Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Fox, and Twentieth Century and whoever else has rights to it. I don't, more's the pity, but they do. No money is being made by me on this.

Author's Note: This starts after season 5... and is rather AU. It has spoilers for basically all of season 4 and some of 5. I'm a Spike/Willow 'shipper, and this story is W/S. Also, this is a work in progress. I've been working on it for nearly two years now, and it's still not done, but I'm getting there. It's very long, and involed. Please hang in there, and don't give up on me if I don't update regularly. Reviews would be most welcome.

Another Note: If you read this when I first posted it, you'll need to read it again to understand some of it. I've added a lot to previously posted chapters, and I couldn't begin to tell you which ones have new stuff, and which ones don't. Sorry.

Dedicated: To my beta, Claudia, you rock! You all should thank her for getting more of this story.


Merle was starting to hate his meetings with the Bosses. Every time he came lately, their was a big to do of some kind, and this meeting was no different. Xander and Buffy were arguing with each other, and had been since Giles had left the room a few minutes early. Barely tuning in the argument, Merle waited impatiently for them to remember he was even there.

Occupying his time like he usually did, he looked at the huge, dark wood walls that went up for forever, the cream marbled floor, the light that came from above, but didn't seem to have a source. The windowless room was huge, and cavernous, and every little sound traveled, so when the door behind the table clicked, the arguing stopped and they all turned to watch Giles step up onto the dais and sit at the table.

He was more haggard looking than Merle had ever seen him. His glasses were gone, and his shirt, normally tucked in and neat, was rumpled and hanging free.

"Giles?" Xander questioned.

"Because the Djin failed, and time is of the essence," he said wearily, "I'm afraid it's time." He held up his hand, forestalling an argument from Buffy, and rubbed his eyes. "Anya and Dawn are in agreement. I'm sorry, Buffy."

That was Merle's cue. He turned and left the room, not looking forward to his next assignment.

Spike listened to Willow silently, hardly interrupting at all, except where he felt it necessary to get more details, or fewer ones.

She told him about her trip back in time, and then about the dreams the Djin had shown her. She told him everything he'd wondered about. Everything he thought she'd lied to him about. Poured her heart out, and was now wearing it on her partially torn sleeve.

And he loved her even more for it. He was her everything.

Occasionally a huge grin would spread across his face when he remembered her words. Remembered how much he'd felt like he belonged somewhere in the world when she told him that. Somewhere in her heart.

He understood her a little better, understood the way she felt when she woke up alone in a different time after having just seen Giles' mutilated body. Understood why she slept with William. He was, after all, capable of manipulation and charm when it suited him. Spike knew how William worked.

He looked down at the woman in his arms. She was looking up at him, a little annoyed. "What?" he asked. Most of what she'd said for the last five minutes had gone in one ear and out the other.

She sighed, rolling her eyes. "Do you remember the night we all went to the Bronze? About a week before everyone died?"

"I remember." Buffy had been there, that's what he remembered most. Most of his time had been spent watching her. She'd danced once with Xander, and he'd had to sit back and watch, keep from beating the crap out of both of them. She'd hardly even glanced his way except to insult him. He remembered that real well.

"We were all there," she was saying, distracting him from his furious thoughts when her hand started tracing circles on his stomach. "Even Giles and Dawn."

"Were they?" he asked, shrugging. Truthfully, he'd only been aware of Buffy. His fury at her and Xander dancing. Her insults. Her continued dislike of him. "Don't really remember anything except--"

"Buffy," she interrupted. "You were sort of focused on her. All tunnel vision and one tracked. I get that, and I understand it. Doesn't really bother me."

He was surprised to hear little conviction in her voice. Apparently it did bother her to some extent. Was this a new thing, or something that'd always been there?

"No?" he inquired. His arms tightened around her. "Wanna try that again?"

She shrugged, shaking her head. "No. Not really. That was then, and this is now," she offered, trying to convince them both of the truth in her words.

He leaned down, pressing his lips against her ear as he whispered, "Liar." When he heard her heartbeat speed up, he grinned and nipped at her ear.

