CHAPTER THREE

Reaching into the back seat Giles collected his leather weapons satchel, and with a grunt, slid out from behind the Citroen’s wheel. Closing the old vehicle’s door as quietly as possible, he eased his tall frame between the car and the dumpster, and with Buffy falling in at his side, crossed the dark alley to the neglected looking office building. A tall fence enclosed the property, effectively shielding the yard beyond from casually prying eyes. There was also a gated entrance enforced by a lock and formidable looking chain, a security measure designed to discourage unwanted intruders, but a mere impediment to a slayer and Watcher bent on gaining access to the back lot.

Assessing the lock Buffy gave it a quick, hard snap of her wrist. The ineffectual obstruction broke in her hand and she unthreaded the device from the metal chain, casually tossing both into an open trashcan sitting a few feet away. Giles took little notice of the girl’s unusual display of strength, having witnessed it countless times before. Buffy’s slayer super powers often came in handy during these occasional breaking and entering operations.

Moving cautiously into the enclosed yard the two trespassers made their way through a scattered littering of empty boxes and fast food wrappers that had escaped the trashcan on the other side of the fence. Buffy led the way toward a pile of wooden pallets stacked high to one side of the building’s back door. Above a light was coming through the high, long windows, suggesting that the room beyond was occupied. Pausing at the base of the man made mountain before her the teen could make out the muffled mutterings of several voices coming from inside the old building.

With an effortless leap Buffy mounted a sort stack of jumbled lumber, climbing the rest of the way up the perilously teetering structure of pallets to perch at its top. Slowly she inched her face toward one of the windows to peer through it. It had been some time since the glass has seen the benefit of soap and water, but she managed to clear away enough dirt with her sleeve to make out the interior of the small room below her. Furnished with file cabinets, a desk, several chairs and dozens of boxes she guessed it to be some kind of combination office space and storage area that serviced the business leasing the store out front. And judging by the cheap décor of flimsy paneling on the walls and peeling paint she decided that the place wasn’t making very much of a profit, or at least it’s owners didn’t seem to think it worth investing what they made in their employees’ comfort or surroundings.

Five men were gathered in a tight circle at the small office’s farthest corner. Instinct told Buffy that four of the figures were vampires. The creatures’ outdated choice in clothing and ugly, distorted facial features easily gave them away. The fifth man, however, was a bit different that the others. Short, thin and balding, he looked like a fairly normal human being, or what might pass for normal in a world where people wore loud, ridiculously garish suits and tacky ties. Buffy thought the man’s taste in fashion was too flashy for his obviously advanced years, which she generously estimated to be somewhere between sixty and death.

Giles’ strained whisper called up to her from below. “What do you see?”

She gestured silently for the Watcher to come up to have a look. Dropping his bag on the ground the Brit proceeded to climb the rickety pile of lumber, picking his way up the stack of crates with exaggerated caution. The teen extended a hand to her mentor, assisting him up the last few unsteady feet to her side. There, tottering precariously before the window, Giles peered through the grimy opaque pane and eavesdropped on the scene unfolding in the room below.

The human Buffy mentally tagged as a salesman had a very sizable black case in his possession. In spite of his slight stature the man carried the heavy box with very little effort. Totally indifferent to the mutant-like faces of his clientele it was as if he dealt with the undead every day in his line of work. Buffy wondered how he could be so blase about the hideous creatures gathered around him. Any one of the vampires could have wiped out the fragile looking human with one well-aimed blow, yet the salesman showed no apparent signs of fear toward the monsters.

Placing his black case on a desk the salesman unlatched its front doors and swung them open to stand the box like a book on its end. Revealing the interior with its many compartments he chose a drawer, drawing it out to show off its contents. Dark velvet lined the portable shelf, the rich material setting off the objects inside, each of which glittered and sparkled like so many diamonds. And rubies and emeralds, too! Buffy realized in amazement that the box was a jeweler’s travelling display case. Packed full to overflowing with what looked to be thousands of dollars worth of valuable inventory the salesman’s cache was the mother lode of dreams come true for the gem-dazzled teen.

“I think you’ll be very pleased with the merchandize I have to offer,” the salesman was saying as he showed off the tray of jewelry to one of his undead clients.

“Very pretty,” the vampire exclaimed, examining the dazzle of gems. He was a bearded creature with long, greasy hair and a muscular frame worthy of a body-builder, and would not have been particularly good looking even without his vamp mask. “But it’s not what I had in mind. I was told you had some unique, special pieces.”

“All my inventory is special,” the salesman replied, returning the first drawer to its place in the box. He flipped through a series of trays, displaying bracelets, necklaces, watches and rings. “I sell only the finest quality craftsmanship designed by the best artisans in their field. Occasionally I am able to procure a small collection of older pieces, antiques if you will. Ah, here we are,” he announced, reaching deep into the case to pull out yet another hidden level of drawers. “Here are some very unusual acquisitions from my private collection, gathered from around the world and reserved for those clients with more discriminating tastes.”

