Everyone you recognize is property of Mutant Enemy, etc. Sasha Lakatos (pronounced La-ka-tosh, accent on the second syllable) and Gary Kriston are mine, and so's the story. This is set in second season, sometime between 'The Dark Age' and 'What's My Line,' well before 'Suprise'.
With deepest thanks to Chris, who listened to me rant and helped work out Night 2; Catherine, for the *priceless* image of Giles as Yoda that gave me some giggles when I badly needed them; my other beta readers Dianne and Lizbet, for plot hole pointing and ego boo beyond the call of duty; Tina for listening to me whine; and Valerie, who critiqued the Gypsy stuff.
Dedicated to Joss the Tormentor, Blessed be His name, for coming up with stories about Gypsies and Angel's soul and werewolves, and having the nerve to start filming them after I'd already written the first third of this! Nothing like giving someone incentive to finish a &*&%$# story before the episodes air!
Comments/compliments/flames accepted/enjoyed/ignored at email@example.com.
Started: April 25, 1997
First draft completed: January 16, 1998
"Companion to our demons
They will dance and we will play
With chairs, candles and clothes
Making darkness into day."
-- Sarah McLachlan, 'Fumbling Towards Ecstasy'
Clouds skittered across the night sky above the camp.
Candles flickered at the points of a pentagram, in counterpoint to the leaping flames of the bonfire, which gleamed off the trailers and tents circled around it. Someone clapped another counterpoint with cupped hands, beating deeply and rhythmically, and shadows danced and flickered in the light, tall and short, young and old. They clustered around a figure of medium height, whose voice rose, chanting, into the silence of the night, in a language far older than the speaker.
Her voice rose to a shout on the last word, and the wind stopped abruptly, the candles flickering and dying. The pentagram disappeared. Only the bonfire still burned; the rest of the camp was motionless.
And nothing happened.
The robed figure lowered her hands and shook her head. "Damn it, I *told* you," she informed the old woman standing perfectly still beside her, as she pulled the robe off over her head to reveal prosaic blue jeans and T-shirt. "I told you this mumbo-jumbo wouldn't work. Can we get back to reality now?"
"You must wait," the old woman said calmly, showing no signs of disappointment. Her chin was high and her eyes triumphant, the firelight turning her face into a mass of wrinkles and shadows. "You must wait, and then you will see."
Miles away, the clouds drifted further, and the full moon suddenly shone, bright and clear, through the window of a huge house, onto the face of a sleeping man. He shifted in his sleep and murmured, rolling closer to his wife and trying to get the light out of his eyes.
Then he began to change.
He rose with a howl, teeth flashing in a face neither man nor beast, newly-formed claws tearing at the sheets that bound him. His bones shifted and changed, and he howled again in pain-racked pleasure.
Beside him, his wife twisted, then suddenly woke, staring up into the eyes of a nightmare. The beast that had once worn her husband's face seemed to leer down at her for a long moment.
Then he leapt.
Angel was restless tonight.
It might have been the full moon, calling to his blood. It might have been the influence of the Hellmouth, stirring the demon that hovered beneath his soul. Or it might have just been plain old cabin fever.
Whatever it was, it drove Angel out of his room to roam the streets of Sunnydale when the sun had barely sunk below the horizon. Hands shoved deep in his pockets, he rambled with no particular purpose in mind, not looking for trouble, but not particularly avoiding it. He wouldn't mind a good fight at the moment -- anything to shake this damn restlessness.
He wasn't particularly surprised to look up and find himself at The Bronze, the warehouse-turned-club that catered to the teenage population of Sunnydale. He wound up here a lot, for reasons he didn't like to examine too closely, or too often. Most of them revolved around a young, blonde Slayer....
He could go inside; Buffy might be there with her friends. She'd look up at him and her face would light up, and he'd let her talk him into a dance. Maybe it would be one of the good nights, the nights they could convince themselves there was a future for them. The nights they could forget that he was a vampire, and she was the Slayer, and some things were never meant to be.
No, he wouldn't go in tonight, not in this mood. Angel walked determinedly past the club, shoving his hands a little deeper into his jacket. He wanted darkness tonight, not lights and music. He wanted to be alone.
The sound of shuffling, running footsteps on the sidewalk behind him brought him swinging around, ready for a fight.
"Who's there?" he demanded harshly. There was no answer for a long moment.
Then the staggering form of a woman emerged from the shadows of the club. She paused for a moment as she saw Angel, then arrowed towards him with single-minded determination. She was limping heavily, her left leg almost useless beneath her.
Angel braced himself automatically, unsure what to expect. The woman wasn't much of a threat, not injured as she was, but there was something about her that set his teeth on edge, fangs and all. Something familiar about her movements, about the heavy tangle of hair that hid her face....
"Who are you?" he demanded roughly.
She finally looked at him, giving him his first glimpse of her face. Round, with strong cheekbones and huge dark eyes that widened abruptly as she seemed to focus on him. "My God," she breathed with blank shock. "You *are* real."
Her balance faltered again; Angel caught the sharp, sweet scent of the blood that soaked her jeans and coat, and felt the demon stir. "Tell me who you are," he demanded again, as the demon rose.
She took another step towards him, her eyes locked on his, filled with pain, and hatred, and stubborn defiance. "You should know," she forced out on short, painful breaths, "Angelus."
Dark eyes... Restlessness abruptly crystallized, memories nearly a century old slamming into him. A dark night, a fire, a dark-haired girl with eyes very like this one. The pleasure of feeding....
And the agony.
"Damn you!" The demon howled and awoke, and his face shifted to reflect it, a snarl rising from his throat. "Get away from me!"
She didn't even flinch. "Angelus," she repeated, swaying in place before him. And as her balance failed completely, she forced two more words past her lips. "Help me."
Her body crumpled towards the pavement, and Angel damn near let her fall. But at the last second, something forced him into motion, made him catch her at shoulders and knees. She was heavy and limp in his arms, and he went to one knee to keep from dropping her, her head rolling back against him.
He fought the compulsion, fought to release her and leave her in the streets to fend for herself, dredging up strength of will and hatred he'd forgotten he possessed.
But his actions were bound by what she was, and he had no choice. With a low, vicious curse, he hefted the woman into his arms and stood back up, heading instinctively towards the one place he knew would be safe.
"Ideally, as the Slayer, you should be able to sense the forces of darkness as they approach you, not with your eyes or your ears, but with your very being, with the part of your soul that makes you the Slayer.... Are you listening to me?"
Buffy examined her fingernails more closely, making sure the dark polish hadn't chipped. She had sooo many better things to do than hang out at the library for a late-night training session. But Principle Snyder was making it harder and harder to work during the day, and Giles was getting antsy about practice time. So here it was, 9pm on a school night, and she was sitting in the school library, listening to Giles lecture.
"Yes, Giles," she sighed heavily. "'With my very being, with the part of my soul, yada, yada, yada.' Why don't I just pick up a crystal ball and try to find Elvis's ghost? Come *on*, Giles, it's bad enough I have to hunt monsters, I don't want them moshing in my head 24-7. We've had this discussion before."
"Apparently you weren't *listening* before. As usual." Giles adjusted his glasses and stared down at her. "Believe it or not, this is actually more important than the state of your manicure, Buffy. You were given certain powers as the Slayer and you must learn to use them. If you'd bother to do so, we could possibly even put an end to the traps you seem so fond of walking into."
Buffy looked up at him, outraged and hurt at the low blow. "That goes just way past harsh, Giles! It's not like any of those were actually my fault! Well, not *completely* my fault," she admitted, slightly less stridently.
"That is not the point," Giles informed her sternly, crossing his arms over his chest. "When you became the Chosen One, you were given gifts to help you Slay and to help you survive. By refusing to develop and use those gifts -- outside of the more martial arts, to which you have taken with frightening ease -- you are crippling both your abilities as a Slayer and your life expectancy. Can I make myself any more clear than that?"
Buffy slouched down in her hard-backed library chair and pouted for a moment, then admitted, "No, I think that pretty much spells it out in flaming neon." She sighed heavily and rolled her head back against the chair, then confessed the real problem. "I just really don't like the idea of all this mental stuff. I mean, I like my brain just the way it is -- although I might kind of like a little more in the way of study-type retention. I don't want to go messing around with it."
Giles looked sympathetic, which didn't stop him from saying, "Your mind was 'messed with', as you put it, when you were Chosen, when you were born."
"All right, all right!" Buffy surrendered with upraised hands, although she didn't budge from her slouch. "I give up! Victory is yours, Oh Great and Mighty Watcher. What do I have to do?"
Buffy had to give him some credit; Giles rarely gloated. Instead, he nodded firmly and readjusted his jacket. "Right, then. Sit up straight, shoulders back and make yourself comfortable."
"Contradiction," Buffy informed him, although she did improve her posture. "It is impossible to be comfortable in one of these chairs; this is a school library."
Giles was not deterred. "Do the best you can. Now, close your eyes and relax. Then, begin letting your mind wander -- that shouldn't be too hard for you." Buffy opened one eye to glare at him, and he looked vaguely apologetic. "Sorry."
She made a face at him and closed the eye again, making a mental note to keep him away from Xander for a while. They were bad influences on each other. "Okay, what now?"
"Allow your mind to drift, as if you were daydreaming. Let your thoughts flow naturally, freely." Giles's voice was taking on a hypnotic rhythm; Buffy found herself obediently relaxing beneath it.
Images flickered through her mind, at first quickly, then gradually slowing. Worries about her history homework, unique ideas for taking Cordelia down after their latest go-round, plans for the weekend with Willow and Xander. Wondering where the heck Angel had gotten to lately. Rehearsing her excuse for tonight's late-night training session. Thinking of her dad. Giles. Mom's late nights at the gallery. Angel.
"Now," she dimly heard Giles say, "begin to turn your thoughts outward rather than inward. Let them flow around you, touching everything."
Buffy frowned slightly, but tried to obey. Nothing. She concentrated harder, remembering how it had felt when she'd tracked the Master that night. The knowledge had been effortless and certain, showing her the way with an invisible hand. She felt the breath go in and out of her lungs, felt Giles hovering across the table, felt the hand brush against her mind....
And her eyes snapped open, her feet slamming to the floor and her gasp of surprise echoing off the walls. Giles was in front of her in a moment, his hands clasping her shoulders to steady her. "What is it?" he demanded anxiously. "What did you sense?"
Buffy just couldn't help it; she grinned cheekily and informed him, "A disturbance in the Force, Obi Wan. Someone's coming."
Giles's eyes went wide and he jumped back to his feet, automatically making a beeline for the weapons cabinet. "Where? When? A vampire? How far away is it?"
Buffy watched her Watcher with a kind of half-weary, half-resigned amusement as he fumbled through his keys for the proper set, the key ring clattering in synch with his unsteady hands. "You can pass on the weapons thing, Giles."
He turned back to her, clutching a stake in either hand. "Oh, really?" he asked with a sharp edge. "You can sense their intentions so clearly?"
Buffy shrugged with one shoulder. "No, but I can make a *really* good guess." Weirdly enough, she could, but decided not to think too hard about it.
Giles just looked confused. Then the door to the library banged open, and Angel stood there, carrying something limp and heavy. A body. A body that was bleeding all over the library floor, which meant trouble. Big shock there.
Angel looked at Buffy, his face tense and unreadable. "I need your help."
Buffy fought down the instinctive leap her heart had taken when she'd realized how close Angel was, the rush of emotion the sight of his face brought, the way the lights seemed to dim in the rest of the room. It suddenly seemed much longer than three days since she'd seen him.
Then she blinked in surprise for a long moment, her eyes going from Angel's face to the woman he held, her limp body cradled in his arms, a tangle of dark blonde hair obscuring her face. A flash of unreasonable jealousy almost blinded her, until she registered how Angel was carrying the woman.
He didn't embrace her like a lover, or even a friend. Instead, his arms were tense, holding the woman slightly away from his body, as if she was a sack of something that he didn't want to be touching, much less hauling around.
"Bring her in, Angel," Buffy half-invited, half-ordered, jumping forward and pulling her blue overshirt off as she went. Most of the blood seemed to be coming from the woman's left leg; Buffy wrapped her shirt around the most obvious gashes and applied pressure as Angel came the rest of the way into the room. "Giles, your office?"
Giles was still in the blinking stage of shock. "Oh, yes, of course," he stammered, Buffy's demand bringing him back to reality. "This way, Angel."
Angel nodded shortly and followed Giles into his small back office. Without a second's thought, Giles swept the litter of books from the cot he'd installed sometime after the mummy incident, spread out a blanket, and motioned Angel towards it. "Put her down here and we'll see what we can do. Why didn't you take her to a hospital?"
"I didn't feel like explaining the bite marks," Angel replied shortly, all but dropping the woman to the cot, letting her head fall carelessly and stepping back fast. In fact, he almost went back out the door in his haste to get away from her.
Buffy didn't have too much time to wonder about that, though; she was too busy helping Giles check the woman over. A bad gash on her calf, bleeding, but not spurting, so probably not an artery. A few smaller gashes on her arms and other leg, and... yeah, those were bite marks.
"Bite marks?" she repeated out loud, looking over her shoulder at Angel. "What did she get into?"
"I don't know, and I don't want to know," Angel answered flatly. "I had to help her, and I did. That's as far into this as I'm getting."
"Buffy, put pressure on the largest wound and hold it," Giles demanded. She obeyed automatically, replacing his hands with her own. Part of a Watcher's training was learning to patch up his Slayer, a thought Buffy usually tried not to dwell on, but was grateful for now. It could be really hard to take people with fang marks, demon bites, and other kinds of ickies to a hospital; the explanations got pretty awkward.
"Angel, get the first aid kit from the bottom left drawer of my desk," Giles continued, his hands moving quickly and competently over the woman.
Angel took a long moment, but finally obeyed Giles, locating the huge first aid kit and handing it to the Watcher, who took it without looking up. Angel retreated back to the doorway and hovered, as if he wanted to leave, but was being held there. Buffy watched him in fascination until Giles shoved a thick pad of bandaging into her hand and she was forced to put her mind back on business.
It took them almost an hour to get the bleeding stopped and the woman's various wounds bandaged. But finally, Giles turned his back while Buffy stripped off the bloody remains of the woman's clothing, covered her with a second blanket, and left the office.
"She should recover well enough," Giles was telling Angel as she closed the door behind her; the vampire had retreated to the main room a little earlier, and didn't look as if he particularly cared. "I suspect she'll be unconscious for quite some time, though; she seems to have lost a great deal of blood."
The last was said with an apparently involuntary look towards Angel, who immediately took a step back, holding his hands up in front of him. "I don't do that anymore," he said flatly. "You know that. And if I did, she is absolutely the *last* person I'd have for dinner."
"Want to let us in on the secret?" Buffy lifted her eyebrows at the vampire when he looked confused. "Who *is* she, Angel? And why bring someone you obviously don't like here?"
Angel glared towards Giles's office. "I brought her here because I didn't have any choice. And I don't know her name."
"But you do know her," Giles persisted, crossing his arms over his chest and calmly staring the vampire down. He wouldn't have been able to do that few months before, Buffy thought absently. How things changed.
Angel finally nodded. "Yeah. I know her."
After another long pause, Buffy prompted, "And she is...?"
Angel remained stubbornly silent, and Buffy rolled her eyes. "Look, I know how much you hate to give straight answers, Angel, but I'd really appreciate at least a hint or something here. Come on," she batted her eyelashes up at him in a parody of a flirt, "just one little hint? Or am I going to have to hurt you?"
Angel's mouth twitched in something that might have been a smile, then he finally answered, "She's Romani."
Giles perked up. "Romani?"
Angel nodded. "Yeah."
"As in, ah...?"
Buffy groaned mentally in frustration. Angel was back to being cryptic and monosyllabic; she'd though they'd gotten past this routine. It was going to be like pulling teeth to find out what the heck was going on. "Okay, so she's a Romanian and you brought her here," she recapped as cheerfully as possible. "Why?"
"Romani, and because she told me too."
"Since when do you do what anyone tells you to?" It was an automatic, teasing question; Buffy wasn't prepared for Angel's violent response.
"Because I didn't have a choice!" he exploded, his arm lashing out to knock a pile of books off the front counter. They fell to the floor with a crash and Buffy jumped, shocked. She'd *never* seen Angel lose control before. Ever. And God knew she'd given him enough provocation. "The damn geas wouldn't let me leave her there, which is what I should have done!"
Buffy was more confused than ever, but Giles had that, 'Oh, of *course*' look on his face that was always so annoying. He hadn't even blinked at Angel's outburst. "Ah," he said slowly, "that would explain it. A descendent, then?"
Angel got himself back under control with a visible effort, every muscle in his body tight, and started pacing, his hands deep in his pockets and his shoulders hunched. "She must be."
"Then why would she come looking for you, given your, ah, hostility towards her Clan?"
A shrug, and a humorless half-laugh. "Ask her. I don't really care."
"You must have some--"
"Hang on, time out." Buffy stepped between the two, interrupting Giles. "It's not that I'm sorry you two are like, bonding over this, but I'd really love to know what 'this' is. What's a, whatdyacallit, gaysh?" she asked Giles, knowing better than to try to get an answer out of Angel, who had stalked away and was leaning against a bookcase, radiating total disinterest.
Giles took off his glasses and started polishing them on the tail of his sweater vest. "A geas, in this particular circumstance, is a sort of magical compulsion, laid by a sorcerer or the like. The victim of the geas can be commanded by the one who cast it."
Romani. Sorcerer. Victim.... Buffy looked at Angel with wide eyes. "She's a Gypsy? One of *those* Gypsies? The ones who cursed you with your soul?"
Almost as soon as she said the words, she realized they lacked a certain amount of tact, but Angel didn't seem to notice. "Not one of the elders, just one of their descendants. The curse carried down, damn them." He said 'curse' as if the word tasted bad, and glared again towards Giles' office.
"Oo-kay." Buffy took a few prudent steps backwards. The demon fighting for control of Angel wasn't very far beneath the surface tonight. "So, she gets in some kind of trouble, a fight with something, and comes to you for... help? Protection? Fill in the blank?"
"I would guess all of the above," Giles filled in obligingly, replacing his glasses.
"So those were bite marks," Buffy concluded. "But not a vampire's."
"No, not a vampire," Giles agreed. "From the look of her wounds, she was either attacked by a very large animal or some sort of demon." He stared off into the distance, still absently fidgeting with his glasses. "The tooth pattern looked oddly familiar; I'm sure I remember...."
His voice trailed off and Buffy rolled her eyes as he headed for a bookcase. Research Man had just taken over Giles's brain; he'd be useless for the rest of the night, conversation-wise, anyway.
Instead of trying to talk to Giles anymore, she carefully approached Angel, who'd been conspicuously silent for the last part of the conversation. He'd stopped pacing, and was staring deliberately at the spine of a book, although Buffy was pretty sure he didn't even see it.
She thought he was going to ignore her -- his face was hard, blanker than she'd ever seen it -- but he finally responded. "Yeah?"
Buffy swallowed hard, and laid a hand on the sleeve of his jacket, half-expecting him to shake it off. He didn't, but his muscles were hard and tense under her touch. "You could probably go home... or wherever it is you go at night," she told him quietly. "Giles and I can take care of... um, her."
He shook his head. "No. Whatever she fought with might try to track her down."
Buffy looked at him sideways. "I'm the Slayer, remember? I can probably manage to protect one person from a big dog. She'll be safe here."
"I could care less about her," Angel said through gritted teeth. "If I'd been thinking, I never would have brought her here. And I'm sure as hell not going to leave you here against whatever might have followed us."
A rush of warm pleasure flooded her veins. She fought to keep it out of her voice, but suspected she wasn't having much luck. "So, it wouldn't do any good to tell you I don't need any protection?"
His lips twitched in what might have been a smile. "No."
"Oh well." She sighed heavily, as if handed a great burden she would carry bravely. "I guess we'll just have to put up with each other for a while, then. But don't worry, somehow we'll get through it."
That did the job. Angel rolled his eyes, then reluctantly cracked the crooked half-smile that always made Buffy's heart skip a beat. "It'll be torture," he agreed, pulling her into his arms and resting his cheek on top of her head, "but we'll survive."
Buffy grinned against his jacket and put her arms around his waist, holding him. He was still tense, wired, and Buffy tightened her hold, offering what comfort she could and vowing all kinds of ugly revenge against the Gypsy stranger if she was here to hurt Angel.
They jumped apart at the crash of someone hitting the library doors at top speed, as two panting teenagers raced into the room. "Buffy! Giles!" Xander shouted, before realizing Buffy was standing about six feet away. He skidded to a halt, and Willow almost ran him over from behind before she, too, realized they were stopping and stopped.
Buffy might have laughed if they didn't both look so panicked, and if Willow didn't look faintly green. "What is it?" she demanded, leaving Angel to go to her friends. "What's going on?"
Come to think of it, Xander looked pretty green, as well. But he seemed to be ignoring it in favor of looking past her at Angel. "Does he have an actual reason for being here?"
"Yes, he does," Buffy answered before Angel could say anything, hoping to head off the macho contest before it could get started. Old habits died hard, and the two of them in the same room was just *asking* for trouble. "What's the sitch? You two look like..."
"Like we just saw something really disgusting?" Xander filled in for her. "Well, that would be because we did. What was left of it, anyway."
"Left of it?" Buffy asked carefully, *really* sure she wasn't going to like the answer. "Are we, um, talking bodies here? And, um, plural or singular?"
"It was kinda hard to tell," Xander said, heavy sarcasm almost covering up the sick terror in his eyes. "We couldn't get close enough to count the parts."
"Xander," Willow objected faintly.
Xander looked down at her face, which had turned a lovely shade of chartreuse, and winced. "Sorry, Will. Look, sit down already, will you?" He helped Willow to one of the seats around the main table, the one Buffy had abandoned at Angel's abrupt arrival, and turned back to Buffy as she brought over a cup of water for Willow.
"What happened?" Buffy asked again as Willow gratefully sipped at the water. "Where was it and what did you see?"
"A few blocks outside the Bronze," Willow answered between sips. "Oh, Buffy, it was really awful. As bad as... as bad as that morning."
Buffy laid a hand on the redhead's shoulder. Finding the blood-soaked bodies of their classmates in the A/V room at the school had really messed with Willow's mind. If this, whatever it was, was going to bring those memories back, Buffy had every intention of stopping it fast.
"Breathe, Will," she said gently. "Xander, you tell me. In chronological order and words of three syllables or less."
"Right." He swallowed hard and sat on the edge of the table by Willow. Buffy sensed Angel still standing behind her, lending silent support as Xander took a deep breath. "Okay. We were at the Bronze, and it was getting late, so we were going to leave. We started for the door, and that's when someone started screaming."
"Screaming?" Giles reappeared from the stacks with a book in his hand, drawn by one of the magic words. 'Corpse', 'vampire', and 'dead' had the same effect. Buffy shushed him with a gesture, not taking her eyes off Xander.
"We went to find out what was going on -- just in case it was, um, Slayer-type stuff." Buffy nodded encouragingly and he stumbled on. "Um, there was a girl outside, um, I think she's in history with us, and she was standing outside the Bronze -- over on the side, where the fire escape is -- screaming. And, um, on the ground there was, um...."
He stumbled to a halt, swallowing hard again, and Willow shivered. Buffy stole a quick glance at Giles, who looked as disturbed as she felt. Willow and Xander weren't exactly unused to seeing the remains of what vampires and other assorted bad guys left behind. For them to be this grossed out meant something really bad.
Angel leaned forward, bracing his hands on the table. "Take it slow," he advised Xander. "One step at a time. What was the first thing you saw?"
