The following story is set in the Wandererverse shortly after the events in Born to Raise Hellmouth.  I don't own any of the characters here except for the following: Jack MacPherson, Terrance Otterman and Freddie Bonnetti belong to me and cannot be used without my permission.  I can be contacted at madjack1564@yahoo.com if you want to use any or all of my characters. All of the others belong to other people and I have used them without permission (I hope no one minds!). 

 

Summary:  A Bureau 13 team in trouble is rescued by Section 7, leading to some surprise revelations, new allies, and one heck of a party.  Oh yeah, and the world is saved again.

 

Rating: PG-13 for violence and some language.

 

Book Two

 

Abandoned lodge in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, 1710 hours, 15 September, 1998

 

  Missy Andrews was getting impatient. Nightfall was about two hours away and she could hardly stand it. She wanted to go out to hunt and feed. They had been stuck in those musty caves far too long already. The Master’s order to move back to the old lair in this abandoned ski lodge was fine with her. There was even a small town a couple of miles down the road where they could get some snacks. And some new furniture for this place. And new clothes. It’s been too long since she had had the chance to really shop. And shopping would come with express food delivery. Sure, you couldn’t choose your meal, but most cops are fit enough to taste well.

 

  She continued to pace back and forth in the old kitchen. The place had been abandoned sometime in the fifties so there was nothing to impede her pacing, though she did have to be cautious of a weak spot in the center of the floor. The place was going to start falling apart within a few years, but for now it was still structurally sound. It did smell bad, however. The odor of mildew permeated the entire place. Oh well, they’d have to pick up some things in the city. She knew that the Master would not allow them to use a truck to bring everything back here, but Vampire strength would solve most of that. Just because they were dead didn’t mean they didn’t like some comfort. And they’d need a new cage for food, and perhaps some tools to make it scream before dinner.

 

  Missy wasn’t too concerned with these trivial matters, knowing there was at least one former interior designer among their group; however, she was wondering where the Master and the rest of the flock were. They should have arrived a few hours ago. Gregory had left first with his small group, then Missy had been sent with her group of twenty, the Master was to have followed shortly afterwards with the rest. She idly wondered of the Master had abandoned her group. She didn’t think he would, twenty Vampires were a sizable part of the flock.

 

  No, something else must have happened to delay him. Most likely that wannabe powerful demon had returned and wanted to strike a new deal. The thought that he could be defeated somehow never entered her mind, he was the Master after all, and he had created her and thus was infallible in her mind.  Missy was not a terribly smart girl before she had been turned, and she hadn’t gotten much smarter since, just more vicious, a lot more vicious. She was actually a fairly low ranking member of the flock, but she had been put in charge of this group anyway. Her skill with torturing humans had earned her the respect of most of the flock, even though she was a bad fighter.

 

  It never occurred to her to post any guards in the old building. No one had ever come here in the year they had occupied it the last time, so she assumed no one would come here now. Even if someone should happen to show up, the twenty Vampires were more than a match for any human. Or most demons, for that matter. If Missy had ever served any time in the military, she would have been familiar with the phrase ‘Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups’. Her assumption was about to give rise to a serious, if brief, problem for her group.

 

  Of the group of twenty, fifteen were congregated in the main lobby, Missy and two others were in the kitchen and the last two were in a room off the dining room engaged in some rather violent sex. So without realizing it, they were almost perfectly set up for a sudden and unexpected take down.

 

  The first indication of trouble came in the form of four green, baseball-like objects crashing into the lobby through the windows. The Vamps had just enough time to be startled before they each gave a muffled ‘pop’ and a fine mist of Holy Water filled the air. The result, lots screaming, bedlam and confusion. And pain, lots of pain, as the holy water burned away not only the skin, but also the lung, mouth, eyes, and all other places it could reach, like very vicious acid. Even though they didn’t realize it at that moment, the Vampires would all die from this exposure alone, though it’d take many painful minutes, before they’d finally turn to dust.

 

  At the same instant, the kitchen door came flying in onto the Vamps there, knocking two of them down. A small blond girl was standing in the doorway, “Knock, knock,” she said.

 

Missy growled and slipped into her game face. The girl stepped in, followed by a man carrying a submachine gun. He fired a burst through the door into one of the Vamps who was trying to crawl out from under it. The Vamp dusted almost instantly.

 

  Missy bolted through a door to the left. The door led to the basement and the passage that had brought them here. Missy was no fool, she knew she was outclassed the minute the man had dusted her fellow vamp with a gun. If the gun could do that, it meant they knew what she was and how to kill her. She wasn’t going to give them the chance and ran for all she was worth.

 

*****

 

  The two Vamps in the room by themselves disentangled themselves from each other and tried to stand. Before they could get to their feet, the door slammed open and two men and a woman entered. The woman was a tall brunette, she was carrying some kind of submachine gun, and one of the men had a flame-thrower. 

 

  “”Eww! You guys are sickening on way too many levels!” the woman said distastefully, “I’m gonna be emotionally scarred by this for years! Roast ‘em!”

 

  Terrance gave the Vamps a death’s head grin and then he stroked the trigger. A loud whoosh accompanied the stream of fire. The two Vamps screamed for maybe thirty seconds before they dusted. Cordelia, Xander and Terrance backed out of the now burning room and moved down a short hall toward the lobby. Any Vamps trying to exit this direction were in for a rude surprise.

 

*****

 

  In the lobby, the confusion ended when four men and two women entered with submachine guns blazing. In seconds, all fifteen Vamps were dust, ending their pitiful wailing. Bonnetti and Oz continued to cover the room with their guns, Willow, Amy and Robin began a quick check to make sure no Vamps were hiding elsewhere in the large room, Frank covered the door they had entered through.

 

  The entire assault had taken thirty-one seconds. One Vamp was left alive in the kitchen, one had fled through the basement, and the rest were dead. Buffy and Steve quickly restrained the survivor with two pairs of handcuffs and then stood covering the door Missy had escaped through.

 

  “Xander?” Steve called into his headset.

 

  “The lovebirds are toast.” Xander replied, “We’ll have the fire out in a minute.”

 

  “Frank?”

 

  “Lobby secure. No survivors.”

 

  “Jack?”

 

  There was a long moment with no reply and then a distant scream was heard through the basement door. The sounds that followed were not human sounding at all.

 

  “What was that?” Buffy asked.

 

  “I think Jack found our escapee.” Steve said slowly.

 

  “What is he doing to her?” Buffy asked as a final high pitched shriek sounded from below.

 

  “I’m not sure I want to know.” Steve said.

 

  “Steve?” The radio crackled to life.

 

  “Jack?”

 

  “Yeah. The tunnel is clear. I got one trying to escape. I’m coming up now.” Jack replied. A minute later he appeared in the doorway with his hands held up in front of him in a gesture to show he wasn’t a threat. Steve pointed his weapon away from the doorway. Buffy jerked their captive to his feet and shoved him toward the door leading to the lobby. Jack fell in behind them with a dark look at the captive.

 

  A minute later Steve and Buffy herded the captive Vamp into the lobby. Jack was behind them, still looking at the Vamp with obvious disgust. Frank was already prepared. He had cleared off an area of the floor and Amy had drawn a containment circle on the floor. Willow was busy laying out spell components.

 

  “What is this?” the Vamp asked nervously.

 

  “We want some information, and you’re going to give it to us,” Steve said absently.

 

  “Only in your dreams, meat,” the Vamp boasted.

 

  “I’ll show you meat, you piece of sh-“ Jack snarled as he took a step forward.

 

  “Whoa! Easy there, Jack! Let’s do this the way we discussed it. Let Amy get it out of him with a truth spell.” Steve stepped in between Jack and the Vamp. Terrance had by now taken the flame-thrower off and he moved over to his friend.

 

  “You alright, Jack?”

 

  “No! I am not all right! I want this one! As soon as they are done with him, I get him!”

 

  “Easy, Jack. Why?”

 

  “It needs to die. I want to kill it, isn’t that enough of a reason?”

 

  “Jack, what did you do to the one in the basement?” Buffy asked quietly.

 

  “I killed her, slowly.”

 

  “How?” Buffy persisted.

 

  “I bit off each of her limbs, one at a time and then I bit her in half. Then I bit her head off.”

 

  There was a moment of silence before Terrance finally placed his hand on Jack’s shoulder, “It won’t bring them back, no matter how much you hurt these things, or how many of them you kill, it won’t bring them back.”<What has gotten into you? >

 

  “I’m not trying to bring them back! I’m trying to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else!”

 

   “Why does it have to be you?”<Have you lost your mind? >

 

  “Because I’m not like the rest of you, I don’t have human morals! Killing them is quite acceptable to me! Killing them slowly and painfully is even more acceptable!”

 

  Terrance was reeling; his friend was no longer the Jack he knew. Jack would never have condoned torture, let alone recommended it. He looked into Jack’s eyes and saw only blazing anger. He unconsciously took a step back. “Jack, no. This isn’t you.”

 

  “How do you know? Maybe it is me! I’m not human! You can’t apply your norms and characteristics to me!” <Humans are weak and pathetic! Whoa! Where did that come from? I don’t think of them that way. > Jack’s rant came to a sudden halt and he had a strange look on his face.

 

  “I think you are like them.” Robin cut into the silence, “More than you know yourself. And, YES, we can apply human norms to you, Laddie. You work for people dedicated to keeping humanity safe from the monsters, well, if you stop applying these norms to yourself, you become one of the monsters yourself. And then where do you go?”

 

  “I…I don’t know…I didn’t mean…what just happened to me?”

 

  “I think you may be learning about anger management.” Terrance said thoughtfully.

 

   “I don’t think I’ve ever been angry before.”

 

  “A first for everything, Jack. Welcome to the human race.”

 

  Jack closed his now open mouth with an audible click and walked away from the group. He took up a position leaning against the wall near the doorway leading to the kitchen. He closed his eyes and sighed tiredly, he was starting to feel the effort of changing into a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a Velociraptor, and holding this form as well. On top of it all, he was feeling and thinking things that were just not normal for him.

 

   <Face it, Jack, you’re starting to lose it a bit here, and you’re in need of some rest. It has been a long day and you’ve been shifting into larger than normal forms like you have all the energy in the world to do so. That’s all. You’re not human, so you can’t be feeling their emotions. Or can you? You have no recollection of anything other than being around them, so is it a big shock that you would start to act like them? >

 

  Terrance watched his friend for a few moments to make sure he was all right, and then he turned back to the matter at hand. He didn’t notice the thoughtful expression that came over Jacks face a moment later. He had directed his attention to the interrogation of the Vamp by then.

 

  By now, the Vamp had been placed inside the circle and Amy was beginning her spell. She chanted in a forgotten language for a few minutes and her eyes went solid black as the arcane power flowed through her body. She gestured and the Vamp glowed with a green tint for a few seconds.

 

  “Done.” She said, “He’ll be forced to give truthful answers to your questions for the next two minutes.”

 

  “Great, here goes.” Steve said. “What was the name of the Demon that shared your nest?”

 

  “Thougnast.” The Vamp replied before he could stop himself. The look on his face was priceless as he fought not to say anything else.

 

  “Where did it go?”

 

  “I don’t know.”

 

  “What was it doing here?”

 

  “Preparing…for…the ceremony…to open…. the…portal.”

 

  “What portal?”

 

  “The Hellmouth.” This reply got everyone’s attention.

 

  “What’s a Hellmouth?” Freddie whispered to Xander.

 

  “A dimensional portal to Hell.” Xander explained, “We live there.”

 

  “You live in Hell?”

 

  “No, on the portal itself. Though some days there isn’t a lot of difference.”

 

  “You people are something else.”

 

  “Not really, we’re just willing to do what has to be done.”

 

  “Why does it wish to open the Hellmouth?”

 

  “I don’t know.”

 

  “How is it going to open the portal?”

 

  “Some…kind of…ritual…sacrifice…of the…innocents.”

 

  “I don’t like the sound of that.” Willow mumbled. Oz wrapped an arm around her and gave her a comforting hug.

