PART EIGHT

All disclaimers and "stuff" are in Part One.

Xander opened his eyes. Giles had waved something under his nose and was still leaning over him. Anya suddenly appeared and gave him a hug.

"Xander, you're alive!," cried Anya.

"That's debatable," argued Xander, holding a hand to his head. "This is going to hurt in the morning. And since it is morning can I just say ouch!"

"How did you know? That it wasn't Buffy, I mean," asked Willow.

"Well if the sight of her kissing old guy here didn't convince you then what could I say that would make you believe me? And might I add that I'm swearing off Slayers from now on. Yep, going cold turkey. I don't care if you wrap one up and put her under my Christmas tree! I'm done with the whole lot!," complained Xander.

Willow and Tara gave him a confused look.

"Here, let an old man help you to your feet," said Giles, lifting Xander by the arm.

"It was her eyes, wasn't it?," asked Tara.

Xander didn't have to ask her what she meant. He knew.

"Yeah," nodded Xander. "There's something different about them when the demon is in control. I could tell, though. Yeah, they were naked as the eyes of a clown."

"Oh, Xander, that's good! You mean like that famous opera clown, painting on a happy face while all the time you only have to look at his eyes to see that he's crying on the inside. You saw right through that!," complimented Tara.

"No, I just don't like clowns," shrugged Xander.

"I shoulda told ya that," added Willow.

"Oh," said Tara.

"And speaking of see through, I think this blouse is a little more so than I first thought," said Anya.

Everyone just stared at her.

"Not that it's a bad thing," smiled Anya, looking down.

"Anya..."

"I know, Xander. It's not a good time," frowned Anya. Xander nodded in agreement.

Giles lifted the lid off a wooden chest that was pushed up against a wall and began to rummage through it.

"Just trying to avoid that old cliche about the mountain," whispered Anya to Xander, although the two girls could hear her.

"Mountain?," ventured Xander.

"Yeah, you know...just trying to keep you interested," replied Anya, suddenly looking bored with the subject.

"Mountain?," repeated Xander. Anya sighed.

"A woman is like the summit of a mountain. The more times a man climbs her and reaches the summit, the more he loses interest in mounting her again. He's already seen the view!," complained Anya.

Xander stared at Anya, not moving.

"Girl, I fear you!," whispered Willow.

"Anya, there's more than one way to get to the top of the mountain," said Xander. Anya was going to say something but she stopped to think about that. And then she smiled. Willow smacked her hand into her forehead.

"Uh, Giles? You planning on shooting Buffy?," asked Tara. Giles held the tranquilizer gun that he had used in the past on Oz in his hands. He was loading it with two syringes.

"Drug her. This is the same stuff that I...that I used on her when she turned eighteen. Except it's more concentrated. I can't increase the dosage more than this. Any more and her body might not remember how to breathe," explained Giles.

"Stuff? You used the word stuff? I thought I was the one with the concussion," said Xander.

"I'm tired. Forgive me," countered Giles.

"And you were keeping this stuff around for what might I ask? Her twenty-first birthday?," asked Xander.

"Need I remind you that we live on the Hellmouth? One never knows what resources might come in handy. We have to find her. This thing inside her is hungry and it wants to kill," said Giles.

"But it's almost daybreak. She'll be seeking cover soon," said Willow.

"I hope so. But we have to be sure," replied Giles.

"Okay, this is a bad thought, and I'm a bad person for even thinking it, let alone voicing it. But if Buffy turns another person, then the demon leaves her. And we have Buffy back. Right?," pouted Willow.

"Yes, I believe so. But she will also be very weak. And the new vampire will be very hungry. I don't know if she'll have the strength to defend herself, never mind kill it," explained Giles.

"But her Slayer strength...," began Willow. She stopped when she saw the look of despair on Giles' face.

Giles didn't answer Willow. He reached into the chest again and withdrew four wooden stakes. And he held them out.

"Take one, each of you."

They all looked at him, not moving.

"Do it!"

They all reluctantly took a stake.

"It won't come to that. But...let's go...go try to help her," said Giles softly.

*****

Buffy hadn't gone far before she sensed that she was being watched. She glanced over her shoulder but she was confident that she wasn't being followed. When she looked forward again there was a shadow, standing in the street about a block away. It didn't move as Buffy approached. And it slowly took the form of a girl.

Buffy recognized her as the vampire from the sewer. The one that had run away. She stood there, hands on her hips, smiling. And then she raised her right hand, her middle finger thrust forward at Buffy. Buffy smiled. She enjoyed a challenge. The girl turned and ran. And Buffy followed.

Every so often the girl would look back, as if making sure Buffy was still following her. The buildings began to thin out and Buffy soon smelled the salt air. They were near the docks down by the harbor. Buffy ran harder. She was getting aggravated that she couldn't seem to close the distance to this vampire. The girl stayed on the road that led away from the harbor. And she seemed to be tiring. Buffy smiled.

Yes, Buffy was definitely getting closer. The girl suddenly seemed to realize this and she stopped running. She turned to face the Slayer. Buffy never slowed down. Not more than two strides away from her Buffy dove, tackling the girl and bringing her down hard on the ground. They rolled over once or twice and the girl lashed out blindly at Buffy, ripping the sleeve of her shirt at the elbow.

Buffy punched the girl in the face once, twice, three times...and the girl didn't fight back. She was pinned down under Buffy but could move her arms if she wanted to. She didn't even try. Buffy stopped hitting her when she realized the girl was laughing.

"What could possibly be funny?," demanded Buffy. "You're about to be dust!"

"Look around you, Slayer. Where are you?"

