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Convergence

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Story

Summary: One prophecy leads to another. . .

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > PretenderShaddyrFR15131,891052,76721 Jul 0321 Jul 03Yes
Chapter Rating: PG13

Chapter Summary:

Chapter Notes:

Fic Notes: DISCLAIMER: Not mine, never were. I'm very jealous of Craig and Steve and Joss, and I just want to play in their sandboxes for awhile. Please don't sue; all you'll get is stale doritos and some belly button lint. NOTES: When I began writing this, I was relatively new to BtVS, (had only seen 2 eps) and had obtained most of my information by reading the summaries I found online. I discovered too late I'd made a major continuity error - having only seen 2 eps from season 6, I did not realize that Giles was no longer in Sunnydale. So instead of rewriting - in my universe, he never left. SHOUT OUTS: Many thanks (!!!!) to Liz Shelborne for once again patiently picking through my first draft and pointing out my many errors. She tried to fix 'em - any that remain are my own stupidity. Thanks also to cousinjean for excellent tips on technique, and to Djinn for pointing out Buffyverse continuity errors and offering insights into those characters. I hope you enjoy.

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***************************

The Magic Box

Sunnydale, California

Early Friday evening

***************************

Giles turned the sign on the door from "Open" to "Closed, Please Come

Again!" and sighed. It had been a long and busy day, and he looked forward

to relaxing. He left the door unlocked and began to make his way back across

the shop. A moment later the bell signaled that someone was coming in.

Turning back to the door, he took a breath to call out that they were closed

when he recognized the figure entering the shop.

"Hello, Xander." He smiled at the young man.

"Hey, Giles," Xander replied as he walked over to Anya. "Hi, babe. Have a

good day?"

"Uh-huh." She nodded as she sorted through some papers. "How about you?"

Giles tidied the shop as the young couple chatted, and was returning

misplaced items to their proper shelves when the phone rang. Anya picked it

up.

"The Magic Box, your one stop shop for all your magical needs. Can I help

you? Oh, just a moment please." Anya covered the receiver and looked over at

her boss. "Uhm, Giles? It's a voice I don't recognize. But he sounds like

you - only worse. And he says it's urgent."

Xander groaned. "Anya..."

Curiosity piqued, Giles let the comment slide. "Thank you Anya." He took the

phone from her.

"Rupert Giles speaking, how may I... Oh! Brother Gloak! It's good to hear

from."

Xander and Anya watched the expression on his face shift as he listened to

the mystery caller. Over the course of the brief conversation it went from

pleased to concerned to down right grim.

"Yes... yes, I understand. I'll look into it immediately. Thank you for your

promptness in bringing this to my attention."

Giles hung up the phone and headed over to the bookshelf that specialized in

prophecies, codices and other ancient writings. Without a word, he began

searching through them and pulling down select tomes.

Xander was becoming worried. "Giles?" he asked hesitantly. "What's going on?

Evil coming? The End Of The World Round Three? Another Big Bad headed for

town?"

The Watcher's lips compressed into a thin line. "I don't know for sure.

That's what we need to find out."

"Research." Xander sighed. "Right."



**************************

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Early Friday evening

***************************

Jarod absently popped a pez in his mouth, eyes glued to the screen of

his laptop. A quiet sigh escaped his lips as he realized he'd hit another

dead end.

The Internet was a wonderful resource, one that offered almost endless

information. Unfortunately, even after many hours of searching he hadn't

been able to find any references to the Vespasians, the scrolls, or any

prophecy that hinted at the Centre.

When he'd been captured and held captive on the plane, Jarod had dared Mr.

Parker to read the manuscripts that had caused so much suffering. After a

nervous glance around, the Centre's director had done just that. Before the

pretender's eyes, Parker had gone from his usual blustering, confidant self

to one who looked as if he'd just escaped from a mental hospital. His eyes,

normally distant and cold, shone with an unholy, insane light that more than

frightened Jarod. He muttered and mumbled words about "The Chosen," The End

of the World," and most intriguingly, "The Centre Shall Rise." When Mr.

Parker had made his rather unique exit, taking the scrolls with him, Jarod

was left with an insatiable curiosity as to just what the Chairman had read.

The Pretender widened his search parameters, to include occult this time,

and hit the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button on the Google search page. He ate

another candy as the search returned its results.

"Hmmm. that looks interesting," he mused, clicking the link. The site turned

out to be a conspiracy theory/occult phenomenon type with a tabloid feel. A

bold headline declared 'Demons Wreak Terror and Mayhem in California'. On a

whim, he clicked.

'Vampires are alive and well in a small west coast community,' the story

proclaimed. 'The only thing preventing the decimation of the town is the

Chosen One.'

Jarod blinked. 'The Chosen One?' He continued reading.

'How long will the people of this country remain blind to the evil? The

Slayer alone stands between the people and the demons who would bring about

the end of the world.'

He felt the skin on the back of his neck prickle as he heard the words echo

in this head. He picked up his cell and punched in a number. One ring, then,

"Thank you for calling American Airlines. For domestic travel reservations,

press 2."

He went through the menu until he got an agent on the phone. "Yes, can you

tell me, do you have any direct flights to." he looked at the name of the

town again. "Sunnydale California?"



*************************

Sunnydale, California

Friday evening

*************************

Buffy was looking forward to a good workout. The events of the past few

weeks were wreaking havoc with her emotional stability. Her thoughts kept

returning to Spike and their night of brutal passion in the collapsing

house. No sooner would she manage to exorcise that memory then recollections

of her wanton behavior when struck by the Idiot Triplets invisibility ray

would creep up on her. She *so* needed to kick some demon butt. Being that

it was still a little early to go on patrol, the punching bag would have to

do for now. She smiled in anticipation.

Walking into the Magic Box, she found Xander, Anya and Willow gathered round

the table, books pilled around them. Giles looked up at her.

"Ah, you're here. Good."

Buffy stopped short, smile fading. Giles had the look that said 'Boring

Research Party in progress'. She groaned. "I just came to get my gear. Gotta

go patrol," she offered quickly, crossing over to the weapons chest.

"Uh-uh, Buff," Xander protested, ignoring the glare she gave him. "We would

be bad friends if we didn't share this laugh fest. Get your vampire slaying

butt over here and help out."

She shuffled over to the table and plopped down beside Anya. "What are we

doing today, Giles?" she inquired with resignation while she reached for a

book. "Researching vamp stuff? Cryptic prophesies? Maybe a problem with more

of those snot spraying demons?"

"Chaos demons," he corrected absently as he pulled his glasses off. Giles

paused a moment before explaining. "This afternoon, I received a telephone

call from an old friend. He is a monk of the Vespasian order."

"Vesp-a-whatsit?"

"Vespasian. An order established many years ago thought to be an offshoot of

the Knights Templar, entrusted with the safekeeping of certain valuables. In

this case, a set of scrolls containing a series of prophesies. It is said

that simply reading the scrolls was enough to drive a man insane."

"If they're anything like reading through this," Xander muttered, indicating

the book in front of him, "I can relate."

Giles ignored the comment. "For centuries, the scrolls were kept safe by the

monks on a small island off the Scottish coast. Just over 100 years ago,

something terrible happened. The scrolls were stolen, and the man who took

them read them - then murdered his entire family, wife and children, by

burning them alive."

Willow's eyes widened. "That's horrible."

The Watcher nodded. "He ran away to America and began a cult that evolved

into almost a kind of empire, with his evil at it's core - one that still

exists today. His followers mistakenly believed that he had the scrolls, but

they had been re-hidden on the island. No one knew where, but they remained

safe all this time. That is, until last week."

"What happened?"

"There was a monstrous storm, and the island was evacuated. When the

Brothers returned to the monastery, they found the crypt room desecrated and

several members of the order dead." Giles' face was somber as he related the

tale. "Brother Gloak believes the storm was more than a natural phenomenon,

and I must concur. Furthermore, there were several Americans on the island

asking a lot of questions both just before and on the day of the storm-"

"I must admit the creep factor is getting pretty high there, Giles. But you

still haven't told me *what* we're looking for."

"Right. Well, as I said, the scrolls contain prophecies, but no one is quite

sure what they are. The monks believe that it is now time for the prophecy

they contained to be fulfilled. Unfortunately, the only things we do know

from the scrolls for certain are that there are references to the Chosen and

something about a Convergence. We need to find anything, any other reference

that mentions both."

Xander slumped forward and let his head fall with a thud on the book in his

hands. "Oh, yippee," came the muffled voice. "That narrows it down to, oh,

ninety percent of the books you have in here." Xander pulled his face out of

the book and rolled his eyes. "Aren't we the Friday night party central of

Sunnydale."

Giles adjusted his glasses and ignored the young man as he pulled out a book

and began to page through it

Anya popped up with a cheerful smile. "Oooh, a study party! We should order

pizza!"



About 11pm the door of the shop opened. The Scoobys looked up to see Spike

standing in the entrance, casually lounging against the doorframe. Buffy

felt her pulse quicken as memories of being pressed against his hard, cool

body leaped forward unbidden. She looked back at the book before her, trying

to pretend that every part of her was not acutely aware of his presence.

"Ready to get in a spot of slaying, pet?" he inquired.

Before she could respond, Giles agreed with a distracted nod. "Oh, yes, do

go on Buffy. We'll continue on and see what we can come up with."

"But this is important, Giles," she floundered, looking for an out.

The Watcher looked over at her, puzzled. "Yes, yes it is... but we'll

manage. You are needed in another capacity."

"Yeah, go ahead, Buff," Xander offered and gave her a quick smile. It was

quickly swallowed up by his scowl of concentration as he muttered. "At least

one of us can get out of here and have a little fun..."

With a small grimace, she picked up her bag and slipped by the blond vampire

out into the night. She was halfway down the street before he caught up with

her.

"What's the rush, luv?"

Buffy kept up her brisk pace, tossing Spike a brief glance before setting

her eyes straight ahead once more. "Just want to get to work, that's all."

As they made their way to graveyard, Buffy fumed. She could feel him smiling

at her in the dark, that smirking, knowing, infuriating smile. She felt her

stomach do a funny little flip-flop. 'Chill, Summers!' she scolded herself

sternly. She was not going to get worked up over Spike, no matter what kind

of smile she saw on those pale, sexy lips, lips that could turn her knees to

jelly, with kisses that reduced her to a mass of quivering - oh god no, *so*

don't want to go there! She drew a ragged breath.

"You all right, Slayer?"

She jumped, startled. His voice was right beside her, mouth so close she

could feel the breath that carried the words on her ear. She whirled, eyes

flashing, about to rip a strip off him. His arm unexpectedly snaked around

her middle, and suddenly she was pressed right against him, staring up into

his face.

"Spike! Get your hands off me!" She gave him a shove, and twisted within his

grasp. Undaunted, he slid his other arm behind her neck.

"I haven't had a chance to tell you how good it is to see you again, pet,"

he murmured, and then bent in to drop a soft kiss on her mouth.

As though possessing a mind of their own, her arms were suddenly running up

his chest, one hand finding its way to his shoulder, the other insinuating

fingers through his soft hair. After a moment he pulled back to gaze

thoughtfully down at her. "I miss you, Buffy."

"We can't do this, Spike," she replied, desire warring with Slayer instincts

that screamed being in this oh-so-comfortable embrace was wrong. "I can't do

this. It won't work." Once more she tried to escape him. Not very hard

though. It didn't require much effort on his part to hold on to her.

"Yes we can. Yes you can. Yes it will," he disagreed, punctuating each

statement with kisses. "There must be something in you that wants to try, or

you never would have shown up at my crypt, invisible or not."

This time she did break free from him, and clutched her bag close as she set

her path for the cemetery once more.

"It was stupid of me. And thoughtless. Brain was on holiday in invisible

land. Brain is back now."

"You can tell yourself that, Buffy," his voice drifted up from behind her as

they reached their goal. "But I know the truth."

This time she placed a headstone between them before turning to confront

him. "Oh, you do? What truth is that, Spike?" Feelings, suppressed and

simmering all week suddenly came to a boiling point. "The truth that you're

a vampire and I'm the Slayer?" she snapped out. "Or the truth that being

with me makes you so happy that you threw me out of your bed?" The words

tumbled out before she had a chance to censor them, before she even realized

that she was going to speak them. ::Nononononono, oh shit no, I wasn't supposed to say that!::

Spike's jaw dropped, and for a moment he was speechless.

"You silly bint," came the insult, his gentle tone of voice depriving the

barb of any real sting. "That's the absolute last thing I wanted to do." As

he rounded the grave marker that separated them, he was torn between wanting

to yell at her for playing with him, trifling with his feelings and wanting

to gather her in his arms and comfort her.

Before he could reach her, a hand shot up from the grave and grabbed her

foot. He reached into his duster and tossed her a stake. Grabbing it out of

the air, she dropped to the knee of her free leg and waited till the new

vamp had emerged to waist height, offering her a clear shot. A quick thrust,

and she was brushing dust off her pant leg.

Spike reached down and grasped her arm, pulling her gently against him. She

brought the stake up between them, and he took it silently, slipping it back

into the pocket from whence it came.

"Buffy," he began again, only to be interrupted by the sound of another

fledgling vampire erupting from a new grave just down the row. He rolled his

eyes in exasperation. "Hold that thought, pet."

He turned and quickly strode down to face off against the neophyte. "Look,

mate," he stated in an annoyed tone, "I'm trying to have a private

conversation here. Three's a crowd." The previously used stake made its

second kill of the night as Spike slammed it home.

The blond vampire turned back to find Buffy had vanished. After a moment's

paranoid searching, he realized she'd run while he was busy.

"Bloody hell!" He gazed in the direction she'd gone. "This isn't over,

Slayer, not by a long shot," he promised the midnight air.



**************************

The Centre

Blue Cove, Delaware

Mid-morning, Saturday

**************************



Miss Parker sat on the sofa in her office, arms wrapped tightly around her

torso, while Syd looked on in concern.

"It's your Inner Sense again." It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes."

The psychiatrist waited patiently for her to continue. After a few moments

she jumped up and began to pace the floor.

"It's just like last time, Syd. I get a recurring vision of a beautiful

beach. it's not Blue Cove, not even the east coast. I think it's California.

Suddenly, my mother is there beside me. I try to approach her and she turns

to face me. Before I can say anything, she tells me I need to go, the time

for the Convergence is almost here. The light catches the diamond in her

ring as she points down the beach. Only it's not the beach anymore. It's a

graveyard. I look up and I can see two figures in the distance. I'm drawn to

them, and the next thing I know, I'm running towards them. It was a man and

a woman." she hesitated.

"Miss Parker?" he gently prompted her.

Her cool eyes met his warm ones. "It was. it was Jarod, Syd, I'm sure of

it." She slipped back into her present tense recounting of the images in her

mind. "I can't see the woman's face. They're fighting; not each other, but

something - it looks like darkness, shadow. it felt. it felt like evil, Syd!

I tried to get closer, but I couldn't. I just knew I had to help, but I

didn't know what to do." She turned to look out the window. "So Freud? What

the hell does it all mean?"

Sydney pondered the odd dream - vision? "Perhaps it's another premonition."

She let out a snort. "Yeah, that's me, Premonition Girl. How about something

helpful maybe? An interpretation? Come on Syd, how often do I actually

invite you to shrink my head?"

He rested an elbow in one hand, pensively tapping the index finger of the

other on his lips. Silence hung between them as each considered what it

could mean. Their reverie was interrupted by the sound of the door opening.

They turned as one to find Broots poking his head in around the door, a

surprised yet pleased expression on his features.

"What?" she demanded, quashing down the impulse to say something nasty for

no other reason than he was far too happy to suit her present mood.

"You're not going to believe this," the computer tech stepped fully into the

office, closing the door behind him. "I can hardly believe it myself - the

chances are so slim after all, the probability factor must be on the order

of one in a million. okay, maybe not that high, but certainly-"

"Broots!" Parker growled, taking a menacing step towards him. "The point.

Today."

"Uh. I found Jarod." He supplied with a stammer. "Random surveillance of

airport security tapes from across the country. I taped into the security

systems of all the major airports and-"

She jabbed a finger into the centre of his chest hard enough to make him

wince and shut him up. "Where?"

"LAX. He arrived at 11 last night."

Syd and Parker shared a significant look.

"California." The older man's voice reflected a smile that he did not allow

on his features. Parker stared at him through narrowed eyes for a second

before she turned back to address Broots.

"Get packed and call the Centre air strip, Scoobie-doo. Looks like we're

going on an adventure."



*************************

Twin Palms Inn

Sunnydale, California

Saturday afternoon

*************************



Jarod stepped out of the small bathroom, towel-drying his hair. Water

droplets still clung to his naked chest, some skittering down the surface

only to be absorbed into the waistband of his black jeans. With one hand, he

pushed back the curtain and gazed down at the street below.

The last 24 hours had been a buzz of frenetic activity. He'd managed to make

it to General Mitchell International Airport with mere minutes to spare, and

only his FBI identification had gotten him onto the flight with all the new

security protocols in place. After that, he'd haggled for 20 minutes to rent

a half decent car and then driven all night to get to Sunnydale. The next

flight hadn't been until the morning, and in the moment, it had seemed time

was of the essence.

::Great. I'm here. Now what, Genius?::

He sighed. When he'd arrived, he'd checked in, flopped onto the bed in his

room and passed out almost immediately. After a few hours sleep, he'd awoken

with a start and jumped into the shower, ready to get on with the next step.

Jarod was used to dealing with complicated situations, concocting elaborate

stings, and playing mind games with his favorite huntress. However, this

tracking down of elusive snippets of what might or might not be related to

what he thought he was looking for was aggravating to the nth degree.

He thought about it for a moment as he tossed the towel on the floor and

grabbed his knapsack from beside the bed. The Internet search had scored

when he added the word occult; so occult was the place to start. That

decided, he rifled through his bag and pulled out a box of Pop Tarts before

grabbing the yellow pages. Ripping open one of the foil packages, Jarod bit

into the sweet pastry while he flipped through the phone directory.

He scanned by several advertisements for tarot readings, fortune telling and

licensed Psychics before his eyes lit upon one that caught his interest.

'The Magic Box'. Among other things, the ad boasted of a large assortment of

magical and mythical reference materials available for purchase or research.

That definitely sounded promising. He checked the address, and then pulled

out a local map he'd picked up from the "Welcome to Sunnydale" display he'd

walked past before checking into the hotel. It looked like the store was

just a few blocks away.

Tossing the Pop Tart wrapper in the general direction of the waste bin,

Jarod reached into his knapsack, pulled out a black t-shirt and slipped it

on. He shoved his Halliburton under the bed, grabbed his leather duster and

headed out the door.



*******************

The Magic Shop

*******************



The gang was once again hard at work searching through ancient tomes, trying

to find something that seemed to fit. Dawn, at least, was enjoying the

afternoon hanging out at the mall with her friends. Buffy thought her little

sister spent quite enough time at the Magic Box already, so it was nice to

know she was out having fun. It also spared them from putting up with all

the irritating 15-year-old questions and attitude that invariably came out

when they were trying to work and Dawnie was bored.

