File Size: 200KB Rating: PG-13-Violence, language Category: C Spoilers: XF--all seasons, Buffy--all seasons (alternate universe) Summary: A bored vampire ropes in a hapless FBI agent to stir up his town. Because Mulder is the agent in question, things don't turn out like they should. Disclaimer: All XF characters belong to 1013 productions, FOX and anyone else who can legally lay claim to them. Ditto for the Buffy characters with Mutant Enemy productions. This story is lovingly crafted with the utmost respect for ALL characters involved (crosses fingers behind back). Authors' Notes: This story just started with two simple girls, a kick ass TV series and an episode of XF neither aforementioned authors even liked! We'd also like to thank Jen Mauricio for her helpful edits and hints. To quell any confusion beforehand, there is absolutely NO UST between any of the characters...well, except a few. We can say, however, with 100% certainty: There is NO UST between Mulder and Scully whatsoever! Send any and all commentary to: Foxzphile@AOL.com & FlukeGirl1@AOL.com. All flames are read, laughed at then deleted with extreme prejudice. The names of all the people who flame this will be stored and regurgitated in an Enemies List when the authors become famous. "The X-Factor" By Teresa Owens and Ashley Evans "In any battle scenario, there is always one variable you cannot predict." --Caesar...Julius Caesar, "Render Unto Caesar", *Hercules: The Legendary Journeys*. Sunnydale High School Wednesday 3:30 PM, PST Buffy Summers pushed open the door to the Sunnydale High School library, her backpack slung casually over one shoulder. She had a study date with her best friend, Willow Rosenberg. If she didn't ace the next history test, she could kiss a decent grade in the course good-bye. Stopping at the check-out counter, Buffy put her backpack down and looked around the empty library. If Sunnydale had one place completely void of life, it was the high school library. The library had probably seen more use in the last few years than since the school was built. "Giles?" Buffy called out the librarian's name, raising her eyebrows expectantly. She leaned over the counter, making sure he wasn't just hiding. Sometimes he just popped up out of nowhere, damn near giving her heart failure. When no one replied, she leaned against the counter, her brow furrowing. That was odd. Rupert Giles, Buffy's Watcher - and her friend- was almost always in the library. This was one of the few stable elements in the young Slayer's life-always knowing where Giles was. Sighing softly, Buffy folded her arms across her chest, hoping Willow would arrive soon. As she folded her arms, Buffy noticed a worn, leather-bound book at the end of the counter. She strolled to the end of the counter, unfolding her arms when she stopped in front of the mysterious volume. "What's this?" she mumbled as she lightly ran her fingers over the chipped gold title embossed on the cover of the book. She flipped it open carefully, so as not to damage the fragile pages inside. Her face crinkled at the stench of mildew wafting up from the leaves of yellowed paper. The pages were rough to the touch. With each page that she turned, the smell of mildew intensified. The words that neatly lined the aged paper resembled English; but strange punctuation, capitalization and the unfamiliar spellings of the vaguely familiar words suggested otherwise. "Is this even a language?" she asked aloud, leaning over to study the words on the page. Convinced she had the book upside down, she spun it around, then tilted her head to the side. No, that hadn't solved the mystery. It was still unreadable. Buffy jumped as the doors to the library burst open and a bright, cheery Willow bustled in. Willow sighed as she ran a hand through her shoulder length hair, brushing it out of her face. "Sorry I'm late, Buffy," she breathlessly apologized, heaving her bookbag so it would stay on her shoulder. "I was tied up with Oz." Buffy swallowed, still shaken by the way Willow had burst into the library. She couldn't help but notice the way Willow was staring at her trembling hands. "Hi," Buffy quickly said, clasping her hands together tightly. She glanced over at the open book on the counter then back to Willow, whose face was showing definite concern. She rubbed her hands together, not completely sure why she'd been so jumpy all day. "I don't mind, Willow. You and Oz haven't seen much of each other lately because of all this extra tutoring." She laughed stiffly then quickly flipped the book on the counter shut. Willow took a few steps closer to Buffy, her eyes flicking from her friend's face to her fidgeting hands. She'd rarely seen Buffy this uneasy. "Are you all right?" she finally asked. "I'm fine!" Buffy replied brightly, tossing up her hands as if she hadn't a care in the world.. She knew her act wasn't fooling Willow. She grabbed her bookbag and headed for one of the tables. Still, she kept up the happy act. "I'm just fine, Willow. Come on, I have a lot of questions to go over concerning the reconstruction of Europe after World War One." Willow's head tilted to the left, a bewildered expression on her face as she watched Buffy move to the table. "Buffy, are you sure you're ok?" she asked as she approached the table. She looked down at Buffy, who was deliberately avoiding eye contact with her. "Nothing's bothering you?" "Nope, not a thing!" Buffy said, shaking her head while she unzipped her bookbag. She raised her eyes to Willow. "What makes you think something's wrong?" She pulled her history book and notebook out of her bag, flashing a quick smile at Willow. "Because of this," Willow replied, holding up her hands and fidgeting in an exaggerated manner. "You're...edgy." Willow set her bag on the table and sat down in the chair across the table from Buffy. "You're never like this...not without a good reason." Her eyes lit up for a moment. "Are we in for another battle with a monster? I mean, one so evil that only the fast wit and wisdom of Buffy and her friends can save the entire human race?" A shy smile spread across her pretty face. Buffy couldn't get over how Willow could be so cheerful at the thought of such dire circumstances; it was just part of Willow's charm. Still, she couldn't help but smile at Willow after that remark. "No, nothing is wrong, Willow," she replied. She paused then looked down. "That's what has me totally puzzled, actually." "That nothing's wrong?" said Willow, a bit confused. "But wouldn't this be considered a good thing, to be rejoiced over and savored?" She leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. "I mean, it's pretty rare that we're not in some kind of danger, Buffy." Buffy nodded as she looked to Willow. "You're right," she said. "But in this town, quiet is something I've come to fear." She leaned back in her chair, her eyes never leaving Willow's. "I haven't seen one vampire out for a midnight snack in the last four nights." Willow shrugged slightly. "There have been quiet spells before, Buffy," she replied. Buffy folded her arms across her chest then looked away from Willow. "Yeah, but so *not* like this, Willow." She sat up as she met her best friend's gaze. "Even the undead scene is, well, dead." "Which *is* rather odd," Giles' added in that familiar British accent of his. Rupert Giles set down a stack of old books on the counter top then pushed his glasses, which had slipped down the bridge of his nose, back into place. "Vampire activity is usually high during spring--nice weather." He paused as removed his glasses then examined them for a minute giving them a cursory wipe with his ever present handkerchief.. "It's-due to--it's..oh, yes," he stumbled over his words as he placed his glasses back on his face. "A-a lot more people are out at night." "I concur...awfully dead, even for the undead!" said Xander Harris, stepping out from behind Giles, wearing a smile. "No vampires means no slaying. No slaying means more time to party!" Xander thunked his own bag on the table with Buffy's and Willow's then spun around. He leaned over to Buffy. "Quite frankly, I don't see what the problem is, Buff. Now, you can have that life you've always dreamed of having." He flopped down in the chair next to her. "Unfortunately, this Slayer gig has eliminated *all* possibility of that dream being realized, Xander," Buffy told him. "Just the roll of the dice. Some of us are destined to be prom queens, others, vampire slayers." Xander considered her words then nodded. "I suppose you're right," he said. "How would that look in the yearbook? 'Buffy Summers--Prom Queen', then right above the caption a photo of you in a dress and a tiara with a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a stake in the other?" He used Buffy's history book as the bouquet in his right hand and her pencil as a stake in the other. He smiled sweetly at her. Buffy look at him, not at all amused by his pantomime routine. "Xander, tell me again why you're here?" Xander's smile disappeared as he set the book down on the table. Actually, he'd just wanted to see Buffy and Willow, and never before had he needed a reason to be in the library with them. He drummed his fingers on her history book then his eyes brightened as he looked to her. "I wanted to help you study for the history test tomorrow!" he replied. "*You*?" Willow blurted, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice. "Xander, you're barely passing history yourself!" she declared. "Yeah, I know!" Xander said, pointing a finger at Willow. He paused, trying to think of a good response. "BUT--I *am* passing!" He added as he lowered his finger, ignoring the look Willow gave him. "I figured I could teach our dear Buffy some of my skills on 'How To Successfully Skim Through Classes'." "Well," Giles interrupted as he thumbed through one of the books he'd lugged in. "History tests and class skimming aside, I believe Buffy is right about the decrease in vampire activity." He looked over at them. "It could be a harbinger of something far--,uh, far more sinister." Xander grinned as he wagged a finger accusingly at Giles. "You really love this part, don't you?" he said in a teasing tone. "Warning us of impending doom--it's your forte, Giles." Giles half smiled but his attention went back to the matter at hand. "Buffy, this, uh, this decrease in vampire activity, was it sudden or did it gradually drop off?" Buffy pondered the question for a few moment. "It was gradual," she replied, looking over to him. "I noticed the change about a month ago." Giles flipped through another book, shaking his head. "I, uh, I haven't found anything that resembles this phenomenon in any texts I've read," he said. He paused as he scanned one page closely. "Perhaps it's something new, maybe part of a larger plan?" Buffy slowly shook her head as she mulled over Giles' suggestion. "No, I don't think it is, Giles," she replied. " I know this is gonna sound totally crazy, but it's almost like they're *afraid* to come out anymore." Xander half-raised his hand. Once he had their attention, he lowered it then said, "Not for nothing, but maybe it's because you're the Slayer, you live here and it's your duty to destroy them? Just maybe?" "That's never stopped them before," Willow replied. She glanced over to Buffy. "N-not that I'm saying you don't do your thing well, Buffy. It's just--its--they're not...well, you just don't---" "Willow," Buffy interrupted her friend's floundering attempt to make the comment sound less like an insult. "It's ok. I knew what you meant." She sighed, that look of worry coming back to her face. "It's definitely something else. And I'd sure like to know what." An abandoned mansion Outskirts of Sunnydale Wednesday 10 PM, PST When he'd first discovered Sunnydale, the place had enchanted him tremendously. Wonderful place to settle down, destroy townsfolk, and it was on the Hellmouth, to boot.. All the things truly evil creatures, such as he, would take comfort in. Recently, though, this had changed, and not for the better. Things had seriously quieted down. Somehow, it just wasn't as fun when no one was on the playground with you. The quiet had descended with the arrival of new vampires. Normally, a large group of nomadic vampires coming to town would have pleased him a great deal. The more the merrier, in his opinion. Providing, of course, that the newcomers respected a few rules Spike laid out. But, these vampires were different from every other vamp he'd ever encountered. They had a leader. One who was, for all intents and purposes, a pacifist. Spike shuddered: a band of peaceful vampires? Bloody hell! It went against everything he held dear about being undead. Aside from questioning how in the hell they had continued to exist, the thought of all those wasted vampiric talents and tendencies irritated him to no end. A whole group of these pansies running around doing absolutely nothing. Somehow, they had managed to convince a good number of the other vampires in town to tone it down as well. The place turned into some magical Happy Land straight out of a fairy tale. Something had to be done, and soon. However, as badly as he wanted to get things in Sunnydale back to the usual hellish state of affairs, Spike was loath to take on the entire task himself. A few wayward vamps at a time, yes. But this was a large group, and required fast action on a grand scale. His group of allies was small, to say the least. One. But, as wonderful as she was, Drusilla's scattered way of thinking was more of a hindrance than a help to his attempts to restore the fun to Sunnydale. The main objective was to get rid of the Boy Scout vampire leader. With him out of the way, the rest of the group would be easier to deal with, one way or another. The goody-two-shoes bastard obviously viewed the Hellmouth as the perfect place for his vampire missionaries --or whatever they thought themselves to be-to set up camp. What Spike needed was someone to take Mr. Nice Guy out quickly and neatly. Once he was eliminated, his followers would fall into disarray. Then evil would be free to reign again. He wandered back and forth across the floor, weighing his options. Spike didn't buy that Anne Rice crap about vampires not killing other vampires. What he needed was an inside advantage. Then, it dawned on him; he