Okay, okay, I know, I know - this chapter is late. Again. But first I had an edition to write for, and then we went to a wedding in Kent whilst we had colds, and then we had Christmas and before we knew it we were in January... and all the time we were doing house-related things. So this meant a few writing delays. Here it is anyway. Ok, disclaimers - I don't own these characters. Sob.

As the bird soared past the hospital building it had an excellent view of several of the rooms as well as an office where an unshaven doctor was throwing darts at a picture of the hospital administrator. And if it had had the wit to look to its right at one point, it would have seen two rooms, not too far apart, both inhabited by men, but with very different collections of get-well-soon cards. However, the bird was being chased by a hawk and was too busy to notice.

The shelf by the window was covered in cards. Big ones, small ones, polite ones, obscene ones… but all said the same thing, or rather voiced the same sentiment: Get Well Soon.

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce sat in the bed and contemplated the tray of hospital food with a great deal of, well, disgruntlement. Occasionally he poked at bits, and once he lifted a lettuce leaf and shuddered at what was underneath it. Then he looked over to the newest card, on the sheet by his bandaged side.

His father had sent him a card. It was most unnerving. Roger Wyndham-Pryce, one of the most respected, and in some areas feared, Watchers of the old school, had sent his only son a get-well-soon card. It had a bunch of flowers on the cover, noted Wesley with some bemusement, and was completely kittenless. His father was not the kind of man to send out cards that had anything cute on them, not unless the kitten was wearing chainmail and was equipped with a battleaxe. He opened it again.

"To Wesley. The most noble calling for a Watcher is to be injured in the defiance of evil as your Slayer fights the good fight. Please get well soon. Father." There was a PS, written in his mother's handwriting, saying: "And for god's sake don't get shot again! Am sending Mr Bunty on to you. Love, Mum." Wesley cringed slightly. Mr Bunty had been his favourite teddy bear when he had been a child. His mother still kept it in his old room at home, ready to be mobilised at a moment's notice. If either Faith or Buffy found it… well, that could be disastrous.

He put the card down and looked around at the other cards. There was one from Quentin Travers, and another, far ruder, one from his old friends at the Watcher's training college. He'd put them next to each other and devoutly hoped that Travers never turned up to visit him. Especially as Faith's card was almost filthy enough to be sold in Blackpool, the English city that had cornered the market in risqué humour when it came to cards. The donkey was the most respectable part of the damn thing, but it was kindly meant.

"Hey, Wes, how's it going?" He turned his head to see Xander at the doorway. He was holding a large bunch of flowers. "These are from Mrs Summers. She seems to think that your room needs brightening." The Jedi placed them carefully on the table by the door. "Personally I think that this room's walls need to be repainted a less appalling shade of vomit green, but I think that the colour just appears by itself in hospitals all over the world."

He paused and then tilted his head slightly. "Ok, the scary nurse who is always sitting at the desk outside just got on the elevator. Cool. That means that I can deliver your order." He opened a small bag that the flowers had been effectively obscuring and took out a small container. "One box of Joyce's best cookies. The kind you like, with the chocolate coating and the orange stuff. Like the jaffa cakes you keep mentioning? I have to say that I almost had to beat Giles off with a baseball bat to get these to you, as otherwise he'd have 'liberated' them all."

Wesley grabbed the box with eager hands and opened it slightly, putting his nose to the crack and inhaling blissfully. Perfect. "Please pass on my most sincere thanks to Mrs Summers. They smell wonderful and will be far better than…" he flapped a hand at the tray of unappetising food in front of him. "This."

Xander cast a critical eye at the tray and then gave an exaggerated shudder. "You're a braver man than I am, Gunga Din." He paused for a moment. "I have got to stop channelling Giles. I keep using odd words and phrases."

"Sorry?" asked Wesley through a mouthful of cookie. "You don't sound odd to me. Can I ask you to hide this box in the drawer next to me? Thank you. I don't want the scarily efficient and yet equally scarily dull nurses to find them."

"Not a problem," said Xander as he put the cookies away carefully. Then he looked to one side. "Aha. Time to carry out my other little chore."

Wiping his mouth free of telltale cookie atoms Wesley frowned. "Xander, are you sure you want to do this? Given who he works for, is it a good idea?"

"He has to know, Wes. He killed Molniar, a client of his own firm, when he didn't have to. He did the right thing. I think he's ready. Sort of. I need to play this thing out a bit. Give him some information now and see if he can work the rest of it out.222"

The Watcher sighed deeply, wincing slightly at the pain from his wound. "Very well. Your judgement has often proved right on these things, and frankly it's not my business. But when it comes to matters relating to Wolfram & Hart, my instincts as a Watcher tend to be to shoot first and bury the bodies under a hundred metres of pointy rocks second. But based on what Giles has told me, I think that you're right here."

"Thanks, Wes," said the Jedi quietly. And then he was gone.

At least his headache was ebbing, which meant that he would be released soon. After just two days in hospital he was ready to kill for some real damn food, not to mention a drink. The company had made sure that the treatment for his head wound had been excellent. It was just a shame that the response to the news that he had been injured had been so piss-poor.

The card from his mother and sisters was the only real human touch in the room. It was large, silly, and made him smile a lot. The one from Holland was anodyne and the one from Rove was just soulless. He wasn't sure who had sent the headless teddy bear with the card that had the word "Don't" written in magic marker in front of the message to get well soon, but if he had to bet money he would have said that it was Lilah. What a bitch.

Sighing, he dropped his head onto the pillow. He had a lot to think about. For one thing, there were the events of the past few days. Molniar was dead. And Xander Harris had a lightsabre, plus odd powers. Oh, and he had claimed that he was a Jedi as well. That was an odd one.

He hadn't been able to really think about it that much because, above all else, there was the little matter of him killing a client of the firm. Yes, Wolfram & Hart's thoroughly vile, mass-murdering, psychotic client Molniar was dead, having been shot by none other than Lindsey McDonald. He was still rather fuzzy on the actual event itself. Molniar had been threatening Willow Rosenberg, the friend of the Slayers and the girl that he had fought by her side against Major Wilkins' flunkies. Harris had suddenly turned up by bursting through the floor, armed with a lightsabre and the ability to squash Orbs of Marduk and bend steel blades, not to mention make people fly through the air. And then there had been the point where Lindsey had realised that enough was enough and that he had to save Rosenberg from that demented murdering weirdo by shooting him.

That was the odd bit, because he really couldn't remember much about the actual act. It had all happened too fast. One minute he had been scrabbling about on the floor for the gun, the next he had been looking down the barrel of the now smoking gun and seeing the astonished demon poking at the bloody hole in his side. It was as if something had taken over, as if something had made him move instinctively. He had no idea what though.

Lindsey sighed. The firm knew that Molniar was dead, because the Watchers had sent the ashes back. Ok, so Rupert Giles had thrown the small urn through a window, according to Rove, but the remains had been returned. If they were the actual ashes. He had a funny feeling that a rose bush somewhere in town was making the most out of a sudden deposit of grimy powder. He just hoped that it didn't have to be exorcised at some point in the future.

But all that Wolfram & Hart knew about Molniar's death was that there had been an incident. He hadn't exactly lied to Rove, but neither had he exactly told the truth. He'd just told his boss that Molniar had been preparing to use the Orb, that Faith Morgan and her Watcher had arrived, along with Rosenberg, that Molniar had shot the Watcher and kidnapped Rosenberg, that there had been some sort of explosion, which had injured Lindsey, causing a minor concussion and a laceration of the scalp, and that Molniar had died. He didn't mention how loco Molniar was, how revolting the demon's tastes were and he especially hadn't mentioned the arrival of so-called Jedi Knight Xander Harris. And his lightsabre.

These omissions were both easy and hard to explain. On the one hand, if he mentioned actual working lightsabres and the use of what seemed to be the Force, Rove would have him committed to an asylum at once. On the other… he didn't somehow feel that the truth about something this important should be told. This was a new, wacky feeling.

And the Jedi explanation, insane as it sounded, explained everything that he had found out about Harris. It explained Wilkins' remarks, it explained the increase in his grades.

It just sounded so completely crazy.

He rubbed the back of his head again and then frowned. The odd tingling feeling at the back of his head had returned and he didn't know why.

"Well, those cards suck," said a voice at the doorway, and Lindsey looked over to see the man himself. Xander Harris was staring at the pitiful collection of cards with a raised eyebrow. Then he walked forwards and picked up the headless teddy bear. "Ick. I sense much anger here. Does Wolfram & Hart pick up defective stock on the side or did you forget to make a payment on this thing and fail to get the next instalment?" He reached over and picked up the anonymous card. "Much anger," he repeated quietly. Something seemed to be drawing his attention away for a few seconds and then he returned to the room again. "Well, hi again. How's the food here? Wesley's getting secret cookie supplies from Buffy's mom, but I don't think that you're on her good books yet."

