Time: Somewhere between the second and third seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and probably about the middle of the fifth season of Renegade and the middle of the first and only season of Mortal Kombat
Place: Zhou Zhin, Sunnydale (in that order)
Kung Lao, Taja and Siro were tired from a very long day of kicking the tar out of assorted OutWorld nasties and had retired to bed for the night. As they were only the best of friends, and nothing more, they retired to separate, but equal beds in separate but equal rooms in the somewhat dilapidated trading post/mansion which served as their home, training dojo and the focal point of most of the trouble that followed them around.
Tired as she was, Taja could not get to sleep. She shifted, she rearranged her covers, she punched her pillow as though this would help. Nope. Something was bothering her. Tired of fighting to get some sleep, she got up and moved silently down the hallway to the stairs. Being a reformed thief as well as a well trained martial artist, moving silently was second nature to her. Living with two other well trained martial artists, including the immortal winner of the last Mortal Kombat tournament, there was a lot of quiet to be had in their home. Which was why a sound coming from Siro's room startled her.
She frowned. Siro did snore on occasion. But this didn't sound like a snore. It sounded more like a moan. He'd denied cracking his ribs again, but you never knew. The pig headed idiot tended to resist admitting he needed help. Didn't they all? She moved silently to his door and discovered it was not completely closed. Warning bells went off in her head (sirens not having been invented yet)
She pushed the door open. She got a really good look at why Siro was moaning. For heaven's sake, why didn't he warn them he had a woman with him? For that matter, why hadn't he gone out, as was his custom, instead of sneaking her in? Taja looked back at the bed where the brawny ex-guard was obviously enjoying himself. The black haired woman pulled up and looked around. Eyes of glowing gold stared at Taja. She licked her red lips, catching a dark dribble down one side. There were sharp fangs in her mouth. Taja recoiled, stubbed her foot against a loose piece of masonry and went down, smacking her head against the banister at the head of the stairs. The yell of distress died in her throat as she fought not to lose consciousness. She lost the fight.
"Somebody shoot the bird," Taja mumbled into her pillow as several happy little song birds cut loose outside her window. She snatched the pillow from over her tousled red hair and stared at the window. The sun was up, golden light filtering through the carved stone screen. Her eyes wide with shock, she twisted around in her bed, wondering how she had arrived there. The last thing she remembered was -- She flung her bedding aside and dove for the door.
"Yes?" he answered as he stepped out of his room. He looked her up and down appraisingly, an amused look in his eyes. The look changed as he read the concern, almost panic in her own eyes. "What?"
"I -- Are you all right?" she asked lamely. How the hell was she going to explain to Siro what she had seen last night when he was standing there hale and hearty and probably hungry? "I - uh -- I guess I had a nightmare," she explained with a frown and realized she was standing there in something a lot less than her usual form of dress. She blushed hotly and retreated into her room.
Siro watched her retreat and shook his head. Nightmares. It was a wonder they didn't all have them every night. He took a deep breath, shook off the sudden feeling of lightheadedness and headed downstairs to find out what was for breakfast. Not that he was going to cook it, of course. The day passed uneventfully, for which all three of them were thankful.
They retired at a reasonable hour. Both Taja and Kung Lao found it odd that Siro did not go out to the local bar for a drink before retiring, but it had been an eventful week, so it wasn't too odd.
Taja awoke some time after midnight, the moon was setting. Siro was moaning, again. She got out of bed with a purposeful move and went to tell him to stop sneaking his women into the house. Again, his door was not quite closed. She felt cold as she reached to push it further open. Black hair, alabaster skin gleaming in the darkness, golden eyes, fangs. Not again. This time Taja stood her ground and called Siro's name, or tried to do so. The golden eyes held hers. Her voice seemed frozen in her throat. The woman moved silently across the room until they were almost nose to nose. There was an aura of cold around her. Taja wanted to turn away, look away, run, shout, something, anything. She stood where she was as though rooted to the stone.
The woman reached out with one cold fingered hand and stroked the side of Taja's face. Taja shuddered. Cold fear coursed through her. Color flared in her cheeks as a touch of desire also raised its head. The woman smiled, fangs gleaming against her dark lips. "Sleep." The word was more mouthed than voiced, yet Taja found herself obeying. Her lids slid slowing downward over her eyes and she slept.
The sun came up. The birds burst into song and Taja burst out of bed and out of her room, pausing only long enough to throw on her clothes and shoes. She half expected to meet Siro in the hallway. Nope. She tore downstairs and startled Kung Lao who was pouring water into the pot to heat for tea.
"He hasn't come down yet. What's wrong?" The Kombat champion knew she was worried immediately, yet he had sensed nothing this morning.
Taja hesitated, then briefly described her "nightmares" of the previous two nights. Both headed upstairs. Nightmares frequently acquired a reality all their own, as both of them had reason to know. They found Siro leaning heavily against the jamb to his door. He was breathing oddly, as though he couldn't get enough air into his lungs. His eyes looked feverish, his skin pale. He met their searching gazes with a frown and then slid to the floor half conscious. His hair shifted slightly to reveal two inflamed looking marks on the side of his neck.
Taja and Kung Lao knelt down on opposite sides of their fallen friend, their eyes met in curiosity and horror. Taja had not been dreaming, but what was this? Neither one had ever heard of a vampire.
They loaded Siro back into bed over his protests that he would be all right as soon as he ate and got some sun to warm him up. He shivered even as he spoke. Taja and Kung Lao made reassuring noises and looked worried. Siro subsided into a half conscious state, muttering about golden eyes and black haired beauty. They left quietly.
"Just like my -- It wasn't a dream. It happened. But why didn't I raise an alarm?"
"Good question. Whoever she is, she has powers she can use against us."
"So, now what do we do? She's killing him, slowly."
"I know. We find out what we're up against."
"Or who. Can we leave him alone?"
Kung Lao looked at the window nearby. "As long as the sun is up, I think we can. Let's go."
They set out to talk to everyone they could think of about the problem.
Unfortunately, vampires were not well known in the land and there was no one in town who could enlighten them. One offered herbs for strength, another a time honored curse to remove unwanted intruders, a third dismissed the whole thing as fantasy. For once, Lord Rayden of the white hair and lightning eyes was nowhere to be seen. To a certain extent, this reassured Kung Lao. The worse the matter stood, the more likely the thunder god was to be around.
The sun was well on it's way down past the horizon when Kung Lao and Taja met in the square just outside their home. The last of the merchants of the bazaar which was open every day were just packing up. Taja spotted the woman first. The blue-black mane of hair which hung loose to her waist and past was unmistakable.
