"Thanks for the help, but I'm afraid you're no longer of any use," Spike stated, simultaneously staking the two lackeys who had somehow managed to capture the remaining Scoobies.

He stepped into the next room where Drusilla was just finishing the configuration. They had all been lashed to chairs which were arranged in a circle facing a swiveling office chair in the center to which the Slayer was tied.

"Looks like the gang's all here," he commented with an evil grin.

Buffy--who had been studying the floor, not wanting to meet the gaze of her Watcher who sat facing her--now glared up at the vampire. If looks could kill, this one would have vaporized. But she remained silent. It was Xander who spoke up instead.

"I knew it," he growled, angrier than any of them had ever seen him. "I knew we never should have trusted you. I bet you were planning this the whole time you were working with us, weren't you? That was all just part of your plan, wasn't it?"

Spike frowned. "Of course not. I helped you out of the goodness of my heart," he said, actually sounding rather convincing for a moment, until he could no longer keep a straight face.

He laughed, the sound echoing oddly through the otherwise silent room. "Funny, isn't it? Just when you were beginning to think maybe you'd been wrong about me, maybe I could be trusted..."

As he spoke he made his way around the circle until he was standing in front of Xander. "Turns out you were right all along."

He turned and grabbed the back of the Slayer's chair, spinning her around to face Xander. "You should have listened to him, Slayer. But who would've thought he'd wind up being the smart one?" he questioned, stepping around to stand beside Xander's chair, facing Buffy and Anya beyond her.

"And y'know what's even funnier?" he asked, drawing the small crossbow he carried. Xander gasped as the tip of arrow came to rest against the back of his neck. "You always argued that I couldn't be trusted. I was evil and I could never change. And yet...you fell in love with an ex-demon. How do you think all that unforgiving talk made her feel?"

She gazed at him across the expanse, her expression a mixture of fear and disclosure--Spike was right.

"Anya...I'm sorry. I--"

"Oh, isn't that touching?" Spike scoffed. "I don't think that's going to do it. `Cuz you see, it never even occurred to you that every time you talked about how evil beings could never change--" His aim turned to the current subject of the conversation-- "you pierced another hole in her heart."

He pulled the trigger and the room erupted in a cacophony of gasps punctuated by two agonized screams.

"Ooh...such pretty music," Drusilla crooned, twirling about the room and then hovering over her lover's shoulder as he reloaded the bow. "Like angels playing harps with bleeding fingers. Can we make them play some more?"

"You bet, Luv," he replied, stepping around to face the distraught young man who watched helplessly, fighting against he restraints as he watched the love of his life die before his eyes.

"Xander, I'm scared... I love you..." she whispered with her last breath.

Ignoring the arrow pointed at his heart, Xander tore his eyes from her to glare up at the demon who stood before him. "You bastard," he growled through angry, agonized tears. "You better kill me, and make sure I'm dead, because I swear, if I live to see you again--" The words died in his throat as the arrow pierced his heart.

"Oh, don't worry. There's no danger of that happening," Spike sneered.

He smiled wickedly, throwing a look around the circle at the others who looked away in various directions, some studying the patterns on the stone floor, others gazing at the flickering flames of the candles that burned throughout the room--all of them looking at anything but their captors or the bodies of their friends.

"Look at the lot of you," Spike said, slowly walking around the inside of the circle, grinning wickedly at each of them. "All gloom and doom, tears and long faces--it's enough to make me downright giddy."

Drusilla laughed, leaning over and gazing curiously into Xander's dead eyes like a child inspecting an odd looking bug. She straightened and turned to Spike, gazing at him in her typical vacant manner. "I don't think they're enjoying the tea party. The blood has made their crumpets soggy."

He smiled fondly at his insane lover. "Yeah, so what d'ya say we move this party along."

"All right," she agreed, throwing her arms about his neck and running her fingers through his hair. "But I want a turn," she requested, looking up at him and pouting. "You're hogging all the fun."

"Oh. Sorry, Luv. Guess I got a little caught up in the moment," he apologized, stroking her cheek. "Tell ya what--you can have...that one." He pointed to Tara.

"Oh goody, I like witches," she commented turning and stalking toward her new subject of interest like a vicious predator that had just cornered its prey. "They taste the way wildflowers smell."

