Chapter 1

The minion call took him by surprise. Down in Mexico, Spike heard it vibrate in his skull and knew at once who had issued it. The contemptuous, peremptory tone of it was unmistakable. Darla. All members of the Order of Aurelius to report immediately to the Boca del Infierno in southern California.

The summons left no option to ordinary members of the Order; they would not be able to resist the call even if they tried. Spike was exempt of course. He belonged to the elite, the four vampires in direct line to the Master. The Master had sired Darla, but had not bound her to his Order; she stayed with him out of choice, fully capable of leaving him, as when she had chosen Angelus over him, but always coming back to the Master in the end. Darla's siring of Angelus had therefore passed on only the prestige and the line, not the bond; and Angelus' subsequent siring of Dru and Dru's of Spike only carried the ability to hear the call, not the compulsion to obey.

Dru would pay no attention to the call unless Miss Edith or the stars told her to. Angelus, as her sire, could have commanded her to come, but Angelus had been missing in action for a century and Darla hadn't even bothered to call him. Spike would have sensed that.

Spike's curiosity was awakened though. No one had thought of the Boca del Infierno for sixty years, not since the Master had tried to open the Hellmouth and failed when an earthquake had destroyed half the town and interrupted the ritual. Spike hadn't been there, but Darla had told him about it. The Order's whole purpose was to open the portal and bring the Old Ones through, the ancient and truly powerful demons who would give the Master the power to rule the earth. The earthquake had come at the worst possible time, trapping the Master within the Hellmouth. Darla's calling the Order now suggested that she had finally found some way of releasing him.

Spike didn't care one way or the other. He liked the way things were right now—dog racing, Manchester United, billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs—why fuck with a good thing? Unlife wouldn't be so much fun with the Old Ones back and the Master ruling the roost. Old Batface tended to throw his weight around, and all those rituals and stuff were so bloody boring.

He'd go and take a look. He had time on his hands at the moment with Dru going off in a snit like that, the way she did every decade or so. Fucking a Provilax demon! Dru had no bleeding taste sometimes! Well, he'd show her. Think a Provilax could take care of her better than he could? No way. But that would teach her a lesson and then she'd come crawling back to him the way she always did after a lapse of judgement like that.

It hurt him though that she should take up with someone else, throw away a hundred and twenty years of his caring and devotion as so valueless that it wasn't even worth a thought. But that was how vamps were supposed to act. He was the one at fault, not her. His love and commitment to her was his weakness, was unvampiric and shameful. He knew that. It had been made plain to him in the most painful of ways over and over again, by Darla, Angelus, even Dru herself that Dru was not his and never would be, that if anything she belonged to Angelus. That in fact nothing really was his.

It was his curse, that need in him for something to cherish, to belong solely to him. For someone who would want to be with him, choose to be with him. Definitely not the correct 'want, take, have' of a proper demon. A flaw in him, that desire. Some flaw in his turning perhaps, caused by Dru's mental state, that nothing—neither Darla's scorn, nor Angelus' cruelties, nor Dru's humiliations, nor his own attempts to shove under and deny—could correct or beat out of him.

Dru would come back though. Not 'crawling'. That was just bravado on his part and even he knew it. She'd come sauntering back when she had use for him again and he'd take her back, gratefully, because he needed someone to love, even when he knew he was being used.

By the time he reached Sunnydale, the old moon had passed and a new moon was rising. With a smirk, Spike drove the DeSoto right through the 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign, flattening it, then got out of the car and lit a cigarette. From this vantage point, he had a good view of Sunnydale spread out in lights below him. One foot on the fender of the car and one elbow on his bent knee, he smoked and studied it thoughtfully.

A real nothing of a town. Except for the Boca del Infierno beneath it. He was a demon. He could feel the Hellmouth, the emanations of it. But those emanations were weak, the portal existent but blocked and useless to any demon, there but not there, frozen on a plane between worlds, still caught in the chains of that failed ritual the Master had tried to perform.

There was a seethe of vamps there now. Spike could sense them like ants below the ground as he drove through the town. Darla had called them all and most of the Order had arrived. He'd bet anything the cops were tearing out their hair wondering why the number of deaths in Sunnydale had suddenly shot up into the stratosphere.