Closing the door firmly he grabbed a chair from next to the table in the corner of the room and sat down with his back to the door, facing Lindsey. "We need to have a talk."

"About what?" asked the lawyer carefully.

"About Molniar. About you shooting him. And about your reasons for doing so."

Lindsey sat back in his bed and looked at the guy. He seemed completely at ease, but there was a combination of amusement and deadly seriousness in his eyes. Apart from that he couldn't pick anything up, and this disturbed him. As a lawyer he had worked hard to start reading body language, and Harris's stance told him nada.

"What are you?" he suddenly blurted out. "How did you smash through that floor? And what was that weapon you had – was it a real lightsabre? And why does all this sound so completely nuts?"

"Welcome to the Hellmouth," replied Harris with a small smile. "Completely nuts events are our speciality." He paused. "Trade," he conceded. "I tell you what I am, in return for you telling me why you killed Molniar. And you get to go first."

Lindsey plucked at the sheet covering his legs aimlessly. He didn't want to mention anything, but… but… he had to get the words out. And Harris was not a part of Wolfram & Hart. He was on the other side. For a split second he had the oddest feeling that he wasn't being torn any more. Then he made his decision. "He was threatening your friend, Willow Rosenberg. He mentioned making balloon animals out of her intestines. He was… crazy, sick, twisted. He was evil."

"He was a client of your firm."

"He was… a maniac. I don't care if he was a client. The guy was evil."

Harris sat back in his chair and looked at Lindsey carefully. "Interesting observation from a man who works for a company that has ties to some of the nastiest demons in this dimension. Which is run by some of those said demons."

This bought him a harsh, bitter, laugh from Lindsey. "It's a living. Better salary than most law firms. More power. More influence." He paused. "More evil." When he looked up again Harris was looking straight at him, with an intensity that unnerved him.

"Why work for them?"

It was a question that made Lindsey cringe internally. And yet… he didn't know how to answer it properly, not without making himself feel… dirty. Not anymore. "Money," he said after a long moment. "Influence. Power maybe. My… my Dad had nothing, he went from one screwed up job to another, we were evicted a few times and I told myself… I told myself no, that was enough, I wouldn't be like my father."

"Is he proud of what you are now?"

Lindsey's head flew up and he glared at the guy, but… again, the intensity of Harris's eyes bored into his skull and seemed to shut down large parts of his brain. Would Dad have been proud of him? Nope. He would have been disappointed. Up until a few months ago that wouldn't have meant a damn. Now, all of a sudden, it did. And he didn't know why. Something prickled at the back of his head, like an ice cube defrosting at great speed. And there was another feeling, a slow tingling that he suddenly realised had been growing for the past few minutes. "I don't know," he said, rubbing his neck absent-mindedly.

Leaning back in his chair Harris just looked at him again, a long intense stare that looked as if he was dissecting the lawyer with his eyes. Lindsey blew out a silent breath. He had to regain control of this runaway train of a conversation.

"So, now it's your turn. What are you?"

This seemed to amuse Harris, because he chuckled softly for a moment and then leant forwards, lifting his arms up so that his fists were touching, while his sleeves gaped slightly more on one side than the other. "I was going to say 'guess', but… now you see it…" there was a movement in the gaping sleeve and a long silver cylinder slid into view, moved by no wire that Lindsey could see. It revolved twice, showing a small control panel and then vanished into the other sleeve, "-Now you don't." He sat back. "Jedi Knight Xander Harris," he said quietly, flipping a finger to his forehead in a flippant salute. The tingling at the back Lindsey's head flared and then died.

Lindsey felt like gaping, but then his brain was working too fast for that. "That's nuts," he heard his mouth say and then paused to frown.

"Said the man working for a law firm run by demons mostly for the benefit of demons and vampires," said Harris in a wry voice. "Isn't that nuts too?" His expression sobered. "How else do you think I can do what I can do? Magic? Maybe. No chanting though. Just the Force."

A small host of questions barrelled through Lindsey's brain, distilled themselves into concentrated thought and finally emerged as one word: "How?"

"You mean how did I become a Jedi?"

A nod.

"Ah. A chaos mage came to town and opened up a costume shop just before Halloween almost exactly two years ago. Sadly he failed to tell everyone that he had enchanted the costumes he was hiring out. When he mumbled some mumbo-jumbo to the god Janus, everyone became the character of the costume they were wearing. Exactly, to the last extreme detail." He looked at Lindsey and stroked his chin as if he was feeling for a non-existent beard. "I went as Obi-Wan Kenobi. And after the spell ended… I could still access the Force. I needed training, but I could do it. And having trained myself, and fought the good fight here on the Hellmouth… I became a Jedi Knight."

His mind whizzed with information. Oh damn, that explained everything, thought Lindsey. The change in Harris's grades, the fact that he had become more intense, more focussed. No wonder Wilkins had pointed him out. He'd been trying to get Wolfram & Hart interested enough in Harris to divert attention away from the Ascension. Too bad he'd told Lindsey, who'd filed the information away for his own private perusal.

"Wilkins knew," he blurted out.

Harris nodded. "Yes, he did. The Mayor had all kinds of little ways of finding out. Didn't seem to help him much though. We took care of him." He paused. "How did you know that Wilkins knew though?"

"He told me. Well, sort of. He hinted at something. Said that you had killed a Sankreg demon in the desert, when it was going after the Cross of the Trinity. Said that you were dangerous. Didn't say much else. I did some digging after that… Principal Snyder's notes on you were not very complimentary."

"Ah, Snyder the weasel. Speaking as a Jedi, I deplored his death, but speaking as an inhabitant of the school, let's just say that a hell of a lot of kids had their darkest fantasies fulfilled when Wilkins ate him." He looked at Lindsey thoughtfully. "That was an interesting day."

"You mean the day that Wilkins became a giant snake and tried to eat us all? Hell, yes. I almost had my head handed to me on a plate by a vampire."

"Yes, but you didn't. I remember that. You were hit by something, you were down on the ground, there was a vampire coming for you, your sword was out of reach… and then you had it in your hand. Quite a surprise that."

Lindsey's eyebrows went up. "You… saw that?"

"I felt part of it." He paused, a small smile on his face. "I have to go. But I want to ask you something and then tell you something. First: have you told Wolfram & Hart about me? Or will you?"

"No," said Lindsey slowly. "I was investigating things on the Hellmouth, including you. And at the firm you collect secrets, to use at some point, because it's a dog eat dog world there. And then the Ascension came up and then we opened an office here and… there never was a time…" His voice trailed off.

"That doesn't sound very ruthless and Wolfram & Hartish."

Lindsey smiled bitterly. "Be glad that Lilah doesn't know about you."


"Complete bitch I used to work with in LA. She looks at things with one perspective – what can she gain from the people around her. Whatever she thinks she can leverage – she will try to get control of." He rubbed his suddenly aching head. He had a lot to take in. "If I tell my boss about you, I'll spend the next few days in a padded cell. So no, I won't. What was that last thing – you wanted to tell me something?" The tingling feeling was back again, and he rubbed the back of his neck hard.

"Something bothering you? You keep rubbing your head."

"Odd feeling. Like something's there but I can't see it."

"Ah," said Harris, with an unfathomable look. There was a flash of silver at his wrist again and then he was standing up and hooking the lightsabre on his belt to one side, where his coat hid it. "That day at the ascension – that sword was pulled into your hand. With the Force. And it wasn't by me."

"Who did it then?"

But Harris was at the door now and opening it. He turned. "You need to work that out by yourself." The door closed, leaving Lindsey alone. What the hell did that mean? Something was nagging at the back of his head again, only this time it was a memory, something that someone had said not too long ago. What was it? Something said back in LA maybe… Then he paused. Wait a minute… a lightsabre was a sword of light… lightbringers! Harris was a lightbringer! He was what that demon had been referring to! He was what they had been so afraid of! Lindsey sat there in the bed and shook his head in wonder. All kinds of pieces were falling into place now. It all made sense!

Then he stopped. Or did it? The demon had mentioned lightbringers. Plural. There was someone else out there. Two Jedi? Or had he mistaken the connection between Harris and the lightbringers? He rubbed his upper lip thoughtfully. There was a lot to work out here. Then he looked out of the window. Another sunny day in Sunnydale. And was that a sparrow with an odd red gleam in its eye chomping on the remains of a hawk on a branch of a tree across the way?

The practice sword felt good in her hand. She twirled it briefly and then snapped it up in a salute to her opponent, who responded with a certain oriental swagger. Then she paused. After a few seconds she tried a feint to one side, which was brushed aside with a clatter. Another swipe-feint to the other side, again parried. Hum. He seemed to be cautious but arrogant at the same time. That was a double mistake.