remembered one rather talkative vampire from the group. The way the kid had whined about Hartwell's operation, Spike got the impression that the youth was sick of the touchy-feely company he'd been keeping. Spike had rebuffed the lad due to his innate stupidity and misguided loyalty to his kind-hearted vampire leader. However, before Spike had turned him away, the boy had told him an interesting story. It seemed the charismatic leader of the peaceful vampires had aroused the suspicions of some crackpot FBI agent who investigated the paranormal. At first Spike didn't believe the kid, but he did a little checking around on his own and found that this wacko Fed did exist. Spike despised telephones, but Dru insisted and he found saying no to her to be incredibly difficult. And even he had to admit, the damn thing had its uses. After a quick call to 4-1-1 and an utterly unpleasant exchange with the operator, he had all the information he needed to contact his potential ally. Of course, he wasn't going to risk a call to this fellow. He needed to maintain some anonymity for the time being, and these government types probably traced every phone call they got. A telegram should do the trick. Untraceable and just unusual enough to not get lost in the shuffle. J. Edgar Hoover Building Mulder's Office Thursday 7:03 PM EST Special Agent Fox Mulder stifled a yawn as he removed his glasses, then rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. The glow from the computer screen cast an eerie pall on his face. Mulder set his glasses down beside the keyboard, and stretched his arms above his head. What time is it? he wondered as he lowered his arms. He glanced at his watch: 7:04 already! Damn, had it been almost two hours since Scully left? What he wouldn't do for an office with an actual window. He turned his attention back to the computer screen, skimming over the report he'd been typing up for Skinner. This particular case was rather unique, even for the X-Files: a small community displaying perfect behavior not unlike something out of "The Stepford Wives." Mulder believed the people had been exposed to some sort of mind control experiment. Scully, however, did not. Of course, that was no surprise. Lately though, Mulder noticed Scully being much more vocal in her discontent with the X-Files and with him. It seemed every time he introduced a new case to her, he was met with Scully's trademark "Look" and, if he was really lucky, a little bit of eye-rolling. Still, he couldn't fault her for being frustrated. The Files were the source of most of the pain and grief his partner had suffered in the past few years. The more they investigated, the more Scully had to endure - mentally and physically. Mulder saved his work to a disk. He'd worry about the conclusion of the report tomorrow. Once the save was finished, he exited out of the word processing program, and shut the computer off. He sighed as he scooped up the piles of folders and loose paper on his desk. As he shifted a few of the folders resting in his left arm, an envelope slipped from between them and fluttered down to the desktop. He looked down on it, reading the front. It was a telegram addressed to him. Slowly, he put down his files and picked up the envelope from Western Union. He vaguely recalled a messenger catching him as he entered the office earlier that day. He was too busy having a discussion with Scully to notice what it was he was signing for. He'd just shoved it into the folder he happened to be toting with him and forgot about it. Mulder ripped open the envelope and read the short note inside: "Angry over the Hartwell incident STOP Suggest visit to Sunnydale, California STOP William B STOP" Hartwell. Oh, how that name brought back memories. Lucien Hartwell and his group of trailerpark-dwelling vampires had caused him a load of trouble a few months earlier. While investigating a vampire-like murder in the small town of Chaney, Texas, Mulder and Scully had the pleasure of being attacked by a rogue member of Hartwell's troupe. The end result of a long chase through a dark wood was Mulder driving a stake into the chest of the young vampire: Ronnie Strickland. Ronnie's death sparked a monumental uproar, not only within the FBI, but in the press, as well.. Skinner demanded a complete account of what happened in Chaney. A detailed report of the events leading up to the death of Ronnie Strickland was virtually impossible. Scully recalled events unfolding one way, while Mulder had a different view. Not that the confusion was limited to point of view; heavy drugs were involved for both agents. Not illegal narcotics, but significant doses of chloral hydrate. To add insult to injury, the family of Ronnie Strickland had filed suit against Mulder, Scully and the FBI to the tune of $446,000,000.00. Soon, thanks to a careless morgue attendant unfamiliar with the methodology of killing vampires, Ronnie Strickland rose again, escaped the morgue and ran back to Chaney. Mulder winced recalling the morning after he and Scully arrived in Chaney, searching for the newly-resurrected Ronnie Strickland. He awoke in his rental car, in the now-empty trailer park. Scully, looking as though she were stoned, wandered up to the car wearing Hartwell's jacket. The vampire clan was gone and there was not one clue as to where they had headed. "Sunnydale, California," he said, as he sat down in his chair with the telegram. "William B?" He shook his head, bewildered by this tipster. Telegram was *not* the usual medium by which people sent Mulder leads on open cases. E-mails, cryptic phone calls and surprise visits while he was out and about were commonplace, but this was his first telegram. If the sender's intent was to grab his attention, he had certainly succeeded. He debated over contacting Western Union, but they probably wouldn't be able to give him any more information on who sent it. Throwing his official FBI weight around people like that never went over well. If he pissed Western Union off, it'd probably leak out to other services, like UPS and the regular mail. He'd never see another copy of Celebrity Skin arrive at his door again. Leaning back in his chair, Mulder lowered the telegram and let out a long breath. Why would vampires relocate to California of all places? And why some pissant town named Sunnydale? One would think they'd head for a big city like Los Angeles or San Francisco; there were plenty of weirdoes in those cities to get lost among. Mulder picked up his glasses and put them back on as he waited for his computer to reboot. Opening his web browser and calling up a search engine, he ran a search on 'Sunnydale, California'. Mulder's Office Friday 9:00 AM EST Dana Scully entered the office, pulling off her trenchcoat and closing the door behind her in one fluid motion. She hung her coat on the rack, noticing Mulder's coat was already there. Usually Mulder wasn't in the office this early unless-- "Scully!" Mulder practically shouted as he walked in from the small room adjoining the office. He was wearing the same clothes he'd had on the day before. They were slightly wrinkled, but still somewhat presentable. "I'm glad you're finally here!" Scully took a few steps towards Mulder, a curious expression on her face. "Mulder, are you ok?" she asked after a moment. Mulder the book he'd carried into the office onto his desk then looked at his partner. "I'm just fine! Why do you ask?" He sat down and started flipping through the book, occasionally sipping hot coffee from the mug sitting on his desk. "You're just so...perky," she replied slowly, from her spot in front of his desk. She raised her eyebrows slightly when Mulder looked up to her. "Have you been here all night?" she asked. She watched him take another drink of his coffee. "Have you *slept* at all?" "Oh, yeah! Sure!" Mulder replied, then waved a dismissive hand at her. "I caught about an hour last night. I hadn't meant to. I was doing a search through a German university library and I fell asleep while the browser was working." He took another swig of his coffee. "But, unfortunately, my inactivity after the search was finished caused me to lose my connection before I could print anything out. I had to do it all over again." He whipped a printout from his stacks of books and papers then held it up to Scully. "Here, read this. It's absolutely fascinating!" Scully took the printout but her eyes never left her partner. She watched him finish off his coffee then head over to the machine for more. "Uh, Mulder?" she asked, as he poured himself another cup. "Exactly how much coffee have you consumed in the last 12 hours?" Mulder glanced over his shoulder at her as he poured out his coffee. "Oh, not much," he replied with a shrug. When the cup was full, he started to gulp it down. "I see," Scully said, folding her arms across her chest. "And exactly how much is 'not much'?" Mulder finished off the cup then replied, "About 5 or 6 pots, give or take." He began to pour himself another, but paused and looked back to her. "Oh, I'm sorry. Did you want any, Scully?" he asked as he raised up the pot of steaming black coffee. "No, thanks," she replied. Mulder shrugged then finished pouring. He motioned to the paper in her hands as he passed her on the way back to his desk. "You haven't even looked at what I found, Scully," he said then sat down. "You may find it interesting, considering your religious upbringing." He chuckled a little at his comment. Scully looked from him to the printout in her hands. "Sunnydale, California?" she read the shook her head as she switched her gaze to Mulder. "The only California that means anything to me is 'Hotel California', Mulder." "Read on," Mulder said, continuing to flip through his book. "Sunnydale, California, is a small town but it has interesting attributes." He stopped flipping through his book while Scully looked over the printout. "According to my research, the area where this town is located is like a G-spot of mystical forces. Has been for some time. Take a look at the rap sheet on that place. Unexplained murders and disappearances have occurred there for ages, but have been on a steady rise over the last 60 years." Scully read the lists of missing persons and the dates of the bizarre murders and serial killings that happened in the area. A string of violent murders took place after an earthquake rocked the place back in '37: gruesome murders involving extreme trauma inflicted on the neck and shoulder area of each victim. More recently, there was an alarming amount of gang-related activity involving drugs like PCP. She looked over to Mulder, who eagerly awaited her response to the information. "Mulder, I fail to see what any of this has to do with my religion - or anyone's for that matter," she said, shaking the printout a little. "Unless you found proof of some sort of cult activity in this area, or perhaps some religiously motivated serial killer--" She shrugged for lack of anything else to say. "When the Spanish came to this particular part of California, they called this place 'Boca Del Infierno'. Roughly translated," Mulder glanced down at his book then turned it around so Scully could see what he was looking at. He shoved the book across the desk towards her and tapped his forefinger on a picture. "The mouth of Hell." Scully picked the book up, cringing as she looked at the drawing, which depicted a most foul scene. A gate of iron covered with spikes and barbed wire sat open, flanked on all sides by terrible monsters and demons. Some of the creatures killed and maimed young women, while others performed the vilest of acts with men and women and with each other. Back behind the gate, set apart from the chaos below, was the recognizable form of Lucifer, flames surrounded the laughing fallen angel. "God, Mulder," Scully whispered, shaking her head as she dropped the book back on his desk. "It's 9 o'clock in the morning and you're showing me *this*?" She put shoved the book back across the desk to him, closing her eyes for a moment. "Don't you see, Scully?" Mulder asked as he rose to his feet. He took the printout from her and rested it beside the picture in the book. "All of these odd goings-on - the deaths, the vampire-like murders, the disappearances - they are extremely commonplace in Sunnydale. According to my research, this town sits right smack-dab on top of the Hellmouth! It's a revolving door between Hell and earth." He pushed the book in her face once again. "Yes, I see it, Mulder," she answered, meeting his gaze. "And this means what to me?" She raised her eyebrows slightly, waiting for an answer. "Why do we care so much about Sunnydale, California? What could your research have uncovered that was important enough to lose sleep and venture into the wonderful world of caffeine poisoning?" Mulder sat back down in his chair, looking away from her. "I got a lead on an open case," he responded quietly. Scully nodded. "Really? What case? And what does it have to do with this?" She waved a hand at the mess of research scattered across his desk. Mulder pulled out the small yellow sheet of paper and handed it over to her. "I received this yesterday," he replied as she took it. "A telegram?" Scully said, visibly surprised. She read it over, her expression morphing from interest to puzzlement then to flatly unreadable. She slowly lifted her eyes from the paper to Mulder. "What is this all about?" "Hartwell is in that town, Scully," said Mulder. "Sunnydale." He looked down at his book. "If it truly is a magnet for everything paranormal, as I imagine it is, that town must be a haven for creatures like him." Scully didn't even attempt to hide her disgust with this statement. She let out a frustrated breath and rolled her eyes. "Mulder, this is a telegram signed by," she glanced at the paper. "Someone calling themselves 'William B.'. You're taking this seriously? How do you know it isn't some bored weirdo trying to create trouble?" He opened his mouth to respond, but she kept going, "That's right, you don't." "I've looked into this place, Scully," he said as he rose to his feet. "This town recently hired a new deputy sheriff: Lucien Hartwell. He only works the night shift." He gave her an 'I told you so' look. "He's been working the town for a month. And if he's there then the rest of those vampires have to be with him. He's their center."
