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Author's Note: Dialogue borrowed from the original episode, along with plot, with necessary changes for additional characters. You may notice also that one character's future will be changed in this episode, which I'll warn you now is the first of many this season. Enjoy.

No Place Like Home.

Two Months ago.........

Two figures in brown monastic robes ran for their lives down a corridor. Clutching to their chest candles and books, terror in their minds and upon their faces.

"It's coming," one called to the other in Czech. "It's going to kill us!"

"Our lives aren't important," argued the other. "We have to protect the Key."

They reached a large room where a third, more senior monk was awaiting them. Together they laid out the items they had been carrying upon the floor.

"Help me perform the ritual," the senior monk requested.

All the monks extended their arms and began to chant. As they spoke the ancient words, a tremendous crash echoed through the holy building, making the wooden doors behind them shake with aftershock. The junior monks ceased their chanting to glance fearfully at the door.

"Concentrate," the senior one admonished them. "Concentrate."

Abruptly a swirling light; a ball of energy appeared in the middle of their makeshift circle, made brighter still by the darkened room. The door began to weaken under the pounding which had begun immediately after the shaking had ceased. As the wooden barrier finally gave way, the room fell into darkness, as something walked inside.

 


Now.......

PRIVATE PROPERTY
NO TRESPASSING
VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED

The words made no register in the slayer's mind as her body was slammed against the sign upon the chain fence which bore them. As she still reeled from the impact she quickly ducked before a fist punched the spot where her head had been.

"I've always wanted to kill the Slayer," announced her victim of the evening; a biker style Hell's Angel vampire.

"And I've always wanted piano lessons," Buffy returned. "So really, who's surprised we have all this unexpressed rage?" She punctuated these words with blows to the vampire, who retaliated with another punch to her face, this time hitting the mark. Buffy reeled, blocked a second blow, then used her destiny given strength to grab his arm and slam him against the fence.

"But honestly? I think I'm expressing mine better," she remarked. "Tell you what... you find yourself a good anger management class..."

The vampire tried to throw her off, but she merely slammed him into the fence again and pulled out her stake. "And I'll jam this poky wood stick through your heart," she declared, before doing so. "I think that sets the world speed record for closure," she muttered to herself as she put the stake away.

"Hey!" A man shouted, and a bright beam of torch light shone in her eyes. Buffy blinked to find a night-watchman standing before her. "Miss, if you're looking for one of those rave parties, I'm afraid you're late. Chased a bunch of kids out of here last night."

"Oh, right," Buffy replied, affecting disappointment. "Yeah. Darn. My fellow ravers will be so disappointed. It was my turn to bring the Bundt cake."

The night watchman put his torch aside. "You know, if it was my call, I'd let you do whatever you want. It's not like anybody's using this place or nothing. But they just don't pay me enough to argue with the boss so..."

"Already gone!" Buffy declared turning to the road.

"Oh, hey! Hold it, miss. Take your... whatever this is with you." He handed her a glowing orb.

"Thank you," Buffy replied, her eyes studying it.

"Glow balls, huh?" The watchman laughed. "I swear, I don't get your generation. What is that thing?"

"I'll let you know as soon as I find out," Buffy replied as she walked away.

 


Much to Spike's faux annoyance, a Scooby meeting was summoned in the Magic Box the next morning. The slayerettes gathered themselves around the large table in the book area of the shop as their chosen warrior took out the strange gift she had received the night before.

"I put this before the group. What the hell is it?" She asked her watcher.

"It appears to be paranormal in origin," Giles answered decisively.

"How can you tell?" Willow asked.

"Well, it's so shiny," Giles replied.

"Found it on patrol," Buffy added as she sat down.

"Well," Wesley began as he studied it, "we shall have a look and report back as soon we're any wiser on it's origins or nature."

Buffy nodded and rose from her chair as the bell above the door rang, announcing a customer. She looked up to see who it was. "Mom, are you okay?"

Joyce Summer smiled at her reassuringly as she came up to hug her daughter. "I'm fine, honey. The doctors said it was nothing."

"Are you sure?" She asked anxiously, receiving a calm nod in return.

"Yes, it was just a scare. They gave me the all clear, I promise."

"Good," the slayer declared as she released her. "I was so worried."

"Well, don't be. I'm perfectly fine to join you, Angel, Spike and Elita for dinner tonight. That's if it's still on?"