Another feint and then this time she put some real weight into an attack on his other side. His sword blocked hers and then flashed out in a counter-attack that pushed her back a few feet before she stopped it. Damn, he was good. Still cautious and arrogant though. She reached out with the Power carefully, caught the next attack a microsecond before it started and pulled her sword around just in time, as her opponent slashed at her side almost negligently. Damn! He was better than she had thought, and she tried to keep her anger at bay. If she let it grow… she pulled her sword up and around and tried to break his defence down with short hard slashes, but he seemed to be ready for this – he caught her sword with his, ran it up against hers so that the hilts locked and then twisted, hard. Her sword clattered on the ground, his came around, heading for her defenceless side… and then the blunt blade slowed and twisted to slap stingingly against her side.

She stepped back, banking the fires of her anger in her heart, and bowed to her opponent. The Sensei bowed back and then chuckled. "You have improved my dear Ms Morgan. You are much, much faster. But you need to anticipate more. And you need to dictate the terms of a fight. Never fight on grounds of your opponent's choosing – fight on your own ground. Control the fight, make your opponent dance to your music." He smiled. "And never get arrogant. Always treat each battle as something you can learn from."

Lilah nodded and then stooped to retrieve her practice sword. When she turned to the door she saw that Holland Manners was watching her.

"Lilah," he purred. "Interesting hobby you've picked up. "I didn't know that you were into swordplay."

"I thought it might be a good idea, what with our new player in town. I heard that Angel is a good swordsman. Almost beat the Slayer Buffy Summers once."

"That was when he was Angelus."

"Angel, Angelus, whatever. Best to keep practicing. Who knows when we might be fighting him?"

"Good point. Keep practicing. And don't let me down too often." said Manners, and then he was gone, walking down the corridor.

Lilah watched him go with real hate in her heart. One day… she'd show him. No more put-downs, no more snide remarks, no more setting her off against her rivals. Speaking of which, there was only Lee left. Lindsey had gone off to Sunnydale, where he'd already been injured. She concealed a smirk. She'd seen the records about Wolfram & Hart offices on hellmouths. Most had been ambitious. A few had been successful. Many had been… a great way of unloading useless personnel. Admittedly the Sunnydale Hellmouth was a bit different. It was a bad one, where hellmouths were concerned. Big and bad and… it attracted demons and vampires and the creatures of the night like nothing else. A perfect place for a Wolfram & Hart office. Perfect. Shame about the rate of attrition. Like, perhaps, one Lindsey McDonald. Shame he was at a place that was so dangerous. And it had those two Slayers as well. Plus two Watchers, from a Council that could be exceptionally ruthless if it had a mind to be.

Lilah flexed her shoulders and allowed her smile to break out into the open. She'd started the lessons because she'd felt that she needed some exercise. Plus… it felt right. Using the Power was one thing, but it felt… incomplete at times. As if she needed to add something, an additional element. And using the Power whilst fencing felt right. And maybe… one day she could use her lightsabre. Preferably on Lindsey. If he survived the Hellmouth that is. Which was… questionable. She turned back to the training room and flexed her hand experimentally. Perhaps a few warm-ups and then back to training?

His hand hurt and he stopped to look at it. Damn. More blisters. Good thing he was a bloody vampire then, right? They'd be gone in a matter of hours, maybe a day. Still, it reminded him of how much he'd been bloody digging recently.

Sitting down on the nearest mound of rubble he looked around at the debris and scowled. The Gem of Amara. It was somewhere in the area but he had no sodding idea exactly where, because the directions to the bloody thing were somewhat sketchy. Hell, they were like fog – they moved about and nothing was quite what it seemed when you first looked at it. Perhaps he shouldn't have dusted that educated little wanker who had translated the text. Although he had been a very irritating, stammering little wanker.

Spike sighed and looked at the wall in front of him. It had once been a doorway leading to a passageway between two tombs, but at some point the ceiling had come down, leading to a lot of earth and rocks entering the area.

"Stupid bloody idea, putting this place in California," he muttered to himself. "Place wobbles about every five bloody minutes. Sodding earthquakes. Never happens in London."

Sighing again he stood up and grabbed his shovel. He was, once again, doing this on his own as his one helper – it should have been minion, but she objected to that word, very loudly and shrilly – was off somewhere, after complaining about breaking a nail doing some digging. Harmony was… well, a moron. She looked pretty and was like a demented anaconda in bed, but mentally she was a moron. A vain moron. A vain, materialistic, moron with massive amounts of spite about her former schoolfriends and the sadism of a brain-dead kitten. But still very good in bed.

"The standard of minion in this bloody town is bloody low," muttered Spike as he re-entered the corridor and started to shovel again. A bit longer, maybe, and he'd get something that meant he could take on the Slayer. One of them anyway. And given the fact that it stood to reason that Jedi Knights could not fight in public – for all the world to see – just yet, that means that he stood more of a chance of a fair fight, if he chose the right time and the right place for his fight with a Slayer. And that might make three out of three. He grinned and started shovelling harder.

A campus party was a party by any other name. Although the Phi Delta Kappas were supposed to be morons and as a result attracted more morons. Riley Finn looked down at his beer and sighed. He'd been invited over by a friend of a friend. Too bad that he hadn't been able to blow the invitation off with some excuse. Teams Five and Eight were out tonight, which meant that his Team One had some downtime. Not that that was bad. The problem with staying up late every night and patrolling was that sleep was something that was precious. Director Walsh had scheduled him for a new procedure later that week that might help with that problem, but until then he often had attacks of the yawns.

Tonight was different though. Riley chugged half of his beer and looked around. Graham and Forrest were somewhere in the house, probably adding something nasty to the punch. As for the other partygoers, there was a good cross-section of campus life. Some of which was pond scum, some of which was jocks, some of which was geeks and some of which were… average people. With the occasional hottie thrown in.

Then he caught sight the back of a girl with long blonde hair and he paused. Was that Buffy Summers? Then she turned and started to walk his way. Oh. No. Just some other girl. Was she preening at him? Yes she was. Hum. Predatory eyes too. He didn't remember seeing her on campus much. If at all. She was pale and looked rather pleased with herself, as if… oh crap. Not here. Not now. He tilted his head to one side to rub his neck and in the process glimpsed the side of her neck. There were two white, almost faded, marks there, right about where her jugular was. Would have been if it was still pulsing. Vampire, she had to be. And here he was, in a room full of civilians, no backup, no support, no nothing. Just his wits and his Iowa charm. Time to put the act on. Waiting for the right moment he stepped up to her as she passed, obviously checking around for her next meal.

"Hi there, and what's a lovely lady like you doing on your own?" he asked, laying on the hick impression with a trowel.

She smiled brightly, eyes flickering in assessment and then sipped at her drink in what she obviously thought was a coquettishly way. "Looking for some company. Hi, I'm Harmony."

"And I'm Riley. You like the party so far?"

"Well… it's a party!" And then she laughed, in a slightly over-acting way. Great, he thought, not quite a newbie, but close enough. Let's get her out of here and into a dark corner where I can stake her. Weapons… weapons… he looked down at the nearby table as he laughed with her, his eyes flickering. Crap. The biggest thing there was a plastic knife and the only wooden weapon was a sausage stick. Bit small.

"So what are you studying?" he asked, and noting the faint flicker in her eyes as she made up her next lie.

After a faint pause she said brightly "Geology," with a tone in her voice that said that she was partly telling the truth, but mostly lying. "Lots of rocks!" Then she looked around in what had to be the worst case of acting he'd ever seen. "It's noisy here isn't it? Can we go somewhere quieter?"

He nodded and looked around thoughtfully. "It sure is. There's a bench outside. Want to go out there and talk?"

The predatory glitter returned to her eyes for a second and then she was giving him an insincere smile. "Sounds good to me."

As he ushered her to the door he looked around desperately. Ah. Yes, that would do. He quickly reached out and picked up a long pencil that someone had left next to the visitors' book. He just had to make sure that he hit the right spot.

They moved out into the night, passing groups of people who were drinking some illegal beers and probably smoking something equally illegal. He didn't have to prod the conversation much, because she was deep into inane chatter. My God, the girl could babble for America! She was almost as good as Buffy Summers, or whatsername, Willow, her friend. Off into the shadows. Nice.

"Parties on the Hellmouth," muttered Buffy sourly. "Great, just great. Watch a bunch of people having a good time, while having to look around for vamps. This sucks."

"You want more fledglings setting up shop in abandoned frat houses?" asked an amused Xander next to her. He had crossed his arms and was looking out at the people across the way with some amusement. "Why not mingle? I think I saw Riley Finn over there earlier."

She perked up slightly. "Riley's over there? Well… I might just wander over. Just to make sure that it's ok there of course."

