…OR IS THIS THE DREAM THAT NEVER GOES AWAY?

CHAPTER 9

Buffy was in the park, when it happened. What should have been an easy kill, threw her down and twisted the stake in her hand, until its point was denting the skin over her heart.

"Let me know if I'm not doing this right." The vampire said, smugly.

"You're not doing it right." Spike sneered, pulling the vampire up by his neck. He grabbed the stake, pushed it to the vampire's chest. "This," He said, pushing the stake a fraction of an inch in, "Doesn't go in her, it goes in you." He pushed the rest of the way and a cloud of dust scattered over Buffy.

"You alright, kitten?" He asked, helping her up.

"I don't know. I felt really weak, if you hadn't been here…"

"I'll always be here for you. Let's get you home."

"I can't be sick… my birthday.."

"I know, your dad's taking you to the ice show."

"Have I been going on about it?"

"Only extensively. I've got plans too, you know."

"You have?"

"You're only eighteen once. I intend to make it really special."

He drove back to her mom's house. As he'd hoped, Buffy and her mum had got over their various issues and were happy again. He'd been there for 'first contact' after the witch hunt fiasco and both Summers women had cried and hugged and he'd kept them supplied with ice cream.

The next day, Buffy turned up at the factory, straight from school.

"It's got worse." She said, miserably. "I'm officially weak and feeble. And I throw like a girl."

"Maybe it's a spell." Spike said, carefully. "Give me your hand."

Buffy put her hand in his.

"Now, squeeze, hard."

Buffy did as she was told, hard as she could. Spike's hand felt like granite. Was this what normal humans felt when they tried to fight vampires?

"Right." He said, hiding the shock he felt at her feeble, human grip. "Something's definitely wrong. I'll do some research, you go home to your mum, she's been twitchy enough, lately, without you being late home. I'll patrol with you at sunset."

"Giles says I shouldn't patrol until I feel better."

"Yeah, well, he doesn't know that you have a bodyguard, does he."

When Buffy met him in the cemetery, later, she was in an even worse mood than before.

"What's up, kitten. Do you feel weaker? Are you OK to patrol?"

"It's not that, it's my dad. He bailed."

"He's not taking you out?"

"No, he sent the tickets and a lame excuse. You know, I really thought he enjoyed it as much as I do."

"If he sent the tickets, then there's no problem. I'll take you."

"I never thought you'd want to."

"A night out with you, doing something that makes you happy, why wouldn't I?"

"Don't you think it's lame?"

"No, of course not. Ice skating was very popular, when I was growing up. My granny used to tell me how she skated on the Thames during the last frost fair."

"Huh?"

"England had a little ice age from the 1600s 'til the early 1800s. The river Thames in London would freeze so thick, they'd set up shops on it. Before my time but granny saw the last one. 1814, if I remember rightly."

"So you don't mind coming with me?"

"To tell you the truth, I was jealous of your dad, getting to go, instead of me."

"Have I mentioned, lately, just how much I love you, Spike?"

"Yeah but I never get tired of hearing it."

He kissed Buffy, passionately but then abruptly stopped. He pulled away, slightly and sniffed.

"What's wrong?"

"You smell different.."

"New shampoo?"

"No, your blood. Let's get back to the car."

He drove her to the factory, got her into the bedroom and asked her to take her top off. Then he started to sniff her.

"Spike, you're being majorly weird."

"You've been injected with something." He replied, gesturing to her right arm.

"What, someone gave me a shot? I'd remember." Buffy protested, looking at the tiny pinprick on the inside of her elbow.

"Whatever you've been dosed with, is interfering with your slayer powers, that's why the mark's still there, you're healing slower."

"Does that mean it'll wear off?"

"Hopefully but we really have to figure out who did it."

"It's so creepy, the only time it could have happened was when I was asleep. Someone must have snuck in my bedroom."

"Possibly more than once."

"Don't make it worse."

"I'm serious. You said that this has come over you slowly, like a sickness?"

