Beyond the Darkness

Chapter Eight

By Nichole (Neko-chan) Johnson

Rating: PG-13 or TV 14

Pairings: B/S

Disclaimer: All BtVS characters and such are owned by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy (bless that little paper monster…). The Red Bull, as well as the legend of the unicorns derives from an old cartoon movie The Last Unicorn based on the story by Peter S. Beagle, and is not mine, albeit being altered to fit this story.

Spoilers: Takes place during Season 5, immediately after "The Body"

Author's Notes: Insert my chapter of silliness. The boys get with the childish taunting and so-forth; very OOC, but I really had it in for this scene, so it stays regardless of how well it fits the actual characters. :p Giles make a very…un-Giles-like reaction, but I left it alone as well. The end of this chapter is basically all in the name of humor and fun. (So deal with it! J/k)

However, there is a very crucial scene in the middle of this chapter between Buffy and Giles that I'm really happy with. I think it caught both of their characters, their weaknesses, and their concerns fairly well.

Keep on reading and reviewing! I love to see comments on the recent chapters, especially over the things that I just expressed my own concerns over. I love hearing what you all think, as well! So thanks to those of you who responded to chapters six & seven! Your comments were greatly appreciated! ^_^

Chapter Eight

Buffy was pacing madly in the gloomy confines of the little magic shop, face strained with the events of the last week and pinched in deep concentration. A hush had fallen over the others, the motley little evil-fighting crew watching her in a mixture of expressions as they waited patiently for her to spill what was on her mind. Willow followed her best friend's movements with worry-filled, yet patient green eyes—as always the symbol of comfort and support; and seated beside her, Tara's expression mirrored hers, to a much milder extent. Giles was standing with rigid, English propriety at the shop's long counter, trying all the while to appear casual as he sipped primly at a cup of lukewarm tea; Anya leaning behind him on the counter's surface with innocent, yet patient eagerness. Sprawled in his usual gangly fashion at the large round table, Xander cast tight-lipped glances in Buffy's direction, then back at the blonde vampire sprawled languidly in the corner, clearly upset. Clearly ignoring him, Spike sat blissfully apart from the tight-lipped humans, once and awhile casting the other occupants of the room a coolly dispassionate gaze but otherwise, he gave no inclination of concern in the matter.

Having felt his gaze momentarily affix on her, Buffy turned imperceptibly to meet his eyes. Only she seemed to know that Spike was far from disinterested. He gave her the faintest hint of a nod, almost impatient in its manner, and she knew that he was indicating that she begin before the others went insane with suspense.

She turned abruptly on her heel, addressing the assorted crew in attendance with a curt manner. And quite an assortment they made: a Watcher, an 1120 year old vengeance demon-turned-girl, two natural witches, a de-fanged vampire, and herself, a superhuman—the Slayer. Not to forget Xander. Just the fact that he was Xander was weirdness enough for the lot of them.

Together, they seemed an oddly mish-mashed group of virtue fighters. But to Buffy, they were family.

"We've got a big problem," she said finally with a tight expression. "A really big problem."

Xander was the first to speak up, his eyes still chillingly set on the bleach-blonde vampire. "Yeah, we kind of figured that," he replied dryly, his sarcasm slightly biting due to his obvious dislike of Spike. The vampire ignored him, as if to further insult him, and with feigned boredom slipped a packet of Shock Tarts from the pocket of his leather jacket and began to slowly unwind the wrapper.

From the counter, Giles cleared his throat gently. "I believe that, ah, details would be helpful, Buffy," he prompted delicately, putting his tea down on the counter and coming further into the room. The others nodded agreeably, prevalently the women; as Spike was currently engrossed in his candy-popping—not being able to smoke in the shop—and Xander was far too engrossed in giving him the Evil Eye to make any gesture of acknowledgement.

Buffy pursed her lips at that, picking up her pacing where she had left off. "Well, that's just it. We don't exactly have any details."

"What was it?" asked Willow quickly. "D-do you think it was that thing that attacked you in the cemetery?"

Anya nodded intently. "Yeah, that wind demon. It was the wind demon, right?"

Buffy looked uncertain. "I think…I mean…I'm not really sure. But it seemed to attack the same way. With wind. It was like this…giant, red bull and it was glowing crazily. Almost like heat waves or flames."