Angel's matter-of-fact tone seemed to have a steadying effect on Xander, oddly enough. "The blood," he said quietly. "All over the place. And a body. It looked like..." He shuddered once, hard. "It looked like that pig after we... the hyenas got done with it. Only bigger."
Buffy raised her eyebrows; this was the first she'd heard of any of Xander's memories of his animal possession coming back. But it would explain why he was reacting so majorly to this. "An animal attack, then? A pack of dogs, maybe?"
Angel shook his head at the same time that Giles said, "No, there would have been much more noise, more confusion. A pack in a feeding frenzy is not exactly quiet, as you know." Xander winced and Giles gave him an apologetic look.
"What then?" Buffy mused, leaning her hip against the table. "Demon? *Really* sloppy vampire?"
"I don't know," Giles said slowly. "But I'm going to take a wild leap of logic and guess that it's related to whatever attacked our, ah, guest."
Buffy blinked. "Oh. Yeah, that would make sense, wouldn't it?"
Angel nodded. "I found her near the Bronze. She must have gotten away from whatever this is, and it found a new victim."
"Guest?" Xander asked, distracted at last. "We have a guest?"
"To be precise, Angel has a guest," Giles clarified, coming over to the table. Angel glared at him, but didn't otherwise argue the point. "One with injuries which would seem to match what you've described. Buffy, I think you'll have to take a closer look at the, ah, scene."
He didn't sound happy about it, but then, Buffy wasn't real thrilled at the prospect either. "Right," she sighed, straightening. "You guys stay here and watch her." She gestured towards Giles's office and the woman. "I'll go check out the scene at the Bronze."
She started for the door, and Angel caught her arm. He looked from her to Giles' office, obviously torn between protecting her and his conviction that the whatever it was would follow the Gypsy back to the library.
"Angel, you stay here and guard the others, okay?" He looked like he would argue, but Buffy didn't let him, or either of the other two males, get a word in. "I'm going to the Bronze. See you guys in a few."
The Bronze was surrounded by people -- a few police officers, an ambulance, and several small knots of onlookers, drawn to the scene of disaster like moths to a flame. Buffy wrinkled her nose in their general direction, then did her best to look like one of them, squirming through the crowds to get a decent look at the center of activity.
"Color me so surprised. Wherever there's a disgusting body, you're bound to show up."
Buffy groaned mentally and closed her eyes, then turned to face Cordelia. "Good to see you, too, Cordelia," she said with a tight, completely insincere smile. The two of them understood each other perfectly. "I don't suppose you saw what happened, or have anything useful to tell me?"
Cordelia's snide look changed to genuine disturbance; she bit her lip and determinedly did not look towards the crowd. "No, and believe me, I'm grateful I got left out of this one. It sounds like more... parts are involved, and I really don't want to go there again."
"Then you might want to get out of here," Buffy told her. She started shoving again, then paused. "Cordelia."
"Go straight home, and don't go out at night for a while. I have a feeling this isn't the last body we're going to see."
She didn't wait for Cordelia's reaction, but methodically pushed her way to the front of the crowd. The medics were working in a large pool of blood to deal with the body -- or what was left of it. Buffy swallowed hard, but forced herself to get as close as she could.
Curly, dark blond hair, matted with blood and other things Buffy didn't want to think about. What had once been nice party clothes, now torn into rags. Skin ripped and torn beneath them, showing muscle and even bare white bones in places. Neck marked not with the neat holes of a vampire, but nearly ripped apart.
And that long, tangled blond hair, surrounding a face that simply wasn't there anymore.
The medics finished moving the body into a heavy black bag and zipped it up, and Buffy allowed herself to turn away as the crowd dispersed. Cordelia herded her group of hangers-on back into the club, casually remarking on how out of it the scene was; gratefully, Buffy saw most of the rest of the teenage crowd follow Cordy's lead and leave. The Goth and gore crowds still hung around, but they could be avoided, and normally were.
Buffy worked her way carefully around the small knot of uniformed cops and the detectives who had shown up at the same time the body left, hoping no one would notice one more teenager hanging around. Angel said the Gypsy woman had come running out of the alley, which was right behind where the body had been laying.
She went into the alley cautiously, not feeling any safer for the four dozen police officers a few feet away. Nothing jumped out of the shadows at her, nothing came down from the sky, and she relaxed a bit, getting down to business.
Not that there was much to get down to. The alley looked like... well, an alley. Garbage cans, a couple of boxes dissolving in puddles from last night's rain, the sloppy pile of the boards and planks that always seem to show up in alleys for no apparent reason... Her eyes narrowed suddenly, and she knelt next to a two-by-four that lay several feet away from the rest of the wood.
Bloody fingerprints all over the bottom and at the top... a tuft of coarse, dark gray hair, caught on the rough-cut end. No, fur, she corrected herself, pulling it free. Fur with a patch of skin and some blood still attached. Either the Gypsy girl or the dead one had fought back.
"Hey!" She jumped, nearly falling over, as the harsh voice spoke behind her. A high-beam flashlight caught her in the face as she turned, barely able to make out the form of the cop holding it.
"Don't you kids ever pay attention?" he demanded irritably. "This is a crime scene, you little ghoul. Find somewhere else to play."
Buffy fisted her hand around the fur casually. "Sorry, officer," she apologized. "I thought I saw, um, a cat. In here. Alone."
"Yeah, right." He made a disgusted noise and gestured with the flashlight. "Go. Now."
She smiled innocently. "Going, officer. Now."
Edging past him, she attempted an innocent walk, but still felt his stare on her as she headed out of the alley and back towards the school. Funny, though; if she didn't know better, she'd swear she felt more than one set of eyes.
When she returned to the library, Angel was pacing tensely back and forth near the front doors. He stopped as soon as she came in, relief spreading over his face. "What took so long?" he demanded, taking her arm and inspecting her.
"Sorry, Dad," she said archly, "I had to wait for the crowds to die down before I could get anything done. Not that I got much anyway; the police were like, everywhere. For once."
"What did you find?" Giles asked, looking up from a stack of books. Willow and Xander were nowhere to be seen. "Were there any signs of, well, things that shouldn't have been there?"
"This is Sunnydale," Buffy told him. "Name three things that aren't supposed to be here. I did find this."
She pulled the tuft of fur out of her pocket and held it out to Giles, who left his chair to come see. He took it and headed straight to the magnifying glass for a closer look, fussing with his glasses as he went.
"You didn't see anything else?" Angel persisted, looking all cute and worried.
Buffy resisted the urge to pat him on the head and assured him, "Nothing scary, nothing furry, just a corpse and Cordelia. Which is actually kind of scary combination, if you think about it."
He rolled his eyes in automatic agreement and lightened up a little, letting his hand slide down her arm to take her hand. She squeezed his and grinned up at him. It was good to have him around, even if the circumstances were bad, as usual.
"Where are Will and Xander?" she thought to ask. "You didn't let them go home alone, did you?"
"Willow's mother came to get them; Xander told her Willow was sick. Which she was." His grip tightened on her hand again, but his voice was matter-of-fact as he asked, "How bad was it?"
"Pretty bad," she admitted, suppressing a shudder. "Right down there with harvested organs and body parts in the dumpster. Major ick factor."
"I would imagine so," Giles said from the other side of the room, still staring intently through the magnifying glass. "Buffy, where did you locate this, ah, fur?"
Buffy wandered over to his side. Angel followed closely, looking over her shoulder as she looked over Giles's. "It was stuck on a hunk of wood, in the alley. There was blood on the other end, fingerprints. I figure someone got a few good hits in before they got, um, main coursed."
Angel winced at her choice of words, but Giles didn't seem to notice. "It's some sort of animal fur, which matches with the teeth marks and the bite radius. In fact, at this point, I'd say we're looking for a... Well, a large.... Enormous, really...."
Buffy lost patience with the stuttering. "Giles, spit it out."
He took off his glasses and cleaned them, the way he did when he was about to say something no one wanted to hear. "I'd... say it was rather a large, well, wolf."
Buffy looked at him. "Large as in Cujo?"
Giles shook his head. "Large as in a lion."
"No. Large as in a human."
Buffy and Giles all turned quickly at the voice behind them, Buffy making a few rude mental comments about being sneaked up on. Angel didn't even flinch.
The young Gypsy woman stood in the doorway of Giles's office, leaning heavily against the doorjamb and swaying slightly in place. Her round, high-cheeked face was drawn with pain and exhaustion, her skin pale beneath its tan, but she seemed determined to stay upright, and her dark brown, vaguely almond-shaped eyes rested on Angel with fear and something just short of open disgust. Buffy's hackles rose immediately.
Giles spent another moment blinking, which he was doing a lot tonight, then went back across the room to lend the woman an arm. "You should not be up," he informed her severely. "You're quite badly injured."
She didn't move. "I had noticed that. Where am I?"
"Safe," Buffy answered promptly, stepping between Angel and the woman. "Angel brought you to us."
"Now *that's* reassuring," the woman muttered, saccharine sweet, with another glare towards Angel.
He returned it full measure. "You don't want me to help, don't collapse at my feet and tell me to. Next time, I'll leave you there."
"Believe me, I would've preferred that, given any other choice," she informed him. "You are *not* my idea of a prince in shining armor."
"That's a relief."
"More like a toad. With fangs."
"Um, guys?" Buffy found herself standing between the two combatants. "Can we save the scintillating repartee for later? I'd kind of like to know what's going on *before* you two kill each other. Who are you?" she asked the woman.
"Alexandra Lakatos," the woman answered, after a last glare at Angel. "Call me Sasha."
"Cool, we have a name. Names are good. I'm Buffy and this is Giles, and I, um, think you know Angel."
"We've never been formally introduced." Sasha flashed a toothy, insincere smile Angel's way. "But yes, I know him."
"Let's skip the formal part," Angel told her. "What are you doing here, and what do the Romani want from me this time?"
She gave an exaggerated wince. "Almost a hundred years, and you still can't pronounce Romani. Accent on the *first* syllable, damn it."
"You should be."
"Oh, you *wish*."
"I hate to interrupt this love fest...." Buffy jumped back in the middle when both parties looked ready to go for each other's throats. Sasha seemed to have forgotten all about her wounds, leaning forward with her eyes glittering and hard. Angel's jaw was so tight it looked painful, his fists clenched. Giles, the coward, was staying as far out of the line of fire as he could while half-supporting Sasha.
Buffy looked back and forth between them, baffled. What the hell *was* this; not even Xander could get Angel this mad. "I'm sensing some hostility here," she said as calmly as possible. "What is *with* you two? Besides the obvious, I mean."
"He's a vampire," Sasha snarled, at the same time Angel growled, "She's Rom."
"Of course, that clears it right up, thanks." Buffy breathed out hard and glared at *both* of them. "A frustrated Slayer is a cranky Slayer," she informed them icily, "and if I don't get some answers, I'm going to get *really* cranky. You don't want that," she told Sasha, "and you *really* don't want that," to Angel.
Neither of them looked particularly impressed. Then Sasha finally processed the threat and its lead-in, and looked wide-eyed at Buffy. "Waitaminute. You're the *Slayer*?"
Buffy thought back, realized what she'd said, and sighed. "I should take out an ad in the yearbook, and save time. Yeah, I'm the Slayer."
Sasha studied her up and down, then turned painfully to Giles. "Which would make you her Watcher, correct?"
Giles nodded, looking unhappy about yet another blowing of their collective secret identity, but resigned to it. "Correct."
"In other words," Sasha said slowly, "a vampire took a Gypsy to a Slayer and a Watcher for help against a werewolf?" When the other three nodded more-or-less as one, she started chuckling, holding her ribs in pain. "I think that breaks most of the laws of magic. And all of the laws of Nature."
Giles rolled his eyes to the ceiling, and Angel made a sound that was something between a snort and a reluctant chuckle, looking away.
Buffy groaned and sat down on the center table. "I'm missing some major mystical in-jokes here again, aren't I?" She shook her head, then looked up. "How do you know about Slayers?"
Sasha shrugged, and looked like she regretted it; pain flashed across her face. "I didn't *know* anything, just stories my grandmother tells. A couple of Slayers have been Rom, according to her; I figured she'd been reading too much Bram Stoker. Joy, she's proven right again."
"We've established you're a fount of knowledge on Slayers," Angel got the conversation back on track icily. "What do you know about werewolves?"
Sasha flinched, her mocking grin falling away. "Too much," she answered, so quietly Buffy almost couldn't make out the words.
"Then... Then it *isn't* a normal wolf... a normal creature?" Giles stuttered slightly, his eyes lighting up with his usual reaction to anything new and exciting. Never mind that his definition of exciting tended to be everyone else's definition of 'Ew'. "You're certain of that?"
"Reasonably," Sasha answered dryly, rubbing the bandage on her arm. "He... *It* followed me here from down the coast, last night and most of today. Not normal behavior for a wolf, as far as I know." She shrugged, and winced again as the movement pulled at various wounds. "I thought I'd ditched it, but I turned around in that alley and...." She rubbed the bandage again, struggling for control of her face. Buffy couldn't blame her; the thought of facing the creature that had killed that girl was enough to give *Buffy* the wig.
"You fought it?" Buffy asked, trying to ignore the hostility radiating from Angel. It wasn't easy. "With that two-by-four?"
Sasha nodded tiredly, her balance looking shakier by the second. "Yeah. I knocked it silly for a second, then ran before it could get back up. "
"Way to go," Angel informed the Gypsy harshly. "When it missed you, it killed another girl instead."
Sasha's face went paler, if possible, and staggered against Giles, who somehow managed to hold her up. "Oh, Christ," she swore softly, squeezing her eyes shut. "Oh damn, not another one. Oh Christ....." Giles patted her shoulder awkwardly, but she didn't seem to notice he was there.
"Nice job," Buffy informed Angel, not sure who she as more annoyed with. "Way to pick on the walking wounded. Want to go beat up some orphans now?"
He didn't look the slightest bit guilty. "Ask the 'walking wounded' why the werewolf's after her," he said coldly. "Ask her what it wants."
Buffy stared at him for a second, irritation fighting with curiosity and suspicion, then transferred her stare to Sasha. "What *does* it want?" she asked.
She might have imagined Sasha's hesitation, before she answered bitterly, "It wants to kill. It wants blood, and it doesn't care whose it gets."
It was as good an answer as any. But Sasha wasn't meeting anyone's eyes, and Angel looked as coldly disbelieving as Buffy felt. There was more to this....
"So did she tell you anything else?"
Buffy shrugged, picking another piece of crust off her sandwich and crumbling it in her fingers. It joined the small mountain of crumbs forming on her lunch bag. "Nothing," she answered Xander. "But I didn't exactly get the chance to ask. She very conveniently practically passed out right in front of Giles's office. We got her back on the cot and foom, she was out cold. She was still asleep when I left; Giles said to just leave her there for the night."
Willow munched thoughtfully on her apple. She seemed to have recovered from the night before; at least, she wasn't looking vaguely sick anymore. "Wow. A werewolf. That's a new one, even for us."
"I could have lived without it," Buffy said, making a face and lowering her voice, in deference to the crowd of lunch time students surrounding the Slayerettes in the lounge. Fortunately, most of them were paying more attention to the soap opera playing on the television in the corner than any of their classmates. "But what's really weird is how she and Angel were fighting."
She shook her head, still confused and deeply not happy. "Can we say hatred at first sight? I've never seen anyone loathe anyone else that fast. Unless Cordelia was involved."
"How about that?" Xander muttered into his sandwich. "Can't imagine anyone not liking our friendly neighborhood vampire."
Buffy gave him a glare; he straightened in his chair and attempted to look inoffensive, and Willow suppressed a giggle. "So Angel was really upset, huh?" she asked, trying to draw fire from Xander.
Buffy let her get away with it, this time. "He was beyond upset, all the way to homicidal. He wouldn't even say anything else to me, just muttered something about never trusting a Gypsy and started stalking around the stacks. This chick is really messing with his mind. "
"I'm liking her more all the time," Xander cracked.
This time, Buffy ignored him, cleaning up the remains of her half-eaten lunch and getting up from the table. "I have to go to the library and check on Gypsy chick; Giles had a teacher's meeting and he doesn't want her alone for too long. Will, can you cover for me if I'm late to fourth period?"
"Sure," Willow nodded. "It's computer class, anyway; Ms. Calendar will understand."
"Yeah, she'll understand, but she'll still flunk me," Buffy grimaced. "Catch you guys later."
She was dreaming. She knew she was dreaming, because none of this could possibly be for real. But the wolf circling her in the dark alley looked pretty damn for real. She took a swing at it with the board she'd scavenged, her breath tearing at her lungs with the effort, and felt splinters rip into her palm. The wolf danced back, then forward, lashing out with one paw. She tried to stumble back, but felt the claw tear through her jeans and into her leg. She bit back a scream and swung again and the wolf, gloating over its strike, didn't move fast enough this time. The board connected with a hollow 'thump' and the wolf yelped, stumbling back against the wall.
She dropped the board and ran for the entrance to the alley, thinking of nothing but escape. She'd almost made it when something loomed out of the shadows in front of her. She looked up -- and found the wolf looking back at her from dark eyes, a demon's face and a smile full of fangs.
It was her own strangled scream that finally woke her.
Sasha lay still, muscles still locked in the helpless paralysis of her dream, blinking at the unfamiliar surroundings. It had to have been a nightmare -- but she was lying on some kind of cot in a small office, not too different from one of the teaching assistant's offices at USC. There were books everywhere, a tweed jacket thrown over a chair, and a teenaged blonde looking at her with wary, suspicious eyes.
"Welcome back to the land of the living," the blonde said with a quick, almost-sincere smile. "I was starting to wonder if you were ever going to wake up."
"Wha--?" Sasha stared at the blonde in utter confusion. It had been a dream, it had to have been. Then she tried to move again and muscles responded -- with pain. Tearing, burning pain that radiated up her leg and arm, almost obliterating the more minor protests of muscles that ached as if they'd been beaten with baseball bats. It was touching the bandages on her arm that brought reality home.
Kriston. Driving frantically in a random direction, praying her desperate instincts were correct. The alley. Eyes gleaming in the darkness. Pain and the impact of wood against flesh. Running to safety and finding only something new to fear. The library, and the Englishman with the gentle hands, and the blonde with the attitude.
And him. Angelus. Real.
"Oh, Christ, I was really praying I was going to wake up from this one," Sasha groaned, squeezing her eyes shut.
No such luck; when she opened them again, everything was the same, except that the blonde -- Buffy, she remembered vaguely -- was kneeling beside the cot now. "I know what you mean," the girl (she had to be at least six or seven years younger than Sasha) said, with real, if reluctant, sympathy in her green eyes. "I've had weeks like that. Actually, I've pretty much had the last two years like that. How are you feeling?"
"Like I got attacked by a werewolf," Sasha said irritably, rubbing her arm and shoving her hair out of her face. "My soul for some Tylenol. Or codeine."
"I guess we can handle the Tylenol." A quick rummage through the desk produced painkillers; Sasha swallowed four with a glass of water and a sigh of relief.
Buffy settled herself backwards into Giles' desk chair, resting her arms and chin along on the chairback. "You need clothes," she observed critically. "There's some in here." She passed over a gym bag with the word 'Sunnydale' emblazoned on the side in gold; Sasha reached, and winced when sore ribs protested. "I can't guarantee the fit, but anything's better than what you've got on."
Sasha blinked blearily down at herself, willing her vision to focus, and realized she was only wearing a torn, still-bloody T-shirt and a blanket, which stopped her from taking offense at Buffy's just-this-side-of-insulting comment. "You could be right," she admitted. "And I don't think your principal would be happy to find a half-dressed woman in his librarian's office. I am in a high school library, right? I wasn't hallucinating that part?"
Buffy winced. "Snyder'd lose it. Majorly. And yeah, this is Sunnydale High School."
"Figured," Sasha shrugged, rummaging through the gym bag and holding a pair of sweat pants at arms length. "Not yours."
"Nah, you're too tall," Buffy confirmed. "I stole them from my mom's closet; I don't think she'll notice for a few days. You're not going to be posing for the cover of Vogue, but you won't be a *total* fashion casualty."
"Oh, good, because that would just ruin my whole day." Sasha rolled her eyes, then stood very carefully. Not carefully enough -- the room danced and swirled, graying out around the edges. "Wow," she said faintly, her eyes closed. "Spots. This is fun."
"Need some help?" Buffy asked from a few inches away.
"No. No, I'm fine." To prove it, she opened her eyes and began to carefully pull the sweat pants on over the heavy bandages on her left leg. "You guys did a pretty good job patching me up. Thanks."
"You're welcome," Buffy said noncommittally. As Sasha pulled the sweatpants carefully up, she watched the girl settle herself back in the chair with casualness so perfect it had to be a put-on. Her eyes never left Sasha, as if expecting an attack at any second.
Which Sasha was going to pass on, until she had a better handle on the situation. But before she admitted anything to this crew, she had a couple of burning questions, like what kind of a Slayer was hanging around with a vampire, particularly a bastard like Angelus? And what kind of Watcher would allow it? Either this situation was beyond weird -- or there was something very wrong. Well, something *else* very wrong.
Oddly enough, she didn't doubt the girl was the Slayer. There was a sense -- Sasha refused to use the word aura -- about Buffy that was different from anything she'd ever seen. And for no reason at all (that Sasha was going to admit, anyway) that sense meant Slayer. Which brought the topic back around to vampires....
"So where'd Fang Face get to, anyway?" she asked, venom edging her voice at the very thought of Angelus. He hadn't looked much like a demon, last night, but she knew better than to trust a pretty face. Monsters could hide within.... "Back to his coffin for the day?"
Buffy's eyes narrowed. "*Angel*", she emphasized the name pointedly, "had to leave before sunrise. He'll be back tonight."
"Lovely." Sasha pulled the sweatshirt painfully over her head, working the sleeve down past the bandage.
When she looked back up, Buffy was still looking annoyed. "What is with you and Angel anyway, and don't just give me the Gypsy/vampire thing. There's got to be more to it. I mean, it's not like you were the one who actually cursed him. Were you?" The steely glint in her eyes promised mayhem and chaos if Sasha answered yes.
Sasha got herself into a slightly better defensive position, back to the wall and well away from the Slayer, before she answered. "Do I look over a hundred? I don't think so. And the 'Gypsy/vampire thing' pretty much does cover it. I'm Romani -- well, half Romani and kind of lapsed. He's a vampire. We hate each other on general principles; bad blood between our little groups goes back to the beginning of *time*, according to my great-grandmother. All he has to do to get me mad is exist, apparently."
She eyed Buffy suspiciously. "I'm surprised the same wonderful relationship doesn't exist between the two of you. Actually, I think I'd be flabbergasted if I had the energy to spare."
Buffy looked away first. "It's... kind of a long story," she said, her guard dropping for the first time, if only a little. Sore subject; Sasha made a mental note.
The teenager recovered quickly. "I want to know about the bad blood thing. Why do you hate each other so much? I mean, besides the fact that you guys like playing God with Angel's life?"
"What's with this 'Angel' crap? And his *life* consisted of killing people," Sasha shot back automatically. "Killing members of my clan to be precise, which qualifies him as one hell of a lot closer to the devil side of the scales. Whatever he got, he had coming to him, and a damn sight more! "
Sasha met the girl's glare, challenging her to deny that one. Buffy looked more than ready to give it a shot, but a cool voice intervened from the doorway.
"Be that as it may," said the Brit from the night before, coming into the library with a tray full of food, "The enmity between vampires and the Rom goes back considerably before any of Angel's encounters with them. 'The beginning of time' is not actually so far off."
