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Hellmouth Ascendant Trilogy Book 1 Dusk, Chapters 1-9

by Deacon_Rayne

Chapter 1
Dusk

A hurricane kick sent the vampire sprawling to the ground. With the practiced grace of experience, Buffy almost casually plunged the stake into the creature. It had time to gasp once before exploding into dust. She turned to address her companion.

"Okay, one down. Dusk, how's life in your corner?" she queried wryly.

Her companion, Alec "Dusk" Giles, was busy doing some sort of kung fu fighting with the second vampire. As opposed to Buffys' 'Beat them senseless and stake them' approach, Dusk preferred a sort of liquid-dancing style of fighting that was one-part gymnastics, one-part dancing and involved almost a Hollywood quality choreographed fighting style, consisting of a lot of blocks, parries, summersaults and combinations of punches and kicks. She watched, admittedly a little impressed, as Dusk snapped out a few kicks to the vampires head, then torso ending the combination of strikes with some kind of spinning/summersault roundhouse kick that propelled the vampire into a tree and impaled him upon a tree branch, where he too, exploded into dust. Dusk took a moment to savor the victory before addressing the slayer.

"No complaints here," he quipped in that inherited light British accent of his. For a moment, his head tilted in a perfect imitation of his fathers when he was amused or pleased with himself. The difference being that his father, her newly exonerated Watcher, Rupert Giles, was usually more proud of himself having unearthed a obscure, yet vitally essential piece of lore, than his fighting prowess. Still the resemblance between father and son was, at times unmistakable.

"You know," Buffy started as she picked up her bag that had been discarded during the fight, "You never did tell us what style of fighting that was," she arched an inquiring eyebrow to the older man. Buffy herself was quite skilled at martial arts, however unlike Dusk, she saw it as a means to an end. Dusk turned it into an art form in and of itself.

Dusk shrugged. "It's a base style of Wushu with a mixture of several types of different martial arts; capoeria, muy thai, ju-jitsu, aikido, jeet kune do," Dusk fell into step next to her, "I've never found just one set of movements and philosophies that totally agree with me."

Buffy snorted, "Obviously. Guess you've had a lot of time on your hands," she turned to regard him as they left the graveyard.

Dusk hesitated a moment before carefully offering an explanation,

"Time moves differently in the demonic dimension. I've had several decades to practice," Dusk ceased to speak, clearly uncomfortable to offer any further information.

Since Dusks' arrival to Sunnydale less than four months ago, he'd revealed several interesting tidbits about himself to the slayer and to his father. He was Giles' son by birth, having been the result of a fling between the watcher and an acquaintance of his, Diedre, during his youth. Along with a circle of friends, they had practiced dark magic to savor the rush it gave them. Unfortunately, they'd made the grievous error of summoning a very powerful demon named Ehyghon. The demon in turn, possessed and murdered nearly everyone in the circle, before finally being slain by the combined efforts of Buffy, Giles, and her lover at the time, the vampire Angel. Before being stopped however, Ehyghon had possessed Diedre, upon doing so discovering the unborn child in her womb. Rather than simply killing the baby as he had her, years later having finally tracked down Giles in Sunnydale, Ehyghon infused it with his own demonic energy and transported it to his home realm: the demonic realm. There, it was further infused with a greater Keeper demon, a darkness demon. Unlike most other demons, the Keeper demons were notoriously pragmatic and disdainful of their demonic brethren, this particular one found other demons especially distasteful. It took the child under its wing and tutored it in all matters of both the occult and combat, in the hopes of unleashing it against other demons.

Time moved differently in that realm. A hundred years in the demonic realm was barely three and a half on earth, his aging was retarded by the keeper demon's power, giving him much more time to train and prepare. Upon reaching maturity, the child now man, christened Dusk, in honor of his darkness demon -half, was ready to be returned to Earth. Before doing so, however, Dusk ventured into the realm of the dead, where all souls resided, in search of his mother. Instead, he encountered the soul of the technopagan, Jenny Calendar; who had been attracted to his presence because of the blood he shared with her beloved, his father the elder Giles. She revealed to him his heritage, his family name and told him where to find his father. She implored him to join his fathers' crusade against the forces of evil. Dusk readily agreed, and now bearing another name, Alec Giles, he left the realm of the dead...and arrived in Sunnydale California. That was as much as he was willing to reveal of himself, to Buffy anyway, and she respected his privacy enough not to pry. Besides, her experience with Angel had taught her that sometimes, there are things better left unsaid.

"So," Buffy tossed out trying to uplift the mood of the conversation, "Are we going to go see your dad?" She smiled to notice that Dusks expression softened a little.

"It'd be a good idea," he turned to regard the blond woman with a wry smile, "You know how dad worries," Dusk knew that Giles loved the slayer with a fathers love, rather than being threatened by it, Dusk decided to treat the girl like the younger sister he never had. Buffy and Dusk had grown especially close over the last few months, though often Buffy found herself attempting to placate her far more serious "older brother". His time in the demonic realm had emotionally aged him far beyond his apparent twenty-three years to her twenty.

Buffy smiled at him, "Yeah you know how fathers can be," she caught herself just as Dusks face fell, "or you don't, but if you did," she added hurriedly, "You'd know that Giles is top notch. Really. He's just the best," she finished; fervently hoping that she hadn't sent him on another melancholy trip. Dusk smiled slightly, much to her relief.

"Yes. My father truly is 'the best," he smiled indulgently at her and tousled her hair affectionately, appreciating her efforts to cheer him up. Buffy squawked in protest

"Cut it out, Alec! I have a date tonight!" she socked him in the shoulder as Dusk chuckled.

"Oh yes, I forgot, teenage girls can't afford to have a single hair out of place, lest their attractiveness plummet to abysmal depths," he sighed melodramatically, "Americans."

Buffy chuckled good-naturedly, "Oh really? Perhaps I should clue Willow in towards this attitude," referring to her best friend and Dusks' current paramour. They had met his first day here and it had been love at first sight. They had been inseparable ever since and their relationship had been so disgustingly super-romantic, their friends began referring to them as "Mr. And Mrs. Giles," a thought that neither of them seemed to have any problem with. Dusk shot her a wry look.

"Willow is the exception," Dusk added carefully. Buffy snorted.

"R-i-i-i-ght. And this would have nothing to do with the fact that if I did tell her this, she'd turn you into something icky?" Willow had become a witch of no small ability over the past four plus years. Dusk stopped, his face suddenly grim, Buffy jolted to a halt a few steps ahead of him.

"What? I was kidding. Joke. Ha ha?" Buffy exclaimed. Dusk shook his head.

"It's not that, I just...I hate having to keep things from her," Buffy instantly understood. Aside from herself, her boyfriend Spike, and Giles, no one knew that Dusk wasn't completely human, a fact that Dusk kept under very tight guard. Buffy placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

"Look, you have to tell her sooner or later. She's Willow, she'll understand," Dusk sighed.

"I know it's just..." he struggled for the right words.

"Hard to trust when you have so much to lose?" Buffy gently asked. Dusk sighed again.

"Exactly. I haven't felt about anyone the way I feel about her, not ever, and between her breakup with Oz and Tara up and leaving her right after that whole debacle with Adam, the last thing she needs is the stress and uncertainty that accompanies dating outside her species," Dusk spat out, a large dollop of self-loathing readily apparent in his tone.

"Hey...." Buffy took his arms and looked up into his face, "What Willow needs is a guy that will love her like crazy, that'll take care of her and help her take care of herself," she placed his hands on the sides of his face, shaking him for emphasis, " and I know that you certainly qualify. So cut yourself some slack, Willow could do a lot worse than you," she smiled at him. Dusk relented and smiled back, leaning in to kiss Buffy's brow, resting head against hers.

"You're a good sister," he whispered. Buffy smiled wryly.

"Yeah well, I've gotten kind of used to having a big brother around, even if he does mess up my hair right before a date," laughing she reached up and tousled his hair in revenge, he chuckled. She released him and fell back into step beside him as they headed towards Giles' magic shop.

A voice called out in a thick British accent.

"That was touching, fetch me a hankie, I think I'm gonna cry," Buffy rolled her eyes and turned not surprised to see a pale, peroxide-blond vampire there leaning against a tree smoking a cigarette.

"Oh you are, are you?" she sauntered over him, "That doesn't sound very effective. Bet I could do some things to you that would have you bawling like a widdle baby," Buffy finished this in a little-baby voice, pouting her lip. Spike snorted,

"Yeah right, you and what army?" He flicked the cigarette and looked down to regard the slayer arrogantly. She leaned in close to him, eyes batting seductively.

"Oh I think you know," she whispered demurely. Spike grinned.

"Yeah? Well maybe I need a reminder," he shot back challengingly. Buffy put a perfectly manicured fingernail to her lip and contemplated.

"Hmm, well, okay," reaching out she grasped a fistful of Spikes black T-shirt and pulled him into a long kiss. Dusk had the courtesy to keep his eyes averted. Finally after what seemed like quite a while, they parted. Spike smacked his lips pleasantly.

"That was a pretty convincing argument, I've got a better one though" grinning wickedly he leaned in and cupping his hand over her ear, whispered something to Buffy. Buffy's face went from amused, slid right into shocked and finally settled at mock outraged.

"Spike!" she cried out swatting the chortling vampire. She turned to look back at Dusk who was making a pointed effort to not stare at them, then she turned back to regard her lover demurely, "Later," she whispered, her voice full of innuendo towards hours of 'convincing arguments', before nestling against his chest and kissing him again. Spike still chuckling, wrapped an arm around her and walked over to the waiting Dusk. Dusk coughed once in politeness then turned to regard the pair. They had started seeing each other shortly after Buffy's previous boyfriend, the ex-commando Riley Finn, had been recalled by the government and reassigned to God-knows-where, Nevada. What had started out as a particularly bizarre rebound relationship seemed to have deepened past that for despite, or perhaps because of their constant bickering, there was a real undercurrent of mutual care and affection between the two.

"Still got that hankie Spike? I think I may need it now after THAT display," Spike shot him a wry look and laughed.

"Sod off, mate. I've got the most beautiful girl in the world here," he gave Buffy a tight squeeze, causing her to squeal in delight. His expression became wicked, "and later on I intend to-Oof!" he gasped as Buffy casually slammed her elbow into his abs. Shooting him a dangerous look, Buffy interrupted.

"He intends to be a perfect gentleman and not say things that are going to get his ass kicked," she looked up at Spike with mock adoring eyes "Right honey?"

"Right. Sure. What she said," Spike managed to groan out, gingerly rubbing his aching stomach, "Bloody hell," Buffy smiled and turned back to Dusk.

"Good," she added perkily, "then let's go visit Giles and then we can discuss what you intend to do later, all right lover?" Leaning forward, she patted Spike's stomach, eliciting another groan of protest from the vampire, before flashing a huge little girl grin at the both of them and bounding away gaily. Dusk and Spike exchanged looks, Spike held up a warning finger.

"Not one word, mate I mean it," he growled out. Dusk held his hands up placating.

"Furthest thought from my mind, honestly," Dusk reassured him. Spike snorted and pointed to his head.

"Good cause remember, this bloody chip in my head says I can't harm people, you being half-demon and all, I think it's within my capacity to beat you senseless," Dusk sent him an amused look.

"Well, it's within your capacity to TRY. But I don't think the Initiative installed a chip that would allow you to actually succeed. Unless, of course, government issue is now capable of miracles," Dusk finished wryly. Spike was about to comment when Buffy's voice echoed from up the street.

"Boys?"

"Coming!" Dusk and Spike answered in unison, sending Dusk another dangerous look, Spike headed up the street, being mindful of his still-aching abs. Dusk chuckled and slapped Spike on the shoulder comradely.

"Look at it this way, it could be worse," Spike sent him an amazed look.

"I'm a vampire dating the bloody slayer, I can't pummel anything without horns. I can't even feed myself without raiding a blood bank. How could it possibly be any worse?" he demanded. Dusk leaned in and whispered something to Spike whose eyes widened in terror.

"That's not due for another two and a half weeks!" he cried out. Dusk grinned wryly.

"You've got it memorized?" Spike snorted and nodded emphatically.

"You bloody well better believe it! She's enough of a handful the other twenty-seven days out of the month," he leveled an accusatory finger at Dusk, "And don't tell me the man dating the powerful witch doesn't have her little cycle-o-joy committed to memory as well." Dusk acquiesced the fact and grimaced.

"Point. It's knowledge vital to our survival as men I suppose," Spike snorted.

"Yeah well, most men suffer from broken chinaware during their girls monthly insanity. I suffer from possible broken bones and you may wind up turned into a newt," Dusk grinned,

"A newt?" He asked innocently. Spike caught his eye and grinned.

"'I got better!'" they finished in unison, laughing.

"God bless Monty Python, mate," Spike said grinning, "only good thing to come out of England in the last thirty years. Dusk nodded

"That and Sid Vicious," Dusk added, Spike agreed emphatically.

"Amen"

"BOYS!" Buffy's voice barked out, Spike and Dusk shot each other alarmed looks.

"Coming!" they repeated in unison. Spike regarded the other man.

"Let's-"

"Yeah let's be going," Dusk nodded.

"Good idea."

"Yeah"

Spike and Dusk quickly hurried up the street.


Chapter 2
Being a good big brother

The bell above the door rang pleasantly as the slayer; her vampire lover and her half-demon 'brother' entered the magic shop. Rupert Giles was busy stacking some glass jars on a high shelf as he craned his neck to regard the new arrivals.

"Hello. Welcome to-" he stopped his automatic greeting as he recognized the new arrivals. "Oh hello Buffy, Spike," he smiled warmly "Hello son." Buffy and Spike both nodded greetings to the Watcher, Dusk smiled

"Hi dad," he walked up to him as Buffy and Spike took seats against the wall, chatting. Giles turned around to regard his son.

"How have you-" his hand accidentally brushed against the stack of jars and without warning, they began to quiver and pitch forward. Dusk yelled in alarm.

"Dad! Watch out!" Giles frowned in puzzlement before turning to see the stack of glass jars toppling upon him.

"OH!" Giles yelled, throwing his hands up to brace himself against the onslaught of heavy glass. The onslaught never came. Dusk shot his arms out towards him and two thick tendrils of ropy darkness erupted from under the skin of his wrists, streaked towards the tumbling glass stack and wrapped themselves firmly around them, holding them together and still. Giles warily lowered his arms as Dusk maneuvered the tendrils to carefully place the glass jars back upon the shelf. Giles turned to face him, sighing in relief.

"Thank you Alec, that could have been most...unpleasant," He smiled and tried not to stare at the tendrils of thick inky cohesive darkness that had emerged from his sons' forearms that served as an obvious reminder of his demonic heritage. Dusk smiled tightly at him.

"Not a problem," finishing with the jars, Dusk snatched his arms back, causing the tendrils to snap back and shoot backwards into his skin disappearing from sight. Dusk shook his arms gingerly attempting to remove the pins-and-needles feeling that always accompanied using his powers. Buffy and Spike came up from behind him.

"Nice save, Bro," Buffy smiled and patted Dusks arm, making a pointed emphasis to show that she wasn't bothered in the least by Dusks' abilities. She looked up to survey her watcher. "Giles, you cool?" Giles nodded shaking himself from his uncomfortable reverie.

"Yes thank you," moving away from the shelf he stepped out and clapped his son on the shoulder gratefully, before sliding into 'Watcher Mode' "How was patrolling tonight, Buffy?"

The slayer shrugged, "Only two vampires, not much of a problem for the dynamic duo" she shot Dusk a wry look, "Of COURSE, it would have gone by quicker if one of us would just use their little bag of tricks to dust the vamp instead of Darth Maul-ing it to death," Dusk smirked,

"It pays not to be too reliant on anything but your own prowess. Self-reliance is the name of the game here," Buffy rolled her eyes and smiled indulgently and sighed.

"Okay, whatever you say, Bro, I'm just saying that if I had nifty little tendril thingies that shot out of my wrists and stuff, I'd use them for a lot more than merchandise management," she finished gesturing to the newly-restored stack of jars. Dusk turned and favored his father with a long-suffering glance. Without looking at her, he replied,

"That's because you, dear sibling, have a chronic dread of close quarters combat for fear of ruining your manicure," Dusk finally turned to regard a mildly outraged Slayer.

"Hey this was NOT a cheap manicure," she retorted, gesturing to her fingernails. Spike snorted behind her,

"Yeah, I'll attest to that fact mate. Got the claw marks to prove it." Dusk tried vainly to stifle a laugh, failing miserably; Buffy whirled around to confront her lover.

"You are SO asking for it, blondie!" she growled.

"Yeah? Look who's talking?" he gestured to her own mane of blond hair. Exasperated, Buffy threw her hands in the air.

"Men!" she cried and sauntered over to Spike, dumping herself onto his lap.

"Oof!" Spike exclaimed, "Bloody Hell, how does such a tiny slip of a thing get to be so bleedin' heavy?" Dusk chuckled as Buffy favored first him, then Spike with a lethal glance leveling a warning finger just under his nose.

"Watch it lover, or its six inch stiletto heels in two and a half weeks," Spikes jaw dropped and he shuddered slightly in horror.

"Okay, I'm being good," Buffy instantly perked up.

"Good!" kissing the now quietly protesting Spike on the forehead, she turned her attention to the father and son observing all this, one with slight puzzlement, the other with wry amusement. Buffy blushed slightly.

"Private joke. Couply stuff," she offered as an explanation.

"Ah!" Both the Giles' said in unison, bobbing their heads in perfect time with each other in an expression of understanding. Buffy stifled a laugh.

"Oh no, you two aren't related at ALL!" she grinned. Dusk snorted.

"You should have seen the debates we had regarding what music to listen to," he turned to offer his father a condescending look. "Bay City Rollers, indeed." Giles returned the look defensively

"What about that...din, you insist on listening to? That 'six inch nails'?" Dusk smirked.

"I think you mean Nine Inch Nails, dad." Spike and Buffy chuckled, Giles flustered slightly.

"Yes well be that as it may, it's still noise pollution," Giles countered haughtily. Buffy piped up.

"Oh come on, Giles, why don't you tell him about that collection of Cream albums you showed my mother during that candy incident?" Giles desperately attempted to shush her as Dusk laughed.

"Cream? You listen to Cream?" Dusk howled with glee, "I love it! When was this?" Giles had turned a rather embarrassed shade of red, scowling at the slayer who had betrayed him so grievously.

"It was...years ago, I doubt I still have them. Probably came to my senses and pitched them out with the rest of the rubbish," Giles then hurriedly went to rearranging a shelf of crystals. Dusk smirked.

"Uh-HUH," Dusk commented sardonically. He threw Buffy a conspiring wink which was quickly returned, "Whatever you say, Dad," Giles sighed and continued to busy himself with the shelf. Still laughing, Dusk patted his fathers' shoulder affectionately and walked over to a chair opposite the cooing couple, who were wholly oblivious to his presence. Chuckling quietly, Dusk picked up a book and began to flip through it. He'd inherited his father's love of lore and reading.

A few minutes later, the door swung open, the small bell tinkling as four pairs of eyes lifted from what they were doing to regard the new arrival. Willow Rosenberg bounded in, a font of red hair and cheerfulness.

"Hi everybody," she smiled and waved at Buffy, Spike and Giles, her eyes fell upon Dusk, and her smile instantly became coy and demure, "Hey you." She meandered over to him. Dusks dark eyes lit up and he smiled slightly

"Hey," he purred, catching her hand in his and placing a warm kiss to it. Willow shook her head.

"Nuh-uh mister, I want the whole package," swooping down she captured his mouth in hers in a long tender kiss. After some time, Spike cleared his throat noisily, earning him a swat from, both Buffy and Dusk. Dusk finished his kiss and draped the redhead over his lap. She smiled and squirmed getting comfortable, before resting her chin on his chest. Dusk looked down at her amused.

