Gravity

Chapter 8 - Payback



It was dark and stuffy. Amy tried to move but her body wouldn't cooperate. Magic, she thought dully.

"Help me," she tried to scream. It came out as a croak.

The door opened. Someone stood in the door; a misshapen body was silhouetted in the light that came pouring in. A voice that Amy had hoped never to hear again said mockingly, "Something I can get you, dearest?"

Amy whimpered.

"Didn't think so." The door slammed.

Amy tried to reach out with her mind to Willow and Tara. The way was blocked, warded against just such an attempt. She tried again anyway, made her mental scream as loud as she could. Nothing. "Help me," she whispered again as she lost consciousness.

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"I feel responsible." Giles was pacing.

"It wasn't your fault," Willow assured him. "It was a good plan. We didn't know she'd disappear."

"Think that deratting spell went bad?" Spike asked. He hated to think of Amy running around LA as a rat.

"No." Willow frowned at him. "It's not that kind of spell."

"She didn't want to go," Tara murmured. "I made her get out of the car."

"It's not your fault either," Willow looked around the room. "We don't know that anything bad has happened. There might be a perfectly good reason for her to have dropped out of sight for a while."

The eyes that met hers were skeptical. She shut up.

Faith looked up. "Can't you do some kind of magic to find her?"

Tara shook her head. "We already tried that. It didn't work."

"But it's not like we had that big a connection to her," Willow replied sharply.

"You kept her as a pet for two years, that's not a connection?" Faith seemed to think it was the witches' fault that they couldn't find Tara.

"Well if you know so much about it, you're welcome to try."

"I'm just saying." Faith held up her hands. "Don't get all defensive, Red."

Willow just glared at her.

Giles' voice was gentle. "Faith does have a point. Shouldn't you be linked by the spell you did to resurrect Buffy? That kind of magic bonds people."

Willow shrugged.

"So what do we do?" Xander looked at Spike, then Giles. "Do we go find her?"

"Not till we hear back from Cordelia." Giles sighed. "Hopefully soon."

"I thought she was vision girl now. How come she's not getting anything on this?" Buffy was annoyed.

Giles shrugged helplessly.

Spike looked over at Buffy. She had chosen to sit across the room from him. Her eyes rose to meet his. She gave him a half smile. He returned the smile then forced his face back into a more serious expression.

The phone rang. Willow was closest. "Hello?" She looked surprised. "Hi. Yes I do know who you are. No, I understand. It's ok." She glanced over at Tara. "Yes, she's here. Hold on." She put her hand over the mouthpiece, said to Tara, "You might want to take this in the kitchen."

Tara got up quickly. Willow hung up as soon as Tara started to talk, then she walked into the kitchen.

"Weird time to take a personal call," Faith observed.

Spike tended to agree with her. Who was on the line? He couldn't remember Tara ever getting any personal calls. Strange...although he'd never thought so until now.

Willow returned from the kitchen, looking even more worried. "This is worse than we thought."

"Who is that on the phone?" Giles asked.

"Just a friend. A witch friend. She said there's been some really weird stuff going on in LA. Someone really powerful is doing some very dark magic."

"And this has to do with Amy how?" Buffy looked from Willow to Tara who had just come back in the room.

Tara nodded at Willow, who asked, "Anyone remember Catherine Madison?"

Giles, Xander, and Buffy looked at Willow in disbelief.

"But she's gone. I saw her disappear." Buffy looked at Giles. "She couldn't be back, could she?"

"I don't see how."

"Tara's source thinks she is. Says whoever is doing the magic has a deep tie to Amy."

"How does your source even know Amy?" Anya studied the witches skeptically.

"She doesn't. But she intercepted a cry for help. Very weak, and meant for Willow and me." Tara looked at Giles. "We didn't sense anything. Whoever has her must be blocking her from calling to us."

Willow nodded. "Which explains why we can't find her either." She shot a 'so there' look at Faith. "Anyway, Tara's source says that she can sense a tie between Amy and the person holding her. A familial tie. I guessed it was Amy's mom."

Giles shook his head. "Catherine Madison back? I shudder to think what kind of frame of mind she must be in."

Buffy stood up. "We beat her once. We can do it again. Let's go."

Willow shook her head. Her voice was apologetic, "You didn't really beat her. Magic did."

"I held the mirror that reflected her spell back." Buffy shot back.

Giles cleared his throat. "I'm afraid Willow is right. Slayers really won't be much use in this case."

Spike looked at Buffy. Felt his own insecurity rise. "Maybe there are other reasons for going to LA besides the case?"

Her head snapped up and her eyes met his. "I just want to help."

"You're sure?"

Xander stood up. "Who cares why she wants to go." He looked over at Buffy, gave her a sheepish smile. "Sorry, Buff. But let's focus on what matters. Willow's at least as powerful as that overgrown cheerleader was, right? With Tara and her source, that's three against one."

"We can do it," Tara agreed. She turned to Willow. "We should go now."

The other witch nodded. She looked at Xander. "Can we borrow your car?"

"I'll drive you," he offered.

Anya shook her head. "No you won't. We have a meeting with the minister tomorrow morning."

"Anya, why does an ex-demon want to get married in a church?" Xander rolled his eyes. "Poor Spike can't come in if you do that." He didn't sound very broken up at the thought.

"You believe that old wives' tale?" Spike chortled. "I'll be there."

"An, maybe we should reconsider having that outdoor wedding. You know, the one in the bright sunshine."

She scowled at him. "We're having an evening wedding. I've told you that some of my demon friends won't come out during the day."

"But then Spike couldn't be there either, sweetheart." He smiled winningly at her.

"I don't care. Give Willow the keys before I get my feelings hurt."

He handed them over with a sigh. "I guess we'll be walking to the church?"

She nodded. "The florist is on the way. I can show you the arrangements I've picked out."

"Oh joy." He looked at Willow. "Give us a ride back to our place?"

"You bet. We just need to get some supplies." She and Tara hurried upstairs.

"So no slayers needed?" Faith stood up.

"It would seem not," Giles agreed.

"Can't say I'm sorry to miss LA. Don't have the best memories of that place."

"Me neither," Buffy muttered.

Dawn stood up, looked at her sister. "Well come on then." When Buffy didn't move, Dawn reached down and pulled her off the couch. "Patrol, remember? You aren't getting out of it anymore." She smiled happily.

Buffy grinned back. "Patrol. Wow. I never thought I'd actually be happy to go slaying again. Let me get my stuff." She hurried upstairs.

Faith and Dawn grabbed their own bags. Dawn looked over to where Spike was still sitting. "You coming or what?"

He didn't move. Dawn's question aside, he wasn't sure if he was needed...or wanted. "I think the three of you have it covered."

Buffy heard this as she came back down the stairs. "Afraid to slay with me?" she asked challengingly.

He smiled. "No." He stood up.

"Good." She turned and walked out the door.

He followed her out.

"Good hunting," Giles called after them.

Buffy hung back a bit, let Spike catch up. "You thought I didn't want you with us?"

He shrugged. "Wasn't sure."

"Why?"

He shrugged again.

"Not your normal witty self, are you, Spike. Something wrong?" Her face suddenly fell. "You're not regretting this afternoon, are you?"

He stopped. "God no."

Her relief was plain.

He leaned in. "I could never regret that. Never. Thought maybe you were having second thoughts, though."

"Did I act like I was?"

"No. But I still worried."

She looked at Faith and Dawn. Their backs were turned. She grabbed Spike, kissed him hard. "Don't look for trouble where there isn't any, ok?" she ordered.

He nodded, followed her happily as she hurried to catch up with the others.

Neither noticed the person watching them from the woods.

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"So your mom sounded nice." Willow looked over at Tara who was concentrating on driving. They were going much too fast but so far hadn't run into any police.