The vampire’s face broke into a grin, an unattractive expression that revealed his long canine fangs. Lifting a circular band from the drawer, the salesman offered it to the creature, which promptly snatched it from his hand and held it up to the light to admire. It was a collar-like torque worked in silver metal with a small, attached charm in the shape of a coiled snake. Examining the piece carefully, the vampire turned it over in his large clawed fists, running his fingers along the intricate engravings that ornamented the necklace.

“Very nice,” he praised, showing the choker to his companions. They all muttered appreciatively, inspecting the fine workmanship of the piece.

“And very old,” the salesman added. “It has magickal powers.”

“Magick?” The announcement seemed to please the creature and his fellow cohorts. Their faces became uglier, their grins wide and toothy. “What kind of magick?”

“It’s a protection collar,” the man replied. “Blessed by an ancient and powerful Norse shaman. The man who wears this into battle cannot be struck down by any forged weapon.”

The vampire grunted, tossing the piece back in the tray. Selecting a ring with a spray of blue gems he slipped it on a finger.

“What does this do?”

“That is part of a set.” Producing a small compact-like box with mirrored interior the salesman explained. “This glass allows one to see what the wearer of the ring is doing. A popular choice with suspicious lovers.”

“Anything else?” the vampire asked, removing the ring and putting it back.

“How about this?” With a showman-like flourish the salesman bought out a murderous looking knife, its golden handle ornately encrusted with dazzling jewels. “The perfect thing for those ritual sacrifices of young virgins.”

This item finally brought murmurs of approval from all four of the vampires. The man obligingly offered the dagger for inspection, and the vampires passed it back and forth among themselves, hefting the weapon and testing its weight in their hands. They seemed impressed, especially by the precious gems embedded in the knife’s hilt. When the first undead creature had the blade in his possession again, he tenderly caressed the weapon, feeling how it fit into his palm.

“Admirable craftsmanship,” the vampire remarked. “Are the jewels real?”

“You insult me, sir!” the salesman protested vainly. “Of course they are real. Everything I have is guaranteed to be the genuine article. I don’t deal in fakes.”

“Maybe I’ll take this,” the vampire said, satisfied with the man’s assurance of authenticity. Beaming at the prospect of an impending sale, the small man rubbed his hands together gleefully. In that instant Buffy thought the man resembled some small, animated creature, a squirrel or something like that, all twitchy nosed and excitable, but minus the fur, of course. She could almost imagine him running along some tree branch, chattering away as he proudly extolled the virtues of his prize collection of nuts to the other forest critters.

“Excellent!” the ecstatic salesman replied. “Now, let’s work out a price, shall we?”

The vampire’s next move was a blur that caught Buffy off her guard. His empty hand shot out and roughly grasped the salesman’s tie, drawing his intended victim closer. With lightening speed the vampire brought his other hand upward, pressing the knife’s pointed tip to the human’s throat, stopping just short of piercing the soft flesh. The creature’s hideous face was now only inches away as he flashed his fangs in a vicious, toothy snarl at the smaller man.

“How about we say your life for this pretty little thing?” the vampire growled menacingly.

To everyone’s surprise, especially those spying in through the window, the man didn’t appear in the least bit afraid. There was an uncanny serenity to his body language, and Buffy quickly reassessed her opinion of the small fellow. This was no nervous squirrel awaiting the opportunity to flee and escape, but someone who felt a confident equal to the challenge of the creature that threatened him. She watched in amazement as the man very calmly looked his burly attacker in the eye and gave the vampire a polite, gentlemanly smile.

“A fair price for such an obviously exquisite piece, I’m sure,” the man intoned sedately. “But I’m afraid I can only accept monetary compensation in exchange for my merchandise. There’s little profit in it for me otherwise. Surely you understand.”

“I understand,” the vampire smirked evilly. “But obviously you don’t. I’m taking the knife, and everything else you have. You’re not getting anything. In fact,” he sneered, his three companions crowding in closer behind him. “You just lost your life, too!”

The four vampires looked ready to rip out the small man’s throat. Buffy tensed, prepared to spring into battle at any moment. The salesman looked like he was in big time trouble with no way out. It wouldn’t take long at all for the pack of vampires to drain the blood of someone his size. But the small man remained unflappably placid, totally unconcerned by the threats being made against his life.

“An unfortunate decision,” the man was sighing as the drama continued.

“Unfortunate for you,” one of the other vampires chortled, already licking his lips hungrily in anticipation of a meal.

“For all of us,” the salesman said, never halting his sales pitch. “Because, if I die, you’ll never know about my more unique items.”

The muscled vampire hesitated. Holding the knife against the man’s throat he contemplated the human’s bold boast.

“What else you got?” he growled, his curiosity aroused.

Seeing he had the creature’s attention, the human eagerly flashed a wide grin. “A most marvelous assortment! Every one guaranteed to bring satisfaction or your money cheerfully refunded. These items come with powerful magicks. But they’re of no use without the proper spells that activate them. And those my good man are in here.” The salesman pointed to his own hairless head. “Without my personal services, which I include at no additional cost, of course, these items would be worthless trinkets, nothing more than fancy, sparkly baubles.”

