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Greatest Show on Earth

by Eena Angel 2001


Part One

No one really knew who she was. Several people tried to ask,
but only got the coldest of stares in response. And believe it or
not, she was intimidating when angry. You wouldn't think it from her
tiny frame and slender body, but danger radiated under the surface of
that little redhead. And if you couldn't tell by looking at her, you
could definitely tell by watching her perform.
Anyway, not knowing who she is was the only thing that really
bothered Anita about her. Well, not only, but the most prominent.
The others included where she came from, where she got that kind of
power, and finally, why the hell Jean-Claude hired her. The vampire
was not one to take big risks, especially not with one hell of a
powerful witch whom he knew nothing about. But he allowed it
anyway. And that bothered Anita. Why would he do that? Hadn't he
learned his lesson about messing with powerful beings? What was his
ulterior motive? Did he even have one? Was it because the girl was
beautiful and deadly? Maybe the vampire wanted to sample her behind
Anita's back.
Minor jealousy on her part was another that bothered Anita
about the new girl. Not a lot of jealous, but enough. Besides, it's
not like the girl was any real threat to Anita. Not with her long
red hair that was like spun fire, her pale alabaster skin which
brought out her enchanting green eyes, or that lithe little body the
boys and girls of the Circus appreciated. No, not a threat in the
least.
So why did Anita want to get rid of her? She just didn't
want the girl around on principle. Maybe she just didn't like the
fact that she was no longer the most powerful woman on the block.
Because the little redhead could most likely kick her butt, magically
speaking. No one had tried out the redhead's fighting skills. No
one was that stupid. The fact that with one look she could terrify
most vampires was frightening enough. But who really wanted to
provoke the girl into a fight.
Anita did. Just a little. So she could prove to herself
that she could do it. Not to prove to Jean-Claude or Micah, who
looked at the redhead like she was a verifiable full course meal,
that she was better than the rookie. Nope, it would be just for her
own curiosity.
Yeah right.
Anita shifted uncomfortably. She didn't like having these
thoughts. She was not a jealous person. Unless you count all those
times when she saw a woman throw herself at Richard. But that was
beside the point. And this girl wasn't doing anything of the sort.
She didn't flirt with Anita's men; she hardly even looked their way.
Maybe the real problem was the despite the cold shoulder, all of
Anita's men were captivated by the redhead. Maybe that's what made
her so angry, so jealous.
Or maybe the girl was just evil and Anita would have to kill
her. There was always hope.
The Executioner shot a glance at her boyfriends. They were
caught up in the redhead's performance. She really couldn't blame
them. It was a good act. Oh wait, she did blame them. It was like
she wasn't even in the room. Anita wasn't used to that feeling, not
with her boys. She didn't like it one bit.
Sighing, she turned back to the act. Anita could try to
enjoy herself. After all, the redhead was just here to work.
Nothing else. And Anita knew that for a fact. Several of the other
workers and hanger-ons had tried to persuade the girl to sleep with
them. Others were nicer and just asked her out. Some just plain
grabbed at whatever was available. Those ones got put into
hospitals, the nicer ones got polite rejections, and the sex beggers
usually got a knee to the groin. And she didn't exactly bias on
that, anyone could get a knee to the groin from the new girl. If she
didn't like you, she didn't like you.
All she wanted to do was work. At least, that's what Anita
was told. She hadn't actually talked to the girl herself yet. She
had seen plenty of her performances, but never spoke to her. The
girl didn't really give much time for that. After the show was over,
she just packed up her stuff and left. She never hung around, never
went out with the others. She was a loner and she fought hard to
protect her privacy. It made Anita wonder what she was trying to
hide.
The girl was doing some sort of trick with fire. She was
slowly building more and more of it, from her magic of course. Soon,
it looked like the whole ring was on fire. She waved her hands and
the fire collected and took shape. There was a type of belly-dancing
music on. The redhead lightly swung her hips in junction with the
notes, but generally kept her focus on the fire. Eventually,
everyone could make out the shape she had intended. It looked like a
dragon. Even from her spot, Anita could see the intricate design of
scales and wings. The redhead put a lot of power into it. The fire
dragon approached its mistress, circling her several times.
Suddenly, it wrapped itself around her. The redhead rose up and
floated before the crowd. The fire encircled her, still in the form
of the dragon. Everyone could see the fire on her skin; smell the
scent of burnt hair. People started becoming frantic, was she
burning herself?
But no, the redhead remained okay. She hung above the ring,
hips moving to the beat of her music. The fire dragon continued to
coil around her, occasionally flying over the heads of the audience.
They could feel the heat of it, knew it was real fire. But it had no
effect on the redhead. She continued to dance as the fire covered
her body.
Then the music stopped. The redhead stopped her dancing and
you had a moment before she went up in flames. The crowd began to
panic, as they only saw the burning figure. And then with a large
bang, it was all gone. She was back on the ground, perched
nonchalantly on a table. The fire dragon continued to weave its away
around her form. When its head reached her shoulder, the body began
to change. The fire disappeared and was replaced by an actual
feathered serpent. And with that, the redhead blew a kiss to the
audience.
The crowd went wild. Anita obligatorily got to her feet and
clapped along with everyone else. If nothing else, the redhead knew
how to put on a show. Anita would just feel better if she knew and
what the girl exactly was. And one of these days she would find out.
One of these days, Anita would uncover everything about
Willow Rosenburg. Even if it killed her.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Two

Willow waited patiently on the table. She knew as soon as
the show was over, a legion of teenagers would come running over.
They couldn't help themselves. Everyone always asked the same
question.
"Is that really a dragon?"
Willow looked up with a smile on her smile. Behind her was a
group of teenagers, the oldest being about sixteen. They were
regarding her with a certain amount of awe in their eyes. And as for
the serpent, they flickered between scared and curious.
"No, he's not a dragon," she finally answered. "He's just a
feathered serpent. He can fly and he looks like a dragon, but he
isn't one. He can't breathe fire."
"Does he bite?"
"Only if I tell him to," the redhead smiled. Her extended
her right arm, the one he was coiled around, out to the teenagers.
"You can pet him if you want?"
The group looked slightly on edge. Willow couldn't help but
smirk when two kids, one boy and one girl finally stepped forward.
The girl nudged the boy ahead of her, eyes intent on the serpent.
Slowly, the boy reached out a shaky hand to the serpent and lightly
brushed his fingertips over its scales.
"Hey!" he declared to his friends. "It's soft!"
"Why is it soft?" the girl asked, feeling the scales for
herself.
"Because he is a feathered serpent," Willow replied. "The
scales are hard and protective, but feather like. Helps with his
flying."
"What's his name?" the youngest of the group asked, boldly
petting the serpent now she knew it did not bite. Willow smiled at
the serpent in pride.
"His name is Bob," she announced with great pomp.
"Bob?" a girl repeated. "Why Bob? You can't name a serpent
Bob."
"Why not?" Willow demanded, allowing a confused frown to come
to her face. "Bob's a nice name. And he likes it, don't you Bob?"
The serpent hissed happily in response. Willow smiled down
at him, tickling the spot under his chin.
"Where did you get Bob?"
"I found him," Willow revealed. "In my hometown. I was
walking by the lake and I heard these weird hissing noises. Look
behind a bush and find him, all injured and hungry. I picked him up,
took him home, fixed him up, and then he just didn't leave again."
"So, you domesticated him?"
"Kind of," Willow agreed. "But I haven't actually done
anything to tame him. He was just a baby when I found him, and since
I took care of him, he'll be with me until he is able to take care of
himself."
"He'll leave one day?" the youngest asked. "Won't you be
sad?"
"Maybe," Willow shrugged. "But he isn't mine to keep. Just
mine to enjoy for a while."
The line of questions ended there as adults came up and
claimed their children. A few of them turned back and waved at her,
which she returned with a knowing smile. They would be back
tomorrow, hoping catch another glimpse of her and Bob. They always
would. Willow was told she had become very enchanting.
Now if she could only feel like anything but crap.
*****
The day ended like any other. She gathered her things, shot
down many invitations and had to knee a few groins before she was out
of the Circus. She calmly piled her things into her car, putting
Bob's cage in the front seat. She didn't like putting him in there,
but city bylaws required that she have him locked up when outside.
Like he would do anything. Feathered serpents are not dangerous,
they're guardians by nature. But people were too ready to confuse
them with dragons, despite their much smaller frame.
Anyway, she did it the same as she always did. Packed up by
herself, refusing any help offered. Maybe she was being cold, maybe
she was being stubborn, but Willow didn't particularly cared. She
wasn't here to make friends, wasn't here to do anything but work and
make some money. And she did make money, lots of it. Jean-Claude
paid her an awful lot for her performances. He was a pretty okay
guy. You know, for a vampire.
Willow sighed to herself and slid behind the driver's wheel.
She kind of liked her boss. He seemed like the right mix of Angel,
Angelus, and Spike. One would think that combination would be
frightening, and it probably was on occasion. But it made Willow
feel right at home. She was used to docile creatures that could rip
her throat out at the slightly provocation. She liked it, made
things familiar.
Willow started up the car and pulled out of the parking lot.
One thing she didn't understand about Jean-Claude was his choice in
women. Well, in one woman. Anita Blake. Willow didn't particularly
think badly of the woman, but she was the goddamn Executioner. The
redhead had heard enough stories about what this chick did to demons
and vampires. She didn't understand why Jean-Claude would be dating
her. It was suicidal, it was wrong. It was like Buffy and Angel.
Willow shook her head to clear her thoughts of her best
friend. She didn't want to think of Buffy, to think of Dawn, to
think of what she did to them. It still hurt too much to
acknowledge. That's why she left home. Packed up everything,
brought Bob, and moved to St. Louis. To get away from the pain the
Hellmouth held for her and the guilt that would eat at her everyday.
It was too hard.
Willow pulled into her apartment building's parking lot. She
parked in her spot and commenced pulled her stuff out. Somehow, she
managed to make it all the way up to her apartment without dropping a
thing. But she wasn't able to open it for the life of her.
Impatiently, Willow stomped on her door and waited until she
heard the lock being slid open. The door opened to reveal Xander
staring amusedly at her.
"If you would just ask for help in the parking lot," he
started off.
"Then who would open the door?" Willow countered, pushing her
way in. "Besides, I got this. I'm not an invalid you know."
Xander chuckled at her offended tone and starting taking
things off her. Yes, she had brought Xander too. The man had
actually come up with the idea. The two best friends, moving on from
the place that held so much hurt for them. She couldn't deal with
her trip down the dark side; he couldn't deal with the mess he made
with Anya. And after finding out she was a vengeance demon once
more, well, Xander just couldn't stay anymore.
So they left together. Just the two of them once again,
after so many years. And they were like they once were. Happy and
friends. Like a brother and sister pair. Willow didn't know if she
could have made it this far without Xander. She didn't really want
to find out. It made life easier to have her Xander-shaped friend
around.
And they worked and lived like they didn't have a care in the
world. He worked at this weird bar, Guilty Pleasures, another one of
Jean-Claude's joints. It was actually a strip club, but Xander
decided it was best if he was just the bartender. Though Jean-Claude
had tried to persuade him to change his mind, several times. Willow
had never actually been to this bar. Xander worked the same shift
that she worked at the Circus. And she didn't really want to go.
Sitting in bar ogling half naked men wasn't her idea of fun. Maybe
for Faith or Buffy, but not for Willow. She wouldn't last two
minutes before spontaneously combusting from blushing. And she
didn't particularly want any of her fellow employees to know she was
like that. It would ruin her carefully constructed image of the ice
princess.
"Good day at work?" Xander asked, bringing her out of her
thoughts. Willow sighed and made for the shower.
"I'll tell you when I'm done."
"Need company?" he teased her.
"If you're man enough," she teased back, slipping into her
room. Xander just laughed and settled down on the couch to watch
television. He let Bob out of his cage and allowed the serpent to
coil up his arm.
"So Bob," he started conversationally. "You want to watch
Dawson's Creek or Nikita?"
The serpent hissed in response. Xander nodded agreeably,
turning the remote to the television.
"Nikita it is."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Three

"But who is she?"
Nathaniel watched as Micah rolled his eyes at Anita's back.
The leopard was well aware that the Nimir-Raj and his Nimir-Ra didn't
exactly see eye to eye on the topic at hand. Micah thought Anita was
being overly paranoid; Anita thought he was getting lax. Nathaniel
didn't really have an opinion. He had yet to see the cause of such
domestic disturbance.
Willow, some new attraction at the Circus. He hadn't
actually seen her perform, but Zane had assured him it was a
magnificent show. The new redhead seemed to offer some quality
entertainment, on and off stage. More than once had he heard the
stories of what she did to those who dared to proposition her. It
sounded funny, he wanted to meet her.
But Anita was convinced that the girl was bad in some way.
She probably wouldn't allow him near her. Her new rules about who he
got to end up with. She decides, must have her approval. And
Nathaniel doubted that she would give approval for him to even meet
the witch. Anita thought she was something evil, or at least up to
no good. Nathaniel was withholding judgement.
"And what kind of name is Bob?" Anita raved. "Who names a
feathered serpent Bob?"
"What would you name him?" Zane asked casually. Anita
faltered for a second.
"I wouldn't name him Bob," she muttered resignedly.
"Well, obviously Willow would," Cherry shrugged. "I fail to
see how it makes her evil."
"I didn't say it made her evil," Anita answered
exasperatedly. "It just bothers me. I don't know why, but that girl
bothers me. Why would someone with that kind of power work in the
Circus?"
"You'd prefer she use it to take over the world?" Micah asked
innocently. Anita turned on her leopards, irritation all over her
face.
"Why are you all so snotty this evening?" she demanded. "I'm
trying to tell you I feel something is off with this girl. She's
going to cause trouble. I can feel it."
"She's just a witch," Micah declared exasperated. "If she
was up to no good, why would Jean-Claude hire her? Don't you trust
his judgement?"
"Not in this case," Anita shot back. "There's something
about her. I don't know what it is, but it can't be good. In my
experience, it's not good to trust powerful strangers."
"She's totally harmless!" Zane protested.
"And the ones who look harmless are the most dangerous,"
Anita concluded. "Because you lax around them and then they go for
the kill."
Micah rolled his eyes once more.
"Aren't you over doing it?" he asked her. "Maybe she's just
here to get away from something. People run away all the time
Anita. Sometimes things are just too painful for them to stay where
they are. I know how that feels."
Anita looked at him, face softening considerably.
"I know that," she muttered. "But I'd feel better knowing
more about her. Micah, she's just too powerful for me to let it
slide. God, I think she's stronger than me."
Those words hung in the air.
"Are you sure?" Nathaniel asked, becoming slightly worried
himself. Anita was the strongest person he ever met. But if there
was someone stronger out there, he shuddered to think of the
consequences.
"She is," Anita confirmed. "I can feel it inside me. This
girl, she's something else all together. She could be the most
dangerous foe we've ever come up against."
*****
"Ow!" Willow cried, shooting her reflection an angry glare.
She couldn't believe how painful this was. It was like some sort of
eternal punishment. But what could she do? Willow was consigned to
her fate.
Sighing, she hefted the brush again and brought it down her
hair again.
"Ow!" she cried out once more. She put down the offensive
brush, only slightly cheerier because she was now done combing out
the knots in her wet hair. Willow frowned and wondered again why she
had let it grow out so long again. She was so used to short hair
that having any style beyond her shoulders was difficult for her.
Willow gave her reflection another grimace before heading out of her
bathroom.
The redhead made her way tiredly to the living room. She
plopped down on the couch next to Xander, extending her arm for Bob.
The serpent coiled up her arm, resting its head on her shoulder.
"I knew he liked you better," Xander jostled her. "Man, I am
not feeling the love right now."
Willow gave him a sideways grin.
"That's what you get for ordering anchovies on the pizza,"
she told him, motioning to their dinner.
"But I like anchovies," Xander protested. "Besides, it's not
like you have to eat them. You could pick them off."
Willow made a dismissive gesture, making the anchovies
disappear off her selected slice.
"Or you could make with the mojo," Xander shrugged. "Either
way, not a big deal."
"Oh nice of you to think so," Willow grinned at him. "Any
hoot, how was work?"
"Well, it was okay," Xander shrugged. "Of course, working at
a place very men strip all day long, doesn't make me too
comfortable. Especially with all those female customers who offer me
all kinds of things to join the ranks of the nude."
"Propositioned again, huh?" Willow sympathized.
"Yeah, what about you?" Xander looked at her. "How was the
show? And any disturbing propositions on your end?"
"Show went well," Willow nodded, eyes on the
television. "Bob's got some more teenage fans."
"Well, he is quite a heart throb," Xander joked, tickling
under the serpent's chin.
"Yeah," Willow giggled. "And as for propositions, one guy
asked him to become his Mamasita, whatever that means."
"It's from wrestling," Xander offered. "Some guy with a
mullet who speaks in a horrible Spanish accent always says it."
Willow made a face at him.
"You still watch wrestling?"
"Yeah, well, they brought back Hogan," Xander
shrugged. "Figured it be worth my time. But, you know, whatever."
"Sound like Harmony," Willow needled him.
"Bite me witch," he tossed back good-naturedly. "So,
anything else?"
"The Executioner was there," Willow shrugged. "I don't think
she likes me much. Sat through the whole show with this sour look on
her face."
"Probably think you're competition," Xander poked her. "You
know, for the affections of her lover vamp. You do realize how
biteable you are, don't you? I mean, Spike always says so."
"Well, she doesn't have anything to worry about," Willow
shook her head. "I have no interest in the undead."
"Good to know," Xander nodded, turning back to the
television. "So, what are you doing tomorrow?"
"Nothing much, not until work," Willow shrugged. "Why? What
you want to do?"
"We could go car shopping," Xander suggested. "I mean, that
old rust bucket downstairs is just not doing it for me anymore. And
Jean-Claude does pay us enough. We could afford a new one."
"You do realize that he only pays us that much because he
wants you to strip for him, right?" Willow teased.
Xander made a face and shuddered visibly.
"Don't go there."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Four

