Bodies gyrated, music pounded through pitiful speakers, drinks were poured, imbibed, or spilled in mass quantities. A watered-down gin and tonic in hand, Rupert Giles stood in the far corner of the room and took it all in, careful not to show his disdain. That would be unforgivably rude. This might be New York City, the capital city of rudeness, but that did not mean Giles had to behave in a boorish manner. Come to think of it, there were plenty of boors in London.
Surprised as he was by it, he was forced to admit, at least to himself, that he missed Southern California. At least a little bit. Certainly he missed Buffy and the other students with whom he spent so much time. But there was a certain comfort to the West Coast's laissez-faire attitude that he had begun to enjoy...and which, despite the bacchanalia surrounding him, the East Coast distinctly lacked.
In truth, great forces had conspired to bring him to Manhattan in late winter. Not the least of which was pressure from his employer, the principal of Sunnydale High School, to at least make an effort to become better versed in modern library science. It seemed the Dewey decimal system just wasn't good enough for some people anymore. In some ways, books weren't even the answer. It was all about information now, he thought sadly. And much of that information, however incomplete, however orphaned from any pedigree, was drawn from computers these days.
His only previous interest in computers had been generated by Jenny Calendar, the woman he'd loved. And that meager interest had died and been buried along with her.
The other primary reason that Giles agreed to attend this function -- "Libraries 2000," sponsored by the American Library Association, among others -- was the fact that many of the events were to be held in the Warwick Hotel, a grand old dame of a building whose granite and gargoyles looked down on 57th Street with all the haughtiness of Britain's proudest structures. He had stayed at the Warwick on one of his first visits to the United States, and recalled with pleasure an enormous mural of Queen Elizabeth knighting Sir Francis Drake in the downstairs dining room.
Indeed, in spite of his misgivings, Giles had managed to enjoy himself for the past few days, both with the other librarians he'd met and exploring New York alone. It was an extraordinary city. It was true, he'd discovered (or at least, hypothesized), that one could find literally anything in this city, if one knew where to look. The seminar had, thus far, been a relaxing escape from Sunnydale and from the pressures of his role as the Watcher.
He felt a bit guilty for having abandoned Buffy, even for a week, but she had nearly forced him to go, even instructed him on what to pack. He had disappointed her, he was sure, in his refusal to "go more cazh" and "leave all that tweedy stuff in the library, where it belongs." She also arranged for Cordelia to drive him to the airport, a trip he hoped never to repeat, given her penchant for checking her makeup in the rearview mirror. She had even supplied him with an ancient, weather-worn copy of New York on Five Dollars a Day, thoughtfully marking sights she imagined he might enjoy, and which, frankly, he had: the museums and a number of bookshops. It seemed fairly clear that Buffy had actually wanted him to go. Who could blame her? He was, at least officially, an authority figure in her life. It would be nice for her to be free of him for a time. Still, Giles looked forward to returning home, and suspected that Buffy would be pleased when he did return. And, thus far, there seemed to have been no urgent aim requiring his attention at home.
Reluctant as he was to admit it, Giles was having...well, fun.
At least, he had been until he'd entered this room. The invitation, a splashy foldout from something called stacks.com, which was apparently an Internet meeting place for librarians, had announced a cocktail reception in the Cary Grant Suite of the Warwick Hotel. Well, seeing the Cary Grant Suite had proven to be an irresistable lure for Giles, and it was, indeed, something to see.
There was a large bedroom on either side of the enormous parlor that served as a reception room. The suite was at the southwest corner of the hotel, and there were two sets of French doors that opened out onto an absolutely extraordinary balcony. It wasn't at all like any balcony Giles had ever seen, and certainly not something twenty-seven stories above the city. The enormous stone edifice was more like a large terrace one might see at a stately home in the Cotswolds. At least twenty-five feet wide, it ran the length of the Cary Grant Suite's outer wall. The granite color matched the sky; it was apparently quite chilly outside, and the forecast had called for snow, but so far none had fallen.