Buffy nodded.

"Well, to me, that suggests more than one dose. A cumulative effect."

"Should I see if Willow can do a protection spell?"

"No. That would just keep whoever it is, out. I'd rather catch them in the act. When you get home, I'll slip in your bedroom window and keep watch, while you sleep. Any nasty tries to mess with you tonight'll have me to answer to."

Abruptly, Buffy started to laugh.

"What?" Spike asked, puzzled.

"It'll be like that old 'Dracula' film, where the boyfriend watches over his girl, to protect her from the vampire. Except, he always hangs around outside her room and Drac gets her. I'll be loads safer and it'll be the vampire protecting me."

Spike sniggered.

"I'd be happy to see that ponce, he owes me eleven pounds."

"Dracula exists? Wait, eleven pounds of what?"

"£11, English money. Around $15, give or take."

"Grudge holdy much?"

"Thing is, when I loaned it him, the average weekly wage was less than a pound, so call it three months worth of average wages, now. Quite a tidy sum and that's without charging him interest. Plus, of course, all the trouble he caused vampire kind with that damn book."

"Not so much fiction, huh?"

"Dressed up as fiction, certainly but enough truth to keep people informed. How to kill us, how to keep us out…"

"You like garlic, though."

"Yeah, always have, being dead didn't change that. Made me a bit sick at the start but I persevered."

"I love that about you. That you're so different. Makes me feel safe."

* * * * *

In the hour before dawn, Spike reluctantly left a wide awake Buffy, hopefully safe, in her room. This whole business was bothering him. He'd never heard of a slayer losing her power and he was fairly certain that Buffy's theory that she wasn't the real slayer, was rubbish. Up until recently, she had been the strongest slayer he had ever fought, he couldn't see that having Kendra in the world would change that.

If Buffy lost her powers permanently, it would change their relationship. He would have to be careful not to accidentally hurt her and he would have to protect her from all the nasties that lurked in the dark but he loved her so much that a change in lifestyle would pose few problems.

Hopefully, it wouldn't come to that. He had Dalton researching - something the book loving vampire 'lived' for - if there was something to find, he'd find it. Spike, meanwhile, was planning a birthday that Buffy would never forget.

* * * * *

They had had a wonderful evening. Buffy had dressed up and Spike had hired a stretch limo, complete with chauffeur. During the drive, he had handed his birthday girl a velvet box containing a diamond necklace to match the ear rings that he had given her for Christmas. He had tenderly fastened it around her neck and teasingly kissed her jugular. She had shivered with anticipation.

Now, they were on their way back to Sunnydale, where Buffy was going to stop off at her mom's to pick up an overnight bag, before spending the night with Spike. Buffy was amazed that her mom was being so cool about her and Spike. Then again, as her mom had said, what was the point of saying no, when Buffy had already spent the night!

* * * * *

The front door was open. Buffy and Spike raced from the car, knowing that something was badly wrong.

"Your phones were off." Dalton said, from the shadows.

"Where's my mom?"

"She's still alive. She's in a derelict building across town, with two vampires. One of them is Kralik."

"What happened?" Buffy demanded, at the same time as Spike swore under his breath.

"Your watcher set the whole thing up. He's been making you weak, on purpose, for some kind of test."

"Giles? He wouldn't do that. Would he?" She said, as she suddenly remembered zoning out while looking into one of Giles' damn crystals. Could he have given her a shot, then?

"Apparently all slayers go through this, when…if they reach eighteen."

"How do you know all this?" Spike asked.

"Kralik's new minion is a member of the watchers council. They had Kralik imprisoned, ready for the test but he escaped. He killed one watcher and sired the other. He wants to sire Buffy. Her mother's just bait."

"I'll rescue your mum, Buffy. You stay here, where it's safe." Spike said. Before Buffy could protest, he ran back to the limo and told the chauffeur that they were finished, for the night.

Buffy was fuming.

"I'm coming with you, I can't just hide here like some… girl."

