Magic Box, Sunnydale

"I'm just saying, how do we know that was really Joyce? Cause Spike, as a champion, it just makes the kind of sense that's not. You know? That chip's not going to last forever and once it goes, it's bye bye Mr Nice Vamp and hello to the bloody torture." Xander had been saying variations on the same theme to Anya since Joyce's appearance the night before.

Anya's patience had frayed considerably. "No one knows what the future holds, Xander. Spike could go on a murderous killing spree or he could fight his nature to remain the Powers' champion. It's called free will. Something all sentient beings have. But, by encouraging him to do the right thing, we can help him choose to continue being good when the chip inevitably fails, thereby preventing our own horrible deaths." It was clear that Anya could not understand why Xander did not comprehend this most basic logic.

Wesley had been reading through books, researching any references of vampires tapped by the Powers That Be without success. He had tried to tune out Xander's anti-vampire rant but now felt compelled to speak up.

"Xander, Anya makes a very good point. If you are so sure that Spike will eventually 'slip his leash', being aggressive to him now is not a smart idea." Wesley held back a grin as Xander paled. "However, I happen to believe this change in him is a sign of greater things to come. I don't believe Spike's recent helpful actions can be attributed solely to the government behavioral chip, but, of course, we can't know for sure until the chip stops working. For now, I suggest we proceed with Anya's suggestion of providing support to Spike, rather than hostility."

Before Xander could answer, Willow, Tara and Dawn entered the shop. Willow was in the middle of trying, once again, to make the other two understand her viewpoint. "I just don't think it's a smart idea to be all with the trusting of Spike, that's all. You can't tell me after everything we've seen with vampires in this town, hello Angel versus Angelus, that the soul isn't important. It just doesn't make sense that Spike can be some warrior for good and not have a soul!"

Xander slapped both hands down on the counter as he heard this and said, "Thank you! Finally, a voice of reason. I've been trying to explain all this to Anya and Wes all afternoon!"

Before the debate could get underway, yet again, Wesley interrupted with, "I believe everyone's opinion on the subject is well understood at this point. In any case, I don't foresee any of us being persuaded to change our minds barring further developments. Perhaps, we can all shelve our arguments until additional information is available."

"Arguments? There's arguments now?" Buffy and Spike entered the shop at that moment and had heard only the last bit of the conversation.

"Nothing worth rehashing right at this moment. Good evening Buffy, Spike. How are you both doing today?" Wesley changed the subject, effectively squashing the previous discussion.

"Good," Buffy replied. "We're just getting ready to head out on patrol. Will, Tara, can you guys make sure Dawn gets home at a decent hour?"

"Sure, Buffy. We'll even make sure she gets her homework done," said Tara.

"No fair!" Dawn whined. "It's Friday. I have all weekend before I have to get it done."

"But, if you do it tonight, you have the weekend to relax. Maybe if things are quiet again tonight on patrol, we could go to the Bronze for a while tomorrow night. You can even invite Janice if you want." It appeared that Buffy wasn't above a little bribery to get what she wanted out of Dawn, and that she realized she needed to spend some more quality time with her teenage sister. Wesley thought that perhaps seeing her mother the previous night had reminded Buffy of how hard the past year had been on Dawn.

"Really? That would be so great! The Bronze on a Saturday night!" Dawn squealed.

"Only if your homework gets done tonight, otherwise you are housebound tomorrow night." Buffy answered.

"Not a problem, consider it done!" Dawn flounced over to the corner where she had stowed her school bag and flopped it none too gently on the research table. "I bet I can have it done even before Tara and Willow are ready to leave. It's only a little history and geometry."

"On that note, Spike and I are off. We did the Eastside cemeteries yesterday, so I guess we'll start on the Westside tonight. Wish us luck!"

A chorus of "good lucks" and "be safes" followed them out the door.

They had only been gone a couple minutes when Anya's eyes rolled back in her head and she gripped the counter tightly. It was clear she was in the midst of a vision. As soon as it was clear it had ended, Wesley put his arm around her and led her gently over to a chair.

"The vision?" Wesley prompted.

"Spike and Buffy need to get over to the Natural History Museum," she said. "There's going to be a robbery that leaves a security guard encased in ice. I don't know if he'll be able to survive it if they don't get there in time."

"Does either of them have a mobile phone we can contact them on?" Wesley asked.

"No," Dawn answered. "I told Buffy she needed to get one but she said they're just too expensive."

"Very well, I'll just have to try and catch up to them. At least we know where they planned to patrol tonight." Wesley grabbed his coat and scribbled something on a slip of paper he then handed to Anya. "This is my mobile number, in case I miss them, please call me." He hurried out the door in the direction Spike and Buffy had taken just minutes before.

