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Understanding Season 2

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Understanding". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The continuing lessons learned trying to understand why champions fight

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Vampire/Supernatural > Mercedes Thompson SeriesdesirexanaduFR151293,2480134,88711 Aug 0929 Mar 12No

When She Was Bad

Author's note: I thought about trying to do this all in one story, of course, when I started writing it I was going to skip huge chunks of the series and only write the stories that really interest me but these characters I created have a life of their own and they want their time on the page. So, Season 2 begins

Disclaimer: If you recognize it, I don't own it. Buffy and everyone in her universe belongs to Joss Whedon and made vampires and Grace's type of werewolf belong to Patricia Briggs and her Mercedes Thompson series.

Misty was kind enough to beta this for me but all the mistakes are mine.

"English Speech"
[H'kl'th speech]


***
***

Willow sat on the retaining wall, listening to Xander complain about how boring the summer had been and how he was looking forward to school starting again. Xander straightened up suddenly, "I have a movie for you,” Xander teased Willow, dabbing ice cream on the end of her nose. “You can’t fight back, you’re Amish. I mock you with my ice cream cone, Amish guy.”

“Witness,” Willow said in frustration. “My nose is cold,” she complained.

“I’ll get that for you.”

When Xander leaned in to remove the ice cream with his mouth she gave him a push back, “Xander!”

“Sorry,” he toook his napkin and cleaned off her nose, “your nose just looked so tasty.” After wiping a last, imaginary speck from her nose Xander leaned in again to kiss her.

They hesitated and a growl made them pull apart. Xander hit the vampire, drawing its attention from Willow. Willow climbed back onto the wall and broke a protruding limb from off the nearest tree.

“Xander! Catch!” she threw the make-shift stake to him.

Like they’d practiced in class Xander grabbed the stake and plunged it into the vampire’s heart, killing it.

“Nice work, Guys,” Buffy said as she came up on them. “I’d been ready to step in but you handled it.”

“Buffy,”Xander dropped the branch and hurried over to hug Buffy, “Hey.”

After Xander released Buffy Willow hugged her, “Hey.”

“Hey, Will.”

Buffy seemed a little surprised when Xander hugged her again after Willow, “Man, your timing really doesn’t suck.”

“When did you get back?”

“Just now, Dad drove me down. And I figured you losers would be getting into some kind of trouble, which you weren’t,” she admitted. “So, did you guys spend all summer hunting down vampires?” she asked as they started to walk.

“First one we’ve seen all summer since you killed the master,” Xander admitted.

“Looks like they knew I was coming back,” Buffy said, only half joking.

“So, what about you? How was your summer? Did you slay anything?”

“No, just hung out, partied some. Shopping was also a major theme.”

“I like your hair,” Xander said, trying to find something for them to talk about.

“How about you guys? You have any fun without me?”

“No,” Xander said at the same time Willow said, “Yes.”

“Our summer was kind of yawn-worthy,” Xander elaborated. “Other than our lessons twice a week the most interesting thing we did was bury the master.”

“That’s right,” Willow agreed, “you missed it. Right out by that tree,” Willow gestured. “Giles buried the bones, we poured holy water, and we got to wear robes.”

“Very intense,” Xander agreed. “You should have been.”

“Have you seen Giles?” Willow asked, drawing Buffy’s attention back from the tree.

“Why’d I do that?” Buffy asked in confusion. “I’ll see him at school tomorrow.”

“Man, I’m really glad you’re back,” Xander said, focussed on her.

“Me too,” Buffy said in a distant voice, her gaze going back to the tree where the master was buried.

***

Buffy, Willow, and Xander came around the corner and down the stairs to where Giles and Ms. Calender were talking. “Giles,” Willow said happily.

“Yo, G-man, what’s up?” Xander said, hopping down the last few steps.

“Nice to see you,” Giles said in a tone that wasn’t very convincing. “And don’t ever call me that.”

“Hey, Kids,” Ms. Calender smiled at them.

“Hi,” the two said in unison, smiling back at her.

Buffy walked around them, still silent, her eyes on Giles.

“How are you?” Giles probed, smiling at Buffy.

“Alive and kickin’,” she responded, smiling automatically.

