Once Upon A Night In Sunnydale...
by Paradoqz & Dex

I knew it was going to be one of those days when Mildred smiled at me. It's just never a good sign when your supervisor smiles at you in that tone of voice. Last time I got a smile like that I spent the weekend getting the cat out of the upholstery.

For most guys in my line of work that smile would mean they just pulled the deadman shift in the crack house area of town. In Sunnydale that's the shift you hope you get.

I hitched up my lunchbox like a shield and stepped inside her office.

"Did you have a good weekend, Frank?" she asked, drinking coffee, chewing gum and smoking a cigarette at the same time. It was a fleshy pneumatic process that was horrible to witness but impossible to ignore.

"Just great," I told her and clutched my box tighter. There were at least three empty packs of cigarettes on her desk that I could see, and it was only 7pm. It meant only one thing. She was trying to quit smoking again.

"That's beautiful" she said stubbing out the butt. "We've got a new recruit."

Well, never let it be said that she beat around the bush. Beat the bush maybe. To death. With a small child.

"I expect you to break him in." That smile again as she produced another cancer stick.

I stared at her for a long moment. She didn't blink but did get a somewhat apologetic look as she lit another of her V-Slims. "Look, that's how it came out in the scheduling."

"I thought we discussed this." Actually I remembered that little conversation quite vividly. It was about half an hour after I found out that the 'new boy' was a fan of Blade movies.

Two words:

Closed. Casket.

"Frank, knock it off. You're good with the rookies and you know it." She grinned suddenly. "Hell, you trained me, didn't you?"

"Yeah, and isn't that just a gift that keeps on giving."

It was a little cruel of me, but still this was a hell of a thing dump on a man on Monday.

"Look, can't you give him one of the milk runs?"

"Like what?"

"Something in Kansas." I suggested blandly.

"Frank, this isn't a negotiation. He needs to be shown the ropes and it's your turn. You don't like it..." She let the rest of the sentence hang there, meaningfully.

"Turn in the brown shorts?" I asked her snidely.

"Frank..." Mildred growled and I knew I was beaten.

"All right! I'll take the kid. I'll take him. Happy now?" I held up my hands in mock surrender.

"Not until he makes it back here to clock out."

"I'll do my best." I promised her with vast and obvious insincerity and walked out, the shreds of my good mood trailing behind me.

I'll tell you, most people think working at UPS is an easy job.


The kid was in the lounge, pretending he wasn't eyeing his reflection in the doors.

"Like the outfit?" I said, smirking.

"Well, it's not the Gap..."

God help me he was trying to be funny. I stopped smirking and leveled my best glare at him. He headed for the little boys' room.


"... and ALWAYS..."

"Stay close to you." He sighed with the dramatic petulance of all 19 year olds and got into the truck. "C'mon, Frank. We're mailmen. How bad can it be?"

I had to bring him back alive, I reminded myself. Otherwise Mildred would partner me with St. Joe again. I sighed. Life was a stone cold bitch sometimes.

The kid was still talking as he fiddled with the radio. "Neither, rain, nor sleet, nor wind or snow. Nothing can stop us!"

"That's the US Postal slogan."

'You absolute dolt,' went silent but hopefully clearly implicit.

He had the grace to look slightly abashed for a second, but it passed quickly. "But who do they call if it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight?!"

"FedEx." I told him, but he was too busy listening to himself to let little things like facts matter.

"We're the invisible support of this country. The symbol of capitalism. The roaring engine! Without us – anarchy!"

"Yeah, and the shotgun gives us the strength of ten, because our hearts are pure. Get your paws the fuck away from my radio."

"Shotguns?" The kid flashed that grin again. "We don't carry shotguns."

"What do you think you just stowed your lunchbox under, genius?"

The grin faltered but slowly came back. "Hey, that's pretty..."

"Much something you don't touch without my explicit instructions, got me?"

"Geez. Not much of a sense of humor."


"You haven't even asked my name yet."


"Alec. Alec Whittacker."

"Still haven't asked."

That shut him up long enough for me to finish loading the truck. The schedule said that our first stop would be...

"Oh, fuck."

"What?" Alec forgot that he was manfully ignoring me and glanced at the timetable curiously. "Where are we going?"


City Hall.

The comforting thing about Sunnydale City Hall is that it's the only public owned building in town that's never had to be rebuilt due to "PCP-related gang activity." Or, you know – fire breathing hell fiends, rampaging troll berserks or drunk gorgons.

The worrying thing about Sunnydale City Hall is the fact that it houses people that scare the shit out of fire breathing hell fiends, rampaging troll berserks and drunk gorgons. Or hires them.

Still. Job's the job.

"According to the manifesto, we've got..."

"One box, unlisted biological material, one box coffee grounds. One package, third floor, delivery only and a stack of express mail for the main desk." I said flatly.

"How did you know that?" Alec asked, looking me with the wide innocent eyes of a complete idiot.

"The first package," I told him, "is frozen blood of an amphetamine junkie. The second is cocaine, laced with ground basilisk scales, for the clerks. Give them enough blow and you can do anything at the City Hall, up to and including running down the halls with your underpants on your head screaming that God told you to save the lollipops from the gay penguins, and they won't care."

Alec blinked and opened his mouth.

"Don't. Ask." I told him. Mostly out of the goodness of my heart. God knows I wish I could forget. "As for the third floor... you don't want to know about the third floor."

"Blood and drugs? And isn't a basilisk like a butterfly or something?" Alec sounded a little upset. "Geez, Frank, what are we supposed to do with this stuff?"

"Deliver it."


"We make our deliveries, Alec. First and last, we make our deliveries."

And with that I slammed down on the brakes, prompting my partner to introduce himself to the windshield in an intimate manner.

"... ow." He informed me in a small voice.

"Shut up." I told him and squinted up at the roadblock that was currently glaring at my beautiful truck in a manner that heavily suggested increased insurance premiums.

"Puny mortal! I shall tear off your limbs and feast upon your eyes while you praise the battle prowess of the mighty Kulkhamish the Ogun, of the.... Frank? Izzat you?"

I sighed and let my hand fall away from the shotgun.

"Kul... I thought we talked about this."

"Frank, buddy, I'm mighty Kulkhamish of the Golera Clan! If I don't raise the Climsara they're gonna smoke my ass, man!"

I stared at him for a second.

I really didn't have time for this.


"Yeah?" He inquired somewhat hopefully.

"Get the fuck off the road."

"Umm... I'm kinda lost." He shuffled his hooves embarrassedly. "Could you point me toward the big H, by any chance? I got all turned around."

"Down the Main Street, two blocks, take a left at Grim's."


I watched him trundle off, shook my head and told Alec to get his jaw off the floor.

"What the HELL was that thing?!"

I measured him, debating whether he was ready for the grown up world or still in the Sunnydale Times demographic.

It was the pupils dilated to the size of small plates that decided it.

"That was Kul. He makes his own clown costumes."

"Oh," said Alec, uncertainly. "Never liked clowns much.... Look out!"

Brakes. Alec's face. Windshield.

I was rather starting to enjoy this.


Ah, crap.

"Hey, Angel." I eased my hand toward the shotgun again. "How's it going?"

He shrugged noncommittally and grunted.

That wasn't going to do it for me.

"Been getting any lately?" I inquired a bit more pointedly. He glared but did not go for my throat. I decided to take that as a good sign but kept my hand by the gun.

He gave me another glare. "Still souled."

"Ah." The hand came off the shotgun. "Heard you were LA-based now."

"Mostly. Been doing a little detective work."

"So it seems. A couple of run-ins with the law too."

Angel actually smiled slightly. "Some better than others."

"Yeah, I got that impression from Trevor."

"Who?" Angel's near smile faded as quickly as it had appeared.

"Trevor Lockley. We used to work out of the same precinct back in the bad old days."

"What did you tell him, Frank?"

"That you don't tan well. Tend to burn easy."

Angel's eyes blanked, going flinty and dark.

I put up both hands. Yanking Angel's chain was one thing, and a lot of fun at that, but going toe to toe with him pissed off was something else. More than their fair share of demons had ended off a world-conquering scheme with less limbs than they started with because of him. Plus I owed him. I hate that.

"Just letting you know, Angel. Trevor is a miserable old bastard, but he's pretty protective of his little girl. And he's got a lot of friends on the LAPD. Ones that are creative with problems."

"Thanks. You seen Kul?"

"Down the road, ahead two blocks."

"Thanks." Angel leaned on the truck. "New guy?" He jerked a thumb at my windshield-splattered partner.

"Yeah." I said. "Brand new."

"You running the book?" He asked interestedly.

I nodded.

"What will you give me for Wednesday?"

I thought about it. "Three to one."

"Put me down for ten. And ...uh... there's really no need to mention to Buffy that I stopped by."

I nodded again and by the time I looked he was gone. Drama queen.

"What was..."

"Never mind, kid. It's easier that way." I gunned the accelerator.

You have three options in Sunnydale.

Either you try to know nothing, believing in the bad rash of neck injuries and gang bullshit and live your life.

Or you learn the way things are and figure out your way to deal with the fact that the bogeyman is real and lives under the High School.

Or you find out the truth and go nuts.

The kid screamed Type Three to me.