He quartered the town slowly, checking it out, seeing which places to avoid and which could give him protection or an edge. He did this routinely on entering any new area. He wasn't a fledgling, hadn't survived a hundred and twenty years by not taking simple precautions.

He braked suddenly with a screech of tires.

That vibe!

He had felt it twice before. Slayer!

He spun the DeSoto in a reckless, illegal U-turn, provoking an angry blare of horns and squeal of brakes from the other cars on the road, then rushed back to where he had sensed that vibe. Oh, this was too good to be true! A Slayer! He had killed two Slayers already and was really jonesing for another. Things were looking up wonderfully. Was he ever glad he had decided to investigate the minion call! He should have thought of this before, that an increase in activity around a Hellmouth would inevitably draw a Slayer.

He got back to where he had picked up the vibe, parked the DeSoto, then bounded out onto the sidewalk. She had gone off into a maze of alleys. He followed the trail, but not on the ground. He wasn't dumb enough to just go up against her cold. Any Slayer was dangerous. That was what he liked about them. And that was what he respected about them. He wasn't a brainless fledgling to throw himself at one, frothing at the mouth, and get himself staked. He wanted to check her out first, see what she was like, how she operated. He had done that with the other two and it had paid off; he had killed them.

The rooftops were the way. He ran lightly along them, leaping from building to building, chasing down that thrilling vibe.

There! A slender female figure strolling through the alley, her movements light and lithe. This one was blonde, golden hair falling about slim shoulders. Surprisingly small and delicate, but then that Chinese Slayer had been little too, but an absolute wizard with that sword of hers. He still had the scar from that encounter. 'Little' meant bollocks with a Slayer. He could sense the power in her, knew her for the predator she was, the ultimate, implacable enemy of all vamps.

He jumped a building to get ahead of her and see her face. She moved through a patch of moonlight and he got a good look at it. Bloody hell, she was young! The youngest Slayer he had ever seen, younger even than the Chinese one. She couldn't have been called all that long ago. Now that was a shame. She hadn't had time to get any experience, probably didn't even know how to fight that well. It was going to be too easy. No challenge at all. Spike liked a good fight and this was gonna be like shooting fish in a barrel. Not sporting. Damn!

Pretty though. Not his type; he liked sleek, sexy, knowledgeable women like his dark princess, mental though she might be. But still. This Slayer's clean, fine-boned face, shampoo-commercial hair, and slender delicate figure, had their own attraction, yeah.

He became aware that someone was following her. A tall form moving through the shadows. He picked up the vibe. A vamp. Hell, he didn't want someone else getting her! So far, he was the only one who had killed two Slayers and he was really looking forward to the rep he would get when he had three notches on his belt.

She picked up the vibe too. How not? She was a Slayer. She'd be able to sense a vamp as long as he wasn't out of her range as Spike was, up on the rooftop. He could see the faint tensing of her body. Then, without looking around or breaking stride, she moved smoothly around the corner.

Spike suddenly recognized the vamp's signature just as the figure passed through that patch of moonlight and his face became visible. Angelus? Angelus? What the hell was he doing here? The last time Spike had seen him was on that Nazi sub, decades ago. Had Darla managed to reach him? But Spike hadn't picked up any call from her and surely he would have felt something like that passing over the Aurelian link. Sod it, it was just like Angelus to turn up right now and screw things up for him!

Angelus turned the corner as well and frowned, seeing the alley empty in front of him. Spike, high above him, had a better view. The young Slayer was no longer on the ground. She was doing a handstand on a bar that crossed the alley, a couple of feet over Angelus' head. Angelus moved forward and she swung downwards in one fast wheel. Her feet slammed into his back.

"Nice move!" muttered Spike, grinning, as Angelus was knocked forward onto his face on the pavement.

The Slayer landed smoothly, then laid a foot on Angelus' chest when he twisted over onto his back, holding him pinned to the ground. There was a stake in her hand now.

To Spike's surprise, instead of attempting to fight, Angelus just smiled ingratiatingly.