Giles wondered if he ought to escape to the balcony, despite the cold. It would be a welcome relief from the party. As a rule, the librarians who were attending the stacks.com "cocktail reception" were younger than he, and American. The men wore blue jeans and sneakers with their button-down shirts, and the women, perhaps eager for a chance to dress, wore tiny black dresses or silk pants.
With his gabardine suit and old-school burgundy tie, Giles knew how out of place he must have appeared. Even that was only a fraction of how out of place he actually felt. He brushed a hand through his slightly graying brown hair , then pushed his glasses up his nose for the hundredth time.
"Good Lord," he muttered to himself. "These are librarians?"
But if he were honest with himself, Giles would be forced to admit that it wasn't the dress or behavior of these people that had him wanting so desperately to retreat. Nor was it the fact that, with his love of dusty old books and getting lost in the stacks -- ironically, the place he felt the most at home, and the polar opposite of the stacks.com party -- he felt positively antique, though even the youngest person in the room was little more than a decade his junior.
No. Worst of all was how much they all reminded him of Jenny. With their sense of fashion and their technical knowledge and the confidence with which they spoke, moved, danced, even breathed, the people crowding the Cary Grant Suite gave him great cause for lament.
It wasn't exactly grief, or mourning. Enough time had passed that those wounds had begun to heal. He'd even caught his eyes roaming appreciatively from time to time. The thought had occurred to him that he might, at some point, meet someone else whom he would like to have in his life. Someone else to love.
But he still missed her terribly. Still ached to tell her little things that he'd discovered in his research and wanted to share, only to realize that he had no one one to share them with. No one who could truly appreciate what such utter trivialities meant to him. It still hurt.
With a sigh, Giles edged around several people who were talking loudly together about a "chat room" where they'd apparently spoken with Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. Giles didn't have the heart to tell them that Herbert had been dead for years, and was dismayed that they didn't realize it themselves. Dismayed but not particularly surprised. After all, it all boiled down to Web sites and URL's not frontispieces and back matter. A pity.
He opened one of the French doors and let himself onto the stone balcony, where a large group of people had already gathered. The sharp wind brought the scent of smoke. Instantly, Giles understood the hardiness of his fellows. Most of them were smokers, exiled to the frozen outdoors by law and the demands of political correctness.
With a shiver, he turned up the collar of his suit coat, and shoved his hands deep in the pockets of his gabardine trousers. In his room, he had a very nice pair of leather gloves, which he wished he'd brought. Exhaling, seeing his breath curl as if he, too, had lit a cigarette, his eyes scanned the cityscape, the lights and the activity far below. Sixth Avenue was bright with the electricity of life, vivid with every bit of excitement and bluster and spectacle that humanity could muster. That was New York City to him.
"Breathtaking, isn't it?"
Her voice was soft, her tone thoughtful, with none of the razor edge of the city in it. Giles blinked, glanced just to his left, uncertain at first if the woman was speaking to him. But he couldn't see her in his peripheral vision. Giles turned, and for a moment, he couldn't breathe.
She was divine. A tall, yet lithe woman with the most delicate features imaginable. Her faced seemed to glow, and though it might have been the neon burning in the city beyond, Giles chose to deem it some ethereal light. In either case, it made her look almost angelic. A splash of her honey-blond hair fell in a gentle wave across her face, while the rest was done up in a long, elaborate braid that fell down past her shoulders. It was unfashionably long, but Giles thought it quite lovely.
She wore a crushed red velvet dress with tight sleeves that accentuated the golden color of her hair. It wasn't the most daring dress he had ever seen, but the way it fell across her body, few women could have worn it well. She wore it very, very well.
The Watcher realized that he was staring.
"I'm...I'm sorry," he stammered. "Did, uh, did you say something?"
The woman smiled at him, and Giles felt himself offering a silly, lopsided grin in return.
"You seemed to be appreciating the city," she said. "I merely commented that it was breathtaking."
American, he presumed, because of her lack of accent. But an American who used the word merely in casual conversation! Giles felt himself falling rapidly into infatuation.