George let us into the City Hall parking lot. He eyed Alec thoughtfully and visibly fought the overwhelming temptation to get in on the pot. But it was Monday and Lynn probably confiscated the paycheck on Friday so he just waved us through.

"All right." I turned to Alec who was still feeling his nose gingerly.

"Follow me. Don't talk to anyone. Don't make any sudden moves. Don't ask about anything. Don't use the elevators. And whatever you do, stay off the 3rd floor. Got it?"

"Got it."

He sounded sullen. I could really give a shit.

Right. First thing – Staff Room.

Staff Room was, as usual, filled with a blue fog of nicotine and incense that did not come from this dimension, or the three closest to us. I got a lot of respect for these folks. The shit they got to put up with is almost as bad as my route. The only people that got it worse are the sewer cleaners, but they got a really good union. Nowadays they don't work without battle pay and body armor.

City Hall folks work for peanuts and don't even have a shrink on staff.

One day there is going to be an interruption in the drug flow and three months later some schmuck will point to the smoking crater and say: "This is where Sunnydale used to be."

"I need to take a leak." Alec informed me. He was going to take an elevator to the third floor.

"Hold it."


"Just wait." I walked up to the floor manager. "Got a package."



"Oh, thank God. We've been...uh, craving..."

"Save it. Just sign." I toggled the clipboard at him, mentally calculating the safest way out. He took the receipt and Alec obviously concluded that while my attention was elsewhere he could make it to the elevator unnoticed. I made a note to tighten up the odds. He wasn't going to make Wednesday.

Fortunately, for him that is, Jacob Masterson got to him first.

Jacob requires explaining. See, he got a job with the City Hall as a janitor just out of high school in 1915. He's spent well over eighty years working for the city and barely looks a day over, well, seventy.

Really, imagine if Jed Clampett had a child with Yoda, and you get Jacob.

Anyhow, he's survived that long in a place that makes South Central look like an Amish amusement park.. You gotta respect that.

Mind you, he is completely insane. You can't really blame him, though.

I watched the floor boss sign my ledger and smiled contentedly at the telltale sound of Alec's balls disappearing between Jacob's gnarled fingers.

"Where you think you're goin', boy?" The old coot rasped in a voice that held all the gentleness and compassion of my old gunnery sergeant.

"Nyaghr." Alec replied with the intelligence and presence of mind I've come to expect from him.

"You don't want to go into the elevators, kid." Jacob said, and, judging from Alec's pained whimper, squeezed for emphasis. "Things live in there. Terrible Things..." he trailed off.

Just because Jacob is a mad old monster, doesn't mean that he doesn't know his shit. Back in '92 some fucko got the bright idea that he could speed up his career by summoning the Younger Gods of the 9th Underworld. He didn't make deputy mayor, if that's what you're wondering. And we all get a nice workout and mostly use the stairs these days.

Behind me I could pretty much hear Alec's balls turn into thin paste. As attractive as that prospect was, I didn't much fancy putting up with even more of his bitching tonight, so I glanced at old Jake meaningfully. He glowered back but let the little punk have his rocks back.

"Jake." I nodded to Alec to shut up and reclaimed my clipboard from the clerk who was too busy tearing into the parcel to care. "Is the winch up on the 4th set up?"

He just glared at me again. I squinted apologetically. Of course it was. Jacob was a pro.

"I thought we were going to the 3rd." Alec gasped out at me, staying as far away from Jake as possible.

Jacob glanced at him from beneath gray, bushy brows before looking back at me. "Fiver for Wednesday?"

"Got it."

I took the stairs, Alec limping behind me. He looked a little green, which improved his overall demeanor, I thought. Better silent and looking into fertility drugs than dead.

The fourth floor housed the Business and Municipal Tax offices. We hit the door only to have it move an inch before slamming against the makeshift barricade of desks and filing cabinets.

"What the hell... Dave! It's Frank!"

"Frank?" Dave's voice asked warily.

"Yeah. What's with the siege of Leningrad over here?"

"Sorry, Frank." Dave Howard began shifting the furniture, with the help of the rest of the staff. "Didn't know it was you."

"What's the deal?"

Dave was a nice guy stuck working above the open mouth of hell. You could generate enough power to light up most of Eastern Seaboard from the nervous tick of his left eye.

"Oh, Ms. Jenkins was in to complain about her property taxes."

"Ah." I looked around. "I would have shot first."

Dave grinned sickly to show that he could take a joke. Hopefully he was smart enough not to actually piss Jenkins off. Peters, the old crony of Wilkins, sent a Morgul after her once. Once.

They were still finding bits of Peters in the sewer system.

Nobody knows what happened to the Morgul.

I nodded at Alec and gestured toward the rig standing near the open window. "Hook it up, rookie."

He squinted angrily, probably offended about the rookie dig. I stared at him to remind him that I was the only one standing between his hopes for reproducing and old Jake. He went to tie the parcel.

The parcel rocked and chittered at him angrily.

"Fuck!" Said Alec and jumped on Dave's foot.


"Shut up!" I snarled, grabbing the package as it twitched toward the door and slinging it into the harness. Carefully, I launched it outside the window and dropped it down towards the window below.

There was a growl and the steel cable went taut and than slack with a metallic twang. Just like usual.

"What was it in there?" Alec asked, eyes wide and voice trembling slightly.

"You don't want to know."

"I'm not a kid, Frank!"

"All right, I don't want to know. That better?"

He opened his mouth. But then his eyes flickered toward the window and the steel wire that looked like it was chewed on and spat out by something that would make Godzilla look like a diabetic puppy. He shut up carefully and nodded. Well. Whadda ya know. He could be taught.

I said good-bye to Dave and we trotted out, leaving him staring fixedly at the phone as if it was a rattlesnake whose tail he just stepped on.

"Where to next?" Alec asked as we reached the lobby.

"The truck." I told him and chewed on my lip, hurriedly assessing the situation. I'm never that comfortable in City Hall. They don't let me bring my shotgun in here, the fucks.

"No," Alec sighed exasperatedly behind me. "I mean..."

Something fell down heavily a couple of floors above us, followed by a blood-curdling girlish scream that sounded a lot like Dave.

Alec swallowed loudly. "Right. The truck."

We made it outside without any more excitement. On the steps Jacob was bandaging a dazed and slightly bleeding blonde intern.

"What exactly does this guy do here?" Alec whispered to me, smiling hesitantly at the girl.

"I look after the gremlins, refresh the wards, do a little combat surgery, feed the elevators... " Jacob paused and grinned evilly. "And I replace the urinal cakes."

Alec paled and made for the truck.

"Jake, you're a mad old bastard."

"Why, thanks Frank."

"Don't mention it."

I got in and locked the truck behind me.

Every site of mystic importance has at least one person who performs the mundane functions and are just too useful and is pathologically insane to kill.

Even the craziest blood sucking despot from the depths on Netherworld needs someone to pick up dry cleaning and sort out the electricity bill.

"Tell me that's as weird as it gets." Alec shivered. The armored bulk of the "Sunnydale Special" irregular UPS truck (It took a two-week strike before we got our rides modified and even then they bulked at the rotary machine guns. We need a better union.) seemed to reassure him a little.

I sighed.

Maybe it was time to have The Talk with the kid.

"Because drugs creep me out."

Maybe not.

"What's next?'

"A pick up at the Wholesale Thaumaturgical Supply Warehouse."


"You'll see." I gunned the engine. At least those lunatics were safe.


"Hey, boss! You want 90 watt Thessulah orbs or the powersaver ones?"

Yup, it was one of the loony pick-ups. Which is a good thing. They hardly ever try to sacrifice you to the Snake Goddess of Upshallah at the loony pick-ups.

"Hey, Frank." Moonbeam waved at me, without raising his head from his computer.

"Beam." I nodded and looked around. "Looks like the business is good."

He shrugged. "Can't complain, nobody's listening. What can I do for you?"

"Beam!" His sister's shriek made the proud owner of WTSW, INC wince, with a pained grimace flickering across his face.

"Gally, tone it down, would you?"

"I asked you three times already! 90s or Powersave?"

Moonbeam Johnson sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"90s." He said tiredly after a second's thought. Still unseen Galadriel Freedom Johnson Jr. snorted and the sound of her footsteps retreated deeper into the stacks.

Moonbeam turned to me again. "So. How can I be of assistance?"

I shrugged and gave him the list. They didn't pay me enough to memorize this crap. Beam scanned through it quickly and frowned.


"What?" She asked resentfully from the depths of the warehouse.

"Do we have a Dagon Sphere in stock?"

"What the fuck is a Dagon Sphere?"

Moonbeam sighed reproachfully. "You keep assuming I know what any of this crap we sell is."

Galadriel snorted again. "Who wants it?"

"Some monk guys in Romania."

"Well, then do the usual. Get a snow globe and slap some hieroglyphs on it. It's not like it's for Ms. Jenkins."

"Miss Jenkins?" Alec whispered.

"Shut up." I turned back to Moonbeam. "You're supposed to have this ready for us, Moon. We've got a schedule to keep."

He hates it when I call him that, but he was in the wrong and he knew it.

"It's been a busy week. Lots of portents or some crap." Moonbeam shook his head. "Upped everything by 20%."


"Right, sorry. Look, I owe you one, all right?"