"You'll like her." Tara smiled wistfully. "This isn't exactly how I thought we'd all meet though."

"How did your mom know it was Amy?"

"She didn't. She just sensed that the message was for us. And that the person sending it was really scared."

"Poor Amy."

"What do you think her mom is going to do?"

"Last time she stole her body."

"She mentioned that. I sort of thought she was exaggerating."

Willow shook her head. "Nope. She wanted to be a cheerleader again. She was like the best Sunnydale High ever had. They called her Catherine the Great."

"That's scary."

"She's scary, Tara. Where has she been all this time? And why now, why did she come out now?"

"We'll be there soon, sweetheart. Hopefully my mom will know." Tara reached over and took Willow's hand in hers.

Willow thanked her goddesses yet again that she had managed to steal Tara back from Glory. Her lover was too good to be lost that way. "I love you, Tara."

Tara squeezed her hand in reply. They were quiet the rest of the way to LA.

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Light spilled into Amy's prison. A harsh voice spoke several words. Amy could feel control of her body returning.

"Get up."

She staggered to her feet, trying to make legs and arms that had fallen asleep mind her. She stepped out of her prison and looked around. She was in what looked like an apartment. Her prison was a closet. The room she was in connected to a kitchen. Another door led into what seemed to be a bedroom. There were no windows.

"Sit down."

She sat in a straight chair by a wooden table and turned to look at her captor. A gasp of horror escaped her. She turned away.

"Ugly, aren't I?" Her mother pulled her face back, forced her to look at her. Her flesh looked as if it had been melted and reattached to her body. Her features were lumpy and not in the places they should be. She was hideous. "This is your fault. All your fault."

"I didn't have anything to do with it. You tried to kill me and my friends."

"Your friends?" Catherine laughed. "Your friends were responsible for the explosion that made me look like this."

Amy shook her head. "I don't understand."

"God, you are as pathetic as you ever were. Do you know where I went to after that Summers bitch got in the way of my spell?"

Amy shook her head.

"The same place I was going to send you. Into my statue, my award."

Amy gasped in understanding.

"That's right. I had to watch you and the others every day. Then you disappeared. I wondered about that. Thought maybe your father had taken you away." Catherine began to pace. "So I watched the others. Prayed to every dark god I knew that I would be set free. And I got my wish. Did they tell you what happened to the school?"

Amy nodded.

"I thought I was destined to be locked in that statue until someone reversed the spell. I didn't know that if the prison is destroyed, the prisoner goes free." She touched her face. "Only I had to wait till it was destroyed. Metal takes a long time to melt, Amy."

Amy shuddered.

"I was weak but I managed to crawl out of the wreckage before anyone saw me. Found some vampires who brought me here. I've been gaining my strength back since then." She sat down opposite her daughter. "I looked for you as soon as I was strong enough to scry. Saw that you'd gone and trapped yourself in that rat form. Stupid girl. Can't even do a simple spell like that right?"

"I panicked," Amy tried to defend herself.

"You blew it. Just like you screw up everything. I decided to leave you there till I was stronger. But your friends saved me the trouble. They finally figured out the counterspell. And then you came here, to LA, right to me. I couldn't believe my fortune."

"What do you want?" Amy tried not to look at her mother.

"What do I want? What do you think I want?" Catherine grabbed Amy's chin, yanked her face up. "Look at this body. Look at yours. What could I possibly want with you? I think you'll look good in this husk, darling. I know I'll look good in your skin."

Amy sobbed in terror.

"Oh don't worry, Amy. It'll only hurt...forever." She smiled and the expression was purest evil.

Amy tried to rise but her mother's eyes held her captive. "Be still," she ordered.

Amy felt her body again go to sleep. "Don't do this. Please?"

"Don't do this? Too late for that, dear. It's already beginning. Don't you smell the herbs steaming? In twenty-four hours you'll be wearing this grotesque body."

"My friends will help me."

Catherine laughed. "Your friends left you at that shelter all alone. Just how much effort do you think they are going to put out on your behalf? They'll probably be happy that you're gone."

"No, they'll come," Amy argued. But deep down she wasn't sure that they would. "Help me," she thought desperately, suddenly unsure that there was anyone that cared enough to even hear her.

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"Tara, who's your friend?" The young man looked suspicious.

"The reason I can't go out with you, Colin," Tara teased the guard.

"No kidding? Ok, put up your dukes!" He pretended to spar with Willow.

She drew her hand back as if preparing to cast a spell.

"Whoa there, Witchling," he laughed. He turned to Tara as he keyed in the combination to the door. "Your mom's waiting for you in the conjuring room."

"Thanks." She led Willow through the warehouse.

"He seemed pretty mellow."

Tara smiled, remembering how Colin had been one of her first real friends. His easy goodwill had brought her out of the shell that she had erected to protect herself from her family. "Our kind tends to be light-hearted. At least until they need to be something else. Then we can fight."

"Your kind." Willow shook her head. "I still wish you had trusted me with the truth."

"I know." They walked down the stairs. Tara waved at the demons sitting around the communal dinner table. She said several words in her mother's language and a doorway appeared in the wall. They walked through it together. The smell of incense got stronger as they approached an ornately carved door. Tara frowned. "Things must be bad. She's already started working."

Tara knocked three times on the door. Her mother opened it and let them in. Once they had crossed the threshold, she closed the door. "Move toward the middle," she instructed, as she pulled out her athame and rapidly drew a half circle across the door. Blue-green light flared as the half circle joined a bigger circle, completely enclosing them. The woman turned and smiled. "You must be Willow."

"Mrs. Maclay."

"Call me Laurel." She gave Tara a quick hug. "Darling."

"Hi, Mom."

Laurel walked to the altar. "This isn't the way I envisioned us meeting."

"That's because you didn't envision us meeting at all," Willow answered calmly.

"You're right about that," Laurel's smile was genuine. "And not afraid to speak your mind, are you? I can see why Tara loves you." She motioned the girls to the altar. "I've set up a scrying spell. You two can't find the girl, but no one is expecting me to look for her. So let's see what I can find." She pulled a silk cloth off a blackened mirror. Staring intently into it, she began to intone a ritual. "Doerlg euogh ratilssss." The last bit came out as a true hiss as her face morphed into that of a snake.

Tara looked to see Willow's reaction to her mother's transformation. The other witch didn't seem phased, just looked on in curiosity. Then an image began to form in the mirror. They could see Amy as she sat rigidly in a chair. Her voice suddenly rang out. "Help me!"

"Yes, child. Yes, we plan to." Laurel's voice was soft but full of power.

Suddenly someone else was in the picture. Willow gasped as what was left of Catherine Madison peered up at them.

"She can't see us," Tara assured her.

"But she can sense us." Laurel began to chant again. "Cltaith firfsss. Morlkwag!" She yelled the last and the mirror zoomed out to show a neighborhood.

Tara gasped. "That's here. Just down the street. We used to play ball behind that building."

"I guess if you want to stay hidden, you hang where the other people hiding out are." Willow studied the building. "No windows."

"Just the one door," Laurel agreed.

"No sneaking up on her." Tara whispered as the image faded out. "So what now?"

Willow looked down. "We could ask Angel for help."

Laurel shook her head. "Does he have magic?"

Tara shook her head.

"Then we do it alone. The three of us. We can overpower her."

Willow suddenly looked uncertain. "I'm not so good under pressure."

Tara took her hand. "Yes you are. It's just before that you spaz." She grinned at her girlfriend.

"Like now?"

Tara nodded. Then she looked at her mother. "Why are you doing this? All this time hiding, why come out now?"

Laurel's expression was hard. "Because once she finishes with her own daughter, she intends to come after the people that stopped her before. That means Willow, and you too, Tara, if she thinks it will hurt Willow. I swore that I'd never let anyone harm you again. And I meant it." She turned back to the altar. "We have to prepare. What does she want from Amy?"

