shiftingbalance

A Shifting Balance

Disclaimer: Characters and Premise are borrowed from the show "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."

"The Initiative's done WHAT?" Spike demanded.

"They created a virus that kills vampires," Riley reported.

"Thanks for the heads up," Buffy said.

"It's not enough that you commando blokes go and cripple me, you want to poison me as well?" Spike snarled.

"Why do you keep him around again?" Riley asked. "I know you don't approve of the Initiative's methods but he's a killer."

"Past tense," Buffy said. "Since you guys got a hold of him he's mostly pitiful and pathetic, it makes him hard to stake."

"Hey!" Spike objected. "I help you, I've killed a lot of demon for you. I may not be able to kill people anymore, but I'm not helpless!"

"And you can still bore humans to death going on and on about how much you miss the good old days when you could maim and kill and torture to your heart's content." Xander said.

"Xander, Spike has been a lot of help the last couple of years," Willow objected. "Be nice."

"Oh sure, stick up for your psycho boyfriend," Xander replied.

"He's not my boyfriend," Willow said, "It just so happens that I'd rather spend time doing things with Spike instead of watching you and Anya, or Buffy and Riley be couples, at least with Spike he actually wants my company. And speaking of going on and on, how many times have we listened to Anya's stories about all the icky disgusting things she's done to men over the last thousand years?"

"Leave my girl friend out of this," Xander said.

"This virus," Giles interjected. "Riley, what else do you know about it?"

"It effects humans like a cold, but once a person gets it the virus remains in their blood stream for years. That's how it gets transmitted to the vampire. The vector of infection was the researcher's biggest concern, blood's really the only thing that all vampires are exposed to, but it's not a very viable vector for spreading the virus among the human population."

"So you made a really nifty disease that spreads really well, that lets you poison our whole food supply," Spike growled, "What does it do to us?"

"It destroys dead flesh," Riley explained. "I saw a few of the test subjects, it was like they were rotting."

"That's bloody disgusting!" Spike exclaimed.

"What sort of time frame does the virus operate on?" Giles asked.

"It takes several months after the initial exposure for the subject to die, assume that they continue ingesting the virus with the blood they eat," Riley said. "The symptoms start appearing after about a week. The researchers are trying to find ways to increase its virulence, but they haven't had any success. They just decided that to release it in it's current form, the length of time it takes to kill the subject is really too long for this to be effective, but they needed to show some sort of hard results to maintain the project's funding."

"So we're going to have a bunch of rotting, unhappy vampires wandering around Sunnydale," Buffy said. "Why doesn't this strike me as being a good thing?"

"Look Buffy, this virus isn't perfect yet, but you've got to admit, that it's a better idea than running around with a stake trying to wipe out the vampire population through one-on-one challenges, if you actually want to resolve the issue that is," Riley said.

Giles said, "What we're concerned about, Riley, is that the stricken vampires may lash out at the human population."

"And I'm bloody well concerned about my unlife. You have an antidote or something right? For vampires on the side of light and, ugh, goodness?" Spike asked.

"Well, protecting friendly vampires was never really came up as an issue with the Initiative," Riley said.

"So how do I avoid this thing?" Spike demanded.

"You drink animal blood, right?" Riley asked. "I don't think that the virus is communicable with animals so you should be fine."

"This is fascinating," Xander said. "But let's get back to sick, angry vampires going on the rampage. Now that's what I'm interested in."

"How likely is that really?" Riley asked. "Wouldn't they be more interested in looking for what's wrong?"

"Oh yeah right, mate," Spike snorted. "We vampires are real intellectuals. A few of the brighter ones might look for a spell to fix the problem or round up a human doctor and try to torture a cure out of them, but your run of the mill vamp doesn't think that way. We usually go for mindless violence when something hurts us, plus blood usually makes us heal. You get hurt, you go out and drain a few people and it gets better faster. You create a bunch of sick vampires they'll be out looking for blood, and lots of it, until they feel better or until they can't hunt anymore."

"Yes, exactly," Giles said. "Riley, while your Initiative might have had good intentions this virus is most likely to result in increased confrontations and violence. Your technological solution to demons only upset the world's balance. I was warned that your methods would bring chaos and I feel I have to agree with that analysis."

"In the short tem maybe," Riley admitted, "But in a few years the entire vampire population should be wiped out."

"I believe that's called genocide, mate," Spike said, "Isn't that a no-no for you goody-goods?"

**************************************************************

"It's starting," Buffy said. "I found six vamps on patrol tonight, and they weren't healthy."

"Yeah," Willow chimed in, "I mean vampires are pretty yuk anyway…" she trailed off looking between Buffy and Spike. "When they go all GRRR, I mean," she clarified. "Otherwise vampires can be quite attractive."

"It's okay Will," Buffy said, "Insult Blondie over there as much as you like."

"Well, um, I though you might be upset cause of, you know, Angel. But, um, back to my point, these guys tonight were just gross."

"Like the zombies at my welcome home party," Buffy continued, "But in more pain, with fangs and bad attitudes. I really don't like the Initiative, Giles."

"Yes quite, their methods tend to blur the lines in the battle against evil."

"Right, back in High School vampires were bad so we killed them," Xander added. "Before they could kill us. Now even I feel sort of sorry for them, it's just wrong."

"Exactly," Willow continued, "I mean, back then vampires were evil, except Angel, on account of his soul. We didn't think about them being hurt or scared, like us. They were just demons, it was simpler."

"We didn't think about it cause it didn't happen," Buffy said. "I just killed Vampires, I didn't lock them up in little cages and play mad scientist with them or try to infect them with a really icky disease."

"Too right Ducks. That's how it's supposed to be," Spike said. "I'm the stuff of nightmares, not a lab rat. I liked it back when all I had to worry about were brassed off Slayers and angry mobs, at least those I could fight. And by the way could I please move in with someone else? Xander's been sneezing lately and I don't want him contaminating my blood if it's the virus."

*************************************************************

"Buffy have you noticed a rise in the number of victims who are turned, rather than just killed?" Giles asked.

"Now that you mention it. Yeah I have, why?" Buffy replied.

"Angel called, he said the covens in Los Angeles are trying to maintain their ranks, despite the casualties from the Rot."

"How is Angel?" Buffy asked, "He's being careful with his blood supple right? He's not getting stuff from the blood banks anymore right? Riley said he didn't know how long the virus would live outside of a host. I don't want Angel taking chances."

"He knows the danger Buffy. I'm sure he's taking all the necessary precautions."

"Maybe he should leave the country, like Spike did. Lay low until this whole thing blows over."

"Buffy, I had Wesley contact the Watcher's council. The disease is spreading. Vampires showing the symptoms have been spotted on every populated continent. Angel is right to stay here where he already has an established blood supply that we know is clean." Giles replied.

"He's running the test right?" Buffy asked. "Checking to make sure that it isn't being picked up by cows now?"

"Yes, I'm sure he is," Giles said, "After Riley's news about the virus being developed in pigs I'm certain that Angel has had the good sense to check everything he eats."

**************************************************************

"Bloody, crazed, bastard," Spike muttered. "What did he think I was, a blood happy meal on legs? What sort of nut was he trying to drain me? I'm Spike, William the Bloody, a fucking master Vampire what's killed two Slayers, not some weakling human!"

"You aren't sick yet, Master," the minion groveled, "Some of the others, the unallied ones, they think that your blood could cure them."