Spike turned the Slayer's chair toward the gruesome scene about to unfold.

"Tara...No," the other witch sobbed as the mad vampiress closed in for the kill.

Spike smiled proudly as he watched his favorite femme fatale feed. It was beautiful thing to see. She was so violent and vicious, yet delicate--she never spilled a drop. The Slayer's silent, defeated tears and the more audible anguish of the others enhanced the pulchritude of the scene.

"Why are you doing this?" a small, trembling, barely audible voice questioned.

He turned to the Slayer's sister, laughing dryly. "Why am I doing this," he repeated thoughtfully. "That's a good question, Bit. Maybe I'm starving for attention, maybe it's a `cry for help,' or maybe my mum just didn't love me enough. No, wait--I know..." He leaned in close to her. "Because it's fun."

Dawn stared in horror at the rather long and rather wicked looking knife that had suddenly appeared in his hand. "Because this--" he said, slowly drawing the knife across her cheek, provoking a pained scream. "--is music to my ears." He stood, gazing into her hurt, terrified, yet fascinated eyes as he licked her blood from the blade. "But mostly--" he spun and threw the knife so that it landed solidly in Xander's chest. "--because I can."

"Oh, and I thought it was just because you're an evil, soulless bastard," Giles spoke for the first time, breaking the tense, terrified silence.

Spike shrugged, grinning wryly. "Well, there is that too."

"So I was right," the Slayer whispered, her voice trembling. "You really didn't love me."

"Oh, no, no, no, Luv. You were indeed mistaken," he told her, suddenly dead serious. "I did love you--still do in fact. But you see, that's the problem...I know you'll never love me."

He ignored the angry look Drusilla gave him as she wiped the witch's blood from her mouth.

"And I can't stand having to think about that every time I see you," he said, walking slowly around her chair. "Thought maybe I'd just leave, but I knew somehow some part of you would follow me."

Drusilla nodded at this, joining him in front of the Slayer. "You always have followed him," she remarked, leaning against him with her head on his shoulder, "flitting about like some nasty little crow, pecking away at him until there was nothing--"

"Uh, that's enough, Dru," he cut her off. "So you see, this is the only way I'll ever get over you. When you and all your little friends are gone, I'll finally be free."

She glared up at him, flashing her own wicked smile. "You'll never be free, Spike. When I'm gone, you'll be Drusilla's slave again. And when she's gone, there'll be somebody else. You're a fool for love, Spike. You're a slave to it. And you'll never--"

"Shut up," he growled, violently grabbing the back of her chair and turning her to face her best friend.

Willow stared up at him, tears still streaming down her face, through she had regained her composure somewhat.

"I can't believe I actually thought you'd changed. Sure, you'd tried to kill us all at one time or another, but I thought, `hey, everybody deserves a second chance.' Maybe you had changed. It's possible--Angle used to be evil, too. But I was naive and stupid. Xander was always right. People like you can't change. He never trusted you, and I shouldn't have either."

Spike tilted his head to one side, gazing at her almost fondly. "So many admirable qualities--you're understanding, forgiving, and you're not afraid to admit when you're wrong. And you've been wrong before, haven't you? Of course you have. We all make mistakes. But there's nothing wrong with that...until we make that one, big mistake that winds up being fatal. It's sort of ironic really--just a couple of years ago, you wouldn't have been at all surprised if someone had suggested that trusting me would be your fatal mistake. Now...well, things change. People don't."

She gazed up at him, looking more hurt than angered. "Spike...I don't care if I die now. And I'm not mad at myself for being wrong about you. I'm just disappointed that what I believed wasn't true."

He laughed dryly. "Well, you're certainly not the first person I've disappointed. But I'm tired of disappointing people. Especially my little blackbird here," he said, taking Drusilla by the hand.

"You know what they used to do to witches?" he questioned, retrieving a container from the corner of the room. He grinned at the look of sheer terror that came across her face. "Burn 'em at the stake. Unfortunately, I don't have a stake handy, so we'll have improvise," he stated, shaking the container suggestively.

Buffy watched, tears streaming down her face as he began dousing her best friend with gasoline. She met Willow's terrified, panicked, saddened gaze for only a moment before it became unbearable, and she turned her gaze to the stone floor once again.

As the young witch sobbed, begging for him to stop, Spike grabbed a stand that held several candles. "Y'know, you should feel honored. Look at all the people who have died this way--Joan of Arc, the Salem witches. You're joining an elite group. It's just too bad I forgot the marshmallows," he commented as he brought the candles close enough to catch the bottom of the long skirt she wore. He smiled as she writhed and screamed, engulfed in just moments.

Buffy stared at the stone floor, now sobbing as she tried to ignore her best friend's agonized screams and the nauseating smell of burning flesh.

She cringed as he gently lifted her chin. "Now, now, Slayer. Don't you think you know the floor well enough by now?" he questioned with a sly grin as he forced her to look at Willow. "You're missing one hell of a show."

Buffy nearly vomited at the sight of her best friend's still burning corpse. She was again wracked by sobs as she tightly shut her eyes and tried to replace the horrible image that was now forever burned into her memory.

"It's really a fascinating thing to watch," Spike commented casually as if he were talking about a hatching bird or some animal mating ritual. "You don't agree? Right then. There's plenty of other interesting things to see."

She reluctantly opened her eyes as he turned her toward the next victim...

"Giles..." she whispered, the rest of her sentence temporarily cut off by her sobs. "I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry about, Buffy," he insisted. "None of this was your fault. William here is a very good actor."

He turned his attention to the subject of the comment. "Even I believed him."

Spike sauntered around Buffy's chair and toward the watcher, his head tilted to one side. "Just one of my many talents," he agreed, shrugging.

Drusilla flashed a lewd grin at this. "Oh, he is quite talented. And creative," she commented, leaning over Giles from behind and running a long, red talon along his cheek. "He paints with blood and entrails."

Giles cringed at the horribly vivid image. "You've always been an actor, William. You used to act like it didn't bother you when they laughed at you; when you were turned you acted like a brutal killer, the `big bad.' But it's always been an act."

"Shut up, Watcher," Spike bit out, his voice a low growl.

Giles ignored the command. "Deep down you've always been a miserable, terrified, pathetic--"

The rest of his words died in his throat as it was pierced by a railroad spike thrown from across the circle.

"I said `shut up,'" Spike growled. There was a moment of eerie silence, then delighted applause from Drusilla.

After admiring his work for another moment, Spike turned to his insane lover and gave a small bow. She then turned her attention to his latest victim. "You should have listened," she chided, shaking her head at the corpse like a disapproving mother.

Spike smiled at her latest show of twisted lunacy, then pulled another of the railroad spikes from the pocket of his duster. "Reminds me of old times," he sighed. Spike smiled fondly at the object for a moment then turned to Buffy, who sat sobbing and shaking, staring in shock at the scene before her, the spike protruding from her Watcher's throat...

"You should have been there, Slayer," Spike commented, jolting her from her anguished, despairing, hopeless thoughts. "Those were fun times. But this--" he made a sweeping gesture that encompassed the circle of death of which he, the Slayer, and Drusilla were now the center, "--this takes the cake. Or in Dru's terms, the soggy, blood-soaked crumpets."

He chuckled at the nauseated look on her face and stopped his pacing in front of her. "Mmmm...cake, crumpets...blood--all this fun is making me hungry."

She looked up at him as if having just noticed his presence, and amongst the mixture of despair, agony, and hopelessness there was something else that was almost unidentifiable. He had grown so used to seeing determination and anger in those green eyes that he hardly recognized the fear they now held. It was a welcome change.

"I could really use a snack," he commented, smiling wickedly. "Nothing much--just a little...niblet."

He turned to the Slayer's sister, his grin broadening at he look of terror that overcame her innocent features.

He feigned a frown. "Now don't give me that look, Pigeon. You knew this was coming."

Dawn's eyes widened as he drew the knife again, the cut on her cheek still stinging. She trembled as he leaned in close, knife in hand, just as he had done before. "What's wrong, Niblet? You seem a bit jumpy," he remarked with a smirk as he cut through her restraints. She immediately made a desperate attempt to fight back, but the knife at her throat stopped her.

"Shh..." Drusilla appeared beside her lover, soothing the frantic girl. "If you fight you'll only make him cross. And we don't want Daddy to be cross."