Willow scrunched up her forehead, her lips in a perplexed pout. Buffy

noticed immediately. "What is it, Will?" she asked, peering across the table

trying to catch a look at the writings in front of her best friend.

"I think it might be something, except it might not be?" she replied

uncertainly as she reread the ancient script. "It mentions 'The Chosen', and

a Convergence, but it also talks about The Slayer. oh," Willow's voiced

dropped, "and the end of the world too."

"Oh, *that* old theme," remarked Xander sarcastically. "You would think

these `prophecy guys would realize 'End Of The World' is getting a little

overdone by now."

Willow gave Xander a nudge and looked up at Giles. "I don't get it. Isn't

Buffy the Chosen one?" she asked as she handed the musty red leather book

over to the Watcher.

"Well, yes," Anya interjected. "But she's not the only Chosen one. Different

people are chosen at different times, for different situations. In this case

it's not 'The Chosen One', but 'The Chosen' and The Slayer together. That

sounds like the prophecy about the Man of Many Faces."

The former vengeance demon was oblivious to they way they all froze then

slowly turned to stare at her. Giles was the first to break the silence.

"Anya, why didn't you say something earlier?" Exasperation was evident in

his voice.

"Well, how was I supposed to know which Chosen One your were talking about?"

she protested. "Live over a thousand years as a demon and people expect you

to know everything," she groused.

Buffy tapped the book in Giles' hands. "Well, what does it say?"

He adjusted his glasses and began to read.



And It Shall Come To Pass

That The Centre Shall Rise

And The Hellmouth Shall Open

And When The Convergence Is At Hand

Woe To All

For The End Of The World Draws Nigh.

Then The Chosen And The Slayer

Must Join To Fight

For Only Together Will

The Man Of Many Faces

And The Keeper Of The Key

Find Victory



"Whoa."

"Yeah. Very Whoa."



****

Jarod entered the shop, peering into the dimness. The bell jingled as he

moved and the door shut behind him. After a moment, his eyes adjusted and he

took in his surroundings.

The interior was a cornucopia of things magical. There were different

crystals, oils, and powders, medicinal plants, feathers, and spices. A few

people quietly meandered about perusing the wares. Against one wall, there

was a large table surrounded by a group of young people. They appeared to be

working on some sort of research project, and he could hear them excitedly

discussing something in muted tones. After looking around a bit, he quashed

down his natural curiosity. He could spend all day just exploring in here.

Stepping around a lady who was standing in the aisle examining different

mortar and pestle sets, he walked over to a wall that was covered with

leather bound books. His eyes wandered across them in a random pattern,

trying to take in as much as he could. Titles jumped out at him. The Ancient

Arts. Voodoo Charms And Talismans. The Pergamum Codex. Lycanthropy.

Nostradamus. Vampyres. Simple Hexes and Wards. There was no way to know

where to start. With a shrug, he pulled one off the wall.

"Can I help you?" came a soft, English accented inquiry.

Jarod turned to find a tall, bespectacled man standing off to his side. He

smiled.

"Yes, actually. I've been doing some research and I'm looking for more

information, but," he gestured to the books. "I haven't got a clue where to

begin."

"I'm sure I can help you with that," the shopkeeper assured him. "Can you

tell me what the subject is?"

"Prophecies."

"Really? And the predictions? What is the outcome of these prophecies?"

"To be honest, I'm really not sure." Jarod crossed his arms, a pensive look

on his face. "I think the end of the world might be involved, but somehow I

imagine that's a running theme in many prophecies," the pretender finished

with a small chuckle.

"Yes, I must say that does tend to play into a great many of them," the man

agreed. "How about particulars? Events or people mentioned? That might help

narrow it down."

"I. overheard something. All I know for sure are two references - one was

"The Chosen", and the other was.." he trailed off for a moment.

"Yes?"

He shook off a chill. "The other was 'The Centre Shall Rise'. That's it."

Jarod looked hopefully at the shopkeeper. "Ring any bells?"

To his surprise, the man seemed to close down before him. It was something

that most people wouldn't have noticed, but to Jarod it was glaring. He

wasn't sure what had just happened, but suddenly things had changed.

"No, nothing in particular comes to mind," the man said, his tone of voice

calm even though sudden tension was obvious to one who was as practiced as

Jarod was at reading people. "Perhaps you might leave me your name and

number, and if I find anything I can give you a call?"

A snippet of conversation, just a bit louder than the ambient noise level

floated over from the table to the two men.

"Okay, 'Hellmouth' I understand, but what is this 'Centre'? And where is it

going to rise, I'd like to know?"

Jarod's eyes widened, and he turned towards the table. Before he could

actually get there, however, the proprietor had interposed himself.

"I think," the shopkeeper stated in a forceful tone, "that it is time for

you to leave."

"But, I..."

"Now."

Jarod tried to glance around him and get a better look at the book that

seemed to be the focus of attention. The man grabbed it and snapped it shut

with finality.

"I don't understand-"

"Hey, mister," a petite blond girl had risen from the table and was standing

beside the Englishman he was squared off against. "If Giles told you to

leave, well then it's time to go." The other people were standing now too,

all presenting a united front.

After a final look at the red leather tome wrapped protectively in the

proprietors arms, Jarod turned and walked out of the shop.

~*~*~

Spike was killing time, skulking around the alleyway across from the Magic

Box. He wished a vamp or a demon or some sort of threat would pop up and

give him something to focus on, because the waiting was driving him nuts.

::Brilliant, Spike. Wait till Buffy comes back from patrol, jump out of the

alley and. dazzle her with your stalking skills. Bloody fabulous.::

Settling back against the wall, he rehearsed in his head the conversation he

wanted to have with the woman who had captured his undead heart. He was so

immersed in thought that he almost missed the faint scraping sound. He

looked up to see a dark figure on one knee before the door to Giles' shop.

The man popped the door, glanced around, and then silently slipped in.

A chilling smile came to his lips. The evening just might get interesting

after all. Spike set off across the street.

***

Jarod closed the door behind him carefully, mindful of the bell. Pulling out

his flashlight, he gave the store a quick once over, checking for hidden

security systems or other anti-burglar devices. There didn't appear to be

any. Not very wise of the owner. Of course, they might have some sort of

magical protection in place. He grinned at the thought. Obviously not, since

he hadn't turned into a frog.

Making his way quickly across the interior, he came back to stand in front

of the bookshelf he'd been exploring earlier that day. He drew his light

across it, searching for the tome the proprietor had kept from him earlier.

Rupert Giles. He'd done a little research on the man while waiting for night

to fall, and all it had done was raise more questions, more mysteries. On

first glance, the man appeared simply to be an English citizen who was

working in the US on an extended visa. As the pretender had dug a little

deeper, he'd found there was more to the shopkeeper than met the eye. Giles

seemed to have connections with some powerful and shadowy people, and was

linked with a very old organization in Europe known as the Watchers.

Information on them was sketchy and the group was shrouded in mysticism, but

Jarod had the feeling it was significant to whatever was going on.

While investigating Giles, Jarod had also collected a little background

information on Sunnydale. What he'd found disturbed him. The town had had

more unexplained murders, disappearances and violent crimes per capita than

any other place in the country, save perhaps New York or LA. The curious

thing was the amazing lack of awareness. It was almost as if the people who

lived in the town were behind a curtain of self-imposed denial. He was

itching to get to the bottom of it.

After a thorough search of the bookshelf yielded nothing, he checked the

books still laying on the round table. No luck there. Methodically, he began

to search every shelf. At the end of the room, he discovered a steep ladder

staircase. Flashlight in his teeth, he climbed up. At the top he smiled. Pay

dirt.

There on the bottom of the shelf was the book he sought. As he stepped over

and picked it up, his flashlight caught something shiny. There was a glint

flashing off another book beneath. Curious, he took a closer look. The

second thick volume was quite old, the leather cracked with age and the

pages obviously frayed - however, it sported a new metal lock. He picked it

up, and a chill ran through him as he glanced at the title. "Darkest

Magiks". He quickly replaced it, grabbed the one he'd come for and made his

way back down.

He was halfway across the room when a flame leaped to life in the darkness.

He froze. In the glow, Jarod could see a man's face as he lit a cigarette.

He stood a few feet from the pretender, leaning back against the edge of the

table as he snapped the lighter shut. He ran a quick scenario in his head.

He out massed the figure before him by at least 60 pounds, and had a good 4

inches on him. Jarod decided that he could likely escape the smaller man

without having to resort to violence. Like a shot, he ran for the door.

Impossibly, the man was in front of him.

"Going somewhere, mate?" the other grinned at him, a dangerous sort of glint

in his eye.

"Yeah. Through you if I have to." Jarod faked left then broke right, trying

to get past him. Once again, displaying inhuman speed and agility, his

nemesis blocked his way. Unexpectedly, the man reached out and flicked on the lights, temporarily blinding him. He backpedaled, trying to put some space between them, but with unbelievable speed he found a chair being shoved into the back of his legs. He sat down hard.

"I don't think so," the man replied, a cocky lilt in his voice.

Jarod looked up to see a crossbow slung casually over the man's shoulder. He

couldn't stop the small groan that escaped as he closed his eyes for a

moment. This was *not* going according to the sim.



****

"I was so good tonight," crowed Xander proudly. "Did you see me? I took out

five of 'em by myself. Coun't em, one, two, three, four, five!"

"You did a great job, honey," Anya agreed, her hand entwined with his. "You

were so manly and heroic."

Giles and Buffy shared a look.

"Hey, thanks for coming along, guys," Buffy piped up as they made their way

back to the shop, "It hasn't been this busy in a long time. I wonder what's

up with that."

"Maybe there's a vampire convention in town," Xander offered. "Kinda like a

comic book convention, except less with the comics and more with the sucking

of blood."

Giles cocked an eyebrow at the young man. Xander just gave him a little half

grin and a half shrug.

"I must admit it does have me concerned. There has been a steady increase in

Vampiric activity for the last few weeks. A larger number of demons than

usual as well. This is quite significant." They all spent a moment

considering the implications.

"Do you think it's the prophecy?" Buffy asked.

Giles nodded. "I'm certain of it. And all my experience tells me that we're running out of time. We need to figure out what the Convergence will be, what it will look like - we can't fight it if we don't know what it is."

"But Giles, according to the prophecy, I don't face this thing alone. If we

can't find The Chosen, do we even have a chance?"

The Watcher gave a small snort. "Isn't that the difficulty with the 'Man of

Many Faces'? How on earth do we manage to recognize him?"

The walked the rest of the way to the store in silence, each to their own

thoughts until Anya broke the reverie.

"Hey! Someone's in the store. Oh my god... the money!"

Anya bolted forward, the rest of them hot on her heels. She pushed on the

door and it flew open with a crash. Taking a few steps into the shop, she

looked around wildly while the others poured in behind her.

"Nice of you to finally show up," came a familiar English accent from the

lower part of the store.

Weapons in hand, the four of them walked across the store to find Spike

sitting cross-legged on the table with a cross bow in his grasp. The red leather book containing the prophecy lay open on the table before him. Most surprising, the same tall dark haired man who had been asking questions earlier in the day was sitting on a chair in front of him.

"What the hell?" Buffy blurted. She walked up to the intruder, stake in

hand. "What part of 'leave' are you having a problem understanding?" she

demanded.

"I never was very good at following orders." The man in the chair eyed her

warily, then turned to Giles. "Look, I simply need some information. That's

all. I promise I'll leave afterwards. I just need to see what the book

says."

"The only place you're going right now is the city jail," Giles informed

him. "I'm calling the police."

Spike began to read from the book he'd pulled onto his lap. "...the Centre

shall rise... Hellmouth... then the Chosen and the Slayer... hmmm... for only together will the Man of Many Faces and the Keeper of the Key find Victory." He looked up at Buffy. "Sounds like you, pet. But who's this 'Man of Many Faces' bloke?"

Giles grabbed the tome from the blond vampire and snapped it shut with a

withering look. "Does the word *confidential* mean anything to you?"

"Touchy," groused the vampire as he reached in his pocket and fished out his

Marlboroughs. He snapped his Zippo open to light one and earned a stern look

from the Watcher. He rolled his eyes and slid off the table, heading outside for a cigarette. "Don't even know why I bother," he grumbled. "Try to do a friend a favour, and all I get is..." Spike trailed off as he noticed the stunned look on the face of their intruder. "What?"

The man's eyes were wide with curiosity and confusion. "What you just read... what does it mean?"

Anya jumped in. "'The Man of Many Faces' is the Chosen, helper of the Slayer," she supplied helpfully. "He is supposed to help her fight evil-"

"Guys!" Buffy interjected forcefully, a pained look on her face. "Can we

please not tell the bad guy all the trade secrets?"

"Oh! Sorry," came Anya's abashed reply.

Giles was again reaching for the phone when the man spoke up again. "Look, I

don't know what's going on here, or why you're trying to hide this

information from me. I just want to know the truth behind the prophecy. Why

won't you help me?" His voice held anger and not a little desperation.

The Watcher stopped and fixed him with a stare. "People that I know were

recently murdered over this information. Just before that happened, there

were some people asking a lot of questions. I'd rather not see a repeat of

such events here."

"You think that I..." Their captive jumped to his feet "I'm not a murderer!"

Xander snatched the discarded crossbow from the table and trained it on him

in one quick, practiced motion. "I'd advise you to take your seat."

He complied, his face a mask of anger and contempt. "If you want the ones

who are responsible, go the Centre. Mr. Parker. Of course you might have

trouble tracking him down since he took a swan dive over the Atlantic Ocean

at 30,000 feet with the scrolls."

"Wh-what?" Giles was caught off guard.

The captive looked at him for a moment, and then closed his eyes. Giles watched, curious, as the man seemed to drop instantly into a dreamlike state, except that it was obvious he was still awake. But there was *something* going on. The Watcher was just about to speak when the man opened his eyes and looked up at him, resigned.

"I'm not here to hurt anyone," he began quietly. "I'm just trying to find

out the truth. About the past. About the future. About the scrolls, and the

prophecies. About how I do or don't fit into them. I think some of the

answers might be in that book."

"You'll pardon us if we don't trust you a whole lot," remarked Buffy.

"Someone has to make the first step," he admitted. "And I'm willing to be

the one to do it."

"That sounds like a good idea seeing that you're the one who B&E'd the

place," she replied. "So, go ahead, crime-boy. Impress us with your

trustworthiness."

"Perhaps I should begin at the beginning."





They sat around the table and listened to the incredible story. Jarod had

outlined a brief history of the Centre and given an abridged account of his

life and training while in captivity there. He told them of his escape and

then touched briefly on his subsequent pretends.

They grilled him mercilessly on the details, looking for lies and

discrepancies. He watched their skepticism and incredulity give way to

amazement and belief as they accepted he was indeed telling the truth.

He detailed the events on the island, explaining that he and Miss Parker had

been searching for the scrolls. Finally, he told them what the chairman had

uttered right before he'd jumped from the aircraft with them clutched in his

arms.

"Now you can understand why I was looking for information. Our mothers -

Miss Parker's and mine - believed that they were very important."

"So, the scrolls are truly lost," murmured Giles pensively. "Along with the

secrets they contained."

"As far as I know. We were over open water when he jumped." The pretender

sighed. "I searched for my past for years - I never thought much about my

future other than finding my family and staying free of the Centre. I'm

really not sure what I think about prophecies, whether they are real or not;

all I know is that too many strange things have happened for me to just

brush it all off."

Buffy looked at Giles, who nodded. She walked over and retrieved the leather

book from the shelf where he'd left it. Turning it to the correct page, she

indicated the passage to Jarod and let him read the prophecy.

His breath caught in his throat halfway through, and he looked up at them

startled. He went back and re-read the passage several times before he

looked up again.

"The Chosen One. is The Man of Many Faces."

"It appears so," the watcher replied, his tone neutral.

"And... I'm a Pretender." Jarod trailed off.

"Looks like you win the prize, mate." Spike commented from when hd been listening by the door, then sauntered back into the shop. He sprawled back in an empty chair beside Jarod and studied him intently. "Can't say you really look like the saving-the-world type though."

"Shut up, Spike," Buffy said conversationally.

Jarod glanced between the two of them, sensing a tension there just under

the surface. Ignoring it, he spoke. "The rest of this prophecy seems to

correspond with what I know of the scrolls. And, as I have just explained,

the Centre is alive and well in Delaware. If that's what is meant by

'rising', it's accurate." He looked contemplatively at Buffy. "Now, maybe

you could explain to me the part about 'the Slayer' and the Hellmouth? I'm

more than a bit curious, especially given the... interesting assortment of

weapons you people are carrying."

She looked at Giles for support, then turned her gaze back to Jarod. "I'm

not sure you would believe me if I did," she replied honestly.

"If there is one thing I understand," he said with a wry laugh, "it's that

sometimes the most bizarre sounding things are true. Try me."

"Okay," she said, steeling her resolve. "The short story. Sunnydale is the

Hellmouth. I mean, it's on the Hellmouth. Well, actually, it's the under the

old high school. But you know what I mean. It's here. In our town. It's the

entrance to Hell. A lot of bad guys keep trying to open it, but so far we've

fought them all off.

"Yea, us," Xander interjected half-heartedly.

"Mystical phenomena tend to gravitate towards it," Buffy continued. "It's

like a great big demon magnet. Or an evil magnet. Weird things always happen

in Sunnydale."

Jarod blinked. He looked around at their faces and realized they were deadly

serious. "That's... pretty fantastic," he admitted. "But given what I've learned about this town in my research, it would certainly explain a

lot about the unsolved crime rate. So, the article I read on the internet, about the Slayer - that was referring to you?" he asked Buffy.

"I'm on the internet?" She smiled at the news, then frowned. "Yup, that's me."

"And you fight evil. Bad guys. Demons."

"Well, yeah, but mostly I kill vampires. That's my first calling, being the

Vampire Slayer and all."

Jarod stared at her as though she'd grown another head. "Pardon me, did you

just say. *Vampire* Slayer? As in, vampires?"

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, creatures of the night, undead, blood sucking

demons, those are the ones."

Shaking his head, he leaned back in his chair, lifting a hand to his

forehead as if in pain. "I hate to admit this, but.." He looked up at her

with an apologetic but skeptical look on his face. "I am having a hard time

with this after all." Consternation coloured his voice. "I mean, government corruption I get. High level conspiracies, hidden political agendas, unethical research. But, the entrance to hell? Demons and vampires?" He looked around at them all. "I don't know if I can wrap my head around all of this. I am just coming to terms with the fact that the little girl Miss Parker saw on the island may very well have been a ghost, but this - it's pretty hard to believe."

Spike sat forward on the edge of his chair and put his face mere inches from

Jarod's. "Believe it, mate," he advised. "Or you might end up with a vamp

wrapped around your throat."

To emphasize his point, he smiled - and morphed into game face. "Grr."