"Is Milady comfortable?" Dusk inquired amused, Willow rocked her head back and forth.

"Uh-huh," she batted her eyes at him, before snuggling against his chest, he smiled and stroked her hair, inhaling deeply her scent, savoring the way the smell of her hair and skin mixed to form a fragrance that was fully Willow.

"Awwwwww," came from opposite them as Buffy and Spike regarded the lovers with deep amusement. Dusk shot them a look.

"Silence. The both of you."

"Yeah," Willow chimed in, "I haven't seen this guy all day, and I'm having happies right now." She replied haughtily. Spike scoffed,

"Yeah, imagine that. A whole day," Dusk shot him a warning look.

"Spike? Think newts," he cautioned the vampire.

Spike shut up immediately as Buffy shot him a confused look.

"What about newts?"

"Yeah," Willow lifted her head up to regard Dusk lazily, "Was that a derogatory witch crack?" Dusk held up his hands.

"No, no. Monty Python reference," he assured her, "I hold witches in very high esteem. One in particular," he smiled at her as she got a big sappy grin on her face.

"Good" she mumbled before nestling back into his chest. Spike shot Dusk a look. NICE SAVE, he mouthed silently. Dusk grimaced in agreement, before setting back comfortably into the chair. Giles spoke up,

"Alec? Will you be coming back to the house to gather the rest of your belongings tonight?" When Dusk had arrived in Sunnydale, originally he had been living with Giles. However as time wore on it was obvious that Giles simply didn't have the space. So, at Spikes suggestion, Dusk had moved into the abandoned mansion on the hill that Spike, his sire, Drusilla, and Angel, had resided in years before. Dusk was still in the process of moving out. He craned his neck towards his father; careful not to disturb the affectionate witch he had on his lap.

"Probably, unless something comes up,"

Buffy's cell phone rang, interrupting the little domestic moment that Buffy and Spike were currently indulging in. With a groan of annoyance Buffy eased herself up off of Spikes lap and dug around in her purse for the ringing irritation. She found it and quickly checked the display.

"My mom," she explained, before hitting the talk button and placing the phone to her ear. Spike sighed in frustration and went about examining the contents of the magic shop, bored. Buffy spoke into the phone.

"Yeah, mom? What's up?" Buffy placed a hand over her other ear to hear her more clearly.

"Buffy I have to go back to the gallery, we're having an emergency. An entire shipment of neo-impressionistic work never arrived," her mother explained hurriedly.

Buffy closed her eyes in dread, pinching the skin at the bridge of her nose in tension; she knew what was coming,

"So, would you mind too terribly coming home to watch Dawn, until I get back?" From somewhere in the room with her mother came a wail of protest.

"Moooom, not Buffy! Come on, I DON'T need a babysitter, I'm fourteen years old!" Dawns voice cried out in dismay. Buffy heard bits and pieces of an argument she'd heard too many times in person.

< Goodbye date, Goodbye Spike, Goodbye fun. > Buffy sighed defeated, placing a hand to her head. Spike caught her look of frustration. WHAT? He mouthed silently. Buffy put a hand over the mouthpiece. "Dawn," she sighed, "Mom needs someone to play babysitter tonight."

"Goh!" Spike's widened in frustration as he cursed and kicked the table in front of him, sending careening into Dusks legs. His head shot up suddenly from its resting place atop Willows head, perplexed.

"What's up?" he asked, gently shushing Willows protestations at the sudden lack of his cheek against her hair. Spike sighed disgustedly.

"Buffy's got to go watch the rugrat," he bit out gesturing to the slayer. Dusk nodded.

"Oh," Dusk replied neutrally as he stroked Willows hair thoughtfully as she made happy noises. Meanwhile Buffy had returned to her phone call.

"Look, mom, as much as I'd LOVE to watch Dawn," she hoped her mother hadn't caught the not-so-subtle hint of sarcasm in her voice, "I have plans, can't someone else do it? How about Xander? Dawn likes Xander," Buffy pleaded. Dusk frowned, not sure why a sudden surge of something resembling envy raced through him like an electric current. He quickly gave himself a good hard mental shake, the enamors of a fourteen year-old girl certainly were not his concern.

"I'm sorry Buffy, Xander's not in right now and-" she stopped and addressed Dawn "What? What is it? What do you want?" There was some more commotion as Dawn said something inaudible. "Dusk?" her mother repeated puzzled. Buffy's eyes lit up.

"Dusk? She wants Dusk to stay with her? Hey, that's perfect, he's right here I can ask him," placing her hand over the mouthpiece again, she turned...and stopped as both Willow and Dusk regarded her coolly. Willow spoke first,

"Did you just volunteer MY boyfriend for babysitter duty because otherwise YOU wouldn't be able to spend time with YOUR boyfriend?" Willow asked quietly. Buffy's manner became instantly sheepish.

"Oops. My bad Will, if you and your man have plans tonight...?" Her manner was half-imploring, half-embarrassed. Willow let her sweat for a few more moments before harrumphing.

"Well, you're just lucky that I have to go study for that theology exam, or else you'd be in big trouble, missy," she stuck her lip out in a pretty comical attempt at being fierce. Buffy smiled relieved then frowned,

"Uh Wills? It's Christmas break, remember? No school?" Willow's jaw took on a stubborn tilt.

"Unlike some people I know, I believe in being prepared," she retorted, miffed. Buffy just smiled, indulging the academic workaholic.

"Thanks Will," she turned back to the phone when Dusk cleared his throat nosily. Buffy looked up again.

"What?" she demanded, and then she blushed again, "Oh sorry. Dusk, would you mind watching Dawn tonight? Just for a few hours? Pretty please?"

Spike chimed in. "Yeah mate, pretty please?" Dusk shot him a withering look.

"THAT was pathetic," he leveled a finger at Spike, "You owe me man." Spike nodded.

"I owe you mate, whatever you want," Spike spread his hands in a magnamonious gesture of generosity. Dusk considered.

"Your copy of the Sid and Nancy vinyl," Dusk replied. Spikes face darkened.

"I don't owe you THAT much," Dusk, grinned.

"All right then, how about a recording?" Spike nodded.

"Deal, now will you do it?" Spike implored. Dusk sighed before turning to Buffy.

"Tell your mother I'll be over shortly," Dusk said, resignedly. Buffy grinned in glee and kissed Dusks' cheek.

"You're a good big brother."

"Yeah yeah yeah," Dusk fumed quietly before gently easing Willow off his lap and getting to his feet. Buffy turned her attention back to the phone.

"Mom? Dusk would be MORE than happy to watch Dawn for a few hours."

There was a silence on the other line before her mother spoke up, sounding relieved and a little amazed.

"Well that idea seems fine by Dawn, so I guess I'll be going. Tell Dusk to help himself to anything in the fridge. Oh, and it being Christmas break, tell him Dawn can stay up as late as she likes."

"Right mom, I'll tell him. Bye," Buffy hit the END button and tossed the phone into the bag before lowering herself back down onto Spikes' lap. She turned to address Dusk; he cut her off with a finger,

"Don't say it," he warned her. Buffy grinned.

"I owe you one," she said in a sing-songy voice. Dusk growled in annoyance.

"Spike, get her under control before I get a razor and shave her head bald!" Spike chuckling drew the slayer into his arms.

"Come on now luv, let's not tease the nice man who's letting you off the hook so we can go enjoy ourselves tonight," Buffy pouted.

"Oh all right," Buffy smiled and kissed him as Dusk collected his coat. He turned and addressed Willow.

"Come on princess, I'll walk you home," he offered his arm, which she gladly took. Turning his head, Dusk called out to Giles.

"Dad, I'll see you later on tonight,"

"Yes. Of course, have a good night, son. Goodbye Willow," replied. Willow waved at him as he went back to sorting through a bin of talismans. Chuckling, Dusk turned to Buffy and Spike.

"Later brat," he teased, mussing up Buffys' hair again, ignoring her wail of protest. Spike held up his hand, which Dusk slapped. Spike looked up at him.

"Thanks again, mate," Dusk snorted.

"Just make sure that recording is a good one, all right? No slapdash dubbing," he turned to the woman on his arm.

"Shall we?" Willow sighed and shrugged melodramatically.

"If we must," grinning she pecked him on the cheek. Smiling, he held the door open; she caressed his face with her hand as she walked by. He quickly followed, the bell above the door signaling their departure.


Chapter 3
Dawn's Holy Grail.

Dusk stood at the Summers' front door. After rapping, it opened revealing a contrite young woman.

"Hi Dusk," Dawn smiled shyly and straightened out the dress she was wearing. A dress she had changed into the instant she heard the Dusk was coming over. Dusk smiled warmly at her.

"Hey petite, how are you?" Inwardly, Dusk was confused. There was this...feeling he had around Dawn. Not like with Willow, certainly not even remotely sexual. But there was...something there. Dawn smiled at him.

"I'm good, I'm really good, I'm very...of the good," she blushed and bit her lower lip humiliated that she was rambling. "How are you?' she asked hurriedly. Dusk smiled wryly.

"Cold. Are you going to let me in?" It was still December in Southern California, only two weeks or so from Christmas. Dawn turned a little redder.

"Oh God, I'm sorry. Please com-come on in," she held the door open for him as he stepped into the house. His back was to her as she sent a suffering look skyward, before looking back at him and smiling as he turned around.

"So what's on the itinerary for the evening?" Dusk asked pleasantly.

"Oh we can do anything you want to, I mean if there is anything you want to because I want to do anything you want to do I'm going to be quiet now," Dawn shut her mouth with an audible clack and blushed. Dusk just smiled and on impulse, stroked her hair affectionately. Dawn closed her eyes blissfully as a feeling of utter warmth, security, and peace filled her. Suddenly Dusks' brain caught up with him and he quickly jerked his hand back. Dawns' eyes opened and she made a soft sound of protest. An uncomfortable silence pervaded the room.

"Movie?" Dusk asked timidly, pointing to the living room.

"Yeah that's a good idea, let's go do that," Dawn hurried out of the hallway into the living room leaving a fairly confused Dusk to follow sedately.

"Okay," Dawn called out, peering intently at a shelf of videos, "what do you feel like watching?"

Dusk sat on the couch watching the news, without looking up he answered, "It's your call petite, whatever you want is fine with me," Her face still to the videos, Dawn felt a rush of heat flood her cheeks as she gave THAT notion some thought, before biting her lower lip and turning around with a movie in hand.

"This looks good," putting the movie into the VCR and hitting play, she turned and headed towards the couch. Dusk cleared a space beside him and Dawn sat tentatively down next to him.

"What are we watching?" Dusk asked.

" 'Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail'," she looked up at him "Is that all right?" Dusk smiled broadly.

"One of my favorite movies, thank you petite," Dawn smiled deeply pleased and settled into the couch to watch it. They laughed as the black knight came onto screen, Dusk mimicking him while they watched, Dawn laughing. At the scene with the virgins of the castle Anthrax, Dusk tried to cover Dawns' ears.

"You're way too young for this," he chided gently. Dawn responded by slugging him with a pillow, with force that would have made her sister proud. They quieted down and continued watching the movie, Dawn, focusing on the film a lot harder than normal. < What WAS it about this guy? Aside from the fact that he's tall, dark and gorgeous. Is this how Buffy felt around Angel? > Dawn had once stolen Buffys' diary and had read it cover to cover. She had read about her first meeting with Angel and how he had made her feel. Sneaking a quick peek at Dusk, she stared at his dark eyes. They were black with hints of deep green and violet in them, very odd. <And penetrating. VERY penetrating. > Dusk noticed Dawn staring at him, turned and smiled that little half-smile of his that turned her insides to liquid.

"Everything okay?" he asked politely.

"Huh?" Dawn responded unaware, before her brain caught up with her, she mentally shook herself hard, "Sure. Everything's fine, you just...." She struggled to come up with something, "...your hair looks weird in this light," inwards Dawn groaned. < Your hair looks weird? Nice one doofus. > Dusk reached up and stroked his dark hair smooth, smiling slightly. He returned his attention to Dawn.

"Better?" he asked, eyebrows arched in amusement. Dawn blushed.

"Yeah much, that looks much better. Not," Dawn added hurriedly, "that you looked bad before. Exactly." Dawn sighed and gave up talking and went back to the movie. Dusk smiled and returned his attention to the film as well.

As the film ended, it was near ten o' clock, Dawn yawned and turned to Dusk,

"So what did you think-" she stopped as she noticed Dusk, his chin resting lightly on his chest, dozing quietly. Dawn very carefully stood up and shut off the television, and then she stood there a while. < I could just go to bed, and mom or Buffy could wake him up when they got home. > Dawn started to turn, then stopped. She couldn't do it. She just couldn't pass up this opportunity. Carefully creeping to the couch, she took a black blanket from the top of it and gently sitting next to the slumbering Dusk, she covered them both with it. Curling her legs underneath her, she sighed and very slowly, laid her head on Dusks' shoulder, and closed her eyes, feeling his body rise and fall with each breath. She inhaled deeply, picking up a trace of something. < His cologne or maybe his shampoo? > She inhaled again, comforted by the scent and quietly drifted off.


Dusk opened his eyes a while later, feeling groggy. He tried to lift his arm, but it felt like something was weighing it down. Looking to his side, he discovered the cause. There was Dawn, curled up against his arm, her head resting against his shoulder. Dusk smiled, even as confusion raced through his body. He studied the way her face looked while she slept; the childlike innocence and peace that pervaded her features. The way her eyelids fluttered every now and then. Gently, he reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. At his touch, Dawn gave a contented sigh, her lips curling into a lazy blissful smile. Dusk smiled and very gently, picked the slumbering girl up and carried her in his arms up the stairs, to her bedroom. She stirred slightly, before burrowing into his chest, making unintelligible sounds of gratification. Reaching her door, Dusk focused slightly, and a shadow from the wall detached and gently pushed the door open for him. Releasing his control over the shadow, Dusk gently laid the young girl upon the bed, first removing her shoes and socks. She made a sound of protest as he released her from his hold, her face frowned in her sleep and she began to stir.

"Shhhhh," Dusk whispered, stroking her hair back. Her face eased, she quieted and drifted back to sleep. Then, carefully, he covered her with her blanket. He smiled slightly at the sheets < Harry Potter. Nice. > Then focusing on a shadow in the corner of the room, he beckoned. The shadow coalesced; taking on a crude humanoid head, torso and arms, below its waist was nothing more than shadowy darkness. There was no detail at all to the body. It came at his command and speaking quietly he addressed the shade,

"You are to guard this girl and alert me should her sleep become uneasy, until I leave this house. Understood?" The shadow nodded mutely and took residence in the darkness around Dawns' bed, invisible. Satisfied, Dusk stepped out of the room, taking a long moment to gaze at the sleeping girl, a thousand different emotions playing across his face. Finally, with a sigh of resignation, he quietly closed the door, leaving Dawn to her dreams and her shadowy sentinel.


Buffy opened the front door sometime later whispering, "Shhh, I don't know if anyone's awake," Dusk materialized out of the shadows by the door.

"Someone is," he stated quietly. Buffy nearly yelped in surprise before whacking in the arm with her purse.

"Don't DO that. New rule: no shadow-porting in my house, okay?" Dusk smiled slightly and Buffy turned to address Spike, still outside. "Good night," she smiled and kissed him, once, twice, then on the third kiss, started laughing and pushed him away, closing the door and laying her back against it, her expression blissful.

"Ahem," Dusk coughed politely. Buffy brought herself back to reality.

"Huh? Oh hi," she smiled sheepishly. Dusk smiled amused.

"A good date then?" he asked wryly. Buffy swooned and twirled before draping herself against Dusk, staring up at him adoringly.

"I SO owe you, big brother," smiling she batted her eyes and dotted a quick kiss against his cheek. Dusk smirked and gave her a playful shove away from him,

"Away with you, you lovesick brat," grinning he shook his head, "Did Spike give you-" he stopped as Buffy handed him a tape from her jacket. Dusk smiled. "Cool" smiling he investigated the tape. "He used a metal tape, I'm honored," chuckling he put the tape into his jacket. Quizzically, he looked at Buffy

"When did he have time to make this?" Buffy grinned naughtily.

"Let's just say, thank GOD for hands-free one-touch recording," she continued to smile wickedly. Dusk shook his head.

"Don't tell."

"Don't ask," she replied smirking, she nodded up the stairs, "Is she asleep?" Dusk followed her gaze,

"Yeah, I left a shade up there to keep an eye on her, just in case," he shrugged. Buffy gave him a wry look.

"Meet Dusk the overprotective babysitter," Dusk snorted.

"In Sunnydale, there's no such thing as 'overprotective," he gestured to Buffy, "You, of all people, should know that." Buffy gave him a strained look.

"Alec, I'm riding a very nice hormonal high, I had a great night, do NOT even begin to attempt to get me all serious or you WILL be hurt. Clear?" Dusk laughed quietly.

"Quite clear. Anyhow the shade will dissipate once I leave so, don't worry," Dusk collected his coat, "It's late and I'm beat. I'm going to see if dad needs any help closing shop," Dusk checked his watch, "it's only quarter to eleven, dad doesn't close up for another fifteen minutes, so I'll just get there in time." Buffy smiled and nodded fervently

"Well done, the responsible offspring." Dusk graced her with a patient look; Buffy smiled and trudged up the stairs.

"Good night, Alec, thanks again," Dusk listened as she padded to her room and closed the door. Chuckling Dusk opened the door.

"Kids," he said smirking, he closed the door quietly behind him.


He had made it three blocks when he felt it, a presence, just on the edge of his awareness. Dusk stopped and turned, scanning the gloom of Sunnydale at night. There was nothing he could see, and yet...

"It's late and I'm bloody knackered. Show yourself," he issued out into the night. From his left, a rich laughter reached his ears.

"Come now, young man, surely you possess more congenial manners than that," a voice wrapped in power and sheer confidence, heavily laced with an eastern European accent. Dusk gave it a three-count, before turning.

The vampire was tall, but not overly so, with aristocratic features and a fine boned face, piercing blue eyes and dark auburn hair. He had an air about him of utter grace and self-assurance. Something that sent warning bells all through Dusks' mind. This was not your average fang-banger, this was a vampire that was confident in his own abilities, and had no problem proving them. The vampire bowed cordially.

"Permit me to introduce myself," he curled his lips into a cordial smile and dipped into a sweeping bow, "I am Dracula."


Chapter 4
Dracula

The minutes stretched on into uncomfortable silence. Dusk had heard of him of course, but from what Buffy had told him, she had staked him...twice. Dracula, for his part, stood waiting patiently for Dusk to reply. The young man cleared his throat.

"I've...heard of you, Count. Forgive my surprise, but last I had heard, you had died...at least twice, by my friends hand," Dracula laughed, a low rolling laugh.

"Indeed, the Slayer, Buffy. I had gravely underestimated her and paid the price for it," he smiled slightly, "She is fierce and lives up every bit to her reputation. I daresay that I should prefer not to engage her in mortal combat again. I doubt I would be so fortunate twice in a row," Dusk scoffed.

"Yeah, no kidding, she's downright lethal," Dracula smiled appreciatively.

"Yes. This is so. But then, so are you, my young friend," Dracula pulled his lips back into an expression of predatory delight. Dracula slowly advanced on Dusk. Dusk winced as felt pressure begin to build in his head, like someone trying to pry their fingers into his brain and open it like an oyster. Dusk snarled and focused, fighting off the invasion. The pain doubled and without warning, Dusks' demonic half launched a full out assault against the intruder. With a snarl, Dusks' eyes flashed as inky darkness filled the pupils and spilled over into the whites, soon his eyes were nothing more than two pools of swirling darkness.

