Shadow of an Apocalypse

by Christina K
Copyright 1997

Due to popular demand (and a mental breakdown on my part) here's the Ms. Calendar version of "Prophecy Girl", with extra dialogue and scenes we didn't see onscreen--including what happened at Spring Fling.

As per usual, I'm not making money off this, the characters and Sunnydale belong to Joss Whedon the Insane, 20th Century Fox, Mutant Enemy, Sandstar, Warner Bros., and this is intended in the purest spirit of admiration to the show.

TYK's to Cath for making me think about another story until this one untangled itself, Perri & Dianne & Lizbet for beta'ing, and Perri for the opening idea. I can never write 'til I can find the first line.... and one last thank-you-kindly to the Sunnydale Slayers, who saw it first.

Comments desired, wanted, needed, at

Part 1

The e-mail sat there and glared at me.

Subject: Prophecy's fulfillment
Date: Thurs, 14 May 1997 05:37:00 -9:00 (PST)
To: List (see attached)
From: Brother Luca (frerejacque@stanselmo.cortona.IT)

Time is speeding. The Chosen One must be warned; the Anointed One is already preparing Himself. All signs indicate that Aurelius's Doom has already come to pass, and we are all in danger! Perhaps all we can do is ready ourselves for the inevitable.... If anyone has news of the fulfillment of this prediction, any tidings at all, please inform as soon as possible.

Yours in hope,
Brother Luca
Abbey of St. Anselmo
Cortona, Italia

"Cheerful." Sunlight shone into my bedroom, illuminating the books that had spilled onto the floor during the previous night's earthquake, and the stain next to my bedstand that came from keeping a cup of coffee there, ready to mainline two seconds after I wake up. I made a face at the computer screen, wishing I could laugh at the e-mail that Cameo had forwarded to me (as had five other people) before she left town. But it was only the capper on what had been a steadily growing string of not-so-subtle hints from the Beyond. Sunnydale was heading for another catastrophic spiritual car wreck, and I was stuck dealing with it alone. Again.

Cami had taken off for the Mojave the night before, along with several of my other fellow local Pagans. The coming weekend was supposed to be a pretty significant astronomical convergence, and they'd wanted a good view of the proceedings from out in the desert.

I'd have loved to have gone with them, but I'd gotten roped into agreeing to chaperone the high school Spring Fling because I hadn't ducked out of the Teachers' Lounge fast enough. "Ms. Calendar. I believe you have yet to act as an Student Event Supporting Participant this year," had been Principal Snyder's exact words, and while I was busy going "hunh?" he'd grinned sadistically and clarified, "Chaperone. Be sure to wear something appropriate to the upcoming dance, won't you? You don't have to provide your own escort, of course. I'm sure Coach Galway will be happy to accompany you, since he is going to act as your partner," then breezed out before I could do more than gape at him, too stunned to find a comeback that wouldn't get me fired. The day I attend a dance with Galway the Insane is the day I sign up for the Psychic Friends Network! Or better yet, go to work for them!

So instead of camping in the clean air and quiet, I was going to have to face hordes of teenage pretensions and hormones, not to mention a possible Apocalypse. On the same night. Then again, it's not like there's much difference between your average Prom and the end of the world as we know it....

Reams of information, weird happenings, vague warnings, and I still didn't know *what* to expect, though. It was going to happen soon, maybe even within the next few days -- but what was it? What kind of Armageddon was the world facing? And what could I possibly do about it?

I stuck out my tongue at Henry V, then groaned, knowing what was coming next and dreading it. Time to bite the bullet, Jenny. You've been putting it off long enough. You don't have any more options. If you want to know what's going on...

I was going to have to corner Snobby and try to get him to share info.

It would be like pulling teeth. Worse. Pulling a secured file from the I.R.S. databanks would be easier than getting the truth out of Rupert Giles, close-mouthed Brit librarian and weirdness expert. He'd try to avoid the questions, I'd try to pin him down, we'd get into an argument, insults would be hurled, and I *still* might not know any more than I had to begin with. I cursed under my breath, pulling on my work clothes and gathering together my files with a bad attitude toward the day already.

The attitude didn't get any better when I realized I was putting on lipstick at the stoplight.

Some women wear makeup to conceal flaws, or exploit assets; some wear it to turn themselves into strangers. But when I wear makeup -- and I mean more than the bare minimum, because eyeliner and mascara and lipstick don't come naturally to me -- it's warpaint. Going into a situation where I want some armor, or to at least know that I look my most fabulous even if I'm screwing up, I pull out the blush and the pencils. When I'm feeling especially edgy I start putting on lipstick before I even know what I'm doing. Early conditioning is a pain, sometimes.

He shouldn't be able to do this to me.

You would think -- if life were simple, and logical -- that after sharing an uncommonly weird experience such as exorcising a demonic entity from cyberspace, that two people would become friends. Bond, or something. It wasn't as if Rupert and I couldn't be civil, given a chance. We'd even run interference for each other a couple times since the Moloch incident, especially when Snyder had been on the warpath about some new brilliant bit of administrivia.

But I still hadn't gotten a decent explanation out of Rupert about the source of his arcane knowledge. In fact, he'd avoided discussing anything slightly paranormal with me with the same determination that he avoided learning more than was absolutely required about the computers in the library. Which didn't mean we hadn't had a couple of knock-down-drag-out arguments about various interpretations of the rules of magic, paganism, and the uses of computers. Rupert Giles is no more of a pushover than I am, despite the stutter and that bone-deep politeness.

Maybe that's why I respect him. And why being deliberately shut out of something that meant as much to him as it did to me hurt a little bit. The man had some direct pipeline to occult answers and he had no intention of sharing it. I *knew* that another bizarre incident had happened two weeks before -- the nightmares I had for three days straight couldn't have been ordinary, and more than one of my friends had the same kinds of nocturnal terrors at that time. I could feel in my gut that Rupert knew what the cause was; but when I called him on it later, he refused to discuss it. Refused, as in "leave it alone, you're better off not knowing, Calendar" a statement which made me furious at his presumption and sparked a frigid silence between us broken only by chilly exchanges of courtesy.

It was time to set all that aside, though. Holding a grudge while the end of the world was approaching could only be classified as major-league suicidal idiocy, at least if I wanted to do anything to prevent it.

The first chance I had, I headed for Rupert's private sanctuary, hoping to beard the librarian in his den. The library was a wreck after the earthquake, with shelves collapsed against each other, books everywhere, and major cracks climbing up the walls and threading across the floor. Poor Snobby. His first earthquake in California, and it has to be a 5.5 with an epicenter in Sunnydale....

Rupert was on phone when I walked in, looking as wrecked as his surroundings. The usually meticulous Brit had loosened his tie, unbuttoned and rolled up his sleeves, opened his shirt neck, and his hair was standing on end; he was rumpled, crumpled, spindled, folded... and tired, if I was any judge. Possibly even scared? The last quality kept me from knocking on the door and warning him that I was there, as I took a second just to study him while he held an intense conversation on the phone, oblivious to my presence.

"I-I need to see you... No, I realize that... Come after sundown. Good.... I'll see you then." Giles hung up the phone with a click, then just sat there, utterly still, his face drawn with weariness while I tried to guess what could make him look that unhappy and tense. The last time it had been that bad... I pushed memories of Moloch away and spoke up, causing Rupert to jolt with alarm even though I kept my voice level and non-threatening.

"You know, that outfit looks just like the one you wore yesterday. Only wrinklier. Were you here all night?" I asked, sounding more concerned than I'd meant to.

"Sorry, uh... I'm not really up to socializing just now." The abruptness of his statement was backed up by the rough edge to his accent -- but I couldn't give him a break because of one night's lack of sleep.

"Something's going on, Rupert, and I'm guessing you already know what it is." I walked into his private office and he stood up, his body language becoming even more guarded and wary than before.

"What do you know?" From his taut expression, Snobby hadn't believed for an instant that I was talking about school business, or one of the students, or life in general. At least we're skipping the denial part of this discussion... That's encouraging.

"Well, I have been surfing the Net, looking for unexplained incidences. You know people are always sending stuff my way, they know the occult's my turf. Here is the latest." I sorted through the folders of clippings and print-outs I'd brought along, then cleared my throat and started reading articles at random. Rupert paced around the office, head down, avoiding my eyes.

"A cat last week gave birth to a litter of snakes." The Brit continued to pace, not reacting with either the fear or denial that would have been any other person's response. His face showed no change from the pinched weariness I'd come in on. "A family was swimming in Whisper Lake when the lake began to boil. And Mercy Hospital last night, a boy was born with his eyes facing inward." I put the file down, and kept my voice steady and low with an effort. "I'm not stupid. This is Apocalypse stuff. Throw in last night's earthquake and I'd say the end is pretty seriously nigh."

"I don't know if I can trust you." Doubt and hope seemed to be having it out in Rupert's mind, and I couldn't tell which one was going to win. So I pushed, not willing to be brushed aside like I'd been two weeks before. And not willing to leave Snobby alone in another situation like Moloch's return, no matter what.

"I helped you cast that demon out of the Internet. I'd think that merits *some* trust." Giles nodded apologetically to me, his eyes reflecting tired agreement behind his glasses. "Look, I'm scared, okay? Plus, I've got this crazy monk emailing me from Cortona about some Anointed One -- "

"The Anointed One?" His voice rose with the first shock he'd shown since I walked in. "He's dead!"

"Someone's dead?"

Rupert took off his glasses, obviously impatient, wrinkling his brow as if he had a headache. "Who is this monk?"

"A Brother Luca... something? Keeps sending out global mailings about a prophecy -- " Not good. This is not good. What's going on --

"I need you to talk to him, find out all he knows -- " Giles was finally focusing on the here-and-now, but that wasn't any help when I had no idea why.

"Look Rupert, you haven't told me jack, so what's with the orders?"

"Just do it!" I'd forgotten how scary Snobby could be when he got intense; the whip-edge to his voice softened from an urgent command to apology as his eyes pleaded. "I'll... explain, later."