 

  “When does it plan to do this?”

 

 “Tomorrow… night.”

 

  “Where?”

 

  “I don’t know.”

 

  “Are you the last of the Vamps from your nest?”

 

  “No…Gregory…took…others…to get the…prisoners…back. And the Master…follow us…later.”

 

  “How many others? And where?”

 

  “A dozen…Attack them…at the…ranger…station…phones…and radios…don’t…work. Twenty…stayed at old nest…planned to follow shortly…late.”

 

  “Okay, I think that covers everything,” Steve said to the group. He paused and thought for a moment, if there was a group of Vamps planning on hitting the ranger station after dark, they would need to be dealt with, even if there was nobody there. Once that was taken care of, he needed to get back to Sunnydale and try to track down the Demon before it could perform its ritual tomorrow night.

 

  “What do we do with this one?” Amy asked.

 

  “It’s mine,” Jack said as he pushed off the wall. He walked over to the edge of the circle and glared at the Vamp, “I’ll give it one chance, if it can get past me, it can go.”

 

  The vamp openly laughed at that statement, “Oh, I’ll enjoy tearing your throat out, Little Man! But I don’t think your friends will let me live if I do. Still, killing do-gooders is always such a rush.”

 

  “Jack! No! It’s not your call to make!”

 

  Jack held up a hand for silence and stared into the Vamps eyes for a long moment. Then he smiled; there was no humor in his eyes when he did. “You don’t worry me, Vampire. I KNOW you can’t hurt me.” Then he turned and looked at Steve, “I have to do this. I’ll understand if you order me not to. I won’t like it, but I will obey your orders.”

 

  Steve was silent for a moment as he pondered what Jack wanted. Jack was offering to make the kill. Well, actually he was playing with the Vamp, and everyone but the Vamp knew it. He’d prefer to simply eliminate it without a show, but also understood that Jack offered to clean up the trash so that no one would feel bad about killing a helpless prisoner. Jack didn’t yet realize that Section Seven didn’t treat Vamps and Demons according to the Geneva Convention. It was a different story if it was a souled Vamp, but this one wasn’t. Jack might go the wrong way if he started killing prisoners indiscriminately, though. On the other hand, Jack was offering to fight the Vamp, not outright execute it. Now the question remained, what was worse.

 

  “Everyone back off and give them some space,” Steve ordered. Jack needed to resolve this in his own mind and there was really only one way to get past it. Either he would get past this or he wouldn’t. The team backed away almost to the walls. Terrance was visibly angered but he held his tongue. Steve tossed the keys to the cuffs and Jack deftly caught them.

 

  Jack moved up and motioned for the Vamp to turn around so he could unlock the cuffs. The vamp complied and Jack tossed the cuffs and keys back to Steve. The Vamp stood facing Jack, rubbing his wrists, even though there was no blood circulation the cuffs could have impeded.

 

  “This is how it’s gonna work. I’ll break the circle, and you try to get past me, any way you want. If you do, you get to walk.” Jack told him quietly.

 

  “And if I just kill you?”

 

  “Not happening. But if you do, you still walk.”

 

  “And your do-good friends aren’t gonna interfere?”

 

  “No they won’t. Now, are you ready?”

 

  “I’m always ready for a good kill. A little guy like you won’t be much of a challenge, though, maybe I’ll drain you before I kill you.”

 

  Jack scrapped his foot over the edge of the circle, breaking it and freeing the Vamp, “You gonna fight or try to talk me to death?”

 

  The Vamp snarled and charged. Jack let him connect, but then flowed around him so that he was standing behind the now confused Vampire.

 

  “What the? How did you do that?” The Vamp asked angrily.

 

  “I forgot to mention one thing, I’m an Alien shape-changer.”

 

  The Vamp attempted a high kick that Jack easily dodged, he retaliated by forming his hand into a wooden stake and driving it into the extended leg above the knee. The Vamp snarled angrily but he had no chance to do anything else as Jack lifted him above his head and slammed him back down onto the floor. The Vamp was dazed a bit, but otherwise unhurt.

 

  He rolled away from Jack and got to his feet, favoring his already healing leg a bit. He slipped into his game face and launched into a flurry of blows. Jack evaded most of them, and the few that connected he simply flowed around. The beginnings of fear began to show in the Vampires eyes as it began to occur to him that he might not be able to hurt this thing.

 

  “How does it feel?” Jack whispered to him as he pulled him into a hammerlock, “Knowing you can’t hurt me, no matter how strong you are. Knowing I’m going to kill you after I tire of playing with you? Are you afraid?”

 

  “I’m not afraid of you.” The Vampire grunted as he tried to break free, “I’m not afraid of anything!”

 

  “We’ll see about that.” Jack said as he released him and shoved him away. He shifted into the form of a Velociraptor. The Vamp took a step back, so did everyone else in the room. Bonnetti even brought his MP5 up before he caught himself. The Raptor took a step toward the Vamp, the claws on its feet making a hollow clicking on the wooden floor.

 

  The Vampire dropped all pretenses, he was truly frightened now. A human form he could fight, a dinosaur was something else entirely different. He was about to die and he knew it. Had he been truthful to himself, he’d have admitted that he couldn’t fight the human form either, and that his death had been inevitable from the beginning. Somewhere deep in his mind he realized that this was how his victims must have felt, and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling, too much like how he felt when he was turned. He had reveled in the fear and terror of his victims; somehow, it wasn’t as much fun when he was the one being terrorized.

 

  The Raptor lashed out and laid the Vampire’s stomach open with its fore claws. The Vampire staggered back, holding his hands over the gaping wounds in an attempt to keep all of his internal organs from spilling out. The Raptor took advantage of his distraction and bit off his left leg at the knee. The Vampire screamed and fell to the floor, blood pouring from the severed limb.

 

  The Raptor then proceeded to slash the Vampire, but before he could connect with the Vampire again, it turned to dust. The Raptor looked at the pile of dust for a moment, before the form lost integrity, and transformed back into human form. He then stood up and looked at the rest of the team, and saw Steve holding a silenced pistol.

 

“That’s enough Jack. Toying with the Vampire is one thing, but that’s a step too far.”

 

  Jack shrugged. “Whatever.”

 

  Terrance stepped forward and spoke, “Jack…”

 

  “Later, Terrance. I’m in need of rest and I do not wish to discuss this.”

 

  Terrance started to argue, but Steve shook his head at him. Jack walked out of the room, Xander and Cordy stepping aside as he passed them at the door. Xander called to him softly just before he went out, “If you want to talk later, I think I can listen with a fairly open mind.”

 

  “Thank you, Xander. I might just do that.” And then he was gone.

 

  “Is it just me, or does Jell-O-Boy have some real anger management issues?” Cordelia asked as she stared at the mixture of blood and dust on the floor.

 

  No one answered her. The shock of what he had just seen had rendered Bonnetti mute. He was standing next to Oz shaking his head. Finally he looked up at Steve and asked, “If that was one of the good guys, what are the bad guys like?”

 

  “Some of the Demons we’ve fought make that little episode look like a minor temper tantrum.” Steve replied. “I know of at least one ritual that requires four year old girls to be raped to death, one after the other while the other girls and the parents watch, many require the sacrifice, most often children, often dozens of children, to be skinned alive and eating a part of the heart while the victim is still alive, and some require tens of thousands of sacrifices. No matter what horror you can think of, there’s at least one ritual that requires it, often in the dozens.”

 

  “God help me, what have I gotten myself into here?”

 

  “Believe it or not, you’ve gotten yourself into the good fight.” Frank told him as he placed a hand on his shoulder. “It can be ugly and brutal, but the rewards are worth every bit of pain it may bring.”

 

  There was a general nodding of heads as the members of the team thought of the friends made and the lives saved by their involvement in the fight. The only one who seemed distant was Terrance. He looked someone had just kicked his dog. This didn’t go unnoticed by Steve, who moved over and placed a hand on his shoulder.

 

  “He’s never been like this before.” Terrance said as he looked up at Steve, “I know he is angry, Hell, I’m angry, but he’s so far beyond what I’ve ever seen that he frightens me.”

 

  “Are you still his friend?”

 

  “Of course! He’ll always be my friend. I just don’t know this side of him. I’ve never seen it before. I mean he was about to rip it apart, part by part.”

 

  “He just needs to work through the anger. He needs to see for himself that it’s the wrong path.”

 

  “But what if he doesn’t see that? You heard what he said, he isn’t Human. As much as I think of him as one of us, he isn’t, and he knows it!”

 

  “That’s where you come in. Be his friend. Be there for him. Help him through the rough spots. We’re here for you if you need us, as well.”

 

  “Thanks, I think I just might need you, I’ve never dealt with anything quite like this. That’s saying a lot, I’ve been with the Bureau for almost five years.”

 

  “What did you do before you joined?” Bonnetti asked, his curiosity getting the best of him.

 

  “I was a cable TV repairman and installer.” Terrance deadpanned.

 

  “You’re kidding, right?”

 

  “Nope. Got recruited by the Bureau after I subdued a Gremlin that showed up while I was doing an installation.”

 

  “A gremlin?”

 

  “Don’t worry, you’ll get a course in Paranormals at the school. It comes in handy, trust me.”

 

  Bonnetti didn’t reply, he just stood there looking a bit lost. The rest of the team was packing up their gear and preparing to leave. The RV was parked about a mile away and they wanted to get back to it quickly so they could prepare a reception for the Vamps who were planning to hit the Ranger Station. It would be dark soon, so they had to hurry.

 

  Inside the RV

 

  Jack entered the RV after keying the appropriate codes and moved to the rear of the big vehicle. He opened a small drawer under the right side bed and reached inside. He removed a small box and opened it as he sat down on the bed. Inside was a collection of photographs. Most were of Jack and his team, but there were a half dozen of Jack and another man.

 

  The man in the photos was older, maybe forty or so, heavyset and starting to go to flab. He had a pleasant smile on his rather plain face, and merry brown eyes. He was wearing a brown suit that complimented his frame. Jack looked at the picture of himself and the other man for a few minutes. <Well Harry, I think I finally lost it tonight. I’ve never felt this way before. Even when you were killed, I didn’t feel like I did today. Somehow, it makes me ashamed that I didn’t get this upset when I lost you. I know I only knew you for a year, but you took me in and tried to help me to be human enough to blend in. I never got to thank you for that, By the way. >

 

  <Why would you want to blend in? Humans are scum! >

 

  <Where did that come from? I don’t think that way! I’ve vowed to aid and protect them. >

 

  <But are they worthy of your aid? >

 

  <This is not right! Where are these thoughts coming from? I must be more in need of rest than I thought. I’ll have to think about this later. > Jack replaced the photos into their little box and put the box back in the drawer. He closed the drawer almost completely and then shifted to his natural form. He flowed into the drawer and let himself relax, unfortunately, his last thought was <You can’t run from yourself forever, J’ac. Sooner or later you will have to face yourself. >

 

The RV, five minutes later

 

  Terrance opened the RV and ushered everyone inside. It was a very tight fit but they all managed to get inside. Terrance took the drivers seat and cranked the big vehicle to life. Bonnetti took the shotgun seat to direct Terrance to the Ranger station. Everyone else just grabbed whatever seats were available. Cordy, Xander, Amy and Frank took the seats around the tiny dining table, Steve, Buffy, Willow and Oz took seats on the two beds in the back, Robin settled for standing behind the two front seats, resting his hands on the seat backs to help balance himself.

 

  “How long to get to the station?” Steve asked.

 

  “About thirty minutes if I push it.”

 

  “How soon does it get dark around here?”

 

  “A little more than an hour.” Bonnetti replied.

 

  “More than enough time. We’ll just mine the station with chains. That should take care of the few Vamps that are headed that way. If any get away, that can’t be helped. We need to get back to Sunnydale and try to find Thougnast before he starts sacrificing anyone.” Steve thought aloud.

 

  “We can teleport directly to Sunnydale once we’re done at the station.” Terrance said. “I just need a set of GPS coordinates for our destination.”