Willow made a face. "Her body. It's what she's always wanted. Now even more. She looked horrible."

"What happened to her?" Tara's voice was pained.

Willow shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe however she got back here wasn't really meant to be a door? She looked all burnt or something."

Laurel looked up. "I have heard of a sorceress that's been hiring out for dark acts of magic. She's known on the street as Slag." Laurel shook her head in horror. "Now we know why." She looked at Willow. "Your vampire friend may be interested to know that she has been working for that law firm he has gone up against."

Willow nodded. "I'll tell him."

Laurel's face set. "Of course, it will probably be a moot point."

At their looks of confusion, she continued, "She won't give up. I can feel her desperation. This won't end until she has that girl's body. Or until she's dead."

"What if she switches bodies before we can stop her?"

"You know the answer to that, Tara. She'll kill Amy as soon as she's got her body." Laurel's jaw set. "And if that happens, then we will kill her."

"You're so sure we'll win?" Willow asked quietly.

Laurel gave her a strange smile. "Of course we will. We have you on our side."

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Spike had a twitchy feeling. Had been feeling strange all through a fairly uneventful patrol. He looked around again. Nothing looked out of place but that didn't stop him from frowning.

"What's up with you?" Faith looked into the woods he was inspecting. "Is something there?"

He shook his head. "I'm just spooked tonight."

Faith smiled. "Maybe having B along has you all weird."

"Must be." He looked away.

"Or maybe it's because you smell like that expensive perfume she likes so much."

"Guess I got too close when we were sparring." Spike kept his voice even.

"Is that what they're calling it now?" She laughed huskily. "Don't worry, I'm not going to say anything. Gotta hand it to you though. Never thought you'd get her."

He gave up on the pretense. "Tricky thing's keeping her."

Faith just nodded. "Sure seems like." She glanced up to where Buffy and Dawn were laughing. "She's in a great mood. If this is what you do for her, keep it up." She grinned wickedly.

He grinned back. "You're trouble."

"Don't I know it." She hurried to catch up with the others.

Spike turned to the woods again. "I know you're out there. I just don't know who you are."

Nothing answered. Not that he'd thought it would. He followed the slayers up the front steps of Buffy's house.

"Something up?" Buffy asked as he walked inside.

"Just a funny feeling."

"You too?" Dawn said. "Like the space between your shoulder blades is all itchy?"

Spike nodded.

Faith looked at Buffy who just shrugged. "No itches here." Fiath looked over to where Giles sat doing his accounts. "Well not that kind of itch anyway."

"Please take her home, Giles," Buffy called.

Her watcher looked up and pushed up his glasses. "What? Oh yes, quite." He gathered up his things. "Much activity tonight?"

"Not much." Buffy shrugged. "Not that I'm complaining. I think I'm out of shape."

"We'll get you back and quick. Like tomorrow when we all start training together." Faith grinned at Dawn.

"Yeah, like I've been waiting all my life to work out with you two." She watched Faith and Giles walk to his car. "See ya," she called.

Dawn ran into the kitchen. "I'm so hungry."

Buffy rolled her eyes at Spike. "I'll be down when she's asleep, ok?"

He nodded. "I'm not going anywhere."

"See that you don't," she said sternly.

He just grinned as he headed for the basement. He could hear the sisters upstairs arguing over something. It was a good sound. He threw his coat over his chair and stretched out on the bed. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings up at the ceiling.

He knew Buffy would be a while. It always took Dawn time to settle down after patrol. He let his mind work on whatever had been bothering him outside. He had the feeling that someone or something had been watching them as they patrolled. But in his experience there weren't too many things could trail a vampire and three slayers and not get caught. Whatever this was, it was good. But they were better. Tomorrow night, they'd see who trailed whom.

There was more arguing from upstairs. He strained and realized Buffy was trying to get her sister to go to sleep way before Dawn was ready. "Eager, are you?" he said with a laugh. He was getting antsy himself. He understood Buffy's desire to keep this a secret for now, but he wasn't sure he was going to like all this waiting.

He heard the sisters go upstairs. He waited, then finally he sensed Buffy creeping down the stairs. Feeling mischievous, Spike got up and hid. As Buffy walked in and quietly closed the door, he reached around her neck and pulled her back to him.

She elbowed him hard in the side. He fell back and saw her turn and kick out. He grabbed her leg, pulling her off balance. She landed hard on the cement floor. Without a word she kicked at his leg, knocking him over. He landed just as hard next to her.

"Well that was fun. Is this your idea of foreplay, Spike?" Her eyes were sparkling.

He grinned and pulled her to him. "I think you know better than that." He kissed her, felt her respond to him fiercely. "I like that," he said huskily as she got up and pulled him to his feet.

"You do?" She pulled him to her for another kiss.

Spike felt himself losing control. She didn't have to do anything and he was drowning in her. He stroked her hair. "Want you so much."

"I'm beginning to get that." She removed his clothes, nuzzled him. Her lips on his flesh made him shiver. He decided she was over dressed, took steps to rectify that.

"If it's any consolation," she moaned as he pushed her down to the bed, "the feeling's very mutual."

"Yeah?"

"Oh yeah."

"That makes me feel much, much better."

"Thought it might." She pulled him to her.

They didn't say much for quite a while. Just busied themselves with getting reacquainted with each other's bodies and what gave them pleasure. A great deal of pleasure.

"We fit." Buffy's voice was tranquil as she snuggled closer to Spike.

He knew what she meant. Their bodies seemed made for each other. He ran his fingers lightly down her back.

She shivered and nuzzled his neck.

He smiled at her reaction. "Man could get used to this, Buffy."

"So could a woman." She pulled away, studied his face.

"What?" He watched her expression become very serious. "You want to ask me something?"

She nodded. "I was just wondering...how many lovers it takes to get that good?"

He laughed. "Less than you've had, I'd think."

She punched him softly. "No way."

"Who do you think I was out shagging?"

"Well Looney Toons for one."

"Yeah, ok. Dru. For most of my vampire life, I might add."

"You didn't cheat on her?"

"Why would I cheat on her?"

Buffy narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Then there was bimbo Barbie."

"Harmony, right." He smiled. "That's two. You make three."

"No."

"You don't make three?" He grinned. "You're just mad because you've had more than I have."

"One more. Big deal."

"And if I hadn't caught that wanker dumping you that day you could claim nothing happened and we were tied."

"You were really not nice to me then."

"I was really not nice to anyone. Bad period."

She snuggled in. He could barely hear her as she said, "It was two more."

"What?"

"Dracula. You forgot him. I know everyone pretty much decided that he was something the monks threw at us to get my blood to make Dawn, but I'm pretty sure I had sex with him."

Spike shook his head. "Doesn't count. He wasn't real. And if you don't have to count him, then I don't have to count the Buffy robot."

"How come? She exists."

"Yeah, but she's not real. Just a machine. You don't really to start counting things with motors, do you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," she answered primly.

"Of course not."

She nodded. "Ok you don't have to count her." She turned over so she could look at him. "There was nobody before you became a vampire? I mean, you were all bad and stuff right?"

"I may have exaggerated the level of my badness."

"By how much?"

He reached for his cigarettes.

"Oh-oh, you're nervous. You always do that when you're nervous."

He lit his cigarette. Offered it to her.

"As if. And don't try to distract me. What were you like before you were turned? Really?"

"Really?" Spike took a deep breath. "I was a failed poet, and a namby- pamby mother's boy."

She started to giggle. "You?"

"Yes." He looked at the ceiling.

"But William the Bloody?"

"The Bloody Awful Poet." He shook his head. "I really don't like to think about it."

She frowned. "So if that's how you were, what made you bad? Was it the demon? "

"What demon?"

