All About Spike - Print Version
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When Darkness Falls
By L.A. Ward, Sanguine

RATING: PG-13 (for now)
DISCLAIMER: Not ours. Never ours. If they *were* ours we'd be a lot nicer to the characters than Mutant Enemy.
SUMMARY: When stars align, fate has a few tricks up its sleeve. Willow's trip to the dark side has unanticipated consequences, Spike struggles with his past, and Buffy is plagued by unseen forces working toward Armageddon. An AU Season 7 fic.
FEEDBACK: LAWard@aol.com and amanda@sidhe.org



"God does not play dice."
- Albert Einstein

"But all evidence indicates that God is an inveterate gambler, and he throws the dice on every possible occasion."
- Stephen Hawking, Black Holes and Baby Universes



Prologue: Dice

It's a funny thing when stars align--no one actually knows it. There may be astronomers with their telescopes and astrologers with their charts trying to keep track, but they can't see. . .not really.

The light from one star might take two hundred years to reach the earth. The light from another might take a few thousand. By the time someone saw the cosmic connection it would have long since ceased to be, and, because of the world's limited vantage point, the alignment the person *did* see would only be an illusion.

We never see the real deal. The real deal happens without our noticing, and without our even having the ability to notice. Perhaps a mathematician of the genius variety, an Einstein or a Hawking, could figure it out if they knew what to look for, but there are so many stars. . .

With all the bits of light and matter following their own paths of motion, no one could be expected to sense the true moment when the connection had been made. And, given the speed of light and the distances traveled, by the time someone understood the connection all that would be left would be the light and shadow and aftereffects. Aftereffects like the mist enveloping the cliff where not too long ago a witch gathered forces too dark and too powerful for her to control. The black magic had been siphoned off her and channeled into the earth where, in the fading light of dusk, a gray tendril of preternatural brume stretches from the cliff down the hill to the graveyard where beings of unearthly power had violently been turned to dust.

Fate may have noticed the alignment. Fate may have foreseen the events that produced such consequences, and, if the Earth had been an inch to the left or spinning a fraction of an second faster, the whole mess would have been avoided. But Fate was a bitch and didn't really care. Besides, this was Sunnydale and stuff happens. . .



Chapter One: All That Matters

=Hell must be like this.=

Willow ran her hand over her face, then through her matted hair.  She glanced around the bar filled with demons of every size, shape, and description.  They drank.  They growled.  They cursed.  =Who am I kidding?  This isn't *like* hell.  This *is* hell.=

And the insane part was, she'd walked through the door of her own free will.

A seven-foot-tall warlock pushed Willow away, causing her to land in a heap on the floor. She didn't care. He'd given her what she wanted.  Her own powers might be bound, but now his effervescent sorcery bubbled in her veins. The catch? This magic came at a price.

A scaly black-and-gold demon with snake-like features grabbed her shoulder. He spoke to the warlock in a hissing language that Willow didn't understand--except that she did understand. She might not recognize the words, but she knew what was happening. She was being sold for the price of the magic. She had even agreed to it.

Willow shivered.  There was a creepy-crawly sensation under her skin.  Whether it came from fear or magic, she didn't know.  What she did know was that it wouldn't go away.  She had tried everything.  Going without magic or overdosing on the stuff didn't matter.  Something awful continued to wiggle inside her, but at least with the magic she didn't care.

She felt cold-that came from the magic too.  The room around her was stifling, but maybe demons liked it warm.  Maybe it reminded them of whatever hell dimension they came from, or maybe the heat compensated for the cold that came from inside them, just as it came from inside her.  Most of the time it only seeped from Willow's veins, but sometimes it would roll out of her in waves, dragging her under a sea of ice. All too soon, she would resurface, and the memories would return. That was the worst of it. When she returned to herself and the reality of--

No.  She wouldn't think of that.  She wouldn't think of anything.  When Willow thought, she hurt.  Inside her was a gaping sinkhole of hurt.  Fate had screwed her.  Life had screwed her.  Not long ago, she'd had everything--a 4.0 grade point average, a perfected sunshine spell, and Tara.

Tara's skin had been soft and warm, and had always smelled of apricots and cinnamon. More times than she could count, Willow had lost herself in Tara's arms, in Tara's scent, in Tara's touch.  Tara had always been so calm and loving, and now she was dead and cold in the ground.

Did Tara feel as cold as Willow?  Did her heart feel like a block of ice?

Willow sighed heavily. She wanted everything to be over. That was why she had run away.  That was why she was here.

The demon, who apart from his black and gold color looked remarkably like a Cardassian from Xander's Star Trek DVD collection, grabbed Willow's arm.  His talons dug into her flesh as he dragged her across the floor.  No one protested.  No one said a thing.  This was a demon bar.  What did they care about one stray witch?

The demon headed toward the door. Where was it taking her? Would it kill her? Would it do something *worse* than kill her?  Then again, she deserved to die.  There weren't enough cookies and 'I'm sorries' in the world to cover what she had done.  She'd crossed the line, and her friends wouldn't respect her any more. They would look at her and see something dirty, weak, and low. She was beneath them.

Willow hated that.  She hated disappointing people.  She hated being less than the best.  She hated herself. What did it matter if a demon killed her?

The demon's scaled hand pushed against the door, shoving it open.  Something deep inside Willow told her to pull away.  If she didn't escape something terrible would happen.   But Willow didn't fight back.  She didn't pull away.  What did that mean?  Had she come to this place seeking death as well as magic?

The ground was wet and it stunk of garbage. As the demon lifted her against the wall, although Willow knew she should be terrified, she laughed.

Fueled by magic fizzing in her veins like Pepsi without the sugar content, Willow was beyond caring what the demon might do.  Everything felt distant and unreal. Nothing could reach her now, not even that terrible, high-pitched scream filling the air. . .and it was coming from her.

Without warning, the demon let go of Willow.  Cool air surrounded her as she tumbled to the ground, landing in a foul-smelling puddle of water. Her cry turned to a sob as she waited for the fatal blow. It was coming. It had to come.

What was taking so long?

There was a dull thud followed by a grunt somewhere behind her.  Then Willow felt a hand on her bloodied shoulder.  Her long-lost survival instinct kicked in and she violently pulled away, shrieking like a terrified animal as she cowered against the wall, trying to harness her borrowed magic.

"Bloody hell. What have you done to yourself, Red?" The familiar British voice caused Willow to open her eyes.

=Spike?=

The vampire knelt in front of her, framing her face between his cool hands. "Are you even in there?"

Willow flinched away. "Leave me alone."

"Not bloody likely."

"Go!"

Even in the dim light Willow could see the muscle clench in Spike's jaw as his eyebrows lowered. "How did you get here, pet? Teleportation spell?"

=Here?= Oh yeah, London. She was in London. "The Council."

Spike pulled her into a sitting position, leaning her against the wall. He patted her shoulder. Willow didn't know what to make of that.  Was this his idea of offering comfort?

Spike eased away and Willow noticed the snakey demon lying behind the dumpster. Was it dead or unconscious? Knowing Spike, it was probably dead.  Spike's frown knitted his brow, making him look worried -- which was weird because vampires weren't supposed to worry. "Think you can stand?"

"I can stand."

"Then how about trying to?" He sounded gentle. How could an evil creature sound so gentle?

Willow pushed his hand away. "Don't want your help."

"Willow--"

"I *said* I don't want your help."

Spike laughed bitterly. "No one ever does, but that's your tough luck. I'm all you've got." He stood, a black-clad creature with moonlight-colored hair and skin. "Skip the resolve face. As stubborn as you think you are, I'm a century more stubborn. Now, stand up."

It sounded like an order. The gentleness in his voice had been replaced by something stern and uncompromising, something that once would have made Willow shiver. Now she fought him. "No, and you can't make me!"

=I sound like I'm ten and he's making me eat brussels sprouts!=  Willow knew she sounded petulant and whiney, and if she really had been ten, her mother would have sent her to her room for an attitude adjustment and a nap.  But Willow wasn't some irritable child.  She was something worse.  She was something unspeakable.

"Why didn't you let the demon kill me?" she asked insolently.  "You're supposed like watching people die."

Spike looked angry or offended or. . .hurt?

=God, Willow, you really have gone nuts.  Either you *think* you've hurt something that can't be hurt or you *have* hurt something that can't be hurt. And neither of these things paint a pretty picture of you.   And, just so you know, neither does talking to yourself.=

Willow watched an agitated Spike pace in front of her like a wounded lion or tiger or something. She really must have hit a sore spot. But it was a very strange sore spot for a vampire.

"You're bloody fucked on magic, aren't you?"

Yeah, he was pissed.

"Summon any demons this time?" Spike tilted his head toward the corpse behind the dumpster. "That what he was?"

"Back off!" Willow didn't want to be questioned. If she had any spare power left, she would have sent Spike flying into the wall. She would have seen him staked and dusted just for looking at her. Willow didn't want anyone looking at her--especially someone who had  known her. . .before.

Spike didn't intimidate easily. "Get up."

"No."

"Will. . ." Suddenly he cocked his head to the side in a gesture similar to a puppy hearing something a human couldn't hear. Of course with vampire hearing, Spike probably *did* hear something she couldn't. "Someone's coming." And the low way Spike pitched his voice told Willow it was something bigger and nastier than him.

Spike hauled Willow to her feet, slinging her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry before she could protest. Willow thought about screaming for help as he strode out of the alley, but it required too much energy. Besides, Spike would only go into game face and scare the shit out of anyone who tried to stop him. . .unless the thing stopping him was a demon, in which case he would just kill it.

Spike set Willow on her feet when they reached the street. And unlike the dim bar and the dark alley, the light here hurt her eyes. Where were they?

"A few blocks north of Leicester Square," Spike said, surprising Willow because she hadn't known that she'd asked the question out loud. "Now, what the hell happened to make you fall off the sodding magic wagon?"

Willow blinked. Spike didn't know. How could he not know?   Had he missed the part where Warren had walked into Buffy's back yard and accidentally shot Tara dead?  Only it wasn't so much an accident as bad aim.  Warren had been trying to kill Buffy.

Emotion shadowed Spike's blue eyes. "Buffy. . .?"

"Isn't proving third time's the charm. She's still kicking butt in fashionable high heels."

"And the little white witch?"

Had bled to death on Willow's bedroom floor.  There had been so much blood.  It had splattered over Willow's clothes and had stained the floor where Tara fell. Willow had watched the stain grow. Millimeter by millimeter it had stretched out across the floor, taking Tara away from her.  Tara's eyes had remained open to the end--still serene and dark blue until they had gone vacant, lifeless, and dead--and Willow had been unable to fix it.  She was good at fixing things.  Why couldn't she fix this?

"Why, Spike?  I fixed the Buffybot.  I brought Buffy back.  Why couldn't I fix Tara?"

But Tara was gone.  Willow had known it the moment Tara had hit the floor, and something black and cold had twisted inside her telling Willow that all that was left was an empty shell. There would be no more laughter or shy delight in Tara's eyes. There would be no soft smiles or sweetly stubborn expressions. There would be nothing. Tara was dead.

How could Fate decide to do this to her?  Didn't the Powers That Be see how wrong this was?  Didn't they *care*?  Tara didn't deserve this!  Tara was kind and centered and good.  She was a rock.  Everyone loved her.  And hadn't Willow done what she was supposed to do?  She had stayed away from magic.  It had been hard, but she had done it.  Where was her reward? Where was her fucking reward?

When Tara had been shot, something inside Willow had died.  And when Tara had taken her last breath, something inside Willow had raged.

"I'm a killer.  I killed because I wanted to."  Willow carefully enunciated each syllable.  Inside she felt hysterical, but she knew she sounded calm and cold.

"Anya once summoned a vamp version of me from another dimension. The other me killed people.  She had my face, and she killed people, tortured them. I said she wasn't me."  Willow looked up at Spike.  "Now, I'm her."

"*I* killed Warren.  Me--the real me--killed Warren. . .and Rack. Then, I decided Dawn should be a glowy, green glob again.  I actually started the spell."

Spike looked anxious. "You didn't--"

Willow shook her head. "Buffy stopped me." She gave a frigid little smile. "I kicked her ass.  I kicked Giles's ass, too.  Then I tried to destroy the world."

And it had all been because of Warren. Hate like Willow had never imagined could exist burned inside her--hate for Warren, hate for Fate, hate for the world, a world that refused to do her bidding. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't right. And it would *not* be endured.

She had murdered Warren slowly, killing him inch by inch.  Her every action had been deliberate and without mercy. She had skinned the man alive, turning him into a living, breathing anatomy lesson--muscle and tendon, blood vessels and nerves all exposed, all raw and all in pain. He had been her hideous creation, full of ugliness and hurt, a reflection of what was inside her.  Then, Willow had set him on fire, incinerating him with nothing more than a casual gesture and callous "Bored now" because she didn't want to face what she had become.

When Buffy had realized what Willow had done, she had gazed at Willow with horror. Later, at the Magic Box, Giles had watched her with pity. But the face that Willow remembered most was Xander's.

Xander loved her. For her, he was big with the love and forgiveness.  He had stood between Willow and the end of the world, and had pulled her back from the edge.

That was a good thing, right?

It had been so easy to allow herself to think it was a good thing.  She loved Xander, and Xander loved her.  He had saved her.  It was enough. . .for about a week.  Then Willow had started to think about the big picture.

Why did she deserve to be saved?  Glory had been willing to destroy the world so she could go home.  Willow had been willing to destroy the world because she was in pain. World destroying was world destroying.  Glory's and Willow's actions had been essentially the same. Only Glory had been beaten by a troll hammer and smothered in Ben's body while Xander had spoken to Willow of love and forgiveness.

Why?

The more Willow thought about it, the more she suspected Xander didn't see what she had done--not really.  He couldn't if he still loved her.  He must have only seen Willow, his friend, not Willow, the world destroying witch.

Xander had never been one to accept change. So much easier to cling to what was comfortable, to think of a red-headed girl who treasured cookies and Crayolas and not  face the woman who dispassionately flayed the skin off a living man.  Who would want to face such a woman?  No wonder Xander kept a vice-like grip on illusions.

Willow glanced at Spike.  The vampire had no illusions and knew exactly what she had done. He didn't cling to memories of what she used to be. A creature of the moment, unable or unwilling to dwell on the past, Spike adjusted to change with lightning speed.  "That's a hell of a story, Will."

Willow didn't respond. What was left to say?

"Tara, she. . ." Spike ducked his head and shuffled his feet. "I'm sorry about Tara. She was a good sort."

And Willow could see that he *was* sorry, which  should have been impossible--except for a creature supposedly incapable of emotion, Spike overflowed with the stuff. He was weird that way. Vampires in general might be immune to sorrow and grief and incapable of compassion, but when Willow looked at Spike, she swore she saw all three.

"I understand," he said softly.

Willow didn't want him to understand.  "I guess you can't shock something which spent the last hundred years killing whatever crossed its path because the DMP doesn't serve people burgers." Even to her own ears, Willow sounded vicious.  "For me it's going to take a while to get used to this 'stone cold killer' thing. Wasn't on my career plan."

"Planning to make it a career?"

Sick, twisty fear filled Willow's gut. "No."  Her voice sounded tiny.

"Good." At Willow's look of disbelief, Spike amended. "Well, not 'good' precisely. 'Good' would have been to have never done it in the first place. But it's too late for that. Can't undo what's been done. . .though you have to admit vowing never doing it again is better than the alternative." He glanced at her. "Bugger it, Red! What do you want me to say? This isn't exactly my forte."

"Then don't say anything."

"Keep my mouth shut?"

"Pretty much. Yeah."

"Never been much good at that. And, to be honest, don't think it would do you much good. Kept my tongue too long. Should've gone after you after the resurrection spell." He paused and then admitted more softly, "I was just too bloody grateful to worry overlong about consequences."

They walked down the street in silence. Spike's shoved his hands into his jeans pockets, his shoulders hunched as he stared straight ahead. "The Council. You mentioned them. They bring you here?"

"For detox, but I ran away."

"Why?"

"Why the detox or why did I run away? I'm thinking the detox part is obvious. Big magic addict gone uber-evil."

Spike shook his head. "Never would have expected this of you, Red. Knew you were playing with the deep dark, but I didn't know how deep."

"Or how dark." She eyed him. "At least you didn't say I'm a 'good person.'  That's what Warren said just before I killed him."  She stopped walking. "I'm thinking skinning someone and setting him on fire knocks me off the 'good' list.  What do you think?"

A passerby looked at Willow with a startled expression, giving Willow the urge to laugh and ask why he was afraid of her when there was a vampire standing next to her. And if the vampire didn't scare the man, maybe he should see what the vampire had just killed in the alley.  But Willow didn't say anything.  Standing outside herself for a moment, she realized the stranger didn't see a vampire or a witch. He had no idea demons lurked alleys.  To the people walking down Litch Street, Willow wasn't a corrupted sorceress, and Spike wasn't Dracula's old pal. They were just two people discussing unspeakable things.

Ninety-nine percent of the population didn't know magic and monsters existed. It felt strange remembering that fact, remembering a more naïve world. And it struck Willow that if her plan for mass destruction had succeeded, these people wouldn't have known what hit them.  They would have had no way to understand.

Up until now she had told herself she'd only murdered Warren--who deserved it. Taking out Rack didn't count.  He may have been human, but he was a warlock. Killing him wasn't much different from Slaying. But standing on the sidewalk in Soho, Willow realized she'd almost murdered every person in sight.  "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Magic wearing off?"

Willow shook her head. Not saying no, but--  "You should have left me in the alley. You should have let the demon kill me."

"Another death wish.  Don't you think we've had enough of those?"

Willow glared at Spike.  It was *her* death wish. She could have it if she wanted it.

Spike gave an impatient growl and dragged her into Leceister Square's Underground station. She watched him plug two pounds into the ticket machine before gathering his change and handing Willow the ticket. "Use it." He pulled a three zone pass out of his pocket.

"Where are we going?" Willow followed him through the turnstile.

"You'll see soon enough."

The station's floor was gray and dirty and stained with substances Willow would rather not think about as she wrapped two fingers through Spike's rear belt loop. She didn't want to lose him in the late-night crowd.  The theaters must have just let out.

Willow rolled her eyes as she realized what she had done--so much for her bravado and protests of wanting to be alone.  She could have used this opportunity to escape.  Instead, she perversely clung to Spike for no reason other than he was a familiar form in a crowd of strangers.

As she followed Spike down the tiled passageway, Willow felt a warm, stale wind caused by arriving and departing trains.  And she found herself watching the graceful, unobtrusive way that Spike negotiated their path through the crowd--a predator walking unnoticed among the prey. He stopped at the far end of the platform; appropriately, for social-pariahs like Spike and herself, they stood alone.

"Never thought you were a coward." Spike leaned against the wall. "Guess I was wrong."

"Hey! Not a coward. I stood up to you even before the chip."

"That you did, pet."

"So I'm not a coward."  She looked at her toes.  "It's guilt. Newsflash. Some of us can actually feel it."

Spike pushed away from the wall when train arrived. "Which is why it's cowardice." He took Willow's arm in an oddly gentlemanly fashion to lead her onto the train. "That scene I happened on in the--" He paused for a moment then substituted the word 'pub.' "That was about numbing pain, wasn't it? You didn't want your conscience any more." He took the seat next to her. "Makes things a hell of a lot easier when you don't give a damn."

"You should know."

Spike ignored her mean-spirited remark and said quietly, "Death is the easy way out. It's harder to face yourself and what you've done. That's the real bitch. I can see why you don't want to do it. A get-out-of-guilt-free card must look pretty good."

"You think I'm trying to kill myself?"

"Yeah."

"But not because I feel guilty. Because I'm a chicken."

"Didn't say chicken.  I said coward.  Chicken is piss poor imagery.  Too comical."

The train came to a halt and the doors slid open to the tune of a taped voice warning passengers to 'mind the gap.' Spike and Willow kept their seats and waited for the doors to close and the subway to move toward the next stop.

Willow wrapped her arms around herself. "So what if I *am* a chicken. Big fat deal if I take the easy way out. I'm not important."

Spike leaned back, sprawling in his seat so that his body language projected both attitude and contemplation. "Why are you here?"

"I told you."

"No, I mean how did you come to be here?"

"Well, let's see. London. The Council. I'm thinking Giles would be a good guess."

"Mm-hmm. . ." Spike studied the advertisements over the seats on the opposite side of the car for a very long time before turning to face Willow. Then it was her turn to look away. As the train lurched into motion, she watched the way lights streaked by before they plunged into the next dark tunnel.

Spike wasn't deterred. "Let me see if I have this straight. You went Darth Willow, betrayed those near and dear to you, then got a yen to destroy the world." He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Seen that old story at least a dozen times, and I'm not even two hundred."

The doors slid open.

Spike tugged Willow to her feet. "Our stop, luv."

When they emerged onto the street he began talking again. "So what happened? Scoobies come to your rescue, risk life and limb to pull you back from the brink?"

"You make it sound like a lame X-Files episode. It--"

"Was traumatic. Not saying it wasn't. It was horrific and wrong, and it changed you. And maybe you *aren't* a good person any more. Maybe you'll never be that person again." Spike stopped walking.  He bowed his head as he considered something intently. Then he nodded and looked Willow dead in the eye. "No, you *won't* be that person again. You can't go back to being  who you were five or ten years ago any more than I can go back to being the man Dru found in an alley. But that doesn't mean you give up."

"That's different.  You *aren't* the man Dru found.  That man died.  He lost his soul."

"And does that make you better or worse than me?"

Willow wanted to scratch his eyes out. "Why are you doing this?"

"I'm not doing anything."

"Yes, you are. You pulled me out of that alley. Why?  Do you think it's going to win you Buffy brownie points?"  She circled the vampire who suddenly looked hunted.  "Why do you do keep doing these things? We aren't your friends, and we stopped paying you a long time ago. Do you think it's going to make a difference?  Do you think if you do enough good things we'll forget what you are? Or do you think at all?  Maybe you just decided if you can't be arch enemy try being best pals.  At least one way or the other someone would notice you existed." Willow wavered on her feet.  "It doesn't work that way."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"Then why do you keep trying?"  Willow stumbled.  "Why are you here?  Why-" Her legs felt like rubber and the world seemed kind of blurry around the edges. "What the--" Heat shimmered in Willow's head, chest, and arms even though her hands felt icy cold. Something wasn't right.

"Oh no, not yet," Spike warned.  "You save those magic DTs until we get where we're going."

As if she had any control of it.   Willow collapsed, and the effortless way Spike swept her up in his arms would have looked romantic if he wasn't an evil vampire and she wasn't a strung-out witch.

Actually, it probably *still* looked romantic. Spike was very handsome with his full mouth and sculpted cheekbones. His only visible flaws were a nose that looked like it belonged on a Roman statue and a scar bisecting his left eyebrow.

Willow couldn't deny it. Spike was handsome. She was gay, not blind.

"Red?"

"I'm not a coward."

"'Course you're not." Spike started walking again.

Willow had no idea where he was going, but Spike seemed determined to go there.  After a long silence he asked, "How many Big Bads do you think have tried to destroy the world?"

Willow closed her eyes.  "I'm guessing a whole bunch."

"More than you or I would want to count. And what do you think happens to most of them?"

"Slayer?"

"Yeah, more often than not. Although sometimes the scheme just fizzles so the Big Bad is hoisted on his own petard." Spike paused on the corner trying to read the street signs, looking as if he was unsure about which direction to go. "Hypothetical question: what would happen if I got the chip out and decided to take my revenge by destroying the world?"

"Buffy would stop you."

"'Course she would, but how? Tearful speeches wouldn't be included, and there'd be no desperate attempts to pull me back from the brink. It would all be very simple--big fight, a few well chosen quips, and a dusty end after which Harris would spring for a few rounds of celebratory drinks at The Bronze." Spike's words sounded flippant, but his tone of voice was anything but. He was dead serious. He'd thought about this, about what people's reactions might be, and Willow opened her eyes to see his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed some emotion.  "Thus would be the end of William the Bloody."

Spike turned down a narrow residential street. Occasionally, he would look at Willow with worry.  She must look like shit.  Either that or the shaking unnerved him.  She'd begun shivering uncontrollably ten minutes ago, and now it was becoming violent.

"Hold on, Red.  Just a little further."

Willow's head pounded, and even the street lights hurt her eyes.  Thankfully, it was darker on this street than it had been on the avenue.  Streetlamps were few and long stretches of black lurked between puddles of light.

It was in one of those long stretches that Spike chose to say, "The point I'm trying to make, Will, is you're not meaningless. They love you."  Willow didn't need to ask who 'they' were.  "They were willing to do anything to save you."

Spike paused in front of a wrought-iron garden gate. "So even if you can't forgive yourself, even if guilt is tearing you apart, *let* them save you.  Doesn't matter if you don't think you're worth it. They do. Do it for Buffy and Bit, for Rupert--hell, even for Harris. You're important to them. You're not alone."



Reginald Claridge had always known vampires existed. His father was a senior member of the Watcher's Council so Reggie had been raised knowing the story.

The world was older and far different than most people knew.  It had once been ruled by monsters, but eons ago the monsters had lost purchase on this reality, which had led to the rise of mankind. When the last true demon left this world, he fed off a human, mixing their blood, leaving a man's form infected by a demon's soul, and that vampire bit another human who bit another and another, killing some, infecting others to make more of their kind.

That was the story.  But vampires were like sharks. While they were most everywhere, swimming in the sea of humanity, most of the stories about them originated from the Hellmouth. The Hellmouth was the supernatural equivalent of chum baited waters of Florida, and Reggie was stuck swimming in boring old London. In his twenty-three years on earth--and his six months and three days as a Watcher--Reggie had never seen a single one. . .until now. And to think, he'd complained about having to stay late to do research!

The crystal orb on the table in the middle of the foyer, which was supposed to give warning when something preternatural and nasty approached the door, began to glow, causing Reggie's boredom to fly out the window. Looking through the peephole, Reggie saw a black-clad man, who wasn't a man, carrying a red-headed woman. It was so clichéd Reggie wanted to laugh. It could have been a scene from a nineteen-seventies Dracula movie.

=Except this is real.  This is happening! = a voice inside Reggie whispered excitedly as he wondered whether the woman was dead. Had the vampire ripped out her throat? Was he about to leave her bloodied, mangled corpse on the doorstep? Then, to Reggie's horror, the creature approached the door and rang the bell!

"Vampire!" Skidding across the marble floor, Reggie accidentally hit his head against the library door before throwing it open to find Lydia Grant staring at him with wide-eyed shock. "There's a vampire!" he told the blonde.

Lydia scoffed, "Surely not.  No vampire would be so bold."

Reggie crossed the library to grab the antique crossbow from the glass display case in the corner and pull a crucifix off  the wall before following Lydia into the foyer. But it was too late. She had opened the door.

"Lydia, don't!"

"Oh, my." She removed her glasses, and Reggie thought she used her hand to smooth her hair.

Reggie desperately tried to load the crossbow. "I'll protect you!"

The blond vampire standing at the door looked irritated. "Bloody hell." Gazing at Lydia he said, "Might want to take the tinker toy from the boy. Could hurt himself."

Giving up on the crossbow, Reggie dropped the weapon to the floor and held out the crucifix. "Back, you evil fiend!"

The vampire sighed.  Could a vampire sigh? "You know, I can't actually *cross* the threshold unless you invite me in. You're completely safe."

"Oh." Then Reggie lifted his chin. "I knew that."

Lydia's voice became soft and breathless. "William. . ."

"I don't go by that name, luv. Didn't you have that in your thesis? And just so you know, I didn't come here to bite anyone."

"Why are you here?"

The vampire nodded, indicating the shivering, nearly insensate girl in his arms. "Red here needs some help."

Reggie snarled. "You expect us to believe you came here for help?"

The vampire stepped back, gently laying the woman on the doorstep.  "You're the white hats, aren't you?  Bloody well, help her."  He looked at Lydia.  "Give old Rupes a call. Tell him I found his wayward witch."

Lydia's looked starstruck. "Of course. I--"

But the vampire was gone.  It shouldn't have been a surprise. Vampires had that blurry speed thing going for them, but, when Reggie knelt to help Lydia pull the woman over the threshold, out of the corner of his eye he saw the vampire standing across the street.  What was it waiting for?  Was it keeping watch?

Reggie anxiously moved to shut the door, but Lydia stopped him saying she would do it herself. And she did. . .eventually.  It took far too long for Reggie's taste, but Lydia seemed intent on watching the solitary figure across the road. The vampire nodded to them, turned, and left the pool of light.



Chapter Two: Blackmail

"Mr. Giles?"  Lydia spoke hesitantly into the mouthpiece of the telephone.  She considered the still-unconscious redhead now awkwardly laid out, limbs akimbo, on the expensive Persian rug in the foyer.  Mr. Travers would not approve.  As Reggie applied a cold compress to the girl's dirt-encrusted forehead, the pungent smell from the witch's unwashed clothing wafted upwards.  The sunken cheeks, the sallow complexion, the stringy unkempt hair, the trembling body--the physical marks of addiction.  Obviously, the girl was resisting treatment.

"Yes?" A puzzled, harried voice replied.  "To whom am I speaking?"

"Oh!  Sorry.  Dreadfully sorry, Mr. Giles.  This is Lydia Grant.  We met in Sunnydale several years ago.  That distasteful Glory business?"

"Ah, yes.  You wrote the thesis on . . ."

"William the Bloody."

Giles's voice acquired an impatient edge.  "Forgive me, Miss . ."

"Grant," Lydia helpfully supplied.

"Miss Grant," Giles continued smoothly, "I'm waiting for a rather urgent telephone call, and . . ."

"It's about the witch.  We have her here, with us.  William found her."

"William?"

"Spike," Lydia explained, "William the Bloody."

"Spike?  Sunnydale Spike?"

"Yes."

"Blast," Giles cursed.

"He seemed quite willing to help, Mr. Giles.  An extraordinary creature."  Lydia nervously adjusted her glasses.  "Seemed very concerned about the girl.  Terribly strange, wouldn't you agree?"

"Um.  Yes.  Strange."  Giles cleared his throat.  "Is Spike still there?"

"No, he left immediately.  Of course, that's only to be expected.  Vampires aren't welcome at Watcher Headquarters.  It's disturbing enough that he managed to find our location."

"Indeed it is.  Miss Grant, did Spike say anything when he saw you?  Did he tell you where he found Willow?"

"No, just to call you and let you know she was here.  I know you've been looking very hard for her, Mr. Giles.  I'm sorry the Council hasn't been more helpful, but our resources are a bit overextended."

"I know it's not your fault, Miss Grant.  I think we both know where the real blame lies."

Lydia's brow furrowed, "Are you talking about the girl, Mr. Giles?"

Giles's voice became a controlled growl, his anger barely contained.  "In part.  But that pillock Travers hasn't been helpful. This is the second time Willow has gone missing, and he's done very little to prevent her escape.  It's as if he'd given up on her before the treatment even began."

Lydia's first impulse was to agree with Mr. Travers.  It was very rare for a witch completely immersed in the dark arts to be rehabilitated.  Mr. Travers placed people in clearly marked boxes: good or evil, and the witch, considering what she'd done in Sunnydale, clearly fell into the latter category.  In his view, Miss Rosenberg was a lost cause. He wasn't known for his compassion.  Rules and regulations were his forte.

Mr. Giles, on the other hand, showed a remarkable understanding of human nature.  He may have been a pragmatist, but Lydia couldn't help but admire his effectiveness, his willingness to shun tradition to get the job done, and his intensely humane impulse to help the people he cared about.  Mr. Giles had overcome his intense disrespect for the Watchers' Council to bring the young witch there for treatment, believing it was the best place for her.   And now the Watchers' Council had proven to be just as ineffectual as Mr. Giles thought them to be.  With determination, Lydia answered, "I agree, Mr. Giles. The Watchers' Council has failed thus far.  But I assure you that I will do everything in my power to make sure Miss Rosenberg is given the compassionate treatment she deserves."

Giles sighed heavily, his exhaustion evident.  "I'm just pleased to hear that Willow has been returned safely to you and that someone was able to locate her.  God knows, I bloody well couldn't."

"That wasn't your fault, Mr. Giles."  Lydia considered the disheveled figure in the foyer.  "I don't think she wanted to be found."

"I suppose it's fortunate Spike was there."  Giles chuckled bitterly.

"He's proven to be a surprisingly useful vampire.  Of course, William the Bloody was never a conformist."

"No, I suppose not.  Thank you for your help, Miss Grant.  I'll be right over."  A sardonic edge crept into his voice, "Do try and keep her there this time, would you?"

Lydia heard him slam his phone into its cradle.  Sighing, she shook her head and addressed her fellow watcher.  "Well, Reg, I think we're in a spot of trouble."

Reggie silently agreed as he considered the woman convulsing on Mr. Travers's favorite rug.  "What's the matter with her, Lydia?  Is she some sort of street person?  Why is the Council involved in this?"

Lydia drew a deep breath and began to explain.  "I suppose you didn't get the memo.  The girl is quite remarkable really.  Willow Rosenberg: magic addict, witch gone mad.  She achieved an unprecedented level of power in a very short time, but, as is usually the case, it was at a terrible cost."

As Lydia wove the tragic tale of Willow's dead lover and her unquenchable thirst for revenge, Reggie shook his head.  "Crikey.  Sounds like a bad episode of EastEnders, if you ask me."

Lydia smiled.  "I didn't."

Reggie shrugged.

"In any case, Mr. Giles brought her to the Watcher's Council for treatment, and this is the second time she's escaped." Lydia impatiently swiped at a wayward strand of hair.  "It's a black mark on the face of the Council every time this girl goes missing.  We must make sure that she's still here when Mr. Giles . . ."

At that moment, Willow began to stir.  Gradually her eyes gained focus and grew flinty as she considered the blancmange-like form of Reginald Claridge.  "Who are you?"

Reggie's chin wobbled.  After all, this girl almost destroyed the world.  Should he answer her?

"Yes, you pathetic excuse for a Watcher.  You should answer me."

Apparently, the witch could read his mind.  Pulling himself together, Reggie cleared his throat and grinned.  "Reginald Claridge is the name.  Watching is my game."

It sounded lame, even to him.  The color rose in his well-endowed cheeks.  The day had seemed so promising--seeing his first real vampire!  But now he had plummeted to the depths of public humiliation.

Lydia was at his side in a moment, dropping into a crouch next to the still half-prone redhead.  "Miss Rosenberg?  Your . . . friend, Spike, brought you to us."

"Vampire friend," Reggie interjected.

Willow's mouth twisted.  "Friend.  Spike.  How far I've fallen."

Lydia took the witch's hand.  It was leaden, cold.  It almost seemed . . . dead.  Shaking off the tremor that ran up the back of her neck, she composed herself and asked, "Is there anything I can get you?  Tea, perhaps?"

Willow was about to supply a cutting response to Lydia's query when she heard footsteps approaching.  With studied nonchalance, her gaze floated upwards and with considerable effort, she pulled herself to her feet.  "Gee, Quentin.  Nice to see you again."  Willow smiled a parody of her old, chipper Willow smile.

Willow's less-than-pleasant aroma assailed Quentin Travers's flaring nostrils.  Turning swiftly, he addressed Lydia, enunciating more than usual.  "Miss Grant, do make sure she has a bath.  I assume you've contacted Rupert Giles about this . . ." he nodded disdainfully towards the bedraggled girl, "problem."

"Hey, Quentin," Willow interjected with mock concern, "I'd be happy to get out of your way, since I'm such a nuisance."  She lowered her voice conspiratorially.  "I have a tendency to cause all sorts of trouble."

Travers ignored Willow, and continued to look at Lydia expectantly, waiting for an answer.

Lydia nodded vigorously in the head Watcher's direction and grasped Willow's wrist.  "Of course, sir.  We've already contacted him.  He's on his . . ."

"When he arrives, bring Mr. Giles to the conference room.  We have much to discuss."

Reggie considered Travers' s rapidly retreating form.  "You're right, Lydia.  We are in trouble."



Freshly bathed, the dark magic ebbing from her system, Willow Rosenberg had a pounding headache.  Magic hangover.  It was strange that you could get one of those, since technically magic wasn't supposed to be addictive.  Well, regular magic at least.  The black stuff that Willow had a taste for was apparently the mystical equivalent of black tar heroin, judging from the wicked side effects.  All Willow knew was that she didn't want to stop.  Because if she stopped, then she'd have to think, and if she started to think, then she'd have to remember.  Remember what she'd done.  Remember Warren, an anatomized horror, before he exploded into flames.  Remember Tara, heart stopped by a neatly placed bullet.  Remember the tower emerging from the depths, the power flowing through her, the desire to make it all stop.

She still had that desire.  But she couldn't make it stop, short of killing herself, and she was under constant surveillance.  Unless she could slip away again.

But then Spike would find her.  And that was just weird.  Why did he care? Was he stalking her?  Of course, he was good at that.  He'd perfected it to a fine art with Buffy, and now it was apparently her turn.  God, he was annoying.  Maybe Giles had asked him to find her.  =I'm so concerned about Willow.  I just want to help her.=

The only way anyone could help her was by letting her die.

Flopping down on her neatly pressed bedspread, a fragment of memory dislodged.  Spike, clad in hideous shorts and gaudy Hawaiian shirt, trying to impale himself on a stake, attached by a C-clamp to Xander's coffee table.  Spike, useless, chipped, and pathetic.  Spike, craving something he could never have again.  Spike, thinking that he could be one of the gang if he killed enough demons, "for puppies and Christmas!"

And then he became even more pathetic.  Spike, trying to find meaning by having a hard-on for the Slayer.  But he couldn't love Buffy, not really.  Couldn't be the Slayer's hero.

The one thing Spike had going for him was tenacity.  Everyone hated him, but he kept coming back for more.  You almost had to admire his . . . courage.

Spike's words as he forcibly plucked her from the gutter floated back to her: "Death is the easy way out. It's harder to face yourself and what you've done. That's the real bitch."

"It is a bitch, Spike.  How can I live with myself?"  Willow considered her newly-scrubbed face in the elaborate gilt mirror supplied by the Watchers' Council.  What a joke.  As if she could ever really be clean.