The woman froze at Taja's yell. She turned slowly to face the advancing warrior. Her face was still pale, but the eyes were a deep green, like fine emeralds in the sun. She was clothed in black from throat to wrist to ankles, soft black boots covering her feet and rising to her knees. She fell into a defensive stance as Taja and Kung Lao advanced on her. The green eyes tracked from one to the other and back. Kung Lao laid a hand on Taja's arm to hold her back. Something about the woman felt -- not wrong, but not hostile either, in spite of the stance.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"The name's Cheri. Who're you?"
"Kung Lao. This is Taja." The woman nodded to both of them. "Taja believes you have met before."
"Ah. Not the happiest of meetings, it would seem."
"What have you done to Siro?" the hot headed ex-thief demanded, her hands clenched in fists.
"How can you --"
"Wait. Tall, fair haired, blue eyes --"
"Sounds yummy, but not ringing any identity bells. Friend of yours?"
"Yes. He's been -- harmed." Kung Lao was at a loss to explain exactly what had happened to the man, but that seemed to sum it up, however inadequately.
All three turned to face the new voice. When Lord Rayden voices all his disapproval in one word, it is worth paying attention. Cheri's eyebrows rose in inquiry. While she liked what she saw, the disapproval in the voice intimated previous acquaintance and she could not for the life of her figure out who he was. Lightning struck abruptly. Cheri lifted her arms to fend it off. Fat lot of good that was going to do, she told herself. Wind and fury abated and she was still standing. She tousled her hair with a quick move of her hands, just to assure herself it was still there, and looked at Rayden curiously.
"I take it you think we've met before, too." It was a statement, rather than a question. She hoped someone would break down and do some explaining, soon.
"Who are you? What are you?"
"In reverse order: technically immortal and the name's Cheri. And I would love to get my hands on whoever is going around impersonating -- me -- oh." Her eyes lost focus for a moment as the answer to the question of who was annoying people and looked like her occurred to her. "Oh, my. I don't suppose you could have mistaken sort of blue-green eyes for green?"
"Green, blue-green -- try gold, glowing gold."
"Glowing gold? Good grief, not on my worst day. Honest. I don't even wear gold. Well, most of the time, I don't, anyway."
Rayden slowly walked over, passing Kung Lao and Taja to come to a stop directly before Cheri who now had to look up into his eyes. They were a sort of dark grey and still not friendly. "How -- Not even an immortal should be able to stand my lightning."
"Well -- uh -- hmmm -- perhaps it has something to do with this not being my reality? I mean, maybe if the person is grounded somewhere else all that energy -- er -- dissipates elsewhere? Look, alternate reality theory is not my strong point. On the other hand, vampiric twins may be."
"What?" The word came from Taja and Kung Lao simultaneously.
"Vampiric?" Rayden sounded equally curious, his ire somewhat diverted by her words.
"Vampire? Blood-sucking undead? Uh -- hmm, not a concept. OK, in popular mythology where I come from, a vampire is a -- reanimated dead body.
In theory, the reanimation is due to the extreme evil of the dead person, a desperate desire not to be dead, the possession of the body by a demonic presence once the soul has moved on, or a virus. The latter is a somewhat modern interpretation of the condition. Anyway, if your friend has a general lassitude, seems to have lost most of his healthy color and has a couple of unexplained scabbed over holes on the side of his neck, I'd say we had a very traditional vampire working on him."
"Then you know how to stop it."
"Uh -- well, sort of. I mean -- oh, now what???"
The *now what* was a whirling vortex that opened in the square, convincing the interested spectators left that leaving was a good idea.
The vortex sat there for a few minutes as though thinking about things, spewed out one small, blonde, female figure and closed. The figure stumbled a couple of steps, righted itself and looked around. Her vampire sensing senses were not going off, so she surmised that the quartet of oddly dressed people in front of her were probably not vampires, or demons.
She walked over with a confident stride, ignoring the panic sounds the back of her mind was making and introduced her self. "Hi. I'm Buffy. And you are?"
Cheri grinned at the girl, for girl it was. She couldn't have been much more than 16 or 17, with a self confidence and assurance eons older. "Cheri Yuconovich. And these are Kung Lao, Taja and -- oh, didn't get your name before you started flinging lightening bolts at me."
"Rayden," he almost growled, frowning at the girl. He saw a young woman, yet there was the aura of both power and childhood around her. It was an unnerving combination. Rayden was off his stride.
Buffy nodded her acceptance of the introductions. "So. What's up?"
"A reality confluence."
Kung Lao and Taja looked like they didn't understand the words. Rayden looked annoyed. Buffy nodded. "OK. So, how do we, like, un-confluence it? I mean, that is what we want to do, right? This is a bad thing, to confluence?"
"Excessively bad. More bad than I really want to try to contemplate at one sitting," Cheri responded.
"So, who do I kill?" Buffy inquired with becoming nonchalance that she wasn't really feeling. The dark haired guy and the woman with him seemed very competent types. The white haired guy was giving her the creeps the way Giles did sometimes. He was old, but he was knowledgeable and dangerous. It was a good combination, but it did things to one's spine at the most awkward moments. And he was powerful in a way that she could feel but not see.
"At the moment, I'm not certain. I have a suspicion. I think it might be best if we go see the victim."
"You've got a victim?"
"Among the living."
"What? How? I mean, like, that's -- not possible."
Cheri grinned at her. "Six impossible things before breakfast," she murmured. She turned to Kung Lao to lead the way. Taja followed behind the dark haired woman and Rayden brought up the rear, frowning and trying to figure out where he had lost control of the situation.
Siro was groggily watching the sun go down, his well-muscled torso wrapped in a blanket and shivering every few minutes. He could not for the life of him figure out why he was so cold. He'd tried to get up and go down stairs, but his legs were not cooperating. Rather than end up in an undignified sprawl, he decided to remain in bed. He had tried to call for Taja and Kung Lao, but his voice seemed uninclined to pass through his throat. He was thirsty, so thirsty.
He heard the entrance door open and close as though from a great distance. He was aware of footsteps on the stairs, of the door to his room opening. With a major effort, he dragged his half closed eyes away from the window and looked around. She was here. He didn't even notice the other four people, just the black haired woman. He smiled and reached for her. Luckily, she caught him before he hit the floor.
"You came back," he whispered. Everyone in the room could hear the love in his voice, the need. "Yes, indeed. It's all right. I'm here now," Cheri responded softly.
She searched his eyes for answers that his greeting had already given her. Yet she knew it was not herself who had attacked him. She smoothed his sweat soaked fine, pale hair back from his face. Yep. Puncture marks, right over the jugular. According to Taja, the vampire had fed twice from him.