"And you're going to Sunnydale to...what?" she asked. "To harass Hartwell? To stir up trouble in this town full of innocent, unsuspecting people? And why? Because some...some person," she waved the telegram around, "sent you a telegram." "He *is* there, Scully," Mulder snapped, snatching the paper from her hands. "And he's harboring a murder suspect. He's just as guilty as Ronnie Strickland. Just because you have a crush on him..." "I *what*?" Scully exclaimed, her eyes widening. She blinked a few times. "I do not now, nor have I ever had a crush on Lucius Hartwell. And this 'William B.', whoever he is, obviously has a personal beef with Hartwell; just read the note!" She pointed to the paper in his hands. "He wants you to come out there and disrupt a quiet little town." She lowered her voice, muttering, "No doubt your reputation stretches far and wide, especially concerning this case." Mulder's expression filled with amusement after that comment. "It doesn't matter what this guy has against Hartwell, Scully. Hartwell is sheltering Ronnie Strickland. Even you can't deny he's breaking the law even if he isn't terrorizing the Sunnydale community." Scully let out a long sigh as she rubbed her temples with her fingers. After a moment, she dropped her hands to her sides. "Yes, Mulder," she said, softly. "You are right, but for the last time, they were not vampires because--" "Vampires don't exist," he said along with her in a bored tone, nodding. "I know your position on the existence of the undead." He smiled a little as he gathered up all his work. "Pack your shades and suntan lotion, Scully, 'cause...California, here we come!" Scully closed her eyes, wishing she hadn't let her partner corner her into this cross-country wild good chase. Sunnydale High School 3:00 PM The bell rang, signaling the end of last period and freedom from school. Buffy left her history class, her head held high and a bright smile on her face. She made her way to her locker where Willow awaited her. "So?" Willow said anxiously as she watched Buffy spin the dial on her locker. Buffy smiled even wider, looking to her left as Xander joined them in the hall. She pulled out the books she'd need over the weekend, dropping them into her bag. "I aced it," she confidently replied. "I totally aced that history test, thanks to you, Willow." She slung her bookbag over her should and kicked her locker shut. "A cheat sheet, huh?" Xander knowingly said as the three of them walked down the hall together. He laughed weakly when both Willow and Buffy turned to glare at him. "Kidding!" he declared tossing up his hands. "Really, I'm glad you did well, Buffy." "It was amazing," Buffy explained as they moved through the crowded halls. "I took one look at that test, and had this good feeling rush over me. If you hadn't spent so much time helping me study, Willow--" She paused, trying to think of something. "Well, let's just say I wouldn't be in a such a good mood right now." "You did the real work," Willow replied, semi-blushing from all the praise her friend lavished on her. She shrugged. "I only guided you." "I owe you my passing grade, Obi-Wan," Buffy said to Willow then smiled once more. "I just feel so good! I feel like a weight or something has been removed from my shoulders. I want to celebrate." "Celebration, partying, I'm in," Xander said as they left the school. They stepped out into the warm and sunny California afternoon. "A little ice cream sounds good, then perhaps a little loitering around town. The Bronze later." Buffy nodded. "I'm definitely there," she told him. She looked over to Willow. "Come on, Willow, you deserve my gratitude. Hey, as many ice cream sundaes you can possibly eat--on me." "Oh, uh, I'd like to, Buffy," Willow said as they stopped at the bottom of the steps. "But Giles just got in these great new volumes of spell books. I've been dying for new spells to learn." "We wouldn't want to keep you from any pressing duties there, Wendy," Xander said. Willow's eyebrows furrowed at his comment. "It's Willow," she said quietly. How could Xander get her name wrong? They had been friends since they were 2! "Huh?" Xander looked over to her. He noticed the curious way she stared back. "What is it?" "Well, it's--you called me 'Wendy', and it's not 'Wendy'," she replied. She saw the puzzled looks on Buffy's and Xander's faces then she sighed. "You know, my name," she added in a low voice, color creeping across her cheeks. Xander, still staring at her with a bewildered expression, said, "If anyone else has no idea what Willow is talking about, please, raise your hand." He raised his hand and glanced over at Buffy who just shrugged. "Uh, well, I'm gonna go," Willow told them as she shifted her bookbag to her other shoulder. "I was--I have some other, you know, stuff to do...too." She looked from Buffy to Xander then lowered her eyes as she walked away from them. "What's with her?" Xander asked as he watched Willow walk away. Mulder pulled the car to a stop across the street from Sunnydale High School. He shut off the car, resting his elbow on the door as he watched the teenagers leave school grounds. He adjusted his sunglasses. "Doesn't seem like a Hellmouth," he commented, his attention on two kids horsing around the school yard. Scully leaned her head back on the headrest and sighed. "Mulder, it's a high school, by definition, it's a hellmouth," she told him. "And why are we here?" Mulder opened his door and got out of the car. "Curiosity," he replied then slammed his door shut. Scully got out of the car and looked over the top of the car to Mulder. "Curiosity?" she replied. "What does any of this have to do with Lucius Hartwell or Ronnie Strickland, Mulder?" She brushed the back of her hand over her forehead, wiping away the mild sweat. She regretted wearing a suit now. She slammed her car door shut then jogged a little to catch up with Mulder who walked across the street. "Why are we here?" Mulder stopped on the sidewalk, watching the kids pass by him. "Scully, 25 people have either died or have been found dead on school property in the last three years. You don't find that the least bit interesting?" "The way schools are nowadays, Mulder, 25 is low," Scully replied. She started to walk but slammed right into someone. "Oof!" "Oh! I'm sorry! Excuse me!" Willow exclaimed. She brushed her hair out of her face then bent over to pick up her bookbag which sat at Scully's feet. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't watching where I was going." She straightened, her book back in her hands. "Are you ok?" Scully asked, gently placing a hand on Willow's shoulder to steady the girl. "We hit pretty hard." She smiled a little when Willow finally raised her eyes up to look at her. "Sure you're all right?" "Oh, yes," Willow replied, nodding. "I'm fine. I'm sorry. I was looking for this--" She held up a tattered notebook. "In my bag." She stuffed the notebook back in her bag. "Are you ok?" "I'm fine," Scully assured Willow, letting her hand drop from the girl's shoulder. "I wasn't watching where I was going, either." Willow looked from Scully over to Mulder, realizing these were strangers to Sunnydale. "You two aren't from around here," she said. Mulder pulled out his badge and showed it to Willow. "We're FBI agents from D.C.," he told her. "I'm Fox Mulder, this is my partner, Dana Scully." He flipped his badge wallet closed and returned it to his jacket pocket. "And you are?" "Me?" Willow said, motioning to herself. "I'm Willow...Rosenberg." She studied both of these agents for another moment. "What is the FBI doing here in Sunnydale?" Scully looked over to Mulder, folding her arms across her chest, waiting for him to reply. Mulder paused, then said, "Have you lived in this town long?" He figured it was time to start asking questions, starting with this kid right here. Hartwell could wait. "All my life," Willow answered, her expression becoming slightly puzzled with Mulder. "Have you noticed a lot of strange things going on in this town?" he continued, trying to sound official and not rabidly curious. "You know--anything paranormal?" Willow glanced over to Scully. She could tell the lady agent wasn't too thrilled with the questions Mulder asked either. "Paranormal?" she repeated. She'd seen plenty of things that could be classified as 'paranormal', but why did he want to know? Mulder sighed, tiring of this girl. "Don't you find it odd 25 people have died or have been found dead on school property in the last three years?" he asked. Before she could answer, he continued on. "Most of which are bizarre in nature and greatly unexplained."' "You're here because of 25 murders in three years time, Agent Mulder?" Willow replied, her eyebrows arching. That was weird. She always thought the FBI went for kidnappings and major stuff like that, not 25 unexplained and bizarre deaths in some little old town. Mulder nodded. "To an extent, yes." "Shouldn't you be in Detroit or New York City or some place where that sort of thing is a real problem?" Willow asked. "I mean, I don't know much, but 25 murders in three years, given the population of this town, is more than reasonably low." This time, Scully's eyebrows arched as she looked from Willow to Mulder. "She has an excellent point, Mulder," she told him. She looked back to Willow, rather impressed by the girl's reply. Willow watched the two agents exchange their looks. This wasn't good. One of them had an interest in the odd happenings in Sunnydale, while the other--she definitely did not. She cleared her throat. "Hey, I have to be going," she said, gaining Mulder's and Scully's attention. "I have some place to be." She walked away from the two agents, but stayed within earshot. She had to know what these two were doing in Sunnydale--to keep them from possibly getting killed. "Mulder, this is insane!" Scully said, shading her eyes from the afternoon sun as she looked at him. "You told me we were here to find Ronnie Strickland and Lucius Hartwell, but we're not, are we?" Sheriff Hartwell? Willow thought, her raising up. She'd been sitting on the concrete steps, pretending to be interested in what was in her notebook. What would the FBI want with a nice guy like Hartwell? Sure, the guy was a vampire, but not dangerous. Buffy sure didn't seem concerned about him. If Buffy had a concern, especially where vampires were the issue, then it was time to worry. And who was Ronnie Strickland? She shook her head and continued to listen. "We are, Scully," Mulder replied. He saw the look on her face; she didn't believe one word coming out of his mouth. "Look, Hartwell won't be going anywhere. This place is too valuable for him to just gather up the 'fam' and run. He'll fight for his stake on this town." "Oh, Mulder," Scully sighed, rolling her eyes slightly as her hand dropped to her side. "You are unbelievable sometimes, you know that?" "What? This place is a gold mine. It could open up a whole new section in the X-Files: Mysteries of the Hellmouth." They know about the Hellmouth? Willow thought, a panic spreading over her. She glanced over her shoulder at the two agents. Oh, no. "You're drawing this conclusion from a *name* the Spanish gave this place," Scully replied, waving a hand around, indicating the town. "I'm sure years ago this place, as desolate and hot as it is, reminded them of Hell. There are a million different explanations to 'Boca Del Infiero', and you're taking the most literal one. If I dig into the history of this town, I could find ample official documentation on this place, which would support a logical explanation for this 'hellmouth' business." "But what about the murders?" Mulder asked. "You can't explain away the bizarre murders, like the ones back in '37." He sighed, looking away from her. "Look, Scully." He motioned to the kids. "These people are just as oblivious to the power and danger of this place as you are." "Oblivious?" Scully repeated raising her eyebrows at him, rather surprised he chose that word. "Mulder, exercising rational, common sense can hardly be classified as oblivious." She gazed around the school yard. "This town is just like any other--all places have their odd mysteries, their distinctive characteristics." "And the rash of brutal, vampire-like murders in '37? That's this town's historical quirk?" He laughed slightly. "There is only one explanation for those murders, Scully--" "Mulder, if you say 'vampires', I'm getting in that car, driving to the airport and ditching you for a change," Scully snapped in reply. She chuckled a little, shaking her head. "I can't believe I'm having this conversation with you--here and now!" Willow turned a little, watching Mulder and Scully. Mulder knew more about this place than any outsider should. He seemed gung-ho to prove all of his theories correct to Scully. That sort of thing only led to trouble. "Scully, we are standing on an entrance to Hell," Mulder told her, pointing to the ground. "Doesn't this interest you at all?" "No, it doesn't," she flatly replied, folding her arms across her chest. "And I should've known you'd want to play around out here. I only agreed to this because *you* pointed out a murder suspect is possibly hiding out in this town. You neither want to find him nor the person who might be able to tell us where Ronnie Strickland is." "But, Scully--" Mulder started. "Look, Mulder, I really don't *care* what you believe this town is, what it sits on, or what sort of creatures gravitate towards it. That's not why we're here," Scully sharply interrupted. Her impatience with him had reached it's peak. "If you want to investigate that sort of thing, fine. If you don't care about finding Hartwell or Strickland, fine, too. I, however, will *not* gallivant all over this town with you while you make an ass of yourself!" Mulder blinked a few times, stunned by the ferocity in Scully's words. He'd never taken a verbal beating like that from her--well, not for some time, anyway. He couldn't see what the big deal was--so they spent a few extra days? "This is an important addition to the Files, Scully," he finally responded. "Our work." "No, Mulder, not the Files," she retorted. She pointed a finger at him. "It's important to *you*. The Files are *our* work, and this is not *our* work. You feel free to investigate