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TV Shows » Buffy: The Vampire Slayer » A New Englishman in Forkf

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Author: G.E Waldo

Rated: T - English - Angst/Suspense - Reviews: 1 - Published: 03-16-08 - Updated: 03-16-08

id:4135001

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A NEW ENGLISHMAN IN FORK.

By GeeLady

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Joss Whedon owns 'em. We love 'em.

Rating: PG (some words, some humour, lots of anguish!)

Buffy/Spike centric.

Summary: Vampire on the prowl for life, liberty, and Buffy.

WARNING! Serious angst! Absent character death.

Author's note to readers: I picked the town of American Fork 'cause the name! Too perfect! I used liberties in the writing regarding the towns/cities, etc. I'm not American but am America friendly.

Spikes' "rise" to vampirism from human life, to his redemption as a reformed soul baring vampire, to his self induced fall into death (his freedom from the deeds committed and perhaps finally forgiven for?), much reminded me of these words of Shakespeare's Prospero character in The Tempest, one who teeters between good and evil, but finally redeems himself. The verses below are Prospero's final speech as he prepares to depart.

Loreena McKennit's musical adaption of this fabulous verse spawned the idea for A New Englishman in Fork, I & II.

I highly recommend listening to these refrains on her CD The Mask & the Mirror.

Prospero's Speech:

And now my charms are all o'erthrown

And what strength I have's my own.

Which is most faint: now t' is true

I must here be confined by you.

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands

gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails.

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer.

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon'd be

Let your indulgence set me free.

William Shakespeare The Tempest.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

A New Englishman in Fork

SPIKE

Buffy gulped down her coffee, the last mouthful having gone from pleasingly hot to disappointing tepid.

Dawn, busy messing eggs around in a pan, didn't look up, "That was only your third cup. Needing a fix much?"

Buffy placed her mug in the sink, running the fingers of one hand through her just combed hair. "O o h, believe me, I need it. I had a midnight-er down at the center. A kid's family had a major melt down. He figured his life would be easier if he lived on the street."

"We all thought that at one time or another." Xander Harris entered the sunny kitchen, knotting his tie. "Me, I preferred the smelly but otherwise disgusting locale of my friend Rickie's closet whenever my parents pressed each other's scream buttons." Xander poured himself a coffee, adding liberal amounts of cream and sugar. "Fortunately it only happened two or three times a week."

Buffy gathered her briefcase. "Well. Today's suppose to be my day off but I really need to talk to his parents, see what the deal is."

"I'm sure you'll find they're insane or simply maladjusted just like most American parents. But take a pointy stick just in case."

"Xander!" Buffy scolded but he could tell she wasn't serious. All things vampire had been quiet since the sinking of Sunnydale. That was nearly two years ago. They were all living in an old, rented house; they all had jobs, and a new town to call home: American Fork, Utah.

"Sorry, Buffy. I guess it's a bit too early for tasteful jokes." A knock at the front door sent him out of the kitchen. "I'll get it."

Buffy sorted through her papers. "I can't wait till this is a paying job."

Willow had joined them in the kitchen. She was neatly dressed in slacks, shirt and jacket for her job at the local paper, typing up obituaries and, when required, doing research for The Fork Herald. "I thought it was a paying job? You bring a pay check home every month. Are you doing slaying on the side, charging for it and not telling us?"

Buffy. "I mean a better paying job. I've gone from Sunnydale poor to Fork "Buddy can ya spare a dime?" broke."

"It'll get better, Buffy. They need you there." Dawn said. She believed in her big sister. And it was true. Dawn also knew that Buffy needed the job even more because Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't slaying just then. And a slayer with nothing to do is a depressed, brooding pain in the ass.

Xander had entered the kitchen again. When Dawn turned and saw his face, she knew the news had to be bad. Real bad. His face was white, but he had two red spots on either cheek like he'd been standing in the front hall for a while stressing on how to break the news.

He turned to Buffy. In his hand was a folded telegram. Xander swallowed. "It's about Angel."

Everything in the kitchen, the bustling of a busy day's beginnings, the sipping of coffee and conversations about what they would all do that day, had stopped. It was eerie how they all suddenly knew what shit had just come down the pipe. Even the inviting smell of breakfast cooking had taken on a sour stench; now not fresh, happy eggs frying in bacon fat but nauseating burnt sulphur stink.

Buffy took the note from Xander, taking the impact of what had to be terrible news onto herself, sparing him the agony.

As she read the note, her face confirmed what they had already supposed. No one sends good news in a telegram. Buffy didn't even read it aloud. Her stricken eyes said the words as though she'd spoken them. They all knew.

"Angel is dead."

XXX

Xander dragged his feet through the dirt as they walked away from the small plaque they had all chipped in to erect in Fork Memorial Cemetery. The inscription had read simply "Angel Friend, Champion. Beloved & Forever cherished. July 31, 2006."

Small dust devils waltzed around his legs. It had been an unusually dry summer.

Buffy, mute during the service, had cried herself out the previous few days. Everyone felt drained.

There would be no gathering at the house, all of Angels friends were already present save for Cordelia and Wesley who had stayed in L.A. to keep the business open. When hero's die, criminals rejoice.

The phone rang insistently as they entered the house, most drifting to the living room and plopping down on stuffed chairs or the sofa. Xander took the call. "I have to go to the site." He said as he hung up. No one said anything but Willow acknowledged with a nod. "Something about a cranky contractor." He explained. "I didn't think anyone was working this evening."

"See you later." Dawn said. He nodded and left quickly.

Xander was thankful that, through all the hell of the hell mouth, he had kept his business going. It brought in almost enough to keep and feed them all. Willow and Buffy supplemented the money pool with their part time jobs. Dawn was enrolled at the local community college. She had insisted on not going away to attend a better school. "I want to be with you and our friends!" She yelled back to Buffy

During one past argument. "How many times do I have to almost lose everyone in my life before you understand that?"

Their small, plain bungalow was almost but not quite enough room to house them comfortably. Xander, ever the gentleman, had opted for the smallest and dimmest bedroom, the one in the basement. It had the appearance of having been hastily built on in the last few years. The drywall was bare and only a worn area rug in the style of East Indian cheap covered most of the plywood floor. But at least they were together.

Yes, they were all living together.

With his good eye, Xander watched the road as he drove to the other edge of town. (The local highway authority seemed content to turn a blind eye to Xander's blind eye. His small construction firm was bringing building contracts to their little fork in the road and it made fiscal sense to leave him behind the wheel of his Seville. A discount super mart had decided to set up shop in Fork and Xander was the one the town fathers had to thank for it).

Yes, the Scooby gang was all together. But to what end? Xander had been keeping a few things to himself since their collective move to Fork, Utah. Like he had met a local woman and it was starting to get serious. He had told no one about it but the "problems at the mart" excuse was working overtime. Somebody was bound to see through it soon.

He didn't want to live single forever. And Fork, Utah wasn't exactly his first choice of a town to set up permanent shop. Fork's twenty streets and twenty thousand residents didn't qualify for an economic power center.

It was dusk when Xander pulled his silver Seville onto the work site.

No one was there. Everything was ship shape though. Xander did a once through the area anyway to check things out. A kid's crank call was his guess. But a weird crank call. Mind you, this was Utah. People baptized their dead relatives here. A rather hell mouthy ish thing to do he often thought, though their goal was sending them to heaven, not some demon dimension where the main course was often human brains or intestine salad.

A movement caught his eye. Something swayed in the dark, by the concrete pylons erected last week. "Hello?" Kids smoking doobies maybe. "Look, I know you just want get high away from your parents, but you can't be in h - "

The form moved from the shadow into the small light of the moon sliver. White skin and black coat.

And no mistaking that hair bleach. "Spike?"

The vampire in question walked toward him, but not too close Xander noted. After all, neither had ever really trusted the other. Or much liked for that matter.

"Besides the obvious entertainment of lurking around a construction site in Utah, what are you doing here?"

Spike didn't answer directly. Already that bothered Xander the way Spike always bothered him. Someone who half answers' a question usually tells only half truths too.

"How was the funeral?"

That pissed him off. Xander could feel his blood pressure rising like it always did whenever Spike showed his sallow, sardonic face. "How do you think? Buffy sobbed till I thought she was going to collapse in on herself. Other than that cheeriness, we're dealing. And what do you care anyway vampire-who-is-suppose-to-be-dead?" Xander then remembered what Spike had done to save all their cans in Sunnydale and choked back his next snide retort. "Why didn't you come and see Buffy? She could have used a friend, I mean of the non-living kind."

Spike didn't twitch at Xander's attempts to hurt him. He just lit a cigarette. "I hear you had to say goodbye to Anya, though not personally, like."

Xander held up a finger. "Wait just a second." He did not want to discuss Anya with Spike.

"Would you have wanted Cordelia there when you said goodbye?" Spike pulled a long drag of smoke into his blackened lungs.

Xander took the point. No, he wouldn't have. And Spike had not wanted to put Buffy in that position. Having to weep over one lover while the jilted one stood by. "I give you that."

Finally Spike closed the distance between them and Xander got a full view of the man but vampire. He looked terrible. His face nearly the color of his bleached hair. His jaw worked hard and the tiny knot of tendons and muscles at the mandible joint pulled the skin taut over his finely moulded features, making the bones of his face even more angular than usual.

Xander could not place the look on the human looking creatures face. No one word described it. He finally decided it was the expression of a man who had no choice but to look his enemy in the eye and beg.

"I need your help." Spike said quickly, the words coming clipped, darting this way and that. Oh how those words had not wanted to be said!

"That couldn't have been easy." Xander put his hands in his suit pants pockets to put himself at ease as much as the nervous vampire. "What kind of help?"

"Do you have a place? I mean one away from Buffy and the others?"

Xander looked at his own feet, his black leather shoes covered in fine concrete dust. "Yeah. I do." A place he had not told the gang about. Somewhere to take his new found lady friend and occasionally just a place where he could go to get away from so much estrogen and menstrual cramps all fighting for dominance. Where he could put up his smelly feet and watch sport after sport with a beer in one hand and popcorn on the carpet. "We've pretty much hated one another since the day you showed up in Sunnydale. But I'm willing to put that aside for now and for what I think will be the only time during my lifetime, say the words: How can I help you, Spike?"

"It's right up your alley, sport." Spike said. "I need you to help me die." He flicked the smouldering butt away into the dark.

XXX

Xander drove them to his small bachelor suite in the better of the two apartment buildings in the whole town. It was only an eight minute drive but it was time enough for

"Are you nuts? That I used to fantasize about you dying is, I suppose, beside the point. I just have to ask why you want me to kill you?"

Beside him in the passenger seat Spike looked out the window at the dark town. "No night life here." He commented. "All the little folks asleep in their beddie byes, night lights burning. What a right boring little town Fork must be."

"Are you going to answer my question?"

"When we get to your place."

"What does that have to do with it?"

"I need a shower."

Xander loathed the idea of Spike taking up residence in his private pad even for a few hours but said "Fine. You can use my shower on one condition. You can't tell anyone about the apartment? Okay? Not Buffy or anyone. It's my own place."

"Somewhere to slap the salami in private?"

Xander stopped the car with a respectable squeal of the tires. "Get out. The deal's off."

Spike was already talking. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. All right? I mean I get it. I miss having' my own crypt too." He missed those times.

"TWO conditions." Xander held up his finger to emphasize them as he started the car moving again. "Keep my apartment a secret and keep your mouth shut until we get there."

Spike nodded once.

Xander was amazed that the vampire actually complied. He didn't make a sound the rest of the trip.

In fact, he didn't say a word until after he'd showered, dried and sat down with a cup of coffee. Even thanking Xander for it.

Xander was not prepared for what the words he next heard from the vampire's grim lips. "It was a slayer who murdered Angel."

The shock of hearing it was a slayer rose, fluttered around his heart, then disappeared. The curiouser word murdered hung round a bit longer. Point of view he supposed.

"How do you know? Were you there?"

"No to the second. To the first, I know because they want to dust me too."

Xander looked at his own hands. They had been clasped together. He relaxed them on his knees and leaned back in his easy chair. "You said "they"."

"Yeah. They, as in more than she. As in a gang of slayers. This is a new trend among potentials. Well, they're all slayers now aren't they?" Spike slumped a bit in his chair. In the lamp light of the small room, his eyes appeared sunken and dark.

"This doesn't make sense. Angel had a soul. Every slayer we've ever known knew that. Why would they want to kill him?"

Spike lit another cigarette. The room was becoming a hazy blue. The vampire leaned back and took a long drag on the unfiltered stick. "Well, ya see, souls have become a new trend as well. Among vampires that is. I personally know of a few who went out and traded for them."

"Traded what?"

Spike ran a bloodless hand over his forehead and through his hair. "Oh, whatever there is. The heart of Isis, the wings of Kulborot, the golden tooth of the Hell Angel Galtus. The balls of Malduk are probably on E Bay by now. Anything worth trading for a human soul is being bargained for as we speak. Dead humans, souls a plenty if the price is right. Get it? It's not like they'll be needing them now, will they? Cheating bastards. The vampires I mean."

Xander shook his head. "Just a second. Let me sum this up: these soul slayers, who hunt vampires who have souls, are after you. And you want to give them the slip by having me kill you, 'cause you'd rather be dead by dying than be dead by being killed? I'm completely for sure in the know. It's as clear as the inky night."

Spike flicked the ash on the carpet. When he spoke, Xander could see the words as though carved in the air between them. He'd heard Spike talk many times with cocky assurance, spitting dismissal, complete indifference and gleeful fury. But never with the profound soberness he heard now. "I hear they cornered Angel in a warehouse. Beat him unconscious. Strung him up in chains. Performed some kind of ritual that released his spark from his body, which turned him into Angelus of course. The spark they stuck in a crystal and then smashed it to bits. The pieces they burned. Melted like sugar. Didn't want to release the spark back into the Ether I guess. Then they staked him and dumped his ashes

in the sewer."

"Holy shit." Xander walked to the window and looked out at the feeble lights of the little town. "You can't ever tell Buffy the...details. She can't ever know."

"You think I'm still that cruel? I would never hurt Buffy. I only told you because that's what's waiting for me if these Soul Slayers ever nab me."

"So these vampires who are getting souls, doesn't sound so bad. All the more on the winning side."

"Hitler had a soul, mate."

"They're staying evil despite their souls you mean."

"Yes. Because they're getting them by illegal means in the underworld sense anyway and they're sporting them like Kate Moss would the latest frock. It's become a status symbol among the un-dead. Bling for the Bad." Spike suddenly jumped from his chair like a man who just had to leap from his skin. He followed Xander's same path to the window to look out into the darkness. A creature of night drawn to its natural domain and the natural domain clutching back from the shadows. "Angel was a pain in my ass, but I come to respect him before he was murdered "

There was that word again.

"He got his soul legitimately, by a curse, yes, but he could use it to be the man he might have been before the fangs did him in."

Xander sat again. "And you?"

"Got it all by myself."

Xander leaned forward. "So what do you have to do? I mean, you want to die..."

"You can't tell Buffy I'm here or about any of this. Got it?"

Xander nodded and held up the three fingers of his right hand. "Scouts honour."

Spike sat back down opposite Xander. He was all business now. "I want to live. But I have to die and if I have to I want it done by someone other than a bloody slayer gone all self righteous. Besides," Spike looked at the blank wall next to his chair. "I'm so bloody tired."

XXX

It was nearly dawn when Xander arrived home to his other home he shared with three women. It was Sunday morning, early, yet there was already a light on in the kitchen. It was Willow, nursing a cup of coffee and reading one of Giles's old volumes on Demon curses. Xander thought how apropos that was.

"Hi."

"Hi." she said, surprised and glad to see him. "All nighter huh?"

"Yeah. You could say that." Xander was beat and not just in his body. He had to keep his promise to Spike, but he knew he couldn't do it without help. He grabbed a mug of coffee for himself, removed his suit jacket and laid it over a chair back. He fairly fell into the seat opposite Willow.

She noted his eye bags. "You look terrible. It's like you've seen a ghost..." Then at his grave expression, "..Or something worse."

Xander gave a tiny, ironic guffaw. "We got a big problem, Willow. I need to tell you something, and get your help with something."

"Sure." Willow sat up straighter. Friends since childhood, she knew instantly when Xander was deadly serious.

"And Buffy can't know anything about it."

"Figures. I always hate that last part."

XXX

Xander set Spike up in a place that was secure, private and, above all, inescapable, an underground weapons cache that only he, Willow and Buffy knew about. As quiet as things had been nether-worldly wise, Buffy believed in being prepared.

A fifteen minute drive into the country, where Xander then turned off the Seventy-Three onto a secondary gravel road brought them closer to their goal.

"Just a few more miles." Xander said needlessly to the silent vampire sitting in the back seat and

the pensive face of Willow in front. "This place is totally secure. Trust me on that."

Spike said nothing. He pulled something from his pocket and looked at it for a minute under the light of the dashboard.

"What's that?"

"Just a keepsake." He said.

Xander had just got another half answer.

A long, narrow tunnel ending in a door of iron with bars as thick as two inches, (where the

most lethal weapons were usually stored), fit their needs or, rather, the need of one single-minded vampire. Once Xander and Willow had transferred all weapons into trunk of the car, Spike entered the damp, dark cell and Xander shut the door behind him. He secured it with a locking crossbar with a thick padlock. And then added another through two rings connecting the door with the concrete walls into which the iron bar frame had been sunk all around to a depth of two feet.

"Just for a bit extra." He said.

Spike sat down at the back of the cage, just six feet from the front. It was large enough to move around in and to perhaps lie down in, but that was all. There were no comforts; Spike had specified he be given none. "To hurry it along." He said to them.

Xander stood before the cage and looked for a few seconds at the vampire he had hated for a long, long time. "Are you sure about this?"

"Yup. Are you sure you can keep your mouth shut?"

"Yes."

Spike nodded. He was satisfied.

Xander exchanged glances with Willow who looked like she wanted to upchuck just a bit. Xander took her arm and led her to the iron ladder leaning against the entrance hole eight feet over head. They climbed the ladder and shut the opening behind them, leaving Spike alone in the blackness as he'd requested. Willow helped Xander spread the brush and dirt back over the entrance to the cache to again conceal it from accidental eyes.

There was nothing else to do.

They drove home.

XXX

A week went by.

Then two.

"We can't let him do this."

Willow dragged Xander by the arm into the main floor bathroom one day. He'd stepped in the front door from work and found himself propelled by the unstoppable force that was little Willow. Ex witch maybe. Present fireball without argument.

Xander had this discussion with her twice already. "Are you gonna' make him?" He lowered his voice. "Willow, it's been two weeks already. The deed is probably already done."

She shook her head vigorously. "No. I did some research, and in some cases, well in the one known case that was recorded four hundred years ago in Patagonia, it can take up to four months with speculations to longer periods, depending on the weight of the vampire. And other individual factors."

Xander grabbed her shoulder, more forcefully than he intended, causing her to sit down heavily on the toilet seat. She seemed content to stay put. "Sorry. We've gone through this. Spike said this in the only way."

Willow shook her head. Then looked up to him with those eyes of desperate appeal. "Then you've got to tell me how I can keep my conscience from killing me, because this is something Buffy has a right to know. God, I know and it's hurting. How do you think Buffy will feel when she finds out we knew and didn't tell her?"

"It isn't about Buffy's rights. This is what Spike wanted and he has a right to choose his own way out."

Willow looked away from her friend to the wall, then the toilet paper sitting in neat piles on the back of the tank. "But it isn't...the way it should be, Xander."

"It is his choice."

"No one...nobody... should die alone. Not even Spike."

XXX

"So, working late again, huh?" Carrying a basket of laundry from the kitchen, where the washer and dryer used one third of the cramped kitchen, to Dawn's bedroom at the end of the narrow hall. Buffy still did her best to play mom to her younger sister, though Dawn was nearly twenty.

Xander loosened his tie as quickly as possible and took it off as he closed the door. He hated wearing the thing a moment longer than necessary. Sometimes he took it off during the drive home, the novelty of dressing as a respected businessman having faded a long time ago. "Yeah, I-"

"Liar." Buffy said, setting the laundry down in the hallway and crossing her arms.

"What?" Buffy was a master at the deadpan. It was impossible to tell whether she was serious or not.

"Liar. I know what you're up to. What you've been doing all these late nights!"

Xander's heart sunk. With Buffy, it was also impossible to know just how angry she was until you got an earful. "Look, Buffy. I wanted to tell you, but I made a promise. I just didn't know how."

"Well, I'm not stupid. Who is she?"

Xander saw her tiny smile. "Don't do that to me. And you don't know her. I'm not ready to introduce her to...the gang." To our in no way run of the mill gang: Hi, I'm Xander. This is Buffy the vampire slayer who just saved the world. This is Willow, the once evil witch who almost destroyed it. This is Dawn, our resident former key to the demonic dimension deadbolt. Oh and, just FYI, we're keeping our pal Spike, a former blood thirsty one hundred and twenty year old vampire and champion warrior locked in our deadly weapons cache just outside of town. So how do you like me so far?

Xander let the humour of it play around inside his head for a minute. There was little chance he would be introducing Monica to Buffy or anyone else. He and his lady friend had cooled during the last few weeks. Not that it had ever reached hot, but with the job and now with looking in on Spike to see how far he had...progressed and being unable to explain to her the reasons for their cancelled dates, Monica had chalked it up to him losing interest and had started making her own excuses about why she couldn't meet him.

It was just as well, Xander told himself. He was glad Buffy didn't press him any further, but she was waiting for a response.

"Sorry, Buffy. I'll make sure to introduce anyone who I'm serious about."

"Guess it can't be easy. Living with three women. I'm not sure I could explain it if it were me."

"It's not that, it's just... I'm not ready for any big changes right now. There's been so many in the last couple years."

Nodding, "Yeah, well, no argument there. And you've stuck with us all this time, through everything. Do you have any idea how great you are for doing that? And how much I love you for being my rock. You are. I don't think I could have done any of this without you."

"Well, yeah, you have but I never get tired of hearing it."

Buffy smiled. "I'm going to finish putting these away."

It was nice to hear the gratitude, but Xander was glad for a few minutes alone in his tiny basement room. He threw off his suit and donned a worn pair of jeans and a black tee shirt. It fit his mood.

Monica had been his first pleasant encounter of the female type in almost two years. Looked like it was going to be his last for a while. There was always tomorrow. At least that's what he used to tell himself; that he was young; that he was in no hurry; that he didn't really want to settle down.

But time burns quickly. He was twenty six. Not old by any means, not even middle aged, but how quickly would the next four years go? How soon before some sort of demon or vampire horde re organized (or reborn), and marched once again on all that was surface world? And then, how many years after that before they could take a life breather and they could do a normal thing like have a date? Any of them?

The more time went by, the more Xander had come to understand that it was not the same for him as for Buffy, Willow or even Dawn. Buffy was and always would be The Slayer, destiny written and thrust upon her. She would always find one man (or one vamp') or another to fall in love with. In fact, although she complained about her lack of male cuddling, she'd actually seen more action in the bedroom and crypt than anyone in the group. Willow had a brief, burning love in Oz, a deeper but just as quick affair with Tara and, since Kennedy split, nothing.

He'd had his one tumultuous relationship with Anya and nothing since.

All of them had loved and lost. But Buffy was BUFFY, Willow was the Witch, Dawn of the Mist was sister to the Slayer and him...

He was just Xander, the repairman. He had nothing special about him. And someday he wanted to at least be the special someone to someone. Maybe, too, a family? He felt he served less and less real purpose to this house other than as its bill payer.

He heard the upstairs door shut and feet coming down the stairs. It had to be Willow. She didn't knock but just thrust his bedroom door open and walk in. It made him all the more satisfied that he had rented an alternative place. He spent considerable time thinking he might just move to it permanently, and Willow's rude entry made the idea greatly appealing. Only one thing stopped him. If he did, then his only real purpose for being in any of their lives would disappear and he'd be totally alone then. The thought of that was less appealing and so he did not scold Willow for her social faux pax. "What's up?"

"Did you look in on...?"

"Yeah." Of course.

"How does he look?"

Xander wondered what she actually wanted to hear. That Spike looked better? That he wasn't still locked in a cage letting himself die? That he had decided after all, to wait around and let the soul hunters do the business for him? Xander felt irritated at the pointlessness of the question. "What do you want to know, Willow?"

Willow picked up on his mood and probably some of his thoughts. She could not read minds, but occasionally words from her or Buffy (there was that slayer and witch specialness again) popped into his head loud and clear. "I've been thinking that these soul hunters could be on their way. We have no idea whether Spike was followed here or not, do we?"