Three times a charm? Was the vampire trying to bring him across? To make him another undead, or just -- just what? This guy was borderline dead as it was.
"Why don't we get you downstairs to the fire. You look cold."
His eyes never left hers. "Not as long as you are here," he told her. There was no mistaking that hot glow in his eyes. The man was in love --or bespelled to think he was, she corrected with a mental grimace.
"I'd like to go down. With your friends." That was not exactly what she had meant to say, but it would do until she untangled her thoughts and her tongue. She slid under his arm and helped him to his feet. He wasn't as heavy as she had expected someone as muscular as he was to be. She frowned. Kung Lao helped him from the other sided. Siro never took his eyes off Cheri.
Rayden held the door for them, Taja and Buffy, sizing each other up, brought up the rear. Buffy was of the opinion that Siro was dead, taken, a demon and should be staked like any other vampire. However, that did not seem to be an immediately useful option here, and she had been known to show reason even where dead things were concerned. Consider Spike and Drusilla. Consider Angel. No. Not the time to go there.
Cheri and Kung Lao settled the shivering warrior in a seat before the fire and pulled the blanket around him. Kung Lao made tea. Cheri saw to it that Siro drank it. There was a long drawn out silence.
"So," Buffy broke the silence. "Now what?"
Cheri looked around at her. "We wait for the problem child to show."
"Right. Wait is not what I'm good at. I really don't do *wait*."
"Sooo-- You want to go hunting?"
"Yeah. I find if I go after them, it shortens this *wait* thing. Then I can go home -- and, like, stake some more vampsd -- There seems to be a flaw in this -- But, I don't know where, so I think I'll go hunting."
"I'll come with you."
Everyone but Siro looked at Rayden. Cheri shook her head with a laugh. "Great. Storm lord and Slayer. This is one for the books -- if I just live long enough to write one."
The front door slammed open. Wind whipped through the room, lifting even Cheri's long locks. In the doorway, barely clad in frail black draperies, stood a tall, slender woman who looked exactly like Cheri, only less solid. Her fine bones were just under the translucent skin. There was no tracery of blue veins beneath the skin. Her eyes were wide and dark, almost solid black with no trace of iris around the pupil. She stepped in past the swing of the doors.
They closed noiselessly behind her.
"You." It was a hiss, a denouncement. Her blood colored lips writhed back from sharp, wicked looking fangs. Her fingers curled into taloned claws. Her eyes glowed gold.
Buffy flipped forward, stake in hand and was backhanded out of the way.
The woman spared not a glance for the slight blonde slayer. She moved forward, ignoring all but Cheri. Buffy shook her head to clear the pretty lights and shiny twittering birds from her vision, and pushed herself to her feet. Rayden helped her up. He was frowning at the two women, so alike, yet so unlike.
"Hi, Tan. What's up?"
The vampire stopped at the matter of fact greeting. She growled low in her throat. "You are here. Finally, I will destroy you." The voice was reedy, hollow sounding.
"I don't think so. How'd you get to be a vampire?" Cheri's tone was conversational. It seemed to confuse the other woman.
"How'd you become a vampire?"
"I -- was -- bitten," she said slowly. She frowned as though trying to remember.
"No, not what. When."
The vampire frowned. Buffy coiled to strike. Rayden placed a hand on her arm and shook his head. She relaxed and looked annoyed for a moment.
Then she started paying attention to what was passing between the vampire and Cheri.
"When? Why does it matter? It is."
"Tanya, just answer the question. It's important. If you haven't been a vampire long enough, you can't hurt me."
"What? I am death incarnate. I can touch anyone." She started forward again.
Cheri stood her ground and shook her head. "Nope. Have to be at least a thousand years old to do in an immortal."
The vampire stopped again, the cant of her head shifted as she stared at Cheri and Siro and tried to force her brain to puzzle out the words of her enemy. "A thousand years, " she whispered. She had not been a vampire a thousand days yet. All right, but she could finish the man. She moved forward again to find Cheri between her and her target. She growled and tried to backhand Cheri out of her way as she had the small blonde woman. The blow was countered. Even her enhanced strength could not move the murderer of her father.
The scream of an enraged hunting cat poured out of her mouth, fangs distened, face contored in anger. She threw herself on Cheri, fingers curled to claw, her mouth searching for a hold, something to fasten onto, to rip out of the other woman. Cheri fought back as years of martial arts and hand to hand combat techniques had taught her. Taja and Kung Lao pulled the vampire off of her intended victim and tried to hold her. They were tossed away like sticks in the wind.
Siro, only dimly understanding that there was a battle being fought, stood and stepped forward. He fell under her onslaught, her fangs sinking into the flesh of his neck. He felt the lethargy, the sweet fall into her arms, into her need. He could feel the blood, his very life draining into her. He wanted only to hold her in his arms, to love her. He moaned softly, then bellowed in pain as she was pulled away. Rayden held the vampire. Cheri pulled the wounded man into her arms. The blood wasn't fountaining from his wound as she expected. His pulse was faint, erratic. His heart beat was fading.
"I need a knife."
"What?" Taja echoed the thoughts of all but the vampire.
"A knife. Now. You're losing him. A few more minutes and he'll be beyond all help."
"Except mine," Buffy inserted. She didn't mean to sound menacing, but a vampire was a vampire and it was her duty to exterminate the damned things. She didn't care for the looks everyone else gave her. Oddly, it was Cheri who didn't look particularly annoyed by the statement. "I think I'll just -- wait over here." Buffy gestured to an unoccupied area by the stairs and suited action to words.
Taja pulled her own dagger and, after a moment's hesitation, handed it to Cheri. She was as aghast as anyone when Cheri took the dagger, slashed her own wrist and held the dripping wound over Siro's neck. The blood was thicker, darker than Siro's. The wound in his neck seemed like some strange battle ground as their blood mixed.
"Fast transfusion," Buffy noted, her color a little off as she considered the possible problems with an impromptu and untyped transfusion. She fought back a gagging noise as she watched fascinated.
Siro's eyes fluttered open to see Cheri bending over him. His throat hurt, ached. He shifted against the pain. Cheri wrapped her arms around him as he convulsed. She held him hard, disregarding the pain in her wrist where there was still an open wound. He convulsed again. Once more, not as hard as the previous two. The wound in his neck was a red scar fading to white. His breathing settled as his muscles relaxed. His eyes opened again to look into the twin pools of emerald above him. He smiled.
"Hello," he said softly and reached up to brush a strand of black hair out of her face. The vampire howled in frustration. She fought to break free of Rayden's grip. Vampire vs. Thunder God. It was an unequal battle. She was held fast. Buffy stepped forward, stake in hand, to finish things.