Buffy glanced up and then glared at the vampire. The girl was making no attempt to move so she looked up again, taking in her surroundings. They were on the side of a paved two lane road, surrounded by open fields. Buffy could hear the water from where they were but couldn't see it.

"Yeah? What about it?," snapped Buffy.

"Next question. What time is it?," smiled the vampire.

And suddenly Buffy knew the danger she was in. In a few minutes the sun would be up. And she would be caught out in the open.

"That right!," teased the girl. "No trees, no sewers, and no time to run. Surprise!," laughed the girl.

"Why? You'll burn just the same as me! Why?," yelled Buffy, punching her again.

"Yeah, I will. I don't know how you became one of us, but I knew what you were when I saw you. You killed my friends. And I've had some injuries that have never healed properly, so I'm in constant pain. That's why I'm not afraid to die. Only more than happy to take you out with me," answered the vampire, smiling once again. "Oh, I'm going to enjoy watching you burn."

Buffy stood up and with one hand lifted the girl to her feet. There was a telephone pole behind them and it had metal prongs nailed into it to help the utility men climb it. Buffy drove the vampire against one of these prongs. The girl screamed out in pain as the metal exploded through her chest. Buffy stepped away. The girl hung there, her feet dangling about a foot off the ground. She struggled but couldn't free herself.

"Doesn't matter, Slayer. I still get to watch," snarled the vampire through clenched teeth.

Buffy turned and ran, hearing the vampire's laughter fade away as she did. Her legs seemed heavy. She couldn't run as fast as she wanted to. As fast as she needed to. Buffy looked back. The vampire was writhing on the pole and not from the pain of the stake. The sun was rising.

And Buffy knew she had nowhere to run. There simply wasn't enough time.

*****

"The bum on the dock said a girl fitting Buffy's description went this way. But...where?," asked Xander, looking out at the open fields before them.

"Xander, it's homeless person. Don't say bum. It might only be a bottle of gin that separates you from him," scolded Willow.

Xander looked down at the clothes he was wearing.

"You really don't like my taste in clothes, do you?," complained Xander.

"She has a point," said Anya.

Giles held a pair of binoculars up to his eyes. The rifle lay on the ground at his feet. He seemed to focus on something in the distance for a moment and then slowly lowered the glasses.

"Willow, what color shirt was Buffy wearing this morning?," he asked, not looking at her.

"Uh, it was light blue, with long sleeves. Why?"

Giles ignored her and began to walk away. Xander shook his head, bent down and picked up the rifle. They followed Giles down the road. It wasn't a far walk.

Giles knelt down and picked up the light blue torn shirt sleeve. He just held it in his hand, staring at it. Willow glanced over his shoulder and then turned and looked away.

"Giles. Over here," said Xander. Giles dropped the shirt sleeve to the ground. He saw what Xander was pointing at. At the base of the telephone pole was a thin layer of ash. Something they had all seen before. Many times before.

Giles sat there, not moving, not even blinking.

"Giles, that's not her! Buffy isn't that stupid. She wouldn't let that happen," said Willow, pleading with him to believe her.

"No. It isn't. Both the demon and Buffy have too strong of a desire to live," agreed Xander.

"Perhaps Buffy didn't want to live anymore. Why would she?," whispered Giles. "Would you?," he added, turning his head so that Willow wouldn't see him cry.

"She's not dead!," screamed Willow. "She, she got into a fight and, and she dusted a vampire. That's all! Hell, her shirt got ripped and you know how she feels about her clothes! She was big time pissed!"

Everyone was quiet. They didn't look at Willow.

"So where did she go?," asked Anya, quickly looking away from Willow's glare.

Willow swallowed hard but couldn't give an answer.

"Willow, you have to consider the possibility...her chances are about as good as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series," said Xander.

"What's wrong with you? Stop it! She's not dead!," said Willow, her voice not as full of conviction as a moment ago.

"Sorry. You're right. No one deserves to have their chances compared to the Cubs," said Xander. "Maybe...maybe she had time to make it to the water. And then, then she could hold her breath...under water. Until she made it to the docks. The sun never gets under the docks. So that's where we should be looking. Who's with me?," asked Xander.

"Giles, does Buffy...does Buffy still breathe?," asked Anya. "Does she need to?"

Giles just sat there, covering his face with one hand.

"Let's go," said Xander firmly. He slung the rifle over his shoulder and began to walk towards the ocean. The others followed. All but Giles. He just sat there, staring at the torn shirt sleeve lying in the dirt.

*****

"You meet the most interesting people on the docks of Sunnydale," commented Xander sarcastically as he walked the past the broken door and entered Giles' living room. He paused, then turned and put his fingers up to his lips to the group behind him. He nodded his head in the direction of the couch where Giles was fast asleep.

Willow smiled, took a blanket off a chair and gently covered him with it. She pointed to the kitchen, indicating to the others that she wanted to talk in there.

"I think Tara and I should perform the ritual of the nether-realm again. We did that when Faith was here and we were able to find Buffy. Giles probably has everything we need here, but Tara and I will double check," said Willow. "We'll perform it upstairs, in the bedroom."

"What can I do?," asked Xander.

"Get some sleep," said Willow. And then she noticed that Tara seemed uncomfortable or nervous.

"Tara, what is it?," asked Willow.

"I know we did this before, but it is very demanding being your anchor. I'd be more comfortable if I had a second, someone to fall back on," explained Tara.

"You want me to sit behind you?," asked Xander seriously.

"No," smiled Tara.

"I'll be your second," announced Giles, suddenly standing in the doorway. "I take it you didn't find any trace of Buffy."

Willow shook her head. The phone rang. Xander reached for it but first looked at Giles. He nodded.

