BY DANIELLE FRANCES DUCREST
Disclaimers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
belongs to Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, Fox Television Productions, UPN, Sandollar Television, Kuzui Enterprises, and Mutant Enemy. Angel
belongs to Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Kuzui Enterprises, Fox Television Productions, Warner Bros. Studios, Sandollar Television, Mutant Enemy, and Greenwolf Corp. Roswell
belongs to Melinda Metz, Jason Katims, and UPN. Any copyright infringements were not intended. This story belongs to me. It was written for entertainment and not for profit. Please don't sue. All you'll get is a fifty-cent Kennedy coin and two pennies that I melted and reprinted with two museums' insignias.
Spoilers and timing: In the Buffy
universe, this takes place after "The Gift" with spoilers for that episode and "Listening to Fear," "Wild at Heart," "New Moon Rising," "The Body," and "The Wish." It also has spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Gatekeeper Trilogy
written by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder. In the Angel
universe, this takes place after "There's No Place Like Pltz Glb" with spoilers for that. In the Roswell
universe, this takes place right after "Departure" with spoilers for that and "Ask Not," "Tess, Lies, and Videotape," "Four Square," "Wipe Out," "Skin and Bones," "Max in the City," and "Baby, It's You."
Summary: The night after Tess leaves the planet with Max's son, Isabel has a dream about a guy before she meets him. His name is Oz. Believing he has something to do with Tess, Max follows him around Roswell. Little does Max know that he's watching the wrong person. A Skin is in town, and he will stop at nothing to deliver Max, Michael, and Isabel to Kivar.
Former Sheriff Jim Valenti sat on the couch of his living room. A bottle of scotch and a shot glass sat on the table in front of him. In his hand was a picture of Tess, Kyle, and himself. He smiled, remembering when Amy took it on Christmas Eve. They hadn't gotten into the Christmas spirit in years. Then an alien girl moved into their home and made them clean up their act. He chuckled. She'd definitely been a good influence on Roswell's Valentis.
He looked at the clock. Two hours had gone by since dawn. Two hours ago, his adopted daughter and the other three aliens that made up the Royal Four of the planet Antar had gone home. They left Earth and he'd probably never see any of them again.
Valenti reached over and poured a shot of scotch into the glass. Only a few inches away lay the tape Isabel asked him to give the Evans. For now, the Evans were convinced that Isabel was spending the night over here and Max was spending the night at Michael's apartment. In a few more hours, when their kids didn't come home, they would realize something was wrong. After twenty-four hours passed, they would file missing persons' reports down at the station, and then Valenti would give them Isabel's tape.
He heard the door unlock and open. "Dad?" Kyle called.
Jim stood up and went to meet his son at the door. But when he got there, he realized Kyle wasn't alone.
He stared at the people he never thought he'd see again. Not only were Kyle, Maria, and Liz there, but Max, Isabel, and Michael now stood on the threshold of his house.
"I thought you were leaving," he said.
"Change of plans," Max said. He sounded angry and unhappy. Looking at all of them, Valenti saw the same expressions on each of their faces.
Only one person was missing. "Where's Tess? Did she...go?"
"Yeah, she went," Max said. "That bitch went to Kivar with my son."
Valenti stared at Max as he felt his anger rising. Max called his daughter a bitch! He opened his mouth to yell at the alien king when his son placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Dad?" he began. "There's no easy way to say this. Liz was right. An alien killed Alex. Tess was the alien."
"What? You're joking, right?" Tess couldn't be the murderer. There was just no way.
They moved into the living room and explained what had happened not that long ago. When they were finished, Jim sat there in shock. He'd let a murderer live in his house. He picked up the photo of him, Kyle, and Tess. "I can't believe it. She fooled us all."
A loud noise made him look up. He saw Max kick the wall before he started pacing. "I can't believe I trusted her. I should have known better."
"There was no way you could have known," Liz said, but her boyfriend wasn't consoled.
"There should have," he insisted. "That bitch is now the mother of my son. I can't let him be raised by her and Kivar. I have to get him back somehow."
"How?" Michael asked, rubbing Maria's hand. "She left in the granilith. We don’t have any way to get there."
"There's got to be some way, and I'm going to find it."
"I'll help you," Isabel said, speaking up for the first time during the whole conversation. She had been fingering a picture of Alex, but now she stood up and put the picture in her back pocket. "She has to pay for what she did to Alex."
In a way, Jim felt the same way Max did. He felt betrayed for loving a girl he thought he could trust. Now he knew that everything she did was a lie, and he hated himself for believing that lie. He wanted to talk to Tess more than ever, so that meant he would help the others. But until they figured out how to get to her, they had appearances to keep up.
"In the meantime, we have to pretend everything is normal," he said. "Everyone has to go back to their jobs and houses."
Everyone agreed. They started to leave, none of them looking like they'd have any fun that day.
Before Max and Liz left, Valenti said, "We'll find a way to get your son, Max. Tess, too." He looked down at the picture. "I have some questions that need answering."
Max nodded and the young couple followed Michael, Maria, and Isabel out the door.
Oz's striped van sped down the highway. For miles in any direction was a hot desert. He had fortunately gotten the air conditioner fixed before he left California, and he had plenty of water to last in between towns. Even though silver was the only thing that could kill the werewolf, Oz didn't think dehydrating himself would have been a good idea.
More than a year had passed since his last visit to Sunnydale, California. The love of his life, Willow Rosenburg, was still there. She loved him, but she loved someone else, too. Her name was Tara. Oz wanted to be with Willow so much, but he also wanted her to be happy. Tara made her happy, so Oz left again.
He kept in touch this time. He didn't have to worry about full moons anymore, so he called during those nights, too. He still meditated and everything to keep his werewolf self under control. He didn't want anyone to get hurt during the nights he should have turned into a werewolf.
He wandered all over the continent this time, getting a temporary job whenever he needed more cash. He did that at the last town he stayed at, so he had plenty of money for a few more weeks of restaurant food and the rent for a lot in a trailer park.
There was a road sign up ahead. When he got closer, Oz made out, 'Welcome to Roswell, New Mexico.'
Oz smirked. He'd heard about Roswell. Aliens had supposedly crash-landed there in the 1940's. Oz wouldn't believe in aliens if Willow hadn't told him about the Queller Demon that visited Sunnydale a few months ago. The Queller was an alien summoned by someone unknown to kill all of the crazy people on the Hellmouth. That alien, however, crashed in a meteor, not a flying saucer.
He rounded a bend in a hill. To his left, the cliff overlooked the town of Roswell. It was smaller than Sunnydale, but probably got more tourists, judging by the number of hotels he could see from there. The town had as many hotels as Sunnydale had graveyards.
Ten minutes later, he drove down Main Street. The business names that he passed made him laugh. They said things like 'The Hanger 20 Night Club' and 'The Crashdown Café.' The town definitely had a theme going.
Oz checked his watch. He had a few hours before sundown, when he would check the town's vampire population. Spotting a trailer park only a few blocks down the road, he pulled in there and rented lot #17 for a few nights. Roswell looked like it had plenty of things to keep him busy for that long.
Later that evening, Oz entered the Crashdown Café for dinner. Not many people were there yet. He spotted a pay phone and decided to call Willow. She'd love to hear about his latest stop.
He walked over, put some money in, and dialed her dorm room number. After several rings, she picked up.
"Hello?" she said into the receiver.
Oz smiled. Even her voice sounded lovely. "Hey, Willow. It's me, Oz."
"Oz?" she echoed. Then she started crying.
"Willow? What's wrong?"
"There's something you should know about Buffy."
"She's…Buffy's dead, Oz."
Buffy Summers, the Vampire Slayer, was dead. They all knew it would happen someday, but they all hoped she would outlive any other Slayers that came before her. They were wrong.
Oz gulped down a glass of alcohol and set it down on the bar. He usually didn't go this far, but he had gotten drunk before. The first time had been after he found out Willow loved Tara. This was the second time.
The bar wasn't anything like Willy's. No demons hung out there, and the bartender was the kind of person who wouldn’t give out any information to anyone. As long as he let Oz drink without asking for an ID, the bar suited his needs.
An older man slid onto the stool next to him and ordered a drink. Oz didn't know him, but that really wasn't a surprise. He looked around, seemingly in a good mood. He spotted Oz, and squinted a little, probably trying to see better in the poor lighting.
"Aren't you a little young?" he asked.
"No," Oz lied.
A half smile played across his lips. He turned to the bartender and accepted his drink. "Of course." He took a big sip.
Oz wasn’t really drunk yet so he got a good look at the man. He was taller than Oz and had brown hair that was thinning at the top. He seemed normal, but it was his scent that set Oz off. The man looked human, but he smelled completely different. It wasn't anything like any demon's scent, either.
Oz didn't really think about it. He was mourning for Buffy, after all. Maybe the alcohol was getting to his head.
The taller man held out a hand. "I'm Valence Hope."
Oz shook it. "Daniel Osborne."
"Come here often?" he asked.
"No," Oz replied.
Oz nodded. "I'm from California."
"California? Don't think I've ever been there. Pretty big state."
"I guess so."
He smiled before taking another sip of his drink. "Not much of a talker, are you?"
Oz shrugged. "Not in the mood."
The other man's beeper went off. He picked it up and looked at it. He gave Oz an apologetic smile and stood up. "I have to go now," he said. He held his hand out to Oz again and they shook hands. "Nice meeting you, Mr. Osborne."
Valence walked toward his van, a bounce in his step and a feigned air of ignorance to what could be hiding in the dark. He walked to a car parked across the street and climbed into the driver's seat.
Then his entire manner changed. Anyone that wasn't watching very closely wouldn't have noticed it, but he stood up straighter, and the friendly expression on his face disappeared to be replaced by an uncaring look, maybe even disgust at his surroundings and situation.
He took the unearthly communications device off from his neck and turned to the other occupants of the car. There were two of them. One sat in the front. He also had a communications device. His name was Lewis, a vampire Valence had appointed as his second-in-command for as long as he was on the planet. Lewis' demands in return were hard to find, but not impossible. Valence had accepted his terms simply because they gave him something to do when he wasn't carrying out his own leader's orders. In the back, was a half-demon named Marik. His demon side wasn't worth much in a fight, but his ability to look human whenever he wanted had gotten him into the computer industry. That was where Valence had found him. Even now, he sat in the back seat with a laptop booted up and ready to use.
Marik's eyes were wide and staring. At first, Valence had liked the fact that most of his minions feared him. But now, it was just irritating. "Well?" He asked impatiently.
"Oh! Um," Marik glanced down at his laptop. "There's no doubt. All three of them know each other. So do a small number of humans, including Deputy Valenti, who used to be the sheriff until he started helping them out. There are many places where they meet together on a regular basis, so there should be no trouble getting them all."
Valence smiled. "Excellent."
Lewis's communications device beeped. "Sir, there's a call for you."
Valence picked up his own device. "Your highness," he spoke into it, in his native tongue. He knew his two minions wouldn't understand a word.
"I'm getting impatient, Toren," Kivar himself spoke through the pendant. "Have you found them?"
"Yes, your majesty," Valence answered. "I expect to be back on the planet with all three of them in less than a week, sir."
"Excellent, Toren. You will be rewarded. But if you fail to bring them back, you know what will happen."
"Yes, my King."
The conversation ended, and Valence was reminded of his surroundings. He hated this planet, and couldn't wait to return. He was loyal to Kivar, and was therefore afraid of the type of punishments he knew his King could invent. He was a little irritated that it had taken this long to get to Roswell. Earth's technology was so far down the line he almost walked here instead of flying or taking the bus.
Magic was probably the only good thing about this boring planet. When he'd discovered he could use it to his advantage, everything changed.
"Marik," he said. "I want you to look up someone named Daniel Osborne, from California, and tell me what you find."
"Yes, sir," Marik said nervously before getting to work.
"Anyone special?" Lewis asked. Valence closed his eyes in annoyance. Vampires were far too intrusive.
Then something occurred to him, and he smiled. "Perhaps," Valence said. "How would you like a werewolf instead of the hind of a Haryl Demon?"
"A werewolf? That's not going to get me that much on the market, sir."
"Just be happy with what you get," Valence said. "Remember, if you don't do your job, you won't get anything."
Isabel sat on her bed, staring down at her favorite picture of Alex. She missed him so much. She remembered the few times they danced: in Las Vegas and at the Prom. Both dances took place only weeks before he was gone forever. Tess killed him. They thought they could trust her and she killed the only man Isabel ever really loved.
A tear fell down her cheek. Isabel ignored it, and soon more tears made their way down her cheek. Isabel lay back on her bed and cried.
She looked around. She was in the cemetery that Alex was burried in. Looking down, she saw Alex's tombstone. His grave was empty.
Alarmed, Isabel glanced around, but no one was in sight.
"Hey, Iz," a voice said to her left. Isabel turned to see Alex standing there. He had a goofy smile pasted on his face.