Giles knit his eyebrows the way he always did when furiously thinking. "It sounds quite similar to th-the brief gale that assaulted the house last night while Dawn and I were waiting for you to, ah, return. There was a, ah, quite brilliant flash of this crimson light you speak of and then it just as suddenly vanished."

Buffy's jaw was tight. "So you think it was at the house last night?" The implications of such a thought sent a cold shiver through the pit of her stomach.

Giles seemed hesitant to answer. "Ah…Perhaps," he replied tentatively, adjusting his spectacles. "But it is quite likely that it was simply passing by. It was extremely brief to have been an actual intended assault."

Anya perked up suddenly. "Hey, wait. Did either of you get any sort of…warnings—an indication before it happened? Like a creepy feeling or something?"

Across the room, Xander seemed to catch her drift. He caught his girlfriend's eye, eyes widening in an expression of realization. "Like…a certain 'wiggy' feeling?"

Sharing a curious glance, Buffy and Giles both nodded slightly. "Yeah, I did. It was like everything had just stopped," replied Buffy, eyeing her friends questioningly. "And it was silent. Like, too silent."

Willow and Tara nodded at each other in understanding. "Like Xander and Anya felt outside the Bronze," pointed out Willow, eyes wide.

"Creepy. And I definitely stress the word in this case," commented Xander dryly. His gaze once again snapped to the silent vampire, glaring at him distrustfully once again. He seemed to be eyeing the Shock Tarts hungrily.

So far silent, Tara glanced around at the others with a perplexed frown. "B-but that doesn't leave us much to-to work with. Crazy winds, a mysterious ghost bull and creepy feelings?"

"Really creepy," corrected Xander, still zealously eyeing Spike's candy. The vampire threw him a smug grin, popping another Shock Tart in his mouth. Xander narrowed his eyes challengingly.

"But what does it all mean?" continued Tara, undaunted by the interruption. "This bull thing must have some sort of…intent. A target or something?"

"It does," piped up Spike looking up with a sudden, serious expression. The others in the room cast him a mixture of glances. "It wants Buffy."

An uncomfortable tremor went through the others, all turning to glance at one another tightly.

"Ah, yes…Buffy," spoke up Giles uneasily, "That would explain its attack somewhat. But we can't be sure that merely Buffy alone is the target. We must think on a broader scale until we are positive on what this thing wants."

Spike shrugged slightly, turning back to his candy with feigned apathy. "Think what you like. But I'll bet my knickers it wanted the Slayer. Or at least, some part of the Slayer."

There was another murmur of uneasiness in the others, who turned once again to regard him questioningly.

"What do you mean, 'a part'?" prompted Willow, eyes furrowing in concern.

This entire time Buffy had been pacing restlessly, listening with half an ear to the others' scattered speculations. Now she froze, looking first at the others and then Spike with increasing discomfort.

Spike caught her gaze, face still blank. But she could read the uneasiness in his eyes.

"I mean, it was definitely trying to take something from the Slayer. Something particular," he continued, gaze falling back to the others, his face finally beginning to show some of his worry. He straightened up slightly in his chair, eyebrows knit in thought. "White light…" he murmured thoughtfully. His gaze lit sharply on Willow and Tara. "Red, you and the witch know anything about…lights—ah, a glow you mortals give off?"

Willow looked puzzled, but Tara nodded shortly, sharing a glance with the redheaded witch. "Like an aura? S-see, auras are…the three-dimensional energy fields that surround our bodies. If you know how to look for them, they would appear to be a colored light surrounding or, ah, issuing from the body."

The redhead seemed to light up in understanding. "Right! And different colors reflect different moods and personalities, whether they're conscious or subconsciously projected, I think."

Buffy was listening intently. She raised an eyebrow. "Such as?"

The novice witch looked sheepish. "Um, I don't really know that much about it. Not memorized, at least."

"Willow a-and I can check our books for information on auras and spiritual projection," offered Tara helpfully. The two witches looked excited, eager to finally have something to contribute to the small meeting.

Giles' gaze fell back to the blonde vampire, for once free of enmity. "What exactly does this…white light have to do with what this specter wanted with Buffy?"

"I don't know. But it was tryin' real hard to tear whatever 'essence' that light was from her body," remarked Spike darkly, his tone heavy. "It hardly gave me a second thought."

Until I started to emit that strange light, thought the vampire tightly, but he didn't voice his thoughts. For some reason, the fact that he had been able to emit the same holy-seeming light as Buffy slightly unnerved him. Like it was wrong. Or perhaps even against his nature. And he had too much pride in his 'big bad' image to let the others know something like that.

