When Angelus returned to Four Corners that night, he was not alone. He had been poised for the sunset as and soon at it had disappeared past the horizon; he had been ready to move. Not all that he had killed had risen in time but he knew that it would. It mattered little anyway, he had more than enough minions he needed for the night’s excursion and as for information, that was not entirely a problem either. Since his arrival in Four Corners, he had developed an interest in the lovely editor of the Clarion News. The young widow with the cascading blond hair was a strong determined woman who not only spoke for the community in her journal but also wielded considerable weight in the community. He had marveled at how a delicate lady of breeding could find content in such frontier surroundings and began to imagine how it would be to deconstruct her existence before he turned her.

He had spent numerous nights at her window, watching her contently and sketching her loveliness so that he could study her closely in the hours when he could not be with her, as he liked. He was preparing to insinuate himself into her life when William had made his indiscretion with Ezra Standish and destroyed any chance of that. Nevertheless, Angelus had not forgotten her and in light of the situation he was now faced with, he realized that while he may not be able to play his mind games with her, she more than anyone would have the information that he needed to find the gambler. Angelus knew that the human Larabee had some feeling for the woman called Mary Travis. He knew it because in the rare occasions that he had observed them together, he could feel the heat of their emotions for one another. Both were so afraid of what they felt for each other that it was almost painful too watch. Sometimes, the naivete of the human species was unbelievable.

He wondered if Larabee had warned her and decided that it mattered not.

+ + + + + + +

Mary Travis heard her door knock and wondered who it could be as she went to answer it. Chris had warned her about inviting any strangers into her house before he had left town this afternoon and though he would not tell her why, Mary was certain that there was genuine fear in his voice when he gave her the warning. Chris was not usually the kind of man who fretted over nothing and though she hated it when he gave her orders, because he was just the gunslinger who protected the town, not her lord and master, she found herself heeding his advice. After all, anything that frightened Chris Larabee, should frighten her if she had any sense at all.

She did wish he had told her what concerned him so much now that she approached the back door of the house. Her visitor whomever he was had knocked on her kitchen door which suggested to her some familiarity since most of her callers, chose to knock at the front door. Mary wondered if perhaps Chris had ridden back to town and supposed that was entirely possible, after all she did not keep tabs on him despite everyone’s belief that there was something between them. In truth, they had a friendship born of mutual trust and respect, everything else was mere innuendo by those who believed a man and woman could not have a relationship did not have something to with romantic emotions.

Not that she would mind that of course but Chris Larabee had a tendency to make her want to slam her head against a brick wall and that was not entirely the best basis for a relationship. Though some had argued that the line between love and war was painfully thin and one day, she could make the crossing into some great unknown. Mary tried not to think about such things because she liked her future being a surprise and if there was anything meant to be between her and Chris, she supposed she would find out soon enough. There was no point driving herself insane, trying to get a head start on fate. Swinging open the door, she found her perceptions on everything she knew shatter in an instant.

The man standing before her was not a man. His face was contorted with ridges and fangs, his yellow eyes glared at her with malevolence and his expression was one of such ferocious need that Mary might have screamed. However, she didn’t. She could not when the creature before her was holding a young woman in his arms. Mary recognized her as one of the saloon girls that worked at Digger Dan’s Saloon. The man, Mary observed and then recanted, no he wasn’t a man. He was, she searched the description she had read in a book of folklore once, a vampire. Nosferatu! Her mind screamed the word but the logical part of her balked at the suggestion because Romanian mythology was just that, mythology; it had no basis in fact. Yet the journalist in her, the one who reported what she saw, knew that what was before her was no myth, it was real and it was baring its fangs, ready to rip the girl throat out in front of her.

"Hello Mary," Angelus smiled, keeping the saloon girl firmly in his grip, her head yanked back exposing her bare neck, she whimpered in fear but her terror was inconsequential to the rest of the play he just put in motion.

Mary wanted to scream at the fact that he knew her name but she did not. She remained frozen, wanting to help the girl in her grip but had no way of doing so.

"I guess by the look on your face, your man didn’t tell you about me?" Angelus taunted.

Chris, Mary thought nervously. He meant Chris. "What are you?"

