Highway Summer
by Paradoqz

The noise of the dead leaves being disturbed by a clumsy footfall drifted past her again, and she froze. Froze, stilling the cold whisper of fear and willing herself invisible just like Logan taught her. It's all you, he'd say. Your will. Force it on the world.

"I'm a mouse."

Her lips were dry and numb, she could feel them and the whisper, her own whisper but she couldn't hear it. She clung stubbornly to the mantra.

"I am a sparrow. A winter's ghost. I'm not here."

The leaves cackled in a raspy, gloating snicker and she swallowed, the parched throat aching.

"I am an autumn's wind. I'm everything. I'm nothing. I'm a shade of the morning."

She giggled the first time the squat, stocky Canadian with the weird haircut told her this. His face was so serious, she remembered, so painfully serious, the wrinkles of concentration around the tired eyes adding years, aging him beyond guessing.

"I'm an echo of the midday's breeze. I'm the raindrop's reflection. I'm nowhere."

When she woke up to find his bedroll gone, she cried. Last time she cried, as the sounds of the huge strangeness, of another world, of the coming Shift rattling her teeth, surrounded her. She cried, grabbing her things with the shaking hands, angrily wiping her eyes as the tears just wouldn't stop.

It felt good to cry sometimes.

But not in a while.

The woods were quiet. Strange, blackened and twisted trees half covered with the sickly yellow leaves stood in a silent scream, the quietness pressing down on her, pushing her deeper into her hiding hole.

She waited patiently, swallowing the sharp shreds of the ragged breath. Each heartbeat seemed a deafening clap of thunder in the numb stillness around her. The wood was quiet. Dead.

And then it wasn't.

She thought of it as an explosion. The sudden shockwave of sound, brushing away the rotting smell of death and decay. Explosion meant change. Loud and bright, brash and raw. Anything but dead. Anything but numb.

She pressed herself deeper into the shawl of leaves and loose earth, letting the noise wash over her. Tasting it with the back of her throat. It felt red and violent and... it felt warm. She bit her lip and swallowed drily, grasping fitfully at the beginnings of temptation. No. No-no-no. The noise grew, separating into the distinct sounds, still indistinct but ... there. Closer.

The road curved almost directly under the hill. Maybe if she was careful. Maybe... No. No-no-no. The fear tasted familiar, the dull gray of it coating her mind. She dug herself deeper into the moss, almost flattening the thin. Faintly trembling body against the cave wall. It would be over in a minute, she whispered to herself, unconsciously nodding along with the words. Just a few minutes and they'll be gone. She'd be alone again. Safe. Alone.

The noise was here she suddenly realized. The voices raised in a cheerful banter, urging the mounts on, the creak of the wooden wagon and the staccato of the wheels on the road. And singing. There was singing.


Don't tell a Gypsy she has no home
For the land is mine where ever I roam.
To a single place I may not return
For a Gypsy's home is where the heart will burn.


"Oh, God. Why are you punishing us, Oh Almighty? Whyyyyy?!" The girl's voice was strong and almost brittle in its clarity. It split the dead, motionless air of the forest like a falling knife.


For the road is wide and the sky is tall
And before I die I will see it all
Yes, the road is wide and the sky is tall
And before I die I will see it all.


"Please! No more! I give up! I'll do the fucking dishes! Ok?!"

The song cut off abruptly and the singer's voice inquired in a somewhat injured tone. "Why surely it's not THAT bad? It isn't is it, Boss?"

"I'm afraid I'm wit' Princess on this one, mon ami. You couldn't carry a tune if it had handles. Make peace with it, neh?"

"I..." The singer sighed mournfully, "...hate you all."

"We know. Check that harness would you?"


The soft silky giggle slithered behind her and to the right and she flinched, feeling a scream bubbling at the base of her throat. They were here. They found her. Oh, God.


"Listen, you..."

"Oh yeah? Wanna piece of me, Mistress of Pain?"


"Quiet." The new voice was hushed, biting in its intensity. It walked with the soft fingers across the edge of her conscious mind and tugged at her impatiently. But she knew the tricks of echoes and dead forest. It was a lie. It was.

The sounds were directly under her hiding hole now, drifting up from beneath the overhang. The seconds ticked away and all was silent. All.

The small sound behind her.
Whisper of the skin on the dead grass.
They were coming.

Go away. There is no one here. Please. She tried to start the mantra again but the words escaped her, the coherent thought crumbling in her grasp.

"What is it, Tall-n-Grim? Scared of a little wind?" The girl's words were mocking, but the tone was not.

"They're here." The lying voice again. Wary, flat, familiar, not him.

The pause didn't have time to stretch as someone fired a quick urgent question in French.

"I don't know. Above, maybe. They're watching."

"The fuck are you two babbling about?!" The girl's voice was tinged with anger now. And a little fear maybe. Maybe.

The Liar didn't answer but the French man did. Heavily, unease and resignation dripping like wax. "The Gibbers, Princess." He whistled softly and spoke quickly but quietly and she couldn't hear him. Only the sounds of someone jumping off the wagon and the light footfalls of yet another person approaching the rest.

"Aw, fuck. Fuck-fuck-fuck." The girl seemed upset.

"This is a bad place, Bahktalo. They'll mob us." New voice. She filed it away carefully. Sure, slightly mocking, deadly serious. English accent was slight but there. And different. Not like...


"Gotta agree with the El Decrepto on this, Boss. Ideal ambush place." Singer was scared. She could tell.

"If we move they'll jump us for sure. We'll do it here. Get as ready as we can 'fore we gotta... Saul, prep the IT, neh? You-" The French man's tone was firm. He sounded sure. Authoritative. Safe.

She swallowed, her eyes suddenly stinging with dry tears and memories.

"Fuck." The girl sighed audibly. "Oh well. We were due anyway. Let's have some fun."

"You're insane." The singer muttered sullenly.

The girl laughed, the anger and unease melting away in the clear joyous sound tinged with anticipation and impatience. "That's why you love me, J."

"Freaking certifiable," The singer mumbled, but she could tell he was grinning. It hit her suddenly; the jealousy of the easy banter and memories and old freak waking. The tears trickled down her cheeks silent and angry, striking her dirty, tightly folded arms.

"Bloody hell. Let's get to it, already."

No. No. Liar. Not him.


The first thing she remembered coming into focus was the surprised face of the blond, green-eyed guy in a brown trench, his jaw hanging open as she came flying off the overpass. And only as she slammed into him did she realize that she was screaming. "LIAR! You're not him!"


"Damn. Chicks be throwing themselves at you, hot stuff. Way to go, J."

"Shut up, Faith! Dammit, lemme go, kid! All right, all right! I'm not him! I admit it! Sorry! Booooosssss!"

"Quiet, Jamie." The mocking British voice sounded cold now.

"Too late."

And then she was being pulled off the singer and she kicked out trying to free herself from the iron grip. She might as well have kicked a tree.

"That's not nice, petit. My name's Remy. Welcome aboard." A glimpse of the laughing red on black eyes as she was being heaved up, onto the roof of the wagon. "Saul."

"I have her, aluf." The bearded, tanned face loomed above her suddenly, the finger thick with calluses pressing against her lips. The strange guttural accent. "Quiet now, little one. Like a mouse, yes?"

"Guys... do you hear that?" Jaime's voice was uncertain, wary, scared.

The bearded man, Saul twitched his shoulder reflectively but was still looking at her intensely with dark, almost black eyes. She nodded and he smiled, drawing the large hand across the top of her head quickly, before turning away, his heads busy with something even as he didn't bother to spare her another glance. She realized with dull surprise that they were facing the wrong way, towards the back end of the wagon.

"Faith! I think we should move now, ma belle!"

The blur of black leather and flying hair, the mutter. "Don't move, move. Make up your fuckin' mind. Ey! C'mon! Trek! C'mon, darling! Trek!"

The wagon lurched and she squeaked in surprise as it started to move.

"It all right, little mouse. Stay by Saul, yes?"


Again the small lurking grin, the glimpse of white in the blue-black beard streaked with gray.

Maybe a minute had passed since she came falling off the overhang and suddenly she remembered and gasped as the high pitched shriek blossomed all around them. Suddenly the sound of a flood of bodies rushing through the forest. The baying of a great hunt.


"Hoooly Jaysus, it's a fucking Swarm."

"Less talk, more walk! Step on it, Faith!"

"Shove it, blondie."


She raised her head instinctively just in time to see the black, seemingly unstoppable tide of bodies pouring off the overpass and onto the road.


The mass of their little ebony black bodies seemed to suddenly fill the pass. The color unnaturally deep, like polished enamel, the cute- ugly faces of vicious kids on the overly large, too round heads seemed incongruous and endlessly appropriate on the torsos barely two feet long. The chattering, the feral intelligence gleaming in the black eyes, the grinning mouths with rows of teeth filed to a fine point...

They were everywhere.

They seemed unstoppable as they came on, Remy and the Liar seeming so fragile standing between them and the wagon.


"Non, not yet, Saul." Remy didn't turn around. His hands whipped out suddenly, too fast for her to follow and a series of explosion shook the ravine. Shrieks of pain and dismay ricocheted off the earthen walls and she flinched as she saw a Giggler stagger back clutching what was left of his left arm and crying piteously and bitterly like a punished child.

The tide stumbled and slowed but came on.


His French twang seemed to be getting stronger she noted absently.

"I'm here, I'm here." English Accent, she identified automatically. It turned out to belong to a tall, lean man in a baggy green sweater carrying two assault rifles. He whistled sharply and threw one of the guns towards the Liar, breaking harshly and kneeling in the same fluid motion. By the time he came to a stop by Remy's side he was already firing from the shoulder.

The sharp staccato of two guns was too weak. The din of the charging, chattering, giggling, jabbering Swarm swallowed it whole and only ragged wisps of the measured deadly sound broke through with occasional irregularity, punctuated by the rarer but more powerful punches of Remy's explosive salvos.

Unbelievably, for a briefest of instants, the three of them appeared to have stopped the wave as the Swarm gradually slowed to crawl, the collective screech of impotent rage rising high as the Gigglers threw themselves at the thin line separating them from the slowly retreating wagon. For a moment it seemed that the Swarm was stopped in its tracks.

But it was just an illusion.

Remy hissed something she didn't understand and nodded to the side.

"By the numbers! Adam, you first." She glimpsed the hawkish face of the green-sweatered Englishman and the sardonic grin aimed at Remy. But she couldn't hear what he said, if anything, as he got up and, still shooting from the shoulder, began to back away. Then Remy, and the Liar right after them.


The sound was quiet but it carried in the sudden, momentary, fleeting quiet of the raging chaos.

The blur of hands sure and furiously quick changing the spent magazine.

The cry of pain and hate as Adam slammed the rifle butt with the unrestrained force, throwing a Giggler back several feet, black blood and something else gushing.

The small, lethally fast bodies of the Swarm closer and closer to them. The shared, giggling, hysterical war cry.

Remy swore vilely, "Jaaaamiieeeee! Get your-"

"I'm on it, kemosabe. Relax."

She blinked as suddenly the blond green-eyed singer seemed to be everywhere at once. The one nearest to her muttered sullenly but audibly as he swiped the nearest attacker with an axe. "Always with the backseat driving. Just luuurves hearing his own voice."

"He's right, you know. We have been through this before." By now they were close enough against the wagon she could make out the playing cards sliding through Remy's fingers and the spiteful glare he threw to Adam before raising his voice. "Now would be good, Saul!"

"Too close, aluf! You too close! Make room!"


Click. "I'm out."



The Liar fought well, she conceded reluctantly as his lean shape leapt forward suddenly, the bayonet shining one second and slick and wetly black with blood the next.

She blinked and missed it and suddenly Adam was there and she never saw where the sword came from. And Remy was laughing and the bo-staff was blurring, painting intricate webs of the defensive patterns around him. And Jamie was everywhere. And blood and laughter and the smell of death and the Swarm's alive breathing hate and the hunger.

And then Saul breathed out sharply and went very still.

She saw very clearly the Giggler that threw himself between Remy's legs, tumbling forward and coming up in a leap, the claws of his left hand neatly sliced Jamie's throat in passing. He... it... cackled gleefully as it slammed both feet into Adam, ramming his spear into his chest and using the momentum to launch itself upward and right at her.

She saw very clearly the large eyes, glistening with life and joyful malice.

She saw very clearly the clawed hands reaching for her throat.

And she saw very clearly the surprised expression on its face as Saul machine-gunned it in half.

The oily blood gushed out in an ugly spurt, and she flinched away. Saul didn't appear to notice at all, but for the slight tightening of the eyes, already squinted in concentration, as the blood splashed across his face in a ghoulish parody of war paint.


The heavy, flesh-shredding 7.6mm bullets plunged into the Swarm in a steady mechanically pitiless torrent. Like a hammer striking a leaping horse, the force of the barrage shocked the onslaught of the creatures into a sudden, head wrenching halt.

She watched numb as the merciless scythe swept through the Horde, leaving mangled remnants in its wake. Often the bullet would not be stopped by a single body mass and would continue on in its grisly journey, the Death following on its heels as the slugs ripped the small bodies apart, the impacts throwing the Gigglers back with an explosive force.

The vanguard of the surging wave literally disappeared before her eyes.

Dazed, the Swarm cringed before the lethal wall of lead and fire and she saw the individual Gigglers ducking and scrambling, trying to back away, hide, do anything to get out of the way of the unstoppable, implacable hand of Hell that was reaching for them. And then seemingly in a space of seconds it was the whole Swarm that was screeching, but in pain and fear now, and running.

In a blink of an eye the horde just melted away and the ravine was empty, save the bodies of the dead and dying.

"Hooah! Who's bad?!"

The blond, Jamie, was the first to catch up to the moving wagon. Not dead and alone now, but she couldn't think the thought through and it slipped away from her. Leaping up the blond grabbed a hold of the rail and forced his body up and over, thumping down on the roof. Winking at her he grinned and slapped Saul's back. And turned around just in time to catch Remy's disgusted glare. Blinking rapidly under the glower he raised his hands in placating gesture.

"Obviously not us. We're good. Innocent. Angel-like even. Nothing remotely bad over here, O fearless and copiously bleeding leader. I shut up now, yes?"

"Please," Remy grated through clenched teeth, the left hand busy trying to staunch the flow of blood from the cut on his shoulder. "Daronne..." he made as if to look around and winced in pain.

"I got him." The Liar's voice carried easily as he appeared from around the fallen tree, Adam's body hanging limply in his hands. "Think we could get a move on, then?"


"Shut up. Shutupshutupshutupshutup! Whoa..." Faith's voice cut off suddenly, interrupted by the trilling, chattering, indignant scream that jerked everyone's attention to its source.

She twisted and crawled across the roof. And stared in wide-eyed, undisguised, glorious wonder. "Wow..."

The Giggler hopping in the middle of the pass did not appear to be either intimidated or impressed by the wagon's draft animal even though he was unequivocally dwarfed by the 10 feet and 480 pounds of green-brown-gray mottled skin and bone, and sheer magnificence of the...

"A dinosaur. Your horse is a dinosaur..."

"That's Zuny." Jamie grinned at her, as he helped Saul to manhandle the machine gun into the forward-facing position.

"He's our boy. The runt of the family..." Jamie shrugged, "... but we like him anyway."

No one appeared to be overly concerned over the livid Giggler, dancing in fury in front of the slowly moving wagon.

The - she still had trouble forming the word in her head - dinosaur hooted warningly and the diminutive demon hissed back, shaking the small spear.

And without breaking its stride the massive horned lizard moved forward, out of the ravine and into the shimmering wall of the oncoming Shift, the Giggler squeaking in belated alarm and disappearing under the sturdy leg with a wet splat.


Light and darkness and quiet pandemonium and shards of something beyond her understanding, the clarity and the compressed madness of the infinity bound in a moment's space.

Passing through the Shifts was always the same and never.


"Everyone all right?"

"Allow me to answer that question with projectile vomiting."

