They arrived at the campus several minutes later in a flurry of squealing brakes and burning rubber. Turning into the parking lot outside the Science building, Buffy and Giles grabbed up their assorted weapons and leapt from the car. They fought their way against the river of frightened students fleeing across the campus, backtracking through the mob to a courtyard area behind the tall brick building. It didn’t take long to deduce the source of the demon’s main attack. There was plenty of screaming to point them in the right direction, and an obtrusive black cloud of smoke billowing up from a fiery pyre to mark the exact spot.

A quick flash of red off to one side caught Buffy’s eye. She turned, and saw Willow and Tara wending a convoluted course through the mass exodus of terrified students. The red head and her companion were being rudely buffeted this way and that, but they managed to hang on to each other. Eventually they blustered across the flowing throng, popping out of the running crowd to join the slayer and her Watcher where they waited off to the side of the destruction.

“Wow! You guys sure made good time getting here,” Willow remarked with some amazement.

Her comment prompted a harried look from the slayer. “Yeah, well, Speed Racer here took the Elm Street short cut.”

“But...” the red head puzzled, frowning. “I thought Elm Street was closed for repairs.”

“Only the street,” Buffy replied, shooting a pointed glare toward her Watcher. “Apparently, the sidewalks are still open. Remind me to tell you about it later. So, what’s up with the demons?”

“They decided to take the mayhem inside,” Willow said, waving an arm toward the brick building behind them. “Tara and I have been keeping an eye on them, from a safe distance, of course,” she quickly added, heading off a worried look from her friend. “So far, they’ve ripped up all the classrooms and labs on the first floor, and now they’re working their way through the second.”

Her dialogue was interrupted as a window above their heads suddenly shattered, and a shower of jagged glass particles came raining down. Luckily, no one was hurt by the fallout, and the group quickly relocated, ducking back under the protective shelter of the building behind them where they could watch in relative security as the continuing cascade of chairs, paperclips and papers crashed and fluttered to the ground around them.

A thick, brown portfolio came rocketing down, landing at Willow’s feet. Bursting open, it proceeded to spill out its contents, the once neatly organized pages scattering everywhere in the light breeze. Most were soon lost, trampled beneath the thundering feet of escaping students, but one lone sheaf whirled dizzily within the invisible updraft eddy that seemed to presently hug the science building.

Reaching out a hand, Willow adeptly snatched the dancing paper out of mid-air. As she automatically began to scan the print, her eyes flew wide, her mouth twisting in outrage.

“Those...those stupid demons!” she sputtered, her anger broiling indignantly as she glared up at the broken window overhead.. “They’re tearing apart Professor Eiseman’s office. Look!” She thrust the crumpled page in her hand under her wiccan companion’s face. “These are our assignment sheets from Monday’s lab. He must be grading them.”

Tara frowned, squinting at the paper with its tiny, chicken-scratch scrawling and suspicious looking coffee stain rings. “Well, I sure hope neatness doesn’t count toward part of the grade,” she chortled, brushing back a fallen lock of her long, blonde hair. “Or Mike Valiente’s looking at some heavy extra credit to bring up that grade.”

“Valiente?” Buffy scowled, her nose wrinkling reflectively. “Wasn’t he in our psych class first semester? Beefy jock-type, bad mullet, wore a lot of camo stuff?”

“Yup, that’s him,” Willow confirmed.

“So, he actually managed to make it through the first year, huh?” she said, grinning. “As I recall, you bet me five bucks he’d flunk out. Looks like it’s time to pay up, girl.”

Willow pouted, squirming defensively. “Let’s not be too hasty here,” she challenged. “He hasn’t graduated yet. And if this grade’s any indication of how he’s doing, I doubt we’ll be seeing him in a cap and gown any time soon.”

“Fine. Be a bet welcher,” the slayer replied, feigning annoyance with her friend. But there was an uncomfortable hint of jealousy underlying the humor of her teasing. “ I just hope you’re not counting on me dying again so you can wriggle your way off the hook on this one, ‘cause we both know that isn’t going to stop me from collecting.”

A punctuating cough interrupted the two girls’ banter.