"Alex." She fell into his arms. "I thought I'd lost you. I thought-"
"You didn't." He pulled her back a little to look into her eyes. "I'm still here."
She looked around again. "No," she said, disappointed. "This is a dream. You aren't real."
"There are a lot of things in this world you don't know, Iz," he said.
Confused, she asked, "Like what?"
As an answer, Alex looked to his right. Iz followed his gaze.
The road outside the cemetery fence was visible. They watched as a striped van rolled down it before stopping in front of the cemetery gate. The driver stepped out. He had dyed black hair and wore a bowling shirt.
The stranger stepped into the cemetery and looked around. He noticed Alex's empty grave and walked over, seemingly oblivious to Isabel's and Alex's figures. The stranger pulled out a piece of wood. It was sharpened into a point on one end.
Confused, Isabel turned to ask Alex what was going on, only to find that her lover was gone. "Alex?" she asked.
The black-haired man heard her. He whirled on her and raised his stick.
She heard a growl behind her. Turning around, she saw another man. This man's face, however, seemed to be messed up somehow. When he opened his mouth, she could see two sharp, pointed teeth.
He licked his fangs and growled again. Then he leaped.
Isabel sat up in bed breathing heavily while memories of the dream went through her mind. "It was just a dream, Isabel," she told herself, but she remained unconvinced. It had seemed so real.
The next morning, Isabel was sitting in a booth at the Crashdown. Next to her was Max, and across from them were Kyle and Maria. Maria didn't have to work that morning, but Liz and Michael did. Liz had already taken their order and Michael was busy cooking food in the kitchen.
"My dad told the police about the jeep. He thinks it was stolen," Max said.
"At least they haven't found what's left of it yet. What are you going to do then?" Maria asked.
"I don't know. We weren't going to be here when they found it. They were supposed to think we died in it."
"My dad will make sure nothing goes wrong," Kyle assured them.
"Thanks," Max said.
Liz returned to their table carrying a large tray with their food. She passed out everyone's breakfast food, remembering to give Max and Isabel tabasco sauce packets. As she handed the packet to Max, their hands touched and both of them smiled. Even though his son was half a galaxy away, Max was glad that he could finally be with Liz. He was also glad that the guy sitting across from him, Kyle, didn't sleep with her.
"Iz, here's some Tabasco sauce," Liz said, holding the packet out to Isabel. Isabel wasn't paying attention. She was lost in thought.
"Earth to Isabel," Maria said. Isabel snapped out of it and looked at them. They gazed back with concerned looks.
"You okay, Isabel?" Max asked.
"Not really," Isabel confessed.
"That's understandable," Kyle said. "I find it all hard to believe, too."
"Yeah," Isabel said as her thoughts once again shifted to Alex. "But I also had this dream last night. It just really freaked me out."
"What was it about?" Max asked. Sometimes they got prophetic dreams, so it never hurt to ask.
Isabel shook her head. "I don't want to talk about it."
Oz woke up in the back of his van with a mild hangover. After he found some painkillers in one of his bags, Oz debated what he would do next. Buffy's funeral had been last week. He could go back and help out any way he could. He could help Dawn move all of her things into Giles' apartment. The Slayerless Watcher was Dawn's guardian now. Oz wasn't sure if he wanted to be that close to Tara again, though.
Sighing, he grabbed a change of clothes and some soap and walked over to the trailer park's bathhouse to take a shower.
A newspaper stand sat just outside the bathhouse door. The caution he'd learned from living on the Hellmouth hadn't worn off, and Oz decided to check the paper for any evidence of the town's supernatural population.
He took a paper out and looked through it. On page three, he found an article about five kids that were found with their blood drained and two little wholes in their necks. The police were trying to keep it quiet, because they didn't want to spook the locals. Some people chalked it up to an alien experiment, but Oz knew better.
There were vampires living in the city of aliens. Oz decided that he would have to check it out before he headed for Sunnydale. That meant he would stay there for a few days.
After he showered, he stepped into the driver's seat of his van. He drove down to the Crashdown Café to have breakfast.
When he reached the café, he parked the van and walked into the building. It looked just as tacky during the day as it did at night. The booths were shaped like saucers and the walls had collages of little green men. The waitress uniforms also went along with the theme, with alien head-shaped aprons and aluminum antennae. Oz chuckled at all of it as he looked for someplace to sit.
A smell hit his sensitive noise. He frowned. It smelled like Valence Hope did last night, only it was mixed in with more human smells.
He looked for the source. His gaze fell on one of the booths on the right wall. Two of the occupants smelled human, but the other two gave off the peculiar scent. One of the waitresses stood at the end of their table talking to them.
One of the two people with the odd scent, a girl with long blonde hair, looked up. When their gazes met, she gasped.
Oz frowned. He didn't know her, but she obviously knew him.
Isabel couldn't believe it. It was the guy from her dream. His hair was dyed red instead of black, but she knew it was him.
Their gazes met before she could look away. She wondered if he'd noticed her stare. She watched as he sat down at one of the tables.
"Isabel?" Kyle asked.
She looked at the other people at the table. They were staring at her, concerned. "I know him."
"Who?" Max asked, glancing around.
"The guy sitting at the table over there. He was in the dream I had last night."
"What happened in the dream?" Max asked again. Isabel told them.
"That doesn't make sense," Kyle said. "Why would he have a piece of wood?"
"And what do you mean when you said the other guys had screwed-up faces?" Maria asked.
"I don't know," Isabel replied.
"Hopefully, it was just a dream."
"If it was just a dream, why was he in it? I've never seen him before."
"I've gotta go take his order," Liz said. "I'll see if I can learn anything."
"Thanks," Max said, squeezing her hand. She smiled at him before heading over to the stranger's table.
Liz walked up to the table feeling a little nervous. Whenever one of the aliens had a dream like that, something happened in the waking world. She just hoped that this time it wouldn't be bad.
"Hi," she said, trying her best to sound casual.
He gave her a half-smile. "Hi."
She fumbled with the pad and almost dropped it. Cursing herself silently, she took a deep breath and got ready to take his order. "Have you decided what you wanted to eat, sir?"
"Um, Yeah, the Unidentified Frying Objects, an Alien Blast, and one Martian Burger. You have some creative names in here."
Liz laughed, hoping she didn't sound fake. "I guess we do, Mr…?"
He held out his hand. "Call me Oz."
"Oz. Don't think I know anyone around here named that."
"It's not common, true."
"So, are you just passing through?"
"Actually, yeah. I'm heading back to California in a few days. A friend of mine died recently and I should be there for everyone."
Liz's breath caught in her throat when he said that. Someone died recently…who knew how?
"Sorry for your loss, Mr. Oz," she said.
"Your food will be ready in just a minute," she promised. She took the menu from him and walked toward the kitchen.
When Liz stepped through the double doors, she handed the order to Joel, the only cook besides Michael, and leaned against the wall. A minute later, the doors swooshed open again and Maria stepped through.
"So, what happened? Is he dangerous? Is he some alien hunter?" Maria asked, just as nervous as Liz felt.
"He didn't seem that bad," Liz said. "But he mentioned a death. Someone he knew died recently."
"Oh, God," Maria said, clapping her hand over her mouth.
"Who are you talking about?" Michael asked, walking up to them.
"A guy Iz saw in a dream," Maria answered.
"He's here in the Crashdown right now," Liz added.
They told him about Isabel's dream. He was confused, to say the least. "Why was he carrying a stick?"
"Beats me," Maria answered.
The doors opened again and Max stepped through. "So, what did you find out?" he asked Liz. Seeing her nervousness, he put her hand in his and squeezed it.
Feeling better now that he was here, she described her conversation with Oz. "He didn't seem that bad. He had a weird name, though. And he said a friend of his died recently."
"Might be worth checking out," Max said.
"Well, what if he didn't kill whoever it is? What if he's not bad at all?" Maria asked.
"Then why would Isabel have a dream about him? It doesn't hurt to be careful. He may have something to do with Tess."
"How?" Michael asked.
"Well, she did leave yesterday, and Isabel dreamed about him last night. I don't know what else it might mean."
Maria and Liz exchanged worried looks. "Max, what if it doesn't have to do with your son?" Liz asked.
Max ignored the question. "I’m going to follow him and see what he does." He turned and entered the front room again.
Liz watched him go, then turned to the other two. "I'm worried about him. What if Oz has nothing to do with Tess and-" she hated to say it, but she forced it out, "-their son?"
"Even if he doesn't, I don't trust him," Michael said. "I think Max has got the wrong ideas, though. I'll try to finish my shift early and check up on him."
Liz smiled at him, grateful. "Thank you, Michael."
"You have to bring him his food," Maria said. "Think you're up to it?"
Liz nodded. "Yeah, I think so."
She grabbed the tray with Oz's food, took a deep breath, and left.
"I've got a doctor's appointment to go to," Maria said. Hastily, she added. "Nothing serious. It's just a check up, but I promised I'd be there."
"Go ahead," Michael said, giving her a quick kiss. "I'll let you know if something comes up."
"Okay," Maria said, smiling. She glanced through the window to see Liz hand Oz his food. She hoped she would be okay.
As she headed out the back door, Maria glanced down at her stomach. She wasn't going to a normal checkup. She hoped the doctor would say everything was okay, too.
Oz called Sunnydale again before he left the Crashdown. Only this time, he called Giles' house, hoping to get Dawn. "Hello, Rupert Giles speaking," Giles said when he picked up the phone.
"Hey, Giles. It's me, Oz."
"Oh. Hello, Oz," the Englishman said. "Have you heard?"
"Yeah, I did. I wanted to let you guys know that I'll be heading back over there in a few days. Is Dawn there?"
"No, she's not. It would be nice to see you again, Oz."
"Yeah. I'll talk to her when I get in town."
"Where are you, exactly?"
Despite what had been going on, Oz couldn’t help but smile. "Roswell, New Mexico."
He heard a chuckle. It was weak, but it was there. "Roswell? Have you run into any aliens?"
"If you mean Queller Demons, no. But I do know some vampires are in town. That's why I'm staying here for a few days."
"Vampires? How many?" Giles asked, alarmed and concerned.
"Don't know. I'm going to find out tonight."
"If you need anything, please let us know."
"I will. See you in a few days, Giles."
"Goodbye, Oz. Good luck."
When he left the Crashdown, Oz decided to leave his van and check out the various businesses on that block. A lot of tourists and other visitors crowded the UFO Center and Museum. Oz shook his head as he left a shop owned by Amy Deluca, a maker of alien-themed souvenirs. This town really loved all this stuff. Whatever keeps you in business, I guess
, he speculated.
When he started walking again, he could sense someone following him. Still walking, Oz sniffed the air. His over-sensitive nose picked up the common outdoors and motor smells. It also picked up the scent of one of the two people from the Crashdown with the inhuman scent. It was the boy.
Oz headed back to Main Street. He decided to stay in the public part of town right now, so his stalker couldn't try something. When they were alone, though, he would get some answers.
Max followed Oz back onto Main Street. So far, it seemed as if the other man didn't know he was being followed, and Max wanted to keep it that way.
He'd passed the Crashdown again when he heard someone come up behind him. Max stopped next to an alley and turned around to see Michael walk up. "Michael, what are you doing out here?"
"Came to help out," Michael answered. "I figured you'd need a break."
"I don't." Max looked back down the street. Oz had paused at a stand of postcards, which gave Max a few minutes. "If this guy knows anything about Tess and the baby, I'm gonna find out." He started walking again, but Michael stopped him.
"Max, we don't know what this guy's story is. He may not have anything to do with Tess."
"We don't know that," Max insisted.
Michael sighed in frustration. Whenever Max set his mind to something, it was almost impossible to make him change his mind. Michael decided to try anyway.
He never got the chance. A growl came from deep within the alley. Max saw a blur out of the corner of his eye. "Michael, watch out!"
Michael turned in time to see something moving really fast at him. Without thought, Michael brought his hand up and sent out his alien power.
It hit the thing and it slipped behind a dumpster with a whimper.
Max and Michael stared at the dumpster. They looked at each other. Slowly, they walked forward. As they rounded the dumpster again, they heard another snarl. Max brought his palm up and created a green shield just in time. The creature slammed into it a few seconds later.
Michael and Max gazed at the thing in shock. "What the hell is that thing?" Michael asked.
"Good question," Max said.
The thing was on all fours like a dog, but it didn't look anything like one. It looked more like a canine gargoyle. It opened its mouth and snarled, showing off three rows of sharp teeth. The shield made it appear green, but that only made it look worse.
Suddenly, they heard another growl from behind them, then another creature landed on Max's shoulders, pushing him to the ground and making the shield fall.
"Max!" Michael said, then sent another blast at the creature on Max's back. The creature was thrown off. The other creature leaped at them, but another blast from Michael made it stay back.
Max got back up and threw up another shield, blocking Michael and Max from the exit. Both creatures started slamming into it, making Max wince. "I can't keep this up for long," Max said.