"They're bloody idiots," Spike snapped. "I told 'em the cure, it's no humans. Their blood's poison anymore."

"They won't Master," the minion said. "Only the weak eat animal blood."

"Are you suggesting I'm weak?" Spike asked calmly.

"No Master," the minion dropped to the floor, groveling. S

pike sighed; it was much too easy to intimidate minions these days. Well of course, most vampires had never even met anyone turned before the Rot made its appearance five years ago, these days, centuries old vampires were the stuff of legend to them. Still it was irritating how spineless they acted around him.

The only ones left with any backbone at all were in the last stages of the illness and dispirit. But biting him? What was the world coming to?

**************************************************************

"I remember when we could go whole nights without seeing a single blood sucker," Xander sighed.

"Now four or five a night is just common place," Buffy replied.

"At least they're getting really dumb," Willow said.

"Yeah, Angel explained that to Giles," Buffy said. "It's cause there aren't many old vamps any more. Most of these guys were sired by vampires created after the virus started. I hear that the normal unlife span for a vampire is down to a couple of months now."

Willow nodded, "Most of these rise with the virus already in them, they got it while they were still human. Also the lack of old vampires means no teachers, so they don't learn to blend in. They just wake-up hungry and go on killing sprees, so they're easy to spot. People in other cities are starting to figure out how to kill them, just because they're so obvious."

"Unfortunately making more vampires is pretty instinctive, and we never seem to kill them fast enough to keep them from spreading the problem," Buffy said. "I never thought I'd say this but I miss having master vampires to deal with."

"What? You miss powerful nasty vampires out to rule or destroy the world?" Xander asked.

"No, but I do miss the population control. The masters don't let their minions just run around turning people at random," Buffy explained.

"Isn't Angel trying to stop that?" Willow asked.

"He is. It's weird, but Angel's acting as the master vampire in LA now. He's living with a coven and everything," Buffy said.

"Well I've always said that when it come right down to it Angel's a vamp and we should stake him," Xander said.

"Grow up, Xander," Buffy snapped. "Angel's doing it to keep down the vampire population. He's even managed to stop his bunch from feeding on humans mostly. Cordelia and Wesley both agree the situation's much better there than it is here."

"Buffy, this is Sunnydale, home of the highest mysterious death and disappearance rate per capita in the world, so not a good comparison there." Xander said.

"But there's more of a vampire problem in Portland than LA," Willow pointed out. "I think that shows his idea is working."

**************************************************************

"It won't work Peaches," Spike said. "You and I can barely keep our own from killing humans. How do you expect to convince the other masters to even try."

"I'm going to reason with them, point out that our covens are pretty much free of illness anymore. That even those infected stop getting worse once they quit drinking human blood," Angel said.

"Oh yeah, like that'll work, we kill humans it's our nature," Spike argued.

"I think survival will out weigh their need for death and destruction." Angel replied. "So far I've only been able to contact a few dozen of the older ones, the rest that I tracked down are already dust or so far into the disease that they aren't sane. Everyone left knows we're dying out, that's got to make even the most unusual ideas more palatable."

"I know mate. You and I were considered upstarts ten years ago, before the Initiative and their blasted plague, both of us declaring ourselves to be master vampires before we were even a century old. Going out and doing things however we liked, and ignoring the ancients dictates. Now they act like we're Kakestos or something," Spike said.

"It's not unreasonable," Angel said. "When I turned you I could have named a hundred vampires who were over a thousand years old and still active. In the last ten years we've verified the deaths of every Ancient I've ever heard of. The oldest vampire I've managed to contact is only four hundred and twenty."

"Yeah Peaches, but you've been out of touch for over a century, and you're still the Slayer's lap dog, they don't trust you."

Angel replied, "I know, that's why I need your help Spike."

"Why should I, you're just trying to protect your precious humans," Spike said.

"Because this plague is destroying us. Because we're destroying civilization on our way to extinction. Because despite being evil you actually like humans, especially a certain red haired witch and she'd want you to help." Angel said. "And because you know as well as I do that the only way anyone's going to survive this is if there are master vampires controlling our population, keeping these idiot fledglings that have been made since the plague in line."

Spike sighed, "I know all that Peaches, but we'll never convince the others."

"We have to try, and we have to do it soon, while there are still enough of the older ones left," Angel said. "Those turned since the Rot are weaker and stupider than normal, but we still can't expect anyone under fifty to be able to control a coven."

"And in another five years you and I will be the only ones left that are that old."

**************************************************************

"The council had Faith killed," Wesley reported.

"Good Lord, why?" Giles asked, "It's not as if she could cause anymore problems while in a coma."

"They felt the world needed another active Slayer, what with the increase in vampire activity since the Rot became wide spread. They're sending the new girl to Paris. The death tolls there are reaching almost two dozen a night."

"They're also attempting to recruit and train more teams like your `Slayerettes', as well as studying Angel's curse."

"They're trying to create more vampires like Angel? Have they had any success?" Giles asked.

"Not really, the curse was specifically designed for Angel, they have yet to be able to adapt it for more general use. If we had Ms. Calendar's help perhaps we could interpret more of the Rituals of the Undead, unfortunately we aren't sure how she even recovered Angel's curse, the Kalderash people swear that the magic involved was lost to them. Very unhelpful bunch, the Kalderash, not at all able to see the larger picture, I quiet disliked them. Beyond simply generalizing the spell the council also wishes to remove any clauses and hopefully avoid any repeats of the unhappy events of 1998.

"Angel is very excited about the whole thing, he's even allowed a member of the council to join our little group so they can study him."

"How is your group doing?" Giles asked

"Well, quiet frankly I preferred it when it was just Cordelia, Angel and I. The chap the council sent is really intolerably stuffy…"

"Give him time Wesley, that's just what we all thought of you when you first arrived," Giles advised, "But look at you now, it's only been a decade and you've almost become tolerable."

"Thank you so very much for your opinion Rupert," Wesley replied. "As I was saying I don't the council chap, and Angel's vampires are simply nerve wracking.

"Almost thirty vampires trailing in and out of the office and the only thing keeping Cordelia and I safe is the fact that we're both carriers and everyone knows it. Additionally, Angel has said that anyone who even threatens us will greatly regret it."

"I'm still stunned that Angel can manage to control a coven that large while in possession of his soul," Giles said.

Even over the phone line Wesley's wince was apparent, "Well, yes I feel it's always best that I know as little as possible about how Angel persuades his people to toe the line, still I'm not completely blind."

"What happened?" Giles asked.

"It was about six months ago, one of Angel's drained a human. Angel looked into it and was able to obtain proof of who the responsible party was. He severed the guilty vampire's limbs and had the others bury him alive so he would starve to death. It was all quiet disturbing, still the rest have been extremely hesitant to cross Angel since the incident."

Giles shuttered, "I suppose he can't afford to be though weak, not when he's preventing them from feeding from humans. That has to be a challenge, it goes against their very natures."

"Quite right. It is working you know," Wesley continued. "Twenty-three of Angel's coven are completely clean still, and the others aren't deterioration since they've quit exposing themselves to the virus. Of course it's only the ones turned at least thirty years ago that are showing any resistance at all, and the survivors admit that they were ones who had always supplemented they're diets rather heavily with non-human blood. I doubt they were exposed to that much of the virus.

"Furthermore, Angel has practically ended the creation of new vampires in the city. His people understand that the new ones won't last anyway and they are quite enthusiastic about destroying any rogue vampires that try to set up shop in Los Angeles."