Xander sat up. He hadn't really considered that. Spike had assured them he had not been followed, that no one knew he was here, not even Wesley. But Spike might have been tracked. Slayers have special abilities when it came to sniffing out vamps.

"Shit." He said. Not very helpful.

Willow indicated with a jerk of her head. "Come on. I've been doing some reading."

In the living room where their one shared computer sat on an old fashioned desk in one corner, Willow booted up. "Where's Buffy?" She whispered.

Xander looked outside the back window into the small yard. Buffy was drinking something from a cup and sitting on the back two seated rocker with Dawn. It was something they did often, sharing memories of their mother or stories about the "old days" when slayer-dom was in full swing.

"They're outside for now. What have you found out?"

"Well, there's not much about them 'cause they're sort of new. But I found an online chat room where there's a lot of talk about The Exurgent Ones. Now that's Latin, and it means to start out or rise above the rest. And they are spoken of in fear. The members keep talking about the Fallen One who was the first to be divided. Now, this could be talking about a lot of things only this chat room has an exclusive membership - vampires only. I've managed to access the outer level. The "Lobby". But there's the "Game Room" and the "Cellar" and finally "The Crypt". Which one do you suppose the really pertinent vamp gossip lurks?" She asked sarcastically. "Anyway, if my guess is right, they're talking about a group of Elite Slayers who've set themselves up above any who have come before and their first kill, the first one they "divided", the first soul they separated from its host was Angel's."

"And who's the Fallen One?"

"Again, that's Angel. From a vampire's point of view at least, Angel fell when he stopped being Angelus, was given a soul and became good."

"Do we know where they are, these Soul Hunters?"

"Only rumours. The vampires talk about the one seeking flesh, but that could mean Spike when he was bad or it could mean a Soul Hunter seeking a kill."

"Or a horny vampire."

"Please tell me you're not looking at vampire porn."

Xander started at Buffy's voice from the kitchen door. She was taking off her coat. The air was getting chilly and they were no longer in southern California. In Utah, late September is jacket weather.

Willow quickly exited the web site and stumbled over an excuse. "N-a-a. Just remembering the bad old days."

"Well, let's eat. And we can trade stories on the new, possibly more boring but safer days."

XXX

At 2 AM Dawn wandered to the kitchen. Cramming for an exam always made her hungry. Cutting herself a big piece of chocolate cake, she poured a glass of milk and sat at the coffee table. Nearby the computer hummed. Willow had forgotten to turn it off. Dawn moved to the desk, hit the space bar and the monitor awoke. She found Recent History and skimmed through the pages. "Vamp'sRUs"?" She read aloud. "How pathetic." There were hundreds of such sites and Willow must have checked at least several dozen. Most were vampire wanna-be clubs usually administered by high school girls looking for something beyond homework and their boyfriends uncomfortable rear car seat. Some were run by people who fancied themselves vampire hunters although from the information provided, none had ever encountered a real vampire.

The illegitimacy of a site always became clear when no mention of Slayer was made. Or what a Slayer really was.

Dawn tried to gain a login account but an eerie voice said: "You didn't say the magic word."

Dawn had become quite adept at hacking but none of her efforts to circumvent the security was successful. Bored, she exited out of the page, put her plate and glass in the sink and went back to her books.

XXX

Dawn ate her lunch gratefully. The two hour, dreaded exam was over and she was sure she had done well. Her plans were veterinary school. But to pursue that to its conclusion would mean a move to a larger center, something they just couldn't afford right then. So she took computer courses and Business Ed' to keep her occupied and give her an alternative in case the vet' thing didn't pan out.

"Man, this site's so amazing. I'm going to meet one tonight, to join."

A brunette freshman talked at the next table.

"You're crazy Ashlen." Her friend answered. "You have no idea who they are or what it's all about. It could be dangerous."

"I'm not twelve you know! We're meeting at Dusty's. In a public place."

"How'd you get into it anyway? We tried every magic word in the book and couldn't make it."

"That's because I figured it out last night."

"I still say you're crazy. Listen I gotta' go, are you coming to the party tonight?"

"No way. New guy."

The friend left and new guy girl gathered her lunch tray, preparing to leave. Dawn stood at the same time. "Excuse me."

At the girl's vaguely irritated look, "Sorry." Dawn said, trying to look apologetic. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but if I'm guessing right, you're talking about Vamp's R Us, right? The web site?" Dawn tried to feign ignorance of all things computer. "I've been trying for weeks to get into that place and no go. Would you mind letting me in on how you did it. I am so dying to join."

"Well, there's a magic word you have to know."

"Oh, I get that part, but I can't figure it out. I've typed in hundreds."

"Oh, the word changes every day, so it takes a bit of mental work to guess what it's going to be."

"Oh. Well, what did you type in last time?" She figured maybe it would give her an idea where to begin.

"Oh, that's the really cool part. You don't type it in. You say it."

Dawn smiled, "Great. Thanks." And walked away. "Say it?" She said aloud but to herself. "This could be bad."

XXX

"You say it?" Buffy leaned over the desk and watched as Dawn typed in word after word.

"Yeah. But I've been trying dozens of different words. It's a shot in the dark and my aim is obviously way off."

Buffy was home just a few minutes when Dawn dragged her to the computer and brought her up to speed on her conversation with her fellow student. Dawn had one of Willow's magic word books open to the fourth page of one word incantations. "Now I'm trying words that mean "open", "enter" or "let me in".

"Nothing so far?"

Dawn shook her head.

Buffy flipped through the book. There were hundreds of pages and thousands of words. "Maybe what we need is a word that not only means open or enter but one that means something to vampires. You know? Something only they would really understand in their own twisted kind of way."

"Okay, but what?"

Buffy was still wearing her work clothes, a grey pantsuit number with her hair in a long braid. She squirmed. "I have to change." From the bedroom, she called, "Is that all the girl told you?"

"Yeah. At first she was talking to a friend of hers and I listened in. She said she was going to meet someone tonight at Dusty's."

"Who?"

Dawn thought for a second, recalling the specific phrasing. She swallowed heavily. What if..?

"Buffy. I think this girl might be going to meet a vampire!"

Buffy, changed into tan jeans and a maple pullover, came back to the living room. "Why do you think that?"

Dawn stood up. "Because she said she was going to meet "one of them". What if this site is protected by a spoken magic word because there are real dark forces protecting it? What if these are real vampires, Buffy?"

"Then that girl is going to a dinner date where she's the main course."

Buffy walked to the door. "Come on!" On the way to her tiny Isuzu, Xander drove in and parked.

"Where're you two going?"

"We may have a dental problem."

At Xander's puzzled look, "A vampire." She added.

Xander's heart skipped a beat and he jerked his reflexively toward the west, where their cache of weapons used to be and the dying vampire was. "My car, ladies. And, uh, what makes you say so?" He asked while they all piled in to the larger, faster and more comfortable Seville.

Buffy quickly filled him in. "She's supposed to meet him at Dusty's."

Xander said under his breath. "When we first moved here, did anyone else think the name of that place had a kind of vampires eat here obviousness?"

"If there are any vamps, it'll only be dusty once I'm through with it." Buffy said.

XXX

The pub appeared usual. Countrified bar with a half dozen cars parked on an angle out front. Cheap neon sign that said simply Dusty's Bar. Inside, Steve Urban strummed his guitar from the juke box and fifteen to twenty people sat at tables nursing frothy beers. At a table in the corner three men played cards. Two women sat at the bar's two electronic nickel machines, and a busty waitress wandered around in uncomfortable looking cowboy boots, take orders and deflecting come-on's.

The three, all dressed in clothing more suited to schools and Laundromats', paused at the entry near the bar. "Seems normal enough." Xander observed.

"Hmm." Buffy took a seat at the nearest table but one which allowed her to view the front and rear doors, plus the short hallway that lead to the restrooms. Dawn sat beside her.

"I'll check the bathrooms." Xander tried to look like he belonged in a country bar and wandered to the back.

"Will you recognize this girl when she shows?"

Dawn nodded. "No problem. We talked for a few minutes. She's got long brown hair and she's a bit taller than me."

Buffy handed Dawn her cell phone. "Oh, you should call Willow so she knows what's going on."

Dawn dialled. As Dawn talked to Willow, the waitress came to the table. "What'll you have?"

"Oh, we're waiting for someone." Buffy said.

The waitress, "Nancy" as her name tag read, pointed to a laminated table card on which was displayed pictures of various cocktails. "Two drink minimum, honey. It's happy hour 'till nine."

"Oh. Okay, I'll have a Virgin Madonna."

"No such creature." Nancy said succinctly. "Just what you see, darlin'."

Buffy looked over the cocktails. "A Bloody Mary." It contained the smallest amount of alcohol. She did not want to feel tipsy when the vampire showed up.

Dawn ordered a diet Pepsi. When the drinks came, Buffy stared at hers for a moment. It was brownish and murky. She only sniffed it. Dawn had caught up with Willow on the cellular. "You have to come to Dusty's. That bar at the end of the strip mall on Second Street."

At Buffy's glower, Dawn lowered her voice, though the old familiar thrill was rising. Like an old friend. Life had become so like average life, she welcomed the excitement. "We think there's a vampire in town. No, we heard about it the usual way rumour. No, we're not sure but it's kind of cool, don't you think. A vampire in dull old, Fork, Utah. We'll explain when you get here." Dawn closed the phone. "Willow's on her way. She sounded all gulpy."

"Huh?"

Dawn pulled at her shirt collar and swallowed. "You know, "Uh oh a vampire!"."

Xander had checked the bathrooms out a few times just to give himself time to think. He was sure the vampire rumour was in fact about Spike but somewhere between the girl at school, Dawn's overhearing her, the conversation and Dawn's relating that information to Buffy, the data had gotten mixed up.

Xander left the back hall and re entered the main bar area. Buffy saw him and came over, Dawn in tow. "So?" He asked.

"I think we've got a case of bogus rumour." Buffy appeared half way between relieved and disappointed. Xander himself felt he had narrowly averted a "Buffy just found out we've been lying and she's really pissed off" disaster.

Dawn looked around the bar. "But I was sure she said she was meeting him here."

"Maybe she was just meeting a vampire web site groupie here, but they changed plans." Xander offered. He walked casually to the door, playing up his best "See? No vampires in Fork" face.

The Seville was parked next the alley entrance. Buffy tossed her purse on the front seat but didn't climb in. She and Dawn seemed to want to linger a bit and it made Xander toes curl inside his black leather business shoes. After a few minutes, all that could be heard was the dim twang of bad country music and a barking dog.

The barking was coming from overheard. All three looked up to see a poodle with his head hanging out an apartment window, barking furiously at something in the alley. "Probably a cat." Xander said. But the dog didn't stop.

Buffy walked into the alley to see with the other two taking up the rear.

"Come on, Buffy. It's a cat or a really good looking bone."

They heard a small cry and then a snarl.

"Xander!" Buffy ran hard and Xander and Dawn followed.

"Maybe it's a big cat!" Xander said not so much from genuine belief as hope. Maybe Spike had escaped? Had Willow checked on him tonight? It was her turn but she might have had to work late. A dozen possibilities entered his mind and they came upon the reason for the disturbance.

"I knew there were no vampires in Fork!" Xander said, "Except that one."

Buffy had already pulled the vampire off the girl and was wailing on him. To the girl, "Run!" To Xander, "I need a stake!"

Xander raced to the car and grabbed one from Buffy's purse. He ran back into the alley with it and tossed it to Buffy during a few seconds when the vampire wasn't on her, nor she on him. Buffy feigned to the left and the vampire lunged. But she twisted hard to the right and drove the stake deep into its chest. In a thick cloud the color of charcoal, the creature fell to dust.

As the vampire saw his last, Willow arrived breathless. She had not seen the vampire slaying, just Buffy wiping her hands on her pants. "Buffy!"

Xander's felt a cold chill in his chest. Willow had just come upon the scene and Willow did not know that the vampire they had been scouting for was not Spike. "Willow..." He tried to warn her to keep her mouth shut without sounding like he was.

But Willow was already deep into explanations. "Buffy. Dawn filled me in, so I guess now you know. But before you say anything or fly off the deep end, we're sorry, okay? We're really sorry we didn't tell you about Spike. But it was his decision and he made us swear not to say anything. I swear, he made us swear!"

Buffy's face, her eyebrows drawn together, told the tale that she was completely in the dark and not because she was standing in a dark alley. "Spike? What do you mean? What about him?"

Willow was caught up short. "What do you mean what do you mean?"

Buffy looked from her to Xander and back. "Willow, Spike's dead. What do you mean he made you swear? When? Spike's been gone for two years."

Willow covered her face with her hands, then dropped them, looking to Xander for help. He sighed heavily, preparing for the worst Buffy could dish out. "We didn't mean for you to find out this way."

Buffy had gone from puzzled to pale. Her eyes were searching but quickly turning deadly. "What do you mean, Xander?"

He spread his hands. "Actually we didn't mean for you to find out at all."

Buffy held up a palm. "Stop. I want the truth right now." It was a quiet request but served with severity.

Xander opened his mouth to explain. But he didn't know how. How could he tell her that, just after Angel's death, Spike had blown into town as large as the un-dead could be but instead of visiting Buffy in her hour of need, was at that moment dying. Or probably already dead.

It couldn't be explained. It was too much. He had no idea how to say the words. "It's easier if we just show you."

XXX

Buffy carefully lowered herself down the ladder into the hole. Their weapons cache. She'd tried to wring the answers from Xander during the drive but he just shook his head as though he couldn't quite believe it either.

At the end of the empty cache, Buffy knew was a heavily fortified cage. And, without being told, she knew Spike was behind its bars.

The why had yet to be revealed.

"Who's there?" It was Spike's voice and Buffy bit her lip so not one tear would fall. The last time she'd seen him he was dying in a brilliant show of light. And then falling to nothingness in a terrible haze of dead ash. She had said three words before that moment. Her last to him.

The ones he hadn't believed.

"Xander? Is that you? I think I need some blankets. It's too bloody cold down here." It was Spike's voice but smaller, and dryer than dust.

Xander switched on his small emergency flashlight and shone it into the dark. "Spike? Buffy's here."

There was silence for a few seconds. Then faintly, "You bastard."

Buffy walked forward, but Xander had not shone the flashlight any further than the dirt floor in front of the bars. "Spike?"

He didn't answer. "Why is he here?" Buffy asked Xander without turning around.

"He'll have to answer tha-"

"I want you to!" She demanded.

When Xander offered nothing more, Buffy took the flashlight. "I want to see you Spike."

"No. Go away." The feeble voice answered.

Buffy did not shine the flashlight on the bars but waited for him to comply. When he didn't. "Spike? Spike!" She didn't know what they were all hiding but she was furious. And all her unreasoning fears were bubbling at the surface. Barking out orders seemed the only way to calm herself and deal. "Spike! Dammit! I'm not leaving until I see you."

"You want to see?" His voice, low and crazy with outrage, slithered from the dark cell. Without warning, he threw himself at the bars full height and pressed his dying face mask to the light. "Then look!"

Buffy screamed and dropped the flashlight. The dark reached out and snapped them up.

XXX

Outside again, under the half moon night sky, Buffy wiped a few tears from her face. "What the hell is going on? What have you done to him?"

Xander resented her assumption that this was his doing. "This was all Spike. He came to me."

"And then you should have come to me." Buffy told him.

"And tell you what? That Spike didn't want to see you? That he wants to die and wants me to help him do it?"

Buffy shook her head, rubbing hands over a weary face. "I don't understand any of this."

Xander handed her the flashlight again. "If you want more than that, you'll have to get it from him."

Buffy took it and stepped on the top ladder rung. Willow followed. "Let me come too, Buffy, I know a little more about it. Xander, do we have that battery powered lantern?"

Xander nodded and retrieved it from the car's trunk. "Maybe you should stay with Dawn." Willow cautioned. "She's a bit stunned too." Xander returned to the Seville.

Willow turned the lantern on and descended after Buffy.

The lantern cast a gentle but effective glow over the mud walls of the underground cache.

Spike, head resting on his knees, sat with his back against the far wall, the thick bars obscuring parts of him. A bit of Spike, a bar, a bit of Spike, a bar...

Buffy, careful not to look at him directly, sat on the floor and crossed her legs. Willow stood farther away, knowing her knowledge might be useful but not wanting to be an intruder.

Buffy looked at the bars and at the vampire wasting away behind them. Now that she was free to speak, she could find no first question that seemed...dignified.

So, simply, "Why Spike?"

He just sighed heavily. "I was nearly half way."

"Half way to what? Your grave?"

"I'm tired, Buffy." Meaning he had not the strength for long explanations, never mind short ones.

Behind her, "Buffy? I can explain."

"Okay. Go ahead."

Willow sat down too. "Spike told Xander that Angel was... murdered. Killed by a slayer."

Buffy turned and looked at her. "Who did it?"

Willow shook her, "We don't know. But it's a group that calls themselves the Soul Hunters. And they're after Spike now too."

"Why would they want to kill vampires with souls? You and Angel helped people."

Willow said, "We're not completely sure."

"I am." Spike whispered from his agony.

"Why?" Buffy spoke softly, afraid that volume might somehow add to his pain.

"Are all people, all human souls, good?" He asked.

Buffy did not have to think about it. "Of course not. There are lots of terrible people."

"Just because a vamp' trades on the blackest market for a soul doesn't mean he gets the good boy feelin'."

"Angel was good." Willow added. "And Spike was, I mean, is. But most others aren't. Especially when they've acquired their souls illegally, according to demon law. Spike says vampires are, for lack of a better word, wearing their ill gotten souls like trinkets. It's underworld fashion. And there are rumours that some vampires are killing people just to trade the soul, if it happens to be one they admire. They're even trading for the souls of long dead kings and tyrants."

"I thought vampires, when they got a soul, became almost like a human again, in their behaviour. Maybe not good, but not as bad." Buffy said.

Spike took a couple of deep breaths. The exchange was clearly wearing him down. "Angel got his unwillingly, but it was for good cause, so he became good. I got mine because I wanted...to be a better person. And mine I own outright."

Willow scooted closer. "But these Soul Hunters don't seem to care about the distinction."

"And if they're killing people to get the souls, they're making more vampires, not just trading for dead spark." It was a long sentence and Spike seemed to fade in strength from the effort of it. He slowly fell over and lay on his side.

By doing so, his face came into view and was fully exposed to Buffy. She could not tear her gaze away from the hollowing eyes, the almost translucent skin stretched thin over sinewy cheekbones. She could see his skull through white, thinning hair. His lips were a narrow, dead line.

"Never mind how you're alive in the first place. I don't get why you would want to lock yourself away to die instead of seeking protection? People were always trying to kill you, Spike. Including me." The tragic humour of it escaped Buffy's mouth in the form of a little bark of sad irony, but her eyes were not in a laughing mood. "Why give in without a fight?"

Spike made one last effort to lift his head, but he looked at Willow.

"I think I know the answer to that, Buffy." Willow got a tiny nod of approval from Spike. She went on. "There's a legend that if a vampire dies a vampire's death, meaning he has to forgo blood until he expires, he might live again. He might be able to come back...as a human being."

Buffy stared at Spike. It was impossible to envision him as anything, or anyone, other than the one hundred and twenty year old vampire he was. "That's insane. That's just a legend. Suppose it isn't true? Suppose by dying as a vampire, you're just dead and that's it?"

Spike did not answer. He had his eyes closed against the light and, Buffy suspected, her words.

Buffy stood up. "No. This is crazy. I won't let you do it."

Spike sighed deeply. Willow knew this is what he must have feared if Buffy found out. Not her grief or anger, but her interference.

At his silence, Buffy stood and approached the bars, fists clenched in little pressure balls of anger. "Do you hear me? I won't let you do this! Not while I can protect you."

Spike did not respond nor move. But she could see him breathing. Stupid, useless movement of a vampire chest that did not use oxygen to sustain its un-dead flesh. "Do you hear!" She yelled in the confined space, making Willow's ears hurt. Spike's vampire ears must have been ringing.

When Buffy still received no reply from him, she unscrewed the flashlight head from the battery holding base. Sliding the curved edge of the flashlight case across her wrist, Buffy produced a thin line of blood.

Willow stepped forward. "Buffy...what are you..?"

Buffy ignored Willow, and squeezed her own arm above the wrist. Blood drops pooled and ran down her fingers. She stuck her arm through the bars. Spike would already have smelled the blood. And it was not animal blood. Not ordinary, cold stored, thickened beast blood. Not even ordinary human blood that was often tainted by the taste of tar, alcohol or a host of other gross substances some humans willingly ingested.

No, it was slayer blood. And not just any slayer blood, but the strongest and longest living slayer ever to walk the earth. The slayer who had conquered the underworld. The slayer he had made love to. The one who had saved his life and said the words.

The slayer whom he loved so deeply it physically hurt.

So would a cruel hunter offer a bloody rare deer steak to a starving wolf just before shooting it in the head.

Spike rose to his feet, wobbling, and wrapped his arms around his concave chest. A tiny groan of blood lust escaped his razor thin lips; a freakish, high pitched whine that snaked around the room. A burst of hunger raged through every cell in his body. He stared at Buffy murderously. Unbelievingly. Hatefully.

But his body was too weak to make the change. His brow remained smooth and human like. However his self control, already splitting into a thousand shards, finally flew apart in a burst of starving vampire instinct. Awareness failed. Insanity arrived. The world slipped away from his vision, like the blood drops into the dirt at Buffy's feet.

He appealed to Willow with one terrified and pleading glance. Then his eyes shut and he succumbed, finally screaming, "Get her out of here!"

Willow tugged at Buffy's arm as hard as she could. "Buffy. We should go!"

Buffy pulled away as though from a child's grip. "No. I won't let him do this to himself."

Spike screamed again and threw himself at the bars, trying to get his teeth around her fingers. Buffy, drawing quickly away, felt the smallest triumph before she realized he was doing it again. And again and again until the skin on his face began to split under the repeated impacts. He then slammed himself against the hard dirt wall at the back of the cage, over and over. Each collision sounded like the flailing of a trapped and mad beast that did not know the walls were unyielding. "Get her away from me!" He screamed to Willow. "Get her away!"

Only then did Buffy come to her better judgment and let Willow pull her away from the bars and up the ladder. Spike thrashed around until the trap door had been replaced. The noises from below faded and died.

Willow was on her hands and knees in the dirt. Buffy sat on the ground nearby, numbed by what had just occurred.

"That was the cruellest thing I've ever seen in my life." Willow hissed. She stood and walked to the car, with one hand on her queasy stomach. Xander and Dawn had gotten out of the car. Even they must have heard the vampire screaming from the pit.

Buffy, standing up and looking down at the wooden planks covering a hole to a cage that surrounded what was left of Spike, awakened to the awful thing she had just done. "What?...why...o-my-god"

XXX

Back home, Willow made tea and served it up to the exhausted group. Dawn's eyes were red from crying. Buffy, white as a sheet, sat on the couch, her face in her hands from shame. "I don't know what I was thinking. I was just so angry."

Xander accepted that. "We should have told you."

Buffy accepted the tea from Willow with a contrite smile. Willow smiled back, assuring her she was forgiven and it was move on time. "I mean I was suddenly furious with Spike. I wanted to hurt him, I was so angry. How could I do that when he was...like that?"

No one really had an answer. Buffy did not expect one. "I may not be sure of my feelings...regarding Spike but I'm sure of one thing. I can protect him. We have to convince him of that and bring him here."

"What if the soul hunters know where he is? What if they followed him here?" Dawn asked.

Willow offered, "Well, he's been in the pit for two weeks now and no one's showed. Maybe they don't know."

Xander disagreed, "My bet is they know where you live, Buffy. And if they know that, they can guess pretty easily that sooner or later Spike would show up here."

Buffy took one sip of her tea and set the cup down in the middle of the coffee table. She was in no mood to be comforted. She wanted, needed, to act. And this time with more positive results. "Xander's right. We need a place to hide Spike for a while, until he recovers."

Xander knew the answer, but he asked it anyway, "So you're going to ignore Spike's wishes?"

Buffy looked at them all individually. "Look. Maybe it's selfish, but I – we - just lost Angel. And knowing Spike is alive...I just can't...I'm not ready to lose him again, too. Whether he likes it or not. I'm not going to let him die." Directly to Xander, "Will you help me?"

He nodded and straightened his shoulders. "To be honest, even though I still pretty much hate the guy, if these soul hunters are for real and it looks that way, we're going to need our strongest warrior, other than you, to close them down." Xander was at heart glad that they were going to do something besides wait for Spike to die or the soul hunters to show up and maybe kill them all trying to get to him.

