Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all characters belonging to the show are in no way my creation, and in no way do I make money for what I currently write (which sucks)

Author's Notes:
Thanks to DreamsofSpike, who makes my slave fics presentable instead of just perverted.
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Chapter 4: Missing Something

Buffy stormed back into the house with all the deadly force of a small hurricane. Everyone but Anya and Durrak had already vacated the living room, needing to somehow distance themselves from the horrors they had seen. When the green-skinned demon spotted the Slayer, he immediately turned to greet her.

Before he could manage it, Buffy had him by the shoulder, and had shoved him violently up against the wall.

"What are you doing?" Anya asked in alarm, finally bothering to stand.

"How did you do it?" Buffy demanded of the demon she had pinned to the wall, clear menace in her eyes.

"How did I do…?" Durrak raised an eyebrow ridge as he let his voice trail off, shaking his head slightly, at a loss.

"You got all that footage…holding cells, rape, training, torture…how'd you get all that without someone noticing you sneaking around?" the Slayer demanded suspiciously.

The Thorshosh Demon gave a put-upon sigh as he realized the meaning of her question. "I have no need to 'sneak around'," he informed her with a slightly offended note to his voice. "I am employed at the brothel."

The Slayer gritted her teeth hard, willing herself not to launch a full-out interrogation of the demon who had so far been only helpful – as far as she knew. "Doing what?" she asked him, her voice still hard, though somewhat calmer.

"I'm a bookkeeper. I keep records of the slaves…who captures and sells them to the brothel, evaluations on how much they're worth, their past histories…I have access to whatever I choose." He paused before adding in mild exasperation, "Do you really think I would come to you for aid in stopping the slave trade if I did not have some means of helping you to do it?"

Anger still seething under the surface, but now firmly under her control, Buffy finally released him. She stepped back, giving him enough space to straighten himself up. "And what exactly do you have to offer in the way of helping us?"

"Living quarters at the main offices of the brothel, where you can be hidden while in preparation for your mission…as well as complete knowledge of the entire brothel, including hidden corridors that not even most of the owners know about." Durrak replied without hesitation.

Buffy considered for a moment before she nodded, her jaw set in determination. "I really do hope you're with us all the way, on this, Durrak," she warned him quietly. "Because we'll be leaving very soon.

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In the kitchen, Tara dabbed at her eyes with the paper towel Willow had just handed her. They were sitting close together at the island in the center of the room. Tara was still hunched over, appearing to be just on the edge of recovery from the shock of the video tape. Willow had been rubbing her back soothingly, until just a few moments ago, when the shock had worn off enough to allow the memory of their very real estrangement to surface in her mind again.

Fortunately, Tara did not seem bothered by the physical comfort she had instinctively offered. "It's just – it was so – I-Im s-sorry, I couldn't just watch that and – Willow, they were in so much pain…"

"I know, sweetie," Willow shook her head in a gesture of understanding. "Don't ever be sorry for reacting that way. You've got a gentle heart, and there's no way that it couldn't bleed after seeing something like that. That's the reason why I l-" her eyes widened as she realized what she had almost let slip, and she quickly forced herself to stop talking.

Tara looked up from the counter, meeting the redhead's gaze for the first time that night. She studied the tears that the other girl hadn't even realized she had shed. Reaching out, Tara brushed them away with her thumb. "You've got a kind heart too, Willow."

Willow blanched, looking down. She enjoyed Tara's touch, any excuse to have it…but she didn't want the reason to be a lie. "Not so much anymore, I don't think…and it kind of worries me…sometimes, I'm afraid I'll lose that part of myself completely…"

"It's still there," Tara whispered reassuringly. "You might not see it, but I do. You just have to let it out again."

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Her fingers itched to pick up the phone. Buffy had stood simply staring at it for three minutes, before she had taken it with her into the dining room and stared at it for another ten. Finally, she had made her decision, looked up the number, and forced herself to dial it.

"Angel Investigations," the familiar voice answered.

"Angel…"

"Buffy?" he asked in a voice of soft surprise.

"Yeah, um…" she swallowed hard.

"What's wrong? Has something happened?"

"Yeah." Her laugh was forced and strained. "A lot's happened – and I don't know what –I – I'm not ready for…"

"Do you need me to come down to Sunnydale?" There was concern, and yet, surprisingly, a bit of reluctance in his voice.

"No – I just – there's something that you should know. I may need some advice, soon, too – a lot of advice, actually."

"Tell me," he spoke gently.

"What was it like to get your soul?" she asked him a bit breathlessly, before she could stop herself. "You mentioned that it was hard – painful…but beyond that, what was it like for you?"

He was silent for a moment before asking cautiously, "Why do you ask?"

"Angel…something's happened…someone…I don't even know how to explain it to you. But I don't think you're the only vampire with a soul, anymore."