 

  “Faster than calling the helo back and flying down there.” Frank observed.

 

  “Sounds like a plan.” Steve replied. “How many hunting chains are left, Willow?”

 

  “I’m down to six.” The redhead replied.

 

  “I’ve got another four.” Amy added.

 

  “That should be enough to mine the station.” Steve decided. “Frank, call C ‘n C. We won’t need the helo any more.”

 

“Back to Sunnydale?”

 

“Wherever you can use it best. We’ve nothing planned in the near future.”

 

“Got it,” Frank answered, pulling out his cell phone. “This going to work in here?”

 

“Now it will,” Terrance answered after flipping a couple switches on the extensive control board.

 

  “Where’s Jell-O Boy?” Cordy asked.

 

  “Probably resting in a drawer under on of the beds.” Terrance replied.

 

  “Eww! You’re kidding right?”

 

  “Nope. He said he needed to rest again and that’s where he goes when he wants to stay out of the way. Some times we spring him on new teammates that way.”

 

  “How’s that?”

 

  “We ask them to retrieve something from the drawer and Jack morphs into human form out of the drawer. Remind me later, I have video footage, some of it is priceless, the looks on peoples faces, oh man!” Terrance was chuckling heartily now as he remembered better times.

 

  “Huh, I don’t think it’s so funny.” Cordelia huffed.

 

  “He got you didn’t he?”

 

  “He’s lucky I didn’t shoot him.”

 

  “He wouldn’t hold that against you, at least two other people have shot him out of reflex. I’m one of them. I’ll show you that video sometime if you like.”

 

  “Are all Bureau agents as nutty as you guys?” Xander asked

 

  “Nah, just the ones who have been at it for a while. We tend to get a little weird over time.”

 

  “So what’s with you pal and this anger thing he’s got going?” Cordy asked.

 

  “There she is!” Xander groaned, “Tact girl strikes again!”

 

  WHAP! “Ow!”

 

  “Quiet Dweeb boy, I’m trying to figure out what’s with the Jell-O Boy and his Jekyll and Hyde thing.”

 

  “I honestly don’t know.” Terrance said quietly, “He has never acted that way before. We generally think of him as the most rational member of the group.”

 

  “You guys are in real trouble if he’s the rational one.” Xander muttered as he rubbed his head.

 

  “That’s my point, he usually isn’t like that. I think the deaths of so many of our friends have got to him in some way that he doesn’t know how to deal with. He seems to have a handle on a lot of human emotions, but anger is new to him.”

 

  “It’s something you all need to keep an eye on.” Robin cut in. “Changelings are pretty vicious in their own universe. You’ve seen the shows, Roddenberry got them right, they’re out to rule their universe through treachery and subterfuge. If he feeds that kind of anger too much, he could go over to the other side very easily. That would be a very bad thing.”

 

  “I have never seen those silly shows, but I’ll take your word for it.” Cordelia said. Xander rolled his eyes, he knew better.

 

  “Do you think he’s dangerous?” Steve asked.

 

  “Yes, but right now he’s still controllable.” Robin replied.

 

  “Jack is not a danger to us.” Terrance said stiffly.

 

  “You’re not worried about him then?”

 

  “Well, yes, but I don’t think he’d turn on us.”

 

  “You didn’t think he do what he did to that Vamp either, did you?”

 

  “No. Okay, I’ll concede your point. I’ll talk to him about this when he wakes up.” Terrance agreed reluctantly. <He’s my best friend; he wouldn’t turn on me, would he? >

 

  The RV grew silent as everyone contemplated the possibility of a rogue shape changer turned loose on the world. Most of them didn’t want to think about it too deeply. Anger was a destructive emotion, and one of their own had it in abundance right now. The big question was would he deal, or would they have to deal with him.

 

“How hard would it be to stop him, Robin?”

 

“Magic is nearly absent in the universe they are native to. So they have no magic skills, and no natural defense against magic. Second sight will allow identifying them easily. Magic tracers can lock on at extraordinary distances. And any magic weapon, including our silver rounds, will be able to inflict lasting wounds, that’d take days to heal. So once we know he’s gone rogue and start hunting, it should be pretty easy.”

 

“Could we please not talk about killing my best friend?!?”

 

Somewhere else unknown

 

  Jack found himself in his usual human form, sitting in a lawn chair on a dock, with a fishing rod in his hands. There was a cooler of beer next to the chair. He looked around in puzzlement, He appeared to be back in Florida, near the apartment he had shared with Harry MacPherson. But that was impossible, he knew, he was in California with Terrance and Section Seven. <How the Hell did I get here? >

 

  “You were brought here so we could talk.” A familiar voice said from behind him. Jack jumped up out of the chair, dropping his rod in the process. It was impossible, but Harry was standing behind his chair, looking at him with an amused little smile. “You dropped your pole, Jack.”

 

  “This is impossible, you’re dead! So who are you and why are you impersonating my friend?”

 

  “Yes, I’m dead. And I’m not impersonating, I’m real. I was sent to have a word with you.”  

 

  “Sent back? By whom? And where are we? How did I get here?” Jack asked as he picked up the rod and looked at his surroundings more closely. It really did look like Florida as he remembered it.

 

  “Well, now I’m disappointed. That’s magic 101. I’m sure Director Gordon will allow you to go back and revisit that course when you tell him that you don’t know who’s responsible for humans after they die. Though it might cause a less then glorious remark in your file. As for where we are and how you got here, this is Heaven, or at least my little slice of it. And you were brought here so I could have a talk with you.”

 

  “Your slice of Heaven looks suspiciously like Florida.”

 

  “Everyone has their own version of Heaven, mine happens to look like Florida. At least for now. Think of Heaven like a huge, non-sentient Changeling. It’ll turn into anything you want, at any time.” Harry shrugged. He fished a beer out of the cooler and sat down on a second lawn chair that had appeared next to Jacks. The number of cans in the cooler didn’t diminish after Harry removed one, Jack noticed. <This is VERY strange. >

 

  “I know, but you get used to it after a while.”

 

  “You can read my thoughts?”

 

  “Yeah, but I’m much more comfortable just talking out loud.”

 

  “Okay. Well, since I’m here, and you want to talk to me, go ahead and talk.”

 

  “You ever wonder why you’re here, Jack?” Harry asked as he made a cast with a pole that appeared in his hand.

 

  “I thought you had just told me why I was here.”

 

  “No, not here. On Earth here.”

 

  “Oh. Yes, I do from time to time.”

 

  “Your being here is an accident.”

 

  “Somehow, I’m not too surprised by that. Can you elaborate?”

 

  “A bit. Your kind doesn’t exist in our reality, and you were supposed to die in your reality.”

 

  “Lovely. How did I end up here then?”

 

  “You were pulled through the barrier by a Chaos Gate. You can get all details about them you’re allowed to know from the B13 systems. Your simple presence in this reality threw quite a few plans into chaos. Well, chaos gates tend to do that, and this was mild as they go. As the recognizable ones go, that is. Anyway, the Powers That Be, a more fanatic group for Good, decided that you’d be their player.”

 

  “Pardon me?”

 

  “Yes, they decided to enlist you, that’s where I came in. First they gave you amnesia, then I got pointed in the right direction to find you, and once I did, I tried to help you out as far as learning the right way to help others.”

 

  “I think you did a fine job. I never got to say thanks, by the way.”

 

  “You’re welcome. Anyway, once I died, the PTB were about to drop you. But then the Bureau found you, they taught you even more, and the PTB figured you were on the right track. Then you guys got ambushed by those Vamps.”

 

  “Ambushed? It seemed more of a chance encounter to me.”

 

  “It was in a way. Except that the higher ups don’t agree with the actions of the PTB, and decided to remove the amnesia. The other side has ideas of their own about you. They want to capitalize on the return of your returning memories, and turn you into a fighter for their side. For that they planned to overload you with negative feelings, by killing your friends. But it’s impossible to tell what, if anything, they actually did. Anyway, your emotions are driving you pretty close to loosing your mind.  And I’m here to try to stop that from happening.”

 

  “Wait a minute! You mean to tell me that the good guys are first giving me amnesia, then the bigger good guys decide to take it away and release what I understand is basically an evil me, while the bad guys might or might not be involved in this mess?”

 

  “Pretty much, yes.”

 

  “Why?”

 

  “Why, what? Why the Bad Guys are interested in you? Because if you go their way, you would be a powerful force for their side.”

 

  “That is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard.”

 

“Why? Think about all those things you know about Bureau 13. Sure, nowadays they have lots of security to prevent rogue agents from doing too much damage, but you could still harm them. And there are many documented cases of humans turning evil after emotional overload. And don’t forget that your species basically regards humans as lesser life forms. Cattle, or perhaps insects. And you will soon regain much of your memories. Not all some will stay hidden to reduce the stress on dimensional barriers, but most. That alone will be a major test for you. Listen to me Jack; if you continue as you started today, you will go that way. You need to get a handle on the anger. It will eat you alive and turn you into someone else.”

 

  “So how am I supposed to do this?”

 

  “Your friends can help you through this. Let them. That’s why Michael orchestrated you being linked you up with Section Seven. You need their help, and someday down the line, you will be needed by them.”

 

“I thought you said my presence here just messed plans up?”

 

“Plans of the PTB, yes. But they are a rather local force. They might see themselves as the good guys, but most others see them as too fanatic. Especially their continual refusal to allow all sentient creatures a free will has pretty much isolated them.”

 

  “Alright, I’ll let them help me. Now what?”

 

  “We fish and drink beer for a while. It’s been too long since I enjoyed an afternoon with you, old friend.”

 

  Jack had to smile at that one. He and Harry had always enjoyed fishing and spending quiet afternoons enjoying the fine weather, cold beer and good conversation. He was right, it had been entirely too long. He sat down and made a cast with his own pole. He then fished a beer from the cooler, cracked it open and took a long pull.

 

  “Harry?”

 

  “Yeah Jack?”

 

  “Am I going to remember this?”

 

”What would be the use of this meeting, if you wouldn’t remember it? But always remember one thing, don’t trust dreams. Before you act on them, talk about them with your teammates. Because the good guys aren’t the only ones that can send them, and evil forces might well try to use them to subvert you. There is a hard road ahead of you, Jack. Very hard. But I hope you will manage to stay true to you ideals. I will do what I can to help you.”

 

“We will meet again?”

 

“Maybe. Hopefully. It’s not up to me to decide. For all I know He decided on this meeting. I can tell you, life was a lot easier when I was still alive.

 

Jack laughed out loud. “Thanks for that, Harry.”

 

  “You’re welcome, hey, you’ve already got a bite.” The conversation halted as Jack began working to land his fish. Jack began to think that maybe Harry had the right idea about his little part of Heaven. This certainly was a nice way to spent time. Maybe he should try. After the recent events, they’d be offered leave anyway. Maybe he could persuade Terrance to a nice long fishing trip. On the other hand, it was well documented that B13 agents suffered higher casualties, and nastier surprises on vacation. Something to think about.

 

The RV outside the Ranger Station.

 

  Terrance had just finished programming the teleport to Sunnydale into the RVs computer. It would take central about five minutes to arrange it, Steve and Frank should be back from placing the hunting chains in and around the building by then. <I wonder if they could show us how to make those things up? They would definitely cut down on casualties when we deal with Vamp nests. > Terrance thought to himself.

 

  Freddie handing him a cup of coffee interrupted his thoughts. “Thanks.” He muttered.

 

  “You look like hell.” Bonnetti told him.

 

  “I am in serious need of a shower, some clean clothes, and sleep.”

 

  “I think I am too. You think we’ll catch some rest once we hit Sunnydale?”

 

  “I hope so. I don’t want to fall on my face from exhaustion.”

 

  Bonnetti laughed for a moment. He looked a lot better now than he had when they escaped the lair, was it really only several hours ago? A healing potion and cleared away the bruising and cuts on his face, as well as relieving a lot of the fatigue he had been feeling. Of course, the fatigue was coming back in full force by now.

