Betas: seapealsh & slaymesoftly. Thank you so much!

Anticipation: a: a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action b: the act of looking forward ; especially : pleasurable expectation

Anticipation

Chapter One:

"Well that was a bloody doddle and a piece of piss," Spike said as he stepped out of the darker part of the cave, kicking one detached demon head across the cave floor and clutching another in his hand.

He tossed the head, went forward a few paces, and then dropped to his knees in exhaustion. He resisted the urge to lean against the wet and slimy cave wall next to him. If only that was the last test. He didn't know how much longer he could go on. The smell of seared flesh from the burns on his torso was enough to make him gag, and he was sure that more than a few of his ribs were cracked.

Nevertheless, he would go on and he would pass all the tests. One thought kept him determined. Buffy. In utter desperation, Spike had traveled across the globe searching for a way to make things right. He was glad that his search had taken him so far away from her, where he couldn't hurt her. There had been no doubt in his mind that what he sought to do was possible. It had been done once before — even if it had been a curse — and he was bound and determined to have it done to him. He made the rounds and finally ended up in Africa in a stinking, fungus-infested cave. It never occurred to him that he could turn back. No, he'd fight for what she needed or dust while trying.

He sneered at the glowing green eyes on the other side of the cave, hiding in the dark and out of reach.

Sniffing defiantly, he asked, "Got any more ruddy tests, ya ponce? I'll take anything you throw at me." Spike leaned back, tilted his head and smirked, using the tried and true method of psyching out his opponent. "If it'll get me what I need to take care of the Slayer, give her what's coming to her," he said, glancing down, unable to look the demon in the eyes as he thought about her. "You just bring it on. Bring on the whole---"

What was that sound? He scanned the area, trying to see what was crunching, hissing and crackling on the ground. The area grew darker and appeared to be a shifting black sea. Bugs? He rose up higher on his knees. Spike had no idea why the demon thought bugs would be a test. They began to cover his body and while it tickled, he wasn't exactly shivering in his boots.

One of the little buggers went up his nose as they covered his face. He could feel it moving around inside, and now he was just pissed off. Spike was covered in them. He growled, trying to keep his teeth clenched, but a few of them forced their way in and the growl turned into a frustrated scream.

*~*~*~*

Buffy's head hurt. The deep pit of despair in her stomach increased as Giles continued to speak. She could detect the weariness in his voice. She stayed behind the wall and out of Willow's sight while the deranged and magically souped-up witch goaded Giles. However, when the Watcher started talking about caring and losing people, Buffy stepped into the gaping crack in the wall.

The Magic Box would never be the same. Acrid smoke rose around Willow as books and other debris smoldered and burned. Poor Giles; all those books, gone. And Anya—she would have a heart attack when she saw her retail dreams destroyed and reduced to rubble.

Finding it difficult to look at Willow, Buffy wondered how much of her friend was left in that dark and veiny shell. Willow's eyes were huge black pools of emptiness, and all wrong. If there were just some way to get her back, Buffy would do it. She knew what it was like to grieve for someone she loved and she'd gone through the angry stage when her mother had died, wanting to blame everyone. Willow had gone too far with threatening Dawn. There was still hope, because she hadn't killed Jonathan or Andrew yet. One thing Giles could do well was talk, and if anyone could get through to Willow with reason, it would be the Watcher.

Instinctively, Buffy stood taller, ready for action, when Giles said, "I wonder what Tara would say about that?"

Those empty eyes narrowed slightly and Buffy knew that he'd pushed too far. Willow said, "You can ask her yourself."

Buffy could see the arcs of electricity shooting from Willow's hands, but she was able to jump and push Giles out of the way of the falling upper deck just in time. They landed roughly on the hard floor as bookcases, metal and wood came crashing down behind them, leaving a thin veil of dust rising in the air.

Buffy looked up quickly, keeping her eyes on Willow and trying to anticipate her next move.