"Fine." That just sewed up my Christmas bonus. "Your sister getting that sphere?"

"Spray painting it as we speak. Hey, who's the new guy?"


"Got space on Thursday?"


"Put us down for twenty."

"For what?" Alec asked, as Galadriel came out with a glowing orb. She had a smear of silver paint on her cheek and an aggressively short, blonde haircut.


"Hey. That the package?"

"Yeah. Sorry about the wait."

Apologies. I scowled at her. "You owe me."

She shrugged and nodded. "Deal."

I bagged the globe. "Beam, Galadriel, see you next week."


We left the store with a stack of packages and Alec gave me a look. "Moonbeam? Galadriel?"

"Their parents were hippies."

"And they..."


He nodded understandingly and glanced back. I doubt he was hoping to catch another glimpse of Beam.

I considered telling him that he had the wrong set of reproductive organs to interest Gally.


"Well?" He looked at me expectantly as I got behind the wheel.

"Next stop, Magic Box."

"The What Box?"

"Shut up. You're about to meet the Main Street Harpy."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"Lemme put it in terms you'll understand. You got your wallet on you?"

"Yeah..." He replied warily.

"Hand it over."

"What?! There's like two hundred bucks in there."

"Yeah, and if you don't give it to me you'll be financing the Magic Box's new wing. Give."

He passed it over.

The Magic Box changed ownership fairly recently, the last owner having come down with a slight case of decapitation. I have not really had the chance to meet the new guy yet. However, despite the fact that that he'd moved into the high-profit, high mortality rate world of magical supplies and mystic items, things seemed to indicate he was a smart guy. The fact that up to date he was longest surviving proprietor of the shop in question seemed to prove that he was good, or more importantly lucky.

I have never met him.

His assistant, however, had wrought more terror on the business community of Greater Sunnydale than even Mr. Trick at his worst.

Sunnydale citizens are a sturdy lot. They can deal with animated corpses and fire-breathing demons fairly quickly, but motivated petitions and tax applications are enough to chill the most hard- bitten madmen and psychopaths.

"So is this the normal day for you?" Alec asked suddenly, and somewhat hopefully.


"Really?" He brightened up noticeably.

"Today is an easy run."


He seemed put out for some reason but didn't have time to have a really good sulk because we were there.

"Now, remember what I told you?"

"Refer to her as Ms. Jenkins at all times. Don't touch anything. Don't ask about the fertility idol. And if her boyfriend is around - no talk about Dracula.' Alec glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. "Are you jerking my chain, Frank?"

I didn't bother dignifying it with a response. "Let's go meet the little woman."

I caught the smell of sulfur just in time to wonder how I was going to explain a horned vengeance demon with a serious case of acne.

"Anyanka, I told you several times, it's against regulations to... Frank!"


Beside me my partner was clucking his tongue appreciatively. "Cool costume, mister. Does this place sell those glasses with mustaches too? Oh, and springy eyeballs!"

D'Hoffryn was looking faintly nonplussed. I left them to it. If I was really lucky, by the time I returned my biggest worry would be finding an understanding owner for a toad.

"Frank! Dude! Do you have my..."

"Xander." I nodded and passed over the bundle. "Transmetropolitan: Spider's Trash and Rifts: Africa."

"Cool! And what about, uh..."

"Under the Rifts, inside the National Geographic wrapper."

"Exxxcellent! You're the man, Frank."

"One of us has to be." I shook my head and reminded myself that Ms. Jenkins was his girlfriend. There had to be more to him than met the eye.

"You must work in the movies. That's cool! It is movies, right?"

"I have brought vengeance and suffering to humanity since the first glimpses of the age of man, bothersome mortal."

"Man, you actor guys. You're always on. Never break character. That's great." D'Hoffryn had a pretty easygoing disposition for an otherworldly creature of evil, so he in no way deserved this. Plus, Alec was piling stupidity on top of obliviousness at frightening speed.

"Rook, go unload the truck."

"I wanted to talk to-"

"Now." He was learning something, at least. I didn't have to shout. Xander followed him out, likely doing damage control for D'Hoffryn with Alec.

"New kid, Frank?"

"Yeah. New recruits, man..."

"I know what you mean. They think they know everything, before they've even put in their first five hundred years."

"We had a saying in Vietnam. Young, dumb, and full of--"

"Wet steaming entrails. I didn't know your Marines used the M'Kub family mantra?"

"Close enough."

"You running the book?" I nodded. "Twenty-five for Friday. Double it if he's got a delivery to the morgue."

"Done. Man, rookies. I wish--"


"Sorry. Not happening."

"Tease. Anyanka, I'm off to the office. Next time you summon me, please don't let it be for a pyramid scheme."

"For the last time, it's called multi-level chaos sharing. Look, you recruit ten demons and they each go out and recruit ten more demons. And from each soul they harvest, you get--"

"Yes, Anyanka. I heard the pitch when they still called it Christianity. Farewell." A flare of fire, a puff of smoke and he was gone. Beats the hell out of the subway.

"Damn. He had all the good contacts too."

"Funny old world, ain't it. Sign here." I passed her the pad, and stifled a groan as that shifty light gleamed in her eyes. Headaches and paperwork figured prominently in my future, I could tell.

"I'm not signing for anything until I've inspected the shipment for damage." Yeah, she was the type to read the shipping information from front to back.

"Fine. The kid is getting it. You got your parcels ready?"

"Over here. Look, I've got fragile on the wrappers and everything."

"What are you shipping?" I looked at the pile in horror. Even so much as rattle a fragile package from her store and she was already filing maximum return damage claims with head office.

"Blood quenched iron ingots."

"How are those fragile?"

"Oh. I thought it was a description if they got dropped on you. You know, of, well... you."

"Just give me the packing slip." The door clattered open again to let Alec and Xander back in. Two giant stacks of packages that I didn't have to carry made their way to the counter.

"Xander! It's not your job to carry those."

"What? I'm just helping out my main man Alec here. Did you know he used to date a girl whose uncle cut William Shatner's lawn? It's like he's practically met James T. Kirk!"

"I'm glad he's a geek, Xander. It's just--"

"That you invalidated the damage claims your girlfriend was planning to file against me by voluntarily helping move the packages."

"That's not true."

"Oh really?" I guess the dripping sarcasm made her think I didn't trust her. Which was wrong, in fact. I trusted Anya Jenkins to be Anya Jenkins, in the same way I always trusted a poisonous snake to try and bite me.

"I was going to file them against the new guy."

"Hey!" The kid whined. Anya turned one of her top level they-invented– the-word-bitch-to-describe-me looks at him.

"But we could make a cash arrangement now and not see it on your personal record."

"Kid, don't say a thing. Ms. Jenkins, I've got his wallet and you're making me late. Just sign the bill."

"How am I supposed to make any money with you here, Frank?"

"By scamming those FedEx idiots like the Almighty intended. Afternoon."

"Yeah, I'll see you for D&D on Friday, Alec!" Xander yelled and Alec waved back.

"I've got my dwarf barbarian freak on, Xander!"

"Frank." Anya got real quiet and real close. "Are you running a book?"


"Twenty for Thursday. Oh please, let it be Thursday." She shuddered and I nodded. Maybe she'd get lucky. Either way, it didn't matter to me. As long as I turned him in at the end of the day, breathing without the aid of large machines, my job was done. Yeah I was setting the bar pretty high. Call me an optimist.

Alec was sitting at the dash, thumbing through the stack of deliveries for the police station. The amiable obliviousness was back in his eyes after the apparent normality of the Magic Box. The odds just kept jumping around in my head on his survivability.

"Here's your wallet."

"Thanks. Man, that wasn't so bad."

"If you consider that you were one word from an out of court settlement, sure." The axles ground a bit as I pulled out. We were still having problems balancing out armor loads on our suspensions. I made a note to let the shop know. The same model was up for a military contract later this year.

"So, just the cops and then..."

"Lunch. We can clear up a delivery at the same time."

"What sort of--"

"Just don't, kid. You'll find out soon enough."

"Geez, you make it all sound so mysterious." The rookie had a point. If he was going to survive, at some point he was going to have to face the truth of how things really worked in Sunnydale.

Maybe I'm getting old, but the idea of taking yet another recruit under my wing to see them get their ass shot off tired me. Besides, I only had three more years until a pension and a wakeup back to the real world.

"Let's get this stuff dropped off. I'm getting hungry and need a drink."

"Sure, Frank. Whatever you say."


I like the Sunnydale PD. It's rare to meet a group of people with such overwhelming dedication to their goal. True, that goal happened to be an utter denial of anything resembling reality but hey, we all deal in our own way.

That is not to say that the entire Sunnydale police force is full of fat idiots whom Wilkins hired mostly based on girth and the minimal requirement of being able to find their ass with both hands and a flashlight. Not the entire department, no.

Things weren't always like that. Rumor is back in the 50s, some asshole smoked a cop and even Wilkins wasn't able to prevent the rest of 'em coming down on the bumpy crowd like a ton of bricks. Jake says it took a decade before demon population got back to its previous size.

There are some new cops that are trying to do the whole serve and protect thing. I kinda feel sorry for them. I've seen it before, when I joined the force. LAPD in the 70s.... being an honest cop was like being Stevie Wonder at a Klan rally.