"But your powers…"

"I'm more than just super strength. The council must think so too, or why this test? She's my mom. I'm coming with you."

Dalton drove, explaining how he had overheard the newly sired watcher, bragging at Willy's. He had followed the minion and found out where the test was to take place and also ascertained that Joyce was still alive. Unable to raise either Spike or Buffy, on their phones, he had gone to the one place that he knew they would come to. He had planned to leave a note but Spike and Buffy had arrived back.

Outside the derelict boarding house, Spike and Buffy got out of the car.

"Stay here and wait." Spike said to Dalton, "We may have to leave in a hurry."

Buffy was already heading inside. Spike swore and raced after her.

Buffy was officially creeped out. The place felt like a Halloween haunted house, where she knew that there was a monster waiting. She wanted to call out to her mom but she knew that she couldn't betray her own position. She felt Spike behind her.

"Your mum's downstairs, I can smell her perfume." Spike said, quietly.

"What's this Kralik like?" Buffy whispered, as they looked for a door to the basement.

"Insane. He was a serial killer before he was turned. He got addicted to prescription drugs while in a institution for the criminally insane and his addiction persisted. He needs drugs more than he needs blood." Spike explained, quietly. He gestured to a dark corner of the second room, where they was a doorway.

"Do you have any weapons?" Buffy asked, inwardly cursing her pocket less dress.

"Of course." Spike opened his coat, to reveal customized pockets with a selection of vamp-unfriendly items. Buffy took something out.

"Isn't it dangerous for you to carry this?" She asked.

"S'pose." Spike murmured. "Take the crossbow, too."

Buffy complied and when she was ready, they crept down the stairs.

The haunted house feeling intensified, as they walked down into almost total darkness. Spike went first, for the purely practical reason that his night vision was better. Not for the first time, Buffy wished that night vision came with the slayer package.

The stairs were old and every time one creaked, Buffy held her breath, listening for Kralik but they got all the way down, without incident.

They passed through a room full of Polaroid photos which featured Kralik gloating over a terrified Joyce. Buffy bit her lip at the thought of what her mom had endured while Buffy herself had been having such a good time. If anything had happened to her mom, Buffy would never forgive herself.

Joyce was tied to a chair, unconscious. Her head was bleeding and her face was bruised. Kralik had obviously been amusing himself, while he waited for Buffy to show.

Spike snapped the ropes and picked Joyce up.

"You can move faster than me, get her outside." Buffy whispered.

"I can't leave you here."

"She needs a hospital, get out, then come back. I'll be right behind you."

Reluctantly, Spike sped off, with Joyce's limp body in his arms.

He moved so fast, he was a blur as he flowed back up the stairs. Buffy followed, her slayer powers gone, she couldn't sense any vampire presence in the house but she knew that Kralik would be waiting, somewhere. He was probably going to strike when Buffy was alone.

He jumped her at the top of the stairs.

Spike hurriedly put Joyce in the back of his car, making sure that she was secure.

"Hospital." He said, tersely, to Dalton. "Now."

He ran back to the house as the car sped away.

Buffy snatched the pills from Kralik's hand and threw them over his shoulder to the far side of the room. He hit her across the face and, while she was reeling from the blow, chased after his pills. Franticly, he opened the bottle, stuck two in his mouth and washed them down with the conveniently placed glass of water.

Buffy was climbing to her feet as he turned back to her. Kralik could feel his insides boiling and realized that something was terribly wrong.

"My pills…?"

Buffy smiled, holding up the, now empty, bottle of holy water, that she had taken from Spike's pocket.

"My water." She said, with a smile, and then ducked as an enraged Kralik used his last moments to hurl his glass at her. The glass broke on the wall behind her and a large chunk of it buried itself in Buffy's neck.

Spike ran into the room, just in time to stop Buffy from pulling the glass out.

"You can't, it's embedded in your jugular, pull it out and you bleed to death."

"Hospital?"