Willow hadn't budged from her position and in a flat tone, she told Buffy, "You're always saving everyone; it's kind of pesky."

*~*~*~*

Spike had nothing left. With his back against the floor, he stayed perfectly still, every fiber of his being—inside and out—in terrible pain. He couldn't give up, but any more trials and he didn't think he would make it. The light filtering through his eyelids blacked out then came back and he heard the crunching of large feet. He slowly opened his eyes, dreading what he'd see next. The cave demon stood over him, his iridescent green eyes glaring down on Spike.

The resonating voice said, "You have endured the required trials."

Spike fought the urge to relax. He hadn't gotten what he wanted yet, and being that the creature was a demon, he didn't have too much hope that it would hold up its end of the bargain.

Weakly, Spike said, "Bloody right I have." With some effort, he pushed himself up and glowered at the creature. "So give me what I want. Make me what I was… so Buffy can get what she deserves."

"Very well," it said, its eyes glowing brighter as it reached out with a gnarled, roughened limb. "We will return your soul."

*~*~*~*

Buffy cringed when the witch bent down and reached into the fire by her feet. Instantly Buffy thought of Spike. No matter what they were going through personally, she had begun to rely on him in battle and right about now he'd be really useful. It was going to take time for her to get used to him not having her back. If anyone could fight his way out of this situation, it was Spike. She half expected to see him jump out and catch Willow by surprise. In fact, she longed to see him.

Willow glared at her and moved the ball of fire from one hand to the other and back. "You're thinking about Spike?" she asked incredulously. "Now that is pathetic. You both are, really. The lovesick freak of a vampire and the twisted slayer." Willow glanced behind her and then fixed her glare on Buffy while she placed her free hand over the ball of fire. "Spike should go back to a time when he was killing slayers, not doing them—and you! You should go back to the grave where I should have left you to begin with!"

A blue arc of electricity covered the top of the ball of flames. Willow blew on it and threw it up in the air where it burst into tiny particles. Confused, Buffy watched it with furrowed brows and then everything went black.

One minute Buffy was next to him and then she was not. Giles stared at Willow in horror at what she'd done. His mind reeled with the possibilities of where his slayer could be. Had Willow just sent her back to the grave that she'd been forced to claw her way out of eight months ago? Was she alive in that grave or was it too late for Buffy? He tried to get up, but the pain shooting up his back wouldn't allow for it.

"There," Willow said with satisfaction. "I thought she'd never disappear. My will has been done and now I have you all to myself."

"What have you done with Buffy?" he managed to ask as he sat up.

Willow sighed and tilted her head slightly. "You don't have to worry about her anymore. I've put her out of her misery and back into the grave." Giles tried to stand up, his eyes wide with terror, as Willow picked up another ball of fire. "Now it's time to take care of Jonathan and that other one with this. It'll find them. It'll bury them. Along with anyone helping those Dead Men Walking."

She moved her hand over the flaming ball before tossing it up. It tore through the ceiling, leaving a gapping hole and disappeared into the star-filled night.

"You have to stop this, Willow. We need to get Buffy back."

"Tsk, tsk," Willow said, shaking her head. She pointed at Giles and as she lifted her hand up, he floated until he hit the ceiling. "You're such a hypocrite. Waltzing in here with your borrowed magicks. So you can tell me what? Magic's bad? Behave? Be a good girl?" She chuckled. "Well, I ... I don't think you're in any position to be telling me what to do."

Giles groaned in pain.

Willow scowled at him. "I used to think you had all the answers. That I had so much to learn from you."

"Willow…"

With one gestured from her, Giles dropped to the floor. He glared at her and thought about the fireball on its way to destroy Jonathan and Andrew. Dawn and Xander were with them and they would be killed too. So much death. He had to save them. Mustering all the strength that he had left, he called on his borrowed magic and said, "Insurso!"

Stumbling back from the green arch of magical energy, Willow scowled and after catching her breath, she said, "That was rude!"

