of powers does it have?" Xander asked, looking like a kid in a toy store.

"Uh, Xander, don't expect to be shooting fireballs, lightning bolts or lasers with this thing," Amy said with a grimace. "We're not THAT good."

"Oh," he said with a bit of disappointment that sparked some laughter. "Okay, what does it do?"

"Among the benefits from my spells," Shaw began, "are Fire and Cold Resistance. Also, the weapon has three blessings on it."

"Three?" Buffy asked. "Overkill, much?"

"One is from a spell of mine," the half-elf answered. "The other two are mundane blessings, one from me and the other from Ulric. Magical blessings can be cancelled by stronger magic, mundane ones cannot. I do prefer to be thorough."

"Fire resistance?" Xander asked. "Does that mean if I pissed off a dragon. . ."

"Your death would be quick and painless," Shaw finished with a snort. "Xander, my power is somewhat limited. Scorpion could not overcome my spell when we fought, and I have become slightly stronger. But also, the spell only protects you from fire and heat, not other dangers."

"Like what?" Willow asked.

"Breathing in smoke, explosions," Steve answered for her. "Keep going, Shaw."

"Thank you," Shaw said with a thankful nod. She looked at Amy. "Amy?"

"Okay," the blonde-haired girl said, taking a deep breath. "First, I cast a spell to allow Shaw and I to let the sword absorb the spells. That was the easy part. The hard part was deciding what spells to use on it. The first one was easy; a speed enchantment like the ones Will and I put on the Frogs' swords. The second one, Shaw suggested based on the shortsword she got in New York. I used a transmutation spell to change the blade from steel to titanium."

Steve let out a low whistle, and said, "Damn."

"What about it, Steve?" Giles asked, not understanding the reaction from Steve.

"Titanium is a metal that the U.S. uses to make tank armor out of," the Wanderer explained. "As well as in the construction of the space shuttle. Compared to normal, everyday steel, it's twice as strong, and half as heavy."

Duncan took the thread up from there. "So what Shaw and Amy did was make the blade of this sword stronger, tougher, and lighter than a normal blade."

"And faster," Shaw added to the dumbfounded Slayerettes. "The lightness and durability of the blade, added to the speed enchantment, as well as Xander's speed and strength from Robin's empowerment, make this change even more dangerous for any opponents Xander crosses."

"And there's one more I put on it," Amy told them. "It's not much, but it makes for easier handling. Shaw calls it an 'everbright' spell."

"What does it do?" Buffy asked, very cautious about this entire affair.

"Simple," the Amazon grinned. "With this spell, the sword never needs to be sharpened, blood and other stuff just slides off the sword, and it's essentially rustproof and self-cleaning."

"Like nonstick pots and pans," Cordelia suggested.

When the others looked at her in irritation, Amy said, "Don't look at her like that. That's exactly what it's like."

"Thanks," Cordelia said, looking at the wrapped blade. "But why is it wrapped up like that?"

"Because Xander wanted to show you the blade himself," Shaw replied. She nodded, and Amy handed the sword to Xander. "He wanted to see the look on your face when you saw it."

"What?" the brunette asked. "I've seen swords before."

"Not like this one, honey," Xander said with relish as he began to unwrap his new toy.

"What kind of sword is it?" Steve asked Shaw.

"Flamberge," she told him.

Steve thought of the image of Xander wielding such a weapon, and muttered, "Oh, goody."

Xander took the wrapping completely off, and showed the wavy blade to Cordelia. "What do you think, Cordy?"

Cordelia, as well as Randi and Buffy, wrinkled their noses at the style of blade on the sword, and Cordy said, "Ewwww. That's sick!"

Shaw looked at Amy, and held out her hand. With a roll of her eyes, Amy pulled five dollars out of her pocket and handed it over.

"What was that for?" Amanda asked.

"The first words out of Cordelia's mouth when she saw it," the half-elven woman responded. "Amy believed the first thing Cordelia said would be, 'What about the rest of us?'"