Anita grumbled to herself as she shifted through the file she
had gathered on Willow. College records, birth records, high school
marks, rap sheet, and newspaper clippings. And though she was
mentioned essentially everywhere, there was no direct link between
the redhead and criminal activity. Which didn't mean that she wasn't
involved in anything. Just means she's probably better at hiding it
than others. And that just made Anita more anxious.
Micah and Jean-Claude just couldn't see her point of view on
this. They loved her, thought she was great. And her show was
magnificent. So forth and so forth, until Anita wanted to puke.
Didn't they see she was hiding something? Couldn't they see the
power lurking right beneath the surface? Why didn't they understand?
Anita closed her eyes and cursed herself. If she could just
let this go, but something was bothering her. It wasn't the jealousy
thing anymore, it was something beyond that.
Anita couldn't shake the feeling that the redhead brought
trouble with her.
*****
Willow frowned at her reflection. She tilted her head side
to side, scrutinizing her face.
"Hey," Xander came up behind her. "Find Willow yet?"
"Very cute," she muttered. "But something's wrong."
"And you're going to find the answer in the mirror?" Xander
raised a brow at her. She grinned at him and turned away.
"I feel something off, around us," she motioned between the
two of them. "I don't know what it is. Like we've caught someone's
attention but they want to play secret admirer for a while."
"Maybe Jean-Claude is using his vampire powers to stalk us in
our home," he suggested seriously. "I wouldn't put it past him. He
is a vampire."
"Vampire doesn't always equal evil," she reminded him. "And
I don't think so. It's not an obvious thing. It's just hovering
around my head. Teasing me with its presence."
"I'm looking at you," Xander offered.
"Exactly," she agreed, snapping her finger. "And it's damn
irritating."
"Dangerous?"
"I don't know," she shrugged. "It's possible. You never
know, not in this world."
"You don't think the Council found us, do you?" Xander asked
cautiously.
"Which one?" Willow rolled her eyes. "It's not like we're
hiding all that hard. We didn't even change our names. If they
wanted us, they could have come get us a while ago."
"Right, sorry," Xander shot her a grin. "It's just that
whenever we're in trouble, I can't help but imagine disapproving
Watchers on our tails."
Willow gave a little giggle.
"I guess," she agreed. "We do have a tendency to get into
trouble with the stuffy Englishmen. But I don't think it's them."
"Should we be on alert?" Xander asked seriously. Willow
scrunched up her nose and shook her head.
"Nah, probably just me being weird," she laughed off. "You
ready to go?"
"Yep," he grinned, smoothing out the front of his
shirt. "Let's go get us a car."
The two friends linked arms and walked out the door.
*****
Richard felt very weird for some reason. He couldn't quite
explain it, but it felt like something was off. He had the strangest
feeling something was going to happen.
He shook his head to clear away the cobwebs. He didn't need
to worry about weird feelings. He was having enough problems of his
own. One being Anita and the fact that he made her Bolverk. Giving
her that position led to two problems. One, he gave her the right to
punish pack members for him. Two, he was without a lupa.
Richard rubbed his eyes tiredly. He needed to get another
lupa, but whom the hell could he choose? Was there anybody else in
the pack that he could even stand to have in that position. He knew
several people wanted the spot, if Paris was any indication. Woman
just did not know when to give it up. Richard would just as soon
make Jamil his lupa than her. Now there was an idea. If only Jamil
wouldn't be so offended by it.
And Paris herself was becoming a problem. She was very
slowly defying his orders. Not in an outright manner, but in little
ways. Normally he wouldn't even care, but those little ways were
adding up. Paris was up to something and as Ulfric; it was his duty
to stop it before she finishes it.
And that meant he would have to call in Anita. Richard
didn't know if he could call in Anita against one of his wolves. Not
after what had happened with Chimera or whatever he called himself.
The pan-were, the psychopath who damn well nearly killed them all.
Richard pushed back from his desk and stood up. He couldn't
concentrate on marking the test papers in front of him. He couldn't
get anything done. There was something on the air, something not
right.
And Richard wanted to find it before it found him.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Five

"Someone looks awfully snazzy this evening."
Xander looked up and grinned as Willow came to stand behind
him. Almost immediately she began smoothing out the wrinkles in his
shirt and swatting lint of his shoulder.
"And just where are we going this evening?" the redhead
continued, turning him around to bring a comb through his hair.
"I don't know about you, but I've got a date," he returned
with a grin, obediently allowing her to gussy him up, as Buffy always
called it.
"A date?" Willow repeated, arching an eyebrow. "And who in
their right mind would ask you out? Not one of those horrible strip
club patrons I hope."
"Nope, just a normal pretty girl," Xander replied, moving to
put on cologne as she finished with his hair. "Met her at the club,
I guess she is a patron from time to time. But she knows a couple of
the strippers, I think they're friends."
"You think?" Willow repeated. "Xander, please tell me you
are not going out with a complete stranger. It's too dangerous
around here. You never know exactly what you might be dating."
"Relax mom," he shot back. "I know who she is. Her name is
Paris and she knows Stephen pretty well. And I didn't just ask her
out. I've talked to her several times during my shift. She's a nice
girl, good sense of humour."
Willow gave a little smile as she backed off.
"I'm not trying to be pessimistic Xander," she
apologized. "It's just that a lot of monsters live in St. Louis.
And they're pretty well hidden, not like in good ole Sunnydale. I
just want you to be careful."
Xander gave her a big smile.
"I know you're just being cautious Wills," he told her. "And
I'm not mad or anything. But it's time to let go of some stuff. We
have to live our lives Wills. We can't keep doing this thing where
we hole up in our apartment for the rest of time."
"I know," Willow sighed, leaning her head against his
shoulder. "I should just let go. But it's harder for me I think.
But you are right. We can't just stay holed up here for all time.
We are alive, might as well act like it."
"That's the spirit," Xander enthused, pulling her into a
brief hug. "But remember, don't do anything you don't feel like
doing. Just cause I'm ready to date doesn't mean you have to be."
"I know," Willow grinned. "But I can't help but feel
jealous. I mean, you're dating a pretty girl with a great sense of
humour. How come I can't find a girl like that?"
"Maybe you shouldn't discriminate on sex like I do," Xander
needled her. "I'm sure there are plenty of pretty boys and girls at
the Circus who would love to date you."
Willow made a face.
"I don't think so," she muttered. "I refuse to date anyone
who even brings up the letters S & M. Just not into the whole pain
deal."
"Well, you could challenge Evil Willow," Xander suggested
mischievously. "Come on Wills, I know you got it in you."
Willow stuck her tongue out at the laughing man.
"Bite me."
*****
So, this was it. He was going to see the amazing Willow
perform at the Circus. Nathaniel was literally tingling with
excitement. He could feel her magic just from the parking lot.
Micah shot him a knowing look.
"It gets even better inside," the Nimir-Raj assured him.
Nathaniel could hardly wait. It had taken quite some time to get the
right shift off work and the approval of Anita for him to come here.
She had consented on the terms that he not approach Willow at any
time. And that he take Micah, Zane, Cherry, and Caleb with him. He
thought she was overdoing it, but at least he got to go.
"Look," Zane motioned as soon as they took their seats. "Our
little redhead has even garnered the interest of the mighty Ulfric."
Nathaniel followed the direction Zane was pointing in, seeing
that Richard was indeed seated a few tables down from them. The
Ulfric sat surrounded by his wolves. Sylvie, Jamil, Shang-Da, and a
few others. They were all quietly murmuring to themselves, waiting
for the show to start.
"Her reputation proceeds her," Caleb grinned. "Can't wait to
meet this girl."
"Behave yourself," Micah ordered him. "She has a tendency to
hurt people who proposition her. Some are still in the hospital."
The argument died right then and there as the lights dimmed.
The crowd quieted immediately in anticipation for the redhead they
had all heard so much about. A spotlight went on, illuminating a
tiny figure in the centre of the ring. Nathaniel leaned forward.
This was going to be good.
*****
Richard watched as the redhead started making water appear
out of nowhere. The springs of water burst from the ground and then
seemed to take on life of their own. They swayed and moved in rhythm
to her music. And she stood in the middle, eyes closed and dancing
with them.
And then, her feathered serpent appeared on stage. The
dancing stopped immediately as the serpent took on a surprised
stance. Richard laughed, as the springs of water seemed to turn to
ogle the creature. It was like some well-directed comedy. The
serpent reared up like a frightened horse and took off in flight.
The water springs surged after him.
The serpent flew around the Circus, water right at its tail.
It flew over top of Richard's head and the Ulfric felt the spray from
the water pursuing it. Around and around, while the redhead stood in
centre ring, acting worried and frantic for her serpent. She
beckoned the serpent to her and it complied, circling around her
body. The water springs followed, encircling her until they formed
what looked like a whirlpool around her.
The whirlpool grew and grew, extending almost to the top of
the building. Richard could barely even make out the figure of the
redhead anymore. And then, there was a resounding bang as the water
exploded out onto the audience. Everyone shrieked and covered their
heads, feeling the soaking water descend on them.
But when they raised their heads, they were all surprised to
find themselves very dry indeed. They all looked up to where the
water had descended upon them. There was no trace of the water
anyway. The crowd began to fall as soft silken rose petals began to
fall on their heads. Willow appeared back in the centre of the ring,
serpent coiled around her arm. Rather theatrically, the redhead took
her bow.
The audience roared with approval.
*****
She had left almost directly after her performance. Many
people wanted to meet her, but they were denied. Jason informed them
to come back tomorrow before the show started. The redhead would be
around and more willing to talk then.
Nathaniel sat back in his chair, a smile on his face. She
had been amazing. There was the act in itself, which had been
awesome. But the redhead, she was pure magic. Zane had told him she
was a beauty, but he failed to describe just how beautiful the girl
was. Nathaniel nearly fainted at the sight of her. Inwardly, he
cursed Anita for forbidding him from meeting this girl. He had the
strongest urge to find her and kiss her. She was just that beautiful.
And she had quite a fan base. There were the legions of
teenaged Bob fans, who she always made time for. Nathaniel had
watched her with them. The redhead had this slightly sad look to her
eyes as she watched the adolescents hover around Bob. He wondered
what had happened to the poor girl.
But he didn't have the opportunity to find out. She left
after talking with the kids. Just packed up her stuff and left.
Jason said it was pretty standard of her. She never stayed for
anything else, not unless Jean-Claude wanted to talk to her about
something work related.
So she was an even bigger mystery than before. And Nathaniel
couldn't help but want to solve the redheaded puzzle.
*****
"Well, the show went well," Willow stated conversationally to
Bob. The serpent hissed in agreement, resting its head on her
shoulder.
"I mean, there were a lot more shifters there than usual, but
that's probably because Jean-Claude is hyping me so much," Willow
continued, channel surfing mindlessly. "And it's not like that's a
bad thing. Right?"
For that Bob had no response. Willow sighed and looked at
the clock. Midnight, and Xander wasn't home. Willow resolved not to
worry unless he wasn't home by at least two am. But she couldn't
help herself right now. Something felt slightly off.
The redhead shrugged it off and turned her attention to the
re-run of Scooby Doo on the television. Xander was a big boy. He
could take care of himself.
She hoped.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Six