Spike's voice echoed in her ears: "Never thought you were a coward, Will."

Willow picked up a brush and slowly dragged it through her knotted hair.



Quentin Travers considered the thick file in front of him: a record of supreme incompetence.  Around the impeccably styled mahogany conference table, the entire London staff of the Watchers' Council waited expectantly, sipping tea, nibbling on biscuits, waiting for their leader to speak.  Across from Travers sat the man of the hour: the renegade Watcher, Rupert Giles.  His erstwhile colleagues tried and failed to refrain from staring.  Giles, for his part, was stoic, unreadable, and, perhaps, if one looked very closely, vaguely defiant.

Angrily, Travers flipped through page after page.  Faith, a Slayer now useless to the Council.  Buffy Summers, twice dead and perpetually chafing under the yoke of her sacred duty.  And now, Willow Rosenberg, a witch under Mr. Giles's tutelage who tried to end the world.

"Mr. Giles, I've read the evidence. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't toss both you and this girl into the street.  You certainly haven't been of much use to the Council.  In fact, it would appear that you are more trouble than you are worth."

Giles's voice trembled with anger.  "After all I've done, after everything my Slayer has sacrificed, I cannot believe you would have the unmitigated gall to suggest . . ."

"Excuse me," Lydia raised her voice.  "May I interrupt?"

Mr. Travers considered her with disdain.  "It would appear that you have already interrupted, Miss Grant.  You may as well continue."

Lydia's face flushed with embarrassment, but she was determined to make her point.  "While Mr. Giles may be unorthodox in his methods, he is hardly ineffectual.  His Slayer, Miss Summers, is the oldest active Slayer on record."

"What about Faith, the other Slayer, Miss Grant?  She may as well be dead," Colin Atkinson, a young, smirking blond Watcher retorted.

"Alas, Mr. Atkinson," Giles replied, voice dripping with sarcasm.  "I can't take credit for Faith.  Wesley Wyndham-Price was her Watcher.  I had absolutely nothing to do with her downfall."

Twenty pairs of eyes turned towards a distinguished-looking man with graying hair.  Nigel Wyndham-Price cleared his throat and spoke tightly.  "My son has always been morally flawed.  I'm just pleased the Council no longer has to deal with him.  We cannot blame Mr. Giles for my son's failings.

Lydia continued, "And Mr. Giles's pragmatism sometimes has remarkable results.  A vampire even agreed to assist him with the Glory problem."

Travers smirked.  "Ah, yes.  William the Bloody, the same vampire that returned the wayward witch to our doorstep.  What precisely is your connection with this thing, Mr. Giles?"

Giles paused.  What was his relationship to Spike?  That was an exceedingly complicated question.  "Spike has sometimes been quite useful to us.  He can't be trusted, of course, but since he's had the chip . . ."

Alex Kingsley interjected, "I've heard he's in love with the Slayer and that she has a sexual relationship with the creature--the worst sort of perversity.  And you allowed this to happen.  That's why he assists you."

The room hushed in expectation.  They'd all heard the rumors.  But were they true?

Giles considered Travers with barely suppressed rage. "I don't believe my Slayer's personal life is the Council's business.  Furthermore, I didn't think it was the Council's job to spy on the Slayer."

Travers smiled pleasantly.  "No, Mr. Giles.  It's yours.  But you chose to leave your position.  I note you didn't answer my question."

Giles ground his teeth.  "Spike is incapable of hurting any human.  He's neutered, harmless."

"But not castrated, right Giles?" Kingsley leered.  "Is he or isn't he sleeping with your Slayer?"

"He isn't, not that it's any of your bloody business, Kingsley," Giles replied. "She terminated their relationship several months ago.  If he helps me, it's because he wants to help.  He's formed attachments to several of the people in the Slayer's circle.  Willow Rosenberg is one of those people."

Chaos broke out in the room.  Disbelief, disgust, and revulsion were equally distributed over the Watchers' faces.  This was a horror beyond imagining: a Slayer willingly having relations with an evil soulless thing.

But Lydia was not horrified.  "Please," her voice shrilled above the babble.  "Listen to me."

No one paid attention.

"Please . . ." Lydia's voice trailed off, lost in the riotous noise.  Suddenly the thick file--the document of incompetence--was slammed forcefully upon the table and the room fell completely silent.

"Evidently Miss Grant has something to say." Travers turned towards the flustered young woman.

"It's obvious that we have a great deal to learn about our sworn enemy," Lydia began, her voice tentative, shaky.  "As William the Bloody, Spike, has been helpful on more than one occasion, perhaps he would be willing to share his experiences with us. Think of the possibilities, think of what we could learn!"

"Yes, Lydia, he helped all right.  He helped himself into the Slayer's bed," Kingsley retorted.

"William has a tendency to form strong romantic ties."  Lydia spoke clearly, forcefully, as she warmed to her subject.  "That in itself is an anomaly.  According to what we've all been taught, soulless vampires cannot love.  But, as I argued in chapter three of my thesis, William the Bloody . . ."

"If I didn't know better, Miss Grant, I'd think *you* had formed a strong attachment to this creature," Atkinson snickered.

"Think of the danger," Kingsley snorted derisively.  "He could tell all his vampire friends where the Council meets and we'd be attacked.  Sounds like a brilliant scheme."

"But Spike already knows where we are, Alex," a bright-red Reginald Claridge responded to his classmate.  Alex and he had taken exams together, and he was sick of the pompous prat.

"All the more reason why we should eliminate the threat," Atkinson replied.  "Mr. Travers," he turned to the Head Watcher, "I'd be happy to dispatch our assassins . . ."

"Just a bloody minute," Giles interrupted.  "Spike is the one who brought Willow back.  Besides, he's helpless.  He can't hurt humans.  Would the Council kill a creature that is incapable of defending himself?"

Reggie found himself agreeing with Mr. Giles.  He didn't become a Watcher to kill something that couldn't fight back--even if that something was a vampire.  "Instead of eliminating Spike, wouldn't it be better to give him some reason to be loyal, to give us information? Maybe we could bribe him, give him some money?"

"Money?" Wesley's father rolled his eyes.  "Dear boy, why would such a creature need money?"

"According to Miss Grant's report from two years ago, for blood and smokes," Travers deadpanned.  "I assume he'll also need money to maintain a lodging in London?"

Giles nodded in disbelief.  "I suppose so."

Travers closed the file.  "Let's make a deal, Mr. Giles.  You bring in your friend, William, and we'll continue to treat Miss Rosenberg.  You give us something, and we'll give you something."

"What will you do to him, Travers?" Giles considered the Watcher's deeply-lined face with suspicion.

"I promise you, we won't hurt him.  A wise man once said, know thine enemy.  You and Miss Grant will interview him and report back to me.  The vampire will receive nominal compensation."

"What if I can't find him?" Giles asked.  "I don't know where he is."

"If you're not willing to help us with this project, Mr. Giles, you may as well take Miss Rosenberg with you now.  There's nothing else we can do for her."

Giles's lips tightened.  "That's blackmail."

"How astute of you," Travers replied.



Chapter Three: Never Mind the Bollocks

It was five forty-five in the morning and Buffy was sitting on the back porch.  She should have been in bed.  It was Saturday and there was no reason to be up, but she couldn't sleep.  Unwanted thoughts kept coming to her when she surrendered control--control of herself, her thoughts, her wishes, her fears, and her regrets.  Everything. In the end it was more relaxing to sit on the porch than lay in bed twisting her sheets.

Well, maybe 'relaxing' wasn't the right word.  It was quiet--eerily quiet these days, quiet in a way made Buffy look over her shoulder because something *must* be wrong.  Only when Buffy looked, nothing was there. She told herself that everything was okay, but she didn't believe it.  It was too quiet and too lonely.  And why wouldn't it be? Tara was gone.  Willow was gone. Giles was gone.  Anya was persona non talkie because saying her name sent Xander into  mouth-frothing fits or brooding that rivaled Angel's.  And of course there was the missing man. . .person. . . *thing* she wasn't supposed to think about.

All in all, not a lot of people left in the life of Buffy. Typical, wasn't it?  Just when she figured out that wallowing in misery did nothing but make her miserable, Buffy woke up to discover the lives of everyone around her had been shot to hell.

"Whatcha doin'?" a sleepy eyed Dawn asked from the doorway.

"Wha-uh. . .?" =Better not tell her I've been thinking. = Buffy-thinking had equaled a bad thing for a long time now .  It freaked Dawn out, and Buffy had only recently convinced her sister that she wasn't half suicidal. "I got up early to watch the sunrise."

"Uh. . .yeah."  Dawn stared doubtfully at the dense white fog that had fallen over Sunnydale a few days ago. It obscured anything over three feet away. "You think it's evil?"

"Oh, definitely.  It's summer and it's sabotaging our tan lines.  But-" Buffy tossed her stake into the cotton candy whiteness and heard it clatter against the flagstone pathway "-it's not big with the fighty.  Not sure what I can do about it."

Dawn gathered her pink terry cloth robe around herself and sat next to Buffy.  "Maybe we should call Giles."

"And have him explain 'there's this thing called El Nino?' I don't think so. Besides, if fog is a sign of the apocalypse, Giles is in London sitting on ground zero."  She gave a wan smile before looking into the fog.  "Still, it's weird."

"And creepy."

"Creepy and weird."



The fog was so thick it looked like a solid, living thing as it moved passively along currents of air.  It seeped through crevices, and fell in vaporous waterfalls down manholes and storm drains until it filled the sewers and catacombs beneath the city. It moved. It flowed, traveling ceaselessly, searching as it entered the graveyard. It filtered into the coffins-both empty and full-and spread through the tombs and crypts.  Then it found what it sought and began to coalesce, pulling in its tendrils, gathering itself.  Changing.



Giles shoved the warlock against the wall.

"Oh, very impressive," Reggie exclaimed.

With his glasses securely tucked in his pocket, Giles gave the warlock his patented Ripper glare. "If you *ever* see the witch again, you will send her on her way. Is that understood?"

The warlock laughed.  "A Watcher making threats?  Why should I-"  The choking sound the warlock made as Giles tightened nunchucks over his throat gave said Watcher a visceral thrill.

"I am not just any Watcher," Giles said.  "I do not make idle threats.  If you dose her with magic again, I will see you dead.  Is that understood?"  The warlock, still choking and turning a pale shade of blue, nodded, leading Giles to reluctantly release his chokehold.  "I believe we are done here."  He stepped back.  "Miss Grant?"

"Oh, yes, quite."  Lydia, dressed in a gray wool skirt and ivory-colored blouse, looked very prim and proper standing in the middle of the dramatically lit room.

The floor, ceiling, and walls had all been painted black, which only threw the colorful patrons and artwork into high relief.   A shockingly impressive Modern art collection hung on the walls.  There were white, blue, red, and yellow block patterns by Mondrian, frenetic splatter paintings by Pollock, and a blurry-edged celadon and traffic-cone-orange canvas by Rothko.  It looked as though someone had robbed the Tate Gallery, which might well be the case with these demons. But Giles admitted the artwork complemented the colorful occupants of the room.

In one corner sat four green Fyarl demons.  In the opposite corner two blue Lazuli incubi played darts while hot pink, tangerine, and fuchsia Farquart pixies drank banana daiquiris with little umbrellas in them.  Giles became acutely aware of how absurd the scene must look to someone unused to the vagaries of demon society, and he wondered what lapse in sanity had led him to bring two young Watchers to this place.

Of course, Giles knew the lapse in sanity's name was Quentin Travers. Travers had insisted that Giles not work alone, and, though there had been many volunteers, Claridge and Grant had seemed to be the most amenable-and malleable--of his available choices.  Still, it felt wrong to drag two neophytes on this misguided mission.

"We should go," Giles said tersely.

Lydia followed Giles to the door, but they were missing someone.  Giles turned to find the youngest Watcher fascinated by the discovery that Farquart pixies had three breasts.   "We're leaving, Reggie."

Reggie blinked owlishly.  "Of course, of course."  He stumbled over his feet a little before following Giles and Lydia outside. "Was that truly a Troll in there?"

Lydia nodded. "I believe so, Reggie."

"And a Nayr Spirte?"

"Yes."

"In London?!"

Feeling tired and frustrated, Giles unlocked the car. "Yes, Claridge, in London.  Will you bloody well climb into the car?"

Lydia slid into the passenger's seat. "Sir, I realize we are no closer to finding William the Bloody-"

"What we are, Miss Grant, is short of time.  That arrogant prat Quentin Travers gave us a week to find Spike.  Forty-eight hours and six demon haunts later, we are running out of places to look."

Reggie leaned forward from the back seat. "I am sure the Council understands the difficulty of the task assigned to us."

"In my experience the Council 'understands' precious little." Giles cranked the car.  "Although you are probably right.  *Travers* understands."

Reggie's brow furrowed with confusion.

Lydia explained, "Mr. Giles suspects he has been set up to fail."

Reggie glanced from Giles to Lydia. "Surely not."

"You must admit, Reggie, it makes a certain kind of sense."  Her gaze darted toward Giles. "Mr. Travers does not particularly like you, sir.  And he's never been supportive of my research."

"Calls it a bloody waste of time."

"Yes, thank you, Reggie."

Giles almost smiled and attempted to console his younger companions by saying, "At least tonight's search wasn't a complete waste.  I rather enjoyed striking fear into the magic dealer's soul."

Reggie's spectacled visage brightened.  "That was brilliant! He'll think twice before crossing the Council again."  Reg all but bounced in the backseat with uncontained eagerness. "Could you show me that move with the nunchucks? It was--"

"Brilliant?"

"Exactly!  I envy you, sir.  I truly do.  On the front lines, fighting the good fight, every day, do or die as you face down demons."

Giles moved the small sedan into traffic.  "Well, today is over, and I'm returning you to the Council."

"But tomorrow-"

"No tomorrow."  Reggie looked so crestfallen that Giles felt compelled to add,  "With Spike being as-"  Giles searched for a word "-domesticated as he is, the places we have searched have been relatively benign. The places I must now go. . . These are not places for Watchers without field experience."

"But how do we gain field experience if we are not allowed into the field?"

"Don't muddle this with logic, Claridge.  It has been a long night." Aware of Lydia's unhappy expression, Giles asked, "Do you have something to say, Miss Grant?"

"You only have five days left to find William.  You may need our help, sir."

Reggie blinked. "Five days? Are you sure it isn't three?  I was under the impression Mr. Travers was referring to a work week not a. . ." Faced with Giles' glare, Reggie's argument trailed into silence.  "Yes, of course, five days."

Giles considered his situation and silently conceded that Lydia might be correct.  Still, he hated to lead these two into danger.  "If I agree to this, you must do *everything* I say without discussion, is that understood?"

Reggie cried, "Brilliant!"  Lydia, however, frowned.

"Does something concern you, Miss Grant?" Giles asked.

She bit her lower lip before venturing to say,  "I don't wish to question your methods, sir."

"Except you wish to question my methods."

Her gaze met his. "It's just that I wonder whether searching demon haunts is the most efficient way to find William."

Giles stopped the car at a traffic light.  "What would you suggest?  I confess I haven't the foggiest notion of where to look.  And even if we do find Spike, it's difficult to imagine him agreeing to play Louis for your version of 'Interview with the Vampire.'  I'm not even sure what purpose such an interview would serve."

Lydia raised her chin.  "I realize you are a man of action, Mr. Giles. But I think you underestimate the need for in-depth historical research. Do you have any notion of how many of the Council's records contradict one another?  Why, in William's case alone, I have found two different sires and three different ages attributed to him."

"And this matters in what way?"

Warming to her subject, Lydia's voice rose in pitch and insistence.  "It matters because it is indicative of how slipshod much our data is. If we cannot provide accurate information about the most fundamental of facts, what else does the council not know?  You are a field Watcher, and I have enormous respect for that.  I only ask that you offer me equal respect as a historian."

Giles considered Lydia for a long moment.  "Of course.  You are right.  I apologize."

Mollified, she relaxed into her seat.

"Though if you don't mind my asking, why Spike?  I know he has been useful upon occasion, but,  Miss Grant, if you wish to do significant research, shouldn't you find a more significant subject? The Master, Angelus, and Dracula have far more storied histories.  Or, if interviewing a vampire is your goal, I'm sure something can be arranged with Angel."

"I'll be honest, Mr. Giles, I'm not particularly interested in Angel or Angelus.  There have been countless papers written on the subject and-"  She grimaced. "-I admit I find them rather dull.  Other than the Sunnydale incident, Angelus seems to have had a rather ordinary career-rape, torture, killing-standard vampiric activity. And his human self seems to have been little more than your typical eighteenth-century wastrel.  If not for the curse, I don't believe Angelus would have warranted much attention.  As for the Master, he predates all of our records and without a significant archeological find I have little hope of breaking new ground where he is concerned.  And Dracula? Let us be serious.  He's quite passé."

"Leading you to choose Spike of all creatures."  Giles still could not quite believe it.

"Oh yes, William…uh… that is *Spike* has exhibited a great many anomalous traits. For instance, despite being soulless, he has helped save the world on more than one occasion."

"For selfish reasons."

"Perhaps, but given that we are taught all vampires crave chaos and destruction, choosing to avert disaster for any reason is worthy of note.  And, of course, there is his tendency toward near-human emotions.  He is quite fascinating."

"Perhaps. At a distance.  Up close he is usually an irritant, and entirely likely to eat one out of house and home."

Reggie's eyes grew huge.

"Weetabix," Giles explained.  "Tea, chicken wings, salt and vinegar crisps.  He has a predilection for human food."

"Another anomaly,' Lydia observed with some satisfaction.

"I still cannot believe you are comfortable in such close quarters with a vampire."  Reggie sounded awed.  "It's quite extraordinary."

Sometimes it still shocked Giles.  There were times, even without Willow's mindwipe spell, when he actually forgot what Spike was.  Lydia was right. Spike was an anomalous creature.

Lydia bowed her head.  "I realize most Watchers consider the history of demonology to be outdated and somewhat pointless.  But I believe one day it may prove vital to our survival."

Giles eased the car through traffic.  "I believe you may be right.  But that does not help us find Spike."

"If you don't mind me saying so, sir,  perhaps. . . "

Giles glanced Lydia when her voice trailed off.  "Go on."

"Perhaps in William's case, with all of his anomalies, we shouldn't think 'what would a demon do,' but what would *Spike* do?"

"You mean think of him as a person?"

"Yes. Think of him as a man.  What would the man do?  What are his interests, his likes, his dislikes, his preferences?  Where would this *person* go?"

Giles blinked.  Bloody hell, he had never thought of it like that.



"Bollocks!"  Simon Cook scoffed.  "You weren't there."

Antony Lister bristled at having his story questioned. "Was so.  Lesser Free Trade Hall."

"Mmm-hmm." Simon took a swig of his lager. "Who else was there? Who performed?"

"The Buzzcocks."

Simon rolled his eyes.  "Too easy.  Who else?"

"Mandala Band."

"Liar! Read a few books, but you don't know a sodding thing. They didn't perform the same night as the Sex Pistols.  Now if you'd said 'Slaughter and the Dogs' I might've believed you.  But Mandala Band-"

"Solstice," a new voice interrupted the argument.

Simon's gaze raked over the newcomer.  "And what would you be knowin' about it?"

"I was there."

Simon and Tony laughed.  "Right. 'Cause six-year-olds were common at Pistols' concerts."

Spike almost smiled as he motioned for a pint. The female bartender had eyed him since he'd walked through the door, but she had never approached him, only stared at him suspiciously.  The first time she spoke it was to Simon.

"He's right." She slid a Guinness down the bar in Spike's direction.  "And for the record, I *was* there."

Simon and Tony fell silent.  They clearly viewed the woman as an authority on the subject, and drinking in the ambience of the cluttered pub, Spike began to suspect she was responsible for the bright yellow and carmine "Never Mind the Bollocks"  Sex Pistols' poster beside the front door and the "Anarchy in the U.K." poster next to the entrance to the loo.

Spike watched her wipe down the bar.  She kept glancing at him, looking wary, looking as if she suspected that something evil had walked through the door.  Did she know him?  Should he recognize her?

She was somewhere in her late thirties to early forties, with long dark hair and tired blue eyes. There was something almost bird-like in her delicate frame that made Spike want to say, "Good lord, eat a sandwich, would you?"

Simon nudged Spike's shoulder.  "Got an eye for our girl?  Should warn you, she's got issues."

=Show me a woman who doesn't.=

Women with issues were Spike's specialty.  The more screwed up they were, the more attracted to them he was.  But Spike wasn't interested in this woman--not in that way.  He just felt he should recognize her.

His gaze moved to the dark blue poster of Sid Vicious standing over a coffin with the words "From the Grave" emblazoned over his head.  Spike remembered that tour.  He tried to think back.

He and Dru had spent all of seventy-six and most of seventy-seven in Belgium, although Spike vaguely remembered a few lusty weeks in Paris . . . maybe.   Years had a tendency to blur together, and lately, Spike had grown glad of that fact. Anything but the most recent past had a dreamlike quality.  It didn't seem quite real. Time had blurred the edges of his nightmarish history to make the memories bearable in his newly souled state--though Spike did his best not to think about the past at all.  It did no good.  Nothing in recent or distant memory held anything like comfort, just pain and distress.

He was a monster.  He'd said it long ago, but now he knew what it meant.  For over a century he had been a murderer, a schemer, and a menace. . . and then there was what he had almost done to Buffy.

=Don't go there, mate.  There lay dragons.= He leaned back in his chair,  and listened to the two middle aged punks arguing.

"I saw them Boxing Day."

"Tony, if you're goin' to lie, at least lie well.  You didn't see them at the Roxy on Boxing Day."

Tony looked offended.  "Didn't I? And how would you know?"

Spike became irritated. "'Cause they cancelled the show, you git."

The female bartender looked at Spike with startled blue eyes.  Damnit, why did she look so familiar?

Simon elbowed Tony .  "The lad knows his stuff."  Simon faced Spike. "You discover the Pistols with the 'God Save the Queen' re-mix?"

Spike snorted. "The re-mixes are awful.  Should've left the originals alone."

Simon chuckled.  "Someone raised you right.  Hey, Emma, another pint for my young friend. "

=Emma?= Spike squinted for a better look at the woman.  He tried to picture her as a girl.  Add a few pounds to her.  Subtract some of the world-weary exhaustion from her eyes.  Give her some spark, some fire.  =Oh, shit.  Emma.=

Spike saw her swallow.  He could hear her heart's rapid beat.  The scent of fear was in the air as Emma slid the glass toward him, looking as cautious as she would approaching a wild animal. . .or a vampire.  Spike caught her hand.  "Emma?"

She pulled away.  "Oh God!"  And ran for the door.

Simon rolled his eyes.  "What did I say?  Issues."

Spike followed Emma into the street.  "Emma!"

But she was nowhere in sight.  Spike tried to hold still, to listen for her heartbeat, her footsteps or her labored breathing, but Simon and Tony were standing at the pub door, drinking and wanting to know, "You an old friend of Emma's?"

=Friend?  No.  More like an old nightmare.=



Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy our casual joys
We shall go on playing
Or find a new town
[...]
Strange days have found us
And through their strange hours we linger alone
Bodies confused, memories misused
As we run from the day
To a strange night of stone

Jim Morrison, The Doors

Strange Days



Chapter Four: Strange Days

Spike raked his hand through his hair. =Bloody hell!= He handed Simon a twenty for his bar tab and walked into the night, not thinking about where he was going, just knowing he had to go.

In nineteen-seventy-seven Spike and Dru had been in Paris drinking champagne and hippies over Jim Morrison’s grave. But something had worried his wicked, ripe plum. With her hand on his crotch and her lips at his ear, Dru had sung, "Strange days have found us. Strange days have tracked us down."

Spike had maneuvered her against a gravestone and hitched up her skirt. "I know the lyrics, love."

But when their graveyard games were over, Dru had had refused to be deterred. She had pleaded to leave Paris. "The moon tells us to go. Can’t you hear it whispering?"

Of course he hadn’t, but what his dark princess had wanted, his dark princess had got. They had hopped the ferry from Calais.

"What strange thing are you?" She had asked as they stood on the moonlit deck.

"I’m not a stranger."

"Not stranger but different." Dru had touched his hair. "It goes all white."

Spike had laughed. "I can’t go gray, love. No more than you."

Dru’s gaze had narrowed as she stepped away. "London is calling, and you’ll be different there."

Looking back from the twenty-first century, Spike could see that Dru had been right. A shag over a dead poet’s grave in Pere-Lachaise hadn’t been the only thing Jim Morrison had inspired. In those days Spike had been stuck in his Lizard King phase. His hair had been longer and still sporting its natural shade. His pants had been leather and slung low across his hips while his shirts had been loose and often unbuttoned. However, when he had reached London, things had changed.

Dru had disappeared. That had often been her way. The first time Dru had done it had been back in 1881, and Spike had been frantic to find her, worried that she’d been caught in the sun. Angelus had laughed at Spike’s concern, saying his crazy little girl would be back when she wanted to come. Spike had eyed the son-of-a-bitch suspiciously, causing Angelus to backhand him across the jaw.

By the 1970s Spike had grown used to Dru wandering away and knew that all he could do was wait. Not wanting to stray far from the place he had seen her last, Spike had used the money he’d taken from the banker he’d killed on the train to rent a flat in Balham. The same flat he was walking to now, although these days he was paying the rent in a slightly different way. He still had a few thousand dollars left from agreeing to harbor demon eggs in Sunnydale, and a dead Suvolte wasn’t about to ask for a refund.

Spike stared at the building where—for lack of a better word—he ‘lived.’ It was identical to every other building on the block, all weathered red brick and unwashed windows. Nothing distinguished it from its neighbors except its address. Everything was in an equal state of disrepair.

Spike pushed open the front door and toed aside a small mouse who scurried into a crack in the wall. He climbed the stairs by the light of a single, naked bulb to unlock the door to the upstairs flat. Small, dark, and dilapidated, it wasn’t a place that inspired thoughts of hominess or comfort. It was just a hole to hide in.

There were only two rooms other than the bath. The first held a broken down chair and tele with a kitchette situated along the rear wall. The other had a mattress sagging on an iron bed frame and blackout blinds. Spike had cleaned the place well enough. It was marginally less filthy than it had been before, but the floor remained stained, the wall plaster still crumbled, and when Spike laid down he couldn’t help counting the water marks on the ceiling. There were seventeen. The night he had first met Emma, there had been only ten.

He’d been different then--more pissed and less likely to consider walking out to face the sun--and the floor had trembled with an erratic bass beat which drowned out his eight-track copy of Morrison Hotel by The Doors. Spike had considered ignoring it for all of three seconds before his quicksilver temper demanded he go downstairs to rip out someone’s lungs.

He had stormed out the door intent on causing carnage and mayhem only to find Emma sitting at the base of the steps. She’d been a kid of fifteen or sixteen—the same age as Bit was now—and she had looked at him with tears in her eyes.

Bugger it all to hell, he’d always been a sucker for tears. If hers had been the loud, blubbery kind, he would have killed her without a thought. But Emma had sat silent with her chin up and tears filling her eyes, and Spike had respected her for that. His murderous rage had faded, giving him time to notice the bruise on her cheek. It had been as much green as purple and black. Someone had hit her.

The door to the downstairs flat had opened revealing a boy not much older than Emma.

"Emma!" The boy had come out into the hall and knelt in front of her as he gently touched her bruise.

"It’s alright, Pete," Emma had protested.

"’S not alright. That bastard Ned Dix did this to you, didn’t he? I’ll kill him. Touchin’ my sister like that. I’ll kill him. "

=Appropriate reaction,= Spike had thought.

Peter had stared at Spike. "Who’re you?"

Emma had pulled herself to her feet. "He’s the one livin’ upstairs always listening to The Doors."

Pete had rolled his eyes, looking young and petulant and not nearly as intimidating as his raggedly cut hair, tattooed knuckles, and black leather jacket implied. "That stuff."

Spike had bristled. "Better than that screeching you call music."

"’S not the point." He helped Emma inside the flat, then looked back at Spike. "Well, are you comin’ in then?"

A dangerous invitation to issue to a vampire, especially dangerous if the vampire had been plotting your death only moments before. But somehow, that night Spike hadn’t been in the mood for killing and had enjoyed the novelty of being invited inside. He’d told himself it wasn’t because he was lonely. It wasn’t because Dru had been gone for a fortnight, Darla for two and a half decades, and Angelus for nearly a century. It wasn’t because he was desperate to talk to someone, and be spoken to in return. He wasn’t lonely. It was just boredom.

As the weeks passed Spike had become a regular visitor to the downstairs flat. He’d met Emma and Peter’s father who had once worked for The Underground but who had lost his job and lived on the dole. He’d accompanied Emma and Pete to concerts by the Sex Pistols even when they had performed under such names as Tax Exiles and Acne Ramble.

The three of them had seen the great Roundhouse triple bill of the Ramones, Talking Heads, and The Saints. Pete and Emma had even tried to make it onto the infamous boat party on the Thames. Spike hadn’t attempted—daylight issues he hadn’t wanted to explain—but it hadn’t mattered anyhow. The kids had never made it onto the boat, and Spike had met them later that night at the side door of the Earls Court Arena where they had slipped in to see Queen live.

Spike had never told Emma and Pete what he was, and somehow he had managed to restrain his ways to keep them from finding out. Oh, he snacked often enough, making meals of everything from tourists to punks, but always out of sight of his young friends.

Then one night Spike had returned to his Balham flat to discover Drusilla had come home. He had sensed her the moment he had entered the building, or at least when he had heard hearts pounding with a rapid flutter and smelled the scents of sweat and fear.

The door to the downstairs flat had stood ajar. A streak of yellow-white light had striped the darkened hallway as Spike laid his hand against the painted wood door. He had silently opened it to find a familiar sight—pain and death.

Emma’s father had lain in a sloppy sprawl across the floor, his eyes open but with a glassy stare. Dead, of course. What else would he have been with that gash in his throat?

Spike had heard a squeaking, terrified sound and lifted his gaze to meet Pete’s pleading stare. Drusilla had held the boy in her clutches as she grinned in gameface at Spike. "I followed the biscuit crumbs home."

Emma had cried, "Spike!" She had probably believed he would save her, but Spike had casually crossed his arms and leaned against the frame of the door. He had watched Dru murder Pete.

"No!" Emma had screamed, her sobs becoming gut wrenching and loud. There had been no stoic dignity in her then, just grief and fear as she sensed the exact moment her brother died. "No. . ." she whimpered before something caught her eye. "Ned?"

Spike had turned to find Emma’s erstwhile abusive boyfriend standing behind him, an expression of horror etched on the teen’s face. Spike hadn’t thought about it. He hadn’t needed to. Instinct had kicked in and, shifting into gameface, he had reached out and grabbed the boy around the neck, twisting it with brutal strength until the boy’s spine snapped and his lifeless husk dropped to the floor. Stepping over the corpse, Spike had walked across the room, taking Dru’s hand and lifting it to his lips.

"Did you miss me?" Dru had asked.

"Always, love." He had slipped his hand around her waist. "Come with me and I’ll show you how."

Dru had held back, looking over her shoulder at Emma. "But the biscuit tin is still half full."

Spike had nuzzled Dru’s neck, giving soft kisses before nibbling her ear. "I’m hungry, pet, and not for cookies."

"Mmmm, my tummy *is* full. . ."

And he had led his dark princess from the room saying, "I think it’s time I change my look, pet. What would you think if I got a haircut, something new?"

Spike had never looked back. Not once. Not until tonight. Now, Spike sat up on his sagging bed, and his hand shook as he reached for a half empty pack of cigarettes. =Bloody hell. I *am* a monster.= He’d said it before. He'd known it was true, but he had never understood the enormity of that confession.

Spike stood and anxiously paced the room. Emma and Pete had trusted him. They had thought he was their friend, and he had betrayed them.

"Our girl has issues," the barfly had said earlier tonight.

=And why shouldn’t she? She saw her entire family murdered in front of her eyes. God.=

Spike felt sick. He’d done that. It had been him. Angel had always liked to claim that he and Angelus were two different beings, but Spike didn’t see that. He didn’t feel that. It was him. He’d just never cared before now.

Spike stubbed out his cigarette. What was he supposed to do? He had convinced himself that he was prepared for this. When he’d sought out Lurky, he’d been so sure he knew what he was doing. Buffy had demanded change, so he would bloody well show her change. He just hadn’t known it would be so hard or that it would hurt so much. When he looked at the last century from his new perspective—

Spike ran to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet. There had only been pigs’ blood and beer in his stomach, but there was even less there now. He laid his head against the cool porcelain and wondered what in the hell he was doing. How had he ever arrived at a plan as insanely stupid as this?

If he’d felt guilty for what had happened in Sunnydale, he should have walked out to face the sun. But, no, he’d gone off on some half-cocked plan, determined to prove Buffy wrong, to fix his mistakes, to do. . . *something.*

He’d done ‘something’ all right. He’d gone and gotten himself royally fucked.

Spike now had the conscience of that oversensitive, idealistic fool Dru had killed in an alley. A century’s worth of sins now plagued his innocent old soul. What was he supposed to do with that? What was he supposed to do with any of it? He had committed more murders and atrocities than he could count, and he couldn’t change a thing. He couldn’t take it back. He couldn’t fix anything. Nothing could be made right. How could he possibly go on like this? Was there a reason to go on at all?

He’d told Willow that death was the easy way out, that facing yourself was the real challenge. =And you were right, you bloody arrogant fool!= But how was he supposed to pull it off? How was he supposed to find his way out of this pit he had dug himself into?

=Pull yourself together, mate. You’re barely two steps away from becoming the poof, and you wouldn’t want that, now would you?= Brooding didn’t accomplish a damn thing. It was paralyzing and made it all too easy to become weak and ineffectual.

=So don’t be a wanker. Get up. Get your arse in gear.=

Spike pulled himself to his feet and splashed water on his face.

=Think.=

He had to do something. He couldn’t sit still. He could never sit still. . .or hide. He’d go back and face Emma. He’d apologize. Yeah, he knew it wouldn’t do a bit of good. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ didn’t change a thing. She would only hate him, and she had every reason to. But it was the only thing he could offer. He could stand and face her anger and hate. Who knows, maybe it would help her in some small way.

Spike looked up and laughed. "Who do you think you are to think you can help?" The mirror reflected everything in the room but him. "That’s what I thought."

The next night he paced for a half hour before working up the courage to return to the pub. When he walked through the door Simon elbowed Tony.

"Just the bloke I was lookin’ for." Simon pushed away from the bar. "What would you say to a ticket to the show."

Spike frowned. "Show?"

"You’ve got to be kiddin’ me! The show. Carling Live. The Sex Pistols’ jubilee."

Not believing what he was hearing, Spike shook his head. "Twenty-five years of mocking the old bird, and now they’re cashing in on her jubilee?"

Tony sipped his lager. "It’s called selling out."

Spike tried to wrap his mind this new bit of information. "Sid must be rolling in his grave."

"That’s the truth. All the real ones are gone." Simon raised his glass. "To Sid."

Tony raised his glass as well. "To Dee Dee and Joey Ramone."

Simon wiped a tear from his eye. "And our Emma."

That caught Spike’s attention. "What?" Spike glanced from Simon to Tony. "What are you saying?"

Simon sat down. "I’m sorry, mate. It’s the extra ticket. It was Emma’s. She—"

Tony bowed his head. "Kicked it last night. It was always gonna get her sooner or later."

"It? What it?" Spike felt like the floor had fallen from underneath him.

"You noticed the tracks didn’t you? On her arms."

Spike’s brows furrowed and there was a sinking feeling in his gut. "Heroin?" She was an addict. It was obvious now.

Simon stared intently into his lager. "She tried getting off the stuff once or twice. Never worked. Like I told you—issues."

"Tragic history," Tony explained.

"Don’t know how she lived with it all. She was a strong person, but I guess she’d had enough."

"Or her body had."

=Or she saw me again,= Spike realized. =The sight of me sent her off for a hit—the *last* one. I killed her. Wasn’t even trying, and I killed her. =



Buffy walked through the graveyard in sunlight. How weird was that? Most of the time it was the graveyard shift for her -- ha-ha -- and for the last few days it had been the freaky fog. Now, the sky was clear and blue and it looked like Southern California again.

She turned left and started down a familiar path where she ran into a floppy-eared demon carrying a grocery bag.

"Slayer!" Clem, as always, managed to look both surprised and pleased. "Here for a visit? I just bought blue corn tortilla chips and peach salsa. Yum!"

"I think you’ve been hanging out with Dawn too much."

The puppy-like demon’s happy face fell. "But. . .I. . .If you think I shouldn't see her—"

Buffy rushed to say, "Relax. I’m kidding. Honest. Dawnie lives on junk food too."

"Oh." Slowly his smile and enthusiasm returned. "Oh! That’s different then. It’s just, you know, you Slayer, me demon. I can be a bit jumpy sometimes. Wanna be on your good side, not tick you off."

"I didn’t mean to scare you."

Shifting his brown paper bag, Clem asked, "What can I do for you? If you’re looking for—"

=No, don’t go there. Don’t mention *him.*= "I just wanted to check how things were around here. The fog kind of made patrol difficult."

"The fog? Yeah, that was weird. Haven’t seen anything like that since ninety-four."

That surprised her. "It’s happened before?" The demon nodded. "Anything come from it?" Buffy asked.

"Anything…?"

"Freaky. Monstery. Apocalypsy?"

"Not that I can think of."

"Well, that’s good." They stared at each other and the silence stretched. It was getting kind of awkward. "That’s good. I guess I’ll go." She turned to leave.

"Buffy?"

The fact that Clem used her name made Buffy stop and become a nervous. Using her name meant what he was about to say was important.

Clem tugged nervously at his ear. "I got an e-mail from him today."

"You’ve got an e-mail account?"

"I’ve got DSL and an IMac and—" Clem took a deep breath and blurted out "—Spike said he wasn’t coming back."

"He always comes back." Buffy knew she sounded like a bewildered little girl. She hated that sound. She attempted a more authoritative tone. "He’ll be back."