"Ah, heh. Is there a problem, ma'am?"

"Yes, there's a problem," snapped the Slayer. "Why are you following me?"

Angelus held up his hands. "I know what you're thinking. Don't worry. I don't bite."

"Yeah, right," muttered Spike. "Don't buy that, kid. I mean, you know he's a vamp."

The Slayer stepped back cautiously, clearly realizing that Angelus might make an attempt to grab her leg if she stayed in that position. Angelus got warily to his feet and she let him, frowning a little as she studied him. But she didn't relax her fighting stance.

"Truth is," said Angelus, massaging his neck, "I thought you'd be taller or...bigger muscles and all that. You're pretty spry though."

Conversation? And lame conversation at that. Spike stared. He knew Angelus liked to play mind games but, if he thought he could put one over on a Slayer, he had to be even more mental than Dru. All right, Angelus had never met a Slayer before, had always avoided them where Spike had sought them out; but surely he must know that a Slayer, with all her abilities, would certainly be aware that he was a vamp.

"What do you want?" demanded the Slayer, as wary and distrustful as Spike expected her to be.

"The same thing you do."

She scowled at him. "Okay. What do I want?"

He stepped towards her. "To kill them. To kill them all."

"Sorry, that's incorrect. But you do get this lovely watch and a year's supply of Turtle Wax." She rolled her eyes. "God, I am so sick of this! Crazy librarian Watchers and stupid prophecies and now even the freaking vamps! Can't any of you guys leave me alone?"

Angelus started to say something and she swung. Hard. The stake in her hand slammed through his chest. Angelus' mouth fell open incredulously and then he dusted. Spike's jaw dropped, then he folded up on top of the parapet, laughing himself sick.

"Oh, for Pete's sake, there's another one up there!" he heard the Slayer exclaim, but he was howling with laughter and too weak to move. "Come down here and fight like a man! Or a vamp! Whatever!"

He waved a hand helplessly. "Oh, ha! Oh, my God, ha! I've never seen anything so funny in a hundred and twenty years!" He wiped at the tears of laughter on his face. "Oh, Slayer, you get a pass from me! At least for a month. That was just unbelievable. I can't miss seeing what you're gonna do next!"

"I'm guessing he wasn't a buddy of yours," she called.

"Not by a long shot. Oh, bloody hell, my stomach hurts!" He wheezed painfully, unable to catch his breath. "Heee...! Master vamp, nastiest one around, two hundred and forty years old, Scourge of sodding Europe, and poof! Just like that! What's your name, Slayer? I might have you canonized."

"Buffy Summers. What's yours? Oh, wait. You're not going to be around long enough for it to matter."

"Oh, I'll be around, Slayer. I'm not dumb like that ponce. I don't go strolling up to Slayers and asking to be staked."

"You don't want to fight?"

"Oh, I love to fight. And one of these days we will get it on. Guaranteed. But right now I don't think I can stand." He snickered helplessly. "Oh, you made my unlife, Slayer."

"Will you stop calling me that!" she snapped irritably.

"What? Slayer? But that's what you are."

"Well, I don't want to be!"

"Got no choice, have you?"

"Yes, I damn well do!"

Oh, cute. A Slayer that didn't want to be a Slayer.

"Well, that's a break for us vamps, innit?" He grinned mockingly at her. "You just made it open season in Sunnydale, pet. If you're gonna be sitting around with your thumb up your arse, it'll be a sodding buffet for us. Thanks for the free pass."

She glowered at him and he laughed at her.

"Us. There's us now? How many us are you talking about, vampire?" she growled at last.

"Spike. The name's Spike. And how many? A lot. Almost the whole Order of Aurelius. If you don't know what that is, just ask your Watcher."

"Vamps, Watchers, Order of freaking Aurelius," she muttered resentfully. "Who asked for that? All I want is to go to school and have a social life and maybe a few dates, just like any other girl. Dammit, what does one have to do to get a life?" she yelled at the heavens.

"Well, if you're gonna whine, I'm outta here," shrugged Spike. "See you around, Slayer. Oh, wait. Maybe I won't. With that kind of attitude you're not gonna be a Slayer very long. You're just gonna be dead. Been nice knowing you."