"Cut...it OUT!" Dusk roared as he lashed out with his hands towards the count, tendrils of darkness erupted from his arms and fingers and before the surprised vampire could blink, they wrapped themselves around him, hoisted him high into the air, and slammed him down into the concrete with punishing force. The pressure in Dusks' head ceased and the darkness hurled the vampire away from him like a rag doll. The count sailed through the air and slammed into a metal dumpster. Dusk stalked over to him, the his long black jacket billowing outwards, no longer cloth, but rolling darkness like a tidal wave splayed out against his back. Shadows from the dark streets began to collect and swirl around him, dark veins of energy crackled around him.

"You wanna try that again, Count?" Dusk growled. The count slowly rose to his feet, looking livid.

"Never think, for one moment, that I could not incinerate you, with but a thought, half-breed!" the counts eyes flashed with icy rage countered by Dusks' swirling pools of midnight. Then suddenly, it was all over, once again the Count was the cordial stranger.

"But that is not my desire, it is not in my-" he got halfway through this speech before one of the countless tendrils of darkness that surrounded Dusk shot out and wrapped itself around the counts throat. The count gagged and kicked as the tendril lifted him up into the air before bringing him to eye level with Dusk.

"You have four seconds to tell me what you want," Dusk informed the choking count, "and you've just used up three of them," the thick oily tendril tightened around Dracula's throat.

"Destroy me...and you doom all that you love and hold dear," he choked out. In surprise, Dusk released him to tumble unceremoniously onto the concrete. The multitude tentacles of darkness evaporated as Dusk's eyes drained from all black to their normal shade

"What do you mean?" Dusk demanded. The Count rubbed his throat gingerly and got to his feet.

"I came to Sunnydale, because I had felt a deep disturbance emanating from this area."

Dusk shrugged, "The pull of the Hellmouth, it's been here for years. Why would you suddenly be concerned with it?" Dracula looked him dead in the eye,

"Because, it is afraid"

Dusk froze, "What do you mean 'IT'S' afraid? How can 'it' be afraid? It isn't sentient." Dracula held up a finger,

"You are mistaken, my young friend. Have you never wondered how such a place came about? How so much dark power became focused? There is something under the ground in Sunnydale. Something...deathless, greater than vampire, man or demon. And it is afraid. It is afraid of the Summers' women." Dracula concluded. Dusk eyed him warily.

"Not that I put an ounce of stock into what you're saying, but why is the Hellmouth afraid of Buffy?"

Dracula gave him a condescending look before explaining. "Buffy has proven herself the champion of right and light far beyond any who came before her. She has grown powerful. Her body, her blood, her very soul, all these thing surge and roll with this power. She herself has already utilized it once, using it to defeat the abomination you called 'Adam', I learned of this when I supped from her veins," Dracula's eyes gleamed with avarice. "She stands on the threshold of a massive metamorphosis. She stands ready to transcend all death and become immortal. The Hellmouth fears this greatly, for it too stands on the threshold of transformation. Only one of them, however, shall live to see it through to its conclusion" His eyes shifted from avarice to calculating.

"And her sister, the one called Dawn, is the key," A low growl emanated from Dusk, as a surge of overwhelming protectiveness for Dawn flooded his mind and nearly robbed him from his reason. Dracula's eyes widened as power began to crackle around Dusk again, He raised a hand imploringly.

"Hear me out! I swear that I seek no harm upon either woman! I swear it on the clan Dracul!" Dusk calmed down slightly at the counts vehemence and the already-coalescing darkness fell away.

"Keep talking," Dusk bit out. Dracula, much relieved lowered a hand.

"I think it better if we spoke with Buffy as well as her watcher, your father, Rupert Giles, present. He will be able to validate my claims," Dracula reached out handing Dusk a card. "Meet me at this address, with Buffy and Mr. Giles," a small mocking smile graced his lips, "I trust you will have no reason to fear for your safety. Between you and the Slayer, I do not believe my destruction would be difficult," Dusk took the card tentatively as Dracula turned to leave.

"Give me one good reason why I should believe any of this," Dusk bit out. Dracula stopped and turned, favoring him with another condescending smile.

"Because, my young friend, you know it is true. You have felt a connection to the girl Dawn that you cannot explain, yet cannot control or deny. It haunts you, granting you no peace, rebelling against all sense." Dusk paled, his eyes wide.

"How do you know?" he asked whispering warily. Dracula laughed.

"Come tomorrow, and you will have answers," then with a great bound, Dracula's body lifted high into the air and flew from sight. Dusk looked high into the sky, before looking back down at the card.

THE BRONZE ROOFTOP
MIDNIGHT
-D

Buffy woke up suddenly, unsure what had awakened her. She sat up ramrod straight in her bed and scanned the darkness of her room. He eyes seeing nothing, but her slayer sense screaming at her that she was not alone anymore.

"Why didn't you tell me?" a voice rasped from the darkest corner of her room. Buffy's hand dove for the bedside lamp; it clicked on flooding the room in light, revealing Dusk sitting in a chair in the corner, looking at her with those dark eyes. "Why didn't you tell me the truth?" Buffy's first impulse was to be furious.

"Where do you get off-" she stopped dead. Something in his eyes warned her that this was not a joke or a game. Dusk continued.

"Dawn isn't human, is she?" his eyes bored into her face. Buffy's mouth sagged open. < He knows! > She closed and opened her mouth again to deny it. But the words wouldn't come, and she sighed defeated.

"How did you know?" she whispered quietly, not meeting his gaze. Dusk stood and paced across the bedroom floor.

"I met an old friend of yours. Dracula," Buffy's head shot up like a rocket, her eyes wide in a mixture of fear and disbelief.

"That's not possible, I staked him...TWICE" she cried out. Dusk just looked at her and she immediately fell silent.

"Get dressed and meet me at my fathers, we have a lot to discuss," without looking back at her Dusk stepped into the shadowy corner of her room and disappeared.


"...So Dracula wants us to meet him there tomorrow night," Dusk finished his recanting his story to his father and Buffy. They were in Giles' living room. Both of them wore very troubled expressions, as if they couldn't, or didn't want, to believe the counts words. Giles was the first to speak.

"He's not lying," he said simply. Two pairs of shocked eyes turned to meet the Watchers look. Giles sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I've often theorized about the Hellmouth possibly being a sentient entity. And looking back on the past four and a half years, I'm inclined to believe that this is so," he turned his eyes to Buffy, "and if the Hellmouth is sentient, then you will have to fight it Buffy, when the times comes."

Buffy looked pale. Fighting vampires was one thing, fighting demons another, but attempting to fight an evil as old as man itself seemed impossible. Giles continued.

"We did something Buffy, something was...unleashed within you, when we invoked the enjoining spell and contacted the first slayer. I'm not sure what but you are changing or soon will be. Can you tell me what it was like, that final confrontation with Adam?" Buffy did her best to shake off the fear she felt and replied

"I don't remember very much, it was...overpowering. Like my body wasn't mine anymore but a whole army. It was like my body didn't stop at my skin but stretched out far past myself. And everything was under my control. I was aware of all that I was and everything that was around me, because it was a part of me," she looked up into Giles' face. "Giles what does this mean? What's going to happen to me? How can I fight the Hellmouth?" she felt panic rising up in her throat to choke her.

"I don't know Buffy, but I think we should meet with Count Dracula and learn what we may from him," Dusk cleared his throat and their attention shifted to him.

"All right, now which one of you is going to explain to me Dawn?" he demanded quietly. Buffy and Giles exchanged looks and began to tell him what they knew. About the monks and her not really being her sister, but some great force of light called The Key and how Dawn didn't have a clue about any of it. Dusk took it all in impassively. After a while, Dusk spoke.

"Dracula said that she was the key, and that the Hellmouth was afraid of both of you, not just you, Buffy. If Dawn has no idea who or what she is, she couldn't possibly tap the power that she carries. If that's the case, why would the Hellmouth fear her?"

Giles shook his head, "I truly don't know, Alec, but perhaps Dracula does," sighing he got to his feet. "However, I don't understand why he would be telling us all this unless he stands to gain from it."

Buffy shrugged, "He knows either one of us can kick his ass, my guess is that he's more afraid of the Hellmouth more than the both of us," Dusk shook his head.

"No. No, Dracula doesn't fear us" he looked up at the two of them and added, "or the Hellmouth for that matter, but he is concerned about how this plays out. I think he may have something to gain by seeing the Hellmouth destroyed, but I think it more likely he has something to lose if it isn't." Giles nodded thoughtfully.

"That sounds logical, we'll have to see come tomorrow night," Giles paced the room.

"Question," Buffy chimed in, "Should Dawn be present at this meeting? If it's this important and it concerns her so much, she may need to be in on it." Giles considered before shaking his head.

"No, at this point we know so little about what's happening. The less she knows, the safer she'll be," Dusk snorted quietly at this but didn't disagree,

"What about the others?" he chimed in, "Willow, Xander, Anya and Spike?" Giles nodded slowly.

"We've already seen what happens when secrets are kept within the group," he gave Buffy a long look, Buffy returned it unwaveringly, Dusk decided not to ask, "We should alert everyone, Dawn being the only exception," Giles turned his head to regard them both, "We've kept them in the dark this long, because we did not want them treating Dawn any differently than if she actually were Buffy's younger sister. However, given the direness of the situation, I think the time for such sensibilities has passed," Giles rested his eyes on the Slayer. Buffy exhaled hard. This wasn't going to be easy to break to the rest of the gang.

"What about me?" Dusk asked, "Is it necessary for me to come clean as well?" Buffy jumped in.

"No. No it's not, Alec, this isn't about you, it's about me and it's about Dawn. You should tell the others when you're ready, not because you've been forced into it," Buffy took his hand in hers. He gave it a long squeeze in gratitude.

"Thank you," he replied quietly. She smiled slightly at him before releasing his hand and turning her attention back to Giles.

"Okay, round robin tomorrow night, before we meet with Dracula. I'll give everyone a call to let them know," Buffy got to her feet, "we'll all meet here before the meeting at the bronze tomorrow night." Giles nodded

"All right," Buffy and Dusk turned to leave, suddenly Buffy froze, a confused and distant look on her face. Dusk stopped to peer at her concerned.

"Buffy? You all right?" Buffy snapped out of it.

"Yeah I'm fine, just...for a second there I felt," she laughed a little embarrassed, "Forget it, I just need a nap," Giles looked worried.

"You're sure Buffy?" Giles asked gravely. Buffy hesitated for a moment, frowning before replying.

"Yeah sure, really I'm fine. See you tomorrow Giles," Giles relented.

"Yes. See you then," Before leaving, Dusk turned to regard his father questioningly.

" 'Round robin?' " He inquired. Giles smiled slightly.

"It's a long story, I'll regale it to you some other time," Dusk chuckled quietly and after him giving an affectionate pat on the back, he turned and followed Buffy out of the house. Giles, casting a worried look at the quickly retreating pair, before he slowly closed the door.

"So what do we do now?" a voice called from behind him. Resting his head on the door, Giles didn't turn as he addressed the speaker.

"If Dracula is here, then things truly have become dire. I cannot believe that Dawn's and my sons arrival now Dracula returning, so quickly after Buffy's experience with the First Slayer is a coincidence," he turned to examine the other man, " I believe something is coming, something terrible. Something we've never faced before." The other man nodded, folding his hands into his long dark coat.

"Between Cordelia's visions and this, I'd say you're right. But that doesn't answer my question. What do we do about now?"

"We wait Angel," he quietly addressed the vampire before him, "and pray."


Chapter 5
Heroes and Rogues

"So that's the situation," Buffy finished her story to the collective audience consisting of herself, Dusk, Giles, Spike, Xander, Willow, and Anya. They had all assembled in the back room of the magic shop, which was closed for the morning. When the story had started out, most of them (except for Dusk and Giles who'd already heard the tale.) had expressions of confidence, they'd fought the Hellmouth before, they could do it again, but as Buffy's tale grew more and more grim, so did their expressions. Finally it was Xander, who spoke,

"Dawn? Dawn is the key of power?" he asked incredulously, "Your Dawn, the Dawn that pitches a fit if we don't let her watch Dawson's Creek?" he exhaled hard. Buffy nodded smiling slightly,

"Good disguise isn't it?" Anya piped in,

"Well, I think It's absolutely brilliant to disguise the key of power as an obnoxious pubescent child," Dusk shot her a nasty look, which she chose to ignore. Willow shook her head.

"I just can't believe that I missed it. Me, the good witch of the Scooby gang," she looked downcast until Dusk put a hand on her shoulder supportively.

"Chances are that whoever these monks are or were, they put enough shields on her that she'd be impossible to detect, for her protection," he turned to Buffy, "If Dawn is meant to go head to head with the Hellmouth, that means she'd have protection against all kinds of magical scrying," Buffy nodded and he turned back to Willow, "Dawn's protected from the Hellmouth's minions detecting her, don't feel bad that you didn't pick her up," Willow smiled and rested her cheek against his hand, he stroked her face with his thumb as her worries dissipated. Giles cleared his throat.

"I think it would be best if we do not treat her any differently than we have been," Anya shrugged,

"I have no problem with that. She's small and makes loud noises," Spike snorted.

"Yeah? I'm willing to bet you do too pet, when it's with Xander and closed doors are involved," Ignoring Xander's look of shocked outrage, Anya considered the question.

"It depends," she answered thoughtfully, "like last night he did this thing with his-"

"Anya!" Xander cried, chuckling embarrassed, "Let's get back to the subject at hand," Anya shrugged and went back to holding Xander's hand. Spike and Dusk exchanged wry looks, Buffy chuckling, addressed the group.

"Xander and Anya's sex life aside, we need to make a plan," Giles smiled slightly.

"Buffy wishes to make a plan? The end of the world must truly be upon us," there was a round of laughter from the group as Dusk clapped his father on the back.

"My father made a joke, that's not much further down on the dark omens list," still chuckling he gave his fathers shoulder a reassuring squeeze before turning back to the group, "But Buffy's right, we need a plan. But first," he got to his feet to address each one of them in turn, "This is going to be unlike anything any of us have gone up against before. This isn't killing vampires or slaying demons, this is entering the depths of the earth to do battle with evil incarnate. So if anyone wants out or just is afraid that this is too big or too bad, say so now, and you'll be released with no strikes against you. But speak now, because after tonight, there's no going back," he finished and waited patiently. Xander spoke first, slowly rising to his feet.

"Dusk, you haven't been around very long, but you've been a pretty good guy, so I trust your gut feeling on this. But the gang has been through some pretty dark times and come out in one piece," he shrugged, "If Buffy's going up against the Hellmouth, I'm going with her," He walked over to Buffy's chair and stood behind it, showing himself firmly behind her. Willow got up and spoke next.

"Darn tootin'! I've got three people I love going down into that pit, I am not about to let them go in without my help, I'm in!" She smiled at Dusk who returned her look of love warmly as she came to stand behind Buffy as well. Anya rose next.

"When you fought that icky mayor person, I thought it was suicide, but this I KNOW is suicide," she sighed defeated, "but what am I going to do, get old and die instead, with nothing but funny-smelling cats and cross-stitch to keep me company? Count me in too," she got up and stood beside Xander holding his hand tightly, "besides old people don't have very good sex," she looked at Giles, "no offense". Xander rolled his eyes and kissed her forehead as Giles turned red and cleared his throat.

"I make no guarantees about our chances, but four years ago I gained a daughter," he smiled at Buffy, "and four months ago, a son," he turned his gaze to Dusk, "what kind of father would I be allowing my children to face such peril without my aid?" he walked over to the pair and placed a hand on each of their shoulders, "it will be an honor to fight beside you," Buffy's eyes watered and Dusk clasped his fathers arm tightly, too moved to speak. Releasing his father's arm, he shifted his gaze to Spike who was the only one who remained sitting. He held his hand out to the blond vampire. Finally Spike spoke.

"Hell, I need to kill something anyhow, and it'd be nice to be known as 'Spike: the guy who kicked so much demonic ass that the Hellmouth trembled at the sound of his name," he grinned and slapped Dusks outstretched hand hard, "Screw it, let's do some damage," he came over to stand behind the slayer, "Besides, I'm not about to let the best piece of ass I've ever encountered get herself killed," Buffy laughed slightly through her tears, touched deeply by this display of her friends' loyalty. She socked him on the arm.

"You're a creep," she sniffled, Spike smiled wryly.

"Yeah, but I'm a tremendously good lay," Buffy laughed and wrapped her arms around him.

"Just hold me, you big jerk," Buffy squeezed him tightly, Spike just held her.

Dusk smiled and looked around. "I guess that's everyone," Giles cleared his throat and gestured to door on the other side of the room.

"Not quite," he informed them. Buffy released Spike and wiped the tears from her eyes and turned,

"Giles what're you talking abo-" her voice trailed off as the door opened and a man stepped in. There was a collective exclamation of surprise from the group and a low growl from Spike as he placed a possessive arm back around the slayer; she was too stunned to notice.

"Angel?" she whispered, Angel nodded and stood at the other side of the room.

"We've had our differences, Buffy, but this is more important than any of that," Buffy patted Spike's arm, he reluctantly released her as she slowly walked towards her ex-lover. Angel continued, "What's happening is very real and serious, and I want to help," he looked down at the floor.

"How?" Buffy managed to whisper, Angel looked up,

"Cordelia had a vision about a great battle and darkness and light rising," he shrugged, "Sounded like something serious was going down. The Powers That Be mentioned something like this happening someday, I guess this is it," Angel finished and regarded her. Buffy spun on Giles,

"When? When did he get here?" she demanded. Giles met her glare calmly.

"Last night before you and Dusk arrived," he replied simply, "We didn't want to reveal his presence until we were sure about which course of action to take," Giles looked down and Buffy spun to glare at Angel.

"So that was you I felt last night," Spike's face darkened at this, Dusk put a hand on his shoulder, restraining him. Angel shrugged,

"I don't know, but it might have been," Buffy went right up to him and without warning, slammed a right hook across his chin. He stumbled back even as Buffy's hand howled in protest. Spike grinned.

"Yeah-hah," he laughed before Dusk shushed him. Angel regained his composure and straightened up.

"I see. That's how it's going to be then," he sighed and turned to leave. Buffy grabbed his arm and spun him around hard.

"That was for trying to cover up the fact that you were here," her face was tear-streaked and her lower lip trembled, "And this is for coming here thinking I needed your help,"

Angel braced himself for another blow, instead Buffy threw herself against him, hugging him so tightly, if he had had breath it would have killed him. Angel gently held her. Spike cursed quietly.

"Thank you," she whispered brokenly, tears streaming freely from her face. Angel held her, before letting her down. She wiped the new tears from her face and turned to the group. They were regarding the pair with a myriad of expressions. She shuffled her feet uncomfortable before looking up.

"Okay, is THAT everyone?" she smiled slightly, "We're not going to have any other blasts from the past show up, are we?" Giles smiled.

"No, that about does it," he chuckled before Angel broke in.

"No, it doesn't," he turned to the rest of the group, "Can I have a minute to talk with Buffy please?" Spike stepped forward glaring hard at Angel and was about to speak, when Dusk laid a hand on his shoulder, Spike turned to glare at him.

"She'll be all right man, come on, let's go look at weapons," Spike turned back to stake Angel with a lethal glare before stalking out of the room, nearly bowling over Xander and Anya in the process. One by one, the rest of them filed out of the room quietly, Dusk was the last to leave, turning to give Buffy a concerned look. She met his gaze and nodded, signaling that she'd be fine; Dusk nodded and closed the door. She turned to address Angel.

"Okay what is it?" she asked him. Angel gripped her shoulders and studied her intently with those dark eyes of his, as if trying to gaze into her soul.

"Someone else is here. Someone you probably won't be all that happy to see," Buffy frowned then her eyes widened in comprehension, she stared wordlessly at Angel.

"You didn't," she breathed. Angel shook his head.

"We need all the help we can get," he turned and addressed the darkened doorway, "Come on out," there was movement, and a woman stepped from the shadows. She tried to smile at Buffy,

"Hiya B, long time, no see," Buffy's eyes narrowed to vicious slits.

