"It's not a poison," said Giles. He had called in a couple of favors to get the sticky substance on the tip of the dart analyzed by a friend of his as quickly as possible. "It's a sedative. Strong enough to knock out an elephant. They knew what she's capable of. At least they don't mean to kill her this time."
Spike had ripped him out of the school and they were both at the flat now. Giles had come up with a plausible excuse to allow Willow and Xander to cut class and they too were here. They had all agreed not to tell Joyce about it until the end of the day. She would insist on calling the cops and this was not a police matter.
"Doesn't mean they won't," Spike growled. "They started out trying to kill her. That means they'll be willing to do it any time she causes them trouble."
"What do they want her for?" Xander asked and Giles made a helpless gesture.
"I have no idea. We don't even know who they are. Spike, can you see anything over the link?"
"No. Buffy's out cold. I can only see what she sees, feel what she experiences. She's alive though, I can tell that much, and they haven't harmed her except for pumping that stuff into her."
"That van," said Xander. "They put her in that."
Spike nodded. "The Firoud say so. Her scent disappears at the curb. They say the scents of those three guys stop as well. They all got into the van. Buffy only saw the side of the van, so I don't have any idea what the licence number is or even the make."
"They could be taking her out of town."
Spike shook his head. "She's still in Sunnydale. I can feel that. I've got Ano-Movics watching all the roads out of town and, if I feel anyone's trying to take her out of Sunnydale, they'll stop every car leaving town. They don't mind the sun and they look human, so they can pretend to be cops. The Firoud are checking all the hotels and motels for the scent of those three guys and if they find it, I'll have my vamps go in and check the rooms. But I don't think they'll be in any place as public as a hotel room. The Brachen, Listers and Krasevics are checking out all the warehouses and abandoned factories, places like that. Got others with a good sense of smell working their way through the sewers. We'll find her."
Willow had her laptop set up on a table. "I've got the Sunnydale map up."
"Will that toy of yours let you co-ordinate the search, Red?"
"Good. We've got the net out now. We'll drag it tighter, see what comes up."
The flat became a hive of activity, the hub of the search. Spike had it tightly organized. Giles watched in bemusement as demons of all sorts and shapes reported in and went out again.
"Why are they helping?" Xander whispered to him, but Giles only shook his head in bafflement. "Is it because Spike's the Master? But he's only the Master of the vamps."
"Boy, you can be dumb," said Willow scornfully. "It's not because of Spike. It's because of Buffy. She's been good to them. They'd rather have her around than some new Slayer who doesn't know them like she does. She's smart. She doesn't think that the only good demon is a dead demon."
Giles looked as if he had swallowed a fly. Spike grinned at him.
"Growing up, are you, Watcher? Can be painful, that."
His head came up suddenly.
"She's coming around!"
"Is she all right?" Willow, Giles and Xander asked immediately, in chorus.
He sent a surge of reassurance and concern across the link, like a hand stretched in support, and felt her lean against it, felt her smile, then the rush of warmth and reassurance that came back.
"Damn! I wish we could talk across the link! She's looking around now, trying to show me where she's at. She's on the floor on a blanket in some big empty space. They've got her hands handcuffed behind her back, some kind of fetters on her ankles. I can feel all of that." Images were coming now. "It's dim, but there's sunlight coming through busted windows. Warehouse. It's some kind of warehouse."
He nodded to Brian, waiting at the door that led to the sewers. The word went out, the search narrowing.
"Someone's coming. Those three guys. The ones that jumped me. Left my mark on them," said Spike with satisfaction. "Couple of broken arms. Wait! Someone's coming up behind them. The big cheese probably. Yeah, there he..."
He spun suddenly, grabbed Giles with both hands and slammed him against the wall. Giles gasped, all the breath knocked out of him.
"Travers! It's Travers, Watcher! You told him!"
Xander had jumped forward and was pulling at Spike, trying to get him away from Giles. Spike shoved him away without even looking, so hard that he staggered back and fell into an armchair.
"Impossible!" Giles gasped. "It can't be Travers!"
"Don't you remember? Buffy showed me what he looked like. I know the man and it's Travers!"
Xander was trying to get up to come to Giles' rescue, but Willow ran to him and held him where he was. She knew that Spike was in a killing mood.
"Giles wouldn't have told him, Spike!" she called to him. "He wouldn't put Buffy in danger!"