She rolled her eyes. "The one that takes over when you become a vampire."

"There is no demon, Buffy. That's a tale the watchers tell you so you feel better about killing us."

She stared at him in confusion.

"Humans don't need a demon to be evil. You should know that by now. It's enough to become a vampire. It makes you strong, frees up all those hormones and urges that people don't normally talk about much less act on."

"So there's no demon?"

He shook his head. "Think about Faith. Did she need a demon to go evil? Or Harmony. Even better example."

"Harmony's an idiot."

"Exactly. What are the odds she'd get saddled with an idiot demon on top of being completely addled already? Pretty slim. The answer is that Harmony stayed Harmony. And because of that, she didn't change all that much."

"Still clueless and basically a weak-willed moron?"

"Now you're getting it. Most of us, when we become a vampire, we can be whatever we want. Can fight back against all the things people mocked us for in the past. Suddenly we're a thing to be feared and that's a heady brew, my lovely slayer. But that's not what made me the way I am."

"What did then?"

"Not what. Who."

"Drusilla?"

He smiled fondly. "No, not Dru. She picked me because she wanted something soft, something that would love her."

"Angel."

"Angelus," he corrected gently. "Bugger beat the crap out of me teaching me to be mean, to be hard." Spike shook his head. "And Darla was just as bad. In her own way, she was even crueler to me. But once I came around, began to show them that I was bad, that I could be dangerous, they eased up. Eventually we became a family."

Buffy didn't say anything.

He looked at her, noticed her eyes were haunted. "You met Angelus. You saw what he was capable of. How would you like to be a newborn in his hands?"

"But he's different now. He has a soul."

"Yeah but whose?" Spike laughed. "Sure wasn't his. That boy was nothing but a lay about from the time he was small. Can't see the Liam I heard about sitting around all brooding and gloomy just cuz he got his soul back. More likely drunk in a pub with a couple of whores on his lap."

"It's not his soul?"

"Well, I don't think so. But I do have a bit of an axe to grind with him."

"Then whose soul is it?"

"How the hell should I know?" Spike felt his good mood evaporating. "Do you really want to talk about Angel?"

She shook her head. "I really don't." She sounded testy too.

"I'm sorry, love. Shouldn't have brought him up." He pushed the hair off her face. "Let's talk about something less irritating. Like me maybe?" He nibbled on her ear.

She was tense, then finally she giggled. "Or me."

"Another good subject." He moved down her neck. "Or you and me. Together. Very close."

She let him push her onto her back. "How close?"

"Very, very close." He kissed her.

"Mmm. Show me?"

"With pleasure," Spike murmured as he proceeded to do just that. Repeatedly.

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Willow felt as if she were climbing up a long tunnel. She opened her eyes slowly, trying to remember where she was. Then she smelled the incense and recalled the spell they had done last night to prepare for this morning's fight. Tara's mother had led them deep into a trance. That had been hours ago. Willow stretched gingerly, expecting to feel stiff. Her body moved with ease. She felt wonderful.

"It's quite effective." Laurel's voice was soft. Willow glanced at her, then at Tara, still deep in trance.

"It is. How did you do that?"

"It's a centering technique. You don't use those?" Laurel didn't seem to expect an answer. She smiled knowingly. "Not that I'm criticizing. You've come a long way in a very short time."

"You can sense that?"

Laurel laughed softly. "No. Tara told me."

"Oh."

"I can sense other things though." Her look turned serious. "Be careful, Willow."

"Oh I'm totally careful." Willow tried to give her a solid smile, knew she failed utterly. "Well after I do something really stupid, then I think of all the ways I could have been more careful."

Tara's mother nodded. "You need to think first, then act. You've been lucky so far."

"But so much of it is instinct. I mean I study the spells, but then the time comes and I just know how to do it, you know?"

"I do. That kind of talent is dangerous. Makes you careless. Learn to center. It doesn't need to take all night. I can teach you if you wish. When this is over."

Willow looked at the other woman. Realized that she hadn't even noticed when her features became human again. "Ok."

Tara started to stir. She opened her eyes, smiled a dreamy smile. "I was with Inanna."

Willow smiled. "Ooh, I was too. It was like in that myth. Where she goes to the underworld to take on Erishkigal?"

Tara looked down, "We were just having pancakes."

Willow looked at Laurel, who shrugged and replied, "Tara has a rather informal relationship with her goddesses."

"She gets breakfast and I get high ritual. Hardly seems fair."

Laurel smiled. "To each what she needs, according to her gifts."

"So is the providence of the goddess. I know. I'm just hungry and divine pancakes sound really tasty."

"They weren't very good," Tara rushed to assure her.

"Liar," Willow smiled at her. "But thanks."

Tara grinned.

Laurel rose in one sinuous movement that Willow instantly envied. "Can you teach me that?"

The woman looked at her in amusement, "It helps to be a snake demon."

"Yeah, I can see where that would come in handy." Willow watched as Tara's mother dipped her finger into some oil that had been warming over a candle. She touched it to Tara's brow, then her throat, then moved to anoint Willow.

"Will you do me?" she asked Willow.

Without a word, Willow stood up and walked to the altar, dipping her finger into the oil. It was pleasantly warm and smelled of myrrh and geranium. She touched it to Laurel's forehead and throat.

"Did you bring your athame?"

Willow nodded and walked over to the bag she had set off to the side of the circle. She dug out Tara's dagger first, handed it to her. The she pulled her own free of the bag. She felt a familiar tingle when she touched it.

"Hold it over the flames."

The witches consecrated their knives, then Laurel handed them small bags on silken cords. "For protection."

Willow smelled it, identified several herbs she knew. She slipped it over her head, tucked it inside her shirt. Her mouth suddenly went dry. They were really doing this. She was going into battle. No slayer to protect her. No watcher to tell her the hundred ways the spell could go wrong. This was the real thing.

"You'll be fine," Tara whispered.

Willow only nodded. "This is that time I spaz."

Laurel opened the circle and they followed her out the door. As they climbed the stairs to the surface, Willow ran through the things the older witch had told them. The best ways to deflect the spells that Catherine was sure to throw at them. The most effective means to bind her power. She tried to focus on those things, not think about how nervous she was. For herself. And for Tara.

The sunlight was a shock. She blinked, trying to get used to the bright light. They needed the daylight. The spell Catherine was working was complex and dark. It would reach full power only after the sun had set. Now, in full day, the magic was gaining strength but still far from ready to use. They had to move now. While Amy was still herself.

Willow heard a noise behind them. Saw a group of Laurel's friends shadowing them.

Laurel caught her glance. "They aren't as strong as we are. But together they can bring down that building. Obliterate whatever's inside. If we fail."

Willow refused to think about that. She grabbed Tara's hand, squeezed it hard. "We won't fail," she said firmly.

Laurel smiled at her approvingly. "No. I don't think we will."

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

Spike woke with a jerk. "Buffy?"

She was in his arms, but she wasn't moving. He shook her. "Buffy?"

"She's asleep."

Spike turned quickly. Riley stepped out of the shadows. He held a tranquilizer gun. "I shot her."

"You bastard." Spike went for him, then fell over in pain.

"That pesky chip again. Man that must suck." Riley looked at him. "You might want to get dressed." He walked by Spike and covered Buffy back up, touching her face tenderly. "Don't want her catching cold while she sleeps, which should be for a good long while as long as this thing is working." He covered the tranquilizer dart up with her hair.

Spike pulled on his jeans. "What do you want?"

Riley smiled in a way that made Spike's blood run cold.

"If you hurt her, I swear I'll-"

"Why would I want to hurt her? I love her. You on the other hand." Riley's pulled out a taser and held it to the vampire's arm.

Spike tried to scream but couldn't do more than moan. A second later he quit struggling, his nerves screaming from the shock he'd been given.