"Faith," she bit out like a curse.


For a long while, the two slayers regarded each other. Buffy noticed changes in the rogue slayer. Her hair was cut short and a long scar starting from her left eyebrow and cutting down her eye to end raggedly just below her cheekbone, marring her face. The eye that was once brown was now a very pale blue. Faith noticed the look and tried to smile.

"You like it?" absently she stroked the scar, "Some prison betty tried to make me her bitch. No candy or flowers even," Buffy was still glaring daggers.

"Let me guess, you killed her then, right? I mean, hey, that's what you're good at isn't it, Faith? Ending lives? Stealing lives?" Buffy snarled at her. Faith flinched like she'd been hit and looked down. Angel reached down to grab Buffy's shoulders,

"Buffy-" Buffy cut him off angrily shaking off his grasp.

"How dare you?!? How dare you bring HER here now!" she stepped back jabbing a condemning finger at Angel. "You don't know what she is! You could never know what she's done to me! What she put me through!" she turned a hateful glance to Faith, "What's the matter Faith? Heard the end of the world was coming and thought you'd come down and help speed it along? Maybe kill a few innocent people just for old times sake?"

"No," Faith responded quietly, not looking up. Buffy turned back to regard Angel.

"What gives you the right-" Angel's self-control snapped and he snarled at her.

"Buffy, shut up!" Buffy, shocked, shut up, Angel continued crushing her under his gaze.

"Whatever is happening here is real evil Buffy. It's bigger than any evil you've ever faced. Bigger than the Judge, bigger than the mayor, bigger than Faith and bigger than me," his eyes turned cold, "and bigger than your new boyfriend, Spike," The color in Buffy's face drained like water, her whole body shuddered at Angel's words, "Spike has killed more people than Faith's ever met. And yet you and he are now star-crossed lovers? Why don't you ask him sometime Buffy? Ask him about the women he had crucified with railroad spikes as they begged for her lives! Ask him about two dead slayers!"

"Shut up!" Buffy screamed at him, "shut up shut up shut up!" she placed her hands over her ears, "I don't want to hear it! I don't care anymore! I hate you! I hate both of you!" Choking back sobs, she ran from the room, bursting into the store, nearly knocking Dusk over as she opened the door and slammed it shut hard behind her. Without a backwards glance, she raced out into the noontime sunlight.

Spike ran up to the door and opened it to follow and a ray of sunlight caught him across the arm, flames burst and he yowled in pain. Dusk tackled him to the ground, smothering the flame and getting him out of the daylight. The smell of burnt skin seeped into the room. Giles and Xander helped them to their feet. Angel sighed and stuck his hands into his pockets.

"That could have gone better," he sighed placing a hand on Faiths shoulder, "Come on, let's go make introductions," mutely she followed him.


Chapter Six
War Council

Buffy came back to the Magic shop around sundown. Entering the back room unnoticed, she stopped dead when she saw Faith and Angel, along with the rest of the group discussing strategy. For a moment, she stared dumbstruck.

"How can you do this?" she cried out, The rest of them dropped what they were doing to regard her surprised, "My God have you all forgotten what she's done to us all?" She pointed an accusatory finger to Faith. "Have you all forgotten that she's a murderer and evil and sick and psychotic?" she turned her gaze to Willow who was sitting on Dusk's lap. "How she kidnapped Willow?" she turned to Xander "And you, you she just used and discarded, then she tried to kill you," she turned an accusatory glare at Angel, "Oh and let's not forget ANGELUS here," Angel flinched, it was the first time she had ever address him by that name, she continued spewing hate, "How he murdered our friends and tried to get the world sucked into Hell? So what, now it's 'forgive and forget?" she scoffed, "I don't think so," she turned to go.

"Buffy," Xander spoke up, Buffy turned. "Angel's paid for what he did, and he's paid back the debt several times over," Buffy's, mouth sagged open, Xander was DEFENDING Angel? "He saved all our lives at graduation and from what Oz told us when he got back from L.A., Angel's done his best over there to make amends. If what's coming as is as bad as all that, then we're going to need his help," Xander finished as Willow, Buffy and Angel all gaped at him, Xander grinned wryly, "Besides, Angel is always welcome to help in a nice non-key capacity," he turned an amused look at Angel who actually chuckled and shook his head,

"Thanks Harris, I appreciate it," Buffy broke in.

"Fine Xander so you're all 'buddy buddy' with Angel now, huh? " she scoffed, "Now I KNOW the end of the world is coming. So what about Faith, huh Xander? What, does she get into your 'fine and dandy' book as well? What's her excuse?"

Xander's smile faded as the rest of the group exchanged worried looks. They'd never heard Buffy talk like this. Finally Xander found words,

"Well, I mean, hey, Spike's been trying to kill us a lot longer than Faith has, and he's welcome to help so I figured-" that was as far as he got before Buffy walked over and slapped him hard across the face. The sound was like a gunshot as Xander was spun around and fell hard against the table, a large red handprint blazoned against his face. Willow leaped to her feet,

"Buffy!" she cried out shocked. Even Spike looked stunned as he cautiously got to his feet.

"Hey, come on, luv, that wasn't necessary, I mean, he's right," he tried to grin and put a hand on her shoulder, she knocked it aside hard.

"Don't touch me, got it?" She carefully moved back up the stairs leading out. Anya was tending to Xander; his cheek already was swelling up, red and ugly. For an instant, Buffy looked horrified but her eyes hardened again and she gestured to her friends.

"Way I see it, Faith is evil, anyone who helps her, well, then they're not much better. I don't want you help; I don't need your help. I'm going to deal with the Hellmouth like a slayer should," she opened the door, "by myself!" she screamed at them and slammed the door shut. There was a collective flinch from the group at the sound and a stunned silence except for Anya trying to comfort Xander. Finally Dusk spoke,

"Anyone want to go after her?" Spike stood to get up.

"Yeah, she's my girlfriend...I think. Guess it should be me," Giles spoke up.

"Normally Spike, I'd agree, but I don't think it'd be a good idea right now, given the fragile state of mind she's in," Spike started to protest, Giles cut him off, "Spike, she struck Xander, I've never seen her this incensed, she's clearly not thinking rationally," he turned to Dusk, "Alec, you seem to be the closest to her without having such an extensive past attached, would you...?" Dusk held up a hand.

"I'm on it," he rose to leave.

"Be careful," Willow cautioned, "I've...I've never seen her like this, not even after the master killed her and she was acting like a complete bitca," Dusk smiled slightly and kissed her lips gently.

"No worries, I'll see what I can do," Willow's lip trembled slightly, the sight of her friend so unhinged was beginning to take it's toll. He gathered her up in a tight hug,

"Don't worry baby, she'll be okay," he released her as she sniffled and nodded tearfully, then walked over to where Anya and Faith were tending to Xander, who was whimpering quietly. As he was leaving Spike stopped him with a hand on his arm, deadly serious,

"Make her understand mate, she can't fight this thing on her own, she'll get herself killed," Spikes eyes burned with concern for his lover, Dusk placed a firm had on Spike's shoulder reassuringly.

"I'll do my best man," Spike released his grip on him, satisfied. Casting another look at the group, Dusk swept out of the room closing the door gently behind him.


He found her sitting on a swing in a playground, sobbing pitifully. He waited for her to acknowledge his presence. Wiping her eyes angrily, she glared at him balefully,

"I know what you're going to say 'How could you be such a bitch? What are you thinking? You can't fight the Hellmouth by yourself," she sniffled, "Well I can and I will and I don't need you or Xander or Willow or Giles or Spike or Angel or anyone else's help to do it!" She snarled. Dusk just regarded her calmly. Buffy continued to glare at him.

"Well?!? Say something you...you demonic freak! You half-breed, say something!" she screamed at him getting up from the swing to stalk over to him, snarling through her tears, "Say something or so help me...!" she reared back to hit him, Dusk caught her arm easily and held her tightly, she cursed and struck him.

"Let me go! I hate you! I hate all of you! How could you betray me like this? Faith is evil! Why can't any of you see that? You don't know what she did to me! Let me GO!" she pummeled futilely against his chest. Finally her resolve broke and the guilt and shame of what she had done washed over, she broke down and started sobbing like a lost child. Dusk gently supported her, whispering soothing words to her. She poured all her hate, her fear and rage into him, he accepted it stoically, not judging her merely offering quiet love and support. Finally, she hiccupped slightly and regarded him with tearstained eyes.

"Oh God what did I do? I hit Xander! I said awful things, you must all hate me!" Dusk gently shushed her.

"No one hates you, Buffy, not me, not Xander not anyone. We're just worried about you," he tilted her chin up to look at him, "you're better than this. Better than unthinking hatred. Yes, Faith has sinned, against you especially, and that's not an easy thing to forgive or forget. But she's here now, and she's willing to fight to atone for those sins. Just like Angel and just like Spike," he smiled wryly, "although you try getting Spike to admit he's sorry for anything," Buffy smiled slightly at that.

"Yeah really," she replied weakly. Dusk smiled at her then grew serious,

"We're all here for you Buffy, you have Xander, Willow, Angel, Spike, Anya, Faith, my father...and you have me," he kissed her forehead tenderly, Buffy closed her eyes and sighed shuddering. "I can't speak for Faith or Anya, because I don't know them well enough, but I know the rest of us love you dearly, and we're not going to let you go face this thing alone, you hear me?" Buffy nodded, sniffling. She started to say something, Dusk cut her off.

"You're welcome," he smiled down at her and wrapped an arm around her.

"Come on. Dad's in full research mode and Xander's going to go on a doughnut run...as soon as the swelling in his face goes down," Buffy laughed a little at that.

"Jelly doughnuts?" she asked hopefully. Dusk nodded.

"Preferred pastry of Slayer and Watcher alike," Buffy smiled again.

"Well...okay," she pointed a finger at him, mock serious, "but ONLY because there's going to be jelly doughnuts there," Dusk laughed and gathered her up in a tight hug.

"That's the law of the universe, fight immortal evil and you get all the jelly doughnuts you can eat," Buffy smiled and rested against him.

"You're a good big brother," she sniffled. Dusk smiled and gently bopped his forehead against hers affectionately.

"Ouch," she sniffled mildly, before laughing quietly.

"Come on, let's go before dad eats all the jellies when they arrive," he took her hand and led her back to the magic shop.


The bell over the door rang, and all heads swiveled towards it. Dusk and a significantly calmer looking Buffy entered. Spike got up and walked over to her putting a hand on her shoulder, gazing into her eyes, concerned.

"Are you all right baby?" he asked. She nodded and patted his hand.

"I'm good, and I'm sorry about the things I said," Spike waved it off.

"Yeah well, I'll think of someway for you to make it up to me later," he replied cockily. She smiled and he kissed her cheek, before leading her to the table. He sent Dusk a grateful look, who nodded in return as he followed the pair back to the table where their friends were waiting anxiously. Buffy took a deep breath and spoke,

"I had no right to say the things I did or to hit Xander," she turned an extremely apologetic look to Xander, who was seated at the table, cradling an icepack to his face, "I'm really sorry Xander. Tell you what, I'll spring for doughnuts?" Xander continued to nurse his jaw, "and pizza?" she added hopefully, Xander still continued to regard her humorlessly,

"And ice cream?" he interjected. Buffy sighed relieved and smiled.

"Deal," she leaned down to gather her friend in a tight hug. Xander flinched.

"Ow! Cheek is still of the hurting," Buffy gasped and released him quickly.

"Ooo! Sorry," she smiled apologetically at him then she turned her attention to Faith, who was seated across from Giles. The tension level in the room grew noticeably and Willow, who was sitting between the two slayers, cautiously got up and moved out of the line of fire to stand next to Dusk, who wrapped an arm around her waist and patted her reassuringly.

"Faith," Buffy began "You've injured me in ways, I really never thought could exist, you've tortured my friends, you've stolen my body, abused my loved ones, and nearly helped bring about the end of the world. This isn't stuff you just forgive," Faith looked down ashamed, Buffy let the moment hang a while before continuing,

"But Angel is right, this is bigger than any of that, and if we're going to survive it's going to be as a team," Faiths head began to lift, disbelieving, hopeful, Buffy saw the look and held up a hand, "We are NOT friends Faith, I don't like you, I don't trust you...but that doesn't matter. What matters is that you're here and you're willing to help. So, for the duration of the emergency only, you're on parole," Faith began to smile until Buffy got in her face, "But you screw up just this MUCH," she held her fingers barely spaced apart, "and I'm going to find a bigger knife and a taller building. Are you hearing me crystal clear? Are we 'five by five'?" Faith paled slightly but nodded and Buffy backed down before sitting down next to Spike, who was regarding her with a mixture of shock and awe, gently tugging at the collar of his shirt, uncomfortable. Xander spoke up,

"Okay, so since Buffy is buying, who wants what on their pizza?" Eight pairs of eyes turned to regard him, uncomprehending. He shrugged.

"What? I'm hungry." Willow tentatively put up a hand.

"I'll have mushrooms please," she put forth meekly. The room dissolved into light laughter and smiles as the tension drained out of the room. Dusk looked down at her and made a face.

"Fungus, luv?" She shrugged and Giles smiled slightly.

"I'll make the calls," he then stopped and added almost hopefully, "someone is going for doughnuts, yes?" Another round of quiet laughter. Dusk grinned at his father.

"Jellies for all dad," Giles smiled relieved and went to go make the call.


Six pizzas (Angel and Spike opted for blood packets rather than deep dish), and three-dozen doughnuts later, the group discussed their options. Giles spoke first,

"I think it's safe to say that this isn't going to be some sort of one-shot raid, this is bigger than anything we've ever done, it will need a lot of preparation," Xander raised a hand.

"How exactly does one 'prepare' to face primordial evil?" he asked sardonically.

"Carefully," Dusk put in wryly, "and thoroughly."

"Hear, hear," Angel put in dryly. Giles cleared his throat.

"Precisely and that being the case, I suggest we set forth a list of tasks, the first thing we'll need to do is, not surprisingly, research," this elicited groans from the table, save Angel, who had grown used to doing research during his tenure in L.A., and from Dusk and Willow, who both relished a little book worming. Giles held a hand up for silence,

"I've consulted most of my books regarding both the Hellmouth and the Key, but I'm afraid I just don't have the proper tomes," Faith quietly spoke up.

"The mayor had a pretty good size collection of books," she turned to Willow for support, who bobbed her head emphatically in agreement remembering her brief...and wholly unwilling extended stay at the building.

"That's right! Maybe he'll have something on the Key, he certainly should have something regarding the Hellmouth," she looked back at Faith, who slowly nodded her head,

"Yeah, he once told me he founded Sunnydale so that demons could feed here, it'd make sense he'd know a ton about the Hellmouth before doing so," Faith added, she turned to Buffy,

"Is City Hall still up and running?" Buffy regarded her coolly before catching herself and sighing, trying to beat down the rush of hatred that filled her.

"Yeah. Although it's pretty vacant, after the mayors little performance at graduation, a lot of people regard city hall as sort of a haunted house," she shrugged, "I keep hearing plans to close it and tear it down, nobody seems to get around to it," Faith smiled slightly and turned back to address the group.

"Then I'll go down and get the books," Spike snorted slightly.

"What, you're just going to ask the secretary for the keys the ex-demons office then? And I thought my slayer was the only one who couldn't keep a subtle plan to save her life," Buffy swatted him upside the head.

"Look who's talking mister 'let's put together a giant demonic Smurf and unleash him on a Cineplex," Spike was about to retort when Dusk cut in.

"I think it's safe to say that it's going to require both a little discretion and someone who knows enough about arcane lore to grab the right books," he got to his feet. "That means me. Faith and I will go to city hall and get the books," he addressed Buffy, "we're going to need supplies too. Do you still have that commando friend of yours' address?" Buffy frowned,

"Riley? No, he was recalled and put in Nevada, I have no idea how to get in contact with him," Dusk pursed his lips together and turned to Willow,

"Lover, can you hop online and find him? You'll want to check the national records database, subcategory armed forces, it'll have some pretty impressive firewalls so you may have to work a little magic to nudge it along," he turned to Giles, "Jenny told me she gave you a disk once containing a few technopagan rituals?" Giles frowned, then nodded.

"Yes, but I'll have to go back to the house to get them," Dusk nodded and turned back to Willow,

"You feel like committing a felony, luv?" she smiled and bounded to her feet,

"My parents pay taxes, I think I'm entitled to raid the federal database," she replied. Buffy interrupted,

"So once we get Riley's address, then what?" Dusk turned to her.

"That's where Xander comes in," Xander was talking to Anya when his ears perked up

"Huh? What? Am I key guy again?" asked bewilderedly. Dusk regarded him inquiringly.

"You still possess any of that army know-how?" Xander smiled and bobbed his head.

"Aye-firmative. What'cha need? Rocket launcher? C-4? Heavy ordinance preferred by slayers everywhere." he waggled his eyebrows, earning a grin from Dusk.

"Perhaps, I need something like a shotgun, but a little faster on the draw. Also I need incendiary rounds, you know, like they have in flare guns. Anything spring to mind?"

Xander frowned, thinking, "Maybe. That doesn't sound as easy as your generic rocket launcher, but I'll think of something," Dusk nodded satisfied.

"Good. Figure it out and when you get a hold of Riley, ask him for a lot of them. Explain what's going on and make sure he can get them out here in a hurry. Riley may have to risk a court martial, so stress how important this is," Xander saluted.

"Yes sir," Xander replied. Dusk nodded and turned to Angel and Spike.

"Angel, Spike, head to Willy's, we need the word on the street as well. Buffy once told me that whenever there's serious evil in the ground, subterraneanians tend to vacate. Find out if that's happened and if so, exactly why. Also, we need to find as many entrances to the underground as we can. Natural cave formations, service access tunnels, sewers, crypts, everything, maybe we can find a optimal approach for this thing"

Spike interjected, "Ah, excuse me mate, but I'm not exactly popular down at Willy's anymore," Dusk arched an eyebrow.

"Well, if you're afraid, I suppose you could always help dad with research," he suggested mildly. Spikes face darkened and he leapt to his feet,

"Bloody hell! Bring it on!" he shook his fist in the air, earning chuckles of amusement and slap on the butt from Buffy.

"That's the spirit honey," she quipped wryly, he looked down at her and grinned. Dusk chuckled before turning to Giles.

"Dad, get the council on the horn, find out what they can tell us. Stress the whole 'end of the world' angle,"

"Yeah, find out if they can send some sort of special ops team like they've been known to, usually at the worst possible time," Buffy added, sending Faith a look. Faith averted her look and studied an open book. Giles cleared his throat.

"Yes," he checked his watch, "It's about midnight there, so I'll be waking the old man up," he smiled a hint of wickedness in his expression, "I don't think I have a problem with that, I'll call them from my house," Dusk nodded.

"All right then, that's the plan: Buffy, Dad, Willow Xander: Dad's house for hacking, phone calls and heavy ordinance procurement, Angel, Spike: Willy's for information, and Faith and I'll go raid city hall," Dusk finished. Anya spoke up,

"What about me?" Dusk pursed his lips together in thought.

"Anya stay here and keep an eye on the store," an idea struck him, he turned to Willow.

"Willow, do you still have that glyph that demon gave you?" Willow nodded.

"It's back at the dorm," Dusk turned to Buffy.

"Buffy?" Buffy was already on her feet.

"On it. Willow where is it?" she asked her.

"Oh it's in my jewelry box, next to my box of cond-" she stopped as her hand flew to her mouth and her face quickly coloring to match her hair. Spike gave the witch a wry look and Buffy mirrored it, grinning teasingly before patting Willow on the shoulder.

"In the jewelry box, I got it Wills," Buffy turned to Anya.

"Do you think this demon guy is likely to help?" Anya frowned.