 

  “You did good today, Ranger.” Terrance said. “I forwarded your info to Central a few minutes ago, you’re in. You’ll leave for Bangor, Maine as soon as we finish up this mess.”

 

  “Bangor, Maine?”

 

  “That’s just about the only permanent facility of our organization. We generally assume that our Headquarter or Headquarters are permanent, too, but that’s just speculations. Perhaps there are others, but, who knows? If you think you know a paranoid organization, or individual, you’ll see that they are pretty open compared to us. Anyway, nobody knows where the name comes from, but every agent knows it. That’s where every agent is trained, and we keep the creatures we can’t kill. The training academy and holding facility are located in a pocket dimension.”

 

  “A pocket dimension?”

 

  “Long story. Anyway, you finish the training course and you’ll come back to this team, unless you request assignment to another one, or unless you have some special talent another team needs. That is, of course, if this team continues to exist.”

 

“What do you mean? You want to resign?”

 

“No. But most of my team is dead. Rebuilding this team might prove more troublesome than to reassign us and create a new team. Especially since we’re allowed several months of paid leave after suffering such losses. Our team might well be disbanded. Though I’d assume that there’d be a new team created, built around Jack and I, when we return. But you never know with bureaucrats.”

 

“Bureaucrats? Is one nowhere safe from them?”

 

“Nope. Nowhere. Though I’m told it’s a lot worse with normal government agencies.”

 

  “Well, let’s be thankful for little favors. But I think I’d like to come back to your team, you have such interesting friends.” Bonnetti deadpanned.

 

  “Smartass! You definitely fit in. Try not to get yourself killed during training, okay?”

 

  “Whoa! Wait a minute! Killed in training?”

 

  “Relax. No one has died in training in almost, oh, it’s gotta be ten years now. Of course, I’m not counting the breakout at the holding facility three years ago, several members of the class died then, but it technically wasn’t during training.”

 

  “I feel so much better now. Thank you. Can I resign now?”

 

  “No.”

 

  “I was afraid of that.”

 

  The banter was halted as Steve and Frank entered the RV. “Done. Let’s roll.” Steve told them.

 

  “Aye sir, Setting course for Rigel Seven, warp factor six.” Terrance replied as he started the RV and dropped it into gear. The big vehicle lurched forward and began to pick up speed rapidly.

 

  “Not another Trekkie!” Cordelia groaned from somewhere behind Terrance.

 

  “Fraid so, Princess! Now everybody hang on. I’ve gotta get this crate up to eighty-eight miles per hour before we hit the teleport.” Terrance laughed maniacally as he floored the accelerator pedal. Then he leaned over to Freddie and whispered, “I really don’t have to, but I’ve always liked that movie.”

 

  “You’re nuts, you know that right?”

 

  “Yep. Job requirement.”

 

  The big RV was actually doing closer to ninety-eight when a patch of shimmering energy that appeared in front of it on the road. The RV passed into it and vanished in a shower of crackling blue energy.

 

Highway outside of Sunnydale
September 15th, 1998 - 1907 hours

 

   One minute it was a quiet stretch of highway, bordered by a few trees and a large sign that read ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’, with surprisingly little traffic passing through, the next minute, it was bedlam as a large RV appeared out of nowhere surrounded by a corona of blue energy. The vehicle immediately swung into the correct lane, as it had appeared on the wrong side of the road for the direction it was traveling.

 

  Terrance bit off a curse as he slowed the big vehicle to the posted speed limit, someone at Central was going to get a nasty-gram about this, this was the third teleport this year that had dropped them on the wrong side of the road. Not only was it annoying, it could be potentially fatal to the poor unfortunate soul who might run into the RV. The RV was armored better than some tanks.

 

  “Hey! What’s with the crazy driving? You think you’re some kind of stuntman or something?” Xander asked from the rear of the vehicle.

 

  “Sorry, we ported in on the wrong side of the road.”

 

  “That happen often?”

 

  “Depends on your definition of often, I think once is too often.”

 

  “Oh.”

 

  “Believe me, someone’s gonna hear about this.”

 

  Within fifteen minutes, with Robin giving directions, Terrance had brought the big vehicle to a halt in front of Steve’s house. He shut down the engine and called out to the people in the back, “We’re here! All ashore that’s going ashore!”

 

  The weary Sunnydale crew made their exit from the RV fairly quietly. Weapons had already been returned to cases, (Other than routinely concealed ones) and a line was formed to carry equipment into the house. Steve noted that his truck, Oz’s van, and Cordy’s convertible were parked in the drive. Apparently, Giles had had Jenny and/or Joyce help him retrieve the vehicles from the airport. He would have to remember to thank them later.

 

  “So what’s the plan now?” Terrance asked Steve as he passed a case of grenades concealed in a box marked ‘make up’.

 

  “We have some dinner and a planning session to figure out where this Demon may be hiding out, or planning to use for his ritual.”

 

  “Dinner sounds like a definite plus. I think I could put away an entire cow myself.”

 

“Sorry, no cows here. I’ll order twenty pizzas, Buffy call the others meanwhile. Willow, check the computer of the power company for any unusual activities. Then check for missing persons and such. Amy, check if there’s any magic signature.”

 

“With the Hellmouth here? That’s a waste of time.”

 

“No, it isn’t Amy. You won’t get the demon’s signature, or it’s teleport, but we should get the ritual soon after it begins. And I don’t want it to open during dinner.”

 

  “Okay, you’re the boss.” Amy sighed as she turned and went to find the items she would need for a spell. Buffy nodded and moved off to call Giles, while Willow went into the den to get onto Steve’s computer. While Buffy phoned the rest of the team, Steve used his cell phone to order the pizzas. Ted was off tonight, but Allison promised their order would be there in thirty minutes. <God bless Romero’s Pizza. > Steve thought as he hung up, <no other place in town could deal with the irregular large orders Section Seven placed. >

 

  “Dinner in thirty!” Steve announced. A chorus of varied responses returned to him as he sat down at the dining room table and unrolled a map of Sunnydale. Terrance and Frank joined him as he looked over the map and began marking known hotspots.

 

  “Are these all areas you’ve had trouble in?”

 

  “Nope. Pretty much all of Sunnydale is a trouble area, sitting on the Hellmouth and all that. These are just the hottest areas.”

 

  “How is it the Bureau never heard about this place?”

 

  “Things have been hushed up quite effectively here for well over a hundred years. Once word did get out, we were already here dealing with it. Beside, I’m not all that sure that it was unknown. Might have been lost during 77. From what I hear, you’ve lost the location and access codes for half your bases then, plus god knows what else. Might be the same with Sunnydale. And then maybe someone did know. Hell, even if a team occasionally would operate in Sunnydale, the effects’d be gone after a few days. I’ve killed more demons here in Sunnydale in the last couple months, than I found while searching for them in the rest of the world during several years. So unless there’s a permanent team operating in Sunnydale, it makes sense to just come in, prevent the end of the world, and get gone again. It’d not as if Sunnydale is the only place that occasionally faces the end of the world.”

 

  “Director Gordon left it up to you guys?”

 

  “He sends us the occasional help when we need it.”

 

  “How often is that?”

 

  “Not very. Though JP tends to pop in now and then too.”

 

  “JP Withers?!!”

 

  “Uh huh.”

 

  “He’s real?!!”

 

  “As real as they get.”

 

  “I always thought he was just a story they told in the Academy. Wow!”

 

  “Everything you’ve ever heard is only the tip of the iceberg with him. Heck, hang around long enough and he might just pop in.”

 

  Terrance shuddered, “I rather hope he doesn’t. If half the stuff I’ve heard is true, I don’t want to meet him.”

 

  “He’s a character all right.” Frank grinned.

 

  “So where do we start looking?” Terrance asked as he looked down at the map once more. There were a lot of places marked on it. And it was simpler to concentrate on the task of finding a Demon than to continue speculating on a living legend.

 

  “I think in all the less common places first.” Steve said as he studied the map. “It would help if we knew more details about either the Demon or the ritual itself.”

 

  Steve began marking locations with a yellow highlighter, Terrance watched for a moment and the spoke up as he spotted a pattern, “Places that are all fairly close to road access, but are secluded enough not to attract attention.”

 

  “Right in one. Our boy has already proved that he isn’t stupid, if he were; he would have stayed and fought us. This one is gonna lay low until it’s almost time, that way, we’ll have minimal time to react.”

 

  “And it gives him the maximum amount of time to prepare.”

 

  “And it lessens his chance of failure.”

 

  “While increasing ours.”

 

  “I hate the smart ones.”

 

  “I’m with you on that one, it’s a shame they can’t all be dumb.”

 

  “I’m just happy most of them are not too smart. If they were, the world would have gone to Hell a long time ago.”

 

   “Yeah. Though it’s surprising how so many dumb ones are still alive. Anyway, how do we know it’s already in Sunnydale?”

 

  “What do you mean?”

 

  “If it’s really a smart one, wouldn’t it try to stay along for as long as possible, only popping in once everything is prepared?”

 

  “Well, I don’t much care if we get the demon itself, or the henchmen preparing the ritual. Once we know what ritual it is, the chances of preventing it goes up by magnitudes.”

 

  “Yeah, if it’s not a diversion. And there are no alternative rituals, either to for the same purpose, or another altogether.”

 

  “You always this negative? I’ve never seen a demon attempting something that fancy. Never heard of it either. A Black Mage once tried, but he was torn up by the conflicting energies of the rituals. There are rumors about a second attempt where the leader of the ritual mixed up the words from two different rituals. But since nobody survived, we can’t confirm that. Even their souls were fragmented, nothing survived.”

 

  “Maybe. But we learn to be prepared for everything. Especially since we’re often up against devious humans. Some of those humans make Vamps look like cute bunnies, or something like that.”

 

  "Point taken. I think if we send out recon teams in groups of say, four, we can cover all of these areas by noon tomorrow. If we turn up dry, that still gives us time to look elsewhere."

 

  "We gonna start tonight?"

 

  "No, you and yours need some rest, we'll do some more research and get everyone rested up, then start fresh in the morning."

 

  "Works for me."

 

  At that moment, the doorbell rang. Steve looked up as Oz opened the door and let Rupert Giles and Jenny Calendar in.

 

  "Our ace research team is here." Steve smiled grimly. He waved the two over to the table and made introductions. Terrance shook the Englishman's hand and mumbled a pleasantry and managed a tight smile to Jenny, then listened tiredly as Steve filled them in on the situation. The combination of fatigue and repressed emotions were starting to catch up to him. <I need some sleep in a bad way. > He thought to himself.

 

  Terrance was a seasoned veteran of the Bureau, he held on until the pizzas arrived. He grabbed three slices, wolfed them down and then excused himself. He made his way out to the RV, let himself in and locked it down behind him. He flopped down on a bunk and only then, when he was sure he was alone, did he allow the emotions of the last day and a half to overwhelm him. He was wracked by sobs for nearly an hour before he finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

 

Outside the Ranger station 2100 hours

 

  Gregory and the fledgling Kelley stood just inside some trees near the empty building. Gregory was running together a string of curses in three languages. They had barely escaped when all those chains began attacking his group. To say that Gregory was one unhappy Vampire would be a massive understatement.

 

  “Who could be responsible for this?” He hissed angrily, “What sorcerer could know of us and plan this kind of ambush?”

 

  “Someone with a military background, no doubt.” Kelley thought aloud, “But how did they know we would attack here?”

 

  “They shouldn’t have any way to know, the only ones who knew about this were members of our flock.”

 

 “Bonnetti.” Kelley said.

 

  “Who?”

 

  “My partner, the other Ranger you didn’t turn.”

 

  “What about him?”

 

  “He was ex-military, and he is smart enough to figure out we might come after them here.”

 

  “So where did he find a Sorcerer to enchant those chains?”

 

  “That I don’t know. But if he has help…”

 

  “He will lead them back to the lair.”

 

  “Right. Should we go back and check?”

 

  “I think not.” Gregory replied after a moment of thought. “I do not wish to face Benjamin’s wrath for our failure here. IF they are still alive.”