"Shut up, Jamie. Everyone all right? Remy winced again, his shirt glistening wetly with blood. "Sound off, you bastards!"

"Cranky today, are we?" Adam was not even looking up as he approached, sadly inspecting the remnants of his sweater, "Nasty cut, you got there, mon capitan. Should get that looked at." He sighed and apparently gave up on the sweater, reaching for wagon's door. "Let me get my stuff. Anyone else hurt?"

Remy visibly took control of his temper, closing his eyes for a second before continuing. "Is what I'm trying to find out, homme. Saul?"

"I'm whole, aluf."


She scowled downward, "I'm fine. And I'm not a kid."

Remy's lips twitched in an aborted grin and he muttered something under his breath she couldn't catch.

"Yes, yes. It's all right, Zun. Yeah, baby... yeah. There, there now."


Faith ignored Remy with nothing short of a queenly magnificence as she continued to croon into the lizard's ear. "You're my favorite boy, you are, baby. The only male around here worth the name. Yeah... yeah..."

Adam chuckled as he stepped out of the wagon a carpetbag in hand. "Strip, Oh Mangy Cajun."

"Hey-hey! I ain't that kind of girl. I may be easy but I ain't cheap!"

"Well, I do apologize, Messer LeBeau, but I'm somewhat short of funds at the moment. My credit is still good, I assume?"

Remy sighed mournfully, wincing slightly as he pulled his shirt off. "Just a little respect, is all I ask. Just a token."

Jamie snickered, vaulting over the edge and landing in a catlike crouch. "Way to set that bar, Boss."

"I'm a realist, pest. Speaking of... Where's our resident Goth- reject?" Remy yelped suddenly as Adam smacked him on the head to forestall yet another attempt to look behind him.

"Say that to my face, you tosser."

No. Noooo. NO! Liar.
Liar-liar-liar! Not him.
Can't be him.



"Somebody c--" Remy blinked as the ball of brown hair, green cotton and dirty denim flew from the roof, barreling straight into the newly appeared member of his kumpanie. '--atch her."

He could feel the rest gathering around him, their curiosity almost palpable as they surrounded the pair.

Neither the pale blond nor the girl hugging his waist and crying into his chest paid them any attention as Spike's hands locked in a protective, possessive, unbreakable embrace about the slight trembling form. Her words tumbled out fast and hot, crashing each other in their haste, incomprehensible under the great shuddering sobs wrenching her slender frame.

"Shh. Shh now, Nibblet. I'm here. It's all over. Shh."


The asphalt feels warm and cracked and springy under the worn soles of her Nikes. Zuny is right behind her, his breath like the twin streams of hot wind ruffling her hair.


Tap-tap-tap, squee, thump-thump, bang-baw-beng, tap-tap-tap.


There is a bewildering assortment of random objects tied haphazardly to the wagon. With every step they move, it chimes in an odd melody, a bizarre soundtrack of sorts that, it seems, she always knew and loved but had forgotten until now.

Six people and her and the wagon pulled by a creature out of time. The balmy, split black road stretching out before her into nowhere and all. Warm breath in her hair and the music of the forever highway washing over her.

And Spike is here.

Tap-tap-tap, squee, bang-baw-beng, thump-thump, tap-tap-tap.

Spike's duster is swishing behind him and he's bantering with Adam and Remy, and Saul is up on the roof, and Jamie's needling Faith and Spike is HERE.

She thinks about the roads and the Shifts. How many are there? Empty, unused, deserted?

Abandoned superhighways stretching across the universe... It seems right.

There is a sound of a smack, shockingly loud among the routine and Jamie screeches in indignant protest and Faith snarks something back. Jamie, Dawn thinks, has a crush. Faith, she thinks, doesn't.

Unrequited love is romantic and then she thinks of Spike.

He's wearing that mask now. He wasn't, not that first day when her life came crashing back together on a bloody road. Only when she came to, on the second day, did he dig it out and put it on. Trying to protect her. She shrugs. Or maybe himself.

She doesn't remember the scars very well. Her eyes were stinging and she couldn't stop the sobbing and it felt like her chest was tearing...

The new Shift had left them in the desert and the cacti were blooming. It was a strange day.

She shakes off the queer feeling and quickens her step, sliding her hand into Spike's. His right hand, the ungloved one. He looks down, quick soft grin and his fingers tighten around hers. Remy glances at them, the odd red-on-black eyes unreadable but lips quirking in knowing smile and Adam winks at her, pulling on the Cajun's sleeve to fall behind.

Spike's palm feels smooth, his skin chilly. She presses closer, rubbing her cheek against the sleeve. Smooth. She breathes in the familiar-never-quite-forgotten smell of leather and tobacco. He is here.

"You all right, Platelet?"

"Yeah." He is here.


Tap-tap-tap, squee, bang-baw-beng, thump-thump, tap-tap-tap.


It's been almost a week now. Maybe. Hard to keep track of time in the Shifts. But she is sure it's been six, seven days at the most since the Gigglers' attack.

"Gibbers," Jamie had corrected her sternly, the effect spoiled as he yelped in pain, burnt by the fresh bread-roll he was passing her.

"Giggler demons!" she insisted, slightly affronted. Who grew up on the damn Hellmouth, him or her?

Adam winced and squinted and she glanced at him suddenly unsure. "I swear! Gigglers."

Faith snickered then, one hand snaking out of the blanket cocooning the dark-haired Slayer. "Toldja. Pay up, kiddies."

"Fuck," Jamie muttered and narrowed his eyes at Dawn, the left eye half-closing in a slow conspiratorial wink. "Are you entirely sure about that, kid? I mean, if these by any chance were not demons but say aliens then we'd be in such great mood we'd SURELY split the winnings with someone. Like say 5'6, short brown hair, answers to the name of Dawn?" He glanced behind him, "Right?"


"Absolutemont, ma petite."

Neither Adam nor Remy sounded terribly optimistic. Saul chuckled, elbowing smirking Spike.

"I'm not a kid." She bit into the scalding, creamy cake glaring at Jamie.

"Yeah," Faith hissed. "She ain't a kid."

"And I'm 5'7."

"Yeah, dumbass! So you can quit your lousy bribing shit, Maddrox." She turned to Dawn the fire's dancing flames throwing whirling shadows across her face. "Gigglers?"



Faith took great pleasure in counting the coins, before nonchalantly dropping a portion of the small mound at Dawn's feet. "You mess with the bull you get the horns, know what I'm sayin'? Girl power."

And Dawn giggled, running her hand over the smooth metal surface of the coins.

Adam dragged the long fingers through the short, brown hair glancing at Remy speculatively. "A week?"

"Our princess?' The chief of the little caravan grinned ruefully, "Two at least. And jus' wait till she tell th' rest."

"Damn." Adam grimaced, "A month at least before they let us live it down."

"At least."

In the darkness Jamie groaned, pained.

Faith disdained to answer, her teeth gleaming in the dark as she recounted the money with an almost catlike delight. She looked remarkably... other. Not at all like Faith that broke out of jail and came to Sunnydale when Giles wrote her for help. Her quips didn't sound acidly defensive, she didn't look haggard and dangerous like a starved wolf, nor was she lining every word with poisonous innuendo that oozed raw sexuality and was frankly kinda scary...

The black leather was still there though, Dawn allowed. So different, yet still Faith. Maybe not the same one that taught her how to make a knife out of a bedspring but nevertheless... Dawn liked her. She frowned. Both of them.

Behind her Adam snorts and says something, his voice pitched too low to carry but the tone clearly sarcastic. Adam Pierson reminds her very much of Giles, Dawn decides. And he is an Immortal. But not vampire. Or a demon. She shrugs.

Adam... uhm... Methos, she corrects herself absently, seemed a little taken aback when she calmly and readily accepted his explanation. Dawn was pretty sure he expected exclamations of surprise, demands of proof, that sort of thing. He seemed a bit sulky when none materialized.

Silly, in her opinion. Even if she wasn't from Sunnydale, and didn't see him walk away from an evisceration, the Shifts jaded people to the shocking, to the amazing. Too many surprises in the Wilds, too many wonders. Too few miracles, she thought. But some. Spike is here.

They seemed very surprised when she told them that he was the first Spike she met since she'd been in the Shifts.

The time snaps back to present suddenly.



Ahead the rotted metal guardrail is hanging half off its hinges, blocking the way. The toll booth might have been red once now just dead and empty. The shadow of the overpass cloaks them and for a while they walk in chilly cement darkness, the echoes fluttering and ricocheting off the bridge's supports.

Tap-tap-tap, squee, bang-baw-beng, thump-thump, tap-tap-tap.

Underneath the bridge it's dank and gloomy and starkly loud, the clashing colors of the tags on the ferroconcrete out of place and imminently at home.

She tugs her hand free, throwing Spike a quick smile before pushing the rail out of the way. It screeches and gives, the rust crumbling under her fingers like dried skin and staining her hands with the color of old blood.

She walks ahead just to the edge of gloomy cavern, stopping before the blurry golden border, squinting and raising her face into the blinding glare. Basking like the sun-lizard Logan told her about.

Tap-tap-tap, squee, bang-baw-beng, thump-thump, tap-tap-tap.

The wagon creaks by, Spike stopping behind her as it passed. She leans back into him. "What's he doing?"

Remy's cigarette glowed, a spark in the shadows as he lingers near the toll-booth, his left hand hidden among the folds of the duster thrown over his shoulder. "Merde."

"Catch." The silver dollar sings through the darkness, glittering in the sun's echoes for a seemingly endless minute before Remy plucks it unerringly out of midair, sketching a mock bow to the vampire. "Merci."

Dawn turned around, her brows gathered in a puzzled frown as the Cajun drops the coin into collection box.

"I don't get it."

Spike shrugs. "It's a thing he has." He ruffles her hair again, brushing her forehead with his thumb, the blue eyes glinting strangely amidst the face half-hidden by black cloth. "A ritual."

She nods then. Rituals she understands. They are power in the chaos realm. They are safety. They are... Are.

Remy approaches noiselessly behind them. "We always pay the road tax, petite. Always."


"How'd you do it?" She was kind of ashamed that it took her an entire day to catch on, so the question came out sharper than she intended. Spike turned to look at her, unhurriedly lighting his cigarette. "Hm?"

She hit him then. Not hard. Just to show she was serious. "Ey!" he protested, dropping the cigarette and swearing softly. Not paying any attention at all. She punched him, aiming for the shoulder again but hitting his back instead and making him drop another cigarette and growl in irritation. "Stop that."

She ignored him. "Tell me! You're all with the day walking, all sunny and...." She frowned and hit him again, tilting her head, suddenly curious. "You're jingling."

She should have known of course. Duh.

The necklace glittered, gold chain and silver. A neat row of rings.

"Amara Gems."

"Yeah." His voice suddenly flat and toneless.

One ring glinting on his finger, left hand - the ruined one. And another on the chain, apart. The slender golden chain tied in an awkward knot to keep it separate. Bent and scorched, not polished like the others.

Spike was running the necklace absently through his fingers, eyes intent on something far away. "These..." Long pallid fingers counted off a dozen rings. "All Spikes." He smirked, all cocky arrogance and unmistakable Spike hauteur. "Took exception to a souled reflection of themselves."


The fingers paused for a split second, briefly caressing the flame stained metal. "Angel."

"Not Angelus?" She should stop pushing she knows but the question escapes before she can.

The smirk is gone. "No."


Questions, questions. Tricky things.

People are wary of questions in the Shifts. Some answers are best left alone. And everyone has something to forget. Everyone in the Shifts is a survivor of the world, after all.

Ragnarok, Methos thinks, rolling the word over his tongue, tasting it, becoming it. Apocalypse. Gotterdamerung. The Eschaton. Millennium.

He wonders sometimes how wild the Shifts really are. He remembers stepping through and finding himself in Kiev one day. And ice was all around him. Ice and snow and wooden steeples and frost-statues of the Batu-Khan's Horde frozen in the midst of killing frenzy. 'How apropos,' he remembers thinking. The mother-city of Russia left forever in a winter's death-embrace.

Was it an accident, one of the myriad of possibilities? Or was it something else? The sublimated fear of generations, the nightmare of the Slavs and Vikings given flesh in the twilight of all days. Ice and snow coming to claim their own.

Our dreams are to become death.

"Hi." Dawn smiles at him, the quick grin impudent on the urchin face framed by the short and haphazardly-cut brown hair.

Methos snorts in faint, almost reluctant, amusement, the train of thought broken. "Why, hello. To what do I owe this honor, Rory?"

The girl nose-wrinkles, puzzled. "I keep meaning to ask you about that. Why do you keep calling me Rory?"

He feels his lips quirk. "I'm afraid I have been mingling with the rest of these vagabonds too long and the plebeian amusement of giving everyone and everything under the sun a nomme de guerre rubbed off on me." He frowns slightly. "Quite distressing actually."

The girl's eyes register a faint bafflement and he sighs. "Nomme de guerre means nickname, Dawn."

"I know what it means!" she protests indignantly. "And you're evading the question!" She paces herself by his side, matching Methos's leisurely stride. "Why Rory?"

"Because Aurora doesn't suit you of course."

She frowns, the slender eyebrows drawing together in thought and they walk in silence for a while, the sand on the asphalt crunching under their boots.

"Is it true you were the first one?" Her voice is hesitant, almost as if she thinks she's broaching a forbidden topic. And she is, of course, Methos thinks, right.

First One. The Oldest. He's been that in many things. In myth and in legend, in terror and horror, first over the walls of Nineveh and first on the Omaha beach in '44.

He remembers Nineveh, the victorious armies of yesterday's slaves and victims turned conquerors, drinking their fill of gore and vengeance. He remembers Nineveh, Nahum's prophecy wrought large in blood and ruin.

"And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee?" he whispers, suddenly back there, deafened with the rattle of wheels and chariots, the screaming horses and frenzied riders, the smell of smoke and the cracks of the dancing whips.

He remembers Nineveh.
Omaha is a blur.

"What?" The girl's face is puzzled once again. He chuckles and shakes his head.

"I am getting old, Dawn." His lips twist wryly. "Mind's starting to wander, senility is around the corner."

She grins at him and he winks and finally answers her question. "Yes. I was the first one Remy met. First of this tribe after him."

"Tell me?"

It's been ages since he thought about that day. But today it's fresh in his mind. Perhaps because the smell of sun and sands and coffee is in the air, filling his throat, enveloping him like a well-worn blanket. Just like they did on that day when he stumbled through the Shift to find himself in the middle of the desert.

"The tragedy of Greece," Toquemada had said thoughtfully, pouring the Manhattan into a jigger glass, "Is that it was forever doomed to be destroyed by its own mythology."

Baruch Spinoza nodded and bit carefully on his oatmeal cookie, motioning for the Spaniard to continue. Pursing his lips into a careful pucker, the Grand Inquisitor sipped daintily from his glass and passed the carafe to Alexander Borgia.

"Some dreams," he said, the black eyes calm and sure. "Are too big to be contained by people. Some are too large to be contained by nations. Hellenes dreamt like unto Lord Of Hosts, but in the end they were but men." He took another sip, squinting in hedonistic appreciation. "The sons of Heracles came back as Dorians to tumble the walls of the palace kingdoms, the dreams of Mycenae and Tyrins for naught, and usher in the Age of Darkness."

His soft accented voice, melodious and rich, washed over Methos, punctuating the surrealism of the scene and in a kind of a daze he accepted the tray from the Accursed Pope and numbly passed it to the Cajun sitting next to him.

"In Philip and Alexander," Toquemada continued musingly, "Heraclidae came back anew, Argives dispossessed and back for their due." His long aristocratic fingers brushed the richly bejeweled cross lying on the table before him and he smiled. "And in the crowning touch of the divine sarcasm the sons of Ilios and Alba Longa came back to make the Aeneas' curse come true."

Spinoza, the Jew Apostate, nodded again and sipped gingerly the scalding tallat, the bitter Catalan coffee, from his glass, the long mustaches dipping into cream, the full-to-bursting pack of Camels sliding unnoticed out of his pocket and sinking into sand. And Borgia smiled, sardonic at the mention of God. "Our dreams are to become death."