Dawn turned her gaze to the raven-haired vampiress and, gazing into her hypnotic eyes, seemed to relax somewhat. Still frightened, but now entranced, she was coaxed to a standing position.

"There now, Bit. There's nothing to be afraid of," Spike assured her sweeping her hair away from her neck and moving to stand behind her while Drusilla stood to one side, clasping her hands in delight as she watched the mix of emotions that played across the Slayer's already-tear streaked face. "I'm not going to hurt you...much."

The Slayer closed her eyes tightly as he sank his teeth into her sister's throat. She no longer attempted to stifle her sobs--the sound of her own agonized weeping somewhat muffled Dawn's terrified screams and the nauseating sounds made by the feeding vampire. She hardly dared to open her eyes when the noises had stopped. She had expected the devastating sight of her sister--dead. The sight that met her agonized eyes was far worse--Dawn was barely conscious, barely alive, and held mostly upright by Drusilla who gazed proudly at her lover. Spike meanwhile, having noticed that the Slayer was watching again, threw a devious grin in her direction as he drew his knife again. Her heart froze as she realized what he was going to do. Her stomach churned as he drew the blade across his own wrist. When the first drop of blood fell upon her lips, Dawn immediately seemed to gain strength. And as she watched her sister feed with a frightening fervor, Buffy nearly revisited her lunch. Throughout this entire event, Spike's gaze remained fixed on the Slayer. And Buffy found herself unable to look away this time, utterly transfixed by the look of inimitable triumph in his dark, blue eyes.

Dawn suddenly detached herself, looking up at Spike inquisitively. "Don't worry, Luv. That's supposed to happen," he assured her with a knowing smile. "You're dying. Just relax--you'll be back before you know it." He gently brushed her hair away from her face and she smiled in return as she collapsed in his arms.

"Sweet dreams," Drusilla whispered, watching intently as he laid the girl's body on the floor before the Slayer. He stood and gazed thoughtfully at the newest corpse for a moment.

"Out of seven one shall rise. Sounds like another one of those prophecies you're always so worried about. Isn't that ironic?"

"Yeah," Buffy replied a bit absently, looking past him to where Dawn lay on the hard, cold, stone floor. Suddenly the fog lifted from her
gaze, and she glared up at him. "I didn't know you could count that high."

"Ooh," he laughed, feigning a look of surprise. "There you are, Slayer. I was beginning to think we'd lost you."

"The only thing you've lost is this fight, Spike. You can finish me off and then kill everyone else I've ever met, and all any of it will ever prove is that you are a coward," she stated, pinning him with her fiery gaze.

"Really?" he questioned, stepping towards her, smirking. "How many cowards do you know who would do this to a Slayer?" He backhanded her roughly and grinned, licking his lips as a drop of blood appeared at the corner of her mouth where she'd bit her lip. The hunger in his deep, blue eyes was replaced with rage when she began laughing.

"Yeah, you're the `Big Bad,'" she chuckled, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "You had to tie me up before you could hit me."

He scowled at her, enraged and for a moment, and considered killing her right then...just reaching out and snapping her neck, maybe even decapitating her with his bare hands...But the moment passed, and that cold, devious smile returned along with that infuriating air of calm and control.

"I didn't have to, " he insisted, shrugging. "It's just more fun this way...Isn't it, Pet?"

Drusilla looked up from where she stood, still watching Dawn intently, waiting for her to rise. "Yes," she nodded thoughtfully. "Like playing with a mouse whose tail is caught in a trap."

Buffy frowned slightly at the comparison.

"What's wrong, Luv?" Spike asked, noticing her expression. He suddenly leaned in entirely too close, and whispered in her ear. "I thought you liked being tied up."

He stepped back and chuckled in amusement, watching her struggle against her restraints. "Really, why do you even bother? I know you're no genius, but I didn't think you were bloody stupid. Haven't you figured it out yet, Slayer?"

She had ceased her struggles and now stared into those deep, blue eyes as he knelt before her. They said the eyes were the window to the soul...

"There's no point in fighting any more. It's over," he stated as he stood and looked down on her. "I won. You lost."

She glared at him, the fire in her green eyes now reduced to embers. She made only a verbal attempt to retaliate this time. "It's not over till one of us is dead," she asserted.