"D'Hoffryn is pretty set in his ways," she exhaled, "But I suppose I could go to all the trouble of asking him," she huffed. Buffy nodded curtly and turned to Dusk,

"I'll have Giles drop me off at the dorms, then I'll come run back here and drop it off before heading back up to his place" Dusk nodded.

"Sounds good. So we're all set then?" There were general sounds of assent from the table. Dusk got his coat, and for the first time noticed the odd looks he was getting from everyone.

"What?" he finally asked. Buffy spoke up.

"When did you get all 'take charge with the delegating and the plan?" Dusk stopped to regard her.

"If you have a better idea, sis, I'm all ears," he stated simply. She shook her head,

"It's a good plan, it's just a side of you I haven't seen," she leaned forward to kiss his cheek then pinching it, "You're so cute when you're all take-charge macho man," he rolled his eyes and shoved her gently away.

"Am-scray, time is moving and we are standing still," everyone got to their feet and filed out into the night. "Don't forget, Buffy, Dad. Midnight the Bronze," Dusk called after them.

"Will do!" Buffy yelled as she, Willow, Xander and Giles piled into Giles' new sporty red car. Angel and Spike headed in the opposite direction towards Angel's car, a long black Mustang, minus top.

"Good luck," Angel told Dusk.

"You too," Dusk replied. He shook his hand and slapped Spikes, before leveling a warning finger at Spike.

"Remember: 'information' not 'body count' comprende?" Spike growled good-naturedly and lit a cigarette.

"Blimey, you're as bad as your sister," grinning he shook his head and followed Angel. As they retreated, Dusk could just make out the two vampires bickering,

"A vampire with a convertible, you really are a professional sufferer aren't you?" Spike mocked the elder vampire.

"Spike, don't start on my car, it's a good car. And get rid of the cigarette," Angel retorted. Dusk heard Spike mutter something obscene as he and Angel piled into the car and headed off towards Willy's.

Chuckling, Dusk turned to regard the only people remaining, Faith and Anya. He turned to Anya, who wore an unhappy expression on her face. Dusk patted her shoulder sympathetically.

"Don't worry, he'll be back soon," he told her, referring to Xander. She shook her head.

"It's not that. Willow just reminded me, I forgot to buy condoms," she sighed, looking stricken. "That means Xander and I can't have sex tonight," Dusk laughed.

"I wouldn't worry, we're going to be a tad too busy preventing the apocalypse for you and he to get some loving in," Anya glared at him.

"That doesn't make me feel better," she turned and stalked into the store. Still laughing quietly, he turned to Faith.

"You ready to go?" Faith sighed long and hard before looking at him.

"Why did you volunteer to go with me? You know full well I could handle it by myself,"

Dusk shrugged. "Actually it makes sense, you could use someone who knows the occult well enough to grab the right stuff. Besides, I figured you'd feel more comfortable traveling with someone who wasn't around when all this insanity involving you and the mayor occurred." Faith grimaced,

"Point," she her gaze was still hard, "that still doesn't explain why," Dusk turned to go.

"We've all got things to atone for, maybe I can help you along. You coming or not?" Faith sighed again and followed.

"Hey chief, it's a long walk from here to city hall," Faith interjected. Dusk favored her with a wry grin.

"Who said anything about walking?" He led her to the back of the shop where something was gleaming in the dark. Faith inhaled sharply.

"Sweet!" she exclaimed as she gazed adoringly at the viciously sleek-looking, black and red sports bike leaning against the wall. "This is a bad-ass machine," appreciatively, she ran her fingers across the smooth curves of the bike, pushing a fingernail probingly against the leather of the double saddle. Dusk chuckled.

"Does this suit your fancy?" he asked her wryly. She bit her lower lip and grinned, a glimmer of the old Faith shining through.

"Does it ever. Man, the feeling of this baby between my legs. Grrrr!" she grinned and threw a leg over the saddle. Dusk shook his head laughing quietly and mounted the bike, handing her a helmet. Faith dutifully strapped it on before placing both her hands on his shoulders.

"Let's ride bad boy," she purred into his ear. Dusk just snorted sardonically and strapped his helmet on. Turning the engine over, it revved to life, eliciting a squeal of delight from the slayer behind him. Gently easing the bike out of the alleyway, he gunned the engine and shot like a rocket down the street.

"Whoo-hoo-hoo!" Faith whooped as the bike turned gracefully around a corner, "God, I want this thing to bear my children!" Dusk thought it best to change the subject.

"So, how long have you known Angel?" Faith immediately calmed down, becoming morose.

"Since I first got here, I tried to kill him a couple of times here and in L.A. For some reason he's stuck by me. Helped me to do what was right."

"Yeah, what was that?" Dusk asked as he eased the bike around another turn.

"Turn myself in and confess to multiple counts of homicide," Faith sighed, "I had a pretty high tab to pay to the world guess coming out here is my way of doing it." Dusk spared her a look.

"So how'd you get out of the cooler?" Faith shrugged.

"Dunno. Today I get hauled out of my cozy cell and dumped before a parole parole. Next thing you know, I'm out on the streets and some guy called Gunn is picking me up from the slammer and telling me Angel needs me down in Sunnydale. I owed Angel, so here I am," Faith sighed, "I was probably safer in the slammer with Bertha the gnash hound gunning for me," Dusk chuckled.

"Probably, but if you're serious about making amends, this is the way to do it," Faith snorted.

"Terrific, another Jiminy Cricket conscience, do guys like you come in some sort of karmic six-pack or what?" Dusk chuckled, not offended in the least. Faith pointed down the street. "There it is, that big building on the left," Dusk nodded and idled the bike slowly up to the front steps. Getting off the bike and helping Faith off, he stripped the helmet from his head and gave the building a cursory glance, noting the darkened windows.

"Doesn't look like anyone's home," Dusk commented. Faith took her helmet off and took his from him, tossing both onto the bike.

"Yeah," she whispered back, her voice sounding strained. Dusk turned to face her.

"You all right?" he asked. Faith shook her head clearing it.

"Yeah, just a lot of memories," she sighed and trudged up the front stairs.

She pointed to a darkened window on the third floor. "That's his office there," She turned to regard Dusk, "so how do we get in?"

Dusk smiled wryly and turned to her, "Can you keep a secret?"

Faith shrugged, confused. "Sure. Why?" Dusk looked back up at the window then stepping into a nearby shadow, he vanished. Faith jumped back in surprise.

"What the fu-?" she peered into the darkness, "Hey D, you still there?"

The window above her suddenly opened and Dusk peered out from it down at her.

"Stay put, I'll toss down a rope," Faith confused looked up at him.

"How the hell do you do that? And what rope?"

She got her answer later as a long thick cord emerged from the window and writhed down the side of the building to appear in front of her. Looking deeply apprehensive tentatively took it...and yelped in alarm when the cord wrapped itself around her arm and dragged her up the side of the building with dizzying speed. Before she knew it, Dusk was helping her through the window, into the office. Faith spun on him,

"What the hell was..." her voice trailed off as she noticed the cord of darkness uncoiling itself from her arm, to shoot back underneath Dusk's arm. He flexed the arm and shook it a little, grinning.

"Just a little trick that comes in handy every now and then. Keep it on the down-low all right?" Faith shook her head.

"Sure. Whatever," smiling appreciatively, "Handy trick though," Dusk snorted gently.

"I hear that a lot from Slayers," he replied wryly, looking around he flipped on a desk lamp. Faith's face pinched with emotion. Aside from some dust, the office of Mayor Wilkins's hadn't changed at all since she last stood here. Before that last fight with Buffy that had ended with her nearly gutted and in a coma, she felt a hand settle on her shoulder and she jumped and spun around, only to have Dusk regarding her with concern.

"You're sure you're okay?" he asked gently. Faith sighed and hanging her head, nodded before pointing to a large cabinet.

"All his freak stuff was in there," she informed him quietly. Giving her shoulder a squeeze he released her and turned to study it.

"Shouldn't be a problem," he turned back to Faith, " you want to wait outside?" Faith looked up suddenly, about to protest before sighing and nodding her head.

"Yeah, thanks," she turned back to the window. Gently, Dusk extended a tendril of darkness that wrapped around her slim waist and, without so much as a sound of protest; Faith was picked up off her feet and carried down to street level. Shaking his head and sighing sympathetically, Dusk went over to the cabinet. Fingering a large padlock, he smiled slightly.

"Trusting sort, wasn't he?" he commented dryly, placing a fingertip to the keyhole, a tiny tendril of darkness sprung out from under his fingernail and penetrated the hole. A few seconds later, the lock sprung open and Dusk opened the cabinet.

"Wow," he whistled softly. Shrunken heads, a fetus in a jar, and various other fairly grotesque items graced the shelves. "This was not your average public servant," gingerly reaching behind the various items his fingers began to probe along the walls.

"Ah ha!" he exclaimed, fingers discovering a small catch switch. Pressing it in, he stepped back as the bottom part of the wall beneath the cabinet slid open revealing a pair of bookshelves containing several tomes, crouching down he began examining them.

"Necronomicon, Tobin's spirit guide, Books of Ascension," he shook his head, this was a pretty eclectic bunch of reading material, "Hmmm...this could be promising," he fingered the binding of one book. " 'La Boca de la Inferno, the mouth of Hell'," taking the book from the shelf, he flipped through it. It looked to be written in Spanish and bore some sort of missionary seal. Setting it aside, he continued to peruse the titles. Finding nothing else of interest, he was about to close the compartment, when a small leather bound bundle of papers fell out. Dusk picked it up and examined it,

"'Diary of Richard Wilkins, circa 1898?" his eyes widened and he just shook his head, "Definitely NOT your average public servant," stuffing the diary in his jacket, he quietly closed the compartment, picked up the other book, relocked the cabinet and walked over to the window.

"Faith," he called out. The slayer was leaning against his bike, fidgeting, she looked up, "Catch!" he yelled laying the book flat on its side and dropping it to her, she caught it easily. Throwing one leg over the window ledge, he dangled over the ledge and summoning a shadow from within the room, closed the window. Then he simply let go of the ledge and fell.

"Dusk!" Faith cried out, she rushed futilely to try to catch him. He fell a short distance, then his coat exploded outwards into a huge wave of trailing darkness, billowing out, it quickly slowed his descent. Gracefully he landed on his feet. Faith whistled appreciatively.

"Not bad D, very McFarland," Dusk eyed quizzically.

"Impressionistic artist?" he asked.

"Comic book artist," she replied grinning. Dusk shrugged, as his coat became a thing of cloth once more, "Did you find what you were looking for?" she asked. Dusk nodded,

"Yeah, think so," reaching into his jacket, he removed a small phone and speed-dialed Buffy.

"What's up Dusk?" her voice came to him over the earpiece.

"We got what we came for here, how are things on your end?" He heard Buffy say something to someone else in the room before coming back on the line.

"We just got Miss Calendars program up and running, Willow's having a field day with it," Dusk smiled wryly.

"I'll bet. Any word from Spike and Angel?"

"Yeah they just called from a pay phone, they're on their way here," Dusk nodded.

"All right, we'll be there shortly. See you soon," hitting END, he put the phone away and turned to Faith.

"So what's the story?" she asked.

"Willow is hacking into the pentagon with Jenny's magic program and Spike and Angel are on their way there," Faith nodded, grinning slightly,

"Sounds like a typical night for the Scooby gang. Guess we should get going, don't want to miss all the fun" throwing one last look at the building, she pulled on her helmet and mounted the bike.

"Guess so," he replied quietly, strapping on his helmet and mounting the bike, he kicked it to life and rocketed away from the dark building and the dark memories it held.


Chapter Seven
Comparing notes

Dusk and Faith pulled into Giles's driveway, just as Spike and Angel were heading up the walk. Angel came over to the pair as they stripped off their helmets.

"You got it?" he asked.

Dusk grinning, took the book from Faith and handed it to him.

"Everything you've always wanted to know about the Hellmouth but were afraid to ask," Angel smiled as Spike gagged.

"Oh bloody hell mate, Woody Allen?" he blanched. Dusk grimaced in agreement.

"I know, I know. George Lucas was robbed in '77," chuckling he got off the bike as Faith hopped off and walked past the pair into the house. Spike was eyeballing the bike with obvious disdain.

"Japanese," he snorted derisively, "nobody buys American anymore," Dusk chuckled good-naturedly.

"Harleys just don't have the style I'm looking for," Spike glared at him.

"You HAVE no style, mate," Spike retorted. Dusk was about to respond when Angel politely interjected.

"Guys? Now's not the time, we've got things that need doing," book in tow, the brooding vampire headed up to the front door. Dusk and Spike exchanged glares before following. The door was open, Buffy Willow and Xander were huddled around a computer, Faith was already watching T.V. and Giles was on the phone. He nodded in greeting to his son before continuing his conversation,

"Yes I realize that Quentin is a very busy man and needs his sleep, but this is of the gravest importance," a silence followed where Giles' face became a study in strained patience, "Listen you silly little sod! I don't care what you have to do, get Quentin Travers on the phone, NOW!" Everyone in the room turned to regard him with mute shock, he looked and had the good grace to look abashed,

"Please!" he barked into the phone as an afterthought. Chuckling, Dusk slapped his father on the back before going over to the computer. Willow was in the drivers seat; Xander and Buffy huddled around her. Both of them offered greetings to Dusk as he placed a kiss atop Willows head.

"How we doing lover?" he asked, leaning against the desk to peer at the myriad of programming code that was flashing across the screen. She smiled and replied,

"Miss Calendars techno-spell is really top notch, it acts sort of like a search engine, except it checks all the information on the internet, not just what's publicly available," she whistled softly, "It's amazing, it's a blend of magic and programming. I can't wait to see the other ones," she beamed at him like a kid with a new toy, Dusk chuckled and kissed her cheek.

"Merry Christmas dear," he whispered, moving away from the screen he turned to Xander,

"Any thoughts on what we ask Riley Claus for Christmas?" Xander chuckled before turning to address him.

"I'm thinking a Daewoo USAS-12 full-auto shotgun. It looks sort of like a really big rifle with an eleven round clip. Problem is the kick is pretty punishing so we should issue them only to the fairly tough. You, me, our two femme fatales and those lacking a pulse shouldn't have a problem," Dusk nodded.

"Think Riley will be able to get them?" Xander shrugged.

"It's not exactly a standard issue M-16. It depends on where Riley is stationed,"

"Got it!" Willow cried out triumphantly, "I am cyber-witch!" This garnered smiles from the group and Dusk swooped down to steal another kiss.

"Well done love, where is he?" he asked. Willow punched a few keys before snorting in disbelief.

"Area 51, Nevada," she looked up at him chuckling before turning to Xander, "I owe you ten bucks," Xander was just grinning widely then turned as Spike came over to tell him something. Dusk must have looked confused because Willow took a moment to elaborate. "I made a bet with Xander when we were kids that aliens weren't real, looks like I was wrong," she smiled as she turned back to the screen, "From vampires to Martians, Poor Riley,"

Buffy laughed, "Can we get in touch with him?" she asked. Willow nodded.

"Yep. Looks like he's got an e-mail address and everything," she tapped a few more of the keys in rapid succession "Just in case the governments playing 'big brother' with him, I'm encrypting the mail server."

Buffy frowned, "Will, if you encrypt it, how will he be able to read it," Willow smiled indulgently at her.

"Oh ye of little faith. The encrypt will have a password prompt. He'll have to answer a question correctly before accessing it. All I need is a question to ask him, that no one else would know the answer to."

"I've got this one covered, red," grinning Spike walked over from talking with Xander and, cupping his hand over her ear whispered something. Willows face colored scarlet.

"Spike I can't ask that!" she cried. Spike grinned.

"Why not? Bet you anything no other bloke on that base knows that,"

"Knows what?" Buffy asked cautiously as the still-furiously blushing Willow began typing again. Spike leaned over and whispered something into her ear, Buffy's face morphed right into embarrassed outrage.

"Spike! They are NOT that big," she yelled, swatting him. Spike held up his hands to protect himself.

"Check the label yourself if you don't believe me, love" Spike laughed and continued to as Buffy stormed out of the room and into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind her.

"What did you SAY to her?" Dusk asked incredulously. Spike shrugged.

"I just suggested the question Willow might want to ask Riley to make sure it's him," he grinned wolfishly.

"And that was...?"

"The Slayers bra size."

Dusk stood stunned for a minute, then howled with laughter, quickly joined by Xander. Angel looked uncomfortable and Faith was too busy watching T.V. to care.

"That's brilliant man, that's just perfect," chuckling, Dusk shook his head, "but what makes you think Riley will remember?" Spike snorted.

"The three things you must always memorize when dating a woman; Her birthday, your anniversary and her measurements. I figured the first two might be on public record," Spike continued to grin like the cat that ate canary.

Willow looked up from her work, "Alec dear, do you have those memorized?"

Dusk snorted, "Of course I do, April 10th, September 22nd and 3-" he stopped dead as Willow began to blush. Abruptly he turned his head to the living room "Faith? What's on T.V.? Is that Billy Idol?" Beating a hasty retreat, Dusk was nearly run down by the slayer emerging from the bathroom, red faced. Spike arched an eyebrow.

"Wel-" he began

"Shut up!" she snarled at him before sitting down on the couch her arms folded over her chest. Spike just laughed.

"It's fun to be right," he chortled and joined the others watching T.V.

Willow, trying hard not to succumb to an urge to roll around on the ground and howl with laughter, finished the encrypt work before turning to Xander, who was also locked in a serious struggle for control.

"Okay Xander, you're up, write what you need to and just hit 'send' afterwards,"

Xander sat down, shoulders heaving in silent laughter, "Sure Wills, I got it,"

Giles entered the room, no longer on the phone,

"Well the council will not send anything in the way of manpower for assistance. Apparently the happenings of a rogue slayer and a disgraced Watcher are not high on their collective list of priorities," he turned his gaze to Faith, who was watching him with a hint of dread, "I did not reveal to them that Faith is with us," relief and gratitude flooded her face. She did not want to fight off another Watcher task force sent to apprehend her and drag her back to England for trial. "The council still believes she is in police custody locked safely away in prison,"

Buffy nodded her, face returning to a less-humiliated skin tone. "Good call, Giles," she nodded approvingly, Giles continued,

"However, I did convince him to send us a collection of Watcher and Slayer diaries. They date back several centuries and should prove quite insightful. They should be here by morning." Buffy sighed. It was really all she could expect from the council. You either played by their rules or you were considered benched for the duration. Turning to Spike, who was still grinning like an idiot, she addressed him, but not before giving him a dire look which promptly caused the grin to vanish.

"What did Willy have to say?" Spike became grim.

"Something serious is up luv, everything that has laired either underground or in the sewers has vacated." Xander turned from the computer, which was busy sending his letter to Riley, his jaw sagging open.

"Everything? All of them? Just like that?" Spike nodded.

"It gets weirder buddy boy, apparently those that didn't jump ship fast enough, vanished," he snapped his fingers, "Poof! Just like that!" Giles frowned.

"What do you mean they 'vanished'? They were... killed?" he asked, disbelievingly. Angel shook his head as he interjected.

"Not according to those that went looking for them. In most cases, their havens were untouched, here and there a sign of a scuffle, but no blood, no bodies, nothing," Angel shook his head, "I've never seen anything like it. Vampires especially those that make their havens underground do not simply up and leave without telling anyone. Not like this," he sent Buffy a grave look, "Something is very wrong here," Buffy had paled a little as she turned to Spike,

"Did anyone have a clear idea about what happened to them?" she asked. Spike shook his head.

"Those that had a clue were NOT talking. Not even with a lot of persuasion," Spike frowned, "I must be losing my touch,"

"Willy was scared out of his mind, Spike," Angel put in, "I think whatever put the fear in his heart may be more vicious that even you," Spike jerked his head up.

"Bollocks! No such thing!" Buffy cleared her throat.