"I didn't!" Giles exclaimed. "I swear!"
His shock and complete sincerity were clearly evident. Spike let him go abruptly.
"How did he find out?" Giles muttered. "Why is he doing this?"
"How is not important right now. Why? Because she's an immortal Slayer that he can't control. Buffy said it herself. He wants an obedient Slayer. He tried to kill her first with that Gorvalsh. Now he's probably thought better of it. Probably plans to do tests on her before killing her. Not all the Council's with him, otherwise he wouldn't have tried to make it seem an accident with the Gorvalsh. Should have thought of him before. Only the Council has that mix of magic and tech. Call your Council, Watcher. Tell them what's going on."
"Yes," mumbled Giles, heading for the phone. "Yes."
"Airport. That's where he'll be heading. That's how they'll take her out of here. Not by road. By air. He'll have hired a plane." Spike snapped his fingers at Brian. "Find out which one. Disable it."
Brian disappeared, taking a mixed lot of demons with him.
"Now we just have to find out which warehouse."
"We're almost there, Spike," Willow said, checking the screen of her laptop, which showed the net tightening.
He sent that over the link to Buffy. "Soon."
Buffy smiled. She was watching Travers leaning back comfortably in a wooden chair, sipping at tea that his lackeys had provided him. Looking him over, Buffy thought with amusement that Spike was quite right: he did look a little like a toad, especially puffed up with importance and satisfaction as he was.
"Don't bother pulling at those handcuffs, Miss Summers," Travers said, noticing how she was flexing her shoulders. "I am familiar with Slayer strength and have taken that into consideration. Those cuffs won't break. And if you show any signs of resisting, I will simply have you put to sleep again."
"That would be a shame. I would hate to miss seeing you get your comeuppance."
"Braggadocio is a weakness. But then you have many weaknesses. You are a disappointment to us, Miss Summers. Merrick or Giles should have trained you properly, but neither of them had the right stuff."
"And you do."
"Quite. But I don't waste my time on poor material. I don't know how a creature like you could have been chosen to be a Slayer. Sometimes the thought processes of the Powers That Be elude me. But that you should choose to mate yourself to a vampire is...beyond the pale. You are an abomination, Miss Summers, and will be eliminated."
"And you are a dead man, Travers."
"You won't kill me. You won't kill a human. But you're counting on your vampire, aren't you? I wouldn't, Miss Summers. Please note that it is bright day outside and there is no access from the sewers to this warehouse. He would have to wait for nightfall and we will be long gone by then."
So he didn't know that Spike was immune to the sun now. She smiled to herself.
"How did you know about Spike and me? Giles wouldn't have told you."
"Indeed he did not. He failed in his duty and he will lose his job for that. Did you think we would not keep an eye on the Hellmouth, especially with a Slayer such as yourself as its guardian?"
"So you had spies watching us. And would they have been demons? The same demons you are supposed to eradicate?" She smiled when she saw his eyes shift. "You're quite the hypocrite, Mr Travers. To treat with the 'enemy'."
"I use them, Miss Summers."
"And eliminate them once their usefulness is over."
She shook her head. "I truly have more respect for demons than I have for you."
"And I have no interest in your opinion. The opinions of a laboratory rat are immaterial."
"When did you decide that, by the way? A while back, you were all for blowing me up."
"How did you avoid that? Chance?" He shrugged when she nodded. "The one thing you do have, Miss Summers, is luck. There is no other explanation for your success. But it seems to have run out. It occurred to me last night that this was the perfect opportunity to analyze a Slayer. No one has yet done a proper clinical study of one. You may find it a long, arduous and somewhat painful process. But it's all in a good cause."
"Somehow I really can't see the rest of the Council agreeing to this. I think they might have something to say about it once I'm in that fancy building of yours in London."
"You're quite right. Most of the Council do have weak stomachs. Which is why you're not going to London, Miss Summers. The reason you're sitting in this warehouse right now instead of being already on route to your destination is because we are arranging accommodations for you here in America." One of his lackeys came and whispered something in his ear. "Which slight delay has now been concluded. The Council will be told that the Slayer has unfortunately met her usual end and that we are having some difficulty in finding the new one that has been called. Which often happens and allows us considerable time to complete thorough testing. Tell the pilot we will be at the airfield in twenty minutes," he said to the lackey.