“Hey, Guys,” Grace said as she dragged Tarto along. “You have four classes with her, you have to meet her eventually.”

“I can just...”

“Hello, Grace, how are you?”

“I’m good,” Grace said, keeping her hold on Tarto. “Ms. Calender, right?” she said, to the other teacher.

“Yes.”

“This is my cousin Tarto,” she introduced him to the people he didn’t know. [You keep trying to run and I will hurt you,] she warned Tarto, who immediately stilled. “This is Buffy Summers,” she gestured at the slayer, “Mr. Giles and Ms. Calender. Giles is the librarian and Ms. Calender is the computer science teacher.”

“Miss Calender, Mr. Giles,” he glanced at each of them. “Hello, Willow.”

“Hi, Tarto.”

“Hey,” Xander said, giving him a nod.

“Hey,” Tarto said back. His gaze went to Buffy, “Hello, Miss Summers.”

“It’s just Buffy,” she said, studying Tarto. “Miss Summers is what Snyder calls me.”

“I’m missing something,” Ms. Calender guessed, looking them over.

“How are you settling in to your new life?” Giles asked Tarto.

“It’s very different,” Tarto admitted. “There’s so many people,” he twitched slightly. “And I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’ve never been around so many,” he twitched again.

Grace released his arm and reached up to rub along the ridge hidden by his human appearance. The others thought she was just mussing his hair although Giles frowned at them in consideration. “You made the decision knowing what it entailed.”

“I know,” he moved closer to her, laying his head on her shoulder. “There’s just so many humans,” he said softly.

“I know,” she agreed, just as softly. “But this is the world you have to live in now.”

With a long sigh he straightened up. “I know. So what do we do now that we’re here?”

“You have all the same classes as Xander, I wanted to make it a little easier on you and I’m leaving you in his capable hands. I tested into about half my senior classes while Tarto was testing into junior ones but I’ve still got junior bio with you, and geometry,” she smiled at Willow as she spoke. “And I’m trusting you’ll help Tarto get to all his classes, even if Xander doesn’t go.”

“Where did you guys meet?” Buffy asked, looking the three over.

“Oh, Tarto’s Grace’s cousin,” Xander carried the lie, “and she wanted him to learn some self-defense, so he took lessons with us.”

“Tarto’s a h’kl’th demon,” Grace explained for Ms. Calender and Buffy. “Living with me until he can live on his own.” She smiled at them all, “Anyway, I’m leaving him with you losers from the library. Hey, Lishanne,” she called out to a passing cheerleader, “how was your summer? I got stuck with my cousin who’s spent forever in Africa with his mother. I didn’t even know my mother had a sister.”

The two of them were forced to stop on the landing when Aura stopped right in front of them. “Aura,” Grace said politely. “Are you trying out for the cheerleading squad this year?”

“I’ve started a petition to have you removed as squad manager. Once you’re gone and things are back to normal I’ll be back on the squad.”

“Only if you can fuck all your teachers into passing you,” Lishanne sneered at her. “My summer rocked,” she said to Grace as the two of them moved around Aura. “I got to shop in New York on Daddy’s gold card for three weeks. It was rockin’. And then we spent a couple weeks in the Bahamas.”

“How was your weekend?” Tarto asked Willow.

“Oh,” Willow smiled happily, “Xander and I killed a vampire last night.”

“I think you can get more volume if you speak from the diaphragm, Willow,” Buffy chided her.

“We’ve got vampires?” Ms. Calender demanded softly. “I thought the hellmouth was closed.”

“It is,” Giles insisted.

“It was closed before,” Tarto pointed out. “Just because it’s closed doesn’t mean it’s gone.”

“Precisely,” Giles agreed. “It is still there, emanating mystical energy.”

“Which means we’re still the undead’s favourite party town,” Xander joked.

“Wonder if they’re here for any purpose in particular?” Giles asked, looking at Buffy, who shrugged.

“You’re the watcher,” she pointed out. “I just work here.”

“Yes, I must consult my books.”

“Oh,” Xander said, looking at his watch, “eight minutes and 33 seconds. Pay up.”

Willow made a face but pulled a ten from her bag and handed it to Xander.

“I called ten minutes before you had to consult your books about something,” Xander explained to the adults just as the bell rang.