it, but you can count me out." After a moment of silence, Mulder asked, "Well, what will you do?" "I'll find something to do," Scully said then sighed. "Maybe I'll find the public library and do a little research of my own on this town." "Ok," Mulder slowly replied. "Have a ball!" He pulled out the keys to the rental car and started across the street. "Well, what are you doing?" Scully called after him, her arms dropping to her sides. "Mulder?" "I'm doing my thing, Scully!" he called back then waved the keys. "He who hath the keys, hath the car!" He opened up the driver's side door and looked back to her, smiling. "See you later!" He got in the car, started it up then drove away. Willow watched Mulder drive away then heard Scully mutter, "Son of a bitch!" She turned to see Scully standing there with a hand to her forehead. She felt sorry for Scully, being ditched so cruelly by a man who was supposed to be her partner. But...she began to get an idea. Allowing Scully to roam about Sunnydale, so unbelieving of everything that *was* a real danger in that town, could prove disastrous. A vampire could pop up and munch on her while she wandered about Sunnydale at night, or any other monster the Hellmouth attracted, for that matter. Besides, Willow was rather interested in talking to Scully. Scully let out a sigh, her hand falling to her side. Goddamn it, Mulder, she thought. When I find you-- "Uh, Agent...Scully?" Willow's voice interrupted Scully's thoughts. She looked to her right to see Willow standing beside her. Willow clutched her bookbag in both hands, swallowing a little when Scully turned her attention to her. "Excuse me, I was sitting right over there--" She pointed to the concrete steps a few feet away. "And I couldn't help but overhear you say something about a...a library?" Scully hesitated. "Yes," she slowly replied. She looked around. "The public library wouldn't be within walking distance of here, would it?" Willow shifted her bag, holding it in her arms instead of her hands. "Uh, no, not really," she answered. "But the *school* library is nearby, you know--" She pointed towards the building. "In the school. It's a good library, and--and ever *better* than the public library if you want to research the town." Scully sighed as she put a hand on her hip then glanced around the almost empty school yard. "Are you sure about this?" she asked, looking over to Willow. "That using the school library will be all right?" "Oh, sure!" Willow assured her, nodding vigorously. "I know the librarian, Mr. Giles well. He won't mind." She could tell Scully was considering whether or not to go. Please, please, say yes, Willow begged in her mind. Scully brushed her hand over her forehead, once again, wiping away sweat. What the hell? she figured. It was too hot to walk around, and there was a library close enough. "All right," she said. She looked to Willow again. "As long as its ok with the school. I really don't want to walk all over town." She pointed to her feet which sported a pair of black suede pumps. As Willow and Scully walked into the school together, Willow glanced at Scully a few times. She was happy Scully had decided to go to the school library. If the agent would be safe while in Sunnydale, the library, with Giles, was the best place. "So," Willow said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "You are going to research the town history then?" After Scully nodded, Willow went on. "Going to the school library is definitely the right move. Giles know all about the history of Sunnydale." Scully nodded, looking over at Willow. The young girl reminded her a little of herself. Of course she was as never as calm and collected as this Willow Rosenberg appeared, but that spark was there. "Mr. Giles has lived here a long time?" Scully asked. "Oh, no," Willow replied, lowered her eyes to the floor, watching the linoleum pass under her feet. She raised her head up quickly as she said, "But he makes it a point to know. History. All kinds of.....things." "Should prove useful," Scully said. Hopefully this Giles would have a better grip on reality than Mulder. Hell, he was a *librarian* in a high school. The guy was probably so level, normal and dull, he could put her to sleep. "Here we are," Willow said as she pushed open the door to the library. "I think you'll like Giles, Agent Scully," she added as they stepped inside. "Buffy?" Giles' voice said. He was nowhere in sight but his voice originated from somewhere close by. "I've been reading this old text and this passage--" Giles rose up from behind the counter, the tattered leather bound book open in his hands. "O-oh, W-Willow," he said when he pulled his nose out of the book. "I-I thought, uh, you were--" He trailed off when he noticed the strikingly beautiful redhead with Willow. He couldn't recall what he'd been saying. "Giles?" Willow asked as she approached the counter. She thunked her bookbag down on it, causing him to blink and come back to the world. She raised a curious eyebrow. "Who did you think I was?" She saw Giles stared right passed her, so she followed his gaze which led right to Agent Scully. Giles blinked again slowly turning his attention to Willow, who leaned forward on the counter. She rested her elbows on the counter and propped up her chin in one hand, her eyes twinkling a little. "Oh! Y-y-yes," he suddenly replied. "I, oh, I--I was hoping you were Buffy. This--this, um, book I found is...is just fascinating--" He flipped through the pages. Shutting the book Giles cleared his throat and looked back to Scully. "And, uh, who is this, Willow?" "Dana Scully," Scully supplied as she joined Willow at the counter. She extended her hand over the counter to him, a pleasant smile on her face. "I'm an agent with the FBI." Giles' eyes widened just a bit as he accepted Scully's hand. He lightly shook it, but didn't let go. He glanced over to Willow, who grinned at him and nodded to his hand still clasped with Scully's. "F-FBI, you say?" he replied, letting go of Scully's hand as he switched his gaze to her. "What interest do you have, uh, in...in Sunnydale, Agent Scully?" "It's not really my interest," Scully said, resting her hands on the counter. She found a smile still parked on her face. "And I take it you're the 'Mr. Giles' I heard about." She exchanged a look with Willow who tried to hide her amusement with the whole scene. "Uh, I--uh," Giles stumbled over his own words. He heard Willow stifle a snicker. "I--I....Who?" he finally managed to spit out. It then hit him what Scully has said. "Oh! Yes, yes, t-that's me, all right. I'm Rupert...uh..." He paused, tapping a finger on the counter, trying hard to remember his last name. "Giles!" Yes, that was it. Scully tried to keep her smiling to a minimum. The librarian's stuttering was cute, in a way. "I understand you're also the librarian here," she continued. "I seem to be without transportation--" "Her partner ditched her," Willow interjected. She pursed her lips together when Scully looked over to her, an eyebrow raised. She clapped a hand over her mouth as she uttered a muffled, "Oops." "And I hoped to use the library here," Scully went on, flicking her gaze back to Giles. "I've been told you'd allow me use of this place for some research." She motioned with a hand, indicating the library. "R-research?" asked Giles. "On what...exactly?" "*Town history*," Willow replied for Scully, stressing the two words. She gave Giles a knowing sort of look. "You know, find out things about the *history* of the town." Giles curiously stared at Willow, wondering why she spoke and acted in such a peculiar manner. Town history? Then it hit him. "Oh, yes..." he said, switching his attention to Scully. "Town history...yes." He remained quiet, but a blank expression washed over his face. "That isn't a problem, is it?" Scully asked when Giles just stood there, almost dazed. She waved a hand slightly, trying to catch his attention. "Mr. Giles?" "Oh! Uh, it's--it's not a problem," Giles quickly responded, snapping out of the daze, looking to Scully. "It's just--you can use the library for as...as long as you'd like." He held his book in his hands, drumming his fingers on it. "I can help!" Willow piped up, her eyes glimmering as she smiled at Scully. "If you will let me help, that is," she added. "I'm actually very useful...sometimes...I'm an accomplished researcher." She waited anxiously for Scully's response to her offer. "I'd appreciate your help," Scully answered. She smiled again when Willow broke into a huge grin. "You know this library well, Willow?" she asked. "Like the back of my hand!" Willow replied, holding up her right hand between them. She looked at her hand, a curious expression on her face. "That saying has always puzzled me--'like the back of my hand'. It's a hand. How much is there to know?" She noticed Scully staring at her, and Willow lowered her hand. "And I'm babbling." "Agent Scully, if you'll pardon my asking," Giles said. When Scully turned her attention to him, he continued. "Uh, why is the FBI so interested in...in this town's history? Why are you here, is more to the--uh--the point." Scully laughed lightly. "Mulder, my partner, he thinks this town is a gateway to Hell, or some sort of nonsense." She shook her head, embarrassed she was even repeating this outloud. "Mulder believes this place is a Mecca for monsters, demons, what have you, because of it. Crazy, huh?" She smiled, glancing from Giles to Willow. "Well, I'll start with--" She looked around then spotted the card catalogue. "Oh, a card catalogue," she said, rather surprised. "Been quite awhile since I've seen one. I'll be right over here." When Scully was busy sorting through the card catalogue, Giles focused his attention on Willow. "This *is* a problem," he said, keeping his voice low. "We have one agent who believes in the Hellmouth and all the--the beasts it appeals to--" He glanced at Scully. "And one who thinks the other is crazy." He sighed. "What exactly do you know about why she and her partner are here, Willow?" "Well, I overheard them talking," said Willow. "The guy, Mulder, and she are both interested in Sheriff Hartwell. You know the guy, Giles. The *other* good vampire. Or *one* of the others...depends on how you look at it." Giles continued to watch Scully sift through the catalogue. "Yes...I, uh, I know of him. Buffy's mentioned him quite a bit since he arrived in town." He looked back to Willow. "Did either say why they were searching for Sheriff Hartwell?" Willow shook her head. "No," she said. "Just something about finding him. Oh! Wait, and they mentioned another person--something Stryker...Stricker..." She snapped her fingers. "Strickland." She paused. "A murder suspect, that's what Agent Scully said. Strickland," she repeated. "Doesn't sound like the sort of name a demon would have." "No, and I doubt he is," Giles replied, setting his book down on the counter. He drummed his fingers on the book, thinking for a few moments. "Perhaps this...this Strickland character is part of the clan that arrived with Sheriff Hartwell." He shook his head a little. "A murder suspect? Doesn't fit the literature. Why..." He trailed off. Willow shrugged then she saw the distant look on Giles' face. "You're not concerned about Sheriff Hartwell or those other vampires with him, are you, Giles?" "N-no, not particularly," Giles replied, shaking his head slightly. He drummed his fingers on the book a few moments. "I only wonder exactly..exactly what this FBI agent plans to do here." Downtown Sunnydale 4:45PM Mulder stepped out of the shop onto Main Street in downtown Sunnydale - all 2 city blocks worth of it. He glanced over his shoulder as the shopkeeper inside yelled, “What are you, crazy?” Sighing, he slipped on his sunglasses. As the lady continued to call out after him, Mulder started to walk away, nodding at the passers by. He tried to smile at a couple he’d talked to earlier, but they didn’t return the gesture. “Some kind of nutball,” he heard the woman mumble to her husband as they passed. Mulder continued down the street, ignoring the curious stares he received from the townsfolk he’d already encountered. His eyes remained forward, doing his best not to look at any of them. Apparently he was correct in his assumption the people of Sunnydale were oblivious to the danger and power of the Hellmouth that their city rested upon. When he questioned people on phenomenon like vampires, demons, witches, and the like., the reaction was the always the same. "Are you crazy?" No wonder these people turned up dead so often. They were clueless about the world which surrounded them. Mulder looked up to the sky. It would be dark soon, and Sunnydale would truly come alive, so to speak. He slowed down as he felt as though someone was watching him. It wasn’t the stares of the townsfolk. This was something more - intense. He continued to walked as he looked over his shoulder. He didn’t notice anyone who seemed to be watching him or acting in a suspicious manner - WHAM! "Ow!" a girl's voice yelled as Mulder slammed right into someone on the sidewalk. He faced forward to see a very pretty blonde teenager wearing a flower print sundress glaring at him. With her was a teenage boy, not very pleased with Mulder either. The boy had vanilla ice cream smeared all over the front of his shirt. “I’m sorry,” Mulder immediately apologized. He pulled out his handkerchief and held it towards the boy. “I didn’t see you two.” The boy snatched the kerchief from Mulder's hand. "I'm not surprised," he grumbled in reply. He focused his attention on wiping away the ice cream from his shirt. The girl took hold of the boy's shirt, pulling it taut for him while he attempted to fix the damage. "It helps if you're facing in the direction which you're walking," she told Mulder. She looked over to him. "I take it this is your first day as a bipedal creature?" Mulder snorted, amused by this girl loosely slinging insults at someone she’d just met. He watched as she helped the boy clean off his shirt. “Xander, don’t press down on it so hard,” the girl said, glancing up at her friend. “If you don’t stop that, you’ll never get this stain out.” “I know how to clean myself up, Buffy,” Xander said. He let out a sigh of slight annoyance as Buffy took the kerchief from his hands and set to work. “Thanks, Mom. So glad you’re here, because I’m not capable of cleaning my own shirt off,” he added with a not-so-subtle trace of sarcasm.