Xander looked similarly discomfited. "So whatever this is, it's pretty devoted."

"This thing knows exactly what it wants," concluded Spike with an unreadable expression. His gaze flicked to Buffy, darkening further.

Everyone was silent for a moment, digesting the matter so far. Xander shifted uncomfortably in his seat, sitting up to address the others hopefully.

"We can kill this thing, right?" he said, looking extremely doubtful. His gaze flicked from one person to another. "I mean, it's not invincible? There's some kinda' catch?"

Buffy's expression darkened considerably, flicking to each of her friends and finally resting on Spike. "I say nothing's invincible. We've just got to figure out its weakness." The two beings, vampire and Slayer, shared a brief, unreadable glance, then turned to the others with questioning, yet determined expressions.

Willow and Tara shared a silent glance of their own. "If it's a ghost like you think, a binding spell could contain it," said Willow finally, looking at the others doubtfully. "But a binding spell requires a lot of energy. We'd have to be…completely sure it would work."

"And by the way it sounds," added Tara warningly, "if it is a ghost, it's not your usual spook. This thing has real powers and a purpose. It's not just some drifting soul."

Buffy pursed her lips fiercely. "Meaning a binding spell might not contain it." The two witches nodded, looking regretful.

Anya knit her eyebrows thoughtfully, searching the others. "Perhaps it was summoned? Like the Quellor demon?"

Xander nodded pensively. "That would explain its stellar target practice."

Buffy looked up suddenly from her speculative brooding, scanning the others around her. They all seemed to be thinking the same thing. "Glory? Could she have dispatched this—this…thing?"

Everyone but Spike. "No, no, luv," he murmured thoughtfully, slowly getting up from his seat. "This isn't her style. It just doesn't fit."

Giles seemed to be similarly speculative. Blinking at the vampire's obvious intensity on the matter, he turned to the others with a gentle shake of his head. "I hate to admit it, but Spike does have a point. If Glory were to summon such a specter, its target would have more likely been the Key, and not Buffy."

Catching his insult, the vampire looked up sharply, frowning sourly. "'Course I've got a bloody point!" he grumbled irritably, angrily popping several Shock Tarts in his mouth. None of the others seemed to pay him any heed.

Xander was once again slouched quite moodily in his seat. "Well, summoned or not, all this means is that now we've got more research to do." He looked none-too happy about this fact.

Across the room, the old Watcher gave him a watery smile. "Yes, that would be about it, Xander."

The young man grumbled sourly at this affirmation. "Damn. How come I'm always right when it comes to the painfully boring realizations?"

"It fits with your personality, mate?" replied Spike suddenly from behind him. The others all covered amused grins and snickers with their hands as Xander turned to glare daggers at the vampire. But Spike gave the young man a perfectly innocent expression, if such an expression was possible for a vampire.

Xander turned to the others imploringly, looking almost exasperated. Buffy could hardly contain her amusement.

"Okay, yeah, that's not funny. Will someone explain to me again why I can't stake Dead Boy Jr., here?"

Buffy gave him a stern expression, but it was ineffective due to her amusement. "Because there's a lack of male laborers in the Gang," she replied mock sternly, plopping an enormous leather-bound book in front of him on the table.

"And you're getting voted off," piped up Spike dryly from somewhere in the stacks. Buffy threw a dirty look in his direction, but of course, the vampire didn't see it.

The others all moved to find a place to work in the small shop, shuffling through books and scanning the internet for information. Xander slouched down further in his seat, flipping open the large tome with a sour expression, muttering darkly to himself.

"As if doing research weren't bad enough in the first place! Stupid bleached, undead guy…hope he gets an enormous paper-cut!…And why does he get Shock Tarts?…"

Running a hand through her hair wearily, Buffy heaved a frustrated sigh, setting down the old book of spook-ology she had been riffling through for the last half hour and stared at the clock blankly, as if staring would make the hours go by faster. She couldn't even remember how many hours had gone by so far, but it had to have been several. In fact, it had been long enough that they had gone through nearly every book in the Watcher's possession regarding spirits and demons and found a rather affirmative nothing.