It had started off as a normal day. Well, normal for them,
which wasn't normal for other people. But that was beside the point.
Nathaniel stood in the kitchen, helping Anita with the
breakfast dishes. The rest of the pard was off about the house.
Gregory and Vivian had joined them this morning, bringing Stephen
along with them. Everything was pretty average.
And then they all felt it. A wave of power rolled over the
house, alerting them to another's presence. The power was agitated
and very strong. Nathaniel's eyes crossed when the wave hit him. He
could barely keep standing, holding onto the counter for support.
Eventually he was able to regain his balance. He turned wide violet
eyes to Anita.
"What the hell was that?" he asked breathlessly.
"Whatever it was, it's coming to the front door," came the
call from Caleb, one of Micah's leopards. Nathaniel walked out of
the kitchen, noting that Caleb was looking out the front window. He
tossed Anita a concerned look as the other shifters joined them in
the entrance hall.
Wordlessly, Anita pulled out her gun and took off the
safety. She motioned everyone behind her as she edged to the door.
The sound of the doorbell made everyone jump. Anita softly cursed
herself, reaching a shaking hand out to the door handle.
In one quick motion, she opened the door and had the gun
pointed that the visitor's head.
"Now there's an interesting greeting if I ever saw one."
Anita faltered, lowering her gun a bit, but not putting it
away either. Nathaniel peeked over Zane's shoulder. He saw the
flash of red hair first and immediately knew who it was.
"Willow," Micah stepped forward. "What are you doing here?"
"I'll tell you if she puts up the gun," the redhead
responded. "No offence, but you're making me nervous."
"I'm making you nervous?" Anita repeated incredulously. "You
come up to my house, radiating power like no one's business, and
you're mad because the gun makes you nervous."
"Look, I'm sorry about the power wave," Willow
apologized. "I just can't help it right now. I need your help."
"My help?" Anita frowned. "What for?"
"Well, not your help particularly," Willow explained. "But
is Stephen here? I need to talk to him."
"Why?" Nathaniel couldn't help asking. Green eyes turned his
way and he was stunned by the panic he saw there. Anita shot him a
look and motioned for Zane to pull him back.
"My friend, Xander, works at the Guilty Pleasures," Willow
explained.
"You're Xander's friend?" Stephen repeated, coming out to
stand in front. "Of course. He said his friend was a redhead."
"Yeah, that's me," Willow nodded.
"Who is this Xander person?" Anita demanded.
"He's the new bartender at the club," Nathaniel
offered. "He's a nice guy. A little uncomfortable about the
stripping, but covers it with humour."
"That's my Xand," Willow agreed. "But that's not the
problem. He went out on a date last night and he hasn't come home
yet."
"Maybe he went to her place," Micah shrugged. Willow shook
her head vehemently.
"He didn't call me," she explained, raising pleading eyes to
them. "He always calls me. And I always call him. We do it so we
won't worry. He wouldn't just leave me hanging like this."
"Why do you think Stephen can help?" Anita asked calmly,
putting her gun away finally.
"He was going out with a girl he said you knew," Willow
explained, speaking directly to Stephen. "I was hoping to get her
number off you or something. I need to track him down."
"What's her name?" Stephen asked.
"Paris."
There was a definite silence after that. Willow's eyes went
from face to face, not liking the worry there.
"What?" she demanded, voice breaking a little. Anita sighed
and opened the door the entire way.
"You better come sit down. This isn't going to be good."
*****
Xander hurt.
It was an almost constant hurt. He had been feeling it for
the better part of the time he had been here. Wherever here was. He
couldn't tell much. It was dark, no windows at all. The only light
came from the cracks of the doorway. When it opened, there was more.
Xander didn't want the door to be opened. Yes the light
would come in, but that meant she was coming too. The one who had
done this to him. Paris.
He could feel the stickiness of his own body, pooling around
his body. The gashes she had made in his chest stung. They would be
worse when she came to reopen them. And she always came to reopen
them. They had hurt enough the first time, but after each time, it
just got worse.
Xander's breathing was becoming laboured. She was doing
something to him. It wasn't just about the torture. No, there was
more there. She had a plan underneath it all. And that's what
really worried Xander. Not the fact that it hurt so much, but the
fact that there was a reason behind it. Something bigger was coming,
and Xander knew he wouldn't like it.
He heard the footsteps heading his way. He cringed when the
door creaked open. She wandered in, a malicious smile on her face.
"All healed up?" she purred, slinking into the room. Nearing
him, she lowered herself onto all fours and commenced crawling to him.
"Does it still hurt?" she asked, coming to a stop on top of
him. She straddled his body, nails gripping his sides. She looked
down at him with amber eyes, another smirk tilting her lips.
"Nothing to say?" she asked, grinding herself on top of him.
Xander closed his eyes and tried to keep from retching. She knelt
over to whisper in his ear, hair falling onto his face.
"Don't worry," she soothed him. "By the end of this, you'll
learn to love the pain. In fact, it might be the only thing that you
can get off on."
He didn't respond, didn't acknowledge any of her taunts. His
eyes spoke the truth he wanted to say blazing in them. Willow would
come for him. And when she did, this girl stood no chance.
"You're going to die a horrible death," he promised her.
That only served to make her grin wider.
"We'll see," she purred, flicking his nose with her
nail. "But until then . . ."
She dug her nails into his midsection, ripping and tearing at
his flesh. Xander jerked off the ground, the room ringing with the
sounds of his screams.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Seven

Willow sat nervously on Anita's couch, Bob coiled up her arm. The
serpent was agitated as well, biting at anyone who came near them.
She would have admonished him for acting so mean to others, but she
was too worried. She didn't particularly like everything Anita had
told her about Paris. Willow needed to find Xander and fast.
"I've phoned Richard," Anita announced, walking back into the living
room. "He's going to go find Paris. See what the girl is up to."
"She doesn't have him at her house," Willow informed them. "Not
unless her house is some sort of natural ward."
Nathaniel frowned, leaning in closer, not not too close. Bob was
still acting all bitey.
"What do you mean?" he asked the redhead.
"I can't find Xander," she explained. "I can usually find Xander no
problem. He and I took this potion together before we moved here.
It lets us track the other down when we need to. But I can't find
any trace of him anyway. So, whoever has him, must have him in a
naturally warded area. Sacred ground that holds off the magic of
others."
"The lupanar," Zane declared breathlessly. Willow shot him a
confused look.
"The what?"
"The lupanar," Micah repeated. "Meeting ground of the wolf pack.
It's sacred ground. If she's got him there-"
"Then we know why you can't find him," Anita finished for the
leopard. "I'm phoning Richard back. Everyone get ready. We're
heading out."
"I'm coming," Willow added, jumping to her feet. "And don't even try
to make me stay. I'm going to get my friend."
Anita stared at her hard for a second, before nodding her consent.
The redhead sighed in relief, resting her cheek on top of Bob's head.
"Thank you for this," she called after Anita. The brunette merely
nodded, turning her attention to Richard. How she was going to
convince the man to let a powerful witch onto his lupanar was beyond
her. But Anita knew, she had to try.
There was a life at stake here.
*****
Richard wasn't having the best day. In fact, this had to be one of
the worst days he had ever had. First, he is informed that Paris
might have taken hostage a young man very near and dear to a powerful
witch. And then his ex-girlfriend and current Bolverk, informs him
that that same witch is coming to his lupanar to search for his
wayward wolf.
And for some reason, he agreed to it all. Richard didn't know what
it was. Maybe he knew that Anita wouldn't push something like this
on him without damn good reason. Maybe he could sympathize with this
girl who was desperate to find her friend. Or maybe because he knew
in his heart that Paris had done something bad. And that something
had to be stopped before it went any further.
"You ready?"
Richard looked up at the question. Jamil and Shang-Da were waiting
for him. Sylvie was gathering the other wolves, getting everyone to
the lupanar. Just because he was letting the witch onto pack ground
didn't mean he trusted her. Having the pack there would foil any
underlying the plots the redhead might have. But Richard knew she
didn't have any. It was all a precaution, to show to the pack that
he was taking this seriously and with their interests in mind.
"I'm ready," he nodded, rising to his feet.
If only he really was.
*****
Willow didn't understand why they couldn't drive faster. Every
minute Xander was gone was just adding to her worry. Willow felt as
if a darkness was trying to climb up into her life. And it was using
her best friend to do it.
Bob sat discontentedly in his cage. She had to put him in there
until they got to the lupanar. After that, he would be free to go
and to guard Xander from further harm. After all, that was what
feathered serpents were made to do. To guard objects of great
importance to their master.
And no one was as important to Willow as Xander.
She felt a reassuring pat on her shoulder. She didn't have to look
to know it was that Nathaniel guy. He was doing a lot of that
comfort stuff for her. She patted his hand back, letting him know
she was okay. It was strange that she even let him touch her. She
never let anyone else touch her. Zane and Micah had picked this up
as well. They were shooting her and Nathaniel strange looks during
the entire drive. But Willow ignored them, ignored her own
thoughts. All that mattered was Xander.
And that bitch Paris better not have hurt him. Because otherwise,
Willow was going to rip her limb from limb.
*****
Richard heard the car approaching from a distance. He motioned for
his wolves to stay back, and to keep Paris back. The pack had
surprised the woman at the lupanar. They found not only her, but the
missing man. And they had found out what she had done to him.
Richard had never been so angry in his entire life. How he kept from
killing Paris on sight was beyond him. His eyes darted to the man in
question, watching as the doctor checked him over. He was in bad
shape. The only solace Richard could give him was the knowledge that
by tonight's full moon, the pain would recede.
But something else was going to take its place.
He moved to the front, Jamil and Shang-Da at his side. He waited
patiently for the car to stop and the passengers to get out. He felt
the power before he saw her. It had been amazing that night at the
Circus, but now it was even more intense. Because she wasn't holding
it back, her emotions made it impossible for her to.
He watched as the redhead automatically let loose her feathered
serpent, Bob was his name? The serpent flew over their heads, going
immediately to the injured man's side. He motioned with his hand
that it was all right. He turned back to watch her approach.
"He's alive, right?" Anita asked him, eyes watching the redhead shove
her way through the wolves.
"He's alive," Richard affirmed. "Barely. You're going to have to
dole out some punishment for this Anita. You should see what she did
to him."
"I probably won't have to," Anita mused. "Not when Willow sees him.
She is gone, right?"
Richard shook his head. Anita's eyes widened. Her turned her head
over to Willow, watching as the redhead took in the sight of her
friend. A strangled sob escaped her as she took his hand. Tears
leaked out of her eyes as she placed a kiss in his palm.
Anita pushed her way through the crowd, Richard right on her heels.
The Executioner fought to get to the witch before Willow could
register her presence. Cause after that, things would get ugly.
"Get Paris out of here Richard," she ordered the Ulfric. "Before she-
"
But it was already too late. Willow had put Xander's hand back at
his side and slowly risen to her feet. The redhead turned to face
the crowd, everyone getting a good look at her black eyes. She
continued to turn until she set eyes on her target. Willow picked
her out from the others and honed in on her. The other wolves were
blown to the side as the angry witch marched over to the cowering
Paris.
"Oh shit," Anita muttered, watching as Willow's red hair changed to
black, falling like a curtain around her face. She shot Richard a
look and the man motioned his wolves to stay far back from the witch.
Anita swore, drawing her gun and running to catch Willow before she
did something very bad.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Eight

"Back off Anita."
The command came before the brunette could even reach
Willow. Anita stilled immediately, but kept her gun up.
"Willow, think about this," Anita pleaded with her. "You've
been invited to the lupanar on the Ulfric's invitation. Killing a
pack member is not a good way of showing thanks. And it's against
protocol. We've come here under a banner of peace."
"You came under the banner," Willow shot back. "I came to
get my friend. Look at what she did to him. She's going to pay.
She's stupid to think she won't."
"You cannot do this on lupanar grounds," Richard
declared. "I'm Ulfric, I command it."
"Pack law again?" Willow snickered. "You're talking to the
expert on that shit. I understand all of pack law very well. And it
states that in situations like these, the injured party has the right
to demand vengeance. Xander was made against his will. He's the
injured party."
"He hasn't given you the permission to take his revenge for
him," Anita informed her. "This would be illegal Willow. In both
human and lycanthrope realms."
"Well, she's got permission now," came a hoarse call from
behind them. Anita turned, seeing Xander using Bob to help him sit
up. The man had a look of pure hatred in his eyes.
"Do it Wills," he spat out. Willow needed no more
encouragement than that. With a flick of her wrist, Paris went
flying, smashing up against a tree.
Richard motioned for some of his wolves to step forward.
Willow turned on her heel, sending all approaching persons flying
backwards. She turned angry eyes on Richard.
"Butt out," was the witch's command. Richard couldn't help
but feel a shiver of fear looking at her. The black hair and the
black eyes made a scary picture.
"What are you going to do?" he demanded.
"I won't kill her, if that's what you're asking," Willow
informed him. "Because I want answers. There is no way this stupid
little bitch came up with this idea on her own. I want to know who
put her up to this, and why. Then, you can put her through your
stupid trial system."
Willow turned back to Paris, the woman still struggling to
free herself. Paris stilled for a second, glaring down at the witch.
"You think I'm scared of you?" she shouted down. "I don't
care about you. You're nothing!"
"Who?" was the only thing Willow had to say. Paris laughed
at her.
"Like I'd tell you," she sneered. "Face it bitch, you're not
getting anything out of me."
Willow sighed and hung her head.
"And we could have done this the easy way," she declared in
remorse. When she lifted her head, there was a wicked grin on her
face.
"Glad you chose the hard way," the witch smirked. Time
seemed to stand still for a second. One minute, there was just the
stare down between the two women. The next, Willow was surrounded by
a dozen knives, all hovering around her steadily. Paris didn't even
have time to scream before the knives were flung into her body. Too
late did everyone realize the knives were silver. Too late before
Paris was skewered by them. She couldn't even get out a gurgle after
that. Blood poured down the base of the tree, the pain evident in
Paris's little gasps for air.
Anita watched the whole scene in horror, noting Willow's
pleased smile at Paris's pain. The witch seemed very happy with
herself. And Xander appeared to be as well.
"Stop this," Richard choked out, eyes intent on Paris. "Stop
this now. It's cruel."
"Yes it is," Willow agreed with a calm nod. "But she doesn't
get down until I get an answer. Who put you up to this bitch?"
But Paris had resistance in her yet. She refused to speak,
using her one free hand to pull the knives out of her body. Willow
allowed it, waiting patiently for Paris to finish. Once they were
all out, Paris began to shift, to heal herself. And Willow smiled
wider.
Anita was stunned by what the witch did next. Willow waited
until Paris was halfway through her transformation before raising her
hand again. The Executioner didn't even register what was going on
until she heard Paris scream. Her eyes went to the pinned woman,
taking in the horrible sight in front of her.
Willow had frozen Paris in middle of her transformation. The
shifter was half human and half wolf. Her eyes were frantic as she
thrashed about, trying to complete the shift. Changing to heal was
enough of a chore, but to have your bones stuck in that awkward
transformation state . . . Anita couldn't think of words to describe
the pain.
"Who?" Willow repeated, smile leaving her face. "It all
stops when I find out who Paris."
The wolf was wailing. Some of the other pack members were
trying to move towards her, to help her in some way. People could
feel the pain on the air. But Willow kept them at bay with one
raised hand. Anita knew that girl was too powerful to trust.
"Just give her the goddamn name Paris!" Richard shouted up to
the wolf. Anita had been startled to hear him yell. She cast him a
look. The Ulfric was frantic. He had let a dangerous witch onto
pack ground, and now she was torturing one of his while he stood by
helpless. This was not going to bode well for his reign as leader.
"D'Zanaon," the wounded wolf managed to growl out. Willow's
eyes seemed to flicker at the name. The witch stared hard at Paris,
as if determining if she was telling the truth.
"She gave you the name!" Sylvie shouted. "Let her go
already!"
Willow ignored all of them. She tilted her head slightly,
looking at Paris carefully. A bit of a smirk came to her face and
she raised her hand once more . . .
"Wills?"
The witch stopped immediately, turning around to face her
friend. Xander looked horrible, bloodied, and dead on his feet. Bob
was coiled around him, somehow holding the man up.
"Wills," he continued. "I want to go home now."
And that was all it took. Willow faltered, and then turned
around completely, walking over to her friend. Paris was let go
immediately, falling to the ground in a heap. When the shifter hit
the earth, her transformation was completed. Anita let out a huge
sigh of relief.
Willow continued to make her way to Xander. The other wolves
parted, letting her pass unhindered. She came to her friend, arms
going around him at once. Her eyes went back to green and the
blackness faded from her locks. She leaned her head against his
shoulder and Anita saw the tears leak out.
Willow raised her head and pointed at Paris.
"You take care of her," she instructed. "Or I'll come back
to do it myself."
And then she whispered a few words under her breath. The two
friends and the serpent seemed to shimmer and then disappeared.
Silence reigned at the lupanar, broken only by the soft
exclamation of Jason.
"Maybe she should be lupa."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Nine