A strangled yell escaped the Pretender's lips, and he scrambled backwards.

He fell and tumbled unceremoniously to the floor. Quickly regaining his

feet, he cast about wildly, looking for a weapon. He spied the wooden stake

Buffy had been carrying earlier sitting on the counter, grabbed it and

brandished it at the vampire. As he stood there, it slowly seeped through

his fear-fogged brain that no one else had reacted.

"Spike!" Buffy scowled at him. "You didn't need to scare the hell out of

him!"

The blonde vampire slouched back into his chair with a grin. "Gotta take

what simple pleasures I can find these days, luv," he shrugged. "Besides,

you could have talked half the night. Bloody hyper-analytical git, that one.

Now he knows in a close and personal way. Mission accomplished."

"You're - you're a vampire," Jarod stated in a relatively calm tone that belied his inner turmoil.

"Right in one. He *can* be taught!"

Jarod looked at Buffy. "And you are a Vampire Slayer."

"Two for two! Now don't strain yourself-"

"Shut *UP*, Spike!" Buffy ordered.

Jarod kept going. "So, then why..."

Xander stood up and went to stand beside the confused pretender. "I know, I

know, why is Spike still breathing? Or, not breathing as the case may be,

but still alive. Or actually, undead would be the correct term here and I'll

shut up now, but just so you know, we all wonder the same thing ourselves on

a regular basis."

"Ha, bloody, ha, Harris. You're a regular laugh riot." Spike looked back over at Jarod who was still standing in a defensive posture, stake in hand. "Oh, put the sodding thing away," he grumbled with irritation. "If I'd wanted to eat you, you'd have been dead long before the slayerettes arrived."

"Somehow, I don't find that very reassuring," the Pretender replied darkly.

His stance had relaxed somewhat, but he did not return to his seat beside

the vampire.

"Don't let him worry you. He actually helps us. He can't hurt anyone."

"Slayer!"

Buffy ignored Spike's wounded protestation. "Well, he can't hurt humans. He

has a chip in his head that give him a jolt if he tries."

The peroxided vampire jumped to his feet and started to pace. "Sure, just

tell the whole neighborhood! 'Guess what everyone? Ole' Spike is a Nancyboy,

feel free to kick his ass.' "

With a growl, he pulled out his cigarettes. "Bloody hell! It's not bad

enough I have to sit here and listen to you lot insult me, but I'm out of

fags too." He glared at Buffy for a moment, then grasped his lapels, pulling

the duster straight. "We'll talk later, pet," he promised, then stomped out

of the store.

As he strode down the street, Spike was glad he'd gotten out before anyone

asked him what he'd been doing there in the first place.



***************************************

Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles, California

Saturday Night

***************************************

"Have you seen this man?"

Parker stood at the counter of the Hertz car rental agency and grit her

teeth. Sydney was showing the clerk a picture of their escaped pretender.

"Uhm... yeah, actually," the girl replied. "He was in here last night."

In an instant, Parker slid in front of Syd. "Did he say where he was going?"

The woman glanced around, and looked worried.

"Why do you wanna know? Are you cop or something?"

Parker grimaced with annoyance and pulled out an official looking Government

Issue ID and flashed it at her. "Or something."

"Well." The blonde woman captured her bottom lip between her teeth. "I'm not

supposed to give out information. I could lose my job."

Seeing the look on his companion's face, Sydney stepped in, smoothly

averting the confrontation. "We understand your predicament. But it is

imperative that we find him before its too late."

The clerk balked for a moment, but at his gentle urging, finally acquiesced.

"Well," she began, "normally I don't remember a whole lot about the

customers-"

"What a surprise," Parker muttered under her breath.

"-but he made a big impression." She smiled. "He was really nice - and he

gave me a big tip, too! No one's ever given me a tip before. And it doesn't

hurt that he was such a hottie."

Parker bit down on the impulse to smack the woman. Since she didn't at all

care what some bimbo thought about Jarod. Not a bit. Really.

"He was looking for some town... Sunny something... Sunnyville? Sunnydell?"

The clerk screwed up her features in concentration for a moment, then

shrugged. "I can't remember for sure. I sold him a map, right after I told

him it was too bad he wasn't staying in town longer."

Parker turned on heel and left before she followed through on her initial

impulse, waiting outside impatiently while Syd rented a car for them.

Broots, who was standing outside with their bags, eyed her nervously.

"Everything all right, Miss Parker?"

"Peachy," she snarled.

A moment later, the older man exited the rental agency, keys and a map in

hand. Wordlessly, the trio made their way over to a newer model sedan. He

handed the keys to Broots, and the tech loaded their luggage while he

unfolded the map and laid it down on the hood of the car.

Parker ran her finger down the index of cities until she came to S section.

"Sunnydale. Sunnyside. Sunnyslope. Sunnyvale. How many fucking towns in this

state need to have Sunny in their names?" she complained. "All right, Freud.

Which one was our boy headed to?"

"The clerk said 'Sunnyville' or 'Sunnydell' - I would imagine that Sunnydale

or Sunnyvale would be the most likely options."

She located them on the map. "Sunnyvale is a 'burb in San Jose. I'm thinking

that's the less likely option. Sunnydale is a town about 70 miles south of

there. I say we hit that one first, and if our lab rat isn't there, we move

on." Parker shook her head. "I'm officially in Sunnyhell." She looked up at

the two men. "We're going to the Marriot and heading out first thing in the

morning.

That decided, she snatched the keys from a startled Broots.

"And *I'm* driving."



At 3:30 AM, Parker had given up on sleep and woken Broots and Sydney. Two

hours earlier, the room next to hers had become the red light district.

Three distinct voices had roused her with their grunting, groaning and

giggling. The rhythmic slamming of the headboard against the wall had played

counterpoint to the squeaking of the bedsprings. She'd tried the earplugs

still in her coat pocket from the shooting range. She'd tried banging on the

wall and yelling. Twice she'd almost gotten back to sleep, to be re-awoken

as the bedroom Olympics next to her started afresh. If they hadn't gotten

out of there when they did, she'd have put a bullet in someone's head for

sure.

They'd been on the road for about 20 minutes, when a steady pain set in

above her right eye. A half an hour after that, it began to throb in time

with the snoring that resounded from the back seat. Her trigger finger

twitched. Broots was luck she couldn't drive and take aim at the same time.

The first gray tendrils of false dawn were lightening the night sky when

Parker saw the sign. The cheerful lettering proclaimed "Welcome to

Sunnydale" in cursive bubble like letters. She slowed down and pulled off

the road in front of it.

Syd woke from the light sleep he'd fallen into when Parker shut the door

behind her after exiting the car. He watched her curiously as she leaned

against the front of the vehicle and stared up at the road sign.

Without the slightest warning, she pulled out her 9mm and emptied the clip

into it, putting a row of bullet holes neatly across the sign. Broots jerked

awake in the back seat as the shots rang out.

"What the hell?" He looked around anxiously. "What's going on, Syd?"

After a moment, Parker got back into the car, slammed it into gear and sped

off. Behind them, the sign wavered and creaked then tilted over at a crazy

angle.

"Might I inquire what that was all about?" Syd asked mildly.

She shrugged, eyes on the road. "It just had to be done Syd. Trust me."

Broots stared at the back of her head and wisely remained silent.





Parker walked along the beach, enjoying the sounds of the surf, the warmth o

f the sun. It was so much nicer here than in Delaware at the moment. The

water looked was so inviting that she gave in, kicking off her sandals to

walk through the waves as the crested on the sand.

Unexpectedly, the hair on the back of her neck stood up - there was someone

behind her. Dropping the sandals, she reached for her gun, pulling it out

even as she spun around. The sight before her almost caused her to lose her

grip on her weapon.

"M-mom?" Her voice caught in her suddenly constricted throat.

Catherine smiled sadly at her daughter. "You have to go," she urged gently.

"The Convergence is at hand. Be strong, my darling."

Miss Parker took an unsteady step towards her mother. "What do you mean?

What is the Convergence? Help me momma, I don't understand!"

"It's all coming together. The time has come for you to choose." Catherine

pointed down the beach. "You have to go now."

The sunlight reflected off the diamond of her mother's ring, and Parker was

dazzled by its brilliance. Without warning, the sky grew dark, and the sand

beneath her feet became cool, damp grass. When her vision cleared, Parker

found herself in a cemetery full of old-fashioned headstones and grave

markers.

Before she realized what was happening, she was being pulled towards two

figures in the distance. Dark masses swirled around them, eddying currents

of purple and green, with flashes of magenta curling through. The air grew

cold and lightening flashed, leaving the atmosphere charged with energy.

Jarod and a tiny blond woman crouched in fighting stance, back to back,

facing off against the darkness swirling around them. 'Evil' she realized.

They were fighting evil. And suddenly it was surrounding her, invading her,

saturating every pore.

"Join us, Angel," came her father's voice out of the miasma that surrounded

her. She could feel icy tendrils of some thing tightening around her, about

to choke the life from her. She whimpered, unable to break free, unable to

run. She saw Jarod fighting to get to her, saw him reaching out, calling her

name, but she was helpless.

"Noooo."

A shape solidified out of the swirling haze, and then her father was

standing before her. "Join us, Angel," he repeated, staring into her eyes.

His were cold and lifeless, nothing of the man she had called daddy in them.

She screamed.



"Miss Parker?"

Parker jerked straight up in her bed with a gasp.

Again, the gentle voice of Sydney by her side.

"Are you alright?"

She wrapped her arms tightly around her middle and nodded sharply. She

didn't trust herself to speak.

Syd glanced back over his shoulder at Broots who stood in the connecting

door between their rooms. The trio had checked in to the Plaza as soon as

they had arrived, obtaining adjoining suites for expediency. He gave the

tech a nod and Broots went back into their shared room, shutting the door

behind him. Syd turned his attention back to Miss Parker.

"You were thrashing about, and then you started to scream." The psychiatrist

studied her profile in the dim light that filtered into the room through the

curtains. She looked fragile - not an adjective he often thought of when

describing her. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Parker drew a long, shuddering breath, then laughed cynically. "For just one

night, I'd like to *not* have this dream. It was the same as before.

Except." She looked over at Syd. "There was something new this time. I saw.

I saw daddy."

"Mr. Parker?"

"Yeah. Remember I told you Jarod and this other person in my dream. they

were fighting something evil? Well, Syd, daddy was right there in the middle

of it. And he wanted me to join him."

Sydney saw fear in her eyes and knew that it mirrored his own.

"What in the hell is going on Sydney?"

He didn't have an answer.

~*~*~

*********************

The Magic Box

Sunday Afternoon

*********************

Trying to stifle a yawn, Giles reflected that it was a typical Sunday

afternoon for the Scoobies. Anya was counting the money. Dawn was helping

put a new shipment of inventory away and holding items with a high 'ick'

factor at arms length while doing so. Xander, clad in puffy suit, was

serving as Buffy's target, as was evidenced by the steady 'whump' and 'thud'

sounds emanating from the training room. And finally, he and Willow were

trying to decipher exactly what the 'Convergence' was so that when it

arrived they could recognize it and be able to save the world. Again.

The bell on the door tinkled gently. He looked up to find Jarod approaching

him with the armful of books he'd taken last night. The dark haired man

carefully placed the fragile tomes on the table. Giles glanced at the books,

and then looked up into the man's face in astonishment.

"You don't mean to say you read *all* of those last night?"

Jarod's lips quirked up on one side in a small smile. "No. I read some of

them this morning."

Giles' eyebrows threatened to crawl right off his forehead and get lost in

his hair. "Good heavens, man! The hours we could have saved." He shook his

head. "Well, no matter now. Did you find anything relevant?"

Jarod sat on the bench beside Giles and grabbed the third book in the pile.

He flipped a few pages until he came to some arcane text. "I translated what

I could from the Latin. This definitely refers to a Convergence. It mentions

a portal and the Centre. I am assuming the portal is the Hellmouth."

"That's quite likely," agreed the watcher.

Jarod pointed to the writing on the next page. "Some of this text is in a

language I've never seen before, though the script is familiar. I'm pretty

sure it's important."

Giles' brow furrowed in concentration as he studied the passage. A moment

later he spoke. "This is a very old dialect, but I believe that given a

little time I can make sense of it." The watcher picked up the book and

carried it with him into to his office without a backward glance.

Jarod watched him leave, bemused by the impromptu dismissal. Willow noticed

the look on the pretender's face and gave him a tentative smile.

"Don't mind him," she tried to explain. "Giles, um, sort of gets lost when

he gets caught up in his research."

Jarod nodded and gave her a half smile.

"Well, gotta figure this Convergence thingy out," she said as she returned

to her own work.

After a moment, he stood up, possessed by the overpowering need to move.

This entire situation was foreign to him. He was the one who did the

research, set up the elaborate stings and came up with the plan. There was

nothing more he could do here except read and point things out to Giles if

he thought they might be relevant, and let the older man decided if they

were. Jarod didn't even realize he was pacing until he found himself stopped

short by Anya.

The diminutive blonde woman stood in front of him, crossed her arms and

glared. "Stop stomping around the shop. You're going to scare the customers

away!"

He glanced around. "You don't have any customers at the moment."

One graceful eyebrow cocked high on her forehead. "That's not the point. If

I *did*, you would be scaring them away. So stop it." She looked him up and

down. "If you have too much energy, go hang out with Buffy and pummel

something." She indicated the door on the wall and he realized there must be

a small gym or something of the sort. It certainly explained the sounds

coming through.

He turned to make his way to the door, and then stopped for a moment and

glanced back at her.

"Anya, can I ask you a question?"

"Yes." She waited.

"How did you deal with it?"

"Deal with what?"

"All of this," he indicated, waving a hand around in an all-encompassing

motion. "Vampires. Slayers. Demons. Prophecies. How did you deal with it?"

"Oh," she replied with an impish smile. "I didn't really have anything to

deal with."

Jarod resigned himself to the fact the he was probably going to spend the

rest of his time in Sunnydale puzzled and confused. " What do you mean?"

"Well," she answered, looking him right in the eyes, "up until a few years

ago I was a Vengeance Demon. What I'm dealing with is learning how to cope

with being human."

Jarod stared at her as he processed that little bit of information. He

blinked. "I think I'll go see what Buffy's up to."



From the doorway of the training room Jarod stood witness to a truly amazing

display. The tiny woman before him whirled through a series of kicks and

punches at phenomenal speed - he could barely see her move. The force of the

blows was obvious in the way her target staggered, even in his protective

gear.

Without conscious thought, Jarond began to sim her. Everything he'd read in the books Giles had loaned him, all the information the group had supplied him with in the last 24 hours percolated through his brain. His eyes drifted closed, and he found himself suffused with energy, like an enormous adrenaline rush, but bigger, more powerful - different. He could feel Purpose in him, like a living thing. The Hunt, the Kill. All of his senses seemed to fine tune themselves. He opened his eyes to find her sea green ones staring up at him.

"What... are you doing?"

"Just trying to understand."

She looked at him askance. "Uh-huh." She picked up her water bottle and took

a long pull off it before setting it back down. "Is that what you were

talking about last night? Doing the Borg thing?"

"I'm sorry?"

She sat down on the floor mat and began stretching muscles. "Assimilating?"

He laughed. "No, you're thinking Star Trek. It's simulating. And yes."

"Whatever." She gave him a cocky glance. "So, does that mean you're me now?"

He couldn't help but smile. "You remind me of someone else I know."

Xander cleared his throat. "Hey, Buff, if you're done beating the snot out

of me, I wouldn't mind getting out of the StayPuft suit for today."

Jarod watched as she jumped up and helped the young man out of the

protective gear. "Thanks, Xander."

"Happy to have my stuffing kicked for the greater good," he replied. "I'm

off to whine about my many injuries." Xander's eyes held a mischievous

twinkle. "Anya will be more than happy to make it all better."

"TMI Xander," Buffy warned in a mock serious tone. The young man just

laughed, then walked out of the room, leaving Buffy and Jarod alone.

"So," Buffy began conversationally, "you know how to fight?"

Jarod walked over to the punching bag and assumed the classic boxer's pose

before it. "A little," he replied, throwing a punch at the bag.

She followed him over to the bag, eyeing his form critically. He threw a few

more punches as she watched. She sighed, and he gave her a quizzically look.

"Jarod," she began, shaking her head in dismay, "I've been fighting inhuman baddies for a few years now. Without a word of a lie, you go up against one of them with *that*, and you are seriously toast." Another sigh escaped her. "Looks like we have work to do."



******************

Sunday Afternoon

The Plaza Hotel

Sunnydale, California

******************

A cold cup of coffee and a half eaten sandwich sat before Parker on the

table She flipped through the yellow pages, jotting down the names and

addresses of hotels and motels. Sydney sat in a chair across from her,

carefully going through the newspaper for possible stories that might have

piqued Jarod's thirst for helping the downtrodden. So far they were batting

zero.

Broots walked through the connecting door from the other room with a sheaf

of printouts in his hand. Parker looked up, and noticing the papers, held

out her hand. "Give."

He did so, then slid into a vacant chair beside her. "There is some

seriously weird stuff going on in this town, Miss Parker. I mean, Centre

class weird!"

Sydney frowned. "Please elaborate, Broots."

He quickly ran a hand through his scant hair before looking over at the

psychiatrist. "I started looking for anything about unusual occurrences in

graveyards here, as well as any references to a Convergence. I didn't find

anything on the latter, but," he gestured to the papers Miss Parker now

held. "You wouldn't believe this stuff! First of all, it just so happens

that graves in this town get disturbed - a lot. Fresh ones especially. They

have these holes right in the middle of them, like someone was trying to

tunnel down the coffin. Talk about creepy! And did you know that Sunnydale

has the highest rate of disappearances in the country? And unexplained

deaths. You would wonder why juicy facts like that don't end up on the front

page of the Enquirer. But they just don't." His face took on a serious

expression. "It's almost like a Centre town - weird stuff happens, people

just vanish, reports are filled and it's like the police just kind of...

forget about them. And not just that. Some of the stories that *have* made

it into the papers - well, the eyewitness reports could only be explained by

some sort of a hallucinogenic agent or mass hypnosis."

"You mean like the Mayor turning into a snake?" The disbelief was evident in

Parker's voice as she continued to read through the printouts.

"Yeah," Broots agreed. "And that's just one of many strange stories, though

I must admit it kinda topped out my weird-o-meter. Right up there with the

story about some demon that got into the Internet."

"People claim there are demons and vampires running rampant here? And there

is some kind of 'Vampire Hunter' who saves the day?" She snorted in derision

and looked up at the two men. "Are we absolutely certain the LA branch of

the Centre is *not* drugging the water supply and running experiments on the

locals?"

Sydney steepled his fingers and leaned back in his chair as he spoke. "If

something untoward is taking place in this town - and the evidence certainly

seems to indicate that is so - people want an explanation. If one cannot be

found, there are those who will seek one that fits their perception of the

facts, no matter how absurd."