“Yes, well...” Fidgeting impatiently, Giles fixed his droll scowl on the slayer and the red-headed witch. “As pleased as I am with your efforts toward securing Buffy’s financial future, I believe we have a more urgent problem at hand that requires our attention at this moment.” He lifted his gaze toward the window above, where the growling and crashing noises continued to rumble unabated.

“Right...demons,” Buffy nodded, acceding his argument. “Guess it’s time we stopped sitting around on our butts and started kicking theirs.”

The courtyard was nearly empty by now. Only a few remaining students and teachers continued to straggle out of the science building, stumbling past the Scoobies in an agitated daze as the foursome boldly approached the main entry.

Leading the way across the threshold, Buffy stepped over a pair of large metal doors that lay on the floor. The steel reinforced barriers had been ripped off their hinges, and the once smoothly painted surfaces were now marred by dozens of scratches, deep open gashes, and multiple dimpled fist marks that bore testament to the unnatural brute strength of her demonic quarry.

“Wow! I bet these guys would make a killing peddling stuff door to door,” the slayer quipped as she glanced at a particularly impressive depression that exhibited four distinct knuckle ridges. “It’s not like you could ignore the opportunity when they come a knockin’.”

A chorus of resounding thumps overhead negated any need for cautionary stealth as the intrepid demon hunters made their way up the empty hallway toward the staircase that would take them up to the second floor. The foursome gingerly picked their way through the jumbled obstacle course of upturned desks and broken chairs, moving past classroom after classroom that had been wrecked and ransacked by the destructive horde. Behind her, Buffy could hear Willow and Tara debating various magic strategies as their feet crunched across a puddle of shattered glass particles. Tara was suggesting a spell that would protect the group from attack, while Willow was lobbying for the idea of a tactical assault, and was doing her best to convince her shyer companion of the inherent wisdom that lay in a good offense.

Mounting the staircase, the group climbed the broad marble steps to the building’s second level. Creeping up the dimly lit hallway, they paused outside one of the many lab rooms. The scene inside that met their eyes had obviously been visited by either the recent double-edged whammy of a full scale earthquake and a tornado combined, or a posse of vandalizing demons.

There were no monsters visible among the cluttered refuse littering the lab, so the foursome moved on to the next room. It, too, was a disastrous wreck of interior rearrangement, as were the three classrooms that followed. A reverberating crash from the lab directly across the hall alerted the demon hunters to their quarry’s present location, and in a hurried scrabble the foursome approached the doorless lab and rushed into the room, weapons raised, ready to do battle.

The element of surprise provided the Scoobies with an initial edge, but the advantage was all too brief. Buffy did a quick head count, her tally coming up with an even dozen of the creatures. Striking down the two closest demons, she swiftly decapitated them with her sword, and had managed to chop an arm off a third before the rest of the monster gang finally caught on to the idea they were under attack. Then suddenly it was a free-for-all, with beakers flying and monsters running everywhere. The four Scoobies bravely retaliated in kind. Fanning out to various corners of the room, they proceeded to divide and conquer, each in their own unique way, taking on the crew of destruction minded demons in a practiced and almost systematic order.

Buffy, the most experienced, jumped directly into the middle of all the action. The demons were strong, and amazingly nimble considering their prodigious bulk. They dodged and ducked most of her sword thrusts, but she did get in a few good stabs, and drew quite a bit of blood, as well as plenty of angry sounding screeching. One or two monsters managed to get in a good lick, though Buffy was able to swiftly shake off the effects of their blows for the most part. She would have plenty of bruises to show for it later, but for now, she forced herself to set aside the pain, and continued to hack and slash her way through the very thick of the monster throng.

Retreating behind a weighty lab table, Tara and Willow clasped hands and joined their magic powers in a spell casting. The collaboration increased the potency of their individual incantations, and the results were both colorful and spectacular on several layers. A thunderstorm of glowing energy bolts shot across the room, hitting several of the demons and deflecting them away from their friend. Immediately this evened the fighting odds in the slayer’s favor. Unfortunately, it also inflamed the affected demons’ tempers, and in a snorting rage, the three monsters charged at the pair of witches. A rapidly mumbled recitation threw up a fast and effective protective barrier that blocked the trio’s assault, but the creatures were as persistent as they were strong, and continued to batter their fists at the invisible wall of magic, hoping that brute force might eventually defeat its impenetrable defenses.