At least, that's how she saw it. The Slayer pursed her lips thoughtfully. It must have been about an hour ago that Willow and Tara had offered to check the campus library for information. And in another hour she would have to go pick up Dawn, who was staying with a friend of her mother's, a co-worker from the gallery. Then she'd have to see to the last minute funeral arrangements, try once again to get a hold of her father who was still awol somewhere in Spain, and prepare for Angel's arrival from L.A. tomorrow. For once she was glad she had let the others convince her not to patrol tonight, for she was busy enough as it was.

Someone cleared their throat politely from her shoulder and she looked up with a start. "Buffy, I've been meaning to talk to you," began Giles hesitantly, taking a seat at the table with her. He saw her features tense slightly, and he softened his expression a bit. "Now just hear me out, this won't be a lecture."

He sighed gently, and she could see the concern again in his eyes as he carefully removed his spectacles, a sure sign that he was being serious. But she was watching him attentively, her respect obvious in her expression. For the five or six years she had known him, Rupert Giles had consistently stood behind her. He had taught her the ways of the Slayer—ways which she had often reformed to her own individual style of slaying—and helped her form the strength she would need to fight the evils that went part and parcel with those duties. He had been her teacher, her guide, her mentor, and also her friend. In her teenage years, she had sometimes resented his protectiveness, his somewhat anal personality, and often, his tendency to act as a surrogate father figure. But now, as a young woman, she saw all he had done for her—if she had not before—and realized that he had really been her only father figure since she had become the Slayer, and she had undying respect for that.

Of course, it didn't always show. She supposed she would have to express this gratitude to him someday, though she was sure he knew already, if anything but to let him know to what extent she respected him. But now was not the time for that.

"I…All of us have been worried about you, Buffy," began the weary Watcher carefully, studying the grain of the table as he picked over his words with care. "We know that this…ah, tragedy has been a great blow to both you and Dawn. Obviously Dawn has taken this extremely hard, though she seems to be improving as of late. But you, Buffy," he stated. He looked up at her now with sternly concerned hazel eyes. "How are you coping?"

There was pain in the young blonde's eyes, but she laughed lightly under her breath, almost scornfully as she turned her head away in a harried gesture. "No one believes I'm fine. Why doesn't anyone believe I'm fine?" She looked at him insistently, trying to prove her point, but the middle-aged Englishman knew her far too well for that.

"Are you, Buffy?" he pushed, concerned. "You hardly talk with the others, except on matters of Slayer business—"

"I have duties, Giles."

The Englishman's brow creased further. "My point is that you've immersed yourself in them now, Buffy. You have funeral preparations and invitations to write all day, and then you patrol nearly all night until you're too exhausted to think in the morning. You say that everyone is counting on you, Buffy, but—"

She placed her hands on the table heavily. "Everyone is counting on me, Giles. These things happen, but I have to get over them so that I can take care of the people who are still alive to count on me. Being the Slayer doesn't give you the leisure to simply drop everything and drown in your misery!" She was glaring at him somewhat, her face hard, but he recognized the signs of the tears she was fighting.

Giles looked distressed, his eyes pleading with her. "Buffy! Please! I'm not suggesting that you do such a thing." He narrowed his eyes slightly, and all of a sudden he appeared the harried old father, the lines of age around his eyes and mouth more harsh and defined. "But perhaps you would do those people you care about more good if you took things more slowly. Buffy, how much have you slept in the last week? You're exhausted; you keep trying to drown yourself in your work so as to forget your pain, but it's only hurting you more!"

She watched him, biting her lip, eyes furrowed with a mixture of emotions. And she seemed old beyond her age, the worry lines beginning to make their mark around her eyes and forehead, the shadows under her eyes lengthening. Her face had become gaunt in the last week, worn with fatigue and all of it seemed to cave in on her at this moment; the stress, the pain, the worry. Her obsession had worn her down. She did not know how she could have let herself get this far, how she could have ignored the obvious truth of what she was doing and not listened to the concerned advice of those around her. Willow, and Xander, Giles and all the others. Even Spike. She had brushed all of their concerns off, had forced smiles for their benefit, but smiles and cheerful assurances had not been what they had been looking for.

Shakily, she took a breath, pulling her hair back from her face with cold fingers. "Giles…There's just so much depending on me," she murmured weakly, still not willing to admit all he'd said was true. She couldn't cry, not now. She would never be able to stop. "How can I just…quit?"