"Of course," he said, nodding and obviously not believing a word of it. Then he stiffened slightly. "Damn."

"What's wrong?"

"There's a vampire in there."

Buffy muttered a word that her mother would have been traumatised to hear her say. Then: "Where?"

"Lower floor. Just entered. Must have come in from the back."

They both started walking towards the house, surreptiously checking on their weapons as they went. Buffy felt up her sleeve for Mr Pointy, and then put a hand on her bag to make sure that Aquila was there. She noticed Xander putting his right arm out slightly, where a small bulge moved down his sleeve.

"Xander," she started to say, only to be cut off.

"I know, no lightsabring vampires in plain view. We just need to get the vamp into a dark corner and teach it to play nice."

"They never play again after our lessons."

He grinned tightly. "Well, we just have to keep teaching."

By now they were approaching the driveway, where a set of men wearing some sort of frat house badges were drinking beer and laughing a lot over very little. As they came level, one of them stood up, smirked at his buddies and held out a hand. "I'm sorry, this is a private party. Unless you're invited of course."

"We're invited," said Xander, fixing them with a look that just screamed Jedi mind trick. "You can let us go in."

"You're invited," said the guy with a faintly glassy stare, "You can go in."

"That is still sooo cool," hissed Buffy as they hurried in. "Would that work on my mom to let me go clothes shopping?" She caught his expression. "Kidding, much?"

"I know." He looked about. "Oh hell. There. The blond girl leaving with the tall guy."

"He looks… Riley? Damn. Let's go."

They hurried through the crowd, which parted in a rather startled way that suggested that Xander was using the Force a bit, emerging though the door. They both orientated themselves and then went off towards the bench where the other two were heading.

This is too easy, thought Harmony as she walked and talked with the idiot that she'd picked up. The guy was from the Midwest, his name was Riley, he was naïve or something, or just dumb. Whatever, he was a meal. Yum.

Still talking about whatever might fill the air and calm him down, she turned and faced him once they reached the shadows next to the bench. "So what do you have planned for the rest of the night?" she purred in her best seductive voice.

"Killing vampires," he said in a low voice, and then his arm came around and the next thing she knew her head was snapping back after being hit by a very hard fist. "Ow!" she cried, feeling at her nose. "What are you, a psycho?"

"Just a guy looking at a vampire," he replied, pulling out a pencil. Oh god, what was he going to do, sketch her to death? Then she paused.

"You know about vampires?"

"Like I said, looking at one now."

"Oh." She felt at her face. Ridges and big canines. Not a good look. "Oops." She concentrated hard and everything popped back into place. Then she stopped dead. Someone was coming, two figures were dashing around the corner and…

"Oh, hi Buffy." The other figure was now visible and she felt what remained of her heart drop into her shoes. "Xander!" she squeaked. Oh crap, thank god for the dweeb from Iowa. Hopefully the Slayer and the dork that she now knew was a Jedi wouldn't lightsabre her in front of the hick.

Crap on a stick, thought Riley as he heard the sound of feet, company. Please let it be Forrest and Graham. He looked over carefully, keeping a wary eye on the HST. Ok, not Forrest or Graham. Just Buffy Summers and the Xander guy. Both of whom were staring hard at the HST.

"Harmony?" said Buffy in a very surprised voice. "I thought you were… I mean at the Graduation ceremony… you…"

"Hello Harmony," said Harris in a voice that was superficially friendly. "I think we need to talk." He turned to Riley and smiled. "Hi, it's Riley Finn isn't it? We need to talk to Harmony here. We haven't seen her in a while and we have a lot of catching up to do. I suggest you get back to your drink at the party."

This sounded perfectly fair to Riley, remembering how he'd left his can of Michelob behind, only it seemed to scare the bejeezus out of the HST, who let out a frightened squeak and backed against the wall. Jumping slightly at the sound Riley paused for a moment and then shook his head distractedly. What had that been about? He couldn't leave two civilians alone with a HST!

"I know what you're trying to do!" wailed the vampire, looking flustered, "And and, don't you dare! When my boyfriend gets hold of you he'll… he'll…"

"Boyfriend?" asked Buffy in a very sceptical voice, "Being who exactly?"

The HST drew herself up. "He calls himself Spike," she said proudly, "And once we find the whatsname of Amara… he'll pay you a visit."

I need to get a hold of this situation, thought Riley desperately, clutching surreptiously at his pencil, get rid of Buffy and Harris, both of whom were scowling heavily now, stake the HST and then get my beer back. He wondered about the beer part, as he keep thinking that he needed to be in the party, as if some unspoken order was urging him away.

At that point there was another interruption, when a pair of amorous students staggered around the corner whilst attempting to remove each others tonsils with their tongues. When they realised that they had company they stopped, swaying slightly, the girl looked at the boy and giggled, before whispering something in his ear, licking it for good measure and then staggering off with him in the other direction.

"Damn," said Harris testily, and Riley looked around to see that the HST had vanished around the side of the building and was nowhere to be seen. He looked at Riley and smiled warily. "I wanted to have a word with her. Haven't seen her since graduation. And I haven't heard from Spike in, well, ages." His eyes swept the area. "Buffy, we need to put the word out that our, um, former school friend is around. And Mr Finn?"

"Yes?" Harris's eyes were hard and flinty again.

"Harmony Kendall is not a nice person. I'd avoid her if I was you. You might… catch something."

Buffy muttered something about catching god knows what from her and then the two were gone, walking off quickly into the night. Riley looked after them with some bemusement, still fingering his pencil. Ok, they didn't seem to like the HST, who was definitely a fledgling given that they knew its name. But she was still a danger to them, so their warning was ironic to say the least.

He stalked back inside and got his beer, before looking for his friends. A quick call to the Initiative's main office was called for – he had to call in that HST sighting ASAP. Otherwise Buffy and Harris would be RIP.

"Spike. Harmony and Spike. Spike and Harmony. Sounds like a match made in hell," said Xander as they walked around the campus. "If it is Spike, AKA William the Bloody, that is. And what's the whatsname of Amara?" He looked around. "I can't sense her – she was going like a bat out of hell the last time I sensed her. Using the Force to detect long-range vampires is tricky. There's a lot of background nastiness."

"I don't like the fact that she was trying to get Riley on his own," grumbled Buffy. "She always was easy."

"I think she was looking for an easy meal," replied the Jedi wryly. "Mr Iowa might not be as dumb as he looks though – he was holding a pencil in a rather aggressive manner. I don't know, there's something odd about that man."
"I think he's cute," disagreed the Slayer, looking around with a sigh. "You're right, she's gone. We need to warn everyone that we can that Cordelia's leading Cordette is now officially a skanky vampire. I never liked her anyway."

"Well, she died on Graduation Day. We had other things on our minds that day. Warn people first and tell Giles second?"

"Sounds good to me," said Buffy, and stalked off.

"Amara?" said the two Watchers in almost identical tones of astonishment, mixed with amusement, bemusement and bafflement.

"I take it that the word rings a bell," said Xander wryly, looking at the pair of them. Would he sound like that one day? Well, apart from the accent of course.

Wesley and Giles exchanged a long glance, the younger Watcher rubbing at his bandages in an absent-minded way through the sheets on his hospital bed. Then Giles raised his arms in a gesture of bafflement. "Buffy, the only Amara I can think of is the Gem of Amara. It's the vampire equivalent of the Holy Grail, a, a ring with a gem mounted within it that gives a vampire certain powers, like the ability to walk in the sunlight, the ability to regenerate from wounds in a matter of seconds, even survive staking, although not to survive decapitation. Or the ability to regrow limbs as far as I'm aware of."

"It's a vampire myth," said Wesley dismissively, "Something that's been floating around for years. Every now and then a vampire goes off looking for it based on some very spurious information and digs up some field in outer Mongolia or somewhere, falls into a crack in the ground, or gets impaled on a tree root or something and is never heard of again."

"Ok, so maybe it's a myth," said Buffy seriously, "But it's a myth that's brought Spike back to Sunnydale. And that should be worrying."

"If it's him," objected Giles. "We have only the word of a rather dim cheerleader turned vampire that Spike is in town."

"Would any other vampire call itself Spike?" asked Buffy derisively. "Guys, this is the Hellmouth we're talking about. If this ring thingy is the vampire equivalent of the Holy Hand Grenade-"

"Grail," said Giles in pained tones.

"Grail, grenade, whatever, then where else but Sunnydale would you hide it?" She took a deep breath. "Plus if this is Spike this is the kind of thing that he'd go for. The power you mentioned, he'd be up for it."

"What's he like?" asked Faith, speaking up for the first time in a while. Xander turned his head to one side and looked at her carefully. The dark-haired Slayer had been very quiet all night. Come to think of it she'd been very quiet since the confrontation with Molniar. This was bad.