Michael looked around for a door, window or fire escape they could use, but found none. "We're trapped."
"Hey, hellhounds!" a new voice called from the mouth of the alley. Both hellhounds turned toward the sound. Michael and Max looked and saw Oz standing there, holding an axe.
The hellhounds snarled and attacked. Oz swung the axe, slicing through one hellhound's exposed stomach. The hellhound fell to the ground, dead.
The other hellhound leaped onto Oz's right arm and held on with his mouth. Oz cried out and let out a snarl of his own. He grabbed the hellhound and threw him into the alley's right wall. The hellhound whimpered as it slid to the ground, but got back up and crouched down, ready to strike. Oz brought the axe up in his left arm, waiting.
Then the hellhound switched directions and leaped at Michael and Max, who'd thrown down the shield. Before he knew what he was doing, Michael brought his hand up again. A white burst of power, much bigger than the others, escaped from his palm, hitting the flying hellhound. The hellhound's body dropped to the ground, dead and smoking.
Oz checked his arm. It was only a flesh wound. He wondered if the bites would turn him into a hellhound, but since he was already a werewolf he really doubted it.
He gazed at the other two. They stared back. "I guess we have a lot to talk about," Oz finally said.
Max and Michael exchanged looks. Neither of them trusted Oz, but they did want some answers. "Yeah, I guess we do," Max finally said.
They went inside the Crashdown. Isabel and Kyle left two hours ago, and Liz's shift was over, so it was just them.
Before they entered the café, Oz got a fresh shirt from his van. The wound had already closed, one of the advantages of not being human, so no blood got on the replaced article of clothing. Max could have healed it, but he and Michael had voted against showing Oz anymore of their powers.
They sat at one of the booths near the door. Michael and Max sat facing the front windows and Oz sat on the other side. "So, what are you?" Michael asked Oz. "We heard you growl like one of those things."
Oz raised an eyebrow as he debated what to tell them. "I'll tell you if you promise to tell me what you are in return."
"What do you mean?" Max said, exchanging a look with Michael. What had Oz seen?
"Well, I'm kind of wondering why that hellhound was smoking when it fell to the ground, and why there was this weird green shield in front of you."
"You first," Michael said.
"I’m a werewolf," Oz answered, and watched their looks of disbelief.
"A werewolf," Max repeated. "There's no such thing."
"Prove it," Michael challenged.
Another smell came to Oz's noise. He recognized it as the guy he'd met in the bar the night before.
He looked around and sniffed the air again, but the scent that had been so clear a minute earlier was gone. Oz glanced around, but couldn't see the guy anywhere.
"What?" Max asked.
Oz shook his head. "Don't know. I just picked up the scent of this guy I met last night for a minute."
He turned to see both of them staring at him. "You can smell people?" Michael asked.
"You know their scents?" Max asked at the same time.
Oz nodded at both of their questions. "He smelled kind of like you."
He nodded again. "Yeah, except your scents are mixed in with human smells. His aren't human at all."
Max and Michael exchanged a look. If Oz was telling the truth, that could mean only one thing…"A Skin's here," Max said.
"Yeah, but how many?" Michael asked.
Oz glanced back and forth at them. "What's a Skin? Is that a type of demon?"
"Demon?" Michael asked, looking back at him. "So, you're saying that not only are werewolves real, but demons are, too?"
"Wonderful," Michael said, sighing.
"You still don't believe me, do you?" Oz asked. He glanced around. "Is there somewhere we could go that's a little more private?"
Max and Michael exchanged looks yet again. "Break room, maybe?" Michael suggested. Private enough, but not too far away from a crowd where they could escape quickly.
Max nodded. The three got up and walked to the break room in the back of the café.
Once there, Max and Michael stood near the closed door and turned to Oz. "Okay, prove it," Max said.
Oz nodded. He stood a few feet away from them, closed his eyes, and held out his hand. He hoped this worked. He didn't want to lose control and transform completely.
He could feel his arm change before he opened his eyes. He watched it be covered with long brown fur in only a few seconds. His arm got a little bigger as his muscles seemed to expand, and the nails on his fingers elongated until they were talons. Oz closed his eyes and concentrated again to stop the rest of his body from changing, too.
Michael and Max stared at Oz's now completely transformed arm and watched as it changed back to its human form. Then they looked up at Oz as the werewolf took a deep breath. Oz gazed back.
"I'm convinced," Michael said. Max nodded, too. He was a little disappointed. Oz obviously had nothing to do with getting Tess and his son back to Earth. He was also shocked as his mind was forced to open up a little more.
Oz questioned, "So why were you following me earlier?"
"A lot has been going on," Max admitted, "and we thought you had something to do with it. We were wrong."
Oz noticed the note of disappoint in his voice. "Sorry. So what are you guys?"
Max looked at Michael. "Think we should tell him? We're gonna need his help tracking down that Skin."
"Isabel isn't going to like it," Michael said. "But you're right. We're gonna need his help." He looked at Oz. "I'll keep an eye on him, though."
Oz nodded in acknowledgement of the threat.
"Let's call the others," Max said. He promised, "As soon as they get here, we'll explain everything, as long as you also tell them you're a werewolf."
A half an hour later, Liz, Maria, Kyle, Isabel, and the sheriff had arrived at the Crashdown. All of them eyed Oz with uncertainly and distrust, even the sheriff, who knew the whole story from Kyle.
Oz explained that he was a werewolf again and demonstrated it the same way as before. When he changed his skin back, everyone was shocked into silence. "So, vampires and demons and werewolves are real?" Kyle asked.
Oz nodded. "Yep."
Everyone tried to process that, even Max and Michael, who were still shocked over it. Valenti thought about a lot of the murder cases that ended up on his desk. Some of them had died from blood loss. One more mystery solved.
"You don't eat people, do you?" Liz asked, then blushed. "I mean, wolves like meat, don't they?"
Oz smiled. "I don't eat people, no."
"Do you change on the full moon, like in those werewolf movies?" Maria asked.
"I used to," Oz said, thinking about all those times he woke up in cages without any memory of the night before. "But I've been using these meditation techniques to help me control my…"
"Urges?" Maria suggested.
Oz winced. "Uh, I guess you can call them that." He looked at Isabel, Max, and Michael. "I'm still wondering what you guys are, though."
Max glanced at Isabel and Michael. Michael nodded his assent. Isabel, who kept remembering her dream, was a little hesitant. Then she remembered that Max said Oz could help them fight a Skin, and figured he couldn't be that bad, so she nodded, too.
"Okay," Max said, letting out a deep breath. Liz rubbed his hand, giving him comfort. He looked back at Oz. "Michael, Isabel, and I…" How many times had he done this already? "We're aliens."
Oz's eyes widened, then he shrugged. "Okay. I guess that explains why you don't smell like any demons I know."
They looked, surprised, at him. "You're not surprised?" Isabel asked.
Oz shrugged. "When you fight demons and vampires and prevent the apocalypse a few times, very little surprises you. Besides, friends of mine have run into an alien before."
Oz nodded. "It wasn't like any of you, though. It was a demon, although it was an extra-terrestrial demon."
"So demons come from outer space?" Liz asked, fascinated.
"Some of them do."
"So where are you from?" Valenti asked.
"Werewolves come from California?" Maria asked.
Oz smiled. "It's where I got bit." He regarded all of them. "So, what's a Skin?"
They told him. They explained how and why the Skins were their enemies.
"So, if you killed all of the Skins that were sent to Earth, why is this guy still alive?" Oz asked.
"He must not have been in Roswell with all the others," Michael guessed.
"Or he found a way to cheat death, like you said Nicholas did," Isabel said, addressing Max.
"Whatever it is, he's still a threat," the sheriff decided. "We have to deal with him and with vampires. Which one comes first?"
They all glanced at each other. "Well," Max said, "we can try to identify the Skin. What did you say his name was?"
"Valence Hope," Oz supplied.
"Too bad we don’t have a computer expert," Kyle said, then mentally cursed himself when he realized what he'd just said.
Everyone got quiet. Kyle glanced at Isabel. "I'm sorry, Iz, I didn't mean…"
After a long pause, Oz cleared his throat. Everyone looked at him. "I have a friend that could help us out with that. She's in California, but she'll have no trouble accessing Roswell's hotels."
"Is she a werewolf?" Kyle asked.
"No. She's a hacker."
"Okay," Max agreed, "call her. But remember, you can't tell anyone that we're aliens."
"I won't," Oz promised.
"Now, what about the vampires?" Max asked him. "What can we do to help?"
"Well, they can't come out into the daylight, so we don’t have to worry about them until dark. As for the hellhounds, we should investigate that alley, try to see where they came from."
"I'll try to find all the vampire-like cases on file at the station," the sheriff volunteered. "See how many vampires we're dealing with or if they kill in a pattern."
"Okay. Thanks," Max told him. Sheriff Valenti stood up and went out the door.
"Our shifts are about to start," Liz announced. As much as she wanted to help out, if she was late for another shift, her dad would kill her. Maria, too.
"Go get ready for them," Max told her. "We'll let you know if something comes up."
The two waitresses left to put on their uniforms. Max turned to Oz and handed him the cell phone. "Oz, call your friend. Michael, Kyle, and I will go with you outside to the alley. We'll wait for you to finish your call. Isabel, I want you to stay here with Maria and Liz in case we need backup."
Isabel nodded. "Okay."
"So," Xander began a few minutes after he'd entered Giles' apartment. "Anything new going on with the vampire population of Sunnydale?"
"None," Giles said. He sat down heavily on the couch. "Oz is having problems, however."
"He called? So where is he now?"
"Roswell, New Mexico," the Watcher replied. "He'll be coming back here in a few days to help with moving everything."
Xander glanced around the living room. It was littered with opened and unopened cardboard boxes. Without any other relatives that would take custody of her, Giles had become Dawn's legal guardian. The boxes were full of all of her things that she wanted to keep. She was moving into Giles' guest bedroom. If Dawn had wanted to stay in the Summers' house and Giles had enough money, they would have stayed in the large house on Rodello drive.
Neither man said a word for a long time as they thought about the past year. Too much had happened that year. Not only did Joyce Summers die, but her daughter, Buffy, did, too. Buffy Summers, the vampire slayer. Everyone knew she would die sometime. Ever Slayer has at a young age. They never expected it to happen that soon, though, or in that way.
Dawn was taking it the hardest. Her sister and her mother had both died in only a few months. The closest relative she had right now was his father, who was off somewhere in Spain with his secretary and out of reach.
"Has the council found the next Slayer?" Xander asked.
Giles shook his head as he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "No. She could be anywhere and no one knows where."
The door opened again, interrupting them. Both men turned to see Willow stroll in. She didn't look too happy, either.
"I'm worried about Oz," she said. "I mean, first he says there are some vampires in Roswell that he has to take care of, then he asks me to look in the Roswell hotels for this guy, and he won't say why." She plopped down on the couch next to Giles.
"Who?" Giles asked.
"Valence Hope," the young witch answered. "I couldn't find him in the hotels, so I checked for other things-passports, airplane tickets, police and FBI records. I couldn't find him anywhere, so I think it was just an alias. I've already told Oz that."
"He wouldn't tell you why he was looking for him?"
"No!" Willow threw her hands up in frustration and frowned.
Giles got up, walked around a few boxes, and picked up a book. "What did he look like?"
Willow gave him Oz's description of Valence. "You think he could be associated with those vampires, G-man?" Xander asked.
"Doesn’t hurt to check." Holding the book open in his hands, Giles grabbed a few others and came back to the couch. He handed a few to Willow and Xander.
Xander opened the first tome up. The first page had a rather sickening mural of a Fyarl demon killing its prey. He quickly turned the page and sighed. "Another night of research and ordered-in pizza."
"Yes, get some pepperoni this time when you call them," Giles suggested, still not looking up from his book. "And call Tara and Anya over."
"What about Dawn? Where is she?" Xander asked.
"She's spending the night at a friends' house," Giles replied. "Since she is no longer in danger, I thought that she should be around friends to help…smooth everything over. And I figured it wouldn't hurt for her to get out a little."
Willow and Xander looked at him, then at each other. "Giles knows what getting out of the house means," Xander said, shocked.
"Scary," Willow agreed.
Giles gave both of them looks before returning to his book. Xander and Willow exchanged smiles before Xander picked up the phone to call Tara, Anya, and the pizza place. It would be a long night of skimming through ancient books. They needed the distraction with everything that had been going on.
Oz reported what Willow told him. "Damn," Michael said. "He could be anywhere, and we wouldn't know it."
"Well, until he shows up, we've got other problems," Max said.
"I've got some weapons in my van," Oz offered. When they looked at him, he shrugged. "I do this all the time, remember?"
They went to his parked van and got an axe for Kyle and a short sword for Oz. Max and Michael would use their powers.