Placing his glasses back on his nose, Giles smiled at her comfortingly. "You're not quitting, Buffy. You are still the Slayer. But you are a special Slayer, Buffy. You don't have to do this alone, like all the previous Slayers before you. You have all of us to help out."

Buffy looked up again, meeting his eyes. She gave him a tinny smile of thanks. "'A Slayer with friends and family? I don't remember that being in the brochure,'" she remarked sardonically.

The old Watcher sniffed imperiously, getting up from his seat. "Now you're stealing lines from Spike. Yes, I believe it's definitely time the others and I stepped in to help you." She grinned at him impishly from her seat, glad he was back to his dry sense of humor once again. Pushing his seat back in, he went back to the service counter where he had previously been scanning through a pile of books.

"As for you taking it easy in your Slaying duties, the others will take over patrolling for the next couple weeks, or at least until the funeral is out of the way. It shouldn't be too much of a problem, I'm sure—we did quite well, after all, when you were in the hospital with Joyce a few months back."

Despite her elation, Buffy looked uncertain. "You mean like you getting knocked around headstones and Willow getting all 'jelly' in the legs?" she said with an arch of her eyebrow, her lips quirked in amusement. She continued mercilessly, "Oh, and that incident with the chips before that, and Riley blowing up one of the cemetery's oldest mausoleums with a hand grenade?"

The Watcher looked slightly miffed for a moment, eyes furrowed as he searched for a proper explanation. "Er…Perhaps our methods aren't as…ah, polished as yours are, Buffy, but we are still quite capable—ah, somewhat capable of patrolling on our own," he stated with contained dignity, flipping through the pages of a book nervously. He looked up shortly, pursing his lips sourly. "For a short period of time, that is."

Buffy turned back to her books, trying to hide a smile. "Yes, quite…"

Scanning the pages of a small book with casual interest, Spike wandered over from where he had been perusing the bookshelves. "Listen to this, Slayer. This bloke here's got an index of paranormal and mythical creatures in here, and in the section under 'Unicorns' he mentions something about a 'Red Bull' herding them all to the sea."

Buffy turned to regard him skeptically. "Well, it's something. What else does it say?"

Pursing his lips, Spike scanned the pages further, taking a seat across from her at the table. "Says some King Haggard bugger summoned this Red Bull creature to gather all the unicorns and herd 'em into the sea where they couldn't be found. He had some sort of obsession with their beauty or something like that," he remarked, making a dismissive gesture. He sighed raggedly, tossing the book across to her.

"Not much help there, pet."

Standing along the other side of the bookcase, Xander looked up from his own book with a derisive snort. "No, it's not."

Pursing his lips in annoyance, Spike spun around slowly, piercing the brown-haired young man with a challenging expression. "And I suppose you've done any better, mate?" he asked with calm defiance, his tone stiff.

The young man wandered over with a cocky swagger, dropping the book in his hand on the table in front of the vampire's nose. "Beat that, Chips Ahoy. A whole book on summoned beasts." He grinned smugly at the other.

Buffy slid the book across the table to herself, flipping through the table of contents while Spike favored the self-confident man with one eyebrow raised, mock impressed. There was silence for a moment, the two staring off tensely, and then Buffy cleared her throat loudly, looking up with a dry expression at Xander who was now staring patiently down at her.

"It's not in here," she stated simply, pushing the book back towards him.

The young man looked shocked, picking the book back up and scanning the table of contents angrily. "What?! But it has to be in here!"

Spike turned smugly around in his seat. "Well it seems I won that bet. Didn't even have to try," he murmured lightly, eyes twinkling mischievously. Buffy lowered her head, pretending to read the book he had handed her earlier as she tried to hide her amusement.

Xander was still furiously paging through the useless book of summoned beasts. "No way! What's the point of having a book on summoned beasts that doesn't even include glowing red bull spirits?! They need to update these things."

"Perhaps we should subscribe to the yearly edition," suggested Spike tartly, reaching into the pocket of his leather jacket for his nearly empty roll of Shock Tarts. His eyes suddenly widened in surprise, coming up empty, then narrowed suspiciously. "Alright, who's the wanker who stole my Shocks?" he growled angrily, turning around in his seat to pierce Xander with an accusing glare.

Xander attempted total innocence. "Who? Me? You wound me, Spike-man."

Spike growled angrily, lunging out of his seat at the cocky Scooby member. "Alright, whelp! You're really startin' to hack me off now!"

