A/N: A thousand thanks to my beta, Orin Forever Crimson. Thanks again to those of you kind enough to let me know what you think about my work. So, please R&R, but most importantly, enjoy!
"Are we sure this is the right place?" Giles checked the address Spike had given him again, nodding in confirmation in response to Willow's question. Almost as if he heard them, from out of nowhere Spike knocked on the passenger side window, startling everyone inside.
"Give me a minute. I don't come out with Dawn in my arms, you come down an' save the day. I'd bet three kittens that it'll all go down in the basement. First door on your left." Spike didn't leave any room for objection as he was gone just as quick as he had arrived. The Scoobies watched him punch the doorknob off and enter the house. After a minute of silent waiting, Xander opened his car door and stepped out.
"To hell with this; I'm going in." He wasn't really surprised when the other three car doors opened and everyone else got out with him. Giles lead the way towards the house before turning to Willow and Tara.
"It wouldn't hurt to have a contingency spell prepared, just in case something goes wrong."
"I... I'm not really comfortable using magic lately," Willow demurred softly. Tara squeezed the hand she was holding.
"I'm not trying to push you Willow, however I noticed you didn't hesitate when Dawn was being kidnapped earlier." Willow looked down at her feet but she nodded.
"Don't worry baby; we'll do one together. Let me do the most work and I'll draw on your strength." Tara spoke softly into Willow's ear, who turned and quickly kissed her before they prepared their spell as quietly as they could. When they nodded, Giles pushed open the knobless door and began to descend the stairs as Spike had informed them to.
As they neared the bottom, they heard Warren describing his failsafe and his plans for Spike. Giles poked his head down and assessed the room situation. His eyes weren't what they used to be, but he knew that unless the robotician had designed his bombs just right, the blast would take anyone out in a twenty foot radius at the very least. He stepped back up with the rest of the group and informed them of the situation.
"There are blast charges set up around Dawn. I don't think that he's going to endanger himself but he may have some defence mechanism in place." He turned to look at the resident witches of the group. "Are you ready?" When they nodded, Giles proceeded down the stairs with everyone else following him.
"Unless you've got conical shaped blasts in every one of those charges," Giles said loudly, hoping to draw any attention away from Willow and Tara as they kept their spell ready, "you'll never be daft enough to press the button."
"Watch me," Warren responded, a maniacal look on his face. Tara and Willow recognised that look as the only warning they would get. They immediately finished their spell and clasped their hands back together. When Warren pushed the button, Dawn was wrapped in a protective cocoon of green and violet colours. Spike tried to rush to her side as quickly as he could, but he knew he'd never make it in time.
The explosion had indeed been conical in nature, much to Giles' surprise, but because of the magic shield the Wiccans had prepared, the explosion was directed outwards, filling the basement with the blast and engulfing Spike in flames.
The Scoobies were all knocked off their feet onto the stairs from the concussive force of the blast. As everyone on the stairs had been staring at Dawn, they were all temporarily blinded. They lay there, stunned, for several minutes until Dawn's voice finally cut through the ringing in their ears.
"Is everyone okay? Anybody?" The fact that she was panicking was obvious in her voice. Xander was the first to move and wave at her general area, giving her a shaky thumbs up. As the Scoobies regained their wits, they began to survey the wreckage. Dawn was unharmed, sitting in a small area that was perfectly clear of debris and soot. All around her tiny fires guttered, dying out quickly. Giles observed that they were very lucky that the smoke had filtered out the now-broken basement windows and hadn't come their way.
They moved gingerly down to free Dawn, carefully avoiding pieces of timber and twisted metal shards. When they got to her they began to untie her, however before they could get very far a rustling behind them drew their attention towards another corner of the building. A blond man lay there, a large shaft of wood through his torso.
"Never... never wanted to hurt... anybody," he said weakly. Any notions of aiding the young man were ended quickly when his head lolled to the side, lifeless. This served as a reminder that there had been other people in the basement aside from Dawn.
"We need to look for the others, for Spike," Giles said, taking charge of the situation. Everyone nodded and split up, with Tara staying to untie Dawn. As they searched, Xander walked over to Giles.
"G-man, that was a fireball we dealt with. Even if we find Spike, we won't be able to do more than sweep him into a dustpan." Xander kept his voice low so that nobody overheard him. Giles looked back at Dawn before responding.
"For her sake," Giles said quietly, "and perhaps for the sake of Sunnydale, I hope you're wrong." Xander nodded and began his search in earnest. After a minute, the search was suddenly interrupted by the recoil of a gun. All eyes turned to the center of the room to focus upon Warren holding a gun, smoke still rising from the barrel.