"You chose a hell of a time to start being assertive."
Nathaniel offered Anita a small little smile as they made
their way down the hallway. Richard with Jamil and Shang-Da were not
far behind. Anita had her gun out and ready while the bodyguards
were on high alert as well. Nathaniel thought they were overdoing
it. Willow hadn't been mad at them, she had been mad at Paris. And
for damn good reason.
He was still a little surprised that he had managed to get
himself permission to come along. Anita usually didn't back down on
these things, but for once, neither did he. It was either he went
with her or he went on his own. Anita opted to take him with her.
But don't confuse matters. She wasn't one bit happy about it.
"She's in a volatile mood right now," he responded to his
Nimir-Ra. "She seems to like me. Shouldn't we be cautious and send
in people she deems as non-threatening."
"You're a lycanthrope Nathaniel," Richard added from the
back. "Right now, she might be finding all shifters to be a threat."
"We won't know until we try," Nathaniel shrugged, stifling
the urge to argue with the Ulfric. He knew inside him Willow
wouldn't hurt him, she wouldn't hurt any of them. She had her
vengeance. But the others weren't convinced.
They stopped in front of the apartment door. Anita knocked a
few times. They got no response. Anita shrugged and turned to
Jamil. Together they kicked in the door. Anita went in first, gun
raised.
Only to have it snapped out of her hands. Anita started,
glancing down at her empty hands. And then she looked up and saw
Bob. The feathered serpent was floating right in the entryway, and
he was flicking his tail at them. A few times he nailed Jamil. The
wolf hissed in pain and tried to back off. The serpent looked angry.
"It's a guardian by nature, remember?" Nathaniel called out
from behind them. "Bob won't let in anyone who might be a threat to
his mistress."
"And he's not letting any of us in," Anita sighed, eyes
looking for her gun. Bob flicked his tail in her direction and she
obediently backed off.
"Maybe we should come back later," Richard mused, eyes on the
serpent in front of them. Nathaniel ignored this and stepped right
up to the serpent. Bob seemed to stare at him for a bit. Finally,
the serpent moved out of the way and let Nathaniel pass through.
Anita tried to follow but was cut off once more by the
serpent.
"Hey!" was the only thing she could muster. Bob hissed and
began crowding the rest to the door.
"Maybe you guys should wait out there," Nathaniel called out
from behind Bob. "I don't think he's going to let you in."
Anita huffed and made to protest when Richard grabbed her arm
and pulled her back.
"Be careful," he shouted to the leopard. And then the rest
of the group allowed Bob to usher them out. Once back in the
hallway, the serpent slammed the door on them. Anita stood in front
of the closed door, beyond anger.
"What the hell?"
*****
"What are you doing here?"
Nathaniel turned when he heard her speak. Willow stood in
front of a bedroom, leaning against the doorframe. She looked tired
and sad. There were tear tracks on her cheeks and her hair was
mussed up. The redhead looked like she had been to hell and back.
"We came to get some answers out of you," Nathaniel
answered. "Well, Anita and Richard want answers. I just wanted to
see if you were okay."
Willow gave a hollow laugh at that.
"The mighty Executioner at my door, demanding answers," the
redhead shook her head. "I should be frightened, no?"
"I doubt much frightens you," he replied.
"You'd be surprised," she whispered, almost as if to
herself. She shook herself and turned to face Bob.
"Go and stay with Xander," she instructed. The serpent flew
off obediently, going into the bedroom she stood in front of. She
waited until both occupants of the room were settled before shutting
the door.
She walked towards him, arms wrapped around herself. It was
a defensive stance if he ever saw one.
"There's a whole lot more going on here than just one
werewolf disobeying her Ulfric," Willow confided in him. "There are
others involved . . . It's just not a good idea for any of you to be
around us right now."
"But why?" Nathaniel pressed. "Who is D'Zanaon? Why would
he hire Paris to do that to Xander?"
"Why does anybody do anything really?" the redhead
shrugged. "Who knows? It's definitely revenge. But whether against
me or against Xander, I have no clue."
"Revenge?" he repeated. "Why would he want revenge on either
of you?"
"There are things about us none of you know about," Willow
replied evenly. "Things you're better off not knowing about.
D'Zanaon is after us; there is no doubt about that. Don't worry
about it. We'll take care of it, we always do."
"That's not good enough," Nathaniel protested. "I'm worried
about you. About both of you. Xander, he's going to be going
through a lot in the next few months, starting tonight. You can't
handle it by yourselves."
"We have before," Willow shrugged. "Did it for Oz, I can
sure as hell do it for Xander. Look Nathaniel, I know you're just
trying to help. I appreciate it, but you have to know, this does not
concern you. I can take care of this. It's my fault anyway."
"Why?" he demanded. "What happened?"
"I crossed a line," she replied quietly. "A line that you're
not suppose to cross. This is just a repercussion of it. I've been
waiting on them, I can handle it."
"But we can help," Nathaniel put his hands on her shoulders,
shaking her a bit. "And Anita and Richard will not let this go. Why
don't you just let us help already? We're not easy to get rid of."
Willow closed her eyes and Nathaniel watched as more tears
fell.
"You can't help," she repeated softly. "I brought this on
myself. I have to deal with it."
She just looked so sad, so guilty, he didn't know what else
to do. He pulled her close and gave her the barest of kisses. Just
brushed his lips across hers. She stiffened at first and then
relaxed. She kissed back. He could feel the tears on her face as
she cried and kissed at the same time. And he knew, it didn't matter
what she said. He was going to help her with this.
A loud knocking on the door pulled them from each other.
"Let us in already!"
Nathaniel shot Willow a wry grin.
"Told you she doesn't give up easily," he shrugged. Willow
gave a little laugh and then pushed him to the door.
"Let her in," she instructed. "Before my landlord kicks us
out permanently."
Nathaniel gave her one more soft kiss before going to open
the door. Willow sighed and leaned against the wall behind her.
This was going to be a long day.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Ten

"Who the fuck is D'Zanaon?"
Willow arched an eyebrow at Anita.
"Hello to you too Miss Blake," the redhead returned
sarcastically. "What brings you here this lovely morning?"
"You know damn well why we're here," Anita spat out angrily.
The Executioner had shoved Nathaniel behind her from the moment she
had been granted access to the apartment. The leopard was looking at
his Nimir-Ra in annoyance, but she didn't seem to notice. No, all
her attention was focused on Willow.
"And the Ulfric comes as well," Willow continued as if she
hadn't spoken. "Well, I wasn't prepared for guests this morning, but
obviously that's out of my hands now. Would any of you care for tea?"
"Who is D'Zanaon?" Richard repeated Anita's first question.
The redhead offered him a half smirk.
"Do not worry your head about D'Zanaon," she informed
him. "You can't do anything about it anyway. It's my problem."
"He's using my pack members to get at you," Richard
objected. "I say that's a reason for me to worry about this person.
Now who is he?"
Willow remained silent, seating herself nonchalantly on the
couches. The others stood in front of her, their irritation defined
clearly on their faces.
"I'm only going to ask you once more-"
"Good," Willow interrupted Anita. "That means I only have to
tell you to mind your own business once more."
"Just tell them already," came the croak from the doorway.
Willow spun around in her seat, seeing Xander leaning against his
bedroom door for support. The man did not look much better from last
night, but he was more alert. He made a motion to Bob, signalling
the feathered serpent to help him to the couches. Willow met him
halfway, taking an arm and leading him to the couch. Once more Anita
was stunned by the change in Willow's demeanour. She wasn't cold and
collected anymore. No, she was kind and worried; loving in a way
Anita had yet to see her act with a human.
Xander gave the arrivals the barest of nods, sinking into the
comfort of the couch immediately. He closed his eyes for a brief
second, discomfort flashing over his features. Willow hopped about
him, fussing and fluffing pillows, all the while admonishing him.
"You shouldn't be up," the witch muttered. "I can handle
this on my own."
"Except you weren't handling it," Xander shot back. "You
were just trying to alienate possible allies."
"We don't need allies in this Xander," Willow retorted.
"Yes we do," Xander replied firmly. "We can't handle all
this on our own Wills. I'm going to change-"
"We've dealt with that before," she reminded him.
"By locking him up in a cage," Xander shook his head. "Even
in the end, it didn't help him. Oz still couldn't control the
beast. He killed Veruca. I don't want to take that risk, not when
you would most likely be in danger. I need to learn how to control
the wolf. Who better to teach me than my Ulfric?"
Richard nodded slowly.
"We can teach you," the Ulfric agreed. "We can help you
through it. But we need to know what is going on first."
Xander turned back to Willow, pleading with his eyes. The
redhead seemed to deflate all at once. Her face got tired and Anita
could have sworn she saw years just add themselves on to the
redhead's features. She looked so worn out for a minute.
Willow let out an audible sigh before sinking down next to
Xander. She rested her head on his shoulder before motioning the
others to take seats.
"You really want to know?"
They all nodded. Willow let out another sigh, a defeated
look on her face.
"Well, don't say I didn't warn you."
*****
"We're originally from Sunnydale, the Hellmouth. Lived there
all of our lives. Xander and I have been friends since like birth.
We had this other friend Jesse, who died when we were fifteen. He
was killed by vampires, made into one himself. That's when the
supernatural entered our lives full force. We got a new friend that
year, Buffy Summers, the Slayer. And we helped her out. Her and her
Watcher Giles, we helped them keep a lid on some of the nastier
residents of SunnyHell. And along the way, I picked up witchcraft.
I wasn't great at it first, but I had a lot of power. And so, things
continued to build for a while. We helped the Slayer and also tried
to do the normal people things like school and such. About two years
ago, we had to go up against some hell god from another dimension.
Basically she wanted to open all dimensional gates and plunge the
world into chaos. Buffy's job was to save her. Long story short, we
got the bitch but Buffy died along the way. And I for some stupid
reason couldn't leave it at that. Since Buffy died an abnormal
death, I thought I could bring her back to life. We hid her death
from everyone, using a Buffybot, which I am not going to explain,
take over her duties. And then I brought Buffy back to life. It
took a lot of magic but I did it. Kind of pushed me into a higher
level as a witch. Okay, the rest of the stuff that happened that
year was really inconsequential. I gave up magic because I think I
got hooked on it, Xander left his bride at the altar-"
"You had to mention that," Xander interrupted, shaking his
head. Willow offered him a little smile.
"But none of that really prepared us for what happened next,"
the witch continued, her voice becoming forlorn. "There were these
three idiots, computer nerds and the such, who wanted to take over
the Hellmouth. Basically, we foiled all their plans and the leader
went nuts. Came to our house in the middle of the day and shot it
up. One bullet hit Buffy, but she survived. But one hit my
girlfriend Tara, and killed her almost instantly."
She stopped for a second, pain flashing over her features.
Xander slung an arm over her shoulders and prodded her along.
"I was upset to say the least," the witch shrugged. "It's
not an excuse for what I did, but it was how I felt. I killed
Warren, the man who shot Tara. And I don't regret, so don't even go
there. But I was still unsatisfied with my revenge. I wanted to
kill the other two idiots who were working with Warren. Long story
short, Buffy and the others tried to stop me. But by the end of the
day, I decided maybe ending the entire world would have been better.
Don't even ask why, I don't know. But I tried. There was this altar
of sorts to some goddess or the other. It had been buried under the
surface of the Hellmouth for decades. I raised it and tried to
infuse it with power so that it would scorch the world of all life.
But this moron jumped in the middle of it. He stopped me, brought me
back to myself right before I could do anything too stupid."
"But what about D'Zanaon?" Anita pressed.
"Well, D'Zanaon is a higher level demon," Willow answered
slowly. "Unfortunately, he was the head worshipper of that goddess
whose statue I tried to use to end the world. And when it was
brought back up, I guess he thought the plan he had devised years ago
would come to fruition. But Xander stopped me. And once I was calm
enough, I destroyed the damn thing. Flung pieces of it across the
planet in smouldering ashes. It can't be rebuilt. I'm figuring he
might just be a little angry about that."
"So that's it?" Richard asked incredulously. "He's angry
because you ruined his statue?"
"I ruined any chance of him fulfilling his lifelong purpose,"
Willow clarified. "Nothing he could do would fix what I had done.
He's probably very ticked off with me. Maybe more so with Xander
because he's the one who stopped me."
"And he hired Paris to do this just to torment you?" Anita
asked, brow arched. Willow shrugged.
"It's entirely possible," the witch conceded. "I don't
know. I just know that he's most likely going to come after us. And
you don't want to be here for that. He's a higher-level demon.
Almost entirely pureblood."
"And he's coming for you two," Nathaniel finished for her
quietly. Willow nodded, closing her eyes as she rested her head on
Xander's shoulder.
"Now do you see?" she asked them. "This is why I want you
guys to leave us alone."
Anita nodded slowly. She exchanged a look with Richard, the
two of them communicating silently. Finally the brunette turned back
to her with a determined face.
"You don't always get what you want."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Eleven

Richard let out a deep sigh, looking up at the sky. The sun
was setting, moon about to rise. Full moon tonight, the first night
they would see Xander change.
His eyes went to the new member of his pack, noting the way
he stood shivering in the breeze. Richard had warned him about the
whole clothes shredding thing when one changed, but Xander was quite
adamant about not being naked. So he stood in the middle of lupanar
in his boxers.
Richard's eyes left Xander to travel to his companion,
Willow. The redhead sat on the edges of the lupanar, seated rather
primly on a large rock. Bob was off floating the sacred ground, as
if seeing it was in fact safe. And it was. Anita had dealt with
Paris just this morning. There was no danger here for Xander.
Too bad he couldn't say the same thing about Willow. The
other wolves had not forgotten the actions of the witch on their
land. Something they saw as unforgivable in many aspects. Sylvie
was snarling in the redhead's direction, eyes flickering with amber.
Richard had given Willow safe passage in the lupanar for the night,
something he hadn't wanted to do. But Xander had been adamant that
Willow be with him. He in fact refused to go if Willow couldn't go.
The man felt safe with her. And given the circumstances of his
change, Richard was willing to make that sacrifice.
His eyes went back to the sky, noting the sun was just about
to slip under the horizon. He looked towards Xander, giving him the
barest of nods.
It was starting.
*****
Willow watched in trepidation as the moon rose up high in the
sky. She didn't want to look at Xander at this moment, too see the
pain on his face at the change took him. But she had to.
Her eyes went to him immediately, letting all her love and
comfort flow into them. He looked back at her, taking solace in her
presence. And then it began.
He let out a gasp at first, faltering a bit on his feet.
Then he grimaced, pain obvious on his face. His arms went to his
sides as he clutched at his ribs; as if in some last ditch attempt to
keep the beast at bay. He fell to his knees with another gasp.
Willow's eyes filled with tears as he let out a painful
scream. She wanted to go to him, to hold him until the pain receded,
but she could not. Werewolves were the most contagious of
lycanthropes, meaning no touching for her. Not until he had some
control over himself.
Xander was foaming at the mouth. He turned his face back to
her, nose picking up the scent of her on the air. She took in his
amber eyes rather calmly, knowing exactly what to expect. After all,
they had done this for Oz for two and a half years. She knew what to
look for.
Richard made to step forward when Xander moved in her
direction. Amazing that he was able to keep his beast under wraps
during the full moon. That meant power and control the likes she
hadn't seen before. Sure Oz had managed not to answer to the call of
the moon, but he had a harder time controlling his emotional
reactions. Oz had never really accepted the beast as a part of
himself. Richard, though not always happy with his beast, had
accepted it long ago.
She waved him back with her hand. She didn't need him to
protect her here. It was just Xander. An infinitely more furry and
hungry Xander, but still Xander. The boy that she had loved on
sight. The boy she harboured a crush on for most of her life. The
boy who nearly died protecting her on many nights. The boy who had
turned into a man who she still loved. He took care of her when she
needed him, and she would take care of him now. And never once did
her faith in waver. Not even in all those months when a sad barrier
had risen between them. Even in the time when they weren't as close
as they had always been, she still trusted him with her life. And
that held.
He was stalking her almost. His beast was out full force.
Richard was coming to her side regardless of what she said. He
didn't think Xander could control his beast, not on his first night
of change. But he didn't know like she did.
Willow raised her hand once more, shooing Richard away. He
made to protest, but one look at her black eyes made him back off.
He returned to the sidelines, keeping an eye on the other wolves
present. They were all also intrigued by Willow's scent, infinitely
more pronounced to them in light of the full moon. He sent out a
warning to them. They would steer clear of the witch, she was off
limits.
Willow just sat and watched while Xander got furrier than
before. His face disappeared into the mask of a wolf. She saw the
fangs glinting out from underneath his lips. Those warm brown eyes
that she had swooned over in childhood changed to haunting amber.
And he just got closer.
Xander was salivating just at the sight of her. The beast
was out in full force and Richard didn't understand how the man kept
from pouncing on the waiting girl in front of him. The
transformation was complete for now, the pain having receded into
hunger.
He jumped before any of them could stop him. Richard ran to
Willow's side, skittering to a stop when he saw what had actually
happened. The witch held the wolf by the sides of the head, looking
deep into its eyes. The beast was snarling and frothing but she
never broke gaze with him.
And amazingly, the wolf calmed. He climbed down off the
witch, whimpering in the most heartbreaking way. Richard watched
astounded as Willow ran her hair through his fur, bringing him to her
once more. She placed a kiss on the top of his skull before lowering
his head to her lap.
The wolf closed his eyes and relaxed his body. She continued
to run her fingers through his fur, stroking him behind the ears.
There were a few tears on her face as she looked down at her friend,
but never once did her hands shake. Never once did fear show itself
in the witch in any manner. It was as if she knew that all of this
would happen. And that he would never hurt her, not even when he had
control over himself.
Richard watched with bated breath as other wolves emerged
from the dark, moving towards the new member of the pack carefully.
Some of them regarded Willow in a scared manner, muscles tensing at
the sight of the redhead. One by one they all made their way to
Xander, lying down next to the new wolf. Soon most of the pack lay
at the feet of the witch, but she took no notice of them. Her
attention never left the wolf she held to herself. Bob slowly
floated down to settle by his mistress, coiling around her waist to
rest his head on her shoulder. She made quite the picture.
Richard shook his head, settling down on the ground quietly.
His eyes never left the gathered group of wolves. Some of them had
drifted off into sleep, others heading there themselves. They seemed
no longer disturbed by the presence of the redhead. A few, one by
Jason himself, offered their heads to her for patting. She smiled
and complied, fingers stroking the furs of many of his wolves. Her
touch seemed tranquil in some way, leading most of the wolves to just
drift off into sleep cuddled around her feet. He let a smile touch
his lips for the first time all day.
Maybe this would work after all.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Twelve

"So, how did it go?"