"Then what?" Dawn asked Buffy. "I mean. We feed Spike and then...what? We hide Spike somewhere and then the soul hunters show up and - are we talking big baddy battle?"

Buffy turned to her. "I'm not sure. But hopefully we'll have time to figure that out before whatever's coming down comes down."

Xander shifted his position on the arm of the sofa. "I know a place."

XXX

Spike fought but in his weakened condition was no match for Buffy and Xander. All they had to do was toss a blanket over his head and steer him to the back seat of the Seville.

At his no longer private apartment, Xander unfolded the hide a bed and Buffy arranged a pillow under Spike's head. Willow had been sent to scout out a farm where she might acquire a few quarts of pig's blood. The town's lone butcher didn't trade in it.

Buffy felt like she needed to watch him closely. Spike kept his head turned away from her. She guessed he was still pretty pissed off.

After an hour, Willow came through the door with bags filled with what looked like quart jars. She placed them on the counter. "If you don't mind, I'm not going to stay. The guy said this is two days fresh. Diluted. He still charged me for it." Willow was making small talk and Buffy let her. It was a shortcut passed having to deal with the things that were said. Things that didn't matter anymore. Feathers on the wind. Buffy nodded. "Thanks."

After Willow left, Buffy took a large mug from Xander's cupboard and filled it with the thick, red stuff. Warming it to room temperature, she carried it to the hide a bed and placed it in sight of Spike. He looked at her with defeated eyes then sat up slowly. The effort nearly left him faint. He took the mug from her and looked into its ruby depths for a few seconds. Its warm, metallic scent must have filled his

nasal cavity but he made no move to taste.

Buffy heard him take one, shuddering sigh. It was a terrible sound.

"You bloody bitch."

She had expected anger from him over her decision, but not put so bluntly. No matter. It had been the right decision. "I couldn't let you do it, Spike. I don't want you to die. I need you here."

He took a long gulp. Licked cracked lips. "Well, maybe, just once, it wasn't about what you wanted."

In just a few days, Spike was on his feet, paler than usual, and thin but growing stronger. He was quiet when Buffy visited. Answered her questions, told her what she wanted to know in as few words as possible. If he spoke sharply, she ignored it and came anyway. Each day she came.

One day she asked, "So, what can you tell me about these soul hunters?"

Spike knew quite a bit but wondered what he ought to filter out of the conversation. There were some things about his little dying project that were none of her business. "I know a bit."

"Like whom they are?"

"I didn't mention it before but I heard a name: Kennedy."

Buffy let out a tense breath she must have been holding. This was good, something to focus both of their energies on besides a stew of emotions all directed at each other. "Does Willow know?"

"No. I didn't tell her anyhow."

"She's going to be upset."

Spike laughed. A short, ill-humoured yip. "Sure. Kennedy turned vampire with a soul slayer. Let's all worry about how Red's gonna' feel. I'll bet Angel felt a thing or two." Spike bit his lip. He hadn't meant to bring up his dead ex boss.

Buffy blinked a few times and looked at her shoes but didn't tear up. Instead, in a tiny voice, "Do you know how many there are?"

"No. Rumour has it, there are a half dozen slayer gangs maybe just in our neck of the world. Each has one leader. Faith might even be one of 'em for all we know."

Buffy walked to the window, pushing aside a curtain to watch the quickly setting sun. Careful not to let any direct sunlight touch Spike, she stared as it turned orange, then red and sank behind the hills to the west. "I thought..."

Spike poured a cup of blood, warming it in the micro wave. "You thought what?"

"I don't know. I mean, after Sunnydale, I figured, that's it. Done. No more evil to battle. No more vampires to dust. "She stopped. But of course, Angel and Spike had been left and surely others still un-dead across the globe. Nests of vampires biding their time.

Spike had known. "We were nothing more than stop gap measure, Buffy. I hear there may even be another Hell mouth in Cleveland, like that place needs any help being lousy. Evil just moved above ground, Love. No one's going to end evil unless it's...you know."

"Hm?"

"I'm a vampire, I don't like to say the G word and The Name even less. But, you know, the Big Guy."

Buffy smiled. "I guess."

"You're still the H.S.I.C. So how do we prepare for this one?" Spike asked.

"H.S.I.C?"

"Yeah. The Head Slayer In Charge. You're the most experienced and the one that's kept herself alive the longest. That makes you Chief."

"It's funny. I'm almost twenty six years old, though I feel a hundred. I hold a responsible job, I've raised my sister. Still am raising her in fact. And, with help, I've saved the world one or twice. And all I can think to do right now is call Giles and beg him to come home and help me."

"Nothing wrong with that. Maybe he's sick of kippers and afternoon teas."

"Are you ready to come home?"

"You mean to the house?" Spike hadn't considered that Buffy would want him there. It would be the first stop on the soul hunter's tour. "But what about...?"

"-Bring 'em on. If there's a fight coming, let's get rocking. Things are slow this week down at the clinic anyway."

"I don't get this. Why would any vampire ever want to possess a soul? Especially when they don't use them anyway?" Willow was the first to throw down questions. "What started all this?"

"Yeah. Angel's soul some of the vampires we knew, back then, knew he had one, but they hated him for it. I mean, he killed other vampires." Xander said.

"I know why." Andrew offered. He was wearing a tee shirt with "I Survived the Sunnydale Vampire Holocaust and all I got was this Lousy Tee shirt" stencilled across the front.

Spike, looking physically much revived, stared dully at him. "Oh?"

"I frequent vampire chat rooms. It's because of Spike."

"Because of me?"

"Yes." Thrilled to be under the in-the-know spotlight, he straightened his shoulders. "Spike's nearly a legend in the vampire community. He's managed to stay alive, or un-dead, for over a century. And he's bagged two slayers." He looked quickly at Buffy. "And no offense..." He forged ahead, "...had a sordid love affair with a third."

Buffy glared stakes.

Andrew continued despite her disapproving frown. "Plus, then he went out and endured the worst torture to get his very own soul back. He's the only vampire who has legal ownership of his own soul." Andrew sighed. "To them he's kind of an icon. An Ubervamp."

Spike shrugged. "I didn't want to brag." He shifted uncomfortably under Andrew's admiring stare. "Start humming the theme to Superman and I'll snap your leotard."

"You gained access to a vampire website?" Willow asked Andrew. "Which one?"

"Um, VampsRUs."

"Why didn't you say so? It took us hours to find the right word."

Andrew withered under Willow's scrutiny. "I didn't want anyone to find out my online persona."

Xander said, "Oh I got it! Count Stupida?"

Andrew looked at Dawn. Sometimes she came to his support when the teasing went overtime. "No. Lestat44." He said.

"Oh please!" Was Spike's only comment.

"You're nothing like Lestat, or the forty four nerdy imitation Lestats." Xander said. "You're more like the Sesame Street vampire."

"Enough!" Buffy went to the phone. "I'm going to try Giles again. Let's have more talk on these Slayer Soul Hunters and less about what Andrew does during his private geek time."

Andrew crossed his arms. "No one ever appreciates the dynamic I bring to the group."

"We are thankful, Andrew, for the information. But we need something concrete so we can know what we're dealing with here. They want to kill Spike, so we have to figure out what they're likely to try before they try it." Buffy divided her attention between Andrew and dialling the phone. "What else did you find out in the chat room?"

Andrew took out a notepad with a picture of Captain Kirk on it. "I made some notes. Some of it I didn't understand, but I'm sure Dawn and Willow can figure it out."

Buffy noticed Andrew blush when he mentioned Dawn's name. Dawn didn't notice though she did perk up at his compliment.

The phone at the other end rung and went on ringing. Buffy, wanting to keep Andrew's mind on work and not on her sister, "And...?"

"I think the nests are worried. They keep mentioning a dust storm, code that slayers are on the way. There's talk of an exodus to the cities."

Xander said "The nearest big city is Salt Lake. My bet is they'll find a place to hold up, try and ride out the Slayer fest."

"Yeah, it's easier to get lost in the crowd and the pickings are better." Willow added.

"Anything on the local vamp's?" Buffy asked.

Andrew checked his notes. "The rumours of the Soul Slayers are really confused. It's like an elite group or something has emerged to clean up the leftover evil on earth. The vampires think the slayers have long term plans to slaughter until the earth is cleansed and the slaying's already started. There's probably a few locals planning on making tracts to the city A.S.A.P."

"Looks like I'm a dying breed." Spike said.

Buffy looked sharply at him. "They sound really scared. Maybe there's already one of these soul slayers in town?"

Willow said, "We don't know. But if you're gonna' broom the earth, you don't want to miss the corners."

A knock at the door made them all jump. It was late, passed eleven thirty. "Hide Spike." Buffy said. Spike and Andrew made a quick retreat to the back hall with one foot out the door just in case. Buffy walked to the front door. "Who is it?"

"Buffy? It's Giles. I got your message and took the first flight out that I could."

Buffy threw open the door and hugged him hard before he had a chance to finish.

"I rented a car and drove the rest of the way." He finished, gesturing to the generic looking vehicle parked on the street.

"You are in desperate need of a cell phone." Buffy said into his jacket. "I'm so glad you're here." She finally released him and called over her shoulder while ushering him inside. "It's okay. It's Giles."

Dawn and Willow greeted him with less confining embraces.

Xander, offering his hand, "How about a nice, manly shake?"

In unison Andrew and Spike said simply "Hey."

Buffy ushered Giles to a comfortable chair in the living room.

Over beverages suited to taste, Giles was brought up to speed on the current situation. "You say their intent is to slay all vampires, soul or soulless, violent or peaceful?"

Willow gestured to the computer behind her. "We've researched it as best we can and from what we've been able to gather, they believe that if there's even one vamp' left in the world, that's a door left unlocked for evil to gain a foothold outside of their usual domain. Even run of the mill vampire evil. But, again, we only have rumours and..." Willow stopped.

"And Angel." Buffy finished for her. "You probably haven't heard-"

"Yes." Giles answered. "A fallen...Angel doesn't escape the demonic or slayer grapevine. I am truly sorry, Buffy. Even if you hadn't called, I was still coming. Just not quite this soon."

Buffy took her grief and rage over Angel and funnelled it into something more useful. "Have you heard anything in England?" She asked.

"Disturbing reports of vigilante slayers, working outside the boundaries of the law even Watcher procedure. But with the old Council gone, there are no checks and balances in place. Guess work mostly. There's a question I must ask, if you'll forgive me, Buffy. How exactly did they kill Angel?"

No one wanted to cut that one open.

Buffy awoke as if from a nap. "No one actually told me about the details Spike?"

Spike looked at Xander. "Xander?"

Xander looked uncomfortable.

"Tell me, Xander. Please."

He did and the silence that followed made it hard to breath.

Buffy announced, "I want them to pay for that."

"A personal vendetta against a planet's worth of slayers?" Giles asked.

"No. Just those few." Then at Giles worried expression, "When the time is right. But now isn't that time."

"What should we do?" Xander asked. "Stay here? Go to Salt Lake? Where do we make the stand? And what kind of stand?"

"Lots of questions." Giles stated. "I think we should get a good night's sleep. Before you go to bed, pack what you think you'll need, including your cash, whatever you have. Buffy and I'll take care of any research materials and weapons. Now as to transportation..."

Willow said, "Well, we have three cars."

Xander reminded them of something. "But what if one or more of the slayers are already in Fork, already know Spike is here and are just waiting for the best time to pick him off? Plus he can't travel in a car in the daylight any normal car..." He looked around the room.

On the sofa, Andrew leaned over and whispered something to Dawn.

"We can blacken out the windows on my car. Spike can ride with me." Buffy said.

"And if your car gets attacked, we'll lose both of you." Xander pointed out.

"Xander's quite correct. A slayer would recognize the reason for blacked out windows." Giles added.

Dawn piped up. "Andrew has a good idea."

More than one set of raised eyebrows waited expectantly.

Dawn nudged him in the ribs. "Ow!" He cleared his throat. "Well, I was watching Clear and Present Danger and Harrison Ford plays this CIA man who-"

Giles prompted, "The short version, Andrew, please."

"To confuse the bad guys, the good guys used decoy vehicles. Only one carried the crucial witness."

"That's a good idea." Buffy took it up, looking at Dawn and Andrew, "Dawn, there's some paint cans in the basement. Dark colors I hope. Can you two take care of that?"

They nodded. "On it." Dawn said. "Come on." They disappeared down the stairs.

Giles stood and went to the phone. "I have a contact in Salt Lake who may be able to arrange a place to lay low for a while. Plus he has some ancient texts that may be useful."

"In the meantime, pack up and be ready to leave in the morning. We'll call our prospective schools and work from the road."

Xander checked his cell phone. "I don't have any vacation time coming. But I'm the boss and I make my own hours. Important meeting with the money rollers excuse coming up." He dialled his foreman.

"I'll call Dawn's collage and the clinic. What about you Willow?"

She gave and "all set" smile. "The best thing about writing for a newspaper is," She tapped a finger on her laptop. "You can e mail the finished product."

XXX

Spike road with Andrew and Xander in the Seville. Buffy and Dawn were in her Toyota in the lead and Giles and Willow in the rental took the rear of the small convoy.

Twenty miles out, on a lonely road west of Fork, a heavy duty crew-cab pick-up truck traveling the opposite way swerved with intent into Buffy's vehicle, swiping it along its side and making it skid. The Toyota flipped and came to a grinding halt on its roof just near the embankment.

The pick-up then took out the front left corner of Xander's Seville, forcing him into a spin. He managed to keep it under control and brought it to a stop a few hundred feet from Buffy. Giles rental took a direct head-on hit. By that time Giles had slowed to almost a crawl and the truck evidently hit him just to be certain he stopped completely.

In minutes six people jumped from the truck, two approaching each of the damaged cars, carrying what looked like large gage side arms and crossbows. Both types of weapons were raised and at the ready should resistance be encountered.

"Exit the vehicles. Now!" A woman's hard voice ordered. All had their faces covered by black bandanas. All wore black baseball caps and coveralls.

Buffy and Dawn crawled from her heavily damaged car. Dawn limped and Buffy helped her walk. Giles had to exit Willow's passenger door as his was buckled and would not open.

Andrew and Xander got out last, Andrew holding a bloody nose.

One of the women barked another order. "Check the trucks and back seats for him. Check under the back seats."

Willow thought she recognized the voice. "Kennedy?"

The woman removed her bandana. "Hello Willow."

Willow had not seen Kennedy for over a year. The young woman had become a slayer during the Sunnydale holocaust and had proved an especially adept one.

"Got tired of teaching?" Willow asked.

Kennedy. "This has nothing to do with you, Willow -"

"You just about ran us off the road, looks like I'm in it whether I want to be or not."

"That's your choice. We just want the vamp'."

"His name's Spike."

"Well, soon it's going to be Dusty."

Buffy and Dawn were brought over by the other weapon wielding slayers.

"Toyota's clean." One of them said.

"Got him!" A slayer shouted from the Seville. Her partner dragged Spike out of Xander's Seville, allowing him to keep out of the sun beneath the protection of his blanket. They clearly wanted to kill him in their own way and time.

"Why are you doing this, Kennedy?" Buffy demanded. "You know Spike doesn't hurt anyone anymore."

"It's no use explaining it to you, Buffy. You've always had a soft spot for the en-souled un-dead. But sooner or later, something will happen and he'll turn bad again and you'll maybe stop him. But not before he slaughters a few dozen innocent people. We're doing preventative maintenance here."

"Like you did with Angel?" Her heart felt wrung out like a dishcloth on the thought of Angel really being gone. She would never see him again. It was almost too much to bear.

"That wasn't personal. And like I said, you've got a soft spot. For us it's duty." Kennedy answered. "Take him." She ordered and two of the masked slayers forced Spike toward the truck.

"Wait!" Buffy said. She had no idea how to stop it. They had all underestimated the determination and preparedness of the Soul Hunters and she was no match for six armed slayers hell bent on the hunt.

Buffy looked at her friends. "You want to kill him. Fine. But Kennedy, let me talk to you about this in private for a moment. Okay? What's another couple of minutes going to change?"

"That's my question, but out of respect for you, Buffy, you've got your two minutes."

Buffy and Kennedy, under the watchful eyes of the other slayers, stood away from the group and spoke. Buffy did most of the talking. Finally Kennedy nodded once.

"Ladies." She announced to her party. "We're taking a little road trip. The vamp' rides with us."

Spike was loaded into a steel cage mounted on the back of the truck. The box was sheltered from the sun, had a few air holes but was otherwise a cold, hard cage and not meant for lengthy occupancy. It had been bolted to the bed of the vehicle. Nothing would move it.

The convoy resumed its trip, less the Toyota, which had been rendered un-usable. Two slayers, each armed with handguns, (weapons suited to the hurting or killing of non-vampires), road in each vehicle.

Giles, under the watchful eye of Kennedy made his contact when they arrived in Salt Lake City. "The warehouse isn't too far." He said.

XXX

It was an antiquated building. Neglected, littered with refuse. It's only serviceable room was a small office at one end. A single overhead bulb afforded the only light but at least it worked. A greasy old desk was shoved into a corner. A thread-bare old swivel office chair slumped sideways next to it.

Xander took a deep breath. "Ahh, Just like hell."

There was a basement. "Old meat lockers." Giles announced as he shone his torch inside. The thing wasn't even aluminum; it was double layered thick wooden planks. "Must have been built in the 'forties."

"It'll do the job. If this is the way that crazy vamp' wants to go, fine. As long as he goes."

Later, while Kennedy and her slayers talked amongst themselves, though there was never a moment at least one of them was watching the Scooby gang with weapon ready, Giles took a moment to speak to Buffy. "What all did you tell Kennedy?"

"Just enough to get us here in one piece. Especially Spike." She whispered. "I told her he wanted to atone and this was the way he chose."

"And she bought it?"

"I don't think she cares." Willow said, a bit sadly. "Kennedy never went for the magic stuff or the folklore. To her, vampires are just mutations or human/animal beasts gone wrong."

"But she's a slayer...how could she not believe the mystical side? She a daughter of the mystical." Dawn asked.

Buffy shrugged. "I dunno. I don't care. At least this way, maybe Spike has a chance."

"Willow!" Kennedy said loudly. "Got your computer?"

Willow nodded.

"We need you to do some research on the local vamp' scene. Where the nests are. Think you can do that?"

Willow, glad to get the opportunity to get use of her notepad, nodded and stood. She's had no idea when or if Kennedy would have allowed her access to it. They would need it to research Spike's project. She placed it on the desk, plugging it into the wall."I better save the battery in case it's low."

"Thanks." Kennedy said

Willow smiled, a bit ironically. "Well, you're welcome. I guess. Like I'm in a position to say no."

Kennedy said softly, "You are." Then tried to explain. "We're not trying to kidnap you and the others. We're trying to see that all vampires are eliminated. Once Spike's dead, we're gone. We only want him. That's all. Your cooperation is appreciated."

"It's wrong Kennedy. I'll help you. But what you're doing is wrong." Willow felt some of the old feelings for Kennedy start to itch but she shut them out. Kennedy was an expert at manipulation.

Willow had soon learned not too long into their relationship that whatever Kennedy wanted, Kennedy got. And she used her wiles, her wit and her will to achieve that end, while somehow in the process, when things didn't go as planned, making it all seem like Willow's fault. Kennedy was good at shifting blame. So good, Willow had discovered, she herself had stepped willingly into the role of the blamed.

Willow woke up from the role one day, however, and asked Kennedy to change. Kennedy had seen no need. The relationship ended quickly.

"What do you need me to look for?"

"Vampire nests. Any on-line contacts who might know the local joints where they hang out. Any slayers on the hunt and where it's going down...things like that."

"Okay." Willow tried to make her voice sound cooperative yet reluctant. She'd had time to perfect an act or two as well. While she was performing a search, she ran an underlying program to search for information on their own specific agenda: Spike's dying project. Buffy had asked her do such en-route to Salt Lake and she thought she'd made progress until their trip had been so thoroughly interrupted.

While Willow did her computing, Kennedy announced, "All right. Let's get on with it." She looked at Buffy. Three of the slayers entered, two roughly hauling Spike between them, the third with a crossbow aimed directly at the center of his chest.

Buffy stood quickly. "Just like that?" She'd hoped for a few hours to plan an escape or to convince Kennedy to give up her hunt for this particular vampire.

Kennedy nodded. "Just like that." She came close (but not too close) to Buffy with her firearm raised. "I know what kind of slayer you are, Buffy. I know you're smart and resourceful and could kick my ass from here to the state line if you had even half a chance. And I know you're sitting here with the Scooby gang trying to hatch out a plan. I can't afford to give you the time. Spike dies. We either start his little dying project here and now or we take his soul and stake him where he stands." She paused, looking around at all their stunned faces. "No debate. Your choice, boss." She finished.

Buffy clenched her fists. At Sunnydale, they'd stood together and beaten overwhelming odds. Saved the day. Here, she was defeated without having had the opportunity to lift a finger in her own defence or anyone's. She choked back her fury and pride. And fiercely resisted the lust to wrap her fingers around Kennedy's self righteous throat.

"Fine." Buffy looked over at Spike, willing her resolve give him strength. "Where?"

Kennedy looked at Giles. "Giles?"

He would know of course. "There's the basement." His voice sounded pinched. "One of the old meat lockers...will probably do."

Kennedy nodded. "Fine. Two slayers will be on hand for the show. Sorry, Buffy. That's off the table."

Buffy reddened with hate. "I swear to God, I'll make you pay for this. If it's the last thing I do in this life."

Kennedy accepted the statement, and Buffy's hatred, as bare fact. "I know you'll try. You seem to have forgotten on which side you should be."

"I'm on the side of the innocent."

Kennedy shook her head in disbelief. "No vampire is innocent."

In the locker, still holding tightly the stink of old cow flesh, Spike slid down the back wall and got comfortable. "Well, pet, looks like this is it." He said.

"Don't be glib." Buffy answered. "Not now."

Spike pursed his lips. "Sorry. Hard to know what to say in such situations, being that it's a brand new type of situation."

Buffy stared at him. She was still as a stone wall, afraid to make a movement. Afraid to appear weak to them or vulnerable to him. "If I can find a way out of this, to stop them, I will."

"I know."

"I'll do everything I can-"

"Always."

She stopped, knowing promises were not required. Buffy looked at the floor in front of his feet, not at him. Not at him where his eyes might meet her heart to crumble her defences. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

Spike had wanted a thing or two. But, "Just one."

"Anything." She said it. He heard from the inflection that she'd die to keep that single, all encompassing word.

"Be with me at the end." He offered no explanation or reason. Just fumbled at his pocket. Dropping a small stone on the floor, he crushed it under the soul of his boot.

Buffy did not ask about it, so Spike offered. "A keepsake from L.A. Won't be needing it now I guess."

Unable to speak, she nodded. Then, "Can I sit with you for a while?"

He looked pointedly behind her to the slayer standing there, weapon raised and ears listening to everything. The stranger/hated-slayer nodded.

Buffy settled down on the cold concrete beside Spike. He put his arm around her and she gathered it to herself. One strong anchor just for a little while before the dark ship sailed for good.

"Oh. Just one more thing before we get this show on the road." Spike remembered. "Can I have my cigarettes?"

"Okay, Buffy, that's enough goodbyes for now. We're locking him in."

Kennedy ordered her out of the meat locker. Buffy tossed Spike his smokes and a lighter then reluctantly left, taking one back glance at him. He was tapping a cigarette out of the new pack and flicking his lighter. "See you soon, Love."

Kennedy ushered Buffy back to the dingy office where the others were being held. "Is it on the way, Grace?" Kennedy asked one of her fellow Hunters. Out of earshot the slayer and Kennedy had a conversation.

Willow scooted closer to Buffy. "I think they're talking about a Crystal of Saiwala; a soul catcher. They need the crystal to get Spike's soul, to take his spark. He becomes truly un-dead again once they have that central part of life or what would be life if he were human."

Giles leaned in, "I suspect one reason they're so intent on separating the soul prior to destroying the vampire is that they can then do the task with a free conscience. Killing the en-souled might leave a bad taste."

"We have to find a way to stop this. Think. We can't just stand here and let them murder Spike; we have to find a way to help him-"

Kennedy and the other slayers suddenly had their collective attention on something. Smoke was billowing from the basement stairwell.

Giles said, "Looks like Spike may have found a way himself."

Kennedy shouted: "Watch them!" and she and all but two of her slayers stormed down the stairs.

Buffy nodded to Giles who fell over clutching his chest and moaning.

"Oh my God!" Buffy kneeled beside him, shaking him. "Giles?" Buffy, very convincing tears on her cheeks, yelled at the slayers. "Call for an ambulance! He might be having a heart attack."