"Giles, right?" Sasha double-checked, fairly sure she was correct. He definitely belonged to the office; tweed pants, sweater vest, tie, glasses, cup of tea held firmly in hand, vaguely abstracted air that didn't hide the keen intelligence in his eyes. But it helped to be sure of who all the players were, although the complication of a Slayer and all it entailed hadn't been on her agenda when she'd set out after Angelus. Of course, none of this had been what she'd planned.
"Yes," Giles answered, deliberately leaning between Sasha and Buffy to put the food on his desk, which broke the staredown. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better; there are some... rather pressing concerns to be dealt with."
"Which we can't deal with until tonight, so let's get back to the Gypsy thing," Buffy inserted firmly, clearly unwilling to let go of the topic.
Giles looked at her with a bit of exasperation and a great deal of affection. Sasha just shrugged. "He's probably better qualified to tell it than I am," she said, reaching for the food in an attempt to remove herself from the conversation. "Like I said, all I know is what my grandmother told me, and I wasn't really paying all that much attention."
"You and Buffy should get along splendidly, then," Giles said pointedly. Buffy rolled her eyes at what was obviously a long-standing argument. "At any rate, the legends and histories I've read -- not from the Romani point of view, you understand, as they have written very little -- suggest that, when the demons left our world, the human they fed on to create the vampires was part of a clan of Romani.
"The members of the clan that remained human," he continued in full lecture mode, taking off his glasses to polish them, "swore revenge for the corruption of their families, and have, since that day, devoted themselves to keeping knowledge of the vampires and how to fight them alive. Needless to say, this did not please the vampires."
Sasha snorted at the understatement. "Is that how it happened?" she asked, interested in spite of herself. "I just get the 'creatures of evil, they must be destroyed' version from my grandmother. Nothing specific."
"Don't ask him for specifics," Buffy said with a roll of the eyes. "You'll never get him to stop."
Sasha nearly grinned at the girl. "I'll remember that."
"Actually, I believe specifics would be better supplied at this moment by Miss Lakatos," Giles said, ignoring Buffy as much as possible. Both Sasha and Buffy blinked at him and he clarified, "The werewolf."
"Oh." Sasha swallowed. How much to admit... and how much help could she get without telling it all? Dammit, how the hell had she gotten into this? Do one lousy favor for family..... "Right. The werewolf. Yeah."
"Yeah, why's he after you?" Buffy asked, leaning forward against her chair. Her eyes were far older than sixteen as they probed Sasha's face.
"I... don't know," Sasha lied, avoiding the much-too-knowing eyes as well as she could. "I was just... in the wrong place at the wrong time." The truth, at least, if not exactly the truth it sounded like. Her law professors would be proud.
"You and half the people in Sunnydale." Everyone turned as two more teenagers appeared at the door of Giles's office. The dark-haired boy in the lead looked as if panicked was his natural state; the doe-eyed redhead behind him just looked pale.
"Xander? Willow?" Buffy stood quickly, meeting the two before they could come any farther in. "What's wrong? Demon in the cafeteria? Snyder's been taken over by pod people and is being nice? What?"
No one smiled at the attempted joke. "We've got a problem," the boy, Xander, said seriously.
"We were watching the news in the lounge," Willow broke in, her words tripping over each other in her hurry. "Principal Snyder had just come through so we were watching news-type stuff instead of Cordelia's soap opera, and there was this story about how they found another, um...." She stopped and swallowed hard. "Another dead girl. A few blocks from the Bronze."
Sasha's ears roared, and the room spun dizzily. Dimly, she heard Buffy demanding, "Was it the same as the other body? I mean, was it...?"
"Was it an extra from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?" Xander completed sarcastically. "I'm gonna say that's a big yes. And here's the fun part." He looked in Sasha's direction, and she looked away, sickly certain of what he was going to say. "It was another blonde, and the picture they showed looked a lot like, well...."
He gestured at Sasha, and all eyes followed the motion. Sasha shrank back, futilely looking for a place to hide. Dammit, this wasn't how it was supposed to go....
"Two in one night," Buffy said flatly.
"Almost three," Giles agreed, his voice cold. "And somehow, I doubt it will end there."
"Just why the hell does this werewolf want you so badly, Sasha Lakatos?" Buffy demanded. "And why will he kill anyone who even looks like you to get it?"
Sasha tried to think of a lie, any lie. But she was abruptly too tired to care. "Because I made him," she sighed finally, her head sinking to her chin so she wouldn't have to look at them. "He's a werewolf because of me."
"So, this is bad, right?" Xander paced back and forth across the front of the library, too restless to sit still. Buffy resisted the urge to slam him into a chair, mostly because it would have upset Willow, typing away on the computer in search of fun information about all things furry and dangerous. "But, last night was the full moon, so he won't be back for a month. Right?"
"Not necessarily," Giles sighed, leaning back and rubbing his eyes under his glasses. "The werewolf mythos is not as straightforward as the movies would have you believe. Cases of lycanthropy can actually be anything from panic over large dogs, to simple hallucinations and insanity, to cults wearing wolf skins when taking victims. There are very few recorded cases of an actual transformation from man to wolf, and those are.... Well, the accounts are unreliable, at best. I'm assuming this is one of the latter cases?"
"Oh, yeah," Sasha answered. She was slumped in her chair, her eyes closed and her face lined with pain, all of it deserved, Buffy figured. "He's real enough."
"But the full moon thing?" Buffy asked. "That's right, isn't it?"
Sasha shook her head. "The tradition behind the curse I used is one that counts the full moon as lasting three days instead of just one. That means the wolf gets two more nights on the loose."
"Oh. Well. That's great." Buffy shoved out of her chair and joined Xander in pacing. It wasn't helpful, but it was better than trying to sit still when every instinct was screaming that she *do* something. "Bad enough Sunnydale is an all-you-can-eat buffet for vampires, now it's also a game preserve for a werewolf with a grudge. Thanks a lot, Sasha."
Sasha didn't answer, just sank lower in her chair.
The library was closed for this little after-school discussion -- not that anyone would have been in there anyway. Most of the students at Sunnydale High didn't even seem to be aware the library existed, except for the ones forced inside by reports and assignments, and even most of those preferred to use the public library across town. There was just something about a library sitting on top of a Hellmouth that didn't lend itself to good study habits.
Which was convenient at the moment, when the Slayerettes needed to force information out of a Gypsy witch. The lunch time bell has forced them to leave earlier, but nothing was going to get in the way now.
"If we could stay on the topic," Giles intervened before blood could be spilled. "Miss Lakatos, who is this werewolf? And why did you curse him, for heaven's sake?"
"Because she's an idiot?" Buffy offered sweetly.
"Buffy," Giles warned.
"No, she's right," Sasha said in a low voice, still without looking up. "I am an idiot."
She sighed, letting her head roll back against the chair. "His name is Gary Kriston. He's pretty rich, one of the people who owns Santa Rosa, California, and he gets off on making other people's lives miserable. My clan came through the town a few months ago and stayed on, telling some fortunes, doing some farm and stablework in the area, that kind of thing. Kriston figured they were bad for business, and decided to get rid of them. Mostly to prove he could, I guess; he's that kind of fun guy."
She rubbed her eyes, leaning forward to rest her elbows on the table, which was covered with books and various weapons, as usual. "It started out small -- some harassment in town, a few bogus citations and fines on the trucks, some vandalism at the camp. Then, last month, he had the cops arrest my cousin Greg for committing some burglaries in town."
"That's what police traditionally do to burglars," Xander informed her.
Sasha lifted her head enough to direct a baleful glare at him. "Yeah, but false arrest isn't generally an accepted form of behavior," she said acidly. "Greg was in camp all night, but no one's going to believe the word of 'Gypsy vagrants' over a pillar of the community. Greg got railroaded at his arraignment; he's still in jail. So my grandmother -- my great-grandmother, really -- finally called me."
"You weren't with the clan?" Giles asked, leaning forward towards her. "Why not?"
"I live in L.A."
"Reading palms? Crystal balls? Psychic Hotline?" Buffy's voice got sweeter and more sarcastic.
Sasha smiled sharply. "School of Law, University of Southern California."
"Oh." So much for that line of attack. Buffy withdrew and regrouped. Lawyer jokes, maybe?
"That's... not precisely usual for a member of a Romani clan," Giles pointed out carefully.
"I'm only half-Rom." Sasha had resumed an intense study of the top of the table. "My dad left the clan when he married my mother, to help work my grandfather's stables. I was raised gadji, outsider, except for when the clan came through town some years." She sighed heavily. "When my grandmother called me back, I figured she wanted legal help to spring my cousin, no problem. Instead, she tells me I'm chov-hani and she wants me to cast a curse."
"Chov-hani?" Willow asked, looking up from her computer at the possibility of acquiring new knowledge. "What's that?"
"The Romani equivalent of a witch," Giles answered before Sasha could. "Although it's actually closer to the Spanish curandera -- a spellcaster, a healer, a fortune teller. Usually the powers are passed down through a family or clan."
"Pretty close," Sasha agreed slowly, eyeing Giles suspiciously. Buffy wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of asking where he'd picked that up. "I get it through my great-grandmother, she says, and her grandmother before her."
"Anyway, she just kept going after me to take care of Kriston," Sasha continued. "To get him out of our hair so Greg could get out and they could move on. The local law types weren't doing anything to help, since Kriston paid their salaries, so I finally just gave in. I figured I'd prove to her this magic stuff didn't work and she'd get off my back and make the rest of the clan help me with the damn legal stuff, which they didn't want to do because... just because. So, someone got a lock of his hair, and I... I cursed him." She lifted her hands in a helpless gesture with the last words.
"Great, sic a werewolf on the world," Xander said sarcastically. "Way to go."
Sasha buried her head in her arms, which muffled her voice, but did nothing to hide the bitter regret. "I didn't think it'd *work*, damn it! It wasn't supposed to *work*!"
"Well, what did you believe was going to happen?" Giles asked evenly, unmoved by the Gypsy's apparent remorse. "Did you believe you could play with powers such as these and simply be ignored?"
"Yes," Sasha said incredulously, lifting her head to look at him. "That's exactly what I thought. No one said anything about these 'powers' being real, that was *not* in the fine print."
"This is not a court or a boardroom," Giles said, his voice rising slightly. "This is a very real bargain made with a very dark power, a bargain that became possible because you acted out of ignorance and anger. You should not have been meddling with magic you did not understand!"
Willow winced and opened her mouth, probably to point out the little incident in Giles's youth, but Buffy caught her eye and cut her off with a shake of her head. Willow bit her lip and quieted.
Sasha just looked up at Giles. "How was I supposed to know there were powers there to be messed with?" she asked tiredly. "How?"
"Your great-grandmother seems to have informed you of a great deal," Giles answered, each word bitten off. "You knew what you were about."
"But I didn't know it was real!" Sasha exploded, shoving her chair back from the table and shoving herself to her feet. "All my life, everyone tells me magic's not real, it's impossible -- books, my parents, teachers, everyone! The only person who ever said different was Grandmother, and she spent her time babbling on about spells and cursed vampires and stories out of a children's fairy book! Why should I have believed my superstitious, Old Country great-grandmother over everyone else who'd told me my whole life not to?"
She leaned across to Giles, practically in his face. "Who the hell would *you* have believed?"
He didn't answer, but he did look away. Sasha's face twisted in pain as she realized she was putting weight on her injured leg, and she fell back into her seat, resting her elbows on the table so she could press the heels of her hands against her eyes. Buffy, Xander and Willow exchanged looks, none of them having a clue what to say.
"How did you find out it was real?" Buffy asked, for lack of anything better. Her words echoed oddly in the tense air of the room.
Sasha didn't look up. Her voice was flat, expressionless. "When they found his wife's body the next morning."
"Oh." Buffy swallowed.
"I've tried for the last month to figure a way out of this. Then the full moon came and I ran out of options. So I confronted Kriston, tried to stop him and...." Sasha gestured at the bandages. "It didn't work."
Buffy nodded. "So, you came looking for Angel?"
"Angelus, yeah." Sasha shrugged without looking up. "It seemed logical at the time -- fight fire with fangs, or something along those lines. And if the legends about the werewolves were true... I had to take the chance that the legends about Angelus were also true, and that I could make him help."
"How did you find him?" Willow asked curiously. "I mean, it's not usually that easy to find even a human person in one night, much less a, um, vampire kind of person."
Sasha shrugged again. "I'm not sure. I wasn't even looking for him when I got in the car. I just drove and the car steered itself in this direction. By the time I hit Sunnydale, I knew what I was looking for and then... Well, there he was."
Giles nodded thoughtfully. "The geas your ancestors laid on Angel -- it seems somewhat logical that it would also provide a means of locating him when he is to be called upon; a built-in homing signal, if you will."
"Well, I could live without it," Sasha mumbled, sinking lower in her chair until her chin rested on her chest. "I didn't sign on for a vampire in my head when I took this case."
"Tell me about it," Buffy sighed with reluctant sympathy.
"Look, all of this is really fascinating," Xander spoke up from where he'd sprawled in the chair next to Willow. Giles, reminded of his presence, gave him a Look. He took his feet off the table, but kept talking. "But it doesn't really help deal with our little animal control problem. How are we supposed to fight this thing?"
"Silver bullets," Willow read off her computer screen. "Well, silver of any kind will kill them. There's all kinds of cures here, but I don't think any of them will work too well. I don't think we could get opium and I'm not even sure what wormwood *is*."
Buffy blinked at her bud. "Willow, where the heck are you? Www.werewolf.org?"
"No, that's an online service," Willow answered seriously. "This is www.lyncanthrope.org. Lycanthrope means werewolf."
"Among other things," Giles corrected absently, crossing the room to read over Willow's shoulder. Buffy and Xander imitated him; Sasha didn't move from her huddle at the table.
"Reproach the werewolf verbally. Address the werewolf three times with a Christian name. Hit the werewolf on the head three times with a knife. Milk and whey for three days. Purge the colon and encourage.... Ew." Buffy made a face. "You're right, none of this is really practical. Well, maybe the first ones. I guess."
"Looks like the silver bullet is it," Xander shrugged, straightening up. "Yo, Giles, got anything from like, this century in that armory of yours? Anything that involves gunpowder?"
"Well, I might be able to improvise--" Giles started.
"No." Sasha cut him off.
"What?" Buffy turned to her with upraised eyebrows.
"No," Sasha repeated, finally looking up. Her face was still miserable, but determined. "We can't kill him."
"Excuse me?" Buffy stalked back towards the Gypsy. "You're not exactly in a position to start dictating terms. You made that thing, you brought it here for us to deal with. So we're going to deal, any way we have to."
"No!" Sasha slammed her hands down on the table. "He was an officious, overbearing bastard -- annoying, but not a killing offense. *I* turned him into a monster, his crimes are on *my* head. He doesn't deserve to die for *my* mistake!"
"You've got a better idea?" Buffy asked, her voice under careful control. It was hard to be snide when she was feeling a niggling of respect, and it didn't help that she could almost understand. She could still see Jesse's face.... "Better than killing him before he manages to kill you or someone else, that is?"
Sasha seemed to slowly collapse as anger drained away. "No," she admitted hollowly. "I haven't got a clue."
"Then you'd better come up with one."
Willow and Giles flinched and Xander jumped and swore as Angel appeared from the shadows of the stacks. Sasha lurched back to her feet, groping for one of the stakes on the table, as Angel continued grimly, "Because it's sundown, the moon is up, and your wolf is going to be back on the hunt."
"He's not my wolf," the Gypsy said between her teeth, the stake still clutched in her hand and aimed in the general direction of Angel's heart. "And stop sneaking up on me if you want to live!"
"What are you going to do, curse me?" Angel snarled. "Haven't you done enough damage already?"
"Not *even*," she snarled back, "but give me the chance and I'll make up for it."
The urge to simply snatch the stake out of her hand, doing whatever damage was necessary in the process, was incredibly strong. It would be so easy, she still couldn't even stand up straight.... He settled for taking a threatening step forward, and had the pleasure of seeing the Gypsy take a step back. "Here's your chance," he said dangerously, feeling the demon stir . "Try it."
Her face hardened, fear beaten back by anger and disgust. She took the step forward again, tightening her grip on the stake, and he smiled in anticipation--
-- and a slim form forced its way between them, wrenching the stake from the Gypsy's hand with a single deft move. "That's *enough*," Buffy said with a pretty good snarl of her own. "Sasha, back off!"
The Gypsy didn't move; Buffy swung on her. "I said, back off," she repeated, her voice quiet and lethal. The Gypsy stood her ground for another long moment, and Angel waited for the attack, hoped for it. But she finally backed down, retaking her seat and crossing her arms over her chest, all without taking her eyes off Angel.
"And you." Buffy turned on Angel, forcing him a step back. He growled, low in his throat, but her only reaction was to narrow her eyes even further. "If you can't help, then leave. We have enough problems without you two trying to kill each other!"
"Ten bucks on the witch," Xander muttered a little too loudly. Three glares intersected on him; he shrank down in his seat out of range. Willow continued to stare at them, wide-eyed and not a little afraid, and Angel suddenly realized his face had lost its grip on humanity -- the vampire had taken over.
The realization was enough to break through his red haze of anger. He saw the determination and well-hidden fear in Buffy's angry eyes, the way Giles' hand was poised near another stake, and abruptly turned his back, walking towards the bookcases on the other side of the room as he struggled for control. It came, but not easily.
Sasha broke the screaming silence first. "Okay. Fine." she said, biting off each word. "Kriston comes first."
"Angel?" He could feel Buffy's eyes boring into his back and gritted his teeth, but finally nodded, once. "Good. Sheesh. This is like being a kindergarten teacher, without the lousy paycheck."
Only someone who knew Buffy as well as Angel did could have heard the slight tremble in her voice; he mentally cursed himself for losing it in front of her and the others. The last thing he wanted in this life was to make Buffy afraid of him....
"Giles, what *are* our options besides the silver bullet thing?" Buffy continued, her voice strengthening as they got back to business. Angel turned enough to watch her as she settled back at the table, across from the Gypsy. "*Are* there any cures?"
Giles stuttered and shoved his glasses up, apparently caught by the abrupt change in atmosphere. "W-well, there is one alternative which should work, all mysticism aside. Since we have the chov-hani who cast the curse, the simplest thing would be for her to simply break it. Withdraw the spell and return Kriston to normal."
"I already tried that," the Gypsy informed him sullenly. "Three times. It didn't work."
"It didn't?" Giles polished his glasses, stalling for another answer. "Ah, well, then we are presented with a problem. I'm afraid I shall have to--"
"--do more research," Buffy finished the sentence with him. "And while you research, we've got a crazy man wandering around in the body of a wolf, killing blondes. Not a good scene."
"We have to take the werewolf out of action," Angel said tightly. "Whatever we do with him, he can't be left loose." He walked close enough to the table to lean one hand on the back of Buffy's chair. She tensed and looked up at him; he offered her an apologetic look, trying to ignore the hostility radiating from the woman beside her that set his teeth on edge.
Buffy studied him for a second, then smiled wryly. Apology accepted, trust more or less restored. If only everything were as easy.
"No, no, of course not," Giles agreed with Angel, replacing his glasses. "I suppose we could attempt to capture him..."
"No!" Angel objected. Everyone stared at him again, but it was a look of confusion instead of fear. He could live with that. "You can't capture something like this, you can't play games with it. All it knows is killing, and it will kill anything that gets in its way. If you go after it, it'll try to kill you."
He said the last directly to Buffy; her forehead creased in puzzled worry. "Angel, I've taken on killer demons before. I can take this one down."
"Or you can be its next meal," Angel said flatly. He touched her hair, lifting a lock of it. "He likes young blondes, remember?"
Buffy shuddered slightly and he hated himself, but she had to realize how dangerous this was. If anything happened to her....
Her shudder faded quickly, and was replaced by a thoughtful expression. Angel watched her with narrowed eyes; he knew that look. It looked like he hadn't scared her enough; she was about to have an idea, and he was willing to bet large amounts of money he was going to hate it.
"Yeah, he does like blondes," she said slowly, looking at the Gypsy with that same thoughtful expression. "Which might work in our favor...."
"This is a really stupid plan," someone said for the fourteenth time. It didn't really matter who, at this point; everyone had been repeating it for the last hour.
"It might be a stupid idea, but it might also work," Buffy repeated to the speaker -- probably Xander -- as she had been doing for the last hour. "*And* it might be our best chance of taking Furface down. If we can keep him distracted until the moon sets, we can buy enough time for Giles and Willow to come up with a cure without anyone else dying."
"Except you?" Sasha asked harshly. She was limping along using Xander as a crutch, which did not thrill Xander, but was better than letting Angel carry her.
Angel walked on Buffy's other side, as far from Sasha as they could get him, and incidentally in the perfect position to protect the Slayer if anything jumped out of the shadows. Buffy didn't think it was an accident, but was willing to let him pull the guy thing, as long as it kept him from going mental again. They'd left Willow back at the library to help Giles; aside from a token protest, she hadn't complained.
"If you get killed playing bait," Sasha continued, her teeth gritted against what had to be pretty serious pain, "the rest of us don't have a chance in hell of beating Kriston."
"You thought you and Angel could do this alone when you headed up here," Buffy shrugged, trying not to show the cold fingers that had raced up her spine at the mention of 'death'. She'd been there, done that, and didn't look forward to trying it again. But she couldn't think of anything else.
"That was before I knew a Slayer was available -- albeit not a very *bright* one."
"Watch it," Angel growled. "This is *your* mess, remember; you're not winning any intelligence awards here."
Sasha's eyes flashed, but Buffy bared her teeth at her in warning and she subsided, as they continued their slow shuffle towards the Bronze and Sasha's car.
"But it *is* a stupid plan," Angel commented after another minute.
Buffy almost growled at him. "Look, it's not like I'm doing this alone, okay? All I have to do is get his attention and lead him someplace where we can ambush him. If we can knock him cold like Sasha did, or even just get him away from the city, we win, for tonight anyway. And that'll give Giles and Willow time to think of something for tomorrow night. I hope. Sasha, you can give us some magical backup, right?"
This was the part she was unsure of; even after being attacked by magic a few times, the concept was still weird. But Sasha nodded. "I guess so. Giles dug some spells out while you were messing with your hair and they sound... right. If this chov-hani stuff is for real, I might be able to pull something off."
"Great confidence here," Buffy muttered. "And I think you've already proven how real this 'chov-hani stuff' is. So let's get it done, okay?"
Sasha had stopped herself and Xander by the side of a battered Ford sedan, abandoned two blocks from the Bronze; as she fumbled with her keys, she and the other two members of the wolfhunting party reluctantly nodded agreement. "Good," Buffy said. "Sasha, you and Xander head for the ambush spot; Angel and I will go play bait around the library."
"What makes you think he'll head there?" Sasha asked, her head inside the back door as she dug through a duffel bag laying there.
"You were bleeding all over the place last night; he's have to be a pretty poor excuse for a wolf not to track you there," Buffy said, trying to sound confident and mentally crossing her fingers. "Besides, the library sits on top of a magic sinkhole; I'm betting he'll get pulled to it like every other supernatural beastie in the universe."
"Just be careful," Xander warned, opening the passenger door. He looked resigned, but deeply unhappy.
Buffy forced a smile for his benefit. "Hey, it's me."
"That's what I'm worried about."
Buffy pretended not to hear his mutter, but turned and started back towards the library; Sasha's voice stopped her. "Buffy." Buffy turned again and waited as the Rom limped over to her. "Take this."