"I hope you’re right, Slayer." Clem looked down at his feet. "He could be good company, you know. I mean, when he wasn’t pissed or anything, he could be good company. I just. . .I miss him, and I thought maybe you. . ."

What could she say? That she missed Spike too? She *so* could not admit to missing Spike. It was wrong and squicky and for years she’d been insisting he go away. How hypocritical would it be to now admit she kind of missed him? "Don’t worry about it," Buffy said crisply. "He’ll be back. He *always* comes back. He’s annoying that way. Just be glad we got rid of the fog."



Inside the tomb the last of the mist faded away, revealing the face and form of a man. He was handsome, with aquiline features and fair hair, and his eyes were a clear, pale blue. He smiled as he moved to sit and then to stand. He looked at his hands and arms, admiring them. He touched his face with a degree of amazement, then he moved toward the door. He paused at the threshold, looking uncertain about crossing it, but he took a deep breath stepped into the sunlight.

Sunshine bathed his face and shoulders as he spread his arms wide, embracing the light. He threw back his head and laughed.



Dawn entered the house. It was big, silent and empty. "Buffy?"

No answer meant that Buffy wasn’t home. She would be back soon, though. Buffy had been all super-attentive lately. It was probably an overreaction for eight months of pretending Dawn almost didn’t exist. It could also be because just about everyone else in their lives was gone.

Friend-wise they were pretty much down to Xander, and Xander had turned into the king of the eternally complaining bad mood. He complained about talking to Anya. He complained about not talking to Anya. He complained about not enough work then about too much. He complained about the X-Files killing off the Lone Gunmen, the new timeslot for Farscape, and that the Yoda fight was the only decent thing in the new Star Wars. If he complained much more, Dawn was thinking about smacking him. Hard.

She walked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and stared at the contents. Not finding anything appealing, she opened the freezer. Nothing there either--back to the refrigerator. Maybe something new had appeared in the last three seconds. No luck. Conceding defeat, Dawn pulled a glass out of the cabinet and turned on the faucet.

Liquid as red as blood flowed from the tap, and through the window Dawn saw her sister latch the rear gate. "Buffy!"



Chapter Five: What You Can't Take Back

£32.50 for a Sex Pistols' concert.  It seemed awfully capitalist for former anarchists to charge that much for their big reunion.  Or maybe he was just becoming cheap in his middle age.  Giles considered the three tickets spread before him on the coffee table and muttered, "Must be one of the signs of the apocalypse."  The doorbell interrupted his thoughts.

Giles swiftly rose from his couch and opened the door.  A very excited Reginald Claridge burst into his apartment.  "Mr. Giles?  What do you think?"  Reggie had exchanged his tailored suit for a sleeveless leather jacket that did not enhance his non-existent pectoral muscles.  Ripped jeans, gelled hair, and a wide grin completed his ensemble.

Giles's jaw dropped by way of response.

"Mr. Giles, are you sure this is absolutely necessary?"  Lydia Grant hesitantly crossed the threshold.  She was unrecognizable with her jet-black wig, bright red lips, and tight leather skirt.

Giles removed his glasses.  If he couldn't see them, then perhaps he'd manage to suppress his overwhelming urge to giggle.  Of course he shouldn't be laughing at a time like this.  This was serious.  Only one day left and he still hadn't found Spike.  The situation was becoming desperate.  Pulling himself together, Giles managed to reply.  "Yes, Miss Grant.  It is absolutely necessary.  You were the one that suggested that we consider Spike's interests and hobbies."  Giles's mouth twisted as he recalled the short, unpleasant period in which Spike had been his unwanted roommate.  Permanently affixed to his couch, blasting the Sex Pistols and the Ramones at all hours, eating Weetabix mixed with blood, and watching Passions.  =Why didn't I just stake him then?  It would have saved me a lot of trouble . . . and humiliation.=

"I suppose it is a necessary evil," Lydia said, as she daintily adjusted her fishnet stockings.  "As I demonstrated in chapter four of my thesis, William--Spike--has an unusual number of human interests.  In particular, he shows an affinity for music that promulgated an anti-establishment perspective."

"Indeed."   Giles grimaced slightly as Reggie stretched, exposing an expanse of white belly.  "And I suppose we must look the part."

"Blimey, you'll certainly fit right in!" Reggie exclaimed, admiring Giles's white t-shirt, black jeans, and earring.  "You must have been to one of these before."

Giles smiled wistfully, shrugging on a black leather jacket.  "That was a long time ago."



"So what'll it be, Buffy?  The Matrix or Coppola's Dracula?"  Xander held up two videocassettes.

"Gah!" Buffy buried her head in a couch cushion.  "Save me from Gary Oldman and his kabuki scariness."

"Will do." Xander tossed the rejected cassette onto the coffee table and slipped The Matrix into the VCR.  "Neo it is."

Buffy chewed contemplatively on a kernel of microwave popcorn.  Movie night with the Xandman.  Just like old times.

Except it wasn't.

Willow was somewhere in London, eating bad English food and doing the twelve-step thing.  Dawn was at Janice's house, spending the night.  Of course, Anya wasn't there.  Anya was avoiding all-things-Scooby like the plague.  Probably being deserted at the altar had something to do with it.  Plus, there was the issue of Spike shagging.

Spike.  Buffy clutched the couch cushion more tightly.  Spike would have never come to a Scooby movie night.  There was the never-asking-him thing for starters.  But that was totally justified.  Spike didn't play well with others.  On the other hand, Spike did like those dumb soap operas.  Maybe he liked movies too.  Buffy felt a stab of guilt.  She'd never really found out what Spike liked . . . outside the bedroom.

No point in dwelling.  He was gone.  Buffy absentmindedly popped another piece of popcorn in her mouth, shaking off her melancholia.  "Do you want something to drink, Xander?  I've got Coke, I think.  No water though, 'cause it's sorta blood colored at the moment."

"Coke is fine, Buffy.  Have you heard anything about what's causing the H2O weirdness?"

"Nada.  Maybe it's just regular old toxic waste."

Xander laughed, crossing his fingers.  "Here's hopin'!"

Buffy rose from the couch and headed for the kitchen.  "One Coke, coming up."

Xander followed her.  "Hellmouth's been quiet lately, hasn't it?"

"I suppose.  Not much slayage since Willow . . ."

"Yeah," Xander nodded.  "I wonder how Willow's doing?  I haven't heard anything from her or Giles."

"Me neither."  Buffy opened the refrigerator and removed the two-liter.   "I'm sure they're OK.  Probably just busy."

Buffy felt Xander's eyes on her as she poured equal amounts of Coke into two tall glasses.  "What?"

"Um," Xander fidgeted, "Speaking of those who no longer talk to us, have you heard anything about Anya?"

"No," Buffy shook her head.  "I've been working double shifts at the Doublemeat, so I haven't been by the Magic Box lately."  She handed a glass to Xander.  "Why don't you just call her?"

Xander smiled sardonically.  "I dunno.  Maybe because she betrayed me by sleeping with a soulless thing?"

Buffy sighed.  "She was single, Xander.  You dumped her, remember?"

"But I didn't mean it."

Buffy gazed out the kitchen window at the empty porch.  "Sometimes you do things you can't take back."



Spike took a deep draw on his Guinness.  Guinness, the drink of champions.  Guinness, the drink of the truly drunk.  The pub was empty tonight, save Spike and a passed-out bloke with orange hair.  Loud music blared from the speakers for the benefit of two patrons who didn't care or were too unconscious to listen.  Blurrily, Spike ordered another drink from the barkeeper, Emma's replacement.  "Another round for me, and, well, for me."

The barkeeper considered Spike with sympathy.  "You wanting to get totally pissed, mate?"

"Already there."  Spike considered a torn, faded poster on the wall.  "Never Mind the Bollocks" it declared.  His vision blurred.  He blinked hard, washing down the lump in his throat with another drag of Guinness.

Barkeeper shrugged.  "Suit yourself.  Loo's in back.  Make sure you use it.  I don't fancy cleaning up your mess."

Spike nodded and gulped down another swig of alcohol.  Guinness, the drink of oblivion.  Guinness, the drink of not having to remember another life destroyed.  Guinness, the drink of forgetting Emma.



Soft sheets, lightly scented with apricots and cinnamon.  Tara.  Willow traced her finger over her lover's collarbone, inhaling deeply.  "So, baby" Willow began, snuggling into the comfortable crook of Tara's arm, "what should we do today?"

Tara laughed gently.  "I dunno.  Should we be really ambitious and think about leaving the bedroom?"

Willow kissed her softly.  "I don't know about you, but I'm not feeling very ambitious."  She deepened the kiss, her mouth moving gently against Tara's lips, soft, wet . . . too wet.  And they tasted . . .

Of blood.

Panicked, Willow pulled back from the kiss.  There was blood on the sheets, blood on her mouth, blood on her hands.

She looked down.  It wasn't Tara.  Warren smiled at her, skinless, horrible, defiling her bed.  "Miss me?"

Willow bolted upright, breathing hard.  Nothing.  Darkness.  Shaken, she checked the pillow next to her.  No one was there.  Tara wasn't there.  Warren wasn't there.  She was alone.

Pulling on her robe with shaking hands, she moved to the window of the small room.  Outside a street lamp illuminated posh row houses.  No cars passed.  Suddenly Willow felt terribly alone.  But perhaps she deserved it.

After all, she couldn't take back what she'd done.  She couldn't bring Warren back to life.  Even worse, part of her didn't want to.  He'd killed Tara.

With tear-clouded vision, Willow looked up at the sky.  The stars were mostly obscured by the glare of artificial city light.  =What am I going to do?=

Out the silence, the answer came.   Willow didn't know where it came from--her subconscious, Tara, God, whatever.  But nevertheless, the answer was there.  =Live.=



Giles and his companions had endured a particularly horrible train ride from Victoria to Crystal Palace. The train was late, crowded, and generally unpleasant, and Lydia and Reggie's costume choices had earned them snickers and mocking glares from their fellow riders.  With five minutes to spare, they rushed towards the auditorium, Lydia limping in her three-inch heels and Reggie, flushed and gasping in his leather.  Presenting their tickets to a smirking, heavily-tatooed man at the gate, they hurried inside.

It was packed, chock-a-block full.  The scent of unwashed bodies, the rainbow of hair colors, the oppressive heat.  The music blared from huge speakers: loud, subversive, offensive, vibrating through every nerve.

"We're never going to find him in here," Reggie yelled, trying to make himself heard over the music.

Giles considered the sea of leather and multi-colored hair before him.  "You're probably right."

Lydia pursed her lips impatiently.  "This is precisely the kind of place that Spike would come.  He'd feel comfortable here.  Perhaps we'd increase our chances of finding him if we each take a different section of the auditorium."

"I'll take the front," Reggie volunteered.

"Very well.  I'll look back here," Giles assented, nodding towards the rear seats.  "Why don't you look in the middle, Lydia?  We can meet outside after the concert to compare results."

"Brilliant," Reggie exclaimed, straightening his leather vest.  Accidentally, he elbowed a rather beefy-looking man, who was trying to make his way to his seat.  "Oi, you! Watch where you're goin'"

"Sorry . . . mate.  I was just . . ."

The man cackled.  "Never mind, lad.  You just gave me a right good laugh."



Buffy turned off the VCR and gathered up the spent candy wrappers.  Xander was still eating like a horse.  He certainly didn't need the additional calories, but ever since the end-of-the-world debacle he'd transferred one bad habit--the drinking--into another compulsion--the eating.  Of course, Xander had always eaten under stress and it wasn't as bad as the drinking and . . .

=I'm making excuses for him again.=  Buffy smiled ruefully and tossed the remnants of Scoobie movie night (the pathetic edition) into the trashcan.  She liked The Matrix OK, but Neo's black leather duster made her think of another black leather duster, hidden in her bedroom in the back of her closet, behind some shoe boxes, and her old toys, and other unimportant . . . stuff.  She had put it there after that--night--assuming that at some point he would come back to retrieve it.

But months had passed and he had never come back.  Maybe she should get rid of it.  After all, she didn't have very many good memories about that duster, or the man--the thing--that wore it.  Violently, she re-arranged the cushions on the couch.  "Don't know why I kept the stupid coat anyway."

She turned off the living room light and slowly made her way upstairs.  When she had first come back she had descended those stairs, fragile, broken.  He had looked at her with such caring and compassion.  He had been so gentle when he took her hands and had understood her pain.

What made things go so terribly wrong?

"There's nothing good in you!  You're dead inside."  Her own words echoed in her mind as she flopped on her bed.  She wouldn't sleep very well tonight.



I Am An Anti-Christ
I Am An Anarchist,
Don't Know What I Want
But I Know How To Get It.

Johnny Rotten looked older.  There was no doubt about it.  But he was defiant and apparently still very angry.  Demonically smiling, he gave the two-fingered salute as he kicked an over-eager fan who had tried to clamber on stage.  Giles smiled wistfully, listening to the lyrics. Twenty-five years, and the music still made him remember . . .

"Oi!  Ripper!"  A leather-clad man with a safety pin through his nose and semi-bleached hair strode over, radiating confidence.

"Ethan!" Ripper embraced his friend, yelling above the music.  "Great party."

"Yeah."  Ethan considered him slyly.  "So, you still in for later?"

"Abso-fucking-lutely.  Wouldn't miss it."  Ripper smiled dangerously, halfway between a leer and a full-out grin.

"Good, good.  Enjoy yourself.  I'll see you at midnight."

Don't Be Told What You Want
Don't Be Told What You Need.
There's No Future
There's No Future
There's No Future For You .

Five 'til midnight.  Randall, Ethan, Deidre, Phillip.  The core gang was there along with a neatly-drawn pentagram. Incense wafted.  Candles flared.

This was going to be fun.  Ripper remembered the last time.  The power as Eyghon took control of his body was unbelievable.  And the sex . . .

He grasped Deidre's hand and kissed it.  "Almost time, pet."

She kissed him, hard.  "Almost time."

Randall laughed.  "Patience, Ripper.  It's not your turn this time."  He tore Deirde's hand away and spun her to him.  "It's mine."  Hungrily, he pressed his lips to hers.

Ethan smirked.  "Break it up, children.  It's time for the festivities to begin."

Ripper smiled.  Watching was fun.

Randall's face pulsated as the demon possessed him.

=No future, no future for you.=

Ethan turned up the Sex Pistols album and spun Deidre around, screaming with debauched abandon.

Randall smirked, full of power, and grabbed Deidre by the hair.  "Bitch."  He smacked her.

Blood trickled from a newly-formed cut above her eyebrow.  Randall licked it off slowly, with excruciating precision.  Viciously he bit her lip, drawing more blood.

"Ow," Deidre cried out.  "Stop it, Randall, you're hurting me."

"Isn't that the point?"  Randall hit her harder, and Deidre slammed into the wall, losing consciousness.

"Wait a bloody minute!"  Ripper looked at Ethan, who was busily snorting a line of coke from a rubbish-strewn coffee table.  "Ethan, we've got to do something!  He's really hurting her."

Ethan shrugged.  "Just a little foreplay."

Ripper shook his head.  "That isn't foreplay, Ethan.  Where's the incantation?  I want to send the demon back."

Randall, eyes glowing, addressed Ripper sweetly.  "But, my dear, I don't want to go back."  With superhuman speed he grasped Ripper's neck in a vice-like hold.

Ripper felt his life ebbing away.  "Do it, Ethan, do it."

Ethan laughed.  "Come on, Ripper.  Can't you do better than that?"

Ripper turned purple, but managed to chant a few words beneath his breath.  "Back to the depths, oh Eyghon, destroyer and despoiler.  I shun thee and thy ways."

The demon laughed.

Suddenly, Ethan brought down a sturdy cherry wood chair on Randall's head.  The demon whirled and staggered, letting go of Ripper's throat.  Sneering, it headed for its new antagonist.

"Ripper, DO SOMETHING." Ethan screamed, his self-preservation instinct finally kicking in.

Ripper grabbed a long knife from a nearby table and plunged it into the demon's--into his friend's back.

Randall spun around, wailing in pain.  "How could you, Giles?  How could you do this?"  Blood began to drip onto the floor.

"Randall, is that you?"  Ripper dropped the knife.  "Are you back?"

Randall slumped to the floor.  "Ripper?  Ethan?  Oh God, I'm going to die!"  Blood-flecked spittle stained his mouth.  Unbelieving, he looked at his friends. Randall slumped to the floor, eyes wide and unseeing.  He was dead.  And Ripper had killed him.



Reggie relished the noise, the excitement, the sheer madness of it all.  It was unlike anything he'd ever experienced before.

Of course, he hadn't experienced much.

When Spike had deposited Willow Rosenberg on the steps of the Watcher's Council, Reggie's life had suddenly blossomed with the excitement and intrigue he'd been craving.  He'd seen a real vampire and a Nayr Sprite and all sorts of trolls and demons.

And now he was experiencing another life form all together.  Scanning this crowd for Spike was like looking for a needle in a haystack!  They all looked alike.

"Watch where you're going, you bastard!"  A surly-looking man with a pierced eyebrow considered him menacingly.  Reggie promptly removed his dress shoe (damn he knew he'd forgotten something!) from the man's boot-clad foot.

"Dreadfully sorry!  I really didn't mean it."

The behemoth cracked his knuckles.  "Whaddaya think, Simon?  We could take this one."

His companion snorted.  "Hardly worth it, Tony."  Derisively he fingered Reggie's leather vest.  "This one looks like easy pickings."

Tony's voice took on a mocking tone.  "If Spike were here, he'd help me."

Reggie's eyes bulged.  "Excuse me, sir.  Did you say Spike?"

Tony glared.  "Yeah, what of it?"

"I'm looking for a Spike, actually."

Simon grabbed his crouch and gestured lewdly.  "Got one right here, you wanker."

Reggie blushed.  "No, not that kind of spike.  My Spike . . ." Reggie paused, considering how to describe the vampire.  "He's got, um, peroxided hair . . . well, at least it used to be blond . . . his roots are showing now, and he's rather short and has an acute . . . um . . . sun allergy, and he likes Weetabix and spicy chicken wings."

Tony sneered.

"Do you know him? Is he about?"

"No," Simon guffawed, "your friend Spikey can't come out to play.  Now piss off."  Roughly he pushed Reggie back.

"I'm afraid I can't do that."  Reggie's jaw took on a determined cast as he clutched the crucifix that he'd had the foresight to put in his pocket.  One never knew what sort of dangers one might encounter in the field.  These ruffians, if they were friends of Spike's, could be one of the legions of the undead, determined to kill and maim, to reign in terror over all of humanity!  It really paid to take precautions.

Tony's eyes narrowed.  "What are you?  A copper?"

Reggie shook his head.  "No!  Absolutely not!  I hate those . . . sort of people."  Desperately, he tried a different tack.  "Look, I really need to talk to Spike. It's urgent."

Tony continued to look skeptical and crossed his arms.

"He's my . . ." Reggie cast about for a plausible excuse.  "He's my brother!"

Simon considered Reggie.  "He's a bit plump, Tony, but he might just be related."

Tony nodded.  "Alright, lad."  He pounded Reggie on the back, a bit too hard for comfort.  "Spike didn't feel like comin' to the concert tonight.  As far as I know, he's at the Dog and Bear."

Reggie's brow furrowed.

"It's a pub, you nitwit!  In Soho."

"Right," Reggie smiled brightly.  "I knew that!



Giles neatly avoided a wino as he negotiated the uneven cobblestones.  =Dog and Bear.  Dog and Bear.=  Looking up, he noticed the brightly painted sign: a bear with a poodle in its mouth.

"Must be the place." Giles smiled, the first time since the concert.  The Sex Pistols brought back too many memories, none of them good.  But at least Reggie--Reggie of all people!!--had managed to discover Spike's location.  Giles narrowly avoided a broken bottle and pushed the door open.

The orange-haired patron glanced up from his inebriated stupor.  The barkeeper stopped polishing a glass.  But the person Giles was looking for seemed oblivious to his presence.  Spike continued to examine his drink, as if all the answers in the world were contained in his half-empty glass of Guinness.  Without looking up, he addressed Giles.  "Do come in," he slurred, gesturing expansively.  "You're just in time to see me pass out."

Giles gazed at the vampire in shock.  Spike looked horrible.  His hair was shaggy and unkempt, with brown roots peeking through.  Dark circles rimmed his hooded eyes.  His cheekbones were even more pronounced than usual, and the hand that grasped his drink was almost skeletal.  It looked as if he hadn't fed for a very long time.

But what was even more disturbing was Spike's demeanor.  It was if he didn't care . . . about anything.  When he was drunk, the vampire usually turned annoyingly loquacious, tearfully rambling on about love and passion and all manner of nonsense.  This Spike just seemed . . . defeated.

The bartender rolled his eyes.  "What will you have?"

"Scotch, straight."  Giles slapped a crisp ten-pound note on the counter.  "And a coffee for my friend."

Spike rose his glass.  "Don't listen to him.  Make it another Guinness."

"So one scotch and one coffee."  The bartender poured the drinks as the two men watched in less-than-companionable silence.

Finally Spike turned, considering Giles with bloodshot eyes.  "So, what brings you here, Rupert . . . and in such an intriguing costume.  Leather?  An earring?   Mid-life crisis?  The witch gone missing again?"

Giles shook his head.  "Why are you in London, Spike?"

"I'm English, you stupid git."

Giles sighed, exasperated.  This was going to be difficult.  "Why did you help Willow?"

Spike smirked.  "Wouldn't you like to know?"

"I would, actually."  Giles examined him closely.  "Something is different about you."

Spike laughed.  "Everything's exactly the same.  I'm still killing people, Rupert."

"The chip?" Giles fingered the stake in his pocket.

"No," Spike took a final gulp of Guinness.  "The chip's still perfectly operational, captain."

"Then how?"

Spike's mouth twisted.  "Sometimes the past comes back to bite you in the arse."

Giles took a deep drink of his Scotch.  "I know what you mean."

"I could say it's been great seeing you, Rupes, but I'd be lying."  Spike unsteadily rose to his feet.  "If you don't need anything else, I'll be toddling off."

Giles grasped Spike's arm.  He could feel the bone protruding underneath.  "Wait, Spike.  I do have something important to ask you."

"You?  Needin' the opinion of an evil vampire?  That's rich."

Giles shook his head.  "I need you to *do* something."

Spike's eyebrow twitched.  "Does this something involve money?"

"No," Giles paused, taking another sip of Scotch, "but it involves blackmail."

"Really, Rupert," Spike dramatically pressed his hand to his breast, "I didn't think you were capable of such things.  I'm shocked!"

"It's not me," Giles averred.  "It's those punters at the Council.  If I don't bring you back to Headquarters then they'll toss Willow out."

Giles watched for a reaction.  Concern flickered across Spike's face.  Spike may not give a toss about the rest of the human race, but Giles knew the vampire cared about Buffy and her friends.  It was pathetic really, considering how they reviled him.  Giles almost felt sorry for Spike.  Almost.  Pressing his advantage, he continued. "I know you care about Willow.  You know how dependent she's become on black magic.  Her only hope is with the Wiccans on staff at Headquarters.  They can cleanse the dark magic from her system and repair her soul."

"Repair it?  Interesting word choice, Rupes.  What's the going rate for that?"

"Will you help?"

Spike took a sip of coffee.  "What will those wankers do to me if I come?  Poking?  Prodding?  A spot of torture?"

Giles shrugged.  "Honestly, I don't know.  Lydia Grant--the female watcher who wrote her thesis on you--wants to interview you.  Her motives are pure enough.  She just wants to know more about vampires."

"I might give the poor bird nightmares."

Giles removed his glasses, cleaning them on his t-shirt.  "I'm not sure about Travers, though.  He seemed over-eager to get you in his clutches."

Spike swallowed a gulp of coffee.  "The witch . . . she'll die if I don't help, won't she?"

Giles nodded.  ""If the Council discontinues her treatment, she'll almost certainly kill herself."

"I don't need another dead woman on my conscience."  Spike sighed heavily.  "Right, Rupert.  I'll agree on one condition."

Giles gaped.  =Conscience?  What was Spike blathering on about?  Was he delusional?=  Recovering slightly, he managed to respond.  "What do you want?"

"Lurk about when I do the Louis thing."  Spike leered, a pale imitation of his former bravado.  "I wouldn't want Miss Grant to take advantage of me."



Chapter Six: Ouroborus and Macchiavelli

Spike paced up and down the sidewalk.  He was only a block and a half away from the Council, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn the corner.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t made his decision.  He was going to go.  He had to go.  He’d given his word as a gentleman-—

=Bugger!=  Had he just thought that?

Spike stopped pacing and raked his hand through his newly cropped and bleached hair.

Yes, he had thought that.

Spike rolled his eyes.  =Bloody hell.=

That’s what a conscience did for you--made you ignore your survival instincts, talked you into walking into a lion’s den because it was the 'right thing to do.'  It was bloody stupid.  A vampire trusting the Council was stupid. Traditionally, what the Council wanted was a vampire’s dusty death.  And if the Council wanted something *other* than his death, Spike suspected it would resemble Captain Cardboard’s Dr. Mengele medical experiments.   He’d have to be insane to walk into something like that.

Then again, there was nothing the Council could do to him that he didn’t deserve. A killer with a survival instinct was an obscenity.  After all the lives he had taken, what right did he have to preserve his own life at another’s expense? And Rupert had been quite clear about the threats the Council had made in regards to Red.

=Oh bugger it all to hell.=  Spike had been many things in his existence, but he’d never been a coward.  He turned the corner.



"I won’t allow you to harm him."

Quentin Travers looked to find Rupert Giles standing in his office doorway.  Surreptitiously, Travers moved a stack of papers over the parchment lying unfurled in the center of his desk. He clasped his hands together and gazed at Giles in a suitably attentive manner.  "Is there something I can do for you, Rupert?  Some fear you wish me to assuage?"

"Don’t be coy.  It’s annoying."

Travers indicated the chair in front of his desk.  "Do come in.  Sit down."

Giles entered the room but did not sit.  Travers respected the tactics of such a move. His own seat behind the desk was a power position.  By refusing to sit, Giles was refusing a subservient posture.

"Quentin, I am uncertain of your ulterior motives in this matter, but you clearly have them," Giles stated.  "I do not know why you were so quick to agree to Lydia’s suggestion, but I will tell you that I will not allow you to harm Spike."

"Are you protecting the vampires now?  Have you changed allegiances?"

Giles’s gaze narrowed behind his glasses. "Don’t be ridiculous.  I simply have good manners.  You do not harm creatures who are trying to help you.  It is unpardonably rude."

"Help?  Rupert, you do remember we are discussing a vampire."

"Nevertheless, whatever Spike’s-—" Giles paused "--deficiencies, he is coming here at our request.  He chose to do so of his own free will.  And as long as he poses no threat, I will not see him abused."

"He has the blood of countless men on his hands. Does that mean nothing to you?"

"I am neither naive nor a fool.   Stop behaving as though I am.  Whatever Spike’s moral status, we do *not* harm creatures who cannot defend themselves and who are not a menace to society. We are not bullies, nor are we God.   If Spike needs to be killed because he is a danger those around him, we will kill him.  But we do not ask for his help, request his trust, then harm him.  It is not a matter of his moral status but ours."

Travers scratched his chin.  "And if I agree to this request?"

"This is no request, and there is nothing to agree to.  This is the way things are.  Accept it."

Knowing it would do no good to lose his temper, Travers slowly counted to ten as Giles left the room.  First and foremost, Travers needed to stay in control.  The head of the Council always needed to be in control.   Rupert Giles didn’t fully comprehend that fact.

Travers pushed aside ordinary business papers to uncover the aged, yellowed parchment he had stretched across his desk. It wasn’t the original document.  It was a twelfth-century translation of an ancient Philistine scroll that was locked in the Council’s secret vault.  Travers had seen the original manuscript, but as far as he knew, he was the only living soul who had.  It contained the Council’s most guarded secret.  A secret that the head of the Council was sworn to protect at all costs.

Travers pushed his chair away from his desk, stood and crossed the room to stare at the garden below.  A copy of Macchiavelli’s 'Il  Principe' sat on the table next to the window.  He had been re-reading it recently and had decided the Italian thinker had been unfairly demonized.  Macchiavelli had not been a villain but a pragmatist.  A ruler’s task was to survive in the face of harsh realities.  In order to succeed, rule must be absolute and ruthless.  Any means were justified to maintain authority.  This had been the credo of Travers's career.  How could a field Watcher such as Rupert Giles ever understand?

A field Watcher had the luxury of affection.  He had only one charge—-his Slayer-—and one goal—-to save the world.  The head of the Council had a far more difficult task.  He had to preserve the future and the unity of the organization.  He had to be careful.

Unwillingly Travers's gaze drifted to the illuminated parchment. Depicted on the upper left hand corner was a dragon biting its own tail, devouring itself. It was an ouroborus, a symbol common to many cultures.  Sometimes it was a dragon.  Sometimes it was a snake.  In Hindu texts the dragon circled a tortoise which supported four elephants which formed the foundation of the world.  Many meanings were attributed to the symbol.  Some believed it to represent the gateway between this universe and the absolute.  Some interpreted it as the relentless onslaught of entropy, and others saw it as an island in the river of time.  In this manuscript it meant destruction and death.  It meant the end of the world. . .which was the crux of Travers's problem.

His job was to protect the Council and its secrets at all costs, but there would be no Council to protect if this truly was the end of the world.  And what if he revealed what was in the scroll?  What if he broke his oath to keep the secret and the world survived but the Council did not?

There had to be another way.  There had to be a way to bring pertinent information to light without resorting to the scroll and its secrets.

A knock on the door caused Travers to cover the parchment again.  "Come in."

Alex Kingsley opened the door.  "The vampire is here," the young Watcher announced with a curious mixture of interest and distaste.  "He’s downstairs."

"I will be along in a moment."

Once alone, Travers carefully returned the parchment to his personal safe.  It had been uncannily fortuitous that Lydia Grant had requested permission to interview this particular vampire.  She had stumbled upon a possible solution to Travers’s problem.



"Ew!"  The disgust in Dawn’s voice only partially reflected the disgust on her face, which was vividly expressed with a scrunched nose and curled lip. She stared at the dark crimson slime lining the walls of the sewer.

Buffy aimed her flashlight at her sister and said impatiently,  "Dawnie, if you want to come on patrol you can’t complain about every little—"  Her foot slid in red muck as the broadsword she carried clattered to the ground. "—ew!"

"See!" Dawn caught up to Buffy and Xander who had been several yards ahead of her.   "I’m am *so* not a wuss.  It’s just icky down here." She waved her hand under her nose.    "And rank."

Xander nodded. "I’m gonna side with the Dawnster on this one.  Icky and rank  plus ‘ew,’ ‘gross,’ and remind me again why we’re doing this?"

Buffy picked up her sword and gazed at her friend with disbelief. "Uh, hello! Blood red water usually rates on the ‘gee, what’s that about’ scale."

"Oh, I’m all up on the Biblical ickiness," Xander assured her.  "But shouldn’t we be looking where the water comes from not where it goes to?"

Dawn nodded eagerly.  "Right, we should be at a water treatment plant or reservoir or something.  I’m voting for a reservoir. Then we could have swimsuits and sunblock, and work on those summer tan lines."

Buffy asked, "And when has evil ever come from a reservoir? Gotta look in the stinky, yucky places for the—"  Something scurried across the beam of light cast by her flashlight.  "What’s that?"

"What’s what?"  The light from Xander’s flashlight bounced wildly across the walls.

"There, that."  She grabbed Xander's hand and aimed his flashlight. Whatever it was jumped back into the darkness.  "Ugh!  Where did it go?"

There was a wet, smacking sound as it ran across the muck, and Buffy decided she'd willingly to sacrifice her DMP paycheck to see what it was.  She felt a hand twisting the back of her shirt.

"Buffy?"  Dawn said anxiously.

"Wait! There!" Buffy aimed her light down the pitch-black passageway to illuminate a moist-skinned, foot-and-a-half-high creature.

Xander said, "Looks like a gremlin."

Buffy frowned.  "Gremlin like the Spielberg movie or Gremlin like something Giles would look up in a book?"

"Like Spielberg." His gaze never left the monster.

Buffy tilted her head slightly to one side.  "Really?  ‘Cause I’m thinking it looks more like the little dinosaur that spit on Newman, the Seinfeld guy, in Jurassic Park—-only without the multi-colored fan thing, the spit. . .or the Seinfeld guy."

Dawn’s jaw dropped.  "You’re kidding, right?  You’ve got to be kidding."  She swiveled her own flashlight in the direction of the green-tinged demon standing in a puddle of dark crimson slime.  "He’s an evil Kermit the frog!"

"How do you know it’s evi—-"

Dawn’s screamed as the creature launched itself into the air.   "Kill it!" she cried as it landed near her feet. "Kill it now!"

Buffy pushed her sister out of the way as the demon again hurtled itself, spread eagled, toward Dawn.

"Evil," Xander said breathlessly.   "Definitely evil."

Dawn hit the ground and skidded across the slime.  Even Buffy lost her balance, slipping, then regaining her footing.  "But it’s so little," she said.  "I could kill it like--" Buffy sliced off the creature’s head with a single stroke of her broadsword.  "—that."  Buffy looked at Dawn and Xander.  "That was sort of easy."

Dawn examined her hands and shirt.  She was completely covered in the blood-colored ooze. "This is never coming out." She looked at the headless green corpse then at her sister.  "Easy is good, right?

"Of course it is."

Xander frowned.  "Um. . .maybe not."

Buffy turned to see the decapitated demon growing a new head. . .a meaner-looking one.

Xander backed away.  "That’s not good."

"Why didn’t cutting off its head kill it?" Buffy asked.

"Maybe we should worry about that later."

"Buffy. . ." Dawn said anxiously.

"Think about it when, Xander?  We need to kill it now."

"Buffy. . . "

Xander looked at Buffy.  "Okay, we need to kill it.  Any idea how?"

"We could set if on fire. Got a match or lighter?"

"Yeah, sure. 'Cause I carry those around for all the cigarettes I don't smoke."

"Buffy!" Dawn cried.

"What?"

"It brought friends."

Buffy became aware of the thousand iridescent points of light glittering in the darkness, little green-gold eyes blinking at them.

"Crap!"  Xander swore.  "They’re everywhere."

In a way, it was pretty, like twinkling Christmas lights.  It even had a nice glittery effect on the slime.  But the pretty factor was mostly nixed by the spooky 'I think they want to kill us' vibe.

"Now what?" Dawn asked as the Evil Kermit with the brand new head started chattering. It was a high-pitched staccato sound.  Dawn clapped her hands over her ears as Buffy longed for ear plugs.  Unfortunately -- damn, Slayer duty!--  she was stuck holding a dumb sword. When the Evil Kermit moved, Buffy lunged, stabbing it through the center of its little chest.  It gave an unearthly scream of pain, but when Buffy pulled her sword free the thing stood there unharmed.  It even looked kind of amused.

"Crap," Xander said again as the blinking creatures in the darkness also started making the deafening sound.

Dawn swallowed.  "What are we gonna do?"

The chattering grew louder and closer as Buffy touched her sister’s shoulder in a vain effort to comfort her.  "I don’t know."

"I know," Xander said as the noise reached an eardrum bursting decibel.  "There’s only one thing to do."

"What’s that?"

"Duh. Run!"

Chattering and hissing, the creatures attacked as Buffy, Xander, and Dawn careened down the passageway. The little monsters were everywhere, and the ear-splitting sound was enough to make heads pound, eyesight go blurry, and inner ears feel like they were being stabbed with ice picks.

"This is *so* not good. Not good at all," Xander chanted as they rounded a corner.

"Where are we going?" Buffy asked.

Dawn warned, "They’re gaining on us."

Xander glanced back.  "Look at that.  It’s CGI madness.  Looks like the beetle swarm in The Mummy."

"Uh. . .yeah. . .only  it’s evil Kermits. We've got to get out of here."

Buffy stopped running and took several swipes at the demons with her sword. She decapitated at least a half a dozen of them.  Blood splattered against the wall, mingling indistinguishably with the sewer slime.

"That only slows them down, Buff," Xander protested.

"You prefer they eat you faster?"

Dawn interrupted, "Here’s a thought. You’re the Slayer. *Kill* them!"

"I don’t know how!"

"Quick! In here!"  Xander ducked into six-foot-high pipe shooting off the main passageway.  Buffy and Dawn followed, and he closed the grate behind them.

Dawn leaned against the wall and tried to catch her breath. "How can you not know how to kill them?"

"Decapitating, skewering, poking with a stick, this I know.  Anything more complicated—"

"Was Giles’s job." Xander doubled over panting.

Buffy admitted, "I was never big with the knowledge and research."

"Me neither."

Dawn blinked.  "So you’re saying we’re screwed."

Buffy hated to confess the awful truth. "We don’t know how to kill them."

"We’re screwed."  Dawn closed her eyes and sighed.  "What we need are smart people."



"I am not Louis," Spike protested as he looked at the array of faces surrounding him.  The bird interviewing him was nice enough, and Rupes and Will were familiar faces-—although Spike was a bit surprised the Council allowed Willow to be out and about--but the half-dozen strangers in the Council’s library stared at him with cold eyes and treated him like a snake in the reptile house at the zoo.   "Louis was a whining, moaning, brooding wanker.  If I have to be compared to a character in that loony bint’s books then at least make it Lestat."  He crossed his arms and gave a good impression of a pout.  "The poofter can be Louis.

Lydia adjusted her glasses.  "So, you have read the books."

Spike eyed her suspiciously.  "Yeah. What of it?  Lot of time to kill during the day.  I have sunlight issues, you know."

"It has been widely speculated that you are illiterate."

"What?!"  Spike felt outraged.  He had attended Charterhouse and Cambridge. . .or at least, William had.  But he was William. . .wasn't he?  Bloody hell, he wasn't sure who he was any more.

"Oh, yes." Lydia nodded.  "I am afraid so.  In some of our texts it is theorized that as a human you were a Dickensian Artful Dodger-type-—unschooled except by the streets and very possibly a killer even before your transfiguration."