"You'd better," I said grimly. I'll cut you some slack for now... but I'm not letting you off the hook indefinitely. I gathered my folders together and stalked out of the library before I could say something regrettable. Find Brother Luca, get some answers from him, give 'em to Snobby, and I'll finally find out what's up. It better be worth it.... Of course, if it wasn't worth it, then maybe there wouldn't be an Apocalypse. Maybe the worst I'd have to deal with on Saturday night would be avoiding Coach Galway and being bored out of my mind at the Spring Fling. Right, Jenny. You should be so lucky.


Part 2

Four in the A.M.

I was still wide awake. I didn't want to sleep. But the later I stayed up, the more I wished I'd gone with Cami to the Mojave.

What was I trying to prove, anyway?

The Net was quiet -- ominously, so, after weeks of warnings and intensifying strangeness. I hadn't been able to track down Brother Luca yet, either. What time was it in Italy; around noon? Another hour, maybe, and then I'd go to bed. That would give the good brother enough time to get done with lunch, or compline, or whatever, and answer my queries.

If he answered them.

I stared at Henry blankly as I automatically surfed from site to site, not really registering the places I was visiting, preoccupied with the possibilities that Rupert had staunchly refused to clear up. Why couldn't he have been more specific? Why wouldn't he just *tell* me what was going on? Okay, I knew the answer to that one, he'd come right out and said it: he didn't entirely trust me. Which was unfair. Did he think I'd share the news of what was coming with CNN? He should know better. He should know by now that I take the supernatural as seriously as he does. He should know I wouldn't do anything reckless or stupid.

It was quiet, except for Henry's hum as he did another search on the phrase "Anointed One"; dark in my bedroom, except for the tensor lamp above the printer and the moonlight leaking through the window. I sipped my cup of cooling coffee and finally admitted my worst fear: that nothing could be done, that Rupert was trying to shield me or to give me something to keep me occupied and sane while our time ran out.

I didn't really believe that, though. Giles's desperation when I mentioned the prophecy to him had been too real, his focus too narrow for him to have been concocting a wild goose chase for my sake. Which still didn't mean I could help. Or that Rupert could do anthing about it either, even if I finally got the information he wanted.

Maybe there's nothing either of us - any of us - can do. The prophecies coming over the lines for the last few days had been so doom-laden and vague -- Face it, we could all be dead, or worse, before you have a clue why. Horrible thought. I tried to push it away, but it kept coming back, like the nightmares from two weeks before.

I believe in Powers that a lot of people laugh at or fear without reason. I know that the Divine is real, and present, because I can feel it inside of me, and sometimes see it in cyberspace, on sites set up for freedom of speech, or to aid the public, or in the way people reach out to strangers, welcoming them into a new world. But I'm not psychic or gifted with any extraordinary powers, and I don't have access to the kind of knowledge that can be used to fight avatars of the Dark on their own terms. What did I think I could accomplish, searching the Net for something I might not recognize if I found it?

The digital clock on my bedstand read 5:24 AM. Nothing had arrived from Brother Luca. Sunlight was trying to filter its way through my blinds.

Have you ever stayed up to see the sun rise, just to be sure that it would? It was like that.... I still didn't have any answers. But for no rational reason, the despair I'd been fighting lightened enough to let me crawl under the covers and set the alarm for six hours. Hopefully, mail from the mad monk would be waiting for me when I regained consciousness. Then I could confront Snobby with the Wicked Witch's broom he'd sent me off to find; and he'd have to tell me the truth.

If there was no way to avert the end, I wanted to know about it. There were a lot of things I wanted to do before I died. But if there was a way -- it might be a losing fight, but I'd prefer to go down battling.

Might as well die doing something I loved.


The buzzer sounded on my alarm clock, jarring me awake with a curse. My head ached. I stumbled over to the computer and checked my e-mail two seconds later.


O.K., it wasn't nothing. It was an invitation to view male and female hard bods at, two chatty letters from old friends who had just discovered the brave new world of cyberspace, and a few more forwards from people who were sending me stuff that merely confirmed my opinion that the world was, indeed, coming to an end. But nothing from Brother Luca.

Disappointed didn't cover it; I was starting to get panicky. Hate waiting, hate feeling helpless, useless.... Ruthlessly, I sat on the anxiety clawing at my insides and forced myself to do normal things: eat lunch, take a shower, get dressed in "appropriate" chaperone attire for the evening's Spring Fling. Until I knew otherwise, life was going on, and I couldn't ignore it yet.

Feeling human, although still far too keyed-up, I spent the afternoon e-mailing and searching, hoping for some electronic crumb of information about Brother Luca. All the indications were that he'd disappeared from the Net, and the outer world too; no one knew where he was. Not his account administrator, not his abbey, not even the Papal Legate's office.

Finally, around five or so, one last global post from him dropped into my mailbox, from a public access terminal in Rome.

TO: List (see attached)
FROM: Brother Luca (frerejacque@cafe.dante.rome.IT)
DATE: Saturday, May 17, 1997 23:59:32:00 (-9)
RE: Prophecy Context

To all who hope: Isaiah 11:6. The time is now.

God help and bless the Chosen One. Pray this is enough.

Yours in the Light
Brother Luca

Grinning in relief, I dialed Rupert's home number, sure he would be poring over his "volumes" in search of what Brother Luca had shared with me on-line. I hastily yanked down my copy of the King James Bible while the phone rang in my ear, flipping through to look up the pertinent quote. Hmmmmm... out of context, I'd say that sounds even odder than usual...

"Giles here," sounded abruptly in my ear as I fumbled with the receiver. Rupert was sounding more stressed than the day before, and I again wondered how he was sleeping lately.

"Rupert? It's me. I'm coming over there, I found something I have to show you -- "

"Ms. Calendar, have you seen the news?" Stressed wasn't the right word, really; Snobby was grim, which stopped my babbling and made my stomach tighten in anticipation before I even processed his words.

"Um, no, should I have?"

"You might want to sit down...."

"Tell me." My throat had gone dry at those words; it was too much like he'd sounded when he'd told me that Dave was dead, strangled and hanged on Moloch's orders.

This was worse.

"Four students were found dead in the school's A/V room this morning. I'm afraid Willow -- "

"*No*!" No, not again, not Willow --

"No, no, I meant -- forgive me. Willow is fine, fine." He sighed, bleakness seeping into his voice as he went on. "As fine as anyone can be, who just found the exsanguinated corpses of her classmates a few hours ago. She and Cordelia Chase were the first on the scene, and it was -- disturbing, especially for someone of Willow's sensitivity. And Cordelia evidently knew one of the boys well...."

"Oh my Goddess." Four... "We have to *do* something! We have to stop this, somehow, there has to be -- "

"I quite agree." The quiet rage in his voice echoed the sick, angry plunge my stomach took when he imparted the news. He gave me a minute to recover, then continued. "The police left half an hour ago. I'm afraid there's rather a lot I must do... and, well... very little time. I may need... 'backup', I believe you Americans call it?" The desperation was back in his voice, along with the pleading. "Could you meet me? At the library? Soon?"

"I'm there. See you in twenty." I hung up the phone before he could say anything else, overwhelmed. And furious.

Not without a fight... Whatever it was, whoever was pushing for the Apocalypse, was not going to get it without a fight.


Part 3

The sun had almost set by the time I got to the high school and parked my car in the teacher's lot. There were only one or two other cars there, including Rupert's junker. Not that mine's much better; neither of us can afford the kinds of cars most of our students drive -- bought and paid for by their parents. I hurried inside, wondering what could be scary enough to force Snobby to admit that he needed 'back up', and hoping it was just the deaths of four students in the school. Praying it wasn't anything more.

I got my first shock of the night when I entered the library. Sunnydale's mild-mannered but acid-tongued librarian had opened the locked storage area where older books were usually kept and was busily extracting weapons from a cabinet I hadn't ever noticed before. "Rupert?" He turned to me with an enquiring expression, a glittering steel dagger in one hand, a handful of ninja throwing stars in the other. I gulped, feeling my eyes widen. "Are you arming for an invasion? Should I have brought my brass knuckles?" I picked up a knife, curved and deadly-looking, that he'd placed on one of the reading tables. "I mean, did you confiscate these from students, or what?"

"Not precisely." He smiled thinly, adding the stars and dagger to the collection growing in the main library. His disheveled appearance from the day before had been smoothed as if it never existed, his cuffs buttoned, tie in place; only the deep weariness around his eyes hinted at any mental upset. "I've had these for quite some time -- they're part of an extensive collection. They may be necessary in facing what's to come."

I carefully replaced the knife, trepidation getting a claw-hold in my stomach again. "You said you were going to explain what's going on. Does it include a good reason for what happened this morning?"

"Yes. You deserve to know what's going on, and if the worst occurs, someone else should be prepared for the consequences." He didn't look at me, and instead went back to rummaging in the weapons locker as he spoke, selecting one weapon, discarding another, bringing some back to the small display on the table. His voice remained even and calm as he began to lecture on what was obviously a very familiar subject. He didn't sound as if he particularly cared if I believed his explanation or not; and it struck me that for Rupert, things like other people's opinions had ceased to matter a long time ago. You couldn't say what he was saying as coolly as he was without having come to terms with what most people's reactions would be. Either that, or he *does* trust you. And is more desperate than you thought.

"I expect you're aware that Sunnydale has a long history as a center of paranormal activity?"

"It's come up in a couple conversations," I said cautiously. "My friend Cami mentioned some Spanish superstitions when I moved here; and I've got a few friends who've mentioned that this whole area of the coast seems to be jinxed...." It had actually seemed like a plus, back then. A chance to come in contact with concrete magic. Now, though, I realized I should have done more research before I accepted the position as Sunnydale High's comp sci teacher.

"Cursed may be more accurate," Rupert said, stringing a crossbow and testing the sights. "'Boca del Infierno' was the Spanish name. 'Hellmouth' in English; rather more daunting in the original language...." He replaced the crossbow and began examining a set of stilettos, sliding them out of their scabbards and checking them for who-knew-what; rust? Sharpness? A sense of surreality hit me as I watched Snobby competently and fearlessly mess with some very nasty weapons. I would have thought he'd hate this sort of thing.... "In any event, the upshot is the same: we are living on one of the dimensional gates to the demonic plane."

