All About Spike - Print Version
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Things Present – Things Past
By Estepheia, Marcee

RATING: R (for violence)

FEEDBACK: Estepheia@aol.com

DISCLAIMER: Most of the characters and institutions depicted in this story are property of mutant enemy and Joss Whedon. No infringement of rights is intended.

AUTHOR's NOTE: This is a response to the following challenge posted at Death Marked Love:

    Challenge 13

    Buffy and one other Scooby learning about William/Spike's past.

    It must of course be a B/S fic and preferably have a happy ending

    It also must include:

    An office
    A leather-bound book
    A stone angel
    A phone call from Angel
    A coffee
    The spirit of the slayer from 1880



Part 1 - Hanging by a Thread

London 1880

Edward St. John Willoughby snapped the leather bound volume shut, closed the iron bindings meticulously and produced a jagged iron key that hung on a silver chain round his neck to lock the grimoire. He rose from his comfortable armchair and put the book down on the leather seat to walk to the huge four poster bed that took up most of the room. The girl that lay among the frilly cushions was deathly pale. Her eyes were closed but her chest was moving. There was still life in her. But not much.

Willoughby brushed red curls away, vaguely noting that they looked as dull and lifeless as the girl herself. He lightly touched the healed scars that disfigured her throat, but there was no reaction. He hadn't expected one.

He had always known that he would lose her. That after a handful of years of duty he would stand at her grave and mourn her. He had read the Journals, studied the Council's history, and had striven for professional detachment. But nothing could have prepared him for the heart-wrenching pain that accompanied the loss of her. And she wasn't even dead, yet. He took her limp hand into his and kissed it lightly.

There was a light knock at the door. It was the maid. She curtsied and held a silver tray out to him. There was a card lying on it. "There are some gentlemen to see you, Sir," she said with a thick Irish accent.

He took the card but he didn't need to read the name. "Thank you, Mary. How many guests?"

"Six, Sir."

He nodded. "Very well. I will receive them here. They will want to see her. Have the cook send up tea and sandwiches, and tell Dawson to serve Brandy."

The maid curtsied again and left quietly.

Willoughby let go of the unconscious girl's hand and picked up the grimoire. He couldn't let his visitors see it. He hid it in the only place where they wouldn't dream of looking, underneath the blankets.

Edward St. John Willoughby braced himself for the scrutiny of his superiors. Dealing with the council directors was scarier than encountering demons and vampires.

Half an hour later there were seven empty tea cups scattered all over the room and the cucumber sandwiches had been eaten. Four of his guests were roaming the house, searching the library and questioning the servants, as if a sudden change of allegiance of the house's owner was somehow reflected in his surroundings. Perhaps it was, Willoughby podered, while hiding his disgust and self-loathing from his distinguished guests.

His other two guests, Horatio Bateley, a beefy man in his late fourties, and Arthur Hartford, a gaunt man in his early sixties had accepted his offer of brandy. Hartford was leaning heavily on his cane and there was a pronounced limp, whenever he walked around. Bateley was sitting comfortably in Willoughby's armchair. Both had made it quite clear, that Willoughby had no real choice in the matter and that the Council expected him to comply. As always.

"So, Edward," Director Bateley said, while swirling his second brandy in its glass, "we have to put a stop to those disappearances. We can't allow those creatures to hunt directly under our noses. The Council has a reputation to uphold. We need a new Slayer, old boy."

"I can't tell you how sorry I am, Willoughby," Director Hartford added, with more sympathy but similar determination. "I know this is hard for you, but as long as she remains that way, the world is without a Chosen One. She has been like that for almost 4 months now, and the forces of Darkness know that the Council is without a Slayer. Bateley is right, a new Slayer needs to be called."

"It's a shame, old boy, but you must admit that she didn't pass the Cruciamentum. Not to our satisfaction," Bateley continued.

Willoughby just stood there, outwardly calm, nodding as if his reason forced him to agree with their words. But inwardly his rage was building. How dare they talk about Maeve like that! She had fought for the Council for almost five years, one of the youngest Slayers ever to be called and she had fought and studied well. And still they had subjected her to the Cruciamentum. And he had obeyed their orders unquestioningly, taking her powers away. Even without her superior strength she had managed to vanquish the vampire that had been unleashed on her. After the test Willoughby had rushed into the mansion where she and the vampire had been locked up to congratulate her. He found her bleeding from a gaping wound at her throat. He had managed to still the bleeding, managed to save her. He had told her how proud he was of her, but she had only stared at him for a long time, then she had turned away and closed her eyes.

The wound was long healed, but she had never opened her eyes again. Willoughby was convinced that it was his betrayal that was still festering in her, that kept her hovering between life and death.

"Give me one more week, Sir," he pleaded. He poured himself another cup of tea, trying to look collected. If they had an inkling of the desperation he felt, they would refuse anything he asked for. "I think she can still hear me. Farnham sent me some herbs that Cheyenne shamans use in their vision quests. I believe they may help me get through to her."

He saw Hartford and Bateley exchange glances. Hartford nodded slightly. Bateley shrugged and reached for more brandy. "One week," he said gruffly.

"And if it should come to the worst," Hartford said not without kindness in his tone. "you don't have to do it yourself. We will send someone. There is no need for you to go through that. And afterwards you'll get leave. Take your family on a trip to the continent. Italy is nice at this time of year."

The Watcher nodded. "Thank you, Sir."

Meanwhile the other four Watchers continued to search the house. . Willoughby invited Hartford and Bateley to Dinner, and they accepted. They had already met his wife Louisa and his sons George and Charles on previous occasions. Willoughby listened to their polite, non-Council related conversation. He smiled when Hartford discussed the latest plays with Louisa, he smiled when Bateley complimented him on his cook. He was still smiling when they finally left.

A week was all he needed to cast the spell.



Part 2 - Just Like Old Times

Sunnydale Oktober 2001

Life sucks, Buffy thought as she stepped out of the house. She had just spent hours doing all kinds of boring household chores, cleaning, dusting, ironing. Everybody else had important things to do: friends to visit, classes to prepare for, important books to read, spells to research.

She sat down on the porch of her house, but she didn't actually realize she was waiting for something, or rather someone, until Xander got out of his car to sit beside her. He was still wearing his work clothes.

"So, where is he?" he asked.

"And who would you be referring to?" Buffy said sullenly.

"Wiley E. Coyote?" Xander shook his head, "The bleached wonder, of course. Tara told me you occasionally sit here, just the two of you, talking..."

"And now you're wondering, what could Buffy possibly want to discuss with the evil dead," she snapped.

"And now I'm wondering, would Buffy and Spike like to join Anya and Xander at the Bronze later tonight," Xander said. "And now I'm wondering why I'm talking in the third person."

"Huh?" Buffy said, looking at her friend incredulously. *Did Spikeophobe Xander just invite me and Spike out to the Bronze?*

"I mean, I still feel kinda bad about the way you got fired the other day," Xander started.

"You mean, the way you fired me the other day," Buffy interrupted.

Xander glanced downward, clearly embarrassed, and continued, "And I guess I still owe Spike a drink, too."

"What for?"

"Let's just say the Xander mouth was, once again, faster than the Xander brain and I said something I shouldn't have."

He rose. "Anyway, Buff, say yes. It'll be fun. Like old times, except with Spike not trying to kill us...I hope. Let's meet at nine."

"What about Willow and Tara?" Buffy asked.

"I don't think they'd mind looking after the house and Dawn. But if you want to invite them along, just ask them. The more the merrier," he added cheerfully. "But I'm not paying for their drinks. When it comes to the witches, my conscience is clear. Well, more or less. Besides, Anya is in one of her more stingy moods again because she craves a new laptop."

***

"So Xander, `ere, grabbed the demon's tail and when it turned around to bite `im I grabbed the sword," Spike stood suddenly, knocking his chair back, "and ran `im through!" Spike imitated a sword thrust with his invisible weapon.

Anya clapped, "He's so gallant," she said as she patted Xander's arm.

"Thank you, Luv," Spike grinned.

Buffy just rolled her eyes and stood, "I'm getting another soda. Do any of you heroes want anything?"

"I could go for a burger," Xander mentioned.

"Me too," Anya said.

Willow chimed in, "Onion rings, please?"

Tara nodded, "And mustard."

Willow smiled, "My girl has some weird tastes."

"But good taste," Tara offered and kissed her lover's hand.

"Coming right up," Buffy said.

"Need help, Kitten?" Spike asked.

Buffy glared at him, "I can handle it."

"So, do you really think she's okay?" Xander whispered after Buffy left for the bar.

"Why do we always have to talk about Buffy," Anya demanded.

"She seems to be doing better," Willow said, ignoring Anya's outburst.

"Yeah, she seems," Tara thought for a moment, "almost happy."

Xander looked at Spike, "What do you think, Spike?"

There was a noticeable pause. "I think I need a smoke," he answered. He stood, grabbed his duster off the back of the chair and headed for the back door.

"I hate that every discussion is always about Buffy," Anya ranted, "Why aren't there ever any Anya-centric discussions?"

"Anya, please." Xander's irritation with his fiancé was evident.

The alley behind the Bronze was dark. A big metal garbage bin sat huddled against the wall by the door. Spike leaned against it as he lit his cigarette. He was halfway done with his second by the time Buffy wandered outside.

"It's getting cold," she said.

Spike put the cigarette to his lips and inhaled deeply as he gave Buffy a once over. *Why does she insist on wearing red leather pants? Does she want me to spontaneously combust?* he wondered. *Oh, yeah, she probably does.* He laughed internally.

"What about your waitressing duties?" he asked.

"Food has been delivered, Captain," she saluted.

"And what brings you out here?"

"Willow and Tara are dancing and Anya and Xander are arguing. Didn't want to interrupt."

"Ah, a love spat," Spike grinned, "We know what those are like, ay?" He winked at Buffy.

"You wish."

"Don't I ever," he mumbled and took another long drag.

*This is kind of nice*. Buffy thought.

*This is kind of nice.* Spike thought.

They stood in comfortable silence until Spike finished his smoke. "Shall we, Luv?"

Spike pushed the door open allowing the music to filter into the alley.

Who can say where the road goes

Where the day flows...

"We shall," Buffy answered and walked through open door. The music was loud on this side of the door and if it weren't for Spike's vampire-enhanced hearing he might not have heard Buffy mumble, "Ooh, I like this song," as they crossed the dance floor. Spike recognized the new Enya song. Surprisingly, he liked it too.

And who can say why your heart cries

When your love dies...

*Does she want to dance?* Spike wondered, *With ME?* He shook his head, *No way.* But they were on the dance floor, and she did say she liked this song. *Oh, what the bloody hell!* He reached for her hand and...

"Forget it!" Anya screamed loud enough to be heard over the music and probably into the next zip code. She was heading for the door.

"Anya!" Xander yelled almost as loudly, "Anya! Wait!"

"Don't bother telling anyone anything! Because there's nothing to tell!"

"Stop Anya!" Xander hurried toward his soon-to-be-ex-fiancé. He caught up with her at the door and an emotional confrontation ensued.

Willow, Tara, Buffy and Spike were too far from the couple to hear what was said, but they all stood frozen anyway, enthralled with the events that were unfolding before them. Luckily, Spike was standing close enough to Buffy to catch her when she fainted.

Tara saw her fall and grabbed Willow. Together they rushed to her side. The music stopped, a semi-circle of patrons formed around the small unconscious girl. Anya and Xander noticed the commotion and momentarily put their argument on hold.

"Buffy?" Spike whispered to the limp girl in his arms. "Slayer?"



Part 3 - Someone to Watch over me

As Buffy regained consciousness, frantic questions began pummelling her still fuzzy mind... *Where did the music go? and Why am I lying down? In a bed that's so not my own? Did someone put something in my drink?* Because her limbs felt kinda heavy. And rising above the clatter, another question taunted her: *Whatever happened, why did it have to happen, just when Spike was gonna ask me to dance?* She turned this one over in her head a few times. She had seen his question coming, and she'd been prepared to say something suitably rude but affirmative, like "Sure, as long as you don't try to cop a feel..." But now? Where was she?

Even with her eyes closed she could tell that Spike wasn't there. She would have sensed his presence. But someone else was in the same room with her, someone unfamiliar. Without opening her eyes, she took in the smells and sounds of the place. *Leather. Sweet tobacco smoke. Wood polish. Warmth. A crackling fire? The clatter of hooves?? The sound of wheels on a nearby road - huh? Horse-drawn carriages???*

Buffy raised her lids a bit just enough to take a peek. She was lying between crisp linen sheets in a museum piece of a four poster bed, complete with canopy and curtains. A typical Hammer Horror movie bed. She slowly turned her head and saw a thin man in his late forties, dressed impeccably in a very conservative grey suit with matching vest, gleaming cuff links and a golden pocket watch. He was covering what was obviously a chalk-drawn magical circle by unrolling an expensive looking carpet. An open leather bag, like a doctor's, sat on the floor. The man quietly put a number of objects inside: black and white candles, a large crystal, like the one Tara used to focus her magical powers, a little brass bell and a few items she couldn't quite make out.

*A warlock or a sorcerer. Oops. Bad news.*

The room she was in looked very old fashioned. It was illuminated by a petroleum lamp. There were bookshelves, some armchairs, a large desk, side tables and a small sofa. The walls were hung with paintings of horses and dogs. Everything appeared quite old and expensive. There were three large windows, but the curtains were drawn. Only one door led outside. Except for the bed it looked very much like an office. *Ok, how the hell did I get sucked into Masterpiece Theatre?*

She turned her head back and closed her eyes. But inwardly she readied herself for action. *Ew, my muscles feel like jelly! I wonder what kind of drug they gave me. Whoever `they' may be.* She could hear the man walking around and the sounds of a heavy chair being pushed nearer to the bed. Then the man sat down and began to turn the pages of a book.

"Now, where were we... `Chapter 22." He cleared his throat. "Mr. Rochester had given me but one week's leave of absence: yet a month elapsed before I quitted Gateshead. I wished to leave immediately after the funeral, but Georgiana entreated me to stay..." He had a slightly nasal voice, and a very crisp English upper class accent. He made Giles sound positively slang-y.

Buffy opened her eyes again. *Now this is weird! First drugs, then bedtime stories?* She turned her head to read the gold lettering on the binding. "Jane Eyre?" she said, startling the man. "Oh yuk, this is so before my time. Come on, can't you at least read the latest Stephen King or something?"

She sat upright and swung her legs out of bed. That's when she realized that something was seriously wrong. "Hey, look at those legs! They're all pale and thin! And who put me into this horrible nighty? How gross."

She got up. Her knees almost buckled, but she held on to one of the bed's posters. *Whoa, they must have kept me under sedation for ages.*

The thin man had risen from his chair, the book still clasped in his hands. At first there was a look of joy on his face but this was quickly replaced by confusion.

Buffy looked around "I have a feeling that I'm not in Kansas anymore," she said. "I must be over the rainbow."

"Kansas?" the man asked with a frown. He came closer. "Is everything alright with you, my dear? Please, you mustn't overexert yourself. You are still weak."

"Is this another one of your stupid tests?" Buffy snapped.

"Do you know, who I am?" he asked worriedly.

"Walks like a watcher, talks like a watcher, looks like a watcher... hey, you must be a watcher. You know what? Watch this." She turned around and walked towards the door. "So, Travis thought he could drag me out of my life to perform some tests on the recently resurrected? Just like that? Well, he'd better think again, cause I am so gonna kick his ass!"

"Maeve, wait," he hurried after her. She opened the door and walked down the hallway. There was a coat rack with several conservative looking coats. She was about to grab one and then rush out through the front door when Buffy caught sight of herself in a big mirror.

A slender figure of medium height, with pale skin and curly red hair, green eyes and freckles. That's not me! She touched her face, her reflection did the same. *Oh no, not again!* She groaned. She still remembered inhabiting Faith's body. She turned around to glower at the man who had followed her into the hallway. "Okay, so you mojoed me into this body. You know what? Been there. Done that. Undo it!"

"Oh dear Lord!" the thin man exclaimed in horror.



Part 4 - Get Ready to Rumble

"What's wrong with her, Spike?" Willow asked as she kneeled next to her best friend.

"How the hell should I know?" he said defensively. "One moment she's fine, the next she just falls over."

Willow took her hand. "Buffy? Buffy? Are you okay?"

There was movement behind the closed, lightly powdered lids. Spike was still supporting her weight from behind when her eyes fluttered opened. Startled eyes. Frightened eyes.

Suddenly, the girl broke from Spike's grasp, stood and turned back to face her small audience. She narrowed her eyes and raised her fists. She caught a glimpse of her delicate hands and tilted her head in confusion. She took a step back and turned her balled fists inward to glance at her sparkling nails. A few more steps backward and she bumped into a table. She looked up at the spectators with a mixture of fear, shock and a twinge of desperation. But only for a moment. Then, her face cleared and her eyes filled with determination.

She lunged forward with two graceful steps, planted her left foot and drove her right foot square into Spike's chest launching the surprised vampire halfway across the dance floor.

"Buffy!" Willow shouted.

"Looks like Spike tried to cop a feel," Anya commented.

The remainder of the patrons fled the dance floor as the small blond rushed toward the fallen vampire.

"God Buffy," Spike said as he scrambled to his feet, "What'd I do?"

If he was expecting an answer, his disappointment was washed away by severe pain when the Slayer landed a swift left hook followed by a strong uppercut that threw him up and back into the drum set on the stage. The clatter was deafening. Spike struggled in the tangle of wires and desperately tried to dislodge his foot from the large center drum. He attempted to stand several times, without success.

"Bloody hell," he swore to no one in particular. He had finally removed his foot from the broken instrument and set about extricating himself from the web of electrical and microphone cables.

Tara nudged her girlfriend. "Willow, do something!"

Xander was already rushing the stage. He grabbed the Slayer's arm and tried to turn her toward him. She turned...and shoved Xander with such force that he was thrown to the edge of the dance floor, just missing a concrete column.

"Hey!" Anya shouted and hurried to help him, their former argument instantly forgotten. "Oh Xander, are you alright?"

He nodded, but was cradling his right arm as Anya helped him to his feet.

"How dare Buffy treat you that way," Anya pouted, "After all the times you got beat up for her."

Meanwhile, Buffy jumped up onto the stage and quickly grabbed the drumstick by her foot. She paused a moment to inspect the heeled leather boot, but then returned to the task at hand.

When Spike looked up at her from amidst the percussion-debris and saw the drumstick she expertly held, his eyes widened in panic. "Buffy?"

She charged toward him. Spike quickly stumbled out of the path of the attacking Slayer. He jumped off the stage and turned to face his assailant. Buffy didn't even pause to make a smart remark. Instead, she vaulted herself off the stage and landed in front of Spike.

"Willow!" Tara prodded.

"I'm thinking!" Willow snapped.

Buffy swung at Spike, but he ducked, narrowly escaping the calculated blow. He moved fast, behind Buffy, and tried to grab her in a bear hug. She elbowed him in the gut, reached over her shoulder, grabbed his collar, bent forward and yanked him up and over her head. He landed on his back, but was up and moving before Buffy could put her heel down on his face.

"Okay, Slayer," he said as circled her like a predator. "I know we've had our differences, what - with me trying to kill you and all. But that's behind us."

Buffy also circled slowly, ready to counter his attack.

"It looks like they're dancing," Anya whispered to Xander.

"Shh!"

"I know you like the rough and tumble," Spike continued. "You could have just asked."

*Why isn't she saying anything?* He wondered.

"No fair taking me by surprise, Slayer, just when we were getting along so well."

Buffy was still holding the drumstick. Her eyes were narrow, dark with concentration.

"I mean, if you didn't want to dance with me, you could have just said no."

*It's no fun teasing her if she won't bite.*

Without warning, Buffy took two quick steps forward and threw herself into an expert round-off back handspring. She flew at Spike with inhuman speed. But he moved with his own inhuman speed and without a target to halt her momentum, the Slayer found herself crashing into a table.

"Sorry, Luv."

Spike watched as the Slayer regained her composure. *Her stance is different. These aren't her moves.* The girl had lost her drumstick in flight, but there was plenty of splintered wood now available. Without taking her eyes off her quarry, she leaned down to pick up a broken table leg. *She's good enough, but she's no Buffy.* Spike risked a glance at the others to see what they were up to. Xander and Anya were just observers. Looked like Harris might have sustained an injury. The witches might be concocting something. *Better make it quick, Red. He thought, don't know how much longer I can avoid a dusting. Damn this bloody chip!*

The Slayer came at him again. Spike ducked two punches and blocked another before one finally connected. He stumbled backward. She charged again. This time, Spike dropped to the ground and extended his leg, effectively tripping her. He was getting increasingly tired of this game. *This would be much more fun if it were really Buffy.*

"Will?" he called over his shoulder.

"Working on it," she replied.

The Slayer held the table leg skillfully and swung it a few times to gauge its weight. She spun it with her two hands as she stalked her prey.

Spike ran and hopped back up onto the stage. He grabbed the microphone pole and ripped out the cable. *If she gets a weapon, I'd bloody well have one as well.* He, too, spun the pole proficiently as he stood in the spotlight on the cluttered stage.

The Slayer dashed to the stage and swung at the vampire's feet. He easily jumped over the wooden club and smirked at the increasingly frustrated blond girl.

"Getting a bit tired, Slayer?" he asked. "My crypt's just around the corner. I got a bed, you know." He winked at her. "Maybe it's not sleep you're after."

*Still nothing. Jesus, what does it take?*

Spike waited for the girl to make her next move. When she leaned forward to strike, he used the pole to vault himself over her head and landed behind her, chrome staff in hand.

"I could just have a smoke? Give you a breather?" he teased. "Will?" he called over his shoulder, "Any time now."

"Okay, Spike, we got it. Just, uh... Keep her busy."

"Will do," he rolled his eyes. *Isn't that I've been bloody doing?*

He could hear the witches chanting something incoherent but he had other things to focus on right now. The Slayer was spinning the wooden leg in her hands quickly and was walking toward him. It was hard for Spike to keep track of the spinning table leg. *Hmm...that's pretty good.* Suddenly, the spinning stopped and wood was almost upon him. Spike used his microphone pole to block the jab. For a minute or so, they were dueling...chrome against wood, vampire versus Slayer.

"Okay, Spike, you gotta hold her down," he heard Willow yell.

"Oh sure, yeah, no problem," he mumbled.

Spike mentally prepared himself for the oncoming anguish, and before he could change his mind, he twisted the pole, caught the Slayer's elbow with it and disarmed her. As she turned her head to watch the wooden leg fly across the dance floor, Spike kicked her feet out from under her and before the pain could even register, he threw himself on top of the girl and pinned her arms under his knees.

"OOOOOOOWWWWWW, BLOOOODDDYYYY HEELLLLLLL!!!" echoed through the now quiet club.

Willow and Tara were glowing slightly orange and with a flick of the redhead's wrist, an orange net fell right through Spike and formed around the grounded Slayer. In moments, the girl was fully enshrouded in a translucent orange bubble-like substance. Spike, still clutching his head, simply fell over sideways onto the floor.

"We need to get her back to the house," Willow said, as she approached the struggling Slayer.

"What's wrong with her?" Anya asked as she and Xander made their way over to the group.

"D-do you think it could be a spell?" Tara asked the group.

"What? A `let's-kick-Spike's-ass' spell? Why didn't we think of that?" Xander asked.

"Funny Harris," Spike mumbled hoarsely from his bed on the floor.

"Maybe Buffy just snapped," Anya offered. "I mean, she's been under a lot of pressure lately, what with no money and all. If I had no money, I would snap."

"She has a point," Tara agreed.

The hoarse voice interrupted. "Buffy didn't snap."

"What did you say, Spike?" Xander asked as he reached out his uninjured hand to help the vampire up.

As Spike stood, still clutching his head, he repeated, "Buffy didn't snap." He glanced down at the terrified girl thrashing about in her prison. "That," he nodded toward the girl, "isn't Buffy."



Part 5 - Tea for Two

Edward Willoughby looked at Maeve, the Slayer he had sworn to protect and guide, and saw a monster. Oh dear Lord, what have I done? Maeve stood in the hallway studying herself in the mirror as if seeing herself for the first time. Except that it wasn't her. Maeve would never ever have used that kind of obscene language. Whatever entity had invaded the Slayer's helpless body surely originated from a plane of hell or a demon dimension.

*What kind of horror have I unleashed upon this world. And what happened to Maeve's immortal soul?*

He tried to collect his thoughts. He had to prevent the creature from leaving the house and he had to capture it somehow, and then he would have to ask the Council for their help. This was not the time to consider his own future or the way the Council would frown upon his unsanctioned use of magic.

He watched the possessed girl, mentally going through spells and other means of subduing her, when she turned around to look at him.

Placing her hands on her hips she glared at him.

"Okay, I take it this isn't a fancy bit of plastic surgery but more in the line of soul transplant, right? Did you do this?"

She gestured at herself, scowling.

*Half of what the girl is saying doesn't make any sense. And what kind of accent is that?* He was aware that whoever was behind those angry eyes was stuck in a body way stronger than his. A Slayer's body. It might be better not to provoke the dangerous creature unnecessarily.

"I'm sorry, it was not my intention to summon you here against your will. If you wish I will endeavour to send you back to whatever hell or dimension you came from."

"Not to hell, just the Hellmouth. As in Sunnydale, California? It's not hell, but sometimes it sure feels that way. And make it quick, a friend was just about to ask me to dance with him."

"You're not a demon, you're American!" he exclaimed. Now that explains a lot. Americans were a rude and uncivilized bunch. But Willoughby was surprised that they allowed their women to talk and behave like that. Then it struck him. *How did she know I'm a Watcher?*

"My name is Edward Willoughby, at your service," he said, relying - in times of crisis - on that which held civilization together: good manners. He gave her a crisp bow. "I am, indeed, a Watcher. How did you know?"

"I'm Buffy. I guess you heard about me."

"Buffy?" *Is that a name?* He cleared his throat. "I am awfully sorry, but I am afraid I am not familiar with that name. Perhaps a surname..."

"Summers. Buffy Summers. Does `the Slayer' ring a bell?" She sighed at his obvious confusion. "I only saved the world from apocalypse, um.." she counted on her fingers, "6 or 7 times."

"When was that?" he asked. *Oh my God, she's a ghost, or a spirit! I summoned a dead Slayer from the grave!*

"Gee, let's see, I killed the Master in 1997, one year later there was the Judge, then Acathla, after that I stopped an Ascension and in 2001 I fought a hellgod."

"1997? 2001?" he interrupted. "That's impossible!" He was about to say some more, when a door opened and Louisa Willoughby rushed into the hallway, her skirts rustling.

"I thought I heard voices... Maeve! you're up. Oh, I am so glad. We had already given up hope. But you can't walk around like that, you'll catch a cold. Edward, where are her morning gown and her slippers?"

With a radiant smile she floated elegantly towards Buffy and embraced and kissed her without ruffling a single crease of her expensive dress, lightly touching her cheeks to the girl's, barely making contact. There was a surprised look on Maeve's face - well, it was her face, even if someone else was currently residing behind it - but the girl didn't move. She just gave him a questioning look.

*2001! Did she really say 2001? Oh dear.*

"Louisa, my dear, I was just about to tell you about Maeve's recovery. But you mustn't expect too much of her, she is quite frail from her long coma, and a bit... disoriented."

He caught the furious look of the girl but then she caught on and gave him an almost imperceptible nod. "Maeve, my dear, please come back inside. Louisa is right, you must be careful."

"I will send for the doctor," Mrs. Willoughby said. "And I will have Mary bring some tea and biscuits." She swept out majestically.

Willoughby gestured to the girl to come back into the office, and reluctantly, she complied.

"This house, your clothes," she wrinkled her nose, "MY clothes, and these lamps and horse-drawn carriages? It all feels so wrong... Where am I? No, more importantly, WHEN am I?"

"It is the 5th June 1880." Willoughby replied, holding up a burgundy red gown for her to slip into. The girl mechanically allowed herself to be dressed. "And you are in my house, in London, near Kensington."

"Wow, I won't be born for another...um... ninety-eight, no wait...a hundred and um... for a really long time." She grimaced very un-ladylike and Willoughby flinched. "Oh no... that means Giles isn't even born yet...I think."

"Giles?"

"My Watcher. A great guy, I mean, really. In a very English sort of way, but great." She gestured at his crammed bookshelves. "I'm sure you two would get along really well, you know, like a house on fire."

He motioned for her to sit down in his armchair and put a blanket over her. The girl looked relieved to be able to sit down.

"Listen, Buffy Summers," he said to her earnestly, "the lady you just saw is Mrs. Willoughby, my wife. Whatever you do or say, don't mention the Council or the fact that you are a Slayer. Or, for that matter, the year 2001."

The girl looked at him, eyes widened in surprise. "You mean, she doesn't know you're a Watcher?" She shook her head. "Jeez, you Watchers really are a breed apart. What does she think you do all day? And, oh God, what could she possibly think your relationship with ME is? Ew!"

Willoughby flinched indignantly. "I am your, well Maeve's, legal guardian. I am also her private tutor. A private foundation is paying towards your... her education."

They both remained silent while the maid arrived with a silver tray. Mary curtsied. "Good morning, Miss McKenna, cook sends you some scones," she stammered shyly, "and everybody told me to tell you that we're happy to have you back, Miss."

"Thank you Mary. That'll be all," he dismissed her.

She curtsied again and hurried from the room.

The Watcher poured the tea and handed the Slayer a delicate cup.

She took a tentative sip. "So, Willoughby, what do I call you?"

"Mr. Willoughby."

"Okay then, Mister Willoughby," she said. "When are you going to start sending me back?"



Part 6 - Brave New World

Getting the Buffy look-alike in and out of the car while suspended in that orangey-substance was a chore, but not quite as difficult as convincing Anya to take the motorcycle with Spike. Not only was she concerned about leaving Xander in his "injured condition", but she was completely unhappy about ending up with what she referred to as "helmet-hair". Eventually, though, she caved and the gang finally made their ways back to the Summers' house.

"Xander, we have to buy one!" Anya exclaimed as she trotted through the door. "It felt so...so liberating!"

Xander, Willow and Tara were waiting in the living room. During the car ride, Willow had been able to re-shape the orange material so it only bound the girl's hands and feet. She now sat completely still on the couch with her hands folded neatly in her lap. She was staring down at them in silence.

Anya's giddiness faded as she joined the others in the living room.

"So? What happened?" she asked the group.

"We're not sure, she hasn't said a word," Tara answered.

Willow knelt in front of the bound girl. "Buffy?" she started quietly, "I mean, no, not Buffy. You're not Buffy." She was a bit flustered. Tara stepped forward and placed a calming hand on her lover's shoulder. Maeve was somewhat taken aback by their show of closeness. She shifted uncomfortably. Willow continued, "Can you tell us who you are?"

The girl looked up at Willow, but didn't answer.

"We're your friends. All of us. We won't hurt you, we promise."

"I don't believe you," the girl answered, almost inaudibly.

Tara noticed how rigid the girl's posture was and saw how her eyes occasionally darted around the room, as if she'd never seen a house like this before. She wanted to comfort the girl, tell her that everything would be alright - but she wasn't really sure if that was the truth. Behind the orange restraints, Tara saw that the girl's hands were clasped so tightly on her lap that her knuckles were beginning to turn white.

"What? No. No, it's the truth," Willow wasn't sure how to proceed. "Why should we lie to you?"

"You can not deceive me," the girl whispered to Willow. "I know you are not being truthful because you're protecting a demon."

"What?" Willow said, startled. "No, no, we're not protecting a demon. We don't protect demons, we fight them."

"At least the evil ones, not the not-so-evil ones" Anya amended. "We've saved the world several times," she added proudly.

Willow continued, "We, uh, we help people. That's what we do."

The girl dropped her gaze again.

Willow stood and turned toward the rest of the group hoping for some kind of assistance.

"So have you figured out who she is yet?" Spike asked as he opened the front door and flicked his cigarette out into the night.

At the sound of his voice, the girl on the couch flinched and momentarily struggled with her confines. Her eyes narrowed and she flattened her palms against her thighs. Her muscles clenched tighter still (if that was even possible); she looked like a spring about to uncoil. She watched Spike with such intensity, one might guess everything else in the room faded to blackness.

"No, she won't talk," Willow said. "She thinks we're protecting a demon," she laughed. "Right."

"Imagine that," Spike said sarcastically.

"What?" Willow asked, somewhat hurt by his cynicism.

"Are you daft, Will? She thinks you're protecting ME."

Willow's eyes grew wide. How could she not have realized that! "Oh!" she exclaimed. "But wait! How did she know? I mean, how did she know that you're a vampire."

"Because she's a Slayer," Spike answered.

"Who's a Slayer?" a British voice questioned from the top of the stairs.

"Giles!" Willow blurted out.

"Though I've slayed a vampire or two in my day, I wouldn't hasten to call myself a Slayer, no," he answered as he made his way down the stairs - he was drying his hair with a fluffy white towel.

"No, um, I mean..." Willow stuttered.

"Dear God! Buffy!" Giles exclaimed when he saw her bound on the couch. He dropped the towel and ran the rest of the way into the living room.

"No, Giles, she's uh...she's not Buffy," Willow said as Giles reached for the girl's hand.

The girl shrunk from his touch, her gaze still locked on the blond vampire only a few steps away. Spike was nonchalantly leaning against the wall watching the exchange.

"What? What happened?" he asked incredulously.

"We're not sure," Tara said.

"She fainted at the club and when she woke up, she attacked Spike," Willow added.

"Yeah, we were hoping she had finally come to her senses," Xander teased.

"Har dee har har," Spike mumbled.

"Yes, and she injured Xander!" Anya appended, glaring accusingly at the girl on the couch.

"The girl's a Slayer," Spike said, "Pretty good, too. But we can be certain, she's not Buffy."

Giles pulled an armchair across the living room and sat down in front of the petite Slayer.

"You're a Slayer?" he asked the girl.

She turned her attention to the Watcher in front of her. "I am."

"What is your name?"

"Maeve McKenna."

"Extraordinary," Giles whispered.

"Can you tell us what happened? How you came to be here?"

The girl shook her head.

"Well, my name is Giles," he told her, "It seems you now inhabit the body of my Slayer, Buffy Summers."

"You are a Watcher?" Maeve asked, surprised. She spoke slightly louder this time, loud enough for Xander to hear her.

"Wow, she sounds like Giles!" Xander exclaimed. "She must be from England."

"Someone give Harris a cookie," Spike grumbled.

"Yes, I'm Buffy's Watcher," Giles answered.

The girl visibly relaxed.

"B-but, then, why is HE here?" She looked worriedly at Spike.

Giles followed her glance, "He's, uh...he's a friend."

The girl nodded slowly. She was taught to accept what she was told, without question, but, still, she remained wary.

"Willow, unbind her." Giles ordered.

Willow closed her eyes and murmured something in Latin and the orange constraints dissipated into the air.

"She's a witch?" Maeve asked, her question tinged with something like awe.

"Yes," Giles answered. He stood. "I'm sure you have many questions, Maeve, as do I." He turned to the group, "Let's get her comfortable so we can find out exactly who she is and how she ended up...here."

There was bustle in the Summers' household as people rushed to the kitchen to get food and drink, and brought chairs in from the dining room. Maeve took that opportunity to inspect her red leather pants. Tara watched as the Slayer carefully leaned in to inspect the material more closely, pinching a piece between her finger and thumb. Maeve glanced up and noticed Tara's quiet observation. "I've never seen any cloth quite like this," she smiled sheepishly. "I-I have never worn trousers before." She shifted in her seat.

Tara smiled comfortingly. "Stay right there, Maeve. I'll be right back."

Tara left the living room, and in a moment, returned with the large mirror that hung in the hallway. She set it down on front of Maeve. "Maeve, meet Buffy Summers," she said.

Maeve touched the reflection uncertainly, then touched her own face. She touched the blond hair that rested on her shoulder and cocked her head. "Hello Buffy," she said, mesmerized by her reflection.

Maeve looked at Tara questioningly. "Was Buffy a...a harlot?"

Tara laughed out loud and shook her head. "No, of course not."

Willow came back into the living room with mug of tea and a plate of Twinkies. "I thought you might be hungry or something," she said uncertainly.

When Maeve didn't reach for the plate, Willow set it and the mug down on the end table next to her. The gang was in the process of taking their seats around the room. Giles returned with a journal and pencil, and sat back down in the armchair.

Willow leaned over him and whispered, "Should I call Dawn and tell her what's going on?"

"No, I think we'd better wait `til she returns from Janice's," he answered. Then he turned his attention to the girl waiting patiently on the couch.

"Okay," he said, "Let's get started. It is important that we find out exactly who you are, where you came from and why you're here."

"And while you're at it, Rupert," Spike added, "there's somethin' else you might like to find out...where the hell is Buffy?"



Part 7 - High Stakes

"So, those herbs really worked, did they, old boy?" Horatio Bateley drawled, studying the red-haired Slayer before him. She still looked pale, and he certainly didn't like the defiant look she was giving him. She hadn't said much, so far. He had been prepared for recriminations, a common reaction among Slayers after the Cruciamentum . He had been prepared for an unwillingness to continue in her sacred duties, for an unfitting display of emotion, even tears. What he received was an almost imperceptible frown from an unusually self-confident Slayer.

Perhaps it would have been better if she had never woken up.

"The herbs and Charlotte Bronte", Willoughby replied. "I read to her every day."

"I always knew that English literature is foremost in the world, but didn't know Charlotte Bronte was THAT good," Hartford said in an attempt to be witty. He winked at Maeve. "So, dear girl, how do you feel? What do you remember about the last four months?"

"I'm fine, thank you," Buffy said, trying hard to sound like one of those repressed frilly girls out of old Sherlock Holmes movies. That was roughly the right time, wasn't it? The so-called Victorian age? Besides, it wasn't so hard being snooty when the corset she was wearing was making it difficult to breathe. She had also decided to add a touch of Giles to the mix, to disguise her accent.

She caught Willoughby's approving glance.

"Of the four months of coma I remember nothing."

"What is the last thing you DO remember?" Director Bateley asked.

"You mean, do I remember that per orders of the Council my Watcher lied to me and drugged me so that I had to take on a vampire without my powers? Do I remember that the Council that is supposed to watch over me put me in danger just to test my 'resourcefulness'? You bet!"

She saw Willoughby cringe. But this was something she could not keep quiet about. She touched the scar at her throat that was so similar to the bite marks her own body was marred with.

"It is not for you to question the Council's methods, Miss McKenna," Hartford said in a polite tone, but nonetheless firmly. "You are our instrument, our weapon to fight the forces of evil, nothing more and nothing less. It is our duty to hone that weapon, like a fine blade, and if it proves itself brittle we have to find another blade that will not shatter under duress. I am sorry, my dear girl, if these words sound harsh to you, but that is how our duty has been defined. These rules are much older and greater than each of us."

"Not as old as the Slayer. The first Slayer, she was there long before there were men in tweed wielding syringes," Buffy said, unable to control her rage. She was sick and tired of being manipulated, whether by humans or by superior powers. And the self-righteousness of these watchers really ticked her off. She doubted if the real Maeve would be able to stand up to these overgrown bullies.

"Without Slayers to train and watch, you guys would be without a job," she continued, only just remembering not to use the 'colorful metaphors' Willoughby had asked her to avoid. "Because I sure as hell can't see you risking your bu- um, your skin, patrolling the cemeteries yourselves."

*Oops, I guess that was a little too colourful ,* Buffy thought when she saw three pairs of eyes widening in shock. She tried to look apologetic, without great success.

"Harsh words from someone so young and inexperienced," Hartford said, in an uncle-ish tone. "Believe me, when I tell you that we have all sworn to help you in your duty, and that you can always count on our help." Buffy decided she preferred Bateley, he at least wasn't playing Mr. Nice-guy.

"Mr. Hartford's limp is the result of what one might call a field-injury. I think you underestimate us, Maeve," Bateley said, putting down his tea-cup absentmindedly. "Edward, I wouldn't mind a brandy, if you'd be so generous?"

Willoughby rang for the butler.

When the drinks had been served - no one had offered any to the young woman - Bateley got up from the leather chair he had occupied and walked towards the Slayer. "What did the doctor say?" he asked, looking down at her.

"He was amazed at her recovery. He called it a miracle. But he has declared her healthy in body and mind. Apart from a few lapses of memory, which should restore themselves in the foreseeable future, she is - I quote - 'as good as new'," Willoughby answered.

Buffy looked up. She met Bateley's gaze unflinchingly. "Are you ready for active duty, Maeve?" he asked gruffly.

"I thought you'd never ask," Buffy said, lifting her skirt. She drew a stake out of her boot and twirled it playfully like a baton. Two more stakes were visible, tied to her thighs. The men looked shocked.

Bateley was the first to recover. He laughed. "Your enthusiasm is commendable, Maeve."

"But we need to test her. We can't allow her into a fight before we have ascertained if she is indeed able to," Hartford objected, trying desperately to look away from her legs.

Willoughby, too, looked like he was about to protest.

Bateley silenced him with a gesture. "There is no time. Every night we waste, innocent people die. Simple mathematics, Hartford. If she says she's ready, well, then she is. If you want to test her skills, do it now. I am sure Maeve would oblige you."

*Oh yeah, and if I'm not ready you get yourselves a nice brand new Slayer ,* Buffy thought, *a Slayer who is putty in your hands. Well, think again!*

Buffy got up. She still felt a bit wobbly on her feet, but every bit of exercise strengthened her weakened muscles and tendons. She knew she'd soon reach normal human efficiency. A few more decent meals, a good night sleep and her body would be shipshape again. Mentally she was as fit and alert as she had ever been.

"No more tests," Buffy said. "Let's just get to work." Whether she was slaying vampires in London or in Sunnydale didn't really matter to her. She just hoped Willoughby would soon find a way to reverse the spell that had put her here. Until then she'd play along and perhaps break a lance for women's lib. Having watched all three "Back to the Future" movies several times, she wasn't sure if she wasn't just meant to be here to do exactly that. *I'm a doer, not a thinker. Gimme something to slay and I'm a happy camper. Well perhaps not exactly happy,* she amended inwardly, *but at least then I know what I'm doing. Slaying? Simple. Life, that's the hard bit.*

Director Hartford nodded in acquiescence. Bateley poured himself another brandy and sat down again. He opened a leather briefcase and removed a few sheets of paper. They seemed to be drawings. "According to my sources, one of the most vicious vampires to date is roaming the streets, together with his brides, picking off the stray and helpless. He usually avoids areas with active Slayers. Though, I am sure rumors of your helplessness has drawn him here. News of your recovery should not yet have reached him, it should be possible to surprise him, if we strike soon. It is time someone put a stake into the infamous Angelus."



Part 8 - Demons are a Girl's Best Friend

Xander was sound asleep, leaning back awkwardly in a dining room chair. His head was rolled back over his shoulder, his mouth agape...he was breathing rather loudly. Willow had dozed off three quarters of the way through the tome she was reading, her face pressed against page 326. Tara's head rested directly on the table, her breathing slow and regular. Spike was pacing back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room. Anya was fixing another cup of coffee for Giles.

Poor Giles. Bloodshot eyes fought to remain open behind crooked glasses. His elbow was on the table supporting the hand that his head was now resting on.

Maeve sat in the chair beside him, an assortment of crumb-filled plates fanned out in front of her. She was nibbling on a jelly-smeared cracker, her fingers stained orange from the Cheese-Puffs she had gobbled up earlier. "I love American food," she had said after she had finally succumbed to the call of the Twinkies. After that, there was no stopping her. There was so much to see, so much to learn, so much to eat. This was new and exciting. She had never felt this kind of autonomy before and she was taking full advantage. Sure, she was somewhat concerned about what was happening to her - but she had been unconscious for who knows how long...and now she was getting a taste of a life that appeared much more unrestrained than the one she had left. She was eager to explore this new liberty...but still extremely uncomfortable in the red leather pants.

It was almost four in the morning, and after explaining her life story (and cleaning out the pantry), Maeve was still fully awake. Giles had scribbled over 30 pages worth of notes into his journal throughout the evening regarding Maeve's life and duties as a Slayer...hoping desperately for some hint as to why she's here. However, after pages of notes and a few odd comments from Anya - You must have ruined so many beautiful dresses fighting vampires...How awful! - he was still nowhere closer to determining the cause of this mystery - or how to reverse it. He was growing more and more concerned with every passing minute. And he was exhausted.

"Please, Mr. Giles," the girl said as she desperately searched for a napkin to wipe the jelly from her fingers. "May I ask some questions, too?"

Giles removed his glasses and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "Maeve, we need to rest. We must get up early and continue our research. You have to understand my concern for Buffy."

Maeve nodded solemnly. "Yes," she murmured and hung her head shamefully.

Anya returned to the dining room with a steaming mug.

"Thank you, Anya, but I actually think it's time we get some sleep."

"What?" Spike exclaimed as he walked back into the dining room, "But you haven't figured out where Buffy is and how we're supposed to get her back."

"Yes, Spike, I realize that," Giles replied crossly, "But we must sleep. We're doing Buffy no good if we can't focus our concentration on the task at hand."

Spike rubbed the back of his neck and grimaced. As much as he hated to admit it, the Watcher had a point. The Scoobies probably needed their beauty sleep. He, on the other hand, was unable to find proper rest, so he pulled the book from underneath Willow's face. *Bollocks, research just ain't my bag.*

"First thing tomorrow I'll contact the Council and try to get a copy of Willoughby's Journal faxed to me," Giles told the anxious vampire. "Maybe Maeve's Watcher recorded something that will shed some light on what's going on here."

Spike silently agreed, took an empty chair, tossed his feet up on the dining room table and opened the book on his lap.

"Come on, Mave, I'll take you up to Buffy's room," Anya said.

Maeve smiled her appreciation with orange tainted lips.

"Also, if you can't sleep," Anya added in a conspirational tone, "perhaps Buffy's diary will answer some of your questions. I can help you look for it."

Anya recalled, with a surprising sentimentality, her initial return to the world of humanity after over 1000 years of demonhood. She was able to draw many parallels to Maeve's current condition. It was definitely a shock to the senses, to her emotions. The adjustment was still occurring - 3 years later. *Sometimes I still fudge on the subtleties of the human condition,* she thought. Besides the fact, Anya had actually been around in Maeve's time. She remembered the oppression. Truth be told, the sexual repression during that time sent a lot of business her way. It was nice to be there to help Maeve adjust to this new place and time. *Actually, I think I might just have to give that girl a few suggestions to take back home with her.* Anya grinned impishly.

***

Willow woke with a start to a ringing phone. "Hello?"

Tara raised her head at the sound of her sweetheart's voice.

"Oh, hi Dawn," she said into the receiver.

Pause.

"Um, yeah, sure, you can go to the mall with Janice," she said.

Pause.

"Buffy's, uh, in the shower," she explained, "but I'll let her know."

Pause.

"Yeah? Okay, you can stay there for dinner, too."

Tara knitted her brows in disapproval. She mouthed, "Are you gonna tell her?"

Willow shook her head in the negative.

"Sure, call us later," Willow said.

Pause.

"Bye."

Tara understood that Willow didn't want Dawn to worry...but still, "Don't you think you should've told Dawn what's going on?"

"Not until we know more," she answered. "Besides, if we can figure this out before she gets home, she'll never even have to know."

***

At 10AM, the gang returned to their prospective places in the dining room after a fairly unpleasant few hours of sleep. Anya and Maeve were just coming downstairs.

"She wanted a long skirt, something conservative. But Buffy doesn't seem to own a shred of traditionalist clothing," Anya told the group. "Wait, that's wrong. She has plenty of shreds of clothing. It's the whole pieces that are missing. I told her that she was better off in pants anyway. She's not happy about that."

"But I am happy that they are not red," Maeve added shyly.

She was wearing a pair of blue sweat pants and a small plain gray T-shirt.

"Would you like some breakfast?" Tara asked.

"Oh, no thank you. I think I've already eaten enough to last a year," she answered quietly.

"Don't worry," Anya said, not without affection, "you're a Slayer. You'll work off all those calories in no time. We can't afford to have a fat Slayer, you know."

"Anya!" Xander chastised.

"What? We can't. I mean, how well would a fat Slayer fight.... or run for that matter. Not very well, I would guess. A vampire would eventually catch her. And boy, would he eat well for a week or two..."

"Enough," Giles interrupted. "I think it's best if we take our research to the Magic Box. I've already contacted the Council. They will, hopefully, be faxing the journal to the shop in a few hours."

"Good idea," Willow said, "I've been wanting to take a look at a few of the books upstairs."

"I can show Maeve the training room," Xander suggested. "Maybe she can get in a bit of exercise. Hone her Slayer-skills. Enjoy her new body. I know I've always enjoyed it."

Maeve blushed.

"But not in the physical sense," he amended quickly, "I mean, I got physical...just not with Buffy." Xander was flustered. "Well, maybe with Buffy, but just not in real life."

"Exercise. Good plan," Anya interrupted. "She should definitely practice using Buffy's body."

"Don't get too comfortable in it," the vampire warned as he stalked into the room, duster swirling around his legs. He glared at the girl in Buffy's body with a hint of possessiveness.

"It doesn't belong to you."



Part 9 - Upstairs, Downstairs

Buffy was listening with only one ear to Bateley and Hartford as they listed Angelus's crimes, waved unflattering pencil drawings of him and Darla around and talked about how their sources had traced the wave of disappearances back to them. Her face was unreadable, but on the inside she felt like pounding something until either it or she herself crumbled into nothingness.

*Angel! No, not Angel, Angelus.* As far as Buffy knew, the curse of the gypsies had been cast close to the turn of the century. *Angelus. Here and now! It's so not fair.* She was beginning to feel like a puppet in a brutal play, where the callous authors tried to come up with ever more twisted ideas to make her twitch and dance and hurt. She had done it before, had killed the man she loved, had even killed herself to save an artificial sister.

And whenever she tried to get away from it, when she quit, even when she died, she was forced back into her Slayer role, like a lab rat was dropped back in the maze it had escaped from.

*I mean I tried. Tried to pick up the pieces. Tried so hard to carry on.*

She nodded mechanically, when Bateley asked her if she was certain that she'd recognize Angelus and his companion Darla on sight. "Absolutely certain. Believe me."

Would you believe it? Those engineers of fate or whatever had found a way to top it. Because what could be worse than having to decide to either allow events to take place the way she remembered them or to change history. Who was she to decide?

She could save all those lives Angelus would take before the curse turned him into Angel. And then there were the victims of those he turned into vampires, and their offspring's victims. So many lives! Jenny Calendar was just one of them.

*A Slayer has got to do what a Slayer's got to do?* Well, it sounded a lot less cheesy when John Wayne said something like that.

And what about the lives Angel had saved? What about the ones he might still save?

And as painful as loving Angel had been, all the heartache and the bitter knowledge that it just wasn't meant to be, did she want to undo it? Lose even the memory? Or worse, if she changed time would she be the only one to remember how it had been, like Marty McFly?

She had to get back into her own time, ASAP, before any confrontation with Angelus could take place. She was not prepared to have her strings pulled. She was through with being a brave little Slayer. There had to be a way to reach her friends in the future, to tell them to pull her back. *Now would be good!* Giles! He'd find a way, Spike would see to that. And Willow! Okay she did too much magic, but this was not the time to quibble about that. Willow had the necessary power. They probably didn't know what had happened to her, where she was, but there was a way to let them know. But first she needed to gain the Council's trust, and she needed to get back into shape.

She reigned in her hostility, and if she seemed slightly distant and none to enthusiastic about anything, the Watchers didn't comment on it. After a few polite exchanges they excused themselves and left.

Buffy hid her relief. Instead, she expressed her desire to train. The clothes she was forced to wear made her restless and uncomfortable. *They must have been designed by the Spanish Inquisition. No fun, all pain.* But when she had asked for pants Willoughby had looked at her as if she had lost her mind. She sighed with resignation. *Crap! Do I really have to fight looking like Scarlet O'Hara, can't I go out looking like a slut?* The last time she had been dressed like a doll, Spike had almost killed her. *Not a nice memory.* And her last fight in a long skirt... *Well, that outfit is forever ruined.*

It seemed Willoughby was a pretty wealthy guy, because he owned a big town house. On the ground floor there were many rooms with strange names - *What's a drawing room anyway? Where are the crayons?* - upstairs there were several bedrooms.

Maeve had a large room of her own (not the office in which Buffy had woken up in), with bookshelves, a desk, a large bed and a huge wardrobe full of clothes. Buffy studied the book collection for a moment and was unpleasantly reminded of high school. An old and chipped porcelain doll with dark curly hair, in a faded lacy dress sat on the bed. It gave Buffy the creeps because it looked exactly like Drusilla. So, she put the doll into the bottom of a trunk.

The household was run by almost a dozen servants, who lived "downstairs". One of which, a maid named Lucy, had helped her dress this morning. Buffy would have refused except that she hadn't had a clue what to wear and how to get that bleedin' corset on and she was beginning to sound like Spike, at least in her head. Which only served to show that she seemed to miss his obnoxious but pertinent company. *And I can hardly believe I just thought that. Spike's not company, Spike is...a resource. Yup. And I am so not missing him.*

He wasn't the only one she missed, now that she thought about it. She felt as if she had spent ages near the deafening sounds of a construction site, numbed by power drills and other intrusive noise. But when the sounds suddenly stopped, the silence was just as numbing. Her friends had been crowding her, looking at her full of expectation, longing for her to show signs of cheering up, when it already required great effort to simply get up every morning and face the meaningless chores of domestic life. But now that they weren't around, being alive was even less fun.

Buffy had looked into the mirror of Maeve's vanity while the maid had combed her hair and done up her corset *much too tight*, and an unknown girl had looked back. But the sullen pout in Maeve's face had been pure patented Buffy. *Yuk.*

"This is where we train," Willoughby said, as he led Buffy into a large ballroom.

"Wow, look at that! Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the toughest of them all?" Seeing herself reflected by the multitude of mirrors that lined the walls, Buffy felt slightly crowded.

She tied her hair into a plain ponytail and began to pace around, warming up, stretching her limbs, tripping over the hem of her dress and almost unable to bend properly because of the corset. "Wow, you Victorian guys must really hate your women to put them into those horrible things. How am I supposed to slay in this?" She mimed a staking motion, but was so stiff she couldn't follow through.

"Didn't you ask Lucy to loosen your... um your, well... corset for you?"

"Huh?"

"In the afternoon, when you're at home, you can loosen it a bit. Are you telling me you don't wear...hm... fishbone anymore in your century?"

"Why didn't anybody tell me?" Buffy exclaimed, ignoring his question. She moved to her Watcher. "Go on, loosen me up!"

"Certainly not! That would be highly improper." He sounded truly horrified.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Who'd know?"

"The maid would know, of course."

"Huh? How?"

"She'd know...um... if someone undid her knots. Well, um...I'd certainly notice it if someone else tied the knots in my wife's ...corset."

"Let me get this straight," Buffy asked. It was her turn to be horrified. "You put your women into these things so you know it if they take their clothes off? This is the Victorian chastity belt?"

*Please, can I go home now?*

Willoughby didn't look as if he was prepared to discuss the issue. Buffy snorted. "Never mind, I'll train like this. It's not like I can ring for my maid to loosen the knots every time I am about to kick a bit of undead butt."

Under Willoughby's watchful eye, Buffy attempted a few somersaults. Then she launched into her one-handed handstand, but she couldn't maintain it for long. Maeve's body had been inactive for too long. Also, she felt silly with the skirt blocking her sight.

She got back to her feet. "Come on, Willoughby," she said, shadow boxing, noticing that there wasn't a punching bag anywhere. "Show me what you're made of." Half an hour later she knew that unarmed combat was not among Willoughby's strengths. They moved on to armed combat. There was a weapons trunk with several blades, throwing knives and a bow. Willoughby turned out to be very proficient with the rapier and sabre, more than Giles had been.

Two hours later both had a pretty clear idea of each other's fighting abilities.

"How long have you been in training and active?" Willoughby asked curiously.

"I was untrained when I was chosen," Buffy explained, bending over and stretching the tendons and muscles of her inner thighs. "I was fifteen when I was told that from now on I had to concentrate on slaying, rather than cheerleading."

"Really?" the Watcher sounded surprised. "You have remarkable concentration and an ...uh... interesting technique. How long have you served?"

She knew he was referring to what she thought of as street fighting, some of the tricks she had picked up fighting against and alongside Spike. *Spike. Why do I wish he were here?* She sighed. "I've been a Slayer for over five years."

She rubbed her shoulders, annoyed at the frills. *Shower. Now!*

Willoughby seemed to be on the verge of asking more questions, but then he turned away and began to pack the weapons into the trunk. "Why don't you retire to your room and freshen up a bit," he said. "Have Lucy help you with... you know, dress you up for supper. Afterwards some rest will do you good. And then, if you honestly feel that you are able and willing, I would like to take you out, just to show you the local cemeteries. You should also familiarize yourself with the neighborhood."

Buffy nodded, utterly exhausted. Her body was aching all over, her muscles were stiff and sore. But she knew in a few hours the effect would wear off. Part of the Slayer deal. "Hang on! Freshen up in my room? Please, say you have a shower!"

A few minutes later she was finally alone in her room. *Jeez, can't even get out of my clothes by myself.* And a jug full of lukewarm water poured into a porcelain bowl was what she got instead of a shower. *If anybody up there can hear me - could I please get my own century back?*

***

At least dinner was good. Since her resurrection, Buffy had eaten so much pizza and pasta that she'd felt like she'd soon start singing Italian opera or talk like the Godfather. So when soup and roast and all sorts of vegetables were served, she really dug in. Willoughby and his family stared at her, shocked at her table manners, or her appetite. Or both. Or maybe she folded the napkin wrong, used the wrong fork. Whatever. Buffy didn't really care. She didn't intend to stick around in this cringeworthy epoch long enough to pick up all that manners stuff.

Although, Willoughby's research `pertaining a method to nullify the sympathetic effects of the spell that had drawn her here' - his words not hers - hadn't led to any interesting discoveries. *He should get himself a few helpers. If Willow were here, I am sure she'd come up with something in no time.*

She listened only with half an ear to the polite conversation taking place around her. Mrs Willoughby was talking about parties and lots of people Buffy wasn't even slightly interested in.

"What do you think, Maeve?"

"Huh?" Buffy looked up from her third slice of roast beef.

Mrs Willoughby's lips pressed into a very subtle expression of disapproval. "We were discussing Mr. Hartford's invitation."

Buffy dimly recalled that the Watcher had mentioned a dinner party or something at his house and that the Willoughbys had been invited long ago. "You mean I have to go too?" Buffy asked, unable to hide her intense apprehensions.

"Your written invitation was delivered by a footman while you and Mr. Willoughby were... studying."

*Studying? So that's what he calls the training sessions.* She turned to look at her Watcher. He just gave her a minute shrug.

"I'm not sure I should," Buffy. "I'm not yet fully recovered."

"Fiddlesticks!" Mrs Willoughby said with determination, daintily touching her napkin to her lips before lifting her glass to drink.

"It will be good for you to meet other people. Charles will be your escort."

The young man blushed. "Yes mother."

"Mr. Hartford is a man of note and influence, Maeve. It is rumored that he has been nominated for a knighthood. To decline his invitation is inconceivable."

"Okay," Buffy said, listlessly cutting her meat into ever smaller pieces. She didn't see Mrs Willoughby and her husband cringe at the expression and exchange worried glances.

After dinner, Buffy tried to sleep, but she felt restless. In the end she got up, rang for Lucy to help her with the corset *Again!* and sat down at her desk. She wrote until there was a polite knock at her door.

"Come in."

"What are you doing?"

Buffy looked up. Her Watcher walked up to her and squinted at the sheet of paper she was writing on. He obviously found her hand difficult to decipher, and she was pretty sure that the words he did manage to read wouldn't make much sense.

"I am writing a letter to my friends," she said. "And in my millennium letters are still, you know, private? So, do you mind?" She knew she was being rude, but the way Willoughby was constantly watching her, annoyed her no end. *Watcher, watching...yea I get it.*

"Are you ready?" Willoughby asked, his irritation evident.

"Sure," Buffy said, picking up a handful of stakes, and a purse.



Part 10 - Teacher's Pet

After the group wandered in (well, Spike didn't wander so much as he dashed madly with a burning blanket strewn over him) Xander locked the door.

"What do you think you're doing?" Anya squawked.

"We're closed for the day, An," he answered.

"Oh no we're not. Think of all the money we stand to lose!"

She stomped back to the front door and unlocked the dead bolt.

Xander twisted it back.

Anya grabbed for it again and a small scuffle developed.

"Stop it, you two," Giles said. "Anya, we have work to do. We should close the store for the day."

"Giles, you put me in charge and I say...We. Stay. Open!" She enunciated loudly and unlocked the door with a flourish.

"Who cares about the soddin' money, Buffy's life is at stake," Spike growled, "Sit your ass down and grab a book."

Anya was startled by his commanding tone, and for once, had nothing to say. She just quietly turned the dead bolt back into place and made her way behind the counter.

"Xander, why don't you go ahead and show Maeve the training area - get her started," Giles suggested.

Xander nodded. He motioned to Maeve with his left hand, his right arm was still sore. Anya had created a makeshift sling for him before they left the house this morning to keep it stable. She was nervous he might be out of work for a while and even mentioned to Willow that she might consider researching a healing spell for him...of course, only after this Buffy/Maeve puzzle was solved.

After they were out of sight, Giles motioned for the group to gather around the table.

"I have a few theories," he said, "but I didn't want Maeve to overhear."

"D-do you think this has to do with the resurrection?" Tara asked nervously.

Giles removed his glasses and began to wipe the lenses "Possibly," he answered.

Willow looked irritated, "The spell worked. Buffy came back just fine. You all saw her - she was Buffy. She's been Buffy. Maeve's appearance has nothing to do with the resurrection." She crossed her arms across her chest as if inviting someone to defy her.

"I don't know why this has occurred. There are several possibilities," Giles answered.

"Well, what others?" Tara asked, hoping to ease the tension in the room a bit.

"It's entirely possible that Maeve has already died and her spirit has been summoned by someone, and has taken up residence in the body closest to her own."

"Buffy. Because she's a Slayer too," Anya figured aloud.

"Precisely," Giles agreed.

"But then, where is Buffy's spirit?" Anya asked. "Is it trapped in there with Maeve?"

"Maybe she's back in hell!" Willow exclaimed. "Poor Buffy." She took a deep breath, "We have to get her back. I did it before and I can do it again." Tara shook her head sadly, but tried to calm her lover by caressing her back in slow circles. "I'll just find another spell..."

"You'll do nothing of the sort!" Giles snapped at her. "We don't know anything for certain yet," he explained rationally, "and until we do, there's no use panicking or jumping to conclusions. The Council should be faxing over the journal shortly. Maybe that will give us a clue. Until then, try to find a previous case of something similar transpiring. Before we can proceed with any kind of plan," he looked at Willow sternly, "we need to know exactly what caused this."

"Maybe Buffy and Maeve simply switched bodies," Anya guessed. "Like in that movie `Trading Places'."

"At this point, anything is possible," Giles conceded. But he didn't look convinced.

There was a moment of terrified silence while the gang imagined the horrible places Buffy's spirit might be trapped. They exchanged worried glances.

"We will find Buffy," Giles said. "We will get her back."

He looked at his family of misfits fondly, "Now get to work." He walked to the office in the back of the shop.

The moment he disappeared, Willow quickly snuck upstairs, pulling Tara behind her, to investigate locator spells and specialized time travel wormholes. Anya remained near the counter, where she felt most comfortable, flipping through the inventory list, hoping to happen upon an item that might help in determining the cause of this mix-up.

I'm dying for a smoke, Spike thought. He was pacing the length of the shop trying to ascertain what his part in all this was. He felt powerless. I really need to hit something! He considered putting his fist through the wall, but he knew that Anya would have his head if he damaged anything in the store. He contented himself with pacing, rubbing the back of his neck and occasionally growling. The vampire was drowning in worry and a daub of self-pity - but was shaken from his preoccupation by Xander's beckoning.

"Spike, a little help!"

Xander was standing at the door of the training room. "I can't spar with her," he raised his sling, "like this."

"You couldn't spar with her completely healthy, loaded with steroids and hopped up on coke," Spike answered wryly.

"Whatever," Xander replied. "Think you might want to make yourself useful? You know, more useful than, say, standing around like a corpse?" Xander sneered, "Oh wait, that's right," he smacked his forehead, "you are a corpse."

"Corpses, as a general rule, don't stand around," Spike explained, "I'm a special case."

"Well," Xander prompted, "Help?"

Spike shrugged. Not like I have anything better to do, he thought. "Just tell the little lass to keep her stake in check. Wouldn't want her getting carried away."

"Yeah, yeah."

Spike and Xander walked into the training room. Maeve was sitting on the couch with her (Buffy's) ankles crossed waiting for instruction.

"Maeve, this is Spike. Spike, Maeve," Xander stated.

Spike rolled his eyes. "We've met."

"But you weren't formally introduced," he answered. "Maeve, we know Spike is a vampire, but we'd prefer it if you didn't kill him." He leaned in and feigned a whisper, "I'd have to sweep up his remains and I REALLY hate sweeping."

He didn't earn a laugh. Not even a smirk. "That was a joke, Maeve."

"Oh," she said and smiled sweetly at him.

"Anyway, just don't kill each other." Xander headed for the door, "Have fun!"

Maeve didn't make a move to get up.

"Well? Shall we get on with it, then?" Spike asked.

It's so strange to look at this girl and see Buffy. Oh God, I miss her.

She stood. "This is a bit uncomfortable for me," she said. "I've never had to fight a vampire I did not intend to kill."

"Strange for me, too, Sweetness," he said. Although I've had plenty of experience fighting a Slayer I didn't want to kill, he thought. Unfortunately, you're not her.

Maeve began to circle Spike. He smirked and watched her lithe form glide across the floor. Got to give it to the girl, she already knows how to use her body. She raised her fists, her eyes trained on her target.

"So? 1880, huh? Boy that was a good year," he commented.

"Why do you insist on conversing while we fight?" she asked as she wound her circle tighter around her quarry.

"Makes it more interesting."

"You were around in the 1800's?" she asked.

"Indeed."

She launched a fist at the vampire's face. He dodged it easily by leaning back and to his right, but remained standing in the same place. She kicked at his chest; he grabbed her foot and yanked her forward slightly. She lost her balance and landed on her back.

"Where did you live?" she asked as she gracefully got to her feet, "Your accent? Is it English?"

"It's bad manners to ask a vampire where he LIVED," Spike grinned. "And if you ask one of us when he was turned, he'll tell you he shagged one of Solomon's wives before turning her, which would be a pack of lies, of course."

Spike watched in fascination as a crimson blush spread across her - no! - Buffy's face.

"And did you?" she blurted out, before covering her mouth with her hand, horrified at her own forwardness.

Spike laughed. "What do you think?" he asked with a leer, gesturing for her to attack him.

Maeve overcame her embarrassment rather quickly and dove into a front handspring, taking the vampire by surprise. She twisted in the air and smashed both feet into the vampire's gut. Maeve fell to the floor, but immediately rolled to the left and stood. Spike was doubled over, clutching his stomach. The Slayer took advantage of her opening and landed a swift kick to his head. He shuffled backward. Maeve leapt toward him again and tried to backhand him as he rose, but Spike grabbed her arm before she could do any damage. He held her there for a moment and searched her familiar face for any sign of the woman he loved. She swung her free hand at his chin, but he caught that one, too, and held her tight. The Slayer cocked her head confused and a little unnerved by his intense gaze.

She not in there , he thought. Then shook his head to rid himself of that thought. Back to the game. He released his grip on her and moved sideways quickly, out of her reach.

Maeve countered his sideways move and began her flurry of attacks again. Spike easily dodged punches and defended against kicks. It was the gymnastics that generally took him off guard.

Her brows began to furrow as she fought.

"I think." Punch. "You." Kick. "Are a." Punch, punch. "Contradiction." She halted her attack and looked at him thoughtfully. "And you are not really trying to defeat me. You are merely defending yourself. Why aren't you attacking me?"

Spike's grin faltered.

"It's a long story," he sighed.

"I would not have asked if I wasn't willing to listen," Maeve said and changed her stance. She was obviously no longer in `fighting mode'.

"Well, have a seat then," he gestured to the mat on the floor. Maeve obliged. He sat down across from her.

"I'll try to make a long story short," he began. "About a year and a half ago this secret military group took up residence in Sunnydale and was hunting vamps and demons and yanking them off the streets, out of their homes... out of the bloody bushes." He paused, expecting an interruption or witticism, but then remembered he wasn't talking to Buffy.

"So anyway, they grabbed me and stuck me in a cell."

"Like a prison?" Maeve asked.

"Yeah. And they experimented on us."

"How so?"

"Well, different for everyone, I suppose. But for most of us, they stuck this thing in our brains..."

Maeve winced. "While you were awake?" She looked somewhat faint.

"No, no. It was a surgical procedure. In fact, I didn't even know I had it at first."

"Why did they do that?"

"Well, it prevents me from hurting things."

There was a moment of stunned silence, then, "How?"

"It causes severe pain in my head every time I try to hurt a human. Can kill demons, though. It has something to do with nerves, impulses, brain stuff. I don't know how it works, it just does," he said sharply.

"That's horrible," Maeve exclaimed.

"Oh yeah?" Spike answered warily. "I'd have thought you'd be all for it, being a Slayer - killing my kind, and all..."

"Still, for them to experiment on you - without your knowledge... it's a violation! I believe in what I do, I believe that your kind cannot be allowed to walk the earth, that it is my duty to rid the world of vampires. But I do it quick. I have no desire to see them hurt, humiliated or caged. Only dead."

Spike nodded. "I s'pose that's one way of looking at it."

"What other way is there?" Maeve asked. "I never asked to become a Slayer. Did you ask to become a vampire?" She never waited for his answer but continued. "You follow your calling and I follow mine. At least, that's what I thought until I met you."

Spike snickered cheerlessly. "Right."

"So, tell me more," she said. "How did you feed?"

The vampire answered, "Stole blood from the hospital sometimes."

Maeve grimaced.

"There's a butcher down the block from here who will occasionally sell pig's blood to the suntan-challenged." He looked somewhat embarrassed.

"What happened to the people who did this to you?"

"They were destroyed. Long story. It wasn't pretty." There was a predatory smile on his lips.

Maeve considered everything she had just learned about the vampire sitting before her.

"So you cannot harm me because of something they put in your brain," she restated. "But if you did not have this thing, you would return to killing?"

Spike considered the question. He had considered it many times before...many, many times before. Probably more than he wished to count. He already knew the answer, but still wasn't sure how to respond. If anyone else had asked, anyone else but Buffy, he'd have said `Of course. That's what I do. That's who I am. I'm a soddin' vampire... I eat people!'...but what did he have to gain by lying to this girl? He leaned back, resting his weight on his hands.

"No," he said simply.

Maeve tilted her head. "Why not?"

He's considered this question, too. It was a bit tougher. He decided to be as honest as he possibly could with his answer.

"I'm not entirely sure," he knitted his brows in deliberation. "At first, I thought it was because I was in love with Buffy." Maeve's eyes widened in surprise, but she remained quiet. "I figured, if I killed someone, she'd be upset - and I didn't want to make her upset. I thought that she was my conscience...my soul. But now, I'm not so sure. After she died..." Maeve's eyes widened further. "I kept fighting the good fight. I worked side-by-side with her little group of scamps. You know, part of a pack again." Spike was lost in his reverie. "After all those years of mayhem, I'd forgotten what it's like to be human. Felt things I hadn't felt in long a time. I had friends - what I'd like to think of as real friends," he paused, "and a little girl that actually likes and trusts me. And I love her too." He shook his head...was it with regret or was it simply dismissive? Maeve couldn't be sure. "I just don't think I could go back now, even if I wanted to." God Buffy, how could I let you do this to me!

Maeve was astounded. Spike was astounded. He'd never told anyone about these feelings before...he was barely able to tell himself. He got up, suddenly peeved about going all sentimental and pathetic. When did I turn into such a poncey git? He began to walk the length of the room. Man, I need a drag.

The Slayer sat patiently watching the vampire stroll gracefully across the room. No wonder Buffy didn't stake him, she thought, he is so very handsome. Her face was beginning to get hot. Her thoughts might have progressed further as her gaze traveled the length of his body had Spike not turned his attention back to her at that moment.

"But back in the day," he said to the girl, "they called me the Big Bad."

He morphed into vamp face and smirked. "And I was." He didn't notice her embarrassment or anxiety; he was too busy trying to mend his broken image.

"The Big Bad?" Maeve asked precariously, rather unnerved by the wicked display.

"Yep, bagged myself a couple of Slayers, I did." He smiled proudly, then reverted to his human guise.

Maeve looked at him in shock, which turned into wariness. Which was good. He was, after all, a vampire.

There was an awkward silence.

Then: "So you and Buffy are in love?" she asked uncertainly.

"I didn't say that."

"Are you married?" she asked.

"No. We're not married. Not even together." His tone made it clear that he did not want to elaborate.

Another awkward silence.

Maeve decided to change the subject. "Buffy died? This body?" she sounded slightly nauseated.

"Twice."

"And yet?"

"The first time she drowned. She was fighting the Master," Spike explained. "Xander," he motioned with his head toward the door, "the poof with his arm in a sling... he was able to revive her."

"Oh!" Maeve was shocked. "Is he a warlock?"

Spike laughed. "Harris? That pillock? Not a chance." He shook his head, smiling.

"Was another Slayer called?"

"Funny story, actually," Spike said, remembering. I was so proud of Dru. "She was killed, too. So another Slayer was called..."

"I see," she said. Although I do not see how that was even remotely funny. "And where is this other Slayer now? Does she fight along side Buffy?"

"She's in jail."

Another look of astonishment. If she weren't taught better, her mouth might have dropped open.

"So Buffy fights alone, then?"

"Actually, no. We all help her. Me, Xander, Willow, Tara, Giles...we all watch her back," Spike clarified. "In fact, when she died the second time, we all continued fighting together, even without her." Spike continued before Maeve could ask the question, "She dove into a portal to save the world and her sister's life."

Maeve could only nod slightly in her stunned silence.

"Willow was able to resurrect her from the grave."

"She must be very powerful," Maeve whispered nervously. "The Council allowed this?"

"Oh God no," Spike said, "The Council doesn't even know."

"How can they not know?"

"What do you mean `how can they not know' - we didn't tell them, that's how, Luv."

"But, do you not all work for the Council?"

"Those jerks? Hell no. Buffy put those gits in their place."

Manners or no, Maeve's jaw dropped.

"We work for ourselves. For each other. For the world. For fun." He smirked. "And for Buffy. We're her...friends."

Maeve didn't understand. Friends? Slayers weren't supposed to have friends.

"B-but the Council," she stuttered.

"Sod the Council," Spike said. "You think they give a rot about you? That's not why you Slayers fight, anyway. Buffy knew the drill. She fights cause that's what she was made to do. That's what gets her going, what gives her a happy feeling." Spike grinned. "Am I right, Maeve?"

Maeve didn't know how to answer. "I-I fight because it is my duty. It is what I have been told to do. I-I fight for the Council," she stammered.

"Right," Spike answered sarcastically. "Not because it's fun, huh?" He bent close to her ear and whispered, "Not because of that rush you get when you're pummeling your enemy?"

His cool breath sent shivers down the girl's spine. She shook her head, `no'. But her heart was racing and her face was turning pink.

"Maybe you were fighting for the wrong reason then," he suggested as he stood. He looked down at Buffy's small frame, smirking at the flush on her face. "Maybe that's why you ended up here." He thought about that for a moment.

"Buffy once asked me how I bested those two Slayers," he began pacing again, " I told her about the death wish."

Maeve listened (and watched) attentively.

"I told her that every Slayer has one. What made Buffy different was...is her ties to the world: her friends, her family," Spike described. "I warned her, though, that one day she was going to give in to it...and that would be the day that it would all be over."

Maeve dropped her gaze to the clasped hands that were resting on her lap. It was the only outward sign of what was going on within her. Otherwise, she remained controlled and calm.

But the predator within Spike sensed her vulnerability and her sense of defeat. Yeah, I could take her. She's just going through the motions. He thought with absolute certainty, and surprisingly, little smugness.

He approached her and, after a moments hesitation, put a tentative hand on her shoulder. "Gave up, did you, pet?"

She didn't answer.

"Slayer?" It took a moment, but then she looked up at. Her eyes were full of shame and sadness. "We'll get you back to your life," he said. "And when we do, you'll live better than you've ever known." He took her hand and lifted her gently to her feet. "I'll teach you to love the fight." He licked his lips and smiled at her. She was mesmerized by his eyes. He stepped back and his visage shifted. He touched the tip of his tongue to his fangs and motioned for Maeve to begin. "Let's dance."



Part 11 - Party on, Buffy!

When Buffy got up the following day she felt a lot stronger. Physically, anyway. Rather than go to the ballroom, she stayed in her room for a few stretching exercises. She also tried the one-handed handstand again, this time with much greater success. She put on a dressing gown, slipped out of her room and into the dining room, where a breakfast buffet was displayed. She shoveled some of the less revolting food onto her plate - *Ew, lamb chops first thing in the morning? Fried Liver? No wonder the British Empire is a thing of the past!* - and disappeared into her room again.

After the food was gone, she spent a good hour searching her wardrobe for something fitting to wear. She was on the verge of giving up when she heard a knock on her door.

"Come in."

Charles, Willoughby's oldest son, looked into her room. He blushed furiously when he saw that Maeve was wearing a dressing gown and not much else. He was about to withdraw again, but she waved him in.

"Please, come in. I won't bite."

The young man, he was (Willoughby had told her) 16 years old, came in, but left the door slightly ajar, for propriety's sake. Even so, he was blushing. *What a cutie*, Buffy thought. *In a few years time he'll be breaking hearts left, right and center.*

"Maeve, I am so glad that you are finally recovered. George and I were so worried about you."

*Geee, he sounds just like his dad.*

"Yeah well, I'm a right never-say-die-gal," Buffy quipped, before realizing that she didn't even know what Willoughby had told his family about her coma and the reasons for it. She quickly changed the subject. "Charles, hey, maybe you could help me," she said, gesturing toward the opened wardrobe. "What do you think I should wear to that party? I don't have a clue." *I`ve never been to an 1880's dinner party before.*

"Will you be staying out late?" he asked, his intonation striking Buffy as odd. "Maybe," she answered warily.

He moved to her wardrobe and tugged at the hem of a dark green robe. "This one won't show dirt or bloodstains, and there's a matching purse for you to put your stakes in," he looked at her, and then down at the floor as he said, "And it will look stunning on you."

Buffy's eyes narrowed. *He knows.*

"Thank you," she said as prettily as she could muster and busied herself getting the dress and its accessories laid out across Maeve's bed. "Good thinking."

The boy was blushing again, and Buffy realized he had a crush on her, well, not on her, obviously, but on Maeve.

"You don't remember me, do you?" Charles said suddenly.

"Um, what do you mean?"

"You don't have to pretend," he said unhappily. "Father told us that your memory is affected and that it might take a while until you remember ...things. Or us. That we should be patient."

"Um... uh... well, but even if I can't, there's no reason why we can't be friends," Buffy said, trying to sound cheerful. "Just... not old friends but new friends. You could help me out, so I don't look stupid or something. I mean, I really dunno how I'm supposed to survive tonight's party. I just know I am so going to embarrass myself. So, you gonna help me?"

"I'd be glad to," the boy replied..

They talked some more, then Buffy trained for a few hours in the ballroom and freshened up for a traditional afternoon tea. *A lot better than today's breakfast,* she decided.

Several hours later, Buffy and the Willoughbys were led into a brightly lit room in which dozens of smiling and chatting ladies and gentlemen were entertaining themselves. Fortunately, Hartford was busy looking after his guests, so there probably wouldn't be any Slayer-talk tonight.

*God I hate this dress,* Buffy thought as her Watcher murmured introductions to her, telling her names and titles, family connections... *Learning Chinese is probably easier than getting all those titles right.* She sighed.

"Why am I the only girl wearing dark colors?" she asked Willoughby under her breath, gesturing towards a crowd of young girls in pretty pastels? There hadn't been any pastels in her wardrobe.

"They are `out'," Willoughby whispered back and nodded a greeting to a fat man with white whiskers who looked like he was enjoying his drink a lot.

"Huh?"

"They are out to be seen, old enough to get married. How do young eligible girls find husbands in your time?"

"Trial and error."

"I beg your pardon?" He turned his attention to her.

"At that age? Who wants a husband? Girls want a boyfriend. Someone to date, maybe fool around with in a car, um...I mean automobile..." - *Have they been invented yet?* - "...carriage?" she asked uncertainly. "Anyway, you know, smooching and all that stuff."

Willoughby stared at her. She gave him a sweet smile, but he thought he detected a hint of maliciousness. Was she laughing at him? He shook his head. She couldn't be serious, could she? *Oh no, dear Lord.* He really had to get this horribly improper girl back to wherever she came from. She was worse than a demon, she was a trollop!

"And I am not `out'?" she asked when she didn't get a response.

"You're a Slayer," he answered, only just remembering to keep his voice down. "Slayers don't get married."

*I bet the Middle Ages were more fun than this.* Buffy pouted, but swallowed her indignation and decided to try and get the whole affair over and done with, hopefully without drawing unnecessary attention to herself.

She found an empty chair and sat down, scanning the crowd. She understood that this wasn't a ball where people danced, but that there would be a dinner and then performances of music and poetry later on. Hopefully she could just doze through the latter.

Last night's patrol had been easy going. She had staked three fledglings, all of them females, just as they left their graves for the first time. Not one of them had had a sire waiting for her. Forcibly NOT remembering how she herself had clawed her way... NO. Buffy had staked them quickly and efficiently. She hadn't even enjoyed the skirmishes. *Just going through the motions.*

Suddenly Charles appeared at her side. "Dinner will be served anon. Let me escort you to your seat, Maeve." He took her hand and helped her to her feet. Then he placed it on his arm and led her expertly through the bustling crowd to a huge festively decorated table.

"I don't think I'm hungry," Buffy murmured, when she was seated at the table. She let her gaze fall on her plate. The amount of crockery and cutlery laid out was intimidating.

Charles smiled. "I find that hard to believe," he said. During their long conversation he had picked up her propensity for sarcasm.

Buffy sighed, realizing that there was no way of avoiding this. Well, she'd just have to give it her best shot, as usual, and try to blend in. Even though she didn't feel blend-y at all. But when all this was over poor Maeve would have to pick up the pieces, so Buffy couldn't really tell those Victorian guys where to stick their stupid little rules and prejudices. No wonder Spike had been so keen to leave all this behind. *Again with the Spike-on-the-brain.* She unconsciously rolled her eyes.

She was unfolding her napkin and carefully placing it on her lap, when suddenly she thought she heard a voice she knew.

She looked up, straight into a pair of familiar blue eyes.

"Spike?" she started. But even as the name left her mouth she realized it wasn't him. Wrong hair color, glasses. Just some cute, nervous looking guy who was so in need of a proper haircut.

"Excuse me, Miss?" he said, looking surprised. His voice! It was definitely HIS voice. Sounding a lot more upper-crust-y than usual, but...

"You don't really talk to people seated opposite you," Charles whispered into her ear.

Buffy stared at the man before her in a daze. The well defined curve of his eyebrows *still unscarred*, the prominence of his cheekbones, the sensuality of his lips. *Oh my god, it's him! And he's wearing glasses.* And here she had thought Angelus was the only horror this place and time held for her.

She gave her head a minute shake. He smiled nervously and dropped his gaze. His hands were fiddling with his napkin.

"What is it?" Charles asked her urgently, quiet enough not to be heard over the clatter of soup being ladled into warmed plates. "You look like you just saw a ghost."

"Something like that," Buffy replied. "Do you know him?"

"He was introduced to us, but I don't think we have his calling card. I think his name is William Crawford. He is distantly related to Mr. Hartford's son-in law, a second cousin I think. I can ask mother later, she would know more about him and his circumstances."

"Sounds like a plan," Buffy nodded. "I mean, yes please."

"Forgive me, but you mustn't stare like that," Charles whispered nervously.

"Oh. Was I staring? I was staring. Don't let me stare." Buffy quickly looked down at her plate and noticed the creamed mushroom soup that had been served to her. She began to eat mechanically, not really tasting anything.

*Oh god, it really IS William! And he's wearing glasses.*

She lifted her head slightly to take a peek at the apparition before her and found him looking directly at her. Their eyes met and he hurriedly looked away again, visibly flustered.

*Oh no, now he's blushing.*

"Charles, say something. Talk to me!" she hissed at him.

He tried to start a conversation, something about a horse called Ascot or something, but she wasn't really listening to him. Instead she was using her peripheral vision to watch William and she tried to concentrate on what it was HE was saying.

It seemed he was making polite, but rather convoluted, conversation to the young girls sitting next to him. *Oh my god, he's not discussing poetry, is he?* But even as he was talking, his attention seemed to be focused on someone sitting further away on Buffy's side of the table. Buffy craned her neck, feeling Charles's frantic tug on her sleeve.

There was a young, dark-haired woman, pretty in an old-fashioned way, with dark brown eyes and an air of confidence, even superiority. She looked as if she had just stepped out of an old portrait. *So this is Cecily? Doesn't look so hot to me.* Buffy shrugged. *I wonder what he saw in her.* Spike had only mentioned her once and only vaguely. This was the woman whose rejection had driven William into the arms of Drusilla. This was the woman whose scorn led to his death and future un-life. Buffy frowned and studied her empty plate as it was removed to make way for the next course. *Um, except that it hasn't happened yet.*

She looked up again, somehow unable to keep her eyes off him. *I kinda like his natural hair color...* Meanwhile, William was looking at that Cecily-girl with something that could only be described as adoration. *God, it's pathetic.* Buffy thought. * The way he's staring at her all the time! Practically drooling. Ugh!*

"Stop staring, please."

"Huh?"

"People are beginning to notice," Charles reprimanded her.