"Indeed it is," he said, after what felt like an embarrassingly long pause. "For such a depraved city, it certainly has its charms."
The woman smiled broadly, and laughed softly, comfortably. There was a sort of gentle lilt to her laughter that gave it the ring of authenticity. She meant it.
"There is always a certain charm in depravity," she said boldly, grinning at Giles.
As his cheeks flushed crimson, she turned her gaze away from him and out toward the city he had been admiring moments ago. "It is a wonderful place," she said. "Though I suspect most of the tech-head numbskulls slobbering all over each other in the other room have rarely if ever even looked out a window."
Giles chuckled, dropped his gaze, then brought his hand up quickly to keep his glasses from plummeting twenty-seven stories. He gave her a sidelong glance and thought, whimsically, It could be love.
"Rupert Giles," he said, turning to hold out his hand.
With a firm grip, she shook it. "Micaela Tomasi," she said. "It's very much my pleasure."
"You must be cold."
She raised her face and nodded. "I am."
He gave her his suit jacket, and felt warmer than he had since landing at JFK.
That was the beginning. For nearly an hour, they spoke of New York, its culture and museums, its depravity, and then of other cities they'd visited or yearned to visit. They talked of books and bookstores, and Giles was astonished to find that she was aware of some of his favorite used bookstores, some so out of the way he'd nearly forgotten about them himself. From Avenue Victor Hugo in Boston, to Cobwebs on Great Russell Road, across from the British Museum in London, Micaela knew them all.
The party ended, the other librarians leaving very reluctantly. The bartenders in their white shirts and black vests left their posts. A man came with a noisy industrial vacuum cleaner, whose hum could be heard through the closed balcony doors.
Still, Giles and Micaela talked on. There seemed to be so much to say. A few minutes before midnight, Giles looked regretfully at his watch.
"I hate to bring this up, but..."
"Yes," she immediately agreed. "It is getting late. Perhaps we could pick up our conversation at breakfast?"
The Watcher nearly laughed out loud. In his experience, there was nothing like avoiding the discomfort of asking a woman out by having her ask first.
"I can't think of anything I'd rather do," he said with great certainty. "Shall we say nine o'clock, in the lobby?"
"I'll be there, stomach rumbling," she replied.
They walked together out to the elevator. When they had stepped in, and he had pressed the number 16, she chuckled to herself.
"Hmm?" he asked. "Did I miss something?"
"We're on the same floor," she said. "I was just thinking what a lark it would have been if they'd double-booked me into your room."
Giles blinked, blushed once more, but his only reply was a slightly embarrassed smile. His mind, however, was racing with the possibilities. So much so, that when they stepped off on the sixteenth floor, and Micaela turned in the opposite direction, he felt a bit of disappointment.
"Good night, Miss Tomasi," Giles said. "Sleep well."
"And to you, Mr. Giles," she replied, almost primly. Then mischief crept into her eyes as she said, "Pleasant dreams."
As he walked down the hall toward his room, Giles whistled jauntily, his jaw muscles already somewhat sore from the smile that threatened to stretch his face for eternity. Somewhere, he heard a phone begin to ring. Around the corner, he heard a door open. He reached the juncture in the corridor, rounded the corner, and was nearly barreled over by a broad-shouldered man wearing a Yankees baseball cap.
"'Scuse," the man grunted, but didn't look up; his face was obscured by the bill of the cap.
"Yes, well," Giles said, affronted. "Perhaps if you watched where you were walking..."
But his reproach was lost on the man, who had hurried around the corner. Grumbling Giles turned back down the corridor. Only then did he notice that the phone was still ringing. The sound was coming from the open door of room 1622, just down the hall.
The phone stopped ringing as Giles rushed to the open door, eyes darting about with caution. He pushed the door fully open and flicked on the light. The place was a shambles. Many of his things were in tatters, the clothes thrown about the room, drawers open, mirror shattered. A thief, he realized immediately. Searching for valuables. And the phone ringing? A signal, perhaps, from a cohort, lying in wait to warn the burglar should the room's registered occupant return.