“We’d better get to class,” Willow looked pleased with the idea. The four of them headed down the hall.

***

“Good afternoon,” Grace said as she walked into the library. “You have a problem here, Giles?” she asked, looking at the broken training dummy.

“Buffy did that. Did she seem,” he hesitated.

“She died, Giles,” Grace said simply. “I don’t think she’s dealt with that yet. Give her the rest of the week, if she doesn’t straighten up on her own I’ll beat a little sense into her.”

“What makes you think you can beat her?” Giles asked sharply. “You did say you couldn’t beat the master and Buffy did.”

“After he killed her,” Grace agreed. “I’m thinking major endorphins from the resurrection and a huge dose of adrenalin.”

“So you don’t think you’re overestimating your skills?”

“I can’t tell them what I am, Giles, and neither can you without breaking your word to me and Bran. If you want me to go all out with Buffy I’m quite willing to do it, but she’s going to think I’m only human when we do.”

“Willow has been in several times prodding at me to tell her.”

“She has to figure it out on her own.”

“I could tell them,” Tarto said from the library door. “That wouldn’t break the rules, right?”

“What do you think, Giles, honestly? About telling Buffy and the others?”

“I think it might be a good idea,” Giles said hesitantly. “But I think it should wait until after Buffy is herself again.”

“You make up a list of who you want to tell, and it better be a short one,” Grace said drily, “and I’ll think about it.”

“What about you? Who do you think should be told?”

“On my part? Cordy, now that she knows there are things that go bump in the night she should know that Buffy and I bump back. Hard. Speaking of bumping back,” she grinned, “I have to go.”

“Go where?” Tarto asked.

“You know how to get home. I have time to have an early supper with Mom and Dad before I have to go to work.”

“Do you still see them regularly?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Grace asked with a frown. “They’re my parents.”

“Your in-laws.”

“Dan had to adopt me, blood adoption because of his merth heritage, because he couldn’t be in the same room with me without it.”

“So you don’t just consider them your in-laws anymore?”

“The rest of the family are my in-laws. Strange as this sounds, when Dan adopted me he ceased to be part of their family and became part of mine. Made for an interesting reunion. Diane had to stay close to him.”

“Fascinating,” Giles said, his fingers twitching with the urge to write down what she was telling him.

“I’ll get Aunt Flo’s number for you, she said if you started asking questions she’d be willing to answer them. Something about the watcher having bad information being worse than having no information.” Grace grinned at him and headed for the doors, “Gotta go.”

“I could answer questions too,” Tarto offered, “if you wanted.”

“Isn’t that going to do more harm than good in your case?” Giles asked him. “You did accept exile.”

“Only for twenty years,” Tarto admitted. “And it might not even be for that long. The clan doesn’t like the fact that Corath is opposing Grace in this. I think they’re more concerned with making her angry than him.”

“Interesting.”

"I saw her fight Darla once,” Tarto admitted. “Neither of them was really putting everything into it. It was like they were exercising not fighting. Practicing against each other.”

“They may have seen it that way. Grace told me they both knew they had forever to finish it because they’d both live forever. Would you like a ride home?” Giles asked, looking around the library.

“I’m safe enough walking, even after dark. I might not be able to claim protection from the clan, but the Alpha doesn’t like it when her pack is threatened.”

Giles nodded his understanding, “See you tomorrow then.”

Tarto took the hint and headed out of the library.

***

Dan watched, amused, as Grace devoted herself to eating. He put a glass by her place - coke, extra ice - and fixed himself a drink.

“So where’s Mom?”

“She had to work late.”

Grace looked at him with a frown, she hadn’t catalogued all the changes in Dan’s scent since the adoption potion but that scent had carried over. “You do know I can smell it when you lie to me, right?”

“She is at work, I asked her to stay late so we could talk privately,” Dan admitted.

Grace finished the plateful of food and sat back with a satisfied sigh. She picked up the glass and studied Dan, “So what’s up?”

“Diane and I have been talking.”

“Always good between mates.”

“Diane apparently spent a lot of time with Aunt Flo and my sisters at the reunion.”

“I know,” Grace agreed. “I was there for a lot of it.” She rubbed the lip of her glass as she waited.