The slayers exchanged doubtful glances.

Buffy let loose all her rage and pent up emotion over Spike into one genuine wail. "Help him! Please!"

One slayer opened her cellular and dialled. The other uncertainly called down the stair well. "Kennedy, what's going on? We have a situation up here."

The first slayer had not said a single word into the phone before Buffy, moving as swiftly as Giles had ever seen, dispatched the woman with a incredibly fast, hard kick to the head. Buffy had apparently not held back a thing as the woman dropped like a stone and lay still.

While Buffy took out the first slayer, Willow had tossed her laptop as hard as she could at the second, knocking her off balance. Before she had a second to recover, Buffy was on top and smashing her face in. She was in no mood to be gentle or worry about giving anyone a bloody nose or a concussion for that matter. As strong as any ordinary slayer was, including the woman beneath her, none could match Buffy for strength, speed and most importantly, experience.

The Scooby's raced down the stairs. They found Kennedy and the others watching flames lick one side of the wooden meat locker while the other three sides quickly became engulfed.

Kennedy, unaware of Buffy and the gang behind her, unbolted the door. Throwing it open she shouted inside to her prisoner. "What are you doing?"

Spike stood against the back wall where the flames had not yet reached. "Taking my fate out of your hands, bitch."

Buffy smiled, delighted with Spike's innovative thinking. "Come on!" She sprang to action like the dead coming back to life and began wailing on the nearest and strongest slayer - Kennedy. "Xander, get Spike out of there. Get out of here, all of you!"

Giles stayed behind and helped Buffy fight the slayers back. They didn't need to defeat them right there. Not just yet. All they needed was a hole. With Kennedy down, a break in the slayer ranks appeared and they bolted through it and up the stairs. Outside Buffy and Giles lead the way as they raced down the garbage strewn alley. Luckily it was night and Spike could run blanket-free.

The slayers were on their tail but far behind. Buffy was of the mind they might just get away, when they came to a dead end. "No!" She shouted, looking this way and that for an escape. A fire-escape ladder hung sadly on the side of one building. But once on it, they could be easily picked off. Would it even hold the weight of one of them? A large blue garbage bin on wheels slouched beneath it.

"Help me with this garbage can." Buffy began shoving it hard, steering it toward the narrow alley. Xander, Giles and the rest joined in. "Faster!" Buffy heaved. It gained more speed, soon it was rolling at a good clip down the alley toward the pursuing slayers. It might scramble a few of them for a minute.

"Up the ladder. Hurry!"

Miraculously, they all made it to the roof. But after that, there was nowhere to go. At least they'd made a good effort, Giles thought. "We can make our stand here." Xander said.

Spike began shaking and pounding on the joints holding the ladder to the building, trying to rip if from its bolts.

"That's a better idea." Xander said and joined him. With a rusty whine the thing gave and they sent it crashing down.

"In here." Dawn shouted. An inlaid door to the interior of the building, flat and unused for years was at her feet. It was secured with a lock and chain. Buffy twisted the lock until it snapped.

"They'll be coming in from the main floor." Giles reminded her.

"But it's big, dark and they don't know the building." Buffy explained.

"Neither do we." Willow said.

"Therefore the odds will be even." Giles answered.

One by one they descended into the dark cavity. "At least we'll have a fighting chance." Buffy said.

The top floor, filled with empty offices, had windows. The offices were empty. The next floor down gave away the buildings former occupants. Empty clothing racks loitered about. Some still held a few thin garments, like ghosts of more prosperous times. Empty cardboard boxes lay about.

"Not much here to build a defence line." Xander observed.

"I think we should just try to get out of here." Willow said.

"Kennedy and the others have surely found their way into the building by now. All the stairwells would be covered." Giles said.

Buffy saw what she had been looking for. "Except we're not taking the stairs."

She hurried to the elevator.

"Those are not likely to be working." Giles warned as she pried them apart.

"We're climbing down the shaft." Buffy ordered. "Everyone follow me."

At Giles concern, Xander said, "Don't worry Giles, we won't be shimming down the cables, there's a ladder in these things."

At Giles' 'how could you possibly know' expression, Xander shrugged. "It's in all the Mission Impossible's."

Spike followed Buffy. Xander and Giles took up the rear behind Dawn, Andrew and Willow.

As they passed each floor, Spike listened for the soul hunters. His acute vampire ears and nose could spot one several miles away. "They're on the second floor - wait! - two are on the second floor, the rest on main."

Buffy paused. "We go to the main floor. I go through first and clear a path for Spike and the rest. Just run for the front doors and keep on running."

"Where to?" Xander asked.

"A book store." Giles said. "There's a book store on West Market Street. It's a front for more underworldy things. Come tomorrow evening, just after sundown."

"Buffy, you're the strongest person here to defend Spike. You and he should take up the rear." Willow quickly advised.

Dawn added, "The slayers won't hurt us probably. It's Spike they want. We create a wall, we rush them. You and Spike run for it."

"It's a good idea Pet." Spike said.

Buffy considered. "Okay. But then go as fast as you can. Don't hang around to hear their side."

They each squeezed through the elevator doors on main. The place was in darkness save for street light shining through the spider webbed front glass windows a hundred feet away. Many strips of tape had been applied to the glass in an effort to keep them together. "Grab anything you can as a weapon."

There wasn't much. Xander and Giles found some short sections of two-by-four. Dawn a coat-hanger that she twisted into a poking device. Andrew, a running shoe.

Willow did not feel optimistic. "Oh, yeah, this is gonna' work."

The line of courageous regular humans advanced through the store's near darkness. The place was heavy with dusty check-out counters, empty display cases, a hundred thousand square feet of shadows and places for non-regular humans - slayers - to hide.

The brave humans didn't get far. When Xander heard the first foot fall of the enemy, he shouted "NOW!" and their bold front, rushing forward in one heart-linked chain, was broken up into its many much weaker parts. The slayers speed and inhuman power made bowling pins of all of them.

Buffy and Spike's dash for the doors got a few dozen feet further and was then stopped by nearly a dozen figures in black. Buffy was thrown thirty feet onto her back. Four of them were on Spike like a pack of dogs, beating him back and down. He was out of his depth and against the wall in about four seconds.

By the time Buffy had recovered her feet, Kennedy had a large flashlight trained on him and her obedient murdering slayer pals were all training their crossbows on the vampire. "Ah," Kennedy said. "The reinforcements I called for."

Spike's pale skin glowed eerily in the artificial light.

Without a word, one of the slayers walked toward the vampire and plunged a four inch thick wooden stake into Spike's chest. He cried out.

Buffy too.

But he didn't fall to dust.

"Just wanted to make a point, no pun intended." Kennedy said to Buffy. She ignored everyone else and kept her words for Buffy alone. "I had Grace do that on purpose. She didn't have to miss his heart."

"And?" Buffy kept looking over at Spike. He stayed whole but was in great pain.

Kennedy walked to the vampire, the kill was near. "It came close to the sweet spot, didn't it vampire? Can you feel it, pushing your lung aside and pressing against your un-dead, un-beating heart?"

Spike stared straight ahead in agony and did not move. Any movement the wrong way might graze his heart and finish him.

"I know what you're thinking, vampire." Kennedy touched the dull end of the stake lightly, ever so lightly, with her finger. "If I wiggle it, will that be enough?" She stroked his milk coloured cheek. "Will that puncture it and start the devil dust?"

Spike looked at Buffy, one quick side glance. Buffy stared back. Inside her somewhere, her own body heard his flesh in its struggle and groaned. She saw his eyes plea and wondered, not the first time, what was it like to die like that? What had Angel felt when the stake had found his true center? Was it a... blankness that opened up in his being? The draining of blood and soul; the life feeling was not possible where no true life was present. So what? How did it feel to know that in seconds you were to be non-existent and no coming back in any form? Do demons feel regret?

What do vampires feel? What does a vampire with a soul feel? Really? "Leave him alone." Buffy said to Kennedy, not a demand. Her tone said everything: I'll do what you ask but don't end him this way.

Kennedy backed off. Then to Buffy, "Now. We finish this," Kennedy spread her arms, "and believe me; we are going to finish it, in one of two ways." She stood directly before Buffy. "We move that stake an inch to the right and you say goodbye to your fanged friend. Or we take all of you to our place of choosing and we finish this the way we had, in good faith I might add, first agreed to."

Buffy felt like a trapped animal. Power, desire, will all still there and screaming for release. But the chains of another kept it motionless. For the first time in her life, she wondered what it was like, really, to kill another human being.

"Okay." Buffy whispered. "Okay."

XXX

In an armoured vehicle under heavy slayer guard, they were driven north, the east to what Kennedy had described as Sanctuary. It was heavily fortified brick and mortar Monastery in the north eastern Wasatch Mountains not far from Salt Lake. "We have such a sanctuary in every large center. These monks are generous and understand the necessity of fighting evil. Plus they really know how to plan ahead, don't they?"

Spike was taken and locked up in a room made of thick concrete and steel. He was given no cigarettes, no matches and no clothes or covering save for one blanket.

Here is where he would be left to his death.

In the comfort of a much more posh living area, (really, the Monastery waiting room), Kennedy explained to Buffy. "This is the only way we both get what we want, Buffy."

Buffy, sick with rage and hating the woman. Hating! "This is not what I want."

"What the vamp' wants then."

Buffy indicated with a small sweep of her hand. "And, my friends? Are you going to keep them all prisoners here the whole time?"

"Not prisoners. Guests. Guests under compulsion, I suppose. Anyway, they'll have to stay until this is over. We wouldn't want anything as mundane as the police showing up now would we?"

The slayers kept their words.

Their first word was: Spike was to die.

And the second: Buffy could watch occasionally if she wanted to.

For posterity, the slayer who Kennedy called Grace ungracefully kept a journal of sorts. She marked on a wall with little black marks each day of Spike's dying that transpired. One to four then a diagonal through those to mark five. Quickly it was ten. Then twenty, thirty, forty marks she had written up and yet Spike was not dead. Among the murderer/slayers it became a joke and a thing over which to wager. Black slashes and grins all around.

At fifty marks, Grace said "Wow. These vamp's take a while to ripen, don't they?"

Near the end, they left Buffy alone with Spike in the cold room. Up until the last day, two slayers had always been on hand and in her face. No room was allowed for argument or persuasive tears. No place for mercy; their stand was uncompromising: Spike was a vampire among humans and had to die. Buffy realized they were making certain (hence the windowless, escape proof concrete box) that she did not try to save him again somehow in the last moments.

Buffy had smiled at them sadly for their lack of compassion and frank ignorance of things vampire. It was already too late to bring him back from the edge. He would fall.

But Buffy had made one demand of her own and had made them comprehend her seriousness by offering herself. "You'll have to kill me to keep me out of that room." His final hours would not come without her there.

Out of respect for her as a fellow slayer and for what she and Spike had done to save them all at Sunnydale, they had acquiesced.

Spike, his flesh, was a shadow of itself, the skin draped over the bones like a wet sheet. Sinew, wasted muscle, flat, empty blood vessels testified that the end of his un-dead vampire life was imminent. No amount of feeding now, could he even swallow, would reverse the cellular collapse that was occurring.

He would turn to dust as so many as Buffy had turned, though they artificially so via stake. This death would be perhaps the first recorded, witnessed natural vampire death in all history. History, however, would most likely pay no attention.

At the click of the opening door, Buffy turned to reprimand which ever slayer was breaking her word, to see that it was Xander. "Should I go?" He asked.

"No." She shook her head. "Stay. Please."

Xander crouched down at a respectful distance, resting his arms on his knees. The sight of the grossly emaciated body turned his stomach over. He didn't know how Buffy kept looking, and without wavering. She'd been at it for hours, never leaving his side but for a single washroom trip. Xander recalled the frustration on her face that her human body would have betrayed her so in Spike's hour of need by demanding she obey it's natural laws.

Buffy held the skeleton like hand gently. Steadily. Her face held no disgust what so ever. On the contrary, she appeared calm, content to sit by his side and look at him, as though he were just asleep and would soon awaken and speak one of his pet names. She leaned over him slightly, bringing her own human warmth closer, so he would be assured that she was nearby and was going nowhere. Would, in fact, accompany him where he was going if she could.

Suddenly she looked over at Xander. "You're not telling me anything."

Xander understood what she was asking. "Sorry."

"So this is really it? This isn't going to work out the way we hoped is it? Willow..."

"-Found nothing."

"Nothing." She repeated it. To make it real? He wondered.

"No evidence? Not a shred of proof that he might...come back?"

Xander shook his head. "No."

Xander watched her watching Spike and came to understand just then that she really did love him. Maybe not with the hopeless passion that she had felt for Angel. But Spike had directly been in her life longer than had Angel. Does aged love run deeper, Xander wondered? Buffy had grown used to Spike. He had become like an old loved quilt with rips. Maybe not the best, maybe not the favourite even, but...comfortable.

She and Angel hadn't had enough time to develop beyond that first, burning desire, everything new and exciting.

With Spike, after the desire had passed, he was still there. Familiarity. Comfortableness. Endurance. Mutual support and consolation. Who was to say which sort of love was better? Or more real than the other?

Buffy leaned over and whispered something in Spike's withered ear. Inaudible to Xander.

Spike's eyes, incredibly, opened for a few seconds. Opaque, though. Unseeing; at least the physical.

Xander watched curiously and sadly as Buffy spoke to him, things under her breath that Xander could not hear.

Spike, other than his eyes being opened, did not answer of course. Emaciated, helpless, blind, dying vampire. It was tragic and pathetic. The warrior had finally fallen, Xander thought. Surprisingly, he actually felt bad for him.

Buffy placed her free hand on Spike's chest, over what would surely now be his prune sized heart. Whether the nerves were still viable enough to transmit the touch to his brain...?

Probably not, Xander thought.

Buffy started when Spike's chest convulsively rose once, and then fell. It did not rise again. She tried to squeeze his hand as he went down into death so he could take the comfort of her presence with him, but his fingers turned to dust beneath her grasp. Then the rest of his body followed, disintegrating into a fine grit that danced across the floor under the movement of her breath. It was over in seconds.

Buffy let the dust fall from her hand. She did not move otherwise, waiting. Xander realized she was waiting for the legend. A human being ought to appear. Spike ought to be reanimating before her eyes.

Though denying its validity, she had in fact hung on to that unlikely eventuality right to the last. A hope from the ancient mist. Like thin shadow, it was gone with the event of day. Now, under the witness of their own living, seeing eyes, they both knew the legend was a lie.

Buffy fell forward, sobbing.

END PART I

Continued in A New Englishman in Fork, Part II

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TV Shows » Buffy: The Vampire Slayer » A New Englishman in Fork

Bottom of Form

Author: G.E Waldo

Rated: T - English - Angst/Suspense - Reviews: 1 - Published: 03-16-08 - Updated: 03-16-08

id:4135001

Bottom of Form

A New Englishman in Fork, Part II.

By GenieVB

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns 'em. We love 'em.

Rating: PG. Some language, violence.

Buffy/Spike centric.

Serious angst! Character death.

Evanescence. 1751 1. The process or fact of vanishing away.

"This evanescence and lubricity of all objects...lets them slip through our fingers."

EMERSON.

How can you see into my eyes

like open doors?

Leading you down into my core

where I've become so numb.

Without a soul, my spirit

sleeping somewhere cold

until you find it there

and lead it back home

Wake me up inside

Call my name and save me from the dark.

Bid my blood to run

before I come undone

Save me from the nothing I've become.

Breath into me and make me real

Bring me to life.

Frozen inside without your touch

without your love darling.

Only you are the life among the dead.

I've been sleeping a thousand years it seems

Bring me to life.

(Evanescence)

A New Englishman in Fork, Part II

WILLIAM

The chamber was so cold. Hard, rough surface scraped his goose-bumped flesh causing tiny wounds in the skin that he couldn't see in the dark.

He wrapped himself in the foul smelling cover, sensing the nakedness of his body. Fear rolled across his heart and he wobbled on un-used legs over uneven ground. Bare feet, tender with birth, hurt.

A sharp pain made him cry out as something deeply invaded his sole. He bent over and pulled out the offending object, feeling the slick of his own blood on the floor. He held the pain-causing thing tightly in his fist, it was solid and the only other thing that presently seemed real.

Broken by a feeble light from above, the darkness he left behind, climbing toward dawn. Through a crack in the rough wood, a doorway, shone the light that drew him.

He stumbled towards the light.

One more night on the rough floor and they would go home. The better part of the day after had seen them getting back here, to where they had foolishly come with so many plans. Help the vampire. Find the soul hunters. Save the innocent. Be the Scooby's again and have purpose beyond the humdrum of jobs and television.

They had not saved the innocent. Neither had they saved the vampire. The soul hunter murdering slayers had seen to that. Vampire dead. Leave and shake the dust from your feet.

Certainly they had not invited Buffy to join their ranks and share in their newfound purpose of ridding earth of anything that smacked of evil. Whatever fight was left ahead for her, she would battle it alone.

Buffy did not sleep and not just because of the hard floor. She felt hollow. Drained of will or want or even wish. It was difficult to think of anything but the dark around her and the sleeping breaths of her friends. But for the dim glow from the ceiling bulb dangling above the basement staircase, the echoing room was dark. Ghosts of past battles leaped here and there. Angel, draped in white and silent as shadows came in his quiet way and spoke into the whispers of her memories: "Don't forget to sweep in the corners." He said.

Buffy awoke with a start, her eyes snapping open and heart fluttering. Dreams were there in her head and before her startled eyes. A slow grey form floated toward her, swaying back and forth. "Angel?" She said into the dark nightmare.

She was awake. The cold hard of the floor reminded her of consciousness.

But the form of her dream was still there in the real world. She lay still, wondering if it was real or only real as an illusion. An after image of the Angel she had loved, now dead.

No, hard breaths could be heard emanating from it, and the sound of bare feet on concrete.

Buffy leaped to her feet. "Who's there?" She demanded, which stirred the other sleepers.

"Xander! Get the lights!"

Xander already up, his hand working the switch by the small office, and the place was flooded in fluorescent glare.

The grey form, looming so large in the dark, now seemed to shrink to a human sized threat. The sudden luminescence made it shrink further as it doubled over, as though the light's harshness had struck with a killing blow.

But nothing died.

Buffy, Xander and the others stood transfixed by the strange sight. From its twists of dirty sheet, a menacing, hoarse whisper arose as the demon creature advanced slowly, one bloody fist raised a weapon. It spoke: "What am I?"

Buffy reacted instantly, leaping forward. Her actions a blur, she struck three incredibly fast kicks. The first sent the weapon flying from the demon's hand and through the air to clatter uselessly on the floor many yards away. The second one slammed home on the creatures jaw, bringing its head up and snapping it around to the right, just as she had wanted. Buffy's last blow impacted the left side of its skull, felling the creature backwards like a stone. It lay still.

Giles crept forward. He had grabbed a knife and was holding it defensively. Willow had whipped out a cross and held it at arm's length toward the unconscious Unknown.

Deftly Giles threw the sheet aside, exposing the creature's face.

"It's a man." He stated aloud what all were now realizing.

Willow was the first to really see, not what it was, but who.

"Oh my God. I think it really is." She looked over at Buffy. "It's Spike."

"My name is William. William Pratt."

In the daylight hours of the kitchen the voice was not menacing, merely untried. A new voice being used for the first time by a novice. The fresh sounds from the voice-box emerged a hoarse whisper because its owner was a new creation. An impossible event.

Buffy stared at the man sitting wrapped in the filthy sheet. It was black-smeared from the embers of the burnt out meat locker where her old companion - Spike the vampire - had sat and spoke. Why had this human emerged from a place where no vampire had died his vampire death? She found herself unable to say a word to the stranger who looked with bewilderment around him.

Giles had quickly mobilized the group and their unconscious burden to the cars for a quick drive back to Fork in the dead of cold night. Their guest, now mostly revived, was seated in a chair against the wall still wrapped in his sheet and holding a small ice pack to the lump on his temple. One side of his bottom lip was purple and swollen and a bit of blood crusted the corners.

Spike would have easily shaken off her assault that left this man looking, for all intents and purposes, like he had just been mugged.

The human named William raised his hand to his lip, wincing. But he seemed concerned more about his hand than his mouth. "I think it's broken." He said to no one in particular.

"We'll take care of that." Willow kneeled at his side and began to gently wrap the hurt appendage. Giles thought it best to distract the man and introduced himself. "My name is Rupert Giles." He went around the room, pointing or nodding to the others, introducing them by first names.

William tried his best to look at each one and remember the names. But mostly he seemed to be looking inward.

"Giles." Buffy called her former Watcher into the front hall. "What's wrong with him?"

"You mean other than having just been reborn and the stuffing kicked out of him all in the same hour?"

"I mean back in the warehouse, he said something...he asked what he was. Maybe Spike's come back insane. Maybe that's why he remembers nothing of his previous life."

Giles shook his head a little. "Buffy, Spike the vampire may have existed for over a hundred years but he was not, in fact, alive. And as far as I am able to tell, the man sitting in your kitchen isn't Spike at all. This is the being - the human being - that was before Drusilla turned him into Spike the vampire. This human, William Pratt, has not been alive for over a century. Small wonder, don't you think, that he's a trifle confused?"

Buffy looked up at him with that expression that always got to him. The one that said, "You may be right but I'm going to haul back on this lead chain until I turn purple before you'll convince me."

"So what do we do with him?" She asked, somewhat callously. Giles let it go for the present. The question, however coldly put, would have to be addressed. "I don't rightly know. What we don't know about this whole situation weighs heavier than what we do."

"Such as...?"

"Such as we have no idea if he recalls any of his un-life as a vampire. Thus far there is no indication that he does."

"But when a human becomes a vampire, the demon who takes over remembers the human's life."

"Yes, but is the reverse true as well? Nothing's been written on it in anything I have come across during my entire career as a Watcher, or ex-Watcher for that matter." Giles glanced toward the kitchen where Willow and Dawn continued to make small talk. "This newborn man is so far out of his element, he may as well be from Mars. The world he knew, the people, his family, friends, his home are gone. He's in America - Utah for God's sake. He's sitting in a stranger's kitchen surrounded by unfamiliar people dressed in a rag." Giles rolled his eyes sympathetically. "That poor proper Englishman, we've got to get him some decent clothes. And, Buffy, we're all he's got, his only hope. He doesn't yet know that of course."

Buffy began to see more clearly the difficulties. As she often did, she tried to disperse some of the tension with sarcasm, "Well, if that's all, I don't see a problem." The attempt fell flat.

"And just one more thing."

"What?"

"We have no idea if what's happened...if this new man, is permanent."

"For heaven's sake, Andrew, this is an Englishman. We cannot demean him by forcing upon him a tee-shirt with a picture of a pig performing a rude gesture."

"Fine." Andrew snapped it back. "And what's wrong with the pants I picked?"

Xander held up the offending article. "You mean other than they're missing the ass." He tossed them back in the messy closet "Other than their owner of course."

Andrew looked insulted. "Well, I'd like to see him in them."

Willow and Buffy entered the room, and Giles pounced. "Please. Can you two take over?"

"Dress Spi- William?" Willow asked uncertainly.

"Pick out some dignified clothing for him, yes. If I leave it up to Andrew, the poor man will end up looking like a member of the village people. I can't believe we three are the first men he will know as the masculine representatives of the twenty-first century."

Buffy snorted. "Oh, yeah, like frilly collars and snuff boxes are real he-man articles."

Willow was accommodating. "We can handle it, Giles. Stop stressing."

Buffy escorted Giles, Xander and Andrew (protesting) to the door. "Don't worry; we'll make sure he doesn't look like a dork." She stayed outside the bedroom, however, and left Willow to the task.

In the kitchen Dawn did her best to make their guest feel at home.

At his request for tea, William watched with growing alarm as his pretty hostess prepared it.

No proper Tea Service was brought forth. No scones, biscuits or butter was produced. No sugar and cream setting.

Instead she took a heavy looking cup from a cupboard (it had the face of a cow on it - the tail evidently serving as the handle!), filled it with water from what appeared to be a small water pump (which spewed out a furious stream of water when she worked it), over a metal sink. Placing this inside a white box made of another kind of metal, she pushed some musical sounding buttons on it. From the box a strange humming emanated. After a moment or two the thing gave off a series of quick tones. When she removed the cup, to his astonishment, the water in it now appeared steaming hot.

Moving to the cupboard again, she drew forth what must have been a tiny paper bag (containing tea leaves he hoped) on a string from a colourful paper box. This she dropped into the cup and placed it before him.