"If we can get back to the matter at hand here, boys. What you're saying is that something has managed to convince everything under the ground to vacate and not everyone made it out?" Spike nodded.

"More or less, you should have heard Willy's griping about how this is costing him business," Spike grinned wryly, "I was almost tempted to silence the little twit when the Great Poof over here," he gestured to Angel, "implied that torturing the barkeep was out of fashion," Buffy looked concerned as she addressed Xander.

"Xander, do you remember two Christmases ago, when Angel was having some serious dark mojo worked on him?" Xander nodded.

"Yeah, something called 'the One"? Buffy nodded.

"Right do you remember if there were any demons or vampires in the bar that night?" Xander nodded slowly.

"Y-e-e-ah. Yeah there were, I remember 'cause Willy made a big deal about you walking in there and a couple of the patrons sort of, slinked away. Why?" Buffy turned back to Spike.

"Spike, was there anyone at the bar besides Willy?" Spike furrowed his brow in concentration before his eyes widened in comprehension.

"No," he turned his head to lock his eyes with Angel, his expression equally stunned, " not a bloody soul. That's why I was so keen on giving the little creep what for. No witnesses," he turned back to Buffy. "Of course, with this bloody chip in my head, it might have given me a splitting headache to do it, but still...Willy's was completely deserted," he shrugged, "I thought we'd just missed happy hour or something," Angel shook his head as Dusk re-entered the room, apparently more daunted by Faiths' choice in viewing programming, then the slayers indignant modesty.

"No, most vampires head to Willy's right after sundown for a quick breakfast, it being deserted means that..." his voice trailed off, it was Dusk that finished it for the rest of them.

"...Means that whatever is under the ground is more frightening that whatever it was you face that Christmas," he turned to Buffy.

Buffy shuddered, remembering her encounter with the demonic manifestation of the late Miss Calendar. Only when it left prophesizing Angel's death gloatingly, did it reveal its true form, just for a moment. But Buffy had had nightmares about it for weeks, that instant had been enough to seer its horrific visage in her mind. And whatever was under their feet right now was even worse. Spike, noticing the sudden ashen complexion of the slayers, quickly sat next to her and gathered her into a tight embrace. He was horrified to feel her shaking with fear; he'd never seen her like this. Not when she'd faced down Angelus, not Adam, not even himself. He stroked her hair soothingly.

"Shhh, it's all right baby, it's going to be okay," he sent a look at Angel, expecting the other to be jealous or protective. Angel's expression did not disappoint him and the tension between the two seethed hotly. Dusk cleared his throat and gestured to Angel. He looked up at him as Dusk gestured to Giles. Angel got the hint and handed the watcher the book he'd been given.

"This is the book we found at the mayors office," Dusk informed his father, "It looks like some sort of record or factual account," Giles opened the tome and began looking through it, "It has a monastic seal on it. My guess is it's a record written by the first pilgrims here," Giles nodded.

"Yes, I believe so, it's written in some sort of Spanish dialect. Looks like a hybrid of old world Latin and Spanish. It'll take some time to translate.

"I've got a pretty good translation program, Giles," Willow chimed in, "Give me some time to adapt Miss Calendars technomancy to it and I can scan it into the computer." Buffy, having calmed down a little turned to her friend.

"I dunno Wills, you and scanning old texts don't have the best history together. You may want to check it first, just to make sure the Mayor didn't try to get clever with it."

"That sounds like him," Faith added, having torn her attention from the television, "He was pretty good at that magic stuff, managed to make himself invincible until his ascension," she turned to Dusk, "The cabinet wasn't protected?" Dusk shook his head.

"If there had been any sort of protective incantations placed on it, they probably dissipated once he died. Still it's a good idea," he turned to Giles, "Dad do we have the necessary ingredients at the store?" Giles snorted gently.

"Come now Alec, of course we do," he replied, a hint of wounded professional pride creeping into his voice, "We can stop at the store to check the book for traps on the way to the Bronze," Spike looked up,

"You're sure this meeting is a good idea, old man? I mean, Drac was never exactly a man of his word or anything," Dusk favored him with a wry grin.

"Whereas you are a paragon of virtue, right?"

Spike muttered something obscene with garnered a laugh from the group.

"Hold up," Faith interrupted, " 'Drac?' as in Dracula, like THE Dracula, the prince of Darkness, Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, THAT Dracula?" She exhaled hard and shot Buffy a wistful look, "Wouldn't THAT be the staking of a lifetime, eh B?" Buffy actually smiled a little at that.

"I staked him twice, and apparently he's still around so I'm not sure that's entirely valid," Faith, still shaking her head in wonder, went back to the television. Dusk checked his watch.

"Well, we better not keep the count waiting" he turned to Willow, "Come on love, we'll drop you off at the magic store on the way there," Willow pouted.

"Hey I wanna meet with Dracula again," she whined, perhaps suffering from a little intellectual curiosity. Dusk shook his head.

"It's not that big a deal, he's actually much shorter in real life," he smiled wryly at her.

"Yeah and he's got bad breath too," Buffy added. Dusk shot her an inquiring look. Buffy just shrugged, offering no explanation.

"Never tell me," Dusk demanded quietly, Buffy crossed her heart. Sighing, he changed the subject,

"Did you get Anya that talisman?" Buffy nodded,

"She said she'd give her demon buddy a chant tomorrow, something about the moon being in the right phase or something," she shot Xander a wry look, "She also asked if Xander could stop at the all night drug store. She said he'd know why," Xander colored a little as several pairs of eyes regarded him.

"Gum, she wants gum," he retorted defensively Spike snorted derisively,

"Yeah? What kind? Ribbed or lambskin?" Dusk stifled a laugh; Faith didn't even bother with stifling.

"The Earth is doomed," Giles taking in this display, declared morosely, Buffy patted his arm.

"Now now, if we had a dime for every time you'd said that," she stopped and frowned suddenly at a loss for words, "we'd...have...a lot of dimes," Giles looked at her askance. Spike snorted again.

"Yeah, THAT was witty," Buffy glared at him.

"Heel" she barked at him as she left the door, Spike instantly achieved a contrite manner

"Yes ma'am," he said meekly, head bowed as he walked to the door. Faith chuckled.

"Man, B's got her man whipped," she observed. Xander turned to her.

"That's only if he asks nicely," he informed her wryly, Faith flashed him a smile and laughed heading out the door, Willow, Giles, Angel and Dusk followed. Angel stopped to regard Dusk,

"You didn't tell me Dracula was here," his tone mildly accusatory.

"You didn't ask," Dusk replied simply as he closed the door and locked it behind him. Angel grumbled something Dracula owing him money and headed to his car, Spike was already in the passenger seat, leg dangling over the side, head thrown back, smoking a cigarette, banging on the dashboard in time to the Sex Pistols blaring out of the car speakers. Angel swatted his feet hard,

"Feet in the car," he reached out and plucked the cigarette out of Spike's mouth as he opened it to protest, "and no smoking," Spike flipped him the finger as Angel got in the car and carefully backed out of the driveway.

"You weren't this much of an old maid when you were lacking a soul. Why don't you go get fleshy with some airhead so I can go back to having a good time?" Spike asked him, contemptuously. As Angel cut the wheel, he "accidentally" smacked Spike upside the head.

"Hey!" Spike protested, "Watch the hair!" he smoothed his hair back.

"Sorry tight steering on the car," Angel grumbled before cutting the wheel back around.

Rolling his eyes, Spike went to sulking, staring out over the car door as the car drove off. Meanwhile, Giles, Xander, Faith, Buffy and Willow had all piled into Giles' car. The watcher turned to address his son.

"Meeting us at the Bronze then?" he asked. Dusk nodded,

"I'll scope it out just to make sure everything's kosher," Willow stuck her head out of the window.

"Be careful Alec ," she told him. Dusk winked at her and blew a kiss. Willow smiled and tucked her head back into the car, pointedly ignoring the stares of wry amusement she was getting from Faith, Xander and Buffy. Giles closed the door, starting the car, pulled away from the curb and followed Angel towards the magic store. Dusk quickly mounted his bike, and roared off in the direction of the Bronze.


Chapter Eight
Revelations

"There's Dusk," Buffy said as she pointed to the young man reclining against his bike in front of the Bronze, "Looks all right," she observed. Giles nodded assent and gently pulled the car over to the side of the street. Before shutting off the engine, he looked to Dusk for some signal that all was well. Dusk caught his look and flashed him a quick thumbs-up, Giles sighed, releasing a breath he didn't know he had been holding, shutting off the car engine and getting out.

"How's it look, Bro?" Buffy asked Dusk, walking towards him, Dusk shrugged,

"Not a soul in sight," he checked his watch, "we are a few minutes early though," Buffy nodded then gave the building a quick look.

"So are we breaking in and taking the stairs or are we fire escaping it?" she asked. Dusk gestured to the front doors.

"I've already unlocked them. Shall we?" Heading towards the doors, he turned and regarded his father wryly,

"Ready to meet the most famous vampire of all time?" he asked.

"Thrilled," Giles responded dryly. Dusk chuckled and held the door for them as they entered.

They made their way through the deserted club, found the stairwell rooftop access and trudged up the stairs. A little quick shadow play from Dusk unlocked the door and they were up on the rooftop. Dusk inhaled a deep breath of night air.

"Well here we are, now what?" he asked.

"It would seem, that we wait," Giles responded.

"Guys?" Buffy spoke up, a strange tone to her voice, both men turned to face her, "I don't think we have to wait long," she pointed up at the night sky. Confused, both men looked followed her gaze and stiffened when they saw it.

A long trail of green and white mist lazily curled through the air, it came down out of the sky and pooled opposite the three. The mist piled higher and higher onto itself, slowly taking on a more definite shape, finally, as if he were stepping out of a fog into clear view, Dracula stood before them. He bowed sweepingly,

"Good evening," he noticed Buffy and his blue eyes danced with amusement, "How nice it is to see you again," flashing her his most dazzling smile. Buffy, however had long since been immune to his charms.

"Pleasure's all yours Count," she retorted. Dracula chuckled and regarded the eldest of the group.

"Ah, the infamous Rupert Giles. Van Helsing of the modern world," he bowed cordially, "I pay homage to such a learned man," Giles, far from being flustered by the regal behavior rose to the occasion.

"As I pay respect to the vampire prince," he returned, mirroring the counts bow with a regal nod of the head. Dracula chuckled in amusement, for a moment ignoring Buffy to regard father and son.

"There is much of your father in you, young Alec Giles. Even without your demonic essence, I sense a great power," his fangs flashed in that same display of predatory appreciation, "you would have made a formidable vampire," All three of them narrowed their eyes at this comment. Dusk cleared his throat,

"I believe you had some information for us?" he inquired. Dracula conceded to the heavy-handed attempt at changing the subject with his usual unflappable grace,

"Just so, young Giles, what is it you would know?" Dusk gestured to Buffy, allowing her to speak.

"What happened to everything that was living in the sewers and caves before this?" she demanded. Dracula smiled unpleasantly,

"Alas, those that did not flee fast enough were made part of a larger whole. I imagine it was quite unwilling," he informed her cryptically. Buffy frowned,

"What do you mean, 'part of a larger whole' are you saying they were killed?

A faint smile graced the Counts lips, "If they were vampires, were they not already dead?" Buffy growled in frustration and was about to speak when Giles interrupted her,

"What of the Key? Why does the Hellmouth fear it, Count Dracula?" He asked in a tone draped regality and cordiality, Dracula's head inclined slightly in appreciation of the genial courtesy in his tone,

"Ah, so there IS one amongst you with some knowledge of proper decorum, this is good. Proof that etiquette truly is the purview of the elder" Dracula smiled appreciatively at Giles before continuing, "the Key, like any key, can serve two functions," he held up two long, perfectly manicured fingers to signify this, " it can unlock a door, or it can lock it. The Hellmouth, in some ways, is such a door. The Key could either open it, unleashing demonic wrath upon the world, or it could close and lock it forever," the count finished, " but this analogy only applies if you consider the Hellmouth as a door, such an analogy has its flaws, I'm afraid,"

"Why now, though?" Buffy interrupted, much to the count's disapproval, "why is now so critical?" Dracula sighed patiently and spoke as if he was addressing a small, not terribly bright, child.

"Because now it has the energy to do so, energy that you provided," he pointed a finger at the Slayer. Buffy leapt back as if stung,

"Me? What are you talking about? I haven't done anything!" she replied defensively. Dracula chortled,

"Really? For over four years, you have been the most successful slayer in the history of the world; every manner of demon or vampire has fallen to you in combat. Did you really think that that would account for nothing?" He asked incredulously. There was something he wasn't telling them, something he wanted them to figure out. Dusk reached it first,

"It's been giving the Hellmouth strength hasn't it? All those slain vampires and demons?" he answered quietly. Dracula clapped his hands together approvingly,

"Ah the blood of the Watchers has graced you with a keen mind, young hybrid," Dracula laughed quietly, "to answer your question: yes, the slayers astonishing success rate has given a steady diet of negative energy to feed from."

"Negative energy?" Giles inquired, unfamiliar with the term, Dracula smiled indulgently,

"Yes, as opposed to positive energy. Call it life force, mana, vitae, it makes little difference. Positive energy is that which animates all life, from plants to people, and it is this energy that a vampire feeds from when it takes a meal. The blood is merely a method of conveyance. The sun is also a source of positive energy, though it is far too powerful to be utilized in the same fashion," Dracula gestured to himself, "hence the somewhat volatile reaction a vampire has to the rays of the sun." Dusk spoke up,

"So if positive energy is what animates the living, then negative energy..." his thoughts trailed off.

"...Is that which animates the dead. It is the power of darkness, of death and of the night," Dracula finished. He raised a finger pointing to Dusk, "You, my friend, are such a creature, to some degree. The power that flows in your veins is not that of sun and life, but that of the night, of shadows and darkness.

"But Dusk can go out during the day without being burned alive," Buffy interrupted, shaking herself out of her grim reverie. Dracula sighed and nodded indulgently,

"Yes because, despite this, he is still alive. His heart beats, his lungs breath, his blood flows in his veins. A vampire is a being powered entirely of negative energy, as are ghosts and most demons. A vampire that ventures into the sun is bombarded by its positive energy, which reacts violently to the vampires negative energy; this is what causes the vampire to combust upon being exposed to the light of day," he smiled bemused, "please bear in mind, that this is a terribly simplistic view of things. However, I do not believe you yet ready for the more comprehensive explanation."

"So every time Buffy killed a vampire, its negative energy was released, to be absorbed by the Hellmouth," Dusk finished quietly. Dracula nodded,

"Correct. Sunnydale, and to a lesser extent, all of California, has a most peculiar affect on the newly risen. Something happens to those vampires that are put to ground before they arise for the first time. Some sort of...infection, stains their minds and souls, rendering them vicious and beastlike," Dracula smiled slightly, "well MORE vicious anyhow. In my homeland of Transylvania, the earth has power. It is fortified with the essence of the people there, their resilience, their...strength of heart," Dusk thought he detected a hint of homeland pride creeping into the count's voice, "a vampire that hails from that region, may sleep in the earth of his homeland, and awaken rejuvenated."

"The legends of vampires gaining power by sleeping in their native soil are true then?" Giles asked, Dracula nodded,

" To an extent, yes. The soil of my home possesses great power," Dracula's face darkened, "The earth here is...tainted, though. Corrupt, by the Hellmouth's foul touch I assume," a look of infinite disgust crossed the counts features before he continued, " The vampires here are unlike any other in the world, it is as if their demon has completely taken control, robbing them of their rational mind."

"Isn't that the norm for vampires?" Buffy asked sardonically. Dracula shook his head,

"Not necessarily, a vampire freshly risen is as a newborn child. It has no concept of right or wrong. The slate upon which was written its living moral code has been wiped clean. It knows only the hunger that wracks its body. For most vampires, this is cured with hunting down a human for food. Unfortunately, this ingrains a deep sense of amorality into the vampire, for once a newborn vampire regards humans as nothing more than food, so shall he ever regard them as such and thus, the vampire begins to grow and evolve along these amoral lines. THAT is what makes most vampires inherently evil. That one deed, in order to satisfy their appetites, eventually leads to the vampires eternal servitude to evil."

Buffy frowned, clearly disturbed by what she was hearing, "So what you're saying are that vampires that are born outside of California are nicer? She snorted in disbelief.

"That they are nicer: no, this is not so," Dracula corrected, "Only that they are more balanced. Less disposed to one moral extreme or the other. I have known vampires that were greeted by their sires who brandished jugs of blood for them to sup upon. Once having done so, the vampire learns to differentiate between food and people. A vampire may still decide to kill for food, most do so, but it is at least aware that there IS a moral alternative. The vampires I've seen here are hence unaware of such alternative. They know only that in order to live, they must kill." Dracula concluded.

Giles had grown a rather pasty white through all of this as some of his most base beliefs were shaken down to their very cores. Dusk turned to Buffy,

"Buffy, have you ever noticed that every vampire that comes out of its grave, their face has already undergone the change?" Buffy shrugged non-committaly,

"Yeah, so?" Dusk smiled grimly and turned back to the count,

"That's not normal, is it Count? Vampires where you're from, do not rise from the grave with their faces already distorted by the demon, do they?" Dracula smiled in obvious pleasure at the young mans perceptiveness.

"This is so, the face of a freshly risen vampire is as smooth as yours or mine, its first emotion is confusion, not demonic homicidal mania," Giles cleared his throat.

"Let me see if I understand this clearly, count: the Hellmouth corrupts vampires in their graves. Since a vampire already has predatory tendencies, it takes these tendencies and infuses them with demonic essence, triggering the change?"

Dracula nodded, "This is so," Giles continued.

"And so when they arise, they immediately attack, because their first impulse, what has been programmed into their minds, is that they need to kill to feed," Giles continued, he looked up at the count of confirmation, the count nodded slowly, Giles picked up his train of thought, "which means, that since the Hellmouth knows the slayer is here and is usually waiting for them when they awake, it's essentially convincing them to commit suicide, thus releasing the very demonic energy that animates it, the same demonic energy twists its mind," he looked up at Dracula, "the same demonic energy that the Hellmouth itself, put into it in the first place," Dracula smiled pleased,

"Thus does it grow stronger," Dracula concluded. Buffy frowned.

"Wait a second, how can it grow stronger if it just animates a vampire that gets killed five seconds later anyway?" she asked perplexed. Dusk answered,

"Because by the very act of killing it, more negative energy gets produced. The same when you kill a demon or a person, when it's slain, there must be some kind of resonance that finds its way back to the Hellmouth," he turned to regard the slayer, "It's a vicious cycle, Buffy. When a vampire kills someone, that energy, from the actual death of the living breathing person is released and absorbed by the Hellmouth, while the body is buried, the Hellmouth twists it's mind, riling it up into frenzy, it emerges and instead of running away or trying to talk to you, as I imagine most vampires would," he turned to the count to verify this, who only smiled enigmatically and gestured for him to continue. Dusk resumed, "you kill it, again sending more energy to the Hellmouth. In essence it's getting TWO deaths from ONE person," he turned his eyes back to the count, "and this has been going for how long?"

Dracula spread his arms in a grand gesture,

"Since time immortal, it is only recently however, that the Slayer's success has reached such levels that the Hellmouth finds itself fully sentient and ready to free itself once and for all," Dracula informed them.

"It's been playing me, this whole time," Buffy whispered disbelievingly, "It's been getting me to do its dirty work, sending it more death to make itself stronger,"

Dracula nodded and smiled "Brilliant, is it not? If you slay the vampires, it gains life from their death, if you do not, those vampires kill others and the Hellmouth gains life from their deaths. Truly the Hellmouth possess a diabolical mind, but," he held up a finger, "it has made a mistake, or rather it has taken a risk, because, though right now it stands at the threshold of ascension, it is also at its most vulnerable." Giles scratched his chin thoughtfully,

"As it was in the case involving Mayor Wilkins, invulnerable until he transformed," he commented thoughtfully. Buffy nodded, still a little dazed by the sheer scope of the Hellmouth's deception. Dusk scrutinized Dracula,

"You said the Hellmouth was at its most vulnerable, how?"