Riley leaned in close. "I told you. If you touched her...I'd kill you for real. But I've had a better idea. Let me tell you about it on the way." He picked up a blanket, then slung Spike over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.

Spike lost consciousness on the way out the door. The last thing he saw was Buffy sleeping peacefully.

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

Dawn sat up in bed. Something was terribly wrong. She heard a noise in the living room, then the sound of the door opening. She rushed downstairs and out the front door in time to see Riley dump a blanket-covered Spike into his truck.

"Let him go." She started across the lawn.

He pulled out a stake. "You want him to die?"

She stopped. "Riley, what are you doing?"

"You don't know?" He shrugged. "Ask your sister." His eyes never leaving her, he reached in and turned on the ignition. Then he crawled carefully over Spike, closing the door behind him.

She could tell he still held the stake. She didn't know what to do. "Spike," she whispered helplessly.

Riley drove away fast. Dawn considered running after him, realized she needed to find Buffy. She ran upstairs. Buffy's bed hadn't been slept in. She thought about what Riley had said. Her eyes widened. She tore down to the basement. "Buffy, wake up!" She slapped her sister. "Damn you."

Buffy didn't move. Dawn let her drop, ran up to the kitchen and hit the speed dial for Giles. The watcher answered groggily. "I need Faith," Dawn yelled. "Riley's taken Spike and I can't wake Buffy up and I don't know what to do."

Giles voice was calm. "We'll be right there, Dawn. Just hold on."

Dawn hung up the phone and hugged her arms around her. She sniffed back tears. "I'm not a baby," she said. She sank down to the floor. Why hadn't she stopped Riley? Buffy would have. She got up, ran back downstairs. Tried again to wake her sister up. She heard the others come in.

"Damn it, where is she?" Faith's voice held a note of panic.

"I'm down here," Dawn shouted.

Giles and Faith barreled into the room. Giles' eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hair as he took in an obviously naked Buffy in Spike's bed.

"Shit." Faith reached for something that was sticking out from under Buffy's hair. She pulled, held up a dart. "Tranquilizer." She looked at Giles. "Get me some cold water."

He nodded and ran upstairs.

She looked at Dawn. "Find her shirt. Quick, before he comes back."

Dawn grabbed it and tossed it to Faith, who hurriedly dressed Buffy.

"Decent from the waist up anyway." Faith slapped Buffy gently, then a bit harder. Nothing.

Giles came back in with a large bowl of water.

Faith took it, smiling grimly. "She is going to be wicked pissed at me for this." She dumped the bowl of water over the other slayer.

Buffy slapped out at her. Faith tried to hold her down. Dawn rushed to help. Faith turned to Giles. "We'll bring her up once she's, you know, more presentable."

Giles looked at the clothing littering the floor and nodded suddenly. "Yes. Quite." He hurried back upstairs.

"Damn it, what is wrong with you two?" Buffy was furious. "Is this some stupid slayer sorority initiation because if it is, I'm not pledging."

Faith held up the dart.

"What's that?"

"Your neck sore?"

Buffy nodded then gasped. "Spike?"

"Riley took him. I couldn't stop him." Dawn looked at Faith.

"It's ok. You did the right thing. We'll get him back."

Faith sounded so sure that Dawn almost believed her.

Buffy stood up. Then sat back down and pulled the covers up. "Could I have the rest of my clothes please?" She shivered.

"Grab Spike's shirt too," Faith told Dawn. She turned back to Buffy, "Take that off, it's all wet."

Buffy did as she said. She pulled the sheet up around herself until they handed over her clothes. She dressed in a hurry, while they turned their backs. "Riley took Spike? Why would he do that?"

Dawn blew up, "Well duh. You're like boinking him. And Riley's like totally jealous ex-boyfriend stalker guy. If he kills him..."

"He would have killed him here if that's what he wanted to do," Faith looked at Dawn. "But he took him. Why?"

Buffy pushed past them. "I think I know. And this is so not good."

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

Tara looked at her mother, waiting for her signal. At the woman's nod, Tara began to mentally seek the wards around the building. Willow knew she was looking for the anchor. She thought it was near the front door, where the shield felt the strongest. Tara closed her eyes, concentrated. Willow put her hands on her shoulders, tried to strengthen her.

"Powers be revealed," Tara ordered.

A black web surrounded the building. The wards were definitely of the evil variety.

"This is bad," Willow whispered.

Laurel leaned in. "If you insist on fighting evil with evil then yes this is bad."

Willow looked at her uncertainly.

"You can't overpower everything, Willow." Laurel moved close to the wards. She began to sing softly.

Tara joined in. The melody was beautiful. It was a hymn to Ishtar. As they watched, golden stars began to swirl in front of them, then joined together to create a little galaxy. Then a network of galaxies. Willow began to sing. The stars multiplied. Laurel held out her hands and the stars surrounded her. "Burn away that which is unclean," she said firmly.

The stars flowed to the web. Wherever they landed the black strands fizzled and disappeared. The wards began to fall.

Tara laughed.

Laurel smiled serenely at Willow. "Not everything has to be such a production, dear."

The door flew open. Catherine Madison stood in front of them, her eyes black, her voice enraged. "You will die!"

Without conscious thought, Willow reached back, felt Tara's hand join hers. Willow could feel her power triple when Tara and her mother joined hands.

Laurel leaned in, laying her hand on Willow's shoulder, and whispered, "Now would be a good time for your brand of magic, Willow."

Willow smiled. She could feel her knife humming against her leg. Without thought she drew it from its sheath, pointed it at Catherine. Energy shot out from it.

Amy's mother flew backwards, into the wall. Her eyes narrowed.

Willow kept the dagger pointed at her. "Give us Amy."

"I have need of the girl." Catherine's eyes darkened, her hand snapped out. "Dark ones, take them."

Willow heard Laurel and Tara begin the song again. The stars reappeared in front of them just as the bolt of power from Catherine's hand flew at Willow. The stars absorbed all of it.

"Now, Willow." Laurel's intent was clear, no holding back. Willow opened herself up to Tara and her mother, felt their power pour into her, sensed her own strength rising above it. She felt as if she were cloaked in magic. "Give us Amy," she demanded one more time.

"No!" Catherine began to chant a ritual, black streams poured from her hand.

"Then go to the gods you serve," Willow said calmly. She resheathed the athame, and lifted her hand. She let fly a ray of pure power. It caught Catherine, causing her to fall. The energy surrounded her, began to compress. The woman screamed as she was bound by the power. Then it turned black as her own unthrown weapon began to burn her. Catherine screamed again, just before she disappeared.

Willow turned to Laurel. The woman smiled in approval. "Well done, daughter."

Willow felt tears well. Daughter. It meant a lot. She hugged the older witch.

Tara ran to the door. Amy was just walking out. "What happened? All of a sudden I could move again." She looked around, "Is she gone?"

Willow nodded. "She's gone."

Amy collapsed into Tara's arms. "I'm sorry. I was just so scared."

Laurel took over. She wrapped the girl in her arms and walked her away from the building. "I think it's time you went home, don't you?"

Amy nodded tearfully. "I miss my dad."

"Of course you do, dear." Laurel beckoned to one of the other demons. He came quickly. "Take her back to the shelter. Don't leave till you see her father show up." She looked at Amy. "Think of him, dear."

Amy concentrated and the demon's eyes unfocused for a moment, then he nodded. "I see him. I won't leave her till she's safe."

Willow hugged Amy. "Everything's all right now."

Amy smiled. "You came for me."

Tara nodded. "Of course we did. We're friends." She smiled shyly. "We're family."

Amy hugged her too, then got in the car the demon had driven up. "I'll see you when I get back?"

"You betcha," Willow assured her. She took several steps toward Tara, then staggered.

Laurel caught her. "Ok then. Time for you to rest."