Between swings of her blade and fending off demon blows, Buffy took a moment to check out her Watcher in action. Normally, she could trust the Brit to look out for himself. Giles was fairly handy with a sword, and years of training and sparring with a slayer kept him fit and on his toes. But what with his recent metamorphosis and some of the accompanying uncharacteristic behavior that had popped up during the last twenty-four hours, she had some concerns about how he might fare in a battle situation.

She needn’t have worried. Giles was holding his own quite well against a pair of rampaging demons. In fact, he was doing better than his usual. He was sheer poetry in motion, his sword singing as it sliced and swished through the air. Giles appeared completely unfazed by his bulkier foes' strength, countering their heavy punches with swift, agile kicks and well-timed thrusts with his weapon. When one of the demons threw a large glass container at his head, the Englishman deftly jumped out of the way, leaping to the safety of a nearby table top. There he danced precariously, hopping over pieces of lab equipment, his feet treading between racks of delicate test tubes and glass beakers, and never once misstepping to break anything or tip it over.

A loud whoosh whistling toward her head brought Buffy’s attention back around to her own assailants. She ducked, avoiding a lab stool as it came sailing though the air past her cheek, then popping up like a spring, she whipped around in a one foot spin, striking out with her right heel to clock her attacker. The monster immediately folded over, crashing amidst of a pile of tangled plastic tubing. With a garbled roar, the beast began to flounder, thrashing about helplessly, but it was unable to move out of the way fast enough as the slayer touched her weight down briefly, then switching her balance to the opposite foot, swung her leg back around and connected solidly with its head.

As the beast collapsed in a limp sprawl, Buffy sprang upward, and managed to dive over a second attacker that came rushing at her in a thunderous tackle. Several minutes of dodging and pummeling followed, and ended with the demon lying unconscious atop its prone companion. Then it was on to the next unlucky target of her slayer wrath, and the one after that...

Somewhere between dispatching her fifth and sixth opponent, Buffy snuck another peek at her Watcher. Giles was still bouncing about energetically, adroitly jumping from table to table, vaulting over the heads of his frustrated assailants and staying tantalizingly just beyond their reach as they lobbed various bits of lab equipment his way. There was a devilish grin on the Brit’s face as evaded the erratic barrage of projectiles thrown at him, and though she couldn’t swear to it, Buffy thought she might have heard Giles actually giggling. Whatever the sound was, it stopped when one of the missiles chanced to find his shoulder, and shattering, left behind a sinister splotch of purple wetness to stain his shirt.

“Now, that was completely uncalled for,” the Brit grumbled, frowning peevishly as he picked at his soiled garment, pulling it away from his flesh underneath. His ire only grew when material suddenly began to disintegrate within his fingers, melting in a sulfurous smelling poof of smoke. With a loud whoop, Giles began to twist and wriggle, as if his skin were on fire. Which it was. The chemical soaking his clothing had been some type of caustic acid, and as it melted through his outerwear it reacted violently upon the tender surface beneath, causing it to smolder as well.

“Yeeeoooow! Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” Giles writhed in obvious pain, his only thought to rid himself quickly of the source of his discomfort. Never releasing his hold on his sword, he continued to kick and swipe at the heads of his surrounding foes as he awkwardly worked at removing his sweatshirt. If the entire predicament weren’t so fraught with danger, Buffy might have laughed at her Watcher’s comical antics, but the life and death reality of their situation kept her sober as she leaped to her friend’s rescue, and helped by keeping the demon army at bay while Giles struggled to strip off his acid stained shirt.

A spark of blue light flashed, and Buffy saw a strange glow settle over the room. She glanced over at Tara and Willow, huddled off to one side, alone in their corner. The girls were concentrating intensely, linked in some silent, wiccan communion. As they began chanting, a sparkling aura surrounded the pair, lighting the room’s already bright interior. Buffy could feel an electrical flush tingling through her body, as if the very atmosphere around her were being charged with a powerful energy, which it was. As Willow and Tara finished muttering their spell, the electrical halo around them intensified, and gathered into a whirling cloud of light that slowly rose to hover above their heads. Suddenly, a jagged bolt struck out from the cloud’s center, the air sizzling as it jumped across the room. It struck a demon that had been clawing at Buffy’s ankles, and with a pitiful howl, the beast released her, jumping back as if it had been hit with the business end of a cattle prod.