And the midday sun beat down on their heads, the scorching air shimmering before the gazes of three wise men. The Great Inquisitor's eyes disappeared behind his opaque Raybans and languidly he stirred his cocktail with a silver tea spoon.

The brown-red mountains, half-crumbled and stark in their otherness among the sands, cast no shadow. The camel tethered to the Doric column snorted at the Louis's bust weathered by the winds and times but securely atop the pillar still. Kerouak silent, grim on the beast, resplendent in a borrowed tuxedo. Two boats, beached and dead, sea shells and broken amphorae around the stretch of the square tiles laid over the sands and the table standing in the middle of it all. The polished top capturing the sun in the mahogany blackness, the silver coin glinting as it whirled, slowing, the spinning dying until it finally lay still between the cups and the rings left by the sweating glasses. Dali, his hands thrust into the pockets of Bermuda shirts, squinting at the rising sun, his face split in the grin of understanding.

Methos's head swam, and he felt the time melt and lose all meaning, Himself vanishing in the chaos of being, the inner Him splintering and folding under the onslaught of the unbearable impossibilities.

The Cajun was pulling, prodding him and the screaming silence of the coming Shift woke his mind but still he looked behind.

The sun table and three men drinking Manhattans and tallat amidst the remnants of civilizations at the bottom of the ocean that dried out in a blink of an eye one day.

He followed the Cajun, the siren call of the chaos Dreaming silenced by the cacophony of Passing.


Blinking into the sun's glare he came to the present. "And that was the beginning. We hooked up back with the Summers's kumpanie that he walked with back then and one evening over the fire he asked me if I'd come with him when he started his own." His throat feels dry and scratchy in the desert heat and Methos reaches for the wine flask. "I told him yes."


"Well?" Spike's fingers were drumming impatiently on the wagon's side, his eyes intent on Saul. "D'you know?"

The older man did not reply. He was squatting in the middle of the desert road, the long matted mass of his black hair falling haphazardly about him. Like an exotic veil, Dawn thought. Or a forbidding chador.

Hunched, his bared torso bent like a taut bow, the unintelligible mutter and the sharp points of his spine like aimed arrowheads - he reminded her of the movie she watched with Giles once. Dervishes praying in the dust of Istanbul.

Of course she didn't quite remember the Holy Men using Levi cut-offs for a loincloth. A huge improvement, in her opinion, if only from a hygienic viewpoint.

"Well?" Spike repeated edgily, rooting inside his coat for the cigarettes. "Anything?"

"Patience," Remy drawled piously without opening his eyes, his voice carrying easily from where he was seating in a half-lean against the wagon's wheel. "Is a virtue."

"Not one of mine it ain't."

"Shocker." Jamie noted dryly. Spike scowled at him darkly and the blond sniggered, plopping down near Dawn. "This is going to take a while." He stretched, wincing as his shoulder joints popped. "Either Saul gets it quickly or it takes about two hours, y'know?" He grinned at her. "No middle ground."

Dawn shrugged, unwilling to admit her ignorance yet again. She was starting to feel like a fifth wheel asking the questions about everything all the time.

"Not a clue what I'm talking about, huh?"

Apparently as an actress she sucked.

Jamie laughed. Easily, softly, a welcoming sound.

He reminded her of Xander. Old Xander, Buffy's friend from high school. Her first crush. Not Alexander Harris, the responsible adult with tired eyes and sharp edges of rusted steel about him.

Xander before he looked into the night for too long.

She bit her lip and shook the incipient broodiness off, narrowing her eyes at Jamie instead. "So, ok. What's his deal?"

"Saul?" The young mutant smiled crookedly. "He's in blood feud with God."

"Shiiiit." Faith's whisper cut across the conversation like a knife and Jamie stiffened, glancing up sharply at the roof. "What?"

"Company. I think..." The dark-haired Slayer squinted, her pupils expanding then contracting. "Fuck. Yeah, it's him. It's Gonzag."

"Gird your loins, people." Methos slid past them, joining the suddenly-alert Remy, a sword gripped loosely between slender fingers, two guns slung over his shoulders.

"You leave my loins alone, you weird fuck." Faith muttered and leapt off the roof, landing lithely and disappearing inside the wagon.

"Who's Gonzag?"

Jamie scratched his chin absently. "A customer. Hmm... C'mere, kid."

"I'm not a-" before she could finish she was once more grabbed and tossed up by strong, sure hands and again she was on the roof.

"Dick," she informed him sullenly.

"Jamie, actually." He grinned and winked and strode off.

A moment later the dust cloud on the horizon grew and soon enough she could see the riders.

Just few meters apart from her her, Spike stubbed out the half- finished cigarette, smirking at Methos. "What, no present for me?"

Remy grinned, accepting one of the assault rifles from the Immortal. "Face it, homme. He likes me more. Not surprisin' really. I'm much prettier and more lovable in general, nes't pas?"

"I sense a bit of insecurity, pet."

"Oh, please. You're not nearly man enough to take him away from me." Remy flung his hair back out of his face in an overly feminine, dramatic gesture. "And if you try, I'll scratch your eyes out."

"Gods, Remy. I told you a thousand times. He means nothing to me. You're such a jealous bitch." Methos noted absently, checking the magazine and glancing at the approaching horsemen. "Good day to you, gentlemen."


"Aye, a pleasure it is, indeed."

Remy smiled up into the tanned face of Gonzag, carefully leaning his gun in the crook of his arm and across his chest. A warning but not a challenge. Gonzag' s grin widened in response and Gambit could hear Spike snort faintly behind him. 'I bet I know what he's thinking too,' the Cajun thought sourly, "Showin' our fangs like two junkyard dogs.'

"So, got anything nice for your old pal, Remy?"

Gambit squinted, shielding his eyes and buying time. The question was asked in that same mild, soft tone that Gonzag always used during negotiations. Of course he also used the same tone when he ordered one of his men impaled for disobeying his orders. Come to think of it that was the only tone Gonzag ever used.

Tall, blond, blue-eyed strong-jawed. Almost offensively healthy even if he was pushing sixty according to the rumors. The very picture of Aryan perfection and seemingly designed to be a lady-killer.

It was no wonder that Methos disliked him on the first sight, Remy thought. The touch of brogue just added to the man's charm. Gambit would have said Afrikaans or maybe Dutch, be it not for the Shifts and a multitude of new choices they offered.

Besides he'd never heard the name Gonzag being all that popular either in Pretoria or Amsterdam.

Spike shifted almost imperceptibly next to him, a split second before Gonzag's brows came together in a fleeting frown. "Well?"

Saul was still rocking, muttering, whispering in the middle of the road.

The rest of the gang surrounded the small caravan, three men standing in unconscious unison around the kneeling figure of their friend, a proud island in the middle of horses and the armed brigands.

To waste time over decisions was not in his nature and so Remy grinned, the red-black eyes glinting with mocking challenge, noticeable only to those who knew him well. "Non. Nothin' as good as the last time."

Gonzag's horse danced to the side unexpectedly, spooked by the dinosaur's smell and its rider pulled on the reins in a suddenly cruel jerk, forcing it back.

'We're all going to die horribly now,' Methos realized somewhat fatalistically. He glanced at Spike to make sure he was set to go for Gonzag's second as soon the trouble started. Gratifyingly the vampire looked as ready and willing to ruin someone's day in the most homicidal manner possible as usual.

Even more gratifyingly his eyes too had a somewhat unbelieving look. Remy's sheer impudence caught him by surprise as well then. Oh good.

"Is that right..." Gonzag drawled. His eyes were unreadable and so the speed with which his hand disappeared inside his jacket was even more shocking. Methos's rifle dipped, the crosshairs lining up perfectly until Spike moved suddenly, lithely to stand directly in his line of fire, the vampire's right hand snaking out to come at rest on Gambit's shoulder.

The sun's violent dance turned the flask silver as it tumbled through the air. It seemed it would keep falling to the ground, and only at the last possible moment Remy's hand was suddenly there. Gonzag snorted, a crooked grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Still fast, Cajun. Still fast."

LeBeau smirked and tipped the unscrewed flask, tasting the biting burn on his tongue. "Burgundian by Madonna and the Saints!"

Gonzag's sudden bellow of laughter rolled across the desert and in the distance a flock of vultures, alarmed, left a rotting corpse.

"It seems we'll not die today after all," the Immortal muttered and surreptitiously wiped his forehead, looking around with clever hooded eyes. Spike didn't answer, if indeed he heard him at all, his grim, silent presence looming over Saul, his pallor and almost palpable chill strikingly discordant amidst the desert's oppressive midday heat.


Remy was still talking with Gonzag, both men seemingly at ease, the flask and jokes flying back and forth.

Behind him he could feel a walle of noise and smell. Alien. Pulsing with Otherness. A sardonic, self-mocking spark flickered and died in the blue-green eyes. 'Ah, Methos, old man. Sybarite and city dweller. Not comfortable with crowds? Wilderness has put its eye on us again.'

Milling riders around the wagon, horses snorting in suspicious wariness as they were pushed closer to Zuny's massive bulk, the friendly voices of the bandits raised in laughing banter. He shook his head and grinned openly now, listening to Dawn holding her own, and the brigands guffawing at their own comrades taken aback by the kid's sharp tongue.

He smiled again, raising his face toward the sun and soaking up its warmth.

'The world is a strange, strange place,' the thought emerged among the jumble of others and emptiness of momentary peace, before disappearing again broken into a myriad of shards by unforgiving time.

"It's a pity." Gonzag sighed and tsked regretfully giving the flask another shake in the vain hope to produce more wine. "That last shipment.. eh? Very good stuff."

"Luck of the draw." Remy shrugged. "Y'know how it is, neh?"

Gonzag nodded and shrugged, smiling easily. "Life, eh? The bitch is stone cold sometimes." The flask disappeared back inside his jacket and he leaned forward, his left hand idly running through the horse's reins. "Bad times?" The blond head nodded slightly toward the wagon. "You caravan has shrunk, my friend."

"Non." White even teeth gleamed in a self-deprecating smile and Remy spread his arms in a Gallic shrug. "Shiftbreak. We looking for our better half."

Gonzag chortled again. "Tcha, mego. I noticed. Not like you at all to lose your women, eh, LeBeau? Getting old. Getting old."

"As do we all." Gambit agreed, the mock melancholy coloring the words and given lie by the laughing eyes. "As do we all."

"Tcha! Ain't that the sad and sorry truth. But not quite yet, eh? Not quite yet by Dagon and the seven hells! "The brigand laughed again and sat up straighter in the saddle. "So, nothing? Nothing at all?"

"Well we got a couple of AK ammo crates but..."

"Ai. That does me no good." Gonzag snorted. "Well. Pity. Maybe next time, eh?" He nodded shortly and pulled on his reins the smile sliding off his face like a forgotten mask. "I'll see you around, LeBeau."

"Not if I see you first, homme."

A barking laugh, a sharp commanding whistle and then the crimson line of the horizon was blurring behind a haze of the dust cloud.

And soon they were alone again, the road stretching empty and inviting and Spike's lips were curling in scornful unbelieving sneer. "Well, sod me."

Faith whooped, tumbling out of the wagon, the sound carrying easily over the desert.

Next to her Jamie suddenly guffawed, then laughed out loud. "What a maroon!"

Methos was still looking in the direction of the disappeared band, shaking his head. "I don't believe it." He caught Spike's glance and shrugged, grinning. "I don't. I simply don't believe it."

"Devil on his shoulder." The vampire smirked, inclining his head slightly toward Gambit and the Immortal snorted, a reluctant chuckle still tugging at his lips.

"I truly think I'm in love with Messer Gonzag," Remy said mildly.

"There will be a reckoning eventually, you know," Methos cautioned him.

"I don't get it." Dawn frowned uncertainly. "What's going on?"

"You are one morose fucker lately, you know that?" Faith spat disgustedly, grabbing the rifles from Methos and disappearing inside the wagon. "Snap out of it!"

"She's got a point, Old Man," Jamie noted thoughtfully, grinning into Methos's scowl. "Optimism is your friend."

"I don't get it," Dawn repeated insistently and the Immortal turned to her, ignoring Jamie entirely.

"What this bunch of comedians forgot," he said disdainfully gesturing at the rest of the kumpanie, "Is that we were this far from getting our livers fed to the Gonzag's pet snake."

"Oh... But he seemed so nice." Dawn blinked. "I thought he was your friend."

"God save us," Jamie muttered behind her and spat three times over his shoulder. Methos's and Dawn's twin glowers stabbed out at him and Jamie retreated. "Whoa. Umm... I'll go help Spike with Saul."

"Do that."

Methos chuckled as the young mutant sprinted away toward the three men and Remy turned around to shoot him a dirty look.

"Oh, you're in trouble now."

Methos grinned, glancing at Faith, "Oh, Remy's a big boy. A famed fighter. Masterful negotiator. I'm sure he can handle James."

"You are a bad, bad man," the Slayer smirked, a cigarette dangling from the corner of her lips. "Hey squirt. Wanna smoke?"

"No. Thanks." Dawn clambered carefully from the roof, dropping heavily to her feet. She straightened quickly and jerking her shirt back into place poked Methos in the chest. "I want an answer. What's up with this Gonzag dude?"

The Immortal stared bemusedly down at the teenager, exchanging a hooded look with the grinning Slayer over Dawn's head before answering blandly. "He's a customer. We value his business. Of course he's also an occasional highwayman, but that's life."

"You sound like Anya," Dawn said sullenly and Faith laughed out behind her.

"Not a compliment I assume?" Methos inquired quietly.

"Sorta." Faith exhaled deliberately, observing the smoke cloud. "I think you better tell it to her, man. She might poke you again."

"I'm a wild child," Dawn confirmed flatly. "I'll do it."

The Immortal shook his head and his hand rose palms up in ironic supplication. "I give, I give." He slid down, sitting cross-legged by the wagon's wheel. "We meet Gonzag from time a to time. The Shifts are not as boundless as we think, after all. And he ranges along the same routes." Methos shrugged. "We trade. He wants arms. We scavenge a surprising amount of serviceable weapons when we trek."

Dawn frowned as Methos finished lazily. "He really liked the plasma rifles." "Wait." The teenager blinked. "I know what those are, I met a guy he ... with that... Man! You gave those things to a bandit?!"

"Sold them." Methos corrected her placidly.

"Are you insane?!"

Faith chuckled quietly. "Verdict's still out."

Dawn glowered at her briefly before her eyebrows drew together again in a thoughtful expression. "Why did you think he'd be angry with you then? Gonzag, I mean. And wait... why don't you have any of those plasma thingies?"

" 'Cuz the 'plasma thingies' need..." Dawn wheeled around at the sudden addition to the circle and Spike was grinning at her, a silver dollar slithering between his fingers. "Fuel cells, Nibblet."

"So what? Everything needs something." Dawn scrunched her nose disdainfully. "Bullets and stuff."

"Bullets and stuff." Methos echoed her, faintly amused.

"What?! It's true."

"It certainly is." The Immortal agreed serenely and Dawn's eyes narrowed dangerously.

Spike laughed, the coin disappearing in a complicated hand gesture. "It's a lot easier to find spare parts for the Kalashnikovs, love. PRs are a bit more exotic. And when Gonzag realizes that simple truth..."

"He's gonna be pissed." Dawn finished the sentence for him.

Behind her Faith grinned wolfishly, the cigarette crushed under her dirty boot. "Ayep."

Dawn started another question but Methos was suddenly up, eyes intent. "Saul's awake. Let's go."


The old man was still trembling slightly, even in the desert's heat, but his gaze was even. "I have it."

Jamie snorted skeptically and squinted. "Oh yeah? And can we get a percentage of confidence on this?"


The blond ignored Gambit's warning, still staring down at the man squatting n the middle on the road. "I just want to know if we're going end up in a sea of lava again, boss. Y'know. Like the last time."