"What do you think I am?" He grinned and then ran his tongue along the saloon girl’s neck.

"Let her go," Mary said impotently. She had had no weapon. Nothing that she could use against a creature like this. Her eyes darted to her kitchen and she searched the room for a knife before realizing that it would do no good to her.

"I might be convinced to," he replied, amused by her gumption at making a demand she had absolutely no chance of getting. "If you’re willing to give me what I want."

Mary’s eyes widened at the possibility at what he might want from her but the life of the girl in his arms made her ask nonetheless. "What do you want?"

"Nothing so terrible as you might think," he chuckled, guessing what she had thought first. "Just a little information."

"What kind of information?" Mary asked again. She wondered what information she possessed that this creature was willing to murder to acquire.

"I want to know where the gambler that rides with Larabee is," Angelus stared at her hard.

Ezra? Why did this creature want Ezra? "If he isn’t in town," Mary stammered. "I don’t know where else he could be."

"You disappoint me Mary," Angelus glared at her, his teeth starting to graze the helpless girl’s throat, drawing a cry of fear from her quivering lips. "I thought you were smarter than that. Don’t make me take a bite now. I’m not particularly hungry but I will kill her if you don’t tell me what I need to know."

"I don’t know what you want!" Mary cried out in exasperation. The terrified expression on the girl’s face burned into her memory and yet she remained frozen in her doorway because she knew something about the legends regarding these creatures and that it was her best protection. She hated her cowardice at not daring to cross that threshold but she could do nothing else.

"Where would your darling man hide the gambler?" Angelus demanded again. This time there was no taunting in his voice, just ruthless determination.

Mary thought quickly, hating to betray Chris but she had no choice She was in a corner and she knew it. She prayed that Chris knew what he was doing that he was able to protect himself far better than this girl Angelus had could. "Let her go and I’ll tell you." Mary spoke finally.

"I don’t think so." Angelus retorted.

"You don’t have a choice!" Mary snapped, wondering where her courage had come from and whether or not she was insane exercising it with this creature of the night. "You want your information, I want her freed! If you think I’m stupid enough to tell you and rely on your honesty to let her go, then you have another thing coming!"

Angelus considered her words, the girl was not important enough for him to care whether or not she lived or died. However, he did not underestimate Mary either. Angelus moved his lips away from the girl’s throat and walked her forward to Mary’s door. "I’ll give her to you at the same time you give me your information."

They neared her door and for a brief moment, Mary thought that the legends were false that he might be able to breach her home. She felt her blood rushing through her heart like a tidal wave and could tell by his widening smile that he sensed her fear. She did not care. Anyone who was not afraid of him was a fool. Angelus paused at her doorstep, where he was almost inches away from her. Mary reached out her hand and looked at the young woman in his grip.

"Take my hand," she instructed.

Trembling, the girl raised her arm and Mary clenched her fist around her wrist. Angelus still had let her go but Mary had no doubt that he was swift enough to retrieve her. However, there was no more time to delay. She had to give him his answer now.

"If they are anywhere," Mary swallowed, "it’s at Chris’ shack. Its not far from here, about an hours ride north of here."

No sooner than she said that, she yanked the young woman through the doorway and noticed that Angelus had made no move to stop her from doing so. He could sense from her fear that she was telling the truth and so he felt he could be magnanimous on this occasion. Besides, he had plans for Mary Travis and killing her right now, despite the protection of her home could wait. He had to admire her courage though and understood what it was that drew Larabee, though the fool was too proud to admit it. The saloon girl whose name he never quite got was being held by Mary now, as she wept her relief to be freed.

"You got what you want!" Mary hissed. "Now get away from us!"

"Thank you Mary," the vampire smiled at her. "You’ve been most cooperative. I’m taking my leave now cause it serves me to but I’ll be back soon enough. You can count on it."

And with that, he was gone, leaving Mary standing in the doorway, shaking so hard she thought she might faint. However, she regained her composure quickly enough. She had to. Chris was in danger.

She had to warn him.

+ + + + + + +

There was a terrific explosion of sound and energy.