"The Hellmouth does not exist on merely one plane of existence," Dracula began, "In the beginning, it was resided mostly in the negative material plane, a plane of existence where there is only the energies of entropy, decay, and death. There it would feed, as the death energy from the prime material plane, this plane, this earth, would trickle down into the negative plane," Buffy's brow furrowed slightly.

"I don't think I follow you," Dracula sighed and tried again,

"Think of a weed, its roots deep in the soil, its stem and leaves in the air. When it rains, water falls from the air, and soaks into the ground, to be absorbed by the roots of the weed, yes?" Buffy nodded slowly, Dusk and Giles were both paying rapt attention. Dracula continued,

"Now picture that the soil is the negative material plane, where the roots of the Hellmouth lay, and where the stem and leaves grow from the earth is the prime material plane. Imagine also, that the Hellmouth is the weed. In the beginning, nothing more than a seed, but instead of rain; death, hate, entropy, decay, necromantic power soaked into its roots. The weed grew larger, more and more of it unearthed and climbed higher and higher into the sky, like a plant reaches for water. Over eons and eons, the Hellmouth grew, every unnatural death, every murder, every black hex cast, just more rain to be soaked up and to make it stronger. Until at last, the weed is no longer so, but instead becomes vast underground network, with its roots stretched out across the entire state of California," Dracula snorted quietly, "I imagine it's had quite a feeding frenzy once it's roots reached Los Angeles. 'City of the Angels' indeed," Dracula waved a hand and continued, "With humans butchering each other in the streets, it would have grown quickly but still would not have reached maturity this soon. However, if HUMAN death is as rainwater..."

"...Then demonic and vampiric death is like Miracle-Gro to it, especially since it can influence how much it gets by riling up vampires into suicidal frenzy and it has no problem assimilating the vampires negative energy since it's already had a piece of it in them since the get go," Dusk finished. Dracula smiled and leered at Buffy.

"And what better tender of the garden, then the slayer? Who is bound by sacred duty, to provide it with what it so desperately needs: unnatural death of creatures abundant with negative energy," Dracula finished.

Giles, Dusk and Buffy, looked mildly ill, but the counts logic tracked clean. Themselves, the entire watcher organization, every bit of slayer lore had been twisted to serve the Hellmouth's purposes. Buffy recovered first,

"So how do we stop it? She demanded. Dracula nodded and smiled,

"Ah, thus do we get to the heart of the matter. I will continue with my plant analogy. The plant has now reached maturity, so much so that it now has the capacity to influence things directly, it can kill on its own, no longer requiring the Slayer's diligent ministrations. No longer like the Venus Fly trap, merely awaiting the arrival of the next batch of the Slayer's kills, it has achieved sentience. It can think more clearly now, it can manipulate its surroundings, and it can manifest more directly.

"The sudden disappearance of everything living in the sewers and tunnels?" Dusk blurted out, Dracula nodded,

"I imagine that it is the result of the Hellmouth stretching its vines, opening its petals so to speak. However, this newfound freedom has not come without a cost, in order to do this, it has, pulled itself up by the roots, as it were. It can no longer draw substance from all that dies unnaturally; it must feed directly to gain the strength it needs to finally leave the underground. It must kill with it's own 'hands' in a manner of speaking.

"So what you're saying is that the Hellmouth isn't getting its jollies from me sending it morsels anymore, it has to get its own before it can fully come into this world," Buffy asked him. Dracula shook his head, remorsefully,

"No child, it has ALREADY fully entered this world. The Hellmouth has awakened and emerged, it writhes and grows under our very feet," Buffy paled.

"But if it's fully in our realm, that means..." Dusk shot a look to Buffy. Dracula smiled,

"That is correct: for the first time since its creation: it is vulnerable. For the first time in the history of the world, it can kill...and it can die. All it lacks is freedom from its underground sanctuary, the freedom to move about as it chooses amongst man. Like locusts move amongst crops devouring all in their path and growing stronger for it. It cannot do so yet, its strength has not reached that point, it still requires one more element."

"The Key. Dawn," Dusk breathed.

"If the Hellmouth succeeds in consuming young Dawn, it will have all the power it needs to free itself and begin to devour the world, returning it to its demonic state," Dracula replied. Dusks face went numb with horror,

"No, not for anything, not for the world, I'm not going to let it take her" he growled with a vehemence that caused odd looks to cross the faces of Buffy and Giles, Dracula just smiled, as if he was not surprised by Dusk's behavior.

"However, all is not lost, for like the blowfish that serves as a meal, what it eats may kill it. Dawn contains the power to utterly destroy the Hellmouth, once and for all, but not alone," Dracula held up three fingers, "three things of great power, three talisman as it were. Alone, quite powerful, but together with Dawn, they have the power to annihilate the Hellmouth. The first: a gem, whose location is known by no man. It is known only as the Everstone: that which balances light and dark. The second: the text, a benediction that contains no words, was written by no pen, and exists on no parchment in the world, yet contains the power of absolute light. And the third," Dracula smiled slightly, "the most potent of all, the blood of one never born, that which can defy the darkness," Dracula closed his hand into a fist, "These three things, combined with Dawn, in the presence of the Hellmouth, will eradicate its taint from the prime material plane, and since it has already abandoned its home plane: it will simply cease to be."

Buffy looked overwhelmed, her companions, not much better off,

"Terrific, so all we need to stop the Hellmouth from devouring the world is a stone that no one knows where it is, a prayer that was never written, and the blood of someone that was never born, and my kid sister who as we speak is probably throwing a temper tantrum to my mother about going to bed," Buffy finished exasperated.

"Precisely," Dracula replied simply earning him a withering glare from the slayer. "Beware though slayer" his tone turning dark, "the Hellmouth is not unaware that it is vulnerable, it is very much aware, perhaps for the first time since its birth. It can both hunt and kill; it commands the forces of rot, entropy, decay and death. All that is impure or corrupt answers its call, you must find these items, before the Hellmouth or its servants find you...or Dawn," Dracula's voice had lowered to an ominous rumble that filled Buffy with dread.

"Question," Dusk interjected, "What's in it for you? I mean, you're still a vampire, surely you wouldn't object to having your species being given free reign over the world once again?" Dracula straightened proudly, his voice regal,

"I love my people, young Giles, I love my homeland. I will not see the Hellmouth's infernal taint rot the very soil that gives me life. I will not see it twist the land of my home as it has twisted the land of hers," he pointed at Buffy, "and I will not see it twist the hearts and minds of the people I once fought and sacrificed so much to protect. The Hellmouth is an abomination. It must be destroyed, for the sake of my people and my home, all that is left that I love and cherish still, the Hellmouth must never bury its roots in the native earth of my home." Dusk acquiesced the point with a nod.

"So, now what do we do?" Buffy asked, still sounding forlorn. Dracula considered,

"As to the nature of the prayer and the blood, I cannot help you, but to the stone I have a name: Grigori Estate, a name that has come to me only through much time and divination. There you should perhaps find a clue that will point you in the correct direction." Buffy snorted,

"Terrific, where is it?" Dracula shook his head,

"This I do not know," Buffy threw her hands into the ear, exasperated.

"Well that's helpful!" she sighed and was surprised that her hands came back down shaking. The full scope of what she was up against washed over her like a wave. She heard a whimper of fear, and was shocked to realize that it came from her. Instantly she felt two pairs of strong arms wrap around her, as the elder and younger Giles held her tightly.

"We can do this, Buffy," Dusk whispered fiercely, his father nodding, also unwilling to allow the woman he'd come to love as his own daughter to succumb to despair.

"Indeed you can young warrior," Dracula declared. "You are a light, Buffy, the light of all lights. You are a warrior who does not know death. And even as the Hellmouth's strength grows, so too, shall your own." Dracula shook his long mane of hair, "Do not forget that for every generation, there has been a slayer, the chosen one of the forces of light. You descend from a long and noble line of warrior-women. Cry out to them, and they shall hear you, my child," Dracula reached out and touched Buffy's hair lightly, Buffy started at the touch as Giles' and Dusks' arms fell away from her.

"I know this power is within in you, for I have nourished myself upon it, just as you have tasted the power that I possess. Never forget what runs through your veins. It is the blood of ages, young woman, the blood of noble crusaders and those who stood against the forces of darkness, beating them back with might and honor," Buffy found herself entranced by his words, and within her, somewhere deep in her heart, she felt a spark of hope. She inhaled deeply, her back straightened from its defeated slump, and her eyes clear of despair.

"Thank you, " she murmured softly. Dracula reached out to caress her face gently with the back of his hand,

"It is I, who should thank you, Buffy Summers, it will be you, that saves all that I love from this unspeakable evil," taking her hand in his, he bent low and kissed it, before moving back, his fingertips lightly dancing against the skin of her hand. She had to stop herself from reaching out to him," Dracula straightened to regard the two men,

"Protect her, gentlemen and protect her kin. Never forget that these women shall be the salvation of the world," with a cordial nod to each of them, he turned and walked towards the ledge.

"Hang on a second," Dusk detached himself from the rest of the group to confront the count.

"You told me the other night, that I would receive answers tonight," he shot a wary look to Giles and Buffy before continuing in a hushed tone, "you haven't explained to me why I have these...feelings for Dawn," The count smiled enigmatically at him,

"Ah but you forget, young Giles, I said tonight you would receive answers, I never said to which questions though, did I?" Dusk's face darkened dangerously and Dracula held up a placating hand,

"You will know what you must, when you must, young Giles, that will have to satisfy you for now," with another regal nod he stepped up onto the ledge...and stepped into empty space, dropping from sight. Dusk rushed to ledge and peered over.

The count was nowhere to be seen. With a sigh, Dusk pushed away from the ledge and headed back to the slayer and her watcher.


Chapter 9
Encounter

The ride back to Buffy's house was quiet. Giles and Buffy lost in thought, Dusk behind them on his bike much in the same state. They'd decided that'd had enough for one night, calling from her cell phone, Buffy told Willow to let everyone know she'd decided to head home. Willow didn't ask what had happened, but had let her know that indeed there was minor incantation protecting the tome from the Mayor's, she'd been able to take care of it fairly easily. Buffy also told her to tell Spike and Angel, that under no circumstances were they to go into the sewers for any reason whatsoever.

"Is it bad?" Willow asked her.

"Its beyond bad," Buffy replied, "I'll fill you in tomorrow,"

Willow wished Buffy a good night before hanging up.

Giles and Buffy pulled into her driveway, Dusk right behind them. Exchanging a few supportive words with Buffy and Dusk, Giles pulled out of the driveway and headed back to the shop, to begin work translating the journal. Dusk shut off his bike, and walked over to Buffy,

"Hell of a night, huh?" Buffy snorted slightly.

"Yeah, you could say that. You sticking around?" Dusk nodded,

"I'm gonna check on Dawn. Figured I'd say hello," Buffy smiled a little.

"You really got a soft spot for the kid, don't you?" Dusk shrugged uncomfortably,

"I suppose. Guess I just don't think it's fair for a child to be saddled with such a responsibility," he turned to regard the slayer, "I'm assuming you can relate," Buffy froze; she'd never considered that.

"Yeah. Yeah I can," she exhaled hard, "Guess I should cut her some slack, huh?" Dusk nodded.

"It'd be a good idea, unlike you, she has absolutely no idea what's going on. It's going to be quite a shock," he shook his head, "It's not easy to go from Backstreet Boys to H.P. Lovecraft," Buffy nodded,

"Yeah I know what you mean, Backstreet boys are WAY scarier," Dusk chuckled as he opened the door. Joyce came out to greet them with a plate of Christmas cookies. The whole house had been done up in lights and a large kerosene heater glowed in the corner brightly.

"Buffy, you're home," she hugged her daughter who looked a tad confused,

"Mom, it's like 1 A.M., what are you doing up...and baking?" Joyce shrugged,

"I know honey, but I couldn't sleep, I'm just so excited. Christmas and all," Buffy nodded solemnly,

"Yeah, tis the season," she took a cookie from the plate as Joyce lifted her head to regard Dusk,

"Oh Dusk, I can't tell you how grateful I am for you watching Dawn the other night, let me get my purse so I can pay you," Dusk shook his head,

"Forget it, Mrs. Summers, consider it a Christmas present," Joyce stopped and stared at him, dumbfounded. She'd never heard of someone watching Dawn who didn't want to be paid handsomely, apparently neither had Buffy,

"You sure, Bro? I mean, you stayed with her for hours, you're at least entitled to hazard pay," Dusk grinned and chuckled, taking a Christmas cookie from the plate,

"Just keep me in ready supply of these delicious cookies Mrs. Summers, and we'll call it even, fair enough?" Joyce blushed and smiled at the compliment,

"Fair enough Dusk," Buffy chuckling patted Dusk's arm,

"Smooth talker," she quipped, Dusk cleared his throat and looked upstairs,

"Dawn still awake?" he asked gently. Joyce nodded,

"I decided to let her have one of her presents early, she's upstairs with it right now," Dusk nodded and turned to her and Buffy,

"I'm just gonna go upstairs. Wish her a goodnight," he gauged their reactions, and was relieved that neither showed any indication that they believed his motivations ran any deeper than what he had presented. Which they didn't...didn't they? Buffy gave his arm an affectionate squeeze,

"Go tell the little monstrosity I said hi, would you?" Dusk nodded,

"Not a problem," munching contently on his Christmas cookie he headed up the stairs. Reaching Dawn's room, he quietly knocked,

"Go away!" came the response from the other side of the door.


There was a pause, then a familiar voice emitted from the other side of the door,

"Okay. Sorry," Dusk replied. Dawn's eyes widened and, nearly dropping her new video camera, she dove for the door, fumbled with the lock and yanked it open,

"Dusk," she beamed at him, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, "Hi. Sorry I thought you were someone else," Dusk smiled slightly,

"I guess so. Can I come in?" Dawn bobbed her head,

"Uh-huh, sure," Dusk smiled and gestured,

"Cute pajamas, flannel is you," he said smiling. Dusk blushed furiously,

"They were a gift," she offered as an explanation.

"Ah," Dusk replied still smiling as he entered her room. As his back was turned, Dawn nearly hopped with glee. < I've got this guy, in my bedroom, at night. This is SO going in my diary. > She quickly regained her composure as she raced past him, jumped back into her bed and pulled the covers over herself. Dusk smiled and sat down next to her on the bed.

"What's this?" he asked as he picked up Dawn's new PalmCam," Dawn grinned excited,

"Isn't it cool? Mom gave it to me," taking the camera from him, she turned it on and started filming him, "Dusk, you've just won the World Series, what are you going to do next?" Dusk grinned as he addressed the camera,

"I'm going to Disneyland," Dawn giggled and continued to film him, every now and then, zooming on his eyes or his lips. Dawn suddenly noticed her heart was pounding and quickly rushed to fill in the silence,

"So what did you do today? Fight vampires? Save the world?" Dusk shook his head,

"Still working on it," he replied smiling. Dawn grinned and bit her lower lip in pleasure,

"Oh come on, you can tell me. How's it feel to be a real-life action hero?" The question struck a chord and Dusk considered a while before answering, looking into the camera,

"Dawn, we're all heroes. We get up in the morning, go to work so we can provide for our families, or go to school so we can learn about the world we live in, we all do what we have to do. That's all a hero is, petite, someone who simply does what he has to do," he finished.

"Ommmmmm," Dawn hummed mantra-like, Dusk and her both laughed at that.

"All right grasshopper, what do you think qualifies as a hero?" Dusk asked her amused. Dawn thought for a while before answering, never taking the camera off of him,

"Someone who is isn't afraid of anything. Who'll never quit and never die and will always win in the end," Dusk smiled and shook his head wryly.

"You think I'll never die huh?" he commented smiling looking up at her through his bangs. Dawn nodded her head,

"The good guys never die, and you definitely qualify," Dusk chuckled shaking his head.

"That's not a bad way to think I suppose, perhaps a little naive, but it's sweet. But you're wrong about the other part," Dawn frowned a little,

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Being a hero doesn't mean you're never afraid, it means doing the right thing even though you are afraid. It means willing to give everything you've got and more, to do the right thing. A hero also is someone who after they're gone, people still remember them, they try to live as they lived. Heroes inspire others to do the right thing, because they themselves do their best to do the right thing. They don't always succeed, but the point is that they do whatever it takes and they give it their all," Dusk smiled, "I guess in a way, heroes never really die, because they live on in the hearts and the actions of the people they inspire," Dawn smiled and shook her head,

"That was deep" she joked wryly. Dusk chuckled and smiled at her,

"Oh, you're tough," he grinned.

"On that note, this is Dawn Summers live with Alec "Dusk" Giles signing off," she pulled back the zoom lens to get as much of him as possible in the shot,

"Say goodbye Dusk," she grinned. Dusk gave her his infamous warm "fuzzies-causing" smile as he held up his hand in farewell, gazing into the camera,

"Goodbye Dawn," he replied quietly. Smiling she shut off the camera and put it down,

"You think I'd make a good reporter?" she asked Dusk, he nodded,

"I know I wouldn't be able to refuse you an interview," he tousled her hair affectionately; she smiled and gently nuzzled her head into his palm like an affectionate cat. He sat there, stroking her hair for a long time, Dawn's expression went from blissful to serene, her eyes closed a small smile creased her lips as Dusk stroked her hair.

"Dusk? Dawn?" Joyce called from downstairs; abruptly Dusk snatched his hand from Dawn's head, causing her eyes to snap open, as if she has been rudely awakened from a nice dream. He reached over to open the door,

"Yes, Mrs. Summers?

"Why don't you and Dawn come down for some more cookies and hot chocolate? I've even got the little marshmallows," Dusk snorted wryly, Spikes' love of those little marshmallows was legendary, apparently it was also well known. Chuckling, he got up from the bed and turned to Dawn,

"You feel like a som-" he stopped as he noticed the look on her face, for a moment, a look of infinite sadness and grief washed over her, ravaging her delicate features.

"Hey," Dusk whispered, sitting back down next to Dawn, "Are you okay?" Without replying, Dawn suddenly threw herself against him, wrapping her arms around him, squeezing as tightly as she could. Dusk put his arms around her startled, holding her.

"You'll always be my hero, Alec," she whispered in a broken little girl voice. Dusk frowned, she'd never called him by his first name before. He rocked her soothingly,

"Hey, come on petite," he coaxed gently, pulling away from her slightly, touching her face, alarmed to see tears welling in her eyes, "What's up with the water works?"

Dawn sniffled before laughing, embarrassed,

"I don't know, I guess I'm just tired," she sniffled again, "It's nothing really, I'm fine," she gave him a brave smile. Dusk smiled and placed a lingering kiss against her forehead; Dawn closed her eyes and smiled, her features draining of misery to be replaced by contentment. His lips left her brow, and her gave her hair a gently stroke.

"Come on, I bet I can eat more Christmas cookies than you can," he challenged. Dawn opened her eyes, a gleam of mischief shined in them,

"Not if I get there first!" she cried. Giving him a hard shove, he tumbled off the bed, onto the plush carpet below. As she raced past him, he made a futile grab at her leg,

"Well, she takes after her sister," he observed dryly. Chuckling, he scrambled to his feet and chased after her.

