* * ** * *
“We’ll get the police,” Willow said as they ran, Xander and Grace carrying Jesse between them. “It’s just a few blocks up.”
The four of them stopped in surprise as they found themselves face to face with half a dozen vampires. As they backed away from the vampires in front of them they backed into Darla, who quickly grabbed Jesse as the others attacked. By time Buffy came looking for them Darla had disappeared with Jesse.
Willow was struggling under a vampire. “No! Get off!”
“Hey!” Buffy said, getting the vampire to look up. She kicked it off Willow, then ran off the opposite way from the fleeing vampire in search of Xander and Grace.
“Xander!” Willow called out as she came around a tombstone and saw him being dragged by two vampires.
The vampires both turned to look at Willow and Buffy knocked them away from Xander. She broke a branch off a nearby tree and used it to stake the male vampire.
“Xander,” Willow rushed to help him sit up. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, man, something hit me.”
“Where’re Jesse and Grace?” Buffy asked.
“I don’t know,” Willow admitted. “They surrounded us.”
“That blonde girl grabbed Jesse and took off.”
“Which way?” Buffy asked.
“I don’t know,” Xander admitted.
“And I lost track of them,” Grace admitted, walking up to join them.
Buffy looked around, “Jesse,” she said softly. * * *
“Grace, where’s Jesse?”
“I don’t know,” Grace was crying in frustration. “I couldn’t find him again. I looked and looked,” she said honestly, “but I couldn’t find him again.”
“Is that blood?” Kelly asked, looking at Grace’s shirt.
Grace looked down at herself, seeing the blood she’d been smelling. She peeled her shirt up and looked at the cut under it. “Just a scratch.”
“Where’s Jesse?” Kelly asked again.
“I couldn’t find him again. We got him away once but I couldn’t find him after they grabbed him a second time.”
“The only reason I allow you to stay here is because of Jesse. You don’t come back with him don’t bother to come back at all,” Kelly snapped at her.
“It’s the middle of the night, Kelly,” Mike said from the bottom stair. “There’s nothing more she can do until morning anyway.”
“I want her gone.”
“You can stay tonight, Grace. Tomorrow, hopefully, Jesse will turn up and we can discuss this as a family again.”* * *
Grace felt frustrated. The wolf in her needed to be out looking for Jesse but the rational side of her knew blindly searching wouldn’t do any good. She was sitting on the desk, hands gripping the edge so tightly she heard the wood cracking.
“This world is older than any of you know. And contrary to popular mythology it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons demons roamed the Earth making it their home, their Hell. Over time they lost their purchase on this reality, driven out by mortal animals, by man. All that remains are certain remanants, certain magics.”
“And vampires,” Buffy added.
“You see that’s where I have a problem,” Xander burst out. “We’re talking about vampires. We’re having a talk with vampires in it.”
“Isn’t that what we saw last night?” Willow asked.
“No,” Buffy said quickly. “No, no those weren’t vampires. Those were just guys in thundering need of a facial. Or, or they could have had rabies. It could have been rabies. And that guy turning to dust? Just a trick of light.”
Xander looked at her sceptically. Willow looked confused and Grace gave a surprised snort of laughter.
“That was what I said the first time I saw a vampire. Well,” she added, “when I was done with the screaming.”
“Oh,” Willow said weakly, “I need to sit down.”
“You are sitting down,” Buffy told her, putting her hand on Willow’s shoulder.
“Oh,” Willow looked surprised, “good for me.”
“So vampires are demons?” Xander asked.
“The books tell,” Giles said, grabbing all their attentions, “that the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human. Mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed, infected by the demon’s soul,” he handed the book to Xander. “He bit another and another. And so they walk the Earth. Feeding. Killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind. Waiting for the animals to die out and the Old Ones to return.”
“So vampires,” Xander said nodding.
“I will grant vampires are real,” Grace said, forcing herself to relax. “What’s that make you?” she asked Buffy.
“And that’s what exactly?’
“The Slayer is the one girl chosen to fight the evil of...”
“He likes doing this part,” Buffy cut him off.
“The Slayer kills vampires,” Giles summed it up. “Buffy is the Slayer. Don’t tell anyone. There, I think that’s all the information on vampires you need.”