"Willow, you need to stop." He got to his knees.

"What I need…" She surged forward and grabbed Giles by the shirt. "…is a little pick me up."

Giles gasped in pain as the power left him and flowed into Willow. She stumbled back and fell against the counter, holding her head.

"It's incredible." She panted, a small smile on her lips. "I mean, I am so juiced. It's like no mortal person has ... ever had ... this much power. It's like I'm connected to everything. I can feel – it feels like – I ... I can feel..." The smile faded. "...Everyone. Oh, my God. All the emotion. All the pain. No, it, it's just too much."

"You can stop this."

"Yes. I have to stop this – the poor bastards. All this suffering has to end."

She rose up into the air as magic began to swirl around her. Lightning flashed and then she was gone.

"No," Giles groaned, just before he passed out.

*~*~*~*

The demon's claws dug into Spike's skin as it slapped him across the chest and pushed against his burns. The pain was excruciating, but it got even worse when Spike's chest began to glow bright yellow. It was as if someone were pulling his lungs through his ribcage and stuffing molten lava in their place.

Spike's head flew back and he screamed in agony, wondering if he'd go blind as his eyeballs seemed to be burning out of their sockets. His demon instantly tried to reject what was happening, raging inside him, tearing at his flesh.

He saw his first kill, his mother, the family with the three young children, the bride about to say her vows. So many. Then there was a flash of light followed by many more flashes of light and the roar of a subway car.

The memory was so vivid; he could feel the vibration under his knees and the crack of her neck as he twisted her head in his hands. He felt the dead weight of the slayer under his thighs, even as so many other terrible deaths flashed before his eyes. He stared wildly from side to side. Where was the cave? The demon? He let his eyes drop to his hands and stifled a scream as he saw that they were still clutching her head. He jerked his hands away and grabbed his own instead as the bright lights stayed steady.

There was no logic to it. None of it made sense. He ran his left hand over his face, felt the eyebrow piercing, and frowned. He peered down, and she was still there. Nikki Wood: dead with a broken neck. He'd done it. He'd killed her. How could this be? It was a memory – a hideous, bloody intense memory – but that's what it could be. Spike got off her, but fell to his knees, the weight of guilt and dread and unease too heavy to allow him to stay on his feet in the fast moving car.

He was evil! He'd done so many terrible things. He looked around and shook his head, trying to clear it. Where was the cave? Buffy!

Oh, God. Buffy. There's no way she can ever love me. So much death, blood, evil.

He squeezed his eyes shut and wrapped his arms around his body as more and more memories assailed him. Terrified faces, screams of agony; person after person, pleading for their lives. And in almost every case, he was smirking, reveling in their fear and pain and hoping that they'd try to run so he could play cat and mouse with them.

Suddenly, he was lying flat on his back. He rolled over and realized that he was still beside the dead slayer; the slayer that he'd killed over twenty years ago.

The soul! It had to come out. The guilt, the memories were going to crush him. He ripped at the pin-covered vest until it tore in half and then he grabbed at his chest, scratching and clawing. If he could just tear his ribcage open, the soul might just float right out.

It vaguely registered that the train had stopped. The hiss of the doors opening was like the jaws of hell opening wide, trying to pull him in. He sat up, screamed and shouted, "No!" The doors slid closed and then the train was moving again. More and more images from his past came to him. He was reliving every death in perfect detail.

If this was hell, he knew that he deserved it. He glanced at the dead slayer, but quickly turned away and moaned as the voices started accusing him again. His victims pointed at him, swirling around each other, crowding his mind and vision.

The burning pain clinging to his chest—his head—his eyes, it wouldn't go away. Spike slumped back down until he was lying on the dirty floor of the car again, and his arm came into contact with the still warm slayer. He sat up and shuffled away from her, shaking his head, his breath coming in ragged unnecessary gasps. No relief for the wicked in hell, he thought. It was all too much for him. His eyes rolled back in his head and with a sigh, his world went black.