"Yeah, it is," Buffy assured her. "Angel's preparing one of his specials."

"I look forward to it."

"Er, Buffy, don't you need to check out the hospital?" Willow reminded her. "They've had another case of insanity last night."

"That's the fifth this week," Buffy mused as she collected her book bag. "I'll go and check it out."

 


"Hey! It's Buffy, isn't it?" A man addressed her as she stood before the admit desk. Buffy looked at him in confusion.

"Ben...," he reminded her. "I was with that doctor who looked after your friend, Doyle? but you can call me man-nurse. Everybody else here does."

"I remember," Buffy replied. "He's fine now, thank you," she added, as she saw a patient being wheeled in. To her surprise it was the night watchman who had given her the glowing orb the night before.

"I don't belong here. I have important instructions. Fascists!"

Ben pushed him back down on the gurney. "Now you're hurting the nice orderly who's here to help you. I need nine cc's of Phenobarbital in this guy n-...." He trailed off as Buffy slammed him down on to the gurney with one arm effortlessly.

"Or not," Ben uttered, surprised. "Now let's strap him. For your own good, I promise." He turned from the man to his companion. "You know, not to be rampantly sexist in the workplace, but you've got some serious muscles for a girl."

"I... um..." Buffy searched for a cover.

"Radioactive spider bite," Ben decided.

"How'd you guess?" She returned.

"I'm a doctor- well, almost."

The watchman grabbed her arm. "Doesn't even help. Doesn't make a damn bit of difference!"

"I've met this guy," Buffy said to Ben. "He's a security guard. He's not crazy."

"If you say so..." Ben said, not entirely convinced.

"They're coming at you. Don't think you're above it, missy. They come through the family! They get to your family!"

"My family? What do you mean?" Buffy asked him.

"Let's get him to Exam One. Now would be nice," Ben decided.

Buffy watched them go, her original reason for visiting disappearing from her mind. Slowly she turned round and headed back to campus.

 


"God help me!"

One of the surviving monks appealed to the heavens above as he crouched before a circle of lit candles and magical icons. He marked locations on a map in front of him.

Suddenly a deep boom reverberates through the factory, making him look fearfully at the tempered steel door, which shuddered under the impact of pressure from the outside.

"The Beast!" He cried.

The pounding continued until the metal buckled inward and flew into the room, taking a good portion of the wall with it. In walked a slender blond woman in a form fitting red dress, a paradoxical sight to the destruction which had announced her arrival.

"There you are," she addressed the now cowering monk. "I have been looking all over for you."

 



"Thank you for stopping at the Magic Box," Spike remarked, suddenly polite and at his most learned English in the face of his first customer. He watched them leave, then turned to Willow with a smile.

"Did you see that? Customers! Real, live customers! No demons in sight." He remarked.

"Congratulations," Willow replied. "You're an official capitalist running dog. But I gotta tell ya... on the orbular front? We're batting zeroes."

"Well, we'll just have to keep trying," Giles said from his place at the table. "If there's anything you need help with, let me know."

"Your conjuring powder is grotesquely overpriced," Anya informed Spike as she deposited her purchase in front of him.

"So?" Spike challenged.

"I'm sorry," the former vengeance demon apologised. "I'm nearly out of money. I've never had to afford things before and it's making me bitter."

"The change is palpable," Giles uttered.

"That stuff doesn't come cheap," Spike added.

"Well, you're getting ripped off. I could hook you up with the troll that sheds it," Anya offered.

Buffy entered the shop. "You guys need to be careful around this orb. The night watchman who found this thing? He went crazy- like overnight. It didn't affect me. I had it on me all night. But this guy, he saw things... he said things."

"Such as?" Giles inquired.

"They'll come at me through my family."

"Who will?" Her watcher asked.

"I don't know... yet. But whatever touched this guy, it made him see through what the rest of us are seeing. He knew someone's trying to get to me."

"It's possible," Giles allowed as he studied the orb, "but still... the ramblings of a madman aren't much to go on."

"Yeah, but it's a start," Buffy reasoned. "Now, I need to go, or I'll be late for dinner."