"Too risky. I can fix it but only if…do you trust me?"

"Yes, of course I…" Buffy's voice trailed off as she looked into Spike's eyes and her reality was engulfed in an ocean of blue.

Spike gazed into her thralled eyes and swallowed. He hated doing this but this time he had no choice.

"You want to make me happy…" He murmured, his voice barely audible. "It's sooo easy to make me happy….such a simple little thing….hear your heart beating….way too fast…slow it down for me….that's it, kitten….slooow it right down…make me sooo happy….reeeally slow…."

The thrall sank deep inside Buffy's subconscious and started to influence her autonomic systems. Her breathing slowed and her heartbeat began to do the same.

As soon as he judged her heart to have slowed enough, Spike deftly pulled the glass shard out and fastened his mouth over the wound. Instead of an arterial spurt hitting the back of his throat, there was just a warm trickle on his tongue. He swallowed, unable to resist, then nicked his tongue on one of his fangs and worked his blood deep into her wound. The tear in her jugular slowly closed and he sucked gently at her skin, until all that was left of the cut was a small red scar. He lowered her limp body to the nearest couch, as he heard someone moving in the next room.

From his hiding place behind the door, Spike watched as Quentin Travers came in and stared at Buffy. Her face was bruised and there were blood stains on her cream coloured dress. He sighed and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket.

"It's me…..Yes, the plan worked, she's dead….I'll clean up here, you perform the spell." He put the phone back in his pocket and walked over to Buffy.

Spike slammed the door closed and Travers automatically looked up. His eyes met Spike's and in that instant, Spike had him.

"You want to make me happy…"

Travers tilted his head to one side and began to unbutton his shirt.

"I don't want your blood." Spike could hardly contain his disgust at the thought of tasting the blood of this vermin, who had obviously plotted Buffy's death.

Travers looked passively at his new master.

"I want information. Why do you want Buffy dead?" Spike asked, clenching his hands into fists and fighting the urge to rip the watcher into bloody pieces.

* * * * *

Buffy opened her eyes. She felt safe and warm and she wasn't in any pain. That couldn't be right. Kralik had hit her and thrown her into a wall and then she had had broken glass in her neck. She should be in pain. She sat up.

She was on Spike's bed and, for some reason, it was covered in red rose petals. They felt soft and the air was full of their scent.

"I'm sorry, pet." Spike said, gently. "I set this up before we went out. I wanted tonight to be so special." He looked close to tears.

"What happened, Spike? Is my mom…?" Buffy couldn't say the word.

"No, Buffy, no; she's not dead." Spike said, reassuringly. "Dalton got her to the hospital. Slight concussion but she'll be fine."

"What, then?"

"She doesn't remember you."

"She has amnesia? How long do they think it will last?"

"It's not amnesia. The watchers council set the whole thing up. They wanted you dead and they didn't want any comebacks, after. As soon as they thought it was over, one of them performed a spell. Anyone who knew you, forgot you ever existed."

"What? How?…It's not possible. You remember me."

"I don't think that the spell covered the demon world. Just humans."

"Can we undo it?"

"The watcher that performed it, is in England; he's the only person who can remember you. I figure he can reverse it."

"We'll go persuade him." Buffy said, a look of grim determination in her eyes.

* * * * *

Buffy got out of the car and walked up to her front door. She had closed it, earlier and now, she seemed to have lost her key. She could have kicked it in but she didn't want her mom to come home to that. Spike took a piece of wire and picked the lock.

Buffy went in. Spike tried to follow but was stopped by an invisible barrier.

"Come in, Spike." Buffy said.

Spike stepped forward again and again he couldn't cross the threshold.

"You can't invite me in, Buffy. You don't live here any more."

Tears running down her face, Buffy raced up the stairs to her room.

It was a pleasant enough room, as spare rooms go. The single bed wasn't made up and the walls were a blank neutral colour. The drawers and closets were empty, except for spare bedding.

Buffy was rooted to the spot with horror. She no longer existed.