"Understandable, we've always know vampires are territorial creatures after all. Spike has a similar set-up in London and I believe Drusilla has been persuaded to create her own protectorate in Madrid."

**************************************************************

"Riley! Long time no see." Buffy exclaimed.

"I got reassigned, when things went crazy the Initiative had to expand to try to cope. Those with experience like myself got scattered so we could train new teams. I asked for the first transfer back to Sunnydale that I could get," Riley said.

"So what was so special in little old Sunnydale?" Buffy asked coyly.

Riley leaned down to kiss his petite girlfriend, "I think you know the answer to that. I didn't like only having a long distance relationship with you."

"And I though you just didn't like the rain in Seattle. Why didn't you tell me you were going to be coming back?" Buffy asked.

"I didn't want to get your hopes up, we only maintain a small unit in Sunnydale now. There are so many other sectors with worse problems."

"That's cause they don't have Buffy," Xander said.

"You're not wrong about that," Riley replied. "Oh by the way I met an old friend of yours up in Seattle. Remember Oz, he's in the thick of things up there. I didn't recognize him until I overheard him commenting about needing a Slayer one night when the unit ran into a pack of vampires."

"How is Oz?" Willow asked.

"Good, I think," Riley said. "He's got a cool head in a crisis and he really knows his demons. We invited him to join the Initiative, but he turned us down, said he wasn't the military type. Still he helps us patrol pretty regularly and he's a good men to have watching your back."

Willow smiled a bit sadly. Oz had been gone from her life for a long time, but he had been her first real love and he would always he special to her.

"So you're back here for good?" Buffy asked Riley.

"I hope so. This is supposed to be my permanent assignment, but if somewhere else gets too hot the whole unit could be relocated," he replied.

"And you follow orders and don't ask questions," Buffy said a bit sadly.

"I leave the questions to you," Riley replied, winning a smile.

"You know if your organization had of asked more questions from the get go we might not be in this mess," Xander said. "Just little questions, like how are the vampires going to respond went we release a plague on them."

"Xander that's old news," Willow said. "It doesn't help anything to keep digging it up."

**************************************************************

"I don't want hear animal blood tastes bad!" Spike shouted. "You think I don't bloody well know that? At least it doesn't kill us.

"And why haven't you cleaned out the rubbish yet. There were four more attacks on healthy members of the coven," Spike continued, rubbing at the unhealed bite wound on his upper arm.

He wished he'd decided to set up camp in a nice modern city like Angel had. London was home but it had too much history. The place just had too many bolt holes to keep it free of the diseased.

And to make matters worse the rumor that drinking the blood of a healthy vampire would cure the Rot was still spreading. The diseased were attracted to London like flies. He and his killed them by the score but they kept coming. Nothing Spike could do would convince them that he didn't hold some secret cure. It was one thing to preach self-restraint to the uninfected, but it didn't help those who were already rotting where they stood, they didn't want prevention, they wanted a cure.

Even so Spike maintained some order in London. Angel had Los Angeles and the surrounding area firmly under wraps. Surprisingly Dru had done well in gaining control of the vampires in Madrid. Spike still worried that she'd forget someday and get infected herself, but it had turned out that her psychic abilities told her who was safe to eat. Her group still had to supplement with a lot of animal blood but so far they were the only ones safely feeding from humans left.

Spike and Angel had convinced about a dozen other older vampire of the necessity of feeding from animals and they'd spread across the globe, providing little pockets of stability in the growing chaos in both vampire and human societies.

**************************************************************

"It's not enough to just control your own," Angel protested. "Jules you have to destroy the unallied."

"Why?" the younger master asked. "To protect the humans? This is their plague, why shouldn't they suffer from it? I'll keep my own from feeding on humans so they stay healthy, but the unallied aren't my problem and if they kill the humans, so much the better."

"Humans aren't as clueless as they were," Angel said. "Quiet a few of them are already killing the diseased on sight, and they consider extreme sensitive to sunlight a symptom of the disease, if they keep looking they'll find your people. It's happened in other cities, humans turning to hunt vampires en-mass. Their guns might not kill you, but they're burning out our lairs, at that is a problem. The only safety is in a low profile, and the unallied are incapable of maintain that. They will bring the cities wrath down on your people if you don't put a stop to the killings. Please listen to me, Jules this is for real."

"It's not natural Angeles, and they're only humans," Jules argued.

"Only humans," Angel scoffed, "You're old enough to remember the Spanish Inquisition, those were only humans. If they're scared enough they'll fight back, and they don't care that they kill a lot of innocents to get to the guilty. It's hard to hide when they suspect everyone Jules, especially when we do have something to hide."

**************************************************************

"We always worried so much about demons opening the Hellmouth and ending the world," Giles said. "Who would have imagined that it would be humans who would actually bring about the cataclysm."

"And they didn't even need magic to do it," Willow said. "Just good old fashioned science."

"I'm afraid to say magic and science have more in common than I ever would have realized. Both have the potential for great good when used with care, and equal potential for destruction when unleashed with malice or ignorance."

"You got that right," Xander said.

"I always knew humans were a much greater danger to themselves than us demons," Anya said. "I was always surprised that you didn't cause something like this decades ago."

**************************************************************

"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless," Cordy said perkily.

"Be a good girl Pet and put Peaches on, this is important," Spike said.

"Ugh, Spike, Angel isn't in right now, so I guess I'll have to take a message for you. By the way, have you given up the Billy Idol look yet? It's so yesterday." Cordy replied

"How Angel puts up with you I'll never know," Spike said, "Now put you prom queen attitude on hold and find Peaches. He needs to know that the infected vampires can spread the Rot."

"What do you mean? How?" Cordy asked.

"You know about the problems I've had with the infected thinking that there's something in healthy blood that'll help them?" Spike asked.

"Yeah, you whined about that last time you called. So what?"

"When they bite us it can spread the blasted Rot," Spike exclaimed.

"And you're sure this isn't some new story a minion cooked up to avoid admitting to falling off the wagon? Cordy asked.

"Yes you stupid chit! You think I'm stupid enough to eat anything I don't check? I know the bites are the only contact I've had with infected blood and still I've got the bloody Rot!"

Cordelia sat back in her chair, stunned. "I'll tell Angel," she said. "Spike, you're old, so you should be okay, right? Drink lots of clean blood and don't let anyone else bite you okay? It'll be alright then, right?"

"Yeah Cor and how do you advise I do that? I've got to keep hunting the unallied myself if I want my people to do it and accidents happen, Pet. Just tell Peaches to watch out for this."

**************************************************************

"Spike, it's Willow. I heard. I just wanted to call and tell you we're still looking for a cure."

"Love, you, the Watcher, the chaos git, and you're little witch friends have been looking for a cure practically since day one, what changes now?" Spike asked.

"Well it's different, cause it's you. You're one of us we're not loosing anyone without a fight."

"Love, you have no idea how bizarre that sounds, but I thank you."

"Will, you should come back to Sunnydale," Willow said.

"Can't do that Will, I got responsibilities here in London," Spike replied. "I'm established here, practically got the whole city under control at the moment. Can't just pack up and leave."

"I know, it's just that last year before the plague, it was good wasn't it?" Willow said.

"It was good Love. There's not a person in the world that I rather spend time not dating with than you," Spike said.

