Realizing that Buffy was not going to overcome her shock any time soon, Giles took charge of the debriefing.

"Where did you see him?"

"The mansion," answered Xander. He drew a deep breath. "We spied on him from across the street. I don't think he saw us. He wasn't alone."

Willow shuddered. "Drusilla?"

Xander shook his head. "No. New chick."

"Vampire?" asked Giles.

"Don't know. We didn't stay long enough to find out. And we couldn't hear what they were talking about. Too far away. There was one really weird thing, though."

< Like that wasn't weird enough? > wondered Buffy, slowly coming back to her senses. But she kept her mouth shut.

"What's that?" said Oz, his arms wrapped around Willow's waist.

He didn't much like the idea of having Spike around either - what with the fact that the vampire had kidnapped Willow a few months back, and the glee he had taken in torturing Angel. Oz was pissed.

Although it didn't show much.

"The woman. She had a gun."

"A gun?" echoed Giles, perplexed.

"Yeah, handgun, in her lap. I have no idea what she was doing with it," commented Anya.

Buffy sighed. "Vampires with guns. Will wonders never cease." She mused, "A hired killer? Kind of like the Order of Taraka morons?"

Xander shrugged. "I'm not sure. But she didn't seem to be a fledgling, like, taking orders from Blondie or anything. The body language was all wrong."

Giles arched an eyebrow. Buffy could see the thoughts coursing through his head. Xander had grown. His summer away certainly seemed to have done him some good.

Giles cleared his throat before continuing. "Well, we must certainly endeavor to find out what Spike is up to and who this mysterious newcomer is..."

"I might be able to help you with that, Rupert."

They froze.

Standing in the open doorway was a young woman dressed in black. Her short, chin-length red hair framed a pale face illuminated by striking, feverish green eyes. She was slightly taller than Buffy, twenty-five years old, maybe a bit older. Her black silk shirt, open on a daring V, underlined the fullness of her breasts and the delicate bones of her shoulders. She wore designer black pants, leather boots and an obviously expensive cashmere duster.

Buffy's first thought was < she's breathing >.

The second, < she has Angel's fashion sense >.

And she called Giles 'Rupert'.

It didn't look good.

She turned to her Watcher. His mouth hung open for a second, then closed as his lips tightened and his expression turned grim.

< Friend or foe? > Buffy guessed she had her answer.

"It's her," murmured Xander. "Spike's girlfriend."

Giles ignored him. "What are you doing here?"

His voice was devoid of any inflection.

The stranger shivered. "It's cold. And it's raining now. Can I come in?"

Giles tensed, but nodded curtly.

The woman entered slowly then closed the door behind herself. She waited a moment, but Giles did not invite her to sit down. Her eyes closed, then reopened slowly, and for the first time Buffy noticed the tired lines around her mouth and the shadows under her eyes, which marred the perfect alabaster of her skin. Breathing notwithstanding, she certainly looked enough like a vampire to fool the Slayer.

"Who is she?" asked Anya, trying to get to the point.

Giles looked like he wasn't going to answer. His expression hardened.

"My name is Morghane," offered the woman, "and I am the Guardian."

Like that made any sense.

Obviously, it did make some sense to Willow, who started bouncing excitedly. "I... I know you". She added quickly, "I mean, I don't know you... I mean... I've read about you. In the Watcher Diaries."

"She's a vamp?" asked Buffy, taking a threatening step forward, confused by the mixed signals she had been receiving since Morghane had made an appearance.

Willow shook her head vehemently. "No, no, no... She's one of the good guys."

Buffy faltered.

Now THAT didn't make any sense. At all.



Silence followed Willow's outburst.

Meanwhile, the storm was picking up outside. And as if the situation wasn't freaky enough, the lights abruptly went out.

Surprise and indecision paralyzed Buffy for the space of a second, and then she was moving.

"I'll get candles."

"Let me," came a voice from her right.

Suddenly the room was bathed in a warm, golden light.

The Slayer realized that it emanated from a small, bright sphere the size of a tennis ball hovering over Morghane's left hand.

And her eyes glowed. White.

"Okay, not a vamp."

"Wow," added Xander.

"She's a witch," stated Anya.

Giles cut in. "No, she's a mage."

"A mage?," said Buffy.

"A magician," explained Willow, awed. "A very powerful one."

Giles left quickly while the others stared at Morghane, entranced. He returned a few minutes later with several candles that he set up all around the room.

When he was done, Morghane closed her hand, and the golden sphere vanished.

"Huh... how?" babbled Xander.

Morghane turned towards Giles. "Do you want me to explain, Rupert?"

He shook his head no.

"Sit down, this is going to take some time. So try not to interrupt." They threw themselves on the closest chairs. Morghane remained standing. "You too, Guardian," said Giles, his voice cold.

She flinched but lowered herself in the love seat Willow and Oz had vacated. Her movements were slow and deliberate.

Giles went back to leaning against the fireplace. In this light, his expression looked ominous. Buffy flashed back on summer camps and ghost stories told around a bonfire. She quickly pushed away this unexpected flight of fancy to focus on her Watcher once more.

Giles took a deep breath. "As long as there has been demons, there has been a Guardian."

Buffy snorted, Xander gave Giles a big 'uh?' look and Willow nodded knowingly. Even Oz smiled.

Morghane's eyes sparkled.

"I thought the Slayer had the copyright on this gig," volunteered Xander.

Giles scowled.

"Sorry, no interruption. Shutting up now."

"I have one question," ventured Buffy, despite Giles? warning glare. She couldn?t help herself. "What exactly is she 'guarding'?"

Surprisingly, the answer came from Anya.

"Souls. Human souls. She's the Guardian of Souls."

Xander turned to his sort-of-girlfriend. "How d'you know this stuff?"

She shrugged. "You can't live as long as I have and never have heard of the Guardian."

"Children, if you please?" interrupted Giles, sternly.

They quieted down.

"The Guardian does indeed protect human souls. Protecting human life is the Slayer's 'gig' as you put it, Xander. Although their respective duties might merge on occasions. The Guardian opposes those forces which would rob humans from what distinguishes them as such. Their souls. The Guardian often intervenes on the ethereal plane. Sometimes she must even venture into the demon dimension. Hell, if you will."

"Ethereal plane?" asked Buffy.

Giles smiled kindly. "Consciousness, Life, the Self... Everything exists on different planes. This," he encompassed the room around them with his hands "is one plane. The ethereal plane, or spiritual plane, is another. It is quite well explained by Gnosticism. The illuminated man can reach a superior level of awareness, an exalted state, closer to the divinity..."

Xander stared dully at a wall.



Seeing that he had lost his audience, Giles shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Let's just say that the Guardian fights demons, or any other creatures who would prey on Human souls. She complements the Slayer. Well... They complement each other."

"That means there's one per generation too?"

Giles froze unexpectedly, and eyed Buffy, concern permeating his expression.

Morghane seemed to take pity on him. "No. The Guardian is Immortal."