When the others turned to look at the priestess and the witch, Cordelia said, "Well, while we ARE on the subject. . ."

"We're working on it," Amy said, she and Shaw having had this very discussion beforehand. "You have to understand, not any old sword can be made magical. It'll take time to get one done for everyone. That is, except for Steve, Buffy, Shaw and Randi. They've already got magical weapons."

"In order for a weapon to be able to accept and absorb magic, it has to be a masterwork item," Shaw explained, but it only drew confused, glazed expressions. She looked at her cousin. "Amy?"

"Okay, here's what we mean," the Amazon told the others. "Take, for example, the Home Shopping Channel. The swords they sell on there once in awhile are mass-produced. They make and sell them by the hundreds. They're run of the mill, or poor quality."

"So, what's a 'masterwork?'" Oz asked.

"One example," Shaw said with a nod towards Duncan, "would be Duncan's katana, made by a student of the man regarded to be the most famous sword crafter in the history of the world."

"You are *not* going to put spells on my sword, you two," Duncan said, only half-jokingly. "I like my katana just fine the way it is."

"Spoil our fun," Amy grumbled with a grin. "Anyway, it has to be the highest quality stuff to make it magical. And that stuff is kinda hard to find. But, we'll work on it." She looked at Jenny and Willow, and said, "And hopefully, we can con you two into doing some of the work."

"Also," Shaw added, "we want to vary the spells we put on the swords, so that any opponents do not know the capabilities of the swords from encountering one of us. We want to have versatility."

"Good planning," Steve said, surprised that the two young women had done so much planning. "But take your time. Shaw, you're going to be seeing Sydney, going to school, training, and you told me you plan to make scrolls and potions. Don't spread yourself too thin."

"Understood," the half-elf agreed. "Amy and I agreed that we would take our time with this. Xander's sword is what could be considered what Amy termed the 'prototype.' My preference was, 'first edition.'"

"Yes, about that," Steve said, looking at Xander. "I'm not sure about you using that on patrol just yet, Xander."

"But. ." Xander started to protest, looking crushed.

"Just listen," St. Wolf ordered. "First off, you haven't even used that type of sword before, let alone one with enhanced speed and sharpness. Even with your empowerment, you wouldn't be used to using that weapon right off the bat, without some kind of training or practice. It might be more dangerous to you than to the vampires."

Xander looked sad, but he nodded. "Got it, Steve."

Shaw looked at Amy, who pulled out a second wrapped bundle, and tossed it to her. She held it out to Xander, who looked at it questioningly.

"As I said, I prefer to be thorough," the half-elf said with a smile.

Handing his sword over to Cordelia, who took it in two fingers while making a dirty face at it, the young man unwrapped the second bundle. The Slayerettes started smiling and snickering at the item he now held.

"Ewww. Those things come in wood?" Cordelia asked in disgust.

"It's got the same speed spell on it, Steve," Amy told their leader. "And a strengthening spell to keep it from being broken."

In a tired voice, Shaw added, "I will not tell you how many wood shaping spells it took me to get the curvature to exactly match the genuine article."

Xander looked at Steve, and asked, "Well?"

"Not tonight," Steve said in denial. "We'll start tomorrow."

"Cool," the dark-haired teen said, not discouraged in the slightest. "Uh, what's the sword's name? I mean, your swords have names."

"You expect us to do all the work?" Amy said with a smirk.

"Also, I would ask that you give some consideration to the name, after all of the effort that Amy and I put into the enchantments," Shaw added.

"In English?" Xander asked.

"She said, don't pick something stupid," Cordelia informed him, giving him a slap upside the head.

"Oh, Shaw? You forgot one," Amy told her.

"What now?" Cordy moaned in fear.

"Xander, imagine your sword covered in flames, like mine is when I draw it," Shaw ordered.