It had just happened. The phone, the sound of a door opening.
The man in the Yankees cap.
Giles ran from his room, sprinted along the corridor and around the corner. Down the hall, he saw the stairwell door swinging shut under the glowing red EXIT sign. The anger that began to build inside him was a distant memory, but all too familiar. There existed within Rupert Giles a man capable of great bouts of rage. It didn't matter if the thief had actually stolen anything, for Giles had little of value with him save for a few antique books.
No, it was the principle of the thing. The violation.
The anger boiled up inside him and his heart pounded as he reached the stairwell door. Giles gripped the knob, twisted it, and flung the door open hard enough to bang loudly against the cement wall inside. Instantly he started down the steps, holding lightly to the handrail as he moved his feet rapidly. At the next landing, he began to slow. He could no longer hear the running steps of the man he pursued. At the fifteenth floor he paused and listened carefully.
The door behind him sprang violently open, and Giles had only just begun to turn around when he felt a pair of powerful hands slam into his back. Flailing wildly, he fell forward and tumbled down the cement steps striking his head several times.
He cried out.
But his cry was cut short as his head slammed into the landing, and he crumbled into unconsciousness.
"Rupert?" The voice was distant, and Giles drifted up out of the blackness inside his head for only a moment. He tried to focus on the face above him. The woman, the honey hair. He knew her, but her name escaped him.
"Honey," he whispered, looking again at her hair.
"I've called for help, Rupert," she said. "The ambulence is on its way."
Then he slipped into darkness again, retreating from the pain.
* * * * *
Buffy didn't like being in the library without Giles. Never mind that they were on school property in the middle of the night without anyone's permission. When Giles was with them, such nocturnal visits might be suspicious, but they'd find a way to explain them. Buffy didn't want to think about having to explain how she'd come to have a key to the school. Still, her disquiet had little to do with the potential discovery and consequences.
She'd been in trouble before.
Her agitation had more to do with the hollow feeling in her gut. The library was Giles's province. He was the Watcher, the holder of knowledge, the man with the books. Being here alone had Buffy reflecting on what things might be like without him. The thought didn't sit very well with her. She needed Giles: he was the backbone of everything the Slayer stood for. He was such a huge part of her life, not merely because he was her Watcher and her friend, but because as long as Giles was around, she could remind herself that no matter how lonely the life of the Chosen One would become, she was not completely alone. Not as long as she had Giles.
The place just didn't feel right without him there, presiding over the stacks, caring for his dusty leather volumes.
Seated at the study table with the green glass lamps, Buffy sighed and slammed shut a book entitled Dragons and Fire Demons which had given her exactly jack in her search for the identity of the bizarre creature they'd encountered earlier that night.
"We need Giles," she said, not for the first time.
Oz sat opposite her at the oak library table. He looked up from the book he had been skimming, raised his eyebrows, and nodded. "He's the man."
"Hey!" Willow balked.
She sat in the hard wooden chair that Giles had begrudgingly allowed to be placed in front of the small desk upon which the library's computer sat. The computer, which Giles had once called "that dread machine." But Willow was a hacker par excellence. At the moment, the dreaded hacker was glaring at them in consternation.
"I can be the man sometimes," she said, then faltered. "If...I were a man. You know what I mean. Giles has way too much monster trivia stored in his brain, and we could sure use him right now. But I'm not too slouchy in the research department."
Buffy shook her head, a slight smile on her face.
"You're pretty amazing, Willow," Oz said. "There's plenty of times you've helped in ways Giles couldn't. But he is the Watcher, y'know?"
"She knows, Oz," Buffy said, then turned again to Willow. "Don't go all Xander on me, Will. You know you're a major asset to the team."
Willow grinned. "Yeah, I am, aren't I?"
"Even a greater asset if you could figure out who this fire-puking moron is," Buffy added with a sigh.