She shivered and ducked away from his mouth, sounding slightly miffed when she continued. "Anyway, Tara did a spell that night, just before we left, though when she found the time to do it between--"

He tightened his arms around her again, warning her to skip over the specifics of what she and Tara had been doing just before they left for the Bronze. She got the hint.

"She, um, did a spell. To see auras. She spent pretty much the whole night watching you. You didn't notice at all?"

He shook his head, though she couldn't see it. "No. Hardly remember her being there at all, let alone who she was watching." He paused for a second. "Why was she watching me?"

"I'm not exactly sure," she said with a shrug. "Maybe your aura was the most fun? Light gray with a little black mixed in. You know that clich├ęd; white is good, black is evil thing? Well apparently there's truth in it."

"And?" he said a little angrily. "Was that your point? To show me how not evil I am?" He was extremely offended. He knew he couldn't bite or kill innocent people anymore, and she knew it too, but he sure as hell wasn't a tame house cat. "I'll have you know I'm very evil still. When the implant wasn't working, I hunted."

Perhaps he should've kept that to himself. She stiffened and pulled away from him. Her face, when she looked up at him, held so many emotions that he couldn't pinpoint one from the many. Possibly a lot of betrayal was in there, and accusation.

"What? You told me you didn't--"

"Kill," he stressed. "I didn't kill anyone, but I sure as hell did hunt." His own anger was very close to the surface, and he had to keep a tight rein on it. "I'm a vampire, I hunt and kill, Willow. It's what I do. What I am. Did you expect me to just continue feeding from a plastic bag when I had the freedom to hunt?" He could see from her face that she had thought that. Of course she did. She had no idea what it was like to be a vampire that craved a fresh kill, a good hunt.

"Yes. I did," she said apologetically. "But I can't help it, Spike. I'm human, I'm food to you. Tell me you don't constantly think about eating me, and I in no way mean it that way, so get that smirk off your face." She rolled her eyes and sighed when he continued to smirk.

Finally, he gave her a break and admitted it. "Yeah, I think about it. Not constantly, but I do think about it. And not in the killing way. I drink blood, I happen to like drinking blood, and during sex it's..." his eyes settled on the bitemarks on her neck. "Well, you know then, don't you?"

She nodded, looking down at her hands as she picked at her fingernails. "It doesn't matter. The implant is still there and working, so the point is moot." She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "I'm glad you didn't kill anyone. And I can't really begrudge you for feeding."

"Bloody right," he muttered, mollified. If, and when the implant ever stopped working, they'd have a really big argument, he knew, but for the time being, she was right; the point was moot. "So, what is the purpose of this trip down memory lane?"

"Well, supposedly we're soul mates, which I don't get, because you have no soul. And you're a century old, so how does that work? Not to mention Drusilla and Buffy and-- well?"

He stared down at her, wondering if it could be true. Were they soul mates? Of a sort. She was looking at him fearfully, probably afraid he'd laugh at her or something. She was way too insecure. He'd have to help her with that. "Come again?"

"We're soul mates?" she whispered, looking up at him from under her lashes. When he nodded and looked over her head, she hurried to add, "I didn't actually believe it. 'Cause, you know, the no soul thing. But, Tara saw that, and I thought maybe... you should know. You know?"

"Yeah," he agree absently. "You know, it's very rare for a human and demon to be mated. Almost unheard of."

She stared back at him, obviously surprised that he believed her. "Um, how? How is it possible? 'No soul' sort of has me thinking it hinders the mating of two 'souls'."

He smiled at her and pressed a quick kiss to her tempting lips. "You're extremely bright, Willow," he told her expectantly, knowing she'd get it sooner rather than later.

She frowned in confusion, prodding him for more information by lifting her eyebrows at him in expectation.

Okay, she was obviously stuck on the 'no soul' point, and, he realized, for a human it was a really big point to be stuck on. Still, it was kind of amusing to see her so baffled. It didn't happen often, but damn if he didn't enjoy it when it did.

"Demons have soul mates too, in a way, but they're almost always mated to other demons." She still looked confused. "A human soul is what makes you think, act, love, like, hate, feel. All of that, right?"

She nodded excitedly. "So, your demon-y essence, inside the human body, is like a soul. I've never thought about it like that before."