"Fabulous. We're trapped in an episode of the X-Files." She snorted again,

then trust the papers back at Broots. "Okay, things that go bump in the

night aside, obviously something is going on here. I would hazard a guess

that's what got our boy's attention." Parker looked at her list for a

moment, then back up at her companions.

"Broots - you gather any background information you can find on the most

recent disappearances, or people who've died in mysterious circumstances. We

can sniff around their homes, places of work. Maybe we'll luck out and catch

boy wonder in the middle of a Pretend somewhere, but I'm not going to hold

my breath. Syd - hit all these hotels and motels. Find out if anyone's seen

our boy."

Syd raised an eyebrow. "And yourself, Miss Parker?" he inquired as the three

of them rose from the table.

Parker grabbed her jacket and her bag before glancing over at him. "There

are a few things I want to look into - alone." She grabbed the car keys off

the top of the TV set as she walked to the door.

"But, Miss Parker! How are we supposed to get anywhere?"

She almost giggled at the picture of consternation that Broots presented.

"C'mon Scoobie doo. Are you telling me you've never heard of public

transportation?"

The look on his face made her chuckle all the way to the car.



*********



"Can't you do any better than that?"

Jarod angrily wiped away the perspiration that was streaming down his face,

then spun around, executing a nasty snap kick. Into empty space. Buffy

snagged his ankle and yanked hard, sending him sprawling onto the mat.

Again. He glared up at her, very nearly sulking.

"Well you're improving a little," she judged as she turned to grab her water

bottle. "But you still-"

Jarod lunged off the mat and tackled her from behind, knocking her to the

floor. His victory was short lived however. She squirmed around under him

and used her feet to send him flying into the wall.

Buffy gave him and approving nod "Now you're getting the idea." She shot to

her feet. "Vamps and demons don't play fair, and neither should you."

The sparring session had been going on for the better part of an hour.

Though Jarod understood on an intellectual level the woman before him was of

greatly enhanced sped, strength and endurance, it had been difficult to

actually hit her. The very thorough trouncing he was receiving at her hands

was helping to change his mind, but he'd still been trying to 'play fair'.

She'd told him not to - and she certainly hadn't. Tackling her when she

wasn't looking offended his sense of honour. But he had to admit that after

being used as a punching bag for the last 60 minutes, it had definitely felt

good.

"Ready to go?" she challenged, and he answered her with wicked grin.

He rose to his feet and squared off against her again, slipping into a

relaxed fighting stance as they circled each other on the mat. He'd never

been a big fighter - no need when he could win most of his battles with

stealth, intelligence and well-planned stings, but he'd spent some time

learning the basics. Facing off against Buffy showed him that he was indeed

woefully prepared for physical confrontation.

He studied her, the way she moved, the way she carried her body, and

learned. He soaked it all up, committing it to memory, and incorporated it

into his own reactions. It was poetry in motion. He smiled at the thought.

"A penny for them."

"Hmm?"

She feinted right, then jabbed left, grazing his chest as he rolled with the

punch.

"What are you thinking?"

She aimed a spinning kick at his head, but he ducked low and swept her leg

from under her. She hit the mat and rolled back to her feet in one smooth

motion.

"It just occurred to me," he mused as he responded with a punch and kick

combination of his own which she narrowly avoided, "that this fighting - it's kind of like we're dancing."

Jarod was surprised at the dark look that unexpectedly clouded her face.

Surprise turned to shock when she unleashed a suddenly flurry of brutal

kicks and punches. He blocked and twisted but it was too much, too fast. A

foot connected with his head, a fist rammed into his kidney and suddenly he

was down on the mat hard with a blond spitfire hovering over him, fury just

barely checked. He felt a trickle of blood seeping from above his eye.

"This is *not* just for fun! It's life and death," she growled at him, then

stomped across the room and grabbed a towel. He sat up painfully and watched

her. She stood still for a moment then let out a big sigh and came back over

to him.

"Here." She sat down beside him and dabbed at the blood with the towel. "I

got a little carried away."

He winced as she touched a raw spot. "I noticed."

"I'm sorry." She spoke quietly, but the remorse was evident in her voice.

He gave her a reassuring smile. "I'll live." He looked at her inquisitively.

"I'd rather not get pounded on again, but... could you please tell me what I

did?"

Buffy sighed. "It's not you. I just kinda have an issue with the whole

dancing thing." At his mystified look, she explained. "Back when Spike was

chipless, that's what he used to call it. A dance. We would fight, I would

kick his ass and he would come back for more. Our little dance."

"So, why didn't you ever kill him?"

"Oh, at first he always managed to slip away before I could get a stake into

him. Then, when he was in the wheelchair, it would have been too easy."

"Wheelchair?"

"Long story. Anyway, it wasn't long after that he got chipped. And he came

to us for help. Staking him then would have been fish in a barrel

territory." Her expression grew pensive. "There are times when I wish I had

though. 'cuz we're still dancing, but now it's one I don't know the steps

to."

Jarod studied the woman before him, and things began to jell. It was

strange, but it didn't really surprise him when he thought about it. The

Slayer and the vampire. It really wasn't all that different from what he and

Miss Parker had; hunter and hunted - and more. He loved his huntress. Should

it really be so odd that the vampire loved the Slayer? It looked like Parker

and Buffy had a bit more in common then attitude and witty lines.

He shifted and unsteadily got to his feet, the Slayer popping up beside him.

"Are you sure your okay?" she asked.

"I'm sure. Just sore."

"Wanna go again tomorrow?"

"Yes." He gave her a grin. "And I promise to never to talk about dancing

again."

Their laughter filled the air as they left the room.



*************



Parker walked along the beach, enjoying the sounds of the surf, the warmth

of the sun. She slipped her shoes off and let the sand squish between her

toes. It had been a long time since she'd been able to do something like

that.

As she studied the area, she realized that it resembled the beach in her

dream. Nearby was a children's playground. A lovely park stretched out

behind the playground. She left the sand and stepped onto the cool grass.

After a moment, she threw her sandals back on and strolled through it.

As she walked, her thoughts turned back to Jarod. Was boy wonder even here

or was she just on some kind of wild goose chase? Things were certainly back

to normal as far as appearances went. Unfortunately, it seemed whenever she

thought of Jarod these days, her heart traitorous heart reminded her of the

aborted kiss in front of Ocee's fire. And the look of pain in his face when

she'd pulled her hands from his in the back of the Towncar at the airport.

Like she needed more complications in her already fucked up life.

Pulling herself from her reverie, she realized that she'd walked several

blocks from the beach. She was about to turn around when she saw something

that made the hair at the back of her neck stand on end. It was the

graveyard from her dream.

"This just keeps getting weirder," she mused.

Steeling up her resolve, Parker headed into the graveyard, wandering between

the markers that stood in mute testament to those who lay buried there. It

was deserted, almost peaceful. As she walked, the old marble and granite

headstones and crosses gave way to the newer flat markers that made mowing

the grass in a cemetery so much easier. She found herself walking faster as

she approached the outer perimeter of the graveyard, feeling as though there

were somewhere she needed to be. She reached the street that ran in front of

the graveyard and stopped. A little ways down on the other side of the road

was the burnt out wreckage of what appeared to have once been a school. A

high fence surrounded it, locked up with chains. Parker felt a chill go

through her. There was something about this place, something that wasn't

good. She felt both drawn and repulsed, an internal war waging within her.

*I need to get out of here.*

There were few things that truly frightened Miss Parker. She'd faced Raines,

a T-Board, her psycho brother, death - but something about that place scared

her on a level that she'd never experienced before. Parker spun around and

ran away from the place as fast as her legs could carry her.

The most frightening thing of all was that she could almost swear she heard her father laughing.

~*~*~

The Ice Cream Parlor was mostly empty. Jarod and Buffy sat at a table in the

back talking. The conversation had ranged the full spectrum of topics from

his most interesting pretends and forays against the Centre to her most

intriguing battles. She'd giggled when he'd told her about some of the more

bizarre gifts he'd sent as clues to his 'Scooby gang'. It was kind of fun

to 'talk shop' with someone - especially one who could appreciate his

sometimes childish sense of humour. He'd sat in awe as she'd described some

of the scarier moments in her career as Slayer; dealing with the Master,

Spike and the Gem of Amara, Adam. Glory the Hellgod.

After describing how Willow and the Scoobies had brought her back, she'd

begun to falter. He sensed there were things that she didn't want to delve

into. After a few tense moments, Buffy forced a smile and changed the

subject.

"So, tell me" she asked while devouring her chocolate fudge sundae, "does

all the justice wreaking play havoc with your love life too, or do you have

a girlfriend?"

Jarod eyed the young blond woman from overtop his double banana split before

responding. "Havoc?"

She sighed. "It's a little difficult trying to have any kind of

relationship when you're busy saving the world from vampires, demons and the

occasional apocalypse." Buffy cocked her head to one side and gave him a

small grin. "I figured that doing all the sting-y stuff to bad guys probably

causes the same kind of problems for you."

He smiled. "There is that. I've met a few ladies along the way, but it never

worked out."

"Tell me about them," Buffy demanded imperiously.

He rolled his eyes.

"Aww, c'mon! Spill. You *know* you wanna," she cajoled.

"I..." he hesitated.

She tilted her head forward and gave him a menacing look. "Do I have to

threaten you with a stake? Give it up!"

He chuckled at that. "Okay," he finally conceded, throwing his hands up in

mock surrender. "There was Nia... she was wonderful, but, all we really

shared was pain. We'd both suffered so much, and we could comfort each

other. Then there was Rachel." He grimaced at the memory of his behavior

with the profiler. "Well, she was a mistake. And Zoe. Zoe was

sweet, flighty, full of life. She was nothing like anyone I had ever met." A

sad look came to his face. "But she deserved someone who loved her whole

heartedly. And she also deserved to not have the Centre use her to get at

me."

His face became serious. "Sometimes, though, your heart makes an untenable

choice." He took another bite before going on. "I have found that it is not subject to reason."

"Okay," she gave him a mock frown as she shook her spoon at him. "You've

gone all Cryptic Boy on me here, and just so you know, that job is already

taken."

Jarod just cocked an eyebrow at her.

Buffy tried again. "In words and phrases that make sense to me, please?"

"Ah." He simplified. "Sometimes you fall for the absolutely wrong person.

Your mind knows, but your heart doesn't care."

After studying him for a moment, she nodded in understanding. All the

stories he'd been sharing, the warmth and affection in his voice as he

talked about *her* made sense. "You're in love with Miss Parker."

He pensively gazed out the window for a minute before returning his

attention to her. "Yeah. I am. I guess I always have been.

She gave him a sympathetic smile. "I *so* understand about that. Bad

choices, unreasonable heart - I'm there."

He cocked an eyebrow. "Really? So it's not just Spike who's in love with you

then?"

"What?" she faltered. "No! I mean, yes! I mean, what are you implying?" She

crossed her arms and glared at him.

Jarod smiled. She really did remind him of Parker when she did that. "Well,

the tension between you is obvious. Sometimes you just 'click' with another

person-"

Buffy interrupted. "He's not a person, He's a Vampire."

He continued, unfazed. "-but the two of you have this connection that

positively crackles with electricity. It reminds me a lot of what it feels

like when I'm in a room with Miss Parker." His smile became a grin. "She

deals with her feelings in a similar fashion. Over the years I've learned to

read her pretty well, and I think I can safely say that you're giving off

'conflicted love' signals."

"I... I am *not* in love with Spike!"

"Then the 'I'm there' comment meant what exactly?"

She backpedaled. "I, I meant, been there, done that. That's all. Yeah.

That's me. Been-there-Before Girl."

"But you told me yourself, Buffy."

"What? I think I would remember that!" she protested hotly. "And since I

don't remember suffering any bouts of amnesia lately-"

Jarod let the obvious comment pass unsaid. "In the training room. You said

that the two of you are still dancing; plural."

"Yeah, yeah, takes two to tango. Well, I'm not tangoing!"

"Tangoing?"

"Never mind. Just - argh! I don't want to talk about this, okay?"

He looked into sea green eyes that harboured pain and confusion. "Okay."

Buffy pushed the melted remnants of her sundae away. "Let's get out of here.

It's going to take at least 3 vamps to work off those calories."

Jarod took the last bite of his banana split, then picked up both their

plastic dishes and deposited them in the trash. "Actually, being that there

were approximately 458 calories in that sundae." He looked her over top to

bottom. "Someone your size burns about 95 calories in 10 minutes of doing

high impact aerobics - which I suppose would be a lot like fighting off a

vampire - so, if it takes you 10 minutes to kill one, I would change that to

at least 4 vampires," he said with a smirk.

She scowled and punched him in the arm. "Shut up, Jarod! You are so *not*

helping!"

He chuckled and rubbed his arm as they walked out of the shop.



********

Parker stared out the window from her booth in the rear of the Espresso Pump

and nursed her double shot latte. What she *really* wanted was her bottle of

Glenfiddich and a shot glass, but barring that, caffeine was the next best

thing. Besides, she didn't have a clue where the bars in Sunnyhell were

anyway.

Everything was normal. Totally fine. Parker figured if she told herself that

enough times, she'd start to believe it. Not that she was having much luck

so far, but she was working on it.

Time to check in. She pulled out her cell, hit a preset and waited.

"Sydney here."

"Find anything?"

"Mr. Broots has several leads that fit the criteria. However, I feel it is

highly unlikely that Jarod is here for any of them. None are high profile,

and none were reported outside of the state. Or the county for that matter.

In my opinion, the probability of Jarod investigating one of these cases is

exceedingly low."

Parker swore softly. "And you? Anyone identify our boy?"

"None of the front desk clerks at the hotels I visited recognized his photo,

but you must remember, this is day staff. It is likely he checked in late in

the evening."

"Anyone registered under the name of Jarod?"

"Broots is attempting to gain access to the computer registry of each hotel.

It'll take a little time."

"Call me if you find something."

Parker disconnected and slipped the phone back into her jacket pocket. The

need to do something other than sit here trying not to think about the dread

that had overwhelmed her earlier drove her towards the door. She stopped in

front of the cashier first and pulled out a somewhat worn 5"x7", displaying

it for the young woman's perusal.

"Have you seen this man?"

The girl studied the photo for a moment, then looked up. "Nope. Sorry," came

the apologetic response.

Parker took a sip of coffee, slipped the photo back in her pocket and left

the coffee shop. Time to do some old fashioned recon. She headed off down

the street.

******

Giles stretched, the hours of being hunched over texts and working on

translation taking its toll. He was close to being done, but instead of

simplifying things, the new translation was causing a brand new headache.

With a sigh, he rose and stepped to the doorway of his office, and called

across the room.

"Willow, could you please bring me the 'Guide to ancient Sumerian'?

The red head nodded. Walking over to the 'for in-store reading only'

bookshelf, she glanced through the titles. A moment later she found the text

and pulled it, bringing it over to Giles.

"Stuck?" she inquired.

"Not exactly," he replied, paging through the book.

Willow peered down at the scribbled notes that lay all over Giles' desk.

"Whatcha got so far?"

"The part of the prophecy that states the Slayer and the Chosen One must

join to fight - it appears to have been translated rather loosely. The text

I just deciphered is a very similar prophecy, but it says the two must

become one." He glanced up from the book for a moment. "This language is

very precise - there is no of use similes. I'm afraid that it's meant to be

literal."

"Well, maybe the one you just finished was wrong, and the one we found first

was right."

He found what he was looking for in the volume Willow had brought him. He

read it, re-read it, then looked up with a frown. "I wish that were so. But

the first was translated from the Sumerian, and according to this," he said,

indicating the book in his hands, "the use of the verb join in that context

is also meant in a literal sense."

Willow grew agitated. "But, Giles, how?" A look of horror flashed across her

face. "You don't think it means... you know... becoming *one* in a, a biblical sense do you?"

Giles shook his head. "There is an entirely different verb for that. No,

this means literally one - their individual essences combining in a fashion

similar to the way we assisted Buffy in the fight against Adam. However,

this battle will be a supernatural one rather than physical." He put the

book down, and then crossed his arms. "When they are joined, their bodies

will be vulnerable to attack." Giles turned a serious gaze on Willow. "We

are going to need magical help."

A cold lump formed in Willow's stomach. "Magic?" she squeaked out. "Um, you

better call Tara, she's-"

"I plan to. But Willow, Tara does not have the skill required to perform

this herself. The spells needed for this to work are quite advanced. It's

highly unlikely she could even manage them with assistance. You're the only

one who can."

"No. No, I can't, Giles, I just can't!" She back away from him, shaking her

head.

"Willow." Giles cut her off. "I know you're frightened - and with good

reason. You did some incredibly dangerous and stupid things with your magic.

But Buffy is going to need your help. Tara is simply not powerful enough to

face this."

Fear enveloped her. "Well, maybe - maybe I'm not powerful enough to face it

either," she argued.

"You went up against a Hellgod, and your held your own for awhile - that

bespeaks incredible strength," he assured her.

He saw the stricken look in her eyes as she continued shakily. "What if I'm

not strong enough to resist the pull of the magic again? What if I get lost

in it? What kind of help will I be then?"

Giles placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "You won't let that happen,

Willow. You already made that choice. And you won't be alone. Tara will be

there to help steady you, give you an anchor. But ultimately, you are the

one we really need for this to work. We can't do it without you."

Tears flowed freely down the young witch's face. "But Giles, I'm so,

s-s-scared!" she buried her face in her hands.

The Watcher pulled her in gently, wrapping his arms around her in a tender,

fatherly hug. "It's good to be scared, Willow. Hold on to the healthy fear.

Remember the purpose of this magic - it is a tool to be used in achieving a

goal, not the ultimate goal in and of itself."

They stood there for a bit, until she collected herself and finally pulled

away. Fishing a Kleenex out of her sweater pocket, Willow wiped her nose,

then gave Giles a nod and a wavery smile.

"I guess I better go look into some spells then, huh?"





Anya wandered about tidying up as she prepared to close the shop. She came

to a sudden stop as she caught the title of the book Willow was reading.

"That's a spell book."

The red head started guiltily. "Oh! Yes. it is." Her face flushed. "Giles! I

mean, Giles asked me. To help. With spells I mean.."

Anya held up a hand to stop her explanation. "Good. Glad to hear it."

Willow just stared at her. "Good?"

Anya gave her a 'duh' look. "You made a total mess of it for a while-"

"Thanks for the gentle reminder," muttered the witch under her breath.

"-but the important thing is that you take responsibility for your choices."

Anya cocked her head to the side, folding her arms across her chest as she

studied the woman before her in the particularly blatant manner that she

had. "You *have* finally gotten it about what you really did wrong, right?"

Willow looked back at her warily. "I got in too deep. The magic was making

me do things-"

"No, Willow," Anya cut her off with an exasperated sigh. "You still don't

get it. It was never about the magic. It was about you."

"What do you mean?" she demanded hotly.

"You need to take some responsibility. Magic is kind of like electricity. It

only hurts you when you are careless, or when you don't know what you're

doing. Your problem was power, not magic. *You* always had to be in control,

*you* had to decide what was best for the rest of us. you took our power

away from us."