Xander looked at the blade of his flamberge, and the blade suddenly erupted into brilliant flames. Xander almost dropped the weapon, but managed to hold on when he figured that Amy and Shaw might kick him around for treating their work in that way.

Staring at the flaming weapon, Xander said, "Uh, no heat. Faerie fire, right?"

"Yes, Xander."

"I thought that came in white?" Buffy pointed out.

"The color is chosen at the time of casting by the caster," Shaw explained to the others. "Knowing the mentality of the elven priests who forged Soulreaver, I believe they made Soulreaver's flames white in order to symbolize the purity of a weapon that could not be borne by evil."

"And you?" Jenny asked, eyeing the reddish-orange illusory flames.

With a shrug, Shaw said, "I am practical. Imagine when Xander calls up the flames at will, and it appears to be real fire."

"Wait a second," Xander said, not understanding that statement. "You're telling me I can turn this on or off?"

"Of course," Amy said, loving his childlike reactions. "But keep in mind; we didn't have the power to do the 'no evil touches the sword' bit like Shaw's weapon. The best we could do was the blessings, so vamps can't pick it up, let alone chop your arms and head off."

"Ewwwww," several female Slayerettes said.

"Uh, thanks Shaw," Xander said. "Uh, no sheath, right?"

"Unfortunately, no," Shaw answered. "There was not one when Duncan and Amanda found the sword."

"Okay," Xander said. Looking at Steve, he asked, "Okay if I throw this bad boy in the armory for now?"

"I'd prefer it," Steve said in relief. "Okay, show's over. Everyone head home, and we'll be here, five tomorrow."

"I will not be here, Steven," Shaw told him. "I do have an appointment with Dr. Greene."

"Got it," the Wanderer said with a smile. "See you Wednesday."

"Uh, wait a minute," Cordelia said, holding up a hand. "Shaw, aren't you going to tell us the big secret?"

Shaw looked at her, and asked, "What secret?"

"The one Steve said you'd only tell us when one of us beat you. He said it'd explain a lot of why we couldn't beat you," Xander added. "And since that happened. ."

Shaw looked at Steve, who was grinning at her. "What are they talking about, Steven?"

"The thing about your hands," the Immortal replied evilly.

Shaw's eyes brightened, and she asked, "You kept something that mundane a secret?"

"Mundane?" Steve asked. "Shaw, that kind of thing is rare here on Earth. Besides, I wanted to see the looks on their faces."

"Uh, what is he talking about?" Amy asked her relative.

With a sigh, Shaw said, "He is referring to my ambidexterity."

The younger Slayerettes were blank on that word, while Duncan and Amanda just raised an eyebrow, and Jenny and Giles' jaws opened in realization.

"Ambi-whatty?" Cordelia said dully.

"I am ambidextrous," Shaw told them.

"I thought you were a Scorpio," Xander said, with a confused look. "OW!"

Cordelia looked at him crossly, and said, "Her birthday's too late for that, dilweed. She's a Sagittarius."

Shaw looked at Amy, and asked, "Do I even bother asking?"

"Later," the witch laughed. "I think you'll like it."

"Shaw," Giles said, catching everyone's attention, "Are you ambidextrous?"

"Yes, Giles, as I said."

"Xander was right," Jenny growled at the grinning St. Wolf, "it *does* explain a lot.

"You know what they're talking about?" Willow asked for the majority of the team.

"Yes, Willow, indeed," Giles said with a sigh. "The explanation. ."

"Short version," Buffy, Willow, Oz, Xander, Cordelia, Amy, Larry and Randi said together.

With a frown, the Watcher said, "It IS a short version. As you may or may not know, most people are classified as 'right-handed.'"

"Yeah, and the rest are left-handed," Xander said. "Tell us something we don't know, G-Man."

"Xander, there are a small minority of people who do not fall under either category," Giles informed the young warrior. "There are people who, like Shaw it seems, are neither left- or right-handed. In simplest terms, Shaw is. ."