"Oh, is that all?" Willow asked innocently. "That's easy."
She slid her chair back to let them get a look at the computer screen, upon which there was a frighteningly accurate sketch of the creature they'd battled earlier.
Buffy's eyes widened. "That'd be him."
"According to legend he's called Springheel Jack," Willow explained. "First known sighting was in London in 1837. Apparently he mostly assaulted women. This sketch comes from the London Times of February 22, 1838. The assaults went on for years, kind of sporadically. In 1845, he attacked a prostitute in broad daylight, in front of witnesses."
"Not a very careful monster, is he?" Oz asked.
"Or he's just not afraid of getting caught," Buffy gave them all pause for a moment. Then went on.
"In 1877 almost an entire English village got a good look at him. There's a record of an appearance in Liverpool in 1904. Then he seems to have disappeared for almost fifty years. Next time he shows up is, believe it or not, in Houston, Texas. Let me check the date..." she turned back to the computer a moment. "Okay, June 18, 1953. Since then, not a peep."
Buffy was thoughtful a moment, and Willow and Oz were both watching her, waiting for her to decide their next move.
"Why Sunnydale?" she asked.
Willow shrugged. "It's the Hellmouth. Don't all the nasties get around to visiting eventually?"
"Big demon tourist spot," Oz agreed good-naturedly.
"Yeah, but he hasn't popped up since 1953," Buffy argued. "I mean, why now?"
Their contemplation was interrupted by movement up in the stacks. They'd come in that way, through the back door, to avoid being seen coming through the school's front entrance. As they all looked up, Xander emerged from among the bookshelves.
"Hey," he said, too subdued by far for Buffy's tastes.
"Hey, Xand," she said.
"How's Cordelia?" Willow asked quickly.
Xander nodded slowly. "She's going to be okay. The docs want her overnight, just to make sure isn't in shock or something. They couldn't quite get why she was so freaked over her hair. They must not have teenage daughters. Anyway, she's fine, really. It looked a lot worse than it was. And she's already up an appointment with her hairdresser in the morning."
"That's a relief," Oz said.
Buffy glanced at him, wondering if he was being sarcastic about Cordelia's hairdresser appointment, or sincere about her medical condition. It was hard to tell with him sometimes, his wit was so dry.
As Xander came down one of the short stairwells into the reading area of the library, Buffy stood up and walked toward him. She stood awkwardly and looked at him.
"Listen, Xander, I'm sorry about tonight," she said. "I just...I've had a lot on my mind lately, and I guess I just don't want to lose you. Any of you."
Xander paused, not meeting her gaze for a moment. Finally, he looked at her, and Buffy knew from that look that he was still angry.
"I understand, Buffy," he said. "That doesn't mean I'm not pissed about it. One of the only reasons Giles doesn't get all wacked about us hanging with you is that you've always been real clear that we're not a liability. That we can hold our own.
"Looks like that was all just talk, huh?"
Buffy's eyes widened. "Not at all!" she protested. "I just...can't... I can't believe I have to explain this to you."
"Explain it to yourself," Xander said angrily. "We're supposed to be a team, Buffy. Maybe were not the Slayer, but we all have a job to do. Why don't you just do yours, and let the rest of us take care of ourselves. We can do it, you know."
"Xander," Willow said tentatively, as Buffy stood between them. "Buffy's saved our lives more times than I can count."
"I know that, Will!" Xander said, throwing his arms up in exasperation. "And only an idiot or a jerk wouldn't be grateful. I am. All I'm saying is, if we're a team, Buffy ought to start acting like a team player."
He stared at her, without malice, but with an anger that hurt her deeply. She knew Xander was her friend, knew he cared greatly for her. That only made it worse.
Buffy sighed. "I'll take it under advisement," she said, trying for levity but only succeeding in causing Xander to shake his head in surrender.
"If you guys are busy," said a voice from above, "I'll come back later."
They all turned to look up into the stacks, where Angel now stood, his duster torn, looking much the worse for wear.
"What happened to you?" Xander asked.