"Really? So what? Let them. What are they gonna do? Kick me out of dinner?" Buffy asked, failing to see his point. She quickly scanned the other guests in the vicinity. An elderly lady was looking at her sternly, every inch of her rigid frame radiating disapproval. Buffy flashed her a false smile, then shrugged and turned back to Charles still watching William out of the corner of her eye. "I'm not staring. I NEVER stare."

*How come HE is allowed to stare? Come on, Spike, she's not THAT pretty.* Buffy craned her neck again, for a second good look at the object of William's fascination. She thought she detected a strange resemblance between Cecily and Drusilla. *Looks like I am actually not his type.* `His' meaning Spike's of course. *But then, where does Harmony fit into the picture? Oh god, I hope I'm not grouped with her.* And what did she care?

As she continued watching them, she didn't really notice what she was eating and drinking. Whatever food was placed in front of her she ate, whatever liquid was poured into her glasses she drank, while straining to hear as much of William's conversation with the girl next to him, as possible.

Something about a bard. *A bard? Didn't those mandolin players go out of fashion with green tights and little Robin Hood hats with long feathers in it?* She took a deep breath. *God, I shouldn't have eaten so much, not with this stupid corset on. I feel hot. And I really need to pee.*

"So, you see, undoubtedly, Signior Benedick and Beatrice would never have discovered their passion for one another," William was just saying, "had it not been for their friends. Well, you know, some people are just blind when it comes to knowing the ways of their own heart..." He sighed somewhat dramatically, glancing in Cecily's direction.

"Quite so, Mr. Crawford.," the blonde girl next to him agreed politely, gracefully cutting up her slice of roast. "Quite so."

Buffy found herself inexplicably moved. Friends helping those in love. That was so romantic! Also, without actually realizing it she had drunk several glasses of wine with her meal. And it seemed as though her body-on-loan was no more used to alcohol than Buffy's own.

"Friends of yours Mr. Crawford?" Buffy suddenly found herself blurting out, all across the table. *God, why am I even talking to him?* She didn't even notice the audible gasps in their vicinity or the fact that all other conversations stopped for a moment. Several pairs of eyes turned to look first at her then at the man in front of her, wondering how he would react to her rudeness.

"I beg your pardon?" Blue eyes turned towards her, widening in surprise. Buffy felt slightly breathless, doubtlessly because of that stupid corset. *At last! He's not looking at that stupid Cecily anymore.* She gave him her most charming smile. "This guy Benedict and his ... lady friend Beatrice, friends of yours?"

William blushed. He looked around, appearing dismayed. *Gee what did I say to make him so jumpy?* The man was obviously trying to come up with a fitting retort.

"He's talking about a play," Buffy suddenly heard Charles whisper into his napkin, as he pretended to dab his mouth with it. "Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing?"

"Oops," Buffy said almost inaudibly, wishing fervently for a teleprompter displaying a witty cover-up for her blunder. Or a hole in the ground to open up and swallow her. *Oh no, everybody's staring at me. Why is there never a horde of vampires when you need one?*

"Friends? Well, not exactly... I mean yes, dear friends. Very dear friends." William's lower lip seemed to quiver lightly and he was nervously clutching his napkin, but he bravely continued his valiant pretence at familiarity. "And you know, they are called just like the l-lovers in the play?"

"I just love Shakespeare," Buffy said with a hint of desperation. "So true to life." She more felt than saw the other guests return their attention to their own conversations and breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

"Quite so," the blonde girl said to no one in particular, still concentrating on her food. Buffy and William both ignored her. Some unspoken communication passed between them. They both knew he had saved her from considerable embarrassment. William nodded and resumed both his conversation and his Cecily-worship as if nothing had happened.

Buffy glared at her wine glass, and when a gloved hand came into view to refill it, she waved it politely away.

After dinner the gentlemen relocated for drinks and cigars into the library, while the ladies walked into a brightly furnished drawing room, making polite conversation. As Buffy found herself swept along she noticed Willoughby and Hartford slipping away into an adjoining room. She would have liked to join them, but Mrs. Willoughby insisted on her presence. Without Charles at her side, and still a little under the influence of all that wine, Buffy felt very much out of place. Mrs. Willoughby was busy socializing. What else was Buffy to do but watch Cecily What's-her-name trying to take center stage.

"My dear Cecily," Buffy heard an elderly lady (who was obviously hard of hearing, because all conversations around her were conducted at increased volume) exclaim loudly. "I believe you have yourself an ardent admirer."

"I haven't any idea what you're talking about, dear Aunt Augusta," the young woman replied haughtily. "Pray tell me, will you be spending July in Cannes this year or are you going to Monaco again?"

"Young Mr. Crawford," the old lady continued, not easily distracted. "He never took his eyes off you, my dear."

Buffy tried to move closer towards the conversation and almost knocked over a little rickety table. Only her Slayer reflexes allowed her to catch the vase and flowers before they could crash to the floor.*Stupid skirt!*

"Mr. William Crawford, really?" another overdressed harpy tittered excitedly, her voice shrill. "But he is so... so... poor. And he doesn't even hold a title."

"I hadn't even noticed him," Cecily answered. Buffy found she couldn't stand her. *Self-involved bitch!*

"I heard he's a scholar," a slightly plump girl piped in.

"He is, indeed," the old lady replied with a chuckle. To Buffy, she looked like a fat hen about to lay an egg. "Our gracious host, the esteemed Mr. Hartford, has asked him to look after his prestigious library, to hunt for new acquisitions and to catalogue the existing ones. So, presumably, our Mr. Crawford knows his Greek and Latin."

*A scholar? Spike was a librarian? A mini-Giles? He'll never live that one down. Not if I can help it.* Buffy grinned.

"They say he's a poet, too," the plump girl said.

Buffy's grin widened. *Wait till I tell Xander about that,* she thought. *Spike you devious liar, you never told me that. Educated, yes. But a poet?*

"Oh dear Lord," the woman with the shrill voice exclaimed. "Pray to God you never have to listen to his poetry. I am told it's - and those are my son's words, mind you, not mine - `bloody awful'. In fact so awful, they call him William the Bloody."

There was nervous laughter, as some of the ladies present felt slightly uncomfortable with that open ridicule.

Buffy's grin froze.

* * *

Drinks and Cigars. William hated the fact that the library was used for drinking and smoking, rather than reading and studying. It would take weeks to get the tobacco smell out of his library. He sighed. Alas, Mr. Hartford liked displaying his impressive book collection. The rarer items were of course stored in locked bookcases, and there were two smaller rooms that housed even more books. One of these rooms even he, as the caretaker of Hartford's bibliophilist treasures hadn't seen yet.

Regardless of how disappointed he was to be sharing this precious compilation with such unappreciative cretins, William had been looking forward to this dinner invitation for weeks. He had known Cecily would be here. He never tired of basking in her radiant beauty. She was like a shimmering pearl, an inspiration, no less. The sight of her made his heart flutter. It also made him incredibly nervous and filled him with the urgent desire to pour some of his ardour onto paper before it choked him.

He would have loved to take out his notebook and jot down a few lines, celebrating Cecily's beauty and the way she made him want to be worthy of her. *A mesmerizing goddess, She makes my heart expand...* He already knew the first few lines of his newest composition, and would have liked to pen them down. But he was required to stand (uneasily) at Mr. Hartford's side to answer any questions his illustrious guests might have about the Baroque first editions or the collection of early English Bibles.

*I wonder who that strange girl was?* He found his thoughts straying. She had been pale and pretty, somewhat ephemeral - but obviously not as beautiful and radiant as his beloved Cecily. Her behavior had been odd, to say the least. The way she had been staring at him... at first he had been worried that there was something wrong with his hair, or that he had ink on his face.

It had been pretty obvious that she was just as uncomfortable with such social functions as he was. She had looked as if she belonged to an otherworldly court, with its own set of rules, not in the confines of this rather tedious event. Like a Sidhe or Fairy. He stifled a sigh.

At last it was announced that the musical performance was about to commence and the gentlemen drifted out of the library to meet up with the womenfolk to escort them back into the large dining room, where the furniture had been rearranged into rows of chairs.

William unobtrusively stayed behind and began to replace the books in their appropriate shelves. He had no lady to escort and no desire to listen to the musical performance. He was surprised when he suddenly heard a coughing sound from the doorway. The pale girl from across the table had wandered into his library... without the young man who had been her escort, without a chaperone! *Oh dear!*

"Gee, what a smell!" she exclaimed, waving her hand in front of her face, as if that could lessen the omnipresence of tobacco smoke. "Oh, hi," she remarked.

Which was a rather peculiar way of greeting someone. *Probably some strange regional dialect.* William almost dropped the books he was holding and hastily placed them on the nearby table. "Oh, uh, um...hi? Can I help you, Miss?"

She purposefully strode towards him. She looked thin, almost frail, but her movements were strangely lithe, like that of a dancer.

"Nah, just looking for a quiet place. Without all that lalala. German folk songs or something? Not really my cuppa tea. So, well... German." Buffy said with a dismissive wave. "Say, have you read all these books?" She glanced at the spines. "Austen, Dickens and... - surprise - more Dickens."

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body," William said, wincing at how pompous he sounded. He kept a nervous eye on the open door, expecting her young escort to turn up any time.

"Yeah, I guess so. I don't get to read often," she said, and there seemed to be regret in her voice. "But the body gets plenty of exercise. Hey, who needs this many bibles?"

Body? Exercise? *Oh my goodness!* William found himself blushing, and he realized that the totally innocent remark of the sweet if rather strange creature had led his mind into realms better left unexplored. *Oh god, and I don't even know her name!* He flinched at his own waywardness and this time he really did knock over a pile of heavy books. Dismayed, he knelt to pick them up and found that she was doing the same.

"Oh no, please," he stammered, her unexpected closeness increasing his nervousness. "I am so clumsy, no you mustn't, I mean, let me..."

But she was already picking up books and unceremoniously piling them up on the table.

"See, Wi... Mr. Crawford," she said, with a very strange smile. "No harm done."

*She knows my name. Should I admit that I don't know hers? Oh Lord, this is so frightfully embarrassing.*

She picked up the whole pile. "Where do you want them?"

"Upon my soul! Please, those books are much too heavy for you!" he exclaimed. He rushed towards her and bent down to grab the bottom book on which the others rested, trying to thus wrench the whole pile out of her grip before its sheer weight could make the fragile girl stumble or drop her valuable load. Surprisingly, she wouldn't let go. "It's alright, I've got it," she said, or something to that effect, and pulled in the other direction, with rather more force than he had expected. His grip on the volume broke and then they suddenly both staggered. The carefully arranged stack toppled, the topmost volume hitting him solidly - "ow!" - on the back of his head, the second book, following the first - "ow!" - and then, in a flurry of books he went down.

He didn't really lose consciousness, but he was momentarily stunned. By the painful blows to his head, but even more by the intense feeling of mortification that washed over him like a burning flame.

"Are you okay?" he heard the girl's voice. The poor creature was probably even more shocked by the turn of events than he, himself. No one enjoyed being the witness of such capital embarrassment. Something heavy was pressing him down. He moved a bit and felt several objects dislodging. *Oh no! My books!* he thought. Technically they weren't his. But he was responsible for them. If he got up very carefully...

"Freeze!" he heard her shout with surprising authority for one so young. He didn't know what she meant, but he froze. "Don't move, or your books are gonna get even more banged up. Here, let me pick them up for you."

He felt some of the objects lifted and heard her piling them up. Again.

"Oops, this one has had it. I think." He groaned. *Don't let it be one of the expensive ones.* He couldn't afford to have their value deducted from the meager earnings he needed to supplement his small inheritance.

"Just kidding. The books look just fine. Here, see, that's the last one. You can get up now."

Her rose to his feet. "I am so sorry. Please forgive my clumsiness," William stammered, not daring to look at her.

"I just dropped a ton of books on you and YOU apologize?"

He looked up. And for a moment Cecily was forgotten. It wasn't her face that did it. Doubtlessly, Cecily was much more beautiful than this girl, whose name he still didn't know. It was the EXPRESSION on her face that made his heart twist and turn like a snared animal. She didn't look down on him! There was no derision, no scorn, no condescension. Just good humored amusement, (and he had to admit that the image of a librarian hit by his own books did have a certain poetic irony). There also was that certain sadness he had already detected during dinner, that hung around her like an invisible veil. It made her somehow appear older but also more distant than normal girls. There was something else, something he couldn't quite find the right words for. She looked at him... searchingly. For a moment he wondered what she saw in him.

As she passed him his slightly bent spectacles, which had been dislodged by his fall, he accidentally brushed her hand with his fingertips. She looked startled but not shocked. She just smiled.

He opened his mouth, not sure what to say but hoping that whatever words came out of his mouth would somehow sound profound and meaningful and...

"There you are!" suddenly a voice interrupted. Charles Willoughby had finally found his charge.



Part 12 - Hindsight is 20/20

"I found it!" Willow declared and stood abruptly.

"What?" Tara asked, hopeful. "You figured out what happened to Buffy?"

"Not quite," she answered, "but I think I know how to find her. Let's tell the others!"

Willow grabbed the book she was reading, took Tara's hand and dragged them both down the stairs to the center of the shop.

"I'm not sure Giles will be happy if you're planning on doing a spell," Tara murmured. But Willow wasn't listening.

"Xander! Anya! I've found what we need!" she squealed in delight. She struggled to open the book to the page she was looking at, and pointed. "Trans-Continuance Locator Spell! That's how we'll find Buffy."

"English, please?" Xander requested.

"It means I can find Buffy wherever she is in the space time continuum."

"But what if she's in hell?" Anya asked.

"Or another dimension?" Xander added.

"Anywhere," Willow answered proudly. "This spell can find her anywhere." If she had expected her friends to be instantly excited and eager to try it out, she was disappointed. They all gave her dubious looks.

"Sounds pretty potent," Anya said, sounding somewhat unsure. Tara nodded, glad someone else had voiced her concerns.

"Yeah, but it's not a problem," the redhead assured her cheerfully, as she walked around the shop picking up vials, chalks and a packet of incense sticks.

Anya picked up a pencil and a pad to record the prices of the objects and substances taken, but then she put them back with a sigh. "Tell me what components the spell requires," she said. "Then I can help you find the things you need." She pointed at the incense Willow was holding. "That's the cheap stuff for the esoteric fans," the ex-demon explained. "For Buffy, we'd better use the more expensive incense cones. We don't want the spell to go wrong, do we? At least not because of inferior ingredients."

"Could we just have that spell NOT go wrong - for whatever reason?" Xander asked, nervously. Somehow he couldn't help thinking of spells that had gone freaky in the past.

"Trust me, guys," Willow said. "I know what I'm doing. It'll be fun."

***

There were weapons scattered all over the hotel lobby. Cordelia was behind the front desk, delicately flipping through this month's Vogue Magazine, pointedly ignoring Angel's wacky attempts at getting her to train with him. He was playing with a sword, fencing with an invisible opponent, and making snide remarks about how although Cordelia's no longer a princess - she's still a 'royal' pain in the butt...

"Oh no," Cordelia yelped as she leaned on the counter for support.

[An almost full moon almost obscured by black smoke rising from thousands of chimneys - horse-drawn carriages - a curved river with fog seeping over the embankment - a dark alley and a swirl of arms and legs connecting in blows and kicks, a billowy skirt, a pale face framed by red hair - a familiar face, its bestial eyes glowing with feral fire...]

Angel dropped his blade and rushed to her side, "What is it? A vision?"

More images and sounds, distorted, fragmented. [Darla, in a beautiful robe, bestial face to the fore, smiling contentedly and licking her bloodstained lips - a cacophony of screams and insane laughter - a pile of dead bodies in blood splattered straitjackets - a thin black-haired woman, her face buried in the neck of a fair haired man, feeding...]

She tried to nod, but lost her balance and started to tip backward. She squeezed her eyes shut. "It's you," she gasped. She grabbed his arm for support. "And Buffy!"

Angel almost dropped her, but instead, led her to the couch to sit down. "Ow," she moaned. "You're fighting. But you're not you. And she's not her."

"What?"

There was a bit more moaning, a few "Ow's" and if Angel weren't a vampire, Cordelia's nails might have caused permanent tissue damage. She was gripping his arm with all her strength until the worst of the migraine passed.

She sighed as she leaned back to rest her head on the back of the couch. The pain was passing. "Just a sec," she said as she rubbed her temples.

She took a deep breath and looked up at Angel. "You were Angelus," she said to him. Then, "Oh god."

"What? What is it?" he asked nervously.

"What's up with your hair? I mean, I thought this was bad." She gestured offhandedly toward his gelled spikes. "So glad I wasn't around back then."

Angel put an unsteady hand to his hair and frowned.

"You were Angelus and you were fighting Buffy."

"No, that can't be. No." He shook his head and stepped away from Cordelia. "No." His voice went up a little on that last `no'.

"But it's not really Buffy," Cordelia continued, "I mean, I know it's Buffy, but she doesn't look like Buffy." She considered for a moment. "It's weird, but it feels like this already happened..."

"What does that mean?" Angel interrupted. He was getting antsy.

She narrowed her eyes at him, "I wasn't finished. What I was saying was: it feels like it already happened, but also like it's going to happen...and...it's just weird. Almost like past lives or something. Why would the Powers be showing me past lives?"

"What does Buffy look like?"

"Red hair...thin...pale...pretty. She's wearing an old Victorian-style dress. Kind of pretty. Definitely not my style. I'd like to say it's almost like one of Anna Sui's Spring collection or maybe more Julien Macdonald, House of Givenchy . Oh, remember the dress that Jodie Foster wore in `Anna and the King'..."

"Cordy!" Angel interrupted. His patience was thinning - so he grabbed a small dagger out of the heap of weapons on the floor and began to fiddle with it.

"Oh, yeah. Buffy. Vision. Right. I get the feeling that she's..." Cordy paused and cocked her head, "In England?"

Angel began pacing back and forth in front of the couch. Cordelia closed her eyes to will the details of the burning vision back to the surface.

[A female hand unwrapping a small parcel and finding...]

"And I saw," she paused again. "Oh, cute," she said.

"What, Cordelia?" There was a tinge of irritation coloring his voice.

"A little stone angel. It's so cute. A tiny little cherubic figure - wings and all. Hand carved, I think."

Angel hurled the dagger he was holding across the room. It buried itself into the wall behind Cordelia. She eyed him sceptically, "Okay, maybe it wasn't so cute."

***

"Reperio per articulus," Willow chanted. She sat cross-legged on the floor as Xander, Tara and Anya stood by watching anxiously. The witch's eyes were black and her hands were glowing softly pink. "Reperio per tractus." Her voice was getting stronger, "Reperio Buffy Summers." Her hands hovered over Buffy's "Mr. Pointy" stake (a personal object was needed for the spell). It began to rise above the floor. "Effringo fenestra!" A small point of light exploded above the floating stake. "Reperio..."

There were three sharp bangs on the front door of the shop. The stake fell and the glowing pink lights abruptly vanished. "Damnit," Willow muttered.

Anya raced to the front door. There was a man in a dark suit standing just outside; he was waving an envelope. Anya glanced back at the small group in the middle of the shop and theatrically shrugged.

"Let him in, An," Xander said.

She opened the door warily, "Hello. We're closed," she said. "But please feel free to come back tomorrow and purchase many things."

"Good evening Miss, my name is Charlie," he answered, with a distinctly British accent. He was attractive, with bright blue eyes and dark hair. He was clean shaven and his nails were spotless and pink - possibly manicured. "I tried the Summers' house first, but when you weren't there, this was the next place on the list." He smiled. "I have something for Mr. Giles."

"Oh?" Anya asked, eyeing the envelope suspiciously. "Is it a gift?"

"Um, no. Not really," he answered with a small smile. "Is Mr. Giles here?"

"I thought I heard the bell," Giles said as he approached the front door. He eyed the open spell book as he passed Willow and shot her a scornful look. "Can I help you?" he asked the man in the doorway.

The man smiled kindly and replied, "I have a letter for you."



Part 13 - Family Business

The ride home was spent in silence. Buffy listened to the clatter of hooves and decided that that was going to be the only thing she'd miss if, no, WHEN she returned to her own life. Other than Charles, of course. Or the five course meals and the fact that she didn't have to cook for herself.

*I can't wait to tell Spike that I met his human persona, William the Blushy. I wish I had a photograph of him to take back. Not for myself, of course! Just so I can show Dawn the not-so-cool beginnings of her favorite vampire.*

She didn't notice it, but this was the first time in a very long while that a heartfelt smile was plastered across her face.

*Too bad, Charles found us when he did. I would have liked to ask him about his poetry.* She frowned at the memory of the lecture Charles had given her as he lead her out of the library. *`A lady is never alone with a gentleman for more than five minutes.' Blah blah!*

There was the sound of someone clearing her throat. "Huh?"

Mrs. Willoughby was looking at her disapprovingly. Buffy realized she was slouching. *A lady always keeps her knees together, but never crossed. Blah blah. I never said I was a `lady'* She stifled a sigh and struggled for a more dignified posture.

"Nice party," she said, unable to restrain herself. "I've seen corpses that were less stiff."

"Maeve!" Willoughby exclaimed.

"I'm sure it will be your last," Mrs. Willoughby said, looking perfectly amiable but sounding awfully catty. "I don't expect you will be graced with many more invitations."

*Great, cause I'd rather give myself paper cuts til i've bled to death before going to another party like that.* But she swallowed the remark, reminding herself once more that she didn't want to mess up Maeve's life. So she just exchanged a tiny smile with Charles.

They dropped Mrs. Willoughby and her son off at home and then drove on, into seedier parts of town. It was a long ride. The Watcher was deep in thought, watching her, while she peeked through the window at the passing streets, taking in the strange and unfamiliar sights of Victorian London.

Eventually, Willoughby cleared his throat to get her attention. "Please accept my apologies," he said, sincerely. "Obviously, it was still too early to expect you to blend into society, OUR society."

Buffy shrugged, fiddling absentmindedly with the strings of her purse. "It's okay, I admit I wasn't exactly trying very hard..."

"Even so," the Watcher continued. "I have read enough books on history to know that nothing is immutable, but deep down I always thought that the British Empire and its values would stand tall for a long time. But it seems a lot has changed... or rather, will change in the next hundred years."

"Apology accepted," Buffy said.

Willoughby nodded and Buffy thought the matter was closed, when the man asked: "So, pray tell me, is there something I should know about Mr. Crawford?"

It required great effort but Buffy managed to keep her features indifferent. *Gee, observant much?* She shook her head. "I think I noticed a certain resemblance to someone I know back home, and I was wondering if it was possible that they're related. It would be kinda nice to go home and tell my...my friend that I've met his great-great-great... ancestor-guy," she lied. "So," she continued. "Where are we going?"

"A place called Wapping. Director Hartford told me that the Council was informed about a feast to be held tonight at a local inn."

"A feast? But we've eaten already. Besides, I can't take another bite without popping this corset," Buffy said, but she knew that wasn't what he had meant.

"Unless I am not mistaken, you wouldn't enjoy the fare offered. Besides, we are not invited."

"Gee, Willoughby, are you actually suggesting we crash a party? There's hope for you yet!" She twirled one of her stakes. "So, how many vamps are we talking about?"

"Thirteen," Willoughby said.

"Is that all? Wow. I appreciate your confidence in me, but are you sure you want me to take them on all at once?" *In this dress?*

"We will try to catch them one by one on their way to the Inn."

"Okay."

* * * *

Mrs. Collier didn't normally receive visitors after dark. She was, therefore, quite surprised to hear insistent knocking on her front door. She peered through the window and saw two ladies and a gentleman standing in front of her house. Behind them a carriage stood waiting. She quickly shuffled towards the door and opened it.

"Oh Mr. Swift!" she exclaimed, executing a stiff curtsey. "I `aven't seen you in a long while, Sir."

"Indeed, it has been a few years," her visitor replied with a nod. He was a strong looking man, broad shouldered, and wore an air of authority.

"Oh, this must be Missus Swift, then," the old woman said, with regard to the beautiful blonde lady, whose pale skin looked like delicate porcelain. "I `eard so much about you. Yer `usband told me all about your charitable `eart and your love for the little `uns."

Mrs. Swift smiled distantly.

"This time I brought the whole family," Mr. Swift said with a strange smile. He gestured towards a thin, dark haired woman. "My ward, Miss Christian."

"It's a pleasure, Ma'm, Miss..." Mrs. Collier opened the door wider and stepped back. Mr. Swift took a step forward and removed his hat. "May we come in?"

"Course you can, sir," Mrs. Collier said. Her visitors crossed the threshold. "But we've gotta keep the voices down, or else the cubs are gonna start crying."

She lead them into a room sparsely furnished with an old sofa, a table and several chairs. There were few things of luxury to be seen. The only ornament was a cross hanging on one of the walls.

A few pleasantries were exchanged. Business was discussed. Mrs. Collier offered to make tea, but her distinguished guests declined politely, expressing their desire to see the sleeping children as soon as possible.

Mr. and Mrs. Swift followed the old woman into the back room. Here, the lingering smell of sour milk and excrement that had assaulted them from the moment they had walked through the door, became overwhelming. There were twelve cots, baskets and cradles, each containing a small bundle wrapped in shabby blankets. The infants were sucking on pacifiers made from cloth wrapped around sponges that were soaked in a mixture of alcohol and sugar.

"Look at all those pretty little dolls," Miss Christian said in a childlike voice. "Can I play with them?"

"Not now, Dru," Mr. Swift said firmly.

"Later," Mrs. Swift added.

The one he called Dru wandered whimsically around the small room, looking closely at each infant, smiling dreamily, humming a soothing lullaby.

Mrs. Swift looked at the sleeping infants, appearing absolutely delighted, even as she dabbed her nose with a scented handkerchief. She pointed at five babies, who smelled reasonably clean. "These," she said. "We'll take these. Jon?"

Mr. Swift nodded in assent.

"A good choice," Mrs. Collins hastened to say. "As you can see, they're all `ealthy an' strong, from good families, good breedin'."

In fact, all the children looked thin, but the visitors didn't mind.

Mr. Swift pulled out his wallet and paid the agreed amount without hesitation. Then the visitors picked up the babies they had chosen, the women each carrying two, Mr. Swift cradling one himself. They climbed into the carriage, where two large cozy baskets were waiting to accommodate the little ones.

"It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Mrs. Collins. Helping those in need is so rewarding. It always makes me feel like celebrating."

And with that the carriage drove off towards Wapping.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Angelus's alias was suggested by Nmissi. If you want to check out it's significance, read this:

http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.html



Part 14 - Keep in Touch

The group all stood near the door, minus one vampire and one Slayer, staring at the new guest in the dark blue suit. "I have a letter for you," he had said when Giles appeared. "It's from a Miss Buffy Summers." That was when the group had lost all ability to speak and, instead, chose only to stand awkwardly near the door.

Giles was clutching the envelope in his hand as if his life depended on his ability to emboss his fingerprints to its surface. Every so often, there were the sounds of grunts, bangs and connecting right hooks emanating from the training room in back - but that did not interrupt the penetrating silence that hung like a cloud over the group near the door.

Finally, the visitor spoke again. He smiled self-consciously. "This is a bit of a family mystery for me, and I hope you'll be able to enlighten me. For, you see, this letter is part of a legacy that has been passed down through five generations of the Willoughby family name. In every Will, our responsibilities have been clearly outlined. This letter is over 100 years old and the duty to deliver it has come to rest upon me. I'm very pleased to be able to bestow it upon you, Mr. Giles," he stated solemnly.

Giles could only nod. He looked down at the letter he was clutching. His hands were shaking slightly.

"Well, aren't-cha gonna open it?" Anya finally asked.

"Um, yes, of course." But Giles made no move to open the letter. He looked at Xander, Anya, Willow and Tara. "If this is from the 1800's..." he began.

"1880, actually," Charlie interrupted.

"Right, then, 1880," Giles continued. "Wouldn't that mean that by now Buffy would be, how shall I put this?"

"Already dead?" Xander asked quietly.

"Again," Anya amended. She was frowning. They were all frowning.

Just then, a sweaty Slayer and grinning vampire appeared. "Boy, that was fun. Nothing like a spot of violence to brighten your evening. What's with all the gloomy faces, then?" Spike asked. "And who's the new chap?"

"My name is Charlie Willoughby. I came to make a very important delivery," the new guy answered, extending his hand. Spike only glanced at it. "Name's Spike," he replied.

"Charles Willoughby?" Maeve asked.

The gang turned to her, all with the same surprised expression, not accustomed to hearing Buffy's voice lately.

"Yes," he answered, "and you are?"

"M-Maeve," she stuttered, uncertain whether this man would recognize her name.

"Pleasure to meet you Maeve. And you, Mr. Spike."

Xander snickered.

Maeve sighed inwardly, positively relieved.

"Well, I suppose my work here is done and I should be leaving now," Charlie continued. "But I must say, the curiosity is overwhelming."

"As is mine," Giles said nervously.

"Well," Willow said. "Open it."

Giles carefully broke the ornate wax seal and opened the envelope. He pulled the delicate paper gently from its sheath and unfolded it slowly.

"Get on with it," Anya urged.

Giles scanned the writing silently as the others held their breaths (Except Spike, of course, he simply held his tongue.) There was a hint of a smile playing on the Watcher's lips as he read.

"Charlie, while I appreciate your circumstance and curiosity," Giles said, "and although we owe you greatly for your loyalty to your family honor..."

"I understand," the visitor interrupted respectfully. "This is a personal matter."

"I'm sorry," Giles said. "Maybe I'll be able to shed some light on this matter for you at later time. Do you maybe have a...a card or something?"

Charlie smiled and produced a business card from his inside jacket pocket.

"Thank you, Mr. Giles," he said. "I will be in town for quite some time, if you care to contact me at the hotel. The number is on the back."

"Staying around to take in the sights and sounds of our little piece of Hell called Sunnydale?" Xander asked the stranger.

"No, actually, my business here is yet unfinished," he replied. "Pleased to meet you all." He nodded formally toward the group before he turned to leave.

The bell chimed as the door closed behind him.

"Well?" Anya prodded the Watcher again.

"Maeve," Giles looked at the girl in Buffy's body. "I think it would be nice if, perhaps, you would read this aloud for the others."

She nodded her assent.

She began quietly...

"Hi Guys,

Guess who's stuck in the land and time of plumpudding (dunno if I spelled that right - oh and: bleagh!!!) and Jack the Ripper? It's 1880 (June 7th) and I am in London, in the body of another Slayer named Maeve McKenna. Why? There was some kind of spell Maeve's Watcher cast to get her back from the "realm between life and death" (I am enclosing a copy of the spell, Giles, so you and Willow can study it for a way to undo or reverse it or whatever). It seems she was in some kind of coma, after being injured during her Cruciamentum. Surprise, surprise. So, she wouldn't come out of the catatonia...Can't say I blame her. Anyway, her Watcher went all Warlock-y and tried to do this spell, only he didn't bring HER back, he dragged me into her body instead. Yay me! Don't know where she is or what happened to my body. Guess maybe I'm the one in a coma now. If you're thinking of turning off the switches, DON'T.

Concentrate on getting me back into my own time and body. And make it quick, because the olden days are so overrated. Nothing romantic about it. You should see the toilets! And what I'd give for a shower! Or a Frappacino. I've already got tea coming out of my ears!

I had to tell Willoughby (that's Maeve's Watcher and he looks just like Sherlock Holmes except he doesn't wear the stupid hat) who I am, but the other Watchers don't know. I wouldn't tell them the time of day. And I so don't want to answer any questions they might have about the future.

Do I trust this Willoughby? Not much. But he still wants his Slayer back, the real Maeve (poor thing, if I were her I wouldn't want to go back to slaying in these ridiculous corsets and this many layers of underwear). And he so doesn't want his chums to find out about the spell he screwed up. Duh!

Anyway, I'm not going to sit here twiddling my thumbs and slaying vampires that are probably already dust in your time and wait till you guys figure out where and when I am, so I decided to give this letter to a friend who will have to promise that his kids and their kids after him and so on make sure it gets delivered to you just as you are wondering what the hell happened to me.

Do I write a few words of goodbye in case you don't manage to get me back? No. Because you have to. If I have to stay here much longer I will create the most outrageous time paradox I can think of. What do you think would happen if I symbolically burned a pile of corsets on Trafalgar Square? Yes, Giles, I did have to ask someone how to spell that.

Okay guys, I am sure you'll manage somehow. The Hellmouth has thrown all kinds of things at us and we've always come out on top.

Dawn, just because I'm not there doesn't mean you can stay out longer. And don't break anything. Giles, don't forget to pay the telephone bill. Oh, and the plumber. Tara, look after Dawn until I'm back to annoy her in person. Willow, Xander, Anya, can you fill in for me like last time I was "gone"? Spike, don't do anything I wouldn't do or I'll stake you next time I see you!

Buffy

PS: I wasn't going to mention it, but you'd probably find out anyway: Angelus is here. And I am supposed to kill him. Do I need to say 'hurry'?

Another PS: I just reread what I wrote. Okay Spike, you know I probably won't stake you. But I might hit you a little bit. Anyway, keep Dawn safe for me.

Please."

****

"Well?" Cordelia pestered Angel. Her hands were planted firmly on her hips and she was tapping her foot.

"It's ringing," he told her.

"Magic Box," Giles answered.

"It's Angel," he said hurriedly, then: "Buffy's in trouble...I think."

"Yes, Angel. We know. We're trying to handle the situation. It's Angel," he mentioned to someone standing near him. Then, to Angel: "What do you know?"

"She's sometime in the past. In the body of another Slayer," Angel answered.

"We've gathered that much," Giles said. "As a matter of fact, we have Maeve, the other Slayer, here in Buffy's body right now. It seems they've just traded places..." Then: "Yes, Anya, I know. Yes, yes, you were right...Sorry, Angel. We've actually, well, we've just..." he stuttered, "We've actually just received correspondence from Buffy, herself."

"What? How? How is that possible?"

"A letter. Buffy sent us a letter telling us where and, more importantly, WHEN she is," Giles explained.

"Oh," Angel said, obviously at a loss.

"How did you know?"

"Cordy. She had a vision."

"Interesting that the Powers chose to get involved," Giles murmured. "Well, we're already in the process of trying to figure out a way to reverse this...uh...spell. Buffy gave us some details in her letter. We're researching the leads she provided. If you...or Cordelia... piece together anything more, please call immediately." Giles was about to hang up the phone when...

"Wait! There's something else," Angel said.

"What?"

"I think I know why the Powers may have gotten involved," Angel answered. His face was a mask of worry. Cordelia touched his arm lightly.

"Go on."

"I..." Angel began, "I think I..." his voice cracked slightly. "Giles, I think I killed her."



Part 15 - The Streets of London

"This is it?" Buffy said, looking out of the window as they drove past a tall and gloomy group of buildings in a dark and dismal *and smelly* street. Dim light was shining through dirt stained window panes. A drunken couple was forced to make way. The woman looked dirty and vulgar, the man was dressed like a sailor. They cursed and raised their fists at the passing vehicle.

"Pretty large for an inn," Buffy remarked, trying to muster some interest in tonight's mission impossible.

"It used to be an orphanage and a poorhouse, with the Master's house in the middle," Willoughby explained. "Nowadays the poorhouse serves as a warehouse, and the orphanage is used as a stable and a...a..." The Watcher cleared his throat.

"A whorehouse?" Buffy asked, catching on quickly. "Gee, you're really showing me the sights." Willoughby opened his mouth as if to correct her choice of words, but decided against it.

The carriage drove to the end of the street, turned round the corner into a narrow lane and stopped. Willoughby stood up and lifted the padded surface he had been sitting on. Underneath was a hollow space. He took out two crossbows and passed one of them to the Slayer. Next he passed her a quiver of arrows. Buffy proceeded to load the crossbow. Meanwhile, Willoughby emptied the compartment. There were more weapons. Swords, stakes, small vials filled with clear liquid, unlit torches, crosses and two lanterns.

"Wow," Buffy said. "Quite an arsenal. Looks like we're going to start a crusade." She patted her seat. "What's in here?"

"Other supplies."

Willoughby lit one of the lamps and opened his black leather bag. He removed a piece of paper, unfolded it and spread it out on the seat.

"A map?"

"The Council has known of this tavern for many years. It has often sheltered vampires and demons. The innkeeper himself is rumored to be less than human. Until now, it seemed opportune to keep the place under observation, rather than close it down and drive the evil minions that frequent it even deeper into hiding," Willoughby explained.

He studied his *new* Slayer intently.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Strong, fast and ready for a good slay," Buffy replied with a false cheer.

"I want you to wear this," the Watcher said, fishing an object out of his pocket. It was a golden chain with a little golden cross on it.

"Where's yours?" Buffy asked.

* * * *

"Can I have one now?" Drusilla asked peering hungrily into the basket.

"We're almost there," Angelus said, distracted. His hand was caressing Darla's ankle and calf. She was sitting opposite him, her foot teasing his lap. "Won't be long now, Drusilla, and we'll all feast on them."

Drusilla pouted, annoyed at the lack of attention she was receiving.

One of the infants woke. A little boy. His face contorted, but he had already learned in his short miserable life that loud crying never brought help, so he just mewled quietly. Drusilla brushed the tiny little head with her fingertips, sampling his warmth. The chill of her touch startled the child. He looked at her with amazed blue eyes.

"A pretty little thing. I like blue eyes. There are summer skies in them, and tunes and beautiful words," Drusilla said in her usual sing-song, studying the child intently. "The pixies told me that I'd get a shiny, blue-eyed prince to play with, soon."

"Is that so?" Darla said languidly, not really listening to the younger vampire's ramblings. Instead, she concentrated on the effect her foot was having on her magnificent creation. Angelus. HER Angelus.

"The pixies never lie, not to me." Drusilla smiled and lifted the baby out of its basket to cradle it in her arms. She rocked it gently. "But I'm growing tired of waiting for my prince." She nodded at the infant in her arms. "Can I turn him?"

"No!" Angelus and Darla said sharply.

"You can't turn babies," Angelus explained for about the hundredth time, *or dogs, cats or horses.*

"How do you know, Papa, if you haven't tried it?" Drusilla asked. And then, as if she were reading his mind, she added, "We could make so many nice things. Like hellish stallions with glowing eyes and devilish speed that will rend and tear at living flesh. I'd like that."

The two older vampires exchanged glances. "She's all yours," Darla said with a malignant smile. She withdrew her wayward foot, much to Angelus's frustration. She slid it back into her shoe.

Angelus frowned. He glared at his troublesome offspring. "Put it down, Dru," he said forcefully, "or you won't eat at all tonight." His eyes flashed yellow. It wasn't an idle threat.

Drusilla giggled happily at his tone, and complied. She folded her hands in her lap and lowered her eyes, trying to look demure and seductive at the same time. But Angelus was already bored with his broken toy. He turned his attention back to the cold beauty who had sired him.

Darla raised one mocking eyebrow, and wordlessly held up her foot, waiting for Angelus to tie the laces. And Angelus, the killer of families, one of the most feared vampires of his time, complied.

* * * *

William knew he should have called a cab to take him home after the party at Hartford's, but he had felt like stretching his legs and he had shied away from the expense. He was humming "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers", enjoying the cheerfulness of the vulgar little American tune, as he was walking along well lit streets. Many balls lasted till three o'clock in the morning. Until then, the city didn't really go to sleep. William could hear the sound of carriages going this way and that.

As usual, he was thinking about Cecily.

*A mesmerizing goddess,

She makes my heart expand...*

*Hm, what rhymes with expand? Land, hand, demand, understand...*

*What a rather peculiar girl,* he thought for at least the twentieth time tonight, as the image of the strange redhead came unbidden into his mind. She had looked so pale, her skin almost translucent. And her red hair... Like she had just stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Beautiful but insubstantial, like a mythological creature. Not quite real. *Elusive?*

The poet in him was baffled by the difficulty to find the proper words to describe the young woman. Not to mention her unusual behavior during their brief encounter. *Odd? Abstruse? No.* Within a short time she had broken with more conventions than he could name but it hadn't scandalized him as it should have. *Enigmatic? Fugacious?*

How could it be that she had appeared so fragile and yet strong at the same time? If he were a painter he'd paint her as Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, before Achilles' spear takes her life. Well perhaps he could attempt a pencil drawing sometime?

The poem he was composing about Cecily was momentarily forgotten as he pondered the way the girl had smiled at him. No one had ever smiled at him like that. Without condescension.

*She's a contradiction, yes, that's it!*

Young and old, innocent and world-weary.

He didn't even know `her' name. But `she' had been with the Willoughby family. Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Hartford seemed to be on good terms. Both were interested in old manuscripts and books. William had, more than once, found the man in his employer's library, studying heavy leather bound tomes from the locked up section of the collection.

He had wondered if he should find out who `she' was, but since he was steadfastly in love with Cecily it would have been unfitting.

*Cecily. Oh Cecily.* He pushed the image of the redhead aside. As it was unlikely he'd ever see her again, there was no reason to give her a second thought. Instead, he summoned up the memory of Cecily, how impeccably she had carried herself. She had looked radiant, graceful, she was everything a man could aspire to.

*A mesmerizing goddess,

She makes my heart expand...

Before my love expires

The world comes to an end*

Deep in thought he arrived at home. Inside he was greeted happily by an old dog, who was lying on a rug in the hallway. Absentmindedly, William patted his head, while shrugging out of his coat.

Nevertheless, even though his heart belonged to Cecily, as he walked up the stairs to his bedroom, his thoughts inexplicably and quite unintentionally gravitated back to the girl he was beginning to think of as Penthesilea. *I wonder what she's doing...* But then he shook his head. She was probably already home, tucked in her... um... fast asleep.

* * * *

The first vampire was a piece of cake. He never knew what hit him. Buffy's arrow found its mark unerringly. Willoughby just nodded, as if he had expected nothing less.

"Now this is what I call a stake out," Buffy punned as they watched the inn. They had taken up position in a building on the opposite side of the road, an old abandoned and rat infested brewery. *Eew!*

Willoughby did not react. He studied the alley intensely. He was watching the right hand side, Buffy was concentrating on the left hand side, where their carriage was waiting for them.

"What about the coachman?"

"Don't worry about him," Willoughby answered. "There, someone's coming."

Buffy followed his glance. Two well-dressed men were walking at a brisk pace towards them. She shook her head. "Human."

"Are you sure?"

"Yup."

They watched as the two gentlemen hurried past them.

A carriage drove past. Buffy tensed, then she hurriedly passed the crossbow to her surprised Watcher and ran out in the street after the moving conveyance. Silently cursing her billowing skirt she managed to stay just a few steps behind it. When it slowed to go round a corner she jumped. Dangling from the vehicle's roof she tried to find support for her feet on the fenders. Just as she felt herself slipping, the carriage slowed and came to a stop.

She listened as two passengers climbed out, a man and a woman. The man paid the coachman and exchanged a few words with him. He had a foreign accent Buffy was unable to place. The Slayer quietly stepped down, pulled a stake from her purse and hid the weapon behind her back. The coach drove off leaving them standing in the middle of the dark lane.

Buffy found herself facing a tall, Caucasian looking gentleman and his beautiful blonde lady. Both were dressed expensively, wearing hats and gloves. The man was leaning on a cane. If Buffy's presence surprised them, they hid it well.

"Should I curtsey before I stake you?" Buffy asked, brandishing her stake. Then things happened very fast. The two handsome faces were replaced by bestial features as the vampires revealed their true selves. Buffy's attempt to plunge her stake into the male creature's heart was blocked at incredible speed. This was no fledgling. This was an old, experienced vampire. And he brought up his cane fast and efficiently, almost knocking her out with a vicious blow to her head. Buffy managed to evade the attack at least partly. It missed her head but grazed her shoulder painfully.

"You could poke an eye out with that thing," she said to the vamp, who was preparing for another swing in her direction.

The female vampire stood back, watching the fight gleefully.

Buffy attempted a kick at the man's kneecap but was hindered by the skirt. She exchanged a few blows with him, but he was fast and able to withstand considerable damage. He was also careful. He never took his eyes of the stake she was wielding. And his cane gave him superior range.

Buffy was beginning to wonder how she should take him out. Another swing of that cane, directed at her head. She ducked. And delivered a flurry of blows trying to throw him off balance. As he was staggering backward, she followed quickly, grabbed him by the lapels of his coat and hurled him against the nearest building, hoping to get a good opening for a well aimed stake.

That was the moment the female vampire decided to jump into the foray.

"Oh? You wanna play tag team?" Buffy quipped. "That's not fair. I don't have a partner!"

With a feral growl the creature swung her purse at Buffy. It was a fluffy little pouch made of satin and lace, but when it connected with Buffy's ribs the impact was not only painful but it also knocked the wind out of her.

"Ow, what have you got in there? Bricks?" Buffy groaned. She narrowly evaded another swing of the pouch, and feinted a stab attack before making a grab for the purse. She managed to get hold of it and gave it a forceful yank. The not-so-lady-like vampire was not about to let go, but pulled in the other direction. When the strings snapped and the female vampire staggered back Buffy was ready for it. Stake! Hold breath! And the blond vampire exploded into a shower of dust.

"So much for fair play."

"No!" the male vampire shouted and this time he forgot to be careful. Wildly swinging his cane, he drove Buffy backwards, forcing her to duck and parry. Again the skirt made her stumble. "Oops, how clumsy of me!" Buffy exclaimed. As he jumped at the opportunity to overpower her, the stake found its mark. "Or maybe not." There was a look of surprise on the vampire's face as he disintegrated.

"I guess he expected more of a faint than a feint. That'll teach him." She shrugged. "Or maybe not." She shook some dust out of her lacey sleeve.

Curious, she checked the contents of the pouch she was still holding. She was pretty sure that its blow had cracked one of her ribs. "Horseshoes. No wonder I felt like I was kicked by a horse." She picked up her own handbag and put her stake and the two horseshoes inside.

*Right. Three down, only ten to go. Yay me!*

She briskly walked back to the brewery, just in time to see a carriage pulling into the yard of the former orphanage.

"It would seem that tonight's hosts have finally arrived," Willoughby said.

* * * *

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Penthesilea was the Amazon Queen in the Iliad, fighting for the Trojans. A strong and fearless warrior. She was vanquished by the Greek warrior Achilles, who fell in love with her after killing her.



Part 16 - Live and Learn

"I..." Angel began, "I think I..." his voice cracked slightly. "Giles, I think I killed her."

"What?"

"When Cordy was describing the vision, I remembered. I remembered her, Giles," Angel said. His voice was shaking slightly.

"No, no, Angel. It isn't possible," Giles said.

"Giles, I was there. I was there when she died. And if that was Buffy..." Angel couldn't finish his thought. "I was obsessed with her. I played with that girl for years. Mind games," he mumbled. "Cordelia told me she saw a hand-carved stone angel in her vision. That was...I left those on her doorstep, to let her know I was there." He paused, then whispered: "Giles, what did I do?"

"Calm down, Angel. You didn't kill Buffy. I have Maeve's Watcher's journal here," Giles told him. He glanced at the group. They were all still gathered around Maeve and Buffy's letter. He lowered his voice to say: "Buffy is trapped in the year 1880. According to the journal, Maeve did not die until 1885."

"1880?" Angel repeated. "So that means...I didn't kill Buffy?"

"No, Angel, you didn't."

"But, still. Maeve. We have to warn her. I have to...I need her to know," he struggled for the right words. "I need to tell her that I'm... "

"You can't," Giles interrupted. "You can't tell her anything. You cannot alter history. We're already concerned that Buffy could cause a time paradox."

"But Giles, I was so cruel. For years - I was fixated. You can't understand."

"Oh, I understand," Giles said, his voiced tinged with anger, "I understand all too well." *I remember Jenny. I remember the way you tortured me. I understand. Oh, yes, I understand all too well.*

There was silence on the line.

Giles cleared his throat. "Be available in case we need you."

"Of course," Angel answered solemnly. "I'll stay here, at the office. Call me, if there's anything I can do..." It was Giles who cut the connection, unable to find anything else to say to the uneasy vampire.

As the conversation with Angel came to an end, the gang migrated to the area in front of the counter.

Maeve remained seated, still clutching the letter she had just read. It had been strange to read the words of another Slayer. Everything she had ever read about other Slayers had been written by Watchers...in a Watcher's perspective. But Buffy's words produced in her a strange feeling of kinship. This `Buffy' sounded like a very confident person, she was so much in control of her life and she had found so many people who knew about her duty, who loved her and who even helped her. At home, she only had one person to confide in, beside her Watcher. Charles. And it seemed Buffy had recruited him to aid her, something Maeve never would have dared. She sighed, watching these strange, but kind, people crowding Mr. Giles. The thought of going back to her own, much lonelier life, was beginning to trouble Maeve.

"We must hurry," a distressed-looking Giles told the group after he returned the phone to its cradle.

He was standing behind the counter, thumbing through a stack of fax pages about two inches thick. Without raising his eyes to meet their questioning gazes, he said, "The longer it takes to get Buffy back, the more dangerous this situation becomes. I have Edward Willoughby's journal at my disposal, but there doesn't seem to be any additional information concerning the spell he attempted that caused this mess. In fact, the whole incident is not mentioned at all."

"It wouldn't be," Maeve spoke up cautiously. "He was not always..." she paused, considering her words carefully, "completely forthright with the information he provided to the Council."

"Oh, we understand that completely, Maeve," Anya told her, patting her gently on the shoulder. "We don't like the Council much either, do we Giles?"

Giles just shook his head.

"So, what did the poof in shining armor have to say?" Spike wondered aloud, not letting on that his superior hearing had allowed him to follow at least the end of Giles's conversation. *1885, eh?*

"It seems Cordelia had a vision regarding Buffy's...and your," he nodded toward Maeve, "situation."

"You mentioned some powers, Giles." Xander said anxiously, "What powers? What do powers have to do with this?"

Giles grimaced. "I'm not sure," he admitted, "but we must figure that out. And quickly."

"What's next then, Rupert?" Spike asked as he rolled a shiny purple rock between his fingers. "How do we get the Slayer back?" The purple stone slipped and fell to the floor between his black boots. *If he tells me one more time not to worry - that everything will be alright I'll ...I'll what? Ask him again? Talk him to death? Please let him be right.*

Anya shrieked. "If you damage the merchandise, we're going to deduct it from your pay," she threatened.

"What pay?" he smirked. But his heart was not really in that response. He was overcome by a strange sense of foreboding. The date Buffy had given in her letter had sounded way too familiar. *If Buffy messes with the timelines, if she stops Drusilla from turning me...* Dying - or getting dusted - was one thing, but fading into nothingness because he, Spike, never existed... the mere thought caused him physical discomfort. He bent down to retrieve the rock.

"I'm working on it," Giles told the impatient vampire. "I might have a solution, but I need to check a few things first. I'll be in my office." He retreated to the back of the shop. He didn't notice the vampire's interest in his departure.

Jingle. Jingle.

Everyone turned to look at the door.

*Oh my God, Dawn. We forgot about Dawn!* Tara screamed internally.

"Hi everybody!" Dawn said as she bounced happily into the shop. "No one was home so I had Janice's mom drop me here."

"Uh, hi Dawn," Tara said. "Didja have a good time?" She glanced back at Maeve for a moment, took a deep breath, then turned her attention to the child before her.

"Yea, her mom's a good cook. You know, contrary to popular belief, a teenager CAN get tired of pizza," she looked at her sister as she dropped her backpack on the table. "No offense, Buff."

Buffy just smiled awkwardly.

"So anyway, what's the haps? Any new monsters I should know about?"

"Actually, Dawn, we need to talk to you," Tara said seriously.

Taking advantage of the distraction Spike swiped the forgotten Watcher's journal off the counter, put it on one of the chairs and draped his duster over it.

***

"So what do we do?" Dawn asked an half hour and a somewhat detailed explanation later.

Her face was solemn. During Willow's narration, she glanced nervously at the-girl-who-was-no-longer-her-sister at least a dozen times. She also looked to Spike for reassurance. He gave it to her in small increments throughout the discussion. A "Don't worry, Bit, the Slayer's safe," here. A "We'll get her back. I promise," there. Here a nod. There a smirk. Everywhere a wink-wink.

"Giles said he's working on something," Tara comforted the girl. "It'll all be fixed soon."

Dawn glanced from the letter in her hand to the new-Buffy and tilted her head. "Maeve, huh?"

The pseudo-Buffy nodded. "Yes," she said quietly. "Pleased to meet you, Dawn."

"I guess we should be getting you home," Tara commented. "It's late. We should all go back to the house and get some sleep. We'll have plenty of work to do tomorrow."

"Oh, come on!" Dawn said. "I want to help. I want to get my sister back now." She gave Maeve an embarrassed smile. "Sorry, it's not like I want to get rid of you or anything..." She shrugged.

The shy Slayer just nodded.

"I know, Dawnie. We all do. But we won't be any good to her if we're exhausted. Most of us didn't sleep much at all last night," Tara explained and she glanced at the others. They did, indeed, look weary.

Dawn sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. "I can help, you know."

"I know," Tara answered honestly. "Get your things, come on."

Dawn grabbed her backpack and slung it halfheartedly over her shoulder. "You coming, Buf-...I mean, Maeve?"

Maeve glanced around the room questioningly. "I-I'm not sure where I'm needed."

"You're needed in bed," Anya said officially. "You haven't slept a wink since you...well, since you got here." She nodded approval of her own statement. "Why don't you come with us," she suggested, "it must be awkward for you sleeping in Buffy's house." *Besides the bizarre circumstance of living with Dawn's surrogate lesbian parents.* Then added, "And I promise, at our place, no one will call you `Buffy'."

"I would not wish to inconvenience..."

Anya interrupted, "It's settled then. Xander, give me the keys, I'll drive."

"Looks like we're outta here," Xander told the group as he fished his keys out of his pocket with his good hand. "Tell Giles we'll be here first thing tomorrow morning."

"We're leaving, too," Tara said as she took Willow's hand.

"I'll let Rupert know," Spike told them. "Go on, then. Get your beauty sleep. God knows you need it."

"Bye Spike," Dawn said as she left.

"Night Niblet."

Jingle. Jingle.

*Right, then. Time to catch up on some reading.* Spike took the journal from its hiding place, sat down at the table and propped up his feet.

***

The apartment was blanketed in inky shadows. If it weren't for the small lamp on the end table in the living room, the house would be wholly black. Xander was fast asleep in the bedroom. Though both girls were working on less than two hours of sleep, they were still wide awake. Second wind, it's called. Maeve and Anya sat side-by-side on the couch, a book open across their laps.

"They sell this?" Maeve asked incredulously, "At a public marketplace?"

"Yes, or you could borrow a copy at a public library," Anya answered. "Look Maeve, I remember what it was like in the 1800's," she said, "I was a vengeance demon for over a thousand years. I remember the sexual repression in England. It was absolutely no fun for women those days."

Maeve only nodded and turned the page...and gasped.

"Oh, yes," Anya said in response, "That's one of my favorite positions. And to think, this book was published almost 30 years ago." She shook her head in amazement. "Granted, people have been kinky for...well, forever. But to put it into print...well, let's just say that Mr. Comfort was way ahead of his time." She smiled at Maeve, "The author of this book was from London, too, you know." She turned the page.

"Oh?" was all Maeve could muster.

"I should probably also give you a lesson on birth control," Anya mentioned. "I just have to remember what was available back then." She thought for a moment, "Can Slayers even get pregnant? That's something I've never discussed with Buffy. Maybe Giles would know."

"I-I would suppose so," Maeve answered. "My bodily functions are...they are normal functions." She turned the page. Both girls tilted their heads sideways simultaneously.

"Yes, that one is difficult to master," Anya remarked offhandedly. Back to the pregnancy question: "But, you have Slayer-power and healing ability and stuff that normal people don't have. Besides, I would assume it would be difficult to fight vampires with a bun in the oven."

Maeve nodded, head still tilted...her gaze trained on the image before her.

"I've also occasionally wondered if a Slayer-orgasm would be more intense, considering that you have, you know, special Slayer-muscles. Plus, the stamina factor. But then, you wouldn't know."

"Yet," Maeve said, trying to stifle a nervous giggle.

"That's the spirit!" Anya said. "I'd say `let me know when you find out' but I guess that won't be possible."

Maeve frowned slightly. "Oh, don't get all mopey on me now," Anya said, "Just wait `til we get to page 109." The frown disappeared and was almost immediately replaced with a quiet chuckle.

***

Willow opened the curtains with a wave of her hand and a word. The light streamed into the bedroom, rousing Tara.

"Good morning, Sleepyhead," Willow told her lover as she nuzzled into her neck.

"What time is it?" Tara asked sleepily.

"Eight O'clock. I think Dawn's already awake."

"We'd better get dressed then," Tara said, and pushed the covers away.

"Oh, not yet," Willow whimpered. "Let's stay in bed just a little longer."

"Willow, come on. We have work to do. Buffy could be in trouble."

Willow sighed, "Okay. But we need to shower anyway, right? It'll be faster if we do it together."

Tara giggled.

***

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

"Xander," Anya whined.

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

"Xander!" a little louder.

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

"XANDER!"

"What? I'm up, I'm up!" Xander said, after bolting upright and reflexively slamming his hand down on the alarm clock. Torn from his dream of chocolate covered potato chips and Playboy Bunnies.

"Bunnies? What? Where?" Anya squealed and jumped out of bed.

*Oops, did I say that out loud?*

"Sorry, An," Xander said, "I was having a dre- a nightmare."

"Oh," she said seriously, "I've had that one before. The one where bunnies are nibbling your bloody stumpy toes?"

"Yea, something like that," he answered with a disgusted look.

"Do we have time for breakfast?" she wondered aloud.

"Who wants breakfast after an image like that?"

"You're probably right. Let's just get dressed and head over to the Magic Box. I wonder if Giles bothered to go home last night. I hope he didn't make a mess of the shop."

Xander shrugged and pulled his fiancé into his lap for a big good morning smooch.

"I should wake Maeve," Anya murmured to her lover's lips.

"She could use another twenty minutes of rest, don't you think?"

"Well, we were up pretty late, reading all about the Joys of Sex ," Anya admitted. "Speaking of which, we haven't tried page 130 in a while." She grinned mischievously and slid her hand under his PJs.

***

Jingle. Jingle.

Spike woke with a start as the sleepy-eyed Scoobies began piling into the shop. He had one white page lying face down on his chest. The rest of the journal was shoved neatly under his chair and out of sight. As he pushed himself up into something more akin to a sitting position, the solitary page fluttered gracefully to the floor. He was quick to grab it, and shove it into his pocket before anyone could notice.

"Morning Spike," Dawn said. She was the only one of group who was even close to chipper this morning. "Did Giles end up staying the night?"

"Uh, yeah, I think so," Spike mumbled as he struggled toward alertness.

"Was it like a sleep-over?" Dawn snickered. "Did you bond?"

"Yea, we bonded, Bit. He stayed in his office, I hung out right here," Spike told her. "It was a regular brotherhood-fest. Popcorn and pillow fights and all that."

"Did you find anything new?" Willow asked.

"Nothing terribly useful," the vampire admitted.

Giles' head was on his desk, eyes closed. Even in sleep, his glasses remained in his hand. The desk lamp, still burning, painted his face with a translucent yellow cast. He looked old. Two volumes were laid open before him. Willow approached his desk quietly and traced her fingertips over the text on the open pages. *No, this isn't good,* she thought. She turned a page and shook her head. "This will take too long," she mumbled quietly.

"But it will work," Giles answered sluggishly as he raised his head and replaced his glasses.

"Sorry, Giles. I didn't mean to wake you."

"No, no. It's time to get up. Is everyone here?"

Willow nodded.

"It will work, Willow."

"Uh huh."

***

The gang sat around the table while Giles paced back and forth before them. He had a large book open in his hands and while he spoke, he occasionally referenced its pages. Maeve was seated between Anya and Spike, her face - Buffy's face - crumpled with apprehension. She noticed, every-so-often, the vampire would glance in her direction. Inspecting her. *No doubt missing the real Buffy,* she figured. She watched the Watcher as he described the plan, amazed at the involvement of the group around her. A child, a vampire, an ex-demon, two lesbian witches *Anya was such a fountain of knowledge in that regard*, and a normal-ordinary-human-friend. *I wish I had this kind of assistance,* she thought, *I wish I had friends.* "It's actually a very simple spell," Giles was saying. "But we must wait for certain astral constellations to be met."

"How long is that?" Xander asked. "We don't want Buffy back when she's seventy-years-old. No good could come of a wrinkly Slayer dragging an oxygen tank behind her. The vampires would make fun of her."

Giles shot Xander a look of irritation.

"Don't mind him," Anya told Giles, "he didn't sleep well. He had nightmares." She looked at the group and nodded knowingly, "Bunnies."

"We should be able to perform the ritual in two days," Giles said, ignoring Anya's comments.

*Why does Spike keep looking at me?* Maeve wondered. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. *I'm not sure I even want to go back.*

"Theoretically, Buffy's and Maeve's spirits want to return to their true forms," Giles said, almost directly contradicting Maeve's thoughts. "All we need to do is nudge them slightly, and they should go back to where they belong. Universal balance and whatnot." He closed the book. "Simple, really. We only need a few items and a little patience."

"But, Giles. I can just open a door to where Buffy's spirit is..." Willow started.

"No, Willow. No. We will do this the simplest and safest possible way. We will not be opening doors to anywhere. It is far too dangerous," Giles dictated.

"But Giles..."

"No. Absolutely not," he interrupted. "End of discussion."

Willow looked as if she was going to say something more, but Tara put her hand on her shoulder to quiet her.

Giles put the book down on the table in front of Anya. "Please gather the ingredients we will need and go over the spell with Maeve and the others," he told her. "Right now, I need to go home and shower. We can meet again tomorrow night to go over the details and then we will perform the spell on Tuesday."

"Can I get a note for school?" Dawn asked.

"We'll see," Tara answered her.

Giles went back to his office to grab his jacket, said goodbye to the Scoobies and -Jingle. Jingle.- left.

"Look you guys," Willow started, "I can do this."

"You heard Giles," Xander said.

"I know what Giles said," Willow interrupted, "But we could have Buffy back by dinner time. It's easy. I can trace her exact position in the space time continuum and then just draw a door directly to her."

"Willow," Tara said quietly. "Giles said it's dangerous. We can wait until Tuesday."

"Tara, you know I can do this," Willow looked at her pleadingly. "Let me do this. I want to help."

"You're playing a dangerous game," the vampire spoke up as he stood. "Magic. Consequences. I know you've heard that song before." He shot a pointed look at Xander before he about-faced and headed to the back of the shop.

"Don't listen to him, guys," Willow said. "Look, I know you think it's dangerous. But it could be even more dangerous if we leave Buffy there any longer. She could create a time paradox. If she does one thing. Just one little thing differently...kills one extra vampire...or lets one live...everything can change."

"She's right, you know," Anya said. "One little difference can mean an awful lot." *Like when Cordelia wished that Buffy never came to Sunnydale. That was fun. Ooh, Xander as a vampire. He was hot.*

"And what if...what if Buffy gets seriously hurt in Maeve's body? What then? What if the Council finds out? What will they do to her?" Willow's voice was growing louder and more urgent. "What about Angelus? Buffy won't kill Angelus...I don't think. I mean, what would happen? That could be bad."

Spike made his way to Giles' office to get away from the others for a while. When he finally had a bit of privacy, he pulled the crumpled paper out of his pocket to look, once again, at the faxed gray, blurry image of a girl he once knew a few lifetimes ago. *Penthesilea. Good to see you again.*

Willow began collecting things from the shelves in the shop. As she grabbed powders and colorful vials, she continued her reasoning. "I mean, think about it," she said. "Angelus would be fighting for his life and Buffy won't be able to stake him." She put the contents on the counter and went back to the shelves. "And she doesn't have us there to help her. She's all alone. What if she gets killed?"

"Can you really do this, Will?" Dawn asked . It was obvious what answer she wanted to hear.

Willow turned to look at her, "Yes, Dawn. I know I can."

"Well, that's good enough for me," she answered. "How can I help?"

"Clear a space on the floor and lay these out in a circle," Willow answered, handing over a basket of crystals. "Also, I'm going to need some chalk."

Tara hesitated. She had no doubt that Willow had the power to perform this powerful spell, because Willow's grasp of magic already surpassed her own abilities. Was is selfish and jealous of her to look at Willow's accomplishments with a certain apprehension? Where was the line between trust and concern?

Dawn took the basket and made her way to the middle of the shop.

"Anya, I left a book upstairs. It's the one with the big circle on the front with the two squiggly lines going through it..."

"Articulus Tractus?" Anya asked.

"Yes - will you bring it down for me?"

Anya look at Xander. He shrugged. He looked to Tara for her input. She was usually pretty impartial when it came to magic-issues. But Tara was conveniently looking at the floor. Xander nodded to Anya. *Willow's my best friend.*

Anya went to the stairs.

"What can I do?" Buffy's voice never sounded so uncertain.

"Come help me, Maeve," Dawn called from the floor. "Help me set up the circle."

*Penthesilea. I guess she doesn't recognize me. Should I say something... would she remember?* He stared at the picture for a moment, laughing internally at his human counterpart, when something else occurred to him. *I met her right before I was turned. I met her in 1880. I met her when...oh bloody hell! I met Buffy!* He smacked his forehead. *A bleedin' failure I was. When she gets back I'll never hear the end of this!* He shook his head and stuffed the image back into his pocket. He started back toward the populated area of the shop wondering about the significance of his chance meetings with the Buffy-infected Slayer of 1880. *No wonder she was so odd.*

When he walked back into the main part of the shop, he was surprised by the activity. Potions, books, vials, crystals. *I should've known.* He shook his head. As usual, he was out of the loop. Just like last time... "So, you're doing the spell, then?"

"Yea," Dawn answered. "Willow says she can have Buffy back in a matter of hours."

"What did I tell you about consequences?" he asked no one in particular. "The Watcher is right about this one. You shouldn't be playing with magic. This is dangerous stuff."

"You want Buffy back, don't you?" Dawn asked.

"Of course I do. More than anything."

Maeve looked up at him from the circle of crystals she was forming. Her eyes glittering with unformed tears.

"But I want it done the right way. I don't want anyone gettin' hurt."

"No one will get hurt," Willow answered him. She wasn't looking at him; she was busy preparing ingredients. "I know what I'm doing."

Spike shook his head. "Don't say I didn't warn you, children." *Right, since when does a vampire have anything worthwhile to contribute to the discussion? Listen to a reckless witch, maybe even give some credit to an ex-demon, but a vampire? Might as well be talking to Dru. Damn I need a smoke.*

"Here's the chalk," Tara said as she handed it to Willow over the counter. "Is that it?"

Willow nodded. "I think we're ready."



Part 17 - Alley of Fear

Edward St. John Willoughby was not only an educated man, but he also possessed a keen and perceptive mind, which he applied to the study of his fellow men. He also derived great pleasure from unraveling mysteries. Miss Summers was one such mystery. But his findings did not give him pleasure.

While she was gone, chasing the passing carriage, Willoughby found himself forced to confront the possibility of failure. He was reluctant to admit, even to himself, that his interim Slayer might not be up to the task ahead.

As he kept his crossbow trained on the inn directly opposite him, watching the gloomy alley through broken and grimy window panes, he felt the same trepidation that had plagued him before Maeve's Cruciamentum.

Granted, the Slayer from the future had sounded confident and sure of herself. Her list of accomplishments was undoubtedly impressive. She had also proven herself extremely capable during training. It had been a pleasure to watch her. Highly educational, too. He had planned to learn as many moves and techniques as possible from Miss Summers during her stay in his century, hoping to impart that knowledge to Maeve, if... *No! When! When I get Maeve back!*

But right now, getting Maeve back was the least of his worries. First, they had to survive tonight's mission. At this point, Willoughby was almost certain that it had been a mistake to get this operation underway so soon.

When he had seen the girl smile in the carriage it had been like an epiphany. THAT was the real Buffy Summers. Everything else he had seen and heard of her was just a shadow of that. He had wondered what that delightful smile had been about. *She appeared rather smitten with that young Mr. Crawford.* But what he should have wondered was why she *and Maeve, too!* did not smile more often.

Now, in a moment of clarity, he realized that the Slayer was not confident and collected at all, but...

*Wavering! Oh dear Lord, she does not really care what happens to her!*

He was in the middle of a mission with a Slayer whose will to survive he could not rely on.

He heard footsteps behind him. He turned, ready to shoot, but then he lowered his crossbow. "Director Bateley." He nodded at the heavy set man.

"Edward." Horatio Bateley was armed with nothing but a cane. He was accompanied by two scruffy looking men with crossbows. "My apologies for the delay. The brewery's backdoor was obstructed."

"I have changed my mind, Sir," Willoughby said abruptly. "I do not think she is ready."

"It is too late for that, old boy," Bateley said. "The opportunity is here. It might not come again."

"Please, we might lose her. She needs more time."

"Time is the one thing we never have," the other man said, not without sympathy.

They were interrupted by the sounds of an approaching carriage. They watched as it slowed and then drove through the open gate into the courtyard of the orphanage. It stopped behind the prison-like walls, out of view.

Moments later the Slayer was back. She looked a bit winded.

"It would seem that tonight's hosts have finally arrived," Willoughby said, struggling for composure. He could not let his Slayer sense his doubts. It would undermine her resolve and her fighting spirit.

From where they stood, it was impossible to see the passengers stepping out of the carriage.

"Well, you can cross two more vamps off the guest list," Buffy informed him, sizing up the newcomers.

Bateley produced a silver flask from one of his pockets, took a deep swallow and then offered it to the other Watcher: "Brandy?"

Willoughby shook his head.

Buffy frowned at Director Bateley. "Let me guess, Bateley, you're here to do what a Watcher's gotta do - namely, to watch?"

"It's a pleasure to see you too, Maeve," Bateley said, amused by her rudeness. He unscrewed the metal tip of his cane and put it into his coat pocket. Willoughby quietly followed his example.

They waited for a few more minutes, but the coach did not depart.

"Right," Buffy said. "Showtime!" And then she began to strip.

Under the horrified eyes of the two Watchers and the considerably less horrified eyes of Bateley's henchmen, Buffy began to open every button and hook she could reach. "Help me," she ordered her Watcher. "If you think I am going to fight one more time in this annoyingly froofy outfit, you've got another thing coming. I'd rather fight naked!"

With Willoughby's reluctant help, the corset and other obstructive pieces of clothing were removed, until the dress was worn on bare skin. Bruised skin, as Willoughby noticed.

Meanwhile, Director Bateley kept the orphanage and the adjoining inn under observation. "More guests," he announced. A group of four people, two gentlemen and two ladies, approached the inn. They seemed in high spirits, laughing and talking animatedly. When they knocked, the door was opened immediately by a man much taller and bulkier than the guests.

"Ew, that innkeeper guy looks kinda troll-y," Buffy whispered.

"Indeed, my dear," Bateley said.

"Sir? We should attack before the rest of the guests arrive," Willoughby suggested nervously.

Bateley nodded. "That might be a prudent course of action."

"What do you expect me to do?" Buffy asked. "Walk right up to the door, knock, blind the almost-troll with my dazzling wit, barge in and start slaying, while the vampires line up politely until it's their turn?"

"Er, something like that," Willoughby said uncomfortably. He exchanged a glance with his superior.

"Mr. Willoughby will guard your back," Bateley said. He nodded towards his henchmen. "Carter and Hanson will seal off the courtyard as soon as you're inside. That carriage is going nowhere. I take it your Watcher showed you the plan of the house?"

Buffy nodded.

"Then you know their possible escape routes."

Buffy nodded again. "I'm sure if I just say `boo!' they'll be running like rabbits." She shook her head.

"I have two more men guarding the side entrance of the poorhouse," Bateley continued, ignoring Buffy's sarcasm. "Both are good shots. So, if any vampires flee in that direction, we stand a good chance of stopping them."

"We?" Buffy asked, still in sarcastic mode.

"We." Bateley said.

"There will be hostages," Willoughby said.

"Tonight's dinner, yes," Bateley agreed. "Do not heed them, Maeve."

"What?"

"You are not here to protect or save them, but to slay vampires. If they escape they will kill many more. It is simple arithmetic." Bateley said to her. Then he turned to his fellow Watcher: "Oh and one more thing, Edward," he said gruffly. "It goes without saying, that if they should manage to kill or capture me, I would like you to be a good chap and make sure I do not come back as one of them."

"I understand, Sir."

Buffy stifled a sigh. *It never ends, does it?* She had never felt so alone before. Willoughby wasn't so bad for a Watcher, but he wasn't Giles. For the first time since she had found herself in the past she truly missed her friends. They were noisy and clingy and they didn't understand. But they were still her friends.

*What's going to happen to them, to Dawn, if I die again? Will they deal? Will they do another spell?* She suppressed a shudder.

Most of all, she was missing one cool and soothing presence. The one person who always managed to be around when she was feeling miserable... It was almost surprising that he hadn't found a way to be here now, to guard her back or to simply listen...

Would he be counting the days again, if she died tonight? Would he continue to look after Dawn? Somehow she didn't doubt it for one minute.

"Maeve?" Bateley interrupted her gloomy thoughts. He looked concerned.

"Let's see, while you and your men provide valuable back up far away from the battle lines," Buffy summed up the situation, "it's basically me and Willoughby against almost a dozen vampires and a monstrous innkeeper, isn't that right? I admire your optimism."

"If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our Council loss," Bateley recited.

Buffy rolled her eyes, recognizing the quote from one of the courses she had dropped out of. *Is `Henry V' compulsory reading for Watchers, or what? Gee I hope I don't have to listen to `we few we happy few' again cause that would be so bad omen-y...*

"And if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour," Willoughby continued. He was pale.

"Crap," Buffy said and left her cover to briskly march across the street. She looked back to see if Willoughby was following. "I can do quotes, too, you know," she said with a pout. "I can be very quote-y. `May the Force be with you' or ...or... "

Willoughby hastily passed his crossbow to Bateley. He pulled at the handle of his cane, revealing a straight one-edged blade, before he hurried after his Slayer.

She didn't wait for him but simply knocked.

"...or `Go ahead, punk! Make my day...'"

The door opened

At close quarters the innkeeper was even bulkier and uglier than from across the road. His eyes were bloodshot. Buffy also noted his tusk-like teeth were brownish, as he opened his mouth to say something. *Definitely some troll in the family tree.*

Buffy's foot hit his testicles with all the Slayer strength she could muster. Then, as he doubled over, her fist smashed into his jaw in a classic uppercut, sending him backwards. Swinging her purse like a medieval morning star into the side of his face, Buffy turned his stagger into a spin. A kick against the back of his knee sent him down, and when the two horseshoes in Buffy's purse connected with his head the second time, this fight was over. The giant fiend was knocked out in less than three seconds.

"Or `Hasta la vista, baby!'"

Buffy didn't even give him a second glance as he crumpled to the floor, but dashed through the door into the dimly lit hallway. She was half aware of Willoughby close behind her. *No Bateley, of course. Or Willow or Xander...or Spike.* Without hesitation, she ran onward. With a kick to the door, she burst into a large dining room and into a scene that could have been born out of a nightmare.

Beneath dozens of lit candles, the table was beautifully set. White linen napkins, good crystal and silver. The china was noticeably absent. The centerpiece of the setting was a naked young woman, tied in place by red scarves. A white gag kept her silent beneath eyes dark with fear and desperation. From a handful of cuts, blood ran in thin rivulets, creating macabre patterns on her skin.

Most of the seats were occupied; heads bent over the struggling body, obviously feeding. Heads that rose at the intrusion, bloody lips drawn back in bestial grimaces.

Buffy quickly counted heads even as she closed in on her nearest target. Ten vampires altogether. *Ten little, ten little, ten little vampires...* she sung in her head.

The vampire closest to Buffy bared her fangs at the unexpected attacker. She was dust before she even had a chance to defend herself.

*Nine.* a rather detached part of Buffy's mind kept count.

Still aided by the element of surprise and spurred into action more by habit than by conscious thought, Buffy swung her bag at a new opponent. She didn't cause much damage, but the blow made him stagger, and that was enough. The stake found its mark and he exploded into dust, a look of utter surprise on his face.

*Eight!*

Going into a defensive stance, Buffy took the time to check out the remaining opponents. "Right, who's next?" she quipped, not really expecting an answer.

A beautiful blond woman in an expensive gown was presiding over the table. A sharp bloodstained knife gleamed in her hand. There was a wicked smile on her still human face.

*Darla!* Buffy recognized her immediately, even though the vampire wasn't dressed like a school girl this time. *Oh my god, if Darla's here...*

Buffy froze.

He was standing right next to Darla. "Angel" she didn't realize that she had spoken his name aloud. She stared at the familiar handsome face. Their eyes met. He didn't recognize her. *Of course not!* she thought numbly. This wasn't Angel, just something that looked like him. Angelus. A soulless vampire. Still, she was unable to look away, desperate to find some trace of the man she'd fallen in love with.

Angelus returned her stare with growing interest.

"Oh look," a dreamy voice interrupted the stunned silence. "Someone was naughty and brought a Slayer to our little party."

Drusilla. She was standing next to Darla, cradling a limp infant. There was blood on her lips and on the baby's clothing. Buffy knew she should have felt horrified, but for the most part she felt as cold and hard as stone.

Then the room erupted into chaos. Buffy was saved by her fast reflexes when a swarthy looking vampire aimed a vicious blow at her head. She blocked automatically, breaking eye contact with Angelus in order to counter a second blow.

Giles had taught her well. All that training had turned fighting into something akin to sleepwalking. Blow, kick, duck, jump. Her body remembered the right moves even if her mind was too numb to take control. It was obvious, the Slayer's heart was not in this fight.

Sensing her weakness, the predator before her bared his fangs in an evil smile.

"You are the Slayer?" he asked. "Somehow I expected you to be a lot... taller."

"You're a vampire?" she replied. "Somehow I'm expecting you to get a lot...dustier."

As he doubled his efforts, some of his blows connected painfully with her sore ribs and when he was joined by a second, female vampire, Buffy found herself fighting for her life. A flurry of attacks drove her backwards.

Suddenly a combination of kicks sent Buffy crashing into a wall. When she fell, her head hit solid stone. The impact almost knocked her out. As the two vampires closed in for the kill, a chair was hurled at them. It hit the male attacker squarely in the back, turning his lunge into a fall. Buffy stabbed upwards and was showered by dust. She rolled away, both to avoid getting blinded by it and to get away from the furious female. Looking up she saw Willoughby's sword describe a perfect arc, chopping off the second vampire's head. More dust.

*Six little, six little, six little vampires...*

Buffy jumped to her feet and looked around to take in the situation, just in time to see Darla hurl a knife at her. She blocked the missile with a perfectly executed kick, sending it into a wild spin. A moment later, Buffy was trading kicks and blows with a new attacker.

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mockin'bird," Drusilla cooed, still holding the baby in her arms. She made no move to attack either the Slayer or her Watcher. Instead she swayed slightly, lost in a world of visions. But her eyes were focused on the Slayer.

Meanwhile, Willoughby hurried to the table and swiftly began cutting the scarves that bound the young woman.

"If the little girl over there is the Slayer," Darla said with a playful smile, "then you must be her Watcher."

"I am sure you are like a father to her," Angelus mocked him.

Willoughby didn't answer. Instead he doubled his efforts. Just as the last scarf was cut Darla moved at lightning speed. She grabbed the fearful young woman and snapped her neck, dropping her to the floor like a sack of potatoes.

"Oh, my apologies. Were you planning on saving her?" Darla laughed.

"I think he was," Angelus answered in Willoughby's place. He picked up his cane and walked almost languidly towards the cowering Watcher.

At the sound of Angel's voice Buffy found it hard to concentrate on her attacker. *Oh God, Angel!* she thought numbly. She felt a chill running through her. For a moment she wasn't even sure who she was more worried about, the Watcher or the vampire.

She wasn't aware that Drusilla was watching her intently.

Buffy's opponent took advantage of the Slayer's divided attention by hitting her squarely in the face, almost breaking her nose. Buffy knew that she wasn't fighting well, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to care. And when a second vampire joined the fight, she was almost glad everything would soon be over.

Willoughby raised his sword and cane defensively. He knew he was no match for a determined and experienced vampire, but he was resolved to go down fighting. Angelus easily parried every attack the Watcher made. His counterattacks were designed to hurt and humiliate, not to cause real damage. He was playing cat and mouse with Willoughby - laughing and mocking. One of his blows hit the human's arm, causing him to drop his sword.

Willoughby stumbled backwards in pain, but then he attempted a desperate lunge, hoping to take the vampire by surprise. Angelus brushed the attack aside. He grabbed the Watcher's wrist, crushing bones in his grip, and ripped the cane out of the human's hand. Then the vampire flung him across the table like a doll.

Taking the table cloth and all the glasses, wine bottles, cutlery and crockery with him, Willoughby crashed to the ground in a tangle of toppled chairs. He landed next to a pair of large wicker baskets, knocking one of them over. Instantly there was a terrified scream. Another joined in as the babies furiously cried at the noise and confusion that had woken them.

"Watch out!" a voice sounded behind Buffy. At the same time Buffy felt some of the numbness disappear. She didn't hesitate. When the gunshot sounded she was already somersaulting sideways, killing two birds with one stone, for the move brought her closer to where Willoughby's sword had landed and the impact of her heels sent one of the remaining vampires staggering backwards. Buffy could feel the bullet rushing past her, missing her by less than an inch. *Darla! Always one for long range weapons.*

Twang! A bowstring was released. An arrow embedded itself in Darla's breast, missing her heart but nailing her to an ugly painting of a sailboat that hung on the wall. Her bestial face came to the fore, eradicating her beauty. Dropping her little Derringer pistol, she furiously tore at the arrow, trying to free herself.

*Whoever that was: great timing, lousy shooting!*

Buffy looked around. She was surprised to see Director Bateley. He was hurriedly reloading his crossbow, cane awkwardly tucked under his arm, as Drusilla strode purposefully towards him.

Seeing that Dru was taking care of the fat Watcher and that the Slayer was already fighting two opponents, Angelus took the time to pull the arrow out of Darla's breast. He and Darla shared an evil smile before they strolled over to where Willoughby was just getting to his feet. The Watcher's left wrist was obviously broken and useless. He was hastily searching his pockets with his right hand.

Buffy had no time to warn Bateley of Drusilla's powers. She still had to withstand the coordinated attacks of two vampires. Blows were raining down on her, on her sore ribs, against her hurting head. Blood was running out of her nose. But now she felt anger warming her. And she found herself getting into the swing of things again.

In one fluid movement, Buffy rolled head over heels to the sword, rose to her feet and swung the weapon in a wide arc, decapitating one of the two vampires. He turned to dust instantly. The second vamp didn't even get a chance to defend herself. A well-aimed stake cut off her shriek of rage.

*Four little vampires... and counting...Make that three!*

Another vampire crumbled to dust, his heart pierced by an arrow. Bateley hadn't dared shoot at Drusilla, afraid to hit the infant, and had therefore shot an easier target.

He was trying to load his crossbow once more, when Drusilla reached him. "What are little girls made of?" she asked dreamily and tossed the baby at him. He dropped the weapon to catch the bundle. His cane cluttered to the ground. "Oh Lord," he stammered.

"Sugar and spice, and everything nice, that's what little girls are made of," Drusilla continued, her voice melodious. Her fingers moved in front of his eyes and he stilled, mesmerized.

Meanwhile, Darla and Angelus had reached Willoughby. "I've never eaten a Watcher," Darla remarked. "Have you?" And with that, she growled and gave him a spin so that he ended up with his back against her body. She held him tight, one arm slung around his chest, the other holding his head firmly and offering the man's throat to her companion.

"I'm sure he'd make a useful minion, would you agree, Darla?"

Angelus turned to face the Slayer. "How would you like to stake your own Watcher, little girl?" he asked with a laugh.

Buffy took a step towards him, her sword raised, but then she stopped. *What am I supposed to do? I wish Giles were here to tell me what to do.* She knew she was like the proverbial rabbit in front of the snake, staring at a creature about to kill her but unable to move.

As if sensing her indecision the vampire moved towards her.

*I can't kill him because I didn't because I remember him which I wouldn't if he had been killed today, oh my god, all this time travel stuff is so confusing.*

Buffy took a step backwards. It brought her next to an overturned chair. Angelus followed. She picked up the chair. The vampire grinned. His features morphed into bony ridges and fangs, and his eyes turned a bestial yellow.

Then everything happened at once. Drusilla raised her hand for the killing blow. Darla buried her fangs in Willoughby's neck. And Angelus threw himself at the Slayer. Buffy hurled the chair at Drusilla, just in time to swing her sword at Angelus.

The chair hit Drusilla the moment she struck at the entranced Watcher. Her razor-sharp nails cut the man's throat like a knife. But the mind control was broken. Bateley blinked. Even as blood gushed from his throat his hand dove into his pocket. Suddenly there was the sound of a gunshot. And another. The dark haired vampire stumbled backwards as the bullets hit her. They couldn't kill her, but they hurt. She howled in pain.

The unmoving infant still cradled in one arm, Bateley pulled a smoking revolver out of his singed pocket and waved it around uncertainly. He stumbled backwards against a wall, then slid down unceremoniously. The gun slipped out of his hand.

Suddenly there was a scream. Darla recoiled in pain. Her skin began to blister and dissolve, as Holy Water burned her face like acid. In an uncontrolled rage she flung the Watcher across the room. He landed in a limp heap, still clutching a small empty bottle.

Angelus and Buffy hardly noticed. They were trading blows, dancing around each other.

The vampire laughed again. He didn't know why the Slayer was merely defending herself, why her attacks were carried out with little conviction. He only knew that he wanted to taste her blood, and that the sadness and hurt in her eyes was one of the most delicious things he had ever seen. It would almost be a shame to close those eyes for ever.

The two female vampires huddled together. "Kill the Slayer for me, Angelus. I don't like her. She is a thief. And she is not really here. Make her bleed!" Drusilla wailed. Darla just hissed, her disfigured face contorted in rage.

Ignoring the screams and howls of his women, Angelus executed a skillful combination of feints and parries that culminated in a lighting fast attack on the Slayer's wrist, disarming her. An instant later he was upon her, almost crushing her. He felt her warm body and was momentarily startled by the fact that she was naked underneath her dress.