It was as if lightning had ruptured in the sky. Chris saw the flash of blinding white light flare to life over Tara and Spike’s circle, the power of it flowing outwards in all directions. The seven dropped to their feet trying to avoid its outpour. Their ears rang with the noise it generated and as it washed past him, there was heat and all things unearthly impacting against their skin. It was a strange tingling sensation that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. When it swept past them however, the gale and the noise ceased abruptly. Chris raised his eyes from the ground, just in time to see the candle between Tara and Spike blow out. Somehow through all the wind and chaos, it had managed to remain alight. Tara slumped forward once its light had diminished. Although he appeared almost as exhausted as she, Spike managed to catch her before she hit the dirt. Vin was on his feet and at her side in a few seconds. Spike seemed to be glad to relinquish the hold on her because his own energy had been drained during the ritual and he allowed Vin to take Tara in his arms.

"Tara," Vin called out. "Tara, come darling, wake up!"

Nathan hurried to Tara and immediately checked her pulse to make a more medical examination. "She’s alive," he stated. "Pretty weak though. "

"The process is exhausting," Giles explained as he looked on in concern. "She was like this when we arrived here."

"Did the spell work?" Ezra inquired, looking around them and seeing nothing out of the ordinary once the gale and thunder had disappeared. There was certainly no sign of the Slayer.

"I’m not sure," Spike answered wearily. "She’s the expert."

Suddenly, something in the slight breeze caught Spike’s attention. "Oh bloody hell."

He never had a chance to finish the sentence because bursting out of the clearing was Angelus and at least a dozen minions. Spike scrambled to his feet, his body aching from the effects of the spell but they had trouble in every way possible and he had to be ready to fight. The rest of the humans with him had also turned to face the vampires before them and Spike hope they were able to handle himself because he was going to have enough trouble keeping himself alive. He studied the minions around them and knew that they were newly created for the purpose of this confrontation.

"Vin, Giles get the girl to the shack!" Chris ordered. "You too Ezra!"

Vin nodded quickly, scooping Tara in his arms and running towards the trees that frame the clearing. Giles followed him as the others fanned out to deal with any vampires that might try to follow them. Ezra on the other hand was not eager to leave his friends behind at all. Vin had taken the girl to safety because it was necessary but Ezra was not about to let someone else fight his battles, no matter what kind of enemy wanted him dead.

"If you do not mind Mr. Larabee," Ezra said firmly. "I think I shall remain."

"This ain’t a negotiation Ezra," Chris barked. "GET GOING!"

"So this is Ezra," Angelus looked at the gambler in interest. "You’re a pretty important fellow aren’t you? Mind telling me why?"

"I thinks it because of my contribution to the gambling institution in this country," Ezra deadpanned.

"Why don’t you sod off Angelus," Spike placed himself between Ezra and Angelus who was slowly inching towards the gambler. "There’s no way you’re getting your hands on him."

"I have more than enough companions here to ensure I do," Angelus retorted, glancing at the minions standing by him, waiting for the order to attack.

"They’re young and bloody stupid I wager," he studied them closely. "Where did you get them? At the local saloon?"

"You never could beat me Spike," Angelus retorted. "What makes you think you’re going to do so now?"

"Because I’m not as young as you think," Spike glared at him.

"I noticed but its not going to change anything." With that Angelus launched himself at Spike and his minions did the same to the rest of the seven.

Chris’ first thought was to go after Ezra and get him to the shack, even if he had to be dragged there kicking and screaming. Inside the house, Ezra had some measure of protection from the vampires that wanted to kill him. If the gambler remained to fight at their side as noble as that effort might seem, he was only going to get himself killed. Chris strode towards the gambler when suddenly he was knocked to the ground by one of Angelus’ vampires. He reacted swiftly, throwing a fist over the face that was lunging for his neck. Throwing the vampire off him, Chris scrambled to his feet and threw another backhanded blow at the creature. The vampire stumbled back and the gunslinger got to his feet, reaching inside his coat for the stake that had become just as important to him in the past day as he gun. He flung the stake forward and caught the creature in the heart. The vampire shrieked in pain before exploding into dust before Chris’ astonished eyes.