"Oh!" She went to the large icebox. "Do you take cream or sugar?"

He nodded, and then clarified "Cream."

Into his cup she poured a thin, bluish liquid she described as "skim milk." Sorry." She explained. "We're out of whole." She peered into his cup. "That's probably done." Using the tiny string, she lifted the tea-bag out, shook off an excess drop or two and dropped it on the table. Sliding a glass jar toward him, she said "Here's the sugar if you want some."

The sugar jar had a hole near the top on one side. He did not add any.

Dawn stirred the offensive brew with a small spoon. "Go ahead, try it. It's blueberry."

William sniffed it suspiciously. He took one courageous sip. Unable to stomach any more of the fruity liquid he instead watched Dawn prepare another cup the same way, though to this one she added a liberal amount of cream and a veritable mountain of sugar. She drank of hers deeply. "Good, isn't it?"

Not wanting to appear rude, "Yes."

Giles entered the kitchen and, with gentle prodding, sent William to the washroom so he could clean himself up in privacy. There, he was presented with clothes to wear.

When he showed himself twenty minutes later, he had donned the black jeans and casual button-down, dark cotton shirt Willow had picked out of Andrews closet.

Though he gave appearances that the clothes were unfamiliar in their design, he seemed grateful to finally be properly covered.

Willow looked pleased with herself. Buffy went to sit on the opposite side of the kitchen table from where William again took his seat. "Thank you for the clothes." He said. "And for your hospitality and kind assistance." It was the longest sentence out of him so far.

"Very presentable." Giles commented quietly to Willow.

Everyone smiled and assured him of their pleasure in being helpful.

"And now I think I ought to get home." He said in very correct English. His accent refined now, not the clipped consonants reminiscent of a back lane pub, but the proper inflections of higher society. "My mother will surely be missing me by now. I-I'm really not certain how long I have been ...away, and I'm afraid I must impose upon your indulgence one last time. Will one of you kindly send for a Cab?"

Giles, knowing he was asking for a horse drawn carriage and not a big, yellow taxi, stepped forward. "William. There is so much you don't understand about what's happened to you, so much to tell you." He nodded toward the night through the window. "And it's dark out. Don't you think it would be wiser for you to stay here? At least for tonight?"

William stood. "Oh, I mustn't. This mugging, for I can only assume that I was attacked by some beggar, has greatly delayed me. My mother is ill, you see, it is not good for her to remain alone."

Willow asked, "Ill? I'm sorry. What's wrong with her?"

"She...has consumption and requires care." He appeared a tad offended at Willow's forward question.

Giles cleared his throat. "With the exception of William, would all of you wait in the living room while I try and see if I can't...help in these matters."

The others took that to mean he was going to spill the whole bag of rotten beans to the new born human and maybe if it was just one Englishman speaking to another, it might not sound insane.

After just a few minutes, they heard a yelling in the kitchen. "You're playing some sort of trick on me, aren't you? Did Major Knighton set it up? To humiliate me? I'll not stand for it, do you understand me? I'LL NOT STAND FOR IT!"

The sound of the back door crashing closed set them all racing into the kitchen but Giles stopped their stampede to the back yard with a raised hand. "Just let him go. One way or another he is going to having to satisfy himself that we're not all mad, and that he's just joined the twenty first century."

"But the soul hunters?" Willow said.

Giles looked out into the night where William had escaped. "The soul hunters were after Spike the vampire. He's dead."

Several hours later came a timid knock on the front door. Dawn ushered in an exhausted looking William. He was guided to a soft chair in the living room where he sank down wearily. He looked around the room with wider though still wary eyes. Then at each one of them. "It has become clear that at least some of what Mister Giles has told me is the truth." The words came reluctantly, fearfully.

Xander sat on the couch next to him, surprising Buffy as Xander had never offered any time of day for Spike. "Look. We know this seems a lot to take in. So take in some of it. Stay here and get to know us a little. Get comfortable here in the house. We'll try and answer your questions and slowly bring you up to date on...the world."

Giles approved. "Excellent suggestion, Xander. That's very sensible advice William. I know we're strangers...now, but please be assured that we are your friends."

Andrew gave William a once over. "For now, don't you think we ought to update his 'Do? He's going to have to fit in and the 'Burns just gotta' go."

"Look, I can wield a great curling iron, but I don't know how to cut hair." Buffy said, looking around to see if anyone else would step forward.

"I'll do it." Andrew said and explained somewhat reluctantly, "After high school I took a course, okay?"

William raked a slim hand through his newly cropped hair. The sideburns had been shaved and he, looking more like Spike than ever, was seated back in the kitchen with the rest of the, to him, strange group of people. The things he had seen during his frantic flight from the house had been more terrifying than sitting in the strange kitchen with these people who assured him they were his friends. But he wasn't entirely convinced that he was not having some sort of nightmare and would soon wake up.

"What year is it?" He asked suddenly in the middle of their discussion about what to do for dinner.

"What...year?" Willow repeated back. She looked to Giles for guidance.

Giles cleared his throat. "Understand that this is going to be difficult to believe-"

"-I've yet to encounter anything here that is not. Please, what year?"

"Two Thousand, Six."

William stared, and then dropped his eyes to the wood table. "One hundred, twenty-six years after...after..." He frowned, trying to remember something. Looked at Giles, "I'm not sure..." Then he shook his head. "Where have I been all this time?"

Giles stepped a bit closer to the exit leading to the back door, as though blocking it in case William choose to make another mad dash. "Do you remember any of what I explained earlier?"

He swallowed hard. "Truly, I don't really want to." A reluctant nod, "But, yes, I remember what you said."

"Do you remember anything from those years?" Willow asked.

William shook his head slowly. "Nothing. However, taking into account all that I've been told, I think I ought to be glad about that."

William sipped at another cup of tea, this time prepared by Giles and settled into a low chair in the living room. With his eyes Giles told Xander and Dawn to watch over him. Willow got on the phone and ordered some take-out.

Buffy took Giles into the back hall. "What all did you tell him?"

"Not the half of it. I left out that he was un-dead the whole time and most of the horrific violence he and Drusilla had unleashed on Europe. And Sunnydale. I wanted to give him enough to gain his trust, but not so much as to cause a stroke."

"What happens if Spike emerges? Suppose he begins to remember ...Spike, especially the soulless Spike? I mean what if he remembers all of it?"

"Well then, at the very least, he'll know we were telling the truth."

A few more truths were shared with William the new human over the next few days.

"The Soul Hunters could be making Salt Lake City their base of operations." Andrew and Willow had spent days on the Internet hacking into the UnderNet, the ethereal web of the Demon Hordes.

Willow continued. "The Hellmouth in Cleveland is basically inactive right now. No rumours of a mass gathering, no big baddies on the rampage to rule the upper world."

"But we hacked into a Mystic Server and found a huge database of Vamp-Blogs. All of them spoke about the Exurgent Ones, the Soul Hunters- there's a dozen other nick's they use - and always in reference to the Lake of Death where vampire dust shall lie forever." Andrew added.

"This can't mean an underworld, a metaphorical lake. Vamps, those with human bodies or bodies and souls, live above world. Taken with the existence of the Emergent Ones there, it's got to mean Salt Lake City." Willow finished.

Giles picked the sleep from his eyes. "Are you certain, absolutely certain, there was nothing about the Cleveland Hellmouth?"

"Yeah." Willow answered. "I wrote a program designed to locate any language, repeating phrases you know, any pattern, that referred to, among other things, either the Hellmouth and Cleveland, or the Hellmouth and a specific date. Nothing." Willow kept her eyes on Giles. He looked away to the kitchen. "Excuse me." Willow said. "If we're going to be up all night, I think some coffee might be a good idea."

Giles followed her. "Um, tea for me please."

Away from other's ears, Willow confided to him. "I didn't want to say this in front of William. I think he's probably heard enough doom and gloom for his first birth-day. I also found reference to a vampire prophecy."

Eyebrows on the rise, "Vampire prophecy? You mean demon prophecy."

"No. A vampire prophecy written by an ancient toothy guy about and for vampires."

"I know of no such scrolls. All the prophetic scrolls have been produced by demons, demi-gods or their respective scribe minions. Vampires have never been scholars by any measure. They're a half breed demon, considered by even the lowest of demons to be unintelligent and unsophisticated. And since they survive by creating other half-breeds, as a species they possess no true culture of their own."

"Preaching to the choir here, Giles." Willow acknowledged. "But this ancient is suppose to be the beginning of the vampires-"

"-Right. Where have I heard that before?"

"I know, but I think this is legit'. This scroll apparently talks about a Hound of Hell. A Demon Dog, a huge demon animal that was the beginning of the way for the vampire. Ever read Doyle?"

Giles caught up and finished. "A terrible hound of the moors? Prowls at night, glows in the dark? All that sort of thing?" He thought about it. "Even fiction can have its beginnings in fact. But vampires have been around for tens of centuries and Doyle only wrote his-"

"I know. But there are probably details we're missing. We have to get our hands on that scroll or a copy of it. Only..."

"What is the other significance of it for us? This can't be idle curiosity on your part."

"According to the vamp' sites, it makes mention of a vampire who is destined to rule the Exurgent Ones."

Giles leaned against the table. "A vampire who would rule...all slayers?"

"This vampire would be different though. He would be alive. He would have a heartbeat. And he would be nearly un-killable."

"I thought we'd already killed all the un-killable's."

"Yeah? Well, welcome to holocaust Insert Integer here."

After William had retired to bed, the household huddled together.

"So?" Buffy asked. "Where do we get our hands on this newest, worst prophetic scroll?"

Giles sipped his tea, made a face and set it aside. It had gone cold. "I've already made calls to Wesley. He'll ask his contacts and Lorne will ask his. Willow could you check with the local covens and see what's brewing?"

Willow nodded. "Weak joke not intended I'm sure and, no problem."

"And I'll check in with an old friend of mine."

"What should I do?" Buffy asked.

Giles looked at her levelly. "You," He said, "Need to get William ready for the new world."

Buffy didn't twitch and her stony lack of expression said clearest her dislike of the idea of being William's baby-sitter-come-battle coach. "Fine."

"You're the most qualified." Giles added, standing straighter. She was the best his posture seemed to be saying. And, besides, there was no one else. "Xander, would you assist Buffy?"

Xander nodded, giving Buffy his best reassuring face.

Giles gathered his coat and car keys. "Let's get to work."

Over the next hour Buffy introduced William to their small but well equipped training room in the unused portion of the basement. Xander and Giles had brought in most of the weapons and gear from the trunk of his car and William listened while Buffy explained their functions. She demonstrated the loading and operation of the side arms and handguns. The stakes she merely pointed out. But had he ever heard of how a vampire was killed?

"Yes." He assured her. "Even a man out of my time had heard those old tall tales." He handled one, felt its weight. "Except now I know the tales are not all tall."

When she brought out the swords, he surprised her by taking a particular one from its case with a cry of satisfaction. "Well, I haven't seen one of these since...why, this is a fine sword!" He performed a few deft movements, handling it with skill. "My father, before he left, taught me fencing and sword play." He returned the sword to its case with practiced ease, laying it down with loving grace, as though assisting an old friend to bed. "Unfortunately, sword-making is the occupation of a gentleman."

William walked to the sunbeam shining through the tiny window. "I was to be a gentleman." He said it as one remembering a sad story of long ago. "When he left and mother became ill, my gentleman days came to an abrupt end." Suddenly he glanced over his shoulder at her, his face red. Clearly he had not meant to speak so openly of such private matters. "Excuse me." He returned to the weapons table. "I did not mean to distract from your lesson."

Buffy looked at him for a few seconds. "No, that's okay. Um, would you show me again how you handle a sword? I mean, what you know of sword fighting?" Buffy took up a second sword and readied herself. William took up the once more.

He did. And when their practice sword play was over, William had almost beaten her. Not with strength but with talent. She had to admit, though he was a man out of touch, a man she was sure still harboured doubts as to the sanity of his hosts (and possibly himself), he might have his uses in their little endangered group. Only one thing about him bothered her. William the human was a constant, painful reminder that she had lost Spike the vampire. One could never replace the other.

But Buffy realized as she watched William practice, the sword moving like an extension of his body, when it came to wielding the steel, he was an artist. Just how good he would be in battle remained to be proved.

"Ever killed anyone?" She asked.

William's eyes narrowed, the question clearly disturbed him. "No."

Buffy replaced the sword in its case. "Well, that's our business. Killing vampires and possibly if things continue going as they are, vampire slayers as well. That means people." She looked straight at him, crossing her arms. "And if you think you can't handle that sort of work, say so now. We'll leave you where ever you want and go our way."

He stared back with frank distaste at her blunt manner. Or her words? She wondered. His look made her regret her unfeeling delivery. Buffy felt embarrassed and explored the sensation for a few seconds. She felt for him and disliked his presence all at once and found it impossible to reconcile the two.

"You make it sound like a respectable occupation. Like a shoe-maker: "Yes, Sire. We can have your size ready as soon as the hides are delivered, but we're frightfully short-handed at present."."

Buffy laughed a little, despite herself. "I guess. But things aren't the same anymore. Anywhere. At least, not for many people. Not for us."

William replaced his sword also. "I don't know if I am able, or willing, to kill...vampires. I'm not certain this isn't all some terrible dream. I am not sure if I am real. He turned his head away in a very Spike-like gesture. "So any answer I give you now might be the truth or the truth in my dream, which is really no truth at all."

Buffy walked to the stairs. "Well, one thing's for sure, when we hit that first battle, you'll wake up and know it's no dream."

The head was iron, with the shape of a lamb, the eyes of a snake, the feathers of a dove and teeth like a lion. "Weirdest door knocker I've ever seen." Faith mumbled to herself and gave the thing three loud knocks against the thick wood doors of the Monastery.

After a moment, it opened and she was ushered inside by a robe clad man who averted his eyes respectfully. "Ah, come in, Emergent one. The Mistress is waiting for you. She sensed your arrival."

"Yeah, "sensed". Right." Faith didn't put a lot of stock in all the mystical feelings those around her so often spoke during her life as a Slayer. Give her a good face to kick or nasty vampire to stake, and her day was made more secure. Leave the mumbo-jumbo to the Giles's and the Willows.

Kennedy met her in the austerely furnished lobby. "Faith!" She took her hand and led her to a pair of red, worn chairs that looked like they'd been dropped off by the Goodwill. "I knew you'd be coming. We need all the muscle we can muster."

Faith looked around, not entirely up on the hub-bub that had become Salt Lake City. "I hear a lot of stuff about what's going on here, what you're all doing, but no real details. Maybe you can fill me in on the latest good fight, huh?"

"Not the good fight, the best fight." Kennedy looked eye to eye. "The last great fight, Faith. We're going to off every last vampire on the planet." She paused to let her words sink in. She sat back, relaxed a little. "Starting with Salt Lake City."

Faith was unimpressed. "Another holocaust huh?"

Kennedy crossed her legs. "No. This is it, Faith. This is no pre-end to the Big Ending. This is The End. Slayers are alive all over the earth. And we've got work to do. We've already started." Kennedy smiled, proud of her clan's accomplishments. "You've heard that vampires are out getting themselves souls?"

Faith nodded. "Yeah. So?"

"So, we're putting a stop to it. Vampires are trying to make themselves into some sort of soul sporting new age cult. And they're killing people to get them. Some are even off the human juice, but they're not fooling us."

Faith nodded. "So it's one last crusade."

Kennedy smiled crookedly, "One last hurrah, Faith, and humanity's a safe as houses in the sunshine."

Grace, her pink hair coiffed to stand in all directions, joined them. "We recently took down two big ones."

"Oh?" Faith was bored already. She liked the little fights, the one-on-one's she and Buffy used to wage back in Sunnydale, not these larger than life holier-than-foul Slayer wars.

Grace was flipping a stake from one hand to the other. She was bored as well. "Yup. Took out Angel and Spike. All in the same week."

Faith was certain she had heard wrong. Absolutely she could not have heard the names she thought she had. Not the two soldiers-in-arms she had fought beside. Not Him and Him. Not those names. "E-excuse me? Who did you say?"

"Angel and Spike." Grace noticed that Faiths color had gone from normal to dead white. And now it was red. And her eyes had turned dark like the horizon does before the still-hidden tornado touches down and destroys everything in its path.

Faith stood and approached Grace. Nose to nose. Eyes to eyes. Faith was still and silent and it was enough to display to the other woman how terribly dangerous the woman before her was. Grace realized, without a second guess, that her well being was suddenly, inexplicably, in doubt. Grace, who had cut up Angel with her own sword, who had driven a four inch thick stake into Spike's chest, who had vanquished those two great warriors, was now staring at her greatest opponent. And that opponent was staring back with a look so hateful, she felt the air around her chill.

Grace, at Faith's terrible anger, tried to explain. "They were vampires. We couldn't allow them to live!"

Faith struck just as Grace finished speaking. Her flat palm impacted Grace's chest with the force of a cannon, cracking the woman's sternum and sending her flying forty feet across the room. She hit and shattered a seventeenth century stained glass window and landed, gasping, on the courtyard outside. A few more ragged, bloody breaths, and she lay still. Even a slayers heart can't stop jagged, gouging bone.

Faith turned to a shocked Kennedy who looked with twisted grief upon her First Lieutenant and lover, dead on the cobblestone. Faith did not approach Kennedy though. She just stared at her in utter hatred but, for Kennedy, her icy gaze was enough to stop her cold. She dared not move a muscle or Faith (and didn't the look on her face say it plainly?) would turn her in a very literal sense inside-out.

All Faith did was speak. "You stupid bitches. You bloody, murdering, stupid bitches."

"I think it's too soon."

That was Giles summation of Buffy's proposal that they return to Salt Lake City and confront the Exurgent Ones, Kenney's band of soul hunting slayers bent on ridding the world of all vampires, good or bad, once and for all.

"If William's going to be a part of this group, then he needs to see what it is all about. Coddling him here isn't advancing his introduction to the real world."

Giles crossed his arms, a habitual gesture when Buffy began to insist in her won course. Buffy had adopted the gesture and added to it by staring at Giles unblinkingly, something which always unnerved him, until he complied. She was doing it now. "Buffy. William is untried in any sort of battle. There could be that, you know. Battle. We might even run into a vampire or two on the trip."

"Then let's go. What's the point of this discussion? I may not agree that all vampires need to die, but one thing's for sure, most of them do. Let William show us just how good he is with a sword."

Willow came to Buffy's way of thinking. "Giles, he's untried, but so were we all at one time. He's one up on me, the only weapon I ever wielded before meeting you two was a penchant for advanced calculus."

"Unless we just want to send him off to jolly old England or have him stay here. Hold the fort with Andrew, bake some crumpets...?" Buffy suggested humourlessly. "No? Then he may as well come with us and learn the ropes."

"And stakes and broadswords or what-have-you." Xander finished.

Buffy did not wait for further comments, "Then it's settled."

But they're arrival at the Monastery in the hills above Salt Lake City resulted in finding no Slayers or vampires.

Lots of broken glass and overturned furniture. Not even a monk was on hand to sweep up the mess.

"Whatever went down here, looks like we missed it." Dawn said, looking around at the mess.

"Weird." Was Willow's comment. "I mean, it doesn't look like a battle. And there's blood on the ground outside, but no bodies." She knelt and, avoiding the tiny shards of multi-coloured glass, swept her palm across the polished floor. "And no vampire dust." She stood and dusted her jeans. "This is really strange."

"Stranger than you think." Faith emerged from the shadows. "Hey "B"." She affected her self-conscious half smile.

"Faith." Buffy let her surprise show only for a minute. Faith had a history of showing up unannounced at the oddest times. "I thought you were in L.A."

"Was. 'Till these stupid bitches off-ed Angel. I heard he'd been murdered but I had no idea it was Kennedy and her troupe. Sorry about Angel, Buffy."

Buffy nodded. "They tried to get Spike,...I mean they got him,...well...it's-"

Faith looked at William. "What do you mean they got him? He's-" She looked a bit closer and saw the flush of blood under the human man's skin. "Holy shit!" She stared for a few seconds then turned her attention back to Buffy. "I came to join their little army, figuring to off some well deserving vamps and found out they were the ones who dusted Angel."

"What happened?"

Faith shrugged. "I got one of 'em. She'll never walk among the living again. After that I ran and they cleared out. There are twenty of them and that's too many even for me."

Buffy quickly passed her eyes over the empty structure. "Well, I don't exactly know what to do." She looked at Giles.

"Perhaps we should find accommodation for the night and regroup tomorrow? Discuss strategy?"

Buffy nodded.

"How about here?" Faith said. "It's not in use at the moment."

Buffy shook her head. "They might come back and in greater numbers. We need an out-of-the way hole in the ground, at least until we're sure they won't be back with reinforcements."

"Right. Crappy motel it is." Faith said, and then offered, "Look, I'll hang here. If Kennedy and the Super-chicks come back or they don't, I'll let you know."

"There are no phones here."

Faith pulled out a small cellular phone from her back pocket and flipped it open. "I'm savvy."

Willow took the number down and they left.

After pizza, most of the occupants made themselves as comfortable as possible on the room's two Queen beds. William first violently threw up his dinner in the small toilet, commenting on their revolting choice of menu.

Buffy and Giles talked quietly in the small Kitchenette. "Faith may have done us more harm than good by killing a slayer. They'll be sure to seek revenge. No slayer has ever killed another."

"What about when I tried to kill Faith?" Buffy reminded him.

He tossed his head a bit to one side. "Well, that was different, Faith had turned evil. Kennedy's policies may be extreme, but she is still killing only vampires-"

"-vampires with souls."

"Never-the-less. No record has ever been unearthed where one slayer killed another, although," He had to admit, "This is the first time where there have been so many slayers activated all at once."

"Maybe so. But there was no need to kill Angel or come after Spike."

"They might see it differently. Things are different now. They're not so cut and dried."

"Good vampires. Bad slayers. Looks like nobody's going to be playing by the rules anymore." Buffy said. "So what do we do now that we're here? I for one can't go back to work-a-day while all this is going on. Can you?"

Giles shook his head, removed his glasses, examined them for dirt but for once didn't polish them. "But I'm at a loss as to what to suggest. Do we try to turn these Soul Hunting slayers back to the old road or do we hunt down these soul-buying vampires ourselves? I feel like I'm not on any side anymore."

"Maybe we're not supposed to be on the good side or the bad side anymore. Maybe we're just...on the right side." Buffy suggested.

Giles crossed his arms and sighed. He was bone weary. "What about William? Do you still want to see if he has what it takes to survive this world? To survive us?"

Buffy glanced over to the form huddled on the floor under a blanket. "Where else can he go? He's good with a blade. Really good and we can use him."

Giles caught something in her words that left him cold but, for now, decided not to address it. "But is he ready? Does he even want this work? This life?"

Buffy looked away from William's sleeping form and from Giles. "I don't know, Giles. My job was to train him. The rest you'll have to find out for yourself."

Unconcerned. Disinterested. Neutral. That was what had bothered him about the way Buffy spoke of William. She was thinking of and doing what she had to regarding him but that's where it ended. He was just another arm who could swing a blade. "Not "we need him." but "we could use him." To Buffy William was an ever present reminder about who she had lost and so she had delegated him to the remotest parts of the Circle of Scooby. She had wedged him into a small space at the bottom of her heart and mind; kept under proverbial lock and key. Giles realized that, for her own sake, Buffy was keeping William-Formerly-Spike-Lover at stake's length. He must remain only another possibly useful fighter and nothing more.

Giles couldn't help but wonder where the rest would stand with her in the newest battle making its front toward them? When it came to conquering evil, everything in her life - job, home, friends, family - was expendable. That is what he had taught her. In the end, no one could mean anything to her, if that's what it came down to.

"I'm not sure," He answered, "We have time enough to find out."

On the other side of the world, a vampire awoke from her silent but dreamful sleep. She, dark haired and soulless, relished in her un-life as the un-dead. She had traveled all Europe and expanded her knowledge of things human and demon, natural and mystical and found her place in it. She had arrived confused and alone and allied herself with the most powerful of vampire horde's, quickly attaining power and prestige until she reigned as nearly supreme among the matriarchs. Now a consort to the Old One's and a veritable Queen among the earth dwelling vampires, her knowledge was great, her power vast.

One of her favourite but not very intelligent servants brought her a breakfast child to slake her hunger. The child screamed, was drained and died in her arms.

"Oh, he tasted marvellous. I do love the young ones after a good night's sleep. And there are so many of them here." She tossed the remains to the servant who did his best to suck the dregs out of the human's artery.

"Yes Mistress." The ugly dullard responded automatically. He carried the child's body to the next room where stood a ceiling tall iron furnace. Opening the heavy door, he tossed the body in and shut it again.