Buffy grinned, and sent her witch friends an encouraging thumbs up. As she returned to her fighting, additional light bolts flashed around the room, finding various demon targets. An ear-splitting chorus of yowls and shrieks punctuated the grunts and growls of the ongoing melee, and all but drown out the grumbled swears that continued to fall unabated from the Watcher’s lips as he divided his attention between battling his attackers and removing his acid-scorched shirt.

As a particularly colorful string of adjectives assaulted Buffy’s ears, she felt herself blushing, and wondering how Giles’ even knew about such a thing, and whether the action he had described were actually physically possible. Glancing over her shoulder between punches, she witnessed the Brit pulling off the offending sweat top, and even though she had seen him in a similar state of undress only the night before, she couldn’t help but stare at her half-naked Watcher, her jaw dropping in awed admiration as his huge wings suddenly unfurled and spread out in all their feathered glory.

There was no other word to describe the winged creature before her but gorgeous. Buffy had always considered Giles an attractive man, though she would have died rather than ever admit as much to his face. He was way older than she was, and though she would never think of dating a man almost as old as her own father, if truth be told, her Watcher had aged quite gracefully. It wasn’t so much that the passage of time had decayed and worn his body. Instead, it was more like he had acquired a fine patina of life. Giles was like a precious antique, his beauty and value rising with each added decade of existence. The silver gracing his temples was very distinguished, as were the strong character lines that shaped his features with such handsome definition, and if she weren’t so uptight about the obvious “Lolita” associations, she might have actually entertained the older Brit as eligible boyfriend material.

But now, with his re-trimmed demonic figure and those fluttering wings, all her former reservations suddenly tottered precariously between the realms of “no way” and “maybe I was being a little too hasty there”. Though Giles wasn’t any younger than he had been a week ago, she found herself seeing him in a different light. With a reluctant sigh, she momentarily diverted her eyes from the angelic vision before her to deal with a demon that held a stool over her head in a threatening menace. Leaping upward, she threw out a leg in a high kick, smashing the chair as it descended, the shattered bits scattering in a harmless shower of splinters around her. In mid-air she twisted, and slashed out with her heel again, smashing the jaw of her opponent and sending him staggering backward to crash into a second onrushing demon. The pair toppled over together, falling directly into a pack of charging companions behind them. This set up a chain reaction, and like dominoes in a line, demons began crashing right and left, tripping over themselves as they scrambled to get out of the way of what had become a Stooge-like choreographed disaster.

Between the wiccans’ magic attacks, and Buffy’s inadvertent game of “Bowling With Demons”, the number of conscious adversaries had been significantly reduced from the original dozen to a more manageable five or six. The odds were suddenly looking very good for the remaining Scoobies. Buffy’s only grew more confident in her supposal as she saw her Watcher thrust with his sword, and skillfully incapacitate an opponent that had dared to get too close.

As the skewered demon vented its rage in a gargled, agony filled death howl, a strange transformation seemed to come over the Brit. It wasn’t a physical mutation of any kind, though the slayer had no doubt that what she was witnessing wasn’t imagined. Giles’ face didn’t visibly morph out into bumps and ridges like a vampire, nor did his body turn green, or swell with steroid-like muscles like the Incredible Hulk. The change was there, however. It burned in Giles’ eyes. Limpid pools that had once shone with a gentle jade-like intelligence were now hardened, glinting with all the fiery hardness of a predatory hawk. And as Buffy stood helplessly by, gaping in frozen shock, her once staid and gentlemanly mentor tossed back his head, and drawing in a deep, pectoral flexing breath, let loose with an impressive, bone-rattling demonic cry.

The noise that sprang forth from Giles’ throat was nothing less than inhuman. It was a mix of blood-lusting roar and gloating crow, and the sound fairly reverberated off the walls of the lab room, ringing back in an echo of such piercing volume that caused Buffy to wince, and cover her ears. With a warbling chirp, the Watcher’s Xena-like trill finally died away, and Giles turned his gaze on the brutish demons gathered around him. A rakish, maniacal grin burst across his face, and with rapture glazed eyes, he raised his bloodied weapon, the long blade flashing, backlit by a band of sunlight that had penetrated one of the broken windows. Then in the next heartbeat, the Brit launched himself from his lofty perch, and leaping into the very heart of the small mob, started swinging his sword in broad, powerful strokes, slashing at his foes without mercy, like some berserker gone psychotic in a mindless trance.

It was a frightening sight to behold. In her tenure as The Chosen One, Buffy had seen her share of gore and wanton killing sprees, but the frenzy that had seized Giles paled in comparison to any foe she had ever faced. The Watcher fought with a raging passion, as if the pain and destruction he inflicted were merely some kind of foreplay to a greater act. With one swish of his blade he decapitated two of the demons, their headless necks spurting up twin geysers that drenched his half-naked torso in a gruesome baptism of blood. A forward thrust impaled a third demon, while a series of violent kicks and bare-knuckled blows swiftly rendered a fourth bruised and, for the moment at least, disabled.

A sensation akin to panic seized Buffy as she watched the Englishman hack and slash another demon to its knees. This “thing” couldn’t possibly be Giles. Granted, her Giles knew a thing or two about fighting. She was also aware of the hidden potential for danger that brewed deep beneath the civilized veneer of the man, the “Ripper” that he kept submerged and restrained within himself. She had seen what could happen when that part of Giles surfaced, and it had her profound respect. But this? This wasn’t Ripper. This was pure deviltry, a demonic possession that had gripped her Watcher. Giles had been consumed by a blood-lusting thirst, an evil that had made him into a raving beast that enjoyed pounding its victims into a pulpy mass of submission, and it truly frightened her to see how much delight he seemed to be taking in the accomplishment of that task.

Finishing off his foe with a skull crunching blow from his sword hilt, Giles whirled on his heel like an insane dervish to face his next challenge. The utter wildness Buffy saw in his eyes chilled her blood, and the slayer realized instinctively that with each kill her Watcher was losing touch with his human self. Whatever demon Giles had become had managed to find its hold at last, and if she didn’t do something to stop this blood letting orgy of his, and soon, her friend might not ever recover to any reasonable point of “human” recognition.

There was only one way she knew how to save Giles. Pulling herself together, Buffy charged toward her Watcher. He had just begun an attack on another of the demons, and was using his fists to batter the beast senseless. Of course, the demon wasn’t defenseless. It fought back, blocking the Brit’s determined punches, and connecting with a few of its own. Sharp claws snagged at Giles’ face, raking shallow gashes across one cheek. With a cawing yowl the Englishman struck with his blade, but missed his target as a blonde blur rushed past, and tackled the demon, knocking it beyond the singing arc of his blade.

Though it went against every principle she had, Buffy decided that it might be wiser to bring the ongoing battle to a quick end, even though that might entail allowing the demons a chance to escape. Hopefully, the creatures would forget about whatever venture had brought them out in the first place, or at least think twice about whether it was really worth facing the slayer again. A tiny twinge of conscience nagged at her as she tossed her opponent out a broken window, but she dismissed the feeling, telling herself that it was more important she protect Giles from himself. Besides, the demons hadn’t actually been directly responsible for killing anyone so far as she could tell, and those people who had been hurt were mostly victims of their own blind panic.

Peering out the window ledge, Buffy watched the demon plummet to the pavement below. It landed with a quaking thud, and for a moment lay stunned, unable to move. A piteous groan told her that the creature was still very much alive, and after a moment, the demon managed to lumber to its feet, and then staggered about for a few unsteady steps before finally limping off across the empty courtyard to make its escape.

The ringing twang of metal against metal drew the slayer’s attention back to the action that continued to unfold behind her. Giles was embroiled in a duel with a demon wielding a length of lead pipe. The two assailants parried and sliced at each other, Giles’ sword drawing blood, while his opponent wrenched a breathless grunt from the Brit with the strategic thump of iron against his rib cage. Once again Buffy leapt across the room, scurrying to rescue her Watcher. She snatched up the chopper she had dropped earlier, and threw herself at the demon, her weapon aimed at the creature’s neck. But she came up short of her mark as suddenly her legs skidded out from beneath her, and she fell, crashing to the ground on her belly in a puddle of spilled chemicals and slippery demon innards.

An instant later she felt the crushing weight of a demon across her back. Kicking and pounding, she rolled onto her side, and wriggled out from beneath her heavy opponent. Shoving the creature backward, she managed to maneuver her blade between them, and with a short, sideways slash, she sliced open its belly, adding another helping of goo and guts to the mess already on the floor.

An arc of magical light jumping overhead told her that Willow and Tara were still in the game with her. The witches had captured one of the three remaining demons, and were holding it at bay within some sort of energy corral. Unfortunately, the effort it took to contain the rampaging beast was draining their strength fast, and it didn’t look like they could keep the big mojo going for very much longer.

But luckily, they did provide Buffy with enough time to deal with the other two demons. The slayer recognized one of the remaining creatures as the adversary whose arm she had severed during her initial charge into the lab. It seemed to remember her, too, and not with anything that could be mistaken for fondness. Snarling, the beast shook its abbreviated stump menacingly in her direction. The raw flesh looked nasty, and wept an unpleasant looking dribble of dark fluids, but either this particular species of demon had a much higher developed tolerance for pain, or whatever gray matter that functioned as its brain had been disconnected from the nerve receptors within the damaged limb, for the monster seemed oblivious to its ugly wound, and even attempted to use its damaged stub as a club, smashing it backhanded across her face as it came at her in a blundering attack.

The force of the blow caught Buffy by surprise, but only briefly. She skillfully blocked the creature’s next swing with her weaponless forearm, repeating the move to avoid an additional barrage of sharp clawed swipes that followed as well. Thankfully, the demon a bit on the slow side, both in its motion and its mental capabilities, and a few minutes of dodging and kicking reduced her tiring foe to near collapse. As the panting demon folded over, she brought her chopper into play, and with one swift downward stroke, she separated its bowed head from the rest of its torso. The thick skull bounced away, rolling across the floor several feet until it came to a final rest against a nearby desk. For a moment the beast’s eyes blinked, staring up a Buffy in almost comical surprise, as if it hadn’t yet figured out what had happened. Then death’s mask fell over the crude features, telling the slayer that the puny brain inside had finally caught up with reality, and with a fading light, the eyes began to glaze over, accepting the inevitable fate of its owner at last.

Whirling around on her heel, Buffy raced back across the room to where Giles was engaged in his own fight with a demon. Somewhere along the line, the Brit had either lost or abandoned his weapon, she wasn’t sure which. Either way, it didn’t seem much to matter. He was doing quite well with just his bare fists. As she leapt into the middle of the ongoing slugfest, the Watcher barely seemed to acknowledged her presence, his knuckles never breaking their rhythm as he continued to pound on his demon opponent. In fact, she wasn’t sure that he was aware of her at all until she noticed that he had made a subtle adjustment to his attacks, pulling or redirecting the occasional punch in an effort to avoid hitting her when she got too close to the action. It was a small concession, but she took the concerted caution as a positive sign. Giles wasn’t too far gone. Not yet, anyway. Though by the wild look of his eyes, and the state of his bruised, bloody fists, he was definitely approaching a line of no return, and fast.

A sense of desperation drove the slayer as she attempted to separate the two determined assailants. Neither Giles nor his adversary, however, was being very cooperative as she struggled to tear them apart without getting her own clock rung in the process. The brutish demon showed no more restraint against wailing on her as it did with Giles, and she was forced to do a fair share of ducking and defensive blocking to keep its dangerous claws at bay. Her Watcher in the meantime seemed to grow more reckless by the second with his pummeling, his aggressiveness now closely bordering on the precarious edge of a frenzied blood lust. It was nearly impossible to see what was going on around her, what with the blur of arms and legs sweeping back and forth and the constant flapping of Giles’ wings in her face. In spite of her heightened slayer reflexes, she was eventually caught by an errant fist and thrown back, landing unceremoniously on her bottom amid a pile of scattered textbooks on the floor.