Richard sighed, running his hand through his hair. He honestly wished
that Anita would remember that though being a werewolf, he was still
part human. And that his human part did need sleep every now and
then. So why was she here at his front door first thing in the
morning? Dragging none other than Micah behind her. Really, he
honestly didn't know if that woman had any sort of common sense in
her at all.

"What?" It was the only coherent noise he was capable of making at
the moment.

"How did it go last night?" Anita repeated, barrelling her way into
his living room. Micah followed, offering him a bit of a sympathetic
smile as he followed her. Richard only sighed once more and lightly
banged his head against the wall.

"Really Richard."

He didn't have to look to know that she had her hands on her hips and
eyebrow arched at him. It was the classical condescending Anita pose.
She expected him to be forthcoming this morning. He'd be a lot more
amicable if the woman ever let him get a good four hours of sleep.
Was that really too much to ask for? Fours hours? Whose going to miss
four hours of the day? There are twenty hours left over that she
could use to harrass him.

"Things went fine," he finally muttered in response. "Xander changed
and Willow's still alive, which is kind of remarkable considering how
angry some of the pack was with her."

"Did someone try something?" she asked immediately, eyes narrowing.
Richard frowned at that. She looked ready to whip out the gun and
start shooting in Willow's defence. Which was really strange
because . . .

"I thought you didn't like Willow," he stated confusedly. "Why all
the concern?"

She went red at that, shooting Micah a glance. And then Richard
understood.

"Nathaniel," he nodded in understanding. Anita sighed, turning to sit
on his couch with her hands folded in front of her.

"He really likes her," the Executioner muttered. "Which means that
the girl is important to me. He actually looks happy at the mention
of her. And after all he's been through, how can I as Nimir-Ra not
hold onto that for him?"

Richard shook his head, rubbing his eyes as he took a seat across
from her and Micah. The wereleopard was strangely quiet today, but
then again, Anita was did do enough talking for everyone else.

"She's fine," he assured her. "She is great in fact. After last
night, I'm thinking about 90% of the pack loves her."

"And the other ten percent?"

"Are scared of her," Richard shrugged. "Can't be helped. And Jason
certainly isn't helping any."

"Why?"

"Well, let's just say he's leading the Willow for Lupa campaign right
now," Richard laughed, shaking his head. "Even she seemed amused at
the prospect. But she told me in no uncertain terms that though I was
a hottie, she didn't have a desire to mate with me. Maybe she likes
Nathaniel too."

"We can hope," Micah muttered.

"Lupa?" Anita repeated. "They want her to be lupa?" Richard could
almost see the minor jealousy flare up in the brunette again.

"She lacks two qualifications Anita," he reminded. "No lycanthropy
and no desire to hold the title. I think it's safe to say Willow
won't be lupa any time soon."

"But what will she be?" Micah piped up. "She has to have some sort of
title now doesn't she? From what you say, they've already welcomed
her as extended pack."

"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Richard murmured. "So,
what on your end? Who is D'Zanon?"

"A badass," Anita replied frankly. "Willow couldn't have picked a
worse demon to piss off."

"Sounds like someone else I know," Richard muttered under his breath.
Micah caught it, giving him an agreeing smile in return. Anita just
frowned at this exchanged, shaking her head a bit.

"We can fix it," she continued. "It's going to be difficult, but we
can most likely fix it."

"Or?" Richard prodded. Anita shrugged.

"Or the same thing we always do."

"Meaning worse comes to worse, you'll shoot him."

"Yeah, so?" she had a bit of a challenging look on her face. Richard
just sighed, raising his hands in defeat.

"Just checking."

***

"Being a wolf is kind of draining."

Willow giggled at the sight of Xander, lying facedown on his bed and
talking into his pillow. The words were muffled, but she heard them
nonetheless.

"I don't know why you're so tired," she poked him. "I'm the one who
was awake all night. You slept through most of it."

"But I was the only one here who let my inner beast out of its cage,"
he retorted, face still in his pillow. "So I win this argument."

"You just keep telling yourself that," Willow giggled, moving to get
off his bed. "Me, I'm heading to the sack."

"Working tonight?"

"As always."

There was a bit of a silence after that and she moved to the door.

"Don't forget to call your kitten," Xander called out at the last
second. "He might be anxious to hear from you."

Willow paused, thinking of Nathaniel.

"I'll do that," she whispered. "Sleep well Xander."

"You too bosom buddy."

Willow shut his door, leaning against the wooden frame as she looked
at the phone on the coffee table. A smile came to her face, thinking
of her "kitten".

Willow reached for the phone, a full blown smile on her face.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Thirteen

"Where's Willow?"

Xander blinked, frowning down the visitor trying to elbow her way
into his apartment.

"Where I come from, we have this crazy custom of saying 'hello'
or 'good morning' when we have the audacity to come pounding on
someone's door at eight in the morning on a Sunday," Xander
practically growled, glaring down at the slight figure of the
Executioner. She glared back up at him, arms folded over her chest.
Xander caught the laughing grin on the face of Micah, the Nimir-Raj,
behind her, as well as the apologetic look from his Ulfric. He also
saw a flash of violet eyes right behind Richard, signifying
Nathaniel's presence as well. Xander couldn't see Jamil and Shang-
Da, but he knew they were there. No one wanted the Ulfric this close
to Willow without his bodyguards. Some of his fellow wolves were
still very frightened by his Wills, proving the extreme intelligence
of the group. After all, who in the right mind wouldn't be a little
scared of Willow?

Looking down at Anita, Xander felt there was at least one. The
brunette was actually stepping right up to him, trying to get into
his face. He rolled his eyes, turning to gaze at the men behind her.

"All these super creatures following you around," Xander
scoffed. "Damn, you remind me of Buffy. But then again, Buffy was
less annoying, and had some manners."

Her nostrils were flaring by the time he stepped back. He ignored
her, trudging into the living room without so much as a backwards
glance. He heard the others follow, picking up the silent tread of
their feet with his now enhanced hearing. He had a lot of those
enhanced abilities now that he had joined the ranks of the furry, and
they weren't all that pleasant. He had woken up this morning
extremely hungry and his nose picking up the scent of food.

The scent led him right to Willow's bedroom.

Scared shitless for half a second, Xander had contemplated calling
Richard, or one of the other wolves. But he had managed to calm
down, remembering that his wolf had wanted to eat Willow the night
before, but he had restrained himself then and he could do it again.

He had cleaned out the fridge in the attempt to fill his appetite.
They were going to have to go shopping again in the very near
future. There was not a piece of meat left in the apartment.

"Where's Willow?"

"Man, you are rude!" Xander rolled his eyes, turning to face his
visitors. "She's sleeping."

Anita clenched her jaw, eyes going to Willow's closed door. Xander
tensed, grabbing her arm as the woman stepped in the direction of the
door.

"Don't you dare," he snarled at her.

"Xander," Richard called out warningly.

"Sorry Boss Man," the dark-haired man smirked. "But she is not going
in there. My Wills, she's a hell of a witch and the best of the best
friends, but she is, right down at the centre, a human. And she has
not had much sleep over the past three days. In fact, I think the
total amount of sleep she has gotten is about six hours, about four
to five of those today because I haven't woken her since we got
back. And just like me, you're not going to wake her."

"We need to discuss D'Zanon," Anita hissed out through clenched
teeth. Xander rolled his eyes.

"We can discuss D'Zanon," he informed her. "As in, all of us in the
room right now. In case you have forgotten, I'm kind of involved in
all this as well. I understand that Willow is also a very big part
of this, but you are not going into her room. Willow can be filled
in later. Much later."

There was no room for argument in his voice. His face wasn't any
different from what people were used to, relaxed and carefree. But
his eyes told another story, a very dangerous one. He would start
something over Willow's rest, he really would. Unfortunately for
Xander, Anita hated to lose pissing contests, as she liked to put
it. Things could get very ugly, very fast.

And Richard wasn't going to let it come to that. He exchanged a look
with Micah, the wereleopard nodding only slightly in agreement. He
placed a restraining hand on Anita's arm, leading the small woman to
the couches. Xander followed Anita with his eyes, relaxing his
stance only once she had consented and sat down.

Dark brown eyes went back to the others in the room, actually
lighting up in good humour when they landed on Nathaniel.

"You, on the other hand, can go right in," Xander declared. "She'll
probably enjoy your company, but keep it PG man. I haven't learned
to control all these senses yet and I do not need to hear anything
like that."

Nathaniel started, shooting the young wolf a smile. He had always
liked Xander, enjoyed his rather odd sense of humour. But now that
he had angered Anita, Nathaniel wasn't so sure he could take Xander
up on his offer. Even though the whole reason of his presence was to
see Willow, the whole atmosphere of the apartment was too tense.

So he slid his violet eyes to his Nimir-Ra, seeking her permission
for this. His act seemed to relax her, made some of the tension go
out of her body. She gave the barest of nods, tilting her head in
the direction of Willow's door.

Nathaniel gave a grateful smile, striding to the door without even
glancing at anyone else.

"And send Bob out, would you?" Xander called after him. He nodded,
opening the bedroom door and stepping in. The room was dark, but he
could see well enough.

Hissing greeted his ears, but he had spent enough time with Bob by
now to know the serpent wasn't angry or irritated in the least.

"Hello Bob," he murmured, reaching a hand out to pet the feathery
scales of the serpent. Bob gave another piss, one of slight
pleasure, before it flew past him. He waited until Bob was outside
before closing the door quietly behind him.

Bob continued his way out into the living room, floating slowly over
to Xander, pausing to hiss a bit at Anita. The brunette just glared
at the serpent, watching with cool eyes as it wrapped itself around
Xander's arm.

"How in the hell did you get a license to keep that thing?"

Xander smirked, settling down in the armchair across from her.

"I don't know. Willow must have threatened to shoot up city hall,"
he replied snidely. "Oh wait, I forgot, she's not you."

Richard nearly choked on his laughter.

*****

She was sleeping, rather peacefully. Nathaniel tossed a look behind
him, wondering if he should just leave her to sleep.

A slight change in her breathing alerted to the fact she was
wakening. He was immediately apologetic, blaming himself for it.
Didn't Xander say that Willow was exhausted? He should have just
stayed outside.

"Xander?" came the mumble from the tangled web of sheets on the bed.

"No, it's Nathaniel," he replied, approaching the side of her bed
cautiously. He stopped when he was near the head of her bed,
watching as she shifted around so she could see him. Confused green
eyes met his own, a ghost of a smile coming over her face.

"Hey," she greeted in a bit of a whisper.

"Hey," he returned, sinking down to kneel by her bed. He stretched a
hand out, brushing hair from her forehad. "You should go back to
sleep. Xander is pretty worried about you."

She nodded, giving a big yawn as she pulled the covers tighter around
herself.

"He has a tendency to do that," she murmured, eyes half closed. "I
tried to call you after we got back. Just wanted to let you know
everything went just fine."

"Zane gave me the message," he assured her. "Maybe I should get out,
leave you to your sleep. You looked exhausted."
She grinned wider, one eye cracking open to look at him.

"I do need sleep," she agreed, propping herself on her elbow. "But I
wouldn't mind a nice human pillow."

"Human pillow?" he repeated with amusement in his tone.

"Yeah," she nodded, hand grabbing his wrist and tugging
lightly. "They're the best kind. All soft and so warm. And great
for hugging."

He laughed at her ramble, allowing himself to be pulled into bed
beside her. She moved the covers, allowing him to scoot under the
covers. He paused to toe off his shoes before climbing in, wrapping
his arms around her. She settled herself in his side, head going to
rest on his chest.

"Nathaniel," she murmured sleepily.

"Yes?"

"Is Anita out there?"

"Yep."

"D'Zanon?"

"Yeah, bad news she said."

"Is there ever any other kind?"

He chuckled before stilling.

"Xander made her kind of mad."

"Doesn't surprise me. They're talking?"

"Yeah."

"I should be out there."

"You should be sleeping," he amended. "The information isn't going
to change in the few hours that you can catch up on your sleep."

She sighed, body relaxing a bit more. Her eyes fell shut, no longer
able to keep them open. She was tired, very tired. Nathaniel's plan
had merits, many merits.

"Good idea."

And then she drifted back to sleep, clutching her warm human pillow
tightly.




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Fourteen

"I will bite you, so just sit down already."

Richard didn't know whether to laugh or admonish. And if it came
down to admonishing, he honestly didn't know who he would have to
admonish.
First there was Xander, who kept snapping at Anita and throwing
threats the Executioner's way. And then there was Anita herself who
kept trying to barge into Willow's bedroom to forcibly drag the
redhead out of bed. Both fully grown adults were acting like
children, so logic dictating that he just laugh and ignore it.

But he didn't think that would help any. Bob was being even more of
a nuisance, hissing and flicking its tail at Anita whenever the
brunette woman even looked in the direction of Willow's door.

"Listen," Anita started off bitingly. "We can't just sit around-"

"Then get on with it," Xander interrupted. "But you are not waking
up Willow. She's worn out and needs her rest. Whatever is going
down with D'Zanon will probably require a lot of her strength.
Therefore, having her fall over in sleep at his feet would be not be
helpful in the least. So, sit down, and get to talking. Willow will
join us when she does."

Anita was went still, glaring death at the man. Richard sighed,
leaning back in his seat and wondering how to diffuse the situation.
The overall problem came from Anita's perception of Xander, not
seeing his as a front runner in this whole demon mess.
But no matter what Anita thought of Xander, it didn't change the fact
that he WAS a front runner in all this. Hell, there were three main
characters, and Xander was definitely one of them. Just because the
other two were more powerful didn't mean that Xander was any less
important. It wasn't just about Willow and the consequences of the
redhead's actions. It was about both of them and one very angry
demon.