“She’s been considering what she learned all summer and she confronted me about it last night.”

“Confronted is a strong word,” Grace said as a filler.

“One I used deliberately. She wanted to truth about our marriage and whether making some changes would make it better.”

“I wondered if watching Greg with me would make her wonder,” Grace admitted, watching as he fiddled with his glass.

“Diane’s bosses have been after her to move to Miami to head up their office there,” Dan said in a rush. “She’s decided to take the job and we’ll be moving as soon as the house sells.”

“Good,” Grace said simply.

“You aren’t upset?”

“I’ve lost my brother and my mate to this town, Dad,” Grace pointed out. “I don’t want to lose you and Mom too. For all the human violence there you’ll be safer there than here.” She gave a surprised laugh at the relief she could suddenly smell. “You were afraid I’d try to stop you?”

“Aunt Flo says it happens sometimes. Daughter and wife clash over the male they share. Sometimes it leads to real clashes that end with one of them dead.”

“I’m an Alpha werewolf, not a merth,” she pointed out. “And I’m not that clingy. Is Mom finally going to let you stay home and be a househusband? Spending your days making her home life as simple and perfect as possible?”

“You knew?”

“Greg was only a quarter merth and he needed to fuss. He always made sure I had everything I needed or wanted and that every detail he could control was my ideal. And I talked to Aunt Flo about it. If Mom wants you to move to Miami you have my blessing to go. Be very happy.”

Dan grinned, completely relaxed now. “I’ll tell Diane.”

“Want me to do it?”

“No, I’ll tell her after she gets home.”

Grace grinned at him, “Can I leave the mess for you? I have to get to work.”

“Go,” Dan agreed, already reaching for the empty plate.

Grace drained the coke and set the empty glass down. “I’ll talk you in a couple days.”

“There’s some stuff we want you to have before we leave, we’ll bring it over once we start packing.”

Grace gave him a kiss on the cheek and a brief hug and headed out the door.

***

Buffy closed her locker and the four of them started down the hallway. “Hey, did you guys hear Cibo Matto is at the Bronze tonight?” Xander asked.

“What’s a Cibo Matto?” Tarto asked.

“They’re a band. They’re playing?” Willow asked Xander.

“No, Willow, they’re clog dancing.”

“Cibo Matto can clog dance?” Willow asked, impressed. “Oh, sarcasm, right.”

“We should attend, right?” Xander asked.

“Oh, look,” Cordelia said, coming out a classroom in front of them, “it’s the three musketeers.”

“Was that an insult?” Buffy asked, looking at the others.

“Kinda lacked punch,” Xander agreed.

“The three musketeers were cool,” Willow pointed out. “Besides there are four of us,” she added.

“I see your point,” Cordelia admitted slowly.

“I’d have gone with Stooges,” Xander added.

“It’s just, you three are always together, and who is he anyway?” she demanded. “I didn’t think you losers were looking for extras.”

“I’m Grace’s cousin,” Tarto said for himself.

“Oh, from Africa,” Cordelia agreed. “I remember hearing about you.” She looked at Buffy, “So, did you fight any demons over the summer?”

“Our own personal demons,” Willow said quickly.

“Such as lust and, and thrift,” Xander added.

“I would have to go with Stooges also,” Buffy said, looking them over.

“What are you talking about? I’m talking about big, squiggly demons coming out of the floor. Remember? Prom night. With all the vampires.”

“Cordelia,” Buffy said with a slight chuckle, “your mouth is open, sound is coming from it, this is never good.”

“See,” Xander took Cordelia by the arm and moved her slightly aside, “we can’t go around mentioning that to other people, Buffy being the slayer and all.”

“You haven’t been talking about our adventure all summer, have you?” Willow asked, fiddling nervously with the straps from her backpack.”

“Are you nuts?” Cordelia scoffed. “Do you think I would tell people I spent the whole evening with you? Besides, it was so creepy. That master guy and all the screaming. I don’t even like thinking about it.” She turned her head to look at Buffy, “So, your secret’s safe with me.”

“Well, that work out great,” Buffy said, smiling at Cordelia. “You won’t tell anyone I’m the slayer,” she started walking, “and I won’t tell anyone you’re a moron.”

“Now that was a good insult,” Xander said, pointing after Buffy.