The Slayer looked around at the immortal who was helping Siro to his feet. "Now what?"
"Well, technically, vampirism is a granting of immortality."
"By a possessing demon, yeah. Your point?
"What if the body possessed is already immortal?" Cheri pushed aside the *demon* part of this girl's explanation of vampirism. She'd worry about that later.
Buffy thought about this. She wished she had Giles available to consult.
If one immortal took over another immortal -- it made her head hurt the way "if one train is traveling x mph on one track and another train is traveling y mph on another track, how hard do they hit each other" problems made her head hurt. "Your point?" She hated to repeat that, but she seemed to be missing something here.
"What happens when you stake a vampire?"
"They disintegrate in a hurry?"
"Yeah. Poof. Very satisfying and not very messy. No icky carcasses to deal with."
"Ah. OK. Do it."
"Think you." As though she needed permission.
"Noooooo!" the vampire howled.
Stake entered vampiric heart. Vampire howled. Demon howled. Body sagged? Body? Sagged? Huh? Buffy reviewed her execution and could find no fault with the entry of the weapon into the target. So, how come there was still a body? She released her grip on the stake to ponder the question. No sense in giving the thing a chance to get up and bite somebody while she was thinking.
"OK. What is this?" She turned to Cheri for an answer. There was something squirrely going on her and Buffy wanted an answer. Now.
"Simple. Tan's already immortal," Cheri pointed out in a whisper, almost as though she didn't want the body to hear what she had to say. "Even demonic possession can't deny that. So, if staking causes the demon to go away, that should free her."
"We want her freed?"
"As long as she isn't a vampire, yes."
"OK. So, how do we find out if the demon's gone?" Buffy asked sweetly.
"Pull the stake."
"You pull the stake. I think I'll get back up."
"All right." Cheri moved forward. Siro followed her. She stopped and looked back at him. Oh, dear. He had recovered from the wound, but he still seemed to be enspelled by her -- by the vampire -- it was a little confused, but there was no mistaking that look.
She reached out and pulled the stake out of the vampire's chest. It made that peculiarly nasty sucking sound that chest wounds can make. Nothing. Cheri looked at Rayden. "You could probably put her down now."
"For the moment," Cheri agreed. Rayden gave her a very long look.
"For the moment?" he echoed.
"Yeah. Chest wound. Major damage to the heart. Give it a couple of hours. She'll be OK. Well, as OK as she ever is."
"Great. You mean I have to stake her again?"
"No. I mean -- whoa." Cheri put out a hand to steady herself. Along with everyone else, she realized she was still bleeding from the self inflicted wound on her wrist. Siro caught her and sat her down in the seat he had vacated. He gently bound up her wrist, his gaze never straying far from her face.
"Uh, yeah." Cheri looked into his eyes and realized that he was still gazing at her in that faintly unnerving fashion. Not quite dog at a bone, but close. She looked away and found that Rayden was grinning at her, faint laughter in his eyes. She gave him a very old fashioned look. She turned her attention back to Siro. "Uhm -- Siro."
Oh, boy. How to give the poor guy the heave ho without too much damage to his ego. "Do you have any idea what happened to you?"
"I found you," he responded cheerily.
"Uh -- Not exactly." Where the hell was help with this sort of thing when you needed it. Taja was watching her curiously. Kung Lao was talking to Rayden. Buffy was being politely disinterested as she watched the body of the non-dusted vampire. "Look, you were attacked by a vampire."
"And you -- were convinced you were -- I mean -- you were ensorcelled."
He thought about this for a moment and nodded. He remembered his desire for the vampire. He remembered thinking his world would end without her touch, her kiss, her -- bite. Rational thought was beginning to reassert itself, as much as it ever did. He frowned at the woman before him. "You believe that -- my feelings -- are --"
"Probably a hangover from the vampire's spell. I mean, we are pretty much identical in look --"
"But not in character," he assured her.
She grinned at him. "Well, no. You got me there. But we've really only just met, whatever your mind and -- well -- your body -- may be telling you."
He started to say something, and then really looked at her for the first time since they'd met. What had she said about immortality? Did that mean? He realized that it probably did mean that she was immortal also. What did an immortal woman want with him? Ignoring truly rational thought, he followed this side alley to it's ultimate conclusion. She was trying very gently to tell him that his regard was not returned, that he could have no place in her life. He swallowed hard and looked away.
She touched his hand. "It's OK. I've gotta take her home, anyway. It's a long trip -- on one level." She wished he had looked back at her, but he didn't as he moved away, toward his friends. Oh, well. Tanya was going to be enough to deal with for several days, she really didn't need a lovelorn warrior, no matter how appealing he was. She sighed softly.
Sometimes being immortal and Tanya's *twin* was damned inconvenient.
A heartbeat. One, two, picking up rhythm. Breathe. The first gasping intake of breath after having "died". Tanya's eyes snapped open. She was on her feet, gasping for breath, but crouched in defense, before anyone including Rayden could move. One glare around the room brought her attention to Cheri. With a scream of pure anger and frustration she threw herself at the other woman.
Buffy moved to get a vantage point to intervene. Rayden held a hand out to stop her. This was no vampire attack, this was pure rage backed by martial arts of a high order. Cheri defended herself adroitly. Letting Tanya "kill" her would end the attack, but she just wasn't in to mood for this nonsense. Cool thought prevailing over anger, Cheri got the upper hand and pinned her opponent against a wall.
"Quit it!" she snapped, sounding for all the world like a parent out of patience with a recalcitrant child.
Tanya bucked under her hands. "Let me go. I hate you."
"This is not news."
A noise of pure frustration escaped the other. "Let me go."
"As soon as I kill you."
Tanya took a deep breath and let it out. The sheer reasonableness of the statement took a lot of the wind out of her sails. "All right. I will behave," she agreed, her usual Russian accent becoming deeper than ever. "But not because you believe you have bested me. I chose not to continue the fight."
"Oh, great face saver. Maybe I oughta let the Slayer stake you again."
"What?" Tanya, freed, whirled to face the rest of the gathering. Eyes like aquamarines, hard and shiny, roved over the faces looking at her. She snorted her disdain for all of them, although she met Siro's gaze longer than any of the others. He was a strikingly good looking man and she had a weakness for blonds.
Outside there was a beginning to be familiar roaring noise. The square, empty of all people, was again the center of a whirling, eye-twisting mass of -- something. Cheri looked out the door and took it optimistically. "Ready to go?" She had to shout to make herself heard over the building noise of the vortex.