He could see her mind going to work, and he had to smile. It was nice to be with someone who could think. Buffy was the closest he'd come, but since they'd never really had a conversation that didn't involve evil, death, him being evil, or just general evil, it was hard to be satisfied by that.

"Maybe that means demons aren't all unerringly evil, which I always wondered about, 'cause of Oz, and okay, he wasn't really a demon, but, sort of," she muttered, more to herself than to him. "So if the human mind is good, without serial killer tendencies or something, and it helps shape the truly evil demon essence, then they could somewhat become good, like you. Well, you also have electronic help. But--"

"Willow." Spike shook her out of her musings, cupping her face to look up at him. "Hi. Welcome back."

"Sorry," she mumbled. "So, you believe it? That we're soul mates? How come we didn't immediately fall in love then? Or-- or--"

He stopped her with another kiss on the lips. "I don't know. Doesn't really matter though. Whether we were meant for each other from the beginning, or just happened to fall in love on accident, either way the end result is the same and I'm happy."

"Oh." Obviously she hadn't thought about it like that before. "Yeah, I guess you're right." She stood up, and headed toward the ladder. "Um, be back in a sec. I need to get those books."

The magick books? He sighed, wondering what the hell she wanted them for. He waited while she went up to his crypt, coming back down with the three spell books. His glare at them wasn't missed by her. She knew how much he didn't like her doing spells. Why would she even think about doing one now?

She sat on the bed beside him, and flipped through the first book. "I was sort of thinking maybe I could do a spell to figure out what happened in the past. Why nothing's changed--"

He reached over and slammed the book shut. "You're not doing a spell," he told her, his eyes letting her know how serious he was.

She wasn't going to be deterred that easily. She re-opened the book. "I'm just going to do a small one. I want to know why nothing's changed, why they're still dead. It'll be easy, just a quick, simple spell."

He took the books from her, practically having to tear them out of her hands. "How about you don't do a spell, and we figure it out on our own?" he asked reasonably, setting the books on the floor beside him. Out of her reach unless she wanted to dive over him.

She looked at him, her face full of the resolve and determination that had always made Xander give in. "Spike, it's easier this way. Just let me--"

"No," he said harshly, his voice filled with barely controlled anger. "We'll figure it out on our own. Leave the magick alone for a while." He was adamant on this point. No blasted magick around him. Preferably no magick at all. She was getting too dependant on it. Using it at every turn, for everything she couldn't fix, and he'd be damned if he'd let her become addicted to it.

She was fighting her own anger, and trying not to let it show. "What's your big hang up about magick, Spike? One stupid screw up that had you engaged to Buffy and suddenly you think I'm a pathetic witch? I have powers and skills, and no matter what you say, I intend to keep using them. Just, obviously, not now."

He narrowed his eyes at her. "No you won't. you're becoming dependant on it, Willow. Stay away from it for a while, all right? Please?"

She looked about ready to protest, but gave in with a sigh. "Fine." She sat on the end of the bed, away from him.

Merle waited silently in the sewer tunnel for the perfect opportunity. As he left the bosses behind, Buffy had run up to him.

"Wait until they're together. Make sure--" she'd paused a few times, having to fight back her anger and helplessness. "Make sure they're together and not arguing when you do it. She should be happy when you-- when you... just go," she'd whispered, unable to finish the sentence. It wasn't due to any feelings she had for the vampire, all her worry was for Willow. Her best friend. The one they were trying to drive insane to save her soul.

The couple in question was currently in the vampire's bed, talking. The conversation had gone from sweet and sappy to arguing within seconds, quite a few times. They were no longer fighting now though, so he figured, it was now or never.

Vampire ridges firmly in place, he walked around the corner, into the light of the bedroom. "So, I'm thinking to myself, what's it gonna take to get you to share the redhead?"

Willow rolled out of bed with a scream, jumping to her feet at the same time as Spike. Once the initial surprise was over, Willow rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. "Is there, like, a vampire 101 class that teaches you these same old tired lines?"

"Willow," Spike said conversationally, "get me a stake?" He gestured to the dresser behind her, not taking his eyes off of Merle. "You know, I'm getting tired of repeating myself," he told Merle, stalking over to him. "I don't share."