Remy stepped deliberately between Saul and Jamie, catching the younger mutant's eyes with his own. "Maybe -you- want to try and find them, eh?"

Maddrox was silent, sullen.

"Non? Bien. Then stop bein' a prick.' Gambit's voice suddenly lost the biting quality and he grasped Jamie's shoulder in a brief clasp. "Y'know this here hocus-pocus stuff is not exact, homme. We'll trust in out luck. Besides..." Remy grinned, turning back to Saul. "The old man here has been more right than wrong, neh?"

"Actually I'd say it's about even." Methos noted absently, helping Saul to his feet. "But the pest's point stands. How sure are you about this one?"

Almost reluctuntly Remy's head swung around to regard Saul with an uncertain gaze.

The callused fingers were gathering the unruly mane into a ponytail, the black eyes tired and dull but still, Saul smiled and shrugged meeting Gambit's eyes. "As sure as I was the last time, aluf."

Spike barked in an abrupt, mocking laugh and Jamie groaned pained. "Oh, god, I hate my life."


It feels good to walk, to feel the strength in her legs, the muscles playing under her skin, to feel seemingly inexhaustible energy boiling within her. She wonders if that's how it feels to be a Slayer, or an Immortal. Dawn shrugs slightly and the thought is lost as she glances askance at Jamie.

He slowed soon after they set out again, letting the little caravan overtake him. And now they are walking together, the wagon creaking softly and slowly ahead of them, the snatches of the others' conversations and random sounds intruding in an incessant, chaotic stream on their silence.

Jamie is striding easily, boots leaving fleeting imprints in the dust that are sundered by the wind mere seconds after they have passed. He is quiet, oddly withdrawn and pensive.

And not like himself at all, Dawn thinks. Jamie is never quiet.

"So what's up with you?"

The blue eyes meet hers and are darkened by the trick of light. His mouth twitches in a humorless smile that suddenly seems much too wise and he doesn't ask her what she means.

"You know," he says absently, running his fingers through the blond chaos of his unkempt hair, "I don't remember how long it's been since I've been a Peregrinus?"

He smiles crookedly, sadly. "What a great word, huh? Mythology and siren's song and fairy tale in one. Just waiting to be sung. That's what we say we are. Wanderers, citizens of nowhere, strangers in their own house," he laughs quietly, "Those who never feel at home. Those Romans knew what they were about."

The odd little smile widens, to show even teeth. "It sounds so glamorous, doesn't it?"

She doesn't reply. Doesn't have to as he speaks again, talking to himself as much as her.

"We are Pilgrims in hell, new gypsies of the madness loosed in chaos." Jamie chuckles darkly. "It's so easy to be a wanderer when they take away your home."

The cigarette appears as if out of nowhere in his hand and he flips it up catching it easily with his teeth. "Deserts. So many deserts. I'm so tired of them."

His voice drops to whisper and he rubs his eyes wearily. "They never seem to end, y'know? Abandoned cities, dead forests, crumbling castles.... they are all just deserts. Pitiless, timeless and barren. Dead. So fucking dead. Especially the cities."

His coat flaps slightly in the soft, warm breeze and he starts, looking uncomprehendingly at the lighter in his hand. Shrugging, he lights the cigarette, coughing slightly as he draws in the nicotine.

"Time. It's so big, too big to grasp, too big to know. So easily lost. So easily taken away." The exhaled smoke curls in the air before his face and Jamie follows the dissipating cloud, his expression unreadable. "More than anything else I blame the Shifts for stealing time. From me and you and all."

The deep blue eyes slide slowly across the people walking ahead of them and the odd, rueful smile returns, playing strangely across the tired face.

His gaze lingers on Spike and Methos. "It's a terrible thing to envy your brothers, isn't it? Terrible thing to feel the hate shiver in the back of your throat on the nights when it's just too cold and just too dark to keep it the green-eyed beast at bay."

Dawn glances at him unsure what to say, unsure what to feel. Jamie's quiet words echo with unexpected poignancy somewhere in her throat. He is still smiling sadly, his eyes just a fraction off the vampire and the Immortal now, fastened on the lithe figure in the black leather holding the reins.

"Life is a strange and tiring thing sometimes, kid. Terrible and beautiful and merciless in its little jokes." He laughs, tiredly and almost desperately with the need to laugh at all and Dawn swallows, knowing that she had been wrong. Jamie doesn't have a crush at all. Something deeper, more dangerous, awful in its intensity, is lurking behind the facade, under the rigidly enforced mirage of a carefree clown of the group.

The silence lingers again, words suddenly fragile and futile and in the end supremely trivial before the truths and lies and the unfolding desert road.

Even the shimmering shock of the Shift wall is not enough to break the mood and somehow Dawn doesn't want to run ahead. They walk.

And so Jamie's quiet, musing words startle her much more than they perhaps should.

"Seems I'll have to apologize to Saul." The mutant sighs, wiping the sweat from his face with a checkered kerchief. "Dammit. I hate being proven an asshole."

Dawn blinks. "Uh..."

The answering grin is fleeting but genuine, the first real, the first Jamie, expression in hours. "Lost?"

"Yeah." She admits.

He shrugs. "Figures. What do you know?"

Dawn frowns, listing facts from memory. "You got separated from the rest of the caravan. And are looking for them. Which I don't get really 'cuz... y'know. " She jerks her head behind them where they stepped out through the Shift only hours before. "Right?"

"That's the short of it." Jamie agrees.

"But what about..."

"You have been on your own a long time, haven't you?"

She frowns unsure of what he means. "Yeah. Why?"

Jamie smiles but instead of replying nods a greeting to Methos, Spike and Remy. They were standing on the side of the road, waiting for them. Faith glaring from the top of the stopped wagon, Saul stretched out on the roof with closed eyes.

It is the Immortal who answers her, matching his stride with theirs and giving Jamie an inscrutable look. "Humans are strange animals, Dawn. More adaptable than any other predators." The grass- blade dances as his lips quirk. "Shifts are and we live and those who survive adapt. By magic, technology or, " he glances briefly at Gambit and Jamie, "Genetics."

Remy shakes his head, the strange eyes narrowing in thought. "Nur's dancing for joy wherever the bastard is. Only the strong survive. By hook or crook."

Methos glances at Gambit quickly before continuing as if he had not heard. "Instincts develop, skills become acquired...." He snorted softly. "I would not be in the least surprised if somewhere out there is a little boy with the gift to rule the Shifts."

"Or girl," Dawn retorts automatically, Remy and Jamie exchanging grins as Methos inclines his head. "Or girl."

"Do you really think so?" Dawn asks. "That there might be a mutant like that?"

The immortal shrugs, the stalk of the grass gripped in his teeth as he watches the horizon. "I do. I think it is in fact a matter only of time."

Her eyes dart almost involuntarily toward the others. She wants to see them grinning, smirking, laughing. Being them. But they are not and are serious, their step heavy, eyes dark, listening.

Methos speaks and thinks aloud and looks for prophecy in own words.

"Once, I met a kid. Far from here and not. It was normal to him. It was life. Born in the Shifts, you see." The Immortal stretches, unseeing eyes lost in the olive sky, lips quirking in a wistful smile.

"Somewhere somewhen there are, there'll be whole tribes. Shiftborn. Knowing nothing but. We will die out and be forgotten. The old world just a myth, a fairy tale to calm the children and keep away the things of night."

'Like vampires,' Spike thinks. 'The Shifts are not our magic. Someday I might be the last. Maybe already am?'

"Dinosaurs." The word spills out before he can catch it and Remy glances at vampire, but says nothing.

Silence. The road stretches through the forest.

"Not the People," Faith alleges firmly, uncompromising mouth set in a thin determined line.

Methos smiles sadly, cynically. "Maybe not."

They walk.


The wolf found them in the middle of the deserted city, a grey blur racing through across the patchy cobblestones of the square and rising in a great leap over half crumbled mausoleum before slamming into Spike. The vampire, startled out of his reverie, let out a string of curses a Russian sailor would approve of and went down under the weight of fur and gleaming fangs.

Saul, sitting cross-legged and serene, like a haggard Buddha on the roof, smiled slowly.

"Ruv!" Faith screamed and tumbled from the roof to leap upon the pair, and Remy swore and stepped aside, grinning like a loon. Methos winced and stumbled as Dawn shrieked and jumped onto his foot. "Jesus wept, Rory!"

"It's a wolf!"

Spike was still cursing as he untangled himself from the mess of paws and legs and wolf and Slayer. Faith looked up and frowned at Dawn sternly. "It's Ruv."

Dawn looked at Jamie, mind working as she tried to remember. "Doesn't that mean wolf in Romani?"

Jaime, smiled proudly over her head at Methos. "That's right Summers. That's exactly what it means. I'm a great teacher. I rule. I, if I do say so myself, is an incomparable example of masterful pedagogue."

"I'm surprised you know what pedagogue means." Methos grumbled softly, still rubbing his foot. "And I still say it's a waste of time to learn that gibberish."

Spike nodded in dour agreement. "Pretentious twaddle. Maybe fifty real Gypsies in the tribes but no, everyone wants to be the next bloody 'Ralda."

"What's up, " Dawn asked very calmly, digging her toe into the Immortal's ankle. "With the huge-ass wolf, licking Faith?"

Jaime chocked a highly inappropriate snigger and turned hastily away. Remy shook his head, his smile suddenly looking tired. "Chillens... Play nice. And, Rory, you should know the doggie."

Faith glared up at the Cajun. "Who you calling a doggie, swamp boy?"

Her momentary distraction allowed the somewhat rumpled beast to slip through her deceptively slender arms and pad softly over the warm cobblestones. Dawn squeaked quietly and almost retreated but something held her in place as the wolf approached her, stopping mere inches away. It wasn't simply gray she saw now; the black highlights streaked through the matted fur. And it was... "Big." she whispered softly, unaware she was speaking aloud.

The wolf, sinking to its haunches, raised its head and its pale green eyes met hers almost at the level.

The sounds of the caravan fell suddenly away and the world telescoped inward to those eyes. Green and laughing and sadly wise beyond all words. The same eyes she remembered all too well glancing at her over the lacquered wood of the chipped guitar as the world was ending outside her door.



The cities were the most dangerous places of all. Dawn learnt it quickly, everyone who wanted to survive in the Shadowlands did. Cities were dangerous.

"It is because their magic is corrupted now." Saul told her as they moved cautiously through the streets full of wind and crumbled stones.

"Without people... they're sick. Not right. Dangerous."

Zuny snorted in a warning challenge as a pile of broken crates and rotting paper shifted slightly. The wolf growled, sniffed and relaxed as a pack of rats skittered across the pavement. Zuny snorted in disgust and cautiously moved forward.

"Where are we going?" From her perching place on the roof of the wagon Dawn could see Spike and Faith and the wolf walking ahead of the caravan. If they were talking it was too soft to carry. Remy and Adam lagged behind. She hugged her knees closer to her chest, suddenly missing the sound of the voices. "Saul?"

The black bearded shaman was whistling softly as he handled the reins, and apparently did not hear the quiet query. Jamie did of course.

"Gonna catch up with the rest of this sorry family." He grinned up at her and swung the coat he was carrying over his right shoulder in a wide proprietary arc. "How do you like the place, kid?"

"I'm not a kid," she retorted mechanically and shivered slightly despite the warm wind and the summer sun. "It's kinda creepy."

"Tell me about it," he agreed and squinted towards Saul with a slightly pained expression as the latter switched from whistling to humming.

"Y'know, " the mutant noted musingly, "There is something very unwholesome about this."


Maddrox glanced at her, the corner of the mouth turning up. "And Lo, the King of Israel doeth driveth the buggy and he doeth directeth the dinosaur with furious righteousness and lo he doeth humeth 'Benny the Moocha' with great and mighty enthusiasm. And hardly any right notes at all."

Dawn looked at him blankly and Jamie sighed. "He doeth suck. Eth."

She grinned a little spitefully, "Ever heard the one about the glass houses and stones?"

"Yeah. But see I ain't royalty."

Dawn stared at him then for a long moment before glancing at Saul who was still humming quietly into his beard. "Is he for real?"

"Very rarely." Saul smiled at her and she giggled slightly as Jamie sputtered his indignation below them. "But true enough. I am a man who would to be king."

"And now he's but the king of swing." Jamie muttered vindictively and Saul's lips quirked.

"True enough."

"No. Wait. " Dawn suddenly felt the strange melancholy fall away and she stared at the man driving the wagon with undisguised curiosity. "Like... is he... I mean seriously? You are THAT Saul?"

"The one and only." Jamie confirmed and Dawn jerked her shoulder in unvoiced irritation, still looking at Saul. "Really? I mean... Honestly?"

She broke off, suddenly embarrassed, remembering the unvoiced rule of asking questions about people's pasts. And Saul's humming seemed more strained now, the easy smile gone and shadows falling across the gaunt and somber face.

She mumbled an apology and he waved the words away. Forgotten. No problems. But the awkwardness remained and the day seemed to get colder still.

She tried her best to make her departure nonchalant but knew that the awkward excuses about stretching her legs sounded strained and foolish. Still Saul just nodded and slowed slightly to let her down.

Jaime snorted quietly, knowingly and she elbowed him. "Shuddap."


The reins feel light, the leather sliding between his fingers. The feeling is familiar and not. That day the leather was slick with blood from a shoulder cut, slippery and worn, tricky to hold in tiring hands, making the axe a dead weight.


"I wasn't there," Jamie admitted. "But I heard the story. The Shift opened right at the top of the mountain and there he was."


Gilboa, Saul thinks, the rock of ages, the breaker of my dreams. He remembers sitting there, unsure when his legs gave out, his back to the boulder scarred by arrows. He remembers sitting there as Philistines drew closer and thinking back to the night before.


"I can just see it, y'know?" Jamie squinted into the sun and sighed, fingers unconsciously flexing. "Saul surrounded by them, beard and hair matted and sticky with blood, dead bodies all around. Cursing God."


He always trusted his instincts. Always. And they never let him down through his rise from just another peasant to Judgeship of the Benjamin Tribe to the throne of Israel entire.

He knew the Dark was coming. Knew it in his bones as he tossed and turned in the sleepless unease. And he was afraid.


"No, I mean really cursing. Calling a curse of land and blood on Him."


It was a mistake of course. He should have known better than to let his fears take control of him. Skulking through the night disguised, looking for a witch hiding from his own decree against diviners and practitioners of the Art. Afraid. Like him.


"So at first Methos was the only one of them who could talk to him at all. I mean, not a whole lot of ancient Hebrew speakers running around."


"A god I saw coming up out of the earth." The old woman told him and cackled, knowing the end was nigh. That tomorrow he would stand alone. And she called Samuel from beyond the grave to taunt him once again and say that God had forsaken him. Abandoned Saul, his Chosen and the Kingdom he had built would fall to a desert bandit who led the Philistines into his kingdom. Who now had Yahweh's favor.

He had not eaten in days. He had not slept. There was a time he could go weeks like so. But now he was old and the ground moved beneath his feet and blackness screamed behind his eyes and he felt faint.

The old woman stood silent, watching and then she sighed.

"Let me share my meal with you oh King of yesterdays. Eat of my bread and the power will come back to be in you. For you will need it on the morrow."

And he did. And the emptiness where his God used to dwell within him bore heavily upon his shoulders. And so he knew fear.

And in the night the Philistines cast David out of their midst, mistrustful and proud fools. Laughing at them he departed. For the blood of the rightful king would not be on his hands before the eyes of Israel and God.

And then there was Gilboa.
The damned Mount, rock of ages, the breaker of my dreams.

The battle that had split the world.

Gath, Ashkelon, Ekron, Ashdod and Gaza. Five haughty kings, the Axis Lords of Philistia and their proud hosts.

They could not hold. Too few, too tired. They could not hold. And yet they did, till dusk, the crimson bloody sun sinking into the night, they were still standing. His sons, the pride of Israel.

They stood, they were his shield, Malchishua and Abindab his littlest, the almost-boy who bought his manhood there, on Gilboa's slopes, and paid for it in blood.