Buffy, still a little confused as to why she was wherever she was and wondering how annoyed the principal was going to be with her for missing whatever class she was missing, nodded. Maybe Giles could explain all of this so that she could explain it. She considered that thought for a moment and shook her head. Nyah. She took a breath and dove into the vortex.
Tanya Kropotkin took one last look around the gathering, decided anywhere was better than here, and dove after the diminutive blonde. Cheri also took a look around. She was almost expecting the vortex to disappear after Tanya went in. She smiled at the four remaining people, shook hands with Taja & Kung Lao, bowed respectfully to Lord Rayden and, speech being impossible over the roar of the vortex, impulsively pulled Siro into a kiss both of them would remember. With a wave, she followed the other two into the vortex.
On the other side, Buffy landed and rolled on the grass outside of Giles' house. A moment later, Tanya fell out of clear air, hit and rolled. She took one look around, discovered her hair had changed color and went to look for something to remove the abhorred color from her normally tawny tresses.
Maybe she could shave her head, go punk for a while?
Cheri landed with a bone jarring thud that knocked the wind out of her and made little stars and streaks of light dance in front of her eyes when she bothered to open them. "Ow."
"Giles!" Buffy greeted her Watcher as he came out of his house.
"Buffy -- er -- Buffy?" It was about seven in the morning on a Saturday, not a normal time for Buffy to be visiting her Watcher.
"Yeah. I feel the same way." She turned her attention to Cheri. "Are you OK?"
"Uhm, I think so," Cheri answered without opening her eyes.
"Cheri? Cheri Yuconovich?"
Cheri wasn't certain she liked the intonation of her name, although the basic accent on the basic voice was nice. She cracked one eye open to see if the stars were going in like good little balls of gaseous matter. Standing above her and a bit to one side was a tall, tweed covered man whose face was somehow familiar, though not at this exact angle. Cheri took a breath, released it and sat up. Nothing crunched, this was always a good sign. She got the rest of the way to her feet and still found herself looking up into the tawny hazel eyes of -- "Ripper?" she asked bemusedly.
Giles looked pained. Buffy looked interested with a tinge of worry. The last time someone had called him that, Ethan Rayne had been mucking about in town and he was a real pain in ass.
"Miss Yuconovich. It has been some time, hasn't it?" The last was uttered as it dawned on Rupert Giles that Cheri looked, if anything, younger than she had the last time they had met, over twenty years ago.
Cheri had the grace to look abashed. Oh, well. She'd never really gotten the hang of the quiet life, had she?
"Well, well, well. I *do* run into the most interesting people," Cheri said with a yawn. "Oops. 'scuse me. Sorry about that. Long night -- or something."
"Quite." Giles turned his attention to Buffy who was practicing her innocent *who me?* look. "Buffy?"
"Yeah? Oh, well. Uhm -- there was -- this -- thing. And it -- uh -- well, it kinda whirled and made a lot of noise and wind stuff and -- well, uhm -- it was kinda, like, totally gross, y'know."
Giles made that sound that meant he wished she'd learn to communicate in English instead of teenager. His penetrating gaze was cutting through the layers of "distract Giles" she was attempting to put between herself and her Watcher. She looked at Cheri for inspiration.
"You know Giles?" she asked brightly.
Cheri grinned. "Well, sort of," came the response. "We've -- met. A long time ago. A very long time ago," Cheri added, feeling that this needed to be expanded upon. Only, then there was the slight problem with her not looking as old as he did. So, how long ago is "a very long time ago" when considered in the light of -- Cheri stopped that train of thought while it was still steaming at the station. Buffy had been there when she mentioned the immortality thing. Yipe.
"Buffy, don't you have something else to do?"
Buffy looked around, checked her watch and stared at it in incomprehension. How did it get so early? If she ran, she might just get home in time for -- her mother to wake her up. Ugh. Such is the life of a high school student and slayer. She grinned at Cheri and Giles impartially and ran home. This left Cheri and Giles to stare at each other and wonder just where to start this conversation.
"Are you all right?"
"Seems so. No bones broken or misplaced. No holes -- " She stopped as she noticed that concentrated look focusing on her left arm. She looked down. "Oh. My. Look, a hole. Whoops." Admittedly, the slash across her wrist was only oozing at this point, but it was soaking through the bandage so thoughtfully provided by Siro.
"Perhaps you should -- um --"
"Giles. The sun is up. The likelihood of my being a vampire is kinda slender." She refrained from pointing out that even if she was a vampire, she could walk into his house without an invitation as her immortality would over ride her vampirism. Somehow, this did not sound like the kind of reassuring thing to tell him. She followed him into his home.
She was pleasantly surprised at the practiced ease with which he ministered to her hurt. The bleeding stopped. Gauze was applied and taped into
place. She inspected the work with a critical eye.
"Very nice. So, what're you been up to?" She smiled up at him in a cheery manner. She was hoping to defuse him. It wasn't working. His eyes, that strange tawny hazel color that had intrigued her when Ethan Rayne introduced them to each other, were practically opaque behind his glasses.
"I'm - a librarian," he said slowly, watching her like the proverbial hawk.
"A librarian. Sounds -- rather -- " A bubble of laughter demanded to be freed. Cheri giggled. "Actually, it sounds rather out of your line, if you don't mind my saying so."
"And just what would be *in* my line, " he asked softly, the soft tone making him sound no less dangerous.
"Oh -- world saver, watcher of the slayer's back? Watcher?" she ended with a puzzled frown. "Now where have I heard that before? It's official, isn't it?"
"Is it?" He turned away abruptly, removing his glasses, cleaning them and replacing them on his face before looking at her again.
"Oh, dear. I've thrown you off balance, haven't I. I am sorry, and I will try to stop giggling." She primmed up her face, only to be set off again. "Shoot.
Maybe I won't stop giggling. I'm hungry."
"Let me help?"
He regarded her oddly for a moment, then nodded. His kitchen was set up for his own use, but she seemed quite content to be the assistant and not the head cook. They rapidly turned out eggs, toast, bacon and tea. He was a little concerned over the amounts. The concern turned into understanding as Cheri wolfed down the larger portion of the breakfast. She caught him watching her and grinned.
"Time travel does that to me."
She screwed up her face in thought. "Well, close enough for government work -- of course, I haven't worked for any governments lately, so that could be a problem. I think it was a time vortex. Buffy got scooped up and dumped there too -- who had the gall to name that girl "Buffy"? I mean -- yeek.
What kind of a mind comes up with a name like that?"
Giles shoved away his own wonders about that and pointed out that Buffy's mother was a very nice person and apparently got carried away with the current vogue in names when she had her first and only daughter. Cheri looked at him like she questioned his sanity. Then she grinned at him.