So yeah, you get a couple of Don Quixotes every now and then, running around and generally getting in the Slayer's way.

It's slated to get worse too, with the new Chief they've brought in. I made some calls about him, Lockley told me to just stand back and watch the blood and green goo splatter. Should be fun days ahead.

"Yo, Frank."

"Kelly, Alec, Alec – Mike Kelly."

Mike was his usual Irish-monster self, his cheap suit looking like it was about to explode at the seams. Sweet guy, but looks like a red- haired gorilla with a bad case of hemorrhoids. About as bright too. I am still unsure how he ever made detective.

He nodded to my partner, lips stretching in what he persisted to believe was an amiable manner. Alec swallowed and nodded, his fingers inching toward the shotgun. Yeah. That's all I need to make my day complete, my partner emptying a round of buckshot into a cop 5 feet from the station.

"Alec, why don't you park the truck over there." I nodded toward the empty spot. Mike's eyes flickered and I used the moment's distraction to kick Alec in the shin and slap his hand away from the gun.

"Ow! What did you do that f..."

"Just park the truck and wait for me."

His eyes suddenly brightened. "I get to drive?"

His enthusiasm was like that of a young, loveable puppy. Made you want to smack him across the nose with a rolled up newspaper.

"Yeah. You get to drive. To the curb." I caught his eyes with mine and smiled in a manner promising all sort of creative pain. "You as much as scratch my baby..." I let the sentence trail off, leaving it to his imagination.

He nodded. I looked at him dubiously. His face assumed a wounded expression that I am sure played well with college sophomores. Well. There was no help for it, I was going to have to leave him unsupervised at some point or another. If he wasn't safe in the SDPD yard...

I nodded to Kelly to walk me over to the station house and grabbed the package. My mind boggled at the potential disasters of letting this genius and my new buddy make small talk. Still, pound for pound, Mike is as good as partner as you can wish for. I watched him go toe to toe with a Fyarl once. On the other hand he still calls the LA Zoo periodically to check up on that 'rogue grizzly' that attacked him.

Like I said. Not the brightest brick in the toolbox. But that's all right. He's got...


"Frank! Where have you been?"

-his partner to do his thinking for him. Elijah Weinberg is a short, intense individual who moves in great, sudden bursts of speed and makes me tired just by looking at him. Last time I had that much energy chokeholds were still legal and nobody cared if the president got an occasional blowjob.

You could also smoke inside a goddamn bar.

Eli is the brains of this outfit. Mike is there just to hit things. It works out pretty well, actually. Worked even better when Eli was partnered with Sam but hey...

The station was almost empty, with it being a Monday night and all. A couple of uniforms lounging by the coffee machine, Marlene manning the phones, a bunch of luckless drunks sleeping it off.

Mayberry jailhouse.


I glanced at the floor by the john where if you squinted just right, you could still see the blot. Very hard to get a melted chief of police out of the linoleum as it turns out.

On the other hand it makes a great cautionary tale about shaking warlocks down for protection money.

Eli was glaring at me through his glasses in away that implied an impending lecture on the timely delivery of federal and personal mail. If I didn't head him off at the pass I'd be here till sunrise. Boy does like to hear himself talk.

"Beam slowed me down some. Kinda hectic over there."

"Ah." Eli nodded. "That portent shit?"

Yeah, he knows what's what. I asked him if he was ever planning to let Kelly in on the score, once. He just snorted and told me to mind my own business and not to sell Mike short. I butted out.

He sat down and glanced from me to Kelly and back. Mike was looking mildly puzzled behind his desk. Whether it was because he was trying to figure out what the word 'portent' meant or because he forgot how to spell 'judicial' again was anybody's guess.

"You got it then?" Eli's fingers tapped impatiently on the ugly stack of folders. He looked like he hadn't slept in a week and hadn't changed his clothes since the last time I saw him. "The Chronicles?"

Mutely I dropped the package on the desk. There is no talking to Eli when he gets like this. The long nervous fingers tore into the paper with unrelenting gusto, revealing a musty old tome. He started leafing through it, muttering something to himself and absently patting the desk for a pencil. Any minute now he was going to start clutching at his hair in a habit that perpetually left him looking like a midget mad scientist.

I cleared my throat and tapped the clipboard against the desk. He waved me away without ever looking up still muttering to himself about hieroglyphs being cuneiform and that changed everything. I sympathized with his dedication, I really did. What with the influx of crazies and those dead kids with the weird writing on them he had a lot on his plate. But I had a schedule. It's all about priorities.

I cleared my throat again, a bit more loudly this time, and raised the clipboard...

"Frank! What's taking so damn long?"

By the time we left I had another bet on Wednesday. The pot was really starting to look respectable.

Alec regained his entirely too chipper mood somehow.

"What was up with the wall in the men's room? There's this really weird warbling sound and it smells kinda bad."

Some towns have a problem with being underfunded. We have a haunted bathroom in the police station.

It's all about perspective, really.

"Another thing. Who was that old guy in the picture right in the front?"

"Edward "Pops" McIntyre. Most famous cop on the Sunnydale force."


"Only one to ever make retirement without a scratch on him. Shuddap and let me drive."

Alec was looking at the schedule and humming something that sounded suspiciously akin to "Bad To The Bone."

"Look at this, we're almost half-done. Y'know, Frank, this gig is not half as bad as I thought it would be. True hours are kinda eh, but I am really starting to like this town. It's got..." he frowned for a second, then brightened up and snapped his fingers. "Character."

It took a considerable amount of will power for me not to slam on the brakes, for the sheer therapeutic value of seeing him smack into the windshield again.



It was definitely time to explain the facts of life to this puke.

I used to tell people that working Sunnydale was a lot like 'nam only without the good parts – like hookers and heavy artillery. People used to think I was being cute.

Some things you just can't explain. Some things just gotta be shown.

"Let's go get that drink."

"What about lunch?"


"Yeah, ok. Where we goin'?"

I grinned tightly. "Willy's. Everybody comes to Willy's."

He didn't get it. Imagine my surprise.

Willy's was the kind of place that you used to have to spit blood and chew razorblades to prove tough enough to get into. It had cleaned up a lot these days. You only had to spit blood and chew razorblades if you wanted to. Quite a lot of the clientele did. The kid's eyes were the size of dinner plates as we walked in. He nudged me once, which I ignored, nodding at Willy. The kid nudged me again, and whispered not quietly enough in my ear.

"Frank, what's up with this place? Is there some kind of costume convention going on in town?"

"Something like that. Now shut up and get a table." I growled. Maybe this was a mistake. The kid practically screamed 'free lunch' with every movement, and a few of the demons in here wanted something juicier than chicken fingers. I squeezed into the space between a Chaos demon and a vampire couple, waving down the barman.

Back in Khe Sahn, we had this guy in the platoon that seemed to draw every light duty possible. He paid off a medic to keep him on sick rotation, and spent more time in the infirmary than most of the doctors. He also had the uncanny ability to get his hands on all the things that smoothed out the rough edges of combat for other people; drugs, porn, whores. Rumor was that he had the dirt on all the officers, and they kept him out of combat in exchange for him not blabbing.

Shame someone dropped a grenade into the latrine one day while he was in there. Wasn't enough left of him to fill a field helmet.

Willy reminded me of him. A weasel with excellent survival instincts, he's thrived by telling everyone what they needed to know for money, and opening up his bar to the tastes of new clientele. A vampire once told me that Willy was the blood equivalent of our old MREs. You could stay alive by eating them, but might wish you hadn't. Plus, being known as an utter shill and coward made demons consider you not worth eating.

"Frank, buddy!"

"I'm not your buddy."

"Who is? You want the special or just a couple of beers?" He said, and caught my look. "On the house, of course."

"Tell me something, Willy. Portents, rumblings, nervous cops... what's going on tonight?"

"Well, I'm not supposed to tell anyone but," he pocketed the twenty without a pause. "I heard rumors of some big summoning going on in town. Might be mixed up with this god or something. Sounds like a party. Got the regulars hopping."

"Apocalypse is good for business?"

"You bet. No demon wants to start ending the world without a solid lining of kittens and chicken fingers in their stomachs."

"Slayer involved?"

"Some say no, some say yes."

"You telling me the truth?"

"It's not worth getting beaten up over."

"I believe you, Willy." I dropped his deliveries on the bar. "Tell the locals we got a new guy on. They start feeling like dropping the hammer on him, I'll take it personal."

At least I could give the kid a fighting chance. Besides, people know me in this town. At least, they learned what being driven over repeatedly feels like, and give me a healthy dose of respect. Besides, even the darkest minion of Hell needs to get his mummified psychopaths hand and raw amber somewhere.

Speaking of which... I glanced speculatively at the kid and, of course, found him in the process of alienating a Dzhaybee. Well. It least it wasn't a Fyarl. I shrugged and decide to let this thing ride itself out. Coincidentally enough I had business to take care of, so I turned back to Willy. "All right, I'll be back in a bit. Remember what I said."

The little slimeball's eyes darted toward my newly-minted partner's most recent predicament and then back again.

I sighed. "I ain't expecting the impossible." Boys will be boys and all that shit. Plus, like Gunny Jeffers always said – pain learns you good.