His sons, the blood of his blood, the flesh of his flesh. And Jonathan, the same but for the will of the Betrayer-God. They stood there back-to-back, a wall of flesh, a living shield for him. They stood and the might of Canaan trembled before them.

And so he knew pride.

The darkness fell but still they did not dare to approach. And so the archers came.
And so his sons died.

By raven locks the severed head of his eldest son was raised above the killing fields and so he knew despair.


"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabach-thani?" he asked and wept, cradling the body, heedless of the enemies and stalking death. "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?"

And Yahweh laughed, the night sky thundering, the bolts of the Killer- God splitting darkness.

The arrows fell like rain and he could not remember how he came to be sitting against that boulder, unsure when his legs gave out. But the Philistines grew closer and he still had strength enough to rise and meet them, to lose himself in blood and pain and death.

Until the Lord of Hosts smiled and decided it was time for him to die.

The bronze shattered then and of the axe but haft remained. There and then among the bodies of his clan he looked upon his sword and thought that maybe it was time to go. To follow his sons and have a talk with Yahweh face to face.

And so he knew peace. He laughed then, and looked upon the sky and said the forbidden name of God unto the world to hear.

And the Creation trembled, horrified and in its dread splintered before the wrath of Most High.

And so he knew hate.


"The Good Book tells us, " Remy said, smiling crookedly as Jamie let out a startled yelp at his sudden words, "That Saul was punished for his mercy."

Dawn looked at him and Methos, who had came up softly behind them. Gambit continued, while the Immortal listened silently, inscrutable. "The God through the prophet Samuel told Saul to visit destruction upon the Amalekites and spare not the men, nor women or the children."

Remy glanced up at the hunching, brooding figure on the wagon's roof. "And Saul the king and Saul the man went against the prophet of his God and spared his enemies. And God turned away from Saul and took away his realm and another was anointed as king of Israel."


Dawn glanced at Methos, unsure of the tone as he bit out the name.

Remy just nodded, the devil-eyes again flickering to the figure darkened against the clear summer sun. "We found him there, on Mount Gilboa, hurlin' his hate into the face of God. He thought that his curse had cracked the world."

Dawn swallowed as the quietly knowing alien eyes stared, weighed and assessed. She felt her lips move. "But... he knows now, right? You told him? It's not his fault."

Remy smiled again, the cigarette gripped loosely between gleaming teeth. "We told him, chere. Whether he knows... " He was still staring at her. "Do you?"


"Partake of my bread Oh King of yesterdays and the power shall return to you."

He wonders still if the old witch knew what she had awakened in him on that night. Wonders if she saw the future. If she knew what the blood-bond would seal into his soul.


"Hate," Remy says and inhaling slowly savors the acrid taste, "be a powerful thing, Dawnie."

It is the first time he calls her that and she feels slight blush working its way up her neck and hates herself a little because of it. But he simply goes on.

"Perhaps if we had known..." He pauses, then shrugs and grins, "We would have still bonded him. Or he would have had to leave. But...'

He shrugs again, the gesture underlining the vagaries and inevitability of fate. "The ritual awakened somethin' and when it was done he was a houghan, a witch."

"A shaman." Jamie corrects him haughtily and Remy rolls his eyes. "Qui, whatever."

Methos, quietly, bitterly. "We should have seen it coming."

"How?" Remy doesn't look at him but there is no laughing undertones in his words any more. "How could we have known?"

"But... " Dawn interjects, suddenly wary of the silent currents between her men. "What's so bad about having magic? Or... is he addicted? Like Wi--"

"Yes." Methos says as Remy answers, "No."

Jamie snorts and Dawn glances back at forth unsure. "Huh?"

"For an act of mercy his kingdom, his sons and his destiny was taken away from him. Hate be a powerful thing, petite. And a heady feeling it is too, so perhaps Daronne here has it right. Our shaman- king as at war with God, chere. And Saul is tribe now. His war is ours. Yours and mine." Gambit's lips compress in an unhappy smile.

"God's first shot went wide. Next move is Saul's. And as fate would have it he no longer an ordinary man."

"He never was." Methos counters softly and Remy glances at him but doesn't disagree.


It was incredible. The time slowed and fell out of the word and he tumbled into stopped infinity as his blood struck the singing bowl and he was suddenly a tribe and one and many and never alone again.

He could feel every man and woman who called themselves a Peregrinus and bore the crescent scar somewhere on their body. Across the worlds and Shifts he felt his clansmen and holy places and the magic of his old gods broiled in him and he could hear in the distance Yahweh howl and he laughed.

And so he knew power.


"Duronne told you most of it. It happens. Technology or pure instinct -- anythin' to get an edge. The People use a blood-bond." The cigarette's smoldering remnant fell lightly to the pavement and Gambit rolled up his sleeve to show a curving scar on the back of his right arm.

"A ritual. Magic. At first, they say you can feel everyone who ever was tribe, alive or dead. It fades wit' time."

"You can control the Shifts." Dawn whispered, her throat dry.

Jamie laughed and Remy grinned but Methos remained somber, pale clever eyes narrowed in thought or memory.

"Don't we wish." Jamie sighed. "Nothing even close. It's just in some people," he grimaced. "Witches mostly, the freaky voodoo cutting thing triggers something. Like a psi-link..." He registered Dawn's blank look and sighed again. "It's like... a metal detector! Yeah! Only for people. Well the People."

He snickered again. "And it's friggin' wonky as hell. But..." he shrugged under Remy's stare. "It's better than nothing, I guess. Only way to get back together if we get separated and stuff. Plus..." he grinned, happily now. "the Festivals."

"'Cept Saul wasn't a witch, wasn't a sorcerer, wasn't a mutant." Remy shrugged. "Well. What's done is done. He's our obeah Doc for good or ill. When he say jump, we do."

"Unless you say different of course, mon kapetain."

Again Methos's green eyes locked with red and black and Remy's lips stretched in bleak and empty smile. "That's right, mon ami. Unless you want to be sayin' different?"

The tension rose suddenly as two tall men stared at each other, silence growing heavier with every passing second.

"All right!" Jamie sniffed loudly, "This is fun and all but I think I'll let you kids play by yourselves. Don't use matches. Let's go Dawnie, before they whip out their private parts and start measuring them or something."

Dawn nodded firmly and snuck her hand under his, sighing disdainfully. "Boys."

Before they walked away she enjoyed seeing Methos blanch and Remy cough in embarrassed almost-laughter.


"Does it hurt?" She asked and scowled to forestall the all-too-familiar grin. It didn't work, of course, as Jamie smirked down at her, insufferably understanding amusement glinting in deceptively innocent blue eyes.

"Yep." he confirmed blithely. "See, what they do is heat the knife before they cut you. To disinfect it, you understand. And it cauterizes the wound."

Dawn was looking at him, a panicky look entering her pale face.

"Otherwise -- gangrene." Maddrox continued ruthlessly. "I mean we still have some people die from shock, 'cuz the pain is so bad but that's life." He sighed and then bent to whisper conspiratorially into her ear. "The smell is the worst though. I never knew human flesh when burned smells just like--- Ow!" The smack was clearly audible in the confines of the street, the sound echoing briefly, bouncing off the stone walls of decaying buildings.

"What was that for?" Jaime demanded, gingerly rubbing the back of his head.

"Bein' a dick." Remy explained mildly.

"Oh." Jaime considered that for a second than shrugged."That's fair."

Dawn was looking up at Gambit, a somewhat pleading note entering her voice. "He's lying like a big liar guy, right?"

"Qui, petit." Remy nodded, his lips quivering. "A big liar guy."

Jaime sniffed. "Like most geniuses I'm misunderstood within my lifetime. Or to put it another way. " He struck a dignified pose, arms crossed across the chest. "When I die you'll all be sorry!"

After a second's deliberation, he decided that the statement would not be taken seriously unless he stuck out his tongue and blew a raspberry at the Cajun X-man.

"Don't be takin' that there out 'less you intend to use it, mon ami."

"Hey. Enough with the gay innuendo. You're not my type anyway. And I'm too using it. I'm wagging at you. See?" Jamie carefully demonstrated what he meant. "Wag. Wag. Wag."

"Hey!" Dawn kicked Jamie's shin with all the viciousness of an impatient seventeen-year-old and as the young mutant yelped in pain and clutched his foot, she turned to Gambit. "So it doesn't really hurt, right?"

Carefully sidestepping hopping and cursing Jamie, Remy ruffled Dawn's hair affectionately. "A bit. Like a paper cut."

"Oh." Dawn unconsciously brought her hand up to her mouth and bit into her fingernail, thinking. She started slightly when Gambit firmly took her hand and moved it away. "What? Oh. Leggo."

She pulled on a errant lock of her hair, anxiously winding it through her fingers. "But there'll be no hot knives, right? Or branding of any kind?"

"Non. " She was pretty sure Gambit was laughing at her behind his shades. "Y'safe, petite. Trust me."

"Yeah," Dawn sniffed skeptically at the suggestion.


Gambit snorted and now she was sure he was laughing at her. She threw a considering look toward his shin and he held up a warning finger at her. "Ey now, petite. No rough stuff."


Jamie appeared to have recovered from her malicious blow and was once again determined to jump into any conversation in his immediate vicinity. She'd have to hit him harder next time.

"Big bad Boss is scared of little bitty Daw--- Don't hit me, any more! It hurts!"

Dawn stared at him flatly, unsmilingly and he raised his hands in warding gesture. "I'll be good."

Remy's eyebrow twitched almost imperceptibly, and Jamie glared at him warningly. "You shut up." He shivered suddenly, the glower fading slightly as he glanced around briefly and pulled his coat tighter about himself. "God, I hate this place."

Dawn glanced at their surroundings and had to admit that Jamie had a point. It had been two Shifts since Oz had found them and they were still walking through abandoned streets, cracked pavement pressing at the soles of her boots. The first city had been ugly, drab, the square boxes of the buildings depressingly monotonous. She had been glad to leave it. She had thought the second one was Venice. Now? Who knew.

In her mind time was splintered, boundaries glazed over and sometimes it seemed that for days now they had walked through the City. Same, giant, empty metropolis sprawling across the Shifts, too big even for them to break. It made her feel small.

She did not pay attention, lost in thought and so when Spike was suddenly right there, blue eyes lost and sad, she faltered in surprise, but he did not look at her at all. Only at the cracked pavement of the street and he smiled. "The grass is screaming." He noted in a conversational tone and chuckled lightly.

"Oh fuck. " Jamie said and stepped back, paling. "Oh fuck. Boss, he's off again!"

And then Spike's fist whipped out and caught him squarely on the chin.

The fight was brief and violent, and Dawn expected, waited, dreaded for the moment when Spike's demon would come out but it never did. Not as he slammed Methos's head into the wooden wheel or he threw Remy over his shoulder into Saul. He kept smiling and saying nothing even as the wolf leapt at him, fangs bared in a savage snarl. He simply grunted as Faith brought the Gambit's staff dully against his skull and than he crumpled wordlessly at Dawn's feet.

She stood there, shocked and numb, for seconds or maybe days before Remy's voice snapped out in command, jerking her back.

"Get him in the wagon and get the ring off and .. y'know. The stuff's in the back." Gambit tongued his split lip and spat, grimacing. "Merde. Saul, how far?"

"We're almost there, aluf."

"You take the reins. Faith, Maddrox -- get the Old Man and get inside with them. Keep an eye." He snapped his fingers suddenly before her face and frowned. "Not now, petite. Let's make time. The night, she's comin'."

"But what --"

"Later." The tone brooked no arguments and she shut up.



They walked another half hour maybe, through wide boulevards and winding alleyways, her eyes drawn, despite herself, to the red-brown spot on the wheel where Methos's head... She would not think about it. Wouldn't. There was a reason, an explanation. All she had to do was concentrate on walking and not looking at the slowly turning wheel. Walking. She could do that.

The stop caught her by surprise and she almost hit Remy's back before she caught her step. The Cajun was a bleary shape in the evening's silky gloom.

"Are we there?"

"Qui." Remy whistled sharply and gestured at Saul. "This is Tem's." He did not look at her, raising his voice only to bite out "Get him inside."

"Y'could help, you know." Methos ground out as he stumbled out of the wagon, holding Spike's shoulders. Behind him Jamie nodded, glaring poisonously at the Cajun.

"Rank Hath Its Privileges, mes amis." And Remy grinned at the wan looking Faith who was watching Spike with an almost helpless expression on her face.

'Hollow eyes...' Dawn thought, but the thought was fleeting, inconsequential, dying seconds before its birth as her eyes found the manacles on the vampire's hands. Faith was looking at them as well, she noted absently, the dull realization coming as if from a great distance.

"He'll be all right, princess." Remy said softly and Faith nodded, swallowed and followed after Jamie into the building.

"I'll settle the beastie." Saul pulled on the reins and the wheels turned and turned and blurred and her eyes were itching and something wet and cold was in her palm.


The world slammed back into focus as she blinked, tears falling away and Remy was gone. There was something wet in her palm.

'Probably inside,' she thought dimly and blinked again, 'I should get inside, Spike is there.' There was something wet in her palm.

She looked down and pale green wise eyes looked back at her Ruv's muzzle cold and wet against her skin.


He would not wake up.

He lay peacefully, the manacles hidden by the folded leather duster. He did not even look dead, merely pale, the wan face accented by the black half-mask. He looked asleep, resting.

He would not wake up. And it was starting to scare her.

"Dawnie." Jamie's hand rested lightly on her shoulder and almost unconsciously she lowered her head until her cheek touched the tanned fingers. "Hey, kid. It's going to be all right. Honest."


He sounded worried. For her or Spike? she wondered briefly and stopped as she saw the cup being placed carefully on the floor next to her. "Tea? Tem's got the best."

Her eyes closed seemingly of their own will and she heard him sigh and the rustle of clothes as he sat next to her. His hand somehow still securely caught between her shoulder and her cheek. Embarrassing.

She did not let go. He coughed. "He's a good guy Tem is. And his place is always stocked. He's ready. For whatever. Most saraimen are but he's the best." He sounded uncertain, unsure, talking just to fill the silence. "I don't know if I could do it, myself. To be bonded with a place. Everytime the Shifts come, he's gotta start over. Last time we were by, only the heartstone survived. Tem was pale and grim and just kept digging through the rubble. We helped of course. But I couldn't do it. Start over and over like that."

The sounds trailed off and neither of them stepped in to take up the fading thread of words.

They sat in silence for a while. Dawn, him and Spike. Faith drowning in exhausted sleep on the low bed in the adjacent room. The rest and the proprietor whom she still had not met were nowhere to be seen.

She broke the silence first, but refused to open her eyes. "Tell me." Simply and he answered instantly as if he was just waiting for her to ask.

"It's the ring." He stopped and corrected himself less certainly. "We're pretty sure, it's Amara that's doing it to him. It wasn't made by goodness or for it after all. I... we think it's driving him insane."

"Why doesn't he take it the fuck off then?!" Her voice almost broke, she did not mean to raise it, she was so tired. Unfair. Stupid. Life.

Silence. She knew the answer anyway.

How long would a vampire last in the Shifts without the ring? One unlucky day, the sun instead of night...

She would not cry again. Distraction. That what she needed. Buffy always said so. Something to take her mind off things. But she was too tired for make-work.

"Tell me about the scars."


"Sorry." Tem shrugged, "They haven't been through here. Been quiet. Except for the blind witch a few days back not a lot of traffic. You should try the Kurultai."

Remy grimaced. "I guess we'll have to."

"Sorry." Gambit glanced at Saul and shrugged, drawing his hand lightly across his face as if clearing it of the cobwebs. "Not your fault, homme."

He tsked softly and summoned his grin, turning back to the owner of the caravan-sarai. "So. Where is Borte-khatun?"

Tem was still hammering away at the red-hot piece of iron on the anvil, ropy muscles moving like snakes under the tanned skin as his arms rose and fell with almost hypnotic rhythm. "Left."

The short and sullen reply brought unexpected levity to the small room as even Methos grinned weakly, the damp towel still pressed against his head. "Again?"