The vampire mulled over his options. He was curious to know what kind of power the salesman was talking about. Deciding he could kill the little man later he released his grip, dropping his prisoner to the ground. The salesman’s smile warmed as he nonchalantly readjusted his tie, straightening his mussed clothing.

“A wise choice, my friend.” Gingerly he took the dagger from the vampire who seemed reluctant to give up his treasured prize. Tucking the knife safely back into his box, the salesman brought out two nearly identical amulets. “If you’re interested in something a little different, these might be just the thing you’re looking for. Would you care for a demonstration? No charge, of course.”

“Sure,” the vampire shrugged.

From their hidden vantage spot the eavesdroppers watched with rapt interest. Setting aside one of the amulets on the desktop the salesman palmed its twin, holding it out before him. Muttering mysteriously in a low, guttural voice he waved his hand over the disk-shaped piece with a showman’s flair for drama. It was obvious he enjoyed playing this part for his customers, and he milked the role for all it was worth.

Buffy strained to listen through the thick glass. She couldn’t understand the salesman’s mumbled words, but she’d heard Giles use enough Latin to guess that was what the man was speaking. She didn’t know if the vampires were any more aware of what was being said than she was, but the four monsters were definitely entranced by the theatrical performance the human was putting on for them. Like ugly little boys fascinated by a free magic show the undead creatures watched enraptured as the salesman-cum-magician executed an intricate display of hand movements and cast his spell.

Turning away from the action unfolding in the room below Buffy glanced toward Giles. The Brit was frowning, trying to concentrate on what the man was saying. She knew her Watcher had dabbled in magick, though his befuddled expression told her the magician’s spell wasn’t one he was familiar with. Or maybe, she thought, the librarian was just having trouble hearing. Even to her younger ears the salesman’s mutterings were barely audible through the barrier of double-glazed insulated glass.

“Boy, is this guy’s a piece of work, or what?” she snorted in an exaggerated whisper.

“He certainly is sure of himself,” Giles noted. “Didn’t seem at all concerned by their threats.”

“Maybe he’s got something in that bag of tricks of his that he can use on them,” Buffy surmised thoughtfully.

“A very astute assumption,” the librarian nodded his agreement.

Buffy frowned at Giles. “Uh, that means I’m right, right?” she asked hopefully. He nodded again and she broke into a wide grin. “Yay me!”

But Giles had been distracted by something happening in the room below. “My word!” he breathed, his eyes wide with awed wonder.

Buffy peeked through the glass, curious to see what had impressed her usually unflappable Watcher. The elderly salesman was well into his conjuring. An eerie amber glow had formed around his lower arm and the hand that held the amulet, clinging like a vaporous glove over his sleeve and flesh. The mist grew thick and opaque, then began to sparkle, reflecting the florescent light in the room and becoming gradually brighter. In his open palm the amulet pulsed with a visible energy, the stone at its center seeming to absorb the magickal energy emanating from the man. There was a quick flash of light, and the intense brilliance flooded the room, burning away every shadow and momentarily blinding everyone it touched.

Buffy blinked, trying to rid herself of the glaring green dots that danced painfully in her vision. When she could finally see straight, she noticed that the fireworks display was over. It was as if nothing had happened in the room. Once again the little man appeared to be nothing more than a perfectly normal person dressed in outlandish clothing, holding a fancy charm in his hand.

“So?” the vampire was growling in irritation, unimpressed by the fanciful display of lights. “That’s it?”

“That was merely the beginning,” the salesman replied with a sly smile. “And now…”

Rippling his fingers in a complex gesture the little man spoke some brief, unintelligible command. The amulet’s stone colored brightly for a moment, then burst forth with several pulsating winks of light. There was another illuminating flash, and suddenly a small creature appeared, hovering before the magician at eye level. It was not more than eight inches tall, and had beautiful diaphanous wings like a butterfly that it fluttered rapidly, holding itself aloft in the air.

Buffy gasped, unable to believe what her eyes were seeing. It was a miniature person with long, pale flowing hair and perfectly proportioned features, just like the pictures she remembered in the fairytale books from her childhood. She was the ideal embodiment of a tiny Tinkerbelle, right down to her doll-like dress woven from gossamer, leaves and bits of forest debris. She was simply remarkable to behold, and Buffy was in complete awe at the sight of the tiny creature.

Seemingly entranced the muscular vampire reached out a hand toward the fairy creature. She flew gracefully forward, floating as if born aloft on a puff of wind. With naïve trust she perched lightly within his open palm, regarding the larger being without fear. For a moment the vampire smiled almost humanly, staring at the tiny living thing with what looked to be amusement. Then his grin darkened, became one of evil. Buffy let out a horrified gasp as she watched the monster snap his fist shut and squeeze tightly. Blood began to ooze out from between his fingers, trickling in delicate rivulets down his forearm. With a distasteful flick of his wrist the vampire tossed the fairy’s tiny broken body to the floor, his foot stamping down to squash the remaining life from it like a bug. In a gesture that made Buffy’s stomach turn in sour disgust the vampire licked his hand clean.