"Whoa. Wait a minute. Back up a bit." I leaned forward, catching his gaze as he placed some of the curved daggers on the table, picking up the throwing stars and carrying them back to the collection. "Are you saying that Sunnydale is like... Angkor Wat? Stonehenge? Atlantis?" I sat down on one of the chairs, some of the weirdness of the last months falling into place. "A focus point for paranormal energy? One of the places in the world where you can move from -- world to world..." My voice trailed off as I considered the implications, shivering. The site for the Last Battle? And I'd been so hyped about getting a job within driving distance of San Francisco.

"Specifically, the Hellmouth opens from our world to the first worlds of demons," Rupert was saying, his mouth tightening as he studied me; probably for signs of disbelief. His voice dropped as he went on. "Such portals are usually sealed, of course; their permanent opening would leave our world very vulnerable to... a great many things. But they can't be contained completely; they leak magic into our world as a matter of course. An area around a Hellmouth will attract the kinds of energy you mentioned -- much of it very negative." He sighed, very softly, so softly I almost didn't catch it, then went on in a brisker tone. "Approximately sixty years ago, an attempt was made to open the Hellmouth."

"Who would be crazy enough to do that?" I asked, swallowing hard, disbelief making my voice rise.

"A vampire king."

I stared at Rupert; he stared back, eminently sane, utterly British, waiting for me to protest, clear grey eyes evaluating my mental state while I tried to grasp the impossible. I opened my mouth; closed it. Picked up one of the little daggers and thought for a few seconds, my fingers shaking. "Okay," I murmured, nodding, not doubting him, even though every self-preservation instinct I had was screaming at me to get the hell out of there. "Okay." I put the dagger down, thinking of the kids in the A/V room. The urge to say "there are no vampires" came and went. Giles has a sense of humor, but it's not that sick. If he said there was a vampire king, there was a vampire king.

I felt queasy, terrified, and vaguely silly; every movie cliche' I'd ever happily giggled over came back to me now with horror-tinged clarity. Somehow, I'd never taken my acceptance of the reality of Power into that dark an alley. But if there's Light in the world -- and I know there is -- there has to be Dark, doesn't there? I suddenly saw how naive I'd been, to never realize what that really meant before. Someone has to fight the Dark. Here. Now. Rupert was getting ready to do just that. In a couple minutes, I was going to have to ask him how I could help....

Taking a deep breath, I asked, "What has this got to do with the kids who were killed this morning?"

"A great deal, unfortunately." A thread of pain wound through the matter-of-factness in his voice. Everything about Rupert was stretched taut, I realized; his voice, his movements, every muscle in his body -- all seemed to be conserving energy for the fight to come. Whatever fight that was. "The Master, as he is called, has been trapped in the Hellmouth itself since the attempt he made in 1939--there was an earthquake that interrupted his spellcasting, and he was unable to free himself. The prophesied end to his imprisonment is approaching, and as the spell holding him weakens, more and more of his brethren have been gathering in Sunnydale. Thus... the attack, last night, upon the students who were here."

The impersonal tone he'd been trying to affect slipped at the end of this speech, the previous ache palpable in his voice again; I thought of Willow, finding the bodies of her friends, and flinched away from the image as Rupert continued speaking. "If he succeeds in freeing himself, he will complete the incantation, and the Hellmouth will open. Leaving our world open to all the denizens of the demonic plane."

"Goddess." I laced my fingers together, putting my head down on them and trying to think while Snobby made a few moves with a long axe, then thoughtfully returned it to the locker. I put what Rupert had told me together with what little I knew of Brother Luca's prophecies, and had a clearer picture about what we were up against. Panic hovered at the edges of my mind, and I told it to go away until after I was done grilling Rupert; it scuttled off for a bit, but not to where I couldn't see it hanging around still. I let my hands drop down from my face, and glared at Snobby. "Assuming that I can keep all this straight -- and that it makes sense in the first place -- how the _hell_ did you find all this out before I even had a clue?"

"Ah." He had the grace to look guilty, I'll give him that. "We come to the more difficult part of the explanation now, I'm afraid. More difficult to believe, I mean...." He looked appealingly at me, possibly for a reprieve, but I just rolled my eyes.

"I can't imagine how, Rupert. We've covered Hellmouths, vampire kings, and prophecy fulfillment in the last five minutes, what can possibly out-weird what you've told me so far?"

"Good point."

"You're stalling," I accused him.

"You're absolutely correct." He took off his glasses, polished them with a handkerchief, put them back on, then determinedly forged on, watching my face the whole time, for -- what? Panic? Laughter? I realized we were getting to the part that actually impacted us just before Snobby finally confessed all. "My family has been interested... no, involved, in the occult, for generations. It's a long tradition, most of it concerned with vampires, and vampire watching... That's... what I am. A Watcher." I could hear the capital letter he put on the word, the emphasis he gave it, and understood that that was how he thought of himself: not as a librarian, or a teacher, or a historian, but a Watcher. "We have records dating back centuries; copies of the prophecies, predictions, dates... et cetera. All indications are that the Master will be freed tonight, through the actions of a vampire known as the Anointed One."

"You've spent your whole life watching vampires?" I was beginning to feel punchy again, perception fighting reality and losing badly, the more Rupert told me about himself. I had a sudden image of Snobby noting down the flight habits of the North Californian Blood-Sucking Vampire in a little book, with binoculars around his neck. I shook my head, wishing I'd gotten more sleep that morning.

"Well... no. Not my entire life. And not vampires, really." He seemed embarrassed, and adjusted his glasses again, glancing away from me. "Actually, I've been priviledged to be the teacher, and Watcher, of the Slayer."

"Slayer," I repeated in a flat voice, still trying to assimilate all the new information, trying to keep track of the players.

"For each generation, there is one Slayer, a Chosen One -- "

"Like in the prophecy...."

"Yes, as in the prophecy, who is born to stand against the Dark...." A very small, tired smile actually managed to break through the tension on his face, and his voice relaxed a little. "Buffy always says I enjoy explaining this too much," he murmured, turning back to the weapons locker.

"Buffy... Summers?" The blonde, bouncy, smart-mouthed girl with the cynical eyes? She was sixteen. Willow's best friend. She couldn't be some supernatural dragonslayer. That wasn't possible. That was ridiculous. I'd heard him wrong. Right?

"Mmmm." But Rupert was nodding, frowning at the contents of the locker again. "She's the Slayer." I blinked at him stupidly as he nattered on, blithely oblivious to my reaction. "And a rather gifted one, at that... The prophecy that she will face the Master tonight states that a vampire, known simply as the 'Anointed One' will deliver her into hell and into the Master's clutches... and she will die." His voice had turned bleak and harsh; I couldn't see his face, shadowed in the recesses of the cabinet.

It suddenly hit me what all this feverish activity was about. Not just saving the world -- which is noble, and great, and I'm not knocking it -- but saving a kid we both knew from an ugly death. Like the kids in the A/V room that morning; like Dave and Fritz. I wanted to hug Giles at that moment, I liked him so intensely. Not for fighting for an intellectual principle, or the entire world, but for fighting for a girl he liked and cared about. I took a deep breath, and straightened a bit, a determination not to do any less than the Brit giving me focus.

"Okay, so this Master guy tried to open the Hellmouth, but he got stuck in it. But now all the signs are reading that he'll get out, which opens the Hellmouth, which brings the demons, which ends the world," I concluded, fairly certain I had a handle on the basics.

"Yes, that sums it up. Yes," Rupert answered distractedly, already absorbed in another sword he was testing.

"The part that gets me is where Buffy is the vampire slayer. She's so *little*," I blurted out, trying to imagine petite Buffy playing Von Helsing with undead zombies, and failing totally.

"Did you manage to get in touch with this Brother Luca chap?" Giles asked, ignoring my comment, focused on the weapons he was collecting again. If we were really facing the kind of Armageddon he was describing, he was probably smart. Although way, way optimistic, if he thought they'd really dent any demons....

"Mmmm. No." I grimaced. "As far as I can tell, no one can. He's disappeared. Did send out one last global, though. Short one."

"What did it say?"

"Isaiah 11:6, which I dutifully looked up -- " I fumbled for the King James, but I didn't get a chance to show off.

Because Rupert interrupted me before I could read him the quotation, obviously knowing it by heart already. "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the kid, the calf, the lion and the fatling... and a little child shall lead them all."

"Kind of warm and fuzzy for a message of doom," I commented doubtfully, although I was impressed by Rupert's memory.

"That all depends on where he's leading them to," Rupert pointed out, continuing his preparations. "Aurelius wrote of the Anointed One that 'the Slayer will not know him, and he will lead her into Hell.'"

"So Luca thinks the Anointed is a kid," I commented, fighting down nausea at the thought of a child-sized vampire. I never *did* like Anne Rice....

Snobby raised his eyebrows, still preoccupied with the weapons. "If the vampire Buffy killed was in fact not the Anointed One, it may well be."

"Well then, we need to warn her."

"I don't intend involving her at all," Rupert said with perfect detachment, calmly examining a ceremonial dagger on the table, then putting it back into its sheath.

I blinked at him, lost again. "What do you mean?"

"Buffy's not going to face the Master," Giles quietly answered, leaning against the table, looking me in the face for the first time in several minutes; composed and seeming almost tranquil in his decision. A chill ran up my spine at his expression. "I am."

What?! A protest was rising to my lips, along with the urge to shake him until he got his sanity back, but I was forestalled by a voice interrupting our discussion and startling both of us.

"No, you're not." Buffy Summers strolled forward from the library entrance; she must have been there for a while, but I'd been too caught up in deciphering the prophecy and worrying about Snobby's mental health to notice her. She looked lovely, her hair up in a tendriled ponytail, with a black leather jacket thrown over a beautiful gauzy white prom gown. The Prom... Surreality assaulted me again; the slender girl in front of me couldn't be any kind of Chosen One, despite what Rupert said. The air of fragile toughness about her was the same as that of any teenager, equal parts bravado and real reckless bravery. Her next words still didn't dispel my disbelief: "So, I'm looking for a kid, hunh? And he'll lead me to the Master?"