He flashed away, leaving her snarling with fury behind him.

Okay, that was different. All the Slayers he had met or even heard of before had all been heavily into the Slaying thing. Carefully indoctrinated by their parents, guardians and Watchers, seriously dedicated, all grim duty. This one was an anomaly. This one resented it and, from the looks of things, hadn't been a Slayer that long, maybe hadn't even known what Slayers were before being Called. She hadn't had much Watcher indoctrination, if any, that was clear.

Sure wasn't the usual. A real SoCal, valleygirl, cheerleader-type bint. Prolly nothing in her head but nancy-boys and shopping. Scream bloody murder if she broke a nail. He really would do everyone a favor if he snapped her neck right now. That would get him another notch on his belt and give humanity a proper Slayer.

But the Powers That Be never made a mistake. And she had dusted Angelus with shocking ease. Spike started to snicker all over again at that delicious memory. She had bought herself a reprieve with that. Maybe there was something more to this nutball Slayer than was apparent. He didn't have to hurry. He had all the time in the world; he was freaking immortal, wasn't he? He'd watch her for a while, see how she shaped up, test her out maybe. It would be fun.

He didn't have any trouble tracking the Order down. The entrance to their lair was through a mausoleum in a central cemetery. Any human entering there would have been instantly detected, but he was a vamp. The members of the Order would think he was one of theirs. He slid silently through the passageways until he reached the huge open area which was the buried ruined church in which the ritual had been performed sixty years ago.

There were candles everywhere and many vampires bearing torches were standing around a deep pool of blood in the center of the cavern. Another ritual was being performed. A large, burly, thickset vampire with a face that looked as if it had been carelessly thrown together out of lumps of clay was leading it, chanting monotonously out of an ancient tome.

"The sleeper will wake. The sleeper will wake. The sleeper will wake..."

The others chanted with him, a harsh rumble of sound filling the cavern. Grace notes floated above it every now and then from some ecstatic vamp or the other lost in the trance: 'He will! The Master will! Go Luke!"

Spike sighed deeply and sat down onto a boulder in the shadows at the back of the cavern, his shoulderblades against the rock wall and one knee comfortably bent. They had all got themselves into a half-hypnotized state, what with the ritual and the repetitious words, swaying back and forth like cobras, their eyes glazed over. He wondered how long they had been doing this. Probably from the minute the first member of the Order had shown up in Sunnydale.

"The sleeper will wake, and the world will bleed!" intoned Luke on a sudden high of zealotry. "Amen!"

"Amen!" exclaimed his followers.

But nothing happened. It wasn't time yet. A certain pitch, a certain number of vampires was required for the ritual to take. That hadn't been reached yet. Spike could sense that. The vibe in the air had to be raised a lot higher before things gelled. He watched them for a while, then found himself starting to nod off. He shook himself awake and decided to go get something to eat and make a few inquiries about this new Slayer. From the feel he was getting, nothing much was going to happen here for at least a day and, God! was it boring!

One dead Sunnydale citizen and a comfortably full belly later, he followed his nose to a demon bar. Willy's, said the sign over the door, and to his surprise the proprietor was human, a sleazy, unimpressive, little twirp. The clientele however was what he was looking for, a mixed bag of assorted demons.

"Whiskey," he said and looked the git over thoughtfully as the human nervously poured the shot.

"Don't eat Willy, vampire," said a Rathorn on the bar stool beside him. "This place is convenient for us and so is he. We wouldn't take it kindly."

Spike lifted a scornful brow. "Think I care?"

"You must be new in town. You one of these Order of Aurelius assholes come messing up our turf?"

"You got a problem with the Order?"

"Yeah, we got a problem," muttered a massive Strivald to his left. "Everything's cool, no hassles with the locals, Order turns up, starts feeding and now we got a Slayer in town."

"Should make things interesting," remarked Spike and the Strivald glowered at him.

"Too fucking interesting. You an Aurelian?"

"Associated. The name's Spike."