 

  “Big if. So what do we do?”

 

  “Move on and find a new location to start anew.”

 

  “Where?”

 

  “I hear New Mexico is nice.”

 

  “Sounds good to me.” So saying, she and Gregory walked away, arm in arm.

 

St Wolf residence, 0700 hours, 16 September, 1998

 

  Xander Harris was tearing into the heavy bag with a vengeance. He was in the gym, dressed in sweats and had taped his hands to prevent damage. He had been at this for almost thirty minutes and he was soaked in a fine sheen of sweat. He was concentrating solely on the bag in front of him so he didn’t notice that someone had entered the room and was moving up behind him. He landed a straight right with everything he had behind it and the heavy chain holding the bag groaned in protest.

 

  “You are far more than you seem.” A woman’s voice said from behind him. Xander spun and almost launched another punch before he realized who she was.

 

  “Jackie?” Xander asked as he took in the familiar facial features on a knockout body. She was dressed in jeans and a midriff baring tank top <Doesn’t she get cold in that get up at this time of year? Are those even real cloth, or just another part of her… his… her body? >

 

  “Right in one.” She replied with a smile. Xander wasn’t sure how but Jack’s facial features were recognizable on her.

 

  “How do you do that?” he asked as he lowered his hands and stood up straight.

 

  “Do what?”

 

  “You make yourself look like Jack, but totally in the female form.”

 

  “I’ve had a lot of practice. It’s very practical too; I use a face that looks equally recognizable as either male or female. It helps my teammates recognize me no matter which form I’m in.” She replied thoughtfully.

 

  “Makes sense.” Xander replied as he picked up a towel from off a nearby bench. “So why the female version today?”

 

  “I have found most people don’t see females as much of a threat, so I’m going for the least threatening look I can after yesterday. I think a lot of you may think of me as a threat right now.”

 

  “You really don’t know the females around here.” Xander said with a small laugh, “Most of them can kick your ass so bad it isn’t funny. But I get what you’re doing.”

 

  “You said yesterday that if I wanted to talk, you would listen.”

 

  “The offer still stands, I’ve had a lot of experience in dealing with the weird, it doesn’t freak me out like it used to."

 

  "Oh? Why is that?" she asked as she sat down beside him.

 

  Xander laughed softly for a moment before he answered.

 

  "Let's see; first I was introduced to the local nightlife in a really dramatic way..."

 

  "Dramatic?"

 

  "My best friend was turned and I had to stake him."

 

  Jackie saw the dark shadow that moved across his eyes, <He has suffered this loss alone for how long I wonder? Why does he not seek the aid of his friends? > She finally asked him, "Why don't you talk about this with your friends?"

 

  "Other stuff happened... it became old news and we had other things to deal with. Anyway, then there was the whole possession by a hyena thing, the Halloween I became soldier-boy, mummy-girl, preying mantis-lady, Angelus, the Judge, and this was all in the span of about a year. Then Steve showed up and we found out about immortals and amazons, and I end up being empowered by the fairy kingdom...yeah, weird is a fact of life for me."

 

  Jackie was silent for a moment as she absorbed what he had said <He's only a teenager and he has been through all this already? I wouldn't expect a Bureau member to have gone through so much in so short a time. Perhaps he may have the perspective to help me. >

 

  "I was right then, you are far more than you seem. I think you may be the one who may be able to help me with my problem."

 

  "I'll be happy to try." Xander gave her one of his goofy grins and she couldn't help smiling back.

 

  "Okay. I don't really know how to begin."

 

  "Just take your time and tell me whatever you feel comfortable telling me."

 

  "Alright. You know already what I am, what no one really is sure of is how I got here, or what happened to me before I came to this universe."

 

  "Do you know?"

 

  "Not exactly. I've started having flashes of memories and feelings. Most of them very negative."

 

  "Go on..."

 

  "Well, then I had a dream last night. It was rather disturbing. I don't remember ever dreaming before."

 

  "You don't dream?"

 

  "Not that I've ever remembered before. Anyway, I dreamt about Harry, the guy who took me in when I first came to this world."

 

  "Okay. Why would that be strange?"

 

  "Harry told me that I was going to start remembering most of my past life. He also said that the other side was trying to drive me insane."

 

  "How?"

 

  "By overloading me with negative emotions. I guess yesterday was the start."

 

“Yes,” Xander replied neutrally. “It’d seem so. How good is your memory?”

 

“Near perfect.”

 

“Good. How well do you remember the dream?”

 

“Pretty well. I haven’t noticed any missing scenes.”

 

“Where was this dream?”

 

“Well, it looked like Harry’s old home, but he said it was Heaven.”

 

“Do you believe him?”

 

“I don’t know. I’ve never dreamed before.”

 

“Did you drink anything? Or eat?”

 

“Yeah, sure. Harry had some beer for us. I drank a few cans. But there are no remains of that in my body.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Yeah. When I change into another form, it happens on molecular basis. Even B13 purely technical sensors aren’t able to detect a difference between the real thing and me. And with this ability to change comes the ability to sense particles that don’t belong to my body. At least anything above bacteria size.”

 

“You drank beer with Harry? How did he hold his can? Like in old times?”

 

“Uhh, I’m not really sure.”

 

“Why’s that.”

 

“Well, he didn’t have a characteristic way of holding a can… he used one of the more common, though.”

 

“You know what that means?”

 

“No?” Jackie shook her head.

 

“Okay, I guess you learned the basics about this at the Academy. But I’ll give you a refresher. When you dream, and can see the hands of other persons, it’s a sure sign that those dreams are more than simple dreams. A couple of my friends get a prophetic dream every now and then, and that’s one of the sure ways to tell them apart from other dreams. The only natural dream that gives that amount of detail are fright dreams, think nightmare on steroids, and this doesn’t sound like it.”

 

“So, you think I’ve really been to Heaven?”

 

“At least your mind was invited for a short trip somewhere. Do never forget, our enemies are the manifestation of evil and deception. You wouldn’t be the only one they tricked.”

 

Jackie nodded. Just as Xander wanted to continue, the door opened.

 

“Morning Xander. You gonna show me a few more tricks today? Randy’s still asleep, so we’ll have at least another hour.” Brian looked up, and saw Jackie. “Hey, Xan, who’s your lady friend? And don’t you risk a lot by being here with her alone? I don’t really think Cordy’s gonna like it.”

 

“Well, Bri, my friend here’s Jack, he just can change his form at will.”

 

“Like the Changelings from Star Trek?”

 

“Exactly like them. Cause he’s one of them.”

 

Brian’s eyes opened wide. “Cool!” Then he took a step back, “Aren’t they supposed to, you know, be evil? Like dominating the galaxy, and force solids to serve as slaves?”

 

“Duh! That certainly explains Odo, doesn’t it?”

 

“That’s TV, Xander. It doesn’t work that way in real life. Vampires in TV aren’t always bad either, but the only good ones in real life are those we cursed with their souls.”

 

“Nope. I talked to Quinn, and he said that he’d provided the basic material to Roddenberry. And that while they had twisted some characters very badly on the show to meet some network requirements, most basics were correct, with DS9 being closest, at least in the beginning.”

 

“Ah, what else did he say?”

 

“Well, I didn’t really have much time to talk with him. That night was the night we rescued you and Randi. So that’s about it.”

 

“Cool. So you gonna teach me a bit now?”

 

“Sorry, Bri. Not today. I’ve got to do some talking with Jackie to do. Could you leave us alone for that, please? And tell the others not to come here either, until we’ve finished, ‘k?”

 

“Fine, something going on here? I mean, how’d you met, Jack, Jackie, whatever?”

 

“Jack works for a B13 team we helped yesterday. We’ve found material that suggests that the demon responsible for the attack will come to Sunnydale next.”

 

“End of world again? You know, that gets boring with time. It’s like we’ve one of those every other week.”

 

“Yeah, tell me about it. Anyway, we’ve talking to do here, Bri. So if you’d please…”

 

“Sure, sure.” Bri went back to the door. As he opened it, he turned his head around, “But when this’s over, we’ll meet here at Oh-Five thirty for a week, and you’re gonna train with me.”

 

Xander looked at Bri, first in horror, then getting an evil smirk, “Sure. But you’re going to explain that to Cordy, you hear me?” But by that time Brian had already shut the door.

 

“Who was that?”

 

“Oh, sorry Jackie. That was Brian Jessup. He and his sister live here since their parents died in the LA Vamp attacks. We rescued them from one of their lairs.”

 

“Don’t they have family somewhere less dangerous?”

 

“I don’t know. But there are reasons for Randy to stay here, at least for now. But that’s not my story to tell. We won’t have much more time alone. If Bri’s already up, the others will start showing up soon. So back to your dream.”

 

  “Well, Like I said, Harry was there, and we seemed to be in south Florida.”

 

  “Is there some reason you would be in south Florida?” Xander looked up as the doorbell rang, but he decided not to do anything about it, at least Brian would be downstairs. And Duke.

 

  “Harry lived there, and it’s where I arrived in this world. Then he sat me down and told me that I got here by accident, through a Chaos Gate, I’ll have to find out more about those later. Then he explained that some group called The Powers That Be, erased my memories and led me to Harry, who took me in.”

 

  “Did he work for this group?”

 

  “No, not that I knew of. He realized that I was an alien and he hid me from the government until I could function in human society, then he falsified paperwork to give me the identity of his brother. About a year later he was killed, and I began to wander America. A few months into that, I was in New Mexico when I saw a fight between a spirit and some humans in a diner. They were Bureau agents. I got curious and began to watch them.”

 

  “I’ll bet that was no easy task.”

 

  “Well, my talents make it easier, but I didn’t know about Kirrilean detectors, that got me caught.”

 

The street in front of Steve’s house 0710 hours

 

  Cordelia Chase parked her convertible across the street from Steve’s house. She got out, pulled a gym bag containing a change of clothes from the backseat and closed the door. She looked both directions and began to cross the street, tripping the locks with her key fob as she stepped away from the car. She was in a fine mood as she had plans to work out with Xander this morning. A workout with Xander often led to another kind of workout with Xander. <Well, not now, but tonight will be all the better for it. >

 

  She stepped up to the door and rang the bell, after a moment, Brian opened the door for her, “Hi Cordy.” He greeted her with a smile.

 

  “Hey Brian, how are you this morning?”

 

  “Pretty good, c’mon in.”

 

  She came in, Brian closed the door behind her and she began to head toward the gym. Brian, never one to miss the opportunity to mess with Xander, saw a golden opportunity.

 

  “You may wanna knock first if you’re going to the gym.” He said nonchalantly as he went into the kitchen and opened the fridge.

 

  “Steve and Buffy at it in there again?” Cordy asked as she stopped.

 

  “Nope, Xander and the hot new girl.” Brian replied. He turned and nearly dropped the carton of juice he was holding when he saw the glacial look in Cordy’s eyes. “Ooops!” <Maybe that was a bad idea. Xander’s gonna kill me! Cordelia will kill me after he does! Oh man! This may not have been one of my better ideas! >

 

  “What ‘hot new girl’?” Cordy asked coldly.

 

  “I think her name was Jackie.” Brain gulped out as he began looking for a place to hide. Cordelia didn’t reply, she turned on her heel and stalked off to the gym. <Oh man! I hope they don’t do too much damage; Steve’ll kill me if they do! Definitely not one of my better ideas! >

 

*****

 

  Cordelia stormed up to the door to the gym, she was just about to kick it in, when she noticed that it was open about two inches. She could plainly hear Xander and Someone else talking. She decided to listen…

 

*****

 

  “Then two of them shot me. Bullets don’t hurt me but it was the first time it had ever happened to me, so it was a bit disconcerting.” Jackie said.

 

  “Did you know bullets wouldn’t hurt you?” Xander asked.

 

  “No, but I knew that knives wouldn’t, so I suspected that bullets wouldn’t. It was still a bit unnerving though, there was this moment of ‘this might really hurt’ but then nothing happened. I let the bullets drop onto the floor and then I disarmed them. “

 

  “You disarmed them?”