They went back to the alley on the right side of the Crashdown. When they got there, they saw the remains of the two hellhounds. "Woah," Kyle said, stepping around the burnt one. "You aliens can really be handy in any situation, huh?" Michael gave him a look.
Oz sniffed the air. His nose detected the usual alley smells, the dead hellhounds, the human and aliens with him in the alley, and something else. "My nose is picking up this really odd scent coming from both of the hounds. Like the smell I got when Michael used his powers on that hellhound."
"Cadmium-X?" Max asked.
"What's that?" Oz asked.
"It's…an isotope of cadmium. It's created whenever we use our powers."
Oz nodded. "Yeah, I think that's it."
"If that's true, then an alien was controlling those hounds," Kyle deduced.
"It's gotta be Valence Hope," Michael said.
"We don't know that for sure," Max countered.
"Yeah, but he's the only Skin in town right now that we know of. He's our only lead."
"Yeah, but how are we supposed to find him?" Kyle asked.
Oz looked around, sniffing again. "That may be easier than we thought."
"You smell him?" Michael asked. Hopefully, they could get this over with quickly. He hated not knowing who to trust or when not to look over his shoulder. He just wanted to kill the Skin and the vampires and hellhounds and be done with the problem.
Oz frowned. "I did for a minute, but it disappeared after that."
"Do you know what direction it came from?" Max asked.
Oz shook his head. "No. It was just there one minute and gone the next."
"Maybe Hope wants you to think that," Kyle suggested.
Max thought about that. "You mean he could have psychic powers like Tess?"
Kyle nodded. "Yeah, I think so."
"If that's true, he should do that again," Oz surmised.
"One of them attacked us from the roof," Michael said. He motioned to the fire escape. "We should check it out."
They walked up the stairs to the roof. When they passed the second story, Max glanced inside the Parker household. He was glad that they weren't at home. He wasn't sure he could have explained what they were doing. It was bad enough when he showed up with a mariachi band last year.
When they reached the roof, Max looked around. Two chimneys from the Crashdown's and the Parkers' kitchens were on the left. The air conditioning system and a satellite dish were also stuck to the roof. He couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.
"What the-?" Michael said.
"Woah," Kyle said.
Max turned in their direction and looked beyond them. "What is that?"
A swirling, purple bruise-colored portal stood in the air. Inside the portal, they could see a gray horizon and not much else.
"The Ghost Roads," Oz said.
"The what?" Max asked, looking over at the werewolf.
"It's where the dead go to after they die," Oz said. "Then they either move on to heaven or hell, or they wonder the ghost roads forever."
"Wait a minute," Kyle said. "You're saying we're gonna go there when we die?"
"Well, I know you will. Don't know if aliens or werewolves are sent there." Kyle looked pretty spooked by that idea, so Oz changed the subject. "Those hellhounds must have come through the roads from hell and landed here. But only someone practicing magic could open the portal in the first place."
"Could more come through?" Max asked.
Oz nodded. "Yeah. I should call Willow. She'd closed a bunch of these before. She can tell us how to do it." He started back over to the fire escape.
"Woah-" Kyle began, stopping him. "Willow? Your hacker friend? She casts spells, too?"
Oz nodded and smiled, thinking of her. "Yeah, she's Wiccan, too."
Max was having trouble taking all of this in. Not only werewolves and hellhounds were real, but heaven and hell were, too? He wasn't sure if he believed that, but he knew Oz knew the most about this sort of thing and that they should definitely close the portal.
"Let's go, then," he said.
Anya and Tara arrived at Giles' place fifteen minutes after Xander called them. Anya sat down in the chair next to Xander and Tara sat on the couch between Giles and Willow.
"So, what's the what?" Anya asked, cheerful. She was glad they had something to do. Everyone had been down lately because of Buffy's death. Still new to the human emotions that came with mortality, Anya wasn't sure how to handle it or her own grief, so she was glad that things could be normal again.
Giles took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, taking a break from looking through a history book written in old German. "Oz called," he answered. "He's in Roswell, New Mexico, and is taking care of some vampires. He also asked Willow to look up a Valence Hope, but wouldn't explain why."
When he said that name, she froze. "Valence Hope?" she repeated.
"Honey, do you know him?" Xander asked, concerned and surprised. His fiancé's past life as a vengeance demon came up often in conversation, but the people she met back then didn't. Concerned, he took her hand and squeezed. She was so nervous, he wasn't sure if that she noticed the gesture.
She nodded. "I met Valence thirty years ago," she said. "He was a level two mage, but he was ambitious and wanted power. I knew him for only two years, but he got up to level six in that much time and kept going. If he's still alive, he could be very powerful. Too powerful. If Oz has run into him, Valence will take him down easily."
Willow got worried. "Oh, God. We have to help him."
"Go to Roswell?" Xander asked.
"The Council can cover the cost of plane tickets," Giles offered. "This is serious, and Oz needs all the help we can give him."
Just then, the phone rang. Willow, the closest one to it, picked it up. "Hello, Giles' residence." Then she sat up straight. "Oz? Where are you? Look, you've need to know something about Valence Hope. Anya's met him before."
On the other end, Oz sat in the Crashdown's break room with the rest of the Roswell gang. "Anya? When?"
He listened as Willow told him what they found out. "Damn," Oz said. "That doesn't make sense."
Both Willow and the people in the room with him were confused. "What? What doesn’t make sense?" Liz asked at the same time Willow said, "What do you mean, Oz?"
He didn't answer either of them, because at that moment, his nose picked up a large dose of cadmium-x and hellhound.
"The hellhounds are back," he told the Roswell gang.
"What?" Michael said, standing up with the others. "Where?"
Just then, they heard a scream coming from the front room of the restaurant. More screams followed it, along with several growls.
A minute later, something banged against the closed break room door, leaving behind a dent. Max and Liz, who were closest to the door, got in position. Liz held one of Oz's battleaxes up while Max held his palm up, ready to create a shield.
A minute later, the door burst off its hinges and slammed to the ground.
"Oz? Oz!" Willow cried into the phone. She could hear sounds of a struggle.
"What? What's going on, Willow?" Tara asked.
"He's being attacked," Willow said, worried. "We've gotta get to Roswell now."
"How? It'll take us several hours to get there." Xander said. Then he remembered something. "Unless-"
"The Ghost Roads," Willow finished.
A hellhound landed on top of the door. It growled at them and pounced. Max created a shield and it slammed into it.
Two more hellhounds appeared behind it. They snarled at Max's shield and rammed into it repeatedly.
"Max, keep them from going away so they don't hurt anyone!" Liz said.
"I can't. My powers don't work that way."
"Your shield can't stay up forever," Michael pointed out. He looked around. "Everyone ready?"
Suddenly, a large bruise-colored portal formed in the air behind Liz. "Liz, look out!" Maria called out.
Michael, Maria, Kyle, and Oz ran over to it. Maria pulled Liz over to the other end of the room.
The first thing to come out of the portal was another hellhound. Michael blasted it and it fell to the floor, dead. Then, two more figures, both vampires, appeared. They leaped out at them. One knocked Michael to the ground, while the other headed for Oz. Oz beheaded it easily.
"Michael!" Kyle said. He brought his sword down and beheaded the vampire, and it exploded into dust, making Michael cough.
The hellhounds struck Max's shield again. "I can't keep this up much longer," he warned.
"You won't have to," a voice suddenly said.
All of them turned to see another figure step out of the portal. Oz recognized him immediately. "Valence Hope."
Valence raised his hand and began to chant. Suddenly, Max collapsed in pain, loosing control of the shield.
"Max!" Liz cried. She took a step toward him, or tried; somehow, she was stuck in place. Valence had cast a spell to keep her from moving.
The hellhounds stepped into the room but didn't attack. Michael, Kyle, Oz, and Maria glanced back and forth from them to Valence. "Why aren't they attacking?" Maria asked, looking worriedly at the hellhounds. Valence spoke more words in Latin, and then she and Kyle froze like Liz. "Maria!" Michael said, shocked.
Oz was confused. Unlike the day before, this man didn't smell at all like a Skin, but like a normal human being. "What are you? You're not a Skin."
"Actually, I am," Valence answered. "This just isn't my body."
Michael's eyes widened as the pieces slid into place. "You're possessing his body," he said. "Like the Summit."
"Very good, Rath. You're smarter than Nicholas gives you credit for."
"You possessed a mage's body," Oz said. "And somehow got a hold of his knowledge of magic." That was not good.
Michael slid his gaze from Oz to Valence, eyes wide. He didn't know how to fight a mage, but he had to try. He looked at Max, who lay unconscious on the floor, and Liz, Maria, and Kyle who were as still as statues. "Let them go."
"Sorry," Valence said. "Kivar wants all of the Royal Four, not just her highness Queen Ava. And the werewolf is for an associate of mine."
The hellhounds stepped closer to them and snarled for effect, ushering them toward the portal. Michael held his palm out to the nearest hellhound and his hand started glowing. Isabel did the same.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Valence warned. He spoke more words in Latin. Maria, Liz, and Kyle cried out in pain, but still couldn't move. "I can kill them with only a few syllables. Unless you want them to die, I suggest that you get Zan over there and come with me."
Michael, Isabel, and Oz glanced at each other, helpless. Reluctantly, Michael slung Max over his shoulder. Then the hellhounds ushered them through the portal.
After they had stopped through, the portal closed behind them. The battle-axes and swords lying on the ground dissolved.
A few seconds later, Maria, Liz, and Kyle were released from the freezing spell. They gasped and glanced around. "Michael?" Maria asked.
"Max!" Liz called.
"Isabel? Oz?" Kyle called also. No one answered them. "Where'd they go?"
"I don't know," Liz said. "It felt like I couldn't move, and I wasn't aware of anything else."
"Me, too," Maria said. Kyle nodded in agreement. Maria sighed in frustration and worry. Their friends were gone and they didn't know where to look. "That Valence guy is really starting to piss me off-"
Police officers ran into the room, guns drawn. "Freeze!" one of them said. You just missed that,
Maria thought, but held her hands up anyway. Kyle and Liz did, too.
Mr. Parker appeared behind them. "Liz?"
"Dad!" she answered.
"You know them?" the deputy asked.
"It's okay, deputies," he told them. They nodded and left to search the other rooms.
Mr. Parker glanced around the room and noticed the destruction. "Liz? Maria? Kyle? What happened?"
Maria, Kyle, and Liz looked at each other, not sure how to answer him.
A half an hour later, they stood outside with the sheriff. Police officers, out of hearing range, stood near their cars or inside the café, taking statements from the customers. Liz, Maria, and Kyle told his father what happened. He was shocked, to say the least, but his brain was processing the information logically.
"You said vampires came out of the portal, too?" he asked. Maria nodded.
"They could be connected to the vampires Oz told us about," Liz said.
"Did you find out anything about them?" Kyle asked his father.
Valenti nodded. "The murders occur in and around the park. Their hideout could be in one of the nearby buildings or in the sewer system running underneath the park."
"So what do we do?" Maria asked. "We don't have any super powers or know any spells. How are we supposed to rescue them from a mage-turned-alien?"
"Um, excuse me," a feminine voice asked from behind Maria and Liz.
They turned and looked behind them. Standing there were six people none of them had seen before.
"We're looking for someone," a young woman with fiery red hair continued. She held up a photograph. It was a picture of Oz. "Have any of you seen him?"
"Oh my God," Maria said.
"You wouldn't happen to be Willow, would you?" Liz asked.
The redhead exchanged looks with the other five. "Uh, Yeah, actually. Do I know you?"
"Sorry," Liz said. "I’m Liz. This is Maria, Kyle, and Sheriff Valenti."
"Oh," Willow said. She explained to the Scooby Gang, "Oz mentioned them. He said they were helping him, along with a Max, Michael, and Isabel."
"Do you know what has been going on?" Giles asked the Roswell citizens.
"Well," Maria began, glancing at the others. "You do know about Oz's-condition, do you?"
"You mean, the fact that he's a werewolf?" Anya asked.
"Who and what are all of you, anyway?" the sheriff asked.
The other blonde haired woman said, "I-I’m Tara. I’m a witch."
Anya raised her hand in a wave. "Hi. I'm Anya, an ex-demon."
"Xander," the brown-haired boy said.
Willow said, "I'm a hacker and a witch, but I bet you already know that since Oz asked for my help over the phone."
"And I'm Rupert Giles," the older man said. "I trust all of you must know about vampires and demons?"
Liz, Maria, Kyle, and the sheriff nodded. "Aren't you supposed to be in California?" Kyle asked.
"Oh, we used the Ghost Roads and came out of the portal on the top of the weird-looking café over there," Anya replied, pointing to the Crashdown. "Then Willow did her witch thing and closed it."
"You were on the Ghost Roads?" Maria asked. She, Liz, Kyle, and Jim looked surprised.
Willow exchanged confused looks with the others. Something was definitely going on.
"Perhaps we should go talk somewhere a little more private," Giles suggested.