I hated that fucking sonuvabitch even worse than I hated my old man, may they both rot in hell.

"Just try to keep it from getting terminal." I told Willy and faded, carefully pretending not to notice Alec's panicky look.

As I got in the truck it occurs to me that I had been neglecting the bright side of life. If the snot didn't make it out of the bar, Anya would owe me a favor.

For a long moment I considered going back in and taking back the 'terminal' restrictions but there was a schedule to keep.

The Bronze. What happens when you put horny teenagers in a single place over a Hellmouth. Vicky had enlarged the skylights and reinforced the windows to celebrate her first year of owning the club. After six years, her hands shook like a palsy victim and her cigarette consumption made Mildred look like a non-smoker.

Still, you had to admire her guts. She wouldn't sell it, close it, or make deals with the vampires or the demons. There was a thin net of scars on her stomach and thighs from when Trick made her an offer a couple of years ago. Bitch spat blood in his eyes and asked for a cigarette when he was done.

I remember that mentality over in the war: crazy bastards who wouldn't retreat or abandon a post because that was the only thing anchoring them to sanity. Brittle lunatics who could kill you through raw madness, going to the grave with their teeth in your throat. Vicky originally blew in from Miami. And she took a scenic route too, bumming around the country for a couple of years.

Anyway, whatever it was that made her change coasts, and, from dropped hints, a fairly nice lawyer life-style for that of first a hobo and now a purveyor of Sunnydale's premiere meat-market I wasn't asking. She made herself at home right quick though. These days she knew every producer and dealer between Sunnydale and Los Angeles, so she got top flight bands and heavily armed Hell's Angels when she needed it. That wasn't who I was here to see though.

It took me a while to spot her. It was the lights. Totally fucks with me when they set the lights to blink along with the music. But eventually there she was, by the stairs.

Samantha 'Beretta' Barett.

It's a shame really. I still remember when she was a cop. Her and Eli made one hell of a team until that thing with the Mayor. From the fast-track Detective to a bouncer in one month. And they're still not talking to each other, either. Her and Eli, I mean. What can you do? Some people take being knocked out by their partner and fiancé way too personally.

A fucking shame.

Well. That's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

Still. The Bronze made out on the deal. Unless Vicky reverses her policy on hiring demons, Sam is as good as it gets. What the fuck she is doing with the mummified hand of Luis Escobeda – I don't really want to know. Especially considering that the rest of him is still alive and presumably not happy about the whole situation.

But you know what? Fuck it.

I am just here to deliver. And occasionally hit things. At the present I have to settle for shoving. Since the Bronze is the only game in town it's a zoo even on Mondays.

I tell you the noise they call music these days...

Christ, I have become my father.

I foresee a violent overabundance of alcohol in my near future. And hell, I have to swing by the cemetery anyway. He always has a bottle or two of the good stuff squirreled away. Not like the warm piss they serve here.

A mild shock of running into something jars me out of my reverie and I find myself looking at the walking anti-steroid advertisement.

The fucker spilt his beer all over my shorts too.

"Hey, old man, watch where you're gokhcha...."

Hitting things is actually not a part of my job at all. It's more like a perk.


"Uncle Frank!"

Shut up. So she calls me that. So fucking what?

"Got your package."

"Excellent." She grabs it out of my hand, and doesn't bat an eye when it wiggles.

A bunch of patrons notice but if there's anything more ingrained in the psyche of Sunnydale populace than a firm desire to ignore reality I sure as hell haven't found it.

Sam could release the damn thing in the middle of the joint and order it to tap-dance and three weeks from now she would still be getting asked about 'that cute hamster.'

This fucking town.

Hell, a goddamn troll wasn't enough to keep them out of the place, for crap's sake. Although Sam was more than a bit peeved about not being able to stop it from trashing the place. Vicky just spat, took the damages out of her pet warlock's pay and invested in another spell.

She's the practical sort.

What is really screwed up is that for all their determination not to face the flip-side of living on the damn Hellmouth, it rarely if ever interferes with their survival instincts.

New York?

Don't make me laugh.

"Any reason you order that thing, Samantha?"

"Not one I want to discuss." She glanced at my use of her full name, running a hand through her dark hair, and at least had the decency to look abashed. "Look, I just don't want to get into it right now. There's nothing irrational going on."

Most people would have gotten the full yeah-who-are-you-trying-to- bullshit-kid look, but I have a soft spot for her. "Fine. But if there is something that might come back on you, give me a heads up."

"Uncle Frank, you act like I'm setting up a drug ring."

"Money would be better." I shoved away a would be suitor who was trying to inch around my arm to talk to Sam. "Reminds me. You been hearing anything funny going on tonight? Ritual of some type?"

"Ritual?" Sam scratched her nose. "Not that I've heard. Got the odd bit of talk about something big happening soon, but nothing firm. You know how it is with these kids; all angst and sex talk."


"You playing LAPD again, Frank?" She said, suddenly serious.

"One thing I learned overseas, Sam. If shit is coming down, knowing where it's going to hit is the best way to avoid being under it."

"Sure. Look, I can call you later if I hear anything."

"Yeah, thanks." I shrugged, the odd feeling that Sam wasn't telling me the whole story settling in my gut. It's one of those instinct things they tell you to listen to in Basic. "Hey, I have to collect my rookie. Drinks this weekend?"

"I'll call." She disappeared back into the crowd, and unfortunately, did little to dispel my uneasy feeling.


Well, there were no organs festooned over the door to Willy's when I got there, and I took that as a good sign. Willy normally keeps a close eye on his clientele, but considering Alec's unique ability to turn every situation balls up in no time flat it was even money that one of the demons decided to take a shot at burying him.


"Hey Clem." The saggy demon had appeared at the door, a frantic look in his eyes.

"You better get in here!"


"It's your partner."

Shit. Mildred was going to stomp my guts in, and that was just for starters. And, God help me, I was actually starting to like the kid a little. Sure, he was dumb, ignorant and destined for an early grave, but he was basically a good kid. I broke into a run, shoving Clem aside and making a mental note to break something small and painful on Willy for getting my rookie killed.

Even I'm wrong occasionally.

"Frank? That you?" Alec said weakly. He was a mess. Eye cut and swollen, bleeding an angry red line down his cheek. The brown UPS shirt had almost been completely torn from his body, and ugly purple bruises were spreading across his chest. It didn't look like his nose was broken, but it was bleeding over his split lips very badly. But, no shit, you should have seen the other guy.

"Yeah sport. It's me." The kid had a handful of a Dzhaybee demon's crown barbules, and was regularly slamming the demon's head into the floor. A Dzhaybee demon isn't as strong as a Fyarl demon, which would have already pulled Alec's arms off and beaten him to death with the wet ends. But it wasn't a lightweight either, and the kid was doing a creditable job of beating nine kinds of shit out of it.

"Clown decided to start something." He fisted the Dzhaybee in the kidneys with semi-professional competence and an amateur's viciousness that was a pleasure to watch. "Punk."

"Glad to see you could handle it."

"Yeah." Alec finally let go of the demon and got up. "Where's our next stop?"

"Sure you don't want to relax a bit first?"

"Nah, just a little whooz..." He passed out cold at my feet.

"Yeah." I picked him up, chuckling a little at the grudgingly respectful distance the demons were giving him. "So, Eddie needed to start something, huh?"

"There was nothing I could do, Frank. I was switching the kegs, honest." Willy whined, and I did my best to suppress a killing urge.

"Of course you were, Willy. Grab a bottle of vodka and drop it into the truck." Willy opened his mouth. "Now." And shut it just as fast.

"It wasn't just Eddie, Frank."


"Shirley's out behind the bar." Clem said, and we both looked at each other for a moment before laughing.

"Both of 'em went for the kid?"

"He threw her into the table, grabbed a chair and starting hitting her with it until she stayed down." Dzhaybee females are larger than their mates. Meaner too.

Maybe he wasn't a complete waste.

"Thank, Clem. You go back to your poker game."

"Later, Frank."

I walked/carried the kid back to truck, dumping him against the back as I fished out the first aid kit. I'd demanded medic grade trauma kits for all of our vehicles, and we saw our fatalities drop fifteen percent in one year. The kid looked a mess at first, but once I got the blood off, it was pretty easy to see that most of his wounds were light. No doubt he'd feel like I'd run the truck over him for the next few days, but I'd seen far worse in bar brawls. Especially with demons. I had just got his eyebrow taped up when he jolted awake.


"Relax, rookie. I'm just trying to fix up your face."

"What happened?"

"You beat a guy unconscious with it. Where did you learn how to fight?"

"My dad was in the Rangers when he was younger. He made my sisters and I learn. I ended up doing Krav Maga for ten years." Alec touched his swollen lips. "I still teach self defense at the community center."

"Pretty good moves in there. I know Eddie. He's no pushover."

"Pretty foul mouth for a clown."

"Well, he's... French."

"Oh." Alec nodded in understanding, then frowned and finally shook the issue off as he winced, rubbing his shoulder gingerly. "So? How bad is it?"

"Cut on your eyebrow is the worst. You'll feel like hell for a couple of days, but I don't think you broke anything." Yeah, the kid had earned to be treated like an adult until he made his next stupid comment. "There's a spare shirt in the truck you can wear."