"Hello?"

"Xander? It's me, Riley."

"Riley! What a surprise!," said Xander, the worried look on his face matched by both Willow and Giles. Willow mouthed the word mother to him. "Uh, how's your mom doing?"

"Great. Thanks for asking. Is Buffy there? I haven't been able to get in touch with her."

"Buffy. Oh, right! Buffy. She's, uh...sleeping right now. Yeah, real tired our little Slayer is. You don't want me to wake her, do you?," asked Xander.

"Uh, no. I guess not. But she's okay? Why is she sleeping so late?," asked Riley.

"She's fine. Just, uh, been busy, what with the late night slaying and all," said Xander, forcing a smile. "Are you coming home soon?"

"Tomorrow. Should be there by supper time."

"And that would be dinner time for us city folk. I'll tell Buffy that you called."

"Please do. Thanks Xander. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye."

"Yeah. Bye," said Xander, hanging up the phone. Willow smiled at him.

"What?," asked Xander.

"You're getting better at your lying," said Willow.

"That's a good, right?," asked Xander. Willow nodded.

"Well then, let's get started. I believe I have everything we'll need," said Giles.

*****

Startled, Xander woke up. He had fallen asleep in the chair. Across from him Anya still slept, stretched out on the couch. Xander looked up at Willow. She was staring at him and by her expression he knew the news wasn't good.

"You okay?," asked Xander.

Willow nodded. Her forehead still glistened from the oil that had been applied for the ritual.

"How did it go?," asked Xander, nervously.

Willow sat down in a chair. She didn't answer Xander or look at him.

"Willow! Is she dead?"

"We don't know," answered Giles, walking down the stairs behind them. Tara was right behind him. "Willow couldn't find her, but that could mean that the demon is in control and blocking Willow. Or maybe Willow was just too tired to make contact."

"Or maybe I just suck at this," pouted Willow.

"That's not true and you know it," protested Tara.

"Isn't it? Okay, my spells are getting better. But that's probably because of you! You're so much stronger than I am. It's not me at all, is it? Like I said, I suck."

Tara walked over and put her hand on Willow's shoulder.

"No, you don't. You are so much stronger than you know. Trust me. You have no idea," said Tara softly.

"Listen to her, Willow. It takes years to develop the skills you seek. And it can be reckless to proceed too fast in these matters. It's not your fault. To borrow one of your expressions, I'd say you're one kick ass witch," smiled Giles.

Willow smiled.

"Thanks. So what do we do now?," asked Willow.

"We wait. Until sunset," shrugged Giles.

"Giles, while we're waiting...would it be alright if I took a nap on your bed? I'm really beat," said Tara.

"Of course!," replied Giles.

"Thanks."

Tara looked at Willow but didn't say anything. She simply walked away.

"Willow, I know it's none of my business, but are things okay between you and Tara?," asked Xander in a low voice as he watched Giles go in to the kitchen.

"Yeah. It's just...we need to talk. About...stuff. And it's been so hectic around here we just haven't had time yet," said Willow.

"So make time. Now," suggested Xander.

Willow inhaled slowly and shook her head.

"No. She's exhausted. Let her sleep. I'd only upset her or, or...what can I say? It won't amount to anything," sighed Willow.

Xander stood up and put his hands on his hips.

"Do you stand there, Katie Rosenberg O'Hara, and tell me that Tara, that girl, doesn't amount to anything? Love is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything, for 'tis the only thing in this world that lasts, and don't you be forgetting it! 'Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for...worth dying for," said Xander.

"Oh Xander, you talk like an Irishman!," said Willow.

"Really?"

"No. I was just sticking to the script," frowned Willow. "And by the way, it's land, not love, her father was talking about."

"Oh," said Xander. "What's he know anyway? His side lost the war."

"But thanks. For the advice and the show," smiled Willow. Xander smiled in return.

Anya opened her eyes and stretched.

"I miss anything?," she asked.

*****

The smaller raven of the three watched from a distance as his two larger brethren fed hungrily on the dead squirrel in the road. The day was coming to an end and it knew that if it was patient, the others would fly off to roost. So the smaller raven waited for dimming of the light, hoping that it could feed then. Its head was cocked to one side, its beak slightly open.

First one raven and then the other stopped feeding. They twitched their heads from side to side, listening. Even the younger one sensed that something was wrong. But hunger overruled its instinct to flee. The other two stood motionless. Waiting.

One raven screeched a warning and took to the air. Too late did the smaller raven react to the danger it was in. The hand reached up from beneath it, grabbing and snapping one wing. It cawed in terror and pecked viscously at the attacker, tearing flesh. More dirt was pushed aside and another hand appeared. Finally Buffy's face emerged from the pit. She pushed the raven to her mouth, snapping bone and ripping flesh with her teeth, ingesting dirt, feathers and blood all at once.

Buffy tossed the lifeless bird aside and stood up. She sniffed at the air like a dog and brushed herself off. Hunger burned inside of her, like a growing hatred. She looked at her bloody and torn fingers, ravaged by digging her own grave to hide from the sun. And she looked at her dirt stained clothes. Female vanity won out over hunger. Buffy decided to take a swim.

End of Part Eight

PART NINE

She had been following him for three or four blocks now. It was obvious that he wasn't drunk like so many of the other homeless in this neighborhood, even though he held a brown paper bag in one hand. In fact, it seemed that he knew he was being watched. He kept glancing over his shoulder and would suddenly cross the street as if trying to draw her out. Finally, he simply stood and waited.

Buffy didn't hesitate. She moved out of the shadows and walked right at him. And then she smiled.

"All right, who the bloody hell are you and what do you...oh, it's you."