It was a knife, sharp and gleaming real silver in the dim moonlight. Buffy looked at it, then gave Sasha a questioning look. The Gypsy's face was grim. "My grandmother gave it to me. If it comes down to it -- kill him before he can kill you. I won't trade your life for my mistake either."
Buffy closed her fist around the hilt and nodded her agreement. The Gypsy returned the nod, then got in the car and started the engine. Buffy watched them until they were out of sight, then turned to Angel. "Ready to go fishing?" she asked cheerfully.
His look was answer enough. She sighed and started walking back towards the library, Sasha's knife held closely and comfortingly in her grasp. She didn't bother to look back at Angel; he'd gone stealth, slipping invisibly into the shadows behind her. But she knew he was there, and it was almost enough to keep her from being afraid.
She'd never seen Angel like he'd been in the library. He got annoyed sometimes (usually at Xander, and it was usually kind of entertaining), and God knew he could get intense, but she'd never seen him lose it like that, not to the point of being literally ready to rip someone's throat out. Not when he'd faced Darla, not against Spike, not even against Buffy herself. For a few minutes, he'd been Angelus and he'd scared the living hell out of her.
Then he'd gotten it under control, so abruptly it had left her blinking, and a few minutes later, he'd been Angel again. The outburst had scared him as much as it had scared her, she thought, but what if it happened again? Could she stop him from killing Sasha? How far would she go to stop him?
Something rustled next to her and she whirled before realizing it had only been a gust of wind. *Mind on business*, she ordered herself harshly, forcing herself to pay attention the world around her. The conflict between Sasha and Angel was just going to have to wait.
The city was pretty quiet; the two murders were enough to make even Sunnydale residents, able to ignore the ickiest of events, nervous about being out at night. Buffy kept her eyes and ears open, and even tried for the sixth-sense thingie Giles was so hot on. Unfortunately, it wasn't choosing to work tonight.
"Maybe we should just call a dog catcher," she said under her breath, trying to look like an innocent victim. Her hair bounced around her face in unaccustomed curls, distracting her. She shoved it back from her eyes with her free hand and curled the other tighter around the knife. Something that felt like engraving dug into her palm, but she carefully didn't look. She didn't really want to know what they said.
By the time she and her silent escort finished their meandering, 'come and get me' route back to the library, Buffy's nerves were permanently stuck on 'high'. Nothing had lunged out of the shadows yet, nothing had leapt from any alleys or from behind any trees, and she was beginning to get scared for entirely different reasons. What if she'd guessed wrong? What if the wolf had decided to stick with success and keep hunting at the Bronze. What if it had already found another victim, another classmate to munch....
From the darkness ahead of her came a low, throbbing growl. Buffy froze. "Angel?" she called carefully. "That's you, right?"
The growl deepened, got louder, moved forward. In the shadows beneath the stone rails by the front steps of the school, something moved. Something big.
"Here we go," Buffy whispered, to herself or Angel, she wasn't quite sure. One hand on the knife, the other reaching for her backpack and the crossbow she'd stashed in it, she moved carefully forward.
The shadows moved with blinding speed, lunging towards her. Stuck with the backpack still half-on, half-off, Buffy caught only a glimpse of burning yellow eyes as Angel shouted behind her.
Then the werewolf was on her.
Angel wasn't going to get there in time. Buffy registered that in the calm, cold Slayer portion of her mind that always flipped on when things got mortally dangerous. That same part of her mind had her twisting to duck the wolf's vicious attack, meeting it with a savage sidekick instead of her unprotected body.
The animal's own momentum ran it into her kick, hitting her like a truck. Buffy staggered back, tripping to the ground as the wolf gasped like a human with its breath knocked out, and fell hard to the concrete. But what would have seriously injured a human didn't do much more than shake the werewolf; in only a moment, it had regained its feet. Buffy found herself staring straight into yellow eyes, which gleamed with hunger, and anger, and a feral intelligence that was scarier than the other two combined.
It was looking forward to killing her, Buffy realized, and anything else it ran into. And the closest meals were her, Angel -- and Giles and Willow, in the open and unguarded library.
Her face hardened; she hoped the wolf could see the killer reflected in her eyes. But if it did, it ignored it, gathering its gray and black hindquarters beneath it and lunging again for Buffy's throat. She rolled out of the way, shaking loose of her backpack, and lashed out with her knife, feeling it connect with flesh. There was an unexpected flash of bright light and the wolf howled and struck out; Buffy barely dodged sharp claws and rolled to her feet as Angel appeared beside her.
"Run!" he shouted, shoving her out of the way as the wolf turned on them both. Angel swung Buffy's backpack at its head, connecting with a loud crack and buying an instant of time that neither of them wasted. Before the wolf tore the pack away from its face, they were running down the street towards the park a block away from the school.
"Keep him after you," Angel ordered, his voice choppy with the rhythm of his running. "Take the long way through the park and I'll meet you in the woods on the north side."
Buffy nodded, conserving her breath, and Angel grabbed her hand, then dropped it and ducked off in the park, heading for the bike path that was the quickest way through. Buffy circled around toward the playground, hearing claws clicking on the pavement behind her, echoing a low, growling pant. She'd run like this once before, through this same stretch of park, luring a pack of hyenas into a trap. It had worked then....
She sensed the wolf lunging for her before it hit and somehow ducked out of the way. It was too close; she *felt* hot breath on her neck as the wolf went past, and spun to face it, dropping into fighting stance with the knife held before her. Wolf and Slayer froze facing each other again, as it seemed to sink in to whatever mind the wolf had left that this prey wasn't going to give in as easily as the two dead girls had.
The wolf paced back and forth on the path ahead of her -- the path she had to follow to get to where Angel was waiting. Its legs moved oddly, as if there were joints where there shouldn't be, its coat twitched as if separate from its body, and it never took its burning stare off Buffy. Horribly, all she could remember when she met that gaze was the hyena, looking at her with Xander's eyes.
"Come on," she goaded, trying not to let her voice shake, shifting the knife and letting the streetlight reflect from the blade. "Scared of a little thing like this? Or me?" The wolf tensed, growling again deep in its throat. It was bigger than she was, and blood stained the fur around its muzzle. From last night, she wondered distantly, or had it already found a victim tonight?
"Come on, Wolfman," she taunted again. "Take on someone who can fight back. Let's go."
The wolf stopped its pacing and a human leer twisted its animal muzzle. Buffy took the chance and jumped forward, rolling over and past it in a vault that would have made Kerri Strug proud. The wolf snarled and struck out and the back of her jacket ripped, but then she was back on her feet and running again. It howled once in frustration, and followed.
"Angel!" She screamed his name as soon as the woods came in sight, feeling her breath burn in her lungs. The wolf panted behind her, breath coming hot and heavy. She stumbled once, nearly fell, keeping her balance through sheer force of will. But it cost her a second's grace, and the wolf took advantage. Something ripped at her jeans and she felt blood running down her calf. But she didn't stop running.
Then she was in the trees, the wolf close behind. She stumbled again, grabbing a tree for balance, and the wolf lunged for her.
A heavy tree branch, swung with all the strength of an enraged vampire, slammed into its chest, sending it flying backwards with a startled yelp. Angel came out of the shadows to stand between the wolf and Buffy, his game face on and the demon shining from his eyes.
"Get out of here," he told Buffy over his shoulder, his voice a snarl. "I'll meet you in the hills."
"God, be careful!" she panted, clutching at a cramp in her side that threatened to double her over.
"Go," he snarled, and she went, stumbling through the undergrowth towards the foothills that surrounded Sunnydale, whispering a jumbled, incoherent prayer as she went.
*God, please keep him safe. If you've never watched over him before, *please* do it now.*
Behind her, a wolf howled.
"I really hate this."
Sasha didn't bother to look at Xander, pacing around the car as he had been since they'd parked at the ambush. "I figured that out the first five times you said it, Xander. If it's any comfort, I'm not thrilled with this myself."
"Oh great, thanks, maybe they'll put that on our tombstones."
Sasha shook her head and put her hands flat on the hood of her car, boosting herself into a more secure position. Her leg was hurting too much to stand on or she would probably have been pacing just like Xander. As it was, she had to settle for drumming her fingers against the car, in a rhythm that was annoying Xander as much as his constant chatter was annoying her.
"What's taking so long?" he demanded now, his hands shoved deep into his pockets as he glared at the woods a hundred yards away. "They should have been here by now, if they found it."
"It's only been twenty minutes." Sasha's voice wasn't as reassuring as she would have liked, thanks to the cold fist in the pit of her stomach. It felt too long, too dangerous. The wolf could have found another victim, or could have settled for the Slayer, if she hadn't been fast enough, if Angelus hadn't....
"*God*, I hate depending on him."
She hadn't meant to say it out loud, didn't realize she had until Xander swung around to face her. "Angel, you mean."
"Yes, Angelus. What the hell is up with you people, trusting a monster like him like this? And the Slayer...." Sasha gestured widely, completely baffled and not happy about it. "She's supposed to kill vampires, not hang with them!"
"It's been pointed out," Xander shrugged, settling down on the hood next to her. His attempt at stillness probably wouldn't last long, but Sasha intended to enjoy it while it lasted. "Mostly by me, but Buffy's not big on listening, you know? She did try once, right after we found about the fang thing, but it kind of turned into a stink."
"Oh, really?" She lifted her eyebrows, waiting for him to continue, but he looked away uncomfortably instead.
"It's a long story," was his only comment. "And.. he kinda has come through for us -- a *couple* of times. We could have handled the situations, though," he added hastily.
"I'll bet," Sasha snorted. Angelus as a good guy -- and Hell would be freezing over shortly.
"You really hate him."
It wasn't a question; Sasha shook her head, her face set, and stared straight ahead. "Yeah, I really hate him."
"Why?" Her head snapped towards him and he put his hands up in a 'peace' gesture. His face was a study, torn between what looked like total agreement and reluctant loyalty. "I know he killed someone in your clan and all, but that was, like, years ago. I'm not in Angel's fan club, but he's not the same guy who attacked your clan. He's had lots of chances to kill us and he hasn't."
"The best you can say about him is that he hasn't killed you?" Sasha arched her eyebrows at him again, refusing to hear anything else he said. Her instincts, her guts, her *blood* said Angelus was not to be trusted, no matter what he'd conned these kids into believing. "Doesn't sound like there's been much of a change at all."
His eyes were disturbed as he started to say something else, but whatever it was interrupted when a piercing howl echoed through the trees, not more than half a mile away. Sasha's hands clenched instinctively, her mouth going dry, and she wished desperately for the knife she'd given Buffy. All she said out loud, though, was, "They're coming."
Xander was already on his feet next to the car, eyes wide, but face determined. From the ground beside the car, he'd snagged the quarterstaff he'd talked out of Giles on the understanding that it was to be used only as a last defense.
Sasha stood armed only with the magic her grandmother swore she had. She fought the soul-deep surety that it wouldn't be enough.
They stood back to back, waiting, not sure which direction the hunt would come from. The long dead grass around them moved with each slight gust of wind, every shift and rustle making Sasha and Xander jump. The full moon cast just enough light to make the shadows dance, lending their own air of surreality to the scene.
"This is just like 'I Was a Teenage Werewolf'," Xander babbled in a nervous whisper. "You know, when they're chasing Wolfboy through the fields with the posse on his tail after he killed the gymnast and the father is still trying to convince everyone it couldn't be his kid, and you can hear the dogs going crazy, and you just know one of the deputies is going to buy it --"
"Xander," Sasha said as evenly as she could through gritted teeth. "Shut up."
He shut, but the energy he'd been working off verbally found another outlet, setting his body into vibration mode. She pretended not to hear his teeth chatter as the sound of a fight came closer, as long as he kept ignoring the sound of her teeth doing the same.
An unexpected grin touched her lips. Damned if he wasn't right, though; it *was* just like the movie....
A tall, dark figure burst through the trees a hundred feet away, running with inhuman speed. The huge, loping form behind it kept pace, inches from Angelus's back. Xander shouted something and Angelus looked up, then changed directions, heading straight for them. Another shout, and Buffy emerged from a closer patch of woods, her pale hair glowing in the moonlight as she raced to meet the wolf and vampire.
"Stay behind the car, Xander," Sasha ordered, without looking to see if the kid obeyed, knowing he probably wouldn't. She couldn't worry about that now -- the wolf had heard her voice and stopped in mid-step, its face and eyes locked on her. Then it raced forward again, easily outstripping Angelus and heading directly for its true prey.
Her big mistake, she realized later, was in meeting its eyes. They caught her, trapping her with the wolf's malice and her own terror. She forgot to move, forgot to breathe, forgot everything but the wolf as it slowed, then deliberately stalked toward her. She stumbled back one step, ran into the car, and couldn't go any further. Her mind reached frantically for the spells Giles had taught her, for the power her grandmother insisted she had, but there was nothing there, nothing but the fear.
"Sasha, do something!" Buffy's voice; she was still too far away, but the shout was enough to shake the wolf's hold loose. Sasha grabbed it, held onto it, and one of the rituals filtered back through through her haze. She caught it, and shouted it aloud with the desperate, futile hope that it would work. The words echoed through the night and the wolf stopped dead in its tracks--
And sneered, as nothing happened. Sasha sobbed out loud in hopeless terror, falling back against the car in a last, hopeless attempt to escape... There was cold calculation in the wolf's expression; it was drawing it out, enjoying the anticipation....
"Sasha, look out!" The wolf went for her, but there was suddenly something in the way. Xander swung the quarterstaff with all of his might, and caught the wolf on the side of the head. But he didn't have Buffy and Angelus's strength; the wolf stumbled, then shook off the blow and lifted one huge paw to bat Xander aside as casually as if it was brushing off a fly. Xander's head hit the ground with a sickening thunk, and he lay still.
"No, damn you!" The scream came from three throats, but it was Sasha who continued to shout. Another spell, not words Giles had taught her, but words she'd known all along, hidden away somewhere with the Gypsy. They tore past her paralyzed throat, demanding to be heard and obeyed.
And fire leapt from her hands.
The flames blazed high into the wolf's face as it went for Sasha, singing flesh and setting fur on fire. The wolf screamed -- there was no other word for it -- and fell back, rolling frantically on the ground. The flames were persistent, and burned long past the time they should have gone out.
The wolf staggered back to its feet, alternately growling and howling with pure, pain-racked hatred. But as it regained sight and thought, it found itself surrounded by a pissed-off vampire, a bloody-faced and bloody-minded Slayer, and a Gypsy whose hands burned with flames that lit the hills around them with an unearthly glare.
They dared it wordlessly, but the werewolf had had enough for one night. Turning, it raced into the hills, away from the three that had hurt it.
Buffy knelt next to Xander instantly, Angelus beside her, checking the boy over. Sasha was only dimly aware of them calling Xander's name, of the kid rolling over with a groan of pain and an irritable, "What hit me?" All she could do was stare at her still-flaming hands, and shake.
"Xander!" Willow's eyes went wide as the hunters walked back into the library. They made a pretty wigworthy sight, Buffy admitted. She was covered with grass and dirt, her jeans ripped and stained with blood. Angel didn't look much better, and Xander already had a good-sized lump coming up on his forehead, combined with the torn windbreaker and bloody arm. He was walking alone -- just barely, but he'd refused to let Buffy or, God forbid, Angel help him.
Sasha was the least messed-up, but was pale as a ghost, walking behind the others like she was in a dream and not really registering anything around her. She hadn't spoken since Buffy had bullied her close enough to reality to say the words to make her hands stop burning; she didn't even seem to notice that Angel was walking within a few feet of her.
Willow rushed to Xander's side, and he, suddenly playing the wounded hero for all he was worth, let her put her arm around his waist, leading him to the table so he could sit down. Cordelia stared at him from her seat on the other side of the table, the compact case she'd been using to admire herself dangling, forgotten, from one hand. "What happened to you?" she demanded snidely. "Did Buffy finally get tired of the drooling and beat you up?"
Xander didn't bother to look at her. "Buffy doesn't beat up on us humans, but I'm thinking about asking her to make an exception in your case."
Cordelia made a face at him, but no comeback; she might actually be a little worried. Giles had gone for the seriously-depleted first aid kit as soon as they'd walked in, and brought it over to Xander now, after asking Buffy, "You're all right?"
"Hunky-dory," she shrugged, although her leg was starting to hurt as the adrenaline wore off. "Take care of Xander."
"I'm fine," Xander protested. Everyone up to and including Willow rolled their eyes at his ridiculous protest; he shut up and let Giles start cleaning up his forehead. Angel helped Buffy sit on the table, kneeling at her feet to start peeling her jeans away from the claw marks.
"At least they hit you in the head, Xander" Cordelia commented, watching both processes with interest. Was that a little concern lurking behind the above-it-all expression? "It's not like that can do any further damage."
Xander opened his mouth to say something that would be possibly devastating and certainly rude; Giles spoke before he could. "Cordelia, please go get some paper towels and water from the lavatory. We're going to need them."
"When did I become a nurse?" she muttered in annoyance, but obeyed, letting the doors swing shut behind her with a flourish as she Made An Exit.
Buffy watched her go, mildly baffled. "What's Cordy doing here, anyway?"
Giles concentrated on the claw marks on Xander's biceps, which looked painful, but not too serious. Willow hovered over both of them, trying to be helpful and mostly just blocking Giles's light. "She arrived a few minutes after the four of you left; something about bodies at the Bronze and deciding this was the safest place to be. She was actually quite useful for a short while, doing research."
Buffy's eyebrows went up. "Wow. Cordelia being useful. Concept."
"Indeed." Xander jumped and yelped as Giles did something painful; Giles waited for him to settle back down, then kept inspecting. "These were claws, not teeth?" he asked.
"I'm not going to ask how you can tell the difference," Buffy said, wrinkling her nose, "but yeah, it was claws. If he didn't bite us, then we're not, like, gonna start growing fur at the next full moon or anything, right?"
"I shouldn't think so. Traditionally, it is the bite that is contagious, and I'm not sure if even that would apply in this situation, as we're dealing with a curse rather than a true case of lycanthropy."
"Sasha?" Buffy turned to the Gypsy, who was standing next to the library counter as if she just didn't feel up to the effort of moving. "Sasha?" Buffy repeated, trying to get her attention.
Sasha blinked. "What? Oh, claws." She frowned, almost focusing, her voice still not-quite-there. "I don't think this is contagious -- it's my curse, so I decide who turns were, and I don't think I'd like Xander with that much fur."
"Thank you, I think," Xander told her, obviously unsure whether or not he'd just been insulted. Sasha didn't appear to hear; she'd drifted off back into her own little world, walking vaguely past the Slayerettes into Giles's office.
Giles watched her with a baffled expression. "Is she, ah....?"
Buffy shook her head. "She didn't get hurt, I think she just freaked herself. Giles... her *hands* were on fire."
Giles's eyebrows went up. "Ah. Interesting. Then the spells did work."
"Not the first one," Angel contributed. He'd had to use scissors to cut the leg of Buffy's jeans; they finally pulled loose from the blood and she hissed at the sting. "Sorry," he apologized, folding the material out of way before he stood and hugged her shoulders carefully, pressing his lips to the top of her head. The pain faded miraculously away at the unusual public display of affection, even when he knelt again to probe gently at the gashes on her leg. Buffy looked down and grimaced. She and Sasha matched now. Faboo.
"She tried something when the wolf first went for her, but it didn't work ," Angel continued as he worked. "She couldn't do anything until Xander got knocked cold--"
"--I was not out cold!" Xander protested instantly. "I just.. needed a second. To get my balance."
"Right." Angel obviously wasn't buying it for a second, which was okay, since no one else was either. Xander slouched down again, muttering under his breath, as Angel and Buffy continued to fill the other two in on their 'adventure'. Cordelia reappeared before they were finished, bearing a double handful of wet paper towels, held carefully away from her clothing. Willow helped Angel clean Buffy up, while Cordelia took over handing things to Dr. Giles.
"Do you think the werewolf will come back tonight?" Willow asked, concentrating intently on cutting tape to precisely the correct length. "I mean, you hurt it pretty bad, right?"
"Oh, yeah," Buffy confirmed, wincing; school paper towels weren't exactly gentle on the skin. "He headed for the hills, literally; we won't hear any more from him tonight. I hope."
"Just in case, I'll going to go out later and keep an eye on things," Angel volunteered, starting to tape the neat bandage in place. He was tense still, carefully not looking anywhere near Giles's office, where Sasha was still hiding.
"I'll go with you," Buffy told him, hopping down off the table. Pain shot instantly through her leg and she winced. Angel's arm was there to lower her down into a chair. "Or maybe not," she admitted.
"I can handle it," he told her with a wry half-grin, that turned angry again. "As long as the witch in there doesn't decide to tag along."
Speaking of whom... Buffy looked through the open doorway of the office, seeing Sasha sitting on the edge of the cot, completely still. There were bloodstains on her clothes from Xander and Buffy, but no blood in her face. Her eyes were someplace far away and not particularly pleasant.
Giles followed Buffy's gaze, and his brows furrowed. "She looks, ah, rather upset," he stated the obvious.
"Thank you, Counselor Troi," Buffy said, rolling her eyes. "And she should. She almost got Xander killed tonight." Xander opened his mouth to object; Buffy glared at him and he shut up. "Not to mention the rest of us."
"Be that as it may," Giles said, "it sounds as if she came through in time. And we will need her full assistance tomorrow night, if we are to face the werewolf again. Perhaps someone should go talk to her."
He looked around for a volunteer; Buffy lifted her hands fast. "Not me. I've had just about all I can take of Gypsies tonight."
Xander echoed the sentiment, Willow looked panicked at the very thought, Angel's face went extremely blank and Cordelia looked up with an expert 'as *if*' look. Giles sighed, took a last dab at Xander's forehead, and handed the towel he was using to Willow. "Fine. I'll do it. It's not as if I haven't had the practice lately." He headed for his office, muttering something under his breath about 'dealing with overly-talented teenagers and their crises" as he went.
Buffy watched him go with a grin. Then Cordelia suddenly blinked and sat up straight. "Werewolf? There's a werewolf? When did that happen?"
Angel chuckled slightly, Willow and Buffy rolled their eyes at each other, and Xander gave a disgusted snort, before they started filling Cordelia in on the gory details. Again.
Sasha stared down at her hands, spread out in the air in front of her, and moved them slightly. Back and forth, up and down, tilting them and turning them. They were her hands, real enough; she could feel them move, touch the skin and feel the sensation. But they didn't look like her hands anymore.
They weren't the same hands that clutched a pencil to get down every word the torts professor said. Not the same hands that typed briefs and term papers and looked up Supreme Court decisions. Not the same hands that had groomed her grandfather's horses and done the dishes in the sink and gotten cut up on her car's engine changing the oil.
These hands belonged to someone who could call fire from out of thin air, who could cast a curse and see the results in the eyes of a man-sized wolf. Who could cause five deaths, and nearly one more, without getting even a smear of someone else's blood on her fingertips.
She closed her eyes and pressed her fists to them until colors rose and danced before her vision, not wanting to see any more. Not wanting to wonder who those hands belonged to, if they weren't hers.
"Miss Lakatos?" It took a second for the cautious voice to penetrate through her daze; she fought it, not wanting to deal with anything close to reality. Reality was a little too much to handle right now.
"Miss Lakatos." He wasn't going away. She blinked and slowly focused; it took a huge effort to lift her head enough to meet Giles's eyes. His face was gentle and quite nervous, as if he was dealing with a very large bomb that could go off at any second. Sasha didn't blame him; she felt close to exploding.
"How's Xander?" Her voice sounded odd, and she forced a sickly smile.
"Oh, he'll.. He'll be fine," Giles stuttered. "How are you?"