Liz exchanged looks with her friends. As far as they knew, these strangers could be lying. They had to be cautious. "We could go to Michael's apartment," Maria suggested.
"Maria!" the sheriff said, giving her a look.
Frustrated, she threw her hands up. "Well, have you got a better idea?"
Reluctantly, the others admitted they didn't. "Okay," Liz said. "It's only a few blocks away. Follow us."
Elsewhere, at Angel Investigations, Cordelia Chase was answering a phone call. "We charge depending on the type of case, Mr. Chrysler. The minimum is only a few hundred, but don't worry, we can solve the problem guaranteed. We'll look forward to seeing you. Goodbye, Mr. Chrysler."
She hung up and smiled at Wesley and Gunn. Wesley stood on the other side of the counter, going through a bunch of papers he spread out on the counter, while Gunn sat at the desk behind her. "Did you guys just hear that? Our first paying customer since we got back from Lorne's dimension."
"Assuming Mr. Chrysler shows up," Gunn said, although he looked as pleased as she was. It had been a few days since their return to their world, and they'd already settled back into routine. Well, almost. Nothing had been normal ever since they found Willow and she told them about Buffy.
Angel hardly ever came downstairs. She figured he was either visiting Fred, who was still in hibernation in her upstairs room, or brooding. Not that she wasn't. Buffy had never been her favorite person, but Cordelia respected her in a way, and hearing about her death was a shock to everybody at Angel Investigations, except for Gunn and Fred. They didn’t know her.
They needed something that would knock them out of this sad mood, and Cordelia hoped this would do the trick. She knew she needed something to distract her. Speaking of that…
"Guys…" Cordelia said, feeling the pain that always came before a Vision hit her.
Gunn and Wesley took the hint immediately. Both ran over and steadied her a second or so before she fell to the ground. She was unaware of that as more pain shot through her skull.
With it came images, smells, and emotions, making them feel as real as memories. Flash.
Oz's face came into focus. Behind him were three indistinct shapes, but she knew that they were in as much danger as he was. Flash.
A mansion and the name of a subdivision. Flash.
A Ghost Roads portal being closed.
The vision ended, but the pain lingered. She was sitting in a chair now. Wesley was gone, but appeared again a minute later with a glass of water and some aspirin.
Cordelia gratefully swallowed the pills. "Thanks." She handed the glass back to him.
"What did you see?" Gunn asked.
She took a deep breath. "Oz is in trouble."
"Oz? Willow's boyfriend? Is he here in L. A.?" Wesley asked.
"Who's Oz?" Gunn asked, confused.
"A friend from Sunnydale," Cordelia answered. To Wesley, she said, "he and Willow broke up. Willow's gay now."
"Oh. Where is he?" Wesley asked.
Cordelia told them what she saw in her vision. "We have to hurry."
"Let's go then," Wesley decided. He went upstairs to get Angel while Gunn grabbed some weapons.
Yep, this definitely was a distraction. Instead of mourning for the Slayer, she'd be worrying about loosing another friend from Sunnydale.
By the time they reached the apartment, night had fallen. They went inside and sat down in the living room. "Where exactly is Oz at the moment?" Giles asked.
"We don't know," Maria said.
"What?" Xander asked, alarmed.
"What happened? Is he okay?" Willow asked worriedly, then glanced at Tara. Tara squeezed her hand, letting her know she wasn't jealous.
Maria, Liz, Kyle, and the sheriff glanced at each other again. "What do you guys know?" Liz asked.
"We heard him get attacked over the phone," Dawn said. "So we came here."
"He didn't get attacked by Valence, did he?" Anya asked. "'Cause if he did, there is no way he's still alive."
Everyone looked at her. Xander rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands and looked at his fiancé. "Anya honey, remember that conversation we had about being optimistic?"
Anya frowned. "Human emotions are so confusing."
"Human emotions?" Kyle repeated. The Roswell gang looked alarmed.
"I'm an ex-demon," Anya said with a bright smile. "I'm now mortal and destined to live for only a few more decades before I become all wrinkled and die."
Giles took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "Could you please just tell us what happened?" He asked the Roswell gang, hoping to get back on topic.
Maria explained what happened, editing out the fact that Max, Michael and Isabel were aliens. She told them about the hounds and the portal and the vampires in the park.
"You said that Valence came out of a portal in the Ghost Roads?" Giles asked, looking thoughtful.
"If that's true, they could be anywhere right now," Willow said.
"What do you mean?" Sheriff Valenti asked.
"You can travel anywhere on the Ghost Roads," Tara answered. "I wasn't there when everyone else found out about them, but I-I know it takes only an hour to travel from Boston to Los Angeles on-on the Ghost Roads."
"Saves a lot of money on an airplane ticket," Xander commented.
"It's been an hour already," Maria said worriedly. "What if they're already in Europe or Canada or something? We'd never find them then!"
"Don't worry, Maria," Liz said, determined. "We'll get them back."
"Maybe those vamps can help us out. The ones the sheriff said were in the park," Dawn said.
"Perhaps," Giles agreed.
"Where should we look?" Xander asked. "The buildings or the sewers?"
"Maria said the sewer system runs underneath the park," Dawn commented.
"Then we should check there," Willow decided. "I'll get the blueprints for them, see if there's a junction or something that could house a lot of vamps." She looked at the Roswell residents. "Is there a computer I can use?"
"Woah," Kyle said, standing. "How do we know this isn't some sort of trick? What's in this for you? How do we really know you're friends with Oz?" he asked the Sunnydale gang.
Upset, Willow stood too. "I want to get Oz back. And he was more than just a friend, okay? He was my boyfriend! I'm with Tara now, and I love her now, but I still think of him as a friend!" She still loved him, but she loved Tara, too, and didn't want to hurt her girlfriend's feelings, so she didn't say that part.
"Please," Giles said, cutting in. " None of us believe innocent humans like your friends should be harmed, so we all want to rescue them. But the only way we are going to get them back is if we cooperate."
Liz couldn't keep her eyes off Willow. In that instant, she knew Willow's situation wasn't that much different than her own. Even though the red-haired hacker was with someone else now, it was obvious that she still felt something for Oz. She was willing to risk her life for both of them, and Liz knew she felt the same way about Max. She knew Willow spoke the truth.
"Kyle," Liz said. "It's okay, we can trust them."
Kyle, Maria, and Valenti gazed at her uncertainly. "Are you sure, Liz?" Maria asked quietly.
They girls looked at the two Valentis. Something in Liz's eyes made them nod in agreement.
They turned back to the visitors. "We brought Alex's computer over here. Let me see if I can find it in the piles of clothes in Michael's bedroom," Maria said, heading off to the room.
Cordelia Chase threw the cell phone down onto the car seat and sighed. "It's no good. I can't get Giles, Willow, Dawn, or Xander."
"Doesn't matter anyway," Angel said. "We're here."
He pulled onto a street in a very wealthy neighborhood. At the end of long, wide lawns were large, richly decorated mansions.
"So, which one is it?" Gunn asked Cordelia.
Cordelia blushed. "Um, I'm not sure exactly. The PTB weren't really clear on that. I figured we could drive around until I see one I recognize."
They all looked at her. Cordelia looked at each of them. "What? Look, I'll know it when I see it, okay?"
"You'd better," Gunn muttered.
When Max woke up, he was lying against a wall. He sat up quickly but instantly regretted it when a stab of pain shot through him. He winced and leaned back.
"Hey, Max," Michael said.
"Welcome back," he heard Oz say.
Max opened his eyes and looked around. They were somewhere underground in a jail cell. The miniature prison was pretty clean. A bare light bulb lit their cell from the ceiling. A window slit was set twenty feet up in the wall, probably at ground level. He leaned against the solid back wall of the cell. The other walls were composed of metal bars.
Isabel was nowhere in sight.
"Where's Isabel?" he asked. "And where are we?"
"We're not sure," Michael answered. "A bunch of vamps made us get separated after Valence and his hounds led us through the Ghost Roads to wherever this place this."
"The Ghost Roads?" Max said, alarmed. "We could be anywhere in the world."
"Yeah," Oz agreed. "When we left the Ghost Roads, we were right outside this big mansion. Valence's vamp goons led us down here. I think Valence took Isabel upstairs. Don't know why." I think I do,
Max thought, worried. He remembered learning about how Isabel betrayed them in her former life. He doubted it would happen again, but who knew what Valence would do to try and convince her.
"We've got to figure out how to get out of here and get Isabel," Max said resolutely.
"Yeah, but how?"
"Uh, guys," Oz spoke up. "I've got an idea."
Giles, Xander, Willow, Tara, Anya, Maria, Liz, and Kyle dropped down into the manhole. Sheriff Valenti was at the station, making sure all on-duty personnel stayed out of the park that night so they wouldn't hear anything unusual. Dawn was with him.
At the bottom of the ladder, Maria held her nose. "This smells awful."
"Tell me about it," Kyle said.
"Vampires like it down here," Anya supplied. "They know humans would never want to live around here and they like that."
"It's how they get around during the day," Xander added. "The smell's a bonus." Not much of a bonus,
"We should try to get to the vampires as quickly as possible," Giles said. "Willow, which way?"
"The plans said that way." Willow pointed to the tunnel on the right.
"Let's go, then," Liz said, lifting her borrowed crossbow. She just hoped her shaking hands could pull the trigger. Max is in danger,
she reminded herself. You didn't go through a year of hell without him only to loose him again.
And Valence was in league with Tess. That alone was enough.
Maria held another crossbow in one hand and felt for a jug of holy water in her pocket. She'd never gone up against vampires before, but she was determined to live through this. After all, it's not just me I have to worry about,
she thought, remembering what the doctor told her only a few hours ago.
The others also got their weapons out; swords, battle axes, knives, crosses, and holy water. Silently, they started forward.
Willow thought about all the times they'd gone slaying without Buffy. The first time had been over the summer after junior year, when Buffy ran away. This time, however, they knew where Buffy was, and she couldn’t help them at all.
It was only a few days ago. No one had mentioned it since that phone call from Oz, but they still grieved for her. Willow hoped they could survive without her.
It wasn't long before they heard voices. Willow announced they were nearing a junction.
They turned a corner and knew they were in the right place. Only a few feet away, the tunnel ended and led into a large area surrounded by more tunnel entrances. In it were couches, beds, and an electricity-powered TV and computer.
Sitting on the couches were twenty male vampires. They were distracted by whatever was playing on the TV set.
"Can you guys get some of them?" Xander asked Liz and Maria.
Liz looked over at the vamps and knew she could hit three of their hearts easily. She nodded.
She and Maria fired the crossbows. They managed to get five of the vampires' un-beating hearts before they knew what hit them.
The remaining fifteen got to their feet and snarled in their direction. "He said you'd come," one said, smiling hungrily.
Maria fired again. One of them brought a hand up, spoke a foreign language, and the arrow hit an invisible shield before falling.
"Protection shield. It can only last for a few seconds," Tara supplied.
"We'll have to do this hand-to-hand," Giles decided. "Maria, Liz, watch our backs. Tara and Willow, work on that artificial sunlight spell. I'm going to corner one of them for information. The rest of you, have at it."
With that, Kyle, Xander, Anya, and Giles ran forward. Xander punched a vamp and staked him before he could react. Another one waited in his dust cloud and knocked Xander to the ground.
The vampire straddled him and opened his mouth wide, showing off his fangs. Before he could descend, however, an arrow appeared in his chest, and he was dust. Xander, sending a silent thank you to Liz and Maria, got back up and went to help Anya and Kyle, who now stood back to back in the middle of ten vamps. Xander easily staked one of them, and saw another crossbow bolt hit the vampire standing next to him. However, another vampire grabbed him and pinned him against the wall.
Kyle joined in, attacking the vamps on the other side of the circle with his battleaxe. He beheaded one and knocked another forward with a shove to his back. Anya splashed holy water on the vamp and he fell, screaming in agony. Kyle took his head and he exploded into dust.
"Behind you!" Anya said, in dismay. She ran forward and staked the vamp that was sneaking up on Kyle. Unfortunately, a friend of the vamp's stood right next to his dust cloud, and he easily knocked Anya to the floor, unconscious.
The other three vampires tried to attack Giles. Giles staked two and managed to hold the other one still by pressing his blade to its neck.
He led the vampire back to the tunnel entrance. As soon as they were in the shadows, Giles said. "Now! Do it now!"
Obediently, Tara blew a specially blended powder into the air and Willow chanted, "Oh great Apollo, God of the Sun. Grant us light, full of peace and goodness, to ward off the dark, full of warfare and evil."
In the middle of the junction-room, a part of the sun, a ball of pulsating energy, formed. The remaining five vampires screamed in agony before they burst into flames and dust.
Kyle, Liz, and Maria were amazed. "Wow," Maria said.
"That's not possible," Liz said. Even though she'd seen a lot that day, she still wanted to deny something
"Good going, Wills, Tara," Xander said, smiling, as he, Anya, and Kyle approached. "Not we can find out what that vamp told Giles."