Willow giggled, remembering the months she and Spike had spent hanging out together, determinedly not dating one another, "I wish you'd set up house closer to Sunnydale. In Sunnydale even would have been good. It would have made visiting easier."

"You know why I left Will, we talked before I did it. I don't like sickness, in fact not getting sick is one of the things I like best about being undead. I watched practically everyone I knew as a mortal die of one disease or another. Tuberculosis, small pox, a hundred other things out there just waiting to kill you, I hated it. After Angeles changed me I though I'd never have to worry about that stuff again. Then the bloody Commandos create the Rot. In a lot of ways I'm still a child of the seventeenth century, getting distance 'tween me and the germs was all I could think of, fat lot of good that did me huh Love?"

"But why can't you come home now?" Willow asked.

"You don't need me in Sunnyhell, you've rot the Slayer, the Initiative Gits, even Peaches over in LA," Spike said. "In fact the States are pretty good all around, the Initiative is doing a decent job of controlling their mess in their own house, but the rest of the world isn't so well off. If anyone should relocate it's Angel.

"I know, it's just, I miss you," Willow said.

"I miss you too, Love," Spike replied. "Why don't you come to London? I'd even pay for the plane ticket."

**************************************************************

"Look Ripper, this is hopeless," Ethan complained, "Science made this plague, magic isn't going to cure it."

"So you're advising we fight fire with fire," Giles said.

"Yes, but if you haven't noticed, our little group is heavy on the spell casters and weak in the test tube rattlers," Ethan said. "The only one who's got half an inclination in that direction is the red headed witch."

"You want to give up then?" Giles asked, "Because the Initiative's researchers still won't acknowledge that this plague was a horrid idea. They won't look for a cure and I don't know any other people capable of doing the work."

"So lets sit back and watch the world go to Hell, it'd be more fun than this hopelessness."

"I know you worship chaos Ethan, but I thought we agreed that even you can't live in a world gone completely mad." Giles said

"I can't, but we're standing against a tidal wave with just a little umbrella, and I'm sick of wasting my time on something so pointless."

"In that case we'll just return you to the Initiative, I'm sure they've still got a nice cell waiting for you," Giles said.

"Oh bloody hell Ripper, when'd you become such a spoil sport?"

**************************************************************

"Your doing what?" Xander demanded.

"I'll be able to study the Rot in a cooperative subject," Willow explained.

"Willow, I know that for some freaky reason you like the guy, but be reasonable. This is Spike, killer of two slayers, got his name by torturing people with railroad spikes, doesn't have or want a soul Spike." Xander protested. "And you're moving out of the country to stay with him?"

"Yes."

"You don't have anything to add to that?" Xander asked.

"I could, but you won't listen, and that's what it boils down to. Yes, I'm going. You can't stop me, I'm an adult and capable of making my own choices and I'll stay in touch."

"Wills, you can't do this, you're breaking up the Slayerettes. You, me and Buffy against the monsters, its been that way since we first learned monsters are real. We're like the three Musketeers."

"We are, but have you read The Man in the Iron Mask?" Willow asked.

"No, why?"

"It's kind of a sequel,"

"Well that's okay then, cause I didn't read The Three Musketeers either," Xander said.

Willow frowned, "We had to do a book report on that in High School."

"I watched the movie," Xander explained. "So what does your sequel have to do with anything?"

"Well in the sequel Athos, Porthos, Armitis and D'artanon have all gone on with their lives, they aren't together anymore." Willow said.

"But, `One for all and all for one'"

"It's still true, they come back together to save France, but for everyday they have different paths, my path is heading toward England and Spike. Wesley is going to put me in contact with the Watcher's Council, they're centered in London, so I'll have a chance to straighten them out while I'm there too," Willow said.

"What am I going to do without you Will? We've been buds forever." Xander asked.

"You have Buffy and Giles as well as Anya. I'll call too, you aren't loosing me, and we'll still talk lots, and call at the worst hours. It'll just cost more, but I'm sure Giles would let you borrow Ethan's cell phone."

"You're really going aren't you?"

"Spike needs a friend, he's all alone there, he's sick, and it scares him. He needs someone he can trust and you know how far he and Angel trust their covens."

"We all know Deadboy's theory on the minions, `Only trust 'em if your sure they're in mortal fear of not doing what you want.'"

"Right, they're not friends just enemies with a common goal."

"And Spike's different from the minions, how?" Xander asked.

"Spike is my friend," Willow said firmly.

"And I thought Buffy was blind when it came to Deadboy," Xander commented.

**************************************************************

"Angel, Kate's coming so you better get rid of the fang gang," Cordy said. "She's the only person I know who's more prejudiced against the undead than Xander."

"She's a police officer, we're murders," Angel said watching as his coven members retreated to the tunnels.

"So, I'm fine with the fang gang as long as they're clear on the fact that if they touch a human you'll extract their brains through their nostrils," Cordy said.

"We're serial killers on an epic scale," Angel said. "Kate hates that there's no feasible way to punish us for that."

"You're reformed," Cordy said with a shrug. "Isn't that the goal behind the justice system, to reform criminals?"

"I'm reformed through magic, which Kate isn't comfortable with. She can't see or touch a soul, this body committed the demon's crimes, that's all she sees." Angel said. "As for the rest of the Coven, the only reason they aren't out killing people right now is because I will, as you so elegantly put it, rip their brains out through their nostrils' if they cross me. That's not reformed, and Kate knows that."

"Still she could give you guys some credit, LA has never had a lower murder rate, and most of the cities have skyrocketing death counts, thanks to all the fledglings running around," Cordy sniffed.

"Did she say why she was coming?" Angel asked.

"She had some new case and thought if looked like our type of thing."

**************************************************************

"Riley you can't just be solider boy anymore," Buffy said. "You've done the following orders thing and see where it's gotten us?"

"Buffy, I don't have the kind of pull to do what you want," Riley objected.

"Well the Initiative started this they should help to resolve it," Buffy stated.

"Higher ups still think that this is working, vampires are dying every day. They keep saying if we hold out for just a few more years the problem will go away."

"Make them look at reality Riley. New vampires are being created at a rate that the Watchers simply can't believe. Angel and Spike both say it's easily a hundred times greater than what it should be," Buffy argued.

"I can't just start demanding that the Initiative do an about face and start look for a cure for the Rot. Buffy I'm not even in that chain of command," Riley said.

"As long as there are people to turn the vampires aren't going to die out," Buffy said quietly. "You're not so stupid that you don't see that, why won't you do anything to stop it?"

"I am, I'm out here every night protecting civilians from the threat. What more do you want?"

"Attack the causes, not the symptoms," Buffy replied. "I know it's not your place in the Initiative to think, but someone's got to and you're capable of it. At least you're a part of the Initiative, I'm sure they'd be more receptive to hearing it from you rather than Giles or I.

"Buffy…"

"Try, please. There's no one else I can ask."

**************************************************************

"Dru you've got to stop killing people," Angel said.

"But, my Angel, I didn't eat the nasty humans. They were all icky inside."

"Yes Dru, you were good not to eat the nasty people, but you can't go around eviscerating people, then decking out the market places with the entrails. You remember what happened in Prague Dru?"

"Of course, my Angel, the bad people hurt me, made me weak."

"That's right Dru, and if you keep up your games the people of Madrid will make the mob in Prague look friendly by comparison. Do you understand me Dru?"

"Yes my Angel."

"I want you to say it Dru," Angel demanded.