"OK. I'll accept that." She gave an artistic shudder. "I don't understand it, but I'll accept it."
"So, what happened?"
"Well, Buffy discovered what happens when you turn a virtual immortal into a vampire and met a very nice storm god and helped save a potential combatant in a "win and you save the world" fight and -- that's about it."
Giles blinked. "Could you elucidate?"
"Probably. Let's see. The vortex snapped me up -- today's Saturday?"
Giles nodded. "Thursday, I think. Dumped me in what looked kinda like a somewhere between Roman and Medieval period town in the mountains. Tanya was already there and I knew something was up, so I followed my -- whatever -- to find her."
"Who is Tanya?"
"My -- cousin. Sort of."
"She's a vampire?"
"Not any more."
"She's -- immortal?"
Giles was getting the feeling that Cheri didn't want to go into detail here. He also wanted to know a whole lot more. He started asking questions. By the time Cheri was finished eating, he knew a great deal more about both Cheri and immortality of the genetic variety. He also knew more about what Buffy had spent the night doing. Part of the night -- He'd unscramble that later.
Back with the Mortal Kombat crew, Rayden was keeping an eye on Siro for the time being. Something about the man had changed and Rayden was curious. Kung Lao was busily looking for warriors to train. Taja was running the trading part of things which was keeping food in the larder. Siro was sitting on the roof staring out into space. Siro not being one for deep introspection or putting a lot of thought into things, this was odd. He was not asleep. He was not annoying Taja. He was not working out. He was just sitting there, frowning at the horizon.
Siro was trying very hard to put the events of the past few days into perspective. He was not having an easy time of it. He could not think of the woman who had helped heal him with out feeling heart sore. He knew what he felt for the vampire, the monster, was false. He could put that aside. Magic was magic and a man was not responsible for what magic could make him do or be. Yet the other one had given of herself, without hesitation, to keep him alive. A part of her was within him. Her blood had made him whole again, had kept him alive. He needed to thank her, to make her understand that his life was different now because of what she had done for him. How could he do that when she was gone?
He became aware of a presence behind him. Rayden was startled with the swiftness of Siro's movement. Was he faster? Rayden regarded the man before him calmly. Siro relaxed and nodded respectfully.
"Lord Rayden. I did not know you were here."
"I did not announce my presence. You are troubled?"
"No. Yes. I'm not sure."
"Let me guess. The woman Cheri."
Siro nodded. "Yes. She -- I expect Kung Lao and Taja to care what happens to me, to a certain extent. We have -- we have become friends. Friends support each other. I knew her -- sister? -- whatever the thing was, but I did not know her."
"And she gave of herself to save you. This puzzles you."
"Yes. The monks dedicate their lives to helping others. That is their way. But she is not a monk. She is not a friend -- is she?"
Siro pondered this. "Perhaps. Still, I did not get a chance to really thank her. I would like to have done so."
"And, perhaps, find out if what you feel is friendship or something more?" Siro colored slightly. Sometimes perspicacious gods could be embarrassing. He nodded in agreement. "Yes. I know she said it was left over from what -- from the spell woven by the other one."
"But you would be certain."
"Yes. I -- I don't think I would enjoy living the rest of my life never knowing -- especially if there is never anyone else." Rayden nodded his understanding.
Yes, that would leave one feeling unfinished and unsatisfied. Briefly he wondered why he was concerned.
He looked at Siro and knew. Siro, for all his faults, was a good man and a good companion for the Mortal Kombat Champion. Friendship has its price.
Now, how was he going to get Siro to Cheri so he could figure things out?
Once upon a time there was a community in California called Sunnyvale. Sunnyvale had a large population of teenagers, a high school, a high school librarian who was very attractive,(in a gaunt, sometimes haunted sort of way), a principal who was something of a power tripping martinet (and looked a little like Quark from certain points of view), and a large contingent of vampires, demons and what-have-you's due to being a Hellmouth. Such is life in the late 1990's in California.
Cheri Yuconovich, sometime covert agent, sometime Dr. of archaeology, sometime employee of KEI, Inc., rolled over lazily and fell off the couch on which she had been napping since about 9am. The thud caught the attention of the gentleman across the room with his nose buried in a mighty tome of esoteric information. Cheri pushed her self up off the nose to rug position and into a sitting position. Her waist length hair fell in a curtain across her face. She blew out to move it. It lifted out from her face and fell back as she inhaled. Cheri giggled. It was that kind of day.
Rupert Giles, usually referred to as Giles, or Ripper, depending on his current associates, frowned at the juvenile antics of the woman sitting on the floor in front of his couch. He was still clad in a very nice tweed three-piece suit. "Are you all right?"
Cheri cocked her head around to look at him through the curtain of hair. "Well, my ego's a little bruised, but otherwise I'm doing well." She deftly used a finger to part the mass of hair impeding her sight and pushed it back away from her face. A couple of deft swipes with her fingers and it looked remarkably unmussed considering the mess it had just been in. "How're you?"
"I'm quite well, thank you," he responded automatically and then gave her a look. The look was tempered by a smile. "Are you planning on explaining why you look younger now than you did 25 years ago? Or am I to chalk it up to time vortex travels?"
"I thought I had -- sorta -- kinda -- if you look at it sideways long enough."
"That will do."
"OK. I'm immortal."
"That I had managed to understand. It doesn't explain -- I mean, unless you've taken T.H. White's Merlin to heart, you can't look younger."
"Well, that's part of the uncomfortable part of being the kind of immortal I am -- " Cheri quit talking and frowned, listening. "Do you hear something funny?"
"Am I laughing?"
"No! Not amusing, peculiar, out of place, odd -- like a rushing of -- Oh, Hell!"
Cheri was on her feet and at the window before she finished her seemingly non-sequiter sentence. Outside, on Giles' front lawn, was the beginning of a vortex. Giles joined her at the window. The whirling darkness was growing. It was not a soundless, peculiar spatial distortion, it was a twisting, turning cyclonic movement that seemed to widen as they looked.
"Something's coming through."
Lord Rayden, Thunder God, mentor of the Champion of Mortal Kombat, champion of the cause of earth versus OutWorld, was dazed. He'd been contemplating the plight of Siro, ex-guard, companion of the Immortal Champion, all around have-a-good-time-guy, when he heard/sensed this odd sound. Having a time vortex sneak up on you is not nice. He was being sucked into the thing before he could move out of its way. Siro, hearing the peculiar noise and not managing to identify it from several nights earlier, came around a corner and walked smack into the thing. His senses rebelled at the distortions of time/space/other as he was slammed through countless aeons and onto the already flattened grass of Rupert Giles' front yard.