Ezra saw Spike fighting Angelus and wondered whether or not Chris advice should be taken and that he should run to safety. However, he had run once before when the group had needed him and it was a shame he still had not managed to live down. Ezra could never do that again. Suddenly he heard Buck screaming and saw that the big man was desperately trying to reach JD even though he was having troubles of his own with a vampire that was determined to kill him. JD was fighting hard but his demon opponent had the advantage and it a few seconds it would not matter any more. Ezra ran forward and tore JD out of the creature’s hold. The vampire snarled at him in fury as JD fell to the ground, panting hard as he clutched his neck. The gambler who had been in possession of holy water since his had all began, threw the small vial of fluid into the vampire’s face. Glass shattered and the contents of the vial hissed into the demon’s skin. The fluid’s potency against the creature was like acid and a scre am ran through the night.

Ezra did not have time to savor the victory because something big slammed into his side and knocking the wind out of him. Ezra felt the stitches in his throat rip at the fall and he could feel warm flood flowing from the wound, staining the collar of his shirt. The sight of blood seemed to send the vampire about to kill him into something of a frenzy and Ezra felt himself being lifted by the arm with such force that his shoulder popped. He let out a cry and tried to fight back but the vampire was too strong for him. With a sinking feeling, he realised that he should have run when Chris told him. Because of this stupid sense of honor, which had never been a problem before, he was going to get himself killed and with him, doom the future that needed his survival so badly. Suddenly, something happened. He felt himself released and he felt heavily onto the grass. It appeared the vampire had forgotten him and as Ezra scrambled to his feet, clutching his wounded neck, he realised why.

She was young. She could not be anymore than twenty if that and her clothes were nothing he had ever recognized as fashion or appropriate for a young woman. However, without any doubt, Ezra knew he was looking at the Slayer.

She had grabbed the vampire that had almost ended his life and flung him halfway across the clearing. The others realizing that there was a new player in the game immediately left the other humans and went after the girl. They hoped to overwhelm her with numbers. They were in for a surprise. Ezra rose to his feet and went to join the rest of the seven who were staring with amazement as she fought the demons with almost effortless skill. She was almost graceful. Her movements were fluid. When she fought, she did not merely use her fists but her whole body. She spun in the air, kicked high, twisted her body and sent blows that dropped the enemy with brutal force. They watched her stake the vampires that came after her, one by one, watched them explode into nothingness, with her barely raising an eye.

"We should probably help her." Ezra managed to say.

"I think we’d only get in her way," JD stammered looking at the young woman in nothing less than awe. She caught a fist in her hand before twisting it so hard that the arm and ultimately the body that it was attached to spun around in the air and landed heavily on its back. She dropped to one knee in a swift movement, plunging the stake that had been sharpened and worn from use into the vampire’s breast and reduced it to dust.

Another vampire came up behind her and this time she had help, Chris had run forward and slammed his fist into the vampire’s face. The creature snarled at him and took a step toward the gunslinger when suddenly he exploded into nothingness in front of Chris. In its place was the slayer, holding the stake she had used to vanquish the demon. She raised her eyes to him about to say something along the lines of thank you when suddenly the expression on her face changed.

"DUCK!" She shouted.

Chris dropped to his knees just as the slayer hurled her stake overhead. Chris shifted his gaze slightly and saw it imbedded in the vampire that had tried to sneak up behind him. It howled as the stake struck home and like its other demonic brethren made its death in a dusty end. Chris looked around and saw that the minions were gone, she had killed all the vampires that converged upon her so hungrily but the danger was by no means over. In their efforts to stay alive, they had forgotten that Spike was battling Angelus alone. Both master vampires were still battling each other in a fierce combat but it appeared that the toll of performing the spell that had brought the slayer here had placed Spike in a decided disadvantage. He was managing to stave off death but it was clear that he was being worn down.

The slayer did not waste time with words for she assessed the situation quickly enough. She bolted past them and leapt into the air to deliver a flying kick into the sternum of the vampire that was giving Spike so much trouble. Angelus snarled in fury as he was sent sprawling and when she landed, Spike was at last given indication that the spell had worked.

"Buffy!" Spike exclaimed with genuine joy in his face.

"What’s with you?" She asked. "You’re supposed to be the Big Bad, how long does it take you to dust one vamp?"