"Spike? Spike is…" Buffy pondered for the right words. "A cunning blond weasel. Vicious, intelligent, nasty when cornered, smells like a cigarette factory, yuck, good fighter, sounds very Londony, you know, cockney, wears a long black leather coat, and is major league bad news. Can I repeat the bit about being a cunning blond weasel? Oh and he's normally around his girlfriend Drusilla, whose mental cookies have long since fallen off her plate. I wonder where she is, if Harmony's going around claiming to be Spike's girl. Did I miss anything out?"

"Not really," said Giles thoughtfully.

"Oh and he's a planner. I mean, he always has options. Realistic too. If he can't win he'll back away for another go some other time."

"A very good summary Buffy," said Giles, smiling wryly. "Yes, very good."

"So there's a good chance that if he's here, it's for a concrete reason," Xander mused. "Such as something like the Gem of Amara?"

The two Watchers exchanged another long glance. It was as if they were communing by telepathy, or by Englishness. Or Watcher-speak. "Possibly," Giles conceded, and pulled his glasses off for a quick, rather worried, polish. "There are a number of texts that mention Amara, and I'll do some research. Um, some of them are quite rare or are hard to translate, so I'm not sure how long it might take. Not too long, I hope. Wesley, I'll probably need you to look through the Scroll of Camlodunum. I'll bring it round. Wretched thing gives me a headache."

The other Watcher nodded sombrely. "You might want to consult the Glevum Codex as well," he said quietly, "As I think that there's a mention in there as well."

"Ok. In the meantime I think we others need to keep out ears to the ground and our eyes open. Or is that a mixed metaphor? Whatever. Let's be careful out there people," ordered Xander.


The voice came from behind her as she walked down the corridor and she stopped and sighed slightly. "Hey Xand."

"You okay?"

Damn. "Fine, JX, fine. Just got a lot on my mind."

The Jedi strode up to her and tilted his head as he directed one of his long, slow, looks at her that seemed to pass straight through her body and focus on her very soul before looking away. "Come on Faith, this is me you're talking to. What's really up?"

Damn 2. She looked at him carefully. "Just thinking… I mean, on what Buffy was talking about with Spike, how dangerous he is…" She clenched her fists, suddenly angry. Then she caught herself and stopped. Closing her eyes she let out a long breath. When she opened them again the Jedi was looking at her, his brow furrowed.

"A word," he said, jerking his head at a nearby bench on the wall and then going over to sit on it. She hesitated for a long moment and then joined him. "Now what's wrong? Tell Uncle Obi-Wan. Or would you prefer my impression of Master Yoda?" He hunched down and held up three fingers that wrapped around an invisible stick. "Troubled you are," he squeaked, "Much to learn about a poker face you have."

The laugh exploded out of her like a shell, unexpected and doubly welcome. She shook her head as she looked at him fondly and then made a decision.

"I screwed up," she said bitterly.


"In the mansion place. With Molniar. I should… I should have stayed with the others, not gone off checking the place out. Stupid. If I'd been there…"

"You might have been the one shot, not Wesley. Or he might have shot you both and then taken Willow. You can't say what would have happened. Maybe you made a mistake, but maybe you also did the right thing. It was a big place and he was a demon that we'd never met before. Faith, life is not something that comes with a rewind button, no matter how much we might wish that it did. And don't forget that you saved Wesley's life. If you hadn't been there to staunch that wound, Oz would never have been able to stabilise him. You did a good thing."

"Yeah, but-"

"But nothing. You did the right thing. That counts for a hell of a lot, Faith."

"Yeah but – let me finish – Xander, it was touch and go. I wanted to go after that bastard so much… he shot my Watcher and he had Red, and he was just such a slimebag… I wanted to go after him and rip his limbs off. That was all I felt for a moment. Nothing but hate. I just wanted to go after him. I almost did it too." She closed her eyes and grimaced. "I almost left my Watcher to die."

"But you didn't," said Xander softly. He looked down at his feet. "It's a fine line between one decision and another. Sometimes it's a matter of subconscious thought. Impulses, desires, against the conscious mind. Giles once mentioned someone called Karl Jung to me. Guy was a shrink, but less obsessed with sex than Freud. Jung believed that we all have shadows in our minds – the nasty parts of us, the dark parts of us."

He looked at her. "Sometimes who we are depends on how we react to those shadows. Some of us embrace them, and fall to the dark side. Anger, hate, jealousy. Yeuch. But some of us fight them. We acknowledge that they exist and we fight them, battle them, shove them away. It can start off like a daily fight. But it can end up like a long-term victory."

She felt a tear roll down her cheek and she raised a shaking hand to brush it away. "I need to keep my shadows at bay," she mumbled after a long moment. Then, after a long moment of indecision: "Will you help me?"

"Faith you're my friend. You don't need to ask. I'll help you any way I can."

"Thank you."

"Any time." They sat there for a moment and then he stood up. "Come on, we have things to do. And I need to talk to you about a man called Anakin Skywalker, who had very similar issues to yours."

The FedEx guy looked lost and angry as Riley approached the main reception desk and seemed to be majorly annoyed with the receptionist.

"I'm sorry sir, but Mr Giles cannot be contacted right now and his assistant Mr Harris is unavailable," she said tartly.

"Well, if you won't sign for it, who will?" he asked angrily. "I still don't see why you can't-"

"As I said earlier, it isn't policy when it comes for objects for Mr Giles – it has to be signed for by him, or his assistant, or by a lecturer or teaching assistant. All you have to do is deliver it to the library to get it signed for."

"Look lady, I've got schedule to keep and I'm going to be running late if I'm not fast here. Besides, if he can't be contacted then who's going to sign for it at the library?"

"I can sign for it," said Riley, doing his best to look helpful. "Riley Finn, teaching assistant."

The receptionist shot a very grateful look his way and perked up. The FedEx guy sighed with relief and shoved a clipboard at him, waited until he had signed, thrust the package into his hands and then took off at a brisk trot.

Riley looked down at the package. It was large and heavy and had been packed up by a professional, with a lot of duct tape. Peering down at the label he could see that it had been sent by someone called Richard Emsworth, resident of Cheshire, England, United Kingdom. "I'll try the main staff room. They've been having trouble with the telephone there apparently," he said.

"I know, some kind of fault on the line. Building services are working on it. Thanks Riley."

"No problem," he said, smiled and moved off.

She picked up her tea, stirred it briskly and then sipped. Perfect. It was nice to be able to take a break every now and then, even though it meant venturing into the staff room. Some of the lecturers were a bit odd. McReady for example had never really recovered from the fall of the USSR. She knew for a fact that the FBI had labelled him a harmless nut, but it paid to be careful. As for old Channing, he was just doddering, Mellor was a freak and Grainger was an acerbic freak.

Then there were the pair of Englishmen, Giles and Wyndham-Pryce. Both were intelligent, cultured, very well educated and rather too close-mouthed for comfort sometimes. Giles was there now, sitting in a chair by the window, and reading a large book that seemed to be written in Latin. Wyndham-Pryce had been injured in some sort of accident and was in hospital.

She paused. A quick search of their records – she always did this with new colleagues – had revealed nothing very much, apart from some evidence of a rather interesting, and somewhat chequered, past when Giles had been quite young. Apart from that – nothing.

Maggie Walsh paused and then looked over to the door, where someone had knocked. "Come," she said crisply. The door opened to reveal Agent Finn. He was holding a large package.

"Sorry to bother you, but there's a package here for Mr Giles. I had to sign for it," he said, looking over at the British man.

"Ah!" exclaimed the man, standing up quickly and hurrying over. "Yes, thank you. It's Riley isn't it? Yes, thank you very much. Splendid." He took the package and inspected it carefully. "I was expecting this tomorrow. Nice to have something arrive ahead of schedule." Tucking his book under one arm he smiled and then left, carrying the package with an air of suppressed triumph.

Maggie looked at his retreating back wryly. Dismissing Finn with a cool nod she sipped some more tea. Mr Giles was an interesting man. Still, there was nothing really to worry about there. Then her mind slipped back to her little project. The arrest of her sponsor Harry Maybourne the previous year on charges that were damn silly had dented the amount of influence she had with certain areas of the intelligence community. Fortunately the NID had tendrils all over the place and she should be able to get some of the parts that she needed, like the power unit, without much difficulty. As for the rest… well, she already had the main torso, the legs, part of one arm and most of the other. The head would need partial replacing though. Team Three had lost Sergeant Hurling the other day, and she'd been able to keep hold of his head. Keeping the parts in cryogenics wasn't hard. It was going to be joining everything together that would be the tricky bit. Nerve endings had to be connected, using a procedure that was still very untested. Luckily she had a Goa'uld hand device in her possession. Using it wasn't easy – in fact it was damn hard – but it could be used in short bursts. Injecting herself with the protein marker from a dead Goa'uld had been worth it in the long run. She sipped her tea again, lost in the endless list of things to do, things that had to be obtained, planned for… and experimented on. After all, you never knew what was going to be dragged in through the door by one of her people.