 

  “Pretty easily, they weren’t happy about it either, but they couldn’t even land a punch, so what could they do?”

 

  What did you do next?”

 

  “I ran. I put as much distance between us as I could. After about two blocks, I changed my look and kept on going. After about two hours, I figured I had lost them, so I went back to my motel room. Exactly thirty minutes later, my phone rang, it was Kyle, the Team Captain, he told me that they knew where I was and wished only to talk to me. I agreed to meet with them and they explained who they were. They apologized for attacking me, and I listened to their recruitment pitch.”

 

  “They recruited you right then and there, didn’t they?”

 

  “Yeah, I was tired of wandering, trying to figure out who and what I was. This seemed like a way to find myself and do some good at the same time.”

 

  “You think you made the right choice?”

 

  “Yes. Even with what happened yesterday, I think I did. The Bureau took me in and spent two years testing and training me. They never found out exactly what I was, but they never stopped trying, to this day, any time any kind of shape-shifter is reported, I get a copy of the report, in case they ever find another one like me. They also helped me refine my control, you know, like the trick I pulled with the stake tipped tentacles yesterday. Stuff like that is very hard to do.”

 

  “You made it look really easy.”

 

  “Thanks. I’ve spent the last year or so with Terrance’s team. They became like family to me. I think that’s why I reacted so badly to their deaths. Harry told me in the dream that the other side used that to open the gates to the negative emotions. It would seem that he was right.”

 

  “Hey, it’s understandable that you’d be torn up by the loss of people you think of as family, everyone suffers loss in this fight. You just need to learn how to deal with it. I use my friends, you still have one friend you can talk to, and I’m pretty sure he needs a friend right now too.”

 

  “I hadn’t thought of that. Terrance is probably devastated by this. He was with them longer than I was…. oh, I am such an idiot!”

 

  “No, you’re not, you’re just new to this. You learn as you go, and you make the occasional mistake. It’s part of being human.”

 

  “Xander, I am not human.”

 

  “Maybe not physically, well, not always at least, but in here you are.” Xander tapped her on the chest over her heart, “That’s where it counts. Beside that, it’s the only thing you learned. Being human, acting like a human. There are many members of the species homo sapiens that are less human than you are.”

 

*****

 

  Cordelia stood behind the door with a soft look on her face. Once again her Xander had shown himself to be more than the carefree teenager he seemed to be. She smiled as she considered how lucky she was to have him. He might be… have been the class clown and a pain in the butt sometimes, but he was wonderful too, he had a knack for bringing out the best in people, especially herself, and she never wanted him to change <Well, not much, anyway. >

 

  Still, he was in there with Jell-O-boy<Jell-O-girl? > And taking up valuable couple time, so she would have to do something. She was Queen C, after all, and certain standards had to be upheld. She took a breath and pushed open the door and stepped into the gym.

 

*****

 

  Jackie stood and turned away from Xander as she pondered the truth of his last statement <He is essentially correct, I have learned to think as a human since I had no other frame of reference. But now that I’ve began to have memory flashbacks, that may change. > She turned back to say more to him when the sound of the door opening attracted her attention. She looked up and met Cordelia’s gaze as the former prom queen stalked in.

 

  “Cordelia.” Jackie said.

 

  “Jell-O-Girl.” Cordy replied coolly.

 

  “Hey Cordy.” Xander said as he stood up <Uh-oh! Cordy looks pissed. > “You here for our workout?”

 

  “Well, duh, Dweeb Boy. Why else would I dress like this?” She replied with a roll of her eyes. Then she set her eyes on Jackie, “And you’re obviously not here for a workout, so what gives? And that outfit is so last year by the way.”

 

  Xander actually cringed. <Oh no! She went down the fashion road! What next, a catfight? Hmm... Focus Xander, a catfight between your girlfriend and the shape changing Alien is something you don’t want to see…unless Jackie stays in that form…Hey! Back on track Harris! >

 

  Jackie, for her part, shimmered slightly as her attire changed to sweats and Nikes, "Is this more appropriate attire?" She asked innocently.

 

  "Don't mess with me, Jell-O-girl. You're using up my time here. Finish whatever lameness you were indulging in and get lost, I want to get my workout done."

 

  "I was actually having a conversation with Xander, but if you want a workout..."

 

  "Uh, ladies?"

 

  "Shut up Xander. Are you challenging me to a match?"

 

  "If you feel up to it."

 

  "Cordy..."

 

  "Not now Xander. Oh I feel up to it! Question is do you?"

 

  "I believe I do. Perhaps teaching you a lesson in manners will improve your attitude towards me."

 

  "Jackie..."

 

  "Stay out of this, Harris! I'll teach you some manners you walking dessert!"

 

  Xander took a seat on the bench and hung his head. <I so do not believe this is happening! Why me God? > Cordelia moved into a fighting stance as she dropped her bag. Jackie merely stood up and moved to the center of the mats with an amused smile.

 

  "Pin to a three count?" Jackie asked.

 

  "Fine with me." Cordelia replies as she launched a high kick at Jackie's head. Jackie caught Cordy's foot with her left hand and pulled hard. Cordy kicked off with her other leg and used her trapped foot as a fulcrum, pivoting up and over Jackie, as she came down behind the alien, head first, she grabbed her around the hips, using her momentum to pull her off balance.

 

  Jackie rolled back, and shifted her form so that she was facing Cordelia again, instead of Cordy wrapping her legs around Jackie's shoulders and pulling her into a pin, she found herself being grabbed round her own legs and rolled onto her shoulders instead, she responded by rolling left and pushing up, and kicking her left foot into Jackie's nose. There was a solid impact that jarred her leg.

 

  Jackie merely released her legs and stepped back, allowing Cordy room to get to her feet again. Cordy winced slightly as she placed weight on her left foot; it felt like she had just kicked a wall. Jackie's face showed no sign of injury from the kick, either. <Damn! It figures she's tougher than a normal human! >

 

  Jackie merely stood in a relaxed pose and smiled at Cordelia, "That kick would have broken someone’s nose. I guess you don't play well with others do you?"

 

  "Only on my terms." Cordelia stepped in and landed a palm strike with her right hand into Jackie's chest. She was caught by surprise when her hand sunk through Jackie's chest and came out her back. Then she felt Jackie's body solidify around her arm, effectively trapping it. She looked into Jackie’s eyes and saw amusement. <She thinks this is funny? > She thought to herself as Jackie spun, pulling her off her feet.

 

  "What are your terms?" Jackie asked as she released Cordy's trapped arm sending her to the mat. Cordy rolled and came up into a ready position a good six feet away.

 

  "Simple. I kick your butt." Cordelia replied as she launched into a series of wheeling kicks, designed to close the distance between them and drive Jackie back. Jackie foiled that maneuver by melting into the mat and then reforming behind her. Then she grabbed Cordy from behind around her waist and picked her off the floor.

 

  "And if you can't?" Jackie asked as she lifted Cordy over her head.

 

  “I’ll find a way!” Cordy snarled as she grabbed Jackie by the hair and pulled hard. The hair abruptly wrapped around her arms and effectively pinned them together. Try as she might, Cordy couldn’t get loose. She looked down to see that Jackie had shifted her to a position level with her face; the ‘hair’ had lengthened to almost three feet or so in the process.

 

  “I believe that you would, given enough time.” Jackie said with a thoughtful expression, “But time is something you don’t have right now, so…”

 

  Jackie moved faster than the eye could follow. Cordy felt herself falling towards the floor and she tried to roll with it, but Jackie’s grip on her was like steel shackles and she was unable to move. She closed her eyes just before impact. Then she opened them when there was no impact.

 

  Cordy looked around and found herself upright, her knees and toes on the floor, her butt resting on her ankles. She looked down and found Jackie pinned between her legs, smiling faintly up at her, “You going to count me out or what?” she asked innocently.

 

  “You let me win!?!” Cordy growled as she rolled off the other girl.

 

  “Of course I did. I’m not your enemy Cordelia. I would really like to be your friend, and you don’t make friends by trying to best an Alpha Female on her own turf. Besides, any kind of a fight between myself and a human is a foregone conclusion.”

 

  “You think so, Jell-O Girl?”

 

  “Unless you bring a flame-thrower to the party, yeah, I know so.” She got up and stepped in front of Cordy, gaining height as she did so. She finally stood before her, physically, the same size, “But like I said, I’m not here to fight you. I just needed someone to talk to, and Xander was kind enough to be there for me. I hope you know what you have there.”

 

  “Yeah, I know.” Cordy replied quietly. The two of them were now speaking so quietly that Xander could no longer hear what they were saying, even with his enhanced hearing.

 

  “Good. Sometimes people overlook the obvious.”

 

  “Like the way you just threw that match?”

 

  Jackie simply smiled, “It had the desired effect.”

 

  “And what was that?”

 

  “You’re talking to me, not trying to fight with me.”

 

  “For now. But if you try anything with Xander…”

 

  Jackie began to giggle at that one, “I’m sorry.” She said between giggles, “But even though I am capable of being compatible with humans, I have no desire to do that particular…”

 

  “EEEWWWW!!!!” Cordy groaned. This provoked another fit of giggles from Jackie. Poor Xander, for his part was just totally lost. <I probably don’t even want to know. >

 

  “Not funny at all, Jell-O girl.” Cordy said through clenched teeth.

 

  “Uh, Cordy? What is she laughing about?” Xander finally asked.

 

  “NOTHING!!!”

 

  “Okaaaayy….” Xander wisely decided not to pursue the question further. Jackie for her part had slid to the floor in that disturbingly boneless way of hers and was trying to stop laughing long enough to form a coherent sentence, or even a word for that matter.

 

  “It wasn’t that funny.” Cordy told Jackie.

 

  “I-I…am sorry…. It’s just that….” And then she broke into laughter again.

 

  “What?” Xander asked as he moved over beside Cordy.

 

  “Even among the people…that have been…my friends for the last year…that particular thought has…never…come up…ever.”

 

  “What thought?”

 

  “Never mind that, Dweeb boy! I’m trying to reach an understanding with the walking dessert here.”

 

  “Okaaaay.” Once again Xander decided not to press the point.

 

  “You are truly…one of a kind, Cordelia. Can we be friends now, or do you feel the need to kick my ass again?” Jackie asked as she stood back up.

 

  “We’ll see. But if either of you ever mentions Jell-O girl here throwing a match to me…well, the results will involve a flame thrower…and a long time without for you.” The last bit was delivered as she looked directly into Xander’s eyes.

 

  “S-sure Cordy, hey, I didn’t see anything like that…”

 

  “Damn right you didn’t Dweeb boy! As for you…”

 

  “Hey, I’m the soul of discretion.” Jackie deadpanned, as she held up her hands in mock surrender. As soon as her mouth closed, a zipper closed over her lips.

 

  Cordelia groaned and then shook her head. “Good. Now, if we are quite finished here?” she asked as she pulled Xander into an embrace.

 

  “Quite finished, I should think. I’ll leave you two to work out whatever it is you need to work out,” Jackie said clearly, without opening the zipper across her mouth.

 

  Xander wasn’t sure, but he could almost swear that Jackie had actually winked at him. <Nah, Couldn’t have. I must be imagining things…> She shifted back to the form she had been in when she came in and left the gym with a small wave over her shoulder.

 

  “Have I told you lately that I love you?” Cordy asked.

 

  “Not that I recall.”

 

SMACK! “OW!!!”

 

*****

 

  Brian had just about finished going through his mental list of the best places to hide from Cordy when he heard something behind him. He turned and made ready to run in case it was Cordelia, or Xander, or Steve, looking for him. It was the new girl <Changeling, dummy, not human…pretty though…>

 

  “Uhm…hi, Jackie, right?”

 

  “Yes. And you are Brian Jessup, correct?”

 

  “Yeah. So no one got killed in there?”

 

  “No…should someone have?”

 

  “I thought…I mean…no of course not…but aren’t you…”

 

  “I suspect that this Roddenberry fellow has colored your perceptions about me.”