Rupert straightened, his expression taking on a warning cast. "Buffy, I'm not going to send you out there to die." He had his hands on his hips, mimicking Buffy's stance. The similarities between them, the body language of long acquaintance, started to sink in then; and I think that's when I started being afraid, really afraid, and I began to believe what Giles had told me about Buffy and the prophecy. "You were right, I've waded about in those old books for so long, I've forgotten what the real world is like." He set his jaw, stiff upper lip very much in evidence. "It's time I found out."

"You're still not going up against the Master," Buffy contradicted him.

"I've made up my mind," Snobby said obstinately.

"So've I," Buffy rejoined, not budging an inch. I swallowed, feeling left behind, left out, on the wrong page of the music; this was about more than the end of the world, I could see that. They'd discussed this before, disagreed about what to do, or what was going to happen -- and now Rupert was volunteering to take her place. And Buffy wasn't willing to let him do that, when most kids would be whimpering with relief. Out of affection, or a sense of responsibility, or sheer pigheadedness; and I understood how Snobby could care about this kid enough to want to save her for her own sake.

"I made up mine first!" Rupert retorted, sounding like a recalcitrant six-year-old. "I'm older and wiser than you, and you will just do what you're told for once! ...All right?" His outrage lost a lot of its strength on that last plea; I clenched my own jaw to keep myself from interrupting. What was the right thing to do? Stop this, we can't just go along with this kind of destiny -- But I didn't like Rupert's solution any better....

Buffy gave a tiny headshake, smiling at Rupert with compassion, and maybe a little bit of pity, and seeming in that instant much older than sixteen. "That's not how it goes. I'm the Slayer."

"I don't care what the books say. I defy prophecy, and I am going. There's nothing you can say will change my mind," Rupert stated, his outward calm doing nothing to mask the feeling behind his assertion.

"I know." There was total acceptance and understanding in those two words; and then tiny Buffy reached up nearly a foot and landed a right cross Holyfield would have paid for //smack!// on Giles' jaw. The punch practically lifted him off his feet, and I could just about see cartoon birds circling his head as Snobby toppled over. I froze in shock for a second, reflexively thinking a-student-just-hit-a-teacher! before I could stop it, then I ran over to where Rupert was lying and lifted his head into my lap, hoping he hadn't cracked his skull on the floor as he landed. When I looked up, Buffy was fastening a large cross that had lain on the table around her neck, and then she picked up the crossbow.

I was still in shock, I think, still playing catch-up, worried about Snobby, scrambling to figure out what was going to happen next.... But I didn't doubt that Buffy was the Slayer any more.

"When he wakes up tell him..." Buffy paused diffidently, shrugging and looking rueful. "I don't know. Think of something cool, tell him I said it."

"If you face the Master, you'll die," I said. It was finally sinking in. Lose-lose situation; if the prophecy was fulfilled, the Master would get free, Buffy would die, and there was nothing I could do. If I tried to stop her, she'd probably land a haymaker on *my* jaw.

"Maybe." Buffy's voice thinned, and her expression became more remote as she loaded the crossbow, then turned away from me. "Maybe I'll take him with me."

I watched her go, feeling helpless, knowing how much it would hurt Giles when he woke up and realized she was gone, that he hadn't been able to stop her. I turned back to him, checking for extra bumps and bruises, then went to get the First Aid kit in his office, feeling desolate and shaky. All this time, they'd been fighting a war I didn't even know about; and now, it seemed, I was just in time to join up for the last engagement. I stared down at Rupert again, furious with him, admiring him, and aching for what was to come. "You should have told me sooner," I whispered. "I would have helped...." Too late for that, though. I just prayed it wasn't too late to make a difference this one last time.


Part 4

Giles was still out cold when the phone rang. I dithered for a second, then answered it, trying to put a smile in my voice, hoping it wasn't another crisis. Please, let it be someone trying to renew a book... "Sunnydale Library."

"Miss Calendar?" It was a teenage voice, a familiar one I couldn't put a face to, sounding surprised.

I frowned. "Yes, this is Miss Calendar. Who is this?"

"Uhhh... this is Xander Harris." I blinked, then placed him finally -- Willow and Buffy's friend, the one who had been involved during the Moloch nightmare. How much do you know, kid? I wondered. "I was looking for Mr. Giles? Could I talk to him?"

"Not at the moment, Xander. He's sort of..." I looked down at Rupert, who was murmuring and starting to come around, and I kneeled next to him, placing an icepack on his jaw as he blinked up at me. "Not feeling well. Could I take a message?"

"Not feeling well," the teen repeated, his voice getting tighter. "But he's alive, right?"

That answers *that* question. "He's just a little indisposed. He's fine, really -- "

"Is Buffy there?" Xander demanded, increasing my discomfort with the situation.

"Noooo," I said slowly, supporting Snobby as he struggled into a sitting position. He groaned in pain, looking around for his glasses, and I hissed at him, "Lie back down, Rupert. You're going to hurt yourself -- "

"Listen, I called because Willow was really worried about Buffy," Xander was saying, sounding like someone trying to remain calm when he wants to yell. "She came over to see Will after she saw the evening news, and she was acting funny. Something's going on, isn't it? Something big?"

"I can't tell you that -- "

"What do you mean, you can't tell me? Let me talk to Giles," he demanded, and then Snobby snaked the receiver out of my grasp.

"I'm perfectly fine, Xander," he said wearily, leaning back against the book returns cabinet. "Buffy? Ermm... No, no, you shouldn't come here... Xander, no, I don't want -- damn." He glared at the phone, then hung it up. "Damn the boy. I didn't want them involved," Rupert snarled at me, then closed his eyes in pain.

"I guessed that. Hang on to me, I'll get you to the chair. And put this on your jaw, I think it's already starting to swell." I half-dragged, half-supported him as he staggered over to one of the chairs, then let him collapse for a few seconds. "They know everything, don't they? Xander and Willow?"

Rupert blinked fuzzily, sighed and mumbled, "Yes. Since Buffy first arrived. She saved them from a rather ugly situation her first week here."

"Oh, great." I crossed my arms and glared at him. "How are we going to protect them if they show up? They should stay home -- "

"Which is why I didn't want them to know about this... I'm afraid we won't be able to. Xander is headstrong enough to insist on a course of action that could put him in danger, and Willow may refuse to be left behind, no matter how much she may wish to hide." Giles looked older and tireder, his face open and defenseless without his lenses on, defeat slumping his shoulders as he regarded me. He readjusted the icepack, stifling a groan. "If we all stay together here, we may be able to do so...." His voice trailed off and his eyes looked distant and sad. Thinking of Buffy, probably. "This wasn't supposed to happen," he murmured huskily. "She's too young. Even for a Slayer, she's too young to die."

"You tried," I whispered, knowing it wasn't any comfort. "She knew what she was doing when she left..." I sat down next to him, suddenly feeling exhausted. "She said," I cleared my throat. "'Make up something cool, tell him I said it.' And that she was hoping to take him with her, if...." I broke off, unwilling to say it.

"Of course," Rupert responded, trying to be brisk, trying to smile. Neither effort worked very well. I wanted to hold his hand, to tell him it would be okay, but I couldn't. Even if we averted the apocalypse, Buffy might not survive. And that would be one loss too many right there.

That was how Xander and Willow found us a few minutes later. "Giles! You got hurt!" were the first words out of her mouth, along with an uncertain look at me. "Are you okay?"

"Almost. Buffy pulled her punch," Giles said, avoiding both of their eyes.

"*Buffy* did this?" Xander looked aghast, then grim. "Awright. Enough already. Spill it, Giles, what's going on? Why did those guys die in the A/V room this morning?"

"I wish I didn't have to tell you. You should have stayed out of it. Both of you," Rupert said, looking pointedly at Willow, then at Xander, raising his eyebrows. The boy just rolled his eyes and made a face behind Willow's back. Clearly, there was no way Xander could have stopped her from coming along, despite the shock she'd had that morning.

"I'm not staying out of it." Willow's chin looked like it wanted to quiver, but she crossed her arms stubbornly, her eyes remaining on the librarian's face. "I need to know why... that happened, in the A/V room."

"There is a prophecy," Rupert shifted in his chair, and closed his eyes, "that the Master will be freed tonight. Buffy and I... disagreed about something, yesterday. I wasn't certain that letting her face him would be a good idea. Therefore, I was preparing to go in search of him this evening."

"Are you whacked?" Xander asked, his voice rising dangerously. I stared, totally unprepared for his response. Evidently, Buffy wasn't the only one who felt comfortable treating Giles casually. "That's insane! He'd kill you!"

"Perhaps he would! But the prophecy also stated that if the Master rose, the Slayer would most certainly die!" Snobby was reaching the end of his tether, and then he pulled back abruptly, reasserting control over himself as he saw Willow's white, stunned expression. "Which was why we... disagreed." He closed his eyes again, pulling in on himself.

"So, where is she?"

Giles wasn't looking at me, his eyes closed in pain, either emotional or physical, but I knew that he wouldn't be able to say it. So I told them, since someone had to. Keeping my voice steady, I said, "She went to find the Master."

Xander whirled around, shocked, his eyes wide. "She what?"

"I told you there was something going on with her...." Willow's voice was sad and plaintive as she perched on the reading table.

The other teen turned to Snobby, demanding, "And she knew about this prophecy of yours?" Rupert gave a short, pained nod, and Xander groaned. "Oh man, what do we do?"

"We stay calm, firstly," Giles cautioned, adjusting the icebag on his jaw.


"I think he's right." Willow was biting her lip, obviously scared but trying not to make the situation any worse.

Which equally obviously wasn't one of her friend's concerns. "I'm sorry, calm may work for Locutus of the Borg here, but I'm freaked out and I intend to stay that way!" Xander snapped, pacing around the library table. Rupert didn't react to the insult... possibly because he didn't understand it, I realized. He was starting to come out of his funk, looking hurt and confused but more aware now.

"Xander...." Willow pleaded.

He ignored her, turning back to the Brit, his expression full of accusation. "How could you let her go?"

"As the soon-to-be-purple area on my jaw will attest, I did not let her go!" Rupert snapped back, but with more restraint than Xander deserved, in my opinion.