"No more lovely slaughters," Dru replied sulkily.

"That's right Dru. If I hear about anything like this again you won't have to wait for a mob to form. I'll come to Madrid and punish you myself."

"Yes my Angel!"

"You don't want that Dru, don't even think of testing me."

"You've changed my Angel, into someone entirely new. You would hurt me, even with your precious soul. You're heart's all hardness."

"I do what I have to Dru, the stakes are too high not to."

**************************************************************

"Willow's plane took off right on schedule," Cordy reported.

"I still can't believe she's moving in with the bleached nut case," Xander said.

"We all know love makes you do the wacky," Cordy replied quoting a long held rule among the Sunnydale Slayerettes.

"Don't say that," Xander protested. "She can't love Spike, it's just wrong, this is Willow we're talking about, sweet, innocent Willow, she can't love a soulless monster."

"Spike isn't that bad," Cordy said. "And if he'd ever get a clue about fashion he'd be very easy on the eyes, not that Willow would be one to notice his distinct lack of good taste."

"You would side with the dead guy," Xander snapped, "After all you're dating one yourself."

"Leave Dennis out of this," Cordy said. "Sure he's a ghost, but he's a better boyfriend than you ever where. He's sweet, considerate, he tries to protect me and take care of me, and he'd never even think of looking at another girl. Plus he keeps the rent on my apartment low."

"He's invisible, he can't talk, and he gives in to your every whim."

"Sort of like you would do anything to keep Anya, the ex-demon bitch happy, so that if she ever gets her powers back she won't make your life hell on Earth?"

**************************************************************

"Ayah!!! Spike put me down!" Willow shrieked.

"Just glad to see you love," Spike said kissing the small red head on the nose.

"I'm glad I came, all the email and phone calls in the world can't make up for not seeing you." Willow replied.

"Oh bloody hell Red, don't get all mushy on me. Lets get your stuff then we'll figure out what historical landmarks we should break into. They all keep rotten hours, closing before sunset, so I'll have to take measures to show them to you properly. The tour guides don't know any of the really good stories."

"I want to examine you first," Willow said. "I meant it when I said I was going to cure the Rot."

"Lets have some fun first, you just got here, I don't want to think about the bloody Rot for a few days yet," Spike replied.

**************************************************************

"Kate what did you want to see me about?" Angel asked.

"A ritual killing, since finding out about you I can't just take things like that for the work of crazies. I want to be sure I'm not going to take a SWAT team in and find that this guy can conjure up real demons for a defense," Kate replied.

"What if it is real?" Angel asked.

"I let you take care of it," Kate said. "You're kind created the problem it's only right that you should solve it."

"Kate, I'm sorry for what I am, for my history, but I can't turn back time, I can't change what was done. And I'm not personally responsible for the acts of every demon in existence either. I wish you would stop acting like I was. I'm trying to atone for my past, can't you accept that?"

"No, I studied your past, you were personally responsible for thousands of deaths, ugly deaths, I can't forgive that."

"Fine Kate, give me the details of the case. I'll look into it and try to minimize the contact between us."

"Here are the crime photos, it happened in a warehouse on 14th and Traymer. The victim was a twenty-four year old male, Michael Dems. He died of shock after the killer carved runes all over his body. There were also burn marks on the palms of his hands and souls of his feet."

Angel studied the pictures carefully, "I don't recognize the ritual, but it looks real to me. The burns are common in cases where the victim is used as a channel, I'm going to need some time to look up the meanings of the runes, and I have some colleagues who should also see these photos."

"Let me know when you have something useful," Kate said.

**************************************************************

"In other news there were six more local attacks by individuals infected with the Rot. Worldwide the daily number of people killed by victims of the Rot has risen into the hundreds.

"Please remember people infected with this disease become highly violent, they show usual strength and are very dangerous. If you spot anyone showing symptoms of this disease do not, under any circumstances approach them. Vacate the area and contact the proper authorities as soon as possible. Teams will be sent to apprehend the victims of the disease so that it may be studied and treated.

"Studies looking for a cure for the Rot are progressing, but slowly due to the dementia and unnatural strength shown by the suffers of this disease. They resist capture at almost any cost and have proven difficult to hold in captivity."

"How much do you want to bet that they're still keeping the ones they actually catch in rooms with windows?" Xander asked.

"I wouldn't be terribly surprised," Giles said. "Considering that the main thrust of research into the virus is still directed at discovering how the Rot allows its victims to function without a beating heart."

"I'm amazed at the human capacity for self-delusion," Anya said. "It's been fifteen years since this plague force the vampires out into the open and the public still hasn't figured out what they are."

"Well at least they don't pass them off as gang members on PCP anymore," Xander commented.

**************************************************************

"Love, tell me again why we're breaking into this clinic?" Spike asked.

"Because the virus isn't spreading normally in you as far as I can tell, but I want a real look at where it's at, to be sure," Willow replied.

"And the clinic?"

"I need an X-ray machine, my spell makes the areas of your body effected by the virus glow, but I can't see inside you without the X-ray," Willow explained.

"When Riley told us that the virus makes vampires rot, he wasn't exactly right. What actually happens is the virus creates null-zones in your body where the demon's power doesn't work. So in the those spots you're dead, rather than undead, the rotting is just a side effect."

"And this makes my case so interesting because?" Spike asked.

"Because the only visible areas of Rot are right around the bite wound on you arm. That's not normal. See in vampires who were infected while they were still human, it sort of shows up everywhere at once, cause the virus used their circulatory system to spread throughout their body before they died. In older vampires, the ones who contacted it after they were turned it starts in the stomach and mouth.

"Did you know a lot of vampires are really bad about brushing their teeth?" Willow commented. "So little bits of blood end up just sitting in the crevices of the mouth. The virus gets established in it's lining because of that, then it rots thru the skin of the cheeks or the lips. Which looks really gross by the way.

"However, the majority of the virus goes on into the stomach and eats through it, sort of like an ulcer. Once holes form in the stomach then the virus leaks into the rest of the abdominal cavity and starts diffusing through the body. Since vampires don't have a working circulatory system it takes a long time, but eventually it gets into the brain. That's why the last stage victims go nuts. After enough of the brain rots away it's like being beheaded, and then the vampire turns to dust."

"You've become a real doctor type Love, how'd that happen?" Spike asked.

"Years of studying this thing. I took any classes I thought would help and it just sort of happened. Of course I'm more an expert on vampire physiology than a real doctor. Besides that I mix a lot of spells into my work so I'm more of a witch doctor than anything else."

"Na, Love, you don't have any bones or rattles, can't be a witch doctor without those," Spike laughed. "Still what difference does it make?"

"In most cases not much, but you're different, because the virus is still so localized, and in a non-critical area, I think can just cut away the infected tissues then, with the virus gone your body should be able to heal the damage," Willow explained. "But I want to be sure I don't miss anything, hence the X-rays."

"I don't see how you could miss it, since there's this big pit of disgusting black-green stuff in my arm," Spike said.

"That's where it's concentrated," Willow replied. "It's actually a good sign that that spot is so icky, because I don't think you could have gotten too much of the virus from being bitten, and if it's all embedded there, there will be less to cut out."

"What I'm worried about is additional bits of virus that may have embedded away from the main site. You're old so they'd be small. See the more powerful the demon is the smaller the null-zone generated by the virus.