"Spike," warned Buffy loudly, rolling her eyes at the two men's immaturity. Neither seemed to take notice though, as Xander easily stepped out of the way, facing the de-fanged vampire with a taunting, ingratiating smile.

"Aw, really, Fangs? You know, it's funny—I didn't even think that vampires could have a sweet tooth."

Spike growled angrily, and uselessly, unable to attack the other man due to the chip in his head. "Oh, we've got a sweet tooth alright. Awfully partial to the blood of cock-off buggers such as yourself…" He feigned a lunge at the other, swiping for the candy that was now visible in Xander's clenched fist.

Xander spun away with clumsy grace, racing around the bookshelf and laughing tauntingly. "Ha, ha, that's funny, Fang Boy! Funny how you can't drain me, let alone attack me!"

"Shut up, bastard!"

Round the bookshelves, then across the room, over the table and behind and over the counter. Buffy ran a weary hand through her hair, sighing heavily in frustration. It could be worse, she thought dryly. They could be trying to kill each other. Which she was pretty sure they would have been doing if not for the chip in Spike's head.

Her face darkened—not a comforting thought.

"Hey, which is your favorite color, 'cuz I really like the blue?" quipped Xander tauntingly, popping the candy in his mouth and munching loudly in over-exaggerated enjoyment. "Mmm, yeah. Definitely the blue. Of course, the purples are pretty good, too…"

Spike ground his teeth angrily. "Aaaaaarrrrggghhh…Give them back, pillock!"

"Gotta' catch me, oh fang-less one!" sang Xander tauntingly, jumping up on the counter and waving the slowly diminishing roll of candy in the air.

Fists shaking at his sides, Spike glared up at him furiously, blue eyes flecked gold with rage. Finally he turned sharply to Giles, his features taking on a slightly begging tone. "Watcher, make him give them back!" he demanded belligerently, voice still gruff but almost pouting.

Giles gave the vampire a look of bewildered amazement, then promptly banged his head down on the counter in frustration at the two's childish behavior.

"Hey, I found a stack of magick books Willow and Tara must have left in the back," commented Anya, coming in from the back room with several books in hand. She ignored Xander and Spike's antics—or rather, didn't seem to notice them—and went straight for the Watcher head-down on the counter. "Maybe there's something about auras in one of them."

Giles nodded, raising his head and clearing his throat to recover his composure. "Ah, yes. Yes, that's quite helpful, Anya." He took several of the books from her, glancing at the titles ruminatively. He blinked, flipping the two books he had picked over, giving them a perplexed expression.

"Hmm, what are these books?"

Anya looked up, blinking. "Oh, those. They were lying in back, too. You don't recognize them?"

Giles shook his head, frowning thoughtfully. "No, I don't believe I do." He took a closer look at one of them, recognition sparking in his face. "Ah, no, I do remember this one."

In the background, Spike and Xander had resumed their frenzied chase around the room, arguing violently. Buffy banged her head several times on the table in aggravation then stood up, yelling at them sternly to cut it out, but both men ignored the veiled threat.

Ignoring the commotion in the background, Anya peered at the book Giles was holding up. "Isn't that the one we saw the other day? The, uh, 'Certs' book?"

"Metulj Srce, Anya. And yes, it is." The old Watcher turned the book over in his hands, brow furrowed slightly in a look of perplexed scrutiny. "I'd forgotten about this book. It seems no one has come to claim it, yet."

"I'm gonna' tear your head off with my—STOP EATIN' 'EM, BLOODY WHELP!"

"How ya gonna' make me, Chips Ahoy Roy? You can't even pinch me, let alone rip my head—"

"Chip or no chip, I'm gonna' deck your face in if you don't stop eatin' my bleedin'—"

"Both of you knock it off, now!"

Anya looked at Giles inquisitively. "Have you figured out what the title means?"

The Watcher shook his head lightly, taking the other books from her and looking over them, placing Metulj Srce on the counter in front of them. "No, I've been too busy with this whole 'Red Bull' disturbance…" he said, and he froze suddenly, staring straight ahead as something fell into place.

The demon-girl didn't seem to notice his reaction, opening one of the magick books and looking through it lazily. "Yeah. Hey, there's something about auras in here…"

Giles grabbed her arm suddenly, causing her to look up at him in surprise. "That book—Anya, do you remember what it said?"