Willow, typically, didn't succumb to the atmosphere of growing annoyance and pulled the conversation back on track. "Well, how can we help her?"

"Ah, I'm sorry to bring this up, but we also have an apocalypse to worry about..." I said, hoping we could start concentrating on what we could do to avert the approaching catastrophes, instead of who was to blame for the prophecy coming to pass.

Xander glared at me with disbelief and irritation, and then drawled out, "Do you mind?" I was still gaping at this put-down when Willow spoke up.

"How come she's in the club?" she asked Rupert, sounding confused and defensive, which pricked my ego and then put me on the defensive. Evidently it wasn't enough for them that Rupert had clued me in; the wary, distrustful looks I was getting gave me the impression that as far as vampire-slaying was concerned, they thought of me as a newbie amateur, while they were pros. It didn't help that I was feeling left out, and that both Xander and Willow seemed much more at ease with the situation than I did. They've had more time to get used to it -- but damn, I wish I was handling this better....

"Hey! Once the Hellmouth opens, the demons come to party, and everybody dies," I said sharply. I wasn't willing to give up yet, just because Buffy had gone to face the Master. There had to be another way around this, and maybe a way to save Buffy in the process --

"I don't care," Xander stated in a flat voice. I stared at him disbelievingly, anger rising as he unflinchingly met my eyes and then repeated, "I'm sorry, I don't. Right now I've got to help Buffy." The certainty in his stance threw me, stopping me from putting forth any of the obvious objections. Xander wasn't treating me as an adult, or a teacher, and he wasn't acting like a kid. The same eerily grown-up quality that Buffy had was working through him too, and an expression of resolve that I never could have imagined had settled on his face.

You're in love with Buffy, I thought abruptly, glancing at Willow's averted face. She knew, I realized. She knew how he felt about her friend. Xander, you're crazy, you can't go after her -- I didn't say it. He didn't look crazy; he looked just a little bit scary, and I wondered if this was something that had always been inside of him, or something he'd learned through association with Buffy and Giles.

"We don't even know where she's gone," Rupert protested, wincing slightly.

Xander's jaw hardened, and he turned and strode for the exit. "No, but I can find out," he threw over his shoulder without looking back.

"What?" I looked around at the other two, Willow watching Xander leave with hurt, scared eyes, and Giles getting to his feet, his teeth gritted in pain. "Aren't we going to stop him?"

"How?" Rupert asked baldly, throwing the icebag down on the table, letting out a breath of annoyance. "If he think he can help, perhaps he can. Xander can be very clever when he's... motivated. In any event, nothing short of cracking him on the jaw will stop him now." He blinked several times, then firmly put his glasses back on. "Enough. You're quite right, Calendar. We have to avert the opening of the Hellmouth. If we can do that -- and if Xander can buy us some time -- "

"Maybe all isn't lost?" I suggested softly.

"Yes." He gave a tight nod, not meeting my eyes for a moment. "We can, at least, give them a good showing. If the two of you are with me?" Rupert glanced at Willow, who nodded shakily, then he smiled grimly at me. "Let us proceed, then...."


Part 5

I made myself coffee from some instant junk which Rupert had lying in the bottom drawer of his file cabinets, while he combed through the back stacks for reference material he needed. Giles had fixed some tea and thrown back several aspirin a few minutes before; he still didn't appear to be in great shape, but it wasn't bad enough to stop him. I'm not sure how bad it would have had to be, to force him to quit searching for a way out at that point.

Willow had slumped into one of the chairs immediately after Xander left, looking shocky and numb. Maybe she was still thinking about what she'd found that morning -- or maybe she was worrying about her friends, out there facing monsters and dire predictions. I left her alone to try to cope, unsure whether she would welcome an intrusion on her thoughts, and drank my caffeine with a grimace, knowing I would need it even though it made me long for something decent. We might be facing an all-nighter here. Who knows how long it'll take us to find a spell powerful enough to close a Hellmouth. If we even could. I frowned as Rupert descended the steps, thinking hard as he spoke to me.

"The Master is as old as any vampire on record. There's no telling how powerful he'll be if he reaches the surface." Rupert's arms were piled high with old leather-bound books, thick and weighty enough to squash small plants -- or at least intimidate them. I was too far into my new idea to really think about it at that moment.

"Okay, here's my question. The Hellmouth opens...." I mused aloud, following my train of thought to what I realized was a vital concern.

"Yes?" Rupert asked, prompting me.

I turned around, gesturing with my coffee cup. "Where? If he's underground and it opens right where he is, where is it going to open?"

"Good point." The Brit looked thoughtful, his eyes unfocusing for a moment before he came back to the present. "Well, you should look through the back Chronicles -- " He handed me one of the heavy doomsday books, and I hefted it with mild annoyance. Of course it hadn't been scanned into the computer a month ago; it was part of his private collection. If we live through this, Snobby, this is going onto a disk... "Willow. Willow?" Giles repeated, catching the girl's eye.

"Hunh?" Willow blinked at him, still appearing stunned, clearly not paying attention to our conversation.

"Could you look through the local histories, please. Check for any common denominators, locations of incidences and such." Giles' stutter faded in and out as he spoke, seeming preoccupied with his research and unaware of Willow's emotional state.

"Right, okay," she nodded obediently and stood up, going over to the computer behind the returns desk.

"She ought to be at home," I said in a low voice, settling into one of the uncomfortable reading chairs and propping my feet up on another. "Where it's safer."

"I know," Rupert responded quietly, looking over his glasses at Willow. "And I would agree. But it is her choice... and we shouldn't deny her the opportunity to support her friends. She wants to be here, and she wants to help. Perhaps it will be of help to her, to be able to do something," he murmured softly, turning the pages of a Latin spellbook.

"All right. I suppose," I mumbled, trying to find the Index in my volume. "But if she looks like she's getting shaky again, I'm taking her home."

"Very well. I don't believe she'll need it, though. Willow is a very loyal person. And much stronger than she looks," Giles said gently, already absorbed in his research.

I studied him for a second, then started scanning the Chronicle. Incredible amounts of information about vampires were contained in its pages, much of it going back to 1910, when another earthquake and vampire infestation had hit Sunnydale. Some of it was terrifying, some of it borderline unbelievable; all of it would have made best-selling horror fiction. Except it's real, Jen. It's all real, it's here, and you have to find a clue, some clue about how to make it all go *away*.... I thumbed through pages and pages of entries, finding a few references that looked promising, but none of them were specific enough when I kept reading. What kind of person writes all this stuff down, but doesn't have any notes on how to disperse the enemy? I can't believe they were all just depending on Slayers all these years!

Except it worked. Entry after entry detailed Slayer kills, their abilities, and how they executed legions of the undead and emerged unscathed. Most of the time. Much of the time. But... it was plain, very, very plain, even from a small smattering of reading, that Slayers did not die of natural causes.

Someday, Buffy would be one of these entries. She would make a mistake, be a little too slow, suddenly get overwhelmed by numbers; and then she would merely be one of many. One of the former Slayers. A deceased Slayer.

Rupert had to know this.

I stared at the pages of the book unseeingly, turning that fact over in my mind. It was inevitable that Buffy would die in the line of duty. Even if we saved her tonight (which was becoming increasingly unlikely as time passed) there would come a day when all her luck and skill couldn't save her. How had Giles come to terms with that? How did he cope with the knowledge that someone he cared about -- cared about a great deal, if I was any judge -- was going to die a violent death, probably too young to have even had a life? Did he just hope he wouldn't be alive to see it, that she'd outlive him? Or was he that devoted to his principles, that he could accept that there would be another Slayer, someday?

Probably neither. He was willing to face the Master for her tonight. 'I defy prophecy.' I closed my eyes for a second, overwhelmed. Maybe he's just willing to go to any lengths to protect her, and that allows him to keep going. And maybe that was the only way to face the Dark. To not surrender one inch, one hour, or one breath to it -- and maybe gain back some ground that way. I opened my eyes and covertly studied Giles, who was still poring over a tome more frightening than the one I was stuck with.

'Snobby' as I'd originally perceived him to be wouldn't have been willing to fight hard for anything. I'd thought he was a close-minded, cold, unfeeling, convention-bound elitist. After the Moloch incident, I'd known that he was nowhere near as conventional or unfeeling as he first appeared. But I still wouldn't have dreamed that he would be capable of conceiving of facing a vampire king alone. That kind of imagination and guts was pretty damn rare.

The only way that nickname fits him now is in describing his accent, I thought ironically. And let's face it, you *really* like the accent....

I pulled my wandering thoughts back onto the Chronicles, unwilling to take that thought any further in our current situation. We spent the next twenty minutes like that, until I gave up and pushed the book aside. "There's nothing in there that'll help.... Rupert, have we got any clue about what to do if the Master rises?"

"Somewhat. There are ceremonies for closing portals, and killing demons-- although none of them are simple or painless," the Brit said in a tight voice. He rubbed his temples, then took off his glasses, squinting in the low light of the library book lamps. "Let's think about this... The vampires have been gathering, they know he is coming, they will be his army...."

"You think they'll gather at the Hellmouth?" I asked, starting to get hopeful, wondering how we could track vampires. Verrrry carefully, Jenny.

"The last time the Master tried to rise was during the Harvest," Willow piped up, joining us at the library table, looking much less shocky than she had twenty minutes before. Points to Snobby... Rupert. No, Giles, damnit. He was right, she needed to have something to do. I'm glad he wasn't wrong. "He sent a bunch of vampires to get him fresh blood," the teen continued.

I glanced from Willow to Giles. "Where did that go down?"

Giles looked stunned, and put his glasses back on as he answered me. "The Bronze -- "

Willow's eyes widened in the realization that had hit the Watcher and me at the same time: that the coffee bar would be full of potential victims tonight, despite the morning's tragedy. They hadn't had time to call it off... "The Prom!"

"We have to warn them," the Brit said urgently, starting to rise.

"No, we'll go. You have to concentrate on demon killing," I said firmly, pushing him back into his chair and grabbing my purse and car keys. How we were going to get them out of the Bronze was another question -- claim a bomb threat? Contagious virus? I turned to go, gesturing to Willow to join me, knowing I couldn't do it alone even if I wanted to. "My car's in the lot."