“I’m not impressed by your cute little parlor tricks,” the creature snarled, lips smacking thickly as he polished off the last drops of blood from his fingertips. “Can that thing do anything else besides make snacks?”

“It can do plenty with the proper invocations,” the man explained, unphased by his client’s cruel act. “The amulet itself is merely a conduit, a tool for conveying spells. I could have conjured up any of hundreds of creatures. Unicorns, griffins, dragons. All at my command. And if that doesn’t interest you, for the right price I could endow the amulet with another incantation, any that you desire. Wine from water? No problem. Turn sawdust into gold dust? It can be done. My friend, there is simply no limit to the possibilities. You need only to imagine it and I can make it so. And I offer a lifetime guarantee on all my magick spells,” he added, pausing an instant for dramatic emphasis. “My lifetime, of course. You see, the magick remains alive only as long as I do. But you don’t have to worry about that being a problem. I come from a family with very old bloodlines and I can assure you that I’m in the best of health. So, are you interested?”

“Any magick spell?” the vampire asked, his mind considering the amulet’s potential.

“Anything,” the salesman repeated. “Spells of power, invisibility, wealth. Whatever you desire.”

The four vampires exchanged glances, talking excitedly among themselves. Their interest was definitely aroused by the thought of having such power at their command. A satisfied chuckle escaped the salesman as he realized he’d hooked his mark. The sale was a sure thing. All that he needed to work out was the price.

Outside the window Giles and Buffy had seen enough. It was time to move in and go to work. They couldn’t allow the vampires to get their hands on the amulet. With the magick charm in their possession the creatures could prove more than a match for the Watcher and his slayer.

In a graceful leap Buffy vaulted from the wood piled mountain, landing in front of the locked door below. She was about to kick down the barrier when a low voice came from the darkness behind her.

“Most people knock first.”

Every sense alert and ready to fight the teen whirled around as a figure detached from the shadowy darkness. She recognized the voice’s owner instantly. A broad grin spread across her face, the tension in her body immediately dissipating.

“Angel!” Buffy greeted her vampire boyfriend, rushing forward to meet him. “Not that I’m not glad to see you, but what brings you out here to my neck of the woods?”

“Yes,” Giles concurred as he scrambled down from the stack of wood crates to the ground. His tone had a discomforting icy edge of hardness as he confronted the vampire. “What are you doing here?”

“Heard a rumor something was going down tonight,” Angel explained. He nodded toward the door Buffy had been about to break down. “Care to fill me in?”

“Four vamps,” Buffy reponded without hesitation, eager to include her boyfriend in their plans. “Nothing special, with the possible exception of one Mr. Greasy Bignasty. He’s got some serious attitude, and the muscle to back it up. I think we can take him. No problem.

“There’s this other guy,” the teen frowned thoughtfully, continuing with the condensed version of her reconnaissance mission. “Doesn’t look like much but knows his magick. A special effects wizard in the real sense. Nothing spooks him. I’d keep an eye on him.”

“Five against three.” Angel smiled. “Not bad odds.”

“Better than five against two,” Buffy agreed. “Lucky for us you came along, isn’t it, Giles?”

“Lucky, indeed,” the Brit replied stiffly.

Angel met the Englishman’s cool gaze. The night was dark and the yard poorly lit, but he had no trouble seeing the estrangement in the other man’s eyes. It had been almost a year since he’d lost his soul and reverted to his evil persona of Angelus. It had been a time during which he had committed several heinous acts, among them the murder of Jenny Calendar and the brutal torturing of the librarian. And though he had subsequently had his soul restored and become good Angel once again, there was still a great deal of awkwardness between himself and Rupert Giles. The Brit was too polite and well mannered to show any signs of hatred outright, but Angel suspected that the only reason the man had made any attempt to accept his friendship again was because of Buffy. Giles was a loyal and dedicated Watcher. He would do anything for his slayer, and apparently that included working with the vampire that had killed his former love interest.

“I believe we were about to join the gentlemen in question,” Giles remarked, leaning down to reach inside the nearby weapons bag. Producing several sharp wooden stakes he tucked two of them into his pockets, fisting another pair in hand. After a brief, uncomfortable hesitation he extended an arm, offering one of the weapons to the vampire.

Angel had his own stake secreted in the folds of the dark duster that he wore, but he took the implement the Watcher held out to him. Buffy smiled, unmindful of the small interpersonal drama she had just witnessed. She only knew that the two most important men in her slayer life were prepared to act as her backup when she went into battle.

Resuming the position she had taken prior to Angel’s appearance Buffy lifted a leg and with a powerful kick sent her heel flying at closed door. The rectangular metal barricade itself only buckled slightly under the force, but the hinges ripped from the wooden jam, raining splinters in every direction. For a moment the door swayed slowly, then came crashing downward to fall inside the room on the floor with a thundering boom.

“So much for the element of surprise,” Giles muttered with a sigh. The teen shrugged apologetically. Nodding toward the room’s lit interior the Brit raised his weapon. “Let’s have at it then, shall we?”