"Ran into Rocky the Flying Squirrel again,", Angel explained. "He's fast, I'll tell you. There've been two more attacks. He seems to be working his way across town in a straight line. Shouldn't be too difficult to catch up with him."
Buffy exchanged a glance with Xander, who turned his eyes away from her for a moment. When he looked back, the anger in him had disappeared. He nodded to her, and she hoped that meant things were all right between them.
"What are we waiting for?" Buffy asked.
"Not for me," Willow said, and Buffy turned look at her. "Sorry, Buffy, but I'm already going to get flak from my parents. I've got to go home."
Buffy glanced at Oz. "You guys can manage?" asked.
"We'll find a way," Xander said, his sarcasm obvious.
Oz ignored him. Willow, however, gave him a nasty look, and then she and Oz left together.
"So," Xander said. "What's the plan?"
Buffy bit her lip. "Well," she said. "Seems like the only way to catch this guy is to sneak up on him."
"Sneaking," Xander agreed. "Excellent plan. And Dead Boy is ever so good at sneaking."
As they walked out the library's rear door together, Angel turned to Xander. "Don't call me that," he said menacingly.
"Dead Boy," Xander replied.
Robert Hanrahan slept peacefully aboard the fishing trawler Lisa C. Mort Pingree was at the helm, and Hanrahan had allowed the gentle waters to lull him to sleep. The smell of the Pacific and the motion of the water were as much a part of his life as the land. More so, in fact. The ocean was truly the only place that Robert Hanrahan had ever felt at home.
At the helm, Mort Pingree was also feeling a bit sleepy. He'd been rocked to sleep when it was his watch before, and Hanrahan had never found out.
Which was good, because if the boss ever found anyone willing to take Mort's job, he'd have been fired long ago.
Grumbling under his breath, Mort poured another cup of the disgusting black sludge that Hanrahan called coffee. In a little while, he'd wake the boss to take over until just before dawn, when they'd drop the nets and try to get first crack at the morning's pick. For now, though, it was just Mort and the sea. He looked to the distant shore and saw a few lights still burning in Sunnydale. Mainly streetlights, he thought. Everybody with a decent job was fast asleep.
Mort Pingree hated being a fisherman. Hated the sea. The ocean, whatever. But it paid, and he wasn't exactly qualified to do much of anything else. What he hated most, actually, was the smell. It took days to get rid of entirely, and he didn't remember the last time he'd had several days off in a row.
"Damn fish," Mort grumbled, and sipped his coffee.
Then spilled it all over his chest as something bumped the Lisa C. Mort swore, but not too loudly. The coffee hadn't been hot since sundown, and he was more curious about what they might have run into. Setting the cup down and wiping his fingers across the stain on his shirt as if he actually had a napkin in his hand, Mort took a few steps starboard to peer over the side of the boat. The ocean was black, and he couldn't see anything.
"Mort?" he heard Hanrahan snarl from below, as the old fisherman stomped up to the deck. "What the hell've you done now? You trying to run us aground?"
"We're nowhere near shore, or anything else for that matter," Mort snapped at his boss. "Look for yourself!"
Which Hanrahan did. And Mort was right. He peered out into the darkness at nothing. Nothing there at all.
Something slammed into the boat again, and it began to tilt, hard to starboard. Hanrahan lost his footing, slipped in fish guts Mort had never gotten around to cleaning up, and slid right off the deck of the Lisa C. and into the water.
Mort Pingree screamed as huge tentacles lined with razor-edged suckers whipped across the deck and the helm, gripping the trawler in a crushing embrace. One of the tentacles lashed across Mort's abdomen, the suckers tearing his belly open on impact.
By the time the Lisa C. was hauled beneath the waves, Mort Pingree was already dead.
Meloney Abrams kept telling herself it was only another year. Another year of waiting tables at The Fish Tank, suffering the gropes and the leers and the come-ons, and she'd have enough money to hit the road, go to L.A., maybe even go to community college or something. Whatever. Just out of here. Somewhere she could make a fresh start.