"Coming," said Spike in her head. It was a clear word, not just a feeling, though she could feel the triumph in him, sense him now rapidly moving closer. And in the flicker of thoughts and images in his mind, she read what he and the others had been doing.
She laughed and Travers gave her a surprised look.
"Something amuses you, Miss Summers?"
"You, Mr Travers. All that work and all you've done is put Sunnydale solidly in my hand."
He frowned, not understanding in the slightest, of course.
"The pilot says that there's a delay," the lackey said. "They're having some kind of trouble with the engines."
"Tell him to hurry," Travers said irritably. "I'm tired of sitting around waiting."
"You won't have to wait any longer, Mr Travers," said Buffy triumphantly. "They're here!"
Bodies crashed through the doors and windows of the warehouse. The lackeys yelled and grabbed at the crossbows they had ready. Unfortunately, the bolts loaded in the crossbows were wooden stakes, meant for the vamps Travers had been expecting. The lackeys weren't facing vamps; they were facing Brachen, very strong, very fast, red-eyed demons, their thick, green skin covered with blue spikes. Only one bolt hit its mark and bounced harmlessly off the thick Brachen hide.
The next second, all three lackeys had been disarmed and knocked cold. Spike had Travers backed up against a wall, one hand about the man's throat and the other leisurely fishing in his vest pocket. He came up with the key to the handcuffs and tossed it to a Brachen who came over and unlocked Buffy from her restraints.
"But it's day!" Travers was gasping. "How...?"
"Little bonus that came with the claim." Spike grinned. As he was in full gameface, the grin vividly emphasized the length and sharpness of his fangs. Travers stared in horror, struggling against Spike's grip. It did him no good at all. Spike was far too strong.
"You gonna turn him?" one of the Brachen asked with interest.
Spike tilted his head to one side thoughtfully and Travers gasped.
"You can't turn me! I'm a Watcher!"
"That's an incentive, that is," said Spike. "Think of all the secrets a vampire Watcher could spill."
Travers went white at the thought. "Miss Summers! Miss Summers, you can't let him do that!"
"Spike," said Buffy, amused, "stop playing."
"Not much of anything, is he? Wouldn't turn you," Spike said, looking Travers up and down in disgust. "Think I want a toad like you hanging around for eternity? Not a chance."
"Gonna eat him then?" the Brachen asked curiously and Spike shuddered with distaste.
"Yecch! Having a hard enough time holding onto him. Makes my skin crawl. Can't even ask one of my minions to eat him. Would be a cruel and unusual punishment, and here I am trying to be a kinder, gentler vampire."
"I can see that," said the Brachen, looking at the hand that was slowly throttling Travers, and Spike laughed.
"What do you want us to do with these here lunchmeats, Slayer?" one of the other Brachen asked, rolling one of the unconscious lackeys over with a clawed toe.
"Oh, take them out and dump them somewhere they'll have a very long and uncomfortable walk back to civilization."
"And that one?" He looked at Travers who was starting to get some of his bombast back now that he realized he wasn't going to get either turned or eaten.
"Can't turn him. Can't eat him." Spike smiled sweetly at Travers. "Just have to kill him."
All the air went out of Travers. "Miss Summers! You can't let him kill me! I'm human!"
Buffy sighed. "He's right. I can't let you kill him."
"He's got too much power at the Council of Watchers. We let him go, he'll be back in a month, trying to kill you again. And next time he'll probably succeed."
He dropped the gameface and Travers should have felt reassured. The blue eyes watching him were human. But the cold smile in them chilled him to the marrow.
"Can't even take your word that you wouldn't, Travers. You don't have any honor, don't even have a God you can swear on. He'll come back, pet."
"I know. And we'll deal with it when he does."
"How many chances are you going to give him? This matter of evil. It's not black and white. It's all grays. He's human. The Brachen are demons. Who would you trust, Buffy?"
"It's not that simple."
"You're right. It isn't simple, is it? You're the Slayer. He's a Watcher. You stand for good and so should he. But he means to kill you. And I mean to keep you alive. He's got a soul. I don't. So tell me, which one of us is evil? Him or me?"
"Maybe it is simple, after all. I won't give him another chance at you." He broke Travers' neck with one clean snap and let him drop. "You were saying, pet?"
"Spi-ike," Buffy sighed.
"A matter of evil. Guess I still am, pet."