"Spike. Wow, long time no see," grinned Buffy.

"Now listen here, blondie. I haven't given you any trouble since that whole Adam fiasco went down. In fact, I've been avoiding any place that the Slayerettes might happen upon. So don't be giving me a hard time now," warned Spike. "You go your way and I'll go mine," he added, turning as if to leave.

"Oh, someone's cranky," teased Buffy. "Still have that old chip in you?"

"You damn well know I do!," said Spike, facing her again and glaring.

"Spike, relax! Why don't we let bygones be bygones. And what the hell is a bygone anyway? Oh, never mind. No sense living in the past. Right?," smiled Buffy, running her finger down his nose and stopping at his chin.

"Uh, right. Of course not. Live for the now...and all that," agreed Spike, carefully watching the Slayer.

"Spike, you know, you're looking a little thin. What's wrong? Rats just a little faster than you these nights?," asked Buffy.

Spike gave her a disgusted look and turned to go but she grabbed him by the arm.

"I'm sorry. That was rude of me. Tell you what. I'm in sort of a hurry here...but you might be able to persuade me to be...a little late," suggested Buffy, leaning over to whisper the last three words into Spike's ear.

She opened the top two buttons on his shirt and ran her hands down his chest. Buffy brought her lips up to his.

"What do you say, Spike? You up for it?," asked Buffy, running her tongue across his lower lip.

"Oh no you don't!," snapped Spike, stepping back. "We're not going to replay that scene we had the last time we were together at the Bronze. I do have some dignity, you know!"

"Huh?," said Buffy, a puzzled look on her face.

"Oh, don't give me those puppy dog eyes. You know very well what I'm talking about," said Spike, looking away and acting as if his feelings had been hurt.

"Besides, I've got this chip in me, remember?"

Buffy smiled.

"You sure it's still working? Maybe the battery ran out," said Buffy.

"Battery?," repeated Spike, suddenly unsure of himself.

"Feeling lucky? Let's test your...battery. Go on, hit me. You know you want to," smiled Buffy.

"No!"

"Spike, maybe it doesn't matter if the battery is still working," said Buffy, smiling even more and running a hand through his hair. "See, I've been doing a little soul searching lately. And you know what?," asked Buffy, once again whispering into his ear.

"What?," said Spike, entranced.

Buffy lowered her voice to a breath.

"I have a little secret I'd like to share with you. I'm not sure I have one," said Buffy.

"What? A soul? And why would..."

Buffy put a finger on his lips, silencing him. She leaned forward and kissed him, gently and softly on the mouth.

"Mmm...that's nice. I'm being a bad girl, aren't I...Spike? Maybe, maybe you should...spank me. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"And why would the Slayer, killer of demons, not have a soul?," demanded Spike, growing tired of her game, although he found it impossible to stop looking at her lips.

"Hmmm, how can I prove it to you? Oh! I know," said Buffy, glancing at the brown paper bag Spike held in his hand. She reached for it and accidentally brushed across his groin. He gasped. Buffy smiled.

"And what do we have here?," asked Buffy, taking the bag from him and peering inside.

"Hey, I spent the last of my money on that!," complained Spike.

Buffy slowly pulled the white plastic cup out of the bag and removed the lid. Spike looked at her, confused and thinking that she might dump the contents out onto the ground.

"Here's looking at you, kid," said Buffy, lifting the cup to her lips and tilting her head back.

Spike opened his eyes wide in amazement. Buffy closed her eyes and made loud slurping noises as she gulped the still warm blood down.

"That's disgusting!," cried Spike. He turned and quickly ran away. Buffy tossed the cup to the ground and laughed. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and, still laughing, watched Spike disappear into the night. It began to rain.

*****

The rain fell harder now. Buffy stopped, lifted her head and sniffed at the air, her nostrils flaring. The scent was unmistakable. She walked a little faster now down the dark street. And the scent grew stronger. The alley ahead of her only had a dumpster in it. Buffy splashed through the muddy puddles, her hair now clinging to the sides of her face.

Something was wrong. Out of place. But she didn't have to be cautious now. Buffy was confident. And driven.

The cup was on the ground behind the dumpster. She fought back the urge to grab it and drink from it. Buffy sniffed at the air again; the blood was pure, not laced with any drug. She stared at the cup, drawn to it. Raindrops disturbed its thick, smooth surface. Buffy tilted her head, listening.

The dart hit her square in the back before she heard it coming. She clawed at it and knocked it to the ground, grinding it beneath her foot. And then she fell to her knees, one hand on her forehead. The drug was taking effect quickly. Buffy tried to stand, wanting to run, but she collapsed onto her side, the alley spinning around her. She closed her eyes.

She lay there, motionless, for a full minute before he emerged from his hiding place. He kicked her with his foot and she fell over onto her back. Xander knelt down beside her and felt her neck for a pulse. And then Buffy opened her eyes.

"Surprise!," she yelled, smiling.

Buffy rolled back onto her shoulders and kicked outwards with her feet, catching Xander in the chest. He landed hard on his back, unable to breath. Buffy pounced and straddled him, holding down his right arm and grabbing his hair, pulling Xander's head to one side to expose his neck. Her body ached to bite into his flesh. She raised her head, revealing her fangs like a cobra about strike.

And then Buffy was knocked to the ground, a large gash open above her left eye. Xander looked up. Giles stood above him, both hands wrapped around the gun stock like a baseball bat. Buffy growled and came at Giles but Xander managed to raise a leg and trip her. She lashed out with her hand as she fell, her fingernails slicing into Giles' cheek, drawing lines of blood. He dropped the gun and brought his hands up to his face, wincing in pain but not crying out.

Buffy sprang to her feet again and kicked Giles in the groin. As his head came down she drove an elbow into his forehead. Giles hit the wall behind him and collapsed on the ground, blood trickling down from one ear. Instantly Buffy turned to face Xander. Lightning lit the sky and the rain seemed to come down harder. A moment later came the rumble of the thunder.

Xander had managed to stagger up on one knee. He held out a large wooden cross in front of him with one hand. Staring into Buffy's eyes, Xander realized that the thing standing in front of him had no humanity left in it. Buffy grabbed the cross. Even as she winced from the pain she glared at Xander, not taking her yellow eyes off of him. Smoke rose from her hand. Still she held on.

The cross burst into flames. Xander dropped it and backpedaled crablike away from her. But she caught him by one ankle and spun him around. When she let go Xander slid on his back and his head smashed into the dumpster with a sickening thud. He didn't move.

Buffy stood up straight and screamed, the echo of her inhuman yell bouncing off the walls of the alley. She took a step towards Xander. And staggered back, snarling and grabbing at her left shoulder. A large wooden dart was imbedded in the muscle. She glanced up and saw Willow lowering a crossbow, glaring at her not thirty yards away.

"Leave him alone!," screamed Willow.

Buffy ripped the bloody dart from her shoulder and threw it to the ground. Lightning cracked the sky once again, immediately followed by thunder. The ground beneath their feet shook. Buffy smiled. Willow dropped the crossbow, turned and ran, grabbing Tara's hand and pulling her along.

Willow could run faster than Tara but she paced herself, letting Tara stay just ahead. Their feet splashed through puddles as they ran. Every so often she would glance back over her shoulder to make sure Buffy still followed them. She knew that both Giles and Xander were helpless and Willow was trying to get Buffy as far away from them as she could.

Still looking behind her, Willow realized that Buffy could easily catch them if she wanted to. This was a game for her, one meant to tire them out and to terrorize them. And then she fell. Tara heard her and stopped.

"No! Keep going!," yelled Willow, getting to her feet.

Tara didn't hesitate. She turned and ran. Willow looked back and lightning once again lit up the sky. Not far away was Buffy, walking fast but calmly towards her. Willow ran.

Tara stopped in front of a door and tried to open it but it was locked. She pounded on the door with her fists. She looked back to make sure Willow saw her as she turned a corner and made her way down another alley. There was one more door here but it too was locked. Tara desperately searched the alley. They could keep running or they could climb a fire escape ladder to the roof. Willow caught up with her.

"Willow, we can't keep running. I can't," added Tara, out of breath. Willow nodded.

"The door," panted Willow. "Open it. I'll hold her off to give you time."

Tara nodded and faced the door. Willow caught a few words of her incantation as she walked away from her, towards Buffy.

"Deny me not, this barricade be broken...let me pass, my desire is spoken..."

Willow didn't even blink as lightning flashed again. She knew what she had to do. What startled her was how close Buffy already was to them. Or what once was Buffy. Tara's voice seemed distant now. Willow didn't listen anymore.

It stood just ten feet away. Smiling. Willow held up a cross between them, her hand trembling. The rain plastered her hair against her face, hiding her tears.

"Willow, please! You're hurting me. It's me...Buffy."

"You're...not...Buffy!"

Willow held the cross more steady now, stronger in her resolve.

"Yes, I am! I...it's not my fault, Will! Please, believe me. Do you think that I could ever hurt you? Do you? I won't let it...I promise," said Buffy, taking a step towards her. Willow lowered the cross ever so slightly, as if her arm were getting tired.

"Willow, let's get out of the rain. You must be freezing. Okay?," asked Buffy, holding out her hand. She took another step towards Willow.

"Buffy?," whispered Willow.

"Yes. It's me, Will. Really. Please, just...just trust me," begged Buffy.

"Willow, the door's open!," yelled Tara.

Buffy took another step towards Willow. And then another bolt of lightning exploded and Willow saw Buffy's eyes. And she knew. She knew the thing standing before her had no soul. She raised the cross again just as the vampire took another step forward.

"Go to hell!," screamed Willow.

Buffy turned her head and hissed, eyes focused on Willow. Willow felt Tara's arm pulling her and they ran back to the door, slamming it shut behind them. Tara slid a bolt over to lock it. They both sat with their backs to the door. Willow began to cry. She put her head in her hands and began to sob. Tara put her arm around her and pulled her close. They both jumped when the vampire kicked against the door.

"Willow, she can break down this door. The bolt is the only thing between us and her! We need to seal the door. Do you know the spell? To block the undead, I mean?," asked Tara, holding up Willow's face so that she would look at her.

Willow nodded, trying not to cry. She wiped her eyes. Buffy kicked against the door again, bending the hinges.

"Good. I can do it, but it'll be quicker and stronger if you help me," said Tara, standing to face the door. She helped Willow to her feet. Tara slipped the fingers of her left hand into the fingers of Willow's right hand.

"No longer living but still roaming the night, soulless being, uninvited," began Tara. Buffy kicked at the door again, loosening the screws that held the hinges in place.

"Willow, repeat the words. Hurry!"

"No longer living...but still roaming the night...soulless being...," stammered Willow. She began to cry again.

"I'm, I'm sorry...I can't...I can't...oh God, Buffy!," cried Willow, falling to her knees, sobbing. Tara fought the urge to hold and comfort her.

"Willow, it's okay. I can do it."

Tara faced the door again and began the incantation.

"Null laenger lebend aber still wandernd die nacht, seelenlos dasein ungeladen..."

Willow fell to her side and brought her knees up to her chest. Every time Buffy kicked the door she jumped and whimpered. She covered her ears with her hands and pressed her face against the cold floor. Soon it was quiet. Tara was no longer chanting. The only sound was the rain on the roof and Willow's muffled sobs.

Tara knelt down beside Willow, grabbing her and lifting her up to hold her against her chest.

"Willow, she's gone now. She knows she can't come in. Don't cry, it's okay now. It's okay," soothed Tara, holding her tightly.

"No, it's not okay. It's not!," protested Willow. She threw her arms around Tara and hugged her, no longer able to talk.

Tara held her, stroked her hair and let Willow cry.

*****

The storm was moving off but lightning still lit up the night. Just down the street from Buffy a large branch snapped off of a tree, taking down a power line with it. She watched, fascinated, as the wires danced and sparked. And then the scent came to her again.

They were silhouetted by the sparks from the downed power lines. He was slightly taller than her and he held her tightly in his arms, his mouth on her neck.

There was nothing for Buffy to surrender to. There was no understanding, no reasoning, no conscience. The basic needs of the animal drove her to them. The rain was falling softer now. She ran faster, splashing through puddles.

He wasn't done feeding on her yet but sensed the approaching danger and let her fall to the ground. The vampire crouched down, meeting the eyes of the Slayer. He wasn't afraid. Either was Buffy. Instinct, not pride, made him defend his kill.

Buffy ran right at him, her training forgotten. She threw her shoulder into his midsection and knocked him from his feet. She was on top of him instantly, clawing and scratching at him, even biting an arm or a shoulder when she could. The vampire tried to punch her but Buffy was too close for him to extend his arms. Finally he pushed her off and they sprung to their feet.

They began to circle one another, hands out, snarling and growling. And now fear did set in. This vampire hadn't faced an opponent like this before, one seized by such rage. Buffy sensed his hesitation and knew she was winning the fight.

She came at him, faking a punch to his stomach and driving her fist into his face. She tried to hit him again but he caught her wrist and twisted her arm. With his other hand he pounded against her left shoulder, his hand red with blood from the wound that Willow had inflicted on her. Buffy screamed in pain and kicked him in the knee. His grip loosened and she broke free.

Once again they began to circle one another. And then the vampire decided that he had had enough. It simply turned and ran. Buffy took two steps after it and then stopped, holding her shoulder as she watched it run away.

The girl was only sixteen or seventeen years old. Buffy knew that she was still alive, could sense her heartbeat. And she also knew that, in a few minutes, this girl would be dead. She had lost too much blood. Buffy knelt down beside her, staring at the wound on her neck. The rain washed away the blood trickling from her torn throat as quickly as it seeped out.

Buffy gently moved the wet hair off the girl's face. She lowered her mouth and sniffed the wound, the blood scent arousing something deep within her, a need so simple, so primal...

And suddenly Buffy was dizzy, so lightheaded that she lost her balance and fell on her side, propped up on one elbow. She lay down on her back, both hands gripping the sides of her forehead as the night spun violently around her. She fought off the urge to throw up. And then it was over.

Buffy opened her eyes and the girl next to her slowly came into focus. And she realized that she was in control again. The demon was still with her; she could feel its presence and suddenly understood what was happening.

"No," said Buffy so softly she wasn't even sure she had spoken. She sat up, shaking her head.

"No!," she screamed, scrambling away from the girl.

Buffy knew. She understood. It was part of the curse. If she didn't kill this girl, turn her into one of the undead, then the demon would just go on killing. How many more would die before Buffy accepted her fate and gave in to the demon's will? Buffy was in control now. And she could feel the demon inside of her laughing.

There wasn't much time left to decide. Buffy began to cry. Her body shook, trembling with both revulsion and the sobs that were overtaking her. She crawled over to the girl on her hands and knees and touched her pale face. This girl would die no matter what Buffy did.

"Please...forgive me," begged Buffy, crying even harder now.

She tilted the girls head to one side, more so that she wouldn't have to see her face than to expose her neck. Buffy was in control but the hunger was still there. She could feel the need, the aching inside of her that demanded she tear into this girl's flesh. Buffy never felt so alone. She closed her eyes, still sobbing, and placed her mouth on the girl's neck, just above the other bite mark

Buffy gasped as her fangs pierced the muscle and the first drops of blood touched her tongue. It was beyond her control now. She couldn't stop even if she wanted to. But she didn't want to stop. The blood was hot as she swallowed it, burning her throat but warming her insides. She pressed her mouth harder against the flesh, drunk with the feeling of power over this girl, ripping deeper into her neck as she sucked harder. Buffy moaned as the girl's heartbeat pounded in her ears.

She pulled away, sensing that this girl's life was ending. Buffy's mouth was open and blood dripped down from her lips, covering her chin. Slowly she opened the top three buttons of her blouse. Just above her right breast she drove her fingernails into her skin, tearing the flesh. She put her bloody fingers to the girl's mouth, scratching them against her tongue. Then she pulled the girl to her, forcing her mouth against Buffy's chest.

At first nothing happened. And then Buffy felt the girl sucking at the torn flesh. Buffy pressed the back of her head harder against her and closed her eyes, caught up in the incredible pleasure of the moment. The feeling gripped her body and she moaned in ecstasy. She was getting lightheaded again. The girl was feeding furiously now. She reached her arm around Buffy's back and pulled the Slayer to her.

Buffy tried to push the girl away but she held on tightly. With a hard shove she pried the girl from her. They both fell onto their backs, neither moving. Buffy's eyesight was blurry. She tried to raise her head off the cold pavement but the effort was too much for her. She was cold. And she was afraid. It took a moment or two for her to realize why. The demon was gone! It was in the girl! The girl who was even now rising to her feet.