"Maybe we should just get on with it," he ventured finally, giving
Anita a meaningful look. "After all, we're all very much a part of
this mess. We should be working together on it."

"The Ulfric is right," Xander nodded, absently holding a cracker out
to Bob. The serpent hissed happily, floating away from its position
in front of Anita to accept the food. Xander smiled at the serpent,
sticking a hand out to tickle underneath its chin.

"How the hell did you manage to tame that thing?" came the sudden
question from Micah. Xander grinned, stroking some of Bob's scales
before answering.

"We didn't tame him," the man shrugged. "Feathered serpents aren't
wild by any means. They're usually very docile creatures, unless
they happen to be guarding something or someone. Then they can get
downright vicious."

This last part was added with a meaningful glare in Anita's
direction. The brunette just rolled her eyes, glaring at the serpent
for a bit.

"Fine," she muttered. "Let's get this show on the road."

Richard gave a sigh of relief, shooting a mildly disapproving look
towards Xander when the man coughed, making a sound that sounded
faintly like "finally". The young wolf just grinned at his Ulfric,
shrugging off the frown with a laid-back attitude.

"So? What do we have on the big bad?" Xander prompted. Anita arched
an eyebrow at his words, irritation showing on her face. No doubt
Xander's rather easy-going and humourous attitude wasn't helping to
convince the Executioner of his ability to help the situation. But
Xander didn't seem to care, waiting patiently for the woman to begin.

"We have good news and bad news," Anita started off, pulling papers
and such from her bag. "The good news is, after checking around and
such, I've discovered that D'Zanon is not flesh at the moment."

"That is good news," Xander muttered in relief. He noticed the looks
coming his way and he shrugged.

"When purebloods come into flesh, well, they come with a lot of it,"
the man explained. "Sometimes over 70 feet of it, covered in scales
and with very large teeth, but I digress. Please continue. You said
there was bad news?"

Anita shook herself, obviously muddling over the 70 feet comment but
deciding to save it for a later time.

"Well, the bad news is, he might be on his way to flesh," the
Executioner revealed. "From what I gathered, D'Zanon must be using
an intermediary on this plane. Someone who is obviously relaying his
messages to others, sending attacks your way. And that someone could
also bring D'Zanon into flesh. The problem is, we don't know who the
intermediary is."

"Paris?" Richard ventured.

"No," Anita shook her head. "She never had that kind of power. She
might have had an idea as to who it was, but she couldn't have been
it. And she's kind of out of the picture right now. Even if she was
able to tell us, which she's not, being dead and all, I doubt she
would even know who it was. I mean, this person had to be careful
not to let anyone know their role. Anyone wanting to stop D'Zanon
would only have to stop the intermediary to win."

"So, this intermediary, what are we looking for?" Xander
asked. "Human, witch, lycanthrope, vampire, what?"

"Someone with magic, that is without question," Anita answered. "And
well, that person would have to have an extension knowledge of black
arts, and of you and Willow."

Richard frowned.

"How come?"

"Well, the magic is directed at them," Anita answered
carefully. "Meaning that whoever is directing it knows enough of
them to be able to pull it off without Willow sensing them."

"Wills did say she felt like something was off," Xander mentioned
suddenly. "A couple of days ago, before we went car-shopping. She
said she felt like someone was watching us or stalking us, but didn't
know who."

"That would make sense," Anita nodded. "This intermediary knows how
to make this work without letting Willow know exactly what is
happening or who is doing it. They've got to have some sort of
previous experience with her and her magic. That's the only
explanation."

Richard turned to Xander.

"You know any one like that?" he demanded. Xander gave a bitter
laugh, turning exasperated eyes towards his Ulfric.

"You want the edited version, because it's a long list. A very very
long list."

*****

Willow knew she should just get up and go face all the people in her
living room. Anita had important information, stuff involving
D'Zanon and how to stop him, if he could be stopped. So, logic
dictated that she get up and be responsible.

But she was just too comfortable!

It was all Nathaniel's fault really. He was just too warm and soft a
human pillow for her to just let go. And he smelled so nice, a bit
like vanilla which she guessed came from the shampoo he used on his
long and lovely hair. God, she loved that hair. It was just so long
and soft and just so Nathaniel!

See? All his fault, being as enticing as he was. There was no way
she could force herself to get up and go join the others. Not when
sleeping in her bed, Nathaniel all curled around her, was the other
option.

All his fault.

"You still sleeping?"

The soft whisper caused her to crack one eye open, looking into a
lovely swirl of violet.

"No," she pouted. "But can we pretend for like another five
minutes? Or five hours?"

He chuckled, a delightful rumbling coming from his chest. She took
that to mean 'yes' and she closed her eyes again.

She would get up and be responsible, eventually. But right now, she
was busy being comfortable and warm. And with a very nice man to
cuddle up to.

A girl get chances like this often. One had to bask in them whenever
they got the opportunity. Responsible could wait for another few
minutes.

She was basking.




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Fifteen

"Where did Anita go?"

Xander looked up, shooting a bright smile Willow's way. The redhead
returned his smile, yawning slightly as she tried to pat down her
rather rumpled hair. A quick glance around the room seemed to make
the witch self-conscious, a blush coming to her cheeks in a way
Xander hadn't seen in a long while.

It was comforting to say the least.

Nathaniel was right behind her, an arm swung casually around Willow's
waist with his chin resting on her shoulder. His violet eyes were
also roaming the room, a quick grin shared with Micah before sobering
when looking towards Richard and the bodyguards.

"She was called away," Richard answered, shooting the redhead a
concerned look. "Are you feeling better?"

"Well, I'm not about to pass out, if that indicates better," the
redhead shrugged, making her way to sit on the couch next to Micah.
She smiled briefly as Bob came floating her away, curling around her
left arm before nestling his head in the crook of her neck.
Nathaniel perched himself on the arm of the couch, just next to her,
expectant look on his face.

"Did she tell everything?" the leopard inquired. Xander nodded,
sighing as he picked up a notepad from the coffee table.

"Short version, D'Zanon is not yet among us, but there's someone
trying to help him along," the new wolf shook his head, shooting
Willow a meaningful look. "Someone we know."

The redhead frowned, confusion evident on her face.

"Anita says that the intermediary would have knowledge of you and
your power in order to hide from you," Micah offered.

"And Xander is making a list of all possible suspects," Richard
added, leaning back in his seat. "Anita was called away by Bert.
Apparently she forgot that she does not have the night off."

Willow nodded, leaning into Nathaniel as she gave the matter
thought. Her green eyes traveled to the only silent members in the
apartment, grinning slightly at the bodyguards. They looked kind of
sulky and broodish. Reminded her of Angel.

"You guys hungry or something?" she asked suddenly. "Cause you're
pouting an awful lot."

No response, from them at least. Richard grinned while Nathaniel and
Micah tittered. The wolves in question just looked her way, eyes
empty. She raised an eyebrow, giving Xander a mock glare.

"Have you been a bad host while I was napping?" she demanded. Her
friend only shot her a smile.

"Not my fault," he protested, raising his hands in defense. "These
guys are so stoic they could give Deadboy a run for his money."

There a light giggle and a disapproving look.

"Don't call him that," the redhead warned him. "Is there any food to
offer, Mister Gluttoness-Wolf?"

Xander had the deceny to look sheepish as he reached for the phone.

"I'll order a pizza," he mumbled, tossing her a grin. "Don't turn me
into a rat. It'll get confusing around moon-time."

She rolled her eyes, ignoring the curious glances from Richard and
Micah. Instead, she reached over, plucking the notepad up from where
Xander had left it. Her eyes roamed over the list, an exasperated
sigh escaping her lips.

"Xander, why is the Watcher's Council on here?"

The dark-haired man shrugged, covering the receiver with his hand.

"Because they're evil," he replied before turning back to ordering
the food. Willow shook her head, turning to face the others in the
room.

"They're really not," she assured them. "Well, not in that sense of
the word. They shouldn't be on here."

"Okay, fact number one, the intermediary needs to have good knowledge
of you and your magic," Xander ticked off on his fingers, pizza taken
care of. "In case you've forgotten, during the whole Glory thingy,
they kind of studied all of us and took notes. Fact number two, this
person has to have access to the books and magic to pull this off,
and the Council so has that-"

"And fact number three, they have to be evil," Willow
interrupted. "The Council may be irritating, but they generally
aren't evil. Remember the whole part where they live to keep the
world safe from demons?"

Xander pouted, taking the list from her possessively.

"They stay on the list," he insisted. "I don't trust them."

Willow sighed and shook her head again. Richard could barely keep
from laughing, this sounded like a very old argument.

"Okay, who else?"

"Amy," Xander read. "Figured she might be mad that you knocked off
her dealer. D'Zanon might have the mojo she needs to get her fix."

Willow nodded, waving off Richard's questions.

"You better add his other clients as well then," she muttered
darkly. "Not likely, but there's still a chance."

"Okay, and then we have the Sisters of Jeh."

Willow frowned.

"The who?"

"You remember, senior year?" Xander prompted. "You had to close the
Hellmouth again because the purple and blue chicks tried to end the
world?"

"Oh yeah," Willow gave a short laugh. "I remember."

"You closed the Hellmouth?" Micah blurted out.

"On more than one occasion," Xander piped up happily. "And then
there is our favourite not-so-friendly schizo vamp Druscilla. As
well as the remnants of the Initiative, which I say is a good
possibility."

"We wiped the Initiative out," Willow pointed out.

"But they're still out there," Xander pointed. "And I think we can
all agree that the people in charge were definitely all about raising
the big bad."

"Fine, who else?"

"Glory followers, if there are any left," Xander checked off. "And
respectively, those medieval guys if they are any left. I figured
they just might be bitter. Um, leftover Mayor followers, again if
they are any left. And that's all I came up with."

Willow nodded, frowning thoughtfully at Xander.

"There's someone missing," she mused. Xander nodded, glaring down at
his list.

"There's more?" Richard blurted out, tone incredulous. Willow
nodded, still frowning a bit.

"But I can't quite remember," she murmured. "It's on the tip of my
tongue."

"I know," Xander muttered. "I've been trying to find out who. Hard
to remember all the nasties we've come across in our lives."

"How on earth did you manage to stay alive for so long?" Micah asked,
shaking his head. "You were so young."

"We had Buffy," Willow shrugged. "And the Slayer does wonders for
your chances of survival, especially in Sunnydale."

"And the G-Man always had the skinny on the bad guy," Xander brought
up. "Always found out what we were facing, even if it took a little
while longer. And man, when he wanted to, he could kick ass like no
one's business. Scary too, when he wanted to be, especially in his
Ripper moments."

"That's it!" Willow jumped up, startling all those around her.
Xander frowned.

"What's it?" he asked confused. The redhead pointed to the list.

"The person we're missing," she informed him. Xander just frowned
some more.

"You think Giles-"

"Not Giles," Willow rolled her eyes. "But an old friend of Giles.
Or should I say, an old friend of Ripper's?"

It dawned on Xander suddenly.

"Ethan Rayne!"



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Sixteen

"What is she doing?"

Xander shot a look towards Micah, his _expression indicating that it
should be obvious what Willow was doing. But the leopard missed the
look, focusing all his attention on Willow as the redhead worked away
at her computer.

"Is that even legal?" was Richard's question. Again Xander responded
with just one look. Richard saw it and interpreted it to mean that
he really didn't want to know.

"How do you know what to look for?" Nathaniel brought up, sitting on
Willow's right side and watching as she typed rapidly on her
keyboard. At that, Willow spared a small smile, turning her
attention just a bit away from her computer to answer.

"I am a witch you know," she reminded him. "And I do have quite the
extensive knowledge of the black arts. In order to pull off even
half the stuff that this intermediary is doing, he's going to need
supplies and a lot of them. By checking all the stores that I know
to have the materials necessary, I can pinpoint his activities."

"'His'?" Richard repeated, arms folded across his chest. "So you
decided that it is this Ethan guy?"

Willow shrugged, turning her full attention back to the computer and
letting Xander answer that question for her.

"Well, we can't say for certain, that's why Wills is checking up on
the magic shops," the dark-haired man replied. "But the more and
more we think about it, Ethan just comes to the front. I'm surprised
we didn't think of him sooner."

"Well, he has been gone for a little while," Willow mused. "I mean,
the last time we saw him was back when he turned Giles into a demon."

"Exactly," Xander nodded, ignoring the curious looks of the others in
their apartment. "But I thought he had been arrested by the
Initiative. Now, I know that whole organization went bust, but they
never released all those dangerous hostiles they encountered. I
thought Ethan was high on their list of dangerous guys and therefore
still in detainment."

"They couldn't have kept him there long," Willow responded. "I mean,
Ethan's not from this country. Eventually, and I'm assuming
especially after the Initiative debacle, the army would have gotten
tired of wasting resources on containing him and tried to ship him
back to Merry Old England."

"Which would give him, with his knowledge of magic, the perfect
chance to escape," Xander shook his head. "But, if he did manage to
escape, wouldn't Riley have told us?"

"What if Riley didn't know?" Willow speculated. "I mean, the army
looked bad enough after that whole Adam incident. No doubt admitting
that they lost a foreign prisoner that they were holding illegally
would not only raise a few eyebrows, but also land them in heaps of
trouble."

"What are you guys talking about?" Richard finally interrupted. "The
army? What's the Initiative?"

"Long story short, the army set up a secret base on the Hellmouth to
control the demon population," Xander hurriedly
explained. "Unfortunately, the person in charge, one Professor
Walsh, was a complete and total whack job. She used her position at
the Initiative, and the ample array of demons held there, to
construct a Robo-Demon thingy called Adam. Of course Adam turned out
to be evil, killed his maker, and tried to take over the Hellmouth.
But we so stopped his metal ass."

"Well, Buffy stopped his metal ass," Willow clarified. "But we were
all joined in a spell that made her superhuman-ER."

"And all this happened when?" Micah asked.

"About three years ago," Xander replied, leaning back into his
armchair as he smirked at the Nimir-Raj. "We were nineteen and we
took on the US army. And won."

"Xander, try not to gloat," Willow admonished him distractedly. "We
signed all those papers saying that we wouldn't."

Xander gave an unimpressed snort at that, settling back into his seat
and turning a teasing smirk on the bodyguards.

"You boys ever going to say anything?" he needled them. "Because
stoic aside, this is getting ridiculous. You've been here for hours
and not a peep. That's just wrong."

"You talk too much," Jamal informed the young wolf. Xander chuckled,
folding his hands behind his head in a picture of self-satisfaction.

"I get that a lot," he returned smoothly, jerking a bit by the knock
on the door.

"Pizza," Willow reminded him from her spot in front of the computer.
Xander smiled sheepishly for a second before going to answer the
door. Willow kept her eyes on her computer, frowning quite a bit now.

"What's wrong?" Nathaniel asked her in concern. Willow shook her
head, still frowning.

"Whoever did this is covering his tracks well enough," the redhead
sighed. "They visit several different shops, picking up just enough
of the materials so as to not raise alarm and pay only in cash. Real
simple, and the tellers probably wouldn't remember them from any of
their other customers. Real smart."

"Have you checked motels and stuff in the area?" Xander asked.
Willow shot him a look.

"You seriously think Ethan is stupid enough to log in under his own
name?" Willow asked him. "Besides, it really depends on what kind of
place he's staying in. Most cheap motels don't keep electronic
copies of their room reservations. We won't find him on the web."

"Oh well," Xander gave an exaggerated sigh. "Magic it is."

Willow grinned at that, nodding slightly at the curious shifters
around her.

"Magic it is."