"Unschooled?  Illiterate?"  Spike fixated on this point.  Either his underlying persona or the translucent overlay of William’s soul was deeply offended.  Spike stood and paced the length of the library.  Watchers scattered out of his way like pigeons on a sidewalk.  "If I am so bloody ignorant, how did I translate the texts to resurrect the Judge?"

Lydia looked flustered.  "I. . .uh. . .believe you had a minion by the name of-—"

"Dalton?! Debase-the-beef-canoe Dalton?  His Latin wasn’t worth sh-—um... it was lousy."  Spike collapsed into the chair on the opposite side of the library table from Lydia.  "Although it wasn’t truly Latin.  It was a demonic derivative."

Giles, who sat at the head of the table, coughed.  "I believe I can verify that Spike is not illiterate, though he frequently exhibits abysmal taste in reading material."  Giles addressed Lydia and the other observers.  "I can testify that Spike has an impressive knowledge of Shakespeare and Donne and can read Latin." Giles looked at Spike.  "When you sought the general reversal spell for Willow’s ‘Will Be Done’ mishap, you referenced my Latin texts."  Giles focused on Lydia.  "I have also found Spike to be conversant in Fyarl, French, Italian, and Spanish—-though sadly that last discovery was due to Spike’s penchant for watching soap operas on Spanish Univision."

Spike nodded.  "Right.  Not illiterate."  He didn’t add that he could also read Greek and speak conversational German, Nyar, Farquart, and Trombli.

Lydia looked almost smug as she peeked up at Alex Kingsley.  "I theorized as much in chapter five of my thesis."  Kingsley huffed and walked to the back of the room to stare out the window as Lydia folded her hands and returned her attention to Spike.  "Is there anything else you can tell us about your human existence?"

"No, there bloody well is not.  What does it matter?  I thought Council dogma said I never was human.  I’m what killed this body."

Spike had always thought the Council were wankers for believing such rubbish.  How could he have killed William when he was William?  The only life he remembered was William’s. The memories hadn’t come with the soul. They were *his,* his thoughts and knowledge, his weaknesses and desires. What William had felt, he felt. And what was he if not the sum of his thoughts and emotions?

The only difference that Spike felt was that prior to the return of his soul, he had lacked William’s conscience. The only difference William had felt after Dru had turned him had been surcease of embarrassment and shame.  But surely there was more.  There had to be something more. Spike couldn't name what it was, but it had to exist. . .didn't it?  There had to be more to a man than his regrets and remorse.  There had to be more to William and to Spike than a guilty conscience.

Sitting across the table from Giles, Quentin Travers looked impatient with the growing silence.  "Miss Grant, perhaps you should return to the approved list of questions."

"Oh yes.  Quite." She shuffled through her papers, then adjusted her glasses and looked at Spike.  "Your bloodline."

"What about it?"

She fiddled nervously with one of the papers.  "There seems to be some controversy."

Spike smiled; it was a deliberate, charmer’s smile devoid of any real happiness because he had none.  But he did know how to fake it.  "What do you have there, pet?"

She handed him the document that looked like a diagrammed family tree.  "There is some confusion about your sire."

"No confusion.  It was Drusilla."

"But in some accounts it’s listed as Angelus."

Spike sniffed.  "Angelus liked to consider himself my mentor in the ways of the evil dead. Called him my Yoda once."  Mmm...you will kill this person, you will.  Feel the evil.  Feel it flow through you.

~A real kill, a good kill—it takes artistry.~

Spike had hated the bastard even then. Angelus had counseled targeting innocents and those without protection.  Spike hadn't seen the purpose of it all. If it wasn't about food, the challenge facing down death, or fun...why bother?  Looking back, both Angelus's and his own tactics sickened the person Spike was now.

"Angelus was never my sire," Spike dismissed. "Don’t know how that rumor got started."  He examined the diagrammed family tree.  "It’s very simple.  You have the Master.  Met him once.  He was an annoying pillock. The Master sired Darla.  Darla sired Peaches.  Peaches tortured and killed Dru, drove her mad and turned her into a travesty.  And Dru chose yours truly.  There’s your bloodline."

"What about the Anointed One?" Lydia asked.

"What about him? He toasted quite nicely when I hoisted him into the sun."

"And the Master sired him?"

"None other.  They’re both dust."

"And no one else?"

Spike frowned.  "Excuse me?"  Damn, the prat he used to be kept coming out to play.  He lifted his chin defiantly.  "What are you wantin' to know?"

Lydia’s gaze fell to the table.  She looked intimidated by Spike’s glare.  He felt bad about that.  He softened his voice.  "What do you want to know, luv?"

"Have *you* sired anyone?"

That surprised him.  "Me? No."

Giles looked irritated.  "If you are not going to tell the truth, Spike, this is pointless."

Spike’s ill-fitting conscience balked at being called a liar.  He had always been a bad liar, but now he was actually *bothered* by the thought of lying or being thought a liar.  "And what, pray tell, am I lying about?"  Bloody hell, he even *sounded* like William.

Giles sighed.  "Buffy’s friend, Ford."

"Oh. Him. No, that was Dru.  Pet wanted him for a treat.  Never could deny her anything.  Don’t know what the boy was thinking. Demanding to be turned like that was idiotic. After double-crossing Buffy, did he actually believe she would allow him to walk away?  He was dust even before his heart stopped beating."

"And your various and sundry minions?" Giles asked.

That was a distant memory.  He hadn't had a minion in years.  "Told you.  Dru’s treat.  Look, I realize it’s a technicality.  I usually brought the unfortunates to her.  Not saying I wasn’t responsible, just that *technically* I never sired anyone.  Only one person I ever offered to turn."  He looked at Willow.  "That would be you, Red." =I’m sorry. Truly sorry.= "But you’re sitting here among the living.  I’m no one’s sire."

Spike leaned back in his chair, propping his feet on the highly polished walnut table as a couple of Watchers stared at him with dismay and Quentin Travers watched him with disgust.  Spike smirked.  "Anything else you want to know?"



Lilah caught him looking in her date book. Wesley had been spying, curious, invading her privacy. . .all of the above.

Wesley knew he should feel ashamed.  Ten minutes ago they had been sweaty, naked, and intimate.  His fingertips had traced the line of her spine, feeling the warm velvet of her skin.  Her thighs had pressed against his hips, holding him tightly.  They had shuddered and gazed into each other's eyes--then looked away.  He had rolled off her and silent minutes had passed.  They hadn't touched.

Lilah had been the first to choose to leave. Wesley, who once would have expected Lilah  to be bold, had watched her don her discarded blouse before she rose from the bed to walk into the bathroom. It could have been an action born of modesty, but Wesley suspected it was a symbolic barrier between them.  Their intimacy was only physical.

Lilah had closed the bathroom door behind her, and when Wesley had heard the sound of water running, he had grabbed her briefcase.  He had rummaged through her things searching for. . .

Wesley didn't know what he had hoped to find.  Something.  Anything.  Perhaps it didn’t matter.  Perhaps all he had wanted to do was violate her privacy, betray her non-existent trust.  He had found her datebook and begun turning the pages only to look to find Lilah standing in the bathroom doorway, her slender body clad in an expensive white lace bra and French knickers.

Refusing to be flustered, Wesley adopted an insolent expression. He showed her the ouroborus symbol.  "What’s this?"

She smiled. It was a cool and challenging expression.  "Don’t you know?"

"Ouroborus.  Symbol of light and dark, creation and destruction."

"The end of the world."  Lilah walked into the room, her languorous movements distracting and seductive.  "Wesley, after all these years of looking at dusty scrolls, surely you’ve seen the prophecy of the End of Days."

"A partial one," he conceded.  "I believe we stole it from your law firm.  You remember that, don't you?"

Lilah's expression became remote. "I remember."

"Something of a defeat, wasn't it?"  His hand lightly skimmed up her arm.

"Lost the battle, not the war."  She shrugged.  "Doesn't change anything."

"Mmm. . .after all there are so many prophecies and apocalypses."

"But only one End of Days," she reminded him. "Only one day when the calendar runs out."

Wesley looked at the depiction of a snake swallowing its tail.  "A rather morbid symbol to keep around."

"Keeps me sharp.  Keeps me on my toes."  Lilah threaded her fingers through his hair.  "Reminds me of what’s important."

"What is important?’

"What I want when I want it."  She knelt on the bed, her right calf pressing against the outside of his left thigh.  "Instant gratification."  Her left calf glided against his right thigh.  "Money.  Power.  Prestige."  She straddled him.  "Sex."

"Eat, drink, and merry?"

"Something like that."  Lilah pressed him back against the pillows.

"And what then?"  Wesley rested his hands on her hips.  "What of true value have you gained?"

She laughed.  "You’re thinking like the good guys.  I’m not a good guy."  She nuzzled his neck.  "What will I gain?  I told you.  Money, power."  Her teeth nipped lightly at his earlobe. "Sex," she whispered.

Wesley glanced at the datebook lying open on the bed.  "You can’t take it with you."

"And what can you take with you?"  She tossed the datebook into her open briefcase then settled on his lap, her damp silk knickers rubbing against him.  "Did I ever tell you about Wolfram and Hart's retirement plan?  It’s quite. . ."  She smiled into Wesley's eyes. "Impressive."

He moved his hands from her hips, to her waist, to her rib cage.

She shifted her weight. "There is something to be said about making pacts with the eternal forces of darkness."

Wesley found the clasp of her bra.

The garment fell away as Lilah told him, "Wolfram and Hart employees have nice golden parachute plans with the darker powers."

"Better to rule in hell, I suppose."

"Definitely."

His lips brushed her collar bone. "Mmm-hmm…"

Lilah sat back.  "Don’t be judgmental."

"You don’t honestly believe evil things keep bargains, do you?"  Wesley gripped her waist firmly.  "They don’t honor agreements."  He tossed her over and moved quickly so that he was on top of her.  "Surely someone like you understands that."

"What I understand is that you can’t trust anyone.  Evil things don’t make good friends or keep promises?"  She laughed.  "And the warriors of  light do?   Look at yourself, Wesley.  Where are your do-good friends?  What did trying to save the world and Angel's son do for you?  Did it bring you happiness?  Respect?  Friendship? . . .Love?  Did they keep their promises to you?"

He grabbed her hands and dragged them over her head. "It brought me one thing."

"What?"

"Sex."

Only what was between them wasn't even sex.  It was something else, a guttural four letter word.  A word he had been taught a gentlemen did not use to describe his activities with a lady… only Lilah was no lady, and Wesley no longer considered himself a gentleman.



Chapter Seven: In Need and In Deed

Somewhere behind them in the darkness little Kermit beasts chattered and threw themselves against the steel grate.

"Do you think they'll get through?" Dawn asked.

"No," Xander lied.

"Probably." Buffy sighed.

Dawn was quiet for a moment before lifting her chin. "We'll deal." They continued walking down the passageway though Dawn occasionally glanced over her shoulder. She asked Buffy, "Do you know where we're going?"

"Of course she does," Xander answered.

"Not a clue." Buffy stopped walking, pointed her flashlight in one direction then the exact opposite. "Have we been here before? I feel like we're walking in circles."

"God, I hope not."

Dawn squinted. "Wait a minute." She reached up to touch the red X painted on one of the pipes running overhead. "Hold on." She walked down the passage, paused, then knelt to find a metal handle on a hatch door. Dawn grinned. "I know where we are. If we go this way, we're only about a hundred feet from the basement entrance of the Magic Box."

"How do you know that?" Buffy frowned. "Have you been in these tunnels? Who have you been hanging out with?"

Dawn's and Buffy's gazes locked.

"Oh," Buffy realized. =He-whose-name-cannot-be-mentioned.= She opened the hatch door. "I guess we should get going."

Xander held back and looked up at the ceiling. "Uh...you know, there must be a manhole or something around here."

Buffy could almost feel the little lines forming on her forehead as she gazed at her friend. "Xander, we know the way out."

"Yeah, but there must be another way."

"But, why--"

Dawn rolled her eyes. "Jeez! Get over it, Xander. Anya won't bite your head off. She might wish your head or your. . .erm. . .*whatever* to explode or grow warts and fall off, but I don't think she can grant her own wishes. You're safe."

"I am not afraid of Anya."

Buffy braced her hands on her hips. "Just doing an amazing impression?"

"I just think there has to be another way."

"Okay, look, I understand why you're standing here kicking the gooey-red slime. I understand being less than 'go team!' about running to Anya. But we have a bazillion creepy critters back there wanting us for snacks. We don't know how to kill them. We don't even know what they are. We also have an 1100 year old walking demon encyclopedia a hundred feet away who, given what she did when Willow went all apocalypsy, will probably help us. So, to quote Cher, snap out of it!" She walked through the door, paused and looked back. "Coming with?"

"What makes you think she would even help?" He sounded annoyed and defensive. "We're not super-popular with her."

"Anya helped before. She was angry and hurt and she helped." Buffy's gaze locked with Xander's. "That's what friends do."



God, what he wouldn't give for a fag. Spike hadn't brought any smokes with him. He had figured the Council would frown on that sort of thing, and he'd lost most of his taste for it anyway. But a nicotine buzz would be helpful at the moment.

He paced the Council's garden glad to have escaped the torture session. Who knew that talking about himself could be torture? It hadn't used to be. He had always loved to talk. Of course, no one other than Bit had ever bothered to listen.

Talking to Dawn, and one night of quasi-fictional havering with Buffy had been the extent of his putting his life—-or unlife—-into words. At least it had been until tonight when he’d had to relate it all to strangers. Looking at his existence, examining it, was something of a thankless task. Wish he hadn’t done it. Wish he hadn’t done a lot of things.

"I thought Lestat didn’t brood?"

Spike looked up to find Willow standing in the doorway. Her hair was clean and glowed like burnished copper again. The dark circles under her eyes were gone. She looked better.

"Not brooding," he protested. "Just taking a break and stepping out for a smoke."

Willow arched an eyebrow.

"Only without the smoke." He tilted his head. "Wouldn’t happen to have a fag on you, would you, Red?"

She gave a ghost of her old smile. "Are you trying to corner me into making a gay joke?"

"Not really, but wouldn’t be a bad thought. Lighten the gloom around here."

Willow stepped into the garden, her shoes crunching against the pea gravel path. "Thank you," she said softly.

Spike looked at Willow with shock.

Willow rushed on to say. "I know what the Council told Giles, and . . . and I know you’re helping me." She ducked her head. "And I know I said a lot of. . . things. Mean things." She raked her hand through her hair. "And I know if you hadn’t found me that night, I wouldn’t have crawled out of that gutter."

Spike shrugged and said with self deprecation, "You fall in the gutter, you’re bound to land on something undesireable."

Willow caught his sleeve and stopped Spike from pacing. "I wouldn’t even be alive."

He searched her face as if her expression could reveal some deeper truth. "You mean that?"

She blinked. "Of course, I mean that. You dragged me out-—"

Spike waved his hand as if to erase his last statement. "No. What I mean is, are you okay with being alive? You want it?"

"No more suicidal Willow?"

"Yeah."

Willow didn’t answer immediately. She thought about it. She took so long Spike began to wonder if she was going to answer at all. She found a bench near the roses and sat down. "Pretty much. I think so. Most of the time." She sighed. "Not much of an answer, huh?"

He understood it though. It was more or less what he felt as well.

Willow appeared to look inward as she explained, "I don’t think I want to die. I don’t think I ever *really* did. I just wanted the pain to stop."

"It hasn’t though, has it?" It was too soon and the things that had happened were too awful to go away because they were inconvenient.

"Away? No. But I’m handling it better now. It takes time, I think."

Spike leaned against a tree, picking at its bark. "Yeah."

"Thank you for that. For the time." Willow lifted her gaze to meet his. "You helped me live."

His thoughts swung back Buffy dressed in lavender as she stood in the wreckage of his crypt. ~I can’t love you. I’m just being weak and selfish and it’s killing me.~ Spike swallowed convulsively.

"You helped me," Willow said softly.

He gazed at the young witch, slender and pale, but better than she had been only a week before. Her skin was no longer pasty and sallow. Her eyes no longer. . .dead. Willow was alive and healing. And he had helped her? "Thank you, Red," he said hoarsely.

"Hey, I’m the one making with the overdue thank yous."

"Still, thank you." He sincerely meant it.

"No, thank *you.*"

Spike almost smiled. "Now, we’re headin’ into a Vaudville comedy routine, Pet."

"The Chipped Vampire and the Powered-Down Witch? More fun than a barrel of monkeys."

"They’re not that fun, you know." He pushed away from the tree.

Willow gave him an odd look as she stood.

Spike confessed, "Dru tried to fill a barrel with them once. Got ugly. Nasty little buggers bite."

And to both of their surprise, they laughed.



When working for Wolfram and Hart, one grew used to hearing about the latest plan to destroy the world. Everyone from the sixth floor janitor to the run-of-the-mill M’Fhashnik demon had some overly elaborate plot to bring existence to an end. However, it was also a fact that most of these plans didn’t stand a chance in any hell dimension of succeeding. That suited Lilah just fine. She was quite happy to see the world not end as long as the M’Fashnik paid her retainer fee.

But, as she sat in the middle of a fashionable L.A. restaurant decorated in a dark palette of eggplant, indigo, and burgundy, Lilah felt extremely uncomfortable about the plan she was hearing.

"All of our firm’s resources will be at your disposal," Linwood Murrow, her boss, assured the client.

Gavin, that brownnoser, agreed. "I will personally assist you in any way that I can."

But, as Lilah reviewed the client’s list of requests, her concerns grew. How could Linwood promise to do this?

Lilah looked at the client. He was a handsome man with blond hair, aquiline features and pale blue eyes. She had read Wolfram and Hart’s file on him, but seeing him in human form was a shock. He was not what she expected.

The client checked his watch. "I should be returning to Sunnydale."

Linwood nodded. "Yes, of course. But, first, a toast."

Lilah raised her glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Linwood smiled. It was his scariest expression. "To the end of the world."

"To the end of the world." And the client’s crystal flute clinked against her own. He finished his drink and left the restaurant before Lilah voiced her concerns.

"How can we do this?" she asked.

Gavin smirked. "You wouldn’t be having an ethical crisis would you?"

"Don’t be absurd." She looked at Linwood. "Have you read this list?"

"Why, yes, I have." Linwood refilled his glass.

"And?"

"And what?"

She grew impatient. "And some of his requests are impossible, or have you forgotten that Darla has been dusted? Again."

Linwood sipped his wine with a placid expression. "I haven’t forgotten."

"Then there’s the fact that Angel is in a steel box under the Pacific."

Gavin started laughing. "I’m sorry," he apologized to Linwood. "That never fails to amuse me."

"Yes, you find it amusing, Gavin," Lilah snapped. "*I* find it amusing. But our client seems to want us to produce Angel. And short of hiring the man who found the Titanic, how do we fish a vampire out of the Pacific when we don’t know where he is?"

Linwood signaled the waiter to bring the bill. "You’re worrying over unnecessary details, Lilah."

"Unnecessary details? The list—"

"Isn’t important. Things will fall into place."

She swirled her wine in her glass and sat back in her seat. "How? How can things possibly fall into place? We can’t supply half the things on this list. We can’t resurrect Darla again. We haven’t seen Drusilla since Angel set her on fire-—"

"It will work out," Linwood said emphatically. "If one part is missing, another will arrive to fill its place. It’s all part of the prophecy." He signed the credit card receipt.

"Prophecies can be averted," Lilah insisted. "Or, as we learned with Sahjhan, faked."

"Perhaps certain prophecies can be averted or faked, but this is not just any prophecy. Lilah, we’re talking about the End of Days. The world as we have known it *will* end. It’s a foregone conclusion." He patted her hand in an infuriatingly patronizing manner. "Everything will fall into place."



Chapter Eight: We All Fall Down

Anya glared at the three bedraggled figures emerging from the basement, dripping tunnel goo on her freshly cleaned floor.  She saved a special look of disdain for her former fiancé who--coward that he was--refused to meet her eye.

"What are you three doing here?  The Magic Box is closed for the night."

Officiously, she flicked a pink feather duster across a glass-topped display case, carefully directing bits of detritus in Xander's direction.

Xander coughed, but remained silent.

Obviously uncomfortable, Buffy plunged in.  "Anya, we need your help. There are these demons in the tunnel that look like little kermits and we can't figure out how to kill them and they just keep coming.  We tried everything!"

Anya looked puzzled.  "Kermits?"

Dawn chimed in.  "You know, the Muppet Show?  The little green frog puppet?  Heigh-ho?"

Anya rolled her eyes in response.  "Kermitis demons.  Your Muppet Show wasn't very creative with its choice of names, was it?"

Xander's eyebrows raised in astonishment.  "You mean Jim Henson named his muppets after demons?" Under his breath he confessed, "I always thought the muppets were evil."

"Did you try squishing them?" Anya asked impatiently.

"Huh?"  Buffy asked.  "Just squishing them?  That's it?"

Sighing heavily, Anya plucked a book from one of her revolving display racks.  "Honestly, you're all completely helpless without Giles.  It's right here, in Demonology for Dummies."  Anya handed the black and yellow paperback to Buffy.

Staccato laughter burst from Xander.  "They have a book for everything in that series."

"Yes, well, it would seem to be appropriate for you, Xander, being for . . . dummies and given that you happen to be a person in that . . . category."

Anya flushed.  She was angry and hurt and unable to think of anything to say that would cause him adequate pain.  Sometimes she wished she'd never been human.

Xander ground his teeth.  "I don't know why you hate me so much, Anya.  I was willing to give it another try."

"Oh, maybe it had something to do with you humiliating me in front of everyone and leaving me at the altar."

"Hey," Buffy interrupted with desperate cheeriness, as she pointed to a page in the book.  "Anya was right!  All we have to do is squish the Kermit demons with a heavy object."

"Gee, they even have a handy diagram for squishing."  Dawn peered over Buffy's shoulder and snickered at the little stick figure man in Demonology for Dummies.  In sequential cartoon bubbles, he picked up a heavy sledge hammer, swung the sledge hammer, and brought said sledge hammer soundly down upon a panic-stricken Kermitis demon's head.

Anya plucked the book from Dawn's hand and rang it up on the cash register.  "That will be $9.95.  Will you be paying with cash, check, or credit?"

Dawn gaped.  "We have to buy it?"

"Cash," Buffy interrupted.  "We'll pay for it in cash."

Anya thrust Demonology for Dummies into a bag.  "You and Dawn are welcome to come by any time."  Assiduously, she avoided Xander's eyes as she looked up from her register and gestured towards a metal shelf behind her.  "You may take Olaf's hammer with you.  Just clean it before you bring it back.  And don't bring Xander."

Xander's mouth opened, but no sound emerged.  Anya noted that his eyes looked suspiciously glassy.  That gave her a twinge of bitter satisfaction.

Buffy grasped his hand and opened the door.  "We're leaving now. Thanks, Anya.  We appreciate your help."

Anya nodded and swallowed heavily.  She even managed to hold back her tears until she heard the door close.



Willow emerged from the Council's immaculate Victorian row house and began to search the mix of idle shoppers and upscale residents that mingled on Gloucester Road, looking for a glimpse of silvery blond.  She saw him from a distance.  He looked small, hunched over.  Muttering to himself he emerged from an upscale tobacco shop, pack of Marlboros in hand.

This evening's interview session had not ended well.  Lydia had asked some leading questions about Spike and his relationship to Buffy.  After turning unusually quiet, Spike had tipped over the Council's expensive mahogany table, then stormed off.  Willow had wanted to follow him, and, surprisingly enough, Giles had allowed her to go.  Giles's trust in her steadied her voice as she approached Spike.

"Talking to yourself, Spike?  Not a good sign."  Willow smiled tentatively, pausing in front of the tobacconist's artfully designed display window.

Spike grimaced.  "Just don't like dwelling on the past, that's all."

"And that's all you've been doing since the Council started interviewing you."

"Yeah."  Spike nodded, eyes darting to the side.  He seemed restless, jumpy, every fiber of his being stretched taut.

"Sometimes we have to remember to move on."  Willow watched as he fidgeted, picking a piece of lint from his black sweater.  "Why are you so upset, Spike?  You used to love to talk about yourself."

Spike laughed bitterly.  "That much of a bore, was I?"

"No, I . . ."  Willow flushed with embarrassment.  "I just meant that you used to talk a lot about Dru and . . . other things . . . and . . . well, you kind of seemed pretty nostalgic for the good old days with the killing and maiming."

Spike stepped in between street lamps, artfully obscuring his face in shadow.  When he reached the next pool of light his face was perfectly composed, trademark smirk in place, newly lit cigarette between parted lips.  He shrugged.  "Times change, Red."

Willow brow furrowed with suspicion.  "It's Buffy isn't it?  Is this all still for Buffy?  Are you hoping that I'll tell her how great you've been?  'Cause I don't even talk to her anymore.  Not since . . ."

"Really, Red.  A whole bloody Continent and the Atlantic Ocean besides is between me and the Slayer."  His hand shook as he brought the cigarette to his lips.

"Why are you here, Spike?"  Willow's hand brushed the fabric of his sweater.  It felt rough and cheap--scratchy acrylic.  "Why are you doing this?"

"Had to leave, Willow.  It was time to move on."  He gestured towards the tube station.  "I'm going to Highgate to kill things.  Wanna come?"

"I'm assuming that you mean evil, bumpy things?" Willow grinned.

Spike took a deep breath and patted Willow on the back.  "Come, Red.  White hat stuff.  Promise.  I've heard there's a vamp nest on the prowl there."

Willow felt in her pocket.  She had a few pound coins in change.  "Sure.  I won't be much good with the spells, but I can be pretty mean with a stake."

Spike smiled sardonically.  "Just don't point it in my direction, Red."



Thwack!

Buffy swung Olaf's troll hammer with elan, neatly crushing the skull of a gibbering Kermitis demon.

Sometimes it was good to be the Slayer.

It kind of reminded her of Whack-a-Mole actually.  The little buggers were easy enough to kill once you knew the trick.

=Buggers.  I definitely spent too much time with Spike.=  Unbidden, her stomach twinged as she remembered cuddling with him under his soft oriental rug.  =He really tried to fix his place up, make it a home . . . And then I used explosives.  But that was totally justified!  He was hiding demon eggs!=

Thwack!

Spike, thrusting her down on the cold white tile of the bathroom, porcelain of the bathtub edge hard against her head.  Fighting back, pushing him off.  Then his face: confusion, shock, remorse.

Thwack!

Buffy squished another Kermitis with a satisfying splat.  =Dwelling, Buffy. Stop with the dwelling.=

"Buffy!" Dawn exclaimed, wiping Kermitis goo off her face.  "Watch where you're splatting!"

"Yeah, Buffy," Xander said, bringing a baseball bat down on another chattering Kermitis's head.  "A little less violence in your squishing!"

"Sorry," Buffy grinned sheepishly.  "Good thing Anya told us how to kill them, huh?"  She swung her troll hammer again, taking out three advancing demons at once.  "It's kinda fun isn't it?"

"We would have figured it out without Anya's help.  We didn't have to go to her, you know." Xander lip thrust into a pout as another Kermitis demon fell under his bat.

"Arghh!"  Dawn wiped more goo from her face.  "Xander!  Now you?  I'm definitely doing a facial when I get home."

"I don't know, Xander.  Research and us aren't mixy.  We kinda suck.  It WAS in Demonology for Dummies."

"We would have found out how to kill them.  We did just fine when it was just you, me, and Willow."

"But we had Giles.  And Willow isn't much help to anyone right now."

"Hey!"  Dawn looked around the empty, goo-splattered tunnel.  "I think we got them all."

"Why doesn't Anya get that I just wasn't ready to get married, Buffy?"

"Just a wild guess, but I think Anya got the message when you left her at the altar," Buffy replied.

"I know I left her at the goddamn altar, Buffy."  Xander stomped his foot down in a pool of Kermitis muck.  "Whatever mistakes I made it doesn't excuse her.  She betrayed me in the worst possible way, sleeping with that thing."

Buffy's face flushed as she heard her own words emanating from Xander's mouth.  =You're an evil soulless thing.  There's no good in you!=  What must Spike have felt when he heard her say that?  In measured tones Buffy answered, "Sleeping with Spike wasn't a great decision . . . well, for anyone, but . . . um . . . Anya was single.  Spike was single."

"But Spike?  How could she lower herself?"

"Wait just a minute, Xander." Buffy grabbed Xander's arm, eyes flashing. "*I* slept with Spike.  Or have you forgotten?"

"Guys!" Dawn interrupted.  "They're gone.  We can go now."

"God!" Xander laughed joylessly.  "How could I forget?"

"Spike may be many things, but . . ."

"But what, Buffy?  He's a good fuck?" Xander bellowed.

Buffy gasped in disbelief.  "Xander!"

Dawn's jaw dropped.

"Jesus, Buffy, he's a rapist.  He's evil.  Why don't you get that?  Why can't you see that you and Anya were wrong?  It makes me sick, thinking about it."

Buffy shook with anger.  "Listen to yourself, Xander!  You're being a pig. Maybe that's why Anya slept with Spike.  The company was an improvement.  Come on Dawn.  We're going home."

"Bye, Xander," Dawn waved tentatively as Buffy pulled her through the sewer grate.

"Why is it my fault?" Xander asked.  The echoes of the tunnel and the sucking sound of his shoes in Kermitis muck served as his only reply.



"You let her out?  Chasing after a vampire?  Honestly Rupert, if your wayward witch goes off the rails again the responsibility will rest firmly on your shoulders."  Travers poured himself a stiff scotch and placed it on the mass of papers strewn across his desk.

Giles removed his glasses and began polishing them.  The repetitive motion helped him keep his temper in check.  And right now he would like nothing better than to tear Travers's head from his shoulders.  It would be a distinct aesthetic improvement.

Alas, it would also be very wrong.

"I understand your concerns, Quentin, but Willow seems to have formed some kind of special bond with Spike over the past few weeks.  If any one can convince him to complete the interview, she can.  It would behoove you to remember that Willow's the reason Spike is assisting you in the first place."

"Let's hope Miss Rosenberg proves to be more persuasive than she looks, Rupert.  For your sake."  Travers took a large gulp of scotch.

Giles replaced his glasses and immediately began to snicker.  "Quentin."

"You should know better than to laugh at my threats, Rupert.  You know I'm perfectly capable of . . ."

"Quentin . . . ah, you've got something stuck to the bottom of your glass."

Quentin looked down.  Condensation from his drink had adhered his notes on the scroll to the bottom of his glass.  As the moisture thinned the paper, the symbol that could destroy the Council was reflected up at him through rich amber.  The Ouroborous.

Giles smirked.  "You've got the sacred symbol of the Order of Aurelius stuck to your glass.  A closet vampire, are you, Quentin?  Wanting to join the bloodline?"

"Certainly not." Quentin slammed down his scotch.  "That's the furthest thing from my mind, Rupert."



"Sunnydale's the furthest thing from my mind," Spike declared adamantly as he and Willow emerged from the subway and began the hike up the hill towards Highgate.  "I'm never going back."

Willow gasped for breath.  The escalator was broken and they'd had to walk up 150 stairs.  Go, London Transport!  "You still haven't answered my question.  Why are you here?  And why are you helping me?  Isn't it breaking some kind of vampire code?"

Spike snorted.  "I've broken a few million vampire codes."  He paused and lit another cigarette.  "Took you long enough to notice," he muttered.

"What?"

"You must be feeling better.  Not so preoccupied with yourself, eh?  Now you're starting to nose around in old Spike's life.  Well, just leave it. I'm bad news.  Just ask the Slayer."  Contemplatively he exhaled a cloud of smoke, hiding behind its swirls and eddies.  "Just ask Emma."  Quickly, he moved ahead.

"Who's Emma?"  Willow struggled to keep up, feeling a bit woozy after the exertion on the escalator, but determined to know more.  After all, she'd always been the curious Scooby.  =But curiosity killed the cat.=

"Dammit, Red.  Leave it."

"Spike." Willow crossed her arms with determination as she caught up to the blond vampire. "This is my resolve face.  If you didn't want me to know, you wouldn't have brought it up.  You obviously want to talk to me about something and I'm not going to drop it until you tell me."

Spike groaned.

"Hey!  You didn't let me wallow in the gutter of despair.  I'm not going to let you go all wallow-y either."

"Sometimes I think you and the Scoobies have invented your own language." Spike laughed gently and extinguished his cigarette.  "Not quite the Queen's English, but it has its charms."

"Still with the resolve face, Spike."

Spike sighed as he forced the lock on the creaky iron gate to the cemetery.  "All right, Red.  What do you want to know?"

"Who's Emma?"

"A bird I killed."

Willow's eyes grew as wide as saucers.  Shakily, she took a step back.  "The chip?"

"Still chips ahoy, Red.  But I killed her just the same."

"And that upsets you?"  Willow considered his pinched features.  Spike was obviously distressed.  "Why should you care?  That used to be your fun vampire pastime."

"Not anymore."

"Out of practice?"  As soon as the question left Willow's lips, she knew it was a mistake.  Spike winced and Willow experienced a reciprocal twinge of guilt.  Spike had quite literally saved her life--whatever he had done to Emma, he'd earned her compassion.  Adopting a gentler tone, she asked, "Who was this Emma?"

Spike took a moment before answering.  "She was a friend when I lived here during the 70s."  A smiled played around Spike's lips.  "Great days, those.  That was music."

"A human friend?"  Willow's tone betrayed her disbelief.

"Yeah, what of it?"  Spike's eyebrow arched defiantly.

"It just that, well, you thinking of humans as food and all could really put a crimp in the friendship."

"Emma wasn't food," Spike objected. "She was different."

"Was she different like Buffy?  Did you love her?"

Spike shook his head and dragged his hand across the ironwork grating of a Victorian-era crypt.  "Not like Buffy."  Pain flickered across his face as his flesh caught a sharpened edge.  Looking down, he considered the neat cut on his palm--angry red under the full moon.  His voice grew quiet, almost a whisper.  "More like Niblet.  Anyway, doesn't matter what I felt.  I killed her family.  Stood and watched as Dru played with them.  Then, thirty years on I have the unmitigated gall to come back, wanting to fix things.  But there are some things you can't fix."  Spike kicked a lopsided tombstone, forcing it further to one side.

=Unmitigated gall?  That didn't sound very Spikean.=  Willow nodded sympathetically.  "I get that.  I can't bring Tara back.  I can't change the fact that I tried to destroy the world.  I can't make that better.  Ever."

"I reckon seeing me made her kill herself."

"You can't know that."  Willow tried to clasp Spike's hand, but he ripped it away.

"I can't help it, Red.  Everyone I care about, I hurt."  Absentmindedly, he ran a finger over the place where the cut had been.  Already, it was completely healed.  "You'd best keep your distance."  He smirked, but his eyes were empty.  "I'm a dangerous man."

"You didn't hurt Dru, though."  Willow panted, trying to keep up, as Spike increased his pace once more.

"I did in the end.  Wasn't monster enough for her.  Wasn't Angelus."

Willow nodded.  "I remember you mentioning that when you kidnapped me to do that love spell for you, and . . . "  Willow considered Spike's pain-filled eyes and desperately tried to backtrack.  "Um, water under the bridge."

A lump formed at the back of Spike's throat as unwelcome memories flooded his mind.  "Dru said I'd gone soft because I wouldn't kill the Slayer for her."

"Did you love Buffy even back then?"

"Probably.  Fat lot of good it did me . . . or her."

Willow blushed.  "You mean the whole sex thing?  Yeah, that was kinda ooky."

Spike didn't answer.

Willow rushed on, uncomfortable with the silence.  "I mean, it was sort of strange, you and Buffy, you know, having the sex."  Willow face grew stern.  "And then you slept with Anya.  You really hurt Buffy by doing that, you know?"

"I can imagine."  Spike's voice wavered, and he tripped over a worn gravestone, narrowly avoiding a fall.

Willow watched Spike's obvious distress and slowly it dawned on her.  His reaction about returning to Sunnydale.  His tipping over the table at the Council when the questioning turned to Buffy.  The pain he felt when she brought up the whole Anya debacle.  =Spike really, truly loved Buffy.  And none of us believed him.  Not even Buffy herself.  We couldn't believe it was real . . . but it was.=  "You really did love her, didn't you?"

"Stop it!"  Spike whirled around and grasped Willow's shoulders.  "I almost raped her, Willow."

Willow felt the sharpness of his fingers, digging into her.  She tried to pull away, but he was too strong.  Her heart began to race.  Was he going to kill her?  If he could do that to Buffy, what would he do to her?  "W. . . what?"

"That's right."  Spike thrust Willow into the unforgiving marble of a mausoleum and bared his teeth as he shifted into game face.  "Now you know why I can never go back there.  Now you know what I really am."



=Damn Xander.=  Buffy slammed the front door and angrily began pulling off her goo-laden boots.

Dawn sighed and threw out up her hands in frustration.  "Fine.  Don't want to talk about it?  I'll be in my room."  With a final huff, Dawn retreated up the stairs.

Buffy threw her right boot against the wall, leaving a thick black mark.

=Jerk.  Talking about Anya that way.  Talking about Spike . . .=

Why the hell was she so mad?  It's not like Spike doesn't deserve the criticism.  Hello, vampire!  Violent . . . confused . . . crushed . . .

=Crushed by me.=

"Do you even like me?"

"Sometimes."

=Bitch much?=  Buffy's stomach grumbled and she wearily made her way to the fridge.  The post-slayage hunger attack was coming on.  =As Faith once said, slaying made you hungry or . . .=

Buffy's unruly train of thought was interrupted as she opened the refrigerator.   Instead of the nice strawberry cheesecake she was planning to devour, she was greeted by something far less appetizing: a horde of shiny, black cockroaches.  A couple dozen fled the light, crawling up her arms, going down her shirt, little feet moving across her skin.

"Ahhhh!"  Buffy screamed.  Vampires she could do.  Bugs?  Not so much.

"Dawn!!!"