"I had a dream last night Donald." She stretched and draped herself in a white silk robe that trailed behind her as she, walking with stealth and grace, fairly floated across the floor. "I have to go away for a while."

"Yes, Mistress?"

"I have to go and find my poor, poor darling who's lost. He's lost and I'm going to bring him back to me. I heard him calling me in the dark, screaming for help, begging me to release him. I want you to assemble my family and find passage on a ship."

"Yes, 'M. But I thought he was a dirty one, my Lady?"

"His dirty spark has changed. It's flashing on and off, on and off, like a Christmas tree light."

"Christmas? Ugh!"

"But the tree died, Donald. And he's fading now. I've got to rescue him."

"I hear he's back to being one of 'em. Food."

"Mmmm, it's true." Drusilla wrapped her arms around her breasts and sighed deeply. "Poor Spikey."

After forty-eight hours, Faith had called in the all clear and the group returned to the deserted Monastery.

"Anything from the Covens?" Buffy asked Willow who had set herself up a research center in the Monastery's front office.

"No vampire activity in Salt Lake. I mean, other than the usual night life and blood revelries. There's talk in the Vamp' Chats that they're waiting."

"Waiting for what?"

Willow had no details but Buffy had been testy lately. "For something that's not clear yet."

Tired of waiting, "Willow. I need more." Buffy said, itching for a fight.

"Well, yeah." Willow answered. "But for now there is no more." adding before Buffy had a chance to say it, "I'll tell you the second I know something."

Buffy nodded. "Sorry." She wandered from the room and Willow breathed a sigh of relief.

The gang had selected sleeping rooms for themselves. Each was exactly the same and so Andrew and Xander had been sent back to Fork to load up clothes and personal belongings. Xander used the time in Fork to check on his business. Thankfully things had been moving along well despite his absence. He underlined to his foreman that he was available by phone twenty-four-seven, and he and Andrew drove back to Salt Lake within the day.

That night:

"I think we should take the battle to the vampire dens." Giles suggested. "Where-ever vampires hold up, the Exurgent Ones will eventually show. It is what they do after all. Perhaps they can be reasoned with. We are on the same side for the most part."

Buffy was sharpening stakes. "Kennedy's gang has a slightly different agenda. It's personal for her."

"How personal? I mean, she may not be acting within the traditional boundaries of a Slayer, but she is still hunting vampires." Giles pointed out.

"I killed her lover." Faith said. "Believe me, it's personal."

Buffy, until then slouched on a worn, overstuffed chair in the Monastery's main hall, quickly stood and faced the group. "I agree with Giles, though. Kennedy may come after Faith or the rest of us but the question is when. In the meantime... we're vampire hunters...and we've been on vacation too long. I thought my "career" as a Slayer was over. Looks like I was wrong. Vampires are buying and selling human spark. They're trading souls and it has to be stopped. It's a dangerous game of tag. A deadly one."

"And we're it." Xander added. "As usual."

Buffy began to gather the freshly sharpened stakes into a leather satchel. "Kennedy may have it in for Faith or me. But as long as she and the others are offing vamps, she's on the right track."

Willow felt less sure. She had known Kennedy better than anyone. "Let's hope she doesn't switch tracks. I thought I knew Kennedy. For a year I thought I knew her. I didn't."

Buffy glanced at William who had remained silent. He did that most times. He and Xander chatted. He talked poetry and Shakespeare with Willow, but rarely voiced an opinion on anything else. He was like the quiet, weird Spike who had come back from Europe with a soul. No tears this time, just withdrawn acceptance. When he responded to instruction, he performed sufficiently. Mechanically. Almost unhuman-like. Buffy realized the situation he was in was difficult, but she had no time to baby him or anyone. Her role demanded cold efficiency. "You ready?" She asked him.

William looked up a bit surprised. It was the first time he had been directly addressed all evening. He nodded once, looking back at her with blank eyes. Buffy did not notice. Most of the time, she tried not to look at him too much.

In moments, all were armed and ready. "I've got the address for the first nest." Willow said as they marched like a troupe to the main entrance. Leading the way, Buffy threw open the huge double doors and halted in her tracks.

A dark, beautiful woman stood there draped in a shimmering white robe. Her hair was as black as tar and her skin moon-pale.

"Drusilla!" Buffy gasped.

Behind the vampire in white stood dozens of vampires, most wearing dusty black, simple clothes. Some had fresh blood on their lips. Little flecks of red dotted Drusilla's gleaming outfit.

There were too many. Even for experienced Slayers like her and Faith. Even with the Scooby gang. There were dozens upon dozens.

"RUN!" Buffy screamed and did an about-face. The gang reacted nearly in the same instant and reversed their direction, racing flat-out for the rear of the Monastery. Faith waved her arms. "Here. This way." She led them to a huge tapestry hanging behind the pulpit in the prayer hall. Sweeping it aside, a small door was revealed. "This goes to a tunnel. I think it was their secret escape route or something."

"God bless paranoid monks." Xander remarked and they followed Faith into the dark.

Using a tiny pocket flashlight, Xander took the lead as the tunnel bored its way beneath the Monastery and out into the forested hills.

Their un-dead enemies had not followed. Reaching the exit, they found it barricaded by a barred gate. No one had a key. "Help me!" Buffy yelled and they combined their weight against it. The rusted hinges gave way with a groan and a snap.

Only then, when they were free, did Willow look behind her. No vampires followed. "Wait!" She said. No William followed either. "William, he's still back there. We've got to go back, come on!" Willow started back toward the dark tunnel but Buffy did not move.

"Buffy?"

Everyone waited as good soldiers do, for their leader to announce the advancement. When she did not move, still they waited but with the growing horror that their fearless Chief was considering abandoning one of their rank to the enemy without a fight.

"He knew the risks." Buffy said. She was surprised herself. Like an overfull cup, the words spilled forth without her remembering forming them in her mind.

"What?" Willow said, suddenly sick to her stomach.

Incredulous, "What are you saying, Buffy?" Xander asked. "We know the risks but I have never just left someone behind to die, and neither have you. Until now that is."

"You saved me, even." Andrew reminded her.

"The mission is first." Buffy said, not really sure if she believed it anymore. Still the words, again and again, poured out against all more noble thought. "We can't all risk ourselves for one soldier."

Willow's face twisted in anger. "Well, I'm taking the risk." She turned and started back. "To hell with the mission!"

Buffy shook her head, as though to dispel a trance, and followed. She caught up with Willow and passed her. Angrily, "Stay behind me!" she ordered. "Xander, Giles, come with me. The rest of you wait here with Faith!"

The other three following on her heels, Buffy crept ever so quietly through the tunnel and peeked out from behind the tapestry. A muted voice from another room drifted across her ears. A woman's voice. Rather, a creature that once was a woman. Drusilla's voice. Buffy could see her now, standing in front of William who sat in that same overstuffed chair. The very same chair she had been sitting in only moments before. He had not yet been harmed. His neck was un-wounded. There was no blood on his shirt.

Of course, that would change soon enough.

Buffy watched the strange scene. He seemed mesmerized by Drusilla. This was his first vampire and that did take a person by surprise, Buffy knew. Most people froze for a moment, rendered mute and motionless with the sight of their first un-dead. And then most screamed and ran. Or screamed and died.

William was doing neither. Drusilla was unusual, Buffy knew, even for a vampire. She had psychic sense, a way of capturing a human's mind. Or a vampire's heart.

Slowly, Buffy crept closer, keeping to the shadows against the walls where the oil lantern's feeble light did not reach. She was almost within striking distance now. The room was empty of other vampire's. Drusilla had sent them away, somewhere. Possibly to capture a large feast of humans for dinner.

William stared up at Drusilla as though she were a vision from another world. In fact she was, though real and not a vision.

"Oh William. What they have done to you is wonderful. William. My William. My Spikey." She reached down and gathered him into her arms. He stood as though before a lover. But Buffy could see the terror in his eyes lurking behind the helpless fascination.

Buffy listened to the silken weft of Drusilla's voice. William's soul was naked in her hands and Drusilla was expertly wrapping William up in her will. "You're virgin again." Drusilla raised one arm sensuously over her head. She was right into the urgent foreplay of a vampire about to dine on human. "Oh baby. I get to do you all over again."

William started to shake ever so slightly. Buffy saw it and knew he was in shock. The adrenaline used up, his blood pressure was dropping, his fear peaking. But it was too late for him to run.

Drusilla knew it too and snatched at him with lightening speed, clamping her mouth on his neck. He screamed.

Buffy leaped and knocked Drusilla aside.

Drusilla, her vampire orgasm of drink interrupted, hissed at Buffy and attacked with all the strength and experience of a queen vampire. But Buffy had prepared well and, a stake in each hand, dodged nearly all of Drusilla's blows, getting one stake into the creature's chest. But not quite in the right spot.

Drusilla, shocked at the wooden thing protruding from her chest, growled, then screamed and disappeared from the room in billow of white silk. No other vampires popped up to continue the battle.

Not waiting around to find out why, Buffy grabbed William by his arm and dragged him back to the others. His blood flowed from the double punctures on his neck but, when Willow applied pressure with one her own cotton socks, the flow slowed and stopped.

William was white and wobbling on his feet.

Giles, though concerned for William's welfare, urged them on. "We should get going. Find somewhere to hold up."

Buffy nodded and they made their way back to their cars which were, fortunately to Xander good thinking, parked not too distant from the Monastery's main driveway and concealed with brush.

Faith asked prudently, "Did he feed on her?"

Buffy shook her head.

"Are you sure?" Faith pressed. "Be sure."

Buffy nodded, angrily. Angry with him and herself. She wasn't sure why. She wasn't sure about much at that moment. "I'm sure!" She said more harshly than necessary. "I saw the whole thing."

Xander had not witnessed it, only heard it. But he had crouched in that dark waiting for the battle between and Buffy and Drusilla begin. It had taken some moments for it to start. Moments where Drusilla had talked on and on it seemed. Moments where Buffy, instead of attacking, had done nothing but listen as well. Until it had almost been too late. "Well, I guess you can fill us in on all the details later. It must have been...an interesting show." He said.

Buffy looked sharply at him but did not respond to his challenge. "He's fine." Buffy left William to the care of Willow and Andrew in the larger Seville. She climbed into the smaller Honda. "Let's go."

Buffy stepped cautiously into the kitchen of their newly rented much older, smaller house in Fork.

Buffy and Xander had inspected the house for reasons other than its household amenities. Two bedrooms, walls and at least one working bathroom was its bare essentials, and barely good enough. But its charm lay in its three exits: a front, back and side door, (metal all three and fitted with deadbolts). The roof was steep and therefore difficult on which to get a foothold. Its windows were small, double-paned and barred. There was a concrete foundation but no basement.

And - its best feature - a small concrete structure in the tiny backyard. Steel door, thick roof.

"Wow. An old fashioned bomb shelter." Xander said when they first saw it. "Praise God for American paranoia."

Giles looked around at their newest residence. "Lovely. I'm sure the former drug dealers were very happy here."

"It suits our purposes." Buffy said.

Aside from some personal items, what belongings they had brought along were weapons, weapons and more weapons. Along their haphazard journey from house to Monastery to hotel and house again, Willow had saved her laptop.

William helped Andrew unpack everyone's few clothes and place them in the old dressers and closets. "At least the place is furnished." Andrew said. "But only two bedrooms."

William only nodded. The bandage on his neck seeped blood but the wounds had clotted over. Andrew tried his best to make conversation. "It must have been hard for you to see Drusilla again."

William seemed not to hear for a moment and then, "What?"

"I said it must have been hard seeing her again - Drusilla."

William stared as though he were hearing another language. "Drusilla? You mean, the woman?"

"Vampire." Andrew corrected him.

"Vampire." William repeated. ""Again"?" He was breathing very heavily. The room swam with waves of heat. "I never knew her."

Andrew frowned. "Oh." He tossed an empty box into the hallway. "I guess you don't remember her."

William sat on the end of the bed. Directly across was a mirror on the wall, its silver faded with age. He stared at his own reflection, glad when Andrew finally gave up small talking and left the room.

The stranger in the glass stared back for some minutes. He raised ghostly hands to his face and ran them over the skin of his cheekbones. The man's eyebrows were slightly uneven, his eyes the color of rain. Black valleys rimmed the lower lids. William wondered what the man felt. Disappointment? Pleasure?

He, William, felt neither one. Nothing. The man was himself but no-one. His own reflection but a spectre's. "God." He whispered. "Oh God. What is this?"

William joined his stranger-friends in the cramped living room, leaning against a wall instead of squeezing himself between Willow and Dawn on the green chesterfield. The discussion was, of course, the group's next move.

"Drusilla's arrival has put some urgency into our situation." Giles said. "Word is she's become a powerful vampire."

Andrew opened his Pocket-Pad. "I did some research at JavaNet." He said, mentioning a local coffee and surf shop. "She's remained pure - that's vampire speak for soul-less-"

"-I guess principles are a point of view." Xander offered.

Andrew continued, "And she's a kind of queen bee for the purist vampires, those who haven't bought into the soul-bling crowd. She's set up a huge nest of followers."

"Plus she's building an army even larger. And," Willow looked at William. "She means to get...Spike back."

All eyes went to him now, but he did not respond, merely acknowledged their eyes with a quick glance of his own.

He had said little since Drusilla's attack, Willow noted, and seemed to have withdrawn into himself. Curious how her feelings for him oscillated between compassion and callousness. It had not been so long ago that Spike had gleefully announced his intention to kill her. She struggled with the mixed feelings until the more humane one achieved dominance. Despite everything she herself as a witch had done, it was good to know she was still a human being enough to feel forgiveness.

"I think William ought to stay here until he's healed." Giles finished up an extra long speech.

For most of it, William had seen their mouths moving yet caught almost nothing of what had been said. Yet Giles's last few words rang clearly. "Why?" If nothing else, he had to see that woman, that creature, again.

"Well, your neck for one." Giles answered and then seriously, "Plus I don't think it's healthy for you to encounter this particular vampire again."

"Why not?" William felt angry for some reason. Flashes of it. And himself. And pictures of the woman's face and himself embraced by her strong, cold arms. Images flashed in his mind like an obscene stage show, the set always changing. Up and down the curtains went and with each fresh pull on the ropes, it was him and her. One: laughing in the streets. Two: dancing through bloody trails. Three: he and her writhing against the other's body, slaking hunger, thirst, lust, thirst, hunger until it all sloshed together in a gross mural of fear, thrill and blood.

William crossed his arms to stop the shaking that had begun in his core. "Why can't I go?"

Buffy offered to explain. "William, you may not understand the whys, but this vampire has - had - a history with-" She stopped at Giles small but urgent head shake,"violence. She is extremely violent. And she's had a taste of you now. She's going to want to finish the job. To kill you."

They were lying of course and he knew it. And their lies to him were unnecessary. He, from that brief encounter with the inhuman female, sensed a past that was still a near total blank. But his heart felt it, though his memory was yet blind. Just an image, a drip of time and place across his mind hinted at the flood yet waiting. And his thirst increased with every passing hour. None of them could understand even if he tried to explain. How can one explain a thing to another one cannot explain to oneself?

William nodded his head in compliance but secretly he intended to find this creature as soon as possible. Only, he did not know how.

"Tomorrow night we'll go. Drusilla started this." Buffy announced. "We're going to end it."

"How will you know where to go?" William asked. He was going, but not with them.

"Willow will have the best guess by tomorrow." Buffy turned the statement into a question as she looked at Willow.

Willow nodded and patted her laptop. "We'll bag 'em."

William watched the vampire hunters pack their weapons and don hard boots and leather gloves. No one wore armour of any kind. Buffy explained that it was better to be fast with a good aim than to wear a leather vest or chain-mail. Willow was staying behind on this one with Andrew, who rarely went out on "patrol". As far as William could determine, Andrew appeared to be the household servant and cook. Though occasionally he assisted Willow in her research on her strange thin "computer" machine.

The two were discussing the party's destination. "It's about six miles from here. Just a few blocks west of downtown main. Looks like they rented a big old house. Whether they're going to make a feeding run to the nightclubs or bars, but I guess Buffy will have to figure that out."

William sat on the end of the narrow bed in the lady's bedroom where Willow had set up her "'Net" connection. She had explained it to him. Things about signals like the ones on the telegraph or the new telephone (though William realized that the telegraph had been long retired and the telephone operator was now quite old fashioned), and that signals could be transmitted through the air via "satellite", and he listened patiently, grasping only some of it. Most things in this new world he had awakened into seemed ethereal and insubstantial. Communications devices that one kept in one's pocket. Moving pictures - other people, other lives, other worlds - on sitting-room boxes, yet other boxes that cooked food in near instant, whole libraries of information accessed via thinner boxes one could plug into an electrical socket. Why on earth not an un-dead creature? Why on earth not vampires and demons? After everything, why in flaming hell not a man out of time and mind?

Andrew jumped up. "Who wants cocoa?" He went to the kitchen and noises could be heard of running water and the kettle being set on the stove top.

"Okay." Willow called. William waited. He had already put on his shoes (the runners Andrew had given him). Good, William thought as he looked at the odd footwear. Better for running in.

When Willow left the bedroom for her chocolate drink, William quickly wrote down the cross streets displayed on the screen. He pocketed the slip of paper and slipped out the side door.

The night was chilly, though, and he wished he had brought a warmer coat. Too late to go back inside and get one. He might not have another chance to slip away.

Six miles. He ought to be able to quickly walk that in a bit over an hour. It was only near eleven o'clock, so he had almost the whole night to find the female. Strange that he did not feel any fear. A bit of guilt for sneaking out. But, less than a week ago, even the man that he had awoken as had quietly slipped away into the night. William wanted to find him, or any part that was familiar. As he walked a small knot of anxiety rolled over in his stomach but that was all. The sound of his own feet on the road was comforting. William noise. Footfalls of existence. I walk. I am. He laughed.

A block from their target, Buffy stopped. "Stake, slice and hack up anything that isn't Drusilla. We need, if possible, to keep her intact. Long enough to get more information; what the vampire end game is; maybe even learn something more about Kennedy and her "Exurgent" Ones."

Buffy lead her team to the rear entrance of a seedy looking house that, a century ago, might have been some dignitary's elegant manor.

"Three stories. Are we sure this is the place, Willow?" Buffy asked. Her fist was gripped tight around an especially sharp wooden stake.

"Only three storied house in the area. The word was Drusilla stays on the third level with her guards stationed throughout. This has to be it."

"And even if it isn't." Xander pointed out, "The place has un-dead stink all over it." He sniffed the air. "And I don't mean just the vampire type."

Buffy stood up and the others fell behind. "When I'm in, follow and spread out, watch your back - well, you know the drill."

Buffy kicked the door in with a crash loud enough to wake the dead.

But all they saw was one very old, very ugly vampire sitting in a straight backed chair against one wall where the paper had wrinkled and peeled off long ago. At his feet were the carcases of rats. He was busy draining another squealing rodent of its life-blood.

He stopped sucking long enough to greet them. "Good evening."

Even for Buffy, it was a new one. "Uh, yeah." She looked around the shadows but no other fang bearing dwellers showed themselves. "Who are you?"

"My lady's devoted servant, Donald." He dropped the dead rat, licked his lips and expelled a sigh of satisfaction. "There's nothing like fresh rodent." He slurped a few drops from the end of his fingers.

Buffy's normally hard stomach turned a little at the human-like display. A little jingle ran through her head about "finger-lickin' good". It was made all the more repellent that this creature clearly had thoroughly enjoyed his meal of diseased rat blood. "I don't suppose your "Lady" is home?"

Donald shook his grey, hairless head. The blood spatter almost but not quite blended in with the brown spots on his dry, taut skin. His nose thrust itself eagerly into space as though an autonomous being, and his one remaining sabre fang protruded grotesquely from his lips. "No. But she sends you her salutations and thanks."

Giles stepped forward. "What do you mean, "thanks"?"

"Gratitude, gratefulness," His forehead wrinkled for a second as he searched for and found the word, "Her indebtedness."

Giles touched Buffy's arm. "I think we better go."

Buffy shook her head, not understanding the hideous old vampire. "What is Drusilla up to?"

The vampire bared his teeth in an outrageous facsimile of a smile. "Her old tricks of course. Her old tricks."

Buffy whipped the stake from her hand with the deadly accuracy of a slayer. The vampire disappeared and was replaced by a million particles of dust that rained to the worn linoleum. "You're right Giles, we should get back."

"What's going on?" Xander asked.

Giles and Buffy piled into Xander's car parked a block from the old house. "It seems," Giles explained, "That Drusilla's finding us at the Monastery was no accident. She wasn't out to destroy the Exurgent Ones or even Buffy."

Buffy slammed her door as Xander hit the gas. "It's William she wants."

"Where's William?" Andrew asked. He and Willow had almost finished their cocoa when they realized they had not seen him for some minutes.

"Oh shit!" Willow said. "We were supposed to keep an eye on him."

They quickly checked every room in the house. "He's gone to warp. We are so in trouble." Andrew said.

Willow had a hunch. "I think he went after the others. Remember? He seemed angry at being left behind."

"He's been spooked ever since Drusilla bit him. Maybe he's turning." Andrew suggested.

Willow just shook her head. "It doesn't work like that."

Andrew slipped into his jacket while Willow did the same. "May I point out that this, our situation, has never occurred before in recorded history? I mean, how many documented cases have you read where a former vampire dies, comes back to life as a human and is then re-bitten by his former vampire sire. I think, oh maybe, none."

Willow had to consider his point was a good one. "You're right, we have no idea what to expect."

As they were about to leave in pursuit of their wayward charge, Buffy and the gang burst through the doors. "Where's William?" Buffy asked, grabbing Willow's arms.

Willow shook her head. "He isn't here. He slipped out when our backs were turned. We were just about to go after him."

"We thought he was trying to catch up with you guys." Andrew added.

Giles herded them all outside. "Come on. We have to find him."

"We didn't see him." Xander said.

Wedged between Giles and Willow, Andrew squirmed in the rear seat. Xander caught it in the rear view mirror. "Come on, Andrew, whenever you squirm, it's either a stop at a gas station or you know something."

"I suspect something. Willow and I - we think maybe William...might be turning into a vampire."

Buffy turned in her seat to face him. "What makes you say that?"

"Well, he's been really weird since the attack and he wanted to go with you guys so badly. But maybe what he really wanted was to find Drusilla again."

"She didn't make him feed off her, he can't be a vampire." Buffy countered.

Willow explained Andrew's theory. "From the time he was bit, nothing might be as usual. From that point on, we don't really know what could have happened or be happening."

Giles conceded to their logic. "That's exactly true. Without a case history, we can only surmise."

Buffy faced forward again. In her lap lay several sharpened stakes. "So I guess all we can do is our job."

Willow asked, "Job?"

"Yeah. We're going to kill vampires tonight. Whether one or two, or who, makes no difference does it?"

"William is human." Willow said.

"Maybe." Buffy answered. "Or maybe not. Let's go find out."

Xander felt uncomfortable. "Buffy, we're supposed to be different than Kennedy's clan, aren't we?"

Buffy fingered the stakes. Shook her head sadly. Her voice was tired. "I'm not sure I know anymore who's right or wrong." She looked at him. "Do you?"

While William searched for the house, Drusilla found him. She stepped out in front of him, halting his running shoe steps just down the alley from the empty house she occupied. All her servants she had sent out on errands of blood. She herself had taken a stroll, knowing full well Buffy and the slayer groupies were about to converge on her temporary home. She had made the lie known to those vampires with the looser lips, so that in turn Buffy would learn as well. She also instinctively felt that William the human would come to her. He had tasted the darkness, just a little, with her first offering and he would want the whole black world now.

Just as it had been. He was so easy then. A lovely little virgin raped of his humanity in moments. She nearly had an orgasm thinking about it. This was an opportunity in ten thousand years. One no vampire could ever hope to repeat during their existence: To re-visit their first sired one. To pluck the flower once more as the blood is drunk. To feel that confusion of humanity succumb to the evil surging forth in the heart as it's twitching stilled forever. To then be rightly used for the lust of killing and the red running life.

Drusilla reached out to William's short cropped hair. He nails scraped the scalp flesh, breaking the skin and capillaries. Her finger tips tingled with sticky, warm wet. "I had almost forgotten how beautiful you are, William. That's what drew me to you all those years ago. That and your terrible human anguish. I had to release you from it." She threw her head back and moaned freakishly. "Oh, un-God, I had to drown that unbearable pain." She calmed, wrapping her long arms around him and pressing her body against him hard and tight. She began to sway with him, as though to music heard in only her own ears. "The stars weep for you and me, Spikey. The gods and demons are envious."