The Rathorn gulped. The Strivald's jaw was hanging. A dead silence spread through the bar and the crowd started to thin out as demons prudently and stealthily headed for the exits. Spike grinned.

"Heard of me, have you?"

"Oh, yeah," muttered the Rathorn.

"Not interested in the Order's hijinks. Am interested in the Slayer."

"So the rumors are true then. Did you really get two?"

"Don't like to brag..." Spike stopped short and grinned widely. "Who am I kidding? I love to brag! Yeah, I got two. Tell me about this one."

"Don't know much. She just arrived." The Rathorn jerked a clawed thumb at a Riherejk a ways down the bar. "Ask Kibble there. He knows everything."

The whites showed around the Riherejk's panicked eyes and he started to back away hurriedly.

"I wouldn't do that," Spike said softly and the Riherejk froze. "Running makes me salivate and Riherejks make good eating, don't you, Kibble? You don't want to set off a kneejerk reaction."

"No, no," whispered Kibble in a language all clicks and pops. "Please, master..."

"I'm not the Master. The Master's plugging up the Hellmouth like a bung in a hole." Spike snickered, then gave Kibble a hard stare. "Tell me about the Slayer."

Count on a Riherejk to have the lowdown. Seemed that Buffy Summers was sweet sixteen and had just relocated from L. A., together with her mother.

"Mother?" exclaimed Spike in surprise. That was different.

Hadn't been Called that long ago as he had guessed, but had already taken out a major vampire boss, Lothos, and his gang there in L.A.

"Impressive," murmured Spike. "No wonder she took Angelus out slicker'n spit."

There was an awed silence.

"She took out Angelus?" the Strivald breathed.

Spike grinned. He wanted the Slayer to have a rep. That would make his own rep bigger when he finally took her down.

"Oh, yeah. He's dust now."

Oh, she had potential, this one, for all that she was so green! The PTB hadn't made a mistake when they'd arranged for her to turn up in Sunnydale just when the Order arrived. He really was going to enjoy watching the show. While stirring the pot. Yeah, things were gonna be fun.

He dropped in at the Slayer's home at 1630 Revello Drive just to scope out the lay of the land, then caught some zees in the basement flat he had rented from a Krasevic demon at Willy's. Not a bad place—nice big bed, big-screen telly, good sound system, all the comforts of home. One could always count on a Krasevic to deliver the goods. It threw his body clock out a little bit to be sleeping before dawn, but he wanted to be up early to shadow the Slayer during daylight hours to track her m.o.

The painted over windows of the DeSoto let him watch her as she interacted with other students at the high school. She seemed to be making some kind of connection with a nerdy redhaired girl and two geeky gits. Unusual. And she had a mother too. A Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure.

When school was out and she'd gone home, he peeled off to check on what the Order was doing. The vibes were way stronger. Almost there, he thought as he slid into the shadows at the back of the cavern.

The chanting had a triumphant edge to it. Something moved within the pool of blood. Spike leaned forward, watching intently. It looked like they had shaken loose the plug. The cork was no longer in the bottle.

Luke fell to his knees beside the pool as the Master rose out of it.

And there he was, in all of his glory. Heinrich Joseph Nest. Old Batface himself. Well over six hundred years old, even older than Dracula who had been turned only in 1462. Ugly as hell. Spike only hoped that, if he ever got to be six hundred years old, he didn't end up looking like that! Drac sure didn't. Despite his looks though, Nest was one of the most powerful vampires in existence. And against him the PTB sent a sixteen-year-old girl, a greenhorn. Spike shook his head.

"Master!" exclaimed Luke, clasping Nest's hand reverently as the Master extended it to him.

"I am weak," the Master said, frowning.

"'In the Harvest he will be restored,'" breathed Luke, clearly quoting scripture.

"The Harvest."

"We're almost there. Soon you will be free!"

He wasn't free yet, Spike noted as the Master stretched out a hand to test his surroundings. He was free of the Hellmouth, free to move within the ruins of the shattered church. But he was still caught within the mystical confines of the ritual he had performed sixty years ago and those bonds were as strong as ever. He was still trapped within the church and the Hellmouth was still closed.

"I must be ready," said the Master. "I need my strength."