"Take a closer look Slayer," Spike grumbled, reminded now of why he lingered in the nexus between loving her and wanting to snap her neck. She was charming as ever.

Buffy turned to face the vampire she was fighting and found her face melting with astonishment. "Angel?" She stammered.

The vampire stared at her in confusion because the new arrival was looking at him with familiarity. He did not understand it but he did feel the strength emanating off her. She was exceedingly powerful this one and that kind of force could only mean one thing; she was a Slayer. He also realised that he was by himself, that the minions he had spent the last 24 hours cultivating were all dead. No doubt at her hands. Angelus did not like the odds and he needed to regroup. It was time to make a strategic withdrawal. Furious that he was going to taste defeat or worse if he remained, Angelus did the only thing he could do at this point.

He ran.

Spike let out a sigh of relief when he saw Angelus leave because his energy reserves were exhausted. The spell had depleted him considerably and he had been on the ragged edge of his limits when he had battled the vampire. It had taken every ounce of strength to prevail and hold off an unfortunate demise but none of that matter now because Buffy was alive and she was back. Before he even questioned the sanity of it, he had bundled her in his arms and kissed her passionately. Her felt her lips open for him, questing and exploring his own before she stiffened in his arms and shoved him away. That was follow by a swift punch on the jaw.

"WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE!" She demanded as she looked around her surroundings and the men who she had just saved by her arrival.

"Good to see you too Slayer," Spike frowned as he rubbed his chin as he looked up at her from the ground.

"Spike," she rested her hand on her hips and stared at him. "What’s going on! One minute we were fighting like we always do and the next thing I know, I’m in the woods! Woods I don’t know! And what’s with all these guys? Is the rodeo in town or what? What’s with the cowboy look?"

"The cowboy look?" Chris asked. It better not be him she was talking about.

"Yeah," Buffy turned to him. "You, with the man in black thing. Although none of the westerns I’ve seen had the guy in black being such a hottie."

A crooked smile crossed her lips as she studied Chris in a way that made him one to blush for some reason. "What’s a hottie?" He looked at Spike questioningly.

"Nothing you ought to be worrying about," Spike rose to his feet and growled, suddenly feeling very territorial about Buffy.

"Spike," Buffy took a deep breath, staring at him impatiently. "It’s been a long night, I want to go home and get a bath. I have homework to help Dawn with and a very depressed Willow to console. Whatever this is, get us out of it or I’ll have to hurt you and why is Angelus here? Did something happen to Angel?"

"This is the Slayer?" Ezra looked at Spike skeptically.

"Yes!" Buffy threw up her hands. "I am the Slayer and you are obviously a reject from Maverick! What the hell is going on?"

Spike stifled a laugh but had to remark wit a smirk across his face, "isn’t it lovely to know that you’re related to her?"

"Related?" Buffy exclaimed and stared at Ezra. "What are you talking.about?"

"Buffy Summers," Spike patted her on the back. "Meet your great, great, great, couple more greats, great grandfather, Ezra Standish."

"My what?" She stared at Ezra in astonishment and realised that he did sort of look familiar. It took her a second to remember why. He looked a little like her mom.

"Remember the demon?" Spike leaned closer to her ear as she and Ezra continued to stare at each other. "The one who was pretty mad that I saved your ass?"

"You didn’t save my ass!" Buffy shot him a look.

"She sure can cuss," JD pointed out.

"Stuff it Junior!" She barked in annoyance. Buffy who had no idea where she was, was never a happy Buffy.

"Charming too," Josiah grinned.

"Must get that part from Ezra." Buck said sweetly.

"Nothing in this girl’s manner comes from me!" Ezra declared. "I am certainly more polished!"

"Hey!" Buffy glared at him. "Be nice, I just saved all your butts! Now I’m usually a pretty calm person but I’m extremely confused right now and if someone and I mean some undead someone doesn’t explain himself to me right this second, I will stake him!" She turn to Spike and hissed with narrowed eyes. "No matter how good he kisses!"

Spike took in a deep breath and beckoned her close before he responded, "so you admit I’m a good kisser?"

Buffy hit him again.


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