"Shut up." The almond slanted eyes glared brief murder at the three men, looking strikingly appropriate on the flat Mongol face and beneath the unkempt and matted reddish hair, damp with sweat.

Remy swallowed his mirth and gestured sternly to the grinning Saul before addressing their thirty-something squat host. "I'm sure she'll be back, Tem. She take Juchi wit' her this time?"

"No." The monosyllabic answer sounded as moody as previous replies but the rhythm of the falling hammers faltered slightly and Remy's lips quirked.

Behind him the Immortal contributed sourly, his amusement almost imperceptible. "There you go then. You know Borte, Tem. When she's serious about it she'll not be running. Just slit your throat and take over the biz."

Unexpected and blinding like the Northern Lights, Temujin's smile gleamed in the scalding darkness of the cramped smithy. "True."


She's falling asleep, she realizes dimly. Somewhere there is Jamie's even voice. Talking. Somewhere there is Faith's soft breathing. Somewhere there are measured sounds of metal striking metal.

She doesn't hear them. Not really. It's all melding together, the smells from the kitchen, the sounds and the words. The words spilling into something else, elongating, changing colors, tasting real.

She treads the line between the real and the dream and Jaime's quiet words live.

She walks with them, the wheels of the wagons sinking in the mud. The rain lets off, dying into a soft, warm drizzle. She remembers what Jamie saw.

They stayed in the trenches, talking softly around the fires, throwing disinterested glances at the passing caravan. Their guns gripped with tired familiarity. Mud and dirt and grime clinging to everything but guns clean and deadly. And the swords.

Not one had thrown away the swords. Bronze and sharp and out of place. Trenches around the Ilios, trenches around Troy.

Trojans and Acheans bound by hate and time, among the madness of the worlds only enemies remaining familiar. Finding each other time and again after the Shifts would offer them the mercy of loss and parting. Clinging to the only pattern they have known from before the Gods went mad.

The small caravan and the web of trenches threading through the plain. Trenches around the Ilios, trenches around Troy.

Words dropped unwarily, frayed tempers flaring and snapping.

Blood. Crimson diamonds gleaming in the mud.

Fear. Excited, barely controlled but there as they rush them. Too many. Too many and he's about to die.

Shift. Sudden savage wrench as always and the world is screaming in a blinding flash of agony, defying understanding.

And suddenly he's alone, even more alone and he can't feel the comfort of his tribe behind him, only the shimmering wall of madness splitting the universe once more.

He fractures, separates, divides himself and pulls the lips back in a wordless laugh, because that's how the Boss would go, and comes to meet them.

Fear. The tangy taste of it in his mouth and his doubles dying.

The hand on his shoulder. Gripping, insistent, stubborn, tugging, saving. The gleam of the familiar gem on the middle finger.

Methos grinning and pawing ground, running, leaping into the Shift. Crouched, hands outstretched, bird of prey swooping, screeching, screaming out of the sky for the kill. There with him. Not alone. Not alone.

The Shift. Wrong. Doesn't feel the same. Too long. Why. Wrongness.

The pull and he sees the universe fall in on itself and out again, oh god hurt, pain, no, hand on the shoulder still, not alone.

"Saul!" The scream. Pain. Like him. Not him. With him. The gleaming ring and something's burning. Oh god, it hurts. Pain.

"Fuck!" Fumbling the pouch open, spilling dried bones strewing them over ground, the rugged priest, his shaman, friend muttering words of power and screaming them into the Shift. And leaping up.

Burning. Something's burning.

Saul. Praying-dancing-grinning-laughing-shouting-the-secret-words. Holding the Shift in place and bleeding and screaming and singing, wild hair flying, the staff whirling.


Understanding and it slips away.

Stumbles, falls through, the grass, fresh grass, smell of it like liquid fire filling lungs. Alive, and other side, the wagons, friends, relief, fear, blood, excitement, pain.

Something's burning. Something's burn... Someone.

Dawn's asleep and not. She listens, she remembers the ruin that minutes earlier was the gleaming pale marble of Spike's face.

Remy's shades opaque and hiding all the world. "Guess the jewel doesn't work under two suns at once."

Guilt. Shame.


And later more as he tries to divide and call his doubles and only manages four and coughs the blood onto fresh smelling grass.

Darkness. New life.

Somewhere Jaime swallows, the only break in even, flowing, horrifying tale. She hears dimly, she listens, she's not asleep.


Dawn sat, hugging Oz. Her face hidden by hair and fur, nuzzling his neck, hiding behind his warm breath and the wet, lolling tongue.

Jamie was somewhere in the room but quiet. The strange foggy memory of words spoken and something shared was fragile and fading already as half-forgotten dream.

The coarse gray fur tickled against her bare arms and she burrowed her face deeper, watching Remy lean over the immobile Spike.

"Well," The kapetain sighed and bared the sinewy arm. "Here goes."

She winced in sympathetic pain as the bright metal slid across the skin and pushed upward, hungry for the air.

"We're one blood you and I," Remy whispered, and the blood fell heavily, striking the vampire's lips, splattering across his mouth. "We're tribe. Come back to us."

Something made the air heavy for a long moment and someone - that might have been her - gasped but in the end when Spike's eyelids trembled and slip open, she was almost not surprised at all.

>From the dark corner Jamie glowered. "About time. I ain't getting the firewood alone. All shall suffer with me. Oh yes! None shall get away through clear fakery!" He sniffed and got up. "Anything to weasel out of the honest day's work, I swear."

Spike's teeth flashed and the tension melted out of the room.

"I may yet faint." Methos drawled. "Have you heard the one about pot calling the kettle black?"

"I have no idea what you are insinuating." Jamie informed him haughtily and with the tatters of his dignity wrapped around him made for the door.

"You were always kind of slow," the Immortal agreed and followed Jamie out.

Bright even teeth gripped the end of the white gauze and pulled, ripping it. Remy sniffed, grinning down at the vampire. "Ah. Tem's cooking already."

"Oh, bollocks. I was better off comatose."

Tying off the bandage Gambit snorted. "Get off your lazy ass and make yourself presentable." The red-black eyes slid critically across Spike's prone from. "As much as possible at least. We've company for dinner. And it's a nice night. I think we'll take it outside."


The company turned out to be a longhaired and clearly stoned youth with kind brown eyes and a chain-smoking Englishman in the rumpled suit whom Remy introduced as Pete.

The night was nice. The warm and breezy summer evening, stars shining like a broken pearl necklace above and the fire built against the drying, dying bush was eating with joyful ferocity through broken crates, newspapers and the rest.

Methos was still hissing at Jamie somewhere in the darkness, the latter biting back.

"Well what I was supposed to do?"


"Do you know how tough those old crates are?!"

"I will kill you know. For the good of all mankind."

The younger stranger laughed, leaning easily against the Englishman, the brown hair falling in his eyes. " I like you people. I'll have to remember this place."

Pete snorted sardonically and spat out his cigarette into the fire, "You'll be lucky if you still remember your name tomorrow, Josh. You're flying higher than the bloody MIR."

Josh chuckled, brown eyes gleaming with the reflection of the fire. "You're just jealous I didn't share."

"Oh, fuck off."

Joshua grinned again and glanced at Saul, his smile dimming for a second but returning in force as he winked at Dawn. "Pretty far from California, huh?"

"Yeah." From his tee shirt the Beatles looked back at her, , the lettrs curved around the rips in his worn jeans. She squinted making out three... no, four words that made no sense to her and shrugged. 'Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin,' she thought. 'Sounds pretty.'

"Where you headin'?"

Pete looked up at Remy's question, lips pursed in an acid smirk. "I was thinking theRiviera myself. But the kid here, he has a hankering for Acapulco."

"Don't listen to him." The same lazy smile was still playing across Josh's lips, as if he was listening to some music only he could hear. "He's all bitter 'cos we met his ex a few Shifts back. He's so sensitive."

"You dozy shower of shit, you..."

While Pete sputtered in indignation and imprecations, Josh nodded at grinning Gambit. "We met this blind girl not far from here, she told us about this place."

"That girl was at least twice your age, you arrogant prick."

Ignoring Pete, the kid glanced back at the stone building behind them. "This is the tribes' place right? One of your sarais? Nice digs. Strong Wards. Will keep out most of the nasties lurking out there, if I'm guessing right."

In the darkness Temujin bowed slightly, biting into the rabbit's leg.

"Not good enough to keep the Shifts out though."

Saul chuckled at that and from behind him Jamie quipped. "Well as can be plainly seen from his stew Tem is not quite the Almighty yet."

Josh laughed out loud. Temujin growled softly and Jamie added hastily. "It's just a matter of time though, I'm sure."

"Don't have to be a God." Pete noted lazily and sipped from the bottle Spike passed along the circle. "Oh, nice..."


"What do you mean?"

Methos smiled humorlessly, at Dawn's quiet question, hawkish face swimming out of the darkness for a brief moment. "Fairy tales of the infamous Oasis again, is what he means."

"No tales," the Englishman said calmly and took another swig.

Josh spread his arms in apologetic gesture. "Actually he's telling the truth."

"Riiight," Jamie drawled out, irony undisguised. "And they grow gold on trees there, and food falls from the sky and the talking bees serve them their dinner."

Pete glowered at him and the younger mutant grinned back, unrepentant. "Hey, that's the way I heard it. But no. Seriously. I believe you. I do. Anything's possible in the Shifts after all. Why, once I saw Kris Kringle chasing some kid through Atlanta with an axe. And then Shakespeare sped past in a red sleigh being pulled by one thousand monkeys. And they were typing King Lear at the same time."

"You're an idiot." Pete declared flatly.

"But at least I'm pretty." Jamie countered affably. "And believe in personal hygiene."

"I dunno," Faith's quiet voice forestalled the starting argument as she narrowed her eyes in thought. "The way I heard it Mikey's clan got real close once. And Vic met a couple of people from there even."

Spike snorted and she bristled. "Vic wouldn't lie."

"He wouldn't, " Remy agreed. "But ever since the Sundering he's not exactly the same, chere. None of the Zefiro are. Losing most of your tribe does something to a body, neh?"

"What about Mikey, then?"

Spike voice carried just far enough. "He's Irish, pet."

Pete grinned and toasted him silently with half-empty bottle. Josh and Remy rolled their eyes in perfect unison.

The night dragged on, but no one really felt tired. Sleep seemed strangely inconsequential before the prospect of quiet conversation by the dying fire.

"... oh it's great." Jamie, she was pretty sure was nodding his head. And if she had to guess she'd say had a dreamy look in his eyes. "Man, Summers. I envy you. First time at Kurultai. Dude."

She shifted sleepily. "I thought you said we were going to a festival?"

"Same difference." Jamie waved his hand dismissively. "Festival, Kulultai, Kris, Bazaar..." his eyes slid slyly toward Methos. "The Gathering."

The Immortal snorted softly, but didn't reply, intent on what Pete was saying.

Jamie didn't mind, closing his eyes and sighing in languid anticipation. "...it's all the same thing. Most of everybody gonna be there. It's gonna be great!"

He continued to talk, gesticulating and explaining but Dawn found herself willing to tune out the words themselves and simply listen to the voices, pulled back only by the changing tones, inflections altered.

"...purpose is important." Pete insisted stubbornly. "It's the point."

Methos shrugged and threw another branch onto the fire. "I disagree. Some walk to find. Some walk to walk away. But some simply walk to walk. Purpose, in the end, is simply a rationalization."

"The world is but a vale of tears and we are but a dream within a dream?" Josh asked softly.

Methos chuckled softly in reply. "How very Shinto of you."

"A depressing way to look at the world."

"I prefer to call myself adult." Methos shrugged. "Besides I think I'm optimistic."

Jamie snickered and Methos glanced at him, eyebrow quirking. "Within limits of course."

Pete grinned suddenly and nudged his friend. "What?"

"I think he'd like it, Josh."

"Wh--- Ah! Hah. Yeah." A slender hand came up in fluid motion, gathering his long hair into a sloppy ponytail and then Josh reached behind, rooting for a moment until finally he found his guitar.

"All right." From Jamie's sitting place there was a rustle and suddenly a small flame as he slowly waved his lighter above his head, grinning. "Bon Jovi! Bon Jovi!"

"Shuddup." Faith elbowed him. "Lemme listen."

Josh tried a chord, winced and tightened a string before attempting it again and nodding in satisfaction. He grinned at Methos. "I'm but an extremely talented amateur so... cut me some slack, all right?"

Pete sighed in exasperation and lit another cigarette. "Would you quit blathering and bloody sing already? Attention slut."

Josh smiled and touched the strings.

And then there was silence as none were willing to break the magic.

And on the morning the pair was gone, leaving not a trace behind accept the memory of the words and simple tune in the warm darkness above the cooling embers.


Turn around, go back down, back the way you came,
Can't you see that flash of fire ten times brighter than the day?
And behold a mighty city broken in the dust again,
Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came,
Babylon is laid to waste, Egypt's buried in her shame,
The mighty men are all beaten down, their kings are fallen in the ways,
Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.


Turn around, go back down, back the way you came,
Terror is on every side, lo our leaders are dismayed.
For those who place their faith in fire, their faith in fire shall be repaid,
Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.

Turn around, go back down, back the way you came,
And shout a warning unto the nation that the sword of God is raised.
Yes, Babylon, that mighty city, rich in treasures, wide in fame,
Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.

The meek shall cause your tower to fall, make a new pyre of flame,
Oh you who dwell on many waters, rich in treasures, wide in fame.
you bow unto your God of gold, your pride of might shall be a shame,
For only God can lead His people back unto the Earth again.

Oh God, Pride of Man, broken in the dust again.
A Holy mountain be restored, and mercy on that people, that people.


"Are you and Spike...- " Dawn paused, unsure how to continue and felt the traitorous, hateful blush heating her cheeks. "... involved?"

'God, what a lamer.' The self-flagellating thought was interrupted however as the recipient of her question sprayed her coffee in a spectacular arc around her. "What?!" Faith rasped out, coughing and looking at Dawn as if the teenager had just grown a third eye. "No!"

"Sorry." Dawn mumbled and felt the blush deepen. 'Time to go,' she decided firmly and made a cautious move away from the violently coughing Slayer.


'Oh God.'

Faith's hands were still busy wiping the remnants of hot liquid from her shirt, but she was not coughing anymore and the clever green- brown eyes were speculatively narrowed, assessing Dawn. "Why? Are you like, into him?"

She should have really expected it. That was, after all, the obvious conclusion. Still... Man. Never a power of invisibility when you need one. Bummer.

Faith nodded to herself. "Oh. Umm... I don't wanna butt into you business but I don't think it's such a good ide--"

"I'm not into Spike!" Dawn scowled, annoyed out of her mortification. "I mean, not any more. I mean, I used to be but not... I mean... wait! Why not a good idea?"

Faith was grinning now. Dawn's scowl darkened. "I babble when I'm upset. So what?"


Dawn sniffed and drummed a brief solo on the wagon's roof. The wood felt hot under the summer's sun and next to Faith Ruv was napping, growling in sleepy contentment. Below, Remy and Spike were walking together, Jaime was pestering Saul and slightly behind them all Methos was humming something under his breath, seemingly lost in thought.

"Well?" She glanced warily at the dark-haired Slayer. "Why not a good idea."

Faith was silent for a second, thinking, looking for words. The reins gripped were loosely in one hand, her left held the half-empty coffee mug into which she was staring morosely. Finally she sighed and snorted and gestured with her mug. "Cuz, girl, these here..." The red mug's arc encompassed most of the men. "Are good to walk with. Y'know? Always there in a pinch. They've got your back and shit. That's rare in this world."

Dawn frowned, unsure, but Faith gestured impatiently that she wasn't finished. "Not a damn one among the lot of them arrogant pricks you want for your honey though. Ooh, bad things that way."

Dawn swallowed and held herself to the tight calm until she was sure her next words would come out calm and even. "That's not fair."

"Of course it isn't," Faith agreed immediately, sighed and smiled a little sadly. "Still true tho'."