The red head opened her mouth to protest, but the objection died on her

lips, unspoken. The understanding had already begun, but Anya's words drove

it home. Painfully. Her eyes dropped to her hands as the fidgeted with the

pages of the spell book.

Anya gave a quick nod. "Good. You're getting it. You did the right thing

when you walked away and admitted you needed help. And now is the right time

to come back." The ex-demon fixed her with a stare. "Just don't screw up

again." Suddenly cheerful, she leaned forward and patted Willow awkwardly on

the shoulder. "I'm sure you'll do fine."

Willow watched as Anya walked off to finish straightening up. The ex-demon

sometimes surprised her with her insight, wisdom and acceptance. She could

only hope that Xander and Buffy would take the news as well.

~*~*~

"That'll be three bucks."

Spike smiled across the bar at Willie. "Put it on my tab."

The unkempt bartender just scowled as he set the pint down in front of the

vampire. "You already owe damn near fifty bucks, Spike."

"Willie, Willie," Spike admonished with lazy grin," You *know* I'm good for

it."

The snitch grumbled, shot one more glower at Spike for good measure, then

ambled off to go serve another customer.

The blonde vamp picked up his drink, turned around on his barstool and

leaned back on one elbow. There didn't seem to be a lot going on tonight. He

took a long pull on his beer and debated whether or not to join the

ever-present poker game. He was sure Clem would front him a kitten or two.

His train of thought was rapidly derailed by the woman who blew into the bar

like she owned it. After goggling for a split second like every other male

in the place, he composed himself. Taking a sip of his drink, he watched her

surreptitiously over the rim of the glass.

The leggy brunette didn't waste any time. She gestured to Willie, who just

about fell over himself to get to her. Leaning across the counter, she spoke

quietly to the barkeeper. Willie's face twisted into a lewd smirk as he

responded. Spike saw the woman's eyebrow twitch, and then watched in

amusement as her hand shot out, grabbed the front of Willie's not-so-clean

shirt and pulled him halfway across the bar.

He took another sip of beer and smiled. This was better than the telly.

Irritation had obviously gotten the best of the woman, because this time

Spike could plainly hear what she was asking over the surrounding bar noise.

"Look at me like that again you scum sucking bottom feeder, and I'll put a

bullet in your kneecap. Say that again, and I'll have your balls for

earrings. Now let's try this one more time. Are you the information guy or

not?"

The cool, deadly voice sent a tingle up the vampire's spine. He had

suspicions that it was sending a warm trickle down Willie's leg.

"Uh, I.. yeah-"

She let him go with a shove, then pulled a photo out of her jacket. "Have

you seen this man?"

The quivering barkeeper took a quick glance. "N-no, never seen h-him

before."

She leaned in closer. "You're certain?"

Willie nodded frantically.

"There's only one more thing, then." There was a frightening finality in her

tone, and Willie swallowed convulsively.

"Err... w-what?"

She tapped one perfectly manicured, red painted fingernail on the countertop

in front of her. "Double scotch. Neat. And don't give me any of that cheap

crap. Single malt."

Ten seconds later, a heavy glass full of fine scotch sat before the woman.

Spike marveled. He'd never seen Willie move that fast. Other than when

someone was trying to kill him, of course.

She intrigued him and he stretched his sense to their limits, curious to

learn more about her. Through the stink of Willie's sweat and terror, he

caught a whiff of her scent. A top note of swagger, full of adrenaline and a

little alcohol - this wasn't her first scotch of the evening, apparently.

Under it, he was surprised to discern a bottom note of fear. Both were

blended well with a middle note of tough bitchiness, which resulted in one

hell on an intoxicating perfume. It was almost a pity he didn't feed

anymore - she would have been exquisite.

It looked like the fun was over, though. He finished his beer, set down the

glass and decided to pass up cards in favour of tonight's Movie of the Week.

As he strolled past the brunette, he glanced down at the picture that she'd

left lying on the counter. His eyes widened when he saw the pretender

staring mournfully out of the photo.

Without any more obvious reaction, he kept moving out of the bar, then

slipped into the alley to wait for her. A smile lighted on his lips as he

considered this new development. So *that* was the Miss Parker the ponce had

been talking about. The hyper intelligent git had left out a few things -

like the bitchiness that made Cordelia seem like Pollyanna, and killer legs

that just didn't quit. Added a certain thrill to being hunted, he'd wager.

He knew all about *that* in a close and personal way himself.



Spike kept to the shadows as he followed her. He'd thought about heading

over to the Magic Box to give the Scooby Gang the heads up, but he really

didn't want to loose track of her. So now here he was, skulking through

alleys playing private dick instead of slouched in front of the telly with a

mug of warm blood. All over some wicked bird he couldn't even bite. Bloody

hell.

Across the street from him, the Parker stopped suddenly. She panned slowly

around, eyes scanning until she was staring directly at him, still hidden in

the shadows. He knew she couldn't see him, but her gaze never wavered. A

split second later, a 9mm was aimed at him.

"Don't be shy." Her voice carried strong and clear with an implicit promise

of bodily injury.

Spike grinned. Damn, she was good.

He casually sauntered over, pulling out his Marlboroughs and lighting up as

he stopped in front of her. No sense passing up on a fag now that he'd been

spotted.

"Not at all, luv." He favoured her with an insolent smile, then blew a smoke

ring in her direction.

***

Parker watched the pale figure in the leather duster approach. As he'd drawn

closer, she'd realized he was the one who'd been watching her in the bar. A

voice in the back of her head screamed that something just wasn't right

about this guy. She kept her gun trained on him.

"You've been pretty blatant about your interest all evening," she stated

coolly, eyebrow cocked. "I'd advise you to give me a good reason why I

shouldn't shoot you a brand new belly button."

She was a little nonplussed when his smile grew wider. "I bet you say that

to all the boys."

He was flirting with her! Now she was definitely going to have to take out

at least one kneecap. Even if he was rather attractive in a

Kiefer-Sutherland-Lost-Boys kind of way.

"Why are you following me?"

Spike took a long pull on his cigarette, and ignored her question. "So,

who's the bloke?"

She glanced around to confirm they were alone, and then narrowed her eyes.

"What?"

"The fellah you're lookin' for?" he supplied helpfully.

Parker's expression went from confused to deadly. Now she understood. "Have

you seen him?"

Spike smirked at her, took another drag, then flicked the cigarette away.

"And what if I have?" he answered, insolence radiating from him.

Her aim had relaxed, the gun pointing at the ground during their verbal

sparring session. Parker whipped it back up, settled the hand holding the

gun into the palm of the other, and flicked off the safety "Where and when?"

He chuckled. "Well, hey now, what's in it for me?"

In three strides, Parker was in front of him. She grabbed the front of his

duster with her free hand and shoved him against the nearby building, then

stuck her 9mm right up under his chin.

"Maybe this little factoid escaped your notice, but *I'm* the one asking the

questions here. You're giving the answers."

"Oooh, kinky. You like handcuffs too?"

A look of incredulity came to her face. "What part of 'I have a gun and you

cower in fear' are you not getting?" she demanded.

The smirk was back. "Hmmm. I think that would be the cowering in fear part.

Parker just stared at him, completely nonplussed. After a moment, she backed

away and slipped her gun back into its holster, shaking her head in

disbelief. "I think I've just found Jarod's evil twin," she muttered under

her breath.

"What's that you said?"

"I said, you couldn't possibly be a natural blonde. You are *far* too

irritating."

He cocked an eyebrow and leered at her. "You know it, luv."

Parker flashed back briefly to Brigitte's use of the same word. She shoved

him back into the wall, hard. "Don't call me 'luv'!"

Spike winced as his skull cracked against the brick wall. He rubbed the back

of his head, then glanced up at her with a smile. "You like to play rough,

eh pet? I like that in a woman."

Folding her arms across her midriff, she gave him a glare. "Have you seen

him or not?" She struggled to make her expression more conciliatory. "What

do you want? I'm sure I can make it worth your while to part with a little

information."

He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "I'm sure you can, pet."

Fury was evident on her face, but before she could get the next cutting barb

out, he held up a hand. "Cor, but you're a feisty one. Look, ducks, why

don't you buy me a drink and we'll talk, hmmm?"

Against her better judgment, Parker nodded. As they walked, she watched him

warily. After the last several hours of fruitless searching, she was

unwilling to lose the one lead she had. Add to that the fact she was in

serious need of another shot of scotch, and better judgment flew straight

out the window. She needed to keep her mind busy with finding Jarod, or

worrying about something this smart ass might try. It would keep her mind

from endlessly replaying the disturbing events from earlier in the day.



***



Buffy gave the Pretender walking beside her a sidelong glance and smirked

for the umpteenth time that evening. She *so* loved winning fights.

Even Giles had agreed that given the increase in vampire activity, Jarod

should have an escort back to his hotel. He had objected, of course. After

Buffy had pointed out that he was an important player in the upcoming

convergence and that she wasn't willing to let him get killed because of

misplaced pride, he'd been rather miffed. He'd insisted he'd had plenty of

experience eluding hunters. Willow mentioned that Miss Parker was limited to

human strength and speed, and that vampires were a lot more dangerous, at

which Jarod had muttered, "You obviously don't know Parker." At that point,

Giles had put his foot down in his own inimitable way. After displaying

broodiness on par with Angel's, Jarod had acquiesced.

They were cutting up a back alley behind Willie's when Buffy found herself

slammed back against the brick wall, Jarod's body pressed ardently into hers

like a lover's. She looked up at him in shock, but held her tongue when she

saw him staring wide eyed towards the alley's entrance, fear evident on his

face.

"Jarod, wha-"

His eyes were on hers. "Just trust me. And pretend."

And then he was kissing her. Her first instinct was to knee him in the groin

and toss him into the dumpster. When that reaction passed, she realized that

he wasn't pawing her, or trying to kiss her deeply, just smooth warm lips on

hers, arms that held her close - a feigned image of intimacy. She slipped

her arms around his neck, and then whispered against his lips.

"What the hell is going on?"

"Parker's at the mouth of the alley. She's with your friend, Spike. They'll

see us if we try to move.

"So you needed to kiss me?"

He pulled back and she could see even in the dim light that colour had risen

in his cheeks. "I - well, Zoe did that to me once when she was trying to

hide from someone. It worked for her."

"Jarod, if they come down here, Spike will know. Vampire. Heightened

senses."

He looked at her, curiosity asserting itself even in dangerous circumstance.

"He'd be able to smell that there were humans, or that it was us

specifically?"

It was Buffy's turn to blush. She had no intentions of explaining to the

Pretender exactly why Spike would know her scent well enough to smell it

through the ripe odor surrounding them. "Something like that.

After a glance over his shoulder, he removed her hands and pulled away from

her. "They're gone." He sprinted down the alley. Buffy let out an

exasperated sigh and followed him. Jarod stopped at the corner and carefully

peeked around. "They're gone," he repeated, this time with consternation. He

started down the street in the direction he'd seen his huntress and the

vampire headed.

Buffy stepped up and put her hand on his arm. "Jarod, we are *not* chasing

after them." She looked up at him beseechingly. "You can't take the risk

that she might capture you. We *need* you."

He glared at her angrily. "But she's with a *vampire*!"

She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Yeah, a *chipped* vampire, don't forget."

He looked torn.

"God, I never thought that I would be saying this to anyone, but. you can

trust Spike. He won't hurt her."

He took a deep breath, and then let it out, nodding.

"C'mon, Genius-boy, let's get you back to your hotel before we meet up with

some vamps of the non-chipped variety.

The set back off towards the hotel.

"How the hell did she find me?" Jarod wondered aloud. "I didn't send her any

clues. Hell, I didn't even know I was coming here until a few hours before I

did. How on *earth* did she know where I'd be?"

Buffy had a bad feeling that nothing on earth had anything to do with it at

all.

***



Not even ten minutes later, Buffy stood in the entrance of Willie's bar

looking for any sign of Spike or Miss Parker. She wasn't disappointed. The

two of them sat at the bar, with a nearly empty bottle of scotch and a shot

glass each in front of them. Spike was pouring the tall brunette another

shot as she approached.

"Look, you shit," the woman was saying unpleasantly, "Don't think you can

get me drunk. You said 6 shots, this is 6 shots. I want some goddamn

answers, and I fucking well want them now!" Buffy stopped short, her eyes

wide with bemusement as she watched the woman toss back the scotch before

slamming the shot glass back on the counter.

"We played your stupid game. Now," the brunette demanded. "Where. Is.

Jarod?"

Before Spike had a chance to reply, Buffy put on her best Buffy-Bot

impersonation and bounced up to the blonde vampire.

"Spike! Honey!" She slipped her arm around the startled vampire's shoulders,

while giving Parker a brittle smile. She turned her gaze on him, eyes

flashing warning. "What are you doing? I thought we were supposed to do that

thing tonight. "

He understood the charade, but as he was never one to pass up on an

opportunity, he pulled Buffy in close for a steamy kiss. Willie looked like

he was going to have kittens. Parker looked like she was going to heave. And

Buffy looked angry enough to rip him apart with her bare hands. God, he

loved that girl!

"Hello, luv," he murmured before letting her pull back. "I was just aiding a

tourist is all. Would have been on my way shortly."

After a private glare that promised pain and retribution, she glanced back

up at the other woman to find Parker staring at her with a look of shocked

disbelief on her face.

"What?"



For a moment, Parker thought that her mind must have been paying tricks on

her. She squeezed her eyes tightly closed, then blinked a few times before

looking back up at the slender girl who had just added herself to the

equation. After a second look, there was no doubt about it; she'd know that

face anywhere. The woman standing next to the annoying blonde she'd been

trying to pry information from was the woman from her dream.

"Just when I think this nightmare I call my life couldn't possibly get

anymore bizarre, it suddenly does," Parker muttered as she pulled her 9mm.

She leaned in close to Buffy, her jacket concealing the weapon from the rest

of the room. "I *know* that you know Jarod. Don't even ask how, it's too

fucking bizarre for words and you wouldn't believe me if I told you. But you

*can* believe this. I'm going to get some answers toot sweet, or someone is

going to lose a kneecap."

The two blondes stared at her silently, and Parker felt her hysteria

threatening to rise. She jabbed the gun hard into the woman's abdomen and

was glad to see that she winced.

"What the hell is *wrong* with you people? Do you *all* have a fucking death

wish?" Parker hissed.

Spike tightened his grip on the woman's shoulder and his expression was

grim. "I'd advise you to put away your gun, pet. You're not gonna like the

consequences if you don't."

"I'm not going to..." she trailed off, dumbfounded. A second later Parker

was right in his face, mere inches separating them. "Don't you get the gun

thing now that it's pointed at your girlfriend?"

"I'm not his girlfriend," the young woman interjected testily.

Parker shook her head in wonder. "You fucking well ought to be, you're

obviously just as whacked in the head as peroxide boy here is. Enough of

this shit already. Just tell me where I can find Jarod!"



Spike studied the woman carefully. He was ready to take her out, and to hell

with the pain, but it was obvious that she was no amateur. She'd likely put

at least 2 slugs in Buffy's stomach before he could rip her throat out.

"Look, I really don't know where he is." His voice was even and calm,

belying the fear in his gut. "But I can find him. Bring him to you."

"No deal, blondie." Parker turned her attention to Buffy. "I *know* you've

seen him. I bet you know where he is too."

Buffy could feel her fury rising and instinctively tried assume a defensive

stance. The cold metal that dug into her stomach reminded her to remain

still. "And what if I do?"

"Then you tell me, and I leave you here with your fellow bottle blonde and

you two can compare brain cells while I take Jarod back where he belongs."

"Back to the Centre you mean?"

"I've had about enough of you, little girl. I have had a crappy week and a hellish day culminating in this oh-so-fucked up conversation with the two of you. You do *not* want to get involved in this. Normally I would take pains to make sure civilians didn't get caught in the cross fire, but I've Just. Fucking. HAD IT! So unless you wanna *be* the weakest link, give up his location and be happy I didn't put a slug in any part of your boyfriend's anatomy that you might want to make use of later."

Spike's eyes widened slightly. There it was again, stronger this time. Under

the powerful bouquet of bravado and bluster, which carried with it a very

real willingness to inflict some pain, was the cloying scent of terror. The

woman was half crazed with fear. Something strange was going on. Like that

was a bloody surprise here on the Hellmouth.

The three of them sat starting at one another, the moment dragging on into

infinity. The tension threatened to snap spines, and make skulls explode.

Parker's finger tightened on the trigger. Something had to give.

All three of them jerked convulsively at the jangling tone of a cell phone

ringing. Parker took a deep, steadying breath before reaching into her

pocket to pull it out and answer it.

"What?"

The two captives watched warily as one corner of Parker's mouth curved up in

a wicked smile.

"Where?"

Vampire and Slayer glanced at each other, knowing that it could mean only

one thing - someone working with Parker had located Jarod.

Parker hit the off switch and slipped the phone back into her pocket, before

sliding off the barstool and re-holstering her weapon. "Looks like I don't

need your help after all. I would advise you to stay here, though. You never

can tell what might happen in a dark alley." With that parting shot, she was

gone.

Buffy dove for the trap door to the sewer access near the storage area. She

ignored Willie's complaints about disrupting his business and jumped down

into the damp passageway, the ankle high water soaking through her tennis

shoes in seconds. Spike splashed down beside her a moment later.

"Look, you -"

"Shut *up*, Slayer. I'm coming with you. That bint is bloody dangerous."

They set off at a dead run for the access tunnel to the Twin Palms Inn.



Jarod paced. 6 steps. Turn. 6 steps. Turn. He needed to be doing something.

Dragging a hand through his hair with a sigh of frustration, he flopped on

the bed and picked up another of the books that Giles had lent him.

It was all about magical rituals. The Watcher had said that he and Buffy had

to be joined in some kind of arcane ceremony - it all sounded like a fantasy

novel, with spells and ceremonies and such. He'd understood what Giles had

explained, but it seemed so unreal. All of it did. Even having seen Spike

show his vampiric face, having sparred with Buffy and felt first hand her

unbelievable strength, his logical, ordered, literal mind was struggling to

cope. He was beginning to understand Parker's need for scotch.

Speaking of his favorite huntress, it was time for him to find a more secure

location. Hotels were far too visible. He was sure that Broots was searching

for him in reservation and guest lists even now. He pushed himself off the

bed and grabbed his bag. In a few short minutes, everything was neatly

stowed away. He debated briefly over staying one more night, or moving

immediately in spite of the risks associated with being out after dark in

Sunnydale. A fist pounding on the door interrupted his musings.

"Jarod! Open up!"

At the sound of Buffy's voice, the pretender moved quickly to the door and

pulled it open to find her and Spike standing in the hallway.

"What-"

"No time," the vampire bit out as he shoved by him and took a few steps into the room. He stopped and looked around in surprise, and cocked an eyebrow at the other man. "You were already planning to leave."