"Already there, Luv," he reminded her, grinning.

She responded by glaring at him more fiercely, more coldly.

He sighed in frustration at this act and began pacing.

"Why do you have to make everything so bloody difficult? You're always in denial, never can admit to yourself or anyone else what you know is true. You denied the fact that I was capable of loving you. When you realized you had feelings for me...you denied that too. And now, you know you've lost, you know it's over, you know you're already dead...but you keep fighting anyway. Take a look around, Slayer. You've got nothing left to fight for. Nothing left to live for."

"Wrong," she stated, shaking her head. "You're not a pile of dust yet. I've still got something to live for."

Spike sighed and shook his head. "There you go again. C'mon, Slayer. You're talking in circles." He held up a hand to halt any reply. "But that's okay. All this talk is getting boring anyway."

She did her best not to flinch when the knife appeared again...and smiled slightly as he began cutting through her restraints. She threw an appraising glance around the room, looking for anything she could use as a weapon. He noticed this and smiled at her as he watched her hopes begin to fade. She found nothing that would be particularly useful--there was no wood in the room, not so much as a twig. It was all steal and stone.

"Come on, Luv. You know I'm smarter than that," he sneered.

It was Buffy's turn for a wicked grin. She found it rather ironic that he should make such a statement about intelligence just before releasing her from the bindings that had previously been the only thing keeping her from reducing him to cinders. Her grin turned feral, and the moment she was free, she was fighting.

With a single kick the knife was sent flying from his hand to clatter to the floor beneath her Watcher's chair. He only shrugged and flashed a cocky grin; he wouldn't need it.

"Yeah, Spike. You're brilliant--you tie me up, murder everyone I care about, leave me with nothing to live for but your permanent death, then set me loose to kick your undead ass. I though I was supposed to be the one with the death wish."

He chuckled. "Don't have a death wish, Luv--already there."

His first punch came in the split second following this remark, and had she not been busy blocking blows, Buffy would have kicked herself for not being ready for it.

Empowered by her frustration with herself, she feigned a punch and instead swung into a high roundhouse kick and enjoyed the satisfying sound of her foot connecting with his face. In the split second during which Spike was stunned, Buffy backed out of the circle between Tara and Anya's chairs, trying to ignore the expressions of agony and terror frozen for all eternity on their now-cold faces.

She crouched, every nerve on end, ready and waiting for whatever form his retaliation may take. It came in the somewhat unexpected form of a swagger and a smile as he joined her in the far less confining area outside the ring of corpses.

"You always did hate being confined, didn't you?" he sneered. "Never could let anyone get too close. Oh sure, as long as all you had to do was protect them, fight for them, you were fine. But the moment you were expected to support them or love them...you pushed them away. And most of them put up with it--Willow and Xander and all the other Scoobies--they were too nice to point it out. But then there was Riley. Tell me, were you really that surprised when he left?"

"No more surprised than you are now," she muttered, distracting him for a split second before she attacked. She continued the assault, all the while gaining momentum, driving him back. And while he blocked many of her blows, he had no opportunity to do anything more--until a surprisingly strong hand grabbed her arm as she prepared for another strike.

"You're not playing very nice," Drusilla chided as her lover smiled fondly at his dark angel--a smile which quickly turned mocking as his gaze returned to Buffy.

"I'm through playing nice," Buffy retorted as she turned and punched Drusilla with her one free hand. The vampire stumbled, relinquishing her grip on the Slayer's arm. Spike rushed to his lover's aid but was driven back by a high kick to the face. And before either vampire could recover, Buffy grabbed the wooden chair to which her sister had once been tied. She grasped it by the legs and swung the chair in a wide arc, striking Drusilla just as she was standing. The back of the chair broke, the seat cracked, the creature fell. This assault provoked a growl and another attempted attack from Spike. She swung the remainder at him, grinning as it connected with a satisfying crack. The chair broke further, leaving her holding the two legs, their ends jagged, having broken partially with the force of her blow.

"You thought of everything, huh?" Buffy mocked him as he stood and glared at her, almost grinning.

"Yeah, he did."

Buffy turned slowly, dropping her fighting stance, to face the familiar voice.