She shrugged. "Oh... fine. My hands lit on fire, I've been attacked by a horror movie twice in two days, five people are dead because of me and I almost raised the count to six. I'm doing just dandy."
"Ah." Giles nodded wisely. "I, ah, have been wanting to apologize to you, actually. I... was rather harsh this afternoon, when you told us of your... situation. I.. should not have been."
"Yes, you should have. You were right. I was stupid." She stared straight ahead, sightless. "Those girls are dead because I was stupid. Kriston's wife is dead. Two of my clan.... Did I tell you he came after me, that first night? Two of my clan died trying to keep him out of camp. That's why I ran. I ran away and I brought him here... so he could kill those girls, and try to kill Xander."
Her eyes were dry and burning as she raised her hands again, as if displaying them. "Blood and fire. That's all these are good for anymore, blood and fire."
"That's enough." Giles's voice was a whipcrack, cutting through the haze of self-pity and self-disgust. She blinked up at him with surprise, the world clearing a little. "You made a mistake, true enough, but sitting in here feeling sorry for yourself is not going to help correct it. The powers you used to create this monster can also be used to fight it, and that is what you must do."
His eyes softened slightly, his voice gentling a bit. "I understand that you are tired, and injured, and frightened. But you are not alone. We chose to help you -- Xander chose to help you -- knowing full well the possible consequences."
"I didn't mean to do this, Giles." Sasha sounded like a little girl, even to her own ears, and the Watcher's face softened even further.
"I understand. Believe me, I do understand. I..." He broke off, then seemed to come to a decision. "When I was very near your age, I... made much the same mistake you did. I meddled carelessly with very dark powers and called a demon to life. That demon, that mistake, cost me the life of one of my closest friends and, not too long ago, nearly cost me Buffy's life, and that of someone I... care very deeply for."
Sasha bit her lip, both scared and strangely comforted by Giles's admission. "The demon.. did you beat it? Did you fix your mistake?"
"To be truthful, Willow and Angel did the fixing; I was... in rather the same state you are right now, and not of much use, I'm afraid." He caught her eyes, very serious. "You can do better that I managed -- you already have. Helping Buffy and the other two face the werewolf, after the harm he already caused you, took a great deal of courage. I have every faith that you will find the courage to continue, and help us correct this mistake once and for all."
He believed every word he was saying and Sasha bit her lip nearly hard enough to draw blood, fighting the urge to simply bury her face in the rough tweed of his jacket and sob her heart out. "What... What do I do?" she asked instead.
He smiled at her with approval. "The first thing you do is sleep." She started to protest automatically, but he stopped her with an upraised hand. "You are still recovering from serious injuries, not to mention emotional trauma, and also cast rather a powerful spell tonight. You need to rest or you will be of no use to us tomorrow. Go to sleep."
"All right," she sighed heavily, stretching out on the cot. A wave of sleepiness instantly rose over her. "I'll sleep. But I'm not happy about it."
Giles nodded again and stood, clearing his throat and straightening his jacket. "Good. Sleep well."
"Giles?" She stopped him before he could reach the door, something he'd said percolating through the haze of exhaustion. "Angelus fought the demon you raised?"
"Yes, he did," Giles confirmed expressionlessly. "At considerable risk to himself."
Sasha thought about that, then nodded and burrowed her face into the pillow. After a long moment, she heard Giles turn out the light and close the door carefully behind him.
In the darkness, her hand crept under the pillow, touching the smooth wood of the stake she'd taken from Buffy's stash. No matter what they said, or what games he was playing, he was still a vampire. Still Angelus.
Her hand fisted around the stake, she slept.
Angel listened with half an ear as Willow and Xander tried to explain about werewolves and Gypsy curses to Cordelia. The rest of his attention was on checking Buffy's wound again and determinedly not watching Giles talk to the Gypsy in his office.
He checked the tape on the bandage one last time to make sure it would hold and stood. "Finished. You're sure you're okay?" he asked Buffy, reaching out to smooth her hair away from her face.
She laid her cheek against his palm and smiled up at him. "I'm fine, especially with you to take such good care of me."
"Well, you can return the favor sometime," he told her, smiling back. But his eyes were drawn from hers back to the small office across the room, and his smile faded, dull anger taking its place.
Buffy followed his gaze, and her face sobered as well. "Angel...." she started hesitantly. "Before, when you first got here....."
"I'm sorry, Buffy," he cut her off quickly. He didn't want to think about what he'd almost done, what he'd let her see. "I don't know what happened. One second, I was coming to warn you, the next..." He shook his head once, violently, and walked away from her, getting as far from the office as possible.
He'd expected Buffy to follow and he was right. "What *did* happen?" she asked carefully. "For a minute there, I thought you were really going to.... Why is she making you so crazed? I've never seen *anyone* who could make you lose it like this."
He shook his head, not quite daring to look at her. "I told you, I don't know. It's like... Every time I see her, I have to fight myself to keep from--" He broke off, not wanting to say it out loud, and started over. "We're enemies. We always have been, we always will be. But I can keep it under control."
"You have to control it, Angel," Buffy said seriously, putting her hands on his arms and forcing her to meet his eyes. "Whatever it is that's making the two of you go postal, you can't let it."
"We'll get rid of the werewolf," Angel promised her. "With or without the witch."
"That's not what I'm worried about!" Her hands tightened on his arms. "I don't want to lose you, and I'm afraid... You almost lost it tonight, and I'm afraid if you really do lose it -- you won't come back."
Her eyes were wide, simultaneously old and incredibly young. He put him arms around her and pulled her close, trying to comfort her. "You're not going to lose me," he said intensely. "I promise. I'm not going to let the Rom take anything else from me."
She didn't answer, but her arms crept around his waist and held on tightly.
"Ahem." They moved a little ways apart when Giles cleared his voice a few feet away; Angel hadn't even heard him come back out into the library. The Watcher couldn't quite look at them, but said uncomfortably, "Sorry to intrude, but I could use your assistance with our research, Angel."
"Right." Angel hugged Buffy quickly, then dropped his arms. She took his hand and they trailed behind Giles back to the main table, where Xander and Willow had either finished explaining to Cordelia or given up, and were buried back in books and the computer, respectively.
"Have you come up with anything yet?" Buffy asked them, sitting on the table. Angel pulled up a chair next to her and Giles seated himself.
"Not a great deal," he admitted. "While there are many cures for mystical lycanthropy listed, few of them are considered very reliable, and it's possible none of them will work on a curse victim at all."
"But shouldn't they work?" Willow asked hesitantly. "I mean, a werewolf is a werewolf, right?"
"Not precisely." Giles took off his glasses, looking tired. "Curses are a tricky business; everything depends on the terms set down in the original spell and the intent of the caster. Theoretically, Sasha herself should be able to break the curse, but she has already stated she cannot."
"Assuming she knew what she was doing when she tried," Angel pointed out, hearing the edginess in his own voice at the very mention of Sasha's name. "She's not exactly reliable."
Giles frowned. "An excellent point. I shall have to quiz Sasha as to her means and methods when she awakes. It may still be possible.... At any rate," he recovered before wandering off into another theoretical haze, "that still leaves us the problem of locating and confining the werewolf before he can do further damage to the population. Buffy, you said it was injured tonight."
"Barbecued," Buffy confirmed cheerfully. "And that thing about the silver was right on the mark, Will; the knife Sasha loaned me definitely did some damage."
Willow grinned and Giles frowned. "Knife?"
At his gesture, Buffy handed the small knife over to Giles. "I think there's something weird with it; it, like, flashed when I used it on Big And Hairy."
Giles examined the knife, muttering under his breath as he read the engravings -- some kind of warding spell, from what Angel could make out -- and tested the blade. "Yes, quite. This would appear to do the job. Spelled or enchanted or some such, I would guess."
"So we know how to hurt it," Xander summarized. "But do we know how to hurt it enough? I mean, that thing is huge, and it's mean. If we shoot it, I think we're just gonna make it mad."
"Poorly phrased, but not entirely inaccurate, I'm afraid," Giles agreed. "A regular wolf would be rather formidable; one of this size and apparent intelligence is, ah, rather more so."
"So don't deal with the wolf," Cordelia spoke up for the first time, inspecting her manicure.
Everyone turned to look incredulously at her. "Well, see, there's a little problem with that," Xander informed her sarcastically. "If we don't deal with Wolfman, he starts using Sunnydale as a restaurant again, and that would be Bad."
Cordelia looked up from her perfect nails long enough to give Xander a disgusted and very superior look. "Hello, genius, I know that. But he's only a wolf at night, right? So go after him during the day, when he's, like, a guy. Buffy can take a guy."
Angel opened his mouth to tell Cordelia why she was wrong -- and it stayed open. Beside him, Buffy blinked slowly, and Giles stared at Cordelia as if she'd grown another head. Willow had frozen in the middle of typing to do the same.
"I'll be damned," Angel said slowly. Trust Cordelia to come at things from her own weird angle. "She's right."
Buffy nodded, still apparently in shock. "All we have to do is figure out where this guy, Kriston, is holing up during the day, and we can take him down then. No fuss, no muss."
"Well, it's not quite that easy," Giles said cautiously. "We will still need to discover a way to confine him when he reverts to wolf form but, yes, that would simplify the actual capture. An excellent suggestion, Cordelia."
He only stumbled a little over the compliment, and Cordelia smiled proudly. "No problem. *Someone* has to keep things simple around here."
"And simple is what you do best," Xander replied, apparently out of reflex since he was still looking shellshocked.
Cordelia glared at him and stood up. "Now that I've solved your problem for you, I don't have to hang around with you losers anymore," she sneered, picking up her purse. "Have fun playing dog catcher."
"I already used that line," Buffy muttered as Cordelia left in a huff -- which, Angel had to admit, she did well. Buffy continued to make faces at Cordelia's back until she was out of sight, then turned back to the others. "So, how do we find this guy during the day?"
"We could check the hotels," Willow volunteered, already typing away. "Most of them are computerized and I can check that way."
"We can call the rest of them," Xander added. "The desk clerks won't know we're hunting this guy; they'll tell us if he's registered if we make up a good enough story."
"Wow, we have a plan," Buffy grinned. "Concept. I'll help you with the calls, Xander."
"And I will do more research on removing curses." Giles started sorting books again. "That seems to be our best hope. Angel, will you assist me?"
Angel nodded his agreement, although it wasn't exactly his favorite topic, and picked up the nearest stack of books. Buffy had slipped off the table and gone to stare over Willow's shoulder.
"I'll print out the names of the hotels and their phone numbers," the redhead was saying. "It'll just take me a minute to bring up the listings."
"Or we can do it the old fashioned way and use a phone book," Buffy pointed out.
Willow smiled and blushed slightly. "Well, yeah, we could do that."
"I think every book in existence is out here *except* the Yellow Pages," Buffy continued, surveying the table. "Giles, is there one in your office?"
"I believe there is," Giles answered absently, nose already buried in a book. "I'll get it."
The other four waited. When Giles showed no signs of actually moving, Angel shook his head. "I'll get it."
Buffy caught his arm as he started to move away. "Are you sure? I mean, Sasha's in there and you guys... You do tend to wig more when you're in the same room."
Angel tried a reassuring smile. "It's okay, I think I can handle it for ten seconds." He had to try, at least; he was not going to let the Gypsy have any more control over his actions then he had to.
Buffy might have understood, or maybe she just trusted him. Whichever it was, she let him go and went back to helping Xander kibitz Willow's hackerdom. Angel listened with amusement as he crossed the library, but the amusement faded as he had to force himself to actually open the door to Giles's office.
It was dark inside; the Gypsy was a shadowed, unmoving heap in the middle of the cot on the wall opposite the door. Her breathing was steady and Angel went inside, forcing the muscles that had tensed as soon as he'd seen the Gypsy to move as quietly as possible. He sorted through the stacks on Giles's desk, grateful for the night vision that made the lack of light an annoyance rather than a problem, and located the Yellow pages on one of the shelves above the desk. Getting it down was a problem, but he managed to work it loose, and turned back towards the door.
Only his preternatural reflexes let him turn in time, as the Gypsy, her eyes open and wild, lunged across the room at him, stake in hand and aimed for his heart.
"No, damn you!" The scream came from three throats, but she continued to shout, pulling words from deep within her. She held out her hands and they burst into flame -- and kept burning, spreading not to the wolf, but up her arms towards her body, towards her face. She screamed again as the heat tore at her skin and the wolf laughed, advancing on the boy who lay still on the ground beside her.
"Stop him!" she screamed to the Slayer who stood a few feet away, but the girl only shrugged.
"That's your job," she said easily. "Your problem. Your fault."
"No!" The flames had spread to her entire body now; through their light, she watched helplessly as the wolf bent over the boy, unable to move. The wolf looked up and it was Angelus grinning at her, his face a fright mask, his eyes as yellow as the wolf's.
"Too late, chov-hani," he growled, and his fangs shone white in the flickering light as the flames rose to devour her....
"No!" Sasha bolted upright, her own scream echoing in her ears. There was darkness all around her, an unfamiliar room, and a few feet away, an all-too-familiar face. "Bastard!"
There was a stake already in her hand as she lunged across the room, nothing in her mind except killing the thing that had killed Xander. Even as she came at him, his face twisted and changed, the demon breaking through the human charade. He met her charge with a backhanded blow with the heavy object her held in his hand; she almost ducked and the object caught her on the shoulder and knocked her to one side.
She barely felt the impact when she hit the floor, but came back on her feet instantly, swinging the stake in a deadly arc towards Angelus's chest. She'd surprised him, and she saw the stake rip into his side with grim pleasure that was dimmed only by the fact that she'd missed.
He snarled as the blood began to flow and grabbed her wrist in an iron grip, forcing the stake to drop from suddenly numb fingers. Slowly, he forced her down to her knees, his face contorted with rage. She saw his fangs coming towards her, as they had gone after Xander, and her own anger boiled even higher. Ignoring the pain in her wrist, she pulled backwards with all her weight, throwing the vampire off balance, and tore her hand free, grabbing the stake back up from the floor. She wouldn't miss this time, she saw with satisfaction, and slammed the wood down towards Angelus's unprotected heart.
"What the hell?" The shout was Sasha's only warning, before a heavy body slammed into hers, knocking her back from Angelus to the floor. She screamed and fought her captor, but his arms were in an unbreakable band around her chest.
Through the haze of rage and frustration, she was dimly aware of a girl's voice shouting and of the lights suddenly coming on. They were blindingly bright, disorienting her and she struggled harder against the arms that held her prisoner.
"Knock it off!" a boy's voice gritted, close to her ear. "He may be a pain in the neck, but he's our pain in the neck and you don't get to shishkabob him! Or me!"
She froze. No, he was dead. She'd seen him die, she'd seen Angelus kill.... No, it had been the wolf, and the fire had burned.... No, Buffy had.....
Her vision slowly returned. With it came memory, and sanity, and realization.
They hadn't been expecting trouble, and the scream from Giles's office caught them all off guard. Buffy recovered first, jumping from her chair so fast she knocked it over, but Xander was closer and somehow beat her to the office, throwing open the door.
"What the--?" Buffy had just enough time to register the image of Sasha, crouched over an off-balance Angel with a stake descending towards his heart, before Xander plunged through the doorway, slamming into the Gypsy with a tackle that would have gotten him instantly recruited for the Sunnydale High football team if a coach had been around to see it.
The stake clattered to the ground as they fell backwards into the shadows and Angel lunged forward, game face on and pissed. Buffy hit the light switch in the same motion that she ran forward, nearly tripped over the phone book he'd gone in to get, and put herself between Angel and the pair on the floor without a second thought.
"Angel, no!" she shouted, grabbing his shirt with both hands. He snarled down at her as if he didn't even recognize her, his face twisted with a blind fury she'd never seen before. The Slayer in the back of her mind screamed in warning, but she hung on grimly. His shirt was wet, soaked with blood, and she ignored that, too. She had to stop him.
"Angel, listen to me, you can't do this!" He was almost a foot taller than she was; she couldn't really shake him, but she gave it her best shot, meeting his eyes fearlessly. "Angel, knock it off! Angel!"
There was a muffled grunt behind her and Buffy took her eyes off Angel just long enough to check on Xander. Sasha was still fighting him, her eyes wide open, wild and unseeing, as she fought to break free; Xander held her grimly in place with his arms locked around her chest and shoulders.
Maybe the sight of them was what got through to Angel, or maybe he'd finally registered Buffy's presence. Whatever it was, he stopped trying to get past her at Sasha, and something human returned to his eyes. Buffy wasn't about to let him go, though; the demon still twisted his face.
"What the hell happened?" she demanded at the top of her lungs.
The force of the yell, combined with Xander's shouts, finally seemed to break through whatever was going on in Sasha's head; she stopped so suddenly Xander almost let go out of surprise. Sasha was still on the floor, but she wasn't fighting him anymore; her eyes were wide with fear and confusion, her face nearly blank from shock. Considering how close she'd just come to killing Angel, Buffy had absolutely no sympathy.
"I didn't..." Sasha stammered weakly. "I thought... He was...." She couldn't get out anything else; her body crumbled against Xander, her words disappearing into choked sobs. Xander could barely hold her up as she collapsed.
Buffy turned away from the Gypsy, obviously no longer a threat, with disgust, looking back up at Angel. His game face was still on, but sanity had come back to his expression. "Angel, what happened?" she asked, forcing her voice to stay steady and firm.
He shook his head, his body so tense it nearly vibrated beneath his hands, his eyes still glaring holes through Sasha. With no warning, he tore free from Buffy's hands and nearly ran out the door past Giles and Willow.
Buffy watched him go, torn between dealing with the weeping Sasha and racing after her boyfriend. Willow took the decision out of her hands, moving forward to kneel on the floor beside Sasha and Xander, hesitantly touching the Gypsy's shoulders. "We'll take care of her," she said over her shoulder. "Go take care of Angel."
"Thanks, Will," Buffy breathed, before turning and running out of the library after Angel.
She caught up to him halfway down the block from the school, and grabbed his jacket, pulling him around to face her. He swung so fast he almost knocked her down; she took a step back but didn't let him go.
"Get away from me," he snarled. "Just get away."
She stood her ground. "No! Not until you tell me what happened in there! What did she do to you?"
He leaned over her, so close she could see herself reflected in his eyes. His yellow, enraged eyes, so far from the soft, deep brown eyes she knew.... "How do you know I didn't go after her?"
He wasn't going to intimidate her. She set her jaw and informed him, "Because I know you better than that." That backed *him* up a pace; she pressed her advantage. "Why did she go after you?"
"I don't know," he said finally, turning away again, but not walking off. Buffy took that as a good sign, even if he wouldn't look at her. "One second she was asleep, then she came at me with a stake. And I almost killed her for it."
Ah. That would be why he was wigging. "She came after you, and you *didn't* kill her," she pointed out, keeping her voice as reasonable as possible. "In fact, when I came in, it looked more like you were on the losing end." He didn't turn around, didn't answer. She tried desperate tactics. "You know, you're going to have to thank Xander for saving your skin. And he's going to rub it in, as often as possible."
She'd been hoping for a laugh, but not really expecting one, and she didn't get it. But his shoulders did relax just a little, which gave her the nerve to take his jacket again and move back in front of him. He was Angel, again, at least; the demon had retreated, leaving his face human once more.
"She didn't hurt you?" Buffy asked carefully, touching his bloody, ripped T-shirt.
He shook his head, shrugging the injury off and still refusing to meet her eyes. "I'll be fine. She caught me by surprise, or...." His voice broke off, his eyes darkening. "I can feel it happening, every time I'm around that witch," he said, low and intense. "It's like the demon is just waiting below the surface, ready to go for her throat. Or anyone else who happens to be around."
"That won't happen," Buffy told him fiercely. "You won't let it!"
"How do you know?" He looked at her for the first time, his eyes dark with unreadable emotion. There'd been a time when she hadn't been able to see anything in those eyes; now she could see everything, and didn't know what half of it was. "The Rom made me what I am; they gave me my soul again. And every time Sasha Lakatos comes near me, I can feel them taking it back."
He laughed hollowly, humorlessly, his hands deep in his pockets and his face turned towards the sky and the full moon. "They should have just killed me a hundred years ago, instead of drawing it out with this damned curse."
"Was it a curse, Angel?" Buffy asked, sounding very young even to herself. "Would you change it?
He closed his eyes, his head falling forward as if he was too tired to hold it up anymore, and sighed. "I don't know. I don't know much of anything anymore."
She nodded, understanding that all too well. "I know what you mean."
"Yeah." They stood like that, together, but not touching, for what seemed like forever. Finally, Angel took another of those deep breaths he didn't really need, and straightened. "I'd better get going, make sure that damn wolf isn't going to come back tonight."
Buffy nodded. "It's late enough that he won't find many meals wandering around. Be careful?"
He almost smiled down at her. "I will. Keep an eye on the witch. She's dangerous."
Buffy lifted her chin. "So am I."
That got the laugh out of him she'd wanted earlier, the soft, blessedly normal chuckle. "Yeah, you are." His hand caressed her cheek like a whisper, then he started down the street.
Buffy looked after him until he was gone, then headed back inside the school. It was a bad night to be outside alone, even for the Slayer.
The library was considerably more quiet than it had been when she'd left it; Giles was slumped at the table, his glasses on the table in front of him so he could rub his eyes. He looked... tired.
He looked up at her soft question, and attempted to straighten up in his chair, without much success. "Buffy. How is Angel?"
"Lousy." Buffy slumped into the chair opposite her Watcher. "Her?" she asked shortly, with a gesture towards the office.
Giles sighed. "'Lousy' would seem to cover it. Willow is still attempting to calm her. Buffy, she was... not entirely sane for a few moments."
"Not guilty by reason of insanity? I don't care, Giles." Buffy's eyes were hard and cold. "All I care about is getting rid of this damn wolf so we can get rid of her, before Angel does something he'll regret."
She looked towards the office, barely able to hear Willow's voice saying something soothing and comforting to the Gypsy who'd just tried to kill the only *good* thing that Slaying had given her.
"Or before I do," she finished grimly.
Sasha woke up exhausted, disoriented and in pain. As usual. As she shoved herself to something resembling a sitting position on the cot, she tried to keep her mind as blank as possible, putting off the inevitable moment when memory would return. But her wrist objected to being used as a lever and she made the mistake of looking at it. The sight of the swollen, angry bruises brought it all back, in vivid detail.
"Oh my god." She fell backwards on the bed, pulled the pillow over her head and gave serious thought to just staying there until the end of time. But no; Giles would eventually want his office back, and it was only four weeks until finals. She was going to have to get up and face the music. Or the vampire, as the case might be.
She considered staying in hiding, then gave it up and shoved the pillow off of her face so she could look at Willow, who hovered hesitantly in the doorway. "Hi."
"Hi," the teenager responded with a quick, if tentative, smile. She didn't seem inclined to come any further into the room, though, and Sasha sighed heavily as she sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the cot and dropping her face into her hands.
"You can come closer," she said without lifting her head. "I'm unarmed."
Willow laughed unconvincingly and came the rest of the way through the doorway. "Oh, I... wasn't worried," she lied badly. "Not really. You kinda.. weren't yourself last night. Um..." Her voice took on an edge of worry. "How much do you remember about, um...?"
"Almost skewering Fang Boy? Entirely too much, thanks." Sasha rubbed her face, ignoring the protests of her wrist, then forced herself to look up, pretty sure what she'd see. She was right; Willow hovered a good two feet away, her open face an interesting combination of worry, nervousness and determined cheer. "How's Xander?"