Willow glanced around. "Where are they?"
They heard a scream come from around the curve in the tunnel. Quickly, they ran around the corner, weapons poised and ready.
Giles stood next to a cloud of dust.
"Are you alright? We heard a scream," Tara said.
"Oh. Uh," Giles said. "That was the vampire."
"What did he say?" Kyle asked.
"He was extremely helpful," Giles said. "We don't have an enormous amount of time, so I suggest that I tell you on the way."
They started back the way they came. "So where are they?" Liz demanded.
"They're in Los Angeles."
"What?" Everyone exclaimed, stopping and staring at Giles.
"Where in Los Angeles?" Willow asked. "Are-are they all right?"
"He wouldn't say." Giles started walking again. "But we must hurry. Valence plans to leave the planet."
"Huh?" Xander asked, exchanging confused looks with the scoobies.
"How?" Kyle asked, glancing worriedly at Maria and Liz.
"The Granilith is gone. How could he get off the planet period?" Maria asked worriedly.
"Um-" Xander spoke up, making them remember they weren't alone.
"What are you guys talking about?" Willow finished.
Kyle, Liz and Maria glanced at each other. "Damn. Now more strangers will know everything," Maria said, sighing.
"We'd better explain it on the way," Liz decided as she started walking again. "Like Mr. Giles said, we don't have a lot of time."
"We should call Angel," Anya suggested. "I mean, he's in LA, isn't he?"
"Who's Angel?" Kyle asked.
"A friend," Giles answered. "If we can reach him, he would be a great asset in getting Oz and your friends back."
Liz took out her cell phone and handed it to Willow. "Try calling him."
Kyle, Liz, Maria, Giles, Xander, Anya, Tara, Willow, Sheriff Valenti, and Dawn stood on the Parker's roof. They'd already briefed the sheriff and Dawn, and the sheriff had agreed to stay here with Dawn. Protesting, Dawn tried to stay, but the sheriff eventually dragged her down the fire escape after he told Kyle, Liz, and Maria to be careful. The scoobies knew about Michael's, Isabel’s, and Max's alien-status but promised not to tell anyone.
"Tara and I have been thinking," Willow said. "You said that when aliens possess people, they can't access the host's memories. We think he may have used a huge amount of power to do access all of Valence's knowledge of spell casting. Which means he had to use his alien powers, and may not be able to use them for awhile."
"So he uses magic," Liz finished.
"Great," Xander said. "So instead of worrying about alien powers, we have to worry about a mage's powers. In what way can this be considered a good thing?"
"Well, we know how to fight a mage," Tara said, smiling.
"Let us worry about Valence," Willow said, meaning her and Tara. "You guys get Oz, Michael, Isabel, and Max out."
"Are you sure?" Giles asked, glancing worriedly between the two girls. "Valence is very powerful. We don't know what he can do."
"That's why we have Anya," Willow answered. "Don't worry, Giles, we can handle it."
Sighing, Giles gave up. "Have you contacted Angel Investigations?"
Willow shook her head. "No." She picked up the phone. "I'm gonna try again."
She called Cordelia's number and listened to it ring.
Someone picked up. "Hello?"
Relieved, Willow said, "Cordy!"
"Willow?" Cordelia sat up. Three pairs of eyes fell on her, but she ignored them. "Where are you? Oz is in trouble. We're trying to find the house-" she paused, listening. "You do? Where? Okay, thanks. We'll hold the fort until you get there."
She hung up and turned to the others. "The Scooby Gang is heading over here through the Ghost Roads. They say Oz and three other people are being held in 799 Pinecrest Lane."
"The Ghost Roads?" Wesley asked, alarmed. "Isn't that where-"
"Where the dead dwell. Right on, ex-Watcher boy," Cordelia quipped.
"We passed up Pinecrest five minutes ago," Angel said, turning the car around in a rich person's drive yard. "What else did Willow say?"
"She said Oz was captured by a big powerful mage and they'd be there to help as soon as possible."
"Excuse me, but will someone fill me in here? Starting with these Ghost Roads y'all keep mentioning?" Gunn asked.
As Angel drove on, Cordy and Wesley told him more about their old lives in Sunnydale, also letting him know more about Willow. He met Willow a few days ago, but he hadn't learned much about her.
When they drove up to 799 Pinecrest Lane, Cordy exclaimed, "That's it! That's the house!"
An iron fence surrounded the estate. At the end of the driveway was a large house. The gate in the fence stood wide open.
"It doesn't look like anyone lives here," Gunn commented.
"Guess we're gonna find out," Angel said, driving forward.
They passed through the gate without Angel running into any invisible barriers. "So the real owners are dead. What other goodies are waiting for us?" Cordelia asked.
They pulled up to the house and got out of the convertible with weapons. Hearing something, Angel said, "I don't think this house is deserted."
An ear-splitting war cry filled the night air only seconds before several figures began falling from the treetops. Their faces were distorted into the visages of vampires.
Then they attacked, and it was an all-out battle.
Isabel paced uneasily. She stood in a large room richly decorated with antique furniture and embroidered carpeting. In all four corners of the room, four figures with glowing eyes stood sentinel, daring her to even try to escape.
The door opened, and Valence Hope stepped inside. Isabel stopped a groan from escaping through her lips. How many times did she have to say no before he would finally get it through his skull?
"Well, my dear Vilandra," he said. Isabel could almost feel his eyes as they traveled up and down her body. She felt like throwing up. It also made her angry. How dare he? The only person she'd ever let look at her like that was A- No, don't think about him. Not now. You need to stay focused.
"Have you changed your mind yet?" he asked.
"No," Isabel said firmly. "I won't betray my brother or Michael."
"You've said that before," he reminded her. "And you did it anyway."
"I am getting really tired of hearing people say that," Isabel said. "Look, I may have done it before, but that was someone else. I'm different now, and I won't betray my family, no matter what."
Anger filled his expression, and before Isabel knew what was happening, his hand lashed out and she was lying on her side on the floor. Her cheek and hips burned with pain.
"You have no choice," Valence stated. "Either you help us fight Zan and Rath, or you die."
He hauled her up. She saw the desire on his face. Even when he was torturing her, he wanted her.
He grabbed her face and placed his mouth on hers, forcing her mouth open painfully with his disgusting tongue.
She tried to push him away, but couldn’t. So she went for the next best thing. Her knee bent up and found his crouch easily.
Valence cried out and pushed her to the ground. He bent over in pain, and Isabel smiled slightly, victorious.
But not for long. One of the vampires came forward and hauled her back to her feet, holding her there by yanking painfully on her arms. She struggled, but she wasn't any match for the vampire's superior strength.
Valence waved his hand, and instantly Isabel was electrocuted by a shock of pain that ran from her scalp to her toenails.
He still had his powers. But how? She didn't.
She screamed and slumped in the vampires' hold. She couldn't take it. She started passing out.
Valence slapped her awake. Isabel was in too much pain to fight, but she stayed conscious.
"Foolish woman. Kivar was right about you. It's a shame, really, that I'll have to drag you and the others all the way to Antar just to have you killed."
"Not gonna happen," Isabel said resolutely.
"And just how are you going to stop me?" he asked. "You don't know where I hid the Trithium Amplification Generator. And your friends won't make it past the front yard."
"They're here?" Isabel asked, surprised. She could feel some of her strength return. She would get out of there!
He was irritated by her sudden hopes. She could tell. "Yes, but we're not going to stick around and greet them. Kivar wants you and your friends brought to Antar immediately."
Isabel felt a cloth press against her nose and mouth. She started struggling again. She didn't want to suffocate.
She took in a breath and realized there was something in the cloth, but it was too late to do anything about it.
Immediately her sight began to blur. Isabel slumped in the vampires' arms, unconscious.
Lewis handed the alien girl to the other vampires in the room and turned to Valence. "The other aliens are being escorted to the ship now, sir."
Valence smiled. He'd get off this planet at last. "Good. Go and collect your werewolf, Lewis. The rest of your pay is in a warehouse in downtown L. A." He handed Lewis a piece of paper. "This is the address."
Lewis looked at it. When he looked back up, he struggled to stay calm. "It's blank, sir."
"It'll stay blank until the ship leaves the atmosphere, then the address will appear on it. After I've left, you and your men can leave after you've taken care of the Royal Four's friends."
Gunn and Wesley stood back to back, waiting for the vampires that were approaching them from all sides. Wesley launched a crossbow bolt at one of them and it turned to dust. Another one attacked him, knocking him over, while another rushed Gunn with a lead pipe. Gunn brought his axe up just in time and the pipe collided with the axe handle. Gunn struggled to push the pipe away while the vampire worked against his efforts. Finally, Gunn kicked out and knocked the vampire on his back. Another vamp, this one holding a short sword, attacking him from the left. Gunn blocked and parried before connecting with the vamp's neck, dusting him. The vamp he knocked over got up and rushed him, but Gunn beheaded him, too.
Meanwhile, a vampire straddled Wesley and leaned toward his neck. Wesley felt along the ground for a crossbow bolt, but couldn't reach it.
Gunn turned around and saw them. "Wesley!" He kicked the vamp off of the ex-watcher. The vampire rolled to his feet and faced off with Gunn, snarling. Then a crossbow bolt appeared through his chest and he exploded into dust.
Wesley, now holding the crossbow, looked up at Gunn. "Thanks, man," Gunn said, helping Wesley up.
"Not…a problem," Wesley answered. Both of them paused for breath as they looked around.
Cordelia was spraying holy water on a vamp before she leaned in and staked him. Angel took care of the remaining two. Then no more vampires remained.
Cordelia and Angel walked over to them. "Well, that was fun," Cordelia remarked, trying futilely to shake off the dust off her clothes. Giving up, she sighed. "There goes another perfectly good outfit."
"We should get inside," Angel said.
"Right," Wesley agreed, standing up tall. He threw the empty crossbow into the convertible and took out a short sword. He started toward the porch and the other three fell into step behind him.
Suddenly, they heard low growls. They stopped and held their weapons up, on guard. Cordelia groaned and held her crossbow up, too.
Hellhounds crawled up from under and around the house. They snarled and growled at the members of Angel Investigations.
"Hellhounds?" Cordelia asked.
"Whoever this mage is, I am looking forward to seriously whipping his butt," Gunn said.
The hounds sprang at them. Angel swung his sword and two hounds went down. The rest kept coming, though.
Only they attacked Cordelia, Gunn, and Wesley. They tried to ward the off, but there were too many of them. Hellhounds clung to their flesh and clothes. They tried to shake them off, but couldn't.
Angel ran over and helped. The hellhounds ignored him, so it was easy to throw the hounds off. The hounds he threw off lay dazed on the ground.
Eventually, he got all of them off his friends, leaving behind bite marks and wounds from the hounds' teeth and claws on their flesh.
"Everyone all right?" Angel asked them.
"Just peachy," Wesley said, examining a wound and looking around at the unconscious or dead hellhounds.
"Those things have sharp teeth," Gunn commented as he felt a large wound in his leg.
"It's not over," Cordelia said.
Everyone watched as a portal to the Ghost Roads opened. Two large winged demon glided out, releasing ear-piercing cries of battle.
"Oh, shit," Gunn said.
They glided toward them. Cordelia launched a crossbow bolt at the first one and nailed it square in the chest. "Yes!" she cried in triumph.
The flying demon didn't stop. He kept nose-diving toward them.
"Get down!" Wesley said, pushing her over. The first one picked him up by the shoulders and carried him off.
"Wesley!" Angel called. As the demon passed him, Angel embedded his sword in its neck. The demon cried out and released Wesley.
The demon went biserk as it flew higher into the air. It turned and circled back over the house until it stood above them again. Then it went lump and started falling.
Angel grabbed Wesley and Gunn grabbed Cordy and got out of the way. The large birdlike demon fell and squashed several hellhounds.
The other demon bird let out a cry of anguish. Then it dived toward them.
More demons appeared out of the portal. "Take care of them!" Angel told his friends. "I've got the bird."
He watched as the bird descended toward him. He held his sword up, ready for anything.
Kyle had to admit that the Ghost Roads creeped him out. He couldn't make out any of the ghosts' faces. They lined the road and watched him, Maria, Liz, Willow, Tara, Giles, Xander, and Anya pass by. Buddha never mentioned anything like this. If he really was going here after he died, he wasn't looking forward to it.
"There! I see a portal!" Tara announced, pointing. A hundred or so yards away was a portal into their universe. Kyle felt very relieved. He wanted to leave this place as quickly as possible.
As they got closer, they realized the portal opened up into the front yard of a large house. In the yard, four people were fighting things Kyle had never seen before.
"It's the guys!" Willow cried, worried. "We should help them. Shouldn't we?"
"No. We don’t have a lot of time before Valence leaves with Max, Michael, Isabel, and Oz," Liz argued.
"We'll go," Xander volunteered, pointing to him and Anya. "You guys go in that house and try to find them or their space ship."