"Well, I thought-"

Buffy cut him off. "Good. Grab your stuff, lets go."

Jarod studied the two of them, then nodded and slipped his shoes on.

"Parker?" he asked as he grabbed his laptop.

Spike shouldered Jarod's bag and nodded as the trio headed down the hallway

and down the stairs. "That's one nasty bitch you've got after your ass,

brain-boy. Can't say I blame you for runnin' for dear life whenever she gets

within spittin' distance."

Jarod clenched his jaw, but the vampire saw the fire in his eyes and

couldn't resist the urge to continue needling him. "Yeah, she's a right

mouthy piece of work. It'd take a real man to put her in her place, I'd

wager. I guess you're just not up for the challenge, eh mate?"

A sudden sharp pain shot through his shoulder as Buffy punched him. "Oi!

Slayer! What the hell?"

"Spike, I know you can't help that you're a pain in the ass," she hissed at

him through clenched teeth, "but could you just shut up until we get him out

of here safely?"

"Ruin my fun," he grumbled as he pushed open the door that led the lobby. To

find Parker about to step into the elevator.

"Oh, *bugger*!"



How the hell had they gotten here before her? How the hell had they gotten

here without her being aware? She'd watched the street; they hadn't exited

the bar until she was at least a block a way, she'd have known. God DAMN it,

could *nothing* go right for her in the god forsaken shit hole?

"Stop right there!" she had her gun out and trained on the three of them.

"Come on, Jarod, you don't want some innocent people getting hurt because of

*you* now, do you?"

The blonde man stepped in front of Jarod and the woman and flashed her a

smile. "Well you never know, luv - some of us really aren't all that

innocent. And it might just be that we like a lil' pain. Keeps things spiced

up, y'know what I mean?" He winked lasciviously, then shoved the other two

back into the stairwell, and slammed the door behind them.

Parker screamed in frustration. She flew at him and landed a roundhouse that

would have dropped any sweeper like a sack of bricks. His head snapped back

with the punch and a trickle of blood appeared at the corner of his mouth

but still he stood, in front of the door, and smirked at her. His lips

parted slightly and his tongue darted out to lick the blood away.

"You're a silly girl," he said, shaking his head with a sigh. "There are

things going on that you know nothing about. That you don't *want* to know

anything about." He took a step towards her, and the little voice of warning

for earlier in the alley was back shrieking in full force. She tried to hold

the gun steady before her, but the combination of the day's exhausting

events and way too much scotch was finally catching up with her. He easily

batted the gun from her grasp and sent it skidding across the floor.

"You think you can take me on, pet? You think you're the Big Bad, do you?"

He stepped around her, behind her, looked at her from over her shoulder.

"Yeah, you're scary alright, with that big gun and your bad assed attitude.

I see why you have brain-boy on the run. But what, I have to wonder, has got

the wicked witch so bloody frightened?"

Parker gasped, tried to step away from him. He was right behind her. She

turned to face him, continuing to back away, and found herself backed right

into the wall beside the stairwell. He stepped in, his body right up against

hers.

"Get away from me."

"Make me."

He easily avoided her attempt to knee him. She tried to shove him away, but

it was like pushing a granite block. She finally opened her mouth to scream.

"I'll kiss you if you do that."

Her mouth snapped shut.

He nodded. "Good."

"I'm not afraid of you."

He laughed, and leaned in close, and for a second Parker thought he was

going to kiss her. Instead, he sniffed lightly at her neck. "Oh, I think

you're a lil' bit scared of me, but that's not the real fear. You're afraid

of something, pet, you reek of it. The stink of recent terror clings to you

like bad perfume. Something in this town frightens the hell out of you."

Her eyes went. "What are you, part dog?" she managed. Her Ice Bitch persona

was having trouble reasserting itself. As she stared into his eyes, she

could swear the bright blue was growing flecks of gold.

"That would be Oz," he remarked casually, confusing her. "Whatever it is

that scared you luv, you'd do well to mind the warning. This is not a town

you want to stay in unless you really need to. It's not a safe place to be."

"So I gathered. It doesn't matter. I have a job to do."

"Sod your job, little girl. Get the hell out while you still can."

"Are you threatening me?"

He moved his mouth over her ear, and the cool breath that carried his words

to her was as unnerving as the message itself. "Just trying to help you stay

alive."

She shivered as he pulled away from her and stalked across the lobby,

leather duster billowing out behind him. She retrieved her gun, stuffed it

in her holster and headed down the stairwell with the vain hope of getting

some clue as to where Jarod had gone.

As she headed down the stairs to the parking garage, she wondered why

everywhere his body had pressed into hers felt so damn cold.

~*~*~

Jarod's lungs were burning and his legs felt like lead. He knew he was in

decent shape, but his mind kept telling him he shouldn't be struggling to

keep pace with the diminutive blond woman running ahead of him through the

sewers. He wasn't going to ask her to slow down.

Buffy glanced back at him. He gave her a thumbs-up, but his ragged breathing

gave him away. She eased up the pace.

"I don't think she'll have a hope in hell of tracking us now," she said

encouragingly as she led the way down yet another dank passageway.

As they walked he remarked on their escape route. "There certainly seem to

be an inordinately high number of subterranean access ways beneath

Sunnydale."

The Slayer nodded in agreement. "The former mayor had vampires and demons on

his payroll. Only safe way for vamps to get around in the day without

becoming crispy critters."

Jarod absorbed that tidbit. "And the current mayor?"

"Seems to be human." She shrugged. "Well, as human as any politician can be,

anyway. No obvious demons among his employees either. I keep an eye on

politics in this town now. Ah, here we are."

As he caught up with Buffy, he saw she had stopped before an access manhole

with a ladder leading into an underground room. She climbed up to unlock the

trapdoor, then slipped through it. He followed, pulling the door shut behind

him. The air in the room was drier and warmer, the musty odour of rot and

mold giving way to the calming scent of dried herbs. Shelves lined the walls

and there were crates stacked in the corners as well as a few scattered

barrels about. Some unusual artifacts were visible, and out of curiosity he

moved a little closer to get a better look. A strong arm on his shoulder

held him back.

"Trust me," she said with a tone of finality, "there is stuff down here you

do not want to get up close and personal with."

He raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like you know from experience."

"There was the endless afternoon battling with the mummy hand, but that's a

story for another time," she informed him as she wove her way through the

crates of inventory to the stairs.

After a brief inspection of the room, Jarod realized they were in the Magic

Box. "Well, that's a handy little escape route," he remarked.

"Yep," Buffy agreed as she opened the basement door. "Especially when you

have a shark demon and his vampire minions after you, and you and all your

friends have magically induced cases of amnesia," she commented wryly.

Jarod gave her a sidewise glance as he passed through the door and entered

the store proper. "Do you people *ever* have normal days or mundane

problems? Say, a parking ticket, or perhaps a simple mugging?"

The questioning voice of her Watcher cut the exchange short. "Buffy?"

"Yeah, it's us Giles," she responded as the two of them walked over to the

table where the he and Willow continued to work on the interpretation of the

prophecy.

"What are the two of you doing back here?" he asked, rubbing the back of his

neck with a hand in an effort to ease the kinks that inevitably developed

after days of intensive study and research. "And why through the cellar

entrance?"

The Slayer plopped herself down in a chair, folding her hands across her

chest, and blew a stray lock of hair out of her eyes before answering. "She

tracked Jarod down, Giles. We were just getting him out of there when she

showed up. We barely got away."

The Watcher looked up at her, concerned. "She was waiting for you at the

hotel?"

Before she had a chance to respond, the bell on the door jangled and Spike

blasted into the shop, tension rolling off him. "Buffy?" he called out

sharply, gaze casting about in search of her. He visibly relaxed when he saw

her sitting next to the big oak table.

She raised an eyebrow at Spike before answering. "Not exactly." Buffy gave

Giles a brief rundown of the encounter with Spike and Parker in Willie's

place and how Spike had put his body between them and Parker's gun. When she

was finished, she turned to the vampire in question. "And, by the way, what

are you doing here?"

He rolled his eyes at the cold shoulder. "Just makin' sure you and the brain

trust made it back safe and sound is all."

Jarod chose to ignore the insulting descriptor and extend an olive branch

instead. "Thank you, Spike." The Pretender made a point of catching his

gaze. "For everything."

The vampire's eyes grew wide at the unconditional gratitude in the

Pretender's tone. Suddenly very self-conscious, he shuffled back and looked

at the floor while muttering something barely intelligible about it being no

big deal.

Buffy felt a twinge of remorse as she watched the by-play. It would be

simple enough for her to thank Spike, but that meant softening her attitude

towards him, and when she did that, other pesky feelings started to surface,

feelings that had no business being there in the first place, messy sloppy

feelings that were liable to get in the way of what had to be done just now,

and she really didn't have the time to think about this at the moment.

::Focus, Summers, focus:: She cleared her throat. "Giles, I was thinking.

Maybe until we get this figured out, perhaps Jarod could stay with you?"

He nodded. "That's probably the best course of action right now. This way he

will be right here when the time comes."

"Yeah," she agreed. "Besides, with both of you working on this prophecy

thing, I'm sure you'll have it figured out in no time."

Willow looked up with a mock scowl on her face. "Hey! A not-guy here! And

also working on it!"

Buffy gave her best friend an abashed look. "Of course, you not-guy, you.

They couldn't possibly do it without a not-guy to help." The girls shared a

grin.

"Okay," the Slayer stated, rising to her feet. "I'm going to patrol and then

try to get a good night's sleep. Hopefully you guys will have some more

ideas about exactly what's going down when I see you tomorrow. Have fun."

"Right, then," her watcher said with a nod. He promptly turned and grabbed a

book, which he handed across the table to Jarod. The Pretender cocked an

eyebrow at her as he took the proffered tome.

"Somehow I don't think 'fun' is the correct noun in this situation." Jarod's

voice was laced with dry humour.

Buffy just flashed him a jaunty grin. "You go read stuff. I'll go kill

stuff. See you tomorrow." She turned and bounded towards the door, only to

slow down as she neared the vampire standing there.

Without a word she reached forward to pull the door open, ignoring the

proximity of the peroxide blonde who lounged against the wall to the right

of it. Just as she pulled it wide enough to step through, his quiet comment

caught her ear.

"It wouldn't kill you to say it, just once you know."

Buffy stopped. "What are you talking about?" she demanded quietly.

He let out a frustrated huff. "Thank you, Slayer. It wouldn't bloody well

kill you to say thank you. 'Thank's, Spike, for jumpin' in front of that

gun' or 'Thanks for keepin' her off us long enough to get away', or just

'Thanks for watching my back.' Something. Anything."

"I didn't ask for your help, Spike, and I didn't need it." Buffy gave the

door an extra hard shove and stalked out into the night.

Spike caught the door before it impacted his face. The little bint! Eyes

narrowed and lips pressed into the thin line, he slammed it shut behind him

as he headed off after her. He finally caught up with her about half a block

away.

"Look, Slayer," he began heatedly as he drew up beside her, "all your

enhanced speed and strength mean squat against a bullet. If I hadn't been

there to run interference, you or that brainy git back there would have done

something stupid and one of you would have ended up with a piece of lead in

you."

She glowered at him as she stomped towards the first cemetery on her sweep.

"Oh, because you were doing such a fabulous job of running interference with

her at Willie's. Yeah, she was so distracted she couldn't remember what she

came to town for, I could see that!"

"Hey! I was just trying to figure out what she knew is all! And keepin' her

in the bar meant that she wasn't out on the streets hunting for your

precious lab rat!"

Buffy stopped and shook a finger in Spike's face. "Don't call him that!

That's what she calls him and it's just cruel!"

"Well, unlike your pet genius, at least she has some backbone and doesn't

need someone else to come along and fight her battles for her!" he folded

his arms across his chest and glared right back at the Slayer.

"Backbone, my ass! I'm sure her courage is of the purely liquid variety. The

rate she was going, if you held your lighter up to her, she'd go up in a

ball of flame!"

Spike looked at her sideways, then his face broke out into a very sly,

self-satisfied grin. "You're jealous!"

Buffy felt her mouth fall open in shock. "What?"

"You're jealous," Spike continued, confident in his assumption. "You saw me

at the bar with another woman, and it made you jealous."

"Some crazed bitch comes into my town, drinks half the bar, flashes a gun in

my face, and you think I'm *jealous*? What are you, on drugs?" Buffy strode

off across the graveyard. She certainly wasn't about to admit that part of

her performance at the bar had been some primal hindbrain reaction to

another female. She didn't even want to consider the implications of why it

rankled to see him with a drop dead gorgeous, obviously vibrant and

dangerous woman, someone with whom he could probably feel a kinship - no, so

not going there.

Spike was right beside her in an instant. Prophecies and wild women with

guns be damned, it was about time that he and his favorite spitfire had it

out. "Buffy, we need to talk."

"Go away, Spike."

He planted his feet, then grabbed her arm, effectively yanking her to a

stop. "No."

Her eyes flashed dangerously as she rounded on him. "Keep your hands off

me!" she ground out through clenched teeth.

Anger surged through him, and he grabbed her other arm to pull her flush

against his chest. She struggled in his grasp as he glared down into her

face. "You didn't mind my hands on you a few days ago when no one could see

you. You didn't mind them the night *you* jumped on me and pulled *my*

zipper down-"

"Shut up!" she screamed, startling them both. She didn't want to hear this,

didn't want to face this, didn't want to deal with this. She felt like she

couldn't breath as she thrashed about in her effort to free herself.

His face tightened, a tick obvious along his jaw line as he fought to keep

himself under control. "I told you I was not going to be your whipping boy

anymore, Slayer. Like it or not, you are going to have to deal with this."

She shook her head and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. "Just shut up, shut

up, shut up." poured from her lips like a litany.

Spike lost his battle with his temper. He let out a roar of frustration and

shook Buffy hard enough to make her dizzy. "NO! I will NOT! You started it

all, Buffy. You were the one who kissed me after the Sunnyhell musical

nightmare. And you were the one who shoved your hand in my pants, luv, not

the other way around!" He let go of one of her arms for a split second to

give her a light, but stinging slap on the face. "Open your eyes, God

dammit!" he bellowed as he recaptured her arm. She stared up in him in

shock, spluttering indignantly.

He leaned over so that his face was mere inches from hers. "You were the one

who came to me when you were all invisible like." His expression softened

and his voice grew gentler. "And I didn't want to throw you out, but Buffy,

I want all of you. I don't want to settle for secrets and lies. I love you!"

"I don't love you!" she insisted, glaring at the tombstone beside him.

"Look in my eyes and say it, Buffy."

Her gaze flicked up to meet his for a moment, before moving away again.

"Well, I don't! I don't love you!"

"Look. In. My. Eyes."

Against her will, she felt herself pulled to look up and then she was lost

in a piercing blue ocean. Again he spoke. "I love you, Buffy. You know I do,

no matter what you say. And despite all your protestations that it's wrong,

you are the one who came to me. You look in my eyes and tell me that you

don't feel something for me."

Her angry resistance turned to quiet sobbing. "I can't! I can't do this,

Spike! You're a soulless, demon *thing*!"

His stare held her like a bug a pin, refusing to let her go. He pushed in,

relentless. "Tell me that you don't have feelings for me, Slayer. Tell me!"

She shook her head, tears dripping off her chin. "I can't be with you!"

Finally, she wrenched free from his grasp and fled as fast as her legs would

carry her.

Spike stood and watched her run, a bittersweet smile on his face. He'd been

right. She really did have feelings for him - she couldn't look him in the

eye and deny it. Unfortunately, it looked like all the feelings in the world

just weren't enough.



*******

"Giles?"

The Watcher looked up at. "Hmm?"

Jarod's face was a study in frustration. "I'm having trouble with the

translation of this passage," he said, carrying the book over to let Giles

have a look. "I must be missing something."

Willow craned to see the text the dark haired man had indicated. "Oooo, that

one. Yeah, that's a slippery sucker," she commented with a shake of her

head. "It's the tense. Sumerian is difficult enough, but the tenses don't

make sense in that section."

"Yes, I'd have to agree." Giles slipped his glasses off and rubbed the

bridge of his nose before replacing them. "Let me get another cross

reference." The Englishman climbed up into the loft to search for the book.

Jarod noticed that Willow was glancing surreptitiously at the door, as if

waiting for someone to appear. And with that very thought, the bell tinkled.

A tall, slender young woman with tawny hair and expressive, soulful eyes

peeked nervously around the door. The red head across the table from him

jumped up and wrung her hands together, looking for all the world like a

barely restrained puppy who really wanted to go bounding across the room and

pounce on the person who just walked in.

"Tara, hi! Uh - please. come on in."

She walked hesitantly across the shop and sat across the table from Willow.

"Giles s-said that there was a, a really important spell. That needed doing.

Now."

"Ahh, Tara. You're here. Good," Giles stated as he descended the steps, tome

in hand. He handed the volume to the Pretender, then retrieved a different

book from the table, opened it to the correct page, and placed it before the

woman who had just entered. "Let me explain exactly what the ritual

requires. I'll leave it to the two of you to decide on which protection

spells and wards you wish to employ afterwards."

Jarod paid virtually no heed to the cross-reference as he listened to Giles

explain the upcoming ritual to Tara. Even though the Watcher had explained

it to him and Buffy earlier that evening, it still felt like some fairy tale

story. Because really, up until a few days ago, listening to a grown man

detail the procedures involved in casting a unity spell to bind the essences

of the two Chosen, one of them being himself, so that they could in turn

rise up to do battle against some evil force, would have seemed like

something straight out of the pages of a Christopher Stasheff novel.

Actually, it still did, even on the second hearing. The scientist in him

rebelled strenuously against taking any part in the proceedings. The realist

in him reminded the scientist of the very real fangs Spike had displayed the

day before. His internal battle temporarily stymied, he refocused on the

reference book before him.

And It Shall Come To Pass.. They'd been working tirelessly on trying to find

references to the prophecy, commentaries, something to give them an idea as

to when it would take place. Giles had said that there was often some clue -

a full moon, a planetary alignment - but so far, they'd found nothing. And

no matter how many times he went over the original Sumerian trying to get

some indication to the timing, the verb translated into present tense. That

it was passing right *now*. Which of course made no sense. Jarod sighed.

It was the same with the rest of the prophecy. All of the verbs translated

into present tense. His brows furrowed in frustration. Trying to figure out

what some Bronze Age mystic had foreseen was giving him a serious headache



*********

"Leads, Broots, I want them *now*."

Sydney stifled a sigh as he watched Miss Parker pace the length of the hotel

room while waiting for the computer tech to work his magic. She'd been gone

most the day with nary a word of explanation. When Broots had called her

with a possible location on Jarod, she'd followed it up to find the

Pretender in the company of 2 locals whom she'd apparently had dealings with

earlier in the evening. She hadn't been forthcoming with details, other than

to say Jarod had gotten away and obviously had people working with him this

time. People who appeared to have knowledge of the Centre. This was a very

bad thing; if word of this reached Lyle or Raines, the Centre would send

cleaners, and there would be a lot more unexplained deaths to add to the

already mysteriously high body count Sunnydale had.

