Was in the merry month of May
When flowers were a bloomin',
Sweet William on his death-bed lay
For the love of Barbara Allen.

- 'Barbara Allen', Traditional Folk Song

Halfrek Makes A Choice

"Fresh out of pleasure. That's why I'm here." Spike sighs, shooting Anya a look of pure misery. "I need something. Numbing spell, maybe."

Anya's returning smile stretches her face oddly, and the hackles on the back of Spike's neck rise. He's been looked at like that by things before; generally speaking, they wanted to eat him.

"Uh-huh... hang on..."

And Anya pulls her friend aside, that other vengeance demon bird, the one who came to Buffy's party. She looks so familiar, he wonders if he's fought her before; he searches his recent memory, and comes up empty.

Whatever they're talking about, they've got their knickers properly twisted; Anya's so excited she looks like she's running a fever.

"Sorry to bust up the little girls' night out," Spike calls.

Anya's friend - Hoofex? Hornflox? Stupid demon names - walks towards him, a speculative look in her eye.

"You go by 'Spike' now... that's correct?" she says, a Mona Lisa smile on her lips.

"S'right, pet." So he does know her.

"My friend Anya needs a wish. And you're in so much pain you're making my blood sing." Hoofex or Hornflox or whatever smiles predatorially. "I haven't seen you like this in a long time. So ripe..."

Bint must be a friend of Dru's, then...

"I never got to finish what I began with you, Sweet William," the demon smiles tenderly, reaching up to touch his face. "So much raw emotion. So much potential. I suppose I wasn't the only one who noticed."

Spike's brain is screaming at him, red alerts everywhere.

And the demon begins to sing, laughter in her voice. It's an old song, one his mother used to sing... all about Sweet William, who died for the love of a hard-hearted woman.

And the last piece falls into place. "Cecily?"

Her lips curve into a delighted smile. "My William. So very slow."

"You were a vengeance demon? Bloody well explains a lot."

"And you were a masterpiece I never got to finish." She drinks him in with her eyes, lingering on the scar at his eyebrow. "So many changes on the outside, Sweet William. So few on the inside. Would you like to be finished now?"

"Can't say as I fancy it," Spike says casually, trying to hide his unease. "Lovely to catch up and all, Cecily, but I came here to talk to Anya..."

"A wish for a wish. You help Anyanka... I help you."

"Look, I don't want vengeance," Spike growls. "I know how your kind work. I'd wish she wasn't hurting me anymore, and you'd pop her out of existence and we'd all be in some nightmare dimension where Lord Googleymoogley of Evil Incorporated runs the Hellmouth. No bloody thank you."

Spike shoves his hands into his pockets. "Anya, I'll talk to you later, pet."

Halfrek takes his arm. "Sweet William..."

"And stop calling me that. The name's Spike."

"Spike, then. There is another name for a vengeance demon, Spike..."

"Pain in the ass?"

"We are also called Justice Demons. I'm well over quota for the month. I have no need to turn your little Slayer friend into something squishy. Vengeance and justice can be simple and subtle, too."

"Your kind's as subtle as a concrete block to the face. I'll be seein' ya."

He heads for the door, and Halfrek raises her voice. "She doesn't know how much your love means to her."

He freezes.

"It's like oxygen, food. Something she needs but takes for granted. All I would have to do is remove it. She would suffer more than enough for my purposes."

Spike turns slowly to face her. "Say again?"

"All I would do is remove your love for her. Subtle, simple, like I said. But completely effective."

Spike shakes his head. "Wouldn't work. Too late. Already made a right ass of myself. And if you're offerin' to make it so I never loved her, no. Somethin' worse might've happened to the Bit otherwise."

"That's not what I'm proposing, Spike. I'm proposing a solution that would allow you to maintain the relationships you've built, regain your pride, and end your pain."

He lifts an eyebrow. "What's the catch?"

"You have to make a wish for Anyanka."

"Is that right." He turns to face Anya. "What kind of wish is it you're wanting, then?"

"I want... I want something bad to happen to Xander."

And Spike smiles... an achingly sad smile. "Whelp's tossed away the best thing that ever happened to him. That's going to haunt him the rest of his days. What could I wish on him that's worse?"

Anya's eyes fill with tears. "Do you really mean that, Spike?"

He touches her hand. "'Course I do, pet. Boy's in pain, it's clear to see."

"But I can't see, and it's not fair! He won't tell me, he won't show me! He was always yelling at me for being too honest, for saying whatever was on my mind, and he has to just... shove everything down and hide it from me!"

A slow, spreading evil grin takes Spike's face. "You want me to wish that Xander couldn't lie, then? That he always said what was on his mind, like you do?"

Anya's eyes widen. "Oh, yes... I think I'd like that, yes."

Halfrek steps forward so that they stand in a rough circle. "We have our terms, then? We are agreed?"

Anya and Spike share a look, nod.

"So mote it be," Halfrek whispers.