He skidded into the kitchen to see Dawn and Buffy casually eating Christmas cookies. Joyce was busily slicing apples with an unusually large knife. Dusk caught her eye and frowned puzzled. Joyce smiled parentally,

"The dishwasher doesn't seem to be working and someone forgot to do dishes last night" she offered as an explanation, turning a gently admonishing look to Dawn. Dawn ignored her and smiled innocently at Dusk,

"Hi Dusk. What took you so long?" Dusk sent a mock-angry glare at her,

"Someone knocked me to the floor at the prospect of hot chocolate," Dawn giggled and covered her mouth with her hands. Buffy sent her sister a wry look and regarded Dusk,

"I told you, you needed hazard pay to take care of this little nightmare," she smiled affectionately and tousled Dawn's hair. Dawn responded by sticking her tongue out at her, which was covered in half-digested cookie goo. Buffy made a face,

"Oh yeah, the honeys' will be banging your door down with that little display," Dawn shrugged and went back to her cookie. Dusk snickered and walked over to the stove to get some cocoa when he noticed an odd smell. He inhaled once, twice, the scent was very faint. <Methane? > He frowned, and shook his head pouring some cocoa for himself, adding a couple of marshmallows before sitting down at the table,

"So what are your plans for Christmas dinner Mrs. Summers?" Dusk inquired.

"Oh I don't know, Dusk. I can't seem to make my mind between turkey and ham. I need to work on a guest list," Joyce replied. Dusk chuckled.

"If Buffy's planning on bringing everyone, you're going to wind up feeding half of the living population of Sunnydale," he chuckled, "and possibly one or two of the walking dead," he finished his voice heavily sardonic. Buffy socked him in the arm for his transgression. Joyce shrugged uncomfortably,

"If Spike is planning on attending," she turned to Buffy, "Is Spike planning on attending?" Buffy smiled and shook her head,

"Spike isn't big on turkey, mom. It's okay, I promise that only the living will be eating Christmas dinner this year," Joyce smiled, perhaps a little relieved. She clearly was uncomfortable with her daughter dating a vampire that she'd once hit with an axe. But also, if Buffy wanted to do that, what right did she have to complain? < At least she's never dated a psychotic robot. > She thought to herself with a touch of grim humor.

"In any case, he'll probably stop by, he just won't eat, but he tells me he makes a mean pecan pie," she chuckled at the thought of Spike cooking, "he also tells me you have to be over twenty-one in order to eat it," Dusk chortled,

"Likes to spike his pastries does he? No pun intended," Buffy shot him a wry look,

"Something like that," she replied, raising her voice a little to be heard over the pipes that picked that moment to start groaning and rumbling. She frowned and sniffed the air,

"You smell something?" she asked Dusk. He nodded,

"Yeah like methane or something?" he turned to Joyce, who was headed to the sink to wash her hands,

"Mrs. Summers, do you have a septic system or anything like that?" Joyce shook her head as she twisted the knob on the sink, frowning as no water came out,

"No, we use public water. Which doesn't seem to be-UGH!" she cried out as black ooze splattered over her hands, the stench of methane and rot was now overpowering. Dawn made a face,

"Mom, what IS that?" she asked, Buffy and Dusk with both on their feet as they walked over to Joyce, who was wiping the foul smelling goo off with a dishtowel,

"I don't know honey, it just came ou-"

And with a groan of tortured metal, the whole faucet blew off like a geyser, sending plaster and metal flying through the air as black ooze spewed volcanically into the air.

Joyce shrieked and fell back, Dawn got to her feet and backed away as the sink begin filling with the vile substance that was bubbling up through the drain. Suddenly, something writhed in the pool of muck and some sort of pseudopod lashed out and wrapped itself around Joyce's neck hoisting her high into the air,

"Mom!" Buffy cried out as she dashed to her mothers rescue. Dusk reached her first, and with a single movement, snatched up the knife Joyce had been using and whipped it at the dripping tentacle that was crushing the life out of the poor woman. It flew end over end and sliced neatly through the viscous appendage, spraying muck against the wall, dropping Joyce to the floor hard, she choked and coughed as a high-pitched shriek reverberated through the room. Buffy slide across the floor and sheltered her mothers' body with her own.

"Mom, are you all right?" she asked, nearly hysterical, Joyce nodded, still coughing.

"Buffy? We got problems!" Dusk yelled, Buffy turned just in time to see a huge upper humanoid body forming out of the ooze, its demonic head brushing against the ceiling as its body writhed and dripped black ooze. Pieces of root and rotted mulch clung to its body as it leered at them with glowing green eyes. Reaching out with dripping hands it flowed out of the sink to land with a splattering thump on the tile floor, before rearing up like a great snake before them, the entire sink and kitchen counter was now completely covered in the rotting ooze.

"Give us the Key," it burbled in a voice, coming from a multitude of oozing clefts, that had sprouted from what passed for its head, Buffy could only guess they were mouths. The voice was made up of a chorus of voices, men, women, children young and hold it was utterly alien and unspeakably horrible. With another inhumanly high-pitched shriek, it flowed across the tile floor and lunged for Dawn, who was paralyzed with fear.

"Christ kid, look out!" Dusk yelled as he shielded her body with his own, his jacket flaring up like a shield around them. Darkness crackled and came to life, causing the coat to become a great winged cloak that draped over his back like a shield as he protected the sobbing Dawn. The thing reared back and hissing, spat a glob of something at Dusk. Most of it struck the darkness shield and slide away to begin eating through the tile floor, but some splattered onto Dusk's shoulders and arms. He screamed in pain, closing his eyes tight as tears of agony leaked through his closed lids. The smell of seared flesh pervaded the room as the black ooze began to eat through his skin. The dripping abomination and hissed again, rearing back to vomit forth more corrosive ooze.

"Hey Swamp Thing!" Buffy yelled out, the viscous creature turned to her, snarling, its writhing face contorted inhumanely...and with a heave, Buffy hurled the kerosene tank from the heater at it. Something resembling surprise crossed its demonic features, before the tank shattered against it. It screeched as kerosene coated it, writhing back and forth, attempting to slough off the flammable liquid. Reaching out and ripping down a long string of Christmas lights, Buffy smashed a handful of the bulbs, ignoring the pain as sparks shot out of the sockets. Bundling it up, she turned back to the creature, which had reared up before her, ready to strike.

"Deck the halls Blobby," she growled and with a heave, threw the sparking strand of Christmas lights. They sank into the slimy muck and with sparks flaring from the broken bulbs, the kerosene that had soaked into it ignited with a loud whoosh! The creature screeched in pain as flames quickly engulfed it. Wailing, it writhed back and forth like a great flaming serpent and with a last cry of rage, it exploded, Buffy hurled herself over her mothers body, Dusk, still in extreme agony, covered Dusk with his own battered body, as charred pieces of scorched ooze and seared rotting vegetation splattered the walls, the ceiling coating everything and everyone in the room with viscous slime. Then, aside from Dusk's moans of pain and the crackling of burning creature, it was quiet. Buffy, coated in goo, gently moved off her mother.

"Mom? Are you all right? Come on, talk to me!" Joyce swallowed and nodded, blinking back tears,

"Yes, I'm...all right," alarmed she sat up, "Dawn?!"

With a groan, Dusk rolled off Dawn, "Mom, Buffy come quick, he's hurt!" Dawn cried out, semi-hysterical. Buffy rushed over to him, and stripped off his jacket and shirt to get to his skin, she gasped aloud when she saw his injuries.

Three fist-sized globs of ooze clung to the skin on his back, which was now blistered and puckered.

"Jesus, it's killing him," she nearly gagged at the sight and the smell, as the ooze slowly ate his skin, "I need fire! Now!" Joyce cleared a piece of flaming debris from the kitchen table and snatched up a lighter. She dashed over to Buffy, putting it in her hands,

"Here," Joyce breathed as she gathered the sobbing Dawn in a tight hug, "Oh my baby girl," she whispered soothingly to her, still a little frantic herself. Buffy flicked the lighter and shredding a piece of her shirt, wrapped it around a fork that was on the floor and lit it. She looked apologetically at Dusk,

"This is really going to hurt," she informed him, he only moaned, barely conscious from the pain. With a grunt of effort, she plunged the flaming fork into the first blob. There was a tiny shriek as it popped like an overripe melon. Dusk snarled in pain, but remained still as she skewered the second and third one. Dusk groaned, and mercifully passed out. Buffy sighed, examining the damage. Dusks back was scarred and pitted, but already, the demonic essence his body was infused with was causing the wounds to heal. Sniffling, Dawn came over to her, holding Dusk's still smoking jacket tightly in her fingers.

"He...he saved my life," she whispered, "is he going to be okay?" she asked Buffy, tearfully. Buffy nodded and exhaled hard,

"Yeah, I think so, must hurt like hell though," gingerly she helped the unconscious man to his feet, Joyce rushed over to assist and they carried him out to the living room.

"Mom, I need to get him back to Giles' shop. He's got a first aid kit, and I need to talk to the others," Joyce nodded.

"All right Buffy, I'll be happy to drive you. Dawn honey? Could you get the door please?" Dawn desperate to do something to help jerked it open and raced out in the driveway to open the door.

"Is he okay?" she asked again, still deeply wigged, Buffy nodded again attempting to ease her sisters' fears.

"He's out cold, but he should be okay," Buffy replied as she gently eased Dusk into the back seat, gently laying him down on her lap, whispering soothing words to him and stroking his hair back, she looked up at Joyce and Dawn, "Mom, to Giles' step on it!" Dawn piled into the passenger seat as Joyce got in the car and started it going, pulling out of the driveway and heading to Giles' at breakneck speed.


The door burst open as Joyce and Buffy carried the still unconscious Dusk into the store, eyes widened and jaws dropped,

"Alec!" Willow cried out, knocking over her chair and racing to him, Giles came out of the back room at the commotion. One look at his sons' condition drained all the color out of his face,

"My God," he whispered racing over to help, "What happened here?" he demanded.

"The Hellmouth sent us a little Christmas card. This... thing spat on him, he's got some pretty bad burns. Whatever that goo was it seemed to thrive on human flesh," Buffy explained. Giles swept a table clear of its contents, spilling books and papers and empty pizza boxes onto the floor. Hoisting his son up, he laid him out on his stomach. Reaching over, he flipped on an overhead lamp to examine him. Three large pucker marks, each with a single raised black welt in the center, surrounded by a large ring of angry red flesh, graced Dusks back. Willow's hand flew to her mouth, her eyes tearing.

"Alec," she whispered. She turned to Buffy, "Is he...?" Buffy shook her head.

"Just out like a light, those things were trying to burrow their way into his skin, a little fire convinced them otherwise," Giles leapt away and grabbed a jar of something from a shelf. Ripping the lid off, he poured the contents onto his sons' wounds; they begin to foam and sizzle. Giles shook his head angrily,

"They're still inside him," he declared grimly, "I need fire and some alcohol,"

"I've got it covered, mate," Spike came up, to them, sparing a glace to make sure Buffy was okay, then reaching into his jacket to remove a flask and a lighter. Unscrewing the flask, he poured the contents across Dusks back, "Vintage Glenlivet. Best there is," he muttered tossing the flask aside, he flicked his Zippo open, "let's see if the little bastards can hold their liquor," with a snarl he pushed the lit flame into Dusks back. There was another whoosh and a series of high-pitched screeches as the black welts started to rise out of his back, revealing tiny parasites that resembled leeches with big rows and rows of needle-like teeth. They reared up tiny mouths, and hissed at Giles with parasitic rage.

"Tweezers!" Giles demanded. Xander slapped a pair into his hand along with some gloves. Yanking the gloves on, Giles darted in the tweezers and plucked each one of the parasites out of his sons' body, dumping them in the now-empty herb jar.

"He's clear! Put him out!" Giles yelled. Anya came up with a fire extinguisher and coated Dusk in the cold powder. The flames quickly died out, leaving only the scent of scorched skin and burnt parasite. Angel came from behind with a first-aid kit. Giles accepted it gratefully and began smearing anti-burn cream across Dusks back. Willow held Dusks hand tightly. Her eyes watering, she looked up at Giles.

"Is he okay now?" she asked imploringly. Giles nodded as he started placing bandages across his back.

"Yes, the parasites have been extracted and alcohol flames are not all that hot. He'll be sore and a little scorched, but he should be fine," he finished applying the bandages and turned to Angel.

"Angel, there's a couch in the back, could you make sure Alec is comfortable?" Angel nodded.

"Sure. No problem," gingerly picking up the unconscious man, Angel carried him to the back, Willow with him every step of the way. Giles sighed and turned to Buffy, who was still caked in grime.

"You should get that washed off, there's a shower stall over there," he gestured to another corner of the shop, "do you have some spare clothes?" She nodded,

"I've got some sweatpants and stuff my locker. I'll go get them," she turned and left. Giles turned to Mrs. Summer and Dawn,

"Are you both all right? Are you injured?" They both shook their heads,

"I'm fine, just a little sore and very scared," Joyce replied. Giles turned to scrutinize Dawn,

"Dawn are you all right?" she looked up at him, her lower lip trembling,

"He saved me, from it," Giles immediately understood where Dusks wounds came from.

"He shielded you from it?" Dawn nodded,

"He saved me," she whispered again, tears beginning to stream down her face, the strain of the evening beginning to tell on her. Joyce quickly gathered her up in a hug, turning her head to Giles,

"Is there another bed somewhere?" Giles shook his head.

"I'm afraid not however you're more than welcome to stay at my home, I wouldn't advise you to go back to your house. I'll drive over with you both," Dawn pulled away and shook her head,

"No, I want to stay with Dusk, please?" she implored her mother tearfully, Giles leaned towards her to look her in the eye,

"Alec needs to rest Dawn, don't worry, you'll be safe at my house,"

"I'll go with them," Angel added, coming back into the room, he walked over to Giles who straightened to greet him with a questioning look. Angel gestured to the back room, "He's resting quietly, Willow's with him," he replied to Giles' unspoken question, he turned to face Joyce,

"Hello Joyce, it's nice to see you again,"

"Hello Angel," she responded, a little coolly, perhaps remembering that her last long conversation with him had entailed the notion it would be best for him to stay away from her daughter, for her own good. Then she relaxed visibly and smiled at him gratefully, "Thank you Angel, Dawn and I would be grateful if you'd come stay with us," Angel nodded gratefully and collected his coat. He placed a hand on Dawn's shoulder and gently tried to guide her out the door, she resisted.

"No," she said pitifully. Angel kneeled to regard her,

"He'll be fine, Dawn. You can see him first thing in the morning, all right?"

Dawn considered before letting her mother gently take her by the shoulders and lead her out of the store. Angel waited until they were both out of earshot, before turning to Giles,

"What do you think happened?" Giles took off his glasses and pinched the skin of his nose in tension,

"I don't know, but as soon as Buffy finishes cleaning up, I intend to ask her," he turned a worried gaze at the back room where he could here Willow sniffling, "Apparently the Hellmouth has decided to make the first move," he turned back to face Angel, who nodded. Giles had filled everybody in on what Dracula had told them, "We're running out of time,"

"Dracula said that the Hellmouth wanted Dawn, looks like he was right," Angel stuck his hands in his pockets and headed out the door. Giles followed him; stopping short of the door he turned to address the group,

"The rest of you, please, keep an eye on Alec, and for God sakes, keep alert," Faith came out from behind the stack of books she had hidden behind when Joyce had come in, which was fairly prudent given their last encounter,

"Will do. Anything that tries for him has to through me," she jutted her chin out proudly.

"Through US," Xander amended standing behind her, Anya came over to wrap an arm around his waist. Spike just nodded,

"Damn right!" he yelled. Giles smiled, his tension draining,

"Thank you," he expressed gratefully, confident in leaving his injured son in good hands. He smiled at them again and walked out, closing the door behind him. Xander shook his head ruefully, before heading to the back room to check on Willow and Dusk. She was sitting in a chair, holding his hand with both her hands, he was resting on his stomach, some of the color had come back to his face and the lines of pain had eased from his face.

"How is he?" Xander inquired gently.

"Fantastic, next stupid question," rasped a weak reply, though not from Willow. Willow leapt from her chair and crouched by the head of the couch as Dusk opened his eyes and rotated onto his side with a groan.

"Hey, how are you feeling?" Willow asked stroking his face, he caught her hand in his and kissed it.

"Extra-crispy," he replied dryly. Xander grinned and laughed,

"Yeah well, you don't look half as appetizing as a bucket of original recipe," Willow shot him a mildly offended look,

"Speak for yourself, Alexander Harris, I think he looks very yummy," she turned back to her lover with a flirtatious look. Dusk gave her a disbelieving look,

"You're a rotten liar woman," he replied sardonically, he tried to sit up but his strength gave out and he collapsed, nearly tumbling off the couch, until Xander and Willow caught him.

"Slow down there chief, you've had a busy night," Xander chided gently. Carefully he helped Willow ease the injured man back onto his stomach.

"Yeah," Willow put in, "don't make me kick your ass," Dusk arched a sardonic eyebrow, "Well, don't make me get Buffy to kick your ass," she amended. Dusk snorted and coughed before relaxing against the couch.

"Are they all, all right? Buffy, Dawn, Joyce?" he asked worriedly.

"They're fine," Willow soothed, "a little grimy around the edges, but fine. I'll have Buffy come pay you a visit as soon as she gets out of the shower. Spike strode into the room,

"Here he comes to save the day!" Spike sang out incredibly off-key and grinning, he plunked into a chair on the other side of the couch resting his hands on his knees. He leveled a finger at Dusk, "I used up my best whiskey in order to nuke the little buggers that had taken refuge in your worthless carcass," Dusk chuckled at that as Spike continued his tirade, "so you better be compensating me. If I'm anything even remotely resembling sober come new years due to a lack of booze, I'm coming for you," Dusk groaned and folded his hands over his head,

"Honey, turn the noisy man into a newt, would you please?" he implored. Willow turned and, pointing a finger at Spike, began chanting in Pig Latin,

"Ix-nay asty-nay ampire-vay," she cackled, Spike drew back alarmed,

"Knock it off red, I mean it," he growled, and rose to leave, grumbling, "Sacrifice your best booze for a bloke and he sics his black-magic woman on you in gratitude. It bloody well figures," chuckling, he left the room. Dusk shook his head and smirked,

"One-track mind that one, Sex or booze," Dusk commented, dryly. Willow smiled, her lips curled in a lazy gesture of seduction,

"Oh yeah, and what's on your mind?" Dusk turned to regard her, flabbergasted,

"You're not serious!" he exclaimed, Willow just nodded,

"Xander, can you excuse us for a moment please?" she asked sweetly. Dusk's eyes widened.

"Xander, if you ever held me as your friend, I implore you: do not leave me alone with her!" Dusk fervently begged Xander. Xander just chuckled and held his hands ramrod straight in front of him, Frankenstein style,

"Must. Obey. Witch. Cannot resist. Will not my own. Must obey," he spoke tonelessly rising to his feet like an automaton, Willow cackled as her childhood friend lurched zombie-like away from the couple. She then turned to regard her helpless mate; slowly she licked her lips, savoring what was to come.

"But what about me having a busy night? And needing to get my strength back?" he protested meekly, though a slow grin was starting to creep across his face as he rolled gingerly over onto his back to regard the beautiful woman wryly, his healing factor diminishing the pain greatly. Demurely, she gently straddled his hips, and reaching into her pocket, removed a wrapped condom,

"Oh, I'd say your night's about to get busier," she whispered huskily. Dusk laughed in disbelief,

"Where in the world did you get tha-" he was abruptly silenced as her mouth covered his.

A few moments later, he didn't care anymore.


Buffy, toweling her hair dry, tentatively knocked on the door to the back room

"Dusk? Willow? Are you in there?"

No reply, she knocked again.

"Go 'way," came Dusk's voice through the door, Buffy frowned,

"Guys? What's going on?"

"Physical therapy. Very conducive to the healing process" Dusk replied. She heard Willow giggling quietly. A slow grin spread across Buffy's features and she shook her head, laughing quietly. A stray memory, her mothers' telepathic confession of exactly what had happened between her and Giles during that candy incident,

"He SO takes after his old man," laughing to herself, she left the lovers to their "therapy."


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