“Except for, how do you kill them?”
“You don’t,” Buffy informed him. “I do.”
“And you’re doing a great job of it,” Grace said drily. “No, sorry,” she closed her eyes and shook her head.
“You’re right,” Buffy said to her. “Jesse is my responsibility. I let him get taken.”
“No shit,” Grace muttered just loud enough for Giles to hear her.
“That’s not true,” Xander corrected Buffy.
“If you hadn’t shown up they would have taken us too,” Willow pointed out. “Except Grace.”
“Explain to me how you didn’t get grabbed,” Xander said, looking Grace over.
“Once upon a time I had a friend who insisted I learn how to fight,” Grace said honestly. “He started me in two martial arts forms when I was 11. They weren’t expecting dinner to fight back.”
“Why two?” Giles asked her.
“One hard and one soft,” she explained.
Giles nodded his understanding.
“This big guy Luke, he talked about an offering to the Master. Now, I don’t know what or who but if they weren’t just feeding then Jesse may still be alive. I’m gonna find him.”
“Uhm, this may be the dumb question but shouldn’t we call the police?” Willow asked.
“And they’d believe us, of course,” Giles said drily, standing and beginning to pace.
“We don’t have to say vampires,” Willow argued. “We could just say there’s, there’s a bad man.”
“They couldn’t handle it even if they did show up. They’d only come with guns,” Buffy said, leaning over Willow’s shoulder.
“You have no idea where they took Jesse?” Giles asked them.
“I looked around,” Buffy admitted, “but as soon as they got clear of the graveyard they could have just, Voom.”
“Vampires can fly?” Xander asked sceptically.
“They can drive,” Buffy corrected.
“Oh,” Xander said, slightly deflated.
“I don’t remember hearing a car,” Willow stated.
“I don’t think they left the graveyard,” Grace spoke up.
“Let’s take an enormous intuitive leap,” Giles broke in again, “shall we, and assume they went underground.”
“Vampires really jam on sewer systems. You can get anywhere in the entire town without catching any rays,” Buffy explained for Xander and Willow. “But I didn’t see any access around there.”
“Well, there’s an electrical tunnel that runs under the whole town,” Xander told them.
“If we had a diagnostic of the tunnel system it might indicate a meeting place,” Giles said, flipping through cards in the catalog drawer. With a sigh he stopped, “I suppose we could go to the building commission.”
“We so don’t have time,” Buffy argued.
“Uhm, guys, there may be another way,” Willow spoke up.
A few minutes of hacking and Willow had the city plans on her computer screen.
“There it is,” Buffy pointed it out on the screen.
“That runs under the graveyard,” Willow observed.
“I don’t see any access,” Xander said, studying the layout.
“So,” Giles said from behind them, “all the city plans are just open to the public?”
“Uhm, well, in a way,” Willow hedged. “I sort of stumbled onto them when I accidently decrypted the city council’s security system.”
“Someone’s been naughty,” Xander teased Willow softly.
“There’s nothing here,” Buffy said with a frustrated sigh. “This is useless.”
“I think you’re being a bit hard on yourself.”
“You’re the one that told me I wasn’t prepared enough,” Buffy reminded Giles. “Understatement. I thought I was on top of everything and then that monster Luke came out of nowhere,” her voice trailed off as she remembered the moment.
“What?” Xander prompted.
“He didn’t come out of nowhere. He came from behind me. I was facing the entrance and he came from behind me and he didn’t follow me out. The access to the tunnels is in the mausoleum. The girl must have doubled back with Jesse after I got out. God, I am so mentally challenged.”
“So what’s the plan?” Xander asked. “We saddle up, right?”
“There’s no we,” Buffy told him. “I’m the Slayer and you’re not.”
“I knew you’d throw that back in my face.”
“Xander, this is deeply dangerous.”
“I’m inadequate. I’m fine, I’m less than a man,” he turned away from Buffy.
“Buffy,” Willow spoke up, “I’m not anxious to go into a dark place full of monsters but I do want to help. I need to.”