 


"You know, when you think about it, I'm the victim here," the blond woman declared to the now tied up monk in the warehouse. "First off, I don't even want to be here. And I'm not talking about this room or this city or this state or this planet. I'm talking about the whole mortal coil now, you know? It's disgusting! The food... the clothes... the people. I could crap a better existence than this. But... okay- and feel free to tell me if this next part gets a little too personal, because I'm told I have boundary issues- but I'm hurt! Yes, by your incredibly selfish behaviour. News flash, hairdo: it's not always about you. All I want is the Key! Why? Why can't you tell me where the Key is? Forgive me... monkey. Sometimes I just... I get so anxious- like there's something deep inside of me and it's swelling up and it's making me crazy!- that I forget there's all that duct tape on your face!"

With a violent motion she ripped the offending article off the monk's face. "Now... tell me where the Key is." She put her fingers in his eyes. "Or I'm going bowling." She held them till he stuttered in pain, then released. "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay! The stutter's sexy. Keep it coming."

"Kill me... kill me," the monk pleaded in his native tongue.

"We're in the New World now so please, for God's sake, speak American!" The blond woman returned in his language.

"I... will tell you... nothing," the monk replied defiantly.

"Fine. You know what I wish? I wish that you could feel what I'm feeling right now." She turned close to tears, to the other prisoner in her mist.

"Lady, whatever you are... whatever you're on, please," the guard pleaded.

"'Cause I don't know how much more of this I can take," the blond woman uttered, ignoring him.

"I have a wife. Her name's Jennifer. We have two daughters," the guard added.

Blond turned to the monk. "I bet this is fun for you, isn't it? Say it. Why? You don't even own the damn thing and I want it, I need it and I gotta have it now and you keep refusing to tell me where the Key is! It's typical! The whole mortal meat sack comes complete with stink and bile sweat and protein. Yes, I said humans! Not now, Mommy's talking! Wriggling, piling, prowling, crawling, clowning, cavorting, doing it over and over and over and over until someone's gonna sit down on their tuffet and make this birthing stop!"

With a strangled cry of despair, blond put her fingers either side of the hapless guard's head. White light flared and his went wide in shock and pain. He collapsed to the floor, whimpering and gasping, while blond took a deep breath and stood, calm and refreshed.

"Ahh... that is so much better," she declared.

 


"Do you gift wrap?" Asked a customer at the Magic Box.

"Do we!" Willow repeated, turning to Anya for help. "Do we?" The former vengeance demon nodded. "Oh! We do. Little help..."

"No, no. Ground cloven hooves are 30% off," Spike informed another customer. "The whole ones are full price. That's not... candy!"

He clutched at one of the Scoobies frantically. "Xander! There's too many of them... people! And they all seem to want things."

"I hear ya. Spike, you're losing all form of why I used to be scared by you. Stay British. You'll be okay." He headed over to his girlfriend. "The thousand-yard stare. Damn! You hate to see it on any man but especially in retail."

Anya handed another purchase to the customer. "Please go." Xander turned to her. "Anya, the Shopkeeper's Union of America called. They wanted me to tell you that 'please go' just got replaced with 'have a nice day.'"

"But I have their money. Who cares what kind of day they have?" Anya replied.

"No one. It's just a long cultural tradition of raging insincerity. Embrace it."

"Hey, you!" Anya called to the departing customer. "Have a nice day."

"There's my girl!" Xander declared as she grinned with pride.

"Does this look right to you?" Willow asked Anya as she handed her an oddly wrapped hourglass.

"Sure, if you wrapped it with your feet," Anya returned. "You know, Buffy, there used to be this French sorcerer back in the 16th I don't know what named-..."

"Cloutier?" Giles queried.

"So cute in his little knickers. But he had this one spell demons just hated called tirer la couture."

"Rotate many foodstuffs?" Buffy translated.

"Pull the curtain back," Willow corrected.

"A spell to see spells..." Anya informed her. "Well, a trance to see spells, actually, but you get the idea. Try that."

"What do you mean 'see' spells?" Buffy asked.

"Well, all spells leave a trace signature," Giles explained. "It's just not perceptible to the human eye. Like a hand choking Elita."

"Or a cloud of mist around her," Anya added.

"Or maybe the shape of the demon that's performing the spell?" Willow suggested.

"Possible, yes," Giles allowed.

"Okay, so I'll do what Monsieur Silk Knickers did. I'll go home, I'll get trancey and I'll see if I can find anything out."

"I don't know, Buffy. Trances?" Willow uttered.