Buffy sauntered into the office, casually walking across the flattened door. The two men followed her in, each moving to flank the petite blonde protectively. Stopping in the room’s center the teen boldly faced the vampire gang, showing little concern as the creatures split rank to form a semi-circle before her. Ignoring their advancing menace she turned to address the salesman.

“Boy, the Avon Lady has nothing on you, does she?” the teen queried, peering curiously into his open case. “So, can anybody buy, or is this a private sale only?”

Startled by the girl’s unexpected entrance the salesman recovered, flashing a broad smile. He bowed cordially to the pert blonde, inviting her with a cavalier sweep of his arm have a closer look at his merchandize.

“I sell to anyone for the right price, my dear,” he said, his voice oozing with cultivated politeness. “Anything in particular you would be looking for?”

“Hmmmmm! Let’s see.” Buffy continued to ignore the vampires slowly converging on her. Flipping through the trays of regular jewelry she appeared to be carefully pondering her choices as she searched for a special item.

“I like these earrings. And these, too. Oooo! And this bracelet is just to die for,” she exclaimed, fingering each piece with growing excitement. “Oh, and this one is the absolute most!” she gushed, affecting a little girl voice that caused Angel to wince in embarrassment. “You know, it’s just so hard to decide.”

“Take your time, my dear,” the salesman chuckled, pleased to have so eager a customer.

Buffy’s hand hovered a moment, her fingers closing around a shiny silver chain. “I think I’ll take…this one!”

The Slayer spun around, her arm extended toward the creatures gathering to attack her. Dangling from her hand was finely wrought cross of filigreed silver. Immediately the vampires jumped back, stumbling over each other in their haste to get away from the offending item. But Buffy’s quick turn had caused the necklace to swing out in a wide arc that slapped one of the retreating creatures in the face. The vampire let out a wounded yelp, his arms flying up protectively in front of himself.

Buffy pounced. Grabbing the vampire’s upraised hands she wrapped the silver chain around his wrists, lashing them together cowboy style. The creature howled hysterically, the cross burning into his flesh. As he doubled over in agony Buffy went into a spinning roundhouse kick, her foot slamming the creature backward into a nearby filing cabinet.

What followed next was an intense combination of kicks and punches as the girl launched an attack on the four vampires. Giles and Angel joined in the battle, both men managing to get in their share of hits. But it was Buffy who took on the bulk of the fighting. Deflecting one vampire’s rush she tossed him into a pile of boxes that promptly toppled over and spilled out reams of computer paper onto the floor. Immediately another tackled her from behind, grabbing her around the shoulders. Bending forward she threw him over her head and onto the floor in front of her. While he was down she reached into her back pocket and whipped out Mr. Pointy, the stake her friend Kendra had given to her for good luck. Thrusting the sharp stick into the vampire’s chest she aimed the point to one side of his sternum. The creature let out a gasp, the weapon piercing his unbeating heart. An instant later he exploded into a pile of decaying dust.

“One down, three to go,” the teen declared victoriously. Straightening to her petite five feet and mere inches in stature Buffy took a moment to brush a stray lock of blonde hair from her eyes. “All right, who’s next?”

A growling creature leapt at her. Buffy sent him staggering back with a high kick to the chest. He quickly recovered his footing and prepared for another charge. As his demonic yellow eyes locked with hers there was another sudden burst of dust. The vampire disintegrated and Buffy found herself looking at Angel’s face through the slowly dissipating cloud of decaying must. She gave him a smile which he acknowledged with a nod as he paused, stake in hand, before rejoining the fight.

There were only two vampires left now. One was the screeching creature she had hog-tied earlier. He had partially freed himself from his painful bondage and was busy dodging Giles’ punches, several of which had apparently already managed to hit their mark on his face. The other survivor was the greasy vamp with the enormous muscles. Buffy went for the big guy first, leaving Angel to help Giles with the screamer.

Vaulting gymnast style over a desk, Buffy snatched up a paper-filled trashcan from the floor and flung out in front of her at the attacking creature. He batted the can away easily, its contents scattering in a harmless flurry, but the momentary distraction had caused him to hesitate in his charge. It was just enough time for Buffy to prepare herself, and she lowered her shoulder, running forward to tackle the beast. She met his huge bulk, throwing all of her slim weight into her rush and toppling the beast over backwards. They crashed to the ground in a knot of thrashing limbs, the lightweight girl holding her own as they wrestled. Buffy delivered a staccato of multiple blows, receiving a few as well from her opponent. She might have been smaller, but she was extremely agile and strong for her size.

Snarling like an angry beast, the vampire finally managed to throw her to one side. Buffy rolled and did a summersault over into a flip, landing nimbly back on her feet. Quickly she turned and faced the creature again. She fell back a step, taking a fighter’s attack stance, her hands clenched into tight little fists as she did an instantaneous mental review of the situation around her.