"Both-handed," Jenny finished. With a grin, she added, "Sorry, Rupert."

"It's all right, Jenny. That was the term I had in mind," Giles said, returning her smile.

"Wait a minute," Xander said. "Both-handed? Like a switch hitter in baseball?"

"An excellent example, Xander," Giles agreed. "But I think it's somewhat more extreme in Shaw's case."

The younger Slayerettes turned as one to Shaw, and Xander asked, "So, how about it, Hunter? Is he right?"

"I understand baseball, Xander," Shaw said carefully, "as Mark was most gracious with explanations on the sport. But switch hitter is one term I do not know."

"Okay," Larry said, taking up the explanation as he was a member of the Sunnydale High baseball team. "Most guys bat right-handed, and some left-handed. But there are some players that can do both. It doesn't matter to them."

"Yeah, Shaw," Xander cut in. "Is it that way with you? It doesn't matter which hand you use, you're THAT good with a sword?"

Her face brightening with the explanation, Shaw smiled. "Yes, Xander. That is true, I am equally adept with a sword in either hand."

As the Slayerettes began to grow sick looks on their faces at a major reason for their previous lack of success against Shaw, she kept going.

"As well as daggers, bows, quarterstaff, throwing, writing. . ."

"We get the point!" Cordelia moaned.

*****

Johansen Residence
Sunnydale, California
8 December 1998

Shaw walked into the kitchen, where Ulric was sitting down, enjoying a cup of hot coffee. When she began looking through the cupboards for something, he looked at her.

"Child, what are you searching for?" the priest asked.

"I want to feed Brenna before I leave," Shaw said, frustration bleeding into her voice. "Since I did not know that I would be getting a Guardian, I did not buy supplies or food for her."

Shaw stopped looking, and turned to Brenna, who was sitting on the floor, looking at her Companion serenely.

"Brenna, how much food do you require in one day? Enough for your true form, or for the form you spend most of your time in?" the flustered half-elf asked.

//Enough for this form,// the Siamese answered, enjoying not only Shaw's frustration, but also the attention. //And the cat food is in the upper left-hand cupboard.//

Shaw nodded, but stopped, turning back to Brenna.

<Why didn't you tell me that in the first place?> she silently demanded.

//You would have gotten there eventually,// she said with a purr. //I had confidence in you.//

"Very funny," Shaw muttered, opening the appropriate cabinet.

Shaw pulled out a can of food, and quickly used the can opener to open it. She placed the food on a plate, and set it down for her, petting Brenna as she walked to the plate.

"I will see you later, Brenna," she said with a smile. She stood back up, and told Ulric, "Ulric, I will be late tonight. I have an appointment with Dr. Greene at four o'clock."

With a kind smile, Ulric said, "I will see you then. Take care, child. If I might ask, what time will you be home?"

Shaw stopped going out the door, and asked, "Home?"

She turned to Ulric, and a smile came to her face as the impact of that one word sank in. With a soft voice, she said, "I will be *home* by eight o'clock. I will see you then, Ulric."

Shaw turned and walked out of the kitchen, the small smile still on her face. After Ulric heard the door close, he looked at Brenna, who was daintily eating her breakfast.

"You didn't tell her, did you?" the Catholic asked her.

Brenna looked up, and gave Ulric a look that told him that she was very pleased with herself.

//Why should Shawukay be the only one who can play jokes?// she asked. //I do want to see the expression on her face when she learns that Amy cast a spell to allow me to talk to you as well.//

Ulric let out some dignified laughter, which was echoed in his head by the small feline. Sharing that moment of mirth, the priest and Guardian Spirit turned back to their breakfasts.