"And since the rot is caused by a virus, which needs living cells to reproduce, it really does act like a poison in vampires rather than a disease. Technically you're dead, and where the virus is that's the literal truth, it can't use vampiric cells to reproduce. That's why some vampires stop getting worse once they quit exposing themselves. But the down side is that this virus doesn't loose effectiveness over time. It's not a problem in an older vampire, if the effected area are spread out and small, but if enough tissue around the point of embedding rots, then the virus is able to diffuse to a new location and cause more damage.

"That's why I need to get it all out. Surgery won't work on the vampires that I've worked with prior to you because of the patterns of infection. To get everything I'd pretty much have to cut out their entire stomach, plus a lot of the esophagus, the intestines and the inner skin of the mouth. I have done things were I scrape out badly infected areas, and it helps, but it doesn't cure it because I have to leave so much of the virus behind. Angel and Giles both say the vampires would starve before their digestive track could possibly heal from a surgery extensive enough to get all the virus. Also, despite vampiric healing, you can't regenerate major organ lossage, so if I cut out the entire stomach it wouldn't grow back even if we could slow the starvation process.

"But you're different, the virus hasn't invaded a vital organ, I hope, just some muscle tissue, and loosing that wouldn't even take that long to heal.

**************************************************************

"Um, Mr. Angelus,"

Cordelia rolled her eyes, "Can't you Watcher types loosen up?" she asked. "Act normal, just call him Angel, like the rest of us."

"Yes, of course, I believe we've devised a method of returning and permanently anchoring a vampire's soul, however it requires the active cooperation of the vampire in question," the Watcher said.

"You have my cooperation of course," Angel replied, "I can also promise the cooperation of my coven. I'll talk to the other masters as well, but I wouldn't count on many volunteers."

"No, I didn't expect that many vampires would agree to having their souls restored," the Watcher said, "In fact I'm surprised that you expect your coven to agree to the procedure."

"He expects it because he's going to go threaten to do horrible things to them if they refuse," Cordelia volunteered.

The watcher looked slightly ill.

**************************************************************

"I've been talking to people like you asked," Riley said. "And like I said, it isn't doing any good."

"They think that this is just going to work itself out," Buffy said with disgust. "What are they blind or stupid?"

"No, they just don't believe that curing the rot is the answer," Riley replied.

"So what's their answer?" Buffy asked.

"Same as it's always been, a more virulent strain that will kill faster, before the host has a chance to do as much damage." Riley answered.

"You know I'm starting to agree with Spike," Buffy said. "The majority of your people in the Initiative are as bad as any of the vampires. I don't know how you can stand to be a part of that organization."

**************************************************************

"Well it looks like your little group of heroes is getting some competition in resolving this vampire mess," Ethan said.

"Yes, the Initiative, the watcher's council, doctors around the world, although they have depressingly little hope of accomplishing any thing until they recognize the existence of vampires."

"Angel's body carving friend," Ethan interjected.

"What?" Giles exclaimed.

"Except he's going at it from another angle. He's trying to make the Rot instantaneously fatal to anyone infected.

"I was looking at the pictures Angel sent. The spell's supposed to strengthen a disease. The targeting section is botched, but if I were a novice trying to adapt the spell to target vampires, I might have gone about it in that fashion," Ethan said.

"The idea actually has some merit," Giles said. "If we could modify the spell so that it could be preformed without a human sacrifice."

"We'd also need to fix the mess that this caster has made of the targeting. As it is now it only affected the virus in truly dead bodies. If had been screwed up in a slightly less fortuitous manner it would have killed all the humans carrying the virus."

"Angel and Kate have yet to apprehend the individual responsible," Giles said with concern.

"Well you had better tell them to look harder, because he'll probably try again and what percent of the population are carriers now?"

"According to the Initiative's models almost 90% of the world's population should have the virus in their blood stream," Giles replied lifting the phone.

**************************************************************

"Love, how many of these X-rays things are necessary?" Spike asked, "I hate all this sitting still."

"I… I just want to be sure," Willow stammered.

"How sure do you need to be, Love? Cause if you want to be much surer we're going to be spending the day here, and I have no doubt that the people who actually work here will be unhealthily curious about us."

"Will, when you got bit the first time, the time when you thought nothing happened. The other vampire actually bit all the way into the bone. The virus ended up implanted in the marrow, that was several years ago, since then it's rotted out most of the interior of your humorous bone," Willow said.

"So what's that mean? You can't get it out?"

"I could, but I'd have to remove your entire arm."

Spike didn't reply.

"I'm sure we'll find a cure, and it won't spread very fast, we could just wait. I mean there's some risk, it's really concentrated in your arm, so there's a big possibility of the virus moving, but maybe I could make a spell to secure it or something. We'll find something else, we don't have to… you know."

"Will, you're babbling. I know you well enough to know it's because as much as I don't like your first plan, it's the best one you've got isn't it?" Spike sighed. "Truth love, how much worse could it get."

"Bad worse, the infection is very likely to move. Even if it doesn't the bone in your arm is just a shell, very delicate, and likely to be broken beyond repair anyway, it won't heal with the virus present either, and you know that. What's worse is if it does move it could end up relocating somewhere vital, then this wouldn't work at all," Willow said.

"And if you don't find a cure then I'd really be in a fix," Spike finished.

Willow nodded sadly.

"I really hate being sick, Love," Spike said. "But I don't like the alternative much either. Give me a day or two to think."

"Oh, of course," Willow replied. "I need to call Giles first anyway, just in case they've made any progress."

**************************************************************

"We know what your guy's up to Kate," Angel said.

"He's for real then," Kate replied. "Not just some nut."

"It's real magic, but the danger's not something you have to worry about fighting, in fact if we don't find him before he attempts the spell again we might not be around to fight him.

"So you're… people will take care of it?" Kate asked.

"We'll be looking, but the police need to keep looking too. You can arrest the sorcerer like any mortal, but if the spell is cast it will be too late. I only have thirty-four people; we need help to find him. In this case speed is going to mean everything."

**************************************************************

"Okay now we're getting strategies from some freak down in LA who spends his time carving designs into dead bodies?" Buffy said.

Anya looked up from the pictures. "Actually I think the body was still alive while the carving was going on."

"You can tell that from the picture?" Xander asked with disgust.

"Yes, see how the cuts here are a little messy, probably the victims was still struggling while they were made."

Xander shuttered, "I didn't need to know that."

"As I said we're getting ideas from this guy? There is something deeply wrong with that," Buffy said.

"Buffy, the current state of affairs simply cannot be permitted to continue. We haven't been able to cure the Rot, but we might be able to do this," Giles said.

"Make the Rot worse, that's the Initiative's plan, and the psycho's, doesn't that tell you it's a bad plan?" Buffy asked.

"I thought the Slayer's mission statement was kill all vampires and other creatures of evil… so long as they aren't human," Ethan commented. "Angel's amateur spell caster is too incompetent to get the job done, and we all know how well the Initiative does on the carry through. However I could make this work."

"And yet another endorsement from a truly stellar source," Buffy added.

"Despite this plan's pedigree it is the best we've come up with," Giles said. "And if it works the vampire population will be all but decimated."

**************************************************************

"All right ladies and gentlemen, you're going to do exactly as the nice Watcher says," Angel announced glaring at the thirty-two vampires that currently made up his coven.

"Angelus, come on, we don't want souls, we're vampires remember, evil demons, it's what we are," One of the vampires argued.