Merle shrugged, completely unconcerned. He was at least two times stronger than any vampire. The times he'd fought Spike and Willow, he'd kept his full strength to himself. But tonight he wouldn't be.

Willow pulled open one of the drawers on the dresser, half watching Merle. He'd have her full attention soon enough. He let Spike stalk over to him, even let him catch the stake Willow tossed at him. But as soon as the vampire got close enough to use it, Merle snarled and attacked.

His fist slammed into Spike's jaw, snapping his head to the right. A split lip and blood immediately appeared. Spike ducked his head and dove at Merle, knocking both of them to the dirt floor. Plumes of dust billowed around them, getting in their eyes and throats. Willow yelped a little and cautiously backed away from the fighting duo.

"Spike?" She sounded a little scared, but not overly so.

"Little busy here," Spike answered as he jabbed an elbow into Merle's abdomen and tried to stake him.

Merle easily deflected the blow, knocked the stake out of his hands, and punched him in the face again. Blood smeared along the lower half of his face, making it look much worse than it actually was, and with his extra-vampire sense, Merle heard Willow's sharp intake of breath. Spike must've heard it too, because he hauled Merle to his feet and grinned at her. The blond vampire looked more demented than reassuring, but it seemed to work somewhat on the girl.

"Stake," she whispered to herself, glancing around for it, her heart beating frantically. "Where the hell is it?"

Merle allowed Spike to get in a few blows to his head and chest, but easily grew bored and impatient. They'd told him to take his time, but the vampire beating on him didn't know that, so he was only forcing him to kill him sooner. After a particularly hard blow to the jaw, Merle grinned at Spike and waited for the next blow.

When it came, he didn't even wince as the fist struck flesh and bone; as blood flowed freely from his mouth. His eyes bored into Spike's, promising death only after a lot of pain. Spike must've understood, because he turned to Willow, who was still searching for the stake or something equally wooden and pointy to use against Merle, and ordered her to leave.

She straightened up from her search under the bed, and shook her head stubbornly. "What? No. I'm not leaving you here to--"

"Bloody hell, Willow," Spike bit out, as he was thrown against a wall, "get the hell out of here, and don't come back! I'll meet you at the--" a foot caught him in the side of the head, stunning him for a second. He shook himself free of Merle's hold and grabbed Merle by his jean jacket. "I'll meet you where we were last night," he told Willow, tossing her a look as he tossed Merle across the room.

Merle laughed and jumped to his feet, enjoying himself for the first time in a long time. Fighting was always something he'd greatly enjoyed. It'd been a long time since he'd just fought for the pure joy of it. As Spike stalked toward him, jumping over the bed to reach him, Merle winked at Willow. "Meet ya at the Magic Box, honey," he whispered with a promise.

Willow's eyes widened, and she tried to back away, but Merle wasn't about to let her get free. This whole thing depended on her being present, otherwise the plan was for naught.

"Willow, God damn it, just go," Spike yelled, sounding a little desperate now. He grabbed Merle again, but this time he wasn't able to move him. His surprised gaze shot to Merle's just before Merle's fist hit him in the eye. A groan of pain slipped out as he tried to lift himself from the floor, wiping blood from his mouth as he stood.

Willow, staring from one to the other, quickly made a decision. She grabbed the nearest thing she could get her hands on, which turned out to be a chair, picked it up over her head with effort, and dropped it down on Merle, then desperately began to chant a spell.

Unhurt, Merle immediately stood back up again, turning his attention to Willow. Her lips were moving quickly as she whispered the words needed for whatever spell she was doing, her eyes were starting to turn black, and a breeze was whipping up dust in the chamber.

Spike, holding his side, groaned again, and Merle was positive it was due more to Willow's use of magick than his pain. He hobbled over to her, reaching out to touch her shoulder just as Merle threw a packet of herbs to the floor at her feet. Giles had warned him about Willow's use of magick and prepared a spell to keep her bound. The packet of herbs exploded, throwing Spike to the floor. She could neither do any magick now, or leave. The magick hit Willow equally as hard, and her head fell back. Dark blue smoke swarmed around her, wafting this way and that as it snaked its way around her from head to foot.

"Willow," Spike ground out, coughing a few times, spitting out blood. He had yet to get up from the floor, and Merle knew he was weak, made weaker by the magick.

It was time to get down to business.

Willow was aware again, looking around fearfully for Spike, not yet realizing she was trapped. When she saw him, she tried to go to him, but was only able to take one step before the invisible barrier stopped her. Her eyes widened with panic.

"Spike," she whispered a little desperately, "get up. Get up." Her eyes darted toward Merle as he closed the distance between himself and the vampire. He bent down, grabbing Spike by his shirt. The thin black material ripped under the rough treatment, and he slipped out of Merle's grip, dropping back to the floor. "Spike!" She was yelling now, close to sobbing.

Spike was pretending to be weaker than he actually was, Merle knew. Giles had warned him the herbs would weaken Spike, but he'd also cautioned him against relying on it too much. So when Spike grabbed Merle's legs and yanked them out from under him, Merle wasn't too surprised. He heard Willow's gasp of relief as he hit the ground. Allowing her the smallest bit of hope, he let Spike climb laboriously to his feet and make his way all the way over to her.

"Why didn't you leave?" Spike asked, circling around her, trying to find a way to get her out. "When will you learn?" he yelled.

She jumped slightly at the anger in his voice, and her lower lip began to tremble. "I couldn't leave you," she whispered.

Spike broke one of the chairs against the wall and picked up a leg. Heading over to Merle, he was a bit surprised when Merle jumped to his feet, spry as can be.

"This is *so* touching," Merle laughed, "it really is, but," he paused, tilting his head to the side as if in thought, "I'm afraid it's about to get deadly."

Spike sighed, gesturing to Willow. "Whatever the hell you did to her, undo it." He stalked closer, brandishing his makeshift stake threateningly. "Now."

Merle shook his head teasingly. "No." He leaned toward Spike in a conspiratorial manner. "How can I make her watch you die if she's off running into the sunlight? And you will die," he assured Spike. "And she will watch."

"No," Willow whimpered. Big fat tears were starting to roll down her cheeks, making her eyes even brighter, and her face more pathetic. Her eyes begged him, her voice pleaded with him, and her mouth and words promised him. "Y-- you can have me, just leave him--"

"Not bloody likely," Spike bit out, tossing Willow an incredulous look. "Neither one of us are dying today, love, so stop promising him your life." He grabbed Merle's arm and brought him toward him at the same time as he swung the broken chair leg at his chest.

Merle grinned and easily stopped Spike's arm just before the stake touched his flesh. "Not so fast," Merle chided. "We have all day."

"What--" was all Spike got out before Merle punched him with full force. Spike, already unconscious from the blow, went flying backward to slam into the stone wall above the bed. His body dropped to the bed where it bounced a few times before coming to rest in a heap.

"Now," Merle chuckled, tossing a smile at Willow, "let the fun begin." Tossing the stake into the air jauntily, he caught it and headed toward Spike.

Willow screamed.

That lasted for only a few seconds before she once again tried to do a spell. Merle stopped and turned toward her, watching her with amusement. Nothing happened when she finished, as he'd known it would. He raised an eyebrow, silently asking her if she was through. She ignored him and tried again. And a third time after that. Tears were flowing freely now, and her voice was hitching in her throat. Her sobbing grew louder and louder with each failed attempt.

Finally she resorted to begging again. "Please, don't kill him. You can have me. I'll-- I'll do whatever you want, please, just don't hurt him... please."

Merle wasn't sure he was enjoying himself any longer. He hadn't been working for the side of evil for long, only a few months now... truthfully, this was his first job not doled out by the Powers, and he felt rather... bad for the girl. Everything he'd done to her over the past few months was definitely taking its toll on her. And her pleas were taking a toll on him.

He had to force himself not to drop the magick binding her, and leave. As it was, he was halfway to her before he stopped himself. This was important. He was saving her soul. If he looked at it like that, it was easier to do.

He sighed, thinking maybe he'd worked too long for the side of good. This evil thing wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

Steeling himself for a long day ahead, he headed out into the sewer tunnel and grabbed the bag of tools he'd left there. Dropping it to the bed, he opened the clasp and pulled out the first thing his hand closed around. He didn't need to look to see what he'd grabbed, Willow's gasp of horror was enough to let him know, even if the familiar shape of the bottle hadn't.