"I've sent your servants to bring you some food," nodded Luke.

"Good. Luke?"


"Bring me something...young."

That should be entertaining, thought Spike and slid silently out of the cavern. Let's see how our reluctant Slayer deals with this.

Maybe she'd duck it, if she were so against being a Slayer and all. If she did, he'd take her there and then. Some champion for the PTB she'd be if she didn't even try. Bleeding disappointment. But he might as well pick up that third notch for his belt.

He checked her house at Revello Drive, but she wasn't there. His vampire senses were attuned to her now though and he was able to track her scent trail to the Bronze. As the only 'cool' place in this podunk town, it was packed. Sprung Monkey was playing and off to one side was the Slayer, talking to that redhaired bird.

"Life is short," she was saying.

Gonna be very short for some of these snotnosed brats dancing in blind ignorance here at the Bronze, Spike thought, grinning. He could see a couple of the Order already hunting down appetizers for the Master.

"Not original, I'll grant you, but it's true," said Buffy. "Why waste time being all shy and worrying about some guy and if he's gonna laugh at you. Seize the moment, 'cause tomorrow you might be dead."

And wasn't that the truth? she thought. That bleached-blond vampire last night had made her wonder about the safety of the people in Sunnydale and, defeated, she had gone to see Rupert Giles earlier this afternoon.

"You said his name is Spike?" Giles asked, rummaging through books.

"That's what he said," Buffy muttered, glowering at him resentfully. She really didn't want to be here talking to him, the way he kept insisting it was her 'destiny' to be a Slayer, but who else was there to talk to? He at least knew about vamps.

The worst thing was that Spike said it was her destiny as well. That was somehow convincing, when vamps thought being a Slayer was her destiny and she had no choice about it. When the enemy told you that you were considered to be their major opponent and started coming out of the woodwork after you, maybe it was time to leave Egypt.

"Is this him?" Giles held out a book open at a page of fading sepia photographs.

Old time clothes and what looked like light brown hair instead of bleached white, but:

"Yeah, that's him. Not exactly the typical vamp."

In her admittedly limited experience, vamps were all snarly ridges and fangs, or something like Lothos with his cape and Dracula schtick. Spike wasn't that way at all.

"He isn't," said Giles, reading rapidly. "He's been a vampire for a hundred and twenty years which makes him a master. The older the vampire, the more dangerous he is. Oh, dear Lord!"


"He's killed two Slayers!"

Buffy's eyes widened. "He has?"

"No other vampire has ever done that!" Giles peered at her over his glasses. "Buffy, you have to be very, very careful."

"Ya think? Hey!" Buffy pointed at another picture. "That's the vamp I dusted last night."

"You dusted Angelus?" Giles gaped at her. "Good Lord! Well done! This says he was a very old vampire. Two hundred and forty years a vamp. Part of the Scourge of Europe."

"Scourge of Europe, yeah. Spike said something like that. But I thought old vamps are supposed to be dangerous. This one just came walking up and I took him out with one strike. Even Spike was floored by that."

"He was Spike's grandsire. Darla, Angelus, Dru and Spike made up the Scourge, ravaged Europe for two decades. Then Angelus falls off the radar, disappears and the group splits up. There's no explanation of why he vanished." Giles looked worriedly at her. "This Spike might have some ideas about revenge for his death, Buffy."

"Don't know about that. He nearly killed himself laughing. You'd think I did him a favor. Didn't seem to be much family feeling there, Giles."

"Well, he is a vampire and they are incapable of feelings," Giles mused. "But he still might be thinking of making you his third Slayer kill. The prestige in that would be enormous."

"Mm. What about this Order of Aurelius thing?"

"Now that is really worrisome." Giles yanked another book out of the pile. "Contrary to popular mythology, this world did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons, demons walked the Earth. It was their home, their...Hell. But in time they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for man. The Order of Aurelius is an ancient religious cult of vampires dedicated to ushering in the return of the Old Ones and the destruction of mankind."

"Spike said almost the whole Order is here in Sunnydale right now. You think they're planning to do that now, on my watch?" Buffy looked heavenwards in exasperation. "Why me, Lord? Isn't it bad enough being two hours down the freeway from Neiman Marcus?"