"What?"  Dawn called, still surly.  Slowly, she made her way down the stairs.  "What do you want?"  Moving into the kitchen doorway, she was greeted by the sight of Buffy, sticking her head under the kitchen faucet, desperately trying to drown the bugs that had begun nesting in her hair.

Over the sound of the running water, Dawn heard two words:

"Call Orkin!"



Willow's upper arms still stung and her back ached from the impact she had made against the mausoleum.  But she barely noticed her minor physical discomfort.  =How did he do it?  If the chip is still working, how could he hurt Buffy?=  Slack-jawed, she watched Spike's hasty retreat as he ran through the cemetery, ran away from her, ran away from the memory of what he'd almost done.  He was still obviously distraught . . . which was just weird.  Why should he care about hurting Buffy?  That's what vampires did--hurt people.

But Spike had always been different, especially where Buffy was concerned.  And even without Buffy, he'd been an honorary Scooby and full-time Dawn babysitter.  Willow still had no explanation as to why he'd agreed to help that summer.

Slowing down, Spike tripped over a stone, veered towards a grave marker about a hundred yards away, and heavily slid down its smooth surface, placing his head in his hands.  Moonlight glinted off the reflective surface of his hair, turning it into an inappropriately angelic silver halo.  Then his shoulders began to shake.

Spike was crying.

"My God," Willow whispered.  "What is going on?"  Tentatively she made her way over to the vampire, feeling a curious mixture of revulsion and sympathy.  He'd tried to rape her friend.  She couldn't ignore that.  But he didn't go through with it.  Why?  Did the chip stop him?  Did Buffy stop him?  Watching his silent sobbing, Willow realized that regardless of what had happened between Spike and Buffy, one thing was certain.  He was broken.  Just like her.

"Spike?"  Gingerly, she extended her hand and touched Spike's shoulder.  She was in no position to judge Spike's actions, no matter how horrible the crime.  Underneath the itchy acrylic wool and the trembling she could feel the cold.  Animated dead flesh.  As dead as the body that lay beneath the tombstone.  Softly, she asked, "What happened?"

Spike impatiently swatted Willow's hand away.  His face, now human, was tight with pain.  His clouded blue eyes bore into hers with a frightening intensity.  "Leave me alone, Red."

"No, I want to know.  Tell me what happened."

Spike laughed bitterly.  "I thought she loved me.  Big mistake."

"I know there's more to it than that.  Spike, I know first hand that love can make us do terrible things."

Spike took a deep breath and the words came out in a confessional rush.

"Dawn had come by, to tell me how hurt Buffy was by me sleeping with Anya.  I'd been drinking pretty heavy.  Do you know how painful it is to love someone with your whole being, and you think she loves you too, and then she tells you it's over, because of what you are?"

Willow nodded.  "Yeah, I do.  Remember, Tara dumped me because of the magic."

Spike did not respond, lost in his own private torment.  "So I decided to apologize.  Try to make things better.  After all, I still had to see her. It's a small town and all, and us working on the same team . . .  So I went to her house.  Unlocked the door with my key." He smiled gently. "Meant so much when you lot gave me the key to her house.  Said I needed it to take care of Dawn.  Made me feel like family."

Willow cringed, remembering how she and Xander had decided to bring Spike into their fold that summer.  They'd used him because they'd had no other choice.  They'd never considered him family.

Spike shook his head, expunging the happy memory from his brain.  "Hung my duster on the staircase, just like I used to do when I was looking after Bit last summer.  I heard a noise upstairs, so I figured one of my girls was up there.  I'd just go up, say my piece, then leave."

"But it didn't happen that way?"  Willow said anxiously.

"No.  Saw Buffy as I passed the bathroom.  She was going to take a bath. She looked so beautiful.  Pure white robe.  Told her I was sorry.  She said she could never love me, because of me being a vampire and all.  She said our kind of love was destructive and would never last.  Told her that safe love was for old marrieds.  God," Spike tore at his hair, "I was a fucking idiot.  Didn't understand.  I never understood.  She'd say 'no' and 'never' and tell me to leave, then she'd show up at my door, same as always.  Didn't think this time was any different.  Despite what she said I thought she loved me."  He looked at Willow, searching for some kind of absolution.

"She was ashamed of me.  But she came back, just the same.  And I didn't mind what she did to me, as long as she kept coming back.  But then she stopped coming back, and I thought . . . I hoped she'd change her mind again, just like she always did.  Thought if I could just make love to her, then everything would be the same as it had been."

Willow considered him, confused, shaken.  She had no idea what to say.

"So then I pushed her down and kissed her and I didn't see . . . didn't hear her.  She didn't want me, Will.  She pushed me away."  He looked at Willow and there was stark pain in his eyes.  "I am a bad man.  I am a monster.  I hurt people.  I have for lifetimes, but not what I loved.  I never thought I'd hurt someone I loved.  But I did.  I didn't mean to, but I did.  I couldn't stop.  She had to push me away, and I saw . . ." he bowed his head, his hands clasped over his neck, " . . . what I'd done.  I felt sick.  She said she could never love me.  I understood why."  He lifted his head and stared into the black night.  "I'm a monster."

Willow was silent for a moment, the gravity of Spike's confession sinking in.  Finally she asked, "How could you hurt her at all, if the chip was still working?"

A pain-filled laugh erupted from Spike's lips.  "Another one of Buffy's dirty little secrets.  I've been able to hit her ever since she came back. Something changed when you did your spell.  Tricked my chip into thinking Buffy was something other than human."

Willow looked shocked.  "Is Buffy a . . . demon?"

His mouth twisted into a parody of a smile.  "No, Will.  Buffy's unsullied . . . at least in that way."  Spike lit another cigarette and stared ahead blankly.

Willow slumped beside him, not knowing what to think.  What Spike had done to Buffy was reprehensible.  But Willow knew better than most that life was not black and white.  She'd tried to kill Buffy herself.

Her musings were interrupted by a cackling, derisive laugh.  A group of about ten vampires emerged from one of the nearby mausoleums.  "Well, well, well.  What do we have here?"  The lead vampire, sporting a rather out-of-date mullet addressed the two sorry-looking figures slumped against a gravestone.  Looks like we have dinner."  His glowing yellow eyes pierced Willow's.  Then he gestured in Spike's direction with complete disgust.  "Although I can't imagine why you haven't killed her yourself.  What kind of vampire are you?"

Spike rose from the ground, pulling himself together enough to radiate cocky bravado.  Casually, he extinguished his cigarette beneath his boot-clad heel.  Drawing a stake from his pocket, he maneuvered himself in front of Willow.  "The kind that's going to kick your eighties fashion victim arse."

The vampire tried unsuccessfully to suppress his laughter.  "Like you have room to talk, Billy Idol wannabe."  As he drew nearer, he saw Spike's angry face.  "William the Bloody.  How far you've fallen.  Protecting humans.  You're a disgrace to your kind."

Spike staked the verbose vampire.  He wasn't really in the mood to banter.



Xander ran a hand through his carefully combed, wet-from-the-shower hair.  The streets of Sunnydale were completely empty . . . which was kinda strange because usually all the creepy crawlies came out to play on nights with a full moon.  =Maybe they heard about our obliteration of the Kermitis and have gone into hiding?  Or maybe there's something big coming--something that even the baddies are afraid of.=  Xander laughed softly, willfully expelling that last, unpleasant thought as he passed by the Magic Box.  The light was still on.  Xander extended a hand and jiggled the door handle.  =Locked.=  Loudly, he knocked.  After a few minutes, he saw Anya appear from the back.  Upon seeing who it was, her face twisted with anger.

"We're closed."  Anya began to retreat behind a bookshelf.

"Wait!" Xander cried.  "Anya, I'm so sorry!  I need to talk to you."

Anya paused, her resolve softening.  Slowly, she moved towards the door and unlocked it.  Blocking the doorframe, she considered Xander.  "Very well.  Talk."

"I wanted to apologize . . . for tonight.  I really am sorry about the way things turned out and I wanted to make it up to you.  I wanted to walk you home."  Xander gestured towards the empty street behind him.  "There are monsters out there."

Anya shook her head, eyes filled with pain.  "By your criteria, Xander, there are monsters in here.  Or have you forgotten?"  Anya's face morphed into the veiny visage of Anyanka.

Xander gulped, swallowing his knee-jerk response of revulsion.  "You could give up the whole vengeance thing.  Then maybe we could be together again."

Anya shook her head, her human features falling back into place.  "You really don't understand, do you?  Even when I was human, you never accepted me, Xander.  You were always worried that I'd say the wrong thing, that someone would know I had been a demon."  She regarded him sadly.  "You were embarrassed by me.  That's why you couldn't marry me."

"That's not . . ."  Xander's voice trailed off as the truth of what Anya was saying sank in.  "I mean . . ."

Sadly, Anya began to close the door to the Magic Box.  "We're closed Xander.  This between us is closed too.  You hurt me in the worst possible way and you can't make that better."

Xander watched in disbelief as the door swung shut.  It wasn't until he was halfway home that he realized he was crying.



Ring around the rosey
A pocket full of posey
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down.

Dancing and chanting, giggling, laughing.

Blond, shimmering hair.  But not the right blond.

Legs, thousands and thousands of legs, scurrying over her body, devouring.

Escape.  But the hands grasped her too tightly.  Must dance.  Must keep dancing.

Blond, smiling, gorgeous, familiar, stroking her palm.  "Ashes, ashes," he intoned.

Spike, kissing her.  Pushing her.  "We all fall down, pet."

"We all fall down."  Fangs in her neck.  Blissful oblivion.

Xander, a pocket full of posey.  "Look at me, Buffy.  I seriously need a dermotologist."  Pus oozing from his cracked face.

"He's dying." Anyanka shrugged.  "But there might be something on Ebay."

Willow, clasping a hand.  "Ashes, ashes."  Willow's hands, stretched out, blood dripping.  She shook her head.  "I didn't know, Buffy.  Didn't know."

Buffy woke up, panting, sweating, shivering.  Blinking several times, she grabbed her alarm clock.  "Ewww!"  Stomach churning, she flicked a cockroach off the clock's face.  3:17 am.  She hid her head underneath her pillow and groaned.  "What the hell kind of dream was that?"



Spike cleared his throat, surveying the damage around him.  Broken tombstones scattered the landscape.  Vamp dust hung heavy in the air.  And Willow's elfin face was split by the most genuine smile he'd seen from her in weeks.

"Not bad for two pathetic losers like us, huh?"  Willow twirled her stake happily.  It seemed like a long time since she had done anything good.

Spike shrugged.  "Yeah, I was hoping they'd put up a bit more of a fight. They give vampires a bad name."

Willow laughed.  "Oh, like vampires don't have a bad name already."

Spike grew quiet, any trace of levity extinguished.  He bent over a nearby grave and rearranged the flowers that had been disrupted by the fight.  "I understand that you probably won't want to see much of me after tonight.  I'll come back to the Council, finish my interview.  But I want you to promise me something--and this goes for Rupert too."  Spike's voice became earnest.  "When you see Buffy--and you will eventually--don't tell her you saw me.  I don't want her to be reminded of my continued existence.  I want her to forget I ever came to Sunnydale.  After the interview," Spike rose unsteadily from his crouch, wiping the dirt from his hands, "that's the last you'll see of me: William, the Bloody Awful Waste of Space."

Swiftly, he turned and headed for the cemetery's gates.  Willow, still in shock, stared emptily at the tombstone Spike had left behind.

"Jocelyn Atherton.
Beloved mother.
1838-1902"

Disbelieving, Willow extended her hand and looked at one of the flowers on the grave.  =Daisies.  Just like the ones Spike had brought for Joyce. Joyce.  Jocelyn.  This couldn't be . . .=

Willow's eyes found the grave next to Jocelyn Atherton's, the gravestone she and Spike had slumped against.

"William Atherton.
Beloved son, beloved brother.
1855-1880"

=William.  William the Bloody!=  "Spike!"  Willow called to him, running forward to catch up.  "The tombstone.  Is it . . ."

Spike paused, his taut features squelching Willow's curiosity.  Sighing, he scuffed his boots against the gravel pathway.  "Come on, Red.  I'll walk you back.  There could be more nasties out there.  Can't have you getting killed, now can we?"



Buffy poured a large bowl of Cheerios, then carefully picked through the little life preservers for cockroaches.  The Orkin man said he couldn't come until tomorrow.  Apparently lots of Sunnydale residents were having the same problem.  Sighing, Buffy extracted a wiggling cockroach from her cereal and dumped the bowl into the garbage.  Rummaging around in the fridge she located a sealed cherry yogurt and flopped onto the couch.  She grabbed the remote, trying to find cartoons in the midst of endless weekend infomercials.  She just wanted to numb her overactive brain.  Sleep had been a stranger last night.  First there was that bizarro dream: dancing, singing nursery rhymes, Xander with serious facial problems, and an Evil Spike chomping on her neck.  But there was a Good Spike too.  =Ughh!  It was just too confusing.=  Obviously, her mind was on Spike overload after her fight with Xander.   She wished she knew how to feel about him.  She knew she should hate him.  He'd almost raped her.  But she kept seeing his face, after she pushed him away.  The pain, the confusion.  He seemed so human at that moment.

Settling on Batman Beyond, she peeled back the tinfoil lid to her yogurt. The spoon was almost to her mouth, when the neo-Goth images of Batman Beyond were suddenly replaced by a news announcer.

"This just in.  Two residents have checked into Sunnydale Memorial Hospital with symptoms of the bubonic plague.  The mayor will be making a televised statement in a few moments."

"Bring out your dead," Buffy snorted.  =I thought that disease went out with the Dark Ages.=  Spooning yogurt into her open mouth, she watched as the mayor appeared onscreen.  A blond man to his right whispered in his ear and the mayor nodded.

Earnestly, the mayor addressed the camera.  "Good morning.  As you may know, the bubonic plague has been detected in our town.  If you are experiencing high fever, nausea, or boils, check yourself into the hospital immediately.  If you think you've been exposed to the plague, you may receive doses of antibiotic at Sunnydale Memorial Hospital between the hours of nine and five."  With a forced smile, he concluded.  "Together, we'll get through this.  God bless Sunnydale."

Buffy stopped, spoon halfway to her mouth.  "Did he say boils?"



Willow and Spike approached the door at the Council just as the first rays of sunlight were appearing on the horizon.  The sky was hazy pink and Willow was glad that Spike would be coming inside with her.  In his current state of mind she couldn't be entirely sure that he wouldn't take the easy road out--self-immolation.  After his night of confession, his sins weighing heavily on his head, who knew what he might do?

Spike swallowed in a futile attempt to collect himself.  "We're here, Red. Probably should ring the bell."

"Nah," Willow produced a key, "Giles gave me this."  Squinting in the half-light, she inserted the key into the lock.  As it turned, the lock mechanism gave a satisfying click and the door swung open.  "Come on, Spike. I'll make you some tea."

Spike shook his head.  "Hot chocolate if you've got it."

"Right.  Joyce always made you that, didn't she?"

Spike ran a hand through his hair.  "Always made me feel better."

"Did she remind you of your mother?  Did she remind you of Jocelyn?"

Spike sighed heavily.  "Not now, Red.  Please?"  His eyes, glazed with unshed tears, beseeched her to stop.

"OK."  Willow took his hand.  "I'll let it go."  She paused.  "I know we, the Scoobies, didn't always treat you very well.  I just want to say I'm sorry."

Spike's Adam's apple bobbed up and down.  His eyes bore into the floor, refusing to meet Willow's.

"I'd like to be your friend, Spike.  You saved my life.  Let me help you."

Spike nodded, but said nothing.  Willow watched as his jaw began to grind.

At that moment, Lydia rushed down the stairs into the foyer, Reggie in tow.  "Thank goodness!  We've been so worried about both of you.  Rupert assured us you'd come back, but I thought I'd offended you terribly and perhaps . . ."

"Crikey."  Reggie adjusted his glasses and lumbered forward.  "You both look horrible."

"Vamp nest," Willow explained.  "We got them all, but it was kinda messy."

Lydia considered Spike, eyes burning with curiosity.  "Shall we continue? Do you feel up to it?"

"Yeah, do your worst."  Spike's eyes met hers.  "I'll finish your interview."

"Rupert is waiting in his office." Lydia gestured to the staircase.

"Can we get some hot chocolate?" Willow asked.  "It's been a hard night."



Buffy dialed Giles's number at the Watcher's Council.  This plague thing was the last straw.  Just too bizarre.  That and the freaky Slayer dream.  It was time to get Giles on the case.



Spike sat at Giles's desk, sipping hot chocolate with little marshmallows. Lydia sat across from him, tape recorder humming and pencil scratching. Giles and Willow dozed in a corner, exhausted.  And Reggie snored loudly on a nearby settee, sleeping the sleep of the mostly oblivious.

"When you say the Slayer and you had a complicated relationship, what precisely do you mean?"  Lydia waited for a response, pencil poised.

"I . . . um."  Spike took another sip of his chocolate.  "We were . . ."

Suddenly, the phone on the desk rang.  Giles and Willow started from their sleep.  On impulse, Spike picked up the receiver.



Buffy waited impatiently, folding her yogurt lid into ever-smaller pieces. One ring.  Two.  Three.  "Come on, Giles. Pick up."

"Council of Watchers."

"Hello, this is Buffy Summers.  Is Mr. Giles available?"

The voice on the other end became muffled.  "Hang on."

An ashen-faced Spike handed the phone to Giles.   "It's for you."



The song used in the Bronze is "Nothing Can Stand Between Us" by Theory of a Deadman



Chapter Nine: Prodigal

Some days were horrible from beginning to end. This was one those days. First, Lilah woke to find that Wesley had escaped during the night, leaving nothing behind him but twisted sheets. Then she arrived at work to discover her assistant had been replaced with a Gonets demon whose azure skin prevented it from going downstairs to Starbucks for Lilah's double espresso. Next came a meeting with Linwood and Gavin to review their client's list of wants, needs, and desires and, yet again, Lilah was the only one with the balls to ask the logical question--how?

Gavin suggested seeking the assistance of Dr. Fetvanovich.

"That's problematic," Lilah said dryly. "Fetvanovich was murdered in the lobby of the Hyperion, or have you forgotten our failed attempt to grab Darla and her bad seed?"

Gavin's discomfort showed before he regrouped and suggested, "Dr. Melman, then."

Lilah arched an eyebrow. "The man who attached Lindsay's evil hand?"

"Do you have a better suggestion?"

"Has the natural way gone out of style?"

Gavin laughed cynically. "Natural? That's an interesting word choice."

"Enough." Linwood rose from his seat at the head of the conference table and eyed Gavin and herself. "I don't care how you choose to do it, just take care of this situation. Be proactive."

Easier said than done. After reviewing her limited options, Lilah agreed to contact Dr. Melman and his demonic medical assistants. Her conversation with the physician/alchemist was brief, but the doctor agreed to meet her client and discuss possible solutions for the. . .situation.

If pressed (with hot pokers and threats of painful death) Lilah would admit to having doubts about whether the doctor could prove useful. But in her business, appearances meant everything, so she agreed to deliver Dr. Melman to her client's door for a meeting. If nothing else, her client would be reassured that Wolfram and Hart was dutifully attempting to fulfill their part of the bargain. Gavin, of course, insisted on tagging along.

Now, Lilah sat in a limousine, gazing out the window in order to avoid looking at the demon, Dr. Melman's medical assistant, who sat opposite her. The black-robed creature had no face. Beneath its hood there was only a gaping black void, causing Lilah to remember Nietzsche's aphorism about looking into an abyss to discover the abyss looks into you.

The silence grew oppressive so she glanced at her other companions. Dr. Melman concentrated on working on his laptop computer and appeared irritated when she tried to strike up a conversation. Lilah gave the doctor a coolly, vacuous smile and glared at Gavin before returning her attention to the slowly darkening landscape outside the window. She read the road sign as they sped by it-WELCOME TO SUNNYDALE.



Music vibrated through Buffy and through the metal catwalk where she stood overlooking the dance floor. Strobe lights and writhing teenagers added to the throbbing atmosphere of the Bronze. It was all very hedonistic and seductive. Thoughts, images, and memories of sensations teased Buffy, hovered around the edges of her consciousness, refusing to go away no matter how hard she tried to force them out. They were part of her. He was part-

=Bad thought. Evil thought. Evil thought about an evil. . .thing. =

Buffy pulled away from the railing. She shouldn't call Spike that. She knew she shouldn't. It was the easy way out--easy to call Spike 'it' and 'thing,' easy because it allowed her not to think or feel. She could concern herself only about herself. Want him. Take him. Have him. Walk away when she was done. What did it matter? He wasn't real. He was just a thing.

The problem was, he wasn't. He was more.

Buffy moved through the crowd and toward the stairs.

Becoming involved with Spike had been all too easy and, looking back, all too disturbing. She had allowed need to overcome good sense. She had allowed desire to overcome judgment, and she had allowed shame to overcome. . .everything. It had been a confusing time, she told herself. But it was over--over and done--if only she could forget.

She should focus on something else. She was in the Bronze to patrol, not to contemplate her belly button. . .or other things. Insects and Kermits weren't the only creatures running around Sunnydale in hordes. Vampires were out in force.

In the last few years, evil undead threats had been pretty minimal. A little staking in the graveyards had kept things tame, but in the last week Buffy had seen more vamp action than she had in years. It hadn't been like this since the Master, Angelus or Spike had been the Big Bads in town.

Buffy shivered and reminded herself that the Master was dead, and Spike and Angel had left town under more painful conditions. But, as she peered into the shadowed corners of the Bronze, Buffy couldn't escape the fact that there were still vampires here. She could sense their presence. She could feel them--a brush across her senses, familiar and still somehow strange. She felt their energy vibrate in the air, and it inspired anxious butterflies to kickbox in her stomach. Bad things were close.

Buffy strained her eyes to stare into the darkness, thinking if she stared long enough she could see something other than dancers frozen in eerie tableaus during momentary flashes of light as strobes kept time to the music. She could see what she was up against. She could see them waiting.

Hyperawareness tingled across Buffy's nerve endings as the band sang, ~Wishing you were here.~

And something caught Buffy's attention-a flash of moonlight colored hair. = Spike?=

~...Guess I should watch what I wish for...~

It couldn't be him. Clem had said Spike wasn't coming back. Ever. Three months wasn't 'ever,' not even close. It couldn't be Spike.

She should think about something else, *someone* else, someone like...Dawn. Where was Dawn?

Buffy had left Dawn downstairs while she searched the balcony for vampires, but with the mega wattage vamp vibes that Buffy was getting, she was kicking herself for having left her sister alone. Leaning over the rail, Buffy searched the crowd for Dawn and felt an eerie sensation moving across her skin. Someone was watching her, waiting, and again, Buffy saw the flash of familiar platinum white.

~. . .Right on time, so invite me in. . .~

Okay, no joke, that had to be Spike. It *had* to be. Buffy pushed her way through the crowd on the stairs and plunged into the chaotic mass of humanity on the dance floor.

~. . .This is where your trouble begins. . .~

Buffy stopped, a small, still form in the midst of bodies in motion. Everyone was moving, but Buffy felt paralyzed. What she was doing? Was she trying to find Spike or hide from him? If she came face to face with him, what would she say? What would she do? Would she pound him into the floor for having hurt her, or lift her chin and apologize for the myriad ways she had hurt him?

Buffy stood on her toes but saw nothing but shoulders and backs. She hated being short. In crowds like this, she didn't have a chance of finding Spike. Or course, there was the 'Slayer sense' thing, but her senses were short circuited by the multiple vamps in the room.

~I like you better than the other ones.~

Most vampires made Buffy feel itchy, like wearing wool on a hot day, but Spike was different. He was supernatural cashmere. Of course, cashmere cost more than Buffy could afford, but she couldn't deny sometimes wanting it, even lusting for it. She knew how wonderful it felt to wrap herself up in it, to feel it caress her skin. It felt. . .good.

~You say I'm right when I know I'm wrong~

See, this was where she had gotten herself into trouble. It felt right. Spike felt right, but he couldn't be. He was Spike. Spike, the Slayer Killer. Spike, the Menace of Europe. Spike, the soulless thing.

~We could never just get along~

Sure Spike had changed. Circumstances had changed him, but could anyone change so much that they became the opposite of what they had been before?

~You're so damn relentless.~

Buffy caught the arm of a young girl she thought she recognized. "Liz?"

The girl shook her head. "Leslie."

Buffy frowned. Had she known that? "Um... But I *do* know you, don't I? I mean you know my sister, right?"

"Dawn? Sure."

"Have you seen her?"

"She's by the stage--"

Buffy was already turning away, moving relentlessly toward the stage, but she remained aware of Spike's elusive presence near her. . .so near her. She could almost smell his aftershave, sharp with the scent of limes and mellowed by the fragrance of sage. She remembered it so clearly. She remembered wondering how a vampire shaved without a mirror.

~And you will find ~ ~The two of us are like two of a kind~

Buffy could recognize Spike in the dark. She could find his particular vibration even in the midst of all this noise and chaos. That should frighten her, shouldn't it? Nothing inside her should be so attuned to him.

~This hits you harder than the other ones~

Buffy grabbed the arm of a young, beefy looking kid who had been nuzzling a girl on the dance floor. "Hold it, Buddy. That's a no-no."

He was no kid. He was a vampire. The stray kind that wandered Sunnydale for no rational reason Buffy could think of other than to make her life unpleasant.

The vampire blinked. "What the-"

"Outside. Now. Let's get this over with." Buffy was bored and impatient. She didn't have time for this.

The vampire scowled. "Back off or when I'm done with her, I'll look for you."

Buffy crossed her arms and tapped her foot. "Not exactly shivering in my boots." She stopped and stared. "Damn. I've scuffed the toe."

The vampire tried to pull away. Stupid vampire. Buffy twisted its arm until it cried out in pain. "Stop wasting my time," she bit out. "Let's go."

Buffy dragged the vampire through the crowd, glancing over her shoulder to search one last time for a different creature of the night, for the one she had been hoping and dreading to find.

Why had Spike come back?

~'Cause home is where the hurt is~ the band sang as the Bronze's back door slammed shut behind her with a solid, metallic clank.

With the steel door closed, the difference in noise level from the club to the alley was startling and eerie. Inside, the music had been deafening, loud enough to drown out thought and conversation. Here in the damp narrow space between the Bronze and the abandoned neighboring building, it was quiet. Not even cars could be heard in the distance. There was only a low, nearly inaudible bass beat throbbing in the dark.

Buffy let go of the vampire. It cautiously stepped away from her. "Who are you?" It asked.

Buffy reached into her back pocket and pulled out a stake. She twirled it in her hand. "Who do you think?"

The vamp looked nervous. "I wasn't doing anything," it protested.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah, sure."

"No. Honest, I-"

She dusted him. Why waste time with banter when she was in a hurry and in a bad mood?

Buffy walked to the door. The metal was cold against her palm as she slid her hand around the handle. It didn't budge. =What the...? Damn!= It must be some emergency door. It had locked behind her. Buffy would have to walk around the building to get back in. She kicked the door, (What did it matter? She'd already scuffed her boot) and turned to find-

Vampires surrounded her. One. Two. Three. A quick count came to a total of ten. Well, wasn't that nifty? Ten to one. Not the best odds Buffy had ever faced but do-able. Might be tough though. Perhaps even dangerous. If she messed up even a little bit, Buffy could find herself in big trouble. Then she saw a familiar angular face and athletic form half shrouded in shadows-the man...demon she had searched find.

Buffy smiled. Ten to *two* odds. Now, *that* sounded right.

With her hands on her hips, Buffy looked at her circle of opponents. "Who died and left you guys an army of vamps?" She dusted Vamp #1 and grinned. "Oops. Guess you did."

Buffy kicked Vamp #2 and spun on her heel to punch Vamp #3 before staking Vamp #4. It exploded in a cloud of dust that settled onto the damp ground at Buffy's feet. She ducked to avoid the blow of pissed Vamp #2 then stood and backhanded vamp whatever number. Buffy lost count as one of the monsters jumped onto her back. Losing her balance, she stumbled backward but used her momentum to slam into the wall. The vampire on her back grunted before she suddenly dove forward, tucking and rolling in an acrobatic move before rising smoothly to stand and staking Vamp #3.

Still facing eight hostile vamps, Buffy looked at Spike. "You're supposed to help, you know!"

Spike arched a scarred brow. "I am?"

His richly timbred voice set off tremors in Buffy's stomach--which she ignored as she straightened her shoulders. "Duh. Sort of out numbered here, or haven't you noticed?"

He shoved his hands into his pockets and slouched casually against the wall. "I noticed."

Vamp #5 attacked as Buffy moved deftly to the right. It missed her, but Buffy didn't miss it. Another cloud of dust settled to the pavement. She glared at Spike.

Pushing away from the wall, Spike slowly circled her. "I'm supposed to help." He spoke the words as if they were foreign to him. He cocked his head to one side. "Why?"

Buffy opened her mouth and searched for an answer but came up with a big fat nothing. Why had Spike *ever* helped her? For fun? For violence? For sex or money? . . .For love?

Buffy's gaze locked with Spike's. He smiled, but it was a cold, empty expression. He could be really scary when he smiled.

"No answer?" When Spike approached Buffy Vampire #6 rushed him. Spike ducked, and the vampire tumbled to the ground, landing in an indignant heap on the pavement. Spike planted his Doc Marten firmly in the center of its chest though his attention remained tightly focused on Buffy. "Don't worry, luv." Spike ripped off the vampire's head. "Haven't got an answer myself. Haven't had one for a very long time."

Vampire #7 looked from Spike to Buffy to Spike again. It blinked. "Wait! I get it." It pointed at Spike. "I know you. You're the Slayer's pet. Spot."

"Spike."

Buffy could see a muscle tense in Spike's chiseled jaw.

The vampire rolled its eyes. "Whatever."

Spike drew closer using a graceful stride that seemed to be exclusive to Spike. "That what I am? " he asked Buffy and there was a sharp edge under Spike's even tone. "Your pet? Trained to sit and beg?"

Vampire #7 began to back away, but Spike caught its collar and dragged it with him as he strode toward Buffy. "Am I your dog? Something to keep chained outside your door? Guard the little sis, watch your back, but don't allow it inside the house. Never forget it's a mongrel unworthy of attention. That it, pet?"

"Going a little far with the. . . uh. . ." Buffy looked at Spike. "Is it a metaphor, simile, or allusion?"

"Don't you know?"

Buffy avoided answering the question by dusting Vampire #8.

Spike chuckled and shook his head. "'Course you don't know." He released the vampire he'd been holding and sidled even closer to Buffy. He placed his hand on the wall above her shoulder. "It's none of those things." Spike leaned close and whispered in her ear. "It's my *life.*"

Buffy blinked.

"Oh, right," Spike bit out sarcastically. "I don't have a life. Not real. Just a thing." In contrast to the suppressed anger in his voice, Spike's touch was tender. His fingers were cool and gentle as they brushed her cheek. "I'm nothing."

Spike pulled away, leaving Buffy slumped against the wall. His gaze narrowed and there was the hint of a sneer in the curl of his lip. "But you, luv, are a ball busting *bitch.*"

There was a scuffling sound in the alley. Spike and Buffy turned their heads to see the two remaining vampires run for their unlives. "Cowardly buggers," Spike muttered. "Piss poor fighters too."

But the creatures were forgotten even before they disappeared. Spike's contemptuous gaze settled on Buffy. "Little girl with little rules," he mocked. "Simple. Nothing to stress her heart or mind. Keep it easy. Don't shed light on the dark corners of your world. Might have to face the truth and that's not allowed."

Spike started to walk away. Like *hell* would she let him walk away.

Buffy tackled Spike, throwing herself against him, wanting to drive him into the ground, but Spike anticipated her attack. He moved with lightning speed and preternatural strength, pushing her off him. He sent her flying across the alley and watched her flail helplessly before landing ignominiously on her butt. Spike stalked over to her, emotion flowing off him in raging waves. He glared at Buffy as she stared back from the ground.

"It's not Saturday," he snarled.

The steel door of the Bronze swung open and from behind it, Dawn called, "Buffy?"

Spike disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Dawn walked around the door and frowned when she found Buffy sprawled on the pavement. "What happened to you?"

"Vampire," Buffy said somewhat unsteadily as she rose to her feet and brushed the dust off her pants.

Dawn looked surprised. "One got the best of you?"

Buffy took three steps toward the mouth of the alley. She stopped and stared into darkness in Spike's wake. "Not even close."

It's not Saturday. What the hell did that mean? But a memory teased Buffy- the memory of the very first time she had laid eyes on Spike.

"What happens Saturday?" she had asked on that night long ago.

Spike had told her, "I kill you."

Buffy grabbed her sister's hand. "Dawn, let's go."



It was after 11:00 pm when Giles stepped out of the taxi to stand on the sidewalk outside the Magic Box. His legs ached. His back ached. And he was convinced that coach air travel was a method of torture more sadistic than anything the Spanish Inquisition had dreamed of. Ignoring his deep- seated longing for a shower and hot cup of tea, Giles approached the front door and smiled when he saw the light on. Trust Anya to keep late hours. He could almost hear her explanation about the vast number of under- serviced magic patrons who preferred to shop after dark.

Giles opened the door to find Anya sitting alone. She wore a pale floral dress whose primary color was almost-but-not-quite yellow and her hair color of the week was a flattering mid-brown with hints of auburn. She lifted her head at the ringing of the bell and a blindingly bright smile lit her beautifully refined features.

"Giles!" she cried. "You're home!" And Anya rushed to greet him with an enthusiastic hug.



~Two Days Earlier...~

Spike looked poleaxed by the sound of Buffy's voice, and it wasn't difficult to understand why. It was far easier to let something go, to leave well-or bad-enough alone when there was no call from home begging for help.

Spike handed Giles the phone and crossed the room to stare out the window. Lydia and Reggie goggled with shock and fascination as Spike stared down at the sunlit street. Willow was far more accustomed to Spike's reckless disregard for personal safety so she wasn't surprised. She did wonder what made him do such potentially self destructive things. It was almost like he enjoyed playing chicken with the sun. Or maybe he simply refused to accept the limitations of his state.

Spike's expression was grim, and Willow resisted the urge to tell him that he was brooding. She was sure he'd comically protest, "I do *not* brood!" But, given the circumstances, Willow kept her mouth shut, watched and waited as Giles hung up the phone and described recent events in Sunnydale.

"Plagues!" Reggie cried, his pudgy face filling with excitement bordering on glee.

Giles looked grim. "Yes, quite."

"Something bad is brewing in Sunnydale and it's not May?" Willow almost winced at her own attempt at gallows humor. No one answered her question.

Lydia murmured to herself, "Frogs and insects."

Spike, who still stood near the window, looked over his shoulder. "Come again?"

"Plagues," Lydia repeated. "Frogs, insects. Doesn't that sound the least bit familiar? "

Spike moved away from the glass and asked with disbelief. "Are you suggesting these are *Biblical* plagues?"

Reggie's attention snapped to Spike.

"What?" Spike demanded defensively. "There *was* a William the Bloody before a Spike the vampire, you prat."

Yes, Willow acknowledged. There had been a William the Bloody, and more and more Willow was coming to realize that she and the gang had gone years without having a clue as to who that man was.

=Beloved Brother. Beloved Son.= That had been written on his grave. William's grave. *Spike's* grave.

Beloved. Spike. Spike was a *person.* It shouldn't have been a revelation, but it was. How had they missed something so obvious? The answer wasn't flattering to herself or her friends. Willow couldn't help remembering the upset and concern Xander and Buffy had expressed when faced with a vampire version of herself. She couldn't help remembering Buffy's desperation to save Angel when his soul had been lost. She couldn't help remembering and contrasting it with their treatment of Spike.

Would Spike's mother or sibling have given him a crayon speech? Judging from the things Willow had learned by sitting in on Spike's interviews, the things she had witnessed herself, and the inscription on William's grave, Willow would bet that, yes, there had once been people who would have wanted Spike to be saved. And a question that had been niggling at Willow since the night Spike had rescued her in the alley sprung to full blown life in her head. Exactly how good must a person be for any hint of that goodness to remain inside a vampire?

For Willow, it was no longer a question of whether or not William had been a good man. He had been. It was only a question of how good. . .and what exactly made herself or Angel more worthy of saving than him?

The damning answer, of course, was nothing. More damning still, was the fact that both Angel and herself had needed to be forcibly prevented from their world-destroying rampages. The only reason they hadn't succeeded was because someone had intervened. Someone *else* had prevented the destruction and removed responsibility from their shoulders. . .and they had been granted fresh starts. Spike on the other hand, had made decisions on his own to help save the world not once but twice. And as for taking responsibility for moving toward change, Spike had done nearly all the heavy lifting on his own.

While everyone pondered Lydia's observation about the plagues, Giles removed his glasses and polished the lenses. "I hesitate to place Biblical significance to these events. At least insofar as Judeo-Christian religion is concerned."

"As the Judeo among the Christians, thanks for that," Willow quipped.

Reggie glanced hesitantly in her direction. "Actually, I'm a Buddhist."

Giles blinked. "Truly? I never would have guessed." He donned his glasses and assumed an authoritative tone. "As I was saying, I hesitate to assign religious significance to this, though naturally Biblical text may be a useful place to begin research. It would be advisable to examine texts of correlating cultures-"

Spike began pacing. "Spit it out, Rupes. You don't know what this means so you want to go into research mode."

Giles eyed Spike. "Yes, Spike, I believe I said that."

Spike muttered under his breath, "Poncy bugger could have said it in four words, but did he? No."

And that's when all hell broke loose. It was like when a car wreck happened; time seemed to stretch into something just a bit short of infinity. It gave a person time to observe events in exacting detail but there never seemed to be time to react.

Willow saw the library door open behind Spike, and Quentin Travers step into the room carrying a loaded crossbow aimed at Spike's back. Travers let the arrow fly even before Willow could draw a breath to scream and gory memories of Tara's murder flooded her mind.

Reggie, standing closest to Spike, dived toward the vampire, shoving Spike far enough to the side so that instead of the arrow plowing fatally into his heart, it lodged high in Spike's shoulder. Giles charged Travers as the vampire and the young Watcher landed on the floor with audible grunts. Giles then slugged the head of the council, knocking the Travers's crossbow to the ground.