They helped her back to the building, got her settled on the couch in Laurel's apartment. "Get her some food, dear. She didn't have pancakes, remember?"

Tara grinned and ran out.

Willow watched Laurel as she made a cool compress and laid it on her forehead. Sighing happily, she leaned back. Her eyes met those of the older woman's. They were wary. Willow had a sudden insight into the cause for the woman's concern. "You're afraid that I'm evil, aren't you?"

Laurel pursed her lips. "I think you stand on the precipice, my dear. Your intentions are good, but your methods are suspect."

Willow frowned. "I'd never hurt Tara."

"I know that." Laurel leaned in, adjusted the compress. "Because if you did, I'd kill you."

Willow nodded. "I know. But I wouldn't hurt her. I love her."

Laurel sat back. "I know that. I sensed only love for her in you when we joined powers. But you must be careful. Magic is dangerous. It twists and turns so easily that it's hard to see that the path has become evil until you're too far down it to turn back."

"I'll be careful. You can help me?"

Tara came in with some soup. "Help you with what?"

"With centering." Willow smiled easily at her lover. "Your mom thinks I'm kind of weak on that."

"I've told you that." Tara helped Willow sit up, unaware that her girlfriend and her mother were exchanging a cautious glance of perfect understanding.

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

Spike could hear voices behind him. He opened his eyes, then closed them again quickly as bright light nearly blinded him. He opened his lids more slowly, letting his eyes adjust.

"Our patient is awake, Doc." Riley's voice was directly above him. "How you feeling, Spike? You comfortable?"

Spike realized he was bound securely, even his head was held tightly to the cold metal table he was lying on. "Wouldn't have figured you for the S&M type, Finn."

Riley snickered. "Like you'd be anybody's dream date."

"Buffy might disagree with that." Spike couldn't resist the shot. He wasn't surprised when Riley backhanded him.

"You don't say her name." Riley moved around the table.

"I get to say it more than you do these days. Must bother you a whole lot. Me and her. Together."

"I said shut up."

Spike smirked. "Or what?"

"Or I make you shut up." Riley held up some duct tape.

Spike decided to stop taunting his captor. He looked around. "Where are we?"

"I call this an operating room. Other people might call it a cave. You remember it, surely? Adam used it. Your buddy Adam. Buffy should have staked you after that betrayal. You got too many chances from her, Spike. That's gonna end now."

Spike felt a pinch on the top of his head, then a sharp pain. "Hey!"

"Just some anesthetic. Not that I think you deserve it. But the doc insists it's necessary."

A familiar-looking man walked around the table. "It'll just be a moment for the area to become numb." He looked at Spike. "Hello again."

"You're that doctor that didn't take my chip out." He looked at Riley. "Are you insane? This hack can't do the operation."

"Dr. Overheiser is a very good surgeon. This just happens to be a very tricky procedure." Riley leaned in, smiled dangerously. "See if he screws up, you're left a vegetable. Or possibly just a crazed animal. I'm hoping for the latter actually."

Spike thrashed. Or tried to. The straps were too tight to let him do much. "This is your plan? This is the stupidest thing you could do."

Riley shook his head. "Afraid I don't see it that way."

Overheiser moved back to the end of the table. "He's ready. Are you sure about this?"

Riley nodded. He smiled nastily. "I'm going to give you your life back, Spike. Not that you'll get much time to enjoy it. Don't imagine Buffy is going to be real happy to see William the Bloody back. She still seems bitter about that whole Angel turning evil thing. I'm thinking this is going to affect her the same way. Make her realize that vampires just do not make good boyfriends." He laughed and tore off a piece of duct tape.

"If you understood Buffy half as well as I do, you'd know this plan is never going to work-" His words were cut off as Riley slapped the tape over his mouth.

"I'm suddenly real tired of listening to you bump your gums, Spike. You have a good operation." He patted him on the shoulder companionably, then turned to Overheiser. "I'll be outside. Have a phone call to make. You can go as soon as you're done."

Spike couldn't do anything but stare at the ceiling as Overheiser worked. Despite his bravado, he was afraid. Very afraid.

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

Willow and Tara drove up to the house and parked.

"Are you tired?" Tara looked at Willow with concern. "You've been really quiet."

"Just thinking about what your mom taught me before we left."

"Are you going to tell the others about her?"

Willow shook her head. "Nope. She was just a friend of yours. A really powerful witch friend." She smiled at her girlfriend. "I'll protect her secret, I promise."

Tara leaned over and kissed her. "I love you so much."

Willow kissed her back. "I bet everyone is out slaying. I know a bedroom that's just crying to be used."

Willow nodded and they hurried up the steps and through the door. Four pairs of eyes turned to them.

"No patrol?" Willow asked guiltily.

Tara saw that Dawn had been crying. "What's happened?" Then she realized there was someone missing.

Willow arrived at the same conclusion. "Spike?"

Giles stood up. "Riley took him."

"Riley took Spike?" Willow was very confused. "Took him where?"

Buffy looked up. Her eyes were very hard. "That's what we're trying to figure out."

Faith handed her another map. "We've been to the frat, Riley's old apartment, even the psych building."

"What about the initiative bunker?" Tara sat down next to Dawn, wrapped an arm around her.

"Filled in. No trace left." Buffy slammed the map down. "We've looked everywhere. The longer we wait..." she trailed off miserably.

Giles nodded. "If we're too late..." he couldn't finish the sentence. He and Buffy shared a look.

Tara felt like she was missing something, but then she often did when it came to the slayers and watchers. They seemed to have an unspoken communication. They didn't do it to leave anyone out; just all seemed to be on a different wavelength. "What will Riley do to him?" she asked.

Buffy opened her mouth, but was distracted by the ringing of the phone. "Hello?" Her face became even tighter. "Where is he, Riley?"

Everyone perked up.

Tara watched Buffy. This wasn't just a concerned slayer. This was far more. The witch hoped that Spike was ok, because she knew Riley wouldn't be if anything bad happened to the vampire. Not that she cared that much about the ex-Commando, but she was worried about Buffy if she lost one more thing that she cared about.

Buffy slammed the phone down. "The cave." She stood, paced angrily. "I should have thought of that. He went there, always goes there. God, how could I forget that?"

Faith stood and blocked her pacing. "So you forgot. Move on. What do we do?"

"He said come alone."

Faith nodded. "And you will. He won't even know we're there. Will he, squirt?"

Dawn shook her head.

"If he suspects..."

Faith touched her shoulder. "He won't. We've got your back, Buffy. Deal with it."

"He said to bring my slaying kit."

"I don't like the sound of that," Dawn went to the closet, pulled out some crossbows. She tossed one to Faith, then stuck a knife in a boot sheath.

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "When did you start wearing that? And you know it won't do any good against a vampire."

Dawn glared at her. "It isn't for a vampire."

Faith moved between them. "Get your stuff, B."

Buffy didn't argue, just ran upstairs and came down quickly with her bag. She ducked into the kitchen for a moment, then joined them. "Ok." She turned to Giles. "I may get to kill my first human yet."

He didn't disagree, just put his hand on her shoulder. "Be careful. All of you."

They hurried out, leaving the others to watch. Tara looked at Willow.

"I still don't get it. Why would he take Spike?"

Tara decided it was up to Buffy to tell her friend the answer to that question. She just shrugged.

"I'm going to make some tea," Giles said.

Willow stood up. "I'll help you."

Tara sat alone for a moment, then she walked out to the porch. She couldn't just wait in the house. She sat on the steps, looked up at the moon and began to sing softly, trying to send whatever protection she could to the slayers and the lost watcher. Some little stars formed near her then headed off after the slayers. She sensed Willow's eyes on her from the window and looked over. Willow smiled, nodding in support, then turned back to Giles. Tara resumed her vigil.