"Oh, he's fine. He's bragging to anyone who'll listen about the three muggers he beat off. Pretty much no one believes him, even with the lump on his head." The worry part of Willow's expression got stronger when she got a good look as Sasha's wrist, swollen to twice its normal size, fingerprints very clearly marked in black and blue. "Oh, no. Did Angel do that?"
Sasha shrugged. "Considering I was trying to kill him at the time, he might actually have been justified. And if you ever repeat that, I'll deny it."
Willow grinned conspiratorially, looking much happier. "Your secret dies with me."
Sasha chuckled slightly, surprising herself, and started the process of hauling herself to a vertical position. She was still in sweats and T-shirt she'd worn the day before, but someone (probably Willow) had taken off her shoes and socks. After a few minutes of groaning and complaining as her sore muscles and still-painful leg protested any and all movement, she made it to her feet.
"Are you hungry?" Willow asked. "'Cause Giles always has tea and I think there's some bagels somewhere."
"No, thanks, I'm fine," Sasha answered, putting her hands at the small of her back and attempting to stretch with no real success. "Well, I'm not fine," she amended on another groan, "but I'm not hungry."
"Still, you should eat," Willow said seriously, rummaging in a bag on Giles' desk and producing a bagel. "Giles says you need to eat after you do magic stuff or you could get really sick and... um.... "
Sasha raised her eyebrows as Willow's sentence trailed off, hearing the unspoken 'crazy' that ended it. "And what? Never mind," she waved off the stumbling attempts at cover. "Give me the bagel, I'll eat."
Willow handed it over, looking relieved. "So, did you lose the toss?" Sasha said around a mouthful of bagel, which did taste awfully good, she admitted to herself. Maybe she was a little hungry....
"Babysitting detail," Sasha clarified, gesturing at herself with the bagel. "Can't see anyone volunteering to hang around a lunatic."
"Well, I did," Willow blinked. "Um, volunteered, I mean, not lost the toss. And you're not a lunatic. I don't think." She stopped, visibly backtracked and recovered. "I mean, this is my free, so I was looking up hotel registries on the computer."
"Yeah." Willow's face lit up. "See, we thought that maybe we could find the wolf when he's being human, and try to fight him that way, instead of waiting for the fur and the fangs and stuff."
It was Sasha's turn to blink. "Oh. What a concept." A pretty good one, too; it hadn't worked when Sasha had tried it, but she'd made the mistake of appealing to Kriston's sanity. She knew better, now. "Who had that flash of insight?"
"Cordelia." Willow looked faintly embarrassed. "You remember, she was here last night."
Sasha frowned and searched her memory, coming up with the faint image of a stand-offish brunette, but no details. "Whatever. I'm trying to block last night out."
"I, um, can understand that." Willow left the office to go back to her computer, and Sasha trailed behind at her gestured invitation, snagging another bagel as she went. "Anyway, we haven't been able to find him yet; Buffy thinks he might be using a fake name, so we're looking for anything that sounds right. You know, like wolf or something."
"It's an approach." Sasha settled herself painfully into one of the hard chairs, munching bagel and watching Willow work. The redhead's face was serious and intent as she typed away quickly and supercompetently. Then she stopped, looked up at Sasha, hesitated, then looked back down at the keyboard, only to look up again a few seconds later.
Sasha watched the performance with wry amusement the first three times, but had to comment after the fourth. "Something on your mind, Willow?"
"No!" Willow denied instantly, then amended, "Well, something. Sasha.... why did you try to hurt Angel? I mean, the stake and the fight and all...."
Sasha sighed again, and rubbed her eyes. "I went postal," she explained simply. "I was having a bitch of a nightmare, and I woke up to find one of the principal figures standing two feet away. The Romani instincts just sort of took over and..." Great; Willow's inability to finish a sentence was apparently contagious.
Willow looked as if she understood, or was at least trying to. Sasha distinctly remembered seeing a similar expression on the redhead's face the night before. Which reminded her.... "I meant to thank you, by the way."
"For keeping me from losing what was left of my mind last night. That... can't have been easy. So, thank you."
"Oh, it's okay," Willow smiled shyly. "Buffy can get kind of overly sometimes, too, so I get lots of practice."
Sasha found herself chuckling again; she liked this kid. "I can imagine."
"But you know," Willow continued, her smile fading, "Angel's really not a bad guy."
"So people keep telling me." Sasha slouched further down in her chair and closed her eyes. "Forgive me if I have a hard time believing that. I know a little too much about him."
"No, you don't." Sasha looked up sharply and Willow gulped, but pushed determinedly on. "You know about Angelus, about what he was *before* that curse thing your clan did. That's not Angel, not anymore. The curse made him different, made him a person again. A *good* person."
"What are you, his fan club president?" It came out harsher than she'd intended, but Willow, though shaken, was undeterred.
"No, but he saved my life at least once, and Buffy's a couple of times. He staked Darla, the one who made him a vampire, to keep her from killing Buffy." The teenager was leaning forward past her computer now, her eyes intent. "Even Xander admits Angel's a good guy -- well, he would if he wasn't in the habit of hating him, and that's what you're in," she concluded. "A habit. You've gotten so used to hating Angelus that you're not looking at Angel and that's not fair!"
Her voice had risen to close to a shout; she seemed to realize it and stopped abruptly, sinking back into her chair as Sasha stared at her with open-mouthed shock.
"It's... It's a little more complicated than that," Sasha finally managed to say.
Willow nodded, biting her lip, once more the timid teenager. "I know; Giles says that curse thing is probably why you guys are always at each other's throats -- well, that and 'cause of the Gypsy/vampire thing. He says you're kind of programmed to fight. But couldn't you... change your programming, maybe?"
Willow's eyes were far too big, far too pleading; Sasha looked away uncomfortably. Her worldview had been shifted too many times in the last few days, the last few weeks and she didn't know if she was up to dealing with yet another change. But Willow looked so unhappy....
"I.... Maybe," Sasha finally mumbled. "I can't make any promises, but... maybe."
Willow still looked faintly unhappy, but nodded anyway. To Sasha's everlasting gratitude, the computer beeped before Willow could extract any more concessions. The girl was dangerous. "What's up?" Sasha asked, the better to distract her.
Willow typed away, back in computer geek mode. "Oh, I've got the computer set to search the police and newspaper databases and flag unexplained stuff, like bodies and things. Looks like they just found another one."
Sasha swallowed hard, then got up to look over Willow's shoulder. "Another... wolf one?"
Willow blinked. "Oh, no, just a body. Well, not *just* a body, but not one that had been, um, eaten or anything. You know, normal. The police report just says they found a man in his car, with, um, a broken neck and no identification. They haven't figured out who he is yet."
"Ah. Normal." Sasha nodded wisely, mentally shuddering. "Get a lot of those?"
"Not really." Willow made a face. "We get lots of bodies, but most of them are kind of not normal. Sunnydale's like that."
"I gathered." Willow downloaded the police report anyway, and then went to the coroner's office to get the preliminary autopsy report. Idly, Sasha catalogued the number of laws the hacker was breaking, but mostly she just watched the little, innocent looking girl matter-of-factly deal with murder scenes and cross-reference them to vampires. It almost gave Sasha more to think about than Willow's impassioned defense of Angelus.
The bell rang as Willow finished, and she got up, collecting her books and starting to hang up the modem. "Can you leave it hooked up?" Sasha asked quickly, taking over Willow's chair. "I want to check my e-mail, see if anything important is happening back in reality."
Willow looked startled. "You can use a computer?"
Sasha winced. "Yes, I can use a computer. In some circles I'm actually considered a reasonably competent human being, hard as that is to believe."
"No!" Willow protested hurriedly. "I mean, I believe it! It's just that everyone else is scared of computers except Ms. Calendar. You can use it."
"Thanks." Sasha took over the keyboard and waited patiently for Willow to leave. Willow dawdled, sending several hesitant looks towards her computer and a not a few concerned ones towards Sasha.
The latter rolled her eyes. "Willow, I'll be fine and so will your baby. Go."
"Okay," Willow said finally, unconvinced. She sent several looks back over her shoulder before actually leaving the library.
Sasha waited until she was sure the teenager was gone, then starting typing as quickly as she could. There was no telling when Giles would be back, and she had a feeling he'd have a lot to say about her plans if he figured them out. Sasha didn't want to hear common sense; she'd made her decision sometime in the last ten minutes and had no intention of letting anyone talk her out of it.
It took only a moment to call up the police report on the murder victim and discover that his clothes had been taken as well as his wallet, but not his car. Sasha stared at the report, then nodded and, following her hunch, ran the car's license plate through the California DMV, using a backdoor one of her law school buddies had discovered while clerking the summer before. A name came back in minutes and she cross-referenced it against the hotel records Willow had left on the desktop.
It took less than thirty seconds to find the match.
Before she could lose her nerve, she got up and went to the phone on the main desk, dialing in the number of the hotel. "Room 664," she told the desk clerk, and waited, her heart pounding sickly.
It was no surprise to hear his voice when he answered; somehow, she'd known what she was doing all along. It might have been the lack of shock that kept her voice study as she said, "Kriston. This is Alexandra Lakatos."
When Buffy and the other two Slayerettes finally made it to the library at four-thirty, Giles was pacing around the main table, carrying two books and attempting to read a third, while making stops to reference a fourth. His hair was rumpled and his tie had disappeared somewhere between fifth period and now.
"There you are at last," he said as they came in, slamming the book he was reading shut and hustling over to them. "Where the devil *have* you been?"
Buffy made a face; Xander had won the bet as to what the first words out of Giles's mouth would be. "I cut class yesterday to keep an eye on Gypsy Chick and Snyder busted me for it today. Not only did he make me spend my seventh period free in his office listening to one of his 'juvenile delinquent' speeches, he also gave me detention."
"Well, couldn't you avoid it, or 'cut' again, or something?" Giles fussed.
"No chance." Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Coach Galway was running D-hall. He thinks we should have to run 100 laps if we're just a little tardy."
"And I was waiting for her in the computer lab," Willow volunteered, "so I could use, um, Ms. Calendar's on-line account to talk to some of her friends about werewolves."
Giles perked up when Ms. Calendar's name was mentioned, started to ask something, then closed his mouth and looked depressed again. Willow and Buffy traded looks. They were going to have to do something about that situation pretty soon, Buffy resolved quietly, dropping her backpack to the table and sitting on the tabletop next to it. As soon as there was more than two consecutive days without a crisis.
Giles was only distracted for a moment though. "And you?" he asked Xander, already sounding resigned.
Xander looked innocent, or at least tried to. "Cheerleading practice. I found a perfect seat under the bleachers. Hey, everyone else was busy!" he defended himself at the girls' expressions.
Giles sighed heavily, trying to take off his glasses before realizing his hands were full of books. "Not to interfere in your extracurricular activities," he said impatiently, with glares at Buffy and Xander, both of whom looked away guiltily, "But we do have the slight problem of a werewolf. Willow, were Jen--, ah, Ms. Calendar's friends of any assistance?"
"Well I didn't exactly get to stay on-line very long," Willow said unhappily. "But lots of them were at work, so I can check my mail and see if anyone's answered."
"Do that," Giles agreed, tapping Buffy on the shoulder pointedly. She rolled her eyes, but slipped off the table, taking a chair instead. Willow sat next to her, booting up the computer. The modem started making its funny noises a minute later. "Now, where has Sasha gotten to?"
"She should be back in your office," Buffy shrugged, slouching a little further down. Sasha was about the *last* person she wanted to deal with. "Or did she finally come out of hiding?"
Giles froze, blinking. "I had thought," he said, very deliberately, "that she had gone somewhere with the three of you. She's not in the office; in fact, I haven't actually seen her since I left for the teachers meeting right after school."
The Slayerettes traded glances and Buffy straightened in her chair. "Where could she have gone?" she asked slowly. "It's not like there are a thousand things to do and see in Sunnydale."
"Um, guys," Willow spoke up, frowning at her computer. "I think I might know where she is."
"What?" Buffy leaned over to look at the screen. "What do you have?"
"An e-mail from Sasha," Willow said seriously. "Guys...." She looked up unhappily. "She went to find the wolf -- Kriston -- by herself."
As she stood in the doorway of the empty warehouse, studying its shadowed depths to find her 'appointment', all Sasha Lakatos was think was what a stupid idea this was.
She knew it was stupid. There was absolutely no doubt in her mind whatsoever that this was stupid, and probably suicidal. Unfortunately, she hadn't been able to think of any alternatives in the last four hours; nothing that didn't involve taking three teenagers into a dangerous, bloody fight that wasn't their own. Xander had already been hurt in this; she was damned if anyone else would pay for her screw-up.
"Kriston!" she called, praying her voice wouldn't crack, and took a few steps into the warehouse. The water beat against the pier out in back, and she took some amount of comfort, however illusory, in the sound of the steady waves.
The next sound was less than comforting. "I'm here," an all-too-human voice answered. "Come and find me."
Sasha's lips tightened. I'm not here to play games," she yelled in the direction of Kriston's voice. The sixth sense she'd finally started allowing herself to pay attention to told her he was about a hundred feet away; finding him wouldn't be a problem if he kept playing hide and seek.
He didn't. Kriston stepped out from the shadows of a pile of crate, ahead of her and to the left, the dim twilight from the dirty windows barely touching him.
Not for the first time, Sasha looked at Kriston, and wondered how such a... well, *twit* could have wreaked such havoc in her life. He was a few inches shorter than her own five-ten, with thinning brown hair that was normally styled to within an inch of its life, pale blue eyes, a thin body getting thick at the waist (which fact he tried to hide, unsuccessfully, with tailored suits), and a smile that normally attempted to be charming and/or seductive and generally came off smarmy as hell.
Not now, though. Now, his hair fell in his face, almost hiding his eyes, and his lips twisted in a smirk that couldn't be described as anything but evil. The suit pants and white dress shirt he wore fit badly, made for someone taller and broader -- like the dead man in the car. And his eyes.... They were still blue, but something shone unpleasantly in their depths.
Sasha had seen those eyes before, glowing yellow from the face of a wolf about to kill her.
She didn't let Kriston see her swallow, kept her knees from shaking with a force of will. She put her chin up and walked forward, further into the warehouse.
Kriston watched her come, his eyes raking over her as if he was considering picking her up in a bar. But a date for dinner took on entirely new meanings.... "I didn't think you'd have the nerve to show up," he said, smirk still in place. "You're much better at running than fighting. And no bodyguard? What happened to the little rugrats you had protecting you?"
Sasha's jaw clenched; Kriston noticed and his smirk widened. Sasha deliberately relaxed, but the damage was done, and she cursed her all-too-easily pressed guilt buttons.
"I found a sitter," she returned as casually as possible. "This is between you and me."
Kriston shrugged. "I didn't bring them into it, remember?"
"So, why did you call this little meeting?" Kriston asked, lounging back against the stack of boxes as if he was in his own office and she'd come to apply for a loan. She'd chosen the warehouse as neutral ground, abandoned and far enough from the center of town that no one would interfere. Kriston seemed to be making himself right at home. "Seems kind of dumb, going after me face-to-face."
"Don't get too cocky. You're human until moonrise." If anything, his smirk grew. Sasha tried to ignore it, as well as the screaming alarm in the back of her mind. "I'm here to offer you a deal."
"Oh yeah?" He had the nerve to look surprised. "What have you got that I want? That would keep me from killing you right here?"
"The power to keep you alive," she answered, with no humor whatsoever. "Do you know who those 'rugrats' helping me chase you were?"
"Let me guess." He tapped his chin and stared off into space, pretending to think. "The captain of the local cheerleading squad and her football captain boyfriend? No, he looked more like track star."
"What he looks like, is a vampire. One who's killed more bastards like you than even you can dream of." For the first time, Kriston was caught by surprise, and for the first time, Sasha allowed a smirk of her own to break loose. "And the girl is the Slayer; she's the one who kills bastards like him. And since you've been eating her classmates, she wants a crack at you in the worst way."
Kriston shook his head slowly. "Nice try, but I don't scare that easily. Vampires don't exist."
Sasha's smile widened. "Neither do werewolves."
She let sink in for a minute, then continued, "They want you dead, and you can't take both of them. The only reason they let you live last night is because I stopped them from killing you."
"More fool you. How is the boy I used for target practice? Didn't kill him, did I?"
"No." Sasha's eyes narrowed as she fought back the desire to rip his throat out with her bare hands. "And I won't make the mistake of giving you another chance to try."
Kriston had recovered, although fear had added its touch to the gleam in his eyes. "And my other option, if I believe this fairy tale?"
"I break the curse," she answered simply.
He stared at her for a long second. Then a something rumbled low in his throat. Sasha braced herself, but the sound that came out wasn't a growl. It was a chuckle, that built and grew until she swore she could hear it echoing in her head.
Kriston threw his head back, enjoying himself enormously. "And you expect me to go along with that?" he forced out through his laughter. "Give up this -- this *power*, when you threaten me with a high school kid and a so-called vampire? Get real!"
His laughter died slightly, but he still chuckled as he walked closer to her. No, he *stalked* closer. "I have power now," he said quietly, catching and holding Sasha's gaze with a strength of will she'd never seen in him before. "I hold life and death in my hands. No one can stand against me, no one can hurt me, no one can stop me. And you gave that power to me."
He smiled, reaching out a hand to touch her hair. "You gave it to me. Thank you." And as she shuddered under his touch, his smile grew and widened -- and began changing. "Now," he said calmly, his voice shifting from human to not-human and back, "it's time to finish the hunt. And to make sure you can never take it back."
Sasha's eyes flicked over his shoulder to the windows. With a sinking heart, she realized she'd cut it too close. They sky was dark, broken only by the light of the full moon.
"How could she be this stupid?" Buffy stalked back and forth across the library floor. She'd stopped yelling several minutes ago, and was down to muttering insults occasionally interspersed with near-shrieks of incoherent fury. She wasn't sure if she was more angry or worried and decided to settle for angry as the simpler emotion. "How could she possibly be dumb enough to try and take that damn werewolf on alone?"
Xander, who normally would have been the one doing the pacing, was instead over by Willow's side, prudently staying out of the line of fire. Giles was hunched over a stack of books, reading frantically.
Willow was reading Sasha's e-mail message for the fourteenth time, as if it would give them some clue as to where to find the Gypsy. "I don't know," she said miserably. "She didn't say anything when I was in here this afternoon. I don't know how she even figured out where the werewolf *was*!"
Buffy stopped and reversed, striding over to Willow, who shrank back a little. Buffy felt slightly guilty, but didn't have time to deal with it. "If *she* found this Kriston guy, so can you," she informed Willow. "Think! What did you tell her this afternoon?"
"Just about looking in the hotels and trying to find him when he's human, that's all we talked about! Well, that and..." Her voice trailed off and her cheeks turned faintly pink.
"What?" Buffy demanded.
"I kinda yelled at her a little about Angel," Willow admitted in a tiny voice.
Xander blinked at her. "*You* yelled at someone? Wow, the world really is coming to an end."
Willow's blush deepened and Buffy resisted the temptation to smack Xander, mostly since he was too far away. "Anything else, Will, anything that could tell us where she found him, where she went to meet him? Anything?"
Willow thought. "No, noth--" Her voice abruptly broke off, her head shooting up. "Wait! Something got flagged from the police computers, another body outside of town! Sasha was there when I got the police reports!"
"Well, what did they say?" Buffy pressed.
Willow was already bringing the files up. "Um, a man found in his car, with a broken neck, and no identification. Um, no clothes either."
"No clothes?" Giles looked up suddenly, pulled back to reality. "He had no clothing on?"
"That's what it says," Willow confirmed.
"A name?" Giles leaned over the table, books forgotten. "What name was the car registered in?"
"Someone named Wilson, from out of town," Buffy read over Willow's shoulder. "Why, Giles? What's so big about a dead streaker?"
"A werewolf's clothing is destroyed in the transformation from man to animal," Giles explained simply and grimly. "He needed to obtain another set, preferably without blood. And I'm willing to bet a gentleman using that name and identification checked into a hotel in Sunnydale."
Willow confirmed that a moment later, following it with, "Uh-oh, bad news."
"What now?" Buffy groaned.
"The police did the same thing Sasha did. They broke into the hotel room, but no one was there. There's an APB out."
"So now the whole world is looking for him. Goodie." Buffy sighed in frustration, returning to pacing. "Well, now we know how, but not *why*. She can't think she could take him down alone, even if he *is* human. Which he's not going to be for much longer. How could she be so stupid?"
"It runs in the family." Angel came out of the entrance from the stacks; it was a sign of the tension in the room that not even Xander reacted to his appearing act. "What's she done now?"
"Gone out to hold peace talks with giant-size predators," Buffy informed him. "She sent Willow an e-mail to tell us what she'd done, but didn't bother to tell us where they were meeting, so we can't find her and save her butt!"
"Finding her won't be a problem," Angel answered grimly. Before Buffy could make him clarify, he had come down the stairs to Giles, avoiding the last of the daylight coming through the windows. "Have you found a way to break the curse yet?"
Giles shoved his glasses up his nose. "None that I'm certain of, except the obvious -- Sasha herself should be able to break the curse. I have no idea why she failed."
"She failed because she did not believe she could succeed."
*This* time, everyone jumped and spun (except Xander, who got tangled up in his chair and fell instead) towards the door of the library, where the new voice had come from. An *really* old woman, gray-haired and bent from age, stood in the doorway. Her brown eyes were nearly lost in a mass of wrinkles, but they were intelligent and strong as they met Buffy's. So strong that it took Buffy a long moment to realize the old woman wasn't alone, but flanked by two large men, one with dark hair and eyes who looked a lot more like Buffy thought a Gypsy should, the other a dark blond.
"Who the hell are you?" Buffy demanded, automatically putting herself between the intruders and her friends. Behind her, she heard something low and nasty come from Angel's throat, but couldn't spare any attention to look back at him. The two guys with the woman did it for her, open hatred and disgust in their eyes.
Buffy moved a little more between them. "Answer me!"
"I am Iraina Lakatos," the old woman said, with a glare at her two escorts that had them backing off slightly. Buffy took the moment's reprieve to aim a similar look at Angel, with only slightly less effect. "I have come in search of my great-granddaughter," the old woman continued, her accent bending the words oddly. "And I believe one stands here who can help us find her. Before it is too late for finding to do any good."
Kriston had probably, going by her past track record, expected Sasha to either freeze in terror or start screaming. His smile, as his half-human, half-animal hands reached for her, newly-grown claws gleaming, suggested he was ready to enjoy it when she did.
He got a rude shock when Sasha neither froze nor screamed, but brought her hand up from her pocket and slashed at him with the silver knife she'd hidden there. The knife flashed blindingly, almost scaring Sasha into dropping it as a jolt of *something* ran back up the blade to her fingers. Kriston's howl of rage and pain as blood flowed from the gash on his chest echoed off the warehouse and he lashed out with one paw. Sasha tried to duck, but wasn't fast enough.
She was knocked to the ground hard enough to knock her breath out, but kept her hold on the knife, scrambling to her knees. She couldn't get any further up; her head was spinning, the room fading in and out around her. Her injured leg had stopped throbbing and was now simply not there; Sasha knew that was bad, but was grateful for it now.
"You think I'm stupid?" she spat, trying to buy a little time. "I know how to kill a werewolf; next time I won't miss your damn heart!"
A few feet away, Kriston was doubled over, nearly on his knees as well. "No next time, you Gypsy bitch." His voice was almost unintelligible as he forced it through a wolf's throat and mouth, but his movements were unthinkably fast. He lashed out at Sasha again, and the knife flew from her hand, spinning out into the shadows.