Sexy blues poured out the door behind her as Meloney stepped out of the bar. There were only a few customers left, so Dickie had let her take off a little early. Even paid her tonight so she wouldn't have to come in on her day off tomorrow to pick up her check. Maybe he wasn't all bad, she thought. Even if he did try to get her alone in the back room just about every time she worked.
What else should she expect, Meloney wondered. He was a guy, after all. In her experience, at least, they had to try.
With a shake of her head, Meloney started walking toward the lot where she'd parked her tank, a 1982 Granada. She figured someone could come after her with a cruise missile and the car would come through just fine.
She never made it to the car.
A fluttering sound behind her drew Meloney's attention, and she turned to see a man, standing about twenty feet away. The strangest looking man she'd ever seen. His body and face were a sick-looking white, and his eyes looked like bullet wounds. Working at The Fish Tank, Meloney had seen a couple of bullet wounds in her life.
The sleazeball wore a cape.
"Back off, scumbag," she said bravely. "I don't need a stalker, okay?"
The sleazeball opened his mouth, gave a creepy laugh, and with the laugh, a bit of blue flame shot from his mouth.
Meloney screamed, and ran for her tank.
That fluttering came again, she glanced over her shoulder, and the creep was gone. She slowed her pace, uncertain now, and then the fluttering came again, and a thump as the creep -- the thing, whatever it was -- landed in front of her, blocking her path.
It was inhumanly fast. Its hands lashed out, one gripping her throat, the other, with claws like needles, slashing open her clothes.
It tore out her heart.
"No!" Buffy screamed, but she was too late to do anything except warn Springheel Jack.
As the thing turned toward her, Angel's powerful arms locked around the pasty-faced killer, and its sunken black eyes widened in surprise.
"You vicious, sadistic freak!" Buffy roared, and gave Springheel Jack the hardest backhand she could muster. The weird, oily white skin of its cheek split under the blow, black bone showing through and a bit of blue fire leaking out.
"You should try not to be so predictable in your patterns," Xander told the thing, then released the trigger on Buffy's crossbow.
Springheel Jack tried to break Angel's grip, but the crossbow bolt slammed into its chest...and was deflected by the weird armor it wore.
"What the..." Xander began.
But the monster only smiled at them, pointed teeth showing, and opened its mouth to burn them.
Buffy hit it again, even harder, and several of the thing's teeth broke off. "Stop that!" she said, and then pulled out a stake. "Maybe this calls for a more closeup approach."
"Hurry, Buffy," Angel groaned. "Bastard's a lot stronger than he looks."
Buffy gripped Springheel Jack's face, forced its mouth away from her, and raised the stake, hoping the strength of the Slayer would be enough to pierce the thing's armor. Thinking maybe, if all else failed, she could just break its neck.
It crouched, pulling Angel down with it. Buffy lost her grip, and for a moment, her balance.
"Buffy, grab it!" Xander shouted behind her.
Springheel Jack shot upward with such speed and strength that all Buffy could do was stare in astonishment. Angel held on as tightly as he could and was carried up with the thing. It arced up and came down on the roof of The Fish Tank and out of sight.
"Angel!" Buffy cried in shock and horror.
On the roof, nothing moved.
"Oh, man," Xander whispered.
"Angel!" Buffy shouted again.
Then he was there, standing on the edge of the roof, down at them. Angel scratched his head, then dusted off his pants.
"He's gone," the vampire said grimly. "Just seemed to disappear."
Oz had parked his van half a block away and was walking Willow to her house when the perfectly cloudless sky split with thunder so loud both of them were forced to cover their ears. It roared through the air, almost as if someone were firing a hundred cannons just above their heads. Oz could feel it against his chest, pounding against him. It sounded as though the sky were collapsing in an avalanche.
"Whoa, Chicken Little," he said, as the echo of the incredible thunder rolled in waves across town.
"Yeah," Willow agreed. "The sky is falling."
Copyright © 1999 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation