Pick Six by Djinn

"Hello, little beings." The voice boomed out from the viewscreen, but there was no image to go with it, just the Earth rotating slowly below the Enterprise.

Kirk frowned. They were back for the last set of refits after V'ger. This should be completely routine; they should be heading for spacedock, not being hailed by this unknown voice. The last thing Kirk wanted or needed was some other cosmic threat looming over his home planet.

"I have traveled far to be with you," the voice rang out, hitting each syllable with stage-worthy precision. Kirk almost admired the being's--if that was even what it was--enunciation.

Uhura looked over at him. "It's not coming in on the comms, sir. It's coming in through the hull, I think."

"That's impossible," Sulu said, looking over at Chekov. "Sound doesn't travel in a vacuum."

Obviously no one had told the voice that. "Bid me welcome, little beings."

Turning to Spock, Kirk asked, "What's the source of the sound?"

"Unknown, sir."

"What can you tell me about it?"

Spock busied himself at his terminal. "Nothing, sir." He sounded very put out at his failure to shed light on the entity--the post-V'ger-meld emotionalism was surfacing again.

Closing his eyes, Kirk tried to reach out with magic, but got nothing. Maybe he'd do better with his handy-dandy amplifier? Hitting his comm button, he said softly, "Kirk to Chapel."

She answered instantly. "Chapel here."

"We've got a situation, and I could use a slayer boost."

"We can hear that voice down here. I'm on my way."

"She means that we're on our way," McCoy said, and there was the sound of quiet arguing, then the channel went dead.

Kirk looked over at Uhura, laughing when she gave him a "you expected him to stay in sickbay?" look.

"Little beings, why do you not answer me?"

The turbolift door opened, and Chris hurried out, followed by a smug-looking McCoy.

Shooting a look back at him, she murmured to Kirk, "Sorry, he didn't want to miss out on the fun."

"And who can blame him?" Taking her hand, Kirk closed his eyes again. He felt her open herself to him, dropping every guard she had to let him in, to let him use her.

"I love you," he thought to her, hoping she got it. He smiled as he felt her squeeze his hand. Then he reached out to the source of the voice--and was immediately sorry. "Oh, holy shit," he said as fire roared down his mental pathways. He slammed his own version of shields into place, saw the fire collect and push, but it didn't get by him.

Chris moved closer, as if sheer proximity could give him more of her energy. He was already pulling on her power heavily, wouldn't have minded a little more but was afraid he might not be able to handle it. He waited for the fire to retreat, then pulled out of search-and-retrieve mode.

"Little being. I am most displeased with you."

"I'm getting sick of this guy's routi--"

The bridge was gone. Kirk was standing on a planet. A planet with an orange sky and purple clouds.

"Jim?"

He realized he was still holding onto Chris. "We're not in Kansas anymore, sweetheart."

"Or Iowa either." She moved closer to him, and he was glad he hadn't let go of her.

He wasn't ashamed to admit that he felt better having her with him--his odds of surviving whatever the being had planned probably went up astronomically if he had a slayer along who had a vested interest in keeping him alive .

"Little beings, you thought you could understand me by such crude methods?" The clouds formed a nebulous shape--almost that of a humanoid face--and it shook, as if the being was laughing at them.

"Who are you?" Kirk said.

"Who am I? I have many names. But you do not know them."

"Enough games. Just pick one and spill," Chris said.

"Hon, don't antagonize it."

She rolled her eyes, but motioned for him to take over.

Kirk put on his best "the fate of the galaxy depends on this negotiation and boy, don't those appetizers look good" face. He let go of Chris, moving closer to where the voice seemed to be localized. Holding out his hands, he looked up at the clouds, and smiled. "We're sorry that we don't know who you are. I'm sure if we just got to know each other, we'd become very good friends."

"Friends? I do not want friends. I am your master. I am a god." The cloud coalesced again, then formed into a face. A really ugly, sort of fish-like face. "And you will worship me."

"I don't think so," Kirk said. "But that doesn't mean we can't be pals."

The creature laughed. "I like that answer. If you were to freely worship me, then I would owe you care and tending. But you defy me. This way...you can amuse me."

"I don't like that word, Jim," Chris said. "And what happened to not antagonizing it?"

He was about to answer when he heard her cry out. She fell to the ground, clutching at her head. A moment later, he was on the ground next to her, trying to shield his thoughts from the barrage of energy that seemed intent on rifling through his memories.

He felt a surge of inhuman satisfaction as the being hit the last few years.

"Oh, yes," it said. "This is very good."

Kirk felt the being withdraw.

"I see that you are a competitive species by nature. That is excellent. I love a good contest." The fish-like face morphed into a lion. "And you have such complicated relationships. That too is amusing."

He roared. Once, then again, then twice more. With each roar, a pillar of flame appeared. The cloud-lion changed to that of a cloud-man with curly hair. "I shall look like you do. It will make it more diverting." He blew gently, and Kirk and Chris went flying back, landing on a yellow mat that had appeared out of nowhere.

"Let's see what we've found." The being laughed, and two of the pillars of flames died down, giving way to Spock and Rand.

"Captain. Doctor. I am relieved to see you are alive," Spock said, as the being blew him and Rand back to a blue mat.

"He's not entirely relieved to see you, Captain." The being winked at Kirk. "He's more relieved to see your woman alive."

"Yeah, everyone's a fan of psycho slayer." Rand looked around at the planet. "Where the hell are we?"

"You are in my mind. This is your arena, wolf woman, an arena you cannot hope to escape until I tire of you."

"And we're here to...?" Kirk tried to keep his voice calm. But this was reminding him too much of Triskellion, and Platonius, and Excalbia...

"You will compete. The werewolf, and the Vulcan, and you, Captain, with your slayer."

"Oh, yeah. That's why I got out of bed this morning." Rand folded her hands over her chest, looking generally bored, but Kirk thought he saw fear flicker in her eyes when she looked at Chris.

"There are still two other pillars of fire," Spock said.

"How observant you are, Vulcan. This game would be less fun with just the four of you. We need to add some further complications." The being blew the flames out on the remaining two people; a red mat appeared under them.

They both emerged looking very panicked, patting themselves vigorously as if trying to put the fire out.

"Okay, whose bloody idea of a joke was that?" Spike said. He recoiled from the strange orange daylight, then peeked out from under his coat. "Well, that's different."

"Who's in charge here? Because that was not funny," the other man--was he a vampire too?--said, as he patted his hair. "Is it singed? It's not standing up funny, is it?"

"Bloody poof," Spike said. Then he looked over Kirk's way, and a huge smile broke out on his face when he saw Chris. "Well, pet," he said, winking at her. "I didn't expect to see you here."

She was grinning like a fool, too. "Spike." Then she smiled at the other man--a sweet smile. Too sweet a smile in Kirk's book. "Nice to see you again, Angel."

He gave her a shy grin. "Not the best circumstances. You know...fire, daylight. Abduction."

"You don't have to explain. And your hair looks great."

Kirk patted his own down.

"Yours looks fine too, mate." Spike shot him a sarcastic grin. "In fact, it looks an awful lot like brood-a-date's here."

Angel turned a look on Spike that could have been a mirror of Kirk's own.

Kirk looked up at the thing in the sky. "Why them?"

The being laughed. "Because they add...complications. And they are very strong."

"So we have to fight?" Rand seemed to be already picking which one she might go up against. Or else figuring which way to run--Kirk wasn't quite sure.

"Oh, no. Something much worse. You have to...cooperate." The being began to giggle, then his cloud-borders swirled apart, melding with the rest of the violet clouds. "Don't go anywhere," the voice boomed out again. "Your first task starts shortly. After the icebreaker."

A bar appeared in the middle, between their mats. It looked fully stocked, ice included.

"Well, that's right nice of him," Spike said. "Christine, can I pour you one?"

She grinned, then looked over at Kirk, who frowned at her--she wanted to drink at a time like this? "Uh, not while I'm on duty..."

Spike shrugged. "Suit yourself." He grabbed a bottle.

"You shouldn't drink that," Angel said, trying to grab the bottle from him. "We don't know what's in it."

"Oh, yeah. Like your heart would break into a million pieces if I blew into dust." Spike pulled the stopper out and took a deep belt from some clear liquid. He smiled, then his grin faded, and he clutched at his stomach. "Oh, God. It's holy water." He bent over, body shaking.

"Spike? Damn you, Spike." Angel grabbed him, then his look of concern changed to one of annoyance. "Damn you, Spike," he said again, pushing Spike over.

Spike hit the ground, laughing hard. "That look was priceless. I almost believe you cared. And you made me spill, you big wanker." He popped up and walked over to Kirk. "So you're the one she was so hot about, eh?"

"She still is hot about me." Kirk could feel himself standing straighter, puffing up a bit. He really wanted to take Spike down.

"Hon, don't antagonize him," Chris said with a grin as she moved closer to him, but Kirk thought it was to keep him from launching himself at Spike rather than to show any kind of solidarity.

"Some girlfriend you are," he said.

"I could have told you that," Rand muttered.

Spike turned to look at her. "Got yourself a new blonde, Spock?"

The look Spock turned on him was venomous. "As you took mine, it seemed prudent."

Kirk felt his eyebrow going up in what would normally have been Spock's shtick.

Rand hit Spock on the arm. "I'm not your blonde. And I'm nobody's second choice." She glared at Kirk. "Hell, I'm not even your third choice." She glared even more.

"Stand down, Chief," he said softly.

She ignored him, and her glare went up to red-alert levels. Pheromones were bumping out too, sort of confused pheromones. Lusty and angry, all at once.

"Hey. She's like Nina." Spike bumped Angel's arm. "Remember her?"

"Yes, Spike. I remember Nina."

"He likes wolves," Spike said to Rand, winking broadly.

Rand seemed to be sizing Angel up, and Spock stepped between them. "Chief Rand is on my team, I believe."

"Not very Vulcan, is he?" Angel asked softly.

"He has issues around Spike," Chris murmured.

"Who doesn't?" Angel said. "But he seems extra emotional besides that."

"He had this life-changing experience with a big mechanical entity," Kirk said, rushing to Spock's defense.

"Life changing, huh?" Angel looked a little embarrassed. "Whatever floats his boat, I guess."

"He doesn't mean that kind of mechanical entity." Chris shook her head. "He's just a little more emotional than your average Vulcan. Our CMO"--she shot a dirty look at Kirk--"thinks it will wear off in no time."

Kirk fervently hoped it would wear off soon. It was giving him the creeps the way Spock was glaring at Chris and him.

"I did tell you he almost killed Spike, right?" Chris's voice was low, pitched only for Kirk--and any vampires, werewolves, or keen-of-ear Vulcans in the area. She looked around; everyone was staring at her. "Oops."

"Little beings," the voice boomed out.

Kirk was actually glad to hear the entity.

"I hope you enjoyed your cocktail party? Let the contest begin. The first task?" The sky darkened to a bronzy color; lightning dashed across it. "Find each other. Find this place. From six, let there be two." The being laughed, and suddenly everything around Kirk went black. Then only he and Chris remained, but they appeared to be in a completely different part of the planet.

She sighed. "This is a stupid game. Well, at least we're together," she said, leaning against him and kissing him.

It was a great kiss. Even in the midst of being screwed with by yet another god-like alien, she knew how to kiss.

"Come on," he said, with a grin. "Let's go find the others."

-----------------------

"So this blonde guy, who is he?" Rand asked, as she watched Spock. He seemed to be attempting to use the cloud patterns to figure out how far they'd been thrown from their original position. She decided not to tell him she could tell which way camp lay by smell--guys hated being shown up, even by a wolf.

"He is a vampire," Spock said in a distracted way.

"Yeah, Einstein. I figured that out."

Spock shot her a look of annoyance, and she grinned. It was a lot more fun than she'd ever expected to try to get his goat--did Vulcan's even have goats? And maybe she shouldn't think of goats, because it was making her hungry, and so far their host hadn't seemed inclined to offer hors d'oeuvres.

She sat down and waited for Spock to get done with his perusal of the heavens. "I take it this vampire--"

"--Spike," Spock said absently.

"Spike--what kind of name is that anyway? I take it he was involved with Christine, too?"

"That is correct."

"Man, she's gotten around. I think 'Layer' might be more accurate than 'Slayer.'"

She wasn't sure, but she thought she heard a stifled chuckle coming from Spock's direction.

"But, then, short life and all. I guess you have to get your living in quick." She stretched sinuously, making a lot of happy noises; Spock didn't turn around. "You on the other hand seem to be determined to live your very long life with no fun. I'm giving you some of my best moves here."

He did look at her, but only to lift one eyebrow then go back to his study.

"Not to mention wasting lots of pheromones," she muttered. "So who was the other vamp?"

"I am uncertain," he said. "I believe the camp lies this way." He set off.

She didn't tell him that he was leading them in the wrong direction; she wasn't in any hurry to rejoin the captain and Christine. Or the two vamps--even if the taller one supposedly liked werewolves. "Christine called him Angel."

"Yes, she did." He frowned and seemed to be very far away. "Several times when I was helping Christine conduct research into vampires, there were entries for an Angelus or Angel. If it is the same vampire, he is much older than Spike."

"Well, I don't know about all that. But they smelled wrong."

Spock glanced over at her. "Define wrong."

"I don't mean bad hygiene, Mister Stickler. I mean they smelled...off."

"Spike has a soul. Perhaps this other vampire does, too, if he is the Angel I read about."

"Souled vampires. That's just wrong. You think you know how the world works, and then boom, you've got slayers sleeping with vampires, Vulcans getting all emotional, and vampires with souls."

He didn't seem to like being included in her list of wrongness. "And domesticated werewolves."

She edged in front of him, forcing him to stop unless he wanted to fall over her. "I am not"--she poked him hard on the breastbone--"domesticated."

"As you wish." He moved around her and continued walking.

"I'm not. Don't make me show you. I am not a thing of beauty when I turn."

"Of course not."

She sniffed. "Angel seemed to understand me. Maybe I should hook up with him."

"By all means."

Slugging him in the arm, she was surprised when he turned on her, anger sparking in his eyes. "Ooh, that V'ger thing seriously messed you up, Spock."

"Desist from touching me."

"Or you'll what?"

"I--" He looked down. "I do not know."

She took pity on him. "Well, at least you're honest."

He looked upset again. She hoped this emotional roller coaster Spock was on would come to an end soon. She knew how it was to teeter between extremes. She'd hated it.

"Spock, I'm sorry."

"Your pity is not necessary."

"It's not pity. I can be sorry for you without feeling pity." She stopped walking. "Do you really want to find the others?"

"That is our goal."

She pointed in the opposite direction from which they were headed. "Then we need to go thataway, pardner." Not waiting for him, she trudged off toward base camp.

He did not follow right away, but when she kept moving, she heard him finally start to walk. "How do you know this?"

"My impeccable sense of direction?" She turned to him as he caught up, winking at him. "Or maybe just my keen sense of smell."

He seemed to take that in. "It was imprudent of me not to ask if you could tell which direction we should go."

"Hey, I'm just the dumb blonde. No one ever asks me anything." She frowned, remembering Christine's interrogation sessions. "Well, except your bitch of an ex. She likes to ask me questions. Trouble is, she never believes me when I answer."

"I am sorry she intimidates you."

"Yeah, you and me both, Spock."

They walked in silence then, but she could tell that he was glancing over at her occasionally. She turned, met his look, and was surprised to see an odd speculation in his eyes. Feeling uncomfortable, she picked up her pace, but it was fairly difficult to outwalk a Vulcan in desert terrain. She turned to a lope, an easy stride that was a gift from the wolf inside her.

Spock still kept up.

Slowing, she turned to him. "You're making me nervous."

"Why?"

"I don't know. But stop it."

For once, he had no bright quip. He just nodded and let her walk on. She could hear him bringing up the rear.

They weren't the first ones back to camp. Spike and Angel were already there. She figured they'd sniffed their way back immediately. They might not breathe, but vampires could scent prey as well, if not better, than she could.

Spock did not go near the two vamps, and Rand decided to show some solidarity and stick close to him instead of making small talk with Angel--who was kind of cute, in a pouty sort of way.

Christine and the captain came in much later.

"So much for slayer know-how. What took you?" Rand rolled her eyes, enjoying the dig at Christine.

Christine didn't comment, but the look she shot Rand was filled with disdain.

It was hard to remember that they'd been friends. Hard for Rand to recall what she'd seen in this violent witch her mild-mannered pal had turned into. "Yeah, that's right. Give me the evil eye so I know who's boss. "

She felt Kirk's eyes on her. His gaze was bland, but he was staring at her hand where he'd burned her before.

"Fine. You two win. You're the baddest ones here." She held up her hands in surrender and backed up a little, running into Spock. She felt him steady her, even though she hadn't been particularly unsteady. Looking up at him, she mouthed, "Thanks."

His nod was nearly imperceptible, the twinkle in his eyes even less noticeable.

She was suddenly very glad she was on his team.

---------------

Spike shot looks over at where Spock sat with the blonde. She wasn't talking to him, just sitting near him. Spike wondered if Spock realized that she was showing pack solidarity, sitting like that with her back to everyone else, as if there was only Spock in her world.

Maybe there was? Spike watched her face as she glanced up at Spock. She didn't look like she was in love with him--her expression was more worried than tender. But then with werewolves, it was often hard to tell what they were thinking.

He saw movement in the distance. Christine and her beau were off running patrol. Spike smiled, remembering how he used to patrol with her. The way she and Kirk kept disappearing from view, it looked like she still liked to mix patrolling with passion.

Spike saw that Spock was looking off in the distance too, his gaze fixed on where Spike had last seen Christine and Kirk. Spock turned slowly, his eyes locking with Spike's again. Spock's eyes were hard and cold. Like the demons back in Sunnydale. Spike felt a pang of nostalgia--it had been a long time since he'd been so roundly disliked.

"Why's he so pissed at you?" Angel murmured.

"'Cause I'm me." It was hard to talk low enough that the other two couldn't hear them.

"Hey, I'd be the last person to say that was a bad reason. But I think there's a bigger story. One that has to do with Christine." Angel lay back on the mat, staring up at the clouds. It was one of the things Spike had always admired about him--Angel knew how to relax during downtime. He didn't waste energy pacing like Spike often did, although during the Buffy years Angel had seemed a lot more nervous than he had at any other time.

"Yeah, it had to do with Christine. But I didn't steal her."

Angel laughed. "Because what woman in her right mind would choose you over--"

"--Over you?"

"Buffy didn't choose you, Spike. You were there, and she was slumming."

"Oh, ouch, that hurt." The words came out louder than he meant them too, and Spike saw both Spock's and Rand's heads turn. He ignored them. "I taught Buffy things you could only dream about doing with her."

Angel swallowed hard--Spike knew that Angel's one night with Buffy just didn't make much of an argument compared to the many feverish encounters Spike had enjoyed with her.

"So you ended up with his woman?" Angel put a lot of disbelief into the question.

"Yep." Spike saw that Spock was still watching him; if anything, his expression had grown darker. "He tried to kill me."

"Points for judgment. What stopped him?"

"Christine stopped him. He was trying to force her to do something. Might have turned out okay, might not have, but since I had some experience with forcing someone..." He looked over at Angel, wondering if he'd ever heard about what had happened between him and Buffy in that damned bathroom.

By the way his brow furrowed more than normal, Spike guessed he had. Who'd told him? Willow? Xander? Dawn, maybe?

"Anyway, I tried to stop him, and he took it the wrong way. Christine intervened, and Spock went away mad. And this is the first time I've seen him since."

"And the other guy?"

"That's Kirk. He's mad at me because Christine still likes me."

"Yeah, she looked like she preferred you...not."

"I didn't say she was going to throw him over for me. But..."

"But what?"

"Well, he's sort of accustomed to being alpha, I think."

Angel glanced over at him, then looked over at Spock, who Spike noticed was still sending the Vulcan death glare his way. "I'd say the only person here who doesn't think she's alpha is the werewolf." Angel suddenly grinned. The open, sunny grin that he so rarely used.

Spike found himself grinning back. "It's like old times, isn't it?"

"Yeah. I love a challenge. Too bad we're not fighting all of them. It'd be fun to see who'd win."

"Whatever happened to 'killing is wrong'?"

"I said fighting, not killing." Angel smiled. "I can still enjoy a good fight."

"Well, you must be glad I'm on your team."

"I'm not."

"Sure, you are."

"No, Spike, I'm not."

"Are too."

"He said," Spock said loudly, "that he is not."

"Hey, Spike can hear perfectly fine," Angel said, throwing Spock his own version of a death-glare.

Spike stared at him in shock. Was Angel defending him?

The werewolf moved, her shoulder touching Spock's. "Well, maybe if you kept your voices down, we wouldn't have to listen to you yammer on."

"Well, maybe you shouldn't listen in?" Spike got up, but felt Angel pull him down.

"What are we waiting for?" the werewolf asked, and Spike saw her dig her hands into the edge of the mat.

"Antsy?" he asked her.

"Hungry," she said with a grin. A surprisingly engaging grin. Angel was right. This one was a long way from alpha, or she wouldn't be that adept at diverting.

"What's your name?" Spike asked.

"Janice."

"I knew a Janice once." Angel looked over at her. "She was a Thebarak demon."

"Those are just a myth." Janice smiled at him too, just as endearingly.

"They are obviously not myth, or this vampire would not say he had met one." Spock sounded positively cranky.

"Wow, you make me look like the life of the party." Angel pushed himself up and walked over to Spock. Holding out his hand, he said, "We've never been formally introduced. I'm Angel."

"Vulcan's don't shake," Janice said softly. "No offense."

"No problem." Angel pulled his hand back. "I know you seem to hate my partner over there. But I'm not really with him."

"We work together," Spike said.

"Okay, we do work together. But I'm not his friend."

"You're my bloomin' grandsire."

"You know how family are," Angel said with a conspiratorial wink. "It's not like we pick them. In fact, Dru picked him, and she was crazy."

"I met Drusilla."

"That's right. Christine told me about that when she came to visit our office."

Spock looked immediately suspicious.

"Oh, I mean, she came to say goodbye. Not to me--she didn't even know me. I mean to Spike."

Spock sighed loudly.

"Goodbye as in good riddance," Angel had to add.

"Go sit down. You're not helping," Janice said.

Spike decided to change the subject to something really uncomfortable. "So what do you suppose Christine and Kirk are doing? They've been out of range for a while." It suddenly occurred to Spike that it was just possible Christine and Kirk were in trouble.

It seemed to occur to Spock at the same time. "We could go check on them."

"If they're doing the wild thing, they're not going to appreciate that," Angel said, chuckling. Then he looked at them. "Did I say that out loud?"

"You did," Janice said, pushing herself gracefully to her feet. "All right. Let's go interrupt their sex-fest."

Spock looked pleased at the prospect. Spike hung back as they headed off toward the edge of the long grass, which was the last place he'd seen Christine and Kirk.

Janice, in the lead, suddenly disappeared from view. There was the sound of yelling.

Spock and Angel cautiously parted the grass. A deep pit stood in front of them. Spike pushed in next to Angel.

"It took you long enough to get here." Kirk was standing between Christine and Janice, seemed to be moving just enough to keep them apart. "We've been calling out forever."

"There must be some kind of dampening field," Christine said.

Spock reached down tentatively. His hand was repelled by a forcefield of some kind.

"Great," Janice said.

Angel tried to reach down to them with similar results.

"The being--who we've seen neither hair nor hide of--said from out of six, two." Kirk frowned. "And he did say we needed to be together."

Spike met Kirk's eyes. "You want us to jump down there with you?"

Kirk nodded.

"And what if we're all just stuck there?"

Janice smiled. "Then I won't go hungry anytime soon."

"You? You're not the only dangerous thing here, you know?" Spike was about to get a good rant on when he felt Angel pushing him forward. "Hey, why me first? You try it if you're so hot to--"

At least he landed on his feet. Angel and Spock hit the ground a few moments later. As soon as they did, the ground tilted crazily and everything went black. Then they were back at the camp, a new wet bar--this time stocked with plenty of O-positive--and a buffet table set out.

The being appeared above them. He looked less like clouds now, more like a real--if very big--man. "See, you learn to cooperate, and you are rewarded." He beamed at them, then disappeared.

"Well, who's hungry?" Janice said, pushing her way past them all to the buffet table.

The rest of them stared at each other, until finally Spock moved around them and went to join Janice. Spike saw him grimace at the very rare hunk of meat she had on her plate.

"They say opposites attract," Kirk said to Christine with a grin.

"Don't start with that. You know I don't approve of them together." She glared at him, and his grin grew.

Her own look softened, and she moved closer. It looked like an unconscious movement on her part, and Spike felt a lump in his throat. He'd loved this woman--loved her madly, even. She'd never looked at him the way she was looking at Kirk. He didn't remember her looking at Spock that way, either.

Kirk smiled, and his hand came up to rest on the small of her back. Spike felt as if the other man had just nailed up a sign that said, "She's mine."

Christine leaned into his hand. She certainly didn't seem to mind being Kirk's.

They moved past him and Angel, Kirk's hand not straying from Christine's back.

Spike turned away, walking quickly to the wet bar and tearing open a bag of blood. He felt a hand on his arm and turned.

"I didn't realize you were in love with her," Angel said very quietly.

Spike shrugged, waiting for Angel to begin the taunts.

But none came. "I'm sorry." For a second, Angel's gaze was soft, then he turned to the bar, finding his own bag of blood.

-------------------

Spock tried to ignore how close Christine was sitting to Jim, or how often Spike's gaze wandered over to them. He felt irritation surge through him and attempted to master it, shifting slightly so he would not have to look at Jim and Christine unless he chose to.

Rand looked over at him, shifting slightly, too. He wondered if that was some sort of pack behavior he did not understand. It seemed to be a signal of camaraderie, made stronger by the sad smile she gave him as he stared at her.

"You're angry," she said very softly, but he saw Spike turn and look at them. With all the sharp ears in this group it was difficult to talk quietly enough to keep their words private. Perhaps the only two who couldn't hear everything that went on were Jim and Christine--and Spock wasn't certain about Christine's hearing.

Rand moved a little closer and seemed about to say something else, but the entity suddenly appeared in the sky, his cloud visage smiling happily.

"Now that you are fed and rested, we will enter the next phase of our little game." It looked very pleased with itself, and Spock saw Jim glare up at it. Then, as if he could feel Spock's eyes on him, Jim slowly turned and stared at him. A slow, tentative smile started, and Spock nodded slightly, trying to tell Jim that they were all right, even if, at times, Spock had the urge to rip his head off.

That was just V'ger's influence, he rationalized. Just because he had almost killed Spike for the same reason, did not mean he really wanted to hurt Jim...

Spock sighed and could feel his mouth turning down; Rand looked away, as if uncomfortable with the show of emotion. Jim held his gaze for a moment, then he, too, looked away.

"Oh, yes. You were the perfect group to put together." The being laughed, and Spock found himself suddenly sitting with Spike. "You've proven you can work with an ally. Now prove you can work with someone you like much less."

"Oh, now, this is not a good idea," Spike said as he tried to edge off Spock's mat.

"Silence!" The heavens thundered as the being frowned at them all. "You will obey me."

Spock saw that Christine had been paired with Rand, and Jim was on Angel's mat.

"It's a simple task really." A small gold box appeared in front of Spock. "Inside this you will find a description of some plants that you must first locate, then pick a flower from. Find them all, then bring them back to base, as quickly as you can. You are being timed. If you do not complete your assigned task quickly, I will punish your partners."

Angel just laughed. "Punish Spike? Go ahead."

"There are two of you on your team, vampire. I do not think your new teammate will be as eager to see his partner hurt." The being seemed to be looking at Christine. "I'm very sorry, my dear, but a demonstration is in order."

She and Spike both began to writhe, neither one screamed, though.

"My, they are tough." The being stopped whatever it was doing to them.

Spock noticed that as Spike got up, his eyes were either watering or he was crying. "It hurt?"

"Yes, it bloody well hurt," Spike said.

"Good," both Angel and Spock said in tandem. Rand sort of snickered as she looked at Christine.

"Chris?" Jim said, his attention only for her.

She held up a hand, and Jim seemed to relax. Their eyes met and held, and Spock felt as if he was interrupting a very private moment.

"Get a room," Spike muttered and Spock found himself in agreement with the vampire.

"Now that you understand the price of failure, I suggest you get busy." One corner of the entity's mouth turned up, then he disappeared.

"Let me see that box," Spike said, grabbing it as Spock reached for it. They both got a piece of it, and Spock almost engaged in a tug-of-war before realizing that it would be very undignified. He let go, and Spike cradled the box, carefully opening the lid.

"What precisely are you looking for?"

"I'm making sure there's no stake in here."

"If I wished to kill you, I would not need a stake." Spock allowed himself a long smile--he had to admit there were times he enjoyed being able to indulge himself and then blame V'ger for it. "And you cannot hurt me at all. I presume your chip is still operational?"

"I didn't need a chip to hurt you last time, now did I, Spock?" Spike smiled, the expression full of malice. "All I had to do was be with Christine."

"Are you trying to provoke me?"

"Maybe." Spike puffed up a bit, and Spock realized he was a little afraid, but would do anything he could to keep from showing it.

Spock decided to move on; he had no wish to see Chief Rand suffer the way Christine and Spike just had. "What is in the box?"

Spike held up some kind of writing implement and a handful of small pieces of paper. There were no pictures on the paper, just words in a language that Spock didn't recognize. He looked at Spike, who was frowning deeply.

"Don't suppose this is your mother tongue, is it?" Spike asked.

"It is not." Spock looked around; the others were looking befuddled and frustrated as well.

Spike pushed himself to his feet. "Maybe the old ball and chain knows this one." When Spock reached out to stop him, Spike said, "Cloud boy never said we couldn't ask each other, Spock. This is supposed to be about teamwork, right?"

"Logical." He got up and followed Spike to Angel and Jim's mat.

Angel took one look at their papers and said, "It's Gaelic." Then he muttered, "Wesley would have known that."

"Yeah, well, Wesley's dead, now isn't he?" Spike glared at Angel, then at Jim for no apparent reason.

Jim ignored him, holding out his sheets of paper to Spock. "Vulcan?"

"Vulcan."

"And what do you have?" Angel asked Christine and Rand as they walked over.

"Not sure," Christine said.

Spike leaned over and started to laugh. "Latin."

"That is not Latin," Spock said,

"Yes, it is. Niblet taught it to me. It's Latinus Swinus."

"Pig Latin? I hate that." Angel rolled his eyes.

"Only because you're too dense to catch on."

"Right."

"You think you aren't?"

"Gentlemen, we're wasting time," Jim said, taking out his pen and handing it to Spock. "Can you translate?"

"Why translate?" Rand said. "Why not just trade?" At their looks of surprise, she said, "What? You all think I'm the dumb blonde?" When no one answered, she said, "Time's a wastin'."

They all nodded and tried walking off in different directions. Spock had gone about three steps when the papers flew out of his hands and he was suddenly holding the Gaelic ones again.

"Okay, translate it is," Angel said, as they walked back and traded sheets again.

Spike went to work on the Pig Latin, Angel on the Gaelic, and Spock on the Vulcan. Spock noticed Christine and Jim had moved closer together and were talking quietly--leaving Rand out.

She was pretending not to notice, then she looked over and saw him watching her. Moving closer to him, she smiled wryly and said, "Get to work. I don't want to be tortured on account of you having lost time because you were worried about me."

It was a logical request, so he went back to his task. But he could sense her staying near him.

Spike finished first, handing the papers back to Rand instead of Christine. Spock realized he must have noticed that Jim and Christine were leaving her out too. It surprised him that the vampire was supporting Rand, when it was clear he and Christine were still quite close.

It obviously surprised Christine, too. She shot Spike a look Spock could not interpret, then said to Rand, "Let's get moving."

"Ya, mein commandant," Rand said, causing both Spike and Angel to chuckle.

Spock finished his sheets a moment later and handed the paper to Jim.

"Tick, tock, Angel," Spike said, as Angel appeared to be struggling with the text.

"Well, these aren't the words I knew back in the day."

"What? No occurrences of 'how much for ale and a wench,' 'be a love and lift your skirts,' or 'thanks for the evening but I have to go now'?"

Angel put the paper down and glared up at Spike, who just smiled crookedly, one side of his mouth coming up in a sneer.

"Please keep working," Spock said, giving Spike a stern look.

Spike turned away, patting down his coat as if looking for something. "You'd think our host would be omnipotent enough to bring my smokes along?" He began to pace, walking in long strides, his coat flaring out behind him.

Spock ignored him, but then Jim began to pace too, managing to keep his route away from Spike's. Spock decided they looked like a spastic color guard, then he wondered if Jim wished he had a coat like Spike's. The sight of it billowing out after him was an impressive effect.

"Okay, this is the best I can do." Angel thrust the paper at Spock and joined Jim. "Picking flowers..."

"Should be right up your alley..." Spike laughed as Jim put a hand on Angel's arm.

Spock knew the gesture. Jim was urging Angel to leave the annoying vampire and get moving.

"Why do you antagonize him so?" Spock asked Spike as they headed out and began looking for their five plants--Angel had filled in more of the information than Spock expected. Providing the words were accurate, of course.

"Because I can. He's damned annoying, in case you hadn't noticed."

"Considering the source of that comment..."

"Hey, you and I got along famously once upon a time."

"Yes, I remember. That was before you stole my wife."

"I didn't steal her. She was out there alone. No husband in sight."

Spock could feel the old anger rising. "Christine deserted me when I needed her most." Spike made a funny sound, and Spock turned to him. "You disagree with that?"

"She told me what happened. You severed that bond thing you two had. Left her reeling, on top of what the orb did to her. And we both know she wasn't exactly stability central back then."

Spock sighed. Christine had not been stable, and the Gotterdammerung had nearly destroyed her. "I know," he said so softly a human would not have been able to hear it.

"She knew she hurt you, Spock. She hated that she did it." Spike looked down. "I hated that I was doing it."

"And still you did it."

"She needed me. I helped her." Spike sighed. "Do you think I didn't know that taking up with her was a bloody poor way to repay you for what you did for me?" He pointed to a shrub to his left. "I think that's one of them."

Spock took the paper he held out, studied it, then the shrub. It had small white flowers just as Angel had written, and the description seemed to match. "I agree."

Spike bent down, snapping a flower off. "This may not make any sense to you, but I thought I was helping you by helping her. I thought I was saving her...for you." He looked over at Spock. "I thought when she took you back that night that she was really taking you back. She never told me she was going to pull the 'I need to do this on my own' speech." He shook his head. "Slayers. They're full of that 'on my own' crap, until they find a new guy."

"Yes. She is no longer on her own as you say." Spock allowed himself a sigh, saw Spike glance sideways at him, and met the vampire's eyes. "It still hurts to see her with Jim." He looked away, startled that he had shared that with a man he considered his enemy.

"I know. It hurts me, too." Spike shuffled a little bit as he walked, raising dust. "I loved her, you know? That's my punishment, maybe--because I didn't tell you where she was. And I could have, even thought about it a few times. But I wanted to help her on my own. Hell, I wanted to have her to myself once I got a taste. I fell in love with her." He shook his head. "So I have to watch her with Captain Courageous and suffer, too."

"It is a pleasing thought. That you are suffering."

Spike looked at him and smiled. "I thought it might be."

"I am...sorry that I almost killed you."

"It's in the past, Spock." Spike walked a moment, then he said, "I'm not sorry I tried to stop you from taking her away that night."

Spock nodded. "You did right. She would not have stayed with me. And I would have been heavily censured by my own people if I had forced the bond back on her."

"Could you have done that? Doesn't it have to be a mutual thing?"

"I do not know. I only know I was going to try."

"Guess I'm not the only one who's love's bitch," Spike murmured, and Spock was not sure what he meant by that, but he decided not to ask.

Whatever it was, it didn't sound good.

----------------------

Angel watched Kirk out of the corner of his eye as the man tried to edge past him again. Putting on a tiny bit of speed, Angel managed to get out ahead again. Kirk seemed to motor up too, and Angel suddenly noticed the plants were going by quickly, and they weren't looking at them at all.

He didn't slow down.

He'd thought initially he might like this Kirk fellow. Thought they might bond on their little quest. That was before he'd tried to lead and found out that Kirk was not going to follow a few steps behind like his gang always had. Kirk wasn't even happy walking alongside him.

Angel sped up again, nearly breaking into a jog.

Kirk finally stopped. "One of us has got to follow."

Angel circled back. "Great. You suggested it, you do it." He began to scan the area for the plants Spock had described.

"Not exactly what I meant." Kirk took some of the sheets from him and walked around, studying the foliage.

"This is a lame exercise."

"Yep," Kirk said noncommittally.

Angel studied him. This guy reminded him of Riley Finn. Cocky. Self-assured. Utterly human. "You from Iowa?"

Kirk turned to him slowly. "Why?"

He had to be from Iowa. "No reason. As you were, soldier." Angel grinned to himself, only Kirk caught the look.

"Sailor would be closer," he said, his voice even, as if Angel didn't bother him in the least.

But Angel could feel a surge of power from the man. Whatever Kirk was doing was making his nerves tingle and the hair on the back of his neck stand up, the way it used to when Willow did magic. So the man was some kind of sorcerer, which made sense--given the way his slayer looked at him, he had to have something special. Buffy had never looked at Riley that way--or at least Angel liked to tell himself that she hadn't.

"Here's one," Kirk said, bending down to break off a flower.

Angel noticed he didn't put it to his nose. Spike probably would have--this many centuries alive as a creature of darkness, and he was still a poet at heart. Angel wondered if Kirk would have smelled the flower if he'd been with Christine instead of him.

Angel saw one of the other flowers they were supposed to bring back and jumped over a medium-sized rock to get it. He could have just walked around, but it was more fun to leap--nearly fly--over it. Plus, he felt a childish need to compete with Kirk. He'd been the same way around Riley. Spike he just liked to insult, Riley he'd wanted to destroy. Not that he wanted to destroy Kirk. But if Kirk had been sleeping with Buffy, he would have.

"We've all been with slayers," Angel said softly. "Well, maybe not wolf-girl? Although that could explain the antagonism with your slayer..."

"They weren't lovers," Kirk said, but he suddenly looked a bit unsure.

"No? You ever ask Christine about that?"

"They were best friends."

"Ah." Angel smirked as he turned to check out another flower. He might not be evil anymore, but sometimes Angelus liked to come out and spin people's heads. Or maybe that wasn't the vampire at all, maybe it was the real Liam? His father had always called him a black-hearted son-of-a-bitch. Angel had wondered if his father realized what that had said about mom.

Kirk moved on ahead, his stride a bit jerkier than it had been before.

"It is sort of weird, though, don't you think?" Angel said casually, as if asking about the weather.

Kirk didn't reply.

"I mean all these guys and not just with any slayer--with your slayer."

Kirk stopped abruptly. His hands were clenched, and he suddenly shook them out, as if getting ready for something.

Angel had the feeling he was in imminent danger--a frisson of warning rolled down his spine, and he said quickly, "Except for me, of course. I wasn't with her." He hated to give ground, but he hadn't lived this long by being completely stupid.

Kirk turned slowly, staring at him. "I don't like games."

"No problem." Angel held up a hand. But as Kirk turned around, he said so softly only someone with super-hearing would have heard him, "Seventy five percent, though. What are the odds?"

Kirk didn't hear him. Which Angel decided was a good thing. He could feel irritation rolling off the man in the form of magic. Deep, heavy power. Angel had used enough magic in his life to recognize someone for whom it was innate.

"Sorry. It's the demon in me," he said softly. "I let him out every now and then."

Kirk shook his head, throwing Angel a knowing look. "No, you occasionally like to screw with people's heads. You--not the demon. Or maybe you are the demon?" Kirk's face darkened. "I know something about the demon." He pulled back his collar, and Angel saw the scars of a bite--a deep one. "Anacost did this."

Angel hadn't met that vampire, but he'd certainly heard of him. His respect for Kirk suddenly went up. "So you got away. Good for you, fighting off a master vampire."

"I didn't fight him off. He drained me, fed me his blood. My friends kept me alive until the slayers killed him."

"The loophole clause. Not many people get to take advantage of that."

"I was lucky. They were there for me."

"Never underestimate a slayer's determination."

Kirk laughed softly. "Oh, Chris was prepared to kill me. It was Spock and my ship's doctor and Alma--another woman I was involved with." His voice changed a little--regret, guilt maybe? And resignation. "I wasn't with Chris then. That came later."

Angel got the feeling Kirk had loved Alma but not the way he loved Christine. Slayers did that to a guy--ruined it for everyone else.

"The wonders of modern medicine," Kirk said softly, his voice a little haunted. "I live when I probably should have been slain."

"Yeah, well. We can all say that." Angel laughed, remembering the times he'd been down for the count--or sent to hell by his girlfriend. This many years and that one still stung. "It's not completely gone, is it? The demon?"

"Do you think it's a problem that I like my meat rare now?"

"An increased interest in necks is a better clue." Angel grinned.

"I've always liked necks." Kirk didn't grin back. "It's not that. It's knowing when the sun's about to come up or go down. It's being aware of Chris's presence sometimes with a sense that has nothing to do with love."

"We all have that. It's a natural warning signal for a vampire that danger is near. I had it with Buffy, too."

"You think Spike did?"

"Spike's too stupid to have a sense of danger." Angel grinned again and this time Kirk grinned back. It was an engaging expression. Nothing at all like Riley.

"It is sort of weird," Kirk said. "He was with both of our slayers."

"But they didn't love him."

"No?"

Angel laughed at the tone in Kirk's voice. "Don't worry. You're slayer may have slept with him, and she may, for reasons only she knows, be fond of him. But she was never in love with him." Angel had long ago decided that was how Buffy had felt about Spike. "Poor Spike. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride."

"Oh, I don't know..." Kirk said, and he suddenly sounded an awful lot like Angelus gearing up.

"You don't know what?"

"All that tension."

"Between Christine and Spike?"

Kirk smiled--a miniscule smile that conveyed a world of meaning. "No. Between you and Spike."

"I can't stand Spike."

"Of course not." It was clear Kirk was humoring him.

"I can't. You just ask him."

"Maybe you should ask him?"

"Ask him what? Why we fight all the time?"

"Yep. But...don't ask him if you don't want to know." Kirk smiled again, and Angel had to fight to keep his hands at his side and not punch the other man in the mouth.

"There's nothing to know."

"It's just..." Kirk shook his head, as if he'd thought better of what he was going to say. Then he looked over at Angel. "You do realize homoerotic tension can be expressed as hostility--that it is often a sign of deeply suppressed attraction."

"Thank you, Captain Freud. And I am not attracted to Spike." He hit the "not" hard.

"Of course you're not." Again with the humoring.

"Just look for your damn flowers," Angel said, stalking off as fast as he could go and still have it be called stalking and not fleeing.

So much for bonding.

---------------

Christine watched as Janice moved across the uneven terrain. Why had she never noticed the grace of the other woman? Why hadn't she seen the supple ease that every werewolf seemed to have when they covered ground. Was it that she hadn't thought to look, or that she hadn't wanted to?

Jan had been one of her best friends. Now she was suspect at best, an enemy at worst.

Slowly, as if she knew Christine was watching her, Janice turned to look at her. "You have something to say to me?"

"No." She hadn't had anything to say to Janice since she'd seen her eating with Spock in the mess.

"Well, that's a relief." Janice managed to load a lot of sarcasm into the words.

"On second thought, I do. Stay away from Spock."

"Or you'll what? Slay me?"

"Maybe."

Janice crouched down in front of a plant with bright yellow flowers. She studied one of the translated slips of paper, then snapped a flower off adding it to the three they'd already collected. "You're a bitch, Christine. And Spock's not yours. You threw him away, remember?"

"I didn't throw him away."

"Right. Because leaving someone high and dry is nothing like that." Janice lifted the flower to her nose, and something changed in her expression as she smelled it.

"What?"

She held the flower out to Christine, said, "Remind you of anything?"

Christine sniffed gingerly, sure it would smell rotten, and Janice was just getting even with her. But it didn't. It smelled vaguely spicy and very sweet. Like the lotion the attendants had slathered all over Ny and Janice and her in the spa on the Maringu home world. How long ago had that leave been?

"Were we really friends then?" Jan's voice was low, husky. "Did we even know each other?"

"We didn't." Christine pushed the flower away.

"So, we weren't friends?" Janice sighed and began moving out. Then she turned, walking backwards as she said, "It was fun there. Even if we weren't really friends."

Christine remembered the men who'd bought them drinks, who'd kept buying the Maringu sweet wine, thinking they'd get lucky. All they'd achieved had been to loosen Ny up enough to take the stage during the main act's break. She'd sung a very nasty song while Janice and Christine had danced on the tables. Pretty soon everyone had been dancing on the tables, except Ny, who'd had to be pried off the stage when the main singer came back.

Christine looked over at Janice, but she'd turned away and was bending over another flower. "It was fun, Janice."

Janice just nodded tightly. Then she turned and stared at Christine. It was a hard stare. "What I want to know is why it was okay for you to have kept quiet about being a slayer, but I'm the bad guy for hiding that I'm a wolf?" Before Christine could answer, Janice got up and walked toward her. "I thought you were normal. Why in the hell would I tell you I was a werewolf? Nobody normal believes in the things we've seen. In the things we are. In the things you kill."

Christine took a deep breath. She couldn't explain why she was unable to let go of her anger toward Janice.

"Forget it. I don't need your approval." Janice stalked off, heading for another bush loaded with flowers.

Christine felt like she should say something, but no words came. Was it what Lori had done? Betraying them all? Almost stealing Jim away? Was Christine holding Janice responsible for the evil that her cousin had done?

Or was she just being cautious. Like cousin like other cousin?

Deciding not to worry about it while they had a task to finish, she walked out toward some low groundcover that had dark red blossoms. The flowers appeared to match the description she was holding, so she tore one off.

"I've got the last one," she called to Janice, who walked back to her.

She seemed about to say something when the air was broken by a terrible scream.

"Did we take too long?" Christine said as she and Janice took off running. If that was Jim screaming...

"That's Spike," Janice said as she loped next to Christine, keeping up easily. At Christine's look of disbelief, she tapped her ears. "Wolfy keen, remember? But if he's being punished for Angel and Jim doing something, shouldn't you be too?" She looked a little disappointed that Christine wasn't being tortured again.

They burst into base camp just as Jim and Angel rushed in from the other side. It was Spike who was screaming and writhing on the ground as Spock tried to get to him but was held back by some invisible force. Christine and Janice were brought up short by the same force, and Jim and Angel skirted the thing, ending up near Spock.

Spike stopped screaming and lay panting, clutching his head as if suffering the monster of all migraines. The force holding them all away from him suddenly let up.

Christine was the first to get to him. Turning him over, she said softly, "What happened?" She gently touched through his hair, trying to feel for any damage.

He didn't open his eyes, but he did moan a little. And not in a hurt way.

Jim suddenly said, "Chris, I think he's okay."

"Keep that up, love, and I'll be even more okay," Spike said, opening his eyes slowly. "What the bloody hell just happened?"

"I decided to make things more interesting," the entity boomed from above them.

They all clapped their hands to their ears.

"You four are superfluous to this," it said, and everyone but Spike and Christine was kicked back a few feet. "Get up, vampire."

Spike was pulled to his feet by an unseen hand. Christine felt something turning her to face him.

"Make things more interesting how?" Angel asked from behind her.

"The little chip in this one's head has limited him."

Spike put his hand to his hair, patting. "You got rid of my chip?" He didn't sound as if he was sure whether he should be happy or upset.

"I did. It is liberation day."

Spike looked over at Christine. "Do you mind if I give it a try, Christine?"

She took up a ready stance. "Do your worst."

"Well, I'm not sure I'll do that." He kicked out hard, much harder than if he'd been just sparring with her.

She blocked the blow. But it hurt. "Ow."

"All right then. Big bad's back." He grinned at her. The unrepentant grin that had usually preceded quality time in bed. "I can finally do some damage."

"Yes, you understand." The entity became more than voice, clouds swirling to make the familiar face as well as a body this time. "Damage is what I had in mind. You will fight." When Spike just stared up at it, the being said in an impatient voice. "You will fight her. Vampire and slayer in the ancient battle."

"Like hell I will." Spike patted his head again, as if unable to believe what had just happened. "Though there's a Nausicaan bartender I'd like to pay a visit to once we're out of here."

"I was not suggesting you fight. I was ordering you to do it." The entity stared down at them, its eyes narrowing. "Must I remind you that I will hurt those you care about?"

"Again, not big with the caring," Angel muttered, and Christine saw Jim smile almost knowingly.

"Oh, what the hell, Chris. Let's have a little go-to, then." Spike grinned and started to circle, nodding as she followed his lead and met his first blow. They'd sparred like this when they'd been together. He'd been a master at knowing exactly how far he could push her before his chip would act up, and he hadn't lost his touch. He kicked and punched, never hurting her but making her work.

She gave back as good as she got, and not one bit better.

"Enough!"

They drew apart, neither breathing particularly hard. She saw Jim wink at her and had to stifle a smile.

"You think this is a game?" The being seemed to be directing its comments at Jim, who was suddenly on the ground writhing--but he didn't scream, and, when the being finally let up on him, he pushed himself shakily to his feet.

"They won't fight," he said. "No matter how much you hurt the rest of us."

Christine wondered if any of the others were going to tell him to speak for himself, but they didn't contradict him. She felt a sudden rush of pride in them all.

The being moved closer, its cloud form making mist as it neared the ground. "You think you can withstand my anger, little one?" It surrounded Jim, and she saw him shiver. Then it turned to her, and she felt a cold fill her, a cold so deep it seemed to burn. "What about you, slayer? Can you stand to watch him die?"

"If she has to," Spock said--the voice of reason...or maybe hope?

"And you, werewolf? You are angry with this slayer. Wouldn't you like a chance to fight her?"

Janice studied her nails, as if more concerned about a possible torn cuticle than the being's threats. "Well, no. She's meaner and stronger."

The being spread around Janice, swirls of mist moving around her. "I can even the odds. Wouldn't you like the chance to beat her to a bloody pulp?"

Janice smiled slowly. "Sure. But not for your amusement." She stared at Christine as if daring her to say something cutting. A moment later, Rand was on the ground, too. She did scream, but it came out more as a howl.

The being pulled away. "Had enough, wolf-woman?" Its voice dropped, became almost seductive. "Everyone knows you're the weak link, Janice. You don't need to be strong. They don't expect you to be."

Janice looked over at Spock, as if seeing if that was true. He stared back evenly at her, and she stood a little straighter. "Gotta tell you, after the pens, your idea of pain is lacking somehow. I don't need to be strong for them. I survived Nogura; I can survive you."

"Good on you, blondie," Spike murmured.

Janice smiled, but the expression was a little tentative.

The being began to laugh, the cloud shape shaking with the sound, and Christine found herself back on the yellow mat with Jim. "Oh, my," the entity said, "you are doing so well, all of you. Who would have thought such a collection of misfits would be so stalwart? You've earned a rest for such noble fortitude." The being disappeared.

"Hey," Angel said, a sour expression on his face. "I am not a misfit."

"Oh, right. You're the king of normal." Spike laughed at him.

Christine saw Jim smile the funny smile again, and moved closer, giving him a "what's so amusing?" look.

"Those two never quit." Then he waggled his eyebrows. When she frowned, he made a circle out of his thumb and forefinger and poked his other forefinger through it a few times.

"Them?" she said. Very loudly. Everyone turned around. "As you were," she said weakly. She turned back to Jim. "Them?" she said as softly as she could.

He nodded vigorously.

She mouthed, "No way."

"Oh, not yet. But someday. And not too far from now. Bet you fifty rec lounge credits I'm right."

She could feel her eyebrows going up. That would buy a lot of drinks. She looked back to where Spike and Angel sat arguing about what appeared to be cavemen and spacemen, and shook her head. Those two...lovers? No way. "You're on, sucker."

He just laughed. "Will I be disqualified if I match-make?"

She socked him in the arm--softly, but he still winced.

"Guess so, huh?" He pulled her close, holding her for a moment as he whispered, "Maybe I just want Spike happily settled with someone--anyone--but you."

She nuzzled against him. "I love you, not him."

"Oh, I know. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to get rid of the competition."

Laughing, she pulled back enough to kiss him.

"Oh, get a room," the others said in almost scary unison.

She and Jim ignored them long enough to finish the kiss.

-----------------

"I hope you are rested," the being's voice sounded above them, causing the ground to shake.

Spike opened his eyes and checked out the scene. Kirk and Christine were up and staring at the sky, two warriors not letting the fact that they'd been lying close enough to be Siamese twins stop them from being battle ready in an instant. Spock was sitting up, and Spike noticed that he checked on Rand before he got to his feet. She uncurled--had she been lying against him?--and got up gracefully.

"Get up," Angel said, slapping Spike on the arm as he pushed himself up.

"Get up yourself." But Spike scrambled to his feet, not liking being the last one standing.

"Your tests so far have been simple. This one will not be. Time to choose new partners--I get to choose, of course."

Spike looked down, saw that he was sharing the yellow mat with Christine. Rand was with Angel on the red mat, and Kirk had been moved over to the blue mat with Spock.

"This won't be so bad." He grinned at Christine.

She smiled back, but she looked worried.

"What?"

"He said it would be hard."

"Oh. Right." He moved closer to her. "But it's us. We'll be fine if we're together." The words echoed in his mind, and he remembered saying something similar to Buffy just before their battle with the First.

"Spike?"

He shook his head, forcing himself back to the present and this different Slayer. "Just wandering down Memory Lane."

"Well, quit it."

There was a sudden shaking and the ground tilted crazily. "Ready?" the being asked.

They didn't have a chance to answer. Suddenly they were on a field, torches flickering around them.

"Oh, God, no." Christine seemed to be shrinking.

"Pet. Pet, it's okay."

"No." She closed her eyes.

He realized he heard the sound of many humans--breath coming in and out, hearts beating, and the sound of murmured voices. And then he sensed more people--his own kind, this time. "What is this?"

"Gotterdammerung."

"Bloody hell." He pulled her back. "We don't have to stay."

But they did. He ran into something like a wall as he tried to flee with her. She whimpered again.

"Christine!" someone screamed. A young voice. A young girl.

"Laura." Christine was off and running.

Spike followed her, watched as she knelt down, trying to comfort a young girl who'd been hacked open. He could see a doppelganger of Christine, probably a memory-residue of what she'd really done. The Christine with him now was superimposed on top of the image, saying the same words as if they were ritual, memorized for a special event.

"Don't do this to her," he said. But the being wasn't listening to pleas from the witness. Spike felt helpless; Christine didn't seem to even know he was with her.

The girl died, and it was bad. But then Christine was called to Spock's side and it got worse. Spock severed the bond, and Spike watched as the Christine he knew best--the one who'd been so damaged--was born. He would save this woman; he would love this woman.

Spike followed her around the battlefield, watched as she talked to another slayer--a dark woman who reminded him a little of the slayer Dru had killed back in Sunnydale. Then he stood at the edge of the field, watching Christine as she made the decision to run again. She seemed entirely in the memory, and he thought he might lose her, that they all might.

"Pet. It's not real. Don't run."

But it was probably the most real moment of her life. The changing moment of her life.

And she ran, right off the field. Right into his arms--because he happened to be standing in her way. Not, he thought, because she'd meant to.

"Emma?" she murmured.

"Who's Emma, love?"

Then Christine seemed to shake herself, and she looked at him--really seeing him for the first time since the memory had taken hold. The planet faded, turning into a dank cave, stone steps running down to a ledge overlooking a huge pit. A too familiar pit. Spike waited, but nothing happened, and he turned back to Christine. The being was evidently giving them some recovery time before he unleashed Spike's big moment.

"I'm not her." She took his hand. "I'm not her, Spike."

"No, you're not."

"I don't run. Not anymore." She was gripping his hand so hard it hurt. "Emma taught me. I taught her, too." She started to cry.

"It's all right."

"That was the worst decision of my life, Spike. To run like that. But..."

"But...?"

"I look at what I've become, and I wouldn't be that if I hadn't passed through hell. If I hadn't made that choice. I'm not sure I could make another decision. Does that make sense?"

"Yes."

She hugged him. "Thank you for your part in bringing me back from that."

"It was fun. I didn't mind in the least." He grinned at her, then his smile faded as he heard the silence around them giving way to the sound of fighting. Another war, slayers against vampires. Another Gotterdammerung.

Christine gasped. "What is this?"

"My hell," he said, and then she seemed to disappear. And he saw Buffy beside him. Saw her take the blow that sent her to her knees. The First was taunting her. The amulet Angel had brought--that Spike had wanted to wear, but Buffy had refused to let him--hung lifeless around her neck.

He ran to her, ran right through the First to get to her. "Give me that." He tried to wrest the amulet off her, but she held it down.

"No."

"Buffy, get out. Get out now and let me do this."

"Do what? The amulet doesn't do anything. It was just a trick someone played on Angel." She forced herself to her feet, catching the axe as it was thrown to her by Rona. "We finish this."

Blood was streaming from her side; he could smell it, even in the half-light of the pit. But it didn't stop her from fighting like a thing possessed, and he fought just as ferociously beside her. He could feel the life ebbing out of her even as she sent a hundred creatures to their death.

Then she yelled, "Faith!" and threw the axe to the other slayer before slumping into Spike's arms. The amulet began to glow.

"It does do something, Buffy. Look, it does." He was babbling, like the weak-willed poet he'd been. Not the man he'd become. But was he either of those men, anymore? Or had she changed him? Had he changed himself for her?

The amulet began to shine like the sun. It hurt, and he winced.

She saw him do it. "Get out," she said. "Now. While you still can."

"No." He tightened his hold on her. "I want to see how it ends."

"Everybody out," she yelled to the slayers. And they began to run out.

Buffy pushed him away. "Go. Now." She moaned as the light began to burn her, as her clothing began to smolder. ""I love you, Spike. Now, go."

He knew she didn't love him. But he wasn't going to call her on it. Not when it was the last gift she could give him.

"Go!" she screamed and he left her.

He left her. And he had thought he would never leave her. He turned, ready to go back to her, ready to die with her. But she'd turned her face, was facing the pit, was staring at the First in her body.

"Go back to hell," she told it. "Here"--she lifted the pendant, let its light blaze out--"I'll show you the way."

And Spike knew he couldn't stay. This was not his fight, anymore. He left her because she'd told him to. It was the only gift he'd been able to give her.

"I love you, Buffy," he screamed as he ran up the stone steps, saw Faith waiting for him.

She grabbed him, and she turned into Christine. Christine--who held him and stroked his hair.

"I had to leave her," he said softly. It had been something that had haunted him all these years. But he'd had to abandon her, just as Angel had to go back to Los Angeles and leave her to fight the First. They'd only done what she'd wanted. What she'd asked.

What she'd ordered.

"It's okay," Christine said gently.

He nodded.

The cave faded away; a blue-lit space folded around them; it was warm, with a soft breeze blowing.

"What kind of thing is this being?" Spike asked. "That it makes us relive such hell?"

"I don't know." Her eyes were red rimmed, and her voice a little scratchy. "Maybe it enjoys seeing us suffer? Reliving our worst moments with us."

"Not just our worst, though. Our big moments. Our biggest."

"Changing moments." She closed her eyes. "I'm so tired."

"Don't sleep. Think of the nightmares we'll have."

But she was already asleep, and he felt exhaustion overcoming him, too. Unable to fight the feeling, he lay back, feeling the blue ground mold itself around him. The softness throbbed slightly, comforting him. He closed his eyes, letting sleep take him.

He didn't dream at all.

-------------------

Kirk woke; his exhaustion after the ordeal of reliving Kodos's massacre was gone. He felt rested, the pain and terror back where it belonged--in his past.

He looked over at Spock, who was stirring, too. Spock's pain had been much more recent. Kirk had relived the attack Chris had told him about, Spock trying to take her back to Vulcan, trying to kill Spike. He wished he could say that he had not recognized his friend in that moment--except he had. He'd seen him once on the sands of Vulcan, when T'Pring had chosen Kirk as the one to fight Spock. Only then Spock had been under the influence of the Pon Farr. This time it had just been his emotions pushing him to hurt, to take, to do whatever he wanted. Love. Love gone crazy.

"I wish you had not seen that," Spock said softly, and Kirk realized he had been staring at his friend--probably not with admiration.

"I'm glad I did, in a way. I've never understood how you could go to Gol, how you could send the messages you did to Chris and me. I knew we hurt you, but I never comprehended how you hurt yourself."

"Yes. I may have been paying you back as much for my own betrayal of myself as for yours." Spock sat up, studying their surroundings.

"Are we trapped here? Do we have to find a way out?"

"I do not know, Jim." Spock leaned back; the blue ground pushed up against him, forming a cushion.

"You don't care, either, do you?"

Spock almost smiled. "It is peaceful here. We will escape only to be thrust into some new test or game. I almost prefer it here." He met Kirk's eyes. "I am sure you do not. Not with Christine waiting for you." His voice held such bitterness that Kirk had to look away.

"You gave her to me, Spock."

"I did not have much choice. You had taken her heart in my absence."

"Yes. In your absence. You left. Both of us." Kirk was close to yelling and he turned away, forcing himself to calm down. "Damn you. I didn't--we didn't."

"I know, Jim. She told me that, too."

"I wanted to, though. I did." Kirk wondered why he was telling Spock this. It wasn't necessary to point out he was nobody's saint. Spock knew that. "I almost got her killed trying to keep her out of my heart."

"By the vampire who nearly turned her?"

"Yes."

"Would you have killed her if she had been turned?"

Kirk shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe I would have given up, then. I'll never know; it didn't happen. She was stronger than he thought." The blue around them began to fade. "I guess we don't have to find our own way out."

"It would seem not." Spock climbed to his feet, stared down at him a moment, then held his hand out.

Kirk reached for it, let Spock pull him up. They stood for a moment, hands still clasped. "I've missed you, Spock. You have to know that."

"I do know that. Because I know you. Even though, at times, I hate you." Spock's eyes were calm, but something hard glittered behind the evenness. He let go of Kirk's hand. "I will doubtlessly learn to get beyond that. Especially as it was my choice that Christine stay on the ship, that she stay with you."

"Would it have been easier for us if she'd left? She'd have been there, forever. Gone but standing in between us like a ghost."

"Yes. She would have. This, as much as it hurts, is preferable."

Kirk was surprised that Spock would admit so readily that it hurt him. He tried to smile, could tell it was half a smile, half an apologetic grimace. What was he supposed to say? That he was sorry he'd gotten Chris? He couldn't say that. But he was sorry that Spock had gotten hurt on the way to Kirk finding happiness.

Spock took a deep breath and clasped his hands behind his back. He looked like the perfect Vulcan again.

Kirk straightened up, too. They would be perfect officers together. Then he looked over at Spock. "Hate? Really?"

One eyebrow went up.

"Okay, I'll leave it alone." He turned, watching as the blue disappeared, leaving them back at their camp.

Chris looked up. When she saw him, she pushed herself up and ran to him. He caught her up, holding her, feeling himself tremble as her strong arms surrounded him.

"Was it bad?" she asked.

"Yes. Yours?"

She nodded. But then she whispered, "I think reliving it helped me. I didn't do anything differently."

He thought of his terror as a boy, running and hiding with the others who managed to slip away from the soldiers with their phase pistols and long knives. He'd done the same thing again. He'd wanted to turn and fight, but he hadn't been that man yet. In fact, it was possible that the man was born on that day. Born vowing he'd never run again.

Kirk let go of Chris, saw that Spock had moved away, joining Rand on their mat--she looked pale and drawn. Spike sat, subdued and staring at the ground. Angel looked very far away.

He realized the being had re-formed above them, the clouds outlining a face gone thoughtful. "You are all so serious."

Angel glared up at the sky. "Reliving hell can do that to a person."

"Possibly literally, in his case," Spike added.

"I know what you relived. All of you. I was with each and every one of you. It was...exhilarating."

"Glad we could be of entertainment," Kirk said, not bothering to glare at the being since Angel had that covered--the man could glower like no one's business.

"I need to repay you." Suddenly the arid landscape gave way to a tropical forest, a white-sand beach and blue-green lagoon spreading in front of them. "Enjoy yourselves."

All six of them stood still.

"It's safe, I assure you. Go play. When was the last time any of you did that?"

No one moved.

"Very well." The being laughed, and the world trembled, and suddenly everyone but Chris was gone.

Kirk reached for her, afraid that she'd be pulled away, too.

"Can you play now?" the being asked. "Consider it a test, if it makes it easier. How much fun can the two of you have?"

"So you can live off our pleasure?" Chris asked.

"If you wish to think of it that way."

"Wait a minute," she said. "Is Spock with Rand? All alone? Playing?"

"He is." The being seemed to wink at her. "I do hope they'll be more entertaining than you two are proving to be." It disappeared.

"Now what?" she asked, her voice sour.

Kirk studied her.

"What?"

"Why does it bother you so?"

"Jim. Come on."

"I'm serious. Why?" He moved closer. "If it weren't Rand, would you mind?"

"Of course not. I'm over him. You know that." She sighed. "Why does it bother you that it bothers me? Are you protective about her now?"

He shook his head. "Not particularly."

"She's a werewolf, one of Lori's werewolves. That makes me nervous. And Spock's vulnerable right now--because of us and because of V'ger."

"I know."

"Then don't try to second-guess my motives. I'm not in love with him, but I still have the right to worry about him if he seems to be heading toward danger."

He studied her, could see no deceit in her face. He finally nodded, willing to give it a rest.

"Why are we arguing about them? We're in paradise for the moment." She moved closer. "Let's go for a swim." She began to pull off his uniform.

He stopped her. "What if it's a trick?"

"What if it's not? What if it's just a chance to play?" She waited, though. Waited for him to make up his mind. She'd follow his lead.

He smiled, and saw her relax. He reached over, pulling her uniform off her, then shedding his. He grabbed her hand, ran with her to the water, playing like he hadn't for years. Maybe not since he'd run from Kodos's men.

He imagined Chris had stopped playing when she'd found out she was the slayer. Or maybe after the Cruciamentum.

"What did you see?" she asked him. "What was your hell?"

"Tarsus IV."

"I thought that would be it."

"You saw that battlefield, didn't you?"

She nodded.

"I missed so much that night." Alma had held him close, kept the vampire trying to take control of him contained by her fire and her love.

"You're thinking about Alma?"

He nodded.

"Do you ever miss her?"

"Not anymore. Would I be a better man if I said yes?"

"It's easy to say, I think, when she's not here, complicating your life."

"Like Spock is yours, you mean?"

She nodded. "And it's ours now, remember?" She grinned at him, waited for him to grin back. "I'm over Spock. But I can't escape him the way you can put Alma behind you."

"I know." He kissed her. "I love you, Chris."

"Do you think this being is ever going to let us leave?"

He shrugged.

"Could you lie about that?" She smiled at his expression. "Just a little?"

"Yes, he'll let us go any minute. He'll get what he needs from us and move on."

"Okay." But she sounded resigned rather than relieved.

She settled back into his arms and they floated in the blood-warm water. He closed his eyes--he really hated it when he thought of things in those terms, when Anacost's legacy struck again.

"I love you, Jim. I have you because of my hell. Maybe I have you because of yours, too? Maybe our paths would never have crossed otherwise?"

"Maybe not."

"I know Spike and I wouldn't have met if he'd died with Buffy. He never would have saved me."

"He might never have had to. If Drusilla had not shown up, would you have ended up on that field?" He shook his head. It was too hard to think this way. Too easy to get tangled up in what ifs. "This is what it is."

"What is it, Jim?" She pulled his arms around her more tightly.