He followed the strike with another, but Sasha scrambled backwards out of the way, and it tore past the air by her legs. Her groping right hand, nearly numb from the werewolf's blow, found a heavy length of something round and cold. She grabbed the piping and brought it around with all of her strength; it slammed into Kriston's head, and it was his turn to eat concrete.
It should have bought her a few seconds, like the blow from the 2X4 had in the alley, what seemed like ages before. But the wolf seemed to be getting used to being hit in the head; before Sasha could even get back to her feet, the werewolf was back up, and facing her, one paw slashing out again. She ducked that one, but the other came too quickly and she couldn't turn in time. The pipe went spinning from her hands; he heard it clatter not far away, but couldn't look.
The wolf held all her attention.
Gray and black fur sprouted from the remains of its clothing, ripped and torn where the body had changed and the cloth had failed to follow suit. Its face had lost all trace of humanity; a wolf's muzzle held sharp teeth, bared in pain and anger, and its eyes had turned yellow-gold, shining in the dim light of the moon like twisted beacons. Those eyes locked on Sasha -- and that was when she froze.
"Now I'm going to make it slow." Sasha could barely make out the words, but she didn't need to; those eyes told her all she needed to know. She tried to think, to plan, but nothing seemed possible. Nothing but dying.
Kriston seemed to know it; his canines showed in a feral smile. "I'll listen to you beg before I rip your throat out, chov-hani."
He sneered the last word, making it an insult, and that insult burned through Sasha's terror as no amount of threatening could have. Anger flared, cold fire flooding her body. Pain went away, taking fear and uncertainty with it.
'Chov-hani', he'd called her -- it was time and past she lived up to the title.
"Burn in hell, Wolfman," she said through her teeth, forcing herself to her feet with a strength she didn't recognize, but wasn't going to refuse. "And here's a little something to light the way."
She held up her hands and shouted aloud, and fire lit the warehouse.
"How much further?" Buffy panted, running beside Angel and trying to keep up with the brutal pace he was setting.
"Not much farther," he answered shortly, and Buffy reflected for the thousandth time how annoying it was that he never got out of breath. "Looks like we're heading for the docks."
"Oh, good, a nice, safe, out-of-the-way place for a fight to the death," Buffy mumbled sarcastically. "Good thinking, Sasha."
"It has yet to be proved that she *was* thinking," Gregor Lakatos -- the tall blond Gypsy -- pointed out, keeping pace with the other two easily. "My baby cuz isn't exactly at her best anywhere but on a horse and behind a stack of legal tomes."
"Then maybe you should keep a better eye on your 'baby cuz'," Angel told him without looking at him. "And all of us could avoid stupid situations like this."
"Watch it, Angelus," Greg warned dangerously, his hand hovering near his jacket pocket, "or I'll give you an entirely different stupid situation to worry about, involving me and a stake."
"Looks like dumb isn't the only hereditary thing," Buffy grumbled. "Can you two try not to kill each other until we find Sasha and the wolf, if that wouldn't be too much trouble?"
The two men glared at each other, but fell silent, giving Buffy a chance to catch her breath again and silently swear to get even with whatever deity, good, bad or otherwise, had come up with the damn Gypsy/vampire death feud. Sasha's grandmother had stayed behind with the Slayerettes and the other Gypsy to get what they needed to break the curse, but Greg had refused to be left behind, and he and Angel hadn't stopped growling threats at each other since.
But the fighting didn't interfere with their speed, at least, and Angel seemed to know exactly where he was going. Looked like Sasha's vampire homing signal worked both ways. They broke out of the streets on to the docks, and Buffy slowed. "Where, Angel?" she demanded, breathing heavily.
Angel stopped and looked around, his eyes intent. "Over there," he finally gestured. "The warehouse."
"Which warehouse?" Buffy demanded. A second later, fire erupted through the roof of one of the old buildings, sending a wave of heat they could feel even from 100 yards away. "Oh. That warehouse."
"Sasha's in there! Move!" Greg shoved his way past them at a dead run and they followed close on his heels.
Kriston stumbled back from the flames surrounding Sasha's body with a curse, falling to his knees with an anguished howl. Sasha pressed forward, her corona of flames burning higher and brighter as she channeled a month's worth of fear and guilt into them. All around her, crates and boxes burst into flame, but she barely noticed. Kriston twisted and screamed, and finally rose again -- on four feet instead of two.
The wolf's fangs dripped as it snarled at her, singed and blacked fur covering its face. She pushed even closer, holding out her arms, her palms spread wide. "Not so easy to go after me now, is it?" she asked with saccharine sweet rage. "Not so easy to kill someone who can fight back? Not so big and brave now -- now I know what *you're* afraid of!" The flames flared still higher, still hotter and she gave herself one short moment to savor the power, the heady sensation of not being afraid.
But it was a moment too long.
Taunted beyond whatever thought it had left, the werewolf suddenly sprang forward. Heedless of the flames that set fire to its fur and charred its skin, it hit Sasha with its full weight. Caught totally off-guard, she fell backwards to the floor. Her head cracked against the pavement, almost drowning out the pain of ribs that gave under the wolf's weight on her chest.
The flames flickered and died. As the spots faded from her eyes, Sasha struggled for breath and looked up -- and found the wolf's mouth a few inches from her face, its eyes gleaming a mad gold as it waited for her to be aware. To understand that it was about to kill her.
But she wasn't going down that easily. She struggled, slamming her fists into the wolf's ribs; he didn't seem to notice, except that his mad doggy grin widened. His mouth opened, his fangs descending towards her neck --
-- and she doubled up her legs and kicked with all her strength, planting her feet firmly in its unprotected belly once, then twice. She heard ribs crack -- not her own, this time -- as its breath rushed out in a stench of blood and filth and it collapsed on her. With the strength of panic, she wriggled out from underneath, but couldn't find her balance, or her knife. The pipe lay several feet away; she lunged for it in desperation and her fingertips brushed the cold metal.
Then claws sank into her leg and she screamed, rolling over and hitting out blindly. Her leg came free, but the massive paws came down on her arms, the weight of the wolf's body once more on her chest. She couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't even scream again. The world started going dark, and she had a moment to be grateful that she wouldn't be conscious when she died.
Angel somehow passed Greg on the way to the warehouse; he was the first to smash his way through the side door, Buffy only a few steps behind. The warehouse was full of smoke, fire spreading from the middle of the huge main room. Silhouetted in front of the flames was the form of a huge wolf, crouched over a human body lying all too still.
"Sasha!" Greg screamed from behind Buffy. She looked frantically for a weapon, but Angel moved faster. In an eyeblink, with speed no mortal could match, he was across the warehouse, tackling the wolf and using the weight of his own body to force it off of Sasha. They fell to the floor beyond her, in a snarling, vicious heap.
"Angel!" It was Buffy's turn to scream. A length of pipe lay a few feet from Sasha's body; she ran forward to snatch it up, and positioned herself as close to Angel as she dared, waiting for a chance to strike.
It wasn't coming. Both vampire and werewolf moved too quickly, wrestling around on the floor, perilously close to the flames that would kill Angel even faster than the werewolf. Angel somehow kept the wolf's teeth away from his throat, and the wolf used its claws instead, trying to rake them down Angel's sides and legs. Angel held on grimly, and somehow rolled again so that the werewolf was on top.
The second he did, Buffy hauled off with the pipe and landed a home run in the werewolf's rib cage, right on the ugly, still-bleeding gash over his heart.
Knocked to the side, the wolf raised its head in a howl of anguished rage, which gave Buffy the perfect target for her next swing. At the same time, Angel kicked it in the ribs again and again, and finally got loose, scrambling unsteadily to his feet. His game face was on, his eyes hard and terrifying, as he grabbed a hunk of burning timber from the pile closest to him.
The wolf managed to stand as well, head held low and body huddled around its injuries. But its face, when it lifted its head, was still ugly, promising revenge for its pain. It wasn't going to run this time, and Buffy braced herself, sensing Angel leaning forward as if looking forward to the fight.
The wolf lunged, not for Angel but for Buffy, teeth bared to catch her throat, much faster than she'd expected. Angel shouted and shoved her out of the way; she twisted with the push and got off another awkward swing with the pipe, which glanced off one of the wolf's hind legs. It landed awkwardly and turned immediately to try again. Angel faced it, knees bent and arms outstretched, daring the wolf to take its best shot. The wolf snarled back and gathered itself again, more than ready to try.
As it leapt for Angel, Sasha and Buffy shouted together and a silver blur cut through the air in front of Buffy, terminating in the wolf's throat. It gagged and fell forward, landing in an awkward heap, and Greg moved closer, another knife ready in his hand.
Buffy looked up at him, more than a little shocked. "Circus act?"
Greg shook his head and grinned without looking away from the wolf, which was hacking and choking around the knife in its throat. "I've seen 'The Magnificent Seven' 43 times. It was throwing knives or a six-shooter, and a Gypsy carrying a gun just looks *bad*."
Buffy grimaced. "You should trying hauling around stakes.... Look out!" It was her turn to shove Greg out of the way as Angel shouted a warning, and the wolf somehow found strength enough to lunge for them again. But it didn't try to attack this time; it just wanted out.
It ran for the closest door, and Buffy yelled, "Don't let it get loose!"
"No kidding!" Greg shouted back. Angel somehow beat the stumbling wolf to the door and batted it back with his improvised club. The wolf barely seemed to notice the blow, or the fact that its fur was on fire in three or four places now. It turned wildly, looking for another way out, but Buffy came at it from one side, brandishing her pipe; Greg came from the other, silver knife still in a throwing grip, gleaming dully even through the haze of smoke.
The wolf backed away from them all, growling low in its throat. Its eyes were hunted now, and as its glare focused on Greg, Buffy suddenly remembered all of those warnings about trapped animals. "Watch it!"
Her warning was a second too late. Greg stumbled back, knife raised in what suddenly seemed a pitiful defense against 200 pounds of desperate predator, as the wolf went for his throat --
-- and bounced back as if it had suddenly hit a brick wall, as Sasha's voice shouted a stream of liquid, unintelligible words across the warehouse. The wolf scrabbled in place on the floor, as if trying to claw through walls that weren't there. At least, Buffy couldn't see them.
"Don't worry." Buffy turned slowly to stare at Sasha, who was teetering unsteadily near the pile of burning crates that had apparently started the mess. Even through the eye-tearing smoke, Sasha looked like hell, her jeans clawed to ribbons and her face pale as death. But that same face was also calm and very certain.
Wordlessly, Greg crossed the warehouse to offer Sasha a shoulder to lean on, and she accepted it with obvious gratitude. "He's warded now," the chov-hani continued, reaching up with one bloody hand to shove tangled blonde hair out of her eyes. "Shields that he can't break through. They'll hold him until we're finished with him."
Oh." Buffy looked back at the werewolf, who certainly didn't *look* like he going anywhere, clawing and biting frantically at invisible bars. "Cool. I don't suppose you can do anything about the fire, before the Sunnydale Fire Department shows up? They'll get kind of suspicious if they find me in the middle of *another* burning building."
Sasha raised an eyebrow, somehow managing to look amused even when the hell had been kicked out of her. "You do this often?" Without waiting for an answer, she lifted one hand and said something as unintelligible as before, but more familiar; Buffy recognized the words that had stopped the fire on Sasha's hands the night before.. Instantly, the flames flickered and lowered, before dying away altogether.
In the sudden silence, vampire, Slayer and Gypsies blinked at each other, not sure what to say or do next. Then Sasha suddenly focused, looking up at Greg as if seeing him for the first time. "Greg? What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were in jail?"
Greg grinned again; it seemed to be his permanent expression. "I got out. Just in time, too; I can't leave you alone for five minutes."
"Bite me, cuz," she responded without heat, as the door to the warehouse flew open and Slayerettes and Gypsies spilled through. "Grandmother? Van? What in all holy hells are you doing here? I told you *I'd* take care of this!"
"Well, you're sure doing a helluva job, Cuz!" the dark man whose name Buffy had never bother to get shouted back. "If Grandmother hadn't been able to track you....!"
"Looks like it's explanation time," Buffy sighed, as Giles rushed forward burbling about breaking curses, Xander and Willow rushed forward to make sure Buffy was all right, and Sasha and her cousins started hollering at each other in yet another foreign language. "Gee, I love this part."
Angel put his hands on her shoulders from behind and she leaned back against him. "Could be worse," he said quietly, just before the onslaught hit. "At least we've still got the Rom outnumbered."
Buffy shoved her elbow into his ribs.
".... it seemed like a good idea at the time," Sasha finished helplessly, spreading her hands. Giles 'tutted' at her for moving and she pulled them back into his reach so he could finish inspecting the various cuts and bruises she'd accumulated this time. "I didn't want anyone else to get hurt," she continued, looking guiltily at Xander, "and I thought Kriston's sense of self-preservation might kick in if I pointed out exactly what he was up against."
"And when it didn't?" Buffy demanded, leaning forward on the crate she'd commandeered for a seat. "Did you have a plan for getting away?"
"Yes," Sash shot back. "You. I expected the cavalry to jump him from behind while I was distracting him from the front, which it did, but I had expected it sometime *before* moonrise. What the hell took you so long to get that damn e-mail, anyway?"
"Ever heard of paper?"
"And let Giles find it and have all of you show up too early, which would have totally defeated the purpose of coming alone? I don't *think* so!"
"Yeah, why start thinking now?" Sasha turned to glare at Greg, who returned an identical glare that Van echoed. Giles, perhaps sensing imminent bloodshed, stood, putting himself between the three.
"You appear to be in rather better shape than I'd expected," he told her, "but I would recommend a trip to the emergency room as soon as possible. I'm not precisely equipped to deal with cracked ribs, and you have several."
Sasha winced and touched her left side. "Tell me something I *don't* know. Did you know you can hear your own bones breaking?"
Xander got in with the two male Gypsies on the shared expressions of disgust this time. "No, but thank you for sharing," he grimaced.
"You're welcome," Sasha smiled sweetly, deranged sense of humor apparently not at all affected by broken bones.
Buffy rolled her eyes at them collectively. "Before anyone goes anywhere, we have this little matter of a werewolf to deal with?" she reminded everyone, gesturing at the wolf. It was crouching several feet away from where everyone had gathered, staring at them with steady, hate-filled eyes. Buffy shuddered and looked away.
"Oh, right." Sasha followed her eyes and made a face. "That. Giles, did I hear you babbling something about a way to break the curse before, or was that just a pain-induced hallucination?"
Giles looked as if he didn't quite know how to answer that; Sasha's grandmother, who had been staying quietly out to the edge of the conversation until now, answered for him. "We have," she answered simply.
Everyone else waited. "Aaand?" Buffy finally prompted. She was getting *really* tired of having to yank information out of people.
The old woman shrugged with one shoulder, as if the answer should be obvious. "Sasha must negate the curse she laid. Then all will return to normal."
"Oh, yeah, that's helpful," Sasha groaned, closing her eyes. "Details, Grandmother, details. No more spellcasting without *full* disclosure, damn it! And didn't we try this 'nullfying' thing before? Like, three times?"
Iraina Lakatos sat on her overturned crate like a queen on her throne, chin high and eyes calm. "You tried, yes, but did not believe. Now, you believe. So all will be well."
Buffy looked at the old woman, then back at Sasha. "Does she always talk like a fortune cookie?"
"Yes," the Lakatos cousins answered in unison. Their grandmother gave them a disdainful look, but said nothing.
Buffy shook her head, bemused. "I'm starting to see how you got into all of this trouble to begin with. It really *is* hereditary."
Sasha snorted, then winced when it hurt her ribs. "You should see what we get into at the family reunions...."
"Been there, done that," Angel said under his breath, earning himself the united attention of the entire Lakatos clan.
"What's *he* doing here, anyway?" Van asked irritably, fingering something under his jacket that looked suspiciously like a stake.
"He's helping," Sasha snapped before Buffy had the chance, earning her shocked looks from the Slayerettes. Angel's face was unreadable. "And he saved my butt, so just chill!"
But he's..." Van protested.
Sasha cut him off. "I know who he is... Who he *was*. But curses... sometimes don't work out like we plan, okay?" She said the last with a pointed look towards her grandmother, who pursed her lips, then nodded acknowledgment of the point.
Van aimed another dark look at Angel, but sat back. Greg looked still looked hostile, but also interested, and his smile hadn't budged. He imitated Van, sitting back to wait.
Sasha nodded in satisfaction and returned her attention to her grandmother and Giles. "So, we're in Peter Pan land now, huh? If I believe, I can fly? Do I have to think happy thoughts, too?"
For all the sarcasm in Sasha's voice, it trembled slightly, and Buffy realized the older girl was scared to death. Giles apparently did, too, since Buffy saw him bite back at least three cutting responses.
"No, I don't believe happy thoughts are required," he finally said with forced patience. "But certainly belief is. All the magical ability in the world will do you very little good if you don't believe in your ability to use it. Magic is fussy that way."
"Wait a minute," Buffy jumped into the conversation. "If she couldn't break the curse because she didn't believe, how come she could cast it in the first place?"
"Well, ah... Excellent question," Giles admitted. "Sasha? Mrs.... er...ah..." He fumbled for somethign to call Sasha's grandmother.
"Rani Lakatos will do," she inclined her head and Giles looked relieved.
Sasha just looked guilty, carefully looking anywhere but at her grandmother. "Well, I was... kind of really trying to prove it wasn't real. I guess I might have... tried a little too hard. Kinda put my heart into it and all that."
Rani Lakatos shook her head. "You should have had more faith in me, Sasha."
Sasha looked at her incredulously. "Oh, and this mess is supposed to make me happy and trusting of magic? Yeah, right."
"I did not intend for this," Her grandmother snapped, losing her cool for the first time. The resemblance between her and her great-grandchildren was suddenly very marked. "I *never* intended this!"
"Then why did it happen?" Sasha snapped back. "Why did you let me turn a werewolf loose?"
"It doesn't matter who intended what," Greg intervened before their grandmother could answer. "Let's get it fixed and worry about blame later."
"Quite." Giles rushed to keep the conversation on track. "From what your grandmother has told me, Sasha, we have come up with a ritual which *should* work to reverse the binding. But it will have to be you who casts it, I'm afraid."
Sasha nodded once, her lips tight, and stood with help from her cousins. They hovered near her as she asked, "What do I do?"
The warehouse was dark as night, lit only by the faint flicker of candles, set in a pentagram around a snarling, fighting figure the struggled against thin air. Three Gypsies watched, arranged in a circle around the chov-hani, their hands clapping a pattern that matched Sasha's words, echoing off the walls of the warehouse. Sasha's voice rose, quickened, and she shouted out the last words of the spell in triumph.
And nothing happened.
"Damn it!" Sasha yelled. The candles they had lit in a pentacle around the wolf had flickered only in the breeze from the open doors; there had been nothing like the rush of power, of wind and fire she'd felt the night she'd cast the curse. And if she'd needed further proof that it hadn't worked, there was the werewolf, still crouched in the middle of the pentacle, watching her with an expression that combined hatred and smug amusement at her expense.
"Bite me," she muttered in the wolf's general direction, before spinning on Giles and her grandmother. "Okay, so what the hell went wrong? I did the ritual, god knows I believed it would work, so why didn't it work?"
Giles stammered and shoved his glasses up and even her grandmother looked disturbed. Everyone else looked varying degrees of resigned and confused.
They'd cleared out the center of the warehouse around the wolf, giving Sasha room to work and the others room to stay out of her way. Willow and Xander were well out range near the door, Xander standing protectively in front of Willow. Buffy and Angelus stood equally protectively in front of him; Xander's face seemed torn between gratitude and resentment.
As far away from both the wolf and the vampire as they could get, Van and Greg formed an honor guard around their grandmother. Everyone had learned to be leery of werewolves and Romani magic; they were keeping their distance.
"Maybe you can't break it," Xander suggested tentatively, after a long moment of tense silence. "Maybe we'll have to... um...."
*Kill it. Kill him.* They all heard the unspoken part of his sentence; Sasha looked at him, then away, not wanting to accept it. There had to be a way... Kriston was a lunatic, but she couldn't kill him. She couldn't put more blood on her hands....
A hand touched her shoulder; Giles looked at her sympathetically. "It...may be the only way, Sasha. He cannot be allowed to wander free, and you cannot ward him forever.".
"There *has* to be something else," Sasha said, almost pleading. "Something we missed, something that went wrong. Please, we can't give up yet!"
Giles sighed, taking off his glasses to polish them. "I'm afraid I've rather run out of ideas."
"You really ought to think about how to get out of curses before you start tossing them around," Angelus commented sarcastically. "How the hell has your clan survived this long?"
Van, Greg and Iraina Lakatos turned on Angelus in unison. "By disposing of trouble when we find it," Van gritted from between clenched teeth. "Maybe we should just forget about curses and get rid of *you*!"
"That's been tried," Angelus smiled, meeting the Rom's joined hostility without flinching, his face hard. Buffy looked between him and the Rom, then her face also tightened and she slipped into fighting stance, obviously prepared to defend him. Behind her, Xander looked spooked, but also braced himself for a fight. The warehouse suddenly looked like the last fight scene in West Side Story.
Sasha watched it all with one detached part of her mind; the rest was busy twisting over what Angelus had just said, putting logic together with instinct together with belief... and the puzzle locked into place in her mind.
"Stop it!" Sasha's voice cut through the tense air like a knife. The combatants, having totally forgotten all about little things like a werewolf and a witch in their bone-deep urge to kill each other, jumped and faced her. She didn't even roll her eyes at them, thinking fast and frantically. "I know what went wrong; I know why it didn't work. And I know how to fix it."
She turned to her grandmother and Giles. "When we cast the curse that first night, it was with the whole clan there, watching and helping. Could that be why this didn't work? I didn't have the kind of... support to draw from that I had when I laid the curse, so I wasn't strong enough to break the curse." She ran back over the convoluted sentence in her mind, decided that no, it didn't make sense but no, she didn't care.
Giles and her grandmother apparently didn't care either; Giles had the abstracted expression that suggested he was researching in his mind, and her grandmother nodded thoughtfully. "I could be true," she said finally. "But we do not have the clan to draw on now, and no time to bring them here, and neither of your cousins has the power to draw from...."
"Yeah, I know," Sasha nodded, leaning forward in her intensity. "But there might be another option.
Giles and Iraina followed her look... to Angelus and Buffy, watching them suspiciously. Their suspicion deepened as they became the focus of the three looks, but Giles nodded slowly, revelation dawning on his face. "Of course," he breathed. "Natural opposites, the power flow.... But Sasha -- can you control it?"
Sasha shrugged. "I apparently channeled an entire clan; hopefully, I can handle these two. With a little help."
Angelus suddenly got it. "Oh, no," he said firmly, backing up. "No *way* am I going to get involved in another Gypsy curse. Find some other idiot!"
Sasha smiled sweetly at him. "Sorry, Angelus, you're the only qualified idiot around."
"No. Way." His voice held absolutely no room for argument.
Van started to say something; Sasha cut him off with a look that surprised even her and he subsided, looking startled and oddly respectful. Sasha took a deep breath, and willed her voice to stay under control as she walked over to Angelus.
The closer she got, the more her instincts hammered at her to run or fight, to do *anything* against the vampire. She shoved them back; this was too important. "Angelu-- *Angel*. I can't make you - either of you," she amended with a glance at Buffy "-- do this. I can't order you into the circle, and I understand every reason you don't want to go. But I'm asking you."
She met his eyes and held them. "Please, Angel. I made a mistake, and I'm *asking* you... Help me fix it."