Big Guy was struggling to get to his own feet for another try at her. Off to one side Giles was attempting to subdue the screaming vampire that had finally gotten rid of his silver bonds. The Englishman wasn’t meeting with a great deal of success. He had somehow lost his earlier advantage and the vampire had him pressed back against the wall, its mouth opened wide, teeth ready to sink into his neck. At that moment Angel rushed forward, grasping the beast and wrenching it backward, saving the Brit from an unfortunate bloodletting. But the librarian’s moment of repose was short lived. The vampire slipped free of Angel’s grasp and was striking out any anyone within arm’s reach, which unfortunately included the tiring Englishman.

A movement suddenly distracted Buffy and she glanced off toward her left to see the salesman hurriedly trying to close up the drawers of his display case. He was obviously hoping to make an unnoticed escape during the melee and avoid partaking in the physical violence. In fact, for the first time Buffy thought the little man looked scared. Maybe his powers weren’t as great as he had wanted everyone to believe, and all that fancy abracadabra stuff was just an act. He sure didn’t seem too eager to stick around and join in on the fight.

Her moment of hesitation in battle was only a matter of seconds, but Buffy felt her energy level rejuvenate during the brief rest. She turned her attention back to the big vampire on the ground before her. He was getting to his feet now, ready to leap at her, his fangs bared in anticipation of a kill. With an upward lurch of his body he threw himself at the girl. She met his sluggish attack with a foot to his face. The kick stopped his forward progress, but did not bring him to the ground. He managed to grab Buffy’s leg before she could retract it, and the blonde felt herself jerked off balance, falling against the desk at her side. She righted herself almost immediately, shoving her captured foot into the vampire’s face like a battering ram. This time she smacked her enemy in his nose, and the shocked beast released its hold, grabbing at its ugly face in pain as it let forth with a tremendous howl. Buffy kneed the vampire in its firm gut, then followed through with several rapid punches to its head that eventually knocked the creature over onto its back. She was leaning down to plunge the stake into its chest, when it twisted out from under her weapon and scrambled to its feet.

Buffy continued her downward lunge, arms extended. Her palms slapped the floor and she did a graceful cartwheel that took her out of harm’s way. She pirouetted on one heel to face the vampire just as he threw a punch. Deflecting his fist with her forearm, and his next swing as well, she then got in a few hits of her own. Their bodies slammed each other in a rain of jabs and kicks, neither managing to gain the upper hand. This enraged the big creature that had mistaken the girl for easy prey. He was discovering the error of his thinking very quickly as Buffy proceeded to match him blow for blow.

Frustrated by his failed attack, the vampire stepped back for a moment. That was when he saw the salesman trying to sneak past him toward the open back door. An enraged roar burst from the creature and he reached out, ripping the black case from the man’s hands, raising it over his head to hurl at Buffy like a weapon. In that instant, when he held the box aloft and exposed his front, the girl saw her opportunity to strike. She tossed her stake at the creature’s heart like a throwing knife, hitting her intended target with perfect accuracy. As the point penetrated his chest, the vampire’s eyes popped wide, staring at the girl in disbelief. Then like the others before him, he dissolved into a pile of dust, his frustrated death cry erupting from a disintegrating throat.

For a moment the jeweler’s case hung in mid-air. Then gravity took over and the heavy case clattered to the ground, smashing open as it hit the hard floor. A glittering cascade of jewels spilled out, scattering in every direction like a sparkling, colorful flood. Rubies, diamonds, garnets and emeralds tumbled and mixed in a kaleidoscope of shimmering opulence unmatched by anything Buffy had ever seen. Gold and silver chains tangled with watches and bracelets, and rings with stone settings of every imaginable variety bounced across the floor in front of her, mesmerizing the blonde teen into a state of momentary awe.

An anguished cry of despair assaulted her ears and Buffy stepped back as the salesman threw himself upon his inventory. He immediately began to scoop up the precious gems and antique pieces, stuffing them into his suit pockets and tossing them haphazardly into his broken case. But Buffy didn’t have time to concern herself with the elderly man sifting vainly through the vampire’s ashes after rings and trinkets. There was still one more vampire in need of a staking.

Spinning on her heel Buffy crossed the room in a few quick strides to where Giles and Angel were battling it out with the last undead creature. Giles had managed to gain a strangled hold around the vampire’s neck from behind and was clinging valiantly onto its back like the proverbial monkey. But it looked as if the creature had battered the Englishman around quite hard in its futile attempts to throw him off. Giles was disheveled and exhausted, and he looked like he was feeling every one of his middle-aged years.

As the teen watched Angel grabbed the vampire, throwing him roughly against the nearby wall. Unfortunately that meant that Giles was caught between the creature’s back and the hard surface behind him. Buffy winced as she heard the librarian’s breath knocked out of him with a loud “Ooomph!”, mentally cringing at the thought her friend had suffered some hurt.

But even as she rushed forward to help her Watcher, Angel was drawing back his arm to stake the undead creature in his grasp. Plunging his pointed weapon into his adversary’s chest the ensouled vampire was momentarily overcome by the emotional brutality of his attack, his features morphing into a disfigured vampiric mask as the nameless monster he had staked burst into a dusty shadow of itself. With the creature’s body no longer holding Giles pinned aloft against the wall the surprised Brit suddenly collapsed forward, falling into Angel’s arms and narrowly avoiding impalement on the sharp weapon in the vampire’s hand.