*****

Epilogue: Parting Shots
(So The Grand High Poobah Of The Wandererverse Asks, So Shall He Receive. IN SPADES)

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
Cleveland, Ohio
Late hours
7 December 1998

As the security guard made his rounds about the Hall of Fame, he saw a flash of light coming around the corner. He took out his flashlight, and turned it on, and slowly walked towards the source of the illumination. As he came to the corner, the light faded, and was replaced by the sound of someone moaning. He considered calling for backup, but decided against it, since whoever was moaning would have heard him talking on the walkie-talkie, just as he heard her.

He carefully walked around the corner, and was surprised to see a teenage girl, who couldn't possibly be over eighteen, lying on the floor, with bruises on her face and arms.

Sympathy overcame his caution, as he assumed the girl had been beaten, perhaps worse. The fact that she was in the middle of a locked museum didn't occur to him, as he turned off his flashlight in order to help her up with both hands.

He picked the girl up, and stood her, as she was starting to focus on him. He walked her over to the nearest light, and got his first real good look at her.

The girl was about five-foot-four, and weighed about a hundred and fifteen pounds. Blonde hair fell to her shoulders, and she looked to be in outstanding physical shape, like an athlete.

As she started rubbing her head, he asked, "You okay, kid?"

With a low moan, the young woman asked, "What happened?"

"I don't know," the guard told her. "You look like you've been in a fight."

"I was. . ." the girl said, now fully snapping to attention. She looked around, and pushed herself away from the guard. "Where the Hell am I?!?" she demanded.

"Whoa, whoa," the guard said, backing up and putting some distance between him and the distraught teenager. "Look, I just found you here, and you look like you've taken a beating. You need an ambulance?"

The girl rubbed her jaw, seeing if it was broken, and slowly said, "Uh, no. That's all right. Where am I?"

"Uh, that's the funny part," the guard said. "You're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it's been closed for a few hours."

The woman's eyes widened, and she asked, "I'm in Cleveland?!?"

"Uh, yeah," he answered. "Where did you think you were?"

"Uh, California," the blonde answered dully, looking around and seeing the various memorabilia. "How the fuck did I end up back here?"

"Uh, look," the security guard said, thinking maybe she was coming down off a high, "you want me to call an ambulance?"

The woman focused on him, and said, "Uh, no. Uh, look. I need to get going. Thanks, but. . . I gotta go."

The guard looked at her, and moved to grasp her arm, "Kid, look. You've been knocked on the head. You shouldn't be out by yourself. . ."

Any further words were cut off when the woman threw a backhanded punch that caught the guard flush on the chin. He dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes, and the blonde teenager bent over and began looking through his pockets. She found what she was looking for, and with a smile of satisfaction, flipped the guard's keys into the air and caught them behind her back.

The girl turned around and left the guard lying unconscious on the floor, never looking back.

<Hellmouth, here I come.>

*****

Detroit, Michigan
Late hours
7 December 1998

The sound of a brutal fight woke man in his apartment, and he jumped up with a curse. He grabbed his service revolver from the nightstand, and looked out the window.

He saw two men in the street, throwing down with each other. However, there was one thing that threw him off.

<They're both white?!?> he asked himself. <They're throwing down in MY neighborhood? Aw, man! I gotta be up in four hours!>

Grumbling to himself, the man quickly head for the street.

*****

The smaller of the two men threw his larger opponent against a Chevy Cavalier, and the driver side door shattered into a thousand tiny glass fragments. As the larger man tried to regain his senses, the other, clad in a leather jacket and blue jeans, threw a nasty one-two combination before grabbing the losing man by the throat and military pressing him and throwing him several feet.

The tossed fighter landed with a heavy thud, and sat there, moaning as he tried to mount some resistance, but in his weakened condition, he was no match for his fresh opponent.

<If I was at full strength, I'd take this punk out in a minute,> his mind said. <But now. . .>

As the larger of the two Caucasians got to his knees, the smaller threw a kick into his stomach, sending him back to all fours.

"You know, man," he heard the kid say, "your rep is blown WAY out of proportion."