"Stay close together, and for goodness sake be careful!" Giles called after us.

"We will," Willow told him reassuringly as we left the library, sounding very serious and adult. It reminded me of Xander, and Buffy before him.

That was the last quiet, sane second I had. Right there....

We got to the parking lot, Willow jittery, me nervous and hurrying, fumbling with my keys and praying that I could speed across town without running into any cops, when Willow spoke up. "What if they get to the Bronze before we do?" she asked anxiously, her voice high and worried.

I looked up from trying to find my keys and came to a dead stop. "Don't need to worry about that." My voice sounded very even and cool to my own ears, just as my pulse started trip-hammering.

"Why not?" Willow bumped into me, and I instinctively put my arm out to shield her.

I could hear her quick intake of breath even as I said, "'Cause they're not going to the Bronze."

Dozens of shambling, grotesque figures were coming out of the fog. I swallowed hard, finally seeing vampires for the first time: feral eyes, animalistic faces, and an air of... evil. The fog seemed to bring a smell of decay with it, trying to seep into my clothes, forcing me to breathe through my mouth. I can't describe it; but I wanted to run. I wanted to flee, get the hell out of there... they weren't funny, they weren't unbelievable, they were gut-numbingly awful, and wrong. Things that shouldn't exist. Willow and I turned to run, and damnit, there were more of the ugly suckers, coming around behind us.

"Why are they coming here?" I asked, trying to grasp how this could be happening without any warning at all --

"Not caring!" Willow's voice was rising in panic, and then we heard the screech of car tires. I whirled around to see Cordelia Chase's BMW pull up nearly on top of me.

"Get in!" Cordelia shouted, and we rushed into the car, opening doors while she was talking to us, high and fast. Maybe she'd had her learner's permit revoked twice already, but I was never so glad for an offered ride in my life. "I was sitting where Kevin and I used to park, and all of a sudden these *things* are coming at me!"

Willow had just slammed her door shut, when one of the "things" stuck its head down over the windshield. All three of us screamed in surprise and fright, and I gulped in big breaths of air, feeling my heart pound. "What do we do now?" I yelled at Willow, hoping she had some idea. Goddess knew, I didn't. Not one. I was too busy trying not to panic.

"We have to get to the library!" Willow responded, still keeping her head better than I was.

Cordelia's eyes narrowed scarily in fury and concentration. "Library, great!" She floored the accelerator, veering around the parking lot and dislodging the hitchhiking monster on the roof -- then headed straight for the school doors, showing the fine disregard for school property that she usually reserved for the feelings of the nerdier students around her. Vampires scattered as she gained speed, not wanting to test their immortality, I supposed.

"Of course, we generally walk there..." Willow observed in a quavery voice as I clutched onto the dashboard.

The car smashed through two sets of doors, splintering wood and metal not slowing the BMW one whit, then zoomed down the hall to come to a squealing halt in front of the library doors. The three of us piled out rapidly, the monsters still at our heels as we slammed the doors to the library shut. Cordelia and Willow gave involuntary screams as the vampires started pushing at the doors -- and, well, maybe I couldn't stop myself from yelling a little too.

"What's happening!" Giles asked in alarm, getting to his feet as we tried to keep the monsters out.

"Guess!" I screamed back at him over the growls of the attacking monsters and the screams of the other two.

Giles rushed to push the Xerox machine in front of the door, while Willow used the "Quiet Please" sign to bash the fingers of the encroaching vampires. Cordelia and I pushed bookshelves across the doorway. The Brit stuck the sign through the handles of the door then yelled, "Why are they coming here?"

I didn't respond, since I still didn't have an answer for that one. There had to be a reason, but whatever it was, we had bigger problems. "Hurry, hurry, hurry -- " I muttered as we tried to strengthen the barricade.

Some noise distracted the librarian, and he pointed toward the far wall. "They're coming in through the stacks!"

"The bookshelves!" Willow shouted, and the two of us raced across the room to push the empty shelves in front of the back windows. I could see the faces of grinning, snarling vampires through the glass and shuddered, trying to get the barriers in place before any of the windows were broken.

An aghast exclamation of "My office!" grabbed my attention for a second, and I turned to see Giles run into his private den to bar the windows in there. A loud //crash// against the front entrance distracted me, in time to see an arm snake through the window and grab Cordelia.

"Somebody help!" she screamed, dark eyes wide with terror and panic as she pushed her whole weight against the rattling barrier.

But Willow's and my shelves were shaking too, as the vampires punched through the windows and tried to dislodge our protection. Besides that, I'd realized with sinking dread that we were doomed. We're gonna die. In horror movies, they wait the monsters out until sunrise -- but that's hours and hours and hours away. We're gonna die. Giles hadn't had time to find any spells; we wouldn't be able to find the Hellmouth and close it; the puny weapons that we had with us in the library weren't going to be enough to hold off an army... Oh, Goddess. Help. Someone, help....

Neither of the girls had realized how bad our dilemma was yet. Cordelia turned and actually sank her teeth into the arm holding her, eliciting a howl from the monster that didn't drown out her angry comment of "See how *you* like it!"

Yelling, "This won't keep them out for long!", Willow pushed her body back against the bookshelves as I exerted all my strength trying to keep them in place. We don't have a spell. Or a plan. Or any weapons, really. We're toast. But I can't tell her that -- I wanted to cry. I wanted a miracle.

Willow let out a high, terrified shriek and then started to fall forward. A slimy gray tentacle leading down into the main crack caused by the earthquake was wrapped around her ankle -- and it was pulling. I grabbed her, trying to help her keep her balance, and the thing yanked again, toppling us both to the floor with its unexpected strength.

"Giles! GILES!" I yelled, trying to keep a grip on Willow --

With a sound like an exploding drum, the rest of the monster blossomed out of the crevice, shrieking and gurgling as it rose. Three-headed, huge, snaky, wormy, gray, disgusting -- and laughing at us with mouthfuls of sharp, pointy teeth. "The Hellmouth..." I heard Giles gasp. Oh, that would be why.... flashed through my mind, but I didn't even bother following up the realization, digging my fingers into the girl's arms as she screamed and the demon tried to pull us closer. "Giles!!" I was screeching by now. Out of the corner of my vision I saw Giles grab an axe from the table and rush to help us. Willow couldn't stop screaming; she was twisting and struggling to get away from the awful thing as I grimly held onto her, desperately attempting to keep it from dragging her into the crevice. "GILES!" God, Goddess, we're going to die --

Giles raised the axe and landed a harsh //chop!// on the monster's chortling head, his face contorted with the effort; then pulled it out and landed another blow as I tried to get Willow free. My throat was sore from screaming, Willow was whimpering and shrieking, and I concentrated on just hanging on, trying not to let go of her.... Suddenly the Hell Hound whipped around, shooting its tentacles toward Giles, and threw him half-way across the room into one of the reading tables. He landed with enough force to splinter the table, and one head of the monster hovered menacingly above him as another gurgled inches from me and Willow. Giles... Sick and despairing, I felt the monster start to inch Willow closer across the carpet. Is Giles okay, no, no, this isn't the way it's supposed to happen, I don't want to die, oh Goddess please NO

A shattering crash came from above as the skylight burst open, and a body fell down through it onto the ruined remains of the overturned table below and impaled itself. It was a vampire, hideous, dressed in black leather; and it almost immediately began to dissolve as the vampire's continued screams tapered off, blood-red dust rising from the corpse to reveal the bone underneath. The Hound gave one last almighty howl, reared up, then let go of Willow before sliding across the floor, disappearing back down into the crevice.

Gasping, I looked up and saw Buffy above us, gazing through the broken skylight. She smiled triumphantly for a second, then disappeared from view.

"It's gone?" Willow whispered, and I nodded, unable to speak. "Yay...."

"Yay," I echoed, hugging her, and she smiled in incandescent relief and hugged me back before carefully sitting up. It took me a second to realize the shelves weren't rattling any more; and that the doors of the library were still, no longer under assault from vampires outside.

"Is everyone all right?" I turned over to face Rupert, propping my arms up on my elbows and resting my chin on my hands. Smiling giddily, I met the Watcher's eyes with unalloyed relief. "Are you both unhurt?" he asked urgently, leaning against the stairway rail, his eyes darting from Willow to me and back.

"We're fine, Giles. Are you okay? It looked like you landed pretty hard," Willow said, climbing to her feet and brushing dust off her tights.

"Shaken, but no broken bones," Giles said, his own smile escaping.

"That was the ickiest thing I have ever seen," Cordelia declared from the doorway, where she was slumped bonelessly against the shelves and Xerox. "Where did it go? It's not coming back, is it?"

"Back where it came from. And no, I wouldn't think it would be returning," Giles answered, adjusting his glasses. "Did you see, on the roof -- "

"Buffy? Yeah." I grinned wider, and Willow's eyes lit up. Everything about Giles had relaxed for perhaps the first time that night. I knew how he felt; my own muscles felt like they'd uncoiled into Silly Putty when I saw the Slayer above me through the skylight.

"She's okay? Cool!" Willow bounced down the stairs toward the door, and started helping Cordelia move the furniture. It was wonderful how quiet it had gotten. The cast from "Army of Darkness" must have given up and gone home when their leader bought it...

"Can I have hysterics now?" I asked Giles.

"No. I get to have them first," he replied firmly, helping me to my feet.


A few minutes later a bruised but very alive Buffy, her hair mussed, claw marks across her chest, entered the library. Xander and another, dark-haired older kid, maybe about nineteen or twenty, came in with her, both of them appearing unharmed. Cordelia was straightening up the last of the door barricade as they walked in, and Willow and I finished moving the shelves and joined Giles in the middle of the library, next to the corpse of the vampire who had to have been the Master.

"The vampires?" Giles asked in concern, looking from Xander to Buffy, his eyes still not completely free of worry.

Cordelia shrugged, looking mystified. "Gone."

"The Master?" The stranger asked, clearly someone else who knew all about Slayers and vampires and prophecies. He was handsome in a clean-cut way, and I guessed that Xander had called him in to help when he went after Buffy.