“You okay, Giles?” Buffy asked, hurrying forward to help Angel with the stunned Brit. Giles smiled wanly, panting as he straightened upright, shifting his weight to lean against the teen for balance. Buffy did a quick check and saw that though the librarian was winded, he was basically unharmed. Angel was similarly free of any serious bodily damage, his face having reverted to its human visage once again.

Satisfied that no one had been hurt Buffy turned to face her one remaining adversary. The salesman had finished gathering his merchandise into the broken remnants of his case and was fumbling to secure the latch closed again. Hugging the bulky repository to his chest the man looked furtively back over his shoulder. His eyes met Buffy’s from across the room and the teen instinctively sensed the small sorcerer was about to take flight.

“I’m afraid that I can’t stay any longer, my dear,” the man said, backing toward the exit with its broken door. Ever the gentleman, he smiled politely at the young blonde and her two companions, giving each an acknowledging nod of farewell. “Good night to you all. Perhaps we’ll do business again sometime.”

Scurrying hurriedly through the open doorway the salesman disappeared into the darkness outside. Buffy immediately bolted after him, but when she got to the enclosed back lot the man was gone. She made a search of the yard, looking behind various piles of trash, under the stack of pallets and several garbage cans, even in the dumpsters in the alleyway, but there was no trace of the elderly man anywhere. It was like he had vanished into thin air. She was pretty sure that wasn’t possible. Still she found it amazing that someone that old could move so fast.

Deciding not to waste any more time the teen gave up on her pursuit, returning to the office to check up on her companions. Angel was standing next to Giles, who was leaning over a chair as he recovered from the exertion of his fight with the vampire. The Brit’s face was flushed and pink as he gasped for air.

“That was certainly exhilarating,” Giles huffed, running a hand through his slightly mussed hair to remove the traces of ex-vampire dust. “However, Buffy, might I suggest that next time we decide to take the enemy by surprise that we do it with a little more stealth and bit less noise and enthusiasm.”

“Sorry. Couldn’t help myself,” the teen shrugged, replacing her favorite stake into a back pocket for the next fight. “All that pretty sparkly stuff just drives the shopaholic in me wild, I guess. I rally to the cry of ‘Charge it!’” She wagged the point of a finger at Giles. “And don’t think this gets you out of that trip to the mall. You promised me a present.”

Giles nodded, panting loudly. Plopping down into the chair he took a moment to rest. His tie was askew, his vest front coated with powdery dust. Buffy noticed a small rip in the Brit’s shirt collar, but otherwise he seemed fine, with the exception of some possible bruises that might show up later. But then, she would have her share of those, too. The difference was that hers would heal faster.

As her Watcher recuperated in his chair Buffy took a good look around her at the disorder that they had created in the small office. Papers were everywhere, scattered helter-skelter across the room. Furniture was toppled over and the contents of a filing cabinet littered the floor. Upended boxes lay in disorderly piles. They had really trashed the place.

“Glad I don’t have to clean up this mess,” she remarked aloud, her toe dislodging a stray pencil on the floor.

The yellow stylus rolled in a wide arc, eventually coming to rest near the desk. Something shiny and colorful amid all the white paper on the floor suddenly caught Buffy’s eye. She walked over to where the pencil had stopped, kneeling down on all fours to peer into the shadowy recess under the desk. There she saw one of the salesman’s magical amulets. Eagerly reaching for the jeweled piece, her palm closed over the metal disc and she drug it out into the light from its dark hiding place. A broad smile lit her face she stood up and turned toward the two men, her newfound prize in hand.

“Look! Free samples!” she declared excitedly, holding out her find to show them. Giles squinted, scrutinizing the item from across the room. Seeing the glitter of stones he became instantly interested.

“What is that?” the Watcher inquired. Buffy crossed the room with her newfound prize. As the Brit extended out a hand toward the amulet the girl reacted instantly, pulling back her arm and jerking the necklace well out of his reach.

“It’s mine,” she told him, pouting childishly. “Finders keepers.”

Giles frowned, his expression leaving no doubt as to his rapidly diminishing level of tolerance for her teasing. Hoping to avoid the punishing burn of another of the librarian’s scathing glances Buffy meekly handed the jewel over to him without any further prompting.

Producing his glasses from a pocket of his suit jacket Giles adjusted the frames on the bridge of his nose and made a cursory examination of the unusual talisman.

“Rather hideous, wouldn’t you say?” he observed, commenting on the garish design with its multi-colored gemstones.

Buffy regarded the ornament with a slightly less critical eye. “It is kind of different,” she admitted.