"I heard the Slayer was broken and as weak as a puppy," Angelus said. "You do not look very broken to me. Not yet."

"I'm. Not. Broken!" Buffy said through clenched teeth, tearing free and underlining each word with a savage blow. "I'm. Not. Weak."

She felt some of the old fire coming back.

"I've killed more vampires than I can count," Kick, block, punch. "I fought all kinds of demons, and I already died twice," somersault, kick, bend, "not to mention beating the crap out of a hellgod, do you really think YOU can break ME?"

He didn't see what she was up to until it was too late. Suddenly, she hurled her stake at him, then she took an inhuman leap across the table. She pulled a new stake out of her sleeve in midair. Hurling Drusilla out of the way with a satisfying kick, she landed like a cat. Before Darla could react Buffy had put her in a headlock and was resting the tip of her stake over the vampire's heart.

That stopped Angelus cold.

"Stay where you are," Buffy warned him. "And tell Drusilla, not to try one of her tricks, otherwise your sire will be a pile of dust." *It worked on Spike, when I held his sire hostage, let's hope Angelus values Darla just as much.*

*How the hell did she know that?* "What do you want?" he asked.

"I want you and Drusilla to leave. Now. I'll release Darla once I'm convinced that you're gone. I'm sure she'll find a way to catch up with you."

She looked at the two prone Watchers, hoping they were still alive.

Angelus followed her glance. "I'll kill them, unless you release her."

*He could be bluffing...they might be dead already...* Buffy shrugged. "There are plenty more Watchers where they came from," she said callously. *I can bluff, too. Better than Xander, anyway.*

"How do we know you won't stake me the moment they're gone?" Darla asked with a strangled snarl.

"Let's just say, I'm one of the good guys. Keeping promises sort of comes with the job," Buffy said. "Or you could ask Dru. Isn't she good with the vision thing-y, looking into the future and stuff?

"It is true," Drusilla suddenly said, concentrating on the voices in her head. "There is something not quite right about her. She does not belong here. I see paths, crossroads, some very dark, some I don't like at all. She's a stealer of hearts, but she does not die today and neither do we..."

"See," Buffy said. "Vision girl has spoken. Now get out, before I change my mind."

Angelus stared at her. Then at his sire. Darla nodded.

"Very well. But this isn't over," he said.

"I know," she simply said *We've got a long way to go.*

Then she watched as Angelus and Drusilla left. She quickly tied Darla up, knowing the restraints wouldn't last long. Then she hit the blond vampire repeatedly, hoping to knock her out, before rushing over to check if the Watchers were still alive.

* * * *

"Maeve! You're alive," was the first thing Willoughby said when he regained consciousness.

"Yup. I'm a die hard kinda girl," Buffy said. "And you seem to be a die hard kinda Watcher. Which is good, cause I was sort of getting used to you. Not in a wanting-to-stay-in-your-century way but, well, you know..." She shrugged.

"Where am I?"

"Hospital."

"Director Bateley?"

"They don't know, yet, if he'll make it. Apparently, Drusilla slashed his vocal chords, or something, but missed the main artery. Looks like he lost a lot of blood... so did you, by the way."

He started to nod weakly, but the movement made his neck ache and made him slightly nauseated. He wanted to touch his neck but discovered his right arm was in a cast. He tried his left. Another cast. He sighed.

"Angelus broke your arm and your wrist, you have two cracked ribs, and Darla bit you. But you probably remember that."

There was an awkward silence.

"Willoughby," Buffy asked, "why didn't you tell me that Angelus would be there?"

The Watcher gave her a weak smile. "What does it matter? You knew we were hunting him. He's a vampire. You're a Slayer. Did you kill him?"

"No," she said more quietly. "He and his little family are still dead and kicking."

"Then we failed, and Bateley may die for nothing."

"No we didn't. We saved most of the babies, and there were some more prisoners locked in the cellar. We saved them, too. Plus we made..." She counted mentally, *7 little, 7 little, 7 little vampires.* "Seven of them dusty."

"But Angelus. The most important objective of that mission was to destroy Angelus and Darla."

"Well, then let me tell you something," Buffy said. Cold anger made her raise her voice. "If you had shared your knowledge with me, if you had told me what that staking party was all about I would have told you that we can't kill Angelus. He is still alive in my time. I've met him, and Darla and Drusilla. I've met them, Willoughby. I... I can't tell you any more about this, but believe me, Angelus will cease to be a problem in less than 20 years time."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Willoughby asked. "I thought you trusted me."

"Why should I trust you?" Buffy shouted. "Why? You betrayed your own Slayer, and when she... left... you decided to bring her back, just like that!" She snapped her fingers. "Except you ended up with me."

She began to pace.

"Who gave you the right to play with lives like that? I never asked for any of this, I was happy where I was. How do you know SHE wasn't happy wherever SHE was, maybe she was just glad it was all over. Maybe she didn't want to come back here. Back here to the man who betrayed her. Maybe she was at peace. But no, you got all high and mighty and tried to pull her back, back to pain and fear... and...and duty and doubt and a life where she can't fit in and you...you Watchers, you sit there studying your precious books, cause they're so much safer. Your books don't get killed in the line of duty, do they? And you don't have to worry about money or grades or a job or anything, just your books and prophecies. And when a Slayer dies, you go `Oops, too bad, but thank god, there's plenty more where that came from.'"

Willoughby had no answer to that.

* * * *

"If that Carter guy hadn't told me that Bateley had a doc waiting in his carriage, your Council'd be two Watchers short right now," Buffy complained.

"Of course there was a surgeon close at hand," Hartford said calmly. "There always is."

They were sitting in Hartford's library. The old Watcher had poured himself a stiff drink, even though it was early afternoon.

Willoughby sat hunched in a big leather arm chair. He was pale and obviously in pain.

*I wonder if Mrs. Willoughby is as good at denial as my Mom was,* Buffy thought as she looked at the injured Watcher. The doctors at the hospital had been very reluctant to release him, but Willoughby had insisted.

"Any news from the hospital?" Willoughby asked.

Hartford shook his head. "Not yet."

"What about the children? Where did they come from?" Willoughby asked.

Director Hartford sighed. "I had the coachman questioned. He gave us the address of the woman who sold them, a certain Mrs. Collier. It seems she's a baby farmer."

When he saw Buffy's questioning look he elaborated unwillingly. The mere subject seemed distasteful to him. "Let me put it like this: unwanted infants are placed in her care by, well... young, unmarried women who have...er...been a little too reckless in their conduct, under the assumption that Mrs. Collier will find loving and Christian parents for the child. I understand Mrs. Collier is paid handsomely for her services. I also understand Mrs. Collier does not question prospective foster parents very closely if she is - again - paid handsomely. I have informed the police. They are currently searching the house and the garden for evidence."

"Evidence?"

"Bodies. They are searching for bodies. Very few of these unfortunate children actually end up in a good home."

Buffy shuddered. "What will happen to the babies we rescued?"

"We have no chance of finding their mothers. Even if we did, it is doubtful they would want them back."

"I will take one. The little girl, if she makes it," Willoughby said.



Part 18 - Window of Opportunity

"I think we're ready." The witch's words seemed to echo in Maeve's mind. *What if I am not?* It wasn't the spell that frightened her - although the matter-of-fact way in which these people were preparing the use of magic was more than a little disconcerting. Unlike the vampire, she wasn't worried about the spell going awry, she was worried about the spell succeeding as planned.

*What if I am not ready to go back?* Back to what? A Watcher who had betrayed her? A Council who used her like a pawn? A life without friends?

She felt everyone's eyes on her. They were expecting her to take her place in the circle in order to begin the ritual. They wanted their friend back. They had every right to.

"I think it's time to say goodbye," Tara said with an encouraging smile. "I hope..."

"Actually," Spike interrupted, "can I just have a word with her?" He looked at Maeve and nodded towards the training room. "Slayer?"

"Of course," she said. "If that's all right with you?" she asked Willow.

"Sure," the witch replied nonchalantly. "But don't take too long. We don't want to keep Buffy trapped in the past longer than necessary. Not that I have anything against your century or anything. I mean, I'm sure it's nice and all, you know, horse drawn carriages and stuff are kinda quaint, but I don't think your time and Buffy are mix-y."

Maeve nodded and followed Spike into the training room.

"I wonder what Spike would want with her?" Xander mused, when the door had closed behind them. "He really has a thing for Slayers, doesn't he?"

When the others stared at him, he quickly did a verbal back-pedal. "Not that I'm thinking what you think I'm thinking. I bet Spike's asking her to invest a few bucks for him in her time so he can live on the interest from now on. Which doesn't sound like such a bad idea, come to think of it."

"Perhaps I should ask her to do that for me, too," Anya said, sounding hopeful. "It would be like a dowry for me. If I want a house with a white fence, two cars, a college fund for my children and a dog, it might be a good idea to start capital growth in 1880."

+++

While Spike closed the door behind them, Maeve walked to a collection of throwing knives that were hanging on the wall. She traced each of them with her fingertips. When she turned around to face him, her features were composed. As always, there was no outward sign of what went on inside her, but the vampire sensed her distress, anyway.

"You don't want to go back," he stated.

"I... I would have liked to stay a little longer," she admitted.

He waved towards the closed door. "They're not YOUR ties. You have to make your own. Back then."

"I know. But I don't know how."

"You will, trust me."

There was a silence.

"What did you want to talk to me about?" Maeve finally asked, and was surprised to see that the vampire looked... embarrassed.

Spike shrugged. "It probably doesn't make any difference," he said, more to himself. "I just want to make sure...What the hell! Look, can you do me a favor?"

She looked at him. She did not need to remind herself that he was a vampire. She could sense it. Like a hunter senses his prey. *He killed two Slayers. He told me himself. He should be the enemy.* And yet, she didn't hesitate.

"Of course," she nodded.

"When you get back, can you check on my mother and my sister? After I was turned - it was in June 1880. I don't remember the exact date - when it happened, my... the other vampires I was with, they wanted me to kill my family. You know, severing all ties to humankind and all that. I... well, let's just say they weren't in when we called on them. Can you just make sure they really are safely elsewhere once I... disappear?"

He held out a crumpled piece of paper. "Victoria." It was a pencil drawing that showed a pretty girl of perhaps 16 years. Name and address were written at the bottom.

"I know you can't take it with you, but maybe you can memorize it? I didn't draw her glasses, cause she refused to wear them in public." *A lot like me, she was.*

She took the portrait and studied it. Then she looked at him. The resemblance was striking. She nodded solemnly. "I would have recognized her even without the picture. And to answer your question: yes, I will make sure that your family is safe. I will have my Watcher invite them to stay with us. It's the least he can do." There was a sudden hint of steel in her voice. She folded the paper carefully and put it into her pocket.

"Thanks." He fiddled awkwardly with his packet of cigarettes but then he squared his shoulders. "I mean it's not like I care or anything. To me they've been dust for bloody ages, but it would be kind of risky to mess with time, and since I remember them not being there, we should see to it that it really happens that way."

"I understand," she said. And she did.

"There's something else," he said, suddenly looking very nervous. "I saw your Watcher's diary."

"Oh," was all she said.

"Do you wanna know when and how you're gonna die?" He studied her intently. "Cause if you do, I'll tell you."

+++

When the Slayer and the vampire finally left the training room, the others looked at them expectantly, and not without curiosity.

Maeve walked over to where they were sitting. "I am ready now. I guess, it is time for me to say farewell."

Anya rushed towards her and embraced her warmly, sad to let her go. In just two days they had discovered a fondness for each other that could have easily turned into friendship, given half a chance.

"Thank you, Anya. For everything," Maeve said, fighting the tears that were threatening to well up. "I will miss you."

The ex-demon, as usual, expressed her feelings rather bluntly. "I know it is futile to wish for things one can't have, but I really wish you could stay. There are so many things I would have liked to show you. And you are so much easier to get on with than Buffy. Why can't we have both of you? It's not like `there can only be one'."

"Anya." Xander reprimanded her.

"What? Counting Faith we already have two. Why can't we have a third Slayer?"

Maeve shook her head. "No, I don't belong here. I wish I did, because you have all been so very kind to me. Thank you all."

She looked at Xander. "I am sorry about your arm," she said.

"Think nothing of it," Xander said. "I always get beaten up. It's like a running gag, only less funny. Also, it's usually the nasties who do it, but if I had to choose, I'd rather get walloped by a pretty girl... and that came out a little more suggestive than it was supposed to. Shutting up now." He grinned sheepishly. "Take care of yourself. Burn a few corsets."

"I promise," Maeve replied with a smile.

Once more, she looked at each of them, memorizing their faces. "Give my regards to Mr. Giles, please," she said, before stepping into the circle.

"I will," Xander promised.

Willow and Maeve sat down cross-legged in the middle of the circle, while the rest of the gang quietly took their places around the outside. Willow had an open book in her lap and Buffy's `Mr. Pointy' directly in front of her. There was a tall cylindrical glass vial filled with a purplish powdery substance between them. The curtains to the shop were drawn to keep out the afternoon sun. There was an eerie line of light where the curtains met -but didn't quite close- that glowed bright yellow. The line of light was mirrored on the floor. It cut through the center of the circle, making the glass vial twinkle with life. The silence was deafening; the anticipation, almost tangible. Spike refused to take part. Instead, he stood away from the group, leaning against the wall - tapping his pack of smokes against his leg, debating whether he should bother climbing down into the sewers or stay and baby-sit the kiddies and wait for the sun to hurry up and set so he could finally have the cigarette he so desperately needed.

Willow took a deep breath and proceeded with a brief summary of what the spell would entail. "First, I will track Buffy's exact location using the spell I began earlier. That's the easy part. Then, once I know exactly where she is, I'll tag her and..."

"Tag her?" Xander interrupted. "Like they do to Grizzly Bears on the Discovery Channel?"

"It's a way to track her," Tara answered. "It's like a magical mark that Willow can see through dimensions and follow wherever it goes."

"Uh huh," he answered. "Like she's a Grizzly."

"Anyway," Willow continued. "After she's tagged, I will perform the portal spell. Basically, what should happen is...I'll draw a square on the floor symbolizing the doorway and after I perform the incantation, we will sprinkle the powder onto the drawing and the portal should materialize right here in the circle."

"Cool," Dawn mumbled, awestruck.

"It'll look sort of like a window. We'll be able to see into 1880. It should be pretty amazing," she said proudly.

"Can they see us?" Xander asked.

"No. I'm pretty sure it will be invisible on the other side. But Buffy should be able to hear us and once Maeve puts her fingers through the doorway, Buffy should see the hand materialize in her time. All she'll have to do is reach out and touch it, and they should return to their own bodies." Maeve looked skeptical. Willow reached forward and took her hand. "It'll work Maeve. You'll be home in no time."

*That is precisely what I am afraid of.*

"Now, I'm going to need silence," she gave Anya a pointed look. "Everyone should focus. Just concentrate on the words I'll be saying, and if I need to, I will be able to draw from your energies."

Xander looked uncomfortable with that, but didn't object. "Let's begin," Willow said.

"Reperio per articulus," Willow recited loudly. "Reperio per tractus." Her hands began to glow pink. "Reperio Buffy Summers." The stake, again, began to rise above the floor. "Effringo fenestra!" A small point of light exploded above the floating stake. "Reperio Buffy Summers!" The point of light began to dance around Mr. Pointy. It circled and swooped. "Per tempus! Per tractus!" Willow's eyes turned black. Her body stiffened as raw power surged through her. Maeve's eyes grew wide. "Reperio itaque macula Buffy Summers!" The point of light moved even faster, until finally, it shot straight into Willow's forehead and disappeared with a final bright flash. Willow closed her eyes.

Everyone was silent. Everyone was anxious. The seconds seemed like hours.

"I see her," Willow whispered. "I found her." She smiled, opened her eyes and put Buffy's stake aside.

The gang exhaled in unison.

"Okay, now for the next step," she said.

"Are you sure about this, Willow?" Tara questioned quietly.

"Yes, baby," she said and smiled at her concerned girlfriend. "I can do this."

Tara approached the circle and carefully, so as not to disturb the crystals, sat down near Willow.

"What can we do?" Xander asked.

"Be ready to welcome Buffy home."

Maeve shifted uncomfortably.

Willow took the chalk in her hand and drew a large square on the floor directly in front of her.

Willow closed her eyes and rested her hands face up in her lap. She began to mouth words, foreign words, so quietly they were barely a whisper. The air in the shop began to crackle with power.

Xander could feel the hairs on his arm stand on end (the other was still sling-wrapped). He glanced at the others, wondering if they were feeling it too. They were. And though Willow continued her chant inaudibly, Xander began to hear the words echoing inside his head. It gave him the creeps. *Patefacio foris...What the? What's a foris? Get out of my head. Okay, that's me, that's my voice. I'm still in here.* Xander was about to panic when someone else did it for him.

"Guys! Oh no! Guys!" Dawn started yelling. "W-who are they?"

Xander turned his head to follow her distraught gaze and found himself almost face to face with a floating blue-cloaked...something! He stumbled backward into a bookshelf

dumping its contents onto the floor. "You mean, WHAT are they?!"

"Oh no," Tara said as she glanced at the still entranced Willow and then back at the floating blue figures.

Near the front end of the shop, three pale humanoid creatures floated serenely about two feet from the floor. Their hands were clasped in front of them, and the hooded cloaks they wore plunged their eyes into shadow. Their white lips were pursed in an expression of distaste.

Maeve stood abruptly, knocking over the powder-filled vial, spilling its contents into the square. *Still not perfectly accustomed to this body,* she thought. She warily moved to the being closest to her and began an inspection of it. She walked a circle around it. Oddly, it remained still and allowed her investigation without comment or movement.

"What are they?" Dawn mumbled nervously.

"Chronoths," Spike answered.

Everyone turned to look at him.

"W-why are they here?" Tara asked the vampire.

He shook his head. "You mess with time, you call upon you the wrath of the Chronoth Tribe. They," he tilted his head toward their visitors, "are drawn to temporal power. Ran into a few of them a while back when Dru decided she wanted to see if she could contradict her visions."

"Wrath?" Xander asked. "We don't want any wrath."

"They can't hurt you," Spike said. *I don't think.* And to prove his point, he grabbed the purple stone he was previously playing with off the shelf and tossed it at the nearest entity. The pale face didn't flinch as the stone passed through its cloaked figure and landed with a thud on the floor behind it.

"So, wrath?" Xander asked again. "Where's the wrath."

"Maybe they're just observing," Spike answered. "Should probably wake Red up and wait for Rupert's starry alignment, though. Don't think we should be messing with these kinds of powers."

Just as everyone's attention turned back to the witch in the center of the circle, a small blue square of light appeared and hovered over the chalk outline on the floor. Tara gasped.

"The powder," she said. "Maeve spilled the powder. The portal is opening."

Just then, the Chronoths began to chant. They floated into a small huddle, still chanting.

"Oh bugger."

"What?" Xander asked.

"Looks like they don't want this spell to happen either."

And before Xander could utter a half-hearted "Oh no" - something crashed through the window of the Magic Box.

Oddly, Willow remained spellbound as chaos erupted around her. The cloaked figures floated away from the ruckus toward the edges of the shop. The two Fyarl demons they had conjured attacked straight away.

"Stay away from the mucous!" Spike shouted as he kicked one in the gut hurling it into a bookshelf.

Maeve was on the second demon in a flash. Punch. Kick. Duck. Mucous splattered against the ground to her right. She grabbed a chair and smashed it into the creature's head. It staggered a bit, but quickly regained its composure. It lashed out at Maeve, scratching her arm with its claws. She barely noticed the blood as she pummeled the ugly horned demon with her fists. She backed it into a table and kicked it...hard. It bounced off the table and fell forward trying to take Maeve down with it. She moved quickly, though, and jumped over the falling creature - landing on the table behind it.

Spike was furiously attacking the other demon. Kicking and ducking. But the Fyarl swung hard and clipped the vampire's head. Spike went down, momentarily dazed. Xander rushed into the skirmish to help. With a large urn in hand, he careened toward the beast and broke the granite container over its head. It fell backward, landing on its rear. It was still rubbing its head as Xander pulled the vampire upright with his good arm and dragged him away from the angry demon.

Maeve waited for the creature to regain its feet before she took a step forward and launched herself off the table, sending her heels into the back of the demon's head.

"Weapon!" she shouted. "I need a weapon."

Dawn ran to the counter and yanked open a drawer. Several carved wooden stakes rolled toward her; she grabbed one and flung it toward her sister. "Here Buffy!" she shouted, before realizing her error. "I mean, Maeve," she mumbled.

Maeve caught the stake in her right hand and drove it through the creature's back. Green sappy blood oozed from the wound and the creature laid still. She yanked the stake out revealing an ugly gaping hole.

The other demon was regaining its composure and had a hankering for some Xander-flesh. It growled as it stood and lumbered toward the man and the vampire. Xander scrambled for something else he could hit it with while Spike propelled himself at the beast. Vampire visage to the fore, Spike growled and punched its face.

Maeve came to his aid - from behind the demon, she drove her stake through its neck. There was a gurgling noise and the creature clawed at its neck. Spike could see the point of the stake protruding from its scaly skin. Still, the demon had strength. It whirled on its attacker, swinging its gargantuan arm at her head. Maeve ducked an instant too late and she was thrown several feet, landing with a crash - and perhaps a fractured bone.

Spike risked a glance back toward the witch and noticed the portal had doubled in size. It was now a window the size of...well...a window. Tara was trying to coax Willow out of the spell, but it didn't seem to be helping. He had just turned his attention back to the green-ooze-spurting demon when he heard Anya shriek. Spike bolted out of the demon's reach and looked around the shop. Xander had run to Anya's aid - they were both hammering the hole-y demon with large books. *You can see right through it,* Spike thought. *Neat.*

"Silver!" Spike yelled over the cacophony. "You need to kill them with something silver!"

Maeve heard his instructions and scanned the shop from where she was lying. Xander and Anya were ineffectually trying to fend off one demon. It was winning, pushing the duo closer to Tara and the circle. Tara was still stroking her lover's arm - trying to bring Willow out of the spell and close the ever growing portal. Spike was keeping the other monster occupied. Dawn? Where was Dawn? Oh, cowering behind the counter. Good. On the far wall, in the back of the shop, there was an umbrella stand. There were swords in the umbrella stand. Swords were silver. *Hopefully.*

Maeve stood and ran (with a slight limp) to the back of the shop. She grabbed the handles of two swords and made her way back to Spike. He was barely holding his own. Blocking powerful punches took a lot out of a vampire. Maeve edged up behind him. "Right hand. Sword," she said as she handed over the weapon. He took it, gladly.

From where she stood, Maeve could see that Anya had been cut badly and was leaning on the counter for support. "Anya, are you alright?" she shouted.

"I'm okay. Just please help Xander," she replied.

Xander was trying to keep the Fyarl busy by kicking its legs and hitting it with his weapon of choice: "The Lost Fire Rituals of the Sacred Mongol Brotherhood". It was difficult for him to keep his balance, holding the heavy volume with one hand. The creature had finally had enough of the book-bashing and grabbed it from Xander's grasp. The fear on Xander's face was evident as he backed away from the enraged demon. Unfortunately, he backed right into Tara. "Xander! No!" Maeve yelled. But it was too late. He toppled backward over the frightened witch and landed (well, fell, really) right into the hovering portal. There was a flash of green energy that filled the room for less than a second and Willow fell backward from her sitting position, the spell finally broken.

Maeve bolted over to the surprised demon, and taking advantage of the magical diversion, plunged her sword into its gut and yanked it upward - leaving a trail of gore in its wake. The Fyarl demon's eyes opened wide as it fell to the floor, finally dead.

Spike, currently too busy fighting to be able to keep an eye on the others, punched the remaining beast with his free hand and then, behind his back, quickly switched the sword to his left. He kicked the demon in the shin and as it hunched over in pain, he brought the sword up, and in a swift downward arc, lopped the horny head clean off its scabrous body.

After the spell was broken, the Chronoths began to fade. They floated backward and dissolved into the air. In a matter of seconds, the chaos and clamor in the shop was replaced with an eerie silence.

"Xander," Maeve murmured.

"Oh please, not Xander," Anya moaned as she collapsed in a heap on the floor.

Maeve ran to her side.

Tara was hunched over Willow, dabbing at the girl's bloody nose with her sleeve. Dawn was standing at the counter, and Spike had just finished wiping off his sword on the dead demon's leg.

"What about Xander?" he asked as he turned toward the others. Noticing the missing Scooby, he continued, "Where IS Xander?"

Dawn pointed to the center of the circle where all that remained of Xander was a pile of his clothes, his watch and pair of ratty sneakers.

Spike's eyes widened in shock, "Oh god, tell me he didn't get dusted."



Part 19 - The Bare Necessities

Xander opened his eyes. First thought: *It's cold.* Second thought: *Where am I?* Third thought: *Oh my god! I'm naked!*

He scrambled to his feet, instantly covering his private regions. Panic evident. *I'm dreaming, I must be dreaming.* It was almost black, but he could just make out that he was indoors, standing in a darkened room. Stark naked.

"Okay," he said to himself. "Okay, I was in the Magic Box. And now I'm not." *Please let me be dreaming.* "In the Magic Box, valiantly fighting a Fyarl demon." *I'm naked. How did I get naked?* "And then I tripped and fell..." *Oh no!* He finally pieced it together. "I tripped and fell into the portal." He covered his face with his hands. *Such an idiot!* Then, realizing that covering his face with his hands left his nether regions exposed, he repositioned them.

"Okay, let's see. Where am I?" As his eyes adapted to the gloom he was able to see more of his surroundings. Wooden floor, paneled walls, ugly paintings, a long wooden table in the middle. Chandeliers. *Wow! Now that's what I call a mess.* Most of the chairs were overturned, and there were all kinds of things littering the floor. And there seemed to be dust everywhere.

*Okay. I get it now. I'm in the 1800's.* He sighed, somewhat relieved that he finally understood what happened to him, then: "But why am I naked?" he asked aloud. "And where's Buffy?" *Let her be here, let her be here, let her be here!*

His eyes fell on a wooden stake that was lying discarded on the floor. "Buffy?" he called. And then louder, "Buff, hey, it's me, the Xand-man, can you hear me? Say yes, and you'll make me the happiest man in the world."

He listened, but there was no answer.

*No Buffy. Okay, I'll settle for second best. How about a portal? Or, maybe a hand reaching through an invisible window right about...now!* He did a 360 degree turn. *Hmm. Didn't think so.*

He walked towards one of the windows. "Ouch!" he yelled, as he stepped onto something painfully sharp. Forcing himself to refrain from madly hopping around on one leg, he gingerly reached for his foot and pulled out a thumbnail sized glass shard. *Swell! Now I've got a bleeding foot. As if a bruised arm wasn't enough!*

He walked on, more carefully, avoiding a dark puddle on the floor that he fervently hoped wasn't blood. He pulled the curtains back. The panes were filthy. Even so, he was momentarily blinded by bright daylight. Through the grime, an alley was visible. There was a derelict building on the opposite site of the road. He didn't see any people. Which was just as well, considering his lack of clothing.

He walked to the door. It was stuck. He pushed and managed to dislocate whatever was obstructing it from the other side. Squinting, he peered through the gap into a hallway. *Gah!* A body, and an ugly one at that. It reminded him vaguely of Olaf the troll who had crushed his hand the year before. Except this troll was dead, his throat torn out. *Ew! Vampire leftovers. What else is new?*

"Buffy?"

It seemed the portal had brought him to the right place. Stakes, vampire victims... But where was Buffy?

He sighed dramatically and edged past the body into the hallway. *Ooh! Clothes!* he thought and bent over the smelly troll body. He grabbed for the beast's giant tunic, but it wouldn't budge. He was pulling at it with one hand - the other, still covering his lower half. After a minute or so of fruitless tugging, Xander decided to brave the use of both hands. Bending awkwardly at the knee, he grabbed the frock with both hands, and using all of his weight, tried to pull it free. No use. The clothing thing would just have wait for a lighter dead guy.

He followed the hallway to a sturdy door. It was slightly ajar, letting in a brilliant shaft of light. Xander stepped outside, into the dirty road. He thought he saw a few people at the mouth of the alley, about 200 yards away.

He covered himself with one hand and waved sheepishly with the other. There was a distressed smile painted on his face. "Buffy?"

Still no answer. The people he had seen took one look at him and hurried away. The only living thing that remained in his vicinity was a nasty looking cat that eyed him nervously.

"Great," he mumbled. *I have no idea what Maeve looks like. Or where she lives. I guess Spike was right. Never thought I'd hear myself think that. But why am I the one with the consequences - this stupid spell wasn't my idea! And how am I gonna get out of this one?* He kicked at the dirt with his bare (non-hurt) foot and searched the area for some answers. *If only we'd waited for Giles. This never would have happened. I'd still be in the twenty-first century...FULLY CLOTHED. Buffy'd be back by Tuesday...*

He scanned the rooftops for a familiar landmark - without success. *Where's Big Ben? I always wanted to see Big Ben and it's usually just round the corner in the movies...*

There was a sound. At first, he assumed it was his heart beating in his ears. But when it grew louder, he realized it wasn't his blood pumping...it was the sounds of hooves. Horses. *Horses!?*

He spun around, looking for cover...or at least, something to cover him! Nothing! Before he had time to dash back into the building - the carriage was upon him. Unfortunately *or fortunately* the carriage didn't slow or stop. He only just managed to jump out of the way.

*I'm beginning to hate this century,* he thought gloomily.

He was just about to go back into the house to search it for clothes or anything else that might be useful, when he heard brisk footsteps coming near.

*Oh, yay! More embarrassment. Can't wait.* He struck the same pose as before: one hand on groin, the other in the air - plastic smile in place. This time, however, there was no horse-drawn cart. Instead, two men approached him. They were wearing long coats and funny hats and had...*Great Gatsby! They're police officers!*

They came to a halt several feet from where Xander was standing (mortified). Both exchanged worried glances and placed their hands near their billy clubs.

"Were you robbed, Sir?" one asked, straining his neck to look up into his face. He and his colleague were at least a foot shorter than Xander.

*Robbed? Yes, I was robbed.* "Yes, I was robbed. They took everything."

"Who? Could you describe them, Sir?"

"Um. Uh. The robbers. They were...uh wearing masks and they um...hurt my arm. I think it may be broken." He held up his injured arm, which was still slightly swollen.

The two officers looked at each other then back at the odd naked man with the strange dialect. They took in his size, his powerful build and his tan. They also noted the blood on his hand.

"Is that your house?" he asked, dropping the honorific. He used his club to point at the inn.

"Er, no."

"Where are you from?"

"Sunnydale," he answered without thinking. "Um. That's...in...America."

"America?" the officer questioned.

"Uh. The United States." Xander's nakedness was beginning to affect his brain.

"How did you arrive in London?" the policeman asked.

"A portal," he mumbled, shaking his head.

"Pardon me?"

"A plane."

"A what?"

"I flew."

"Stay there," the burly policeman ordered. He motioned the other Bobby aside.

"Sure." Xander said, shivering.

The two policemen stuck their heads together. They kept their eyes trained on the huge idiot.

"What d'you think?" the younger of the two asked nervously.

"He's not quite right in `is head, now, is he?" the older stated.

"Most likely he escaped from St. Luke's."

"Well, if he's from St. Luke's it might earn us a few shillings from the Doctor when we bring him in."

"You think he's dangerous?"

"I don't intend to find out, now, do I?"

The other man nodded and both approached Xander cautiously.

Xander watched them, hoping they'd take him to some kind of police precinct. Or maybe a doctor. He needed clothing - and a new sling. Besides, maybe someone there would know Maeve. *What was her last name again? MacIntosh?*

*No, that's a computer,* he figured...right before the policemen swung their clubs against his head and it was `lights out'.

***

"Will! Wait for me!"

The young girl bounced down the stairs and reached him at the door. "You said you would go to the Museum and to the bookbinder today and that I could come along."

He smiled indulgently. "What about mother?" he asked, as he picked up his hat, gloves and cane.

"Mama is not feeling well today. She said she would take her medicine and try to rest. Surely the maid can look after her? Please?"

"Very well. But we mustn't spend any money. No more books for you, Victoria, until you've finished the ones we bought last time."

"But I already finished Descartes' `Meditationes' and Goethe's `Leiden des jungen Werther'," she complained as she took his arm. "And there are only a few pages left in `Middlemarch.' Can't we buy some more poetry? Browning, I'd like to read Browning."

"Browning? Well, I will think about it."

*That is almost a yes,* Victoria Crawford thought happily.

He waited for her to choose her purse, shawl and parasol. Then he took her arm and they walked outside to hail a cab.

"So, my dear brother, how was Cecily last night?" the young woman asked excitedly, to the merry hoof beats that accompanied their ride to Bloombsbury. "Did you get to converse with her?"

"No, I am afraid she did not take any notice of me at all." William replied with a self-depreciatory smile. "She has many admirers to choose from, and they are all more dashing than I." He saw the protest in his sister's face and shook his head. "We both know that, so don't say it's not true."

"You have to talk to her!" Victoria exclaimed. "Then she just HAS to see how wonderful you are." *And how much you love her.*

Her brother laughed at her, good-naturedly. "You are an incurable romantic, my dear. But just to please you I will try to approach her. The next time I see her I will actually try to speak with her."

"Promise?"

"I promise. I will probably make a complete and utter fool out of myself, but that's what love is all about, is it not? Allowing the heart to overrule everything else?"

She squeezed his hand, affectionately.

***

"How may I help you, young Masters?" the bookseller asked cordially. He recognized the boys from previous visits. Their father was a regular customer. "Are you looking for anything in particular?"

Charles Willoughby handed him the list. "Would you have these in stock? We will be needing them next term." His brother George quietly disappeared behind a large bookshelf. As usual, his interest was with Philosophy and Theology.

The bookseller scanned the list. "There are two titles here that I will have to order. The others I have in stock. This may take a few minutes. Perhaps you would like to have a look around, Master Willoughby?"

"Yes, thank you." He strolled though the shop, picking up a book here and there. Suddenly there was a high pitched shriek and a young girl toppled down a ladder on which she had been standing in order to reach the top shelves.

Charles caught her more by reflex than by design. Holding her steady in his arms he looked into startled blue eyes behind wire rimmed spectacles. The girl's pretty face was framed by honey colored curls. And there was something strangely familiar about her.

"You can put me down, now," she said with a shy smile.

"Oh, um... yes of course, forgive my manners," he stammered and complied, blushing. He had just touched a girl's waist. Only to catch her, of course, but nonetheless.

The young woman, she was about the same age as Charles, blushed, too. "Thank you. I am glad you had the presence of mind to keep me from injury."

"Victoria?" A man came around the corner. Charles recognized him immediately. "Mr. Crawford. How do you do?" He exclaimed with a polite bow. Now he knew why the girl had looked so familiar. The family resemblance was obvious.

"Master Willoughby, what a pleasant surprise. May I introduce to you my sister, Miss Victoria Crawford. Victoria, this is Master Willoughby. His father is a business associate of Mr. Hartford."

"It is a pleasure, Miss Victoria. How do you do?" Charles said.

"How do you do?" She quickly took off her glasses and put them in her purse.

Charles and Mr. Crawford exchanged cards. They were joined by George, and the rites of formal introduction were observed once more. Charles had the impression that young Miss Victoria was secretly amused by the procedure.

They stood around a bit awkwardly. Charles craned his neck to look at the small pile of books Miss Crawford had chosen so far. `Frankenstein', ` Les Trois Mousquetaires', two slim volumes of poetry and a collection of stories by Sheridan Le Fanu.

* `'Carmilla'? He lets her read THAT?* Charles thought, amazed at her audacious taste. This was hardly suitable reading material for a girl of sixteen or seventeen years! Mother would object, but Charles found himself drawn to both brother and sister. They piqued his curiosity.

Under the astonished glance of his brother, Charles drew the Crawfords into a lively but amiable discussion of Shakespeare's History plays. When Mr. Crawford suggested that they go to a coffeehouse for some refreshments, he accepted gladly, because it gave him the opportunity to extend an invitation of his own for the following day.

*I wonder what Maeve will say if I bring her Mr. and Miss Crawford for afternoon tea.*

***

Xander woke to the murmur of two voices conducting a conversation almost out of earshot. He could also hear birds chirping.

"...he looks strong like an ox, sir... "

"Indeed, he does. Let us just hope he is docile and does not give us any trouble..."

While the first speaker's accent was unfamiliar and difficult to understand, the second man sounded very much like Giles, perhaps a little more decisive.

Xander had a splitting headache but when he tried to touch his skull where it ached most he found that he couldn't move his arms. He couldn't sit upright, either.

*Oh god, please don't let me be paralyzed!* He opened his eyes. A bare ceiling. He turned his head sideways. Bare walls. A window was letting in bright sunlight and a slight breeze. *Oh oh. Iron bars? Now, this is disturbing.*

He lifted his head to check his body and became instantly woozy. He was stretched out on a hard cot. His arms and legs were restrained by metal shackles and a broad leather strap was fastened over his chest. He was effectively pinned. *Not good, this is so not good.*

At least he was no longer naked. He was clothed in some kind of hospital gown. And his foot was bandaged.

*They hit me! I thought English policemen were supposed to be well-mannered! They hit me. Bastards!*

He heard steps approaching and quickly closed his eyes.

Someone touched his hand, turning it over, examining it from all angles. Dropping it, looking at the other.

"Hmm, callused, tanned, short nails, not manicured, do I smell a hint of sap? Carpentry, perhaps? And not very good at pretending to be unconscious," the cultured voice said.

Xander opened his eyes. He saw before him a man in his late forties. He was dressed impeccably. He had a bushy moustache and his black hair looked prematurely grey.

"Ah, you are awake. Good. I am Dr. Burton, Chief Alienist of St. Luke's."

"Alienist? What's an alienist? Do I look like a martian to you?" Xander babbled before he could stop himself. *Great, now I sound like a complete idiot.* He would have smacked his forehead if he weren't shackled to this cot. A rather uncomfortable and much to narrow cot.

"Tell me where it hurts," the doctor said and proceeded to examine Xander's head. There were two noticeable lumps that hurt considerably. Xander told him so. The man nodded, took a look at his eyes and checked the bruised arm.

"Would you please answer a few questions?" the man asked, brandishing a pad and a pencil.

"If you untie me. This is kinda uncomfortable," Xander suggested without great optimism.

"That won't be possible just yet, my friend," Dr. Burton said kindly. "Perhaps later. Now, can you tell me your name?"

"Al-, er... Clark Kent."

"What is your address?"

"Er...I don't have one." Xander said. "I only just arrived from America. Sightseeing. You know, Big Ben, Madame Tussaud's, Piccadilly Circus. And then..." he carried on, getting into the swing of things, "...before I could find myself a nice hotel I got robbed. They stole everything, my money, my suitcases, even my clothes."

"What is today's date?" The doctor asked, scribbling things into his notebook.

"Er... June 1880?" Xander laughed nervously. "I don't... er... remember the exact day. Must be the hit on the head," he added hurriedly. *Amnesia is not that uncommon, or is it? I mean every single one of my favorite TV shows had at least one amnesia episode...*

"When and where were you born?"

"What kind of hospital is St. Luke's?" Xander asked warily.

"St. Luke's is an asylum for the criminally insane," the doctor answered, studying his reaction carefully.

Xander groaned and closed his eyes. *Why do these things always happen to ME?*



Part 20 - Picking up the Pieces

It took quite some time to get Anya off the floor and into a chair. Even then, her body slumped over so the others couldn't see her face. Not that they needed to. They knew what it looked like: pale cheeks...bloodshot eyes. She was devastated. Sad for her own loss, terrified for Xander.

*He's gone,* she thought. *Gone.* She sniffled a bit. *And we never got to tell anyone about our engagement. I didn't get to pick out my dress or flowers. I didn't get a party or presents.*

Dawn and Maeve took some time to try to comfort her with words like, "He's not dead" and "We'll get him back". But nothing got through.

*Gone.* The word resounded in her head, hollowly. Already she felt empty, as if part of her was missing, that part which gave her direction and purpose. What would she do now? Who was she to rely on now? *Who will hold me and have sex with me?*

That thought started a whole new barrage of tears. *What if he's trapped someplace in between? What if he's just stuck there and can't do anything? That would be awful! Or..or..even if he made it to 1880 - what would they do to him there? Oh Xander! Will I ever get a piece of mail addressed to Mrs. Xander Harris?*

Eventually, they left her alone to grieve and stood over Tara as she quietly tended to Willow.

The redhead remained prostrate in the circle where she had fallen. Several minutes had passed since the portal closed, yet dark blood continued to seep from her nose. Tara caressed her lover's face with a damp paper towel, murmuring to her, cajoling her to awaken. Spike was smoking. *To hell with the rules,* he thought, *Out the window they go...along with Xander.* He took another look at where Harris' things remained and at the sobbing ex-demon. *Not like Anya's in any shape to complain about the smoke.* He knew he was being callous, but it still infuriated him that they had ignored his warnings. He watched as Tara tended to the witch; the others looked on with grave expressions.

Dawn was antsy, her foot vibrating with excess energy. "What are we gonna do?"

"It's okay, Dawn," Tara answered. *It's hard to be convincing when you don't even believe your own words.*

"But Willow. I mean, this is bad."

"I know, Dawnie," was all Tara could muster in response. She turned to face the girl and saw desperation in her eyes. She stood and took Dawn into a tight embrace. "Really, Dawnie, we'll be okay. We'll work this out."

"Why does she think she's so all-powerful anyway?" Dawn asked angrily, pulling away from Tara. "She should know if...she should have known she couldn't handle it."

"Dawn..." Tara said quietly. Dawn looked away from her for a moment, and when she turned back, there were tears in her eyes.

"But what if she never wakes up?"

"She will," Tara murmured, stroking the girl's hair. *Oh please, let her wake up.*

Then Tara suggested, "Do you want to see if you can find a blanket for her?"

Dawn gladly agreed. Anything to take her mind off the circumstances.

*I didn't even get to tell him how happy he makes me.* Anya was lost in her heartache. *He was trying to protect me. This is all my fault! Why did this have to happen? I didn't mean to fall in love. I knew. I knew how horrible love turns out. I should have seen this coming.*

Dawn glanced down at Willow as she walked through the broken circle. She noticed blood still was oozing. Then she stumbled over Xander's shoes.

"W-we should call Giles," she stammered. "This is really, really bad."

"We should call an ambulance," Spike suggested, and took a long drag.

Tara shook her head, "No. Willow will come out of it." *I hope. The hospital is too scary to consider right now. We need Mr. Giles.* She was back on the floor next to her love and looked at Maeve, then Dawn, with wet eyes. "But we should call Mr. Giles," then, through clenched teeth, she added, "Now." She was fighting tears. *I'm so sorry, Willow. I should have stopped you. I should have seen this coming.*

****

"How could you?" Giles exclaimed, after seeing the aftermath of the spell. "How could you go behind my back..." he wasn't yelling at anyone in particular, he was just yelling. Then, more to himself, he began to mumble, "I can't believe..." He approached Willow. "...dangerous magic..." He leaned over the comatose girl. "How could you be so irresponsible?" He grabbed her wrist to check her pulse. "...what on earth were you thinking?" But inwardly he berated himself. *How could I be so trusting. I knew she was overconfident, reckless even. I should never have left them. I should have seen this coming.*

"I told them, Rupert," Spike said melodramatically. "I warned them. But does anyone ever listen to me?"

Giles held Willow's face and turned it from side to side checking for any other blood.

"Who cares what the vampire thinks? His opinion doesn't matter," Spike mimicked.

"How long has she been out," Giles asked Tara.

"Almost a half hour," Tara answered. "She's never been out this long before." There was a hint of alarm in her voice. "I thought she'd come out of it soon, but now I'm not so sure. I haven't moved her. Just elevated her head and watched her breathing."

"Anya?" Giles looked at the table she was slumped at. "Anya?" She didn't move. "Anya - where is the hartshorn?"

There a was a brief pause.

"Basement. Third compartment from the left," she mumbled her response without lifting her head. *My fault.*

"Dawn?" Giles asked.

"I'll get it." She hopped up, and then looked at Giles. "What is it?"

"It's a powder. Like a baking powder. We should be able to use it as smelling salts."

Dawn nodded and immediately ran downstairs.

"I said, `we should wait and do the starry alignment bit'," Spike continued his rant. "Let's see, what was it Willow said? `I can handle it.', `I know what I'm doing.'"

"That's quite enough, Spike!" Giles shouted. He stood abruptly and stomped over to the surprised vampire. "I've had enough of you!"

"What'd I do?" Spike backed up against the wall as the angry Watcher approached.

"You let them do this!" Giles was getting louder, and closer, his face mere inches from Spike's. "You knew better. You were the adult here. You could have stopped them and instead you stood by and watched. You watched," he growled, "as these children risked their lives. You watched with that offensive smirk on your face as they put themselves in inconceivable danger!"

"I..." Spike tried.

"You what?" Giles interrupted, growing increasingly agitated. "You leaned casually against the wall smoking your cigarette? Why Spike? Why'd you let them do this? Were you bored? Nothing around for you to kill? You knew what would happen! You knew!" he shouted. "It must be really gratifying for you, to be able to say `I told you so' when you didn't do a thing to stop this!"

"No, I..." he tried again.

Giles slammed his hand against the wall next to Spike's head, cutting off whatever it was Spike was about to say. "I imagine you stood by and made a few standard snide remarks. Then you delighted in skewering a demon or two. Am I right so far, Spike?" There wasn't even time for the vampire to attempt an answer. "Then Xander disappeared. I'm certain you found that supremely amusing. Did you have a good chuckle? Was there a clever remark to accompany your sneer?"

"Giles," Dawn tried to end the confrontation. She held the bag of hartshorn up.

Giles tilted his head and narrowed his eyes - eyes that bored straight into Spike's brain... or at least, that's how the vampire felt in this situation.

"This is how you get your kicks, isn't it?" Giles asked him, seriously, his voice low and menacing. "This is like one big soap opera to you."

"Giles!" Dawn tried again, with more force. She was looking at Spike, trying to make eye contact, wanting to somehow give him her moral support but the vampire wasn't looking at her. He held the Watcher's gaze for a moment, then dropped his cigarette and ended the staring contest under the pretense of stamping his boot on it.

Giles turned his attention to the girl holding the bag of white powder.

"Thank you, Dawn," he said quietly.

Spike straightened his duster, ran a hand through his already mussed hair and stalked to the training room to get away from the scene.

Giles took the pouch and sprinkled some of the powder onto his fingertip. He kneeled next to Willow and waved his powder-coated finger just below her nose. On her second inhale, she coughed slightly, took a deeper breath and her eyes snapped open. She immediately tried to sit up, but Giles held her down, pressing gently on her shoulder.

"Stay there, Willow," he said. *How could she do this? Draw upon these powers?* He shook his head, *There will be further consequences.There are always consequences in the wake of this kind of magic.* His own dealings with Eyghon had taught him that.

The girl laid her head back down on Tara's sweater and closed her eyes. "Ow," she moaned.

Tara squeezed Willow's hand reassuringly.

"Will she be okay?" Dawn asked.

"It is quite possible that she is suffering from a concussion. We should watch her carefully. Perhaps get her to a bed. I suppose she should see a doctor, too." Giles was rubbing his forehead in contemplation.

"And Xander?" Dawn prodded.

"Yes, of course. We'll have to get to work on that immediately." Giles stood and moved away from Willow. "Keep her still, Tara," he ordered.

He walked to the wall where he had just finished verbally battering Spike and leaned back against it. "Dear god, first Buffy and now Xander," he mumbled. He took off his glasses and squeezed the bridge of his nose. "Very well, we'll have to go about this rationally. It won't do us any good if we were to fall into some kind of unproductive panic." He replaced his glasses and began restoring merchandise to their respective places. *Order, we need some kind of order. After that we can concentrate on the immediate problems.* He returned a tattered book to its shelf, collected shards of a broken container, then approached the table where Anya was still seated. He righted a chair and sat down in it, burying his head in his hands. He suddenly felt very old and tired. He only needed a moment to gather his wits, then he'd take charge as usual. Just a moment...

With the Watcher currently out of commission, the witch - sick, and Anya, still a crumpled mass of anguish, Maeve decided to find the only person she thought she might be able to get through to.

"I'll be right back," she said to Dawn. The girl nodded.

"Spike," Maeve said quietly as she entered the training room. He was standing near the window, in shadow, watching the sun set. He didn't turn toward her.

"Spike, this was not your fault. I know that you know that."

He didn't respond. He just stared at the glowing pink ball from his place in the darkness.

"We have to do something," she said.

She waited for a response she knew she wouldn't get.

"I know you care. I know these people are not only Buffy's ties..." She let that sentence remain unfinished.

He looked at her. At Buffy's face. She looked concerned. Open. Genuine. *How many times can I see her face, and not really see her?* First it was her, the real Buffy, the Slayer. *She got under my skin the first time I saw her.* Then it was Faith. *Slayer muscles, yeah right.* He smiled at that memory. Then the bot. *What was I thinking?* And now Maeve. He looked away from her. *S'Not the Slayer that I miss, not her body, not her face.* He turned his gaze back toward the window. *I miss that irritating, self-centered girl that comes with the package. And we're nowhere nearer to gettin' her back...*

There was pain in his expression. He wanted to talk, to spill. But he just couldn't bring himself to do it.

"You're the Slayer," he said quietly. "You do something." There wasn't much conviction in his tone. "I'm just a vampire. I'm evil."

Maeve thought he sounded tired. She approached the window. Standing next to the vampire, she watched the sun fall below the horizon. She was bathed in its remaining luminescence. The sharp distinction between the glowing Slayer and the silhouetted vampire was surreal. They watched in silence.

"Xander could be in real trouble," she said finally.

She began picking at the tape that covered the cracks in the window pane. "And Buffy is still trapped there."

The sun was almost gone. Only a sliver of light remained. Spike's gaze was fixed on it.

"I am sure she misses everyone terribly."

She spoke quietly, without looking directly at him.

"I am sure she misses you." And then she whispered, almost inaudibly, "If I ever get back home, I know I will."

When Spike was finally protected by the complete darkness of the room, he spoke again.

"How are we going to get Xander back? Don't even know where he is."

"We know when he is," she answered.

"Will's hurt. She won't be able to work any mojo any time soon, I'd guess."

"Is Tara not a witch?"

"There's a thought."

Maeve nodded.

"What did Giles have to say after..." Spike paused, "After I...left."

Maeve could hear the sadness in his voice. "He had nothing to say," she answered. "I believe he is in as much pain as you."

Spike stifled a mirthless laugh.

"Xander is trapped in 1880, in his own body. Without clothing, no less. He could be in serious danger," Maeve reiterated.

Suddenly, Maeve felt Spike move toward her. She tensed. But then she felt him grab her hand and began to pull her back toward the shop. He strode valiantly toward the others, dragging Maeve behind him.

"Tara," he said. "You have to send me after him."

***

"I'm not letting you go by yourself," Cordelia remarked.

"Let? Now it's a matter of allowing me to do things?" Angel answered as he tossed a change of clothes into a duffel bag.

"Yes. I will not allow you to go without me."

He snickered.

"What if I have a vision?"

"Gunn, Wes and Fred will all still be here. You guys can handle it without me," Angel answered.

"Yea, but...but what if it involved you? Or..or Buffy?" She really wanted to go to Sunnydale with him.

He shook his head, "No, Cordelia. I'm not going for a friendly visit. This isn't about saying `hi' to the gang. I want to make sure Buffy gets back and they're going to need my help."

"Why? They didn't ask for it," she told him matter-of-factly.

He shoved a few formidable looking weapons into the bag. "Look, Cordelia, I'm going. You're not." He slung it over his shoulder. "Be nice to Wesley."

"I don't care what you say. If I want to go to Sunnydale, I'll go to Sunnydale. I'll call a cab if I have to. A cab YOU'LL be paying for." She folded her arms across her chest and set her jaw.

That settled it. Angel knew he wouldn't win this one.

"Fine, but I'm leaving now."

***

"Certainly not," Giles responded vehemently. "We cannot risk any more..." he was going to say `lives', but changed his mind. "We cannot risk any possible time paradox. This is already completely out of hand."

"And with Willow hurt..." Dawn trailed off, forcing back a fresh siege of tears.

They had moved Willow to the couch in the training room where Tara was looking after her. She was gradually becoming more alert, but was still in a lot of pain.

Spike looked at Maeve, silently requesting back up.

"Tara has power as well, correct?" Maeve asked.

"This is not something we can simply dive into," Giles said. "It takes planning and research and time."

"Time is something we don't have Rupert," Spike interjected. "Xander does not know where he is, in a time period he knows nothing about! I remember - I LIVED there. I can help him. And then you can bring us all back."

"I lived there, too," Anya said. She was still sitting at the table, but her tears had since dried up. "I could go. I could go find him."

"It's too dangerous for you, Anya," Maeve said and approached the wearied ex-demon. She rested her hand on her shoulder and said, "Spike can do this. I know he can."

"What can Spike do?"

Everyone turned to look out of the broken store window toward the source of the new voice.

Jingle Jingle.

"Hi guys," Cordelia said.

"Oh bloody hell, who invited the SuperPoof?"

Angel walked in behind Cordelia. "Good to see you too, Spike."



Part 21 - House and Home

The vampires stirred the moment the sun set. Darla was so old, her entire being had learned to resonate with the incessant cycle of day and night, the way certain ocean dwellers felt the pull of the tide even if they were held captive in a fish tank. She did not have to check Angelus's pocket watch to know that it was time to hunt. She just knew.

She walked to the heavily shuttered windows, pulled back the bolts and pushed them wide open. Fresh fragrant air caressed her naked body, soothing the burnt skin on her face. It did nothing to soothe the rage that simmered underneath her cold and calculating demeanor. Behind her, she could hear the sounds of Angelus slipping into his elegant evening clothes. She took in the scenery before her, enjoying the river and the way it reflected the last remnants of daylight. The sky was still pink, but its glow was slowly fading. As the light waned, the river that minutes ago looked like a fantastic mythological snake in all its iridescent glory, became once more a sluggish, brown and stinking stripe of water. The perfect place to let bodies disappear in, if one weighed them down properly.

"Dru, get up," Angelus ordered harshly as he stepped beside his sire. Darla didn't acknowledge his presence. And he knew better than to disturb her when she was admiring `the view'. When the last shade of pink was nothing more than a memory, she turned to face him.

"I need to feed," she said, touching her ravaged face with her fingertips. "I drank the innkeeper, but his blood was tainted, it had no healing power." She laughed. "It's ironic, don't you think? Trolls have this great power of regeneration and all that mindless strength, but the blood just makes us sick, even if it's diluted by two generations."

"If you knew, why did you bother to go back and kill him?" Angelus asked.

"So he could tell others about the way the Slayer staked our guests and almost killed us? Innkeepers talk. They all do."

She went to the wardrobe and chose a dress. Angelus watched as she slipped into undergarments that were so expensive they could have fed a human family for a year. "You think the innkeeper told the Council about our little... soiree?"

"Does it matter?" Darla asked, already bored with the conversation. "Help me with this," she said and turned her back to him. He approached her and expertly tied the strings of her corset before moving on to Drusilla to do the same for her.

The young vampire sat on the bed in her chemise. There were two bullet holes in the fabric, where her heart was. The fat watcher had been a good shot. Drusilla held a pack of playing cards in her hand. Several cards were spread out in front of her. But she wasn't looking at them. Her eyes were closed and her gaze was directed at things to come.

Angelus knew better than to disturb her when the sight was upon her. It was a useful talent; one that had saved him and his women from harm several times. It was one of the reasons why Drusilla was still travelling with him and Darla, even though having to look after her and keeping her from acting upon every whim was proving more and more tiresome. Darla, especially, was growing impatient.

"Crossroads, dark crossroads," Drusilla cooed.

"Yes, you said so last night," Darla said condescendingly as she slipped into a beautiful dress. "Is that all you can tell me?"

"It's a tangled web of did not and must not and may be. Someone came who wasn't supposed to, and someone will come, who isn't what he used to be. Things may change, but I don't want them to."

"Who came? And who is coming?" Angelus asked.

"A friend of the other Slayer."

"What `other' Slayer? There is only ONE Slayer. "

"The Slayer that captured your heart last night."

He hit her with enough force to send her crashing against the wall. "No one," he said. "No one, no Slayer, can catch my heart. It is already taken."

He walked to Darla, took her hand and lifted it to his lips. He kissed her fingertips, ignoring Drusilla's wails. "And now," he said forcefully to his insane offspring, "I don't want to hear any more nonsense about crossroads and the like."

He touched Darla's ravaged face. "You will need a lot of blood for that to heal."

Darla caught his hand. "The Watcher who did this, find out if he is still alive, and if he is, find out his name, where he lives, everything." It wasn't a request. It was an order. Both knew it. "Find out if he's got family," she added with a wicked smile. It was an ugly sight, because the burns made her mouth crooked, and there was a hole in her cheek where the skin had disintegrated completely.

He answered her with a smile of his own.

Unfortunately, he couldn't just go and drag a dozen people into their house for Darla to eat. Too many disappearances and the Council would find them, it was as simple as that. Angelus knew what it was like to be hunted by a determined opponent.

He pondered for a moment, mentally going through a list of feeding grounds. Going back to the baby farmer to buy some more children was out of the question. Surely, the Council had already found her and taken care of her.

He watched distractedly as Drusilla began to play with her dolls.

"I would like to use one of our hunting grounds," he told Darla. "We could make it a great slaughter, this time. But not tonight. Before we go there, I should like to make sure that the skinny little Slayer isn't already there, waiting for us."

As he mentioned the Slayer, Drusilla gripped the blond locks of one of her porcelain dolls and tore its head right off. "I hate her, I hate her," she whispered. There was a crunching sound and the doll's head disintegrated in her grip.

Angelus and Darla exchanged an irritated glance. "As for tonight," he continued. "I will just snatch someone off the street for us, someone who won't be missed. Right now, we shouldn't draw any more attention to ourselves, not unless we want to leave."

"I like London," Darla said. "I like the view."

"Then we'll stay," Angelus said. *And when we are all fed and strong we'll play a bit with that Slayer-bitch.*

+++

Charles Willoughby was in his room, studying, when his brother sought him out. "Charles?"

"What is it, Georgie?"

George came in and carefully closed the door behind him. "Can I ask you something?" he ventured earnestly. George was the quiet one of the two brothers. He rarely initiated a conversation but he was a good listener.

"Of course," Charles said, putting his geometry book down.

"Have you noticed that Maeve is somehow... different? I think there may be something wrong with her."

"What makes you think so?" Charles asked.

"Little things. Maeve always liked currants, but now she picks every single one out before eating her cake. And have you seen the amount of coffee she drinks? She moves differently, too. And she sounds strange. Do you think she is... maybe... possessed?"

"Possessed?" Charles repeated the unfamiliar word.

"At the bookshop I tried to find literature on exorcisms and demonic possessions, but all I discovered was that possessed people are supposed to be obscene and violent and blasphemous."

"Father said her coma might have affected her memory and her personality, remember?" Charles said. "That would explain her strange behavior."

George looked doubtful.

*Possessed...* Deep inside Charles was suddenly convinced that his brother was right. Maeve was not herself. *Does Father know? Of course he does. He knows about... these things... The question is: What do I tell Georgie?*

He cleared his throat. "George, there is something you should know about Father and his work."

++++

"Um... Excuse me, this probably sounds a bit, well, weird, but could you please try to contact someone for me? Her name is Maeve McKenna. Her address? No sorry, I don't know where she lives. And no, I don't know what she looks like. I've never seen her before, but I know if you just ask her to come here she'll recognize me right away. Trust me. Uh...What do I know about her? She's about twenty years old and a girl, and she lives with a guy called Willoughby, Edward Willoughby. Did I say `lives with'? Um... I mean he's her guardian or something. No I don't know his profession, well, I do but you wouldn't believe me anyway..."

Xander shook his head. *This won't work.* He had practiced expressing his request several times now and each version came out more surreal than the one before. *I think I'd better stick to the fake-amnesia.*

He heard indistinct shouting and howling in the distance, coming from the other patients. The sounds sent a chill through him. He had only been here for a few hours and already the place was giving him the creeps. There hadn't been a moment of silence since they locked him up in this cell.

He resumed his pacing. He had been released from the cot and allowed to use a toilet that could only be called disgusting, but after that, four thug like orderlies had wasted no time putting him into an old fashioned straitjacket - a strange contraption with leather cuffs and lots of straps and buckles. *Four orderlies! Who do they think I am? Hannibal Lecter?*

Only, perhaps they did. Not Hannibal the Cannibal of course, but a dangerous killer. He suddenly remembered the dead body with the torn out throat. If the police who had knocked him out had found the dead body in the hallway behind him...

"Oh no!" Could things get any worse?

*Wouldn't one of Willow's portals be so neat right now?* He didn't know what it would look like from this side, but he checked routinely, anyway. No, not routinely but obsessively. He was scared shitless to miss his ride home should it ever appear.

He heard the rattling of keys in the lock and the door was opened. *Dinner?* A number of orderlies came in to drag him out of his cell. *Apparently not.*

"...this kind of lewd behavior is indicative of a mental illness," Dr. Burton was saying, as Xander was rudely pushed into a large carpeted room. The `alienist' was sitting behind a large desk, smoking a cigar. He was talking to three men who Xander assumed were police detectives. Two bobbies stood quietly flanking the door. "I do not think this man is a common criminal, I think he is a dangerous lunatic. We at St. Luke's are much better equipped to deal with lunatics than the best of prisons."

Xander smiled sheepishly. "Um... good evening?"

+++++

"Edward, you are NOT going!" Mrs. Willoughby said with as much authority as she could muster. Even as agitated as she was, she looked impeccable. Not a single strand of hair was out of place. "No one can expect you to go out just hours after this savage attack. You are in pain. You need to take your prescription and then you need to rest. Please, Edward."

"Louisa, my dear, you know I find it hard to deny your wishes, but my presence is expressly requested."

"Send them a note. Tell them you are unwell. It would be the truth. You're a scholar, not a soldier. You cannot be expected to go to work with two broken bones. Surely no translation can be that important. Tell them to find someone else!"

"I have no choice in the matter. I am sorry, dearest."

"Well, so am I, Mr. Willoughby..."

Buffy withdrew from the open door. *Oops, better not walk into THAT minefield.*

Their argument concerned the official debriefing that was scheduled to take place later that night at the Council's headquarters in Russell Street. Hartford had wanted to hold it as soon as possible, but he also wanted as many Council members to attend as possible and had therefore chosen to hold the meeting at 11.00 p.m. *At least the meeting takes place AFTER dinner. I'm glad I didn't miss that meal. Although...*

The food had been great, but it had been an uncomfortable event, once the Watcher had announced his intention to go out that night. Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby had been barely civil towards each other. Charles and George had talked about meeting Mr. Crawford and his sister at a bookstore, -*Wow! He has... um... had a sister?* - in an attempt to lighten the mood. They had also mentioned that they had invited the Crawfords over for tea.

*William...* Buffy found her thoughts drifting, but was saved by a rumbling in her stomach.

*Jeez, shouldn't have thought about dinner, now I'm hungry again. I miss my fridge with cold pizza and Slayer size cartons of Haagen-Dazs.*

Buffy opened the door to Willoughby's office and walked in quietly. The desk was tidy. There was a neat filing system. It didn't take her long to find what she was looking for. *Bingo!* She folded the papers and - for want of pockets - slid them into her sleeve. She tiptoed back into the hallway, past the drawing room, where the marital argument was growing more heated.

"I never said a thing when you went out at ungodly hours, supposedly to work." Mrs. Willoughby said. It was the first time Buffy had heard her raise her voice. "I have never asked you where you were going and what you were doing. I just hoped that whatever you did would be done discreetly and would not shame our family or place you in danger. But it seems your clandestine... activities have precedence over the sanctity and safety of this house."

"Louisa..."

"And now you are asking me to adopt some unknown child, an infant I know nothing about. What am I supposed to say to that? What will people think?"

*Oh oh...*

It was weird listening to them argue. Weird, because it bothered her. After all, she had only known them for a few days, they were strangers to her. *Sure. So, how come they remind me of Mom and Dad?* Her parents had been fighting all the time, before the big D. Largely because of Dad keeping secretary shaped secrets from Mom. *Gee, pattern much?*

It hadn't really occurred to her until now, that being a Watcher wasn't exactly about leading a normal white-picket-fence life either. *Sure I have no life, but I guess Giles doesn't either.*

Of course he couldn't burden his family with his job, ergo plenty of secrecy. But now it looked like Willoughby's lies and secrets had finally blown up in his face. And he had to pick up the pieces. *Boy, can I relate. Just like it was with Mom, when she found out I was the Slayer.*

Buffy quickly walked downstairs, where she presumed the kitchen was and caused quite a stir when she walked into the servants' dining room. The butler, the coachman and two maids were sitting there; the other servants were probably busy taking care of the dinner aftermath. *And the award for `The invention of the century' goes to... the dishwasher, yay! Sure beats space flight.* She felt a slight pang of guilt, thinking about the enormous pile of dirty dishes each family dinner produced. Buffy briefly considered offering her help, but realized the servants would probably just freak out.

"Oh Miss Maeve," one of the maids (Buffy had forgotten her name) exclaimed nervously. The butler jumped up from his chair, and hastily buttoned up his waistcoat. He had a glass of sherry sitting in front of him and had been reading the morning paper, now that the master and mistress of the house were long finished with it. The other servants stared at Buffy, clearly not comfortable with her sudden appearance.

"Miss Maeve," Dawson said with greater dignity. "You should have rang. Can we help you?"

Buffy sat down on a wooden bench with a sigh. "I know, know," she said, waving her hand dismissively. There were bell cords all over the place, but she still wasn't used to having servants cater to her. "But all I want is a nice hot cup of coffee. Can I just sit here for a second?"

"Of course, Miss Maeve." Dawson sat back down, passing on Buffy's request by nodding at one of the maids. The girl curtsied and rushed into the adjoining kitchen. "And maybe a sandwich or two?" Buffy called after her.

Despite the fact that she had eaten well at dinner time, Buffy felt like she was starving. She always ate a lot, even in her own time. Her fast metabolism burnt up anything she ate almost immediately. *Comes with the Slayer package.* Maeve's body, however, was much slimmer than Buffy had ever been, probably because of her coma or catatonia or whatever, but also because this century frowned on women with a large appetite.

Maeve's body still had a lot of catching up to do, so the least Buffy could do was feed it adequately. *To hell with convention!* Besides, the Willoughbys had a really good cook.

Buffy gave everybody an awkward smile. The servants looked at her expectantly.

"Actually," Buffy said, when she had devoured two sandwiches and some cake and downed her coffee, "there's another reason I came down here. I need to talk to you. Could you get everyone in here, please?" she asked the butler.

When all the servants were gathered, she took the drawings out of her sleeve and unfolded them. *Okay, Angelus, you're not coming in here, not if I can help it.* She handed the sketches around and launched into the little speech that she had rehearsed, knowing that she had to sound as authoritative and serious as possible.

"I want you to look at those faces. Look closely. These people are enemies of the Willoughby family. They are dangerous crea- uh... criminals. Don't ever let them in the house. Do not invite them in - no matter what they say! They will murder every person in this house."

They looked at her, shocked and frightened. But she noticed that the butler and Harper, the coachman, looked like they had an idea what she was talking about. *Well, Harper keeps driving us to cemeteries and stuff, so I guess Willoughby had to sort of put him in the loop.*

Dawson took the sketches from Buffy's outstretched hand and looked at the drawings of Angelus and Darla. Then he studied Buffy for a moment. Finally he exchanged a glance with the coachmen, who simply nodded. "I will make sure your instructions are obeyed to the letter, Miss McKenna." He offered the papers back to Buffy.

"Good, but keep the pictures. Hang them up somewhere so nobody forgets," Buffy said. "These people may come tomorrow, or next week or in five years- but I'm willing to bet that they WILL come. Don't ever forget. And now listen carefully. There is usually a woman with them. Very thin, with dark curly hair and dark eyes. This is very important: don't ever look into her eyes..."

+++

It was 10:30 when Angelus stepped out of the carriage that had brought him to Kensington. Looking every inch a well-to-do gentleman he paid the driver and took a stroll that would take him inconspicuously past the house in which the Slayer lived with her Watcher. And the Watcher's family.

Finding out their names and address had been easy. Angelus had several contacts in London and enough of a reputation to make even reluctant informants talk.

He walked around like a man deep in thought, studying the building and the neighborhood. There was a little park not far from the house. The street lamps were lit, but the park was dark enough to provide cover. Angelus found a suitable spot and watched the house, smoking a cigar. When the injured Watcher and the red haired Slayer walked out the front door and got into their carriage to drive off, the vampire smiled. He waited another quarter of an hour then made his way to the front door. He put on his most charming smile and rang the bell.

+++

During the short drive to Russell Street, Willoughby was very quiet. He looked gaunt. His lips were pressed into a thin line. Buffy didn't know how the argument between husband and wife had ended, because Mrs. Willoughby hadn't been around when Buffy returned upstairs, but the Watcher's pale and harried face spoke volumes.

*I wonder, did they have divorces in 1880? Or was marriage kind of a life sentence?*

She suddenly felt sorry for him.

They had almost reached their destination when he spoke.

"I think you should know that I do not have any idea how I am supposed to send you back where you belong."

"Huh?" That wasn't what she had expected him to say. *His marriage is going all kablooeee and he's worried about how to send me back?*

"The spell that brought you here," he tried to elaborate. "It should have worked. I did everything according to the Grimoire. I made no mistake. And, as far as I can tell, there is no counter-spell. At least, the Grimoire does not mention a possibility to dispel the effects. That may be because it is itself a counter-spell, meant to repair what has gone wrong."

"That's alright," Buffy said with a shrug. "My friends will get me back. They're good at that kind of thing."

If he believed her it didn't make him look any happier.

"I think you should tell them," she declared.

When he gave her a disbelieving stare she hastily added, "Your family. You should tell your family about, you know, being a Watcher and all that. No more secrets." *Says the Slayer whose middle name is secrets. Buffy Secrets Summers,* she thought with a sudden flash of self-awareness.

Willoughby sighed and silently shook his head.

The carriage slowed and stopped.

"My Watcher got fired once," Buffy said suddenly.

Willoughby looked at her, startled at what seemed to be a total change of subject.

Buffy looked through the curtains. The carriage stood in front of a large sturdy building. She noticed a brass plate outside that read "Diogenes Club - Members only".

She looked at the Watcher.

"The Council thought he had his priorities all wrong," she continued. "He stayed with me, anyway. And two years later we made the Council take him back, meeting our conditions and everything. He even got paid radioactively." *Or was it retrospectively...whatever, he gets my point.* She smiled at the memory of putting the whammy on Quentin Travers. "Make your own rules. It's safer for your family, too."

Willoughby didn't answer. He let her help him out of the carriage. With his arms injured the simplest actions were difficult.

Buffy was surprised when a servant clad in a crimson livery opened the door for them with a flourish. There were several mirrors in the brightly lit entrance passage. A butler took their coats and hats. "Mr. Hartford and the other gentlemen are waiting upstairs," he informed them gravely.

Buffy followed the Watcher up a grand flight of stairs and along a red carpeted corridor.

Everything about the Council's Headquarter radiated wealth and tradition. Dark wood paneled rooms, leather upholstered furniture, darkened portraits of stuffy old men painted in styles long past and the musty smell of books combined to give it a strange mixture of age and agelessness. Buffy could easily imagine that it looked and smelled just the same in her time, except perhaps for better lighting.

And now she was standing in a large room with many little tables and comfortable chairs. It smelled of tobacco and was full of men in conservative suits.

There were at least twenty of them. Not one woman among them.

Hartford waved Willoughby and Buffy inside.

After a few welcoming words and some introductions, and after everyone present had been equipped with the drink and smoke of his choice, Director Hartford asked Willoughby to describe last night's events with as much detail as possible.

Buffy sipped her coffee. It would be her turn to talk soon enough. *Yay.*

***

"Good evening, Mr. Kent," the doctor said. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm a little tired," he said. *Terrified, maybe.* "Not really thrilled with my living arrangements." *Although this is probably better than prison.* "Oh, and the jacket, not a fan of the jacket. It's not really my style and makes it kinda hard to move around." He smiled awkwardly at the nodding doctor. "But other than that," he shrugged. "I'm great."

"Have you remembered your address or perhaps where you were staying during your visit to London?"

"Um...No. Can't remember a thing. My mind's absolutely blank."

He glanced nervously at the detectives. They studied him like he was a wild animal, no, a cockroach that had just crawled out from beneath a rock. Their disgust was palpable.

"Do you perhaps remember how you arrived at the orphanage?"

"What orphanage?"

"Mr. Kent," the doctor said as he leaned forward in his chair. "We found two dead bodies at the scene where you were discovered. What can you tell me about them?"

*Oh no!* he thought in dismay. And: *Two? There were two?* "I was robbed. So...um...I guess maybe the robbers killed those people, huh?"

"Can you fly, Mr. Kent?"

"What?"

"When the watchmen approached, you told them..." he glanced at some paperwork on his desk. "You told them that you arrived by flying."

"Um... I did?" *Sure you did, Xander. You flew. Right over the Cuckoo's Nest.*

There was a knock at door. One of the guards opened it slightly and peered out.

"Doctor Burton, your presence is requested in the East Wing," he said formally after closing the door.

The doctor nodded and stood. "I am regretful we have to end this session so quickly, Mr. Kent. I am sure we can learn much from each other. Although, I am also certain we will be speaking again soon." He smiled cordially.

"Please be sure he is returned to his room," the doctor said as he left the office.

The detectives glared at Xander as he was lifted out of his chair by the bobbies. They practically dragged him out of the office and dumped him into the arms of three waiting orderlies. Now, it was their job to drag him through halls that may have originally been painted white but were now yellowing with age. As they took the hospital's newest loon back to his cage, the orderlies talked.

"So, that's the third this month, right?" the younger man asked.

"That's right. Not a pretty sight, son."

"Really? You saw `er?"

"Aye, that I did. Poor creature, lyin' in `er blood with `er clothes all torn," the older man said, without sincerity.

The younger orderly remained silent for a moment, obviously trying to picture the dead body.

Xander on the other hand tried very hard NOT to think about dead violated women. He was feeling slightly queasy. He didn't really want to hear what these men had to say but found himself listening, anyway.

"Think of it. One of these madmen gettin' out at night?" the older man said. "I'm glad I go home at 8."

"But if he can free `imself, why don't he just try an' run away?"

"'Cause he's a madman! Like this one, `ere," the man laughed.

*Oh just great. Like being locked up in an asylum in 19th Century London isn't bad enough. Now I've got to worry about being pegged a psycho-snack food, too.*

Moments later, Xander was literally thrown back into his cramped room. He looked around his concrete prison and tried to figure out what to do next. He made an attempt to stand, but lost his balance without the help of his arms to support him. Besides that, he was severely uncomfortable and his left bicep was starting to cramp.

"What would Buffy do?" he mumbled. *She would have ripped right out of this stupid contraption and kicked everyone's ass.*

"Okay, I can do this," he said to himself and began squirming around in his jacket. "Just...need...to..." He was trying to bring his arms down and around his bottom. "Ow! Owowowowowowow! Crampcrampcramp! Owowowow!" *Okay, well it was worth a try,* he thought as he stretched out on the floor.

Then, staring at the yellowing ceiling in his tiny cell, still cramping inside his straitjacket, he thought, *Maybe I really died. Maybe this is hell.* He considered that for a moment and then snickered. *Nah, if this were hell, some version of Cordelia would be here insulting me for all eternity.*



Part 22 - Attack of Conscience

"Xander!" Cordelia yelped as she fell backward. A barrage of images assaulted her.

[A criss-cross of iron bars across a small window. A barred door. Screams. Xander, dressed in a straitjacket, his eyes widened in fear. A thin rivulet of blood crossing the floor toward bare feet.]

Angel dropped the duffel bag he was carrying and caught her with practiced ease. The irritated `What's-Spike-doing-here' look was instantly replaced by obvious concern for Cordelia's well-being.

*Oh bugger, we really needed the L.A. Raider and a fainting cheerleader thrown into the mix,* Spike thought.

"What's happening?" Dawn asked, putting into words what everybody else was thinking. Everybody except Spike. He carefully cultivated a `couldn't-care-less' vibe and leaned against the wall, his arms folded in front of his chest.

"It's a vision," Angel answered as he brought Cordy over to a chair. His gaze swept quickly across the battered shop, took in the magical circle on the floor, the bandages on Anya's leg and Buffy's - or rather Maeve's - arm, went past Willow, who looked like death warmed up, passed over Dawn and Tara and rested briefly on Giles, who looked less than pleased to see him.

"Cordelia has visions now?" Dawn said, impressed. "Cool! Looks kinda painful, though."

Angel nodded absentmindedly.

Holding Cordelia steady as another jolt of pain made her flinch, he stole a furtive, almost shameful glance at Buffy. He knew it wasn't her. During their phone, call Giles had confirmed what Cordelia had seen in her vision in L.A.: that this was, in truth, Maeve McKenna, the Slayer he had killed or - from the girl's point of view - would kill. Giles had also expressly forbidden him to reveal that fact to her. *How can I possibly act like nothing happened?*

He found her looking at him and dropped his gaze, guilt rising up in him like bile.

"Who are they?" Maeve whispered into Anya's ear.

"Angel and Cordelia," Anya replied, picking unhappily at the bandage that covered the ugly cut on her leg. "Angel is Buffy's vampire ex-boyfriend and Cordelia is Xander's ex-girlfriend. Angel used to be evil but a curse gave him his soul back and now he's one of the good guys."

Anya was so absorbed in her own problems that she didn't notice Maeve's sharp intake of breath.

[A large room with many cots. Sleepers in hospital gowns, strapped to their beds. A blonde vampire with a ravaged face bent over a woman struggling against her confines. Blood. Fangs. Faces, lots of faces. Confusion. Hysteria.]

"We have to help him!" Cordelia blurted. She tried to stand, but Angel held her in place.

[Wide eyes, terrified. Fangs. Screaming. Howling. Xander. Oh no! Xander!]

"What is it, Cordy?"

There were tears in her eyes. Angel didn't know if the cause was physical pain or emotional. "Tell me."

"Xander," she said. "I know where Xander is."

"He's missing?" Angel asked.

***

After the initial shock of Angel's appearance had worn off, Giles outlined the events to date. While Giles elucidated, Tara cared for Cordelia and Willow.

Angel stared at the letter Giles had handed him, the letter Buffy had written to her friends. ` Keep Dawn safe for me. Please.' Words she had directed at Spike. *How can she trust him with Dawn's life?* He looked up and saw the other vampire smirking at him.

He fought his resentment and tried to concentrate on the problem at hand. "June 1880," he interrupted Giles's summary with a frown, trying to remember what he had done at that particular time. His memories as Angelus were often painfully vivid, but not necessarily linked to specific dates. He caught a warning glance from Giles.

"That's right," the Watcher said. "At least we know the exact date. Sending that letter was very resourceful of Buffy. Quite ingenious, actually."

As the Watcher continued his lecture, Angel couldn't stop stealing glances at the Slayer. She sat next to the miserable looking ex-demon, Anya, and was holding her hand comfortingly. He didn't think Maeve recognized him. It seemed her and Angelus's paths hadn't crossed, yet.

What if she found out that she'd die at his hands? Would she hate him? Of course she would. He wondered if that hatred would seep into Buffy's skin and taint it forever.

He thought of what lay ahead of the young Slayer, once she got back to her own time. *All the terrible things I've done to her and to her family...*

Worse even, if they didn't get Buffy back, if for some reason Buffy were stuck in the past, she'd be the one to die at Angelus's hands.

Angel was only half listening when Giles concluded his dissertation with, "And now, in addition to the swapped-Slayer issue, we have an injured, naked and confused Xander physically trapped in another time period. With Willow incapacitated, our options are limited. Returning spirits to their natural places was a relatively simple procedure, but getting Xander's physical presence back to our time plane is, to say the least, much more complicated and requires an enormous amount of power."

"Power we don't have," Anya mumbled.

Angel nodded. "We're here to help, what can we do?"

"Well, if Cordelia is up to it, we need the details of her visions. It is possible the Powers are trying to tell us how we can repair the damage we've done. And, Angel, if there is anything you can remember from that time, perhaps we can cross reference your memories with Maeve's Watcher's journal..." Giles stopped himself.

Angel's eyes flicked to the Slayer and back to Giles.

"Anya? Are you alright? You look pale," the Watcher observed. "Tara? Do you have a driver's license?"

"Sure, although... I haven't ... I mean, I'm not a great driver."

"Take Xander's car and drive Anya and Maeve to the hospital. Those makeshift bandages won't do them much good. They both need proper treatment. Perhaps Dawn can accompany you. Join us at the house afterwards."

"Hospitals, ew," Dawn made a face but got up anyway and picked up her backpack.

"Will you be okay?" Tara asked Willow. "Maybe you should come to the hospital with us..."

"Don't worry, I'll be fine," Willow assured her. "Finer than fine, I already feel much better, I just need a little rest, that's all. I'll see you guys later."

Tara took the keys from the little pile of Xander's clothes and possessions and offered Anya a supporting arm. Together they walked to the door.

"I do not think I need to see a doctor," Maeve announced calmly. "My body is already healing. I think I should like to hear what Mr. Angel has to say."

"Maeve, I'm not sure that is such a good idea, you really should have a doctor look at that arm of yours," Giles insisted.

Maeve looked at Spike, who had been unusually quiet since Angel's arrival. An unspoken question passed between them. He shrugged and nodded.

"You do not need to send me away. I already know what the Journal says. Spike informed me."

Angel and Giles both turned to glare at the blonde vampire.

Anya, Tara and Dawn had been about to step outside but now they turned around. "I'm not going to hospital so you can discuss things behind my back," Anya declared reproachfully. "Giles, how could you!"

"Yeah right, that's so typical, let's get Dawn out of the way so we can talk about stuff," the teenager said, just as peeved.

Giles sighed.

***

Cordelia was lying on a mat in the training room with a pair of sweatpants tucked under her head. She had a folded wet paper towel across her forehead and her eyes were closed. But when she spoke, there was an energy and a clarity one would never expect from a person who looked so...broken.

"He was in a mental institution," she told the group that was gathered around her. "I saw that place before, in the vision I had in L.A., but at the time I didn't understand what I was seeing. Now I do."

Willow was lying on the couch, but her eyes were open and she was alert. Tara sat solemnly near her feet. Giles was in a chair near the couch with a pencil and pad in hand and Maeve, Dawn and Anya all sat on the floor next to Cordelia. The vampires remained standing, as far apart as the room would allow. Spike was flicking his cigarette lighter open. Closed. Open. Closed.

"Will you stop that?" Angel hissed through gritted teeth.

Spike gave him a defiant stare that plainly read `Make me!' Open. Closed. Open. Closed. He was in a foul mood.

Angel just shook his head and turned his attention back toward Cordelia. Open. Closed. Open. Closed. *Why does he need to be here anyway? Just cause he helped kill a few demons after Buffy...* He didn't really want to go back to that place right now. *Concentrate.*

"I saw Darla. Her face looked like it was burned, but I know it was her. Drusilla was there, and so were you," she said quietly. "You...They were using the hospital as a feeding ground. It was like a nightmare. Those people... they were tied to their beds. They couldn't even fight or try to run away... So helpless!"

Angel wondered if the memory of this horrible vision would etch itself into Cordelia's brain. *What is she thinking of me, now? Sure, she's always known that I've done some terrible things, but knowing and seeing are two different things.* The thought that those images of the past might destroy their friendship terrified him.

"You said you saw Xander," Anya urged.

"Yes. He's there. He's in a straitjacket. He's trapped. There's a barred door, like in a prison. He's scared."

"Can you tell us the name of the institution?" Giles asked as he hurriedly scribbled notes onto his pad.

"St. Luke's," Angel said.

Everyone turned to look at him. "She's talking about St. Luke's." There was a hint of despair in his voice. The mentioning of Darla's ravaged face was bringing back memories of obsession and bloodshed.

"I know St. Luke's," Maeve said. "I could tell you where it is."

"As could I," Spike said. "Willin' to bet our buddy Angel, here, could lead you there blindfolded. He probably still has a key."

"A key?" Giles asked.

Angel looked around at the faces he's known for so long. Willow, Giles, Dawn. And most importantly, Cordelia. *I have to tell them everything.* He shuddered. Talking about the things he'd done as Angelus didn't come easy. "We used to..." he started. "The hospital, it was..."

"...one of many quaint and cozy feeding grounds," Spike interrupted sarcastically.

"We would go there regularly," Angel continued. "Spike is right. I had a set of keys. We made it look like the kills were made by a patient." He closed his eyes reliving the memory. "I don't remember Xander being there," he said, "But it was over 100 years ago. I mean, anything's possible."

Anya moaned in anguish and put her face into her hands. Maeve put a tentative arm round her shoulders and gave her a comforting squeeze.

"Even if you don't remember Xander, the fact that Cordelia saw you all in that vision means that Xander could be in immediate danger," Giles said, furrowing his brow in worry.

Cordelia nodded without opening her eyes.

"I can try..." Willow began as she struggled to sit up.

"No, Willow. Don't," Tara told her, but helped her lover elevate herself.

"You can't possibly," Anya said. "Look at you. You can barely sit up. And you think you have magic powerful enough to open another portal." She shook her head. "This is all your fault, you know."

"But it would have worked," Willow started. "It would have." She was growing agitated. "It's not my fault," she said as she shook her head. "If it hadn't been for the Chronoth demons messing this up we'd have Buffy back by now."

"Willow," Tara said, trying to sooth the upset redhead, "you need to rest."

"I don't care who's fault it is," Giles cut in, his anger still palpable, "Let me make this perfectly clear: from now on there will be no more spell casting unless I say so. We cannot allow for any more mistakes."

"But I..." Willow started. Then her nose began to bleed again. She put a hand to her head and took a deep breath.

"Maybe we should take her to the hospital?" Tara looked at the others.