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

Buffy ran into the cave. She hoped Faith and Dawn were behind her, she no longer heard their footsteps.

"Here you are," Riley smiled from the far end of the space. He held a crossbow that he loaded and primed even as he turned to the cage that held Spike. "I told you, she'd be right on time."

Spike only snarled. His face was twisted in demonic rage as he leapt across the cage at Riley.

"Spike," She whispered. The vampire turned to her, rushed the cage, growling and fighting to get to her. Buffy's hopes plummeted. "Riley, what have you done?"

He turned back to her, shook his head sadly. "See, you say you've changed and that's why you don't love me. But the way I see it, you were always throwing me over for these damn vampires. That's why I started going to the crib in the first place. I let them drink from me because I wanted to know what it was that got you so off on these creatures. And I can kind of understand, it is an amazing feeling."

"That's not why..."

"What? Dracula didn't drink from you? Angel didn't?"

"That was to save his life."

"You just keep telling yourself that, Buffy."

She moved into the cave, toward him.

He kept Spike's cage between them. "It's really ok, you know, you wanna prefer these monsters to me. But I thought it just wasn't right that your current one couldn't give you that feeling. Couldn't drink from you." Riley rattled the cage loudly. With a roar, Spike rushed him, clawed at him. Riley just smirked. "So I found that doctor that used to work with the initiative. Had him do a little work on this one's head. And now, well see for yourself." He hit a button on the wall and the cage door slowly opened. "Look ma, no chip. Did I mention I forgot to feed him?"

Spike advanced on her, hissing loudly.

"I think the operation may not have gone all that well. He's been a bit agitated. Guess you have to kill him now. No more chip, no more good vampire. No more good vampire, no more watcher. And no more lover. Or maybe you thought I wouldn't figure that out?"

Buffy slowly backed away. She pulled a stake from her bag, didn't want to but raised it, readying herself to fight. Her body tensed for the first kick when she got a good look at Spike's face. He was winking at her.

She stopped, could feel a half-smile creeping across her face.

"Buffy, you have to kill him." Riley moved forward. "He's crazed with hunger. There's no chip to make him mind you."

She did nothing.

Spike was directly in front of her. With a grin, his face morphed back to normal. He spoke calmly, "Dr. Overheiser should be offended at your ex's lack of confidence in him." He touched his hair gingerly. "Feels like everything's ok up there."

Riley looked shocked, but recovered quickly. "You still haven't fed, Spike."

"Bloke's been watching too many horror flicks. Thinks we can't miss a meal or two?"

Riley's tone was desperate. "Go on. Attack her. She's right there."

Spike looked over at her. "Yeah, she is."

Buffy tilted her head to the side, exposing her neck to him. "I'm right here."

He leaned in; she could feel his lips touch her throat. It tickled.

He pulled away. "Your blood smells delicious as always. That perfume on the other hand, I'm not so sure about."

Riley shouted angrily. "What the hell is this? You don't have a chip anymore, Spike. You can attack her. Or hey, attack me."

"You really don't get it, do you, you wanker?" Spike walked toward the other man angrily. "We're not mindless monsters. I don't have to attack you or her or anything."

"But you can feed now. You can kill." Riley looked at Buffy, frantic appeal in his eyes. "You could never trust him now. Would you want him around Dawn?"

Buffy thought about it. Looked at both men. Finally she smiled, "I trust him," she answered. "I trust him with my life."

Riley reached back, pulled out a crossbow. "Well I don't." He fired.

Buffy ran but she knew she was going to be too late to stop it. Then something flew past her hair, hitting the bolt that rushed toward Spike and driving it off course. Dawn stepped out of the shadows, already reloading her crossbow.

"Niblet, hell of a good shot! Thought I was a goner there." Spike grinned at her.

Dawn turned the weapon on Riley. "Drop it."

"Not on your life," he fitted another bolt into the bow. "I'm betting you can't do that twice."

Faith came up behind him silently. She raised her own crossbow, held it to Riley's skull. "And I'm betting I can shoot you in the head before you get that shot off."

"Now drop it," Dawn ordered.

He seemed to slump in defeat. The bow hit the ground. Faith kicked him forward, then picked up the bow. She tossed it to Buffy.

"What do we do with him?" Dawn looked at her sister.

"I've got an idea." Spike walked toward Riley. "What do you say? Just you and me? Finally."

Riley immediately assumed a fighting stance. "I'll enjoy kicking your butt, Spike."

"I've been waiting a long time for this," Spike said as he fended off the first blow. He struck out, caught Riley firmly, knocking him back. He smiled when there was no pain. "Oh yeah. I'm back."

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Riley gritted as he kicked out at the vampire.

Spike absorbed the blow, went for a kick of his own. The force knocked Riley back.

Buffy could tell that he was just toying with Riley. Spike was beaming like a child. And he hadn't gone all bumpy. Not even when Riley got in a couple of nasty jabs.

"Ok, I'm bored." Spike threw a punch, then followed it with a roundhouse kick that knocked Riley against the far wall, where he crumpled to the ground, looking dazed.

The vampire turned to the slayers. "This is the best day of my life." He walked over to his rival, reached down and pulled him up.

Riley unsteadily tried to fend him off.

Spike dusted him off. "Don't worry, mate. I'm not going to hurt you. You gave me back my life." He propped Riley up against the cave wall then walked over to Buffy. "And you gave me something else." He touched her cheek. "You said you trust me with your life. But I don't think you were planning to trust me with your heart."

She tried to disagree.

"No, you weren't going to. How could you trust me, with the chip being the only thing keeping me from reverting back to some monster? The way Angel did." His look softened. "That wasn't the way to learn what love was like, Summers. Hurt you deep, he did. Made you not trust." He leaned in, kissed her hard. "But a chip isn't a soul. You lose a soul, that's bad. You lose a chip, you live with it."

Riley shook his head from where he had slid down the wall. "He's a monster, Buffy."

Buffy turned to study her ex-boyfriend. "We're all monsters. One way or another. Some are just more up front about it." She looked at Spike.

He grinned back. "Does that mean you love me?"

"I wouldn't go that far," she laughed quietly. She handed Spike her crossbow and walked over to Riley. Helping him up, she let him lean on her. "Here's the deal, Riley. You're going to go back to your unit or better yet, go back to Iowa. Settle down. Find a nice girl that doesn't kill vampires for a living. Have kids. Buy a house. It'll be good."

"No vampires in Iowa," he agreed.

"Well..." Spike stopped at Buffy's glare. "Right, no vamps there."

The others followed as Buffy walked Riley back to his truck. She got him settled in the driver's seat. "You gonna be ok?"

He reached down, stroked her hair once. "I feel lost."

"Sunnydale does that to a person. Go back home. You'll find yourself there."

They watched him drive off.

"Think he'll be all right?" Dawn asked.

"Maybe. In time." Buffy turned to the two slayers. "You guys go on. We're going to hang here a bit."

Faith grinned.

Dawn made a puzzled face. "Why? What's left to see here?"

Faith rolled her eyes and grabbed the younger girl's arm. "Say goodnight, Dawn."

Dawn seemed to get it. "Oh." She turned quickly. "We're going now."

"Thanks for saving my life, Dawn." Spike called out.

"Yeah, wicked good shot," Faith commended her. "How'd you do that?"

"I don't know. I just knew I had to." Their voices drifted off.

Buffy turned back to Spike.

"So, no chip," he said.

"No chip," she repeated.

Without a word, they started to circle each other. He made the first move, his fist sending her back several feet. She recovered instantly, moving around him till he dropped his guard. Her kick sent him sailing. He was down for seconds only, then he flew at her, knocking her to the ground. He landed on top of her heavily.

"Sparring is going to be so much more fun," she said with a grin.

He kissed her. "Lots of things are going to be more fun."