"Dead. The Hellmouth is closed," Giles answered him, then turned to the slender figure in white staring at the vampire's skeleton. "Buffy? Buffy?" He asked in concern.

Buffy blinked, coming out of her hypnotized study of the Master, looking a little ragged around the edges. "Oh, sorry. It's just... been a really weird day," she said shakily, tears shimmering in her eyes. Whatever she had gone through had done more than just mess her hair up; but she seemed to be more exhausted than hurt, and her smile was full of unforced relief.

"Yeah, Buffy died and everything," Xander commented nonchalantly. Now that the danger was past, I could tell that he was going to enjoy re-hashing the details, probably already forgetting whatever terrors he and Buffy and their friend had been through.

"Wow. Harsh," Willow responded, impressed.

Giles's voice was husky with emotion. "I should have known that wouldn't stop you," he said, sounding relieved, proud, happy, rueful and exhausted. Buffy smiled affectionately at him, no doubt hearing all the things he wasn't saying and seeing them in his barely-suppressed grin.

"Well, what do we do now?" Cordelia asked, looking around at all of us expectantly.

"I don't know about the rest of you, but I want to get out of this place. I don't like the library very much any more," Giles said gruffly, British understatement coming to the fore again.

"Hey, I hear there's a dance at the Bronze," Xander pointed out. I stifled a chuckle, remembering that I was supposed to be chaperoning, and checked my watch. 8:30?? That nightmare felt like forever, and it's only 8:30? Guess Principal Snyder won't have any reason to yell at me, after all...

"Yeah!" Cordelia responded enthusiastically.

"Buffy?" Willow said hopefully, her eyes dancing as she looked at her friend.

The Slayer pursed her lips, considering. "Sure. We saved the world. I say we party." She looked down at her bedraggled self, then at the rest of us and added a little more tearily, "I mean, I got all pretty...."

"What about him?" I asked, studying the remains of the Master with worry. The skeleton was still impaled on the broken table, a grisly reminder of what we'd just gone through.

Buffy studied the corpse in turn, her eyes darkening. "He's not going anywhere," she stated with eerie certainty. Then her lip curled into a classic teen-ager's sneer. "*Loser.*"

We stood there a moment more, contemplating the dead vampire, then all of us turned and walked toward the door. I grabbed my purse from the library counter as we went by, and Giles told me, "I'm not dancing, that's understood..."

"We'll see," I responded happily, too glad to be alive to tease him very hard.

"So what's the story with the car?" Xander asked bemusedly.

"Oh, that was me saving the day!" Cordelia said, sounding proud of herself, skipping over to her BMW and climbing in.

"I'm *really* hungry..." Buffy mentioned as Giles held the door open for Willow, who had been walking backwards babbling a mostly-incoherent invitation to join us towards Buffy's friend, who looked amused.

"By the way, I really like your dress," I heard him say as they went by, giving Buffy a crooked, charming smile.

"Yeah, yeah, it's a big hit with everyone," the Slayer responded dryly, her eyes sparkling at him despite her words.

"Who wants shotgun?" I asked, jingling my keys as we went out to the parking lot. Cordelia was backing her car out carefully, and I momentarily wondered how we were going to explain the destruction of the doors on Monday. Well, I guess we can blame it on aftershocks? Or something... Then again, total denial might be the smartest course.

"Me!" Willow said, skipping ahead.

"I'm not getting into a car with Cordelia," Xander said, raising his eyebrows and following Willow for a second, then pausing to look back at Buffy. The Slayer was already climbing into the front seat of Giles' junker, gathering her skirts together so they wouldn't drag.

"I'll drive Angel and Buffy, and we'll meet you there," Giles said calmly, holding the rear door of his car for the other young man. Xander's shoulders hunched, and I nodded thoughtfully at Giles, then unlocked the car doors for my passengers.

"...*really* glad you're okay, Xander," Willow was saying as I got in. "That was pretty smart, taking Angel along. But what did you mean when you said Buffy died?"

"Oh, well, she was only dead a couple minutes. But I had to give her CPR, 'cause the Master had dropped her into this pool of water, so she'd gone into shock," Xander replied, cheering up at the chance to explain. "That's not something Angel could do," he added under his breath, and I glanced at him in the rearview mirror, catching a glimpse of bitterness in his expression.

"Good for you," I responded, getting us out of the parking lot.

"Thanks." Xander's smile turned wry, and Willow leaned around the seat to squeeze his hand, her face full of admiration and sympathy.

What a mess. Xander loves Buffy, Willow's got a crush on Xander, and... well, I suppose Buffy and her friend Angel are okay, at least. I shook my head, and turned down Main toward the Bronze, feeling a million years older than I had at the beginning of the evening. Some things are constant, no matter what the circumstances. I'm glad I'm not sixteen anymore.... And I'm *so* glad we're still alive, even if it does mean playing chaperone at the Spring Fling!

We could hear sounds of the celebration about a block away, and I started to smile, finally beginning to believe it was all over with.


Part 6

It was definitely a sign of the Apocalypse: Cordelia Chase was fixing Willow Rosenberg's hair.

"I really appreciate you doing this, Cordelia," Willow said doubtfully, "but I'd appreciate it more if I could actually see it -- "

"She's doing fine, Will." Buffy combed out a few tangles, frowned at the comb, then more carefully unsnarled a few knots. "I won't let her do anything weird to you, okay?" She grinned at me and narrowed her eyes in concentration as she played with her hair.

"Keep your eyes closed, and don't turn your head," Cordelia ordered, twirling the ends of three or four small braids together in a concoction that was too complicated for me to follow. It was amazing what she could do with a hair pik and a round brush; upon arriving at the Bronze, she'd dragged all four of us females into the Ladies Room, claiming that if we were going to crash the Prom without proper dresses, the least "her" dance demanded was decent hair. Buffy had already managed to get most of the water stains out of her trailing skirts, and we'd gotten some antiseptic from the bartender for the scratches across her chest.

Giddiness was the mood of the hour; relief and adrenaline had combined to make all of us a little silly. Buffy in particular seemed in amazingly high spirits, almost euphoric with victory. Well, she came back from the dead. How many times do you survive something like that? Of *course* she's punchy. I chuckled weakly at some joke of Willow's as Cordelia teased her mane, and realized that it was hitting me too. Alive. And the sun's coming up tomorrow... And we beat some very, very, very Bad Dudes. Life is good...

I put on some lipstick and firmly refused Cordelia's wide-eyed offers to "fix" my look too; something was going on with the girl. Altruism wasn't something she was known for, although she obviously had more character than I'd given her credit for, to have bitten a vampire not an hour earlier. Her efforts to aid Willow looked suspiciously like stalling to me....

"Cordelia? You don't have to go out there if you don't want to," I gently suggested, catching the girl's gaze in the mirror. "We'd be happy to have you join us, but -- "

"Oh, please." The May Queen tossed her head, her eyes shifting away from mine. "Once we're out of here, they're on their own. This is just sort of a... thank-you present. Since Buffy wanted to do her own hair," she rationalized, spraying Willow's 'do with a small aerosol of hairspray. Buffy and Willow wore identical expressions of mingled exasperation and amusement as Cordelia went on, "The end of the world's been postponed. The least I could do to make Willow look presentable. But I'm not hanging with you guys all night. I have my own friends here, you know."

"Gee, thanks." Willow cracked open one eye, her mouth twitching. "Can I look now?"

"No. I have to do your face."

"Cordelia, don't you want to fix your own hair?" Buffy asked, wiping off some mascara smudges with a damp paper towel.

"My hair's fine." Cordelia's focus had narrowed down to Willow's face, now defining her lips with a pale peach pencil. "Besides, no one's going to be looking at me."

"You're the May Queen," I pointed out. "Someone will be looking at you, it's only normal -- "

"I don't have a dress, I don't have a date -- " Cordelia's voice broke off abruptly, and her mouth thinned as she got out blush for Willow. "Those were the things that killed Kevin, weren't they? The... vampires?" she asked in a very low voice.

"I'm sorry, Cordelia," Willow said, blinking her eyes open. "We weren't supposed to tell anyone."

"Like anyone would believe you," the other girl snorted. Her lips were trembling by now, though her voice was still sarcastic.

Buffy joined them at the mirror, Willow still facing away from it towards Cordelia. The brunette was brushing peach sparkly powder onto Willow's cheekbones in a tone that matched the lipstick. "You helped us beat the guys that hurt Kevin," the Slayer said quietly, getting out her own lipstick and applying a light coat. "Maybe you don't feel like being here, but you earned it. And you *are* May Queen. No one's going to tell you that you can't attend in chinos."

"True." Cordelia looked consideringly at Buffy in the mirror, then at me. She shrugged impatiently, and put some pale brown mascara on Willow's eyes, blotted it with a tissue, then drew back. "*Now* you can look."

"Nice," Willow said in surprise, blinking at herself hesitantly. "Thanks, Cordelia. I think I can go in there now, even without a formal... I just wish I'd brought another pair of shoes."

"Annie Vega is wearing Doc Martens. Your sneakers are fine." Cordelia picked up her purse and headed for the door, then stopped, turning back to look at the three of us. "You guys do this stuff all the time, right?"

"More or less," Buffy admitted.

"No *wonder* you're weird," Cordy mused, shaking her head. "It's been real, but let's not do this again, 'kay?" And with that, she was out the door before any of us had a chance to find a comeback.

"I look okay, right? I mean, I'm not exactly an expert on hair -- " Willow fingered the vaguely Grecian waterfall that fell from the crown of her head with worry, and I grinned.

"You look fine, Willow. It suits you."

"You look awesome. The one thing Cordy never gets wrong is hair," Buffy added bracingly, squaring her shoulders and smiling at me as she headed for the door. "C'mon, the guys are waiting."