"I'm fine," Willow said. "I'm fine." She laid back down after glaring momentarily at Anya. "Just let me lie down. I'll be okay. I can still help, you know, read books and stuff."

"No," Giles said sharply. "I don't think so. You need a doctor and you need rest. The same goes for Anya. Tara will drive you both to the hospital." He stifled everybody's protest with a decisive gesture. "Trust me, right now there's nothing we can do for him. We all need something to eat, some rest and some time to think."

***

When they all filed out of the shop, Spike took Tara aside for a moment. "Can you do me a favor?"

"Sure. What is it, Spike?" the blonde witch asked.

He pressed a number of bills into her hand. "Since you're going to the hospital," he mumbled, lighting himself a cigarette, "you might just as well get me the real deal while you're there. This is good for 5 bags of 0 neg. Go to the morgue and ask for Pete, tell him I sent you."

"Oh...um... sure." She put the money into the pocket of her cardigan.

He strode off, but she called after him. "Spike, about what Mr. Giles said..." she said haltingly, "...you know, about you not caring what happens to Xander..."

He stopped and looked at her over his shoulder. "Yeah?"

"I'm sure Mr. Giles knows that that's not true," she concluded. And with that she hurried to get into the car.

Unable to decide whether he should be pleased or put off by this sudden and unasked for vote of confidence, Spike decided to deal with a much more immediate problem, namely how to get to Revello Drive: *Do I hitch a ride with the poof or with the Watcher?*

***

The trip to Revello Drive was passed in silence. When they reached the Summers' house, Spike got out of the car and sauntered to his motorcycle.

"Spike, where do you think you're going?" Giles asked, irritation evident in his voice.

"I'm going for a spin," Spike said, knowing the answer would rub the Watcher the wrong way. He was still angry and hurt by the Watcher's words, though he was too proud to admit it, even to himself. He swung his leg over, inserted the key, and started the machine. It came to life with a satisfying roar, just as Angel and Cordelia pulled up the driveway in their car.

"I thought you had put this kind of irresponsible behavior behind you," Giles said. "Spike, I know you and Angel don't get on well, but that's no reason to..."

"Sod off, Rupert," Spike interrupted him.

He turned the throttle violently and drove off with screeching tires, leaving behind the smell of burning rubber.

***

An hour later, Giles and Angel sat in the living room of the Summers' house, bent over several volumes they had brought along from the shop. Angel was helping with some translations. They were researching the Chronoth tribe and everything they could find out about temporal spells.

They could hear Maeve and Dawn pottering around upstairs.

Cordelia was in the kitchen making more coffee. When the phone rang, it was her who answered.

"Summers' residence... Yes, it's me, Cordelia... oh, good, yes, I'll tell them...hang on." She walked into the living room. "It's Tara. Everybody is fine. But the doctors would like to keep Willow there for a few more hours. Apparently, they want to give her some transfusions, you know, iron, magnesium and all that."

"Tell her to ask Willow for her computer passwords. In case we need to look something up on the Net," Giles told her.

Cordelia passed on the request, listened for a moment then replaced the receiver. She carried the steaming coffee mugs into the living room and sat down.

"So, what's the what with the little stone angels?" she asked, referring to her first vision.

Angel looked up but quickly dropped his gaze again, worried about what he might see in her eyes when he told her. "I used to leave them for her to find, to let her know I was around, hunting her." Grateful that the other Scoobies, particularly Maeve, weren't present he explained, "They were a kind of calling card, because that's what she called me, the first time we met: Angel..."

There was a moment of silence, then Giles, Angel and Cordelia all said it at the same time: "Buffy."

"I think you'd better start at the beginning," Giles said, readying his notepad. "Tell us everything you remember of that first meeting."

Angel sighed. "At that time, in London, there were three of us. Me, Darla and Drusilla," he began his narration. "Oh, and Spike. Although, that was later...I don't remember the exact date when we..."

Cordelia and Giles listened in a mixture of fascination and horror. Neither of them noticed Maeve. She had taken a shower and changed into clean clothes and had caught the beginning of the story on her way downstairs. She sat down quietly on the steps and listened as he talked about his first encounter with her.

"So, the following night, that's the night before the... before we went to St. Luke's, I checked on some informants, asked a few questions. That's how I found out where the Slayer lived. Someone told me there'd be a Council meeting that night. So I knew the Slayer and her Watcher would be out. So, I... I ..."

He swallowed. "The butler tried to turn me away. But the mistress of the house came to see what the commotion was all about, and she invited me in."

Maeve gasped and felt tears rising up. Almost automatically, her hand went to the left sleeve of the baggy sweatshirt she was wearing, where she was carrying a sharpened stake - just in case.

"The butler was the first to die. The woman tried to get away, but... There were two boys. She tried to warn them, told them to lock themselves in their room. I told them I'd kill their mother if they didn't come out... One of them hit me with a cross..." He rubbed his hand absentmindedly.

Angel rose to his feet as the Slayer walked in. He'd been aware of her presence all along. She was pale and trembling. There was a stake in her hand. She was like an apparition, sent to haunt him.

Vampire and Slayer exchanged a look of mutual horror.

"Maeve, no!" Giles exclaimed.

"Wait!" Cordelia tried to move between him and the Slayer with Buffy's face. "He's changed," she said hurriedly. "Angel is not a killer. He saves people. It's his calling..."

"I... If I could undo it, everything I've done, I would," Angel said, truthfully.

"I am the warrior of the people. It is my calling to slay those who would prey on humans," Maeve said after some consideration and with astounding self-control. "To protect, not to wreak vengeance." She slid the stake back into her sleeve and sat down, her hands clasped tightly in her lap.

***

After a few hours of solid drinking, Spike's mood hadn't improved in the slightest. He'd run out of money and when he'd asked for credit he'd been refused. William the Bloody, without credit, that stung.

Angel, on the other hand, was probably drinking the bleeding Watcher's expensive whisky just about now. All civilized, no doubt. Comparing notes on how to fight evil. With Angelus safely hidden under that soddin' soul of Angel's and no mentioning of dead girl friends.

"Bloody Watcher," Spike mumbled, Giles's accusations still in his ear. "Who does he think he is? All high and mighty, thinks he knows me inside out, does he?"

He got on his bike. "If it weren't for Buffy, they could all go to hell, for all I care!" *Except the Nibblet, of course.* He suddenly remembered Tara's kind words to him earlier that evening. *Okay, so maybe not all of them.* He shook his head, trying to shake the knowledge that he didn't wish any of the children real harm, *just the odd humiliation or two, and maybe not even that,* and started the engine.

When would the soddin' Watcher get it into his stupid brain that he had no intention of letting Buffy down?

*Speaking of Watchers...* An idea formed in his head. He grinned. *This should be fun...*

An hour later he had found the right hotel. He rode up the elevator to the twelfth floor and walked along the plush carpeted corridor until he found the right number. He knocked insistently, until finally, the door opened.

Charlie Willoughby stood before him, barefoot, wearing only a pair of jeans and a white dressing gown with the hotel's emblem. He'd obviously been asleep, because he looked slightly crumpled. He squinted at his unexpected visitor. "Mr. Spike! What can I do for you?"

"We need to talk."

"Certainly," Willoughby replied, visibly stifling a yawn, and opened the door to his hotel room invitingly. "Please, come in."

Spike swept past him, his black leather coat billowing behind him. Charlie closed the door behind him. "What can I get you?" he asked and walked to the little fridge. "The mini bar is well stocked, but I can also call room service for tea or anything else you might like."

He froze when he heard the sound of a gun being cocked. He turned around slowly and saw his visitor aiming a double barreled shotgun at him.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, suddenly wide awake.

"What I'd like are some answers," Spike said, inwardly pleased that aiming an unloaded shotgun at the man did NOT give him a migraine. "And I'm not leaving `til I get some."

A few minutes later, Willoughby's arms were tied behind his back with the belt of his dressing gown.

Spike hopped on the bed, and made himself comfortable, using the headboard as a backrest. He crossed his legs casually, put the shotgun down next to him and pulled Willoughby's suitcase towards him.

He rifled through the contents, carelessly tossing the expensive clothes to the floor: clothes; toilet articles; a handful of newspapers, like the `Guardian' and the `Times' plus the latest edition of `National Geographic'; that was it, more or less. Spike wondered how much he'd get for the man's digital camera and laptop computer.

"Okay, mate," he said, closing the lid. "Where is it?"

"I'm sorry, but where is what?" Willoughby replied politely, clearly trying not to antagonize him. He looked scared but tried to hang on to his dignity.

"The other business you mentioned. I bet you have another one of those envelopes for us."

"I... I'm really not at liberty to tell you."

Spike jumped off the bed and strode to where the tied up man was sitting. He lifted him to his feet and dragged him to the window.

"What are you doing? Let go of me," Willoughby squeaked.

Spike smiled as the heady scent of the man's fear hit him. He'd almost forgotten how intoxicating it could be. He opened the window, bent down, gripped the tied man's legs and without much further ado heaved him out of the window.

"No! Oh god...please! Don't let go!" Willoughby blurted out, panic stricken.

Spike held his ankles with both hands.

*I don't intend to drop him. I don't intend to drop him,* Spike chanted rhythmically in the back of his mind.

"If you don't answer my questions, the last bit of business you'll have in Sunnydale will be with the street down there." Spike nodded his head toward the ground. Charles didn't want to, but he looked down.

The sight of the twelve story drop made him dizzy. He quickly looked up again, at the face of his assailant. He was sweating uncontrollably.

Spike smiled at him. It was truly satisfying to see the Watcher squirm.

"How's what's-his-name, that Travers guy? How's the Council," Spike asked conversationally.

"Who? What?" was the terrified reply.

Spike let go of one of Willoughby's ankles. The man squealed and flailed about frantically with his leg before he realized that he wasn't falling. That he was still suspended in the air, held only by one hand that held his ankle in an iron grip. He couldn't understand how that was possible.

Spike used his free hand to find his cigarettes, shake one out of the packet and put it between his lips. "Don't tell me you're not a Watcher, Charlie," he mumbled. "I know the job runs in your family."

"Watcher? No, I mean... I don't know what you mean. What is a Watcher? I'm a lawyer," Willoughby babbled, wondering if this was just a nightmare.

"Oh, a pen-and-paper bloodsucker? I'd be doing the world a favor then..."

Spike lit his cigarette and studied the dangling man. He wouldn't have put it past the Council to try and use this temporal cock-up to their own advantage if they found out about it. But, so far, he hadn't found anything to link Willoughby to the Council. No weapons, grimoires, stakes, crosses or vials of holy water. Nothing that would indicate that Charles Willoughby knew he was paying a visit to the Hellmouth.

For some reason, that Spike couldn't or wouldn't contemplate, the fact that Willoughby wasn't a Watcher made his fear considerably less appealing. He suddenly felt the urge to get this sordid affair over and done with.

"Please, don't let me go," Willoughby pleaded. "You're right. There... there is another envelope. I have instructions to deliver it at a later date."

Spike cocked his eyebrow, gesturing him to go on.

"But you can have it now," Charlie continued hurriedly. "Please, Mr. Spike. Please let me in. This is unnecessary."

Spike pulled a shaking, sweaty Charles back into his room where he collapsed on the floor. The stench of fear was overpowering.

"Thank you," he mumbled. "Thank you."

"Where is it?" Spike asked impatiently. Willoughby told him.

The briefcase looked stout enough to withstand even vampire strength.

"The key?"

Willoughby hesitated.

"You wanna go back outside?"

Charlie Willoughby shook his head and nodded at the nightstand. "Over there."

Spike threw his cigarette butt out of the window and walked to the bed.

`Over there' referred to a little leather triptych, one of those portable things that could hold three photographs. Spike picked it up and studied the pictures for a moment. They were snapshots of three young women. There was a strong family resemblance. They all had the same blue eyes and sharp cheekbones. There was also something strangely familiar about them.

"Your sisters?" He asked his prisoner.

Charlie Willoughby nodded nervously. His still felt nauseated, and he couldn't stop trembling.

"Pretty," Spike said absentmindedly. "Right then," he continued, "If I were a little key, where would I be?" He turned the triptych in his hands and pulled out the photographs. Sure enough, there it was.

Spike grinned smugly and used the key to open the briefcase. Inside was a parcel. He broke the seal and removed the brown paper wrapping. More envelopes, tied together with a string. He browsed through them, reading the names of the addressees and studying the handwriting. For a moment he considered opening them but then he dropped them into the open briefcase. Their existence told him enough. He got up.

His eyes fell on the human. He walked over. Willoughby flinched. Spike bent down and untied his hands. He walked to the mini bar and grabbed a few bottles.

Charlie Willoughby watched him warily. There was something wrong about his visitor. Other than the fact that he was a homicidal maniac. Suddenly, Charlie realized what it was and gasped.

"You... you haven't got a... You're a..." he stopped himself.

Spike followed his glance to the mirrored wardrobe.

"What?"

"You're a vampire," Willoughby said in a strange mixture of awe and fear.

"Yeah. So?"

Spike squatted next to him and passed him a bottle of bourbon. Charlie took it but his hands were shaking too much. Spike unscrewed his own bottle and swapped it for Charlie's unopened one.

*And you're giving me a drink?* Willoughby wondered silently.

They drank.

*He's not going to kill me, is he?* Charlie wondered. But the aura of fury and menace was gone and the man - or vampire? - was offering him another bottle and a cigarette. He accepted, slowly regaining his composure.

"I... I grew up with stories about vampires and monsters," he said nervously. "My Granddad told me stories about his grandmother. How she and her friends fought demons and vampires. I always believed he invented them... I actually told him he should write them down, get a publisher ... I thought they'd make a great television series, you know, like the `X-Files'..."

*Great-great grandmother, ey?*

Spike got up and walked to where he had dropped the photographs. He picked them up and studied them, searching for traces of Maeve in their features. They still felt familiar, but he couldn't be sure.

"Maeve, Elizabeth and Edith," Willoughby said, referring to the pictures, not quite sure why he was volunteering information about his family. Except that he seemed to be in the middle of this remarkable family mystery and that he was hoping to find out more about his strange mission.

Spike wondered - very briefly - if he shouldn't apologize for putting the guy through the wringer. He decided against it.

Vampires didn't apologize. Being a vampire was all about not having to.

*Besides, no one ever apologizes to me, now do they?*

He passed the photographs to Charlie who took them with hands that were still trembling slightly.

*He's still alive, what more could he want?*

"See that you deliver those letters as instructed," Spike nodded at the briefcase.

He picked up his gun and walked to the door. "Welcome to the Hellmouth," he said. And with that, he made his exit.

***

When Spike came back to Revello Drive it was almost dawn. The house was quiet. Most windows were dark, the only lights were those the dining room. Giles and Angel were still bent over books and fax print outs.

"Where have you been, Spike?" Giles demanded to know.

"He's got an invite?" Angel asked incredulously. "Again?"

Spike took off his duster and threw it over the backrest of a chair. Ignoring both the Watcher and his grand sire he made his way to the kitchen and checked the fridge. Five packets of 0 neg. *Bingo!*

Giles followed him. He watched the vampire heat himself a mug of blood in the microwave. The Watcher could smell alcohol on Spike, but since the vampire's movements were sure and deliberate he decided not to comment on that fact.

Also, he was hardly in a position to criticize. After listening to Angel's narration he had raided the kitchen cupboards of the otherwise alcohol-free Summers household and finished off almost half a bottle of cooking sherry that had looked like nobody had touched it since Joyce had passed away.

"I'll be with you in a minute," Spike said impatiently. Giles nodded and went back to his books.

Moments later Spike walked in, chewing on a slice of cold pizza. He sat down as far away from Angel as possible.

Angel put the book he'd been reading in on the table. He tensed. Whenever he saw Spike, he remembered hot pokers searing his flesh.

"Any clue as to how we're gonna get Buffy back?" Spike asked, sounding unusually civil. "Or Harris?"

Giles fidgeted with his glasses. "Yes and no. There are spells we could use, but they require more power than we can muster, or rather unpleasant sacrifices. For some reason, it is easier to send someone into the past than moving someone or something forward in time. The less strenuous or risky spells require someone on the other side to create a matching portal at the right time or to at least point the way - because it seems the portals are not visible from the other side."

"Right then," Spike said. "When do you want me to go back?"

"You can't seriously consider sending him into the past?" Angel exclaimed.

"Well, it's not like we've got many options," Giles tried to explain.

"He's a killer! There's no telling what he'll do."

Spike bristled and was about to protest, but Giles was quicker.

"Oh yes there is," the Watcher said sharply. "He'll grumble, insult everybody, probably expect to be paid..."

"You bet I do," Spike interjected.

"...but he'll do his damnedest to get the job done."

Spike cocked his eyebrows. *Oh? What kind of tune is he singing now?*

"But he's evil. You can't trust him." Angel said. He couldn't believe these people were naïve enough to trust this vampire, just because he'd hung out with them for the past two years.

"He may not have a great deal of regard for humankind as a whole," Giles conceded, "but he'd never let Buffy or her friends come to harm. Like it or not, Angel, he's part of the team. Mind you, a very irritating part, but a member nonetheless. Isn't that right, Spike?"

Spike realized that this was Giles's way of apologizing for his earlier outburst. All this in front of Angel, no less! The Watcher was looking at him. Spike recognized the unspoken question. He nodded. *Apology accepted.*

"Yeah well," he mumbled, "It would get kind of boring without Harris. And I guess the ladies want him back, too."

Angel looked like he wanted to say something but the Watcher silenced him with a grim glance.

"So, it's decided," Giles said. "Unless we come up with a better idea we will look into means of sending Spike after Xander."

Spike looked at the librarian, knowing he should be pleased. Part of him was, but another part of him felt slightly uncomfortable as his thoughts wandered back to a hotel room, to a very scared man. And faster than he could push it away, it reared its ugly head: a tiny, sickening shred of guilt.



Part 23 - If Life gives you Lemons...

The first few minutes of the ride back to the Willoughby household were passed in uncomfortable silence. Buffy sat solemnly, picking at an errant cuticle and the exhausted Watcher gazed out of the carriage window. *Wow, that was fun! And I thought the Council guys in MY day were tight-asses.* After three hours of abuse masquerading as objective analysis, Buffy was emotionally drained. Red tape had a whole new meaning. *How did Maeve put up with this crap?*

Finally, Buffy turned to the Watcher and said, "It wasn't all bad."

He didn't answer.

"I mean, they did say that I looked much healthier."

He turned to the Slayer, she was grinning absurdly. He couldn't help but chuckle.

"How is it you can find anything positive to say after that...that..."he couldn't find the words.

"That carnival of fun?" she suggested dryly.

He puckered his lips disapprovingly. "I'm sorry they were so hard on you," he told her, sounding genuinely regretful.

"No big. See, about halfway through the meeting I decided to hone one of my Slayer skills."

"Oh?" he asked, sounding mildly amused. "Which skill might that be?"

"Deep meditation."

It felt good to be able to make Willoughby smile. Being so formal and orderly all the time must get unbelievably tiresome. After the Council members berated her for failing to kill Angelus, they went on to punish the Watcher for not preparing her properly. If that wasn't enough, they reprimanded him for failing to reprimand her for her failure. Talk about jumping through hoops.

"Anyway, thanks for sticking up for me," she said.

He only nodded.

"Look, Willoughby. I know how hard this must be for you," she said seriously. "This whole switched-Slayer thing. Especially not being able to talk to anyone about it." She pondered for a moment. "Well, actually, I don't know how hard it is because I've pretty much always had someone to confide in."

*What is she trying to tell me?* the Watcher wondered.

"See, what I'm thinking is...maybe you should bring some people into your world. I guess it's a little easier for me because I have friends back home." She smiled, thinking about the Scoobies. "I feel better when I vent to them. They help me carry this awful weight, you know? And they're always there for me. To help patrol or research or just to talk to. And I don't know why that wouldn't apply to Watchers, too. Don't you ever wish you could just talk about this stuff with someone?"

"I do," he answered, somewhat uncomfortably.

"You do wish or you do talk?"

"I speak with Director Bateley on a regular basis."

"He doesn't count," she answered. "I mean someone who's not part of the Council. Someone who doesn't have an agenda. Someone who's just there for you...a friend."

He shook his head, regretfully.

"Consider it," she told him bluntly.

A few more minutes passed in silence. Edward Willoughby looked like he was going to fall asleep any minute. Well, it had been a long and hard day.

"I'm glad Bateley will be okay," she said quietly. She wasn't dealing well with the silences. At home, people were always talking - always chatting. Those last couple of days in Sunnydale she had gotten sick of everyone yapping at her. She had wanted to tell them to go away - to shut up - to leave her alone, already! But now, after enduring these seemingly endless moments of quiet, she would give her arm for a bout of Anya's inane finance talk or Spike's ineffable charm. *Okay, maybe not an arm - but possibly my pinky toe.*

"So what's next?" she asked cheerfully. "Training? Patrol? Breakfast, maybe?"

Willoughby pulled out his pocket watch. "It is three o'clock in the morning! The sun will not rise for hours, yet."

"So?" Buffy grinned. "Is there a rule in the Watcher's handbook about eating breakfast early?"

Willoughby was getting used to Buffy's sarcastic humor, so he answered, "Actually, I think there's a whole section regarding the specific times meals are permitted." He smiled at his Slayer. "But that section is written in Latin."

Buffy chuckled. "After that little seminar, I'm in the mood to break a few rules! Let's be explorers! Have you ever broken into your own kitchen?"

***

The carriage stopped and Buffy helped Willoughby dismount. The man looked tired and in pain. Breakfast was fine, but he probably needed a brandy, first. He was a few years older than Giles, which made him pretty old. Too bad she couldn't share some of her healing powers with him.

"Dawson will still be up. Just knock," Willoughby told her.

Buffy's hand froze on its way to the brass knocker. There was a small stain on the door, no bigger than a pea, but visible enough in the pale glow of the street lights. It was brownish red, like dried blood and it shouldn't have been there. All of her instincts screamed `Danger!'

"Harper! Come down here," she called the coachman. She climbed back into the coach and dug into the secret compartment. "Take this, and look after Mr. Willoughby," she said authoritatively and handed him a crossbow and ammunition.

Harper hesitated very briefly. But he took the weapon and loaded it expertly. Something about him suggested that he had handled combat situations before. "Aye, Miss."

"What..." Willoughby stammered, finally catching on. "Oh dear Lord!" He blanched, looking like someone had knocked the wind out of him. "I have to... oh my god..."

Buffy slung her arm around him, not just to steady him but also to give him some moral support. "There's nothing you can do, Willoughby. But maybe I can. Trust me." *God I hope I'm not making empty promises here.*

"Harper, where's the back door, you know, the door the servants use or whatever?"

The coachman told her and gave her the key.

"Good. I will go inside. Wait ten minutes. If I'm not back by then, take Mr. Willoughby back to the club, you know, the one we just left."

Harper nodded.

Two minutes later, Buffy was quietly slipping through the service entrance into the basement of the house. All of her Slayer senses were reaching out, searching for the unmistakable tingle that meant a vampire was nearby. So far, nothing. The house was deathly quiet.

Stake readied, Buffy quickly checked the kitchen and the servants' dining room. Both were lit but empty save for signs that the servants had been interrupted: half full tea cups, chairs not pushed in...

She checked every door, even though she had no idea where they would lead. Various pantries. Closet. Closet. *Oh, a meat room, ew.* There were hooks in the ceiling from which to hang sausages and hams. That's where Buffy found the lifeless body of Mary, the shy serving girl. The gag was still in her mouth, even though she'd never make another sound. Ever. Her skin was almost white. There were knife cuts all over her body, but hardly any blood. A sheet of paper was pinned to her. It was the sketch Buffy had given the butler, with Angelus's portrait.

Buffy felt cold dread and a sick revulsion.

She continued her search until she came across a door she couldn't open. It was a sturdy door, but someone had tried to break it down. She strained to listen for sounds on the other side, hoping that if there were people behind this door, they would still be alive. She thought she heard someone sobbing, so she started to bang on it. Half crazed with hope, she began yelling and pounding on the door. "Is there anyone in there? Please! Please tell me if there's someone in there?"

"Miss Maeve?" she heard a small frightened voice answer.

"Yes, yes. It's me. Who's in there? Is everyone alright?"

"There are four of us, Miss Maeve," a second, more confident voice could be heard. Buffy recognized the cook. "We're alive, Miss. Just scared. Should we come out?"

"No. No," Buffy said. "Just stay where you are. I'll be back for you when it's safe, okay?"

"Yes, Miss Maeve," was the muffled reply.

Buffy silently crept up the stairs to the main floor. The door at the top of the stairs had been broken down. The hall was dark, but Buffy could make out the shape of another human body, sprawled on the floor, near the main door. She tiptoed closer. Dawson, the butler. She bent down and felt for his pulse. There was none.

She opened the door and slipped outside. Harper lifted his crossbow but then he recognized her. He was guarding Willoughby who was sitting in the carriage.

Buffy walked to the worried Watcher. "Dawson's dead, so is Mary." She quickly outlined the situation.

"Angelus," Willoughby said.

"Yes," she said simply. "I'm sorry."

"I'll send Harper to alert the Council," he stated flatly, trying to deal with the crisis rationally. "They need to get here before the neighbors get curious and someone calls the police."

They wrote a note and sent the coachman off. He drove away at a reckless speed. When Buffy had suggested Willoughby should leave with him, the Watcher had refused. He came inside the house but agreed to stay near the door while Buffy continued her search of the premises.

A quick inspection of the ground floor brought no discoveries, so Buffy quietly walked upstairs.

The door to George's room was slightly ajar. She peered inside the room. It looked undisturbed. Charles's room was next. She was shocked to find the door in splinters. She walked inside, trying to steel herself. The room was wrecked, as if someone had vented his anger on the furniture, but there was no blood, and no body.

The next room was hers. There was a jagged hole in the door, near the handle, about the size of a football. She tried the door. Locked. She listened for a moment. Then she stuck her hand through the hole to feel if the key was in the lock on the other side.

She felt the splash of a liquid on her hand, and instinctively pulled away. At first, she had assumed it was blood, but when she glanced down, there was nothing there. She reached through again, more cautiously and suddenly something was pressed against her hand. She snatched it back through the hole in the door and, to her surprise, found a wooden cross in her hand. One of many that she kept in a trunk at the foot of her bed. Who could possibly be in her room? "Charles?" she asked, tentatively. "It's me, B... Maeve. Are you in there? Where's George? Are you alright?"

"Maeve?" the relief in the boy's voice was evident.

Buffy heard the sound of a key being turned in the lock and of a heavy object pushed across the floor, then the door opened.

"Where is the vampire?" Charles asked. "Did you kill it?" His face was contorted with anger and there were traces of dried tears on his cheeks. There were black smears on his face and his clothes were filthy. He was holding a stake in his right hand.

"It's gone," was all Buffy could muster.

George was curled up on the bed, clutching his bible. He, too, was covered in soot.

Buffy noticed that her trunk was opened and the contents scattered around the room. Holy water bottles, crosses and stakes littered the floor.

"Are you hurt?" she asked Charles.

He shook his head no.

"Your brother?"

"He's... he's fine."

He didn't look fine to Buffy. She approached the bed and sat down next to the terrified child. "George?" He didn't move. "George, your father's downstairs. We should go to him."

"Mother," he mumbled almost inaudibly.

She heard Charles take a deep breath.

"What happened?"

"George and I, we were talking, in my room," Charles began, slowly as if he couldn't believe all this had really happened. "And then we heard Mother screaming, so we went to look, of course, and then we saw him, he wasn't human. He... it had fangs and yellow eyes. It..."

"A demon," the younger boy interrupted, sounding dazed. He was still holding on to his bible, as if his life depended on it.

Charles nodded.

"Mother shouted at me, told us to hide in my room and lock the door, I wanted to help her, but I had to protect my brother..."

Buffy saw the doubt in his eyes. "You did the right thing," she hastened to reassure him. "There was nothing you could have done. If you hadn't listened to her you would both be dead by now. What happened next?"

"It told us to come out, otherwise it... otherwise it would kill her. I... I looked through the keyhole... it..." Charles paused, looking sideways at his brother. That was something George did not need to know, how that vampire had held their mother in an almost perverse embrace, one hand under her skirts, the other muffling her cries; how his fangs had pierced her neck so he could drink her blood, and how that creature had reveled in her fearful struggles. But the worst thing had been the look on his mother's face, the abject terror in her eyes. He balled his fists so hard the perfectly manicured nails were cutting into his palms. "It was a lie, because she was already dead."

Buffy squeezed his hand.

"I heard someone talking..." Edward Willoughby's uncertain voice startled them. "I couldn't wait... Charles, George!"

"Father!"

Buffy watched Willoughby embrace his sons, awkwardly because of his bandaged arms. He was touching their faces as if to make sure they were real. He was crying. Embarrassed, she stepped outside the room to scan the hallway. By now she was pretty certain that Angelus was long gone.

The door to the Willoughbys' bedroom was slightly ajar. A shaft of yellow light stabbed into the dimly lit hallway. A strange sense of foreboding filled her. Listening with one ear to Willoughby asking them more or less the same questions she had asked, and hearing Charles repeat his narration, she slowly walked towards that light.

She knew she didn't want to see what was behind that door, but she had to anyway. She put her hand against the door and gave it a slight push.

The bedroom was lit by dozens of candles. Angelus must have collected them from all over the house. Louisa Willoughby was intentionally positioned in a sexually enticing pose. Her head was propped up on her pillow so her dead eyes were staring at Buffy, accusingly. Her hair had been undone, the blonde curls loosened and artistically draped around her head to give her a slightly wilder, almost dissolute look.

Buffy noticed a little object lying on the pillow next to the body, the way hotels put pieces of chocolate there, for their guests. This wasn't candy, though, this was a little figurine made from carved stone, a cheerful little cherub. An angel.

Buffy wasn't really surprised to find Mrs. Willoughby like that. She remembered the death of Miss Calendar too well. She also remembered its effect on Giles, when he had found her in his bed. For a moment Buffy felt like she was trapped in an endless series of reruns, cursed to relive the same tragedies again and again. And she found herself wishing Willoughby's spell had never brought her here, into this century and into his family.

"God, sometimes I wish I could just walk away," she sighed, putting into words what she'd often thought since she'd been resurrected. "Let others deal with all this. Why do these things always happen to Buffy?"

The sound of her own voice stopped her in her tracks. Spoken out loud, her thoughts sounded so... so... self-involved. She knew exactly what Spike would say to her, if he'd been here to hear her say something like that: "Yeah right, Slayer, so this is YOUR tragedy?"

And he'd be right, as usual. Damn him.

The grief and anger and outrage she felt at Mrs. Willoughby's death was nothing compared to what Edward and his sons were feeling right now. This was THEIR tragedy, not Buffy's. Not. Everything. Was. About. Buffy.

She realized there was at least one thing she could do to make things better for them. She could make sure that they didn't get to see the body looking like that. So, she turned back to the body and took a deep breath to steel her resolve. *This is not the right time to go `ew' and be squeamish girl,* she told herself. She reached out and gently closed Louisa Willoughby's eyes. She bent over the body and rearranged the limbs. Finally, Buffy grabbed the sheet and pulled it over the naked body. Now it looked like Louisa was only sleeping. She blew out the candles and hid a few under the bed, she'd try to remember to see about disposing of them later. She grabbed the figurine and tucked it into one of the sashes of her dress.

Satisfied with what she had achieved, Buffy left the bedroom and went back to Willoughby and his sons. Charles was just telling his father how he and George had crawled up the chimney, hoping that the narrow passage would lead to a flue that also served the hearth in Maeve's room. He had known that Maeve kept weapons in her trunk.

When they had landed in Maeve's room Charles had tiptoed to the door and quickly turned the key in the lock. The vampire had been furious. He had smashed a hole through the door, but when he stuck his hand through it Charles had hit him with a cross.

"I told him I had enough Holy Water in here to fight a whole army of hell spawns like him," Charles said, not without pride, but he was still shaking with the after-effects of shock, fear and grief.

Buffy pulled the boy into a tight hug. "You were both very brave," she said. Then she did the same to George. "I am so sorry I wasn't here to protect you."

***

Victoria Crawford's favorite book was her atlas. She knew the names of rivers, mountains and deserts, of countries and cities she would never get to see. Sometimes she wished she had been born a man. Men were free to travel, to go wherever they wanted. Men learned how to fence and shoot rather than play the piano or to crochet. Men were free to lead a life of romance and adventure.

Well, not all men, obviously, but those who were well-to-do and who didn't have a mother and a sister to look after.

She sipped her breakfast tea and glanced fondly at her brother, who appeared to be deep in thought. There was a faraway look in his eyes. The buttered bread roll on his plate seemed forgotten. As usual, he had an open book lying on the table next to him.

"I wonder how much of the ancient legends is really true...," he mused, images of war-like Amazons fighting on the shores of Troy in his head. "I would very much like to see Greece and Turkey, walk where the Ancients fought..."

"You will," Victoria said. "One day we both will. We could be explorers."

William looked startled. He hadn't been aware that he had uttered his thoughts out loud. He tried to picture his sister in tropical clothes with a sun helmet on her head and smiled indulgently. "So, you want us to dig up old treasures for our livelihood?" he asked teasingly.

He took off his spectacles to clean them.

She smiled back. "I should prefer unearthing Egyptian mummies to marrying an old mummified bank director for his money," she said bluntly, referring to her mother's tenacious attempts to turn her into a suitable and desirable young woman.

"You know Mother only wants what is best for you," he mumbled without great conviction.

"Perhaps I should dress up like a man, with an artificial beard, like Queen Hatchepsut," Victoria said with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, knowing full well that her brother had read everything he could about the woman pharaoh.

They were interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Crawford.

William closed his book and rose to his feet to pull out her chair. Mrs. Crawford took her place at the table and unfolded her napkin in carefully executed movements.

The conversation turned to social events and this afternoon's invitation to the Willoughbys. Mrs. Crawford was of the opinion that such an invitation was not to be taken lightly and tried to draw her daughter into a discussion on which dress to wear.

William finished his breakfast in a hurry. He took his leave from his mother and sister and was about to step outside when there was a knock at the front door. It was a coachman who was delivering a calling card and a letter.

William tore the envelope open and read the contents.

"Oh no," he exclaimed, "Mr. Willoughby sends his regrets, but there has been a tragic death. It seems Mrs. Willoughby had a weak heart. She died last night." He passed the letter to his mother.

He felt more than a twinge of disappointment. He had to admit to himself that he had been looking forward to that visit. The prospect of seeing that strange girl again had occupied his mind ever since young Willoughby had invited them.

He sighed and tried to put all thoughts of Penthesilea out of his mind.

+++

"We were lucky the Council guys arrived before the police did," Buffy said, stirring some sugar and cream into her coffee. *I wonder if Angelus saw us coming home and alerted the police then... just to see a Watcher involved in a murder case.* "Harper must have driven like a bat out of hell."

"He's a good man," Willoughby replied absentmindedly.

It was afternoon. Neither of them had had any sleep. Painful self-recriminations and strong black coffee had kept them awake.

"So, what's going to happen now?" Buffy asked.

Willoughby sighed. "We will do what needs to be done."

They were sitting in Director Hartford's study. He had offered his hospitality to the whole Willoughby family, Maeve included. His house was large enough to accommodate them and three more families besides.

Willoughby and Buffy were currently alone, because Hartford was overseeing Council matters and George and Charles were being looked after by Mr. Hartford's daughter-in-law.

The surviving servants of the Willoughby household had been given paid leave, after two somberly dressed Council operatives had put the fear of God in them. The men had claimed to act on behalf of Queen Victoria Herself and had told the servants under pain of death never to divulge to anyone what had happened last night.

Meanwhile, Council operatives were busy at the Willoughby residence, putting up magic wards in order to de-invite Angelus and removing all traces of last night's murders. The bodies had been removed already. Four in all. Louisa's, Dawson's, Mary's and that of another maid, who had been found murdered in her bed. In each case, a doctor in the Council's employ had certified natural causes as cause of death.

At Willoughby's insistence the Council had agreed to pay a small lump sum to the relatives of the killed servants.

"I could ask my sister to live with us," Willoughby pondered. "Catherine has a little cottage in Sussex but I think she'll come if I ask her to. She is very fond of the boys. I would send Charles and George to visit her, but I'm not sure..." he petered off uncertainly.

"Angelus would find them, and neither of us would be there to protect them," Buffy said. "I think even your sister might be in danger."

They both knew that given half a chance, Angelus would finish what he had started: the complete destruction of the Willoughby family.

"I will sell the house."

Buffy nodded.

"I will get private tutors for the boys. I am not sending them back to school next term."

Buffy nodded again. It was good that Willoughby was making plans. "Will you teach them how to defend themselves, you know, tell them about the Council and all that?"

Willoughby sighed. "Council membership is more or less hereditary. I was going to have Charles initiated, but now I am not certain if that is a good idea."

"Trust me, it is. He already knows you're fighting vampires. Maeve must have told him. You saw how he handled himself. He'll make a fine Watcher."

*And I hope all that training doesn't turn him into a complete asshole.*

"Who will?" a voice sounded.

Buffy and Willoughby started. They'd been too tired to hear the sound of the door being opened. Mr. Hartford stood there, leaning heavily on his cane. He limped inside and took his seat behind the large desk.

*Speaking of assholes...*

Buffy disliked the man intensely, even though he was a generous host. He gave off the same sanctimonious, condescending I-know-what's-best vibe she had always hated about Quentin Travers.

"We were talking about my son, sir," Willoughby replied. "Charles."

"Ah, yes a bright young man, indeed. His initiation might indeed be in order, to make sure he does not go off on some foolish vengeance mission on his own. We can't have civilians attempt vampire hunts without proper supervision."

*Blah blah blah.*

Buffy caught Hartford's disapproving glance and realized she'd actually moved her lips. *Oops.*

"Right you guys, I'm gonna hit the sack," she said, way too tired to concentrate on what she was saying and most of all how she was saying it, "I really need my beauty sleep now, if I'm supposed to go on patrol later tonight. I mean, we all know the world's gonna come to an end if I don't, right? Any prophecies I should know about? Cause if there aren't, I'm just gonna call it a night." She frowned. "Or afternoon. Whatever." She got up and gave Willoughby a quick hug. "Go get some sleep," she whispered in his ear. She swept out of the room, leaving two slightly confused Watchers in her wake.

She found herself in the hallway of an unfamiliar house. She'd been led through the place upon their arrival, but at the time she had been quite caught up in other things to memorize the general layout of Hartford House.

*Bed. Food.* Buffy told herself and nodded. *No, wait. First food, then bed. Yes.* It was close to five o'clock, surely there was a nice buffet full of cake and other comfort food waiting for her, somewhere. If only she could find the dining room.

She opened a random door. No. Another one. *Ooh library!* She took a few steps inside. "Hello?" There was no answer. Too bad. She was pretty sure that Mr. Crawford would have been able to show her the way to the dining room.

She turned around with a flourish but the hem of her dress caught on some piece of furniture and when she pulled, it tore, causing her to stumble against the library door. She heard a muffled cry of surprise and pain and the sounds of various fragile objects shattering on the ground.

"Oh no," Buffy sighed, pulling the door open. "Oh no," she repeated in dismay, as she took in the mess. The broken porcelain, namely cup, saucer and plate, the blob of cream, the wet stain and the white little puddle, that were ruining the carpet. "Oh no," she said a third time, when she recognized the person she had bumped into.

William stood aghast. When the door had hit him, it had upset the tray he was carrying. Not only had he dropped everything he'd been carrying but he had also spilled hot tea all over his jacket. *Ouch.* Tea stains were hard to get out. And surely his employer would be cross with him.

"Oh," he said, as he recognized the ephemeral red head as the cause of his collision. "Oh." He found himself quite at a loss for words. He also realized that this was the second time a meeting with this girl resulted in an embarrassing accident. "Oh."

And then they were talking at the same time.

"I'm... oh my god, I'm so sorry," - "Oh dear, how clumsy of me." - "Sorry, what did you say?"- "I beg your pardon" - "Huh?" - "Goodness me!" - "Here, let me help."

They both knelt down simultaneously to pick up the mess. He held the tray awkwardly and Buffy scraped the cream off the carpet with a porcelain shard and ladled it on the tray.

He looked at her earnestly. "I heard what happened," he said gently.

"You did?" Buffy answered warily. She picked up a squashed little cake and put it on the tray.

"Words cannot express how sorry I am," he continued. "My sister and mother send their condolences, too. It must be especially awful for the boys."

*Sister? Oh yes, Charles mentioned her.*

"We didn't know Mrs. Willoughby had a weak heart."

*Heart? Weak? Oh, right.* "Yes, well, it came as a shock to everybody," she answered noncommittally. *God, I so don't want to talk about this.*

He seemed to sense her reluctance to dwell on that sad subject, but he had to ask, anyway: "Is there something I can do?"

"What?" It came out sharper than intended. She was flustered.

She stood up, almost causing him to drop the tray again. "No. No helping. I mean, yes. Um... where do I find the dining room?"

William decided to overlook her nervousness and escorted her to the dining room. He pulled the bell cord and while he was waiting for a servant to come, he surreptitiously watched as Buffy started piling up enormous amounts of food on her plate.

She sat down and started munching on a sweet little cake. She was absolutely ravenous, having missed several meals since the big dinner party. *Two days ago, was it really just two days ago?* It was hard to believe..

The parlormaid arrived. William quietly exchanged a few words with her and handed her the tray to dispose of the broken china. The girl left, but she returned several minutes later. He took the smaller tray out of her hands and dismissed her with a friendly nod.

Buffy had almost forgotten that she wasn't alone when he put down the little tray beside her.

"I have taken the liberty of having this prepared for you. It always helps me when things look grim," he said awkwardly. He gave her a fleeting smile and left the dining room.

Buffy looked at the little silver pot and the porcelain cup then at the door through which William had just left. She lifted the lid. When she recognized the aroma she found herself smiling, not broadly but smiling nonetheless.

"Thanks," she murmured and poured herself a cup of hot chocolate.



Part 24 - With Plans Like These...

Willow, Anya and Tara arrived home from the hospital a few hours before the rest of the house would begin to stir. The bags under the women's eyes could hold a couple of T-shirts, a pair of pants and an elephant or two. Anya went straight upstairs to hunt for an empty mattress. Willow, bypassing Angel and Cordelia who were currently passed out on the couch, followed Tara into the kitchen where Giles was snoring at the table.

Quietly, Tara began arranging the pancake fixings. "I'll just make some breakfast for the gang and then we can go to bed," she whispered.

Willow pouted. "Why not let them sleep and we can make breakfast later. Or maybe lunch," she grinned.

"How bout brunch?" Tara suggested.

"Whatever. As long as it means we get to sleep now."

"Okay," Tara agreed quietly. She took Willow's hand and they headed for dreamland.

Anya glanced into Dawn's room as she passed and found the teen sound asleep in her bed, with her overprotective blonde babysitter sleeping on the floor beside her. She wandered down toward Buffy's room where she found Maeve, in the Slayer's bed, staring at the ceiling. "You're awake?" she asked from the doorway.

"Yes, Anya. Please, come in." She smiled. "I am glad to see you are back from the hospital."

Anya wandered into Buffy's room and sat down on the side of her bed.

"How do you feel?" Maeve asked.

"Awful," she answered. "I can't stop worrying about Xander. I know what those asylums were like. You wouldn't believe how many women got locked up in madhouses for no good reason. I often wreaked vengeance in their name. And now Xander is in one of those horrible places and I don't know if I'll ever see him again." She would have cried, but there was nothing left in her. "I'm scared, Maeve!"

"I know," Maeve cooed, as she sat up and pulled Anya's head into a gentle hug. The ex-demon allowed the nurturing and curled herself up into the Slayer's embrace where, in moments, she fell asleep.

***

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" Spike chirped into the Watcher's ear. Giles woke with a start.

"What time is it?" he mumbled as he reached spastically around the table in search of his glasses.

"Almost eleven, Rupert," Spike answered. "Chop chop," he said as he produced the Watcher's glasses with a practiced smirk.

"Yes, yes. Thank you, Spike," Giles murmured, irritation evident, as he donned his eyewear. "Is everyone else already awake?"

"I am," Dawn answered from somewhere behind the refrigerator door. "Angel and Cordelia are, too." She pulled out the orange juice and took a glass from the cupboard. "Maeve and Anya are still asleep and I saw Tara and Willow in mom's bed before we came down." She poured herself a cup and set it down on the table across from Giles. "They must've gotten back sometime this morning."

"Yea? I didn't hear them come in," Cordelia said as she walked into the kitchen, looking immaculate after a quick detour to the bathroom. Angel was two steps behind her.

"Was hoping you were still asleep, William," Angel muttered.

"Shame the witches didn't yank the curtains open when they came in," Spike snickered. "Such a beautiful day and all."

Dawn was still in front of the fridge when she asked, "Anybody else want anything?" She glanced around the kitchen. "Spike, do you want a mug?"

"Sure Niblet, thanks."

"Why do I think you're not talking about coffee? ," Angel muttered.

"Cause I'm not." Dawn smiled slyly as she tore open the packet of blood. "Come on, Angel," she said, grinning happily, "I know that you're vampires. I KNOW you drink blood. Like any of this is news." She rolled her eyes as she poured the 0 Negative into a mug and put it in the microwave. "Pulllease."

Cordelia chuckled. "Well, at least she's a good hostess."

***

"First things first," Giles said as he paced the length of the dining room table.

It was near noon and everyone was finally awake, showered and ready to dive into whatever plan the Watcher had concocted. Tara had made brunch. Everyone was snacking on pancakes in the dining room...well, everyone except Angel. Willow and Tara sat close together. The red head still looked extremely haggard. Her eyes were red and her lids looked extra-heavy. Even her movements seemed slower than usual. Dawn and Cordelia were playing `hostess'...refilling coffee mugs and clearing emptied dishes. Spike was wiping up what was left of the syrup on his plate with his last heart-shaped pancake.

"Angel and I found what we think is the right spell to use in order to re-open the portal. In essence, we should be able to use that same link in order for the Slayers to return to their corresponding bodies. It will be tricky."

"You don't say," Spike muttered sarcastically.

"We have to get the timing just right. Essentially, when the portal opens, there should be just enough power for Spike to go through, just as Xander did."

"Will he end up naked too?" Dawn asked, giggling.

All eyes turned to Spike with varying degree of interest. Maeve found herself blushing.

"It looks like the reason Xander lost his clothes and stuff is because the time period won't allow for things that have yet to be invented. Something to do with a temporal signature on a molecular level," Angel clarified. "It's not like the portal automatically strips you naked, Dawn." He smiled at Buffy's sister.

"So if I could get a hold of some 19th century digs," Spike asked.

"Then you should be okay, yes," Angel finished.

"And I have a pocket watch for you," Giles mentioned. "It's at the shop, we'll be sure to get it for you before we perform the ritual."

"Goody," Spike chuckled. "I get to hold a real Watcher's watch."

"It's a family heirloom," Giles continued. "But it works and keeps time properly, so you should be able to keep track of how long you've been there."

Angel shook his head. *How can they possibly trust him with something so important?* he wondered. *Lives are at stake.*

"What if he forgets to keep track and isn't ready when we reopen the portal," Angel asked, his skepticism obvious.

"Then we have a problem," Giles answered simply.

Spike didn't look the least bit perturbed by his answer.

"Perhaps we can set up an alternative time to perform the spell in the event that Spike cannot make it to the first portal," Maeve suggested.

"Yes, brilliant," Giles answered. He scribbled something onto his notepad.

"Where are you going to get Spike's new...old clothes?" Dawn asked. "Not like you can just stop off at the mall."

"You could try the wax museum," Cordelia offered.

"Sunnydale has a wax museum?" Dawn asked.

"Sure, Dawnie," Willow answered. "Sunnydale has everything...an airport, a mall, a magic shop, a river, a couple of high schools...we even have our very own hellmouth."

"I certainly can't go shopping myself," Spike said. "Not in this lovely weather. Maybe you could go swipe something from the museum for me, ey, Li'l Bit?"

"Sure," Dawn smiled, giddy.

"No way," Tara said. "You will not be stealing for Spike. O-or anyone else for that matter. Stealing is bad."

"Oh, come on," Dawn snickered. "It's for a good cause."

"M-maybe we can ask to borrow some clothes," Tara suggested.

"Not bloody likely," Spike said.

"Well, someone's got to go," Angel said.

"I will go," Maeve offered, even though the thought of breaking the law caused a knot in her stomach.

"I'll go, too," Anya said. "I want my Xander back." She looked much better this morning.

"Me too," Willow said. "I can magic the locks open." She smiled.

"No," Tara said. "You need to rest. I'll go."

"But Tara."

"No buts, I'll go."

"How come it's okay for you to steal, but not okay for me? I want to go."

"Dawn, it is not okay to steal," Giles told her. "And you will not go because we do not want to put you in danger."

"Yeah. Poor little Dawn. She's too young to help out. She can't take care of herself." The teenager rolled her eyes. "Look, if it'll make you feel any better, we can leave money for whatever we take." She folded her arms across her chest defiantly.

"You are not going and that is final," Giles state authoritatively.

Dawn mumbled something incoherent under her breath and then stormed up the stairs to her room. A moment later, there was the sound of a slamming door.

"Okay, that's settled then. Anya, Tara and Maeve will go to the wax museum," Giles began.

"None of that high collar nonsense. God, those were uncomfortable. Don't want a cravat either. They're too hard to tie. Get me some good stuff. Ya know, dark waistcoat, dark jacket...like Jack the Ripper," Spike interrupted.

"That's an upbeat and pleasant thought," Cordelia murmured.

"Oooh, and a cool hat," Spike added.

"You'll never change," Angel said, shaking his head.

"While you're out, Angel, Cordelia, Spike and I will plan the timing of the ritual and set up all of the details."

"What about me?" Willow asked. "I want to help." She caught Tara's warning glance and added hastily: "Not in an exhausting spell-cast-y way, obviously, but, hey, even without the magic I have a brain you can pick, not literally of course, and I'm still good with the books and stuff."

"There will be plenty of work for everyone," Giles stated.

"I can't believe they're gonna steal from a museum," Angel said with a shake of his head.

"Yeah, I'm utterly shocked," Spike grinned. "Disgraceful, innit?"

"Please note that I do not condone theft," Giles said, slightly amused. "We will return the clothing to the museum when Spike returns."

"If he returns," Cordelia amended.

Everyone just turned to look at her.

"Excuse me! Trust issues aside, you do remember Spike's less than impressive success rate of late, don't you?" she griped. "Not that I'm superstitious or anything, but he seems kinda jinxed since he came to Sunnydale. Hello? How often did he fail to kill Buffy? Not that I'm complaining. But what makes you think he'll succeed at anything else he tries?"

"Hey!" Spike exclaimed indignantly.

Cordelia ignored his interruption. "For all we know he could end up god knows where and god knows when."

"That's just a risk we have to take," Giles said decisively. If he shared Cordelia's misgivings he was good at hiding it.

"Besides, I'm not that easy to get rid of," Spike added with a scowl.

"Now, that I readily believe," Cordelia said.

"Shall we go now?" Maeve asked, trying to change the subject.

Tara nodded. She kissed Willow's cheek before the three girls headed for the door.

"Be careful," Giles told them.

The girls walked out into the sunshine as Spike called after them, "And I don't like tweed!"

***

"So ladies, shall we go shopping?" Anya asked her escorts as they arrived in front of the old and peeling building. She was suddenly feeling giddy with the thought of doing something illegal.

"I-I've never stolen anything before," Tara murmured.

"Don't worry," Anya encouraged her. "It's not really stealing if we're going to return it. And besides, we're doing this for Xander."

"Yeah, I guess," Tara answered, unconvinced.

She was concerned about Anya's attitude toward something as serious as breaking the law. *I guess when you deal with demons and hellbeasts on a regular basis, the threat of jail time just doesn't invoke much fear. Besides, I'm sure Anyanka's done way worse that lift a new outfit or two.*

"Is there a plan?" Maeve asked.

"Let's just pick out what we want first," Anya said. "Then we can plan."

"I just don't know," Tara said as they wandered in through the front door.

"Oh stop being so negative," Anya chastised. "It'll be fun! We'll bond over petty theft."

Maeve smiled.

There was a plain brown welcome desk sitting in the center of the small lobby of the museum. On the phone, behind the desk, sat a twenty-something woman with glasses and a bad perm. She was chewing on the back of a pen as she chatted up the person on the other end of the line.

Tara, Anya and Maeve stood quietly waiting for the "receptionist" to greet them. Anya wondered silently why it seemed so many companies chose the most rude and obnoxious employees they could find to be greeters. *I'm always pleasant to Magic Box customers.*

"And so Billy told her she was getting to fat," the woman droned. "And that's when I said..." She finally looked up at her visitors and said into the phone, "You know what? Hold on just a second." She cocked her head at her visitors as if this was the first time anyone had ever stepped foot into the museum during her term as receptionist . Perhaps it was. "Can I help you?" she asked.

"Yes, hi," Anya said. "We're just here to look around at your merchandise. We won't be taking anything, just looking."

"Uh yea," Tara interrupted. "I have a history thesis I'm writing. I-I'm here to do some research."

The lady with the bad hair didn't seem to care in the least. "Five bucks each." She was still holding the receiver a few inches from her head.

Tara reached into her backpack to get the fifteen dollars. She handed over the cash.

"Enjoy," the woman said and nodded her head toward the double doors behind her before she returned her full attention to the Billy-issue.

They wandered through the swinging doors into a world that was cold, dark and eerie. Shiny, sweating wax statues glared at them through glass eyes. Anya was dizzy with excitement. "This is going to be so easy," she said as she skittered past the velvet ropes onto the nearest display - an odd arrangement of the Three Stooges in jailhouse uniforms. "There's no one even here." She pulled on the waistband of Curly's pants and peeked in. "Not anatomically correct," she grinned. "If you were curious."

Maeve blushed. She affected a shocked expression but the corners of her mouth were twitching.

"Stop it, Anya," Tara whispered. The red velvet ropes made her uncomfortable. "Let's just find what we need and get out of here."

"Look, I'm the victim here," Anya said with a pout. "It's my Xander who's got himself trapped so if my cheering up takes the form of groping wax figurines, well then so be it." She stepped back over the rope and onto the main path of the museum.

Maeve looked around with a combination of awe and amusement. "I have only ever been to one museum like this before, in London. But these sculptures look so...so real!" She leaned over a rope to get a closer look. "I want to...I want to touch one."

"Go ahead, Maeve," Anya suggested. "Who's gonna stop you?"



Part 25 - ...Who Needs Enemies?

Living in an asylum was enough to drive anyone nuts. If being treated like an animal didn't do it, the audio accompaniment surely did. There was never a moment of quiet. There was mumbling, wailing, high pitched shrieks, ranting, swearing - night and day. It was a constant din that grated on the nerves.

The smells were just as awful, permeating everything. Xander had been deloused, but judging from the state of the other patients - *Patients? Prisoners!* - personal hygiene was very low on the list of priorities, here. They smelled and looked like they hadn't seen a bathtub or shower in weeks. Or a razor. Or a toothbrush. *Have they even been invented yet?* What was high up on that list of priorities was discipline. The attendants did everything short of killing the patients to strike terror into the hearts of their charges.

Dr. Burton had called St. Luke's an asylum for the criminally or murderously insane, but from what Xander had seen during meal times there only very few inmates fell into that category. There were many frightened looking grannies and grandpas who Xander thought belonged into a decent old people's home and not in here - Alzheimer or no.

Twice already, Xander had been herded into a large crowded dining room to be fed on gruel that looked and smelled so hideous, he wouldn't even consider using it as fertilizer let alone swallowing it. He wasn't allowed to eat on his own, but was forced to sit at the table in his straitjacket. Another inmate, a filthy looking woman with a distant stare in her eyes, who (like many of the other female patients) seemed to be several months pregnant, shoveled the food into his mouth in a great rush. All the meals were conducted at breakneck speed.

Xander had tried to refuse breakfast, causing the woman to wail in distress, as she tried to force the spoon between his lips. The matter was dealt with quickly. An attendant walked over.

"Shut up, Molly, you stupid cow," he growled.

He grabbed Xander's head by his hair and smashed his face down on the table. Xander only just managed to turn his head enough to keep his nose from being broken.

"Eat," was all the orderly said before releasing him.

Xander could feel blood running down his face from a split eyebrow. His head hurt. He stared wildly around. *This can't be happening...* No one had taken any notice.

Another patient, a thin man with open sores, gave him a toothless smile. "You better eat up," he giggled, never ceasing to wolf down his own food, "cause if ya don't they're gonna force it in ya through yer nose, mate."

At that Xander had opened his mouth and had allowed himself to be fed. He tried to pretend it was oatmeal. *Mmm. Yummy oatmeal with cinnamon.* Gag.

Between meals there was nothing else to do but stare at the wall or walk around in his little prison cell. He tried, to no avail, squirming out of his straitjacket. He didn't even come close. At least he knew it could be done. Theoretically. *Houdini did it, and Mel Gibson in 'Lethal Weapon 2' did it, too - although he had to dislodge his shoulder to do it and let's not try that at home, children...*

He studied the jacket more closely. It looked different than the ones he'd seen on television. His arms were dressed in long canvas sleeves and encased in stiff leather cuffs. They were folded in front of his chest.. The cuffs were fastened with straps and buckles behind his back, but there were also some buckles at the front. *Now, if I were able to reach those buckles with my teeth...* But it was no good. Not with the way his arms were folded...

After a while, he just gave up. Occasionally he scratched at the dirt on the floor with his foot making childlike drawings of stick figures and houses.

In the afternoon there was another interruption of his panic tinged boredom. He was dragged into medical quarters for a brief examination. The bandages on his foot and arm were changed. During this time the straitjacket was removed. He tried to get a good look at the way the cuffs were buckled, without letting his interest show.

Then it was back to his cell until his next fleeting reprieve, namely another instalment of 'don't think about what's in that gruel.' By the time the attendants unlocked his cell to haul him to the dining room for dinner, Xander felt ready to snap. All he had been able to think about all day had been his fervent wish that Buffy would please please please come and get him out of this. She just had to save him. It was turning into a mantra, sometimes he even found his lips moving. He was trapped in a nightmarish version of Silence of the Lambs meets Papillion meets Alcatraz. Only without the prospect of escape. *Enjoy your stay at the Chamber of Horrors!* he said to himself, giggling slightly. He heard himself chuckle; it wasn't a pleasant sound. *I really am going crazy.*

All the horrors the Hellmouth had thrown had them: zombies, sadistic vampires, life sucking mummies, the Gentlemen, demon-y body snatchers, insane hell gods... nothing had ever frightened Xander as much as this place. Because, surely, this was hell.

***

"The girl is different." Director Hartford mused, sipping a brandy.

"That was to be expected, if I may say so," the other man replied. "Most Slayers are affected by the Cruciamentum. That is why we are evaluating her recent actions."

"I was not referring to the ordeal and its consequences. She uses strange language. Her behavior is quite unusual. Also, she clearly has no respect for her elders or the Council. I believe she may be possessed. She may, in fact, be our enemy."

"Are you suggesting that she came to an agreement with Angelus and his spawn?"

"It is a possibility we should not dismiss lightly." Arthur Hartford opened a little casket and took out a cigar. He sniffed it then rolled it between his fingers listening for the rustle of the tobacco.

"Remember what the doctor said," his son reminded him. "No more cigars."

The older man frowned. "Don't be inane, Richard. I have fought vampires and demons. A cigar is not going to be the death of me." He used silver clippers to cut off the end.

With a sigh Richard Hartford brandished his lighter and lit his father's cigar.

"We should await Director Bateley's testimony before making a decision," Director Hartford continued as blue fumes surrounded him. "According to the physician's report, he will not get the use of his voice back, but he should soon be capable of submitting his report in writing."

"What about Willoughby?"

"Once we have Bateley's report we will summon Willoughby for closer questioning. I think he may have all the answers we need. And we will get them, I will see to that."

Involuntarily, Richard Hartford shuddered.



Part 26 - All the World's A Stage

"We should be able to get the supplies together in time for you to be sent through first thing tomorrow morning," Giles said.

"Hey, I'm all for going back to my beloved death-place and all," Spike said, "but landing somewhere with blue skies under the hot, bright, English sun is not really at the top of my list."

"Oh, come on, William," Angel said. "It's at the top of mine."

"That is a concern," Giles said.

"No it's not," Willow interrupted. She was lying on the couch eavesdropping on the conversation in the kitchen. Dawn was watching TV from the floor in front of her. "I actually still have a kind of remote link to Buffy," she said as she stood carefully and made her way into the kitchen. "I can kind of feel what's going on around her. Nothing very substantial or specific, but enough to know that it's daylight or dark. Tomorrow morning should work out perfectly, actually."

"Oh," Giles said as he poured himself a cup of tea. "Well, thank you, Willow." He smiled at the witch before turning his attention back to Spike, Cordelia and Angel.

"The next issue at hand is the lack of power. Willow is a very strong witch and it will be difficult to match the level of power she used the first time the portal was opened."

It was hard for Willow to hide her self-satisfaction.

"I can perform the ritual, but I do not have the magical strength that Willow possesses," Giles continued.

"What about Willow's friend, Tara? She can help, right?" Cordelia asked.

"Even still," Giles commented as he ran his finger down the length of the page in front of him. "I'm uneasy about the possibility that we will not be able to keep the portal open long enough for Spike to pass through unharmed."

"How bout our vengeance girl?" Spike suggested. "I'd wager she's got some powers left in her yet."

"Anya," Giles agreed. "With the three of us..."

"This just might work," Cordelia finished the sentence for him.

"Alright, so I go through. Get Xander out of his mess and then meet up with the Slayer?" Spike asked.

"Yes. We'll have to set up two separate liaisons at specific times and places in order for you to return to Sunnydale."

"Preferably at night or indoors," Spike added.

"Spike?" Angel blurted suddenly. He nodded towards the door. "We need to talk."

"Sure, Peaches, what's on your mind?"

"In private?"

Spike rolled his eyes, but stood and followed the other vampire out into the dining room. When they were out of earshot, Angel grabbed Spike's shirt and pulled him forward harshly so their faces were inches apart. "I don't know how you managed to fool Giles. He, of all people, should know better than to trust you. But you can't fool me," he whispered to Spike malevolently. "I know you. What's to stop you from wreaking havoc once you're in London? Do you really expect me to believe that you'll waste your precious time doing something that doesn't benefit you?"

"I don't care what you believe," Spike chuckled, refusing to be intimidated. "Nobody asked for your opinion, Angel."

"It doesn't matter what Giles says, William," Angel declared. "You're not going. Not until I'm convinced that you'll behave yourself."

Spike didn't try to free himself from the angry man's grip. Instead, he simply returned the accusing glare. "I don't have to prove myself to you."

"Oh yes you do." Angel tightened his grip on Spike's shirt.

"Sod off!" Spike snapped, losing his patience. He tried to brush the older vampire off but Angel shoved him backwards and pinned him against the wall, dislodging a photograph of the three Summers women.

Angel stared at the younger vampire, unwilling to believe that this might be the face of Buffy's rescuer. *If he betrays us or if he fails, Buffy will die in a time not her own, away from her friends. And she'll die by my hands.* That thought made his legs feel weak, but he managed to keep his face impassive. Barely. "It's up to you, Spike. Convince me you're on the level and you can go and play Dr. Who. Piss me off and you'll fit into an ashtray," Angel told him harshly. His voice was barely a whisper, but the anger in his tone was palpable.

"What do you want him to do? Swear on a Bible?"

Both turned to face Cordelia who was standing in the hallway. They stared at her with a mixture of surprise and confusion.

"For beings with such acute senses, you guys certainly don't notice much." She smiled.

"How long were you..." Angel started.

"Look, we all know Spike's a screw up," she said.

"Hey!" Spike interrupted.

"...and that incident with the hot pokers? We know he wouldn't receive a sparkling recommendation..."

The two vampires shared a look of mutual dislike.

"...but I trust Giles. If he says Spike will get the job done, then I'm all for it," she continued.

Angel released his grip. "But..." he said.

" Could you stop fighting for a minute, and spare a thought to the problem at hand? Cause if I wanted to hear some self-righteous egocentric crap I'd rather get it from Buffy."

"But..." Spike started.

"This giant cloud of testosterone is really not good for my complexion. Do vampires even have testosterone? Whatever." She rolled her eyes and headed back toward the kitchen. She turned back to the slack jawed vamps to add, "Now hug and shake hands or whatever it is you do and get your asses back in here."

They turned back toward each other, awkwardness evident. "Hmm," Angel expressed confusion.

"Look, what she said," Spike said. "Okay?"

Angel just nodded. "Just bring them back Spike." It was more of plea than an order.

"Will do."

***

"I wonder if there are any sculptures of someone I know," Anya said cheerfully.

Tara and Maeve exchanged worried glances. The ex-demon was trying so hard to be brave, useful and optimistic, it was getting kind of grating.

"Someone you know?" Tara asked patiently, but with an inward sigh.

"Yes, I know lots of famous demons. Many had sculptures created for them. I should have gotten a sculpture," she pouted. "But no, instead Hercules - I'm a god, worship me - decided he needed a few marble statues of himself. He took up all of Puget's time. Narcissistic bastard." Anya made a face. "I was even in France when Fred built the famous sculpture of Bernice."

"Bernice?"

"Yes, she was a demon. Nice girl. She ate people."

Maeve gasped. "She was a vampire?"

"No. She was a Carackphlar Demon. She didn't drain their blood or anything. She ate them whole," Anya said indifferently. "But she didn't eat important people. Mostly homeless people or drunks. She would sometimes even get tipsy after devouring an alcoholic," she laughed. "I remember this one time, after she ate a foul smelling sailor, she..."

"Anya," Tara interrupted her reverie.

"Right, that's not the point. I was explaining about Bernice. Well, Fred was trying to convince her to leave Paris. He promised he'd build a statue of her and send it over to the Americas where people would come and sacrifice themselves to her. He convinced her that New York Harbor would be an all-you-can-eat buffet."

"The S-statue of Liberty?" Tara questioned, appalled.

"Yea, can you believe it? Fred pretended it was a gift for the U.S.," Anya snickered. "When it was really just a bribe to get Bernice out of Paris."

"The Statue of Liberty?" Tara repeated incredulously.

"Yes. You know, `Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses ...blah blah... I'll eat them all and you'll never have to worry about them again.'"

"Oh," was all Tara could muster.

"So anyway, I'm going to see if there's anyone I know." Anya smiled and hurriedly turned the corner.

Moments later there was a shrill squeal.

"Anya!" Maeve ran toward the scream. "Anya, what happened?"

Anya was standing in the aisle with her hands over her eyes. "It's dead right? Or it's fake?" She was hyperventilating. Maeve bent down in front of Anya. "Are you okay?" she asked. "What is wrong? Are you hurt?" Anya was just shaking her head.

Tara looked at the display Anya was turned away from. It was a sculpture of a magician in a tuxedo holding a top hat with his left hand. In his right hand he was pulling something from the hat... "A bunny," Tara chuckled. "It's not real, Anya. It's okay." To Maeve, she said, "Rabbits. Anya's afraid of rabbits." Maeve simply nodded.

Tara walked further down the aisle as Maeve comforted the frightened ex-demon.

"Why would they put something so horrible in a museum?" Anya was mumbling. "Children might see it!"

She glared back at the offending wax figure.

"Hey guys?" Tara interrupted. She waved them over to where she was standing. "Do you hear that," the witch asked.

"Hear what?" Anya echoed.

"Shh, listen," Tara answered.

There was an indistinguishable murmur. As if many people were all whispering at once. They continued down the aisle slowly, listening as the murmuring grew louder. As they rounded another bend, they found themselves looking into the central room of the museum. It was a large circular room filled with dozens of displays, all roped off from the center of the room. There was a large sign reading "New museum additions". The room was filled with people. There were three large groups of middle school-aged children, a tour group of senior citizens and a few random couples wandering from exhibit to exhibit.

"Guess we're not alone," Anya muttered unhappily.

"What are we going to do?" Tara asked.

"We're not going to be able to check all of these figures for anatomical correctness, that's for sure."

"Anya!" Tara reprimanded.

"We'll just have to look around until we find something suitable for Spike to wear and then perhaps you can create a magical wall around the display so we can take it without anyone seeing," Anya said. "I'll be sure to leave a note letting them know the clothing will be returned in a few days."

"How will I put up a wall without people n-noticing?" Tara stuttered.

"Why do I always have to think of everything?" Anya asked. She sighed dramatically. "I suppose we will just have to create a distraction when the time comes."

"A distraction?" Maeve sounded worried.

Anya nodded, as if certain she had made the right decision and then strutted purposefully to the first exhibit.

"Samuel Morse invents the telegraph," Maeve read the display description. "Morse Code," she said. "I know Morse Code."

"You know Sam didn't really invent Morse Code," Anya explained. "Morse Code is really the language of the Samoy Clan. They communicate by clicking. I can't believe he took the credit." She shook her head.

"Oh neat," Tara said. "The Addams Family. I used to love that show when I was a kid."

"You know, Tara," Anya began.

"Don't tell me, Grandpa was a real vampire, right?" Tara asked.

"Oh god no!" Anya replied. "They would never let a real vampire on the set of a TV show."

"Then Morticia was really a witch?"

"No," Anya said. "I was just going to tell you that I dated the actor who played Thing."

"The hand?"

"Oh, he was more than JUST a hand," she said, smiling slyly.

***

"I wish to go over this one more time before the girls return," Giles said.

"Okay," Cordelia started. She had been taking notes throughout the discussion and was ready for the review. "Tomorrow morning, you..." she directed her pen at Giles, "Tara and Anya will work your mojo and open up the portal."

"I'll dive in," Spike added.

"And then in precisely forty-eight hours, you will open another portal in the same space."

"I'll reach through and make the portal all glow-y so you can find it easier," Willow said.

"And me and Harris can jump right back into the future, right?"

"Yes," Cordelia answered. "Then Maeve should be able to reach through and take Buffy's hand..." she looked at Giles. "And then what? How will we know if it worked?"

"It will work," Willow assured her. "And we'll know."

"And the contingency plan?" Angel asked morbidly.

"If, by some chance, Spike is unable to make the determined meeting in forty-eight hours, we will open the portal again in another twenty-four hours," Giles answered. "That should be enough time to find Buffy and get to the location at which you were first dropped."

"Wherever that may be," Spike muttered.

"Guess you could always send us another letter if you need to," Cordy suggested.

"There's no guarantee it will be delivered on time, or at all," Giles cautioned.

"Don't worry, Rupert," Spike said. "I'll be on time."

***

"This looks right," Maeve exclaimed, thankfully interrupting Anya's dissertation on all the things a disembodied hand could actually do.

Maeve was standing before an exhibit entitled "Through the Looking Glass, Authors and Poets of the 19th Century".

The name under the first author was "Charles Lutwidge, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll".

"How boring," Anya said.

"He wrote the story `Alice in Wonderland'," Tara clarified for the others.

The ex-demon inspected the display more closely. "No one will mind if we take his clothes. Anything to make this exhibit more interesting would be a good thing. Tara, get read to put up a wall."

Maeve suddenly became extraordinarily antsy. "What are you going to do, Anya?" She glanced around at the room full of unsuspecting patrons.

"Xander always gets distracted when girls take their tops off," Anya suggested. "Perhaps I should?"

"No!" Tara and Maeve shouted in unison.

People turned at the sound of their outburst.

"Uh...uh....NO!" Tara shouted again, scrambling for an idea. Then she noticed one of the girls in the group next to them was wearing an N'Sync backpack. Lightbulb. "No," Tara repeated a third time, "Justin Timberlake doesn't want to sign autographs. He's only here to they can cast his face for the N'Sync exhibit."

Maeve had no idea what Tara was talking about but she was smart enough to notice the reaction of the children in the museum. "Oh, the in sync exhibit," Maeve repeated, unsurely. "The one they're setting up back there?" She pointed to a hallway in the back of the room. Suddenly, a throng of twelve-year-olds rushed toward the hallway. Teachers scurried after them, trying to keep order. In moments, the girls were left in the central chamber with just a few museum patrons.

"What about them?" Maeve whispered to Anya.

"I'll distract them," Anya said. "Tara, when I have their eyes diverted, put up some kind of magical barrier so they can't see us strip Mr. Carroll."

She began wandering over to area where the remaining people where gathered.

"Whatever you do, don't take your clothes off," Tara whispered after her.

Tara and Maeve waited nervously near the exhibit while Anya pranced over to the "Elvis" display. She stepped over the velvet rope and approached the hunka hunka burning love. Several of the remaining patrons turned to watch the spectacle.

"Attention everyone," she said and clapped her hands loudly. "Attention please."

People began to gather in front of the Elvis display.

"He was a handsome man with a promising career," she began. "It's a shame I had to curse him." She shook her head. "You know famous people are cursed all the time," she told them. "It's unfair, really. They're spotlighted, so when they make a mistake, everyone knows about it." She peeked into his sparkling sequence bell-bottoms. "Not anatomically correct." The crowd laughed.

Tara began to chant quietly. Maeve watched in silence.

"He should have been nicer to Priscilla," Anya explained. "But, like many men - not like my Xander - he ignored her and was constantly traveling. She was lonely. Then she began to suspect him of cheating. I told her I'd check into it for her. I know what you're thinking? I couldn't be older than twenty-one." She smiled. "But it's amazing what plastic surgery can do these days."

She paced the length of her stage as she lectured. Tara's wall was almost complete, it was still fluttering in and out of reality, but soon it would solidify.

"After they finally got divorced, it was easy to get her to start wishing." She smiled, remembering. "It was fun. She wished he would get so fat, no women would want him. Of course, she had no idea I was granting her wishes..."

Anya noticed the wall was up so decided to conclude her story. Tara had created a fake partition with the words, "This exhibit under construction" stenciled on the front. Perfect.

"And then she wished he'd drop dead and that's the end of the story," she said and hopped off the small stage. Several members of her make-shift audience clapped. Others just looked at her with a mixture of fear and puzzlement. But at least she had kept them occupied. *I like being the center of attention,* she noted. *I should do this more often.* Just then an older man in a security guard uniform approached the Elvis exhibit.

"Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to come with me. You're creating a disturbance," he told Anya.

Maeve and Tara hid behind their magic wall.

"But I was only entertaining the patrons," she told him. "This is a very boring facility. I was just trying to make it interesting."

"Please just come with me," he repeated. "I'll show you to the exit."

"I don't know why you're kicking me out. It's not like I'm doing anything bad like breaking your displays or stealing expensive items."

Tara began pulling the clothing off of the wax figure and stuffing it into her backpack.

"What about Anya?" Maeve asked.

"Hopefully she'll make enough of a scene that we can take the wall down without anyone noticing."

"What about the note?"

"What note?"

"Anya wanted to leave a note explaining that we will return the clothing."

Tara pulled out a pad and pencil and scribbled a quick note. "IOU Mr. Carroll's clothing."

"But I was just telling a story. Museums are old and dusty and boring. I think you should hire me to tell stories at each exhibit," Anya was explaining to the security man as he grabbed her arm in order to drag her back toward the lobby.

"Listen to me, Mister," she continued. "I have a store myself. I know what sells. This place could be raking in the money if only there were some form of entertainment."

Finally done, Tara took a quick glance around the wall and noted that the Anya-spectacle had escalated into a scuffle between her and the security man. Anya was trying to pull her arm away while swatting the older man with her tiny purse. "Let me go," she yelled. "Get your hands off me!"

Tara quickly dropped the wall revealing a naked anatomically incorrect author and hurried to retrieve her flailing friend. "Anya!" Tara said. "Anya!" She took her friend's arm to keep her from bashing the old man with her purse again. "Oh, officer, I'm so s-sorry," Tara said. "My friend Anya here is in a special program." She put emphasis on the word special. Then she whispered to the man, "She's somewhat delusional." He stepped back from the crazy woman. "She just needs her m-medication," Tara stuttered.

"She needs to leave," he told Tara.

"We'll take her back to the hospital," she told the man. "I'm so sorry this happened. It's her first field trip."

The man nodded knowingly. "Well, maybe you can try again when she's more...stable."

***

Everyone was awake after a not-so-great night's sleep. There was a nervous tension in the air. A `today's the day' vibe. Cordelia and Willow were busy clearing the dining room table. There were several pancakes and slices of French toast leftover. *Guess no one was really hungry this morning,* Willow thought. Tara was in the kitchen washing dishes when Dawn rushed in and dragged her, grabbing Willow and Cordy on the way, to the foot of the stairs.

Dawn stood grinning before the miniature audience she had created. "Presenting, Spike's new look!" Dawn announced throwing her arms up in the air as if she were a game show spokesmodel. Everyone glanced up, but the stairwell remained empty. "Come on, Spike," Dawn urged.

"Oh bugger," was heard from the top step.

The blonde vampire came plodding down the stairs with a pout. "I look like bloody Dr. Watson." He was wearing a starched white high collared shirt, a pair of tan trousers that fit him rather snugly and a long black jacket.

"No, you look like Mr. Carroll," Anya replied.

"Who?" Spike asked.

"Lewis Carroll," Tara clarified. "You know, Alice in Wonderland."

"You dressed me up like a soddin' children's book writer?" Spike asked incredulously. "You'll pay for this..." he muttered.

Cordelia applauded, Angel suppressed a chuckle and Giles commented: "I think you look rather dashing." With that, the house erupted into laughter.

After all the chuckling finally had died down and everyone had made a suitably sarcastic comment, the group moved into the living room, which was now cleared of the majority of furniture. In the center of the room, a circle was created using stones and candles gleaned from the Magic Box after Anya, Tara and Maeve had returned home last night.

"Should we be expecting any more Fyarl demons?" Spike asked uncertainly.

"Be prepared for anything," Giles answered. He was sitting cross-legged in the center of the circle with Anya and Tara. A book was open between them.

There were weapons scattered throughout the living room. Angel was leaning on his broadsword, Cordelia had a sword as well and Maeve was armed with a stake and a silver dagger. Dawn and Willow were sitting on the coffee table that was now pushed up against the back wall.

Spike stood just outside the circle and watched the proceedings impatiently. His breakfast had consisted of three bags of blood from the hospital, making him feel alert and adventurous. He had only one complaint. He felt vulnerable without his duster.

Giles pulled a gold chain from his pocket. At the end, a round gold watch dangled. "This is for you, Spike. Please take good care of it." The vampire took the timepiece. "Forty-eight hours," the Watcher said.

"Forty-eight hours," Spike repeated.

"Remember to make a mental note of your exact location."

The blonde vampire nodded. "Don't worry, Rupert. I've got it."

"Ready?" Giles asked the witch and the ex-demon. Both nodded.

They clutched hands and lowered their heads. Giles began to whisper the words from the book in front of him. Tara and Anya soon joined in. The air in the room began to crackle. Willow closed her eyes and concentrated on the words. The whispers began to echo throughout the room. Suddenly, the familiar blue cloaked figures appeared hovering near the curtained window.

"Oh bloody hell, not again," Spike mumbled. Maeve and Angel stood at the ready.

Cordelia, who was standing near the front door, abruptly fell against the wall clutching her head. The Chronoths turned and glided toward her. Her eyes were closed, but it looked as if she might be communicating with the creatures.

"They must sense her connection to the Powers," Angel whispered. He was on his toes, ready to come to Cordelia's rescue, should it be necessary.

The pale figures floated in a huddle near Cordelia who finally opened her eyes. She reached out to touch one, but her hand passed through it without resistance. She closed her eyes again and whispered something inaudibly. The cloaked figures bowed their heads and floated back toward the window, where they remained...hovering about two feet from the floor.

"They just want to stay and watch. No demons," Cordelia smiled sheepishly.

"Great. Spectators," Spike mumbled.

Tara drew a chalk outline of the window on the floor beside her. Anya sprinkled powder onto the square. They joined hands again. When their hands met, there was a crackle of power, but the chalk outline remained just an outline.

"They need help," Willow murmured.

The Chronoths added their voices to the chant. Immediately, the outline began to glow, white light poured forth from the small square on the floor. Then the portal began to grow.

Spike looked into the opening abyss, pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. He took a long drag. Dawn rushed to him and hugged him tightly. "Please be careful!" she said into his jacket. "I will, pigeon," he answered and after a moment's hesitation stroked her hair.

"Promise me you'll come back," she pleaded.

"I promise," he said solemnly. "Now stand back." He took another puff and scanned the room.

"Maeve?" He nodded at the Slayer. They had already said their farewells, because if everything worked out as planned he'd never get another chance to talk to her again.

"Bon voyage," she replied with a sad smile.

He approached the edge of the circle warily.

" Wonder what the in-flight movie will be... " he murmured.

He stepped into the portal. In a flash of energy, he was gone and the portal closed behind him.

Oddly, there was a small pile of things in his wake. Dawn rushed over to put his cigarette out. She lifted up a white shirt.

"Guess it was a reproduction," Tara said. She picked up his shoes. "These too."

"What's this?" Dawn said. She was holding something tiny between her finger and her thumb. "It looks like a...a...microchip."



Part 27 - Pandemonium

Xander woke in the dark.

He felt cold and his limbs were aching. Instead of taking the straitjacket off and shackling him to the bed, the attendants had roughed him up and left him lying on the dirty floor, punishing him for God knows what. He'd curled up into a ball and fallen asleep, trying to ignore the obscene shouts of a crazy person two cells down the corridor, the nervous mumbling of his left cell neighbor, and the insistent cramping of right triceps.

He woke in a state of fear. Not the omnipresent cold dread the asylum instilled in him but a sweaty, run-away-and-hide kind of fear. His heart was beating rapidly in his chest.

A scream had woken him. That, in itself, was strange because there was always so much screaming here. It was hard to believe that a single expression of terror should stand out in this din. But it did. It was the scream of a woman, high pitched and frightened and when it subsided there was an eerie moment of quiet, as if all the creatures who were trapped in this hellhole were catching a quick breath.

Then the pandemonium started. Banging. Howling. Yelling.

The noise reminded Xander of prison films, just as the inmates gear up for a big riot. Here, the prisoners had no toilet rolls to throw but it sounded like someone was smashing furniture.

Maybe a riot was what he needed. If he could get out of this straitjacket... well, then there'd still be the locked door. And if the attendants found him without the jacket, there was no telling what they'd do to him. Their indifferent brutality frightened Xander more than he cared to admit.

"What I wouldn't give to see a familiar face right now," Xander muttered under his breath, for the umpteenth time. He had no doubt that his friends would do everything in their power to get him back. He just had to try and stay in one piece until they found a way to do so. He struggled to his feet.

He could hear heavy footsteps coming closer. Someone was running. Probably one of the orderlies working the nightshift. Xander moved closer to the metal bars to peer through but recoiled in shock when a burly, middle aged man was slammed forcefully against the iron rods.

Xander thought he heard the man's skull crack. Blood was gushing from his nose and mouth. His eyes were full of horror and pleading but quickly became vacant, as needle-sharp fangs savagely tore into the man's throat.

Xander stumbled backwards until his back hit the wall. There were sounds of sucking and smacking as the blonde vampire drained the orderly right before his eyes, clearly enjoying the tremors that shook the dying man's body. Feral yellow eyes met Xander's panicked stare. Blood stained lips curled into a wicked smile as chilly hands released the cooling body. It slowly slid down, smearing blood all over the bars of Xander's prison, eyes open but unseeing.

But Xander's attention was on the vampire's features. *Did I really ask for a familiar face?* If he'd had a hand to spare he would have smacked his forehead. *Stupid. Stupid. Be careful what you wish for...* Because even though it was dark and even though the vampire's visage was disfigured by scars and burns, he had no difficulty recognizing Darla.

Outside his cell the screaming continued. The nightmare had only just begun.

***

Spike had expected the portal to work like a normal door. One step and presto, London 1880. Instead, he first felt a strange vertigo and then increasing pressure. The feeling of constriction turned into excruciating pain, as if an impossible force was trying squash him into a pulp. Just as he thought his skull would pop like a ripe melon, something gave way and he felt propelled forward and ejected into a dark and gloomy room.

He managed to stay on his feet, barely. His nerve endings were still prickling painfully and he felt disoriented. Colorful spots were dancing in front of his eyes. He took a shuddering breath and was assaulted by a long forgotten combination of odors, unwashed bodies, dried human blood, cheap liquor, soot, horse manure and human waste.

"Home sweet home," he choked out, when something hit him squarely against the side of his face. He yelped in pain. Still staggering from the impact, he tried to get into a defensive stance but his reflexes were still recovering from temporal jetlag. The crowbar arched towards him again and he took another blow. This time he could feel his jaw break.

Momentarily stunned, Spike flew backward and landed in a heap on the floor of what looked like a severely damaged dining room. His assailant must have assumed that he was dead because a third attack never came. Spike was barely conscious and racked by pain. All his instincts urged him to get up and either run or fight, but he remained still, lying on his side like a broken doll. He tried to absorb what was going on around him. *No shirt, no shoes,* he thought. *Nasty company.* In front of his unblinking eyes, about a yard away, he saw a crudely sharpened piece of wood, a stake, lying among glass shards on the floor. He heard several voices and tried to focus on what they were saying.

"Is... is `e dead?" a young voice could be heard, sounding shaken.

"I reckon," a gruff voice replied. It came from Spike's left, where the two blows had come from. *Bet that's the bastard who hit me.* Spike could hear - and smell - the man come closer. He neither blinked nor flinched, not even when a booted foot painfully connected with his ribs. "Since 'e's not breathin'..."

"Where did `e come from? You said the house was empty," a third, slightly wheezy voice complained.

"It was, I swear," the young voice replied, on the verge of tears.

"Don't matter. What's done is done," the gruff voice spoke and moved away. "Leave the paintings but make sure ye take all the silver and the linen from the cupboard."

There were sounds of knives and forks being gathered. Meanwhile, the heavy set man with the gruff voice left the room. Spike could hear him rummage around in other parts of the house, tapping on wood paneling, and occasionally using his crowbar on parts that sounded hollow.

"What ye reckon 'appened 'ere," the youth whispered. "Did ya see the mess? They say the innkeeper got slaughtered by a man-eating madman."