Buffy tried to move but didn't have the strength to even crawl away. And suddenly the girl was standing over her, staring down at Buffy. Her eyes were a deep yellow. She smiled, exposing her fangs. Buffy's eyes opened wide in horror. The girl threw her head back and laughed.

Buffy willed her body to respond. Mustering up what strength she could, she rolled back onto her shoulders and kicked. The girl looked down in surprise as Buffy's feet connected with her ribs. There wasn't much force behind the blow but it knocked the girl off balance. She fell backwards. Right onto the still sparking electrical wires.

The girl screamed but it wasn't her voice. It was a deep, guttural moan of pain. Her body twitched in pain and soon her clothes caught fire. Suddenly she stopped moving. Her body exploded into ash with the sound of a rushing wind. And then it was quiet.

Buffy closed her eyes and let the blackness overtake her.

*****

He emerged from the shadows and cautiously approached her. He paused, then knelt down beside her, extending his hand to touch her face but afraid she might awaken. Buffy's chest rose and fell as if she was peacefully sleeping. But he knew otherwise. He brushed her wet hair out of her eyes.

"Bloody hell," he muttered, placing one arm under her knees and his other arm under her arms. As gently as he could he lifted her and carried her home.

End of Part Nine

PART TEN

Buffy opened her eyes. This place looked familiar to her. Yes, it was Giles' room. She was in his bed. That thought bothered her for a moment. She rolled her head to the side and saw Riley smiling back at her!

"Riley!," Buffy tried to say but her mouth was too dry. She sat up and immediately felt dizzy. Riley got up from his chair and helped her sit up.

"Buffy! You're finally awake! How do you feel?," he asked, kissing her and then giving her a hug. He tried to pull away but Buffy held on to him. Finally she let him go.

"Like a truck hit me. And then it backed up over me again to see what it hit. Ew, morning breath. Oh! Me, not you!," said Buffy. Riley just smiled.

Buffy touched her forehead and felt a bandage above her left eye. Her left shoulder was sore and she knew that too was bandaged. And it was hard for her to take a deep breath because of the pain in her ribs.

"So...you know what happened?," asked Buffy sheepishly. Riley nodded.

"Yeah. I'm sorry I wasn't here for you," he said.

"Oh my God! Giles! How is Giles? Where is Giles?," added Buffy, once again looking at his bed.

"He's fine. Should be home in a day or two," said Riley.

"Home?"

"From the hospital. He had a nasty concussion," explained Riley.

Buffy slowly put her hand up to her mouth.

"And Xander?," she asked, afraid of the answer she would get.

"Not too bad. He's home. Anya's with him, helping him to recuperate."

"Poor Xander. Anya probably won't let him out of bed for a week," said Buffy, only half serious.

"Hey! Aren't you worried about me?," asked Willow, suddenly standing in the doorway. Buffy didn't say anything. She simply smiled and held open her arms. Willow ran to her and hugged her. Buffy winced but Willow didn't notice.

"Will, I thought of you first. It's just...well, I didn't remember hurting you. Not like the others. I didn't, did I?," asked Buffy, suddenly concerned.

"Well, not in the punching, hitting, clawing or biting sense of the word," pouted Willow. Buffy frowned so Willow changed the subject.

"So...you remember? Everything?," asked Willow.

Buffy sadly nodded and looked away.

"Yeah. Everything," said Buffy.

"Oh, sorry about the shoulder!," said Willow.

"Yeah, since when did you become Annie Oakley with the crossbow?," smiled Buffy.

"Well...to be honest, I was aiming at your leg. Figured you couldn't chase me, ya know?," said Willow.

Buffy burst out laughing but then grabbed at her side. Willow smiled.

"Don't make me laugh, okay?," asked Buffy. Willow nodded, still smiling.

"Uh, Will?"

"Yeah?"

"Who got me into these PJs?," asked Buffy.

"I did," said Willow, shaking her head. "And don't worry, no one will see the photos I took."

Buffy opened her eyes wide.

"Just kidding!," reassured Willow.

"Okay. Next question. What day is it? It's dark out, right?," asked Buffy.

"You slept all day. It's Sunday night," explained Riley.

"Wow."

"You know, Tara and I might have had a little to do with that," said Willow, pointing at the floor next to the bed. Buffy leaned over and saw several symbols and designs drawn in different colored chalk on the floor, along with what looked like melted wax.

"We did a healing spell or two. That might have made you a little extra sleepy," said Willow.

"Thanks," smiled Buffy. "And how is Tara?"

"Okay. And now that I know you're up, I'm going over there. To...talk. And stuff," smiled Willow.

"Good. A word of advice? Less talk, more stuff," grinned Buffy. Willow smiled in return.

"Your party! Did you..."

Willow shook her head.

"There's not going to be a party. Not for a while, anyway," said Willow.

"Is that a good?," asked Buffy.

"For me it is," shrugged Willow. "It comes under the talk category, not the stuff category, if you know what I mean."

"As long as you're happy," said Buffy. "Uh, both happy, I mean."

"We're okay. Really. Thanks," said Willow.

"Alright, next question," announced Buffy, looking at Riley. "Oh, wait! First, how's your mom? I'm sorry."

"She's fine. In better shape than you right now, I might add," said Riley, squeezing Buffy's hand.

"I'm glad. So, how did I get here? I don't remember much after...well, after..."

"It's okay, Buffy. We figured out what happened," said Willow.

"How?"

Willow took a folded piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to her. Buffy opened it up and read.

"You owe me, Blondie. Think of the fun I could have had. Consider this a peace offering. And not to repeat myself...okay, I guess I will...at the very least, you owe me one!"