"That's what you think," the older one countered, throwing an elbow into the younger man's gut. But, since it lacked power, the one who'd had the upper hand the entire fight just axehandled him on the back of the neck.

As his opponent began to rise again, the skinny kid took out a long piece of wood, and said, "You realize my girlfriend's gonna be pissed with you gone, but I'll make it up to her."

Before he could impale the losing side, a voice shouted out through the night.

"Freeze, white boy!"

The man turned and saw a black man, clad only in a tank top and boxer shorts, pointing a gun at him.

As the cop shouted, the kid who'd been laying a serious ass whoopin' on the bigger guy turned around, and he got a good look at the white kid's face.

"AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!" he shouted, but without hesitation began emptying his service revolver into the teen when the yellow-eyed, fanged kid started to move forward.

Six shots rang out, and the kid jerked six times from the impacts. Once the shots stopped coming, the kid looked at his opponent, who was rising once again.

"Man, I don't have time for this. I'm leaving," the demon-faced teen said, turning and disappearing into the shadows.

The policeman just stared into space, not believing what he'd seen. "I just emptied six shots into the kid, and he just smiled! Must've been wearing body armor. Great. Yellow-eyed kids with kevlar. Man, they're coming up with new drugs every day."

As the officer kept complaining, the other man slowly staggered to his feet. Seeing the man who'd saved his life, he painfully said, "Thanks."

The sleepy, underdressed cop stopped his pissing and moaning in mid-curse, and looked at the man whose life he'd saved. "Hey, man, no problem. But we need to get you to a doctor, and get you checked out."

"No, no doctors," the man said, finally straightening up.

"What? You're white, don't tell me you ain't got insurance. . . AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!"

Both men jumped, and the white man asked, "What?"

"Your FACE, man!!!" the gun holding man shouted.

"Oh," he said, before shifting from the same evil visage his opponent had been sporting to a normal human appearance.

The man stopped screaming, and just stared, cocking his head and narrowing his eyes as he inspected the now human-looking face.

"How'd you do that, man?" the black man asked.

"We normally look like this," the white man, looking no older than twenty-five, explained. "We change when our emotions are aroused, or we get hungry."

"What's this 'we' shit?" the cop asked, before thinking about what else he'd said. "Man, must be hell when you've got your honey in the drive-thru at Burger King."

Rolling his eyes, the other said, "I don't eat. I drink."

"Oh, great," the cop complained. "A funky-faced guy on the sauce getting his ass kicked."

"I don't drink alcohol," he said.

"Then what do you drink?"

"You don't want to know."

"Look, white boy," the officer said, pointing at the man who'd been getting beaten, "you and yellow-eye wake me up in the middle of the night, throwing down in MY hood, and you think I'm not gonna ask questions? You don't know JACK, man! Now tell me why ugly boy didn't fall over and play dead when I emptied my gun into him?!?"

The white man cocked an eyebrow, and the cop paled as he realized he was now holding an empty gun. As the cop started to say, "Oh, shit," the taller man answered his question.

"We're vampires," he said with a sigh.

To his surprise, the cop cocked an eyebrow of his own, and his reaction was somewhat different than expected.

"Vampires? Like Dracula?" he asked. When the white boy nodded, he started laughing in an irritating manner.

"Hyeh, hyeh, hyeh. . ." he laughed, smiling with large, white teeth at the man he'd saved. "Let me get this straight; you drink blood? Right, man."

"You saw his fangs, didn't you?"

"Yeah but. . ."

The cop realized that he HAD seen fangs, and looked back at the other man, who'd already confessed he was a vampire as well. Sensing the man's rising fear, he moved back, holding his hands up.

"I won't hurt anyone," he promised.

"Oh, right man! Back up from an empty gun!" the cop shouted. "What makes you any different from Dead Boy, huh? How are you different from the undead answer to the Fonz?"

"I have my soul," the vampire said quickly, and a look of remorse in his face.