"Love, Chris. It's love."

She nodded, and he kissed her neck. Then, not saying anything more, they just drifted in the warm, welcoming water.

----------------

"You are very quiet," Spock said to Rand as they sat on the beach. She was still pale, but she appeared to have her energy back, digging relentlessly through the sand with her fingers.

"I'm sorry. I've used up my perky reserves."

"I do not require vivacity."

"No kidding or Christine would not be on your list of ex-girlfriends."

"Ex-wives."

"Right. And you actually have a list of those, too." She shook her head. "Who'd have thought it?"

"It has not escaped my notice that you resort to sarcasm when you are in pain."

"Good for you, Mister Observant." She scrambled up, started to walk away.

"In your test, were you in the pens you mentioned?"

She stopped. Then she turned and stared down at him. "Yes."

"I'm sorry."

She shrugged. "I learned to be human, there. I learned control. I guess it was a growth experience. Despite all the pain."

He nodded.

"Where were you?" She looked as if she did not expect him to tell her.

"Reliving the events that sent me to Gol." He allowed himself a small, wry smile.

"Not a nice place, I've heard."

"I suppose one might consider it Vulcan's version of the pens." Feeling suddenly restless, he got up and indicated they should walk.

"It was Christine who sent you there?"

"To some extent." He'd blamed her for so long. Told himself that loving her, that his human emotion grown too strong for her, had sent him to Gol. But he had sent himself there. He was to blame, not her or his feelings for her. He'd allowed himself to become all that he'd come to hate. He had made choices. Choices that he had not chosen to undo, even though it had made him slightly sick to have to live through it again--or to have Jim witness it. "Christine is not to blame."

"You protect her? She doesn't deserve it."

"I am not sure of that."

"I am. I hate her, Spock. She was my best friend, or I thought she was. And she looks at me now with such loathing. Like I'm beneath her. We're the same people we were, aren't we?"

"I do not believe we are. Secrets come out and truths color everything."

"How poetic." She looked down, kicking the sand as she walked. "Do you think I'm a bad person?"

"For being a werewolf, you mean?"

"No, for being me. For being Janice Rand. Lori's cousin, and part of the Nogura's team, and someone who was in love with her captain, and who spent way too much time talking about it to her friends. Am I bad or just pathetic?"

"I do not consider you either." He looked over at her, touched by the trembling smile she gave him. He realized she was not showering him with any pheromones. This was just Rand. A Rand who looked very appealing and vulnerable. He forced himself to look away.

"Do you swim?" she asked.

"I can swim. It is not, however, something I often choose to do."

"I'm going to swim."

"Very well."

"I'm going to swim naked, Spock. So you might want to turn around." She met his eyes.

He didn't turn around, wasn't sure why he was ignoring the voice that told him to give her some privacy. But, even if he'd wanted to turn, he wasn't sure his legs would have obeyed him.

"Suit yourself," she said. She slowly stripped off her uniform, stood before him in her underwear. "Sure you don't want to come in?"

He felt a rush of lust for her even though she was still not using any pheromones, but he was unsure if it was because he felt something deeper for her, or if it was just this place and what he'd been through with V'ger and with Christine.

Rand took off her underwear. She stood before him, head held high, her eyes holding his. The way she stood there, as if nakedness was her natural state, aroused him even more.

"I do wish to come in," he said.

"Then come in."

"My reasons for doing so are not clear to me."

"I said swim, Spock. I didn't say you were going to get to have sex with me. Now, take off your clothes and come swimming."

She waited.

He took off his uniform.

"Christine gave up a lot." She grinned at him, and he found himself covering part of his front with his hands. "Guess you thought we were having sex, huh?"

"You are teasing me?"

"I am. Get used to it." She walked over to him, took his hand and pulled him after her into the water. When they were waist deep, she let go of him and dove into the shallow water. He stood in the water, watching her swim so freely, and he gradually relaxed, accepting that he was naked, and so was she, and they were not, apparently, going to take advantage of that fact.

He realized he was disappointed. Had she wanted him to realize that?

She was not stupid. She was anything but.

She surfaced, rolling to her back. Certain parts of her jutted out of the water.

He groaned, and she laughed. It was a pure, throaty laugh that probably should have unnerved him, but he only felt more drawn to her.

"Come out here, Spock." She turned her head, stared at him straight on, not blinking. A sign of aggression from what he remembered of predators.

He realized he was in a battle of wills.

He backed up, so parts of him were no longer in the water. "I believe you should come here."

"You do, do you?" She blinked and smiled. Conciliatory. Or just surprised and pleased, perhaps?

"Janice, come here."

With a feral grin, she flipped onto her stomach, and dogpaddled in. Once she hit shallow enough water, she stood up, then walked to him. "You called me Janice."

"It is your name."

"It is. It just sounded different this time." She stopped barely within arm's reach. "What now?"

He felt overcome by doubt. He wanted her, but did he only want her so he could forget another woman?

She closed the gap between them. "I love that you're thinking about it. Because parts of you are in no doubt what you want to do, Spock." And she touched those parts of him, making him groan again. "Let's play?" She grinned up at him. A toothy, open expression. Her eyes sparkled and her hair shone in the sunlight. A natural creature asking him to not think, to just do.

He pulled her to him and kissed her. She was like a snake in his arms, rubbing sinuously against him. Part seduction, part pack-comfort, he imagined. Her mouth was warm and rough against his, accepting his dominance, her tongue teasing his in a small show of challenge. It was nothing like kissing Christine.

He let her push him to his back in the sand.

"Play?" she asked as she crawled on top of him.

"I do not play, Janice."

"Right. Because sex is serious business."

"Yes. It is." But, caught up in her boisterous energy, he found sex with her anything but serious.

He came very close to playing.

------------------

Angel watched as Spike stripped off his clothes and ran into the water. The other vampire hooted as he hit the waves, diving into them with another loud cry of pleasure.

Angel smiled as he watched. How long had it been since he'd played in the sea under the blazing sun? He'd swum with Buffy, back in Sunnydale, before he'd had to leave her. But that had been in the moonlight.

"Come in, you big ponce." Spike leapt out of the water like a flying fish, diving back in, laughing as he came up again. "Oh, yes. This is bloody perfection."

Angel slowly pulled his clothes off, easing into the water, the way he had as a kid--he'd always been too cold in the water.

Spike glanced over at him. "Angel, it's not like it's chilly. Or that cold should even bother you."

Angel forced himself to walk faster, dropping as soon as he could, letting the warm water heat him up. He floated happily as Spike gamboled like a baby seal. An annoying baby seal.

An annoying--chipless--baby seal. Should Angel be worried about that? Spike had a soul now. And it wasn't like they didn't take on their share of evil humans--humans that Spike had not been able to fight. This would even the odds on the side of the righteous.

But he'd never get to see Spike beaten up by an evil grandma again. Too bad.

Spike, finally tired, apparently, of making like Shamu, floated near him. "So what was your bad moment? Was it hell?"

"No. Being turned." So much had led up to that. Such dissolution. His growing distance from his father, the way his mother had looked at him with her quiet disappointment. He'd been becoming something monstrous even before Darla had found him.

"Really? That was the moment?" Spike shook his head. "Mine wasn't."

"Let me guess. Buffy." Sometimes it was nice that they'd shared her, only in the sense of Spike being able to understand Angel's feelings for her. But mostly Angel hated that Spike had had a part of her.

"Watching her die. Not taking her place."

"Would she have let you?" They'd avoided talking about this. They generally used Buffy as a battering ram, something to irritate the other with.

"No. And that's what I needed to learn, I guess." Spike sighed, then it turned into a happier sound. "I missed this. The sun feels so good."

Angel sometimes envied him his ability to live in the moment. "It does." They floated awhile, then he looked at Spike. "So why didn't you tell me you were in love with Christine?"

"Oh, right. And give you that to use against me?"

"I wouldn't have."

"Oh, of course, you would have. Angelus is still inside you, Angel. And he loves to pick."

Angel felt a little stung by Spike's words.

"Oh, don't pout like that. I'm sorry I said the 'Angelus' word."

"I just...I think I'd show a little more sensitivity than that. I didn't know you were in love with her. I thought it was just physical."

"Yeah, well, it wasn't."

"Did she leave you?"

"Nope. I left her. For her own good, too." Spike shot him a "beat that" look.

"Right."

"I did. She needed to move on. And I needed to give her up because I was never going to have her the way I wanted to." He suddenly looked sad. "The way Kirk does."

"I don't like him."

Spike looked over at him. 'Really?"

"Really. Big jerk. Reminds me of Riley."

"Yeah. Me too. Don't know what Christine sees in him."

"Me, neither."

Spike laughed. "He is cute."

"Not that you'd notice that."

Spike looked over at him, frowning slightly. "Why wouldn't I notice that? We used to pick dinner based on looks, remember?"

"Yeah, I know. But we prefer women."

"Sure." Spike's frown grew deeper, as if he was getting confused. "You mean to eat?"

"For dinner or for...anything."

"Okay. Right. Women only. We're he-men. Grrr."

"Right. Grrr." Angel was tempted to go club a bull or something to prove his macho-ness. Only there weren't any bulls to club. Could he club Spike?

Spike rolled his eyes. "What is wrong with you?"

"It's just something that he said."

"Kirk?"

Angel nodded.

"What did he say?"

"It was nothing." Angel turned over, ready to go back in.

"You're not going in now. We may never have this opportunity again. Enjoy the bleeding sunlight." Spike swam closer as Angel sulked. "What did he say that has your knickers in such a knot?"

"He said we fight an awful lot."

"And we always have."

"Yeah, but...maybe, too much?" Angel knew his face was doing the dopey thing that Lorne used to tell him made him look like he was a just-hit-puberty teen.

"Too much for what?"

"For, you know, normal. That maybe there's something under the tension?"

Spike looked confused, then his eyebrows went up as he seemed to get it. "I think he was screwing with you, Angel."

"Really? You think?"

"Oh, yeah."

Angel took a breath he didn't need, letting it out, letting it express his relief.

"Although..."

He turned back to Spike. "Although what?"

"Nothing."

"What do you mean nothing? What?"

"It's just..."

"What? It's just what?"

Spike started to laugh. "I can see why he did it. It's loads of fun."

Angel splashed him.

"Big poof."

"Quit calling me that."

"Right, 'cause I wouldn't want to call a spade a spade." Spike laughed. "Are you attracted to me?" He started to swim closer, his face screwed up into an exaggerated pucker. "Give us a kiss, then."

"Knock it off, Spike."

"Gods above, Angel, I haven't had this much fun yanking your chain since you were turned into that wee little puppet man."

"Shut up, Spike."

"Oh yeah. Life is good." Spike swam away, still laughing.

Angel realized he was watching Spike's backside and immediately looked away. This was not happening.

Spike laughed again--the annoying laugh that was getting on Angel's remaining nerve. "Yeah, you get a good look at that, why don't you."

Angel wondered if Christine would mind too much if he killed both Kirk and Spike.

Slowly.

------------

Rand heard someone chuckling softly and stirred from where she'd been lying--she'd been holding onto Spock as he nestled into her like a big Vulcan wolfcub. She looked up at the sky, but there was no cloud-thing staring down at them.

"I can take form. If I wish to."

She looked over her shoulder, saw the being standing behind them.

"Spock. Wake up."

He came awake slowly. As he stirred, she discreetly checked him for bites. She hadn't intended to bite him, but accidents happened sometimes--especially a first time. And, boy howdy, never let it be said Spock wasn't a kick in the sack. Or the sand. If she'd lost her head, it would have been entirely his fault.