"You think you can play me for a fool? You think that I'd just let you get away with that?" No one in the room actually understood what he was talking about. It all sounded like the ranting of a madman.
"What're you babblin' on about?" The sound of Spike's voice was muffled due to all the debris that was on top of him. He put in a mighty effort and heaved it all off of himself. He then stood wearily, fighting to stay upright.
"You started this," Warren pointed the gun at Spike, continuing on in an ever increasingly frantic tone, "you went after my girlfriend first! You should've never gotten Katrina involved. Now I've got to go after her too!" At first everyone was confused by the rantings, until Spike put the pieces together.
"You're dating Donut-girl?" Spike laughed briefly before he began sputtering and coughing. "What'd she ever see in you?"
"No way," Xander stated emphatically. "Katrina Ballantine wouldn't have anything to do with you." His words had an obvious effect on Warren, as his eyes went even wilder.
"Ballantine? No, Katrina Lit—how did you... no. NO! This is all some twisted mind game!" Warren's mental wheels began turning, trying to determine where he had let this all go so horribly awry. He had overestimated the vampire then, and it made him revile Spike even more. He began to wave the gun around at random, pointing it at one person briefly before moving on to the next.
Suddenly, the room was filled with the sound of chanting as the forgotten Jonathan did his best to make amends for his part in this tragedy. He was just about to finish his spell when Warren turned towards him and pulled the trigger, proving that he had surprising aim despite his wavering hand. Jonathan fell back to the floor, never to move again.
"You've got a problem with me, you ponce? What're you gonna' do about it?" Spike was trying a different route, standing up as tall as he could and presenting his chest as a target. Warren immediately turned the gun on him but hesitated about pulling the trigger.
"I'm not stupid. I know that bullets can't kill what's already dead. You've got to put a steak through the heart, and I know just how to do it." Warren moved quickly and grabbed Dawn, putting the gun to her head. "I think thi-".
Warren's voice was cut off by a sickening snap, followed by a bloodcurdling scream from Spike, and both bodies hit the floor side by side, Spike's hands still on Warren's head.
Spike knew that he had to do something to resolve the situation. He had hoped that Warren would vent his rage by emptying the gun's clip into his chest if he taunted the nerd enough. Spike knew that he was pretty banged up. He had tried to move to rescue Dawn before the explosion and had taken a full-bodied blast head on. He still wasn't sure how he had survived, but he did recall a pale blue light flash before his eyes just as the explosion enveloped him. The Godsblood must have done something to protect him from the flames, but it hadn't done much to protect him from the impact of slamming into a wall and having parts of the ceiling collapse atop him. He hadn't been in good shape before the explosion; now it was a struggle to stand.
When Warren moved to Dawn and put a gun to her head, Spike had seen enough. He refused to fail in protecting the girl again, letting Buffy down a second time. So, Spike ignored his pain and put on a burst of speed, the kind that a vampire could only use once or twice in a century. He was behind Warren before anyone had noticed that he had moved. Then, he put his hands on either side of Warren's head, and he twisted with every ounce of strength he had left.
As soon as he did, Spike's brain exploded in pain. Spike screamed and fell to the floor, his fingers embedded in Warren's face.
It took everyone several seconds to understand what had happened. One moment, Spike had been on the other side of the room and Warren had turned a gun on Dawn. The next, both men lay on the floor, one obviously dead, the other's status unknown.
"Nonononononono," Dawn muttered in denial as she knelt by Spike's still form. She took his head in her arms and noticed that her hands had become wet. She looked down and saw that blood was leaking out of Spike's nose and ears. She cradled his head even closer before looking over to the Giles and shouting, "Do something!" Then Dawn broke down in tears as her protector lay motionless in her arms.
Dawn's words served to galvanise the rest of the group. Everything moved in slow motion for Dawn as everyone else rushed towards her and Spike, trying to see find out anything they could. Tara tried to gingerly remove Dawn's hands but she eventually had to pry them away from Spike so that they could get a good look at him. Tara held her close as the tears poured down both of their faces.
Xander looked at Giles, at a loss for how to move forward. Vampires don't breathe nor do they have pulses, which made checking for any 'signs of life' an exercise in futility. Giles looked to Willow, hoping that she would know a spell that might answer the question of whether or not Spike was alive but she simply shook her head sadly. Giles dropped his head in defeat, turning towards Dawn to deliver the bad news.
"He's still alive." Anya's words stopped everyone's actions as they turned to her for an explanation. "He's a vampire. When he's dead he'll turn to dust, just like every other vampire ever. If he's not dust..."
"Then he's still alive," Dawn said, hope evident in her voice. "B-but, if he's not dead, then we can help him, right?" She scanned everyone's faces, hoping to see an answer somewhere, but to her dismay, there would be no answers for her that day.