"Look, I'm sorry," Mulder apologized again as Buffy straightened. "I thought someone...was....behind me." He couldn't say 'watching me', that'd sound too paranoid. And God knew he had enough of the townsfolk thinking he was nuts. Buffy waved the kerchief around, indicating the crowded main street. "It's a Friday afternoon on Main Street. Of *course* someone's going to be behind you." Her face scrunched up when she realized she was chastising a perfect stranger. "Who are you anyway?" Mulder pulled out his ID and flipped it open. "I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI," he replied, making sure both of the kids saw the badge. "*Fox* Mulder?" Xander repeated, grabbing hold of the ID wallet. "You're kidding, right?" He scrutinized the ID and saw the name printed there, neat and all government-like--Fox Mulder. "Okaaay," he slowly said, letting go of the ID. "I guess you're not." "FBI?" Buffy said as Mulder put his ID away. "What is the FBI doing here?" "Investigation," Mulder told her. "That's what the 'I' stands for." He smirked a little when the blonde gave him a dirty look. "Who are the two of you? Are you students at the local high school?" "Ok!" Xander exclaimed, tossing his hands in the air. "I did it! I cut gym class three times the last two weeks, but I didn't think the FBI would get me for it. You guys take that whole national student health thing more seriously than I thought." Mulder chuckled at Xander's reply. "No, that's not why I'm here," he assured him. "Who are you?" he asked after a pause. Buffy handed Mulder's kerchief back to him. "I'm Buffy Summers," she stiffly answered. She lowered her arm after Mulder took back his kerchief. "This is Xander Harris." She motioned to Xander. "Now, why don't you tell us what the FBI is doing in Sunnydale?" Buffy and Xander? And they had laughed a *his* name! Mulder thought, somewhat amused. Well, it's Southern California. "I'm doing some research concerning Sunnydale," he replied as he stuffed his kerchief in his jacket pocket. "Just about everyone else I've spoken to in town doesn't believe a word I say." "And what word are you saying?" asked Xander. "That has a major effect on how people are going to react to you." "It's a combination of words, actually," Mulder said to Xander. "Words like 'vampire', 'demon', and 'hellmouth'." He tilted his head a bit when Buffy and Xander exchanged a glance. "Those words mean anything to you two?" Xander began to say something but Buffy cut him off. "No, not a thing!" she said then smiled. "I didn't know the FBI cared about stuff like vampires and demons." "They don't, but I do," Mulder answered, his eyes locked in a gaze with Buffy. He knew she had a clue as to what he was talking about. "Have either of you noticed anyone new in town? Any recent arrivals?" "Not counting you?" Xander asked. He shrugged when Buffy shot him a look. Buffy flicked her gaze back to Mulder. The game was up. This guy knew they were covering up their knowledge of the Hellmouth. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Is there a specific time frame we're shooting for here?" she asked. "Two days? Two...centuries?" She shrugged a little. Mulder laughed again, but not out of amusement. He glanced from Xander back to Buffy. "Either of you believe in vampires?" he asked. "Vampires?" Buffy repeated. She nodded, a serious look spreading over her face. "Oh, absolutely. The blood-sucking undead?" She looked to Xander. "We totally believe in those, don't we, Xander?" Xander scoffed, waving a hand at Buffy. "Oh, yeah! Absolutely!" he replied. Mulder couldn't tell if they were humoring him or not. He decided in favor of the latter. Neither had called him 'nuts' like just about every other person had at this point. "You ever see a vampire in this town?" he asked. Buffy scratched her head, pretending to think it over. Finally, she shook her head. "No, not lately," she replied. "But, still, I wouldn't go out after sunset in this town, Agent Mulder. It's so *not* safe around here at night." Mulder opened his jacket and his hand brushed against his gun clipped to his belt. "I think I'll be all right," he said then let his coat drop closed. "You, on the other hand." He paused as he gave Buffy's thin little frame the once over. "You should heed your own advice." Xander's eyebrows shot up as he looked over to Buffy. Whoa, this FBI guy was going feel the wrath of Buffy Summers for sure now! "Look," Buffy sharply said, folding her arms across her chest. "You may *think* you're safer around this place because you have a gun, but I have a news flash for you: Shooting most of the things around here only pisses them off. So when you end up dead, don't come haunting me. I warned you!" She turned on her heel and started up the sidewalk. "Buffy!" Xander called after her. When his friend didn't turn around, Xander looked over to Mulder. "You're definitely *not* on her Favorite People list." "I was only offering her a bit of advice," Mulder replied, motioning in the direction which Buffy had gone. "She said herself this place was dangerous at night." "Oh, I don't think you need worry about Buffy, guy," Xander replied, laughing and shaking his head a bit. "You ever hear of the Vampire Slayer, Agent Mulder?" The Slayer, Mulder thought, more interested in this kid for referring to the myth of the Slayer. It just wasn't something a high school kid would know or probably even care about. "Yes, I do," he replied. "'In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer'." Xander nodded, rolling his eyes at the same time. He held up a hand. "Yeah, yeah. You know it," he said. "What about the Slayer myth?" Mulder asked. Xander jerked a thumb behind him. "You know the blonde you just insulted?" he said. "She *is* the Slayer." He patted Mulder's arm lightly. “I’d listen to her, if I were you.” Without another word, he jogged off in search of Buffy. Mulder lifted up his sunglasses, watching Xander leave. *That* girl was the Chosen One? The only girl in this generation with the skill and strength to slay vampires? No, it couldn't be. Any self-respecting vampire would overpower her in two seconds flat. He dropped his sunglasses back onto his nose, raising his eyes to the sky. Maybe he'd find Lucius Hartwell out on patrol--or whatever Hartwell called it--that evening. Mulder looked around the crowded street when he felt that tingle on the back of his neck - like someone was watching him. He shook off the chill then continued on his way. He had more people to question before the sun went down. Standing under a shop awning, Ronnie Strickland, dressed in jeans, a long sleeved shirt, and wearing a pair of sunglasses, kept a close eye on Fox Mulder. He grumbled a little and shook his head. What a dork, Ronnie thought. He leaned against the building, shoving his hands in his jeans pockets. This was one of the few perks to being an ancient vampire--the ability to walk in the sun--and here he wasted a perfectly good afternoon following Mulder around Sunnydale. So far, Mulder hadn't done a damn thing to get rid of Ronnie's master, of sorts--Lucius Hartwell. He'd hoped Mulder would be the same jerk he'd been in Texas. Because of Mulder, Ronnie and the others had to flee, and Lucius was *not* pleased with the idea of moving again. The Hellmouth appealed to Lucius because they could live in relative peace. Or so he'd thought. Ronnie grinned, remembering the first time Lucius went on night patrol--his new job as Deputy Sheriff in Sunnydale. Lucius was outraged at the behavior of the vampires who flocked to the Hellmouth-- a bunch of "careless, undisciplined children". Lucius Hartwell thoroughly disapproved. Ronnie's smile grew wider as two young women dressed in shorts and tank tops walked by him. He rather liked the chaos in Sunnydale. These vampires were on his wavelength. Human beings--like the two tasty morsels passing by--were meant to be eaten, not respected. And it was here in Sunnydale Ronnie had found his kindred spirit. The "guy" around this hole--a vampire named Spike. He frowned a bit when he recalled his attempts to join Spike's inner circle of "cool" vampires being rebuffed. He was desperate to get the hell out of Lucius' clan--a little too desperate. He'd come off as a simpering idiot when he tried to convince Spike to allow him to join the club. Damn it, he had talents, but none of that mattered. Eons of living in a pansy vampire clan with Lucius had eradicated almost all of his vampiric tendencies. It'd been many millennia since Ronnie was able to "vamp out". In Chaney, he had to resort to a specially made dental fixture to draw blood from his human victims. Even more embarrassing, he had to drug the victim so he could overpower him. But not Spike--no way. Spike was truly the coolest vampire Ronnie had ever met. He'd do anything to be accepted by Spike--even give him the means to drive Lucius out of Sunnydale. And it appeared as if Spike was desperate to rid himself of Lucius too. And why not? Lucius had taken over the town at night. Vampires in Sunnydale couldn't have any fun because of Lucius' patrols. He kept the other vampires in line, ordered them around as if they were part of his clan. And, boy, were these young'uns terrified of Lucius! No longer could they roam around the town at will, free to kill whomever they wanted, or torture whomever they pleased. Ronnie left the shade of the awning and continued to follow Mulder. If Mulder didn't stop playing around with the humans in Sunnydale, and start making life miserable for Lucius, well, he'd just have to finish what he'd started in that motel room in Chaney. With Spike's permission of course. Sunnydale High School Library Friday 5:51 PM Scully sat at the central table, her attention riveted on ‘The Complete History of Sunnydale - Volume One’. She sighed, settling back in her chair and removing her glasses. For the last hour or so she had gone over just about every book and newspaper article she could find on Sunnydale, the journals of the Spanish who’d settled the area first, as well as police documentation on all of the 1998 unsolved murders, missing persons reports, and more. In her professional opinion, Sunnydale was no different from any other town. If a high crime rate was indicative of something paranormal, Washington, D.C. would have been a much likelier Hellmouth. How did Mulder form this hypothesis on the information she’d just reviewed? He would have found the exact same information she had just read during his research. Sure, like Chaney, some of the murders in Sunnydale’s colorful history were vampire-like. Someone looking for it would definitely find it. She’d seen some damn strange murders on the evening news--even stranger than the stuff that happened in Sunnydale, and the people who had committed those crimes were very much alive. ‘But what about the murders in ‘37, Scully?’ She could just hear Mulder’s question in her head. Easily explained. People reacted differently in disaster situations--like, say, after a horrific earthquake. Perhaps someone just used the chaos to his advantage while he committed his grisly murders. It wasn’t uncommon. And the weird gang murders which plagued Sunnydale in the present were the easiest to explain. The kids were on drugs. With its proximity to gang-riddled Los Angeles, it’s no wonder that Sunnydale had a gang and drug problem. Pretty much everything “weird” in Sunnydale had a very rational explanation. Scully looked to her right, catching Willow staring at her. Scully smiled a little when Willow quickly turned her head, pretending to be lost in the ragged book lying on the table in front of her. "What are you reading?" Scully asked as she placed her glasses on the table. Willow raised her head slowly then looked over to Scully. "Who, me?" she asked, pointing to herself. "Oh, it's nothing much. Just an old..." She couldn't say 'witchcraft book'. "Uh, an old book, uh, on something...old." She pulled the spell book closer, almost protective like. "And it's not an interesting subject. Well, not to someone like you because you're in the FBI and I don't really think you'd like a book of witc--uh, um...old...stuff." She bit her lip and pulled the book even closer. "Did you find anything in the books and the articles?" Scully shrugged a bit, half-nodding. "Plenty of evidence proving Mulder's out here on another wild goose chase." She picked up something she'd found in old issues of the local paper. "I did, however, find this rather interesting." Willow scooted her chair closer to Scully as the agent pushed some computer printouts towards her. "What is it?" she asked, looking the pages over. "Obituaries," Scully answered as Willow studied each page closely. She sighed softly. "It tells a fascinating tale," she added. Giles stepped out from the rows of library books, the tattered text in one hand and a neat, recently bound book in the other. He looked down upon Scully and Willow, who were both absorbed in various computer printouts. Closing the newer book, using his right index finger as a bookmark, Giles listened as Scully elaborated on her interest in the obituaries. “Do you notice anything about the obituaries over the last month?” Scully asked. She paused, watching Willow read through the pages. Willow nodded slowly. She could tell right off what Scully meant. “There are significantly fewer for the past month than in previous months,” she responded, looking up at Agent Scully. “Right?” Scully nodded, pleased that Willow had figured it out so quickly. The kid was sure bright. “Yes, drastically fewer than the month before.” “Oh, yeah,” Willow whole-heartedly agreed, pushing the papers back to Scully. “But what do you think it means, Agent Scully?” “I’m not quite sure,” Scully replied slowly, picking up the printouts. She looked them over as she continued. “I’ve noted other drop-offs in the deaths in this town’s history. Fluctuations in crime are not unusual for any town, but somehow this is...odd.” Her brow furrowed. “I’m not much of a profiler--that’s Mulder’s area of expertise, but what I’ve found is in my area: cause of death.” She glanced up, noticing that the librarian was watching her intently. Embarrassed, he retreated back into the stacks. “Cause