*****

He shuffled around his motel room clumsily, nearly tripping over his
own suitcase. He cursed a few times, really unhappy that he had to
stay in such a cramped and dirty dive. He should be set up in one of
the largest, most luxurious hotels in the city, but no. He was stuck
here just so no one would be able to detect him.

The things he did for his job.

The man gave a sigh, flopping down on his bed. He idly wondered if
he should go out for a drink tonight. His employer had warned him
against public outings for things that weren't fully necessary, but
he was bored damn it! There was only so much time that a person
could spend locked up in one crappy room and still manage to keep his
sanity.

Or whatever was left of it from before anyway.

He knew that some level, it was too much of a risk for him to go
out. He should just keep to the plan, going out only in the wee
hours of the morning to get supplies and occasionally change motels
so that no one would be able to track him. That was a solid plan,
especially since his contact in the wolf pack seems to have fallen
silent over the past few days. That could mean only one thing.

She was dead and he was now on his own.

So, he should stay inside and behave himself. But of course it was a
losing battle, he's never been able to behave himself before, why
start now?

He rose up in bed with a devilish smirk on his face. One drink
couldn't hurt. After all, who was going to know? Certainly not his
employer, as he wasn't exactly on this plane of existence. Really,
no harm could come from him leaving his room and going out for a
night cap.

He was whistling a jaunty tune by the time he had finished dressing,
feeling uplifted for the first time in a long time. It hadn't been
the best idea to take this job, but he had and now he had to deal
with it. But he had no idea when he took the job that it would take
so long. He wasn't one for big elaborate schemes that took careful
planning and whatnot. He was more for making a big splash, all at
once, and running away while chuckling over the mayhem caused.

Of course, his method hadn't really been working for a few years now.

He shrugged on his jacket with ease, snapping up his room key and
wallet as he headed for the door. He felt cheerier than ever,
turning the knob and preparing to step out into the night.

He never expected to find them there, the two of them, smiling at him
so sinisterly that he actually felt fear shoot up and down his
spine. The redhead was the one drawing most of his attention right
away, but the low growling from the boy was distracting as well.
From the sounds of that growling, the first step of the plan had gone
off brilliantly. Except now the boy was free and most likely to rip
out his throat in a rage.

"Hey Ethan. Long time no see."



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Seventeen

"You know, I always knew you were a bit reckless. But I never
figured you to be suicidal."

Ethan Rayne looked up into the hard green eyes of Willow, deciding to
stay there for the moment. Even though he knew Willow was the one to
be most afraid of, looking at Xander was not an option right now.
The man's eyes were flickering with the amber colour of his beast and
Ethan was pretty sure that Xander would rip his throat out given half
a chance.

He was stuck. He could admit that right now. He was stuck and by
the looks of it, dead meat. He remembered all the other crap he had
pulled on these kids and knew none of it compared to this. Before
when he messed around with them, he had to deal with Ripper and the
Slayer. Those two, though they liked hitting him, would always back
off in the end. They didn't want to have his death on their hands.

Ethan wasn't so sure that these two would care all that much about it.

"Miss Rosenburg, Mr. Harris, try not to lose your tempers," he
started off weakly. "I'm sure if we just all sit down and talk this
through, we can come to-"

Whatever he had to say was interrupted when Xander snatched him up by
the throat. The man's eyes were completely amber by now and there
were low growls coming from deep inside his chest. Ethan faltered
for a second, looking desperately towards Willow for some help and
finding none there. The redhead actually looked amused at his
predicament, green eyes dancing in joy as Xander cut off his air
supply.

When in the bloody hell did these two get to be this scary?

"Ethan, we're not in the mood to be dicking around with you," Xander
warned him, grip tightening just a bit around his throat. "Now, you
have two options here: you tell us what you know or we beat it out of
you."

"Well, you see there's a bit of a problem with that," Ethan rasped,
clawing at the strong hand at his throat. "If I tell you, D'Zanon
will kill me."

"Well lucky you," Willow murmured, stalking closer to the both of
them. Her green eyes meet Ethan's and he watched in horror as they
bled black.

"D'Zanon might kill you, but you should be more worried about us,"
she snarled. "Because you won't kill you. Hell, we'll make it our
business to keep you on the brink of death for the rest of your
miserable life."

Ethan felt himself turn cold, shivering on the inside at her threat.
Xander could only laugh, jerking the man forward until he was face-to-
face with the werewolf.

"Now Ethan, would you like to reconsider your options?"

*****

Anita was very unhappy.

Firstly, Xander had been really annoying when she went to see him and
Willow that morning. The brunette never actually got to talk to
Willow because of that brat and it wasn't sitting well with her.
Xander may be a werewolf now, but no way was he going to be the one
to shut down D'Zanon. As much as it pained her to say it, Willow was
the only person she could see capable of doing that.

Secondly, Bert called just before Willow woke up, demanding that
Anita come into the office. Apparently she had missed one too many
days of work and her appointments were tired of being pushed back.
So she left Willow and Xander's apartment to head off to a night full
of cutting open chickens and raising the dead.

The joys of being her.

And finally, the last and worst thing that could have happened did.
Richard and Micah, she was giving both of them equal blame in this,
had let Willow and Xander run off on their own to handle the
situation. Anita would have thought the way those two handled Paris
would have clued either alpha into the fact that they weren't the
most controlled duo. If this Ethan guy really was the intermediary
for D'Zanon, they would be lucky if there was anything left of him by
the time they got him away from Willow and Xander. Those two were
downright sadistic when they wanted to be, especially Willow. Anita
remembered what the witch had done to Paris, and with a smile on her
face no less.

And Richard thought Anita was a monster.

All of these things amounted to a very unhappy Executioner. Anita
knew she had to get between Willow, Xander, and this Ethan person-
especially if she wanted the chance to stop D'Zanon for good. Anita
just wasn't sure that Willow and Xander were objective enough to
realize that right now. Ethan was most likely the cause of all the
pain they had gone through in the last week or so. And as much as
Anita didn't want to admit it, if they wanted to kill Ethan they
would have a damn good excuse.

Which was why she was going to run interference.

*****

"Oh Xander, just hit him."

These were the words that greeted Anita and Sylvie when the two
finally found where Willow and Xander had stashed Ethan. It was in a
dive motel, a different one than the one that Ethan had been staying
in. In fact, it was almost all the way across town from that
particular motel. The only reason they had even been able to find
the three of them was due to Ethan's overwhelming fear. Several
wolves had picked up his scent from his old motel room and two
eventually tracked him down just before dawn. Ethan's scent had been
strengthed by his fear, causing even the wolves who found him to
tremble. They had wasted no time in calling Sylvie, the wolf in
charge of this particular hunt, and let her know where the man was
and what was happening to him.

Anita had nearly flown down to the hotel at the news of that.

Meeting up with Sylvie in the parking lot, they had managed to make
their way to the room just in time to hear Willow's short command to
her friend. And they enetered the room just in time to see Xander
land a punch right on Ethan's face.

"Oh, hello."

This was coming from Willow. The redhead sat perched on the one bed
in the room, her legs dangling over the edge as she watched Xander
and Ethan on the other side of the room. The man, Ethan, was tied
down to a chair. He looked scared, tired, and not as bloody as Anita
would have expected him to be. Xander stood over the man, hands
clenching and unclenching in barely contained rage as he looked down
at the man responsible for his own few days of torture at the hands
of a psychotic werewolf.

"You have to stop this," Anita commanded, walking further into the
room. She saw Sylvie slowly start in Xander's direction and decided
to go to Willow herself. The redhead was watching her approach with
an interested expression, giggling when Anita told her to stop.

"Are you crazy?" the witch asked gleefully. "We haven't even started
yet. Have we Xander?"

"Not yet Wills," the man agreed, shooting Sylvie a threatening
look. "I don't want to fight you, but don't even try to get between
me and this man. We're not going to kill him, we just want him to
talk."

"And he seems to be a bit stubborn about it," Willow continued for
her friend. A devilish smile struck her face.

"Hit him again Xander."

"No!" Anita barked, but not quick enough. Xander landed another
quick jab on Ethan before Sylvie was able to reach his side. The man
in the chair moaned and then shook his head.

"You didn't hafta to do that!" he roared in indignation. "Fine, if
you must know, he's not flesh yet."

"That's a start," Willow murmured, getting to her feet and pushing
past Anita to stand right in front of him.

"Now Ethan, I want you to listen to me because this is very
important," the redhead whispered to him, voice dangerously
low. "What is D'Zanon planning to do next?"

"Well, other than becoming flesh, I don't know," Ethan shot back with
a smirk. Xander growled, turning away from Sylvie and raising his
fist again.

"Oh, don't do that!" Ethan cried, flinching away from the irate
werewolf. "I'm telling the truth. He's trying to become flesh, and
now that I'm not around to help him, it's just going to take longer."

"It won't stop?" Anita asked alarmed. Ethan chuckled weakly at her
question, giving Willow a pointed look.

"They thought it would stop?" he snickered, turning back to face
Anita. "It doesn't ever stop pet. I hadn't done everything he
needed to become flesh, but I did enough of it. He's strong enough
to find someone else to do it for him now. He'll be flesh in two
weeks tops."

"What does he want?" Xander demanded. "We know it's just not to kill
us. If that was the case, Paris would have killed me, not turned
me. What is the big bad demon planning?"

Ethan was quiet. Willow sighed and turned to Xander once more. The
werewolf landed one more punch, right to Ethan's gut, before Sylvie
was able to pull him away again.

The redhead smirked at the gasping noises Ethan was making. Anita
moved to stand between her and the man, but the redhead gave her such
a deathly glare that Anita backed off almost immediately.

She watched helplessly as Willow knelt before Ethan, stopping once
she was eye-level with the man. She laid a hand on his shoulder,
gripping it tightly enough to draw his attention her way. He looked
up, frightened to find her eyes had gone black once more.

"Ethan," she demanded, her voice becoming deep from her gathering of
her magic. "What is D'Zanon going to do?"

The man shrugged helplessly, pushing back against his chair in a vain
attempt to put some space between him and Willow. But the witch just
followed, gripping his chin tightly and letting her hair turn as
black as her eyes.

"Tell me!" she demanded. Ethan gave a choked sob, knowing for
certain he was over his head this time. He had no choice but to
submit.

"He's going to steal your power," Ethan replied in fear. "He wants
it in order to build another statue, like the one you destroyed. And
then he's going to use Xander as a sacrifice to make his goddess
flesh and then set her loose on the world."

Willow snorted, pushing back away from Ethan in obvious disgust and
letting her hair and eyes return to their normal colour. She looked
at the shocked Anita, shaking her in disappointment.

"Apocalypses so last year."




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Part Eighteen

"I don't think-"

"Well that explains a lot."

"Xander!"

Xander Harris grinned at his best friend; looking not the
least bit repentant about the barb he had just shot Anita's way. The
Executioner herself had almost had enough of his unique brand of
pissing her off, her shooting hand edging closer and closer to her
gun.

"It's a miracle you haven't been shot yet," Anita growled out
at the younger man. Xander just grinned again, giving her an
audacious wink and chuckling at her irritated look.

"What can I say? I'm the guy with all the luck," he
grinned. "Unless you think back to the whole being kidnapped and
turned into a werewolf against my will thing. Or that time that
Dracula put me under his trance thingy. Or when I almost became a
fish-man. Or-hell! I'm not lucky at all! Damn it! This butt
monkey role just won't go away."

Anita arched an eyebrow at that, to which Willow just waved
off with a disinterested look.

"He has this thing where he insists the world wants to make
him the butt monkey," the witch explained with a roll of her
eyes. "It's so not even true. I mean, some of us have been through
worse than he has. Heck, Buffy's died twice for the world. I'd say
the Slayer is really the world's butt monkey. She always gets the
raw end of the deal."

"But she gets superpowers," Xander complained, his voice
going up a level. "I mean, until the whole wolfieness that I caught
from Psycho-Paris, I was just your average Joe."

"Xander, you were never average."

He grinned, tilting his head a bit as he regarded his friend
curiously.

"Now did you mean that in a bad way or a good way?" he
wondered.

"I meant it, let's leave it at that," the redhead returned
smoothly, turning her attention to Anita again. "You don't have to
be here. I am going to break about a zillion laws here. You don't
have to witness it if you don't want."

"You don't have to do this period," Anita tried to reason
with the witch again. "This whole plan of yours is ludicrous!
You're going to get ourselves killed, and that's exactly what this
demon wants."

"Well, I guess Christmas is coming early for him this year,"
Xander grinned. "Because regardless of whether or not we make it,
we're going to do this. It's our fault anyway."

"My fault," Willow corrected him primly. "I tried to end the
world."

"Yeah, but I stopped you, so he's pissed at me as well,"
Xander reasoned. "Not that me saving the world was a bad thing. It
was actually one of the best things I ever did, ever will do. One of
the things I'm good at. You know, besides running away and being a
butt monkey."

"Can we get off the butt monkey topic?" Willow sighed. "That
just brings very disturbing images to mind."

"Why Willow," Xander mock-reprimanded her. "Get your mind
out of the gutter."

"It's not in the gutter," Willow retorted. "It can't be.
Your mind is there so much that it has taken up all the room."

"Hardy-har-har," Xander made a face at his friend. "You
know, I'm actually for your crazy plan. Maybe you should be nice to
me."

"Why start now?" she tossed back with a grin. Anita barely
suppressed a shriek at the obvious detraction from the subjection at
hand. Shutting her eyes, the brunette counted down from ten and then
tried to broach the topic again.

"At least let me call for help," Anita suggested. "I mean,
having Richard and Jean-Claude here would tip the scales in our
favour-"

"Or in his," Willow cut her off. "I'm not sure what kind of
spell D'Zanon is going to use. And if he gets by me enough to suck
away all my power, I don't want the three of you standing nearby
providing him with a second meal. He gets by us, you and your group
will have to be the ones to stop him."

"Willow, this isn't the best way to do this!" Anita protested
again. "Can't you see that? Don't you care that you might die? And
if you don't, don't you think others will? What about Nathaniel?
Did you think about him?"

Willow sighed again, rising to her feet and giving Anita a
small, almost patronizing smile.

"I know you don't get it," she began, talking as if she were
explaining the matter to a small child. "But in the end, none of
that matters. I did something very bad a while ago, and I have to
deal with the consequences of that. I brought this down on my own
head, and now I have to fix it. I know you're like the big hero
around here, and that you want to fix everything to give all your
little shifters and vampires a happy ending, but sometimes you have
to understand that life doesn't always turn out that way. Sometimes,
you have to sacrifice, you have to make decisions that others won't
like, or even hate you for. But in the end, you have to make them."

"I do know that," Anita grounded out between clenched
teeth. "I'm not some amateur Willow. I know that when it comes down
to the line, decisions have to be made for others-"

"Then why don't you see it now?" the redhead countered. "I
think it's sweet that you're worried about us, even if it's more
about Nathaniel and the others than us. But you have to know-D'Zanon
is a real risk. And like it or not, he's declared war on Xander and
me. We've just decided to meet him at the final battle before it
could be dictated to us."

"You make it sound so simple," Anita shook her head. "But
it's not. Real demons, they're something else. But the ones tainted
by mortality are worse. Prayer or faith doesn't affect them.
They're just evil, and they've got damn bad intentions. You need
help on this."

"I need for you to cover me," Willow corrected her. "I don't
need you for the spell or anything connected to it. I need you to be
there in case Xander and me can't get the job done. It doesn't get
any more simple than that. We're the first line of defence, you're
the second."

"But he wants you and this just plays into his hands!" Anita
roared, her dark eyes flashing with anger. "You can't just hand
yourself over to him so easily."

"I don't plan on making it the least bit easy," Willow
interjected, her own eyes beginning to dance with irritation. "I
plan on taking him down. But I'm not getting over cocky on this.
You're my backup. What more do you want from me?"