“Well, then help me,” Giles said, leaning over Willow’s shoulder. “I’ll be researching this harvest affair. It seems to be some sort of pre-ordained massacre. Rivers of blood. Hell on Earth. Quite charming. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details however. It may be that you can wrest some information from that dread machine.”
Everyone in the library looked at him with mixed confusion and amusement.
“That was a bit, British, wasn’t it,” he said, looking at them.
“Welcome to the New World,” Buffy teased.
“I want you to go on the Net.”
“Oh, sure,” Willow smiled now that she understood, “I can do that.”
“Then I’m outta here,” Buffy said, starting for the door. “If Jesse’s alive I’ll bring him back.”
“Do I have to tell you to be careful?” Giles asked. Buffy looked back and gave him a brief smile before heading off.* * *
“Murder, death, disaster,” Willow was listing things to search.
“Paranormal, unexplained,” Xander prompted. “Did you get natural disasters?”
“Earthquakes, floods,” Willow scribbled.
“Massive missing persons,” Grace suggested.
“Someone has to be turning into them.”
“Rain of toads,” Xander added.
“Right,” Willow agreed.
“Rain of toads. Do you think they’d have that in the paper?”
“I’ll put it on the computer search,” Willow promised. “If it’s in there it’ll turn up. Anything that will lead us to vampires.”
“And I in the meantime will help by standing around like an idiot.”
“Not like an idiot, just standing. Buffy doesn’t want you to get hurt, and neither do I,” she admitted.
“It’s just like too much. Yesterday it was all uh oh pop quiz, today it’s rain of toads,” Xander complained.
“I know. And everyone else just thinks it’s a normal day.”
“Noboby knows. It’s like we’ve got this big secret.”
“We do,” Willow pointed out. “That’s what a secret is, when you know something the other guys don’t.”
“Well, you two should be getting to class,” Xander looked at the doorway.
“We should. You need to go to class too.”
“Yeah,” he agreed.
“Buffy’ll be okay. Whatever’s down there I think she can handle it.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“So do I,” Willow said again.
Xander and Grace walked away from the computer lab. They got to the chemistry class he shared with Buffy.
“Here,” Grace said, unclasping the cross from around her neck and putting it on Xander. “A little girly but it’s at least something. Be careful.”
“You don’t take this class.”
“I have a free so I’m taking notes for you and Buffy. Be careful,” she repeated, entering the classroom and taking a seat at the back.
“And you are?”
“Grace Kelly. I’m taking notes for Xander and Buffy. They had an errand to run.”
“And your own class?”
“I have a free.”
“I don’t recall seeing you before.”
“It’s my second day.”
“Your family just moved to Sunnydale?”
“No, actually my family has lived here for years. You probably know my brother Jesse.”
The teacher nodded and began the lesson. * * *
“Did you find Jesse?” Willow asked as Xander and Buffy came back into the library.
“Yeah,” Xander agreed tiredly.
“Was he dead?”
“Worse. I’m sorry, we were too late,” Buffy sighed. “They were waiting for us.”
“At least you two are okay,” Willow said simply.
Xander kicked a garbage can across the library. “I don’t like vampires I’m going to take a stand and say they aren’t good,” he said, sinking into the chair next to Grace.
“Sign,” Grace put a sheet of looseleaf paper in front of him.
Xander signed without even looking at it.
“Buffy,” Grace held the paper out to her.
“What is it?” Buffy asked.
“Chemistry homework,” Grace said, turning back to the books in front of her. “And I’m nearly done your english homework.”
Xander looked at her in surprise. “What did I sign?”
“Chem homework. Giles and Willow found something.”
“You did my homework?”
“I’m in junior chemistry. And your teacher knows I’m doing your homework. I told him so when class was over. I’ll explain it all later.” Grace finished writing and held the paper out to Buffy. “English homework. Read it before you hand it in.”
“So, Giles, any way you can make this day any worse?” Buffy asked.
“How about the end of the world?”
“Knew I could count on you.”
“This is what we know. Some sixty years ago a very old, very powerful vampire came to these shores and not just to feed.”
“He came because this town’s a mystical whozit,” Buffy guessed.
“Yes,” Giles said drily as he straightened up. “The Spanish who first settled here called it La Boca Del Inferno. Roughly translated Hellmouth. It’s a sort of a,” Giles hesitated, “a portal between this reality and the next. This vampire hoped to open it.”