"Shut yer gob! Go to the window. Check for peelers. See if someone's lookin' for the toff we just done in." A fourth voice sounded.

*Toff? I'm not a bleedin' toff!* Spike thought indignantly but he decided to lie still until the thieves had taken everything they came for. He was glad he'd fed so well before leaping into the past. He could already feel his broken jaw mending. *God, that hurts!*

Suddenly heavy footsteps approached. "Found it," the gruff man said and set down a heavy box. "Told ya the big feller was as daft as they come. Hid his money in the bedroom, like I said."

"Let's go then," the wheezy guy said.

"Check the stiff," the gruff voice ordered. "Fleece 'im."

*Oh bloody hell,* Spike thought. He momentarily considered letting the thief feel him up, but then he remembered the Watcher's timepiece. He fervently hoped - against all better judgement - that the cracksmen weren't human, because if they were, he was surely going to be in a world of hurt that went beyond his bleeding head and broken jaw.

A pair of shoes approached him in the darkness. Spike recognized Wheezy Guy by his labored breathing. The man hesitated, then Spike felt a warm, coarse hand on his face pushing his eyelids closed. The man began patting Spike's jacket, searching for a bump or bulge that would give away the location of a small treasure. He reached into the inside jacket pocket. Spike remained still. "Nuthin'," the guy mumbled. "Toff's got no shirt on, an' no shoes."

"So what. Maybe they're in one of the other rooms."

Spike felt relieved; the watch was in his pants pocket and it looked like this crook might not... *Damn!*

The thief's hand closed on the timepiece in Spike's pocket. As he pulled the loot from its hiding place, Spike's hand closed on his wrist. The criminal yelped in fear as the corpse turned to look at him. Spike stood up, still holding his arm. "Help," the man yelled. Spike was fast. Holding the man's arm with his right hand, and bracing himself for a severe case of migraine he used his left elbow to silence the man's cry. The thief's nose was gushing blood and he stumbled backward, trying to free himself from the undead's iron grip. Spike was surprised when the headache didn't come but decided not to look the gift horse in the mouth. His assailant had looked and felt human enough, but he obviously wasn't. *Maybe a hybrid or something.* He happily elbowed his opponent again, with more gusto, and then kicked him in the stomach, sending the man flying across the room.

*Now, this is what I call fun!*

There were three more people in the room. A lean man in his forties who was whirling a small steel ball on a string; a large thug with a crowbar, who looked about twice as heavy as Spike; and a boy, about sixteen years old with the sharp features of a rodent. *Human or half-demon? Whatever they are, they're a sorry lot!* Their threadbare clothes were filthy but they had the calculating eyes of predators. Spike rubbed his aching jaw. *Doesn't mean Stan and Ollie are harmless.* There had been considerable strength in those blows against his head.

"Thought yer dead," the big guy said, with a gravely voice.

"Just resting," Spike mumbled, his speech impeded by his injury.

"We were `ere first," the tall man said. He was swinging his crowbar menacingly, regarding the pale man before him warily. The toff had taken two hits already. It was a miracle he was still standing.

"So?"

"There's three of us und yer jus' one man... So, why don't yer piss off!"

*My kind of odds.* But Spike reminded himself that if these fellows were human, the chip might make a brawl just a little one-sided, whereas if they weren't they might have some other tricks up their sleeves. *Paralyzing mucous, maybe.* Plus, he had no time for quarrels. So, maybe a non-violent solution?

"Wasn't planning on staying," Spike answered, "Just need to get my watch back first and find a couple of friends..." He scanned the floor looking for Giles's pocket watch. It wasn't visible among the debris. The first guy, the one who had nicked the watch, remained still on the rubble in the corner of the room.

The men noticed Spike's preoccupation and rushed him. Instinctively, Spike threw himself into the skirmish. Kick. Punch. Duck. The big thug was coming at him brandishing his crowbar. Spike successfully ducked a swing aimed at his head, but took a painful hit from the thin guy's weapon. He caught hold of the man's arm and yanked him forward. When he stumbled close enough, the vampire picked him up and threw him against a wall. He followed up by overturning a heavy table and trapping him underneath it.

Spike evaded another swing of the crowbar. But when the thug charged him he grabbed the weapon in mid-arch. The big guy's momentum carried both of them into the wall, crushing a person-shaped depression into it. Spike pushed him backwards then yanked the crowbar from the fat man's grasp. He wielded the tool as if it were a sword and rammed it into the man's gut. There was enough force behind the attack to run the man through. The delicious smell of blood filled the air. Hot human blood that gushed out of the man's guts and ran down the crowbar to drench the cold hand that was holding it. Human!

Spike froze as the realization hit him. *I'm free!*

Just then something sharp slashed his arm. The boy! He'd forgotten about the boy. And now - despite his injury - the large man began to pummel the vampire's face with his fists, which was already cut, bruised and swollen from two hits with the iron rod. Spike's visage changed. He growled and shoved the man off of him, then whirled around. He caught the youth with one quick grab. Holding him by the throat and lifting him up effortlessly, like a kitten, Spike reveled in the power that had been restored to him, the power over life and death, the power to feed and to kill.

"Ow," Spike said succinctly, grinning evilly. "That hurt - a bit." The boy's eyes were wide with fear. Even so, he tried to kick his captor and slashed at him again with his knife. Spike just swatted the weapon away. "Tut, tut."

"Y-y-yer a monster," the youth choked out, barely able to speak.

*Heard that tune before,* Spike chuckled internally. "And you're a skinny little rat. Hardly worth eating," he said, which earned him a look of defiance and another kick.

Spike was torn. He was fluctuating between the feelings of elation, freedom, fear, pity, amazement... It occurred to him that this wasn't the best of times to contemplate the implications of his new freedom. He was, after all, on a mission. Or was he? He still wanted to help Buffy get back to her own time, right? Right. Once she was back in Sunnyhell they'd be on equal footing. The thought evoked a certain thrill.

"Consider yourself lucky, that I've already eaten," Spike said, telling himself that it was the boy's defiant attitude that kept him from wanting to tear his throat out. "Fly, fly, little birdie." He opened his grip, dropping the boy like a sack of potatoes and shook off his vampire features.

The boy scrambled backward to get as far away from Spike as possible. As he backed away, he tripped over a broken piece of furniture. He continued his backward movement on the floor, afraid. When Spike made a shooing gesture, he got to his feet and ran outside as fast as his feet could carry him.

Spike looked down. At his feet, the tall guy was moaning in pain and trying to quell the bleeding with his hands. The vampire bent down and checked. The injury did not look fatal. "Aren't you a lucky bastard. Guess you'll live after all," Spike said as he squatted next to the man to frisk him. He found several picklocks and pocketed them. "D'you think your little crow will come back for you?" Spike asked, using the underworld term for a `lookout' to refer to the youth.

He didn't really expect a coherent answer. He got up and scanned the room around him. It was a beautiful catastrophe. *Where is that bloody watch?* He kicked debris around on the floor as he approached the man he'd knocked out first. He checked the guy's hand. Sure enough, he was still holding on to the watch. Spike bent down to pry Giles's heirloom out of the man's hand only to realize that there wasn't a pulse. The man was dead. Spike dropped the guy's wrist like a hot potato. He'd just killed a man. A human. The first in two years. He hadn't meant to, but the result was all the same. *If Buffy finds out about this...*

He looked at the watch. The face was cracked and it was no longer ticking. The pin must have broken too, because the lid was hanging off of it at an odd angle. Spike shook his head. *Bollocks!* He glanced at the dead burglar and hurled the watch against the wall where it shattered into tiny pieces.

He stood, intent on leaving but then thought better of it. *Okay, it's not like I haven't done this before...* He went back and removed the dead man's shoes. *Decent enough,* he thought as he slipped his bare feet inside. He debated on whether or not he really needed a shirt, but realized that if he had to walk around in public, he couldn't go half-naked. He lifted the table. The thin man was still alive but unconscious. Spike stripped the gray shirt off the unconscious man. It smelled awful and it was spotted with blood, but Spike didn't take much notice.

He wiped the crowbar clean and forced the lock of the metal strongbox the burglars had been after. He whistled as he looked at the small fortune. There were over 50 Sovereigns and about twice the amount in smaller coins. More freedom.

He thoroughly searched the thieves' possessions, stuffing a few more burglary tools and half a bottle of cheap gin into a bag. The crowbar also got added to the loot.

He looked around one more time at the huge mess that was left. *Buffy will kill me for this,* he thought and shook his head. *Bollocks!* He wandered out of the beat up inn.

***

The blonde vampire gave him a triumphant smile that made it very clear to Xander that he'd be allowed to marinate in fear for a bit longer, but ultimately he'd end up dessert. *Beam me up, Willow?*

Darla swept out of view, the rustle of her red skirts drowned out by faraway screams.

Blood ran in a thin rivulet into his cell. Xander cautiously went to the door and checked the hallway. Darla was gone. He stared at the dead orderly. It was too dark to make out any details. *Keys, there must be keys!* He slipped his naked foot between the bars and tried to search the body with his toes. Was that a bunch of keys in the dead man's pocket?

Two minutes later Xander had managed to pull the keys into his cell. *And now a healthy round of applause for Mr. Alexander Harris as he proceeds to Houdini out of his straitjacket. Applause, applause!* The key to getting out of the jacket had to be getting the leather cuffs off, ergo he'd have to open the buckles that connected the canvas sleeves with the cuffs. Mind over matter? *Use the force, Xander? Guess not. That means go for plan B: Use your teeth.* Xander tried to lift his arms up high enough to be able to reach the buckles with his teeth, but the jacket was too tight. *Okay, plan C: Rambo style, also known as using brute force.*

Grateful for the muscles his construction work had given him over the last year, Xander used sheer strength to force his elbow toward his head. Using the bed frame for better leverage Xander strained and struggled until he was finally able to bring both of his encased arms in front of his body. It felt like it took forever. Any minute he expected Darla to come back for him. Effectively, it took him about twenty minutes to get his arms into a position where he could reach his buckles with his teeth.

It took him just as long to undo the buckles of the straps of the cuffs. The first buckle was the hardest. A few times he almost cried with frustration. But once he knew it could be done, he doggedly continued. *I can do it. I know I can,* he kept telling himself. Finally, all the straps were loose and he slipped his arms out of the leather cuffs. His hands were still encased in the canvas sleeves of the jacket, but at least he could reach around to his back and undo the two buckles that kept the whole jacket together. Once those were open it was easy to slip out of the offending garment. *Yay!*

Xander felt the insane urge to break into a Snoopy dance. *Okay, not now! Maybe later. Outside. Yeah, do the Snoopy dance outside.*

He dropped the straitjacket to the floor and picked up the bunch of keys. It took him about half a dozen attempts to find the right key. The sound of the key turning the tumblers in the lock and the bolt sliding back was music to his ears. He pushed the door open, dislodging the orderly's body.

Xander shuddered but dragged the dead body inside the cell to perform a quick search. The orderly didn't wear a uniform or anything, just ordinary clothes. Xander's clothes marked him as a patient. Not good. Xander decided it just wouldn't do to be squeamish. The man had been broadly built, like Xander, just not as tall. *Yay! Lucky me.* Xander thought, unable to generate a great deal of enthusiasm. He took the man's shoes and tried them on. Not terribly comfortable; better than none. The jacket was next; good fit. Pants; short but decent enough.

The man's pockets yielded a handkerchief, a few unfamiliar bronze and silver coins and some brass knuckles. *Bet they're not standard equipment.*

*Okay, time to get out of here. I just hope I don't bump into Angel, I mean Angelus.* He thought that over. *Let me rephrase that: I hope I don't bump into anything or anyone that's got pointier teeth than me. Let's hope there's no residual demon magnetism left and I get out unmolested and uneaten.*

The passage was dark but there were lights at both ends. *Okay, Darla went that way, so I'll go the other way.* He quickly walked down the passage, as far away from the other cells as possible. Everything was reminiscent of Clarice Starling's visit to Hannibal Lecter - it was actually creepy. He briefly contemplated setting the other inmates free but remembered that this was the part of the asylum where the murderous nutcases were housed. *Letting loose a bunch of psychos really sounds like a plan. Not.*

At the end of the passage there was a dimly lit stairway. Xander tiptoed down to the ground floor and hastened through dark passages, looking for doors or windows that might lead outside. He tried to avoid the noisier and therefore scarier parts of the hospital. He unlocked a few doors, hoping they'd lead to exits but ended up in a rather scary room filled with large specimen jars with pickled brains and other body parts. *Eow!*

Another room contained damaged furniture. Xander decided to risk a certain noisiness and picked up a three-legged chair. It turned out that smashing chairs into serviceable stakes looked much easier on television than it really was. But he ended up with a reasonably sharpened piece of wood and immediately felt better. *Not safe but safer. Yup. Now all I need is a compass and a map. A kingdom for a map! Where is the freaking exit?*

Xander felt increasingly desperate. The asylum felt like a maze. All the passages looked the same to him. There were very few signs. *Wait a minute!* This area looked familiar. Wasn't this where the medical facilities had been? He quickened his pace, rounded a corner, took another corner and found himself in a cul-de-sac, with just one door to choose. He turned around to backtrack his steps but froze. He could hear someone approaching. He slipped through the door and stumbled into a small unlit lecture room, that was shaped like a round amphitheater. There were no seats, though, just stands.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. In his desperation Xander resorted to the only plan his brain could come up with at such short notice: play dead. He was wearing the bloodstained clothes of a dead man. Perhaps that was enough to fool the cursory glance of a vampire and give the impression that he was already dead or dying?

Xander slipped between two stands and laid down on the floor. He tried to make his breathing as slow and shallow as possible. He heard the swooshing of skirts. A flowery scent made his nose itch. Then a chilly hand closed around his wrist. "You cannot fool me, you know," a familiar voice sing-songed. "I know you are not dead. I can hear your heart race, and what a pretty sound it is."



Part 28 - Under Scrutiny

"How is that! We're out of town for just a few days and look what happens," Warren said, as the monitor lit up to show an interior shot of a rather trashed magic shop. "Looks like we missed all the fun."

Behind him, Andrew and Jonathan clambered into the surveillance van, arguing about the fact that Jonathan had thrown up during his fifth Space Mountain ride. Andrew was holding on to two bags full of souvenirs while Jonathan carried three paper bags containing the entire McDonalds breakfast selection. They hopped into their chairs to get a better look at the screen and dug into their food.

Warren thumbed a few switches and more monitors came to life. He flipped through the different cameras they had installed in strategic places. When the screen showed the Summers' living room he whistled. "Doing spells? Andrew, what are they doing?"

The blonde boy sipped his orange juice and studied the image in front of him, comparing the look of the circle and the way the ex-librarian, the witch and the shopkeeper were sitting, with the summoning spells he knew. "I don't think they're summoning something, but maybe trying to open some kind of portal," he paused. "I think."

"Jeez, then what are those?" Jonathan said, pointing at three hovering humanoids that suddenly appeared.

"I... I don't know," Andrew admitted. "If they're demons, I've never read about them. But I can check my books..."

"Yeah, do that. Anyone know who that guy is?" Warren asked and pointed at the screen.

"The one with the hair? That's Angel. He used to be Buffy's boyfriend," Jonathan said. "From what I've heard, he lives in L.A. now."

"Angel? What kind of name is that? Sounds like lavender soap and mint tulips. You're sure he used to be with the Slayer?" Warren asked. "And isn't that Spike? What's he doing in those stupid clothes?"

"That looks so uncool," Jonathan stated.

"Yeah. The leather coat looks a lot hotter... um... I mean a lot cooler," Andrew agreed.

Warren turned up the sound and the three of them listened to the chanting. They watched as a silvery portal appeared and Spike stepped through. Then, in a flash, the vampire was gone.

"Wow, I wonder what that was all about," Jonathan exclaimed, when the portal had disappeared again.

"Let's find out," Warren said thoughtfully. "I'll watch from here, you check the recordings. I want to know what the Slayer and her friends are up to. And take those stupid things off!"

He smacked off Jonathan's Mickey Mouse ears.

"Hey!" Jonathan exclaimed, trying to duck.

"What's wrong with you guys?" Warren mocked his henchgeeks. "Mouse ears? That's not evil. We're villains, remember?"

"I know, and it's like, cool and stuff," Andrew whined, "but we just bought them, and they're black... I mean, black equals cool and evil, right?"

Warren just shook his head. Blocking out the inane chatter of his idiot sidekicks he concentrated on the conversation that took place in the Summers' living room.

***

"Good Lord!" - "What are we going to do?" - "It looks so small." - "Can I see it?"

No one but Maeve took notice when the Chronoths faded away. Everybody's attention was focused on the piece of micro-circuitry in Dawn's hand.

"Quick! You have to open the portal again!" Angel's voice cut through the agitated chatter. "Send me after him!"

"We will do no such thing," Giles answered, calmer than he actually felt. He rose wearily to his feet and stepped out of the circle. "The spell was quite taxing, in fact, even more than I anticipated. I believe the very fabric of time may have resisted our attempt to send someone into the past who is already there. Even if we wanted to send another person back, we'd need to rest first. At least 24 hours."

Anya and Tara nodded even though that tiny gesture of agreement took most of their remaining energy.

"But..."

"Besides," Giles cut the vampire off. "I am not convinced it is wise to complicate matters further by sending even more people back in time."

"But we have to do something! Spike's a killer. And he's unleashed. There's no telling what he'll do!" Angel shouted. Surely, Giles, of all people, had to realize that without the chip Spike would revert to being what he'd always been: A killer of Slayers!

Maeve looked as if she were about to say something, but changed her mind. Instead she tucked her stake away and sheathed the silver dagger.

"Spike's not-- I mean, ... he might not even notice that the chip's gone," Tara suggested timidly, but loud enough to be heard. "And... and even if he finds out it's gone, we know he loves Buffy. I mean, the chip stops him from harming people but it doesn't make him do or feel things, right?"

"Right," Dawn said, folding her arms in front of her chest. "He'd never hurt Buffy," she said with absolute certainty.

Giles looked at the teenager. He realized that even with the vampire's electronic "leash" in her hand she never doubted that Spike would bring her sister back. Giles decided that this wasn't the right time to argue or shatter that trust. Displaying a confidence he didn't really feel, he said: "I concur. While his past behavior has been far from exemplary, I am nevertheless prepared give Spike the benefit of the doubt. His feelings for Buffy seem genuine." The Watcher held out his hand and Dawn dropped the chip in his palm. He pocketed it without a glance.

Angel worriedly shook his head. "What makes you sure he won't forget his love for Buffy and go back to Drusilla. Compared to the century he spent at Dru's side, this chip-induced obsession with Buffy is a...It's a crush!" He caught sight of Cordelia. She was shaking her head almost imperceptibly and glanced in Dawn's direction, causing Angel to swallow the rest of his reservations.

"You know, Angel's like Mr. prophet of doom," Cordelia cut in. "All negative, always expecting the worst, yadda yadda, it really gets you down, you know." She waved her hands dismissively. "Fortunately, his gloomy predictions rarely come true."

"Speaking of gloomy things," Tara said, "Dawn, shouldn't you be getting ready for school?"

"No! Can't someone write me a note? I mean, come on, you can't expect me to, like, study, at a time like this!" the teenager whined. She looked around but met no sympathy, only resolved faces.

"If you get your things, I will drive you to school," the Watcher volunteered after glancing at his watch. "Anya, I'm going to the Magic Box to wait for the new window to be delivered. Are you coming?"

"Of course," she replied. There were bags under her eyes and she looked pale from the strain the spell had put on her, but the thought of tidying up the shop actually seemed to revive her.

"I would like to come along, if I may," Maeve said quietly. "I could help."

"Certainly. Your help is appreciated," Giles replied. He absentmindedly polished his glasses. "Angel, were you planning on driving back to L.A. tonight?"

"We're staying."

"In that case, you should get some rest. We'll need you to patrol tonight."

Angel nodded.

***

*'Back in time?' They sent Spike into the past? Time travel? Now that's an interesting twist.* Warren whistled. His mind immediately pondered the practical applications. The possibilities were staggering.

"What?" Jonathan said, looking up from his monitor. He was fast forwarding through the Magic Box recordings of last Friday.

"Gentlemen," Warren spoke up, "this is the moment we've all been waiting for. The Slayer's friends have just shown us how to take over not just Sunnydale but the whole country! The world, even!"

"Really? How?" Jonathan asked.

"Time travel."

"You mean like in `Back to the Future'? Cool!" Andrew said admiringly.

"If we can get our hands on that spell they've been using there's no limit to what we can do. We don't like something? We go into the past and fix it, change things to our liking!"

"The past? You mean we could go back, like, to before `The Return of the Jedi' and do something to the guy who played Darth Vader? Cause when he took off that helmet, he so didn't look the part!" Andrew suggested enthusiastically.

Warren and Jonathan stared at him. "What?" Andrew said defensively. "You said we could fix things."

"I was thinking more in terms of money, power..." *Microsoft shares!* Warren grinned. With the right kind of knowledge he could become stinking rich just by investing a bit of money in the past. Much easier than summoning demon bank robbers...

"We could make sure Star Trek classic never gets cancelled..." Jonathan said, warming to the subject.

"Or we could buy the first issue of Superman the day it came out. Superman #1 in mint condition for just a few cents!" Andrew interrupted excitedly, as more and more wonderful uses of time travel popped up in his head. "Or we could go back a few million years and pick up some dinosaur eggs. Except those would be real not some stupid clones with frog DNA..."

"Whatever," Warren said, absentmindedly, thinking of all those slights and insults he'd suffered in the hell called high school...

Mrs. Green. His English teacher in 6th grade, she'd humiliated him in front of class. Jody. The arrogant bitch he had based the design for April on. Jody's boyfriend. Idiot with a brain the size of a pea but all the girls fawned on him cause he happened to be Captain of the high school swim team. There was a long list of people who needed to be taught a lesson.

With time and an unlimited supply of money at his fingertips payback was finally his. He smiled. With that kind of money he could make sure that Mrs. Green lost her job. As for Jody, he could bankrupt her snotty family, make sure they lost everything. That should teach her a lesson, make her grovel. With that kind of money the chicks would line up not just to go out with him but to go down on him.

Speaking of bitches. Katrina! Now that was a situation that needed some fixing! Warren winced as he thought of the arguments they'd had. She'd called him a loser, a pervert, told him he was beneath her. She'd even threatened him with a restraining order when he hung around her place hoping to get a glimpse of her, to get an opportunity to talk to her, to explain...

He'd considered using hypnosis to make her forget that thing with April or putting a love spell on her, but maybe it was easier to just make sure that Katrina never met that stupid robot? If Trina never found out about April she had no reason to leave him, did she? All he had to do was go back to the time and turn the bot off before it could follow him and Trina to Sunnydale. Just a tiny correction.

Warren smiled. Sometimes tiny things could make a hell of a difference.

***

Giles looked at the little piece of plastic and wire that was lying on the round research table. It was quite remarkable that such a tiny product of scientific ingenuity should have been able to keep a vampire of Spike's caliber from acting out his nature.

Giles tossed his glasses on the table and rubbed his nose where the frames had left visible indentations. He had only himself to blame. He'd been so concerned with researching and organizing Buffy's rescue that he'd completely overlooked the fact that Spike's chip might get left behind like Xander's sneakers and car keys. *Could Spike have known this would happen?*

He would have liked to drink a whiskey or two. There was always a bottle in the shop. For emergencies. For a moment he was tempted. But he knew a drink now would easily lead to more. Drinking that cooking sherry last night had been enough of a slip. Maybe it was time to turn tea-total all together.

Giles's open vote of confidence had been less than heartfelt. The knowledge that William the Bloody was free to kill and maim again was disconcerting. But not half as unsettling as the considerable damage the unfettered vampire could cause to the timeline if he felt so inclined.

Would they ever notice it if Spike chose to change the past? Would the universe adjust the way it had when the monks had given the key human form? Would their memories change - again? Would the journals rewrite themselves? Would Buffy and her friends cease to exist because Spike decided to murder their ancestors? What about alternate universes? Was it possible that there were worlds where none of this ever happened? A world where Buffy had never been dragged into the nineteenth century? The ramifications were truly mind-boggling.

"Mr. Giles?"

"Maeve, what can I do for you?"

"Mr. Giles. There is something you should know. About... Spike," she hesitated.

"Please, sit down. Shall I make us a cup of tea?"

"No, thank you. As you know, I had two opportunities to talk with him. We talked about that strange little contraption," she pointed at the chip.

"He told you?" Giles was surprised. "I would have thought he'd go through great lengths to keep his ... um ...handicap a secret."

"He told me."

"What else did Spike tell you?"

***

Giles looked at the drawing Maeve had given him. Anya was busy cleaning the new shop window while Maeve was sweeping the floor. He checked his watch and picked up the phone to dial the number of an old friend. A few minutes later he had scribbled down a number in London. He let it ring for a long time. Finally, a female voice answered.

"Yes?"

"Miss Catrall, my name is Rupert Giles. We met last year during the Glory crisis, when you were part of the Council delegation who evaluated the Slayer."

"Mr. Giles! Yes, of course I remember you and Miss Summers. How are you? What can I do for you?"

"You mentioned, in passing, that you wrote your thesis on Spike. In fact, as I recall you even visited him in his crypt."

"William the Bloody, yes, that is correct. A remarkable case. How I envy you the opportunity to study him up close. Are you having problems with him?"

Giles hesitated, momentarily unsure where his loyalties lay. In the end it was the drawing of Spike's long dead sister that prompted his decision. "Not at all. On the contrary, he's still more than helpful," he lied smoothly. "But he seems rather reluctant to disclose any details about his identity when he was alive and the circumstances of his turning. And I feel I should know these things."

"I'm not surprised that William the Bloody is reluctant to talk about his rather mundane origins," Miss Catrall said in a smug tone. "They're certainly not very flattering - for a vampire."

"Mundane?" Giles echoed, unable to hide his surprise.

"I shouldn't really be talking about this. The information is classified," the young scholar informed him. Giles thought she sounded very eager to share her exclusive knowledge.

"Classified? I should think that the Watcher of the acting Slayer should have access to all relevant information pertaining his duties. Miss Catrall, keeping an eye on William the Bloody, the only vampire we know of who is equipped with a behavior modification chip, is part of my duties. I would therefore appreciate anything you can tell me about him."

"Of course, Mr. Giles. I'd be glad to. Besides, I can't see any harm in telling you. William the Bloody, or William Crawford, as he was called then, was a librarian. Ironically, he was in the employ of the Council when he was turned. If you're interested I can fax you a copy of my thesis and some of my notes. I even have a photograph of him and his family."

"Yes please," Giles said. He supplied her with the shop's fax number. "One more question, Miss Catrall, if I may?"

"Certainly."

"If the Council has so much background information on him, why isn't it mentioned in the handbooks and journals?"

"Why Mr. Giles, it's a well-known fact that the personality of the human host is completely destroyed when the body is taken over and animated by the vampire demon. Knowledge of a vampire's background is irrelevant. It can only get in the way of slaying," she answered assuredly. Then, "Good day, Mr. Giles."

"Good day, Miss Catrall."

Giles sat for almost five minutes without moving, deep in thought.

He was interrupted by the sounds of the fax machine as it spewed forth a slowly growing pile of printed paper.

He debated if he should involve Willow and the others. But if William the Bloody's past was, indeed, an embarrassment to the vampire, exposing it would be an unforgivable indiscretion. At least, it would be, as long as there was a remote chance that Spike was able and willing to get Xander and Buffy back into their own time.

Giles made himself a pot of tea and settled down to research the life and death of William Crawford a.k.a. William the Bloody a.k.a. Spike, hoping that between naked facts and four years of first-hand experience he'd find enough truth about that contradictory... man, to be able to predict his behavior.

***

After several hours of research, tape viewing and thinking Warren was ready to involve Andrew and Jonathan in the planning. "Gentlemen, we have a new agenda." He turned the board round to reveal a new list of objectives:

1. Neutralize Chronoths

2. Stop the Slayer's friends from getting Buffy back

3. Get Spellbook

4. Take hostage

5. Get witches to do spell

6. Change time!!!

"Any questions?"

Andrew raised his hand. "Does that mean we're going to buy a DeLorean?"



Part 29 - Crossroads

The vampire looked at the frightened mortal and hauled him to his feet. He tried to stab her with a sharpened chair leg but she caught his hand and squeezed until he was forced to drop his weapon.

"You know me," she stated.

"You're Drusilla," the young man admitted. He stumbled backwards, down the steps until he was standing in the round center of the lecture theatre.

She wasn't surprised that he recognized her. Most of the time she was surprised that people didn't. But something about him was strange. It felt as if he didn't belong. Like that Slayer they had fought.

Drusilla moved closer to her prey, studying him, inhaling his scent. The mortal smelled of fear and death and of blood that wasn't his own. He smelled of sun and sap, and wayward spells. He also smelled of vampire dust. He was a killer of her kind. How interesting.

"You are not a Watcher," the vampire said. "Yet, you watch over a Slayer, the one who doesn't belong. I met her, but I did not care for her."

"You met Bu-- ...her? She's my friend. What do you mean, she doesn't belong?"

She wondered if she should tell him. The mortal was nice; he listened to her. And he knew... things. "The Slayer reeks of Angels," she finally said. "That's what happens when you dance with them, even if it is only for a little while."

"Angels?" The mortal repeated dazedly.

Drusilla ran her hand through his hair, using her mesmerizing power to keep him from recoiling. She caressed his cheek, making a small cut with her nail. She touched the red bead of blood that welled with her fingertip and brought it to her mouth to taste him. His blood was sweet with both fear and courage.

"Is this the one?" she asked the pixies, but they were silent. Then she remembered that they had said her shining knight would have eyes like the sky. This mortal had eyes like a topaz. Still...

She had the feeling someone was watching. Not the pixies this time but three hooded figures who were not really here. Their scrutiny made her skin tingle. She surrendered to the sight and saw...

Crossroads. Choices.

For the second time in just a few days, Drusilla could see all kinds of crossroads branching out before her. Different faces, different places, different times. Like a kaleidoscope. Pretty. Dizzying.

[A man in black leather and a white shirt without buttons and collar, his eyes dark with hunger and lust, his skin deathly pale; he is quiet and confident, vicious and brave. He is not of this time, but makes his home here. He speaks of the future as if it were his past. He is tall, dark, and strong - he reminds her of Angelus. He creates a lovely new family for her and he never leaves her...]

[Another man in black, his cerulean eyes shine with devotion; he is loud and boisterous, quarrelsome and volatile. He is lithe, vibrant and strong - he and Angelus couldn't be more different. With him at her side the years fly by.]

Crossroads. Choices.

"I know what you want," Drusilla murmured, running her chilly hands over his muscular chest.

"Yeah, me too. I'd like to wake up at home, in my bed, snuggled up to Anya, and find out that all this is just a bad bad dream."

"I can make you strong and powerful," she continued, ignoring his incomprehensible babble but listening very closely to the things that were in his heart. "You could be my valiant knight and I would be your dark princess. With you to protect me, no one would ever be able to harm me. And you would never ever have to be afraid again, my lovely. I can give you that. Do you want it?"

***

*Do I want to be able to fight like Buffy? To kick ass and never be afraid again?* Xander shivered. He was so afraid. All his life he'd been afraid. Of everything: failure, ridicule, loneliness, death. To be free of fear... *Yes, oh yes.* Her offer sounded almost impossible to refuse. For a moment Xander teetered on the verge of indecision, but then he shook his head. "No. I know the price and I'm not willing to pay it. I'm not going to let you turn me into a killer. Joining the ranks of things that go bump in the night? Not what I want. So, the answer is: No, I don't want it." *That much.*

He expected the insane vampire to slash his throat or bury her fangs in his neck and he tried to brace himself for the inevitable, but instead of killing him she said, "Very well. But perhaps you can help me."

*Yeah right, I help insane killers all the time...* But he found himself nodding.

"Have you seen my knight? The pixies whispered to me. They promised me a beautiful prince to make my own. He will be wise and strong and brave." She closed her eyes and swayed to an unheard melody. "Where is he? The stars won't show me the way." She pouted.

"A knight?" It took Xander a moment to decipher Drusilla's speech. *Oh, I get it. Spike. Wise, strong and brave, huh?* A plan formed in his head. If she was that eager to find her knight *snort*, maybe he could send her on a wild goose chase...

"Oh, you mean Sp--... um William? I... I'm sure you'll find him soon. In fact, I think I just saw him just around the corner. If you hurry you can catch him. He's a bit smaller than me, blonde hair, blue eyes. I just know you are meant for each other. You'll kill and maim happily ever after."

Even as the words left his mouth it occurred to Xander that he'd just sent a bloodthirsty vampire to murder another man, in order to save his own skin. What did it matter that it had already happened? *Jeez, does that mean Spike gets turned because I've been hurled into the past to point the way? Now that's disturbing.* The thought made him dizzy and also slightly sick.

Drusilla, on the other hand, clapped her hands with glee. Then she took Xander by the hand to drag him up the stairs and out of the lecture theatre. "Show me where you saw him."

"Just outside the hospital," Xander lied.

Drusilla regarded him. "I should kill you, you know. But do not worry. My tummy is full," she said amiably. "I ate a few wicked men and feasted on all kinds of nightmares. And you told me about my knight. I will kill you later. Will you remind me to eat you next time we meet?"

Without waiting for an answer, she turned around and wandered off, humming a happy tune. Occasionally she spread her arms and danced a few steps.

Xander turned the other way and trotted off in the opposite direction, faster and faster until he found himself running. He ran without really knowing where he was going, completely ruled by the overwhelming instinct to just get away from HER. He would have run much further if it hadn't been for the fact that he suddenly remembered where he'd told her to go. *Outside! I told her she could find her prince outside the hospital. Which means this is the wrong way.* He stopped, and leaned against a wall, panting.

*Now if I follow Drusilla, she might lead me to a way out!* `Out' was such a sweet sounding word. He could only hope Dru knew where she was going. And hope that she didn't change her mind about that not eating him thing. He turned around, backtracking his steps hurriedly. He walked down the corridor she had chosen. She wasn't in sight but he thought he heard her singing nearby.

Like a rat following the Pied Piper, Xander followed Drusilla's eerie music along dark corridors, past a closed door with a sign that read `Ward 5', past the room where his medical examination had taken place, until he finally came to an open door. Cool air welcomed him as he stepped into a dark courtyard. Drusilla was nowhere to be seen. The sky was overcast and had an angry red tinge and the air smelled of soot and dirt. Xander was just glad he'd gotten out of the building alive and in one piece.

He'd been lucky. *Yup!* Lucky to have been tied up in that straitjacket. If he'd been strapped to a bed like the patients in Ward 5...

*Ward 5!*

He suddenly remembered the view he'd gotten of Ward 5 when he'd been dragged to his medical examination. The door had stood open and he'd seen a large dormitory with barely enough space between beds to walk. The twenty or thirty beds had been empty, but he had gotten a good look at padded shackles and leather belts.

Well, at nighttime the beds would be occupied. He could picture the patients, all tied to their beds. It was like a buffet.

He froze. *They're dead already. Died a century ago. There's nothing I can do. Hell, there's nothing I should do, except get outa here.* He didn't even known if the vampires would go in there. After all, they had so many people to choose from. *And messing with time? Not of the good!* Besides, Buffy was the Slayer, while Xander was just part of the back up team, research pal *Well, not so much*, morale officer and donut expert. He stopped. His mind said one thing, and his gut - which was tied in a fearful knot - agreed, but his heart said another.

He turned and looked at the door that led back into the asylum. *What would Buffy do?* he asked himself, knowing the answer. She'd tell him to get out, to get to safety and then she'd barge in to kick some ass. *So, maybe this is Buffy's job, the slaying and the saving. But Buffy's not here. And I am.* He swallowed and wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. Then he ran back as fast as he could. Ward 5, The door was locked, but he knew that wouldn't stop a group of determined bloodsuckers. They probably had more keys than they needed, one set for each orderly killed. Xander fumbled with his key ring and tried to insert a random key but his hands were trembling too much. Hell, his whole body was racked with the shakes, both from fear and from his most recent exertions. He forced himself to take a deep breath and studied the keys in his hands and the lock on the door. Two more deep breaths and he felt the trembling subside somewhat.

He picked a key and slid it into the lock. It fit! He opened the door, slipped inside and locked it behind him. He quickly scanned the room. There were twenty-five beds, arranged five by five. All were occupied by women rendered prone by belts and buckles.

His arrival did not remain unnoticed. A few women began to wail. Others just turned their heads to look at him lethargically. A few seemed to be asleep. Maybe they were drugged or something. It looked like he'd stumbled on the ward for pregnant patients, because most of the women had swollen bellies. *A pregnancy ward?* He recognized Molly, the woman who'd fed him during meals, in one of the beds and quickly walked over to her. She was awake but her eyes were eerily vacant.

"Molly? Molly, can you hear me?" Xander tried urgently. She'd been able to follow the orderlies' instructions during meal times, so she couldn't be all gone. *Here's hoping.* "Come on, talk to me!"

"Molly does not talk, not anymore," a rasping voice said next to him. Xander started. The woman in the adjoining bed shot him a defiant glance before lowering her eyes in a cautious gesture of submission. "That is why she is here," she added. It was hard to guess her age. Forty-five, maybe older. She was thin and flat chested, her body emaciated almost to the point of masculinity. Her short chestnut hair was streaked with gray.

Xander reached for the belt that strapped the woman's waist to the bed. He saw her flinch. He also realized that this woman didn't look pregnant at all. Then why was she kept in the ward for preg--- *Oh my god!* the realization hit him like a sledgehammer. The women here were with child because tied up like this they were easy prey... not just for vampires but for any orderly sick enough to force himself on the women in his care. Bile rose in Xander's throat.

"Don't worry, I'm not an orderly, and I'm not going to hurt you," he promised. "Who are you?"

"My name is Helen Moore."

"Xander Harris," Xander introduced himself, forgetting his alias. He freed her hands.

She sat up hurriedly and rubbed her wrists. "I heard screams. More than usual. What is happening?"

"You wouldn't believe me," he answered ruefully. "You'd think I'm crazy." He looked around and spotted a cross on one of the walls. He had to climb on a bed to get it down but felt much better holding it. He regarded the room: several barred windows that were too small to climb through anyway and three doors.

"Where do those lead to?"

"Bathroom and storeroom," Helen Moore replied. She wasted no time and started freeing first Molly and then several other women. Xander fervently hoped that she was sane enough to know what she was doing.

"Okay, everyone listen," Xander spoke up. "We have to stay inside this room and not let anyone in. There are... people out there... murdering... other people."

The women huddled together like scared sheep, clutching their swollen bellies and watching fearfully as Xander used several beds to erect a barricade. His whole body hurt from his injuries and his earlier activities. He was tired, hungry and sore. And he was scared. But he was also determined to give the first vampire who stuck his face through the door a proper walloping. Six years of Scooby-ing had to be good for something.

***

It didn't take Spike long to get re-acquainted with his surroundings. The sights and smells made his stomach flip as a wave of nostalgia washed over him. *Are vampires supposed to feel nostalgic?* he wondered. He could feel the river and taste the filth. He smiled at the easy familiarity. Traveling through dark alleyways, he made his way across East London through a maze of warehouses and factories. He easily avoided the streetlamps that cast a sickly yellow glow on the paved roads in front of boarded up buildings. At every turn, his confidence grew, as memories floated up through his subconscious and he became increasingly more accustomed to the area. Before long, he was standing a block from the asylum.

St. Luke's was hard to miss. It was a large prison-like complex of buildings, surrounded by a stout wall. Spike headed for the delivery gate. It was closed but unlocked. He was about to slip inside when he sensed someone. He whirled around.

There she stood, dressed in a dark green robe, her dark hair fashioned into a cascade of curls. Almost exactly like the night he'd died.

"Drusilla," he exclaimed.



Part 30 - Alter Egos

"If you could change time, what would you fix?" Willow asked. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed sipping hot herbal tea. She held out a piece of cheese to Amy who was fidgeting around on the bed beside her. Meanwhile, Tara was fixing the freshly cleaned rat cage. She put a few pellets into the little bowl and filled the water dispenser. Officially, Tara and Willow were resting. Unofficially, they had found it difficult to find the necessary peace of mind, so they had started talking, about Spike, his chip, and what he would do. And now their conversation had turned to this.

"This is a hypothetical question, right? I mean, you're not seriously thinking about this kind of thing, Willow, are you?"

"No! Of course not. No thinking of this thing, as in contemplating or planning or whatever. Absolutely not," Willow said. "It's just, have you never wished you could go back in time and fix something you've done or said, you know, go back and do it right? Wished for a second chance to undo a mistake you made?"

"No, Willow, never." Tara shook her head vehemently, causing her pigtails to flap. She put the cage back in its place and sat down on the bed. The rat scurried over to her and was rewarded with a pat. "Life's not some computer game. You can't just press reset and go back to before you screwed up. Life is a one shot deal. You can always try to make up for mistakes, like do things differently, better, the next time you're in a similar situation. If we don't have to suffer the consequences of our actions, what is to stop us from making the same mistakes over and over again?"

"I know, Tara, and I agree," Willow replied emphatically but without true conviction. "But there are so many things that could be better, that could be prevented if someone went back... wars and catastrophes and stuff."

"And who gets to decide what needs fixing?"

Tara was shocked, not so much at the things Willow was saying as at how she was saying them. Their discussion about whether they should raise Buffy from the dead had started off more or less the same way, with lots of "hypotheticallys" and "theoreticallys" thrown in and fervent denial on Willow's part - and in the end they'd gone and done it, anyway. Tara was very happy that Buffy was alive, but somehow she was waiting for the other shoe to fall, wondering if there was still price to pay for playing with fate like this.

If Tara had to be completely honest with herself, she had to admit that Willow's been-there-done-that-bought-the-t-shirt attitude towards that resurrection spell was beginning to worry her. "Willow, we've talked about this before. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should," Tara said unhappily. She picked up Amy and put her back into the cage. The rat climbed into the racing wheel and began to run.

"So you're saying that if I find a way to turn Amy back into her old self I shouldn't do it?" Willow asked, peeved and taken aback at the intensity of Tara's concern. "Or are you saying I should leave Buffy where she is? Do you think I do spells just because I can? You of all people should know me better. You should know that I use magic to help. It's what I do. Buffy slays vampires, I work magic to save the world. That's MY calling."

"You know that's not what I meant!" Tara looked stunned.

"Then what DO you mean?" Willow asked loudly, not sure if she even wanted to hear what Tara might have to say. How could Tara possibly understand? It wasn't like they were playing in the same league when it came to magic.

Tara shook her head, unable to find the words she needed.

Willow put her mug down forcefully and got up. Her head hurt and she felt slightly dizzy. How come she and Tara were fighting? Again. The last time this had happened, Glory had gotten her hands on Tara and sucked all sanity and coherence right out of her. Willow had sworn to herself that if she got Tara back, the real, sane, common-sense, lovable, gentle and sweet Tara she loved so much, then they'd never argue again. Ever.

"W-willow, please," Tara said pleadingly.

Willow looked at her lover and felt a cold chill, an almost painful wave of apprehension. She shook her hand. "Let's not fight over this," she said, sounding colder than she intended. She had to clear her head, get rid of that awful headache first, that was making her cranky. Maybe then they could talk and make things right. "This is not the right time for recriminations. We'll talk about this when I've brought Buffy back, and then you can tell me again, how my using magic is wrong. You better get some rest now, you must still be tired from opening that portal."

And with that she walked out of their room.

+++

"What are you watching?" Warren asked as he walked into the lair, carrying two large cardboard boxes. He glanced at the monitor screen, recognizing the larger of the Summers' bedrooms. "Waiting for some lesbo action?"

"They're just talking," Jonathan said with a shrug. "Boring stuff."

"Too bad. Well, let us know when it gets x-rated. And don't forget to tape the proceedings. You never know when it might come in handy."

Jonathan nodded and unwrapped a chocolate bar. "So, how do we get that spellbook?" he asked. He kept one eye and ear trained on the monitor, but swiveled his chair to look at his comrades-in-crime.

"I could summon a Theoffyd demon to steal it," Andrew suggested, looking up from the X-Men comic books he was putting into protective plastic bags. While Warren had spent large amounts of the haul from the bank robbery on electronic parts and stuff, Andrew had gone about filling the gaps in his comic book collection. "The ritual is easy. But he wants the left hand of a freshly dead body as payment."

Jonathan shuddered. "How do you think we're supposed to get one of those?" he asked petulantly. "Buy one at the Magic Box?"

"We could go to the cemetery and dig up a fresh corpse. We could chop it up for other spell components, too. A dead man's eyes are good for spying on people, although we don't need those, not with the cameras Warren installed," Andrew said matter-of-factly.

"Ew!" Jonathan exclaimed, eyeing his half eaten Mars bar in disgust and tossing it into the trash. "I'm not going to dig up bodies, they're smelly and disgusting, and the cemeteries are crawling with vampires who don't know we're dangerous crime lords on our way to world domination."

"Digging up bodies won't be necessary, gentlemen," Warren said cheerfully, as he strode to their evil archive. "I already know who's going to get us that spell book." He reached up to the top shelf and took down a handful of video tapes. Holding them up triumphantly, he announced: "And this is all we need as payment."

***

"Miss Summers!"

"Yea? What do you want?" Dawn asked, taking a nervous step backwards. She'd been walking home from school when a small, creepy looking man had stepped out from behind a tree and into her path. He was ugly, and old, and bald. *Ew!*

"There is something you need to see," the man said. Even his voice was creepy.

Dawn frowned, hoping the guy wasn't some kind of pervert. But no, he was just handing her a brown manila envelope.

"What is it?"

"Open it."

She opened the envelope and tilted it. A small stack of prints slid out. The top one was a grimy black and white photograph. It showed her in the magic box, looking in a strangely aloof way at Anya, whose back was turned to her. She looked at the next print. It was taken just a second later and caught her secretly pocketing a good-luck charm. Dawn felt a cold chill spread through her. She looked at the next pictures. It showed her in Willow and Tara's room, taking Willow's favorite scarf. The loss of which Willow was still bemoaning at regular intervals, even though it had been three weeks since Dawn had borrowed it indefinitely. And there were more incriminating pictures.

"Who... who are you? How did you get this? And what do you want?" she asked, hating the fact that she sounded scared and shrill. *Oh god, if Buffy finds out about this...*

"You can keep the pictures, we can always make more copies. We can even make video tapes," Jonathan said, repeating the words Warren was speaking into his tiny earphone. He knew Warren was just around the corner, sitting in the Deathstar, taping the whole exchange as Jonathan's collar camera transmitted it.

The crushed and ashamed look on the girl's face made him uneasy. He was glad his glamour spell was keeping his identity a secret. He had met Buffy's sister a few times, and although he didn't know her very well, he wouldn't have been able to do this wearing his own face. He had picked the scariest person he'd ever known (other than Cordelia Chase) for the illusion and he was only acting as Warren's mouthpiece, so he wasn't really here, was he?

"What would your friends say if they knew you're stealing from them? And your sister? We could circulate these at your school. Do you steal from your school buddies, too?"

"What do you want?" Dawn asked again, trying to sound cold and in control. But she was trembling both with rage and guilt.

"We'd like you to steal something."

Dawn nodded slowly.

Jonathan knew he should feel great about a brilliant plan so well executed...but, in reality, he felt like he'd bitten into something rotten. Somehow, being evil wasn't so much fun, after all.

***

Miss Catrall's thesis on William the Bloody was a tedious read. It was chock full of annotations and addendums and sprouted the usual pretentious Watcher jargon, not to mention tons of footnotes. Sifting through the drivel for some relevant piece of information was like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Giles sighed, tossed the stack of printouts on the table in front of him and poured himself another cup of Earl Grey.

There was a knock on the front door. When Anya unlocked it, Dawn walked in, dragging her feet. "Hey everybody." She dropped her bag near the stairs and walked over to Giles. She scanned the shelves as unobtrusively as she could, and her mind worked on angles and perspectives. In the end, she let her gaze briefly rest on a human skull, a replica of course - *jeez, amazing really, the kind of stuff people were prepared to spend money on* - unable to see the camera but pretty sure that it was there.

"Dawn! Is it that late already?" Giles glanced at his watch.

"Already? I thought school would never end. Isn't it amazing how time crawls when you're bored out of your skull?"

"Yes, quite," Giles said, only listening with one ear.

Dawn leafed through the stack of fax paper, caught sight of the footnotes at the bottom of each page and withdrew her hand as if she'd burned herself. "What are you reading?" she asked.

Giles squinted at the two sheets of paper he was still holding. *'Effulgent?'* He winced. "Poetry," he said.

Dawn wrinkled her nose disdainfully.

"Giles! I'm tidying up your half of this mess and you are reading poetry?" Anya asked with a raised voice. She and the Slayer were almost finished with making the shop presentable again. "Being a not-so-very silent overseas partner doesn't exempt you from your half of the damages!"

"I wasn't actually reading poetry in order to amuse myself, Anya," Giles informed her patiently. "I was doing research."

"Oh, in that case, carry on. Don't let me keep you from anything that might help Xander," she said reasonably and gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder. "Or Buffy," she added as an afterthought. "If you need my help, just say so."

"Thank you, Anya. That won't be necessary."

She nodded and headed for the cellar to fetch stuff like scented candles and scarab amulets to fill the empty shelves. Maeve hesitated for a moment, then followed her.

"Can I do my homework here?" Dawn asked, trying to hide her nervousness It took every ounce of her self control to keep from looking at the hidden camera.

"Yes, sure. Go ahead," Giles said absentmindedly, rubbing his tired eyes.

Giles was well versed in literary criticism. After reading the two awful poems Miss Catrall had attached to her thesis, he concluded that William Crawford had been the nineteenth century equivalent of a geek. Much like Xander, really. Passionate, insecure, dependable, possessive, protective of those he cared for. Both shared an interest in tales of heroism and grandeur, even though it required a certain stretch of imagination to compare Crawford's taste for the classics with Xander's interest in Spiderman's exploits.

Miss Catrall had built her whole long-winded thesis around the conviction she'd already imparted on the phone: that upon turning, the human personality was utterly destroyed and that the demon merely inherited enough memories of the dead body it animated to pass itself off as human. Giles wondered what she'd say if she knew that by describing William Crawford she had unknowingly given Giles the means to understand Spike.

As he reread those heart-felt but pathetically inarticulate poems, Giles felt like he'd been handed the key to a long locked door.

+++

"She's really gonna do it," Andrew said, his jaw dropping in awe. "We actually blackmailed the Slayer's little sister. Wow! Guess she really thinks we're going to tell everybody."

"That's cause we would," Warren said. "What use is a threat if you're not prepared to go through with it?"

"Right," Andrew nodded in understanding. "No bluffing."

"No bluffing," Warren said, giving him a pat on the back.

Jonathan said nothing. He merely watched on the monitor as Dawn Summers walked into the Magic Box.

"What's going to happen when she brings the book?" he asked, but he already knew what Warren would say.

"Then we have our hostage, without so much as lifting a finger."

"Cool," Andrew said.



Part 31 - Old Habits Die Hard

*Stay cool. Just. Stay. Cool.* Xander repeated over and over again. The sounds of howling and shrieking seemed to be getting closer. Xander stood still, waiting. Listening. His eyes were trained on the dark wooden door. He stared past the broken side tables and the makeshift barricade of beds to the grimy silver knob of the entrance to Ward 5. He could hear his heart drumming in his ears even louder than the moans and cries of the terrified women behind him. His right arm still hurt like hell, but thanks to the medical treatment he'd received, he could use it again. Besides, what was it his swim coach used to say? `There's pain and there's injury, boys.' The man had been stark raving mad and ruthless to boot but not stupid. *Pain or no, any vampire who walks through that door has to go through me first.*

Helen was beside him with a small cross in one hand that she'd pried from the bathroom wall just moments ago. Her watchful eyes flicked back and forth between the strange man and the door.

"If any of them get in, you hold that cross in front of you. Don't let go, okay? It will protect you," Xander explained rapidly.

Helen nodded curtly.

Xander took a moment to glance back at the women huddled in the back of the room. He had armed several of the more lucid women with crude stakes and told them to stab "Don't hit" with them. He knew that these women were too weak and afraid to do more than faint or wail if a vampire actually made it through the door, but maybe - just maybe, they could do a bit of damage if it actually came to that.

"Mr. Harris?"

"Call me Xander," he said as he turned to the brave woman beside him. "Yea, Helen?"

"God Bless You," she said. And then there was a loud bang on the door to Ward 5, and Xander almost passed out.

Luckily, the women screamed loud enough to keep Xander alert. Another loud bang; the wooden door splintered into a web of sharp timbers. Xander stood wide-eyed and rigid. There was another loud crash and the door finally exploded inward. There was a mangled body behind the force of the shattered door, and it thudded into the debris in front of him. A mass of bloody limbs twisted between metal bed frames. The poor chap was only recognizable as a fellow patient by the blood soaked tatters of what was left of his straitjacket.

Xander took an involuntary step back, nearly tripped over remaining wreckage, and accidentally dropped his stake. Through the warped iron bars of the bed frames, he could see a slender figure approaching. His eyes widened in recognition and he fought hard to retain a shred of bravery.

Darla stepped through the doorway into the wreckage and grinned wickedly at her terrified prey. "Oh look," she said. "The lunatic's got a cross. Scaaary." She snickered. "You think God will protect you?"

"Stay back," Xander warned. His voice was louder and clearer than he imagined it could be in this situation. *Am I imagining things - scary thought, seeing that I'm stuck in a loony bin - or does she look less gross than before?*

"Or what?" Darla asked. "You'll pray at me?" She took a step toward the frightened human.

"What happened to your face?" Xander asked, surprised at his own directness.

Darla hesitated for a moment. She touched the tips of her fingers to her mangled cheek and seemed temporarily unsure of herself. Xander noted her insecurity and felt a sliver of pride. Helen shifted nervously to his right.

"Will that ever heal? I mean, it would suck to have to live forever with that face."

Darla was getting angry. What looked to Xander like a good way to get this vamp off her guard was now looking like the perfect plan to make himself dead. *But Buffy's always flinging insults when she's fighting.* He shook his head. *Okay, but she can actually fight and has Slayer strength to back her up, and you have a cross and an army of weak, pregnant, lady looney toons,* he told himself. *Great odds.*

"Don't worry, sweetheart. A tasty treat like yourself will help heal me quick." She licked a pointed tooth. "Blood will make me whole."

She came toward him at what seemed like light speed. He raised his cross and held it steady at arm's length. She stopped just far enough away to avoid any cross-related skin tingles, but just close enough for Xander to connect a quick and powerful right hook to her jaw. Darla, surprised at the human's audacity and strength, wasn't prepared for the blow and lost her balance. As she stumbled away, holding her face, Helen lunged forward and pressed the cross onto the vampire's arm. Darla's skin crackled and sizzled. Helen pulled away quickly, retaining a strong hold on her religious trinket.

"Good job," Xander mumbled, startled and pleased by Helen's daring.

But their mutual satisfaction was short lived. Darla was enraged and quickly recovered from her shock. She sprung at Xander, vampire visage to the fore, growling furiously. She scratched at him, drawing blood from his arm, face and chest. She held his arm away from her body to avoid the cross he still held. He pushed her away with all the force he could muster, but it wasn't enough. She tore at his hand, and bit his shoulder, taking a small chunk of his flesh with her. He punched her with his free hand. Then he searched frantically for another stake.

Many of the women behind him had already fainted; the rest were standing as close the far wall as they could retreat. But one woman stepped forward timidly and flung her stake in Xander's general direction. He dove for it. All the while his mind was racing: *What would happen if I stake Darla. Will I feel different? Will my memories change?* As his fingers closed round the coarse piece of wood he remembered his childhood friend Jesse. * What about him? If I kill her now, does that mean Jesse never gets turned? All those Technicolor nightmares - poof and gone?*

Darla recovered from her momentary state of disbelief, and was even angrier than before. "I was just going to kill you," she said. "But now, I think I will keep you around. Gnaw on you for a while. Share you." She smiled cruelly. She was pacing a line, back and forth in front of Xander, like a hungry wolf. "I wonder what would happen if I turned a pregnant woman. I suppose I can keep you alive long enough to witness that crime against nature. Would you like that?"

She lunged at Xander but then side-stepped and grabbed an unsuspecting Helen. The vampire grabbed the terrified woman by the throat with one hand, and caught her wrist with the other. She held Helen's hand away from her body because, unlike Xander, Helen held her weapon with an iron grip.

"What're you going to do now, prayer-boy?" She bared her fangs and leaned toward Helen.

Suddenly, Molly wailed and careened toward the vampire, flailing her arms. The unexpected commotion caused Darla to loosen her hold momentarily. The moment was enough for Helen to swing her arm down and press the cross into Darla's thigh. The vampire screeched in pain and let go of her captive. Molly was still howling and was almost on top of Darla. Xander took advantage and rushed Darla as well. He kicked her in the stomach. While she was doubled over, he pressed his cross onto her back. It sizzled and smoked while she screamed. She tried to stand, and slashed at her attacker. But in moments, Molly was on her back. Darla, turned and wriggled, but couldn't escape the madwoman's grasp. Xander sent a hard uppercut into the vampire's chin, throwing her head back.

Helen ran toward her friend, as did several other women. They shrieked and mewled as they approached the skirmish.

"Molly!" Helen yelled over the commotion. "Molly, let go!"

Molly dropped away from Darla as three other women began pulling at the demon's hair and tearing at her clothes viciously. One was even biting the vampire's arm. *How's that for irony,* Xander thought. Darla's face and arm were bleeding profusely, her dress was melted into her back and one could see the mutilated flesh on her thigh through the hole in her skirts. The women were howling like banshees. Helen pulled Molly away from the brawl just as the vampire tossed one of the women across the room like a rag doll. Then she punched the second. The last one was latched onto her arm by her teeth; Darla grabbed her by the hair and yanked her off. She growled into the woman's face, which was now covered in Darla's blood. But if she was hoping to instill any fear, she failed. There wasn't a scrap sanity left behind the patient's eyes. Darla used her grip on the woman's hair to slam her head into the wall. The poor lady fell to the floor, head bloodied.

Xander approached Darla from behind, holding the leg of a broken table as if it were a bat. The moment he was close enough to swing, Darla turned her head and hissed at him. He swung. Hard. The vampire was thrown back into the clutter of bed frames. She took a moment to glare at her attackers before she steadied herself and backed out of Ward 5 to find easier pickings.

***

Drusilla regarded him intently. Spike was used to her stares. He was also used to her bouts of uncanny perception, so he wasn't surprised when she seemed to recognize him: "There you are. I`ve been looking for you," she said, with absolute certainty.

"Oh? Well, looks like you found me," Spike said She swept towards him as if suddenly reunited with a long lost lover. She placed her hand over his heart and touched her cool forehead against his, almost soothingly. And he let her, because it felt like coming home.

"My black knight," she cooed.

"My black sprite," he murmured, losing himself in her fathomless eyes. He dropped his bag and placed his hands on her waist.

They stood for what seemed like forever: his hands around her slender waist, her right hand resting over his heart, the other clasping his arm. They were gazing into each other's eyes, oblivious to the rest of the world, their lips mere inches apart.

Enveloped by her familiar scent, Spike remembered with absolute clarity how pain had turned into pleasure when she'd drained him and how the sweet taste of her blood had worked its changes on him. This was his dark muse, his ripe wicked plum, the woman who'd made him what he was, who had saved him from a boring and empty life as a third-rate librarian, the woman he'd loved for more than a century.

"Walk with me," she interrupted his reverie. He turned sideways and offered her his arm, while picking up his bag of loot with the other. They looked like a lady and her gentleman as they strolled through dark alleys, away from the asylum. Very romantic. Except for the blood stains on their clothes.

"Tell me, why are you here? Your path, where does it lead you?" she asked conversationally.

"To tell the truth, I don't really know myself," he admitted. This felt more and more like a strangely alluring dream.

She stopped and turned to face him. Her hand shot out to catch something insubstantial out of the air just inches away from his scarred brow. She pulled back her fist and opened it in front of her eyes. There was nothing to see, at least Spike couldn't make anything out. Drusilla, however, studied her empty palm curiously. He wondered what she saw.

Maybe she saw some of the things that went through his head when he looked at her familiar face. So many treasured memories: roaring through the streets of Chicago in a brand new Bugatti Type 35B; celebrating Carnival in Rio; scratching their names into the Berlin Wall; drifting through Jazz clubs in Prague; cheating Dracula at cards in Bucharest; listening to "The Shadow" on the radio in New Orleans; making love in the Gigantic Wheel of the Vienna Prater; hearing Jimi play at Woodstock; riots, wars, catastrophes. Swing. Jazz. Punk. Good times. Easier times. Wicked fun times. *Oh yes. Those were the days...*

Drusilla took a deep breath and puffed at her empty palm as if blowing out a candle or a dandelion. "So lovely," she cooed.

Spike had no idea what she was talking about, but he liked being the cause of her enthusiasm. He caught her hand and pulled it to his lips. When he pressed a kiss into her palm it triggered more memories: The taste of her lips and the silken feel of her skin...

Their lips met in a passionate kiss. Hungry, almost desperate. He pressed his body against her and felt her responding just as wantonly. In her arms everything was just so much easier.

"Dance with me," Drusilla giggled, as he nuzzled her throat. She began to sway in his arms.

"There's no music," he murmured indulgently.

"But there is. Can't you hear it? Are screams not the sweetest music? I find it so," Drusilla said wistfully. "My mother used to sing for me, but Angelus silenced her with a mouthful of earth. I wept when they lay her in the cold ground. I would bring her rosemary and pansies but they always wither."

Spike listened. Indeed. Screams. In the distance. Where the asylum was. *Bugger! Or maybe not. What do I care if the stupid sod gets eaten?* The things Xander had said the night Buffy came back? The secrecy about the resurrection spell? Well, these things still rankled in Spike's mind. *Why bother? He's probably dead already. I could just stay here. Be with Drusilla.* he thought and looked again into the eyes of the woman he loved for so long. *With my knowledge of things to come...* That knowledge meant power and money. Lots of money.

But he reluctantly broke the embrace, annoyed with that tiny voice in the back of his head that seemed to care whether Harris lived or died.

The thing was... Dawn and the others wanted Xander back. And Buffy, well, she shouldn't have to mourn another dead, not with the memory of her Mum's death still fresh. *'Sides, I promised Little Bit... and Giles... hell, I even promised Angel I'd get the brick-layer out. I may be many things, but I'm not one to break my promises.*

Drusilla looked at her prince. "Have you forgotten the steps?" she asked him.

"No! No, it's not that, I haven't forgotten. How could I?"

"Or is it not me you wish to dance with?" she asked, appearing quite lucid as she tried to read in his face.

He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Dru. Our time has come and gone."

He'd expected fury, high-pitched shrieking and perfectly manicured nails clawing at his face, but she merely nodded. With her mind unfettered by common sense and linear thinking, it didn't confuse or anger her how things present and things past were intricately intertwined with things yet unknown.

"I know," she sighed and moved even closer to him. She put her lips to his ear and whispered, "Or it is still to come?"

***

Xander sighed, his relief evident. "Let's get out of here," he said to Helen.

Helen nodded and ushered some of the more coherent women out of the door. She shushed them and directed half of them down one corridor and the other half, down another.

"They have a better chance to escape if they split up," she whispered to Xander.

She took Molly's hand and the three of them hurried down the hallway toward the front of the asylum. The carnage they passed along the way made the women gag. Xander felt nauseated, too, but as he'd been cast to play the hero in this nightmare he squeezed Helen's arm reassuringly. *Escape now, vomit later.* Occasionally, the three would stop to hide in a closet or storeroom when they thought they heard sounds nearby. But after only four false alarms, they made it to the front door of the asylum.

"I suppose it is time we went our separate ways," Helen suggested.

"No, I won't just leave you," Xander answered.

"Yes, you will," she answered. "I will look after Molly. There is no need for you to burden yourself with us."

"No, we'll hide out together. At least until it's daylight, until I know you're safe." He said it with authority.

"You are a kind man, Mr. Harris."

The three unlikely heroes scurried down dark alleys, peering into filthy windows as they went. They avoided the busier streets where whores and thieves preyed on sailors' purses. Finally, several streets from the hospital, they came upon what looked like an abandoned warehouse. Xander used the tatters of his shirt to wrap around his fist so he could punch through the grime-stained window. He cleared a large enough section for the three of them to wriggle through safely. Xander made his way to the far wall and fell back against it. He slid slowly to the floor and rested his face in his bloody hands.

"You are badly hurt," Helen remarked.

"I'll live." *I hope.*

Helen made sure that Molly was sitting comfortably before she approached Xander.

"Let me help you."

She took the piece of scrap fabric from Xander's hand and told him to unbutton his shirt. Xander obliged. Helen dabbed at the bite wound with the fabric, and cleaned the blood from the scratches Darla had inflicted.

***

Spike looked at the drained corpse at his feet. Several items of clothing and the shoes were missing. He picked up the discarded straitjacket that was lying in the corner. *This is Xander sized alright. So, where is he?*

Breaking into the records office had been a piece of cake. Chasing the paper trail had been easy as pie. There was no `Harris, Alexander' listed, but a `Kent, Clarke', provisionally diagnosed as delusional and possibly homicidal. *Delusional! You bet!* Then Spike had made his way to the cell in question only to find it deserted.

*What a bleedin' mess! `S mighty inconsiderate of the soddin' Supernerd to skedaddle off like that!* He growled in growing frustration and unacknowledged anxiety. *How in God's name am I supposed to find him, now? What if he's worm food already?*

"Damn!" Spike let out a roar and picked up the cot and smashed it repeatedly against the wall, causing splinters and sharp pieces of wood to fly through the cell. One such wooden ricochet nicked the back of his hand, snapping him out of it. He brought his hand to his mouth and licked the bleeding cut. Slightly mollified by the sweet sounds of destruction, he absentmindedly patted his pockets for his pack cigarettes, before he remembered that his Marlboros were on the other side of the planet, not to mention 121 years in the future. *Great!*

"Now what?" Spike asked himself. *God, I need a drink. And a smoke. And a plan. Not necessarily in that order.*

He left the cell and headed for the way out, first at a walk, then falling into a trot. The smell of freshly spilled blood seemed to permeate the whole building. He hardly noticed it when his fangs emerged and his eyes turned yellow. He checked behind each and every door he passed, causing patients to scream in abject terror. Whenever he came across a dead body he checked its identity. In each case he felt an irritating stab of relief when it wasn't Xander.

At last Spike stood outside the asylum again. He thought for a minute or two then his further course of action was clear. *Drink. Now!*

***

The first thing Spike did when walking into the taproom was check the time. It was already half past ten on the big grandfather clock. At the counter, he made sure the fat innkeeper got a good look at one of his gold sovereigns. The man took in Spike's filthy and blood-stained clothes. His eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he listened to Spike's requests, nodded, took the coin and put a bottle and a glass in front of him. Spike picked them up and found himself a table. After scaring off a couple of prostitutes he settled down to wait. Meanwhile, he innkeeper talked to a bunch of nasty looking fellows who were sitting round a round table, ale tankards in front of them.

Spike poured himself a drink and eyed the glass wistfully. Funny how it had taken him less than three hours to completely and utterly screw up: No Xander, no chip in his head and a dead human in his wake. And no way of knowing if he'd already tied a few knots into the timeline he knew. For all he knew the `Welcome to Sunnydale' road sign he'd knocked over a few times might well read `Welcome to the Hellmouth' now.*Bloody hell!*

Just two days ago he'd talked to Maeve about this. About losing the chip. *Said I wouldn't go back to killing, didn't I?* He chuckled without mirth. *See how long that noble resolve lasted. What was it Cordelia called me? Jinxed? That's it. Spike's jinxed. Always one foot on a banana peel.* He knocked back his drink, cheap gin that tasted like paint-stripper. Drumming his fingers impatiently on the table, he watched the nasty looking men get up and approach his table. They exuded an air of menace but they were businesslike enough when Spike repeated his requests.

When the little posse had left the pub, the innkeeper gave him a nod and went to serve other customers.

*Clutching at straws, this is,* Spike told himself, *total waste of time.* But he made no move to leave.

His thoughts wandered back to the last time he'd seen Buffy - the real Buffy. He'd been about to ask her to dance. Really dance. Not that adrenaline charged Slayer-vampire thing. Nothing of that. Only with the music and the holding hands, maybe. It had felt like she might say `yes' - not without a jibe or warning, but still... Now it looked like he'd never get to dance with her. Not like that. Even if he helped Buffy get back into her own time. Without the chip there was no way she'd ever let him near Dawn or her friends again. And if she knew about the cracksman he'd done in, she'd probably see it as her sacred duty to stake him once and for all.

Bungling up Harris's rescue didn't exactly help. *What do I tell her... them? 'Sorry, but he went missing `cause I was busy walking down Memory Lane with Dru?' Yeah, that'll go down well with everybody.*

Spike downed a second drink and poured himself another. *Doesn't really matter what I do,* he thought morosely. *I'm screwed.*

With or without Xander - he'd help her. Of course. He loved her. He'd failed her once, he wasn't going to fail her again. To get her home he'd cheat, lie and even kill, if he had to. *Sod the consequences!*

He eyed the clock nervously, *What's takin' them so long?*

Ten minutes later, the innkeeper led Spike into a dimly lit backroom. A weasel-y looking man passed Spike a large bundle. The vampire checked the contents, chose a few items, discarded others and nodded. He paid the duffer four sovereigns, which was a lot more than the stuff was worth but he was too impatient to haggle. He slipped into the worn but respectable black overcoat, put on the hat and returned to the taproom. He opened the lid of the silver watch and checked that it was both ticking and showing the correct time. Then he settled down to do what he hated most: wait.

An hour later, the first gin bottle was empty and Spike was working on his second. The liquor hadn't improved the vampire's bleak mood in the slightest. He only perked up when one of the earlier ruffians came back in and approached his table.

"Twenty quid?" The man asked gruffly.

Spike slipped his hand into his trouser pocket and brought out a handful of gold coins and set them on the table in a gleaming stack. The man's hand darted out but Spike caught it.

"Where?"

The man rubbed his wrist. "Come, I'll show yer."

Spike nodded and picked up his acquisitions. He followed the seedy looking fellow to the door, his new cane tucked under his arm, wondering if he was walking into an ambush.

"This one's on me, ladies," he said as he passed a handful of streetwalkers, and set the almost full gin bottle down on their table. He was gone before they had time to thank him.

***

"God, I hate vampires!" Xander complained, wishing he could pop a few Tylenol to erase the pain from the injuries Darla had inflicted on him.

"Is that so?" a familiar voice said.

Xander and the two women flinched at the sudden sound. Molly wailed in fear and clutched Helen's arm painfully.

"Spike? Spike! What are you doing here? You nearly gave me a heart attack," Xander exclaimed, *I never thought this could happen, but, jeez, I'm glad to see him!* Then he squinted suspiciously. "This is the 2001 model, right?"

To Xander, Spike looked odd in a coat that wasn't a leather duster. Not to mention the hat and cane. He stored the image away for later ridicule. There was another man with Spike, a burly fellow of the don't-wanna-meet-him-in-a-dark-alley persuasion. It seemed Spike was paying him. The man tipped his finger against his cap and left.

"How does galloping to the rescue sound to you?" The vampire sauntered towards him. He got out a tobacco pouch and started rolling himself a cigarette.

"Coming out of your mouth? Terribly strange. And highly unlikely. Where's Willow? Where are the others? Is Buffy here, too?" Xander looked around, expecting his friends to step out of the darkness.

"Just me." Spike lit his smoke and inhaled deeply, with obvious relish.

"Merciful Zeus! You're the entire away team?" Xander asked incredulously. "They sent YOU to save me? And again weirdness abounds."

"Thanks for the warm welcome, Captain Clumsy," Spike spat.

"Let me guess," Xander said, his eyes narrowing. "You volunteered for the mission cause we're best friends." His voice was dripping with sarcasm. "How much is Giles paying you? Or is this another one of your schemes to get into Buffy's pants?"

Spike looked absolutely livid, on the verge of hitting him and Xander was suddenly glad that there was a tiny piece of government hardware stuck in Spike's cerebral something. They glared at each other in mutual dislike.

Molly and Helen listened to the exchange but found it hard to grasp what the two men were talking about. They did pick up on the vibes of hostility eddying between them. Molly huddled closer to Helen. The man with the short blonde hair scared her.

It was Spike who broke off the staring contest with what seemed like great effort. "What's with the scarecrows?" he asked, indicating the frightened women.

"I'm protecting them," Xander said pompously. "Helen, Molly, this is Spike. Spike, meet Helen and Molly."

The vampire snickered. "What? Damsels in distress?" He eyed them more closely then mentally dismissed them as unimportant. "Yeah, they're real appetizers."

Xander turned towards the women. "Don't worry, as much as he'd like to, he won't hurt you. He's all bark, no bite."

Spike didn't rise to the bait. He shrugged and tossed the bundle he was carrying in Xander's direction.

Xander tried to catch it but his injuries made him clumsy and it fell to the ground. "What is it?" He eyed the bundle suspiciously as if he expected it to grow fangs.

"What's it look like, you ninny? Clothes. Wouldn't wanna get stopped by the peelers cause your bloody hospital gear screams `hassle me'. Put `em on."

Several scathing comebacks popped into his head but Xander wisely decided not to look the gift horse - or vampire - in the mouth. With Helen's wordless help, he changed into the clothes Spike had brought: a dark gray suit that was a size too small and a brown overcoat.

"Jeez, Spike, you reek. What is that?" Xander finally asked as he clumsily tried to button his coat. Helen squeezed his hand warmly and did it for him.

"You don't smell so good yourself, mate," Spike replied, hostility evident.

"Yeah, but I just spent endless hours in a place that would make the Sunnydale penitentiary look like the Hilton. What is that stink?"

"Gin. You want some?"

"You got drunk before coming to get me out?"

"D'you think I'd save you if I were sober? Think again, twerp." Spike picked up his bag, turned on his heel and started to leave.

"Spike wait, we're not leaving." Xander said, stepping in his path. "Not yet."

"What?"

"I'm not leaving Helen and Molly behind. They can't stay here all alone."

"You've got to be kidding! What's it with you? You don't really believe you're Clark Kent, do you? Want me to get you a pair of tights?"

"Shut up, Spike. It's not like that!"

"They're nutcases, for god's sake. Not playing with a full deck. Away with the birds. What do you want with such a sorry pair?"

"Yeah, you would know," Xander said scathingly. "What - with a century's worth of nutty Drusilla on your rap sheet. Tell me, does it rub off eventually?"

"Fine," Spike said coldly. "Have it your way." And with a two fingered salute he brushed past the surprised Scooby and headed outside.

Xander stared open mouthed at Spike's retreating back. "Wait!" he called. "Spike!" *Please!* The vampire didn't stop or turn. Xander looked at the two frightened women, then at his disappearing rescuer, then at his charges again. He sighed but stood by his decision. "Don't worry," he told them. "Tomorrow morning, when it's light I'll try to get some clothes for you. Maybe I can steal something, or sell this coat." He shrugged out of it and hung it around Molly's shoulders. "Here, that should keep you warm."

In fact, the coat was large enough to warm both women as they huddled in a corner, sitting on the bare ground. "Try to get some sleep," Xander told them. "I'll stay awake." Not ten minutes later exhaustion claimed them and they were both fast asleep.

Xander walked back and forth for what seemed like ages, running his argument with Spike through his head again. If he was honest, he was forced to admit that he hadn't exactly been on his best behavior. Even so, Spike's attitude surprised him. *How come he's all Mr. Sensitive? What did he expect? A gold medal? He's an evil, soulless thing. Who normally eats people like me. Who doesn't care about any of us, except Buffy,* he argued, as if trying to justify his behavior to an unseen audience. *Just because he saved us a few times, doesn't mean he won't try to kill us all later.* Okay, there were times when it was hard to remember that. Times, when Spike seemed almost human, when he himself seemed to forget what he was. But someone had to always remember. Someone had to be prepared for the worst. It was as simple as that.

Depression settled in and Xander found himself fervently wishing for some comfort food, a few candy bars or donuts. A drink would have been nice, too. Not Gin, but he wouldn't say no to a Budweiser or two right now. His body was aching all over. It couldn't hurt to sit down a little, could it? *Not sleepy,* he told himself, *very wakey, just need to rest my legs.* He sat beside the two women, and within minutes the sounds of their regular breathing lulled him to sleep.

When the vampire crept into the warehouse, Xander was snoring softly.


Some notes:

A duffer is someone who sells stolen goods.

A cracksman is a burglar.

Peelers are of course the police.

A sovereign is a gold coin worth one pound sterling (the price of a new silver pocket watch or a hundred mugs of ale). It is also called a quid. A steerage passage from England to the U.S. cost 5-7 pounds.

Many thanks to Kimi for helping me pick out the right old-timer for Spike and Dru.

http://www.toyota.co.jp/Museum/Tam/Car/Bugatti/index.html



Part 32 - Pigeon on the fence

Giles stifled a sigh as he glanced at the 15-year-old who was absentmindedly doodling in one of her notebooks. It was obvious Dawn wasn't concentrating on her studies, but the Watcher refrained from scolding her. Giles knew she was worried sick about her sister.

Well, to tell the truth, so was he. He was simply better at hiding his feelings under a veneer of professional detachment. Unfortunately, he had no idea how to cheer up a sad and frightened teenager. He felt another one of those unprofessional surges of emotion that habitually threatened to cloud his better judgment. He still wasn't comfortable with the way his paternal feelings always manage to sidestep his rational composure. Perhaps a few words of encouragement were in order. "Dawn?"

She flinched and looked up from her pad.

"Not to worry," Giles said, loud enough for Anya to hear, too. "I'm certain we'll have all three of them back in no time."

Dawn relaxed visibly, but her heart was still racing. For a moment she'd thought he'd somehow found her out, read it in her face or something. She nodded and forced a smile. "Yeah, I know," she said, when really she was so scared it made her want to scream. Scared of being caught; scared of being pushed away, if she were exposed; scared of losing Buffy again, for good this time; scared of losing Xander and Spike, too; scared of so many things. It all boiled down to one big knot of fear and resentment. If Giles or the others really cared about her, shouldn't they somehow sense that something was wrong? *I'm being blackmailed and he doesn't even notice!*

"Good good," Giles mumbled, already focusing on other things, namely an idea that had just popped into his mind. While he didn't think that it was a smart idea to leave Dawn and Anya marinating in their gloom, there was still one more avenue of investigation he felt he ought to explore. He stood and collected his printouts. As he tidied the pile and placed it neatly into a folder, he called:

"Anya, with Maeve to keep you company, would you be able to look after the shop and take care of Dawn for a while? Something just occurred to me and I would like to check it out right away..."

"What is it?" the young woman asked. "If it's to do with a spell, maybe I can help."

"Nothing of the sort," the Watcher replied hastily. "I should think there's been enough spellcasting already. Anyway, this shouldn't take long. I trust you and Maeve will be fine for an hour or so."

Dawn followed the exchange with growing resentment, feeling left out and annoyed at how everybody talked as if she weren't there. It was so unfair. No one gave her anything useful to do. No research, no magic for her. When the door chime marked the Watcher's departure, Dawn was actually relieved.

No longer pretending to do her homework, she checked on what Anya and Maeve were doing. Anya was squatting behind the counter, organizing books and paperwork on the shelf below the cash register. Occasionally, Dawn could see the top of the ex-demon's head, but mostly she just heard her rummaging around. Maeve was crouched on the floor near the new window, carefully arranging crystals on glass shelves, where the light of the afternoon sun made them sparkle alluringly.

Neither Anya nor Maeve were paying attention to Dawn. Even so, the teenager had the disconcerting feeling, no, the knowledge that she was being watched. From one of the shelves, the replica of a human skull seemed to be staring at her maliciously. It was hard not to scan for the hidden camera she knew was there - or thereabouts. Hard to keep from staring straight at the spying headpiece. *How long have they been watching?* she wondered. *What else have they seen?*

She surreptitiously closed her notebook and wandered about the shop. She let her fingers drag lightly over random items on shelves and tables as she glanced over her shoulder. *Now, where is that book?* She remembered that Giles had taken it with him to the shop this morning. But he hadn't taken any books with him just now, only his folder.

Another thought stopped her in her tracks. *Where else do they have cameras? In my house? In my room?* She shuddered. When the creepy guy had shown her the photos she hadn't really been thinking straight, but now she remembered that two of the shots had been taken in Willow and Tara's room. *If there's a camera in their room... ew! I have to tell them!* Except she couldn't. Because then she'd have to tell them how she knew about the spyware, about the pictures and Willow's scarf and Anya's earrings. No way! *The book. Concentrate on finding the book!*

There were two places she could think of, Giles's secret drawer behind the counter, where he used to hide his notes, or the office.

If the book was in Giles' office, she'd have to pass both Anya and Maeve to get there. *And what good excuse can I use for going in there?* She's stolen plenty of stuff before; it was never a big deal. But if they outright asked her what she was doing, she'd actually have to lie to their faces and it would have to be believable. Buffy was easy to trick, but Anya might be harder to convince. Dawn suddenly felt a flicker of doubt. She paused in her scheming, a pang of guilt seeping into her conscious. *If I get Buffy back, I promise I won't ever lie to her again,* she pledged silently. She felt wetness in her eyes and took a deep breath.

*They're watching me. I have to take it. It's no big deal. It's just a book,* she tried to convince herself. But her usual nobody's-gonna-miss-it attitude didn't work in this case. This was different. The book WOULD be missed. She tried to push the thought away.

She wandered toward the office slowly, internally devising a reason for going there just in case she was asked. *Cleaning. I'm going in there to dust. Yea, like they'll believe that.* She reconsidered, *I left a book in there that I need for math. That's not bad.*

Maeve looked up at her as she passed. The girl-who-looked-like-Buffy smiled. Dawn smiled back, but it took great effort. *Buffy trusts me. She has no idea. If I don't give them the book it'll all come out and everybody will freak and tell her when she comes back and then Buffy will freak too, and I'll be grounded till forever...* The Slayer's sister paused, took a deep breath and looked down at her sneakers. *But what if I give them the book and they do something with it, like, make sure Buffy never comes back...* A tear slipped from her eye and plopped gracelessly onto floor.

Maeve was at her side in an instant. "What is wrong? Are you hurt?" she asked.

"Something's wrong? What's wrong?" Anya was out from behind the counter almost instantaneously. "Dawn, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she answered quickly. She didn't want the spies to think she had changed her mind. Dawn looked up into the concerned faces of her friends and used all of her effort to keep from breaking down into tears. Quietly, and with her back toward the skull, she said, "There's something I have to tell you guys..."

***

Giles knocked firmly.

"Who is it?" an anxious voice could be heard.

"My name is Rupert Giles. We met the other day, when you delivered a letter to me."

The door was opened. "I would like to inform you that I'm not going to invite you in," Charlie Willoughby said. He was holding a cross between him and his visitor. Giles made the mental arithmetic.

"Spike was here." It wasn't a question.

Charlie Willoughby nodded.

***

Dawn's eyes were wet with tears she refused to let fall. She'd told Anya and Maeve that there was something important she needed to tell everyone but she wasn't ready to spill just then. After Giles returned, she suggested they meet Willow and Tara at the ice cream parlor.

"I just didn't want to go where people could..." she lowered her voice, "spy on us."

"What do you mean?" Willow asked.

"People know where we live. They know where we work. They're watching."

"Dawn, what are you talking about?" Giles sounded concerned. "Who's watching?"

They were sitting in a neon-lit ice-cream parlor. Not the one they usually visited, close to the Magic Box, but one they hadn't been to before. The only one who was still eating was Maeve, but only because Anya had insisted that she mustn't return to her own time without having tried both a chocolate sundae and a banana split first. Maeve had stared into the cold glass cases, mesmerized by the sheer number of flavors and colors available before Anya made the decision for her.

"Some guy," Dawn answered. "He came up to me on the street. He knew things."

"What did he look like?" Willow asked.

"Really creepy. About that high," Dawn held out her hand, "beady eyes, almost bald. He looked kinda familiar. A bit like that big-eared barkeep on one of those Star Trek series Xander used to watch, the one with the space station, except without the ears and stuff. I mean he looked human."

"Quark," Anya interrupted.

"I beg your pardon?" Giles said.

"The guy with the big ears, his name is Quark. Xander owns a signed picture of him." She blew her nose, once again overcome by worry over the fate of her not-yet-official fiancé.

"I remember," Willow suddenly said. "He showed me the autograph. He'd only bought it because he thought it was neat how much the guy looked like Principal Snyder. At least that's what he said." She smiled wistfully, knowing that Xander owned a lot more merchandizing stuff than he liked to let on, like Star Wars models and Klingon dictionaries, not to mention a Backstreet Boys lunchbox. Xander wouldn't be Xander without his geek-y treasures, she thought fondly, before the sobering memory of his current situation made her concentrate on the problem at hand.

"Principal Snyder! But he's dead!" Dawn exclaimed. "Mayor Wilkins ate him when he turned into a big snake demon, right?"

"Yes, he's dead." Willow said. "The whole class of `99 was there when it happened - plenty of witnesses."

"Well, the guy who's blackmailing me didn't look very dead to me."

"Maybe he's a zombie," Anya offered. "Or someone resurrected him. Snyder could have a twin brother nobody knows about. Or..."

"Dawn, you still haven't told us what he is blackmailing you with," Giles said gently. "It was very brave of you to come forward and tell us. I can't tell you how proud I am. But if we are supposed to find out who the man was and what his motives are, we need to know everything he said and we also need to know what he's threatening you with. We can't afford to take any risks. With the necessity to summon the temporal portal on time to get Buffy and the others back we have to eliminate all possible threats."

***

"And then there was a necklace from that boutique in the mall..."

When she started her confession, the words spouted out between blubbers, sniffles and tear-wipings, but after a few minutes, Dawn began ticking items off at a pace that rivaled the most experienced auctioneers.

"Oh, and a few lipsticks and nail polishes from the drug store. Remember that one with the sparkles?"

The Scoobies listened to Dawn's laundry list with growing horror. That horror turned to rage when Dawn began reporting the items she'd taken from the Magic Box.