William did not resist, only shook from head to foot. The cold night air forgotten, his trembling was knowledge. He knew he was in terrible danger from this woman, this creature, who smelled like moist earth and stale air. He knew he was about to die. Yet, he was feeling something. Not just feeling again, like he had not since awakening and had not in any way until her first attack. He was feeling something powerful. A need, a yearning. A revelation! This creature that appeared a woman and smelled like death was a doorway to the secret Known that, until now, had been kept from his terror-driven thinking mind. Finally the pain and agony would end. Whatever came after that he did not concern himself. Whatever came after had to be better than what had come before. Isn't terror, even, something above blankness? Horror better than a void? Knowledge - any knowledge- better than putrefaction of soul?

Drusilla was still speaking. "You remember, my Spikey? My gorgeous, haunting, wonderful vampire child?" She drew back her head and changed. Her brow thickened, her teeth became as a ravenous wolfs. William closed his eyes. Finally found his voice, scratchy and weak though it was. "I want to be something again."

"Of course you do. And Drusilla's here to make it all come true. And no tears this time, Spikey. No weeping anymore." She bit deeply and he screamed.

Suddenly William found himself standing alone, up under his own strength. Drusilla had released him and was watching someone over his shoulder. William tried to remain upright but she had drunken deeply from the well and he collapsed to the pavement. From fluttering eyelids he saw Buffy making a stand against the vampire. In her hand was a lethal looking stake, the tip whittled and sanded to a frightful point.

"Stay away from him." Buffy warned.

Drusilla laughed softly and looked down at him for an instant. "Oh William, you new friends are spoiling all my fun." She was gone so quickly, even Buffy did not see her move.

"Whoa." Buffy said to the other onlookers, "Did you see that? How did she move so fast?"

William could no longer sense the dead smell of Drusilla. Now there was just the stink of the alley and grease from a nearby restaurant. "No." He said again but without hope. "No."

"Willow. He's bleeding a lot."

That seemed to be Buffy's way of telling Willow to do something about it. William reached out to grasp what he thought was the fringe of Drusilla's silky garment but only got a finger touch of Willow's dull cast and rougher jeans.

"She nearly killed him this time." Willow's kind fingers, chilly with the night air, pressed a cloth to his bleeding wounds.

Buffy crouched down beside them both, the stake still in her hands. To William, "She almost killed you."

William keenly felt the cold ground beneath him. He looked up at the small blonde woman who ordered people into battle. Who seemed to care for no one and nothing but killing. And who was it who had granted her the authority to do any of it? "You want to kill my only means I have to end this." He croaked. Even lying on the ground, the effort of speaking left him dizzy.

Buffy said, "End what?" She asked but leaned closer, raising the stake over his chest. Then asked, "Are you still William?"

A thoroughly stupid question and he laughed. "Am I William? I am something like him. I am...in his skin if that suits you well."

She stepped closer. "It doesn't."

William realized she intended to drive the thing through him. "Please," his voice strangled with rage and grief, "proceed."

And then, when she did not instantly act, "For God's sake and mine DO IT!" He screamed it at the top of his voice. To him, the shout was the din of a dog's packs howling. To the listeners, a small frog's croak.

Buffy closed the gap so fast he didn't actually see her hand move. As swift as the dead, he thought. But he found no stake splitting his heart, only her flat palm on his chest. He could feel his pounding heart beating against his chest wall, causing her hand to twitch ever slightly in concord.

"No." She answered.

His great effort at so many words, in William's weakened condition, took his consciousness.

"He's alive." She announced. "I mean, as in not just an un-dead Undead," She frowned at the mind twister, "but alive in fact." Buffy stood up, looking down at the unconscious un-vampire with her wide, unreadable eyes. "Well, that's one we won't have to dust anyway." She said.

From against the kitchen counter and the depths of his coffee cup, "It's a shame we didn't capture her, as you had hoped." Giles brushed away an imaginary speck of lint from his sweater but did not look at Buffy.

"She would have killed him. Or turned him. She moved too fast for me."

Giles leaned against the kitchen counter. The counter edging had come away in some spots and grime and food bits had worked they way in. Coming apart. "Buffy, you...puzzle me. On the one hand you seem intent on protecting him, or at least when he was Spike, the next you don't seem to care one way or the other. And now-"

"I know I said I would capture Drusilla but...I guess that's moot." Buffy stared at the drying stains at the bottom of her own coffee cup. "I should have dusted her right then and there but instead, I let her go."

"I'm not questioning your intentions, Buffy; I'm questioning your judgment, your objectivity. Drusilla might be a useful source of information or she might not. Personally I think we're better off with her dead." Giles crossed his arms. "As for William, we thrust him out into this delightful world we've constructed before he had a chance to blink twice. I was stupid to think he could adapt, or accept things, so quickly."

Buffy nodded. "We were stupid. But I... just don't know what to do with him. Giles, I don't know what to think, how to feel. I guess, I was expecting Spike or some version of Spike to appear out of the dust after..." She shook her head, rubbing her temple. "But he's not Spike. And if he's William, he's a man I never met. And I can't help feeling like it would be better all around if he wasn't here at all." She looked straight at him. "Does that make me an unfeeling bitch?"

He smiled just a little. "Maybe all it makes you is someone at a loss like the rest of us."

"So what do we do?"

He sighed, considering the options or lack there-of. "Well, we can't send him to England. There's no one there for him. We can't hand him a few dollars and put him on a Greyhound, and we can't have him joining us on any more excursions to the underworld of society."

"He's kind of an Old Yeller. A beloved, rabid dog. I don't suppose we can put him out of his mise-" Buffy stopped short. She had not intended to speak so loudly and hoped the sick man in the bedroom nearest the kitchen had not heard. "Bad joke. I'm going to go check on Willow."

When Buffy entered the bedroom, Willow vacated the chair next the bed but did not take her eyes off her patient. "He's very weak. Buffy. I think he'll live but he really should be in a hospital."

"You know we can't." Buffy sat in the chair and Willow handed her the vile of holy water just in case Drusilla sniffed her way home to William again.

"I know, but I wanted it on record that I think so."

When Willow had left, "William-"

"-Don't call me that." He said, his tiny rasp cutting her off.

"Oh. Well, what then? Do you have a middle name?"

"I don't..." He sighed, his eyes remained closed. He gave it up. "What do you want?"

"Andrew and Willow told me that you went in search of Drusilla."

He did not turn his head from the wall but finally decided it was stupid not to answer. "Yes."

"Why? You knew what she was. She almost killed you once and yet you went looking for her. As confused and as alone as I think you must feel, I can't understand why. Especially since I know you must remember something of-"

"You know nothing." He said flatly, turning to her two eyes with circles beneath the color of slate. The eyes above were cavernous. Empty. Buffy was actually stunned at the sight. The man was in an agony that had nothing to do with his wounds. "Have you ever awakened from the dead?" He asked.

"Um-huh. Twice."

He had obviously not expected an affirmative answer. "Oh."

What he did not say was that he awoke a blank. They had told him to "get to know the world again", to "go on" and "re-build". But he had no materials to work with. And he knew they would never tell him what he needed to know. Not because they were being cruel but because they did - could not - know. They were, on the whole, decent people with his welfare in mind. But helpless to help him. If even he knew what sort of help he needed

But with no past and no real, living memories, he had felt hollow. Despite their kindness and attempts to welcome him, make him fit in, he had been all that time carrying around within a deadness. A state of decay inside. A nameless fear he could not articulate. So he had began to wonder - was he dead? And if so, just how dead was he? What sort of non-life had him in its grasp? Dead like a forgotten verbose poet? Dead like a doornail? Perhaps dead like a vampire?

Then, like a monstrous raven haired ghost, Drusilla had appeared and (with poetic irony) drunken his life-blood, awakening something else in him that called out of his living death saying: "I'm here."

Terrifying visions of rape and murder, lusts and revelries, gloriously irresponsible decades of mayhem had stirred in his mind. His dreams ran red. And always her face there in the dark, singing, laughing, lusting after him.

Buffy was asking him something. "And now what do you know...?"

"I'm tired." William closed his eyes.

"Fine. We'll talk later." Buffy started to leave but turned back at the door.

He knew she was watching him carefully.

"William. You are free to come or go as you please. If you're not happy here, leave permanently if you want. You don't owe us anything. We'll help you get established, set up in a life somewhere, if that's your decision."

He offered nothing back.

"-But I want you to remember, that if you ever endanger anyone in this group again like the way you did tonight,...if it should become necessary,...if I have to, I'll kill you."

William nodded once. He was not wounded by her words. It was only natural. In this - in her warped, upside-down, blood flowing world, the un-natural was natural. The defected, normal. The befriended, threatened.

As he was pulled into sleep, his thoughts turned to the raven haired one and the rising voice inside: Come away, William. Come away.

"How long?"

Buffy saw the rumpled bedspread and the blood stain where William's head had been the night before. When she had warned him of the consequences if he should do anything stupid.

"We don't know." Xander, in a grey tee-shirt, his hands thrust in his jeans pockets, shrugged. "All I know is I got up to make coffee and came to see if he wanted any. He wasn't here."

"Great."

"My coffee isn't that bad."

With an impatient look to Xander, Buffy turned to Giles. "Let him go. We may as well."

Giles, in bathrobe and rumpled hair, "Let him go?"

"Yes. He obviously doesn't care to stay with us anymore." Buffy leaned against the door jamb, an angry glance back at the bed. "If he wants to be a vampire again, let him. I warned him."

"You did?" Willow asked. "How exactly?"

"I told him if he did anything to bring injury to anyone in this group, I'd kill him, and I will."

Willow and Dawn exchanged glances, but Dawn came to Buffy's defence. "Buffy's right. We may not like it but she's right. He isn't Spike anymore."

"I don't get it." Willow said. "Why go back to her? Doesn't he know by now that she'll kill him, or turn him?"

"There's lots of stuff in the legends about vampire lust." Andrew had joined them. "Or love, if that's what it is among those who are incapable of it. Maybe it's more like the joining of two minds sort of thing. A oneness of soul?"

Giles straightened his glasses that never seemed to leave his face. "They don't have souls, Andrew. But it does cause one to ask, don't you think?"

"Ask what?" Buffy thought for sure that the man slept in his glasses.

"What causes a vampire to be drawn to a human in the first place?"

Xander offered, "I'm sure it's as complicated as: "I'm hungry and - look - here comes lunch."

Giles cleared his throat. "I mean to a specific human. And not for eating but for making another vampire; a partner if you will."

Willow caught his drift. "Yeah. I mean, it's a pretty long life we're talking about here. Centuries or more. Vampires kill hundreds, thousands of humans just to feed. Those dead don't come back, but sometimes a vampire will go to the trouble to turn a human into another vampire."

"They turn them to add to their ranks." Buffy reminded her.

"But sometimes they choose just one human - and why a human anyway? Aren't there plenty of demons to marry? Not that all demons like vampires, some disdain them as pathetic half-breeds. But-"

Willow, wide awake and mental wheels cranking, "Follow me."

They trailed her into the kitchen. Willow took a sheet of paper and a pen and made accompanying notes.

"Look," she began, "Sorry if this seems like lecture-mode but - vampires eat people; drink their blood 'till they're dead. But sometimes a vampire will choose someone for a mate. What draws the vampire to that person? What entices a vampire, who usually looks upon people as only a walking meal, to any human in order to make them into a mate?"

"Loneliness?" Dawn suggested.

Giles rested his elbows on the counter. "I see what Willow means. Let's go through it logically. May I?" He took the paper and pen from Willow and started writing. "How does a vampire make another vampire? What is the process?"

"He, or she, bites the human being and drains them dry." Xander said.

Giles held up a finger. "No, not quite dry. Enough is left to keep the heart beating. Why?"

Andrew offered, "So when the vampire makes the person drink from their blood, there's enough volume in the vessels to carry the vampire blood to the body and..."

Giles smacked his hand on the counter, making them jump. "Exactly! And what?" He looked at each of them in turn. "What does vampire blood do to the human body? At first, it seems to kill them, but twenty-four hours or more later they awake from the grave and are a vampire. Again I ask: Why?"

No one had an answer. "What is all this leading to Giles?" Buffy asked.

"I'm not sure, Buffy." He took the paper and re-read the few notes. "But I think it might be important to try and find out. This is a question that in all my years as a watcher, no one I think has ever asked."

"And it's not just what the obvious physical processes we should look at. Why does a vampire choose a particular human?" Willow added. "And we're talking soul-less vampires here."

Buffy's curiosity perked up. "Yeah. Why Darla? God, she was such a bitch."

"Why William Pratt? Why did Drusilla choose, if you'll forgive me, an insignificant, domestic docile like William Pratt?"

Buffy asked, "Who knows anything about Angel's history? Him and Darla's? Anyone?"

Andrew put up his hand. "I interviewed Angel once; he told me how they met."

"Let's hear it." Giles said.

"Let me get my journal." Andrew disappeared and Willow added the notes. "I should do some research on the physical and meta-physical properties of human and animal blood too."

Andrew returned with a thick diary. He found the pertinent information and read it verbatim: ""How did you meet? I asked Angel. His dark brow furrowed..."."

"-just the crucial parts, if you don't mind, Andrew." Giles requested.

Andrew scanned the page. "Here it is. Angel said he had just been kicked out of his father's house and went on a bender. You know, wine, women and song? He was drunk and angry and saw Darla standing in the street alone. He was horny and hungry for hot-"

"-That's enough." Buffy said. "So he was emotional and out of control?"

"Pretty much. He said he was so angry with his father, that once he was a vampire, he went home and...killed them all, his whole family."

Buffy swallowed. She tried to put the picture of the evil Angeles, and the loving Angel, out of her mind and asked, "What about William? Anyone know anything?"

Dawn said, "Me." She addressed Buffy. "Remember, he babysat me a few times. He talked a lot about...things."

"Oh?" Buffy said. "He did?"

"Yeah. Maybe because he couldn't talk to you, you two weren't, you know, "buddies" then."

Buffy felt betrayed somehow. A memory flitted across her mind of herself bluntly telling Spike that she was using him and nothing more. She quickly excised the anger and guilt. It was too late for regrets. "What about Drusilla?"

"Spike said Drusilla found him one day. Followed him, you know, after he left a party, some kind of dinner thing at a rich guy's house. He said he'd just broken up with a woman and was upset. Drusilla was hot for him and planted a big one on his mouth. They were an item after that."

"That's how it happened?" Xander snorted his doubt.

"I don't believe it either." Buffy said. "Drusilla said something the other night. She said "No tears this time, Spike" or something to that effect. I think it was William who had been dumped and Drusilla found him all upset. Maybe Willow's right and strong human emotions draw a vampire in. We just don't yet know how."

Giles shook his head. "Well, it's possible that extreme emotion could be a factor in the bonding of a vampire to a human, a kind of emotional beacon that draws the vampire in perhaps. But two case histories are very little upon which to develop a working hypothesis."

"It could be something as simple as sweat." Willow suggested. "During heightened emotional states the human body secretes large doses of adrenaline into the blood; it comes out in the sweat and other body fluids. Everything is put on notice for fight or flight."

Xander wasn't convinced. "Aren't we forgetting the demon side of the question? I've had some serious adrenaline highs while, oh, fighting vampires, and none of them ever asked me for my phone number."

"But maybe those vampires weren't looking for a mate. Special circumstances breed special events. Think about it, other than moving and talking, vampires don't experience normal human physiological changes; they don't age, they don't use oxygen, they don't sweat or need to eat, other than blood. Their body temperatures are regulated by their environment. Maybe a vampire body physically misses those things. Maybe adrenaline charged human blood causes a high in them. We've all seen chemical attraction between people. If humans experience it, why not vampires which are demon-human hybrids?"

"Enough speculation." Buffy said. "Whatever the reasons, they're all going to meet up with Mister Pointy in the end. We need to find Drusilla and William, or whatever he is by now."

"Buffy, in the meantime I think Andrew and I ought to work on this. It could give us something to fight Drusilla. If we can develop some kind of broad range defence, it'll be more efficient than staking them one at a time."

Buffy nodded. "Fine. You and Andrew crack the books and me and Dawn, Giles and Xander'll search for Drusilla."

William had taken a small wooden cross on his search for the dark haired demon. From a phone booth directory, he located the closest cemetery, but it was she who found him.

"I knew you'd come." She said.

What a vision she was in the moonlight. But he was not so emotionally vulnerable as at the previous encounters. He knew she had the power to kill. Or worse.

"There are things I want to know." He stated simply.

"I know." She answered. Drusilla the vampire made no attempt to close the distance between them. She danced a bit in between the gravestones. She was enjoying herself. "You want to be him again, don't you?" She said.

William, the stark memory of his blood flowing from his body to hers, flushed with the idea of it. To be the vampire again; strong, ruthless, beautiful and free. Living for self and urgent desire.

"Yes, my William, you want to be him again. I know you remember it all now."

He did. Years worth of human destruction, decades of guiltlessness, a century of other-being. So god-like! Only..."No. I don't want that again."

"Then why have you come to me?"

Why indeed? Suddenly he felt very stupid for having come out alone with virtually no defence against this creature. How he had felt like one of them last night. Separate and superior to those earnest humans who had helped him. Now...

William took a single step back.

Drusilla saw his intent and was by his side in the blink of an eye.

He held the pathetic little cross up to her but it was only enough to keep her at arm's length.

"Wait!"

William and Drusilla both turned to see, not the Slayer, but the pretty girl human, whose name was anathema to a vampire's world.

"Dawn?" William said. She had made him tea. In his new, confusing world, she was the girl who had made him that first putrid cup of tea. Evidently the humans were out searching for him and she had the misfortune to find him first.

Drusilla turned to him with a smile so empty of humour, he saw, perhaps for the first time, the deadness of her. She reeked of demonic lust and he knew instantly her intent.

"Shall we dine?" Drusilla changed. Gone was the almost human pallor and countenance. In its place with the wolf brow and teeth of a licentious, inhumane killer. A merciless manifestation of hell.

William leaped and reached Dawn at the same time as Drusilla did, her teeth bared and her screech of demon pleasure shrill in his ears.

Drusilla strength was that of three men and she shrugged him off as though he was a child. But he leaped on her back, wrapped his arms around her throat and pulled until he could feel the cords in his muscles begin to fray. It was enough to keep the demons teeth from puncturing Dawn's fresh throat.

Drusilla screamed in frustration and thrashed back and forth. William hung on, wrapping his legs around hers, hanging on. Drusilla bit into his arm, raking her fangs back and forth.

Suddenly they were both knocked to the ground in a heap. William found himself free and scrambled to his feet to see Buffy sitting on Drusilla's chest, a stake poised over the vampire's heart.

Buffy did not look up but said, "Giles."

Giles and Xander each drove thin metal spikes through Drusilla's out stretched arms, pinning her to the ground.

It had all happened so quickly, his fight with the creature had seemed to only begin when it was just as quickly over.

Thick hand and leg irons were locked around Drusilla's wrists and ankles. A steel mask was strapped to her face, covering the female monsters face entirely.

Buffy nodded. "That's better." She seemed satisfied with a job well done but turned careful eyes to him. "William." She said evenly, "Come here."

He did as he was told. Without warning, she drove a stake into his right shoulder. He fell on his backside, gasping in shock and pain. "You crazy bitch!"

She seemed even more satisfied. "Well, you're clearly still human. But stupid. Really, really stupid."

Xander helped William to his feet and, not with especial tenderness, pulled out the stake. "Here." He handed him a square of cotton cloth. "Hold this over the wound 'till we get home."

William, mute with pain and embarrassment, nodded obediently.

A fine stitching job (sans anaesthetic), by Willow was enough to close his shoulder wound and, with Xander serving as guard, William was sent to bed.

Willow made her report. "My studies of human blood yielded some interesting ideas. But almost all I learned, and any ideas I had of tainting it, altering it, anything to make it unpalatable to vampires, was a bust. Anything we could do to it, chemically, physically, to kill a vampire, would harm the host - us."

"So it's back to pointy things and holy water." Buffy said.

"Not so fast. Actually, Andrew came up with a good idea." Willow surrendered the floor to her partner. Andrew borrowed Willow's pointing pen. "We came up with the following." He flipped the chalk board over to reveal the other side. "On this chart," Andrew was almost as talented at lecture mode as Willow. The reverse side of the board was covered with little rows of calculations and numbers. "We simplified it as best we could, but basically, vampires, physically that is, are like viruses. Without a host to sustain them, they are inactive, dead to all intents and purposes-"

"Viruses?" Xander repeated. "Vampires don't live inside people, they eat them."

Andrew gave Xander a stern look. "No interruptions people. Think of it like this. A virus - cold, influenza - invade the cells of a host and use the hosts systems to feed, sustain and divide itself. Without that host, the virus cannot feed, sustain itself or divide. It's powerless. In this case, the vampires are like that virus and the blood is the host. Without that regular ingestion of fresh human blood, a vampire's cells, its body, remains inactive. Eventually it succumbs to its surrounding environment, it breaks down and becomes dust as we saw with Spike-" Andrew glanced at Buffy. "Sorry, Buffy. I'm just trying to explain."

She shook her head. "Don't worry about it. Go on."

"We know we can't taint the blood of people without causing lasting harm, but we can taint the planet's water systems. At least maybe the local water system. Enough, we think, to eventually kill off any vampires. At least the ones who live above ground around here. The hybrids."

"And how could this be accomplished?" Giles stood to examine the chart more closely. As educated and intelligent as he was, Andrew's calculations were a cut above him.

"Heavy Water."

Xander raised his eyebrows and looked at his silent fellows, all appearing as lost as he felt. "Okay I'll take the proverbial plunge. And that is...?"

"Deuterium Oxide or D2O. It's water with one extra hydrogen atom. It's a naturally occurring stable isotope of hydrogen that consists of one electron orbiting a nucleus of one proton and one neutron. Hydrogen consists of an electron-proton pair. So Deuterium Oxide has the same atomic number as Hydrogen but is twice as heavy."

"And we use this heavy water to - what? - drown vampires?" Dawn asked.

Giles frowned. "If memory serves, D2O is toxic to life. How were you planning to utilize it?"

Andrew rolled his eyes. "If you'll let me explain." He referred to the chart with Willow's pointing pen. "D2O is toxic in sufficient concentrations. But it does occur naturally in nature. For example, the tap water we drink and shower in contains one drop of deuterium oxide for every six thousand drops of normal water. In other words, we ingest it every day and don't really notice it. But it does have adverse effects. Among other things it accumulates in our fatty cells, inhibits cell mitosis and promotes the aging process. But as living human beings, we survive, our cells divide, and we go on, at least for a seven or eight decades. However, introduce blood saturated with fifteen to twenty percent D2O to a creature who physiologically cannot sustain its own body cells and you have a creature that should quickly expire."

"Expire how?" Giles wanted to know.

"We don't know, exactly. D2O interferes with diffusion - nutrient transport and nerve conduction. But the best news is, at the levels near to what we're hoping to induce in the human populace, it causes tissue necrosis. In a creature like a vampire which, like a virus, is dead in and of itself, we're talking quick demise."

"How quick?" Buffy asked.

"Not as quick as a staking, not as slow as if we did nothing."

"As quick as starvation?"

Willow looked at Andrew. "We aren't sure. But it's the only way we can think of to affect all vampires at the same time. It might take days, months, years. Or..."

"Or..?"

"Or it might not work at all."

"What about the effects on human beings?" Giles countered. "If what you say is accurate, this process could make them terribly sick, shorten their lives or kill them."

"Not at the levels we think we'll need. We're targeting for levels approaching fifteen percent. That should have the toxic effects needed to cause necrosis in vampire tissue but leave most people with only some ill effects."

"What would these effects be?" Xander asked.

"Inability to gain weight, agitation, aggression, mild convulsions, certain cancers."

"That all, huh? That's quite a bit of effect. Can the D2O be filtered out of our water once we've succeeded in our insanely fiendish plan?" Xander asked.

"Yes. By freezing the water. D2O freezes at a three degrees Celsius, so it would form ice first and sink. It could then be extracted from normal water and disposed of. We'd have to eventually confess to the local authorities so the D2O ice could be hauled from the ponds. The rivers would, naturally, eventually carry the D2O away where it would be sufficiently diluted in the lakes and oceans."

Willow cleared her throat. "This is basically a long shot, okay? There's nothing we can do about the demon side of the equation. Unless we were to find a way to destroy all demons or prevent them from entering earth dimensions, all we have to work with is the physical side of vampire hybrids. We have to attack their physical defences." She said. "This is the only thing we could come up with that might have an accumulated detrimental effect on vampires while presenting minimum risk to the human population."