"Anya?" Giles asked her.
She nodded. "Demons are a lot better than all-powerful sorcerers."
They ran through the portal, falling down the two feet to the ground below.
"Everyone think about the inside of that house," Giles instructed.
They did, and the portal shifted and re-formed inside the house. On the other side, they could see a room lit by a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. Bars lined three sides of the room, letting them know it was some sort of prison cell. The door stood open, and a figure lay on his side half way through the doorway.
"Oz!" Willow cried, rushing forward. She jumped down out of the portal, and everyone followed. When Kyle's feet hit the floor, he let out of breath of relief to be out of that weird other world.
They ran toward Oz with Willow in the lead. Suddenly, she stopped, unable to move any closer. An invisible barrier seemed to block them all from reaching the unconscious werewolf lying on the floor.
"No!" Willow cried, frantic. Kyle recognized the desperate, concerned look on her face. So had Tara, he noticed, and she looked upset. They must have as many relationship problems as he and his friends did.
"What is it?" Liz asked. "Why did you stop?"
"It's-a type of barrier spell," Giles explained. "Tara, Willow, do either of you know how to-"
A figure stepped out of the shadows. His blonde hair appeared to be completely white in the artificial lighting. He walked with the confident swagger and the smile that immediately spoke 'vamp' to Giles, Willow, and Tara.
"If it isn't Rupert Giles," he said, smiling that arrogant smile.
Maria, Liz, Kyle, Willow, and Tara all turned to look at Giles. Giles, however, acted like he didn't notice. Instead, his face got very pale, and his mouth fell open. "No," he finally managed to get out in a barely intelligible whisper.
"Mr. Giles?" Liz spoke up. "Who is he? Do you know him?"
"You mean he's never you about his past? He's never given you any of those 'when I was your age' lectures?" Lewis asked, but continued without waiting for an answer, "The name's Lewis."
"I...I thought you were dead," Giles said, sorrow, grief, and perhaps even guilt seeping into his voice.
"Newsflash, Rupe, I am. I hadn't counted on you showing up this night. I figured the aliens' friends would show up, but certainly not you."
"What have you done with them?" Maria demanded, getting her confidence back just enough to speak. She'd lost it when she saw Giles' face.
"Valence has them now," he answered. "But the werewolf is mine. It's part of the agreement I had with him."
"Don't you dare hurt him!" Willow cried out, her anger rising.
Lewis smirked. "Too late for that."
Tara started chanting. "For all that is good and all that is well, come forth to break this spell. If there is a spell that you find, let it not harm me and mine."
Suddenly, the magical barrier glowed with white light before blinking out. Willow ran forward to Oz.
Lewis growled and his vampiric features slid into place as he prepared to fight her. Willow would be damned if she let him any closer to her or her ex-boyfriend. She held up her hand palm out and concentrated on an image of him taking flying lessons.
Lewis went soaring through the air, colliding with the corridor wall. Before he could charge again, Giles was on him, pushing him back against the wall and taking out a cross.
Everyone else rushed to Oz's body. They sat him up against one of the cell's stone walls. Willow knelt beside him. "Oz," she said, worried.
He stirred, and his eyes slid open. "Willow?" he asked.
"Hey, Oz," Willow said, smiling wide. She embraced him in a tight hug. She'd been so worried.
"Good to see you, too," Oz said, giving her a smile. His gaze slid to the others.
Willow remembered that Tara was there, and suddenly felt guilty. Willow closed her eyes before glancing over at Tara. She was watching Willow.
"Tara, I'm-" Willow said, genuinely apologetic. She'd been so worried about her former boyfriend, she hadn't even considered how her current girlfriend must feel.
Tara smiled at her, reached over, and squeezed her hand. "We'll talk about it later."
"Excuse me," Kyle said. Oz, Willow, and Tara looked at him, Maria, and Liz. "We should be looking for Isabel, Michael, and Max now."
"What happened?" Maria asked Oz.
"Lewis and a bunch of other vamps came to take us out of here. I attacked the first two vamps that opened the cell. Max and Michael were supposed to deal with the others with their powers, but they wouldn't work for some reason. Max said something about a Trithium Amplification Generator, then the vamps managed to knock me out. I guess they took Max and Michael afterwards."
"What about Isabel?" Kyle asked.
"They never brought her down here. I think Valence wanted to talk to her about something. I think they took her to the ship with Max and Michael."
"We've got to get going," Liz said, standing up.
"Well, as soon as Giles takes care of Lewis, we will," Willow promised.
Giles held the cross out at arm's length. He didn't want Lewis to get too close to him. It was hard enough just to see him right now and still keep his rage under control. The shock of seeing Lewis had finally worn off, and Giles' old emotions threatened to resurface. He had to find out where Isabel, Max, and Michael were taken. Then he could get angry.
"Where are they, Lewis?" he asked. "Where did Valence take them?"
Lewis wiped his check of blood as he stood up. Then he didn't move, just watched Giles with his back to the wall. "You never did like to make polite conversation, Riper," he said. Faster than Giles could follow, Lewis used his vampiric strength to kick the nerves on Giles wrist. Giles' grip on the cross instantly loosed, and the wooden object fell to the ground. "I always thought you needed to learn some manners. I wonder if it's too late to teach you some?"
Giles pulled out a stake and got into a fighting stance. "You can try."
A pendant on Lewis' neck began to glow and beep. Lewis looked down at it and smiled. "It's time for me to go. There's something I've gotta do in town." He pointed to his right down the darkening corridor. "That way leads to your friends. You won't get there in time, though. Just like last time, right, Rupe? They're going to leave the planet any minute, and I don't think you've got the resources to follow them. That reminds me of last time, too."
He glanced behind Giles at the interior of the cell. "Pity I can't have that lycanthrope, though. Lots of people would pay big bucks for a live one. See ya later, Rupe."
With that, he was off, racing down the opposite end of the corridor.
Giles watched him go, half tempted to run after him. But three innocent, if not human, beings were still in danger, and he knew he'd never forgive himself if he didn't even try to save them. Like he'd never forgive himself for what happened so many years ago with Lewis.
He turned around to see that the others were getting ready to head off. "It's this way," Giles said, starting to run in the opposite direction that Lewis had taken. "Hurry."
Valence could feel the strain of holding onto this body for so long finally taking physical effect. He'd used very powerful spells to help his home planet's own energy resources keep him in control of this body, but he knew they would wear off very soon, probably in less than an hour. As long as Isabel, Michael, and Max were on the ship and returning to the home planet, it would be safe to go back to his own body several billion miles away, where he would be at Kivar's mercy. He doubted anything would happen to him; he had made sure that his assets were protected long before he took possession of this human body. He just had to make sure Kivar didn't have any doubts about him.
Also, the sooner he got off this miserable little planet, the better.
He barked at two vampires holding Isabel to hurry up. He was so effective that the vampires began to run down the hallway. A minute later, the five vampires escorting Michael and Max appeared at the top of the stairs leading down into the homemade jail. The seven vampires were the only ones still in the mansion; the rest were out in front, holding off the captives' friends.
"Hurry up!" Valence said. "Go faster before I cast a sunlight spell and make you all combust!"
The vampire escort hurried up the stairs, forcing the two alien teens along.
"Having problems, Valence?" Michael asked, contentment in his voice.
In answer, Valence turned on him and raised his hand. Immediately, Michael's windpipe began to squeeze. Michael found it harder and harder to breathe. Valence squeezed his hand into a fist, and the invisible grip on Michael's neck tightened, making him choke.
"Stop! You're going to kill him!" Max started toward Valence, but two of his escort held him back.
Valence opened his palm, and Michael sunk to the ground, coughing as air filled his lungs again. The other three vampires in their escort set him back on his feet.
"Michael, are you all right?" Max asked.
Still coughing, Michael managed to get out, "Yeah."
Both of them stared at Valence and he smiled back, satisfied. "That's right. The TAG doesn't affect my powers. You'd better not forget that where we're going." He gave them both a deadly glare. "And the name's Toren. You'll be using it a lot on the home planet."
The weird, scaly demon had Wesley pinned to the ground. He struggled to loosen its grip long enough to grab the axe lying only a few feet away.
He head-butted it, and it reared back a little. Wesley reached over again, but the demon roared and pinned his arm before he could even touch the handle.
Suddenly, the demon let out a high-pitched scream and reared back even further from Wesley. The ex-Watcher could now clearly see a sword protruding through the demon's stomach.
Someone pulled the sword back out and the demon fell to the ground, dead.
It was Xander. He offered Wesley a hand, and he took it. When Wesley was standing up again, he bent down and picked up the axe.
"Hello, Xander," Wesley said. "Nice of you to drop in."
"No problem," Xander said, offering him a lopsided grin.
"Where are the others?" Wesley said, seeing Anya a little ways away, keeping two demons from joining the group circled around Gunn. Angel was still fighting the flying demons, although there were quite a few them already lying on the grass. Several other demon bodies were already on the ground, including a lot of hellhounds and piles of dust, but Wesley could still see even more demons coming out of that portal. He wondered if there was any way to close it.
"They're getting Oz and the others out," Xander answered. "Anya and I came to help you guys. Come on, let's go help the black guy out."
"Charles Gunn," Wesley corrected as he followed Xander.
Maria ran down the dark corridor after the English guy, his friends, and Kyle and Liz. They hadn't run that far, but she was already starting to get cramps. She held her hands on her stomach and rubbed, trying to ease the pain.
Or were they cramps? Maria frowned and glanced down. Hadn't Max said that Tess had some problems before she left Earth?
"I see some light! Up ahead!" Kyle announced. Maria looked and saw an opening at the top of these old, worn-down stone steps. Artificial light shined down through it.
"We must be almost there," Oz decided.
Maria's heart beat in anticipation as they climbed the steps. If a hair was missing on Michael's head, Valence was so dead.
The stairs turned right and kept going. After a long flight of steps that made her stomach feel like it had a bullet wound, they reached a corridor. On the left, was a large window and a door. On the right, were two doors. Peering inside one of them, Maria saw that it was another stairwell. Kyle reported that the other one opened into a normal hallway into the second floor of the house.
Giles, Willow, Liz, Tara, and Oz were staring out the window at something.
"Is that what I think it is?" she heard Oz ask.
"If you're thinking it's a space ship, I'm thinking 'yes,'" Willow answered.
"It's a space ship, all right," Kyle answered, joining them and peering down.
"It's big," Tara commented.
"Extraordinary craftsmanship," Giles remarked.
"Where are they?" Liz asked.
Maria come over and looked down.
They could see the backyard of the property. An alien craft similar to the granilith was using it as a landing pad. A high, tin roof had been constructed to hide the alien craft that had landed on the grass. The roof was dismantled and the tin sheets lay on the ground, but the poles that had held it up were still in place, so they could look down from that two story window and see the ship. It was much more elaborate than the granilith could ever be. Alien symbols ran in patterns around the hull. The metallic surface seemed to be smooth in every crevice. She couldn't see a door or a window anywhere.
Maria opened the window. She leaned out as far as she could and looked down. She discovered that a back porch was directly below them. And then the cramps got so bad she had to pull back or risk loosing her balance and falling out the window.
She gasped at the pain, pulled herself back through the window and slid to the ground.
"Maria!" Liz said as she and Kyle rushed over.
"What's wrong?" Oz asked as the Sunnydale residents turned to them.
Suddenly, Maria felt something that she knew wasn't a cramp. The baby had laid its foot against the inside wall of its pouch. She felt it give a little kick. It's that developed already? Is this normal for alien kids?
Did this happen to Tess?
"Oh my God," Liz said, looking at Maria's stomach. "Maria, your skin is glowing."
Maria glanced down. Her belly was considerably bigger than it was a few hours ago. And that wasn't all. A silver light, coming from Maria's stomach, shone through her shirt.
She slid her shirt up off her stomach to get a better look.
Everyone gasped when they saw the tiny hand on the inside of Maria's belly.
Below them, on the porch, they heard the back door open.
Lewis glanced out the living room window at the carnage on the front lawn. None of the vampires that he sent to that fight were still alive. Twenty out of fifty-five demons were still fighting the vampire, seer, Wesley-he was surprised to see that fumbling Watcher was still alive-, and three other humans. All of the winged demons and the hellhounds were either dead or had escaped through the portal.
The only vampires still alive that were on the property were himself, the souled one fighting the demons on the front lawn, and the handful of vampires that were escorting the aliens to the ship.
Finishing up his tally, Lewis thought about the next course of action. To keep him and his followers alive, Lewis had agreed to work for Valence two months ago. As soon as those alien teenagers were off the planet, that agreement would be over. Valence had bought Lewis's "loyalty" through a bounty, and he wouldn't get that bounty until the aliens had left.
They were losing. Lewis knew he had to get out soon or he'd die, too. The bounty was important to him, but he could find the address to that warehouse with or without Valence's help. He had two hundred more vampires waiting for his instructions in Arizona. They'd find the warehouse in no time.