Giles nodded. "Yes, Buffy, the Sorcerer Cloutier was legendary. His skills at achieving higher states of consciousness were-"

"Better than mine? I knew he was gonna say that. But I've been practising my concentration skills. I know I'm close."

"Are you ready?" Giles asked her.

"I'll get ready. What do I need?"

 


At 1902 Crawford Street Buffy prepared for the ritual in one of the spare bedrooms; lighting incense, pouring conjuring powder around herself in a circle. Then she sat with her legs crossed, and closed her eyes, preparing to meditate.

Eventually she slipped into the trance, slowly opening her eyes to study her surroundings. The room appeared sepia, old and faded, but otherwise nothing was out of the ordinary.

Cautiously she rose to her feet and entered the hall way. She walked towards the room where her and Angel's lodger had been residing ever since they rescued her from Harmony and her minions.

Elita was inside, reading upon the bed. Her form faded in and out before the slayer, as Buffy suddenly realised what was wrong with her world.

Or rather who.

Abruptly she seized Elita by her arms. "You're not real."

"Ow! What are you doing?" Elita asked her.

"What are you?" Buffy commanded.

"Get off me!" Elita cried.

"You want to hurt me?"

"Let go of me, you freak!" Elita shouted.

"Then you deal with me." Buffy replied.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the ringing of a phone. Buffy threw Elita to the bed and went downstairs to answer it.

"Buffy? Oh, I'm glad I've caught you. I think we may have underestimated what we're dealing with."

"Go on," Buffy asked while she checked to make sure Elita was nowhere nearby.

"We've uncovered more than expected about this orb. It's called the Dagon Sphere and it has a history going back many centuries."

"What's it do?" She asked him.

"It's a protective device, used to ward off ancient primordial evil."

"Any word on what this evil looks like?"

"Unfortunately, no. This is where accounts get vague. All we've managed to uncover so far is the Dagon Sphere was created to repel That Which Cannot Be Named."

"I'm going to go back to the factory where I found it," Buffy informed him. "Whoever planted this doohicke's got answers."

"Buffy, you've heard me say this before but do be careful. Anything that goes unnamed is usually an object of deep worship or great fear- maybe both. Have you completed the trance? What did you see?"

"That's the thing... I just saw-" Buffy broke off as Elita appeared at the head of the stairs just above her.

"Yes?" Giles inquired.

"Nothing. It didn't work," Buffy lied. She ended the call.

"What are you talking about?" Elita asked her.

"Slayer stuff. I'm going out."

 


PRIVATE PROPERTY
NO TRESPASSING
VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED

Buffy paid no attention to the sign as she ripped herself an entrance in the chain fence and investigated the warehouse.

It did not take her long to find the semiconscious monk tied to the chair.

"Whoa," She uttered as she rushed to his aid. "It was you who planted the Dagon Sphere, right? I got it. Don't worry. I'm stronger than I look. I've have had experience with stuff like this before. Best of all..." She broke off to whirl round and seize the blond by the throat. "I'm not stupid."

Blond grabbed her arm, wrenched herself free and sent the slayer flying across the room. Stunned Buffy slammed into the cement floor hard.

"You sure about that last part?" The blond asked her.

 


"Would someone please rip that bloody bell off its hinges?" Spike asked as he clutched his head in exhaustion.

"Would that involve moving?" Xander asked him.

"My feet are numb," Willow informed the people on the shop floor.

"I'll see your numbness and I'll raise you a lower back pain," her best friend replied.

"I think I liked it better when demons would just crash in here and tear the place apart. Just seemed so much simpler," Giles commented.

"You're out of crystal balls," Anya informed Spike. "Those babies are really popular with the amateurs. Better restock and raise the price 10%. Make it 15."

"Anya..." Spike began.

"Your cash register looks like squirrels nest in it," Anya continued, oblivious.

"Anya..."

"And the Hand of Glory packs some serious raw power. Better institute a seven-day background check for-"

"Anya!" Spike yelled. "Would you like a job?"

"Okay." The ex-vegeance demon grinned.

"Good. Then we can talk shop tomorrow," Spike decided.

"Okay... boss."

"Hey, any word from Buffy on how her spell went?" Willow asked the watcher.

"She said it didn't work. Now she's off investigating whoever left the Dagon Sphere behind," Giles informed them.