Spike didn't stop moving after hitting the floor. His landing drove the arrow through his shoulder causing Spike to yelp in pain as he rolled to his feet with the acrobatic grace of a performer in Cirque de Soleil. Reggie squeaked and backed into the table as Spike's eyes flickered from blue to gold and his handsome visage transformed into something unnatural and terrifying.

Giles backhanded Travers, a brutal blow that Willow cheered. Then he shoved Travers into the wall with such force that books fell from the shelves.

Willow heard Spike roaring like an angry, wounded lion, and she turned to see Reggie sag with against the table leg when Spike's attention shifted from himself to Travers. Spike charged toward the head of the Council.

"Spike!" Giles barked.

Spike stopped in his tracks, his game face fading to be replaced by his angry human features. Spike sucked in his cheeks and lifted his chin in a frustrated gesture Willow recognized from the countless times she had seen it before as Spike grabbed the crossbow off the floor and broke it.

Giles pulled Travers away from the wall and forced him into one of the table chairs.

"Why?" Giles demanded in a sharp, clipped voice. "The games are over, Quentin. Now, tell us why!"

Travers glared at Giles. Fury darkened his ruddy features as Travers announced with implacable arrogance, "Because it is what should be done. It is what must be done."

"Spike is no danger to anyone."

Travers laughed. "You think not?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do you truly believe the potential for destruction in that unnatural thing can be contained by a microchip? When is it ever that simple?"

"Simple or complicated. It doesn't matter." Giles slammed his hand against the table. "Tell us *why.* Why spend all this time interviewing Spike? Why kill him?"

"It's not about him," Travers snapped. "That *thing* is nothing. Vampires are interchangeable."

"But it wasn't just any vampire you wanted brought here. It was Spike."

"Spike *is* slightly different," Lydia observed as she helped Reggie off the floor. "Otherwise you never would have wanted the interview."

Travers sneered. "Not so very different, Lydia. You only believe so because his anti-hero traits appeal to your overly romanticized sensibilities. He is what they all are-"

"Then why is Spike the one demanding your attention." Giles eyed the broken crossbow laying on the table. "And your rusty assassination skills."

"Because time has run out. Your phone call from the Slayer means that time has run out."

Giles gazed at Travers suspiciously. "What do you know about the phone call from Buffy?"

"Bastard probably has the phone bugged," Spike growled.

"Nothing so elaborate." Travers's voice dripped with condescension. "Simple eavesdropping."

"Which still leaves the whole 'why' thing flapping in the breeze," Willow murmured.

Travers laughed. "What is always the answer for us? A prophecy."

"Spike is part of a prophecy?" Lydia looked surprised, intrigued, and excited.

"Brilliant!" Reggie exclaimed.

Spike shook his head and looked trapped somewhere between disgust and despair. "Bugger it all to hell."

Giles was not as easily distracted. "Which prophecy in particular, Quentin?"

"The End of Days."

That grabbed everyone's attention.

"What do I do?" Spike asked in shock.

Willow observed, "I'm guessing from the assassination thingie that it must not be good."

Travers crossed his arms in an impatient gesture. "I don't know what he does or if he does anything at all."

By that point even Giles looked confused. "At the risk of becoming tedious, again I ask why? Why assassinate Spike?"

Travers leaned forward. "It doesn't matter *who* he is, only that he is part of the Order of Aurelius. The order must be complete for the prophecy to be fulfilled."

Spike cocked his head to one side. "Complete? What the bloody hell is 'complete?'"

"Seven," Travers said. "There must be seven representatives of the Order."

Reggie frowned. "But. . ." He glanced at the other occupants of the room then grabbed Lydia's notes. He offered them to Travers as if they were evidence. "There aren't seven members of the order *now.* There's no reason to kill Spike."

"Bloody right!" Spike exclaimed. "Most of the so-called order has been dusted, or have you forgotten?"

Giles nodded. "True. The Master, the Anointed One, and Darla have been removed from the equation."

"So that leaves only Dru, the Poof, and me. Three, not seven."

"Your prophecy has been averted, Quentin," Giles said with irritation. "The Order has been broken. This has been an exercise in futility."

"You bloody fool, when is there ever a dearth of vampires?" Travers's tone dripped with contempt. "They are replaceable creatures. All that is needed is for one of them to make more."

Reggie shook his head. "I still don't understand. Spike's chip prevents him from siring anyone. Angel's soul would most likely prevent him. That only leaves Drusilla. Why murder Spike? Drusilla could simply-" Looking embarrassed, Reggie averted his gaze from Spike. "Make a replacement."

Traver's dark, bushy brows lowered. "She doesn't know that there *needs* to be a replacement, now does she? It might slow things down." He gestured to Spike. "If that. . . that *thing's* execution buys the world one more hour, one more day, then it is worth it."

"You bloody, arrogant *fool!* Giles yelled. "You assassinate what may prove to be a valuable ally so that he can be replaced by the minion of a madwoman?"

"It's a chess game, Rupert."

"So you thought you would leave an opening for the evil side to cry checkmate?"

Traver's face became a mottled red. "Think, Rupert! Who is the Slayer more likely to defeat, her ex-lover, a creature who has built its reputation on defeating Slayers or a nameless, faceless minion?"

"You aren't giving the Slayer proper credit," Spike said quietly. "She would kill me." He avoided looking at Willow.

"Would she? Then why hasn't she?" Travers turned to Giles. "All it would take is the Slayer hesitating one moment too long, Rupert. Another incident such as the one with Angelus and, we will *all* suffer the fate of your Miss Calendar."

Giles stood absolutely still, his breathing somehow both controlled and labored. With agonizing slowness he faced Spike. Spike squared his shoulders and lifted his chin, his defiant brand of raw courage prominently on display.

"We can't kill Spike," Willow said softly. No one seemed to hear her so she repeated her statement more sternly. "We can't kill Spike. Spike isn't Angelus. He. . ." She paused and searched for the right words. "Even back then, even with Acathla, even before. . .all the stuff we've gone through, Spike helped us. Buffy couldn't have fought both Angel and Dru and won. She had Spike's help. And. . . uh. . .Giles, if Spike hadn't stopped Angel from torturing you. . . "

Giles relaxed his stiff stance. His shoulder's relaxed. "For he today who sheds blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile. . ."

Willow frowned as the words teased her. She knew they were Henry the V, but. . . She remembered. It had been the night they had faced Glory. Spike and Giles had been gathering weapons and, uncharacteristically, the two Brits had spoken in turn, "We few, we happy few, we band of. . .buggered."

Giles had sighed and sat on the corner of the table. "We shan't kill Spike." He focused on Travers. "Now, exactly what are the specifics of the prophecy we are speaking of?"

Travers reached into his pocket. Spike growled, a low, unnerving sound.

"Slowly," Giles instructed.

Travers produced a torn piece of parchment with an elaborately ornamented ouroborus prominently displayed on the upper left hand corner. It was the emblem of the Order of Aurelius. Giles took the paper and spread it out on the table. Lydia, Reggie, Spike and Willow gathered around him and peered over his shoulder. Quickly scanning the text had made it clear that the Order's fate was tied to the fate of the world and the plagues disturbing the Hellmouth. Though the parchment was incomplete and the lower portion had been ripped away, there was no room to doubt that the End of Days was near.

"I shall return to Sunnydale immediately," Giles announced. "The rest of you-"

"The rest what?" Spike tone and stance were belligerent. "Sit on our duffs being useless? That's fine for Watcher wankers but not me. Where you go, I go."

Giles shook his head. "I don't think that's wise. The Order of Aurelius--"

"You don't tell me what to do, Watcher."

Giles stood toe to toe with Spike. "Quentin may be an arrogant arse, but he's right."

Spike shoved the bloodied arrow he had earlier pulled from his chest into Giles's hand. "Want to finish the job?"

Giles threw the arrow away. "You do not need to be near Sunnydale. I will take care of this. If the Order of Aurelius--"

Spike circled the Watcher. "You know, Rupes, I remember Dru having you in thrall in under five minutes."

"And who is the man she seduced into becoming a monst-"

"Guys!" Willow interrupted. "Speaking for the rest of us, can we drop the Dru thing? The thrall and seduction stuff is kind of ookie."

"I'm going to Sunnydale," Spike insisted.

"I won't allow that."

"You don't *own* me!" Spike spat. "Where did you-*any* of you-come by that idea? Because you pay me pin money for blood and smokes? Do you truly believe I can be bought so cheaply?"

Willow opened her mouth in a small 'O' as she realized that every now and then Spike slipped up and sounded like the erstwhile Victorian he was.

"For educated men and women, you are a stupid lot." Spike stopped pacing and looked at them with a mixture of irritation and scornful disbelief. "Do you think I couldn't go to that bar in Soho where I found Red and not find a demon or fledgling or *three* to do my dirty work?" He looked at Giles. "What's happened to that prodigious brain of yours, Rupes? I commanded a gang of vampires when I first came to Sunnydale. Do you believe I forgot *how*? I do what I do because *I* choose to do it. Not you. Not the Council. Not even the Slayer."

Spike tossed Lydia's notes into the air and watched them flutter to the floor. "Every time I answer your bloody stupid questions it is because I *choose* to answer them. Every time I sit in a room filled with people who hate me, who mock me to my face or behind my back, it is my choice. Mine. I choose these things. So don't think you have any say in what I do-"

"Spike!" Giles said commandingly.

"What?"

"This ends now. Clearly you have resentments that have festered for some time." Giles checked his glasses for non-existent lint. "And, I must admit, not all of your complaints are without merit. But before you rush to impulsive action, sit down and think."

The two men stared at one another, judging each others merit. . . .and Spike did as he was told. He sat. Giles circled the table, laid his hand on the vampire's shoulder. "*We* will figure out what we must do."

And maybe, for the first time ever, Spike was included in the "we."



Spike stood in the shadows and watched Buffy and Dawn hurry down mainstreet. He had an advantage over other potential Slayer stalkers. He didn't need to follow her, which she might sense. There were only a few places Buffy would go at a time like this. Spike could afford to wait.

Buffy had chosen the Magic Box. It made little sense, but habits were sometimes difficult to break. Spike watched her open the door and pull Dawn inside.

The window of the shop glowed a warm, incandescent yellow in stark contrast to the deep indigo night, and in its light Spike could see the joyful expression on Buffy's face when she first saw Giles. She threw her arms around the Watcher, hugging him close, and Bit was only a step behind. Both of Spike's girls -- he still thought of them as his girls-- were safe and happy in Giles's comforting arms.

"Welcome home, Rupes," Spike murmured quietly to the darkness.

How very different was Rupert's welcome compared to his own. In the alley behind the Bronze Spike had looked into Buffy's eyes and seen confusion, anger and what had to be hate. . .and it hurt. It wasn't that he didn't deserve it, and it wasn't that he hadn't seen hate in her eyes before. Spike had always seen it. He had tried to deny it. He had tried to live with it, but over the years it had caused an aching emptiness inside him that had grown to a gaping abyss.

When Spike had left Sunnydale last spring he had done so with a sense of purpose and determination he had rarely felt in his long existence. There had been a fire inside him to *prove* to Buffy that he was real, that he could change, that he was more than 'nothing.' He had dreamed of arriving at her door, presenting his hard won soul and saying, "Here. This is what I've done. It's the right thing. I did the right thing. You said I couldn't, but I did. That's something, right? That's important. That's *real.*"

Damn it! He really was a pet begging for the approval of its master, just a pat on the head. . .only it really wasn't that simple. It was all so much worse.

Spike sighed as he considered his sad little dream of a prodigal's return. Dreams were painful things, painful because they so rarely resembled reality. And his dream was no less painful because it had been small.

Spike's grand soul quest had resulted in a guilty conscience, dreams turned to nightmares, and a disgust of his very existence. He had wanted to walk up to Buffy and tell her what he had done. What he-not Angel but he, William the Bloody Useless--had done. Spike had never wanted anything quite so badly. . . and there was nothing in the world that he feared more.

What if she didn't care? What if it meant nothing? He feared it meant nothing and he *knew* it wasn't enough.

Spike had to laugh. The cosmic joke was on him. All that he had really accomplished was screwing himself over more than ever. For everything that had changed, for every way that *he* had changed, it still wasn't enough. It would never be enough. He still loved her. He still hated her. He was in hell.

But he would help her. That was the plan. He and Rupert agreed that Travers had a point about Buffy not having a moment of hesitation should things go wrong. For Spike to remain in Sunnydale, he needed to break any tie between himself and the Slayer. There shouldn't have been a tie left- not after everything that had happened-but Spike needed to be sure. He needed to make the division between himself and Buffy clear to all the creatures haunting the ugly underbelly of the city. He needed the demon world to know Spike was back, and he was a bloody animal. If he was to attract Dru's attention he-

Spike turned to see Vampire #9 smack him in the face with a two-by-four.



Chapter Ten: Masters and Minions

Buffy moved out of Giles's arms and said, "Spike's back."

Dawn pulled away from the group hug. "What?!" Her eyes were wide and she looked shocked and angry. "Talk about nerve."

"Dawnie, we still don't -"

"Why didn't you tell me?!"

Buffy blinked. "Why didn't I. . .? Dawnie!"

Dawn crossed her arms and glared in a way that all teens -- but especially female teens with the last name of Summers-could do amazingly well. "I thought we'd worked this out. No more secrets. No treating me like a brain-damaged twelve-year-old."

"I don't treat you like you're brain damaged."

"Why didn't tell me Spike was back?"

Buffy sighed. "I'm telling you now. Besides, until a half hour ago, I didn't know myself."

"And?"

Buffy glanced away from Dawn and looked to Giles. "And I think things could be bad. *Spike* could be bad. Again."

Giles didn't say anything, but he looked grim.

Dawn rolled her eyes. "Like Spike wasn't bad before?"

Buffy squirmed. Her insides clenched. Had Spike been bad? Had he really? Buffy remembered the shock she had felt when Spike had been unwilling to help her in the alley, the stunned disbelief that had coursed through her as she had considered his saying, "It's not Saturday." Was that a threat? Would Spike threaten her? Even last spring--even after...everything--Spike hadn't threatened her. He had been out of his mind, dangerous, and out of control, but there had been no malice in his intent. Even in her hurt and rage Buffy had known Spike hadn't *meant* to hurt her. . .but tonight? This was different.

When exactly had she come to believe that Spike-flaws, amoral value system and all-was on *her* side, that he would always be on her side no matter what? He was the thing that would not leave--stubborn, implacable, unshakable. He'd loved a madwoman for over a hundred years. He'd loved Dru even after she had pushed him away, insulted him, humiliated him, and dropped him, because to Spike. . .love wasn't a fly-by-night thing. Was that it? Was that the way Buffy had become convinced that even if things had gone nuclear in a spectacular way, Spike would still be waiting in the shadows ready to offer whatever help she needed whenever she needed it even if. . .even if. . .

"Things are different now," Buffy said softly.

"Has he gone evil?" Anya was always one to cut straight to the heart of the matter even if she only had a blunt butter knife to do it. "He's been gone a long time. He may have found someone to take out the chip."

Buffy dropped her arms to her side when she realized she was hugging herself. "I don't know."

"I wouldn't be surprised if he came back to kill all of you. You know what humans say."

"No, what do we say?"

"Payback is a bitch. Of course the phrase was originally a reference to me. I *am* the-" Suddenly aware of three pairs of eyes trained on her, Anya amended her statement. "In this case payback is a pissed off vampire. You can't blame him. "

"I can't?" Part curious and part furious, Buffy asked, "And why is that?"

"You turned him into your minion, and you weren't even nice about it. "

"I did *not* turn Spike into a minion."

"Then what was he? He wasn't your partner. He wasn't your employee. And don't say he was your friend. You let Xander bully him while you were having sex with him."

Dawn looked outraged. "That is *so* none of your business!"

"I wouldn't blame Spike if he tortured each and every one of you," Anya said defiantly. "You deserve it."

Dawn's face flushed red. "How can you say that? Is this some 'demons stick together' thing?"

Anya lifted her chin. "Maybe. Why shouldn't I stick up for him? Not like anyone else will stick up for us."

"You're Buffy's friend, that's why not! And. . .and. . .you slept with him!"

Giles glanced at Anya, surprise evident on his face.

Dawn continued to sputter. "You slept with him, and you're Buffy's friend and. . .and that's just *wrong.* And gross. Evil, wrong and gross and-"

"I'm Buffy's friend?" Anya asked in surprise. "Since when? Since when has she been *my* friend?" She faced Buffy. "Name one time you've been my friend. When have you helped me with anything?"

Buffy appeared non-plussed. She looked around the room as if she could find a memory or an answer. "There was that Olaf the Troll thing."

"Slaying doesn't count."

Buffy stepped back. "It does so count. Why doesn't it count?"

"It's Slaying. You would have tried to kill Olaf anyway. I'm talking about me. When have you ever talked to me or even thought about me other than how I could help you?"

"Well. . . I. . .uh-"

Anya looked down at Buffy-really looked down-exploiting every inch of her natural height advantage plus her three inch heels. "Never. that's when," Anya said flatly. "Xander left me on my wedding day."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "This story is getting old, Anya. You're going to have to let it go sometime."

"This isn't about Xander!" Anya protested. It was weird seeing her angry- really angry. "Xander left, and there I stood in room full of people I had to face alone. I had to make all the explanations. I had to talk to the caterer and pay for the limousine that we didn't even use. I had to arrange for the flowers to be thrown away and the decorations taken down and the hall cleaned. I had to pack my dress and sell it on E-bay. I had to do all of it. Alone. Where was my 'good friend' Buffy? Or my friend Dawn or Willow or *anyone*?"

"We offered to help."

"I must have missed that part. Guess I was distracted by the eye rolling and irritated sighs." Anya's lips thinned and her brows drew together as she frowned. "Want to know what emotion I got off you when I my vengeance powers came back? I got that you felt bad because my wedding disaster put a damper on *your* happy day."

Buffy had to grace to blush.

Anya continued in righteous rant mode. "The only person, the *only* one who listened to me, who took my side was Spike."

Buffy opened her mouth.

"Shut up, I'm not finished." Anya sounded exactly like the vengeance demon that she was-powerful and pissed off.

Buffy crossed her arms and waited.

"You stood there, just *stood* there while Xander attacked Spike and said the horrible things to me. Why did you do that, Buffy? Because you were my friend or because you didn't want Xander's sexist, patriarchal, annoying- even-if-I once-thought-it-was-cute self-righteous temper turned on you?"

Dawn protested, "You're not being fair about any of this."

"Fair? Was it 'fair' that Willow destroyed the capital enterprise where I barter goods and services?" There was confusion and a hint of pain in Anya's voice. "I helped you guys. More than once. It was against vengeance code. I shouldn't have done it. D'Hoffryn put it in my yearly report, and now I'm on demon probation. But I helped anyway." She angrily brushed away a tear. "When Willow's world destroying rage was over, when she was gone, I *still* had a mess to clean up. Alone. Again." She looked at Dawn. "Did any of you help? Did you pick up a broom or try to glue together the crystal Zorrbesky sphere? Did you lend a hand to put the chicken feet back in their jars? Did you do anything? Ever?"

Giles coughed.

"Except Giles," Anya corrected. She turned her tear-stained face toward him and said sincerely, "Thank you for the help with the insurance company. I don't know what I would have done without you."

Giles looked a little embarrassed but his gaze steadily held hers. "It was the least I could do."

"And more than anyone else did." Anya's shoulders slumped and her head hung low as she walked toward the front of the shop.

Buffy stood in the middle of the room for a long moment. Her expression remained inscrutable before she turned to walk into the Danger Room. Giles's expression was conflicted. It was clear that he wanted to follow Buffy, but then he glanced at Anya who sat alone weeping. Dawn followed Buffy to the back room.



A few things Spike had learned in his years in Sunnydale. First, if you think you're ahead of the game, you're not. Second, if you think things cannot possibly get worse, they will. And third, being hit in the face hurt--especially if the pummeling was done by a Slayer or a two-by-four. The two-by-four in question had been used to beat him unconscious.

Spike groaned and tried to move. He had no idea how long he had been out but suspected it had been more than a few minutes, because the alley vamp had found time to throw Spike in the boot of a car like he was a corpse on the Sopranos. Did they throw dead bodies in the boot on the Sopranos? It seemed like a mobster thing to do, but Spike wasn't sure whether it was a passé for the Sopranos. The crypt had never had cable.

Spike shifted his weight , trying to find a comfortable position in the cramped space. This wasn't the first time he'd spent time in a boot. Being a vampire and having sunlight issues, camping out in his car had been a necessity on more than one occasion. Of course, that had been the spacious DeSoto and this -- Spike squinted and read the tag on the underside of the boot lid - was a 2001 Volkswagon Beetle.

He'd been kidnapped and thrown into the boot of a bloody *Beetle*?! How humiliating. He'd bow his head in shame if he had room to move.

Spike looked around. There was no way to get to the tire iron; it was stored with the spare tire beneath the floor board. But Spike knew there would be no problem pushing down the back seat and bursting into the driving compartment to show minions what a pissed 120+ year old vampire could do. However, even as Spike contemplated doing just that, he dismissed the idea. It would be the quick and easy way to shoot to hell everything he had done tonight.

The whole point of arguing with Buffy in front of witnesses had been to attract the attention of the evil influences currently causing trouble in Sunnydale. He'd done that. Now he needed to lay back and wait. . .which would have been easier if the barmy vampires in the front of the car would shut up and stop arguing over the radio!

The vamp called Jake wanted the alternative rock station while Dexter insisted on easy listening. Bloody hell, they were playing Air Supply. How fucking evil was that?

After a half hour of eardrum torture involving Barry Manilow's "Copa Cabana" and Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life," the car came to a halt and the radio was mercifully turned off. Spike heard the minions talking as they walked around the care. There was a long pause.

"What's that?" Jake asked.

"What's it look like?" asked Dexter. "It's a gun. Cool, huh? I figure if he rushes at us when we open the trunk, we shoot him."

"He's a vampire, you dipwad."

"Well, it would hurt! Slow him down long enough that he couldn't rip our heads off. Did you see him rip Larry's head off?"

"Larry was a dick."

"That's beside the point, isn't it? I'm sayin' he's dangerous. Even the Slayer looked scared."

"The slayer looked pissed," Jake protested.

"Whatever."

The car's rear lights flashed as the boot was electronically unlatched and Jake opened the lid. Spike didn't open his eyes or move.

"See," Jake said. "He's still out cold. Haul him out."

The minions pulled Spike's apparently unconscious body out of the car, banging his head against the boot's lid.

=Clumsy bastards are gonna pay for that,= Spike thought as his arms were thrown over the minions' shoulders and he was dragged through the parking deck.

Spike hoped this wasn't some monumental waste of time. If he wound up dumped at Sharkey's flat because the demon was running short of yellow tabbies, Spike didn't think he could hold his temper - souled or not - in check.

Once inside the building, Jake and Dexter hauled him into the elevator where Muzak played and Dexter began singing, "Up and away in my beautiful balloon." Spike contemplated the satisfaction he would feel when ripping Dexter's tongue out at the first opportunity that presented itself. Then his mind drifted to Dru.

Was the Watcher Wanker right and Dru was behind all of this? Spike couldn't see how. For 142 years Dru had hit upon one scheme or another to destroy the world, but not one had to pass (as evidenced by the world still existing). She had also always needed help. There had been himself - though with hindsight Spike saw that he'd never truly been on board with world endage. Consciously or subconsciously he had always seemed to sabotage Dru's efforts. A little anarchy had seemed like a grand old time to him, but as Spike had told Buffy years ago, he liked the world. Then there had been the time Dru had Angelus's help.

Trapped in a wheelchair and dependent on the dubious mercies of Angelus and Dru, Spike had experienced the first bit of true self awareness in nearly one hundred years.

"I want to save the world," he had told Buffy, and the irony of the situation had not been lost on him. Whatever his reasons and rationalizations-no matter how properly selfish and self-motivated-he had been aware that he was doing what he should not do. He had gone against his own kind to fight by the side of a Slayer who loathed him.

The bell rang as the elevator reached their chosen floor. So much time and distance traveled, Spike realized, only to find himself in the same place as before...still going against his own kind to fight on the side of a Slayer who loathed him.

Dexter and Jake carried Spike from the elevator but not down a hall or through any doors. Spike didn't have to open his eyes to figure out that whoever they were dealing with must have taken over the entire floor of a high rise.

Deciding it was time to fake coming out of a stupor, Spike groaned and opened his eyes. The first thing he noticed was a pair of exceptionally well-shaped legs attached to perfectly pedicured feet in strappy stiletto sandals. A multi-year association with Buffy and over a century of showering Dru with gifts told Spike those shoes cost a small fortune.

Spike raised his head and focused on the woman's lovely, angular features. She vaguely reminded him of the model Paulina Poraskova. She definitely was *not* Dru.

Dexter said, "Look who we found."

The dark haired woman gave a chilling smile. "William the Bloody."

Spike frowned and his gaze narrowed. "I know you, luv?" He thought he would remember a creature such as her.

"No reason you should." She offered her hand. "I'm Lilah Morgan."

Spike arched a brow then looked first at Dexter then at Jake who still had his arms draped over their shoulders. Spike returned his attention to Lilah. "In a bit of a bind here, luv."

"I can see." Lilah dropped her hand and looked at the minions. "You can let him go."

Dexter shook his head. "I don't think so. You should have seen what he did to Larry."

Lilah didn't look curious. In fact, she looked bored. "I'm sure it was quite spectacular. And, given that Larry isn't here, I'll assume his absence is permanent. Now, let our guest go."

Dexter and Jake reluctantly complied as a slender man of Asian heritage shouldered his way by Lilah. "Mr. Bloody, our firm has authorized me to make you an offer-"

"Who authorized you to do what?" Lilah demanded, her brows drawing together as she frowned. "Gavin, you have no authority here."

"Linwood gave me authority."

Spike smirked and slouched in the bad ass way he had perfected well over a century ago as he scanned the room's contents. He was in a penthouse of a highrise overlooking Sunnydale. He could see the familiar city lights through the wide expanse of glass. He wondered if he could see Buffy's home from here.

This wasn't Glory's penthouse. He recognized that right off. It wasn't as gaudy. This was sleek and in some ways reminded Spike of Deco décor in New York in the nineteen thirties and forties. Had he just been dumped into a modern vampire-filled Film Noir?

There were two minions in addition to Dexter and Jake. They stood near the elevator doors. A hooded demon of some sort stood by a table in the corner of the room while an ordinary human man stared into a gas fueled fireplace. Then there was Lilah and her squabble partner, Gavin, and finally, there was the figure shrouded in the shadows in the far corner of the room. A man whose back was turned to the others as he stared down at the city below.

Spike remained highly aware of the silent figure on the far side of the room even as he spoke to Lilah and Gavin. "When you two kiddies are through kicking sand, you might like to actually make your offer."

Lilah shot Gavin a dismissive glare before returning her attention to Spike. "*I* have been given the authority to offer you the chance to play a pivotal role in-"

"Ending history as we know it," Gavin hurriedly finished Lilah's sentence.

Spike arched a brow and longed for a cigarette. Nothing was better at stalling for time while looking coolly dangerous than lighting a fag. He strove to sound bored. "Ending the world? That what this is about?" He smiled in his most seductive manner as he approached Lilah. "Couldn't be more original than that?"

"Originality is overrated," said the figure in the shadows. "Tradition is something we should be proud to uphold, William. But then, you would know little about that. You always wanted to break the rules."

Spike took a step toward the darkness. "And who might you be?"

"Who I am is of no importance," the figure answered. "What is important is who I was and who I will become."

Silence.

"And?" Spike pressed with impatience.

Still no answer. Bastard didn't even turn around to face him. Becoming pissed, Spike took another step into the shadows. "What's this got to do with me? Who the bloody hell are you?"

"Why, William, don't you know?" The man turned around and. . .

Spike had no idea who the man was. Not one bloody clue. Blond hair, sharp features, blue eyes, but Spike didn't know him, had never set eyes on the man before.

The stranger stepped into the light and smiled coldly. "Admittedly, our acquaintance was brief...and unpleasant. You really are lacking in manners, William."

"So I've been told. Now who the fuck are you?"

The man ignored Spike and spoke in a preoccupied manner as though he was only speaking to himself. "Darla was always aware of tradition. It always called to her. She always returned to it, to me, despite the centuries she wasted on that Irish dog Angelus. She was purebred and wasted time with mongrels such as yourself. But she always remembered to drag her puppies home to meet their master."

Their...?

The stranger nodded at the minions, who rushed Spike. Derek, Jake, the two minions by the door, all came at him at once. Spike turned and - damn it! All the furniture in the room was chrome, steel, glass and leather, nothing stake worthy anywhere in sight. He fought bare handed. Catching one of the nameless minions off guard, Spike's roundhouse kick propelled the younger vampire into the spandrel glass. There was a horrified look on the minion's face as the glass cracked and came crashing down as the vampire fell out the window. Spike could hear the minion scream as it plummeted to the ground twenty stories below. Spike caught Jake, and with a quick twist, ripped his kidnapper's head off.

Dust scattered across the black and white marble floor as a sharp pain dug into Spike's back. He looked over his shoulder in confusion and stared into a face that was no face. The demon he had noticed earlier had nothing but a black void beneath its hood. . .at least Spike thought so. It was hard to tell. His vision was becoming blurry and his extremities numb. As Spike fell paralyzed to the floor, he saw the demon holding a large, ugly looking hypodermic needle in its gnarled hand. Drugs? He'd been drugged?

Spike lay on the floor staring up at the blond man.

"You are of my Order," the man said. "You are of my line. I wasn't particularly impressed with you a hundred and twenty years ago but my options are limited." His self satisfied smile was ghastly. "William, once again you've met your Master."



Reggie lay with his arms folded under his head as he napped at the

library table. Willow ignored the drool that made a stretchy string from his lip to the highly polished mahogany. Lydia sat at the other end of the table quietly reviewing her notes while Willow sat on the floor in the corner with books scattered around her as she stared at the prophecy for ...like... the *millionth* time.

There had to be an answer. There had to be *something.* But no matter how many times she had read the parchment Willow could find nothing new. It was just the same words over and over again. She traced the ragged edge of the paper and wished she knew where the rest of it was. When had it been lost? A hundred years ago? Longer than that? If she had the rest of the paper would she find some way to avert disaster?

A thought teased her. More than a thought, actually. It was a memory. She remembered walking into the Magic Box and throwing open texts. She remembered absorbing the words, *feeling* them and the histories behind them. It had been exhilarating and terrifying. In her grief and rage, her power had driven her over the edge. She knew now that the power inside her could lead her to horrible things. It could overtake her conscience... her humanity...but...

But this was different. This wasn't rage. This wasn't grief and torment. This wasn't vengeance. *This* was desperation. She had to do *something* or the world would end, so Willow lightly, hesitantly touched the paper while reaching out with her senses-with *all* of her senses. She could feel the darkness behind them. It hovered just around the edge of her consciousness. She turned her minds eye away from it. She would not go there. She would never go there again... Please, never let her go there again because if she did, Willow knew she would never make it back.

She tried to stay controlled and calm. She tried to remain at peace as Tara had always tried to teach her to be, as the Council had coached her to be. She could do this without losing herself. She had to.

She felt the words and she felt. . .

Damn it! That son of a bitch Quentin Travers!

Willow realized she had said the words aloud when Lydia suddenly looked at Willow, and Reggie fell out of his chair. He wiped drool off his chin as Willow waved the parchment. "Mr. Travers tore off the rest of the prophecy!" she told them.

Lydia asked, "Are you certain?"

"Pretty darn certain."

"Bastard," Reggie growled then looked embarrassed that he had said the word. "Uh... that is..." Reggie climbed to his feet. "Mr. Travers must be concealing something important."

"Oh, I bet it's important alright." Willow mustered her resolve face. "And we're going to find out what it is."



The room was no operating room. It hadn't been designed as a place for medical procedures ... though Lilah had to admit there was something cold, stark, and antiseptic about the room with its dead white walls, black leather chaise, and chrome tables. The minions had dragged a paralyzed but mostly conscious William from the living room to the room Dr. Melman had appropriated earlier in the evening. Now, a bare-chested William the Bloody lay strapped to the black leather van der Rohe Barcelona chaise, and perhaps she should feel sympathy at seeing such a proud, wild creature in restraints...but her mind kept wandering to kinkier places.

Lilah's pleasant musings were interrupted by Gavin asking, "Isn't being vamped a bit like being pregnant? Either you are or you aren't."

Lilah stepped away from the chaise and returned her attention to the odd menagerie of occupants in the room. Dr. Melman and his demonic medical assistant were handling several vials of blood extracted from the vampire laying on the chaise while Gavin pestered them with questions. Standing silently to one side was Gabriel, who in a previous life had been known as The Master.

She was still confused by the specifics of the Master's situation. Having witnessed Darla's resurrection a few years earlier, Lilah could only assume that when magic was used to resurrect a vampire, they returned not as the vampire but as a human. That was what had happened to Darla and that was what had happened to the Master as well. He was human. At least she was relatively certain he was human. Lilah found it strange that both Darla and the Master had returned from their dusty graves with their memories of their vampire lives intact.

Dr. Melman nodded in response to Gavin's question. "You are correct. Infected with the demon *is* infected with the demon. But there are varying degrees within the condition. After all, two months pregnant and nine months pregnant do not completely resemble one another."

Lilah cast a doubtful look at the physician. "There are different stages of infection?" This did not resemble the way that vampirism had been explained to her.

"Not precisely," Dr. Melman amended. "But just as there are differences in hormone levels and genetics unique to individual human progeny, vampires have different bloodlines and different degrees of demonic presence related to infection levels."

"But both are forms of reproduction..." Gavin ventured, desperately trying to sound assured though Lilah heard the hesitancy in his voice.

The doctor nodded. "Oh yes. Of course, human reproduction and vampire reproduction are very different things. Vampirism is more than science or biology. It's magic." He indicated the faceless demon who was constantly at his side. "This is the reason for my unique medical assistant. There are many factors unique to nosferatu. For instance, in the case of vampires, the first offspring are the strongest."

Lilah nodded. This she did know. "The first are masters."

The doctor shrugged. "If you wish to use such a superstitious and antiquated classification system." His pinched features looked infuriatingly pompous. Lilah hoped the doctor messed up in some way so that the senior partners would okay her having him killed when this was done. "It's a rather trite term."

She would definitely have him killed.

"If you say so," Lilah told him before falling silent and adopting a secretive smile as she contemplated whether his death should be at the hands of Lilliard demons or Zorads.

The doctor appeared to be oblivious to anything but the sound of his own voice. "A vampire's first offspring is superior in every way to any later offspring. For reasons unknown, a sire's first progeny bonds more readily and more intimately with its human host. It functions at the highest mental capacity, and is more capable of passing unnoticed among human society."

Gavin nodded as if he had in someway known all of this. He was an inveterate poseur. "You mean they resort to game face less often."

"Usually, yes. Later offspring--" the doctor indicated the thuggish vampire named Dexter standing near the door "-are more demon than human." Melman looked at Lilah and asked in a patronizing tone. "Have you ever seen the demonic species from which our earth-bound vampires originate? Those demons are dumb as rocks."

"So being first offspring is important?" Gavin asked.

"To fully utilize the gifts of the human host? Yes, it is very important." Melman laid the vile of blood down on the table and indicated Spike. "And not a problem in this case. This vampire has never sired." He looked into the microscope he had set up on this table. "He is also quite definitely of the Line of Aurelius. There is no problem there, either."

Gavin drew close to the doctor. "You say that as though you believe there is a problem *somewhere.*"

"Problem? No. Complication? Maybe." Dr. Melman hit a button on his laptop computer and the microscope image of blood cells filled the LCD screen. "Our blood donor is of the correct bloodline and therefore has the particular strain of demonic infection that we seek. It's-" he laughed. "Well, for vampires it is the equivalent of a very robust strain. But remember what I said about concentration levels?"

"Varying degrees within the condition?" Lilah inquired.

"Yes. Our donor has the evil equivalent of a low sperm count."

"That is, if demonic infection were sperm," Lilah drawled. "Which it isn't."

"True, but, as a rough analogy it works fairly well. Of course, the implications of William the Bloody's condition are far more startling than a low sperm count. "

"And by that you mean...?"

"This is his blood. It is what is in him." The doctor pointed to the computer screen image. "Note the lack of the darker, demonic molecules. This creature would barely test positive for vampiric activity. He is more man than monster."

Lilah glanced over at Gabriel. She could tell by the expression on his face that he disliked what he was hearing. Straightening her shoulders and narrowing her eyes, she asked in a stern, authoritative voice. "And how do you propose to fix this?"

It was best to sound as commanding as possible.

The doctor's latex gloves snapped as he pulled them on. "Most sirings take only a minimal amount of blood from the sire. In this case, I suggest we drain the vampire entirely and centrifuge the blood for an artificial siring procedure."

Gavin grinned. "We're making vampire concentrate."

Lilah glanced at the blond figure the doctor had pronounced more man than monster and admitted a truth to herself that she would admit to no one else. They were proposing to bring this creature great pain, to drain the life from him. There were violating him in an intimate and horrible way. They were forcing William to sire against his will. Lilah knew she should be disgusted. A normal person would horrified, but for her it was just another day at the office. She worked for Wolfram and Hart.

Lilah watched Dr. Melman approach William with medical instruments that appeared to have been used during the Spanish Inquisition. In contrast, the immaculately appointed room also boasted a very technical looking device. It appeared to be a heart/lung machine. Only from what the doctor had described, Lilah was fairly certain no blood was going to be fed back into the vampire donor. He was being drained to turn Gabriel into the Master of Aurelius once again.

Lilah followed Gabriel, Gavin, Dr. Melman and his demonic medical assistant across the room. She stood over the Barcelona chaise and looked down into the paralyzed William's clear blue eyes. She saw many things written in that cerulean gaze-anger, contempt, and resignation. She also saw incipient fear which made her wonder...what must it be like to face having life drained from you drop by drop for the *second* time...?