Spike looked gloomily at the chest full of shiny, glittering objects and sighed. There had to be at least several dozen rings with large gems in there at least. Plus all kinds of gold chains, and enough stuff to satisfy even Liberace, but the rings were the important part. Whoever had lived in this crypt last – and there had been some crumbling bones and a skull of something nasty in the chair that he was now sitting on – had had the instincts of a bleeding magpie. Every other crypt in the tunnels had been looted and the contents brought back to this room. And that included the small, almost pathetic, stone coffin that had the badly eroded word "Amara" carved on it in Greek symbols. The fact that Spike could read them was due to the excellent education that his mother had instilled.

So. The Gem of Amara was somewhere in the room. The room that contained dozens of chests, all stuffed with items that glittered and shone and sparkled and were a bloody pain for the eye to see.

The description that he'd seen of it was a bit lacking in details, so picking it out was right out. He had no real flair for magic, so that was out as well. That just left doing things the old-fashioned way – picking up each sodding ring, trying it on, seeing if anything happened and then in lieu of nothing, moving on to the next sodding one.

"This is going to take an age and a half," he muttered. Ah well, there was always Harmony to help out. She was busy changing her clothes for the third time that day. Probably feeling frisky as well. She was the most sex-obsessed, fashion-conscious vampire that he'd ever known. Shame she was so bloody annoying with it. He'd almost miss her once they found the ring and he had reduced her to motes of dust floating in the air.

The barman looked at the pint glass thoughtfully. Not quite clean enough. He spat against a particularly tough stain and then rubbed it with the cloth he was carrying. Ah. Perfect. Reaching down he stored it away under the countertop. When he came back up again the door was closing and Summers and Harris were standing there at the entrance to the pub. To one side the bouncer was staring somewhat blankly at the wall and mouthing something.

"Hello boys," said Summers and a stunned, disbelieving silence descended on the room filled with vampires and demons. One thin, very pale, vampire moaned slightly and the barman looked down at the floor beneath the chair the vampire was sitting. That might need a mop. Then his gaze returned to the pair at the doorway. The Slayer was cleaning her fingernails with the tip of a very sharp sword, whilst the Jedi was just standing there, his arms tucked into his sleeves, a neutral expression on his face. He looked almost bored, which was, the barman knew, an act. The guy was all too focussed.

"Ummm, can I help you?" asked the barman in a very thin voice.

"Sure you can," said Summers in a voice that sounded friendly but wasn't. "An old pal of mine is in town. He's called Spike. Has anyone seen him?"

"Spike…" he muttered, cursing the very day that the mad blond idiot had walked back into town. What the hell was he going to say?" "He was in here a week ago. Hasn't been back since."

"What did he want?" asked the Jedi, musingly.

"Looking for some muscle. A few minions. Had to tell him that the old crowd wasn't around any more."

"Why not?"

"You two killed them all or drove them away."

Summer's eyebrows went up. "Nice to know we're unappreciated. Did he leave with anyone?"

"Some girl called Harmony. Very annoying. Vampire too."

There was a scraping noise at the back of the room, and the barman closed his eyes and grimaced as a low rough voice said: "She Slayer? Why fear? Why not kill?" Damn. The hicks from morontown had noticed the newcomers.

There was a thump and then a tall, heavily muscled demon, with green skin and massive fists stepped out of the alcove that it had been sitting it. Stretching out its arms it entwined its fingers and then flexed them slightly, so that unpleasant cracking noises filled the air. "Slayer play with me?" it leered.

"I'd leave her alone if I was you," called out Harris from the entrance. "You might find her a bit indigestible. Plus she'd open a can of whupass on you."

"Silence boy," sneered the demon. Several vampires in the vicinity winced and shook their heads, whilst the Jedi stared back at the demon. "I kill you first, make Slayer watch. Then I kill Slayer." Massive leg muscles flexed and then the demon flung itself in the air, tucking itself into a roll and then landing in front of the Jedi, as vicious talons sprang into view at the end of its hands and on its feet, making it come to an immediate stop at the expense of some badly scraped tiles on the floor.

Harris looked up at it. "You might want to reconsider this. I don't respond well to demons trying to wear my spleen like a paper hat."

But the demon ignored him. "Blood," it bellowed, bringing its arms around and then… The lightsabre came on with an instant hiss, blurred in the air faster than any eye could see, and then Harris was stepping back.

The demon stood there, seemingly frozen on the spot for a long moment, and then it… crumbled, falling into half a dozen cauterised pieces on the floor. The lightsabre flicked off. "Well, I did warn him," said the Jedi, returning his weapon to his belt. "Anyone else?" He looked around, staring hard at the alcove that the demon had come from. Apparently the other occupants were too busy gaping to protest, although by the retching noise he could hear, at least one had not reacted well to the incident. The barman swallowed. Fine.




"Well try another."

"Ok… Ow."

"Can't you hurry up? I'm going twice as fast as you."

"It hurts!"

"It's a bloody pinprick! From a pin!"

"It still hurts though!"

"So? You're a vampire now!"

"Hello? It still hurts!"

Spike looked at the blonde vampire next to him as she stared with great distaste at the pin in her hand and muttered about it being dirty. The concept of hygiene was not lost on him, but tetanus and blood poisoning were both things that would never bother her, at least not unless they were from mystical germs.

Growling to himself he jabbed his hand with his own hand, which was now covered in tiny specks of blood. Then he looked at the tiny blob that was welling up from the skin. Nope. He pulled the ring off his finger, tossed it to one side into an empty sarcophagus and selected another ring from the pile in front of them, before jamming it onto his little finger, that being the only one small enough to fit. Out with the pin, quick jab, still bleeding damn it, off with the ring, on with another one… this was incredibly dull.

He suppressed a sigh of entirely useless air. The Gem of bloody Amara had to be around here somewhere, it had to be. The reference in the book had said a ring, and the former owner of the chamber had been a bloody civil servant for all he knew – all the treasure and trinkets and dross and real stuff was sorted by type. Great, wonderful, that meant that it cut down on the searching. But it also meant that they had to sort through it all and test every bloody ring until they found it. Throwing another one into the discard pile he grabbed randomly, put the ring on, and jabbed. Nope.

"Ow… honey?"

"What is it?" Jab. Nope.

"Look at my hand."

He looked over crossly and then went very still. "Bloody hell." Her hand was unblemished. On one finger he could see a ring with a greenish gem embedded in it. "You found it!"

"Wow…" she said, holding her hand up to the light so that she could see the ring better. "It's very boring. Why isn't it shinier?"

Spike smiled at her, his hand reaching out behind her to grab at the stake that she'd been babbling on about earlier. Something about a weapon that could be used without getting splinters. He had a vague idea that she was talking about polishing it a lot, although what a vampire was doing with a stake he had no idea. He suspected that she had no idea either. Then he reached out with one hand and wrenched it off her finger, making her cry out in pain. And whilst she was looking at her injured finger he drove the stake into her back, aiming straight for the heart.

"Typical," snorted Anya as they walked down the dusty, rubble-strewn tunnel, "We do all the research, spending half our time sneezing over dusty old books, and it turns that what we should have been doing was watching television for news reports about subsidence. Absolutely typical." She hefted the sword she was carrying from one shoulder to another and swung the big maglite torch experimentally. "Hey, you could do some serious damage with these things."

"I don't seem to recall you doing much of the research," Xander said wryly, as he walked ahead of the small group, using the Force to scan the area. All he was picking up so far was one vampire. One sad vampire. One sad, rather pathetic, vampire. Somehow he didn't think that it was Spike. Harmony maybe?

"Well, I think that we were close to narrowing the area down anyway when we saw the report," said Giles with a slight hint of defensiveness.

"To within a five-mile area! That's a lot of potential tunnels. Oh yuck, more spiders." The former demon stamped viciously and something crunched beneath her boot. Then she stopped dead, causing Jonathan and Willow to bump into her. "Does that look like rabbit droppings?" she asked in a quavering voice.

Oz leant forwards and peered. "Look's like the pieces of a finger. Very bony."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." He straightened up and looked at her quizzically before trading puzzled glances with Xander. "Are you ok? You seem afraid."

She shuddered and then rehefted the sword onto the other shoulder again. "I don't like bunnies," she said firmly. "They scare me. And as we're underground and they tunnel a lot, I thought that one might have made it in here."

"You're a former vengeance demon who's afraid of rabbits," said Giles in a flat voice. "How very… singular."