of death?” Willow repeated, eyes widening. She couldn’t wait to hear this. Scully’s gaze shifted back to Willow. “Yes. Before, most of the deaths were murders, or freakish accidents.” She tapped the printout with her finger. “But not in this lot. Natural causes, mostly.” Sighing, she dropped the papers on the table. “Just seems odd to me.” An uncomfortable silence fell between the two. "Is investigating obituaries part of your job, Agent Scully? I mean, what exactly do you *do* in the FBI?" Willow asked. “I’m a licensed medical doctor, but my primary focus is in forensic pathology,” Scully replied. “My interests are purely in the science of the division in which Agent Mulder and I work. We are the only agents investigating the X-Files--unexplained or unsolved cases shuffled away and forgotten about. As for what’s it like--” She couldn’t help but shake her head. “Working with Mulder is hardly ever boring.” "Forensic pathology?" Willow said, making a face, feeling a slight wave of nausea rush over her. Dead bodies. Ugh. She definitely didn't mesh well with the dead. "I think I'd like to be in the FBI one day," she thoughtfully added. "Oh! But not with the, uh, dead bodies and the forensic pathology and...stuff." She shuddered at the mere thought of cutting up a dead body. "May I could be in the computer crimes section!" she suddenly said. "It takes a hacker to know a hacker." As soon as those words left Willow's mouth, she scrambled to change the subject. She told a federal agent she was a hacking fiend! What could she possibly say to--"Hey, do you want to see me change ice into fire?" Scully’s eyebrows arched in extreme surprise but Willow saw definite interest there. Willow had really turned the conversation upside down with that question. “And how do you plan to do that?” she asked, sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest. "It's a spell I learned," Willow explained. Oh, well, if it took Scully's interest away from the 'hacker' comment, what was the harm? "I've been learning a lot of new spells." She pushed the spell book over so Scully could see it. "See?" Giles carefully stepped out from behind the stacks, watching Scully as she talked to Willow. He closed his tattered text, focusing his attention on how the skeptical agent would respond to Willow. “Spells?” Scully said, glancing from the open book to Willow, who nodded enthusiastically. “As in witchcraft? Witches? Warlocks?” Scully received a nod after each question. She chuckled softly. “Those things aren’t real, Willow. According to some scholars, the myth of the witch evolved in an age when women were oppressed. Mid-wives and those who used herbs for healing were feared because of their medical knowledge. The women who practiced this herbal healing were usually loners. Since it wasn’t deemed proper that women have knowledge like that, people believed they were in league with the Devil. That these women had exchanged their souls for preternatural powers. Also, herbal healing was seen as a pagan practice by the Catholic church. They were branded witches.” She tried to smile. “There is no such thing as witchcraft, or sorcery or magick.” Giles took a few steps forward, totally captivated by Scully’s matter of fact and no nonsense reply to Willow. Scully had just explained away the existence of witchcraft--an art which he knew for a fact was very real. He had even performed a bit of it himself. But if he didn’t know better, he would have believed her. What an intriguing woman, he thought. Absolutely intriguing. Willow glanced from her spell book to Scully. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’,” she replied quietly, and went back to her reading. The awkward silence that followed didn’t last long. The library doors burst open, and Buffy, dressed in more appropriate slaying attire--gray T-shirt, black sweatpants, and sneakers, charged into the room. She didn’t even notice Scully sitting at the table with Willow because her attention was focused on Giles. "Giles, we have a *major* problem," she said, stopping at the table where Willow and Scully were. She waited for the Watcher to respond, but Giles kept pointedly looking down, indicating the table beside Buffy. After sighing heavily, she asked, "What?" then she looked down, meeting the curious gaze of Scully. "Um...hi!" Buffy politely said to Scully. "Excuse me, please?" Scully didn't get a syllable out before Buffy ran up the steps to Giles. She turned around, as did Willow, to see Buffy pull Giles back into the privacy of the bookshelves. That was weird, Scully thought. She heard the hushed voices of Giles and this other girl. "Do you know what that is all about?" Scully inquired as Willow turned around. "Seemed awfully urgent." Willow shrugged. "With Buffy, it could be anything," she replied. She glanced in the direction where Giles and Buffy talked. Oh, boy. Something terrible was about to happen. She glanced at her watch--almost 6:15. And she had the feeling Scully's partner, Mulder was in danger. When Buffy was sure she and Giles were out of earshot of Willow and the strange lady, she began talking. “I’ll say it again, Giles,” she told him in a low voice. “We have a major problem. Earlier, while Xander and I were in town, I literally ran into some FBI guy. Well, he ran into us…anyway! He was totally strange! Asked a lot of questions about vampires and the Hellmouth.” She paused, peeking through the bookshelf, to see if Willow and the lady with her were listening in, but the two redheads were talking. “Apparently,” she continued, looking back to Giles, “he’s been all over town, asking this stuff. It’s all anyone could talk about. The FBI, Giles. This is not good.” Giles nodded slightly. "Yes, I-I know all about it," he replied, in an equally quiet voice. "I mean him. This man--Mulder." Buffy's eyebrows raised in surprise. "You do?" she said. "How?" "The redhead with Willow, s-she's this Mulder's partner," Giles answered. He smiled faintly recalling Scully's well-crafted explanation of witchcraft. "She's...she's quite the impressive woman..." His sentence trailed off. Buffy gave him a stiff poke in the shoulder with her finger, drawing his attention. "We have a problem, and you're going all ga-ga googley over some FBI lady," she said, waving her hands around in a goofy manner. "Now I need 'Serious' Giles, not 'Sappy' Giles." When Giles focused back to her, she said, "Great. Back to the FBI guy. Do you know what these two are doing here?" Giles adjusted his glasses after he shifted the tattered text to one hand. "As I understand it, they're looking for Sheriff Hartwell," he replied. "Willow mentioned it was something about a murder suspect; someone named, uh, Strickland. Does that mean anything...to you?" "Strickland? No, nothing at all," Buffy answered. "These agents are searching for him," Giles went on. "And they believe that Sheriff Hartwell knows the whereabouts of this...this Strickland character." He tapped his book, thinking. "I imagine he's a member of this nomadic vampire clan which arrived in Sunnydale with Hartwell. I-I keep thinking I've heard this name Strickland recently, though." Buffy shook her head slightly, holding up her hands. “Whatever this is, I know Sheriff Hartwell can’t be part of it. He’s just...not that kind of vampire. I mean, come on, Giles, how many vampires do you know who *enjoy* law and order? That’s right, just the one!” Giles remained quiet for a moment, pondering a thought. "I don't...I don't understand why this didn't occur to me before," he started, drumming his fingers lightly on the book. He looked to Buffy. "Did you ever think that--that Hartwell's presence is the reason for the decrease of vampire activity of late? You said yourself the drop off didn't happen till...about a month ago. That was..when he arrived." Buffy considered Giles' conclusion for a minute. "Yeah, it could be," she replied thoughtfully. She shook it off, remembering the real problem. "That's not the issue now. I told this Mulder not to go out at night, and he insulted me. He's probably out there right now, getting his throat ripped out, or worse. It's so not good if some federal guy gets whacked out here, Giles." "Yes, yes, you...are quite right," Giles agreed. He peeked around the stack of books. Scully smiled and laughed at something Willow said. "It...it wouldn't . Umm... why don't you k-keep an eye on this...Mulder." He flicked his attention back to Buffy. "Follow him tonight." Buffy nodded. "Affirmative," she replied, giving Giles a slight salute. "And what are your plans?" She jerked a thumb in the general direction of Scully and Willow. "About the lady agent you've got the hots for?" "I'm-I'm not...quite cer--" Giles started to reply but abandoned that in exchange for a "What? What are you talking about?" "Don't pretend, Giles," Buffy teasingly replied, shaking a finger at him. She wore a smile on her face. "You get this teeny weenie glimmer in your eye and this look on your face every time you refer to her. It's a look that just says, 'Take me, I'm yours'." "I most certainly do not," he declared. The smile on Buffy's face told him she wasn't convinced a bit. Not a single bit. "L-look, why don't...you go a-a-and keep an--an eye on her--" He placed a hand to his forehead, closing his eyes momentarily, attempting to gather his thoughts. "I mean, keep an eye on *Mulder*," he corrected himself as he lowered his hand and opened his eyes. Buffy folded her arms across her chest, nodding every so often as he spluttered out his instructions. The smile continued to grow. "Yeah, of course, Giles," she said in a serious voice. "A-and...I'll just keep Agent Scully...*here*...for awhile," Giles continued. "She and Willow, they appear to get on quite...quite well." "Gotcha," Buffy said, giving him a thumbs up. "I'll do the best I can." She started to leave, but paused and looked over her shoulder. "Hey, Giles." When he looked over to her, she added, "Good luck." She nodded in Scully's direction. Willow turned in her chair as Buffy came down the steps, a sly smile on the Slayer's face. "Buffy, is everything all right?" she asked. Buffy stopped at the bottom of the steps, glancing from Willow to Scully, who also looked at her. "Um, yeah," she answered. "Everything's just fine. I thought I'd lost a library book, and you know how much Giles loves that book I checked out." Willow raised an eyebrow in puzzlement at Buffy's replied. "I don't remember you checking out anything lately, Buffy," she said. Scully turned around, going back to work when she saw it was only a major problem in a high school life which plagued this girl, Buffy. As soon as Scully turned around, Buffy emphatically shook her head and pointed to Scully, mouthing, "Her partner." She held her arms out, almost level with her shoulders. "Big problem." Willow glanced at Scully. Boy, did she hate being right sometimes. She motioned to the library as she looked back to Buffy. "We'll be here," she mouthed back to her. Buffy nodded. "I'll see you on Monday, Willow!" she called as she left the library. "Bye!" Willow called after Buffy’s retreating figure. Spike's Mansion 6:19 PM Ronnie took a deep breath before he knocked on the door. While Ronnie wasn't scared as such, he was a little worried about how Spike was going to take the news. It's bad news, but what's the worst he's gonna do, kill me? He might get pissed, but that's what walls are for - to put your fists through when you want to hit someone but know you can't. Actually, I'm doing him a favor by telling him this, Ronnie thought, his confidence growing by the second. So he can come up with another plan. Yeah, I'm doing him a favor. Nodding, he repeated the word "favor" to himself as he knocked. The door creaked open slightly, but no one showed up to see who it was. Ronnie looked over his shoulder. Oh, yeah, he thought with a chuckle. Daylight. He'd forgotten these vamps didn't take to sunlight as well as he did. He stepped inside the mansion then shut the door behind him. He turned to the meek-looking little vamp who had opened the door. "Spike," Ronnie said authoritatively. On a weak little guy like this one, he could afford to pretend to be in control. The vampire pointed towards a closed door. Ronnie puffed himself up a little as he strutted across the room. He could feel that confidence slipping away with every step he took. Favor, I'm doing him a favor. He'll thank me for this. No problem here, he thought as he walked into the dark room. "Hey, Spike?" Ronnie called out. He paused when no one answered him. "It's me, Ronnie. Where are you?" Even thought Ronnie couldn't see Spike, he could sense him, and the others with Spike in the room. Spike's eyes rolled backwards. Just when he was starting to have a nice, relaxing afternoon... another visit from the geek. Deciding there was no point in staying quiet because the little worm would just walk in and eventually find him, Spike called out, "Over here, Strickland." He noticed the spring in Ronnie's step immediately. The geek wasn't going to be... perky, was he? A perky vampire was almost as abominable as an altruistic one. Spike braced himself for good cheer as he stood up to greet Ronnie. "Hello. What brings you here today?" "I had some news for you about the...the Hartwell project." Ronnie looked around furtively, spotting two men and one woman lurking in the shadows. "Are we among friends here?" he asked in a low voice, leaning conspiratorially towards Spike. Spike sighed. Clearly, this was Ronnie's first time at anything vaguely resembling a covert operation. He was enjoying it a little too much. "What's the matter, Strickland, someone make you check your cloak and dagger at the door? Everyone's fine here. I take it this isn't a social call, so... talk." Ronnie looked for a place to sit down. No place except the couch Spike had just vacated. Standing was fine. "I... I have some news about..." "Sheriff Hartwell, yes, so you said. What is it?" Ronnie mentally repeated "favor" a few times before he said, "Mulder's here, and... " He paused to nervously chuckle. "and...uh, he's not quite doing what we thought he would." "Correction, he's not doing what *you* said he would do," Spike replied, pacing in a circle around Ronnie. "I know nothing about this Mulder or his behavioral patterns." He stopped in front of the frumpy vampire. "Regardless, what's he doing?"