She ran her fingers through his hair. He winced when she hit the sutures. "Sorry," she said as she gently traced the area that had been cut.

He kissed her again.

She looked at him intently. "You could hunt now. Do you want to?"

"If I say yes are you going to stake me?" He kissed her again. "I've never stopped wanting to hunt, Buffy. Chip or no, that never changed. But I don't plan to do it."

She studied him. Was he serious? Could she trust him, really? Trust him with Dawn, with any of them? She looked at his eyes. They hid nothing from her. She relaxed, kissed him softly. "I believe you."

He smiled, said wistfully, "I am hungry, though."

"Let me up then." She ignored his protests and pushed him off her. Going to her bag she dug around till she found the pouches of blood she'd grabbed at the last minute. She tossed them to him. "I thought Riley might try something like this."

He ripped the plastic open and drank both down greedily.

She gathered up her bag and started walking.

He ran after her. "Hey. Aren't we going to celebrate my not being skewered by your psycho ex?"

"We are."

"I call this walking, not celebrating. Hold up and let's do this right."

"Spike, you have blood breath. It's disgusting."

"Oh, like Angel never had blood breath. Give me a sodding break."

She reached her hand back, felt him take it. She smiled. "This isn't about Angel, Spike."

He pulled her into his arms, held her for a moment, his face buried in her hair. "No," he whispered, "This has nothing to do with him."

She relaxed in his arms. "I'm glad you're ok."

"I'd never hurt you, Buffy. Chip or no, I'd rather die than hurt you."

She kissed him.

"What about blood breath?"

"Shut up, Spike." She kissed him again.

When they finally pulled away, he smiled gently. "Still so sure you'll never love me."

"Well, I don't know about never," she said seriously, then her expression turned wicked. "Race you to the others?"

His eyes gleamed. "You've got it," he said.

She waited for him to try to get off early, stepped in front of him as he did and tripped him. Taking off, she heard him yell, "That was a foul, Summers."

He came up quickly behind her. She ran faster. Her blood was burning in her veins and she had never felt more alive. She turned to see him at her side, his lips pulled back in a savage grin.

"You know I love you, Buffy," he said just as he passed her.

"I know," she acknowledged as she cut him off and flew by him. She felt him just behind her then he was at her side again. They ran together until they caught up with the other two slayers.

"That was fast." Faith smirked.

"Don't even go there," Spike warned.

"Go where," Dawn asked curiously.

"Never mind," three voices said at once.

She pouted. "No one tells me anything."

Buffy laughed, saw Faith do the same. She found herself smiling at the other slayer. A real, warm smile. Faith returned it.

"Glad I had you two at my back," Buffy said.

Dawn shrugged. "We stick together. We're slayers."

"Sometimes it's not that simple," Faith replied.

"Well it should be that simple."

Spike looked at the older slayers. "She's right. In the long run, what else really matters?"

Buffy bumped up against him affectionately. "I can think of a watcher or two that matters."

Faith smiled in agreement.

"And friends matter," Dawn offered as they neared the house.

Tara sat on the porch, watching for them.

Buffy sighed happily. "Yes. Friends matter." She dropped her arm around Dawn's waist. "And little sisters definitely matter." She glanced over at Faith, who was watching her. "Don't they, Faith?"

The other slayer nodded gravely, recognizing what was being offered. Her arm dropped down to wrap around Dawn from the other side. "Little sisters are the most important thing of all."

Tara called out, rushed to meet them. Dawn pulled away and ran to tell her what had happened.

Buffy held out her hand to Faith. "We've done truce. Wanna try allies next?"

Faith gripped her hand hard. She nodded. "Allies it is." She let go of Buffy when Giles stepped onto the porch.

Buffy watched Faith hurry to him; saw his relief that she was back safe. "They love each other," she said, as if realizing it for the first time.

"Yeah, they do." Spike's voice was low. "Love doesn't always come from where you expect, slayer."

She grinned. "I'll try to remember that."

She saw Willow come out, her gaze sweeping the crowd till she saw Spike with Buffy. Her smile was breathtaking.

"Hey, Red. Worried about me?"

Willow ran down and hugged him. "Yes, I was." She smiled at Buffy. "Riley...did you have to...?"

"We sent him home. After Spike gave him a bit of a thrashing."

"You mean?" Willow's look was worried. She pulled back quickly.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to try to finish the job I started two years ago."

"Oh, well, ok then." She fingered her neck. "You're sure?"

"He's sure, Will." Buffy pulled Spike behind her. The rest trailed into the house behind them.

"If you all don't mind, I'm going to get Spike some food?" She led him to the stairs.

"In the basement?" Giles asked.

She looked at him, expecting disapproval. But his eyes were dancing. She smiled. "Yes. Have to debrief him, too."

Giles nodded sagely. "That could take quite a while."

"All night even," Faith offered helpfully.

"Debriefing Spike is going to take all night?" Willow's eyes widened. "Oh."

Tara smiled and took her hand. "Let's go to bed. All the excitement is over for one night. Come on, Dawn. Time to hit the rack."

Dawn followed them upstairs.

"We'll be going," Faith said.

"Yes. Well." Giles looked at Spike. "I'm glad that you're still alive. Never thought I'd be in a position to say that."

"Me neither, Giles." Spike laughed as they walked to the door.

Buffy locked it behind them then turned to the vampire. "Do you need to eat first?"

He shook his head. His eyes were intense. "There's only one thing I need and I'm looking at it."

She smiled. Followed him down the stairs. When he turned to take her in his arms she held out a hand, stopped him. "I need to say something. I don't know what we are to each other, or what we'll become. This is new and it's strange. You and I, together...you know I didn't want it. I'm still getting used to it. But if you had died tonight, part of me would have died with you. I just thought you should know that."

He pulled her close. "Sweet, sweet slayer." His mouth found hers in a fevered mix of gentleness and raw lust.

They fell on the bed.

"Love me," she demanded.

"Till the end of time," he replied as he kissed her.

Buffy kissed him back fiercely and lost herself in the sensations he provoked, the feelings he aroused. It might not be love, what she felt for Spike, but whatever it was, it was powerful. And later, as he held her and she relaxed in the safety of his arms, it was gentle and good. She grinned sleepily. It wasn't like any love she had ever known but given her history maybe that was a good thing.

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

In an abandoned mansion, a fire flickered warmly. Two men sat in front of it savoring cognac and cigars.

"This is really where Angel lived?" Haversham asked sardonically. "And nobody ever noticed?"

"This is Sunnydale. Nobody ever notices anything. It's the perfect spot to take up residence. At least for now." The other man crossed his legs; a tail peeked out from under his smoking jacket. He leaned back, puffed deeply. "I still don't understand why you helped the slayer get her life back. Wouldn't it have been easier to just kill her once and for all?"

Haversham shook his head. "Dead she calls another slayer. We were lucky this time it was only her sister."

The other man smiled. "I remember her. Such a tender girl. And so willing to bring her mother back." He held out his hand, palm up. "I owned a little part of her for that."

"Well you did till she became a slayer. That wiped the debt free."

"Too bad too. She was well on her way. Of course then Glory wanted to use her for that ceremony."

"Why did you interfere in that, anyway? Look at all the trouble you caused." Haversham stabbed out his cigar.

"I couldn't resist." Doc smiled savagely. "Thought the slayer would have to kill her sister. Knew that would push her right over the edge. Never suspected she'd figure out the connection. Take the big plunge herself."

"Yes, well, I'm afraid Buffy Summers is smarter than any of us gave her credit for."

"That will only make this more entertaining."

Haversham drained his glass. "I'll drink to that." He stood, put on his coat. "Hate to leave you when the fun's just getting started." He looked around the mansion. "But I'll be back."

Doc leaned his head back and lazily smoked the rest of his cigar. He raised his glass to the departing watcher. "Here's to fun."

The End?