The cop cocked his eyebrow, and folded his arms, inspecting the vampire again. He pointed at him, and said, "You've got soul."

"Yes."

"Oh, I get it," the Detroiter said. "It's a music thing. R and B, right?"

The vampire sighed, and said, "It's a curse, actually. Some Gypsies cursed me with my soul after I killed one of them."

"Well, that's what you get for necking without her permission," the cop said. As the vamp winced, he asked, "What's your name?"

"My name?"

"Yeah, you know, your name. You DO have a name, don't you?"

With a sigh, the vampire answered, "My name's Angel."

The cop started laughing in that irritating manner again, and Angel asked, "What's so funny?"

After regaining control of himself, the police officer said, "Let me get this straight. You're a vampire, and your name's Angel?"

When Angel nodded, the cop laughed again. After a couple of minutes, he said, "Angel?!? Dude, look at you! You're a vampire, you've got this kind of 'brooding Untouchable' look, and you're name's Angel? Not exactly fitting the profile, here."

Angel shook his head slightly, and smiled. "Maybe your right. My real name was Liam."

"Lee-am?" he repeated. "What kind of name is that?"

"Irish."

"Right," the black man said. "Stick with Angel."

"I'll do that," Angel promised. "I gotta get back to the Hellmouth."

"What's that? Some kind of undead night club or something?" the cop asked in amusement. "You guys dance to Monster Mash all night?"

Angel shook his head, and said, "Actually, it's the doorway to Hell."

"I thought that was Los Angeles," the cop joked.

"Two or three hours north of L.A.," Angel clarified.

"Wait a minute," the drowsy cop said, holding up both his hands, one of which was holding a Smith and Wesson. "You're serious! The doorway to Hell is north of L.A., and you've got to get there?!? Dude, where do you think you are?!?"

"Somewhere in Los Angeles," Angel answered. Looking around, he said, "I take it I'm not there."

With wide, disbelieving eyes, the man informed him, "Dude, you're in DETROIT!!!"

"Detroit?" Angel asked in confusion.

"Yeah, dude. Motown! Smokey Robinson, Steve Wonder, the Temptations," the cop said emphatically. "THAT Detroit!"

Angel's eyes went blank from shock, and he slowly said, "Great. There's no way I can get there."

"What? Just fly like everyone else."

"Sunlight," Angel said dully.

"Oh." After a few seconds, he said, "Tell you what. I can take you. I'm heading to L.A. for the weekend anyway, so until then you can hang out here."

"You just happen to be going to Los Angeles this weekend," Angel said doubtfully.

"Beverly Hills." At Angel's doubtful look, he said, "Hey, I got the vacation papers in my apartment. What, you think I *expected* to be woken up by the Prince of Darkness and the undead answer to the Fonz? I only got four hours before I gotta be on shift. Damn, the Captain's gonna ream my ass."

"You're a cop?"

"I'm a detective, yeah," the officer replied. Making a motion with his arm, he said, "Come on. I need some sleep."

Angel started to follow, but the man quickly turned around, pointing at him in a threatening manner.

"Oh, one thing, man. No necking. You try to drink THIS home boy's blood, and I'll cap your undead ass."

Angel chuckled, and said, "I'm all right for tonight. I can get pig's blood from the butcher tomorrow night."

"Oh. Uh, well, that's okay then," he said, putting his gun in his waistband. "But keep it away from my beer. I don't wanna be drinking no 'O Lite' or some shit."

The man turned around, and put out his hand.

"By the way, my name's Axel. Axel Foley."

*****

Dallas, Texas
7 December 1998

Several members of the Diablos street gang were hanging out near the Lone Star, a nightclub frequented by both themselves and their chief rivals, the Revolutionaries. The club, which catered to all musical tastes, was considered neutral ground, or the inner city version of a demilitarized zone, where members of any of the city's numerous street gangs could meet and discuss problems without resorting to bloodshed that might attract attention from the cops. Tonight, the Diablos were simply hanging out, enjoying some conversation and taking a break from dancing with their girlfriends.