She could feel no regret or guilt in him; for him, this was just something that had to be done to keep her safe and so he did it. But she could feel his fear that she might condemn him for it, turn away from him.
"No, you're not." She stepped forward and wrapped her arms about his waist. His arms came around her, holding her tightly to him. "In the other reality, Giles killed Ben for much the same reason. And Giles isn't evil."
She turned her face into the side of his neck, resting for a moment on his strength. She was so used to standing on her own feet, carrying all the burdens, that it was a deep and abiding pleasure to be able to lean on someone else even for an instant. He would never waver and it was a mutual feeling; they drew strength from each other. He smiled, picking up her thoughts, and brushed his lips against her temple.
"Worry about it later," Buffy said. "Let's get back to the flat."
"And the carcass?" a Brachen asked, jerking a thumb at Travers' body lying on the dusty floor.
"Leave it here for now." She picked up the blanket that she had been sitting on and laid it over the corpse. "We'll ask Giles what the Council wants to do."
Giles was feeling quite strange. He was immensely glad to see that Buffy was all right. He stood just outside the broken-down warehouse above Buffy's flat, watching Buffy and Spike come down the street at the head of a motley straggle of assorted demons. It had all the elements of a triumphal procession, Buffy stopping every now and then to talk to various demons lining the street. Willow and Xander were running to meet her. In the shadows of the warehouse behind him, he could feel three of Spike's vamps also watching; the other two were downstairs, neatening the flat now that all the comings and goings were over. It all felt distinctly odd.
He hugged Buffy as she came running up to him, nodded to Spike as the vampire passed him with a touch at his shoulder to go talk to his minions.
"What happened?" he asked.
"I guess you know it was Travers." Buffy was looking at him narrowly. "Spike killed him."
"I see. I'm glad," said Giles fiercely.
Buffy relaxed. "I thought you'd feel that way. But how will the Council feel?"
"I've talked to them about it, told them what's going on. They've repudiated Travers. There's a shake-up going on in those corridors of power," he said dryly. "I've been talking to the man most likely to succeed. A sensible chap called Rodney Mayne. He'll back you up. He said you're the Slayer. You call the shots."
"Not to be constantly at odds with the Council. That will be a refreshing change of pace," said Buffy as dryly. "What do you want done with Travers' body, Giles?"
"I'll take care of it. Send it back to London. Rodney Mayne will come up with some cover story. Er," he raised his brows at her, "I trust there are no fang marks?"
"Spike broke his neck."
"How very convenient. 'Dear me, he tripped and fell while on vacation across the pond. Such an unfortunate accident. Terrible shame.'"
They grinned at each other.
"Looks like everything's working out," Spike remarked that night. He was lying on his back with Buffy pulled on top on him, her legs on either side of one of his thighs, her arms around his sides, hands hooked over the back of his shoulders, and her body stretched all along his, a light, sweet, whispery weight.
"Isn't it amazing?" Buffy raised her head to shake her hair out of her eyes and he slid his hands up her back to push it back for her. "Even Xander seems to be getting used to having demons around. There's this one called Clem that he's getting all buddy buddy with. Likes junk food, comic books, role playing games and marathons of weird, old TV shows."
Spike snickered. "Knew the whelp was a closet nerd."
She ran her lips slowly and teasingly over the planes of his face. He smiled and closed his eyes in pleasure, then felt her lips against his eyelids and couldn't help purring at the sweetness of it. Her tongue traced the line of his mouth, lingering in the corners and then the indent of his upper lip. He raised his head, trying to catch her mouth with his, but she only pulled back, laughing.
"It's strange. My personal life was always a mess, with everybody interfering with it, pushing me around, telling me what to do. I felt trussed up like a turkey. All these ties to everyone, tangling me up, pulling me this way and that. I can't believe I allowed it to happen. All I had to do was tell them to back off and I never had the guts. Felt...chained. Dragged down by duty, obligations." She looked down at him, smiling. "Now here I am bound to you and I've never felt so free."
"I'm the one who's chained, pet," he mocked, running his hands caressingly down her back from shoulderblades to knees. "You own me."
"We own each other." They kissed lingeringly. "So many more duties and obligations now..."
"Overlord," he murmured and they both laughed.