“A little too good,” Willow agreed.

“What’s with her?” Cordelia asked looking after her.

***

Tarto sat with Willow and Xander, watching as Xander ignored Willow while waiting for Buffy.

“I just think something’s up is all,” Willow said.

“Willow, you’re paranoid” Xander said automatically.

“Buffy’s never acted like this before,” Willow argued, flddling with her ice cream. “Ever since she got back she’s,” she hesitated, “different.”

“Buffy’s always been different,” Xander pointed out.

“She’s never been mean.”

“Any sign of her?” Xander asked with a sigh, turning away from Willow again. “She said she was coming.”

“No. The band’s cool though.”

“Yeah, cool.”

Tarto leaned forward slightly, “Willow, would you like to dance with me?”

Xander spun back to face them. “What?”

“Did I ask that wrong?” Tarto asked innocently.

“You dance?”

“It doesn’t seem that complicated,” Tarto hedged.

“I don’t dance well,” Willow started to refuse.

“Please?” Tarto asked, holding out his hand to her.

“Okay,” Willow agreed, putting her hand in his.

Tarto led Willow onto the dancefloor just as the song ended. When the music started again it was slower so Tarto moved closer to Willow, putting his arms around her. “Is this right?”

Willow put her arms around Tarto’s neck, relaxing as she realized Tarto was nervous too. “That’s good,” she assured him as they began to sway to the music.

“Why doesn’t Xander know you like him?”

“We’ve been friends forever,” Willow shrugged. “To him I’m not really a girl, I’m Willow. And Willow is just his friend. Besides, he still wants Buffy, even though he’s Xander to her, just a friend.”

Tarto nodded to show he was listening while he tried to figure it out. “Does he know she sees him as a friend and not a potential mate?”

“I’m pretty sure he does. And she knows I like him but he doesn’t like me.”

“So why do you still try to attract him?”

“Because he’s Xander,” Willow sighed.

Tarto smiled at her tone. “Buffy is here.”

“What’s she doing?”

“Dancing with Xander,” Tarto turned them both slightly so Willow could see without hurting herself. “At least, I think that’s dancing.”

“Technically.”

“Xander doesn’t look like he’s enjoying it,” Tarto observed as Willow tensed in his hold.

“No, he doesn’t,” Willow relaxed slightly. She didn’t meet Buffy’s eyes as she left the dancefloor right past them. “We should go make sure he’s okay.”

“No,” Tarto corrected her, “we should finish our dance. He can wait.”

Willow looked up at him in surprise, smiling at him as she realized he was trying to protect her from Xander hurting her. “He can wait,” she agreed.

***

“She’s possessed!” Willow insisted.

“Possessed?” Giles asked sceptically, taking a pop from the machine.

“That’s the only explanation that makes any sense,” Willow explained. “You should have seen her last night. That wasn’t Buffy.

“Are we overlooking the idea she may be very attracted to me?” Xander asked. After a few seconds and at the sceptical looks from Willow and Giles he sighed, “She’s possessed.”

“Possessed by what?” Giles asked, opening his pop and taking a sip.

“By a possessing thing.”

“That narrows it down,” Giles said sarcastically.

“Well you’re the expert,” Xander pointed out. “Hey, maybe when she killed the master some kind of weird bad guy transference thing happened.

“That’s what it was,” Willow agreed. “Why else would she be acting like such a B-I-T-C-H?”

“Willow, I think we’re all a little old to be spelling things out,” Giles chided her.

“A bitca?” Xander asked in confusion.

“Bitch, Xander,” Grace corrected him. “Have you guys seen Cordelia this morning?”

“Thankfully no,” Xander said, looking over at her. “Tarto.”

Tarto smirked at him, moving to sit across from him, beside Willow. “I had fun last night,” he said to her.

“Flirt later,” Grace snapped. “Cordy was supposed to meet me in the gym half an hour ago. This was our first meeting of the year, and when I talked to her yesterday she was looking forward to it. Joy and Lishanne both showed up but they said Cordy left the Bronze last night to talk to Buffy and never came back.”

“Are you certain?”

“No, I’m telling you this to see how much you like her,” Grace snapped at them. She reached over and took the pop can from Giles’ hand, taking a long drink before handing it back.