"I'm sorry, Miss Parker, but it's going to take a while to hack into the

local Police and DMV databases." The balding tech was sweating and nervous,

but he met her gaze without twitching. Much. "And then I still have to

perform the search with the parameters you outlined. Give me a couple of

hours and I should have something for you."

She cocked an eyebrow at him. Parker would never admit it, but she was glad

to see that Broots was growing a pair. Nevertheless, she didn't want him

getting too uppity. She planted one perfectly manicured finger hard, right

in the center of his chest. "60 minutes. I want to find this girl tonight,

before they have a chance to move Jarod again. And I *really* want to find

this guy." She got a dangerous glint in her eyes, and this time Broots

flinched. "He and I have some unfinished business, and at the moment I'm

feeling inclined to invite him for a visit to the renewal wing and finish it

up with him there."

"Miss Parker!" There was reproof in Sydney's tone. She just rolled her eyes

at him.

"Just a random thought, Syd. I don't plan to act on it." She smiled

unpleasantly as she recalled how easily the lost-boy-wannabe had disarmed

her. "It's a *nice* thought, though. I think I'll just enjoy it for a few

more minutes."

The psychiatrist folded his arms and regarded her intently. "If you get a

location on her tonight, what exactly do you plan to do?"

"That should be obvious, Syd," she replied testily, as if addressing a

particularly stupid child. "I'm going to stake her out, and if I find Jarod

there, I'm going to haul his ass in. What the hell *else* would I do?"

"Perhaps get some sleep," he advised as he studied her drawn face. He hadn't

missed the faint smell of scotch on her breath, despite the fresh mint

toothpaste that attempted to disguise it. "It's doubtful that Jarod will

leave town before he's finished whatever he's working on anyway. We've

obviously caught him unawares and in the middle of something." He spoke

soothingly, willing her to listen to him. "He'll still be here tomorrow, I'm

sure of it."

She sighed deeply and ran a hand through her hair. Freud did have a point.

And she was exhausted. Maybe a couple of hours would do her some good. She

could always set out on a pre-dawn stake out. "Fine," she agreed with a curt

nod, then looked back over at Broots. "You've got your couple of hours," she

informed him. "Use them wisely. I will be eminently displeased if you don't

have something for me by 5am.

Broots' face fell as Parker walked out of the room and pulled their

adjoining door shut behind her. "I, uh, guess that means no sleep for me,"

he muttered unhappily.



Parker quickly undressed and slipped into her maroon silk pajamas. She stood

in the bathroom staring blankly into the mirror as she brushed her hair out.

The days' events had left her with a feeling of foreboding. Her mind went

back to the incident in the cemetery. She couldn't understand what on earth

had come over her to make her run away like that, to make her feel so

afraid. And then tonight! The slow, smooth strokes of the brush through her

hair were becoming quick, sharp jerks as her anger welled up. That

irritating blonde! *How* had he known? And what in the HELL was wrong with

her that she'd let him get to her like that? Tears sprang to her eyes and

she gasped in pain as she caught a snarl in the back of her hair and almost

ripped it out with a vicious brushstroke.

She put down her brush and placed both hands, palm down on the counter as

she took a deep, steadying breath. Syd was right. A couple of hours of sleep

ought to do the trick. She'd be good to go by the morning.

Turning the bathroom light off behind her, she walked over to the bed and

turned down the covers. She reached over and flicked off the light, then

crawled into bed. Oh, yeah, that felt good. She closed her eyes, and in mere

moments she was asleep.

Parker walked along the beach, enjoying the sounds of the surf, the warmth

of the sun. The water was so inviting that she gave in, stepping into the

waves as they crested on the sand.

She became aware of someone behind her. She reached for her gun as she spun

around, only to find it wasn't there. The figure she found before her almost

caused her to fall to her knees.

"M-mom?" Her voice caught in her suddenly constricted throat.

Catherine smiled sadly at her daughter. "You have to go, dear one," she

urged gently. "They finally understand. The Convergence is now *truly* at

hand. Be strong, my darling."

Miss Parker took an unsteady step towards her mother. "What do you mean?

What is the Convergence? Help me momma, I don't understand!"

Catherine reached out to gently stroke her daughter's hair. "It's all coming

together. The time has come for you to choose." She pointed down the beach.

"You have to go. Follow your heart." The sunlight reflected off the diamond

of her mother's ring, and Parker was dazzled by its brilliance.

Parker sat up, opened her eyes and looked around. All she knew was it was

time, and this wasn't where she was supposed to be. She had to get there.

Sliding her shoes on, she opened the door and slipped silently into the

night.



Broots tiredly rubbed his eyes, then reached for his coffee cup to take a

sip of the now tepid brew. He'd been working for several hours and had come

up with precious little. There didn't seem to be any police reports

involving a perp with the nickname of 'Spike', and thus no leads on an

address for said individual. It was equally dismal trying to find a drivers

license for an English expatriate when you only knew the nickname. There

were, however, many petite blond females with licenses. Many, MANY petite

blond females.

Broots sighed. This just wasn't shaping up to be his night. He glanced

resentfully at his sleeping colleague, then stood and walked across the room

to stretch his weary muscles. A sound caught his attention and unconsciously

he turned in the direction it had come from. Looking around to discover the

source, he happened to glance out the open window. A frown creased his brow.

There was a woman walking across the parking lot in her pajamas, and it

looked an awful lot like. no, it couldn't be.

"Syd," he whispered urgently, turning to place a hand on the older man's

shoulder and shake him gently. "Syd, c'mon, wake up."

"Hmmm?" The psychiatrist blinked several times, trying to get his bearings.

"What is it?"

"Look," Broots insisted, motioning to the window. Sydney rose from the bed

and looked outside. His face took on a puzzled look. "Parker?"

He shrugged. "I didn't want to knock and wake her up," the tech admitted

sheepishly. "I didn't feel like getting yelled at. But if that's her."

Sydney strode across the room and opened the door between the two suites

with no preamble, throwing the light switch as he did so. The two of them

looked down to see an empty bed.

The computer tech shook his head in confusion. "What the hell is going *on*,

Syd?" The two men shared a look of deep concern and then bolted back into

their own room to slip on their shoes and head out after her.

~*~*~

Jab, kick, stake... breath and repeat. Despite the emotional discomfort that came along with being in Spike's presence lately, Buffy was beginning to regret taking off on her own tonight. There were vampires *everywhere*!

Panting slightly with exertion, she scanned the area around her. Incoming, far right. Three more, freshly risen from the looks of them. She shook her head. There hadn't been a sudden increase in unexplained deaths, so she was at a loss to explain where all the fledglings were coming from. At the moment, explaining was the least of her worries. She pulled out a stake as the trio drew closer.

"Okay, who's up first?" All three rushed her at once. "Hey!" she exclaimed, staking one while skillfully twisting to avoid the others. "No need for that, I promise you'll all get your turn." Sweep, spin, lunge, stake. She turned to the remaining vampire. "See? I didn't forget about you." The demon backed away, the spun around and ran. A second later he was dust on the evening breeze as Buffy's stake slammed through his back to pierce his heart.

"Damn," she muttered. "I lose more stakes that way." After a final glance around she decided to head off for the next cemetery.

Buffy debated the wisdom of moving on to what had become Sunnydale's worst vamp hotspot by herself. Last night she'd had most the Scoobies with her, and between them all, they'd dusted over a dozen vampires. She figured being right across the street from the Hellmouth had a lot to do with it.

She considered that maybe she should go back and find Spike first. But if she did that, he'd want to talk more. About feelings.

Trying to force her traitorous heart to be silent, she set off for the next leg of her sweep - alone.



Over a cup of perfectly brewed Darjeeling, Jarod pondered. He was close, he knew it. He could feel the answer dancing just out of his reach, maddeningly close, little wisps of the solution taunting him. It was right in front of him, he had the feeling he was staring right at it and not seeing it.

He'd gone over the entire prophecy, start to finish. When translated directly, it read like a real-time commentary. It was happening *now*. The Centre was rising *now*, the Hellmouth was open *now*, the world was ending *now*.

He put the cup down and pursed his lips. He hadn't tried to run a sim. He didn't have any information to anchor it with, anything personal to use as a starting point. He'd read about and was fairly familiar with the Sumerian culture, but to sim a person usually required at least some knowledge of what their mindset was, what their goals were. He sighed, and earned a curious glance from Giles.

"Still at an impasse?" the Watcher asked.

Jarod nodded. "I'm going to try running a simulation. I don't know that it will offer any insight, but it's worth attempting." He leaned his head back, forward, then rolled it, trying to work out the kinks in his neck. "Usually, it's pretty quiet, and I stay I one place, but I might talk or move around. But - if I'm unresponsive for a more than half an hour, I might have gone in too deep." He grinned sheepishly. "At the Centre, I had Syd to keep me focused, bring me out of a sim. When I'm alone, if I go in too deep, I get lost for hours and end up falling asleep and dreaming about whatever I was trying to sim. So, if I get lost, just tap on my hand with one finger. That should be enough to bring me up."

Willow looked at him with concern. "Is it dangerous? Can you, you know, get really lost and not find your way back?"

"No, nothing like that." He smiled at her reassuringly. "Think of it as a really intense game of let's pretend. You know a little about whom you are pretending to be. Things they've done, a bit about their personality. Simming is getting into their heads, becoming them, and figuring out what they've done. Or why. Or what they are going to do."

"So this is why you don't know if it will help?" Tara asked, beginning to understand the little bit Willow had told her about the new addition to the Scoobie team. "Because you don't know anything about the person w-who wrote the prophecy?"

"Yes," he agreed with a nod. "The prophecy itself is all I have to go on. So, I'm not expecting any earth shattering revelations."

"Do you need anything?" Giles inquired.

"No, I'm fine. You should all continue with what your doing. I just have to focus myself for a moment and then I'll slip into the sim."

Jarod turned his attention inward. His breathing slowed and deepened as the sim began. The words of the prophecy percolated through his mind as he tried to become one with a prophet from an earlier age.

*It is come to pass*

He heard the whisper in his mind, echoed it with his mouth.

"It is come to pass."

Again he echoed the phrase, not understanding. It was the same as the prophecy, present tense. He pressed in, struggling to comprehend what the significance was. Without warning, an incredible pain shot through his head, much akin to having a vice clamp down around his temples, and he found himself forcibly inserted into another's mind.

He was a scribe in a stone temple, scribbling furiously by torchlight, words roiling through his mind. A feeling of purpose infused him, the same feeling he'd had when he'd simmed Buffy. Something greater than himself was leading him to write. The Convergence was happening right now, even as he wrote. It was time when it would be, and they who were the Chosen would understand and would set all things in motion. The would be was. He felt his mind begin to splinter under the weight of the knowing.

And as though falling from a great height, Jarod suddenly found himself slammed back into his own body, gasping for breath and shaking with shock and pain. He doubled over and fell on the floor as he clutched his head. The voice spoke once more.

*What Will Be Is!*



The first thing Jarod realized was that his head really hurt. That led to the second realization; he must have passed out. It was the only reason he could come up with for being flat on the floor with three concerned faces staring down at him.

"Are you alright?" Willow asked while Giles helped him off the floor and back into his chair. He grunted as pain lanced through his head.

"Depends on your definition," he rejoined with a wince. "Still alive." He shook his head, the regretted the action. "That was not like any sim I've ever done. I don't know *what* that was."

Tara's concern was evident. "What happened?"

Jarod explained the voice, the pain, the out-of-body experience. Giles nodded slowly. "No, I must concur with you. It was most certainly not a sim. It was a vision."

"Like Cordelia?" Willow asked.

"I believe so." The Watcher's face grew very serious. "Jarod, you repeated the phrase 'It is come to pass' several times, and then, just before you collapsed, you shouted 'What will be is!'. I believe that the Powers were trying to give you a message. Were they telling you that the Convergence is about to occur?"

"I think it's more than that, Giles. When I was that scribe, I knew the Convergence was happening as I wrote it - and I knew it would happen as soon as I understood. I think it was the very act of understanding that set it in motion."

"Dear Lord!" The Englishman sat down heavily. "We don't even know where this is to take place yet."

"W-we have to do the ceremony r-right now then." Tara spoke up. "So we're prepared."

"But Buffy's out patrolling!" Willow's face was etched with worry. "She could be walking into this alone, unprepared - we have to find her!"

Jarod stood up, swaying for a moment before he found his footing. "Are you going to be okay?" Concern was evident in Tara's voice.

He smiled grimly. "If we don't do this thing, I don't think it's going to matter."

The four of them gathered up the supplies and books they would need as well as a few stakes for good measure, then headed out to search for the Slayer.



Spike grabbed the vampire in front of him by the head and gave a brutal twist. He dropped the twitching demon in a heap and started in on the next one, morphing into full game face as he bit into his new opponent's neck. It took mere moments to drain the new vampire, and seconds later he had a mouth full of dust. He spit, then turned and staked the one he'd immobilized earlier before settling into fighting stance to check for more attackers.

A flash of colour at the edge of the cemetery caught his attention. He squinted a bit, trying to identify it. A moment later, he saw a blond figure among the gravestones. Buffy. He sighed. He'd hoped to be done and gone before she showed up. He saw her tense as she caught sight of him. He sat up on a headstone and waited.

She stopped in front of him. "Any action here tonight?"

He could see the dare in her eyes. Just make something lewd of it so I can pummel you they seemed to say. He was half tempted to, just because he knew it would make her feel better. But there were more important things going on right now then coddling Buffy. And, he had to admit if only to himself, letting her stew in it by ignoring the double entendre was eminently satisfying. It was amazing how much evil satisfaction one was able to derive from doing the right thing.

"Yeh, a half dozen newly risen. A couple I've seen around before. And a Faral demon." He gestured to the left and she glanced over to see the carcass of the demon.

"We haven't seen one of those in a while." She wrinkled her nose. "Feh. I hate burial detail. I wish they would just dust like good little demons. Or melt. Or turn into ooze. Something."

He snorted. "I'm sure that's right at the top of their list of priorities, luv. 'Upon death, evaporate so's the Slayer doesn't have to clean up after you'."

She rolled her eyes at him before turning away to scanning the area. She was feeling uneasy, and it was bigger than the anxiety she normally had around Spike. There was something twigging her Slayer senses. She felt a sudden chill and wrapped her arms around her middle as she shivered.

Spike suddenly sat ramrod straight, eyes wide. "Pet,"

Buffy was busy trying to get a handle on what her sense were telling her. "Not now, Spike," she hissed, trying to focus.

He hopped off the stone to come and stand beside her. "Buffy." His tone made her look, and she found his gaze traveling the graveyard, searching, just as she had been. "Something's wrong here, pet. Something is very, very wrong here."

She nodded. The two of them moved in unison through the cemetery. There was something beckoning their otherworldly senses, drawing them toward it. They followed the silent summons cautiously. As they neared the street, Spike heard Buffy's sharp intake of breath. He'd been watching their backs, but now turned to see what it was that startled her. He stopped and stood in shock.

The ruins of the old high school, under which the Hellmouth resided, were enveloped in a hazy green latticework. It fairly crackled with energy, and he could feel the evil oozing off it from across the street like a palpable thing. Spike, William the Bloody, the demon who'd cut a swath of destruction across Europe at the side of Angelus, wanted nothing to do with this. He hadn't been this scared since the night on the tower when he thought the Niblet was going to die.

"This is very bad."

"Bloody, buggering hell."



They'd caught up with her after a few blocks, but that had just been the beginning of their troubles. Broots and Sydney followed the brunette in the maroon silk pajamas who walked quickly through the quiet residential streets of Sunnydale because there was nothing else they could do.

Broots had tried to stop her. He now sported a lovely assortment of scrapes and contusions as a reward for his efforts. Sydney had tried to talk to her, but either she wasn't listening or couldn't hear them - they weren't sure which.

"Syd." Broots was wracking his brain for feasible ideas. "There's got to be something we can do. Call an ambulance? Maybe it's some weird form of sleep walking."

The psychiatrist shook his head. "I think we should just let her follow the path she's on."

The tech gave him a look. "Path? What path? She's not even awake as far as I can tell!"

"I believe she is being guided by her Inner Sense. There is something important she needs to do here, Broots, I'm certain. There have been too many unusual circumstances that have conspired to bring us to this place for it to be coincidence. And I believe that whatever it is involves Jarod, and that he is just as much a part of it as she is."

"I thought you were a 'man of science' type. No mumbo jumbo, hocus-pocus. You only buy into what you can see, hear, feel and touch."

Sydney gave the younger man a small smile. "I have seen far too many things in my life to discount the supernatural entirely. I would never look to it for the answer first, or even often, but there are times when it provides the only answer possible."

Parker caught them unawares by turning suddenly to take a trail up a hill into a park like area. They scrambled after her. As they crested the top of the rise, Broots balked.

"Oh, no. Tell me it isn't so." The balding man shook his head in despair.

"I'm afraid it is."

With a deep sigh of resignation, Broots followed Sydney as he followed Parker into the cemetery.

"We better not have to dig anybody up," he grumbled under his breath.



"There's something really, really bad happening." Willow's voice was shaky and her face had gone pale.

The four of them were following the little 'tinker bell' light that Tara had conjured to lead them to Buffy. The farther they went, though, the more agitated the two women had become.

Tara nodded, sweat beading on her brow. "There's dark magic at work here. It's hard to even think."

They came to the entrance of the Sunnydale City Cemetery. The tinker bell continued to flit forward, leading them down the rows. Giles readied a stake just in case.

Jarod's tension had been building since he first saw Tara whisper an incantation and produce a fairy light out of nothingness. At first he thought it was just the stress of finding Buffy, doing what needed to be done, getting there in time - he was gradually coming to realize that, just like the Wicca's, the closer they got to where ever they were heading, the more disquiet he felt. On a very basic level, it was like the very cells of his body were aware that something was not right and were fighting against it. It left him feeling distracted and unfocused. So when a vampire appeared from the shadows of a nearby crypt, he didn't sense a thing until an inhumanly strong arm wrapped around him from behind and a hand was yanking his head over to the side. He struggled in vain, thrashing and crying out as the demon's fangs sank into his neck.

Just as sudden as it had begun, it was over, and Jarod was falling to his hands and knees on the grass in a cloud of dust. He coughed and lifted a hand to his injured neck. Looking up, he found Giles crouching beside him. "You really must remain alert," he said as he helped the Pretender to his feet. "The unwary don't last long in Sunnydale."

He shook his head. "I can't seem to focus. But I feel drawn." He indicated the way the light had gone. "That way."

"We feel it too," Tara told Giles. The four of them pulled into a close knot and started off once more. It wasn't long till the found the object of their search approaching them along with Spike.

"Buffy!" Willow called out as she ran toward her best friend. "It's begun!"

"We know. We were just headed back to tell you."

"You know?"