"Oh, God," she whispered in despair. She wanted desperately to look away, to not watch as her lover was tortured, and after a few moments, she gave in, closing her eyes with a sob.

Unfortunately, that was a problem. As he pulled out all the rest of the items from the bag and lined them up, stalling for time, he ordered her to watch.

She shook her head, biting her lip to keep more sobs at bay. "N-- no." Her voice was so low he wouldn't have heard it if he didn't have the vampire hearing aiding him.

"I said, watch!" he yelled, angry at himself, and the situation he'd allowed himself to be in. He'd wanted to work on the side of evil, wanted to hurt people, torture them-- no. If he was honest with himself, he'd admit that he'd wanted to be out from under the Power's thumb more than anything else.

"Or what?" she yelled back. "You'll kill me?" She sneered at him, standing tall with defiance. "Then kill me."

Merle shook his head, taking out the lengths of rope he'd cut to secure Spike with while he tortured him. "It doesn't work that way. See, this is how it goes; I torture him, the traitor vampire, and you, his human bitch, watches." Feeling a little disgusted with himself, he forced his eyes to focus on her. "Maybe then you and I can have some fun. What do you say, baby?"

Instead of answering, she glared at him, then sat on the floor, purposely disobeying his order to watch. "Go back to hell."

Merle sighed, digging another packet of herbs from his jeans pocket. He walked over to the witch, holding them up for her to see. "Know what this is?" She didn't answer. He hadn't really expected her to. "It's a spell to force you to watch. Do you really want me to use it?"

She looked up in indecision. But her resolve was far from broken. "Let him go."

Merle dropped his hand, standing back up. "No. There's no chance of that, so you'd better wrap your mind around that pretty damn quickly. I'm here to kill your boy, but if you don't watch, I'll make it hurt as much as I can."

She whimpered a little, biting her lip to keep from screaming. He could see it in her eyes, all over her face. She wanted to break, just start screaming and yelling, but she held it together. It was rather impressive. She finally lifted her head, and fixed her eyes on Spike.

"There we go," he enthused, giving her a menacing smile. Moving back to the bed, he tied one of Spike's wrist to the brass bedpost, skirted the bed to the other side and did the same with his feet and other hand. "Now," he said conversationally, "what do you think it'll take to get him to come to?" Bending down, he grabbed the bottle of holy water. "Let's find out, shall we?"

Uncorking the clear bottle, he stretched his arm out, holding it directly over Spike's chest, hearing her intake of breath. Just before he let it dribble out, he re-corked it and reached down to rip Spike's T-Shirt off, listening to Willow's gasp of relief. Since it was already torn and bloody, it easily came off under his hands. Not sure if she'd appreciate it or not, he tossed the black material to her, and went back to his holy water torturing.

Willow quickly grabbed the shirt from the floor and hugged it to her like a stuffed animal. A couple of deep shuddering breaths left her, but she stayed silent.

Merle resumed his position, tipped the bottle over, and let a half cup of the liquid splash onto Spike's pale chest. Spike's body shot up as smoke curled away from the angry red burn marks appearing on his flesh. A shout of pain rose from amid the snarls and growling as he struggled to get his hands free. He yanked and pulled so hard that the bed was shaking, and the brass headboard was banging against the wall behind it, but it held. It wasn't until a few minutes later that he calmed enough to look around himself. When his eyes landed on Willow, he growled louder, tried harder to get free.

"Ah-ah," Merle warned him, drawing his attention. "No getting free until I've had my fun." Tugging at the rope around Spike's right foot, he chuckled. "Magick's a pretty handy tool, isn't it?"

Spike sneered at him. "Only for weaklings. How about you drop all the magick and fight me like a demon?"

Merle's eyes slid to Willow, seeing her standing slowly, frowning at Spike with pain-filled eyes.

Spike didn't notice, all his attention was on Merle. "Gotta hide behind magick to get the job done?" He lifted his head, taunting, "Be a man."