"You're not worried about the Slaymaster General, are you Big G?" Xander asked.

"No, no," Giles replied. "I just hope she isn't doing anything too rash."

 


Back at the factory, Buffy flew into the concrete floor again, it cracking under the force of the impact.

"And another thing? I just want you to know..." Blond picked her up and slammed her into a supporting pillar. "The whole 'beat ya to death' thing I'm doing? It's valuable time out of life that I'm never gonna get back."

Buffy tried to fight back, but the blond merely grabbed her arms and wrenched them downwards. "Wait, I've always wanted to try this. You know that thing with worms where if you have one, you rip it in half, you got two worms? Do you think that'll work with you?"

The slayer threw her face into the blond's and managed to break free.

"You hit me! What, are you crazy? You can't go around hitting people. What, were you born in a barn? Fine. Be that way."

Blond blocked the slayer's next blow with ease and swung her round into the wall. She sent a blow for her head, but Buffy ducked so the fist received concrete instead. Blond picked the slayer up by the throat.

"I just noticed something. You have super powers. That is so cool. Can you fly?" She hurled Buffy clear across the room, where she landed dazed, next to the dying monk. Buffy rose to her feet to engage the blond, but then realised that it was better to rescue the blond's previous victim. She helped him out of the chair.

"Hey! Hands off my holy man!"

Buffy ignored her and picked the monk up. She headed to the nearest window and hurled herself and the monk through it into the night outside.

Inside blond prepared to chase them, but the heel broke on her red shoe. In disgust she picked it up and threw it away, before slamming her bare foot down on the floor.

The building could not survive the impact. It demolished itself around her.

"Oh, shi-" She cried, but her voice was quieted by the falling rubble.

 


"Stop. Please." The monk appealed to his saviour.

"No. We have to keep going," Buffy overruled him.

They reached the chain fence only for the monk to collapse against it. "My journey's done, I think."

"Don't get metaphory on me. We're going."

"You have to... the Key. You must protect the Key."

"Fine. We can protect the Key together, okay, just far, far from here."

"Many more die if you don't keep it safe."

"How? What is it?"

"The Key is energy. It's a portal. It opens the door..."

"The Dagon Sphere?"

"No. For centuries it had no form at all. My brethren, its only keepers. Then the abomination found us. We had to hide the Key, gave it form, moulded it flesh... made it human and sent it to you."

Buffy stilled as she suddenly realised who the monk was talking about. "Elita."

"She's the Key," the monk confirmed.

"You put that in my house?" Buffy yelled at him.

"We knew the Slayer would protect."

"This is my life you're-"

"You cannot abandon."

"I didn't ask for this! I don't even know... what is she?"

"Human... now human," the monk informed her. "And helpless. Please... she's an innocent in this. She needs you."

"She's not my friend."

"She doesn't know that," the monk replied. He took a last shuddering breath, then died in her arms, leaving Buffy stunned and shocked by all he had revealed.

 


Buffy entered 1902 Crawford Street a few minutes later to find her boyfriend, mother and lodgers gathered for dinner.

"You're home," Angel said, rising from his to stand before her. "Are you okay?" He asked, his keen senses detecting the injuries she was hiding.

"I will be," she answered him softly. Slowly she allowed him to take her hand and lead her to the sofa, where she sank gratefully into its soft furnishings.

Angel cradled her in his embrace as they ate dinner in the living room, where Buffy tried to be herself until her mother had left and Elita had retired for the night.

"What happened?" Angel asked her as Spike handed round hot chocolates full of marsh mellows.

Buffy slowly told him and Spike what had happened to her when she returned to the factory only hours ago.

"Incredible," her soulmate uttered when she had finished. "And Elita has no idea?"

"None apparently," Buffy replied, "according to the monk. I don't know what to do, Angel. Whoever this girl was, she's stronger than anything I've faced before. I barely got away from her. How am I meant to stop her?"

"We'll find a way," Angel replied, his hands tenderly caressing her hair as she lay in his arms. "We always do."

"I wish I had your confidence," Buffy confessed.

Angel placed a finger under her chin and raised her head until his mouth could kiss her own. "I've learned many things in my life, beloved. One of them is to never lose my faith in you and what you can do. We'll get through this."

Buffy raised a hand to stroke his cheek. "I hope we do," she whispered, before he kissed her again.

The End.
To Be Continued In...

Family.