The pause was considerably longer this time. Finally, Angel asked in a cautiously emotionless voice, "How?"

"Someone's been capturing vampires…ensouling them, selling them as slaves. We're going to help them, set them free, but – after that, I don't know what to do." She tried to keep the tears from her voice. "What if they're…?"

"Broken?"

"Yeah, to say the least…"

"Are you sure you don't need me there? I could find a way…"

"No." Buffy suddenly thought of Spike, whom she had planned to take with her. "No, I've got help. We can take care of it. I just…I thought you should know."

"Thank you," he still sounded beyond stunned. "Call me when…"

"I will," She hung up abruptly, not sure why the conversation should feel so hard. She set the phone down on the dining room table and leaned over it, rubbing the back of her neck.

"Did you have to call him?"

Buffy turned, surprised to see Dawn standing in the doorway. "What are you doing down here?" she demanded, more sharply than she meant to in her concern for what her little sister might have seen.

Dawn shrugged. "Video's over, right?"

There was an alarmingly haunted look in the younger sister's eyes.

"Dawnie, did you – did you see…?"

Dawn shook her head, reassuring her sister only partially as she admitted softly, "I heard the screams."

Buffy nodded, looking back down at the phone on the table.

"You're going to help them, right?" Dawn's voice was soft. For a moment, she sounded even younger than she actually was.

"Of course." Buffy assured her.

"I mean – no matter what, right? Even if there were vampires that – that you knew, or didn't like? If there was a vampire there that…"

"I am *not* going to leave anyone there. It doesn't matter what they might have done before, they all have souls now – and even if they didn't – no one deserves that."

Dawn nodded, visibly relieved, but there was still a troubled look in her eyes. Buffy wanted to ask what was wrong, but she had already turned away, and soon the Slayer could hear her younger sister's footsteps as she moved quickly up the stairs without another word.

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It was the first time in over a year that the crypt actually felt like a crypt. Buffy had spent long moments pacing outside the door, working up the courage to face the vampire she'd had sex with, beaten – and then left behind in the alley. She had forced herself to think instead of the vampires that needed her help – with no small irony at *that* unusual thought for a Slayer to have.

She'd decided to just act casual, bursting through the door, like she always did. Expecting to see the bleached blonde sitting in his old, ratty chair, watching TV and getting drunk, she was surprised to be confronted instead by shadows, dust, and the smell of something rotted.

Covering her nose with one hand, Buffy looked around the crypt. There were new cobwebs strung everywhere, and dust covered the television screen. Several bottles, half empty, lay abandoned on a sarcophagus.

How long did it take for dust to build up this much, anyway? Buffy wondered. She was surprised that Spike had allowed it to happen at all, since he had usually kept his place surprisingly clean for a hole in the ground.

What really surprised her was the half-empty glass and bag of blood on the sarcophagus, next to the booze. Dried blood was crusted to the glass, as if it had rotted in it. The bag of blood was mostly dried; the blood in the center had long since gelled and coagulated. Gnats and flies buzzed around it, some of them crawling into the cut that had been made in the bag to pour the blood out.

Except – no one *had* poured it out.

"God, Spike!" Buffy continued to hold her nose as she moved further into the crypt. "Where are you?"

The lower level was next. Buffy stopped at the ladder, for a moment unable to go further inside. There were no tingles on the back of her neck, warning her of the presence of a vampire. In fact, the place felt completely empty…

The bed was made, and looked completely untouched. There were no recently discarded cigarettes in the ashtray beside it. The carpet was still wrinkled, looking exactly as it did after they'd been under it.

"Spike…?" She already knew he wasn't there. The fact that he'd obviously been gone a while was threatening to hit her hard.

*Would he have really left, after…?*

Her mind refused to contemplate anything that might have followed that "after".

She picked up a discarded pair of black jeans that had been half draped over a fallen lamp. She recognized it by the tear around the zipper. They had stumbled into the crypt, tearing at one another's clothes, and Spike's jeans had been a casualty. There was something white poking out of the back pocket. Frowning, she pulled it out…and her frown deepened as she stared down at her own thong.

"So that's where my underwear keeps going..."

Sighing, she tossed the jeans aside, stuffing her left-behind thong into her own pocket, and then made her way towards the bed. There was a thin layer of dust across the blanket that sent a chill of dread down her back. She couldn't understand her bad feeling, couldn't force herself to comprehend what it might mean – she just knew that she wanted it to stop.

Something metal caught her eye then, and walking around the bed, Buffy noticed the familiar set of handcuffs on the floor. She picked them up, bending over just long enough to also catch sight of something poking out from underneath the mattress. She shouldn't look – she knew she really had no right to be poking around in Spike's personal things, but she couldn't help her curiosity.

The thing halfway under the mattress turned out to be a picture. Flipping it over, Buffy's eyes widened as she stared at the faces of her own family. Her mother looked healthy and was smiling brightly, with one arm wrapped around Dawn and her other hand resting on Buffy's shoulder.