Buffy stared at the letter.

"You have got to be kidding me! Spike!," said Buffy.

"Yep. 'Fraid so. He called on the phone before. He watched the whole thing. That's how we knew. And he said something about me running to the butcher shop for him but I said something about a bad connection and hung up," shrugged Willow.

"We haven't heard the last from him," sighed Buffy.

Willow put a hand on Buffy's shoulder.

"The important thing is that it's over. It's finally over," repeated Willow.

"Yeah. It is," agreed Buffy.

"It must have been horrible for you, though. I mean, you had to watch, helpless to do anything, even look away, as that...thing turned that poor girl into a vampire. I can't imagine what that must have been like," said Willow.

Buffy looked down, afraid to look at Willow.

"You have no idea," said Buffy. "I, I think that even with all that I went through, that's going to haunt me the most. For a long time."

"But Buffy, it wasn't you! I know that doesn't help, but you have to hold on to that," said Willow. "You're not responsible!"

Buffy slowly nodded but couldn't look at Willow. Riley didn't know what to say.

*****

They both sat on opposite ends of the bed. Willow had her legs crossed under her, Tara sat with her legs off the side of the bed.

"Well, we've been avoiding this long enough, don't ya think?," began Willow. Tara nodded. "So...when did you learn to speak German?"

"What? Oh! The spell. Well, I was nervous and I wasn't sure if I'd remember the Latin correctly and, and...and there's lots of things you don't know about me yet!," smiled Tara.

"Really?," smiled Willow. Her face became more serious. "Tara, I..."

"No. Let me go first."

Willow nodded.

"I'm sorry. About the whole party thing. I don't know why I thought it was so important. I, I shouldn't have pushed. And the thing is...I don't know why I did. If you're not completely comfortable with it, that's all I should have needed to hear. I wasn't listening. You were agreeing, but deep down, I knew. I know you're not embarrassed to be with me. That was never an issue! The hell with what other people think! Anyway, I'm sorry. I really am," said Tara.

"Sorry? You have nothing to be sorry about! Okay, maybe I wasn't ready for this party. I should've been honest with you. But the thing was, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. And if it was going to make you happy...and as far as that whole Jonathan incident...wow, where do I start? I freaked! I'm the one who's sorry for that. Tara, I would never do anything to hurt you! But I did," said Willow.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, occasionally looking up at one another. Then Willow smiled and got up off the bed. She got a CD out and put it on the stereo.

"I heard this the other day. And I thought of you," said Willow.

"I don't need to hear a song to think of you," countered Tara.

Willow smiled and held out her hand. Tara gave her a puzzled look.

"Dance with me," said Willow.

Tara smiled and stood up. The music started softly, with just a guitar and bass playing a slow blues song. A piano joined in. They wrapped their arms around one another, Willow with her head resting on Tara's chest, Tara with her head on Willow's shoulder.

"Oh by loving you, loving you my darling,
oh you've become much more than a lover to me,
yes you are my companion, oh you're my friend,
and baby you know you're a part of me..."

"Oh and that's why, why I'm so lonely, oh I'm so lonely, these passing days,
because I miss you my darling, not just one, but in so many ways..."

Willow held Tara just a little tighter.

"Oh it's nothing left, nothing left inside of me,
oh that loves you any less than before,
oh and if you want to know the truth, if you really, really want to know the truth baby,
you know I want you and need you even more..."

"Oh what's done is done baby, so I've been told,
oh but I can't stop loving you, seems like I love you more,
and I'll keep on loving you, baby, until, mmm, until I'm dead and cold..."

"Oh, nice visual, girlfriend!," giggled Tara.

"Shut up and hold me," replied Willow.

The song played on, growing louder.

"I missed you," whispered Willow, not looking up.

"I missed you more," answered Tara.

They held each other a little tighter, slowly dancing, even long after the song had ended.

*****

Xander had told Buffy about this place. How when he and Willow were ten or eleven they would come down here to the corner drug store and sneak around back after dark. Willow had been scared but Xander talked her into doing it. And Buffy thought of them, so long ago, shimmying up this drainpipe and climbing up onto the roof of the store. She was a little jealous of the friendship they had together for so long.

Buffy walked to the edge of the roof, imagining how high up this must have looked to them at their age. She swatted a mosquito that had landed on her arm. Another bloodsucker meets his end, thought Buffy, smiling.

It would be light soon. Even now, in the darkness, the birds were calling out to one another. Buffy closed her eyes and listened to the early morning sounds. A gentle breeze blew against her face. When she opened her eyes again the first hints of pink and blue were highlighting the clouds.

Buffy closed her eyes again. The rising sun touched her face, its warmth making her smile. The tears came as she knew they would. It didn't matter. The sun was warm on her skin. She opened her eyes, crying even harder as she watched the rising sun. But she was smiling.

The End

Author's Note - I'd like to acknowledge the King of the Blues, Mr. B.B. King. His song, "Until I'm Dead And Gone", was what Tara and Willow were listening and dancing to. Special thanks to Wildfire, my beta-reader. And a very special thanks to my friend JosephB, both for his support, his feedback and his input. In his fic "A Tale Of Slayers", he first came up with the idea of a Slayer vampire and what she would look like. The most prominent features were lack of a ridged forehead, common to vampires in Joss Whedon's universe, and slightly longer fangs. The death of his Slayer vampire closely resembled the death of the vampire in the beginning of my story, something I had totally forgotten about until I reread JosephB's fic. Dude, we think alike! Yeah, it's similar to the death of the Master, but hey, give us some creative credit! You should read his story if you liked this one. Even if you didn't like this one check it out!