“Bring the demons back,” Buffy stated.
“End of the world,” Xander said, standing and starting to pace.
“But he blew it,” Willow spoke up. “Or I mean, there was an earthquake that swallowed half the town and him too.”
“You see,” Giles said, as he squatted beside Willow, “opening dimensional portals is tricky business. Odds are he got himself stuck, like a cork in a, uh, bottle.”
“And this Harvest is to get him out,” Xander guessed.
“It comes once in a century, on this night,” Giles agreed. “The Master can draw power from one of his minions while it feeds. Enough power to break free and open the portal. The minion is called the vessel,” Giles said, picking up the whiteboard marker and beginning to write, “and he bears this symbol.”
“So I dust anyone sporting that symbol and no harvest,” Buffy said, moving to the whiteboard for a closer look at the symbol.
“Simply put, yes,” Giles agreed.
“Any idea where this little get together is being held?” she asked.
“Well, there are a number of possibilities,” Giles hedged.
“They’re goin’ to the Bronze,” Xander stated flatly.
“Are you sure?” Willow asked him.
“Come on. All those tasty young morsels all over the place,” he said sarcastically. “Anyway, that’s where Jesse’s going to be. Trust me.”
“Then we should get there,” Giles said, putting down the marker and moving towards the library entrance. “The sun will be down before long.”
“I gotta make a stop. It won’t take long,” Buffy said, as she followed Giles.
“Supplies,” Buffy said as she pulled her coat on. * * *
“Jesse, man, I know you’re still in there.”
“Now let’s look at this,” Jesse said, advancing on Xander despite the raised stake. “Jesse was a pathetic loser who couldn’t get a date with anyone in the sighted community.”
“Maybe,” Grace said, draping her cross around his neck to keep him from lunging at Xander, “but he had a sister.”
Jesse clawed at the cross but couldn’t break her hold. Someone bumped into Grace which pushed her against Jesse and onto the stake Xander held. Jesse disappeared in an explosion of dust and Grace fell against Xander, dropping the cross in the pile of dust that was all that was left of her brother.
“I’m sorry,” Xander said, putting his arms around her as she leaned against him.
“Me too,” Grace said softly. She pulled away from Xander and they made their way towards the stage where Buffy was fighting Luke. A pair of vampires grabbed them and held them as Luke scoffed at the weapon Buffy was holding.
“You forget, metal cannot hurt me.”
“You forgot something too,” Buffy countered, “sunrise.” She threw the music stand through the window behind him. Luke spun, trying to shield himself from the yellow light coming through the broken window. By the time he realized it wasn’t burning him she’d picked up her stake and hopped back up onto the stage. “It’s in about nine hours, moron,” she pointed out before staking him.
Buffy turned to look over at the remaining vampires, who promptly decided to flee and save their own lives. Everyone walked onto the dance floor as Buffy hopped down off the stage.
“It’s over,” Giles observed.
“Did we win?” Willow asked.
“Well, we stopped the apocalypse,” Buffy stated, “they should give us points for that.”
“One thing’s for sure,” Xander sighed, “nothing is ever going to be the same again.”
Grace looked at him sceptically as they started for the exit. * * *
Grace broke into the Bronze and made her way to the pile of dust with the cross in it. She took an urn out of her backpack and scooped up the ashes. She held up the cross, watching it turn in the light from the window Buffy had broken.
With a sigh, and a tear rolling down her cheek, she put the cross back on.
“Here,” Xander passed her a dustbroom and pan.
“Thank you,” she finished sweeping up Jesse’s ashes. She sealed up the urn and tightened it beyond what any normal human could open.
“I didn’t think to get an urn,” Xander admitted, helping her put the urn into her backpack. He gave her a hand up and wiped the tear from her cheek.
“I don’t,” Grace choked on the rest of her words. “How can I miss something I only had for three days?”
Xander wrapped his arms around her and let her cry into his shoulder, his own eyes wet. They cried together for several minutes.
“I miss him.”
“So do I,” Xander admitted. “So what are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know,” Grace admitted. “Kelly hates me, Mike wasn’t all that thrilled to see me.” She leaned into his hold for a moment. “I came here because I had no choice.”