Giles was beginning to wonder just how much abuse grass could take. The woman at his side was beginning to wonder just how much distortion the time space continuum could take before things got really out of hand. She left Giles staring at the two newcomers and went out to greet them. Rayden had managed to land on his feet. Siro had landed badly and upon attempting to get up, his abused senses decided they had had enough and caused him to abruptly add the contents of his stomach to Giles' lawn.
He knew that voice. He tried to look around swiftly. Not a good idea. He heaved again. He felt her hand on his back. "Keep your head down. It'll settle in a few minutes." He could hear laughter in her voice, but it was gentle laughter, the kind someone who had been there might use. He almost nodded, but settled for keeping his head still.
Cheri looked at Rayden curiously. "Hi."
"Not your idea, I hope."
"Hmm. OK. Any idea whose?"
Cheri found him remarkably calm and cheerful for someone who had just been picked up and dumped many moons from his own place and time.
"You don't seem unduly disturbed."
"I'm not. I'm certain there is a purpose."
"Yeah, right." Cheri sounded skeptical.
"You *know* these people?" Giles was sounding incredibly stodgy. But then, Giles was in the position of a tweedy librarian/researcher/Watcher who has just received a vaguely oriental robed, white haired, dark eyed man on his front lawn, out of an apparent cyclone; and his leather booted, tights clad companion who was being distressingly ill on said lawn. Siro, his nausea quelled, stood up. He was not quite as tall as Giles, but he was about half again as broad. Muscles rippled on his arms and across his chest, barely concealed by the sleeveless tunic/vest he wore instead of a shirt. Giles was almost wishing he had remained Ripper instead of Giles and had Ethan Rayne on call to help out.
"Sort of. Lord Rayden," she gestured to the white haired but not elderly one in the robes. "Siro," she nodded to the golden haired, dark eyed man. "This is Rupert Giles. He is a very learned man, well versed in the occult realms of my world and a font of wisdom for his youthful charge."
Giles blinked at her. Her introduction had been delivered quite deliberately and quite solemnly. He nodded to the two men.
"Rupert, this is Lord Rayden, the Thunder God. And this is Siro - who doesn't seem to go in for last names. He is a martial artist, an ex-body guard and is currently both companion and student of Kung Lao, the last winner of the Mortal Kombat tournament." Rayden and Siro returned the nod. Siro felt a little embarrassed by the introduction. Rayden was taking it in stride, so he decided to emulate the Thunder God.
"Goodness." Giles felt the word left something to be desired, but he couldn't really summon up enough words to do his feelings justice -- well, not polite words, anyway.
California -- home of sun, sand, blonde hardbodies and fun. And Harleys.
Willow Rosenberg was sitting on the front steps of her home wistfully watching a vintage Harley percolate past. For once, neither Xander nor Oz was in her thoughts. The motorcycle and its rider were keeping her fully occupied. The rider was bronzed, long haired, denim clad and looked like he was looking for something. He must have noticed the wistful little red head watching him as he turned at the top of the street and cruised slowly back before coming to a complete stop at the end of the walkway leading to her house. He pushed the shades up off his face and smiled at her. Willow wondered if her knees had really turned to water or if it was just her imagination.
She stood up. Good girls didn't talk to strangers, especially dark, dangerous looking strangers with impressively tattooed shoulder muscles and sweet smiles. Willow disregarded her good sense and walked down to see what the gentleman wanted. After all, wasn't she a slayerette? Hadn't she and Xander and Cordy and Oz staked majorly mean and nasty blood sucking demons, in the absence of the Slayer? Wasn't she old enough to take care of herself, like the good little witch she was? She gazed into his kinda hazely blueish eyes and decided that maybe she wasn't, but he didn't look all that dangerous.
"Uh -- hi," she said softly, her expressive eyebrows raised in inquiry over her deep blue eyes.
"Hi. I'm lost."
"Oh. That happens," she agreed somewhat unhelpfully. "So, like, where were you going?"
"I'm looking for Vine Street."
"Vine. Vine? I don't think there is a Vine Street in Sunnydale."
"Sunnydale?" The man frowned, but not at Willow. "This is Sunnydale?"
He looked like he didn't quite know what to make of this. He pulled a map out of his saddlebags and stared at it for a moment. "How did I get here?" he wondered, mostly to himself.
"On a Harley," Willow couldn't quite help saying, envy and awe tingeing her soft voice.
He looked up from the map, saw her admiring look fastened on his pride and joy and grinned. "Yeah. But that wasn't exactly what I meant."
"Oh, sorry. But, like, there are signs, y'know. Good signs -- Sorry. It's Sunnydale. Sometime you find yourself talking like an idiot without meaning to -- unless it's Xander, of course."
"Friend of mine. He manages idiot even when he's not here. Not that I mind," she was quick to assure him. "I mean, like, Xander and I grew up together -- I'm babbling. This is, like, a bad thing. Sorry."
"It's OK." His voice was reassuring, although his look was a bit off. He was beginning to wonder how to get out of this conversation, even if the young lady was as endearing and pretty as she was.
"So, like, where did you want to be?" He showed her on the map. "Oh, wow. You really are off in the wrong direction, aren't you?"
"Yeah. Funny thing, the signs all kept heading me this way."
"Prank? Especially nasty prank?" Somehow, Willow didn't believe this for a moment, even as she said it. Something of her own thoughts must have shown in her face.
"Very," he agreed slowly. "I'm Vince Black," he introduced himself, a thoughtful look on his face. He had a feeling that he was here for a reason. Vince Black liked to follow his feelings, even when they did cost him bounty money. Vince was a bounty hunter working for Sixkiller Enterprises. He was also a wanted ex-cop named Reno Raines. He had a sixth sense for problems. Of course, in Sunnydale, that sixth sense could get him worse than dead.
"Willow. Willow Rosenberg," she responded. They shook hands. "It's early. You could probably get there before dark. Even if you stopped for lunch."
"Probably. What's the fastest route out of town? What is that?" The "that" in question was the heaving, twisting black vortex that was busily dumping Rayden and Siro on Giles' lawn.
Willow stood there with her mouth open for a fraction of a second as she took in the cyclonic shape. "Tornado? In Sunnydale?" She seemed bewildered by this. Then it occurred to her where that tornado was touching down. "Giles!" she yelped and took off at a run. The Harley roared behind her, pulled up to pace beside her and his gesture offering a ride was all she needed. She slid into place behind him, wrapping one slender arm around his waist, she pointed out where they needed to go.