"There was a medallion and a crystal..."

"You stole from me?" Anya shouted.

Dawn shrunk into her seat. "I...I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" Anya chastised. "You stole! From me! You're a thief and a liar!"

"Anya, calm down," Giles cautioned, although he too felt intensely disappointed.

"She stole from us, Giles. From us!"

"Yes, and she just told us about it, which I'm sure wasn't easy," Tara interrupted sharply. Everybody looked at her in varying degrees of surprise. Only Willow's face showed a proprietary smile and Dawn's showed extreme gratitude.

"It- It's not like we're all without fault ourselves," Tara continued, hunching her shoulders under the weight of everybody's attention. "Remember when I cast that spell on everybody, made you demon-blind? I mean, sometimes you just do dumb things, right?"

"Yes, quite," Giles admitted, not entirely without embarrassment.

Anya looked like she was about to protest, but Tara cut her off: "I'm not saying we should ignore what she did, all I'm saying is: we should skip the shouting and finger pointing and concentrate on catching these creeps."

Giles nodded. He looked at Dawn with obvious displeasure and said, "This is not over yet." Then he turned to the others. "But Tara is right. We have more pressing matters to attend to."

"What are we gonna do?" Willow asked. "I can't trace someone I've never met."

Giles quietly wondered if she meant trace as in computer-tracking or as in witchcraft-tracking. "Well, it seems we must meet them."

"But how?" Anya wondered.

"Dawn must prepare to commit her last criminal act."

"Huh?" Dawn's eyes were wide with surprise.

The corners of Giles's mouth turned up slightly. "You're going to steal our book."



Part 33 - Watchers' Counsel

Edward St. John Willoughby was unable to sleep. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw Louisa before him, her eyes dead and accusing. His work had killed her. His work and the secrecy he was sworn to.

It was his work to train and guide the Slayer. But he had almost gotten Maeve killed during her Cruciamentum. It was his work to make the world a safer place for women and children. But he had failed when it came to protecting his own wife and children. The irony of it all left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Was this God's punishment for his presumptuousness, Willoughby asked himself, for trying to bring Maeve back to life? Not only did the spell fail to bring his charge back to the world of the living, it dragged another Slayer out of her time and away from her friends and family. Worse, after failing Maeve, he'd failed Buffy, too, by allowing the Council to send her up against Angelus before she was ready for it. And then he had failed his family by leaving them unprotected, when he should have anticipated that the infamous Angelus would come for them.

Willoughby looked at the little bottle that sat on his bedside table, a draught based on poppy syrup provided by Director Hartford's physician that was supposed to dull the pain and help him sleep.

Hartford. The director's mistrust had been palpable. The future Slayer had been careless. Too forthright, too self-confident, too unlike Maeve. If Hartford's suspicions were not soon alleviated, Buffy would be in grave danger.

Willoughby threw back the covers and got out of bed. With great difficulty he shrugged into his dressing gown. Clumsy from his injuries, he fumbled with the door handle and let himself out of the room and into a dimly lit corridor. He made his way downstairs.

The door to the library was ajar and light was seeping through the gap. There were muffled sounds of papers being shuffled. Apparently Crawford was still working. The Watcher quietly slipped past and into the adjoining room.

The billiard room was dark and smelled of leather and tobacco. Willoughby considered lighting a match, but with his left wrist broken and in a cast and his right arm also injured and in a sling, that did not seem feasible or even advisable. Therefore, he whispered a word of power and a cold insubstantial light danced in the air before him, about as bright as the flame of a candle. Its gleam caught the facets of several crystal bottles filled with whiskey and brandy. Willoughby felt tempted, but controlled the urge to drown his guilt. Instead he approached an ugly painting depicting St. George and the dragon. Behind it was a switch. It operated a secret door. A part of the wall paneling swung open. Willoughby stepped through and entered Hartford's secret library. He quickly located the spellbook he was searching for. He hid the book under his dressing gown and went back to his room without being observed.

As he sat on his bed, staring at the dusty old tome, he wondered if Buffy's friends from the future were really coming for her. She certainly expected them to. But Willoughby couldn't help feeling like time was quickly running out.

***

*Amazing what catching a few z's can do for you.* Having slept through the whole afternoon and evening, Buffy felt ready to tackle the undead world again.

"Tadaaa!" she stepped out from behind the parav-- *what's-it-called?* - from behind the screen. Buffy twirled around gracefully. "How do I look?"

Charles Willoughby sat perched uncomfortably on a chair, visibly embarrassed at being in a girl's room while said girl was getting changed. "Are you... are you quite certain you wish to leave the house like that?" he stammered, blushing.

Buffy looked into the mirror. Charles's dark suit and coat were a perfect fit. Buffy decided that she looked good in men's clothing, smashing even. A bit like Barbara Streisand in `Yentil' - only better, and younger. A lot younger. *Barbara, eat your heart out!*

"Okay, maybe these aren't the type of pants I'd pick out for myself, but, hey, at least I won't trip over my hem or have a corset suffocating me. That's a plus when you're trying to stay alive..." She stopped herself, when the memory of the boy's mother came back. "Oh God, I'm so sorry, I'm such a ditz... I didn't mean..." She stammered crestfallen, angry with herself for being so self-absorbed. She took a deep breath. "Look, I know what you're going through, know how hard it is to... to lose someone..."

The boy seemed on the verge of tears but bravely fought for composure. To Buffy, he appeared quite collected for someone so bereft. *Now there's something these Victorians are really good at: bottling up their emotions.* From her own experience, Buffy knew the boy's grief was probably still dulled by shock. The real pain was yet to come.

"I'm not good with the comforting and stuff, but if there's anything I can do... just let me know," she babbled. "Right, I gotta go. Can't keep Hartford waiting much longer. Will you be okay?" She put a hand on his shoulder.

Charles nodded slowly.

He watched as the Slayer opened the lid of her weapons trunk and stuffed several sharpened stakes into the pockets of her coat.

"You will kill it, won't you?" Charles asked her, his voice thick. "That thing... that monster that killed Mother, promise me that you will destroy it."

*Been there, done that,* Buffy thought sadly, wondering for the umpteenth time if she shouldn't have killed Angelus when she had the chance. Louisa Willoughby would still be alive. Maybe killing Angelus and changing history would have resulted in a happier world and a happier Buffy, one who had no memory of killing her lover with a sword and sending him into hell for god knows how long...One whose mother was still alive...One who didn't die...twice. *Okay, enough with the wallowing,* she told herself firmly.

"It's... it's not as easy as that," she finally said, trying to be truthful. "Even if I did, it wouldn't bring her back, you know. She'll still be dead. I'm sorry. Believe me, one day Angel-- he'll be sorry for what he did..." but she realized the young man wasn't listening anymore.

"Still be dead," he echoed dazedly. Then his gaze sharpened and he said the dreaded words. "Then help me bring her back! There must be a way."

"No! Don't even think about it!" the words came out before Buffy could help it. "You don't want her to come back wrong. Where she is now, it's a good place. Believe me, I know. I've been there. If you really love her, you wouldn't do that to her."

In spite of his youth Charles Willoughby wasn't dumb. "Been there?" he echoed. Then he paled, remembering the conversation with his brother about demons and possession, about Maeve being different. Involuntarily, he got to his feet, knocking over his chair. "You're not Maeve," he blurted out. "You are something else. What are you? A demon? Are you dead? Are you a ghost who has enslaved Maeve's body?"

"Dead?" Buffy mumbled with a sigh, "Not currently. Ask me again in 120 years or so."

Carefully avoiding any move that might cause the boy to freak, Buffy sat down cross-legged on her bed. *Okay. No running away from this,* she realized.

She took a deep breath. "Okay, this may be a bit hard to believe..."

***

[Falling into blackness. Eyes that are bottomless pits. Something unspeakably dark is lurking, waiting to devour him, swallow him whole... He is running, but his feet are not moving. He is trapped. And she is coming for him!]

///Horatio!///

Bateley woke with a start. He felt nauseated, parched, ravenous. There was a sharp pain on his neck. *Oh God no!* For a horrified second he was certain that his greatest fear had finally come true, but then he could hear his own heart beating, fluttering like a frightened bird. He touched his throat with trembling hands. A bandage. *Still alive. I am not turned into one of them. Thank Heavens!*

The raven-haired vampire... She hadn't bitten him, but slashed his throat with her nails. Her eyes! She had mesmerized him. He remembered.

He gradually became aware of his surroundings: first the bed he was lying in and then the tangy smell of incense that wafted around him. He was in an expensively furnished room that was lit by a kerosene lamp. An arcane symbol of healing was painted on the ceiling above his head, and Bateley knew there was a matching symbol beneath it as well. This was one of three chambers of healing in the Council's private clinic. There was a young man sitting next to him, reading the Times. Bateley knew him as a Watcher-in-training.

///Horatio!///

Bateley sat up.

"Are you alright, sir?" the Watcher-in-training asked respectfully, lowering his paper.

Bateley blinked. *Yes,* he tried to say, but no words came out. He touched his bandaged throat again. It was then that he remembered something the Council healer had told him, when he had been conscious earlier, albeit in a state of fever: his voice, gone! For good. *Dear Lord!*

///Horatio! Can you hear me?///

Bateley nodded slowly. *Edward?*

"Do you need anything, sir? Something to drink, perhaps? Water?"

Bateley nodded again. The young man got up, poured water into a glass and handed it to the injured man. Director Bateley took it and sipped slowly. He passed the empty glass back and leaned back into his cushions. Closing his eyes he listened intently to the voice inside his head.

***

*So now that makes two people who know what's the what. Let's just hope the rest of the Council don't get wind of time-travel-Buffy...* Buffy pondered, after she walked Charles to his room and headed for the stairs. After telling him the bare facts, she had found herself talking about Mom, and how Dawn had done that spell, and how hard it was, and then she and Charles had both cried a little, and in the end Buffy had promised to find a way to bring `real Maeve' back. *Hope I wasn't lying on that one. What if she's dead and I'm stuck here forever? Or what if she doesn't want to come back? What if she likes my life better than hers? I guess I wouldn't blame her.*

Ever since her friends had brought her back she'd felt like the whole world was a big Let's-make-Buffy-miserable conspiracy, like fate was pulling her chain. She'd felt outraged. Actually, no - she'd been too numb, too dead for anything as alive as outrage. After being dragged into the past she'd felt pretty much the same. Except with less of the numbness and more of the outrage: Willoughby had botched a spell trying to save his Slayer, okay. But who got caught up in it? Buffy. Who else.

At the time she hadn't really thought beyond the why-me. But now she did: Why here and why now? How come she'd ended up meeting Angelus and William? Was it really just coincidence or sheer bad luck?

*If only Giles were here,* Buffy thought, as she made her way downstairs to tell Hartford that she was ready for patrol. *Maybe he'd know what this is all about. Help me figure this out...*

Maybe, there was something she was supposed to do before she was allowed back? Maybe fate had brought her here to fix things....

She silently hurried down the stairs. Too bad she had no one to help her with this. Willoughby was caught up in his own private tragedy. She wanted to help him, not burden him with difficult decisions. She'd talk to Bateley - Watchers knew stuff and, compared to Hartford, who so reminded her of Quentin `I'm an arrogant asshole' Travers, Bateley was kinda okay - for a Watcher. Plus, Willoughby seemed to trust him. Buffy sighed. Bateley was out of reach in a private hospital run by the Council. If only there was someone she could talk to... Someone like Giles or her friends or... or even...

Spike! Her heart skipped a beat and she came to a skittering halt. But then she recognized William. He was in the process of putting his coat on.

"Miss McKenna!" William exclaimed. He froze in mid-movement, ogling her.

Buffy walked up to him, feeling strangely self-conscious in her manly outfit. *Well, I'm sure Spike would approve of the look,* she thought with a hint of defiance. "Mr. Crawford," she said, stepping closer to him. "You're up late," she stated, making it sound like a question.

"Oh, um, I was working late, there was this translation, you see, quite fascinating," William said, struggling nervously with his coat and blushing for no good reason at all. His heart was pounding madly in his chest.

"I... um ... I wanted to thank you," the young woman said awkwardly. "You know, the hot chocolate..."

"It was nothing," he said dismissively. *Oh God, stop staring at her legs, you fool!* He took off his glasses and polished them with nervous determination.

It was such a Giles-y gesture that Buffy couldn't help smiling.

It was very strange standing next to this almost-Spike look-alike. *It's so hard to believe that Spike...came from...this.* He smelled all wrong, no leather, not tobacco, no booze. His hair was wrong, his clothes... But his eyes were the same shade of blue.

If Buffy had thought she might see William's soul in there - well, no such luck. No matter how hard she looked, there was nothing in there that she hadn't already seen in Spike's eyes before.

"So..." he said, and put his glasses back on. He glanced at the front door, but made no move to leave yet. Something about the young woman compelled him to stay.

"So..." Buffy echoed. This reminded her of high school, what with the awkward conversations and the beating around the bush ...

"How are the boys holding up? It must have been quite a shock for them," William asked, his interest genuine.

"It was," Buffy agreed. And as curiosity got the better of her she blurted out: "Did you ever lose someone close?"

There was a sad look on his face. "I was about Charles's age when Father got killed. He was buying artifacts for the British Museum in Africa. A few years later Henrietta, our oldest sister, died of a fever."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Buffy said, meaning it. "I lost my mom, a little while ago. She got sick."

"My sincere condolences."

There was another silence.

"I expect you will be staying upstairs tomorrow night?" William asked, apparently not yet ready to finish the conversation.

"Why? What's tomorrow?"

"Mrs. Hartford is hosting a very distinguished dinner party, before she and her guests depart to attend the court ball. I believe the event has been planned ever since the Royal Ball was announced six weeks ago."

"Oh." Buffy said. "Royal, huh? Well, no one invited me, or if they did I don't know anything about it, so I guess I won't be around to embarrass myself royally." She grinned. "Can't say I'm heartbroken over missing another one of those dinners. Having to sit with all those snooty people makes me too sick to eat anyway. How `bout you? Are you going?"

"Good Heavens, no, that would hardly be appropriate. Those guests are very illustrious. I may be distantly related to Mr. Hartford, but I am still in his employ. I will join the guests later, to answer questions about Mr. Hartford's book collection." He tried very hard to make it sound as if he was looking forward to the opportunity to show off the treasures in his care. *As if anyone is going to be interested in the new first editions or the Egyptian papyri. Vulgarians!* William knew he'd just sit around and feel out of place in his shabby suit and his lack of social standing.

He suppressed a sigh. But then his spirits lifted. Suddenly there was a strange faraway look in his eyes. *Cecily.*

Her presence was the only thing that would make the whole evening worthwhile. He knew she was on the guest list. Anticipation (and a certain amount of dread, too) made his palms sweaty. *Oh dear Lord, if only I had not promised Victoria I would try to approach Cecily, to finally reveal my secret but heartfelt feelings to her.* He swallowed. "Well, a promise is a promise," he said.

He blinked, startled at the sound of his own voice.

"And you're telling me that because?" Buffy asked.

"Forgive me, I seem to be in the habit of talking to myself. Quite inexcusable." He was all in a fluster but the young woman just waved her hand. "No biggie," she said. Which was probably supposed to reassure him.

"I... I had better get home," William said, "It's almost midnight."

"Oh, right, that late, huh?" Buffy said, affecting a yawn. "Good night, then."

He picked up his hat, gloves and cane and bowed politely. "Good evening, Miss McKenna." He opened the front door and stepped outside.

"William?"

"Yes?" He turned around, surprised at the sudden intimacy. The young woman was biting her lip and regarding him intently.

"You're a smart guy, right?" she said. "You read all kinds of books all the time. Tell me, do you believe in destiny? That whatever you do the outcome will always be the same? That we're just like playing out our roles in some big production?"

"My dear Miss McKenna, legions of philosophers throughout the centuries haven't been able to answer that question. Schopenhauer for instance..."

"I'm not interested in Slop-en-what's-his-name. What do you think?"

He paused to think.

"Personally, I like to believe we are masters of our own fate, that our thoughts and our passions determine our paths. For how can we aspire to anything higher if everything that befalls us is preordained?" He toyed nervously with his gloves. "Frankly, I find the possibility that we might be mere pawns, ruled by fate, too frightening to contemplate."

"That's a no, right?" Buffy said after it had taken her a moment to decrypt the garbled words.

William nodded earnestly. "That's a no. Good evening Miss McKenna."

+++

"Good evening, Harper," Buffy said warmly, as she stepped out of the house.

"Good evening, Miss," the coachman replied. He opened the door and she climbed inside the carriage. "Thanks." - "My pleasure, Miss."

Richard Hartford, Buffy's new - hopefully temporary -Watcher, was at her heels and took the seat beside her. He gave her a disapproving glance and rapped his cane against the roof of the carriage. Moments later, the vehicle was on its way.

It didn't take Buffy long to decide that she didn't like Hartford Junior. The way he was scrutinizing her and scribbling into his notebook was creepy. It made her feel like an amoebae under a microscope. Except for the swarming and the multiplying, of course.

"So, where are we going?" Buffy asked.

"You'll see," was all the Watcher said.

***

Four hours and an almost-cramp in her calf later Buffy was getting impatient. *No that's not true, I lost my patience hours ago.* "What are we doing here again? Other than waiting for the wind to blow the other way..." she asked. They were crouched on a roof overlooking a cheap hotel in a shabby east London district. The stench of the nearby river was unlike anything she'd ever smelled before, and she'd been around lots of smelly things in six years of slaying.

"We are waiting for them to come back to their lair."

"Them?" Buffy echoed.

"Angelus and his brides," Hartford informed her at last.

"What! You drag me all across town for this? Haven't you learned from last time? I can't take them out, not as long as they're together. They're too strong."

"You will do as you are told," Hartford said coldly.

As she kept her eyes trained on the building across the road, Buffy couldn't help but wonder again, if this was what she was here for, in this horrible century: to stake Angelus and his women. Maybe fate was giving her a second chance to fix things after failing to save Mrs. Willoughby? Maybe Buffy was meant to dust Drusilla before she could murder William Crawford and turn him into a monster who killed thousands?

*Giles! Where are you when I need you?*

+++

"Not now," Xander mumbled, vaguely aware of a hand on his shoulder that was giving him a firm shake. "We can have sex later, when I've had coffee, okay?"

"I'll take that as a threat," a male voice could be heard. "Shall I?"

"Gah!" Xander woke with a start. He'd been lying curled up on the bare ground, his back pressed up against a wall. Now he was staring wide-eyed into the familiar face of Spike, who was crouching next to him. "Spike! You're back," he blurted out. Relief made him grin insanely.

The vampire raised a questioning eyebrow and snickered as he rose to his feet. "Always knew you're a bit of a poof."

"Huh? Who are you calling--" Xander mentally replayed his words and paled. He raised his hands as if to stave off an amorous advance. "Anya! I was thinking of Anya. I thought you were her!" He babbled nervously, as embarrassment colored his cheeks. He scrambled to his feet.

"Besides, if I were gay," he added, feeling more confident standing up and looking down on the smaller man, "I could certainly do better than a neutered dead guy who chases after Buffy like a pathetic lovesick puppy dog."

"Neutered." Spike echoed, balling his fists.

"Neutered." Xander repeated.

Spike shook his head dismissively and relaxed. "It's almost sunrise," he said matter-of-factly and passed Xander a handful of coins. "The loony ladies should be safe now. Give'm this and they can buy papers and maybe cheap passage to the states. They're better off there. No one's ever gonna notice they're not playing with a full deck. America's full of loonies."

"Hey!"

Spike just gave him a piercing glance. He pointed to a bundle. "Brought some clothes for `em, too. Satisfied?"

Xander looked at the silver and gold coins in his hand, at the bundle, at the vampire, at the women who were sitting up, evidently woken by the exchange and then back at the vampire again.

He opened his mouth, closed it. Tried again. "Thanks, Spike," he finally said.

The vampire just gave him the cold shoulder.

***

"I believe we can expect them to return to their lair any minute now," Hartford said for the fifteenth time. And added. "It's almost sunrise."

*If he says those same words one more time...* With difficulty, Buffy wrestled down the urge to throttle the Watcher.

***

Twice they passed a constable in blue uniform who was patrolling his beat, carrying a billyclub and a bulls-eye lantern, but in their conservative outfits Spike and Xander elicited only polite nods instead of a thorough frisking.

"What happens next?" Xander asked, when they emerged on a busy street, where carriages were noisily driven past.

"We hail a cab and go see Buffy, you moron."

"And then, fang-face?"

"Then we wait until it's time for all of us to go home. Back to the good old 21st Century," Spike said patiently, as if talking to a five year-old. "Easy as pie."

***

"Any minute now," Richard Hartford repeated, peering at the gray sky.

*Watcher-wannabe.* Buffy just shrugged and nibbled on a cuticle. *God what I wouldn't give for a nice mocha latte. And a bagel or two. Isn't it time for breakfast yet?*

***

The sight that greeted the day shift of St. Luke's Hospital was enough to make several orderlies bring up their breakfast.

In the ransacked office, a pale Dr. Burton unlocked a safe with trembling hands. He took out a sealed envelope. He broke the seal and pulled out a few folded sheets of paper, then read the instructions carefully.

Afterwards, the alienist stepped outside his office to pass some of those instructions on to his staff. Particularly the order that no one, under no circumstances whatsoever, was allowed to leave the building until further notice.

Then he quickly went back to his desk, composed a message and sealed it. He stepped outside the building, hailed a cab, handed the driver the envelope and generous payment, and ordered him to deliver the message. "Make haste, man!" he shouted after the retreating vehicle.

***

"Well, I can't see anyone hurrying back inside, can you?" Buffy asked sweetly. *Thank God!*

"I do not understand this," Hartford stammered. "Our informants..."

"Uh-huh. Your Council guys, you know the ones who do all the legwork, they didn't by any chance check the hotel reception, did they? You know, like, ask some questions maybe?"

"...Um...not exactly..."

"Let me guess," Buffy said, "this is your first mission. Ho boy, have you got a lot to learn!"

***

"...After studying the Slayer's actions carefully, as requested, it is my opinion that the Slayer performed her sacred duties with great courage and to the best of her considerable abilities. She not only saved several good people, among them small infants, from those abominable creatures, she also saved both Watchers present from certain death. While it is regrettable that the infamous Angelus and his demon brides were able to escape destruction, this is not entirely unanticipated, as several prophecies pertaining the Line of Aurelius have indicated that Angelus and his get may well play an important role in things to come. I have no reason to fault the Slayer in any way. She proved herself righteous, resourceful and dedicated. It is my firm conviction that the Slayer is still true to her calling, etcetera etcetera Director Horatio Bateley."

Arthur Hartford snorted and let the papers drop on his desk. Something about Bateley's preliminary report was odd. The handwriting looked authentic, even though shaky. And the words themselves seemed inconspicuous. Bateley always sounded more pompous in writing than in person. Even the odd hour at which the report was delivered was not unusual. It was commendable, but not unexpected, that Bateley would deliver his report as soon as he was able to.

Hartford poured himself a brandy and lit another cigar, not without the obligatory *Damn those stupid doctors.*

Enveloped by tobacco fumes and the fragrance of the finest French cognac he sat and pondered, when suddenly there was a knock on the door of the study.

"Yes?"

The butler appeared, holding out a silver tray with a sealed envelope.

"Sir, a cab just delivered this message. It is marked urgent."

Hartford took the envelope and opened it. When he'd read the first few lines he dismissed the butler with a nod. He stubbed out his cigar, then got up and walked to the telephone, one of a handful of unlisted apparatuses the Council used. "Diogenes Club, please," he said into the black mouthpiece.

While he waited for the operator to connect his call it finally occurred to him what had seemed strange about Director Bateley's report. Not once throughout the whole long letter had Bateley used the Slayer's name.

+++

The first several minutes in the back of the carriage were spent in uncomfortable silence. Xander's eyes were glued to passing scenery, not that it was at all interesting to him. In fact, to Xander, 19th Century England couldn't be anymore boring. Everything was gray. Granted, there were several shades of gray to choose from - but nevertheless, he felt like he was trapped in an old black and white movie. *What's so great about London, anyway?*

"Huh?" Spike responded.

"Oh, did I...did I just say that out loud?"

Spike pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows.

"I was just wondering what was so great about London? I mean, everything's dirty and gray and people just assume that if you're naked and surrounded by bloody dead people, you're insane."

Spike grinned.

"And I meant bloody as in bloody," Xander went on. "You know, literally bloody. Not bloody as in stupid British slang."

"Almost forgot how much I missed this place. Easy pickings, you know."

Xander looked disgusted.

"Besides," Spike raised the blinds on his side of the car, "in London, s'easy to travel during the daylight hours."

Xander tilted his head to peer out of his window and up at the sky. With the smoke and soot that filled the air, it was hard to figure where the old colorless buildings ended and the sky began. No wonder vampires liked it here...no sun. *How depressing.*

"Good thing, too," Spike continued. "Else I'd be crispy right about now."

"Speaking of naked," Xander started.

"Were we?"

"How come you didn't get arrested for indecent exposure?"

"First of all, there's nothing that could be called indecent about it," Spike answered slyly. "And secondly, I was clothed."

"What? How?" Xander just shook his head and sighed. "So not fair." He self-consciously tugged at the tight collar of his new 19th century shirt. "Why did they send YOU?"

"I volunteered."

"To get into Buffy's good graces, no doubt," Xander mumbled. It was out before he could suck it back in. * Good job, Xan-man. Repeat after me: Don't. Insult. Your. Ticket. Home.*

Fortunately, this time the bleached menace paid no heed to his abuse. *Phew.* But the conversation had come to a screeching halt. For the next five minutes the two men silently stared out of the windows. All kinds of questions were running through Xander's head, until he finally swallowed his pride and resentment.

He lowered his voice, and with a touch of melancholy asked, "So, um, how's Anya taking all of this?"

"Alright, I guess."

"Is she okay? I mean, is she...is she worried?"

"Probably just concerned about where she's gonna get her next bout of rumpy-pumpy."

Xander spun toward him with anger in his eyes. "Hey, you can trash me all you want, Spike, but you will not insult my fiancé."

"Fiancé now, is she?" He grinned at the confused and angry man beside him. "Congratulations." He patted Xander on the shoulder. "Bout time you made a commitment to the lady. If I were her, I'd have left you ages ago. No, wait. If I were her, I would have gone after the sexy blonde vampire."

Xander wasn't sure whether to feel annoyed or grateful or both. "Uh, thanks. I guess. Actually, nobody knows yet. You're the first person I've told."

"Aw, I'm honored. Just make sure the ceremony's at night, okay?"

"Yea, if she's still waiting for me when I get back." He looked down at his shoes. "If I get back."

"Look, Harris, your demon-girl is worried about you. Waterworks and everything. She loves you and you love her, and you're gonna get back to her and one day you'll have little ex-demon crossbreeds and maybe you'll even name one after me, okay?"

"That'll be the day," was Xander's automatic reply. But then the human smiled sheepishly. "You really think so?"

"Sure thing, monkey-boy."

"What about Willow? And Giles? I mean, what happened after I, you know...fell?"

"The witch is still kinda beat-up. And Rupert? Imagine he's busy finalizing our return trip right about now."

"It's too bad we're not there to help, huh?" Xander realized how stupid that sounded just a little too late.

"Well, Cordy and the poof showed up," Spike rolled his eyes. "As if things couldn't have gotten any worse."

"Cordelia's back in Sunnydale?"

Spike nodded. "With the Nancy-boy in tow."

"Why?"

"Visions or something..." The vampire shrugged it off. "Don't know why he always has to get all puffed up, acting like he's everyone's bleedin' savior."

"He's trying to atone for his sins. Something you wouldn't understand," Xander explained. *Although, I have no idea why I'm sticking up for Angel of all people. People? He's not even a person! And what is Cordelia doing with him, anyway? Are they together? Ew! Why do I even care?* "At least, he doesn't need a government chip in his head to tell him not to eat people."

Spike studied him intently. "You think if I didn't have this chip in my head, I'd eat you? After all we've been through? That hurts." The vampire jibed.

"Well, I am a nummy treat, aren't I?"

"Indeed."

"Are we there yet? I have to pee."

***

"Okay, let's see," Spike said, when the carriage pulled up. He eyed the building speculatively.

"Let's see what?" Xander asked.

"Let's see if anybody's home. Go. Knock. Ask for Edward Willoughby. Giles said you're not to talk to anyone else. Unless you want a bunch of bleedin' Watchers to lock you up and ask you a few probing questions about the future, of course."

"Definitely had enough locking up and probing to last me a lifetime, thank you very much." Xander said and got out of the carriage. Then a thought occurred to him: "What about you? Aren't you coming?"

"Yeah, that's a good one. Drag me into a Watcher's household. Brilliant plan, bricklayer."

"I guess you're kinda difficult to explain." Xander admitted.

Spike just smirked.

"So, what are you going to do, oh irritating one?" Xander asked.

"Find a room. Lie low. Keep my nose clean. Stay out of trouble," Spike lied with ease. "I'll let you know where I'm staying. So you know how to find me if you need me. Say hello to Buffy for me."

Xander nodded, not entirely happy to let the vampire out of his sight. *Not entirely happy to be left by myself.* But the prospect of seeing Buffy again far outweighed all other worries. He walked up the stairs, gripped the brass door handle, knocked and waited.

And waited.

He took a step backwards and looked at the drawn curtains. He took another step back. Somehow, the house seemed to be deserted. There wasn't even smoke coming from the chimney.

"Say Spike, are you sure this is the right address?"


AN: According to my sources, the first telephone book ever was published for London in 1880. It lists 255 entries. So, yes, there were telephones in 1880. But not many.



Part 34 - Step by Step

To Maeve, the twenty-first century felt as if she had been shipwrecked on a particularly strange island, like Gulliver in `Gulliver's Travels'. She was neither smaller nor larger than the people who lived in this shiny and confusing world, nonetheless she was never able to fully shirk the knowledge that she did not belong here.

To begin with, half of what these young people were saying didn't even sound like English. So many unknown words, so many references to things and events she had no way of understanding. Whenever Dawn or Willow opened their mouths to say something it left Maeve confused. When they spoke of bugs did they really mean insects that were trained to listen to other people's conversations?

The only people Maeve felt comfortable with were Anya, who was outspoken but precise and, to a lesser degree, Mr. Giles, who sounded very much like home, but who was also a Watcher. She wondered if he had subjected HIS Slayer to the Cruciamentum, too. Maeve absentmindedly touched her throat where the vampire in the sealed house had bitten her and was momentarily startled to find that this body was as scarred as hers.

"Come on, Maeve, don't be shy," Anya said. Her cheer sounded slightly forced. "There was this film Xander made me watch, about two young men travelling through time in a phone booth. That film features several suitable pastimes for time travellers, and I intend to introduce you to each and every one of them. We already had ice cream and pizza, modern music..." (Maeve winced.) "...and aerobics, now it's time for the next step."

"I am not certain I can do this."

"You're a Slayer, Maeve. Slayers have this weird habit of being able to do anything."

"Not this."

Anya passed a towel over the dressing room door.

"I can not go outside wearing only this!" Maeve exclaimed in horror. "I have never even shown my l... legs back home."

"Well, technically, these are not your legs, so you can show them off safely. Think of how liberating and educational this will be," Anya said and dragged the shy Slayer out of the changing room. "Consider wearing a bikini in public the first step on your road to sexual emancipation."

Anya pointed at the tubes and slides that formed a colorful spaghetti under a clear blue summer sky. There were lots and lots of *ohdeartheyarealmostnaked* people in *ohdearohdearohdear* flimsy swimming wear, showing off their suntanned skin, squealing and whooping as they cannoned down the waterslides.

*I think I am going to faint...*

"Come on, it will be exciting!" Anya exclaimed.

*Or not.*

Maeve adjusted the towel to cover as much as humanly possible. "Is it possible for my life to become even more exciting?"

***

"Man, this is dull," Warren complained, chewing on a piece of cold pizza. He swiveled round in his black leather chair taking in the debris of almost twenty hours of solid spying. There were candy wrappers, McDonalds leftovers, paper cups, pizza boxes and soda cans. "What a snooze fest. I'd rather watch paint dry..."

Andrew and Jonathan nodded. Ever since yesterday afternoon they had taken turns drooling over Cordelia Chase and watching the Scoobies (and what kind of stupid name was that?) go about their boring daily chores: Homework, laundry, dishes, school, classes, sleeping. How dire!

Keeping an eye on the Slayer's friends was easy. There were cameras at all of their usual haunts like Revello Drive, Harris's apartment and the Magic Box. Okay, so the surveillance wasn't complete. There was no way the cameras could cover all eventualities. For instance, yesterday, Giles had wandered off. They had used the van to keep tabs on him, but they had no clue what he had wanted in that hotel. Not good. Worse, for about two hours or so, most of their targets had been conspicuously absent. But when they returned everything seemed normal. According to the conversations the microphones picked up, the Scoobies had taken the girl-from-the-past-that-lived-in-Buffy's-body out for ice cream and a movie. Afterwards that Angel guy had gotten into an argument with Giles and he and his arrogant bitch had stormed out and left for L.A. It was a shame really, because Cordelia Chase was a stunner. It would have been nice to get some more footage of her, maybe wrapped in nothing but a skimpy little towel ... *We should have put a camera in the shower.*

Warren savored the fantasy for a moment.

"Well, I can't believe the girl still hasn't managed to steal that spellbook for us," Andrew said with a pout. "I mean how difficult can it be to steal one stupid book?"

Warren tossed the rest of his pizza slice back into the box. Why eat cold pizza when you had enough money to order a fresh one? He wiped his hands on a tissue before addressing his foot soldiers: "Gentlemen, let me share with you a universal truth." He paused, then said slowly, as if imparting great wisdom: "Women. Are. Dumb. Unable to think for themselves. Believe me, I've built robots that were smarter than the average woman."

Andrew giggled, but as usual Jonathan doubted their leader's words. "You're not serious?" the little wimp asked uncertainly. "What about our history teacher, Mrs. Green? Or Miss Calendar, she was smart. I really liked her computer courses..." Jonathan looked at Andrew for support but he had no intention of contradicting Warren. He folded his arms in front of his chest and frowned, letting Jonathan know that his lack of loyalty did not go unnoticed.

"Oh, they can learn things," Warren said dismissively. He pointed at the periscope screen that showed his mom kneeling in a flowerbed. "This one knows how to garden, cook meals, mix drinks and keep the house clean, but other than that she's never had an independent thought in her head, not in all her life."

Jonathan and Andrew watched in silence as Mrs. Meers dug a little hole and planted some kind of flower. The disparaging way Warren was talking about his own mother gave Andrew a thrill. He almost expected some higher power to strike his friend down with lightning. Oh yes, they really were evil!

"It's true, they could probably teach a chimpanzee to do that," he giggled.

Jonathan looked at him as if he were an alien from another planet.

"You see," Warren continued, "Women don't really think, they just pretend to. They have a number of automatic responses. If a guy looks just right, or drives the right car or if he's rolling in money, then they want him for a mate. It's instinctual."

Andrew nodded slowly. "Yeah, right, nest building and so on, right?"

"Exactamundo," Warren agreed. He gave Andrew a we-are-comrades-in-arms kind of pat on the back that made the boy grin. "Men, on the other hand, are able to plan, strive and invent. We think, gentlemen, therefore we rule."

"What about Willow?" Jonathan blurted out, motioning toward one of the monitors where the red-haired witch could be seen folding laundry in the Summers' dining room. "She's pretty clever. Her SAT scores were really awesome. She could have picked any college she wanted."

"Yeah, but she's still stuck in Sunnydale, isn't she?" Warren grinned and gave his Captain Kirk command chair a spin. "Quod erat demonstrandum."

*Stuck? So are we,* Jonathan thought. *Stuck in your mom's basement.* But for once he had the presence of mind to keep his treasonous thoughts to himself. Instead he pointed at the monitor screen before him. "She's got it," he exclaimed.

"Where?"

"Let me see."

The three super-villains crowded around the monitor. It showed Buffy's sister rifling through Mr. Giles's bag of books then furtively shoving one of them into her backpack. Moments later the oblivious ex-librarian returned to the table carrying a cup of tea in one hand and holding an open book in the other.

"You're right," Warren said, "She's got it. What did I tell you? Women are dumb. They take the path of least resistance. There's your proof."

Andrew nodded. "Just like you said."

"Yeah," Jonathan said, without great enthusiasm.

Warren pulled his team mates into a practiced huddle, heads stuck together, arms locked. "Time for the next step in our evil master plan. Put the glamour spell back on, my friend," he said to Jonathan. And then: "Andrew, get your didgeridoo. And then we'll go. When the girl leaves for the meeting point we'll follow her with the van. At the next opportunity, we'll grab her. She won't even know what hit her."

They stacked their hands in the middle of their little triangle, and then - one, two, three - raised them in the air. "Crime!"

***

Giles returned to the table just moments after Dawn had taken the book. He gave her an imperceptible nod as he placed his tea on the table. That was Dawn's cue.

"Giles, I'm gonna go down to the coffee shop to get a muffin and do some homework. Do you want me to bring you back anything?"

"No, thank you, Dawn," he answered looking at the fifteen-year-old. "How long will you be?"

"Not too long," she gave him a meaningful glance and headed for the door with her backpack slung over her shoulder.

Although Giles was certain his plan would go smoothly, Dawn was getting increasingly nervous as she made her way across the street and onto the sidewalk. Something wasn't right. That weird Principal-looking-guy had made her extremely uneasy. She couldn't pinpoint the origin of her fear but she knew, in her gut, that this was going to go bad. *I wish Buffy were here.*

Halfway to the rendezvous point, Dawn saw an old woman struggling to pick up a bag of groceries she had dropped. *Just ignore her and get to where you're going. The sooner you get there, the sooner this will be over with.* But she just couldn't heed her own advice.

She hurried to help the woman, bending down to scoop up her *candy bars?* food items and *beer?* put them back into the brown paper bag.

Suddenly, in her peripheral vision, she noticed a big black van careen around the corner. It hit the curb of the sidewalk she was on and swerved back into the road. It was almost upon her. *Oh no!* Dawn dropped the beer bottle she was holding and took off at a run. She heard someone yell, "Grab her, you idiot!" But she didn't turn around. *This is so not part of the plan.* She could hear the vehicle gaining on her.

With the screech of tires and the smell of burnt rubber invading her senses, the van was abruptly in front of her. It had driven up onto the sidewalk, cutting off her escape. The old woman was behind her shoving her toward the open maw in the side of the black van. She screamed. Hands reached out toward her and yanked her into the menacing vehicle where a dark pillowcase was promptly pulled over her head.

"Welcome to your worst nightmare," she heard someone whisper threateningly.



Part 35 - Going Places

As William woke, he could not remember what he had dreamt, but he knew that it had been a good dream. He also knew that this day was going to be a special day. A wonderful day. A Cecily Day. One of those rare occasions, when he could be in the same room with her, breathe the same air, maybe even get an opportunity to exchange a few words with her. *Oh Cecily...* - such a beautiful and confident young lady. Thinking of her caused a sweet ache in his chest, as if his bulging heart was trying to break out of its prison of flesh and bone to fly towards its mistress. William paused, then decided that the image was too bloody to be used in a poem.

He got up, washed himself thoroughly with the warm water the scullery maid had brought up. Then he pondered his wardrobe. Formal evening wear was out of the question. He was part of the inventory rather than one of the guests; not quite one of the servants, but not in a position to show off fanciful garments, either. Too bad his best suit for work had tea stains. It seemed he had to wear the light suit, gray waistcoat, best shirt and burgundy tie. Too light really for an evening occasion, but it would have to do.

Besides, Cecily was a refined young woman of grace and breeding, a discerning angel. Surely she would be able and willing to look past the accoutrements of his employment as a librarian and see him for the passionate and devoted soul he was.

William tiptoed down the stairs, patted the old dog and walked into the breakfast room. He was surprised to find Victoria waiting for him.

"There you are, William. I heard you get up and made you some breakfast," she said and kissed his cheek.

"You shouldn't have," he said, but he returned the kiss. He sat down and smiled when she poured him a cup of tea. He added sugar and cream and stirred. His sister pushed a plate with sweet pastries towards him. As he bit into the sugary confection he let her lively chatter wash over him.

"I wish I could be there tonight," she finally said. "Cecily must be a remarkable woman to have captured my dear brother's heart like this. I would like to meet her. Do you think we could be friends?"

He squeezed her hand. "Of course. I am certain you will enjoy each other's company. She is well educated. I am told she plays the piano and sings and..."

Victoria smiled. "Yes, yes, you have sung her praises before, William," she interrupted his enthusiastic reiteration of Cecily's virtues and accomplishments. "Will you finally talk to her? Could you not invite her over for dinner?"

"Yes, I was going to... uh... converse with her, like I promised," he said, trying not to let the prospect daunt him. *Courage, old boy, courage!* he told himself. *After all, you were well able to converse intelligibly with Penthes--, Miss McKenna last night. She even asked your opinion on philosophy.* He smiled at the recollection, drawing encouragement and confidence from it.

"Oh, I wish I could be there," Victoria repeated, "hidden like a little mouse, underneath a chair or in a crack in the wall..."

He pushed back his empty plate and rose. He bent over and bestowed a brotherly kiss upon her forehead. "I will tell you everything that happens, I promise. Tomorrow."

She gave him an indulgent smile. "I know you will."

+++

120 years was a long time. You could forget a lot in over a century. But the hours spent in the seedier parts of London had quickly brought back memories of pub brawls, playing darts, cheap ale, and of the hunt. It was like putting on a very old, well worn coat - odd at first, but increasingly comfy. Speaking of which... *God I wish I had my coat.*

Standing in an upper class area like Kensington was a totally different vibe. Like prodding a prone dog with a stick. Is it dead or just pretending? `It' being his memories BD - Before Dru. Not something Spike liked to dig around in. To stay with the imagery, it was like donning an old suit, with stiff collar and cuffs - stilted, constrained and utterly awkward. Any familiarity was a definite no-no, because that was William. Never Spike. *Good lord, did I just use an extended metaphor?* Spike shuddered.

"What now? Stumped? I thought you knew where we're going," Xander complained, interrupting the vampire's thoughts.

"It's the right place," Spike replied absentmindedly. "The address Maeve gave me. Now, why the hell is everybody gone?"

"Spike, don't tell me we're both stuck here. I don't believe this! You come all this way, and then you don't know where we're supposed to go? Only you could..."

*Right, I met Maeve-when-she-was-Buffy, I remember that much. But where? Not here, I think...* He leaned out of the carriage window and squinted at the building. *Don't recognize this place...*

"...screw up like that. They called you Spike for that thing with the railroad spikes? They should have called you Screw, for screwing up all the time..."

*Dinner party. Didn't get many invites for those, that should narrow it down ...* He remembered Penthesilea's face, and her sad eyes. That, in itself, was remarkable, because he couldn't remember most of the other people he'd known when he was still alive. And he'd only met the girl a few times. He could recall most of their conversations, too. But where exactly those had taken place, that memory was blurry. *Dinner. Dining room. Books...*

"Spike, are you even listening? Spike!" Xander yelled.

"For god's sake, Harris, can't you just stop yammering for a sec?"

"I'm not yammering..."

*Books! Buried underneath tons of books...*

"... I never yammer. What kind of word is that anyway?"

* Library. Hartford.* "Bloody Hell!"

"What?"

Hartford House was the last place on earth Spike wanted to see again. Ever. Or drop Harris off at. "Mother F-!"

"What?" Xander barked anxiously. *Don't let us be stuck here. Don't let us be stuck here.* was his silent mantra.

Irritated, Spike shoved the carriage door open, with enough impetus to force a muffled "oomph" out of the human. "Shut up and get your ass back in."

***

"There has been an incident."

"What do you mean?" the Slayer asked with a frown. Upon their return to Hartford House, Buffy had headed straight for the breakfast buffet and stocked up. Now she fished a puff pastry roll thingy out of her jacket pocket and tore off a piece, not really caring about the crumbs that rained on the plush Afghan carpet. The disapproving glares of the two Watchers present were easily ignored. *Mmmh, good. Yummy.*

She was sitting in Director Hartford's tobacco-smelly study, under the old man's scrutiny. Hartford Junior (who made Wesley Wyndham-Pryce look competent by comparison) hovered uncertainly at her side. What he lacked in slayage clock-time he more than made up for in suck-up-age. *Slimy bastard.* However, his long-winded account of their boring stakeout had been cut off in mid-sentence.

"What kind of incident?" Richard Hartford echoed.

"Word has reached me that last night a pack of vampires invaded the hospital of St. Luke's to prey upon the patients. Apparently, they killed dozens of innocents. I already sent some of our people there to investigate and to make sure that the newspapers do not get hold of the whole horrifying story. Thank heavens for Lethe's Bramble."

"Three cheese whatsie?" Buffy said. She popped another piece of pastry in her mouth, but in light of Hartford's account, it tasted stale.

"Lethe's Bramble. It is the basic ingredient for spells that control the mind or affect memories, Maeve," Richard Hartford elaborated in a don't-you-know-anything tone.

"You mean you use that weedy-forgetty thing and fiddle around with people's memories?"

"Not exactly how I would describe it, but yes."

"Oh. Wow," Buffy added in a tone that was the exact opposite of awe."

"Richard, I want you and your Slayer to drive to St. Luke's at once. See what you can find out from the witnesses before the forgetting spells are cast. Find out who did this."

*Hey! I'm not his Slayer!*

The younger Watcher nodded. "Yes, sir."

"If it should transpire," Hartford senior continued, "that the vampires in question were Angelus and his hideous get, then the blood of all those poor wretched souls is on your hands, Maeve, and yours alone. Had you succeeded in killing Angelus when you had the opportunity, these pitiable people would still be alive, not to mention Mrs. Willoughby."

Buffy could only stare at the old man. *How dare he!*

"When you are done at St. Luke's you will drive to Russell Street for some extra training. We cannot allow for any more mistakes. That will be all. I suggest you make haste."

The old man sat down behind his desk and ostensibly picked up a handful of documents to read. Still speechless, Buffy was herded out of the room, out of the house and into the waiting carriage, which drove off at a breakneck speed.

*Okay, that does it. Manipulative bastards! I know I make mistakes. We all do. But I don't need a bunch of tweedy know-it-alls to rub it in.* Anger coursed through her like fire. If Hartford thought he could get her to jump whenever he snapped his fingers, well, then he had another thing coming!

But even all that adrenaline could not prevent the clatter of hooves and the rocking of the carriage from lulling her to sleep.

***

The contrast between the dreary gray-in-gray of the poverty stricken East End and the gaudiness of the affluent West End was unbelievable. As the carriage made it's way from Kensington to Primrose Hill, past Hyde Park and Regent's Park, Xander got a good look at fashionable houses and lots of people in striking clothes. He thought of all those times he'd watched `Mary Poppins' with Willow, when they were in second grade. * Wish you were her, Wills...* he thought wistfully.

"This the right place?" Xander asked, when the carriage finally stopped. He eyed the tall building. It spelled `stinking rich'.

"That's right."

"How do you know?"

"Just do."

The answer was so clipped that Xander squinted suspiciously at the restless vampire. Spike fidgeted around with a cigarette, breaking two matches before he got it lit.

It was then that Xander got it. "You've been here before," he stated. Spike shifted uncomfortably. To Xander that was proof enough. He grabbed the vampire by the lapels of his coat. "Info, Now!" he snapped. "You're keeping something from me and I wanna know what it is! What am I going to walk into, huh?"

"Hey, Harris, keep your soddin' hands off me. It's not what you think," Spike scoffed.

"Oh yeah? Tell me what I think."

"Look here, it's not a trap or anything. It's ...oh bollocks!"

Xander twisted his neck to follow Spike's glance as the vampire shrunk in his seat. And that's when he saw...

"Holy Molly Malone!"

It was a man in his mid-twenties, dressed like a gentleman. He was slim, his unruly hair a honey colored blonde. He was walking towards them but obviously absorbed in thought, because he seemed to be mumbling to himself. *Great googlie mooglies, He looks like Spike, only ... not so much, softer maybe. And kinda bookish, what with the glasses...* A sound somewhere between a gasp and a chuckle escaped Xander's lips.

He didn't notice when Spike tore free of his grasp and scuttled into a darker corner of the carriage, out of the man's line of sight.

"That's..." he blurted.

"That's one of the reasons I can't show my face around here," Spike said trying to sound dismissive but his voice betrayed his intense embarrassment.

Xander nodded without taking his eyes off the approaching man. "But I always thought..."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"This is your chance," Spike said hurriedly. "He can take you to Willoughby." He gave the hesitant human a shove.

"What am I supposed to say?" Xander asked, but he got out of the carriage, stepping into the man's path.

"I... uh...," Xander stammered, unsure what to say. "You're..."

"May I help you?" Soft-spoken voice, polite tone, educated accent - so unlike the soulless thing who was currently hiding in the carriage.

"Wha?"

"I am employed here. If you tell me who you are looking for, perhaps I can help you. Do you have a calling card?"

*Employed?* "Huh?" Xander gaped, then closed his mouth with a snap. "I'm looking for... uh, a Mr. Edward Willoughby."

"Then you have come to the right place. Mr. Willoughby and his family are guests of Mr. Hartford, the owner of this residence. If you wish, I can ascertain if he is willing to receive guests. You are here to express your condolences?"

"Con--- uh, sure. I mean, yes."

Behind him the carriage pulled away.

***

When they arrived at St. Luke's the horses were foaming and sweating. *Poor little horsies,* Buffy thought as she stepped out of the carriage. She stretched her limbs. As usual, even the brief nap had brought her restorative rest - though it had done nothing to dampen her anger. Hartford, on the other hand, looked like death warmed over.

Buffy sized up the well-dressed man who had been awaiting their arrival. *Every inch a foot-soldier,* Buffy thought dryly, as the man eagerly led them inside.

There were bloody handprints streaked across the walls. Droplets of dried wine-colored blood speckled the floor. The young Watcher *well, younger than Giles, anyway,* beside Buffy doubled over, gagging. She grabbed his elbow to keep him on his feet.

"You okay there, Richie?" she asked dryly.

"Certainly," he assured her, dabbing his lip with a handkerchief, then grooming his bushy moustache back into shape.

"Just wait until we stumble on a victim."

Buffy turned toward the Council operative. "Have all the wounded been attended to?" she asked.

The man was surprised at her authoritative tone but he nodded curtly.

"I should hope that those with bite marks have been correctly disposed of?" Richard questioned.

"Of course, sir."

"Disposed of?" Buffy shuddered.

"That is not your concern, Maeve. Your task is to perform a thorough inspection of the premises to ensure the beasts have not remained," he informed her.

"Just who do you think..."

Richard interrupted, "If they have already departed, you must track the monsters back to their lair and destroy them."

Buffy growled.

"Look, Hartford Junior," she put the emphasis on `junior'. "You do what you have to do, but let me do my job." She turned the other man. "Are there any survivors I can speak with?"

The man turned toward the Watcher wearing a questioning look. Hartford nodded.

"Follow me, Miss."

***

"Follow me, Sir."

Between *Wow, a real live English butler!*,*Human Spike is such a dork* and *Can't wait to tell Dawn about this,* Xander was led into a large room and politely but firmly told to wait.

The place was crammed full of furniture: a large pool table, a cue rack, little tables for playing chess or cards, chairs that had their legs covered by funny little skirts, a large grandfather clock that was ticking loudly, and several glass cabinets, cluttered with all kinds of weird stuff: porcelain elephants, rocks and crystals, strange fossils, a mummified cat and several unidentifiable objects.

Restless, Xander picked up the cue ball and fiddled around with it. *I can't believe I just met William the Bloody when he was still alive.* The fact took some getting used to. His first impulse was laughter, but he sobered at the memory of last night's encounter with Drusilla. He'd thought he'd sicked her on a thug or killer, not on an innocent man. He gave the cue ball an angry shove that sent it criss-crossing across the pool table.

Xander was relieved when the door finally opened. *Buffy?*

"Mr. Willoughby," the butler announced.

A thin man and a boy of about fifteen or sixteen years entered. The man's left wrist was in a cast, the other arm was in a sling. He was dressed in somber black, the boy likewise. "My name is Edward St. John Willoughby. This is my son Charles. You asked to see me?"

"My name is Xander. Alexander Harris. I...uh... I'm looking for my friend. Her name is Bu--- uh, well no, it's Maeve."

"My apologies. But Maeve is not in right now." Willoughby gestured at a small table. "Why don't you sit down. Would you like some tea, Mr. Harris?"

Xander nodded vigorously. "Yeah, please, I kinda missed breakfast..." As if on cue his stomach rumbled audibly.

Willoughby winced. "Peters?"

"Right away, sir," the butler replied and departed.

"You are looking for Miss Summers," the man stated.

Xander sighed, relieved. "Yeah. So you know," Xander said.

"I made arrangements for a certain letter to be delivered. Am I right in deducing from your presence here that it reached its destination and that you are indeed come from the future?" Willoughby's tone was a mixture of awe and disapproval.

*The letter...well, duh!* "Yup. I'm the cavalry, um... make that 50 percent of the cavalry, come to the rescue, to save her from fishbone and other outdated stuff. And don't take this personally, but I so like my own time better. Okay, now where is Buffy? I was hoping to see her."

"She is away on Council business. Are you her Watcher? You do seem a little young, if you don't mind my saying so."

"Nope, not a Watcher, just a good friend."

"And yet you know of her...duties."

Xander nodded. "Yup. A bunch of us kind of found out by accident, and now we help her out. With the staking and the research and stuff."

"Hmm, very interesting," Willoughby considered. Then, "Tell me please, how is..."

"The real Maeve? Oh, she's fine. Anya, my fiancée is looking after her. They get along really well." *Fiancée. Sounds good.* Especially after having been strait-jacketed, beaten up, half starved *okay, slight exaggeration here...*, almost eaten, almost turned and almost gotten stuck in this century. Okay, the latter thing could still happen. *Don'teventhinkaboutit!*

"So she is awake? Did you talk to her?" Willoughby asked eagerly.

"Don't worry," Xander assured him. "She's with friends. She's a nice girl, plus she's ready to come back. But I guess when she does, you're probably gonna see some changes."

The look of relief on the Watcher's face was almost too much.

"You do not look like a necromancer." The young boy interrupted suddenly. He had been following the whole exchange silently.

"Charles!" Willoughby snapped.

"I don't look like a what-now?"

"A sorcerer who raises the dead. She said that you, her friends, brought her back." The boy continued. "That you pulled her out of heaven and raised her from the grave."

"No!" Xander said raising his hands defensively. "Not big with the necro-whatsit. Yeah, we brought her back, I mean, it was mostly Willow, who did it, but Buffy, I mean, she was in some kind of hell dimension, not in..." *'She reeks of Angels'* he suddenly heard Drusilla's voice overlapping his thoughts. *No way! Only...* A flurry of memories: Buffy staring into empty space. Buffy hardly talking to them. Buffy thanking them for her resurrection... *`I can't tell you what this means to me.'* Suddenly everything took on a whole new meaning...

"Oh God," he stammered, crestfallen. "Did she really say...What have we done? No wonder she acted so strange..."

***

It didn't take Buffy long to discover that the vamps who were responsible for the carnage were long gone. No danger-tinglies. Instead, she felt nauseated by what had felt like a tour of the dungeons. *This is a hospital? Looks like castle Dracula. Martha Stewart would, of course, add a few more manacles and branding irons.*

"I did not know you visited Romania," her watch-dog observed. "Who is Martha Stewart?"

*Oops. Brain to mouth, save quips for later.* She waved her hand dismissively, hoping to deflect further questions.

"I think we're done here," she told her stand-in Watcher. "Angel and his crew already left."

"So, the Scourge of Europe was indeed responsible for this outrage," Richard stated with a frown.

"It seems there were three of them. So unless you can think of another local evil trio... Oh, and one of the vamps wandered through the corridors singing. That sure sounds like Dru to me." Buffy frowned. "What I'd like to know is what happened to that guy who went all Alamo in the women's ward. Apparently he's MIA, disappeared along with a couple of women inmates. Too bad, I would have liked to have a little chat with him."

"He is a lunatic. Surely, if he is still alive he will soon be apprehended and brought back."

"I hope not. Anyone with enough balls and brains to kick Darla's ass is a hero. He deserves a medal, not shackles." *Good luck. Wherever you are...*



Part 36 - Look who's talking

Arthur Hartford was beginning to feel the strain of the past few days. Ever since Willoughby had informed him that the Slayer had finally woken up from her inconvenient unconsciousness, he had felt restless and apprehensive, as if momentous events were taking place just under his nose but somehow outside of his reach. It was utterly unacceptable.

Telegrams and letters from witches, sorcerers and seers littered his desk, contradictory descriptions of visions and portents. It seemed that the fabric of the world had been ruptured, possibly more than once. Had a new evil arrived on earth? Had the Slayer woken to take on that threat or was she part of it?

He lifted his cup. The tea was cold and bitter. He put the cup down and glanced at the clock. Almost 10 o'clock. *Already?* No wonder he was tired. It was time to get some sleep. Tonight's dinner party was an important function. Some of the guests were very distinguished, with friends in high places. He had long been vying for a knighthood. If he played his cards right tonight, he would soon be known as Sir Arthur. Yes, time for some rest. The butler could always alert him if reports from the hospital came in.

He got out of his chair. After so many hours of sitting behind his desk, reading and pondering, his joints were stiff and aching. He limped towards the window and pulled the curtains open. Dull daylight bled into the room to merge with yellow lamplight.

The old man froze in deep thought, still holding the pull cord for the curtains in his hand.

Coming from a long line of Watchers, Hartford was not just an administrator and a scholar but also a sorcerer. If today's scheduled testing of the Slayer did not provide conclusive information, then perhaps it was time to peruse the grimoires and tap into more arcane wells of enlightenment. Perhaps it was time to pull back a different curtain.

Director Hartford turned off all the lamps, except one.

Leaning heavily on his cane he walked to the door and locked it carefully from the inside. Then he activated a switch that was hidden behind a leather bound volume titled Historia Regum Britanniae, a book one of his predecessors had written seven centuries ago.

He picked up the lit lamp and limped into the secret passage. As always, he felt like he was traveling through the intestines of a large organism. On both sides of the passage he could hear sounds: the servants going about their chores, his daughter in law, practicing on the piano. He followed the twists and bends of the passage until he reached the secret library. He quickly located Cloutier's grimoire and tucked it under his arm. He was about to make his way back to his study, when the sounds of a conversation caused him to pause.

"You did what you thought was right, just like I did." Willoughby's voice could be heard. "Berating ourselves over this will not accomplish anything. Let us instead place our energies into getting the Slayer back to where she belongs."

*Where she belongs?*

"Okay, that's easy," a male voice with a strong American accent replied. "My friends will do the necessary mojo. All we have to do is get the two of us to the portal tomorrow night and whoosh! Oh, and we can't forget about Spike."

***

Spike had no difficulties picturing the happy Scooby reunion in his mind, Buffy saying things along the lines of `I knew I could count on you' and `what would I do without you' - to Harris. He wondered if his name had come up at all. What would the bricklayer say? Something like, `oh by the way, I almost forgot, Spike's here too'?

Sickening. He pushed the mental image aside. Instead, Spike pictured himself ripping out Xander's spine, tying it into a knot and shoving it down the human's slanderous mouth, shutting him up forever. Better.

"Yeah, that'll be the day," he muttered, knowing full well that - chip or no - Xander was safe from him for as long as Buffy lived, possibly even longer. *Damn her!*

He fished the rest of the thieves' gin out of his bag, downed it and tossed the empty bottle through the window, out of the moving carriage.

Buffy... Always on his mind, always! He'd plunge the whole world into chaos - if that's what she wanted, just like he was willing to save the world - for her. He'd do anything to wipe that thousand yard stare off her face. Anything for a smile, a few words, a dance.

***

"Spike? Who might that be?"

"Spike? He's my... uh..." *Friend? No way. Pal? Nuh. Associate? Stupid word. Vamp-for-hire? Oh yeah, explain that to a bunch of tweedies...* "He's a friend, kinda. In a very - and I really mean very - loose sense of the word. Not mine but... Anyway, he has to come back with us. He can't stay here. He has a knack for causing trouble."

There was a knock on the door and the maid came in, curtsying and pushing in a little wheeled table bearing cups, a teapot, and plates full of sandwiches and *Hallelujah!* little cakes. After the unspeakable horrors of his last few meals, especially the gruesome gruel, this looked like manna from heaven!

"So, this friend of yours, Spike, where is he now? Why did he not come in?" Willoughby inquired.

The maid poured some tea for Mr. Willoughby and his guest and quietly excused herself from the room, closing the door behind her.

As the comestibles usurped Xander's attention, his side of the conversation became less fluent. "Trust me," Xander said and devoured a little cake, muffling the rest of his words, "The less you see or hear of him, the better."

Willoughby and his son exchanged a glance.

After Xander had finished the majority of the pastries on the cart, he concluded with a determined bout of finger licking. He looked up as the door opened again, hoping the maid had returned with some of the chocolate filled kind. Unfortunately, it was just some old tweedy-guy with a cane.

"Sir," Willoughby said, respectfully rising to his feet. His son too, sprang too his feet. Xander wiped his hands on his pants and rose as well. "Hey."

"Edward. Forgive me my interruption. I did not realize you were entertaining a visitor in here."

"The maids are dusting the drawing room for tonight's reception, therefore Peters decided to make use of the billiard room, but if..." Willoughby said apologetically.

"No no, dear friend, carry on, by all means," Hartford said, jovially, but his smile did not reach his eyes.

Willoughby realized there was no way of avoiding this, so he reluctantly decided to go through the necessary protocol and introduce his visitor as an acquaintance made during one of his travels. It was disconcerting really, how lying to the head of the Council seemed to come more and more naturally.

***

Naturally, Spike had no intention of lying low and staying out of trouble. Spike had one and a half days before it was time to shove Buffy and Harris into the temporal portal. One and a half days without the chip.

There was a lot of fun to be had in this town for a vampire with a sense of adventure. He could go to Barley's Parlor. Have a few drinks. Place a few bets. *Rat-killing, dog-fighting, badger-baiting - haven't seen any of those in a long time.* Snap a few necks. Yeah, maybe later. After dark.

There wasn't actually a lot to do during the day. Or maybe there was. He knocked his cane against the roof of the carriage, to get the coachman's attention.

"Changed my mind. We're not going to Whitechapel, take me to St. Marylebone, instead. And take your time."

"Yes, sir."

When the carriage reached its destination, Spike told the coachman to stop. He paid the fare and, as an afterthought, bought the man's horse blanket. *Just in case...* He stepped out, uncertainly eyeing the overcast sky. No imminent danger of sunlight induced combustion, but it never hurt to be careful.

He strolled along familiar streets, the folded blanket hanging over his arm, until he stood in front of a house that, obviously, had seen better days. It looked just as small and shabby as he remembered it.

*This is stupid,* he scolded himself as he leaned against a tree and lit himself a cigarette.

****

"This is stupid," Buffy announced.

"On the contrary, Miss McKenna, this is a time-honored exercise that will hone your sense of balance and your concentration," the Watcher Mr. What's-his-name said pompously, while scribbling busily.

"Yeah yeah, I get that. That's not what I meant. It's just that while I do these silly little handstands I could be doing more important stuff..." She lifted one arm, so that her weight rested entirely on one hand. "...Like get some sleep or eat lunch, you know. Speaking of which, how come my oh-so-conscientious new Watcher isn't here? Shouldn't he be taking notes or something? How come he gets to take the rest of the day off?" Buffy groused.

"Miss McKenna, please concentrate on your exercise."

*How many more hoops do they want me to jump through?* Buffy wondered silently. In all of their ludicrous training exercises like knife throwing, crossbow shooting and sword fighting she had given her best, hoping the Watchers would soon tire of the whole boring routine and leave her alone. But now she was wondering if she should just refuse to cooperate.

*It's not like we need try-outs. I'm already on the team. Heck, I AM the team, I even have my own pom poms. Well, I do. At home, in the basement.*

She remembered the last time she had been tested by the Council. Travers had made everybody nervous, playing on their insecurities. Hers too. When the whole `evaluation' started she'd been afraid to fail some kind of test, when truly it wasn't even their place to prod and study her. *They're like the tail that tries to wag the dog or something.* She wasn't going to allow the Men-in-Tweed to cow her into submission. She had put Travers into his place. If Hartford didn't stop this nonsense she'd put him into his place, too. *I miss Giles.*

***

Normally, Darla was the first to wake from her slumber. She always rose as soon as the sun set. Today, Drusilla was up long before Grandmother, long before nightfall. She could sense the sun's lingering presence burning angrily in the sky. Excitement and anticipation surged through her, yet her heart was as still as ever. Only the clock on the mantelpiece of the fireplace was ticking and ticking, counting the seconds, minutes and hours...

The raven-haired vampire slid out of the large bed, careful not to wake Daddy or Grandmother. She regarded her family silently and quite lucidly. Angelus and Darla were sleeping in each other's embrace, barely leaving enough room for her. It occurred to Drusilla then, that she would have to use cunning to obtain her prize. If Angelus and Darla knew her true heart's desire, surely they would deny her, for the pure pleasure of causing her pain.

She put on her dressing gown, relishing the brush of silk on bare skin and made her way to the adjoining room, where their big traveling trunks were kept. Humming a happy tune she rifled through gowns and dresses, scarves and gloves, ribbons and handkerchiefs. After all, she had to look pretty when she claimed her handsome prince. "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in your shoe," she murmured. When she had laid out her choice, `borrowing' a pair of Darla's stockings, she walked back into the bedroom. She silently slid back between the sheets and dreamed of things to come.

***

*At last!* After hours of loitering Spike finally got what he'd been waiting for: the door opened and a young girl stepped outside. "Come on, Wellington," she coaxed the old dog down the stairs. "Come on, old boy, it is time for your walk. Or would you have the maid take you out?"

The dog wagged its tail and followed her on stiff legs. *Poor arthritic bugger,* Spike thought absentmindedly, as he tossed his half smoked cigarette away. *Someone ought to put you out of your misery.* But his real attention was on the girl.

Bright and sweet and vibrant.

Looking at her should have left him stone cold. Or maybe made him want to turn her. Vampire! Evil! Except it didn't.

*I shouldn't have come!* He turned on his heel and strode away. Behind him he could hear the old dog growling. He hailed a cab. So eager was he to get away, that he was inside the carriage before it even had time to stop.

***

"Thank you, Miss McKenna. That will be all."

*Finally,* Buffy thought, relieved.

"Now, if you'll just follow me into the examination room," Watcher-guy proposed.

"Examination room? Then what was this room called?"

The man ignored her comment and led her into the basement of the Diognes club. It didn't look half as fancy as the upstairs rooms. Apparently, the basement was used as laboratory and medical facility. It reminded her of some of the rooms she'd seen in the asylum. Dark and probably swarming with germs. *Jeez, have these guys ever even heard of the word sterile?* One wall was lined by closed cabinets, with shiny metal saws and prongs inside, and not the DIY kind. *Note to Buffy: Become a patient in this century? Let's not.*, There was a long table with test tubes, cotton, gauzy and q-tip looking thingies and *ugh needles?* on the other wall. Buffy shuddered. A large square table and some chairs stood in the center of the room. Two men in black suits looked up from various papers they'd been studying.

There was the sound of a metal click behind her. She spun around and found herself staring at her own reflection...well, Maeve's reflection. A solid metal *door?* must've slid down into place blocking her exit. Buffy scanned the room hurriedly.

"You did very well, Maeve. It would seem that your long `sleep' has not impaired your fighting skills," the doctor? Scientist? Tweed guy said. He opened a cabinet and brought forth a large blue crystal. He approached the table, and gently placed the crystal upon it.

He stood beside her and got out his pocketwatch. "Well then, I would like to take your pulse now," he said and reached for her wrist.

The whole set-up made Buffy's heart race and her skin crawl, but she remembered that eventually - *hopefully* - Maeve would have to live with Buffy's actions in her body. So, Buffy let the man grab her wrist. The man's fingers were warm and sweaty.

"A little fast," he said, "but that is hardly surprising. Now, I would like you to look at that crystal and concentrate," he continued, his voice smooth.

Buffy couldn't help but look. It was so beautiful. Without realizing it, Buffy found herself standing at the edge of the table. *I recognize this. Why do I recognize this? Something to do with Giles.*

She struggled to extract the memory, but her mind was suddenly cloudy. *Crystal. Remember.* There was a flaw in the center of the crystal. She couldn't help but stare at it. She could hear the drone of the man's voice, but didn't quite know what he was saying. The longer she stared, the harder it became to concentrate on that memory. *Flaw...Crystal...*

"...just look at the imperfection." The British voice seemed very far away.

***

Just staring into space. It was like high school all over again.

Xander was bored and bored Xander never boded well. Willoughby had decided it was `unwise' for the time traveler to roam the streets of London. Meaning Xander was grounded. Which sucked. Big time.

The thin Watcher was kept busy by funeral arrangements and the arrival of his sister, who looked like a stately matron out of a Merchant/Ivory movie. Somewhere between one foot-in-mouth moment and the next, Xander had found out that Willoughby's wife had died of a heart attack or something. Ergo the man's busy-ness and Xander's bored-ness.

No Buffy. Also, no TV, no comic books, no movies, no Nintendo, no radio (not that there was any decent music anyway), no baggy pants, no donuts - *okay, English scones were surprisingly good, even though they were, well, English...* - no cheetos, no Budweiser. This century sucked. Exclamation Point.

After enduring a stifled lunch with far too many different kinds of cutlery, he'd tried napping but had woken from a ridiculous nightmare in which he was being chased by big fanged tea bags... In the end he had snuck outside his guestroom and made his way downstairs, heading for the one room that might offer some amusement: the billiard room.

He helped himself to an ivory tipped cue, arranged the balls and started playing, wishing for a crazy moment Spike were here. Fangless was a pain in the neck, but - soulless or no - he was good to play pool with. Somehow, Buffy's return had put a stop to their occasional post-slayage commiserating-over-dead-Buffy pool games at the Bronze.

Xander played a while but soon got bored again. He started wandering through the room picking up items, putting them back, checking for dust (there wasn't any) and generally pondering the relative merit of ugly porcelain dogs versus highly collectible Star Wars action figures (the original series, of course), when suddenly a particularly corny looking porcelain spaniel slipped out of his fingers.

"Crap!"

For a fraction of a second, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. He tried to catch the delicate object, but with too much force, so instead of cushioning its fall, he sent it flying. *Crap!* Xander made a lunge for it, again grazing the dog with his fingertips, but propelling it even further. With a sickening crunch the ugly spaniel hit the mantelpiece of the fireplace and fell to the ground - in several pieces.

Xander bent down to pick up the fragments. When he straightened again his eye fell on a painting. A cheesy picture with a shining knight on a fat white horse with a permed mane, sticking a spear into a dragon. Remembering some of the nasties that had escaped through Glory's portal and soared the Sunnydale skies, Xander decided the painter didn't have a clue about monster anatomy. But that wasn't what had caught his attention. He tilted his head this way and that way.

"The painting's crooked," he finally announced to no one in particular. He took a step closer. "Yup, definitely cockeyed. Okay, THAT I can fix."

Guiltily cradling the porcelain shards in one hand he grabbed the frame of the painting to adjust it. It appeared to be stuck. He used more force and suddenly something gave way. There was a click-y kind of noise behind him. He turned just in time to see a formerly concealed door spring open.

*Open sesame? Cool! You know, I always wanted to find one of these...*

He moved closer. Overcome by curiosity he peered past the opening in the paneled wall into the dark. *Are those books? Why would anyone hide his books in a secret room?*

Suddenly he heard voices approaching and the door was opened with a flourish. Xander's heart lurched in his chest. Without thinking, propelled by the instinctual bad conscience of someone who was about to get caught snooping, and with added impetus from the desire to hide the incriminating evidence in his hand, he dashed forward into the dark and pulled the concealed door shut behind him with a soft click.

Dark. *Crap!*

***

It had been easy to find lodgings in Whitechapel. Nothing fancy, just a dark little room with a smelly but thankfully bug-free bed. After a few hours sleep, Spike was itching for a spot of violence and his thoughts largely revolved around blood and gore. He wasn't really hungry, but the teeming humanity made him peckish.

He bought a hot meat pie from a street vendor as he contemplated his next move.

There had to be something nasty for him to do.

It was a foregone conclusion that the minute he got back to Sunnyhell he'd probably get staked. The chip was the only reason why Buffy and the other white hats had never bothered to dust him. If the chip was gone for good, it was back to square one, where Slayer and vampire stood on opposite sides and beat the snot out of each other until one of them was dead.

The thing was, even without the chip he still loved that girl. Maybe... Maybe he should go and kill himself a few vampires or other demons, chop `em into tiny little bits. They put up a better fight than humans, anyway. Too bad he couldn't just go and beat the stuffing out of Angelus. Now, that would be fun. Might not even mess up the time-line, either...

***

Secret passages. This should be fun. Should be, but... *Houston, we have a problem.* Because this place was darker than dark. Dark-side-of-the-moon dark. Absolute. Disorienting. Darkness.

Xander didn't dare move for fear of noisily knocking things over or tripping and falling flat on his face. Besides, there was someone on the other side of the door he was leaning against!

He could hear that someone moving about in the billiard room. There were clinking sounds. Surely, if he remained quiet, whoever it was would go away again, right?

Five minutes later the adrenaline rush was gone. But the unseen person was still there. Whoever was making those noises, he or she seemed in no hurry to get out of the room any time soon.

*Now, if I had a secret room or passage I'd keep a box of matches around,* Xander mused. He slowly groped around in the dark, his fingertips identifying bookshelves, and a small table. That's where he found first a candleholder and then, *yabbadabbadooo!* a pack of matches. He struck a match

Books. Lots of them. Oh look! Van der Lieken's `Vampyre Lore.' And was that Himmelmann's `Demon Compendium'? *Okay, this tells me two things: A) That Hartford fellow is also a Watcher. Swell. And B) I spend way too much time researching demons and spells. I'll be wearing tweed next.* He looked down at himself, at the suit Spike had organized for him. *Oh.*

Heat singed his fingers. Xander swallowed a curse and snuffed the flame. He struck a second match and lit the candle.

The library wasn't really a proper room, more like a narrow passage, but with both walls covered by bookshelves. Between them there was barely enough room to walk.

Some of the shelves had gaps between the books. At first Xander thought there were books missing but then he saw a strange contraption on the wall, like a bolt, but flat, like a moveable lid covering...

Holes! In the wall. Peep peep!

*I spy, with my little eye...* Pushing the lid aside Xander revealed two holes. He peered through, into the billiard room and saw a maid polishing the brandy decanters. He covered the holes and tried the other wall. A regular library, complete with a librarian. *So that's what he meant by employment.* Xander thought as he recognized Spike ...uh... William Crawford.

Watching the man read was about as interesting as watching paint dry, so Xander decided to explore the house further. Maybe the passage led to another game room?

***

Almost an hour later, Xander still hadn't managed to get out of the honeycomb of secret passages, but he'd peered into several over-furnished rooms: billiard room, salon, dining room, library and a big study. *Call me Colonel Mustard* he thought with a glance at the candlestick in his hand. All the rooms on the ground floor, seemed to be either occupied (first by servants then by noisy hoards of party-goers) or inaccessible. Like the library. When Crawford finally left and Xander tried the secret door, it wouldn't budge. And there were no hidden levers or buttons. *At least none that I can find.* Of course Willow would have been able to open it with a mere gesture or a word of power.

Maybe one of the rooms upstairs was empty? There was a narrow and steep stairway leading upwards. Xander took it. *Hm, looks like a dead end.* Up here, the sounds of the party were a distant hum. He could therefore clearly hear a conversation that was taking place just on the other side of the wall.

"Are you quite certain that you haven't encouraged him in any way, Cecily?" a woman was saying in a cultured voice.

"Good lord, no!" an agitated young woman could be heard. "I never gave him reason to think of me that way. Once or twice we exchanged a few pleasantries about the weather, about literature, nothing more. I would never give my heart to a man who does not command the respect of his peers, no matter how gallant or learned he may be. But even if what you say is true, and he really does have feelings for me, surely, it must be a passing infatuation. A mere romantic spleen that will wane for want of encouragement."

Xander peered through a crack in the wood paneling and made out two women. The room itself he'd not seen before.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes infatuation turns into obsession."

"Oh god." The young woman wrung her hands in exasperation. "He keeps writing poems. I...I think they are about me. God, they're horrible. He has the vocabulary of a dictionary, and the same sense of prose. It is as though he has set a goal to use every English word in an awkward rhyme."

Xander shrugged and started searching for opening mechanisms, cracks or hinges, anything that might reveal a secret exit. He was getting sick of the whole fly on or rather in the wall thing.

"My dear Cecily, he has neither money nor title. He is nothing. Beneath you. What would your friends think if you were to favor him with your attention? You have a responsibility towards yourself and your peers."

"I know," Cecily exclaimed. Her distress was palpable.

"You have to make it clear that you could never love him. That he has no chance whatsoever of winning your favor. Tell him in no uncertain terms that he is to stay away from you."

" Can't I just pretend...?"

"Cecily darling, let me tell you this as your friend: if you want to be tres comme il faut you will have to put a stop to this, once and for all! Already, people are laughing at you."

"Oh god!"

He carefully made his way back down the steep staircase, using one hand to protect the flickering candle flame from the draft, all the while wishing fervently he had left a bread crumb trail. *Man, this place is huge!* Tracing his fingers along the bookshelves as he walked, he trained his ear on the murmur of party-goers. *At least they'll get me back to where I started...and maybe I'll even be somewhat entertained.* Closer. He could actually start to make out different voices. Closer still. Clinks of glassware and excerpts of conversation. There. Right behind this wall; he peered thru.

*Ah, Monty, good to see you again, old chap,* he imitated his version of an English accent in his head. It wasn't very good. He scanned the party looking for

familiar faces. Snobs, snots, stuck upities...*Come on, this isn't entertainment.* He wandered a little further down the hallway and peeked through once again. Finally, something on the verge of being interesting caught his attention.

Spike's mortal 19th century alter-ego, William Crawford, was sitting on a mind-blowingly ugly sofa, taking notes or something. In any case the guy was merrily scribbling away. *Let's see what you're up to Spikey, old boy.*

A servant was offering snacks around and Xander's stomach rumbled.

He watched Crawford get up and move through the crowd.

"I mean to point out that it's something of a mystery and the police should keep an open mind," a woman could be heard. Xander found her voice grating.

One of the aristocrats - Xander recognized him as one of the Hartfords he'd been introduced to at lunchtime - turned to Spike as he passed by. "Ah, William! Favor us with your opinion. What do you make of this rash of disappearances sweeping through our town? Animals or thieves?" There was no mistaking the mockery in his tone.

"I prefer not to think of such dark, ugly business at all. That's what the police are for." Crawford said, haughtily. "I prefer placing my energies into creating things of beauty."

Xander suppressed a snort.

Hartford snatched the piece of paper from Crawford's hands. "I see. Well, don't withhold, William," he said.

*Yeah, come on William, don't withhold,* Xander thought with a grin. *Hey I know people who'd pay to hear this...*

As if echoing his thoughts the woman with the grating voice said, "Rescue us from a dreary topic."

"Careful. The inks are still wet. Please, it's not finished." Crawford pleaded, ineffectually reaching for his property.

"Don't be shy," Hartford said. Then he began to read out loud, for everyone to hear: "My heart expands, 'tis grown a bulge in it, inspired by your beauty, effulgent."

*Poetry? Spike? Effulgent? Ouch! What kind of word is that? Jeez Spike, as a poet you really sucked...* Xander grinned inwardly.

"Effulgent?" The man with the moustache burst into laughter and all the other party-goers joined in. For some reason the laughter sounded shrill and ugly in Xander's ear, *yap yap yap,* like a pack of hyenas. Eerily familiar.

Xander watched as a mortified William snatched back his poem and fled into a more secluded section of the room.

*Hey! Am I the only one here who thinks it's kinda rude to trash a guy like that?*

"And that's actually one of his better compositions," a foppish aristo-jerk snickered, when the laughter finally died down.

*Apparently,* Xander answered his own question. *Hey come on, guys, you had your laughs, now let it go.*

"Have you heard? They call him William the Bloody because of his bloody awful poetry!" A she-hyena harped, almost panting with the hunger to humiliate.

Something inside of Xander stirred. *I wouldn't throw stones, not with your horrendous hairdo. What do they call you? Bertha the Bretzelhead?* He'd been subjected to too much geek-bashing in his high school days to not take sides, however quietly. Besides, this was William. It wasn't like he was taking Spike's side, right? He willed the retreating man to turn around. *Come on, Spike, I've never known you to be short of a comeback!*

"It suits him," Hartford declared. And then came the killing blow: "I'd rather have a railroad spike through my head than listen to that awful stuff!"

Railroad spike plus head equaled gory visual. *Oh god,* Xander thought, as he realized that the man had just sealed his fate. *That's so not the kind of comeback I had in mind...*

***

"Time for payback," Spike chuckled, as he brandished his lock picks and quietly let himself in. He could have just broken the door down, but he didn't feel like drawing attention to himself.

He sniffed. Perfume, starch, clothing, shoe polish, beeswax, dried flowers, dust and the faint but familiar scents of the rooms' inhabitants. The family was out.

*Good.*

He started to rifle through drawers and trunks, suitcases and valises. Papers, banknotes, jewelry, everything valuable found its way into his bag. Spike paused when he came across a handful of photographs, then pocketed them.

The last thing he happened upon were deeds and other papers that documented their owner's property investments. There was a predator's smile on the vampire's face as he stuffed the folder into his bag.

He left as quietly as he'd entered.

***

Xander watched Crawford approach the young woman from upstairs. *What was her name again? Cecily?* William sat down, his posture rigid with nervousness. The woman fluttered nearby, trying desperately to avoid direct eye contact.

They were too far away for Xander to hear what was being said, but their gestures and glances spoke volumes. He could almost hear them in his head.

Something like, 'I think you're really pretty'. And then she says, 'You're kidding, right?' And then, 'Would you like to go to a movie or something?' And then the girl, 'Me? Go out with you? Like, in your wildest dreams, loser'. *I can so relate.*

He wasn't surprised when Crawford rushed through the crowd, bumping against indignant guests, knocking a tray out of a servant's hand and sending snacks flying, looking every inch like a man about to hurl himself off a cliff.

***

"When do the results of her blood work come back?"

Pause.

"But is she human?"

Then.

"What about her aura? And the mind readers?"

Pause.

"But what does that mean? Have you done any research at all? Where do buffys come from? Can we kill them?"

He waited.

"What do you mean, she is gone?"

Pause.

"This is unacceptable! How could you allow her to leave?" The old man fumed.

He held the receiver to his ear. The other hand gripped the mouthpiece as if trying to twist it off the apparatus.

"I don't care if she smashed every single door in the building. Find her!" Hartford finally shouted. "A rogue Slayer, or whatever she is, must not be allowed to roam the streets unsupervised! Find her. Apprehend her. Then use chains to restrain her. I have had enough of this. I will get to the bottom of this, even if it is the last thing I'll ever do!"

Inside his hiding place, Xander felt a chill washing over him. *Uh oh.*

***

"Stupid Council jerks," Buffy mumbled. She kicked a pebble down the darkened stone pathway. "Who do they think they are? I mean, I'm the Slayer, they need ME." There were others on the paths as well: nicely dressed couples, women in fancy hats, even a man or two on horseback, but they took little notice of the mumbling street urchin the little Slayer seemed to be.

Buffy had been walking for quite some time now. She was dirty, her clothing, *well, Charles' clothing,* was already worn and ripped. After the physical exercises, Buffy's mind got blurry. She remembered something about an examination room *Ugh, needles*...she shuddered. And then she must have dozed off for a bit. But that couldn't be right. The Council guys would never have let her take a nap. The last thing she could recall was when she stormed out of the 'testing' facility screaming obscenities she doubted any of the English freaks would recognize. She had broken some furniture and pushed a couple of 'guard dogs' out of the way, then just took off running with the intention of getting as far away from those creepy doctor-guys as she could. She realized, after only a few minutes, that she had no idea where she was going.

With the hope that she would eventually recognize a building or landmark, she continued along brightly lit streets, past stately homes, through parks and across pretty squares, and now, she was nowhere closer to recognizing a damned thing.

"Trapped in the wrong century and lost," she muttered. "Just great." She stopped walking and leaned against the nearest building. *What if I really am stuck in this century permanently? What if I never see my friends again?* She sighed and slid down the wall to rest on the sidewalk. She rested her head on her hands and stared down at Charles' worn brown shoes. *What am I gonna do?* The sound of loud clink on the ground beside her startled her. Buffy looked up just as a smart-looking couple passed. She glanced on the ground beside her and realized they'd tossed her a coin. *Am I really that pathetic?* She giggled half-heartedly. *This is what the life of a Slayer has come to. Perfect.*

Buffy pocketed the coin and gazed at her surroundings again, with only a shred of hope that she'd finally recognize SOMETHING. She took in the beautiful clothing, the yellowish cast of the street lamps, the stone buildings. The sounds of people shuffling, canes tapping and horses' hooves created a complex rhythm. She started paying attention to the chatter of the people around her, hoping to glean whatever information she could about where the heck she was.

A group of young women passed, without so much as a glance at the Slayer.

"All my gowns are made in Paris, let me tell you..."

*Ew. Snotty, much?* Buffy thought. Then turned her attention to another pairing nearby.

"Thank heavens the hunting season is over. All that talk about pheasants and hares, so tiresome..."

"So true. I am positively overjoyed to be back in London."

*Aha! I'm in London! Yes!* Buffy smiled at her shrewd detective abilities. *Now, how exactly did that help me?*

"Didn't her son just graduate at Eton?"

"I beseech you, tell me, who is your tailor?"

"When I bit into him, I could hear the ocean."

*Uh oh.*


Author's Note: Some of the dialogue used in this chapter was lifted from actual episodes, namely Doug Petrie's 'Fool for Love' (BtVS, S5)) and Tim Minear's 'Darla' (AtS, S2).