“And you found something you wanted to hold onto with Jesse.”
“It was,” she stopped with a sigh. “He wanted me to be his sister. Nobody’s every wanted me. Not for the right reasons.”
“Willow and I want you for the right reasons too.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Grace sighed. “I want to give Mike and Kelly some kind of closure. Some piece of Jesse to remember.”
“Hence the urn,” Xander agreed. The two of them left the Bronze and walked through the deserted streets. “So where are we going?”
“I want to see if they’ll give me a death certificate.”
“You don’t have a body.”
“I know,” Grace agreed with another sigh. “Which is why I don’t expect to get one.” * * *
“Did you find Jesse?”
“No. Yes,” Grace corrected. “Jesse’s dead. I saw him die.”
“Convenient,” Kelly sneered at her.
Grace took the urn from her backpack and put it on the table between them. “I brought you Jesse’s ashes.”
“Get out. Get out of my house and never come back.”
“I’m sorry, Kelly, I really am. I liked Jesse, and I miss him.” Grace shook her head and started for the door.
“Grace, wait,” Mike called to her.
“What do you want, Mike?”
“Are you going back to Pittsburgh?”
“I have something to do before I leave.”
“We’ll talk tomorrow,” Mike said as he closed the door behind her. * * *
“Good morning,” Grace said as Mike walked into the pancake house. “Would you care to join me?”
“For a few minutes. I brought your clothes with me, they’re in the car. I even brought the stuff you and Jesse decided you should have out of his closet.”
“Thank you.” Grace turned her attention to her food for a moment.
“When you’re done eating I’ll drive you to the airport in LA. You can be back to your life by lunch.”
“I have something to do first,” Grace said simply, looking up at Mike. “Don’t even bother trying to convince me to go. Until I take of my new problem I’m not going anywhere.”
“Kelly won’t have you back in our home.”
“I wasn’t asking her to,” Grace pointed out.
“So what are you planning on doing then?”
“What has to be done,” Grace said simply. “I’m not asking you for anything, Mike. Not from you and not from Kelly. All I want is for you to stay out of my way and let me be.”
“Where are you staying?”
“I got a room at a motel. I’ve lived in worse.”
“Your mother’s lawyer contacted me again. Said he had some insurance money. Said they had to give it to you.”
“I don’t want Helen’s blood money.”
“It’s not a lot,” he said. “Five thousand upfront and five hundred a month for five years. It’s not enough to live on I know, but it’s all you’re going to get from either of us.”
“Whatever.” Grace paid the bill and stood up. “Since you were kind enough to bring my clothes with you, do you mind giving me a ride to the motel to drop them off?”
“Sure. I can do that.” * * *
“Hey,” Grace said as she came up on Xander. She turned her head to see what he was watching. With a roll of her eyes she listened to Cordelia explain off the events of the previous Friday night.
“What did you expect?” Buffy asked as she joined them.
“Some notice,” Xander admitted, not acknowledging Grace except to pull her close and give her a one arm hug. “I mean the dead rose, we should at least have an assembly.”
“People will rationalize what they can,” Giles said as they joined him and Willow, “and forget the rest.”
“It’s true,” Buffy agreed. “I’ve seen it happen.”
“Well I’ll never forget,” Willow assured them as she gave Grace a brief hug.
“Good. Then you’ll be ready for next time,” Giles said as they started walking.
“And next time is why?” Xander quizzed him.
“While you stopped the Master he is not defeated. And the next threat you face may be something completely different. We are standing on a mystical convergence. We very well may be all that stands between the Earth and total destruction.”
“I know I can hardly wait,” Buffy joked. “On the bright side there’s still time to get thrown out of school.”
The four of them started away from Giles. “Yeah,” Xander agreed, “because other schools aren’t on the Hellmouth.”
“You could blow something up,” Willow suggested. “They frown on that.”
“No doubt,” Grace rolled her eyes.
“I was thinking more along the lines of excessive non-studying,” Buffy told Willow.
“That works too,” Xander nodded.
Giles watched them disappear around a corner. “The world is doomed,” he sighed. * * * * * *