Ronnie shifted from foot to foot. This was going to *seriously* blow his cool. "Mulder's... he's...well, he's just not doing anything." He scratched his head, avoiding eye contact with Spike. He sensed Spike wasn't happy with this house call as it was. "Well, he's doing something, but it's not what he was *supposed* to, and it doesn't look like..." "Now that you've defined dithering, could you get to the point?" Spike interrupted. "Okay." Ronnie took a deep breath. "He's not looking for Hartwell." A quick glance at Spike. "I followed him around for a while, and he's just asking people in town about the Hellmouth. It seems like he's... shifted his focus." After clearing his throat, he added, "I, uh, I kinda thought you'd want to know." A tense cough. "Or something," he muttered. After a few moments of chuckling, Spike's mood did a complete 180. "Thought I'd want to know!?" he shouted, grabbing Ronnie by the shirt. "Shifted his focus?!" He lifted Ronnie up from the floor. "Are you telling me that in addition to your friend the Boy Scout with Bicuspids, there's now a nosy FBI agent here to screw things up even further?!" Ronnie winced at the force of Spike's reply, then meekly replied, "Yeah." "And, correct me if I'm wrong," Spike continued, shaking Ronnie a little, "but this FBI agent wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for *you* ?!" He let go of the kid then turned away from him. Ronnie smoothed down his shirt. "Yeah," he repeated. His head hung low. "So now we have TWO problems to solve--" Spike turned back to Ronnie, who ventured a glance up at him. "--thanks to your sage advice?" "Hey, I didn't *have* to come here and tell you about Mulder," Ronnie declared, his head raising, his gaze meeting Spike's. His moment of courage dwindled away when he saw that look in Spike's eye. "If it hadn't been for *me*," he went on, motioning to himself slightly, "--*you* wouldn't have known he was screwing up." "No, if it hadn't been for *you*, he wouldn't be here to screw up!" Spike paced back and forth by the couch, muttering, "I'm so mad right now, I could..." Whirling around, he suddenly knocked a glass against the wall. Watching it shatter, Ronnie decided that it was okay, at least it wasn't a fist through the wall. "Now look, you little pissant," Spike snarled as he walked back over to Ronnie, pointing a finger at him. "*You* brought this problem into town. Therefore, it's only logical that you take care of the problem, right?" He waited for an answer. "RIGHT?!" he shouted when Ronnie didn't give one. "I-I-I did you a favor--" Ronnie started to respond. "You did *nothing*!" Spike growled, cutting Ronnie off. He took a few moments to calm himself then, in a much more controlled voice, said, "You have a small but open window of opportunity to rectify the wrong you have done." He paused when Ronnie quickly looked up to him. "Do you want to take it?" Spike asked enunciating each word carefully. Ronnie saw the two men in the room start to come closer. Three against one, he thought. In my present condition, definitely not my kind of odds. "What do you want me to do?" he softly asked. "That's much better." Spike grinned, pleased this Strickland idiot saw things his way. "Take care of this Mulder person." Ronnie's face twisted slightly in confusion. "Take care of him meaning...?" he asked, letting the sentence trail off. "Take him out, fool. *Kill* him." Spike shook his head. "What would I ask you to do, take him to dinner and a movie?" "Kill him. Yeah, right, good plan," Ronnie said quickly, nodding. He cleared his throat, taking a few steps back from Spike. "I'll go right now," he added. Spike didn't seem so cool now--terrifying was more like it. As Ronnie started to back up the stairs, Spike said, "Where are you going?" Ronnie stopped on the stairs, turning back to Spike. "T-t-to kill Mulder," he spluttered. Stop it, he told himself. You're in deep enough crap already. Stop sounding like a moron. "In broad daylight?" came Spike's incredulous reply. He rolled his eyes then added, "For God's sake, at least wait until it gets dark, will you?" "Right!" Ronnie said, nodding vigorously. "Dark. Yes, good point. I'll wait until... tonight. Sound good?" Great, he thought. Way to get back into his good graces, acting like an idiot. "Sounds fine. You may go now." Spike dismissed him with a hand wave. As Ronnie started to leave, he called out, "And, Ronnie?" Ronnie paused, swallowing hard, before asking, "Yeah, Spike?" "Please don't come back unless Mulder's dead or gone. Preferably *dead*." The tone in Spike's voice told Ronnie this was a command, *not* a request, so Ronnie left without saying another word. Spike watched him walk upstairs, then sighed wearily. Falling back onto the sofa, he said to no one in particular, "Why me? You try to take a new vampire under your wing, and this is what happens, your protegee turns out to be an imbecile." He looked around the room, his eyes resting on one of the men standing aimlessly nearby. "You," he pointed across the room. "Yeah, Spike?" "Follow him," he said, waving his hand towards the stairs, meaning Ronnie. "Now?" the vampire asked, panicked. He shook his head. "I'll be fried!" "No, when he goes out tonight. Make sure he does what I told him to do." "Okay. Wait... how will I know where he's going?" Before Spike said anything, he added, "I think I know... the usual place?" Spike nodded. "If he's as big a moron as I think he is, he'll wait until this Mulder creature goes to the cemetery." "Right. If he screws up, should I kill him?" "Please do." Both of the men left the room, leaving Spike alone with the woman. Spike sniffed the air, then said inquisitively, "What is that smell?" "You know what it is," a female voice purred behind him. He sniffed again, then smiled at Dru. "You're right, love. All redheads DO smell like peanut butter." 8:15 PM Mulder drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of the rental car, humming a nonsense tune to the beat. He looked to the police station across the street. He'd been staking out the place for almost a half an hour and no sign of Lucius Hartwell. Hartwell had to be in that building someplace, Mulder'd seen him go in there. Sighing, Mulder stopped drumming his fingers and relaxed in his seat. He fished around in his coat pockets, grumbling when he came up empty. "Dammit," he muttered. He grabbed his trenchcoat lying in the passenger's side seat. After rummaging through those pockets, he pulled out a bag of sunflower seeds. "Ah-ha!" he triumphantly declared. The sound of a car starting up caught Mulder's attention. He looked up in time to see Lucius Hartwell drive passed his rental car. "Shit," Mulder muttered. He stuffed the bag of seeds into his jacket pocket then started up his car. He threw the car into "drive" and pulled onto the road. Mulder followed Hartwell's police cruiser at a safe distance. He sat up in the driver's seat, his eyes never leaving the back end of Hartwell's car. The cruiser took a left turn, headed towards one of the 12 cemeteries in Sunnydale. And Mulder was right behind him. Cemetery, Mulder thought. I bet the others are around here. It makes sense they'd be around a cemetery. POP! THWUNK...THWUNK... Mulder fought hard with the steering wheel to keep control of the car. Damn, flat tire. Damn! Gently, he pumped the brake, slowing the car down as he pulled over to the side of the road, right next to the cemetery. As soon as the car stopped, Mulder threw open the door and got out. He saw Hartwell still driving up the street until the rear lights disappeared. "Dammit!" he growled as he slammed the car door shut. He walked around the car, checking to see which tire had blown out. When he reached the right rear tire, he swore again and repeatedly kicked the flat tire. In the bushes, just outside of the rickety cast iron fence surrounding the cemetery, Ronnie Strickland watched Mulder open up the trunk of the rental car. A smile spread across his face, his eyes glowing a mild green for a moment. Flat tire, Agent Mulder? Ronnie thought as Mulder threw the jack onto the grass, muttering curses the entire time. This just isn't your lucky day. Mulder stopped cursing under his breath when he heard a rustling in the bushes nearby. He forgot about the spare tire as he turned around. He saw the bushes move as if someone walked through them. "Hello?" he called out. The bushes quieted, but resumed after a moment. "Hey!" He pulled out his gun. Slowly he made his way towards the bushes which continued to move. "Hey! Who's in there?" he called as he stopped near the bushes. When the bushes stilled, Mulder swallowed hard, raising up his gun. Ronnie heard Mulder's heart thumping, and the mixture of adrenaline and blood rushing through the young agent's veins. Deep inside, he felt old instincts re-emerging, stirring. An ancient memory arose, a memory from the days when his clan fed on humans, and lived as masters of the world. Yes, Ronnie thought as that feeling became stronger and stronger. The demon inside him, the demon who'd been repressed for so long, fought to reach the surface. A low growl escaped Ronnie's lips as he spotted Mulder moving in closer. Mulder's eyes widened slightly as he heard a guttural growl come from what ever was in the bushes. He jumped back when Ronnie, completely vamped out, emerged from the bushes. "Oh, shit!" he gasped, his finger moving to depress the trigger. Ronnie grabbed the gun by the barrel, yanked it out of Mulder's hands then tossed it away. It sailed over the fence into the cemetery. "Hello, Agent Mulder," Ronnie greeted as he seized the agent by the lapels of his suit jacket. "Remember me?" he asked pulling Mulder closer. Mulder chuckled nervously and replied, "You know, I never forget a face, but for some reason, I've forgotten yours." He gagged a little when Ronnie tightened his grip. "Let me give you a hint," Ronnie snapped, shaking Mulder. "You shoved a stake in my chest." He growled. "Ring any bells?" Mulder blinked a few times as he realized who this was. "Ronnie...Strickland?" he asked, his voice all but a whisper. He looked the boy, who now held him off the ground, over. "But...how did you...what did you...?" "No more time for talk," Ronnie said. With a force of strength that Mulder rarely encountered in his life, Ronnie threw the agent into the air. Mulder sailed over the fence and into the cemetery. He landed hard, but continued to roll until he slammed into something. "God...damn....ohhhh," Mulder groaned, as he tried to touch his back. He attempted to sit up but only fell onto his back, groaning. The groaning died off when he saw a headstone to his right. That was what he'd slammed into. "Oh, great," he muttered. Hidden behind one of the mausoleums of the cemetery, the vampire Spike had sent out to make sure Ronnie did his job, watched the ancient vampire easily hop over the fence. He laughed a little, watching Ronnie slowly approach Mulder. Ronnie chuckled as Mulder struggled to sit up. "You're more trouble than you're worth, you know that, Agent Mulder?" he said as he looked upon Mulder. Mulder coughed. His hands searched the ground in hopes of finding his gun. "Oh, really?" he replied in nothing more than a whisper since the wind had been knocked out of him. He coughed again. "And why is that?" Ronnie kicked Mulder in the ribs. Mulder cried out in pain as he curled up in the fetal position. "Because, Mulder," he hissed then kicked the agent again. "You were *supposed* to get rid of Hartwell." Another swift kick to the ribs. "Not goof off out here." Mulder went into a fit of coughing. His hands brushed against something. The fingers of his right hand curled around a...a good sized stick. He raised his eyes to Ronnie, who towered over him. "Oh yeah?" he said, voice still hoarse. "And what do you plan to do about it, Pee-Wee?" Ronnie grabbed Mulder by the shirt with one hand, pulling Mulder up slightly as he leaned over. "I'm gonna KILL you, that's what, dork," he snarled. "Not if I get you first," Mulder responded. He brought up his right hand, grasping the stick tightly. He was two inches from Ronnie's chest when Ronnie's left hand effortlessly batted the stick from Mulder's hand. Ronnie tightened his grip on Mulder. "Not this time, Mulder," he growled then whipped his razor sharp nails across Mulder' left cheek, leaving four lines which oozed blood. Oh, shit, Mulder thought as Ronnie bared his fangs--*real* fangs. I'm gonna die. I'm truly gonna die. My life should be flashing before my eyes right now. It would help to have *had* a life. Ronnie was just about to sink his teeth into Mulder's neck, but he froze when a voice said, "Ew, I really don't want to know what this is all about, do I?" Ronnie and Mulder both looked towards the sound of the voice. Standing a few feet away, a stake in one hand while the other rested on her hip, was Buffy. She shook her head, her ponytail waving slightly. "Oh, wait, one of you is a vampire," she said, her eyes locked on Ronnie. "Guess one of you is gonna die." She shrugged then flipped the stake. "At least I came prepared." She gave Ronnie a swift kick to the face. Ronnie flew off of Mulder and landed hard on the ground. He shook his head. That kick had really dazed him. He looked up to Buffy. "You've walked into the wrong fight, girl!" he yelled. He growled as he charged her. He caught her by the waist and tackled her to the ground. Buffy lost her stake in the fall, but her only thought was to survive this fight. This vampire was a thousand times stronger than any she'd encountered before. This fight was not going to be easy. She managed to wiggle out of Ronnie's grasp, giving him a kick to the face before she flipped up onto her feet. Ronnie was up in a flash, growling. "You should've walked away," he said. He ducked a spin kick from her. "What kind of Slayer are you?" he asked as he blocked another kick from her. "You're terrible!" He laughed as he grabbed hold of her right arm when she tried to backhand him. "You know, we were always kind to Slayers," he said as he twisted Buffy's arm behind her back. "For so many damned years, we helped you people out. But I’m not gonna do it anymore." Buffy tried to kick Ronnie, but he seemed to anticipate all her moves. The kick was easily blocked. "Ok," she said, trying to look