The amulet was shaped like a small disc and was no more than two inches across at its widest point. Its middle portion slightly thicker and it tapered gradually to its thin edges. A polished cabochon cut stone was set into its center, the translucent green gem incised into perfect quadrants. Around the circumference of the disc were strange markings, and there were several smaller stone chips set around the main jewel at measured points, eight in all. The shining crystals were each a different color, but more or less equal to each other in size. When Giles turned the piece over, he revealed additional writing on the reverse side that was set in a spiral pattern. A small hole pierced the disc in one spot, and a silver chain was attached to serve as a necklace.

It’s not the same piece he used in that fascinating little demonstration,” the Watcher noted, peering over his glasses at the object in his hand. “Very similar, though the other piece had a red center stone.”

“You mean there are two of these things?” Angel asked, grimacing at the thought of something as ugly as the jewel encrusted charm having a twin. “Apparently there’s no accounting for taste.”

“What are those scratches?” Buffy asked, leaning in to get a closer look as she pointed to the markings in question. They were too crude to serve as writing, and not refined enough to be called pictures.

“They’re runes,” Giles informed the curious girl. “Magick symbols.”

Buffy took the amulet from the librarian, holding it up to the light for a better look. “Maybe I could have the stones reset,” she mused aloud. “It might make a nice ring. What do you think?”

Angel gave the young teen an incredulous look. “I think you need to borrow Giles’ glasses,” the vampire replied with a low, inaudible chuckle.

Ignoring the pair’s banter Giles removed the amulet from Buffy’s hand, tucking the piece safely away into the breast pocket of his tweed jacket.

“We appear to have done all we can here,” Giles announced, rising from his chair. “And I believe you have somewhere else to go tonight,” he reminded the teen. “Patrol?”

Buffy stared at the Englishmen in disbelief. “I dust four vamps, run a sorcerer out of town, rescue some ruined magickal thingambob for your private Watcher collection, and you still expect me to go out on patrol tonight? Don’t I get any time off for good behavior?”

“If you happen to display any I may give it consideration,” Giles retorted dryly, but there was a twinkle in his eyes that said he wasn’t being completely serious in his critique of her behavior.

“Something up?” Angel asked the teen.

“You mean other than the usual gut spilling parade of ghouls, monsters and sinister forces of evil that occupy my evenings?” the blonde retorted with a sarcastic snort.

“Uh, well, yeah,” the vampire hesitantly replied, opting to tread lightly on what seemed to be a sensitive issue.

“There’s been a drowning out at Fuller Pond,” Buffy continued, doing a sudden about face in mood. “A couple actually. Giles thinks it’s something demonic in nature.” She gave the handsome vampire a hopeful invitation with her eyes as she moved slightly closer to him. “Want to come along?”

“Sorry. Have to pass this time,” Angel replied, his smile apologetic. “Got another appointment tonight and I’m already late.”

“One wonders where he picked up that nasty little habit,” Giles interjected dryly with pointed glance toward the young girl.

Buffy shot the librarian a barbarous glare through narrowed eyes. The Englishman gave her an innocent ‘what did I say’ look before turning to walk toward the doorway behind them.

Watching the Brit’s retreat through the doorless exit Angel turned toward the teen, his face registering mild confusion. “Did I miss something here?”

Dismissing her Watcher’s behavior with a flippant wave Buffy snuggled closer against her boyfriend, her arms encircling him in a warm embrace. Giles was momentarily forgotten as Angel leaned down, his mouth pressing into hers for a kiss.

They spent the next few minutes holding each other, lost in the intimacy of their unanticipated reunion. These occasional opportunities to reacquaint themselves came few and far between any more and the couple made sure that they got the most out of every chance that presented itself. But eventually reality managed to worm its way into their consciences again and they realized that their all too brief time together had to bow to other larger priorities.

Stepping back Buffy reluctantly released her hold on the vampire, her hands lingering within a joined clasp with Angel’s cool touch. She tilted her face upward to share one last tender kiss before turning aside to make her way out into the dark night, her boyfriend following closely behind.

She found Giles in the alley, sitting in his car waiting for her. She and Angel said their good-byes and he took off, disappearing quietly into the blackness of the dimly lit street, his duster billowing loosely behind him like a voluminous cape as the material was lifted by some unseen gust of wind. It was a heart-throbbing vision, one worthy of the trashiest of romance novels, and the teen dutifully memorized every detailed minutia of the vampire’s exit to replay in her fantasies later.

Buffy ambled slowly over to the Citroen DS. Opening the passenger side door she sank down into the low slung seat, her mind still dwelling on Angel’s departing image. Leaning back she released a soft sigh of contentment.

“Everything all right?”

Easing a sidelong glance toward the Englishman sitting beside her Buffy nodded, a grin unfurling slowly across her face. “Everything is very much all right.”

An indiscernible noise escaped the Brit’s throat as he twisted the key in the car’s ignition. A minute or two of fiddling and the librarian managed to start the finicky engine, the Citroen miraculously lurching into life yet once again. Backing carefully down the tight alleyway the librarian rolled the protesting automobile out into the street and with an ear grating gnash of the ancient gearing system he shifted into forward, retracing their previous path down the deserted street. Then whining and trembling with the strain of its valiant effort the ancient relic carried its two passengers onward toward their next destination, the park.

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