"Thanks Frank."

"Don't mention it. Now," I stood up and checked my watch. "Time to stop for lunch. I happen to know just the place too."


My shirt was hanging off of him like a burial shroud, making him look like a scarecrow after a bad night on the town.

Which wasn't that far off the mark now that I thought about it. It didn't take long for the war-hero to revert to type either. I was beginning to come to the conclusion that nothing short of a thorough decapitation would shut the kid up.

The cache of goodwill that he had built up with me was beginning to run thin. I sighed and scratched my head. Wasn't the kid's fault, I knew that. The uneasy feeling that settled in the back of my head after the non-conversation with Sam was tugging at me in a not good kind of way.


I was too old to deal with quasi-paternal urges. And she was a big girl.


Fuck, I needed a drink.


"Yeah?" I felt I deserved a lot of credit for not barking at the guy. Nobody appreciates my sensitivity, I tell you what.

"Why are stopping here?"

"I told you." I said parked the truck. "Lunch."

"At the cemetery?"

"It's very quiet this time of night. Scenic." I didn't bother with the lowjack. For good or ill the criminal element in Sunnydale is kinda thin. And remarkably few of the other kind try to carjack a UPS carrier. I expect that to change when the word about the 'improvements' gets around.

Besides, against the 'other' kind that jack would do exactly shit.

I did put 'Frank's car' sticker in the window though.

It's good to have a reputation.

"Man, this is creepy." Alec's eyes kept darting around, as if he expected a werewolf jump out at him any second from a bush or something.

Filled my heart with hope for the younger generation.

"I can't believe you eat lunch – which is more like late supper by the way – here. That can't be good for your chi."

My chi? My CHI?!

"Listen, slick..."

"Clem, is that yo- Oh, hey, Frank."

Well, shit.

Alec stopped behind me and by the sound of it was making like a fish out of water again. Don't know if it's fair to blame him at that. Not exactly the picture I was expecting, my own self.

"G'evening, Mrs. Summers."

The lady sitting on the blanket, spread in front of crypt smiled back at me, seemingly unaware of the sheer wrongness of the whole picture. And I am not even talking about the company she was in.

This fucking town, I swear to God.

"Hi, Frank." I always liked her smile. Reminded me of my niece.

"How many times do I have to tell you? It's Joyce. Who's your friend?"

"Alec Whitaker, ma'm. He's my new partner."

No sounds from behind me, so I discreetly reminded him of his manners with a well placed elbow.

"Ow. I mean, hi. I'm Alec. Alec Whitaker."

I turned and glared. The kid got bonus points for getting the hint almost immediately and grabbing his hat off his head. Joyce grinned into her hand and shook her head.

"Nice to meet you, Alec."

I like the lady and all, but I still needed a couple of seconds to swallow my plans.

Spike, the pale undead bastard, smirked at me, the fucker, knowing that with Joyce here my hope for a discreet dip into his booze just went up in smoke. I sneered back, since if I had to bet I'd put money on the fact that he was in the same boat. His answering glower was enough to brighten up my dreary days.

Malik remained expressionless as he usually did.

Malik in all probability was the main reason for Alec's first reaction. Although the Billy Idol wannabe over there might have had something to do with it too. Who can tell.

"Guys, meet Alec. Alec – the guys."

"Um... hi."

Spike and Malik nodded, assessing the kid each in their own way.

"Who decorated his face?" Malik asked softly and shifted. I nodded my thanks and sit down, grunting. Sucks to get old.

"We just came from Willy's."


"Eddie and Shirl should wake up by noon, I am guessing." I established my partner's reputation without sounding defensive or proud. Much.

Malik looked impressed and Spike glanced at me, his eyebrow raised fractionally. I nodded.


"I'll put you down."


Joyce shook her head again, looking at us both admonishingly.

Spike looked somewhat abashed.

I shrugged.

Thankfully the kid picked this moment to re-enter conversation.

"So, " He wetted his lips carefully, glancing at Malik sidelong. "How do you know Frank?"

"Oh, everybody knows Frank." Spike drawled out, half mockingly.

I scowled. Joyce just looked tired.

Malik didn't say anything. He usually didn't.

In his profession that's what you'd call a bonus.

Malik Abrafo was not always a mild-mannered groundskeeper of the Restfield cemetery.

He used to run with the Black Panthers when, in his own words, he was young and impressionable. He also told me once that Abrafo means executioner.

Yeah, that's what I said too. Not aloud, of course.

See, he's Order of Taraka. Retired. Not sure why, but I gathered there was an embarrassing situation of some sort, involving a daughter of a Kerchak demon-khan, a family castle and some sort of fire.

I didn't go looking for extra details. Call me squeamish.

Anyway, apparently there was some sort of epiphany and Malik discovered the joys of pacifism.

Rumor is that he'd sworn not to raise his hand in anger ever again. Even in self-defense.

Not that anybody's been dumb enough to test that theory, as far as I know.

Anyway he's been the groundskeeper here for the last eight years. When he's not busy cleaning me out of my poker money, that is.

Says it's a good job. Restful and conducive to contemplation.

Apparently conversations with the undead gave him a whole new perspective on the metaphysical nature of enlightenment.

He and Joyce met at her gallery one day and hit it off. From what I understand the first time Spike saw them sitting in front of his crypt with a picnic basket he went on a three day bender.

I gathered he had this image of having the Talk about Joyce with Malik. After he found out that they were Just Friends he disappeared into Willy's for another week to drown himself into grateful oblivion.

I love this town.

Where else, for example, can you sit on a blanket in the middle of the cemetery and listen to a nice lady gallery owner, a retired professional shit-disturber and an undead punk discuss primitive art of sub-Equatorial Africa and the Shang Dynasty China.

So I sat on the blanket and ate my sandwiches.

What would you do?

I almost choked on my bologna when the kid jumped into the conversation and was able to hold his own.

Apparently his pop's been stationed in Africa a bunch.

"Alec, you seem like a very bright young man," Joyce said finally and fixed him with a steely Mom-stare. "Why aren't you in college?"

"Oh. Um..." The little snot grinned sheepishly, hastily swallowing the food. "I was gonna go, but I figured this is the time to take some time off. See the world. Discover myself, y'know?"

Behind him Spike rolled his eyes in almost audible disgust and I had to admit he had a point.

Joyce too, looked somewhat skeptical about swallowing the semi- Kerouakian line of bullshit of finding oneself through employment at UPS.

As she sighed and began to dismantle my new partner's sense of self- worth with admiration-inducing efficiency, I squinted meaningfully at Spike.

He got the hint immediately.

Making strategic retreat to the crypt we proceeded to examine what the vampire's wine cellar had to offer.

Now there was still a bottle of vodka in my truck, but I am not yet senile enough to get plastered on hard liquor during a Sunnydale night shift.

Although given how this night has been going....

In any case, the beer was more of an excuse than anything else, since with every passing hour that never quite forgotten feeling that there was a sniper rifle pointing at the back of my head had been steadily growing stronger and stronger.

"Anything going down tonight, Spike, that I should know about?"

He was suddenly looking arrogant and shifty at the same time. Right. Must be Slayer business.


He sighed and scratched his nose, apparently deeming me trustworthy enough. The privilege of it all almost made my heart stop, I tell you what.

"There's a new Big Bad in town." He glanced toward the door, as if to make sure Joyce was well out of the earshot. Judging from the sounds he needn't have worried. Malik seemed to have her well entertained.


"Goes by the name of Glory."

I spat and scowled at him. "Fuck, boy. I knew that a week back."

He sneered. "Oh, yeah? Did you know about those Watcher tossers that traipsed through here a bit ago?"

I didn't. The bad feeling in the pit of my stomach grew.

"Don't get your knickers in a twist. They left."

"Spike, get to the point."

"Glory's a hellgod, it looks like."

Well. That was a whole and exciting level of unpleasant.

"What's she want?"

The vampire finished his beer and, casually crushing the can, fished out a pack of cigarettes. I wasn't offered any. Hint seemed pretty clear. He told me as much as he was gonna.

Not that he really needed to. There was a backpack in the corner of the crypt with a bunch of CDs half spilt out. And unless Spike's tastes have changed drastically in the last week and have come to encompass the modern American pop music, I could form a fairly educated guess as to the owner.

Which lent a lot of weight to the rumor that the Slayer dropped Joyce and her sister here a few days back for safe-keeping.

This fucking town.

Still. If the Slayer was in the thick of it, chances were it was going to get handled above the level of us simple folk. One way or another.

UPS doesn't fight HellGods. It's in the contract.

.... well apart from that one time in the '80s. But FedEx started it!

I finished my beer and thought longingly about just leaving quietly, getting in my beautiful truck and just driving. Until I hit Mexico. Start a whole new life.

"You got my stuff, by the way?"

... less than a day, I could hit the border. Less than a day.


"Here. 'Give 'Em Enough Rope', original vinyl sighed by the band. And a bootleg of the last Passions season on DVD."

Before he could revel in his new possessions, however, a blood- curdling shriek split the peaceful night of Sunnyd- yeah, I can't even finish that with a straight face.

He beat me outside, of course. But not by much.

It was Alec of course. But frankly, it was hard to blame him this time.