Dazed, the slayer shook her head, clearing away the bright stars that danced in her vision. A quick replay of the event in her head told her that it had been Giles’ fist that had connected with her jaw, and she let out an astonished whistle of appreciation for the amount of force that had been behind the punch that had felled her. Better add super strength to that list of new demon talents, she thought to herself, rubbing at the tender bump that had begun to swell on her chin. Hmmmm, well, that sure could make for some interesting training sessions. Why, with power like that, she could become the first slayer in history to ever get her butt whipped by her Watcher!

There was no time to waste pondering such thoughts. Giles had backed his opponent up against a lab table and had him pressed in a powerful headlock. Even as Buffy staggered to her feet and stumbled, trying to get to her Watcher, she heard the dull, sickening pop of vertebrae disconnecting within the muscled truck of an impossibly twisted neck. With a satisfied grunt, Giles released his adversary, allowing the lifeless body to slip from his blood-stained hands. As the creature flopped over onto the floor, its neck bent back on itself at an unnatural angle, announcing to all that saw it that this particular beast was no longer a threat to any world of the living.

Panting heavily, his breath wrenching in ragged, adrenaline fired gasps, the Brit cast his eager gaze over the ruin around him. He stopped as his stare alighted upon the only other demon in the room beside himself, the immobile prisoner of the two witches’ spell. In a flash he was across the lab, pouncing, his wings spread wide in a menacing mantle, beating the air as he threw himself at the magical force field. The glowing barrier shimmered, then burst into a brilliant fire, repelling the Watcher backward with a nasty jolt of energy. The magic proved itself to be as effective on the outside as it was within, protecting its detainee even as the demon continued to pound at his containment cell, trying to break out.

With a caw of rage, Giles was up again. Flinging himself back at the magic barrier, he battered the invisible field, thumping it with his clenched fists, kicking at it, even beating it with his wings. The force fluttered briefly, weakening under the dual onslaught from inside and out, but it continued to hold. By now, the two witches were completely exhausted, and Buffy realized that if either collapsed and gave in, the magic would quickly fall with them, freeing the demon within, and worse yet, allowing Giles to get at him. This was it. She had to stop this raging madness that had gripped her Watcher, shake some sense into his demon thinking head. With a determined pout, she squeezed herself between the Brit and his encapsulated adversary, and pushing him firmly back, she barked at him in her best “you’d better listen or else” voice.

“Giles! Giles, you’ve got to stop! You hear me?” She was practically yelling at the Englishman, lecturing with what she hoped was forceful urgency. “Simmer down there, Big Guy. It’s over now. We won, so chill already!”

Giles growled, obviously reluctant to reign in his fury just yet. “He’s not dead yet,” he grumbled, gesturing toward the demon behind her.

“It’s not like it’s our duty to kill every demon out there,” the blonde frowned, trying to rationalize with her Watcher.

“Since when?” he petulantly returned.

“Since now. Look, except for some admittedly excessive property damage, these guys haven’t actually done anything bad. Right? Well, okay,” she grudgingly conceded at his dubious glare. “That’s probably because we got here before they got around to executing their evil plot. And, well, they did scare a lot of people. But, there weren’t any actual fatalities. This time. So...there’s no reason to kill him.”

“He’s a demon!” the Brit scowled huffily. “That’s reason enough for me.”

“Aren’t we forgetting something?” Buffy argued, wagging a contemptuous eyebrow at her friend. “You’re a demon now, too. If we use your logic, then I should be staking you.”

Giles snorted, unable to come up with a tenable rebuttal for that argument. Frowning, he crossed his arms over his bare chest, voicing his reservations in a childish harumph. But he prudently accepted defeat in the matter, bowing out with reluctant wisdom, if not unmitigated grace.

Turning away, Giles retreated to a neutral corner of the room, submitting to his slayer’s demands with a disgruntled rumble. With a sigh, Buffy waited to make sure her Watcher had himself under control, and then nodding toward the two witches, instructed them to release the captured demon. As soon as his surrounding prison came down, the beast jumped at the blonde, but she was ready for him. Butting him in a shoulder low tackle, Buffy slammed the demon back against the wall. The creature rebounded with a dazed grunt, making a half-hearted swipe at his blonde assailant as it staggered to one side, stumbling in the direction of a broken window. A few strategically placed kicks helped him even further along toward the unconventional egress, and with a final shove, Buffy stepped back, watching with smug satisfaction as the last demon tumbled over the sill, dropping out of sight to the pavement below.