"Remember the choices, Adrian, soul or stake, what's it going to be?" Angel replied, remembering that two vampires had already chosen the stake. "Look folks it'll work out, this isn't a curse, your soul will be yours, forever. You can have a good life. It will also help you deal with the temptation to drink human blood. Even though you know it's poison I know how hard it is to resist, this will make that easier. Beyond that I'm not spending the rest of my unlife being a conscious for you. Today you get one of your own or you're dust, do we understand one another?"

A reluctant and resentful chorus of "Yes Angelus" rose from the group.

"To begin," the watcher said nervously. "Everyone will need one of these…"

**************************************************************

"No bloody way Peaches," Spike snarled. "I don't want a soul. I already have help controlling my bloodlust, remember? I don't need a soul making me even more of a wuss.

"Besides that not all of us vampires need magical intervention to keep us from wanting to send the world to Hell, now do we Angel?"

**************************************************************

"No! No! No!" Dru shrieked. "I won't! It's icky Daddy, I don't want to and you can't make me!"

**************************************************************

"Look Angel, we went along with the no feeding on humans thing. It was only common sense when they're poison, but this is too much."

**************************************************************

"Well it's much more relaxing around the office since everyone has a soul now," Wesley commented.

"Speak for yourself," Cordelia replied. "Until now I'd never realized that Angel had a hundred years to deal with his guilt before we met him and he's still brooding all the time. These guys are much worse, Rebecca and Sonja keep bursting into tears, and vampire tears are bloody! Look at what they did to my blouse."

"Um yes," Wesley said dutifully examining the reddish stain on the shoulder of Cordelia's shirt.

"Then there's Adrian, apparently he killed his wife and kids after being turned. Angel's got him tied up in the basement so he doesn't off himself," Cordelia continued. "As for the rest of them all they want to do is wander around and mope and apologize. None of them are good for anything anymore and there's still some wannabe witch out there who might accidentally wipe out a large fragment of the world's population including you and I."

"Well, um I hadn't thought about it in quiet those terms," Wesley said.

**************************************************************

"Where ya going?" Willow asked.

Spike made a face, "One of the minions found another nest of unallied vamps, we're going to go clean it out."

"Oh, I could come along and help. Like I did with Buffy," Willow said.

"No thanks, Love, watching a mortal kill vampires would just make the boys nervous. `Sides you've got more important things to do than hunt down a bunch of the brain-dead as well as undead."

"Will, you'll be careful right?" Willow asked. "And if any biting happens remember to cut the damaged area away immediately before the virus has a chance to get established."

"Of course Love."

"And wash it with water," Willow continued. "Vampires don't bleed enough to clean out germs. And you'll bring any bites to me ASAP so I can make sure that they're clean before the virus has a chance to spread."

"As you say Love," Spike replied smiling.

**************************************************************

"You're right Ripper, this is going to do it," Ethan said.

"And without needing to kill anyone either," Giles added.

"Except vampires," Ethan said. "Of course we would have been done months ago if you hadn't been so stubborn about the sacrifice being out and this version of the spell only has an effective radius of a thousand miles."

"I'll contact Willow," Giles said. "I didn't want to involve her, but she can find enough spell casters among the technopagens she communicates with on the computer, I still can't work that idiot box."

**************************************************************

"I still can't believe Giles agrees with the Initiative," Buffy exclaimed.

"We're not the bad guys Buffy," Riley said. "And it's not as if you actually wanted to save vampires, you just wanted to stop the killing."

"This is wrong, Giles knows it, that's why he won't let anyone tell Angel and didn't tell Willow until the last moment about what he and Ethan were doing. This isn't like patrolling. For years I've killed vampires that were in the middle of hunting people. I don't feel guilt about that, but this is worse. Like Spike said it's genocide, it feels wrong."

"It's not. Buffy, just because you haven't actually caught the vampire in question killing people they've done it and will do it again, isn't that why you take out newly risen fledglings. Some of them haven't killed yet, but you know it's inevitable that they will, this is no different. There's not a vampire in existence that hasn't or won't kill, not even your friend Angel," Riley said.

"That wasn't Angel," Buffy protested. "It was the demon, they're not the same."

"I know but he's still a time bomb until someone finds a way to secure his soul," Riley replied. "That's why you didn't look into resouling other vampires as soon as you had the curse isn't it? Because if they lost they're souls again it would be harder to do your duty and kill them."

"It's worse than that," Buffy said, "Even without souls it's hard to kill someone after you get to know them, look at how we all feel about Spike."

"Who is one of the ones that will die if the spell works," Riley commented.

"I know. Willow's going to be crushed," Buffy said. "I don't want her having to choose between what's best for the World and the person she loves. It hurts worse than anything you can imagine."

**************************************************************

"Angel we caught the spell caster," Kate said. "You can quit looking for him."

"Thanks, I've really got my hands full here," Angel replied looking around his office, taking note of the various depressed vampires camping there.

"Right," Kate said irritably, "Your problems with them."

"You delivered your message Kate, why don't you leave."

**************************************************************

The little magnetic words on the refrigerator spelled out, "Welcome home, beautiful Lady."

"Oh that's so sweet Dennis," Cordelia said.

Slowly the words rearranged themselves to ask, "How was your day?"

"It's getting better," Cordelia replied. "Angel's talked about half the coven into being helpful again, Sonja's quit with the crying jags and Rebecca's crying on Wesley now. See a whole day at the office and no blood stains on my cloths.

"Adrian's still determined to kill himself, but I'm sure he'll get over it sooner or later.

"What we really need is a councilor for the undead and newly soulful. Still Angel say they're coming around to the making amends idea, and they're all pretty used to following Angel's lead by now anyway, so I think they'll do fine."

"How is Angel?" The magnetic words asked.

"Better really," Cordelia replied. "Since the resouling thing he doesn't have to be so violent anymore to keep them in line. I think that the whole threatening, torturing, and killing thing he had to do to keep the Coven on the straight and narrow was a little too close to Angelus behavior for him. This is better, even if crying vampires are hell on my wardrobe.

"Kate's still be a bitch, but what's new. Personally I think she's just mad because Angel didn't turn out to be datable. So maybe she'll improve now that the stupid clause is gone," Cordelia continued.

"On the other hand I'm sure Angel could do better than her. Do you think he'd mind if I tried setting him up with someone worthwhile for a change?"

Cordelia almost heard Dennis sigh as the words on the fridge rearranged themselves to say, "I would not advise it."

**************************************************************

"Spike!" Willow shrieked. "What happened?"

"Blasted bastards kicked my arm," the blond vampire muttered, "It's broken."

"That's your infected arm," Willow said. "That's bad, very bad. The virus is going to be all disturbed now."

"Yeah and the arm's completely useless now," Spike said. "I guess this makes the choice about cutting it off or not huh. No point in keeping it when I won't be able to use it anyway."

"Right," Willow said, "And Giles called he and Ethan are going to cast a spell so that the Rot's instantaneously fatal, we would have had to do this anyway. I'm so sorry Will," she finished.

Spike sighed, "Just how things worked out, Will."

A small sad smile touched Willow's lips at hearing their identical nicknames spoken so close together. "We haven't done the name thing in forever," Willow said.

"Cause it's so cute that it makes a person want to heave," Spike replied.

"Your started it," Willow said.

"Only because it was worth it to see your chums turn green."

"I thought Xander was going to have a stroke every time we'd get cute and couply," Willow commented.