 

  “Well…in the shows you guys are pretty evil…”

 

  “Hmm. I believe you are right. Is there some way…ah! I know!” Jackie then shifted her form to that of a younger girl. It was still her but in a younger version, about thirteen or so. Brian let out a yelp and jumped back a bit.

 

  “Better?” she asked him.

 

  “Wow! That is so cool! Can you change into anything you want?”

 

  “Almost anything, but it can be very tiring, depending on how big or what it is made of.”

 

  “How big are you talking about?”

 

  “I did an elephant once…”

 

  “Whoa! An elephant! Cool! Can you do a T-Rex?”

 

  “Probably, but not for long.”

 

  “That has got to be so cool!”

 

  Brian was about to ask more but Steve picked that moment to walk into the kitchen. <Who’s the girl? A friend of Brian’s? > He opened the fridge and turned to ask Brian who she was, when he got his first look at her face, “That you, Jack?”

 

  She shifted to the normal form of Jack and grinned at Steve, “Yeah, I was just doing a little demonstration for Brian here.”

 

  “Steve, Jackie is so cool! Where did you meet her, I mean him…Ah, are you a him or a her?”

 

  “Technically, I’m an ‘it’. I don’t have a gender, but to make it easy, I’m a her when I’m a girl, and a he, when I’m a guy. Okay?”

 

  “Brian, Jack and I have work to do right now. You can talk to him later, when this is over if he doesn’t mind…”

 

  “Be glad to, I haven’t had much interaction with younger humans…I’m curious about their outlook on things.”

 

  “Cool! I’ll see you later then! Bye.”

 

  Jack waited for Brian to leave and then he turned back to Steve and looked at him for a moment before he finally spoke. “I want to apologize for yesterday. I got out of line, there was no excuse for it.”

 

  “It’s all good, Jack. I had a talk with Director Gordon last night; he gave me a complete rundown on you. I can’t say that your actions come as a surprise knowing what I know about you now.” Steve offered him the carton of juice he was holding and Jack declined with a shake of his head.

 

  “Okay, but something else happened last night, I’ll tell you about it later though. Right now I need to get up to speed on where we stand on our little Demon hunt.”

 

  “Nothing to really catch up on, Jack. We did a bit of research that told us nothing, and we set up some search areas for today.”

 

  “Okay, maybe I don’t need to get up to speed.” Jack deadpanned.

 

  “For an alien, you have a very human sense of humor.” Steve observed as he replaced the juice in the fridge.

 

  “It’s because you’re all a bad influence on me. If I weren’t surrounded by all you do-gooding humans, I’d be happily plotting galactic domination in another dimension.”

 

  Steve looked closely at Jack for a moment and then shook his head; “The scary thing is that I believe you for some reason.”

 

  “A wise man knows truth when he hears it.”

 

  “Who said that?”

 

  “I have no idea, but it sure sounds good.”

 

  Steve laughed and waved for Jack to follow him as he headed for the living room. <God I hope Mulder never runs into him, that would be too funny to watch…hmm…I wonder what Spooky’s doing right now? No, I better leave him out of this for now. Later though…>

 

  Jack followed Steve into the comfortable living room and took a seat on the sofa. Steve sat down across from him in a chair and pointed to a map of Sunnydale that was spread out on a coffee table between them.

 

  “The areas marked in red are the spots we’ll hit this morning.”

 

  “That’s a lot of ground to cover.” Jack said as he looked at the map, “Do you have enough manpower for this large a search?”

 

  "With our special talents and help from you and your partner, yes. We'll be stretched thin, but we can do it."

 

  "Okay. How are you planning on doing this?"

 

  "I'll explain once everyone gets here, that way, I don't have to repeat myself."

 

  "Fair enough. I'll go wake up Terrance and Ranger Bonnetti."

 

  Steve simply nodded as Jack got up and headed out toward the door. Once Jack was gone, he yawned and looked at the map again. <This isn't going to be easy. It'll be very much like looking for a needle in a haystack, except that this needle is an evil killer that wants to bring Hell to Earth...>

 

A cave outside of Sunnydale, 0800 hours.

 

  Thougnast laid against the wall of his lair, dozing lightly, the loud rumble of his snores permeating the caves with thunder.  As lairs went, it was a simple one, only a couple of larger caves connected by passages. The walls were dry but clumps of lichen grew in patches on them. The whole place was lit by a glow that seemed to have no source.

 

  About twenty vampires were gathered in the cave nearest the entrance. One of them, a male that was wearing an expensive suit, was talking to them. “Okay people, here’s the deal; at sunset we make our move. Danny, you got the truck ready?”

 

  “Yeah, it’s ready, Evan.” Danny, a college student type replied.

 

  “Good. We load up and go. It’s twenty minutes to the Sunnydale hospital, once we get there, Donna, you and Sally take care of the security guards.” Two of the females smiled predatory grins.

 

  “The rest of us move to the third floor, Dean and Henry, you gather up the brats, the rest of us will run interference in case the Slayer or any of her pals show up. Remember, the priority is to get the brats and get them back here! No stopping to eat along the way! No stopping to fight with the Slayer or her pals, either, if they show, just keep them busy long enough for us to get out! Everyone clear on that?”

 

  The vampires all nodded in understanding and the speaker smiled in pleasure. Soon, everything would be in place and Thougnast would bring Hell to Earth. The speaker allowed a dreamy look to cross his face as he contemplated ruling by the demon’s side. It passed as his mind returned to the present. He moved into the next cavern to assist in the preparations there.

 

St Wolf residence, 1230 hours.

 

  Rupert Giles looked up as his lover entered the den with a cup of tea in her hand. “I thought you could use this.” She said with a smile.

 

  Giles accepted the cup gratefully and rewarded her with a small kiss, “Yes love, well I suppose I could stand some refreshment. We still haven't found anything.”

 

  He waved his left hand across the map of Sunnydale spread out on the desk in front of him. Most of the marked areas were now crossed out, only five remained unmarked. Jenny took this in with a quick glance and then looked back at him with an unspoken question in her eyes.

 

  “I am still trying to find any references to this demon and whatever ritual it is he intends to use, but so far I have found next to nothing about either.” He said as he placed the cup down next to the map. He pulled off his glasses and cleaned them as he tried to think of a source of information they hadn’t tried yet.

 

  “Well, I haven’t found anything on the net, and my Wiccan contacts have come up empty, too.” Jenny said as she began to rub his shoulders. <Goddess, he is coiled like a spring over this one! >

 

  “So far none of the teams have found anything. I don’t know if that is good news or bad news.” He said tiredly.

 

  “Good news that nothing has started yet, bad news that we’re no closer to stopping it?” Jenny suggested.

 

  “Well, yes. Quite so.” Giles replied, “I would really prefer to stop this ritual sooner rather than later.”

 

  “Obviously, but with so little information, we are really playing catch up here.”

 

  Giles growled in frustration, a bit of the old Ripper coming out as he tried to think of what they might have overlooked. For the life of him, he couldn't think of anything. There just wasn't anything to find on this ritual. At times like this he felt like he was going to explode from the frustration. If they failed the world would be in dire jeopardy, worse, the people he had become closest to and thought of as his surrogate family were likely to die. Damned if he was going to allow that.

 

  Jenny leaned in and whispered in his ear, "Easy Rupert. We'll think of something."

 

  "For the life of me, I can't think of what else we can do." He growled in a low voice as he turned and embraced her.

 

  "I don't know either, but we have to believe that we will."

 

  "I know."

 

  Nothing further was said as they stood there holding on to each other. They were still there ten minutes later when Xander and Cordelia arrived.

 

St Wolf residence, 1730 hrs.

 

  Jack MacPherson stood in the rear of the RV, examining the contents of one of the weapons lockers. He finally came to a decision and picked up an M1911A1 pistol from inside. He dropped the magazine, catching it in a tentacle. His hand liquefied around the weapon and flew through the weapon, as he carefully checked the weapon for wear. While humans had to disassemble the weapon, and then inspect the individual parts, Jack didn't need to waste time with taking it apart, and still could check each part much better than humans could, unless they used high precision equipment. He noticed some slight signs of wear, too tiny to have any negative influence on the performance of the weapon, though. Picking up the bottle of oil with his other hand, he sprayed a bit on his semi-liquid hand, and transported the oil into the weapon and spread it on the moving parts, before retracting his hand from the weapon, not wasting any time with a function check. He'd have noticed if there was the slightest problem with the weapon.

 

  He moved on to the magazines that fit the weapon next. He placed six of them side by side on the wooden surface that his lap was, using it as a work surface. Laying his arm across the magazines, he inserted himself into them, and checked all hundred rounds in each for damage. All were okay. He quickly pulled back out of the magazines. Because they were magically enhanced to carry more ammo, without changing any other characteristic, it felt very uncomfortable to him to have parts of himself within them. Not really painful, nothing that'd prevent him from hiding in one of them, if necessary, but plain uncomfortable.

  Satisfied, he placed a magazine into the well and pulled the slide back, then released it, chambering a round. He clicked the safety on with his right thumb and placed the weapon against his chest, drawing it into himself. Then he picked up the remaining five magazines and let them slide into himself through his hands, taking care not to flow into them. He turned to leave and almost knocked Terrance over.

 

  "Terrance. I didn't realize you had come in."

 

  "I noticed. Since when do you need a gun?"

 

  "I don't. But in our current situation I feel that certain precautions are necessary."

 

  "And a gun is a precaution you feel is necessary?"

 

  "It was Harry's gun."

 

  "And?"

 

  "I have a feeling that I should have it with me."

 

  "A feeling? Color me confused here, Jack, but you don't get 'feelings'. You've been telling me for the whole time you've known me that you don't believe in intuition or anything like it."

 

  "And I can't be wrong? I don't know the whole story, but a lot of what I thought up until yesterday was wrong! I do get intuitive flashes, but I have discounted them until now! I've been telling you all this time that I'm not human, no matter how much I'd like to be, but that's not exactly true, I think and feel like a human! My very being is polluted by human thought and emotion!"

 

  "What the Hell is that supposed to mean?!?"

 

  "Just what I said, polluted! I remember my past now! At least part of it, and it wasn't nice, Terrance. I was a spy; I infiltrated and betrayed my enemies' military and governments from within! Humans were my enemy! Humans! And now I am one of them! Do you have any idea of how conflicted I am right now? A part of me wants to get away from all of you and try to find my way home, but the other part of me wants to stay and help! I don't want to let who I was change who I am!"

 

  "How did this happen?"

 

  "I don't know. I had a dream, of sorts, and then, once I woke up I began to remember. I've been having flashes of memories all day."

 

  "That's why you've been so quiet then."

 

  "Yes... I’ve been trying to make some sense of all of this."

 

  "You really think of humans as pollution?"

 

  "Part of me does...but part of me thinks that humans are the embodiment of hope and love.... I find it to be highly confusing."

 

  Terrance was quiet as he studied his friends face for a long moment, the conversation with Robin and Steve replayed in his mind, and he began to be afraid that what Jack was telling him could lead to a very unpleasant outcome. It took him a few more seconds to ask the questions he had to ask.

 

  "So what are you going to do?"

 

  "What I always do, finish the job I started."

 

  "Then what?"

 

  "I don't know. I'll worry about it then."

 

  "Jack, you need to settle this thing right now. You can't ignore this. It'll eat at you if you don't."

 

  "It doesn't matter, we have a Demon to stop. My life is unimportant compared to that. I...I was supposed to die then anyway."

 

  "What?!?"

 

  "When I was sent to this dimension...I was supposed to die. I didn't, I was sent here instead. I think it was to do something...well, now I have a chance to see if that theory is correct, I will help stop this Demon and then I'll worry about who I really am."

 

  "Jack..."

 

  "I need this right now, Terrance. If I stop and let myself consider this for too long...I may not like the conclusions I come to. I have come to like your world very much, if I were to have to turn my back on it..."

 

  "You wouldn't. You have one of the strongest senses of duty I've ever seen, and you took the same oath I took to defend humanity. You could no more break your oath than I could stop my heartbeat. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, is there anything I can do to help?"