Giles gave her a look and handed it back to her.

“Buffy may simply have issues,” Giles said, sitting between Xander and Tarto. “She was, at least for a few minutes, technically dead. As for what happened to Cordelia, even knowing that vampires exist isn’t protection from them.”

“That’s an interesting point,” Xander said, spotting Buffy at the edge of the lounge, “about trout you just brought up now.”

“What are you doing here?” Buffy snapped at Grace.

“Looking for Cordelia,” Grace said slowly, holding her temper by taking another drink of pop. “What did she do after she talked to you outside the Bronze last night?”

“She said she was going to see if Angel wanted company,” Buffy said flatly. “Master’s gone.”

“What?”

“The master. I stopped by his grave last night and they have a vacancy.”

“Good god.”

“What would someone want with master bones?” Willow asked.

“Trophy, horrible conversation piece,” Xander suggested.

“Bring him back,” Tarto said slowly. “It’s the blackest of magics but it could be done.”

“They’re going to bring him back and I seem to recall you telling me he was history,” Buffy snapped at Giles.

“Buffy, I,I’ve never heard of a revivification ceremony being successful,” Giles hedged.

“But you’ve heard of them?” Buffy turned her temper on her watcher. “Thanks for the warning.”

“Buffy,” Willow spoke up, “Giles did bury him and...”

“Could we have just a little bit less from the civilians?” Buffy cut her off. “This is slayer business.”

Grace stepped between Buffy and the table. “I am not in the mood for your attitude, Slayer,” she growled the title, her eyes paling as her wolf surfaced. “One of my cheerleaders is missing and you were the last person to see her. Do not push me today.”

“Is there a problem here?” Snyder asked, coming towards the table. “I believe some of us have class,” Willow, Xander, and Tarto grabbed their bags and stood, “and some of us have jobs.”

“We’ll continue this discussion about trout in the library later,” Giles said, shooing the four of them off.

Buffy joined the others in leaving the lounge, glancing back at Grace.

“Grace?” Giles asked softly, moving closer to her.

“She no longer has to the end of the week,” Grace said, clenching and unclenching her fists.

“That Summers girl, she’s trouble.”

“Not for long,” Grace said, turning to look at him. “She is my problem,” she said, meeting his eyes. She pulled her wolf back in but was pushing her alpha hard, “You will leave her alone.”

“Of course, Miss Kelly,” he agreed automatically.

Her temper mostly under control Grace headed for her first class.

***

“I’ve got something,” Giles said, coming down the stairs reading from a book. “It’s latin, so bear with me. To revive a vampire they need his bones, which they have,” he admitted, “and the blood of... This is very unclear. The blood of the closest person to... Someone connected to the vampire.”

“That’s me,” Buffy stated.

“Perhaps.”

“We were close.”

“That’s not right,” Tarto said, looking up from his school text.

“What do you mean? We killed each other, it really promotes togetherness.”

“Connected to is wrong,” Tarto said. He looked over at where Grace was sitting. [It’s not right. There’s something about being close to the vampire but not connected to.]

[You’ll have to give me more than that,] Grace said simply, her eyes never leaving Buffy, [before I challenge her over this.]

[Latin isn’t old enough.]

“Latin isn’t old enough?” Grace repeated, frowning at him.

“Well, is there anything on when the ceremony might take...” Xander’s question was cut off as a rock came through the window.

Buffy caught it as everyone else was ducking flying glass. “This is Cordelia’s,” she observed, fingering the choker used to hold the note to the rock. Pulling the note out she set the rock aside. She unfolded the note and read it, “Come to the Bronze before it opens or we make her a meal.”

“They’re going to cook her dinner?” Xander asked automatically. As soon as heads began to turn in his direction he said, “I’m gonna pretend I never said that.”

“What’ll we do?” Willow asked.

“I go to the Bronze and save the day,” Buffy said, already heading for the door.

“I don’t like this.”

“Nor I,” Giles added.

“Yeah, well, you’re not going,” Buffy said, turning back.

“What do you mean?” Willow demanded.

“I can’t do it anymore,” Buffy said harshly. “I can’t look after the three of you guys while I’m fighting.”

“Right,” Grace said, coming to her feet, “like you looked after them before.”