He met her eyes evenly, if unwillingly, his jaw so tight she could see a muscle jump along it. Sasha held her breath, praying for a trust that went against everything both of them knew. But, finally, he closed his eyes and nodded once. "All right."
Buffy, who had watched the confrontation silently, echoed the nod, taking Angel's hand. "I'm in, too. What do we have to do?"
Sasha positioned them on instinct, listening to the force that nudged her from inside with knowledge she'd never acquired. Herself on the point of the pentacle, Angel to one side, Buffy to the other, facing each other. After a short conversation with herself, she asked Giles to take one of the bottom points. The other point took more thought. Finally, she looked at the two teenagers still keeping their distance. "Willow? I need you to stand next to Giles."
Willow blinked and Xander immediately protested, "No way. If you need someone, I'll do it."
Sasha grinned at him in spite of herself; he was awfully cute when he was protective. Willow evidently felt the same way, judging from her bright smile up at him. But there wasn't time to tease him. "It has to be Willow, Xander. My grandmother can't handle this kind of spell anymore, and you and Greg and Van are pretty much null power, as far as I can tell; you wouldn't do me any good. Willow should be able to help Giles ground us. I don't think there'll be any danger."
She couldn't quite meet his suspicious eyes. "It's not like I've done this before."
"It's okay, Xander," Willow said quietly, touching his arm. "I'll be fine." She crossed the warehouse floor and calmly took her place next to Giles. Her brave front was only slightly shaken by how hard her hands were trembling.
Sasha looked at them, arranged around the wolf, who had long since given up fighting and now crouched in the center eyeing them balefully, waiting for any chance, any break. She wasn't about to give him one.
She took a deep breath, and took her place at the point of the pentacle. A quick gesture, and the candles that marked the points suddenly flared up, drawing a quick, hastily smothered gasp from Willow.
"Will?" Buffy asked, worried. Angel and Giles were also watching Willow with concern, and Xander looked as if he was just barely restraining himself from yanking her out.
Willow shook her head and forced a smile. "I'm fine. Let's go."
Sasha nodded. "All right. Here we go." As she closed her eyes, she sensed Greg gesturing to the other two guys, heard them spread out to surround the circle, ready to interfere the second anything went wrong. She smiled to herself, buoyed by their presence.
Her breathing steadied, slowed. As if from far away, she heard her grandmother clap once, twice, three times. The three guys picked up the rhythm and Sasha's breathing took on the pattern. She started the first words of the ritual Giles and her grandmother had cobbled together, a patchwork of Latin, Magyar and Romani verses.
The candles flared again, higher; she saw the flames without having to open her eyes. With the unseen light came touches she couldn't feel -- Angel on one side of her, dark and light fighting for dominance, with light somehow keeping control. She took the power he had to offer, good or bad, and used it. From the other side came pure light -- Buffy, the Slayer, with all the power of the Chosen One. Further away were Giles and Willow, without the fierce aura of the other two, but with steady strength of their own, ready to be leaned on.
The pattern of the words speeded up and Sasha followed it. One deep breath between verses -- then she pulled the magic to her.
Vampire met Slayer met Watcher met Gypsy and the world exploded. Sasha's head flared with light and dark, with sounds and thoughts and images that were not her own. An Irish boy gazed into the eyes of a blond woman and made a choice that was no choice at all. A blonde girl watched helplessly as an older man faced a demon, then cried holding his body. A young man called a demon to him, then could only watch as it destroyed what he loved. A redheaded girl opened a door and a body tumbled out of it, face pale in death and neck still dripping blood. A Gypsy girl stood before a bonfire and called down a curse....
It flowed over her, around her, and she struggled to keep it from carrying her away. It fought her at every turn, fought itself as she tried force powers never meant to even touch to join. She brought them under control, wrestling them into tangible shape and form through sheer willpower and the strength of her voice. The magic was close enough to touch -- she could feel it falling into place....
Then another surge of power jumped into the assault, bringing with it malice and hatred and the longing to hurt, to kill. The werewolf took his last chance, and Sasha felt it rip the control from her hands, as the powers ripped themselves apart, and started to take her with them. The candles flared out wildly, catching the floor beneath them on fire, but she was too busy to worry about it. From far away, she heard one of the others cry out, and grabbed frantically for them, trying to hold on. But even as she caught them, they were torn away. Then the wolf came for her, and, trapped in the whirlwind of power, she had nowhere to run.
*Can't even do this right,* she thought wildly, with some distant part of her brain, the part that wasn't clinging desperately to herself. *I'm so sorry....*
She felt herself tearing into a thousand pieces, and screamed....
*NO!* Something caught her, pulled her back with a painful, jarring rush, binding her so closely she couldn't be torn away. Angel's anger and will, channeled by the curse that had bound them since before her birth, ripped through the chaos, and she took it like a lifeline, weaving her own fear and determination into it.
Offered instead of forced, their powers merged, and reached out.
Buffy joined them effortlessly, a bond of another kind drawing her to Angel. Her stubbornness and courage added their power, and it was almost too much; it nearly slipped away again as the world flared white. The wolf howled and battered at them again, trying to force its way through.
Then Giles and Willow were suddenly there, taking what Sasha didn't need and channeling it safely away, adding calm and trust, wisdom and innocence to the spell. Control returned and with it consciousness and Sasha realized she was still chanting, although the words had long since stopped being those of the ritual. She wasn't worried; for the first time, she knew exactly what she was doing.
The magic rose, tamed but not broken, and Sasha told it what she wanted. And, dancing wildly in the flames around them, it obeyed.
*God, I *hate* Gypsies!* When Angel's thoughts were his own again, that was the one that kept swimming to the surface. *And I really, *really* hate magic.*
His head was spinning, his eyes weren't quite working properly, and he had a headache. He would have been quite happy to stand just where he was, eyes closed, mind mostly refusing to function, except that someone moaned from a few feet away. *Buffy,* his sluggish mind realized. His body was faster; his eyes snapped open as he lunged across the pentacle, catching Buffy as she sank bonelessly to her knees.
She was pale and limp in his arms; he held her up with what strength he had left, which wasn't much. Her eyes opened slightly as he smoothed her hair away from her face. Amazingly, she smiled up at him, and whispered, "Did we do it?"
"I'm... not sure," he answered honestly, and looked away from her long enough to find out.
Sasha was right where he'd left her, and in even worse shape than Buffy. Her cousins were the only thing holding her off the floor; her eyes were shut, her head falling forward as if she didn't have the strength to hold it up. Across from her, Willow and Giles were in better shape; Giles was sitting down, head between his knees, and Willow was clinging to Xander, but still on her feet. Xander didn't look as if he was going to let go any time soon.
And in the middle of the pentagram sprawled a human form dressed in nothing more than the ragged remain of pants and shirt, both nearly unrecognizable as such. He looked like nothing, just an ordinary man; then he lifted his head, and Angel saw the wolf still in them.
"Damn you!" he hissed, pulling himself to all fours. "Damn you!" His voice rose to a howl, but it was a human sound, not lupine. "I had it! Power, glory, death in my hands! And you stole it away!"
Angel surprised the hell out of himself by smiling wryly. "The Romani giveth and the Romani taketh away."
"Blessed be the name of the Romani," Buffy finished with him, struggling to sit up and echoing his twisted grin.
"Only if you can pronounce it, and now you've got *her* saying it wrong," Sasha groaned, but with an edge of humor sneaking through the disgust. Greg and Xander were both snickering, and if their stifled laughter verged on the edge of hysteria, Angel wasn't going to hold it against them. He was, in fact, giving serious thought to joining them. Buffy had already given in, her helpless giggles shaking her body.
Kriston's expression contorted still further at their amusement at his expense, and he made it to his feet, staggering, his face deformed with a mask of hatred. "Go ahead, laugh!" he told them, sneering. "You took away my power, but I'm still here. And if you thought your life was hard before, you Gypsy bitch," he told Rani Lakatosh, standing as regally as a queen behind her great-grandchildren, "then wait until you see what I'll do to you now."
"You can no longer hurt us," the old woman informed him calmly, and Angel suddenly remembered another old woman, standing before him saying those same words, as the agony of awareness raged through him. For a moment, he almost felt sorry for Kriston.
A very *short* moment, as Kriston took another step forward. "Oh, I can hurt you," he promised, low and threatening. "I'll make you bleed, I'll see your clan die. Starting with her!"
Angel knew his warning was too late, even as he shouted it. With Buffy's weight on his arms, he couldn't move fast enough to do anything else, as Kriston abruptly lunged for Sasha, his eyes completely insane. Her cousins were too surprised to protect her, Sasha too tired to even flinch -- she was easy prey as the madman's outstretched hands went for her throat--
--and came back to clutch at his own as he fell in a gasping, writhing heap to the floor a few inches from Sasha's knees. Her cousins recovered at last, jumping in front of Sasha to grab Kriston's arms, immobilizing him. Suddenly forced to support herself, Sasha nearly took a nosedive, until Rani Lakatos knelt and caught her.
Sasha leaned against her, looking at the struggling, spitting, choking Kriston. "Do you think I'm *stupid*, Kriston?" she asked, with the tonelessness of someone who was too exhausted to spend effort on emotion. "Do you think I don't know what you are now?"
He stared at her with helpless fury, panting , and twisted against his captors. Greg and Van held on grimly.
Sasha shook her head, letting it fall back against her grandmother's shoulder. The old woman tightened her arms protectively around her. "When I lifted the curse, I also laid a geas, your Royal Wolfness," Sasha continued. "And if you ever again try to hurt someone, if you even *think* about killing, whatever you've imagined will turn back on you threefold. Every bit of pain, every drop of blood, will be visited on you three times over."
She opened her eyes, and fixed them on him, and even Angel flinched back a little from the look in them. "And if you ever touch my clan again," she promised, "if you come near anyone here tonight, I will not screw around anymore. I will kill you."
Kriston met her eyes defiantly, but there was fear in them now. He looked around at the others, and Angel let his demon look out of his face, snarling for emphasis. Kriston's face blanched with terror and Angel smiled in satisfaction, then pulled Buffy closer as the former werewolf collapsed in a quivering heap. He wasn't a threat anymore; it was over.
"So, what are we going to do with him?" he heard Willow ask from behind him. "I mean, he's not a wolf anymore, but he's still a bad guy. We can't just let him go."
Surprisingly, it was Xander who answered. "Dump him back at that hotel he was registered in and the cops will get him. They still want him for killing that guy outside town; they'll pick him up, haul him to the loony bin if he tells the truth, and to jail if he lies. Either way, problem solved."
Angel decided he hadn't been giving the kid enough credit for deviousness, not to mention ruthlessness. Judging from Buffy's wide eyes as she stared over Angel's shoulder at her friend, she hadn't either.
Sasha laughed hollowly, and gestured at her cousins. "You heard him, guys; make yourselves useful."
"No problem," Greg said, pulling Kriston to his feet with Van's help and somehow managing to bow at the same time. "At your service, Rani Chov-hani."
"Die, Gregor." Sasha sighed heavily and rolled her eyes at their back as they dragged Kriston out. "Do one lousy favor for family...." she muttered under her breath and Angel laughed.
Buffy nearly fell asleep sitting up.
Not a big surprise; they'd been out until nearly 2 a.m. cleaning up the warehouse as well as they could and getting rid of the last of the spell pentacle. Most of the Romani contingent had headed for parts unknown -- Greg had said something cryptic about a Winnebago -- leaving the Slayerettes to escort each other back to the library since almost everyone involved in the spell was still too weak to walk alone. All of them were going to be completely useless at school tomorrow... today.
"It was really weird," Xander was saying now, gesturing from his seat at the table. Everyone else was gathered there, slumped in any position that didn't require movement or effort. Only Angel was still up, prowling restlessly around the room. But the aftermath from the spell had one good effect; he and Sasha were too tired to fight.
"One second, all of you were just, like, standing there and Sasha was doing the chant thing." Buffy considered doing damage to Xander, who had entirely too much hyper energy to suit her. He kept talking gesturing wildly with his hands, and she concluded it would be too much work. "Then Werewolf Dude suddenly just stood up and started howling. I figured he was going to go for us, then everyone froze, and the candles went crazy and set the floor on fire. But Sasha just kept going and then.. poof. No more fire, no more werewolf. It was *majorly* weird. I can't believe you guys don't remember any of it!"
"Well, I remember some of it," Willow protested from the seat next to him. She looked tired, but the color was already starting to come back to her cheeks. "I remember these bright lights and I remember seeing stuff, but I don't remember what it was."
"You don't want to," Sasha told her soberly, leaning against the other side of the table. "Trust me, I'd rather forget. And not just because of the damn headache." She rubbed irritably at her forehead, reminding Buffy of her own brainache. "My grandmother calls it backlash from handling all of that wild energy. I call it the migraine from hell."
Buffy winced sympathetically, her own head not much happier. "Do you think the cops have found Kriston yet?"
"If not, they will in the morning," Sasha shrugged. "The way the guys left him, he's not going anywhere." Thinking back to Kriston's mostly-naked, nearly-catatonic state, Buffy had to agree. "And I'm betting when they check into Kriston's bank accounts in Santa Rosa, they'll find all kinds of other interesting things to charge him with. Like those burglaries he set Greg up with." Sasha's smile was grim. "Maybe there is some justice."
"All of you did an excellent job," Giles concluded, with an approving pat to Buffy's shoulder and another to Sasha's. The Gypsy looked startled, then gratified.
"I.. couldn't have done it without you guys," she stuttered slightly. "Thanks for everything."
"Well, you're welcome," Buffy informed her cheerfully, feeling much more charitable towards her now that all of the dangerous parts were over. "If it's all the same to you, though, I'd rather not do this again. Like, ever."
"You and me both," Sasha sighed, returning her smile.
"Ah, somewhat along those lines," Giles interrupted the moment of mutual accord, "I have, ah, something of a gift for you, Sasha." He fumbled around behind the main desk, and pulled out a small, leather bound book, holding it out towards Sasha. She walked over to take it and the others -- except Angel -- trailed behind, curious.
"What's this?" Sasha asked, opening the book; looking over her shoulder, Buffy saw that they were only blank pages.
"Not you usual style of book, Giles," she commented dubiously. "Unless you freed another demon or something. Long story," she added at Sasha's curious look.
Giles spared only a quick Look at Buffy, before returning his very serious attention to Sasha. "It's what's called a Book of Shadows; at least, it could be. Many witches keep them -- a record of information gathered, spells cast, lessons learned, that sort of thing. I... thought you might find it useful."
Sasha bit her lip and looked down, then flipped through the book, stopping at the first page, which had something in Giles' handwriting that looked like poetry. Her brow wrinkled, then she read,
"It's part the Wiccan Rede, the rules many witches live by -- the, ah, 'white' witches, that is." He looked faintly embarrassed. "I thought.... It might provide a... well, something of a guide...."
"To keep me from repeating my mistakes?" Sasha finished wryly, then sighed. "I know, Romani aren't big on ethics towards outsiders. I can't... I have to be more careful."
She looked back down at the book, tracing a finger over the text, copied in Giles's firm handwriting. "'An' ye harm none, do as ye will.' Well, I guess there are worse rules for life than that."
Giles smiled, openly relieved, and Sasha grinned wryly up at him. "What, you thought I was a total idiot? I try not to make the same fatal mistake more than two or three times."
"I never thought you an idiot at all," Giles assured her. "In fact..." He trailed off, obviously trying to figure out how to phrase something. "The curse you cast, a month ago... Your grandmother was telling me about the ritual, earlier, but she was uncertain of her translation. Can you tell me what it was you cast?"
Sasha bit her lip, then reluctantly recited:
"Mortal deeds cast mortal fall
Soul shapes form at moonlight's call
What you are so shall you be
As I will, so mote it be."
Sasha gave him a Look, but smiled slightly. "It didn't rhyme in Romani, Xander. The translation is the result of a month with way too much time on my hands and only one thing on my mind."
"But you're sure of it," Giles persisted. "The second half, in particular?"
"Yeah," Sasha shrugged. "Believe me, I've had a lot of time to replay it." She didn't add the 'in my nightmares', but Buffy heard it anyway.
Giles nodded. "Then I believe I can set your guilt at rest, at least a bit. Your grandmother was telling the truth when she said she hadn't intended for the curse to create a werewolf. The curse's purpose was to give outer form to the victim's inner self -- to turn him into what he already was, in his soul."
"'Soul shapes form'," Sasha repeated, slowly. She looked as if she wanted to believe Giles, but couldn't quite get far enough past the guilt to let herself. "'What you are, so shall you be...' He became a killer because he already was one?"
Giles nodded. "A bit simplistic, but yes." He leaned forward, as if he could make Sasha believe him by sheer proximity. "You did not create a murderer, Sasha; at worst, you only gave him the ability. He could not have become the werewolf -- he could not have become evil, if the evil had not already been within him."
Sasha stared at him, then, slowly, she nodded. "That doesn't make me any less responsible for what he did with what I gave him," she said quietly.
"No," Giles agreed, just as quietly. "But neither does it leave the blood on your hands alone. And someday, perhaps, it will help you forgive yourself."
She almost smiled and he returned it, laying a hand on her shoulder as he would one of the Slayerettes. Buffy looked away, suddenly uncomfortable. Then Giles cleared his throat, and lifted his hand to shove nervously at his glasses. "And, of course," he continued, in his professional Watcher tone, "should you require any help in your studies, any assistance your clan can not provide..."
"I'll know who to come to." Sasha carefully tucked her book into the crook of her arm. "I'd better get my stuff together; Greg and Van will bring the transportation around any minute, and if I'm not waiting they'll give me grief."
"I'll help," Buffy volunteered, trailing after the Gypsy with one last look at Angel, still keeping his distance, and another look at Giles. He kept doing things to surprise her....
Sasha hadn't had that much stuff to begin with, and even less now; it only took a few minutes to gather the clothes that weren't torn, bloody and otherwise ruined and shove them into Sasha's duffel bag. They worked in peaceful silence until the duffel was closed.
Then Buffy finally asked, quietly, "It was pretty close, wasn't it."
Sasha's hands paused for a moment; then, deliberately, she fastened the straps of the bag. "Yeah. It was real close. I almost lost the spell; it would have killed me for sure; I'm not sure what it would have done to the rest of you." She sighed and shook her head. "It was real damn close."
Buffy swallowed hard. "Let's definitely not do it again."
"Yeah." Sasha slung the bag over her shoulder and turned towards the door -- to find Angel standing there, still and quiet, his face impassive. Sasha stopped dead, and Buffy held her breath. Anything could happen here.....
Sasha faced Angel, meeting his eyes steadily. The Gypsy instincts, the old hatred, called for attention and attack, but it was a little easier to ignore them now. A little.
"I guess I have to thank you, too," she said instead, "Since you saved my life and all." The words were grudging, out of habit or pride, she wasn't sure which. But they were sincere enough, in their own way.
Angel shook his head, still with no expression. "Call it... paying off an old debt. We're even. Unless you decide to start jerking me around with that damn geas again. Then all bets are off."
Sasha blinked at him, utterly confused, and realized he didn't know. He didn't realize.... "There is no more geas, Angel. Not anymore. You broke it."
That finally cracked his shell. "What?" Buffy echoed his startled question only half a beat behind.
"You broke it," Sasha repeated, starting to see the humor in the situation. It wasn't every day you could catch both a vampire and a Slayer flat-footed. "Apparently you weren't listening to the terms of the curse."
"I was kind of distracted at the time," Angel said irritably. "What terms?"
Sasha grinned sardonically. "The geas could be broken in two ways -- your death, or when you atoned for your crime by saving the life of one of the elders or their chov-hani descendants, at risk of your own. I'm the last in that line, and you most definitely saved my skin, and almost got toasted in the process." She gestured widely. "Poof. No more geas."
"I didn't have a choice about saving you," Angel protested. "The geas--"
"-- was to serve, not to save," Sasha completed his sentence, crossing her arms and looking down at him with her eyebrows raised. "Giles, Grandmother and I double-checked the terms of the contract.. um, curse, while we were cleaning up to be sure. You could have stood back, let the werewolf kill me, but instead, you saved me -- so the geas was broken."
She sighed, folding her arms tightly around herself. "Your soul is entirely yours again, for what it's worth. No vampires keeping you on a leash, no Gypsies yanking your chain. Which is how it's supposed to be, I guess. Responsibility. What a concept." She stared off into space for another second, reflecting on her own new-found responsibilities, then looked back at Angel, dredging up something closer to her usual sarcasm. "Try not to screw up again, huh?"
He didn't react to the sarcasm; in fact, he didn't say anything for a long, long minute, until Giles poked his head into the office. "Sasha? Your grandmother is here. She and your cousins are apparently ready to leave."
Sasha tightened her grip on her duffel and on reality. "It's about damn time. You'd think they parked back in Santa Rosa." She lifted one disdainful eyebrow at Angel. "If Fang Boy here will get out of my way, I'll get out of your hair."
"Anything to make you leave," Angel returned, standing aside. She had to stop herself from smiling; it was much easier to fight with a vampire than talk to one.
Her grandmother was waiting in the library, looking over Willow's shoulder as the teenager explained something about the computer, all traces of exhaustion gone with the joy of demonstrating her favorite toy. Her grandmother was nodding thoughtfully, and Sasha made a mental bet with herself on how long it would take to be asked advice on buying computers. How they were going to run power to it from the Winnebago, she had no idea, but that was Greg and Van's problem.
But, "A useful machine," was all her grandmother said when she looked up. "I believe I will like them. Are you ready, Sasha?"
"Yes, ma'am," Sasha answered, moving as far away from Angel as possible. Truces were all well and good, but she still didn't like him, and the feeling was certainly still mutual.
"Where are you going to go now?" Giles asked
"Back to law school," Sasha shrugged. "I've got finals coming up. Then... I guess I'll go back to my Clan for a while, if they'll accept me. There aren't many chov-hani left, apparently; I've got magic to learn, vampires to kill, that kind of thing. You understand," she finished with a sideways look at Angel. He rolled his eyes, but didn't look exactly upset.
Buffy grinned. "If you need any tips on that part, come look for me."
"I will. See you around, Will, Xander." The two Slayerettes said their goodbyes, Willow with a bright smile, Xander with a pseudo-macho half-salute, and Sasha debated hugging Giles just to see if he'd blush, but settled for a handshake.
When she turned back to her grandmother, she found her standing in front of Angel, staring calmly up at him. Angel's jaw was locked again, but he was standing his ground, returning her look evenly.
"I was only a very small child when you came to our camp, Angelus," her grandmother finally said, her accent heavier from fatigue or memories. "But the girl you killed was my eldest sister, and I remember her death well."
Angel flinched, but only said, "I remember it, too. Believe me, I remember."
"And regret it. I see it in your eyes." Her grandmother nodded, as if a question had been answered, and walked a step closer to Angel, fearlessly. "It was not our intention to gift that night, Angelus, but to punish. If you also learned, as it seems you have, then we did better than we knew. Perhaps... perhaps there has been payment enough."
She stepped back, and looked him up and down. "I thank you for my great-granddaughter's life, Angel. And I wish you good fortune -- you and the Slayer. Your debt to those who are Clan Lakatos is paid."
Without waiting for an answer, she turned and left, head high and spine straight, never looking back. Sasha shook her head, and sighed heavily. "And I'm supposed to follow that act. I was wrong; there *is* no justice."
She started for the door in her grandmother's wake, but she stop and did look back. "Angel? For what it's worth -- thank you."
Angel's jaw worked with some emotion Sasha couldn't quite interpret. "For what it's worth," he answered finally, "you're welcome."
Gypsy and vampire stood in the silence of an uneasy truce; then Sasha Lakatos turned and left, the library doors swinging shut behind her.
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