Part 37 - The Walls Come Tumbling Down

*Buffy! I need to find Buffy!*

Xander bolted from the space behind Hartford’s study and began pushing and pounding on bookshelves as he made his way through the dark passageway.  Because he’d left his candle behind, Xander was blind and in a state of near panic. “Let me out of here,” he began to chant. “Let me out!” He pounded.

He rushed through the corridor, tripped over something, and smashed, headfirst into a bookshelf.  He found himself falling, in a rain of literature, through the wall and landed with a crash on the other side.  When he looked down at himself to inventory his injuries, his heart jumped at the sight of a bright red stain spreading across his previously clean and starched white shirt.  *Oh no!*

Xander scrambled to his feet and brushed himself off. Shards of glass clinked as they fell. *Inventory!* He felt his chest, stomach. *No pain. Not hurt.* Then he glanced down at the mess he’d created.  He was standing on what was left of a severely busted wooden table. Combined with piles of books and random torn papers, there were splinters of china and glassware scattered everywhere. Xander noticed the white linen tablecloth under the rubbish had a growing red stain that matched his shirt. *Wine. Nice. Way to crash a party, Superman.*

He looked up into the faces of the dinner guests with a mixture of fear and sheepishness. “Uh. Hi. Sorry ‘bout the mess.” He started edging his way through the gathering crowd. “Gotta run, though.” And he took off through the dining room, down a hallway, and then thundered up the stairs.

He barged into the Watcher’s room without knocking, startling everyone inside. The Watcher and his family stared at him in consternation. Sounds of the commotion Xander had caused downstairs clearly traveled through the open door.

“Get your Watcher gear. We’re leaving,” he said in the don’t-mess-with-me voice he normally only used on the construction site.

“Oh good heavens,” Willoughby rose to his feet. “Are you hurt?”

“No, it’s wine.”
“You were drinking?” he asked astonished.

Xander shook his head. “Come on, we gotta go!”

“What happened?” Willoughby asked.

“Your host happened. That Hartford guy. He knows. I just listened to him while he was on the phone,” Xander explained. “You never said he was a Watcher! Anyway, something’s happened and now Buffy’s on the run. We gotta help her. Before anyone else gets to her.”

“You are quite right, Mr. Harris. We will help her. But first we will have to find her.”

***

Buffy quickly shielded her face with her hand, watching through spread fingers as the trio swept past her. *Well, at least I’ve found something I recognize.*  When Angelus and his women were finally across the street, Buffy stood up slowly.  She carefully picked her way through the passing public. She could still hear echoes of Drusilla’s voice; they sent chills up her spine.

Buffy followed, as close as she could manage. She skittered from shadow to shadow trying to eavesdrop on the vampire triumvirate.

“If you’re lonely, why don’t you make yourself a playmate, Dru?” Angel suggested.

Buffy gasped, then quickly covered her mouth and lowered her cap.

Just then, a man carrying a stack of papers rushed past and shoved his way through the vampire family. “Bloody…watch where you’re going,” he muttered.

The Slayer recognized William’s voice even though his head was down. *Oh god, no!*

***

Dru turned at the sound of the man’s voice. *My prince,* she thought as he brushed past. She swayed slightly and gracefully moved away from her mummy and daddy and followed the lovely yellow, lemon scented trail her playmate left in his wake.

From the moment she heard William’s voice, Buffy’s mind hadn’t stopped racing.

*Tonight. It’s happening tonight. What should I do? It’s my job. It’s William. It’s Spike. What about the future?*

She followed Drusilla through the city streets, trying to make up her mind. Trying not to freak out.

*I could save all the people Spike is going to kill. I could save two Slayers. But then maybe I’ll never get called. Hey, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Okay, I sooo don’t have time to decide whether or not I want to be a Slayer. And Dawn? Oh my god! What about Dawn? I’ll lose her!* Tears pricked the Slayer’s eyes.

Drusilla hovered at the edge of the alley and watched her young prince rip his tear-soaked papers to shreds. She closed her eyes and inhaled his scent; she could see wisps of his future, glistening.  But something wasn’t right. He was overlaid. *He is special…twice,* she thought. She also sensed the same hooded figures watching her that had danced around her last night, when she’d almost turned the other one.

*I’m supposed to save people, right? It’s my job. But if I save him, and those Slayers never die, and I’m never called, then really it’s not my job anymore, is it? Besides, what about Spike?*

***

“Charles, quickly, run downstairs and find Harper. Tell him to get the carriage ready and tell him to make haste.”

“Yes, father,” the boy obeyed without hesitation.

“Mr. Harris, please open that trunk over there. You will find a black leather bag in there. We will be needing that. There are also two books. Take those as well.”

Xander did as he was told. There were stakes, vials of holy water and other weapons in the chest, including a well-oiled gun. He wordlessly pocketed everything that looked useful, put the gun in his waistband and tucked the heavy spell-books under his arms.

Meanwhile, Willoughby continued to give everybody instructions. “George, take your aunt and look after her. Go to this address.” He clumsily scribbled something on a piece of paper, wincing at the pain in his hand, and handed it to the boy. George looked scared but resolved.

“Make sure no one follows you,” his father added and handed him money. George nodded.

“Edward? What is happening?” Willoughby’s sister, a plump, matronly woman demanded to know.

“I am sorry, Catherine, there is no time to explain.”

When Willoughby awkwardly tried to shrug into his coat, his sister stepped closer and helped him. “You don’t have to tell me,” she said seriously. “I have not forgotten our father and his strange work.  Just be careful, Edward. Don’t do anything rash. I don’t want to lose you as well.”

“I will be careful. I promise.” He bent down and kissed her cheek. She put on her own coat then put an arm around the younger boy’s shoulder and gave him a comforting squeeze.

They hurried downstairs, ignoring indignant stares, shoved the butler out of the way before he could stop them and filed out of the house.

Harper and the carriage had not yet arrived. Willoughby waved at a passing hansom and it stopped. George and his aunt climbed inside. Willoughby paid the coachman and gave him instructions, and with a crack of the coachman’s whip, the two-wheeler hurtled away at breakneck speed.

Moments later the clatter of hooves announced the arrival of Harper and the Willoughby carriage. “That was quick,” the Watcher observed with an approving nod.

“Thank you, sir,” the coachman replied. “Young Master Willoughby gave me a hand, sir.”

Willoughby ushered Xander inside, where Charles was already waiting, his eyes bright with excitement.

When the butler and a handful of other strong servants hurried out of the house to stop them, the carriage was already on its way.

***

“Where is Dru?” Darla wondered aloud. “She’ll miss the ballet.”

“Don’t worry, my love,” Angelus murmured as he slipped his arm through hers and they entered the glorious theater. “She’s like a cat, she’ll find her way home.”

“Well, we can always hope she won’t,” Darla answered offhandedly.

“Oh, now, darling, don’t be jealous,” Angel chided.

“I suppose we could punish her for her tardiness.” Darla smiled cruelly.

“She does have to learn her lesson.”

Darla leaned up toward the dark man and brushed her lips across his ear. “Are you hungry?”

***

*The wisest and bravest knight…* Dru appraised her prize from the shadows.

Buffy was afraid to peer into the alleyway. She watched as Dru followed the same course that William had just taken. She could see an outline of the vampire standing in the shadows, watching…Watching William.

*It’s just that William’s such a nice guy,* she told herself. *And Spike? Well, I kind of like him too,* she replied. *No you don’t,* she argued. *He’s evil.* She sighed. *Okay, maybe not so much.*

The outline moved. Buffy tensed. *Do something!* she prodded herself.

“And I wonder... what possible catastrophe came crashing down from heaven and brought this dashing stranger to tears?” Drusilla asked smoothly.

Buffy edged closer to the passageway and carefully peeked around the corner. William was sitting on a bale of hay. She could see his face glittering with tears. He had ripped up his paperwork. Dru was standing calmly before him.

“Nothing. I wish to be alone,” he answered.

*I could do it now. I could stop her. Dust her. Save so many people.*

“Oh, I see you. A man surrounded by fools who cannot see his strength, his vision, his glory.”

*Hey!* Buffy thought indignantly.

The Slayer watched as William backed away from the vampire.

*Good instincts, Will. Now run!* she willed him. *Who are you kidding, Buffy? You know he’s not going to run. If you want him to live, you’ll have to go save him.*

“That’s quite close enough,” William told her.

*Maybe I don’t want him to live,* she told herself. *Maybe I want Spike.* Buffy closed her eyes. *Oh god, what for?*

“…Your wealth lies here,” Drusilla said, as she pointed to his heart. “…and here,” his head.

*He’s good. Well, no he isn’t. Not really. But… but he tries. And for a vamp that’s saying something, right? He helps. He loves Dawn.*

“You walk in worlds the others can’t begin to imagine.”

*He hasn’t said it in a while, not since… but I know he loves me.*

“Oh, yes! I mean, no. I mean... mother's expecting me,” he stuttered.

*If you’re going to do something, Buffy, now would be the time,* she pressured herself.

“I see what you want. Something glowing and glistening. Something... effulgent.”

*You’re going to let this happen, aren’t you?* she asked herself.

“Effulgent,” William echoed.

*Yes, yes I am.*

“Do you want it?” the vampire asked seductively.

*You’re being selfish,* she chastised.

“Oh, yes! God, yes,” William answered.

Buffy didn’t intend on watching this part, but she couldn’t bring herself to turn away.

“Goodbye William,” she mouthed into the darkness.

***

Spike stopped the carriage several hundred yards short of Hartford House and got out. He leaned against a street lantern and got out his tobacco pouch, contemplating his next move. As he struck a match to light his smoke he noticed him.

On the other side of the road, about 50 yards ahead, there was a boy in a good but slightly torn suit, looking ruffled and lost. The reason why Spike took notice of him at all was the way the boy moved. Not with the weasel-y sneakiness of a common street urchin but with surprising grace. Like a dancer. That’s when Spike noticed a strand of long red hair escaping from underneath the boy’s cap.

He dropped his match and began to run, dodging loitering couples and speeding carriages. Somewhere along the line he lost his hat. He didn’t even notice when it fell off and got trampled under hoof.

The commotion and the swearing of the coachmen caused the boy to turn and look his way.

A pretty face, as pale as porcelain. It was her!

“Buffy?“

+++

“We have to keep our eyes open. She might be nearby.”

“Why?” Xander shrugged. “Why should she go back to a place where she knows Hartford is waiting for her?”

“I believe she would try to contact me,” Willoughby explained. “Without money and papers she would not get far and at this juncture she does not have many people in this time and place who she can trust.”

Xander nodded.

“Charles, can you open my bag for me? Get out the little wooden casket, good. Open it. Do you see that needle? Take it out. Careful. Don’t drop it.”

The boy followed his father’s instruction and looked at him questioningly.

“That needle is enchanted,” Willoughby explained. “It is used for certain locator spells. It will turn towards the named person, much like the needle of a compass. Mr. Harris, Charles, I have to ask you to help me with that spell, as I still have only very limited use of my arms.”

The two young men nodded.

“Now we must hurry. I am certain Hartford has already sent people after us. In fact, they may have already found your friend, Buffy.”

***

“Spike?” The look on her face was one of utter disbelief. “But…”

He leapt up the curb and for a *horrifying? exhilarating?* second it looked like he was about to sweep her off her feet and pull her into an embrace, but he stopped right in front of her, arms dangling.

She stared at him. Spike? Not William. Because, right now William was in that alley over there, less then 200 yards away, and was having his life drained out of him by Drusilla. No, this was Spike. With a big ‘Ta-daa’ on his face, looking smug and proud and sappy and almost bashful not to mention annoyingly gorgeous *Handsome? Sexy? Irresistable?* what with those damn cheekbones and those blue eyes and all and --  Her reverie came to a screeching halt.

“Spike? What... what are YOU...”  She stammered. “I mean, how come you’re here? How did you get here? Is everyone okay? What happened?”

“What? You mean he didn’t tell you?” Spike asked with an incredulous shake of his head. Sappy Spike was rapidly turning into pissed off Spike. “The soddin’ bastard! You’d think he’d tell you how I got him…”

“Who? What?” Buffy interrupted, still waiting to understand how Spike came to stand before her in 1880 London. “Who didn’t tell me what?”

“Harris, who else would I be talking about?” he snapped.

“Xander’s here?” Buffy asked, wondering if the Council had put her on drugs and whether she was hallucinating. At least that would explain some of the tinglies she was feeling.

“Well duh!” Spike said.

“Here, as in London 1880?”

“Where else would he be? You mean you haven’t seen him? Don’t tell me he’s gone missing again.”

“No, I…”  Her eyes narrowed. She turned around to look back the way she’d come, back at that alley, then studied his face. “Would you mind telling me what you’re doing here?”

But the vampire wasn’t listening. He was looking past her. A familiar street. A familiar alley. A place he wouldn’t forget in a thousand years: The place where he’d died, no, where he’d been re-born to a life in the dark. But what was Buffy doing here?

He suddenly felt a chill.

“Maybe I should ask you the very same question,” he said slowly. He searched her face, looking for the real Buffy underneath the pale freckled skin and the unfamiliar features. She looked like she’d been caught red-handed. Wide-eyed like a deer caught in the headlights.

“Spike, no…” Buffy stammered. “Don’t…”

“You came here to stop it, didn’t you?” he asked accusingly and nodded at the alley. His growing anger was almost palpable.

Something inside her automatically changed gears.

“What if I did?” she challenged him.

“The one good thing that ever happened to me, the thing that made me what I am, and you’re here to stop it. Now that… ” ‘hurts’ he’d been about to say but he stopped himself.

“Why shouldn’t I?” she snapped, annoyed at him and annoyed at herself. *Why am I arguing with him?* “Drusilla’s a vampire and she’s killing a decent, innocent man and turning him into an evil, soulless thing. Why shouldn’t I stop this?”

As her words sank in she could see all of his usual swagger drain away.

‘Evil soulless thing’ - Buffy saw his lips form the words, but no sound came out of his mouth. He stared at her as if seeing her for the first time.

Buffy felt a painful knot in her stomach. “I’m the Slayer. It’s what I do.” Even to her it sounded feeble.

“What? You’re gonna tell me it’s your sacred duty? To mess with time like that?” Spike spat, suddenly running on fury. “Yeah right. Tell me another one, Slayer. What about your precious Angel then? He’s got almost two decades of murder and mayhem ahead of him. You’re gonna kill him too? Whatever you say, this is not about saving lives.”

Several well-dressed men and women were certain to cross the street to avoid the increasingly loud altercation.

What right did he have to bring up Angel? Buffy had been about to tell him not to worry, that she had no intention of changing the course of history, but his words called for an answer.

“Then what is this about? Tell me, cause I’d really like to know. Come on, Spike, dazzle me with your great insight and your deductive abilities. What does Slopen-what’s-his-name have to say?”

“Who?”

“Slopen-someone, you know, the fate-guy?”

“It’s Schopenhauer. And yeah, I’ll tell you what this is all about. You’re just scared. You don’t know what to feel and what to do and you wish you’d never been called. And if you prevent this,” he said slowly, “maybe you won’t ever, ‘cause Spike the killer of Slayers won’t be around to do those other two girls in, and fate might just pass you by and you’d finally get to be an ordinary girl. How am I doing so far?”

“Oh yeah, like you know me inside out. Well, I know you, too. You say you’ve changed just because lately you haven’t killed people and because you’ve helped us out? Who do you think you’re fooling? You kill demons because you can. You. Like. Killing. Things.” She held up her hands to forestall an interruption. “I know. You’re a vampire. It’s what you do.”

“Buffy…”

“No. Let me finish. It’s not like I don’t appreciate your help and everything, but don’t expect me to forget that the only other reason why you’re in good guy mode is because you think you love me.”

“I don’t think I love you, Summers.” He stated coldly. “I know I do.”

The declaration was as unsettling as ever, bringing with it the urge to run away and never stop running. Because hearing it felt good in a scary never-let-me-go sort of way.

“Maybe,” she conceded, “Maybe it’s true. Maybe you really do love me. But I can’t be the one thing that stands between you and all those yummy people out there. Can’t you see?”

She turned around to walk away.

Spike grabbed her shoulder. His fingers dug painfully into her flesh. “I’m not going to let you do this,” he said, misinterpreting her move.

She brushed his hand aside but turned to face him. “What? You think you could stop me? Get real, Spikey, you can’t even hit me without a big ouchie.”

“Oh yeah?” His eyes narrowed and he measured her with a predator’s smile. “Well, I’ll have you know I can hold my own now. No more ouchies.”

She paled. Suddenly the cold of the grave was back. The smell of decay assaulted her, making her nauseous. She knew it was only in her head. Maybe none of this was real… And to think that when she’d first set eyes on him she’d been glad to see him. Had felt safe. How could she have let her guard down like that!

He tilted his hand and gave her a practiced smirk. “That’s right, luv. Chip’s not working.”

Images of blood-drained corpses assaulted her, bodies in straitjackets, faces contorted in terror. Some of the surviving patients at the asylum had said there’d been a fourth vampire, a blond man.

*’I’ve changed, Buffy!’*

Why did it come like a shock to find that in spite of all of his assurances, his declarations of love and his attempts at friendship he’d gone and killed innocent people?

*’Is there anything I can do?’*

Why did she feel betrayed when she’d always known it was just the chip that was holding him back?

*‘Every night I save you’*

Why did it hurt so much?

“Oh god.” Was all Buffy could say.

“What have you done?” she whispered.

“What?”

She grabbed the lapels of his coat and pulled him towards her, then spun him around and slammed him against the nearest wall, unaware of the shocked Victorian onlookers. “You killed again, didn’t you.” Her eyes were brimming with unshed tears.

Was that shame she saw in his face? Regret?

“Look, it was an accident,” he blurted out. “How was I to know the chip wasn’t working? Thought the guy was a demon!”

“There were demons in the asylum?” she asked, determined to get to the bottom of this. Detached. Professional. *You wish!*

“What’s the asylum got to do with it?” he asked. “Oh, I get it, you think I had myself a bit of a slaughter, seeing that Angelus was gonna get blamed, anyway.”

She looked uncertain.

“Well I didn’t, but you don’t believe me, do you?”

She paused. She did believe him. But was she ready to tell him that?

Her grip loosened and he tore free. “Doesn’t really matter what you think – you still don’t have the right to change the past. This already happened, Buffy – and whether you think I’d be better off dust or not, it’s not for you to decide.”

“Did you ever think that maybe this is why I ended up here? To fix something? To change something?” she asked him as much as she questioned herself.

“What makes you think all this is about YOU, Summers. What about the other girl? How do you know all this didn’t happen just so she could have a peek at the future?”

Spike took advantage of her hesitation and swiftly stepped around the small girl to block her path to the alley.

“No matter Slayer. Point is, I CAN stop you,” Spike said.

“You can try,” she said automatically, instinctively snapping into a fighting stance.

He matched her move and stood before here, almost bouncing with anticipation.

“So now you’re back to trying to kill me?” Buffy asked, incredulously.

“What? No!” Spike frowned. “’Course not. But if you’re plannin’ on going through with this I’ll definitely beat the snot outa ya, Summers!”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, and then I’ll drag you back to where you belong. Kicking and screaming, if I have to. Promised the little trinket I’d get you and Harris back in one piece and I will, even though you’re the most stubborn, stuckup and self-righteous girl in three centuries!”

“And you, you’re the most annoying, foul-mouthed and…and annoying guy that ever had fangs. I so don’t know why I put up with you!”

You put up with me? I really don’t know what I see in you, Slayer, you’re whiney and self-centered …” She grabbed him and yanked him towards her, but he kept talking, “…and half the time you don’t know what you want…” – she slammed him against he wall again, but with less force, “…and you’ve got stupid hair…” then pressed herself against him. His eyes widened comically.

“What’s it take to make you… Shut. Up?” Buffy asked. Suddenly her mouth was on his, frantic and demanding, causing him to gasp in surprise. Buffy would have smiled at the stunned look on his face, but after just a moment Spike slid his hand through her hair and returned the kiss with matching hunger.

If the earth had opened up to swallow them, neither of them would have noticed. They certainly did not notice the commotion they were causing, the shocked faces and scandalized exclamations of the other people that were out on the street.

Between pinning his hard frame against the wall and attacking his mouth with abandon, Buffy felt something inside her melting.

*So good,* she thought, when she finally pulled back to catch her breath. In fact, it felt like coming home. Which answered a question that had popped up in her brain with frightening regularity: namely whether it had been Willow’ spell that had made his kisses so good, back when she and Spike had gotten engaged… *Obviously not.*

“Was that a goodbye kiss?” he asked warily, trying to read her face.

“No. No goodbye. I don’t like goodbyes. And Dru, well, she kinda got to him… you… already. Um, whatever. It’s done.”

He stilled. Blinked.

“It happened,” she elaborated nervously. “Like in, you’re… um, William is dead and Drusilla already left. No changing of history.”

“You’re telling me you got there too late?”

“I’m telling you I didn’t stop it.”

He held her hands, feeling her pulse race under his fingertips and gazed at her in wonder. She was flushed, embarrassed, breathless but also glowing. “Why didn’t you?” he finally asked.

“Lots of reasons,” she said evasively, but when he didn’t let go she continued. “Just being here. Changed things.”

Spike nodded, even though he didn’t understand any of this.

It was hard to say who made the first move but a moment later they were kissing again. One of her hands cupped his face then found its way into his hair, the other was still gripping his coat. Time slowed to a crawl as passion warmed them both.

Then he pulled back and disentangled himself.

“What?” Buffy asked with a pout.

“I hate to break it to you, Summers, but I think you’ve forgotten something.”

“Huh?”

He hesitated, then reached for her hand, half expecting her to snatch it back. But she didn’t. Instead her fingers closed on his. He smiled and walked her a few steps down the road to a shop window.

“What?” Buffy asked.

“Look.”

“Hats. Lots of them.  Plus you have no reflection. What else is new?”

“No, look.” He gestured at her reflection. Pale skin, green eyes, red hair. *Red?*

She touched Maeve’s lips and grimaced. “Oops.”

“Somehow I don’t think she’d mind,” Spike said, very much aware of the fact that Buffy still hadn’t snatched back her hand.

“You think?”

“As long as we don’t take any more liberties.”

Buffy smiled, very much aware that Spike was still holding on to her hand.

Suddenly there was a clatter of hooves when a large carriage noisily pulled up right beside them.

“Spike?” – “Buffy?” two familiar voices spoke up. And then: “What is this? You could have mentioned that your friend is a vampire!”



Part 38 - Back to Business

At the sound of a rapidly approaching carriage, Buffy and Spike had quickly let go of each other’s hands and assumed a fighting stance. But both Slayer and vampire quickly relaxed, when they recognized the newcomers. By the time the door was flung open and a familiar figure tumbled out, Buffy was already smiling.

“Xander! How did you find me… I mean…”

“Buffy? Buffy is that you?”

“Last time I checked I was still me, so yup.” Buffy gave him a fierce hug that made her friend’s ribs crack. “God, I’m so glad to see you!”

“Hey Buff,” he croaked happily. “Air? Please? Now?”

She let go of him to peer into the carriage and was surprised to see both Willoughby and his son Charles. The Watcher was visibly relieved to see her. After what had just happened at the Council lab, Buffy’s opinion of the Council had reached an all-time low. She just hoped that she could still trust Willoughby, that he was still on her side, rather than Hartford’s. One of the good guys.

Meanwhile, Xander got into babble mode. “Willoughby found you. You know, he used this compass-spell. Hey, are all Watchers able to do magic like that? What if Hartford and the others do a finding spell? But what I’d really like to know: were you and Spike holding hands just now? Cause if you were…”

Buffy stepped back to take in Xander’s appearance. “Oh wow, you look so… different,” she cut him off in mid-babble. “Really great, you know, what with the suit and everything. Like a gentleman. Or you would, if like, it were the right size. Do you have a hat to go with it?” Her eyes sparkled with suppressed mirth.

Xander grinned and was about to strike a pose, when he caught on. “Oh no. No. We’re so not talking about fashion here, Buffy. Could we get back to that part where I saw you and Spike holding hands just now?” Xander prattled. “Cause if you were, I’d have to rinse my eyeballs with gasoline. You may not LOOK like the real you, Buffy, but I know you’re in there and – God, I’m disturbed!”

In the meantime, Willoughby had climbed out of the carriage as well. He exchanged a glance with Harper. The coachman calmly kept a loaded crossbow trained on the vampire, but awaited the Watcher’s orders.

Spike tried hard to look cool and assured, with a bit of cocky thrown in for good measure, but the Xander-Buffy reunion brought a scowl to his face, so the actual vibe seemed more surly than anything else. He kept a wary eye on the coachman, *ex-army, I bet,* and turned to face the thin gentleman whom Xander had identified as Willoughby, Maeve’s Watcher.

“Crawford,” the Watcher stated, his voice flat.

“Not anymore,” Spike said with a dismissive flick of his wrist. He reached into his pocket and dug out his tobacco pouch.

“Obviously.”

“Going by the name of Spike these days.”

Willoughby turned to Xander. “This is your friend? You brought a vampire back in time? Have you taken leave of your senses?”

Xander lifted his hands in a Who? Me? gesture.

“Hey! I’ll have you know I’m here in what you might call official capacity,” Spike snapped indignantly. “Buffy’s Watcher sent me. Her real Watcher. You should be happy that I’m here to fix this god awful mess.”

“Spike, did you just pull rank on a Watcher? I must be in some kind of parallel dimension,” Xander needled, but without venom.

Willoughby ignored them both and addressed Buffy. “Have you forgotten your calling? You are the Slayer, defender of the people. How can you ally yourself with his kind? He is a vampire and as such he is unequivocally evil.”

“Damn right I am. I’m as evil as they come!”

“Shut up, Spike!”

“I stood by you when you allowed Angelus and his wicked brides to escape, even though it went against everything I was taught. I placed my trust in you. But this is going too far!” Willoughby lectured the Slayer coldly. “Or are you going to tell me that this vampire has a soul as well?”

“What? A soul? Me? Not in a million years, mate!”

Buffy shot him a withering glance before turning back to Willoughby. “Spike has fought on our side of the fence for years now. I trust him and that’s the end of it,” she said in her most resolved voice.

Spike had opened his mouth to say more but now he shut it with an audible snap. Xander’s jaw dropped. The Watcher frowned.

“Everybody, get inside the carriage,” Buffy said, taking charge. She nodded toward the shocked faces of some of the passers-by. “In case you haven’t noticed, we kinda have an audience. And if all this commotion doesn’t put the Council on our trail, I don’t know what will.”

“Don’t you love it when she gets all forceful?” Spike asked with a leer. Both Willoughbys shifted uncomfortably and Xander looked somewhat nauseated by his remark.

Buffy clocked him on the nose. Not as painfully as usual, but still…

“Ouw, what de hell was dat for?” Spike complained nasally, gingerly touching his nose to check for possible damage. But the trademark leer was still in place. How could it not, when he could still taste Buffy’s kiss on his lips?

“Just being forceful, Spike,” Buffy smiled sweetly.

“Foreplay, eh?” he mumbled under his breath and gave her a smoldering once over that could have made a nun forget her vows.

Buffy affected a sigh, determined not to let him - or anyone else - know, how much he affected her. “Get inside, Spike.”

“No!”

No one had taken any notice of Charles. Now all eyes turned to him.

“I’m not going to share a carriage with that…that beast!” The boy pointed an accusing finger at Spike who appeared unfazed.

“Look here, son,” Willoughby started.

“No! That creature is evil, just like the one that killed mother. It must be destroyed.” Suddenly, the boy yanked his hand out of his pocket. He was holding an opened vial and quickly flung its contents toward the vampire. Drops of water spattered everywhere. Buffy wiped the liquid off her face with the back of her hand, but Spike began howling in pain.

Charles thought the effect was rewarding. Where the drops landed, the beast’s features began to smoke and sizzle, as the liquid burned itself into its flesh as if it were acid. Its eyes flashed yellow and its fangs came to the fore, betraying its hideous nature. Instinctively, it clawed at its face.

“Crap!” the American exclaimed. He pounced on the boy and wrenched the half-empty bottle out of his hand, before the Watcher’s son had time to discharge the rest.

The high-pitched scream of a woman could be heard and a few exclamations like “Good god, look at that!” and “Dear lord, what is this thing?” There was a whinnying noise as the horses shied and bucked in a blur of iron-shod hooves, desperate to get away from the flailing vampire and Harper had to let go of the crossbow to try to control the frightened animals.

In the meantime, Buffy was struggling with the vampire, holding on to his hands, trying to keep him from harming himself. “Spike, stop it!” She was calling his name again and again. When that awful sizzling sound faded and the vampire stopped thrashing, Buffy let go, only to grab him again, when he tried to hurl himself at the young boy.

“Let go, I’ll rip his soddin’ arms out!” Spike snarled, running on pain and fury.

“No you won’t,” Buffy snapped, shoving him backwards. She folded her arms and stared him down.

Spike glared at the boy, but some of the tension left his body. He shook his head and his features changed back. Only a small amount of holy water had hit its intended target. Even so, the damage was considerable. One eye was almost swollen shut, and there was definite scarring on his cheek where bits of his flesh was were dark pink and looked almost melted. “Right. You want him alive, Buffy? Then he’s safe from me.” Spike finally said. “Just keep him outa my hair. If he tries that again, all bets are off.”

“Yeah, like you could hurt him, Biteless,” Xander sneered. He let go of Charles Willoughby, but was ready to grab him again, should he try to attack the defenseless vampire.

*Yeah, like you have a clue, Brainless,* Spike almost snapped. *If you don’t watch out you’ll soon be tongueless as well.* He quickly turned to Buffy, who looked like she was rapidly losing her patience: Arms still folded in front of her chest, resolve face. “Get in the carriage. Now! All of you!” She commanded.

So, she wasn’t going to discuss the chip, or rather its current state of malfunction? *Fine by me,* Spike thought, as he followed Xander into the coach. “Gotta give the boy some credit, he’s got balls,” he muttered grudgingly. The Scooby just nodded in agreement.

“Sir?” The coachman asked the Watcher. “Where to?”

Buffy shrugged.

“Take us to the East End. Try to be inconspicuous,” Willoughby instructed the man.

Moments later the carriage was on its way.

To his – and Xander’s - surprise Spike found himself on the bench next to Buffy. Xander sat opposite, oozing an irritating over-protective-big-brother vibe. Next to him sat Willoughby. He looked as if he seriously doubted the wisdom of his decision to follow Buffy’s leadership in this situation. The Watcher’s son was by his side. The boy stared at Spike with a mixture of loathing and contempt.

The boy wasn’t the only one to keep his eyes on the vampire. The Watcher studied Spike with great professional interest and only a slight frown betrayed his utter distaste for the creature before him. Xander also kept shooting him strange looks, in which dislike, bewilderment and – strangely enough – amusement seemed to be at odds with each other.

For some reason it bugged Spike that everybody was staring at him. He turned away, pretending to look outside the window and did his best to ignore the lingering pain that consumed his face.

“So!” Xander suddenly clapped his hands, startling everybody. “Where are we going?”

All eyes turned to Buffy. “What? Uh, how am I supposed to know? Willoughby, you know this place and time, there must be some place we can hide, right?”

The Watcher looked flustered. “Actually, there are not many locations that I can think of. The house in Kensington is bound to be the first place Hartford will look for us. It is possible Director Bateley would take us in, but he is still in the hospital. My sister’s house in Surrey is too far away. Perhaps we should consider finding a hotel to accommodate us.”

“We could try the warehouse where Spike found me,” Xander suggested. “It seemed deserted.”

“Spike?” Buffy prompted.

“The warehouse might do,” he said with a shrug. “Not a nice place by any means, but we wouldn’t have to stay long.”

“That was gonna be my next question,” Buffy said. “How long until we all go back, and how? Xander?”

“Oh, uh, I’m not exactly helming this rescue mission,” Xander admitted with a rueful grin. “Actually, I’m more of a rescuee.”

“Huh?”

“When Willow opened the portal to get you back, we got in a bit of a scuffle with a bunch of demons and Humpty Dumpty here got pushed through,” Spike explained with a smirk. “He really has a talent for getting into trouble.”

“Hey!” Xander interjected.

“So, Rupert sent me to rescue the both of you,” Spike continued, not even trying to hide his satisfaction. Feeling uncharacteristically magnanimous, he added: “Gotta hand it to the bricklayer, though. He was doin’ alright when I caught up with him.”

“Huh?” Xander was caught off-balance.

“Spike! Cut the blah blah! How, when and where?” Buffy demanded.

“Portal, tomorrow evening, some kind of inn down in Wapping.”

“So, we have some time to kill.” Buffy leaned out of the window. “Harper? Take us to Wapping. And make sure nobody follows us.”

***

“This is the place,” Spike said, more than an hour later, waving vaguely at a spot in the middle of the room.

“Yup, this is where I came through,” Xander agreed. “Although the place was a little less robbed and trashed, then. Did a little redecorating, huh, Spike?”

The vampire gave him a two-fingered salute.

They all stood inside the big dining room, assessing the damage: The place did, indeed, look pretty trashed with overturned furniture, ripped out wood paneling, glass shards and several rusty blotches of dried blood. The house looked even more gutted than Spike remembered it. At least there were no dead bodies lying around. It seemed the cracksmen had taken care of their dead and injured without involving the police. But the smell! To Spike’s sensitive nose the place reeked of dried blood. The others didn’t seem to notice it, but the vampire found it made him extra twitchy. He’d fed well before going through the portal, but since then his body had had to heal several injuries – which meant he was running low on fuel, so to speak.

He shot a glance at Buffy. There was something tense about the way she stood. A pout formed on her face and she had that pained faraway look he hated so much.

Willoughby, too, looked grim. “Charles, would you please help Harper care for the horses in the courtyard?”

The boy nodded and left the dining room.

Willoughby turned to Spike. “There seems to be a certain poetic cruelty in the fact that you brought us here.”

“Been here before?”

“Fighting Angelus,” Willoughby answered curtly, not feeling very much inclined to revisit the details in his memory. He saw the Slayer staring at the floor where Darla had dropped the body of the young woman she had killed and at the dried pool of blood that marked Bateley’s near death.

Spike took in the Watcher’s injured arms and the bandage on the man’s throat and pursed his lips. “You’re alive,” he finally stated. “Not many crossed his path who can say that.”

“He murdered my wife,” Willoughby told him, quietly.

*Life’s a bitch and then you die,* Spike thought, but wisely kept his mouth shut. Instead he just nodded and focused his attention on Buffy. He could see her square her shoulders and take a deep breath.

“Willoughby, can you do some kind of invisible-we’re-all-totally-hidden kind of spell?”

“I have very few spell components with me, but I can certainly try to cast a spell that will deflect the more common scrying methods,” the Watcher replied. “I may need a few other items.” He looked uncertainly at the vampire and the American.  “Neither of you would happen to have a scarf or handkerchief?”

Xander reached into his pockets and shook his head.

“I’ve got what you need, Watcher.” Spike handed over the piece of fabric.

“And some matches, perhaps?”

Spike grinned, “Looks like today’s your lucky day.” Spike reached into his pocket again and held out a box of matches.

“This should be fine,” Willoughby said as he reached into his black leather bag, the one that held his spell books, and pulled out a stick of incense.

“Good,” Buffy said absentmindedly. She took a deep breath. “Spike, Xander check the rest of the house. Make sure we’re alone here.”

The two men nodded and left.

***

“What will happen when Maeve gets back?” Buffy asked the Watcher as she cleared a space for him to set up the cloaking spell.

“I would imagine she’ll face the Council.” The Watcher sounded melancholy.

“They’ll test me, I mean, her…they’ll test her again?”

“There will indeed be an investigation,” he answered. “I will have to write a detailed report and Maeve will no doubt be thoroughly questioned and tested. However, there is only one Slayer. The Council cannot afford to waste time by testing her too thoroughly. Once her identity is confirmed, Maeve will go back to slaying demons and vampires at the Council’s behest. She will, of course, be given a new Watcher.”

Buffy stepped back from the small circle she had cleared in the center of the room. “What about you? What’s gonna happen to you?”

“Presumably, I will be dishonorably discharged, perhaps even imprisoned for betraying my Council oath. Director Hartford is not a forgiving man. There may be a slight possibility that Director Bateley’s support – should he provide it – will allow me to resign from the Council without scandal.”

“I’m sorry,” Buffy stammered helplessly. “I wish there was something I could do. To help.”

“Do not trouble yourself on my behalf, my dear,” the Watcher said gently. “I am only concerned about Maeve’s welfare and my sons’. And more recently, yours. Do not worry. I will not disclose anything you have told me about what will happen in the future. Hopefully, Maeve and I will have sufficient time to concoct a plausible story about how she came to be possessed by the spirit of a long dead Slayer.”

“Thanks,” Buffy said sincerely. Then she focused on the task at hand and pointed at the cleared circle. “Is this okay?”

“Yes, that will be fine. Thank you.”

“What about Charles? And George? What will you tell them?”

“Everything.”

“Good.”

The Watcher settled himself in the center of the clearing. “I will begin the cloaking spell now.”

***

“Right, then,” Spike led the way and Xander tagged along. The inn was a pretty big place with many rooms, most of which were no longer in use. Every room they came to had been methodically stripped of everything even remotely valuable.

“Looks like this used to be a workhouse or orphanage before it became an inn,” Spike remarked, as they crossed the courtyard where Charles was helping Harper see to the horses.

“Guess they don’t have any Hyatt or Hilton hotels in this century, huh?” Xander tried to fill the awkward silence as they entered the adjacent building. “I mean, the Motel 6 is like a five-star-hotel compared to this dump.”

Spike opened every door they passed, inspecting the rooms and closets with a careful eye.

Xander continued his nervous babbling, “And what’s with all the hay? Everywhere you turn in London, there’s hay. Bales of it! Here a bale, there a bale, everywhere a bale bale!”

“Harris, do you ever get tired of hearing yourself sound like an idiot?”

“Hey, did you have horses?”

“Huh?”

“Horses? When you, uh…lived. Did you have them?”

“No.”

“What about other pets?”

“A dog.”

“Really? What was its name?”

Spike stopped in his tracks and turned to face his companion.

“Okay, Harris, where are you going with this?”

“Just asking. Small talk, you know. Besides, I’m kinda curious about your life, you know, before the whole vampire thing.”

“I was born. Died. End of story.” Spike said with a frown, hoping to ward off any further questions, but then his face softened. “Died tonight, actually,” he said wistfully, remembering Buffy’s words: ‘I’m telling you I didn’t stop it.’

Xander thought of William Crawford, and how only a few hours ago the shy librarian had fled the scene of his humiliation and rejection only to end up killed by a crazy vampire. And for once, Xander Harris didn’t know what to say.

***

“I want that American and I want him now.”

“We will find him, sir,” Richard said.

“He ruined my dinner reception,” a very angry Hartford muttered as he limped up the stairs of the Diogenes Club, the sharp tap of his cane much louder than strictly necessary. “Who does Willoughby think he is? Hiding such things from the Council. From me?”

“I have already had the Enchantment Room prepared, sir,” Richard gushed from a few steps behind.

“And I need that Slayer back,” Hartford said as he slammed open the heavy oak door to the room.

There was a large map of the city tacked to the wall. A small wooden podium holding a jar of crystals and a spellbook stood before it.

“There is something not right about her; something wrong in her head. And I intend on finding out what it is even if I have to dissect her brain myself.”

“Shall I get your robe, Father?”

“No,” he waved off his irksome child.

Hartford stood before the map and began to recite a spell.  He lifted his arms outward and bellowed the foreign words with authority. “Quaero terrarum et lumen.”

He took a brilliant blue crystal out of the jar and threw it toward the map before him. The crystal exploded into tiny luminescent fragments and flew toward the map in unison.  As they crashed into the paper on the wall, they began to form a thin blue line. The line glowed; sometimes brighter, sometimes softer, and it moved. It looked like a living, breathing blue serpent, dancing on the white wall.

“Celox! Modo!” he roared. “Quaero!”

The line glowed a little brighter; it moved a little faster. It slithered around the map, ferociously trying to find its place.

Richard whispered, “How soon will you know?”

“Soon,” Hartford answered without turning around.

***

Willoughby sat on the floor and folded the handkerchief carefully with one injured hand.

“Let me help you,” Buffy offered.

“In a moment,” he replied, sounding much older and more worn than Buffy had ever heard him. He placed the incense and matches directly in front of him and then closed his eyes.  He took a deep breath, then, “Oh Horus, Son of Osiris, hear my plea. Protect us and hide us from our enemy.”

He lifted his head toward Buffy, but his eyes remained closed. “Please tie the handkerchief around my eyes, as a blindfold.”

She did as she was instructed.

Willoughby reached out in front of him and his hand closed on the incense stick. “Now, please light a match and place it between my fingers.”

Buffy took the match from Willoughby. Looked around for a place to strike it against, and finally decided to try it on the floor.  Sure enough, it sparked and lit. The flame was large and hissed loudly.  She carefully passed it to the Watcher on the floor.  He lit the incense. Oily blue smoke began to curl up lazily, releasing the spicy aroma of sandalwood and musk into the air. Willoughby held the match up. “Please snuff it,” he instructed.

Buffy inhaled. “No!” Willoughby said forcefully. “Snuff it. Do not blow it out.”

“Oh,” Buffy said. “Um. I was gonna,” she insisted, not convincingly. She licked her thumb and forefinger and quickly closed them on the upheld flame.

***

The blue snake-like line on the map was shrinking in length, but increasing in speed and intensity.  Hartford was standing directly in front of the map.  “So they’ve gone past Regent’s Park and south to Holborn.” Hartford traced his finger along the faded blue trail that the dancing crystal left in its wake. “They’ve moved past Tower Hill.” He chuckled at nothing in particular. “We’ve almost caught up with you,” he said with satisfaction. “Faster,” he willed the blue beam. “Faster.”

***

Willoughby moved his less-injured hand through the billowing smoke of the incense in a complex pattern.  He spread his fingers wide and used them to trace a grid in the air. “Horus, cloak us with a ghostly cloud. Spread your wings, safeguard and shroud.”

The smoke began to form an almost invisible weave in the air above the incense stick. It grew larger and larger until it was the size of a quilt, floating like a window in front of the blinded Watcher. 

Willoughby tried to stand, but was having trouble. Buffy, careful not to disturb the smoke, made her way to him and helped lift him from behind.

“Is that it?” she whispered.

“Almost.”

***

“Almost!” Hartford exclaimed, momentarily distracted by the excitement of the chase. The ruined dinner function was forgotten as he commented on the course the carriage had taken: “Through Whitechapel, then North to Shoreditch. Show me, show me where they went,” he told the blue dot.

The blue dot began zipping madly, almost vibrating. It reached Shoreditch, but then it turned back and traveled south again, glowing brighter and brighter, as it closed in on its target. Hartford put his hands on the wall and leaned in toward the dot. “Willoughby, are you trying to create a false trail, my friend? I can see you are careful. But you cannot fool me. Almost there,” he said in a conversational tone. “And then, you and your Slayer are mine.”

***

The smoke weave danced in front of Willoughby, shimmering like a mirage.

The Watcher reached into his coat and brought out a vial of blue powder.  He sprinkled a pile into his hand and flung it into the smoke screen. “Abscondo!”

There was a brilliant flash of light, and then it was gone.

***

“It’s gone!” Hartford was aghast. “How can this be?” He stared at the blank map on the wall in front of him. “It was right here. I was almost upon them!”

He slowly turned toward his son. “What did you do?”

***

“What are we going to do if we find someone?” Xander asked after a long uncomfortable silence. “I mean, what if there really are bad guys? Bad human guys? Bad human guys with guns?”

“Looking a little yellow there, Harris,” Spike chided. “Need me to find you a stuffed bear to cuddle?”

“Yea. You’re one to talk, Chips-A-Hoy! You’d be a bloody pulp if we happened upon some criminals.” For some reason, that Xander couldn’t quite fathom, the thought bothered him. A little.

“I can hold my own,” Spike muttered.

“Yea, the only thing you can hold is a sign that reads “Please help me, Buffy!” Xander snickered.

Spike stopped abruptly. Xander almost bumped into him. Spike turned around. "This," he said with a smirk, "this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time." With one good swing he sent the human stumbling backwards. Xander fell on his butt, rubbing his aching chin. "What the…" And then one could literally see the realization hitting home.

One Behavior Modification Chip: $1.2 million.

Spellbook to Send Vampire into a Century Where the Chip Doesn’t Work: $32.95. 

Xander’s shell-shocked expression: Priceless.

"That’s right. Chip’s not working in this century," Spike informed him with a malicious smile, tapping his fingers against his left temple.

*Oh crap!* was all Xander could think, as panic spread through him. *Now I’m history. Vamp-food. Railroad spike pin-cushion.* Yet, some insane part of the back of his brain was hoping - against everything he had ever heard, learned or believed about vampires - that maybe… hopefully… inconceivably… Spike. Might. Not. Kill. Him.

He saw Spike looking at him with great interest, head tilted in that familiar way, studying him. *Not dead, yet.* Xander noticed nervously.

"What? You gonna sit there all night?" Spike asked. He held out his hand. Xander took it warily and allowed the vampire to pull him to his feet.

"You should have seen your face," Spike smirked.

+++

Having completed their reconnaissance, Xander and Spike headed for the main dining room, Harper and Charles in tow. “You do realize, I’ll have to tell Buffy about the chip,” Xander said nervously.

“Feel free,” was all the vampire said. He pushed the door open. They were in time to see Willoughby packing up his remaining spell components. Charles quickly went to help his father, not without another suspicious glance at the former Mr. Crawford.

“Did it work?” Xander asked, when they came in. “The spell, did it work? Are we under the radar?”

“If by ‘under the radar’ you mean ‘undetectable through magic, then the answer is yes,” Willoughby said. “If Director Hartford wants to locate us, he will have to employ conventional means.”

“Did you find anything?” Buffy asked.

“The place is deserted. Probably got a bad reputation that keeps people out,” Spike told her absentmindedly. He was restless. The incense aroma was overpowering but not enough to obscure the smell of dried blood.

“Good,” Buffy said. “Then it’s settled. We stay here and lie low until the portal appears with a poof or zap or whatever, and then we go home.”

“Actually, we’ll be looking for a hand,” Spike commented. “A floating hand.”

“This carpenter is all for going home ASAP,” Xander said, rubbing his hands. “If we’re staying for now, does that mean we have time to eat something?”

“Time? Yes,” Buffy said. “Food? Nope.”

“But I missed dinner!” Xander exclaimed. “I mean I had some of those fancy scone thingies and cakes and stuff, and they were almost as good as donuts, but that was ages ago.”

“It’s not like we can call Dominoes,” Buffy said wistfully. “Although a nice pepperoni pizza with extra cheese would be kind of neat right now.”

“Can’t we go out and get something. Come on, Buff, I missed like six meals since that portal dropped me off. Starving here.”

“Which part of the lying low didn’t you get?”

“I could go,” Spike volunteered, eager to get away from the smell. “Still got cash. Wouldn’t mind a drink. Pretty sure our Watcher here wouldn’t say no to a little nightcap. Dulls the pain, ain’t that right?”

The Watcher did indeed look slightly ashen. The spell had sapped his strength considerably. It was obvious, even to Buffy, that the man was in pain and desperately in need of rest. It didn’t take her long to make up her mind.

“Xander, were there any rooms we might actually be able to use?”

Spike chuckled audibly.

“To SLEEP in,” she continued. “I mean, this was an inn, right? Inns have rooms and beds. Why not use them? Take Willoughby and Charles there. Make sure they’re comfortable.”

Xander nodded. “Yeah, there’s a room upstairs that’s not too trashed. Follow me.” He opened the door and waited for Watcher and son to join him.

“Harper, I’d like you to go with Mr. Willoughby. Keep your eyes open and your crossbow ready.”

The coachman exchanged a glance with his master. “Aye, Miss. I’ll look after ’em. Don’t you worry.”

They left the room.

“Alone at last,” Spike sing-songed and sauntered towards Buffy. “Now, where were we when we were so rudely interrupted?”

“We? Who is we? Spike, this is not a good time for this,” Buffy said. “This is too fast and too sudden, and the wrong time and the wrong place, and everything.”

His temper flared. “Oh yeah, with you it’s always one step forward and two steps back. Do you even know what you want?”

“Spike, we have no time for this. Please, just go and get something to eat. Enough to last us till tomorrow night. I don’t care what. Just hurry.” Buffy said firmly. Then her face softened. “We don’t know if Willoughby’s spell worked in time.  If those Council guys show up, I’d like you here, by my side.”



Part 39 - On Your Mark

Giles picked up the receiver and cradled it between his chin and his shoulder. “Magic Box.” He continued to fill in order forms to replace some of the damaged stock, deliberately projecting a certain normalcy for potential onlookers.

“I believe we have something that is yours,” the voice said pompously.

“I beg your pardon?” the Watcher said with a frown. A sudden sense of foreboding hit him and he put the pen down.

“The little girl. I presume you’d like her back, wouldn’t you?”

Giles felt a sudden chill. Instinctively he looked at the door of the shop, as if part of him was hoping Dawn would walk in and contradict the voice on the phone. He was furious with himself for not having foreseen that Dawn’s mysterious blackmailers might actually snatch her. But when he spoke, his voice only betrayed his genuine worry: “Dawn? What do you mean? Is she alright? Who is this? What do you want?”

“Who we are is really no concern of yours. What we want, well, that’s a bit complicated. You see, we’d like you and your witches to do a spell for us. That’s all. Do a bit of mojo and you’ll get the girl back.”

“Spell? What are you talking about?” Giles asked, playing dumb.

“Don’t insult my intelligence by pretending you don’t get it, old man. You may be a good librarian, but you’re a lousy liar. Now shut up and listen. We don’t have much time…”

Giles jotted down the instructions, then checked his watch. Two hours. They had about two hours till sundown.

***

“Look at them, it’s like poking a stick into an anthill,” Warren smirked and put down the receiver. He nodded at the surveillance screen that showed a visibly nervous Giles looking at his notes and talking to Anya, then using the phone to round up the other Scoobies.

“Yeah, cool,” Andrew agreed, even though he knew nothing about outdoor-y things like anthills.

Jonathan found it hard to concentrate on the monitor. His eyes were drawn to the tied up figure that sat in the middle of the room with a dark pillowcase over her head.

***

Cordelia was holding on to the glowing map with one hand and the back of Angel’s shirt with the other.

“Why does every lair have to be underground? It’s smelly and dark. Why can’t our creepy blackmailers have a lair in a nice hotel or in the mall or something?”

“Which way?” Angel asked.

“Keep going straight,” she answered. Then continued, “I mean, really. Evil can be just as scary in Bloomingdales. Well, actually, I knew this girl who worked the make-up counter at Bloomy’s… there IS evil in the mall.”

“Are we close?”

“Yea. Almost there. This tracking device thing is so cool. It’s just like the GPS in Mom’s Lexus.” Cordy made a face. “Until she had to trade it in for the,” she swallowed, “Corolla.”

“It must have been quite a tragedy,” Angel mumbled.

“Uh huh.”

They wandered through the dark passages in silence for a few more minutes. Then: “Ooh, stop!” Cordy said. “Right here.”

“Right where?” Angel answered. “Dead end.”

“No, the book should be right in front of us,” Cordy said and shoved the glowing map in front of Angel’s face. “See?”

There was a beeping sound and Angel brandished his cell phone. “Angel here,” he answered in a lowered voice, then listened intently, his face grave. “Could you repeat that?” He shook his cel phone. “I hate these things,” he mumbled and put the phone back to his ear. “Yes…Yes. Okay, we will.” He turned to Cordelia. “They didn’t just take the book. They snatched Dawn,” he said gravely.

“Why am I not surprised? Maybe it’s because I said all along Giles’s plan wouldn’t work,” Cordy said with a patented sigh. “What do they want?”

Angel wordlessly passed her the phone. Cordelia repeated her question. Then smiled. “Are you sure? When? Can I make a suggestion?”

***

Jingle. Jingle.

Willow, Tara, Anya and Giles were waiting patiently on the floor inside their newly created gem circle when the trio arrived. Maeve was handcuffed to a chair behind the counter. The boys flounced into the Magic Shop with a flourish. Andrew was wearing a lopsided grin. Jonathan was in a cape. Warren…now Warren was a sight to be seen. He must have invaded the local Salvation Army Thrift Store. He had on high top green Converse sneakers and a pair of black parachute pants with zippers just about everywhere. He was wearing a ripped up Coca-Cola T-shirt and a stone-washed studded denim jacket. The Ray Bans looked way to big for his face and there was a black Adidas bag slung over his shoulder. The spellbook that Dawn had stolen from the shop could be seen tucked under his arm.

“Good. Good boys and girls,” Warren patronized. “I can see you followed my instructions to the letter.”

“Jonathan?” Willow exclaimed incredulously. “How can you be a part of this? We know each other! We went to high school together! I mean, it’s not like we were best friends or anything, but…But Buffy, she saved your life!”

Jonathan looked uncomfortable in his skin, but didn’t answer. Willow shot him an icy glare.

“Enough with the reminiscing,” Warren snapped. He examined the shop quickly and turned to his apprentice, Andrew.

“Scan for any spells, booby traps or other funny business,” he ordered.

Andrew nodded and proudly whipped out some kind of mini hand-held computer that looked uncannily like a Star Trek tricorder and made the same whine-y noises. He tapped the screen with a pen and then stretched out his arm and swung the machine back and forth in a large arc in front of him. Then he spun around and repeated the procedure.

“You’d better hope he doesn’t find anything or that little girl might grow up faster than you’d like,” Warren threatened, flaunting his XXL sized ego.

“Did you just fall out of a Banarama video?” Willow asked coldly.

“I’ll have you know, I did my research,” Warren answered harshly. “There’s no way I’m going to end up naked in the middle of a city in 1986.”

“It’s clean,” Andrew confirmed.

“Why 1986?” Giles wondered aloud.

“Like he’s going to tell you,” Jonathan whined.

“Whatever you think you're doing, it's dangerous. You are rank amateurs meddling in things far beyond your control,” the Watcher mumbled.

Warren rushed over to Giles and backhanded him across the face. The expression on the Watcher’s face hardened, but he didn’t otherwise respond.

“I’m not sure we can do the spell,” Willow interrupted, trying to divert Warren’s attention.

It worked, because he turned around and stepped towards her menacingly. “You’ll do as you’re told, bitch.”

“I mean, of course we can,” Willow explained. “Like, we’ve done it before and everything, but it’s pretty tiring, you know, the burn-out factor is wicked, and I’m not sure we should try this again so soon.”

“Well, aren’t you just lucky I brought my own warlock along. Take your place in the circle, Andrew,” Warren said with a smug grin.

Andrew obliged.

“Microsoft went public March 13th, 1986 at $21 a share.” Warren dropped his bag on the ground beside Giles. “Open it.”

Giles unzipped the bag. In it, there were wads of bills. $50s, $100s…

“There must be a quarter of a million dollars in here.” Giles was dumbfounded.

“I plan on buying 10,000 shares,” Warren smiled.

***

Buffy was weary. She hadn’t slept in how many hours? She couldn’t remember. But since then she’d been out on a stake out, had investigated the events at the asylum, been subjected to all kinds of physical and mental exercises and tests, kissed Spike *Nice memory*, and now she’d spent all night patrolling and keeping watch, making sure everyone inside the inn was safe.

Safe from who? She wasn’t quite sure. The Council? Maybe. They were dangerous, no matter the century. Angelus? Maybe. One of her worst fears was the possibility of having to fight him again. Just thinking about Angel or Angelus hurt. Or safe from Spike? No, she wasn’t worried about what Spike might do, but… *What’s going to happen when we get back?*

“Fourteen hours, Buffy” Spike said. “Another fourteen hours or so and you’ll go home.”

Buffy shrugged. She knew she ought to be happy to get out of this century. Part of her was, but another part of her dreaded going back. Everything was so complicated.

“What is it?” Spike asked softly. “You have that look again.”

“What look? I don’t have a look.” She scoffed.

“Sit. Have a drink. Tell me.” He offered her a bottle of brandy.

“You remember what happened the last time you gave me alcohol?” But a tiny smile played around her lips.

“Yeah, you cost me a bunch of kittens. Go on,” he urged. “A little drop won’t hurt.”

“Those kittens weren’t yours by right anyway, you cheat,” but she accepted the bottle, took a swallow and stuck out her tongue in disgust. “Bleagh!”

Spike smiled, totally smitten. She looked like Maeve, but every move she made was pure Buffy.

“So tell me, Buffy. What’s bothering you?”

“Who says something’s bothering me?”

“It’s not the Council,” Spike hazarded a guess. “Cause that would be a first. Bunch of nimrods.”

Buffy smiled weakly. “You’re right. It’s not them. I dunno, I was just thinking, what if I’d never come here? I mean, I know all that chosen one blah, every generation, blah, long line of warriors of the people, stuff. I read about other Slayers, I even met two. But until I got stuck in Maeve’s life I always felt alone, like I was the only one who had to go through all this. Turns out, I’m not so special after all. Except, that’s not true, I AM special, because all Maeve has is her Watcher and I have friends who know about all this stuff and are okay with it. I mean, they even help. They're like family to me.”

Spike nodded, wondering if she included him in that group. He didn’t want to interrupt her, so he fought down the urge to ask and took a swallow from the bottle instead.

Buffy’s face became serious and her lip trembled. “I haven’t forgotten, what they did. They shouldn’t have brought me back, but now that I am…” She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath, trying to leave all thoughts of gloom and doom behind.

“Well, now that I’ve seen that what you were like when you were alive, some things are gonna change,” she said in a brave attempt at chirpiness.

“Is that so?” Spike asked, eyebrow arched.

“Yup. Next time we hit the books for research, you’re gonna be stuck with it, just like the rest of us, William.”

***

“Well, people? What are you waiting for? Get on with it!” Warren ordered, when all the wards against possible Chronoth demon appearances were in place.

“Oh, oops, I kinda forgot the chalk,” Willow said innocently.

Warren glared at her. “Stop stalling, witch. Get what you need and start the spell. Remember, if anything goes wrong, we’ve still got the girl.”

“Yea, I know. I’m sorry. But, you know, nervous,” Willow babbled. She went to the counter and opened a drawer to retrieve the chalk, then returned to her place in the circle. Warren glanced nervously at his watch. Willow held out her hand towards him. “The spellbook?” she reminded him. He squinted at her suspiciously and checked all the preparations for the spell. Everything seemed to be in order: The circle, the purplish powder that twinkled in the little glass vial and last but not least the chalk that was needed to draw the portal.

“Andrew? You up to this, man?”

“Sure, with her power to draw on, I can do it,” the blond warlock replied with a nod in Willow’s direction. “It’s simple really, once you understand the basics - like wormhole technology, only with magic.”

Warren handed him the spellbook. Andrew found the right page and placed it open on his lap. Then he held out his left. Willow took it reluctantly and reached for Tara’s. Tara took Giles’s hand, he in turn held Anya’s, who grabbed Andrew’s right hand, closing the circle.

“Showtime!” Warren said.

“I have to use the restroom,” Anya suddenly said, letting go of Andrew’s hand.

“What? No bathroom breaks!” Warren screeched incredulously.

“But I have to go,” Anya stated. “I can’t concentrate when my bladder is so full.”

Giles suppressed a smirk.

“No.”

“Fine then. If the spell messes up because of me, you just remember why.”

“Just let her go,” Jonathan whined

“Fine. Make it quick.”

“Thank you,” Anya smiled sweetly. “Don’t worry. This doesn’t make you any less evil.”

***

By the time Anya was back in the circle, Warren was fuming. “Showtime,” he repeated, even though it didn’t sound half as cool as before. He went to the big shop window and adjusted the curtains, letting through a thin yellow shaft of light. Anya set the little glass vial into the sunbeam’s path. The light of the setting sun caused the powder to sparkle.

“What about finding the right time?” Willow asked.

“We’ll do the calibrations when the portal is stable enough to see through,” Andrew answered. “It’s gonna be cool, like watching a videotape backwards - we’ll just rewind till we’re there.”

“Enough,” Warren snapped. “The light is fading. Get on with it!”

Andrew nodded. He glanced at the open pages in his lap and began to chant. His voice was shaky at first, but he grew in confidence, as he felt the combined power of the circle surging into him. It was a heady experience, more power than he had ever felt before. His whole body stiffened. His eyes turned black. He didn’t have to look into the book any longer, he was one with the spell!

He reached for the chalk and painted a large square on the floor. Something like an electrical current made everybody’s skin prick.

Andrew closed his eyes and started with the final incantation that would call the portal into being. He did not speak the words out loud. He didn’t have to. They echoed in everyone’s mind.

The shaft of sunlight faded away, but the purple powder in the vial still sparkled, woken by the sun’s final touch.

“Now!” Andrew commanded. Anya let go of his hand and took the vial. She spilled its content into the chalk square. Moments later, a small blue square of light appeared, hovering over it. It began to grow, very slowly and bright light erupted from it. Andrew felt the energy pouring out of him and into the growing portal. He greedily sucked power through his link with Willow to replace it, but it felt like her power was trickling through him. Was she resisting him?

The other two thirds of “The Trio” watched the proceedings, Warren with impatience, Jonathan with apprehension. Andrew’s blackened eyes made the Caped Crusadork more than a little nervous.

***

“Sun’s down. Let’s go,” Angel said to Cordelia. She nodded in response. He helped her up the ladder, following right behind. He couldn’t help taking notice of her perfect ass…ets. When they got to the top, he reached past her to push open the manhole cover. They both stepped out into a small residential neighborhood.

“Guess this is the place,” Cordy said. They hurried up to the front door and Angel knocked. “Let me handle this,” she whispered. “Just follow my lead.”

An older woman came to the door. “Hello? Can I help you?”

“Yes hi,” Cordelia said pleasantly, taking the woman’s hand and shaking it. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Cordelia Chase and this is Angel Vanderwhedon.” She spoke so fast and confidently Angel was caught slightly off guard. But he remembered to keep his mouth shut and only smiled and nodded at her side. “Our production company sent us here to scope out the perfect suburban house for the TV series we’re working on, ‘Benjamin’s River’. Maybe you’ve heard of it?” Cordelia didn’t wait for the woman to answer. “Anyway, they gave us your next door neighbor’s address, but Angel,” she motioned to her tall dark counterpart, “he’s the director. He thought the look of your house was so much better. The lighting, the landscaping. It’s perfect. Isn’t that what you said, Angel?”

Angel nodded hurriedly, and then in his most flamboyant voice, he added, “The structure is architecturally magnificent.”

“Really?” The woman seemed slightly overwhelmed.

“Anyway,” Cordelia continued. “The production house pays very well for these types of things so we thought we’d come over and take a look.” She produced her most captivating smile, not letting her impatience show.

“Well,” the woman pulled on her lip in consideration. “I’m not sure.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I guess we’ll just go next door then.” Cordelia turned to Angel. “Mr. Harris will be pleased that we went with his suggestion.”

“That’s so unfortunate,” Angel pouted. He turned to the woman in the doorway, “You have such a lovely home, Miss…?”

“Mears. Mrs. Mears,” she responded.

Angel took her hand and placed a dainty kiss upon it. “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Mears.” He took a step back and admired her house. He shook his head. “Shame.”

Cordelia turned to leave but Mrs. Mears stopped her. “Wait. I mean, I guess you can take a look,” she said. “They’ll really pay me just to film my house?”

“Oh yes, most definitely,” Cordelia said as she walked through the doorway. “Come on, Angel,” she called over her shoulder.

“Never without the lady’s permission,” he said smoothly.

“Oh please, Mr. Vanderwhedon. Come in.” She took his hand and led him through the front door. “I’ve never met a real life director before.”

As they walked through the house, Cordelia pretended to take notes on a piece of paper. Angel rambled colorfully and occasionally stopped to inspect rooms with one eye closed, through a small square he created with his fingers. "Of course that half-wall by the kitchen has goooooot to go. It disrupts the whole flow of the room," he babbled merrily. Cordelia glared at him, but a smirk was playing on her lips. As they passed through the dining room, Angel couldn't help himself, "Oh, a tapestry on that wall, maybe something floral, but not toooooo floral, would be faaaaabulous! Oh, I'm tingling! Are you tingling? Tell me I'm not the only one tingling."

When they came to the closet in the hallway, Mrs. Mears shook her head. “Oh, I don’t go down there. That’s my son’s private clubhouse. He and his friends play cards and video games down there.”

“Oh that’s great,” Cordelia gushed enthusiastically. “A teenage hangout. Exactly the kind of thing we’re looking for on ‘Benjamin’s River’.”

“But I promised him I would never go down there. And everything I’ve read says that parents should respect their children’s privacy.”

“Mrs. Mears, wouldn’t he be thrilled if his room was chosen to be the backdrop of a popular television show? I mean, that’s gotta be every kid’s dream, right? His friends would practically worship him,” Cordelia persuaded. “Maybe we could even score him a part as an extra.”

“Well, he does watch a lot of movies,” the woman contemplated. “His friends would be impressed.”

“You don’t have to break your promise, you know. You promised YOU would never go down there. But you never said anything about us,” Cordy gave her a dazzling smile, flashing perfect teeth. “You’d still be keeping his privacy intact.” *I deserve an Emmy for this,* she thought.

Mrs. Mears smiled. “I guess it would be okay, then. I’ll just go make some coffee.”

After Mrs. Mears walked into the kitchen, Angel slowly opened the basement door. He reached under his coat, behind his back, pulled out a small axe and passed it back to Cordelia. “I thought she’d never leave,” Cordelia whispered. As they quickly made their way down the staircase, they took in the marriage of toys and technology. There were action figures everywhere and comic books galore. But there was also heavy duty computer equipment, video monitors and electronic components. Even something that looked like a periscope. Weird.

“Oh my god, Dawn!” Cordelia gasped as she ran past Angel, down the rest of the stairs. Dawn was bound and gagged, sitting uncomfortably on a chair in the center of the room. There was some kind of dark pillowcase over her head.

Angel followed behind Cordelia, scanning the room for any threats.

Cordy rushed to the chair and dropped her weapon on the floor, then pulled the hood off. Dawn was shaking her head violently. “What sweetie? What’s wrong?” Cordelia began untying the cloth gag. “Mmnnn! Mmnnn!! Nooo!” Dawn shouted as the gag came off. Suddenly a yellow bucket fell from above her.

“Cordy!” Angel ran to her aid.

Cordelia found herself covered in a thick clear substance. As she looked up to see where the attack had come from, something else over her opened up and dumped glitter and feathers down from the ceiling.

“Look out,” Dawn mumbled belatedly from her seat.

Angel stopped just short of the sparkling bird fiasco, a lazy grin planted firmly on his face. “Nice look.”

Cordelia shook her head and tried to wipe off the offending confetti, but it was no use. “This is just great. So much for my Versace.” She rolled her eyes and tried to run her fingers through her hair. “Oh god, my hair!”

“Um, a little help, please,” Dawn struggled with her restraints.

“I think I might pass out,” Cordy complained.

Chuckling slightly, Angel began untying the intricate knots that kept Dawn secured to the chair.

“How did you find me? I got so scared when those guys left here with that book.”

“We tracked it here and waited for them to leave. Figured it was safer,” Angel told her.

“You know, these guys are really weird. Kind of lame. And I think I actually know one of them. I know I heard his voice before.”

Cordelia was urgently trying to pluck the feathers out of her hair. “Whoever they are, they’re so gonna pay for this,” she fumed. She turned back toward Angel, "I bet you think this is just faaaaabulous?"

“Let’s get out of here,” Dawn suggested.

“Yea,” was all Cordy could muster.

“You’re not going anywhere.” Warren stepped out from behind a large dry erase board.

***

“Sun’s up,” Spike said. “Time to wake the others. You should go and get some sleep, luv. Before you pass out…”

Buffy parted the curtains to peer through the sooty dining room window. It was true, the sky was still dark, but it had a strange rusty hue, as early morning light filtered through polluted air.

“I’m alright,” she lied, squaring her aching shoulders. She readjusted the curtains to keep the light out. “Not sleepy. How about you? Morning equals bedtime for vampires. So, YOU go.”

“I’m not going to sleep without you,” Spike protested.

She folded her arms, pursed her lips and gave him a pitying glance. Spike blinked and did a verbal back-pedal. “Um, that’s not what I meant.” He paused, then rapidly changed gears. “Although,” he drawled, prowling towards her, “although, it doesn’t sound half bad. Come on, Buffy, how about we find ourselves a nice comfy…”

“A big no to that.” Buffy interrupted him, her determination only slightly contradicted by a slight blush that crept up her cheeks.

“Whatever you say, luv.” Spike smirked, unfazed. “Look, we’ve been patrolling through and around this sodding place all night. You KNOW you’re not as sharp as you should be. If you don’t let up, you’ll be no good to anyone.”

“Yeah, I know. Maybe I should lie down,” the Slayer considered. “You promise me they’ll be safe.”

“I promise,” he smiled at the redhead. And then, as he walked toward the room Xander was dozing in, he added quietly, “And I never break a promise to a lady.”

***

Andrew continued chanting inaudibly, causing the portal to grow until it was large enough to allow a person to step through. Then - like he’d predicted - an image began to appear, an aerial shot of L.A. at night. Like a camera zooms in on its target, the portal seemed to swoop down, towards the city, and into its network of streets and alleys. The sky alternated between light and dark, faster and faster, until the blur of day and night made everything gray. Finally, Andrew found what he was looking for, a newspaper stand. The images changed too fast to make out humans, but every now and then he slowed down his search to look at the headlines, checking for the dates on the newspapers.

When the LA Times showed “March 12th 1986 - 6 More Die; Soviets Punish 3 for Delaying World Alert,” Andrew froze the portal in place.

***

“What? He’s one of them. But you’re…you’re gone,” Dawn stuttered as she backed away from her assailant. “I heard you leave.” She turned to her saviors, “I heard him leave.”

Cordelia squatted and picked up her weapon. “Angel?” she said, without taking her eyes off her enemy.

“I got this.”

Angel approached Warren with little regard. “What do you think you’re gonna do?” the vampire asked him. Warren punched Angel so hard that he went flying back into the opposite wall. He crashed to the ground.

“Huh?” Cordelia gasped and brandished her axe.

“It must be some kind of spell,” Dawn said. “He made himself strong.”

Angel got up and dusted himself off. “Okay, I didn’t like that at all. It almost hurt.”

Warren was fast approaching Cordelia, but Angel was faster. He ran up behind Warren, swung him around by his shoulder and punched him in the face. “Ow, he’s hard!” Still, Angel punched again, this time in the stomach. “Must be some kind of golem,” Angel said after landing a third punch to his face.

Warren grabbed Angel by the neck and lifted him off the floor.

“Ow, hey,”Angel struggled.

Cordelia moved slowly up behind Warren and raised the axe above her head. She closed her eyes and swung it down in a hard arc. The axe connected and showered sparks all over the floor. Warren’s hand loosened and the vampire was dropped to the ground.

“A robot!” Dawn exclaimed. “He’s a robot! Oh, I get it. The guy who built the buffybot - he must be one of them.”

“Buffybot?” Cordelia and Angel echoed as one.

Cordelia tried to dislodge the weapon, but it was stuck. Angel scrambled to his feet and rained several right crosses to the robot’s torso until it was almost backed up against a wall. Sparks were still flying and it seemed there might be some wires loose, but the damned android was still fighting back. It swung, hard, and sent Angel crashing into a bookshelf. He crash landed in a pile of Battletech books.

Cordelia ran up and hurled a powerful sidekick at the Warrenbot. It crashed backward into the wall, sending the axe deeper into its circuitry. It twitched, but then lunged for Cordelia. It grabbed her by both shoulders and threw her across the room. Dawn ran to her.

Angel was up again and casting about for another weapon. Leaning against a small display case, he noticed a metal replica of a lightsaber. Angel ran toward the display case, tripped on bookshelf debris and ended up crashing into the glass, shattering it. Action figures tumbled onto the floor and were crushed underfoot as Angel thrashed about trying to regain his feet. The Warrenbot armed himself with a piece of a broken wooden shelf and made his way toward the vampire.

"Your powers are weak, old man," the droid said. His voice was a off a bit, and half of his face looked slack.

"Huh?" Angel responded, reaching behind him for his new weapon.

"What are you talking about?" Cordelia interrupted. "He's ageless." She reconsidered, "Alright, so he's put on a little weight lately, but..."

"What?" Angel gasped and glanced down at himself.

The Warrenbot suddenly raised his arm to plunge the stake into his enemy’s chest, Angel quickly and fluidly raised the saber and impaled the bot with it. There were more sparks and wires. The robot backed away from Angel, twitching, and fell to the ground in a sitting position. He looked around at the mess of his maker’s lair and shook his head. Then, he noticed something on the floor beside him amongst the shattered glass. He lifted it carefully in front of his face. It was a broken action figure.

“Oh no. Not Boba Fett.” And then his eyes rolled back and his head fell forward.

***

Warren shouldered up his fortune and approached the portal. “Catch you on the flip side,” he quipped, when the high pitched beep-a-deedle-beep of a cel phone broke his stride with an electronic rendition of ‘Que Sera Sera’.

That’s when Maeve burst into action. She jumped to her feet and threw herself against the counter, with enough force to smash the chair she’d been cuffed to between the counter and her body into a pile of splinters. A few graceful contortions later she was able to swing her cuffed arms in front of her. She rushed Warren.

Distracted by the crash he took his eyes off the portal for a few seconds. When he saw the Slayer rushing towards him, he panicked. Still clutching his bag he ran towards the portal. It was now shimmering strangely, kind of swirly and cloudy, maybe because Andrew was distracted. Warren only had a moment to decide. “You’ll pay for this,” he shouted.

And jumped. Blue sparks crackled. For a moment it looked like the portal literally sucked him in, then Warren was gone.

Jonathan backed away, towards the door. The portal was still there. Something wasn’t right. He turned around, unlocked the door with trembling hands and flew out into the night.

In the circle Willow pulled her hand out of Andrew’s grasp. Immediately, Andrew’s eyes lost their blackness. Blood gushed from his nose, as his primary power source was cut off and the portal sucked everything he had left out of him. He tried to break free but before he was able to, he fell over and passed out.


Many many thanks to Mikelesq for several very funny lines.



Part 40 - Get Set

“Rise and shine!”

Xander blearily opened his eyes. There was just enough daylight seeping dully through the grimy window to allow him to see Spike leaning casually against the doorframe, looking for all the world like he owned the place. Except the vampire was tapping his hat restlessly against his leg, ruining the effect.

“I’m awake, I’m awake,” Xander yawned. “Hardly slept anyway.”

It was true. He’d been dead tired when he’d gone to bed, but too many unpleasant thoughts had stirred around in his head like dirty socks in the wash, making him dizzy and keeping him awake.  In the end he’d nodded off a few times only to be woken by confusing dreams or unfamiliar sounds. Once he’d heard steps and the low murmur of voices outside his door. He’d been about to give alarm, when he’d recognized Spike and - belatedly - Buffy-with-Maeve’s-voice. They had both sounded unusually… amiable.

Xander sat up, trying to find a rational thought to hold on to. “Where’s Buffy?”

“Got her to lie down for a bit. About time, too,” Spike replied. “Come on, get your ass out of bed. What are you waiting for?”

“Breakfast, a carnation for my buttonhole and the morning paper, ironed of course, thank you very much.” Xander answered promptly.

“Sorry, ‘s my day off. Now get moving.”

Xander grinned and rolled off the bed. In case of an emergency, he’d slept in his clothes, which now looked extra rumpled. He slipped into his uncomfortable shoes. Then he quickly combed his fingers through his unruly hair and ruefully scratched the scruffy stubble on his chin. *No shower, check. No toothbrush, check. No mouth-wash, check.*

“What’s the rush?” he asked. “I thought the portal doesn’t open until tonight.”

“With Buffy asleep and the sun up, someone’s got to keep watch outside. The Watcher’s no good, and the Watcher’s cub - well, let’s just say I don’t trust him not to do anything stupid,” Spike explained, still fiddling with his hat.

“What about the coachman, what’s his name, Harper?”

“Can’t see him taking orders from the likes of me.”

Xander nodded and picked up his coat and hat. But then he froze, when the memory came back.

“What?” Spike asked, straightening up.

“Just remembered. No chip.”

“You’re still alive,” Spike pointed out and turned to leave.

*Yeah, but for how long?* Xander silently wondered, then reminded himself that silently wondering wasn’t going to get him any answers. While he’d tried to fall asleep last night he had practiced about a dozen suitable opening lines “Hey, when do you plan on eating everyone?” or “I was thinking, do we taste like chicken?” or something like, “Does eating a guy make you gay?” but maybe the direct approach was best. He took a deep breath. “Spike?”

***

Que Sera Sera… The Magic Box was quiet, except for the insistent electronic tune. Maeve dug into her boot and gingerly got out the cell phone. She held the weird technological artifact as if it might bite her. Unsure what to do with it, she placed it gently on the floor.

The music ended abruptly. What was left was eerie silence.

Giles had to practically crawl to get out of the circle. His nose was bleeding. Maeve rushed to help him and awkwardly hoisted him to his feet. She tried to dig in her pocket for a handkerchief, but with her hands still bound by the cuffs, it was a difficult task. When she finally presented the small white square, she was rewarded with a grateful smile from the Watcher.

Meanwhile, Willow, Anya and Tara were holding hands again, thus ‘repairing’ the circle and closing the gaps Giles and Andrew had left. Willow’s eyes were jet-black, her skin was pale and energy seemed to crackle around her. She was staring blindly at the ceiling. Before her, the temporal portal hovered, like a magical view-screen. It flickered as day and night alternated in quick succession. At the same time it was showing a blurry bird’s eye view of cities and landscapes that rushed past at a dizzying speed. As the ‘time tunnel’ raced eastwards and back into the past, Giles and Maeve dragged Andrew’s limp body out of the circle.

The key for the handcuffs had exited along with Warren, but it didn’t take Giles long to tap into his inner juvenile delinquent and pick the lock.

He cast a worried glance at the circle, but so far the strain of keeping the portal open didn’t show. Creating the initial rift in the fabric of time had sucked up magical energy like a black hole, but its upkeep cost a mere trickle.

The Watcher checked Andrew’s pulse and examined his eyes, before slapping the handcuffs on the young man’s wrists. Giles rifled through his pockets. The only ID he found was a Blockbuster card, which he returned to the boy’s wallet. Then he picked up the cell phone. The minute he did, it began to sing again. He pushed the ‘talk’ button:

“Angel?”

***

“Yea. Dawn’s fine. We’re good. Just looking around a little before we head back. Is everything okay there?” Angel walked around the trashed basement, holding the cell phone to his ear.

Meanwhile, Dawn was sifting through the remains of Warren’s headquarters looking for clues.

Cordelia sat in front of the monitor, unconsciously picking glitter out of her hair. She was watching Giles talking to Angel on the little computer screen in front of her. Because of the headphones she was able to catch both sides of the conversation.

“One went through the portal, as planned, one got away and one is incapacitated,” Giles was saying. “I must say, although Cordelia’s idea was rather outside the box, it worked very well, indeed. Willow is keeping the temporal portal open--”

“We caught the whole show,” Angel interrupted.

“Yes, quite,” Giles muttered, turning toward the hidden camera. “Did you run into any problems on your side?”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle,” Angel said, examining a row of neatly labeled video tapes and CDs. He grabbed a cardboard box and shoveled everything labeled “Surveillance, Slayer” into it.

“Jolly good,” Giles said, dabbing his nose with Maeve’s handkerchief.

Angel nodded to no one in particular, then, “Yea, see you.” He folded his phone to end the conversation.

“It’s so cool,” Cordelia commented. “I just saw him on the phone with you. You know, the camera really loves him.”

“Neat,” Angel answered absentmindedly as he dumped the full box near the stairs.

“It’s like a live action soap opera.”

“Yea, we’re like stars,” Dawn grinned. But then the smile turned into a scowl and she picked up one of the tapes, labeled ‘Summers, D: Bedroom.’ “Can we burn these?” she asked “You know, in a big evidence destroying bonfire? Cause I sure don’t wanna star in them.”

“Maybe later,” Angel said and pulled a black tarp off a broken table. “Perfect,” he mumbled as he perused the objects spread across the table.

“What?” Cordelia finally turned away from the screen. She’d been operating switches, toggling between the various cameras, extrapolating their locations and committing them to memory.

Angel was staring at the remains of what was once a Master Plan of Biblical Proportions. “Maps, gear, security codes.” Angel looked at Cordelia. “They robbed a bank.”

“Looks like they’ll be out of our hair for good,” Cordy said as she tried to run her fingers through her own. She scowled, “No pun intended.”

Dawn rushed over to the table to witness the evidence. “Ooh, we got ‘em good.”

Cordy joined them, smiling. “Anyone got the number to 9-1-1?”

***

“One sec,” Xander said.

Spike was already halfway through the door but something about the tone of Xander’s voice stopped him in his tracks. He turned around, a wary look in his eyes.

“I want to ask you something,” Xander told the vampire, seriously.

Spike arched his eyebrow. “The answer is no, Harris. I don’t swing that way.” Then he reconsidered and chuckled. “Or, at least, I haven’t in a very long while.”

Xander blinked. Then the penny dropped. “Ew, no. Not that.”

“What about, then?”

“About what it’s like, the whole fangy, evil and soulless package.”

“Ask the experts. Giles or Willoughby, they’ll tell you all you wanna hear,” Spike brushed him off.

“I’m asking you, Spike.”

“Why the sudden interest?”

“Sudden? Not so much. I always kinda wondered. Never had the…”

“Bollocks?”

“The opportunity...”

“What makes you think this is a good time? You should be out there, patrolling.”

“I know, and I will, but I need to know…”

Spike affected a sigh. “Go on then. Make it quick.”

“See, what I always wanted to know is this: when someone gets turned, is the vampire still the same person, only, you know, evil? Or is it true what Giles said, a demon moves into the dead body, like into an empty house and it’s a totally different thing, only it kind of inherits the dead person’s memories?”

Spike didn’t answer right away. He tucked his hat under his arm, dug out his tobacco pouch. Xander watched impatiently, as the vampire rolled himself a cigarette, stuck it between his lips and struck a match to light it.

Spike inhaled deeply and studied the glowing tip thoughtfully. Then he closed the door and leaned against it.

“You’re talking about me.”

“And Crawford.” Xander agreed.

“You see a guy for what? Five minutes? And then you grow all concerned about him? William Crawford is dead. Died long before you were born. There’s nothing more to tell. Sod off.”

But Xander was undeterred. “It’s just that I can’t believe he’s you and you’re…you know, it’s just so weird.”

“Eh?”

“Well, I think, I thought maybe he was kind of a dweeb,” Xander mumbled.
“Oh?” Spike frowned. Had Buffy talked to Xander about his mortal self? But when? “Well, whatever it is you heard, it’s got nothing to do with me,” he scoffed.

“See, that’s what I’d like to know,” Xander persevered, suddenly convinced that the vampire’s disclaimer was a load of bull. “What’s it like? What happens when you get turned? How does it feel, not having a soul?”

Spike dropped his half-smoked cigarette, ground it out under his heel and began to pace. “Look, when you’re human you grow up and you learn. Parents, church, teachers, they all tell you what’s right an’ what’s wrong. Tear your clothes, steal apples, spite the teacher - get caned. Keep yourself tidy, say your prayers, and learn your lessons - get a treat. Stick and carrot. As simple as that. In the end you play by the rules cause you feel bloody rotten if you don’t.”

Spike paused and smiled. There was a subtle shift in atmosphere. Xander tensed.

“Become a vampire and all that is a big load of codswallop.” Spike continued, lowering his voice menacingly. “You still KNOW the rules, but you don’t care. The fact that your food is human doesn’t mean a thing. The people you kill, you don’t think of them at all. You just do whatever you like, kill and maim without feelin’ bad about it.” He stopped his pacing in front of Xander, taxing him like a butcher might check out a piece of cattle. Then he smirked.

“There’s just nothing there to tell you that you shouldn’t,” Spike said smoothly. Xander swallowed and had to stop himself from reaching for his stake.

Spike held his gaze for a moment, then play-punched Xander’s shoulder. “That answer your question, mate?”

“Okay, I get that,” Xander said, nodding slowly. “So how come you love Buffy?”

“What’s got love to do with right and wrong?” Spike said somewhat defensively.

“Love is good and hate is evil, right?”

“I always knew you were a bit dense, monkey boy.”

“Okay, so tell me, what’s the difference between her and that girl Cecily? You loved her too, right? I mean, it looked like you had it bad, with the moon-eyes and the waxing poetics and that bulge in your…” a beat. “Heart.”

Spike looked up sharply. *How the hell does he know all that?*

“But, you killed her, didn’t you?” Xander continued, taking a wild guess.

“I got my revenge, if that’s what you’re asking, and it wasn’t pretty,” Spike admitted, hovering uneasily between pride and the unaccustomed urge to justify his actions.

“So I’ll ask you again: what’s the difference between her and Buffy?”

***

“These are all the tapes we could find,” Angel said without preamble, as he walked into the Magic Box. He glanced uneasily at the Slayer, then headed for the round table, carefully avoiding the magical circle and the three spell-casters who were still maintaining the glowing portal. He set the heavy cardboard box down.

“Good Lord!” Giles exclaimed at the number of tapes.

“Yea. The way they had Casa Summers rigged with cameras? Enough to make their own Big Brother show,” Cordelia said, as she followed Angel inside, Dawn in her wake.

“Dawn, I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see you. Are you alright? I’m so sorry, I should have anticipated…” Giles said, awkwardly resisting the impulse to hug the girl.

“It’s okay! I’m good,” Dawn said cheerfully, her earlier fear forgotten. “I mean, I wasn’t scared, not really. For Master criminals they were really lame. Plus I knew you guys would come and get me out. Right?”

Giles nodded emphatically and cleaned his glasses. “Certainly,” he muttered.

“What about Buffy?” the teenager asked excitedly. “Are we going to get her back now?” She took a tentative step towards the portal and squinted, trying to make out images.

“Hopefully, yes. It all depends on whether Willow can keep the portal open long enough,” Giles told her truthfully.