"Dawn?" she whispered, her unsteady voice betraying every hurt, terrified, devastated emotion, much to her chagrin.

"Y'know, Sis, this is really kinda fun," the now-undead girl cheerfully informed her. "I mean, sure, the whole dying part sorta sucked--no pun intended--but..."

Buffy barely heard and did not at all comprehend the words as her weary mind flailed madly, attempting to grasp some rational thought. What should she do? Her sister--no a vampire. Dawn was a vampire. She did her best to stifle a sob as that realization struck her. She was surrounded by vampires. So kill them! You have weapons! But Dawn... She couldn't kill her sister... Not your sister any more. She never really was anyway, just "the key." But still a part of me... A part of you that's going to kill you if you don't do something!

"Dawn...listen to me. You don't want--"

"See, there ya go!" Dawn shook her head. "Thinking that you know what I want. Don't you think I'm intelligent enough to decide for myself what I want?"

"Dawn, listen--"

"No, you listen! You always did think you were better than me, smarter. You're the Slayer so you get to tell me what to do and when to do it and who to do it with. You've always tried to control me. You were 'protecting' me, you said. Well, I don't need you to protect me anymore," she grinned. "I can take care of myself now."

And before the idea of fighting back even occurred to her, Dawn had grabbed Buffy by the throat and pinned her against the wall. "See? I don't need you anymore. And you won't be needing these," she stated, grasping Buffy's wrists tightly and twisting--enjoying the cracking and popping and grinding of bones--until she dropped the two stakes she had been holding. The deadly trio smiled at the sound of the Slayer's screams.

"Pretty music." Drusilla crooned, swaying, provoking amused smiles from the other two vampires.

"Isn't it?" Dawn agreed, smiling widely at her sister. Buffy's gaze had grown determined once again and she made an attempt to kick at her opponent while she was distracted. Her plan didn't work. Spike had picked up one of the chair legs she had been forced to drop and as Dawn released her and backed away to avoid the kick, he swung it at the Slayer's knee. Another agonized scream echoed about the stone room. Drusilla followed her lover's lead, bashing Buffy's other knee with the other chair leg and smiling as the Slayer crumpled to the cold, stone floor.

Dawn knelt before her and shook her head. "Ya know, it's really kinda sad seeing you like this--all crumpled in a pathetic, defeated heap in a corner. Ok, so it's actually pretty cool. But still kinda sad. I mean, you used to be this big, bad, all-powerful, supreme, ass-kicking being. And now. Look at you! You've been beat by a poet, a nutcase, and your little sister. And you thought he was pathetic!" She gestured toward Spike, who appeared a bit miffed by the remark.

"Funny how fast things can change." he mused. "I mean in just a day all your friends have been murdered, your sister's become one of the very creatures you've spent you life killing, and you."

"You've changed too," Dawn stated, grasping her sister by the chin, forcing her to look into her eyes. "And before the day is done. you'll change even more." And with that she twisted Buffy's head to the side, grinned, vamped, and sank her fangs into her sister's throat.

Buffy stirred, slowly dragged back to wakefulness by a nagging, irritating feeling of.hunger. She opened her eyes a bit groggily and was rather surprised to find that the room seemed far brighter than it had before thought it was still lit by the same candles. She sat up carefully, stretching muscles that were sore from lying on--where was she lying? She looked around and found herself atop a stone sarcophagus set in a small alcove. Buffy stood suddenly, peering about cautiously, attempting to find the source of the footsteps she had just heard. And suddenly the familiar trio appeared, as if from nowhere--Spike in the lead, followed closely by Drusilla and Dawn.

"Oh, good. You're awake," Spike observed, "And rather hungry I'd wager."

Buffy said nothing, only stared at him, her expression growing more horrified with each passing second of realization.

"Ironic, isn't it?" Dawn pointed out, grinning. "The vampire slayer becoming a vampire. Predator becoming prey."

"The Slayer becoming the Slain," Spike whispered, grinning slightly as he pulled a stake from the pocket of his duster. "It's a shame we can't keep you around. We could have all sorts of fun with you. But ya know what they say: three's company, four is a crowd."

Drusilla chuckled. "Ashes to ashes."

Dawn grinned as Spike ignored her sister's frantic protests and drove the stake through her heart. "Dust to dust."