She nodded downward, lips quirking wryly. "That breed right there? They're in love with pain and self-loathing and not a little with themselves. Bad combination."

She grinned suddenly. "Put it simply? They're all fucked up. And Spike, love the bastard though I may, is more messed up than most. Trust me. He and... " She patted the wolf absently. "...Ruv found me. I walked with them for a bit 'fore we got tribed."

She shrugged fatalistically. "He's more twisted than his Poppa Angel, and that's saying something, believe you me. All of them are." She shrugged again and grinned, tasting the words. "Fucked Up."

Draining the last dregs of coffee from the mug she sighed. "A pity. But hey..." Winking at Dawn slyly, she let her pink tongue dart out quickly. "Ain't like most of us gonna live for it to matter. And, fucked in the head or not, makes no matter if you want to pound the bedroll with one of them."

"Ew." Dawn shuddered demonstratively. "Gross."

"Suuure," Faith drawled out mockingly and glanced at her from beneath long lashes, lips pursed in the knowing smirk. "Of course it is."

Methos glanced up at the sudden peal of laughter from the wagon and, frowning, sped up his stride. The laughter, seemed to him just a little too high pitched, even for Rory. And she was rather flushed when he caught up to the wagon and glanced at the pair on the roof. "I don't really want to know. Do I?"

"No!" Dawn answered firmly and her blush deepened, although she squarely met his amused eyes with hers.

"Oh, I don't know. " Faith shrugged and gulped from her red mug, glancing askance at the Immortal. "He might find it educational."

"Shuddup," Dawn hissed. "Wench."

"What's up with them?" Jamie blinked in mild confusion as the pair dissolved in snickers once again.

Methos shrugged. "They're bonding."

"Awww. That'sh sho schweet," Jamie lisped, and grinned into Dawn's narrowed eyes. Secure in being safely out of her reach he batted his eyes at her coquettishly.

"You'll get yours, Maddrox," the teenager promised frostily. "Just wait."

"Nyah," Jamie countered eloquently and elbowed smiling Saul. "So what's up, kemosabe? We there yet?"

"What you mean we, white man?" Saul rumbled and Faith snickered as Jamie's jaw dropped in disbelieving and wordless shock. The surprise, or the silence, didn't hold however and the mutant glared at the Slayer. "You told him to say that, didn't you?"

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," Faith shrugged. "I can tell you one thing though, I really didn't think that frog in my bedroll was all that funny."

"Revenge," Jamie told her with quiet conviction. "Shall be mine. Oh yes. It shall be mine."

"You keep telling yourself that, J. Self-confidence is muy importante."

Jamie very carefully folded his fingers into an age-old gesture and demonstratively turned away before the Slayer could respond in kind. Rounding on Saul instead, he demanded. "Well? If we're done with the Amateur Comedian hour over here, can I get an answer now?"

Saul shook his head tiredly at Methos and the latter spread his arms in silent commiseration. Jamie didn't look impressed. "Yo, Mime Brothers. 'm still waiting."

Saul's lips twitched but he simply pointed somewhere over Jamie's shoulder.

"We are there, dude." Faith added quietly.

Jamie glanced at her suspiciously and turned around, his lips spreading in a grin as he spotted the stone idol watching them sternly from the low hill. "All right!" He squinted suddenly and his grin widened, just a fraction. "Guess what I spy with my little---"

"Remy! Spike! Oh, Dios Mio!" Dawn looked at Faith questioningly as a gray-skinned youth seemed to appear out of nowhere and proceeded to grasp first Gambit, then Spike, in a fervent embrace. "Hermanos! You have no, I mean NO idea, how I missed you, guys..."

Dawn's silent query was in vain however as Faith's attention suddenly narrowed to, with singular focus, the young Latino as the latter continued to hug Spike.

"And if you aren't letting me go in one second you can start missing you. " The vampire apparently was not quite as enthused as the newcomer. "Hey! Skinboy! Leggo!" Spike roughly disconnected himself and motioned with his head, "We all know who you want to grope anyways."

'Aha.' Dawn thought smugly as Faith was suddenly not sitting beside her at all, but on the Latino's chest and was doing things with her tongue to his throat that were very definitely not PG 13.

'Got it,' she thought and glanced at the young mutant next to her who had an oddly sad smile as he watched the Slayer. Feeling Dawn's eyes on him he grinned at her, and she pretended that she accepted the emptily cheerful expression at face value.

"That's Angelo." Jamie explained. "He's my pal. My bud. Me amigo."

>From under the Slayer, his amigo grunted something and raised his fist with thumb upturned. Jaime shrugged. "He was also trapped with the estrogen brigade for a month, so I'm guessing he's very happy to see us."


The question was mild, gentle and deeply terrifying. Or at least that appeared to be Jamie's assessment as he swallowed carefully and looked pleadingly at smirking Remy. "Behind me, right?"

"'Fraid so, mon ami."

Jamie nodded fatalistically and started to turn but suddenly brightened. "Redhead?"


"Which one?" Jamie appeared to be regaining most of his color as he looked at Gambit hopefully.

The Cajun smiled spread his arms. "The bad one, pest. The bad one."

"Oh." Jamie wilted and turned around to smile weakly at the tall redhead behind him. "Hey, Bobbie."


Jamie chuckled faintly at the even tone and looked at Dawn a little desperately. "This is Robin. Ragged Robin, to be exact. She's the most wonderfulest, the most kindest, the most beautifulest--"


"Dammit!" Jamie hissed. "Stop that!" he demanded. glaring at the woman Dawn actually recognized from a photo that Giles showed her once a hundred years ago.

"Stop what?" Jenny Calendar inquired gently, brushing a piece of lint off Jamie's shoulder, blinking in artful innocence as he recoiled. "You were saying something? Do continue."

Behind her, Robin smiled and crossed her arms, tapping her foot in slow. measured beat.

Methos squinted and rubbed his temple tiredly. Leaning slightly he spoke directly into Jamie's ear, his whisper barely enough for Dawn to catch. "Stop now, kid. Don't dig yourself any dee--"

Jamie's shoulder twitched irritably and he smiled ingratiatingly at both women as Methos raised his hands in admitted defeat and stepped back to stand by grinning Remy.

"Indeed, I was just saying that it is unbelievably GREAT to see you ladies, " Jamie forged ahead, heedless of the groans behind him. "I was soooo worried. I mean we ourselves ran into Gigglers and Gonzag, and oh boy was I worried for... you..." He trailed off, spread his arms and smiling winsomely. "Hug?"

"He was worried for us, Jenny."

"I heard. Isn't that something?"

"Indeed. What do you think he means by that, Jenny?"

"Oh, I don't know." Jenny looked at Jamie coolly. "He couldn't possibly mean that he was thinking that without our capable menfolk, us frail damsels in distress would be purely unable to cope. Could he?"

The last question was most definitely directed at Jamie and Spike whistled softly, blinked and took a careful step back.

Saul glanced at Maddrox interestedly with a farewell sort of look and scratched his beard absently, black eyes intent.

"No!" Jamie protested indignantly. "Of course not." He waved airily, dismissing the very notion. "No-no. I was only concerned that in the absence of the glory that is me from your otherwise drab and meaningless existence you might wither and lose the will to live. It'd just be tragic and I'm going to go away now."

"Do." Robin suggested coolly and Jenny snickered softly as Jamie retreated quickly down the road. "Y'know, " she said musingly, sneaking her arm under Saul's and kissing him absently on the cheek. "I kinda missed him. Who's the new girl?"

"Dawn." Methos introduced her. "She's actually the Slayer's sister." He squinted and added. "The blonde's, that is."

"Oh." Jenny said and smiled at her. "Hi."

"Gonzag?" Robin asked Remy softly as the small caravan finally moved on. Gambit shrugged easily. "It's fine, chere. We still best friends."

Spike snorted sourly and Methos glanced at the Cajun disgustedly before pointedly addressing Robin. "If I never have to deal with that one again, I'll die a happy man."

Robin winked at him, white teeth flashing briefly. "Hey, you never know. One of these days Messer Gonzag might make an acquaintance with the Jerusalem Man."

Methos grinned slowly. "I'd pay to see that. I'd even help Shannow bury the bastard."

"I dunno." Jamie, who had quietly made his comeback, scratched his ear and blithely ignored Robin's chilly look, while prudently positioning himself behind Spike. "Personally, I'm hoping for the Saint of Killers to meet him. Messier that way."

Methos's smile became almost dreamy and he sighed. "Ah. Good times ahead, if we're lucky."

Awkwardly pulling on the reins, Dawn muttered most of the bad words she knew, glaring briefly downward at the wagon's roof. From inside the sounds, of things the she really did not want her mind to elaborate on, were carrying quite clearly.

Jenny grinned at her, and in a fluid motion grabbed one of the railings and pulled herself up to the roof. "Faith is..." She shrugged. "Not much for waiting."

"I noticed," Dawn muttered and swore as leather cut into her skin. "Dammit!"

"Like this." Jenny's fingers were cool but not cold as she grasped Dawn's wrists carefully. "See? That way you can feel what... yeah, like that."

Dawn nodded gratefully, unconsciously biting her lip in concentration as she maneuvered Zuny.

"So." Jenny's eyes crinkled as she watched Dawn work. "You're Tara and Willow's Dawnie?"

"You know them?" Her attention wandered and Zuny sturdily made for the nearest puddle. "Dammit."

Jenny nodded. "Yep. They got separated same time we did. We were actually hoping they were with you."

"Well..." Dawn glanced quickly from the reins at the black-haired woman. "Maybe they'll be at the Gathering?"

Jenny shook her head, grimacing unhappily. "We already checked. And there are only two days left, so..."

"Oh." Dawn fell silent, unsure of what to say but somehow the silence didn't feel needed to be filled with words and they simply sat, under the slowly sinking sun as the hill and the stone statue grew with their approach.

"Big." She whispered and Jenny's eyes flicked toward hers, and then at the looming idol. "Oh, Ozymandias? Yeah, he makes an impression doesn't he?" Jenny smiled. "He's a good guy though."

"Huh?" Dawn said intelligently and gasped as she saw the idol's hand move, the stylus sliding across the great stone tablet on its knees. "Wow."

"Something." Jenny agreed but something in her voice made Dawn look again, not sure what she was seeking. But there was nothing, only the great stone golem, nothing until they passed it and she saw him.

He was dirty, was her thought. She never imagined him getting dirty. Ever. But he was. Dirty and tired and moving with fluid exhaustion in the shadow of the living rock. Shadow boxing on a hill, dark against the setting sun.

And he was dirty. Sweating, tired and grim. His concentration almost too intense.

But she had never imagined Riley dirty.

His face was asset and serious as she remembered it, the wet hair falling across grimy forehead and sticking and he was falling. Getting up and stepping into the dance again and falling again and doggedly getting to his feet.


But there was a hand on her shoulder and Jenny's head was shaking. "He's not tribe. Has to find his own." She followed the dark figure as it stumbled and fell again, her eyes sad and Dawn didn't understand but...

"Trust me, Dawnie."

She did.


"All right." Remy squinted at the clearing and shrugged. "Qui, not the best but we're late so... We'll set up here." He nodded to Robin. "You are in charge, chere. I'll be back, after I collect from the Marquis."

"Which one?" Robin asked somewhat snidely and Remy shrugged again.

"Well if de Carabas's here he owes me as well" He let his shades slide down and glanced at Robin. "Is Ammar around?"

Jenny answered him, leaping lightly off the wagon's roof, followed by the wolf. "Nope. Theodora was looking for them, she wanted something with Miranda and Jehane, but I guess they didn't make it this time."

"Merde. Well... " Gambit shrugged again and disappeared out of the torches' light, only his last words carrying back. "Bobbie, you be good, y'hear?"

"Go away."

In the darkness Methos's voice sounded strange. "Theo is here?"

Robin nodded and motioned for Dawn to help her with the firewood. "Actually a lot of the Conclave are. Theo," She started folding her fingers. "Ramirez was earlier, but left. Esmeralda was rumored but I haven't seen her. Umm..." the redhead frowned then shrugged turned toward her gypsy friend for help. " Jenny?"

"Daddy Cool and Cass." The former computer teacher swore quietly and looked sadly at her ripped skirt.

"Cassandra's here?"

"Yeah." Robin dipped the torch into the small pyre and eyed the Immortal carefully. "Problem?"

"Not with me," But his lips were tight and the impenetrable, carefully neutral look was back in his eyes, Dawn thought. Another story there.

"Good." Robin yawned hugely and snorted wryly at the muffled gasp from inside the wagon. "I'm off to sleep. Anyone want to go to the fair tonight?"

"Umm..." Dawn raised a hesitant hand. "If..."

"Yeah, that's fine." Robin nodded, smiling encouragingly. "Jenny will take you."

"And me!"

The redhead stared at Jamie for a minute than shrugged. "Fine. If it'll get you out of my hair for a couple of hours. Any other takers? Ok." She frowned at the mutant. "If you get her into any trouble..." she trailed off meaningfully

"Oh it'll be fine. Trust me." Jamie smacked his fist against his chest. "I'll be good."

As the three silhouettes melted in the darkness, Robin glanced at Spike and the vampire snorted sardonically. "Right."


"So, if you know what to look for you can figure out how long before the next Shifts. And some places are very good that way so, whoever finds them, sets up the marker and voila -- the Gathering. Ozymandias is the best there is at it. Dunno why." Jenny grinned. "Doesn't always work of course. A while back, right in the middle... " She sniggered, glancing at Jamie. "Remember?"

"Dude, like I could forget. And the Empress's truly awe-inspiring tantrum after she had to spend a three months with Mickey's mob..." Maddrox chuckled. "Classic. Ah, yeah, Theo is definitely my favorite Elder. She's just fun."

He winked at Dawn. "A bit of a bitch but don't let that scare you. Oh, and don't call her the Empress to her face."

"Ummm..." Jenny frowned at the mutant. "What are you talking about? She doesn't care. Hell she loves it.'

"Does so hate it! She ripped me a new one when I... Oh."

The gypsy smirked at him. "She just doesn't like --you- calling her that, Maddrox. In fact, I think she doesn't like you. Period."



"Hey!" Dawn's not-quite-shout effectively drew attention back to her and she inquired cautiously. "Am I gonna be meeting these Elders guys?"

Jamie nodded, frowning at her quizzically. "Likely. Why?

"Probably." Jenny agreed. "They usually mingle all around the Fair. Making deals and all that stuff." She glanced at Jamie and back at Dawn. "Is there a problem?"

"I look like a total skank!"

"What?" Jamie looked at her blankly, taking in the jeans and the sweater that Dawn incidentally 'borrowed' from him in the first place. "You look fine. What the hell are you talking about?"

Dawn glared at him and he turned to Jenny for support. "Right? She looks fine?"

He registered Jenny's non-committal silence and blinked. "WHAT?! What am I missing?"

"A brain. " Dawn informed him sullenly and sniffed, her long nervous fingers picking at the sweater."

"But..." Jamie looked at his own jeans in vague hope of finding an answer and when faced with failure looked back at Dawn again. "I don't get it."

"Quiet." Jenny said firmly and, stepping around Jamie, gripped Dawn's shoulder lightly, grinning crookedly when the girl met her stare. "Come with me, Dawnie. I know just the place." She pulled on Dawn's sleeve insistently. "C'mon."

Jamie was left standing in the middle of the road looking after the pair, frowning in puzzlement. "I still don't get it," he informed the uncaring sky, shrugged and ran to catch up.


Three hours later, much of his natural good humor had evaporated and the remainder was grimly considering painting its face blue and going on a warpath through the bustling alleys of the great bazaar.

"I hate shopping." Jamie confided to a random passerby, grabbing the latter's lapels for emphasis and a guarantee that he wouldn't run away like the last one. "And I don't mean hate like so- so, or like I hate Nazis or something. I loathe IT! LOATHE! WITH THE HEAT OF A THOUSAND SUNS!"