"And the Watcher too," Spike added. "The Slayer though, she just told me that if I hurt you she'd make me beg to be staked."

"It's a friend thing," Willow explained. "I threatened to hurt Riley it he wasn't nice to Buffy when he started being interested in her."

"I wish you had, someone ought to hurt those bloody Initiative blokes."

"I'm really angry that they hurt you," Willow replied. "Still if you hadn't needed our help after the implant thing we never would have gotten to be friends."

"The one and only good thing that they can claim even partial responsibility for," Spike said, kissing her. "I wouldn't give you up though, even if I could undo everything else that they did by doing so."

"Look who's getting mushy now?" Willow said teasingly.

"And you're friends aren't even here to be outraged," Spike replied, kissing her again.

**************************************************************

"Giles, something weird is happening," Angel said. "Nine of my people just disintegrated, could someone else have tried that spell?"

"Yes, well, um. That would have been us," Giles explained.

Silence filled the phone line.

"Angel, are you still there?"

"Why?" Angel asked after a long pause.

"Because it was an end to this nightmare, the only one we could find. Angel we looked for a cure for seventeen years. During those years there has been a virtual world war between vampires and humans, with the casualty rates to match. It had to be ended." Giles said.

"You could have warned me." Angel said, hanging up the phone.

**************************************************************

"Well Love, the Watcher wants everyone gathered back in good old Sunnyhell. He feels the need to have everyone together so we can sort out where we go from here," Spike reported.

"Will you come?" Willow asked. "I know vampires and planes don't mix."

"I'm shipping myself as cargo," Spike explained, "It's a bloody pain, but less boring than waiting for a boat to make the trip."

**************************************************************

Giles looked around the room at the not so little group of individuals that he had come to rely on to aid the Chosen One's fight against the forces of darkness.

In the years since he'd come to Sunnydale the group had grown more diverse and much more capable than he had ever dreamed possible. They had also grown apart. Looking around the room it was easy to see the cracks in their once unified front.

The most obvious sore point was Angel, standing near the door, flanked by Cordelia and Wesley; all three looked tense and ready for a confrontation. They were allies to the group, but not friends, not anymore, maybe not ever. Even in the best of times Xander had done everything in his power to keep Angel's place in the group an awkward one. Cordelia had frequently maintained a certain distance on her own in order to maintain her image. And Wesley had never been considered anything more than an annoyance while in Sunnydale.

Yet somehow the Slayerette's outsiders had come together to form a cohesive team in Los Angeles.

Spike and Willow also sat apart from the others, together with Willow's fellow Wicca Amy, Tara and Michael. Giles had watched sadly as Willow had grown away from her old friends. It had been inevitable as her powers and confidence grew. She and Buffy had different methods of doing things, those difference had often divided them during recent years. Even before Willow had chosen to follow Spike to England Giles had know she would be leaving the group. It had to happen because Buffy led the Sunnydale group, she took advice from the others, but she made most of the decisions, and Willow wasn't willing to have her advice ignored any longer. Overruling Buffy when it came to using the spell to end the Rot had taken nearly all Giles' authority as her former watcher and the person she looked up to as a father. Willow didn't have that kind of authority to call on when she and Buffy seriously disagreed.

Xander and Anya were clearly a couple; they were also clearly with Buffy, as was Giles himself.

Ethan having fulfilled his end of their bargain in resolving the current crisis was long gone.

Riley was the only person in the room whose first loyalties weren't clear. He was still a high-ranking member of the Initiative's commando forces, and he was Buffy's lover. For years he had balanced between the two. Despite the difficulties he hadn't betrayed either, Giles couldn't see how he managed it.

There were faces missing as well, Jenny, Kendra, Angel's first partner, Doyle, Buffy's original watcher, Merrick, even Faith were all former allies lost to death. Oz was also gone, still looking for peace with his wolf somewhere far from Sunnydale.

None of the group were children anymore either.

**************************************************************

"What, precisely, did you do to the virus?" Angel asked.

"The changes weren't permanent." Giles said. "For a few seconds we managed to enhance the strength of the null-zones created by the Rot, basically forcing the demons out of the infected host bodies. Now the Rot is as it was, we didn't have the ability to permanently alter it."

"Well that isn't really a problem now," Spike said. "Peaches and I figure that there are about four hundred vampires left in existence and they're too afraid to feed off humans or turn anyone."

"Sixty-four of those left have unremovable souls," Angel added. "There were twenty-two other vampires who went through the ritual to have their souls restored, but they had the virus. You dusted them when you preformed the spell."

"Yes, I'm sorry we didn't have an alternative Angel." Giles said. "Now despite the fact that vampires are no longer a real threat to humanity there is still a need for us to remain vigilant."

"There is a power vacuum in the supernatural world," Wesley contributed. "We must be prepared for other representatives of the evil powers to attempt to fill that void."

"But not all demons are bad," Cordelia said. "So we all need to think before slaying, okay?"

"Quite true," Giles said. "This is a changed world, the balance of powers has been restored, but only after a dramatic shift. There is need for caution, the rules of the game have been altered and we need to understand those changes before rushing in to things."

"That goes double for Commando boy over there," Anya said. "Your bunch never had a place in the balance of powers in the first place. If you insist on remaining involved, at least try not to knock the entire arrangement off its base this time."

"She's right," Angel said, "The Powers That Be still consider your organization to be interlopers, but they've made room for you in the balance. Just remember a three point balance isn't stable."

"Look," Riley said, "The Initiative is right to be involved, if I understand you, mortals and demons alike have been simple pawns in this game since the dawn of time. What the Initiative is doing is taking our place as an actual player in the game. Yes we've made some serious miscalculations in the past, but it not the Dark Ages, humans don't need to blindly bow down to your Powers. You accuse me of just following orders with out question, but at least I know who's giving the orders."

Anya rolled her eyes. "Mortals, you're so arrogant."

"Please," Giles interjected, "This isn't the time for insults."

"So it's back to patrolling," Buffy said, "I mean if I find something attacking a human my duty's still clear, right?"

"Personally I'm sick of ambiguity," Xander chimed in. "It'll be good to get back to fighting the run of the mill type demons."

"Spike and I are going back to London, the coven there can't run itself and it's home," Willow said, "Also I like to keep an eye on the council, personally, I think that they're going to be as bad as the Initiative in the years to come. They're too resistant to change, they won't adapt easily to the new situation."

**************************************************************

"Peaches, I noticed you didn't tell them about Dru," Spike commented.

"What's to tell?" Angel asked.

"Oh I don't know little details like she can tell who has the virus at a glance, which means she can still make more vampires," Spike replied. "And she's turning everyone she finds that's clean."

"They'd just have wanted to kill her," Angel said. "It's not like she can do that much real harm anymore."

"She'll probably keep the species from going extinct." Spike said. "And I thought you wanted to kill all the vampires."

"Maybe I don't," Angel replied. "This plague is still out there, it's changing us. Even the covens who wouldn't consider having they're souls returned are becoming more human. Except for Dru's bunch no one hunts anymore and they've started talking to humans, making human friends, like you have.

"The world's a big place," Angel said. "Maybe once one Slayer was enough to protect it, that's not the case anymore. Almost all of the surviving vampires took an active roll in preventing this latest apocalypse. They might be willing to do that again someday, especially as they come to like humans as something other than dinner. I think we're part of the change of balance that's occurred. Vampires don't belong solely to the powers of evil any longer."

The End

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