Merle shook his head, ignoring Spike. "You know, you are *not* well liked at Willy's. Traitor, human-lover, Slayer's puppy, Witch's lapdog... that's what they call you down there." Taking a large, wooden cross off of the bed with a handkerchief, he held it up for Spike and Willow to see, pretending to examine it in the light. "I stuck up for you at first. I did. No way could Spike be a traitor, I said. He's a legend, man." Merle tossed a sideways look at Spike, shaking his head. "Then I saw you; protecting the witch."

He lowered his hand and pressed the cross to Spike's stomach with punishing force, waiting for Spike to shout or yell, but he did neither. Hissed in pain a little, tried to shift out from under the wooden cross, even while smoke rose up and the stench of burning flesh permeated the cavern, and the sound of sizzling met their ears. But no yelling.

Merle shrugged, dropping the cross to the bed. "What happened to you?" he asked derisively, playing the part of the young vampire who's been disappointed by a living legend. "You used to be one of us, man. Evil." He picked up the holy water again, and dribbled it onto Spike's arms. "Now you're a pathetic human-lover."

Willow, who'd remained silent so far, was sobbing again, once again trying to do a spell. Spike was in tremendous pain, Merle knew, but he didn't let it show. His eyes stayed fixed solely on Merle, never straying to Willow once.

After what felt like hours to Merle, he knew it was time. Spike was barely alive, bleeding from too many cuts and stab wounds to count. Holy water burn marks, and cross-shaped burns riddled his entire body, every inch of his skin. He straightened up from the unconscious vampire, and glanced over at the trapped witch.

She was watching every move he made, mumbling something like a mantra. Over the past hour he'd heard her go through spell after spell to no avail. Then the praying started. To what God or Goddess, he had no idea, for she never spoke a name, just prayed to whoever it was that they wouldn't let Spike die. After that, she'd started saying Spike's name over and over.

She was broken, he knew. Very near the edge. There was only one thing left to do, just as they'd planned.

After packing his tools away, he stood up and approached Willow, letting her see him. Her eyes, so dull and unaware, focused on him, following his trail from the bed to her. She stood up, waiting.

For death? he wondered.

He forced a chuckle from his throat, and stopped in front of her with a sigh. "Okay, I think I'm all done here. If you have any questions...?" he laughed some more, sliding something from his pocket. Her eyes were focused on Spike again, so she didn't see him drop the handful of herbs to the floor at her feet.

"He's not dead," she whispered, hope lacing her voice, and a small hesitant smile creeping up her lips. "He's not dead."

Merle, currently behind her, trailed his hand along the invisible barrier, watching as it sparked under his fingers. "Wasn't going to kill him. That was never my intention," he said softly, circling around to face her.

She frowned, looking like she wanted to be happy, but she didn't trust him. "You aren't..." her voice trailed off when he touched the barrier again. She saw it spark, saw it starting to break down, and was doing a pathetic job of not letting him know she knew. Her eyes shot to his again, but kept dropping to his hand. "You're letting him live?" she whispered.

He nodded, grinning at her. "Think I'll have a little fun with you though. Maybe make the vampire watch." Resisting the urge to take back his words and calm her suddenly racing heart, he spun away from her, giving her numerous opportunities to break free of the barrier. Pulling out a stake he'd hidden in the bloody blankets beside Spike, he waited patiently until he was sure she was nearly free.

She was once again chanting, speaking Latin in low, frantic whispers that were growing louder by the second. Holding the stake high with a shout of anger, he turned to her. If he'd had any leanings toward humans, he'd have to say that this one was one that could capture his attention.

She was beautiful when she was mad. Her eyes were swimming black pools again, her head held high, watching him. A wind had whipped up, swirling her hair and clothes about her in an enticing manner. She was hellbent with fury. Her hands rose up, aimed straight at Merle, and as he tensed up for the final moment, she smiled. And it was a smile of pure evil.

Then magick shot out from her hands, purple magick that was licking its way up her arms, dancing along her skin. Merle jumped out of the way with a laugh and rolled into the sewer tunnel. Staying only long enough to see Spike explode into dust.

Willow's scream of anguish echoed throughout the tunnels long after the sound died away. It also echoed in his head long after he left the year two thousand and one.