"Yeah..." The short balding Peregrine nodded uncertainly and patted Jamie on the shoulder. "There, there. It's going to be all right, buddy.

"You promise?" the mutant demanded of his new friend.

"Sure," the latter replied and using the momentary lapse of his captor's attention, deftly freed himself. ""Nice talking to you. I'll see you later."

Jamie followed the squat figure until the latter disappeared in the throngs of the Fair-goers. "Liar. He won't be back." Sniffing and contemplating the general perfidy of mankind, Jamie cast another long-suffering look toward the stall into which his companions disappeared hours ago. "I hate you." He informed the stout door.

The door did not comment. Admitting defeat, Jamie sighed and dropped into a cross-legged slouch under the lamp hanging off the stall's roof. Looking glumly at the people moving briskly through the moonlit bazaar alleys, he sighed again. "Shopping sucks."


"This is. So. Cool."

Jenny chuckled softly as she followed Dawn through the racks of clothes. "Yeah. Mamma Soo keeps the best stock."

She grimaced a little. The best cost accordingly. Shrugging, she did her best to keep up with the teenager. That's what the Fairs were for after all. Wasting money on pretty stuff.

"Ooh! I want one!"

Jenny winced.


Jamie got bored easily. Very easily. And Jenny knew it too. So in away, Maddrox reasoned, it was completely her fault that he was dancing on a roof with a pink bath towel on his head and banging on an old flower pot to keep the beat. Besides, his audience was appreciative. He grinned at his dancing partner and Jubilee's teeth flashed in a returning smirk.

Below somebody was singing the tune without which no Kurultai was complete.

We who with songs beguile your pilgrimage
And swear that Beauty lives though lilies die,
We Poets of the proud old lineage
Who sing to find your hearts, we know not why, -
What shall we tell you?


'I hope someone down there has a camera.' Jamie chewed his lip as he tried to keep up with the other mutant's quicksilver spins and twists.


Tales, marvelous tales
Of ships and stars and isles where good men rest,
Where nevermore the rose of sunset pales,
And winds and shadows fall towards the West:
And there the world's first huge white-bearded kings
In dim glades sleeping, murmur in their sleep,
And closer round their breasts the ivy clings,
Cutting its pathway slow and red and deep.


Technically Jubilee had him outdanced, Jamie knew, what with her fancy gymnastics training and the having a sense of rhythm and all.


And how beguile you? Death has no repose
Warmer and deeper than the Orient sand
Which hides the beauty and bright faith of those
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
And now they wait and whiten peaceably,
Those conquerors, those poets, those so fair:
They know time comes, not only you and I,
But the whole world shall whiten, here or there;


Jamie shrugged mentally as Jubilee pirouetted gracefully along the very edge of the roof. That was just fine he'd smother her with sheer enthusiasm, he thought and attempted to duplicate what Angelo called 'the shimmy.'

On the bright side, he didn't fall of the roof.


When those long caravans that cross the plain
With dauntless feet and sound of silver bells
Put forth no more for glory or for gain,
Take no more solace from the palm-girt wells.
When the great markets by the sea shut fast
All that calm Sunday that goes on and on:
When even lovers find their peace at last,
And Earth is but a star, that once had shone.


The clamor below evened out now, the clapping, yelling and the singing settling into a thrumming beat. Jubilee did some kind of a backflip that almost gave him hernia just from watching it and grinned at him, not even breathing hard yet. Jamie was starting to feel just a little bit resentful about the whole thing. At least she didn't have a pink bath towel on her head, he consoled himself.


We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand


Below the crowd grown to a rather respectable number and most of them were singing now, taking parts and arias as the song began winding down.


Have we not Indian carpets dark as wine,
Turbans and sashes, gowns and bows and veils,
And broideries of intricate design,
And printed hangings in enormous bales?

We have rose-candy, we have spikenard,
Mastic and terebinth and oil and spice,
And such sweet jams meticulously jarred
As God's own Prophet eats in Paradise.

And we have manuscripts in peacock styles
By Ali of Damascus; we have swords
Engraved with storks and apes and crocodiles,
And heavy beaten necklaces, for Lords.


The tempo was increasing and Jamie gaspingly attempted his level best to keep his somewhat desperate hopping and gyrating up. 'It's time to finish this,' he thought. 'With a bang. Have to have a bang. I need a clever plan. And medical attention.'


We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.


Jubilee whirled to a flowing graceful finish and stepped forward, prepared to take a bow. 'Haha,' Jamie thought . 'Upstage me, will ya...'

"Jenny...." Dawn was looking up at the stall's roof.

"Yeah, Dawnie?" Jenny's eyes were fastened securely to the same spot with a kind of horrified fascination.

"Why are there five Jamies doing the can-can on the roof, waving pink towels at us, Jenny?"

"I don't know, Dawnie."

"I'm scared, Jenny."

"Me too, Dawnie. Me too."


"Was I great, or was I great?" Jamie was still waving the towel, occasionally stopping and bowing to onlookers. Every time he did, Dawn and Jenny quickened their step in a futile attempt to outrun the rumors of his command performance.

"I'm also pretty sure somebody down there yelled for me to take it off. " Jamie looked thoughtful for a minute. "I --think- he had a beard. But I'm going to pretend it was Cindy Crawford."

"Could you get rid of the towel?" Dawn asked somewhat plaintively.

"What, are you crazy?" Jamie looked at her uncomprehendingly. "I'm going to have it framed! They're going to be talking about this for at least three... no four Gatherings, you'll see."

A haunted look entered Jenny's eyes.

"I think I'll get Angelo to work something out with me for the next time. With a little time and practice..." Towel smacked Jenny in the face as Jamie gesticulated excitedly, "The sky is the limit!"

"Next time?" Dawn said weakly.

"Costumes." Jamie was thinking aloud. "And props. The dance of the seven veils!"

"Oh God."

"I rather second that sentiment." The quiet voice behind her made Jenny jump, but her face relaxed into a smile as she recognized the young guy grinning at them.


Winking at her and brushing light-brown hair out of his eyes the newcomer smirked at Jamie. "Unless, of course, by the dance of seven veils you mean hiding your ugly mug behind all of them."

"You're just jealous of my ability to can-can." Jamie countered. "can you can-can? No, you can't. I can can-can." He sniffed. "Jelous."

"Yeah. That must be it." Alec glanced speculatively at Dawn. "Who's the new girl?"

"That's Dawn." Jenny supplied. "Dawn -- Alec Smart. Or Smart Alec, take your pick. Alec, stay away from her."

"You don't trust me?" Hazel eyes flickered in a wounded expression. I'm hurt." He smiled winningly at Dawn. "They lie. I'm perfectly harmless."

Dawn smiled back, uncertainly.

"Alec..." Jenny said, warningly.

"Fine, fine." Winking at Dawn, he gestured at Jamie and fell back a step. Frowning, the mutant followed. Dawn's eyebrow arched. "What's that all about?"

Jenny shook her head, a small frown flickering across her face as she watched the two men pause just out of earshot. "I'm not sure."


"What?' Jamie demanded warily. "What's with the James Bond routine?"

"The Raynes are here, man. Watch yourself."

"Shit." His good mood fled and the young mutant restrained himself from throwing a glance at Jenny. For the lack of a better way to express his feelings he repeated himself. "Shit!"

"Yeah." Alec nodded. "Exactly. And... you didn't hear it from me. I got no intentions of ending up as the most good looking corpse in the entire Guevara kumpanie."

"Well, gee, nice to know you're all optimistic about this."

"Just one of my many loveable traits," Alec agreed. "I'm gonna jet. Good luck with the whole... y'know.... why are you carrying a pink towel by the way?"

"Go away. And say hello to Maxie for me, will ya?"

Alec grinned. "Wilco. Later."

"Yeah." As the gene-engineered would-be super-soldier disappeared into the crowd, Jamie carefully schooled his features into a guileless smile and firmly squashed the desire to jump under the nearest bench, yelling, "Dive-dive-dive!!"

"What was that all about?" Jenny's eyes sparkled with curiosity.

"Oh nothing. He just wanted to ask me to teach him how to can-can and he wanted to do it in private 'cuz he's all embarrassed that..."

"Ey. We gotta go, the Raynes are here."

Jamie sighed and rubbed his eyes tiredly before looking at Spike. "Or you know, why don't we break it to you gently, girls."

The vampire glanced at him oddly and turned back to Jenny. "Let's go."

Dawn frowned, unsure of what was going on but aware of the unease lining Jamie's feeble puns, the sudden paleness of Jenny's face and the darting wary looks Spike was throwing around.

"Let's go," the vampire repeated insistently. "This is too open, we got to get back to our wagons." He started to reach for Jenny's hand when suddenly his head snapped to the right. Dawn followed the motion just in time to see a silver flash blurring through the air, she felt more than saw Spike shoving Jenny behind himself and then suddenly grunting and recoiling as if from a punch.

Jamie swore softly and Jenny gasped and blood blossomed, looking crimson and unnaturally bright in the torchlight and on the undead skin and only then she saw the knife imbedded in Spike's throat.

The blood gushed quickly, in a hideous flood, and the vampire sank to his knees, his face a pallid rictus of fury. He tried to say something, tried to get up again, his fingers scrabbling on the bone handle, but even a vampire could not ignore the torn jugular. Even as his brain shut down, he continued to glare rage and hate at the approaching figure.

"Oh," Jamie said softly and moved to meet the man coming towards them, "Words cannot describe how much I don't want to do this."

Dawn, steeling her hands from shaking, did not look up as she grasped hold of the dagger and pulled. 'Of all the nights to take off the ring,' she thought dully.

The fountaining blood, freed by the withdrawn blade, splattered across her face and she gasped, recoiling despite herself. And, accidentally looking up, froze at the sight of the familiar face. "Giles."

"Hello, Ripper," And Jenny's voice was cold, cold. "Enjoying the Fair?"

"Witch." The voice was his, the familiar British accent. It was Giles. No glasses, younger and way too much leather and he seemed to be awfully good with the knife weaving through his fingers for her peece of mind but it was Giles!

"Hey." Jamie's voice was loud and cheerful and fake as he spread his arms in a comradely greeting, carefully positioning himself in Giles's way. "What's up, Ripper, old buddy, old pal. Say, we got some new stuff you might like. All sorts of old dusty books with all sorts of perverted rituals in them. What do you say we go and bring some for you, huh?"

Giles... Ripper... didn't even stop as his casually brutal shove sent Jamie sprawling. His eyes were still on Jenny. "You had your fun. Your little 'vacation.' Time to come back to the fold, Jenny."

Dawn blinked, absently wiping the blood out of her eyes with the back of her hand. "Giles?" she asked uncertainly.

His eyes flickered to her, and something within her went dead at his flat, disinterested look and the total lack of recognition before he turned his attention back to Jenny. "Let's go."

"I think not."


'His accent got more French again,' Dawn thought absently as Jamie sagged gratefully back to the ground. "Thank God."

A tiny flare and the small spark before he stepped out of the small crowd of onlookers. No coat and staff extended and at the ready, mocking tone and small twisted smile. "Ripper. Don't you know that a no means no?"

"Must've skipped that school day." The man with Giles's face sneered and the knife spun in a silver circle. "She's mine, Cajun. She belongs to me. So bugger off."

"She changed kumpanies of her own free will, English. Witnesses and oaths. You got no claim here."

"I say I do. She belongs to me."

Jenny looked beyond the two circling men, her eyes fastening on the third sitting in an easy crouch and watching with a grin. "You want to pull your boy back in line, Ethan?"

He smiled, an easy almost friendly expression as he spreads his arms. "Ey, I'm just here to watch. Sorry, Jen."

A pause, and then a fury of motion. The fight was brief and violent, a thing of shadows in the unsteady light. Both men fighting more by feel then sight. Lunges and dancing ripostes, the glint of the dagger, the whistling scream of the staff cutting air, heavy breathing and grunts, the sounds of flesh hitting flesh, the dull thud of a blow connecting and a body falling heavily on the sand.

Gambit stepped back, the staff balanced across his shoulders, the white of his shirt split across the chest and the blood welling quickly. His tongue darted out to run over the split lip but his eyes were very clear and hard as he stared at Ethan Rayne. "This ends it, or I will see it finished before the Conclave."

"Hm." The British sorcerer smiled thinly, still squatting easily next to a shop's wall. "You lost all your sense of fun ever since you became a kapetain, Remy. Honestly."

"Don't push me, Rayne."

Nothing had changed and the same easy grin was still playing across Ethan's lips, but the night seemed to have suddenly got darker and Dawn shivered as Remy's eyes locked with those of the Englishman.

"Don't threaten me, LeBeau. I don't like it."

"Enough." Jenny's voice cut though the dim background noise of the muttering spectators and Dawn could have sworn that for a brief second as she stared at Rayne, the gypsy's eyes went pupiless and black. "Take him and go, Ethan. And tell him that next time, he'll have to deal with me." The torches' light illuminated Jenny's face and her eyes were normal, but there was nothing pleasant about her expression. "And unlike Remy, I don't fight fair or give warnings."

"Oooh." Rayne laughed out. "You're so pretty when you're mad, Jen. I can see why Rupert can't let it go. Your vampire is stirring by the way." He got up lithely, pushing his way through to Giles's prone body.

"Good bye, Ethan." Jenny's voice was cold and then they were walking away.


They stand in a small dark room. It's warm outside. It's summer. They used to do it in the middle of the Fair, Jamie told her, until people started asking for the mark to be made in weird and occasionally obscene places. She giggled, when he told her because it was morning then and the sun was shining and she still had an entire day before she had to be here.

They introduced her to so many people and she forgot most of the names five minutes after and they told her stories about the Oasis where Shifts don't come, and the Forever Express that runs through every universe, and the first Peregrinus, and right now she can't remember much of anything that happened since she woke up. Only Remy balancing himself on the edge of the wagon's roof and spreading his arms to greet the rising sun. "It is the end of summer!"

His coat flying in the wind like Don Quixote's cape and the crowd exploding and Chuck Berry being blasted on the boombox and Methos smiling, clever eyes crinkling in a moment of an unguarded rest as he watches laughing Gambit. "I knew there was a reason he's a captain."


Oh God, the knife. Shallow cuts. Hell opening beneath her. But that was before. Not here. She's not the sacrifice for a Hellgod here. And it will only be one cut.


"Giles and that Ethan guy?! Ewww!"

Jenny's face uncertain as she glances at Remy and back at her. "I thought you were ok with ... I mean Tara and Willow... and you knew right?"

"Not because they're gay! Because he's Giles! Ew! Oh, eww!"

She wishes Saul was here doing this. Or Jamie. Anyone she knows really. But they are not and it's just her, the stern woman and the knife in the dark and tiny room.

There won't be a scar if she doesn't want it, Remy told her. And something else, a lot of words but she wasn't listening by then, because it was time to go in. And now it is time and she almost screams as the knife whips out, snake-fast hungry and familiar and...

... it hurts but...

...the blood falling slowly and sliding just like then, and...

...the heavy drop hits slowly and heavily and splatters across the crude ceramic bowl...


...she's not alone and...

... The woman's wise, merciless, kind face, so much like Saul, black eyes boring into her.

"In the world gone mad, when everything else is but a dream and gone tomorrow, when all else crumbles, where can we place out love but the people. Blood endures. We are one blood you and I. We are tribe."

...oh... oh wow...


The last evening was subdued. Robin brushing Jenny's hair. Faith and Angelo sitting quietly, fingers entwined. Saul and Ruv stretched out by the wheels, silent and as if guarding the slouching Jamie, staring sightlessly into the night. Half listening, half-not to the soft voices over the fire.

And it felt right and the memories of the Blood Bonding were receding and she felt sleep claim her. It was the end of summer and tomorrow they would be off again. Walking across the forever highways. Walking.

It was a hot, humid night, the last night of the fair. The wagons in a circle, fire throwing sparks in the blue-black air, Spike reclining with Dawn blinking sleepily on the crook of his arm, his other hand absently walking through her hair, as he watched with unseeing eyes Methos and Remy argue over predestination.




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