Wesley caught up to the blonde super couple just before they had entered their first Cemetery of the night. After quickly bringing them up to speed with Anya's vision, it was agreed that the three of them would proceed immediately to the museum to see what they could find.

Sunnydale Natural History Museum

They found the front door to the museum was locked and apparently intact.

"Better check around the back. If anything's going on here, that'll be where we'll find them," Spike announced.

As they made their way to the back of the building, Buffy could hear a commotion. She entered first and saw three familiar looking men holding a strange looking gun on the security guard. Without thinking twice, she executed a perfect spin kick that knocked the gun out of the way of the guard. Unfortunately, the gun went off just as Spike stepped up to help her. He ended up catching a glancing blow from the gun, leaving one arm and part of one leg encased in ice.

In the confusion, one of the three men grabbed a large diamond from the display in the middle of the room, and all three made a break for the door. Spike knocked his frozen arm against the wall and stomped his frozen leg forcefully on the marble floor. The ice on both his arm and leg shattered, leaving him free to chase after the three thieves. Buffy and Wesley followed quickly behind him.

It didn't take them long to catch up with the men. They were standing by a black van, waiting for one of them to find the right key to unlock it so they could make their escape. Buffy knocked the heads of the taller two together, rendering them both unconscious. The third, shorter man immediately fell to his knees begging for mercy.

"Jonathan?" Buffy asked. "What are you doing here with these guys? Haven't you learned your lesson yet?"

"It was all Warren's idea!" Jonathan cried. "I just went along with it."

"Well, it looks like you're going to get your chance to try that excuse with the proper authorities," Wesley announced, just as Sunnydale's finest arrived on the scene.

The security guard backed up their story of passing by, finding the back door open and foiling the robbery. Locating the missing diamond in Warren's pocket the police had all they needed to arrest the three for robbery, though they didn't know what to do with the strange looking weapon the trio had been found carrying. With confused, but genuine gratitude, the police took statements from Buffy, Spike and Wesley, before letting them return to their evening.

Hyperion Hotel, Los Angeles

"I just don't see what the big deal is here, Angel. Maybe Cordy won't be getting visions to direct us right to people that need our help, but that doesn't mean we can't still go out every night a do our thing, thinning the vamp and demon herd, making the city a little safer one vamp at a time. What's the big deal if these PTB are pissed at you? They can't stop you from doing what we been doing."

Gunn was getting a little tired of his boss' obsession with losing some status that never really seemed to make that big a difference in his eyes. If anyone was going to bitch about things, he'd have thought it would be Cordy. But, apparently, those visions were causing her a whole boatload of hurt she hadn't been up front with them about. She'd been perfectly fine with giving up the visions as long as it meant the crippling pain went with them.

Angel obviously had been talking while Gunn's mind had been on other things, because Gunn came back into the conversation halfway through a sentence.

"…it was the Powers making me their champion that was responsible for setting me on the path to redemption. Once I've earned my redemption, they'll have to secure my soul and I'll be able to be with Buffy again. You have no idea how much both of us have suffered having to be apart all this time, but the temptation of being together was just too much for either of us. I can't believe the Powers would punish us both like this. It has to be some sort of trick, and after talking to Willow, I know exactly who's behind it."

"Right, so this Spike guy has somehow arranged to have your liaison to the PTB tell you that you aren't their champion anymore, then got someone who looks like the Slayer's mother to tell her Spike is the new champion. And he did all this in the few weeks since the Slayer came back from the dead, without anyone else catching on?" Gunn was beyond skeptical that anyone could have pulled something like this off, let alone the vamp Angel described as a screwup and an idiot.

"Gunn's right Angel. The Spike we know would never have been able to pull this off," Cordelia volunteered. "Have you tried singing for Lorne? Maybe he can give you some advice or tell you just what's really going on with all this."

"There's no time for that. I have to get to Sunnydale before Spike can create even more chaos. I'm leaving in ten minutes; is either of you coming with me?"

"Nah, man. If you're gone, someone's gotta keep the vamp population down," Gunn said.

"You can forget me too. I think you're going on a wild goose chase and I have no intention of ever going back to Sunnydale, for any reason. Besides, I have no intention of reliving the angstathon that is your relationship with Buffy." Cordelia snapped.

"Fine. I'll go on my own, then. I can be in Sunnydale in two hours if traffic goes my way. I doubt it'll take long to straighten out my idiot grandchilde and get things back to the way they're supposed to be." Angel's coat billowed around him as he turned quickly on his heel and stormed out the door to his car.