"Sunnydale in my hand and all that goes with it. And I feel free." She kissed him again. "It took losing you to find out what I really wanted. Got me so mad I'd reshape the world and tell them all to go to hell, just so I'd have you back again."
"Oh, pet." He kissed her painfully hard, then dropped his head back on the pillow to grin at her. "Scary, if I think about it. Being in bed with someone who can reshape the world."
She dug her fingers into his ribs in retaliation and he rolled her over, both of them laughing, until he was on top of her instead.
"Oh, yes," she purred. "Cover me. Yes, just like that."
He moved slowly on top of her, smiling, their bodies rubbing and sliding sinuously together. They kissed sensuously, deeply, hands running over each other.
"There, yes?" he murmured, his arms under her arching her up so that he could run his open mouth from the hollow of her throat to the bottom of her ribcage.
She twisted to bite the flexing muscles of his shoulder. He twisted to bite her hip, coiled back upwards to suck her breast into his mouth. The claim picked up every flickering desire, exactly where and how either one of them wanted to be touched at any particular moment, sensation building on sensation in a rising spiral as they turned and twisted around each other. Mouths and hands and teeth and nails found every inch of skin, set every nerve ending firing in rapturous delirium, the claim throwing every sensation back and forth over the link in mind-blowing passes.
He gasped as she arched under him, her heel flying up for a moment to settle in the back of his knee. Her arms clenched demandingly across his back. His hands came down on the bed on either side and he came into her hard.
"Oh, God, yes, just like that," she gasped, her throat arching back as she strained against him. He filled her to the point that it was almost too much. But it was never too much, never enough. They thrust urgently against each other, half-gasping, half-laughing against each other's faces, their delight in each other so intense that laughter was the only outlet for it.
Her hands clawed down his back. She felt him pulse within her, felt his mind flood with blinding sensation, utterly open and naked to her, blanked out herself, falling into him, the both of them losing themselves in each other.
"Surveying your kingdom?" Giles asked dryly, finding her on the roof of Sunnydale High.
Buffy laughed. "Something like that."
They both looked out over the roofs of Sunnydale stretching away into the distance on every side.
"Is this the world you wanted when you decided to come back?" Giles asked.
"All I wanted was Spike," she said quietly. "This is the world that came with that. I like it. How about you? Is this a world you can live with, Giles?"
Giles frowned a little. "It's going to take a little getting used to. When I really look at what just happened..."
She looked at him thoughtfully. "Yes, what did really happen? Let's put the worst construction on it. A bunch of vamps and demons helped thwart and kill a human—and I, the Slayer, condone it. Is that what's bothering you, Giles?"
"I suppose so. Yes." He shook his head, trying to take it in. "I'm used to thinking humans against demons. What you've got now is humans and demons against...humans and demons. It feels odd."
"A matter of evil, Spike called it. That's what it's really about, isn't it, Giles? Not stopping demons. Stopping evil."
There was a long silence.
"Yes," said Giles. "You're right." He looked at her. "You've grown beyond me."
"I have. Catch up, Giles. I want you with me. I value your opinion and your support."
Giles nodded wryly. "I will. Spike said that growing up is painful. I think I've got some of that to do. All of us at the Council do. We're trying."
"Spike says: About time."
Giles sighed. "He can hear us."
Buffy looked down, smiling, to where a white-haired figure in a black duster was striding with his patented swagger up the sunlit street towards the school.
"Oh, yes. You're talking to both of us. The link really solidified itself last night."
"That is going to take a little getting used to as well."
She grinned a little. "New world. If Xander can make the adjustment to it, so can you, Giles."
He laughed. "Quite right. Willow didn't seem to have any problems adjusting."
"Got to her early. She had less to unlearn."
He nodded. "Yes. That's it, isn't it? Unlearning, more than learning. I think...I like your new world, Buffy."
"I certainly do," said Spike, coming onto the roof. Once he was out of the sight of any bystanders, his vampire speed had got him up to the roof in no time at all.
Giles watched the two of them move together like two drops of quicksilver merging. Spike's arm dropped easily about Buffy's shoulders; her arm came about his waist; they leaned lightly against each other. Two halves making a perfect whole.
"Everything I ever wanted, luv, this world of yours," Spike said and Buffy smiled.
"The rulers of Sunnydale," Giles said dryly.
Buffy shook her head at him and Spike laughed. But that was what they were. He left them there, standing shoulder to shoulder, looking out over their domain.