She sighed. "How are they gonna do this 'ushering' bit?"

"Sunnydale's built over something the Spanish who first settled here called the Boca del Infierno. Roughly translated, the Hellmouth. It's a sort of, um, portal between this reality and others."

"And they decide to open this freaking portal when I get here?"

"Well, they tried sixty years ago and failed. The Master of the Order, a very old, very powerful vampire attempted to open it at that time. But opening dimensional portals can be a very tricky business. An earthquake hit Sunnydale in the middle of the ritual and he got, well, stuck, phased between dimensions."

"And he's been phased for sixty years. So we should be all right, shouldn't we?"

"But why should the Order be gathering here all of a sudden?" Giles looked at her anxiously. "They might have found a way to get him out. And once they do, they'll try the ritual again."

"And open the Hellmouth. Let's hope he stays phased then."

As if that was gonna happen. Not with her luck. She looked about now at the cheerful normality of the Bronze all around her and thought how fragile it was. Outside was the dark, pressing in upon the bright lights and bouncy music here. And in the dark were monsters.

She wished she could forget all about vamps and demons and be as carefree and unaware as Willow, with the only thing bothering her the worry that some guy might laugh at her. Buffy sighed, looked away from Willow's oblivious face and found herself staring at Spike.

The monster. Standing right there in the middle of the Bronze, in the middle of his 'sodding buffet', bold as brass.

Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. He smirked.

"Um, I'll be back in a minute," said Buffy to Willow and got up.

"Oh, tha-that's okay," mumbled Willow, as usual sure that no one in their right mind would choose to be with her. "You don't have to come back."

Buffy smiled at her gently. "I'll be back in a minute."

"Seize the moment," she heard Willow muttering to herself, but all her attention was on the vampire grinning so provocatively at her.

It was a challenge. 'Try and dust me,' he was saying. 'Right here in front of everybody.'

Well, she would. People see only what they want to. She had found that out back at Hemery High when Lothos and his gang of vamps had attacked, and all anyone remembered afterwards was the fact that the gym had burned down, nothing about what had caused it. It was a good thing she was carrying a stake, tucked into its concealed sheath in the small of her back.

He drifted away from her as she came towards him. Playing games. His eyes were blue, she saw now, an incandescent gas-flame blue in the lights of the Bronze, full of laughter and mockery. God, he was hot! She'd never expected a vamp to be hot. But he was. Fallen angel face with strong, prominent planes, killer cheekbones and a sensual mouth. Seriously ripped bod in that black duster, black tee and black jeans, which all contrasted so effectively with his bleached white hair. Carefully planned, that look.

"Never thought I'd ever see a vamp trying to be Billy Idol," she sneered, resenting his effect upon her. The last thing she wanted to be was turned on by a vamp!

"Hey!" he exclaimed, offended. "Billy Idol stole my look, I'll have you know, Slayer!"

That was crazy enough to be true.

"So why didn't you eat him?"

He shrugged. "Liked the music."

"You were turned in 1880 and you like punk rock?"

"Waltzes are boring. Rock's so much more fun." He tilted an amused eyebrow at her, still drifting backwards so that she was forced to follow him. "So you had your Watcher look me up, did you? Better be careful. You might turn into a real Slayer one of these days."

She snarled at him. "Oh, make no mistake about it, vampire. I am a real Slayer."

"You're gonna have to prove it."

"Stop running and I will. You're the one who's being chicken."

He just laughed and shoved the back door of the Bronze open. "Just finding a better venue for our dance, pet. Come on out and let's play."

She realized that he had maneuvered her very cleverly out into the empty alley. But she too wanted a clear field for a fight and so she had no objections. She let the Bronze's back door swing shut behind her and moved smoothly forward, pulling her stake out of its sheath.

"Got your weapon, have you?" he grinned and went into gameface, fangs flashing. "I've always got mine."

But then to her surprise he went back to his human features.

"You don't want to fight?"

"Don't need the fangs to take you, Slayer. You're not good enough yet to give me even a halfway decent workout."