The twister was gone as they pulled up. Giles was ushering his new guests into his home. He turned in the doorway to see what was arriving now. His eyes gleamed behind his glasses at the classic Harley pulling up in front of his house. Then he frowned as he recognized the windblown Willow dismounting from behind a total stranger. Willow ran over to him while Vince shut off the motorcycle.
"Giles! You -- You're OK?" Willow sounded worried. This was not unusual. She gave the Watcher a quick visual once over to make certain he was in one piece. "I mean -- there was this -- uh -- thing. Like a tornado -- only quiet -- and picky --" she ended frowning at the obviously intact Giles, house and yard.
"And -- non-destructive? I think I'm confused."
Vince walked up behind her, remarkably quietly for a man shod in cowboy boots. He and Giles took measuring looks at each other. If there had been a sign flashing "dangerous" over each man, it would not have been out of place. Willow shivered slightly at the currents passing around her.
"Oh. Giles, this is Vince Black. He's lost -- I mean, he got -- well, it's odd."
"Mr. Black," Giles acknowledged the introduction with a nod. He seemed to be doing a lot of that this morning. He might have said more, but his attention was claimed by the hot red sports car pulling into his driveway.
A tawny shagged version of Cheri stepped out of the car and stalked up to him. She looked him up and down with an almost disdainful sneer.
"Where is she?" the woman demanded.
"Where is who?"
Giles did not intercept the hand that shot out and grabbed him by the throat, although he did manage to get a hand on the wrist attached. She was strong, very strong as she bore him backward against the doorframe. "Do not play games," she ordered. He recognized the accent as vaguely Russian on the elongated vowels. "Cheri. Where is she?"
"Try looking to the side --" Cheri landed a fist on the woman's chin as she looked.
Tanya Kropotkin released Giles and nearly went to her knees from the force of the blow. She came up with murder in her eyes. Unfortunately, Giles was between her and the object of her anger; and Vince was stepping in to corral her. His arms were strong and warm around her, trapping her own arms at her sides.
"Let me go!"
"Not until you promise to behave."
There was a choke of laughter from behind Giles. Both men looked at her oddly. "Uhm -- sorry. I have a friend with a very odd sense of humor. Her response to that request is usually to point out that Have was a sex maniac." She chuckled again.
"Most amusing," came Tanya's derisive response.
"Hey, I just repeat 'em, I don't make 'em up."
"Just as well."
"No attacks, for the moment?"
"As I am outnumbered, I will not attempt to finish what is between us. Agreed?"
"Agreed. I think you can let her go."
"You trust her?" Vince asked.
"About as far as I can throw her underwater -- on Jupiter. But, she has never broken her word, so far as I know. And I know she has been mightily tempted -- by me."
"OK." He released her. He wondered what it was about this little town that seemed to produce so many really lovely women all at once.
Inside, Rayden was observing. "The other one is back. Although she seems to have changed her hair-color."
"What?" Siro stepped to the window. His heart felt on fire for a moment. Tanya, tawny haired, clad in denims and a silk shirt, made his heart ache. She elicited responses from the rest of him as well. He turned away from the window. He had believed it when he told Rayden there was no feeling for the monster. But this was no monster. This was the woman who had become the monster and then -- his head began to ache from thinking about it. He felt Rayden's hand on his shoulder. Their eyes met. Siro nodded. He was here for a reason. He hoped they would find it soon and then return to their own place and time. This was getting to him.
Giles looked at the two newest additions to what he was beginning to classify as "his menagerie". "Do come in. As though my neighbors didn't have enough to worry about."
Willow smiled at him reassuringly as she stepped past him. "Maybe Buffy --" she started and then stopped dead in the doorway. Her eyes were drawn to Rayden even as his eyes were drawn to her. Power recognizes power. "Oh." Willow's voice was at it's softest.
Willow recalled herself with a start and moved into the room, though not very far. Siro's muscular bulk was intimidating, especially as he seemed to be with the white haired man who was positively radiating energy. Rayden took it upon himself to move forward and welcome the child into the gathering. His hand was warm in hers as he led her over to the couch. She sat, never taking her eyes off of him.
Vince stepped into the house after Tanya and Giles. The room seemed very full. He nodded at Siro who returned the salute. The two of them were drawn to each other as the only non-mystically oriented people in the room. Giles saw to the introductions for those who needed them, Willow and Vince, to be exact. The room was practically vibrating around him.
Cheri looked as though she recognized his worry.
"Well, what a house full. Any ideas?"
"About why we've been joined by --" she waved a hand to indicated the people in the room.
A knock at the door forestalled his need to answer. "Now what?" he muttered testily, but he knew the answer before he got the door open. Xander, Oz and Cordelia stood on his doorstep looking curious. Well, to be accurate, Xander and Oz were looking curious and worried. Cordelia was looking bored and demanding to know why she was being dragged to the librarian's house, again, on Saturday.
"*Do* come in," Giles accepted their presence with what good grace he could muster. The living room was getting crowded.
Oz looked at Willow looking at Rayden looking at Willow and frowned. Willow looked around at him. Her face lost its fuzzy, oblivious look.
A joyous grin lit her face and she bounced off the couch to greet him.
"Oz! It is -- like -- way too wierd. I mean, beyond Sunnydale normal wierd, y'know. It's like -- some kind of -- really dangerous -- *thing* --." She stopped. He was looking at her in that bone melting seriously paying attention way that he had. She smiled happily and accepted his hug.
"What kind of *thing*," he asked.
"I dunno. I got to ride the Harley out front. D'you like Harleys? I do. It was -- well, it would have been better if there hadn't been this black whirling tornado thing in Giles' front yard. And if I could drive -- or if you had -- but it was seriously cool. I mean, like -- wow." Willow's burble died down.
Not far away, as the crow flies, a group of marginal mystics with just enough ability to get into trouble were staring at the demon they'd inadvertently conjured up. Most of the group was seriously aghast at the manifestation. The thing reached out and grabbed the gibbering leader of the group, melded forms with him and then shook himself. The man had always been handsome and slimy, but now he was more so.
He smiled. His mouth seemed to have more and sharper teeth than any human. He reached out and ran a familiar hand over the full body of his nearest follower. She trembled at his touch, fire and ice at war within her. Fire was warmer. She allowed herself to be drawn to him. He wrapped an arm around her, kissed her willing mouth, nuzzled the side of her neck, licking at the sensitive skin below her ear. She shivered with delight. She died happy as he ripped into the side of her neck, draining her life blood in a fraction of the time it takes to tell of it. He dropped the drained and nearly mummified husk to the floor where it crumbled away to dust. Two of the remaining members fainted.
"Now, where was I?" he rumbled, smiling at the panicked people around him.
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