She had come back home for two reasons, firstly to look for her passport and secondly because, deep down, she didn't believe what Travers had told Spike.

"Buffy, are you OK in there?" Spike called up the stairs from the front door.

"No," she whispered, taking a last, long look at her once bedroom. She went down the stairs, slowly; taking in the lack of family photos in the living room. Tears rolling down her face, she closed the front door behind her and fell into Spike's arms.

"Take me home." She murmured into his chest.

"Tell me everything." She said to Spike, once they were back at the factory.

"They never wanted you to be the slayer." He said. "It seems that they have seers to tell them which girls have the potential and then the watchers find them and adopt them, forcibly. They raise them to know what to expect, if they're called. They didn't know about you, I guess seers don't see everything. Apparently they lost three slayers in quick succession and they didn't find out about you until after you were called.

"Mostly, the watchers believed that you would be killed quite soon because you'd had no formal training. They assigned watchers to you and waited.

"Obviously, you didn't die."

"That once…" Buffy said, snuggling closer to Spike; the scent of crushed rose petals intensifying.

"Yes. Kendra was called then and they had what they wanted. An obedient slayer."

"So they tried to get me killed?"

"Not officially. Dalton was right, they do this whenever a slayer reaches her eighteenth birthday. It's called 'tento di cruciamentum', it's an old tradition. If the slayer is easy to control, she gets a fledgling and if the slayer is the free thinking type…"

"They get someone like Kralik."

"Yeah. They figured you'd die. They knew Giles would be upset and they were fairly certain that your mum would cause problems, so they used the spell. It's like you never existed. Kendra is on her way here, now. She's going to take care of the hell mouth, from now on."

"Where's Travers?" Buffy asked.

"Ah, Buffy, about that…"

"Did you kill him?" Buffy asked, looking up at his face.

"No. I wanted to but I knew that you wouldn't approve, so I…"

"You don't do stuff, if you think I wouldn't approve?"

"Course not; I think 'what would Buffy do?' and I figured you wouldn't kill him."

"You're so perfect." Buffy said, kissing him, "But in this case, you're wrong."

"No, I'm not. You're not a killer, Buffy."

"What did you do with him?"

"Once I'd got all the information, I messed with his head a bit and then dumped him out on the highway. It'll be hot, out in the desert but he'll get picked up. When he does, he'll confess to murdering a young girl, matching your description. He's carrying so much guilt, over your death, that he'll end up confined to an institution for the rest of his life."

"Why would he feel guilty? He wanted me dead."

"He feels guilt because I told him to. I had him in my thrall." Spike looked away, unable to meet her eyes.

"Like you did me."

"Yeah. I didn't mess with you though."

"I know. You are the reason that I woke up feeling so good, though, aren't you?"

"Yeah. That's one of the reasons I don't do thrall. To much temptation. Also, it's cheating."

"Angel said you couldn't do it. He said Drusilla could but you couldn't."

"He couldn't. If he'd found out I could…"

"He'd have killed you." Buffy finished.

"And then some. I was never as good at it as Dru - she could make a whole room full of people line up and offer their throats - but I was good enough to keep the minions in line, Dru never twigged, either."

"How do we get to England? I've got no passport."

"I've got that sorted, you'll have one by tomorrow night. Then we're booked on a ship."

"A ship? Why not fly?"

"The sun, pet. I've booked us a suite and specified thick curtains. We'll board at night and disembark at night. By the time we reach England, you'll be up to full strength again."

"I'm feeling better, already." Buffy said, kissing him again. "And it seems a shame to waste these rose petals."

They made love slowly and tenderly; Spike going gently, so as not to hurt his weakened slayer. As they were about to climax, he ran his tongue longingly over the scar from her earlier wound.

"Do it, Spike; I'm yours." Buffy gasped, as she bit into his neck.

"And I'm yours." he replied, sinking his fangs into her.

They both climaxed, simultaneously and darkness engulfed them both.

THE END..?