The brief thought that Spike could be starting up his shrine again flashed through her mind; but somehow, that wasn't what it felt like. She had felt totally creeped out when she'd found all those pictures of herself in his crypt before, but then, those had been pictures of only her. Finding a picture of her family hidden under his bed just seemed so…sentimental, not stalkerish.

*Still – ought to make sure there is no actual shrine…you know…just in case…*

Lifting up the mattress, Buffy searched for more photos, and found only one, face down. She took it out and set the mattress back down, taking a seat on the bed before she looked at the picture. Turning it over, she was greeted by the surprising sight of all of the Scoobies, together as they had not been in reality, in far too long.

It had to have been taken around the time of Thanksgiving, a couple of years ago. It was a picture that Dawn had taken, on one of the rare occasions that her mother could convince Buffy to let her tag along.

At least – Buffy *remembered* Dawn taking the picture.

A wistful feeling came over her, as she reminded herself that her little sister had really not been there at all.

In the photo, all of them were gathered in the living room, holding research material, each of them giving little half-smiles towards the camera to humor Dawn. Spike was tied to a chair in the background, only a small distance away from them, glaring menacingly.

Buffy had no idea why the picture was threatening to break her heart.

She had no idea whether to laugh or cry, but she desperately wanted to do both. She wasn't sure if Spike had actually started considering the Scoobies his friends, or if he had only kept the picture because it could possibly be the only picture in existence with both of them in it…but either reason brought more tears to her eyes.

Dropping the picture as if it was on fire, she quickly wiped her tears away. There was a terrible dread welling up inside of her again, and she refused to examine it. There was no time, and there was no reason. If he'd decided to leave Sunnydale, or…

The door to the crypt opened again, and Buffy jumped slightly when she heard the creaking sound upstairs. Her heart leapt up into her throat, then settled again to thud rapidly against her chest. "Spike…?"

She ran quickly from the bed, climbing the ladder in record time. "Spike!"

Xander stood in the doorway, peering into the dark crypt, obviously looking for both blondes.

The disappointment Buffy felt seemed heavy enough to crush her, but she tried not to let her friend see it. Her hands shook with it as she finally pulled herself back up to the first level, but by the time she was close enough to Xander to allow him to see her face, she had wiped away all signs of it. She pushed the feeling aside, deciding to replace it with anger, instead.

She did that so often, these days – she was getting used to it.

"Where's the bleached menace?"

She shrugged. "Gone."

His eyes widened. "Gone?"

"Yeah. He's left town. Just found out."

"Left…left town?" Xander stared at her like she had grown a second head. "He didn't even leave town when you were dead, and he leaves *now*?"

Buffy stiffened, keeping her expression stoic, not allowing the effect Xander's point made on her to show in her face. "Yep. He left." She walked past her friend, out the door into the cemetery.

"Why would he…?"

"It doesn't matter why!" she snapped without meaning to, her back turned to him.

Xander followed after her, closing the door of the crypt behind him. "Buff – are you alright?" he asked cautiously, unable to miss the sharp edge to her voice.

"Fine," she lied. "It's just…I've…I've got no backup now…he's gone, so that means I have to go to this pocket dimension thingy alone."

"No way," Xander insisted, suddenly stepping around to stand in front of her. "There's no way you're going alone."

"And what choice do I have?"

"I come with you."

She shook her head firmly. "No way, Xander. You might get hurt."

"Yeah, and you might, too. In fact, what happens if you get hurt, somewhere off in another dimension, and no one here even knows it?"

"I'll…I'll find a way…"

"Un-uh," Xander shook his head. "No trying to find someone else. Right now, you don't *have* someone else. You've got me."

He waited a moment, allowing that to sink in, before adding softly, "It's just you and a demon we don't know, going into something pretty close to a hell dimension. Most of us need to stay here, I get that. There's no way Dawn's going. Tara and Willow need to stay here in case something goes wrong with the gateway. Giles is on the other side of the planet, Dead Boy's got his own problems in L.A., and Dead Boy Jr. just split town."

"Yes, but…"

"You need *someone*, Buffy. I swear I'll hold my own." He shrugged, giving her a little half smile as he admitted, "Mostly, I'll be staying out of your way. But if nothing else, you need someone there to run back through the gateway and get the others if something goes wrong, or if we're double-crossed."

"And how exactly do you expect to be able to run out the gateway if we're double-crossed?" she asked wryly.

The carpenter shrugged. "Don't underestimate my running-away skills, missy."

She sighed heavily, obviously still not too pleased with the idea. "Fine…fine. If you promise me that you'll stay safe, that you're only there in case of an emergency…fine, you can help me with this one. But I hope you're ready for this, Xander…because we don't have time for you to *get* ready. We're leaving right away. I can't wait to tear these bastards apart."