"A little common sense couldn't hurt," Anita snarled. Xander
snorted, giving the woman a measuring look.

"You're just mad because you're not the big player in all
this," he stated shortly. "Sorry to break this to you honey, but
none of this has been about you-Ever. A big bad made its way into
your territory but it doesn't give a flying fuck about you and
yours. It wants us, so let us deal with it."

"This is not a pissing contest," Anita retorted.

"Then stop making it into one," Xander shot back, getting to
his feet at this point. "Look, we know we make you angry. We do
things differently, and we don't really listen to you. But none of
it is about taking anything away from you. We're not trying to be
the next big thing here, we're just trying to make things right.
Now, after this is over, maybe we can all sit down and talk our
issues through. But right now, we need to deal with Mr. Let's-End-
The-World. Though why he's trying, I have no idea. I mean, it's
been tried, and we so stopped the hell of it before. Why do bad guys
even bother anymore?"

"I don't know Xander," Willow grinned. "Maybe they all have
short-term memory loss when it comes to us. After all, more and more
come up against us, thinking that they can win. When really, they
can't."

"And here I thought you weren't going in overly cocky," Anita
rolled her eyes. "Fine, do it your way. I'm not going to like it
one bit, but fine. Do you need anything before I go wait on the end
of the world?"

"Well, you could leave Ethan behind so we could pound on him
some more," Xander suggested with a grin, gesturing to the man
trussed up in the corner of Willow and Xander's living room. Anita
gave the younger man a look, clearly signifying how she stood on
that. Xander gave an exasperated sigh, snapping his fingers
wistfully.

"Darn," he lamented. "Really wanted to hit him some more."

"Richard will take care of him," Anita assured him. "He
brought some pretty heavy magic into the pack through Paris. Our
mighty Ulfric isn't the least bit happy about that."

Xander gave a delighted chuckled, waggling his eyebrows at
Ethan.

"If you thought we're bad when we're angry, wait until you
get a load of Richard."

Ethan's eyes widened in pure terror.

*****

Willow sat in the middle of her carefully constructed circle,
trying to even her breathing to a calm level. Xander patrolled
outside the circle, eyes flashing with amber as he regarded the set
up before him. They were alone, in an isolated part of the woods.
The lupanar was far away from this place, so even a werewolf wouldn't
be able to reach them in time to stop Willow's spell. Because once
she got going, there was going to be a whole lot of magic in the
air. Magic that could prove very tempting for some creatures . . .

"We're sure about this right?" he asked cautiously. Willow
nodded, not breaking from her breathing exercise.

"Super sure, right?"

She nodded again. Xander nodded himself, wiping his sweaty
palms on the legs of his pant.

"Great," he muttered. "It's great to be sure."

She smiled through her breathing, pausing to wink at her
friend before she launched into her chant. Her voice was low, the
Latin just tumbling softly from her lips. Xander continued his
stalking of the outer magic circle, trying vaguely to decipher the
few words he could make out from his friend but coming up with
nothing.

He always did suck at Latin.

The wind picked up and his skin began to tingle in the oddest
way. He knew it was the magic, felt it radiating from his friend.
It spilled out from the circle, currents running over his body that
caused him to suck in a deep breath to calm his beast. He knew his
eyes had gone completely amber and he didn't want to alarm Willow
should her eyes fall on him. But he had to force them open, to watch
for any signs of danger. Anything that would stop his friend from
doing what she needed to do in order to stop D'Zanon.

He heard them coming before Willow even finished her spell.
He smirked to himself, actually amused at the level of secrecy they
were trying to uphold. He wanted to yell out to them, to rile them
up just a bit. But any yelling might distract Willow, and that was
definitely out of the question.

Xander turned back to his friend, watching her enter the
final few words of her spell. Her eyes were open now, black as tar,
completely devoid of any light at all. Her hair was starting to tint
that colour, streaks of black lining her face.

The air before her started to shimmer, as if reality itself
were stretching right before them. The scenery beyond the shimmer
began to warp itself, stretching and elongating in ways that weren't
natural. They seemed to correct themselves after a second, returning
to normal after the shimmer began to take on a more solid shape.

He was tall, fairly large. About the size of the Judge, from
what Xander could make of the materializing mass. As its form became
more and more defined, Xander could even make out skin colour.

Hmm, did figure D'Zanon to be a blue demon. He was kind of
banking on red. He didn't know why, it just seemed like red would be
more appropriate for the guy. It had on some sort of armour, which
he had been kind of expecting. Most demons came with some sort of
body armour, usually black. D'Zanon was no exception, its armour
actually coming with a few spikes here and there. Its face was large
and creased with many lines. Its skin was drawn tight over these
lines, giving it an almost plastic appearance.

On a scale of one to ten, Xander gave the guy an eleven for
ugliness.

The demon completed its transformation, coming fully into the
world with a loud *pop*. Willow started, backing up slowly from the
creature that she had summoned and brought into flesh. It was
momentarily distracted, taking in its surroundings in mild curiosity
before its eyes fell on her and him. A hideous grin cracked his
features, revealing a set of frightening white teeth.

"You fools," it spat, a triumphant look crossing his
features. "You've sealed your own fates this time!"

"Don't be so sure."

The voice came from somewhere behind Xander. He turned,
seeing the gathered group emerge from the trees forming a solid line
of defence against the large blue demon. A smirk tilted his lips as
his eyes fell on Anita, standing ready with her gun pointed at
D'Zanon.

"What took you so long?"

*****

Willow rolled her eyes. Leave it to Xander to mock Anita
even at a time like this. Really, once they got out of this, she was
going to have a talk with him about timing. As in, this was not the
time for him to be annoying.

There was a demon that needed to be killed.

D'Zanon let out a roar of fury, the sound echoing off the
trees and deep into the forest. Willow smirked, seeing his obvious
displeasure with the minor army that had shown up to meet him. Guess
he wasn't expecting such a large welcoming party.

Nuts for him.

The redhead back-pedaled, putting ample room between her and
the creature. She barely registered all the shifters that flew by
her, intent on stopping the demon before it got very far. She could
see D'Zanon, tossing the wolves back one by one as they struck at it,
having troubles but not really threatened by these creatures. Willow
grinned to herself.

She wondered what it would do if it knew that there were
about two hundred more shifters waiting in the wings.

Willow tried not to look as Xander threw himself into the
battle, not wanting to be distracted by her fear for her friend. She
felt hands grasp her shoulders, pulling her to her feet. She looked
into the hurt violet eyes of Nathaniel.

"You didn't tell me," he pouted. She gave him a small smile.

"That's because I knew you would be here regardless," she
told him, cupping his cheek tenderly. "That and Ethan still had a
strong connection to D'Zanon. Didn't want to expose too much in
front of him, didn't want D'Zanon catching on too soon."

"Catching onto what?" he asked. Willow grinned wider this
time, shooting a look over her shoulder at where D'Zanon stood
fighting a volley of werewolves and wereleopards. She turned back to
Nathaniel, giving him an impish wink.

"Take me to the vamps."

*****

Xander saw Willow head off with Nathaniel, knowing she was
heading for the final phase of the plan. He turned back to the
fight, taking a blow right to the chest from the demon and ending up
being tossed about ten feet backwards. He hit the ground with a
grunt, hearing another one follow his own. He looked up, seeing
Stephen on the ground not far from him. He pulled the other wolf
close, whispering softly in his ear.

"You don't have to kill him," he whispered to Stephen. "Just
keep him occupied."

"Why?" Stephen demanded, giving him a curious look. Xander
just gave a wolfish grin, patting the wolf reassuringly on the back.

"Because Wills so has this."

*****

"You want me to what?"

Willow rolled her eyes, taking a moment to glance where Anita
stood firing bullets at D'Zanon whenever she could get a clear shot.
The woman would be so opposed to the redhead's plan, that's why
Willow wanted her distracted while she did this.

"I need your help," she finally replied, turning to give Jean-
Claude a good look at her black eyes. "I can't stop him in the form
he's in now. But I have the advantage of knowing his whole plan, and
that's why we can still win this. He won't be taken down in a
physical fight."

"You risked an awful lot on this Willow," Jean-Claude warned
her. "What if we had not shown?"

"Please," Willow grinned, giving him a goading look. She
nodded her head Anita's way.

"Like she would have stayed out of this."

*****

Anita didn't know where Willow had gone. She had seen
Nathaniel rush to her side quickly and help her run off behind the
legion of advancing shifters, but lost track of her after that.

Anita looked up at the demon, seeing the way it was wearing
down a bit, but not enough. It wasn't that affected by this attack.
The only reason why there weren't dead shifters everywhere was that
the shifters themselves were being careful about how they took the
blows from the creature. Either way, they weren't winning this
fight. Anita looked for Willow again. Didn't the redhead say she
had a plan or something?

Because now would be a good time for it.

*****

Richard felt the beginning of it flare up through the marks.
At first he thought it was Anita, pulling out yet another frightening
trick to defeat their latest foe. The events with Chimera were fresh
in his mind so he was a bit shocked to pick Anita out of the crowd,
looking just as bewildered as he was.

Well, if he wasn't doing it and Anita wasn't doing it, that
left Jean-Claude. Who Richard had last seen with Willow . . .

The Ulfric snorted to himself. So that's what her plan was.
She had banked on Anita showing up despite her warnings to stay
away. Willow had known it and then planned her attack around that.

Smart little witch.

*****

D'Zanon snarled in the faces of those shifters throwing
themselves at it. A hand reached out, gripping one of the wolves by
the neck. Its grip quickly released after another wolf bit its arm
until it let go. D'Zanon let out a roar; knocking both offending
wolves almost twenty feet back.

The sounds of her chanting reached its ears almost
immediately. D'Zanon turned, seeing that the witch had managed to
get herself behind it. She was attempting some sort of vanquishing
spell, a weak one at that.

D'Zanon let out a roar of amusement, reaching the witch
quickly and grasping her by the arm. Another quick movement of its
limbs sent all the near wolves crashing into the ranks behind them,
starting a chain reaction of collapse.

D'Zanon returned its attention to the redhead, kneeling over
so its lips were near her ear.

"This is the price you pay for defiling my goddess."

It reared back with its fist, plunging its claws into her
abdomen, causing her to gasp in shock. D'Zanon threw back its head,
growling with triumph as it sucked the witch's power away from her.
The magic began to fill its body immediately, a great sense of power
washing over the demon.

And then it realized the problem.

D'Zanon dropped the witch, stumbling back from her as it
tried to fight the magic now coursing through its body. Willow fell
to the ground, bleeding from the wounds on her stomach, but a
triumphant smile on her face.

"Got you twice now, you bastard."

D'Zanon roared with rage, red eyes filling with immense hate
for the witch. It tried to move closer to her, but found its limbs
incapable of movement. D'Zanon sank to its knees, feeling the
undesired magic wash over its entire body, finding its centre at its
heart.

The demon gave one more roar before it exploded into a
thousand pieces.

*****

Epilogue

Jean-Claude had agreed to her plan quickly. It hadn't taken
much convincing, since he could see the fruitlessness of a physical
attack just by the way D'Zanon was waving off the wolves as mere
annoyances, not threats. The Master of the City had seen the good in
her suggestion, though he hadn't been sure he wanted to give her such
power over him.

"Fine then," she had stated. "Send Asher to hold Xander. If
I do anything to you, of the bad variety, tell Asher he can kill him."

That sealed the deal, for even the vampire knew the deep-
seated love she had for her best friend. They had made their way
quietly behind D'Zanon while the fight raged on. Jean-Claude hid in
the shadows while Willow made sure her presence was felt. As soon as
the demon turned on her, the witch had grasped his hand, sending him
a final mental reassurance.

*This will work. *

And it had. She had tricked the large demon not once, but
twice. First, she made it believe Ethan was calling it to form. And
though D'Zanon hadn't been upset by her appearance there, that hadn't
been the end of her plan. The witch had planned for Anita's defiance
of her wishes, expecting the rather large army to show up like it
had. And she had used that to her advantage as well.

When D'Zanon reached to draw her power out of her body,
Willow latched onto Jean-Claude's essence and warped the exchange.
What D'Zanon had actually been drawing out of Willow had not been the
magic of a witch, but the cold death of a vampire.

She had killed D'Zanon by filling him with death. It was a
neat trick.

Anita, of course, had been furious with the witch. Being
left out of the loop had not pleased the Executioner one bit. And
she had liked it less when Xander told her rather rudely to just deal
with it. Those two still weren't getting along, though no one ever
expected them to in the first place.

Willow, she was still too much of an enigma for everyone
involved. Jean-Claude had congratulated the redhead on her defeat of
the demon and then promptly asked her to discontinue her work with
the Circus. She hadn't been all that surprised. Willow had too
easily been able to access his essence, to steal his life, well un-
life, force and use it for her own means. The Master of the City
didn't want anyone with that kind of power over him too close by.

At least he let her stay in the city. Though she did have to
come in to report to Jean-Claude every now and then, giving her
promise of neutrality now that she was in his city.

He probably wouldn't have been able to chase her out even if
he wanted to. Richard, upon the end of the battle, had told-not
asked-Willow that she would be the pack's new vargamor. She hadn't
really contested the matter, knowing she owed Richard a lot for not
demanding more of her after she basically tortured Paris on lupanar
grounds. Even though she had used the flimsy excuse of extracting
revenge on Xander's behalf, she knew that if he had wanted to,
Richard could have pushed the issue and gotten her into a hell of a
situation.

Besides, she liked all the little wolfies. They were kind of
cute, shifted or not. That and she owed Richard for taking care of
Ethan. The little bastard wouldn't be causing any more grief for
them for a little while. Kind of difficult to cause problems when
you're in government custody for being an illegal alien.

Xander adjusted to life as a werewolf the same way he did
everything else, with a cutting sense of humour. While he was still
offending some people, Xander was quick to learn the whole business
of the pack and who not to offend. Though Anita never did seem to
get very high on that list.

He kept his employment under Jean-Claude, stating quite
happily that he had to be the breadwinner now that Willow was
unemployed. That earned him a whack on the head from the redhead,
after which he sheepishly apologized. But he did stay on at Guilty
Pleasures, his beast liking being around so many others of
supernatural origins.

Though he still refused to strip for Jean-Claude.

Willow, well, she was okay. More or less anyway. She was
still kind of dealing with the after effects of what she had done.
After all, none of this mess would have even started if she hadn't
gone off the deep end like she had after Tara's death. The aftermath
of D'Zanon's death brought a much more sullen attitude to the witch,
one that alarmed Xander so much that he called in an old friend of
theirs called Giles. The man had arrived and stayed only one week
before Willow was able to resume a somewhat more cheered attitude.
She hadn't completely gotten over it, but she was in the process of
doing so.

Nathaniel helped in that department a lot. The wereleopard
could not be forced from the witch's side unless it was for work or
obligations to the pard. He all but moved into Xander and Willow's
apartment, something neither owner minded but Anita hadn't been too
sure about. But after a while, even the Nimir-ra had to give in and
admit things seemed to be working out for Nathaniel, so why jinx it?

All in all, not happily ever after, because that was myth
created some odd hundred years ago to make people feel better. There
were still hardships and often heartaches. Things were still argued-
like Nathaniel's need for pain during sex. Willow would not give in,
refusing to hurt her `kitten' as Xander called him in any way. There
had been disputes over that, even arguments. But an understanding
was reached, involving a minor amount of handcuffs and whips.

But let's not get into that. All you need to know is that it
ended, kind of happily too. What more could you want out of a story?

The End
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The authors own nothing. Joss, UPN, WB, etc. own Buffy, the show, the characters, the places, and the backstory. The authors own any original plots.