"Frank! My eye! It's saying things to me!"

It was too. Some of them were even printable.

Joyce was blinking rapidly and rooting through her handbag. If she was going to come up with some remedy against mutant eyes, I was planning on being extremely impressed.

Malik was just sitting there, head cocked curiously to the side.

"Oh." Spike said suddenly.



He ignored Alec and cocked the scarred eyebrow at me. "What month is it, Frank?"

What month? What the hell did that....

Oh hell.

Spike's lips twitched. "Shirley is in mating season, mate."

This fucking town.

"I think I have some visine in here." Joyce said, ignored by everyone.

"Anyone speak Dzhaybee?" I knew enough of it to puzzle out a warcry and barter for what would no doubt be an insanely exhausting evening of degenerate lust. But what had been a split eyebrow was now rimmed with nubby teeth and was spitting out a rapidfire mixture of curses, obscenities and, for all we knew, a major breakthrough in Dzhaybee cooking techniques.

"Got a bit. Back in Thailand." Spike shrugged. "Dzhaybee have a thing for ginger. San Francisco is lousy with them. Can't get decent takeaway without one inviting himself over."

"What's it saying?" Alec was whimpering and trying to cover it with his hands, which only led to it biting at his fingers and snarling. Malik was prying Alec's hands back from it, which was about the only thing stopping the kid from taking his lunchbox to it.

"Omens, curses... apparently it knows your mum well, Frank."

"Not funny." I scrubbed my hands through my hair. "So, what we have is a Dzhaybee demon slowly growing out of Alec' face?"

"Sounds like."

"Get it off! Get it off!" Alec screamed.

"Calm down, kid." I'll admit, the drooling and the little tongue that lashed out from his eyebrow was not something that was going to help settle my digestion after lunch. Spike cursed when it bit him, and was searching for a part to punch that wasn't my partner.

Malik reached into the open picnic basket and pulled out an opened bottle of wine. He pulled the cork from the neck, and with great care, plugged it into the center of the snarling maw. It bit at the cork and tried to shriek at us around the plug. Alec was whimpering and near hysterical, trashing about. Joyce held his head while I wound a bandage across his forehead, hiding the nasty thing underneath it.

"Spike, how do we get rid of it?"

"What do I look like, Frank? The bloody demon doctor?"

I lobbed over my thermos at him. "AB negative, with just a hint of brandy." Spike's eyebrows went up. "However, if you don't give me a straight answer about this, you won't get to enjoy it. On account of the fact that I will beat you to death with the thermos."

"It's a minor possession." Spike said with a theatrical sigh. "Dzhaybee don't have reproductive organs. They carry their genetic material in their teeth. When they bite you, they transfer it over, and the possession spreads out, like a disease. Two, three days tops, and you're a brand new baby Dzhaybee."


"That makes more sense to me too. But you never can tell with demons."

"How do we get rid of it? Our insurance doesn't cover possession." Despite a strike threat, the bastards still won't increase our coverage to add demonic elements.

"Exorcism, I guess. Not really my thing."

"This is ridiculous. Frank, get him to your truck. I'll call Mister Giles to handle it." Joyce said, in a no nonsense tone. "We can wait for him at my house."

"Joyce, you know that's not safe." Spike said.

"I am not going to sit here and let this young man change into some... thing. Malik, can you call the Magic Box for me?"

"Of course." He shifted a bit. "Are you sure you don't want me to come along?"

"I'm sure Frank can handle it. But thanks." She smiled, and I think the man actually blushed a bit. Joyce was one of the classic ladies; made everyone feel good about themselves. Maybe being the Slayer's mother came with powers of its own. "Now, let's get him out of here."

"Sure." Alec trashed weakly, half in a faint from the shock. I hauled him up over my shoulder. Joyce walked beside, carrying our lunchboxes as I dragged him out of the cemetery and tossed him in the back of the truck. Hell, the pile of express mail was as soft as a featherbed back there.


"Yeah, Joyce?" I gunned the motor, and pulled out on to the street.

"Have you ever wondered why just when you can't imagine anything could get any stranger in this town, it always does?"

"Our own damn fault for living here."

"I chose Sunnydale after the divorce because it seemed so quiet." She smiled ruefully. "Wholesome, compared to LA."

"After my divorce, I chose it because I didn't believe anything could be worse than my marriage."


"Yeah. I'm still right too." She laughed as we pulled up to her house. We talked a few times about her ex at the gallery. After the first explosion, FedEx refused to do any more deliveries there. Wimps. So, we'd get to talking between shipments. A lady that made me wish I was ten years younger most of the time.

"You're horrible, Frank."

"Goes with the job. I'll get the kid."

"Sure. Just put him on the couch." She went on ahead to open the door, while I grabbed Sleeping Beauty out of the back. The eyebrow was making a solid attempt to chew its way through the cork, and I didn't have much faith in it lasting long. Hopefully that Giles got himself over here quickly. There was a kid in that house who didn't need a sudden and intense tutorial in Dzhaybee curses.

Joyce walked over to the couch while the kid lay there. She touched the bandage and jerked away as it moved under her touch.

"This town. Who knew?"

"I know the feeling. Giles on his way?"

"I assume so. He's got to come from the Magic Box."

"He's the one that bought it? Is he insane?"

"I don't think so." Joyce grinned. "He was the librarian at the high school before that."

"Yeah, I remember. I just didn't make the connection when I heard someone was crazed enough to buy that deathtrap again." Some people had the mindfuck to volunteer for all of the shit duties.

"Shush." Joyce admonished, moving back to the kitchen to make tea. After what seemed like an eternity, she reappeared with a tray of teacups. "Tea alright?"

"Sure." I would have killed for a coffee at this point, but it was pointless to argue. Considering how late we were running at this point, Mildred was going to have my head for dinner.

It's funny what things trigger your average epiphany. Mildred with a fireaxe did it for me and I froze with a teacup half-way to my lips as the pieces of what had been nagging at me for the last couple of hours suddenly clicked together into a very obvious and extremely ugly conclusion.


She just smiled and took my cup away from me. "You apologize but you urgently need to step out and yes, Frank, it's perfectly all right for Alec to stay here until you'll come back from your study session with Willow."

I blinked.

She grinned, suddenly looking much too young to have two kids. "You had the same look my darling eldest used to get just before she'd feed me some cockamamie story and dash out only to come back with suspicious stains on her sweater."


"Just be careful." She waved me off. "Go."

I went.

The drive was spent mostly by thinking of the ways I was going to kill Sam. The list was long, and refining and adding to it filled with deep, dark satisfaction I hadn't known since I slugged my wife's divorce lawyer.

It took a while to find them. Longer than I thought it would. Longer than I hoped.

In the end all I had to do was follow the sirens.

By the time I got there things already got to that stage just past fucked up and well into the screaming and bleeding part.

Reminded me of Thanksgivings at my in-laws.

First thing I saw was Eli, his left arm bent at an unnatural angle, blasting away from behind his car. The poor Toyota was looking like it just had a minor disagreement with Godzilla. Now a lot of Sunnydale's finest still run around with 38's. Mostly the fat and dumb brigade that make sure to answer any distress call with deliberate speed that will bring them there long after the sunrise appears and the perps make like a tree.

Like most of the brighter ones Eli carried a modified M1911 pistol and I happened to know that in the back of his car there's a highly illegal H&K G36c Compact Carbine. A fine piece of Kraut engineering and as accessible at the moment as your average nuke silo. Sam was crouching next to the kid and doing what she did best with the gun that gave her the nickname.

Neither of them was doing any noticeable damage to what looked like a fairly pissed off Suvolte.

Mike, his faithful shotgun bent into a pretzel and abandoned on a sidewalk, was screaming something in bad Gaelic and going toe to toe with what looked like a mutated gorilla and unless I was very much mistaken was a Nheoot. Mike was coming up second best but didn't look like he was quitting.

Malik was looking to be on the verge of breaking his non-violence vow. Standing as he was between a terrified huddle of kids and an ugly-ass snake the size of a small bulldozer I saw few options.

We were all way too fucking late, I thought absently as I drove my beautiful truck straight into the beastie, right past Spike, who was rather phlegmatically observing the chaos, from a safe vantage point behind a burning Volvo.

The snake crunched and screamed in a woman's voice and then things got a little hazy for a while.

I vaguely remember a moment of clear lucidity as I smashed the remnants of my empty shotgun over the head of the goddamn snake that just wouldn't die.

The fire was glinting metallically off the disheveled brown hair of a coltish girl who reminded me of someone... and then Spike was cursing quietly and bitterly with an almost savagely self-mocking air in his voice, his eyes glinting with something strange and wild – and then he leapt and threw the girl aside, as he went for Nheoot's throat, above Malik's crumpled form.

Which would amount to exactly shit, I knew. Because we were all too fucking late.

Suvolte toppled over suddenly, ridden with bullets and Sam's knife sticking out of his eye and the real low part of my day stepped out into the light.

All those kids. We all should have seen it sooner.

But we didn't and they raised him.

St. Vigeous.

The Vampire Saint.

I gave the snake bitch one last kick and scrambled under the truck, fervently hoping that Sam knew what she was doing as she reached for our ace in the hole.

The mummy hand worked like a charm.