"Listen, if you'd once seen a bunny fly through the air and rip out a knight's throat before chewing his head off, you'd be scared of the things too!" She shuddered. "Caerbannog. Poor Bors…"

"What on earth are you-"

"Much as I hate to break up this zoological moment in time," broke in Xander sarcastically, "Can I remind you that we are here to track down two vampires and retrieve the Gem of Amara? Speaking of which, I'm only picking up one vampire up ahead. Still, we go on from here in silence. If that's not too much trouble?"

There was a moment of collective foot shuffling on the part of Anya and Giles, whilst Jonathan coughed briefly and Oz and Willow smothered smiles.

"Good. Said vampire has a bad attack of the blues, so my money's on Harmony being there. Keep your eyes open though. If Spike has found the Gem, he might be immune to being sensed with the Force, or he might have some odd new powers. Best not to take any chances."

They moved out along the tunnel, passing dark and empty doorways to long-forgotten crypts, catching glimpses of broken coffins, shards of bone, fragments of parchment, the detritus of hundreds of years of the heavy, indiscriminate, hand of time. After a while they could see a faint flicker of light up ahead and Xander raised a hand carefully. Slowly they approached the lit doorway, and as they did they could hear the occasional soft sob.

When Xander peered around the doorway he saw Harmony Kendall. She was sitting on a chair, crying into a small lace handkerchief and looking utterly bereft. The room seemed to be filled with glittering objects, gold, silver, gems of all sizes. It looked like the stronghold of a mad magpie.

Xander pulled out his lightsabre and stepped into the room, his lightsabre humming into life as he did. Harmony looked up at the sound and just looked at him. "Oh, it's you," she said dismally.

"Ok," said Xander, "I was expecting a little more of a reaction than that. Especially given the fact that the last time we met you were about to wet yourself."

Harmony sniffed and blew her nose. Then she looked up again. "Being a vampire sucks. You get all this strength, but there are Slayers who are just as strong, and the next thing you know dorks like you are going around with lightsabres, and my boyfriend stole my ring and then he tried to kill me … what do I have to do to get someone to stay with me?"

"Not killing people would be a good start." Xander looked at her. "Does Spike have the Gem of Amara?"

"Yes," she said pouting. "I would have given him the stupid thing anyway, but he pulled it off my finger just after I found it. Then he stuck this stake in my back, only he didn't know that it was this fake plastic one I found. Looks much better."

"Why would a vampire need a plastic stake?" mumbled Giles in the corridor.

"I thought I'd fight stakes with stakes. Whatever."

"Harmony – where is Spike?" asked Xander warningly.

"Gone. Said something about killing Buffy."

Xander pulled his cellphone from his pocket and tossed it to Oz, who took off down the corridor in search of the entrance and a good signal like a bat out of hell, running with the aid of the Force so that his footsteps faded rapidly. Giles blinked slightly. "I take it he's going to warn Buffy?"

"Oh yes." Xander looked back just time to see Harmony's head vanishing down a hole in the ground. "Goddamn it, that's the second time she's escaped. We'll catch her eventually. Giles we need to get out of here. Oh and I'll block up this passage as we go – some of those gems might come in useful. Plus we don't know what's in that little lot."

"I agree," said Giles tersely as they all hurried back along the corridor, "There are enough objects there to keep Room 42 going for ages." As they ran back up the corridor Xander used the force to bring part of the roof down, sending a cloud of billowing dust after them as they headed towards the light. Xander had a very bad feeling about this.

"That was a very odd lecture," muttered Buffy to Amy as they left the hall. "You'd think that he was trying to bore us to death. That or he was falling asleep."

The witch grinned at her. "Rumour has it that he's seeing Professor Chang. You know, that half-chinese professor who keeps wearing skirts that are ten years too old for her."

Buffy pulled a face. "Eeeuuwww! I so did not want to hear that. It's bad enough that we now know that Giles has sex, I don't want to know about Professor Campbell!" She shuddered again for emphasis and then paused. Her phone was ringing. "I'll catch you later," she said and then answered it as Amy waved and headed off to her next lecture.

"Hey Xander – oh! Oz! What are you doing on Xander's cellphone? You're where? Uhuh. Right. Bollocks. Yes, I'm channeling Giles again. Yes, I'll take care. Thanks for warning me." She disconnected and looked around with sharp eyes. Looking for a vampire in full sunlight was an odd feeling. It didn't help that there were so many people hurrying around, heading for their next lecture, or back to their dorms, or off to the cafeteria… She could see a flash of blonde hair up ahead and tensed slightly before relaxing. Oh, it was just a girl.

She hefted her bag effortlessly, felt into it carefully and slipped Mr Pointy up her sleeve. It never hurt to be too careful. Then she walked over to the main steps by the Science Building and continued to look around. Still nothing. Maybe she was being paranoid. She shook her head wryly. No, with Spike it was better to be paranoid. She had bad memories of some of his little surprises. Then she paused, masking the moment with a scratch of the head. She had the oddest feeling that she was being watched. Aha.

Buffy turned and walked off towards the edge of the building, pulling her cellphone out and opening it. Oops, signal but little power remaining. She really should have recharged it earlier. Putting it back in her pocket she looked around again. Damn, if Spike had the Gem of Amara, she might be in trouble. If the myths about it were real…

She sensed the movement a split second before she saw it out of the corner of her eye, a boot flying straight at her face. Her hands came up just as quickly, grabbing the boot, bleeding off the momentum as she lunged backwards, before she rammed one hand up at the base of the boot and the other out to one side to connect with…

Spike screamed briefly as he fly over her, his black coat flapping and then rolled to one side before coming up again, his face losing its pained flush. He shook his trousers out and then looked down at his crotch. "Didn't know you liked that part, Slayer," he leered.

"Want me to punch it better?" she replied.

"Ooh, promises promises. Won't matter a bloody thing now that I have this." And he held his hand out to show a gold ring with a green gem embedded in it.

"Very nice," said Buffy, looking at it dismissively, "Did it come in a packet of cereal?"

Spike laughed gratingly again. "No, it's the full Monty, love, as you'll find out when I break your neck." He darted forwards without warning, his hands reaching out but she had been expecting it and she ducked slightly, her joined fists impacting on his chest - not enough to push him away but just enough to divert him to one side. He grunted slightly with surprise but spun just enough to get her on the side of the head with one fist as she moved to try and get behind him. It was enough to make her blink and by the time she had pulled Mr Pointy out completely he had turned to face her and was coming at her again. She blocked one blow with her forearm, blocked another with her other arm and then kicked hard at his chest, sending him reeling back. But then he was coming forwards again, grinning like a madman.

"Don't you get it, Slayer? Anything you do heals at once!" His fist flew through the air, but she tugged her head to one side so that it missed and then grabbed his arm and pulled it down hard on her upcoming knee. There was a strained cracking noise and he winced, before breaking free and walking back a step, massaging his arm. "Nice move," he said mockingly and then extended his hurt arm, opening and closing it rapidly. "Shame I've got this ring that heals me. Like I said: Don't you get it?"

Again he came at her, punches flying faster than ever and she found herself on the back foot, blocking, jabbing and kicking her way to just defending herself. He had been feeling his way until now and he was giving it all. She blocked one fist but failed to duck quite in time against the other, because suddenly she was flying backwards, almost forgetting to roll when she impacted the sidewalk. When she came up again she could feel something running down her face, leaving a coppery taste in her mouth. By the feel of it he'd grazed her with the damn ring!

Spike looked at the fragment of skin on the ring and then sucked it noisily off it with a grin. "Yum," he said gloatingly. "You have no idea how long I've been waiting to do this. Do you know that I've killed two Slayers before this? You make the lucky third."

"In your dreams," she said grimly and then went on the offensive, striking for his eyes. He blocked her hard but still went backwards, his hands instinctively protecting his eyes, obviously afraid of what Mr Pointy might do, Gem of Amara or not. Which of course left his chest wide open, for her to ram the stake into his heart…

But instead of being dusted he just stood there, chuckling. Then he pulled Mr Pointy out and threw it to one side. "Doesn't work," he said, chidingly. The skin where the stake had pierced was rippling over the hole fast, until there was nothing left but an unblemished surface. Damn. Whoever Amara was, he had been quite good. Or rather, bad.

The vampire chose that moment to go feral on her, letting his demon face come out. "I'm going to drink your blood, Slayer," he said… and then a black boot came out of nowhere to catch him in the middle of his back and send him sprawling. The boot was attached to a black-clad leg, which was attached to Faith, who fell back, one fist up and the other hand clutching her favourite knife.

"Hey B, how'ya doing?"

"Not so good against the amazing self-healing vampire here," she said, smiling at her fellow Slayer.

"Oz called me to say that you might need backup. Two of us now, we'll put him in the ground," grinned Faith.

This got a loud laugh from Spike, who was watching them both carefully. "Oh please! Great, two for the price of one! I kill you two, that just leaves the Jedi to take care of. You just made my job easier girlie," he spat at Faith, who grinned lazily.