The blonde looked thoughtful, forehead creasing neatly. "Uh, yeah, something about butterflies and unicorns and…" She looked up at him suddenly in realization.

"A Red Bull," finished Giles for her, hastily flipping through the small book, a look of excitement beginning to come over him. "Now, what page was it on?"

"Spike! Get your sorry, worthless butt over here before I dust it!"

The vampire ignored the petite Slayer's warning. Dashing around the bookshelf Xander was currently shielded behind, he grabbed the brown-haired young man's arm, yanking him forward with an angry growl. Immediately the growl turned into a yelp of pain, and he released his quarry as if burned, cupping the sides of his head in agony.

"Grrr…Bloody hell! What the fuck ever happened to 'intent to harm', damnit all?!"

Xander was rubbing his arm sorely, glaring angrily. "Sure as hell felt like 'intent to harm' to me. Jeez, I think my arm's turning colors…" He hissed in pain, studying his arm worriedly.

Spike snorted derisively, still rubbing a sore temple. "Well that's bloody lovely, 'cuz I sure as hell ain't havin' a picnic, here!"

Buffy sighed, long and loud as the two began to bicker once again, rubbing her neck wearily. "Maturity police, I would like to place an emergency call…" she muttered wryly to herself.

"Ah, here it is!" remarked Giles triumphantly, finally finding what he was looking for. "Yes, yes it does make reference to a Red Bull. It says that it drove the 'others' away—I assume it is referring to the, ah, unicorns here—but it says that the Red Bull drove them away long ago, covering their tracks. It remarks then on how it has the horns of a wild ox and would use them to drive the unicorns to the ends of the earth. But there's nothing else after that, only smeared letters. And the next page goes on to tell another tale."

Anya pursed her lips thoughtfully. "But it's something, right? I mean, we know there is something about this Red Bull out there somewhere. Could this maybe be an excerpt from something else?"

Giles shook his head hopelessly. "I suppose it could, but we really can't know. If we knew what the title meant, perhaps that would tell us something. But I can't even conjecture what the language might be. Perhaps Slovak, or an old gypsy tongue—it will take research."

The half-demon nodded absently, thoughtfully studying the short passage. "This story…It almost fits with what Buffy and Spike have told us about their encounters. The butterfly says that the Red Bull was herding the unicorns, right? So, wouldn't that be a lot like how this bull thing is hunting Buffy?"

"Yes, there is a similarity there," remarked Giles hesitantly. "But Buffy and Spike clearly recall that this creature was trying to take something from within Buffy, not herd her to her death as the tale goes."

"Could it be herding something from her?" pointed out Anya. She looked thoughtfully innocent all of a sudden, almost like a child concocting a fairy tale. "Maybe she's got a unicorn hidden in her."

Giles sighed, running a weary hand through his hair. "Highly unlikely, Anya. But perhaps you are right in assuming that it is herding something from her. This requires more in depth research than I had hoped."

Anya looked crestfallen. "Oh." She looked up at him hopefully. "Do you think—"

"Don't even think about it."

"Damn."

Across the room, the two men's argument had died down somewhat to vicious verbal banter. Laughing tauntingly, Xander tossed the last few Shock Tarts from hand to hand, putting the table between him and the angrily cursing vampire.

"The crowds go wild as Barkley takes the court! Oh, oh, he's traveling, folks! The refs gotta' be giving him a penalty for that one!"

"I'll penalize ya, tosser!" growled Spike, leaping over the table at him. The two of them tumbled to the floor—Spike crying out in angry pain as the chip in his head reacted smartly—the candy flying out of Xander's hand and skittering across the service counter.

Anya looked up brightly. "Hey, Shock Tarts!" she exclaimed in surprise, popping the last two pieces of candy in her mouth with a satisfied grin and turning back to her reading. "Thanks, guys."

The two men simply stared at her in open-mouthed horror.

"Those were my last pieces!" objected Spike finally, crestfallen, having forgotten the dull ringing in his skull for the time being. Xander looked equally let down, moodily propping his head up on a fist.

"Man, they were blue ones, too."

Spike turned to him sharply, glaring accusingly. "It's your fault."

"No it's not!" retorted Xander angrily.

"Wanker," declared Spike hotly, climbing to his feet and stalking away.

"Uh…uh…Dead guy!" retorted Xander, stomping away in the other direction.

Buffy whimpered in exasperation, eyes darting pleadingly to the clock once again.

TO BE CONTINUED…