Escobeda was late but he arrived in style.

The main street was going to need serious remodeling.

The tall, hook-nosed warlock stepped carefully over the various twitching body parts and gave us all a long, slightly disgusted look, ignoring Vigeous with the indifference of someone either insanely powerful or just insane. I wasn't taking bets.

The vamp was just standing there and smiling. Didn't even turn to at look how his Nheoot was doing, the creepy fuck. And then suddenly he was moving and holy fuck did he move. Spike went flying like he was a paper-mache doll, smacking into the wall with an unpleasantly wet sound.

He growled something and was back on his feet in less than a second, shaky and sans duster, bleeding like a stuck pig.

Vigeous just smiled tiredly and put a little more strength into his next punch.

But that slowed him just enough for Escobeda's beady eyes to finally settle on Sam and he squinted at her, extending his right arm. The one that ended in a stump.

She just stared at him, eyes wide, mouth open in a shocked 'o.'

"Sam," I screamed from under the truck, uneasily aware of the faint edge of hysteria entering my voice as Spike dented the stonework. "Give the nice warlock his fucking mummy hand!"

She did.

We didn't stay for the rest of the dance. Call me a spoilsport but I collected conscious and unconscious bodies and lit the fuck out of there.

It was going to be a stone cold bitch explaining to Mildred about the blood on the mail and the broken headlight.



"Look, Frank--"

"You got the mummy hand because police regulations in Sunnydale strictly prohibit the use of any magical means in law enforcement and Eli couldn't get it delivered to the station. Then you and he head on down to Main Street because a dozen grade nine students who have read way too much White Wolf books with a hard on decide to raise the fucking Saint of Vampires back into the world, and you figure that as long as you bring in a thousand year old Aztec warlock, he'll act as the equalizer." Yeah, I was being an asshole, but I was pissed.

"Something like that."

"But the part I'm having trouble with is that, other than the utterly retarded plan, was that both of you lied to me about it."

It was late, I was tired, and felt at least ten years older. After a few years in this town, you've gone through enough to make you a believer or a madman. Less than an hour ago, I was beating a snake- woman-demon to death with the butt of my shotgun and it was part of my normal job description.

I'd also seen Sunnydale General more times than I ever wanted to. Eli had gone into surgery about twenty minutes ago. Mike was standing in the corner, messily making his way through an O'Henry and sweeping aside the occasional intern that assumed a face like a giant bruise meant you needed medical attention.

"We weren't sure. Eli's readings figured that he and Mike could stop it. The hand was strictly backup." Sam said, and abruptly burst into tears. I've watched that woman shrug off three broken fingers with a shrug, but here she was crying.

I hate being old.

"I'm sorry, kid." I muttered, stupidly. Sam sniffed, rubbed her face angrily.

"It's just frustrating, Frank. We didn't tell you because, hell, Eli knew you'd come barreling in. This town, the cops are useless, protecting people involves severed hands, and the best hope is a twenty year old in bitch heels and a thing for the Gap." Sam sat down miserably, and goddamn, I didn't have anything to say. She was right.

"Miss Barrett?" A young intern turned up, brown haired and earnest.

"How's Eli?"

"He'll be fine. The broken ribs caused some internal bleeding, but we got it under control pretty quickly. He's got enough pins in his arm to set off LAX's metal detector from here, but he'll be fine in a few months." He smiled gently, and it turned into horror as he was engulfed into a massive hug from Mike.

"That's good... good." Sam said, and shit, I knew where this was going. At least I could be nice and save the kid from Mike's Luca Brasi style embrace.

"Hey doc."

"Ben." He tugged an arm free to offer his hand and tried to extradite himself.

"Appreciate it. Look, don't let Sam spend the next week sleeping here, alright?"

"Sure. Um, could you...?"

"Mike, down. Let the man breathe." Kelly finally let go, tears in the big oaf's eyes. I was almost ready to get all sentimental. So I cut that off at the knees and made for the door.

"Yo, Frank." The nurse at the reception desk waved at me behind a small pile of paperwork.

"Hey, Erin."

"Haven't see you around in a bit."

"Yeah, it's been a good couple of months." I squinted, pained. "Er. No offence."

She grinned. "I gotcha. It's cool. All you brave macho men get this same panicky look at your eyes when you get a whiff of the Hospital food. Pussies."

I grunted noncommittally. I hate hospitals and I was too fucking exhausted to argue the principle of the thing.

She grinned again, flipped her braid over her shoulder and after a minute's frown plucked a post-it from somewhere and waved it at me with a triumphant air about her. "Aha!"

Erin squinted at the slip of paper, having apparently yet again forgotten her glasses at home. One of these days the cops were going to unwrap her pickup from a tree, I swear to God.

"Alec. Alec Whitaker." She finally pronounced. "That name mean anything to you?"

"Yeah." I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Early retirement."

"He's Frank's new protégé." Williams winked at me, as he pushed by me to the coffee machine.

"Don't use them big words, doctor. You know I get confused." I turned back to Erin. "Where is he?"

"1242." She looked torn for a second, medical ethic warring with medical salary.

"Could I get in on Monday?" She finally asked hesitantly.

I looked at her for a long moment and then shrugged. What the hell.

"Hey, Frank."

Speak of the devil, I thought and turned to take in the damage.

Well, he seemed to be all right. Looked like shit.

"You look like shit, boy."

"Yeah, well..." He shrugged and pulled on a tweed jacket that's seen better decades. "Genetics are a bitch and they don't do plastic surgery here."

Erin giggled behind me.

Williams patted me on the shoulder consolingly as he moved past, stopping before Alec and giving him an appraising look. "Thinks he has a sense of humor, huh?"

"He tries." I admitted. "Can I take his butt out of here or is he going to pass out like a little girl on me again?"

"Hey!" Alec protested. I ignored him.

Things were settling into a nice routine between us.

Williams scratched the two-day stubble. "Well, he's got six stitches in his eyebrow."

"Great," I muttered. "Gonna have to ride around with a Spike wannabe."

"What was that?"


Williams shrugged. "If you can try and get him not to tear the thing open any more than necessary, I'd be extremely grateful. But no, I don't see any urgent reason to prolong our relationship, as scintillating a conversationalist Mr. Whitaker is. Apart from Erin's severe need for a romantic life."

"Hey!" Erin protested, blushing.

Williams ignored her.

Something about the way the man ran his hospital appealed to me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

"Thanks, Doc. Hope I won't see you soon."

"Same, Frank." He gave me a mock salute, and pulling the glasses off the red-rimmed eyes, disappeared into the bowels of the Hospital.

I nodded to Erin and made for the exit, the kid in tow.

"Where did you get that ugly piece of sartorial abortion?"

I know a couple of big words. Had word-a-day Playboy calendar once. Pamela Anderson was sartorial.

"What, the jacket?" He preened, buckling the belt. An impressive feat in and of itself. "I think it looks kinda good, actually. Mr. Giles let me keep it. Oh!" Alec slapped himself on the forehead and immediately yowled like a castrated cat. "Ow! Fucking hell. Shit! Ow!"

I suddenly felt very tired.

"Let me see."

"Fuck. Ow!"

"Get your hands away, you idiot."

I thumbed the ceiling-light on and grabbed his head to steady it.


"You said that already."

I squinted. Didn't see any blood. "Looks ok. Doesn't seem like you pulled any stitches loose."

"It hurts like a son of a bitch, Frank!"

"No shit, Sherlock."

He batted my hands away angrily.

There was suddenly a tense air in the car. He was staring at me and breathing heavily.

Well, fuck. Took him long enough.

"Clowns, huh, Frank?" He asked heavily.

I shrugged and turned on the engine, flicking the lamp off. Hell if I was going to let him turn this in some manly staring match.

"You're either ready for the truth, Alec or you aren't."

"And I wasn't, is that it?"

"No." I said and pulled out of the parking lot. "You weren't."

"And now?' His voice was strange.

"The jury's still out." I told him.

He fell silent, the shadows making his face looking gaunt and tired.


I'm getting old.

After a second I added. "But the signs are hopeful."

His smile was brilliant in the darkness of the car.

"Giles said to tell you he was sorry he couldn't stick around, by the way." He added, still grinning.

Made him look like a complete idiot.

I told him as much.

He didn't argue so we rode in blissful silence for a while.

"So." He said after a short pause. "What are the rules on newbies getting in on their own pot?"

His decision not to comment on the sudden swerve of the car made me think highly of his instinct of self-preservation.

"Well." He asked instead. "Where to next?"


"I fucking knew this was going to happen one day." Frank muttered and flicked his cigarette into the abyss.

Mildred shrugged. "Yeah."

The crater that used to be the town of Sunnydale stretched for miles. Somewhere at the bottom was the depot, Frank's house, and most importantly, his beautiful truck.

Insurance had better cover this.

"So." Alec asked. "What now?"

Frank glanced at him and then realized that Mildred too seemed to expect him to make the decision.

Visibly swallowing a cutting remark, or perhaps his perennial promise to retire, he rubbed his forehead again and spat, tugging the brown shorts upwards.

"I hear there are openings in Cleveland."


Jacob stared down into the depth of the crater, his grey stormy eyes unreadable, the gnarled hands still at his sides.

"Fuck if I am cleaning this up."


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