Spike spoke up. "There's some right wicked mojo surrounding the Hellmouth, Red. Thought it was about time you worked yours."

"Here?"

"Does it really matter where?"

Giles frowned. "We haven't got time to go running back to the Magic Box."

Willow put on her resolve face. "Then we better get started."

Tara looked over at Buffy. "Should we get closer to the Hellmouth?"

Buffy shuddered. "No, this is plenty close, thanks. We had a front row seat to the lightshow around the school already. It's too mesmerizing, makes it hard to concentrate on anything else. I think it's better to have a little distance."

Giles assisted Willow and Tara in selecting an appropriate spot, and then the three of them set up the items they would need for the ritual.

Buffy turned to Jarod, eyes widening slightly as she took in the blood soaking the front of his shirt. "You're hurt."

Spike cocked an eyebrow at the Pretender. "I though I told you if you weren't careful you were going to end up with a vampire wrapped around your neck," he admonished. "Didn't believe me? Had take a midnight stroll through the graveyard to see if the undead thought you were a tasty treat?"

"Oh yeah, I'm sure he just stuck his neck out at hung a sign saying 'Bite me, please!' " Buffy tossed a sarcastic volley at Spike as she checked Jarod's wound.

"I was caught off guard," he admitted. "I'm finding it very difficult to think at the moment. The farther we moved through the cemetery, the worse it got." He lifted a hand to his temple, rubbing it lightly, and closed his eyes. "If I could just pull my thoughts together..."

Willow's voice interrupted. "We're ready."

He opened his eyes and looked at Buffy. She squared her shoulders and gave him a nod. "I say we get this party started."

He gave her a smile and motioned towards the others. "After you."



Giles had Buffy and Jarod sit cross-legged on the grass, back to back in a protective circle in the center of the pentagram. Jarod hung back for a moment, and then took his place with obvious reluctance.

Giles crouched down beside them for a moment, put a reassuring hand on Jarod's shoulder and dropped a fatherly kiss on the top of Buffy's head. "We're going to begin. May God protect you both." He stepped out of the circle as Tara started lighting the candles. Willow lifted a cup of burning incense and began to chant in Latin.

Buffy turned her head to speak over her shoulder to Jarod. "Nervous?"

He gave her a dry chuckle. "Oh, I'd say that's a major understatement."

"Don't worry. We've done things like this before. It can't be much worse then when we fought Adam."

"Adam?"

"A human-demon cyborg cross breed that was brutally murdering demons and people alike."

Jarod processed that for a second. Just as he opened his mouth to respond, a cool mist swirled up around them, snatching the words from his mouth. And then his world suddenly tilted on its axis and all thoughts of demon cyborgs fled from his mind.



Spike paced nervously back and forth a few times before stopping beside Giles. "What's gonna happen, Watcher? This is safe, innit? I mean, nothing can happen to Buffy 'coz of this spell, right? You checked it all over, made sure the witches knew what they were doin'?"

Giles drew a deep breath then slowly exhaled to center himself before turning to deal with the agitaited vampire. "Spike. They know what they are doing. Now stop flitting about and sit down. Or go away. I don't really care, just be quiet."

Spike started pacing again. "You don't understand, Rupes," he continued. "I can't lose her again, I just can't." He stopped and stared at the two figures that were now partially obscured by a swirling haze. "Bloody hell, is that supposed to happen?" Spike strained forward, trying to see. "I swear, Watcher, something happens to her, this bloody chip's not gonna stop me from-"

"Spike, *do* be silent!"

The vampire grumbled quietly, but did as requested. He leaned back against a nearby grave marker and watched the proceedings intently. All his senses were on full alert, and he became aware of someone approaching. He turned to face the intruder, ready to slay whatever vampires, demons or other creatures needed slaying. He was not prepared for the site of the leggy brunette in pajamas being followed by two unknown men.

"Giles. We've got company."

~*~*~

Sydney's brows furrowed as he took in the sight before him. Jarod and a young woman sat on the ground in the center of a large pentagram. Another woman read from a book on her lap. Latin, he realized from the bits he heard. A third woman lit candles, then tossed handfuls of shimmering powder on the two figures in the circle. Off to one side stood two men, one who looked somewhat bookish, the other with an aura of danger coming off him and an eye catching shock of blond hair. Sydney realized this was the man Miss Parker had described. Spike.

Broots touched Sydney's arm. "Uhm, Syd? I'm not seeing things, am I? Does that look like some kind of hocus pocus to you?"

Before he could answer, the blond man stepped out in front of Parker, blocking her path. "Thought I told you this wasn't a safe place to be, luv."

Unsurprisingly, she showed no sign of having heard him and tried to continue towards Jarod. He caught her arm, but Parker fought him, flailing about to break free. There was no grace or forethought to her movements, just a blind panic reaction. Sydney could see the surprise in Spike's face, and hurried forward to intercede.

"She can't hear you," he explained. He noted that Spike was fairing better against her then Broots had; he'd simply turned her away from him and wrapped an arm around her, effectively pinning her arms to her sides. "She's sleepwalking," he continued.

"Sleepwalking?" The disbelief was evident in his voice. "Right, mate. And I'm out here for a picnic." As if in reward for his sarcasm, Parker tossed her head back and connected sharply with Spike's face. "Ow! Bloody hell!

The older man stepped forward and studied the struggling woman. He lightly touched her forehead and muttered under his breath, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a small drawstring bag. As Syd watched, he took a pinch of whatever was in the bag, placed it in his palm, and blew it at Parker. For a brief moment, the powder seemed to flare brightly, then faded away. He nodded, returned the bag to his pocket and turned to face the psychiatrist. "Spike is quite right. Miss Parker is certainly not sleepwalking. She is under magical influence."

Faced with this unbelievable diagnosis, Sydney decided to tackle the less preposterous part of what the man had just said. "You know Miss Parker?"

"Not exactly," the other man replied, extending a hand. "Rupert Giles. I assume that you are Sydney. Jarod spoke of you."

Sydney took the proffered hand, bemused by the strange circumstance. "I see. This is Mr. Broots." He introduced the dazed computer tech and took a moment to collect himself. He and Giles watched as Broots approached Spike and tried to help calm Miss Parker. Broots earned a kick in the shin for his efforts.

Sydney pulled his attention back to Rupert Giles. He glanced meaningfully towards Jarod, the woman with him and the ritual taking place. "Perhaps you might explain what exactly is going on here?"

Giles paused for a moment, then nodded. "It will likely challenge your ability to believe."

"Of that I have no doubt. It seems there are a great many happenings of that nature in Sunnydale."

"Quite so. To the point, then. This is a binding spell. The Convergence has come. Buffy and Jarod are the Chosen. Only together will they be strong enough to fight the coming evil."

Sydney blinked, watching as the younger men still struggled to control Miss Parker. His mind flashed back to her dreams "This is what she's been seeing for days."

It was Giles' turn to blink. "Seeing? She has visions?" He leaned in closer, eager for new information. "What did she tell you?"

As Sydney quickly described the dreams, Giles became grim. "Did it always end with her father asking her to join him?"

He nodded. "I realized that her Inner Sense was trying to show her something-"

"She's the missing piece."

"Pardon me?"

"The prophecy says that the Centre shall rise. As far as we could understand, the reference was to the place. But I don't think that was it." Giles shook his head, frustration evident as he tried to puzzle it out. "Jarod ran a - a sim I believe he called it - to try to better understand the prophecy. In doing so, he set events in motion. I believe that Miss Parker has been summoned here to complete the Convergence."

Further discussion was forestalled as a brilliant light shot straight up from the protective circle like a sheet around the two figures within. It distracted Spike for a fraction of a second, but that was all Parker needed to break free.

"No! You'll bollocks everything up!" He lunged after her and knocked her to the ground, keeping a very tight grip on her arms, despite the pain in his head. There was no telling what might happen if she stepped into the circle right now.

Broots was torn between getting Miss Parker free and letting the other man keep her under control. He looked over at Sydney then back over at the man restraining her, his body wavering with indecision.

Sydney was suffering a similar quandary, wanting to go to Jarod and yet feeling an obligation to keep Miss Parker from harm. There was so much happening that he didn't understand. He looked pleadingly at Giles. "What can we do?"

It was then Spike noticed that the green haze that had enveloped the high school was now creeping over the ground, little crackles of energy leaping and sparking as it advanced. "Oi, Watcher!" Spike called out. As Giles turned to look at him, he was suddenly overcome by an incredible feeling of exhaustion, a lethargy that sapped the strength from his body and pulled him toward the ground. The others outside the circle seemed likewise to be affected; he watched Sydney crumple and Broots stagger to his knees.

"Tara!" Giles struggled to speak. "Spell..."

She slowly lifted her arm, her hand shaking with the effort; her fingers described a pattern in the air while she muttered an incantation. As the protective spell took effect, the sluggishness began to fade.

While they tried to regain their wits, a figure coalesced before them from within the vapor. An instant later, a well-dressed, older man stood there. He looked congenial, a welcoming smile on his face. Broots' jaw dropped and he unwittingly fell back to his knees as he recognized the man. Sydney felt a deep sense of shock settle in on him as Mr. Parker stepped towards them.

"Sydney! Broots! I see you brought my little girl. Thank you."

The appearance of her father seemed to free Parker of the thrall she'd been in. "Daddy?" Her voice shook as hope and disbelief warred within her. "Is that you?"

"Yes, Angel, it's me." He laughed, the deep chuckle that those who had known the chairman recognized. Then his voice became very soothing and inviting. "Angel, I've come for you. I told you that the new Parker Legacy begins with you. It's time for you to join me."

Her face was a study in confusion. "You jumped, Daddy, I saw you jump from the airplane."

Mr. Parker clucked his tongue and took a step toward her. "It's all right now, Angel." He extended a hand to her. "Come to me."

She wouldn't let it go. "I need to understand, Daddy. Don't ask me to do this, to trust you until you make me understand."

Mr. Parker's expression became murderous. "You *will* come to me. I'm your father, and I told you- "

"Are you?"



Jarod slowly became aware that something was different. He opened his eyes and looked around. A wall of white light surrounded him. He glanced down to find two forms lying before him - his and Buffy's.

//Oh my god, is she okay?//

//I'm fine,// came Buffy's voice from within his mind.

He was surprised. //Somehow I was thinking that when we did this, we wouldn't sense each other. We'd just be one entity.//

He felt her laughter. // We are one entity. We just happen to define the term split personality.// The humour was a welcome if momentary respite from the seriousness of their situation. Soon, however, they focused once again upon their current state.

//So, what have we become?//

Jarod/Buffy held up their hands and saw the physical expression of energy - but the body was unimportant. Knowledge of Purpose washed over them. Jarod was the thinker, the strategist - Buffy was the indefatigable warrior. They were the Chosen. They would defeat the evil or die trying.

They stepped through the curtain of light.





Mr. Parker loomed over his daughter, who was still in Spike's grasp. "You are my daughter in all the ways that matter. Come to me. The Centre shall rise anew, the way it should have always been."

She shook her head. "Momma told me I was going to have to choose. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to. I was afraid I'd make the wrong choice." She looked up at the man she'd called father all her life. "You said it was the Parker madness that started the Centre. Now you want to start another one?" Shaking her head, she continued. "You've lied to me, deceived me so many times. I'm so tired of being lied to. No, Daddy. I need answers first. I want to understand, please, help me understand..."

He sighed loudly. "I tried this the easy way, but if you insist on being stubborn..." He reached out to grab her, but Spike shifted her behind him and smoothly rose to his feet.

"I believe the lady said no, mate. So bugger off."

Mr. Parker's lips pressed together in a thin line and his nostrils flared slightly. Then, with a mere flick of his wrist, he sent the vampire flying into a headstone. With no more thought to Spike than one would accord a fly, Mr. Parker turned his attention back to his daughter. A hand descended on his shoulder and held him in place.

"You should look into an anger management course or something," Jarod/Buffy said as s/he stepped around him to place him/herself between him and Miss Parker. For a moment, Jarod's attention wavered as he tried to ascertain Miss Parker's state and Buffy was distracted with trying to convince herself she was not worried about Spike laying motionless on the ground. The Chairman's lips curled up into an unpleasant smile, and again he flicked his wrist.

Jarod/Buffy staggered back a few steps. S/he felt like s/he'd been hit with a Troll hammer. The Jarod part lifted the particulars of what a Troll hammer was from Buffy as he chided her - and himself.

//We have to stay focused!//

//Yeah, I know.// There was anger in her reply, and humiliation. Jarod felt her resolve to not be caught off guard again. S/he drew herself up straight and faced the Chairman. "Is that the best you've got?"

Then came the demons.

//I had to ask...//





Chaos. There was no other word for it. There were demons of every kind Buffy had ever seen - Jarod absorbed their names as she automatically catalogued them - as well as a bunch she hadn't. S/he fought with mechanical precision while taking in the scene around him/her.

Willow was maintaining the protective field around their bodies while Tara managed to keep Giles, Sydney, Broots and Willow safe with her ward. The sickly green haze had enveloped the protective bubble she'd placed around them, attacking it. There were already places that looked to be weakening.

Spike and Parker were both trapped outside the ward, and Jarod/Buffy was fighting in earnest to keep them alive. The blond vampire had come to and was gleefully throwing himself into the battle, but the sheer number of demons was overwhelming. S/he'd get close enough to fight Mr. Parker, when suddenly there would be a fresh onslaught and s/he would again be distracted with keeping Miss Parker safe. And Spike while s/he was at it.

Finally, there was a break in the mass and s/he stood facing Mr. Parker.

"Let's mambo."

The Chairman flicked his fingers and an energy surge flew at Jarod/Buffy. S/he rolled with it, the blast dissipating harmlessly behind him/her. Mr. Parker scowled.

"You can't win," he stated confidently and threw another volley.

As s/he ducked it, Mr. Parker managed to get a hold of his daughter. She punched and kicked, but he simply laughed at her efforts and quieted her with a blow to the head. She was stunned, but not defeated.

"Don't you see, Angel? Just agree. I want your willingness. The things to come - it will be a wonderful future, but you must choose it."

Jarod/Buffy's foot lashed out. The kick sent Mr. Parker sprawling, freeing Miss Parker from his grasp. She scrambled towards Spike, who disposed of the demon he'd been fighting, then stepped over to interpose himself between her and her father once more.

"Looks like she did choose, mate."

With a look of fury over being thwarted, Mr. Parker waved some of the demons over. "Kill him."

With a sickening crack, Spike broke the neck of something gray and slimy as it rushed him. "Haven't had a fight this good in bleedin' ages!" he proclaimed, a wicked grin on his face. "Just so ya know, mate," he said conversationally as a vampire came flying at him, "I don't kill so easy, what with already bein' dead and all." He whipped out his stake and impaled the demon in midair.

Jarod/Buffy watched Spike as he fought, and Buffy could see he was injured and tiring fast. SO then why was he jumping into the center of the fray? The answer hit her like a ton of bricks. //He's getting ready to go out with a bang of glory!// she mentally shouted, her anger and fear flooding over Jarod as well.

He had discovered something interesting; every time feelings of concern for Spike escaped Buffy's control, they were filled with new strength. But as soon as she realized what she was feeling, she clamped down on it. The distraction allowed the attacking demons to get the upper hand and wear her/him down.

For the life of him - quite literally, it seemed - Jarod could *not* get her to see what was happening.

//Would you just let it go?// the Buffy part of them insisted. //I don't care about him and, hello? Busy fighting for our lives here!//

A fresh influx of demons had filled the space between him/her and Mr. Parker. S/he twisted the head off a vampire, punched right through a scaly demon's chest and pulled it's heart out, then pivoted on one foot and let the other one fly in a brutal snap kick that broke some armor-plated demon's neck.

Jarod's thougt-voice rose above the pitch of battle. //We fight better when you allow yourself to admit you care about him. That you love hi-//

Her/his hands shot out and grabbed another demon by the head, smashing its face down into her/his knee repeatedly.

//I do *not* love him!//

//Do you usually sleep with men you don't love?//

S/he faltered for a moment, and an ugly orange monster got its paws on him/her, sending Jarod/Buffy crashing to the ground. It began pummeling him/her, but s/he wriggled free and knocked it on its pumpkin-coloured ass.

//Do you mind? I'm trying to repress! And again with the saving the world here!//

They finished off mean, orange and ugly, and then a pair of horned demons stepped up to the plate. As s/he engaged them in a deadly dance, Jarod forced the point. //Buffy, you can lie to him. You can even lie to yourself.//

She tried to ignore him. Demon number one went down.

//But I'm here in your head, hearing your thoughts and feeling your feelings. //

Demon number two buckled beneath his/her onslaught, melting into goo as s/he snapped its spine.

//You can't lie to me. You love him. //

She tried to launch into another round of denial and the distraction got him/her punched in the back of the head by a vampire.

//I *can't* love him!//

S/he staked it, then turned and grappled with something unidentifiable.

//You already *do*. What you mean is you don't want to. You're afraid to.//

S/he was hit by a blast of whatever it was Mr. Parker was throwing around. The pain lanced through him/her, leaving him/her stunned. Mr. Parker laughed.

"You can't fight me. Your energy is in discord. It's a delicious feast."

//Can't you see?// Jarod demanded. He felt Buffy's mind go rigid, her feelings freezing up entirely. //He's sucking us dry because we're fractured. Buffy, I'm not telling you to run out and marry Spike. I'm just asking you to admit that you're in love with him - at least here and now, to yourself and to me. If you won't, we're going to end up dead, along with all the people we love.//

In spite of Spike's valiant efforts to defend her, the Chairman managed to get a grip on his daughter once more. Jarod/Buffy fought to get through the mass of demons separating them.

"Now, Angel. It's time to make your choice."

She looked him square in the eye. "Never. I will never willingly choose to join you." There was fear in her face, but she held her head up high. "I don't know who you are, but you're not my father."

Mr. Parker gave her a cold smile. His features began to melt, morphing into a horrifying amalgam of her father's human face and some unknown demon. She tried to pull away, but he had her in an iron grip. "Perhaps not. But I posses all that is left of him. As I did his father before him. As I will possess you. It would be so much less painful for you if you had just given over willingly, but I'll take you either way."

Jarod/Buffy realized at once that this was the moment of Convergence. Once that thing merged with Miss Parker, it would be powerful enough to open the Hellmouth. As s/he struggled on in the fray, Jarod's feelings of love for his huntress swept over Buffy. His fear that she would suffer and die, or worse yet, be changed by the thing that Mr. Parker had become. The wish that she could have seen beyond their hunter/prey relationship to accept his love for her and in turn admit to her own. The regret that he and Sydney weren't closer. The longing for his family. And the crystal clear truth of what he had seen inside Buffy's soul. Her love for Spike.

The moment she capitulated, a dam broke within her spirit, and the brief flashes of strength they had felt before were nothing compared to the tidal wave of power that now crashed down and infused them. A quiet voice spoke in their shared mind.

>>You have found unity. You are one. Only together will you have victory.

The End

You have reached the end of "Convergence". This story is complete.

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