She swung at him with the stake, furious, and he jumped back, laughing, so that it just missed him.

"See?" He hit out, a solid blow that sent her staggering back against the wall of the alley. "Come on, Slayer. Surely you can do better than that."

On her mettle now, she settled down to fight coldly and clearly, using everything Merrick had taught her and everything she had learned fighting vamps in L.A. But he stayed ahead of her every step of the way. He had the counter for every one of her moves and, fast as she was, he was faster. And he was way more experienced, she realized with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

"Need a lot more training to take me, pet," he mocked. "Got a long ways to go to get to my level. Hundred and twenty years I've been at this game."

And he'd made an art of it, she realized. He could have killed her a dozen times already.

"So stop playing and get it over with," she said bitterly.

"Nah. I'm having too much fun."

"Thought you'd want that third Slayer kill."

He evaded the desperate spinkick she threw at him. "Too easy. I like a challenge. And I promised you a month, din' I? You'll be better by then. A little more experience, a little more practice. You need it. You're gonna be tested."


"Cork's out of the bottle, Slayer. Order managed to pop the Master out. But he's not free yet. Needs strength and for that he needs the Harvest. Ask your Watcher about that."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Hold no brief for Batface. Gonna be fun watching the two of you slug it out. You've still got a chance against him. Small one, but, hey, that's better than nothing, right? And I'll always have the chance to take you out and get my third kill if I see you going down."

"Gee, thanks. Nothing I like better than providing entertainment for a vamp."

"Did I hurt your feelings? Need a thicker skin than that, pet. You're gonna have losses. That's inevitable. People are gonna die and you won't be able to stop it. Even tonight, with the Master hungry and the Order arranging home delivery."

The stake she was swinging at his chest froze midway through the strike. "Home..."

"Your little friend, Red, just seized the moment and went walkies with the wrong person."

Buffy spun. "Willow!"

His hands caught her wrists, swung her around and yanked her against him.

"See there," he purred. "You let yourself get distracted. Very bad move. Gotta concentrate, pet. Gotta focus on the thing that needs doing now, not the one that comes after it."

He had knocked the stake out of her hand and was twisting her arms behind her.

"You lied!"

"Oh, no. She's gone. I can sense it, sense the vamp taking her to the Master."

"Let me go!"

"So you can save her? Gotta save yourself first, pet."

She realized that he had her in an unbreakable grip, locked against him, with her arms twisted behind her back. She struggled, trying to break free, but he just pulled her tighter against him and his gaze dropped to her neck.

"All that Slayer blood just pumping away." His eyes had gone dark and intense, their pupils dilating. Yellow flickered in his irises. "Just below the skin here."

He bent and his mouth closed over the vein in her neck. He sucked hard, drawing the blood up to the surface. She froze, waiting for the killing bite and the drain. But all she felt were blunt human teeth.

"So tempting," he murmured. "Shall I do you, pet?"

His head came up and he laughed down at her.

"Or shall I do you the other way?"

His mouth took hers abruptly. She gasped in shock and his tongue was within, thrusting and sliding against hers. Her knees nearly buckled. Pike or the other boys back at Hemery High had been just that—boys. They hadn't had this wicked expertise. Arms twisted behind her so that she was crushed against him from breast to knee, her whole body went up in flames. He kissed her and kissed her, his mouth twisting on hers, his tongue plundering every corner of her mouth, his laughter running through her almost as vividly as the heat flashing like lightning along her every nerve.

"That way's tempting too," he purred. "Maybe next time."

She realized that he had released her wrists, shoved at him furiously, sending them both staggering away from each other.

"I'm going to kill you!"

"You can try," he laughed and jumped, a twenty foot leap straight up and onto the roof of the Bronze. "That should give you a little incentive, shouldn't it?"

It was all a gleeful joke to him. Kissing her like that. The delightful fact that she was a Slayer and he a vamp and anything like that between them was strictly forbidden, anathema. The whole situation—the Order, the Master, the Hellmouth—had him in stitches. Buffy however was shaking with rage.

He was playing them all, just for the hell of it, and she was damned if she was going to let that happen.