"Spike."

The single spoken word held a depth of anger and hatred that would have made an average man's blood run cold just to hear it – knowing that such fury was aimed in his direction.

Fortunately, Spike was not by any means an average man – and his blood already ran cold.

A sardonic smirk rose on his lips before he turned around to face the source of the all-too-familiar familiar voice. The intruder glared at him with a murderous rage in his eyes, stalking across the crypt floor toward the, to all appearances, completely unaffected blonde vampire. Apparently – the person standing in the doorway did not exactly inspire fear for Spike.

Or maybe – Spike was just too drunk to care.

He tipped the half-empty bottle in his hand in a mocking greeting to his uninvited guest, the smirk on his lips not quite reaching his haunted, pain-filled eyes. It was too soon – too close to the moment when his heart had been most recently shattered – for him to even give a second thought to the man staring at him with such hatred, or what his intentions might be.

"Thought you'd be here sooner," Spike remarked flippantly. "It's been – how long has it been?" he shrugged, dismissing the answer to the question as unimportant – especially with his mind too clouded to do the math at the moment. "Took you that long to work up the nerve to face me, you soddin'…?"

His question was suddenly cut off as his enemy reached him, striking out without hesitation across his face in a brutal blow with his fist.

"I'm gonna kill you, Spike," he announced quietly, in a low, dark voice, as the vampire recovered his footing, but made no move to strike back. At the moment, maintaining his own balance was about all that Spike seemed to be able to manage.

"You're gonna try," Spike corrected him, all traces of amusement vanished from his glittering blue eyes. "No guarantees on the outcome, mate." He shrugged casually before adding, "Can't see why you think you're entitled to the attempt, anyway, truth be told. Not like you've got any bloody claim on the girl anymore. You left her – remember? Really now, it wasn't so very long ago. Can't see how you can blame me for your own poor judgment in passing up a treasure like her…"

"Shut up, Spike." The words were ground out in a dangerously trembling voice of barely restrained rage, as his attacker took another menacing step toward him.

"Been saying that to me for years," Spike observed with a slightly slurred laugh that bordered on an actual giggle – not that he really cared. The same drink that had caused the sound to come out that way, also prevented him from caring how he sounded. "Think one of these times it'll actually take?"

"This time I'm gonna make it take," the other countered furiously, striking out against him again, this time hard enough to knock Spike backward against the wall of his crypt, hard enough to give him at the very least a splitting headache, if not to crack his skull.

But the vampire was feeling no pain at the moment.

"Come on, mate," Spike laughed as he awkwardly steadied himself again, almost reluctantly tossing the bottle aside and taking on a ridiculous parody of his usual fighting stance – ridiculous because of the unhealthy amount of alcohol-induced stumble and stagger that replaced his usual swaggering grace. "Let's give it a go then, if you're that set on a fight…I'll make it quick…"

The surprised amusement in his opponent's dark laugh should have given him warning that all was not as simple as it appeared to be – but Spike's judgment and perception were both hampered at the moment, and he noticed nothing off about the situation. As far as he was concerned, this was a fight that had been in the making for years – and he was more than ready to take on the man that stood before him, poised and ready, intent on taking him down.

As determined as he was to finally put the blonde vampire in his place, Spike was just as determined not to let him – regardless of history, regardless of certain facts which were most definitely not in his favor. Whether or not he really had a chance, Spike was not about to back down from this or any fight.

"Look at you!" the intruder sneered, incredulous that the vampire actually seemed to think that he was in any condition to defend himself at all. "You really think you can take me on like this? Look at yourself! You're a wreck!" He paused, giving Spike a derisive up and down look before adding coldly, "How long have you been sitting here wallowing in alcohol and your own pathetic, worthless state?"

Spike's eyes narrowed in anger as he snarled back, "You oughta know about the wallowing – not to mention the pathetic state – shouldn't you, mate?"

"I'm not your mate," the man snapped back, his voice seething with fury. "How about I help you with that little self pity problem, Spike? Do us both a favor and send you to where you belong?"

"By all means," Spike replied without a moment's hesitation. "You're more than welcome to try – if you think you stand a bloody chance of beating me."

"Hasn't been that long since I've beaten you, Spike," the man reminded him, a cold threat in his voice as he moved slowly closer to him.

"Well – yeah," Spike admitted with a little half-shrug. "But as I recall, you had a bit of an unfair advantage at the time, didn't you?"

"Doesn't matter," was the cold reply. "Cheap shot – who cares? I'll take it – just to see you go down."

If Spike had been just a bit more sober, he would have noticed several things long before he actually did – the tremble of pain and betrayal in the voice of his attacker, betraying a deep-rooted desire for vengeance that would not allow the man to let this thing go easily…the blind hatred and fury in his dark eyes that revealed no trace of compassion or pity for the vampire's obvious state of disadvantage…

…or the small, black pistol that suddenly appeared in his opponent's hand.

"Yeah," Spike sneered, bouncing slightly – although without his usual grace – on his heels, itching for the fight that his opponent had promised. "You're good at taking those cheap shots, aren't you? About the only ones you can get, aren't…"

The shot rang out, echoing against the stone walls of the crypt until Spike wasn't sure whether it was the thunder of the gunshot, or the roaring in his ears, that drowned out the harsh laughter of the one who had pulled the trigger. When the haze of pain from the bullet that had torn through his stomach began to fade away, Spike struggled to open his eyes, realizing with sudden, sobered alarm that he was on his knees, on the floor of his crypt.

He quickly scrambled to his feet, biting his lip against the pain of the movement, as he simply struggled to place himself once again on the same level as his attacker.

"Yeah – guess you would need that to take me on, wouldn't you?" he taunted him between harsh, ragged breaths, his right hand clutching the bleeding wound in his stomach, while his left hand braced against the wall of the crypt to help him stay on his feet. "No bleedin' way you could take me in a fair fight…not like that's gonna kill me though…"

The small smile that rose on the lips of the shooter was in no way pleasant or reassuring, as he countered softly, "Who says I want you dead?"

"You did, you bleedin' wanker!" Spike pointed out, gasping for breath as he leaned back against the wall for a moment, trying to regain his bearings – and a bit of control over the situation. "Told me you were gonna see me dust, didn't you? Don't think you're gonna do it with that thing!"

The expression on the gunman's face did not change as he repeated his last statement, amending it slightly, "Who says I want you dead – yet?"

Spike did not allow the chill that those words sent down his spine to show in his face, as he forced a slow smirk to his face, standing up straight again, despite the pain shooting from his stomach throughout the rest of his body.

All at once – he felt very sober.

"Cute," he remarked with a false unconcern. "Very cute, mate – but the whole bloody Bond movie villain routine went out with – well – Bond movies. If you wanna fight – then fight…but enough with the games, yeah?"

"You're one to talk about games." A bitter laugh followed the words. "After what you did – how you stole her from me – when you didn't even care…"

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," Spike countered, his eyes narrowed defiantly. "Not really any of your business, is it? At any rate – seems I cared a sight more'n you did, doesn't it?"

The gun in the man's hand steadied, taking aim on the vampire's chest again – but he did not say a word in response to Spike's quiet taunt.

"Unless you've got wood-tipped bullets in there – and I really don't think you do, judging by the first round – your weapon's not your most effective choice, mate…" Spike started in again – mostly just trying to distract his opponent enough to allow him time and opportunity to regain the upper hand.

Who're you kiddin', mate? he admitted to himself grimly. Ever since you allowed him to walk in on you here, pissed out of your mind – you never had the upper hand in this little scenario to begin with…

"She was mine." The quiet, emphatic statement drew Spike out of his thoughts, his eyes back to the resolute face of the intruder. "Mine, Spike – and you just had to put your hands on her – had to…"

"Woman's not a possession, mate – not a thing you can own, 'less of course she lets you. And after the way you tossed her away – can't blame the girl for looking elsewhere, can you now? Way I see it – you're the one to blame…"

"Shut up, Spike!" he was cut off again with a menacing snarl, as the man holding the gun closed the gap between them, drawing back the gun and bringing it down across the vampire's face viciously, once, twice, and yet again.

When the blinding flashing lights faded away from his vision, Spike realized with dismay that he was once again on his knees. Apparently, the effects of the alcohol on his undead body had yet to completely wear off, after all.

He started to look up once again at the face of his attacker – but suddenly froze at the feeling of cold steel pressed firmly against his head, directly behind his ear and aimed at an angle so as to pass a bullet straight through his skull and out the other side, a few inches higher than the point where it would go in.

"You've taken the last thing you're ever gonna take from me, Spike…"

"Oh so she's a thing now, is she!" Spike shot back at him, disguising the slight tremor of fear in his voice with a laugh of false triumph. "Oh, she'd bloody well love that! Thought I was the only thing around here that walks and talks and rubs elbows with you lot…Besides – what the bloody hell are you talking about, last thing I've taken from you? 'S long as I've bloody well known you you've done nothing but…"

The crack of the weapon against the back of his skull was loudly audible, seeming to reverberate both within and without the vampire's head, as his head was knocked violently against the wall beside him with the force of the blow, just before he felt the muzzle of the gun pressed once again against his head.

The low, menacing whisper startled him with its nearness, and he jumped slightly as the voice of hateful pleasure was heard in his ear, "I said shut up, Spike."

For once – Spike shut up.

After a moment, the gunman went on, "Everything I've wanted – everything that was mine – you took away, Spike. You made her want you instead of me…you! You're nothing but a dead, disgusting thing -- and she still preferred you to me…"

"Now – which exactly…"

"Shut. Up."

Another moment of heavy silence passed between them, the only sound in the room the raspy, labored breathing of the wounded vampire, and the heavy, anticipating breath of his attacker – terribly eager to exact the vengeance he felt he deserved.

"I don't know what it is about you, Spike," he mused, his voice trembling with a mixture of anger and excitement. "Don't know what it is about you that makes them want you – even knowing what you are…but they do – don't they?"

Spike did not bother to respond – was really not sure what he could say in this moment that would not serve to get him pistol whipped some more – or even shot again.

And though a bullet through the head would not necessarily kill him – not unless it was aimed with a precision that even this man certainly did not have – Spike hated to even imagine what such an injury could do to him.

"Wonder if you'd even be the same person?"

The softened voice of his attacker sent a sick feeling straight to the pit of Spike's bleeding stomach – timed so perfectly with his own thoughts as to be deeply unsettling – and more than a little frightening.

"A bullet through the head – do vampires get brain damage? I mean – if it didn't dust you…what do you think it would do?"

Spike was silent, swallowing hard as his mind raced and he struggled to keep a handle on his own rising fears.

He's not gonna do it, he told himself firmly. He wouldn't. Even he's not that dark – not that sadistic and twisted as to…to… He couldn't even finish the thought in his mind – though deep down, he knew that it was a comforting lie, designed to soothe his own fears.

This man did have just that sort of darkness in him – no matter how cleverly it was usually disguised.

He wouldn't do it – she wouldn't like it – wouldn't approve – wouldn't…oh – bollocks…wouldn't bloody well care, now, would she? he remembered with a sinking feeling in his stomach. Not the way she feels about me now…not after what I've done…Bloody hell – this is no more than I deserve, after…I'm the one she'll never bloody forgive – she barely gave two cents about me before -- don't wager she's gonna care what he does to me now…

Once again all too well in sync with his own thoughts, the soft whisper near his ear suddenly stilled his desperate wonderings with the weight of the three simple words.

"Let's find out…"

And before he could react – before he could move or fight or object or plead…

…a single shot rang out in the silence of Restfield Cemetery.

And in Spike's world – everything went black.