Suddenly, the outlines of a flash of light, from behind the club, attracted the attention of some of the gang members. One of them, Manny Juarez, looked at the others to see if they had noticed. Two of them nodded, and he nodded back, and began to head back to check out the scene.

The Lone Star was not only considered neutral ground, but the gangs also took steps to ensure that it remained neutral ground. Any gangbanger, or even any gang, that violated this neutrality from the normal street wars was severely dealt with.

As the Diablo walked around to the rear of the building, he noticed that there was a hole in the fence, and smoke rising from the asphalt and from the walls of the other buildings, as if something had burned or struck them.

Juarez found himself smiling, thinking, <Oh, great. Right out of Terminator 2. Next thing you know, there's a killer cyborg gonna come out and take my clothes.>

He heard a soft moaning noise, and slowly walked over towards where the sounds were coming from.

As he reached the point of origin, what he saw surprised him.

A small white girl, with shoulder-length red hair, huddled against a dumpster, looking lost and confused.

<Holy shit,> Jaurez thought, feeling sorry for the teenager. <She looks whacked.>

"Hey," he said, startling the young woman, "you okay?"

She looked around, and asked, "Where am I?"

"Behind the Lone Star," he said, jerking his head softly back to indicate the club he'd named.

"No," she muttered, seeming to regain some of her strength. "I. ." She stopped, and looked the gangbanger in the eyes. "Where am I? The last thing I remember. .a fight. ."

"No, no fights here," Manny said, taking in the leather the girl was decked out in, with lace of some sort covering her breasts. <Damn, this girl is FINE! Even if she does look like something out of the S & M crowd.> "You're in Dallas, of course."

The girl's eyes widened, and she shook her head. "No, that's wrong! I. .Hellmouth. That's where I'm supposed to be."

"Hellmouth?" Manny asked. "That a club or something?"

She looked at him as if he were stupid, and stood up, giving the Diablo a VERY good look at her body. And if there was something Manny Juarez could appreciate, it was the female body.

"Tell you what," he offered, half-turning towards where his fellow gangbangers were waiting for him, "I can take you to a phone, and you can call home."

The leather-clad girl looked at him, seemingly inspecting him, and seeing what she liked. She said, "Maybe we could play, instead."

This offer took the young man by surprise, and he gulped. "Uh, maybe. Don't you think you should get home, though?"

"Oh, I will," she assured him, silkily walking towards him, putting one booted foot in front of the other in a seductive manner. "But I want to have some fun before I leave."

"Well, I. ." he started to say, trying to be a gentleman rather than immediately take her up on her offer.

"Good," she said, and her face began to distort, growing ridges above her eyes, and the eyes themselves started to glow in an eerie shade of yellow.

"Madre de Dios!!" Juarez shouted, and he pulled out his switchblade, something he'd carried since his older brother had been taken down in a drive by shooting seven months before. "Stay away from me!"

"But I want to play," the young woman said, licking her lips playfully. "Come to me."

"Fuck you!" he snapped, and he slashed out with the knife, cutting her sleeve and drawing a thin line of blood.

However, to his surprise, and fear, she smiled. "Oh, you like to play, too."

She started to move forward, and this time Juarez didn't give her a warning. He drove the knife all the way in, right into her stomach, causing her to gasp in surprise.

He started to take the blade out, but the girl's right arm shot out, grabbing his wrist, and she began to squeeze, causing his bones to crack.

As Manny started to cry out in pain, her other arm reached out, and clasped around his throat, cutting off any sound before it could escape his throat.

She looked down at the knife still sticking out of her stomach, and then she looked at him, her yellow eyes glowing with hunger and desire. She looked at him this way for about forty-five seconds, and finally said something, something that Manny couldn't comprehend.

"You're a bad puppy."

The End

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