 

  "You've already done it."

 

  “How so?”

 

  “You didn’t try to terminate me just now.”

 

  “Why would I do that?”

 

  “Because I may pose a threat to you and the Bureau, and if you decide that I am a threat, you’ll terminate me without hesitation.”

 

  “I wouldn’t…”

 

  “Yes, you would. That’s why they made you Team Captain; you can make the hard choices when they need to be made. It is a quality that I possessed before I came to this world, somehow, I don’t seem to have anymore. But I respect you even more for it, I would not hold it against you were you to find it necessary to kill me, I would probably even thank you for taking a hard choice out of my hands.”

 

  “You’re not getting off that easily, Jack. The choice is yours and yours alone. You can remain who you are, or you can go back to being who you were, but I’m not gonna chose for you.”

 

  Jack was silent for a long moment, lost in thought. Finally, he looked Terrance in the eyes and smiled grimly, “It all has come down to a question of identity for me, you know, who I really am, and right now, I just don’t know. But you got it right, I won’t walk away from you or the Bureau right now, I finish what I start.”

 

  Terrance was silent for a moment and then he extended his right hand to Jack, Jack clasped his hand momentarily and the two of them stared into each others eyes for a long moment.

 

  “Don’t make me regret this Jack.”

 

  “I’ll be the only one regretting this, I think.” Jack replied with a shrug of his shoulders. Terrance marveled at the way his friend seemed so human like to him now, and then he realized that Jack was probably very much better at impersonating humans than either of them had ever realized. Once again the beginnings of doubt and fear began to surface in his mind.

 

  Jack, for his part, continued on out of the RV. If he had any doubts about trusting himself, he didn’t show them. After he was gone, Terrance sat down at the computer terminal and called up a secure communications program. After a few seconds he began to type a message. He finished in about two minutes and then hit the send command, closed the program and shut off the computer.

 

  Then he walked over and opened another concealed weapons locker. He reached in and removed a small tube with a trigger mounted below it. After making sure the safety was on, he slipped it into a gym bag that he pulled from under the dining table. “I hope I won’t need this.” He muttered to himself. He had never really liked the HAFLA rockets, they were almost as dangerous to the user as the target, but the incendiary warhead would take out Jack in a second.

 

  He zipped the bag closed and then headed to the door. At the door he paused and took a deep breath. He would not tell the others of the potential problem with his friend, there was too much going on for this kind of distraction, and Jack had been right about one thing, Terrance would deal with Jack himself if it became necessary, it was his responsibility as Team Captain. He opened the door and headed out to link up with Steve to find out what the latest word was on their Demon hunt.

 

St Wolf residence, 1745 hours.

 

  Willow Rosenberg was frustrated; everything the team had tried to find their Demonic opponent had come up empty. She was personally unused to failure, her entire life, there had been nothing she had ever failed at once she set herself to it. From computers and schoolwork, to making friends with those around her, she had always succeeded, if not excelled. To fail now, when success was critical to the world's very survival was a horror too unimaginable to her. There had to be a way, she thought to herself.

 

  She looked up from Steve's computer and took a moment to refocus on those around her. After spending the last four hours in a fruitless search for any abnormalities in recent real estate purchases, she needed the break.

 

Her gaze immediately fell upon Oz, who was sitting quietly on the floor in the den, examining a stack of maps that had been brought back from the Vamp lair up north. She smiled as she contemplated his look of intense concentration, for a moment. People who didn't know him would be amazed at the formidable intellect hidden under the quiet rocker's exterior.

 

  Next her gaze fell upon Xander and Cordelia, who were sitting together while they prepared sandwiches for the team at the kitchen table. Xander leaned over and said something to Cordelia, who smiled and placed her hand on his for a moment as she replied to whatever he had said. The former Prom Queen and the former Class Clown made a strange couple on the surface, but for those who knew them it was not strange at all, both were strong people in their own way, so it was only natural that they would be attracted to each other.

 

  Steve and Buffy were standing in the kitchen engaged in a quiet conversation. Once again, Willow found a smile forming on her face, her best girlfriend, the immortal slayer, had it bad. It was so cool that she found someone that could make her happy for the rest of her potentially long life. Steve himself was the best thing that could have happened to her, after the whole Angel fiasco, Willow thought. He was the definition of dedicated to the fight, but was caring and thoughtful of those who followed him, and he wasn't bad to look at either, Willow though a bit guiltily. She thought a little more and decided that all of the men in the team weren't bad to look at, so she didn't stress over that stray thought. Besides, she was rock solid in her commitment to Oz.

 

  Giles and Jenny, both her mentors in different ways, were poring over a stack of old books, almost oblivious to the world around them. Giles would probably never change, she thought. If the answer wasn't in one of his books, then it just wasn't there, at least according to him, most days. Jenny was making slow progress at bringing him into the twentieth century, however, so all was not lost.

 

  Amy and Robin were setting up the coffee maker in preparation for a long night, and arguing over what brand of coffee to use, apparently Robin wasn't a tea drinker like Giles, but he had a preference for plain coffee, rather than the various flavored blends most of the younger members of the team preferred. He and Amy were a strange pair at first glance, but upon reflection, Willow decided that they were no stranger a pairing than say, herself and Oz.

 

  Frank was talking animatedly with Jack about something, using his hands as an integral part of the conversation. Jack was listening intently and sipping from a can of Coke. Willow paused as she realized that Jack's mannerisms had changed at some point during the day. He no longer seemed to be as stiff and aloof as he had been yesterday. She watched him for a bit longer as it finally clicked in her mind; he seemed human to her now, not artificial, like an actor doing a bad Vulcan routine on Star Trek. Something had happened and she wasn't sure what. This would bear further investigation later.

 

  Terrance and Bonnetti were standing apart from everyone else while Terrance demonstrated the workings of a B13 issue wristwatch to Bonnetti. Willow was not very sure of those two, they hadn't really said much to anyone outside of basic needs type information. All she really knew were their names and the fact that Bonnetti was a Park Ranger and Terrance the team leader of the Bureau team. Both shared the haunted eyes of people who had suffered recent loss, and both tended to stare at nothing when no one was talking directly to them, survivor’s guilt, Willow thought to herself.

 

  She turned back to the computer screen and gave a small sigh of frustration as she closed down the search that had produced no results anyway. She leaned back in her chair and stretched, as she did so she felt a pair of arms encircle her from behind.

 

  "Hey," was all that Oz said as he leaned down over her.

 

  "Hey. How goes your search?" she asked as she turned and slid out of the chair and into his arms.

 

  "No leads. You?"

 

  "The same, Baby. I really don't know what else to do. I mean, I've tried checking every database in town, real estate, power use, building permits, police reports, death certificates...and I haven't found anything, well there was that interesting file in the police database about Buffy, but.."

 

  Oz placed his finger on her lips to halt the onset of Willow-babble, and simply said, "I get it, no real luck."

 

  "Sorry." she replied sheepishly.

 

  "It's okay. I kinda like you when you're flustered...it's endearing."

 

  "Endearing?"

 

  "Yeah, possibly swinging into the realm of adorable."

 

  "You have a way with words." She said as she rewarded him with a kiss. He gave her one of his trademark almost-smiles after their lips parted and refocusing on the issue at hand began to become a problem. He always had such a strong effect on her, the rest of the world could almost not exist when she looked into his eyes. She made a visible effort to pull herself together and finally succeeded.

 

   "And I think if you keep distracting me, we'll never find anything." She said as she put on her resolve face.

 

  "Sorry. Distraction was not the intent there." He replied as he gave her another hug.

 

  "It's okay, I think I need a break anyway." She smiled and let her resolve face fall away.

 

  "So what kind of a break are you going to take?"

 

  "A short one involving a cup of tea and a discussion of anything but this Demon and his ritual."

 

  "Consider it done." He said. He slipped away from her and moved to the kitchen to prepare her a cup of tea. She watched him for a moment and then she began to systematically stretch her muscles. They protested after the long period of sitting, of course, but that was why she did it. The blood needed to flow freely to keep her mind alert, and stretching would get it flowing again.

 

  She looked up to find that Jack had moved over next to her without her noticing. He was looking at the computer screen with interest. She started slightly at his unfamiliar presence. He noticed it and turned to her with a sad look in his eyes, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Willow, right?"

 

  "Y-yes, and...And it's okay, 'cause like, it doesn't bother me...you being near me. You...you can be wherever you want...and...and whoever you want." She babbled nervously.

 

  Jack didn't reply. He stared into Willow's green eyes and froze as a memory burst to the surface of his consciousness and took his mind on a trip back in time. Her face recalled the first human he had killed, she too had been a green-eyed redhead, young and attractive. The resemblance was uncanny. He recalled that he had burned her down with a phaser to take her place and infiltrate a Federation base. Her name, he couldn’t recall right now, and for some reason, that disturbed him.

 

  “Jack?” Willow said as she waved her hand in front of his eyes for the second time. She was now concerned, he had simply stopped talking and began staring off into space for almost a full minute now. She was pretty sure that this was not normal behavior for him.

 

  He finally refocused his eyes on her, and for just a second, Willow was sure she saw guilt and pain in them. As quickly as they had appeared, they vanished behind a mask of politeness. “I’m sorry, I must be getting fatigued. What were you saying, Willow?”

 

  “I was saying that you are a really bad liar.” She told him as her infamous ‘resolve face’ appeared, “Something is eating at you. I saw it for a second there, before you hid it. Are you all right? Would you like to talk about it?”

 

   “To be honest, no, I would rather not talk about it.” Jack replied politely, “My problems are unimportant right now. Stopping this Demon is the issue right now.”

 

  “And you being distracted by something isn’t going to help.” Willow said.

 

  “I am not distracted enough to affect my performance.” Jack replied somewhat frostily, “You don’t know me well enough to make that kind of judgment. My Team Leader, who knows me better than any human on this planet, doesn’t feel that I am distracted enough to worry about, so you shouldn’t worry.”

 

   Willow blinked in surprise, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply…”

 

  “No apologies are necessary, you made an assessment based on incomplete knowledge, I don’t take offense, you meant well.” He replied with a wave of his hand. Willow’s eyes narrowed dangerously, he was getting close to insulting her and she didn’t like it. Jack saw the look and he changed his tact, “Look, what I’m saying is simple, I’m not like the rest of you. I’m not human, my mind doesn’t work the same way yours does. Do you understand?”

 

  “You keep telling yourself that.” Willow said with a sad expression, “You tell yourself enough, and maybe you will begin to believe it. I saw you in the clearing yesterday. I watched you when you said goodbye to your friends. You are like us. You hurt and bleed from the heart when you lose people, you get mad when someone hurts those you call your friends, and I’m fairly sure you love those you think of as friends as well. So go ahead and keep pretending you’re so different from the rest of us, we both know you’re not.”

 

  A desperate, almost pleading look came into his eyes, “You don’t understand, Willow, I CAN’T be human. Not now, at least. Not until this is over and I can determine what it means to me.”

 

  “Is it such a bad thing to be human?” she asked him.

 

  “No. But my situation is complicated by who and what I once was.” He replied sadly, “I…we don’t have the luxury of having the time for me to resolve this right now. I have to concentrate on the crisis at hand. Do you understand?”

 

  “Yes, I think so.” She said, “But as soon as we put this Demon away, you need to get some help figuring out who you are.”

 

  “I know. I will.” He promised. He stood a moment longer under her gaze before he turned and moved away from her. She watched as he went over to Agent Otterman and began conversing with him.

 

  “What’s up with him?” Oz asked as he came up and handed her a cup of tea.

 

  “I’m not sure.” She replied as she took the cup he offered, “But I think he is having a problem with how human he is.”

 

  “Freaking him out?” He asked.

 

  “More like scaring him, I think.” She replied.

 

  “Hmmm.” Oz replied.

 

  Willow rolled her eyes a bit and sat back down at the computer, “C’mon handsome, you can help me run a couple more searches.” Oz nodded in response and they got back to work.

 

 

 

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