over her shoulder at him. "Now you're really starting to irritate me." "Likewise," he hissed in her ear. Gripping Buffy's arm with both hands, Ronnie whirled her around. As she whipped around him, Buffy felt her feet lift off the ground. She found herself gliding through the air when Ronnie let go of her arm. He grinned. He felt so...undead. "Oof!" Buffy slammed into the rickety cast iron fence, blowing right through it. She thumped onto the sidewalk, dazed for a moment, but sat up. She saw Ronnie going back over to Mulder. She looked around for anything to use against him. Her gaze fell on a nice sized pole from the cast iron fence. Ronnie laughed as Mulder tried to sit up. "Heh, stupid girl," he grumbled as he put a foot on Mulder's chest, shoving him back to the ground. "Surprised, aren't you, Mulder?" he asked as Mulder looked up at him, utter fear in the agent's eyes. "I'm not that same dumb assed kid you chased through those woods back in Chaney." He laughed as he stood straight. "I'm back to full power, thanks to this Hellmouth!" A black metal pole whirled around and whacked Ronnie in the face. He flipped to the left and backwards, landing on his back. Buffy twirled the pole around like a staff then stood in a battle ready position, the pole in one hand. She glanced down at Mulder. "Don't you just hate it when they have to make speeches?" she asked. Ronnie sat up, his hand on his forehead where Buffy had hit him with the pole. He looked over to Buffy who protectively stood between him and Mulder. "That really hurt," he said, almost whining. Buffy took the pole into both hands. "Had enough? Or would you enjoy another?" she called out to him. She raised her eyebrows, waiting for his answer. "I'm always happy to oblige, ya know." Ronnie got to his feet growling at Buffy who now twirled the pole around in her hands. "I'd enjoy tearing your head off!" he yelled then he charged towards her. Buffy, still twirling the pole, side stepped as Ronnie neared her. He barreled past her, but quickly skidded to a halt. Buffy brought the pole around, much like swinging a baseball bat, but Ronnie's hand caught the pole before it struck him. "Uh, oh," she said. She widened her grip on the pole, but Ronnie pulled her closer, grabbing onto it with both of his hands. "Your Watcher should be strung up," Ronnie snorted, shaking his head. He laughed as Buffy tried to wrestle the pole from his grip. "Letting you go out all alone like this...so defenseless. Must be some sort of idiot who trained you." Buffy's eyes narrowed on Ronnie. "All right," she declared as she regripped the pole in her hands. "You can insult me, but don't you trash-talk Giles." She twisted the pole as she raised it above her head. Through swift manipulation, she and Ronnie were back to back, hands high over their heads grasping onto the pole. Ronnie brought his hands down over his head, leaning forward as he did so. Buffy rolled over his back and landed on her feet in front of him. They still held onto the pole. "Looks like we're right back where we started," he said. A grin spread across Buffy's face as she shook her head. "I don't think so," she replied. She kicked Ronnie in the stomach. When he fell forward, holding onto the pole, she gave him another kick to the face. He stumbled back, his hands slipping off of the pole. Grinning even wider, she whirled the pole around, but yet again, before it made contact, Ronnie caught it in his hands. He yanked the pole out of her hands then growled. "Guess I get a turn now," he snarled. He kicked Buffy in the stomach, knocking her flat on her back. While she was down, Ronnie came up to her. "That was quite fun," he said, gripping the pole in both hands. He positioned it so the pointed end was over her heart. "Bye now." As Ronnie brought the pole down on Buffy, a bunch of sunflower seeds scattered onto the ground beside the girl. He stopped the pole just before it hit Buffy in the chest, then turned to see Mulder grasping onto the headstone with one hand, and a bag of sunflower seeds clutched in the other. "Man!" Ronnie yelled as he threw the metal pole away in frustration. "You *always* do that!" Sighing, he forgot about Buffy and proceeded to gather up the seeds on the ground beside her. Buffy flipped to her feet, curiously watching the vampire carefully pick up the seeds. "What the--?" she said. Well, he was occupied so she decided to find her stake while she could. Ronnie straightened, all the seeds clutched in his hand. He looked around for Buffy, but she was no longer where he'd left her. He turned to find the girl searching the ground. "Hey!" he called, gaining her attention. "What are you looking for?" Buffy grinned when she found her stake. It was just in front of Ronnie's feet. She raised her gaze up to him, and replied, "Never mind. I found it." She did a few handsprings towards him. As she went into a handstand, she grabbed the stake in her left hand. She locked her legs together at the ankles around Ronnie's neck then pulled herself up so she sat on his shoulders, uneasily. "Buh-bye," she said, grinning down at him. She rammed the stake into Ronnie's heart through his back. As Ronnie disintegrated, Buffy landed on her feet, covered in dust. She brushed off her clothes as she made her way over to Mulder. He stared up at her in awe. He shook his head slowly then said, "You really *are* the Slayer." "Can we say 'Duh'?" Buffy replied as she looked down at Mulder. He struggled to get up, so she offered a hand to him. "Here. Are you all right?" Mulder took Buffy's hand, wincing as his ribs throbbed. "Yeah, I think so," he answered. He used the headstone to push himself up as Buffy pulled. "Oohhh," he groaned, letting go of her hand, falling against the headstone. She steadied him by placing both hands on his shoulders. "Are you *sure* you're ok?" she asked. She removed her hands when Mulder nodded. "That was quite a beating you took." Mulder groaned loudly, closing his eyes for a moment. "Oh, don't remind me," he grumbled. His eyes flicked over to the pile of dust which was Ronnie. "What did you do to him anyway?" He nodded towards the dust. Buffy glanced back to the dust pile. "I staked him," she said. "You know, I'm the Slayer--" She pointed to herself. "--he was the vampire." She waved a hand towards the dust. "I stake him, he dies. The end. It's not like quantum physics or anything." Mulder shook his head, grasping his left side in pain. "No," he said, between clenched teeth. "When I staked him, he didn't turn to dust like that. He just went down." "Wait, when *you* staked him?" Buffy asked. She put her hands on her hips, raising an eyebrow. "What do you mean? Did you know that guy?" She jerked a thumb at the dust pile. He nodded. "Ronnie Strickland," he replied. He waved her off when she stepped forward to help him balance himself. "I was attacked by him in Chaney, Texas, a few months ago." He sighed. "He was different at that time." He motioned to his own face. "He was...normal. Not all with the face and everything. He *ran* from me. My partner even saw him after I staked him, and he didn't do that." He nodded to the pile of dust again. "Then you did it wrong," she told him. She put an arm around him, catching him when he tried to take a step. "You should leave the slaying to the professionals," she added. She looked around the cemetery. "This really isn't the best place to hang around and discuss this." "My car has a flat tire," Mulder said as they made their way out of the cemetery. Buffy supported Mulder as he walked all the while. "And I lost my gun, too." "Like *that's* gonna help us anyway," Buffy replied as they left the cemetery. They stopped on the sidewalk. "And I'm not standing around while you change a tire." She paused, her body tensing as she sensed a vampire nearby. The vampire ducked into the bushes as Buffy looked around. Damn, she'd sensed him. She probably wouldn't leave the human alone now. And no way was *he* fighting the Slayer. She'd defeated one of the oldest vampires he'd ever known, he didn't have a prayer. Buffy let go of Mulder as he gained enough balance to stand on his own. The vampire was near, watching. So Ronnie had not been alone. Great, she thought. Just great. Now what am I going to do? "My motel isn't far from here. If you have...Slayer stuff to do, you go ahead--" "No," Buffy cut in, whipping her head around to look at Mulder. "I will not leave you alone out here." She snapped her fingers when an idea popped into her head. "Giles. You can go to the school library. And your partner is there, too. Great idea!" She grabbed him by the jacket, tugging him along behind her. "Let's get going." "Hey!" Mulder said, pulling his arm away from her. He stumbled a little but fell into step beside her. "I don't need you to hold my hand. I can walk." Buffy glanced behind her. She felt that vampire near. "Ok, ok." She sighed, looking over to Mulder. She noticed him popping sunflower seeds into his mouth. "What was it with that guy and those sunflower seeds anyway?" she asked. Mulder tossed an empty shell into the grass. "In some legends, vampires are very obsessive-compulsive creatures." "Yeah," agreed Buffy, nodding. "They obsessively and compulsively kill people." She glanced over her shoulder again. Whoever had been following them was now gone. Mulder, however, continued on. "Back in Chaney, I used that legend to save myself from Ronnie." He shrugged. "I figured it would work again. His need to pick up those seeds made him lose interest in the fight." He popped another seed into his mouth. "The least I could do in return for you saving my ass." "I warned you about going out at night," Buffy said after a few moments of silence. "Didn't I tell you? What are you doing out here anyway?" "Following Lucius Hartwell," Mulder answered then spat out a shell. "I hoped he'd lead me to Ronnie Strickland, but *he* doesn't really matter anymore now." He glanced over at Buffy, smiling slightly. "Justice has been served. But...Hartwell and the others are still out there." "I heard the tale of Ronnie Strickland," she said then paused. "Well, not really, but I do know he was wanted for murder. Now *that* I can understand." She looked at Mulder. "But why do you want to bother Lucius Hartwell? Or the vampires with him? I mean, they don't *do* anything, and the guy's not bad as a sheriff." "He's a vampire!" Mulder replied, tossing up his hands. He winced as a pain stung his left side. "I thought it was your job to *slay* them, hence the title 'The Slayer'?" "I only slay the ones who don't behave," Buffy said. She could think of a few current undead residents who caused trouble at every damn opportunity. "Lucius Hartwell isn't like most vampires." "How can you be so sure?" Mulder asked. "How can you *know* he's not the same demonic blood-sucker as Ronnie Strickland?" "It was a few days after Lucius and his tribe breezed into town," Buffy explained. She tucked a loose lock of hair over her right ear. "I watched Hartwell while he was on night patrol. New vampires usually mean a megaton of bad news. Anyway, while he walked through a park--it's across town--" She gestured to her left "--he came across a vampire attacking some kid. Of course, I was totally gonna handle the sitch, but Hartwell jumped right in." "What did he do?" Mulder asked when Buffy didn't continue with her story. Buffy stopped then turned to him. Mulder stopped as well. "He *saved* the kid!" she answered like he should've figured that out for himself. "And since then, I've pretty much been out of a job. At least around here." Mulder scoffed, shaking his head. "And you believe he's here to help you out?" he asked then snorted. "No, I don't think he knows about me," Buffy stiffly replied. "And I don't mind him being here either. He and his vampires don't bother anyone." "Except Ronnie Strickland," Mulder interjected, pointing a finger at her, a look on his face that said, 'Ah-HA!'. "Yeah, but he's dead now," Buffy retorted, folding her arms across her chest. She looked away, muttering, "No thanks to you." "What?" Mulder exclaimed. "What is that supposed to mean?" "Think about it," Buffy snapped flicking her gaze back to him. "Well, I don't know what version of the fight you saw, but I recall a certain vampire Slayer almost having a metal pole become one with her chest cavity!" Mulder told her. He raised his eyebrows a little. "And maybe, just maybe, I didn't want Ronnie Strickland dead. Huh? You think of that?" He paused to let his words sink in. "He escaped with the rest of these vampires when I tried to arrest him." "You wanted to put a vampire in jail?" Buffy asked then laughed as her arms dropped to her sides. "Oh yeah! That alone would totally fix the prison overpopulation problem!" She smirked a little when Mulder narrowed his eyes at her. "Look, Strickland is dust, and Lucius Hartwell isn't unappreciated in Sunnydale. Why are you still here?" "To...satisfy my curiosity," Mulder replied after a few moments. He nodded a little. "Curiosity? About what? What it feels like to have your blood Hoovered out of you?" Buffy rolled her eyes. "You *so* don't have a clue about Sunnydale, Agent Mulder! Come on." She started up the sidewalk, heading towards the building. "Where are we going?" Mulder called out after her, throwing his arms out in frustration. "Huh?" Buffy turned, walking backwards. "To the school? Hello?" she replied, jerking a thumb at the building. "Sheesh!" She faced forward, rolling her eyes a little as she continued into the school. Mulder sighed as his arms dropped to his sides. "This is just great," he sarcastically muttered as he shook his head. "I just *love* it here!" A rustling noise nearby caught his attention. Slowly, his raised up his head, his muscles tensing. The rustling grew a little louder. He casually stuffed his sunflower seeds into his jacket pocket then looked around. After a moment, Mulder broke into a run, headed for the front doors of the school. "Meow." A cat trotted out of the bushes, and headed up the street. Scully sifted through the card catalogue. She paused for a moment as she yawned, covering her mouth with her hand. Blinking a few times, she shook her head then check her watch. Almost 9? she thought. I wonder where Mulder is? "A-Agent Scully, may I help you, uh, find something?" asked Giles' voice from beside her.