“Looks like that about wraps things up here!” the slayer cheerily announced, brushing her hands against each other to signal the end of her work. A grumble from the Watcher prompted a disapproving pout. “And we have something we wish to add?”

Giles wisely declined any further commentary.

“Good. Then what say we head on back home and see if we can find something to take care of that nasty looking burn you got there,” she said, nodding at the Watcher’s shoulder wound. “Wouldn’t want to have it go all festering on you, now, would we?. I mean, if you got sick, where would I take you? The hospital? The vet?”

“Very amusing,” the Brit returned dryly. He took a moment to check out the injury in question. Where the chemical had touched his flesh it now burned a bright, flaming pink, but to his surprise, he discovered that there was very little pain associated with the wound.

“Hmmmm, doesn’t look that bad,” Buffy said, echoing his own thoughts as she stepped in closer to inspect things for herself. She squinted, leaning forward to examine her Watcher’s chest. A small concentration of blister-like bubbles lay near the center of the afflicted patch, which had begun to weep a small amount of clear fluid. On the whole, the injury didn’t look very grim to her at all. At least, no more so than a bad case of sunburn.

Unconsciously, Buffy’s eyes started to wander. They drank in the vision of the bare expanse of muscled chest displayed before her, admiring its firm, balanced beauty. God, Giles is hot, she sighed, licking her lips hungrily. Mmmmm, I bet he would taste just yummy, too! I’d like to lick that body of his all over ‘til he begged for it. Then I’d show him just what it was he’d been asking for. Yeah, I’d take him for the ride of his life. We’d give those old bed springs a real workout, boy! Bounce ‘em ‘til they broke! Then we could...

Suddenly, Buffy became aware of what she was thinking. A warm blush filled her cheeks with embarrassed color, and she jerked back, trying to cover her self-conscious guilt with nervous babble as she backed away.

“You’re looking good.’s looking good, ” she quickly corrected, giving herself a mental slap for the Freudian slip. “Your, uhm, wound thing...there. Not too serious. Should heal just fine. Come on, guys,” she said, beckoning to the two wiccans across the room. “Let’s get out of here before someone comes by and decides to stick us with cleaning up this mess.”

“Yeah,” Willow sighed. “Besides, Tara and I have already promised Anya we’d help her straighten up the Magic Box this afternoon. I don’t know about you guys, but one unnatural disaster aftermath per week is about all my schedule can handle.”

Tara quickly nodded her agreement.

Willow giggled, and exchanged a knowing wink with her girlfriend. She’d notice the momentary look of longing that Buffy had given her Watcher, and by the barely suppressed grin that now graced Tara’s face, her witchy companion hadn’t missed it either. It was beginning to look like the slayer was beginning to come around and face the truth about their British friend, even if she wasn’t ready to admit it just yet.

Passing a brief kiss between them, Willow and Tara linked hands once again, and falling into step behind the blonde slayer, made their way across the rubble strewn room. Giles gathered up the stray weaponry, and then bringing up the rear, hurried to catch up with the others as they tromped out of the demolished lab and turned down the hallway. The foursomes’ footsteps rung hollowly in tiled corridors, the only sound of life now stirring within the empty science building. As they stepped out into the bright afternoon sunshine, the slayer glanced around the courtyard, and was glad to note that not one of the marauding demons had bothered to stick around and finish off their fight. Her work here was done.

Buffy breathed a contented sigh. It was time to go home, take a nice long bubble bath and soak her aching body. Maybe there was even still some of the Cookie Dough ice cream in the freezer from the other night. Striking off across the campus grounds, her friends obligingly dogging at her heels, she headed toward the parking lot where Giles had left his car. She could certainly use a good calorie laden pig out to help take her mind off of things. It had been one crazy day for her. For everyone. And by the looks of things, it didn’t promise to get any saner as long as her Watcher remained a demon.

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