Chapter Eleven: Telling Secrets

Loudly, Anya blew her nose into Giles's handkerchief.  "Thanks," she said, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.  She solemnly offered the soggy cloth back to him.

Giles held up a hand, his mouth twitching with silent amusement.  "No, you keep it."

"I appreciate you listening to me."  Anya snuffled.  "No one ever really bothers to ask how I'm feeling."  She nodded towards the training room where, judging from the loud thuds, Buffy was pummeling a punching bag.  "I'm just this big demonic nuisance to them, except when they need my help with research.  Imagine," her voice rose indignantly, "they didn't even know what a Kermitis demon was."

"Really?" Giles felt sympathy for the poor girl.  He had an unfortunate weakness for crying women, a weakness that had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion.  In this case, it would behoove him to remember the identity of the weeping female: Anya, once betrothed to Xander, former vengeance demon, terribly afraid of bunnies.  Quite an irrational girl, really.  Anya awkwardly adjusted her dress, then dried her eyes rather violently with the back of her hand.  Giles half smiled. That was the charming thing about Anya.  She didn't weigh every word, evaluate every action, think about propriety.  She was completely natural.  She simply did things.  Giles envied that.

"I don't think you taught them anything about doing research, Rupert.  Your former charges are completely incompetent.  Or perhaps they're just stupid."

Giles was jolted back to earth.  The familiar irritation rose within him, the irritation that always manifested itself in Anya's presence.

"But I told them." Anya said proudly. "I told them what to do.  It's simple really, if you have a troll hammer."

"Buffy managed to kill them all?"  Giles asked anxiously.

"As many as she could.  But then the plague came.  If there's any justice at all Xander will become horribly infected with an antibiotic resistant strain.  Pustules everywhere.  Now that's what I call vengeance."  Anya smiled brightly at the thought.

"Why haven't you just cursed him yourself, Anya?"  Giles cleared his throat uncomfortably.  "You are a vengeance demon, after all."

Anya shook her head.  "I can't do it myself.  You should know that, Rupert.  Vengeance demon code.  Besides," she lowered her voice conspiratorially, "I've lost the passion for wreaking havoc."  Absentmindedly, she took a chicken foot from the counter and made it hop a legless arrhythmic dance on the counter.  "I'm a pathetic excuse for a vengeance demon.  Soon D'Hoffryn won't want me either."  Her eyes filled with tears.

Giles's irritation faded.  He was back to wanting to protect her, to comfort her, to . . . What was it about this woman?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

=Do vampires dream?=

A little metaphysical speculation was good for the soul, Lilah thought, even if your soul had been promised years ago to the senior partners.  With vague enjoyment, she watched as the needles sucked the lifeblood from the ever-paler vampire.  Poetic justice, if you asked her.  A thing of beauty.  This creature who violated, who killed, was now having the same thing done to him.  What she wouldn't give to see Angel in the same position.

Now, that would be yummy.  She got all tingly at the thought.  Maybe she'd try it someday.

The vampire began to struggle, but he was so doped up, Lilah was fairly sure he couldn't feel a thing.  A shame, really.

++

Hard iron bands encircled William's wrists.  Writhing, trying desperately to move.  Cold steel on his back.  Soft hand over his mouth.  "Shhh.  It will all be over soon."

Smiling widely, the demon woman, the succubus, licked his face.  "We've almost finished with you."

A blond man caressed him.  Lewd.  Defiling. Obscene. "That's right, sweet William.  You've been very useful to me."

++

William Atherton awoke, panting.  It was the dream again.  Or nightmare.  Rubbing his wrists, he noticed they were slightly bruised.

Yawning, he considered the clock on his bedside table.  8:30 a.m.  He could afford to sleep just a few more minutes.  Sinking down, he snuggled into bed and found a warm body next to him, inhaling, exhaling, making little noises in her sleep.  The rational part of his mind--the part that was awake--knew something wasn't right.  But feeling the warm cotton shift against his cheek, he found that he didn't particularly care.  Gently he kissed her shoulder and inhaled her scent. Spicy, with a hint of vanilla.

Still half asleep, she turned and opened her green eyes.  "Is it morning?"

She speaks!  William smiled.  He liked this fantasy.  "Yes, love.  Time to get up."

Luxuriously, she stretched.  "Do we have to go?"

"I'm afraid so, love.  I've got responsibilities, duties."

Her bottom lip extended in a charming pout.  "Why does Matins have to be in the morning?"

"'Twas thus ever so, love."

++

"Thus endeth the lesson."

William closed the gilt-edged Bible.  The congregation looked at him expectantly.  A small group, but attentive.  With his connections a modest parish was all he could secure.

++

"Good morning, Mrs. Jameson."  William stood at the door of the church, shaking his parishioners' hands.  So many hands.  Grasping.  Prodding.

Strange.

"Good morning . . . Mother!  So pleased you could make it."  Enthusiastically he took his mother's hands in his and warmly kissed her cheek.  He could feel the bones beneath.  She hadn't been well.

"I wouldn't miss this, my dear.  Your first service.  You did a wonderful job, son."

"Dearest, could you take care of Mother?"  William beamed at the woman, the strange and beautiful woman who was somehow his companion.

The golden-haired goddess smiled gently.  "It would be my pleasure."  Her expression hardened and her smile turned malicious as she withdrew a stake from her sleeve and plunged it into his heart.  "I like taking care of things."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Give him some blood."

"Why don't we just kill him?"

"Do as I say."

The voices picked at the edges of Spike's consciousness.

Excruciating pain shot through him as they removed the needles and unbound his arms.  His body was dry, dusty.  His tongue felt swollen in his mouth.  And the hunger was unbearable.  Looking up, he saw the blond man, Gabriel.  Muzzily, through the drug-induced fog, he watched Gabriel's face change as the demon emerged.  Spike knew that somehow this was his fault.  Vaguely he remembered--his blood, the doctor, some scientific mumbo-jumbo about a low evil sperm count.  Obviously, they'd fixed that problem.  Gabriel looked plenty evil.

Lilah languidly sauntered to Spike's side and smiled sardonically, applying a band-aid to one of the fresh wounds on his arms, giving his marred flesh a playful kiss.  "All better," she sing-songed. Unbidden, Spike's fangs extended.  Lilah laughed and thrust a blood packet against his waiting mouth.  "My, aren't we a hungry boy?" She'd never understand why they needed to keep this pathetic excuse for a vampire around.  But she had her orders.

Spike ripped the packet open desperately, wanting only one thing--the feeling of blood running down his parched throat.

"Sorry we had to take such drastic measures, Spike.  But, you know, ancient prophecies--we couldn't take the chance that you'd say no, especially as you used to work for the Slayer."  Lilah continued to smile, sphinx-like, unreadable as she watched him feed.

Spike tried to collect his scattered thoughts, as he licked a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth.  =Why was he still alive?  It made no sense.  They'd planned to kill him.  But he was still something other than dead and if was going to save the world, he needed to stay that way.=  Finishing his blood packet, he managed to squeak out a response.  "That bitch fucked me five ways till Sunday, then left me.  I'd like to see her dead."

"Still lovesick, William?"  Gabriel considered his sire with interest, his blue eyes piercing, skeptical, patient.

"I was the Slayer's pet.  Gave her everything and she threw it in my face."

"So you truly hate the Slayer?"  Gabriel looked suspicious.  "Why don't I believe you?"

"Love and hate, two sides of the same coin."  Spike's jaw muscle clenched before he continued, his eyes blazing with suppressed rage.  He flashed a predatory smile.  "Time to show the little bitch what the big bad can really do."

"What can you do, William, besides being the Slayer's lapdog?" Gabriel asked.

"Look, I don't have much to live for these days," Spike spat, his anger at the Master's words giving him the energy to sit up and swing his legs over the side of the gurney.  "Bringing about the End of Days seems as good a death as any."  He shrugged nonchalantly, but his eyes were fierce.  "Used to like the world.  Not anymore."

Gabriel shifted into gameface and stalked towards him.  Almost seductively he stroked Spike's cheek.  "Are you sure that won't trouble your soul?"
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"I. Am. Not. A. Bitch."  Buffy punctuated her rage with her fists.  Violence always made her feel better . . . at least for a little while.

"I'm glad to hear that."  Giles carefully closed the door behind him.  Anya had stopped crying (thankfully) and now he could turn to his other problem: salving the bruised ego of his Slayer.  Why did saving the world require so much diplomacy?  "Where's Dawn?"

"She took off."  Buffy shrugged.  "Teenagers."

Giles nodded.  "Yes, I remember.  Vividly."

Buffy continued to slam her fists into the punching bag.

"Would you like to talk about it?"

"Not really."

"It seems that Anya has hit a nerve."

"I used Spike, I admit it.  But he wanted to be used."

"Used in what way?"

"In every way.  The sex part, that was for fun." Buffy hit the bag a little more viciously. "Let's face it, Spike is easy on the eyes."

Giles recoiled inwardly.  He didn't want to know this.  He didn't want to hear about Buffy's sordid liaison with Spike.  He sat down heavily on a nearby bench and observed his Slayer fruitlessly punching the bag, an opponent she would never defeat.  This was much, much worse than he'd thought.

Buffy half smiled.  "Guess I was in sucky place after you left, huh?"

Giles sighed.  "Sleeping with Spike would certainly qualify as being in a 'sucky place', as you so eloquently put it."

"Yeah, I know.  Evil, soulless thing," Buffy retorted.  "I kill his kind."

"But not him," Giles observed.

"No," Buffy stopped punching. "Not him. He was . . . different."  Buffy sank down on the bench next to Giles.  "He really did love me.  Does the Council have that in their books?  That soulless vampires can really love?  He would have done anything I asked, you know."

Giles studied her face.  It was pinched and hard.  He remembered when it had been soft and open.  But that was before she'd known what it was to die.  What it was to kill what she loved.   "What did you ask of him, Buffy?"

Buffy's eyes darted to the side, avoiding Giles's gaze.  "To hurt me."

"Did he?"

"Not as much as I hurt him."

"How did you hurt him?"

Buffy nervously picked at a ragged cuticle.  "Do you really want to know?"

"Yes."

"Will you still love me if I tell you?"

Giles shook his head.  "Of course, Buffy. We all make mistakes."

Buffy laughed, and the joyless sound echoed, brittle and harsh against the polished wood of the training room.  "Spike was a big mistake from the get go.  I should have known that Buffy and vampires are non-mixy.  It should never have started in the first place.  But he was there.  And he challenged me.  And he made me forget," her voice broke, "forget how hard and violent my life is.  The pain made me forget.  Giving pain and receiving it."  Angrily, she swiped at an errant tear.  "True confessions time, huh Giles?  Am I the kind of girl who should be saving the world?"

Giles smiled wanly.  "I wouldn't trust it to anyone else."

"I beat him Giles.  Viciously beat him.  He wanted to help me, in his own twisted way, and I beat him so hard that he couldn't get up.  I beat him until he almost choked on his own blood and then I left him there for the sun. Stupid Spike.  He was trying to save me.  'That's my girl,' he said and I just kept hitting and hitting until there was no face left.  And I kept telling him that he was evil, that there was nothing good in him, that I would never be his girl.  I kept telling him that it was over, that I didn't want him.  But I kept coming back.  I couldn't stop."

"I gave him no reason to be better, to try to be good.  And still he loved me, worshipped me.  All he wanted in his pathetic life was me." Buffy wiped a tear from her eye, remembering. "Usually when he tried to tell me he loved me, I'd just yell at him to shut up.  But one time, I asked him to tell me.  I needed to hear it.  He knew he'd never hear it in return, but it made him happy to say it.  It made him happy, Giles." Buffy stopped punching for a moment.  "And then I dumped him."  Her expression turned hard, remote.  "Why?  Because I could.  I had power over him and I liked it.  Part of me liked destroying him."

Giles cringed.  What had happened to her, his Slayer?  What had made her so . . . hard?

Buffy's words came out in a rush.  "But that power, all those games I played ,came with a big old price tag. I'd screwed with him so much that when it was really over, he didn't believe me.  You see, I'd told him it was over before--like every time I saw him. I'd said no and hadn't meant it."  Buffy met Giles's gaze.

Giles knew.  The tremble in her voice, the pain in her eyes.  He knew.  "What did he do?"

When the reply finally came, it was barely a whisper.  "He was confused.  Lost.  He wanted to have that connection again.  He couldn't hear me say no."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Why am I still alive?" the words rasped through his dry throat, ragged, disbelieving.

"Because I wanted to have a chat with you, William." Gabriel smiled benignly at the others in the room.  "Would you mind giving us some privacy?  We have much to discuss."

Lilah rolled her eyes.  "Do you think that's wise, Gabriel?  Spike's still playing for Team Slayer.  He might try something."

Gabriel continued to smile, supremely confident, watching Spike's emaciated features.  Suddenly, he turned his powerful gaze on the group.  "That's rather doubtful."

Gavin was the first to acquiesce, victim to Gabriel's mind tricks.  "We'll go.  I'm sure you can handle yourself."

Gabriel nodded cordially towards their retreating backs.  "Thank you."

"Ah, finally alone." Turning his attention towards Spike, Gabriel extended a hand to the trembling vampire. "Can you stand?"

"Just a mo'." Spike drew a useless breath, then, through sheer determination managed to stand up of his own volition, eschewing Gabriel's help.  His legs wobbled treacherously beneath him, threatening to give out at any moment. Leaning against a wall for support, he considered the creature in front of him, the evil thing he had created, the Master.  "You used to look like Bat Boy.  You have some work done?"

Soundly, Gabriel's palm--white, cold, and unforgiving--met Spike's cheek.  "Insolent fool.  Don't you realize the Sword of Damocles is hanging over your head?  One more misstep, my dear, and I shall release that sword."

Spike shrugged.  "Do what you want."

"You have no desire to live?  No concern for your own pathetic life?" Gabriel's eyebrow arched with interest.  "Is the weight of that abomination, that soul, so heavy?"

=Yes,= Spike silently replied. =Yes, God help me, it is.=

Spike drew a deep breath.  "The soul is heavy.  In fact, the only thing that keeps me alive is the thought of ending all this pain, all this," he gestured around him dismissively, "suffering.  Ending the world would be a blessing." Spike smiled murderously. "Just because I'm all soul-having doesn't mean I'm a champion like Angel.  In fact, I think a little apocalypse can be cleansing, particularly if that bitch Buffy buys it in the process."

Gabriel returned Spike's smile, the very image of benevolence, his golden hair glowing like a halo around his perfectly shaped face.  "I hoped you'd see things my way."  Languidly, with inhuman grace, he approached Spike, pinning his sire to the wall with his icy gaze.  "I've done some reading about you, sweet William."

"Yeah?" Spike arched an eyebrow suspiciously.  "Good for you.  I've always been a fan of literacy."

"So I've heard.  You were quite the poet in your day."

Spike's eyes widened slightly with surprise, but he quickly recovered. "Pathetic, I was."

"I would have to agree, William.  Really dreadful stuff, from all accounts.  Of course, you didn't leave many witnesses to your incompetence after you were turned, did you?"  Gabriel studied Spike's face carefully.

A small muscle by his eye twitched, but otherwise Spike displayed no sign of emotion.  "That's what vampires do," Spike replied, his voice perfectly steady.  "We kill."

"Yes," Gabriel said, tracing his finger along the brickwork of the wall that supported Spike, almost touching the other vampire's angular face, "it's our nature.  We're predators.  But you weren't always a predator, were you, William?  You didn't come by killing naturally.  In fact, your God specifically forbade such acts."

Spike couldn't disguise his surprise any longer.  "What are you talking about?"

"I know about you, William.  The Cambridge education, studying theology and the classics.  The position in a small parish."

Spike opened his mouth and softly asked, "How?"

Gabriel shrugged.  "Wolfram and Hart have a spectacular research library.  A man of your education would enjoy it."  Gabriel smiled wolfishly.  "Now I've got your attention, don't I?  But enough chit-chat, William.  Here's the bottom line.  I know you.  I know your skills."  A cold finger finally met Spike's flesh. Spike recoiled involuntarily from its cold probing.  "And I know you are the perfect man," Gabriel emphasized the last word, "to help me."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Bastard!" Giles spat.  "I can't believe he did that to you.  How could he, with the chip?"

Buffy bent down to tie her shoe, carefully avoiding Giles's eyes.  "The chip hasn't worked on me since I came back."

"You mean you were intimate with that creature and he could have killed you at any time?  Buffy," Giles considered her with a mixture of concern and disappointment, "I thought you were wiser than that."

"He loved me, Giles."

Giles stood up.  "Rather destructive love.  Twisted, corrupt . . ."

"Giles, stop."

"Buffy, he tried to rape you." Giles wearily sat down again, taking one of her hands in his.  "Buffy . . ."

"No, Giles, let me explain.  Spike left Sunnydale because of what happened.  You should have seen him when he realized what he'd almost done."

"That's no excuse.  It doesn't exonerate him just because he regretted his actions."

Buffy shook her head.  "Of course it doesn't. I don't know why he's all evil-ed up now but he wasn't like that before."

Giles suddenly felt terribly guilty.  What must Spike's current behavior be doing to Buffy?  Perhaps he should tell her the truth, tell her everything.  But if he did reveal the plan then Buffy might rekindle her alliance with Spike . . . or worse.  Perhaps it was better if they were antagonists.  Perhaps it was better if their relationship played out to its natural conclusion.  She was the Slayer; he was a vampire.  Natural enemies.  Mortal enemies.  "Buffy, if you see him again, you do realize you may have to . . ."

"Kill him?"  Buffy suddenly looked much older than her twenty-one years.  "I know, Giles." Her mouth drew tight with resolve.  "I'll do my duty."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Spike staggered into his old crypt--the designated meeting point.  The two packets of blood Lilah and Gabriel had given him had done little to assuage the overwhelming hunger and weakness.  His head was spinning. He found his thoughts drifting towards images and sensations his soul found distasteful, but his demon found tremendously appealing.  Pulsating arteries.  The feeling of his fangs plunging into a tender neck and drinking . . .

In response to these profoundly naughty thoughts, Spike felt his fangs extend.  If he didn't get some blood soon, he might eat Rupes instead of having a nice chit-chat.

And Spike didn't relish their upcoming tete-a-tete.  "Yeah, Rupert." Spike lit a cigarette and mockingly addressed the old mannequin head, the one who'd stood in for Buffy in more imagined conversations than he cared to admit. "I have a knack for evil and a big yen to end it all."  He inhaled the smoke deeply into his lungs and then exhaled in an angry burst.

"You want death?  Let me help."

Giles stood in the doorway of the crypt, stake in hand, dangerous glint in his eye.

"Rupert, welcome to my very humble abode." Spike gestured expansively, using precious strength.  "Hope you checked for spies.  Don't want to blow my Big Bad cover."

Giles considered him coldly.  "If they were watching, I'm sure they'd see that I'm not your friend.  Nor will I ever be your friend."

Spike lowered his eyes, stung by Giles's words.  "Right.  It's business.  I know that."

"I've just learned some very interesting things, Spike.  I had a little discussion with Buffy."  Giles gripped his stake a little harder.  "Care to tell me the real reason you left Sunnydale?"

Spike shrugged in defeat.  "I'm sure Buffy told you.  I'm a monster.  That's why I left town."  He met Giles's eyes.  "I would never hurt her.  Not now."

"How can I be sure?"

"Nothing's sure, Rupert, but here's one thing I know: the end of the world is coming, and apparently I'm the right 'man' to help it along."

"What a surprise," Giles replied warily.

"Yeah, you weren't the only one to learn interesting things tonight. It was all fun and games for old Spike.  Got up close and personal with victimhood." Spike half-smiled.  "Violated so many over the years--old men, girls in coal-bins, those who were just too scared to run away. But I hadn't felt it--not since Dru.  Since she took something from me that wasn't hers."  Spike sat down in his battered green chair.  "Tonight they took my blood.  They brought back the Master.  It's gonna be a bloody carnival."

"What?"  Giles's brow furrowed in confusion.  "The Master?  That can't be.  Buffy killed him years ago."

"Wasn't really the Master, not at first.  It was Gabriel.  Human bloke.  Good looking in a Ralph Fiennes sort of way.  And no fruit-punch mouth."

"Spike, you're babbling."

"Am I, Rupes? Blood and science.  That's all it took to bring him back."  Spike's hand shook as he brought the cigarette to his mouth.  Slowly, painfully, he removed his jacket, revealing the numerous puncture wounds and bruises on his bare arms.  "Been a long night."

"Bloody hell.  What did they do to you?" Giles removed his glasses, avoiding the sight of Spike's mangled flesh.

"Told you.  Took my blood, resurrected a monster.  The Master's back, and he's eager for apocalypse.  Always was a grandiose wanker."

"So the Master thinks he can help it along?  With his re-vamping we are one step closer to the magic number seven."

"Apparently, the Master has a hard-on for ancient mystical artifacts.  Thinks I can help him find them, seeing as I know a few dead languages."

Giles considered Spike with suspicion.  Something wasn't ringing true.  "Is that all? Why would the Master trust you with this task, the known lover of the Slayer . . ."

"Former lover, Rupes," Spike shuffled his feet uncomfortably.

"Former lover," Giles gladly corrected his statement.  "But it still doesn't make sense."

Spike inhaled deeply on the last bit of his cigarette, then extinguished it beneath a heavy black heel.  "I guess I play despair pretty well. Convinced him that I was ready for the end.  This is the end, my only friend."  Spike half-smiled, remembering Jim, remembering Emma, remembering those he hadn't saved.  Maybe this time would be different.

Giles looked at Spike closely.  "Besides your knowledge of Greek and Latin and your witty repartee, what else qualifies you for this apocalyptic task?  Care to enlighten me?" Giles pressed forward with his interrogation, scrutinizing the vampire's features.

Spike rose unsteadily from his chair, turning his back on Giles. Absentmindedly, he began toying with the mannequin head.  "Has to do with that ponce--the man I was before Dru changed me.  He had certain skills.  The Master did his homework, gotta give him that."

"What skills?  Were you an amateur archeologist?"

"Look, is this twenty questions?" Spike spat defiantly, still avoiding Giles's gaze.  "I told you what you need to know.  Let me finish this.  Trust me, just a little."

"Why should we trust you, Spike? You've promised to change on more than one occasion and each attempt ends in recidivism.  The incident with Buffy is only the latest in a long string of moral failures."

Spike pulled himself up to his full height and swaggered towards Giles, every inch the Big Bad, crystal blue eyes bearing down on the renegade Watcher. "I may not be a righteous man, but I'm all you've got, Rupert.  I'm your only chance to stop this."

"Not bloody good enough." Giles's steely gaze was unrelenting.  "What are you hiding, Spike?  What does the Master know about you?"

Spike sank heavily to the floor of the crypt, his strength finally giving out.  "You want to know the awful truth, Rupert?  You want to know who I was?  Will it give you your jollies to know my deep, dark, secret?"

Giles crouched down beside him.  "I need to know, Spike," he said gravely.

The last flicker of defiance extinguished from Spike's eyes.  Sighing deeply, he finally spoke.  "William was a vicar.  And the Master is back among the Order of Aurelius. And it's all my fault."  A note of desperation entered Spike's voice.  "Let me make it right."



Author’s note: Sorry, this has taken so freaking long. Real life has kept me busy. On the bright side, I did pass my boards.



Chapter Twelve: Magical Mystery Tour

Willow’s boots made a metallic clank against the metal deck of the Millennium Bridge as she crossed over the mud colored Thames.

“Could we. . .” Reggie gasped. “Stop for a moment?” Reggie’s panting breath made a frosty cloud in the air as he doubled over and braced his hands against his knees.

Lydia looked mildly impatient as Willow paused to wait for Reggie. For a moment Willow wondered whether Lydia would fiddle with her glasses the way that Giles did when he was upset. She didn’t. Lydia adjusted her black leather gloves.

Reggie’s face remained a flushed, mottled red. “I don’t understand why we didn’t take the tube to Southwark.”

“We would have had to change trains,” Lydia explained.

He took another gulp of air. “Could have taken the boat from Blackfriars.”

Lydia sighed and drew her gray wool coat more tightly around herself as the chilly morning wind whipped off the river. “Honestly, Reggie, it isn’t *that* far to walk and the boats don’t run until nine.”

“It’s okay. We can wait while you catch your breath,” Willow offered.

“I’m fine.” Reggie manfully squared his shoulders. “Lead the way, Willow.”

Willow paled. “I don’t. . .” She laid her hands on the cold stainless steel railing of the pedestrian bridge and looked at the cityscape of London. Most of what was in front of her was low and vaguely modern in varying shades of brick, steel, and glass. It was half a world from Sunnydale and nothing like the Big Ben and Parliament view that had always been the icon of ‘view from the Thames’ of the American’s imagination. For the most part what was in front of Willow was ordinary, sometimes gray and sometimes brown with the occasional apartment building having reflective tinted glazing. Although standing at the end of the bridge, slightly askew of being on axis, stood the impressive the black-smudged, white-domed, Neo-Classical-to-Baroque edifice of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

“I’m sort of just following my instincts here, guys. Last summer I—“ Willow stopped, not wanting to think of the mess she had been before Spike had found her in the alley. “I heard stories, but I’ve never actually been to this place.”

“We could take another go at Travers,” Reggie suggested.

Lydia frowned. “I am afraid if Mr. Giles and Spike could not extract the truth from Mr. Travers, we have little hope of doing so.”

Willow’s grip tightened on the rail. “Yeah. Without going Darth Willow I’m not very intimidatey.” And no magic meant no truth spells.

Reggie rubbed his hands together. “The Mystic it is, then. Shall we go?”

They continued across the bridge toward the looming, stark edifice of an old power plant that had been transformed into an art museum. It stood next to the gleaming white exterior of the reconstructed Globe Theater with its anachronistic thatch roof.

Something caught Reggie’s eye. “Ooh! Starbucks!” He picked up speed and started toward the coffee shop.

Lydia glanced at Willow. “This Mystic, do you trust her?”

Willow shrugged and followed Reggie. “She’s supposed to be very powerful. Maybe she can get a vibe off the text that I can’t. I’ve tried, but. . .” =I’m scared.= The text was powerful and accessing it meant marshalling forces which had overwhelmed her not so long ago. Those forces had made Willow lose control, had caused havoc and death. She had stood in the middle of a storm of emotion, need, thrills, pain, and power. Everything had been in her control, yet everything had been beyond her. She couldn’t make it make sense. She had seen, up close and personal, a world composed of chaos upon which she could not impose order. It terrified her. The thought of ever losing control like that again had become the stuff of her nightmares.

Reggie walked out of the coffee shop and met them on the sidewalk. A foamy milk mustache marred his upper lip. “So, where are we going?”

Willow looked at their surroundings. Having traveled beyond the Globe Theater and the Tate Modern, the three of them were now in a very non-descript area of the city. Most of the buildings looked like little more than old brick warehouses.

“I. . .uh. . .have to sense it,” Willow confessed. “It’s a bit like trying to find Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.” =Or Rack’s= Willow added silently.

Lydia frowned. “Nine and Three Quarters?”

“Harry Potter.” Reggie looked excitedly at Willow. “You can really do that? Walk through walls?”

“M-maybe.” Could she? “But this isn’t exactly like that. It’s not a real wall. It’s an illusion. It takes power to create it and that power can be felt.” And that power would sizzle and hum across Willow’s skin like the power Rack had given her, like the power she had sold herself to a demon to gain. “It’s sort of like a portal. “

Willow continued walking, stretching her senses into the void in an effort to feel the portal’s energy and hoping that this time she wouldn’t find something awful. Reggie and Lydia were silent while she searched and that unnerved Willow more. Everything about the narrow, cobbled streets, which stood deserted and shadowed even in the morning hours, left Willow feeling uneasy. Then she touched something. It wasn’t strong at first. It felt distant and small. Instead of a supernatural power plant it was more along the lines of the charge felt when wearing wool socks and skidding your feet across carpet. Still, even then, there came a point where you realized that if you touched the doorknob you’d receive a hell of a shock, and the more she walked the more Willow felt the charge build.

She stopped moving.

“It’s here.”

She, Lydia, and Reggie faced what looked like a large expanse of blank brick wall. Reggie and Lydia glanced at Willow with “are you sure?” expressions causing Willow to nod then lift her chin. With the appearance of more confidence than she actually felt, Willow stepped through the illusory wall. Behind her she heard Reggie say, “It *is* just like Harry Potter.”

“In hell,” Willow whispered as she peered into charcoal gray shadows which surrounded her.



Buffy’s roundhouse kick sent a minion careening off the pier and into the harbor.

“Nice kick, pet.” Spike observed from his ship deck perch. He loomed over Buffy as he watched her battle the remaining minions. “But you’re a mite slow.”

Buffy grabbed her stake and shoved it into the heart of the vampire she was fighting.

“See,” Spike taunted. “Could’ve taken that minion out five minutes ago.”

Buffy glared up at him. “Would you shut up?”

Spike laughed. “You know better than that, luv.” He smirked. “No.”

From her position behind a packing crate, Dawn was struck by the absurd notion that Spike looked like a pirate. Not like a *real* pirate, but like a character in of those old, cheesy movies that her mom had used to watch on the movie classics channel. In real life, pirates had been dangerous men, but in those old Technicolor movies they were all bluster, handsome faces, and dramatic poses. They were swashbuckling actors putting on a show.

Spike stood precariously balanced on the ship’s rail as he paced along the narrow beam to remain abreast of Buffy’s struggle.

“Just going to watch? Why not come down and be part of the show?” Buffy challenged just before the vampire she was fighting clocked her. Buffy came back swinging, knocking the vampire to his knees then executing him. She looked back at Spike. “What are you doing here?”

Spike squatted and struck a match against the rail. After searching his pocket for a pack of cigarettes and coming up empty, he blew out the match, shrugged and said, “Stuff.”

“You’re too late, you know. I got here first.”

“Did you now, and what did you find?”

“Like I’d tell you.”

He gave a bitter smile. “That’s my girl. Always keepin’ secrets.”

“I’m not—“

“My girl. Yes, I remember you saying that once. Care to remind me when?”

Buffy flushed and turned away, attacking a minion with brutal force. Dawn heard the vampire scream in pain as Buffy broke its arm then its leg so that it was on the ground before she dusted it. Some expression Dawn couldn’t quite define crossed Spike’s face before he stood and leaped from the ship’s rail. If he’d still had the duster it would have fluttered around him like Batman’s cape and –oh yeah – that move just was *cool.* Spike landed with the grace and agility of a cat. Every now and then he’d do something that would suddenly bring home the fact that he really wasn’t human.

Dawn looked over at Buffy, who was still in full high-heeled dominatrix/executioner mode with the minions, while a little further down the pier Xander’s ass was being thoroughly kicked. Spike circled the outer edge of the two fights, watching but not participating in either. He stood with his back to Dawn.

Dawn’s hand tightened around her stake. Buffy had told her to stay down and stay hidden. She was supposed to keep watch and scream a warning if it was needed. After all, Dawn was good at screaming. Spike had once teased that it was her not-so-secret superpower.

Spike.

His back was to her, and Dawn could take him out. She could dust him. In the month he’d been back, Spike had caused nothing but trouble. Buffy’s good mood had disappeared. She had gone into cold bitch Slayer mode the night Spike had returned and made himself Arch-enemy Number One.

Giles was a pod person too. Dawn remembered Giles as the amusing fuddy-duddy who was essentially kind. He didn’t seem very kind lately. He was distant and he frowned. He had always frowned but it used to be possible to tease him into smiles. Now he *just* frowned. He had become as hard and coldly determined as Buffy.

“Ripper,” Xander had said. “He’s in Ripper mode.”

And Spike was the cause of it all.

Buffy ripped a pipe from the pier railing, flipped it, twirled it in her hand, and skewered her combatant. Spike cocked his head to the side. “Stole that move from me, didn’t you, pet?”

Buffy glared. “No!” She looked ready to charge Spike, but a harried Xander cried for help.

“Buffy!”

Buffy ran to save her friend as Dawn struggled to gather her own courage. She could do this. She could kill Spike. She had a clear shot. He was only a couple yards away. All she had to do was remind herself that Spike was the guy who had harbored demon eggs that would have hatched critters that would have devoured her and her friends in their beds. He was the guy who had disappeared from her life the moment Buffy had come back from the dead.

Dawn tightened her hand around her stake and rose to her feet.

Spike was the guy who had slept with Anya. He was the guy who had hurt Buffy. He was the guy…who had been Dawn’s first real friend.

Spike turned and Dawn’s blood ran cold. For so long he had just been Spike. Frustrated Spike. Angry Spike. Heartbroken Spike. But always just Spike. Dawn had never looked into his eyes and seen hate. Not her. Never her. She might know that Spike was dangerous, but where she was concerned Spike had always been a big fluffy puppy with bad teeth. Dawn had never looked at him and seen death. Now she did, and she was terrified.

Spike’s blue eyes flickered gold, a flat acid yellow devoid of human warmth or expression. His muscles tensed a fraction of a second before he charged in her direction. Dawn’s heart leaped into her throat, and she remembered the story Spike had once told her of a little girl in a coal bin.

=Oh, God. Oh, God.= She was about to die. She was about to have her throat ripped out by a vampire. Dawn knew she should run, but her feet felt glued in place. Spike could run faster than she could anyway. She was going to die. Spike reached out and as Dawn opened her mouth to scream, he caught. . .

Dawn gasped as Spike roughly hauled a vampire from behind her.

The vampire struggled in Spike’s grip. It protested, “Hey man, I had her dead to—“

Spike ripped the minion’s head off sending a spray of dust into Dawn’s eyes.

“God. Oh! That stings!” Dawn rubbed her eyes with the back of her wrist. But she felt safe, and when she could see again, she found Spike watching her with concern.

Spike was an open book again, every thought, every emotion written on his expressive face. There was fear, then relief, when he found her unharmed. He lifted his hand, reaching for her as if he meant to touch her, comfort her.

“Dawn!” Buffy yelled from somewhere beyond Dawn’s field of vision.

Spike’s hand fell and the moment of connection between him and Dawn was broken. He stepped back, drawing himself up so that he appeared larger than he truly was. His features hardened before he disappeared into the darkness.

“Dawnie.” Buffy marched toward her. “I told you to stay hidden. That means *hide.*

“It’s okay, Buffy. I’m okay.”

Buffy’s frown knitted her brow but after a moment she seemed willing to let the ice bitch routine go. She brushed a strand of Dawn’s hair behind her ear, and Dawn could *almost* swear there was a look of approval in Buffy’s eyes.

Xander was breathless when he reached them. He looked tired and stressed. “Bastard got away, didn’t he?” They all knew Xander was talking about Spike.

“Doesn’t matter,” Buffy said.

Xander shook his head and looked unhappy. “What do you mean, it doesn’t matter?”

Buffy casually tossed a two inch square silver box in the air and caught it. “I got what I came for.” She started walking. After a moment, and a disgruntled sigh, Xander followed her.

Dawn still felt rooted to the spot. She stared at the pile of dust at her feet. Spike had done that. Spike had saved her. He had *wanted* to save her. She had looked into his eyes and seen love.

“Dawnie?” Buffy called.

“Coming!”

Something was going on, and Dawn wanted to know what.



Spike negotiated his way through the dimly lit alley between two warehouses as he left the docks. The shadows around him were long and deep, deep enough to hide in and almost disappear. He leaned against a weathered brick wall and pulled a dry, pained breath into his lungs. If his heart could beat, he knew it would be pounding, not from exertion but from fear. Dawn had been a hair’s breadth away from becoming O-positive lunch for one of the Master’s flunkies. Buffy and Harris had been caught in their own battles. If Spike hadn’t glanced in Dawn’s direction, Niblet would have been killed and left lying on the dock with a dead, glassy-eyed stare.

=Bollocks, bugger, and balls.= What had Buffy been thinking bringing Bit down to the docks like that? Reckless was what it was, damned reckless.

Spike paused and leaned against the warehouse, settling for a deep breath to calm himself rather than the cigarette he’d sell his soul to buy.

The corner of Spike’s mouth lifted in bitter amusement. He’d have to watch thinking things like that now that he had a soul to sell, now that he knew what a soul meant. It meant he remembered a thousand little girls just like Bit, girls that he had done in without a second thought. He was no better than the minion he had just killed.

A few weeks ago, when he had revealed his human past to Rupes, the Watcher had wanted to know what the Master could possibly want with an undead vicar. Rupes’ mocking tone had made his incredulity clear and caused Spike to laugh. “Nothing,” Spike had said gruffly. “Not about God or religion anyways--which is good ‘cause I was never much interested in either.”

Rupert’s glare had been disapproving, but then Rupert’s glare was always disapproving. Spike had ignored it and answered the Watcher’s unspoken questions.

“William was a good boy.” Spike was keenly aware of his accent changing to rounder and more precise speech. “Always doing what was right, what was expected. Taking the cloth was a gentleman’s profession, one appropriate to my family’s situation. I believed it all, I suppose, but I had no passion for it. If you’re looking for a fallen saint, you would do better to look in Dru’s direction.”

The Watcher’s expression had become a scowl. “I knew she had taken vows before Angelus. . .“

Spike had arched a brow. “Don’t go squeamish, Rupes. He raped her, tortured her, drove her insane, and murdered her. “

Giles had grimaced and looked away, causing Spike to wonder at the innate repression that made Giles reluctant to hear or say what he already knew to be true.

Spike had made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “But this isn’t about Dru. And I told you, it’s not about God. It’s about knowledge.”

“And you have it?” Giles had asked derisively. “Why do I find that hard to believe?”

“Bloody well don’t care what you believe. You try findin’ a graduate of the modern American educational system who can read Greek and Latin. Local vampire ranks aren’t filled with Rhodes Scholars, y’know.”

“Or vicars.”

Spike had shrugged. “It amused Angelus to corrupt innocents. He called it ‘education.’”

“I find it difficult to imagine you as innocent.”

“And I find it difficult to imagine you as anything other than a sanctimonious git swathed in tweed. We all have pasts.”

“Your point, Spike?”