Buffy said. "Why don't you get to the "but here's the bad news"."

Andrew nodded. "We'll have to steal the D2O. But by introducing several hundred gallons of Heavy Water into the municipal water system, allowing the populace to drink it for several weeks, any person a vampire drinks from would be unable to metabolize the blood for its own use. It's virus like cells would soon become necrotic."

"After drinking from just one person?" Buffy asked.

Andrew pointed at his charts. "Maybe. Or it might take a few feedings from different hosts to produce the desired effect in the vampire. Maybe a half dozen hosts."

Xander flushed. "They're people! You say "host" again, I'll give you a death wedgie."

"Xander." Giles soothed. "It seems to me that we're talking a cure that seems almost as bad as the disease. If we implement this plan, people will sicken. Some could die."

"They're already dying, Giles." Buffy reminded him. "I'm not crazy about it, but this gives the human race a fighting chance. How many years have we been battling the demon dimensions? And we've probably just scratched the surface. We're no further ahead than we were in Sunnydale."

Xander stood, unable to contain himself. "Is it just me, or did everyone just have a mind fart? Weren't we just recently trying to stop a group of slayers who were already around the first corner in ridding the earth of all vampires? And I'll bet they weren't calmly discussing reasonable collateral damage to people along the way. I say let Kennedy and the gang go to town on the vamps."

Willow was offended. "You know, we weren't just going to do this without informing the right people. Andrew and I already have all the necessary information ready to send to anti-demon groups though-out North America and Europe. And to the New Watchers. And all slayers. We've included every recommendation for public safety. Advisories to purchase bottled water, the method of extracting the D2O once the vampires are eradicated-"

"-you seem pretty confident, Willow. Funny how this doesn't seem to be bothering you, though. Trust a witch not to worry about us mere mortals." Xander regretted it as soon as he'd said it but it was too late to take the words back. He was angry and couldn't put into words why. Yes, actually, he knew why. Because, besides Giles, he was the only one present who was not endowed by some demon force superior ability. Only he and Giles had been and still were pure, unadulterated weakling humans who had never visited the dark side. And because of that he empathized with those poor humans out there who were about to be subject to something beyond their control that just might kill them. "I'm sorry, Willow. I can't help but think this is just too dangerous and, not to mention it but I will anyway: wrong."

His words, more so than anyone's due to their life-long friendship, stung deeply. "I never said this is the only solution. This is the only solution we could come up with." Willow looked to Buffy and Giles for guidance. "We don't have to use it."

Andrew handed Willow's pen back to her. "We have to try it out first anyway. We don't even know if it'll work."

"Well, we have a vampire..." Dawn said.

Buffy stood and looked out the window. "Where do we steal this D2O?" She asked.

"Well, the production of D2O is strictly controlled..." Andrew said.

Giles rubbed his eyes. He wondered if everyone felt as drained by life as he did. "I can contact the New Watchers; they might have contacts in the nuclear community. How much of this D2O are we going to need?"

"About two hundred gallons added to the local water system, that is Fork's water system, every week for several weeks." Willow answered. "We need that much for that period in order for the proper amounts to accumulate in people's tissues and blood."

"Ministers of Grace preserve us." Giles said.

"The D2O can be removed once the vampires have been eliminated." Willow explained. "By prolonged fasting. Thereafter, resuming a normal diet will bring the person back to near normal levels of health."

Xander felt a rant coming on. "How do we get twenty-thousand people to agree to a fast, I mean without telling them that they've been poisoned? And besides, Willow said this stuff can cause aggression. How do we deal with a mass riot? And, afterward, how do we tell the authorities they now have to freeze every gallon coming from the local water supply so they can throw away the deadly ice? Does this sound nuts and just plain impossible or is it just me?"

Buffy ignored him. "What if the Council refuses to help?" She asked Giles.

"I might be able to barter for some D2O somewhere. I had one or two contacts myself, in the old days, but whether they're still in the game..."

Dawn asked, "If the Council says no to the whole thing, then what?"

"Then we try to do some good locally." Andrew said.

"I still think this is wrong." Xander said, but felt exhausted. There seemed to be little distinction between right and wrong anymore. Besides, who was he to stand in the way of super heroes?

"Maybe we'll do it locally." Buffy reminded Andrew. "When the time comes, if it comes, I say we vote on it." Buffy rested her gaze directly at Xander. "Slayers, witches, super-villains , humans, watchers...all of us. The "aye's" will have it."

Xander nodded. Humans with demonic powers, former vampires, former god-keys, watchers and lowly humans, all stuffing a ballot. Now that was democracy in action.

"Well, we have the virus. Now all we need is a host." Xander commented. "Any volunteers?"

All night, between fitful sleeps William had listened to the mixed voices in the living room, some raised in anger, some soothing. All sounding worried. He had heard enough to understand most of what had been said. William forced himself to sit up. As weak as he felt, he'd had enough of sleep and doing nothing about his own life in the new upside-down world into which he had been birthed.

"If it's all the same to you, I'd like that chance."

They all turned to see a chalk white William leaning against the door jamb.

"What are you doing up?" Willow asked, trying to escort him back to bed.

"Stop." He removed her hand firmly.

"Sorry if this is insulting, but you're so ill, you look like a ghost's ghost." Xander said. "You'd never survive."

Buffy stood before William, preventing him from entering any further into the room. "Xander's right. This is dangerous. It would probably kill you."

"Yes." Talking was making him dizzy. "But I want to make...some things up to you. And I thought you said you wanted a volunteer? Why not me? Do I not have free will over myself? Is this not America, the land of freedom and opportunity?" He looked directly at Buffy. "Let the new immigrant have a go." He lowered his voice so only she could hear. "Let me be useful again."

Buffy nodded. "Fine." She said aloud. "Since you seem to have a death wish anyway." Then speaking just to him, "The opportunity, by the way, may not come. You might have to find another way to make a life for yourself here, other than volunteering for a probable suicide mission."

"I saw a man on your television die trying to climb a mountain. No one thought he was suicidal."

Buffy turned away. "Giles. Will you call the Council?"

"The Council advises we try your experiment in a small center, like Fork, and once the results, whatever they may be, become clear, then they shall recommend Andrew's idea to the other Councils. In other words, we are to be Ground Zero. If it works here, it's to be adopted world-wide."

No one had anything to say. "What are the effects on the ho- the person again?" Buffy asked.

Willow answered. "Aggression, nerve damage, possible cancer..."

Buffy looked at William. "You sure you want to do this?"

He started to nod but then remembered how dizzy it made him. "Yes."

Giles said. "The D2O will be here in a few days. Once it arrives, we are to begin at once."

The few days passed and a meeting was called.

Andrew took the floor. "William will be locked in the bomb shelter and, besides very small regular meals, be given three quarts of D2O laced water per day. At the end of four days, we'll test his tissue and blood. Once we've reached accumulations of fifteen percent D2O, we'll...put him with Drusilla."

"I've volunteered to monitor him." Buffy announced. "To stay with him while he's locked up. If his aggression turns inward, toward himself, we'll need someone there to stop him injuring himself."

She had told Giles the night before of her intentions. William was not Spike. She did not love him. But he was enough like Spike, just enough, that she felt she owed him something. Maybe.

"We'll have to tie you down at night." Buffy explained to him.

William sat on the soiled couch, a bit apart from the others. He nodded.

"But I'll be with you during the day, so you can move around at least. We'll have books, something to pass the time." Buffy thought she was babbling a bit and closed her mouth. "Any questions?"

Xander raised a hand. "How long before we know?" But he was addressing Willow.

"A week, maybe before the levels of D2O in his tissues start to rise. But I'm guessing two weeks at least before..."

"-Let's get started, shall we?" William cut in, negating further discussion.

DAY 1 and 2

"You're not fond of me." William was sitting on the floor beside the single cot with his back against the concrete wall. Buffy stood against the wall opposite, her arms crossed. A forty watt bulb struggled to light the room that was just a bit too big for it.

Buffy sighed. Not that she expected the time to be passed silently but she had hoped this could be avoided.

May as well be honest. "I don't know you well enough to feel one way or another about you."

"Truthfully? And yet I've been in your life for the better part of a month."

"In case you haven't noticed, there hasn't been a lot of free time for socializing."

"No." William seemed not himself, though Buffy was unsure what "himself" actually entailed. His odd manner was not due to the heavy water consumption because it was only the second day of his confinement. That was not enough time for any agitation to show itself.

The first day in the bomb shelter they had spent in polite muttering now and again: "More water?" "No thank you?" "Are you warm enough?" "Yes, fine." Nothing that could be called conversing. But today, he was...weird. Unbalanced somehow. Off. His eyes said it first. Eyes that looked away. Sometimes in her direction but mostly away, passed her, beyond the bomb shelter. Even his voice seemed to have been removed and replaced with a dimmer, more hollow instrument.

"Yet Andrew has gotten to know me, I think. And Willow, your red-headed, well read woman, seems to even like me a little." He did not allow time for her to respond. "But then, the error is mine I suppose. I have been a bit troublesome."

"I can understand, believe me, what it's like to wake up in a world you never asked to be in. Again."

"He loved you, you know."

Buffy sucked in her breath. "I know."

"No, you don't. Not at all. You really have no idea at all. What he went through for you..." William shook his head a little. "...most priests wouldn't do for God."

"I was honest with Spike."

"But only when you weren't screwing him." He saw he had struck a nerve. "That is the word, isn't it? I heard it spoken on one of those televisions." He looked away again. "It's easy to be honest when one is getting dressed. You know, after, when there's nothing more to be gotten."

"That's none of your business."

"But I have all the memories. None of the feelings, mind you, just the memories. Millions of memories. All of them mine, but none of them mine. Passed to me from a spectre, a spirit. I have a ghost, you understand, walking around inside my head. And he also has a ghost, walking around inside his." William closed his eyes. "Both the bastard's are more real than I am." He fell asleep.

DAY 6

Shades of Spike on his skin, Buffy thought as she watched him pace like a leopard in its cage.

"I'm not agitated!" He'd barked when she, for the fourth time, suggested he relax. He raked tense fingers through his hair. "I'm sick of being cooped up in here."

"It's no picnic for me either." She sat near the door. It had been two days since her last shower or hot meal and she was getting almost as stir crazy as he was. A small curtain had been set up so he could sponge bath at least, but he hadn't bothered for forty-eight hours and the confined air of the shelter was beginning to take on its own personality.

"Am I going to have to sedate you?" In her hand she held a small dart gun with enough sedative to knock him out for twelve hours.

"No." He finally sat down on the edge of the cot, but his body bowed forward under its own tension. He was a bowed steel rod about to snap. "No. How many more days?"

"At least five."

"God, I wished he'd never brought me back. He did it all for you which means it was all for nothing because I don't want to be here. I didn't ask for this."

"No, but you have it. So why don't you stop whining like a child and deal with it?"

"All for you." He looked at her and, as Spike had often managed to do, levelled her almost completely. Not quite breaking through. Nearly but not collapsing all of her defences.

A few years ago, Spike had kicked open the door on her life, burst in and made himself at home. And, after a time, she had fallen hard. Funnily enough, it was actually after she had broken off their physical encounters, that she had found her heart falling deeper into him. In a weird, frustrating, impossible to understand way, she had fallen in love. And so, for a time, she had kept herself all the more distant. He was vampire. A vampire with a control chip in his head, but a vampire who she might have to kill someday.

The slayer couldn't afford to bring her work home. Even if she loved it.

"Nothing to say?" He asked bitterly.

For all his twisted ways Spike, or William, or whoever was now sitting there before her looking like Spike, talking and sounding like him more as each day passed, was her lover. She loved him. And she hated that she did. It was screwed up and up-side-down and impossible.

All over again. "What do you want me to say?"

He started to cry, shocking her. "How about "I'm sorry."?"

Buffy's mouth went dry. "I'm sorry Spike."

He nodded and dried his eyes. "Sorry. The tears were his." He sighed. "But coming from the perspective of a stranger? You owed him that much." He sighed. "Maybe he'll stop feeling so much now."

Buffy wasn't sure what he was talking about, but she suspected maybe the man before her was remembering, beyond his will, something of Spike. Or re-living feelings (however he denied them), and a life not his own.

All the more so reminding him, she figured, of how he did not yet have one.

"I did love him, you know." Buffy offered. What the hell? May as well speak the truth. William II might not live to repeat it. "Maybe not perfectly, maybe not even adequately , but I did." She searched the concrete floor in front of her. "He made me feel..." She shook her head, the right word was...?

"What?"

She knew. "Needed." Finally, she got it. "I suddenly realized he needed me. Just me, not me for my fighting skills, or me to help him be ..." (Angel's place became more clearly defined as well) ..."more human." That's what Angel had wanted, wasn't it? That he had loved her she'd no doubt. But always it seemed he also wanted her to be his... link back to his lost humanity, whatever amount of it he might have owned once upon a time.

"Spike taught me that I had worth beyond being a slayer. He needed me. I liked that but I couldn't afford it. Not then." And, from the looks of things, not now either.

"I'm tired." William or Spike lay down on the cot and rolled his face to wall. "And I'm out of water."

DAY ELEVEN:

Morning materialized to them sweet and chilled. William, relaxed for the time being, was released from his chains. He spent the better part of the morning pacing his concrete prison, talking to Buffy, talking to himself. Sometimes his lips moved rapidly, with no sound.

"What's wrong?" Buffy asked.

He laughed an ironic sardonic chuckle, stared at her simple concern with contempt. ""What's wrong?" she asks."

"It might do you good to talk about it." She suggested and then under her breath, "Though I doubt it."

"Oh?" He had heard. "I have nothing of depth to offer, honey. Just observations."

"Fine. So then observe."

"I feel like...dancing." He did a couple of exaggerated twirls. "Not talking."

Buffy ignored his antics. "Okay, I'll ask you something."

"Oh, please."

"Who are you?"

"What?"

"Who are you? Really? Is there anything...in you? Anything of him?"

"Which "him" do you mean, darling? The one who was murdered? The victim? Oh - wait. You never knew the human? You mean the murderer. The one you banged for a year or so. Him? Do you want him?"

Buffy suddenly regretted asking anything, since William's voice had now become pinched and his words angry. "That creature?" He asked. "Maybe I can pretend and we can shag the day away. It would pass the time as well as anything."

"He was more to me than that."

"Then why did you give up on him? I remember his memories, you know, I know what you look like naked. I know your smell and the little noises you make."

"You're being cruel to no purpose. You can't hurt me."

He crossed his arms, his shoulders hunched as though waiting for a blow. "That's true. You're the great slayer, I'm...well, someone I guess."

"You know, we're all pretty tired of this self-pitying train you're riding."

He suddenly leaped to her side and screamed in her face, "So stop the train then!" He retreated to his pacing, only quicker, more crazed. "Pull the brake, kick me off. Oh, right. You need me."

"You volunteered."

"Yeah. I want off." He sat on the cot and put his head in his hands. "My head is a jumble. I can't sort out anything."

"That's the deuterium."

He shook his head, his hands moving back and forth with it. "Sixty-forty."

"Did you volunteer for this because you wanted to know if you are human? Are real? Or because you want to die?"

His pale lips smiled. His hands spread wide. "Whatever stops the train."

"Why? You could build a life here, with us. What's so wrong with being with us?"

He looked at her and she caught her breath. The human eyes conveyed the pain of the dead vampire like a conduit from hell. "He went down to the flames, little girl, loving you. He went willingly. And when he came back, you'd moved on to the next one."

"Quit avoiding yourself. And that's not fair by the way."

"Boys, men, vampires, the un-dead, the cursed, all like new flavours of ice cream to you. I see all of those things, and his lusts when he slaughtered kids and old women, and his orgasms when he screwed the dark haired one. And when he drilled you all over town. I remember it all. See it with my open eyeballs like they happened to me. But the only part of it I feel, is how he loved you and how you hurt him. I don't know whether to hate him or feel sorry for the bastard."

"Why tell me this?" Of course, she had asked, hadn't she?

"BECAUSE IT'S KILLING ME!" He shouted and her ears hurt with it.

"So what am I suppose to do about it?"

He spread his hands again, then leaned back on the cot - in so like a gesture of the vampire - she almost gasped.

"Nothing. You can do nothing. Just bring on the damn vampire and let's get this over with."

"Willow says by tomorrow night. It's too soon."

DAY TWELVE

Tied down and raging, "You bitch! You rotten bitch! He hated you! I hate you! I hate this life, this death, this place. I hate all of you!"

Buffy, fatigued from hours of his screaming, rested outside the shelter. Xander brought her hot coffee and a hot dog, sitting down beside her. He had on his suit pants but his white shirt was tie-less and loose at the collar.

"At the job?" She asked.

He nodded. "Got to make an appearance once in a while."

Xander had made a lot of sacrifices for her over the years. She hoped his business would not have to be one of them, but she could do nothing to prevent it. "Hot food." She said, biting into the hot dog eagerly but feeling a pang of guilt for enjoying it so much. Buffy drank deeply from the steaming coffee. It burned but she didn't care. "I'm starving." She said through the food. "How much more of this?" Xander understood she was not asking about a second hot dog.

"Willow says tomorrow."

"I hope this works; I can't take much more of this. And neither can he. Especially if it's been for nothing."

"Well, you're not putting him through anything. At least not alone. He volunteered."

"Yeah, but I think he did it because he's trying to find out something."

Xander shrugged. "What?"

"I wish I knew." She stood. "I'd better get back in there. Believe it or not, he's calmer when I'm there for him to yell at."

"William." Buffy tried to bring whatever part of William's conscious mind was still lucid. "William!"

Her sharp call stopped the screaming for a moment. "That's not my name."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, I'm not William, or Spike or The Bloody or Pratt or any of those people." His chest heaved up and down like two pumping billows. Oxygen, breath, spark filling his cells over and over again. For a vampire: nothing. For a man: life. He thrust upward against the restraints. "I'm...I'm..."

"You're William re-born. You're him, you have to be. Or it doesn't make sense."

He cried, his eyes tired of the desperate tears and still they flowed of their own accord. Had he been in a murderous rage, still they would have come. "No, no..."

Buffy stood over him, afraid to touch or comfort. To get too close. "You are human." And becoming a friend. Yes, a friend. I actually care what happens to this man. I'll probably be damned for it somehow, but I do. After all she had seen, this life was still able to surprise her.

"No,...no..."

She took one sweating, cold hand in her own. It shook from the earthquake that was his body. "What is it? Tell me. William, are you doing this for us? Or for you to...to find out if you're human? Or, or real?"

"Not been that since I was born. Not been anything."

"You're wrong. You are real. Feel my hand. This is real."

He squeezed but let go. Shook his head back and forth. "I wanted to believe it. But, it's not the truth. I hoped she could give it to me."

"Drusilla? Give you what?"

"I don't know, a reflection – a-a ghost. Three ghosts, really. Him and him and me."

He was talking nonsense and yet he didn't sound confused. "You mean a picture?" She asked, wondering if he even heard her.

"A part of them...feel of humanity. William-ness? The-the power of him - that creature who loved you. He was so powerful and, because of you, so weak. But Drusilla could give me nothing. She had nothing but her own desire. And soon I realized that I didn't want it. I wanted, I-I want..."

Buffy grasped his hand again, making him feel her own mighty slayer pulse.

"I want to be...something. But, no past, ...can't build...on nothing."

"I still don't understand. You have nearly two hundred years behind you."

His eyes strayed to hers for a fleeting moment. A brief look up to the human above him. Eyes that supplicated. Strained, painful words tumbling out. "All I really am is a man with the memories of a vampire who had the memories of a man."

She understood now. Certainly she should have seen it, grasped it, earlier. Even, back from her own coffin, she had still been Buffy, still remembered all her former life which was still hers, belonged to her. Was her.

But this man, re-created from a creature dead over a century ago, re-born from a monster responsible for thousands of murders; an immortal, vicious, soul-less, heart-less, serial killer, had awoken with nothing that belonged to him and was then told that everything would be "all right". She had been so busy dealing with her own mixed up feelings for the new, non-vampire; she had failed to see the suffering, empty human. They had all failed to see him. Really look and get the sense of his hollowness.

"We were busy." She muttered, knowing how lame an excuse it was. Save mankind. Sacrifice the man. "I...didn't know." She added. "I didn't know."

A new born dog might be thrust out of a moving car and told "Go and be free, boy. Go and be free." It might survive.

How stupid they were to point him in any direction and say: "This is your life, be warm and well fed."

He didn't stand a chance.

"Buffy."

One of the few times he had ever said her name since his birth.

"Buffy, where do I find identity in that? Where?"

She cried for him, like she had cried for the other. Not the same tears, not for herself this time, but wholly for him. For this man. All she had to offer was: "I swear I'll help you. I swear." If you survive.

DAY THIRTEEN:

"It's time." Willow said.

William ignored her. He strained against the bonds, but his arms were immobile. While he was half carried, half dragged by Xander and Giles, he cursed a string of obscenities to them all collectively, and one by one. The new human growled and thrashed. A week of Deuterium Oxide for breakfast, lunch and dinner will do that to a person.

A face frozen in fear, anger, confusion and a host of other emotions stared ahead to the raven haired monster woman waiting on the other side of the bomb shelter. Waiting in chains, her face murderous. Her tongue playing over her bloodless lips. Here came her evening wine. Thick red stuff.

Drusilla was presented with the deuterium spiced human. She was white for bloodlust and shaking with the hunger known only to a creature that never really eats.

"Stand him up." Buffy said.

The very raging but weak William was brought near. Drusilla's bonds were cut and she leaped on him like a mad wolf, clamping down on his neck with vice-like jaws.

Buffy, Xander and Giles were ready to chop the vampire's head off if she took too much or showed signs of gaining strength instead of waning, as Willow hypothesized.

"It's not working." Buffy said after what she thought were a few too many elapsed seconds. She raised her axe to strike at Drusilla's neck.

"Wait!" Willow said.

Drusilla suddenly stepped away and swayed on her feet. She wiped her mouth, the blood foul tasting; its effect something new and fearful. She raised her hands to her face.

The others watched, transfixed, as her skin stretched taut over her bones and sinew. The empty veins turned black. She threw her head back and screamed the scream of the dying un-dying. Those who go down to the earth, or to hell, or to flames, for the final time. Once and forever.

Drusilla twisted and shrunk before their astonished eyes, into a pillar of dust. Then even it dissipated, not a speck alighting on their clothes.

"Wow." Xander said.

"Well put." Giles commented. "I...believe...we could call Willow's experiment a success."

Gallons of D2O were deposited into all the towns' water supplies. Only one thing left to do.

Buffy instructed her crew. "Put out a call for Kennedy and her "Exurgent ones"." Tell her want to talk. Call it a truce. Cooperation. Coalition. Whatever. Just make sure she believes you."

Faith led the ground crew while Willow and Andrew spun the dials. The call went out.

Kennedy answered.

Buffy and the Scooby's planned well and the Exurgent Ones, thanks to the preservation of the Slayer Sword and a little wonder-works courtesy of Willow, were stripped of their slayer powers.

"As for you, Kennedy. You are on trial for your crimes against the en-souled."

She was found guilty as charged and sent to the Council. Not the Watcher's Council, but the newly inaugurated Slayer's Council.

Faith in charge of Kennedy. Kennedy in charge of her small cell and a nineteen inch television. Faith thought it was too lenient.

"Mercy," Buffy said. "And a good conscience, Faith, is what keeps us all en-souled."

William, neck wrapped once more, shifted on the bed. Sunlight shone through the curtained window and made its tiny shimmering suns in his dark pupils.

"When can I get up?"

Buffy put a gentle hand on his chest to stop the already sitting up person still called William. "Not yet. Willow's orders."

"Trust a red head."

"So, what do we call you?" Buffy asked. When he didn't answer. "William? Spike? Hey Fella'? You may be new to this world, but you've started out well with people who care about you."

He started to shake his head but stopped when a wave of dizziness overcame him. "I don't know."

He was too tired to argue the same old argument. "Call me for dinner?"

Buffy took his hand. It felt warm. Living. It felt old and wise. It felt like the vampire's in shape. It felt like a human's. This new man. This person who had yet to find his life. To ascribe a meaning to it. This man with all the memories of them. With decades of living behind his eyes, but not a good day yet nestled in his own heart. His soul was an open book. What would be written there? What would her chapter be for him? Funny, it struck her out of nowhere - she wanted to know. The future was waiting for them both. For them all. She would be in it with him and that felt good. It was right.

Buffy clasped his hand in hers. "How about, for now, we call you... friend?"

END

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