With that decided, Lewis crept down into the cellar. He'd wait to see if the address showed up on the piece of paper. Then he'd go through the Ghost Roads portal and head for Arizona.
He'd start searching in no time. And then, when he had all the right ingredients, he and his minions would start a ritual that would affect the entire world. It was so powerful, it could possibly affect Valence's home planet that was so far away.
He smiled to himself. He would invite Rupert "Ripper" Giles along for the ride. Then he'd know what would happen to him when he left his best friend in the service of D'Hoffryn.
Willow, Tara, Giles, Oz, and Kyle stood up to get a better look at the yard below them. They were as silent as possible. Maria tried not to scream, but the baby was causing her too much pain to say nothing. Her breath came out in short, frequent gasps. Liz had to hold her hand over her mouth.
"Get them in the ship-now!" They heard Valence say.
Liz peered over the window sill to see what was going on.
They watched as Valence walked into the yard. Directly behind him came several vampires escorting Max, and more figures began to appear.
Tara reached into a pocket and took out a small jar.
"Can you perform that spell we discussed?" Giles asked quietly.
The two witches glanced at each other. "We think so. We'll need to get closer, though," Willow answered.
"Very well. Kyle and Liz, stay here and protect Maria. Oz, you and I will go with Willow and Tara and guard them while they cast the spell on Valence." He nodded at Tara. "Create the diversion."
Tara poured the jar's contents onto her hand and blew it off her hand into the Los Angeles night. Then Willow repeated the spell she used earlier that night, "Oh great Apollo, God of the Sun! Grant us light, full of peace and goodness, to ward off the dark, full of warfare and evil!"
Instantly, a ball of sunlight appeared in the middle of the yard, right above the ship. All seven vampires burst into flames.
They screamed and forgot about their captives as they tried to find a place to hide from the unexpected sun. One by one, they turned to dust.
Max grabbed Michael and they ran for the porch door. "Isabel, go! Go!" Max shouted at his sister, who was still on the porch out of sight.
"Let's go," Giles said. He, the two witches, and the werewolf took off down the second stairwell.
At the bottom, they immediately located the back door as Isabel came running through.
She froze when she saw them. "It's okay, Isabel. They're friends."
That was enough for her, at least for now. She turned back and started motioning at her brother and Michael. "Come on! Hurry!"
Max and Michael were already on the porch. Right before they walked through the door, it slammed shut of its own accord.
Giles, Oz, Isabel, Willow, and Tara tried to open it to no avail.
"Guys," Tara said, grabbing their attention when she noticed something happening.
The door slowly turned to metal. Then the surrounding wall changed into something metallic. The door's cracks melded into the wall, and a few minutes later, metal sheets replaced the windows until the entire wall was a long sheet of steel.
Oz banged his hand against it, looking for a hollow spot he doubted he'd find. Surprisingly, his hand made a dent in the metal, but it straightened out immediately.
"He's turned the entire wall into the metal that was used to construct that ship. No human tools can break or bend this stuff," Isabel announced.
"Can you get through it?" Oz asked.
"Not without my powers. Valence turned this device on that prevents Max, Michael, and me from using our powers. I don't know how Valence can still use his."
"He isn't. The energy need to use his alien powers was drained when he accessed Valence's knowledge of magic. He's using magic now," Willow said.
"Where is this device?" Giles asked.
"Upstairs somewhere. I'm not sure where."
"Oz, could you get Kyle and go look for it?"
"Sure," he said. He glanced at Willow, Tara, and Isabel before taking off up the stairs.
Max and Michael slid to a halt when they saw the door slam shut, separating them from Isabel. They glanced at each other, unsure what to do.
Then they went flying back through the air. Max tried hopelessly to stop his body from propelling through the air, but to no avail.
They slammed into the ship, making dents that fit their bodies perfectly. The ship instantly straightened out, making them fall to the ground on their knees, winded.
From above, Liz saw what happened. "Max!"
"What? What's happening?" Maria asked, frantic. She had to do something. But her baby prevented her from even standing up.
Down below, Max got painfully to his feet, ignoring the pain as much as he could. He thought a few ribs were cracked. He hoped nothing else was broken, although his ankle also felt pretty bad off.
He limped over to where Michael was trying to stand. "Michael, we've got to go." Max yanked him to his feet. He was so bad off he didn't mind leaning against Max for support.
Max wrapped Michael's arm around his shoulders and glanced around. Valence blocked their way to the porch, not that getting there would help much.
"Get in the ship," Valence ordered.
Upstairs, Kyle and Oz left two bedrooms and met back in the hallway. "Nothing," Kyle said.
"We've still got the library to look in. Come on." Oz took off through the last door in the hall, and Kyle followed.
Kyle headed for the closest bookshelf, while Oz started going through the pile of books on the coffee table. He moved over several books on spell casting before he found a metal pentagon.
"Is this it?" he held it up for Kyle to see.
Kyle took it from him and studied it. "It better be. We’ve got to get this to Isabel." He raced out of the room with Oz on his heels.
Kyle passed on by Liz and Maria on his way downstairs, but Oz stopped to peer out the window. "How are they doing?" he asked them at the same time he saw them.
He watched Valence advance on Max and Michael, while the two aliens looked for an escape route.
"We need to help them!" Liz said frantically.
"The device is off!" Kyle called up from the first floor.
"They need a diversion," Oz said. He took out a stake. Then he took aim and threw.
It landed on the pile of tin next to the ship. Valence instantly turned in its direction and raised his hand. All of the tin pieces instantly flew through the air, colliding with the dense foliage bordering the property before falling to the ground.
Max and Michael watched as Valence made the tin fly through the air. At the same time, the back door on the porch burst open from an alien blast of power.
Willow and Tara ran through the door. Following them, were Giles, Isabel, and Kyle. The latter three ran over to Max and Michael and started moving them toward the porch.
"Wait! What are they doing?" Michael asked, trying to go back.
"They're going to perform a spell. They need as much room as possible," Giles answered. "Come on. Quickly."
Willow and Tara stopped one hundred yards from Valence. He started turning around. Willow started the incantation.
"Blind Caspia, hear us out! Make what he sees within not the same without!"
"Cloud his eyes with what his heart wishes to see."
"As we command, so shall it be!"
Suddenly, surprise played on Valence's face. Then a smile of satisfaction replaced it as his attention turned to the ship.
Willow and Tara walked over to the porch and into the house, both looking more worn out than they were a few minutes ago.
"What did you do?" Max asked, curious and suspicious of the two women.
"We cast an illusion spell," Tara answered.
"Right now he thinks you guys are boarding the ship over there. The spell should last until long after we're gone," Willow added.
"So he doesn't know we've beat him?" Michael asked, surprised.
Willow shook her head.
"Where's Maria and Liz?" Michael asked, glancing around.
"Over here," Oz said, coming down the stairs behind the two girls.
Everyone looked. The three aliens were surprised to see Maria's slightly bigger stomach, especially Michael.
Michael walked over to her. He stared at her stomach before meeting her eyes. "Maria? You're-"
She nodded and smiled. "Yes. I'm pregnant."
Max looked at both of them. "It's yours, isn't it?" he asked Michael.
Maria nodded. "Yes. It was two nights ago. I don't know why it's developed this much so fast."
"That's because it's half alien," Michael said. "Alien pregnancies take only a month. And they can't survive on Earth. That's why Tess had to leave."
Maria glanced from him to Max, eyes wide. "But-it's half human, too. Do-do I have to leave Earth, too?"
"There must be some way around that," Liz said, hoping there was.
They heard an engine, and everyone looked outside to see the alien ship powering up. Valence was standing nearby in the grass, speaking into a pendant on a chain around his neck.
"If it is, that's our ride," Michael said.
"I am sure Ms. DeLuca doesn't have to leave Earth," Giles butted in. "You do have more resources to use now that you have our help."
"So I don't have to go," Maria said, relieved.
"Maybe not," Max said. "But I do."
"What?" Isabel asked.
Max turned to them. "Tess still has to be stopped. And I need to rescue my son." He turned back to look at the ship. "I'm leaving on that ship."
"No, Max," Liz said, stepping forward. "You can't."
"Liz, I have to."
"And what? You're going to give yourself to Kivar?" Isabel asked, angry and scared. Kivar would kill him. She didn't want to loose someone else that was close to her. "That won't do anyone good, Max."
"Listen to her," Liz pleaded. "Think. Kivar wants you dead. If you go back, he's not going to let you leave with your son. We can come up with something else. Just like we'll help Michael and Maria's baby survive on Earth, we'll figure out a way to get Tess. But we need you to do it, Max."
Max looked at her, then at the ship. He knew she was right. He glanced away, tears stinging his eyes. "I can't let him be raised by her."
"We won't let that happen," Liz promised, squeezing his hand.
Valence watched with contentment as Isabel, Michael, and Max entered the ship through the door he opened. He couldn't remember how Isabel got there, or where their friends had gone, but it didn't matter. His control over this body would loosen in only a few minutes, and he had completed his mission. When he returned to his own body, Kivar would be pleased with him, and he would have a home to go to. It was his rightful home, away from this weird little planet. He couldn't wait.
He voiced a few commands to the ship through the device on a chain around his neck. A few minutes later, the ship was powered up.
He watched as it lifted off the ground. When it was a few thousand feet in the sky, it began to spin, faster and faster until the patterns decorating its hull were indistinguishable from the rest of the hull. A few minutes later, it was only a spec in the sky, until it disappeared from view and passed through the atmosphere.
"It's done, your highness. Zan, Rath, and Vilandra will be back on the home planet shortly," he said through the device.
Kivar answered, "Well done, Toren. You may return now."
Valence took the device off the chain around his neck and destroyed it by casting a spell. Then he cast another one to make the address to a Los Angeles warehouse appear on Lewis' slip of paper.
Then he let go of months or work and began to let go of his human host.
As he felt himself leave Valence's body for good, he turned and looked back at the house. And then received the shock of his life.
Max, Michael, and Isabel stood just inside his house.
But it was too late.
Valence looked around, wondering where he was. He couldn't remember how he got there. The last thing he remembered was driving to his house in Arizona to meet the head of a vampire cult he wanted to do business with.
He could see people just inside the house in front of him, but didn't approach them. Years of depending on himself had taught him not to trust just anyone, even if he was a very powerful mage.
He turned and ran around the house, searching for a car.
Gunn, Cordelia, Anya, Angel, Wesley, and Xander watched as the demons they were fighting turned and ran back through the Ghost Roads portal. "They're certainly leaving in a hurry," Cordelia commented, brushing some demon slime out of her hair. She frowned at it, mentally calculating up the number of shampoo and conditioner bottles she'd have to go through before she got that out, before dropped the strands back down with a sigh. This had definitely been a big enough distraction as far as she was concerned. If the next few months were filled with Angel's brooding and no clients, she would be very, very grateful.
Xander and Wesley picked themselves up from the ground after being knocked over. "I think I want to take a long nap after I take a nice, long shower," Xander said, examining his own clothes and hair.
"You said it," Gunn said.
The front door opened, and Willow, Tara, Giles, Kyle, Max, Michael, Isabel, Maria, Oz, and Liz walked through, all looking as exhausted as they felt. "It's over," Michael announced, taking Oz's word for it when he said they were friends. He was too tired and too shocked by the idea that he was a father to think clearly. "Toren is gone, and Valence won't bother us anytime soon."
"It's not completely over," Giles said. "Lewis is still out there."
"Let's go to my place," Angel volunteered. "Everyone can sleep there tonight. I've got plenty of rooms. Then tomorrow we can talk."
"Sounds good to me," Willow said. Everyone else agreed.
"We'd better call Dawn and the Sheriff and let them know what happened," Liz said, getting out her cell phone.
Michael helped Maria over to the car. "Are you sure you're all right? The baby isn't hurting you anymore, is it?"
"I'm fine, I promise," Maria assured him. She cupped his face and pulled him close. "We'll find a way to keep our baby alive. I know we will." Then she kissed him.
Oz and Willow stood off to the side, glancing shyly at each other. "It's hard to believe Buffy's really gone," Oz said.
Willow looked away. "Yeah. It's been a shock to everyone."
A silence stretched between them again. "So, you and Tara..."
Willow nodded. "I love her. And I don't want to leave her. But I still care about you, and I'm glad you're all right."
Oz smiled, a little sad. "Same here."
He reached up and pushed a lock of hair off her face. "If you want to be with Tara, I respect that."
Willow nodded. "I do."
Oz smiled sadly again, then turned and walked away.
Max looked up at the star-filled sky in the direction the ship disappeared. He knew everything would be all right. They'd find Tess one day and rescue his son. He wouldn't rest until he did.
Author's Note: I intend to write a sequel to this, but I don't know when, if ever, it will be finished. I hope you enjoyed "A Distraction" and please e-mail any comments you may have to email@example.com.