“What about the rest of the note?” Willow asked, looking between the two.

“What rest of the note?” Buffy asked blankly.

“The part that says ‘PS this is a trap’.”

“You’ll be playing straight into their hands,” Giles added.

“I can handle this,” Buffy said calmly.

“Stop saying that!” Willow demanded. “God, what’s wrong with you?”

“Let her go,” Grace said from her position by the door. “She wants to finish what the master started by killing herself I say let her.”

“Cordelia may be dead,” Xander pointed out.

“This is my fight,” Buffy said, turning and heading out of the library.

Grace turned her head and watched her go, lifting her head abruptly to sniff the air.

“Not going after her?”

“Angel’s following her.”

“How do you know?” Willow asked.

“While I believe Angel isn’t an evil vampire,” Giles said, “I would feel better if you would follow her as well. Please.”

Grace rolled her eyes but turned and headed after Buffy. She caught up to Angel, falling into step with him as they followed Buffy.

A few blocks from the Bronze Buffy sighed, “Being stalked isn’t a big turn-on for girls.”

“You need help,” Angel told her. “Someone to watch your back.”

“Sure you don’t mean my neck?” Buffy asked with a sigh as Angel moved around her.

“Why are you ridin’ me?” he asked.

“Because it’s fun,” Grace said, moving into Buffy’s line of sight.

“Because I don’t trust you,” Buffy said, ignoring Grace, “you’re a vampire.” She studied the hurt look on his face, “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said sarcastically, “is that an offensive term? Should I have said ‘Undead American’?”

“Now you’re being blonder than usual,” Grace sighed at her. “Just because he’s a vampire doesn’t mean he’s not a person.”

“You have to trust someone,” Angel said firmly, “you can’t do this alone.”

“Slayers always work alone, don’t they?” Grace asked him.

“I trust me. I don’t trust you, and I don’t trust her,” she gestured at Grace. “Miss I let a demon live with me.”

“Married one too,” Grace pointed out, fiddling with the ring on her finger.

“You’re not as strong as you think,” Angel kept pushing at Buffy.

“You think you could take me?” Buffy asked him, her voice flirty.

“What?”

“Oh, come on, you must have thought about it. What would happen if it ever came down to a fight. I mean, you vampire, me slayer. You must have wondered.”

“I know I have,” Grace said, turning her ring so the diamond was facing her palm.

“What?” Buffy broke her staring contest with Angel to look at her. “You’re the one who keeps telling me you’re not a demon.”

“Not a demon,” Grace agreed. “Just the biggest bitch you’re ever going to meet.”

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Angel asked suddenly.

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed, “I do. Stay out of my way.”

“Happy to oblige.”

“I wasn’t going to kill her,” Grace sulked at Angel as Buffy started walking again.

“Do you really think you could beat her?” Angel asked Grace.

“Went toe to toe with your sire more than once,” Grace smirked at him. “She’s got a hard head.”

They followed Buffy into the Bronze, Grace sniffing the air as they entered. She turned suddenly and ran out of the Bronze, heading back to the school.

***


Buffy ran into the library, surprised to find Grace there tending to an injured Xander with Tarto sitting beside her.

“Xander, what happened?” Buffy asked, hurrying to his side and putting her hand on his arm.

“What do you care?” Xander demanded, pulling away from her. “If you’d worked with us for five seconds this wouldn’t have happened.”

“What?”

“Vampires, the ones you said you could handle alone.” He looked up to meet Buffy’s eyes, “If they hurt Willow I’ll kill you.”

“Why’d they take them and not you?”

“Giles translated the passage from the original,” Tarto told her. “Closest to actually meant nearest. Physically nearest.”

“Which means Giles and Willow probably fill up the set,” Grace said, walking over to the cage and pulling out some weapons.

“I don’t know what your problem is,” Xander told Buffy, “and I offically don’t care.”

“No one does,” Tarto said, taking a sword from Grace.

“Where’d they take them?”

“I know how to find out,” Buffy said, heading for the door.

[Do we follow her lead?] Tarto asked, studying the two alpha females.

“I’ll give her a chance,” Grace said, deliberately using english so Buffy would understand her. “If I think she’s not going to succeed fast enough we can come back here and I’ll track them from here.”