“My point is the Master needs a right-hand man familiar with subjects a good Anglican boy with a pre-Raphaelite’s obsession for all things chivalric would know a thing or three about. Crusades, illuminated manuscripts, holy hand grenade of Antioch. That sort of thing.”

Rupert hadn’t been pleased, but the Watcher was a pragmatic man. “As unlikely as it may be, you appear to be of value.”

“Knots your knickers, doesn’t it?” Spike’s bravado had fallen away, and he had sighed. “I can do this.” He had lifted his head. “Besides, I’m all you’ve got.”

Three weeks and a few-odd days had passed since then, weeks of lies and pretended subservience to the Master. Now, the weight of a two-and-a-half-inch square silver box in his pocket reminded Spike that things were as buggered as always.



It was nothing like Platform Nine and Three Quarters. It was nothing like Diagon Alley. There was nothing whimsical or cute to be found here. It was ominous and dark, and reminded Willow of the gutter where Spike had found her.

“This is the right place?” Lydia asked.

Willow nodded nervously. “I’m pretty sure it is. It was described to me. . .sort of. . .in way less scary terms.” Willow swallowed convulsively. “It’s a shadowland. It’s always here, just. . .”

“Hidden in the shadows. I’ve read about those.” Reggie’s voice was as enthusiastic as ever as he examined their surroundings. “Look at these markings. They were left by a Krallock demon.” It was graffiti which probably only said “Numfar was here,” but the phosphorescent green scrawl on the cement-parged walls glowed in the shadows. It felt like a warning, and although the alley walls protected them from the wind off the river, the air seemed colder here.

Willow wondered why she should be surprised that this hidden place of magic seemed to be like Rack’s. The air was pregnant with the same kind of energy. It was just as unearthly still, and it had the same hostile vibe.

=What did you expect? Oz and the Emerald City?= For a moment Willow comforted herself with the memory of an entirely different Oz and what his deadpan reaction would be to this dark alley. But Oz wasn’t here, and this wasn’t the Emerald City. There was no harmless doorman or a horse of a different color. There was no benevolent Dumbledore. . .and was she mixing her metaphors and literary references much?

Gathering her courage, Willow approached the door next to the glowing demon scrawl. The door flew open, revealing an aged woman whose wild mane that looked like it belonged to Gloria Steinem on a bad hair day. . . if the bad hair day involved her sticking her finger in a light socket. Her hair was steel-wool gray, as were her eyes. In fact, everything about her was a bit gray. “Come in and stop wasting time,” the woman commanded.

Willow blinked. “But I. . .uh. . .”

“She hadn’t even tried the door,” Reggie exclaimed. “How did you know we were here?”

The woman arched a brow. “You come to a seer and expect her not to see?”

“Well, no, but—“

The woman had already walked away, leaving the door open behind her. Willow and Lydia looked at each other, then followed the seer inside. The mystic stood over an old gas stove, where she put a tea kettle on to boil. “Could have saved my time by not coming at all,” the seer grumbled. “Could have let me sleep in. It’s hellishly early.” She pulled a tin of tea from the cupboard. Willow and the Watchers were left standing in awkward silence watching step by step as the seer prepared to make tea.

Finally, Reggie broke the silence to ask, “Are you a mystic or an oracle?”

The woman frowned as she filled a strainer with fragrant black Darjeeling leaves. “What’s the difference?”

Lydia primly clasped her hands. “A mystic is a practitioner of mysticism which is defined as the belief that it is possible to experience communion with the ultimate reality through subjective means such as intuition or insight. An Oracle is someone through whom gods, goddesses, and fates may speak directly.”

The Seer tilted her head slightly to one side. “Reallly? Hmm. I will keep that in mind.” She then shrugged, clearly reluctant to define herself, and returned to making tea.

Reggie continued to press. “Are you a witch?”

The woman eyed him as she set a celadon Japanese teapot on the counter. “Awfully anxious to find a pigeon hole for me, aren’t you, Watcher?”

“How do you know we’re Watchers?”

“You smell like it. Musty, stuffy--” She sniffed the air. “--Chanel No. 5.” She smiled at Lydia. “Very nice, by the way.” The Seer turned, caught sight of herself in the mirror and yelped. Leaning closer to the glass, she touched her lined face as if it was unfamiliar to her. “Why have you come at this ungodly hour of the morning?”

“It’s eight fifteen,” Lydia protested.

The woman hrrumphed. “Feels earlier. I haven’t had a chance to put my face on yet.”

Willow stepped forward. “We…uh… came for information. We wanted to know. . .” She searched for the appropriate word. “Stuff about this…um…prophecy. . . thing.” Willow silently groaned. She hadn’t sounded very dignified or commandy.

Still staring into the mirror, the woman said, “If you’re looking for someone to tell fortunes, try Talia. She’s three blocks to the east and nauseatingly chipper this time of day.“ Another disgruntled hrrmphf. “Morning person.”

Willow summoned her resolve face. “We aren’t here for fortunes.”

The woman turned her attention from the mirror to Willow. Her gaze traveled from the top of the young witch’s red head to the toes of her almost-new boots which were ankle high and laced from bottom to top. “It’s going to cost you,” the Seer warned.

Lydia was the first to answer. “We are willing to pay your price.”

“Oh, really?” The woman arched her brow, then reached out and snatched Lydia’s shell-pink Hermes scarf from around the Watcher’s neck.

“That’s a Regina!” Lydia protested, then instantly composed herself and clasped her hands primly. With her chin lifted and her voice full of forced calm she added, “And it’s vintage.”


”Pretty.” The seer fluttered the scarf in the air and began humming an artless tune as she pulled back her wild hair and tied it with the scarf. Another wave of her hand and when the seer faced her visitors, the lines on her face had been magically, erased leaving her skin smooth, taut, and curiously ageless.

“I say, Lydia, a scarf is a small price to pay for a—hey!” Reggie cried out as the Seer stole his latte. “You’re making tea, why do you need my coffee?”

The woman licked milk foam from her upper lip. “There’s no such thing as enough caffeine.

“And my price?” Willow asked, fully aware that the seer was taking a token from each of her visitors.

A flash of light and the amethyst crystal that hung around Willow’s neck on a leather thong disappeared and reappeared in the Seer’s hand. Willow’s hand went to her now bare throat. “No, please. That was given to me by someone very special. . .someone I lost.”

 

The Seer gazed into the crystal that now lay in her hand. It began to giving off a soft, iridescent lavender glow. “I can see that.” She returned the crystal to Willow’s neck. “She loved you a great deal.”

“Ow!” Willow winced as the older woman tore out several strands of her red hair.

The Seer smiled and wound her trophy around one finger before sliding it into a small silk pouch that she placed in a cupboard drawer. “Account paid in full. Now, what do you wish to know?”

Willow spread the illuminated parchment out flat on the kitchen counter.



“What is it?” Buffy asked as Giles examined the box she had taken from the ship at the Sunnydale Docks.

“It’s like the most expensive Rubik’s cube on the planet,” Xander observed. “And the freakiest.”

The surface of the cube was intricately worked silver, inlaid with onyx and polished ivory. The workings of the mechanism were so precise and fine that the black and white pieces could be moved along delicate silver tracks until they made patterns.

“So?” Buffy’s arms were crossed and she looked impatient.

Giles frowned. “I’m not precisely sure what you wish me to tell you, Buffy.”

“Um, sort of looking for ‘what is it?’”

Giles picked up the box for closer inspection as he traced the symbols etched into each piece of ivory and stone. “It’s a puzzle of some sort. I cannot be more precise until I’ve had time to do further research.”

“Why does Spike want it? He had five minions with him and he beat us to the docks. What does that thing do?”

Xander took the box from Giles’s hand. “Probably something very Wes Craven.” He set it on the table. “And it’s freaking me out watching you mess with it, Giles.”

Buffy started to pace across the floor of the Magic Box. “This is *so* not good.” She stopped moving. “Remember the Judge? Big puzzle pieces stolen from the dock. Put them all together and—presto--Blue Man apocalypse.”

Xander shook his head. “Remind me again why we kept Spike around so long? Should have killed him when he showed up at Giles’s door. Would have saved us all a lot of trouble.”

A knot formed in the pit of Dawn’s stomach as she slid from the counter where she had been sitting, and quietly made her way into the back room. Behind her she could hear Xander going into Spike rant number three million, six hundred thousand and five. For months now she’s been all with the Spike hate, but the incident at the dock made Dawn wonder. Spike had protected her. It couldn’t have been to impress Buffy, because he was busy pissing Buffy off in a very big way. The only explanation for why he had saved her was because he had wanted to. Sure, Spike could be a monumentally sentimental sap – in a cool, rebellious sort of way – but when trying to destroy the world, rescuing the people working against you was sort of counterproductive.

Sitting at a desk in the far corner of the Magic Box’s rear office, Anya sighed and muttered to herself as she reviewed invoices. “I sincerely hope he is a very good Watcher because he is a very inefficient business man.”

Dawn asked, “Who? Mr. Giles?”

“Look at this.” Anya waved a packing slip in Dawn’s general direction. “This is the third invoice I’ve found for an Er’Gefrey box, and we don’t have a single one in stock.”

The demon turned and looked at Dawn with a disapproving and confused gaze. “How am I to make a profit if Giles keeps paying for merchandise we don’t have?”

Dawn caught the paper that Anya was waving. “What’s an Er’Gefrey box look like?”

Anya shrugged. “Varies. But Giles keeps paying for the expensive ones--silver, onyx, and ivory.”

Dawn gasped. She pushed aside the bead curtain and looked into the main room of the shop where Buffy and Xander were still talking with Mr. Giles. “This box thingie, what does it do?”

”Do?” Anya asked. “Nothing. It’s like magical gift wrapping. A fancy outer wrapper that contains pan-dimensional space.”

“Huh?”

“It’s a small package that holds really big things.”

Dawn frowned. “So these little boxes act like Mary Poppins’s suitcase?”

“Who is Mary Poppins?”

Dawn ignored Anya’s question. “If Mr. Giles is ordering these boxes, he has to know what they are. He’s lying.”

“Lying? He’s embezzling? Why I—“

Dawn’s hand covered Anya’s mouth. “Shh!” Anya bit her. “Ow!”

But Anya did keep her voice down to a whisper when she spoke again. “I am a vengeance demon, you know. I could turn you into a stink beetle.”

“Not unless someone I scorned wished for me to be a stink beetle, and since I’m not big into scorning and never had anyone to scorn anyhow, you’re out of luck.”

Anya peeked through the beaded curtain to look at the trio inside the shop examining the Er’Gefrey box. “Human men are evil. Say what you will about demons, men are worse.”

“You like men.”

“Well, yes, but I have very bad taste in men.”

“So men aren’t evil, just the ones you like.” Dawn frowned. “And I thought we were talking about Mr. Giles not Xander.”

Anya flushed. “Yes, well, Giles is the one stealing from me.”

“If it’s any help, I don’t think Mr. Giles is stealing. He’s just keeping secrets.”

“Secrets about stealing.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s about something else.”



Spike shoved the Er’Gefrey box into the inner pocket of his jacket as he approached the Volkswagon that waited for him. The street was still wet from an early evening rain and light reflected off the asphalt. As a gentle breeze blew, Spike stopped walking. There was the scent of blood in the air. With a sudden burst of speed he turned, slamming a minion into the wall as its human victim fell to the ground. Spike growled.

“Dexter, is it?”

The vamp could only make a gagging sound as it nodded.

“What did I say about snacking?” Spike eased off the minion’s wind pipe so it could answer.

“Man, just because you can’t bite—“

“That’s right. Got a chip in my head that means I can’t bite people, which means as long as I’m around *you* can’t bite people.” Spike smirked. “‘Cause I’m just a selfish bastard that way. If I don’t have fun, no one does.”

“Man, just because you’re a cripple…”

Spike pushed his forearm harder into Dexter’s throat. “I’m thinkin’ I’m just a nudge away from crushing your windpipe, Dexter. And while you may not need to breathe, a smashed windpipe makes it a bitch to talk or sing along with your Abba 8 tracks. So, one more time. Stop pissing me off. ” He let the minion go.

Dexter straightened his jacket. “Be cool, man.”

Spike looked heavenward. “And the seventies are *over!*

“This coming from Mr. Punk Rock Atti—“

Spike growled.

Dexter threw his hands up. “All right, already. You win.” He looked over Spike’s shoulder. “Where’re the others?”

Most of Spike’s energy was focused on trying to hear whether Dexter’s victim still had a heartbeat. She did. The rest of his energy was aimed at reminding himself not to appear as though he cared. “They met dusty ends.”

“That bitch Slayer?”

“Yeah. That. . . bitch.”

“Damn, the Master isn’t going to like hearing this. Did you at least get what we came for?”

Acutely aware of the weight of the Er’Gefrey box in his pocket, Spike lied. “Not yet, but soon. Go back and tell the Master I’ll have what he wants later tonight.”



“Only reason to have a flat in the warehouse district is the excess space,” the Seer explained, as she led Willow, Reggie, and Lydia out of her kitchen and into expansive, nearly-empty loft with blacked out windows. She took the parchment they had brought with them from the Council and laid it on the floor in the center of the room. Reaching into her pocket, the Seer withdrew a hand full of sand, which she drizzled into a circle around the parchment.

Willow and Lydia watched the Seer’s movements with great interest as she dragged her fingers through the sand, drawing exotic symbols, while Reggie occupied himself with looking around the cavernous room.

Dusting her hands against her thighs, the Seer stood and took several steps away from the circle and the parchment. She glanced at her clients, then, with a subtle motion of her hands, she summoned ghostly images which rose like mist from the circle. The images grew life-sized, then larger, stretching wall to wall, and ceiling to floor. The Seer’s eyes closed and the ghostly figures began to solidify and move.

Willow gasped. The Seer could not only sense and absorb text like Willow could herself, but she could also project it. Willow, Reggie, and Lydia moved closer to each other and to the pictures. In an odd way, it felt like standing in an IMAX theater as images loomed large around them. In another way, it looked eerily similar to the transparent computer thing that Tom Cruise had in “Minority Report.” The woman, her wild hair beginning to escape the confines of Lydia’s Hermes scarf, stood in the middle of a chaotic swirl of images, directing them, ordering them, bringing one forward while pushing others back. The imaged that shimmered and then became clearest, was Willow sitting in the Council Library touching the torn parchment.

“That was yesterday,” Willow whispered.

The Seer glanced at Will. “You have power.”

The squirmy, tentacled monster of discomfort that, since Willow’s rampage last spring, had taken residence beneath her skin, constricted her chest and made it difficult to breathe. “Yes.”

The Seer’s gaze narrowed. “You can sense the magic and the text.”

“Yes.”

“And yet you came to me?”

“I. . .” Willow gulped. “It wasn’t that easy.”

The Seer’s voice was calm, which made it all the more disturbing when she said, “It never is.” And Willow noticed that though the woman’s appearance was ageless, her eyes looked old. Willow blinked and returned her attention to the image of herself in the Council’s library. Pushing that image aside, the Seer revealed one of Travers in his office staring at the parchment. It was earlier than the image of Willow, because in this one the parchment was whole. They barely had time to note that fact before witnessing Travers tear the manuscript and place the torn removed portion in the flame of a black candle. In seconds it was ashes.

“That’s an antique manuscript!” Lydia protested with all the outrage of a historian. “And it wasn’t his. It belonged to the Council.”

Willow looked anxiously at the Seer. “What was on the paper he burned? Can you go back?”

“This isn’t a DVD, dear. See the candle? It’s wormwood and blackened amber. He knew what he was doing. He erased it.”

Reggie frowned. “What do you mean ‘erased’? He set it on fire.”

“He erased it from time.” The Seer glanced at Willow. “Knew you were a witch, didn’t he? He did a spell.”

“That’s why I couldn’t sense what’s missing,” Will realized. “He hid it.”

Reggie glanced from the Seer to Willow to the Seer again. “So how do we find it?”

Willow sighed. “That’s just it. We don’t. It’s like the missing piece never existed. The part of the manuscript that we’ve got is all there is.”

“And that’s it? That’s all? That’s – “ Reggie looked confused “—my grandfather.”

Willow turned to see that the image had changed. Now, Travers was much younger and an older man stood showing Travers the parchment.

“Mr. Claridge was the head of the council before Mr. Travers,” Lydia explained. “He must have shown Mr. Travers the manuscript before he. . .”

“Died,” Reggie finished softly just as the image shimmered and readjusted. The years seemed to dissolve as Mr. Claridge changed from old man to young, and another Watcher-type, probably the Council head before him, stood by his side. They were no longer in the Council’s office, or if they were, it was hard to tell. They stood in a bombed-out room which was open to the sky and Mr. Claridge was wearing a uniform. “Infantry,” Reggie said. “Grandfather served in the infantry during the war.”

Another shimmer, and the image was of another room and another place. “The Council’s Rome office,” Lydia explained. “I visited when doing research for my thesis.”

Still in uniform, Reggie’s grandfather stood in the Council’s Rome office speaking with another man; there was something earnest and urgent in his gestures and in his face. The older man followed Mr. Claridge through the streets of post-war Rome until they found a ruin of a church. Claridge led the Council member down a flight of stone stairs, going deep into the shadowed confines of the ancient catacombs that run beneath the city until they reached a room full of red and black clay vases.

The scene dissolved, and it had to be earlier because now there was fighting, a war--*the* war. There were Nazis and Brown Shirts. It was World War II, and British soldiers were pinned against a field stone wall, held in place by a barrage of fire. Italian soldiers were advancing and Reggie’s grandfather busily looked for a path of retreat. He tried a heavy wood door. Pushing his shoulder against it, the door gave way. He gestured to his buddies and they rushed into the abandoned church whose windows had been bombed out. There was no sound to go with the images, no way to hear what fueled the urgency of the soldiers’ retreat, but fear could be read on their young faces. One of the soldiers found another door that lead to a flight of stairs.

Lydia stepped forward. “They must have found the parchment in the catacombs.”

As the soldiers ran through the ancient manmade caverns, Claridge stumbled, falling face first into a stack of clay amphorae, shattering them. His buddy skidded to a halt. Visibly breathing hard, Claridge’s companion turned and searched the darkness. Perhaps concluding that they were safe, he slid down against the wall. Sitting in the dust, he pulled out cigarettes and, with difficulty, struck a match off the semi-damp floor.

As his friend smoked, Claridge sat up and kicked away damaged vases to create a clear place to sit. After he had closed his eyes and taken several deep breaths he opened them to notice a rolled piece of paper half sticking out of one of the jars. He reached for it, unrolled it, and began to read.

“My grandfather was the one who found it. He was the one who brought it to the Council,” Reggie whispered with a bit of awe.

Darkness stretched after that, and for a moment they thought that this was all the Seer had to show them. Then firelight flickered and Willow gasped. “Th-the Master. That’s the Master.”

The Master’s unnatural, Nosferatu-like visage loomed over a monk who looked just like the stereotype, complete with brown wool robes and funny haircut. The holy man, unaware of the vampire behind him, pushed his chair back move to stand from his seated position behind a desk.

Lydia asked as she stepped closer to the floating images, “This must be prior to the 1920s, then. The Master became trapped in the Hellmouth in the twenties.”

With fascination and dread, Willow watched the Master approach the monk. It was like one of those slasher movies where there was an almost overwhelming urge to scream to the imminent victim, “He’s right behind you!” But it would do no good. This victim was long dead. The Master grabbed the monk , who tried to struggle; but it was too late, the vampire’s fangs were already in his neck. One last gasp and the monk fell dead at the killer’s feet, leaving the Master to step over the corpse to search through a sheaf of papers until he found what he was looking for. The vampire smiled, a gruesome image with his demonic gameface and fangs, and he rolled the parchment, placing it in a clay amphora.

Lydia looked at Willow. “Would you have guessed the Master had the prophecy in his possession before the Council?”

“It was about the Order of Aurelius,” Willow murmured. “But, wow, it’s scary that the the Order actually knows of the prophecy’s existence.”

The vision flickered as time rolled further back and the monk sat patiently painting calligraphy on the parchment.

“He’s copying it!” Exuberance almost rolled off Reggie in waves as he looked at Lydia and Willow, then back at the floating image. “The information we want still exists. The monk is copying it from an earlier scroll.” His dark-eyed gaze settled on the Seer. “It does still exist, does it not? Can you access it? This is what we need.”

The Seer closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as she did so. After a moment of silence she shook her head. “I cannot see the older scroll.”

“Has it also been destroyed?” Lydia asked.

“No. Not destroyed. Protected.” She opened her tired gray eyes. “There is a hex or spell masking the text from my sight.”

“Bugger,” Reggie complained and Willow silently agreed as the images continued going further and further back in time. Before the monk who had inked the translation, there was another monk who had kept the original scroll, and a monk before that. There were nine or ten of them in turn. Then there was a knight, not in shining armor, but in a mail shirt and leggings. He carried the scroll to the monastery, handing it to the monks. Before that he was riding a horse and carrying a banner.

“German,” Reggie said.

Willow asked, “How do you know that?”

“The colors on his banner. He’s a Crusader.” Reggie’s gaze narrowed as he stared at the flag the knight carried. “Definitely German.” Silence stretched and Reggie turned to find Willow and Lydia staring at him. “What? Medieval weaponry was the subject of *my* thesis. I’m not a total git, you know.”

Lydia started, “We never meant to imply—“

“There. That.” Reggie pointed to the Crusader’s flag. “I’m willing to wager this knight is part of Frederick the Second’s campaign, the Sixth Crusade. That would place him in the early 1200s. Frederick captured Jerusalem in 1229.” He frowned, “Though there were rumors that King Frederick never actually died.”

Willow walked around Reggie. “I’m sort of out my element here. I mean, first , Jewish so not all up with the whole Crusading subject. If it’s more than Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, or Monty Python, I’m on the clueless side. Although, I did see Katharine Hepburn in a “Lion in Winter” and Anthony Hopkins played. . . Never mind. Off the subject. What are we talking about?”

“I don’t know. I mean, Anthony Hopkins played Richard the Lion Hearted in “Lion in Winter”—“

The Seer looked heavenward. “I believe the witch was asking your point about the Crusade.”

Reggie blinked. “Oh. . .uh. . .I don’t have one really. I mean other than dating what we’re seeing. It was after Richard the Lion Hearted left the Holy Land. It was after Saladin.“

Lydia, the only one still watching the images as they continued to flicker by, whispered, “The knight is in Qumran.”

“I love how you guys are like history gurus,” Willow said. “How can you tell?”

“That was the Dead Sea he passed on his way to the plateau. Qumran is the village where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.”



Buffy asked, “Can you stay here, Dawnie? Xander and I need to go out.”

The teen crossed her arms and looked petulant. “Go out where? Giles is already gone. You have to go too?”

“It’s important,” Buffy protested.

“Always is.” At Buffy’s stare, Dawn said, “Fine. Go. Whatever.”

Buffy looked confused by Dawn’s attitude, but after a moment, she grabbed an ax and left with Xander.

Dawn smiled and yelled to Anya, “They’re gone.”

Anya came out of the Magic Box’s rear room carrying an armfull of bottles. “I’m not Willow. I’m no witch.”

Dawn rushed forward and relieved Anya of some of the bottles before she dropped them. “But you can do a locator spell, right?”

Anya looked offended. “Of course I can. It’s not that difficult. I turned Olaf into a troll even before I was a demon. Hand me the lungwort and the valerian.”

“Willow doesn’t use that stuff.”

“Willow’s a witch.” Anya spread out a map of Sunnydale and sprinkled it with the herbs. Then she took a crystal and suspended it over the map. “Even if he is very handsome and erudite, Rupert is not allowed to take merchandise from the store simply because he feels like it.”

“You just called Mr. Giles ‘Rupert.’

“Did not.”

“Did too.”

The swinging crystal came to an abrupt halt over the play ground a few blocks to the east of the Magic Box. “There he is. Let’s go.”

Dawn followed Anya out the door. “You did so call him Rupert.”

“I do not see why that would be so surprising. It is his name. And perhaps you should be quiet now. Stealth is helped by quiet.”

“You’re just trying to shut me up.”

“That would be an attractive side benefit.” Anya’s odd, toddling gait, which was courtesy of the three inch high heels she was wearing, slowed their progress toward the park.

“You could just pull those ridiculous things off,” Dawn complained.

Anya sniffed. “They are not ridiculous. They are very expensive, and they make my legs look quite attractive.”

“But men are evil, right? So why do your legs need to be attractive?”

“Men may be evil, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to attract them. They have very nice arms, they smell good, and they have—“

“Stop before you get to the sex stuff. I don’t need to hear about Xander’s --”

Anya gave a Mona Lisa-like smile. “Yes, Xander’s penis is very nice, but other men have them. Spike’s—“

“Oh god, no. Not Spike’s either. Can we just drop this? Not every conversation has to revolve around sex or money.”

Anya looked offended. “Well, of course it doesn’t. There’s also food.” When she realized that Dawn was no longer beside her, Anya paused and looked back at the teen. “I did live with Xander, you know.”

“Get down!” Dawn hissed in a stage whisper.

“What?”

“Down. Hide. Now. They might see us.”

“Who might see what?”

Dawn caught Anya’s arm and pulled her down behind a bench. “Over there by the swings. Can’t you see them? It’s Mr. Giles.” She allowed a pregnant pause before adding, “And Spike, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that Mr. Giles is surprised to see Spike.”

“They aren’t fighting,” Anya observed.

“No.”

“In fact, they are talking.”

“Uh-huh. All conspiracy-like too.”

Anya’s gaze narrowed as she looked at Dawn. “Do you think Spike is helping Rupert steal from me?”



“It’s your fault, really,” Giles observed.

Spike’s gaze swiveled toward the Watcher. “What?”

“Things are in disarray. Your mistake may cost us dearly.”

Semi-shrouded in darkness, Spike struggled with something out of Giles’s line of sight. “My only mistake was listening to you. It’s your bloody overcomplicated plan. “

“Nothing was wrong with the plan. It was the execution that was faulty.”

“I ‘executed’ just fine. On a scale of one to ten, it was an eleven. I broke into the hold of the ship and swapped the original little box with your fake and returned with the Master’s idiot henchmen to give a good show of raiding the ship for a good, old fashioned ancient artifact. Problem is someone—“ he glared at Giles “—didn’t bother telling me the Slayer would be there. “

“Yes, well…”

“She took it, you know, carted off the fake like it was some big prize, no doubt delivered it to you, and left me holding the real thing.” Spike lifted his hand revealing the onyx and ivory inlaid Er’Gefrey box he had been struggling to open. “Not planning on me delivering that to the Master, now are you?”

Giles eyed the box. “No.”

Spike continued his efforts to pry open the magical puzzle. “Right then, to avoid bollixing things up in the future, keep me in the bloody loop.” With a growl of frustration he handed over the box. “Open this damned thing.”

“There’s no reason to open it.”

“Yes, there is. I want to know what I’m risking my neck for.”

Giles asked archly, “Truth, justice, and the good of mankind not reason enough for you?”

“Sod off. “ Spike snapped. “Where’s the truth in all the lies I’m telling? And never have seen much in the way of justice.”

“And the good of mankind?”

“Remains to be seen.”

“Ah, here we go.” Giles slid a piece of onyx into to a niche framed by silver. A high-pitched whirring sound filled the air as the box levitated from Giles’s hand and began to spin. The panels forming the cube began to unfold. Once, then twice, going from a two-inch by two-inch cube to flat plane that, once it stopped spinning, remained suspended in mid air.

For a moment, Spike’s hand hovered above what remained of the box, then he reached inside--although there should have been no ‘inside’ since the Er’Gefrey puzzle had turned into a half-inch-deep slab. Still, Spike’s arm disappeared all the way up to his elbow as he retrieved what the box had held.

“Nothing had better snap off my hand,” Spike muttered.

“We should be so lucky.”

Again, Spike glared at the Watcher, but after a moment he pulled a long, curved sword from the pandimensional space. Light glinted off the intricately etched blade as Spike tested the weight of the weapon in his hand. “Neat.”

Giles frowned. “It is not ‘neat,’ and don’t treat it like a toy.”

“But it is one. Has been ever since some bloke invented gun powder.” Giving a delighted laugh, Spike executed a move that would have made Highlander’s Duncan MacLeod proud. He twirled the sword in a deadly imitation of a tennis serve, then, turning on his heel, he leaped onto the center point of the playground’s see-saw and landed with uncannily perfect balance. The sword made a near-silent whoshing sound as it sliced through the air before Spike raised it to admire its engraved patterns once more. “Shiny.”

Disapproval lined Giles’s face. “Animals are often fascinated by shiny objects.”

A muscle clenched in Spike’s jaw. It was his only visible reaction as he stared straight ahead and took not one breath. Silence yawned.

Giles gave an exasperated sigh. “This is an artifact of genuine historical significance.” He took the sword from Spike. “It belonged to Saladin. Legend says he used it to drive the Crusaders from Jerusalem.”

Affecting a bored mien, Spike stepped off the see-saw and took a seat on one of the playground swings. “So it’s a nifty toy that gives librarian-types a hard-on. That doesn’t explain why the Master wants it.”

Giles used a corner of his tweed coat to polish the blade. “That is unclear. I have found little connection between the objects we have retrieved thus far.“ He paused before adding, “Although the shield we found last week and this sword are both relics of the Crusades”

“Sounds like a connection to me.”

“Possibly,” Giles admitted. “But, you see, they are connected in totally opposing ways. The sword belonged to Saladin, and the shield to Richard Coeur de Lion.”

Spike shrugged. “Opposite sides of the same coin. Still connected.”

“Indeed. However, the talisman you received in the first shipment belonged to Morgan Le Fey.”

Spike arched a brow. “King Arthur’s sister? The bint into kinky, incestuous trysts?”

“The pagan priestess who was probably a witch, and perhaps a goddess or fairy.”

“So there’s no direct connection to the Crusades. There’s still that Holy Grail thing. That’s a Crusade of sorts.”

“Of sorts, but not exactly the same thing.”

Spike pushed off and began swinging. “Even if there is some crusading connection, I don’t see the point of any of it. The Le Fey bird may have filled her talisman with hocus pocus from Avon, but the rest of them? Pfft.”

“Fairly dismissive of King Richard for a former British subject, aren’t you? What happened to the Pre-Raphaelite obsession?” Giles said in a tone just shy of mocking.

“Pre-Raphaelite movement died and so did the Pre-Raphaelite. “ Spike flew off the swing, landing softly in the dirt. “The Master may prattle about tradition and history but it’s bollocks. He’s more interested in curses, chaos, and black magic. A sword wielded by the Sultan of Egypt and a shield from of an absentee British monarch wouldn’t be of interest to old batface. It’s not a matter of what the artifacts are. It’s what they do.”

“Which, apparently, is nothing. As far as I can tell, whatever magic the talisman held dissipated long ago, and the sword and shield are exactly what they appear to be—a sword and shield.”

“So what now? Continue as curator of the Master’s private museum collection? Seems bloody pointless.”

“You have a better plan?”

“Well, yeah. What about killing him? Can’t very well start an apocalypse if he’s dead, now can he?”

“You would choose that option,” Giles derided.

“’Cause it makes sense and would end things quickly. Got a problem with efficiency?”

“And it would gain us nothing, or have you forgotten that Wolfram and Hart are involved? From what I understand they brought back Darla. What would prevent them from doing the same with the Master?”

“Isn’t there some mojo that would make it impossible to resurrect him again?”

“Perhaps, but chances are they would only seek out a substitute. No one is irreplaceable.”

Spike muttered, “A Watcher would believe that.” He kicked the dirt. “So I continue as the Master’s head flunky. Are we done now?”

“I believe so.” Giles turned to leave.

Spike looked antsy. He scratched the back of his neck and clenched his jaw before saying, “Hey, Rupes, could you do something?”

Giles didn’t look back. “I can do many things. Are you asking whether I can do something for *you*? That is rather more doubtful.”

Spike snorted. “Hope your arse hurts from sitting on that high horse.” Shoving his hands into his pockets, Spike ducked his head and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Call the hospital, see if they picked up a girl on Archer Street who had neck wounds. Never did hear any sirens.”

Giles turned and glared. “You allowed someone to feed from a human?!”

“I got there a little late to do much.”

“So you did nothing?”

“Called 9-1-1, didn’t I? What did you expect? Had to keep the cover you’re so bloody insistent on.” Spike stormed toward Giles. “Speaking of, hand over the fake box and sword. Got to deliver *something* to the Master tonight to make him forget about all those minions that got dusted. Sooner or later old bat brains is gonna figure out I keep getting newbies killed. Need to at least look like I accomplished something for it.”

Giles handed over the faux Er’Gefrey box. Spike held the small cube and said, “I’ll convince the Master it’s the real thing.”

“Right, then. And I. . .” Giles coughed and grimaced. “I will make an effort to keep you ’in the loop’ in the future.”

Spike stood silently, his pale face and hair separating him from the darkness that surrounded them as they just beyond the reach of the park lights. He opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind, nodded, and left.



Lydia sat at the Seer’s kitchen table finishing up her notes. As soon as the visions had stopped, the Watcher had pulled a pad of paper from her oversized handbag and begun an exacting transcription of what they had seen. “Reggie, do you think you can sketch the banner we saw the knight carry?”

“I don’t need to sketch it. I can remember it. Plus, I have a copy of it in my thesis notes.”

“Yes, but what if it’s slightly different? You should sketch it first so that you can then compare the two.”

Reggie looked uncomfortable. “I draw like a five year old, Lydia.”

“That is still better than nothing.”

Willow felt a light tap on her shoulder and turned to see the Seer silently motioning for Willow to follow her into the sitting room. The swinging door closed behind Willow muffling Reggie and Lydia’s conversation.

The Seer said, “You understand that just because the vision ended in Qumran, that wasn’t the beginning of our little story. “

“Do you think the rest of it was blocked? You know, like what Travers did with the stuff he ripped from the parchment?”

The Seer shook her head. “I don’t think it was mystically blocked. I think it was simply as far as I could reach. Power is never infinite, dear. There are some things we can’t do.” She paused before adding meaningfully, “And some things we shouldn’t.”

Willow swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded.

“You aren’t going to tell them are you?” It wasn’t really a question. The shrewd look in the Seer’s eyes more than implied that she knew the answer.

Willow felt cold and her stomach tied itself in knots. “Tell who what?”

“Your friends. In there. You aren’t going to tell them that what is happening is because of you.”

“No, I. . .No. It. . .can’t be because of me. There’s the parchment, the prophecy. This. . . apocalypse. . .thing. It was meant to be. It had to happen.

The Seer shook her head. “Nothing *has* to happen.”

“But. . .”

“Don’t fall into the trap of believing in the inevitability of fate. Nothing is ever inevitable. There’s cause and effect. Throw a ball in the air and it is going to come back down. Pour a frightful scad of black magic into the earth and watch it spit out something terrifying.” She walked over to her desk and started sorting through a stack of papers as she continued talking in an urgent but somewhat distracted manner. “But cause and effect is no more predetermination than a total of four when you are adding two plus two.”

“But how could things be different?” Willow asked somewhat desperately. “I mean, two plus two is always four.”

“Then add a one or a three instead.” The Seer pulled open a drawer and started rifling through it. “The future is always only a possibility while the present. . .?” She glanced at Willow. “Our present is the sum of our pasts. Every thing we do adds to the equation. Every choice we make is factored in. There are choices. There are *always* choices which effect the outcome. Remember that.” She turned her attention back to the papers in the drawer. “Now, you and your friends should go. Just in case the world really does end, I’m going to enjoy myself for the time that’s left.”

The Seer pulled two brochures out of the drawer, “What do you think? The Greek Isles or the Seychelles?”



The moment the elevator doors opened to the penthouse, Spike could smell it. He could almost taste it—blood. Human blood and it was fresh.

=Fuck.=

He stepped onto the black and white marble tiled floor and looked around himself. The place was in a shambles. Tables had been toppled, vases broken. Even the limestone fireplace mantle had been damaged. No normal human could put up this kind of fight against a group of vampires, but Spike was certain that what he smelled was –

“Slayer!”

Spike rushed through the doors on the far side of the room to find Buffy kneeling on the floor over a prone Xander who was bleeding and starting to moan. Buffy was bleeding as well, but at a quick glance Spike could see that it was only a minor scratch along her arm. Xander, however, was bleeding more profusely.

The Master, in game face, stood looking down at the pair of humans. He didn’t visibly acknowledge Spike’s arrival but he spoke to him. “The Slayer arrived to. . .What did you call it, Slayer? Clean out the vamp nest?”

Buffy glared. “I think I said something like ‘muck out the slime,’ but whatever.”

“Hmm, yes. I believe I heard you have been mucking about in slime for quite some time now. I could see where a penthouse would be a welcome relief after the sewers.”

Buffy shrugged. “Slime is slime no matter where it is.”

Ignoring the riot of emotions nearly overwhelming him, Spike kept his voice steady and cold as he said, “Looks like I missed a party. What happened?”

“The Slayer has been blinded.”

Spike would have launched himself at the bastard if for one moment he had thought that was true, but, beyond the scratch on her arm, Buffy appeared unharmed and even Xander’s wound appeared non-life-threatening. Although the boy did sound remarkably like a stuck pig.

“I see just fine,” Buffy snapped. “Like right now I see three empty, soulless things that are *so* going down.”

The Master laughed. “See, I said she was blinded, blinded by her arrogance and her rules. She finds it impossible to see anything besides her own point of view. She comes here with a stake, a crossbow, and a useless boy and believes she can take us down. It’s all that she knows, all that is useful to her so she forgets we play by different rules.”

“Yeah.” Spike arched a brow. “What rules would those be?”

The Master looked to something behind Spike. Knowing that whatever it was he wasn’t going to like it, Spike still glanced over his shoulder. He found the minion Dexter holding a gun aimed at the Slayer.

“Bullets are no defense against vampires,” the Master said smoothly. “So she doesn’t carry a gun, but the same isn’t true of Slayers. “ He circled the room. “All those fist fights, all those pointless competitions of woman against beast when, actually, it is so very easy to kill one little girl.”