"Spike, right? My old Watcher once told me about you. Heard a rumour that you were once a poet before you got bitten and became gnarly."

Spike went very still. "Where did you hear that?"

"Like I said, from my old Watcher."

"I'm going to pull your bloody heart out for that. I hate people knowing about the dark and nasty bits of my former life."

"Come and get it, big boy."

He lunged forwards, only to pull his head back at the last moment to avoid the knife, which came down and then around at a speed that showed that Faith had been taking lessons off Xander again. Faith's knee came up to block a flailing foot and then she spun to deliver a roundhouse punch that sent Spike flying back. He recovered instantly and came at her again, showering blows that she was just barely able to block, while at the same time only just avoiding the slashes from her knife. It was fast, it was brutal… and Faith had bought her the time that she needed. Buffy came up from a crouch to her full height in an instant and then delivered a kick that caught him in the right hand side of the back and caught him completely by surprise. As he lurched back both Slayers hit him at the same time, jabbing and slashing, forcing him backwards… until he flashed foot out, which smashed into Faith on her knee and caused her to grunt with pain. His other foot came up, caught her shoulder and sent her spinning away to one side, whilst his elbow came down in an attempt to drive Buffy to her knees. But at the same time she jabbed upwards to meet the blow, their arms met with a jarring impact, locked around and then he grabbed her hand and flung her through the air.

She hit the ground hard but when she looked up she was grinning. "What can you possibly be smiling about, Slayer?" he taunted. "I've got you beat."

"I'm just waiting for the sun to out from behind that cloud," she said.

"Sun can't hurt me!" He crowed.

"Want to bet?" And then she held up the ring that she had slipped off his finger during that last impact.

He stared at it almost comically, then at the finger where it had been, and then back at her. "Bugger." As the sunlight started to stream through the torn wisps of cloud, and as the smoke started to rise from the vampire, he was off at a run, the leather coat coming up to cover his face. He had quite a good turn of speed and left a small but significant trail of smoke that led straight to an open manhole, into which he jumped.

"He runs pretty good," conceded Faith, rubbing her knee carefully and then flexing her leg with a slight wince.

"He'll be back," said Buffy, walking over to pick up Mr Pointy and then going over to help her fellow Slayer up. "You ok?"

"Knee got dinged slightly but no big deal. Won't be long before I'm five by five again. We not going after him?"

"Spike, in the sewers he virtually made his own the other year, with his pride hurt and his skin scalded? No way, he turns at bay like a rat on amphetamines. Besides," she lifted the ring, "We need to get this somewhere very safe. If word gets out that we have the Gem of Amara, every scuzzball vampire in the world's going to come after us, looking for it."

"So what do we do with it?"

"We send it somewhere safe." She paused and took a deep breath. "We send it to Angel."

Lindsey opened the door to his apartment and walked in. Everything was just as he had left it. Putting his bag down he glanced to one side. His suit was hanging from a door handle, neatly cleaned and pressed. Well, Rove's secretary was very efficient. He sighed slightly, picked it up by the hanger and walked into the bedroom where he opened the wardrobe and deposited it. Serried ranks of other suits were hung there, along with some less formal clothes. "Lindsey MacDonald, attorney at law," he muttered wryly. Then he shook himself and walked into the bathroom, where he put the plug into the bath and opened up the faucets. Good, nice and hot. He walked over to the mirror by the sink and looked into it, wincing slightly at the sight of the red mark that went laterally across his forehead. Good thing they'd used those binding thingies – there wouldn't be a scar.

As he undressed and got into the bath his mind kept wandering. His life seemed to be rather insane just now. The bits about Wolfram & Hart had been absorbed and rationalised by his brain some time ago, but the bits about the Jedi – and Harris at least seemed to be one – were still freaking him out. And still there was that vague feeling that something was very wrong, that he was missing something major, that someone had given him a piece of information that he had forgotten… He just had no idea what.

When, after a long, long, brood in the bath, he got out and towelled himself off, he wandered into the bedroom and looked around dully. If someone had walked in off the street and entered this place he would bet money that they wouldn't have the first damn idea who it belonged too. There was nothing of him, really, here. He sighed again and went hunting for some clothes. Underpants, socks, t-shirt, jeans, shirt. He felt like going back to his roots today. Or rather this evening.

Which reminded him – he was hungry. And after a few days of hospital food, he was hungry for real food. He walked into the kitchen and pulled open the fridge. Then he pulled a face. Not a lot there, apart from some Chinese takeaway that had, well, at best congealed. Yuck. Pulling out his cellphone he called the local pizza place and ordered a medium pepperoni with mushrooms, green peppers and onions. As he waited for it to arrive he channel surfed for a while. Deaths in third world countries, minor political scandals, bad films, good films, nutcases promising eternal salvation, the same old crap. When the pizza arrived – delivered by a nervous guy who seemed very keen to get away before the sun went down – he ate it voraciously along with a beer, whilst laughing at The Life Of Brian.

Always look on the bright side of life. Wasn't that his motto sometimes? You had to, working for Wolfram & Hart. That thing was still nagging at the back of his head and he walked over to the balcony door, which he pulled open. The sun was setting over Sunnydale. Almost time for the vampires to come out and play. And the demons, although they didn't need to wait for the sun to go down obviously. Life on the Hellmouth. Welcome to Sunnydale.

Slamming the door behind him he paused as he walked by his bed. His guitar was just visible inside his closet. A faint smile crossed his face and then he pulled it out. Sitting on his bed he brushed his fingers across the strings. Damn, the e-string was a tad out. He tuned it carefully and then stroked a chord out of it. Perfect. But the sound sparked something. A memory… something to do with life in LA. It had been a few months back… singing, that was it. He'd been singing at… Caritas! Why had he remembered that? Something… something that the Host had said. That night he had read him!

Lindsey MacDonald froze, his hands clutching the guitar. What had the Host said? He paused, his mind accessing the old lawyer's trick of unlocking memories of what people had said.

"Something's changed within you. You know that. The only problem is, I'm not the person to tell you what it is. You've met him already, that's all I can tell you. And you're going to have to make a choice at some point. That being real soon. The kind of choice that changes your life and takes you down a new road, to a place that you didn't see coming." And then: "The Force is with you."

He just sat there, staring at the wall. For once in life he had clue what to do. But he did have this vague feeling that something had turned inside him, like a key in a lock.

Spike was in a very bad mood as he opened the manhole cover and looked around. It was dark outside. Bleeding marvellous, he could get out of these smelly sewers. He must have been somewhere near one of the chemical labs, because something smelled very toxic down one of the tunnels and he was still having a hard time scraping it off his boot. The problem with running very fast in tunnels was that you couldn't swerve properly sometimes.

Climbing up and out he paused to get his bearings. Brilliant, he was on the wrong side of the campus. If he went through the bloody place there was a good chance that he might bump into the Slayers or the Jedi, and that would be very bad. That meant a long diversion around. He wasn't using the sewers again any time soon. Those places were just vile. Than again, they had kept him alive.

As he strode off he felt at the finger where the ring had been. Sod. Sod, sod and sod again. He had been wearing the Gem of Amara! He'd been delivering a right thumping to the Slayers! And then Buffy bloody Summers had got sneaky on him. It wasn't fair!

Still, the game wasn't over yet. There was only one place that they would send the ring to – or rather one person. The ponce in LA. And Angel could be watched, some help could be recruited and then when the time was right, his grandsire would be dust and the ring would be back in his hands. Or rather on his finger.

"I'll soon be the big bad here again," he muttered gleefully. "Just a matter of time."

He had passed the entrance to one of the parks and now he leapt up to hurdle the railings, landing by a bush and then walking on. A faint rustle to one side caught his ear and he looked over sharply. A bush was quivering slightly, which was odd because there was almost no wind. He looked around carefully but there was nothing moving. Then he shuddered. Being afraid was something that happened to other people, not to him. Come on, he was Spike! William the Bloody!

The dart sailed out of the night and embedded itself in his chest, tiny metal arms clamping down painfully. He looked down in shock and then suddenly blue tendrils of electricity were arcing out and he could feel himself shuddering violently. "Oh…. Bugger…." But that was all he could say before the darkness claimed him.

Riley approached the prone figure carefully, Graham and Forrest watching his back. All three had their weapons trained on the unconscious facedown vampire. If he was unconscious that is. They had the voltages right these days, but you could never be too careful. HSTs could be hardier than they looked sometimes. Carefully he prodded the form with a tip of one steel-tipped boot. Nothing.

"Ok, he's out." He slung his weapon quickly and removed two sets of binders from his belt harness, which he used to first secure the vampires arms behind his back and then strap his feet together. He wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon. No, he was off to the holding cells. And some experiments.