“Who is he?” Angel asked and pointed at the lanky boy with the unruly blond hair, who was still lying on the floor unconscious. At least his nose has stopped bleeding.

“His name is Andrew Wells. I believe I remember him from my days at the Sunnydale High library.” Giles answered, searching his memory.

“Tuckers brother?” Cordelia exclaimed. "Our supervillian is the guy who wrote a petition to make ‘The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ our prom theme?"

“Yes, I believe you may be right,” Giles agreed absentmindedly.

Angel picked the prone body up and hoisted him over his shoulder. “I know just the place for him. I’ll take the tunnels.” With that Angel disappeared into the basement of the shop.

“Too bad that Warren guy got away,” Dawn chipped in. “Plus he still has all that money. Couldn’t he have dropped his bag when he went through the portal?”

“That money was from the bank robbery Buffy told us about. In that case, we wouldn’t have been able to keep any of it, anyway, Dawn. You know that.” Giles tried to explain.

“We might have gotten a reward though. The banks do give rewards to those who get them their money back, right?” Dawn sighed wistfully. “I saw this great leather jacket over at the mall, and boots. Oh, and I think we still have to pay the plumber. Wow, that’s so unfair!”

“Actually…” Giles said.

But Dawn wasn’t listening because a frightening thought had struck her. “So, what if he changes the past? Maybe he already did? Maybe…”

“Don’t worry,” Cordelia stopped the girl’s babble. “He can’t.”

“Actually, Cordelia suggested I prepare a certain spell and when he wasn’t looking I… um… summoned a second portal,” Giles elaborated.

“Cool!” Dawn squealed. “Where did you send him? To the dinosaurs?”

“Not quite,” Giles smiled. “It wasn’t a temporal portal.”

“So he’s now buying himself his very own tropical island somewhere?” Dawn asked with a small pout.

“I doubt it,” Giles said with a malicious glint in his eye.

“I don’t think they accept dollars in Pylea,” Cordelia said cheerfully.

***

For a moment Spike was stumped. Deep inside he knew that there had to be some kind of fundamental difference between Cecily and Buffy.  Only maybe there wasn’t and it was just him who was different? *Oh bloody hell!* It was confusing and infuriating and he had no words to explain what he didn’t quite understand himself. Besides, why should he have to bare his non-existent soul in front of the stupid git?

“Think what you will, Harris!” Spike sputtered and headed for the exit. “You’ve got other things to do than stand here an’ give me the third degree. You’re supposed to be out there, making sure--“

He didn’t get to finish his sentence, because when he yanked the door open he found himself looking into the barrels of three cocked army revolvers, held by three determined looking men. One of whom was Richard Hartford.

“Crawford?! What in God’s name are you doing here?”



Part 41 - Ready

“Crawford?! What in God’s name are you doing here?”

“What business is it of yours?” Spike answered automatically, while he sized up the opposition. Three measly Watchers. He could snap one guy’s neck like a dry bone, hurl the second against the wall, and rip the moustached Watcher’s throat out for breakfast. They might not even get to fire their guns.

*Guns! They’ve got guns!* A panicky voice in Xander’s head babbled. Guns were bad news. If Spike got perforated he could just laugh it off, but what about Xander Harris, intrepid time-traveler? And what about Buffy? Even super-strong Chosen Ones weren’t bulletproof.

The Junior Watcher pursed his lips in distaste. “If you value your employment in my father's house, you would do well to remember your place, William.”

Spike’s eyes widened as he realized that the man standing before him was none other than Mr. Richard Hartford: All-Around Prick and now, it seemed, General-in-Charge Bastard…with a gun. Only the last time Spike had seen the man, he’d been nailed to a wall with a dozen or so railroad spikes, squealing like a slaughtered pig, until a spike between the eyes had silenced his screams and literary criticisms forever.

“Oh um Crawford? He’s with me,” Xander interjected hurriedly, tapping into a talent to obfuscate that had enabled him to cover up six years’ worth of scoobying and world-saving in front of classmates, parents, teachers and co-workers. “We’re friends.”

“What?” Spike whipped around to stare at his companion. Normally, disbelief and obstinacy would have coalesced into a loud and indignant “Like hell we are!” But the vampire caught on before the words slipped out. “Oh, um…Yeah, I mean, yes, old friends,” he muttered instead.

Xander winced inwardly. Considering that the vampire was evil and all, he sure was a bad liar. “So, um…do you think you can put the guns down now?” Xander asked timidly.

“Actually, I was going to ask you both to kindly lift your hands in the air.” Hartford readjusted his weapon. “Gentlemen?”

Xander and Spike exchanged a quick glance. Xander: ‘They’ve got guns!’ Spike raised his eyebrow: ‘So? Vampire here.’ A panicky look from Xander: ‘Yeah, no superpowers here. Play nice.’ An indulgent almost-smile from Spike: ‘Okay, you nit, your call.’

It was testimony to their familiarity that their silent communication took only about a second and went unnoticed by the three Watchers. As one, they raised their hands in the air.

The Watcher raised his lantern and came closer to get a better look at his captives. “What happened to your face?” he asked, noticing the half healed burn-marks.

“Oh, um…the maid,” Spike said with a sad shake of his head, slowly easing back into William’s role. “Such a frightfully clumsy girl, she dropped the sod-- the tea pot on my plate last night, ruining a perfectly good suit, not to mention Mother’s favorite china. As you can see she also scalded my face. Fortunately, it is not a serious injury…”

“Yes, quite,” Hartford interrupted the poet impatiently, fooled by Spike’s - genuine - embarrassment, then he turned to Xander who’s jaw had dropped at Spike’s suddenly cultured accent. “Mr. Harris.”

Xander recovered and smiled awkwardly. “Yup. That’s me.”

“I must confess, I am rather surprised to find you here in the company of my father’s librarian,” Hartford went on, gun still held at chest level. “You are friends, you say? Have you known each other long?” He let his gaze wander from one man to the other and back.

“Four years,” both men said without hesitation. They exchanged another look, thinking the same thing: the longer they kept the Watchers busy and distracted, the more time Buffy had to act.

“Yes indeed,” Spike continued with a sidelong glance. He raised his voice slightly, “It was after a … an evening lecture on … uh…education. Ang-- a mutual friend made the introductions and suggested to have Harris for dinner. Unfortunately, my friend backed out at the last minute.”

“Yeah, it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship,” Xander said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

“But are you not from the Americas, Mr. Harris?” Hartford asked.

“Oh, yea, uh, I was on a sabbatical,” Xander answered quickly, hoping fervently that ‘sabbatical’ was the correct word. “William,” he pronounced emphatically, “was kind enough to take me and a lady friend in when all our funds got stolen and we had no place to stay. We didn't want to impose on his hospitality, but he insisted.”

The man with the gun raised his brow.

Warming to the tale he was spinning, Xander continued in the same vein. “Yes, William was so kind. He even shared his poetry with me. He’s some great writer, huh?” It was hard for him to conceal his chuckles.

Spike gave him a murderous look, “Enough about me, Alexander. Tell Mr. Hartford about the novel you've been writing. Fascinating piece. A sort of fantasy, like the writings of Jules Verne. It's about this silly American from the future who travels through time to the present, and winds up getting into all sorts of scrapes, due mostly to his general stupidity and lack of....”

“Enough!” Hartford interrupted them. He turned to one of his hench-Watchers. “Peters? Search them.”

Moments later, Spike was relieved of two handfuls of jewelry that had made a bulge in the pockets of his coat and a considerable amount of cash, most of which was in coins.

“My winnings,” Spike lied perfunctorily. “We played cards all night.”

But the big surprise came when it was Xander’s turn. His pockets yielded a loaded gun, a cross and a wooden stake. Even Spike looked startled.

“Well well, Mr. Harris. What do we have here?”

“Would you believe me if I told you I have no idea how that got there?” Xander said with a forced smile.

Peters spotted Spike’s bag under the bed and pulled it out. A quick search unearthed burglary tools and an expensive leather folder holding deeds and other official looking documents. He showed his findings to his superior.

“Where is she?” Hartford asked, losing his patience with the two men before him.

“Who?” Xander played dumb. *Buffy, where are you? Now would be a good...*

Before he could finish his thought, the barrel of the gun hit the side of his face, shocking not just Xander but Spike and the other Watchers as well.

“I will not be made a fool of,” Richard Hartford snarled, civilized veneer gone.

Xander stumbled backwards and touched his aching cheek. There was a crimson stain on his fingers. *Blood!*

Next to him, Spike tensed, bloodlust rising, ready to break a few faces and decorate the room with splatters of bright Watcher blood.

“William!” Xander snapped. Spike stilled.

“It’s alright,” Xander said calmly and wiped his face with the back of his sleeve.

Under the watchful eyes of the three Watchers, Spike relaxed.

“Enough of this,” Hartford said, his gun aimed at Xander’s chest. “Gentlemen, let us go downstairs now. Peters? Bring their belongings. Jenkins? If they make one wrong move: do not hesitate to shoot.”

“Yes sir,” the two Watchers confirmed.

Spike and Xander were herded along the corridor. When they came past the room Buffy had chosen to sleep in, the door was open. Spike stole a quick look, but there was no sign of her. The stairs offered no opportunity to make a break for it without risking a bullet in Xander’s back, so the two companions went where the three Watchers told them to: into the big dining room downstairs.

The curtains were still drawn, keeping out the morning light and hiding the interior from anyone who might look in from outside. Several thin shafts of sunlight stabbed through little openings and holes in the curtains and painted circles of light on the filthy floor. The Watchers had brought half a dozen lanterns with them and set them on the floor, where they cast a sickly yellow light.

When the group walked in, the room was occupied by five more members of the Tweed Brigade, bringing the total to eight. Two men were armed with revolvers, two with loaded crossbows. They were holding Willoughby, his son and the coachman, Harper, at gunpoint. The fifth Watcher present was the Head of the Council of Watchers himself, Director Arthur Hartford. He stood in front of the fireplace, leaning on his cane, his thin body rigid with intense irritation.

The sight of ‘the American’ elicited a satisfied smile, ‘William Crawford’s’ unexpected presence a frown. When Hartford noted the absence of the Slayer, his face reddened in anger. Richard Hartford hurried over to his father and reported his findings.

Meanwhile, Xander and Spike wordlessly took their places next to the other three captives. Unarmed and outnumbered, there was little the five prisoners could do, except try to eavesdrop on what the two Hartfords were discussing.

“The old man wants to do a some kind of mojo,” Spike murmured. His hearing was good enough to pick up most of the conversation.

“A spell?” Xander whispered.

Spike nodded and replied in kind. “Something French, to do with a curtain, by a guy called Cloutier.”

“Cloutier’s Tirer la couture?” Willoughby asked.

A nod. “He knows she’s not Maeve. He wants to know who or what she is.”

“We cannot allow that to happen,” Willoughby said.

“Can you do a spell to change the odds a little?” Xander whispered. *And no, I haven’t forgotten that it was a spell that got us all into trouble in the first place.*

“Be quiet,” one of the Watchers snapped and the prisoners fell silent.

Director Hartford walked towards them, his son at his heels. The floor was strewn with glass shards, wooden splinters and pieces of cracked plaster that crunched ominously under their expensive shoes. The old Watcher scrutinized his prisoners before resting his cold eyes on his subordinate. “I am tired of your deceptions and lies, Willoughby. Your selfish treachery will not go unpunished. Whatever it is you are so at pains to conceal from the Council’s rightful eye - I will discover it, and then you will learn that I am not a man to be trifled with.”

“I am not a traitor, sir!” Willoughby exclaimed in righteous indignation. He turned to look at the other Watchers. “Roland, Gerald, you know me. Surely you must know that I serve the Council to the best of my abilities. It is my sworn duty to protect, advise and aid the Slayer so she may perform her sacred duties. Peters, Elliot…”

None of the other Watchers was prepared to meet his eye, to defy the Head of the Council.

“Silence!” Hartford thundered. “You are a disgrace! Who knows what hellish creatures you are in league with. Soon I will know the full extent of your treachery and then - by God - you will pay dearly for your disloyalty.”

Willoughby fell silent but stood his ground, facing the irate director squarely. It was Hartford who broke the eye-contact. He turned and moved to the cleared space on the floor, where Willoughby had previously performed his cloaking spell.

The prisoners watched Director Hartford light incense and pour out a ring of brightly colored sand on the floor. The old Watcher knelt in the middle of the circle, his cane by his side, and began to meditate. Richard Hartford stood next to the circle, ready to assist. A pungent resinous smell began to spread.

“That spell, what’s it do exactly?” Spike murmured nervously.

“It reveals the true nature of things,” Willoughby explained just as quietly.

Xander saw Spike’s lips move and recognized the expletive even without the sound: ‘Bugger!’

*They’re gonna dust him.* Xander realized. The Watchers wouldn’t think twice about taking out a vampire in their midst, even if said vamp played nice. *Crap!*

He couldn’t see Spike going down without a fight, so he let his eyes roam over the trashed dining room. There had to be something he could do once the free-for-all started. The room was dominated by a long dinner table, formed by three separate tables, one of which was overturned. Almost a dozen chairs - some rickety with previous damage - were clustered around the table, just waiting to be grabbed and used as weapons.

Next to him, Spike was growing restless. Xander could feel it without even having to look at him. Thankfully, the Watchers missed the subtle signals. Their attention was divided between their prisoners and the spell-casting Director.

The smoke from the incense holders began to waft around the old man in spiraling tendrils.

Spike and Xander flinched when suddenly a non-corporeal voice echoed inside their heads, but then they recognized the Watcher. ///Gentlemen, please, do not be alarmed, it is me, Willoughby. Can you hear me?///

The two men nodded almost imperceptibly, recognizing the same mind-speak Willow had used this past summer. ///How ‘bout you? Can you hear me too?/// Spike thought back.

///I can indeed, Mr. Spike.///

///Just Spike.///

///Hartford is an experienced sorcerer. It shouldn’t take him more than a few minutes to complete the spell. Spike, If I were to create a diversion, would you be able to effect an escape?///

///Depends on the diversion, but I’ll give it my best shot./// Spike answered.

Willoughby glanced at his son, his face impassive. ///Charles, when I tell you to, I want you to throw yourself on the floor. You too, Harper.///

The boy looked frightened but nodded briefly. The coachman looked unfazed.

///Very well. Mr. Harris?///

///Yeah?/// Xander answered, barely remembering not to speak out loud.

///You’ll have to--///

“Good lord, he’s a vampire!” a voice suddenly exclaimed. Hartford! The old sorcerer stood in his magic circle, pointing his cane at Spike. “Shoot! Now, dammit!”

Then several things happened at once. Willoughby uttered three Latin syllables of power, just as the door flew out of its hinges and crashed into the room. That’s when the shocked and frightened Watchers pulled their triggers.

Less than a second later the room was plunged into darkness. Shots rang, but there was no muzzle flash. The darkness was complete.



Author’s Note: Many thanks to Mikelesq – because he never stopped asking for this chapter and because he helped with snarky Spike.

Sorry about the long delay. I took me ages to arrive at the right amount of familiarity between Spike and Xander. Also, at first Spike refused to pretend to be William. I had to threaten him with serious bodily harm.



Part 42 – Go!

Escape? Not exactly what Spike had in mind – in spite of what he’d told Willoughby. The order to shoot had barely left Hartford’s mouth when Spike shoved Xander to the ground, hopefully out of harm’s way, and lunged with a feral snarl, fangs bared. He was half way to the nearest three Watchers who stood between him and the Council director, when the door crashed in and the lights went out. All of them.

Even Spike’s superior vision had no chance of penetrating the magical blackness, but he could still hear and his acute sense of smell was unimpaired. He just kept going, the reek of fear guiding him like a beacon.

A crossbow bolt whirred past him, missing him by mere inches. Several shots rang. A bullet hit Spike squarely in the chest, the invisible muzzle flash exploding less than a foot from his chest. The lightless fire burned a hole in his shirt and seared his skin, almost setting his flesh on fire. Spike roared in pain and the impact broke his stride, but he quickly caught his balance. Before the frightened man could discharge his revolver a second time, Spike descended upon him with all the savagery of a wild beast.

A sweeping blow shattered the Watcher’s wrist and sent the gun spinning away. Spike picked him up and held him in a bone-crushing feeding grip: one hand in his macassar-oiled hair, yanking back his head and exposing the jugular, one arm wrapped around the man’s torso, holding him in place. *Just like old times,* Spike thought, relishing the ineffectual struggling of the man. “God no! Help me,” the Watcher screamed. “No, please!”

Spike threw back his head and whooped with laughter.

“Marco!” the Slayer’s voice suddenly rose above the din.

“Polo!” Spike answered.

Shards and splinters crunched under Buffy’s feet as she ran towards the far end of the room, towards the screaming and the laughter, where one of the Watchers was frantically firing his gun. But mostly she was running to where she’d last seen Hartford.

There was a man with a crossbow to Buffy’s right, and two more to her left, but she ignored them, intent to take on the Council leader. They heard her pass and fired their weapons at the sound, but the missiles didn’t even come close.

“Xander, get down!” she shouted.

After kicking down the door, it had taken Buffy less than a second to take in the situation. So when the blackout came she already had a mental map in her head and a plan ready. She knew where the hostages were, and where all the Watchers were standing. *Thank you, Giles, for making me train blindfolded,* she thought as she charged forward.

She’d almost reached Hartford, when he uttered several incomprehensible syllables.

It was as if she’d slammed into a brick wall, except that brick walls don’t crackle or zap you with electric shocks. Hartford had magicked some kind of magical force field around himself. Buffy grunted as she was violently propelled backwards against one of the dinner tables. The sturdy piece of furniture splintered and collapsed under the impact and the Slayer landed on a bed of sharp wooden fragments. The crash left her momentarily stunned and still twitching from the energy discharge.

“Hey! That’s cheating!”

Buffy automatically tried to interpret the cacophony of sounds around her. The Watchers were yelling all at once: “The beast caught Roland”, “Dear god” and “Where is it?” At least they’d stopped shooting, except for one man who was still blindly firing into the dark. “For god’s sake, hold your fire,” Richard Hartford’s voice could be heard above the din.

“No! Please—“Suddenly the scream was abruptly cut off.

Everybody fell silent. The only sound was the frantic clicking of a hammer falling on an empty pistol chamber.

“Spike?” Buffy called, feeling a chill.

“Right here,” his cheerful voice could be heard, his speech slightly slurred by the fangs. His words were punctuated by the dull thud of a body slumping to the ground.

Xander had no vampire reflexes or heightened senses, only a dogged determination to throw in his weight. Maybe staying out of the way was the smart thing to do. *Yeah, and whoever said I do what’s smart?* So, when the lights went out he picked himself up from the floor where Spike’s shove had sent him and headed straight on, away from the door and towards the middle of the room where the long dining room table cut the room in half. He tripped on some unidentifiable rubble, and almost fell, unwittingly dodging a stray bullet. Behind him he heard the coachman hustle the Watcher’s son into protective cover – probably behind the overturned table. By the time Buffy called out his name and told him to get down, Xander had reached his destination and was crouching next to the table and groping around for a chair that might serve as a weapon.

He was momentarily tempted to answer her, but to give away one’s position in a room full of enemies with guns? Dumber than dumb.

Remembering the group of chairs on the other side of the table Xander quickly threw himself underneath the table. Suddenly there was a loud crash to his right. He didn’t wait to find out what it was but hurriedly crawled away from the noise, shards and rubble cutting into his knees and hands. When his hand brushed the leg of a chair he rose into a crouch and grabbed the reassuring piece of furniture with both hands, waiting for an opportunity to use it.

“Tell me you didn’t kill him, Spike,” Buffy demanded and jumped to her feet.

A shot rang as one of the Watchers fired at the sound of her voice. The bullet sang past her. He never got a second shot. Buffy hurled herself at the sound, and barreled into the man, knocking him off his feet. Both landed on the ground, Buffy on top. She didn’t waste a second. Instinctively, she swung her fist against his head, knocking him out cold.

If Spike had intended to answer her, his reply was cut off by syllables of power. “Tenebrae solvere!” Hartford’s voice boomed in the darkness. Suddenly the room was bathed in a cold blue light that drowned out the more natural lighting from the windows and lanterns. Buffy looked up from the unconscious Watcher. The Council director was hovering in a shimmering bubble of energy. Blue lightning was sluggishly dripping from his fingertips and his cane and swirling briefly on the floor like little buzzing snakes before they winked out. The man’s eyes were jet-black. Dark veins stood out from unnaturally white skin.

Willoughby staggered from the sheer force with which his darkness spell had been shattered. “Good Lord!” he exclaimed at the sight of the unleashed sorcerer. Hartford smiled.

Apart from the two Hartfords, three Watchers were still standing. They were just as startled as Willoughby. Buffy took advantage of the distraction. In a flurry of fast kicks she sent the one closest to her staggering backwards, where Harper, Willoughby’s table-leg wielding coachman, swiftly knocked him out. That left two.

One of the Watchers was quick-witted enough to raise his loaded crossbow and level it at the unguarded back of the vampire, who had his hand around another man’s throat, effortlessly lifting him into the air. “Spike! Watch out!” Xander shouted, quickly stood up and hurled his chair at the Watcher. *Score!* It knocked the weapon out of his grasp, just as the vampire whirled around. The crossbow bolt missed Spike by a mile and embedded itself in the wooden ceiling. “This one’s ours. If anyone gets to dust him, it’s us,” Xander told the stunned Watcher.

Spike grinned. He pulled his squirming captive closer, knocked him out with a quick head-butt and dropped him like a sack of potatoes. “Cheers, mate,” he smirked in Xander’s direction, then he aimed a vicious kick against the head of the third Watcher just as the man’s fingers closed around the grip of his fallen crossbow.

“Abomination!” Director Hartford shouted and aimed his cane at Spike. Cold blue lightning shot out of its tip to engulf the vampire with crackling sparks. It was like being hit by a taser. Spike never got to land that kick. Instead he collapsed, rendered help- and speechless by painful muscle cramps.

The spared Watcher hastily swiped up his crossbow and backed away from the jerking vampire. He tried to load the weapon but his hands were trembling too much. “Carter, here! Give me that,” Richard snarled and snatched the weapon out of the man’s hand. He quickly proceeded to load it, while his father focused on the Slayer.

“You don’t belong here,” Director Hartford stated coldly, his black eyes wandering from Buffy to the American and back. “Neither of you. Who are you? You’re not Maeve. I can see your real face.”

“I’m the Slayer,” Buffy said. “Just not your Slayer.”

Meanwhile, Richard Hartford had finished loading the crossbow. Buffy was ready to deflect or dodge the shot. However, the moustached Watcher had no intention of targeting the Slayer, instead he strode towards the powerless vampire.

*No!* Buffy felt a sudden dread. Wishing with all her being she had Willow’s telepathic power, Giles’ brain or just a few extra seconds, she balled her fists. “Spike!” she called out. “Please, you have to get up!”

Suddenly, Xander threw himself at Richard Hartford. The two men wrestled for the crossbow, then staggered and without so much as a flash of lightning or a sound they were both abruptly … gone!

* * *

Xander and Hartford wrestled and staggered and tumbled, then tripped over something, or rather someone and crashed to the ground. With a twang the crossbow released its bolt. It embedded itself in the counter of the Magic Box.

“Ouw! Watch it!” Anya exclaimed indignantly, then: “Xander? Oh my god, Xander, is that really you?” She let go of Tara’s and Willow’s hand and was out of the circle faster than a flash.

The portal wobbled precariously, as the connection was broken, its outline fluttering. Sweat beaded on Willow’s brow and Tara grew pale.

“Hey Ahn,” Xander grunted. “A little help here?” Hartford Junior had managed to land on top of him and was trying to choke him by pressing the crossbow handle against his throat.

“Xander, you’re back,” Anya squealed.

Maeve and Angel rushed closer to take on the Watcher. But Anya was faster.

“Get off my fiancé!” she yelled. Like a wild cat, she jumped on the man’s back, slapping, hitting, and clawing – even tearing at his hair. It took both Maeve and Angel to separate her and the stunned Watcher.

“And who might you be?” Giles asked the newcomer, who was easily held captive by Angel.

The man looked around, obviously confused and frightened by the sudden change in scenery, but there was still a certain air of superiority around him, comically at odds with the plucked-chicken look Anya’s rage had left him with. He raised his chin. “Do your worst,” he said pompously. “I will not betray my calling by talking to you.”

Xander got to his feet and brushed a hand through his hair. “His name’s Hartford,” he answered in the man’s stead. “And although he’s a Watcher he’s not really one of the good guys. Or maybe he is, but just not too choosy about his means.”

Anya was struggling against Maeve’s restraining grip. When the Slayer let go she rushed into Xander’s open arms, crying.

He wrapped his arms around that warm, sobbing bundle of joy and relief, squeezing her as hard as he dared. “God, I missed you, Anya, I missed you so much!” he muttered and kissed her lovely lips fervently.

Giles cleared his throat, more than a dozen pertinent questions on his mind, all pertaining to the hopefully swift and safe retrieval of his Slayer – but his bid for attention was ignored by the kissing couple.

“I can’t hold the portal open much longer,” Willow suddenly spoke up. Her voice was flat, almost lifeless. “I need more power.”

Cordelia took a hesitant step towards the circle.

Angel gave a small start, almost telling her not to, but he held his tongue. Cordy would do what Cordy thought best. Somehow, he always fell for the stubborn ones.

Xander broke the kiss. Anya opened her mouth to drown him with a flood of questions, but he put a gentle finger on her lips. “Later,” he said hurriedly. “Let’s just get the rest of the rescue mission under way, okay? Then we can celebrate.”

Anya nodded happily, but didn’t let go of her man.

Cordelia stepped into the circle and took the place Anya had deserted. When her hand touched Willow’s, she went rigid with shock. The fluttering slowed, but it did not stop.

It was difficult to see what was happening on the other side of the portal. There was a glowing blue sphere that filled up most of the flickering ‘screen’

Xander turned to Giles to quickly fill him in: “The good news is: Buffy and Spike are there,” he jerked his thumb at the portal. “The bad news is, they’re in the middle of a fight and that one guy is working some serious mojo. If he doesn’t run out of juice I’m not sure Buffy can take him. She needs help, Giles. I have to go back and help her.”

“No!” Anya yelled.

“But someone has to—“

“More,” Willow demanded.

“I will go,” Maeve interrupted him with calm resolve.

“I need more power,” Willow said, louder this time. “To keep this portal open I need more.” Her hair was writhing around her pale face like the snakes of a Gorgon, her black eyes were staring blindly through the portal and into the past. “Things are just getting exciting. That sorcerer sure knows his stuff. I wouldn’t want to miss this show for all the tea in China. So. Give. Me. More!”

“Quickly,” Maeve implored Giles, waiting for his consent.

But he shook his head. “Fools rush, where Angels fear to tread. What if we end up with both Slayers in the past? We have to consider--”

“I have power,” Dawn suddenly announced and stepped towards the circle. “I’m a green blob of energy, right?”

“Dawn, wait!” Giles snapped. “We don’t know what will happen if you join your power with Willow’s. If she takes too much, she might unravel the spell that binds your human form and memories together. You might cease to exist!”

“If it means getting my sister back, that’s a risk I’m willing to take,” the teenager declared and before anyone could stop her she rushed forward and put her hand on Willow’s shoulder. The effect was quite amazing.

The portal stabilized instantly, its outline became smooth and defined. The darkness in Willow’s eyes faded and the strain seemed to leave her body. Tara and Cordelia too lost their rigidity and also some of their pallor. Dawn looked strained but unharmed and as far as Giles could tell his memories of her were unimpaired.

Even so. “Doesn’t anybody heed my advice anymore?” Giles asked indignantly.

“I can see them, I can see Buffy,” Dawn said excitedly, even though her eyes were closed. “Spike’s there too. But he’s hurt.”

“Seems to be working,” Angel observed, but his habitually stony mien was showing cracks.

“That’s totally beside the point. We don’t know how long Dawn’s power boost will work. And what about that Watcher Xander brought with him? How are we supposed to deal with him and what he’s seen here?” Giles was clearly agitated, uncomfortable with all the unknown variables. “After all, we can’t just wipe everything from his memory.”

“Oh, but we can. It’s quite easy,” Anya interrupted. “All one needs is a crystal and a twig of Lethe’s Bramble. Do you want me to get some?”

“No, we do not play with people’s memories,” Giles exclaimed. “Not while I’m here to stop it. And what if we’re not supposed to send him back? What if he disappeared in 1880 without a trace? Unfortunately, there’s no time to consult my journals. Frankly, I--”

“Uh, Giles, can I—“ Xander telegraphed the ‘talk to you in private?’ with a nod of his head and headed away from the prisoner. Giles followed him. Anya stayed glued to Xander’s arm, acting like his Siamese twin.

For a moment Xander struggled with his conscience. He remembered what Hartford had said at that party: ‘I’d rather have a railroad spike through my head…’ Xander knew that if they sent the man back through the portal he’d get brutally murdered not long afterwards – one of the first victims of William the Bloody. Sending him back was as good as killing the man himself. Hartford was human, a Watcher. Not exactly equipped with what Xander considered an endearing personality, but he hardly deserved being tortured for ridiculing a man’s lousy poetry.

He swallowed.

“We have to send him back, Giles. Keeping him here could seriously screw up history.”

His urgency and discomfort weren’t lost on the Watcher. “Do go on,” Giles said. “What is it you know?”

“I—I just think I kinda know what’s going to happen to him. I don’t think he’ll get to tell anyone. Or as Spike might put it: his number’s up.” Xander felt sick in his stomach.

Giles nodded in understanding. “You have to remember, whatever happened to him, it happened more than 120 years ago and is not your responsibility.”

“Changing the course of time is always a complicated business,” Anya chipped in. “I should know, I did it at least a hundred times, before I answered Cordelia’s wish and Giles smashed my pendant. People often wish things had turned out differently. Did you know that the Confederacy lost the Civil War just because this Colonel from Georgia lost his wife’s family baubles in a card game?”

Xander silenced her with a gentle squeeze of his hand. Whatever Giles said, Xander felt responsible. But he nodded. “Yeah, let’s send him back. But trussed up like a turkey.”

“Anya, can you quickly get us some rope, please? Then Angel can tie him up,” Giles said.

Anya pouted, not wishing to be parted from her man, but went to fetch the requested item.

“Maeve? I guess this is goodbye,” Giles told the Slayer quietly, so the prisoner couldn’t hear him. “You will have to carry our friend here through the portal. Once you are back in your time all you have to do is touch Buffy’s hand. That should reverse the spell and both you and Buffy should be returned to your own bodies.”

The Slayer nodded. “I am ready, Mr. Giles. And thank you.” She smiled shyly. “It has been a pleasure getting to know you all.” She exchanged a meaningful glance with Anya.

The ex-demon smiled warmly. “Bye Maeve. Don’t forget the things I taught you. Especially page 109.”

Maeve blushed and nodded. Then she turned around, and walked over to Angel just as he finished tying the knots around the Watcher’s wrists. “That should keep him secured,” Angel said, uncomfortable under her gaze but not enough of a coward to look away. “And this should keep him quiet.” He pushed a gag into the man’s mouth.

“Thank you,” Maeve said and hoisted the bound man over her shoulder. She paused to look at her distraught murderer. “Beannacht Dé leat!, Mr. Angel.“

With one last glance at the people she had come to see as her friends, Maeve stepped through the portal.



AN: “Beannacht Dé leat” is Old Irish and means “God's blessing with you”

Thank you, dear readers for your patience and loyalty. And for your lovely and encouraging feedback. Special thanks to Kimi615 and Mikelesq for their support.



Part 43 - High Five

“Oops?” Buffy said, when Xander and Richard Hartford disappeared. She worried her lower lip, but then her expression became determined again. “Actually,” she continued, as if nothing had happened, ”I’ve got news for you. Maeve isn’t your Slayer. She’s the Slayer. And you need to get over yourself.”

But Hartford wasn’t listening. He was scowling at the space where the two men had been struggling just moments before.

“What did you do to my son?” The old man shouted. The veins in his face stood out in purple-black rage, making his appearance even more cadaverous. The electric-blue energy field collapsed with a buzz and the stench of ozone, and the Watcher floated to the ground.

Buffy didn’t hesitate, but flung herself at him. Only the old Watcher wasn’t as frail as he seemed. With magically enhanced strength and reflexes, he swatted the surprised Slayer aside like an annoying insect. She flew backwards against the wall next to the fireplace. She landed on all fours, less than a yard away from Spike who’d stopped twitching and was now groggily trying to get up.

”Okay, fine. So I guess we’re going to do this the hard way,” Buffy mumbled. She swiftly got up, offered Spike her hand and pulled him to his feet. She missed the look of surprise on his face because she kept her eyes on the black-eyed sorcerer and his two remaining henchmen, looking for an opening.

“What did you do to my son?” Hartford repeated, his whole body tense like a clenched fist.

“He’s fine. He just went on a little trip,” Buffy said. *To Sunnydale 2001 – at least I hope so.* She threw a quick glance at the empty spot where Xander and the Watcher had disappeared. There was nothing even remotely portal-y there.

“It’s invisible from this side,” Spike muttered under his breath, following her eyes. “It might still be open.”

“Where does that portal lead?” Hartford asked and pointed his cane at… nothing.

“So much for invisible,” Buffy said with a pout. “How come he sees it?”

“Cloutier’s spell,” Willoughby answered her question.

Bringing himself to the old man’s attention was a mistake. “Hold your tongue, traitor,” Hartford snapped. “Or you’ll lose it.” A lightening bolt knocked Willoughby off his feet. He lay prone where he fell.

‘Father!’ Charles rushed to his father’s side, before Harper had a chance to stop him.

“Buffy, go for the portal,” Spike whispered urgently. “I’ll keep’m busy and you go through, high five Maeve and send her back. I’ll follow once Saruman here is out of the picture.”

*Saru-who?* “Your plan has just one flaw,” Buffy said and launched herself at their opponent.

“What’s that?” Spike asked, not far behind.

“Nobody—“ Kick, punch, dodge, “gets left” left hook, block, punch, “behind.”

This time, Buffy managed to land a few direct hits but it felt like pounding a concrete wall. She wasn’t even sure the pummeling had any effect. Then Hartford thwacked her with his cane, shattering the sturdy wood on her shoulder and knocking her down again. Spike barely escaped the sharp jagged end of the cane when Hartford turned to deal with him. The man was way too fast and in his present enhanced state, his ability to take damage even surpassed the resilience of Slayer or vampire.

One of the Watchers, Elliot, still had an armed crossbow, but Buffy and Spike moved with speed and grace and synergy. A clear shot was impossible. Meanwhile, the other Watcher, Carter, was trying to load the revolver he'd retrieved from the floor, but because his hands shook so much all he did was litter the floor with cartridges.

At one time Harper made an attempt to drag the resisting Charles Willoughby away from his father’s side and to safety, but a small lightening bolt exploded in their path, driving them back into cover.

“The old fool keeps this up and he’s gonna run out of juice real soon,” Spike muttered, when yet another round of hand-to-hand had ended with both of them crashing into the remains of the room’s furniture. “We just gotta keep him busy.”

Buffy jumped to her feet. ”So who are you supposed to be again? Sigfried or Roy?”

After his last zap, Hartford appeared drained. His shoulders were slumping slightly and his pale complexion was riddled with fewer black veins. His breaths were quick and shallow.

“Too old for this, eh?” Spike remarked, as he searched for a new opening.

Suddenly, with two brisk strides, Hartford was at Carter’s side, grabbing the man’s shoulder. There was a green flash as he drained him of power. The Watcher gasped and fell to the ground in an unconscious heap.  The black veins in Hartford’s face reappeared, darker and more pronounced than before. The air in the room crackled loudly. The old sorcerer took a deep breath, and…

Suddenly Buffy felt herself crushed by an unseen force. Her arms were pinned to her sides and she was lifted off the ground. She struggled: tensing and wriggling, trying to break the invisible grip that was slowly squeezing the breath out of her.

Hartford was holding out his hand, fingers clenched around thin air, squeezing, his face a frightening grimace. “You will tell me what I wish to know, insolent woman! You are no match for me.”

“You know, you could have asked nicely,” Buffy said breathlessly, never ceasing in her struggles.

Spike hurled himself at the old Watcher again. Just like before, most of his punches were blocked before they could connect, but one or two blows landed and caused the old man to stagger. Spike was forced back again, but this time he was able to remain on his feet.

“Spike… keep going,” Buffy choked out. “His strength… when you hit him… don’t stop.”

“Enough of this,” Hartford snapped. “Elliot? Shoot the accursed vampire.”

“No!” Buffy shouted.

“Sir, I—“

“Shoot!” Hartford bellowed. “What are you waiting for, man?”

Spike didn’t waste any time. Ignoring Hartford, he bolted toward the armed man.

“The portal! Spike! Go!” Buffy shouted. But it was too late, the man raised his weapon…and was hastily knocked down by a man-shaped missile that suddenly landed on top of him. The two Watchers went down in a tangle of limbs.

Spike skidded to a halt just before colliding with *Buffy!?*

“Hello Mr. Spike,” the Slayer grinned.

Everybody just gaped at her, stunned. Even Spike was dumb-struck.

“Mr. Spike?” Maeve’s smile wavered then froze as the realization hit home. Shock, panic and a furious blush washed over her in short succession. In her hurry to go through the portal Maeve – and the other Scoobies – had forgotten one tiny little detail: her clothes.

“Maeve?” the sorcerer exclaimed, looking appalled, even shocked.

Meanwhile, the two fallen Watchers struggled to their feet. The ropes that had tied Richard Hartford’s hands hadn’t made the journey back either, but the sight of the naked Slayer immobilized him quite effectively. The other Watcher, Elliot, stood just as slack-jawed, whereas Charles’s blush almost equaled Maeve’s. Harper, the seasoned soldier, was probably the least impressed. He took a good look, then left his cover to search for a weapon he could use.

For a moment, Spike was unable to wrench his gaze away. Buffy. Naked. Okay, with Maeve inside, but *hell* Buffy.. He swallowed, his mouth dry.

“Good Lord!” Apparently, Richard Hartford had found his voice again, inadvertently drawing Spike’s attention to himself. Spike spun around, grabbed the two Watchers by their necks and almost absentmindedly slammed their heads together, knocking them out cold. He flashed Maeve a wicked grin. “Good timing, pet,” he finally managed to say.

“Can you two… save the hugs and puppies… for later?” Buffy choked out, oblivious of Maeve’s state of undress, as Spike was obstructing her line of sight. Sensing that the sorcerer was distracted, Buffy redoubled her efforts to break free. Hartford was indeed beginning to look drained, his face ashen. Dark red blood began dripping from his nose. He staggered and let go of the recalcitrant Slayer. She fell to the ground and remained slumped for a moment, drawing in air in greedy gasps. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Spike,” she wheezed, ”we’re still fighting <gasp> against a whacked out Houdini.”

She rose to her feet and got her first good look at the other Slayer. Her eyes widened comically. “You’re naked!” Buffy gasped. “I mean, I’m naked. I shouldn’t be naked. Spike, why am I naked?”

“Huh?”

“Spike! Stop ogling!”

“Oh, right,” he said, suddenly snapped out of his reverie. He quickly took off his coat and offered it to the embarrassed Slayer, when she picked up a table leg and rushed off to clobber a recently recovered Watcher who was reaching for his crossbow.

Hartford, during the chaos, chose to seek out a fresh source of power, namely Edward Willoughby, who was still lying prone among the debris of broken tables and chairs, conscious but too battered to move. But suddenly the old man found himself staring down the barrel of a revolver.

“Lay one hand on my father and I’ll shoot,” Charles said. He was shaking with fear, but there was no doubt about his determination.

“You think a mere bullet will stop me, boy?” Hartford mocked him, but his breathing was becoming much more labored, and he made no attempt to touch the other Watcher.

“Does the rest of the Council know the extent of your exploration into the Black Arts?” Maeve asked, walking towards him

“Be silent,” the Director barked in cold rage. “My god, cover yourself, shameless Jezebel!”

Maeve flinched but then she lifted her chin stubbornly, remembering all the things Anya had tried to teach her. “You use black magic in front of witnesses and all you can think of is my state of undress? With all due respect, Sir, you ought to reconsider your priorities.” She chuckled, but when Spike placed his coat over her shoulders, she shrugged herself into the dark woolen fabric and pulled it closed around her.

“You dare lecture me? You… you… harlot…“

Abruptly, Hartford’s face became slack and his legs buckled. He collapsed, weakly flailing, his movements sluggish. Maeve caught him before the old man could hit his head on the floor and eased him to the ground. Hartford’s eyes were open. The oily blackness was gone. They were bloodshot, and the pupils were tiny pinpricks.

Maeve squatted down beside him and loosened his cravat. The Director tried to swat her hand away but his limbs seemed to have a will of their own and stayed limp. He was trying to talk, but it was impossible to understand what he was saying.

“Oh God, what is this? A heart attack?” Buffy shouted and ran to the prone man. She crouched down next to Maeve. “Spike, see if you can wake Richard. Where’s Harper?”

“Right here, Miss,” was his quick response.

“Get the car… I mean, coach. He needs to be taken to a hospital,” Buffy ordered as she unbuttoned the Director’s coat to allow him to breathe easier.

“Yes, right away,” he answered as he hurriedly turned to leave.

A strange quiet fell, only interrupted by sounds of labored breathing and the slaps Spike was administering to the unconscious Watcher. After two minutes he succeeded in rousing the man.

“Father?” Richard stepped up behind Buffy, rubbing his aching head. “What happened? What did you do to him?”

“Nothing. One minute he was yelling at Maeve,” Buffy answered, “the next minute he kinda collapsed.”

Edward Willoughby joined the group. “I am no doctor,” he said tiredly. “But it looks like Director Hartford may have suffered a stroke.” He turned towards his son. “Charles, as soon as Harper comes back, please assist him and Mr. Hartford in escorting his father to the coach.”

The boy nodded and pocketed the gun. A minute later Harper was back, bringing another coachman with him. Buffy and Maeve stepped away so that they could lift the paralyzed director.

After the men had made it outside, Buffy and Maeve had a moment to appreciate each other in person.

“Nice job,” Buffy in Maeve’s body said.

“You too,” Maeve in Buffy’s body replied.

“Thanks,” Buffy smiled. “High five?” She lifted her hand in the air.

Maeve looked uncertain.

“High five,” Buffy repeated. “Hit me!”

After Maeve’s first high-five ever, she found herself looking back at Buffy, in Buffy’s body. Buffy found herself…in a scratchy old woolen coat that smelled of tobacco and just a hint of something familiar that took her a moment to fully recognize: it smelled of Spike.

Buffy took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s go,” she said.

“Just one sec, Slayer, there’s some things I’d like to keep.” Spike strode to the fireplace where his bag was sitting on the floor and hurriedly went through his loot, discarding items, keeping others.

“Mr. Crawford? Quickly, may I have a word with you?” Willoughby approached the vampire. He appeared nervous, uncomfortable and utterly exhausted.

“It’s Spike.”

“Spike, then. Look here, I know we are natural enemies…”

“No. Slayers and vampires are natural enemies. Watchers are just a side dish,” the vampire smirked.

Willoughby nodded and tried again. “Very well. I realize that you have no cause to answer my question, but before you leave there is something I need to ask you.”

Spike nodded.

“When--“

“Four and a half years,” Spike interrupted him. “That’s all she’s got. And it’s your friggin’ job to make sure they’re good ones.” He slung the bag over his shoulder and thrust the leather valise full of stolen deeds and bonds into the Watcher’s hands. “This might help,” he said. “Tell her, if she doesn’t spend it on fun stuff, I’ll come back and eat you.”

“Spike!” Buffy interrupted. “We’re on a tight schedule here. If we miss our portal because you’re dawdling I’m so gonna kick your ass.”

“Nag, nag, nag.” Spike said, but he quickly moved to her side.

“Are you finished here?” she asked impatiently.

“Actually no,” Spike said.

“Wha—“ Her question was muffled by his lips on hers. Suddenly the whole world, past and present, revolved around cool lips and strong arms.

It was only a brief kiss, but when he pulled back they were both out of breath. Buffy could feel her heart hammering wildly in her chest. Spike too looked slightly frazzled around the edges. “Sorry,” he muttered, although he didn’t feel in the least contrite, “had to do this. Before you’re back with your chums.”

Buffy opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She snapped it shut. She just snatched his hand and stepped into the portal, dragging her vampire with her.



Many thanks to Mikelesq. Again.



Part 44 – Back in Town

“And you’re saying your friend walked through some kind of force field?”

“A portal,” the blond lanky kid corrected the officer opposite him. “He used a magical portal to go back in time to get rich and really powerful!”

The burly detective flicked a switch, muting the two voices and turned away from the see-through mirror with a disgusted shake of his head. “My desk is littered with unexplained murder cases and missing persons files and what do I have to deal with? Bored kids who think their life is an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.’”

The psychiatrist shrugged. “You should see my desk,” she said, “I never thought a small town like this could breed such a case load,” but she took the file the detective offered her, opened the folder and leafed through the pages.

“I want to know if he’s faking it. Nobody can be that dumb.” The detective said. “I’d like your report on my desk ASAP.”

“What about the other one?” the psychiatrist said, peering at the folder the policeman was still holding on to. “Levinson?”

“Oh, that one is a little canary. His dad hired a top-notch lawyer, who advised him to make a deal, so I guess he’s gonna come out smelling like roses. Supposedly, Warren Mears did all the planning. We have a warrant out for Mears. Sooner or later we’ll get him.”

The psychiatrist nodded and gestured towards the switch. “May I?”

“Knock yourself out, doc.”

She turned the speaker back on to listen to the interrogation.

“You have no idea who you’re dealing with,” Andrew was saying. “Warren is smart. He's the Blofeld of our age. And I'm not talking about the lame Telly Savalas Blofeld that George Lazenby faced. I'm talking hardcore Connery Era Blofeld! He’s just waiting for the right moment to come and get me out of here. He’s got enough money to buy this whole town. Or will have. And then you’ll all be sorry.”

“Bank robbers - they just don’t make them like they used to,” the detective said with a disgusted snort and returned to the big heap of files on his desk.

* * *

The return trip was fast and painless. They were propelled forward at breakneck speed, almost as if the past itself was glad to get rid of them.

“Who-hooo!” Spike whooped as he popped out of the portal and into the Magic Box like a cork out of a champagne bottle. He’d have barreled past Buffy, but because she was still holding his hand she acted like a bungee cord and pulled him backwards, saving him from tripping over the girl who sat on the floor directly in front of him. Behind them, the portal rapidly shrunk in size, then winked out of existence.

“Home, sweet home,” they said as one, then gave each other a half surprised, half irritated look. ‘You stole my line,’ Buffy’s glance was saying. Spike just arched his eyebrow.

“Buffy?” Dawn exclaimed and scrambled to her feet in a hurry.

“Dawn! Oh God! I missed you so much!” Buffy gushed and stepped forward. That broke the spell of silence. The room erupted into cheers and chatter.

Dawn squealed and grabbed Buffy in a big bouncy bear hug that knocked Buffy’s and Spike’s hands apart. Buffy kissed her cheek, and didn’t let go immediately. Instead she tightened the grip, overwhelmed by relief and joy at being with her sister and her friends again. For the first time since her resurrection, happiness was something she truly felt and not just vaguely remembered.

“Ow,” Dawn mumbled, but it was obvious she was enjoying the affection.

Spike missed the grateful look Dawn gave him over Buffy’s shoulder. Slowly uncurling the fingers of his suddenly bereft hand, he fell back and looked around, immediately focusing on Angel.

Almost everybody was surging forward until they all stood in a misshapen semi-circle in front of Buffy - the REAL Buffy…every face smiling with happiness and relief. Giles and Cordelia held back a little, forming a kind of second rank. Angel stayed outside the animated crowd, he was the only one whose face showed no emotion whatsoever. His eyes were traveling from Buffy to Spike and back.

“You guys have no idea…” Buffy began as she looked at a very pale but grinning Willow and grabbed her in a warm embrace. “How awful it was.” She nodded at Xander, whose arm was wrapped round Anya’s waist. “Except you, of course.” He grinned lopsidedly. She gave the couple a big hug, then turned to Tara, taking her hand and squeezing it. “I can’t believe,” Buffy said as she approached Giles and gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek, “how long I’ve taken you guys for granted.” Giles looked flustered but more than a little pleased.

Saving Angel for last, Buffy turned toward Cordelia. “Hey,” Buffy said with a cheesy grin. “Nice shoes. But the hair? I wasn’t gone that long, was I?”

Cordelia countered with her most radiant commercial smile. “Oh that. Glitter - latest fashion in the biz.” She nodded at the dark 1880 coat Buffy was wearing. “Isn’t that coat a bit retro - even for you?”

Having re-established their bitch-credentials their grins briefly turned into the genuine article.

“Angel,” Buffy said, a warm smile on her lips. “You’re here.”

“Of course,” Angel said, visibly unnerved by the large audience. And then he added with great sincerity. “I’ll always come if you need me.”

A moment passed between them and there was an awkward silence. Then Dawn made a mad dash for her sister and captured her in a big hug once again. The Scoobs took her cue and closed the circle around her, all excitedly talking at once. The only one who wasn’t interested in Buffy’s adventures was Anya. She was noisily fussing over Xander’s bruises and cuts. Her happiness was grating and gratifying at the same time.

Spike shrugged. Time to head out.

When he sauntered past the Scoobies, Xander managed an apologetic grimace and a hurried pat on Spike’s back, the others didn’t even register his departure. Even Giles seemed too distracted.

Not so Angel.

He tensed. Part of him wanted to just stay and drink in the image of shiny happy Buffy in the midst of her friends, part of him considered it his mission to follow Spike and make sure that he didn’t wreak havoc on Sunnydale – now that the chip was out. But by the time Angel had made up his mind and stepped out of the Magic Box to shadow the other vampire, Spike was gone.

* * *

There was a chime as the door of the Magic Box was opened again.

“And where do you think you are going?” Giles asked, as he stepped outside.

Angel didn’t turn, just scanned the street with all his senses. “You saw how they arrived, hand in hand,” he said, sounding strangely flat.

“Contrary to popular belief I’m not blind. Although frankly, sometimes I wish I was.”

“You can’t turn a blind eye on this: Spike’s dangerous again.” Angel waved his hand, warding off Giles’s reply. “Yeah, I know. He brought her back. But does Spike know that the chip is gone? Does Buffy know?”

“Rest assured that I will tell her. But what do you want me to do, after that? Tell Buffy what to do? It’s not like I haven’t tried before. In fact, I gave her the whole do-not-get-involved-with-a-vampire speech already, when she went out with you. What makes you think she’ll listen to me this time?”

Angel nodded almost imperceptibly, accepting the rebuttal.

Giles sighed. “She hasn’t grown any less headstrong, you know.”

“Then don’t talk,” Angel said tersely. “But something needs to be done.”

“Not by you, though. This isn’t L.A.,” Giles said. “And not now. There’s a time for everything. Leave Spike to me.”

* * *

Spike was glad to get back into his customary jeans. He looked at the rumpled pile of discarded clothes disdainfully.

Spike wasn’t surprised when there was a loud knock upstairs. “Come in,” he yelled. The door was opened and footsteps approached.

“It’s me,” Giles’s voice could be heard.

“Surprise, surprise,” Spike muttered sarcastically, and buttoned up his black shirt. “Well, come on down.” He ran a comb through his freshly gelled hair, slicking it back, carefully grooming himself into big bad Spike.

The Watcher climbed down the ladder and looked around impassively, taking in the carpet, the furniture and the clutter of personal effects. “Posh,” he remarked.

“Bourbon?” Spike asked and gestured towards the bar.

“No, thank you.”

“Suit yourself.” Spike poured himself a stiff one, downed it and put the glass down. Then he turned around and studied the Watcher. Giles had his right hand in his pocket, clutching something.

“She told you about the chip then?” Spike guessed. Without waiting for an answer he took the plunge: “Let me guess, you’re here to check if the chip’s working again in this century? Sorry mate, can’t tell you. Haven’t tested it. Yet.” Spike gave the Watcher a defiant stare.

“That is not the purpose of my visit,” Giles answered stiffly.

“No? But seeing that you’re here…” Spike moved like a blur. His fist connected with the other man’s jaw. Giles stumbled backwards and crashed against the wall. He found himself pinned by the smirking vampire.

“Looky here, no migraine,” Spike said, wondering for a moment if he should have faked one. He hesitated, then he let go, smoothing the crinkled fabric of the Watcher’s coat with exaggerated care, before stepping back and giving the man some space.

“I could have told you that,” Giles said dryly, rubbing his jaw. “As it happens, the chip is in my possession.”

“Oh?” was all the vampire had to say to that.

There was an uncomfortable silence as the two Englishmen eyed each other warily.

Finally, Spike nodded. “Well then? What’s the verdict?” he asked, suppressing a flutter of apprehension.

When the Watcher didn’t answer right away, Spike nodded at the man’s pocket. “What you got there? A stake? You gonna be my executioner? Stake me, just in case?”

“Not quite. I’m here to tell you what will happen if you don’t behave yourself.”

Spike felt anger welling up in him. Something inside him objected very strongly to the word ‘behave.’ He opened his mouth, but a steely glance from the Watcher stopped him. He closed his mouth and pursed his lips.

“There comes a time when people have to choose. What side are you on, Spike? And don’t say Buffy’s, because you and I both know, she won’t live forever. We’ve been given a respite, nothing more.” Giles paused.

Spike nodded, reluctantly.

“You helped us the whole summer and you helped us get Buffy back out of the 19th Century, and for that we are more than grateful. But now that the chip is no longer modifying your behavior, I need some kind of reassurance from you that you won’t go rampaging around Sunnydale, vandalizing and murdering whenever it tickles your fancy. I’m not asking you to make a commitment for all eternity. But I’d like you to give me your word, that you’ll never give any of us a reason to have to end you. And when I say ‘us’, I mean Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Xander, Anya, Tara and myself.”

Spike laughed and shook his head. “My word? You’re asking a vampire to give you his word? What would your Council chums say to that?”

Giles waited.

“What if I don’t promise anything?” the vampire asked with a frown.

“Then you give me no choice,” Giles continued, “but to use this.” He showed Spike the taser he had kept in his pocket. “I still have that chip and I am quite certain I can find a capable surgeon who’d be willing to put it back in or kill you trying.”

Spike’s first impulse was to say something suitably defiant, like ‘over my pile of ashes’ but truth was, the thought of the chip didn’t infuriate him the way it used to. He’d been without it for more than 48 hours and hadn’t felt any different. He still loved Buffy, he still doted on the Nibblet and he hadn’t felt truly tempted to eat Harris, or anyone else. With or without the chip - it made no difference to who he was, only to what he could do and what he couldn’t. Even so…

Spike made himself a new drink and swirled the amber liquid in his glass. “It’s not that easy,” he muttered.

“I never said it would be,” the Watcher said softly.

“Still a vampire.”

“I’m well aware of that.”

Spike gulped down his bourbon for extra courage, then met Giles’s gaze squarely. “I have no soul, and no intention of getting one.”

“You have us,” Giles said.

Spike blinked. “Yeah, and a sorry bunch of wankers you are,” he snarked.

Giles just waited quietly.

“Fair enough,” Spike said. “You have my word.”

At that Giles pocketed the taser and held out his hand. It was a strangely old-fashioned gesture, but somehow Spike found it appropriate. *Why not?* As he shook the Watcher’s hand Spike could feel some of the tension drain out of the man.

“Now, what happened to my watch?” Giles asked.

“Lost it,” Spike said with a shrug, not bothering with an apology. “Brought you something else instead.”

He picked up the spoils-of-war bag, fished around in it and got out a handkerchief that was rolled into a bundle the size of two fists. He set it on the bed and peeled back the flaps of the fabric.

“Take your pick,” the vampire said, looking very satisfied with himself.

Giles studied the jewelry before him - rings with large gems, golden chains, earrings with large pearls, a diamond bracelet - but he made no move to take anything.

“Are you out of your mind, Spike? You risked changing history for a few trinkets?”

“How stupid do you think I am, Rupes?”

“I’d say that depends on the circumstances. Would you like me to mention some of those instances? A certain robot comes to mind…”

“Ease off, Giles! Don’t you know a rhetorical question when you hear it?”

“Don’t play games, Spike.”

Spike lit himself a cigarette. “The whole trip brought back some memories. Just after I was turned, Angelus and Darla were extra sour, cause their rooms had been burgled while they’d been out to see a ballet or something. Darla complained a few times how she missed her pearl necklace.”

Giles lifted a string of large, perfect pearls to the light. “This one.”

Spike was positively gloating.

“You’re saying all this used to be the property of Angelus, Darla and Drusilla?” Giles asked, wanting to be sure.

“Half-inched all the money, nicked all the baubles, lifted Angelus’s property deeds, helped myself to all his shares, drank his brandy and walked off with his complete investment portfolio,” Spike gleefully counted, lifting a finger for each evil deed. “Meaning, I cleaned him out.”

Giles’s lips twitched slightly.

“What do you plan on doing with your spoils?”

Spike shrugged. “Pay the plumber? Buffy told me money’s tight. I mean, I don’t really need it, do I? If I want something I can always nick it.”

Giles suppressed a sigh, reminding himself that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“So, you want some of this?” Spike asked and shoved the jewelry under Giles’s nose.

“I think not. But thank you.”

Spike nodded. The Watcher watched in silence while the vampire stored his treasures away.

“William, may I give you some advice?”

Spike turned around slowly. “If you must.”

“You should consider spending some of your ill-gotten gains on decent accommodation. This is no longer a fitting place for you.”

Spike cocked his eyebrow.

“I think I’d like that bourbon now, if you’d be so kind,” Giles said and walked over to Spike’s record collection. “And I think I’d like my Cream album back, thank you very much.”

***

The Watcher stayed for two drinks, then left with several records tucked under his arm, smiling cryptically. Spike settled down to wait, and true enough, not ten minutes later, the crypt door opened.

“There’s a thing called knocking,” Spike said when two stylishly booted Slayer feet made their way down the rungs of the ladder. “You should take lessons from Rupert.”

She had changed into something far more tasty than what Maeve had dressed her in. The red leather pants she’d worn at the Bronze, almost a week ago, white tank top and a jaunty ponytail. Plus there was a lively spring in her step.

“Um, sorry,” she said with that quirky little oopsy-grimace he adored so much. “Guess sometimes old habits are kinda hard to break.”

“You’re telling me,” he mumbled, wondering if he should ask her about Angel.

“So!” Buffy said with decidedly fake cheer.

“So?” Spike echoed with some trepidation.

“I—uh-- brought your coat,” she explained. “Sss. Coats. Plural.” She put the woolen coat and Spike’s duster on the bed.

“Thanks.” Spike said casually.

“I, um, well, I mean, I was kinda, you know, busy and stuff, you know, earlier, and I didn’t really get to, you know, say thank you and everything,” Buffy said haltingly.

Spike gaped, having expected something along the line of ‘Forget we ever kissed’ and ‘Don’t you dare tell my friends’ or maybe even a warmed up version of the Watcher’s recruitment speech just now.

“Shouldn’t you, like, tap into your inner gentleman and say ‘you’re welcome’ or something,” Buffy asked chirpily?

“I will, in a minute, when I’ve gotten over the shock of hearing you say thank you.”

“Hey!” Buffy said with mock indignation.

“So, how’s tall, dark and broodsome?” Spike asked, unable to rein in his burning need to know.

“Angel? Left about an hour ago.” She answered, and there was no way Spike could miss the fondness in her voice. He was therefore surprised when she plopped down on his bed.

“Make yourself at home, why don’t you.”

Buffy arranged herself, so she sat cross-legged. Spike could not recall ever having seen her so relaxed around him. She patted her flat stomach. “Did you know that I put on three pounds while I was away? Maeve must have eaten anything that didn’t move and maybe some things that did.”

Spike had no answer to that, at least none that wouldn’t get him into trouble.

“What was she like?” Buffy asked.

“Maeve?” When Buffy nodded, Spike sat down beside her, wondering what would happen if he were to kiss her. “Scared, brave, righteous and strong. You know, typical Slayer-type. Lonely, though.” Maybe he should try touching her hand first?

Before they knew it they found themselves talking.

***

London, February 1885

“And then Charles said ‘If you are studying Carolinian spells may I suggest that you ask my wife? Her knowledge of Medieval French far exceeds my own.’”

The ensuing laughter caused Maeve to smile. She listened with one ear to the good-natured chatter that always accompanied their research evenings. She took a cigarette out of a little wooden box that sat on her desk.

There was a clinking sound and a hand holding a burning lighter appeared in her field of vision. “Thank you,” she smiled and inhaled deeply.

Horatio Bateley nodded and pocketed his lighter. He leaned back in his leather-upholstered arm-chair and continued to study the Times’ obituary page.

Her smile froze when the butler quietly entered the room, and headed towards her.

“Miss McKenna, there was a gentleman at the door who requested I should give you this,” the butler said uncertainly. He held out a silver tray towards her. “But… he left no calling card… The gentleman said there was no need.”

Maeve carefully screwed the cap on her pen and put it down on her desk, next to the letter she’d been writing.

“Thank you, Trevor,” she said with a nod. After a moment of hesitation, Maeve picked up the small object that was sitting on the butler’s tray. It was a small parcel, wrapped in exquisite paper and tied with a red bow.

Maeve exchanged a glance with her Watcher. Willoughby’s face was ashen.

“What is it?” Victoria asked, full of apprehension. She put down the book she’d been studying and approached her friend.

Maeve untied the bow and removed the paper. Her hands were steady. She lifted the lid and tilted the little cardboard box so its content tumbled into her palm. She closed her fingers around the smooth polished object.

“It is time,” she said calmly, without looking at the tiny stone angel in her hand.



Part 45 – Home Sweet Home

She could almost see the sunlight through her closed lids.  But, she just wasn’t ready to open her eyes yet. Sure, technically, it was “the next day” and by the laws of nature, she should get up, get dressed, eat breakfast. But instead, she lay still, not in a leaden do-I-really-have-to-get-up kind of gloom, but reveling in the warmth and comfort of her bed. She took a slow deep breath, enjoying the sensation of the sun kissed morning air passing through her nose and filling her lungs.  If anyone were watching, they’d notice a hint of a smile playing upon her face.

*I love the smell of my room in the morning,* she thought in sudden revelation.

She made a conscious decision to open her eyes. At first, letting only a thin line of light filter through her lashes. Bright, but not as harsh as she remembered it. Then, a little more, until finally she found herself looking contemplatively at a small crack on the ceiling above her bed.

A true smile came to the fore. *Home.*

In an energetic moment of spontaneity, Buffy leapt off the bed and approached her dresser, where she could inspect her friends’ smiling faces. She traced the photographs with her fingers, realizing that the resentment she’d felt toward them was gone. Well, not entirely gone, but mostly. *It’s good to be back,* she thought, turning the sentiment over in her head and finding, to her surprise, that it was true. *With my friends.* She made her way to her closet and opened it with a flourish. *And Vera Wang…Or at least a good knock-off.*

*Oh brave new world that has hot showers in it. And A/C, a nice house, boots! Lots of boots! And cookie-dough-fudge-mint-chip ice cream!*

She was really getting into this. She fluttered around her room touching things. Appreciating them in a way she hadn’t in months.

*And Revlon Flesh colored lipstick! And designer sunglasses! And kisses! And Spike!*

Suddenly, in her head, she heard the sound effect of tires screeching to a halt.

“Spike,” she mumbled to herself. She was toying with the cross necklace she had hanging on her bedpost, remembering how Spike’s hand had oh-so-accidentally brushed hers last night. Remembering how he’d kissed her when they were still in the past. She wistfully touched her hand to her lips. The memory made her heart race and her stomach flutter in a way that was both scary and exhilarating.

“Buffy! You’re awake!” Dawn bounced through the door she’d just opened. “I thought I heard you. Wanna come down for breakfast. Willow and Tara made pancakes!”

“Made pancakes? Like on the stove? Or MADE pancakes, as in abracadabra and poof?” Buffy asked, a whiff of charred something catching her attention. She wrinkled her nose. “Never mind.”

“They shouldn’t make out while cooking,” Dawn said and headed for the stairs, leaving her sister to get dressed. “I better go down and keep an eye on those too. Don’t want them to burn down the house or anything.”

***

Breakfast was good.  No, better than good---breakfast was pretty darn incredible.  Pancakes tasted better then she ever remembered them: fluffy and warm, drenched in butter and syrup.  Absolutely delicious.  She was smiling inanely at everyone---her sister, her friends, at Xander and Anya, who had arrived just before Buffy got downstairs, at Willow and Tara.  They all grinned at her in return.  Even Giles was as close as he ever came to something as unstuffy as grinning.  It was a whole big grinningpalooza.

“You have no idea how great it is to be back,” Buffy said. And meant it. “I mean, if I had to deal with one more person offering me fried lamb chops for breakfast, I think I might have staked myself.” She shoveled another forkful into her mouth.

Dawn giggled, “Ew!”

“I think I should be offended,” Giles interjected, sipping his tea to hide his smile.

“Speaking of offensive English things, shouldn’t Spike be here?” Xander wondered aloud and then marveled at his own words.

Everybody glanced at the back door, half expecting a smoking vampire to dash in under his blanket.

Buffy bit her lip.

For a brief moment, Xander was struck by a sudden disconcerting thought. What if Buffy staked him, now that he’s all chip-free?* It was weird, worrying if Buffy had staked Spike, as opposed to why she hadn’t.  But that was before time-traveling fun and Xander couldn’t really hang on to his belief that a chipless Spike would turn on them faster than he could say ‘Saschatawan”  Which, he supposed, wasn’t very fast.

“Yea, where is he?” Dawn asked. “He just disappeared last night.”

Buffy shrugged and pretended the pancakes on her plate required her full attention. “He… uh… had things to take care of, I guess. Although, he said he’d come over tonight.”

“Really?  Cool.  When didja talk to him?” Dawn wanted to know.

“Last night, when I was…patrolling. Actually, he said we should all meet here at nine. See? Message passed on,” Buffy said, blushing at the memory of the hand-holding and the awkward talk last night.

“Why? What happens at nine?” Anya wondered out loud.

+++

When Xander and Anya arrived at Revello Drive again, shortly before nine, the first thing they noticed were wisps of blue smoke drifting up from the front yard. Leaning against his customary tree, smoking, Spike was looking his normal self again: hair plastered back and dressed in his usual black clothes and his obligatory duster. The only things out of place were the two six-packs of Sam Adams at his feet - unusual because, in Xander’s eyes, Spike was the biggest mooch he’d ever met.

“Hey Spike,” Xander greeted him. Instead of going right inside, the couple hesitated, conferred and then approached the vampire warily.

“Harris. Anya,” Spike nodded, sounding almost cordial, but then a suggestive leer formed on his lips. “You two look like you didn’t get much sleep last night. Worn out are we?”

“Wouldn’t you just like to know,” Xander smirked back. “How’s the-” he gestured at Spike’s chest. “You did get shot, right?”

“Electrocuted too,” Spike pointed out, not one to miss an opportunity to brag about his injuries in a suitably manly fashion. “Got a friend that dug the bullet out,” he continued with a no-big-deal gesture, although it had hurt like hell.

Xander nodded. “Why aren’t you inside?”

“Don’t think the no-smoking ban’s been lifted. Besides, I--”

“Thank you for saving my Xander,” Anya blurted out, her tasteful and well-rehearsed thank-you speech suddenly forgotten. She wondered if it might be inappropriate to hug the vampire. She certainly felt like pulling him, the entire world, everything - but mostly Xander - into a big bear hug.

Spike hurriedly dropped his cigarette and ground it out underneath his boot, forestalling grand gestures of gratitude that might be forthcoming. “’S nothing,” he muttered. “Keep my promises, don’t I?”

“If there’s anything I can do to repay-“ Anya pressed, still bubbling with relief.

“How ‘bout a seat far away from Harris’s folks when you guys tie the knot.” He picked up his beer and headed for the porch. “Come on, let’s go inside.”

He was stopped in his tracks by a high pitched squeal. “Xander! You told him?” Anya exclaimed. “You told Spike about our engagement?”

“Yeah. Why, was that wrong?” Xander asked nervously, ready to do a quick back-pedal.

“Of course not, you dolt,” she shrieked and hung around his neck, kissing him with abandon.

 “Talked about it all the time, Harris did,” Spike lied smoothly. “Wedding here, wedding there. Never shut his gob for a single minute.”

If looks could stake… Even in his beleaguered state Xander managed a good glare at the smirking vampire, while stoically wrapping his arms around Anya in an attempt to steady her over-giddy embrace. Evidently the emotional tsunami had to be ridden out until its energy was spent.

‘Evil.’ Spike mouthed silently and with a mischievous grin continued for Anya’s ears: “Even asked me to be his best man, he did.”

“Oh?” Anya withdrew her head to look at her flustered fiancé. “Didn’t you say you were going to ask Willow to stand in for all the male DVD-watching-and beer-drinking friends you never really had?”

“Did I say that?” Xander said, embarrassed.

“You certainly did,” Anya told him, nodding sagely, still not entirely on firm ground when required to recognize a rhetorical question.

“Beer? I can chug it down with the best of them,” Spike volunteered. “If that’s what’s required.”

“What’s required is looking good in our wedding photographs,” Anya corrected him sternly. She appraised Spike like a butcher taxes cattle, then nodded decisively. “Yes, I’m sure Spike will look better in a tuxedo than Willow.”

“Tuxedo?”

Xander affected a sigh.

“I’m not wearing a bleedin’ tuxedo.”

* * *

It was Tara who opened the door, smiling in that shy but welcoming way of hers. “Buffy and Willow are still upstairs,” she told them and stepped back invitingly. “But I’m sure they’ll be down any minute now.”

Xander and Anya walked inside without much ado and headed for the living room to greet Giles. Spike hesitated, and when he finally stepped over the threshold, it was with strange deliberation.

“Spike?” Tara prompted.

“’S just… It’s three years since the last time I was in here like this,” Spike blurted out. “I mean, without the chip.”

Tara had never heard that particular story and silently resolved to ask Willow about it. Not one for great speeches, she nervously twirled a strand of hair between her fingers. “Spike, I just wanted to tell you… I’m glad you accepted Mr. Giles’s… our offer. If you ever need someone to, you know, just talk…” Tara smiled lopsidedly. “Are you hungry? Cause there’s fresh blood in the fridge.”

“Thanks, ducks,” Spike said, feeling strangely touched. “Maybe later. Lemme just go put these away.” He gestured at the beer, and made a hasty beeline for the kitchen, before he could make a fool out of himself.

In the living room, Xander soon excused himself and followed Spike into the kitchen, just as Anya asked Giles: “Why can’t anyone tell us what’s going on?”

“Can I ask you something?”  Xander asked, when he stepped into the kitchen.

“What is it?” Spike mumbled almost unintelligibly, while chewing on a cold slice of pizza. He was rummaging around in the fridge and rearranging the groceries to make room for the beer.

“Something Charles said to me, in the past, got me thinking. Spike, has Buffy ever talked to you about what happened when she died? Where she went?”

The way Spike suddenly stilled, the 6-pack frozen halfway to the shelf, answered that particular question.

“So it’s true?”

Spike tossed the half eaten piece of pizza back into its box, closed the fridge and slowly turned around, his face blank. “What is?”

“She didn’t go to hell? She went-up there?” Xander couldn’t even bring himself to say the other h-word. “And we dragged her out of there?”

Spike shrugged and looked away.

Xander pressed on. “So, what’d she do? Come right out and tell you?”

“Don’t,” Spike tried to end the conversation.

“Come on! I need to know. I mean, did we?”

Spike squirmed. “She never wanted you to find out,” he admitted.

“Why not?” Willow’s voice sounded from the door. Her face was pale. All the exhilaration she’d felt at getting Buffy back again suddenly tasted like ashes in her mouth.

“Oh god,” was all Xander could say. He clapped his hand over his mouth in shock. Until now he hadn’t really believed it, not really, not deep down where it counted. “Oh god,” he stammered again.

Spike was saved from having to answer by the chime of the doorbell.

“That would be tonight’s guest,” Giles could be heard and moments later he was opening the front door.

“Mr. Giles. Good evening,” the newcomer said.

“Mr. Willoughby, I’m glad you could make it. Please, do come in. We’ve been expecting you.”

* * *

“So, Miss Summers-”

“Buffy. I mean, your great-- I dunno, great-great grandfather? Whatever. He and I were friends, so it feels kinda weird if you call me that. Just call me Buffy.”

“Very well then, Buffy. So, you’re telling me that you switched bodies with a girl in the past and then wrote the letter which I delivered to Mr. Giles here, a few days ago?” Charlie Willoughby asked. “Frankly, it sounds like an episode of Quantum Leap.” But then his eyes darted nervously at Mr. Spike, who’d been staring at him with unsettling intensity throughout, silent but fidgety. Reminded of the man’s lack of a reflection and superhuman strength, Charlie’s skepticism collapsed like a house of cards. “But I believe you. Actually, my grandfather used to tell me stories… Did you really meet my great-great-grandfather?”

“Yup,” Buffy said. “A real cutie. I mean, not that I, you know, took notice or anything.”

“Ballsy kid,” Spike suddenly said. “Tried to kill me, not that I blame him.”

“Yeah, I kind of wonder what became of him,” Xander babbled. He was slowly recovering from the shock of hearing Spike validate what Charles Willoughby the Victorian had told him about Buffy. Not so with Willow. She was pale and unusually quiet, which her friends attributed to the strain of yesterday’s spell-casting. Only Tara seemed to sense that something was the matter and stayed at her side.

“I want to know what happened to Maeve!” Anya declared eagerly. “Does it even say in the journals? Giles?”

Willow said nothing. She’d been quiet throughout Buffy’s (slightly edited) account of her time in the past.

“I was rather hoping Mr. Willoughby might shed some light on those questions. If you please?”

Charlie picked up his suitcase and took out a little bundle. “I have here,” he said, almost reverently, “letters that have been in the possession of my family for almost 120 years. Passed on through five generations, their purpose always something of a family mystery.” He cut the string that held them together.

“Miss Summers, Mr. Giles, Miss Jenkins, ” he handed each of them a sealed envelope. “And Mr. Spike, here’s yours.”

“Just Spike.” He took the thick envelope and fingered the paper, but made no move to open it yet.

Anya, who didn’t get letters any more often than Spike did, knew no such restraints. She tore the envelope open with a happy squeal, quickly scanned the letter and then waved it possessively. “Maeve wrote me a letter,” she said happily.

“What did she say?” Dawn asked.

“I believe this letter here is for general consumption,” Giles interjected hastily, waving his own missive about. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Maeve’s communication to Anya were of a more… private nature. Here, let me read this one out loud. It’s meant for all of us.” He adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat:

My dear friends,

I hope I am allowed to call you my friends, even though I spent less than a week in your midst. I would like you to know that I have often thought of you and the many things I’ve learned from you. For a while it was like living in an enchanted kingdom, and no matter how short my stay was, I was able to hold on to some of the magic even after my return.

I have friends now, good friends who are dear to my heart and who have often saved me from peril. Needless to say, the Council does not approve, but it’s the mission that counts, not the Council.

You are all in my heart

Your friend

Maeve McKenna

“It’s kind of creepy knowing that she’s been dead for over a century, isn’t it?” Anya said into the silence.

“Anya!” Xander snapped at her bluntness.

“What? It’s true.” Her lower lip wobbled slightly, the way it had the day when Mrs. Summers had died. “Yesterday she was here and today she’s dead and I know it happened more than a hundred years ago. I wish…” she stopped herself, looking disgusted, then threw her hands in the air. “Well it sucks!”

Xander slung his arm around her waist. “Yea, it does.”

“Totally. It was weird, with her being in Buffy’s body and all, but I miss her. I would have liked to meet the real her,” Dawn said wistfully.

“Dawnie, I think we all would have liked that,” Tara agreed.

“She didn’t belong here, though.” Giles said, polishing his glasses with abandon. “It’s all for the best.”

“I guess the body swap was a bit like a vacation,” Willow said haltingly. “You know, like an excursion or field trip, all educational. You go and find out stuff but in the end you’re just glad to be back home, no matter how interesting the trip is.”

“A vacation? You call fighting Angelus and that black-eyed Watcher a vacation?” Buffy asked, dryly. “Okay, maybe it was. A little. I got to see England - albeit a stuffy and totally outdated version. Yay! Met interesting people…” She glanced at Spike and found him watching her, looking totally smitten. He snapped out of his reverie and quickly composed his features into a more cocky expression, but he didn’t look away. Just arched his brow, causing the Slayer’s heart to beat faster.

Buffy smiled faintly. While her friends continued to talk about Maeve, she tore open the envelope and began to read.

Dear Buffy,

As you can see, you are not the only one who is able to send letters through time. All I had to do was to leave instructions that mine should get delivered a few days after the first. I’m writing to you because it occurred to me that you might like to know what happened here, after you left.

I am still true to our calling, but I am no longer alone. Charles, George and Mr. Crawford’s sister Victoria have been at my side, lending me their friendship, understanding and occasionally a hand. They have shared my burden willingly, not because they were chosen by some inexplicable fate, but because they chose me as a friend, just like your friends chose you. I am grateful that I did not have to go through this alone, like so many other Slayers before us.

George is studying Theology and will become a clergyman. With some people, the confrontation with evil undermines their faith, with others the opposite is true. I am certain he will make a fine priest.

Charles has been asked to join the Council. I believe he will accept, if only to spark change from within.

One day after your departure, following the unexpected and brutal murder of his son Richard, Director Hartford suffered a second stroke from which he never recovered. He remained paralyzed and mute for several months until one night he slipped quietly away, taking his secrets - and ours - with him to his grave.

Director Bateley never fully regained his voice. But he still works for the Council. He often visits on some pretext to see Elisabeth. She calls him “Uncle Horatio”.

Who is Elisabeth, you ask. She is one of the infants you saved, when you fought against Angelus. Edward adopted her. You will be pleased to know that baby Elizabeth has grown into a strong and willful five-year-old. Only two days ago she announced her intention to become a police officer and was greatly disappointed when she was told that women are not allowed to join the police. She then set about to cut off all her lovely curls to pass herself off as a boy but was stopped in time by the maid. Needless to say, we all dote on her.

As for the Council, well, they tried to relieve Edward from his duties but thanks to Director Bateley’s support and my steadfast refusal to accept a new Watcher, the Council relented. I do not expect their journals to speak kindly of me, when I am gone. I believe the words ‘scandalous conduct’ will be used. To use one of your metaphors: Colour me amused.

One of the deepest regrets of my life is that you and I did not get the chance to get to know each other, but ‘walking a mile in your shoes’ and finding the footprints you have left here, in my time, makes me feel like we are close friends.

Maeve McKenna

Buffy lowered her letter, her face guarded, giving nothing away.

Spike had fully intended to open his envelope in private, once he was back in his crypt, but now impatience and curiosity got the better of him. His parcel consisted of a single folded piece of stationary and another thick envelope. His letter was much shorter. It simply read:

Dear Spike,

Thank you for teaching me how to dance.

I thought you might like to have these.

In love and friendship,

Maeve

When he opened the envelope a handful of faded photographs slid into his hand, the topmost picture been taken only months before his death. It showed his mother sitting in a high-backed chair like Queen Victoria herself, the old family dog lying at her feet, with William and Victoria standing behind her in their Sunday best. In those days one wasn’t supposed to smile in family pictures, posterity being too serious a matter for levity, but the picture exuded a tangible domestic happiness.

He shuffled it to the bottom of the pile. The next picture showed Victoria and Charles Willoughby on their wedding day, both looking incredibly young and radiantly happy. Spike scanned the rest of the pictures quickly and a genuine smile slipped past his guard. Then he carefully returned them to the envelope. However, when he looked up he found the humans watching him. For a second he was embarrassed, but then he affected a scowl and gave in to their openly curious faces.

“Pictures,” he found himself explaining. “Maeve, she sent me photos. Of my Mum and my sis.” He hesitated, but since his past wasn’t exactly a secret anymore he shrugged and added: “ Wanna have a look?”

Buffy remained seated on the counter, looking thoughtful, still holding her letter. But the others - Charlie included - crowded around Spike as he passed the photographs around. Everyone was talking at the same time.

“You had a Mom?” - “Oh, your sister looks just like you, except for the fact that she’s a girl, of course, and really pretty. Um, I mean, not that you’re ugly or anything, but you’re a guy, and, you know… gay. I mean, I am. Um, shutting up now.” - “She sent you pictures of your Mom?” -“Look at that dress!” - “Is that you? With those glasses?” - “I think he looks kinda cute…” *Dawn, of course.* - “What was her name?” - “She’s pretty.” - “They…they look like a nice family, Spike, thank you.” - “Does that mean we’re related?”

Spike answered their questions. But he kept glancing at Buffy. She looked at her letter again and read the postscript.

I was told you developed a certain interest for Mr. Crawford while you were here. I was going to send you his picture, but decided against it. I do not think you will need it. It is not wise to dwell on the past. And we Slayers, who have so little time on earth, have every reason to seize the day.

Buffy lowered the letter. Spike was studying her intently, his head slightly tilted. She had seen William hold his head just so. She smiled, slid down the counter and walked over to join her friends.

THE END

(but wait! There will be an epilogue!)



Many thanks to LadyCat and Mikelesq who beta’d this and provided suggestions and encouragement.



Epilogue

Four months later

“Have you ever considered not celebrating your birthday?” Spike asked into the curve of Buffy’s neck, basking in her heat and scent. “Seeing how we ended up with wall-to-wall vomiting?” He was lying on his side, head propped up on one hand, the other hand resting on Buffy’s bare waist, fingers tracing idle patterns on her skin. He felt as snug as a bug in a rug, spooning her like that.

“Nuh, this was a good one,” Buffy said cheerfully, leaning against him and pushing her feet deeper under her flowery covers. “Nobody got killed, cut, drugged or woke up evil. Okay, we could have done without the whole food poisoning thing, but hey, that tea Tara brewed took care of that. Plus, I got to see your friend Clem beat Anya at Monopoly. Trust me, it was a great party. Better than great.”

Spike nibbled on the enticing shoulder before him, scraping blunt teeth lightly over soft skin that shimmered golden in the light of twenty-one burning candles. “Party isn’t over yet,” he murmured, his voice sultry. He rocked his hips lightly.

“Don’t you ever get enough?” she asked, but there was laughter in her voice.

“What can I say? ‘S part of my sinister vampire charm,” he quipped, but then he grew earnest. “I’ll never get enough of you. Never.”

“How do you know?” Buffy asked, matching his seriousness. She turned around until they were lying face to face. “You fell out of love with Drusilla. After a hundred years. Not that I’m complaining or anything. And Cecily. You loved her.”

“I did,” Spike agreed.

“And?”

He leaned forward to kiss the tip of her nose. “Love you more.”

“Why?” she asked. “I mean, how do you know?” It wasn’t that she doubted his words, but there were times when she simply didn’t get it; she’d never asked for this power over him. . For a long time she’d thought he only loved her because she was unattainable or because she beat him up a lot. Some twisted vampire thing that had nothing to do with real human love. And now? She was attainable and no longer beat him up – well sometimes she did, but only during training – and yet, he was still here, as annoying, vulgar and full of it as ever. Well mostly. When he wasn’t the most sentimental and romantic guy under the sun… er, moon.

“I just do.” Spike reached out and brushed a wayward curl out of her face, managing to look smug and smitten at the same time. “You know, Xander asked me the very same thing.”

“He did, did he? And when did you two get close enough to have such a personal moment?” She caught his hand and threaded her fingers through his.

“120 years ago.”

“What did you tell him?” Buffy asked, genuinely curious. She’d always marveled at how quickly Xander had come to accept un-chipped Spike in their midst and later in Buffy’s arms, jibes notwithstanding.

“See, I never got to answer him, cause those stupid Watcher gits turned up. Truth is, I couldn’t have answered him even if I’d wanted to.”

“Oh?”

“Got me thinking, though. Now, promise me you won’t laugh.”

“Nope.”

He grimaced. “Minx.”

“Come on, Spike. Spill.”

“See, when I was mortal and in love with Cecily it was all very romantic and everything, but if she’d condescended to notice me I wouldn’t have had a buggerin’ clue what to do with her. You know, the whole pure love deal has its drawbacks.” He touched a languid finger to her lips, then trailed it down her chin and throat, and lower still, causing her breath to hitch.

“And Dru?”

“Brilliant sex,” he answered promptly. “Loved her too, but completely lacking in the ‘pure’ department. Not that I missed that. Cause, you know—“

“Evil,” she finished the sentence for him, her mouth twitching slightly.

“Exactly.” He grinned, but then he grew serious. “Don’t get me wrong, Buffy, I know I still am. Evil. Sometimes. It’s not something you can turn on and off from one day to the next.”

“You’re doing fine,” Buffy assured him, meaning it.

“That’s cause of you. And your stupid friends. You’re all insane, you know, trusting me.”

“They’re your friends too, and yup, big with the insanity.”

That remark elicited a smile half incredulous, half besotted and all William. Buffy grabbed his neck and pulled him into a sizzling kiss.

She pulled her head back and looked into his dark blue eyes. “You haven’t answered my question, though. Why, Spike? Why me?”

“How many women do you know who can whip an evil creature like me into an upstanding white hat and be a fantastic lay at the same time? I’d be a fool not to love you.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?”

“What can I say,” Spike said, grinning wickedly, sliding his hand between her thighs. “I’m a bloody awful poet. What did you expect?”

They sank into each other’s arms, oblivious to the three hooded figures who floated away, unseen, unheard, and very satisfied with their work.

THE END



Authors’ Note: We would like to thank all our readers who diligently sent feedback to spur us on, especially those who pestered us for updates. Sorry it took us so long.

Special thanks go (in no particular order) to Liz, Mikelesq, Ladycat, Kimi, Laura, Nmissi, Mr. Estepheia and many more, who beta’d or just had an open ear (or Instant Messenger window).

We will send this off to be beta’d once more, and then I will convert it into an ebook, so people can read it on their PALM pilot. I hope to have a downloadable file in a few weeks time. It will be available at my site (see my profile).

Thank you for your patience and your continued support.

Marcee & Estepheia