She grinned at him as he looked up at her. "Our host is here. Here-here, not up-in-the-sky here."

Spock brushed himself off, turning to look at the being, not acting the least bit bothered that he was naked in front of the guy--or whatever he was. He looked like a guy now. A sort of old, nebbishy guy. Not the super-being who'd been dishing out pain and stupid games.

"Are you done here?" the being asked. "I'm checking with you because, of all the pairs, you two have managed to have the most fun."

She grinned, saw Spock looked a little satisfied, too. She knew they were both thinking neener-neener thoughts at Christine, only for very different reasons. It should probably bother her that Spock was still in love with his psycho-killer ex. But it didn't, really--Rand had learned to live in the gray zone during the course of her life. The pens did that to a girl.

"Are we done?" she asked Spock, then realized that the question could come across as very needy if he chose to take it that way.

He didn't appear to give it much thought. "I think not. We are, however, finished for the moment." He rose in a graceful move, pulling her up with him without appearing to have to think about that, either. "Where are our uniforms?"

The being laughed and snapped his fingers. Their clothing appeared before them. "You left them over there. Very far over there." He winked at her.

"I take it," Spock said, as he calmly stepped into his uniform pants. "That the tests are over."

A padd-like thing appeared, hovering in the air in front of the being as he input something. "Yes. Quite finished. You've been a pleasure to study, by the way. So much diversity on this planet."

"Uh, we're not really normal representatives of this--"

Spock elbowed her. Hard.

The being looked at her, as if assessing if he needed to run his tests again on more normal subjects.

"I mean thanks. On the behalf of normal folk on this crazy little planet of ours." She pulled her clothes on quickly. She was good at this, used to making a quick escape. Most werewolves were. You never knew who you might wind up with if the mood took you. Or how much you might want to get away.

Not that she wanted to get away from Spock. Which was sort of unusual. She looked over at him, and he turned, meeting her gaze. There was a calmness to him that had been missing since he'd melded with V'ger. Had she helped him? She grinned, saw his expression lighten.

The being coughed gently. "Very well, let's go."

"So this is what you do?" she asked. "You take people prisoner and make them play weird games. How ethical is that? And what gives you the right--does everyone get the beach and sex?" She couldn't help it if she was easily distracted.

The being shook his head. "You were never really prisoners. I would have let you go if your stress levels had risen too high. But I find that my experiments are more interesting if people feel they have no choice in the matter. Their true natures, if you will, tend to come out."

"I still think it's rotten to do this." Then she looked over at Spock. "Mostly."

"I'll take that under advisement," the being said with a fond look at them both.

Then the beach disappeared, and they ended up back at camp. Christine and Kirk were standing close, both looking very relaxed, until Christine studied Spock and suddenly seemed much less relaxed.

Rand turned to Spock, "Is this a secret?"

"No." Again, he didn't even have to think about it.

Rand turned back to stare at Christine, letting her lips curl into a smile. A deeply satisfied smile.

Christine looked ready to slay her.

"Did you enjoy that, Janice?" Spock murmured.

"Oh, yeah."

"Good."

She looked at him, surprised at his lack of censure. One of his eyebrows went up, and he looked just a little bit mean. She laughed, and suddenly didn't care about Christine or Kirk or what they thought about them.

She heard Angel and Spike arguing over on their mat.

"You were, too, looking. I saw you."

"Like I would ever check that skinny thing out."

"Skinny? Oh, just because you've added a few pounds to your arse in your old age."

"Are you saying I'm fat?"

"Would it bother you if I were? 'Cause, yeah, then I am."

Rand heard Kirk whisper to Christine, "You are going to go down in flames on this one." Christine laughed softly, the way she used to when she and Rand had been close enough to play games that required graceful capitulation--not beating the holy crap out of each other.

"Your assistance has been invaluable, gentle beings." The being smiled at them all. "I'll send you back where you belong."

"Wait a damn minute," both Kirk and Angel said together, and then there was a flash of light and the vampires were gone, and she was on the Enterprise, back in the transporter room.

Vedder was there, manning the panel. He looked up in surprise, then a big smile broke out. "Chief! Thank god."

She realized her hair was down and that she had sand in it. Oh well, she looked hot with beach hair. She could tell by the way Vedder's eyes dilated that he thought so, too. "Yep, I'm back. So, what's been happening?"

"Uh, we've been looking for you."

She checked their coordinates. "From space dock?"

"Well, I wasn't looking. Commander Sulu and Doctor McCoy and Commander Uhura took off in a shuttle."

"Better call them back. Because we're home."

"Where were you?" He moved closer.

She heard the door to the room open; Vedder didn't. She took a discreet sniff and smiled.

"Crewman Vedder," Spock said, an odd tone in his voice. "I believe you have urgent business elsewhere."

Vedder looked over at the doorway, seemed a little stunned to see Spock. Or maybe he was just surprised that the first officer remembered his name. When Spock gave a little cough, his eyes very hard, Vedder fled.

She crossed her arms over her chest. "Aren't you supposed to be on the bridge?"

"We are in spacedock. The ship will survive without me." He moved closer. "And I was merely following the Captain's lead, since Jim rushed off the bridge to see if Christine was in sickbay."

"The intercom broken or something?"

"An excellent question. Apparently he wanted to check on her in person. As I did you.'" He took another few steps. "I realize I made an assumption when I woke that might not have been warranted."

She waited for him, letting him stalk to her. He seemed to be getting off on it, if the way his scent was changing was any indication. "You did?"

He nodded. "I said we were not done. But I neglected to ask you if you felt that we were, as yet, unfinished."

"You did neglect that, didn't you?" She laughed as he pushed her against the panel. "Careful. Wouldn't want to transport anything inadvertently."

"Excellent point." He moved her until she was backed against an area that presented no potential hazard to personnel or equipment. "You did not answer my question."

"Technically, it wasn't a question." She saw his lips twitch at her sass--he liked it. Spock liked her smartass routine. Weird. "But, for the record, I agree that, perhaps, we're not quite done."

"Perhaps?" He let an eyebrow rise, then said, "Computer, lock doors." He kissed her, and his hands roamed her body in a way that made her knees buckle and her temperature rise.

"Damn." She touched his cheek. "Definitely. Definitely not done."

He shot her a look that could only be called smug and said, "Unlock doors."

"You do realize this is fraternization?"

He turned back to look at her. "I do."

"And you don't care?"

He seemed to consider it. "In the world I knew, vampires, slayers, and werewolves did not exist, and rules were easy to understand. This world--it is not so easy to define what is wrong and what is right. Vampires and werewolves are evil, yet they aren't. Starfleet is good, yet two high ranking admirals may epitomize evil. There appear to be far greater things to dwell on than if you and I should fraternize." He cocked his head. "Unless you wish to dwell on that?"

"Me? No way."

"Good."

Then he was gone.

A few minutes later, Vedder came back in, checking out the room as if making sure Spock had really left. "Everything okay?"

She nodded, kept her smile to herself, the way she'd learned to keep all her more base instincts under wraps in the pens.

"You sure you're okay?"

"Never better." And, for once, her standard reply actually meant just what it said.

--------------------

Christine finished packing her bag. Two days of leave, and she and Jim were going to Paris.

"Ready?" he asked as he came out from the head.

"Yep."

He turned on his terminal. "There's a message for you. It's from Tolvar."

She walked over, waited for him to call it up. All it said was, "Need to talk about our mutual friends." The address wasn't San Francisco, it was somewhere near Athens.

"We can pop over once we get to Paris," Jim said softly.

She nodded. Then she looked over at him. "I forgot about it all." Kirsu. The Watcher's Council and Nogura. Lori and her quest.

"I know. Me, too." He grinned but it was a sad expression. "It was almost like a vacation. A weird, head-spinning vacation. But..."

"I know. Sort of relaxing in its way." She smiled as he pulled her close.

"Spock seems more relaxed, too."

She nodded.

"You've been very good about not commenting." He grinned at her. "Is it eating you up?"

"No. You were right. I have to let it go."

"I was right? Can you repeat that into a recording device?" He laughed at her expression.

"You. Were. Right." She punctuated her words with quick kisses.

"See. It'll be okay."

"If she hurts him, or turns him into a werewolf, I will hunt her down and kill her."

"I suppose that's fair." He pulled her close, holding her. Then the terminal chimed and he eased away. "It's Nogura."

"You'd better get that." She started to move, and he pulled her back.

"Where are you going? Let's show him he's getting his money's worth? The sorcerer-slayer dream team."

She laughed, forcing the levity from her face as he opened the connection.

"Jim? Chapel? So you're back?"

Jim sounded very nonchalant. "We're back. As are our would-be rescuers." Rescuers who had scoured the immediate area and found nothing.

"Didn't give up any secrets, did you?" Nogura moved closer. "You don't suppose it was a Romulan being?" He'd obviously read their report--a report that had left off any mention of two vampires.

"Pretty sure he wasn't." Jim looked at her. "Did he look Romulan to you, Doctor?"

"No, sir."

Jim shrugged. "We're going to start our leave, sir. Unless there's anything else?"

"I wish you'd start the damned search we discussed."

"We've been a little busy stopping V'ger."

Nogura waved away that piddling excuse. "Get to work once the ship is back in shape. That's an order, Jim. Not a suggestion."

"Aye, sir."

Nogura studied them both. "Enjoy your leave." Then he signed off.

"What do you want to bet he has us followed?" Jim rubbed his eyes. "God, I'm feeling paranoid."

"It was nice to leave it behind, wasn't it?"

"It was." His look turned devilish. He keyed something into the terminal, then selected something from a list. "You don't mind if I check up on our bet?"

"Don't call them." She tried to stop the call, but the connection opened and the greenish receptionist answered.

"Angel Investigations, we help the--well, hello there, slayer friend of my bosses. And who's the cutie with you?"

"Name's Jim." Jim leaned in, his voice dropping. "What's yours?"

She rolled her eyes. There was nothing he wouldn't do to win.

"I'm Fred," the receptionist said, his eyes glazing over in Kirk-rapture.

"Well, Fred. We need to talk to your bosses. Would they happen to be there?"

"They're not."

"They're not, huh. Are they out on a job, Fred." Jim's voice caressed the name.

"No." The man looked lost.

"Fred, do you know where they are?"

Fred leaned in. "No. But they stormed out together a little while ago. Arguing, as usual. But something was--I don't know..."

"Different?" Jim asked, leading the witness.

"Yeah. Different."

"Thanks, Fred. I hope we get to talk again."

Fred looked like he'd sell his soul for that to happen. "I'll tell them you called."

Jim smirked. "Tell Angel that Captain Kirk was concerned, that I was checking up on my boys."

Christine elbowed him in the ribs, but he was ready for her, absorbing the blow remarkably well. "We've got to go, Fred," she said. "Just tell them hello, okay?"

"Sure, sweet pea. Ciao."

Jim cut the connection and turned to her. "Fifty credits, Ms. Chapel."

"You didn't win yet."

"Just give up while you still have some dignity left."

She pulled him to her, kissing him soundly. "I don't give up, anymore. Remember?"

"I do." He touched her face, his fingers gentle, as if trying to establish a connection--some link to their shared past, back to when she learned to not give up, and so did he. "I'm very glad you don't give up, anymore, Chris." He was pushing her back toward the bed.

"What about leave?"

"It'll wait awhile."

It waited for quite a while.

FIN