***


Buffy slammed the vampire onto her back, “One more time, where are they?”

“You’re too late,” she mocked, “your friends are already dead.”

“Oh,” Grace said, walking forward, knives in her hands, “that’s not going to be good for you if they are.”

“What are you going to do?” she smirked at the pair, “Kill me?”

Grace used the point of her knife to raise the vampire’s chin, ignoring the smoke where the holy blade was burning vampire flesh, “What makes you think I’ll let you die?”

The vampire’s eyes went wide and Buffy looked at Grace in surprise, taking a step back to let her question the vampire.

“I am only going to ask you once,” Grace said, her voice soft, “and then I’m going to pin you to the pool table so you’ll be waiting when I’m done killing all the others. I can track them, even if I have to change to do it. Now, where are they?”

“The ritual starts an hour after sundown,” the vampire said in a rush, not trying to get away from the blade, “in the warehouse at 1798 Witmore. They have to be bled alive so if you get there before the ritual begins you should be able to save them.”

Grace let one arm fall as she brought the other one up and cut off the vampire’s head. “An address. Let’s go.”


***

“You guys get the hostages out of here,” Buffy ordered the others.

“Buffy,” Angel said. “Buffy,” he said a little louder. “We need you to distract the rest of them.”

“I can do that,” Buffy agreed.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to kill them all,” Buffy said, pulling out a stake. “That should distract them.”

Grace studied her, frowning in consideration.

[Alpha?]

[Later,] she shushed him. “Help the others. I’m going to make sure no one escapes.”

Tarto followed Xander and Angel up to the second floor of the warehouse, helping to pull the sacrifices to safety. He checked on Cordelia, watching as Xander fussed over Willow. He focussed on unchaining the teachers after Angel moved away to fight the vampire who followed them up.

“Where’s Buffy?” Giles asked.

“Working through her issues,” Xander told him.

Tarto moved over to sit on Willow’s other side, touching her arm gently. Willow smiled at him, shifting so she was leaning on him and not Xander. “Is she okay?”

“Grace is down there if she gets into too much trouble,” Tarto assured her, “so is Angel.”

When the last vampire burst into flames Tarto stood, helping Willow up. “It’s over,” she said softly.

“Not yet,” Xander responded, frowning at how she was still leaning on Tarto. “You okay?”

“Hmm?” she looked at him. A crash made her look back in time to see Buffy take her second swing at the skelton, smashing it to bits.

“Now it’s over,” Tarto guessed as she turned and began crying into Angel’s chest.

“Seems like it,” Grace said from the shadows, startling them all. “Let’s get you out of here.”

“Grace, what are you doing here?” Cordelia asked her.

“You missed our meeting this morning, I was worried about you.”

“And Buffy?” Giles asked, focussed on Grace.

“She can have to the end of the week again,” Grace sighed. “But I think she’s back to herself.”

“Let’s head home,” Giles agreed with a sigh.

***

Buffy came into the classroom, staring at the floor. She glanced up to locate an empty seat and saw in surprise the only empty one was beside Willow. Xander, Willow, and Tarto were all sitting next to the empty seat and she ventured a smile.

“We saved you a seat,” Willow said, smiling at her and glancing at the empty seat.

“There’s a rumour going around that Mr. Cox is the most boring teacher in the world,” Xander said as she sat. “I think he won a belt or something.”

“Lucky us.”

“Well, I hear he nods off a lot,” Willow added, “so that’s a plus.”

Tarto would have been confused if they hadn’t explained what they were planning to do before Buffy arrived. “So,” he spoke, leaning forward to join the conversation, “are we Bronzing it tonight?”

“Wednesday,” Willow said with a frown, “kinda beat.”

“Well,” Xander drawled, “we could grind our enemies into talcum powder with a sledgehammer but gosh, we did that last night.” He grinned as Buffy finally started to smile at them. “Hey, I got a plan. Miniature golf.”

“There’s no course here,” Willow corrected him.

“Miniature tennis,” Xander suggested just for the laugh from the others.

“Xander,” Willow chided. “What’s playing at the movies?”

“Some monster movie,” Tarto had the answer to that one. “We could go to the movies,” he agreed.


***
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