Willow and Buffy exited the restroom and were almost immediately met by Angel and Xander. Gratifyingly for Willow, Xander actually didn't look at Buffy for a few minutes as he tried to figure out what was holding Willow's hair up. "Yeah, it looks great, but if I pull this pin -- "


Against one wall, Cordelia was already holding court, surrounded by several of her friends and admirers, all of them offering her sympathy, from what I could see. I shook my head at the sight of her basking in the glow of the attention, and wondered how long it be before she was back to her old self completely; then I glanced back at Buffy, who would probably never be entirely the same again. She was already out on the dance floor with Angel, her arms looped around his neck, gazing into his face in silent wonder. Surprised to be alive, dancing with him, maybe? Whatever she felt, she deserved to celebrate. She'd defeated vampires, prophecies, and death itself tonight, and I couldn't think of anyone in recent memory who'd done so much while receiving so little credit. Save the world, go to the Prom, no big deal. Life's simple...

Giles was leaning against the bar, studying the dancers and the flickering lights, and I wandered over to him and perched myself on a bar stool. "Hey, stranger. Come here often?"

"Not if I can help it." He smiled wearily but genuinely at me, his eyes still on the dancefloor. The Bronze was decorated in gold and silver decorations, shimmering copper balloons and glowing nets of light criss-crossing its multi-leveled layout to create an illusion of being in a crystal ball of glitter. Beautiful, and strange, and even more precious now after the battle we'd just fought, full of kids laughing and dancing and being... kids. "She never ceases to amaze me," Giles murmured, watching the Slayer slow-dance with Angel, his eyes melancholy and not at all as triumphant as they deserved to be.

I watched the pair for a few seconds, trying to see them through his eyes, to understand why he still looked worried. Angel was gazing down at Buffy with an expression of utter absorption; it was obvious that for him, there was no one else in the room. She returned it steadily, only aware of him. Any young man who would come to her and Xander's assistance against the Master couldn't be a bad choice for Buffy, just based on circumstances alone. "He's a little old for her, isn't he?" I guessed tentatively, hoping for a clue to the Watcher's concern.

"It's not the age difference I'm worried about." Giles seemed to consider, then amended, "Well, not just the age difference...." His voice trailed off into a sigh.

"Are you going to tell me about it?" I asked gently.

The Brit turned, a little startled, then relaxed and shook his head. "Not tonight, no."

"I thought you were through with secrets, Giles. Is there something about Buffy being a Slayer that makes her relationship with Angel a bad idea?"

"It isn't a secret, it's just... sad." He caught my skeptical glance and smiled, but the sorrow didn't leave his expression. "Please, Ms. Calendar. Ask me at some other time, and I will explain. But I don't wish to remember why they will have difficulties in the future. Not tonight."

"Okay." I considered for a moment, then added, "Some day, some way, I'm going to get it all out of you, Giles. Even if it takes sodium pentothal...." He chuckled slightly, nodding his understanding. You only *think* I'm not serious, Giles... juuust wait....

Willow danced by with an enormous basketball player that I knew by sight; he seemed to be concentrating on not squashing Willow, who looked both thrilled and terrified to be there. I searched the room for Xander, and saw that he had persuaded a small blonde in red to dance with him, but his eyes were following Buffy and Angel -- and straying occasionally to watch Willow with equal parts exasperation and pique.

"Ah, Ms. Calendar." Principal Snyder adores sneaking up on faculty. I think he suspects us of talking behind his back, or plotting his overthrow. Someday it may come to that.... "I'm so glad you could join us. And Mr. Giles, this is a surprise. I thought you had a sick aunt you had to visit in Carmel?"

"Coward," I whispered to Rupert, who had straightened and was now smiling stiffly at our boss. "At least I didn't try to lie my way out of this assignment."

"She... got better," Giles answered, looking pained. "Amazing recovery. We're all thrilled."

"Glad to hear it. Well, keep a sharp look-out. You never know what these little pagans will get up to," Principal Snyder said darkly, stalking off across the room to the punchbowl. Giles's and my eyes met and we both burst into laughter, stifled as best we could so as to not re-attract the Fuhrer's attention.

"Couldn't you do any better than a sick aunt?"

"You're just sorry you didn't think of it first," Giles said, taking a sip of his drink, still chuckling a little.

"I would've, if Snyder had given me half a chance -- "

"Hi guys," Buffy greeted us, coming up to the bar with a small smile, then turned to the bartender. "Could I get a burger with everything, some fries, and a latte grande?" At the bartender's look, she explained, "My date forgot to feed me. Please?" She turned back to us as he went to place our order, and shrugged her shoulders. "What can I say? I'm *really* hungry..."

"Not surprising." Giles was hiding whatever unease he felt about Angel, only affection and pride in his eyes as he spoke. "You're entitled, I think. Coming back from the dead must be an exhausting experience." His voice dropped in concern. "You *are* feeling well, aren't you? Aside from the hunger?"

"Giles, relax. I'm feeling..." Buffy's brow furrowed, and she frowned, searching for the word. "Exhilarated. That's it. Wired. It's pretty cool, actually. Except for the hungry part." She shook her head, her smile rueful. "My mom would be thrilled to see me ordering all this -- I haven't felt like eating in weeks, and now I want to stuff my face. I never heard that being dead gave you an appetite."

"About that -- how exactly did you escape?" Rupert's expression was pure confusion now, and I grinned, knowing part of the explanation already.

"Well... at first, when I got down there, I totally tanked when I faced the Master." Buffy's expression was troubled, and she looked away, watching the dancers for a second, then back at Giles, tilting her head and grimacing. "He bit me, and drank some of my blood. That's what set him free. The prophecy was backwards, Giles."

"Oh, no... oh, bloody hell -- " Rupert's voice was furious, and he squinted his eyes shut in sudden pain. "I should have known -- "

"Hey, not your fault, really! The creep said as much, that the prophecy was supposed to be like that, so I'd go down there. Lucky for me, he got cocky and just dropped me face-down in one of those little underwater ponds. Angel and Xander revived me with CPR. Did they have that back in the 15th Century?" Buffy asked thoughtfully.

"No," I answered, since it appeared that Rupert was still silently cursing himself out for not being psychic. "So, there's no way Aurelius could have predicted it, since he didn't even know what it was."

"Cool." The Slayer grinned, then sobered. "Giles, it was totally not your fault. I hit you, remember?" She sighed, her voice sounding much younger suddenly. "Then I got killed. You were right. Or at least, you weren't wrong. Doing this by myself was bad idea." She ducked her head, then looked up at him, her expression apologetic and a little apprehensive. "And... I'm sorry. About all the things I said yesterday."

"I deserved them." The Brit seemed to have calmed down, and even, maybe regained his sense of humor.

"No, I was way out of line, I was freaking -- "

"Perhaps, but you weren't entirely wrong, either." Giles cleared his throat, the rueful smile back in full force. "I've come to realize that believing that any destiny is immutable is one way of giving in to the enemy." Buffy lifted her chin, and Rupert's smile widened briefly. "I don't intend to let it happen again. From now on, I'll quite probably be unable to read any of the predictions without looking for a double meaning, or mentally hearing you say 'not even, Giles'."

Buffy giggled, sixteen once more, and squeezed Giles's arm, her face warm with affection. "Very cool. Oh, awesome, my food's here." She paid the bartender, then took the huge platter and balanced it effortlessly on one hand. "Angel suggested that we go up where I can eat on the roof -- he says there's a pretty good view of Sunnydale...." Her voice sounded tentative, as if waiting for Giles's approval, if not permission, and her face was full of anxiety and hopefulness.

"Enjoy yourselves," Giles said quietly. Buffy relaxed and smiled glowingly at both of us, then walked over to Angel, following him through a side door, presumably up to the roof.

"So, what happens now in the wonderful world of Sunnydale?" I asked, ordering a triple mocha from the bartender with a lovely feeling of contentment. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Willow and Xander dancing together, Xander talking vociferously, Willow watching him with amused disbelief, I think. Evidently she'd condescended to dance with him after the basketball player, and he was making up for lost time.

"Summer. The Master is dead, so things will be easier for a little while. The days will grow longer, there will be fewer vampires in the vicinity..." Giles shrugged. "But we *are* living on the Hellmouth. There will always be a battle to fight." He paused, and studied me obliquely, then added in a voice that tried for lightness, "But you do not have to be worried about it any longer, Ms. Calendar. I think it unlikely that I will be dragging you into this kind of situation again."

"Right. Like you can do it all on your own?" I snorted, blowing on my drink, and took a hesitant sip.

"You are not Buffy. Or myself, for that matter. Calendar, you are not compelled to face the forces of evil through a pre-set fate. You can leave, if you wish to. And I can't imagine, after tonight, why you would not...." His expression was sober and questioning, needing answers that he couldn't seem to bring himself to ask for.

I met his eyes over my drink. I couldn't tell what answer he wanted, but I knew what answer I was going to give. "I don't bail on my friends, Giles." We shared a long look, and his eyes held mine, with a dozen unarticulated possibilities in them. I cleared my throat, adding, "Any more than Xander or Willow would. Or Angel."

"No. I don't suppose you would." His very serious gaze warmed into tentative smile that finally reached his eyes. "We are friends, aren't we?"

"To quote Buffy, duh!" I batted my eyelashes at him in exaggerated derision, and he chuckled. I got to my feet, feeling a wicked smile form as I reached for his hand. "C'mon, Giles. Dance this one with me. I see Coach Galway headed in our direction, and I need you to save me."

"I have never known anyone who needed saving less..." Rupert said severely, not moving, but he did glance in the direction of the gym coach, and he didn't retrieve his hand.

"Yeah? Well, I know who to appeal to if I do need saving, don't I, St. George?"

"Oh, God..." Giles was blushing as I dragged him onto dance floor. "You're not going to let me forget that bit of momentary insane recklessness, are you?"

"Not a chance. And don't try to tell me you wouldn't do it again, either. You've got a yen to be a hero, Rupert." I grinned, delighted at the way he refused to meet my eyes as the band segued into a low-key love song.

"Fine. Then I insist on knowing your given name."

"You don't know it?" I said in surprise.

"I wouldn't be asking if I did," Giles replied dryly.

"It's Jenny."

"Jenny." Another slow smile, one of the ones that could distract me from arguing with him, or teasing him, or anything at all. "Suits you."

Sometimes you don't need a snappy comeback. I closed my eyes, and forgot all about vampires and Darkness, resurrected Slayers and the Hellmouth, and just let the music take me for the rest of the song.


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